Review: If I Disappear by Eliza Jane Brazier

If I DisappearIf I Disappear by Eliza Jane Brazier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

With a story as strangely compelling as its cover, If I Disappear, is perfect for Readers who prefer an unconventional narrative.

After her divorce, Sera Fleece is a boat adrift. She spends her days listening to, and obsessing over, her favorite True Crime podcast, Murder, She Spoke.

When the podcast’s host, Rachel Bard, suddenly stops posting, Sera doesn’t take it well.

In fact, she suspects foul play is behind Rachel’s sudden disappearance from the air waves.

Further, Sera believes, armed with clues left within the podcast episodes, she will be able to find Rachel and possibly save her.

With this in mind, she travels to Rachel’s hometown, Happy Camp, in Northern California to investigate.

Once there, she is able to locate Rachel’s family ranch and secure a job through one conversation with Rachel’s greatly eccentric mother, Addy. Her duties will include working with the horses and general maintenance around the ranch; two things she’s not necessarily qualified for.

Doubts aside, Sera sees this as the best opportunity to delve into Rachel’s life and possibly discover what happened to her.

The strangest part is, no one else seems to be disturbed by Rachel’s disappearance. Not her parents, her brother, the other ranch hand, or any of her previous acquaintances in town.

Sera is able to make some progress and soon it is clear, something is not right with the Bard family.

Even though she realizes she is putting herself in danger, Sera cannot leave without solving the mystery. She is the only person left to advocate for Rachel.

While the content of this story is extremely intriguing, the writing style did not work that well for me. I never settled into the fact that it is told in the second person.

I wish it wasn’t, but honestly, I can’t imagine it otherwise. I think it just didn’t work for my taste.

I definitely needed to keep going. I wanted to find out the mystery of Rachel’s disappearance as much as Sera did; even though Sera, as a protagonist, drove me a little batty.

Some of the elements involved in building the mystery seemed off for me, but overall it is a good story. It’s tense and dramatic, with a whole host of suspicious characters, including Sera herself.

Additionally, there is some solid commentary in here on the treatment of girls and women within our society. I found that aspect interesting as well.

Overall, this is a solid debut and I look forward to reading more from this author in the future. I would absolutely pick up more stories from her.

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

If I Disappear is slated to release on Tuesday, January 26th!!

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Review: The Dead Season (Shana Merchant #2) by Tessa Wegert

The Dead Season (Shana Merchant, #2)The Dead Season by Tessa Wegert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Following the horrific events of Death in the Family, Senior Investigator Shana Merchant finds herself on administrative leave.

Her PTSD was triggered by the events on the Sinclair family’s private island and it caused her to display poor judgement. Now she is left spinning her wheels as her department urges her to take time to heal.

Pending a psychological evaluation she may be reinstated to her position. In the meantime however, she is suppose to focus on anything but work.

Shana has a hard time with that. When the remains of her long missing Uncle are found in the woods of her hometown, she heads home to solve the mystery.

At the same time, a young boy, Trey, goes missing on a school field trip in Alexandria Bay. Shana’s partner, Tim, is on the case and Shana feels like it is connected to Blake Bram, the serial killer continuing to hound her.

What’s even more intriguing is that Shana feels like the cases are linked in other ways; like Bram is holding Trey hostage, forcing Shana to solve the case of her long-dead Uncle. If she can solve it, perhaps Trey will live, but why?

I really enjoyed getting to know Shana Merchant, as a character, in the first novel. This second book fills in more of her past and the events that haunt her, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

We learn more about Blake Bram and Shana’s original connection to him.

Wegert won me over in the first novel by utilizing my favorite mystery trope, the locked room mystery. In this second installment, again, she gave me another one of my favorites: when a protagonist returns to their hometown to solve an old mystery.

Shana feels like she has forgotten a lot of her childhood. As she interviews friends, relatives and other community members, it begins to jog her memory and what she finds there isn’t pretty.

I really enjoyed the pacing of this and the reveals.

Shana is a great character, as is Tim, her partner. I have no idea how many mysteries this series will ultimately be, but you better believe, I will be reading them all.

If you are looking for a new mystery series with a classic mystery feel, you should definitely give the Shana Merchant series a try. The Dead Season is releasing on Tuesday, December 8th!!!

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

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Review: Murder, She Wrote: Murder in Season by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land

Murder in Season (murder, she wrote #52)Murder in Season by Jessica Fletcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Murder, She Wrote: Murder in Season is the 52nd-installment of this beloved series starring famous author and amateur sleuth, Jessica Fletcher.

This is the 5th-book written in the series by Jon Land, who took the reins after the passing of the series original, and long-standing author, Donald Bain. This is the 35th-book that I have read in the series.

Sometimes it feels like I have been reading this series my whole life. Honestly, I hope it continues that way.

There’s something about settling in with a new Jessica Fletcher mystery in front of me. The epitome of cozy.

As with many Adult Mystery series, you do not need to read these in order. You can really start anywhere.

You’ll learn the characters as you go along and before you know it, it will be like reuniting with old friends every time you start a new story.

If you are interested in starting this series, I would recommend just reading the synopsis for a bunch and picking whichever one sounds most interesting to you.

Jessica travels a lot, so there are mysteries set all over the world, in addition to her hometown of Cabot Cove, Maine.

In this installment, Jessica has recently moved back into her home on Candlewood Lane after a lengthy reconstruction project following a house fire.

The Christmas holiday is approaching and Jessica is looking forward to having her nephew, Grady, and his wife, Donna, and son, Frank, stay with her for the occasion. It seems like a long time since they have all been together.

Unfortunately, as luck would have it, or as Jessica’s luck would have it, one of the final bits of reconstruction includes some trenching in her back yard, where not one, but two bodies are discovered.

The corpses appear to have been moved there, along with a trunk of old documents, from another location. Making it even more mysterious, one set of remains looks to be over a hundred years old, while the other is much more recent. How are they connected?

Now instead of focusing on the holiday, all of Jessica’s focus is on the remains.

Adding to the stress of the investigation, a tabloid reporter, Tad Hollenbeck, known for his overly sensationalized reporting, suddenly arrives in town claiming to be doing a story on how Cabot Cove is the “murder capital of the country”.

Tad’s headline seems to be coming true when he is found dead in his local hotel room.

What’s one more mystery for Jessica, Mort and Seth to solve?

I had so much fun reading this; learning more about the history of Cabot Cove and having Jessica back home.

This holiday is going to be tough, not being able to be with my family like I regularly would. I really needed something nostalgic like this to help with the 2020 blues.

Jon Land is settling in nicely as the author of this series. In the beginning, I’ll admit, I was worried, but he really nailed the tone on the last two.

I will continue to pick up the books in this series for as long as they are published. I am hoping with Jon Land now at the helm, that will be for a very long time to come.

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

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Review: In a Midnight Wood (Jane Lawless #27) by Ellen Hart

In a Midnight WoodIn a Midnight Wood by Ellen Hart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a Midnight Wood is the 27th installment of Ellen Hart’s beloved, Jane Lawless mystery series.

Y’all, I discovered this series on a whim back in 2018, when I requested a copy of A Whisper of Bones. The cover was gorgeous and I was so blinded by it, I failed to notice it was the 25th book in the series.

I decided to give it a go anyway, and I’m so glad that I did!

Like many other long-standing Adult Mystery series, these don’t necessarily need to be read in order. I also feel they make great standalones.

However, once you meet Jane and her best friend, Cordelia, you’ll definitely be back for more!

In this installment, Jane and Cordelia are heading to the quaint town of Castle Rock, in their home state of Minnesota, to visit a friend and participate in a local Arts Festival.

The Festival coincides with Homecoming Weekend and the friend they are staying with, Emma, just so happens to be planning her 20th-class reunion for the occasion.

In a completely unrelated turn of events, the body of Emma’s high school sweetheart, Sam, is discovered. When Sam went missing 20-years ago, it was assumed he ran away, clearly not the case.

Jane, a private investigator, who also happens to be involved in a Podcast that covers Minnesota cold cases is very intrigued with Castle Rock’s discovery.

So begins the investigation of what happened to Sam all those years ago.

I had a ton of fun reading this. I absolutely love Jane and Cordelia. Their friendship and banter, it cracks me up all the time.

At first, I had a little difficulty differentiating between some of the characters we meet in Castle Rock, but once the ball got rolling, that was no longer an issue.

I am really looking forward to picking up more books in this series. I missed the 2019 release, Twisted at the Root, so I will probably start there.

I would highly recommend this if you are looking for an Adult Mystery series with LGBTQIA+ representation. I feel like finding that rep in this space can be a challenge.

Jane, the protagonist in this series, is a lesbian and there have been queer side characters in both of the installments I have read.

Thank you so much to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I am definitely looking forward to solving more mysteries with Jane Lawless!!!

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Review: One of Our Own (Gregor Demarkian #30) by Jane Haddam

One of Our Own (Gregor Demarkian, #30)One of Our Own by Jane Haddam
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I received my ARC copy of One of Our Own, by Jane Haddam, I was elated, but it was also bittersweet.

This is the 30th, and final book, of her beloved, Gregor Demarkian series. The author, Orania Papazoglou, writing under the pen name of Jane Haddam, unfortunately lost her battle with cancer in July of 2019.

Prior to this novel, I have read nine other books in this series; the first eight, and then I read Bleeding Hearts, number eleven in the series, because it sounded so interesting.

I really enjoyed them all. A lot of the earlier books in the series were holiday-themed, which I always love in my Cozies.

The main protagonist of this series is, Gregor Demarkian, an Armenian-American, ex-FBI Agent, who consults with local police departments on bizarre and compelling cases.

Gregor lives on Cavanaugh Street in Philadelphia, which is essentially an Armenian-American enclave. Over the course of the series you get to know the various characters in his community and it’s really a lot of fun!

With this novel, from the start, it felt a little different. I commented early on that it felt choppy. The author did not have the chance to finish this one herself, it was actually completed by her sons; seriously, what an honor.

I wonder, however, if perhaps she didn’t have the chance to go through final edits on this if that was the case. The Prologue in particular, for me, felt like she wrote a framework of how she wanted it to go and planned to go in and smooth it out at a later time, but never had the chance?

Obviously, I have no way of knowing what the exact process of getting this novel ready for print was, but it did feel different than her earlier work.

Additionally, there was some content in here that made me uncomfortable. There’s a big focus on immigrants and immigrant populations throughout the novel.

Basically, you have a neighborhood that is shifting. For example, one building that might have once been filled with German immigrants is now filled with Spanish immigrants. So, you have characters that are feeling affected by those shifts. As a reader, you get a lot of their thinking, or even ranting, about these new communities.

For me, I felt like while that is a valid topic to examine if your setting is a vibrant city like, Philadelphia, and that I understand you will have community members who will feel very passionately about the topic, I still felt like the content could have been handled with a bit more care.

There was a lot of stereotypes being thrown about and not until the very end did I feel like they were challenged at all.

The narrative did come full circle on that topic; I am happy with how it ended up, but there were a few characters getting there that were downright vile. I just wish at least Gregor would have put up a challenge to what they were saying.

The mystery itself was interesting, although it did wrap up rather quickly. I love Gregor, and his now wife, novelist, Bennis Hannaford.

Overall, this is a good novel, but I would definitely recommend starting with the earlier books in the series. In fact, the first book in the series is Christmas themed, so perfect timing!

I am really going to miss Gregor, Bennis, Tibor and the rest of Cavanaugh Street, but luckily, I still have twenty more books in the series I can pick up!

Thank you so much to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity.

My deepest condolences to her sons. Their Afterword brought me to tears. Orania sounds like an amazing woman, she certainly left a legacy with her work and will be missed.

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Review: The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

The Blackthorn Key (The Blackthorn Key, #1)The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

In 1665, London, Christopher Rowe is a young apprentice to apothecary, Master Benedict Blackthorn.

Blackthorn saved Christopher from a no doubt, harsh and uncertain future, by adopting him from a local orphanage. Since that time he has acted as a caring father figure and mentor to the young boy.

Christopher is very clever, adept at following chemical recipes, deciphering puzzles and reading complex codes.

Along with his good friend, Tom, the baker’s son, Christopher gets himself into all sorts of wild hijinks with his experiments.

When the city’s apothecaries begin being systematically killed off, it is up to Christopher to figure out who is behind it and stop them before he too, falls victim.

Relying on his knowledge, acquired through his Master’s many lessons, as well as his own ingenuity, Christopher slowly pieces together the mystery of the Cult at the heart of the matter; putting his own life in danger along the way.

I really enjoyed so much about this story. It’s such a strong start to a Middle Grade series.

I loved the historical setting and the relationship between Christopher and Tom most of all. Tom was a perfect, lovable side kick, and those can go a long way in this type of story.

This does get really dark. I was living for it and even as a Middle Grader, certainly, would have been living for it. There are murdery bits, and evil villain bits and actually, fairly scary bits.

If you are a reader who is sensitive to that type of content, just go in knowing you will find that here.

As a science lover, I also enjoyed those elements included in the story. There were even codes for Christopher to work out, left for him as clues.

The narrative really made science exciting and I love seeing Young Readers exposed to a science is cool storyline. Not only is science cool, it saves the day.

I’m really excited to continue on with this series. I am definitely down for going on more adventures with Christopher and Tom.

If you are looking for a fun, fast-paced, slightly dark, Middle Grade Mystery series, I suggest you give it a go as well. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

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Review: The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

The Devil and the Dark WaterThe Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

1634 — Our story begins with a mixed bag of passengers, and crew, preparing to board the Saardam on a voyage from Batavia to Amsterdam.

On the docks, a leper appears high atop a pile of crates and issues a warning that the voyage will end in merciless ruin.

He subsequently bursts into flames and dies a painful death. The observers, although chilled by his damning proclamation, shrug it off as the ramblings of a madman.

It’s harder to ignore the devil’s mark that suddenly appears on the sails, however. The incident, understandably, casts a sense of foreboding over all.

Samuel Pipps, a detective of some note, happens to be aboard, but as a prisoner.

Due to that status, he is locked in a grimy, claustrophobic cell, without even enough room to stand up.

Luckily, his faithful bodyguard, Lieutenant Arent Hayes, is aboard and he happens to have a close connection to the Governor General, Jan Haan.

Through Arent’s suggestion, Samuel earns the right to be taken out of his cell every night to get his exercise and fresh air upon the decks.

As mysterious happenings continue to plague the ship, paired with reoccurrences of the devil’s mark, Arent teams up with Jan Haan’s lovely wife, Sara Wessel, to try to get to the bottom of it.

An important piece of Arent’s past, the lore of a demon named Old Tom, plays a large role in this story. Some say Old Tom is aboard this ship; he’s the cause of all the problems.

There’s a ghost ship stalking them, their food source is threatened, a storm like no other threatens to sink them, people die, things disappear and throughout it all, Old Tom is trying to sway all aboard to his side.

This book has such a vibe. I don’t quite have words for it, but I love it!

As with The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, The Devil and the Dark Water is such a complex, suspenseful mystery.

The tone of this novel, the is it supernatural, is it not-feel of it all was masterfully done. Additionally, the use of Arent and Sara as an amateur sleuthing team was incredibly executed.

Together they are trying to work out who among them has been possessed by Old Tom. Their investigation has a lot of twists and turns, casting doubts on numerous passengers and crew.

All of the characters were so interesting. Anyone could have been the baddie. I had no clue who to suspect!

The entire story was completely original. I have never read anything quite like it. Turton’s imagination knows no bounds.

Apparently, 17th-Century Supernatural Mysteries are now my jam, because I am OBSESSED with this!

Thank you so much to the publisher, SourceBooks Landmark, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. This was by far, one of my most anticipated reads of the year, so I certainly appreciate it.

I am such of fan of Turton’s writing and look forward to seeing what he comes up with next!

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Review: Death in the Family (Shana Merchant #1) by Tessa Wegert

Death in the FamilyDeath in the Family by Tessa Wegert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

About a month ago, I received an ARC of the second book in the Shana Merchant series, The Dead Season, from Berkley Books. It is currently set to release on December 8, 2020.

Thank you so much for providing me with a copy, Berkley!

Although, I believe, like many Adult Mystery series, the books can be read as standalones, and do not necessarily need to be read in order, I still wanted to give this one a shot.

Upon completion, I am so happy that I did!

Shana Merchant is a veteran police detective, recently moved from the NYPD to a department in a quiet town in the Thousand Lakes region of Upstate New York.

She needed to get out of the city after a horrific incident involving a serial killer, so when her fiance suggested moving back to his hometown, she readily agreed.

Shana believes that with her move to a smaller community, she’ll be dealing with a lot less violent crime and may have an easier time coping with her return to work. Statistically she is correct.

When Shana and her new partner, Tim Wellington, get called to a private island to investigate a missing person case, however, Shana feels those old anxieties beginning to rise.

The island is owned by the wealthy Sinclair family, who made their fortune in American textiles.

Many members of the family happen to be on the island for the weekend when Jasper Sinclair goes missing in the middle of the night. Not only does he go missing, the bed he was sleeping in is drenched in blood.

It’s clear to Shana and Tim that Jasper has not left the property of his own volition, but how would he leave the property? It’s an island and all boats are accounted for?

When a vicious storm hits, Shana and Tim become stranded as well, and all remaining are now suspects.

This is a classically arranged locked-room mystery, a la Agatha Christie. As many of you may already know, this is my absolute favorite mystery trope.

I was swept up in the story from the very start and was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed this.

The Sinclair family, from the matriarch, all the way down to the youngest among them, felt completely real and each distinct in their own way.

I loved the toxic family dynamics and watching all their dirty little secrets come to light.

The pacing was fantastic to keep me intrigued the entire way through.

Although I felt a little let down by the actual whodunit; I can’t really explain why, I was just hoping it was a bit more devious than it ended up being, I genuinely enjoyed my time with this novel.

I really like Shana as a protagonist. She is quite a complex character and I cannot wait to find out more about her in the next novel.

This one left off at a fantastic spot as far as a lead in to a sequel. I am truly chomping at the bit to get into the next installment.

If you enjoy a taut, locked-room mystery with heavy Christie vibes, you should absolutely check out the Shana Merchant series!!!

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Review: Ninth House (Alex Stern #1) by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1)Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Moody, dark and secretive, just like me.

Ninth House was a delightfully intriguing start to the all-new, Alex Stern series by Leigh Bardugo.

I have been fascinated by the idea of this book for a while. What’s not to love about the Yale campus, secret societies and magic.

On a recent road trip, I finally decided to give this one a shot.

I have to say, while I really enjoyed the audiobook, particularly the two narrators, I think I may have enjoyed it even more if I had read a hard copy.

I feel like I may have been able to concentrate more on the story if I had been holding the book in my hands and there’s a lot to take in here.

A lot of details regarding the setting of the Yale campus, the magic system, the lore of the secret societies, as well as back and forth timelines, I think just got lost somewhere around mile marker 50.

I was intrigued by Alex’s character. Here was a girl who had a rough start at life, raised by a hippie Mom in California, who ends up at one of the most elite institutions in the world.

After a close call that could have ended her life, Alex instead ends up being offered a seat in the Freshman class at Yale, but why? Her academic transcript certainly wasn’t recommending her for the slot.

Regardless of any trauma experienced in her life, Alex is a survivor and a fighter. I loved that about her.

When she starts at Yale, Alex gets tapped for Lethe House; the ninth of the secret societies at Yale and the one with the closest ties to the occult.

It’s also the responsibility of Lethe House to oversee the other houses to ensure there are no bad actors.

Alex, as it turns out, is well-suited for her new house, as she has an arcane ability she has been struggling with her entire life. This allows her a close connection to the spiritual underworld surrounding her.

Essentially a murder mystery, this novel offers up a lot of darker real world topics for consideration as well.

One of these topics that I found extremely interesting, was the great amount of privilege on the Yale campus, and the way uneven power dynamics can contribute to an extremely harmful environment.

There is also quite a bit on page of drug abuse, sexual assault and rape culture in general. If you are sensitive to these topics, I would tread cautiously.

With this being said, I was impressed overall with Bardugo’s transition to the Adult space. This is definitely an Adult novel. There are some real dark scenes in here and frankly, I am glad that she went as dark as she did.

It made this seedy underbelly of a privileged world seem so incredibly real.

I think as the series progresses the stories will continue to get stronger and stronger.

I may even read this one again, my hard copy, before the second novel is released.

I would love to experience this entire story in a more controlled environment than an SUV whizzing down the highway.

Also, does anyone else want to go snoop around New Haven in the middle of the night now, or just me?

The atmosphere, as always with Bardugo, was really something to behold; loved that aspect so much. I am really looking forward to getting back into this world when the next book releases!

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Review: The Finders (Mace Reid K-9 Mystery #1) by Jeffrey B. Burton

The Finders (Mace Reid K-9 Mystery, #1)The Finders by Jeffrey B. Burton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

The Finders, the first installment of the new Mace Reid K-9 Mystery series, is an Investigatory Thriller following an unlikely hero and his four-legged companions.

Mason, ‘Mace’, Reid, is a dog trainer who specializes in training cadaver dogs which he uses to help out local law enforcement with body searches.

At the beginning of the story, Mace has the opportunity to adopt a Golden Retriever puppy who has had a very traumatic start to life.

Dog lover that he is, and having recently loss one of his pack, he welcomes the puppy with open arms and names her Vira. Not long after her training begins.

Unbeknownst to Mace, Vira is soon to be working her first case, as a deadly killer is lurking very close to home.

When the serial killer sets his sights on Mace, all bets are off. It’s up to Mace, his new friend, CPD Officer Kippy Gim and Vira, to stop the killer and stay alive.

This was a solid start to a series. Dealing with a fictional serial killer can definitely up the ante of a story and this is no exception.

It was intense, it was fast-paced, but there were some elements I wasn’t crazy about.

For example, there was some cringey, insensitive humor, but also some fairly good humor where I laughed out loud. Yeah, so a mixed bag.

The occasions where I actually grimaced at badly worded jokes were fewer than things I liked about the story overall though, hence my 3.5-star rating.

I also had a hard time with some of the scenes involving the dogs. I will say, dogs in stories, is generally something I have a problem with; it’s not specific to this. It causes my anxiety to rise and makes it hard for me to relax and connect.

With this being said, I am aware that this is 100% specific to me as a reader. If you are fine with reading stories with dogs, or even love them, you will most likely really enjoy this.

Mace is a really good dog owner. You can tell he loves his boy and girls and treats them like part of his family; as they are.

Overall, I think this is a solid start to a series. I would definitely consider picking up the next book, praying the whole way that all the dogs remain happy and healthy throughout.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Minotaur Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate having the opportunity to provide my opinion.

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