Monday, January 31, 2011

So long, January. You've been a good month!


My, what a good month January was. Firstly, I loved the way it began - right in the middle of the holiday season! Fellow students, I hope you had a blast over the winter break. I sure filled the long, cold (err, slightly chilly) days with book after excellent book.

Now for some awards:

Number of books read: 9
Favorite Read: hands down, Jellicoe Road
Least Favorite Read (and no, I'm not afraid to do this category): Probably Mad Love
Most Original Idea/Storyworld: Darkness Becomes Her. Watch out for this one when it releases on 2/22 - the world of "New 2" is incredibly original and exciting!
Best Character: Jonah Griggs, the best dadgum love interest in the WORLD from Jellicoe Road
Best Villain: Don't want to give anything away accidentally, but there's a certain character in Darkness Becomes Her that takes this prize!
Best Supporting Character/Sidekick: the serpent in Secondhand Charm was heart-warmingly sweet and just a great sidekick to the main character
Author I'd Love to Hang Out With: Melina Marchetta, the genius author of Jellicoe Road, would be amazing to shadow just for a day or something. She could definitely teach me a thing or two about strong storytelling :)

January Reviews
DeceptionJellicoe Road
The Knife of Never Letting GoRed Moon Rising
Scrambled Eggs at Midnight Secondhand Charm

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review - RED MOON RISING (real link, I promise!)

Red Moon Rising - Peter Moore
Genre: YA Paranormal
# of pages:
Recommended for: Upper MS & Beyond
Publisher: Hyperion Teen
Publication Date: February 8, 2011

Being only half-vamp in a high school like Carpathia Night makes you a whole loser. But Danny Gray manages to escape the worst of the specists at his school. Thanks to genetic treatments he had as an infant, most people assume Danny's other half is human. Which is a good thing. Ever since the development of synthetic blood – SynHeme – vamps have become society’s elite, while wulves like his father work menial jobs and live in bad neighborhoods. Wulves are less than second class citizens; once a month they become inmates, forced to undergo their Change in dangerous government compounds. For Danny, living with his vamp mother and going to a school with a nearly all-vamp student body, it’s best to pretend his wulf half doesn’t even exist. But lately Danny's been having some weird symptoms — fantastic night vision; a keener-than-usual sense of smell; and headaches, right around the full moon. Even though it's easy to be in denial, it's hard to ignore evidence. There's only a month until the next few moon, and Danny's time is running out.


I can literally count the number of vampire books/series I've read on one finger, and the number of werewolf books I've read on the other. I just don't read all that many vampire/werewolf books for some reason, so I was more than intrigued with Red Moon Rising's premise, and I jumped at the chance to review it.
I genuinely enjoyed this book. First of all, it completely satisfied the Necessary Likable Narrator category. YA books with guy narrators are still in the minority compared to girl-narrated books, and RMR was written in a fine, authentic voice. Dante (Danny) Gray is the kind of guy you just can't help but root for: wisecracking and a great sense of humor, not an idiot, and a heart of gold. You'll definitely sympathize with Danny's life when you take a look at his dysfunctional family: it's like the parents came out of either "The Addams Family" or "Arrested Development," and the sisters came out of "Gossip Girl" or any other fluffy CW show. And his friends came out of a Nickelodeon sitcom (here's my thing with Nickelodeon shows: I kind of love them. I never outgrew them). I know that we've all read books with endearing, cheer-worthy characters before, so now let me tell you something about Red Moon Rising, that I think is pretty unique: the paranormal world Peter Moore created is, I'm sure, unlike anything you've read before. At least, it's probably unlike any vampire/werewulf book you've ever read before. The level of detail in the storyworld is absolutely superb. From what I gathered, the story is set in a kind of alternate-world United States, where as the first page tells you, humans, vampires, and "werewulves" have splintered off from each other genetically. It's a world where the development of Synthetic Blood has allowed vampires to rise to a kind of bourgeois class, while werewulves wallow in a kind of second-class existence. I swear, the political and social commentaries were brilliant and kind of tongue-in-cheek. Loved it! To be sure, some of the made-up references sounded just a tad too similar to their real-life counterparts, which was a little goofy...
But what really made Red Moon Rising a truly original story for me was the amount of medical information presented in the story. Author Peter Moore takes two popular paranormal creatures and gives them biological and anatomical validity. For example: did you know there's a medical procedure a wulf can go through that suppresses his genetic characteristics? There's more than that. Way more.
The only thing that could have been better, for me, was the ending. The book starts out with lots of story ideas going on, but as the focus turns more and more to the inevitability of Danny's werewulf transformation, it's like other plot points start to diminish. By the story's end, you're left wondering "What happened to So-and-So? What happened with ____?" I'm curious to know if there will be a sequel... Also, some of the supporting characters were a little one-dimensional for me, like the love interest and the main villain, who's little more than a prejudicial high school jock. I had a really hard time believing how he could go to such extreme lengths just because he didn't like wulves. That was a kind of a stretch for me.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed Red Moon Rising, and I'm hoping that when it releases, you'll give it a try. My guess is that you'll be more than a little intrigued with the story's premise, Danny's wry voice, and the drama of a vampire-wulf hybrid who's just trying to figure out where he belongs.

Final Rating:


Friday, January 28, 2011

In My Mailbox [3]

In My Mailbox is sponsored by The Story Siren :)

GREAT week! I made a teeny-tiny backtrack in my Book Buying Ban, but I managed to find a copy of a really cool book for under $10, because I'm thrifty like that!
But I got a few cool books for review. I'm still relatively new to the whole 'sent books for review' thing, so I was just tickled pink to receive:

For Review
The Darlings are Forever - Melissa Kantor
Red Moon Rising - Peter Moore
Mad Love - Suzanne Selfors
Jenna & Jonah's Fauxmance - Emily Franklin & Brendan Halpin
Unearthly - Cynthia Hand

Special thanks to Hyperion Teen, Bloomsbury USA & Harper Teen

Bought
Ken Burns' Civil War documentary (on sale - oh yeah!)
- Yes, I watch documentaries...I know...

I already finished Mad Love and Red Moon Rising (when you've got a doctor's note excusing you from work and school, it's kinda like having one of Willy Wonka's Golden Tickets) and am starting J&J now. Christina, Mad Love is on its way!

What did you guys get this week?

New Rating System!

Lori @ Pure Imagination/Use Your Imagination designed my new book rating system, and I think it looks amazing!
What do you guys think?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Valentine's Day Love My Followers Giveaway!

So I'm taking part in the Follower Love Giveaway Hop (Feb 8-13), which will be fun...watch out for that...

BUT!!!

I'm hosting another Love My Followers giveaway!
Yes, I really want to show my appreciation to all my followers, so I made you guys (well, one of you) a fleece-lap-blanket.
:)
I absolutely LOVE these - pretty much because there's not a lot that can make me feel crafty - and they're so soft and warm, but not hot or anything.
Here's what you can win:It's a yard-long, with red & white hearts on a pink fleece background on one side, and a solid soft white on the other side.

Sound fun?
The contest will end FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 4th - so that I can mail out the blanket in time for Valentine's Day :)

Entries -
- This contest is to show appreciation to all my followers, so it is a followers-contest
- To enter, just leave a comment with your email address

Extra entry - not required, but avaiable
+1 for "liking" my Imagination in Focus facebook page (link on the right-hand sidebar)

Again, thank you all so much for a fabulous year! I love each and every one of you :)

HAVEN Cover Contest UPDATE!


**If you have entered or are planning to enter the Haven Cover Contest, this is for you!**

In just a week, we've already had several great entries, both on the Linky and from email submissions. There's still plenty of time to get your entry in!

PRIZES Update:
1st Place winner will receive a preordered copy of Haven and also an Aidan Effect T-shirt designed by Kristi herself! See the design HERE.

2nd Place winner will receive an Aidan Effect T-shirt

Guys, you have seriously got to check out those shirts. They are absolutely incredible!

ENTRIES
- You are welcome to design as many entries as you'd like, but please submit ONLY ONE entry for judging. If you've already made your submissions, let me know which one you'd like entered.

Thanks, and we're looking forward to seeing some more great designs!

ENTER HERE.

Any writers in the house?


Before this year, I hadn't considered using writing books. I was pretty much under the impression, If you're a natural writer, everything should fall into place on its own, right?
But I'm starting to reevaluate that mindset. I think college has made me a wee bit rusty around the edges, so I'd like to know, from the prospective authors out there -

Do you use writers' manuals or writing guide books? Have you found them particularly helpful?
And are there any that you might recommend?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Future of YA...

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."
- Niels Bohr

My friend Jordyn @ Ten Cent Notes did a post on hopeful future trends. Check out what she said here...

Vampires are fun, faeries are trendy, werewolves are cool, and dystopians are cute! And as far as authors go, we've got experienced favorites, and incredibly talented newbies on the block. They're all doing a fabulous job keeping the YA shelves at bookstores stacked full with entertaining but quality literature.

HOWEVER (there's always a 'however,' isn't there?)...

Where is the future going to take us?

Here are some of my wishes for YA in the years to come -

1. More standalone non-contemporary books
Trilogies and series are great for fantasy/paranormal fiction, but sometimes it's nice for a story to wrap up and be done after one book. Kudos to The Replacement for doing this!

2. Return to HIGH FANTASY.
We've got paranormal books out the wazoo. But really, nothing says EPIC like a totally 100% off-the-map imaginary setting. Let's have more Middle Earth-inspired places in YA, please!
More faraway worlds, more quests, more swords, more heroes. More epic, please!

3. More wizards.
This is probably still a taboo type of character since Harry Potter, but I don't think the literary world would kill new authors with magically capable boy MCs. I'm seeing lots of witches, which is cool, but let's have some more wizards. Call 'em warlocks or sorcerers if it makes ya feel better

4. More aliens
IAM#4 started a great trend this year - bringing back the alien love. I gotta admit, when I think of 'aliens,' I either think of E.T. or that ultra-gross/creepy thing from the movie Alien. Either way, not a pretty picture. I bet we'll see more aliens, more traversing the galaxies, and more inter-galactic battles in the future. Bring it on!

5. More non-traditional historical fiction
I mean periods of history that are often forgotten or overlooked. We have plenty of great fiction for Victorian London (not just limited to steampunk), the Jazz Age, and even Civil War America.
But what about the early 19th century - what about pioneers? What about Great Depression fiction, or WWII homefront fiction? What about the Happy Day '50s?
And do you ever notice that it seems like historical fiction is limited to either American or British settings? So many other fascinating places and periods in history - let's see some Latin American history, some Eastern European history (hello, what was it like growing up in the Cold War?) or some...Australian history?! Yes, tales from the Outback!
Lots of great historical settings that could be tapped into. Bring it on.

6. More MG/YA Crossovers
What is the Harry Potter series? Is it Middle Grade or Young Adult? It's BOTH, because the characters go from kids to almost-adults over the course of the series. Ditto with Percy Jackson. Series books are cool, but it seems like so many of the characters start out as teens and stay that age. Let's have some real coming-of-age series, please - ones where we can kind of 'grow up' with the characters (in a manner of speaking).

7. Less angels/fallen angels
Personal preference entirely. I really don't like angel fiction and would love for it to go away.
:DNo Mo' Ango.

8. For Contemporary - "Salute to the Forgotten Teen"
You know how there's the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior? Well, this is Salute to the Forgotten Teen. You know, teens that don't take part in excessive, dangerous, irresponsible and edgy behavior. Kids who actually have real problems (self-esteem issues, body image issues, anxiety about the future...turning 16 and wondering when that car is going to magically appear) but who aren't over-the-top dramatic. Kids who spend time in class, actually care about their grades, girls who aren't boy-crazy, kids who aren't defined by their extracurricular activities (or lack thereof) and kids who freaking get along with their parents! Maybe those manuscripts are out there, but pubs shake their heads and go, "Nope, not interesting enough." Who knows? But there's a whole group of teens out there that I think are heavily underrepresented in fiction, and I certainly don't want them to get the message that they're somehow inadequate or unworthy or representation. Teen characters can't always be Bovine Camerons or Charlie-the-Wallflowers. Just an idea...

9. ELVESOkay, so elves are like the kissing cousins of fairies (actually, they're folklorically the same thing) but as a righteous Tolkienhead, I love elves. I'd like to see elves pop up in fantasy

10. "Realistic" Dystopian
As cool/crazy as these (current trend of YA dystopians) futuristic societies are, only one book so far has seemed "believable," as in, Yep, I can totally see this happening in the not-too-distant future, and that's Uglies. I guess I'd like more consideration and more scare-tactics put into YA dystopians. Create a world that could actually happen. Take stuff from our culture, manipulate it/enhance it, whatever, but make tie-ins with our current world. 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World and The Giver all had messages, all had things to say about our current societies.
Whether or not the reader agrees is secondary; what's important is to actually get them thinking.
Cool premises are fun, but let's have dystopians that hearken back to their successful predecessors, please. Come on, authors, freak me out! I dare ya! :D

--And bonus number--
(just because I'm slightly eccentric, but only slightly!)

...



11. YA Westerns.Yep, ya heard me. YA Westerns. Westerns for Young Adults. Cowboys! Outlaws! Gunslingers! Immigrants and established citizens alike seeking land, freedom, and a new start in the great Wild West! Striking out and creating new societies - bringing civilization to an primitive land.
(Lol, can you tell I just had 'American West' last semester?)
I'd write one myself (planning on it, actually) but it might take me a couple years.
Okay, so it might be just me - but have any of you guys thought of what it would be like to revive the Western genre and bring it to YA?
Take this genre and blend it with fantasy if you want, but I'd love for the Western genre to see some representation in the Young Adult market.
YEEHAW!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Review - SCRAMBLED EGGS @ MIDNIGHT


Scrambled Eggs at Midnight - Brad Barkley & Heather Hepler
Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction
# of pages: 272
(pb)
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile, Penguin
Scrambled Eggs at Midnight @ Parental Book Reviews
Calliope (or Cal as she calls herself) wants nothing more than to stay put; to stop traveling cross-country with her mother, sleeping in a tent, and abandoning all belongings whenever they pull up stakes. Meanwhile, Eliot misses the happy times he left behind when his father decided to open a camp for kids looking to lose weight and find Jesus. when Cal and Eliot meet by chance, they feel an immediate connection. together they must face their isolation, the threat of yet another move, and the deepening of eliot's father's obsession. in their case, love just might be everything it's cracked up to be.

This is what happens when I review a book over a week after I've read it - I start to get a wee bit fuzzy on the details, and I forget certain details.
For somebody who doesn't read a lot of contemporary books (I can seriously count on my fingers the number of contemp books I've read between now and last October), I really enjoyed Scrambled Eggs. Here's the thing: I'm a total escapist reader - I like to read substantial books that impact me but also distract me. Similarities are good, and being able to relate to a character is always nice (if not necessary), but I also like books that "take me away."
Scrambled Eggs was funny and quirky enough to do just that. Sure, some parts read slower than others, but the overall story was definitely a memorable one, and it's one that I would definitely recommend to all of you.
The story is told using dual first person narratives, and since two authors collaborated on the book, I definitely think they were able to pull off the unique-but-in-sync voices. There's a girl and a boy (usually), and in both their cases, "quirky" is an adequate word to describe their lives. The girl is constantly uprooted by her whimsical mother, who works - get this - as a "wench" in Renaissance Fairs across the county. Talk about an "out-of-the-ordinary" existence.
Then you've got a boy whose formerly ordinary dad has become one of those annoying TV "Jesus Screamers" (term that I, as a religious person, think is pretty clever - used to describe certain evangelists who always seem to "scream" at their audiences) and who's gotten rich off combining weight loss with religious gusto. And get this - he lives at the fat camp his family runs. Now I have to admit, the idea of living in a camping facility in North Carolina (why hello beautiful scenery!) was at first really cool, but as Eliot's story progressed, I realized: not so cool after all.
The best part of Scrambled, for me, was the beginning. 'Zany' is the word I'd use to describe it. We're first being introduced to the two leads, Calliope and Eliot, and learning about their backgrounds...as the story progressed, it got a little heavier, but it always retained the "cute" card.
Two things I noticed though...
The relationship between Cal and Eliot is definitely sweet, and on the one hand I definitely appreciated it's portrayal as substantial and genuine. I don't mind telling y'all that I don't care for "flingy" romances - give me some substance! And 'substance' is indeed what I was given in this story. I liked that. I really liked that. However... there was just a little something about the romance angle that seemed 'off.' I made a note in my bookmark that said "It's not 'love at first sight,' it's more like 'I've figured out everything about you at first sight.'" Being able to "read" somebody that accurately and figure out all this bare-your-soul stuff about them is a tad unlikely. I loved that they used words like "real deal" to describe their relationship, but...their conversations went from cute and flirty to bare-your-soul like *that*. A little more development would have been nice. And FYI - if you didn't like Ethan Wate (or if you thought he didn't sound like a boy), you may feel the same way about Eliot. I thought he was a good character, but sometimes the things he said were a little too insightful, you know? Like the kinds of things a middle-aged writer would say...
And to the subject matter. Religion is a notable factor in this book (which surprised me, since this isn't a Leafwood or Tyndale product), and it kind of rotated between being used as a source of inspiration and as a punching bag. To be honest, there were times when I wasn't sure if the authors were jabbing money-chasing "evangelists" or just religious people in general, but I still liked the book overall.
The last thing that kind of stood out: every single adult in this story was so complacent. Nobody got mad or had a temper. Everybody was so understanding...BS! Parents, authority figures - they totally revolved around the teen characters in this story. All the time. That was a wee bit strange.
But I love characters who get a reaction out of me; I love characters who make me care. And I definitely cared about the two MCs - they were great kids in pretty weird circumstances, trying to make the best of their lives. And now, seven days after finishing Scrambled Eggs at Midnight, that's what I remember most. If this is a title you've never heard about before, please go check it out on Goodreads. My recommendation is to give it a try. You just might love it.

Final Grade: A-
(4/5)


Notable Quotes


I fall asleep to the sound of our tent rustling in time with the trees, and with a longing so strong that I can't even say for sure what it is that I'm missing. I can't even say for sure if what I need is something I've had before and lost, or something that I'm still waiting to find. But it's there. An ache deep inside me. A slowly twisting pain that I try to ignore, because it threatens to pull me under if I let it.
- pg. 17
The first book The Dad published was called Eye of the Needle: Why God Wants You Thin!
You might have noticed, there are lots of exclamation points in the God business. I think that's what Mom is tired of, all the exclamation. Maybe she just wants her life to have a few periods, a few quiet little commas.
- pg 22
I know what most people would think - crazy boy in the basement making pipe bombs, stirring up poison, adding to his list of enemies every day, one of those pale wussies who are a little too into their video games. Well, that is so wrong, because none of the cabins even have a basement.
That was funny.
- pg 26
Delores says that money doesn't matter and in a way she's right, but sometimes it might be nice to not have to worry all the time about everything.
- pg 42
Instead of the feeling that I usually have, as if at any moment I might just drift away from the ground and float right up into the sky, I feel heavy, like my feet are firmly touching the ground. And the weight feels like it's in the center of my chest, like my heart suddenly is full and overfull. And all of the sudden I feel like crying, but in a good way. In a very good way.
- pg 94
"I want you to know, Eliot...I believe in God just as much as he does. I mean, not that it's a contest, but we have very different ideas. I don't think you seek out God directly, or else He would just come down and visit us once in awhile. I think He wants us to seek him out through other people, through being in love with the world. He's in the ocean, He's in a bagful of snacks and the way you end up laughing about them. He's in the laughing. Does that make sense?"
- pg 176
She tells me she has a good heart, tells me that it's what's inside that matters, but I don't think that's right. No one can read the contents of your heart. It's what you say, how you act that matters.
- pg 191

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book Blogger Hop & Follow Friday


Question from Parajunkee's Follow Friday:
Who do you cheer for?
Answer: quite a few teams!
Football: Texas A&M, Dallas Cowboys
Baseball: ANAHEIM Angels & Chicago Cubs
Basketball: whatever team Shaq is on...
Premiere League: Liverpool FC & West Ham United

*Link @ Crazy-for-Books not yet up by post-time*
Lol, the other day I designated this a no-meme zone, but a blog hop isn't a meme, I don't think...
Anyhoo! Welcome to Imagination in Focus! Glad to have you here, and I hope you'll stop by for reviews, discussions, and more! I've got two cool upcoming giveaways in the next week or so.

Please leave your link and I'll return the favor! I'm always looking for cool new blogs to follow :)

Oh! And take a look at my current contest going on now - re-create a cover of the upcoming YA debut Haven by Kristi Cook for your chance to win a preordered copy! Go on, check it out. You know you want to! :D

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Guest Post!

Hey guys! For those of you who are currently college kids or HS kids - hope you're getting back into the swing of things, and hope you have a great semester!
For those of you not in HS or college - lucky, lucky! :)

I've got some really fun stuff planned for February, and I'm trying to plan March!
If you would be interested in guest posting here in (late) February or March, please feel free to leave your email in the comment section and I'll get in touch with you
What's the topic?
YOU DECIDE! Yeah, guest post over @ Imagination in Focus and discuss whatever you'd like - trends in YA, other book topics, stories or new plots you'd like to see, best/worst book you've read in awhile, authors...you name it!
Interested?
Just leave me a comment below!
:D

Monday, January 17, 2011

HAVEN Cover Contest!

This is going to be my first Cover Contest, and I'm already so excited!
I chose an upcoming release that's already generating a lot of buzz...
HAVEN by Kristi Cook (will be released by Simon Pulse on February 22, 2011)

Here's a synopsis:
One month into her junior year, sixteen-year-old Violet McKenna transfers to the Winterhaven School in New York’s Hudson Valley, inexplicably drawn to the boarding school with high hopes. Leaving Atlanta behind, she’s looking forward to a fresh start--a new school, and new classmates who will not know her deepest, darkest secret, the one she’s tried to hide all her life: strange, foreboding visions of the future.
But Winterhaven has secrets of its own, secrets that run far deeper than Violet’s. Everyone there--every student, every teacher--has psychic abilities, 'gifts and talents,' they like to call them. Once the initial shock of discovery wears off, Violet realizes that the school is a safe haven for people like her. Soon, Violet has a new circle of friends, a new life, and maybe even a boyfriend--Aidan Gray, perhaps the smartest, hottest guy at Winterhaven.
Only there’s more to Aidan than meets the eye--much, much more. And once she learns the horrible truth, there’s no turning back from her destiny. Their destiny. Together, Violet and Aidan must face a common enemy--if only they can do so without destroying each other first.


CONTEST DETAILS -
The contest begins NOW and will officially close on February 12th at Midnight (Central Time).
HOWEVER, entries need to be in by February 8th at Midnight so we can narrow them down to the finalists.
The **WINNER** will receive a pre-ordered copy of Haven, and since I'll be using The Book Depository, this contest will be International!

And here's the coolest part...author Kristi Cook will be deciding the winner! Yay!

Rules
- This contest is open to anyone who wants to participate - you do not have to be a follower, but it's always nice
- Entries must be in by February 8th: that gives you 3 weeks
- You *must* link your entry at the bottom. If you do not have a blog/website, leave a comment with your email, and you can send your entry as an attachment in an email to me:
imaginefocusedreviews@gmail.com

Helpful Links:
Kristi's Livejournal
HAVEN on Goodreads
Haven @ Amazon


Sunday, January 16, 2011

In My Mailbox [2] & Reading Stats


Received for Review
The Year We Were Famous - Carole Estby Dagg

Special thanks to
HM Harcourt


Won
Firelight - Sophie Jordan

Thank you Kathy!

---
HOLIDAY READING GOAL RESULTS
I had a stack of 10 books and a goal to get through as many as possible over the break.
I ended up reading 7 of the 10 books pictured, plus four others (Thirteen Days to Midnight, Secondhand Charm, Deception & Deadly), which brings my holiday reading to an end with
11 books...My little stick figures are happy with the results :)

Tempestuous (Review)
Heart's Blood (Review)
Thirteen Days to Midnight (Review)
Redwall (Review pending)
Deception (Review)
The Knife of Never Letting Go (Review)
Secondhand Charm (Review)
Jellicoe Road (Review)
Darkness Becomes Her (Review pending)
Scrambled Eggs at Midnight (Review pending)
Deadly (nearly finished; review pending)

Friday, January 14, 2011

If you read this whole review of JELLICOE ROAD, here's a cookie!

Jellicoe Road - Melina Marchetta
Genre: YA Contemporary (that's set in AUSTRALIA!)
# of pages: 419
(pb US version)
Publisher (US): Harper Teen
Recommended for: HS & Up

For years, three factions—Townies, Cadets (city kids doing a six-week outdoor education program), and Jellicoe School students—have engaged in teen war games in the Australian countryside, defending territorial borders, negotiating for assets, and even taking hostages. Taylor Markham, a 17-year-old who was abandoned years ago by her mother, takes on leadership of the boarding school's six Houses. Plagued with doubts about being boss, she's not sure she can handle her Cadet counterpart, Jonah Griggs, whom she met several years before while running away to find her mother. When Hannah, a sort of house mother who has taken Taylor under her wing, disappears, Taylor puzzles over the book manuscript the woman left behind. Hannah's tale involves a tragic car accident on the Jellicoe Road more than 20 years earlier. Only three children survived, and Taylor discovers that this trio, plus a Cadet and a Townie, developed an epic friendship that was the foundation of the many mysteries in her life and identity, as well as of the war games. While the novel might put off casual readers, patient, thoughtful teens will remain to extract clues from the interwoven scraps of Hannah's narrative, just as Taylor does, all the while seeing the collapse of the barriers erected among the three groups over the years. Taken from School Library Journal
My thoughts
There's really not much I can say about this book that I didn't already say here.
When I began Jellicoe last week, I didn't have many expectations for it. I don't know if you guys have ever done this before, but I was just reading it to see what in the world all the fuss was about. Ever since I joined Goodreads I've seen reviews for Jellicoe Road, and I know that it won the Printz Award also. And wanna know a secret? I didn't expect to like it. Because I'd read (and ultimately gave up on) something by author Melina Marchetta before - Finnikin of the Rock - which was not a good reading experience. That book...just wasn't for me.
But see, I learned something. Sometimes it's okay have a "second chance" with an author. I wasn't expecting much with Jellicoe, and I ultimately ended up with a new favorite.
This book was just brilliant. The writing was superb, the way Marchetta crafted and executed her story (or should I say stories) was incredibly clever and unique, and the characters were so memorable, lovable, and genuine. Highest compliments from someone who's known to nitpick.
NOW TO CLEAR THE AIR:
I've seen lots of reviews (majority of them overwhelmingly positive, though) that talk about how confusing this book is, and how lost they were for the first few hundred or whatever chapters.
I'd read so many reviews for Jellicoe before I started that I knew what to expect, but I do want make a couple points:

- Jellicoe Road is **not** a dystopian book. The "war" is not for real. It is one WICKEDLY AWESOME strategy game, and I can't for the life of me think of anything cooler than the 'war' the kids play against the Townies and Cadets. But no real war, no post-apocalyptic fiction here.
- There are two stories told simultaneously throughout the book. Taylor's story, set in the present day, in told in regular font, and the story that Taylor reads about is set almost 2 decades prior and is told in italicized font.
- Pay attention to the characters. I made little biographies of them on my bookmark. Seriously.
- The book is set in Australia, so a wee bit of knowledge about the Australian education system would be beneficial (at the beginning, I just had a tab from the Wikipedia article up). Taylor talks about Year 11 and Year 12, which is equivalent to our upper high school.
...and that just about covers it


Sure, I want to be entertained when I read, but the best books - the ones that truly stand out about the rest - are the ones that move me, the powerful ones, the deep ones, the memorable ones. I don't really know what "IT" is exactly, but Jellicoe Road has IT. Incredibly substantial and powerful book.
And what's interesting is that despite its heavy subject matter (there are some pretty mature topics that are dealt with here), Jellicoe never strayed into melodrama-land. Marchetta's book is emotionally captivating, but it's not exhausting and it's not emotionally manipulative, either. There's just enough humor, hope, friendship, and love mixed in to counterbalance the drama and tragedy. All of the characters have some hurt, habit, or hangup that they deal with over the course of the story, and this is definitely no exception for the two main characters: narrator Taylor Markham and (my favorite) Jonah Griggs.
I knew I'd like Taylor from the moment, on pg 8, when she said that Oliver Twist was a pathetic character. She was like that perfect compound that chemists spend years in the lab trying to concoct: she was strong, but also vulnerable; sweet on the inside, yet unsure how to express affection; scared of the future and life's uncertainties, but brave enough to take responsibility and leadership for her world. Perfect. And without saying too much, I think that Jonah Griggs is the **perfect** love interest that I just knew existed somewhere, but hadn't quite found yet.
I don't mean he's 'perfect' like he's without flaws or has no personality, I mean his character fits Taylor's perfectly. He's exactly what she needs, and vice versa. This was indeed a very strong pairing. I am a LEGIT fan.
I know that this review is already really long, and if you've read everything so far, have a cookie on me!
Two more things I want to address quickly:
- Portrayal of Friendship: I'd argue that the theme of friendship is a major one in Jellicoe Road, and the relationships Taylor forges with her peers is both real and inspiring. It was so moving to watch a troubled, unsure young girl transform into a caring, empathetic leader. Beautiful!
And Taylor's friends - particularly Ben - are so lovable and memorable, they definitely helped make the book what it is. I also loved and appreciated that these were healthy, substantial relationships, which brings me to my final point:
- Portrayal of teenagers. I love YA and won't ever read any other genre as faithfully, but to be honest, quite a few books out there make me embarrassed for teenagers today, just based on the stereotypical ways they're portrayed. For a bunch of kids living in a pretty isolated community, with not a lot of useful teachers or adults around, these kids were pretty dadgum responsible. Like, incredibly so. And I'm not talking about one or two - I mean the whole ensemble cast. This may be a point of irrelevance to a lot of readers, but I wanted to point out how grateful and amused I was to read about such entertaining but mature teens. Maybe one of the (many) reasons why I loved this book is because I respected these characters, what they had to go through and how they handled themselves in the process. And my guess is that you will too.

Quick say: I've found a new classic and a new favorite. Please (older teens) give Jellicoe Road a try. It's not that long, and it's an experience you won't forget.

A word to parents & teen readers: While I absolutely love Jellicoe and wholeheartedly recommend it to the upper teen crowd, be advised that there is infrequent but strong language and very brief s.c. Also, some of the topics in this book are rather mature, making this book more suited for upper teens and beyond.

FINAL GRADE:
Jellicoe Road @ Amazon

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Review - DECEPTION

Deception (Haunting Emma #1) - Lee Nichols
Genre: YA Paranormal/Speculative
# of pages: 336
(pb)
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Recommended For: Upper HS
When Emma Vaile's parents leave on mysterious business trip, it gives her the perfect excuse to be a rebellious teen. Throw some parties, get a tattoo (or maybe just a piercing), and enjoy the first few weeks of her junior year. Then her best friend stops talking to her, the cops crash her party, and Emma finds herself in the hands of a new guardian—her college-age "knight in J.Crew armor," Bennett Stern—and on a plane to his museum-like mansion in New England.
After enrolling at Thatcher Academy, Emma settles in by making friends with the popular legacy crowd. But she can't shake the strange visions that are haunting her. She has memories of Thatcher she can't explain, as if she's returning home to a place she's never been. Emma doesn't trust anyone anymore—except maybe Bennett. But he's about to reveal a ghostly secret to Emma. One that will explain the visions . . . and make Emma fear for her life.

I read this book about 3 weeks ago and have been trying ever since to figure out how to write this review. Pretty pathetic for someone who considers herself a 'book blogger,' huh?
I've been trying to find that balance between what I want to say, what I need to say, and what I probably should say. The first thing, I guess, is that this isn't really the kind of book I'd ever pick up on my own. I'd heard of it before, and a lot of my friends really enjoyed, so I knew it was definitely a popular read. But the synopsis? Kind of enough to scare someone like me away.
Words like "rebellious" "parties" and "tattoo" had kind of a predisposing effect, so I went in to this book with my guard up.
But I did decide to give it a try, and you know, I'm glad I did. With the popularity of vampires, faeries, werewolves, and other paranormal critters in YA, it was really nice to read a good ol' ghost story. In the old days, ghosts kind of ruled the roost of paranormal fiction, and reading Lee Nichols' first installment in the Haunting Emma series made me glad to know those Ghostbusters didn't chase them all away.
If you've stuck around this site for awhile, you know that in addition to the story, I pay attention to the writing elements, too. I'm a big fan of Lee Nichols' style - her writing was engaging and evenly paced. However, the story really didn't get going for me until the main character, Emma, arrived in New England and the "mystery" elements began. To be honest, I kind of skimmed the first couple of chapters, pretty much because I knew that if I really paid attention, I would be grumped out by some of the content. And I didn't miss much. The story really takes off when Emma starts attending the Thatcher Academy and living in that awesome house. Lee Nichols' attention to detail was superb; it really brought back memories of trips to Massachusetts.
I love richly detailed settings, and Deception certainly did not disappoint in that department!
I don't want to drop any specific spoilers, so I'll just say that the concept of "ghost-keeping," for me, was incredibly original and fascinating.
As far as characters go, I loved some of them - Anatole, Celeste, and Bennett (Bennett, for me, was the most enjoyable and well-written character in the novel, more so than the main character), but didn't care for others. Many/most of the teen characters in this story were, in my opinion, portrayed quite stereotypically. Thatcher Academy, while richly described, was one of those setting that seemed absolutely devoid of any kind of adult supervision, which may be okay for teen fiction, but where's the realism? At my school, I had teachers popping out of over corner or crevice like an old video game. So that was a little underwhelming. I was also put off by some of the content presented here: very cavalier attitudes toward drinking and casual sex throughout the book. Everybody handles things differently, but for me, it's hard to recommend books with that sort of content. And that's unfortunate, because the premise of this book is genuinely interesting.
The next installment in the Haunting Emma series, Betrayal, will be released by Bloomsbury Walker on March 1, 2011. I'm glad I had the opportunity to read/review Deception - I would have definitely missed a fascinating and original paranormal story otherwise - but I don't think I'll be catching the sequel.

Check out these other reviews:
Deception @ Tales of Whimsy
Deception @ Mindful Musings

Final Grade: B

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New year, new shelf post!

I absolutely love looking at bookshelf pictures and just realized that it's been almost a year since
I posted about my shelves!
I'm still a college kid with limited space, so my massive shelves take up almost half of my room, and we just added another huge bookcase to my room about a month ago, because my poor books were stacked on top of each other like immigrants in tenement buildings. Now they get to be roomier :)
So here they are!
(and yes, I still do that thing where I alphabetize my shelves. They have to be in order, for some reason!)

Young Adult first, then Adult & Classic underneath And yes - that's a United States map in the background.Reference books


If you guys post any shelf pics, I'd love to see them!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: SCRAMBLED EGGS @ MIDNIGHT

As always, Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB @ Should be Reading.
Here's how it works: Grab the current book you're reading- Open up to a random page- share a little "teaser" from somewhere on that page.***Make sure your section is spoiler free!!

First, here's a synopsis of Scrambled Eggs at Midnight from Goodreads:
Calliope (or Cal as she calls herself) wants nothing more than to stay put; to stop traveling cross-country with her mother, sleeping in a tent, and abandoning all belongings whenever they pull up stakes. Meanwhile, Eliot misses the happy times he left behind when his father decided to open a camp for kids looking to lose weight and find Jesus. when Cal and Eliot meet by chance, they feel an immediate connection. together they must face their isolation, the threat of yet another move, and the deepening of eliot's father's obsession. in their case, love just might be everything it's cracked up to be.


And now here's my teaser:

Then one summer he had the idea to run this special theme camp called Get Thin with Christ! and a busload of fat kids came and prayed and learned to eat salad, and then the next summer the same camp, but for adults, and that was that. A business was born. He's written two books already, has been on TV and everything. You've seen his T-shirts, the hats, the rainbow bracelets, the bumper stickers, the billboards, the cookbook - WWJE, What Would Jesus Eat? On page 347 is a recipe for salmon with capers, a yogurt-based dill sauce, arugula salad with balsamic vinaigrette, and a sugar-free mini cheesecake for dessert. I feel pretty sure that Jesus wouldn't eat that...
- pg 19

Have any of you guys read this book? It's so zany! I'm not even halfway finished and I'd definitely recommend it :)


Reading Resolutions Giveaway Winner!


Wow! My giveaway of Deception got 126 entries in just one weeks' time. Pretty cool.
:D
If you didn't win, stay tuned! I'm going to have at least 1 giveaway for Valentine's Day...maybe 2.

Without further ado, the winner is
#13 - Adriana!

Congratulations! Send me an email within the next 24 hours and we'll go from there.
Again, there will definitely be a giveaway up within the next few weeks for Valentine's Day, so stay tuned!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Help with new rating system!



Hello folks!
I've been meaning to update my rating system, and I wanted to see if you guys had any input.

I used to review books this way:
5, 4.5, 4, 3.5, 3, 2.5, 2, 1

I had a hard time assigning numbers to books, so I went with a grade format:
A+ (5 star)
A (4-4.5)
B+ (3.5)
B (3)
C (2-2.5)
F

And now I'm wondering...should I stick with the grade format or go back to numbers?
The reason I went with the grades was just to try something different, but the graphics I used are starting to look a little old, lol.
One of my goodreads friends even suggested using the Harry Potter grades (Outstanding, Exceeds Expectations, Acceptable, Poor, Dreadful, Troll) :)

I'm also trying to change graphics, and I'd like to know: should I use "half" ratings (like 3 1/2 stars) or just stick with full ratings?

Any input would be appreciated!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Thoughts on an Incredible Book...

Have you ever thought about what it is that makes a book truly special for you?
I was so confident that I knew what my reading tastes were, and they usually involved richly detailed and elaborate worldbuilding (best exemplified in fantasy or dystopian novels), a thrilling plot with multiple twists and turns, and characters I could relate to (meaning characters who had some kind of resemblance to me personally, whether in attitude, beliefs, family life and background, shared experiences, etc). So I'm wondering how exactly a contemporary fiction novel, with absolutely no fantasy or dystopian elements (hence no world-building), no truly elaborate plotlines having to do with saving the world from evil and whatnot, and characters whose experiences (thank God) have been worlds away different from my own, could leave this much of an impression on me. Unlike The Knife of Never Letting Go, Jellicoe Road was a rather positive read, and I wasn't really expecting that. Based on reviews I'd read, I was expecting Jellicoe to be ultra-depressing, melancholy, and melodramatic. If you know anything about the book, you'll probably be aware that the majority of the characters come from very troubling backgrounds, and it's one of those books where the poor characters just keep getting sucker-punched over and over with drama. But...what I discovered was way more than that. I'll say more about the protagonist, Taylor Markham, and how much I enjoyed her narrative in my review, but I really, REALLY like characters who are at least tuned in to their emotions and make an effort to make sense of their life. What made Taylor seem real and also cheer-worthy to me was her imperfectness. She wasn't under some kind of delusion that she could do no wrong, or that her bad circumstances gave her a pass to live life however she wanted. She had some issues dealing with other people, sure, but she was very much aware of that, and her narrative revealed an honesty that I don't often see in main characters...she was a wounded and sometimes vulnerable character, and *that* is what made me care. Author Marchetta didn't set out to create a Super Girl character, but she didn't create a Cry-baby either. For me, she succeeded in really showcasing a truly human character. And the story wasn't just Melancholyville. Yeah, Taylor and Jonah Griggs (who is just about the PERFECT guy and love interest ever written) were very broken people trying to mend themselves, but the story had some very uplifting moments, too. And I like uplifting moments as much as the next slightly emotionally-inclined reader, but what really tipped the scales to the Love It side, for me, was the strong portrayals of friendship.
I loved the interactions and found them incredibly accurate and at the same time inspiring. Guys, this is how to portray teen friendships. This is how to portray teenage relationships. THIS BOOK right here. And the funny thing is, for a book set in a school for (mostly) "troubled" kids...there really wasn't a lot of questionable behavior. Like, at all. That really surprised me.
I guess I'm just so used to authors presenting me with irresponsible kids and the 'ohh, they're just teenagers!' crap that I expect every teen character to stumble over drunk at least once. So I caught myself every hundred pages going "wow, now this is what I'm talking about" or "huh, I thought this was supposed to be a 'heavily dramatic' book...?" So the conclusion seems to be: author Melina Marchetta knows how to write drama, knows how to invest her readers in the stories of the characters, and knows how to create real, dynamic characters, all without melodrama or cliches.
Also...the setting. Every few years I seem to pick a new location to obsess about. When I was in high school and the first few years of college, it was England. I was obsessed with England. Then Scotland. Now it's Australia. Boyo, I can't get enough Australia. I love that freaking country so much. And I think that a big reason why I loved this book was the unique feel to it...this wasn't yet another book about American teenagers, watching American TV shows, speaking in American slang...(yawn). For me, there's just something extra unique about a 'foreign' book, almost like watching a 'foreign' film or a foreign TV show (ohh, and I especially liked the "H&A" reference, and I felt a little bit of pride - as an American - for actually knowing a thing or two about that show. And also, 'pashing.' Feeling a bit of pride that I know what that word means, too!).
When I picked up Jellicoe, I was pretty apprehensive, and truth be told, I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I never expected it to be so enjoyable, nor did I expect it to be so special. But I finished it Thursday and I still can't quite bring myself to start the next book in my pile. My mind still keeps going back to that school on the Jellicoe Road. So what makes a story special? What makes a book truly stay with you? Judging by the droning of this post, I'm still not sure what the answer is. Over the last few days I've read two major-impact books: The Knife of Never Letting Go freaked me out and the hope presented there was like a tiny candle in a darkened room, while the hope presented in Jellicoe was like getting rid of darkness by opening your eyes and acknowledging the daylight around you. Crappy simile aside...that's all I have to say for now. My reading preferences are definitely changing, because I'm pretty confident I would not have picked this book up last year at this time. Just wanted to acknowledge that.

I'm going to write a (hopefully more objective and tightened) review of Jellicoe, but I did want to close with some memorable quotes from the novel, accompanied by pictures I found that matched the story's setting. All of the following are taken from small towns in New South Wales, where the story is set, and some of the pictures feature the Lachlan River, apparently flows by the school.

Memorable Quotes

According to Dickens, the first rule of human nature is self-preservation and when I forgive him for writing a character as pathetic as Oliver Twist, I'll thank him for the advice.
(pg 8)



Where Webb's memories of childhood were idyllic and earthy, Jude's reeked of indifference. Webb read fantasy; Jude read realism. Webb believed a tree house was the perfect place for gaining a different perspective on the world; whereas Jude saw it as perfect for surveillance and working out who or what was a threat to them. They argued about sports codes and song lyrics. Jude saw the rain-dirty vallye; Webb saw Brigadoon. Yet despite all this, they connected, and the nights they spent in the tree house discussing their brave new worlds and not so brave emotions made everything else in their lives insignificant
(pg 32).
And I told him everything. About my first memory, sitting on the shoulders of a giant who I know can only be my father. Of touching the sky. Of lying between two people who read me stories of wild things and journeys with dragons, the soft hum of their voices speaking of love and serenity. See, I remember love. That's what people don't understand. And what I also remember is that in telling that tale to the Cadet on the train I got a glimpse of peace.
(pg 58)
Is a person worth more because they have someone to grieve for them? (pg 62)

"Any pain inflicted on Richard warms my heart and it warms yours as well. Go on, admit it. When he hit the ground and the blood went flying and you knew in your heart his nose was broken, didn't you just want to jump for joy and stomp on his ugly face?" I look at him, shaking my head. "Actually, no, Ben. I didn't. I was thinking that I'd rather be in the comm0n-room watching 'Home and Away.'" "You know what your problem is? You don't know how to enjoy yourself. That was fun. That was better than 'Home and Away.'" (pg 168)
How does Jonah Griggs get to be a ten? He sits on a train with me when we're fourteen and he weeps, tearing at his hair, bashing his head with the palm of his hand, self-hatred pouring out of him like blood from a gut wound in a war movie, and for the first time in my whole life I have a purpose. I am the holder of the grief and pain and guilt and passion of Jonah Griggs and as we sit huddled on the floor of the carriage, he allows me to hold him, to say, "Shhh, Jonah, it wasn't your fault." While his body still shakes from the convulsions, he takes hold of my hand and links my fingers with his and I feel someone else's pain for the first time that I can remember.
(pg 183)

He stops and looks at me. "I'm here because of you. You're my priority. Your happiness, in some...way, is tuned in to mine. Get that through your thick skull. Would I like it any other way? Hell, yes, but I don't think that will be happening in my lifetime." (pg 320)
(Above picture: Darlinghurst Street, Kings Cross, Sydney, where scenes from the story take place)

"But grief makes a monster out of us sometimes, Taylor, and sometimes you say and do things to the people you love that you can't forgive yourself for."
But I won't let it go. "I'd forgive myself. To be with Jonah I'd do anything." (pg 404)

I watch Raffy's mother standing behind her chair, holding on to Raffy's long hair as if putting it into a ponytail and there's this pride on her face while she's touching her, like she's saying, "Look at my beautiful girl." It makes my eyes fill with tears and I quickly brush them away...It's not that I miss my mother. It's just that I miss the idea of what one would be.
(pg 222)


Stay tuned for the much shorter review!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Review - SECONDHAND CHARM

Secondhand Charm - Julie Berry
Genre: YA Fantasy
# of pages: 352 (hb)
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Recommended for: ALL AGES

In a secluded village, magic sparkles on the edges of the forest. There, a young girl named Evie possesses unusually strong powers as a healer. A gypsy's charms—no more than trinkets when worn by others—are remarkably potent when Evie ties them around her neck. Her talents, and charms, have not escaped the notice of the shy stonemason's apprentice. But Evie wants more than a quiet village and the boy next-door. When the young king's carriage arrives one day, and his footman has fallen ill, Evie might just get her chance after all . . .

Every once in awhile a book comes along that you'd never heard of before and would have otherwise missed entirely. Many thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of Secondhand Charm and bringing author Julie Berry to my attention. I'm going to have to check out her other novel - The Amaranth Enchantment, because I certainly liked this one.
First of all, the timing of this novel was perfect. I'd just finished The Knife of Never Letting Go, a powerful but emotionally exhausting novel and was really looking for an upbeat, entertaining weekend read. And Charm didn't disappoint. Personally, I just have a soft spot for sweet, fairytale-ish books that aren't complicated or convoluted or loooooong.
Oh, and have I mentioned how much I love creativity and originality? The magic in this book was very intriguing, and I loved the concept of the serpentina. It's always fun to read something with a truly unique feel :)
So while I did love the magical elements, I never really felt engrossed by the concepts.
And I think it's because the book spent a lot of time focusing on the life of the main character, Evie, in her small, simple village, which is good, but ultimately didn't really have a lot to do with the overall story. So we don't even meet the "magical creature" (don't want to drop a spoiler) until 100 pages in, and we don't begin to understand the magical elements until halfway in, which didn't leave a lot of time for all of the elements to come together.
Also (and this is entirely just a personal thing), Evie was a little hard for me to warm up to. See, she has this unyielding, extremely focused dream: she wants to study at university. No matter what happens (and some pretty darn extraordinary things happen), she wants what she wants. And for someone like me, who is on the brink of a major life crossroads, that just kind didn't resonate with me. How can you be that bent on what you want? How do you even know what you want? I guess there just really didn't seem to be any depth, any internal struggle to her, and so that was a little underwhelming.
Interestingly enough, Secondhand Charm is one of those books where I ended up liking the villain character more than the protagonist. The villain in this story - first of all - didn't really seem all that "evil" and whatnot, and s/he (again, trying not to spoil anything) seemed to have way more personality than our extremely goal-oriented main character, so that was pretty enjoyable.
Do you guys ever find yourself secretly rooting for a story's "bad guy"?

Overall, this was a pleasant, fun, and entertaining read. It was a quick read, but definitely memorable. And again, the magical premise was incredibly creative. I'd definitely recommend Secondhand Charm to all ages - cute, creative, and clean. :)

FINAL GRADE:
B+

Question of the Midweek [3] Why do you read YA?


Either this question is silly, easy, dumb, thought-provoking, or...something else. :)
But seriously ladies (and few gentlemen): most us book bloggers are not teenagers anymore, yet we read books with protagonists not in our age demographic. And we love them.
So why?
Why do you keep reading YA, even though you're an adult?

And do you ever get asked this question by people in real life? Because it's surprised me, over the last year, how often I get asked why I read Young Adult lit, and why my blog concentrates on Young Adult, of all the lofty other genres out there.
So what's the special reason for you? Or is there a special reason? Does YA just float your boat?

I'd love to know! I'm going to do a post on this and I'd love to put your answers in it.
Lemme know!

(These "kids" are really grownups in disguise. It's what's on the inside that counts)

 
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