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Mulberry Hollow–obstacles to love

Mulberry Hollow

by Denise Hunter

Denise Hunter continues her Riverbend Romance Series with the Robinson family at the center of the stories. Mulberry Hollow focuses on Avery, the youngest child of three and the only daughter in the merged family. Avery is high achieving and operates her own medical clinic in the little town of Riverbend Gap that is an oasis of relief and comfort for weary hikers from the Appalachian Trail. Avery’s family handles her with kid gloves because she has a 50% chance of having a fatal, degenerative disease. She has resigned herself to a love life with the clinic and the community and rejects the possibility of having children.

One evening she finds Wes Garrett, dehydrated, with a high fever, on the clinic’s doorstep. He was formerly a worker in Columbia for Emergency Shelter International, but is currently a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail in honor of a deceased friend. Wes’ background was tough growing up, and as an adult he is saddled with paying off his father’s debts. Wes is a man of his word and a man of honor. While the handsome guy’s qualities are admirable, they also cause obstacles in any romantic relationship that might develop.

I loved this story and its characters. These are people that fight hard to do the right things putting others above themselves. It’s hard not to keep turning the pages in hopes that good things will happen for Avery and Wes. There are a lot of twists in the plot that will have you groaning at the unfairness of life, but the characters continue to trust in God and pray for others. The religious element is not dominant; instead it reflects the way these characters live out their lives through good times and bad and when the right choices are not the easy ones.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: 1. Discussion questions are included.
2. This is #2 in the Riverbend Romance Series, a trilogy. It could be read as a standalone, but the characters continue from the first book, Riverbend Gap, so you would probably enjoy it more if you read them in order.
3. Clean romance.

Publication: April 19, 2022—Thomas Nelson Fiction

Memorable Lines:

“He was a hustler?” “He could’ve sold mosquitos to a backpacker—and he would’ve if he hadn’t been so lazy. Such as it was, he made do with home improvement scams.”

She took in the now-familiar angles and planes of his face. He was pretty to look at, no doubt, but he was even more attractive on the inside. A man who put aside his plans to help another was a man who could be counted on. A man who spent months on the trail to honor a friend was a man to be admired.

She considered all he’d been through. His difficult childhood, the loss of a dear friend. And yet he’d somehow flourished as a human being. Emerged from his trials a good and caring man. She was thankful God had brought him to Riverbend just when she’d needed him.

Mission Possible–living a life that counts

Mission Possible

by Tim Tebow
with A. J. Gregory

Have you ever thought about the purpose of your life? Tim Tebow, athlete, speaker, and TV sports analyst, shares his ideas on the subject in his latest book Mission Possible. He says that our “big-picture purpose is to bring glory to God wherever you are” and that “Living a mission-possible life means executing the good works that God has already prepared for you to do.”

Tebow lays out in plain language and through Scriptures and anecdotes how each one of us can live out a mission possible life, a life of significance. As head of the Tim Tebow Foundation, Tebow tries to transparently live out his beliefs as he spearheads projects to honor the disabled where they are each crowned king or queen of the prom at Night to Shine events all over the world. He does this to show them how much God loves them and how special they are in God’s eyes. His foundation is also involved in orphanages and health care clinics as well as fighting sexual trafficking. While we can’t all do the things he does or have the influence he has, Tebow says that we can all live out our purpose and make a difference in the lives of others.

In this powerful and inspirational book, Tebow addresses some of the hard problems we face as we try to discover our purpose and make our lives count. Sometimes we encounter obstacles that could keep us from completing our mission, but God can do the impossible if we are willing to be used by Him. God can use us wherever we are, even if we think what we are doing is insignificant. As Tebow notes about Jesus: “He lived fully with purpose in every moment.” That is hard to do but Jesus is the ultimate example for living a life full of purpose.

Our mission possible life will aim for excellence with integrity and gratitude. Tebow also encourages you to pursue your mission with passion. He shares how to find your edge and use it well. He gives guidance for dealing with uncertainties, imperfections, and even failure. He encourages you to take that first step, however small it may be: you don’t have to map out the whole journey before you begin in faith.

There is so much Godly, practical wisdom in Mission Possible. The style is easy to read and well organized, the content is important, and the message is clear. The book concludes with a prayer for those who don’t yet have a personal relationship with Jesus and want to pray to accept Him into their lives. There is another prayer for those ready to make their lives count. This book will make an impact on your life. Read it. Share it. Act on it. You will be glad you did.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to WaterBrook for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Nonfiction

Notes: Tebow has created 3 companion products that support this book as well as a children’s picture book on the same topic.

Publication: March 8, 2022—WaterBrook

Memorable Lines:

See, my mission was never to put on Night to Shine. Now, I love it and it’s absolutely my favorite night of the year, but my mission was, and continues to be, loving and celebrating and caring for those whom God loves and celebrates and cares for.

God has given us His best, His Son, and has proved that He can be trusted. I may not understand why certain roads have started or ended but I can count on His faithfulness.
We may not be blessed with Tom Cruise’s stunt skills. I can’t sing, and maybe you can’t play football. But there’s one thing we can all do: because of the work Jesus did for us on the cross and through the Resurrection, we can each make our lives count.

The Sugarcreek Surprise–trusting again

The Sugarcreek Surprise

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

I was glad I returned to Wanda E. Brunstetter’s Creektown Discoveries series to read the second book, The Sugarcreek Surprise. Part way through the first book in the series, Brunstetter found her pace and upped her style. She maintained and even improved on it in this fictional tale of two young people who have been hurt by life and are afraid of renewed suffering if they give life a second chance—outside of the protective shell each one created.

Paul is betrayed by the woman he has been courting who drops him for his best friend. Lisa has survivor’s guilt when, as a child, her parents and grandparents are in a fatal car crash, but she alone survives. Fortunately, these two are mentored by loving relatives and friends. Life is not easy for either one of them and even more surprises are thrown their way as they cautiously try to open up to others.

I enjoyed this trip to Walnut Creek and Sugarcreek, Ohio. Lisa is a school teacher and I found the differences in her classroom
and the typical Englisch classroom fascinating. School extends only through eighth grade for the Amish. Although the children are typical for their ages in mischievousness and enthusiasm, they arrive with basic manners and parental expectations for good behavior. Paul has an excellent work ethic and is skilled in carpentry. Both are committed Christians and practice their faith through Amish customs. They learn to pray more and trust God more. Witnessing how Amish practices play out in our current world is interesting. This book makes it clear that there are benefits and hardships to contemplate about both Englisch and Amish lifestyles.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Barbour Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Christian, Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: 1. #2 in the Creektown Discoveries Series, but could be read as a standalone because the main characters first appear in this book.
2. The book ends with recipes and discussion questions

Publication: March 1, 2022—Barbour Publishing

Memorable Lines:

Even snippets from the past, which sometimes flitted through her mind, caused Lisa to feel fearful and despondent. She’d convinced herself that the only way she could be happy was to keep her focus on the present and refuse to give in to thoughts of the past.

The Lord knows each of us very well. He also knows what needs to happen for each of us at the proper time.

“Fear doesn’t stop death; it stops life. And worrying doesn’t take away tomorrow’s troubles; it takes away today’s peace.”

The Walnut Creek Wish–freedom through forgiveness

The Walnut Creek Wish

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

Rhonda and Jeff Davis are a financially successful couple living in a townhouse in Canton, Ohio, where she manages a hotel and he has his own restaurant. They love each other, but they have a fairly testy relationship often exchanging hurtful barbs. Neither wants anything to do with God because each had deep-felt prayers that had not been answered the way that they wanted them to be. Rhonda’s dad had affairs and eventually left his family behind. Jeff’s mom passed away when he was a teenager.

Rhonda and Jeff’s lives intersect with those of Orley and Lois who own an Amish antique store in rural Walnut Creek, Ohio, when the younger couple try to rejuvenate their marriage by purchasing a beautiful house and commuting to their jobs. Orley and Lois take every opportunity to encourage Rhonda and Jeff to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. A lot has to happen in the young couple’s lives before their hearts are opened to their need for God.

The Walnut Creek Wish is a quick and easy read, but it deals with some real issues—satisfaction, childlessness, abandonment, and forgiveness. The writing, especially the dialogue, in the first part of the book is somewhat stilted. Then the author breaks into a pace that is much more comfortable after the character backgrounds have been established and the action in the plot develops. It is a clean read with strong Christian themes involving both Amish and Englisch characters with interesting comparisons and contrasts of their lifestyles and their problems and how they react to them.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Barbour Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Christian, Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: 1. #1 in the Creektown Discoveries series. I will be reading the next book in the series. I am interested to see if there is an overlap or continuation of characters and/or of setting and to see if the sudden improvement in style and pace in this book holds up in the next book.
2. Recipes for a cucumber dip and bacon cheese muffins are included.
3. There are questions for individual thought or book club discussions.

Publication: August 1, 2021—Barbour Publishing

Memorable Lines:

She and Jeff had been married twelve years, and all they had to show for it was a modern townhouse, an expensive sports car, a luxury SUV, and a chasm of disinterest between them.

“I don’t know all the reasons, but I’m sure the Lord directed that young man to our store for a purpose beyond looking at antiques.”

“Any time’s the right time to share God’s love and the redemption He offers because of His Son. Pray for the right words to say, and speak them from the heart with love.”

Seeing Beautiful Again–encouragement

Seeing Beautiful Again

by Lysa TerKeurst

Are you going through a hard time, something that is devastating and you have no control over? Do you wonder if you’ll ever “see beautiful” again? Lysa TerKeurst experienced three of those, two physical and one relational, in a short period of time. She has written several books that describe her journey. In Seeing Beautiful Again, she has drawn from her experiences and writings to compose a devotional book to guide readers through fifty days of their struggle. The goal is to give hope and demonstrate that by clinging to God’s promises, readers can stay the course and trust God.

Seeing Beautiful Again is divided into sections and each section begins with a letter to the reader from author Lysa TerKeurst. Each devotional begins with Scripture and ends with a prayer. In between Lysa shares her thoughts on the topic. These passages sometimes include parts of her personal story and always draw the reader to God’s truth which can be applied to a personal situation.

TerKeurst’s other books like Forgiving What You Can’t Forget examine in depth our response to hurts. This devotional is a daily dose of encouragement to fight the good fight and to remember God’s love and His promises in the middle of the trauma.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to HarperCollins Christian Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Religion, Christian Life, Women’s Issues

Notes: Devotional

Publication: March 30, 2021—Harper Collins Christian Publishers

Memorable Lines:

Their victory never hinged on their ability or any of their well-thought-out plans. It was solely dependent on their unwavering obedience offered to a loving and mighty God.

My job is to be obedient to God. God’s job is everything else.

Father God, thank You for reminding me I can trust You in the waiting. I know I can entrust every season of my life into Your hands. Thank You for being present in every moment, strengthening me in the places that I feel inadequate to keep going. When I feel uncertain about what’s ahead, remind me of who You are. I know it will get me through. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Bookshop by the Sea–second chance romance

Bookshop by the Sea

by Denise Hunter

Sophie Lawson knows about abandonment and the pain it leaves in its trail. Her father left her family to fend for itself in the midst of her mother’s fatal illness on the very same day her boyfriend Aiden Maddox pulled up stakes and moved five hours away to start a new life. Aiden knows abandonment too. His mother left him sitting on the porch steps as a little boy and never looked back.

Sophie and Aiden loved each other or thought they did. Seven years later, just as Sophie’s dream to open her own bookshop is about to come true, Sophie and Aiden are thrown together once more—by a wedding and a hurricane. Can love revitalize and conquer bitterness, hurt, confusion, family obligations, and distance?

In Bookshop by the Sea, Denise Hunter paints an emotional in-depth picture of Sophie and Aiden, their pasts and the possibilities for their futures. Disaster keeps striking for Sophie who really deserves a break, but it’s hard to see how she’ll get one in time for her grand opening and book signing event. Those stressors are the backdrop for their relationship drama as the threads weave together, breaking in places only to be retied to push the characters towards growth and healing.

Bookshop by the Sea is a clean book with Christian undertones as the characters mention praying over situations. I enjoyed reading it, not really knowing if it would have a happily ever after ending, but hoping so. The characters definitely have baggage to work through—even the more minor characters as found in Sophie’s family. There is a lot of realism as no one’s life is presented as a fairy tale. There is also a lot of hope, kindness, and community spirit.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance

Publication: April 13, 2021—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

He’d forgotten how easily words of affirmation rolled off her tongue. She’d always made him feel like he could do anything. Be anything. He let the admiration in her eyes wash over him like a cool wave on a hot summer day.

“Don’t borrow trouble. ‘Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?’ ’’ She gave him a wry look. “Did you just quote Scripture at me?” “Hey, there’s a reason I have it memorized. If I’ve learned anything it’s that worrying does nothing but stress you out.”

I guess somewhere along the line I started believing that when the going gets tough…people leave.” Sophie’s heart went soft and squishy at his words, his vulnerability. At the little boy who watched his mother drive away from him and never return.

Sense and Sensibility–guided reading of a classic

Sense and Sensibility

by Jane Austen

with A Guide to Reading and Reflecting by Karen Swallow Prior

Sense and Sensibility was first published anonymously in 1811; it was Austen’s first book. She was thirty-five. She published three more in her lifetime and two more were published after her death in 1817. Although the focus of this novel is love and marriage, it is not a romance in the modern sense. It is a satire finding humor in the manners and customs at the turn of the century.

The main characters are the pragmatic, self-controlled Elinor Dashwood and her sister Marianne who feels everything deeply and openly. Their financial situation is based on the inheritance system in place at that time in which the eldest son receives the lion’s share of the patriarch’s property and wealth. Thus the young ladies and their mother and younger sister are left with little to live on and are somewhat dependent on an ungenerous half-brother. As the older girls are at marrying ages (19 and 17), the main part of the novel tells of the ins and outs of various suitors and relationships. We watch the characters change and grow as their circumstances alter. The events work to balance out the extremes of character found in Elinor and Marianne.

Karen Swallow Prior takes this classic and becomes a guide for the modern reader. As an English professor, she begins with a thorough introduction befitting her profession. She provides information about the time period, Austen’s background, and the form of the satirical novel. She explains situational and verbal irony as well as free indirect discourse. She also discusses Austen’s Christian background and how a Christian today might view this work. Prior includes footnotes for words, terms, and concepts that harken from the last part of the eighteenth century and might cause confusion or difficulty for a reader in the twenty-first century. As Sense and Sensibility is divided into three “volumes,” Prior follows each section with discussion questions and then ends the book with more general “Questions for Further Reflection.” All of these features improve the reading experience and yield opportunities for a deeper understanding.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction, Classic

Notes: I found the introduction useful before I began reading Sense and Sensibility, but when I referred back to it in preparation for writing this review, I found it helpful to reread the information as I was able to apply some of it better having completed the novel.

Publication: The novel was originally published in 1811. This edition was published in 2020 by B&H Publishing Group.

Memorable Lines:

From Prior’s Introduction:
Some of its satire is directed at significant human flaws and social structures such as romanticism, greed, falsity, and the prevailing view of marriage as a business transaction. Other objects of satire in the novel are less serious but incur no less delight in being skewered incisively by Austen’s sharp eye and even sharper wit: silly women, idle men, and gossiping tongues.

From the novel:
This specimen of the Miss Steeles was enough. The vulgar freedom and folly of the eldest left her no recommendation, as Elinor was not blinded by the beauty, or the shrewd look of the youngest, to her want of real elegance and artlessness, she left the house without any wish of knowing them better.

Marianne, with excellent abilities and an excellent disposition, was neither reasonable nor candid. She expected from other people the same opinions and feelings as her own, and she judged of their motives by the immediate effect of their actions on herself.

The Last Battle–the end

The Last Battle

by C.S. Lewis

The final installment of The Chronicles of Narnia is as interesting, exciting, and thought provoking as the other six books. I read the last part slowly, eager to know what would happen next but not wanting to arrive at the end of the magnificent tale by C.S. Lewis, the consummate storyteller.

There are many important and timely themes including freedom vs. socialism, manipulation, deception, power and control, sacrifice, good vs. evil, and seeking God. Lewis brings together the characters and elements of all the books into a grand and surprising, but satisfying finale.

There are new characters added to the series. Shift is an ape who keeps Puzzle the donkey controlled by undermining his self-confidence. Old characters are present too as King Tirian calls out to Aslan the lion for help and “the seven friends of Narnia” from our world are whooshed into Narnia where they prepare to do battle against Shift, the Calormenes led by Rishda, and Tash the Calormene god. Shift devises elaborate schemes to deceive the Narnians and convince them that Puzzle, dressed in a lion’s skin and only appearing in the dark, is Aslan. This false Aslan through Shift’s directives is a cruel ruler, unlike the real Aslan. He enslaves the Dwarfs and Talking Horses making them work to accrue wealth for himself. Shift and Rishda convince the Narnian Talking Animals that Tash and Aslan are the same god and that they should now worship “Tashlan.”

Speaking further of the plot would disclose too many events that readers will surely want to discover on their own. The Last Battle is an adventure story replete with easy to understand symbolism and ageless themes. Quoting the last paragraph of the book would be the ultimate spoiler, but don’t fly to it first when you read the book. When you reach the ending, having experienced adventures alongside the characters and learned more of the attributes of the real Aslan, you will smile and savor the thoughts in that last beautifully composed paragraph.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction, Christian

Notes: 1. #7 in The Chronicles of Narnia series. This is the final book in the series and should be read last.
2. This series is often listed as Children’s Fiction, but is really appropriate for all ages with adults reading it on a different level from children. It is perfect for a read-aloud.
3. I can’t believe I had never read the full series. If you are in a similar position, I urge you to delve into this treasure of a series. You will not regret it.

Publication: Original copyright is 1956. My copy was printed by Scholastic in 1995.

Memorable Lines:

“I was with him in his last hour and he gave me this message to your Majesty: to remember that all worlds draw to an end and that noble death is a treasure which no one is too poor to buy.” “So,” said the King, after a long silence “Narnia is no more.”

And then she understood the devilish cunning of the enemies’ plan. By mixing a little truth with it they had made their lie far stronger.

“They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”

You Were Made for This Moment–the God of great reversals

You Were Made for This Moment

by Max Lucado

Most of us are experiencing the “winter of our discontent” with ever-changing health orders, lockdowns, divisiveness on all fronts, inflation, shortages, and politicians who promise much and do little. Max Lucado has written a book that is very appropriate for these times, You Were Made for This Moment. It focuses on Queen Esther in the land of Persia. Her story is found in the book of Esther in the Old Testament of the Bible. The heroine has concealed her Jewish heritage, but now her people are about to be annihilated. Esther is the only Jew with access, limited as it is, to the throne room of the powerful Xerxes.

In his book, Lucado takes us through this dramatic tale, giving background to make it very understandable and including contemporary anecdotes to point out the relevancy of this situation to crises we might find ourselves in. Sometimes they are humorous, sometimes sad, but always they are pertinent. Both the short book of Esther and You Were Made for This Moment should be on a “must read” list for all as they display how God is always working behind the scenes. Our omnipotent God has power over rulers. We need to be open to what He asks us to do in our circumstances whether the situation looms large or is seemingly minor.

Through fasting and prayer, Esther came to understand that “silence is a form of acquiescence.” Although approaching the throne room uninvited was a potential invitation to death, she followed through to save her people with the famous line, “And if I perish, I perish.” Esther was indeed called for such a time as this.

Long a fan of the courageous Queen Esther, I enjoyed revisiting her story. My faith was confirmed, my attitude refreshed, and my courage bolstered. This is an inspiring book, and Lucado, as always, is a riveting storyteller.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Inspiration

Notes: 1. Take the time to read Max’s humble “Acknowledgements.” As a writer, he turns a “blah-blah” moment into one that will bring smiles to the hardest heart.
2. The book ends with “Questions for Reflection” prepared by Andrea Lucado. They are designed to accompany each chapter as you read it.
3. I also purchased the study guide, written in workbook format, with different questions from the ones in the book. The guide contains a code that gives streaming access to five videos prepared to accompany You Were Made for This Moment and the study guide. The videos feature Max Lucado as he brings the Esther story to life through a cast of characters simulating a dramatic production of the Esther story. As always, when Lucado speaks, listeners feel like the words are directed at them and for their benefit.

Publication: 2021—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Seasons of struggle can be a treacherous time for the human heart. We are sitting ducks for despair and defeat. We turn away from others, turn our backs on God, and turn into fearful, cynical souls. Despair can be a dangerous season. But it can also be a developing time, a time in which we learn to trust God, to lean into his Word and rely on his ways.

God is in the details. He works in the small moments. The insignificant becomes significant because he is ever orchestrating the day-to-day details of innumerable lives through a millennia of time to do what he has foreordained to do.

In God’s hands no script is predictable, no story line is inevitable, no outcome is certain. He is ever a turn of the page from a turn-on-a-dime turnaround….He is the God of grand reversals.

Don’t tell God how big your storm is. Tell the storm how big your God is. Your problem is not that your problem is so big but that your view of God is too small.

A Stranger’s Game–from the boardroom to a boardgame

A Stranger’s Game

by Colleen Coble

Torie Berg introduces herself at Jekyll Island Club Resort as their new IT specialist. In reality, as the daughter of the owner of a huge resort chain, she spent her early childhood there. After eighteen years she has returned to find out what happened to her best friend Lisbeth who recently died while tracking down leads on Torie’s mother’s death.

Someone recognizes Torie and wants her to abandon her investigation. Who knows how far this creepy person will go in intimidating her and what their motive might be. Is it personal or does it have anything to do with the war games the Navy is conducting? Is Torie getting too close to the truth or does this involve the many important visitors the hotel is expecting for a major financial meeting?

Joe Abbott trains dolphins to intercept saboteurs and lives at the resort with his eight year old daughter Hailey in exchange for providing security. He is caught up in issues with the Navy when Simon, a dolphin he is training, catches a diver planting a bomb. As Torie’s neighbor on Jekyll Island, Joe becomes involved in protecting her from a mysterious stalker. He has not been interested in dating in the three years since his wife died, but he is attracted to Torie and she is drawn to his daughter Hailey as they share a sense of loss that both experienced in losing their mothers as children.

A Stranger’s Game is a fast-paced mystery that includes some psychological creepiness and suspense, but not enough for me to classify it as a thriller. It has a touch of clean romance, but the emphasis is on the plot. The Jekyll Island Club Resort setting is critical to the story. The characters are allowed to develop as the story progresses. The novel contains adventure and three major plot lines along with cross threads that give the book both color and cohesion. I did not guess the identity of the criminals behind the detailed plotting of various crimes or those who executed the plans. Well done! Colleen Coble has created a standalone that will send you looking for more of her books.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Christian Fiction, Romantic Suspense

Notes: Standalone

Publication: January 4, 2022—Thomas Nelson Fiction

Memorable Lines:

“It’s hard to understand even for adults. But evil things happen to all of us, honey. Hard things, bad things. We don’t understand and a lot of the time, we can’t understand because we aren’t God. When those times come—and they come to everyone—all we can do is trust that God loves us.”

“By its very nature, life involves loss. If we stop taking chances, stop living our lives, we might as well crawl in the grave and let someone kick the dirt over us. Real life is worth the risk.”

The reserve she’d donned all her life had made ruts through her soul, tracks she followed like a mule plodding a well-worn trail.

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