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This Time Around–second chance romances

This Time Around

by Denise Hunter, Melissa Ferguson, and Kathleen Fuller

This Time Around is a collation of three second chance romances by three popular romance authors. I am posting my notes on each one. If you are interested in novella length romances to mix up your reading from some other genre, this would be the perfect book for you.

Denise Hunter has written a sweet second chance romance entitled A Summer Detour. Allie is free spirited and in her late twenties. She is painfully aware that her parents view her as irresponsible. Sadly, her boyfriend Luke ditched her right before the senior prom in her high school days, and the two have not connected since. When Allie makes a commitment to drive her grandparents’ 50th anniversary gift, a refurbished classic car to their party, she encounters a major hurdle and doesn’t know anyone to call on except Luke. It looks like a reconciliation could be in their future when a totally unpredicted hurdle throws everything off course. This is a short, enjoyable read with all the loose ends tied up nicely.

Told in the third person, Pining for You by Melissa Ferguson varies its focus from chapter to chapter between the two main characters, childhood friends Theo and Skye. When Theo went off to college, it was hard to maintain their blossoming romance. Fourteen years and a few misunderstandings later, can the successful financial advisor and established artist find their way back to each other?

In Kathleen Fuller’s He Loves Me; He Loves Me Not, Sophie Morgan at age 35 finally has her floral business well established and is ready to start dating. There are only two bachelors in Maple Falls. What are the chances they would both show up on her doorstep on the same afternoon inviting her on a date? Landon is a good looking lawyer, but seems a little slick. She has known Joe since Kindergarten, but has never really noticed those football coach biceps. Is it too late for Sophie to find love?

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance

Notes: Includes discussion questions

Publication: July 13, 2021—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Who would choose to cocoon themselves into sleeping bags like saucy enchiladas for every Lyme-disease bearing tick, leg-amputating brown recluse, rattlesnake, mountain lion, bear, or serial killing maniac to discover? Someone needed to write that condition in the book of psychological disorders.

“I once left you unattended in Dad’s toolshed and came back to find you’d reorganized the whole thing alphabetically.” “So? I like organization. Everybody like organization.” “Yeah, well, we were six,” Skye replied.

The man deathly afraid of snakes had stepped into striking distance to save her. Was willing to put himself in front of his greatest fear in order to help her escape. It was touching. Absolutely crazy and ridiculous and paranoid, but also…touching.

Prayer in the Night–for those who work or watch or weep

Prayer in the Night

by Tish Harrison Warren

“Compline” or “Night Prayer” dates back to the fourth century and is intended to be a simple, private service to end the day. It includes Psalms and other Scriptures. One of the prayers, the subject of Prayer in the Night, is:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest, analyzes this prayer describing anecdotally and theologically how and why the prayer has come to mean so much to her.

Life has not been particularly easy for Warren or for many of the parishioners under her care. She is honest and real about her struggles. Most of the book is written in layman terms, but there are some theological concepts that she labels somewhat abstractly. For example, “theodicy” was not a part of my vocabulary although I am aware of the inner conflict many have wondering “why bad things happen to good people.” She used it enough times in context that I was able to adopt it.

Warren doesn’t shy away from pain, vulnerability, weariness, and grieving. She points out the differences between the suffering and the afflicted and how God brings comfort to both. While much of the book addresses the darker side of life, she also brings light on that darkness with the joy, love, and trustworthiness of God.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christianity, Religion, Theology

Notes: Includes Discussion Questions and Suggested Practices for groups or individuals to encourage deep thinking and application.

Publication: January 26, 2021—IVP

Memorable Lines:

When we’re drowning we need a lifeline, and our lifeline in grief cannot be mere optimism that maybe our circumstances will improve because we know that may not be true. We need practices that don’t simply palliate our fears or pain, but that teach us to walk with God in the crucible of our own fragility.

The hope God offers us is this: he will keep close to us, even in darkness, in doubt, in fear and vulnerability. He does not promise to keep bad things from happening. He does not promise that night will not come, or that it will not be terrifying, or that we will immediately be tugged to shore. He promises that we will not be left alone. He will keep watch with us in the night.

In a culture that’s increasingly committed to nursing every grievance, there’s deep wisdom in being able to name what is right and whole about life, to keep moving forward despite obstacles, to have a wider perspective, to look hardship in the eye and laugh.

Under the Magnolias–a darkness of the mind

Under the Magnolias

by T. I. Lowe

Dave Foster is a tobacco farmer and the pastor of the church he fondly refers to as the First Riffraff of Magnolia. He has a large family including two sets of twins, a mentally challenged son, and another who is physically disabled. His wife Edith is a loving mother who somehow manages her husband’s dark times and keeps the family happy. The main character is the oldest daughter Austin, and the story is related from her point of view as she finds herself at the age of fourteen having to become a mother to her six siblings and walk the fine line of respect for her father while acting as a buffer between him and the other children. She works to maintain his standing in the community and keep the tobacco farm running.

Under the Magnolias is very much a character driven story as Austin struggles and sacrifices for others. She is a very intelligent young lady who puts aside her dreams to help her family survive. Unfortunately her father’s dark times become deeper and more frequent and his outbursts more violent. A teenager, Austin doesn’t really know how to deal with her father’s mental issues or get assistance.

Help does come in the form of the mayor’s handsome son. Although Austin won’t let him get close because she is driven to maintain family secrets, he continues to stand by her. Others in their little church and her siblings are important to the story as they all suffer from the occasions when Dave’s mental illness surfaces and bubbles over.

This book is very well-written. In terms of emotional impact, it is hard at times to read. The author, T. I. Lowe, puts the reader right in the middle of the struggles waiting, as Austin does, in the good times for the other shoe to drop. “It was too good. Too shiny. Too normal. No matter how much I wished, prayed, begged, I knew this season wouldn’t last.”

The story takes place from 1980 through 1988. There is a final chapter that relates how life works out for all of the characters. It makes a fitting conclusion because over the course of the book the reader has gotten to know each of them, understanding why they are the way they are. The pacing is excellent with about two chapters per year presenting cumulative snapshots rather than blow-by-blow descriptions. There is an authentic South Carolina flavor in both plot and language. I highly recommend Under the Magnolias as a tale whose characters resonate and linger long after the final page.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction

Notes: Clean—no inappropriate language, sex, or violence

Publication: May 4, 2021—Tyndale House Publishers

Memorable Lines:

Looking through the innocent lens of adolescence, those happier days were perfection. Sadly, they had an expiration date just like those snack cakes. Happiness staled and nothing was pleasing after that. But just like the expired cakes in a meager season, we had no other choice but to stomach whatever life tossed our way next.

I figured it was a blessing that she could pretend something didn’t happen, but we would both learn later in life that pretending something away was no better than constantly dwelling on it. Both produced impactful wounds that tended to fester in other parts of living.

“Honey, the living creep me out. Not the dead.” He picked up a cosmetic brush and touched it to Mrs. Fannie’s pink cheek. “The living can be cruel, judgmental, quick to complain, and slow to please. The dead never yell or cuss you out. Or call you ugly names.” There was such a sadness to his gentle voice.

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.

Lemon Drop Dead–love for a child

Lemon Drop Dead

by Amanda Flower

Although she still films her TV series “Bailey’s Amish Sweets” in New York City, Bailey is currently back in Harvest, Ohio, where she helps her grandmother operate the local candy shop, Swissmen Sweets. One of the shop assistants, Emily Keim, was taken under Bailey’s wing when her hateful sister and brother kicked her out of their pretzel shop business and home. Now Emily is married to a wonderful Amish man who knows that when she was young she had a baby out of wedlock and gave it up for adoption.

When an Amish woman, a stranger, shows up at the town’s baby shower for Emily and then is found dead in the pretzel shop, the little tourist town of Harvest is turned upside down. Everyone knows Bailey will investigate. The search for the killer turns personal as Bailey has a sweet, deaf, six year old girl, Hannah, thrust on her. Jethro the polka-dotted, pot-bellied pig saves the day as he comforts and amuses the child in the midst of the chaotic situation. Bailey is horrified by the insensitive, rude comments made about the child as if she is somehow “less than” because she can’t hear. The Amish do not like government interactions, but the social worker must get involved because of various laws to ensure the welfare of the child. Thankfully, she does try to be sensitive to the Amish culture and to not disrupt the child’s life any more than it already has been.

Along the way, Bailey encounters both Englisch and Amish who are breaking laws and hurting others. There are lots of threads and themes: Amish harness racing in carts, gambling, unwed mothers, adoption, deafness, generosity, paternal responsibility, and love of all types. There are developments in the relationship of Deputy Little and Bailey’s cousin Charlotte as she wrestles with whether to remain Amish or not. Bailey’s boyfriend Aiden has to decide whether to remain in a frustrating job in Harvest’s sheriff’s office or accept a position that is an advancement but would take him away from Harvest…and Bailey.

Lemon Drop Dead is a good story. Both the plot and characters pull the reader in. The reveal of the murderer is surprising. I am looking forward to my next visit to Harvest. Lois, who is a hoot in the Amish Matchmaker series which is also set in Harvest, surprises everyone in this book with her knowledge of sign language. She is sweet and supportive. I learned more about Amish customs, but the biggest surprise for me was finding Amish young men competing at the race track in special carts designed for that purpose and utilizing bicycle tires. Who knew?

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #6 in the Amish Candy Shop Mystery Series. It can be enjoyed as a standalone, but the whole series is good. Some of the books have more humor, but this one does deal with some serious issues so is a little less lighthearted.
2. Clean and wholesome read.
3. Recipe for Lemon Drops included.

Publication: April 27, 2021—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

Gott gives each and every one of us gifts. Each is different. Each is special. It is up to you what you do with them.”

For her and my grandfather to be proud of me was all I’d ever wanted. I’d thought for a very long time that I had to earn that pride by becoming the top chocolatier in New York City. I had since learned my grandparents were prouder of me when I cared for others.

I winced. Hollywood was harsh if it was even asking pigs to lose weight.

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.

A Portrait of Emily Price–forgiveness

A Portrait of Emily Price

by Katherine Reay

There is depth to Katherine Reay’s A Portrait of Emily Price. A story of painful pasts, the approaching death of a patriarch, and the love of family, it is a novel that draws the reader in with characters who seem straight forward at first, but are actually struggling to find their ways through life. It is the tale of people who, like all of us, have events in their pasts that affect their relationships and their futures.

Emily Price is a restorer and an artist. She has a talent for fixing thing. Ben is a handsome Italian chef who comes to Atlanta to reconnect with his brother Joseph after 18 years of separation, but quickly falls in love with Emily. In Italy she finds herself in a situation where she is unwanted; no matter what she does, she ruffles feathers.

Ben’s family has experienced great trauma, but no one is willing to bring the source out in the open so the distance between Joseph and his mother grows and their hearts harden. The author only gradually reveals the core of the difficulties as Emily confronts them. The tale is spun organically at just the right speed. We learn about Emily’s family’s troubles and Ben’s family’s problems as part of the pair’s character development and in such a way that, like Emily, we want to be able to fix them.

Life is not always easy and hurts do not always go away quickly. Giving and accepting forgiveness can be difficult. In the process of negotiating problems and overcoming pain, we learn more about ourselves and others. We grow through those trials. This book records a portion of the journey Emily experiences as she becomes part of a noisy, messy, Italian family.

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: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: Ends with questions for discussion or thought.

Publication: November 1, 2016—HarperCollins Christian Publishers

Memorable Lines:

It almost made me wonder if I’d gotten it all wrong. Perhaps fixing things wasn’t about the end product—it was, oftentimes, about the process.

Home. That word again. In my life, it had always been transient, replaceable with each stepfather or with Mom’s next job. But there was nothing transient about this place. Lucio had said eight generations. This was the dream—stones warmed from above and roots that gripped deep below.

…while I might not know much about his family, I understood pressure, fear, the need to fix things, and the black hole that opened within you when you realized nothing could fix all that was broken.

Aria’s Travelling Book Shop–trauma of grief

Aria’s Travelling Book Shop

by Rebecca Raisin

This second adventure of the Van Lifers features Aria, Rosie and Max who are the main characters in Aria’s Travelling Book Shop. We follow them to France for the summer where they meet up with new and old friends as is the way with these nomadic souls who travel from festival to festival earning their way as they go by holding pop-up specialty shops.

This story is told from Aria’s point of view. She lost the love of her life to cancer three years ago and is still struggling with grief, guilt, and an inability to move forward in her life. Her friend Rosie is always there to support her, but Rosie has a life surprise that complicates her ever-meticulous plans. Aria tries to re-establish a relationship with her husband’s family who estranged themselves from her after TJ’s death. She receives a journal written by TJ during his last months that reveal his hopes for her future. Jonathan is a successful writer who wants to be friends with the romance book loving Aria.

An interesting technique the author uses is to have Aria step outside herself, as if she were an onlooker announcing the events. For example, in italics we read “Hopeless romantic Aria vowed never to love again after loving her husband, TJ, but fate seems to have other ideas and keeps throwing mysterious Jonathan in her path. Is this a test of her commitment…” Using this approach, we get an up close view of Aria’s working through her issues in an almost humorous way.

In addition to personal matters, Rosie and Aria are confronted with a negative and unhappy “friend” who invites herself along. She is not a nice person, but Rosie and Aria try to understand and help her. Look for a surprise transformation for that character, and enjoy the very bookish nature of this novel.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: #2 in The Travelling Shops series, but can be read as a standalone.

Publication: August 10, 2021—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

Promises that won’t be kept swirl in the air above like the glittery trail of a sparkler extinguished before the word is written. I smile sadly, wishing things didn’t have to end but knowing that they do.

“According to my translation app you just told him: You’re a wet chicken!” She bites down on her lip before laughter gets the better of her.

I duly sit and wait for Rosie as she hurries to make tea and serves me a slice of cake so large it has its own postcode.

Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop–home and business in a van

Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop

by Rebecca Raisin

Personal Note: Fall is bringing glorious temps in my area along with some hints of winter to come. Days are too short and dark is uncomfortably extended. It’s the perfect time to mix up my stringent standards of reading books, excepting book club tomes, in the order in which they were published. It’s also a good time to again acknowledge that I am fearfully behind in my reading queue, but I am gradually catching up, mainly because I am requesting about half the number of Advanced Reader Copies that I did when I lived in Mexico. What does my sudden free-spiritedness have to do with this review?

I just finished reading Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop, a fun romance and the first in a series that focuses on some nomadic souls. I’m going to jump into the next one tomorrow, soon to be followed by the third, which has a Christmas theme—perfect!

My Review: It’s Rosie’s birthday and she just turned 32. Her husband Callum has a surprise for her, but it is not a pleasant one. As the sous chef at a famous London restaurant, she works long hours, has almost total independence in creative decisions, but gets no credit for her contributions to the restaurant’s fame.

Can she be successful personally and financially as a Van Lifer, someone who lives out of a van, travelling with no schedule, following fairs and special events or his or her personal whim? Does she have what it takes to strike out on her own, preparing and selling special teas and comfort food in her tiny kitchen at these events? Can she recover from Callum’s betrayal and find love with either sensitive Ollie whom she met on the Internet or with hunky nomadic Max who draws her outside her cocoon of contentment with adventures?

I obviously enjoyed this book. Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop has romantic themes, but it also addresses the serious events that the main characters have experienced that make them the way they are. Rosie is a really nice person and all through the book I wanted only the best for her, although life doesn’t always work out that way. Rosie is a planner with OCD tendencies. She has not had much time for friendships so interacting with romance book loving, free-spirited, kind hearted Aria is a challenge. I can’t forget to mention Poppy, Rosie’s fuchsia pink van; Poppy is as important to Rosie and to the plot as any flesh and bones character! The next book in the series will focus on Aria and her Travelling Bookshop; I’m hoping for a very bookish romance with some adventure and fun thrown in as Rosie and Aria continue their Van Life travels.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: 1. #1 in The Travelling Shops Series 2. When I posted my review on Amazon on 12/6/2021, the Kindle version of this book was on sale for $.99.

Publication: February 16, 2021—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

“The right person is out there, you just have to take the leap and find him. But first you need to figure out what makes you happy, and then have it in spades.”

“Anomaly is just another word for extraordinary, and who wants to be ordinary, anyway? To me you’re a shining light in a crowd of beige.”

And now I see with such life-altering clarity, that all those material things did the exact opposite of fulfilling me, they held me back, kept me in debt, kept me working to maintain a lifestyle that didn’t satisfy me at all.

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