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Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (4/5)

26 Jul

This book had been on my radar but I wasn’t really seriously considering it. I read Towles first novel and enjoyed it a lot but wasn’t clamoring to read his next release. However, when my reading buddy and I were in the middle of Recursion by Blake Crouch, one of the throwaway characters was named Amor Towles and Crouch acknowledged in his notes that this was in recognition of how much he loved this book, I decided it was time. We grabbed this for our next book and after a bit of a miss-step getting it from my bookstore, we had our copies and dived in. It was easy to divide the book into its five sections and meet to talk after each one.

Moscow

Cover Image via Amazon

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Other books by Towles reviewed on this blog:

Rules of Civility (and Book Club Discussion)

Summary from Amazon:

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book that takes place almost entirely within a hotel and goes on for over 400 pages. Some books with sweeping settings struggle to fill that many pages. But my doubts were quickly pushed aside as I enjoyed this book more and more. Towles keeps us engaged in Rostov’s world, as simple as it may seem at first. I loved having to pay attention to details that would come back into play later.

Rostov, Nina, Sophia, Anna, and the rest of the characters were beautifully drawn and I loved reading about them. Nina was probably the most dynamic and I adored how she grew up in front of our eyes, always curious and very smart. I wanted a little something more from her character, but I’m still satisfied with what I got. The employees at the hotel were amazing. I can’t imagine working the jobs they did for as long as they did but in a communist society, having a job at a luxury hotel like they did was probably a huge blessing and gave them access to things they otherwise never would have been able to touch.

Rostov himself was my favorite character by far. He was so smart and resourceful. I loved how we learned small things about him as the story went on that made you come to love him in different ways. Learning about his sister, his relationship with Mishka, and his love of Sophia were wonderful. He had moments, like finding out his affair with Anna was public knowledge, where you wanted to laugh at him, but it was hard not to love everything he did. This book would have been frustrating with a less loveable character.

No single character was relatable but I think everyone could sympathize with the staff dealing with their horrible boss in the Bishop. We’ve all had horrible bosses at one time or another and I thought it was funny how much they all came together to out maneuver him as much as possible. Some if it was little things like having a dinner they wanted, some larger things like the loose turkeys. Seeing someone rise while the rest of them stayed where they were must have been frustrating but they all seemed to find a way to band together and support each other as much as they could.

Towles

Amor Towles Image via Goodreads

I enjoyed the later half of the book the most, after Sophia arrived. We see a very different side of The Count once he’s more of a father figure and the steps he goes through to make sure Sophia is well cared for are wonderful. A moment that sticks out is when he threatened the conductor for coming on to Sophia before finding out that he was teaching her. It was such a wonderful fatherly moment and set the tone for how he was with her for the rest of the book.

The book did seem to start a little slow. I understood by the end that it was setting a scene and establishing a lot of people that would come to be important later, but it did seem a bit of a bore to begin with. About half way through Part II and all of Part III had me invested, though.

Our lives might not always be in our hands, but it’s what we do with them that matters. The Count’s life changed as much as one can with the Russian Revolution. It was amazing to me what he faced and how difficult it must have been for him to lose his family and life the way he did. When he’s allowed to live but belittled by being stuck in the hotel, I’m sure it was hard for him to see a reason to move forward and it becomes obvious that this is a struggle for him. Routines come to define us if we can’t find meaning in them. The life he eventually creates and the friends he discovers, are a rich tapestry for his life. He moves beyond being a guest and becomes a part of the hotel in a way only the staff can understand. I thought it was really beautiful how he interacted with the hotel by the end.

Writer’s Takeaway: There’s nothing wrong with a simple story. A man under house arrest in a hotel for decades doesn’t seem like an engaging tale. But with the right supporting characters and a star with something to prove, the story was exquisite. It’s all in the details and Towles did an amazing job with them.

A great read, even if it did start a little slow. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1920-1939 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Related Posts:
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles (a book review) | Arshia
Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles | Celinelingg
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles | Of Books and Reading

Book Review: New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson (2/5)

20 Jul

Finishing two books in a week is such a novel thing for me, I’m not sure what to do with myself. This one felt like a long time coming just because the audiobook was so long. This is a book I got for free from my library during a summer audiobook giveaway a few years ago. I’ve been holding on to it for when I needed a book and it’s time came up.

2140

Cover image via Amazon

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Summary from Amazon:

As the sea levels rose, every street became a canal. Every skyscraper an island. For the residents of one apartment building in Madison Square, however, New York in the year 2140 is far from a drowned city.

There is the market trader, who finds opportunities where others find trouble. There is the detective, whose work will never disappear — along with the lawyers, of course.

There is the internet star, beloved by millions for her airship adventures, and the building’s manager, quietly respected for his attention to detail. Then there are two boys who don’t live there, but have no other home — and who are more important to its future than anyone might imagine.

Lastly there are the coders, temporary residents on the roof, whose disappearance triggers a sequence of events that threatens the existence of all — and even the long-hidden foundations on which the city rests.

This book frustrated me. I’ve tried to think of a better word for it, but that seems to capture how I feel best. There were way too many characters and they didn’t interact in ways I felt were meaningful and added to the story. I was lost about the main plot of the book the entire time I was reading it and having finished, I’m still not sure I understand. It became clear that the city was the main character, but we spent so much time with the actors that that was murky until I was nearly finished with the book. Despite an easy sell, there was very little warning about climate change outright (besides Amelia). I would have slashed more than half of this book if I was editing it. There’s no reason it was a 22 hour audiobook.

It’s hard to really comment on these characters. They seemed a bit too contrived a lot of the time. Charlotte was too perfect for words and Amelia was purposefully aloof in a way that was annoying. I didn’t like the tone of the ‘narrator’ that appeared from time to time and I found Franklin frustrating. Really, they were pretty realistic, but not likeable.

Vlade might have been my favorite character. He felt like a real person and someone that I could meet today or in 100 years and understand why he did what he did. He had a clear goal of doing his job well and he cared for people more than others seemed to. He was a reliable person and, uniquely, likeable.

None of the characters really drew me in. They were pretty flat characters, not changing much during the course of the book and not showing a lot of depth. Charlotte was probably the most dynamic person but her change was more about coming to terms with doing something she didn’t want to than it was about changing her mindset or actions. The flatness of the characters was a big part of what kept me from engaging with them.

Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson Image via Wikipedia

There wasn’t a plot point of the story that I enjoyed more than others. The story developed more on an event-by-event basis, with each new crisis engaging the characters in a different way and not connecting well to things that came before. It almost felt like disconnected stories in an episodic fashion, like you might have for a TV series season instead of a book. The style really didn’t work for me.

The first 60% or so of the book was more or less set up for the last 40% and I found it really unsatisfying. The character development didn’t seem to have much of an impact on the later half of the book anyway. It was a lot of explaining how Robinson saw the world changing due to climate change. The characters didn’t add much to the story in my opinion.

The audiobook had a lot of different narrators for the different characters which was fun. The narrators included Suzanne Toren, Robin Miles, Peter Ganim, Jay Snyder, Caitlin Kelly, Michael Crouch, Ryan Vincent Anderson, Christopher Ryan Grant, and Robert Blumenfeld though I have no idea who did which parts. I enjoyed the narration for Amelia most and I have to say I enjoyed the narration for the ‘narrator’ (aka history info dump) the least, though that was due to the writing and not the actor’s portrayal. I didn’t like how we were getting periodic info dumps in a stereotypical New York jargon from someone outside of the story.

There was a strong sense of community amongst the residents that pushed the plot forward. Having a community like that was key for what they were eventually able to accomplish politically. However I feel about the plot of the book, that communal support was really critical and central to the characters and spoke to how we need to band together to accomplish anything. Americans are not the best at doing this so it was great to see it happen in the novel.

Writer’s Takeaway: There were a lot of things I felt were lacking in this novel. The overall plot was a bit confusing and I think it could have benefited from a more defined three-act structure. There were also a lot of characters that could have been cut and combined. I’m not sure what the author was trying to say with this book, but I think it got lost in the future he was creating.

Overall, much longer than it needed to be and murky. Two out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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Book Review: New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson | Beer Rants and Books
Review of New York 2140 – Kim Stanley Robinson | My Opinion on Various Books

Book Review: Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono (3/5)

19 Jul

OK, I have to start off by saying that I’m so excited to have a book review to write! But I’m so out of habit that I forgot to write it ahead of time like I normally do so I’m squeezing this in the night before. It’s kind of nice to be back. This was a book that came up in another book and made me think, “That sounds like an interesting thing to read.” I knew it would be a while and I knew it would be a slow read and I’m thankful to have finally finished this one.

Lateral

Cover image via Amazon

Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono

Summary from Amazon:

The first practical explanation of how creativity works, this results-oriented bestseller trains listeners to move beyond a “vertical” mode of thought to tap the potential of lateral thinking.

I found parts of this book to be more useful than others. Some of it is written for teachers, who can teach lateral thinking to their students. That wasn’t as helpful but there were parts for practical application that were still useful. I did feel like the book was stretched a little thin in places. There were some concepts that I didn’t feel merited their own chapter or as long of an explanation as they got. There are useful techniques to the lateral thinking method, but some of them don’t need six examples. I think I could have dealt with ‘Lateral Thinking Light’ and got the same amount of information from it.

De Bono stresses not judging peoples ideas for ‘not working’ before talking about them. You have to trust that there’s a reason the person suggested the idea and while what they suggested might not be workable, the reasoning they have behind it might lead you to a new answer. I like this concept and I think it’s something I can use in work. He also stresses not stopping the search for an answer when something that works comes up; you have to keep digging. His suggestion was setting a number of ideas you’ll come up with before moving to the next phase so that you keep looking beyond the first good idea. I really liked this concept.

The chapter on po was way too long for me and I felt like it could have been cut. Po is a new word de Bono uses to replace ‘no’ but to have a similar impact of saying ‘that probably won’t work but I’ll withhold judgement and we’ll talk about this later.’ I don’t feel a new word was needed for this and I don’t feel it merited the longest chapter in the book and all the examples and slightly different uses it got.

de Bono

Edward de Bono Image via Wikipedia

De Bono believes anyone can be creative and come up with new an innovative ideas. His process is similar to a design thinking approach, looking at the problem and breaking it down into solvable chunks, focusing on what needs to be delivered. I thought this was a useful book for me to read since I was recently hired to a team that’s new and developing a lot of processes. We’re going to have to be creative in how we approach our work and what we do now will need to be re-evaluated again in a year to see if changes are needed.

Writer’s Takeaway: De Bono does well to give concrete examples in a book about creativity. I think that as a teacher, I would have found this book helpful if I wanted to teach students about lateral thinking techniques and how they can be more creative and find new solutions to problems. He has some more dated references that could be updated with technology (there was clearly no internet when de Bono penned this), but the suggestions and techniques are pretty universal. I think this is a text that will stand the test of time.

While I found this useful and helpful, it was still a bit dry and didn’t grab my attention. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Related Posts:
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Creativity Tip – Lateral Thinking | The Writaholic’s Blog

Book Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (4/5)

7 Jun

This title was on the book club docket before COVID hit but hasn’t reappeared. I thought it was about time I tried to get through it and was excited to see that it’s been released as a mini-series on Amazon Prime. I’ll have to convince my husband to watch that with me soon

Cover image via Amazon

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Summary from Amazon:

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. An outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is on the cusp of womanhood—where greater pain awaits. And so when Caesar, a slave who has recently arrived from Virginia, urges her to join him on the Underground Railroad, she seizes the opportunity and escapes with him.

In Colson Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor: engineers and conductors operate a secret network of actual tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora embarks on a harrowing flight from one state to the next, encountering, like Gulliver, strange yet familiar iterations of her own world at each stop.

As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the terrors of the antebellum era, he weaves in the saga of our nation, from the brutal abduction of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is both the gripping tale of one woman’s will to escape the horrors of bondage—and a powerful meditation on the history we all share.

This is one example of why I don’t read summaries. I had no idea the railroad was going to be physical until it appeared. I thought the tracks were part of a metaphor up until the engine pulled in. I loved the idea of a twisting, winding railroad literally delivering people to freedom and better lives. Cora’s story of escape was well done and I liked how she was rightfully never fully safe in her time on the rails. I think a lot of this book was meant to shock and that the treatment of the slaves should have taken me aback more than it did. Having read Kindred by Octavia Butler a few months ago, the effect wasn’t as strong here because I’d been exposed to it recently in that work.

The characters all seemed very real to me. I could believe that Cora and Ceaser were brave enough to run. I could believe that Randall and Ridgeway could be so cruel. I believed in the kindness of the station masters and the fear that simmered under them. Whitehead gave them nervous energy that simmered in this book in a very exciting way.

Cora was easy to like in this story. She was brave and determined and she was fighting for something that you knew was right and just. She was a strong woman and it was hard not to like her. I appreciated that Whitehead made his hero a woman. While Ceasar’s story was strong and he could have been an appealing main character, I think the trauma of raped slave women is unique and wouldn’t have been captured in the same way with a male protagonist.

It’s hard to deny that there is racism in America today. While the treatment of Blacks and other minorities isn’t as deadly today as it was in Cora’s time, it still needs to be combated. It can seem daunting to support movements that seem to be against the government’s stance, such as defunding the police departments and getting rid of restrictive voting laws. While it’s not as deadly today as it was for supporters of free Blacks in the 1800s there can still be backlash. I saw friends and political figures from today when I looked at the allies in this book. I think a lot of the stories then are paralleled now, unfortunately. We may be past slavery, but we’re not past racism and its evils.

Colson Whitehead
Image via the author’s website

Cora and Ceasar’s stop in South Carolina was my favorite. I thought it was such an idyllic place at first until we started to see the evil intentions and traps that were lurking just under the surface. I thought these were revealed well and gave a sense of foreboding that was well done. Cora’s eventual escape was a point of great intensity in the book that I enjoyed.

I felt the ending of the book seemed a bit rushed. From the end of the Valentine Farm to the end of the book, things wrapped up quickly. I didn’t expect this book to have a neat bow on it, but I was hoping for a little more about Cora’s eventual peace which is teased. After so much suffering, I would have liked a moment of comfort. But I understand that Cora’s life was about pain and that’s why her story focused there.

The audiobook was narrated by Bahni Turpin and I’m still loving Turpin’s narration. This is my third time listening to a book with her and I’m looking forward to more in the future. She had great voices for all of the characters and tapped into Cora’s emotions well. She was serious when needed and lighthearted when appropriate. I’d listen to her other work in the future without hesitation.

America needs to remember how it brought Blacks to America. We have to remember that there has been slavery, repression, Jim Crow, and other evils that we still see today. I’ve heard about how we’ve ‘fixed’ the problems that are at the root of our issues and how racism is over and I can see that it’s not true. My job allows me to talk about Diversity and Inclusion at length and how it affects minorities and I’m surprised at how few people have this topic come up often in their lives. I think it’s important to read books like this and have your ideas challenged. Slavery is history but not ancient history. 

Writer’s Takeaway: The twist that Whitehead saved for the end was my favorite part. I won’t say too much here about it so no spoilers! I will say that he created a legend that lived for most of the story before it was resolved quickly at the end and had me rethink a lot of the book and opinions and comments that came out because of it. I’m interested to see how the screen adaptation has taken this.

A well done and thorough novel. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Related Posts: 
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: ‘If you want to see what this nation is all about, you have to ride the rails’ | Gerry in Literature
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead | The Book Stop 
Review: ‘The Underground Railroad’ by Colson Whitehead | Ephmereality 
The Underground Railroad | Afterlives of Slavery

Book Review: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee (4/5)

11 May

I absolutely adored the first book in this series so to say I put it on a pedestal is perhaps an understatement. I was so excited to start it that I didn’t think about book club picks that might get in the way and had to stop three hours in for more than a month to squeeze in some other books before coming back to it. But when I did return, I powered through.

PetticoatsThe Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (Montague Siblings #2) by Mackenzi Lee

Other books by Lee reviewed on this blog:

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky

Summary from Amazon:

A year after an accidentally whirlwind grand tour with her brother Monty, Felicity Montague has returned to England with two goals in mind—avoid the marriage proposal of a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh and enroll in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.

But then a window of opportunity opens—a doctor she idolizes is marrying an old friend of hers in Germany. Felicity believes if she could meet this man he could change her future, but she has no money of her own to make the trip. Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid.

In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that leads them from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.

This book was fun and a great adventure, but I was looking for something more and unfortunately didn’t get it. Don’t get me wrong Felicity’s voice is great and Johanna and Sim were amazing companions. However, I didn’t fee like Felicity grew much during the book and Monty’s growth was part of what I loved so much in the first book. Felicity grew more in the first book than she seemed to in this one. It felt a bit more like a forced sequel than a true second plot and I was disappointed. By my rating, you can see I still enjoyed it, but I couldn’t give it the full Five Stars.

I didn’t believe Felicity and Johanna as much as I would have liked. Felicity was so single minded for much of the book that I found it hard to believe she welcomed Johanna back into her life so quickly and abandoned her worship of Platt as fast as she did. The rest of the book, her focus was much more external and it seemed like a sudden shift. Johanna was more likeable the second half of the book but I didn’t understand why she was so subservient before she ran away. She seemed so happy and content and many of the comments she and her uncle made made it seem like she wanted to get married. She never seemed to contradict this later so her decision to abscond baffled me for much of the book.

Sim was my favorite character. I thought her motivation was the strongest out of the female leads. Her relationship with her father was appropriately complicated. I also liked how Lee brought in a Muslim character and the cultural opportunities that opened the book to because of that diverse pick. Sim was a strong a powerful character and I think I’d rather a sequel about her than another Montague sibling at this point.

There wasn’t much relatable about Felicity which is part of why I didn’t engage with her. Her adventure was larger than life and very fun, but it’s not something most of us will even get a chance to experience. Her friendship with Johanna ended poorly and that could have been something I understood and related to, but their resuming of their friendship was almost too quick and they never seemed to sort out what had driven them apart. Her desire to do something society pushed back against has become (thankfully) less relatable for most people. I think this was supposed to be one thing that made her relatable to women but in this case, I think time has made her struggles less common and her drive less relatable.

Lee

Mackenzi Lee Author image via HarperCollins

I enjoyed the time the girls spent in Zurich best. After that, the book started moving so fast that I had some trouble keeping up with it. Zurich gave them time to develop as individuals and to bond as a group which was fun to watch. Felicity was able to show her knowledge and apply it well with Sim’s injury and we got to see how the three could work together for the rest of the book.

Platt’s character was the most disappointing part of the entire book to me. Felicity looked up to him so much and we know that he’s a very intelligent person from the books that he wrote and the work that he did. The way he carved a way for himself in the medical field was admirable. However, he was a wreck once he appeared. His addiction was to blame for a lot of this, but it seemed too much of an oversimplification based on how he’d been built up. I was really hoping for a bit more, for his genius to shine through in some way or for him to at least show his medical knowledge.

The audiobook was narrated by Moira Quirk. I didn’t hate her reading, but it wasn’t my favorite. She made a lot of things sounds flippant that I don’t think should have been read in such flippant tones. It was hard for me to tell if that was the writing or the narration, though. I will say that I liked her dramatic pauses when large turns happened. She had good voices for the characters, though Johanna and Felicity were a bit similar.

Felicity takes her fate into her own hands, not letting her society dictate what she can or should do. She refuses romantic relationships and pursues professional growth. She’s a very modern woman living in the 1700s. The book shows how far women have come since Felicity is very limited by her sex and the time she lives in. Many of the things she is barred from doing are much more easily obtainable by women today. Her fight it what makes this so. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the women who came before us, women like Felicity who pushed back and found their own way.

Writer’s Takeaway: Lee kept a first-person narration story moving forward at a good pace which can be hard to do! Her time jumps were well managed and she kept Felicity at the center of the excitement without it seeming forced out out of character. I’ve tried to write first person and struggled so I was so excited to see a story move so smoothly.

Overall, a fun read but nothing like the first in the series. Four out of Five Stars

This book fulfills the 1700-1799 time period of the When Are You Reading? 2021 Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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Book Review | The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy – Mackenzi Lee | For the Love of Books

Book Review: Recursion by Blake Crouch (4/5)

10 May

This was for sure my pick for a buddy read. I loved Courch’s first book, Dark Matter. I was curious to see what else he had up his sleeve. My reading buddy was up for a bit of a thriller so this seemed like a good pick for us both. Man, did we speed through this one. I think we met twice in a week at one point because we were both so eager to keep reading.

Recursion

Cover image via Amazon

Recrusion by Blake Crouch

Other books by Crouch reviewed on this blog:

Dark Matter (and Book Club Reflection)

Summary from Amazon:

Reality is broken.
 
At first, it looks like a disease. An epidemic that spreads through no known means, driving its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived. But the force that’s sweeping the world is no pathogen. It’s just the first shock wave, unleashed by a stunning discovery—and what’s in jeopardy is not our minds but the very fabric of time itself.
 
In New York City, Detective Barry Sutton is closing in on the truth—and in a remote laboratory, neuroscientist Helena Smith is unaware that she alone holds the key to this mystery . . . and the tools for fighting back.
 
Together, Barry and Helena will have to confront their enemy—before they, and the world, are trapped in a loop of ever-growing chaos.

Having not read the summary, I thought this was going to be about a contagious disease early on and I wondered what I’d stumbled into. Maybe the later half of a global pandemic wasn’t the best time for this? But the more we got into it and realized what FMS was and what was really going on, the more we were sucked in. The first half of the book is told from two view points, Helena and Barry. They’re not in the same place or in the same year but we quickly discovered how interlinked their stories would be. Crouch’s exploration of reality and what would realistically happen with new technology is really well done. I thought the reactions of many people were completely justified and Crouch’s ideas about the impact of a broken reality on the human psyche was great.

I adored Helena. She was so strong and brave and I respected her so much throughout this book. She was a great hero to be cheering for throughout. Her intelligence was forefront but usually understand which let her personality shine through. Barry seemed a little flat, but in a thriller I’m not usually looking for strong personalities in characters.

Helena was my favorite character. Her motivations, at least early on, were very noble and were always to help her mother. Her motivations changed to be for a greater good and she really expressed that when working for DARPA. She recognized ramifications and how what she was dealing with was so much larger than herself. She was a voice of reason and good when everything was going badly.

Barry was the most relatable character in the book. I’m sure most of us have something in our pasts that we wish we could fix or redo. Barry’s desires to have a different life were very understandable and I thought back to decisions in my own life that I might like a ‘do-over’ for.

Crouch

Blake Crouch Image via Goodreads

These next two paragraphs are going to be some major spoilers so please skip down to avoid them. I adored the time Helena spent working with DARPA. I thought it was really great how she fought to use the chair for good. She was backed against a wall but found the best way to make use of her position. Fighting to let major atrocities happen, pushing not to let large passages of time occur, these things made a difference. I was so sad when the project got hijacked by the military. It really seemed to ruin everything.

The ending was a bit anti-climactic for me. Slade telling Barry that Helena had found a way to travel to dead memories once and then Barry instantly figuring it out was a little too convenient. It was hard to believe that in 200 years, Helena had never tried visiting a dead memory again. Especially since she could jump back an hour and ‘fix’ the problem the same way Slide did with Reed on the oil rig. Such a simple solution to a very complex problem made the ending seem cheap.

Humans are starting to experience reality in different ways because of technology. We’ve developed virtual reality, online worlds that can fulfill social needs and desires. The idea that we may someday master time enough to change that aspect of our reality is jarring but not entirely out of the question. If we did get to this technology, what would we do with it? Would it be weaponized like Helena and Barry experienced? Would it be used for good the way Helena tried to do with her mother’s memories? It’s a hard question to answer. Humans do seem to be inclined to selfishly using every advancement our world has made so as much as we’d love to say it would be the latter, the former seems likely.

Writer’s Takeaway: Crouch put his foot on the throttle and never let it go. The pace in this book was astounding and kept me guessing and turning pages well past my bed time. Thriller writers have an amazing capacity to pace a book and I feel like I’m getting schooled each time I read one.

A great, fast, read that made me think. Four out of Five Stars

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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Book Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal (4/5)

6 May

My husband saw the title for this book on my book club calendar and had to laugh at me. I can’t blame him. Out of context, the title seems odd. But when I started reading this book, I realize that the stories are a small part while they’re also the focus of the novel. It’s not about the stories, but the writers and how they change. This book took me happily by surprise.

PunjabiErotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Summary from Amazon:

Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.

Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.

As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s “moral police.” But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.

I did not expect there to be a mystery to this book and I loved it! That added a layer that was a complete surprise to me an allowed me to enjoy the book even more. What the book had to say about culture was really important, too. Nikki straddled her Punjabi roots and her London location better than some, but never seemed to completely fit in either location. Many times, it was comments from non-Punjabi’s who made her feel like she didn’t fit in and these microaggressions are so quick and might be forgettable to the errant speaker but are so painful to the victim. I thought Jaswal gave the reader a lot to think about with this book and I think I’ll seek her out for more in the future.

The characters rang true to me. I can’t comment too much about their authenticity since a lot of their identities circled around being part of a minority group that I’m not part of. However, I felt their humanity in their conversation and interactions. The community they had was wonderful and it made me hope that I can find such a community if I ever find myself a window.

Kulwinder ended up being my favorite character in the end. I think she may have been the most dynamic person in the book. The way her relationship with her husband heals was really great to see. I liked how she admitted that she misjudged Nikki and worked to right that mistake. She was brave in the way she stood up to her male coworkers and fought for woman’s classes. She didn’t seem to realize how much she’d influenced Maya with her ideas.

Nikki was really relatable as a daughter. There are times I’m afraid I’m disappointing my parents or have disappointed them in the past and I felt the same guilt that Nikki shared. I think most children feel this. Mine has never been to the same degree as what Nikki shouldered with her father’s death, but I think Jaswal gave a lot of different examples of ways that Nikki felt she could or should have done something different for her parents.

Jaswal

Balli Kaur Jaswal Image via the author’s Facebook page

I liked how Jaswal revealed Maya’s death. In some communities, there are things people just don’t talk about and it felt real that this community wouldn’t talk about Maya’s death. I liked how it kept coming up and we slowly learned more about her and her life with Jaggy and what she was like. It gave her a lot of layers and the more we got, the more obvious it was that something was wrong in what we’d learned early on. I won’t give any more away here, but it was very well paced.

I thought Nikki’s romance with Jason seemed forced. I don’t think she needed a romance to feel completed in this story so I was a little upset that it was added in. I think Nikki’s growth would have been as meaningful and stark without Jason in the mix.

The audiobook was narrated by Meera Syal and I think she did a wonderful job of telling the story. She did a great variety of voices for the widows and Nikki (I wasn’t a huge fan of her Jason American voice, but I can get over that). With so many woman talking over each other at times, it was a big task and I think she carried it out well.

Nikki is very stuck between two cultures and this story is a great exploration of that. She begins by rejecting a lot of the elements of her parents culture and trying to completely embrace her location’s culture. By the end, she seems to have found a happy middle ground where her understanding of her parents culture has increased and she feels more comfortable and accepted. She gains a level of understanding with her mother and sister that she wasn’t going to find without this acceptance and it’s helped her repair a stressed relationship with her late father in the process.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book reminds me why stories by minority writers are so needed and should be celebrated. I don’t live in the UK and I knew nothing about the Southall minority population! My city has similar enclaves and I now want to see if there are books celebrating their cultures and amplify those amazing voices. I’m so glad Jaswal wrote about this group so their vibrance can be shared.

An enjoyable read that taught me a lot. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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Book Review: Mil veces hasta siempre (Turtles All the Way Down) by John Green (4/5)

22 Apr

I’d been meaning to read this book since it came out but never got around to it. When I was visiting bookshops in Atlanta, I found this Spanish copy and thought it was perfect. John Green is about my reading level in Spanish and I’d enjoyed translations of his work before. This is the last Spanish read on my shelf so it looks like I’m going to have to go looking for more soon.

Cover image via Amazon

Mil veces hasta siempre (Turtles All the Way Down) by John Green

Other books by Green reviewed on this blog:

Will Grayson, Will Grayson (with David Levithan)
Paper Towns
Looking for Alaska

Summary from Amazon:

Aza Holmes never intended to pursue the disappearance of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Pickett’s son Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

There were parts of this book that I wasn’t expecting. I wasn’t expecting Aza’s illness to come into the story the way it did. From the summary, I thought the plot was going to focus on the Picketts more. I like that Green found a way to balance this. I also didn’t expect Daisy to play as big a role as she did. It seems like Green can have major-secondary characters and minor-secondary characters and I’d expected Daisy to land in the latter category at first. Again, I’m not angry at how it turned out, it was just different than I expected. I think a lot of these expectations came from reading the first two chapters and then putting the book on hold for a while. Both of these items become stronger later in the book and the first two chapters set my idea for the book before I was able to get into them.

A note about the translation: I haven’t read the English version but there weren’t a lot of times in this one where I could tell the translation had to be altered to deal with the language barrier. This happens a lot with colloquialisms or puns that don’t translate. However, the title is quite different. It roughly translates to ‘A thousand times until forever.’ I figured the turtle metaphor didn’t translate well, but when it came up in the book, it seemed fine to me. ‘Tortugas hasta el infinito’ or ‘turtles until infinity.’ I’m not sure why this wasn’t used for a title unless the selected title is a colloquialism or common phrase I’m not familiar with.

The portrayal of Aza was amazing. As someone who has anxiety from time to time, I related to the spiraling thoughts. I thought the way she talked about them and detailed her spirals were relatable and very real. I’ve spent sleepless nights Googling things and been disengaged from conversations because I can’t focus. I’ve never had it to a degree like Aza does but I could see how these things happen and how damaging they can be and how much they affected Aza. The scenes with her and her mother were the most difficult for me. I’ve tried to talk to my mother about how I feel as well and it’s hard to describe, the way Aza feels. As someone who’s about to become a mother, it’s heartbreaking to see a mother who can’t understand her child even as she tries very hard.

Davis was my favorite character. I liked how down-to-earth he was despite the immense privilege he came from. I think he always felt alone because he was very different from his peers due to the early loss he suffered. It felt real to me that he would reconnect with Aza so quickly because he felt she shared his background and very few others did. He was very understanding of Aza’s qualms about being intimate with him and I think it was a great demonstration of consent.

As I’ve said, I related to Aza and her spirals. I’ve had nights where I can’t sleep because of spiraling thoughts. It’s hard to articulate what that’s like and I think Green did a great job of illustrating how exhausting it can be and how much it can take over someone’s life.

John Green
Image via Twitter

Daisy’s story was one of my favorite parts of the book. I respected the work she did to earn enough money to pay for night school. And when she came into money, I respected her ultimate decision to save it and to help pay for her sister’s education, even if that’s not what she originally wanted. I thought it was really great to see a character who didn’t have a comfortable middle-class life and what that could look like. Most of Green’s characters before had been more well-off and Daisy was a great way to introduce someone who had some struggle.

Mixing in the disappearance case seemed like a bit of a stretch to me. Russell Pickett could have been in the book and very little would have changed. I think it muddled the message Green was trying to share and added parts to the plot that weren’t needed. It made me think the book was going in a completely different direction than where it ended up and I felt a little hoodwinked.

Aza has a hard time loving herself because of her illness and thus struggles to see how others could love her. She pushes her mother, Davis, and Daisy away when she’s in the hospital and doesn’t feel she’s worthy of forgiveness for what she’s done when all assure her she’s forgiven. It must be hard for someone battling with such a strong mental illness to find peace. I hope that Aza and people like her can find the help that they need like Aza did.

Writer’s Takeaway: Green found a way to write about a lot of diverse characters without making it seem forced or unnatural which I really liked. Davis seems to be the only one who doesn’t squarely fit in a minority, but he’s lost a mother and that’s affected him in ways that aren’t easy to define. When I write, it’s hard for me to imagine the lives of people who are really different from me and feel like I’m empowered to write about their lives so I really applaud him for bringing in so many diverse characters.

An enjoyable book but not a grand slam for me. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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Book Review: The Overstory by Richard Powers (2/5)

19 Apr

I’ll honestly say this is a book club book I was not looking forward to. Mostly because it was so long! 22 hours on audio is a lot of my life to dedicate and I was looking forward to other books that I had to put off. So going in with a negative mindset was probably not best for enjoying the story. But I had a lot of other issues which didn’t help.

Cover image via Amazon

The Overstory by Richard Powers

Summary from Amazon:

The Overstory, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of―and paean to―the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, Richard Powers’s twelfth novel unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. There is a world alongside ours―vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.

If I’d read this book as part of an Environmental Science class in college, I might have liked it. I wouldn’t have minded the preachy nature of it if it was part of a learning environment. As something in my free time, I would have preferred to read a long article with the same point rather than a 22-hour audio which started with amazing characters who ended up being flat so I could get facts about radical environmentalism. This didn’t work for me as a novel and it became difficult to enjoy it as one.

The characters Powers created were initially interesting and dynamic. At the beginning of the novel, we see them realize the roles trees have played in their lives and how they are so different but yet have a similar leaning. They don’t seem to continue to evolve over the rest of the book which was a disappointment. Powers is clearly skilled at creating rich characters, but the environmental message he was pushing took over the rest of the book and hijacked what could have been an engaging character study.

Patricia was my favorite character. I felt like her development, though not in the limelight, was most interesting in the book. I liked how she grew up with her father, developing a love for trees and how she questioned the science she was learning, doing research to debunk it. I was sad for her when she was dragged through the mud and felt her vindication later on. The way she looked at her life after she decided to live for the trees was inspiring. Her relationship with her work and her husband was really beautiful and I kept wanting good things for her. I think she could have been the focus of the story and I would have enjoyed it more.

The characters in this book were a little too extreme for me to relate to. At first, I thought Mimi might be relatable, but she pushed things farther than I would have. I thought maybe Olivia would remind me of myself but the more she talked about hearing other beings, the less I related to her. I wondered if Nick was going to be my guy and I think he was closest to a relatable character for me in the book. He seemed to take a bit of a backseat and fade into the background by the end, which was sad but most of the characters seemed to take a backseat to the trees by the end and I lost a lot of interest in the story by then.

Richard Powers
Image from The Guardian

The stories at the beginning of the book, introducing the characters, were my favorite part. The way the characters were developed was really engaging for me and I was curious to see how they would all come together in the end. When I realized some of them never would come together in a meaningful way, I was disappointed. I would have loved to see Dorothy and Ray interact with Dougie or Neelay.

The ending felt odd to me and it seemed like a lot of the characters didn’t get a meaningful ending. For many, it was abrupt while it wrapped up for others. It seemed incomplete and I wanted more than I got. After so much build-up, this was hugely disappointing.

The audiobook was narrated by Suzanne Toren and I felt she did an amazing job with the book. There were so many characters to keep track of and I thought she did a great job giving them distinct voices. Patricia and Douggie are particularly memorable. She helped me stay as engaged as I was for 22 hours.

The theme of this book was so blaring that it distracted from everything else. We, as humans, are killing the trees and poisoning the planet for temporary and financial gain. Readers were hit over the head with this time and time again. It almost felt insulting to think I hadn’t picked up not the author’s message and be reminded so often. This was ultimately what kept me from engaging with the characters. They were just there to push me to understand the message and I didn’t like being lectured.

Writer’s Takeaway: One of the biggest lessons I get from reading writing books is that you don’t want to make your readers feel like they’re being lectured or reading non-fiction when they’re reading fiction. Fiction can teach, but if that’s our goal, you should choose a different medium. I felt like Powers choice of a 22-hour book was the wrong medium for what he had to say. I lost interest early when I thought I was being lectured and I didn’t engage with the writing or characters after that.

This book lost me early and never got me back. Two out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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The Overstory (Powers) | BookReviewsbyCharles

Book Review: Expecting Better by Emily Oster (4/5)

6 Apr

When we found out I was pregnant, my husband very sweetly ordered me a copy of this book. He knows I’m an anxious person and didn’t want to get me a pregnancy book that detailed all the horrible things that could happen when you’re pregnant. Instead, he focused on a realistic, data-based information and that’s exactly what Oster delivers. It’s even better that she has a sense of humor about it.

Better

Cover image via Amazon

Expecting Better: Why the Conventional pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong- and What You Really Need to Know by Emily Oster

Summary from Amazon:

Pregnancy—unquestionably one of the most pro­found, meaningful experiences of adulthood—can reduce otherwise intelligent women to, well, babies. Pregnant women are told to avoid cold cuts, sushi, alcohol, and coffee without ever being told why these are forbidden. Rules for prenatal testing are similarly unexplained. Moms-to-be desperately want a resource that empowers them to make their own right choices.

When award-winning economist Emily Oster was a mom-to-be herself, she evaluated the data behind the accepted rules of pregnancy, and discovered that most are often misguided and some are just flat-out wrong. Debunking myths and explaining everything from the real effects of caffeine to the surprising dangers of gardening, Expecting Better is the book for every pregnant woman who wants to enjoy a healthy and relaxed pregnancy—and the occasional glass of wine.

This book was refreshing. It’s great to hear that a lot of the ‘rules’ of pregnancy, while founded, are a bit overdramatic. I’d been avoiding even a sip of beer and longing for a Jersey Mike’s sandwich for the past five months and it was refreshing to learn why I’d been told to avoid these things. Oster is a very intelligent woman (I get why she didn’t put Dr. on the cover, but PhD would have been founded!). Her knowledge of medical research and ability to read into it helped me make some decisions about how I’d behave during my pregnancy that I feel a lot more comfortable with. I check the mercury levels of a fish before I order it, but I also demand a sip of my husband’s wine while we’re visiting Michigan wine country.

Oster bases her book on her first pregnancy with her daughter. She takes you through the decisions she and her husband were faced with at each step and it was easy for me to follow along. I’m in my second trimester and had all the memories of conception and first trimester, while sharing her fears of third trimester and labor. She’s highly relatable and her audience can easily find themselves saying “Yes, exactly!” while reading. She portrayed herself in a favorable yet relatable light that was fun to read.

Oster

Emily Oster Image via the author’s website

I enjoyed her deep dive into food restrictions, which is something I’ve struggled with. I’ve reduced my caffeine intake, but there’s some nights that baby kicking keeps me up and I need that second cup of tea. I’m worried about hurting baby! But reading her research and understanding where limits are made me feel a lot better. The same goes for the occasional sip of wine (I’m writing this from the hotel of my Babymoon in Michigan wine country) though I avoid a whole glass as Oster prefers. Undercooked eggs are a favorite of mine (over easy is the BEST) so understanding the risks of having an over easy egg were great, rather than avoiding them completely. I feel good about having one now that I’m in my second trimester, though I probably would have avoided it earlier on in pregnancy!

The section on weight gain was difficult for me to read. I’ve always been hard on myself about my weight and I ditched scales completely about four years ago because they were creating an unhealthy obsession. I’ve finally gotten to a good place and have felt good about my weight and body image. Then came pregnancy where I’m weighed all the time and people have judgements to make about how much weight I’ve gained. It’s very stressful for me and Oster’s section increased that stress level. I’m not looking forward to my doctor’s opinions on my weight gain or lack there of. I eat when I’m hungry and I can tell when Baby started to need more food so I feed them. I’m staying as active as I can and have been eating healthy. If that’s not enough, so be it. I liked the conclusion Oster eventually came to, but the process stressed me out!

Oster wanted to take control of her pregnancy and I really enjoyed hearing about how she did that. I think the ‘rules’ she researched were ones that a lot of woman accept without question and I was glad to learn the reasons why. Some of them are blanketly applied unnecessarily and it was helpful to understand why these rules exited and how they would apply specifically to me and my pregnancy.

Writer’s Takeaway: Using her personal experience made this book very relatable. If Oster had not used anecdotal experience or followed her own questions and decisions about pregnancy, it would have come off as a cold list of facts about pregnancy myths instead of an intimate story that read like a memoir at times. She connected well with her audience.

This was a great book to read during pregnancy and helped me understand the wisdom and folly of pregnancy rules that I should follow. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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