Children's Books, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

My Favorite Reads of 2019

The year is coming to a close, cheerful Christmas lights are shining through the windows from the front porch garlands, and holiday busyness is carrying us along like Pooh sticks in a raging river. There are many more pressing things to think about at this time of year, but I’m going sit for a minute with the books I read in the past year and write up a quick list of highlights to share here. I hope you had a great reading year and will find a good book somewhere in this list to put on your 2020 reading list!

[Side Note: Links to books throughout this post are not affiliate links]

Best Novel Published in 2019

Where the Forest Meets the Stars – This novel by debut author was beautifully written, if a bit eerie, and handled serious subject matters well. The setting was enthralling and the characters drew me in right off the bat. This book has all that and a plot that will keep you turning pages. I’d recommend this if you like the exciting, page turning nature of Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train but don’t want to actually stomach the content. This one has some similar themes as far as crime goes, but is not as jarring and the themes are handled much more gently and with more purpose.

Runner Up

I’m Fine and Neither Are You – A clever, honest, sometimes humorous look at life in the middle years of a marriage. Though my worldview differs from the author’s on many things, the subjects brought up are worth thinking over, from friendships to comparisons women make between themselves to what a good marriage looks like. If you’re in a book club, especially a women’s book club, this would be a great pick.

Also read in this genre:

Ellie and the Harpmaker – 4 stars – I will read whatever else Hazel Prior writes because her prose took my breath away. Some of the content in this book regarding relationships didn’t sit well with me; otherwise, it would be a 5 star book and winner of the category.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill – 2.5/3 stars – liked the main character, didn’t love what goes on in the book

The Printed Letter Bookshop – 2 stars – Not my favorite Reay, though I always enjoy her literary references throughout her novels.

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler – 1 star

Beyond the Point – 2 stars

Lost for Words – 2 stars

Best Historical Fiction

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The Gown – This book was so much better than I expected. First, I should state that I’m not the best one to ask about books in this category right now, because I didn’t pick up much historical fiction this year. Call me crazy, but I’m weary of The ______ ‘s Daughter or The _____’s Wife titles, just fill in the blank with whatever comes to mind, haha! I know some are absolute gems, and I’m not seriously knocking them, but I got a bit bored with the genre. I really liked The Gown, however, for it’s attention to character development and historical accuracy without feeling overwrought and contrived, or jumping from present day to past narratives. I would recommend it to any historical fiction fan. Also, this is a good one for readers who prefer minimal strong language, and except for one “scene” I would say puts it at the PG-13 level, it’s a gentler read than most current historical fiction.

Runner Up:

The Spies of Shilling Lane

Also Read in this Genre:

The Flight Girls – 2 stars

The Lieutenant’s Nurse – 3 stars

Time After Time – 2 stars

Best Novel I Read in 2019

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Hannah Coulter – What a gorgeous, moving wise novel. I should have read this a long time ago, but then, would I have appreciated it as much as I do now at this point in my life? Probably not. It’s a retrospective review of a woman’s life, with so much insight and wisdom about humanity and all kinds of love. It’s a classic, and I loved this book more than any other I read this year. I will be reading more Wendell Berry in 2020!

Also read:

The Remains of the Day – 5 stars – If you are a fan of slow but rich novels, Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey, and figuring out whether your narrator is reliable or not, you will like this book.

The Scent of Water – I plunged into Elizabeth Goudge at the end of last year for the first time with Pilgrim’s Inn and now have also read Gentian Hill, The Little White Horse, I Saw Three Ships, and City of Bells. I love it all and will keep on reading Goudge as fast as Thriftbooks can supply me with these mostly out of print novels. (Side note: many of the covers of Goudge books are just hideous. Don’t judge these books by their covers!)

A bunch of D.E. Stevenson and Elizabeth Cadell…I will spare you the details, as I have already waxed on and on about these authors.

Best Non-Fiction

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Boy Mom – I have one son and three daughters, and I come from a family with only sisters, so I seriously needed this book from Monica Swanson on raising boys. She has four of her own, two graduated from high school and two still homeschooling. I love her perspectives on relationships, chores, health, media use…she hits so many topics in her book and I will read it again and again. I truly can’t recommend it more highly, and actually think it’s unfair to moms with only daughters that this book is for “boy moms,” because there is a ton of wisdom here that applies to all parenting. Monica Swanson, I hope you write many more books!

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Becoming and Beholding – This book ties for first place. I read anything Ruth Chou Simons writes, absolutely anything, from Instagram posts to published works. She is rooted in truth and is a refreshing voice for the value in patience, hard and unseen work, and growing in ways and times when no one can see it. Her art work is so soothing, and features more than just florals in this latest book.

Runner Up:

The Brave Learner – See my full review here for why I applaud this book.

Also read in Non-Fiction:

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat – 4 stars – I learned a ton but the recipes are intense!

A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family – 3 stars

First We Have Coffee – 3 stars – A fun memoir of a preacher’s daughter in Northern U.S.A./Canada. It’s important for my generation to know how people lived before us.

Digital Minimalism – 4 stars – Convicting.

Becoming – 4 stars – Thoroughly interesting and eye opening, and I’m very glad I read it.

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery – 4.5 stars – Most well balanced and readable account of Montgomery’s life I’ve seen so far, and the artwork was perfect.

Book Girl – 5 stars – I felt like I was reading my own thoughts at times, and found a kindred spirit in Sarah Clarkson. I also found a bunch of wonderful book recommendations!

Food Freedom Forever – 4.5 stars – A must read for fans of The Whole30.

The War of Art – 3.5 stars – Interesting concepts, inspiring and important in my personal life, though I didn’t truly enjoy reading it.

Writing Down the Bones – 2.5 stars

On Writing – 3 stars (got a lot out of it, didn’t enjoy it)

The Quotidian Mysteries – 3 stars…2 stars?? I still don’t understand most of what I read . But it seemed important and eye opening at the time, which means I probably read it too quickly.

Best Children’s Literature/Middle Grade Novel

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The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue – All the Vanderbeeker books hit it out of the park when it comes to perfect middle grade novels (publishers aim this category at 8-12-year-olds). This third book in the series continues the warm setting and lovable characters from the previous books. If you or your children are fans of The Penderwicks, you must read The Vanderbeeker books! Think the Penderwick family but with two parents and a brother and an easy-to-follow plot. I’m reading the first in the series aloud right now and my 10, 8, and 5-year-olds beg for me to read another chapter every single time we finish one.

Runner Up

Astrid the Unstoppable – If you’ve ever enjoyed a book about an extraordinary girl (Harriet the Spy, Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables, the list could go on and on), you’ll enjoy this book. You’ll like it even more if you’ve read Heidi, as main character Astrid reads and refers to it in an important way in the book. Astrid is a lonely girl in an adult community with an unflappable spirit and a fiercely loving heart. Because of some themes about romantic relationships that didn’t work out (between grown ups, but still), I think this is more a 10 and up book. It is a lot of fun, though, and the characters Astrid meets along the way will make this book appeal to both boys and girls.

Also read:

The Skylarks’ War – 3 stars- Enjoyed it as a grown up, though some of the characters weren’t my favorite, but this should so very much be labeled for 14 and up! There are harsh war themes and complicated romantic themes, as well as plot lines related to sexual orientation. Besides that, almost the whole book is about the characters when they are teenagers, so it just makes sense for it to be marketed for teenagers and adults. The publishers got it wrong on that one, but Hilary McKay’s writing is stellar, which is the reason I still give it 3 stars.

Raymie Nightingale – 3 stars – I admire Kate DiCamillo and her writing. but I wouldn’t hand this book to just any kid. It’s heart breaking, but many children have to deal with themes like adultery (a dad leaving for another woman, in this case) or living with an unstable guardian in their actual lives, so I get that having a book to relate to is important. I felt pretty glum when I finished this book, but the great characters gave it a lot of redeeming value.

Front Desk – 2 stars

A note about middle grade novels – I read these without my kids (ages 10, 8, 5, and 2) not only because I like to preview new books before I choose them as read alouds or recommend them, but because I think some of the greatest novels ever written are labeled children books. It takes a great writer to make good children’s literature, and as C.S. Lewis says, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Forget the labels and pick up a good children’s novel.

And that wraps up my 2019 reading year! I would love to hear from you, too. What did you read and love this year?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thank you for reading along with me in the past year and encouraging me to keep going here in this on-line space.

Mia/Alana

Children's Books, Picture Books

Favorite Picture Books Summer 2019

Happy August 1st! I kind of wish I wasn’t saying that right now. If social media is any indicator, I think we all have a tendency to reach this date and either hold tightly onto summer and live in denial that the school year starts during this month for many of us, or throw our hands in the air and cry, “Great white sharks, we are so far from being able to survive our fall schedule right now!” … or both. What I would like to do on this August 1st is acknowledge what’s coming and hold on to what is. Because it is still summer, and we will still spend hours at the pool and watch TV in the late afternoon and all the other summer things. Still, I have to admit that, yes, it is a good idea to maybe start inching the bedtimes back towards the school year routine. The great thing about this time of year is it’s the perfect time to begin or reinstate reading before bed with your kids. (Or yourself. Great adult options here!) And picture books are a great place to start. While the land of chapter books is a wonderful place to plunge into with my kids, I am beyond glad to have a five-year-old and a two-year-old who keep me deep in picture books every day. If we’re honest, the older two read almost all of them with us, too. Here are our favorites lately!

What Do You Say, Dear? by Joslin Sesyle is hands down my favorite picture book discovery of the summer. This book on every day manners presents completely bizarre scenarios that will have you and your kids laughing and learning at the same time. Now, when I say, “What do you say, dear?” no one groans; instead, we all smile at the inside joke this book gives our family now and eases us into talking about manners. The illustrations by Maurice Sendak are priceless. If your kids don’t learn a thing, you will at least have a lot of fun reading it!

All of us enjoy Ella the Elegant Elephant and other books in the series. The warm colors are so friendly and the atmosphere of Elephant Island make these books perfect for summer reads. We took Ella Sets Sail with us to the beach this year. Warning: Ella’s mother is a baker and you might want a pineapple pie when you’re done reading this book!

Rapunzel by Sarah Gibb and Cinderella by Barbara McClintock – Both of these fairy tale books are beautifully illustrated. I love that the McClintock version of Cinderella is drawn in the style of the time period the story is set in. Neither of these books is very much like the Disney version of their stories at all, in case that is refreshing to you as it is to me sometimes. (Not knocking the Disney moves, I love them, but staying true to old texts is important, as well!)

The Kitchen Knight by Margaret Hodges- A longer picture book, for sure, but chock full of good talking points on winning a prize fairly and on your own merit. And it’s not just a morality tale–my eight-year-old son thinks this book is a keeper and when we were done reading it with just one of his sisters, he said, “We need to read this one with everyone!” His only complaint is that the Kitchen Knight looks too old, but I liked the illustrations just fine. =)

I can’t promise that these are any of our other favorite picture books (visit our children’s book category to find more!) will completely erase the chance of protests when you push those bedtimes back to sane fall hours. Push through that whining! Picture books are magic.

Hoping your last days of summer are as magical as humanly possible,

Mia/Alana (why two names? Answers here)

Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

2019 Summer Reading Re-cap: Fiction

Happy mid-summer! I hope your summer has been full of adventure and fun plus some meaningful work, or at the very least, really good books! I’ve read a slew of both new and vintage fiction summer, so I’m going to join Modern Mrs. Darcy/Anne Bogel and do a quick lit recap for June and July reading of the fiction I’ve been reading. Click over to her site and see what other readers and reviewers have liked or disliked so far this summer. Our summer started mid-May and we gave ourselves permission to be lazy about projects and curriculum planning and all the the normal school year things until July, so I’m now realizing I haven’t updated the blog on any books since April! So this is going to be quite a long list.

New Fiction

The Spies of Shilling Lane – Mrs. Braithwaite is our main character in this unexpectedly cozy, adventurous read. She is a middle-aged, domineering village woman, who is suddenly demoted from her position in her village and decides to go visit her daughter in London during WWII, only to find her daughter missing. Mrs. Braithwaite puts herself on a mission to find her and runs into more intrigue and danger than she ever expected. Despite some adult themes, this book is not a heavy WWII book. It’s reminiscent of The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax but with a more familiar setting… or maybe that’s just for those of us who have read way too many books set in WWII England. There were some sections that were a bit on the cliche side, and some character development that happened very fast at times, but overall it’s a fun read with a lot of heart for historical fiction fans.

Time After Time – This magical realism novel starts out with tons of potential, between the characters, setting, and history. If you liked The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or The Age of Adeline, you will probably like this book! That being said, I think I would have liked it better as a short story or novella. The first quarter of the book was 4-5 stars. The dialogue between the two main characters was swingy and the concept for the story was grabbing, plus Grand Central Station was a fascinating setting. In the last three-quarters the good things the novel had going for it fell apart and fell in the 2 star range, so it’s somewhere at 2.5 star as an entire book for me (but don’t grade me on my math!). The middle is too long and tumultuous, in my inexperienced opinion. On a side note, the comparisons to The Time Traveler’s Wife don’t ring true. The Time Traveler’s Wife was much more graphic and tragic. This one isn’t exactly lighthearted or “clean,” as far as themes go, but leaves out details and has less language.

The Lieutenant’s Nurse – I couldn’t put this one down. Ackerman wove fascinating pieces of radio communications in the Pacific throughout her story leading up to the attack at Pearl Harbor. The characters were also interesting, though the romance focus was a little much for me. I could’ve done without about half of it and still thought that was more than plenty. I enjoyed the book, though, and was pleased that, like Ackerman’s first book, there was no smut and just a smattering of language. I liked her first book, Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers, better than The Lietuenant’s Nurse, but both were enjoyable and Sara Ackerman is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers of compelling, readable, and clean summer reads.

I’m Fine and Neither Are You – The cover of this book and even the publisher’s write up did not prepare me for how tender, fragile, at times beautiful, and thought provoking this novel about the modern woman’s pursuit of the perfect life would be. The life of Penelope Ruiz is painted in vivid detail and echoes many real life conversations I’ve had with friends about the burden in the modern goal to “do it all.” This book begs the question, “but why?” It was not at all light, but there was a sense of humor woven throughout the weighty themes. It was easy to read, hard to forget, and reminded me of Liane Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot. I am probably the target audience for this book–it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea–but I’d give it four stars.

Vintage Fiction

The Scent of Water – Goudge is a long drink of water for a thirsty, old-fashioned soul. Like her other adult books, The Scent of Water is an introspective novel centered around a home, a country town, and the people in it. The book approaches life on the soul level, and though the plot won’t drive you to turn pages as fast as possible, I keep on reading Goudge because the wisdom, truth, and beauty in it are timeless.

Amberwell, Summerhills, and Celia’s House – More of my favorite D.E. Stevenson! She’s the current home base of my reading life for her glorious settings in the Scottish or English countryside and strong, noble, likable characters.

Corner Shop – Though I love Elizabeth Cadell, this one was not my favorite of hers. It was hard to follow.

Jane of Lantern Hill – I re-read this L.M. Montgomery novel for the first time as an adult while we were at the beach in May. It is wonderful, right up there with the Anne and the Emily books. I hate how L.M. Montgomery’s work is considered children’s literature—almost all of it is much more enjoyable when you read it as an adult! But since she and C.S. Lewis are my all time favorite authors, I may be incredibly biased.

Thrush Green – I always think I should be the perfect candidate to enjoy the works of Miss Read, but alas, I simply cannot get into them. Oh well.

And that’s all for the summer reading fiction update! I’ll be adding a non-fiction post just as soon as I finish the three non-fiction books I’m in the middle of. For all my fiction reading speed, I operate on a slow intake when it comes to nonfiction. But I’ll have that nonfiction reading list up soon! Until then, happy summer reading!

Everyday Life, Parenting

The Brave Learner Is Your Summer Reading Assignment

Breaking from the normal book reviews today to post about my new favorite book on homeschooling. If you’re not into this topic, check out our favorite kids books or some summer reading updates from the past and come back soon for more new book reviews soon!

Whew, it’s June! We made it through May! Time to eat watermelon and sleep in at least once and get in some swimming and maybe pick some berries and all the summer things! But wait…what curriculum are using next year? Did you sign up for a co-op yet? Have you picked out a planner?

This is the homeschooling parent’s state of mind! If you’re like me, you would love to just breathe for a bit (like, maybe a year), to rest and recover from a busy and sometimes/totally draining school year. Yes, homeschooling children gives us so many benefits and rewards, but no one says it’s easy. We desperately need a break at certain points of the year, depending on what kind of homeschooling schedule you choose for your family. I just finished my fifth year of homeschooling, and even though it might have been our best year yet, I still feel this way! Before I urge you to do anything else, I can’t encourage you enough to take that break! Throw the books in a box for a full week and don’t think about them! It will do you all good. Spend a day doing something fun, taking a hike or playing at the beach, and don’t even consider counting it as a school day! (this is an act of will for some of us, haha).

But then, after that break, we have to dive back in, don’t we? It’s a good idea to use some of the time off from regular school to get ready for what’s next. Most of us look at new curriculum, maybe gather ideas for unit studies, pick out the perfect planner, or what have you. But first! I’m boldly giving you an assignment to do first this summer, before you look at curriculum and sign up for anything: read The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart.

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Why should you? Prepare for a gushing.

I loved this book so much. It presents learning philosophies from a very different angle than anything I’ve seen. It doesn’t just focus on the mind, or the schoolwork, but on your complete lifestyle and approach towards learning of all kinds. It’s such a wholesome and healthy approach! Enchanted, interest-driven learning is the big idea of this book, but don’t let that scare you. Bogart heavily focuses on practical, day-to-day wisdom for a family, as well. She is a rare person who can be the most sensible, down-to-earth voice about being a homeschool parent while at the same time introducing and completely convincing her readers that the best way to learn is from a place of enchantment and fun. It sounds impossible, but I’m telling you, this book is both insanely practical and inspiring. And in case you’re wondering or even worrying, Bogart is neither promoting nor demoting the “unschooling” philosophy. The ideas she presents can breathe life into pretty much any homeschooling approach (aside from a highly legalistic one, but who wants to claim that?).

Since I loved every page, summing it up is proving extremely difficult, but I’ll share a few of my favorite parts with you in hopes that you’ll go grab a copy, too!

~Many of her ideas come with specific suggestions on how “stage the home” for fun and interesting learning. The “stage the home” sections in chapter 4, “How To Harness the Four Forces of Enchantment” are especially helpful. And the chapter titled “House Schooling” might have been my favorite—all about evaluating what you have and embracing it + changing your mindset to see at is what you need.

~The “Continents of Learning” exercise changed my view of how learning can stay fun and still encompass the necessary branches of traditional schooling (page 24).

~The idea of keeping a monthly narrative—writing a paragraph or two on what each child learned/embraced/was challenged by/was involved in— as part of homeschool record keeping revolutionized my attitude. I went from a “have we done enough? I feel like we aren’t doing enough!” crisis to a “wow, we have done so much and come so far!” mindset.

~This saying in the chapter titled “Liberation from School”: “classical education in the fall, unit studies in winter, and unschooling in spring.” Also, I needed to have the idea put into clear words that you can ditch the books when inspiration strikes for great fun combined with excellent learning, but in the day-to-day, but most of us also need those school books to keep us going when inspiration is lacking.

~Throughout the book are clear and varying examples on how the writer used her own children’s likes and interests to develop both personal character and a thirst for knowledge that inspired me to embrace the things my children like instead of what I think they should like.

The Brave Learner has helped me embrace the freedom of homeschooling, without shirking the weight of educating my children. After reading it the first time through in the month of March, I’m more excited than ever to head into a new school year (after a fully restful and wonderful summer–fingers crossed!). I plan to read it again this month and do more of the exercises I didn’t have time for during the school year, while using it to help guide my planning for the 2019-20 school year.

Seriously, The Brave Learner is the perfect combination of practical and inspirational. It’s the most successful homeschool book I’ve ever read when it comes to walking the fine lines between the tensions of philosophies of education, along with Teaching From Rest. There is wisdom on every page, and even a chapter on homeschooling through hard times.

I hope you have a happy and restful summer, whatever you end up doing, and if you pick up The Brave Learner, come back and tell me what you learned so we can keep on learning together!

Other Homeschooling Posts on Miathereader.com:

A Day In The Life of Our Homeschool

My One Answer for How to Homeschool with Littles

Us, making it over the finish line of 4th grade, 2nd grade, K4, and Toddler-In-It-All, celebrating the end of our school year at Pelican’s Snow Balls

Claimer: I am not in any way affiliated with Julie Bogart or Amazon or any of the other links included in this blog post. No proceeds of any sales come to me.

Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Quick Lit April 2019 – What I Read (And What I Didn’t!)

Today, readers across the blogosphere are gathering to catch up on all we’ve read in the past month at modernmrsdarcy.com. Join in here!

What I Read

Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens has crafted a book with exceptionally beautiful writing and storytelling that lingers in your mind well after you’ve finished the book. My only hesitation in saying “I loved it!” comes from some graphic accounts of encounters between a few characters and a sinking feeling I had by the end of the book that science had won over the truth that humanity transcends nature. Our souls are unscientific, not bound by genes or the recycling of DNA over millennia, and it is our souls that makes us unique, different from the animal kingdom. However, whether I agree with the overarching ideas presented, Owens has created a literary gem. The setting of the North Carolina marshes and coastline is so alive that you will feel like you’re there the whole time you read the book (which is more than fine with me! NC beaches are pretty much my favorite places in the world). The poetry included throughout is gorgeous, and the characters live on the pages. (Side note – I am so thankful that Owens stuck with a few main characters that are fully developed and did not overpopulate her novel!) Overall, Where the Crawdads Sing is a moving and atmospheric novel with all the marks of a classic for years to come.

Sarah Morris Remembers and Sarah’s Cottage – More D.E. Stevenson. I know, I’m a broken record. There’s nothing better for middle-of-the-night sleeplessness than a comfortable author who creates characters that are good and steady friends to the reader. [While we’re on the subject of what people call “comfort reads,” who’s your favorite comfortable author? I’m curious!] And another question: why is that when finally all of my children sleep through the night on a regular basis, I get insomnia? Is it a hardwiring in the body that tells a regularly sleep deprived person, “Remember, you don’t sleep much at night?” Whatever it is, it’s maddening.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World – Everyone can benefit from this book. So much of the facts and principles Cal Newport introduces about technology in our lives we suspect but we don’t really know for sure (or don’t want to know for sure). It’s not a punishing , guilt-stirring book, however, but helpful and insightful. The main idea is to limit your optional technology (think social media, streaming video, blog consumption), for thirty days and then see what you gained and what you lost during that time and determine what’s really valuable to you. I’m a fan. And I’m putting Cal Newport’s earlier book Deep Work on my summer TBR.

What I Didn’t Read

Confession time: I have started The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah at least five times. Most recently, I picked it up earlier this year, determined to get through it. I got almost halfway this time. Why can’t I like this book so many people rave about? It’s one of the highest rated books on Goodreads, for goodness sake! But, I’ve tried, I’ve really tried, and I’m done trying. It’s not the book for me. I guess I prefer a book with more subtlety. The characters and the setting seemed overdrawn and overly tragic top to bottom. I couldn’t get into the way the father and the older sister treated other people. It was both unbelievable and unforgivable from the get-go. Maybe I’m missing the point, but that’s my only explanation.

That sums up this quick lit for April! May the rest of your spring be full of sunshine and good books!

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