“Mythspace” by Paolo Chikiamco

2014_08_11_17_34_56

I reviewed the published stories in Paolo Chikiamco’s “Mythspace” universe for GMA News Online:

“Tikbalangs in Space: “Mythspace” reimagines mythology as science fiction”

“Mythspace” is a wonderfully innovative take on Filipino mythology, which should appeal to readers of all ages. The diversity in the art and stories make for different and enjoyable reading experiences. The series is so much fun, so I hope more people, especially Filipino readers, will check it out. 🙂

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The “Magic Mirror” Series (Books 1-3) by Luther Tsai and Nury Vittachi

the visionary voyageTHE “MAGIC MIRROR” SERIES: “The Visionary Voyage” (Book 1), “The Traveller’s Tale” (Book 2), “The Tomb of Time” (Book 3)
Author: Luther Tsai and Nury Vittachi
Read Date: May-July 2014
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (average rating)

The “Magic Mirror” series tells of the adventures of brother and sister Marko and Miranda Lee, who one day found themselves living alone. Their parents went on a trip, leaving the kids with their grandfather, who likewise suddenly disappeared. Their grandfather, a historian and archaeologist, left behind a Magic Mirror and a string of mysteries that the kids must solve by going back in time. Tsai and Vittachi blend historical facts, people, and events from around Asia with fictional elements to form the backdrop for the Lee children’s adventures.

When I read about the premise of the “Magic Mirror” series, I was very excited. I love history, I love adventure, and this being focused on Asian history with Asian characters is a plus. It all sounds like the perfect formula for a fun new children’s series! On a personal note, it also reminded me of a wee story my high school classmate and I concocted for a (believe it or not) Biology class project, so I am rooting for this to be great.

The verdict: Great idea! The execution? Not so much.

Home alone

Being home alone has sparked numerous children’s adventures. I have no problem with this as a plot driver most of the time, but in this case, being home alone is just a given, and it baffles me. It’s just weird because of how tight-knit most Asian communities and families are, and yet weeks seem to have passed by and the Lee kids are still home alone. There was some mention of a housekeeper dropping in on certain days, but I can’t even tell how the kids manage to pay her or where they get the money for their necessities. Heck, even the Cahills in “The 39 Clues” had an au-pair and a dozen other relatives looking out for them. Also, shame on the teacher who already suspected they were living alone but didn’t even bother to investigate further.

I do realize that these little details don’t really need to add up because the core of the stories is the time-travel adventures, but some kid is bound to notice and ask, so I’m just going to put this out there. XD Talk about taking “Losing the Mentor” in Campbell’s Hero’s Journey to the extreme. XD

Simple and sparse

This series is obviously written for younger children, so I don’t mind that the writing style is simple or that the books are only 100 pages or so on average. But simple writing to cater to a young audience doesn’t mean that details should be sparse. I can’t even picture Miranda and Marko and what they look like in my head. I know Miranda is twelve and Marko is ten, and that they were adopted by an American man married to a Chinese woman. There’s no info on whether Miranda and Marko were real siblings to begin with, or if they come from different biological families.

There’s also not much to go on with Mira and Marko personality-wise; they are rather wooden, kind of like chess-pieces that are just used to move the story from one plot point to another. I think one of the reasons why “The 39 Clues” worked well is because the characters are fleshed out, and readers discover new things about them as the series progresses. After 3 books of “Magic Mirror”, I don’t know any more about Miranda and Marko than when I started reading. I hope this changes when the rest of the series comes out.

This lack of detail also extends to the time-travel adventures themselves. We don’t get much time to appreciate the time period that we are reading about or the characters there because the writers seem hell-bent on plowing through plot point after plot point. A fast-paced adventure is all well and good, but sometimes we also have to stop and smell the roses.

Historical expositions

The historical focal points for the first 2 books were a bit lackluster: the first book dealt with a Chinese admiral and some pirates, and the second had something to do with Marco Polo. Sounds exciting, yes? Unfortunately, nothing much really happens in the story. For the first book, in particular, much of the plot and exposition is static. The third choice was brilliant, though: Emperor Qin Shin Huang and his famous tomb.

The third book is the best one so far, and the more exciting one. But it still suffered from lengthy expositions on history often spouted out by a helpful character. It’s nice that this series is also educational, but there is probably a more creative and less tedious way of explaining the historical background. Considering the structure of the stories, the longer expositions probably don’t belong in the narrative anyway. The authors also include end notes, so there is no need to get too lecture-y in-story.

Oh, speaking of history, there is the matter of Grandpa. He represents the “Call To Adventure” in Mira and Marko’s journey, but he has his own mysterious journey, which seems to involve meddling with history. This is the most interesting aspect of the series for me (it’s telling that I gravitated more toward the character who hasn’t even appeared “on-screen”), and I do hope that we get a good reveal and explanation in the end.

In general, I think that the authors have managed to achieve what they were going for: telling good adventure stories highlighting Asia and its rich history. I had too many things to complain about, but that’s only because this series has so much potential that I wanted it to work well. We need more books like this for kids in the international market. But right now, this series is a bit unpolished and under-edited. I hope the future installments will be better; the improvement from Book 1 to Book 3 is already encouraging.


Disclosure: Review copies were provided by Scholastic Philippines

“Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles #2)” by Marissa Meyer

scarletSCARLET (The Lunar Chronicles #2)
Author: Marissa Meyer
Read Date: 21 April 2014
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison–even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

*SPOILER WARNING FOR PLOT DETAILS* Continue reading

Cover Reveal: “Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle #3)” by Maggie Stiefvater

Holy Mystical Forests, Batman!


 
*asdfghjjlskdhglaksjdlkjg*

That’s an interesting departure from the pattern of the titles, by the way. And I wonder if this means the focus this time will be more on Blue’s part in the Cycle?

“The Staff of Serapis” by Rick Riordan

Staff of SerapisTHE STAFF OF SERAPIS (Percy Jackson and Kane Chronicles Crossover #2)
Author: Rick Riordan
Read Date: 14 April 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this adventure, Annabeth encounters more oddities in the subway than usual, including a two-headed monster and a younger blond girl who reminds her a little of herself.

Review Summary: A more cohesive, more imaginative, and mythologically richer crossover than “The Son of Sobek”, but still too formulaic.

*SPOILER WARNING FOR PLOT DETAILS* Continue reading

“Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #3)” by Laini Taylor

Dreams of Gods and MonstersDREAMS OF GODS & MONSTERS (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #3)
Author: Laini Taylor
Read Date: 10 April 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this thrilling conclusion to the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, Karou is still not ready to forgive Akiva for killing the only family she’s ever known.

When a brutal angel army trespasses into the human world, Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat–and against larger dangers that loom on the horizon. They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves–maybe even toward love.

From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera, and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.

Review summary: Perhaps too ambitious, but a dramatic finale that readers who have journeyed with Karou will certainly appreciate.

*SPOILER WARNING FOR PLOT DETAILS* Continue reading

“Dreamer” by Brandon Sanderson (from the “Games Creatures Play” anthology)

games-creatures-playDREAMER (from the “Games Creatures Play” anthology)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Read Date: 6 April 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Welcome to the wide world of paranormal pastimes, where striking out might strike you dead. Editors Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner are your announcers for this all-new story collection of the most peculiar plays ever made….

Sports fans live and die by their teams’ successes and failures—though not literally. But these fourteen authors have written spirited—in more ways than one—new tales of killer competitions that would make even the most die-hard players ask to be benched.

In #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson’s “Dreamer,” a game of cops and robbers is a new challenge when the players are able to switch bodies at will.

Disclosure: Of course I only decided to read this anthology because Branderson has a story in it. 😉

I must admit I was surprised to see Brandon Sanderson’s name included in an anthology by Harris and Kelner because their collections often feature paranormal elements. But I did say I will read anything he publishes, so…

In his blog post on the release of the book, Branderson classified “Dreamer” as a horror short story. As I was reading it, though, it didn’t feel horror or paranormal.

It begins in the middle of a deadly chase and, as the synopsis says, the people involved can switch bodies at will. The entire story is, in fact, one continuous dynamic chase scene reminiscent of those in “Steelheart”.

I always expect a certain level of world-building and a well-defined magic system from Branderson no matter how short the story, and he doesn’t disappoint here. But perhaps that expectation is what killed this for me in the end. See, after the action-packed chase and after unraveling the rules of the world, I expected the ending to reveal some strange creatures or people with out-of-this-world abilities, but no. It was simple. So deceptively simple. Maybe that’s the downside to reading too much Sanderson–you don’t expect him to write something simple anymore. embarrassed But that is also the charm of the story–that something simple was set up so creatively. I just wish it felt more paranormal considering the anthology it was part of.

Harris and Co.’s usual readers will definitely enjoy this story, especially if they are new to Branderson. Sharders like me are in for a nice surprise.

meep!

So I finished “Words of Radiance” by Brandon Sanderson around a week or so back (1,100 friggin’ pages; approx 24,000 e-book locations), and now I’m re-reading “The Way of Kings” because, predictably, I missed SO MANY THINGS from that first book. And now I am unable to move to any other book–not that very tempting “Black Ice” ARC, not even our book club book, “The Last Chinese Chef”–and I’m pretty sure I’ll re-read “Words of Radiance” after this. I feel like Branderson dropped me into one of the chasms in the Shattered Plains (Stormlight-assisted, of course) and did not leave a ladder so I can climb back out. Help! (or not.)

On Rowling’s new Ron/Hermione reveal: The ships have sailed; it’s time to move on.

J.K. Rowling’s latest revelation about the Harry Potter series, which came in the form of an interview conducted by Emma Watson for “Wonderland” magazine (February/March 2014 issue), has re-awakened the long-slumbering Potter Shipping Wars of old. It seems that everyone has written something about the topic, from a very insightful analysis of love in the series, to a passionate defense of Ron, to suggestions for other ships.

I’m on the crew of the HMS Orange Crush (Harry/Ginny) myself, so Rowling’s confession bothered me, especially how it was first reported: that Jo regrets writing that Ron and Hermione ended up together and that she should have married Harry. I told myself I would wait for the full interview to be released before commenting because, more often than not, people tended to misinterpret or to put words into Jo’s mouth.

Nowhere in the interview did she say that she “regrets” writing Ron/Hermione. Emma asked her if she had a new perspective on Hermione, and she replied:

What I will say is that I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. That’s how it was conceived, really. For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione [ended up] with Ron.

I know, I’m sorry, I can hear the rage and fury it might cause some fans, but if I’m absolutely honest, distance has given me perspective on that. It was a choice I made for very personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility. Am I breaking people’s hearts by saying this? I hope not.

It was a young relationship. I think the attraction itself is plausible but the combative side of it… I’m not sure you could have got over that in an adult relationship, there was too much fundamental incompatibility. I can’t believe we are saying all of this – this is Potter heresy!

[Later, she adds]

Oh, maybe she and Ron will be alright with a bit of counseling, you know. I wonder what happens at wizard marriage counseling? They’ll probably be fine. He needs to work on his self-esteem issues and she needs to work on being a little less critical.

When “Deathly Hallows” was published, I felt that the Epilogue seemed out of place. I knew from following every single interview that Rowling gave (I am on the staff!) that she had been writing toward a particular ending and even a particular last word (“scar”) for a long time. Maybe this has blinded her to how her characters evolved as she wrote them, and how they may not fit that ending anymore. If she just left out that Epilogue, then there wouldn’t be this much hullaballoo over what could have beens.

The troubled Ron/Hermione relationship differs a bit from her other post-Potter reveals (e.g. Dumbledore is gay) in that she does not seem to be insinuating that this is Canon. It’s understandable that she now has a different perspective on the relationships of the Trio. Whether or not it was prudent of her to have revealed what she thought is another story, but I want to look at this as a glass half-full: at least she didn’t say “Ron/Hermione shouldn’t be together”, and the Canon remains unchanged.

For the record, I agree that Ron and Hermione would have had difficulties in their relationship, and that if they worked on it, they would eventually be okay.

Credit: Naomi (potterpuffs.livejournal.com)

Credit: Naomi (potterpuffs.livejournal.com)

As for Harry/Hermione…

In some ways Hermione and Harry are a better fit and I’ll tell you something very strange. When I wrote Hallows, I felt this quite strongly when I had Hermione and Harry together in the tent! I hadn’t told [Steve] Kloves that and when he wrote the script he felt exactly the same thing at exactly the same point.

And actually I liked that scene in the film, because it was articulating something I hadn’t said but I had felt. I really liked it and I thought that it was right. I think you do feel the ghost of what could have been in that scene.

I’ve always hated the way Steve Kloves kept putting in those Harmonian moments when there weren’t supposed to be any, and how that undermined a lot of Ron’s contributions and importance in the series as it is portrayed in the movies.

I do think the tent scenes, as they were written in the book, were okay, and that maybe the “ghost of what could have been” may have been present, but I never felt any strong romantic vibes there. And if Rowling says she felt something there, then she either did her characters a great disservice by not letting things go where they should, or what she felt so strongly wasn’t powerful enough to make her deviate from the ending she was writing towards.

I also agree that Hermione and Harry are a good fit–and I concede, better than Ron/Hermione–in many ways, but that doesn’t mean they should be in love or would fall in love or get married. Why can’t they have a perfect friendship and why should Harry and Ron be Hermione’s only choices?

I’ve long thought that it was weird that Rowling married Luna off to someone we didn’t know from the 7 books; I even secretly thought it was cute if she had married Neville, after all, everyone was marrying their childhood sweethearts already. But on hindsight, I now like that Luna married someone else and that she met other people outside of their Hogwarts circle. So why not Hermione?

All this says something very powerful about the character of Hermione as well. Hermione was the one that stuck with Harry all the way through that last installment, that very last part of the adventure. It wasn’t Ron, which also says something very powerful about Ron. He was injured in a way, in his self-esteem, from the start of the series. He always knew he came second to fourth best, and then had to make friends with the hero of it all and that’s a hell of a position to be in, eternally overshadowed. So Ron had to act out in that way at some point.

But Hermione’s always there for Harry. I remember you sent me a note after you read Hallows and before you started shooting, and said something about that, because it was Hermione’s journey as much as Harry’s at the end.

Yes, her sacrifice was massive, completely. A very calculated act of bravery. That is not an ‘in the moment’ act of bravery where emotion carries you through, that is a deliberate choice.

Of course it was Hermione’s journey as much as Harry’s…as much as Ron’s, Voldemort’s, Dumbledore’s, Snape’s…it was EVERYONE’S journey. Maybe it was more personal for Harry, but everyone had a stake in the battle. And while we cannot belittle Hermione’s “calculated act of bravery”, we should not reduce it to an impetus for a romantic relationship either. From the tone of their conversation, Rowling seems to be highlighting this as a plus factor for Harry/Hermione (or I could be wrong.) Anyway, we must also not forget that Dumbledore’s and Snape’s sacrifices were just as calculated, and that they have even lost their lives.

And, finally, was it prudent for Rowling to share all these post-Potter revelations? Personally, I think people should stop asking all those “what ifs”; the Potter world, as it is, is difficult enough to keep up with! Rowling has to answer when she’s asked, and she has always been very honest and forthcoming about Potter, which is good. And of course she has the right to add new things to her world and comment on aspects of it (I actually appreciate that about her), but I think she should be careful about what else she reveals. I suppose that as long as she doesn’t change Canon, it’ll be okay. But while she owes readers nothing, really, it is a fact that fans have dissected and new readers do dissect the series to the tiniest detail. How I read Dumbledore before is likely going to be different from how my nephew would read him knowing that Dumbledore was gay. Maybe it will be an interesting literary exercise to compare how different generations interpret it.

Those subtext-shattering revelations are part of why I am excited but scared of what the “Encyclopedia” she never published contained, and why I approach every new thing that pops up on Pottermore as if they are radioactive. She had 7 books and 3 booklets to put in the most important things about Harry’s and the Wizarding World’s stories. Ultimately, it’s what’s in the books that’s important. I believe that’s how it should be.

The ships have sailed; it’s time to move on.

And I Quote: On Fantasy

Someone posted the following quote on Tumblr:

Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.

They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to Middle-Earth.”

-George R.R. Martin

To which @odinsbitch replied:

I read fantasy to REMIND myself there is beauty and magic and goodness in reality. I read fantasy to remind myself that reality itself is changed and shifted by how I look at it. When I fly on Southwest Airlines I always choose a window seat so that I can look at and see the cloud-castles and curve of the horizon and the way the sunlight turns the rivers into liquid gold and lose my ability to breathe because I am not Icarus. I can fly as near the sun as I want and my wings don’t melt because my wings are made up of both fantasy AND reality, wax and canvas and iron and bone wings as strong as I am.

Reality is the whimsical graffiti in the dirty alley in Cleveland. Reality is the chaotic circus of a strip mall where people are bad and selfish and good and welcoming. Reality is seeing the blue sky reflected on the Chicago skyline and thinking I already live in Minas Tirith.

Middle Earth is not better than here. Gormenghast is certainly not better than here. I believe it’s true that fantasy can remind us to listen to the siren songs and relish the color in our real lives. It does spark desires deep within us. But I want my fantasy to remind people that they don’t have to visit hollow hills to find adventure or Oz or Shangri-La to find love. We make ourselves heroes and villains in reality every day. I want my fantasy to remind readers – and myself – that we shouldn’t long for Camelot. We should create it right here.

When I die, I hope I’ve already built my heaven around me.

And to which I say “Amen!” to @odinsbitch.

While fantasy is awesome, the more I read or watch fantasy, the less I am surprised by what people can imagine anymore. The real world, however, is fantastic enough as it is, and the more I see of it, the more I am convinced that it will never cease to amaze me.

“Night of Cake & Puppets” by Laini Taylor

night of cake and puppetsNIGHT OF CAKE & PUPPETS (A Daughter of Smoke and Bone novella)
Author: Laini Taylor
Read Date: 8 January 2014
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

In “Night of Cake & Puppets”, Taylor brings to life a night only hinted at in the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy—the magical first date of fan-favorites Zuzana and Mik. Told in alternating perspectives, it’s the perfect love story for fans of the series and new readers alike.

Petite though she may be, Zuzana is not known for timidity. Her best friend, Karou, calls her “rabid fairy,” her “voodoo eyes” are said to freeze blood, and even her older brother fears her wrath. But when it comes to the simple matter of talking to Mik, or “Violin Boy,” her courage deserts her. Now, enough is enough. Zuzana is determined to meet him, and she has a fistful of magic and a plan. It’s a wonderfully elaborate treasure hunt of a plan that will take Mik all over Prague on a cold winter’s night before finally leading him to the treasure: herself! Violin Boy’s not going to know what hit him.

I wish I was typing this post up while eating chocolate cake and sipping Moroccan mint tea. *tragic sigh*

As meet-cutes go, Zuzana and Mik’s is probably one of the best I’ve ever read. A treasure hunt around Prague? Come on, it’s gotta be tough to top that!

It’s not surprising that Zuzana was the one who orchestrated their first meeting, especially knowing what we know about her from the “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” novels; she is a very assertive lady.

Milquetoast girls raised on princess stories might sit tight and bat their eyelashes in desperate Morse code – notice me, like me, please – but I am not that girl.

And if “Night of Cake and Puppets” happens to be your happy accident of an introduction to Zuzana and the series, well, now you know (and knowing is half the battle, so get to reading “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” and “Days of Blood and Starlight” already!) 😛

One of the things that really intrigued me in this novella is the reveal that Zuzana (and her grandfather) had experiences with magic before all the shit with Karou went down in “Smoke and Bone”. And maybe it’s not much of a stretch to think that the undead fox Cossack inside the glass box in Zuzana’s house is a creature from that other world where the Chimaera and the Seraphim reside.

Once you know magic is real, it’s really hard to remember what it was like not to know. It’s kind of like trying to see how you look with your eyes closed.

The other thing that intrigued me is Zuzana using magic in the form of wishes made on the scuppies that Karou gave her. It has been some time since I read the 2 novels, particularly the first, so I am not sure if the magic system of the DoSaB Universe allowed just about any mortal to use scuppies or wishes when they get a hold of them. In any case, Zuzana’s use of it adds another dimension to the rules of magic in play.

‘It was magic,’ I say simply. I’ve learned this from Karou, as regards magic: You can tell the most outlandish truths with virtually no risk of being believed.

The last thing is that Zuzana would use 4 of her 5 precious wishes to get Mik. But then again, that’s passionate (and vicious) Zuzana for you.

I have scuppies in my pocket and lust in my heart. Tonight’s the night.

I had a problem with Mik’s chapters, though. In the beginning of Chapter 5, when the novella switches to his point of view for the first time, there was no noticeable change in the character voice. Mik’s narration had that same wit and parenthetic expressions that Zuzana’s had. There were also parallel stuff, like enumerating the things they know about each other.

I think I get what Taylor was going for here, showing more of the couple’s compatibility, but…well, Mik just sounds like Zuzana, only less giddier. His inner character seems too idealized, as if it was Zuzana talking. I’m sorry if this comes off as rather prejudiced, but…do men think like this or talk to themselves in their head like this? (No, really, serious question. I won’t judge you if you say “yes”; I just want to know if it’s authentic. 😉 )

But I like Mik; it’s hard not to like him after reading about him in the 2 novels. I don’t mind him being just your normal nice guy; he’s exactly what Zuzana needs for a partner.

He’s like a good book cover that grabs your gaze. Read me. I’m fun but smart. You won’t be able to put me down.

These in-between stories from the POV of secondary characters seems to have become a trend for YA series lately. This novella, though, enjoyable as it was, could have done with more editing. There is a lot of introspection to give readers an idea about the characters’ motivations and feelings, yes, but Zuzana and Mik overstayed their welcome a bit, and I can’t even believe I just said that about them and Taylor’s writing. But that’s just how I felt after reading it.

I still love the story, of course, and highly recommend it, even to those who haven’t read the first 2 DoSaB novels. It’s sweet and fun and magical and romantic. It has that same lyrical and dream-like quality as the novels, and it still makes me wish I had scuppies so I can wish myself to Prague right now.

And now I really must go find some tea.

❆ ❆ ❆
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