Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “baxlala”

Baxlala’s #CBR4 Review #34: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Henrietta_Lacks_(1920-1951)Imagine your mother. I mean, really think about her. The color of her hair, her eyes, the sound of her laugh, what she looks like when she’s angry. And not just a little angry, but REALLY REALLY angry, like, you-stole-her-car-and-filled-it-with-bees-and-drove-it-into-a-lake angry. What makes her laugh? Is it your dad? You? Maybe it’s fart jokes because WHO DOESN’T LOVE A GOOD FART JOKE.

Maybe, for whatever reason, you can’t picture her. Maybe you never knew your mother, maybe you WISH you didn’t know your mother, I don’t know, but if you can’t see your mother, hear her laugh, smell her perfume, INSERT MORE CLICHES HERE, you have something in common with Deborah Lacks, someone you’ll grow to care about when (not if, WHEN…there is no if) you read this book.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the story of a poor, black woman who died in the 50s, just riddled with cancer, and the cells she unknowingly donated to science during her treatment. Henrietta Lacks went to Johns Hopkins for cancer treatment, like so many did, suffering a great deal in the process (seriously, think of how terrible cancer treatment is today and then multiply that by 1000), but her donation to science led to the polio vaccine and a better understanding of the human body.

These cells, called HeLa cells, were taken from Henrietta without consent, and grew and grew and grew and are now present in labs all over the world. It would be years before Henrietta’s children would know anything about this, years before they would know a piece of their mother was still living. Deborah Lacks, who was only a toddler when her mother died, would spearhead this journey, with the help of the book’s author, Rebecca Skloot. Skloot spends countless hours with the Lacks family, compiling interviews, medical history, and family lore, to weave together the story of Henrietta Lacks, who she was, how she lived and died, and how HeLa cells came to be one of science’s most important assets.

It’s been a long time since my high school biology classes, but the way the science is written in this book is so engaging. Skloot presents everything in a matter-of-fact manner, but there’s a tinge of humanity present in every word. After all, HeLa cells may be commonplace in every biology textbook, every lab, every scientist’s brain, but Henrietta Lacks was a human being, first and foremost. She was someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, and someone’s mother. She was SOMEONE, not just cells on a slide.

I was surprised at how strongly this book affected me. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I finished it. I can’t imagine having grown up not knowing my mother at all, let alone later discovering that some scientist had taken a piece of her and that piece, that living piece of her, was still out there somewhere. There’s a moment, late in the book, when Deborah and her younger brother are invited to Johns Hopkins to look at HeLa cells under a microscope, and Deborah holds a vial of her mother’s cells in her hands, cupping them gently, trying to warm them, and, realizing that this was the closest she’d been to her mother since she was a baby, I had to put the book down for a moment to catch my breath.

This is a story of questionable medical practices, scientific achievement, and how race and consent placed a significant role in both, but mostly, it’s the story of one woman’s quest to know, really know, the mother she’d been robbed of so many years before. The science will hook you, but the humanity will keep you reading.

Baxlala’s #CBR4 Review #33: Fables, Werewolves of the Heartland by Bill Willingham

bigby-480x352Here’s the thing…I actually reread all of Fables this year, but haven’t reviewed any of them and I don’t have a good reason, really, other than I read them all REALLY QUICKLY, so when it came time to review them, I couldn’t remember what exactly happened in each book and so I just decided not to review any of them. (Also, laziness.)

But! I did just read Werewolves of the Heartland, which is Fables but not like FABLES Fables. It’s a special edition or something, so I don’t feel like I have to address any kind of continuity from the rest of the books in order to talk about it. I mean, I probably will, but I don’t feel OBLIGATED. I hate feeling obligated, especially when I’m writing about werewolves who live in Iowa.

Because that’s what Werewolves of the Heartland is about, you know. Werewolves. Who live in Iowa.

For those who don’t know, Fables is a comic about a group of fictional characters who aren’t so fictional in this universe. In this universe, fairy tale characters have escaped from The Adversary and are now living in the human world, though they call humans Mundys because humans are all mortal and non-magical and therefore are always called something like Mundys or Muggles or some other derogatory nickname and WHY CAN’T WE HAVE ANYTHING COOL WHERE IS MY MAGIC WAND.

The Fables founded Fabletown (creative, right?), a neighborhood in NYC, a long, long time ago and are all the time trying to make sure Mundys don’t find out about them, because what would you do if you found out Prince Charming was living a few blocks away? You’d probably try and marry him, right? Well, don’t, because he’s a complete cad, I tell you, A CAD.

Snow White is HBIC and basically runs Fabletown, alongside Bigby Wolf (Big Bad Wolf, get it?) and we love them. No, I won’t tell you why. I won’t tell you anything else about Fabletown or Bigby or ANYONE. Go read all of Fables and then come back and we can talk about it, OK?

Anyway. Werewolves of the Heartland finds Bigby in Iowa, looking into a small town called Story City. Bigby is captured and, seeing that he’s the original wolf of all wolves, is both feared and loved. Some residents want him dead, others want to sleep with him and have his Super!Wolf babies cubs, and still others just want to hang out in his front yard and be blessed by him.

Bigby gets in some trouble, obviously, because he’s Bigby, but you’re never really that worried about him because he’s pretty much the ultimate badass. He’s the only Fable we really know who makes an appearance, other than an old friend of his that’s only appeared one other time in the Fables universe (to my knowledge), but that’s more than OK because we love Bigby. WE LOVE HIM SO MUCH.

Still, this little diversion of Bigby’s was pretty boring. I’d much rather see what’s going on with the rest of the Fables so, though I do always enjoy spending time with the Bigby, this kind of seemed like a waste of time, as you can probably tell from this review, since I spent more time talking about real Fables than this Fables.

(It DID feature some werewolf boobies and weiners, though. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

So, yeah. Five stars for Fables as a whole, only two stars for this installment. SORRY BIGBY.

Baxlala’s #CBR4 Review #32: Thumbsucker by Walter Kirn

WHOA. You guys. I had this document sitting in my Google Docs for months and I thought for sure that I’d written something about this book and that I just needed to revise it but NO I haven’t written anything at all and now I don’t remember, like, anything about it. But I’ll try. FOR CANNONBALL!

Ahem. This book is about some kid who can’t stop sucking his thumb. This would normally make me feel bad but this kid is kind of an asshole (you can tell the author was going for a Holden Caulfield vibe but…well, Holden is kind of an asshole, too, so I guess the author was successful) and it doesn’t really seem like him sucking his thumb really messes his life up all that much. I mean, yeah, I could definitely be forgetting something but I don’t think he got, like, beat up or made fun of or anything because he sucked his thumb. His dentist mocked him for it but I think that was because he was worried about his teeth because do you know how much sucking your thumb messes up your teeth? A LOT. It’s true. I used to work for an orthodontist.

Faux-lden Caulfield gets hypnosis to stop sucking his thumb, but it messes with his brain (it’s just like Office Space (no it’s not)) and he gets ADD instead. Thus begins his journey blah blah blah having a family is hard blah blah being a teenager is hard blah dee blah dee blah. I don’t know. I neither hate nor love this book. I’m indifferent. I didn’t care about any of the characters and was sort of hoping for bad things to happen to them, because I’m an asshole. I had very similar feelings when I was reading Up in the Air, which is by the same author, which probably means I can skip all of his other novels.

So yeah. MEH.

Baxlala’s #CBR4 Review #31: Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

This is the book that launched a thousand chick lit novels, which I sort of hate myself for even saying because the term “chick lit” makes me want to gouge out my own eyes, as well as the eyes of whoever invented it, but, well, this book is responsible for every book since that follows the “girl-meets-guy-hates-guy-falls-for-scoundrel-oh-wait-first-guy-isn’t-so-bad-after-all” model.

Full disclosure: I have read this book approximately 1.7 billion times so it’s impossible for me to be objective about it. I usually end up reading it either right before or right after reading or watching Pride & Prejudice, or I suddenly have to read it because I heard It’s Raining Men somewhere (you’re welcome for that clip).

There was a time, back in college, when I first read this book, that I thought I’d end up much like Bridget Jones, single well into my 30s, still drinking too much and eating too much and, you know, making bad decisions re: career, lovelife, etc. Somehow I found someone who doesn’t mind (even enjoys!) dealing with my nonsense, but though I’m not still stuck in the dating world (thank god), I still identify with Bridget’s crazy shenanigans, mostly because, if I ever got to interview Colin Firth (um, spoiler alert for the 2nd book), I’d behave exactly as Bridget did. Or worse.

Anyway! That’s in the second book! Why am I talking about that? Good question! Let’s move on.

Bridget Jones’s Diary, for those who don’t know, is a book about a 30-something woman named Bridget Jones (duh) who keeps a diary (double duh) for a year, meaning we get an inside look at all of her trials and embarrassments and deep, dark thoughts.

It’s also based on Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, which is why there’s a character named Mark Darcy, who is played by Colin Firth in the movie and Colin Firth, as everyone should know, IS Mr. Darcy because of that one time he was in the BBC Pride & Prejudice miniseries that aired a million years ago but it doesn’t even matter how long ago it was, Colin Firth will always be Mr. Darcy which is just too bad for him, isn’t it? I mean, he’s an Oscar winner now. He played a king! But no, he’ll always be that super cross, prideful son-of-a-bitch from two hundred years ago.

For whatever reason, when a friend and I first read Bridget Jones’s Diary, we latched onto it like…I don’t know, something that really likes another thing. We read the book and then saw the movie and then watched the P&P miniseries and we once spent like an hour in the bathroom of our dorm drunkenly discussing how dreamy Mr. Darcy is. I wish I could remember that conversation but I can’t (I’m sure it was a real brain-burner), though I did have some evidence of it the next morning, because we’d drunk-emailed some friends and those emails contained the following sentences:

“Mr. Darcy is a harthrap.”


“Mr. Darcy is the hit of my pants.”

I’ve never been prouder of anything I’ve ever written. Why WOULDN’T you want to read a book that led to those sentences? Just in case you’re still on the fence, though, here are some great things about this book that don’t involve Mr. Darcy:

1. Daniel Cleaver
2. The term “emotional fuckwittage”
3. Bridget’s dad
4. Bridget’s friends
5. It’s a really quick read, and you know how busy you are

Also, as fun bonus trivia, Bridget’s friend Tom in the movie is played by James Callis, who later played Dr. Gaius Baltar on Battlestar Galactica. So. Make of that what you will.

My point is, you should read this, with a cocktail or seven, and then you should watch the movie and THEN you should read and watch Pride & Prejudice, just to get the entire experience.

OK? v.g.

Baxlala’s #CBR4 Review #30: Firestarter by Stephen King

DISCLAIMER: Hey, so don’t read this book unless you want Progidy’s Firestarter stuck in your head until you finish it. True story.

Firestarter is one of Stephen King’s first novels. I think. I didn’t look it up or anything, but I’m just assuming it was based on the fact that a very young Drew Barrymore played the main character in the movie adaptation. So, you know, draw your own conclusions. Hopefully they match the ones I drew…mine looked like this:

Firestarter is the sweet coming of age tale the almost completely tragic tale of Charlie McGee and her father Andy, both on the run from a super scary government agency called The Shop. We soon find out the reason they’re on the run (and I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by telling you this, since it’s on the book jacket): Andy has telepathic powers and can “push” people into doing his bidding (AWESOME) and Charlie can start giant, uncontrollable fires, which seems like a really safe thing for a kid to be able to do. Andy and his wife (who also had powers) got their abilities when they participated in an experiment called “Lot 6” in college. They did it to make some extra cash and got psychic powers in the process, which is pretty great, except for whole “the government wants to kill me and steal my daughter,” thing.

The Shop, obviously, wants to kidnap Charlie so they can do creepy experiments on her and, for whatever reason, her dad is like, “um, yeah, no thanks.” But The Shop doesn’t care. The Shop does what it wants! But their guns are no match for THE FIRESTARTER! She can start FIRES! Whenever she wants. Or, accidentally, whenever she’s too upset. And, you know, kids never get upset about stupid things so I’m sure all of her fires are totally intentional. Right. Sure.

Here’s the thing about Firestarter: for a Stephen King book, it’s remarkably tame. I mean, sure, there’s all this violence against a child, as well as murder and mayhem perpetrated BY the child, but in the grand scheme of King’s universe? It’s nothing. There is an icky bit about a grown man being sort of in love with Charlie, but even that isn’t as gross as I’d expect it to be. This is no IT, you guys. I probably should have been more disturbed by it, because Charlie is adorable and sweet and all these terrible things happen to her, but I think years of reading Stephen King and watching hours of Dexter and zombie movies have ruined me.

There are also fewer supernatural elements to Firestarter than most other Stephen King novels, but I think that’s because the powers Charlie and her father have are supposed to be based in SCIENCE and you know how SCIENCE feels about the supernatural. If you don’t, just ask Scully:


Baxlala’s #CBR4 Review #29: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Oh, hey, I finished this about a million years ago and then forgot to write about it, which has pretty much been the case for the past, oh, FOREVER.

Anyway, have you guys read this book? Because you should. Especially if you like dystopian novels and WHO DOESN’T, amiright? Yes, I’m right.

I first read this book before I even knew what dystopia meant and have read it about once a year since. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I find something comforting about reading stories in which really fucked up shit happens to people in the near or not-so-near future, as if by me reading it, I can STOP whatever it is from happening. Maybe that’s my superpower. YOU DON’T KNOW.

Anyway (again). The Handmaid’s Tale is set in the future, in a time of great unrest (standard). Things were getting super shitty for ladies, what with the violence and the rape and whatnot, PLUS ALSO everyone started having trouble getting knocked up, no matter how much sex they had, and the ones who DID get knocked up sometimes had monster babies (called “shredders” in the novel) because of CHEMICAL WARFARE or some junk, and so The Men In Charge decided what everyone really needed was order, in the form of a regimented system of sexytimes. And AS PER USUAL, women drew the short straw and had to live under the power of the men in their lives, called the Commanders (SERIOUSLY).

Offred, our narrator, is a Handmaid, living in the somewhat newly formed Republic of Gilead, in a home with her Commander, his Wife, a Maid, and a Cook. The Commander is the only Dude in the house (except for Nick, the Chauffeur, but he doesn’t count as a Dude because he doesn’t own any Womens yet) and is completely in charge of his harem of ladies. Only it’s not REALLY a harem because he can only have sex with his Handmaid and only at specific times and only under SUPER FUCKED UP CIRCUMSTANCES because sex is dirty and bad and degrades women and is only I REPEAT ONLY for the procreation of the species. Geez, pay attention.

Saying any more about this novel would rob you of the experience of reading it and I just won’t be party to that kind of spoilertude. But I cannot recommend The Handmaid’s Tale enough. I mean, I’ve read it at least 15 times and I just keep reading it because I NEVER WANT IT TO BE OVER. That’s how awesome it is.

Don’t get me wrong, this book is terrifying, but it’s like…a good terrifying? Where you’re happy that you’re not living in that world? I guess? Just read this? Please?

Baxlala’s #CBR4 Review #28: Stranger With My Face by Lois Duncan

No lie, I picked this up after my research for one of my reviews led me to Lois Duncan which reminded me that I used to read the shit out of all of her books when I was a teenager. And yes, though it doesn’t seem like it, I do do (heh, do do) some research for all of my reviews, even if said research is done mostly on Wikipedia and Tumblr.


This contains spoilers, probably. I don’t know, I haven’t written it yet.

Anyway. The only thing I remembered about this book before my reread was that it involved astral projection and a kid with scars on half of his face. And a secret twin! With POWERS. Astral projection powers! Who wouldn’t want those?

Laurie Stratton is a beautiful young woman who lives on an island in New England. Her family is totally perfect but she looks nothing like them because SPOILER ALERT she was adopted, something she discovers one day after being visited by the astrally projected vision of her Native American twin sister YES THAT IS A SENTENCE I JUST WROTE. She’s pretty excited until she finds out that her twin sister might not have her best intentions at heart.

Laurie is also dating a total asshole named Gordon even though he’s completely not right for her, but he’s popular and handsome and she’s a teenage girl so DUH. But don’t worry, because Gordon is really just roadkill on the Laurie-Jeff Highway. Oh, Jeff. Beautiful, scarred, emotionally tormented Jeff. I shipped Jeff and Laurie before I even knew what shipping was, though I’d soon become more than familiar with shipping once I discovered The X-Files.

I remember reading this book and thinking, “oh, totally, astral projection, I’m going to do that,” because it was in this book, right, and in the book they read other books about how to project on the astral plane and shit, so it MUST be doable. I mean, IT’S IN A BOOK. And so I would spend hours (OK, minutes) lying in bed in the semi-dark with my eyes closed, wondering when I’d snap out of my body and be able to go roaming the world with my new powers but instead I’d fall asleep and wake up the next morning and have to go to school LIKE A CHUMP without ever having traveled to the moon or Area 51 or Jonathan Taylor Thomas’s house or wherever the fuck 12-year-olds wanted to go in 1994.

I seem to remember this book being way more complicated than it really is, which is somewhat comforting because that hopefully means my brain has matured since then, but it was still a fun enough read that I picked up a few other Lois Duncan books from my childhood. And though I don’t think any of them involve astral projection in any way, I’m pretty sure there are spooky elements to all of them. Bring it, Duncan!

Baxlala’s #CBR4 Review #27: Now It’s Funny: How I Survived Cancer, Divorce and Other Looming Disasters by Michael Solomon

I was one of five to receive this book as a review copy through Cannonball Read and I’m so behind on my reviews that, two months later, I’m finally writing about it. That…is embarrassing. Oops.

This book pretty much validated all of my fears about going to the doctor. I hate going to the doctor. I mean, no one really LIKES it, do they? But I get super freaked out, my blood pressure spikes, and I spend my entire waiting room stay worrying about all of the things that might possibly be wrong with me. WebMD doesn’t help.

Michael Solomon wrote this memoir as he was battling cancer and going through a divorce, all while living in NYC during 9/11, because just one of those things isn’t stressful enough. The Universe is a total dick sometimes. Solomon went to the doctor one day for something routine and came away from that experience with cancer. Now, I know, I KNOW, that going to the doctor didn’t GIVE him cancer, but before he went, he had no idea he had it, no health problems whatsoever, so you can’t entirely convince me that going to the doctor DOESN’T give you cancer, OK? Such is the logic of my brain. And maybe your brain, too. Brain twins!

Anyway. Solomon delivers the details of this experience, gory and otherwise, with irreverent humor and he doesn’t shy away from talking about what most people would consider embarrassing moments. My guess is (and I really can only guess here), once you’ve had and beaten cancer, you are left with a general “who fucking cares?” attitude about such things. Because, you know what? YOU BEAT CANCER. FUCK WHAT ANYONE ELSE THINKS. You have earned the right to talk about almost pooping yourself on the sidewalk of NYC (true story) all you want.

Solomon states in the beginning that he wrote this book as the story was happening, which shows. There’s not a whole lot of the soul searching that seems like might come at the end of such a battle (though, I can’t speak from experience, obviously) and I believe that comes from the author not having quite removed himself from the experience quite yet. And who could blame him? That kind of thing could take decades to sort through. Having read this, however, I’m glad Solomon didn’t take decades to write it. I felt almost as if I were reading someone’s private journal, which I suppose I was, and I can’t say that was a bad thing. Especially since I was given permission.

Baxlala’s #CBR4 Review #26: The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

YOU GUYS. This book is CRAZEBALLS. I don’t even know where to start. First of all! It’s 876 pages long. That is the exact number TO THE PAGE, even though it sounds made up. But I didn’t make it up, I just now looked in the book. Scout’s honor. Only I was never a Boy Scout or a Girl Scout so just pretend it’s Scout’s honor like Scout Finch, OK? That is some genetically good honor, you know? Atticus, man. FUCKING ATTICUS.

But let’s get back to the crazier, more incestuous universe of The Mists of Avalon, shall we?

The Mists of Avalon is a retelling of the legend of King Arthur, his knights of the round table, and all that chivalry crap, told from the point of view of the womenfolk. If you’re around my age, you may remember the miniseries that aired on TNT that starred Angelica Houston and a post-ER, pre-Good Wife Julianna Margulies. I’ve been meaning to read the book ever since I saw the mini-series and it only took me 11 years! Go me!

So let’s talk about the book, OK? Because it took me approximately 90 years to finish it. This contains slight spoilers but you might already know about them if you’ve ever heard/read anything about The Mists of Avalon before.

Morgaine (of the fairies!) is the daughter of Igraine and some duke nobody cares about, and is also the niece of Vivianne, Lady of the Lake (she has MAGICAL POWERS), and Morgause, the youngest of the three sisters and a total free spirit (this means she likes sex a lot and good for her!). Igraine ends up with Uther Pendragon BECAUSE IT WAS FORETOLD, and gives birth to Arthur, who is to be the king who brings peace to the land, if all goes according to plan.

Morgaine, who has THE SIGHT, is taken away by Vivianne when she’s quite young and when Arthur is still a baby. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Vivianne takes Morgaine to Avalon, where she is to be trained as a priestess. Once she’s grown, she takes part in a kingmaking ceremony, where the future king has to run with some deer (this is apparently very dangerous) and then have sex with a virgin priestess of Avalon. Lucky Morgaine, she is that virgin priestess. But not so lucky, because the king is totally Arthur, HER HALF-BROTHER. She is understandably upset, though she couldn’t have known it was Arthur, and runs away because DUH incest.

MEANWHILE, Lancelot Lancelet is busy falling in love with Guinevere Gwenhwyfar because of…reasons? I guess? She’s totally beautiful, but other than that, I’m pretty sure she has no redeeming qualities. Seriously, you guys, she is the worst. And not like Britta is the worst but THE ACTUAL WORST like I was wishing for her death most of the time.


There are a million other characters and they all have really similar names, so I definitely recommend reading this book with a cheat sheet or the Wikipedia page open or something, and even then, if you’re anything like me, you’re going to just start pretending Gawaine and Gareth are the same person, which, honestly, probably won’t affect your reading of the story all that much because you’ll be pretty focused on the whole incest thing. Oh! And also the threesome.

Long story short (HAHAHA), you should read this if you like really long retellings of familiar stories and fairies and mother earth and shit. Also incest.

Baxlala’s #CBR4 Review #25: Up in the Air by Walter Kirn

OK, you know what’s weird? Up in the Air the book is NOTHING LIKE Up in the Air the movie. Not really. I saw the movie when it came out and I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it. Though…I don’t remember a whole lot about it, other than George Clooney rides a lot of airplanes and sometimes has adorable interactions with Anna Kendrick and other kinds of interactions with Vera Farmiga. Also, George and Anna spend a lot of their time firing people. And Anna types all crazy, like this:

Um. Wait for it…

Huh, I can’t actually find a video of it. Here is a GIF of an otter instead:


ANYWAY. I’m not here to talk about Up in the Air the movie, no matter how much I liked it, so please disregard all of my above ramblings (I could just delete it all but look at how many words I’ve already written…I’m not starting over). I’m here to talk about Up in the Air the book. The book I read over a month ago and therefore remember almost none of, because in between reading Up in the Air and now, I’ve read The Mists of Avalon and EVERY SINGLE FABLES BOOK EVER. Which is great and all, but that’s a lot of fake-universe knowledge I now have knocking around in my brain, leaving very little room for Ryan Bingham’s exploits but WHATEVER, let’s see what I remember.

Ryan Bingham (who has one of the most forgettable names ever, I’ve had to look it up like five times now) has a really boring job that he tolerates because it allows him one major perk: constant travel. Now, those of you who have had to travel for work, especially those of you who travel frequently, are probably thinking, “that sounds awful, what’s wrong with this guy?” Well, I can’t tell you what’s wrong with him because that would ruin the entire book, so just read it already, geez.

Or don’t read it. I don’t care. I’m feeling pretty ambivalent about this book, honestly. I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it. I didn’t really feel anything, good or bad, about any of the characters. I’d probably be mad about all of that if the book had taken longer to read, but in the end, it probably only took up a few hours of my life, so no big deal, right? I’ve spent far more time than that watching and rewatching my favorite TV shows PLUS ALSO I’ve spent at least 38 billion hours this week watching Olympics coverage so what I’m saying is…I don’t remember.

So. Yeah. Twoish (threeish?) stars and a big fat MEH for this one.

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