Megaskull by Platts

Nobrow is so hit or miss. I get that they want to allow people to be creative with no editing or censoring, but the fact is that most artists and writers need editors who can help them develop their ideas, to cut out bad ideas and cultivate good ones. But at Nobrow, the artists get to do whatever they want and most of the time it’s pretty mediocre. This time it was terrible.

Megaskull
by Kyle Platts
Nobrow
December 2012

Kyle Platts is the writer and artist in this book that is a series of supposed-to-be jokes. The art style is very late night cartoon network-ish: bright, exaggerated and violent. The stories or “jokes” are pretty terrible. None of them are funny. Not a single one. Most don’t even make sense. They are often based on absurdity, but don’t hold up well actually fleshing them out.

Consider two dads standing in their driveway watching a kid ride their bike for the first time. One says, “Good job son! You’re making me proud.” The other says, “What if he just kept biking for like ever, like Forrest Gump?” The first just looks at the second like the dork he is. No one thinks, I should make a two page comic about this one second, lame joke. But Platts did. And this whole book is like that.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

NIV Kids’ Visual Study Bible

This isn’t just a study Bible for kids!

NIV Kid’s Visual Study Bible
Zondervan
June 2017

The only thing that sets this Bible apart from other study Bibles for adults is that the cover says this is for kids. This has study notes, pictures, maps, explanations and descriptions just like what you would find in your adult or teen study Bible. Everything is easy to understand and at a reading level that older children can comprehend. (My 10 year old was able to read the notes with no issues.)

Normally, I don’t like seeing a ton of new versions of the same study Bibles, but in this case I think this is one that stands apart for how comprehensive it is with the notes and visual aspects. I already had a couple of study Bibles for my two young sons, but this one will preplace those as the go to version.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher and Handlebar as a review copy.

The Captain’s Daughter by Delamere

London, 1879 When a series of circumstances beyond her control leaves Rosalyn Bernay alone and penniless in London, she chances upon a job backstage at a theater putting on the most popular show in the city. A talented musician and singer, she feels immediately at home and soon becomes enthralled with the idea of pursuing a career on the stage. That is, as long as the shadows from her past don’t catch up with her.

The Captain’s Daughter
by Jennifer Delamere
Baker Publishing Group
June 2017

After a hand injury forces Nate Moran from his army regiment in India, he returns home to London, a place that holds bitter memories. He agrees to fill in temporarily as a stagehand while his brother recuperates from a broken leg, but Nate is counting down the days until he can rejoin his regiment. His future is decided—until he meets a beautiful woman who has found a new lease on life in the very place Nate yearns to leave behind.

My thoughts:

I decided to step out of my regular book genre again.  Sometimes I just need something completely different than what I normally read.

This is the first book in “London Beginnings Series.”  

I’m a fan of historical fiction. Jennifer Delamere is a new author for me. The historical setting of the story is 1879 London- and the historical characters of Gilbert and Sullivan that feature with their musicals made the story’s setting delightful.

The story is based off of three girls who become orphans after the death of their parents and end up in George Müller’s orphanage. Then focuses on Rosalyn the eldest eventually finds work as a housemaid. You find yourself skipping 6 years in the future and Rosalyn is accused of stealing and the unwanted advances of her employer’s new husband. She flees to be with her other sister to Bristol.

This was an easy read. I found the character interesting and likable.  Not a lot of depth with the character but, there is a lot of action to keep the book interesting. The book wasn’t predictable and it did leave you wanting more depth with the characters.

I’m not going to give away the story so you will have to read it for yourself. Overall, this was a fun read that I had a hard time putting down.


ReneeK is a sweet tea addicted mamma who loves to cuddle up to a good book. She blogs at Little Homeschool on the Praire and writes about family, homeschooling, having a special needs child, and about whatever else tickles her fancy.

This book was provided by the publisher via Litfuse Publicity as a review copy.

Threads of Suspensions by Henderson

Dee Henderson Pens Another Compelling Cold Case Mystery.

Threads of Suspensions
An Evie Blackwell Cold Case
by Dee Henderson
Baker Publishing Group
May 2017

Evie Blackwell’s reputation as a top investigator for the Illinois State Police has landed her an appointment to the governor’s new Missing Persons Task Force. This elite investigative team is launched with plenty of public fanfare. The governor has made this initiative a high priority, so they will have to produce results–and quickly.

Evie and her new partner, David Marshal, are assigned to a pair of unrelated cases in suburban Chicago, and while both involve persons now missing for several years, the cases couldn’t be more different. While Evie opens old wounds in a close-knit neighborhood to find a missing college student, David searches for a private investigator working for a high-powered client.

With a deep conviction that “justice for all” truly matters, Evie and David are unrelenting in their search for the truth. But Evie must also find answers to the questions that lie just beneath the surface in her personal life.

My Thoughts:

Somehow I must have missed reading Traces of Guilt another Evie Blackwell Cold Case Book. I have been a long time fan of Dee Henderson’s books and have read all of her books except for the last one. Dee Henderson was one of the first authors I read when I became a believer many – many years ago. I was hooked to find an author that was a believer writing quality Christian mystery books.

I love the details she puts into the Missing Persons Task Force. The process she describes that an investigator has to go through to pull up a case that has been unsolved for many years. It made it interesting seeing how Evie and her new partner David have completely different styles as investigators.

The story kept building up the suspense as the team starts uncovering the mystery of the missing people. It was a page turner for me.

Dee Henderson always has a flair for the characters, plot, and the surrounding of the story. It was interesting going through the many theories and leads that will keep you not wanting to put the book down. There are a few surprises. I love David and Evie each have a deep faith in God.  

I’m not going to give away any spoilers but, I have to say that I didn’t find this story predictable and was surprised how it came together.
  


ReneeK is a sweet tea addicted mamma who loves to cuddle up to a good book. She blogs at Little Homeschool on the Praire and writes about family, homeschooling, having a special needs child, and about whatever else tickles her fancy.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Before I Fall Review

Before I Fall, based on the 2010 book by Lauren Oliver, centers on a young lady that relives the same day over and over – the day of her apparent death.

The day starts normally, with her friends picking her up for school on Valentine’s Day (here: Cupid Day). Normal for Sam means preparing to have sex for the first time later that night, hanging out with her shallow Mean Girl friends, making fun of and bullying other students, and going to a party where she and her friends – all underage – will drink until drunk. After bullying a young lady at the party, and after drinking quite a bit and possibly being drunk, Sam and get friends set off for home but hit something in the road, crash and Sam dies. Then she wakes up again and does it all over.

“What do you think people will say about you when you die?” Asks Sam on her first repeat. Even as an awareness of her shallow lifestyle starts to dawn on her, Sam still considers depth from the perspective of selfishness.

By her second repeat, Sam continues the narration from the opening lines. Now she wants to make positive changes and starts asking questions about her life choices. She smartly rejects her planned sexually encounter with her boyfriend recognizing that she “shouldn’t have to have sex with him to get him to say ‘I love you.'”

After she wakes for her third repeat, though, she says, “I did everything right and nothing changed.” Which sets off uncounted days of despair. So instead of being nice, she decides to be even more selfish and lets her anger out on everyone around her as she self destructs.

At one point Sam asks her mom if she thinks Sam is a good person. The mom says, “Of course I do, but what matters is what you think.” Sam replies, “But why do you think I’m a good person?” And that’s the most important question this movie may ask of us. By what criteria can
we say Sam (or anyone) is “good?” The story seems to suggest the answer is by being true to yourself (literally in a big sign on a boy’s wall) and being nice to people around you. But those are not actually good answers, because so many characters who are being true to themselves are simply not good by any criteria. Since the movie struggles to find a good definition of “good,” the ending isn’t as powerful or permanent as it could have been.

[SPOILERS]The resolution and final conclusion of the story is when Sam somehow realizes that she needs to save someone else from suicide by effectively committing suicide by jumping in front of the truck to push the other girl out of the way. There are so many issues with this resolution it’s hard to cover them all. How is her dieing somehow the best resolution? Why couldn’t she have tackled the girl or got in her way? What about telling an adult? (Isn’t that the best answer for a teenager dealing with this?) And even if this was the best way to end things, it’s done in such a selfish way that it’s unclear exactly what Sam learned, only that she got a bunch of positive memories in her final last days. She tells a boy who loves her that she loves him then runs off to her death. She tells her friends how much they mean to her but doesn’t teach them any lessons about how underage drinking, sex, distracted driving, or being mean and bullying all made their lives and the lives around them bad. She never calls her friend Lindsey on how She bullied everyone (in her final day). She leaves them pretty much how she found them. The girl didn’t commute suicide, but was Sam really save by her? I’m not so sure.[END SPOILERS]

Those are not the only reasons to be concerned about this film. Without giving too many details away (see spoilers above of you must), there are some really troubling things that happen in the film that are often portrayed positively. Things that make this story significantly more appropriate for an adult than a teenager – the intended audience. Underage drinking and sex are portrayed in a mostly glorified way and lessons learned through the film don’t really counter the negative messages throughout.

In the end, this is a film that tries to send the right message but ultimately fails for lack of a standard on what “good” actually means. As a Christian this makes sense to me, because apart from God no one can be good, so a film set with a purely atheistic worldview cannot come to a clear conclusion. We are left with a weak answer: Sam must learn to be nice in high school, but she can still participate in any sins she may want to so long as she doesn’t bully people. While I think it is “good” to be nice and not bully people that can’t be the end of the journey. True love for others warns of dangers, it doesn’t just smile and say the words. Lessons need to last, not be covered up by a single day or act, then everything goes back to normal.

2/5 stars. Tons of bad language of every stripe, with an emphasis on B*****. Strong focus on sexuality. No nudity. One repetitive view of an underage girl’s chest in a bra. Sexuality is discussed along with slurs made towards a self described lesbian. Underage drinking and drunkenness. Bullying. Drunken and distracted driving. Suicide. Immorality doesn’t often have consequences. Agonist no violence other than the car crashes, which doubt show anything.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

The Ebb Tide by Lewis

Oh, to see the ocean, Sallie thought. And to spend the summer as a nanny. She shook her head in amazement. This seemed too good to be true, but she really must talk it over with Dat and Mamm, especially since she’d be gone so long. And after I promised Mamm I’d take baptism classes this summer . . .

The Ebb Tide
by Beverly Lewis
Baker Publishing Group
April 2017

Sallie Riehl has dreamed of traveling at least once before settling down to join church, so she is thrilled at an unexpected summer opportunity to nanny in Cape May for a well-to-do family. However, saying even a temporary good-bye to Paradise Township means forgoing baptism another year, as well as leaving behind a would-be beau. Yet the weeks in Cape May soon prove unforgettable as Sallie meets a Mennonite young man whose friendship she quickly begins to cherish. Has she been too hasty with her promises, or will she only find what her heart is longing for back home?

My Thoughts:

Beverly Lewis has a wonderful way to make stories come alive within the pages of her books. Every time I finish a book or a series I’m sad to see it come to an end.

Sallie is not the typical Amish girl and wants to explore places before she joins the church.  After her first trip to a faraway place by airplane doesn’t happen she is give an opportunity to see the ocean for the summer. Her intent is to return home and join the church. Life isn’t always laid out in a neat package. Sometimes God has different plans for us and Sallie has to find out which path God is leading her on.

This is just a beautiful story that is so descriptive in the details of Sallies surrounding and of her heart. You can’t help but not to be swept away in her dreams. Not to mention that this is a page turner to the very end.

All of Beverly Lewis books have such intriguing characters and plots. Most of all a message about our Christian walk. This story I see waiting on God to direct our paths and not trying to please others but, letting go and let God direct our way.

I’m not going to give away the story. I enjoyed this story and look forward to more books from Beverly Lewis.


ReneeK is a sweet tea addicted mamma who loves to cuddle up to a good book. She blogs at Little Homeschool on the Praire and writes about family, homeschooling, having a special needs child, and about whatever else tickles her fancy.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

Unlike the Marvel movies that take place on Earth and in spite of what may be expected based on the otherworldly colors and characters in Guardians 2, this movie is the first in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to almost exclusively focus on familial relationships in a deep, believable way – while still being fun.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Star-Lord, still doesn’t know who his father is at the start of this film until Ego (Kurt Russell) shows up by saving the Guardians from an armada of space ships and says he is Peter’s father. Not quite sure of the connection, but willing to find out, Peter, Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) travel with Ego and his companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff) to his home planet.

[SPOILERS] Ego is Peter’s father and proves it by showing Peter how to harness the power of the planet (Ego’s life force and actual body; Ego is the Living Planet in the comics). All seems great when Peter and Ego play catch with the globe of power Peter formed. But the enjoyment with finding his father is fleeting when Ego’s true plan is unveiled by Mantis after Gamora finds evidence of trouble. [END SPOILERS]

While there is a final battle and there are causalities and loss, what sets this film apart is how the creators challenge Peter (and Rocket,) to see relationships for what they are and finding family even in brokenness. Peter can celebrate those who were in his life rather than mourn those who chose not to be. In an America where divorce and step-parents are so unfortunately prevalent this is an important message.

There are also laughs and explosions, dancing baby Groots and swearing, fun and adventure, but the key message is family and that’s a good thing.

4/5 stars. Lots and lots of cussing, like Sh**, B**** and so on, as well as put downs and sometimes mean spirited sarcasm. No nudity (other than skin tight suits on most of the women). There are sex working robots depicted in a robot brothel that the Reavers frequent, where alcohol and possibly drugs or smoking take place as well. These scenes are fortunately very short.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) Review

As a fan of anime that goes back decades to when I was a child and Macross was on Saturday morning cartoons as Robotech and moving with anime through the decades to so many other great series and films, I was very much looking forward to this film. In anticipation for it, I watched the original 1996 version. After watching the new live action version I have great appreciation for both version and found quite a lot to enjoy, unlike so many other reviewers.

[SPOILERS FOR BOTH FILMS ABOUND] Though the 1996 version has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (46 total reviews), there was a lot to not like. Like many anime, 1996 Ghost suffered from an issue that wasn’t very clear to Western viewers (why did it matter if the Master uploaded himself into the net and moved on from humanity in the end?) and from a conclusion that didn’t resolve much (so Kusanagi is now merged or something with the Puppet Master? Wait, what?) Even with the lack of clarity, it was a visual feast. The animation was outstanding and holds up well even today. (Most of the positive reviews focus on the animation and difficulty of the film, rather than the story.) Major’s story is compelling – is she human or AI? – and support characters like Bateau and Aramaki are interesting. What the story lacked in final conclusion, it did a good job of setting up several other films in the series with the Major and Bateau working for Section Nine and saving 2029 Tokyo.

The current version, which I will call 2017 Ghost to differentiate, has a lowly 45% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with 218 reviewers. There seems to be somewhat of a switch in review criteria from the 1996 to 2017 versions as most reviewers recognize the amazing complexity of shots, animation or CGI and outstanding visual effects in both, but 2017 reviews no longer count that as positive or view worthy. Also, both films find the Major struggling with who she is and how human she is vs construct (especially when her memories can be deleted at will.) The ultimate questions and the look of both films are the same. (In fact, there were several scenes that were almost shot for shot exactly the same, which for fans like me were awesome to see.)

[SPOILERS] 2017 Ghost takes the story of the Major and expounds on her lack of knowing herself, highlights and focuses on how she got that way – government testing – and explains the Puppet Master as a previous test subject. I don’t like the easy road of making the two test subjects know each other, but the fact that the private company that built the Major’s body was taking children and young people for testing explains more the animosity between Section Nine and Section Six/ Industrial Complex (which isn’t explained well in either movie – is this the government or a company or a hybrid). [END SPOILERS]

If this were a movie without source material like the original anime or manga, then I think this would be more in line with Johansson’s Lucy (67% RT), where Johansson works with CGI and in a science fictionalized world in the future and dealing (lightly) with the complex issue of what it means to be human and the score may have been higher (especially considering Lucy was a significantly worse film than 2017 Ghost, but is currently 22% higher.) But this movie isn’t being judged by how good it really is on it’s own. I think it is being reviewed through the lens of the so-called “white-washing” controversy of casting Johansson in the role of the Major.

I say so-called because that’s exactly what it is. Scarlette Johansson looks exactly like the Major in the anime. So does Bateau (Pilou Asbæk). Exactly like them. Just like the setting, this film is incredibly faithful to the look of the characters and 1996 Ghost. And if anything there is more diversity in 2017 Ghost with several other races and skin colors showing up in supporting characters while everyone speaks English and Japanese interchangeably. I don’t know why expectations exist for films being adapted from stories in one culture should only employ actors of that culture. It isn’t how any culture has done it previously. The Magnificent Seven films (1960 and 2016) are based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) and none feature Asian characters as in the original film. This works for movies adapted in either direction. Is it because it is set in future Tokyo or that the original body of Kusinagi was Japanese? Those shouldn’t matter either, as cyborg bodies can be whatever race the creators want them to be and Tokyo 2029 is a melting pot of cultures (like Blade Runner) and shouldn’t be expected to have only one culture or race. All this to say that there should be no controversy just as the original director of 1996 Ghost, Mamoru Oshii, said himself.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) was a dazzling trip down memory lane for me as a fan of the original. It was eye candy with a little existential questioning and a lot of action. I found it very enjoyable.

4/5 stars. Some language. Nudity on the cyborg bodies, but not sexualized. Some sensuality but no sex scenes. Drugs and drinking in several scenes. Lots of violence and gun fighting.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

Beauty and the Beast (2017) Review

A tale as old as 30 years is retold with almost exactly the same story, visuals and songs. It’s so close to the source material that one is left wondering why we needed a remake of the beloved animated feature.

Belle (Emma Watson) wants more. Gaston (Luke Evans) wants her. The Beast (Dan Stevens) wants to be loved. Le Fou (Josh Gad) doesn’t know what he wants. Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) want to be human again (sans the song from the stage play of the same name). And we all know how it ends.

So why watch the film at all? It isn’t that clear to me. But there were some things I enjoyed.

Watson and Evans are great in their roles, looking very much like the original characters and acting much the same. [SPOILER] Learning Maurice’s (Kevin Klein) reasons for leaving Paris and where Belle’s mother went was a nice addition. [END SPOILER] I liked that the new material was very close to the source material that I grew up with. Beauty and the Beast was and is one of the most cherished films of my youth and this film didn’t destroy that as happens all too often with other movies from source material from the 80s or 90s (I’m looking at you Transformers, G.I. Joe, Smurfs, A-Team, and so many more).

There were also things I didn’t like, like, [SPOILER] giving the mirror the power to transport was interesting, but left plot holes about why it couldn’t transport Belle and her Father later in the film. [END SPOILER] I dislike that every film that takes place in any other era of time or location has characters with English accents. After all, dear, this is France – so why couldn’t Belle and Gaston have French accents? I dislike that there is a huge castle that can’t be found (because: magic?) until Maurice comes upon a downed tree and then everyone can find it.

I also didn’t like the controversy surrounding Le Fou. It was quite a lot for such a small thing, I thought, all the way until the end, where [SPOILERS] one of the villagers is cross dressed by Garderobe (Audra McDonald) and likes it and then when Le Fou sees the male villager dressed as a woman their eyes light up and a clear zing happens on screen leading to them dancing with each other. [END SPOILERS] What the creators want to add into films is their prerogative, but it is also my prerogative as a parent to determine what my children can watch. I did take my teen daughter to this and asked about her opinion and she said she didn’t pay attention to that part much but did notice it. If that matters to you, as it does to me, it may change how you see the film. The worst part about this addition was that it was a controversy that didn’t need to be there.

Setting aside controversy, what I liked and what I didn’t I was left with my original question: why make this film at all? I get remaking Cinderella (1950) and the Jungle Book (1967) because they were so long ago at the time of their remakes (50+ years each) and society has changed so much over the course of two or three generations that the originals seem quaint and a little vapid. But I don’t get Beauty and the Beast (1991) or the upcoming The Little Mermaid (1989) or The Lion King (1994). Children today have grown up on these films and they came out when their parents were teens. Plus the stage adaptations are even more recent (and having seen the stage version of Beauty, I’d say maybe better.)

If there were no animated film I would have enjoyed this more. But having loved the original film (and animation) as well as the stage adaptation I just don’t need to see another version of the Tale as Old as Time. Seeing new versions every 10 years isn’t making this story more beloved, just making it more old.

2/5 stars. Language was mostly clean. No nudity or sexuality. Drinking was at a pub and no worse than the animated version. Cross dressing and “gay moment” are briefly seen.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

The Newcomer by Woods Fisher

In 1737, Anna Konig and her fellow church members stagger off a small wooden ship after 10 weeks at sea, eager to start a new life in the vibrant but raw Pennsylvania frontier. On the docks of Port Philadelphia waits bishop Jacob Bauer, founder of the settlement and father to ship carpenter Bairn. It’s a time of new beginnings for the reunited Bauer family, and for Anna and Bairn’s shipboard romance to blossom. But this perfect moment cannot last.

The Newcomer
by Suzanne Woods Fisher
Baker Publishing Group
January 2017

As Bairn grasps the reality of what it means to be Amish in the New World – isolated, rigid with expectations, under the thumb of his domineering father – his enthusiasm evaporates. When a sea captain offers the chance to cross the ocean one more time, Bairn grabs it. Just one more crossing, he promises Anna. But will she wait for him? When Henrik Newman joins the church just as it makes its way to the frontier, Anna is torn. He seems to be everything Bairn is not – bold, devoted, and delighted to vie for her heart. And the most dramatic difference? He is here; Bairn is not. Far from the frontier, an unexpected turn of events weaves together the lives of Bairn, Anna, and Henrik. When a secret is revealed, which true love will emerge?

My Thoughts:

This is the second book in the Amish Beginnings Series. Overall, this could be read without the first book in the series. The first book in the series is Anna’s journey to the new world. You will miss some of the character interactions and some of the history behind the individuals. Suzanne Woods Fisher’s books always does a good job laying the ground work on a series in each book. I love stories that are historical.

The story picks up when they arrive in the port of Philadelphia after they crossed the Atlantic Ocean. They are preparing to make the journey in the wilderness were Jacob Bauer has secured some land for the community.

I find it intriguing the Amish coming to the New World to create a community to worship God without persecution. The details of the era and the worked needed to create a community was intriguing and made for an interesting read. The courage and faith of the individuals kept the group going despite the difficulties they faced.

All the characters have a lot of depth about them to make you feel almost part of the story. I love all the history put into the pages and the individuals you meet.

I look forward to the next book in the series.


ReneeK is a sweet tea addicted mamma who loves to cuddle up to a good book. She blogs at Little Homeschool on the Praire and writes about family, homeschooling, having a special needs child, and about whatever else tickles her fancy.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

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