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Reviews

May 12 2016

The Book of Joan

by Hope L

BookofJoan

It will soon be two years since Joan Rivers passed away, and her daughter has written a touching, sarcastic, book about her mother:  “The Book of Joan – Tales of Mirth, Mischief, and Manipulation,” by Melissa Rivers.

Anyone who loved Joan Rivers’ humor will love this book.  Interspersed within the reflections are both jokes used by the comedienne in her act over the years and new ones the younger Ms. Rivers herself includes; “The Book of Joan,” by Melissa Rivers is available at DCPL, as are titles by the comedienne herself:

“Still Talking,” by Joan Rivers with Richard Meryman

“Bouncing Back : I’ve Survived Everything– and I Mean Everything– and You Can Too!” by Joan Rivers with Ralph Schoenstein.

“Don’t Count the Candles – Just Keep the Fire Lit,” by Joan Rivers

“I Hate Everything – Starting with Me,” by Joan Rivers

“Diary of a Mad Diva,” by Joan Rivers

“Joan Rivers:  A Piece of Work,”  by Ricki Stern, DVD recording

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Mar 1 2016

Adele 25 Review

by Arthur G

Four years ago, Adele’s cathartic and solid album 21 erupted onto a totally unprepared music scene like a belting volcano, drowning her contemporaries in the sheer majesty of her voice and the strength of her plaintive lyricism. Riding the Contemporary R&B wave, this blue-eyed soul singer swept the 2012 GRAMMY Awards, netting a record-tying six awards, including Artist of the Year.  However, instead of following-up immediately on her phenomenal success, Adele took a three-year hiatus from the music biz, breaking only to compose the Academy Award-winning “Skyfall” for the eponymous 2012 James Bond film.  The drought finally ended with the release of the breathtaking “Hello” in late October.  The reaction was overwhelming, with the song practically lionized by the music industry as the official music video racked up over 400,000,000 views on YouTube in less than a month.  So with all this outpouring of praise and anticipation, does the final product live up to the hype surrounding it?  Well, yes and no: yes, in that the vocals and sincerity are as superb as one would expect from Adele, but it often sounds indistinguishable from previous efforts. The promise of cap-stoning her musical Bildungsroman never quite materializes in most of the tracks.

The lead single “Hello,” of course, needs no introduction. It sets the tone of the album and ultimately stands out as its most powerful song.  This classic ballad drips with regret over a failed relationship, appearing to all the world as the mature follow up to her signature “Somebody Like You.”  But beyond its poignant message is Adele’s commanding vocal range, stretching across multiple cords, all in tune with the piano’s melodic rise and fall.  “Hello” is that rare song with the power to carry an entire album on its own, and if everything else in 25 had been sub-par, it would be worth getting the album just to hear this searching ode in its full, uninterrupted glory.

Still, while the musicianship on the album is a testament to Adele’s continuing maturity as an artist, its content still sounds like more of the same.  Tracks like “Send My Love,” with its upbeat, almost popish rhythms, and the somber, reflective “When We Were Young” hit all of the right notes – and heartstrings – but will undoubtedly feel very familiar to anyone with even a passing familiarity of her corpus.  This isn’t a bad thing, mind you, as Adele’s stratospheric vocals are nearly immune to anything mediocre.  But with the glimmer of lyrical maturity hinted in “Hello,” I’d hoped that the British songwriter would show a bit more inventiveness, especially with an array of talent as diverse as Bruno Mars, Paul Epworth, and Danger Mouse all contributing to the production.  “A Million Years Ago” is probably the most original track on the record – a calm, Spanish guitar lamentation, punctuated by Adele’s piercing voice at certain emotional peaks, that reminisces on the price of fame and its effect on those who knew her.  Otherwise, 25 is a retread over the same territory forged by 21, and while a few songs like “River Lea” and “Water Under the Bridge” stand out, respectively, for their striking imagery and retro 80s tempo, there’s nothing fundamentally adventurous here, and only the most attentive fans will spot the subtle differences between the two albums.

That shouldn’t stop anyone from giving 25 their full attention, though.  Adele is without doubt a once-in-a-generation talent, and while those looking for the much-vaulted maturity this album promised may leave disappointed, fans of this modern siren’s soulful wails of lost love will definitely find reasons to celebrate.

If you’re interested in Adele or any similar musicians we harbor here at DCPL, check out some of the hits below:

Adele – 19 and 21 are both wonderful albums, and well worth a listening even after her latest offering.

Amy Winehouse – Adele’s sister in the blue-eyed soul family, she had a rawer, more earthy voice that was tragically short cut, but still left a few gems like Back to Black and Frank.

Florence + the Machine – Though more ethereal and baroque than either of the preceding ladies, her music belts with the same maturity and range.  Definite must-haves are Lungs and Ceremonials.

 

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Oct 19 2015

Ann Rules Indeed

by Hope L

annrulesAnn Rule wrote 30 New York Times bestsellers, all of which are still in print. I, for one, think she really does rule. Unfortunately, the prolific author died July 26, 2015, at age 83. She had her first bestseller in 1980 with her book about serial killer Ted Bundy.

It may not be the first of Rule’s books that I’ve read, but The Stranger Beside Me definitely is the one that scared me the most and was the most memorable. I think it was the personal connection that Rule had to Ted Bundy that made that book unique and incredible–that, and of course, the subject matter of Ted Bundy, a serial killer whom most of us have heard about.

More recently, I read her book about Gwinnett County dentist Bart Corbin, Too Late to Say Goodbye: A True Story of Murder and Betrayal.

Ann Rule was once a Seattle police officer, and that’s why her writing seems so authentic, so mesmerizing. Right now I’m reading Every Breath You Take: A True Story of Obsession, Revenge, and Murder, and she fleshes out the myriad of details and somehow puts everything into a fascinating  account. Allen Van Houte, the criminal in this book, is truly unbelievable–and she recounts with incredible heartbreak the many people whose lives he ruined.

Bundy

I’ve read a lot of true crime books, and I’d have to say that Ann Rule is right up there at the top of my favorites. She would write forewords to her books that spoke to readers like they were friends, often inviting them to drop her a line or an email.  Indeed, Every Breath You Take was written after Rule received a request from a fan who said that her sister wanted Rule to write her story should she ever die tragically (at the hands of her then ex-husband).

Click here to see what’s available by Ann Rule at DCPL.

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Dec 17 2014

Foxy Brown, She-ro

by Hope L

pamI’m not really a Twitter person, but when I joined Twitter and tried to use the doggone thing, I was surprised when a famous person, none other than Pam Grier–yes, THE  Pam Grier of Foxy Brown, Jackie Brown and most recently, The L Word (cable TV series) fame–started following me.

Now, there are probably those of you who have celebrities following your Twitter feed. I, on the other hand, am a complete social media novice, and when Pam Grier’s name popped up–well, I mean, with Foxy and Roger Corman and Richard Pryor and Freddie Prinze and Kareem, oh yeah, and more recently, Jackie Brown and Quentin Tarantino…

Being the Hollywood gadfly that I am, I went and checked out Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, by Pam Grier with Andrea Cagan, from my DCPL branch. It just confirmed what I already knew about Pam Grier/aka Foxy–she is one cool chica.

Now, I had watched her for a few years around the turn of the millennium in Showtime’s The L Word.  And of course a chick like Pam would play a character who could only drive a green vintage late 60’s/early 70’s vehicle (Chevelle? Impala?).  She couldn’t exactly drive around in a Subaru, now, could she?

As Pam explains:

“I had become one of the most recognizable female stars of the blaxploitation genre…  This movement of which I was such a prominent member was shadowing the women’s movement, where women were demanding equal rights to men in art, business, family, and all aspects of life.  My movies featured women claiming the right to fight back, which previously had been out of the question.”

You, GO, Girrrrl!

pam2Yes, the queen of Blaxploitation movies is not only cool, she has had one heckuva life so far. Highlights of her life include enduring and witnessing racial discrimination from all directions, like being in a church choir bus that was shot at in the middle of Watts during the historic riots of 1965;  and, just as she garnered her first job as an actress, meeting and dating the soon-to-be famous college basketball player Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr. (“Call me Lew” before he changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar); and, upon prodding from Gloria Steinem, appearing on the cover of Ms. Magazine; AND, dating and loving two major comedians who would struggle with drug addiction (Freddie Prinze and Richard Pryor), and on and on.

Pam Grier did many of her own stunts, like riding the stunt horses and popping wheelies on motorcycles. She starred in movies with Paul Newman, Eartha Kitt, and had a role on the blockbuster TV miniseries RootsShe survived both cancer and the entertainment industry.

As I watched Jackie Brown the other night, I rooted for Jackie (Pam). In the end, I knew she would get revenge, the money, and the guy–if she wanted him.

Pam Grier defines the word SHE-RO. Plus, unlike me, she knows how to tweet and use Twitter.

 

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commandEric Schlosser’s new book keeps me up at night.

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser, that is.   He scared the willies out of me with Fast Food Nation and now this.   I do appreciate the way nuclear fission is explained fairly clearly for laypeople like me.  The book gives a brief history of the Manhattan Project and the events leading up to the use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it relates frightening  tales of what has occurred since.

Here is Publisher’s Weekly‘s summary:

“In 1980 in rural Damascus, Ark., two young Air Force technicians (one was 21 years old, the other 19) began a routine maintenance procedure on a 103-foot-tall Titan II nuclear warhead-armed intercontinental ballistic missile. All was going according to plan until one of the men dropped a wrench, which fell 70 feet before hitting the rocket and setting off a chain reaction with alarming consequences. After that nail-biting opening, investigative reporter Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) goes on to tell the thrilling story of the heroism, ingenuity, mistakes, and destruction that followed. At intervals, he steps back to deliver an equally captivating history of the development and maintenance of America’s nuclear arsenal from WWII to the present. Though the Cold War has ended and concerns over nuclear warfare have mostly been eclipsed by the recent preoccupation with terrorist threats, Schlosser makes it abundantly clear that nukes don’t need to be launched to still be mind-bogglingly dangerous. Mixing expert commentary with hair-raising details of a variety of mishaps, the author makes the convincing case that our best control systems are no match for human error, bad luck, and ever-increasing technological complexity. “Mutually assured destruction” is a terrifying prospect, but Schlosser points out that there may be an even more frightening possibility: self-assured destruction.”

Mind-boggingly dangerous, indeed!  What is suprising to me is that we have been so lucky thus far.

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Oct 7 2013

The Atlanta Mary Mysteries

by Hope L

Truth really is stranger than fiction. That’s the main reason I enjoy reading non-fiction books.  In this post and the next, I will explore the strange stories of the two Marys.

I’m fascinated with true crime mysteries right here in our own metropolis, but none intrigue me more than the cases of the two Marys: Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old pencil factory worker who was found murdered in 1913, and Mary Shotwell Little, a 25-year-old C & S secretary who disappeared seemingly into thin air from Lenox Mall in 1965. Mary Shotwell Little vanished after eating dinner with a friend at the S & S Cafeteria at Lenox Mall.

Here are a few books from the Library’s collection about the Mary Phagan case. My next post will highlight some publications on the Mary Shotwell Little case.

And the Dead Shall Rise:  the Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank, by Steve Oney, is definitely the most thorough account of the Phagan/Frank crimes I’ve read.  If you don’t know about Mary Phagan:  The 13-year-old was found murdered in the pencil factory where she worked. Factory superintendent and part-owner Leo Frank was tried and convicted of the crime. His death sentence was later commuted by the governor to life in prison. Upon hearing this, an angry mob took Frank at gunpoint from the state prison at Milledgeville and brought him to Marietta where they hanged him. Frank was ultimately pardoned posthumously. The story became nationally famous because of the anti-Semitism involved, the founding of B’nai B’rith’s Anti-Defamation League, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and the local newspaper sensationalism pitting the working class and child labor vs. Atlanta’s moneyed elite.

Murder in the Peach State – Infamous Murders from Georgia’s Past, by Bruce L. Jordan, starts with a chapter on Mary Phagan and Leo Frank. The book itself is dedicated to columnist Celestine Sibley, who was a court reporter for years covering the trials of Georgia’s most infamous murders.

The Murder of Little Mary Phagan, by Mary Phagan (great-niece and namesake of the Mary Phagan), tells the family’s side of the story and the grim nature of the crime. Another book about the story is The Leo Frank Case, by Leonard Dinnerstein.

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Sep 9 2013

World Trade Center Remembered

by Hope L

wtc-intro

“My God. What these people went through. I just cannot imagine it.” — John Kirby, who  had visited the World Trade Center as a 12-year-old during construction of Building Number 7 and made this comment when he was assisting in the rescue/recovery/cleanup of the demolished WTC site.

On  this 12th anniversary of the fall of the World Trade Center, I remember the people that were lost, but also the buildings, and the icon that was the symbol of New York.

Personally, I found it incredible when a friend told me of her experience that day working in an outer building in the WTC complex.  The thought of her and other workers casually walking from their building and leaving Manhattan, only to find out later exactly what had happened by watching it on television and learning that their building, too, had eventually collapsed, just amazed me.

City in the Sky: The Rise and Fall of the World Trade Center by James Glanz and Eric Lipton, is the chronicle of the buildings and the people who fought to make them happen, as well as the destruction years later of the famous landmark.

Brace yourself. This book is not for the faint of heart; but it is an important book  because no matter what we already know about that day and how much time  has passed,  it reminds us of the stark terror that was 9/11.  And as steel worker John Kirby said, it is unimaginable.

Part history, architecture, forensics—and just sheer physics—the book ties together all things World Trade Center: from its politically-charged, controversial start (the razing of the mostly retail electronics businesses of Radio City) through its construction, profitability, tenants and finally its untimely collapse.  Just the details regarding the construction of such a tall (at that time a world record) structure fascinated me.

Danny Doyle, who had helped build the WTC some 30 years ago and was part of the site cleanup, cried out upon seeing a “distinct mound of debris set into the pile (of collapsed buildings), about six feet high, with strands of wire and pieces of rebar sticking out. It looked like layers of sediment that had turned into rock and been lifted up on some mountainside. From one to ten he counted the layers, before it began to dawn on him just what he was looking at: …here were ten stories of the south tower, compacted into an area of about six feet.”

Indeed, most of the recovery crew “never saw a desk, chair, telephone or file cabinet.” Or, as first responder and NY Deputy Fire Chief Charles Blaich said upon arriving at the scene of the collapse: “Where did everything go?”.

Unimaginable, too, are the factoids found throughout this book: the first jet which hit the north tower hit at approximately 460 mph, with the second hitting the south tower at 560 mph; when the top of the south tower hit the ground, it was moving at an estimated 120 mph;  and another deduction: at one thousand degrees, steel has softened enough to lose half its original strength.

I could not stop reading this book. It is thorough, if not complete, and has put forth an astonishing array of information into a fairly reader-friendly book. Just prepare to be very sad—if not disturbed—for some of the book is … well, as steel worker Doyle put it regarding the recovery site: “Welcome to hell. This is ugly, ugly.”

On this September 11, may we all remember the gravity of this tragedy and the souls that were lost.

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Aug 26 2013

A Good Laugh

by Hope L

laugh460Having gone to see We’re the Millers this past weekend, I was thinking about how good it felt to laugh; then I started remembering some of my favorite funny movies.

And it just so happens that (in my humble opinion) DCPL has an impressive collection of comedy DVDs.

So, without further ado, here is my list of DeKalb County Public Library’s funniest movies (in order):

1. Airplane (1980) – Silly take-off of “Airport,” (the original disaster movie). Cracks me up every time. Leslie Nielsen reawakened his career with this comedic turn. As soon as I see him driving the luggage cart I start laughing uncontrollably.
2. Death at a Funeral (2010) – Chris Rock presides over his family’s ordeal with hysterical goings-on. Very, very funny.
3. The General (1926) – This uproariously funny film is silent. Buster Keaton, known for his stone face, struggles with the enormous steam engine train while pursuing a beautiful girl. I actually saw the real General years ago; it now resides in Kennesaw at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History.
4. Bridesmaids (2011) – Hilarious female answer to The Hangover, except that I liked this much better. Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig are awesome.
5. Barbershop (2002) and Barbershop 2 (2004) – Ice Cube stars in both of these, with Cedric the Entertainer, who always cracks me up.
6. A Night at the Opera (1935) – Groucho and his brothers on the loose to the consternation of Kitty Carlisle. Still funny after all these years.
7. Harold and Maude (1971) – Watching Harold in the background while his mother interviews prospective dates for him makes me laugh each and every time. Ruth Gordon as the free spirit Svengali and the original cougar. The Cat Stevens soundtrack makes it even sweeter.
8. City Lights (1931) – Charlie Chaplin tries to impress the girl and gets into all kinds of mischief in another classic silent film. My favorite line, often quoted… The Tramp: “Be careful how you’re driving.” Eccentric Millionaire: “Am I driving?”
9. Tootsie (1982) – Dustin Hoffman’s drag is cute 80’s fun.
10. Babe (1995) – Cute and funny with the irresistible Pig.  I loved the cat, too!
11. The Three Stooges Collection – Volume 1 and Volume 2 (1934-1939) – I just had to include these guys.
12. Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005) – Hometown boy Tyler Perry stars as one of my favorite characters: Madea. Watch out for that chainsaw!
13. The Muppet Movie (1979) – I just LOVE The Muppets!
14. Annie Hall (1977) – Diane Keaton plays the ditzy heroine in this Woody Allen film.
15. Shrek (2001) – Cute for the kids, funny for the grown-ups. Mike Myers voices the loveable ogre. Eddie Murphy supplies plenty of laughs as Donkey. I loved the gingerbread man.

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Aug 12 2013

Remembering Emmett

by Hope L

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Now, I don’t know if you know about Emmett Till, but you definitely should.

This time every year—but especially now with Trayvon Martin’s death and the trial of George Zimmerman—I think of Emmett. It is a sad time.

14-year-old Emmett Till was savagely murdered August 28, 1955, while visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi.

Death of Innocence—The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America by Mamie Till-Mobley and Christopher Benson, tells the story as only a mother could. I loved this woman’s courage.

Her son’s ‘crime’? Entering a small grocery store for sweets and supposedly whistling at a white woman, the wife of the proprietor.

Emmett’s mama insisted his casket be open at the Chicago funeral (in order to do so without the smell, a glass-covered casket was used) with thousands of people filing in to view the body. Photographers took pictures of her son—photos that appeared in a black newspaper and Jet magazine. The result was shock, horror, and—some say—the impetus for the civil rights movement.

“People had to face my son and realize just how twisted, how distorted, how terrifying race hatred could be. People had to consider all of that as they viewed Emmett’s body. The whole nation had to bear witness to this,” she said.

Heartbreaking as it is, Till-Mobley’s account of her son’s murder is a testament to her strength, vision and tenacity. And her words ring especially true today.

She writes, “If you look at Emmett’s century, you see that the men who lived important lives, significant lives, were truly gifted. They were blessed with good mothers, mothers who gave them exactly what they needed—unconditional love. That, and the freedom to express themselves, to fulfill their promise. In that way, these mothers helped their sons come to believe that there was nothing they couldn’t achieve. This was a gift I gave my own son—a boy of great potential.”

Sadly, potential never realized. As Mamie Till-Mobley said during the 1989 dedication of the Civil Rights Memorial (at the Southern Poverty Law Center Headquarters, Montgomery, Alabama):

“We cannot afford the luxury of self-pity. Our top priority now is to get on with the building process. My personal peace has come through helping boys and girls reach beyond the ordinary and strive for the extraordinary. We must teach our children to weather the hurricanes of life, pick up the pieces, and rebuild. We must impress upon our children that even when troubles rise to seven-point-one on life’s Richter scale, they must be anchored so deeply that, though they sway, they will not topple.”

The murder of her son pushed her into activism:  the NAACP  asked Till-Mobley to tour the country relating the details of her son’s life, death, and the 1955 trial that acquitted his murderers. (Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam confessed in Look magazine, reportedly earning $4,000 for their participation in the 1956 article.) In 1956 she graduated from Chicago’s Teacher’s College; in 1976 she obtained her master’s degree in administration at Loyola University Chicago.

Till-Mobley died in 2003 at age 81 during the writing of her book,  and although she sought justice for her son her entire life, no one has ever been convicted of the crime. The state of Mississippi had to exhume Emmett’s body in 2005 to reopen the case, and his casket now resides in the Smithsonian.

But perhaps Emmett and Mamie led the way for that other boy of color with a single mother, born six years after Emmett’s death:  Barry Obama.

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Jun 7 2013

ShareReads: Cryptonomicon

by Jesse M

sharereads_intro_2013

ShareReads - Cryptonomicon coverAs long-term readers of DCPLive know, I am a big fan of the science fiction genre. In past ShareReads posts, I’ve talked about the sub-genres of space opera and cyberpunk, and this year, I am going to discuss a different type of science fiction novel, one that seems to straddle the boundaries between science fiction, historical fiction and techno-thrillers: Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.

Unlike some of Stephenson’s other novels, in which the imaginative/speculative element of science fiction is more prominent (such as in the seminal cyberpunk novel Snow Crash or its loosely related “post-cyberpunk” sequel, The Diamond Age), Cryptonomicon features technology that while complex and technical to the layperson isn’t fictional at all. Information security is a major theme of the book, and in-depth asides and descriptions of cryptography and digital espionage techniques such as Van Eck phreaking pepper the narrative. The lengthy story (the paperback version owned by DCPL clocks in at 1152 pages!) is split between two time periods, one circa World War II and the other in the late 1990s, and as the plot evolves the connections between the two storylines become increasingly apparent (in fact, the main protagonists of the latter storyline are direct descendants of the protagonists in the WWII storyline). With the exception of a very few instances in the novel where phenomena seem to occur without any basis or explanation in modern science, Cryptonomicon can be considered to be very hard science fiction. The World War II storyline, while sparing no technical details of the complex struggle between Allied and Axis cryptographers and codebreakers, also features several notable historical figures including Alan Turing and General Douglas MacArthur, placing the book firmly into the category of historical fiction as well.

Fans of Stephenson’s digressive style will love Cryptonomicon, which features informative tangents in spades, from the mechanics and structure of pipe organs to the description of a manual cryptosystem calculated with an ordinary deck of playing cards. Indeed, such asides are a major factor in the book’s appeal. Upon finishing Cryptonomicon, readers looking for something similar should check out Quicksilver and its sequels, which form a sort of prequel to Cryptonomicon (featuring ancestors of the protagonists and shedding light on a few of the unexplained mysteries in Cryptonomicon) and are also written in a digression-heavy style. I also encourage interested readers to pick up a more recent work by Stephenson, Anathem, which although more speculative in nature than Cryptonomicon possesses similar qualities in terms of informative asides.

And if you’ve just finished Cryptonomicon and are feeling like you’ve missed some references, or that a plot point went unexplained, take a look at this site, which offers a good deal of insight into some of the more complex and esoteric references and plot points. But don’t click the link until you’ve completed the story, as there are spoilers aplenty to be wary of.

What are your favorite books that straddle genre boundaries? How do you feel about the digressive writing style that Stephenson so often employs? For the sci-fi enthusiasts out there, would you consider Cryptonomicon to be science fiction? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.

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