Romance novel tropes that we love and that we hate

Hate:  Anything where something was misheard and if the characters just @#$ing talked to each other that big misunderstanding would be cleared up and the book would have ended in chapter 3.

Love:  When the main character tries to play matchmaker disastrously and ends up falling for the person she’s supposed to be matchmaking.  (And everything turns out great for the other half of the pair as well.)  Bonus points for same-sex couples getting together.

Hate:  September/May romances with super young heroines unless they’re done really well and don’t seem like pedophilia.

Love:  When characters are forced into a relationship (not a forced sexual or romantic relationship because that’s awful, but like they both have guardianship of the same dog or house or something) and through working together they come to love each other.

Hate:  When one or both of the main characters is too dumb to live.

Love:  When the hero asks if it’s ok to kiss the heroine (and she says yes!)

Hate:  Anything non-consensual.  When the hero refuses to take no for an answer.

Love:  Feisty older ladies like aunties who scheme in a good way.  Also young managing misses too, like BFFs or sisters.  So long as it all turns out for the best.

Hate:  When the main characters don’t come clean to each other soon enough.  He or she is actually rich.  Or he’s really his brother.  They get some leeway here if the reason they don’t come clean is because they’re in love and the other protagonist hates wealthy people, or if the future of England will be compromised if ze drops hir disguise,  but never if they just think it’s amusing to let the other person think she’s falling in love with the gardener even though she’s a lady and it’s a regency romance (for example).  And if the latter does happen, then at that point, the hero needs to LOSE the girl until he makes it up to her by losing some of his dignity as well so he’s learned his lesson about not being a jerk.  Heroes are redeemable, but they shouldn’t be allowed to end the book as jackasses.

Love:  Coincidences that turn out not to be actually coincidences, but part of an intricate plot to get everything to work out.  (Real coincidences in moderation, but be light on the deus ex machina.)

Hate:  when she takes off her glasses she’s actually beautiful, not mousy, like she was with them on.  Glasses make a woman automatically ugly.

Love:  Strong well-developed supporting characters who have personalities and aren’t just 2-d stereotypes.  (Whether or not they fall in love with someone by the end of the book!)

Hate:  All the characters are disagreeable.

Love:  When two old battleaxes fall for each other while trying to help the youngsters.  (or rekindle their romance from their younger days)

Hate:  Heroine bemoans that she’s too busty for fashionable beauty.  Really, your boobs are too big, and that’s your problem?

Love:  Women have genuine friendships and value them highly.

Hate:  You can tell who will end up in bed together by who hates each other the most at the start.

Love:  When there are multiple ways for everything to come out just right in the end– the characters don’t just wait on deus ex machina fate to intervene.

What are your favorite and least favorite romance tropes?

Recently read regencies

I’ve learned that when it comes to regency romances, the negative reviews on Amazon are always right.  Now, sometimes the negative review is something you can live with: “Predictable. It feels like you’ve read this story a million times already,” because often when you’re reading a regency you’re not reading it because you want something original, but because you want something comforting.  Or sometimes, “Occasional use of anachronistic language!” or “Plucky heroine acts nothing like a regency miss would.”  Pah, it must be taking place in an alternate universe then, fine by me.  But sometimes the negative review says something like, “Hero won’t take no for an answer, which is creepy,” and it indeed, turns out to be creepy even if the 64 positive ratings didn’t think so.  Or occasionally, “Hero and heroine are just unlikeable, and the story was boring.”  That also turns out to be true, even if the remaining 23 five-star ratings don’t seem to find that to be a problem.

We’ve read a lot of regencies recently.  Some of them have been real duds, but some of them have been pretty good.  And the occasional find is better than a few (of the worse) Georgette Heyers.  (Heyer’s better novels are like a fully stuffed Italian Wedding Cake– full and deep and exciting… a few of these make it to a decent chocolate cake status.  Good and tasty, but without quite so many layers.)  You know, if Heyer had sex scenes.

Candice Hern [who seems to be on kindle sale] was a first foray into non-Heyer territory.  Her work is highly mixed– some clean sweet Heyer-like novels, some deeply sexy and entertaining novels, and some stuff that’s just not that good (often with heroes who won’t take No for an answer– for shame!).  A Proper Companion is as good as some of the reasonably good Heyers, so is The Best IntentionsAn Affair of Honor isn’t too shabby, nor is Miss Lacey’s Last Fling (though unlike Heyer, this one has an actual fling in it) though it gets a bit silly.  Her short stories/novellas aren’t bad.  Sexier winners include The Merry Widows quartet, four books about a group of wealthy widows who swear to take lovers, but, of course, end up losing their hearts in the process.  Bonus:  In some of the books she discusses 19th century birth control methods (because don’t you wonder?).  Duds (generally in Hern’s case because the hero does not allow the women full agency) include A Garden Folly and The Bride Sale.  The series about women running a magazine is ok for library checkouts but not worth owning.  We haven’t read her entire oeuvre yet.

Most regency writers seem to have only one sex scene (sometimes repeated multiple times in the same novel), and one that’s totally female wish-fulfillment (and not necessarily the kind the virgin in question would be looking for).  It’s formulaic.  Mary Balogh doesn’t.  Her sex scenes both are more realistic and actually add to the plot and character development.  She goes into detail when the details matter.  It’s a refreshing change from the other books with their same generic hero-introduces-virginal-woman-to-the-joys-of-sensuality (which Sarah MacLean does well, see below).  It feels a bit less like boring porn added just to titillate, and a bit more like art and commentary on life.  More than a Mistress, by Mary Balogh, is an excellent example of the use of sex as character development.  Unfortunately its companion book, No Man’s Mistress, was a dud.  The third book (or maybe the first– time-wise it is set before the other two), The Secret Mistress, was delightful, especially if you’ve ever wondered what was going on in the minds of the seemingly silly chatterbox characters who appear in some of these novels.  Simply Perfect by Mary Balogh, is the fourth of a set of four (but the only one the university library had; we haven’t read the first three). It was wonderful (except for a 2-3 page scene ripped from the pages of Arabella, which would have been fine if I hadn’t been thinking, “Hey, I read this already”).

Shameless by Karen Robarts was another book from the library.  Unfortunately it sounded promising, but had lots of repetition with long boring passages, and… the main character doesn’t enjoy sex with the hero.  I skipped large chunks of the book and then was irritated– who writes a fun romance novel in which the heroine’s thought after her first time with the hero is, “Glad that’s over with, hope we never have to do that again.”???

Of course, not all regencies have sex (Heyer, of course, has none).  Kathleen Baldwin is fun, rated PG.  We both enjoyed Mistaken Kiss and are looking forward to the third book coming out on kindle.  One of these days one of us will get the first book and tell the other if it’s worth the kindle price despite its lower reviews.

The Gentlemen Next door series by Cecilia Gray was also fun.  She has four $0.99 short stories that are each a smaller delight with lovely unconventional heroes and heroines.  I wish she had some longer stuff that wasn’t retreads re-imaginings of Jane Austen.

Barbara Metzger is another big author in this genre.  Unfortunately the uni library has none of them and the local library doesn’t have her highest rated stuff.  So far I’ve read The Duel and A Perfect Gentleman.  Both were ok.  Oddly they had very similar plots, complete with serial killer.  They both concurrently dragged and went too fast.  Lots of boring stuff and suddenly they’re in love and it doesn’t really make sense.  But some entertaining bits.  I’m sure her higher rated stuff is better, but I’m not yet willing to spend $5.99 or even $3.99 to find out via kindle.  I may get to the other library branch at some point, which has a few more of her titles.

Lost in Temptation by Lauren Royal:  I enjoyed it so much!  Thanks to #1 for giving me this book; I’m going to get the second one post-haste.

Sarah MacLean’s fantastic series: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake; Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord.  We both enjoyed these, though Ten is nowhere near as good as Nine.  Eleven is supposed to be better than Ten, but neither of us has read it yet. #2 was introduced to this author via several podcasters who love her, and then spread the love to #1.

MacLean’s other series is the Rules of Scoundrels, which is about 4 scoundrels who run London’s most notorious gaming hell, The Fallen Angel:  A Rogue by Any Other Name (excellent!), One Good Earl Deserves a Lover (great!), No Good Duke Goes Unpunished (not as good as the first two, but introduces what will happen in number 4, which I’m exited about).  #1 is a bit more luke-warm on these.  She thought the first was pretty good, but not great.  Nine Rules, OTOH, was truly fantastic.

Among the best non-Heyer there is!

Has anyone kept reading this far?  You certainly have got some summer reading to do! Got suggestions for us?  Where do you stand on sex scenes?  Yay, nay or it depends? 

I like complex music

As the post title says.  I like bagpipes with 3 kinds of drums, picking the different rhythms and types of drums.  Mozart (yay), not Haydn (boo).  Not Chopin or Debussy, ew.**  Handel hella-yes, Bach hella-yes!  Fugues and Baroque music yes.  Rap music, yes.  Patter songs.  MC Frontalot, Salt N Pepa, Macklemore (sorry, I know he’s Wacklemore*).  My brain finds it interesting.  Things that are too simple allow my mind to wander towards my worries; things that are complex allow my mind to relax.  It’s interesting to think about.

I’m with Dr. Crazy that Dark Horse is a weird song and yet, I have memorized all the words to the rap section of it.  Although the lyrics are problematic, I find wordplay amusing.  I like to listen to a song I’ve heard many times before and find something new in it.  I also find it so useful how rappers usually announce their name in the song, so that if you like it, you know who you want to listen more to!

#2 has also been wanting to write a post about how much she likes patter songs, which, of course, includes a lot of rap.  Though only the not-misogynist stuff, of which there is a lot (though man does she miss the girl rapper groups of the 90s).  #2 hates techno because the repetition is boring and hurts her brain.  #1’s not much on techno either.

*#2 likes Thrift Shop but finds Same Love to not be that clever, although it may be well intentioned.  Still…

 

**#2 finds Chopin to be complex, and also likes Debussy in moderation.  Pretty pretty.  Though with classical, #2 is really a Romantic at heart even though that’s separate from patter.  Now she has Rossini stuck in her head because patter is awesome.

Tell us whether you like complex music and if so, what we should listen to!  Esp. female rappers.

My big summer plan for DC1

DC1 is 7.  Seven is a wonderful year and a wonderful height.

DC1 will be going to museum camp, and doing hir workbooks, and swimming lessons and piano lessons, and no doubt reading lots of great novels and playing all sorts of games (card, computer, video, board, etc.).  There will be a week being spoiled by the in-laws, and no doubt a weekend or two with my sister.

But I, too, have a nefarious plan in store for DC1.

This summer DC1 will learn how to cook.  In fact, this summer DC1 will cook for us with minimal help at least once a week and will be a sous chef for us on a regular basis.

Ze already makes excellent scrambled eggs, and fantastic macaroni and cheese (from a box with extra cheese added, and also tuna and peas).  This summer we will add more to hir repertoire.

I hope this will be an investment that pays out many-fold.  :)

We made a list.  It says:  chocolate chip cookies (chewy), pizza, ice cream, split pea soup, Japanese rice (for sushi), spaghetti, pancakes, waffles, muffins (blueberry), tacos, queso, shrimp, shakes.  It’s a little different than what I learned to cook first (eggs, crepes, chili, spaghetti with meat sauce, macaroni and cheese with tuna and peas, box brownies, swiss steak, chicken cacciatore, spaghetti carbonara, regular rice), though with some overlap.

Many of my fondest childhood memories are in the kitchen.  When did you learn how to cook?  What did you first learn how to cook?  When did your kids learn (if appropriate)?  Any exciting summer plans?

I listened to podcasts and then I read YA books

This happened.

I like books, I like podcasts, some podcasts talk about books, and there you are in the library’s YA section.  This library happened to have a handout about the Printz Awards, which are for YA literature.  You could do far, far worse than to read anything on the Printz lists!  In particular, books that I have liked from that list include An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, and American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. I have heard good things about a lot of the other books, too.  They have a lot of women authors too, in addition to a few that I list below.

the YA books I got at the library recently, or as gifts, and loved:

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. It took me forever to pick up this book, but… Ok, everyone was right! This book is so fantastic (see what I did there? FAN-tastic?). It’s about a young woman that goes off to college, and her family, and the people she meets, and how she tries to adjust. The woman also happens to be extremely active in the online fan-fiction community and is a passionate writer trying to find her place in the world. Recommended by everyone, and now by us too!

I got Doll Bones by Holly Black from the library because it looked interesting, but I haven’t read it yet. Has anyone here?

In the library I put down several books that I’ve heard are probably good (e.g., Gregor the Overlander) because they looked like they were all-boys, all the time.  I was bored with that.

I read The Archived by Victoria Schwab, which I finally picked up in a local indie bookstore after having it on my wishlist for a while. It was great! I can’t wait to read the sequel. Mac knows that the dead aren’t gone, they’re just… shelved. Cataloged. Organized. Archived. Sometimes they break out… In a family reeling from loss and grief, Mac has to find a way to deal with catastrophe in her own way.

Ask the Passengers, by A.S. King, is another book I heard a lot about from podcasts. I think it was probably Rebecca Schinsky at Book Riot who talked about it (though it could have been Veronica Belmont from The Sword and Laser. But I think Schinsky.  Or, no, wait, it could have been Jenn from The Bookrageous Podcast).  Holy cow, this book is amazing.  I love how it’s written, the voice of the main character, Astrid.  I like the chapter titles, the way it’s structured, and of course the characters.  Just go read this book, it goes quickly, and it’s worth it.  Reeeeeaaddddd ittttt.

I also recently re-read Tamora Pierce’s Beka Cooper trilogy (starting with Terrier). All I wanted to do was read this book and not go to work.

Finally, I greatly enjoyed Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy, which isn’t technically YA, but whatever.  The first story, from which the book title is taken, is lovely in particular.  The editors are famous for the excellence of their work on fantasy anthologies of all sorts, and rightly so.  Read the first story and you’ll want to read the rest.

Other suggestions?

All-new what are we loving (and not loving) to read

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone.  Fantastic!  New and interesting magic system.  Passes the Bechdel test.  Reminds me of other books, but only other really good books, and in a good way, too.  Will definitely read the sequel.

Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog by Ysabeau S. Wilce — We have read the first and second in this series.  Both of us liked the first, #1 is intrigued by the ending of the second… hm….

Morning Glories, Vol. 1: For a Better Future: Graphic novel series.  Squick warning: extremely violent.  This thing is so messed up, I just can’t even.  I have to keep reading!  I can’t even believe what goes on here. I’m on Volume 4 or 5 by now…

Trilogy starting with The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle.  Yummy. Read the whole thing! A good new author.

Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire.  We both love it. You can’t go wrong with this author or this series!

The Pirate Vortex (Elizabeth Latimer, Pirate Hunter) by Deborah Cannon.  Ok, actually, I didn’t love this.  The premise was great but the writing was Not.  Eminently skippable!

Developing Math Talent, 2e.  Turned out not to actually be about developing math talent, just another book on advocating for your gifted kid.  Not much different than many of the other books about advocating for your gifted kid, though it has two chapters of excruciating detail about all the different tests that you can use on your gifted kid, which might be helpful if you want to test your kid for whatever reason.  Also might be useful if you live near one of the Talent Search places.  Which we don’t.  It does recommend some textbooks and workbooks from the 1980s and 90s that may or may not be useful, but I don’t know.  The only one I had heard of was Challenge Math For the Elementary and Middle School Student (Second Edition) by Zaccaro.  The others are not available direct from Amazon except one which is a very expensive textbook.

 

What are you loving these days?

Radical Self-Love: the feels.

I have feelings about this.

In this society, loving yourself is a radical act (for a woman).

I don’t have to have a flat tummy in order to love my body!  Rubens would love me.

The Three Graces

I used to have hangups, for a long long time, about not having a body that is sexy.  You know who to blame.  (#2 notes that, according to some popular science studies she’s read and chosen to believe, men either prefer meaty, or they really don’t care one way or the other.  I would be seriously surprised if #1’s SO didn’t find #1 incredibly sexy.  And that’s the only person who matters in a monogamous relationship.)  Shout out to my partner for always saying nice things about my body!

Now I’m too old for self-loathing or really any other shame.  I’m ready to change my mind.

I am thinking, NOT: “I am awesome anyway,” but rather: “I am awesome, yeah I am!”

I don’t have to have my stuff together in order to be awesome.  I am awesome independently of my career.

Also, this blog post resonated with me.  Don’t forget that The F-Off Fairy can help you, too!

#2 had a brief bout with imposter syndrome in grad school.  She didn’t like it.  Yay for therapy and for being unapologetically awesome.  I have occasionally wondered if it’s better to err on the side of Dunning-Kruger or the side of imposter syndrome and refer myself to the literature on how over-confidence helps people get ahead.  So I figure there’s no need to check my ego, thank you very much.  I probably deserve to have a much bigger one, what with being female and having society against me and all.  I credit my mother for my healthy self-esteem.  I would also credit my awesomeness, but I know plenty of people at least equally awesome who do not have the self-esteems they deserve.  For them, I blame the patriarchy.  (Also with weight I focus on health rather than body image, and with make-up and hair, I find that ‘frumpy’ helps people take me more seriously in my specific profession.  Also I am incredibly lazy.)

#1 again:  I decided to feel sorry for people who fat-shame (Mom…), rather than angry at them, because their words are a reflection of feeling terrifyingly out-of-control when someone’s body appears to be out of control.  Don’t contradict me on this point, I’m just sayin’.

Various messages are coming from the universe that it’s time to be done with the emotional drain of not thinking I’m awesome.

(#2:  SRSLY.  Because why think sucky things that aren’t true when you can think awesome things that are?)

Tell us in the comments what is totally awesome about you!

Fractions and bases

So, we’ve been enjoying Hard Math for Elementary School (for somewhat complex definitions of “enjoying” that involve both frustration and eventual pride).

Today DC1 said, “Different bases is just like fractions.”  Explaining a little more, ze noted that when you’re doing fractions with a denominator of 8, the numerator works just like when you’re counting in base 8.

By golly, I thought, ze’s right!

In base 8 you count, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11..

When you’re counting eighths, it’s 1/8, 2/8…7/8, 1, 1 and 1/8.

Adding works the same way too… 2 + 7 in base 8 is 11.  2/8 + 7/8 is 1 and 1/8.

Multiplying won’t be the same because we tend to cancel things out on the bottom, but in a world where we didn’t do that and we didn’t allow improper fractions, I think it would be the same.  So it could be the same.

Anyhow, that’s super cool.  Yay DC1!  And yay math!

A budding feminist spec fic reader

A boy who is turning 12 years old wants to read sci fi and fantasy with strong females.  We have suggestions, of course.

Ursula K. LeGuin is probably the textbook choice, along with contemporary writer Andre Norton.  These strong women both address feminist themes through science fiction, though in different ways.

Ann McCaffrey is often suggested because she’s a woman who writes science fiction and therefore must be feminist.  Turns out that’s not true.  She’s a VERY BAD CHOICE as she promotes rape culture.  (Third book, protagonist rapes his girlfriend, and makes everything ok by helping her clean afterward.  No. No. No. No.  I stopped reading her after that book, but I am told that her later books have similar or worse issues with rape.)  (Thanks to #2’s warning, #1 hasn’t read that series, but I haven’t found anything problematic in the McCaffrey I have read.  #2 notes that’s probably because McCaffrey coauthors with actual feminists in many of her other series.)

I keep meaning to read C. J. Cherryh‘s  Pride of Chanur series.

Elizabeth Moon.

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are excellent choices, together or separately (try The Wee Free Men).

Brian Sanderson’s Mistborn series is fantastic.  The Hunger GamesOctavia Butler.

Tamora Pierce in general and in specific, though #2 has a bit of a problem with the fourth book in her first series… the main character has a lot of messed up sex, and by messed up, she means messed up in terms of power differentials.  The sex is not really consensual given the power differences in one “relationship” and the age differences in the other.  (#1 missed that series.  The Pierce I have read has been fantastic!)  Holly Lisle probably has too much sex for a 12-year old.  Pre-read Diplomacy of Wolves to see if your kid is old enough for it.

Robin McKinley (her lighter stuff… Deerskin [a retelling of Donkeyskin] is feminist, and amazingly good, but it contains rather violent incest… Sunshine has happy sex in it IIRC, but is definitely more YA than Junior). The Blue Sword was the first grown-up fantasy book I ever read (fourth grade assigned reading, I LOVED Mrs. A.) and it got me hooked on the entire genre.

Patricia C. Wrede, particularly the first two books in the Dragon series (Dealing with Dragons is the start).  The third and fourth books leave the protagonist somewhat helpless until a boy grows up to save the day.

Carolyn Stevermer, both with and without Patricia Wrede.

Joan Aiken’s Dido Twite series: first is The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

Martha Wells.

Margaret Ball.

Nina Kiriki Hoffman.  Though she does address some adult themes, they always have happened off-stage before the book starts.  The characters heal during the book.

For hard sci-fi, you could start the Honor Harrington series with On Basilisk Station by David Weber. Jane Yolen’s graphic novel Foiled is a must (the sequel is Curses! Foiled Again). Anything by Susan Cooper, though #2 notes that The Dark is Rising has a stereotypical female character, the stereotypical “male” action coming from the boys.

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger (her other series is for adults, but this one is YA with no sex).  IT IS ADDICTING.  I WANT MORE MORE MORE.

You could try Diane Duane’s series starting with So You Want to Be a Wizard. Everything by Diana Wynne Jones is very excellent, though her last book has an inappropriate sexual relationship thrown in as an afterthought.  A 12 year old might not notice it. (#1 didn’t.)

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman.  Only sort of fantasy, but has sequels if you like it.

The Blossom Culp series by Richard Peck (time travel, ghosts, etc. put this fully into spec fic!)

Lloyd Alexander’s Vesper Holly series, starting with The Illyrian Adventure (spec fic in the sense that Indiana Jones is spec fic).

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy.  (Sure, this is historical, but… you could pretend it’s fantasy.)

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde (the sequel, The Song of the Quarkbeast, is out now).

Graceling by Kristin Cashore is excellent (though somewhat hardcore, violence-wise). It has sequels but I never read them.

Other good YA stuff is by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (any of it).

I can go on if you want… but I would need to check DC’s bookshelves for all my old YA books.  (I’m totally going to read hir The Real Me at some point, though that is not science fiction or fantasy at all.)

Chime in, readers!

A review of this library that you might not even know is here

There is kind of a “stealth” library really near where I live.  It is part of the county system, not the city system, so I didn’t know about it until I walked in looking for a place to work on my laptop.   It looks like a secret from the parking lot.

It turns out to be a pretty good place to work if I’m feeling done with the coffee shop for the day.

It’s quiet, with just enough noise to not be creepy.  It has lots of places to sit, including this:

bookcase fakeout

Facilities include study rooms, a computer room, and a surprisingly decent collection of graphic novels.  I started a new series while I was there, and I’m planning to go back for 2 more.

Near a sofa is a vase with some yarn and a pair of knitting needles in it.

In the back is a huge classroom with kid- and adult-sized chairs.  I don’t know what classes are held there.

It has carrells, an enclosed children’s room where they can make some noise, and a “Christmas tree” made out of old encyclopedia volumes (it was summer when I went).

If you get bored you can wander around and look at all the pocket pets they have distributed throughout the library in little cages: tiny tree frogs, a guinea pig, gerbil, bearded dragon, gecko, dove, koi.

As you may be gathering, it’s much bigger than it looks from the outside, as well as having good a/c and wireless access.  On the somewhat sad side, there are surprisingly fewer books than I think it needs (the shelves are not full and there is room for a lot more of them).

There are some “honor books” by the front that you can take without checking out and return whenever.  I haven’t checked out their bookstore yet.

It’s really doing a pretty decent job overall!  It sort of looks like they have not grown into their huge space yet, though they have been there at least 3 years.

This review does you no good, Grumpeteers, but it amuses us.  #2 adds:  What do you like about your favorite library?  What would your dream library have?

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