Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Before the Fall
by
Noah Hawley

Rating:

Is it good luck to survive a plane crash over the Atlantic? Most would think yes, but Scott Burroughs, after a heroic swim to safety, with four-year-old JJ Bateman clinging to his neck, may wonder. Because he will soon find himself caught between competing government agencies searching for a cause and the media’s ruthless pursuit of a story, any story, even if it’s unfounded.

When Maggie Bateman offers Scott a seat on her private plane, he sees the quick jaunt from Martha’s Vineyard to New York as a way to avoid the ferry. Scott, a moneyless artist and recovering alcoholic, is an unlikely passenger on a plane for the ultra-rich. The remaining passengers include Maggie’s husband, David, a cable news mogul, their two young children, Wall Street millionaire investor Ben Kipling and his wife, Sarah. A body guard, two pilots, and a glamorous flight attendant complete the list, each with a story. But only Scott and young JJ will survive to tell what they know of it. The media won’t believe Scott and JJ is only four. The rest is up to investigators.

Everyone wants to know what made flight 613 go down. Was it terrorism? A conspiracy? Something else? The news machine has plenty of fuel for the fire, fanned by sensationalist ALC News personality Bill Cunningham, whose means to get a story are not always above board. And initially lauded as a hero, Scott soon becomes the target of the investigation, once his artwork is discovered. Is there meaning in these shocking portrayals?

Broken into chapters about each passenger and with descriptions of Scott’s paintings, Hawley’s story allows readers to develop their own theories. Many answers lay hidden in the airplane’s two black boxes and the truth will come out if they are recovered.

Before the Fall is not just about a plane crash. It’s a commentary on heroism, personal strength, wealth, power, the media and the question of “information versus entertainment.” It’s described as an international thriller and suspense novel, but I think it’s just a great story about how the truth is often obstructed by the human tendency to jump to conclusions. Heroes and happy endings are also hidden, but they’re in there somewhere.

Before the Fall is the winner of the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Novel and the 2017 International Thriller Writers Award for Best Novel. I recommend this book to readers who like big stories, with each character contributing to the plot surrounding a single event, and to readers who enjoy books that represent our society’s mishmash of beliefs, values and questionable morals.

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The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

The Lotus Eaters
by
Tatjana Soli

Rating:

In this historical fiction novel, Tatjana Soli paints a very detailed picture of Cambodia in South Vietnam from 1963 – 1975. The story revolves around Helen Adams, a young American photographer who travels to Cambodia in an effort to both prove herself as a woman in a male-dominated profession and to gain understanding of her brother’s recent death in combat. She immerses herself in her job and becomes enamored of the Vietnamese culture. That pull keeps her in Cambodia long after others leave. It wouldn’t be enough of a story without romance, so Soli adds the seasoned Sam Darrow, a self-absorbed Pulitzer Prize winner, and Linh, Darrow’s Vietnamese assistant.

Helen, Darrow and Linh join U.S. army troops on their missions to secure villages and they photograph the atrocities of the war. Their personal relationships grow and change, all the way to the final pages of the book.

I enjoyed this story, but Soli’s writing style is a little terse and that can get in the way of the flow of the novel. She is best at describing the scenery, the action and the historical backdrop. But the characters in this book are less developed.

I also found some of the scenes hard to believe, when troops are fired upon and Helen jumps into the action, the first to reach a wounded soldier, the one to wipe his brow and tell him he’s going to be okay. She’s up in helicopters, transport planes, doing the army crawl, crouch-running and rolling and jumping into bunkers, just as grenades and bombs explode. These scenes do provide excitement, however.

All in all, The Lotus Eaters is an enjoyable read, with an interesting historical backdrop.

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Q&A with author and sports writer Jeff Pearlman

Sports writing isn’t just box scores and league standings. Jeff Pearlman knows the story behind the numbers is what makes things interesting. He’s a New York Times best-selling author of seven books and is a regular contributor to a variety of publications, including Bleacher Report, CNN.com and Sports Illustrated.

Last week, my son Austin wrote a guest blog post for Book Club Mom — a review of Pearlman’s latest book, Gunslinger (view here), which is a biography on famous NFL quarterback Brett Favre. Austin connected with Jeff on Twitter, then Jeff connected with me, and a couple days later, he graciously accepted our interview request.

Knowing Austin would ask the best questions, I turned the interview over to him.


When and why did you first get interested in writing about sports?

So I started writing about sports when I was a junior at Mahopac High School in Putnam County, N.Y. We had a monthly student newspaper, The Chieftain, and I was really excited to try this journalism thing. My first-ever byline was atop a story about the boys and girls cross country teams. And seeing my name in print was an enormous thrill. I was hooked. The next year I was the sports editor, and then I went to the University of Delaware and joined The Review, the college paper. I’ve been all in ever since.

How early into the process for Gunslinger did you realize that Brett Favre wouldn’t speak for the book? How, if at all, do you think the book would’ve been different if he did decide to talk?

Well, I kept hoping and hoping and hoping. I had a bunch of interviews with him arranged, then they’d inevitably fall through. With about seven months until deadline I realized it was never going to happen. Such is life. How is the book different? In good ways and bad ways. Good—it’d have been more inclusive, and it’s certainly easier to grasp someone’s thoughts when he directly explains them. Bad—involvement usually involves some concessions. “I’ll talk, but …” And that’s usually bad for the honesty of a biography.

You interviewed hundreds of people for this book — did you have a favorite interview? If so, why?

Well, Brett’s mother, Bonita, was amazing, and she’s someone I now consider something of a friend. She was honest, clear, smart, unsparing. People have asked many times, “Wait, why did Brett’s mother talk to you when Brett didn’t?” And the answer, plainly, is that I showed up and asked. She’s a very blunt person, and if you ask a question, you almost always get an answer.

Fans regularly wrestle with whether to forgive athletes for crimes/immoralities, especially if they play for their favorite team. Is there anything Favre could’ve done that would’ve lost respect from the fans, or did the city of Green Bay essentially not care what he did off the field?

Well, not much. If he’d raped someone, killed someone—crimes of those level, sure. Armed robbery might have been a tough image recovery. Robbing an orphanage. Stabbing Santa. But, overall, they’re a forgiving people of their icons. It’s what you do on the field that matters most in Green Bay.

In your writing career, have you ever found it difficult to write negative things about people?

I hate it, almost every single time. I don’t enjoy writing about substance abuse problems, about out-of-wedlock children, about infidelity, etc. That’s no fun for me. But in this business, we have a shitty choice to make. We can write true biographies, and that means unvarnished explorations of the lives of famous and historic figures. Or we can push out feel-good puff pieces. Well, I hate puff.

But here’s the thing: Walter Payton had an out-of-wedlock son. He lived a few miles away, but refused to have anything to do with him. I learned that while reporting “Sweetness,” and it made me want to vomit. I don’t like diminishing icons. I don’t like stuff like that. But how do you write Payton’s life story and leave out something so important? You can’t.

What’s it like now writing about the USFL for your next book, especially coinciding with Donald Trump being President of the United States?

Well, I feel like I have a very detailed understanding of Trump and the way he operates. I’m also sick of hearing about him. He was on my mind (for the USFL) long before the election, and now he won’t go away. Every … day … it’s … something … awful. So while I love the USFL and loved this project, I would take zero sales in exchange for his banishment to the outer moons of Saturn.


Thank you Jeff Pearlman for taking time out of your writing schedule for this interview!

For more information about Jeff and his best-selling books, visit jeffpearlman.com.

You can learn more about Austin Vitelli at austinvitelli.com.

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Who’s That Indie Author? Glen Craney

whos-that-indie-author
Author name
:  Glen Craney

Genre:  Historical Fiction and Mystery-Thrillers

Books: The Fire and the Light: A Novel of the Cathars; The Spider and the Stone: A Novel of Scotland’s Black Douglas; The Virgin of the Wind Rose: A Christopher Columbus Mystery-Thriller; The Yanks Are Starving: A Novel of the Bonus Army; The Lucifer Genome: A Conspiracy Thriller (with John Jeter)

     

  

Bio:  Glen is a novelist, screenwriter, journalist, and lawyer. He holds degrees from Indiana University School of Law and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He practiced trial law before joining the Washington, D.C. press corps to cover national politics and the Iran-contra trial. His books have taken readers to Occitania during the Albigensian Crusade, to the Scotland of Robert Bruce, to Portugal during the Age of Discovery, to the trenches of France during World War I, and to the American Hoovervilles of the Great Depression.

Favorite thing about being a writer:  I love to travel to and research the historical sites featured in my books.

Biggest challenge as an indie author:  Wearing two hats–creative artist and businessman–at the same time.

Favorite bookThose by Nigel Tranter, Sharon Key Penman, Gore Vidal

Contact Information:
Author Website:  glencraney.com
Facebook Author Page:  @GlenCraneyAuthor
Twitter: @glencraney
Blog:  historyintofiction.com

Awards/special recognition:

  • Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowship Prize for Screenwriting
  • Chaucer Award First Place Category Fiction
    Foreword Reviews Book-of-the-Year Honorable Mention/Finalist (3 times)
  • Best New Fiction, National Indie Excellence Award
    indeBRAG Honoree (2 times)
  • Nautilus Silver Award Winner
  • IPPY Silver Award Winner
  • Eric Hoffer Finalist/Honorable Mention Winner
  • Da Vinci Eye Award Finalist

Are you an indie author?  Do you want to build your indie author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

Email bvitelli2009@gmail.com for a bio template and other details.

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2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Nonfiction – Joby Warrick for Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS

The Pulitzer Prizes

The winners have been announced and Black Flags:  The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick has won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction.

Joby Warrick.png


What’s the book about?  Here is a summary from Amazon:

Black Flags The Rise of ISIS

In a thrilling dramatic narrative, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Joby Warrick traces how the strain of militant Islam behind ISIS first arose in a remote Jordanian prison and spread with the unwitting aid of two American presidents.

When the government of Jordan granted amnesty to a group of political prisoners in 1999, it little realized that among them was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a terrorist mastermind and soon the architect of an Islamist movement bent on dominating the Middle East. In Black Flags, an unprecedented character-driven account of the rise of ISIS, Joby Warrick shows how the zeal of this one man and the strategic mistakes of Presidents Bush and Obama led to the banner of ISIS being raised over huge swaths of Syria and Iraq.

Zarqawi began by directing terror attacks from a base in northern Iraq, but it was the American invasion in 2003 that catapulted him to the head of a vast insurgency. By falsely identifying him as the link between Saddam and bin Laden, U.S. officials inadvertently spurred like-minded radicals to rally to his cause. Their wave of brutal beheadings and suicide bombings persisted until American and Jordanian intelligence discovered clues that led to a lethal airstrike on Zarqawi’s hideout in 2006.

His movement, however, endured. First calling themselves al-Qaeda in Iraq, then Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, his followers sought refuge in unstable, ungoverned pockets on the Iraq-Syria border. When the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, and as the U.S. largely stood by, ISIS seized its chance to pursue Zarqawi’s dream of an ultra-conservative Islamic caliphate.

Drawing on unique high-level access to CIA and Jordanian sources, Warrick weaves gripping, moment-by-moment operational details with the perspectives of diplomats and spies, generals and heads of state, many of whom foresaw a menace worse than al Qaeda and tried desperately to stop it. Black Flags is a brilliant and definitive history that reveals the long arc of today’s most dangerous extremist threat.

Joby Warrick is a journalist for The Washington Post.


Want to know more?  Check out this information from The Washington Post:

Joby Warrick joined the Post’s national staff in 1996. He has covered national security, the environment, and the Middle East, and currently writes about terrorism. He is the author of two books, including 2015’s “Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS (Knopf-Doubleday). Warrick and two colleagues shared the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland

The TranscriptionistThe Transcriptionist
by
Amy Rowland

Rating:

Lena Respass is alone in her job as a transcriptionist for the Record, a major New York newspaper. She’s the last of her profession, made almost completely unnecessary by technological advances, and she sits alone in a room on her building’s eleventh floor, transcribing called-in stories. Stories from Lena’s Dictaphone thread endlessly through her head, even when she’s not working, and they leave her numb and strangely uneasy.

When Lena sees a print story in the Record about Arlene Lebow, a woman who climbed into the lions’ den at the zoo and was killed, she recognizes her. It’s the same woman she recently sat next to on a city bus. She had talked with the Arlene, who was blind, and felt oddly connected to her. Was the woman trying to tell her something?

Lena becomes obsessed with the story and wants to understand why Arlene would choose to end her life in such a violent way. She desperately wants to give Arlene the honor of being remembered. Like the stories she transcribes, Arlene’s death fills Lena’s mind. And these thoughts begin to overlap Lena’s own feelings about being raised on a farm by a strict religious father, about her mother’s death and about the newspaper profession, which to her has taken an unattractive turn. The answers she finds don’t seem to help Lena, however. Instead, she becomes more and more removed from the people around her.

The Transcriptionist is an unusual combination: a story about an emotionally unsettled woman and a commentary on the business of reporting news, especially since 9/11. Right away, Rowland provides a view into the way things are in the newsroom, the hierarchies, the egos, and the competition. She also points to the inevitable technological changes that meet resistance, and it’s incorporated nicely into the plot, with a mysterious feel-good character. In addition, The Transcriptionist gives the reader an unflattering look at reporters’ motives. Do they want to report the news or create fame for themselves? Is it a newspaper’s job to fight the war on terrorism or should they just report the news?

This is Rowland’s debut novel and she knows her material. She’s spent over ten years working at the New York Times, much of it as a transcriptionist, and now as an editor in the Book Review section.

Rowland includes many literary references, which are built into Lena’s tendency to quote books and poetry. It’s one of the things that distances Lena from other people and, in a way, I think, from the reader. Lions and birds, especially pigeons and a predatory falcon, also figure prominently throughout the book, from the lion statues that sit outside the library, to the pigeon outside Lena’s office window, to the mountain lion on the loose during Lena’s childhood, and of course, the lion in the den. The lion and falcon references invite the reader to think about the instinct of killing in nature. The lion kills Arlene by this instinct, but her death leaves the animal, used to being fed, in limbo. Did Arlene’s suicide remind the lion of what its life could be?

I enjoyed reading The Transcriptionist. It’s very different from other books, so it was a nice change and it’s quick and easy. Its difference, however, makes it a bit of a quirky read. But I like books that make you think after you’ve finished and The Transcriptionist does that.

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What’s up next? The Transcriptionist, by Amy Rowland

The Transcriptionist

Today I started reading Amy Rowland’s debut novel, The Transcriptionist. It’s a story about Lena, who works as a transcriptionist for the Record, a big newspaper in New York. Lena works alone in a room on the eleventh floor, transcribing reporters’ stories. She’s the last of her profession at the paper, as technology has eliminated the need for people like her.

One day, Lena sees an article about a woman who was attacked and killed by lions in the city zoo. When she sees the unidentified woman’s picture in the paper, she realizes it’s someone she had met and talked to just a few days earlier while riding a city bus.

As she tries to understand why the woman, who was blind, would enter the lions’ den, Lena makes discoveries that question the nature of newspaper reporting at the Record. In the process, she faces personal challenges to break away from what she calls her “secondhand life.”

Amy Rowland worked as a transcriptionist for ten years at the New York Times. She currently works as an editor for the Book Review at the Times.

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2015 Pulitzer Prize winners announced

credit:  Pulitzer.org
credit: Pulitzer.org

In case you missed it, winners of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize were announced on Monday, April 20. Here are some interesting facts about the famous newspaper publisher, Joseph Pulitzer and the award:

photo from Wikipedia
photo from Wikipedia
  • Joseph Pulitzer was born in Hungary in 1847. He came to the United States as a recruit for the Union Army during the Civil War and later became a U.S. citizen. He died in 1911, at age sixty-four.
  • Before he became a newspaper magnate, Pulitzer was aimless and unemployed. He once sold his only possession, a white hankie, for 75¢.
  • He once had a job as a mule hostler, but quit that job in frustration, later noting, “The man who has not cared for sixteen mules does not know what work and troubles are.”
  • Pulitzer married Katherine Davis in 1878. They had seven children. Five lived to adulthood.
  • Pulitzer was elected to the Republican state legislature in Missouri in 1870. But he switched parties in 1880 and served a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. He was an outspoken supporter of the Democratic platform.
  • The term “yellow journalism” became a common strategy during the circulation war between Pulitzer’s New York World and Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal. Both publishers used sensationalism, exaggeration, and scandal to sell their newspapers.
  • Pulitzer was a driven newspaper publisher, but he had many health issues. He was nearly blind, a condition that worsened over time from long hours on the job. He also suffered from depression and was painfully sensitive to noise. He eventually relinquished control of the day-to-day operations of the World, but still controlled the editorial content and direction of the paper.
  • The Columbia School of Journalism was founded in 1912, using money from Pulitzer’s estate.
  • The Pulitzer prizes were established in 1917 to recognize outstanding journalism, photography, literature, history, poetry, music and drama. There are twenty-one award categories.
  • Twenty of the winners receive $10,000 cash. The winner in the Public Service category of Journalism receives a gold medal. This award goes to a news organization, not an individual.
  • Only United States citizens are eligible to apply for the prize in Letters, Drama and Music, except for the History category of Letters, in which the book must be about the United States, but the author may be of any nationality.
  • In the Journalism category, entrants do not have to be U.S. citizens, but the work must have appeared in a U.S. newspaper that is published at least once a week, on a newspaper’s website or an online news organization website.
  • John F. Kennedy has been the only President to receive the Pulitzer Prize. He was awarded the prize in 1957 for his biography, Profiles in Courage.
  • Self-published books are eligible for the prize, but they must be available in print.

Here are the 2015 winners, as posted in the Pulitzer Prize website:

Journalism

PUBLIC SERVICE – The Post and Courier, Charleston, SC

BREAKING NEWS REPORTING – The Seattle Times Staff

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTINGTwo Prizes: – Eric Lipton of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal Staff

EXPLANATORY REPORTING – Zachary R. Mider of Bloomberg News

LOCAL REPORTING – Rob Kuznia, Rebecca Kimitch and Frank Suraci of the Daily Breeze, Torrance, CA

NATIONAL REPORTING – Carol D. Leonnig of The Washington Post

INTERNATIONAL REPORTING – The New York Times Staff

FEATURE WRITING – Diana Marcum of the Los Angeles Times

COMMENTARY – Lisa Falkenberg of the Houston Chronicle

CRITICISM – Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times

EDITORIAL WRITING – Kathleen Kingsbury of The Boston Globe

EDITORIAL CARTOONING – Adam Zyglis of The Buffalo News

BREAKING NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY – St. Louis Post-Dispatch Photography Staff

FEATURE PHOTOGRAPHY – Daniel Berehulak , freelance photographer, The New York Times

Books, Drama and Music

FICTION – “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr (Scribner)

DRAMA – “Between Riverside and Crazy” by Stephen Adly Guirgis

HISTORY – “Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People ” by Elizabeth A. Fenn (Hill and Wang)

BIOGRAPHY – “The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe” by David I. Kertzer (Random House)

POETRY – “Digest” by Gregory Pardlo (Four Way Books)

GENERAL NONFICTION – “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” by Elizabeth Kolbert (Henry Holt)

MUSIC – “Anthracite Fields” by Julia Wolfe (G. Schirmer, Inc.)

 

Thank you to the following sources:

Pulitzer Prizes website
Pulitzer website biography
Wikipedia biography on Pulitzer
Wikipedia article on yellow journalism
Encylopædia Britannica biography on Pulitzer

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Guest Blogger Austin Vitelli: Things That Matter by Charles Krauthammer

I’d like to welcome my next guest blogger, austinv56 of The Philly Sports Report (http://austinv56.wordpress.com/).  He has reviewed Things That Matter, by Charles Krauthammer.

things that matter pic

Things That Matter
by Charles Krauthammer
Rating: 3.5/5

There is no doubt that Charles Krauthammer, graduate of McGill University and Harvard Medical School, knows what he’s talking about. He’s been a syndicated columnist for The Washington Post for nearly 30 years. He’s also a regular on Fox News in the Special Report with Bret Baier. His knowledge of U.S. foreign policy is unparalleled by many in the world, especially for political journalists such as himself. His life, as told through his columns, certainly makes an interesting story.

This book includes many of his columns from The Washington Post, as well as other pieces he wrote for Time, The New Republic, and Weekly Standard. He organizes it into three parts—personal, political, and historical—which are then subdivided by chapters depending on the specific topic. His pieces range broadly from Halley’s Comet to controversial art exhibits to speed chess. He discusses whatever he likes, and he makes it perfectly clear that he won’t be censored. These are smart moves, coming from the 1987 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for political commentary.  Things That Matter was a #1 New York Times Best Seller for eight weeks this year and has been a top-seller for the last nineteen weeks.

The most interesting section of the book in my opinion was the first section, in which he discusses many personal matters such as people who strongly impacted his life and various other things he’s discovered about the world. He even created his own law, Krauthammer’s First Law, in which he declares that “everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise.” If you’re looking for a book devoid of opinions, you will not enjoy this book. He makes his thoughts known again and again through his column, and he makes no attempt to hold back.

He cleverly puts the personal section first so as to not deter people who disagree with his political views from reading the book. Once you begin the politics section though, he immediately begins arguing his Conservative points, going against nearly every Liberal view possible. But, he does it in a way that’s not (intentionally) insulting because he’s able to argue his points intelligently and thoroughly. Of course, the extreme Liberal will likely find this book awful because of his views, but as a Liberal myself, I still found merit in many of his points.

So why only 3.5/5? Well, first off, his Conservatism begins to run rampant as he bashes nearly every action and non-action that President Obama has made, especially in foreign policy, to the point where you feel like you’re reading copy from Fox News (which maybe isn’t too wild of an accusation since he appears on Fox News often). He does do a good job of explaining all of his opinions, but he can often sound intellectually arrogant, a characteristic that no one finds appealing regardless of political affiliation.

Also, to fully understand his book, you will need access to a dictionary at all times. Going back to the intellectual arrogance, it can rub the reader the wrong way when using large, difficult words in literally every sentence, sometimes multiple times per sentence. Congratulations, you would ace the vocabulary section of the SAT, but that doesn’t mean you need to brag about your expansive knowledge of vocabulary by using words and references that, frankly, no one ever uses in writing or conversation. I understand this man is extremely smart, but there’s no need to intentionally sound superior.

Regardless, I still think it’s worth the read because he’s made many interesting observations about the world and has a very peculiar life story (psychiatrist turned journalist). With the far left Liberal like it? No, probably not. Has this made me want to turn on Fox News? No, not at all. Was I entertained by many of his stories and points though? Yes, absolutely.

About austinv56:  Austin is a Rodale Scholar and majors in Journalism at Lehigh University.  He writes about professional sports in Philadelphia and covers the Philadelphia Eagles, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Philadelphia 76ers, as well as top NFL and NBA news.  At Lehigh he is a Staff Writer for the sports section of The Brown and White and is the newspaper’s official live-tweeter for sports events.   Be sure to check out The Philly Sports Report at:  http://austinv56.wordpress.com/!

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