Review: All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

In 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty. And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the city’s most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant D.A.’s son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is until her ex is accidentally poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she’s to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight–at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family.

Set in New York City, in the near future, the world is much different in 2083. Hello, chocolate is illegal! Books are extremely rare and people who have them are thought to be wealthy and perhaps a bit strange. Both of these things would drive me a bit crazy, to be honest.

All These Things I’ve Done doesn’t focus so much on the government as most dystopian novels do. Instead it focuses more on the crime aspect. The main character’s deceased father was the leader of the mafia, dealing in chocolate-both legally and illegally. It was fascinating to see inside of the Family/crime world.

Poor Anya! Her parents were both killed, her older brother has health issues, her grandmother is hooked up to machines that are supposed to make her live just long enough for Anya to become the legal guardian of her sister. At 16, Anya takes care of everyone in her household and tries to keep their noses clean with the rest of the Family’s crime business. Anya is one of the most level-headed and realistic teen girls in the genre that I’ve read. Sure, she thinks the new boy is cute, but she knows her family comes before romance.

There are a few references to the present time that kept me entertained. Such as the characters wondering what “OMG” was slang for, references to a “sandal wearing statue” (Statue of Liberty), and, as previously mentioned, chocolate being bad (and worse than alcohol).

As a lover of dystopian books, All These Things I’ve Done doesn’t disappoint at all. I cannot wait to read more from Gabrielle Zevin. If dystopian books aren’t your usual fare, this one may still appeal to you, because it’s definitely original and not your typical the-government-is-corrupt book.

I received my copy from the publishers in exchange for my honest opinion.

Please note any links in the above post may be to affiliates. Any purchases made will provide Letters Inside Out a small percentage back.

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  1. Great review! I was already looking forward to reading this book since I love Zevin & Dystopian novels but now I’m even more excited!

  2. Rebecca says:

    It sounds so awesome! I’d totally be breaking the law with my chocolate addiction. \o/ I put it on my wishlist. Now I just need more money for shopping spree number 2… Great review, Amanda!

  3. Sophia says:

    Oh my goodness. I’ve been a fan on Zevin since I read her novel Elsewhere a couple of years ago. I’m so glad you liked this book!!! :)

  4. raimy says:

    I really want to read this one… all the reviews are making me long for it but its not out in the UK til next Feb!!

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Review: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Jill MacSweeny just wishes everything could go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she’s been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends–everyone who wants to support her. And when her mom decides to adopt a baby, it feels like she’s somehow trying to replace a lost family member with a new one.

Mandy Kalinowski understands what it’s like to grow up unwanted–to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, one thing she’s sure of is that she wants a better life for her baby. It’s harder to be sure of herself. Will she ever find someone to care for her, too?

As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn to both let go and hold on, and that nothing is as easy–or as difficult–as it seems.

I’ve always been a fan of Sara Zarr, for years she’s been one of my auto-buys when I would walk into the bookstore. Despite my love of Zarr I was a bit scared about this one! Pregnant teenagers are this staple in media right now that I don’t want to acknowledge, you know…maybe if I ignore them the newfound public nature of it all will just go away. Anyhow, with it being Zarr I had to get it, once I got it I pretty much stared at it on my shelf. I wasn’t very smart in doing that. How to Save a Life is brilliant! I will say, it’s pretty predictable, but it has so much heart with just a bit of mystery.

How to Save a Life is told in alternating POVs between the girls. Jill’s father is killed and now her mom is adopting a baby, much to her horror. Mandy’s lived a rough life and just wants what’s best for the baby. I have to say I wasn’t very fond of either girl – and that works here. I got where each was coming from, but was definitely not a fan of either. Mandy annoyed me, she also felt a bit unrealistic. I felt that if she really went through everything she went through…surely she would have a been a bit less naive. Jill, on the otherhand, I liked at first, but as time went on I grew more and more irritated with her. Despite not always loving the characters, I felt for them – their situations, for lack of a better word, suck.

Like I already said the story line is a bit typical and expected, but at the same time it is fascinating. I love seeing the various reactions to situations, after all why else do we read? Points are realistic and other points not so much – I feel Zarr nailed it with the reactions to Mac’s death, but at the same time what person would adopt a baby in no real “official” manner? That part had red flags going up. All in all, How to Save a Life took me on a very enjoyable, emotional ride.

I received my copy of How to Save a Life in exchange for my honest opinion.

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Review: The Babysitter Murders by Janet Ruth Young

The Babysitter Murders“Everyone has weird thoughts sometimes. But for seventeen-year-old Dani Solomon, strange thoughts have taken over her life. She loves Alex, the little boy she babysits, more than anything. But one day, she has a vision of murdering him that’s so gruesome, she can’t get it out of her mind. In fact, Dani’s convinced that she really will kill Alex. She confesses the thoughts to keep him safe, setting off a media frenzy that makes “Dani Death” the target of an extremist vigilante group.
Through the help of a brave therapist, Dani begins to heal her broken mind. But will it be too late? The people of her community want justice . . . and Dani’s learning that some thoughts are better left unsaid.”

We’ve all had thoughts that get away with us, be them fantasies or something stressful that just keeps growing and our imagination gets away with us. But I can’t say I’ve ever had any that are as violent as Dani’s. What really disturbed me is in one paragraph she is rambling about how she’s an extremely non-violent person then shortly after she’s imagining someone’s death. While I was very disturbed by her thoughts, I understand she has a mental disorder that is causing her to be that way.

Even more disturbing is the way the town in general reacts to her admission. Before that happened though, I have to say Malcom and his father are creepy! Seriously, the father sits around judging teens with his son. How disgusting. Once the “secret” is out, in general people react the way you would imagine them to.

The title of the book to me was a touch misleading, I fully expected to have some babysitter running around slaying all of the town’s children. Instead you have a story of a girl who really does have a big heart, you can tell she loves (or cares about) the people she’s having these feelings/visions of doing things to. It’s not all just murderous thoughts, some of her thoughts are of yelling insults at her friends and family.

The book was another good look at an uncommonly acknowledged mental disorder. It was refreshing and heartbreaking at times. It’s a topic I’ve personally never read about, but definitely plan to do some further research on it. While it isn’t my favorite book to do with psychological issues, it’s original and worth checking out!

The Babysitter Murders hits shelves on July 26th.

I received my copy courtsey of Simon & Schuster in exchange for my honest opinion.

Please note any links in the above post may be to affiliates. Any purchases made will provide Letters Inside Out a small percentage back.

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Comments

  1. Heidi says:

    Interesting review. Funny when you expect one thing from a book and you get another.

  2. Thelostbookreports says:

    i thought the same thing when i read the title, so when I started to read your review i was shocked, that it was different.

  3. Shelagh Parry says:

    Great review. It sounds like Young has tackled a difficult topic – mental illness is still often misunderstood – and managed to pull it off.

    Shelagh
    The Word Fiend

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Review: Solid by Shelley Workinger

Solid“Eighteen years ago, a rogue Army doctor secretly experimented with a chromosomal drug on unknowing pregnant women. When he was killed not long after the children were born, any knowledge and evidence seemed to die with him – except the living, breathing, human products of his work.

Almost two decades later, the newly self-proclaimed “open-book” military unearths the truth about the experiment, bringing Clio Kaid and the other affected teens to a state-of-the-art, isolated campus where they soon discover that C9x did indeed alter their chromosomes, its mutations presenting as super-human abilities. The military kids, who come from across the nation and all walks of life, come into their own as lighter-than-air ‘athletes’; ‘indies’ as solid as stone walls; teens who can make themselves invisible and others who can blind with their brilliance.

As Clio comes into her remarkable ability, embraces new friendships and embarks on first love, she also can’t shake the suspicion that the government has not been as forthcoming with their attentions as they claimed…”

I was a bit cautious about reading this book, but it was definitely an original one. It hooked me early on, I started reading at night and read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open then as soon as I woke up began reading again.

The story itself, I could see happening with the way technology has taken a turn there is tons of various genetic altering so why not one that creates special powers? The mix-matched group of friends are the sort of friends I’d like to have. From sweethearted Bliss to annoying (but with a good heart..maybe) Miranda to the loveable Jack and Garrett. The love aspect happened gradually, much to my excitement.

My only real complaint was the book felt a bit slow at times, but I felt like it was probably needed to build this world for future books in the series. I personally can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel to see what happens next to Clio and her friends.

The sequel to Solid called Settling will be released in just a few days!

Solid was provided for me by the author in exchange for my honest review.

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  1. Jillian says:

    This sounds really interesting!! But I don’t know – if you say it’s a slow book.. if I should read it.

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Review: Settling by Shelley Workinger

This review contain spoilers for Solid, book one in the series by Shelley Workinger. (Review for Solid) If you haven’t read the first book you may want to take this into consideration.

At the beginning of the summer, Clio Kaid was one of a hundred teens brought to a secret Army installation. But it was no ordinary camp and they weren’t ordinary kids…

Picking up where “Solid” left off, Clio and her friends realize that they aren’t ready to go home; they’re determined to stay on campus and continue their journey of self- discovery. But someone doesn’t feel the same way and will do anything to drive them away – even kill.

Friendships will be tested, abilities will evolve, and more secrets will come out as the teens race to stop the killer before he sets his sights on one of them…

In Solid, military kids were brought to a base in order to see if they had any special abilities, because a scientist had altered their chromosomes. Settling follows up with the gang all taking on “jobs” to help continue running operation smoothly.

Most of the gang is back and things are settling down nicely. Clio is happily with Jack. Everyone is stressed out a bit at first, but things are getting better. Then someone shows up dead, because of the security measures being taken, they know it’s someone from the camp and it could be anyone. The added stress of “Who-dun-it” begins to wreck a bit of havoc, as more and more things start happening.

Clio took more of front-and-center in Settling. I would have loved to have seen more from some of the side characters who I grew to love in Solid. I’m hoping the next book will visit with them a bit more! There are also a few new characters, who I can’t wait to learn more about.

If you haven’t picked up Solid, I urge you to do so. I preferred it of the two, but Settling continued the story nicely.

I received my copy from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

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  1. Mary says:

    I just received some bookmarks from Shelley. Sadly I didn’t win one of her giveaways. But, I will be getting Solid. I am eager to read it. Great Review! It makes me want it even more!

    Mary

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Review: Kane Richards Must Die by Shanice Williams

“After an unexpected transfer to the States for her senior year, Suranne’s new friends give her just one instruction: stay away from Kane Richards. According to everyone, he’s a heartless playboy concerned only for himself. With one glance, it’s easy to see why he gets away with it. But things aren’t always what they seem- especially when he sets his sights on her and whispers that she’s different. Despite all the red flags, Suranne considers whether or not his intentions are genuine or if she’s simply another name on his list. In the process, she may just uncover the real Kane Richards. But, when it comes down to it, the real Kane Richards may not want to be found. Filled with raw emotion, Kane Richards Must Die explores relationships, trust, love, and what can happen when life takes an unexpected turn.”

From the title of the book, I honestly imagined a book along the lines the movie John Tucker Must Die. This book is so much more than that, it’s actually a heartfelt story about a guy who does sleep around with…everyone, but there’s something else. It’s a really quick read, I managed to read it one night I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t feel like getting out of bed.

Kane Richards is easily makes it as one of my favorite literary guys, not because he’s hot (and he is!), but because he’s so well-developed. He has the cocky attitude and knows he’s the hottest boy, but he also has an amazing vulnerblity that isn’t often seen in male characters. His backstory is heartbreaking and seriously makes this book so much more. At times he’s seriously a jerk, but you are given a peek into his actions and reasoning in the chapters told from his POV.

I feel for Suranne, she’s drawn to the school’s most popular guy, the one all of her friends have warned her about because of his reputation and she’s seen it with her own eyes. Yet he shows her small parts (and as the story goes on bigger parts) of his real self, so she knows there is good there too. Her friends Kate and Lawrence kind of annoyed me with the way they treated her as the story progressed.

This story is surprisingly deep and emotional. It’s definitely a book to keep your eyes open, I plan on recommending it to my friends & family.

Caution: There are a lot of sex scenes and some cursing, so take that into consideration.

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  1. Sold! Thank you SO much for sharing. I have this on my wishlist but wasn’t sure about it. Now i know…wil DEFINITELY buy it. :-)
    I have a rec for you (well okay, more than just one)
    YA:
    CrossMyHeart
    TheStillburrowCrush
    Also, if you read adult conteporary:
    DelinquentDaddy
    Happy Thursday!

  2. Giselle says:

    Great review. I hadn’t heard of this one yet. When I saw the cover and title I thought it was a “mean girls” sort of book.

    Giselle
    Xpresso Reads

  3. Kristina says:

    I really enjoyed this story. The only thing I hated was the title. I felt that it didn’t fit at all. I actually interviewed the author on my blog, and asked about the title. She wanted people to think it would be like John Tucker to get younger people to check it out. Other then that, I had no complaints. She is also working on a sequel, but I think it ended perfectly!

    Great review.

  4. Cathy says:

    This sounds like a really good book, great review. I’m going to have to go look for it now.

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Review: Addison Blakely: Confessions of a PK by Betsy St. Amant

Amant

Sixteen-year-old Addison Blakely has tireless played the role of PK—preacher’s kid—her entire life. But after Wes Keegan revs his motorcycle into town and into her heart, Addison begins to wonder how much of her faith is her own and how much has been handed to her. She isn’t so sure she wants to be the good girl anymore. Join Addison Blakely as she attempts to separate love from lust, facts from faith, and keep her head above water in her murky, fishbowl existence.

You know those feel-good titles that we all sometimes crave? That’s Addison Blakey: Confessions of a PK. Despite the title and exploration of Addison’s faith, which does play a big role, it isn’t a “preachy” book by any means. Instead it’s a heartfelt story exploring Addison’s growth. Yes, her growth revolves around her faith and God, but it’s the sort of book that can likely be applied to most teens’ lives.

Addison struggles with wanting to stand out and be her own person, just like in any other great coming of age novel. She has always seen the world in very black or white terms, good or bad, no in-between. She’s had a falling out with her best friend, she’s stressed, and kind of lost. Enter Wes, the new boy who is cute and oh-so-confusing, like most guys. Then there’s Marta, the new foreign exchange student who helps introduce Addison to a world outside of her own “world”.

All in all, Addison Blakely is a bit cliche and predictable. The typical good girl falls for the leather-clad boy on a motorcycle, but it’s such a great story that I couldn’t help but be enthralled.

Little warning: There are references to teen drinking, peer pressure, eating disorders, sex, and obviously religion. They are all done in a way that is pretty subtle, but in true LIO fashion I wanted to acknowledge them.

I received Addison Blakely: Confessions of a PK in exchange for my honest opinion from the publisher.

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  1. kimba88 says:

    While I only recently began reading YA in earnest I am not ready to take the plunge into contemporary YA romance..however I think my 17yr old daughter would flip for this one. Great review!

  2. I enjoy contemp. YA and this sounds like a fun read and I’m glad it’s not preachy!

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Review: Choker by Elizabeth Woods

I signed up for Spring Blog Carnival earlier today, which will be from May 1st-8th.

And here’s another quick review today. :)

“Becca Wilkinson is an average teenager trying to make it out of high school in one piece. She’s a nobody, only infamous because of the devastating car crash she caused a year ago. But as increasingly bizarre things start happening all around her and a mysterious stranger shows up claiming they want to help, Becca learns that high school is the least of her problems-and she’s anything but average.”

I received this as a review copy from Patricia, but as always the opinion is completely my own.

Sci-fi is usually a category I shy away from, which is funny, because every sci-fi book I pick up I seem to thoroughly enjoy.  This one was not an exception.  The story was very well-written and enjoyable.  It’s the first in a trilogy, I’ll be counting down the days until May, when the second book comes out so I can see what happens next!

It’s currently only available as an ebook, check it out at Smashwords

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  1. Tricia says:

    Thanks so much for taking the time to review my book! :)
    Tricia
    http://triciatypes.blogspot.com

  2. ComaCalm says:

    Glad it’s not just me that can’t wait! New follower. :)

    comacalm.blogspot.com

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Summer Lovin’ Tour: While He Was Away by Karen Schreck

Today as part of the Summer Lovin’ Tour I have author Karen Schreck, whose new book While He Was Away hits shelves today. How exciting is that?!

While He Was Away coverThe day David left, I felt like my heart was breaking. Sure, any long–distance relationship is tough, but David was going to war—to fight, to protect, to put his life in danger. We can get through this, though. We’ll talk, we’ll email, we won’t let anything come between us.

I can be on army girlfriend for one year. But will my sweet, soulful, funny David be the same person when he comes home? Will I? And what if he doesn’t come home at all…?

 

This is the sort of book that has potential to be a little too close to home for many of us. I, thankfully, never had a boyfriend or significant other go into the military, but I saw way too often what it did to those who did. It’s heartwrenching, it is painful and it’s real. While He Was Away made that so much more *obvious* and clear for me. Getting to see into the eyes of a character whose boyfriend was gone and fighting. Listening and wondering just what would happen.

I love Penna, she’s strong. She’s real. Her boyfriend is gone, so her mother gets her to do the one thing she knows to “distract” her – get a job. Penna slowly rebuilds her own life without David, while still maintaining a relationship with David. Her new friends – I love. I feel for Penna in a way I really didn’t expect to. Many readers say they love to read realistic books that put them in a situation they’ve never been in. If this is you, check out this book!

Karen’s guest post below tells how the story came to be and after reading the guest post I love this book even more!

I received my copy of While He Was Away from the publisher/Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion for this tour.

Stories My Mother Told Me…and the Ones She Never Did

I think a lot about family stories, perhaps because I’m an only child, and now that both of my parents are dead—no longer living, I almost wrote, because the other, more naked statement is still sometimes hard for me to write—I feel like I’m the only one left who can and will carry them.

Sometimes the family stories rattle around in my head, demanding attention all at once, and I don’t know where to focus—I guess that can be the effect of remembering. But other times, (especially when I follow the advice that great writer and teacher once gave me, which was: “Write where the pressure is!”) a particular story will rise up above the others and say: “Pick me.”

That’s what happened with While He Was Away.

I got quite and waited until the pressure revealed itself—and it was a story my mother told me in three simple sentences right before she died when I was fourteen.

Her story went like this.

“I was married before I married your father. I was very young. My first husband died in WWII.”

That was it. That was all she would say.

She knew she was dying, and she wanted me to know this truth about herself. For years afterward, no one else said a word about it, and then finally, it was revealed that there was really very little to say—only the classic: “They were childhood sweethearts, deeply in love; it was like a dream”—and then there were a few pictures that a cousin gave me—my mother, young and beautiful, in love with a young and beautiful boy.

When I started thinking about the other young and beautiful boys and girls who were heading off to Iraq to do battle for all kinds of reasons, I found myself thinking again about my mother, the girl, and her boy, and how in some ways, love in wartime is so different now, and in other ways, it isn’t all.

I wanted to retell the story she told me in three simple sentences, and it turned into a novel, While He Was Away.

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  1. awesome guest post

  2. This seems like a great, intense and meaningful book! I love stories like this and this is a book that really intruiges me! Authors and people that already suffered the loss from a dear person and family member know what pains feel like so I admire putting this into a novel!

  3. I am soooo in love with the whole prospect of the book…and…
    O_O wow…that must have been hard…not only for Karen’s mother to tell her…but…for her…to overcome the loss of her first husband.

    I really really really want this book.
    Thanks for the guest post :D

  4. I LOVE this! What a great inspiration & a hard thing to do, though a great thing in her mother’s memory. This definitely makes me want to read the book more<3

    Racquel @ The Book Barbies♥

  5. Molli says:

    This post really gave me chills. I’m so glad you hosted the author for it, Amanda! I really cannot wait to someday soon read this one.

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Review: Ordinary Beauty by Laura Wiess

Ordinary Beauty“How can you make someone love you when they won’t?


And what if that person happens to be your mother?


Sayre Bellavia grew up knowing she was a mistake: unplanned and unwanted. At five months shy of eighteen, she’s become an expert in loneliness, heartache, and neglect. Her whole life she’s been cursed, used, and left behind. Swallowed a thousand tears and ignored a thousand deliberate cruelties. Sayre’s stuck by her mother through hell, tried to help her, be near her, be important to her even as her mother slipped away into a violent haze of addiction, destroying the only chance Sayre ever had for a real family.


Now her mother is lying in a hospital bed, near death, ravaged by her own destructive behavior. And as Sayre fights her way to her mother’s bedside, she is terrified but determined to get the answer to a question no one should ever have to ask: Did my mother ever really love me? And what will Sayre do if the answer is yes?”

I’ve been wanting to read Such A Pretty Girl for a long time, but could never find a copy locally to purchase and I always would seem to forget to order it. I’ve heard amazing things about Laura Wiess for just as long, so when I saw Ordinary Beauty I had to give it a try.

This is one of the most heartwrenching books I’ve read ever, from the first page my heart ached. It actually took me a bit longer to read than it should have, because I kept having to give myself little breaks from the crying the entire book kept causing. Sure, there were chapters of Sayre’s past that were like little rays of hope, but because you know the outcome from the beginning those seem too short-lived. It’s one of those tales in which social services and the state do so wrong by the child, but despite that, she has great role models during small periods of her childhood that make her an amazing 17 year old girl.

I know I say this about a lot of characters I review, but Sayre is one of the strongest, she may even be the strongest. The story is told in alternating chapters between what’s happening currently and her thoughts or stories she’s telling others of the past. I honestly felt like I was eavesdropping on Sayre’s thoughts and story as the book played out. I don’t want to get too deep into other characters, because doing so could possibly give away some of the storyline that slowly is brought to light in the book. I will say I love the character of Beale and I loved Evan.

I don’t usually like discussing “Well, if this would’ve happened” topics in reviews, but I must say I wanted to scream at Sayre at times to just open up and tell someone the real truth of her life. Mostly for the mere fact that my heartached so much for this child who had seen and experienced things adults would not be able to handle. It’s miraculous she ended up as kindhearted as she did.

Despite the hard subject matter, this is a must read book. I’m definitely going to pursue other books by Wiess, as well.

Ordinary Beauty hits shelves June 14th. I received my egalley from Simon & Schuster’s Galley Grab program for review.

Please note any links in the above post may be to affiliates. Any purchases made will provide Letters Inside Out a small percentage back.

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  1. Jillian says:

    Glad to see a positive review on this again! I really want to check it out.

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