Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Review ~ The Lavender House by Hilary Boyd ..for the Quercus Summer Reading Group




Quercus
August 2016





A bit of blurb..

Nancy de Freitas is the glue that holds her family together. Caught between her ageing, ailing mother Frances, and her struggling daughter Louise, frequent user of Nancy's babysitting services, it seems Nancy's fate is to quietly go on shouldering the burden of responsibility for all four generations. Her divorce four years ago put paid to any thoughts of a partner to share her later years with. Now it looks like her family is all she has.

Then she meets Jim. Smoker, drinker, unsuccessful country singer and wearer of cowboy boots, he should be completely unsuited to the very together Nancy. And yet, there is a real spark. 
But Nancy's family don't trust Jim one bit. They're convinced he'll break her heart, maybe run off with her money - he certainly distracts her from her family responsibilities.

Can she be brave enough to follow her heart? Or will she remain glued to her family's side and walk away from one last chance for love?



My thoughts about the book..

The Lavender House opens with its protagonist enjoying an episode of the Archers on BBC Radio 4. Nancy de Freitas is preparing supper when her husband, Christopher tells her quite calmly that he is leaving her for his lover Tatjana, a singer in a madrigal group. This could only be middle England and Nancy so typical of a woman in her sixties, now finds that her new husbandless state is defined by her role as daughter, mother and grandmother but no longer as a lover. Holding her family together is what keeps Nancy ticking over, that is, until she decides to take back control of her life and take a chance on living again.

What I loved about The Lavender House was the openness of its characters, who all add such depth to the story that after a while it seems like you are spending time with friends and enjoying the minutiae of their live. Within the story there is sharp observation about the vagaries of human nature, I enjoyed recognising those wonderful quirky traits which can be found in most families.

The author writes well and, with warmth and wit, gives us a beautifully observed story about a love affair in later life which is fraught with complications but which, with perseverance and determination, shows that love really can conquer all.


Best Read with … A Large glass of Pinot Grigio and a dish of salted almonds.




About the author

Hilary Boyd trained as a nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital, then as a marriage guidance counselor. After a degree in English Literature at London University in her thirties, she moved into health journalism, writing a Mind, Body, Spirit column for the Daily Express. She published six non-fiction books on health-related subjects before turning to fiction and writing a string of bestsellers, starting with Thursdays in the Park. Hilary is married to film director/producer Don Boyd.

Twitter @HilaryBoyd




My thanks to the team at Quercus for the invitation to be part of their summer reading group



#QuercusSummer

27060930 28074327 



My review of Last Dance in Havana click here
My review of Florence Grace click here




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Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Review ~ Map of Stars by Catherine Law



29501554
Zaffre
Bonnier Publishing
2016


A bit of blurb...

Love and duty, codes and spies - a tear-jerking wartime romance for fans of Rachel Hore, Kathryn Hughes and Leah Fleming

Kent, 1939. Eliza is to be married to Nicholas, her companion since she was a child. But when the pair are involved in a car crash, Eliza is rescued by a stranger, Lewis Harper, who she struggles to forget.

As the war begins, Eliza's world begins to fall apart: her beloved brother Martyn is killed in action, and her once-beloved husband grows increasingly distant. And then, when her efforts to help the Dunkirk evacuees take her to the south coast, she spots Lewis in the crowd.

Torn between passion and duty, Eliza must choose whether to follow her conscience or her heart. But wartime has plenty of its own dangers, and with spies infiltrating even the country houses of Kent, Eliza must find the courage to serve her country in even the most heart-breaking circumstances.

A beautiful story of star-crossed lovers, Map of Stars is another brilliant wartime saga from Catherine Law.



My thoughts about the story..


Map of Stars opens in 1967 with a lengthy prologue which introduces us to Eliza Staveley and her life at Forstall Manor, an Elizabethan house which gleams in the sunshine. Life for Eliza appears, on the surface, to be settled, but her daughter, Stella’s return to Fortsall opens up long forgotten memories for Eliza, and when an unexpected event occurs, Eliza is immediately taken back in time to 1939 and to the war years spent as a young wife at Forstall.

The book is nicely written with a well plotted mystery which looks at Eliza’s life in wartime Kent, it observes her relationship with her husband Nicholas, and of her attraction to Lewis Harper, an enigmatic stranger who once rescued her from harm. Interspersed throughout is the story of how people adapted to the changed circumstances of wartime and showed just how quickly events could spiral out of control. 

I like the way that the author has brought her characters to life, particularly Eliza, who I rather liked from the start. I admired her feistiness and in a world which was all too often dominated by her male counterparts, Eliza was able to find her own voice in this emotive story about war time romance, the danger of espionage and the thrill of forbidden love. War time England with all its associated problems is well explained and there is a nice sense of time and place.


Best read with …strong tea from enamel cups and a slice or two of Eliza’s cinnamon cake, warm from the oven.


More about the Author

Catherine Law was born in Harrow, Middlesex and has been a journalist for twenty-two years, having trained first as a secretary at the BBC an then attending the London College if Printing. She now works on a glossy interiors magazine and live in Buckinghamshire.

There is more about the Author on her website Click here

Find her on Facebook Click here

Follow on Twitter @cathmarialaw





My thanks to Carmen at Bonnier Zaffre for my review copy of Map of Stars



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Monday, 29 August 2016

Blog Tour ~ Natchez Burning by Greg Iles



I am delighted to feature my review of Natchez Burning by Greg Iles on this global blog tour.



Harper
2014
Penn Cage Book 4

The Sins of the Past Never Die




A bit of blurb...

Raised in Natchez, Mississippi, former prosecuting attorney Penn Cage learned all he knows of honour  and duty from his father, Dr Tom Cage.

But now Tom stands accused of murdering an African-American nurse with whom he worked in the 1960s, when racist violence was at its peak.

As  he hunts for the truth, Penn uncovers a long buried secret that could place his family in mortal danger- a conspiracy of greed and murder connected to a viscous sect of the KKK.

Up against the most powerful men in the state , Penn faces an impossible choice: does a man of honour choose his father or justice?


My review...

Whilst this is book four in the Penn Cage series of novels by this author, Natchez Burning heads the start of a trilogy, which looks in more detail the effects of the racial unrest which happened in the United States, and more particularly, in its Southern States in the early 1960s.

The story opens in 2005 when Penn Cage, a former prosecuting lawyer, has returned to his home town of Natchez in Mississippi. Hoping to find some sort of resolution, Penn has immersed himself in local life and at the start of this novel in 2005, Penn has become Mayor. It’s a position he takes very seriously, as honour and duty are traits that Cage takes to heart. These characteristics, which he has learned from his father, Dr Tom Cage, form the core of Penn’s emotional stability. However, Penn discovers, that there are secrets in in Tom Cage’s past which hark back to the dark days of racial unrest, and when Tom Cage’s friendship with his nurse, Viola Turner, is opened up to scrutiny, dark secrets which have been long buried, start to emerge with disastrous consequences.

Natchez Burning is a forceful novel with a powerful agenda, covering the relationship between a son and his father, about the accuracy of truth and the integrity of justice, and, more importantly, it's about the threat of dangerously volatile secrets, which over time become have become so deep-seated that they become almost too  difficult to vindicate. The book hits the ground running with a hard hitting prologue and makes no allowances for the impact it wants to make ,which then goes on to set the overall tone of the novel.

The novel is long, coming in at over 850 pages, and there is much to absorb both in terms of the actual story line which unfolds gradually but also in the simmering undercurrent of racial conflict which is embarked upon in some considerable detail. There is no doubt that the author has invested a great deal of time and emotion into this narrative, it’s extremely well prepared and contains content which is, at times, quite uncomfortable but, this I think allows great insight into an era which saw huge social and political turmoil.

Natchez Burning is a little out of my comfort zone, as I hadn't read any of the previous books in the series, so I found it best to read chunks of the story in short bursts rather than large sections as this  worked better for me and allowed some necessary time to absorb the finer points without getting too caught up in the sheer length of the story.

If you are familiar with this author and his writing, and have enough time to invest in the trilogy as a whole, I am sure that fans of his work will be delighted with the way that this trilogy continues the Penn Cage story.




Best Read With...A starchily sour Bourbon and a packet of peanut M&Ms...





Greg Iles was born in Germany but spent most of his youth in Natchez, Mississippi His thirteen New York Times bestselling novels have been made into films, translated into more than twenty languages, and published in more than thirty-five countries worldwide. He lives in Natchez with his two teenage children.

Twitter @GregIles
Facebook





**Fabulous chance to win a paperback copy of Natchez Burning and a Tote Bag**


My thanks to Felicity at Harper for the invitation to be part of this tour and 
for providing this bumper giveaway opportunity to one UK winner.









Good Luck


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Sunday, 28 August 2016

Sunday WW1 Remembered..






Over the course of the last three years I've had the opportunity to research the war poets and have found some interesting books. Over the next few weeks I will share a few of my favourites.




Up the Line to Death

The War Poets 1914-1918

An Anthology

Selected by Brian Gardner (Editor)


3338701
Methuen
This ed: 1986



Book Blurb


Since its publication in 1964, Brian Gardner’s Up the Line to Death has established itself as one of the most complete and compelling anthologies of poetry from World War I. Before his death on active service in 1918, Wilfred Owen said, “Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War and the pity of War.” This anthology is also concerned with the stark reality of war, but shows how poetry can be used to convey horror and fear, how a form associated with declarations of love can similarly leave a reader feeling disturbed and uncomfortable. 72 poets are represented, of whom 21 died in action. Rudyard Kipling, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, Edmund Blunden, Wilfred Owen, and Thomas Hardy are all here, as well as poets almost entirely forgotten now. From the early exultation to the bitter disillusion, the tragedy of World War I is carefully traced in the words of those who lived through it.


There's something rather special about my 1976 copy of Up the Line to Death which I found in a second hand book store. It could be because the pages are tanned and yellowing with age, it could  be because it's a well thumbed copy, a bit raggedy round its edges, so that it looks like its been squashed into a bag or a pocket, or, more importantly, it could be because, like me, someone else, has found comfort and inspiration within its pages.

Inside this thematic collection are 140 poems by 72 poets divided into sections with a foreword by Edmund Blunden.


Prelude Channel Firing by Thomas Hardy

Happy is England Now
Field Manoeuvres
Tipperary Days
To Unknown Lands
Home Front
Death's Kingdom
A Bitter Taste
Begind the Lines
O Jesus, Make it stop
At Last, At Last

Epilogue High wood by Philip Johnstone


Here is one of my favourite poems by a less well known war poet...


From a Flemish Graveyard by  I A Williams

A year hence may the grass that waves

O'er English men in Flemish graves,

Coating this clay with green of peace

And softness of a year's increase,

Be kind and lithe as English grass

To bend and nod as the winds pass;

It was for grass on English hills

These bore too soon the last of ills.


And may the wind be brisk and clean

And singing cheerfully between

The bents a pleasant-burdened song

To cheer these English dead along;

For English songs and English winds

Are they that bred these English minds.


And may the circumstantial trees

Dip, for these dead ones, in the breeze,

And make for them their silver play

Of spangled boughs each shiny day.


Thus may these look above, and see

And hear the wind in grass and tree,

And watch a lark in heaven stand,

And think themselves in their own land.




Iolo Aneurin Williams was born in Middlesborough in 1890. He served in France and Flanders 1914-18 serving as a captain. He was journalist , working on the London Mercury and The Times. He died in 1962.



This poem is particularly poignant because I have a relative who lies in commonwealth war grave in Flanders.



" And make for them their silver play, Of spangled boughs each shiny day."


 I hope it does.



Friday, 26 August 2016

Guest Authors ~ Sarah and Amy Beeson



I am delighted to showcase mother and daughter writing duo


Sarah and Amy Beeson





Sarah and Amy a warm welcome back to Jaffareadstoo.
You must be so excited about the launch of your latest book

Our Country Nurse


Harper Collins
25th August 2016






Sarah - following your career in nursing, what started you on the path to writing and how did you break into the publishing world?


During Amy’s pregnancy and after her daughter was born she and many friends wanted more information on breastfeeding, bottle feeding, weaning, sleep and someone to talk to about their feelings about being a mum. In that first year I spent hours on the phone to Amy and her friends and then friends of friends. I emailed a lot of advice to back up the conversations. After six months or so I started to work with Amy on the manuscript for a baby advice book that became Happy Baby, Happy Family. Several publishers bid for the baby book and HarperCollins offered us a three book deal for Happy Baby, Happy Family and two memoirs of my early career in nursing and health visiting (The New Arrival and our latest book Our Country Nurse). I’d never even contemplated writing about my life so it was a complete surprise – all nonfiction books but very different. 







Sarah - Your latest book, Our Country Nurse focuses on Health Visiting in the mid-1970s. How do you think nursing has changed in the intervening forty or so years?


There’s been big advances in the treatment of so many illnesses; the things we can do today are simply amazing – unimaginable when I was a young nurse. I like to think that when you take away all the technology that nurses are still made of the same stuff that we were and for the years before that. For me nursing is a calling. 


Today's nurses have many obstacles to overcome. It feels like all the staff in the NHS are fighting for a service that is under attack. Expecting student nurses to pay tuition fees to study is going to add another barrier to nurse recruitment. It’s such a tough job and salaries are still modest compared to other graduates. It’s very unfair when we know how vital nurses are to care in hospitals and in the community. 



Sarah and Amy - What are the ups and downs of being a writing duo and who is the worst critic?


Sarah: We mostly work alone but get together to plan and discuss. Everyday there are phone calls, FaceTime, Skype calls, emails and texts passing back and forth with ideas and feedback as stories develop and there are times when the other person isn’t always available. I'm critical of my writing and Amy is critical of hers but we try not to be critical of each other. Amy painstakingly checks facts and is scrupulous in being authentic with characterisation and narrative within the book. 


Amy: It’s actually great to have someone to share the highs and lows with because writing is usually quite a solitary profession. When you doubt yourself you’ve got someone to inspire confidence and when lovely things happen it’s all the better for having someone you love by your side. 
For me the lows are the late nights when you’re on a really tight deadline whilst trying to juggle being a mum with a young child and Sarah’s so caring and reassuring when mummy guilt creeps in. The highs are always meeting readers and hearing other people talk about your work. Discovering the books have helped or touched a reader in some way – that’s amazing. 




Sarah and Amy - Do you each have a favourite part of the writing/publishing process?


Sarah: My favourite part is spending time thinking about my memories of inspirational patients, clients and colleagues. It’s even better when I get together with old nursing and health visiting pals and we all laugh together about some of the situations we were in. You relive those times and revisit the places you lived and worked, the lives you touched and how it’s changed the course of your life. Sharing them with Amy is very special, I’m sure there are things we’d never have talked about if it wasn’t for writing the books. 


Amy: I love it when a story line comes together. You spend a lot of time thinking about plot, researching fashion, food, TV, historical events, homes, music as well as spending a lot of time talking about what was going on with different characters – you spend a lot of time with those characters and when it comes together it’s like magic. There are times when you feel like you’re willing them into life on the page.




Sarah and Amy - When you start writing do you have a writing plan, or do you plot out the story as you go along?



Sarah: A writing plan is very important and luckily for me Amy is a dab hand at planning. The first step is that I free write all my memories and then hand them over to Amy. She shapes the narrative and everyday emails the latest version of the book to me and then we discuss it and tweak bits until we get it right.


Amy: Yes, I start with a timeline of what’s happened. I have so many notebooks with pages dedicated to each character. We start with the plot, what’s each characters story that brought them into Sarah’s life; what challenge they are trying to overcome and how they got into that situation. I ask Sarah hundreds and hundreds of questions all the way through the writing process trying to reveal the heart of the story. 

Then there are other notebooks about the seasons or lists of people’s names and hobbies that were popular at the time. Our Country Nurse is set in a country village in 1975-1976 so it was really important to understand the context of different characters lives. Some are farmers knowing so about that happens month by month with livestock, fruit and vegetables, flora and fauna all comes into play. Knowing how people spent their leisure time, exactly what would have been on in the background on the TV or radio all help to create the scenes in the book. I do trips to archives to get primary source materials that help to create the descriptions. 

I have lots of private Pinterest boards where I mock up characters clothes and homes because a lot of what happens is in a domestic setting where the mums in the books spend most of their time is really important to us. Knowing what would be the oven or what cups she had in the kitchen cupboard all help to build up a picture of each woman. 



Sarah and Amy - How do you deal with writer’s block?


Sarah: So far so good. For us it’s more a question of what to leave out then what to put in. There were so many stories we couldn’t fit them into Our Country Nurse. We’ve got a whole extra book in unused notes. 



Amy: I don’t really get writers block because I don’t wait for inspiration to strike. I’m a working mum so I have very specific windows of time in which to write each day and I have to sit down and get on with it. Every morning after the school run I’ll be thinking about the story we’re working on that day and then just before I turn my laptop on I’ll feel a bit uneasy, I don’t quite know how it’s all going to come together. Then I just start to type and the words come. Some days your writing is stronger than others and some days you really surprise yourself. I think that’s why it often feels like conjuring. 



Sarah and Amy - Do you work on the book together or do you have separate work areas?


Sarah: When we write together it’s always at the kitchen table in my country cottage or Amy’s London flat. Most of the time we are writing separately but keeping in constant contact through calls and messages. 



Amy: I dream of having an office. I have so many Pintrest boards dedicated to my perfect office but I’m usually at the kitchen table, library or a coffee shop. It is nice when we are together because you can work much faster that way and there’s a lot of laughter and the continually humming of the kettle. 



Sarah and Amy – What keeps you motivated during creative slumps?


Sarah: I don’t really get slumps. I think after all those years nursing and health visiting you just keep on going until the job’s done. We’re both highly motivated people. Writing is a job that you do daily. As Amy says, you can't wait for inspiration but there are exceptional moments. Though, we do get through a lot of tea and we’re both very particular on which mugs and cups we use. Amy likes to have a literary themed mug.


Amy: I find on days when I eat well, keep hydrated and get up from my desk and do some yoga or a workout are the best days. When the pressure is on and you’re stuck at your desk it becomes very coffee and biscuit fuelled. 







And finally - how can readers find out more about you and your writing?









We do events where people can meet us in person and have a chat and get a signed book if they’ve like one. We’re also very active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so please come along and say hello. Visit our website sarahbeeson.org where there’s lot of articles and news stories to keep you entertained plus gift copies of the books are available. 




Facebook https://www.facebook.com/sarahbeesonthenewarrival/

Twitter @NewArrivalBook https://twitter.com/NewArrivalBook

Instagram @sarah.beeson.mbe https://twitter.com/NewArrivalBook

Website http://sarahbeeson.org/





A huge thank you to Sarah and Amy for answering my questions so thoughtfully



Our Country Nurse is now available to buy online and from all good book stores. 










~***~


Sunday, 21 August 2016

Sunday WW1 Remembered...




War Artists of WW1


Forty years years ago I paid my first visit to the Imperial War Museum in London and I was stunned by the stark images of WW1 which were so graphically portrayed by the war artists. These images have stayed with me forever. I can remember standing before this painting and just looking, looking, looking....



The Menin Road
Paul Nash
1919


Imperial War Museum, London
Source :Wikipedia



Paul Nash born in London in 1889 was a surrealist painter who produced some of the most iconic images of the First World War. He enlisted in 1914 as a private for the Home Service in the Artists Rifles. He was sent to the Western Front in February 1917 as a second lieutenant in the Hampshire Regiment. Based at St Eloi on the Ypres Salient, Nash endured the war until an accident in May 1917 invalided him back to London. During his recuperation, Nash produced a series of drawings in ink, chalk and watercolour which depicted his personal images of the war. He exhibited these pictures to great acclaim, which resulted in his approaching Charles Masterman who was head of the government's War Propaganda Bureau. In November 1917, Nah returned to the Ypres Salient as an official war artist.





Spring in the Trenches, Ridge Wood , 1917
Paul Nash

Imperial War Museum London
Source :Wikipedia


The official war artists were a group of artists employed to produce specific works at the behest of the government which could be used as information, propaganda or simply to record, for prosperity, what was happening  on the Western Front.

Muirhead Bone was appointed the first official war artist in May 1916. Bone was born in Glasgow in 1876 and was an etcher, dry point and water colour artist who was known for his architectural and industrial art. Bone was later replaced as official war artist by his brother-in-law, Francis Dodd.

Francis Dodd  was born in Holyhead in 1874. He was a portrait painter, landscape artist and print maker. He produced over 30 portraits of senior official military figures.

In 1917, other artists were sent out to France, these included Eric Kennington, William Orpen, Paul Nash, Christopher Nevinson, William Rothstein.





An Infantryman Resting

Eric Kennington

An Infantryman Resting Art.IWMART1038.jpg
Sourse:Wikipedia

None of the artists could fail to be moved emotionally by what they saw and witnessed



Paul Nash said......"I am no longer an artist interested and curious, I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on for ever. Feeble, inarticulate, will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth, and may it burn their lousy souls...."






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Friday, 19 August 2016

Review ~ On the Account by Helen Hollick



The Sea Witch Voyages 

Book Five


30964803
Silverwood Books
July 2016


A bit of blurb..


Captain Jesamiah Acorne is in trouble. Again. Arrested for treason and smuggling, believing his beloved ship, Sea Witch, lies wrecked on England’s North Devon coast, his only hope of escaping the noose is for someone to quash the charges. That someone turns out to be his ex-lover – but there’s a price to pay. 

He needs to find a boy who has disappeared, and a valuable casket that more than one person wants to get their hands on. When people start getting murdered and Barbary pirates kidnap his wife, Tiola, his priorities rapidly change – but who is lying about what? Is returning to piracy a wise idea? Is Tiola having an affair with her mysterious Night-Walker ‘friend’? 

Meanwhile, Tiola has her own battle to fight – keeping herself and Jesamiah alive!




My thoughts about the book..

There's something rather special about meeting again with established characters and in On The Account, the fifth book in the Sea Witch Voyages, the author has again brought to vivid life the adventures of swashbuckling Captain Jesamiah Acorne and his mysterious wife, Tiola.

When authors seek to maintain stability within an established series, there is sometimes a danger that stories can become diluted, but this is not the case with this series, which seems to go from strength to strength. Maintaining continuity, whilst at the same time giving readers something new to discover is what makes reading the Sea Witch Voyages so much fun. I enjoyed this story because it’s little bit more mystical than its predecessors, slightly otherworldly in places, but always at the forefront is the author’s keen eye for detail and a strong sense of history, both real and imagined. The fine attention to detail and the author’s unique story telling ability always ensures that Captain Jesamiah and his adventures never fail to hit the mark. 

To say more about the minutiae of the story would be to spoil the overall effect but what I can say is that the eighteenth century comes alive in splendid detail, from Jesamiah’s initial incarceration in a gloomy Bristol gaol, to the terror of kidnap and the threat of coercion, there is never a dull moment, either for Jesamiah and his wife, or for those characters who form a major part of this rollicking good adventure.

As with any series, it is of course best to start reading from book one, however, it is perfectly possible to read and enjoy On the Account as a standalone story.



Best Read with…A ripe French brandy and platters of aromatic mutton stew...







Helen Hollick lives with her family in North Devon, England, in an eighteenth-century farmhouse, surrounded by thirteen acres of fields and woodland. A variety of pets include horses, two Exmoor ponies, dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, and geese. A passionate supporter of indie, Helen is Managing Editor for the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews. Her main passion is her pirate character, Captain Jesamiah Acorne of The Sea Witch Voyages, which carry the quality endorsement of Indie B.R.A.G. medallions. Helen is also published traditionally in the US, and became a USA Today Bestseller with 'The Forever Queen' (titled 'A Hollow Crown' in the UK) – the story of Saxon Queen, Emma of Normandy. Her novel 'Harold the King' (titled 'I Am the Chosen King' in the US) is an acclaimed re-telling of events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, set in the fifth century, is widely acclaimed as a different telling of the Arthurian Myth. Helen is published in various languages including Turkish, Italian and German.


Helen Hollick



Find Helen on her website Click here

Follow on Twitter @HelenHollick

Visit on Facebook Click here





My thanks to Helen for sharing Captain Jesamiah's latest adventures with me.



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