How To Start A Reading Journal

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen | @MarybethWhalen

Several years ago I started keeping a reading journal and I’ve never regretted it. The journal serves as a record of what I read and when, how many books I read per year, and what specific reactions I had. More than once I’ve gone back to my journal to determine what year I read a certain book, and not only if I liked it, but why. It’s also nudged me to up my reading quota per year, with my list growing incrementally each year since I started.

Today we thought we’d encourage you guys to start this fun and informative tradition by giving away three lovely reading journals. Perhaps you’d even like to give the journal as a gift during the upcoming holiday season. It would be fun to pair the journal with a nice pen and a favorite novel. Thankfully our new friends at have made this process VERY easy for you. Simply record your thoughts on each book you read throughout the year. (Note: we’re not being paid to promote these products, we just love them so much we wanted to share them with you. Because we’re awesome like that).

So. Three of you lovely readers will walk away with a brand new reading journal this week. Keep it. Or give it. Or maybe buy a few and stick them under the tree.

Giveaway Number One: Books To Check Out

Reading Journal 1
Reading Journal 1.2

Giveaway Number Two: The Book Lover’s Journal

Reading Journal 2
Reading Journal 2.3

Giveaway Number Three: What I Read

Reading Journal 3
Reading Journal 2.2
So leave us a comment (or Tweet or Facebooks, etc., as per the entry form below) telling us whether you already keep a reading journal, or why you think it would be good to start. We look forward to hearing your responses!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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What We’re Into: October Edition

Today’s post by Marybeth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon | @MarybethWhalen and @ArielLawhon

Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

October has been the month of coming home after school to hot cider and warm slices of cinnamon bread slathered with butter, then sitting outside on the deck to eat because it just feels so good out.

It’s been the month of fuzzy caterpillars crawling and spiders building large webs and leaves turning red and gold… and taking the time to really look at it all.

It’s been the month of reading the things I want to, not just the things I have to. That’s meant going back to some books from 2005 and 2007 and savoring the difference that is already evident from then to now. Perhaps I’m wrong but it’s possible that prior to 2010 and the social media onslaught, authors took their time with their writing… and readers let them. Just my theory.

It’s been the month of getting back in touch with old friends I’ve been out of touch with, gathering with them to discuss a book one of them wrote or catching up by phone. The best friendships can be put on pause, then resume play with nary a skip or stutter. I think fall makes you want to reconnect.

It has been the month of the broken iPod, gone kaput after I got caught in a rainstorm while running. I took my husband’s (with his permission), deleted his music (80’s hair bands anyone?) and started from scratch. I kept many of the songs I had on my original iPod but I also added some new music too. New tunes can give you a new perspective.

On my personal blog in October I wrote a post on preparing dinner without daddy. I also rounded up my favorite go-to cookbooks and reviewed Alexander and the Terrible Awful No Good Very Bad Day.

October has been a great month. I am sorta sad to see it go, but am consoling myself with some fun plans in November– speaking on a panel about structuring a novel at the North Carolina Writers Network Fall Conference, the Southern Christmas Show, Thanksgiving (basically my favorite meal of the year), and a trip to Savannah GA with my husband await!

Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon

Today is my mother’s birthday. And while I have nothing against Halloween (other than it being a rather useless commercial gimmick) I find that as time goes on we’re way less interested in dressing up the kids and way more interested in celebrating my mother. So tonight instead of prowling the neighborhood for candy we will make tacos and eat cake and play games and fill the house to bursting with family. At last count she had nine thousand, eight hundred, and fifty-four grandchildren. So basically our house is the Tardis.

People. I went on my first ever writer’s retreat at the beginning of this month with a group of amazing, brilliant, hilarious women. We escaped to the mountains, to a borrowed cabin, that came with a pond, fireplaces galore, and wine. I could have cried with joy. Maybe I did. A little. The weekend after that was The Southern Festival of Books here in Nashville and if I hadn’t been too chicken I would have gotten to meet both Ann Patchett and Pat Conroy but my way of showing respect is total avoidance. This month I got to reconnect with Paige Crutcher, Patti Callahan Henry, Joshilyn Jackson, Karen Abbott, River Jordan, J.T. Ellison and Michael Morris. I finally got to meet Courtney Miller Santo and Laura Benedict. I also got spend some time with our own Alison Law. And I finally met the warm and lovely Leigh Kramer who hosts this What We’re Into series. We bonded over coffee and Liane Moriarty. So glad Leigh lives in Nashville!

The Blacklist

It’s been a long time since I had a show. The last one I really fell head over heals for was Sherlock and, truth be told, I’m chomping at the bit for the next season. But since no one actually knows when it will drop, I decided to take Marybeth’s recommendation (I learned a long time ago that she’s always right. Always.) and started watching The Blacklist. Can I just say… WHOA. I’m hooked. I forced my husband to watch the first few episodes with me but he wasn’t really all that into it. (The man falls asleep if he sits still for longer than ten minutes and this is a show you can’t nap through) So I went on without him. But now he’s hooked as well and we text back and forth wondering what exactly Red is up to now. Also, I have James Spader’s voice stuck in my head most of the time. The way he says “Lizzie” just cracks me up. And I can’t imitate it.

Riesling. Confession: I wasn’t much of a wine drinker until last year. I don’t need alcohol to relax or sleep or feel good about myself. I’ve never been drunk. Cocktail parties aren’t my thing. But there’s something so very grown up about a glass of wine at the end of a long day. And a few years ago I decided that there were certain things I needed to learn: how to look at a camera without feeling stupid, how to speak in front of a crowd without going into total body failure, and how to enjoy a good glass of wine. Basic social skills, really. And I’m glad to report that although I’m not a fan of selfies, and that I still get the jitters when someone hands me a microphone, I’ve accomplished the last one nicely. Riesling is my current favorite. Though I have had brief love affairs with Sauvignon Blanc and a local raspberry wine from Arrington Vineyards.

Let’s see, books. (Of course) I’ve spent all year reading for work. Reading for She Reads. Reading for blurbs. Reading for reviews. So dang it, now I’m going to read for fun. Because I want to. So I’ve started Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. So funny! Can I just say one thing: Grandma Mazur at the nursing home! I have the entire collection of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series on my night stand (thanks to my little sister). Can’t wait to dig in. I bought the new Diana Gabaldon novel but I won’t let myself read it until I finish my current deadline. And speaking of books, I did a major purge of ARC’s and review copies that I’ve received this year. I don’t have an office, you see. One wall in our bedroom is reserved as my writing area at the moment. And I only have a single shelf. Books were stacked up three deep in front of the shelf so something had to be done. It feels really good to have that little corner of my life cleaned up.

So, question for you: what are YOU into this month?

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Book Trailer Of The Day

Today’s post by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

Warning: this video features dozens of authors acting goofy. Making silly noises. Rolling their eyes. And pretending to be deeply concerned about the current state of literature. I am one of those authors. At the end of September everyone featured here attended the wonderful Southern Independent Bookseller’s Alliance trade show in Norfolk, VA. This is the sort of thing one gets roped into doing when attending such trade shows. It’s also why we line up in droves to go. Because they’re a BLAST!

If you have little ones in your life I’d highly recommend you pick up a copy of this new children’s book.

The Book With No Pictures

A #1 New York Times bestseller, this innovative and wildly funny read-aloud by award-winning humorist/actor B.J. Novak will turn any reader into a comedian.

You might think a book with no pictures seems boring and serious. Except . . . here’s how books work. Everything written on the page has to be said by the person reading it aloud. Even if the words say . . .


Even if the words are a preposterous song about eating ants for breakfast, or just a list of astonishingly goofy sounds like BLAGGITY BLAGGITY and GLIBBITY GLOBBITY.

Cleverly irreverent and irresistibly silly, The Book with No Pictures is one that kids will beg to hear again and again. (And parents will be happy to oblige.)

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Three Young Adult Books To Read This Fall

Today, Melissa Carpenter share three young adult books to read this fall | @MelissaCarp


I’ve noticed a common theme in some new releases I’ve read this fall: some seriously kick-butt female protagonists. Maybe it’s the influence of feminism in the news that has led to these strong characters, but whatever the cause, the effect is wonderful. I’m loving the way girls are being represented in YA literature right now! Here are three very different styles of books that all have one thing in common – strong girls whose stories will inspire us all.

Rites of Passage by Joy N Hensley

Young Adult books in a military setting are rare, and this one is especially unique in that it features a female protagonist as one of the first four female students at a previously all-male military academy. I can’t stress enough how much I loved this. There was some sweet and exciting romance, but that was by no means the entire focus. Sam basically enters school with a target on her back as those people intent on keeping the academy to its boys-only tradition aim to force her out. This is a gritty, realistic, and inspirational story of perseverance sure to appeal to all readers, teen and adult. I have my fingers crossed for a sequel!

Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez

This book shocked and amazed me in so many ways, the most important of which is that it actually surprised me. I kept thinking I knew how it would end, or guessing she’d put one plot twist too many in there, but nope. She didn’t. It ends perfectly and left me a highly satisfied reader. This book tells the story of Valentina, who discovers something about her family that sends her fleeing from the privileged, perfect streets of Miami to the cold cover of Canada, where she assumes a new identity and hides out. What follows is a complex series of twists and turns in a pretty, feminine, and strong action story. Kudos to Martinez on a true, gritty but not gross, hot and romantic but not crude and over-sexualized, suspense thriller that literally had me guessing all the way through.

My Year of Epic Rock by Andrea Pyros

This is a pretty adorable middle grade debut. Perfect for girls ages 10-13, My Year of Epic Rock is all about choosing those who make you happy over those who are popular and being confident in yourself. Nina begins her 7th grade year with a best friend who has abandoned her, which leaves her alone to sit at the peanut-free allergy lunch table. Nina makes the best of it by finding a whole new and better group of friends, starting a band, and discovering a potential first boyfriend. This book is packed with great messages overall and is especially aimed at younger middle school readers. It’s totally clean and positive – I could see this being a great book for a mom and daughter to read together.

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Word Of The Day

Okay fellow word nerds, we have one for you:




From French livre, Italian and Spanish libro, from Latin liber “book”. From Latin cubiculum (“bedroom”), from cubō (“lie down”)


librocubicularist (plural librocubicularists)

  1. (rare) A person who reads in bed.

 So it begs the question, are you too a Librocubicularist? If so, what are you curled up with these days?

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When Fiction Takes You Place You Don’t Plan To Go

Today’s post by debut author, Helen Giltrow | @HelenGiltrow

Helen Giltrow Collage

If you’ve written a novel that’s attracted the tag ‘high concept’, you must have started with that concept. Right?

Not always.

My novel The Distance started with a glimmer of a character: an individual, once involved in terrible events and now living a weight of guilt that threatens to destroy them. What had they done? Back then I didn’t know, but I knew who would have to solve that individual’s mystery: the man hired to kill them.

A few things struck me immediately. First, that if I was going to live with a professional killer in my head, I had to give him morality, and rules. Second, I’d have to expose him to people who were infinitely worse than him – people entirely without morality, who’d force him to live up to those rules. Who’d push him to his limits.

And third: that he wouldn’t be able to do the job and then just walk away…

By this point the setting seemed obvious: a prison. But not just any prison.

The Program is a high-security experiment. Overcrowding and riots have brought the UK prison system to its knees; the Program is the hastily-extemporised solution, a privately-run ‘secure community’ temporarily housed in a bunch of run-down streets, backed by a glossy internet PR exercise which talks grandly about rehabilitation, but in fact where inmates are simply left to get on with it, and create their own society.

So how’s my hitman, Johanssen, going to get in there? Enter Karla, my female lead, a woman who sells information to criminals. Although she doesn’t want to, she must help Johanssen break into the Program – and then get out alive.

The Program couldn’t simply be a freak show. It had to function as a society, one with its own hierarchies, codes and rules. There’d be gang-bosses and killers – but also ordinary people, put away for non-violent crimes. And while some inmates would be out for all they could get, for others it might be a place for second chances. A place to establish a sort of normal life – even to seek atonement for the past.

Just what Johanssen himself is trying to do, when he accepts the job …

I didn’t expect to write about a prison – still less create one from scratch. But maybe that’s the joy of writing – and reading – fiction. It takes you to places you didn’t plan to go. And although the Program’s not on any map, I hope it’s far more than just a concept.

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On Writing History: the Blurred Lines Between Fact and Fiction

Today’s truth by yours truly | @ArielLawhon

Note: I originally wrote this essay for a fabulous site called Biographile. If you’re not familiar with this site I highly recommend subscribing. They focus on biographies and memoirs and, like me, have a special fondness for all things history. I hope you’ll check them out.

Ariel Lawhon Collage

I’ve got a thing for unsolved mysteries. I blame this fixation largely on Agatha Christie and an adolescence spent reading whodunits. While my friends were sneaking out at night and drinking stolen Zima I was at home reading Murder on the Orient Express. Truth be told I’d still choose a good book over an illicit buzz. So it comes as no surprise that one morning ten years ago my attention was drawn to a link titled, “Has the Mystery of Judge Crater Been Solved?”

Of course I clicked. But what I discovered was not, in fact, the answer to one of the most baffling missing person’s cases of the twentieth century but rather the idea for a novel. Joseph Crater had only been on the New York State Supreme Court for a few months when he stepped into a cab on August 6th, 1930, and vanished. His disappearance was front-page news for years, thanks in no small part to his connections to Tammany Hall, infamous gangsters, and rumors of judicial corruption. It was everything a noir potboiler should be. But had that been all I would have finished the article and gone about my life. I would have never written the book. What captured my attention was not so much the missing judge himself, but his wife, Stella, and a bizarre ritual that I could not get out of my mind.

Every year on the anniversary of her husband’s disappearance Stella Crater went to a bar in Greenwich Village named Club Abbey. Upon her arrival Stella would settle into a corner booth and order two shots of whiskey. Then she would toast her missing husband. “To Joe! Wherever you are,” she would say, one drink held high. And then she’d drain her glass and leave the bar, the other shot of whiskey untouched on the table. Thirty-nine years she did this. Long after she had remarried and moved on with her life. Yet she never once missed that ritual.

All I could think, reading that article was: That’s not grief. That’s penance. And that thought was closely followed by a second: What if she knew what happened to her husband but for some reason couldn’t tell?

Stella Crater took up permanent residence in my mind at that moment. I had to understand who she was and why she’d chosen to keep that secret and what sort of person she’d become as a result. And of course I had to feed my secret addiction: research. It didn’t take long to discover that there were two other intriguing women in Judge Crater’s life: a devoted maid who worked for them at the time of his disappearance, and a showgirl named Sally Lou Ritz who was long suspected to be Crater’s lover.

A wife. A maid. And a mistress. What if all three of them knew what happened to him but chose not to tell? Now I had a story.

But here’s an unfortunate truth: women often become the footnotes in history. As I read everything I could find about Judge Crater’s disappearance I noticed an interesting trend: writers got so swept up in various testosterone-laden theories of what happened to the judge that they never turned their attention to the women he left behind. Yet I believe that if you want to get at the heart of any historic event, go ask the women who witnessed it. Women pay attention to the little details. They take note of relational complexities and small betrayals. For women history is personal. And this particular bit of history was very personal to Stella Crater. She wrote a memoir about her husband’s disappearance in 1963 (ironically published by Doubleday—who knew my novel would eventually end up at the same publisher?) and her version of events—often dismissed entirely by historians and armchair detectives as wildly naïve and melodramatic—became the beating heart of my novel. Mrs. Crater was a clever girl.

I was able to build Stella’s part of the narrative directly from her own words and experiences and frustrations. The maid and the mistress were a bit more difficult to reconstruct since their involvement in the case was limited mostly to historical anecdotes. But they are present, if you know where to look. Their narratives required a good deal of creative license but are supported by a few cryptic mentions in Stella’s memoir.

In the end no one knows what happened to Joseph Crater. The case was closed but never solved. No body was ever found. No suspects were ever named. Someone, somewhere knew what happened to the Judge but never told. So I used these three women to tell my version of what could have happened. I like to think that Agatha Christie would approve.

THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS is now available in paperback. Do let me know if your book club chooses to read the novel. I’d be happy to call in or Skype with you. If that’s something you’re interested in, you can contact me here.

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My Brother, My Editor, and The Silent Sister

Today’s post by Diane Chamberlain | @D_Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain Collage

My younger brother, Rob Lopresti, was a writer before I was. We’d been very close as kids but lived on different coasts as adults. Back when I was a social worker, I would go to the gift shop in the hospital where I worked and look through the mystery magazines on the newsstand. I’d feel a little thrill every time I’d find one of Rob’s stories inside them. Even though we lived 3,000 miles apart, seeing those magazines in the place where I worked made me feel close to him.

Fast forward thirty years (yes, thirty!). Rob has published nearly sixty stories along with a couple of novels, and my twenty-third novel is about to be released. We’ve reversed coasts—he’s in Seattle and I’m in North Carolina—but our writing still connects us and we commiserate frequently about the publishing world.

Rob and I write very different types of stories. About a year ago, he sent me a short story he’d written that was set in our hometown. I loved it. In a subplot of the story, a brother laments the disappearance of his sister. I won’t give away what happened to his sister, but I knew in a Diane Chamberlain novel, something very different—not better or worse, just different—would happen. My imagination was off and running. I would write a brother/sister novel! I loved that the idea was inspired by my own brother.

Imaginations are fickle things, however. I’d wanted my protagonist to be a young man whose sister disappeared long ago, but whenever I tried to picture him, he turned into a woman. I finally gave in and created a twenty-two-year-old woman, Riley MacPherson, as my central character. Well, there went my brother/sister story! I did give Riley a brother, Danny, but he’d been killed in the Iraq war a few years earlier. That felt necessary because I wanted to isolate Riley to increase her need to find Lisa, the sister who disappeared and the only remaining member of her family.

This is where my editor stepped into the picture. I’d written the entire book and typed ‘The End’ when she said, “Danny should be alive.” In my early writing days, my initial reaction to such an extreme editorial suggestion would be, “Noooooo!” followed by twenty-four hours of soul searching at which time I would realize my editor was brilliant. I’ve now evolved to the point where I can often see the brilliance within minutes. That was the case when Jen Enderlin at St. Martin’s Press suggested I bring Danny back to life. Together, Riley and Danny would search for their missing sister, each with a different motive . . . and very different plans for what they would do if they found her. Suddenly THE SILENT SISTER was a richer story . . . and ironically, I once again had the brother/sister novel I’d wanted to write. So thank you, Jen, for the suggestion, and Rob, for the inspiration, and I hope we’ll be sharing our stories for a long time to come.

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A Room Of Her Own: The Writing Space of Lisa Jewell

Today’s post by Lisa Jewell, one of our featured Books of Fall authors | @LisaJewellUK


This is my dining table. It is next to my kitchen where the tea and coffee are. It is also right next to a cosy radiator. And the chairs are really comfortable. I don’t need silence or privacy or bookshelves or whiteboards. Just a laptop and a table to put it on.

Lisa Jewell CollageAbout THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN:

“Clever, intelligent…wonderful” (Jojo Moyes, New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You).

Meet the Bird family. They live in a simple brick house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching just beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together each night. Everybody in town gushes over the two girls, who share their mother’s apple cheeks and wide smiles. Of the boys, lively, adventurous Rory can stir up trouble, moving through life more easily than little Rhys, his slighter, more sensitive counterpart. Their father is a sweet gangly man, but it’s their mother, Lorelei, a beautiful free spirit with long flowing hair and eyes full of wonder, who spins at the center.

Time flies in those early years when the kids are still young. Lorelei knows that more than anyone, doing her part to freeze time by protecting the precious mementos she collects, filling the house with them day by day. Easter egg foils are her favorite. Craft supplies, too. She insists on hanging every single piece of art ever produced by any of the children, to her husband’s chagrin.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy occurs. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass and the children have become adults, found new relationships, and, in Meg’s case, created families of their own. Lorelei has become the county’s worst hoarder. She has alienated her husband, her children, and has been living as a recluse for six years. It seems as though they’d never been The Bird Family at all, as if loyalty were never on the table. But then something happens that calls them home, back to the house they grew up in—and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

Delving deeply into the hearts and minds of its characters, The House We Grew Up In is the gripping story of a family’s desire to restore long-forgotten peace and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home.

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The Story Keeper

Today’s post by Lisa Wingate | @LisaWingate

Lisa Wingate

Lisa Wingate

In Appalachia, the air fairly whispers with stories. The tradition of preserving history through oral telling is part of The Story Keeper, which is set in the Blue Ridge in dual time frames, present day and 1890. On the most basic level, the novel is about an editor’s discovery of a remarkable untold story.

Hidden in Appalachia lie isolated communities where people live differently — like The Brethren Saints in the novel — secretive and undisturbed by outsiders. In these deep hollers, mysterious sub-cultures developed, like the true-to-life Melungeons, whose origins are a heated source of debate, even today. Who were the “blue eyed Indians” of Appalachia? Where did they hail from? How did they come to be living in the mountains, in houses and using the Maltese Cross as their sacred symbol, long before the first European explorers pressed in?

Some stories take me over as I’m writing. The Story Keeper was that sort of tale for me. I found myself sinking in, hearing and feeling and seeing everything from mists rising after a rain, to the clatter of ovenbirds, to the flash-fire colors of fall maples. I wanted to add foods that are truly iconic of Appalachia, past and present — the sorts of dishes that would’ve been brought to potlucks, both at the turn-of-the-century and during modern-day gatherings.

Bread pudding historically was a farm-staple dessert, popular because it could be created from ingredients most country wives had around — old bread, eggs, sugar, spices, cream, along with seasonal fruits and nuts. I never take this dish to potlucks without bringing along the recipe — someone is sure to ask. Served warm with ice cream and caramel sauce (make your own or buy prepared in the grocery store), it’s a surefire crowd pleaser… and a taste of Appalachian hospitality and tradition.


1. Peel and chop apples.

2. Melt 2T butter in bottom of baking pan, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.

3. Layer in apples.

4. Whisk other ingredients (except bread cubes) in separate bowl.

5. Add bread to baking dish.

6. Pour liquid ingrédients over top of bread, taking care to dampen everything.

7. Bake until eggs are “set” and top of bread cubes are slightly browned.

8. Try not to dig in before the gathering… or… maybe that’s okay too ;) Serve warm with ice cream and caramel sauce.

* * *

The Story KeeperNot since To Kill a Mockingbird has a story impacted me like this.” — COLLEEN COBLE, USA Today bestselling author of Seagrass Pier

“Wingate is, quite simply, a master storyteller. Her story-within-a-story, penned with a fine, expressive style, will captivate writers and nonwriters alike.” – Booklist 

Successful New York editor, Jen Gibbs, is at the top of her game with her new position at Vida House Publishing — until a mysterious manuscript from an old slush pile appears on her desk. Turning the pages, Jen finds herself drawn into the life of Sarra, a mixed-race Melungeon girl trapped by dangerous men in the turn of the century Appalachia. A risky hunch may lead to The Story Keeper‘s hidden origins and its unknown author, but when the trail turns toward the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a place Jen thought she’d left behind forever, the price of a blockbuster next book deal may be higher than she’s willing to pay.

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