Archive for December, 2011

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Here at BBLB we will be taking a blogging break for a few days; kicking back on our respective couches and enjoying the mulled wine and chocolates on offer as we delve into our fabulous newly received Christmas reads.    
We will be back and raring to go, bringing you our reviews on more fantastic books on Tuesday the 3rd of January.
  
Caroline, Helen, Jane, Karen, Lesley, Daniel and Jack would like to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a delightfully Bookish 2012!

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The Night Before Christmas

Clement Clarke Moore, Pop up by Robert Sabuda

Award winner Robert Sabuda brings Clement Clarke Moore’s classic tale of The Night Before Christmas to life in this festive pop-up edition, sure to become a perennial family favourite

As the mother of a young family I enjoy passing on old family traditions and creating new traditions for my own family. One tradition I am keen to foster is the enjoyment of festive books in the lead up to Christmas. More specifically I intend to bring together a selection of Christmas book for us to enjoy together as a family. Packing them away with the Christmas decoration in the new year and bringing them down from the loft each December.

I’ve decided to start my collection with a timeless classic, The Night Before Christmas. Moore’s gorgeous descriptive prose evokes strong childhood memories of lying wide awake in bed, butterflies in my stomach, straining my ears for the sound of, sleigh bells, the clip clop of hooves or even a deep chuckling ‘HO HO HO!’, the anticipation of possibly meeting Santa, was almost as exciting as the promise of presents. n fact The Night Before Christmas is probably the cause of these Christmas fantasies!

Reading it again, to my children, I am able to appreciate the skilled poetry. It is a beautiful sounding poem that you cannot fail to enjoy reading aloud. The description transports you completely as the story unfolds in your mind “And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.” But also an enormous sense of fun and a smidge of cheekiness. The idea of Father Christmas winking to acknowledge the narrators presence before going about his work and the description of the man himself “bowl full of jelly” will appeal to any child’s naughty streak.

This Particular edition is accompanied by the awe inspiring creations of Robert Sabuda. As the owner of another Sabuda creation, Alice in Wonderland (an intricate, marvel using Lewis Carroll’s text and the original illustrations – I highly recommend it), I jumped at the opportunity to own some more of this artist’s work. This level of paper engineering is an art form.

The 3D creations are indeed mesmerising, but I felt that overall the illustrations lacked something. With Alice in Wonderland I feel as though I am discovering something new with each viewing. In comparison, The Night Before Christmas appears deceptively simple. Perhaps this has more to do with Sabuda’s clever use of the original Alice in Wonderland artwork. The use of simple shapes and a limited colour pallet in The Night Before Christmas certainly focuses the spotlight on to the cleverness of the engineering.

Verdict: This cleverly constructed edition of a festive classic is a worthy addition to my Christmas collection. I would also thoroughly recommend you check Sabuda’s other work

Reviewed by Caroline

Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: April 2010
Format: Hardback
Pages:
Genre: Christmas, Classic, Pop Up
Age: Early Readers
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: N/A
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The Smelly Sprout

Alan Plenderleith

Thrown out into the snow on Christmas day, the smelly sprout comes up against a terribly rude Christmas tree, an awfully impolite snowman and, worst of all…a greedy fox. But will a chance encounter with someone as small as the sprout change everything?

This is a witty story, perfect for any child who doesn’t like our Christmas season’s favourite vegetable! And even for those who do! The poor sprout is dismissed from everywhere he tries to find a home. All he really wants is to be loved, but no-one wants him.

This is written with sly humour and appeals to adults too. There is a great little set of repetitive lines that children enjoy joining in with and it all finishes with a sweet happy ending.

The illustrations are done in a kind of cartoon style, they don’t all appeal to me, but my children seem quite happy with them. I do like the one on the last page, but it will spoil the end of the story to tell you what it is.

I have heard some objections to the story on the basis that nobody wants to eat the sprout, so if this is something you are concerned about it may not be for you. In our house I don’t think it has any effect on my children’s desire to eat sprouts, or not eat them. We just enjoy the story.

Verdict: A good fun read for Christmas, and something a bit different for a child’s picture book.

Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Ravette Publishing Ltd
Publication Date: September 2008
Format: Paperback
Pages: 48
Genre: Christmas, Humour
Age: Early Readers
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: N/A
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Lost Christmas

David Logan

When Goose’s parents are killed in a car crash on Christmas Eve, his life changes utterly. Living with his increasingly senile Nan, his dog Mutt is the only thing keeping him sane. His only other friend is Frank, a former friend of his father. Frank’s own life is falling apart and he has recruited Goose to help him carry out petty theft around the city.
A year to the day since the accident that changed his life, Goose meets Anthony, a strange man who has forgotten who he is, but seems to know more about others than they know about themselves. When Mutt goes missing, Goose has no choice but to rely on Anthony to help find him.
In an adventure that draws in Frank, who’s lost his family, an old lady who’s lost a precious bangle, an elderly doctor who’s lost his wife and mother who’s lost her daughter, Goose follows Anthony across Manchester. But at the centre of the mystery is Anthony himself: who is he, how does he know so much and can he help Goose and the others find what they’re searching for?
A delight to read from start to finish, David Logan takes the reader on a terrific journey through love, loss and the quest for home.

I’m going to be honest. I picked up this book in the shop as I had been asked to review a children’s ‘Christmas themed’ book. I had never heard of this book or of the author but I’m a sucker for ‘topical’ reads just to see what all the fuss is about. This book drew me in, as had the headline, ‘Now a major film starring Eddie Izzard’ and thanks to the rather obvious title, was a quick win to meet the task at hand.

So, it was fair to say that I started reading this book feeling a bit ‘meh’ as it isn’t something that I would have chosen with no agenda. But thank goodness I did! By the end of the first chapter I had to bite back tears and actually stopped reading to think how I would have reacted as a mother in the same situation. Towards the end of the book I was a goner, my heartstrings well and truly yanked. To balance the sadness there’s more than a little magic, intrigue over ‘Anthony’s’ true identity and humour for his quirky personality and his tourettes like ability to share random facts. Did you know that Walt Disney was scared of mice for instance?

So what’s it all about? Well the story focuses around a young boy nicknamed Goose whom, on Christmas Eve, inadvertently sets off a chain of events that creates misery and loss for a number of people, whilst making him an orphan in the process. His grandmother, already experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer’s dementia is left to look after him.

One year on and he is withdrawn, isolated and is under probation for thieving whilst his grandmother’s health continues to deteriorate. If his life couldn’t get more bleak already, he then loses his beloved dog Mutt. Desperate to find his dog, he relies on a rather odd stranger (Anthony – well at least he thinks his name is Anthony as that’s what the badge says on his jacket!) who has an uncanny knack for finding lost things.

Whilst poring through the TV listings for the next fortnight I see that the film will be on BBC 1 on the 18th December 5:30pm and is given a 5* rating. As the book was based on the screenplay, I can understand why the film has a perfect rating and I will definitely be watching, albeit with a box of tissues and comfort eating chocs to hand!

Verdict: a perfect read for gearing up to Christmas. If you want to laugh, cry and root for characters to get their happy ending then this book is for you. Young and old independent readers alike.

Reviewed by Karen

Publisher: Quercus
Publication Date: October 2011
Format: Hardback
Pages: 300
Genre: Christmas
Age: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Karen
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: N/A
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Favourite Christmas Tales

The Night Before Christmas Clement C. Moore
The first Christmas Retold by Gaby Goldsack
A Christmas Carol Retold by Gaby Goldsack>
The twelve days of Christmas by Unknown

My favourite Christmas Tales’ is a truly delightful boxed set that will add a wonderful festive touch to any story time over the Christmas season. ‘The First Christmas’ tells of the story of the birth of Jesus which has been retold in verse, ‘A Christmas Carol’, the fabulous story of Ebenezer Scrooge is also retold in verse. ‘The Night before Christmas’, the wonderfully traditional Christmas rhyme and ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ are written as we know and love them in their original poetry and song formats.

I have just loved reading these books, as of course they are all incredibly well known Christmas tales, and certainly ones that I have grown up with, and enjoyed over many (too many!) years. I’m really looking forward to reading them with my children over the next few weeks. Written as they are, as poetry or song, they are really easy to read and I know the boys will want to join in along the way!

I think what has really sold me on these books are the wonderful illustrations by Caroline Pedler. I think they are beautiful and really ‘set the scene’ on each page. I love her warm and friendly Santa Claus in ‘The night before Christmas’ and the various ‘French hens’, ‘swans a swimming’ and ‘lords a leaping’ really add fun and interest to ‘The twelve days of Christmas’.

I’m a great one for tradition, especially setting Christmas traditions for our family and I think I shall be setting another one as these books will definitely come out each year for us to gather round together and enjoy.

Verdict: These books will put you in a very glowy Christmas mood!

Reviewed by Lesley

Publisher: Parragon
Publication Date: 2011
Format: Hardback (boxed set)
Pages:
Genre: Christmas
Age: Early Readers
Reviewer: Lesley
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: N/A
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Love Inc

Yvonne Collins & Sandy Rideout

Make up, break up, or take up with someone new…Love, Inc. does it all!
Zahra, Kali and Syd would never have met if their parents’ marriages hadn’t fallen apart. But when the three girls collide in group counselling, they discover they have something else in common: they’ve each been triple-timed by the same wicked charmer, Eric, aka Rico, aka Rick. Talk about eye-opening therapy. Now all three girls have one mission: to show that cheater the error of his ways. Project Payback is such a success, the girls soon have clients lining up for the consulting services. Is your boyfriend acting shady? Dying to know if your crush is into you? Need matchmaking expertise? Look no further than Love, Inc.

Zahra Ahmed-Macduff is a ‘Scotistani’ Texan, half Scottish and half Pakistani, 15 year old high school girl who ends up in group therapy, (affectionately termed ‘Crazy Class’) along with other teens who are not handling their parents’ separation well.

Zahra blames her situation on her Pakistani grandparents, who are staying indefinitely and are very antagonistic towards her father. Just as she feels her life can’t get any worse, she discovers her boyfriend’s been cheating on her with two of the girls she has met at group therapy – Kali and Syd. The three of them decide to take revenge on Rico, aka Rick, aka Eric and form a strong friendship into the bargain. The revenge plan and subsequent actions result in the three girls forming a business together. Love, Inc. provides; mediation services, surveillance, break-up management, matchmaking, relationship coaching and revenge – all for a price! Through word of mouth the cash soon starts pouring in, and whilst each of the girls seem to be achieving strong results in their own areas of Love, Inc. expertise, none of them seem to be making any headway in their own personal and relationship issues within their home environments.

The story is narrated by Zahra, who constantly struggles with self-esteem and her multi-cultural background as she compares herself to the artfully talented, if somewhat loner – Syd and the pretty, musically minded and confident Kali. However, she builds on her confidence through their business and her skill at relationship mediation – something she has also found herself tied up in within her own personal family situation. Zahra dreams of being a celebrity chef one day and one of her coping strategies with her home life is to fantasise about having her own television show, which she would entitle “The Sweet Tooth” and she uses these fantasies throughout the book in various humorous ways as she feels “Everything’s Better with a Little Sugar” – her self-claimed motto!

Whilst the book is written from Zahra’s perspective, Kali and Syd are fantastic characters in their own right and the three of them together provide an entertaining if somewhat fluffy teenage read! It’s fairly well written with some light-hearted humour and the usual love interests along the way, not to mention the added interest Syd’s dog Banksy, brings to the mix! Love, Inc. provides the reader, as well as the girls, with a great escape. The cultural differences are handled well and whilst Zahra struggles initially with her Pakistani grandparents, a heart to heart with her Grandmother helps her to come to terms with their concerns and understand her family background, which in turn of course, helps her to move forward with her own personal and family issues.

Verdict: Perhaps a little long, certain aspects seemed to be dragged out a little, although saying that I’m not sure how it could have been reduced. Overall, a fun and humorous read which tackled subjects such as religion and parental separation in an interesting and informative manner.

Reviewed by Jane

Publisher: Allison & Busby Ltd
Publication Date: September 2011
Format: Paperback
Pages: 445
Genre: Romance, Humour
Age: YA
Reviewer: Jane
Source: Received at event
Challenge: N/A
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The Name of the Star

Maureen Johnson

The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it’s the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.
Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn’t notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

Having followed this witty author for some time I jumped at the chance to purchase a signed copy of her book from my local book store. The first book in the Shades of London series, recounts Aurora “Rory” Deveaux ‘s experiences of leaving her eccentric home town in Louisiana, USA to follow her parents to the UK. While her parents undertake a yearlong sabbatical teaching at the University of Bristol, independent Rory chooses to spend her Senior year in London. She finds herself enrolled in a prestigious London boarding school in the heart of the East End as a series of copy cat Ripper murders are being perpetrated.

Bubbly with a self deprecating humour, Rory’s voice is so distinct it feels as though you are sat sipping tea with her, while she recounts the events of her ill timed trip to London. At first I was distracted by the English cultural lessons, obviously intended for American readers; however it wasn’t long before I found myself smirking at Rory’s observations.

An eclectic mix of supporting characters; sweet Jazza, overachiever Charlotte, floppy haired Jerome, and morose Alistair, ensure that it doesn’t take Rory long to settle in to boarding school life of hockey sticks, shared showers and “messy haired” posh girls. This stability is rocked by a series of strange encounters and Saucy Jacky’s historic timetable of terror.

I felt physically uncomfortable in places, my stomach squirmed and my pulse galloped, as my body responded, Fight? Or Flight?, to the tension Maureen Johnson has created. Quickly gripped by the gruesome events Rory managed to find herself in the middle of, I experienced a growing sense of unease which left me with two choices either go to bed (with the light on) and spend the night jumping at every little creak, tossing and turning or stay up and finish the book. Either way I was going to be left sleep deprived!I opted to finish the book in one sitting.

While Maureen concludes the story in a totally satisfactory manor she pulls the rug from under you at the last moment leaving you breathless for another instalment.

Verdict: Not one to read when you are home alone!

Reviewed by Caroline

Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: September 2011
Format: Paperback
Pages: 327
Genre: Paranormal, Mystery
Age: YA
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: N/A
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The Scorpio Races: The Brownies

I recently had the opportunity to meet my favourite YA author, Maggie Stiefvater, as she toured the UK promoting her latest book The Scorpio Races.

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.
At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.
Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.
Read my thoughts on The Scorpio Races: here!

The lovely Sarah at feeling fictional has written a comprehensive report, on the  delicious brunch we shared and the fantastic Foyles event, which you can view HERE.

Maggie described receiving the phone call informing her that the film rights to The Scorpio Races had been optioned (read it HERE), during the course of the phone call she managed to ruin a batch of chocolate ganache covered brownies.
The Brownies captured the rooms attention almost as much as the film news. Ever the obliging author, Maggie posted the recipe over on her facebook page .
You can check out the original recipe HERE .

For the benefit of non-American followers we have translated the recipe in to English. Of course we had to ensure that the translation resulted in edible confection. It was a tough job but somebody had to do it!

The Translation:

The Ingredients

12oz of plain chocolate ( we used 50% coco solids)
5 1/2 oz unsalted Butter
10oz Caster Sugar
3 Large Eggs
1 1/2Teaspoons(tsp) Vanilla Extract( the good stuff people not the essence rubbish)
1/4 tsp Salt
5oz Plain flour
100g Bag of Walnuts
180mls Double Cream
Pre-heat oven 180c or Gas mark 4

 

Roll up your sleeves
Give your hands a wash!

 

Melting half the chocolate with the butter.
Combining the chocolate/butter mixture with the egg/sugar/salt/vanilla mix

 

Sifting and folding in the flour
Stirring in the Walnuts
and stir a bit more!
Ready for the oven
Melting the other half of the chocolate in to the warmed cream
Pouring the ganache on to the cooked, cooled brownie
Who wants to lick the spoon?

Yummy!

Post by Caroline

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Fracture

Megan Miranda

By the time 17-year old Delaney Maxwell is pulled out of the icy waters of a frozen lake, her heart has stopped beating. she is officially dead. Then Delaney starts breathing…The doctors are mystified. But Delaney knows something is very wrong, even though outwardly she has completely recovered.
Pulled by sensations she can’t control, Delaney now finds herself drawn to the dying. Is her brain predicting death or causing it? Then Delaney meets Troy Varga. Is Troy a kindred spirit who somehow understands her weird and frightening gift? Or are his motives chillingly more sinister…

Having received this copy of Fracture as an ARC from an event, and thinking it to not be the sort of book I’d naturally pick up for myself, I was very interested to see if it would be my cup of tea. After a couple of false starts, I found a nice chunk of time to snuggle up on the couch and get stuck in and found that I couldn’t put it down! I loved this book!

Fracture tells the story of 17 year old Delaney, a high school senior who is hardworking and wants to do well for herself. When out with her best friend Decker, they cross a frozen lake to go and meet friends. Decker goes on ahead and the unthinkable happens. The ice cracks and Delaney falls through the ice. She stopped breathing for eleven minutes. She should be dead. She was medically dead. And yet she is very much alive. She is discharged from hospital and physically, everyone is confident that she is well. But Delaney knows different. She feels different, and that something is very wrong. She can’t ignore the tugging pulling sensations that seem to take over and control her body. They begin to lead her to places and she starts to feel that death is all around her. Everything is changing in her world and her relationships, those with her parents and her friends, are changing too. How do you start living again after you were dead and everything is different?

This is Megan Miranda’s first book, but you would never know it. You are drawn in to Delaney’s world and the scene is set well. I could imagine and feel the bleakness of the cold and frigid Maine winter and the ‘deadness of everything under the snow’, as Delaney describes it. As Delaney tries to figure out what is going on with her, she finds herself keeping Decker at arm’s length. I enjoyed the relationship between Delaney and Decker, the familiarity and closeness of a long held childhood friendship with all the shared memories and experiences and now that they are older I could feel the awkwardness when it was clear that Delaney or Decker wanted to say something but held back. It reminded me of those teenage days of potential first love and the angst that comes with it! Assumptions about each of their relationships with others doesn’t help and then Delaney then meets the dark and sexy Troy Varga which causes further distance between her and Decker.

Troy is the only one who can shed some understanding about her circumstances. She finds herself drawn to him as he can explain what is going on with her somewhat, and yet he is a disturbing character. He scares Delaney and she can sense his presence even when she can’t see him. I didn’t know how to feel about Troy. My emotions were certainly conflicted as Delaney’s were and I didn’t know how Delaney and Troy would resolve their relationship. Once I found out, I found myself both sad and relieved at the outcome. I enjoyed the feeling of suspense that you just didn’t know what was going to happen with Troy around- would it be good, or bad?

Delaney’s mother was an interesting character. As you begin to discover her history and how it affected her dealings with and reactions to her daughter it was quite sad and poignant in places. I very much enjoyed reading this. I liked and connected with the characters and found myself rooting for them and for peace and closure for all those that were suffering due to this one event. Occasionally it felt a little creepy and tense and I don’t normally like anything scary but I couldn’t stop myself from turning the pages to see what happened next. You are left pondering the question if you only had one day to live, what would you do? I will be keeping an eye out for Megan Miranda’s next book for sure!

Verdict: A dark but very enjoyable gripping and unique read.

Reviewed by Lesley

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: January 2012
Format: ARC
Pages: 264
Genre: Paranormal
Age: YA
Reviewer: Lesley
Source: Received at event
Challenge: Debut Author
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Abandon

Meg Cabot

The first book in the brand-new dark and dangerously seductive trilogy from bestselling teen author Meg Cabot. Last year, Pierce died- just for a moment. And when she was in the space between life and death, she met John: tall dark and terrifying, it’s his job to usher souls from one realm to the next. There’s a fierce attraction between them, but Pierce knows that if she allows herself to fall for John she will be doomed to a life of shadows and loneliness in the underworld. But now things are getting dangerous for her, and her only hope is to do exactly what John says…

I began this read with a shiver of anticipation, it’s been a while since I read a book about death and it did sound a little creepy! However the story sounded fascinating and the cover (on my copy it is very simple silver and black, no pictures) was fantastic. And, even better, I wasn’t disappointed. I was hooked from the first page, one of those books that I carry round the house in case I get an odd minute to read a little bit more!

Pierce is a refreshing heroine, sometimes, naive, sometimes slow to catch on, sometimes brave, sometimes wise. It is gripping to watch her try and come to terms with all that has happened in her life and, believe me, dying and coming back to life is only the beginning!

Her story is told in a mixture of ways, we start when Pierce has moved to a small island for a fresh start, so we go with her as she moves forward, and also hear about her past as she remembers and retell it to us. This moving backwards and forwards means I constantly wanted to know more as little snippets of information are revealed, but we often have to wait for the rest of the information to come later. Throughout the book the pace kept going, with only a couple of slower parts to catch your breath. There are twists and turns aplenty and the ending was fantastic.

Then, of course, there is John. The blurb on the back of my cover describes him as a “boy”, but I would have to say he comes across as all man! A dark, brooding, moody, attractive young man, who Pierce realises she has met more than once before. As we learn more about him we discover that he has a history like no other and that makes him all the more intriguing, and seem much more grown up than Pierce. The ups and downs of his relationship with Pierce definitely highlight his dark side, but often mange to have a hint of humour as Pierce grapples with her feelings and her inability to say the right thing at the right time. This provides her a share of teenage angst, but his link to the Underworld and her experiences there are a real driver to their relationship, and initially at least, to her relationship with him as she tries to understand how the things that are happening around her now are related to what happened when she died.

The story holds a great degree of mystery and secrets. Pierce is trying to keep everyone in her life safe, crazy things keep happening to people in her life since she has returned to the world of the living. I also enjoyed thinking about the ideas she grapples with as she feels the burden of knowing that the Underworld doesn’t seem to fit with common ideas about an afterlife. The connections to Greek mythology are evident throughout the story, and it is obviously linked to the story of Hades and Persephone. As this is a story that I only know the bare bones of I do not know how closely, or what is going to happen next. One thing is for sure though; I will be waiting with impatience to find out until the next book comes out in Autumn 2012.

Verdict: Gripping, enthralling and fascinating. A great read.

Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Publication Date: April 2011
Format: ARC
Pages: 256
Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy, Romance
Age: YA
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Received at event
Challenge: N/A
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