Thursday, June 27, 2013

NEWS: Part 2!

I've kept you waiting long enough, eh?  Here's part 2 of my non-book-related news (recap part 1 here).

My reviews were kind of lackluster for a few weeks in May/early June.  Posting was scarce.  I tweeted a lot about food.

That would be because I'm pregnant.
Beaching the baby belly in Cape May last week
That's right kids!  Small Fry is getting a tiny companion in a few months.  December, to be exact.  (Christmas Eve, if you want to be more exact, although if this one is anything like Small Fry, we'll be watching the ball drop in Times Square before he/she arrives.  LATECOMER.)

In addition to being tired and somewhat sick, I have also been super nervous for the last few months, because remember when I posted about how February sucked?  That's because I had a miscarriage.  Which really did suck, emotionally more than physically.  So when I found out I was pregnant again in April, I got scurred.  I was reluctant to tell anyone and I didn't even want to treat it like the real deal, for fear of getting too attached.  However, we've had countless ultrasounds and prenatal visits by now, and things have been going smoothly.  I'm 14 weeks along and getting way more excited now that I'm in a safer spot, time-wise.

Anywho, I hope this explains a few things from the last couple of months: fewer "creative" posts, less presence on Twitter, fewer comments on other blogs.  I even had to post one of my Novel Publicity blog tour stops 2 days late (felt really bad about it, too), because I felt so tired/nauseous from morning sickness that I couldn't look at my Kindle for days on end.  (You know it's bad when the book blogger can't even bring herself to READ.  Oh my.)

This also explains why my monthly wrap-up posts have been kind of vague.  "Oh, I had a good month" in April should roughly translate to "OMG I'M IN A FAMILY WAY, Y'ALL!!  But I can't tell you yet.  Frick."

Nowadays, I am back from vacation and firmly in the second trimester (read: less nausea and fatigue), so I hope you will see a kick of enthusiasm from me around here.

So that's my news, officially out in the blogosphere.  I promise I won't plague you with details of my pregnancy here, but feel free to email me if you're dying to know all about round ligament pain and stretch marks.  I AIN'T SHY.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday (34)


Welcome back, wordy friends!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by BermudaOnion each week. It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.

Here are three of my favorite new-to-me words from Cooked by Michael Pollan.  
All definitions from Dictionary.com.

1. quotidian. "As soon as you start down this path of thinking, the quotidian space of the kitchen appears in a startling new light."   

adjective
1. daily: a quotidian report.
2. usual or customary; everyday: quotidian needs.
3. ordinary; commonplace: paintings of no more than quotidian artistry.
4. (of a fever, ague, etc) characterized by paroxysms that occur daily.
noun
5. something occurring daily.
6. a quotidian fever or ague.

I like this one.  Such a fancy-sounding word for something so...everyday.

2. declension. "They disdain charcoal as a modern-day declension and sauce as 'a cover-up for bad cooking.'"

noun
1. an act or instance of declining.
2. a bending, sloping, or moving downward: land with a gentle declension toward the sea.
3. deterioration; decline.
4. deviation, as from a standard.

I figured the meaning of this one pretty well from its context, but I don't know if I've ever actually seen it in print before.

3. habilines. "Compared to the apelike habilines from which it evolved, Homo erectus had a smaller jaw, smaller teeth, a smaller gut--and a considerably larger brain."
noun
I couldn't find this one at dictionary.com.  An internet search showed that this is a term used for the members of the species Homo habilis, which is thought to be the earliest species (now extinct) in the human genus Homo.  Basically, early humans.

What are your new words this week?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Review: Everybody Has Everything by Katrina Onstad


Title: Everybody Has Everything
Author: Katrina Onstad
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: June 25, 2013 (first published in 2012)
Source: copy received for honest review from the publisher via NetGalley

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

After years of unsuccessful attempts at conceiving a child, Ana and James become parents overnight, when a terrible accident makes them guardians to 2-year-old Finn. Suddenly, two people who were struggling to come to terms with childlessness are thrust into the opposite situation--responsible for a small toddler whose mother's survival is in question. 

Finn's crash-landing in their tidy, urban lives throws into high relief some troubling truths about their deepest selves, both separately and as a couple. Several chaotic, poignant, and life-changing weeks as a most unusual family give rise to an often unasked question: Can everyone be a parent?


My Review:

So here's my chronological thought process while I was reading this book:
1. "OMG, this is so sad."
2. "Holy crap, I love the little boy in this book, I want to give him all the hugs, and OMG this is so sad."
3. "OMG SO SAD, THERE IS NO WAY THIS BOOK WILL NOT END IN THE SADDEST OF SAD WAYS."
4. ((stunned silence as the ending manages to wrap up in a non-sad way that is not fairy-tale-ish at all))

YOU GUYS.  I loved it so much.

In the beginning, this book seems pretty straightforward: a tragic accident leaves Ana and James (unable to conceive children of their own) as the sole guardians to Finn, the 2-year-old son of their friends'.  I expected the book to take a typical dramatic-fiction path...sadness and struggles in the beginning, but then they find their way and become better parents for it in the end, ta-da!

What's awesome about this, though, is that it's not like that at all.  There is nothing typical about this novel.  Ana and James have a much more convoluted and murky relationship than I originally expected, and half the pleasure of reading this book is derived from watching it unfold.  Just when I thought I had them figured out, a new part of their pasts or personalities would come out to make me change my mind.  Their relationship certainly plays a central role in the novel, possibly more so than the car accident that originally sets the plot into motion.  It's also the reason that the plot takes such a sad turn, but as I mentioned above, Onstad amazingly finds a way to wrap things up that is neither too depressing nor too happy-go-lucky.

Much of Ana and James's relationship struggles center on one question: what does it mean to be a parent?  What makes a good parent?  And how do you know if you're meant to be a parent at all?  This book will definitely hold more interest for readers who are parents themselves, or wish to be in the near future.  Onstad does a great job of exploring these questions from a variety of different angles.  Her ability to dig at the emotional depths of each character is impressive.

Speaking of emotional depth, FINN.  Oh my gosh, I don't think I've ever loved a child character in a novel more than this little boy.  If he doesn't tug at your heart strings, I'm going to go ahead and clinically diagnose you as dead.  I find that most authors make (very young) child characters one-dimensional and peripheral to the story, but Finn is front and center, and just as well-rounded as the others in the novel.  He broke my heart on the regular.  Not to mention, there is a very dramatic scene with him near the end that left me glued to my Kindle long into the night until the event concluded.  Onstad gets huge kudos for her ability to build his character just as well as any adult's.

As is obvious by now, I swoon for this book.  Parents will certainly get more out of it, just given the subject matter, but if you're ready for an emotional and complex bit of dramatic fiction, you need to pick this up on-the-double.  This is the first Katrina Onstad novel I've read, and it won't be the last.

Have you discovered any great new-to-you writers lately?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Book Review: Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin


Title: Please Look After Mom
Author: Kyung-Sook Shin
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: April 5, 2011 (first US edition--originally published 2008)
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

A million-plus-copy best seller in Korea—a magnificent English-language debut poised to become an international sensation—this is the stunning, deeply moving story of a family’s search for their mother, who goes missing one afternoon amid the crowds of the Seoul Station subway.

Told through the piercing voices and urgent perspectives of a daughter, son, husband, and mother, Please Look After Mom is at once an authentic picture of contemporary life in Korea and a universal story of family love.

You will never think of your mother the same way again after you read this book.


My Review:

This month's country for the Around the World challenge is South Korea, and Please Look After Mom captured my interest for a few reasons.  One, it's a modern-day novel set in that country--something I was having trouble finding (most of the fiction novels set in South Korea were more historical in nature).  Two, it's a family drama, which is right up my alley.  Shin's novel was huge overseas before it landed in the US two years ago, so I figured this was a great choice for this month's challenge.

Overall, I had mixed feelings about this one.  In the end, I was left with that "meh" sensation that means I will probably forget about the book's details pretty quickly after reading.  It wasn't unenjoyable, per se...but I felt like it centered on an event that could have easily hooked a reader through the entire novel, but didn't.  Instead, Shin takes a more subtle and spiritual approach to the subject, and it left me shrugging my shoulders at the end.

The best thing about this book is the multiple-perspective narration.  The novel begins in the second-person POV of Chi-hon, oldest daughter of the family.  She introduces us to the sudden disappearance of her mother, and her (and her family's) immediate reaction to the crisis.  The next part of the novel is told in the third-person by Hyong-chol, oldest son of the family.  Then we get the second-person perspective of their father, and finally (before the epilogue) we get the first-person POV of the mother herself.  So, not only are you getting the narration of different family members in the situation, but the mode of perspective (first, second, third person) changes drastically as well.  I'm not sure I've ever read another novel that attempts to do this.  It was a little disorienting at first, but it works.  Each POV is so unique in how it approaches both the disappearance and the family's history, that by the end you get a very rich illustration of the complexities behind this family's dynamic.  Shin took a big risk here, but it paid off.

Obviously, that isn't where the book lost me.  I think there were two reasons why I felt underwhelmed by the end.  First, as I mentioned before, the last third of the novel relied so heavily on subtlety and spirituality that I became disinterested.  The section told from the mother's POV is disorienting and leaves a lot open to interpretation--too much, maybe.  In the end, I was left feeling that the novel came to no real conclusion.

The second issue was that, despite the variety of perspectives, I started to feel like the information being conveyed was repetitive.  As a reader, you are meant to see that once Mom disappears, the family brings to light all the regrets of how they treated her--and they also realize that they didn't fully know her as well as they thought they did.  However, when these themes are repeated over and over in each section, it starts to get a bit tedious, and leans more towards feeling morose rather than emotionally moving.

Final verdict?  I loved what Shin did here with perspective, but in the end I was left feeling like there was no real conclusion.  Not to mention that the tone for the entire novel is pretty much a downer.  Overall, not my fave.  I needed more solidity...and maybe just a tiny glimmer of happiness in the end.

Have you read any novels lately that were real downers?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Honey, I'M HOOOOOME

READERS!  HI!  I'M BACK!


First off, I hope you loved The Well-Read Vacay.  I pretty much go Internet-Silent when I go on vacation, but while I wasn't responding to comments/tweets/etc I did see all the lovely interactions happening on the guest blogs.  I hope you all adore Katie, Cari, Shannon, and Jennifer as much as I do, and continue to frequent their awesome bloggy blogs!

Second, where was I?  I don't usually post about the specifics of my vacation plans on the Interwebz beforehand, because I am a paranoid superfreak, but I will gladly share them with you now.  We rented a condo down in Cape May, New Jersey, and it was fantastic, though admittedly also hectic.  I actually had to leave last Saturday (with Small Fry in tow) without my husband, which was NOT the original plan. 

(**Potential buyers of our house should stop reading this post now and go do something awesome...like read a book!  WOOOO!**)

Okay, are they gone?  My husband had to stay home because the downstairs of our house FLOODED 3 days before we left.  And did I mention that we are trying to sell said house, like ASAP??  We have never, ever had flooding before, but Mother Nature chose THIS moment to gang up on us.  So dear Hubs stayed behind to dry out the house and replace the carpet so that the Open House and showings we had scheduled could go on.  Luckily, he did a fantastic job and was able to join us in Cape May on Tuesday.

(If any buyers DID accidentally read that, please rest assured that we fixed everything...AND it's all written up in our property disclosure now...nothing but honesty here, people!!)

Despite that hiccup, we had an awesome time playing on the beach, going to the zoo, eating too much candy/fudge, and hanging out with my brothers (who are in the Coast Guard and stationed in Cape May).  Oh, and stalking Tina Fey.  She was vacationing there last week too!  I was on a mission to make us meet, share witty banter, and become BFFs, but sadly our stars did not align.  Next time, T...next time.

In reading news, I actually managed to read 1.5 books, plus most of an audiobook during the drive (though I did take Cari's advice and left my Kindle in the condo during beach trips with Small Fry...very helpful!!).

So now I am off to unpack, and hopefully get these latest reviews written up for you soon.  Hope everyone had a fantastic week!

Friday, June 21, 2013

TWRV: Books That Take Me Away


Today is your third-and-final guest installment for The Well-Read Vacay 2013.  Please join me in welcoming Jennifer from The Relentless Reader!  I heart Jen's blog because she and I have SUPER similar taste in books.  Plus, she introduced me to the awesome idea of Google-mapping all of the books I read throughout the year (check out her map below!).  A great way to mind-travel from the comfort of your living room.  Speaking of which, read on to check out her latest book travels!

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Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.  ~Jean Rhys

One of the great things about being is reader is being able to travel the world without leaving the comfort of my own home. I can visit every corner of the globe without breaking my budget. I can satisfy my curiosity while staying true to my introverted roots.

I've been to Africa while wearing my fuzzy slippers. I've walked the streets of New York in my smiley-face pajama pants. I've been to Japan and India while cuddled up in bed. I spent a long weekend enjoying the sun in Chile while my hometown was being pummeled with 15” of snow.

Here are a few books that have recently swept me off to distant lands:


...Moloka’i by Alan Brennert led me to Hawaii...


...and Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter set me in a seaside town in Italy.

This year I also decided to keep track of all of the places I visit through literature.

So, where have books taken you?

(Don't forget to check Jennifer out at therelentlessreader.blogspot.com, or on Facebook and Twitter!!)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

TWRV: The Trip of SEVERAL LIFETIMES!


Today is your second guest installment for The Well-Read Vacay 2013.  Please join me in welcoming Katie from Words For Worms!  Katie harbors an unusually enormous love for penguins and writes some of the most entertaining book reviews on the interwebs.  Today she's taking us on a fan-flippin'-tastic journey through children's literature.  Buckle your safety belts, kiddos.

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Hola, Bookworms!
I'm Katie, and I have taken over this blog. MUAHAHAHAHA! I normally write over at Words for Worms, but, Kelly, our proprietress here at The Well-Read Redhead, is out this week VACATIONING. When she asked if I would write a guest post for her, I was more than happy to oblige. Now. We all love reading. And we all WISH we were vacationing. I'm going to play travel agent for a bit and offer you THE TRIP OF SEVERAL LIFETIMES!
Follow the Yellow Brick Road, dangit!
Follow the Yellow Brick Road, dangit!
We will begin our journey at a farmhouse in Kansas. We'll have dinner with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry before catching the first twister out of town. You know how RV's are always advertised as "taking your home with you when you travel"?! An RV has nothing on us. We're taking the whole dang farmhouse. We may sort of accidentally squash a witch upon landing, but her only family is a disgruntled sister whose case won't hold up in Civil Court (and whose, uh, self? won't hold up to water...) Upon arrival, you'll receive a pair of STUNNING shoes (though not the most practical footwear for a long journey. I hope you packed band-aids.) We will then embark on a walking tour through Oz's countryside and into the EMERALD CITY. Just don't take off your glasses, okay? It will ruin the effect. Oh yeah, we may or may not be detained by flying monkeys. (You'll have to sign a release, it's all there in the fine print...) Once you tire of Oz, you need only click your heels together...
phantomtollbooth
And you'll find yourself back at home. In your bedroom. Bored silly after your Ozian adventure, natch. Luckily, you'll notice a package containing a model tollbooth. (Who plays with a tollbooth? That's a ridiculous question. Nobody when presented with a toy tollbooth refuses to PLAY with it!) It's a good thing you brought plenty of change, because your trip to The Kingdom of Wisdom is going to get a little crazy. From Dictionopolis to Digitopolis, you will encounter miles and miles of idioms and homonyms before you can even hope to rescue the Princesses Rhyme and Reason. Luckily, you've got a Watchdog sidekick. Named Tock. Because he's both dog and clock, obvi! After all that rescuing and toying about with the English language, you're bound to be pretty worn out. You decide to turn your car around and head home.
Peter Pan, JM Barrie 2
Unfortunately, after your exciting day, you'll have a hard time sleeping. Your next tour guide should arrive punctually, looking for his shadow. All it takes is faith, trust, and a little bit of pixie dust before you're second star to the right and straight on till morning, my friends. Never-Never Land is pretty sweet. You don't age, for one thing, and you have no responsibilities! On the downside though, you're expected to hang out with a bunch of lost boys, a surly gang of pirates, and a bloodthirsty crocodile. Adventurous, sure, but probably not the sort of locale you'd want to set up shop in. Once you get home, I advise you to take a little nap...
alice-in-wonderland-book-cover
Just not a very long one. Or you'll be late for a very important date! You have your choice of conveyance here, you can either fall down the rabbit hole in the yard or walk through the looking glass. Both roads lead straight to Wonderland. You'll visit with the Mad Hatter, March Hare, the Tweedles, and a whole host of other oddities while growing larger and smaller based on the whims of your tea cakes. It's all fun and games until the queen gets all "off with her head." You'd be well advised to skedaddle when you hear that one. Never to fear. Your trip is not quite over.
LionWardrobe12
Now that you've made it back to your bedroom, take three steps to the left. There? Good. Open your wardrobe. Push past the coats. (Do NOT stop to wonder how you acquired so many coats, it will only lead to buyer's remorse.) You should emerge in Narnia, which will be pleasantly covered in snow. You'll see a lamp post and meet a centaur. You'll make friends with some beavers, too. And you'll somehow gain three siblings. Don't ask questions! Then you'll have to fight a massive battle and defeat the evil "Queen." Just make sure you don't eat the Turkish Delight. Trust me. It doesn't even taste good. 

Once you get back through the wardrobe, you'll realize you've only been gone a few hours. And had the adventures of several lifetimes. All this for the bargain price of ZERO dollars. Courtesy of your local library. Thank you for joining me on Storybook Tours. Please come again.

That's right folks. If you don't have the time or money for an official vacation? Take a few hours for a brain vacation. If the reason you have no time or money is your children? All the better. Take them on the trips with you! Now we're all much less jealous of Kelly's vacation, right? Right? Ah well. Distraction only goes so far. Kelly, you'd better be having a REALLY good time. Have enough fun for ALL of us!

(If Katie made you LOL (which she makes me do on-the-regular), check her out at wordsforworms.com, or on Twitter and Facebook!)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

TWRV: Reading on Vacation...With A Toddler


Today is your second lovely guest post for The Well-Read Vacay 2013.  Please join me in welcoming Cari from Sweet Sweet Nothings!  I am totes biased in choosing her to guest blog for me, because in addition to running a very cool mommy-slash-review blog, she is also my real-life BFF.  So I can verify that she is (mostly) not crazy and a super awesome person overall.  Even though we are polar opposites (a story for another day).  :)  ANYWAY, Cari has her very own Small Fry (Lexi), so she gets what I'm going through as I vacation with my little man this week!  Read on for her insights into squeezing in that reading when you vacay with kids...

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Helloooooo Well-Read Redhead readers!
Lexi18
My family on vacation in the Outer Banks
I am so honored to be guest blogging today on my dear friend's blog while she is off with her family vacationing.  I am completely jealous of her leisure reading chasing after a toddler right now! I am not a book blogger, but I do have a blog over at Sweet Sweet Nothings where I blog about my life, being a mom, and I also try to squeeze in reviews on all sorts of subjects.  Although I leave the book reviewing to this awesome blog because really even before Kelly started it I was always going to her for advice on what books to read and so 99.9% of the books I have read Kelly has reviewed already!  While Kelly is in a million challenges and has read more books in one year than I have in a lifetime (okay now I am just being dramatic, but I bet it is close), I only gave myself ONE book challenge this year.  My challenge for myself was to read 1 book each month and I am happy to report that I am right on track to meet this goal!
Lexi19
off in search of seagulls!
Some of my favorite times to read during the year is when I am on vacation.  I would normally bring about 5-6 books on vacation (now with a Kindle this is a much lighter feat).  I would start my reading in the airport before boarding a plane and usually wouldn't stop until we parked back at our house from our vacation.  It is great because both my husband and I could sit by a pool and read all day under an umbrella and sip on fruity drinks.   I have even been known to bring my book into the pool!  This was certainly my definition of a leisurely vacation.  
Enter in our life a baby. Our first vacation as a family of three my daughter Lexi was only 4 months old.  She was still a very sleepy baby and wasn't mobile and so I was still able to find plenty of opportunities to squeeze in a few books while on vacation.  Our next trip was to Florida without Lexi  for my husband's 30th birthday and we just sat by the pool all weekend long reading, relaxing, and drinking fruity drinks like the old days.   So when we took a trip to the Outer Banks this past April with a very mobile toddler I  was a bit naïve to think that I could stuff my Kindle with books and find plenty of time to read.  We did a ton of playing, digging in the sand, applying suntan lotion, running away from waves, swimming, keeping sand out of her mouth, building sand castles, collecting rocks and shells, and chasing after seagulls--but reading didn't really make our to-do list most days.  I would average about 4-5 books on a week long vacation and on our April vacation I didn't even get through an entire book! GASP!   Looking back there are a few things I would do differently on our next trip with Lexi to fit in more time for reading and I thought I would share with all of you avid readers out there! 
light-blue-bannerbook
1. Have the mindset of "If I was stranded on an island and could only bring 1 book...". 
Since I thought I was going to be reading a few books on vacation I didn't really put much thought on what book I would start off with while on vacation. I started my vacation with a slow moving book, which led me to choose other activities rather than pick up a book I was dying to keep reading.  I am not one to drop a book easily (like my friend Kelly!) and so I was trying to get through the book little by little, which in the end wasn't a smart move because I never did finish the book while on vacation.  I found that I didn't have the Big Mo' for reading while on vacation and this was my biggest downfall.  For me, once I start reading a really good book it keeps me in the reading mind set for an entire vacation and keeps me engaged in reading.  I wish I did some better research on the book I was going to read and picked one that had the description of a quick read to help with this dilemma. So my advice is to think to yourself if you only get through one book on vacation, which one do you really want it to be? Because it really could be only one book you get through on a vacation with a toddler. 
2. Make a plan with your partner. 
We love family time and hanging out all together so it can be hard to carve out some "me" time during a family vacation.  My husband throughout the week would tell me to go and do something for myself and I just felt the pull of staying with everyone. It felt weird to just leave and hang by the pool and read for even an hour while he was busy keeping Lexi entertained.  It probably has to do with some sort of mom guilt, but in the end it was hard for me to pull away from the family.  Towards the end of the trip,  I was really getting into my book and my husband said to stay up and read and that he would take the morning shift with Lexi.  I just thought this was so brilliant!  I like reading into the wee hours of the night and so this plan made perfect sense.  Plus I am not a morning person so this sleeping in idea sounded like a real vacation luxury! So I was really grateful to have the reading time for myself without worrying about the consequences it would bring when Lexi woke up early.  That next morning I was able to sleep in after a night of reading and in that moment I truly felt like I was on vacation with no mom guilt in sight!  It was a spontaneous plan, but a plan none the less to help structure my "me" time into the vacation and help with the dreaded "mom guilt" that can sometimes happen with "me" time.   For future trips I hope we do more planning about what "me" time would look for both of us.  It will really help out with making trips feel leisurely even with a very active toddler.
Lexi17
taking a break from eating the sand
3. Don't pack a book in your beach bag. 
Okay so this one might be a little bit of a stretch for you avid book readers (I know Kelly doesn't go anywhere without a book!), but it has to do with being realistic and not necessarily your beach bag.  At the beginning of our trip I would throw my Kindle into the beach bag thinking "if I get a few moments to read it will be nice to have..." In theory this sounded like a great idea, but it only left me frustrated.  There were a few times on the beach that I was thinking that I wish I could bust out my book and read a few pages, but with a toddler you need all eyes all the time on them near bodies of water.  A couple of times I said to my husband, "remember when we could just lay out on the beach and read for hours?" In that moment I was really missing our old way of vacationing.  Knowing the book was in my bag was just taunting me on the fact that I wasn't reading the book and it was taking my mind and focus from family time on the beach.   After two days of this, I realized  that I wasn't going to have a few moments to read my book on the beach/pool and left the Kindle back at the house rather than in my bag.  This act made a world of difference with keeping my focus on family time and my daughter rather than the book at the bottom of my beach bag.  It gave me a realistic view of what our time on the beach would look like with a toddler and helped me realize I needed to carve other time in my vacation outside of my normal sit by the pool/lay on the beach type reading I was use to.
4.  Lastly, read with your child. 
I know toddlers have an attention span of 5 minutes seconds for a task, but each day on vacation we would have some quiet playing time (around 15-20 minutes) to wind down from the day.  She was 13 months at the time of the vacation and so she was just starting to do some independent play.  It normally involved giving her some books for her to read, blocks to stack, paper to scribble on and other low energy games. Depending on the age of your child that will probably determine the length of time you get to read.    I wasn't able to get huge chunks of solid reading done during this time, but it gave me a chance to finish up a chapter I was in the middle of reading or a chance to read a magazine (magazine reading counts too!).  A few pages over the course of a vacation can really add up! Plus I want reading to be a part of my daughter's life and most of the reading that I do she doesn't get to witness.  This gives her a chance to see that reading is important to me too and that I love to read as well!  She sees me put on makeup every single day and so now she wants to be like mommy and put on makeup in the morning with me (I can't believe it already is starting!) and so if she sees me reading even a little each day it might give her the push to want to do like mommy and read a book.   I am hoping on future vacations reading can become a family event towards the end of the day to wind down from our awesome vacation adventures. We are taking toddler steps towards that goal. 
Anyone have any other reading tips while vacationing with a young child? How many books can you normally read on a family vacation?
 all pictures were taken by Beach Productions
Want to know more about Cari and her adorbs family?  Check out rennsnest.wordpress.com or her Twitter!

Monday, June 17, 2013

TWRV: Seeing The World, One Writer's House At A Time


Hi, readers!  As promised, today is the first guest post for The Well-Read Vacay 2013.  And so, I will now step aside and introduce you to the lovely Shannon from Giraffe Days!  In addition to running a fantabulous book blog, Shannon is also the brain trust behind the Around the World in 12 Books Challenge.  So she's like a certified book traveler, y'all.  Not to mention she's living in Canada and moving back to Australia this year...so she's a real life traveler too!  And today she's taking you on a trip to author's homes around the world.  READ ON!

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Years ago, while on holiday in Paris for two weeks, I had the chance to visit the château de Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas' country house. It was built in 1848 but after two years of partying there, Dumas was forced to sell it because he'd run out of money.
  Château de Monte-Cristo
 It was a pretty impressive building, even though, in person, it looked a bit squished, like a large building made miniature, like a dollhouse - I think this effect was mostly due to the fact that the house was built in a little dell, with a steep hill rising above it. What made it interesting were the details, everything from the carved faces of famous people above the windows and doors (with Dumas himself above the front double doors - the man had quite the ego!) to the Moroccan room inside (it was the fashion at the time). What I really loved was the adorable writers' studio outside, though. With its own little moat and a tower housing a staircase that went nowhere, it was the place Dumas used to flee to to write, often abandoning his own lavish parties and ignoring all his guests. Amongst the brickwork are hundreds of white plaques, each bearing the title of one of his works of fiction. Like I said, he was quite pleased with himself!
Château d'if 389px-Le_Port-Marly_Château_d'If_001
I've never forgotten the exciting pleasure of seeing the home - now a museum - of one of my favourite writers. It reminded me that my sister had once given me a book called Writers' Houses as a gift, and it makes me think: what other authors could I visit, posthumously? I bet I could travel the world, hopping from one author to another! Though only the deceased ones: there's something definitely stalkerish and creepy about the idea of standing outside Margaret Atwood's Cabbagetown house here in Toronto, peeking through the windows!

Here's one possible itinerary:
Kenya: I'm not sure how many African authors have had their homes turned into museums, but I can't help but think it's a bit of a western white thing to do; in Kenya you can visit Danish author Karen Blixen's house (otherwise known as Isak Dinesen, who wrote Out of Africa).

Ireland: it's a bit of a cliche but then how many of us have done the James Joyce walking tour in Dublin? or visited the James Joyce House of the Dead?

United Kingdom: from Jane Austen's House Museum in Chawton to Elizabeth Gaskell's Manchester house to the Charles Dickens Museum in London, you'll get a real dose of classic British lit. I would have to visit Hill Top, too, Beatrix Potter's home in the Lake District. And then there's Shakespeare, of course...

Russia: check out Leo Tolstoy's "Yasnaya Polyana" (Bright Glade) home, now a museum, which he called his "inaccessible literary stronghold" - there is also the Tolstoy House Museum on Arbat Street in Moscow to see. And while you're in Moscow, stop by the Dostoevsky House Museum, the Bulgakov Museum, the Gogol Memorial Rooms and the Chekov House Museum - or his country house Melikhovo, also a museum. Lots of famous dead white men in Russia!
Yasnaya Polyana

Germany: I'd love to visit Germany, with its stunning landscapes and rich history. While there, I could check out Goethe's Home and Goethe National Museum.
Goethe's Home and Goethe National Museum
Goethe's Home and Goethe National Museum

The Netherlands: I'm ashamed to say I haven't yet read Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl, but if I ever have the chance to visit this country I would visit the museum where she wrote her diary while hiding from the Nazis.

The Czech Republic: I would love to visit Prague, it's one of my top-3 places to see, and while there I'd love to see the places Franz Kafka called home, starting with the house where he was born, which is now a restaurant.

United States: like the UK and Europe, there are plenty to visit in this country; the question is more, how to pick and choose when you've limited time? There's Margaret Mitchell's house in Atlanta, Mark Twain's house in Connecticut, or the very picturesque Steinbeck House in California.

Canada: Prince Edward Island is, of course, otherwise known as LM Montgomery-land, and I'm bummed that I won't be able to visit before moving back to Australia later this year. There's also the museum home of Gabrielle Roy and the Margaret Laurence House, both in Manitoba, and Joy Kagawa's house in Vancouver.

And here in Toronto, you can discretely gawk at LM Montgomery's Swansea home (which remains a private residence) and check out where Ernest Hemingway lived at 1599 Bathurst Street for a while during the years he worked for the Toronto Daily Star, even though he apparently felt mostly contempt for the city and Canada in general. We'll take what we can get, thanks! A great website I came across while looking these houses up is WritersHouses.com, full of news and interesting information as well as details about authors' houses you can visit.

Have you ever visited an author's house? What writer's house(s) would you love to visit?

(Don't forget to check out Shannon at giraffedays.com, as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads!!)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

TWRV and Small-Fry Saturday #19: The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown

Today is a very SPECIAL edition of Small-Fry Saturday!

Because it's also the kick off for The Well-Read Vacay 2013!
I know, the two pictures don't really go together well. Kids, don't drink and read until you're 21.
As you may remember, Small-Fry Saturday is a when-I-feel-like-it meme to showcase some of books that my 23-month-old Small Fry is currently reading.  Feel free to do a SFS post on your blog (with the graphic above) or leave a comment below about your favorite kiddie reads.

At the same time, I am on vacation this week (I left TODAY! SIYONARA!) and I have a series of travel-related posts lined up to entertain you while I'm gone.  So why not start with a somewhat travel-related kid's book?


The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown

This book is a classic, published back in 1942.  To refresh your childhood memory, basically Baby Bunny (our world traveler in today's post) is feeling kind of ornery, so he turns to Mommy Bunny and says, "Aye yo, I'm running away, what's up now?"  And Mommy Bunny is like, "Okay, well wherever you run, I will find you."  And Baby Bunny's like, "GOOD LUCK, cuz I'm going to become a boat and sail away."  Mommy Bunny retorts with, "Oh yeah?  Well I'll become the wind and blow you straight home (to time-out, I might add)."

Baby Bunny continues to list all the things all over the world that he will become in order to run away, but every time, that wily Mommy Bunny figures out a way she's going to track him down.  Spoiler alert: Baby Bunny finally gets tired of being outwitted, and decides to stay home.

(This may or may not be a very modern-day summary of The Runaway Bunny.)

The basic message of this book is cute: no matter where you travel to, little guy, Momma's going to find you and love the bejesus out of you.  YOU CAN'T IGNORE MY LOVE.  I will admit that it occasionally strikes me as creepy (stop being such a stalker, Mommy Bunny, srsly), but kids won't see it that way.  (Hopefully.)  The illustrations (by Clement Hurd) are amazing too.  This book may not have the flash and pop-up elements of newer kid's books, but kiddos will be into it anyway because of the happy story and intricate drawings.

Do you have any travel-related kid favorites?  Use the term "travel" in as creative a way as you wish!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Get Ready For...The Well-Read Vacay!

Hello, my dears!  You probably heard me mention a few times that The Well-Read Redhead (and family) are traveling to semi-distant lands next week for a vacation.

(And a much-needed one, I might add...selling your house should be an Olympic sport.)

Does this mean that I will be leaving you in the lurch during my absence?  OF COURSE NOT!  I dare not abandon my lovely followers in their time of need.  Nope, instead of ditching the blog for the week as I sip margaritas and nap in the sand chug water while chasing my toddler out of the riptide, I have a series of awesome-sauce guest posts coming to you in celebration of:

The 2013 Well-Read Vacay!
(sorry, no cool graphic for this.  I stink at graphics.  But here is a gratuitous photo of me on a past vacation:)

That's right, y'all.  I might not be able to take you to the beach with me, but I can help you hop a plane through the blogosphere to some other amazing bloggers who will get you to travel...in a more figurative sense.  I'm officially calling it The Well-Read Vacay (TWRV for short.  Let's Twitter-hashtag it #TWRV.  I can do that, right?).

So, starting tomorrow, get ready for a week of vacation-themed posts (one from me, the others from my super cool bloggy pals who agreed to help a sista out for the week).  It will be like taking a super amazing world-class trip...IN YO' MIND.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Two Challenges DOWN!

I am pretty proud of myself, reader friends.  Remember all those crazy challenges I signed up for this year?  Of the five, I've already finished TWO!  And it's not even the halfway point of the year.  PATS ON THE BACK, YO.

The two that I finished are:

Audiobook Challenge (hosted by Teresa's Reading Corner)

I signed up to listen to at least 6 audiobooks and finished it when I completed The Round House last week.  I considered upping it to the next level (12 audiobooks), but I am going to lose my work commute in August when we move, so chances are I wouldn't make it.  However, I do hope to squeeze in another 1-2 before then.

Foodies Read Challenge (hosted by Foodies Read)

This wasn't tough, since I love food books so much!  I signed up for Pastry Chef level (4-8 food books) and hit #4 when I finished Pollan's Cooked last week.  I may throw in a few more throughout the year, but probably not enough to get above 8, so I'd say I'm done at this point.

As for my other three challenges...two are going great.  They are both monthly challenges (with a different category to fill each month) so I can't finish them until December, but so far I am right on track with both.  That's the Keyword Challenge and the Around The World in 12 Books Challenge.  As for the fifth one...let's just say the TBR Challenge is going to be a total wash.  I signed up to read 24 books from my TBR pile at home and so far I've read...1.  LAAAAAAAAAAAAME.  But there are just too many good library books and ARCs right now!!  Maybe next year...

Did you sign up for any 2013 challenges?  How are they going so far?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday (33)



Welcome back, wordy friends!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by BermudaOnion each week. It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.

Here are three of my favorite new-to-me words from The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost.  
All definitions from Dictionary.com.

1. peripatetic. "That this occurred I think is less a tribute to the peripatetic colonial officers, who were ordered to administer both the Gilbert and Ellice Islands without the Colonial Office actually providing them with a boat..."   

adjective
1. walking or traveling about; itinerant.
2. (with capital letter) of or pertaining to Aristotle, who taught philosophy while walking in the Lyceum of ancient Athens.
3. (with capital letter) of or pertaining to the Aristotelian school of philosophy.
noun
4. a person who walks or travels about.
5. (with capital letter) a member of the Aristotelian school.

For some reason I thought this word had to do with being frustrated or angry.  So this is definitely a new one for me.

2. paroxysm. "Wilson, however, perhaps unaware of the aching sincerity of the I-Kiribati, decided to pass on his sample poem and a letter from the president's personal secretary to Punch, a satirical rag moving ever further from its illustrious past, and this was followed by a media paroxysm that lasted for a full one-day news cycle."

noun
1. any sudden, violent outburst; a fit of violent action or emotion: paroxysms of rage.
2. (in pathology) a severe attack or sudden increase in intensity of a disease, usually recurring periodically.

I'd heard this one before but couldn't pin down the exact meaning.

3. pugnacious. "He has grown very fond of the mynah birds nesting on the roof and as a result I have called a truce with the pugnacious creatures."
adjective
inclined to quarrel or fight readily; quarrelsome; belligerent; combative.

I guessed this one based on its context--good fit.

What are your new words this week?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Book Review: Big Brother by Lionel Shriver


Title: Big Brother
Author: Lionel Shriver
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

For Pandora, cooking is a form of love. Alas, her husband, Fletcher, a self-employed high-end cabinetmaker, now spurns the “toxic” dishes that he’d savored through their courtship, and spends hours each day to manic cycling. Then, when Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at the airport, she doesn’t recognize him. In the years since they’ve seen one another, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened? After Edison has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: It’s him or me.

Rich with Shriver’s distinctive wit and ferocious energy, Big Brother is about fat: an issue both social and excruciatingly personal. It asks just how much sacrifice we'll make to save single members of our families, and whether it's ever possible to save loved ones from themselves.


My Review:

I'm sure I'm not the only person who was completely enthralled-slash-disturbed by We Need To Talk About Kevin--arguably Lionel Shriver's most well-known novel.  I've also read one of her lesser-known books, Game Control (not published in the US, so harder to get your hands on...which is half the attraction).  That novel took a totally different, almost supernatural, bent, but still highlighted Shriver's ability to pair wider social issues with family drama.  So I was pretty excited for the opportunity to review her latest, Big Brother.

This is one of those books that I'm going to have a hard time reviewing holisitically, because I'm still so focused on the ending.  The ending!  Shriver takes such a risk with the way she ties up this novel.  I could see it being a bit polarizing--some readers are going to love it, others...maybe not.  Personally, I loved it, because it turned the POV of the novel completely on its head, leaving me with so much to think about after I finished the last page.  This is not a shocking ending a la Kevin--it's much more thought-provoking than gasp-inducing.  But given the heavy subjects in Big Brother, I think that was more than appropriate.

Okay, I'll stop getting ahead of myself (plot-wise).  As I read Big Brother, I kept asking myself, "Is this a novel about family?  Or is this a novel about obesity, as a societal issue?"  In the end, I'd say it's both, but the family relationships at its core certainly take center stage.  I could spend all day analyzing the dynamics between the narrator (Pandora) and her family.  Fletcher, her husband, is a major control freak (especially concerning food).  Tanner, her stepson, wants to drop out of school to be a screenwriter.  Cody, her stepdaughter, is meek and withdrawn.  And of course there's Edison--her older brother, a successful musician last seen at a strapping and handsome 163 pounds, who shows up on her doorstep weighing in at 386 with no job or home to speak of.

Get these five people in a house together, and LET THE CRAZY FLY.  I could write a full review on the ins-and-outs of each of their relationships by themselves (but I won't, you're welcome).  That's half the fascination I had with this novel--trying to figure out what made each character tick.  Often, when authors make their characters so unique, I have a hard time finding them believable, but that was absolutely not the case here.  Shriver makes her characters unconventional without taking the turn towards unrealistic.

This book does touch strongly on the idea of obesity as a social issue, but I'd say that is ancillary to the individual struggles of the characters.  What I mean is, Pandora, Edison et al are forced to consider how Edison's obesity is viewed by the rest of the world, because every time they go out, it affects them.  But in turn, it also affects their individual thoughts and behaviors--thus complicating their familial relationships.  This novel isn't meant to be a diatribe about the issue of weight in America, but it will make your wheels turn about it as you view it through the eyes of Pandora's family.

In short, Big Brother did not disappoint, and my need to read all of Shriver's novels continues.  Unique characters + family brouhaha + social problems = WIN.  Now go read it, and tell me what you think of that ENDING!

Much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Lionel Shriver on her Facebook page.

Have you read any good fiction lately that takes on an important social issue?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Big NEWS, and May 2013 In Review

There is a reason May rhymes with cray.  CUZ THAT MONTH WAS CRAY CRAY, Y'ALL.  As I alluded to earlier this week, I have two big pieces of news to share, and the time has come to grace you with one of them.

The Well-Read Redhead (and family) are moving!  

And not only are we moving...but I am taking on a new and much-wanted job title: CEO of Domestic Affairs.  (Stay at home momma, to the layperson.)  

HOLY CRAP CRACKERS.

My husband applied for a really great job a couple of months ago, but we didn't have our hopes up for it even a little.  Two months and many interviews later, he was offered the position.  Needless to say, our shock was GREAT.  However, shock was immediately replaced by excitement (great career step!  Kelly gets to stay home!) and also terror (we have to sell our house!  We have to buy a new one!  IN LESS THAN 2 MONTHS!  Please kill me).  But mostly excitement.
Jessie Spano, so wise.
The offer happened during Armchair BEA, so this greatly explains my absence at that time.  We are now steeped in the mucky muck of the home buying/selling process, among all the other wonderful things that come with moving 4 hours away to a town you know nothing about.  Chaos for sure, but we are really psyched about this opportunity, both for my husband and for our family as a whole.

(In related news, any book bloggers in the greater Rochester, NY area?  I need friends!  I promise I'm not (too) weird.  Maybe.)

So, that is Part 1 of my news.  Part 2 is forthcoming...soon.  (Suspense, I HAZ IT.)

Onward to May in review (book-wise).  First, as always, a photo depicting the month.  Despite all the insanity, Small Fry and I also took heavy advantage of the summer-like weather.
Small Fry at the water table, Mom in the kiddie pool, everyone's happy.
Now, the book-related goodness!

The May 2013 Fave/Least Fave honors go to:

May 2013 Favorite: The Honest Toddler: A Child's Guide to Parenting by Bunmi Laditan
May 2013 Least Favorite: Don't Go by Lisa Scottoline

In total, I read/reviewed 7 books:
Frozen In Time by Mitchell Zuckoff
The Honest Toddler: A Child's Guide to Parenting by Bunmi Laditan
The Midwife's Revolt by Jodi Daynard
Don't Go by Lisa Scottoline
The Bridge of Years by May Sarton
I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag by Jennifer Gilbert
Mama's Child by Joan Steinau Lester

I also posted one new Small Fry Saturday Review of Does A Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too? by Eric Carle.

I didn't do a lot of other book talk last month (preoccupied!) but I did flash you back to my star-studded engagement anniversary.  Good times.  And my participation in Armchair BEA was basically the equivalent of going to actual BEA and sitting in the hotel room the whole time.

June is going to be nutty around here as we try to get things in order for The Big Move before my husband's official start date (August 12!).  Plus, we have a vacation scheduled mid-month (much needed under the circumstances, though it also feels somewhat poorly placed now, time-wise...ah well).  I have a few book tours scheduled, so I promise not to disappear!  And I'm hoping to get a little beach reading done on vacation anyway.

Have a lovely month, readers...and stay tuned for more excitement!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Book Review: Cooked by Michael Pollan


Title: Cooked
Author: Michael Pollan
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

In Cooked, Michael Pollan explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen. Here, he discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements—fire, water, air, and earth—to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. Apprenticing himself to a succession of culinary masters, Pollan learns how to grill with fire, cook with liquid, bake bread, and ferment everything from cheese to beer.

Each section of Cooked tracks Pollan’s effort to master a single classic recipe using one of the four elements. A North Carolina barbecue pit master tutors him in the primal magic of fire; a Chez Panisse trained cook schools him in the art of braising; a celebrated baker teaches him how air transforms grain and water into a fragrant loaf of bread; and finally, several mad-genius "fermentos” (a tribe that includes brewers, cheese makers, and all kinds of picklers) reveal how fungi and bacteria can perform the most amazing alchemies of all. The reader learns alongside Pollan, but the lessons move beyond the practical to become an investigation of how cooking involves us in a web of social and ecological relationships. Cooking, above all, connects us.

The effects of not cooking are similarly far reaching. Relying upon corporations to process our food means we consume large quantities of fat, sugar, and salt; disrupt an essential link to the natural world; and weaken our relationships with family and friends. In fact, Cooked argues, taking back control of cooking may be the single most important step anyone can take to help make the American food system healthier and more sustainable. Reclaiming cooking as an act of enjoyment and self-reliance, learning to perform the magic of these everyday transformations, opens the door to a more nourishing life.


My Review:

You've all heard me wax poetic about Michael Pollan in the past.  I find his nonfiction works about food to be endlessly fascinating.  If you've never read any of his stuff, probably his two most well-known books (other than this one) are The Omnivore's Dilemma, and In Defense of Food.  The Omnivore's Dilemma takes a close look at where our modern-day food comes from: everything from our organic (or is it?) produce, to the Cheetos in Aisle 5.  It's eye-opening (and somewhat disturbing) for sure.  On the flip side, In Defense of Food is about how we decide what to eat.  What does the American diet consist of, and is it really good for us?

I highly recommend reading those two books before jumping into Cooked.  Cooked is a great follow-up because as Pollan states in the intro, it bridges the gap between those other two subjects: he already wrote about where food comes from, and what we choose to eat, but what about the way that food gets to the table?  How do we prepare it...and why?  That's what Cooked attempts to examine.

The book is divided into 4 chapters: Fire (grilling/barbecue), Water (braising/pot meals), Air (bread making), and Earth (fermentation, such as pickling and beer brewing).  Pollan argues that lot of our meals these days are ready-made by corporations: frozen dinners, boxed cereals, instant mashed potatoes, etc.  What people define as "cooking" these days is iffy at best...and I'll admit it, I say that I "cooked" dinner on a night when I boiled up a pot of pasta and threw a glop of Ragu on top.  Is that really cooking though?  Wouldn't cooking be a more apt description if I made the noodles, or crushed up the tomatoes for the sauce?  Pollan attempts to get back to the basics with these four methods of cooking--methods that a lot of us have outsourced to the food service industry in the last 50-ish years.

I was enthralled by every chapter, but unexpectedly, the one that got most of my attention was the last  (Earth, or fermentation).  I honestly thought this one would drag a little bit for me.  I'm not particularly interested in pickling, and I'm familiar with brewing already because my husband has done it, so I figured I wouldn't glean much from that section.  However, Pollan includes a deep discussion about how "fermentos" (a subculture of fermenters that believe in using natural (ie not sanitized) fermentation processes to make things like sauerkraut, pickles, cheese, etc) are adamant about the health benefits of their products.  In the world of antibacterial hand soap and throwing out any cheese with the smallest dot of blue fuzz on it, many of us have lost the "good" bacteria in our GI tracts that we need in order to digest things well and ward off infections.  He makes some really great, well-researched points, and I found myself reading half the chapter aloud to my husband ("listen to THIS part, OMG you will thank me later for enlightening you!").

The book as a whole will make you feel smarter, while also providing some entertainment.  Pollan found a person (or several people) in each chapter to help him try his hand at their cooking techniques, often with unexpected results.  (And often with delicious results...prepare to feel voracious after reading.)  His personal experiences, paired with the historical and scientific information he has gathered, makes for an excellent read.

Have I hooked you yet?  Cooked is an awesome nonfiction pick for anyone interested in the food they prepare.  At the very least, it will inspire you to look at your oven in a whole new way.  You do have to be prepared for some history lessons, as well as some food science, but they're mixed so seamlessly into the rest of the narrative that I doubt you'll be bothered.

Now then...off to perfect my braising technique.

Have you read any of Pollan's books?  What did you think?
 
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