Review: Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon

written in my own hearts blood by diana gabaldonFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook, paperback, hardcover, audiobook
Genre: historical fiction; time travel romance
Series: Outlander, #8
Length: 849 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Date Released: June 10, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

1778: France declares war on Great Britain, the British army leaves Philadelphia, and George Washington’s troops leave Valley Forge in pursuit. At this moment, Jamie Fraser returns from a presumed watery grave to discover that his best friend has married his wife, his illegitimate son has discovered (to his horror) who his father really is, and his beloved nephew, Ian, wants to marry a Quaker. Meanwhile, Jamie’s wife, Claire, and his sister, Jenny, are busy picking up the pieces.

The Frasers can only be thankful that their daughter Brianna and her family are safe in twentieth-century Scotland. Or not. In fact, Brianna is searching for her own son, who was kidnapped by a man determined to learn her family’s secrets. Her husband, Roger, has ventured into the past in search of the missing boy . . . never suspecting that the object of his quest has not left the present. Now, with Roger out of the way, the kidnapper can focus on his true target: Brianna herself.

My Review:

The title is much too long, but completely evocative of the story, assuming that the heart in question belongs to Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser (and briefly Grey).

outlander mediumIf the above recital of names requires explication, please start this series at the very beginning, with Outlander. If you enjoy historical fiction, you’ll be extremely glad you did.

Consider all of this as spoilers to the Starz Outlander TV series that starts next month. Just as with The Game of Thrones, someday, if the series is successful, TV will catch up to the books.

By the time of this particular story, it is 1778, and Claire and Jamie are caught in the midst of the American Revolution. Even though Claire is a time traveler, she only remembers the bare outlines of 18th century American history. The Colonials obviously won in the end, but who won which battle is not something she ever studied in medical school.

Claire and Jamie live their 18th century lives one day at a time, doing their best to survive. Life, however, has a way of throwing them curveballs, ones almost as big as the trip through the standing stones that brought Claire back to the 18th century in the first place.

scottish prisonerWritten in My Own Heart’s Blood begins just where An Echo in the Bone left off, five years ago. (Waiting for the next book in this series is awful).

At the end of Echo, Jamie has just returned to the colonies after a trip to Scotland, a trip where he was reported dead. Claire is married to Lord John Grey (see The Scottish Prisoner (reviewed here) for more on Grey) as a way of being protected from accusations of sedition against the British. As Grey is homosexual, it was assumed that this would be a marriage entirely of convenience. It was, mostly, emphasis on mostly.

So Jamie comes back to find out that his wife has married one of his best friends, and takes Grey out to beat him to a pulp. A beating that Grey feels he not only deserves, but actively encourages. The results, however, leave Grey wandering around the Pennsylvania countryside with severe injuries. He finds himself batted, and battered, back and forth between the rival Colonial and British forces as he alternately conceals and reveals his identity in an attempt to return home.

Meanwhile, Jamie returns to Philadelphia and gets dragooned into the Colonial Army as a General, based on his experience in Europe as well as in the Colonies. Claire follows him as a surgeon while they repair their slightly strained relationship.

And in the 20th century, their daughter Brianna faces multiple kidnap attempts as she tries to figure out where and when the best place will be to raise her children, all while her husband in lost back in the 18th century on a wild goose chase for their son.

All anyone wants to do is go home, if they can just dodge the armies and other forces against them; and if they can figure out exactly where that elusive “home” might be.

Escape Rating A+: Okay, I’ll say upfront that I love this series, and have since the very first book, over 20 years ago. This series is sprawling and awesome and sprawlingly awesome.

Written in My Own Heart’s Blood was the perfect book to read on a 5-hour flight. I didn’t finish the 800+ pages, but I was enthralled every step of the way, both mine and Claire’s.

After 8 books in the series, what continues to fascinate, at least this reader, are the closely intertwined relationships among all the participants. Family and friendship make incredibly strong bonds, and in this story we see how close everyone has remained, even across three centuries and three generations.

The story encompasses not just Jamie and Claire, but also his nephew Ian, his natural son William, Bree and Roger in the 20th century, and every member of both families. And it’s all so enthralling that each person plays their own separate and completely needful part in the narrative. Including John Grey and his family from the British military side.

Not only is every story part of every other, but we get a glimpse at the time before Outlander started through Roger’s wild goose chase in the 1730s, and we see the genesis of characters who have fallen by the wayside. Even Bree’s 20th century stepfather manages to send an important message back from the grave.

Following the American Revolution from the ground is bloody, gory, frightening and amazing. Claire’s perspectives of the battles, from her position as a medico, give the entire scene a “you are there” feeling that keeps you on the edge of your seat. We meet some of the towering figures of the Revolution, like Washington and Benedict Arnold, only to discover that they were human and fallible (especially Arnold!) but still amazing.

I hope that Claire gets to meet Ben Franklin, I think it would be hilarious.

But speaking of hilarity, the story definitely has it’s lighter moments. The humor and occasional sarcasm laced through Claire’s 20th century observations of the 18th century are often snort-chuckle funny. The characters are so familiar that the humor in many situations comes through wonderfully.

If you have an interest in any of the periods that this series covers, if you enjoy historical fiction laced with romance and in the midst of a sprawling family saga, try Outlander. (If the size of the books alarms you, the first seven are available in an ebook bundle.)

I can’t wait to visit with Claire and Jamie again. The story does not (thankfully) end on a cliffhanger, but one is left with the intense feeling that there is much more yet to come!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.
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Review: The Forever Man by Pierre Ouellette + Giveaway

forever man by pierre ouelletteFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: Science fiction; thriller
Length: 316 pages
Publisher: Alibi
Date Released: July 8, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Portland, Oregon, was once a beacon of promise and prosperity. Now it’s the epicenter of a world gone wrong, its streets overrun by victims and hustlers, drifters and gangsters. Lowly contract cop Lane Anslow struggles to keep afloat—and to watch out for his brilliant but bipolar brother, Johnny, a medical researcher. Lane soon discovers that Johnny is part of an experiment veiled in extraordinary secrecy. But he has no idea who’s behind it, how astronomical the stakes are, or how many lives might be destroyed to make it a reality.

Now Johnny’s gone missing. To find him, Lane follows a twisting trail into a billionaire’s hilltop urban fortress, a politician’s inner circle, a prison set in an aircraft graveyard, and a highly guarded community where people appear to be half their biological age. Hunted by dueling enemies, Lane meets a beautiful and enigmatic woman at the center of a vast web of political and criminal intrigue. And behind it all is a sinister, desperate race to claim the biggest scientific prize of all: eternal life.

My Review:

The Forever Man combines two well-used science fiction plots into a single story that never quite jelled for me. The individual parts were both potentially interesting, but the whole doesn’t do either one of them justice.

The story takes place in a near-future dystopia. A future so near that the protagonist still remembers the pre-rotten past, meaning now. It’s a future where the 1% has retreated into their gated communities as the rest of us barely get by. The social contract has completely broken down, everything is privatized, and both pensions and social security for the middle class are ideals that have long since died.

In the history of this future, a terrorist attack in the American Heartland killed off the last of the constitutional protections against very nearly everything. Think the Patriot Act on steroids and with clones, and you’ll get some idea of the background.

Part of this background is that police services have been privatized and have turned into contract services. Only the rich can afford to have crimes against them even investigated, and the cops who do the investigations are effectively mercenaries.

Our protagonist is a contract cop in a degraded version of Portland, Oregon who has just lost his contract because at 45, he’s just not as fast as he used to be. There are no jobs, and unemployment and homelessness are widespread.

Of course, as an ex-cop, Lane Anslow can contract himself out to one of the gangs that have taken over most of the city. And he might have to, just to keep himself off the streets.

But it all goes pear-shaped (even more than it is already) when his scientist brother disappears in the middle of a giant plot to allow one extremely old and incredibly rich man to live forever. At any cost.

Escape Rating C+: The near-future scenario is not merely frightening, but all too plausible. I would have loved to have seen a story that addressed the way that the country had gone to hell in a handcart, how it got there, and the way that one person (or a group) was trying to survive or make things better.

However, what we have is the conspiracy plot about a rich man who has bought a scientific method of immortality, and the ways he protects himself and pays off his enemies in order to achieve his goals. His ruthlessness and extreme inhumanity made Zed seem a bit of a caricature. The plots and cover-ups that he creates to maintain his secret could take place in our current world; the dystopia wasn’t needed.

Lane doesn’t start out looking for the immortality plot, he begins by hunting for his brilliant but feckless brother. He’s also a bit one-dimensional, the mostly straight cop who will do anything or investigate anywhere to save a doomed loved one. But I didn’t feel for him; he seemed like a device rather than a fully-fleshed out character.

The story explores lots of cool ideas, not just the dystopia, but also the way that society has and mostly hasn’t, coped with the problem. The political machinations were particularly fascinating. I just wish it had tied together a bit more.

~~~~~~GIVEAWAY~~~~~~

Pierre is giving away a copy of The Forever Man and a $25 giftcard to the ebook retailer of your choice. To enter, use the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

TLC

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.
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The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-20-14

Sunday Post

Galen calls this the “flavor text”, a term which I find hilarious. Text has no flavor. Well, maybe.

I’m slightly punchy because we came back from NASFiC this morning, and my body clock doesn’t know what time zone it’s in. On that infamous other hand, Detcon1 was awesome! Next year in Spokane for WorldCon.

In addition to all the lovely books that Galen showcased in yesterday’s post, there was one more important acquisition. And I’m afraid to open the suitcase for fear that something happened to it in transit and I’m going to cry.

The Artist Guest of Honor at Detcon was John Picacio. I purchased one of his drawings in the art show, and it’s awesome. Because the rights aren’t available for reproduction, I’ll just give you a taste.

The drawing is the combined covers of the three Star Trek Crucible novels, so it’s a triple portrait of Kirk, Spock and McCoy from the original series. It’s beautiful, and from a fan’s perspective, it’s just the way that I remember them. (That’s a comment on the art and NOT the stories. I read the stories when the books came out, and I remember them as being, in order: Not bad, not true to character, and WTF)

Current Giveaways:

$10 Amazon or B&N Gift Card in the Summer Reads Giveaway Hop (ends 7/23!)
Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann
Until We Touch by Susan Mallery

blade of the samurai by susan spannBlog Recap:

A+ Review: Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann + Giveaway
A Review: Heaven’s Queen by Rachel Bach
A Review: Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone
Summer Reads Blog Hop
B+ Review: Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron
You shall not pass! (without book recommendations) [Stacking the Shelves (97)]

 

 

written in my own hearts blood by diana gabaldonComing Next Week:

The Forever Man by Pierre Ouellette (blog tour review)
Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon (review)
Truly by Ruthie Knox (review)
Star Trek: The More Things Change by Scott Pearson (guest review)
Q&A with author Jessica Scott + Giveaway (Back to You tour)

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You shall not pass! (without book recommendations) [Stacking the Shelves (97)]

Galen here, sneaking in and taking over Marlene’s blog today while she sleeps in (cue a quiet “mwa-ha-ha”). We’ve been in Detroit since Wednesday to attend Detcon1, the North American Science Fiction Convention.

We made sure this time to leave room in our luggage to take books and other stuff back home. Here’s what we got so far from the dealer’s room (and we were able to get all but one of these signed!):

2014-07-19 09.27.34

Of course, I got rather more book recommendations than physical books — which is nice, since it’s so embarrassing when the plane gets so overloaded that it has to hop rather than fly.

Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’oThe YA guest of honor is Nnedi Okorafor.  Yesterday I went to a reading and Q&A she conducted. The books that she recommended, wrote, or influenced her flew fast and furious:

Wild Seed by Octavia ButlerAnother panel I went to was about where folks who have not yet read Octavia Butler should start.  One of the wonderful things about the panel, in addition to the energy of the panelists (Nnedi Okorafor, adrienne maree brown, Tananarive Due, and Ellen Denham), was that there were four different well-reasoned opinions on the question.  So if you can’t decide, print out this blog post, tape it to the wall, and throw a dart at:

At the panel I also learned of an exciting project called Octavia’s Brood, which will be publishing an anthology of visionary speculative fiction by social justice organizers and activists — I’m really looking forward to it.

The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette KowalAnother list of book recommendations came from a question asked at the Gender Roles in Genre Fiction panel: what books do you recommend for their role in busting tired gender tropes:

 

I’m looking forward to reading the books on this list, and I hope, Gentle Reader, that you also find interesting avenues to explore.

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Review: Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron

nice dragons finish last by rachel aaronFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: Heartstrikers #1
Length: 315 pages
Publisher: self-published
Date Released: July 15, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s WebsiteGoodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

As the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: keep quiet, don’t cause trouble, and stay out of the way of bigger dragons. But this meek behavior doesn’t fly in a family of ambitious magical predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience.

Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ–a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit–Julius has one month to prove that he can be a ruthless dragon or kiss his true shape goodbye forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are considered monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test.

He only hopes humans are more trustworthy than dragons…

My Review:

The girl gets the dragon. Normally I would have said that the other way around, but in this case, the human is definitely more alpha than the dragon.

Also, by the end of the story, it’s not strictly true that anyone actually gets anyone, but there’s certainly the promise of a romance in later books in the series.

This one is all about the case. And what a case it is!

There are lots of stories where the magic goes away, or remains hidden. In this series, the magic has come back with a vengeance. The world is different. Not only have magic creatures come out of hiding, but magic began manifesting in humans again. There be mages here.

The most apocalyptic release of magic back into the world occurred in Detroit. The spirit of the Great Lakes, the Lady Algonquian, rose up out of the lake and pretty much drowned the entire city of Detroit, attempting to wash it clean of pollution (and people). It is now the Detroit Free Zone under her very active protection, and her laws don’t give much of a damn about what humans do to each other. She cares about protecting the land and the spirits of the place.

It turns out that there is a lot of money in researching magic, and in the intervening 60 or so years, a lot of new companies have moved into what used to be the Detroit exurbs.

Her other rule is “no dragons”. Because yes, the dragons came out of hiding, and have become an apex predator pretty much everywhere. Except the DFZ.

So when the mother of the Heartstriker clan of dragons wants to punish her least-dragonish child, she dumps Julius in the DFZ with his powers locked away, and gives him a month to do something properly draconic–or die.

Julius gets roped into one of his brother Ian’s manipulative plans, and finds himself attempting to tag a dragon in hiding while fending off goons sent to murder his new partner–a mage on the run.

Marci Novalli left Vegas in a hurry when her dad’s mob-partner had him killed, and she’s been running every since. She hopes that working with Julian will earn her enough to get away from the goon squad–while Julius hopes that the human mage will help him blend into the all-human DFZ.

Neither of them gets quite what the bargained for, but what they do each get is a partner who will protect their back from the increasingly large forces out to get them. And someone to stand with them in the middle of machinations and manipulations that are intended to get them both killed.

Escape Rating B+: This is a lot of fun, especially in the second half. In the first half of the book, Julius does a little bit too much “pity poor me” and trying to find a way out of the mess he’s been stuck in. Everyone in his family seems to have had a part in setting him up, and he’s totally out of his depth.

It’s only when he starts standing up for himself that he’s able to get a grip on events, and on his own future. Of course, standing up for himself is part of what the manipulation was intending to accomplish in the first place.

It may be that we need to learn more of how draconic society does (or doesn’t) work, but Julius’ mother comes off as a bit of a caricature, so I more than didn’t like her, she didn’t seem quite internally consistent.

The plots and counterplots were so convoluted, I couldn’t get them straight until the end, and neither could Julius, which was the point. Everyone is manipulating everyone else, to various good and bad effects. Even the mobster after Marci turns out to be just a thread in a much larger canvas than he anticipated.

Marci seems to be a much stronger (and more bloodthirsty) character than Julius. While he’s been avoiding all of his powerful family by hiding, she’s been making a living on the fringes of the mob, and taking lots of classes in the “school of hard knocks”. Standing up for her and more importantly with her is what makes Julius grow up.

Nice Dragons Finish Last was a great start to a cool urban fantasy series. The ending sent chills down my spine, so I can’t wait to see what happens next.

*Reviewer’s note: As you read this, I am in Detroit at NASFiC (North American Science Fiction Convention) Hopefully, we won’t see the spirit of the lake in quite so dramatic a fashion.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.
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Summer Reads Blog Hop

summer reads blog hop 2014

Welcome to the Summer Reads Blog Hop, hosted by herding cats & burning soup!

Summer’s in full swing! Come in out of the heat and check out our favorite Summer Reads! Each blog will feature their favorites and a giveaway so visit them all! Plus there’s a Grand Prize giveaway happening too!

So what books are you diving into at the beach (or wherever you relax) this summer? I’m in the middle of the latest book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander saga, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. It’s 800+ pages of awesomeness, and totally makes the world go away.

I’m giving away a $10 gift card to winner’s choice of Amazon or Barnes & Noble:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

There are TWO grand prizes for the hop, a $100 Amazon Gift Card and a second for a $30 Amazon Gift Card:

For more chances to win, visit the other stops on the hop!


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Review: Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

full fathom five by max gladstoneFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, paperback
Genre: fantasy
Series: Craft Sequence, #3
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: July 15, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

On the island of Kavekana, Kai builds gods to order, then hands them to others to maintain. Her creations aren’t conscious and lack their own wills and voices, but they accept sacrifices, and protect their worshippers from other gods—perfect vehicles for Craftsmen and Craftswomen operating in the divinely controlled Old World. When Kai sees one of her creations dying and tries to save her, she’s grievously injured—then sidelined from the business entirely, her near-suicidal rescue attempt offered up as proof of her instability. But when Kai gets tired of hearing her boss, her coworkers, and her ex-boyfriend call her crazy, and starts digging into the reasons her creations die, she uncovers a conspiracy of silence and fear—which will crush her, if Kai can’t stop it first.

My Review:

three parts dead by max gladstoneThe lawyer/necromancers are back in this third book of the Craft Sequence, after Three Parts Dead (reviewed here) and Two Serpents Rise (here).

Admittedly, the concept of law as necromancy is one that is too close to the truth not to make for an awesome story, but Full Fathom Five isn’t so much about the contract law as it is about the way that we create deities in our own image, and what happens when we succeed.

Worship is power in the universe of this series, and power is not merely divine power (although it is also that) but all actual power like electricity. It heats homes and lights cities.

But the fascinating thing about the deities in this world is that they can die by losing too much power, either by losing worshippers or much more spectacularly, by getting caught short in the futures market.

If money is power, then in this world, power is also money.

two serpents rise by max gladstoneIn the series, we’ve seen the rise and fall of deities (Three Parts Dead), the near catastrophic loss of a technology based corporation that provides power in the place of any deities (Two Serpents Down) and in Full Fathom Five we see the middle-option; fake deities (literally idols) as a way of putting oneself outside either of the other systems.

Idols are like gods, except they are literally created by humans. Actually sculpted to accept worship and hold contracts, just like real deities. Investing in an idol avoids paying tithes in deity-country and taxes in corporation territory.

But what happens when the idols start waking up and dispensing inspiration and grace? In other words, what happens when a tiny country whose ability to fend off both sides rests on the neutrality of the idols they create, and when those idols cease being neutral?

Kai makes idols. They live, and they sometimes die. But when she tries to save one from certain death, she gets sidelined and sidetracked from investigating what went wrong. Also demoted and displaced.

The contract necromancers are searching into every nook and cranny to discover why one of the idols defaulted on its contracts and went effectively bankrupt.

Meanwhile, both a poet and a street gang have begun worshipping gods who have inspired and saved them, but who no one else knows exists.

Except that someone does, and it’s someone who will do anything to protect the secret, up to killing as many gods and goddesses as it takes to keep anyone else from knowing that their tiny country is no longer neutral in the god wars.

Escape Rating A: I think there is a pattern in these stories, at least so far. When humans create or reject their own gods, what different ways might that happen. This one is not so much about the literal creation of idols, as it first appears, but what happens when worship creates a new god and upsets the old world order.

People don’t like change, and will go to great lengths to protect the status quo.

Kai pokes her nose into this investigation because she can’t reconcile what happened to what is supposed to happen. And every time someone tries to tell her that her memory is wrong, or that she must still be recovering, she can’t get past that voice in her head that says she remembers events correctly.

Her work is what she has, and she needs to figure out how she could have been so mistaken. Of course, she isn’t.

The street gang, a bunch of kids, is telling themselves stories about the “Blue Lady”, but their storytelling is a form of worship. They have found a god, or she has found them, and she is protecting and helping them.

Unfortunately, her attention means that someone really is out to get them.

And a lost poet was given 6 months of grace and inspiration by the goddess, and can’t find his way back again now that she’s gone.

Kai keeps finding links between the idol who died, and this goddess who doesn’t exist. The deeper she probes, the more she discovers that her world is bigger and darker than she thought.

And friendship is the greatest saving grace of all.

Just as in the other parts of this series, each glimpse into this world shows a different facet, and the case is complicated with both magic and the depths of human (and divine) nature.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.
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