Come on down and meet your maker. Come on down and make the stand. CBR8 Review 52.

unknown-10When I was in the seventh grade, I went to summer camp and discovered books I had never heard of or seen before. Other girls brought books like Flowers in the Attic and Forever, stolen from their older sisters. We all borrowed them and couldn’t get enough of these adult-seeming books.

And then one girl showed us The Shining. I had no idea what it was, but she told me it was scary.

And Constant Reader, it was scary. But not scary enough.

I devoured The Shining, then picked up Carrie. And after that, I got The Stand out of the library before my family went away for a long August weekend.

We went to a friends summer house up in Maine. We’d been there hundreds of times — a beautiful, rustic home in the woods, just outside of town, and close enough to the ocean to smell the salt water. That house was in Ogunquit, home to Fran Goldsmith and Harold Lauder. And once I realized that part of this apocalyptic story was taking place in the very town I was in at that actual moment, I freaked out. I put the book down and was afraid to read it for about another year or more.

Fast forward to a visit to my cousins in Cape Cod and a rainy night at the beach. Looking though the bedrooms for a book to read, I came across a battered copy of The Stand — I guess all five of my cousins and all of their friends had read it and they told me it was THE BEST BOOK EVER.

So I tried again. And that was it. I was all in with this book. Scared beyond belief, but in love with the characters and the writing. I think I still have this dog-eared copy somewhere — it has no cover, and it’s expanded to about twice its size from being out at the beach so long, and half of the pages are falling out. But to me, it’s beautiful.

I’ve now read The Stand more than any other book. I’ve read the original and the expanded version several times over. When I’m sick, I put in the DVD of the miniseries. It’s my go-to comfort watch (Why? I have no idea. Doesn’t make a lick of sense.). And this year, when a bunch of other people posted their reviews of The Stand, I realized it had been about 10 years since my last read. So I ran over to Audible and snatched it up.

Here are some of my thoughts on the expanded audio version…


This was the first time I’ve re-read the book since having kids of my own, and I’m curious as to how motherhood may have changed some of my opinions. First of all, the first third of the book really affected me this time. The details of the superflu — how it spread and killed everyone in its path — upset and scared me to a much greater level this time. Not since my first attempt at The Stand did the death and sickness bother me this much. I thought of parents losing their children, and of children losing their families, and was pretty much upset for the first 8 hours of listening.

And the added scenes in this extended version, detailing the first round of survivors who ended up dying from other, non-flu related causes, depressed me too. The catholic father who jogged himself to death after his wife and 8 children died. The little boy who fell in a well while out eating berries in a field. The man who died of appendicitis while Stu Redman tried to operate on him in the middle of a field. These scenes bummed me out.

I didn’t hate Frannie as much this time, as I understood just how scared she must have been to be bringing a child into that new, bleak world. I still thought she and Stu were a completely boring couple that I didn’t particularly care about, this photo of Stu notwithstanding:


And strangely, I didn’t love Larry Underwood as much as I always did. Since I was 12 years old, Larry was my favorite character. I thought he was such a cool guy, and was always so impressed by his transformation into the “nice guy” he always wanted to be.


This time, he pretty much infuriated me. His idiocy out in Malibu before the flu outbreak, his strained relationship with his mother, the way he treated Rita and Lucy — Larry really bugged me. I still like the man he became by the end, and I’m sorry that poor Lucy never really got to know that man.

This time, I much preferred Nick and Tom Cullen.

No, not this nick:


But the Nick who was such a strong, brave young man. His kindness to the people he met in Arkansas and his love for Tom really spoke to me, and I can’t believe I never noticed how central he was to the story before. I used to get so annoyed that Mother Abigail would single Nick out as the leader of the Free Zone, but now I kind of get it.

And Tom Cullen is just the best. M-O-O-N, that spells the best. When Tom and Stu celebrated Christmas on their way home to Boulder, I definitely got a bit teary-eyed. Laws, yes.

Lastly, a quick shout-out to Ralph Brentner, who never gets the respect that he deserves as an important character. I wish we had gotten more of his backstory and learned how such a relatively simple man so quickly became one of Mother Abigail’s confidents and favored subjects.



Now that I’ve been actively re-reading all of the books in the Dark Tower “universe”, I’m starting to wonder about good old Randall Flagg. Yes, he’s scary, but he’s also so much more unhinged in this book than I remember from earlier readings.

Maybe it’s because I recently revisited the last Dark Tower book, in which



Baby Mordred kills an absolutely insane Flagg. A Flagg so crazy, he’s wearing a tinfoil hat and simply rambling nonsense for his entire last scene.

The Flagg is the second half of The Stand is that crazy guy.
This guy:


But the Flagg we see in other books, like The Gunslinger or The Eyes of the Dragon? He’s a quieter kind of scary. Less insane, and more like this guy:

I’m wondering which one is the real Flagg. I’m hoping it’s the latter, as the crazy one is more like a petulant little kid than an evil stand-in for Satan.


I have now realized that I much prefer the mini series versions of a few of the minor characters.

Lloyd mostly just annoys me in the book. But in the movie? Come on. Miguel Ferrer makes Lloyd worth watching. And if you have hours and hours to spare, he is a damn delight on the audio commentary, regaling with tales of how his cousin George Clooney would come to Vegas while they were filming and they hit up tons of strip clubs.

In the book, I mostly found Glen to be annoying and boorish. But movie Glen is Ray Walston, and he’s just so good, you can’t help but agree with all of his crazy, societal outlooks. And his amazing dog doesn’t hurt, either.



I had 100% forgotten that Glen decided to leave Kojak alone back in New Hampshire, and that sucked. I was so mad at Glen and Stu and Fran for letting that happen. Why couldn’t they find some way for Kojak to ride with them? A sidecar? That would have worked, right? I felt so bad for that dog as he made his way across the country, terrorized by wolves and other creatures under Flagg’s control. Screw you, Glen.

Harold Emery Lauder sucks both in the book and movie. I’ll give the slight edge to the movie, simply because Parker Lewis Can’t Lose.



Here’s a few things that really bugged me this time.

Glen and Judge Farris are REALLY OLD MEN, yet Glen is in his 50’s and the judge is maybe 70. They have arthritis and heart problems and can barely exist, and yet, Glen is only IN HIS 50s. He isn’t Mother Abigail, he’s a middle aged man. God, I guess I should sign up for AARP and get myself fitted for a walker.

There’s an uncomfortable amount of rape in the uncut version — some jokes about it, sometimes discussed or threatened, and some actually executed. Trash Can Man is raped by The Kid and his gun. Dana and Susan and their entire crew are held captive and raped repeatedly until rescued by Stu and Frannie. The woman who was so sure she would be raped the minute she stepped outside that she ended up blowing her own head off accidentally. Way too much.

There’s also a lot more sexism (are women smart enough to work in factories?) and racism (the all African-American platoon murdering soldiers on tv in Maine) in this uncut version. Maybe Uncle Stevie should have left it alone. Bigger isn’t always better.


Please note that I’ve literally said nothing at all about Mother Abigail, Nadine, or Trashcan Man. I just don’t care.


My main reason for the reread was because of my recent obsession with The Dark Tower. I wanted to see how this book fits in with the DT universe, not just because of good old Randy Flagg, who you may also know as Russell Faraday, Walter O’Dim, Marten Broadcloak, or Richard Fannin.

I remember being shocked (seriously) when I read The Wastelands, and discovered that the world of The Stand was not even our world, but a totally different level of the Tower, where people drank Nozz-o-la and drove Takuro Spirits. So this time through, I tried to pay attention to details that might clue me in as to what level of the Tower was being described…I still think it was originally written as our world. Enough people were drinking Coke and Coors and driving Fords and Chevys.

But check out the very last page, where I think we find the most telling link to the Tower , in which the Walking Dude is reborn and thinks the following:

“Life was such a wheel that no man could stand upon it for long. And it always, at the end, came round at the same place again.”

How’s that for ka?


So there you have it, my disjointed thoughts on The Stand, the book I’ve read more than any other. But its my Cannonball and I’ll do whatever the hell I want.






I’m not a huge fan of The Zeppo, but I liked this a whole lot. CBR8 Reviews 50 & 51.


unknown-2Strange that I read these two books back-to-back. I didn’t intend to. I borrowed The Rest of Us Just Live Here from a friend, and picked up Geektastic at the library on a whim — the covers looked so similar, I just couldn’t resist. I’m glad I read Geektastic first, because I was so disappointed in it, that Patrick Ness couldn’t help but make me feel better.

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd should be amazing.

Its a collection of short stories from authors I like — Libba Bray, John Green, Scott Westerfeld, David Levithan, Kelly Link, and lots of others — all about life as a modern-day geek. But none of these stories particularly impressed me. Some were cute, but ultimately forgettable.

Jedi falls for Klingon at a convention. Cheerleader asks nerds in the AV Club to help her learn about geek stuff in order to make her boyfriend happy. Girl obsessed with dinosaurs is embarrassed by cool kids at school. Boy confused about his feelings for another kid on the Quiz Bowl team acts like a jerk. These are all fine, but really didn’t make an impression on me.


Some of the stories I really didn’t care for at all: Teenager in a blended family realizes she’s the Dawn of her Scooby group. A weird audition monologue for a school play about what it means to work behind the scenes, invisible to everyone else. And in my least favorite story, Kelly Link writes a crazy, nonsensical tale that couldn’t possibly take place in our world, with people I hate and actions that don’t make any sense.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about this book. If you are a John Green or David Levithan completist, by all means, pick it up. It isn’t terrible. It just isn’t all that good. Like the publisher was just taking these popular names in the “Nerd Herd” world and throwing their work together.

And then I read The Rest of Us Just Live Here. This was a modern-day geek story that I could really get into.


Remember the Buffy episode, The Zeppo? Where Xander has a huge adventure all on his own while the rest of the Scoobies go off fighting their own apocalypse? That’s what this reminded me of. But it didn’t have annoying Faith telling me everything was 5×5, so I liked this a lot better.

Mikey is part of a group of friends about to graduate from High School in a  small, anonymous town in Washington. Weird things happen in their town all the time that nobody ever talks about — vampires attacking, Gods and Goddesses attempting to take over, fighting against the living dead, etc. — they just accept that their high school blew up again and move on.

There is a group of kids that always seem to be involved when these supernatural events occur — The Indie Kids. Kids with names like Satchel and Finn and Dylan who dress all in black and still use the card catalog to do research.

But everyone else just tries to get on with being a teenager and dealing with normal life.

Mikey feels like the least important member of his group. The Zeppo, if you will. His friends know that he sees himself this way, and call him out on his ridiculousness. But at some point, doesn’t every kid feel that way?

Here’s what’s important, Mike…What’s important is that I know how much you worry about shit. And what’s also important is that I know a big part of that worry is that, no matter what group of friends you’re in, no matter how long you’ve known them, you always assume you’re the least-wanted person there. The one everyone else could do without.


He doesn’t think he’s interesting, like his sister Mel. He isn’t beautiful like Henna. And he isn’t part God, like the amazing Jared. He’s just Mikey. Filled with anxiety and OCD. And I really enjoyed reading about his life while the world fell apart around him.

I loved Mikey’s dedication to his sisters and his unwavering love for them. I loved his acceptance of his friends — flaws and all — through good times and bad. His worries about college and the future were so realistic, they were thoughts I had a million years ago when I was actually a senior in high school. Mikey felt real to me, and I have Patrick Ness to thank for that.

I’ve only read one book by Ness before — The Knife of Never Letting Go. I liked it but didn’t love it. I think now I’ll go back and revisit some of his other books, since this one felt so right to me.

I liked it much better than The Zeppo. But The Zeppo will always have a special place in my heart because of Giles’ donut meltdown.


I’m not sure Patrick Ness can compete with that.








And the moral of the story is, never doubt Andrew Smith. CBR8 Review 49.

unknownLongtime Cannonballers know of my obsession with all things Andrew Smith. From the moment that I first read Grasshopper Jungle I was obsessed with reading as much of this work as I could, as quickly as possible. When I finished his books, I started reading the books that he tweets about and books by friends of his. I discovered AS King and We Are the Ants. So when I saw that the highly lauded Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda actually had a blurb from Smith on the cover, really, I need no further praise than that.

And Andrew Smith was right, of course. He called it “a remarkable gift of a novel.”

Here’s what I love about writers like Smith, Rainbow Rowell, and now Becky Albertalli: they write about teens, but they treat them like fully developed human beings. Their characters say things you could imagine actual people saying. They do funny things, awkward things, stupid things. They make mistakes, and sometimes learn from them. These are real people in real situations (well, except for that giant praying mantis invasion): problems with friends, questions about love and sex, wondering about sexuality and gender, balancing home life and school. You know. Stuff that literally every human goes through at some point in their lives.

Albertalli gives us the wonderful Simon, a closeted gay high school student in Georgia. Nobody knows his secret, except for two people. The first is his secret, online penpal, Blue. The second is Martin, a kid from the school play that Simon is in who stumbles across some of the emails between Simon and Blue and uses them to blackmail Simon into setting him up with Simon’s adorable friend Abby. (whoa. total run-on sentence. but its just one of those teenage situations that practically begs for run-on details).

As Simon and Blue continue to email and open up to each other about their lives and their feelings, Simon tries to figure out just who Blue might be. All he knows is that they go to the same school, but nothing else.

Meanwhile, Simon deals with coming out to his friends and family, his sister going away to college and changing the family dynamic, and the jealousy between two of his friends who both fall for the same guy.

I loved Simon’s family and their unquestioning support of Simon. I appreciated that his dad, who had made tons of gay jokes in the past, felt bad about it but had really never meant any harm. Just showing how his casual, throwaway remarks really bothered Simon was an important insight into their relationship.

When we finally find out who Blue is, I wasn’t disappointed. I wish Simon and Blue all the luck in the world and hope that someday we get a whole Becky Albertalli universe (like Sarah Dessen’s world or Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl/Landline bits) of books and get to catch a glimpse of future, happy Simon.

My apologies to Becky Albertalli, who is clearly an amazing new talent. I didn’t mean to make your review all about Andrew Smith. Its a compliment, I swear. I just can’t help myself.



I loved the first third of this so much that the rest doesn’t even really matter. CBR8 Review 48.

unknown-4I’ve read an awful lot of zombie stories over the past 10 years. I’m really not sure why, as zombies aren’t really my thing. I don’t watch The Walking Dead and I’m not an aficionado of George Romero movies. I think its just ended up that a lot of authors that I like have tried a zombie story, so I’ve gone along with it. Some have been great, like World War Z or This Year’s Class Picture. Some have been less wonderful…like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Cell. Some have an uplifting ending — a cure might be found, the zombies are eradicated, civilization is better than ever, etc. And some have the world end, that’s it, humanity finished. I don’t really have a preference, I just like them to be original.

The first third of The Girl with All the Gifts is wonderfully original, and I loved it. Melanie is a young girl who goes to a special school run by doctors and soldiers. She’s a brilliant student and a loving little girl, and yet the adults around her call her “an abortion” and keep her strapped into a wheelchair at all times. Melanie has a lovely young teacher named Miss Justineau, and Melanie loves her very much.

While Melanie learns about Greek mythology, history, math, science, and geography, she also learns about what life is like outside of their classroom. They live someplace in England, not far from Beacon, the only populated city left in the nation. The world has been decimated by “hungries” — zombies created by a fungus that turns people into brainless eating machines, and only a small number of humans still survive.

I loved learning about Melanie’s day-to-day life at school, and about all of the different teachers and the other adults around her.

And then, about 1/3 of the way in to the book, everything changes. And it isn’t that I didn’t like the rest of the book, I just didn’t love it as much as the beginning.


So it seems that Melanie is basically a hungry, but she can think and learn, so the evil Doctor Caldwell is hell bent on opening up her brain to find a cure for civilization. But before she can do that, the base where Melanie is kept is attacked by a horde of hungrier and junkers (humans who live in the wild and kill other humans). To save Miss Justineau, Melanie attacks some junkers and realizes what she is.

Melanie, Miss Justineau, Doctor Caldwell, the amazing Sergeant Parks, and another soldier, young Kieran Gallagher, escape and head toward London and Beacon. Melanie, who would never do anything to hurt Miss Justineau, finds her physical self at war with her mental self and keeps herself in a muzzle and on a leash. Doctor Caldwell is obsessed with getting a chance to experiment on Melanie, and potentially being the savior of the human race. Miss Justineau spends her time hating Doctor Caldwell and protecting Melanie. Gallagher tries hard not to show how frightened he is, and tries (and fails) to act brave at all times. Parks protects them all, and slowly comes to appreciate, and maybe even like, Melanie.

As soon as our little band of travelers came across the dead hungries with the huge fungal trunks growing out of their bodies, I knew where this was headed. Of course those pods were going to open up at some point and knock off the rest of the survivors. I just didn’t expect it to be because a 10 year old girl decided that now was a fine time for it, as long as Miss Justineau could come along for the ride.

Some say that the ending was uplifting, but I didn’t see it that way. Not like I wanted Caldwell to cut Melanie open and find a cure…but the end of the human race as we know it wasn’t exactly a happy ending. I don’t know. It just wasn’t the ending for me.

I don’t mean to sound like I didn’t like this book. I did. I just wish that I had enjoyed the part after the escape from the base as much as the preceding part. And yes, I plan on seeing the movie next week. Here’s hoping its as exciting as the trailer makes it out to be.



Inside this gigantic book that I sort of liked was a fascinating novella that I loved. CBR8 review 47.

unknown-6This year marks my sixth Cannonball, and yet, somehow, this is the only book in The Passage trilogy that I’ve reviewed. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but I imagine it can be blamed on babies and whatnot.

I loved the first book, The Passage. I thought it was exciting and original, and I was name dropping Justin Cronin left and right. He was going to be the next Stephen King, and this trilogy was going to be his version of The Stand.

You haven’t read The Passage? OK. Well. Its the story of what happens to society after a vampiric virus being tested on convicts (the government was trying to create some sort of SUPER SOLDIER) goes haywire, vampires exist, society crumbles, etc. Except that there is one girl, Amy, who is immune to the virus and becomes known as THE GIRL WHO LIVED. The story jumps ahead almost 100 years to focus on a colony in California that was created by the government to help humankind to continue to exist. The kids who live there eventually meet up with Amy, go on a huge road trip, kill lots of vampires, and start to figure out just why their world is the way that it is.

It was really great.

And then, a few years later, Cronin released The Twelve. It had some great parts, but didn’t live up to the standards (MY STANDARDS) of the first. Our heroes from the first book continue to wage war against the head vampires (aka THE TWELVE), with Amy on their side. Some of the stories were amazing — I really loved reading about Lila and her absolute refusal to see that society has come to an end. The world is pretty much over and she’s in Home Depot picking out paint for a baby’s nursery.

The Twelve was good, but to be honest, I kind of forgot about it and was seriously shocked when I saw City of Mirrors at the library. It totally just slipped my mind that a third book was coming.

And I pretty much feel the same way about the third book as I did the second. It had some really interesting parts, but it didn’t hold up to the amazing power of the first book.

There were two things I really loved.

First, Cronin chose to advance the story about 20 years. So that all of our heroes and main characters were now about 50 years old, which is not a common occurrence in an action-type story. They were no longer young and in terrific shape, they weren’t as fast as they once were, and they had become comfortable in their lives. They were parents and grandparents now, not just soldiers and medics and technicians. I loved this narrative decision by Cronin.

Second, my absolute favorite part of the book was the small novella (I read it on a kindle, so its hard to say how long it was…maybe 150 pages?) stuck right in the middle. It told the story of Tim Fanning (AKA Patient Zero, and father figure of THE TWELVE) and his college roommate at Harvard, Jonas Lear. Tim falls in love with Jonas’ girlfriend, which changes his life forever. Decades after college, Jonas is the one who convinces Tim to come with him to the jungle and help to research the mysterious virus that’s been discovered.

I could have read this bizarre story of love and jealousy for another 100 pages.

The rest of the story just wasn’t as strong for me. I was glad to see Amy and Carter working together to defeat the virals, but that simply ended up as a ton of build-up with very little result. I also appreciated the action sequences, but have to complain that it took HUNDREDS of pages before anything happened here.


Here’s what I hated:


Everything that happened with Peter in the last hundred pages or so was just so so so so stupid. I hated him turning viral at the 11th hour, and yet still loving Amy in his weird, viral way. And why did he die as a viral? Could they die of old age? This didn’t get explained at any point and just pissed me off. This whole plot annoyed me so much that I almost didn’t care about finishing.


I think if I hadn’t adored The Passage, then I wouldn’t have been as “meh” about this book. It was pretty good, it just wasn’t great.




These audiobooks are great. But they’re also terrible. Hells bells, I don’t know what I think. CBR8 reviews 45 & 46.

unknown-5I’ve now read the first three installments in the Harry Dresden series. Or, to be more specific, I’ve now listened to James Marsters read me the first three installments in the Harry Dresden series. And I still don’t really know what I think.

Let me explain.

I have no idea what is going on in these books. Yes, I understand that Harry is a wizard who lives in Chicago. I get that he works indirectly with the police and with other, less reputable members of society. I totally get that he’s after the bad guys — in the case of these two books, a rogue super-werewolf and a vengeance-crazed ghost who hangs around with some nasty vampires. I know who his friends are and who his enemies are, and why he deserves both.

But I honestly can’t tell you exactly what happened in either of these books. And I’m going to put the blame here:


I find that when James is talking, my mind wanders. I find his voice overwhelmingly soothing, kind of like comfort food. And suddenly I realize that Harry has something going on and HELLS BELLS I have no idea who is involved or what is happening.

And yet.

I’m still going to listen to the rest of these books. I bought a ton of them with expiring Audible credits. I’m just going to try harder to concentrate and not let Spike mess with my mind.

I did enjoy quite a bit that happened in these books, though. I really liked Harry’s friend Michael, bearer of Amoracchius (which I had to look up, because AUDIOBOOK). I liked his dedication to his faith and his family, and I loved how much his wife hated Harry, yet still named their newborn after him.

I was disappointed that Murphy didn’t play much of a part in Grave Peril, and was curious as to how she was doing in the aftermath of Fool Moon — the police station pretty much destroyed after the Loup Garou was thrown into jail under her watch. Some of her colleagues were killed and we didn’t get to find out how she felt about it until the very end of Grave Peril. More Murphy, please.

And Bob. I do like Bob.

But there was plenty I wasn’t into.

First and foremost, I could give a crap about Susan and her potential vampirism. I didn’t care much for them as a couple, and was not into it when Harry saved her by telling her that he loved her. Nope.

Lastly, Harry’s godmother Lea and her hellhounds drove me berserk. Either take him to the Nevernever or leave him in Chicago, but enough with the back and forth.

Enough of my fellow Cannonballers have assured me that after the first four books, the series really takes off, and I’m glad. While I wasn’t madly in love with these two (or what I remember about these two), I still mostly liked them. I think.




Jumping on the bandwagon here. CBR8 review 44.

unknown-4Can I just write that I agree with everyone else, and that this is the new Act Like It?

Or do I need to say more?

How about, if you like (or think you might like) Contemporary Romance, that picking this one up is a no-brainer? This book is witty, filled with delicious and snarky conversation, admirably romantic, and just the right amount of steamy.

I mean, jeez. This book makes a night spent sitting on a couch and holding hands while watching ER and eating ice cream seem like a perfect date, and made me jealous that I wasn’t sitting on a couch and holding hands while watching ER and eating ice cream.

Lucy and Joshua work alongside each other (not really together) at their publishing company, and DO NOT get along. In fact, Lucy pretty much hates Josh more than anyone she’s ever met. And even though I knew from the opening pages where this book was going to go, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the ride.

I loved watching Lucy slowly transition from hating Joshua, to wondering about Joshua, to really looking at Joshua and seeing him, to lusting after him, to loving him.

And I loved getting to know Joshua and realizing that all is not as it seems.

I mean, that scene in the elevator? Good god.

This one has been reviewed a lot lately, and for good reason. Its just really good. Its well written, its fun, and its filled with emotion.

Was everything great? No. Of course not. Sometimes I felt like there had been some weird editing, and that some minute plot point we didn’t really care about was suddenly a big deal. Also, it bothered me a lot that Lucy never went home to visit her family. I just didn’t see that she ever had a valid reason. And to be honest, I got kind of skeeved out by the INCESSANT reminders that Lucy is teeny tiny and Joshua is enormous and huge.

But those are minor quibbles.

I read this entire book on a cross-country flight, and was ALMOST sorry that the flight had to end and I had to turn the Kindle off. That’s how much I enjoyed it. Thanks, fellow Cannonballers, for bringing this one to my attention.



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