Thursday, April 28, 2016

Cover Crush: The North Water by Ian McGuire

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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I do a double take every time I see Ian McGuire's The North Water. I've not read the book, but I adore the imagery on the jacket. I find the silhouette with the ocean and the night within it striking. There's a lot of drama in the inverted space and I think the angle of the whale emphasizes it all the more. 

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!


Magdalena at It's a Mad Mad World
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Cover Clichés: The Blue Veil

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see an image that gives me an oddly disconcerting sense of deja vu. I could swear I've never read the book, but I know I've seen the jacket image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Images are often recycled because cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. That said, I find comparing their finished designs quite interesting.  

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Can a Canaanite harlot who has made her livelihood by looking desirable to men make a fitting wife for one of the leaders of Israel? Shockingly, the Bible's answer is yes.

Pearl in the Sand tells Rahab's untold story. Rahab lives in a wall; her house is built into the defensive walls of the City of Jericho. Other walls surround her as well--walls of fear, rejection, and unworthiness.

A woman with a wrecked past; a man of success, of faith...of pride. A marriage only God would conceive! Through the heartaches of a stormy relationship, Rahab and Salmone learn the true source of one another's worth and find healing in God.

The story of Queen Isabella, who sought revenge on her husband Edward II, and her lover Sir Roger Mortimer, who masterminded the invasion that accomplished it.

The marriage of Isabella of France and Edward II of England in 1308 is a union meant to secure lasting peace. For years, Isabella is a loyal wife, who repeatedly salvages her husband's kingship, even as she endures his neglect. When she finally speaks out against Edward's favorite, Lord Hugh Despenser, her income, lands and children are taken from her. In an age when women are not supposed to openly defy their husbands, Isabella vows to get her children back and have her revenge on Despenser - no matter what the cost.

Imprisoned in the Tower of London for leading a rebellion against King Edward, Mortimer escapes with Isabella's help and finds refuge in the French court. But when Isabella arrives in Paris to negotiate a peace treaty, it is a temptation the ambitious Mortimer cannot resist.

Run To Me is a suspenseful, impossible-to-put-down chase thriller with riveting twists and turns...

It's been two years since Shyler O'Neil's beloved son Jesse was killed - but his final moments are as vivid to her now as they were that dreadful day. Suffering from post-traumatic stress, and convinced she did not do enough to protect him, she retreats to an isolated cabin in the woods of northern Maine.

Meanwhile, Zack Ballinger - a ten-year-old boy who has never known a mother's love - finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. He's seen too much and is now running for his life. Fleeing into the woods, Zack soon finds himself at Shyler's cabin. He'll take whatever help she can give - even though, for some reason, she keeps calling him Jesse...

With the pursuers hot on their heels, 'mother' and 'son' go on the run. Protecting Zack may well be Shyler's one chance at redemption.

Either that, or she is the child's greatest threat...

In this timely thriller by ExFeds Diane and David Munson (former Federal Prosecutor and Federal Agent), parole officer Dawn Ahern is shocked to witness her friend Liberty, the chosen bride of Wally (former "lost boy" from Sudan) being kidnapped by modern-day African slave traders. Dawn tackles overwhelming danger head-on in her quest to redeem Liberty. When she reaches out to FBI agent Griff Topping and CIA agent Bo Rider, her life is changed forever. Suspense soars as Bo launches a clandestine rescue effort for Liberty only to discover a deadly Iranian secret threatening the lives of millions of Americans and Israelis.Glimpse tomorrow?'s startling headlines in this captivating story of faith and freedom under fire.

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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Wishlist Reads: April 2016

Like many readers, my TBR grows faster than it shrinks. I find a subject that interests me and titles start piling up one right after the other. With so many bookmarked, I thought it'd be fun to sort through and feature five titles a month here at Flashlight Commentary. 

Much like my February post, my April Wishlist is themed by jacket design. Historic fiction is an incredibly gender bias genre and I'm not shy about saying that it drives me nuts. Trends force writers to feature strong heroines if they want their work published by the major publishing houses, but I feel the push is resulting in a lot of weak and stereotypic heroes. I'd love to see more male leads, not sharing the stage in a romantic epic, but celebrated in their own right which leads me to this month's theme. Each jacket features a male character flying solo and not a one is shelved as historical romance. I've not read any of them, but I give each of the authors credit for delivering narratives that can be marketed without a passionate embrace or plunging neckline.

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A golden age of publishing on the verge of collapse. For a hundred years, loose copyright laws and a hungry reading public created a unique opportunity: books could be published without an author’s permission with extraordinary ease. Authors gained fame but suffered financially—Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, to name a few—but publishers reaped enormous profits while readers got their books on the cheap. The literary pirates who stalked the harbors, coffeehouses, and printer shops for the latest manuscript to steal were known as bookaneers.

Yet on the eve of the twentieth century, a new international treaty is signed to protect authors and grind this literary underground to a sharp halt. The bookaneers, of course, would become extinct. In The Last Bookaneer, Matthew Pearl gives us a historical novel set inside the lost world of these doomed outlaws and the incredible heist that brought their era to a close.

On the island of Samoa, a dying Robert Louis Stevenson labors over a new novel. The thought of one last book from the great author fires the imaginations of the bookaneers, and soon two adversaries—the gallant Pen Davenport and the monstrous Belial—set out for the south Pacific island. Pen Davenport—a tortured criminal genius haunted by his past—is reluctantly accompanied by Fergins, the narrator of our story, who has lived a quiet life of bookselling before being whisked across the world on his friend’s final caper. Fergins soon discovers the supreme thrill of aiding Davenport in his quest: to steal Stevenson’s manuscript and make a fortune before the new treaty ends the bookaneers’ trade forever.

Yet Samoa holds many secrets of its own, and the duo’s bookish concerns clash with the island’s violent destiny. A colonial war is afoot between the British, American, and German powers; even as Stevenson himself quietly supports native revolutionaries from high in his mountain compound. Soon Pen and Fergins are embroiled in a conflict larger, perhaps, than literature itself. Illuminating the heroics of the bookaneers even while conjuring Stevenson himself to breathtaking life, Pearl’s The Last Bookaneer is a pageturning journey to the dark heart of a forgotten literary era.

It’s the 1st of June 1914 and Hugh Stanton, ex-soldier and celebrated adventurer is quite literally the loneliest man on earth. No one he has ever known or loved has been born yet. Perhaps now they never will be.

Stanton knows that a great and terrible war is coming. A collective suicidal madness that will destroy European civilization and bring misery to millions in the century to come. He knows this because, for him, that century is already history.

Somehow he must change that history. He must prevent the war. A war that will begin with a single bullet. But can a single bullet truly corrupt an entire century?

And, if so, could another single bullet save it?

The Renegade is a blazing, brilliant, new historical adventure in Jack Whyte's Guardians series. Packed with action, heroism, and vibrant historical detail, The Renegade recounts the life of Scotland's greatest medieval king, Robert the Bruce. Bruce was one of the most famous warriors of his generation, eventually leading Scotland during the Wars of Scottish Independence against the Kingdom of England, most famously at the bloody Battle of Bannockburn. Today in Scotland, Bruce is revered as a national hero, but during his lifetime, the rebellious leader and guerrilla tactician was a thorn in Edward Plantagenet's side, earning himself the nickname the Renegade.

Set in the 14th century, The Guardians series features three extraordinary guardians of medieval Scotland, the greatest heroes the country ever produced. The exploits and escapades, high ideals, and fierce patriotism of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and Sir James Douglas are the stuff of legends, and the soul and substance of these epic novels.

After years fighting for Queen and country, and for his own survival, Jack Lark finds his way back to his mother's gin palace. But life as a soldier has changed him almost beyond recognition, and London is no longer the city he remembers. 

In a desperate moment, he makes a mistake that leads him back to where he swore he'd never return - the battlefield...

A thrilling mix of espionage, treachery and murder set in the aftermath of the First World War from the master of the triple-cross. 

Spring, 1919. James 'Max' Maxted, former Great War flying ace, returns to the trail of murder, treachery and half-buried secrets he set out on in The Ways of the World. He left Paris after avenging the murder of his father, Sir Henry Maxted, a senior member of the British delegation to the post-war peace conference. But he was convinced there was more -- much more -- to be discovered about what Sir Henry had been trying to accomplish. And he suspected elusive German spymaster Fritz Lemmer knew the truth of it.

Now, enlisted under false colours in Lemmer's service but with his loyalty pledged to the British Secret Service, Max sets out on his first -- and possibly last -- mission for Lemmer. It takes him to the far north of Scotland -- to the Orkney Isles, where the German High Seas Fleet has been impounded in Scapa Flow, its fate to be decided at the conference-table in Paris. Max has been sent to recover a document held aboard one of the German ships. What that document contains forces him to break cover sooner than he would have wished and to embark on a desperate race south, towards London, with information that could destroy Lemmer -- if Max, as seems unlikely, lives to deliver it.

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Stephanie at Layered Pages
Magdalena at It's a Mad Mad World
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Cover Crush: The Empress of Rome Series by Kate Quinn

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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I associate Kate Quinn's name with great historic fiction, but when thinking about her books, this is the design that jumps to my mind's eye. I love how the artist paired masculine and feminine elements within the image and I think the red accents in the text and the blood splatter add an certain degree of intrigue and depth to the composition. There is a fourth book in the series, but as far as I know Lady of the Eternal City was not released with comparable artwork. It's a shame really, as I think this publication of the series quite striking. 

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!


Magdalena at It's a Mad Mad World
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours/Netgalley
Read: April 17, 2016

Amidst the strange, silent aftermath of World War II, a widow, a poet, and a doctor search for lasting peace and fresh beginnings in this internationally acclaimed, award-winning novel. When Anikka Lachlan’s husband, Mac, is killed in a railway accident, she is offered—and accepts—a job at the Railway Institute’s library and searches there for some solace in her unexpectedly new life. But in Thirroul, in 1948, she’s not the only person trying to chase dreams through books. There’s Roy McKinnon, who found poetry in the mess of war, but who has now lost his words and his hope. There’s Frank Draper, trapped by the guilt of those his medical treatment and care failed on their first day of freedom. All three struggle to find their own peace, and their own new story. But along with the firming of this triangle of friendship and a sense of lives inching towards renewal come other extremities—and misunderstandings. In the end, love and freedom can have unexpected ways of expressing themselves. The Railwayman’s Wife explores the power of beginnings and endings, and how hard it can sometimes be to tell them apart. Most of all, it celebrates love in all its forms, and the beauty of discovering that loving someone can be as extraordinary as being loved yourself.

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Ashley Hay’s The Railwayman's Wife was a done deal the moment I read the blurb. I’m addicted to WWII and am utterly incapable of saying no when considering a novel that relates to the conflict. I jumped in at the first opportunity and was ultimately impressed by what I discovered between these pages.

The novel is reasonably paced and is in many ways well-suited to subtleties of the coastal village in which it is set. The dramatic twists of the novel are intensely personal and I liked how the author’s approach invited readers into the narrative. I personally would have liked more grit, but generally speaking, I can’t complain over the themes and ideas Hay’s explored over the course of the narrative.

The author does some interesting things with books and poetry as the story unfolds and I thought those concepts quite appealing. Book addicts are an interesting breed and I am always intrigued when an author tackles that love of literature and tries to capture the experience on the page. It’s almost like breaking the fourth wall and offering up a direct nod the audience.

Intimate and emotional, The Railwayman's Wife is a compelling tale of self-discovery, love, reinvention and life after loss. It’s definitely a lighter piece, but I found the time I spent with it pleasant and enjoyable.

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Such fascinating things, libraries. She closes her eyes. She could walk inside and step into a murder, a love story, a complete account of somebody else’s life, or mutiny on the high seas. Such potential; such adventure—there’s a shimmer of malfeasance in trying other ways of being.
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Galerie by Steven Greenberg

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: April 9, 2016

Every family has secrets, but some are far darker, reach deeper, and touch a rawer nerve than others. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Vanesa Neuman’s childhood in the cramped intimacy of south Tel Aviv is shadowed by her parents’ unspoken wartime experiences. The past for her was a closed book... until her father passes away and that book falls literally open. Vanesa must now unravel the mystery of the diary she has received—and the strange symbol within—at all costs. From Jerusalem, to the backstreets of Prague, and into the former “paradise ghetto” of Theresienstadt, Vanesa’s journey of understanding will reveal a seventy-year-old secret darker than she could have ever imagined.

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Despite my appreciation for the materical, I have to admit to harboring mixed feelings about the time I spent with Steven Greenberg’s Galerie. I was naturally drawn to the subject matter and found the plot fairly interesting, but I didn’t feel the story was as polished as it could have been and I often found myself frustrated with certain elements of its presentation.

Greenberg’s narrative jumps back and forth across multiple times periods and while the structure itself didn’t bother me, I often struggled to appreciate the author’s characters and tone. I felt Greenburg’s use of the third person made it difficult to form an intimate attachment to his characters and felt the style choice distanced me from events of the story. I couldn’t get lost in the story and that fact went a long way in shaping my experience with the book.

I also had a problem with context. Chapter three opens in 1941 and centers on Vanesa’s mother, but third paragraph references “the menace who had attacked Israel on Yom Kippur of 1973…” Jumping backwards in time to cite some prior event is fine, but the same cannot be said of jumping forward along the space time continuum. I found similar instances throughout the book and was ultimately very frustrated with the author’s inability to limit the content to details relevant to the given period.

Why does all this information appear in the text? I can’t say for sure, but I believe Greenburg’s intense passion for the material has a lot to do with it. In reading the book, one can’t help noticing the amount of research that went into the novel and while I wasn’t particularly impressed with Greenburg’s presentation, I did admire the effort and enthusiasm he put into its creation.

Once the novel finds its feet, the plot takes some very creative twists and turns. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, but I was curious enough to follow through to the final page. Greenburg’s utilization of the Holocaust and its repercussions is also worth noting. Few authors tackle concepts relating to second generation survivors and despite my difficulties and concerns, I did appreciate the themes and ideas at the heart of Greenberg’s story.

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But my Vanesa uncovered only one record— a single instance in the masses of documents, testimonies, and personal accounts that she examined that year and in future years— as to what had happened to Michael and his father Jakub between their arrival in Terezin and the end of the war. And this record made no sense.
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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Cover Clichés: Curls and Clasped Hands

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see an image that gives me an oddly disconcerting sense of deja vu. I could swear I've never read the book, but I know I've seen the jacket image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Images are often recycled because cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. That said, I find comparing their finished designs quite interesting.  

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England, 1483. Peace reigns, but old enmities are stirring once again as two great dukes set their sights on the crown. Amid the strife, Heloise, maid of honor to Richard of Gloucester's duchess, and Sir Miles Rushden, adviser to the Duke of Buckingham, are about to be ensnared, in both the deadly battle for the throne -- and love...

With her startling, silver hair and rumored second sight making her unmarriageable, Heloise has endured much at her family's cruel hands. But she suffers the ultimate humiliation when her father kidnaps Sir Miles Rushden and forces him to marry her at sword point. Sir Miles escapes, but Heloise is forced to seek him and throw herself at his mercy...lest she be cast out penniless.

The ambitious Rushden intends to join the powerful men behind the king--so be must have his secret marriage annulled. He never expects to see Heloise again. But when she sneaks into Buckingham's household, charming everyone, Rushden believes she has cast a spell over him...else why is he finding himself so drawn to his lovely young bride?

For fans of rich and complex historical novels like Girl with a Pearl Earring or Code Name Verity, Laura Malone Elliott delivers the stunning tale of real-life Renaissance woman Ginevra de' Benci, the inspiration for one of Leonardo da Vinci's earliest masterpieces.

The young and beautiful daughter of a wealthy family, Ginevra longs to share her poetry and participate in the artistic ferment of Renaissance Florence but is trapped in an arranged marriage in a society dictated by men. The arrival of the charismatic Venetian ambassador, Bernardo Bembo, introduces Ginevra to a dazzling circle of patrons, artists, and philosophers. Bembo chooses Ginevra as his Platonic muse and commissions a portrait of her by a young Leonardo da Vinci. Posing for the brilliant painter inspires an intimate connection between them, one Ginevra only begins to understand. In a rich and vivid world of exquisite art with a dangerous underbelly of deadly political feuds, Ginevra faces many challenges to discover her voice and artistic companionship—and to find love.

Set against the historical reign of the Golden and Iron King, Bohemian Gospel is the remarkable tale of a bold and unusual girl on a quest to uncover her past and define her destiny.

Thirteenth-century Bohemia is a dangerous place for a girl, especially one as odd as Mouse, born with unnatural senses and an uncanny intellect. Some call her a witch. Others call her an angel. Even Mouse doesn’t know who—or what—she is. But she means to find out.

When young King Ottakar shows up at the Abbey wounded by a traitor's arrow, Mouse breaks church law to save him and then agrees to accompany him back to Prague as his personal healer. Caught in the undertow of court politics at the castle, Ottakar and Mouse find themselves drawn to each other as they work to uncover the threat against him and to unravel the mystery of her past. But when Mouse's unusual gifts give rise to a violence and strength that surprise everyone—especially herself—she is forced to ask herself: Will she be prepared for the future that awaits her?

A heart-thumping, highly original tale in the vein of Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, Bohemian Gospel heralds the arrival of a fresh new voice for historical fiction.

Obey your husband. Make him love you. This is your duty to me and to France.

With these words, King Philippe of France sent Princess Isabella to marry the dashing King Edward of England. She’s determined to fulfill her father’s injunction, but once wed, the young queen quickly abandons her romantic illusions: her husband has a secret, one that will stand between them and threatens to plunge England into civil war. As lonely Isabella grows into womanhood amid the deadly maelstrom of Edward’s court, she rises above her despair and uses her clever mind and political acumen to unite the country. But when tensions with France rise, the young queen faces an impossible choice.

From bestselling author Colin Falconer comes the little-known story of a queen who took control of her destiny—and the throne.

Aubrette, raised at Romhill as a companion to the local lord's only daughter Rowena, discovers that she is actually Rowena’s half-sister. This revelation comes on the day Rowena meets her future husband, Simon Fitzroy, one of King Henry II's illegitimate sons. Aubrette remains with her now sister, and becomes Rowena’s maid after she is married. After a tragic incident, she becomes Simon's secret mistress. The affair is unbeknown to Rowena, until Aubrette discovers she is pregnant. Her son is taken from her at birth for Rowena to raise as her own child.

Aubrette, having thought Simon truly loved her, is unwillingly married to Hugh, a companion of Duke Richard and loyal friend to Simon. When the King dies, Richard succeeds him to the throne and he travels with Simon to the Holy Land on a crusade. Aubrette and Rowena accompany Hugh and Simon as attendants to Queen Berengaria, Richard's long-neglected wife.

A series of traumatic life changing events follow that result in Simon being sent back to England, but not before he and Aubrette are married in Cyprus. Back at Romhill, Aubrette settles into domesticity and everything appears perfect. But could a threat from an unexpected enemy ruin Aubrette's happiness?

Full of adventure, love, lust and deception, A Sister’s Crusade will appeal to fans of romance and historical novels in equal measure.

Betrothed to the heir of Lord Canis, Aurelia finds herself thrown to the wolves. The Canis Clan are no ordinary warriors, but beasts raging beneath the skin of men. Their name chills the heart of every man in Britannia, though the heart of one maiden may be saved…

Once a mighty warrior in high esteem among the Clan, Sir Raf Canis knows all too well the dangers Aurelia will face in her new role as Lady of Blackens Gate. Tasked with the humiliating errand of delivering his brother’s intended, Raf instead finds himself fighting for her life–and falling into an impossible love that he cannot deny.

Content Warning: This book contains ableist language and attitudes in the context of its historical setting, as well as mentions of suicide, which may be triggering or upsetting to some readers.

Princess Haven was never meant to be Queen.

Her immortality has saved her time and time again, but when the last of her royal family dies at her feet, she is next in line to rule a nation on the brink of war. With no formal training on how to be Queen, Haven must rise to the occasion with the help of her best friends, and personal guard, or risk losing everyone she has ever loved.

With war to the West, and no escape to the East, the evil tyrant Kadia sets her sights on the six kingdoms. Haven's neighbors are quick to fall under the swords of Kadia's shadow soldiers, leaving a sea of bodies and a clear path to Haven's only home. Haven must make a choice; take her people and flee to the foreign Republic across the sea or lead a last stand against a powerful dictator.

A medieval tale of pride and strife, of coming-of-age in a world where chivalry is a luxury seldom afforded, especially by men of power.

England, 1148---ten-year-old Brunin FitzWarin is an awkward misfit in his own family. A quiet child, he is tormented by his brothers and loathed by his powerful and autocratic grandmother. In an attempt to encourage Brunin's development, his father sends him to be fostered in the household of Joscelin de Dinan, Lord of Ludlow. Here Brunin will learn knightly arts, but before he can succeed, he must overcome the deep-seated doubts that hold him back.

Hawise, the youngest daughter of Lord Joscelin, soon forms a strong friendship with Brunin. Family loyalties mean that her father, with the young Brunin as his squire, must aid Prince Henry of Anjou in his battle with King Stephen for the English crown. Meanwhile, Ludlow itself comes under threat from Joscelin's rival, Gilbert de Lacy. As the war for the crown rages, and de Lacy becomes more assertive in his claims for Ludlow, Brunin and Hawise are drawn into each other's arms.

Now Brunin must defeat the shadows of his childhood and put to use all that he has learned. As the pressure on Ludlow intensifies and a new Welsh threat emerges against his own family's lands, Brunin must confront the future head on, or fail on all counts....

English Title: Shadows and Strongholds

She never wanted to leave the tower. He never wanted to rule the country.

Nella has lived quietly in her tower in the woods for over a decade. After dangerous accusations drove her and her grandmother away from their village, they escaped deep into the forest where no one would try to harm them. Now, after her grandmother's death, Nella is alone, and she is determined to stay that way. She has no patience for a world she deems judgmental and ignorant.

Or so she tells herself. In reality, her paralyzing fear prevents her from stepping foot outside of the tower.

Prince Benedict Allesandro is an adventurer- a rescuer who prides himself on saving the weak and unfortunate. When he hears rumors of a beautiful damsel trapped in a tower, he rushes to her rescue...only to find a woman who most definitely does not wish to be saved.

But when war breaks out, this reckless prince and reclusive maiden are faced with overcoming their deepest fears in order to determine not only their own fate, but that of their entire country.

Note: this is a standalone paperback edition of the novella first published in the e-book boxset Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairy Tales.

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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

A Woman's Diary of the War by Sarah Macnaughtan

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: April 11, 2016

This is one of the most powerful descriptions of the scourge of the First World War by a woman who was on the front lines and ultimately gave her life for the cause. Sarah Broom Macnaughtan volunteered with the Red Cross Society when World War One broke out, and that is when she started keeping a record of what she saw. In September 1914 she travelled to Antwerp in Belgium as part of an ambulance unit, and as Head of the Orderlies she was witness to hundreds of wounded and dying men passing through her hospital. Her and her staff desperately tried to help them as best they could despite limited resources, and bombs falling all around them. For her bravery and work under fire in Belgium, she eventually received the Order of Leopold.

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Sarah Macnaughtan's A Woman's Diary of the War caught my eye the moment I stumbled over it. I've been looking for a surgeon's memoir from either world war for ages, but a nurse's memoir was an equally welcome discovery. 

Macnaughtan's observations are poignantly honest and unguarded. Her perceptions regarding the war in Belgium are not shaped by political affiliation or historic interpretation. They are personal, the kind of simple contemporary insights that are priceless to those interested in understanding the conflict through the eyes of those who witnessed it firsthand. I wish there had been more biographic information included in the book, but the writing is solid and the material itself makes the title more than a little worthwhile.

A Woman's Diary of the War is a short piece, only ninety-three pages in length, but it makes an interesting companion to Sapper Dorothy: The Only English Woman Soldier in the Royal Engineers 51st Division, 79th Tunnelling Co. During the First World War and stands as a brilliant example of British understanding and rectification of the conflict.

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We were breathless, not with fear, but with astonishment.
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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Cover Crush: The Eleanor of Aquitaine Series by Elizabeth Chadwick

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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The design of Elizabeth Chadwick's Eleanor of Aquitaine series is relatively simple, but I love it just the same. The silhouettes, texture, and subtle details draw my eye and I appreciate the classic elegance of the layout. I think the bolder backdrops on The Winter Crown and The Autumn Throne more striking than the subdued tones on The Summer Queen, but even so, I can't deny the collective visual appeal of the set.

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!


Magdalena at It's a Mad Mad World
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Cover Clichés: The Windswept Glance

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see an image that gives me an oddly disconcerting sense of deja vu. I could swear I've never read the book, but I know I've seen the jacket image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Images are often recycled because cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. That said, I find comparing their finished designs quite interesting.  

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One girl. One chance. One destiny.

In the village of Martindale, hundreds of miles north of the new English capital of Windsor, sixteen-year-old Silver Blackthorne takes the Reckoning. This coming-of- age test not only decides her place in society – Elite, Member, Inter or Trog – but also determines that Silver is to become an Offering for King Victor.

But these are uncertain times and no one really knows what happens to the teenagers who disappear into Windsor Castle. Is being an Offering the privilege everyone assumes it to be, or do the walls of the castle have something to hide? Trapped in a maze of ancient corridors, Silver finds herself in a warped world of suspicion where it is difficult to know who to trust and who to fear. The one thing Silver does know is that she must find a way out . . . The heart-stopping first book in a new trilogy by UK author Kerry Wilkinson, Reckoning is the story of one girl's determination to escape the whims of a cruel king, and what she must do to survive against all odds.

Aurora Keys has dreamed of the Vanderlind Castle ever since she was a little girl. But the fiercely private Vanderlinds keep the massive structure strictly off limits to visitors. Until one night, the wealthy family throws a party—not just a small soiree, but a huge black-tie affair. No one from the town of Tiburon, Ohio, is invited—not even the mayor. But Aurora’s best friend, Blossom, has a foolproof plan for the two of them to sneak in.

At first, everything goes smoothly: the girls enter the castle undetected, and there is free champagne. But then the handsome Jessie Vanderlind sweeps Aurora into his arms, crushing her to his chest and whispering, “I knew you’d come back to me.”

Aurora understands it is a case of mistaken identity, but she feels connected to him somehow. And the boy is so beautiful, she believes she would be happy if he never let her go.

Once Jessie realizes he is mistaken, his smile quickly changes to a scowl. “You must leave,” he tells her in a low, urgent voice. “Immediately. Come! I’ll find a way to get you out.”

Unbeknownst to Aurora and Blossom, they have snuck into the home of one of the most prestigious vampire families in the world, and it is doubtful the two young women will ever be allowed to leave. Aurora’s resemblance to Jessie Vanderlind’s lost love just may be the only thing keeping them alive.

Seventeen-year-old Taylor Gray moves to Sterling Island to get over her dead boyfriend. Mom's cool with letting her crash on the couch, but Taylor needs to get a job before the lights are cut off again. When the tall, dark and crazy Raine Tsunami offers her a position at his thriving ghost tour business, she figures it's an easy way to make some cash. Taylor isn't afraid of ghosts--that crap is as fake as her mom's boob job. She loves their adventures on the historic island, especially the secret places he shows her when the crowds go home. So what if all the ghost stories are just legends? When Taylor comes face to face with a ghost and Raine crosses the line between friend and boyfriend--Taylor's new life collides with her haunted past. If murdered people end up as ghosts, then that someone she was trying to forget is probably trying to find her.

"This is who I am. I am no longer the simple girl hidden behind the safety of a make-believe forest. I am the story. I am the tall tale . . . I am the witch."

Raised by an old fortune-teller within the dark veil of the Bavarian Black Forest, Rune has learned two valuable lessons: only take from the forest that which you can use, and never, never look anyone in the eye in the village. For something terrible happened in the forest long ago... and now, the whispers of a long-dead mother with a vengeful secret have come haunting.

Forced to flee all she has ever known, Rune soon learns of a legacy she is bound to--one that is drenched in fear, witchcraft and murder--a birthright that stretches beyond the grave to the trees where Rune is no longer safe.

When eighteen-year-old Irene Adler meets her new neighbor, the gorgeous, brilliant, and arrogant Sherlock Holmes, she never expects him to be the one to make her feel like life is worth living again. Ever since her sister's death, she's been addicted to risk-taking as a way to deal with her depression, and Sherlock quickly becomes the biggest risk she's ever taken.

Locked is the story of a broken girl and the genius who gives her life back to her. It's the story of a witty asshole who's never known love, and the girl who shows him what love means. It's the story of an unexpected connection, two people who save each other, and the importance of seeing the goodness underneath.

Fifteen-year-old Raleigh Harmon finally conquers her worst fear—by trespassing—and can't wait to tell her best friend, a smart-mouthed physics genius girl named Drew Levinson.

Only Drew’s gone. Really gone.

Everybody says Drew ran away. But that only skyrockets Raleigh’s suspicions. Drew Levinson is the least impulsive person she knows.

Armed with her rock hammer, an encyclopedic knowledge of city criminal codes, and a stubborn streak wide as the Chesapeake Bay, Raleigh scours her hometown for clues. But not even the cops are on her side. 

Was Drew meeting somebody in secret? Escaping her loony parents?

Or is Raleigh’s hunch dead-on: her best friend didn’t choose to leave.

Stone and Spark is the first book in the Raleigh Harmon mystery series introducing the girl who will become a forensic geologist and FBI agent—provided she survives the high school years.

The Double Down series continues with two stories that explore the very different realities of Karen Richard’s life. The common prologue springboards two talented authors into alternate realities – two stories, two authors, one book.

In John R. Little’s Secrets, Karen Richardson can occasionally stop time. She is free to move around while others are frozen in time. She finds the hidden truths of those around her, including her new friend, Bobby Jersey, who may not be all that he seems. At first it seemed fun, powerful, exhilarating, but in the end Karen’s power may cost her everything she’s ever cared about.

In Mark Allan Gunnells’ Outcast, Karen Richardson is a college freshman dealing with a non-existent social life, a difficult roommate…and the power of telekinesis. As her powers grow, Karen begins to lose control. Her new friend Bobby Jersey offers his assistance. But is he somebody that Karen can trust, or will her abilities destroy everything and everyone she knows and loves.

Moving to my stepfather’s English country mansion sounded so promising. But the Arnaud Manor is neglected and unwelcoming, and I get the feeling it isn’t exactly uninhabited. Something wants to hurt us—especially my litter sister, Tabby.

Okay, so I might be a little sensitive lately. My parents act oblivious to me, my old life is far away in San Francisco, and the gorgeous guy I just met tells me terrible stories about the infamous Madame Arnaud who lived here long ago, and about missing children and vengeful spirits. The kind of stories that are impossible to believe—until you’re living in one of them, fighting to protect everyone you love…

My name is Sinna Reardon. I suppose deep down I'd like to believe God exists. But he doesn’t, not since the war. Most days I’m okay with that. Jacob calls me a pessimist, but I’m a realist. How can I believe when a place like Rehabilitation and a regime like the Elite exist, dictating our every move?

If God were so great, he’d do something. But he hasn’t. We’re forgotten. And that scares me, because it means I might have to do something myself…

Sinna has spent her life walking a fine line between breaking the rules and obeying them to a fault. In a Godless world where science and logic reign supreme and people are punished for Believing, are friendship and love reasons enough to abandon unbelief? Enough to put her faith in something bigger than herself?

Kristyl Barnette's life was finally coming together. In Clearwater, she found the reason why she could hear people's thoughts and make objects move. She found friends to stand by her. And, in Owen Marsh, she even found someone she could love.

But one spell changed everything.

Thrust into an alternate reality, Kristyl must navigate a new past and different relationships, all while keeping the secret only she and Crystal Jamison know: In their attempt to find a powerful stone for the circle of witches to anchor to, they altered the present.

Owen barely looks at her. She's forced to act like she's friends with the circle and to pretend she's been dating Fox Holloway for years. And to make matters worse, the quartz stone she retrieved from the past might not be the source of pure energy the circle hoped for. There's a darkness to it Kristyl doesn't trust.

Now people are dying mysteriously, and Kristyl must form new alliances with old friends in order to prevent more deaths--and to save the circle from destruction.

Power comes at a price. Will Kristyl be able to pay it before it's too late?

A lone female agent finds herself abandoned in enemy territory in this riveting espionage thriller"

Having completed her mission to silence an agency defector, CIA operative Cassie Bradbury finds herself cut adrift in Moscow with no documents, no tickets and no identification. Hot on her trail are the Kremlin, the Russian Mafia and Sean Ravensdale, the disgraced ex-CIA agent who has been sent to track her down. Realizing that she has been set up and is now expendable, Cassie will need all her courage and resourcefulness to outwit her pursuers and stay alive long enough to exact revenge on the man who recruited her, who trained her who betrayed her.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Reconstructing Amelia comes a fast-paced teen series where one girl learns that in a world of intrigue, betrayal, and deeply buried secrets, it is vital to trust your instincts.

It all starts with a text: Please, Wylie, I need your help. Wylie hasn’t heard from Cassie in over a week, not since their last fight. But that doesn’t matter. Cassie’s in trouble, so Wylie decides to do what she has done so many times before: save her best friend from herself.

This time it’s different, though. Instead of telling Wylie where she is, Cassie sends cryptic clues. And instead of having Wylie come by herself, Jasper shows up saying Cassie sent him to help. Trusting the guy who sent Cassie off the rails doesn’t feel right, but Wylie has no choice but to ignore her gut instinct and go with him.

But figuring out where Cassie is goes from difficult to dangerous, fast. As Wylie and Jasper head farther and farther north into the dense woods of Maine, Wylie struggles to control her growing sense that something is really wrong. What isn’t Cassie telling them? And could finding her be only the beginning?

In this breakneck tale, New York Times bestselling author Kimberly McCreight brilliantly chronicles a fateful journey that begins with a single decision—and ends up changing everything.

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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Interview with Clare Flynn, author of Letters from a Patchwork Quilt

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Clare Flynn to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her novel, Letters from a Patchwork Quilt.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Clare. It’s great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Letters from a Patchwork Quilt. 
Hi Erin, thank you for interviewing me today – I'm delighted to have the opportunity.

Letters from a Patchwork Quilt is the story of Jack and Eliza, who fall in love but are parted. They are desperate to be with each other but fate, in the form of a bad apple priest, conspires against them. Eliza ends up alone and penniless in America while Jack is forced into a loveless marriage when wrongly accused of impregnating his landlord's daughter. After being dealt such a bad hand the book is about the different ways they face up to adversity. Will they ever be reunited?

This is your third book, but the first set in the nineteenth century. What about this period appealed most to you? 
The Victorian period is one of the most dramatic periods of change in both Britain and the United States – a period of unprecedented innovation and invention, of empire building and of industrialization. It was a time when some individuals created and amassed huge wealth, yet also a time of great deprivation and suffering for others. Both the main cities where the story takes place, Middlesbrough in England and St Louis in the US, were undergoing massive growth, the former from the explosive growth of the iron and steel industry and the latter from the brewing industry. 

The story centers on Jack Brennan. What kind of person is Jack?    
Jack is a man who starts out with a passion for knowledge and learning, a stated ambition to be a teacher and a secret ambition to be a poet. His large Catholic family want him to be a priest like his brothers before him. A fight with his drunken father precipitates his running away to follow his dreams. He starts the book full of hope and hunger to succeed but life deals Jack some very hard blows and, despite his good intentions, he becomes, like the father he despised, increasingly dependent on alcohol. His life is shaped by his love for Eliza and his separation from her and the challenges of making ends meet while supporting his family. Modern eyes can be critical of some of the choices Jack makes – but it was a very different and tougher world then.

Jack’s life is impacted by two very different women. How do Eliza Hewlett and Mary Ellen MacBride differ? 
Eliza is the love of his life. She is a fellow teacher, has no family, but is optimistic, joyful and resourceful – and very much in love with Jack. Until she is separated from him she has never set foot outside Bristol – although she had always dreamed of travelling. She is ill-equipped to be cast adrift alone in America – but discovers inner strengths to adapt to her new circumstances. 

Mary Ellen comes from a more privileged background. Her widowed father is a tobacco importer in Bristol, a wealthy man and a benefactor to the Catholic church. Mary Ellen has some learning difficulties – she struggles to read and write, and lacks what we would nowadays call emotional intelligence. She has lost her mother and has a difficult relationship with her father, who both spoils her and belittles her. The tragedy for Mary Ellen is that she wants to be loved, but is incapable of offering the marriage of minds that Jack craves. 

What theme from the story do you most hope strikes a chord with your readers?
All my books deal with the theme of displacement, of people being plucked out of a comfortable life and flung into new challenging circumstances. Both Jack and Eliza are thrust out of a happy life where they were looking forward to a shared future. The difference in how they deal with that is the core theme of the book. How much of that difference is down to character and how much to their circumstances? It is easy to be critical of Jack – he is a flawed man – but I would like my readers to empathize with him, warts and all. 

What sort of research went into Letters from a Patchwork Quilt? What sources did you find most valuable? 
I take a lot of inspiration from location. I visited both Middlesbrough and St Louis. But just going there is not enough - especially in the case of Middlesbrough, as so much of the Victorian housing was demolished in the 1960s in slum clearance programs. My start point was historian Asa Briggs's Victorian Cities – Middlesbrough is one of the five cities he features. From this I stumbled on an out-of-print book, At the Works by Lady Florence Bell, (published 1907) which tells the stories of the Middlesbrough iron workers and their wives and families. This fascinating book offered insights into housing, poverty, the Temperance movement, earnings, pastimes, illness, education and more.  I also had books of 19th century photographs of the cities and one on the history of the brewing industry in St Louis. I backed up all this with online research into all manner of things including contemporary maps of all the cities involved, train travel in the period - including timetables and routes, transatlantic shipping, horse-drawn trams and much more. I also made a collection of images on Pinterest.

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing?
It's hard to answer that - I've just finished my next book so that's more fresh in my mind. I enjoyed writing the scenes between Jack and Gertrude, the woman he meets on the beach. I liked Gertrude and even though her role was relatively minor I wanted her to have a real voice. I also wanted their relationship to be problematic and ambiguous and for Jack to be unintentionally cruel to her. She has lived all her life in Middlesbrough and longs to escape but knows she never will – as such she is a lens through which we see the town. She is also the means for Jack to temporarily escape the squalor and ugliness of the town, introducing him to the nearby coastline. His treatment of her destroys this one outlet she has to make her life bearable.

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it?  
The scenes onboard ship were a challenge. I rewrote them several times. In the first draft Eliza toughened up too quickly and Dr Feigenbaum was too assertive. It was important to strike a balance between her grief at being separated from Jack and her determination to make the best of things and between Dr Feignebaum's evident fascination with Eliza and his natural introversion. 

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time on?
I would have liked to spend more time with Clementina, Jack's youngest child. I may return to her one day and let her have her own story as an adult. 

In my first drafts of the book I had a contemporary 2015 story including a character I killed off altogether. This was on the advice of my editor who got it spot-on. It was a classic case of 'kill your darlings' and pained me at the time but I'm so glad I did it.

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing Letters from a Patchwork Quilt and if so, what did you alter? 
As I don't write about real people I have less of a problem with this. I use the historical period as a backdrop to the fictional story. I often invent places based on real ones, using invented names to give me more leeway, but as Letters from a Patchwork Quilt is set in large cities I felt less constrained and decided to stick to real places. I hope I have been true to them.

I worked hard to find an exact timetable and route for Eliza's rail journey from New York to St Louis including writing to transport historians but in the end couldn't pin it down exactly, given the plethora of different railroad companies at the time, so I took my best guess. 

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?
It would have to be Jack – but not over drinks! I'd feel guilty offering him a glass of wine – probably better to join him for a coffee. We'd talk about alcohol and whether the tendency for excess is in the blood (especially for those of us with Irish ancestry!) or is it a controllable weakness. In his case how much of his drinking was an act of defiance and self assertion over Mary Ellen? I'd ask him about Clementina and what was it about her that made them closer than any other of his children. Was his failure to follow through with his plans in Liverpool down to his weakness with drink or his fear that he might be disappointed?  If there was one single thing he would do differently in his life what would it be?

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast to play the leads in a screen adaptation of Letters from a Patchwork Quilt, who would you hire? 
Ooh yes! For Jack it has to be James Norton who is the hot property over here in Britain - he's just starred in War and Peace for the BBC. I'll go with Carey Mulligan for Eliza as she combines vulnerability with toughness and looks great in period costume. Ruth Wilson to play Mary Ellen as she can be mean and sulky! And Bryan Cranston as Dr Feigenbaum.

Finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? 
My next book, The Green Ribbons, went to the editor last week – always a mixture of joy and terror! It will be published in the spring. I haven't started on book number 5 yet – I'm about to move house so I'm giving myself a break – and hoping that my new surroundings by the seaside will inspire me. Right now I haven't a clue what it's going to be about.  

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"The story is different, original and touching. It's interesting to read how the lives of Jack and Eliza unfold in different countries. The plot is powerful, the characters are well sketched, memorable, and their personalities will remain in the minds of readers even after they finish the story. It's a story of love, loss and tragedy; a heartbreaking and moving tale where readers will wish to see Jack and Eliza reunited and happy together. The narration is descriptive; it also speaks about the society that existed during that age and pulls readers into the story. It's well written and the story is not predictable, making it a engaging read." - Readers' Favorite

"I could almost feel the heat of the blast furnaces as I was reading! This is what I love about the author's writing style. She sets the scene with vivid descriptions, giving you a not only a visual feel for a place but also the smells, sounds and atmosphere. She is also not afraid to give her characters weaknesses which makes them all the more believable. A very poignant story with well written characters, it kept me reading until well after my bed time." - Debbie Richardson, Goodreads Reviewer

"It was a emotional journey following the turbulent lives of Jack and Eliza. Their paths lead the reader from Bristol, England to New York city and St. Louis. It is a must read for lovers of stories about star crossed lovers and how they are forced to face their destines." - Elaine, Goodreads Reviewer

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A former global marketing director, Clare lives in west London and now runs a successful strategic management company although much of her time these days is taken up with writing. She is a fluent Italian speaker and loves spending time in Italy. In her spare time she likes to quilt, splash about with watercolours and travel as often and as widely as possible.

Her first novel, A Greater World, is set in the Blue Mountains of Australia in the 1920s. Kurinji Flowers is set in colonial India on a tea plantation in the years before Independence 

Clare is one of the founders of Make it and Mend it, a website dedicated to living creatively and sustainably by making and mending things instead of the endless cycle of buying and then binning things. Make it and Mend it, written jointly with her co-founders, Hilary Bruffell, Clare O'Brien and Anne Caborn is published by David & Charles.

Website ❧  Facebook ❧  Twitter ❧  Goodreads ❧  Pinterest ❧  Blog

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