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Sunday, January 28, 2024

Review - Murder at the Merton Library

Author Andrea Penrose is the acclaimed author of Regency-era historical fiction, as well as Regency romances written under the names Cara Elliott and Andrea Pickens. Published internationally in ten languages, she is a three-time RITA Award-finalist and the recipient of numerous writing awards, including two Daphne Du Maurier Awards for Historical Mystery and two Gold Leaf Awards.

I have been a fan of this series since the beginning, check out the prior reviews of books in the series.
1)  Murder on Swan Lake (review here
2)  Murder at Halfmoon Gate (review here)  
3)  Murder at Kensington Palace (review here)   
4)  Murder at Queen's Landing (review here
5)  Murder at Royal Botanic Gardens (review here
6)  Murder at the Serpentine Bridge (review here
Author interview (click here

The author uses scientific inventions of the time period to base her stories on and this outing we have the race to invent the steam engine and propellor system for ocean travel woven into the story.

Author: Andrea Penrose

Copyright: Sept 2023 (Kensington Books) 370 pgs

Series: 7th in Wrexford & Sloane mystery series

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical mystery, Historical Suspense

Main Characters: 
Charlotte Sloane, a satirical cartoonist under the name A.J. Quill

Setting: Regency Era, London England

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review, Netgalley
Book Blurb:  "Responding to an urgent plea from a troubled family friend, the Earl of Wrexford journeys to Oxford only to find the reclusive university librarian has been murdered and a rare manuscript has gone missing. The only clue is that someone overheard an argument in which Wrexford’s name was mentioned.
At the same time, Charlotte—working under her pen name, A. J. Quill—must determine whether a laboratory fire was arson and if it’s connected to the race between competing consortiums to build a new type of ship—one that can cross the ocean powered by steam rather than sails—with the potential to revolutionize military power and world commerce. That the race involves new innovations in finance and entrepreneurship only adds to the high stakes—especially as their good friend Kit Sheffield may be an investor in one of the competitors.
As they delve deeper into the baffling clues, Wrexford and Charlotte begin to realize that things are not what they seem. An evil conspiracy is lurking in the shadows and threatens all they hold dear—unless they can tie the loose threads together before it’s too late . . ."

MY Thoughts:
Lady Charlotte and Wrexford, Wrex for short, are great as a married couple.  Charlotte's adopted sons, Raven and Hawk, are front and center in this book along with their brilliant friend nicknamed Peregrin.  Wrex's best friend, Kit Sheffield, Lady Cordelia, Aunt Alison, Henning the anatomist, and McClellan are all on hand for this adventure.

The plot is solid with some intrigue and murder.  London is always portrayed vividly and this is no exception, from research labs, manufacturing warehouses, docks, and eleaborated balls with international guests.  Each book in the series covers an invention of the era. Details on the steam engine research is interesting but does slow the story a little bit in places.

This series consistently has exciting killer confrontations and this one is spot on with a ticking clock and thrilling chase.  This series makes the characters feel like dear friends. 

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list

Thank you for reading this blog and please recommend to friends and family who will enjoy it.

Here is an interview with author Andrea Penrose on this book.

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Friday, January 19, 2024

Review - Murder at Midnight

 If you have followed me for very long, you've probably noticed I tend to read a lot of historical mysteries.  The Lilly Adler series is one of my favorites (but honestly, I have so many favorites) and I'm sharing the fourth with you today.  Check out the previous reviews of this series I've done:

1) A Body in the Garden (click here

2) Silence in the Library (click here

3) Death at the Manor (click here

Author: Katharine Schellman

Copyright: Sept 2023 (Crooked Lane Books) 316 pgs

Series: 4th in A Lilly Adler mystery series

Sensuality: mild with adult situations/topics referenced

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy, Amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: widow Lily Adler

Setting: 1815, Hertfordshire England

Obtained Through: Library

     Book Blurb:  "Regency widow Lily Adler is looking forward to a quiet Christmastide away from the schemes and secrets she witnessed daily in London. Not only will she be visiting the family of her late husband; she will be reunited with Captain Jack Hartley, her friend and confidante, finally returned after a long voyage at sea.

     But secrets aren’t only found in London. Jack’s younger sister, Amelia, is the center of neighborhood scandal and gossip. She refuses to tell anyone what really happened, even when an unexpected snowstorm strands the neighborhood families together after a Christmas ball. Stuck until the snow stops, the Adlers, Hartleys, and their neighbors settle in for the night, only to be awakened in the morning by the scream of a maid who has just discovered a dead body.

     The victim was the well-to-do son of a local gentleman—the same man whose name has become so scandalously linked to Amelia’s.

     With the snow still falling and no way to come or go, it’s clear that someone in the house was responsible for the young man’s death. When suspicion instantly falls on Jack’s sister, he and Lily must unmask the true culprit before Amelia is convicted of a crime she didn’t commit."

My Thoughts:  Lily, as independant as ever, is asked to assist in investigating while they are all snowed in. Her sleuthing skills are tested as so many people are hiding secrets.  

Captain Jack (Hartley) is back from sea (Wahoo!) and his usual easy going nature is stretched thin by his sister immediately being the murder suspect.  Matthew Spencer, the romantic interest, tries to spend as much time with Lily as possible... until the murder pulls her away.  John Adler, Lily's brother-in-law and the magistrate, is in over his head and relies on Lily to direct the investigation and cover his missteps. 

The snowstorm is well done and the growing tensions of the stranded group are drawn very well.  The plot has many twists and all the secrets produce some curveballs.  The writing style makes this an easy and enjoyable read that I hated to put down.  

The climax had a tense and suspenseful killer confrontation, my favorite.  All-in-all, another wonderfully done entry in this top notch historical mystery series.

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list 

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Monday, January 15, 2024

Musings--2023 Book of the Year


     I looked over the books I reviewed for 2023 by month and filtered it down to one standout book for 2023.  Many of the books I read were fun and entertaining, but this book stayed with me well after I finished it in August.  I found myself recommending it enthusiastically to anyone who would listen.  So I'm not surprised when using a bracket format that this is the title that rose to the top.  Doing this month-by-month book analysis showed a few months where I slacked in posting book reviews and I apologize for that.  This year I'll endeavor to be more consistant in that regard.

Here is my 2023 Book of the Year:  Mother Daughter Traitor Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal (initial review here).

Apparently, Susan Elia MacNeal uncovered the story of this mother-daughter spy duo during research for her 10th Maggie Hope in the series (The Hollywood Spy) set in 1943 Los Angeles and knew she wanted to write a stand-alone book based on these courageous women.  Naturaly, there are a number of elements that are ficton, but a large amount that is solidly based on what did happen and the deadly peril the two women faced in their spying.  Being a spy tends to get glamorized, but this book brought to life the nerve-wracking tight rope a spy walks day in and out.  Additionally, it shines a light on an important part of our history that has largely been left behind that needs to be front and center--how Nazis were radicalizing Americans right here in the States.  

The novel is well plotted, the pacing taut, and I couldn't put it down.  At times I was on the edge-of-my-seat too.  I can't praise this book enough and it stands out among all the books I read last year.  Let me know what you think when you read it.

The two runners up from my reviews are:

The Omega Factor by Steve Berry (click here)

Playing it Safe by Ashley Weaver (click here)

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Friday, January 12, 2024

Review - Locked In Pursuit

 World War II spy versus spy gets a woman hero who is complex and passionate in Electra McDonnell with plenty of thrills and a slow burn romance.  Check out the newest book in the series and how it measures up.

1)  A Peculiar Combination (click here)

2) Key to Deceit (click here)

3)  Playing it Safe (click here)

Guest Post  (click here)

Author: Ashley Weaver

Copyright: May 2024 (Minotaur Books) 272 pgs

Series: 4th in Electra McDonnell mystery series

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy mystery, Cozy Intrigue

Main Characters: Electra McDonnell, a safe-cracking thief aiding the war effort

Setting: 1942, London England

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review, Netgalley

 Book Blurb:  "Safecracker Ellie McDonnell hasn’t seen Major Ramsey—her handsome but aloof handler in the British government—since their tumultuous mission together three months before, but when she hears about a suspicious robbery in London she feels compelled to contact him. Together they discover that a rash of burglaries in the city all lead back to a hotbed of spies in the neutral city Lisbon, Portugal, and an unknown object brought to London by a mysterious courier.

As the thieves become more desperate and their crimes escalate, it becomes imperative that Ellie and Ramsey must beat them at their own game. Fighting shadowy assailants, enemy agents, and the mutual attraction they’ve agreed not to acknowledge, Ellie and Ramsey work together to learn if it truly takes a thief to catch a thief."

My Thoughts:  Ellie continues looking into her mother's death in jail for the murder of her father, but she is soon busy with helping Major Ramsey which only gets her into bigger trouble.  Major Ramsey the disciplined military man with high society background has stayed away from Electra, but will he remain so stoic as they work together again? Felix Lacey is still in the picture but what is he involved in with travel he won't talk about?  Uncle Mick gets enlisted to aid again and the housekeeper Nacy is the nurturing presence Electra needs in this uncertain, ever changing time.

This outing is just as thrilling as the others and doesn't disappoint.  There is plenty going on beyond just spys around the mission, Electra "Ellie" manages to get herself indebted to a gangster plus another man for favors that could backfire on her.  The pacing is brisk and even though I'm normally a slow reader, I flew through this book.  Several heart-pounding and heart-wrenching scenes that make this a compelling read.  This is a great addition to the Electra McDonnell series, kudos.

Rating:  Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend. 

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Monday, January 8, 2024

Musing - Sherlock Holmes vs Hercule Poirot

 I'll admit up front I like these two detectives pretty much equally, so comparing them is a new thought for me.  I had to research quite a bit on both of these detectives because I'm not an expert on either in any way.  Let's see how it shapes up.

Sherlock Holmes

Overview:   Sherlock Holmes  is known for his deductive reasoning, focus on forensics, some action with disguises and even fighting, lacks much personal emotion, and is a cocaine user/addict.  He often referred to his brain as his “mind palace.”  According to the Guiness Book of World Records, he is the most popular fictional character to be portrayed in film and television.

Sherlock was created by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887.  His first outing was in Conan Doyle’s short story, “A Study in Scarlet” and he went on write four novels and 56 other short stories in total with Sherlock.

Focus:   The extent to how much modern criminalogy was influenced by a fictional character is up for debate.  But, keep in mind that Jack the Ripper was active July-Nov 1888 and the police came under heavy criticism for being clueless while this fictional character that appeared on the scene the year prior showed where the police didn't pay attention to the details and crucial evidence in general. 

General Sleuthing Style:  Sherlock is known primarily for deductive reasoning and science to solve cases.  Since he would occasionally go out on the streets and even go about in disguise, he learned "Baritsu," or correctly known as Bartitsu, a scientific mixed martial art developed in England in 1898–1902 by Edward William Barton-Wright.  

Sherlock was observant and astute even when regarding both his clients and his suspects—noting not only their physical appearances but also tattoos, cuts, marks on the skin, clothing type and style, dirt on boots, and minutia of all sorts. 

Continuing in his observance of the fine details, forensically, Holmes scrutinized fine details that weren't commonly considered in that time—like studying specific tire tracks, hoof prints, and shoe prints, and yes—even using a microscope to observe blood samples for evidence such as poisons.   

Relationships:  Sherlock was devoid of continuing relationships, except his sidekick, flatmate, and investigative partner, Dr. John Watson.

His interactions with women and potential emotional or even physical attachment is challenging.  He relies on his brain and gut instinct rather than his feelings. He views emotions as a barrier to accurate and clear reasoning.  "But love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to the true cold reason which I place above all things." Sign of Four.  He doesn't particularly trust women either.  

He greatly admired Irene Adler... for her intelligence, so he viewed her as an equal to him but never seemed to want anything further.  I'm not suggesting he was gay, but that relationships and everything that entails were a sacrifice on his time and attention he wasn't willing to give.  Of course, there is his landlady Mrs. Hudson whom he treats well and Dr. Watson's wife later on, Mary Morstan, who Holmes seems to resent for distracting Watson.  Remember the time frame of when the books were written and how women were viewed.  It isn't surprising to find Holmes isolating himself from the emotional and problematic female portrayed at the time.

Hercule Poirot


Poirot is a Belgian-born character of prolific author Agatha Christie.  He appears in 33 novels and 50 short stories which is more than Holmes' body of work.  His first appearance was in The Mysterious Affair at Styles” written in 1920, 33 years after Sherlock's debut.  He often refers to his detective’s mind as his “little grey cells.”  Note: Poirot was the only fictional character to receive an obituary on the front page of The New York Times.  

Belgium is also incredibly proud of their "native-son" and treat the fictional character as if he were real with statues and honors. 

Christie stated in her autobiography that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes character definitely influenced her portrayal of Hercule Poirot. Which I interpret that to be "Sherlock based, but potentially improved upon."

Poirot is described as being short and rather obsessive about his appearance—notably concerning his signature patent leather shoes (which are apparently uncomfortable—ladies, we know that sacrifice for fashion) and his perfectly-groomed mustache.   

Also mentioned in Three Act Tragedy that he comes from a large family with little wealth, and has at least one younger sister. In addition to French and English, Poirot is also fluent in German.

During WW1, Poirot left Belgium for England as a refugee from the Nazi invasion of Belgium, which provides him with insights into people's struggles and hardships.  Historically, those Belgian refugees faced prejudice.  The early stories show Poirot has a limp which eventually goes away, thus it might have been an injury from WW1 that heals over time.


Poirot is also known for his deductive reasoning skills but additionally his detective work involves psychological insights.  He's also Catholic (occasional mentions of going to church and an occasional moral dilemma) which gives him other insights about human nature which are absent in the Holmes' universe.  

He knows how to “read” people and draw conclusions not just from what suspects are saying but how they say them. 

He is a good conversationalist with people skills, and gets suspects talking fairly easily.  Poirot pays attention to how subjects act and he scrutinizes their body language to tune into parts of their story that have holes. 

General Sleuthing Style:

 Poirot left a job as a Belgian Police Detective ("one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police" per The Mysterious Affair at Styles) and in The Double Clue it says he was actually the Chief of Police of Brussels, so he understands police work, their procedures, and what they face and he follows a police detective's methods.  

By this time in the world, forensic techniques had been introduced and policework was becoming more scientific and disciplined.  Thus, Poirot's going beyond the forensics of how-it-was-done to include why-it-was done to increase the challenge to readers with more complexity.     


Poirot had a trusty sidekick and partner named Captain Arthur Hastings who was a former Army Officer in the British military. Hastings is brave yet a little naive and maybe isn’t quick with connections, but Poirot appreciates him while they’re working a case as Hastings often unwittingly assists in discussion with suspects so Poirot is able to spy the lie and solve the mystery.  

Poirot’s secretary, Miss Felicity Lemon, plays the role of female supporting character in Poirot's world. Miss Lemon is known for her precise nature and often assists Poirot by doing side research for certain cases.  This is an interesting point since there is plenty of speculation about Holmes not having a high opinion of women yet Poirot has a woman regularly in his life that he trusts in his professional world.

On the point of women, Poirot also has a soft spot for Countess Vera Rossakoff, a jewel thief, when Hercule is investigating a jewel robbery in the short story The Double Clue.  They meet in two more stories, The Big Four and The Capture of Cerberus, where she is then a nightclub owner.  Christie's son has said that in his mother's notes she had felt Poirot knew he was too particular and fastidious for any woman to put-up with him.  

Dr. Watson Vs Captain Hastings:  Watson is a doctor and fits with Sherlock's science based approach and is likely more sympatico with the hero, but Capt Hastings is a true personal friend to Hercule firstly and aids him with his interactions with suspects.  I always felt that Capt. Hastings was a great comfort and relieved some of Poirot's loneliness while Watson was more an assistant to Holmes.  Capt Hastings and Poirot even vacation together as good friends which I don't see Holmes doing with Watson.

Conclusions:  I think both characters were revolutionary for their time.  If possible, I think that Poirot took what Sherlock had started with more scientific crime scene investigation and reasoning and expanded on it with basic criminal psychology that was a growing field of that time.  The insights into human nature in addition to deductive reasoning is a powerful combination for a detective.

Both characters were handicapped in the personal relationship arena, but Sherlock seems more so than Poirot.  Agatha Christie provided more personal background for Hercule than we have for Sherlock other than some tidbits about Mycroft, which makes Poirot more rounded in my humble opinion with Miss Lemon and Capt Hastings.  

Also, Poirot has many moments of relating to people on a personal level that I think is missing with Sherlock.  Case in point, Peril at End House shows Poirot on vacation and upon meeting a young heiress he becomes concerned that somebody is trying to kill her as she has had a number of near deadly accidents.  Nobody seeks him out nor hires him, but he inserts himself into her life to investigate because of his concern for her.  

Additionally, Poirot has a soft spot for children and their innocence that is touched on occasionally which I don't believe Holmes ever has such a softness towards his young homeless Baker Street Irregulars who "go everywhere and hear everything" and he pays them but shows no personal feelings towards them outside of their usefulness.

What do you think? As I said, I'm no expert on either character. How do they compare to you?  Share your thoughts in the comments please.

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Thursday, January 4, 2024

Review - Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Lord

 Author Celeste Connally is an Agatha Award nominee, and a former freelance writer and editor.  This is a brand new historical mystery series and the debut sounds fascinating. It's being billed as "Bridgerton meets Agatha Christie." Let's take a trip back to the early 1800s London for an adventure.

Author: Celeste Connally

Copyright: Nov 2023 (Minotaur Books) 301 pgs

Series: 1st in Lady Petra Inquires series

Sensuality: moderate- era references to intimacy and period treatment of women

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy, Amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Lady Petra Forsyth, 24yo indepedant daughter of an Earl

Setting: 1815 (Regency Era). London, England

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review, Netgalley

 Book Blurb:  "London, 1815. Lady Petra Forsyth, daughter of the Earl of Holbrook, has made a shocking proclamation. After losing her beloved fiancĂ© in an accident three years earlier, she announces in front of London’s loosest lips that she will never marry. A woman of independent means—and rather independent ways—Petra sees no reason to cede her wealth and freedom to any man now that the love of her life is gone. Instead, she plans to continue enjoying the best of society without any expectations.

But when ballroom gossip suggests that a longtime friend has died of a fit due to her “melancholia” while in the care of a questionable physician, Petra vows to use her status to dig deeper—uncovering a private asylum where men pay to have their wives and daughters locked away, or worse. Just as Petra has reason to believe her friend is alive, a shocking murder proves more danger is afoot than she thought. And the more determined Lady Petra becomes in uncovering the truth, the more her own headstrong actions and desire for independence are used against her, putting her own freedom—and possibly her life—in jeopardy."

MY Thoughts:  Lady Petra is likable (a good daughter, a kind employer, and she's good to animals), a feminist when men were ruled. Her mother died when she was young, but left her a sizable inheritance that allows her more freedoms.  But she can be naive at times in her priviledged world and too trusting of her own safety. I like Duncan Shawcross, Petra's childhood playmate and confidante who is also the illegitimate son of Marquess of Langford.  They make a great team and he is a good potential romantic interest since he understands her well.  Her best friend Caroline is in a marriage of convenience does as she pleases which makes her a bad influence in many ways, but a good friend.  Lady Petra's personal maid, Annie, is a wonderful side character and a street urchin Petra has befriended, Teddy, as well.

This book had a slow start and took many chapters for the murder to happen.  But once it did the book really took off.  I realize this is the debut and thus had to setup the world and Lady Petra's reality, but the slowness combined with an onslaught of characters with titles and a bunch of gossip just weighed down the beginning.  I read this occasionally trying to slog through until I finally got to the murder and then it took off like a race horse and I couldn't put it down.  

Sadly, this is based on actual practices historically.  I know some may think the sending of unwanted wives to an asylum, as presented in the book, is an exageration, but it happened fairly often and with just a husband's say-so in far too many cases.  At the time this is set, men ruled and women had no standing in and of themselves.  Men of the day thought little of such practices because it was all legal strictly speaking.  

Historically, Lady Petra wouldn't have been afforded so much freedom by her father and Duncan Shawcross's being illegitimate would have kept him from being so well regarded in society. I didn't mind those liberties with the storyline, but some might take exception to them.  

The book is more about the journey than the mystery to solve. We follow Lady Petra and she does end up in a harrowing situation in the well done and tense climax.

Rating:  Good - A fun read.  Slow to start but it develops and gets really good.

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Monday, January 1, 2024

Musings - Track Your Reading (and so much more)

I have done a few posts of interest for a New Year prior that I'd like to share again:

I am on a few reading/book facebook groups and besides asking for book recommendations, many people ask how they can easily keep track of the books they've read.  What follows are ideas to answer such a question and although not exhaustive, I hope they are helpful and perhaps also fun.

If you only need to track the basics like the following:

Books to read (Notes to remember the many recommendations you get)
Books Completed so you aren't getting the same book in a few months you already bought and read.
Favorite books to know exactly which ones to pick off your shelf on a rainy day.

Then basic tracking is available with or and can handle those tasks for you.  But here are some other options for this as well.

Reading List Bookmark  (click here) is handy and simple.

Book Reading Tracker- Printable (handles 67 books per sheet)
Left column you can set up a color code using markers for the genre of book  (click here).

But if you want to track more, then often times going old school is the simplest answer by using a bullet journal (notebook that has pages with dots or grid) or similar idea like a simple spiral notebook.  

Are there apps that can do this?  Yes, BUT to get the following versatility it will likely cost.  The free features are usually limited to basic tracking like Goodreads.  

A bullet journal is economical and easy, particularly if you find free printable templates.  You can spruce up pages with colored pens, Tombow markers (they don't bleed through), something for drawing straight lines, and some decorative Washi tape.

Following are some ideas of other things you may like to track besides just book titles you've read:

Pages read per day – if you want to make reading a habit and keep you motivated.  (click here) and example (click here)  

Chapters read – Some prefer tracking chapters rather than pages.  Example (click here) and Example 2 (click here):  

Series Books – You can track different book series that you are reading.  You may not want to read through an entire series at once, or you may be waiting for the next one to come out.  You can list out the reading order of the books in a series and check them off as you complete each one. 
Basic example (click here): 

Do you want to track Days you've read? – This helps you form a habit. (click here)

Maybe a reading streak – how many days in a row you've read to reinforce a habit of reading.  Weeks in a row, too.  Maybe note a prize to reward yourself if you read 21 days in a row or similar streak. See above example for tracking days.

Classic Books TBR – I think every reader has a list of "highly recommended" classics that they haven't gotten around to yet.  This makes it easy to refine your list, note which friend recommended it and why, and if it was worth the hype.  Example (click here).  

Reading Challenges – like the alphabet challenge (reading books whose titles start with each letter of the alphabet), book bingo (like regular bingo but with a different book criteria in each square), or others.  If you are into reading challenges make it easy on yourself and track them in one spot.  Example (click here).   

Book Club – You can keep track of all the necessary information.  Create a page that lists things like their website, when you meet, where you meet, when to vote for the monthly book pick, or contact information for friends you meet in the club and want to collaborate with.  Then track how many pages a day to finish, the questions to discuss so you can be prepared before the meeting.

Other examples following

Multiple reading goal tracker (click here)

16 Reading Journal Printables (click here)

Library Due Date book tracker (click here)

Full page per book printable (click here has a lot of creative printables you can instantly download for practically any book tracking need for only a few dollars.  

Check out the many examples on Pinterest too (click here).

Doing your own tracking in a journal can be fun and creative.  I hope these ideas were helpful.  

Happy New Year fellow reading buddies.

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