Monday, 29 June 2020

Book and Cover of the Month - June



designer Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org
with fellow designer Tamian Wood of www.beyonddesigninternational.com
select their chosen Cover of the Month
with all winners going forward for 
Cover of the Year in December 2020
(honourable mentions for the Honourable Mention Runner-up)

WINNER 
June 2020


Read our Review
Cover by The Cover Collection
www.thecovercollection.com

Honourable Mention

Read our Review



This is a personal choice made by  me, Helen Hollick,
(founder of Discovering Diamonds)
from books I have shortlisted for my personal reading 

My criteria for a 'winner' is:
* Did I thoroughly enjoy the story?
* Would I read it again?
* Is it a 'keeper'

My chosen Runner-Up 
 June 2020
I very much enjoyed this one - and I would have made it my Book of the Month but it's a little awkward as I am most definitely biased...
that's my house on the cover!
even so -
a super read!

read our review
so my Book of the Month Winner
is, coincidentally, the same as our Cover of the Month!


read our review
* * * * * * 


Book and Cover of the Year
will be announced on 31st December 2020

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Guest Spot Philip K Allan







I was a born in Watford in the United Kingdom. I still live in Hertfordshire with my wife, my two teenage daughters, two cats and a chicken. For most of my working life I was a senior manager in the motor industry, but my real passion was always for history and literature.  I wrote my first book while I was on a career break between car manufacturers, really just to see if I could. When I went back to work, I sent my manuscript out to a number of literary agents, fully expecting it to be rejected. But it wasn’t, and in 2016 my family and I took the decision to give up the certainties of a well-paid job so that I could write full time. Four years and seven published works later we are a little bit poorer, but very much happier.

My books are set in the 18th century Royal Navy. I could have set them in any one of a number of periods or places, but that was the genre that interested me most. I grew up enjoying the books of C.S. Forester and in particular Patrick O’Brian. They awoke in me a life-long passion for the age of sail. I went on to study the 18th century navy as part of my history degree at London University. When I left, I remained a member of the Society for Nautical Research and also a keen sailor. The 18th century is a period with unrivalled potential for a writer, stretching from the age of piracy, via the voyages of Cook to the battles and campaigns of Nelson.

The period also works well from a creative point of view. On the one hand there is the strange, claustrophobic wooden world of the period’s ships; and on the other hand there is the boundless freedom to move them around the globe, wherever the narrative takes them.

The seven books I have published so far form a series that follow the adventures of a group of characters, both officers and sailors. They all serve with my main protagonist, an officer called Alexander Clay. In my first book, The Captain’s Nephew, he is a lieutenant, while by the end of my latest novel, In Northern Seas, he is a senior post captain helping Nelson win his victory at Copenhagen. Each book can be read as a standalone work, as it contains its own complete story; or the series can be read in order to appreciate the progression of the characters.

I try and use period language and authentic nautical detail to draw the reader into a different world, although I aim to pitch this at a level where a reader with no knowledge of either will still enjoy my work. I test this on my first reader, my wife, who has little interest in the sea. If she enjoys what I’ve created, great. If not, I go away and rewrite it. What many readers tell me they enjoy most in my books is the cast of fully-formed lower deck characters, as well as the officers. The sailors all have their own back histories, adventures and plot lines. Think Downton Abbey on a ship, with the lower deck as the below stairs’ servants.

If you want to find out more about me or my books, the links below may be helpful




Click HERE to find  Philip on Discovering Diamonds



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Friday, 26 June 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The War in Our Hearts by Eva Seyler


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Fictional Drama
WWI
Flanders


Set primarily in the trenches of WWI, The War in Our Hearts tells a story of courage and redemption, of innocence destroyed and the healing power of love. Captain Jamie Graham, stranded by a broken vehicle, takes shelter in a barn – only to find a terrified, violated young girl. She is alone, and he – gentleman and officer – cannot leave her to fend for herself. 

In the hurt and bewildered Aveline, Jamie – Lord Inverlochy – sees an echo and reflection of himself. Heir to his estate by the random order of his birth minutes before his twin, from childhood he is not what his tyrannical father believes he should be. Sensitive, musical, he is beaten and abused and finally sent away to school. Music and religious faith become his bulwarks.

Intertwined with the horrors of life in the trenches – lice and mud and the incessant thunder of the guns – are interludes of Jamie’s past, charting his own difficult journey to adulthood and to love. The brief period of peace he finds between the death of his father and the beginning of the war speaks to what his life might have been.

The author parallels the larger war and the attack on Aveline effectively: Jamie’s actions may have little effect on the outcome of WWI, but her rescue gives meaning to the chaos and destruction he finds himself part of. This part of the story, Jamie’s experiences at the front, were the most compelling and strongly written, the characters dimensioned and real, whereas some of Jamie’s past story lacked, for me, the same immediacy and depth.

The solace and strength Jamie finds in music is well-portrayed, something he would have had in common with many officers and men at the front. The depiction of his troubled, doubting soul and the courage and resilience of Aveline are the centrepieces of this debut novel, and I look forward to reading more of Eva Seyler’s work. 

Warning: contains rape, physical and psychological abuse; suicide, warfare.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

©Marian L Thorpe
 e-version reviewed



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29th June - announcing our
book and cover selections of the month

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

A Cherry Blossom in Winter by Ron Singerton



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#Book 1 of a series
first published 2017

Fictional Saga
Late19th/early20th century
Russia / Japan

Revolution is simmering below the surface in Russia. Workers are striking and getting shot for peaceful protests. Dissatisfaction with the Tsar’s government is building. The background of the story is the Russo-Japanese War. The scenes of sea battle paint a horrifyingly vivid picture of the carnage and horror during the engagement at Tsushima. I hope it’s not a spoiler to say that this war was a factor in the coming revolution.

Young Alexei Brusilov makes an enemy of Boris Sukolov by besting him in a fencing competition at the Naval Academy. This is the beginning of a bitter enmity on Boris’s part which only deepens with further encounters. When Alexei’s father is offered a post in Japan, Alexei reluctantly goes with him to get away from the vengeful Boris. In Japan, he meets beautiful Kimi-San. For both, it’s love at first sight, although she is promised to another man. Kimi is a woman of her time, so their relationship is very much hands-off in the beginning. It is a forbidden but tender romance, conducted for the most part through letters and at distance.

At the start of the story, Alexei is an unsophisticated seventeen-year-old. His growth is not always heroic but terribly human. We see him exiled in Siberia, sunk in despairing dissolution, and again on a ship succumbing to despair as shells explode and body parts fly around him. And we see him rise above these awful tests. 

The secondary characters are all very believable and help move the sub-plots along. Olga with her secrets. Sergei who longs for revolution. Count Yevgeny who beats his wife but is dominated by his mistress. Even Boris is not entirely evil, being redeemed by his love for the wild Svetlana. 

The author provides some delectable tidbits of social mores. In Russia, at least in noble circles, it was accepted that husbands take mistresses and wives take lovers. Often cuckolds were friends with their cuckolders. A high level of discretion was required, but any hint of jealousy was unacceptable. In Japan we learn something of Japanese culture, particularly as it relates to interactions between a man and a woman.

Really strong writing and so many elements to the book that I have no hesitation in recommending it. I look forward to continuing the story in the second book. 

  
Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Susan Appleyard
 e-version reviewed







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Monday, 22 June 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of The Potential for Love by Catherine Kullman


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Fictional Saga / Regency Romance
1800s
England


Thomas Ferraunt, newly returned to his family home at the end of hostilities in Europe, faces the decision of whether to continue in the army. The son of a country Rector, he brings news to the Malvin family that their son, Arthur, fallen at Waterloo, was properly laid to rest. Lady Malvin is very grateful, having feared that his was just another anonymous battlefield burial, and encourages Thomas to visit again. He and Arabella Malvin form a friendship based on long familiarity, but their different social standing precludes anything more.

When his financial circumstances prove to be rather better than he had imagined, Thomas decides to sell out, and to look for a home of his own. Increasingly drawn to Arabella, as she seems to be to him, he begins to nurture hope of marriage. He follows the family to London, where she is embarking upon her fourth season, and amongst the diversions of town, they begin to understand each other well enough.

However, another man has designs upon her, based upon his own coldly analytical criteria. When his presumption is publicly called into question, he remains determined to marry her, but an element of revenge darkens the game. Thomas's circumstances change once more, and Arabella is no longer sure that she will be comfortable as his wife. While she remains confused, the enemy stalks her, and sets his trap.

The Potential for Love is a traditional Regency romance, with all the usual elements of London and the Season, and a few darker ones beside.  Ms Kullman has clearly done her research comprehensively, and the reader is in safe hands with regard to setting and style. 

There is a large cast of interconnected named characters with a hint of interesting histories between them, none of which are explained in this novel, which suggests that this must be one of a series. It would perhaps help to have read the author's Duchess of Gracechurch series in order to work out who's who. At the least, a cast list or family tree would be useful for readers who come straight in at this particular book.

This is one for those who like a slow comfortable read with a sense of threat lurking behind the curtains of Almack's. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Lorraine Swoboda
 e-version reviewed






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Sunday, 21 June 2020

Guest Spot - Annie Whitehead




Are you sitting comfortably? Then let me tell you a story...

Once upon a time, before the Normans came to England, the land was full of elves, and dragons, and people who cast magic spells from their castles, but who also lived in mud huts and wore shabby brown clothes. They used a lot of bad four-letter words and their culture was so poor that they were said to live in the Dark Ages…

Well, all the best fairy stories begin with ‘once upon a time’ and usually they are not true.

In fact, Anglo-Saxon England was no more mythical and magical than any other era, they had access to high-quality dyes which produced fabrics with incredibly bright hues, (the richest even wore silk) and their weapon and jewellery-making skills were so accomplished that we’re not even quite sure how they did it without power tools (think Sutton Hoo or Staffordshire Hoard).

As for those four-letter words? The bad ones aren’t from that period. They didn’t live in castles, but nor did they live in mud huts. And some of the finest illuminated manuscripts come from that period. Women weren’t viewed as chattels and had many rights - to marry whom they chose, to hold land in their own name - which diminished with the arrival of the Normans.

They had among their number some wonderful characters - Alfred the Great, King Athelstan, Lady Godiva, Edmund Ironside, Harold Godwineson…

I was lucky enough, when I was a history undergraduate, to have the eminent Medievalist Ann Williams as my tutor and found myself taking more and more ‘Dark Ages’ and Medieval modules over the three years. The stories of these fascinating characters stayed with me.  And when I began writing I wanted to spread the word about these people and to show them inhabiting a world not of monsters and magic spirits, but of culture, politics, war, and yes, a little bit of romance.

My first novel, To Be A Queen, tells the story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians. She was the daughter of Alfred the Great, and she came to rule a kingdom in all but name, successfully holding back the Vikings. I’ve explored her life for fiction and nonfiction and I still consider her somewhat of a paradox. She ruled a country - almost unheard of during this period - but barely got a mention in the sources. Was her story, as some think, deliberately suppressed, or did they not think it especially significant that she was a woman? In the novel, it is her strength of character, and not her gender, that makes her special, and I think that’s not far from the truth.

Another Anglo-Saxon who fascinated me was Ælfhere of Mercia, who got a really bad press in the chronicles for attacking monasteries. I wrote about him for one of my finals papers, and the truth is not that simple. My second novel, Alvar the Kingmaker, charts his story and it is, in fact, one of a man who was instrumental in steadying a monarchy rocked by scandal and murder. Yes, he clashed with the Church, but there was a reason for that…

Penda, a seventh-century king of Mercia, was also misrepresented by the chroniclers. He had the temerity to be a pagan at a time when England was converting to Christianity, and to have a few run-ins with the Northumbrian kings, who not only had converted, but had the Venerable Bede to write about them in glowing terms. Again, sitting in lectures and learning about this man, I felt that he was not given a fair hearing, so my novel, Cometh the Hour, attempts to put his side of the story.

There’s so much that hasn’t been said about this period, and the Mercians in particular, that I was thrilled to be given a contract to write the history of that erstwhile kingdom. There were so many larger-than-life characters, and so many of them female, that I realised there was another book crying out to be written. I looked up every reference I could find to named Anglo-Saxon women, and put their stories into my new book, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England. All the women you’d expect are in there - Æthelflæd, Lady Godiva, Queen Emma, St Hild - and many that you wouldn’t, including a queen who razed a town to the ground, a queen who tricked a king into giving her land, and a ‘slave’ who ended up as queen of a foreign land…

So, no fairies, but plenty of tales!


Annie's new book, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England is out now.

Her history of Mercia is available for pre-order in paperback

And you can find all her books HERE

Find her on Facebook, Twitter, on her Website and on her Blog, too.



Click HERE to find Annie  on Discovering Diamonds



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and you would like to participate in our 
 Guest Spot
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Friday, 19 June 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow by Kenneth Harmon


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fictional drama
WWII
Japan


"When bombardier Micah Lund dies on a mission over Hiroshima, his spirit remains trapped in the land of his enemies. Dazed, he follows Kiyomi Oshiro, a war widow struggling to care for her young daughter, Ai. Food is scarce, work at the factory is brutal, and her in-laws treat her like a servant. Watching Kiyomi and Ai together, Micah reconsiders his intolerance for the people he’d called the enemy. As his concern for the mother and daughter grows, so does his guilt for his part in their suffering.Micah finds a new reality when Kiyomi and Ai dream—one which allows him to interact with them. While his feelings for Kiyomi deepen, imminent destruction looms. Hiroshima is about to be bombed, and Micah must warn Kiyomi and her daughter. In a place where dreams are real, Micah races against time to save the ones he loves the most. In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow is a tale about love in its most extraordinary forms—forgiveness, sacrifice, and perseverance against impossible odds."

There is much to be admired about this book. There is a strong opening, and from the start it is clear that the author has a knack of describing scenes with vivid clarity. It was unsettlingly easy to imagine what it was like in the B29 bomber in the furious moments of emergency before Micah had to eject.

Pre-atomic-bomb Hiroshima is depicted in stunning detail. I really felt as if I could see, hear and smell it. I took delight in small detail: people riding bicycles on wheel rims because the tyres had worn out; a shuttered house lets no sunshine in and 'darkness filled the corners'. You find yourself nodding, knowing exactly what it is like to come in from the brightness of day to such a room. The descriptions of the countryside surrounding Hiroshima were sumptuous and if the author hasn't actually visited this location, I'd be amazed.

The portrayal of Kiyomi is sensitively done, especially as we have a man writing from a woman's perspective. She is written as a three-dimensional character and her story serves to show how poorly women fared after one 'mistake' - in her case having a child out of wedlock. Micah is appalled by much of what he witnesses about Japanese culture but I did question his assumption that all would change after the war. Surely the US never intended to occupy Japan and change its culture and society?

Micah learns an abject lesson about prejudice as, in fact, does Kiyomi. I did feel at times though that the message was a bit unsubtle and I also wondered if Micah would have been led to question these prejudices had he not been in love with Kiyomi but just been observing the ordinary folk of Hiroshima.

I had no problem suspending disbelief and accepting the notion of the spirit world although there were some inconsistencies. For example, it is made clear that there is a universal language there, but towards the end Micah is teased for sounding more and more Japanese. There is also a lot about the spirit world which is rather convenient.

This is a brave attempt at making profound statements about the horrors of war. Unfortunately the setting and premise meant that I had guessed the ending way before it came, although does that matter when the story is interesting and enjoyable?

I received an advance copy and would hope that the typos - mainly missing or incorrectly-placed commas and apostrophes - will be rectified before publication.

There are also some strange choices of past participles, none 'wrong' but used here incorrectly: bore (bored), awakened (woke/awoke) raised (rose) shined (shone) which made my gaze 'stick' to the page and this, coupled with the almost exclusive use of the simple past tense, was jarring. 'We worried the priest drove you away' provides less richness than 'we were worried [that] the priest had driven you away.' 

Oddly, the description of the immediate effect of the bombing is not nearly as gruesome and upsetting as it could have been. On balance, I think that the restraint is probably a good thing.
An interesting read.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

©Lucy Townshend 
 e-version reviewed



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Wednesday, 17 June 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Another Kind of Sunset By Susan Wüthrich



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Fictional Drama / Saga
Word War II
Home Front

Harry and Eve Pritchard married young. Harry worked at Eve’s parents’ nursery, and if World War Two had not happened they would probably have spent their lives together in the same business. But Harry goes away to war, leaving behind a loving wife and two children, and then a third arrives and Harry is reported missing in action. Eve is devastated, but as she struggles to hold on to the nursery business an Italian widower steps in to help her, and soon she finds herself falling in love again. Luca Fancelli joins her in the nursery then along with her children and his three they set up home together and marry in a register office. 

For a short while they are happy together... 

The story is told in flashback format after Eve’s daughter, Faith, starts psycho-therapy in 1978. Harry’s story is told through a verbatim transcript translated from German and his subsequent memoirs. 

As the book blurb says, Another Kind of Sunset is a saga of two families coming to terms with tragedy, reconciliation and most of all forgiveness. Author Susan Wüthrich has created a convoluted yet strangely credible tale of how war can cause long-term or lingering damage to non-combatants. For the most part I was turning pages to find out what happened next: would there be – could there possibly be – a happy ending? I have to say I struggled somewhat not only with the gruesome content of Harry’s experiences in the Russian gulag, but also with his literary skills. Both his verbatim transcript and his memoirs suggest a man of learning, skilled with words, which I don’t think could have been the case. Nevertheless, Harry’s grim experiences and heart-rending choices are something that could have happened to innocent men or women in wartime. 

Another Kind of Sunset is a tissues and chocolate box story for readers who enjoy family sagas and women’s fiction.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© John Darling
 e-version reviewed




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Monday, 15 June 2020

Empire's Reckoning by Marian Thorpe


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Fantasy based on Historical research
Fictional saga

"For thirteen years, Sorley has taught music and swordplay at the Ti’ach na Cillian, his terrible memories behind him. A peaceful life, hard-won after the devastation of war and betrayal – until officer-cadet Gwenna comes home for the summer with a question. “Why are there so many secrets in this family?”

Empire's Reckoning is the first in a proposed new trilogy from the author of the Empire's Legacy series. That first trilogy was told by the main character, Lena and we followed her story through times of war and change across the fictional empire. We review Ms Thorpe's books here on Discovering Diamonds because while they are fantasy, they are so grounded in historical research that reading them feels like reading historical fiction, right down to the different languages used in various parts of the empire.

In this new book, the narrator is no longer Lena, but Sorley, a musician whom we met in part two of the previous trilogy. I happen to have read the bridge novella, Oraiáphon, too, which is also told by Sorley and fills in some gaps between the conclusion of the first series and the beginning of the second.

In this new volume, we learn about what has happened to Sorley in the intervening years, and travel with him back to his homeland. The book switches from events immediately after the last series ended, to fifteen years afterwards as Sorley discovers things about the past and has to decide how much to reveal to the next generation. In revealing secrets, will he be guilty of betrayal himself?

I've talked in previous reviews about the skilful world-building and deep, realistic characterisation of Ms Thorpe's books and the same must be said of Empire's Reckoning. It took me a while to get used to hearing Sorley telling the story, but he is just as good a narrator as Lena was.

For those who love sweeping sagas, beautifully described settings and a real sense of watching the characters as they go about their lives, I can't rate this highly enough. As always with these books, it's like you are in the room, witnessing every scene.

I would say though that in this volume, the theme is very much that of secrets being revealed and to get the most out of this book, I feel that you need to have read the preceding volumes, including the novella, which introduces a couple of new characters who feature here. But having said that, all good series are worth reading from the beginning to gain full enjoyment!

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Annie Whitehead
e-version reviewed




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Sunday, 14 June 2020

Guest Spot - Erica Lainé



Erica Lainé has been an actress, a beauty consultant, a box office manager for an arts festival, a domiciliary librarian, a reader liaison officer, a speech and drama teacher, a writer of TEFL textbooks for Chinese primary schools, and an educational project manager for the British Council in Hong Kong. She was awarded an MBE for her work there. She summed up that work with the quote, ‘He jumped on his horse and rode off wildly in all directions.’

She lived in London in the late 50s as a drama student and then as a young wife and mother until 1977. After her life in Hong Kong she came to south west France in 1997 with her architect husband to the glorious house he had designed, a conversion from a cottage and barn. She lives here with him, a cat and a dog and rooms filled with a lifetime collection of books. She is president of An Aquitaine Historical Society and through that organisation came to know about Isabella of Angoulême, the subject of her trilogy. She continues to be fascinated and intrigued by 13th century France and England and their tangled connections.



You can follow Erica on Facebook where she has a page as Isabella of Angouleme. She posts all sorts of historical snippets and images. https://www.facebook.com/ericalaineauthor
https://twitter.com/LaineEleslaine where Erica tweets about just everything! But especially books and writing, gardens and gardening, and many a rant!


Erica has a web page, which is about observations of life in France, a miscellany of her interests, and of course her writing and events attached to that. 

Erica also has a Facebook page for An Aquitaine Historical Society, which has information about talks and where she posts about all things historical, both English and French. https://www.facebook.com/An-Aquitaine-Historical-Society-952885338058987/




Click HERE to find Erica  on Discovering Diamonds


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Friday, 12 June 2020

The Bloody Road by Nigel Seed

shortlisted for Book of the Month



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Fictional Saga
1914-1918 WWI
Gallipoli and The Western Front
Book 3: Michael McGuire Trilogy

After more than a decade as a civilian, Michael McGuire is persuaded back into the army to train Australian volunteers at the beginning of the First World War. Using his unique training methods and his ability to motivate even the worst of soldiers, he forges them into a fierce fighting unit. His reward is to be sent with them to Gallipoli where they experience the most disastrous campaign of the early part of the war. From there they are sent to the Suez Canal to repel a Turkish offensive and, following a successful conclusion, are packed off to the Western Front.

In this final part of the Michael McGuire Trilogy the sheer horrors of the Great War are told without compromise; Nigel Seed is as brutal to some of his characters as the actual war was to real people. Many of the incidents in the narrative actually happened and the author – as in the previous books in the series – introduces some interesting and high profile cameos. There is enough retelling of McGuire's back-story to make this a stand alone book, however, as ever, I recommend reading the previous two volumes not only for McGuire's previous exploits but also because they are really good!

As usual, the author has extensive and interesting Author's Notes, dispelling some myths, telling some truths and attributing some of those incidents where possible. In a way, this is a fine tribute to the brave Australian and New Zealand soldiers who were, when all is said and done, all volunteers. 

In my opinion, this is the best book of the three and I will miss Michael McGuire, his intelligence and understated Irish logic. 
Highly recommended.

© Richard Tearle



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