All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Rosie Effect – Graeme Simsion

Rosie EffectThe Rosie Effect
Graeme Simsion
Text Publishing
2014, 411p
Read from my local library

Don and Rosie have been married for ten months and ten days and are now living and working in New York City. There have been many changes in Don’s life since the Wife Project – he’s getting used to sharing his space with another person, especially a person who has as much in the way of possessions as Rosie does. They’ve agreed to abandon the Standardised Meal System and that sex is not something one should be scheduling.

Then Rosie drops a bombshell on Don – they have some wonderful news they should be celebrating but all it instills in Don is panic. He cannot seem to reconcile with this news in the happy way that Rosie expects and although he seeks advice from his small group of friends, in typical Don style, his best intentions often land him in trouble.

Everything Don tries to do to fix things seems to make it worse. He’s lying to Rosie (or at least, keeping important things from her) and they grow more apart with each day. Before long Rosie is talking of moving back to Australia, leaving Don behind and he’s going to have to do something drastic if he’s going to be able to convince Rosie to give him a chance. But first he actually has to come to terms with Rosie’s news and what it means for him.

So The Rosie Effect is of course, the sequel to last year’s absolute smash hit, The Rosie Project. I loved the first book so much and although I was originally excited when I found out there was going to be a sequel, there was also a lot of apprehension there too. The Rosie Project is a special sort of book, it’s full of charm and quirks and it’s something that worked really well on its own because it was fresh and new and different. I wasn’t sure how that would work in another volume and I have to say, I didn’t love this anywhere near as much as the first one. There are a few reasons why but I think Rosie is the main one.

I’m pretty sure anyone with a few brain cells can figure out what Rosie’s “special” news is after their ten months of marriage so I’m not going to consider it a spoiler to reveal it, however if you don’t want to know what she tells Don, stop reading right now!

Rosie is of course pregnant with their first child but the thing that really bothered me was that she did this without telling Don that she was going to be attempting to conceive. She stopped taking the Pill and decided to allow nature to take its course, totally not expecting it to happen so soon which I find distasteful and deceitful. Although Don mentions that he’d thought about children, it seems obvious that they haven’t discussed this as a plan for the now. Don thinks they were going to wait until Rosie was finished with some of her study or rotation, whatever it is that she’s doing but Rosie doesn’t want to wait until she’s that old. So she ends up pregnant and Don completely freaks out, partially because of a random interaction he had with a stranger a short time before Rosie drops the bombshell.

Rosie is such a nothing character in this book. She’s barely in it after she tells Don she’s pregnant, instead she retreats further and further into herself, also distancing herself from Don. She moves into another room, she’s always working on her Ph.D it’s as Don says at one point, like the housemate situation of his college years. She doesn’t ever seem to make a real attempt to find out how Don is feeling about this and I might go so far to say as it doesn’t particularly sound like she cares how Don is feeling. When it becomes obvious that is not perhaps coping with it well, she seems to take the attitude that she’ll do just fine as a single mother and Don doesn’t even need to do anything.


You’re married to this person. It’s been less than a year and you are wanting to bail already because Don doesn’t process things the ‘normal’ or expected way. You knew this, Rosie. You knew what sort of person he was and you sprang that on him anyway and then basically left him alone to deal with it with very little in the way of reassurance and support. When Don tries to be supportive of Rosie, he tends to get shot down by her even though he’s trying in his own way to look out for her, help her be healthy and have a comfortable pregnancy and provide the best nutrients for the baby. And because of the fact that Don is kind of on his own, he bumbles from ridiculous situation to ridiculous situation, almost getting himself deported as a pedophile. This portion of the story really irritated me, especially when it becomes evident that Don has been assessed as not being any real danger to the public but is then used by someone because of a tragic incident in her professional past. Especially as this person has met Don in a setting outside of her professional capacity and that fact could indicate a strong inability to be impartial – in fact it’s obvious that there is an inability to be impartial. I just wanted to throw the book at the wall when it kept dragging out. Some of Don’s scenarios (most really) in the first book were quirky and amusing but this one just seemed really ridiculous.

There weren’t a lot of laughs to really be had in this one. There were some amusing scenarios and conversations but I think that what was charming and intriguing in the first book just became a bit stale and contrived in the second. It was almost too much, plus there was none of the spark between Rosie and Don. The fact that they barely interact in any meaningful way really disappointed me. Even at the end, it lacks the punch that it really needs, for me.


Book #231 of 2014


The Rosie Effect is book #17 of the Aussie Author Challenge 2014



Review: The Alexandria Connection – Adrian d’Hagé

Alexandria ConnectionThe Alexandria Connection
Adrian d’Hagé
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 469p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

CIA agent Curtis O’Connor and his girlfriend/partner archaeologist Aleta Weizman are on a holiday of sorts in Alexandria, Egypt. Although O’Connor is on leave from the CIA, the two are not entirely there to relax – instead Aleta has plans to dive some of the ruins under the ocean in the Alexandria harbour. There have always been rumours of a lost papyrus that would reveal the true purposes of the pyramids of Giza, as well as another one that could turn the entire religion of Christianity on its head.

Elsewhere, a man nicknamed Pharos heads up a group of powerful people. The membership of the group is a well-guarded secret and each person invited in has a very specific attribute. All of these people are putting in a careful plan to create chaos in world financial markets via a string of well organised and funded terrorist attacks that will not only drive up the price of oil and create public hysteria but they will also result in loss of life and nuclear meltdown. Although the CIA have managed to intercept enough communication to know that something is planned, they don’t know where or when. Only Curtis O’Connor might be able to track down Pharos and prevent him from taking control of the entire world.

I think this is the third book that features O’Connor and Weizman but it’s the first that I’ve read. On some levels, you don’t really need to read the previous two as each is a separate story but it would probably help because I didn’t realise they were a couple until they started getting it on. I thought they just worked together and maybe there was potential for one of those ‘will they or won’t they?’ scenarios. Clearly that’s been and gone and they’re a couple of sorts here. I’m not entirely sure how serious it is – O’Connor has apparently well known prowess in the bedroom and Weizman is all about finding antiquities. She’s not the sort to sit at home and wait for O’Connor to get home from his latest assignment of being awesome.

There’s a lot going on here and it’s to d’Hagé’s credit that he manages to tie it all together relatively easily. In one part of the world you have O’Connor and Weizman having a ‘holiday’ of sorts (that keeps getting interrupted when O’Connor keeps getting recalled to active duty because of what the other people the in the novel are up to) diving searching the lost ruins of Egypt for evidence of the two rumoured papyrus. You have Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan planning terrorist attacks on the west, increasing on the severity scale with each one. You have one of the world’s richest men heading up a private group hell-bent on basically taking control of the world via influence over the financial markets, the control and supply of fossil fuels, print media coverage and the terrorist acts they’re paying others to carry out for them. d’Hagé also manages to work in domestic political issues such as the carbon tax on a grander scale, presenting it as a critical issue for an upcoming American presidential election. Given I read this book directly after finishing Julia Gillard’s memoir, I found that a very interesting and relevant inclusion!

I really enjoyed the parts of the story that revolved around Egypt and the antiquities as well as the quest to discover what the pyramids were for – all of that is really fascinating. However I do have to admit that the parts of the story connected to terrorism were less interesting to me. I tired of reading about the terrorists talking about the ‘infidels’ and I’m not entirely sure if I should be concerned about the ease of which some of these were planned and carried out or not. There’s a lot of panic now about the perceived level of threat Australia faces from terrorism and I tend to really try to shy away from the hysteria. Although I don’t know of anyone who fills the role of Pharos in reality, there probably are several people who are that wealthy and would pay obscene amounts to have yet more power. It’s a rather unpalatable thought and I did have trouble connecting to any of the characters within the book. O’Connor is a typical CIA/FBI/Navy SEAL/etc action hero and Weizman is basically a walking, talking archaeological and historical encyclopedia. She shows little other personality other than a knowledge and love of history in this book and again, that may be because I haven’t read the previous books featuring her. There is quite a lot of background between her and the CIA which would probably be interesting to catch up on, given it’s summarised in a paragraph or two here. The man behind Pharos is supposed to be loathsome and is, although I feel as though he was too one dimensional, like he could’ve been given something interesting as motivation rather than just money and power. I know they’re both things that easily corrupt but it made him boring.

I think this book is clever and intricate and I enjoyed parts of it a lot and admired the way other parts of it managed to blend together to create a seamless story. I am tempted however to go back and read the books with O’Connor and Weizman on the Maya Codex and the Incan Prophecy, I’ve read books concerning that sort of thing before and I’ve always enjoyed them.


Book #216 of 2014


The Alexandria Connection counts towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2014. It’s book #16


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Review: The Summer Of Kicks – Dave Hackett

Summer of KicksThe Summer Of Kicks
Dave Hackett
University of Queensland Press
2014, 277p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

It’s hard enough being a slightly nerdy teenage boy without being lumped with a name like Starrphyre. All he wants is one conversation with his dream girl, Candace McAllister. He knows that the stars won’t align for her to suddenly realise he’s the guy she’s been waiting for her whole life, but a proper conversation will do. Starrphyre and his equally nerdy friends decide that one way to get girls interested in them is to start a band.

So that’s what they do – even though they barely play any instruments and have no real idea of what sort of direction they want to go in. They don’t even all like the same music. They’re also missing a guitarist but an employee of the local vinyl shop has been advertising for a band so Starrphyre goes in to talk to him. He comes out with a job – and a reluctant guitarist for the band with the ever changing name.

When his friends sign him up for the lead role in the school musical, Starrphyre realises this could be his time to make Candace really notice him. But after all this time….is the reality of Candace ever going to live up to the fantasy in his head and is she what he really wants?

I haven’t heard of Dave Hackett but apparently he’s a presenter on children’s TV shows. My kids are probably a little young for those types of shows but no doubt they’ll tune into them eventually. I was interested in this book when it turned up because I don’t read a lot of young adult contemporary from a male perspective. It’s always good to read something different and as I’m the mother of boys, reading about teenage boys is something that interests me. I want to know what I’m in for in the next decade!

Saddled with a ridiculous name, Starrphyre lives with his mother who is a radio sex therapist not above using her teenage son as fodder for her show, his Nan, older sister Rue and now Rue’s boyfriend, known as Warren the Tool is moving in as well. Starphyrre’s father lives a few minutes away and he and Starphyrre communicate a lot via text messaging each other trivia questions about bands. Starrphyre’s father likes to test him on 50s, 60s and 70s whereas Starphyrre likes to throw his father a curveball using modern inspiration. Whilst I found Starrphyre quite an interesting and enjoyable character, at times the character of Warren bugged me enough that I had to put the book down and walk away for a bit. I think the author attempts to justify Warren’s presence in the house at the end of the book but to be honest, it kind of falls a bit flat. Starrphyre has ample time to really go to people about the things that Warren does but he just…doesn’t, which really frustrated me. When it all comes out in the end, it feels a bit overblown and unbelieveable. I’m not entirely sure the character of Warren really contributed anything to the book and it would’ve not lacked had he not been in it.

That aside though, there are some pretty interesting supporting characters, such as Sean (pronounced “Scene”), the guitarist and worker at the vinyl records shop who gives Starrphyre a job and regards him and his makeshift band with such disdain. I think Ellie also had real promise in the beginning but her character got caught up in the messy ending which, as I mentioned, didn’t really work for me. There were far too many implausible connections in this book and the web became really tangled. But I really liked Starphyrre’s interactions with Ellie earlier on and I thought the way in which he sort of agnonised over the longtime dream and the here right now was something that most people could really relate to. I think as teenagers, we all have that unattainable fantasy crush, the one that we know is never going to really go anywhere, but it can be hard to let that go and look around and see what else is on offer.

I liked this much more than I thought I would (Warren aside). I read through it in an afternoon and it made me smile a few times and I liked Starrphyre and his kind of clumsy attempts to negotiate the dramas of high school and teenagerdom. At times it’s a bit over the top for my taste (such as the ending and the high school musical scene) but at the same time, I’m almost old enough to be Starrphyre’s mother! I think this would be a really relatable book for teens, both boys and girls. It’s definitely the sort of book I hope my own kids read when they are older. It’s great to see some books depicting life from the male point of view and I think this book is very successful at that.


Book #180 of 2014


The Summer Of Kicks is the 14th book read for my Aussie Author Challenge. It also ticks off the YA genre, a new-t0-me author and a book published this year.

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Review: Quick – Steve Worland

Steve Worland
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 366p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Billy Hotchkiss was a teenage driving sensation until, at age 18, he rolled his V8 Commodore on a lap of the Bathurst 1000 and was severely injured. He walked away from racing car driving and joined the Victorian police force, seeking the rush that driving a high performance vehicle gave to him. When he’s walking in Melbourne during the first round of the Formula 1 World Championship, Billy spots a diamond heist in progress. He isn’t able to stop the thieves but his efforts do not go unnoticed. Even though he’s forced to resign from his job with Victoria Police, Billy is almost immediately offered new employment.

Interpol have seen footage of Billy’s attempt at stopping the heist and it’s only a matter of time until they see some of his driving footage too. They think he’d be perfect to go undercover in the Formula 1 world because every time there’s a race, somewhere else in the city there’s a daring theft of diamonds. Billy has the perfect cover – no one would suspect a laidback Aussie just looking to get back into the sport. Saddled with a reluctant French partner named Claude Michelle who needs to return to the field to ensure a promotion, Billy joins the Iron Rhino F1 team.

From Singapore to Dubai to the cream of the F1 calendar in Monaco, Billy and Claude race to gather the information they need to bring down the brazen criminals. However the more they find out, the more they realise the diamonds are just the beginning and there’s a huge finale planned that could cause a catastrophic loss of life during the pinnacle of the F1 season. It’s up to Billy and Claude to work together and stop a terror attack.

Quick is Steve Worland’s third action packed novel and we turn to the high-octane world of Formula One racing as the backdrop. What I know about Formula One racing you could about fit on the head of a pin because it begins and ends with basically Schumacher. However my brother is a bona fide obsessive who gets up to watch races at odd times (who watches qualifying!) and knows pretty much all there is to know and he was on the other end of the phone throughout the whole time I was reading this book as I asked him questions and verified things! In fact my brother hasn’t read a book since high school (and I’m not entirely sure that he even read the ones he was supposed to for school) but when I told him about this one, he got really interested. He likes action movies and he loves car racing and I had him very curious from the opening pages, which describe Billy’s ill-fated lap in the 2008 Bathurst 1000. And this book was actually enough to get me curious about Formula 1 racing! I’ve never had much interest in it before (or any) but learning about some of the ins and outs of the sport and the money that gets poured into it and how hard it is to break into it and the skill in driving has made me realise just how much goes into the sport and how much it drives the economy in some places as well as how much some teams spend to advance! It seems well researched and accurate, the only difference I can see is that Worland seems to have played a little fast and loose with the F1 calendar, rearranging the schedule to give his criminals opportunities to hit large targets consecutively.

I’ve said before that I think Worland’s novels would make great movies, should they ever be able to achieve an option that comes with a Hollywood blockbuster budget and this one is no exception. There’s plenty of action, some of it even on the racing track! Billy, despite still carrying some injuries is still an adrenalin seeker, always searching for something that gives him the same thrill as driving did. Unfortunately, most things don’t and he is known in his job for going that extra mile, sometimes too far. He’s a quintessentially laid-back Aussie guy kinda character, the sort of person that it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine yourself knowing or having grown up with. Billy is the kind of character that will appeal to most readers because he’s the “everyday” kinda man but one who has some pretty mad skills. He gets paired up with Claude Michelle, a French Interpol agent who has been working a desk job in recent years although he was once a formidable field operative. To say Claude is reluctant to be paired with a green Aussie is an understatement and the two of them get off on the wrong foot and have a series of awkward moments and disagreements before learning to work together and respect each other’s abilities as they search for the identity of the criminals, who they are convinced are from the F1 world. There’s no denying that the organisation behind the group is second to none and the heists are all very clever, quick and easily pulled off. Billy is perhaps the only person who has a clue to one of the member’s identities although it’s still nothing concrete. I really enjoyed how the story surrounding the ‘Three Champions’ (the name Interpol gives the thieves) played out – it taps into something gossip magazines have been wondering about for years and couples it with a terrorist threat that could lead to a result potentially greater than 9/11.

Quick is an extremely fast-pace, high thrill action adventure that will keep the reader hooked from beginning to end. Even if you’re not a fan of car racing, don’t let that turn you off this novel. It’s not a hugely invasive part of the story line and more just provides a glamorous international backdrop. However if you are a fan then I also think there’s enough in here about the sport to keep the reader satisfied.


Book #164 of 2014


Quick is book #13 of the Aussie Author Challenge 2014.



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Review: The Feel-Good Hit Of The Year – Liam Pieper

Feel Good HitThe Feel-Good Hit Of The Year
Liam Pieper
Penguin Books Aus
2014, 250p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Liam Pieper was born in the mid-80s to parents who favoured a bohemian lifestyle. For the first couple of years he lived in a derelict manor house known as Labassa which was home to many types like his parents. Then they decided that they needed a bit more space and that he and his brother might need a backyard. And so they moved to Oakleigh.

Liam grew up knowing that his parents smoked marijuana – they didn’t see that there was anything wrong with a joint or two, or hallucinogens on special occasions. By the time he was 12, Liam had tried it himself. Then he started selling it to people in his local neighbourhood and his school friends. He became known as the person to go to whenever anyone wanted some product. He was making large amounts of cash and as his business grew, so did his knowledge. He realised the danger of meeting people or being on his bike and so he hired a driver. He befriended a crazed martial arts master for protection and allied himself with people that could help him.

For a while, it all went well. But then Liam began dabbling in other drugs, such as coke. And with that came the uppers and downers as well. His family suffered a drug-related tragedy and then Liam was arrested and charged during a police raid on his house, all in front of the mother of his girlfriend. After his court case, Liam decides that it might not be as rewarding anymore – he owes money all over town and his life is a mess in pretty much all aspects. Maybe it’s time to leave the drugs behind and adopt a different lifestyle.

Have you ever read a book where you’re not sure if it’s a work of genius or a pile of self-indulgent twaddle? For me, this memoir is pretty much that book. There’s much in here that I feel should be very moving but there’s so much in here that just bothers the hell out of me. Firstly, I’ll be up front and say I have a) no time for drugs and b) very little time for anyone that uses them. I’ve never been particularly curious about drugs and I’ve seen too many people fall into the temptation and then struggle to extract themselves. I’ve been around drugs before (I lived on campus at a university, there was just about everything within easy access) but not to the extent of the people within this book. And especially from such a young age.

There’s quite a move to decriminalise marijuana and I’ve never really felt strongly one way or another on the matter. Honestly, I think this book changes that. Taking away the mystery and ‘forbidden’ element of drugs, making it familiar does not mean that kids won’t desperately want to do it. Liam’s parents both openly smoke pot in front of their children and most of their children start joining them at a young age….I think this book says something like the parents didn’t really mind, so long as their chores were done. The way in which all three children fall victim to drugs is rather disturbing. It’s easily and readily available and there’s nothing but apathy for when the children decide to experiment. The father doesn’t believe pot has any negative side effects at all and I think this is a common misconception. Because it’s not heroin, it’s not cocaine, it’s relatively harmless. It’s not. And they don’t just stop at smoking marijuana. They all move on to taking other, even more harmful drugs and experience tragedy of varying degrees.

This is not an attempt to really glamourise the life of a petty suburban drug dealer but nor is it a cautionary tale either. Pieper is rather flippant about most things, the only thing that really seems to wring emotion out of him is what happens to his older brother Ardian, to whom this book is dedicated. Even when bad things happen to him, it’s related with a casual tone, like it’s no big deal. I’m not sure if that’s just the style or if it’s written with the relief that it all turned out okay anyway and things are fine now. There are some inconsistencies with the timing and at one stage Pieper is down and out, owing money to people, including his dealer and then he just jets off to Japan a few days later and stays there for a lengthy period of time. There’s no explanation of how he could afford this, even with some of his accommodation being courtesy of other people’s hospitality. There’s also very little on the actual quitting of taking drugs and what that might’ve been like for him after years of indulging. He gets some job that he doesn’t appear qualified for (once gain, not really explained how this happens or why) and although I applaud him for paying back those he owes money too, it’s about the only thing redeemable.

Which brings me back to my former dilemma/question: work of genius or self-indulgent? Anyone can write a memoir, but really very few of them should be published. Unfortunately I’m really not sure that this one falls into the first category. For a memoir to really affect me, I have to feel some sort of emotion for the characters, a connection or at least, sympathy. I’m not sure I ever felt anything remotely like that here. In fact what I mostly experienced was apathy.


Book #117 of 2014


This is the 10th book read for the Aussie Author Challenge 2014, where I try to challenge myself to read more books by Australian male writers.




Review: Dead Cat Bounce – Peter Cotton

Dead Cat BounceDead Cat Bounce
Peter Cotton
Scribe Publishing
2013, 313p
Read from my local library

The capital of Australia is abuzz as the country is just weeks out from a federal election. The campaign is thrown into chaos when a cabinet minister goes missing. When her body is found on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, several things strike the investigative team as unusual. It has the trademarks of a certain type of suicide but the location does not work. This was clearly a murder – but why? And how do you dig up a motive when it’s rooted in federal politics and pretty much everyone hates everybody else and stands to profit from a death?

Detective Darren Glass is part of the team investigating the death of the minister but the further he gets, the more confusing it becomes. Interviewing people of interest becomes all the more difficult when one of them disappears. A man from the Prime Minister’s Office disappears in the same circumstances as the first minister and their body turns up in almost the same place. The cause of death is clearly the same. Darren has some leads but looking into them without creating a fuss and earning himself the ire of the Prime Minster of the country is going to be extraordinarily difficult.

The country wants answers fast and at the moment, Darren and his colleagues don’t have much to give them. Darren is also concerned about a female journalist – she’s been contacted by a person who is in all probability, the killer. They gave her some information which she broke as a huge political story and now Darren fears for her safety as well. He wants to get her some protection but his superiors don’t agree and so he takes it upon himself to keep an eye on her, just in case anything happens. And it’s a good thing too because when it comes to getting out of the perfect murder, two people are going to desperately need his help if they are to survive.

No one is safe from this killer, not even the man who holds the highest office in the country. And if Darren thought things were bad when it was his life on the line….it’s even worse now.

Dead Cat Bounce is the first novel from a former media adviser to three federal cabinet ministers, Peter Cotton. He picks the tricky time of several weeks out from a federal election to begin his story, with the kidnapping and subsequent murder of popular Environment Minister Susan Wright. Detective Darren Glass (who shares a name with the captain of one of my least favourite AFL teams, the West Coast Eagles) is one of the investigators although he doesn’t exactly begin in a good way when he puts the Prime Minister offside in a telephone call and almost gets himself pulled off the case. He escapes just barely and becomes a crucial part of the investigation – and almost a victim more than once.

I have to admit, I chose this book to read because of the name – dead cat bounce is a stockbroking term that crudely describes a pattern of catastrophic fall/loss and then a small rebound, ie like dropping a dead cat off a building. It falls a long way and it’ll bounce…just a little. And then when it hits the ground again, it’ll be even more devastating. It was also the name of a racehorse that raced in Queensland for some time and I used to hear it go around every week although at the time I didn’t actually know where the name came from. When I saw this book on my library shelves I had to snatch it up.

My degree is in politics and I still take a pretty strong interest in what’s happening so I found that the setting of Canberra in and around the politicians really worked for me. I think there’s a strong fascination with political figures at times, even more so when they’ve been tinged with drama. I’m picturing Tony Abbott being kidnapped and I suspect my first reaction to that scenario is probably not what it should be. I think a lot of the time they come off as untouchable to to read this book and observe people in power being taken so effortlessly and murdered in such a way, it does create a sense of panic – if the people who run the country aren’t safe with all their protection, who is? What could they possibly have done that would drive someone -or someones- to this sort of thing? There has to be something there and the more people that go missing, the more it looks like being something big.

I really enjoyed the fledgling romance between Darren and the political reporter Jean although it’s probably not explored quite as deeply as it could’ve been – a lot of the moral dilemmas on a political reporter dating a detective in charge of an investigation centered around politics is glossed over and mostly left up to the reader. Both of them do conduct themselves well and when something does go wrong it’s not Darren’s fault but more his superior’s and although Jean is understandably upset and angry she really doesn’t take it out on Darren for any more than about five minutes which was refreshing. You might look at Darren’s looking after Jean as stalking and I suppose on some level it is – it’s like friendly stalking. He doesn’t mean her any harm and he doesn’t watch her all the time, he just wants to make sure she doesn’t become a victim when she’s no longer of use to the killer. The fact that Jean likes him softens it a little. Darren is still youngish and not totally jaded yet. I think he thinks he’s trying to do the best he can and look after her. The dramas surrounding several things could’ve been spun out into some big conflict but this isn’t a long book and so nobody has time for that. It’s all information and progression in the case, there are no tangents here.

I’m not sure if this is a series or not – I haven’t found anything to suggest that it is and the end is pretty neat with nothing really left unsolved but I certainly wouldn’t mind reading about Darren investigating something else in the future.


Book #56 of 2014


Dead Cat Bounce is book #9 of my pledge to read more Australian male authors


Review: Tigers On The Beach – Doug MacLeod & Author Q&A

Tigers On The BeachTigers On The Beach
Doug MacLeod
Penguin Teen AUS
2014, 251p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Adam is a teenager dealing with a lot at once. His beloved grandfather, whom he shared a close relationship with, has recently and suddenly passed away. As a result his grandmother has moved into his parent’s holiday resort and seems utterly intent on making everyone’s life as difficult as possible. Her living there is somewhat sabotaging the resort – and Adam’s parents marriage.

Adam also thinks he might have found ‘The One’. Samantha is pretty and smart and Adam likes her a lot and he thinks that she just might like him too – if only he could stop getting himself into incredibly embarrassing situations when he’s around her, their fledgling romance just might have a chance at getting off the ground. However Adam is distracted by so many things – he wants to fix his parent’s marriage, find out how to make his grandmother cheer up a little bit, stop his brother doing something dangerous and stupid…and then there’s the matter of what they should do to farewell his grandfather. It all adds up to a lot of stuff to worry about.

And he also needs to work out what’s so funny about two tigers on the beach…shouldn’t be too hard.

I’ve never read Doug MacLeod before but several bloggers I follow praised his last book, The Shiny Guys very highly. As this was my first read, I didn’t have anything to compare it to. And I’m fully aware that I’m not the target market for this book but even setting that aside, there were some things that worked for me and some things that didn’t. Firstly – what did work for me.

The family. I really enjoyed the dynamic of the extended family and their relationships with each other. Adam lives with his parents and his younger brother at a holiday park his parents run. Adam helps out around the park (he even has business cards that he hands out, appointing himself manager) and the way in which he and his parents interact is really good. They have a pretty good relationship and his parents have a good relationship too, which Adam is used to being the regular situation. When his grandmother moves in after the death of his grandfather, Adam hears his parents fighting somewhat regularly and this upsets his equilibrium and he wants to fix it. He seems to undertake a lot of things himself when this is something that he can’t fix, he needs to give his parents space to work out their issues.

Last year I lost my remaining grandfather, who I was very close to (my other grandfather died when I was a teenager) and for me, this book brought back a lot of memories. My grandfather was very different to Adam’s grandfather but we shared a very close relationship and he was a core part of my life. Losing him was very hard and is still hard – I still have random moments and thoughts pop into my head about him and then a second or two later I’ll remember that he’s no longer with us. I feel as though this book does capture that loss from a teenage boy’s perspective as well as confusion, especially from the point of view of his grandmother.

As much as I didn’t really like Samantha that much as a character, I really liked the way her and Adam’s relationship was written. The two of them are very different – they like different movies and find very different things funny. There are a lot of false starts, awkward moments and fights as they struggle to reconcile liking someone who doesn’t get the same things they get. I think it’s a very good portrayal of a teen relationship – they’re 14, it’s not going to be instantaneous happy ever after with sunshine and rainbows. Boys and girls that age are often at very different levels emotionally and in terms of maturity and fighting over stupid things is commonplace. It’s refreshing to see a relationship portrayed this way (albeit for comedic effect) because although I love reading about starry-eyed teen relationships and romance novels, they in no way reflect my own experiences as a teen. This comes much closer – dating the boy who still thinks farting is funny.

Unfortunately a few other things didn’t work so well for me. For a start, the character of Adam’s brother was highly annoying and very little of that had to do with his autism diagnosis. He was just an annoying kid who needed to be told to pack it in a bit – some of his pranks were pretty savage and I always felt like he was borderline bullying Adam in some ways and getting away with it because he was “on the spectrum”. That isn’t an excuse for douchey behaviour – sometimes being a jerk is just that. Being a jerk.

I also have to mention the language. I know it’s accurate in some cases, but this is a slim book and there’s usage of “gay” and “poofter” and “retarded” packed into it and while some teens might talk this way, not all do and I’m not sure that it needs to be so common. It’s not how I want my sons to talk when they reach their teen years and I wouldn’t want to shove books on them that make this sort of offensive labeling really commonplace. However it also might be an opportunity to discuss why there are other words they should be attempting to stretch their vocabulary too, as well if they really must insult each other (which I’m sure they will!).

There’s a lot of humour in this book and whilst you might not find all of it funny, I found enough to be amused throughout although there were times when there was maybe just a bit too much “funny” in here. However my sense of humour is very different from where this book is probably aimed as I mentioned and there are many others out there who will get all of the jokes and the wisecracks and the situations. It’s a good story, dealing with loss and living life without people you care about, learning to move on and embrace what is left.


Book #38 of 2014

**Note**: When I wrote this review I erroneously said that it included the word fag which is not true, the words included are gay and poofter, as now reflected above. This is my mistake and I apologise to the author for any and all offense caused.



Tigers On The Beach is the 6th book read for my Aussie Author Challenge 2014.

Doug MacLeod

Thanks to the people at Penguin AU, I had the chance to ask Doug a few questions about life and writing.

Q1. Hi Doug and welcome to my blog. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for me. To get started – when did you first begin writing and how were you first published?

I began writing in primary school. I was published at sixteen, which made me precocious, but I’m not very proud of the book. I was published because I was ambitious enough to send a manuscript to a publisher, located by reading the imprint page of a book I liked.

So, I survived the slushpile.

I did read a lot. Our school library had a fantastic series of books that were classics of literature but rewritten for a younger audience. I think I read them all, so I knew the plots of most of Charles Dickens by the time I started secondary school. (I’m not ashamed to admit to having read these books in what was ostensibly a Reader’s Digest edition). I once wrote a script with Australia’s best satirist, John Clarke, and he admitted to me that he had read most of the classics of literature as ‘Classic Comics’ when he was at school in New Zealand. I don’t think they were on the syllabus.

Q2. Describe your writing routine: do you write full time or balance with another job? Do you have a favourite place to write (such as study or café) and is there anything you consider essential to the creative process (music, coffee)?

I aim to write a thousand words a day. Before my stroke, I would always do the work first thing in the morning, but now most of my mornings are taken up by stroke rehab.

My study is at the front of my house in St Kilda. I have a marvelous view of the street, but its too distracting, so we put up some heavy curtains.

Q3. Are you an extensive plotter or more of a pantser who just likes to see where the story goes?

I do try to plot in advance, and indeed I recommend it, but sometimes the story develops a life of its own and suggests new plotlines to pursue. In my novel The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher I was actually quite unaware of the fact that


Plenitude and Thomas were father and son. I’d already written two thirds of the book, and the idea seemed too good not to use, so I went back and added appropriate plotpoints leading to that wonderful moment when Plenitude tells Thomas that he is in fact his father.

Q4. You’ve written numerous books for young people and also for a very adult audience on TV. What are the main challenges each of these mediums represent in terms of effectively communicating what you wish to say?

I much prefer writing books than writing television, because I am a control freak and I don’t like it when people mess around with my stuff, which always happens when you’re doing a TV script. And I think the reason that happens is that a lot of TV script editors are rushed and seem to make corrections and changes as they’re reading your script, not once they’ve read the whole thing and really thought it through.

Andrew Knight is one of Australia’s most highly regarded writers, having worked on hit shows like SeaChange and Rake, among many others. He was also the main script editor on SeaChange and I would despair as I saw him working on one of my scripts, changing stuff that he didn’t think fitted but which were vital for a really good part of the plot that he hadn’t reached yet. He’s changed his ways now, I’ve been told. But that doesn’t answer your question. You asked about the challenge involved in both writing for TV and writing novels. The challenge is to be interesting enough.

And the challenge in effectively communicating what you say is of course solved by writing a book, rather than a TV script, unless you have a lot of creative control.

Q5. Was there any personal inspiration between the relationship between Adam and his grandparents, in particular his grandfather?

A lot of Tigers on the Beach is based on childhood memories of summer holidays at the beach. But when I completed the first draft, I didn’t think it was good enough without an overarching theme. Since comedy is the only thing I know anything about, I thought it would be interesting to investigate how two people with utterly different senses of humour could have a relationship. So, comedy is the overarching theme.

Quite a few of of the characters have surnames of famous comedians, but not the characters that I took from Siggy and Amber. (One of my earlier books which is like a companion to this one. I liked Siggy and Amber so much that I wanted to visit some of those characters again. I should probably have written a sequel to The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher, but I couldn’t think of something interesting enough.)

I describe my grandfather’s funeral in the book, and a version of that really did happen, only it wasn’t a member of my own family that made the shocking speech. I did love my grandfather, who really did tell the best jokes, and I wish we had somehow given him a better funeral. The Samsara location is actually Somers, on Westernport Bay. The whole idea of The Holiday Cabins called The Ponderosa is also real. In Somers, where I did a lot of my growing up, there was a very small, unprepossessing house with a sign at the front that proudly exclaimed that the small, average- looking house was The Ponderosa. (A very large and glamorous cattle ranch from a very old but very good TV series called Bonanza). The sign might as well have said: Disneyland. I always thought that was funny, just like it’s funny having a really small country town called Paris. It builds you up to expect something wonderful then drops you rather rudely and abruptly. It’s one of the rules of comedy, and it’s called subverted anticipation, but you don’t need to know that.

There are quite a lot of jokes in the book, and I think I capture all kinds. The book will cause arguments because people are so often divided on what they think is funny. Everyone thinks they have a sense of humour, that they know what is funny, but no two senses of humour are the same. It’s quite funny to see how passionate people are when they discuss comedy, and arguments often result. I’d like to start a lot of arguments in the classroom, if any teachers are bold enough to put my book on the syllabus.

Q6. Share five books that you think everyone should read in their lifetime.

Tigers on the Beach, The Shiny Guys, The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher, I’m Being Stalked by a Moonshadow and The Clockwork Forest, all written by Doug MacLeod.

I’ve just finished On Writing by Stephen King, and I think it’s one of the clearest guides to the craft of fiction- writing that there is. I also must include the Junior Classics Library, since it had such a profound effect on me.

If you need a good laugh I would certainly recommend any pieces by Shaun Micallef. Smithereens (Penguin) is very good.

Q7. What do you do when you’re not writing?

Sorry to bring the mood down a little, but for the last two years I’ve been doing so much rehab to recover from that bloody stroke I had, (rehab means doing fairly tedious physical exercises and similarly tedious mental ones) that I really haven’t had much of a chance to do anything much. It took an immense amount of effort to write Tigers on the Beach. I’d already written draft three when I had the stroke, but I had to complete the next two drafts when my brain wasn’t working at its best. I have to thank some very helpful and encouraging editors.

Q8. And lastly … what’s next for you?

I’m going to recover from the stroke then probably write a book about it. It will still have comedy, just not as much as Tigers on the Beach.


Thanks for your time Doug – all the best with your rehab & recovery and good luck with your future books!


Review: The Heart Radical – Boyd Anderson

Heart RadicalThe Heart Radical
Boyd Anderson
Random House AU
2014, 432p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Su-Lin Tan is a human rights lawyer working in London but in 1951 she was an 8yo Malay-Chinese girl watching her father, also a lawyer as he defended people in impossible situations. One case that has always stuck in her mind was the one of Toh Kei, a Communist jungle rebel leader who was accused of two murders that helped spark what was termed as ‘The Emergency’. Toh Kei’s lover was Dr Anna Thumboo and Su-Lin spent some time with Anna’s son, Paris Thumboo sitting beside them as her father defended Toh Kei in court.

When she sees him deliver a lecture in London it is 50 years later. She barely recognises him but she introduces herself to him and he remembers her. He also ends up giving her his mother’s personal account of what happened to her when she was captured by the Japanese for treating the rebels medical problems. Dr Thumboo was incarcerated for a length of time, away from her then very young infant son, tortured and treated appallingly. The doctor first treated the rebels in their war against Japanese occupation, sewing up bullet wounds and helping administer medications for malaria and some of the more debilitating jungle fevers. Toh Kei was brought to her and in order to heal him, he had to stay under her care for several weeks. He would return periodically for more treatment or with others and he and Anna developed a relationship.

In the present day, Paris gives the memoir to Su-Lin and asks for her thoughts. Very busy with a human rights case going before a court in London, Su-Lin reads the story in bits and pieces, immersing herself in another side of a time she remembers from her childhood.

One thing I always note when I read historical fiction/historical books based on true events is how appallingly bad my general knowledge of history is. I only did history twice in school, once in year 7 (Australian history) and once in year 8 (British history, WW history) so really – there’s a lot of gaps there. Sometimes I manage to educate myself through reading books and picking up pieces of information and then supplementing that with research after. The danger in doing this though is that many books are based on real events but change things to suit the story etc. You can end up wondering what is true and what isn’t. My knowledge of Asian history is even poorer than my general history knowledge – to be honest I’d never even heard of The Emergency before I read this book (so termed because the insurers for the tin and rubber industries wouldn’t cover any losses if it was determined a “war”).

To be honest, what happened is far too complicated to go into during this review but briefly, after the end of WW2 when Britain was trying to repair the Malayan economy and situation, they banned the leftist and communist parties. This led to the retreat of the Malayan Communist Party to the rural area, up into the jungle. They formed the MNLA, also known as the Malayan Races Liberation Army (MRLA), or the Malayan People’s Liberation Army (MPLA) and began using guerilla tactics against the Commonwealth. In this novel, Toh Kei is a leader of such a guerilla group, living with his band of soldiers high up in the jungle and targeting resources such as the tin mines and rubber plantations. Anna Thumboo lived in a remote village treating the locals and was occasionally called upon to discreetly treat the rebels both under Japanese occupation and later on under British colonial rule when they were trying to abolish the communists.

This is a story in many parts – Su-Lin’s childhood, Anna’s life especially during the Japanese occupation and then later during “The Emergency” and the present day with Paris and Su-Lin. Of all of these perspectives, the one that fascinated me the most was Anna. I wish that her portion of the book had been greater – I’d have loved to get deeper into her treating of the rebels, her life in that small village when the Japanese were threatening, even more when she was captured and especially more about her relationship with Toh Kei. We get brief accounts in her memoirs, very brief really and she seems to censor herself because she’s writing for Paris to read it in the future. I could’ve read a whole book on Anna’s life from the time her husband was taken until the end, so interested in her as a character was I. I also enjoyed Su-Lin’s narrative of her childhood – she was a bright and interesting girl and it’s no surprise that she went on to such a highly esteemed career.

Unfortunately the scenes from the present day dragged this book down for me. It was awkward meeting after awkward meeting where they would have some sort of misunderstanding or develop some unflattering opinion of the other but then they’d be unable to let it go and we’d just repeat pretty much the same scenario each time the book returned to the current day. I am not entirely sure why Paris gave the memoir to Su-Lin to read, if it was just because she was there, if it was because of her father or her current profession but she had a pretty lackadaisical attitude in reading it and I really just wanted the story to get back to Anna so I could find out what happened next and ultimately, what happened to her and Toh Kei.

Despite my frustrations with the present day characters and the fact that for me, it made me lose focus a bit, I did really enjoy this book overall. I found it very interesting to read about “The Emergency” and what it was like and the different thoughts behind it. Coming right at the end of WWII it was when Communist paranoia in the west was at its height and it seems that they wanted to stamp it out of anywhere they could. I did lots of reading after I finished this one to find out more about what had happened in Malaysia’s history – filling in my education gaps!

Boyd Anderson has another novel set in Asia, Singapore this time, set during the Second World War called Amber Road. Think I’ll be tracking that one down to read pretty soon.


Book #32 of 2014


The Heart Radical is the 5th book read for my Aussie Author Challenge 2014


Review: Dead Girl Sing – Tony Cavanaugh

Dead Girl SingDead Girl Sing (Darian Richards #2)
Tony Cavanaugh
Hachette AUS
2013, 325p
Read from my local library

Darian Richards resigned from his job as head of homicide in Melbourne despite the fact that he was one of the best homicide cops and that he was still young enough to keep going for years. Burned out, disillusioned by corruption and the one killer he couldn’t catch, he went to live a peaceful life up near Noosa on the Sunshine Coast in QLD. That didn’t quite go to plan – actually it’s still not going to plan.

Darian knows he should’ve ignored the phone. He gave girls in peril cheap phones with assigned ring tones and when one starts to ring, he finally answers even though he knows he shouldn’t. Ida from Vienna tells him that there are bodies before the connection is abruptly severed. With the help of his “eye in the sky” in Melbourne, Darian gets a location for Ida’s phone and drives straight there, finding two bodies in a shallow water grave. None of them are Ida and she is no where to be found.

Even though he knows he shouldn’t, he officially calls his discovery in. This will make him a suspect – what is he doing there? Is he connected to the girls? He is treated with contempt and suspicion until the homicide detective in charge realises who he is and then there’s smiles and friendship and asking for help. But Darian is done with that and he walks out, once again making himself a suspect. He is conducting his own investigation and it’s far more efficient to do so without the help of most of the Gold Coast police force tailing him around.

Something sinister is happening here and it’s the height of schoolies time where thousands of young school graduates descend upon the area for a week of drinking, partying and sex. However someone is preying on young, pretty, drunk easily persuaded women although this has largely gone unnoticed. Darian needs to find the connection, find the killer and stop it before there are more victims who never get to return home to their families.

Early last year I read the first Darian Richards novel Promise but somehow I never quite got around to reading this one when it was first released. The third novel The Train Rider is set to be released next week and I’m so keen to read that one because the train rider is the serial killer that has haunted Darian, the one that he could not catch. I’m anxious to see how that goes and what happens and to get more information so in order to read that this week, I thought I’d better read this one and fill in any gaps.

I love the Gold Coast. I holidayed there a lot as a child and went there for the first time in years for my honeymoon in 2011 and we had the most fabulous time. We went in a quieter period (May) where for a Victorian, the weather is still incredible but it’s much less crowded. So I loved revisiting a lot of the Gold Coast in this book – Darian drives there from the Sunshine Coast and then spends a lot of time driving around it. Some of his observations are cynical and hilarious and the glitzy showiness of the area, especially at this time of year is wonderfully showcased and provides a perfect opposite to the sinister underbelly and what is happening to these young and often foreign girls.

Darian has the most interesting way of working a crime and his thought processes are always fascinating. In this book he meets someone whom he knows is involved (and they are pretty sure he knows they’re involved) but it’s like a battle of wills. The culprit seeks to bullshit him but is probably aware that it isn’t really working and so they turn to another method instead. They battle it out and at one stage Darian comes off much the worse and is probably lucky to be left alive. However he manages to piece everything together and avoid the Gold Coast cops that want to bring him in as a ‘person of interest’ long enough to figure out what is happening, who is doing it and how they’re doing it, with quite a bit of technological help from Isosceles, the IT geek who does most of Darian’s investigative research grunt work. I love Isosceles and the role he plays in these stories. I’d like to have him appear as more than just the voice on the other end of the phone one day.

I can’t really say the same thing about Maria, the Sunshine Coast cop who has become Darian’s reluctant partner several times now. She bothers me, more so in this book than the last. I couldn’t help thinking at one stage that I probably wouldn’t mind if she were to become the next pretty victim even though she was probably much older than the targeted demographic. However Darian soon cut her out and that made the investigation much more enjoyable to read, especially the resolution. The final showdown of wits between Darian and the culprit was so enjoyable – I love that because he’s not a cop, he’s not constrained in the way he deals with things, although I have to say, he didn’t really seem to follow those rules when he was a cop anyway. But he has such a unique way of despatching people that are criminals, things that you don’t really expect and aren’t really proper but you can’t help but feel a little bit of sadistic glee in the outcomes.

Dead Girl Sing just made me even more keen to read The Train Rider as I can’t wait for Darian to go up against someone who has bested him before, someone who will really have to make him work for it. Hopefully it reveals a little more about him and gives the reader more of a handle on who is a pretty slippery character. I’m really enjoying this series and the fact that it doesn’t always go where I expect it to. Even more than that, I’m enjoying the fact that I don’t care that Darian’s methods are unorthodox!


Book #43 of 2014


Dead Girl Sing is book #7 of the Aussie Author Challenge – doing well so far in my resolution to read more Australian male authors!

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Review: Tigerfish – David Metzenthen

David Metzenthen
Penguin Teen Australia
2014, 248p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Ryan Lanyon lives in a tough western suburb of Melbourne. His brother works in a factory and has just started doing nights as a bouncer, much to everyone in the family’s fear and displeasure. His best friend walks around with a bow and set of arrows at night, just looking for a reason to fire one. And he has a crush on Ariel, a girl from the country who is new to their area and works in a surf shop in the mall when she should be in school.

Ryan spends the days of summer at the local shopping centre, walking his dog or hanging out with his best friend, perhaps his only friend. When school goes back it’s all about getting through the day, avoiding the guy who wants to pick a fight with anyone to make their lives hell and also, football. He’s passionate about his team and makes the trip to see them play and stays until the bitter end when they’re losing. He also spends a lot of time worrying about his brother and what he might be getting up to in his new career as a bouncer in the city and of course, thinking about Ariel and how to get to know her better.

Be like the tigerfish, I say – swim quietly, stay down deep, protect yourself at all times and have your weapons at the ready – whatever weapons they may be (p60-61).

Tigerfish is set in the western ‘burbs of Melbourne, in a fictional town named Templeton. I can guess where it’s based on judging by Ryan’s passionate support of his local AFL football team, the Western Bulldogs and the fact that he mentions where they train at some stage. This means that the book is also set around 25m from where I currently live and although my area is much different to the one described in the book, there are many familiar things and bits and pieces of Australian suburban life that I can relate to.

Ryan is the sort of kid that keeps his head down as much as possible and gets on with life. His parents are not well off but they have enough to get by, attend the odd game of footy and can help out when someone is a bind by knowing basically all the tradies in the area who might do a job for a slab of beer. His older brother Slate was smart enough but coasted through school and now works a job he dislikes in a local factory. Slate has been bulking up a lot lately and Ryan senses quite a lot of simmering aggression in him, something that he worries Slate will give an out by working his nighttime job as a bouncer. The family have visions of Slate being glassed or attacked by angry, drunk patrons and they’d all prefer him to step away from that life, although none seem game enough to tell him this bluntly to his face or if they try, Slate isn’t in a listening mood.

Ryan spends time not at school hanging out at the local shopping centre which is where he meets Ariel. From the country, she’s moved to the city after her family lost everything and they are rebuilding. Ryan works to get to know her and when he finds out she’s never been to the sea, it’s the beginning of day trips, hanging out and drawing Ariel’s younger sister out of the protective shell she has surrounded herself with. The scenes with Ariel and her sister and the way Ryan, his friend Evan and even Ryan’s family adjust to the small girl’s quirks and work with her to make her feel comfortable, were really well crafted. Especially the one between her and Slate, Ryan’s older brother.

I don’t often read many YA stories narrated by a male character and I always find them interesting. Ryan is very low key, he’s quite intelligent but understated – almost like he doesn’t really want to show it. He’s torn between many things in this novel – right and wrong, to fight or not to, to walk away or not to. He shows a maturity and care about other people, particularly Ariel and her family. He organises many things, getting his dad to call in favours or sometimes giving them himself, in order to get things done for her safety that the family can’t really afford. The whole aura around their part of the suburb is one of hopelessness and yet Ryan seems to be a person of hope that there’s good things out there. He looks for the better, both for himself and also for his family and his friends. Especially for Ariel, because you get the feeling Ariel hasn’t had good things in her life for a little while. Ryan’s gestures are simple, but they are very effective.

Tigerfish is both gritty and yet tender as well, a cleverly written novel that portrays a working class suburb that verges on poverty and has its problems with crime and violence but merely provides the backdrop for the strength of friendship that builds between the characters.


Book #27 of 2014


Tigerfish is book #4 of my Aussie Author Challenge


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