Wednesday, 10 January 2018

2018 Reading Goals and Resolutions

2018 Reading Goals and Resolutions

Read more books
Last year I read 36 books and that's absolutely fine. I've had a bit of a hard time trying to convince myself that reading *any* amount of books at all is brilliant, let alone 36, because my head sees all these booktubers and bloggers reading 100+ books and then I feel a bit sad about 36. But I just have to remind myself that some people would absolutely love to have read 36 books. How many times can I say the number 36?

ANYWAY, although 36 is a perfectly fine number, I'd like to read a few more books this year for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I want to get the number of unread books on my shelves down and I also just feel like there are so many books out there, so I want to read more of them! I'm aiming to read 50 books this year, so we'll see how that goes.

Read my own damn books
As I mentioned, I own way too many unread books. Some have been sitting on my shelves for as long as five years, which is just ridiculous. In 2018 I'll be tracking my reading using Sophie of Portal in the Pages' Reading Spreadsheet. This thing is incredible and not only keeps track of all kinds of amazing data about your reading but also has a section for your TBR. I spent a sick day last week filling it out and it turns out that even after unhauling a crap tonne of books over the past few months, at the start of 2018, I had 115 unread books on my shelves. That's just too many! So a big goal for me in 2018 is to read my own books, rather than buying or accepting too many new ones. I've created a little TBR jar for this that I'll be talking about in an upcoming post, so keep an eye out for that!

Read more diversely
Looking at last year's reading statistics, the majority of the authors I read were from the USA and UK, and not only that but the majority of them were white. My reading is really not very diverse and that's got to change. After recording my entire TBR I've also found out that 87% of the authors on my TBR shelf are white, with only 13% people of colour. That makes me feel a little bit sick. So I'm making reading books by people of colour a priority this year and I've also made a little TBR jar for this which I'll be sharing soon!

Read more classics
At the end of 2016 I said that in 2017 I wanted to read a classic every month. Guess how many classics I read in 2017? Zero. That's just really strange. So I'm going to try and remedy that at least a little by picking out one classic at least every other month to read. I only have 8 on my TBR shelf but I definitely want to get to them sooner rather than later.

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So those are some of the reading goals that I'm working towards in 2018. I think it'll be fun to look back next year and see how I did. I highly recommend you download Sophie's Reading Spreadsheet if you haven't already - I can already tell how much easier it's going to be to track my reading. If you have any suggestions for authors of colour that you really love, please leave them down below as that's my biggest priority in 2018!

What are some of your reading goals?

Monday, 8 January 2018

Setting up my bullet journal for 2018

Setting up bullet journal for 2018

I've been using the bullet journal system for two years now and can't imagine my life without it. I love its flexibility and the fact that it's basically just a notebook I can put everything in, but it's still really organised and super easy to find everything.

The 'bullet journal' category is the most popular category on my blog and my 'Starting a Bullet Journal' post is my most viewed post ever at a ridiculous 621,801 views. So I thought I'd share my current bullet journal set up as it has changed a lot over the two years that I've been doing this. 

I just want to point out that I use my bullet journal not only as an organisational tool but also a creative outlet. I love hand-lettering, doodling and making things look pretty but I appreciate that most people don't have the time for this. I personally spend some of my down-time, or relaxation time, setting up my bullet journal for the year and month ahead as I truly find it relaxing and satisfying. I like to think that I've got a nice balance between pretty and functional, but the beauty of bullet journalling is that you can make it as simple or as froofy as you want!

2018 bullet journal title pageWhen it got to the end of 2017 I hadn't quite finished up the notebook I was using (the Leuchtturm1917 anniversary edition mentioned in my bullet journal essentials post) I just decided to continue on in this notebook for the first few months of 2018. Some people like to start a brand new bullet journal at the beginning of the year but it's enough for me to just mark the new year with a new title page. My 'hello 2018' page was inspired by Kara of Boho Berry who did a similar thing in 2017, filling the page with potential 'words of the year' - single words that will represent your focus for that year.

On the next page I have my 2018 six-months-at-a-glance, which is something I'm constantly referring back to when I need to check what day a date falls on or get an idea of how the month looks.

Bullet journal goal tracker

I like to use my bullet journal to keep track of goals for the year. I started by using a double page spread for a mind map of areas I want to focus on and broke these down into what I want to achieve and then specific goals for each area. I listed these goals on another page and then created a goal tracker (see above photo). I've been doing this for the past two years and the idea is that each month I track how well I did with the goals in each focus area.

Bullet journal future log

For the past year I've been using the Alastair method instead of the traditional Future Log suggested by bullet journal creator Ryder Carroll. Named after it's creator, Alastair Johnson, the Alastair method is great for logging all kinds of future events in a simple way. You can read his explanation here, but basically you draw out a series of columns for each month on the left of the page, I've done 6 months at a time here. Then you log the event, along with it's date and time, on the right hand side and place a dot underneath the month it belongs to. This way, when setting up for the month ahead, you can just scan down the column for that month and find any events.

On the next page I just have a simple stats tracker for my blog and social media, I don't really pay too much attention to numbers but it is nice to see any growth throughout the year, and it's always handy when updating my media kit.

Bullet journal seasonal goals

I first saw this layout for seasonal goals and intentions on Kara of Boho Berry's channel and I just really like the idea of breaking down my yearly goals into tasks to focus on each season.

The next page is just a quick January title page - this is mainly a chance for me to doodle and get a bit creative.

Bullet journal monthly spread

Next up is a monthly layout, it's kind of like a regular calendar with squares for each day. I just use this for keeping track of events, birthdays and shifts at work. I used to make a list of tasks for the month down the right hand side but found I didn't refer to it very often. I don't actually use this spread too much and might try going without it next month.

Bullet journal weekly spread

This is what I'm currently using for a weekly spread. I put tasks for the week and a mini habit tracker on the left page and dailies on the right. I set this up on a Sunday night and then it's just really quick and easy to refer to during the week. I switched to a weekly habit tracker instead of a monthly because I found I wasn't really *doing* much with the monthly after I'd filled it in. With the weekly one I can just check I'm keeping up with a few key things each week.

So that's what my bullet journal looks like at the moment, I hope you found it at least a little bit useful!

Do you keep a bullet journal? What's your favourite spread?



Wednesday, 3 January 2018

My 2017 Reading Statistics

For the past two years, I've posted my yearly reading statistics along with my thoughts on that years reading. I'm probably the only person who enjoys and all these numbers most likely mean nothing to you, but I find it interesting nonetheless! It helps me to reflect on how much I'm reading, how diversely I'm reading and how much I'm enjoying it. So here we go...

2017 Reading Statistics

Number of books
The first thing you'll notice is that I read *a lot* less books last year. In 2016 I read 77 books, this year I read 36. I had to resist writing 'only' 36 then, it's hard not to judge myself harshly but I'm just reminding myself that some people could only dream of reading 36 books in a year, and 36 is better than none! Sometimes life gets in the way of reading, but luckily there were some awesome books sprinkled in there.

Gender of authors
Last year I read a staggering 80% female authors, compared to 2016's 68%, and this is something I'm thrilled about as I love supporting women writers. This year it might be interesting to read a few more male authors, but I'd still like to keep a majority female. This might be controversial but it's just the way I feel.

Age range
In 2016, my reading skewed more to YA so it's interesting to see that last year I read quite a lot more adult fiction. I don't know whether this is because I'm getting older or my tastes are changing, but I do still love YA and I'm looking forward to reading plenty of it in 2018, hopefully with a lot more children's fiction too.

Genres
I read a lot fewer genres in 2017 than any other year with contemporary/general fiction and non-fiction coming out on top. I read a lot less fantasy last year, around 11% of my total books read were fantasy, compared to around 20% in previous years. I guess my tastes are just changing! In last year's post I stated I was going to read one classic per month, this failed spectacularly as I didn't actually read *any* classics at all. That's got to change this year.

Star ratings
I rated a lot more books at three stars in 2017, which shows I'm becoming a harsher critic and the gap between a four and a five star is getting wider. I think I used to rate nearly all books four stars, but that's definitely changing. This one will be interesting to watch this year.

Author nationalities
Unfortunately the diversity in the nationalities of the authors I read is still very low, with most books being from US or UK authors. This really needs to change, and I'm going to be talking about this more in my 2018 reading resolutions post coming up soon.

Plans for 2018
This year instead of tracking my reading in my bullet journal, I'm going to be using Sophie's (of Portal in the Pages) wonderful 2018 Reading Statistics spreadsheet - so hopefully next year's round up will be much more in depth!

I'd love to know if and how you track your reading. Do you just use goodreads? Do you use a spreadsheet or your bullet journal? Let me know!

Friday, 29 December 2017

Reviewing the Costa First Novel Shortlist*

Costa Book Awards First Novel Shortlist
This post is a paid collaboration with Costa. All words, images and opinions are entirely my own


This winter I've been working with Costa Coffee to review the First Novel shortlist of the Costa Book Awards. I spent a lovely month reading all four books on the shortlist and today I'm giving you my mini reviews plus a sneaky little prediction of the winner. I've had a wonderful time reading these books so thank you to the lovely Costa PR team for this opportunity!

Stay tuned to the end for an exciting giveaway featuring these books!

The Haunting of Henry Twist

The Haunting of Henry Twist by Rebecca F. John 
Firstly, we have The Haunting of Henry Twist which starts with a death and from there unfurls a quite slow-paced but interesting and intimate look at grief, need and longing against the beautiful backdrop of 1920s London. Henry Twist's wife Ruby is nine months pregnant when she is killed after being knocked down by a bus, leaving Henry a single father in a world that doesn't take too kindly to them. Henry then meets a mysterious man who claims he has no memories except for his name, Jack Turner, and the fact that he wants to befriend Henry Twist. Interwoven amongst this are Henry and Ruby's friends and the relationships between them all. I thought that the examination of the relationships between this group of people was done excellently. The narrative voice switched seamlessly between the different characters without ever being confusing and each of their psyches was laid bare on the page in the most beautiful way. Rebecca F. John's representation of loss felt very raw and real and not tragically glamorous like it's sometimes made out to be. Although I sometimes struggle with slower-paced plots, I actually really enjoyed the pacing in this one - I think because it made room for some beautiful writing. It was a real pleasure to read.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Next up, I picked up Eleanor Oliphant because I had a feeling that I'd whizz through it, and I was right. The combination of the short chapters and the writing made it compulsively readable and I found that I couldn't put it down. It's written from the perspective of Eleanor, who goes to work and comes home, eats a margherita pizza every Friday and drinks two bottles of vodka to get herself through the weekend. She is completely fine, apart from the fact that she is very alone. This novel follows her as an encounter with a work colleague and a good deed lead her into a variety of situations that she isn't used to encountering. Throughout the book there are hints of some childhood trauma and an unhappy past that Eleanor doesn't like to talk about and this is dealt with very gently and cleverly. Eleanor is a quirky character and at first I was a little worried in case the reader was supposed to just laugh at her, but she actually turned out to be very endearing and funny. Eleanor's perspective was so unique and her way of seeing the world was so different to my own in a way that made me feel like I was discovering the most common human experiences for the first time. Eleanor Oliphant is a heartwarming read with a light current of sadness and quite intense emotion running throughout.

Montpelier Parade

Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary
Montpelier Parade is the story of Sonny, a 16-year-old living on the fringes of Dublin society. He works part-time in a butcher's shop, drinks alone in the woods when he can afford to and punches walls to let out the 'howl of feeling' inside him. When he meets Vera, an older woman, his life is turned upside down. Unfortunately, this wasn't my favourite of the list - but it featured some excellent writing nonetheless. Throughout Montpelier Parade, raw emotion bubbles just under the surface, only expressed in short bursts of violence and passion or surreptitious acts. Geary's eye for detail is extraordinary, and these lurid minutiae leave the reader feeling brilliantly uncomfortable. I think the reason why I couldn't truly enjoy this novel was because I wasn't ever quite sure what Geary's message was. For me it was mostly a cyclical refrain on loneliness but I think more could have been done with the themes the novel touched on; class, gender etc. There were certain characters whose motivations I didn't fully understand and on the whole it felt a little lacking.

The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times

The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times by Xan Brooks
The final First Novel, The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times seems to continue the theme of difference and 'otherness' that runs throughout the shortlist. Lucy Marsh, a young orphan, is whisked away every week to see the 'funny men' in the woods. All ex-servicemen, they are named after the characters in The Wizard of Oz, and each are nicknamed so based on the injuries they suffered in the first world war. Clocks is a dark and twisted fairytale where the horrors of the war are manifested in a ravaged, exhausted landscape full of strange characters with dark histories and an even darker present. It's quite difficult for me to talk about this book without giving too much away because as the novel goes on, the plots and various characters interweave in clever and interesting ways - but you'll just have to read it to find out! Brooks' writing prevents this dark book from becoming too dismal, there is whimsy and humour sprinkled amongst the anguish, and I found Brooks' descriptions of the strange worlds that Lucy moves between to be incredibly captivating. The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times explores the effects of trauma, both on individuals and those around them and the blurred lines between good and evil, a kind of moral greyness that was left in the wake of the first world war.

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So there we have it! I've read and reviewed the Costa Book Awards First Novel shortlist and now it's time to pick my own personal winner. It's hard to say with book awards whether it should go to the most enjoyable or the most technically accomplished book, because they're not always the same. But the Costa Book Awards have always been about the books the general public will enjoy the most so for me it's got to be Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. it's the one I'm still thinking about the most, I think it appeals to the widest audience and I think it's in with a shot of not only winning the First Novel category but winning the whole thing. But we'll have to see!

The shortlist winners are announced on the 2nd of January and the overall winner will be announced at the awards on the 30th of January.

Giveaway!
I have three sets of the First Novel shortlist to give away! Just enter the rafflecopter below - the more things you complete, the more entries you get! This giveaway will be running for two weeks and the winners will be contacted directly.
T&Cs: UK only, ends 13th January at 11:59pm

a Rafflecopter giveaway


*This post is part of a series of posts that are sponsored by Costa. All words and images are entirely my own and 100% honest.

Friday, 22 December 2017

My Christmas Day Routine

Christmas Day Routine

Christmas Day, everybody does it differently don't they? You might not give a spiced fig about my Christmas routine but I'm super nosy and always love hearing about other people's traditions and how their big day unfolds so I took inspiration from the awesome Helen Anderson and decided to share with you what my family does at Christmas!

Christmas Eve
I was raised Catholic, so when we were younger the whole family used to go to a big nativity and children's mass at our church on Christmas eve - which we'd often take part in. But in more recent years, even though my siblings and I aren't particularly religious, we've attended a Christingle at the village church. If you've never heard of it, a Christingle is kind of like a carol service where everyone is given a 'christingle' - usually an orange (representing the world) with a lit candle pushed into the centre (representing Jesus as the light of the world), a red ribbon wrapped around (representing the blood of Christ) and dried fruits or sweets stuck in on cocktail sticks (representing the fruits of the earth and the four seasons). This might sound kind of strange but it's actually really lovely, with all the carols and excited children - there's a really nice sense of community. 

After that we head back to my parent's house and eat gammon with jacket potato and red cabbage - we've eaten this Christmas eve meal for as long as I can remember, I don't know where the tradition came from but it's tasty nonetheless!

Despite the fact that my siblings and I are all in our late twenties/early thirties we still leave out a tray for Santa - usually a mince pie and, depending on how kind we're feeling, either a nice glass or port or a deadly cocktail of our own making!

Christmas Day
We definitely don't wake up at 5am like we used to, but I'm still up pretty early on Christmas morning with the excitement of what's to come! I usually go and wake up my reluctant siblings and drag them into my room to open our stocking presents. Far from the luxurious 'stocking fillers' that you find on a lot of gift guides, we're more likely to unwrap some shower gel, a few chocolate coins and of course a satsuma at the bottom! 

With a quick breakfast of chocolate coins keeping us going, we get showered and ready and sometimes go to church, but we haven't been on Christmas morning for a few years now. Last year we all wrapped up and took the dog out for a Christmas walk - it was really lovely walking through the village and wishing Merry Christmas to the few other dog walkers. 

After that it's a breakfast of croissants and bucks fizz - heavy on the fizz. I think we're quite unusual in the fact that we don't start opening our presents until around 11am or sometimes even 12! We gather in the living room with some Christmas music on and pass out the presents, we go a bit nuts on presents and we've been known to still be opening them four hours later. We've started to actually take a break in the middle to have our Christmas lunch - turkey with all the trimmings followed by a variety of desserts, Nigella's brownies are probably my all-time favourite.

When all the presents are opened and the Christmas lunch has been devoured, we usually take some time to look at everyone's presents, play a game or watch a Christmas film. To be honest, the evening is all a bit of a blur of prosecco and pringles but there's always time for late-night Cards Against Humanity.

I hope you found that little peek into my Christmas at least a little bit interesting! Let me know what traditions you have or if my Christmas is completely different to yours! I always find it fascinating to find out other's routines and traditions.

Have a wonderful, safe and happy Christmas - I'll be back post festivities with my Costa Book Awards reviews!

Monday, 11 December 2017

My Costa Book Awards 2017 TBR*

Costa Book Awards First Novel Shortlist
This post is a paid collaboration with Costa. All words, images and opinions are entirely my own.


Sheltering from the snow with a hot drink and a good book, is there a better way to spend these winter months? Probably not. Which is why it's the time of year to shout out some excellent books that are perfect for cosy winter evenings. So therefore...*drumroll*...I'm absolutely thrilled to announce that this year I'm working with Costa and the Costa Book Awards to discuss some truly awesome books with you all!

In case you have no idea what I'm on about, the Costa Book Awards have been going since 1971 (!) and are one of the UK's most prestigious book prizes, second only to the Man Booker. They aim to recognise outstanding and enjoyable books that the general public actually *want* to read, rather than feel like they should. These books are all from authors living in the UK and Ireland and recognise the most enjoyable books across five categories - First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children's Books - so there's something for everyone in there.

This year, I'm going to be reading and reviewing the four books in the First Novel category before the category winners are announced on January 2nd. The First Novel category celebrates authors who have published their first novel, now that seems rather obvious, but it might be that they've written other things (non-fiction, poetry, essays etc.) before and this is their first novel! So this is a really exciting category for me to be reading as I absolutely love discovering brand spanking new novels from authors I've never read before!

So that's enough waffling from me, let's have a look at the First Novel shortlist, or in other words, my Costa Book Awards TBR...

Costa Book Awards 2017

The Haunting of Henry Twist by Rebecca F. John
London, 1926. Henry and Ruby Twist are newly married with a baby on the way. But when Ruby is killed in a tragic accident, Henry, consumed by grief, is left to look after his baby daughter alone in a world without single fathers. Soon after Ruby's death, a mysterious man appears in Henry's life. He claims he has no memories except for his name, Jack Turner, and the fact that he wants to befriend Henry Twist. Henry is both terrified of and irresistibly drawn to Jack - why does this man seem so familiar, so magnetic? Why has he come to Henry under such strange circumstances? And could he be offering Henry a life to replace the one he lost when Ruby died?  

This is the first book I've picked up and so far, it's absolutely fantastic. I love reading historical fiction, especially literary historical fiction, and this one seems dark and twisty and I can't wait to find out what happens. I've read very few novels set in 1920s London so I've no doubt it's going to be full of mystery, Bright Young Things and fascinating insights into post-war life.

The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times by Xan Brooks
Summer 1923. Every Sunday, young orphan Lucy Marsh climbs into the back of an old army truck to go and see 'the funny men’ in the woods. Named after characters from The Wizard of Oz – the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, Toto and the Lion – these men are, in fact, horribly damaged war heroes. But when these mysterious encounters in the woods come to an abrupt end, Lucy leaves her grandparents' house behind for a new adventure. If Lucy can survive the hazardous path ahead of her, she might just survive into a bright new tomorrow.

The synopsis sounds quite strange, in the most brilliant way. I think this is going to be another, quite different, look into the effects of World War One on the people of Britain and the void that was left behind when a huge chunk of the population didn't return home.

Costa Book Awards 2017

Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary
Sonny is a young man growing up in Ireland, living a lonely life of dreams and quiet violence. When he's working on the garden of a house on Montpelier Parade with his father one Saturday, he meets the owner of the house: Vera. There's a spark between Sonny and this sophisticated older woman. But what is it that Vera isn’t telling him?

Montpelier Parade sounds wistful and exhilarating - I love reading about small town lives and the things that can so dramatically disrupt them. I think I'm going to race through this one.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Her life is simple, she is happy and absolutely nothing is missing from her carefully scheduled days. Except, sometimes, everything. One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself.

This is the only book of the shortlist which I'd already heard about as there was quite a bit of buzz around it on booktube this summer, so I'm really excited to be finally reading it. The narrator sounds fascinating and it seems like there's going to be lots of twists and turns along the way. I have a feeling that it's going to be one of those that I can't put down and read all in one go over a glorious, cosy weekend - let's see shall we?

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So those are the books that I'm going to be devouring this month! There will be another post up nearer the end of the month where I'll share my thoughts on all of these books along with my prediction for which one is going to be the category winner! There will also be an exciting giveaway in that post...so stay tuned for that!

Which one of these books are you most excited to read? If you've already read them, which one is your personal winner? Let me know in the comments!

INSTAGRAM | GOODREADS

*This post is part of a series of posts that are sponsored by Costa. All words and images are entirely my own and 100% honest.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Gift Guide For: Your Organised Friend (or your friend who needs organising!)*


It's that time of year again! Even if you haven't quite got the tree up yet, it's time to start thinking about what you're going to be giving your friends and family this festive season. Although it's a controversial one, Black Friday is a great time to snag a bargain and get your shopping done before the festivities truly begin. So I'm here today with the first of my targeted Christmas gift guides!

I've worked with Venom Communications to gather the perfect selection of gifts from their Happy Jackson range for the person in your life who loves to stay organised (or the one who seriously needs to get organised!). Happy Jackson are a brand I already know, love and use myself so I can confirm that these gifts will put a smile on any organisation-lovers face! 

Venom Communications are currently offering 25% off EVERYTHING with code 'GOGOGO', until Monday at 23:59 - so grab a bargain whilst you can!


Power Bank

Where on earth would we be without portable phone chargers? I can't tell you how many times these have saved me, I think they're honestly worth their weight in gold. This one not only has a super cute design but it's lightweight and easy to fit in your pocket. This is perfect for the sibling who's glued to their phone or the friend who's always on the go!

Memory Stick

Even some of the most organised people I know still haven't adhered to golden rule of life: BACK UP YOUR STUFF. I've witnessed more than one meltdown as essays, music libraries and even precious memories have disappeared in an instant due to a technical malfunction. Make sure that never happens to your loved ones with this colourful USB stick

As an extra special gift, why not load it up with some of your photos together, favourite videos or songs before you give it to them? I've done this in the past and it means that not only are you gifting something useful but it's filled with special memories too.




Earphones with Carry Case

What is more frustrating than digging in your bag for half a train journey to find your earphones, only to spend the other half untangling them? These adorable earphones come with a ridiculously convenient pouch and make a great gift for just about anyone.



Spare Cables

Is your friend truly organised if they don't have an array of spare cables neatly filed away for times of need? Brighten up their collection with these cute stripy ones, they also make the perfect stocking stuffer for people who are always losing theirs!

Bluetooth Speaker

Now this ones less organisation-specific and more just for fun, but how cute is this little bluetooth speaker? Perfect for blasting those Christmas tunes, it's portability will see you right through to picnics in the summer.

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If you fancy grabbing one of these super cute Happy Jackson items, then don't forget to use code 'GOGOGO' at checkout for 25% off everything until Monday 27th at 23:59!

Happy shopping!

INSTAGRAM | GOODREADS

*This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Venom Communications. All words and images are 100% honest and entirely my own. 

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