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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Haunted (Dreaming Anastasia #2) by Joy Preble


Haunted (Dreaming Anastasia, #2)
Haunted (Dreaming Anastasia #2)
by Joy Preble
RATING:5/5
 
DESCRIPTION: 
Anne is trying her best to live a normal life, but she’s still got some power sparking inside her. She’s hearing and seeing things that she tries her best to ignore-like being haunted by a Russian sea nymph that claims the princess Anastasia is still alive.
That’s when Ethan Kozninsky-he of the stunning blue eyes, thick brown hair, and former immortal status-returns. Anne soon realizes that everything she’s been trying to forget might be impossible to bury.
 
MY REVIEW:
Joy Preble has a knack for picking such intriguing creatures to act as her villains! After Dreaming Anastasia, I immediately hopped online and researched Baba Yaga, even though I was thoroughly freaked out by her gigantic detachable hands and iron teeth. This time, it’s the Rusalkas…vicious mermaids who were once wronged women. No singing and giggling for these mermaids—these creatures cloud a man’s brain, lure them to the water and drown them. Nothing cute about it. While this book wasn’t nearly as creepy as the last, it has a few good eerie moments.

Anne is still a strong character, and I still love Tess and the fierce way she stands beside Anne. This time, Anne is a little lost—trying to deny her powers and do all she can to grasp any type of normalcy. She has started dating Ben, who is as normal as can be, bordering on simple. Not so much dumb, but just kind of uninteresting—lifeguard, hormones running on high, sweet but kind of doofy, and when Ethan shows up again, Ben pulls the usual possessive riot act. He didn’t seem to match Anne at all, so it tipped the scales of this love triangle easily toward Ethan, as he was just as heroic and mysterious as always. But still, Anne wants normal and Ethan is anything but that, so you’ll have to read and find out where she lands!

I really liked the mother/daughter angle of this story. Both of them lost for different reasons, and growing further apart by the day. I liked that the story behind her lost birth grandmother continues in this one and it made for a very interesting part of the plot!

Once again, as in Dreaming Anastasia, the chapters alternate between Anne and Ethan’s point of view. I encountered the same problem as last time—their voices are not distinct enough from each other for this to really work for me. I often forgot whose point of view I was currently reading and would have to backtrack a little. I would come across something that I thought completely didn’t make sense, and then realize that I wasn’t reading who I thought I was reading.

There was also a lot of villain monologuing in this one. With a handful of villainous characters, they all had their moment in the sun. And while it was necessary in some aspects to explain what was going on, it was a bit tedious at times. I also had a hard time understanding the motive and purpose of all three villains, and the cryptic riddles that they spoke in were definitely no help in figuring this out. Still, the tidbits we learn about their histories are important and both answer and create more questions that will hopefully be addressed in a third installment.

I enjoyed this one, although not as much as the first—but I will definitely be eager to continue the story when the third book comes along!

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2011 in Books We've Read

 

Quotes


Dreams are illustrations from the book your soul is writing about you.— Marsha Norman
 
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Posted by on December 28, 2011 in Quotes

 

Dreaming Anastasia (Dreaming Anastasia #1) by Joy Preble


Dreaming Anastasia (Dreaming Anastasia, #1)
Dreaming Anastasia (Dreaming Anastasia #1)
by Joy Preble 
Rating: 5/5 
 
Description:
What really happened to Anastasia Romanov?
Anastasia Romanov thought she would never feel more alone than when the gunfire started and her family began to fall around her. Surely the bullets would come for her next. But they didn’t. Instead, two gnarled old hands reached for her. When she wakes up she discovers that she is in the ancient hut of the witch Baba Yaga, and that some things are worse than being dead.
In modern-day Chicago, Anne doesn’t know much about Russian history. She is more concerned about getting into a good college—until the dreams start. She is somewhere else. She is someone else. And she is sharing a small room with a very old woman. The vivid dreams startle her, but not until a handsome stranger offers to explain them does she realize her life is going to change forever. She is the only one who can save Anastasia. But, Anastasia is having her own dreams…
 
My Review:
 
 am not going to lie, I had HUGE expectations for this book. And I am very happy to report, Preble did not disappoint me. The book features an intriguing premise that is sure to captivate any reader with an interest in Russia history and folklore. This book drew me in rather quickly, and did not let go. The plot is very well paced. It is not too fast, but not too slow. In addition, every aspect regarding Anastasia and her life has been wonderfully researched and blends together seamlessly in this debut novel. Preble’s blend of fiction, history, and folklore is spellbinding. Throughout the novel, I would find myself thinking, “Ooh, I did not know that. Wonder if it is true?” Case in point, Viktor’s heritage. The only flaw I can point out within this enchanting novel is Anastasia’s journals. To clarify, this is not a fault of Preble’s but rather the font used. The font was in a cursive format, which I had a hard time reading. While distracting, it does not actually take away from the writing; if any thing, it actually give it a more realistic feel. Overall, I am smitten with this debut novel and its author. It has everything that I love in a historical novel. An original premise featuring a heroine that any reader can be proud of. Anne is spunky, and not afraid to get her hands dirty. Ethan sounds absolutely yummy. Tess is fantastic, and exactly what a best friend should be. There are just too many amazing elements to gush about. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed

 
 

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3) by Suzanne Collins


Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3)

by Suzanne Collins

rating:5/5
Description:
Young Katniss Everdeen has survived the dreaded Hunger Games not once, but twice, but even now she can find no relief. In fact, the dangers seem to be escalating: President Snow has declared an all-out war on Katniss, her family, her friends, and all the oppressed people of District 12. The thrill-packed final installment of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy will keep young hearts pounding

 

Review:

I guess, sometimes our emotional bones need to be re-broken in order to set them right. Maybe this was a common experience for those who read this book, but a lot of its most emotional points were like reading a bizarre dream about the last few years of my own life. I’m not going to go into it because that would be, like, an unacceptable amount of over-share, even for me. That’s just to say that I have no ability to be objective about it. This story: real or not real?
I love Mockingjay like I love The Prophet and Catcher in the Rye, and of course anything by Willa Cather and Dostoevsky. They’re all books that have at one time or another spoken to me on such a personal and emotional level that they mean something more than writing or storytelling. That is only a personal reaction, not a recommendation. Actually, it makes me not want anyone else to read the book ever. I want to keep it as my own because I don’t want to hear a bunch of fools say they think the names are funny or something like that.

There are many threads of meaning and themes you could take from this story, but the one that strikes me as profound right now, a few days removed from my reading, is,why are we so goddamn powerless? Is it apathy or, maybe, discouragement? Are we powerless against other people or government systems, or are people and systems only symbols of our general powerlessness against the universe? Throughout this book, there is a steady rhythm of characters reminding Katniss of her power and describing her power to her.

I did some research recently about fundamental attribution error, and I’ve probably already told you about it, but I’m going to again. Basically, the theory of fundamental attribution error says that we think that we make our own life choices because we are tossed in the wind and the crazy, random happenstance of outside forces makes us who we are. But we think other people make the choices they do because of natural inclination. Like, someone who murders might think she did so because of an unplanned series of unfortunate events, but an observer thinks the killer did so because she is naturally a murderer. This story creates an interesting contrast between the way Katniss sees herself and the way others see her. She only sees the random events that lead her to become the symbol of rebellion against tyrrany. Others see her as the natural embodiment of the symbol. And I think this says a lot about all of us and the things we choose to do or to ignore. I think Collins would say we are powerless because we have abandoned our power, or perhaps because we don’t remind each other that we have power.

There are some beautiful moments in other stories, like The House of Flying Daggersand Hamlet, where the tragedy of the conflict culminates in good friends battling each other. Nominally, they fight out of some shallow sense of vengeance, but ultimately I think it’s more the total injustice of loss that motivates them. I think they fight because if you can fight you are still alive, and sometimes that’s all that’s left. Maybe what Dylan Thomas meant when he said, “Do not go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” There are a lot of moments in this book that make me think of that image of friends fighting each other, but really fighting something more abstract and unconquerable. We fight, maybe, as some kind of animal scream in the face of the cold universe. But, Collins also shows how we fight because of the warm arms and kind hearts of the people we love. We fight because we are wrong and evil and stupid and cunning and loving and compassionate and fierce. There’s no simple answer.

Reading the other books in this series, I identified on a personal level with the political and cultural commentary. The way Collins held up a mirror to my own apathy and opulence was a slap in the face. This book meant so much to me emotionally and personally that I hate to pretend that my reaction is political at all. This book, to me, was the story of what happens when suddenly the person you trusted the most in the world sees everything you do as evil. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone write about that, and I was totally unprepared for the experience of reading it. Do you become evil because you’ve lost that person? Does their definition of you become your own? Do you sacrifice everything to repair the relationship? If they don’t know what’s real, how do you? It was so beautiful and tragic to watch that in this book, and it resonated on such a personal level with me, that after reading it I had to rebuild a lot of how I see myself.

On the other hand, I feel like it is important to acknowledge the cultural/political side of this story, and that, while this series is stylized, it is not much of a step away from reality. It, like all of Collins’ writing that I have read so far, is about adults training children to kill children. And that’s what we do, right? In Africa, the Middle East, Russia, America, in uniform and out of uniform, we train children to kill children.

I’m sure you’ve all already seen the wikileak about the American soldiers shooting the Reuters photographers and later wounding children who were riding in the ambulance coming to help the photographers. If you haven’t seen it yet, the linked article also links to the video. One of the most disturbing things to me about that video is how the soldiers laugh. Real or not real? I couldn’t watch the whole thing. When people get in fights on the listserv at school, we call it a “flame war.” Do we call it that here on GR? Anyway, a student posted that video to the listserv last spring, asking, if that video is something that we now know about, how many other incidents like this have happened and not been released to the public? That post started an outrageous flame war on the listserv, in which a couple of the military guys threatened the poster. People who I generally respect and even look up to in some ways said things like, “This is your final warning!” and argued that it is unacceptable to question people in uniform because without their sacrifices, we wouldn’t have the freedom to question them. Even aside from the circular logic, that argument just makes me go ballistic. And I think that is exactly the labyrinth of war that Collins writes about.

Everything she did here is beautiful, even, at times, poetic. I love that she didn’t glorify the rebels, and I love the image of communism she gives as much as her version of capitalism. It makes sense that she published this story in three parts, but I think it could also be read as one whole. I love her characters and her thoughtful messages. I love the way her relationships fall apart and grow back together. I almost had to stop reading this book partway through because it was too painful. But I think it was a stern talking-to that I needed. This story real or not real? For me, real.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2011 in individual reads

 

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2) by Suzanne Collins


Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2)

Rating:5/5
Description:
Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark won the annual competition described in Hunger Games, but the aftermath leaves these victors with no sense of triumph. Instead, they have become the poster boys for a rebellion that they never planned to lead. That new, unwanted status puts them in the bull’s-eye for merciless revenge by The Capitol…
 
Review:
 
 There was a moment when I first saw Merchant of Venice that was like that, and I was depressed for a month after I read Notes from the Underground because of the same type of experience. I don’t know where you get that brand of story-telling ability, but Suzanne Collins has it coming out of her ears, in the sort of young adult variety. Catching Fire was maybe not as striking as the first book in this series, The Hunger Games, in making me disturbed about myself, but it definitely had its moments. Also, I was in my second week of law school and had just gotten back from an exhausting wedding when I read it, so I might not have had the capacity to self-reflect that I normally do. If you don’t know already, even though you should know, the premise of this series is a that in the future, post-apocalyptic world of the super-badass Katniss Everdeen, one rich city controls twelve poor-to-starving cities that produce all of the goods for the rich city. In order to keep the poor cities in fear, the rich city requires each of the poor cities to send one teenage boy and one teenage girl as tributes to play the Hunger Games. In the Hunger Games the kids have to kill each other until there is one survivor, who gets to party for the rest of his/her life but never really feels like partying because everything’s so fucked up. Usually they go crazy, if they didn’t start out that way. It’s very Lord of the Flies, and yes it is the same premise as Battle Royale, but not as determinedly nasty as those two books. Also, girl action hero! Anyway, a couple of days after I finished this book, I was spacing off instead of briefing cases, and I started thinking about the description of the capital city that controls the other cities. There is a part where Katniss and another character have to go to a party at the capital, and there are as many amazing foods as they can imagine. It’s a big party, and they’re celebrities, and everyone loves them. They have one bite of every kind of food, so that they can taste everything, but unfortunately they get full. One of their entourage explains to them that there are puke closets, so that everyone can keep eating for the whole night, and our two characters suddenly step back from the party and remember their families and neighbors, who are starving while the capital lives in decadence. I was thinking about that and how the shallow people in the capital city were just as culpable for the evil in their society as the military that imposed starvation on the cities, and then, suddenly, I realized, duh, she’s talking about me. This story is really about the global economy, and (passive, consumption-driven U.S. citizen that I am) I’m not the hero. 

So, that’s about three times this month that I’ve been on the side of terrorists. I don’t know whether that means story-tellers are gettin’ pretty tricky, or if it just means I think there’s a problem with the way stuff is. Or that, like, I’m becoming a rager, or something. (FBI, if you’re reading this, JK about this whole paragraph. LOL!) 

When I was working my 8-5 job last year, I started listening to some iTunesU classes while I was doing my work so that my brain wouldn’t die. One of them was given by Carolyn Marvin at Stanford, and it was called “True Colors: Myth, Magic, and the American Flag.” The premise, to summarize very briefly, was that for any culture to stay together, the culture requires a blood sacrifice. This article goes into more detail about nationalism and blood sacrifice. She really convincingly pointed out how, civilized though we think we are, blood sacrifice in modern Western culture is not really significantly different than tribal human sacrifices. It’s a seriously creepy theory, but I’m not kidding when I say that she’s right. Really, listen to the lecture. So, I’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple of weeks doing a mental compare/contrast of the U.S. with this futuristic dystopia. We don’t come off looking too good, guys. 

Obviously these are really complicated topics, but nothing seems as simple as “violence is not the answer” or, on the other side of the argument, “destroy civilization.” I’m not positive what the right answer is, but I’d like to find out. I think Suzanne Collins’s books should be taught in high school social studies classes, so maybe we could get some young brains working on this problem. How do we effectively refuse to benefit from universally destructive and dehumanizing trade practices, but still live healthy and productive lives? 

So, go read everything Suzanne Collins ever wrote  and reflect on international trade and the global economy. I don’t know if you’ll be a better person for it, but I think so. Maybe after you do all that reading you can help me figure out some way for us not to be Evil. 

 
 

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1) by Suzanne Collins


The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)

Rating:5/5
Description:
Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games.” The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat’s sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place.
 
 
Review:
 
Before I start into this review, I would like to pose a question. Why is it so hard to talk about the books we love? I have been having just an unrelenting bitch of a time writing this review. I keep falling into holes and back-pedaling, not wanting to sound too squee or insincere and bring ruination on my real love for this book. Maybe it’s because it’s YA, about a plucky girl who surmounts incredible obstacles – but then, there, I’m doing it again – implying in my flip description that I’m somehow too adult and worldly to fall for this narrative. (And, I did it again.) I did fall for this narrative, hard, and I’m going to have to just suck it up and soldier on. 

I read this book in a swoon, compulsively. It was the kind of reading experience where I totally screwed myself by reading far into the the night, nervously checking the clock thinking “damn” as 1:15 flew by, then 2:45, knowing full well that kids would be up and jumping on me in six hours, five hours, just put the book down and sleep! If you could somehow concentrate and aerosolize this feeling, you would find me down by the railroad tracks, under a bridge, huffing powdered books out of bag, their glitter mixing with my drool and b.o. 

And here’s where the digression comes in. So, here, in my city, at some point in the last five years, it became a thing for the homeless to stand at the entrances of freeways and other major roads holding signs. They tend to say things like “wounded veteran” and “trying to get home” and “God bless.” In my driving about, I’ve seen that the cardboard signs lay folded in the shrubbery, waiting for the next person to come along, unfold, and stand on the edge of the frontage road. There’s one on 54th and Nicollet that reads “absolute desperation.” At first this set me giggling, because I’m an asshole, but then it got me thinking. This is a true statement, and terrifying all the more because the sentiment is interchangeable; something that can written on a piece of cardboard and reused by any person standing on that corner. Not that I need to justify this, necessarily, but I live in a pretty extreme climate, and the people standing on these corners are not doing this for kicks, but because it’s cold and they’re hungry or jonesing for something or whatever, and this seemed like the best option available. The best option. Yikes. 

I’ve had a long running joke with my husband about how we all live in bubbles of like-minded people, the kind of people with whom you argue vehemently about the nuances about how you all totally agree. We sort ourselves into the blindness of our own comfort, and I don’t mean this just in the happy, healthy, developed world sense of comfort that I was born into. We take it farther, drawing bright red lines down the political aisle and using those lines to determine whom we respect and where we live. It’s not a new thing, certainly, but in early new millennium America, I’m just floored by the widening gaps in our political discourse and how they are made manifest in the very real physical embodiment of the completeness of the gerrymander and the ease we all acquiesce to that reality. Taken as a whole, the country is awash in purple, but as you look from locality to locality, they flame bright blue or bright red as we sort ourselves into two Americas that exist in the comfort of local smugness balanced against that old, hoary American favorite, massive paranoia about what the other half is doing. This book takes the bubbles of our acquaintance and schematizes them into a distopian hell-hole. 

It’s a post-American America, with the center, the Capitol, ruling 12 districts that each supply their different products: electronics, coal, agricultural goods, etc. Maybe 75 years before, there had been a civil war, a rebellion by the districts ending in vigorous and complete quashing. As a reminder of the sin of rebellion, every year the Capitol chooses 2 children from each district, between the ages of 12 and 18, to fight in the Hunger Games. They fight to the death, until there is one kid standing. The whole event is, of course, televised. (I know that there has been some criticism that this plot has been used before, but this is sheer bone-headed stupidity. So what if Ice-T did it first?) This is not an economic/political system that makes a ton of sense, if you look at it too closely, but that’s not the point, or it is the point exactly. Collins takes our American disconnects and makes them manifest, relocates the people with cardboard signs reading “absolute desperation” from the arteries of our Interstate system and concentrates them into concrete ghettos of poverty and subjugation. 

And now for my love of the protagonist. I can see why this happens, because writers have to live with the people they create, but so often a writer’s love of the character strips them of moral ambiguity, even while that ambiguity nips at their heels. This may be even more true for YA lit, with things like Bella Swan’s clumsiness standing in for an actual character flaw, even while Bella herself wallows in self-centered satisfaction at her flattened aspect to everyone around her but Edward. (Yup, gotta get in the Twilight dig.) Katniss is competent and clueless and savage, a reminder to us old folks that sometimes the young have worlds of understanding that isn’t based on experience, but on character. Or it is based on experience, but simply because they have less of it, doesn’t make it something you can measure using the yardstick of duration. 

I was nailed to the floor when Katniss made her first kill in the arena and doesn’t have a what-have-I-done? melt-down, but is instead gratified by a horrible act that can never really compensate for the horrible acts enacted by the events preceding. We, as readers, are gratified, because it’s what we want, some good Old Testament justice that spills a little blood to try to even the odds in a seriously unjust system. The writerly propensity to fig-leaf this murderous satisfaction with an immediate “Oh no! I’m so bad for loving this” is absent. This is not to say that Collins sees these actions as having no moral, personal impact – Katniss’s mentor, who also survived the Hunger Games, is a constant, alcoholic reminder of how something like this might mess a brother up good. 

There are plenty of themes I hate with a passion – say, “crazy makes you deep” for example – but one that’s pretty high on the list is “you, reader, are a voyeur, and I, the author, will dish out a bunch of sick shit and blame it on you.” This is generally some lazy, lazy stuff; the kind of stuff used to plug the holes in the leaking boat of D-grade action films and misogynist bullpucky. This book could be that, easily, in less adept hands. But I’m still not through worrying about my intense reading pleasure in relation with a story that makes children fight to the death. No, of course the children aren’t real, but to mangle a quote, they are living in imaginary gardens with real toads in them. 

It makes me think of the short story by Ursula K LeGuin called “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”. In the story, LeGuin conjures a utopia whose perfection is tied, in some undefined yet concrete way, on treating on single child with the most unbelievable cruelty – never touched, never allowed to see the sun, nothing. Children, upon reaching the age of 16, are brought to see this child, as the basis for their adulthood. Most see and stay, but some simply walk away. I read this, and it felt kind of bloodless and psychomythic. Like, okay, whatever, fictional world. It felt like one of those indictments of people who are not abjectly impoverished that says, “No one should party while other people are suffering” I thought she was valorizing the walking away. Some time later, I freaked out, because I felt like I’d missed her point entirely. We all live in a society, in societies, where, right now, there are people living in the most shit-hole injustice, untouched, hungry, brutalized. I think probably the brutalized child is a fact of all societies, like it or not. Walking away doesn’t make you better, it just makes you end up in another society with a different kind of kid in the basement. And if you’re the child, walking away simply isn’t an option.

 
 

Haunted (Dreaming Anastasia #2) by Joy Preble


Haunted (Dreaming Anastasia, #2)
Haunted (Dreaming Anastasia #2)
by Joy Preble 
Rating: 5/5
 
Description:
Anne is trying her best to live a normal life, but she’s still got some power sparking inside her. She’s hearing and seeing things that she tries her best to ignore-like being haunted by a Russian sea nymph that claims the princess Anastasia is still alive.
That’s when Ethan Kozninsky-he of the stunning blue eyes, thick brown hair, and former immortal status-returns. Anne soon realizes that everything she’s been trying to forget might be impossible to bury.
 
Review:
Dreaming Anastasia continues with a darker installment, showcasing the emotional side of Anne. Anne was torn between moving on with Ben, her new lifeguard boyfriend, and leaving behind the magic, and confessing her feelings for Ethan and coming to terms with her destiny. She struggled with staying normal and embracing who she really was, and accepting her magic.

Meanwhile, a wild-haired woman who was only visible to Anne, kept stalking her, popping in and out of sight when she least expects it. This was another creature of the Russian folklore that I encountered – a creature with emotional baggage heavy enough for her to carry throughout her days. This strange woman needed something from Anne. But sick and tired of the destiny talk, Anne refused to listen and did not want to be engaged in another magical mess. The wild-haired woman’s persistence and desire presented danger, one that was propelled by vengeance.

The second installment dealt with separation of the almost couple – Anne and Ethan – and the effects and consequences of this on the two of them. In Haunted, the romance between the two of them was somewhat hesitant and sexy. A better understanding between them was also developed. Haunted also tackled Anne’s relationship with her mother. Both of them were affected by the death of her brother, David. Now that things have become weirder and more complicated, the truth cannot be easily told, creating a barrier between the two.

Told from the perspectives of Anne, Ethan and Baba Yaga, I was given a modern and young view and an ancient and wise view of all the things happening in the novel. Magic binds the three, tying them to their destinies. Another thing that I liked about Haunted was that Baba Yaga was not only viewed as a witch but also a woman, a helper and a powerful person that can stir up things. I also got to read about Baba Yaga before she was a witch. It was a short tale that told of the ways of the Old Ones and the reason behind her transformation.

Haunted is a rollercoaster ride into the dark, the unknown, the destined and the unexpected. This is a story of loss, love and chance that will leave you wanting more. I loved every page of this! It was better than the first in so many ways. I recommend this to fans of Dreaming Anastasia, dark fantasy, magic and romance. 

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in individual reads

 
 
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