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The Poppy War

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang is $2.99! This is a Kindle Daily Deal, which also includes some romance. For some reason, this book isn’t available in the U.S. through Kobo. I will warn that this fantasy novel gets very graphic at some points. If you can handle that, I highly recommend picking this one up. It’s a fantastic debut.

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

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Indecent Exposure

Indecent Exposure by Tessa Bailey is $1.99! This is the second book in The Academy series and can be read on its own. I love Bailey’s writing and have enjoyed this series so far. Content warning for the hero’s backstory. If you want to be spoiled (just to be on the safe side), check out this review on Goodreads.

Is there a problem, Officer?

Jack Garrett isn’t a police officer yet, but there’s already an emergency. His new firearms instructor—the one who just dropped every jaw in the academy gym—is the same sexy Irish stranger Jack locked lips with last night. The Olympic gold medalist and expert markswoman is now officially off-limits, but Jack’s never cared much for rules . . .

Katie McCoy’s been cooped up in a shooting range for too long. A wild love affair is just what she needs to let loose, though she never imagined it would be with her smokin’ hot trainee. She cannot get involved with Jack—but a quick fling? Perfect. Falling hard for a charismatic recruit with an equal amount of sex appeal and secrets? Bloody stupid.

Jack’s charmed the pants off plenty of women (literally), yet few have ever looked beyond his perfect surface. Until Katie. He’ll do anything to keep her in his life . . . except tell her about his past. But a tiny lie of omission never hurt anyone, right?

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The Tethered Mage

The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso is $2.99! This is the first book in the Swords and Fire series. Some people have shelved this as YA fantasy on Goodreads, while the second book in the series isn’t shelved as YA. I don’t know if it’s YA or not, sooo…if you’ve read this one, let me know! I also just realized there’s a woman’s figure in the bird.

CONTROL THE MAGIC, CONTROL THE WORLD

In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled — taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army. Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire.

Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations.

But fate has bound the heir and the mage. And as war looms on the horizon, a single spark could turn their city into a pyre.

The Tethered Mage is the first novel in a spellbinding new fantasy series.

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Blaze

Blaze by Joan Swan is $1.99! This is a romantic suspense with some paranormal elements and a second chance romance. Readers say this one is hard to put down as the pacing is nonstop. This is the second book in the Phoenix Rising series and some readers say it might be best to read the previous book.

With a man like him, every mission becomes personal. . .

Ever since FBI agent Keira O’Shay started tracking a young boy named Mateo, she’s felt a connection even her empathic abilities can’t explain. She needs to save Mateo from the cult leader holding him hostage. Nothing can interfere with that–not even the reappearance of Luke Ransom, the hot-as-hell fire captain she’s regretted walking out on for three long years.

Losing Keira left Luke vulnerable–in every way. When they were together, the powers each possesses were mysteriously enhanced. But it’s the sexy, surprising woman beneath the tough exterior that Luke’s really missed. Even if she betrayed him utterly. And even if agreeing to help her uncover a government conspiracy means watching his life and his heart go up in flames again. . .

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This HaBO is from Claire and she’s looking for a contemporary romance:

Help a Librarian Out! I’m totally chagrined that I couldn’t find this one independently, but thank goodness I’m an avid SBTB reader and knew you’d all be here to help.

Here are the clues:

It’s a contemporary. Maybe romantic suspense?

Setting: a small Hudson Bay New York town. Part of a series, all taking place in the same town.

The heroine is a wedding dress designer. Her architect husband hits his head at a cocktail party and dies (!) so I assume he isn’t the hero? Her sister works in publishing.

The author might be Kirsten or Kristin or something similar.

Our GoogleFu failed us on trying to find this one as well.

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Happy Monday. May there be rum in your coke and strength in your heart, because tonight is the cringiest night of the cringiest show. That’s right: it’s Hometowns.

Hometowns is the week when the Bachelorette meets the families of the four remaining dudes she’s chosen. This show is bad enough when it’s staged in McMansion land, but when we enter the real world and have people’s families involved…it’s painful to watch.

Becca’s final four are Garrett, Blake, Jason and Colton.

Garrett’s hometown visit is first.

Gird your loins. It’s time to get this shitshow started.

Let's get this over with

Garrett takes Becca to his family’s farm where they plant tomatoes with an industrial planter. Garrett tells her that the last woman he brought home was his ex wife. He said his ex isolated him from his family and that they didn’t get along with her.

For some fucking reason Garrett’s shirt is mostly unbuttoned this entire time. He’s also super drunk, which is great because we’re like five minutes into the visit and we haven’t even met his parents yet.

Button your shirt up dude.

Garrett’s sister Allison says that his previous relationship changed him, and she’s worried about his feelings for Becca.

Garrett’s mom, Barbara, who is described as a “mother bear,” has a talk with Becca. I rewound like eight times and as best I can tell she says she doesn’t want Garrett to go down that “squirrel hole” again. I don’t know what a squirrel hole is, but I wouldn’t want to go down one either.

Later Barbara asks Garrett if he’ll be okay if Becca doesn’t choose him. He says he’ll be okay because he “laid it all out there.” Barbara says that if Becca chooses Garrett, the family will embrace her.

Then we get a commercial for Mission Impossible: Tom Cruise Jumping Off Things and I get a glass of water because I gotta stay hydrated.

Next up is Jason, who is from Buffalo, NY. First up he and Becca enter a buffalo wing eating contest at the Anchor Bar.

Then they go skating at an indoor rink because playing hockey was a big part of Jason’s childhood.

“You got cool hockey mom in your blood there, Beckster!” Jason says.

JESUS.

He keeps calling her “Beckster.”

Okay...

Then we met Jason’s mom and dad, his brother Steven, and Steven’s husband Billy.

“They know how I’ve lived my life for the past twenty-nine years, and it’s been with a very guarded heart,” Jason says.

You…guarded your heart when you were an infant?

Sure...

Jason’s mother, Dale, asks Becca if she’s found her “one person” yet, and Becca hedges. “When he makes a commitment it will be for life,” Dale tells her.

Then Jason gets relationship advice from Steven and Billy. Jason admits he hasn’t really told Becca how much he cares about her and Steven advises him that “there’s not a lot of runway left here.”

Jason listens to his older brother and tells Becca a lot of stuff about how much he cares about her without ever mentioning the word love. They make out in his parent’s driveway.

My husband is sitting on the floor playing with Fisher, and he asks, “So is next week the Bang Bang Rooms?”

“Fantasy Suites.”

“Right. But then we’re done right?”

Oh, you sweet, summer child.

Next up we go to Bailey, Colorado, Blake’s hometown. Unlike the other guys, Blake has outright said he loves Becca. Becca tells the camera “the feelings are reciprocated, I just haven’t told him.”

I’m not sure why Becca hasn’t told Blake she loves him, other than maybe part of being the Bachelor/Bachelorette is keeping that information to yourself to keep the contestants uncertain, which is pretty shitty.

Blake takes Becca to his high school where they meet some of his teachers and coaches.

Then, because this isn’t cringey enough, Blake takes Becca to the library and sits her down. He tells her that his parents got divorced when he was in high school (which he mentioned last week in case you blacked out) then he tells he that when he was a senior there was a shooting at his high school. Blake’s sister was also at school, as was his mom, a teacher.  A complete stranger who was camping in the area walked into the school and opened fire. Blake heard his mom on the intercom, alerting the staff as to what was happening. One student died in the shooting.

Becca says that Blake has been through a lot of horrible things, but that he came out as a good man.

I’m not dismissing what Blake experienced at all, but it feels kind of weird to take your date to the site of the school shooting your survived. I have some side eye for the producers, here. Like maybe playing that up for a reality show isn’t really doing justice to the fact that our country has a mass shooting epidemic?

Then to make it even weirder, they go to the auditorium where we get another pop-up concert.

WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?

I know, Jeff

“Honestly someone needs to pinch me because this is so unreal,” Becca says as she runs up on stage to dance with Blake.

I KNOW RIGHT.

Then they meet Blake’s family. His mom Shelly reminds him about how horribly his heart was broken in the past. His dad asks him how he and Becca will deal in the real world when the “fantasy dates” are over.

Shelly still isn’t having it. She points out to Becca that she was engaged six months ago, and asks if she’s ready to be engaged again so soon. She tells Becca she’s afraid of Blake getting his heart broken again.

Rich points out that the families are way easier on The Bachelorette than The Bachelor. At least one family member for each contestant threatens to beat up the Bachelor if he breaks “my little girl’s heart.” These families tend to be almost pleading with the Bachelorette, asking her not to hurt their respective dude.

We still have Colton’s hometown AND A FUCKING HOUR OF THIS SHOW LEFT. UGH.

So then we go to Parker, Colorado, which is Colton’s hometown. Colton and Becca go to the Children’s Hospital where they visit some children. Colton has a non profit that benefits kids with cystic fibrosis, and he says that spending time at the Children’s Hospital is important to him.

Later Colton tells Becca he’s never brought anyone home before. He takes Becca to meet his family, including his parents and young cousins.

This is when shit really starts to go off the rails.

The rest of the episode is physically painful to watch. I’ve had one rum and Coke. I can’t get drunk on a weekday. I’m old. I’m too sober for this.

Deep breaths…

Okay.

Okay, here we go.

Colton’s dad is suspicious of the whole thing. He thinks a big deal was made of Colton’s one date with Tia, while Becca was recently engaged to Arie and that hasn’t been an issue. His dad asks Becca not to choose Colton if she’s not one hundred percent sure of her feelings.

Then in super second-hand embarrassment time, Colton tells his mom that he told Becca he was a virgin and she asks if he’s ready and I just… Ready to get married? Lose his virginity? Why is this happening.

Click for GIF

Colton’s mom, Donna, tells Becca that she thinks Colton is ready for marriage.

Becca talks to Colton’s dad.

Later, when they are alone, Colton tells Becca he’s in love with her.

We got to commercial and then we come back to Becca “talking it through” with her girls, who are all contestants from last season’s Bachelor. Tia and Beckah M are among the group.

So then Becca tells the girls that Jason is the best kisser of the four.

Tia asks to talk to Becca alone. She tells Becca that it’s hard for her to say this, but she needs to be fully honest. “When I think about Colton, if I’m being completely honest with myself, I feel like I still have feelings for Colton. When I think of Colton being at this point, it makes me sick to my stomach.”

Oh, fuuuuuuuuuck this. Previously Tia said she and Colton went on one date. This has to be drama manufactured by the producers.

Becca says she’s struggling because she doesn’t want a man to come between her and her friends, but she has feelings for Colton.

Sure.

This is so fake

So then it’s time for The Dreaded Rose Ceremony.

Colton trots over to Chris Harrison.

“Next week is fantasy suites,” Colton tells Chris. “And I’m still a virgin.”

“Mmkay,” Chris says.

“What I’m assuming happens in the Fantasy Suites…I guess I just want to know sort of what the expectations are.”

Chris nods sagely and for one horrible, terrible moment I expect him to give Colton the dad talk. I am so aggressively uncomfortable now I’m mostly curled up into a little ball. I’m even squeezing my toes in.

“You’re worried about being intimate with Becca,” Chris says. “The main thing is, as long as you and Becca are on the same  page and have been, is what matters. How you choose to handle that as a man and as a couple, how Becca chooses to handle it, is up to you. That’s kinda the whole point of it. You feel good?”

“I feel good,” Colton says.

Nononononononono.

please make it stop

PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP TALKING TO CHRIS HARRISON ABOUT SEX. THIS IS SO AWFUL.

I don’t know why this is as painful as it is, except this Chris is super serious and Colton is super earnest and I DON’T LIKE IT. I think Colton wants Chris to reassure him. Oh. I feel so squicky….

Like what does he expect Chris to say? Yes, you’re contractually obligated to bang? AND WHY IS HE ASKING CHRIS ON CAMERA? Did someone put him up to this?

I’m so uncomfortable.

OMG what if Chris was like, “I’ve prepared a Powerpoint in case of this eventuality.” Fuck my life, I bet he has. I bet he’s been waiting for the day when a virgin is sacrificed. I bet he’s going to be more powerful.

I want to go home now except I am at home. Someone cuddle me, please.

Like, I didn’t think Colton’s virginity was a big deal, but I also didn’t think that Chris Harrison would be explaining sex to him.

Okay, then the actual Rose ceremony begins. Cue the tense music.

Oh god, if Colton gets through will Chris explain sex to him in more detail? I bet he knows about a lot of weird shit. The Rose God would demand no less.

Colton isn’t ready for that.

I’m not ready for that.

Rich says, “I think they’re in the same building where the “Oh, Sherrie” music video by Steve Perry was filmed.”

WHO FUCKING CARES, RICH.

The first rose goes to Blake.

The next rose goes to Jason.

“No, seriously, I’m going to Google it,” Rich says.

WE DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS RIGHT NOW. YOU ARE MISSING THE POINT OF THIS ENTIRELY.

Chris appears from the shadows to tell us we’re down to the final rose.

Don’t be Colton. Don’t be Colton.

It’s Garrett.

Whew.

Poor Colton is clearly crushed, not understanding how Becca just saved him from the WORST INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO FROM CHRIS HARRISON EVER.

Run Colton. Run far away.

Becca tells Colton that his dad advised her not to pick him if she wasn’t one hundred percent sure, and she took that advice. I bet that makes him feel great.

Also, yeah, it’s the same building.

So next week is the Bang Bang Rooms as my husband would say.

Are you still watching? I’m going to go bleach my brain now.

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Bonfire

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter is $3.99! Yes, that Krysten Ritter. This is a Kindle Daily Deal and it’s being price-matched. Be sure to check out the other book deals. There are romances, thrillers, and historical fiction. Some readers felt that this book didn’t really offer anything new in the way of women-centric thrillers, while the climax had people on the edge of their seats.

It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’ biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as Abby tries to find out what really happened to Kaycee, she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game,” which will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her.

With tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense, and a remote, rural town of just five claustrophobic miles, Bonfire is a dark exploration of the question, can you ever outrun your past?

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Bedding Lord Ned

Bedding Lord Ned by Sally MacKenzie is 99c! This is the first book in the Duchess of Love series. It features a widower hero and a heroine, who has always had a crush on him. A few readers said it took a while to warm up to the heroine. However, this book is recommended by Goodreads reviewers if you want a funny historical that’s light on angst.

Pleasure Is On Her Dance Card

Determined to find a husband, Miss Eleanor “Ellie” Bowman attends a ball put on by the Duchess of Greycliffe, fondly referred to as the Duchess of Love. But she roundly dismisses the suitors the matchmaking hostess has invited on her behalf. For it’s the duchess’ dashing son, Ned, Lord Edward, who long ago captured Ellie’s heart—and roused her desire. All it takes is a pair of conveniently misplaced silky red bloomers to set the handsome widower’s gaze on this unusual girl who is clearly more than meets the eye.

After four years of mourning, Ned must find a wife. At first glance, the birthday ball his mother has thrown in his honor is decidedly lacking in suitable mistresses. But he senses something unexpectedly alluring beneath the veil of Ellie’s plain exterior—and suddenly she’s invading his dreams in a decidedly scandalous manner.

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Hotshot

Hotshot by Julie Garwood is $2.99! This is book 11 in the Buchanan-Renard series. I haven’t read any of Garwood’s contemporary suspense novels, but readers say that Garwood’s writing is good whether it’s historical or contemporary. But there were other readers that felt bored by the lack of action. It has a 3.9-star rating on Goodreads.

#1 New York Times bestselling author Julie Garwood returns with a novel of family drama, suspense, and—of course—romance. 

Peyton Lockhart and her sisters have inherited Bishop’s Cove, a small, luxurious oceanfront resort, but it comes with a condition: The girls must run the resort for one year and show a profit—only then will they own it.

A graduate of a prestigious French culinary school, Peyton has just lost her job as a food critic. Out of work and in a bad place personally, a year doing something completely different sounds wonderful.

There are countless challenges and too many people who want to stop the sisters from succeeding. Among them are Peyton’s contentious cousins, who are outraged that they didn’t inherit the resort, as well as a powerful group of land developers who have been eyeing the coveted beachfront property.

It’s soon apparent to Peyton that their efforts are being sabotaged, but she refuses to let the threats scare her—until she’s nearly killed. She calls on her childhood friend and protector, Finn MacBain, now with the FBI, and asks for his help. He saved her life once; he can do it again.

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Boston Fire: Volume 1

Boston Fire: Volume 1 by Shannon Stacey is $2.99! Thanks to everyone who let us know about this awesome deal. For less than $3, you get three full-length contemporary romances with firefighting heroes. Not bad!

Meet the men of Boston Fire in three smoking hot firefighter romances by New York Times bestselling author Shannon Stacey!

Heat Exchange

Lydia Kincaid left Boston to get away from the firefighting community—her father was a firefighter, her brother’s a firefighter and, more importantly, her ex is a firefighter. But her father needs her help and soon, Lydia finds it hard to resist the familiar comfort—and even harder to resist her brother’s handsome friend Aidan.

Aidan Hunt is a firefighter because of the Kincaid family. He’s had the hots for Lydia for years, but if ever a woman was off-limits to him it’s her. As Aidan and Lydia’s flirtation turns into something more serious, Lydia knows she should be planning her escape. And Aidan can’t imagine walking away from Boston Fire—even for Lydia. The job and the brotherhood are his life; but if he wants Lydia in it, he’ll have to decide who’s first in his heart.

Controlled Burn

Rick Gullotti lives the good life. He fights fires, dates beautiful women, and has great friends. And thanks to helping out the elderly couple who own his building, his rent is low. But when concerns about their health lead him to meet their granddaughter, life starts getting away from him.

Jessica Broussard was unprepared for Boston’s frigid winter and the hot, scruffy firefighter who lives upstairs from her grandparents. At first, Jessica is determined to get back to her comfortable life as quickly as possible. All she has to do is talk her grandparents into selling their monstrosity of a house and moving to a retirement community. But she underestimates Rick’s dedication—and his considerable charm.

Fully Ignited

When Jamie Rutherford takes a temporary assignment as lieutenant of Boston Fire’s Engine 59, she doesn’t anticipate any problems. She’s fairly new to Boston, she knows how to make any firehouse her home. What she’s not prepared for is her reaction to firefighter Scott Kincaid.

Scott is looking for a wife. It’s been a fun ride as a single guy, but he’s tired of being the third wheel, and nearly losing his brother-in-law finally made him realize just how much he wants a family of his own. Hooking up with a fellow firefighter has never been part of Jamie’s plan, but she’s tempted by Scott—even though getting involved with him could tarnish the reputation she’s worked so hard for. And Scott can’t stop thinking about Jamie, despite the fact that she’s his superior and not sticking around.

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Note from Sarah: After Jennifer’s review of the graphic novel What Consent Really Means – which I bought for my own children – a few people responded privately about how one might go about talking to one’s young people about sexuality. Jennifer mentioned in her review that she teaches sex ed in middle school, and I asked her to elaborate on the topic. I think her essay is marvelously comprehensive, thoughtful, and ideal for those of us who talk about sexuality and intimacy easily when it pertains to the books we read, but might struggle when discussing those same topics with people in our lives. Thank you, Jennifer.

Jennifer Prokop has been reading romance ever since she found a bag of remaindered paperbacks in her grandmother’s basement when she was a teenager. She writes romance reviews for The Book Queen and you can find her on Twitter @JenReadsRomance.

There’s lots of articles in the world about how to do talk to your kids about sex, but It’s clear to me from talking to parents and friends that we can all use a little more advice, help, and encouragement. It’s so easy to avoid these difficult conversations with our kids–what if we do it wrong? It’s hard and complicated and maybe uncomfortable. But you can do it! Here’s some tips and tricks to help you on the way to having good conversations with your kids about sex, love, and relationships.

Find out what your child is learning (or not) at school

When I talk to fellow parents about this, the first question I ask is “What are they doing at school?” And you’d be shocked at how few people really know the answer to this question. Maybe your child’s school is doing an amazing job, maybe they aren’t doing anything, and maybe what they’re doing is actively harmful or against your values. As a parent, you deserve to know and shouldn’t feel ashamed of asking questions.

Here’s an example. A friend of mine was asked to teach sex ed, and she was handed the Alligator River (PDF) story as “a great activity that we do every year.” You should take the time to read that and consider whether or not you’d want your child participating in that discussion at school. The entire purpose of that activity seems designed to shame and blame Abigail. You might not be able to stop that activity from happening, but you can certainly do some counter-programming…but only if you know that it’s happening.

However, it bears saying: you can’t count on anyone else to teach your child your personal values about sex. If you’re just shrugging and leaving it up to the school or the internet, you’re not doing your job as a parent.

Teach them what bodies do

I’m a big believer, especially with younger kids, of casually buying grade level appropriate books about puberty and development and leaving them around your house. A lot of these books are gender specific, with an emphasis on body parts and what they do. I think everyone should learn about the male and female reproductive systems, so get both books.

You can warn them: “I bought these books, I’ll give you a week to read them, and then we’ll talk about it.” Just having the books isn’t enough. Go through them, point at the pictures, explain how things work. Use the right name for body parts, not cutesy names. Be neutral and matter of fact.

Talk about the difference between sexual identity, gender identity, and sexual orientation

I remember feeling quite nervous about getting this right, especially because my own understanding was growing and changing so quickly. Your words and behavior should demonstrate your belief that people deserve dignity and respect about their identities.

I encourage you to use trusted resources from the internet, but carefully vet and review materials yourself before presenting them to children. As a starting place, I can recommend materials from an organization called Gender Spectrum, and this page has many helpful links. The GLADD media guide also contains a glossary of terms. I like the way the lists are organized – it defines words and ideas, but it also clearly outlines which words are offensive and should be avoided.

Don’t be heteronormative

Talk to your child in gender neutral terms. Talk about “partners” and “people you like or are attracted to.” You are signalling that you accept and love your child for who they are and that you recognize people of all genders as potential love/friendship interests.

Trap them in the car

They can’t escape unless they’re going to commando roll out of the car, so they have to listen to you. But they also can listen without having to make eye contact, which can be a relief for both of you! One Mom I know would walk into her child’s room and say, “You can put a pillow over your face if you’re too embarrassed to look at me, but this is important and you have to listen to me.” Talking about relationships and sex is too important for them to opt out, so make sure you’re somewhere where they can’t get away.

Be prepared to monologue

You might envision big conversations with your kid, but often they’re just embarrassed and uncomfortable. You might do all the talking. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean they aren’t listening. When you’re done, remind them they can always bring it up if they think of something later.

Carpe diem

You can plan and plot all you want, but it’s just as likely your kid will ask a question when you least expect it. You have to seize those moments when they appear. Trust me when I tell you that most kids don’t love talking to their parents about sex, so if they ask, you should treat their questions with dignity and respect.

Only answer the questions they ask

Okay, his sounds silly, but the most important think you should do is answer questions in the simplest way that you can. You know so much more and you shouldn’t overwhelm them with details.

Let me give you an example. Your child might ask: “What are condoms for?” You don’t need to launch into description of ribbed for her pleasure or colors or flavors. Keep it simple: “A man puts a condom over his penis during sex. It prevents pregnancy because it blocks his sperm from getting out. It also helps prevent the spread of disease.” As they get older, you can talk about where to get condoms, or why it’s everyone’s responsibility to practice safe sex, but that first time around, just stick to the basics.

Talk about ideas more than once

Especially for younger kids, talking about something once isn’t enough. Just because you explained the menstrual cycle one time doesn’t mean you won’t have to do it again. Kids might retain only the most basic concept and then mean more description of it again later. It doesn’t mean they weren’t listening, it means they didn’t get it the first time around.

Use pop culture as a springboard for talking about your values

TV, movies, and songs are all opportunities for you to talk your values about sex, gender, and relationships. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with my son have been inspired by talking about what we hear in songs, especially as it relates to gender roles and expectations. Is there any better song for talking about toxic masculinity than “Grenade” by Bruno Mars? My son and I had an interesting talk about the song “Tell Me You Love Me” by Demi Lovato: Why are girls taught “you ain’t somebody ‘till you got somebody” and is that really true?

Emphasize the importance of all kinds of relationships and feelings

Romantic relationships aren’t more important than friendships and family relationships. Many kids feel left out if their friends have romantic relationships and they don’t, but you should remind your kids that all kinds of relationships are important and worth cultivating. You can model this by talking about the importance of all your relationships with your child and reminding them that dating someone shouldn’t define who they are. We don’t do enough to teach our kids about healthy relationships and intimacy. I recommend reading this entire document about building healthy relationships, published by the Making Caring Common project from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Talk about consent

I already wrote an entire review of a book about consent, but you should emphasize that everyone should always expect to have the final say about what happens to their body and that they are allowed to change their mind anytime they want to. It’s also important to talk to them about what to do if they witness something that makes them uncomfortable. What should they do if they see someone being pressured to have sex? What if they see someone too drunk to consent? Role play and give suggestions.

Talk about safe sex

From the very beginning, talk about safe sex. Talk about how there are way to prevent pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Tell them that you’re willing to help them acquire these items. But feel free to adopt my personal motto: if you’re too embarrassed to buy your own condoms, then you probably shouldn’t be having sex.

It’s okay to talk about sex feeling good

I am completely befuddled when we tell kids that people have sex to make babies. We have sex because it’s fun and it feels good. It makes us feel close to our partners. IT FEELS GOOD! Not all sex is p-i-v! Not all sex is between a man and a woman. Think about what you’re saying and whether or not you’re communicating your family’s core values when you talk about sex. The most important reason to talk about sex feeling good is to help them understand that they shouldn’t be having sex if it feels bad–either physically or emotionally.

It’s okay to say, “Let me think about it.”

You might not have the answer right away. That’s okay. You can say, “Let me think about it for a few minutes.” And then just let them see you thinking! You can also say you need to look it up! You don’t have to show that you have all the right answers, you have to show that their questions are interesting, important, and worth considering.

Be open-minded and non-judgmental

When you are talking to your child about sex and relationships, try your best to stay cool, calm, and collected. Especially if they share something upsetting. You are there to help them make good decisions, be a counselor, and offer good advice. The time for freaking out is with your friends or your partner. Don’t shame your child for their questions and their curiosity, but don’t talk about sex as gross or dirty, and don’t let them talk about sex that way, either. If they say something is gross, you should redirect them immediately. You can say: “You might change your mind about it one day” or “It’s not our place to judge what people want to do with each other, just because you’re not interested doesn’t make it gross.”

It’s an ongoing conversation

Pace yourself! This isn’t a one-shot deal, it’s an ongoing conversation that changes as your child grows older. You don’t have to talk about everything all at once and you’ll have lots of opportunities to get it right.

You might be wondering why I wrote this, and it’s because unfortunately, I probably did learn more about sex and relationships from reading romance novels than I did from school or my parents. (That’s not entirely true, my Mom did handle one thing so dazzling well that it still impresses me. It’s a great story, buy me a drink sometime and I’ll tell it to you.)

Jennifer Weiner described the phenomenon in an op-ed titled We Need Bodice Ripper Sex-Ed in the New York Times last January. I don’t disagree with her basic premise, that reading romance teaches us that women deserve both emotional and physical pleasure from their relationships. But we can choose to do better than our parents did. Talking about sex and relationships might scare you, thinking about kids as sexual beings might frighten you, but there’s also joy in sending good, strong people out into the world. Romance isn’t perfect, there’s plenty of bonkers stuff in the genre, but we might be better primed than anyone to raise children who are prepared to be in strong, healthy relationships with the ones they love.

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B Trail of Lightning

by Rebecca Roanhorse
June 26, 2018 · Saga Press
Urban Fantasy

Trail of Lightning was preordered around two months in advance and I would have waited triple that amount for this book if I had to. It’s steeped in Native American (namely Navajo) mythology, badassery, and lots and lots of violence. If you’re sensitive to graphic, gritty details, this book is not for you.

It was rather early on that I knew this book was going to be amazing.

And by early, I meant page two:

But I’m no hero. I’m more of a last resort, a scorched-earth policy. I’m the person you hire when the heroes have already come home in body bags.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter. She’s been trained by a literal immortal, a “man” who became her mentor after an unspeakable tragedy. It’s been nine months since he left her and Maggie is every sense a broken woman. It also complicates matters that she was totally in love with him.

Maggie has some difficult internalization. She believes she’s a monster; her clan powers are triggered by violence and bloodlust, turning her into a killing machine. We’ve seen this a lot when it comes to romance heroes, where they think they’re horrible because of past deeds and unworthy of love. Personally, I want more tortured, prickly heroines, please. More Maggies!

In the opening of the book, she takes a job and discovers a monster she’s never encountered before. That’s never a good sign. She brings the head of the slain monster to a local medicine man and surrogate father figure named Tah. This is where we meet Kai Arviso, Tah’s grandson, who is a beautiful, loving, cinnamon roll. He has some knowledge about this monster and from there, the scene is set.

An angry heroine and a man, who is a very charming healer, are off on an adventure!

That’s the basis for the book. Fill in the rest with trickster gods, cataclysmic histories, and more viscera than you can shake a stick at. It’s a whole lot of fun.

While the reading experience was an enjoyable rollercoaster of roundhouse kicks to everyone’s faces, I also learned something about myself. Something not particularly nice. I made a racist move and had inadvertently othered the characters and their language.

A lot of the vocabulary in the book, specifically about mythical figures and legends, is Diné. I was irritated when I read the first of many Diné words and realized there was no glossary in the back, nor definitions or list of terms I should be familiar with.

Then I realized I was being a colossal asshole because this was not a language made up for the purpose of world building. This was an actual language people used. If I had read French or Spanish in a book, I wouldn’t expect a glossary. I would use context clues or take it upon myself to do some Googling. I had expected the writing and the narrative to make it easy for me.

But this is also what I love about reading. It can put things in perspective, teach me things about myself and about things that exist outside of my privilege or bubble. It was humbling.

The characters were so lovely, and despite all the violence, I loved the growth between Maggie and Kai. Maggie has lost many loved ones and feels that the way she is scared away the only man she ever loved, an immortal no less. If you can frighten away an immortal, what does that say about you?

But Kai fights for Maggie’s trust and her friendship. Aside from all the ass-kicking, this was my favorite aspect of the book. I guarantee you’re going to fall in love with Kai.

It’s also interesting to see the way other people in the book react to Maggie. Some fear her, others openly hate her, and there are a couple who aren’t quite sure what to think. The book is written in first person, which I normally shy away from, but I liked being in Maggie’s head as she fills in the gaps of her history with people and places.

Second to Kai, in terms of favorite “secondary” characters is Grace. She’s a Black woman who runs a refuge and bar called the All American with her kids, in a sort of no man’s land.

Seriously, everyone is so great! Well…not everyone. There are bad guys. But because Roanhorse’s writing is so detailed, it’s hard not to want to know every little characteristic when a new person is introduced. I hope those who are still living by the end of Trail of Lightning will get more page time in the next book because I’m nosy and I need to know ALL THE THINGS!

As in many urban fantasy series, the first book can be a struggle as the would building and cast of recurring characters are established. I would say Trail of Lightning is no different. While there aren’t info dumps, per se, there is some whiplash when it comes to details about geography, organizations, and the like. I don’t think I fully understand how the world got to the way it is (mostly underwater and struggling for resources), but I suspect the origin story of the Big Water fiasco and Energy Wars will unfold in future books.

My biggest gripe with the book is the conflict. Normally, with urban fantasy, there’s an overall conflict – a big bad – and some smaller ones going on. The smaller issues are usually resolved within one book while propelling the main conflict forward. I didn’t get that here.

Get ready for a video game comparison.

Think of Trail of Lightning as a role-playing game. Typically, there’s a main quest line for your character and bonus side quests. The side quests don’t really affect the outcome of the game, but tend to add a deeper level of characterization and lore. A majority of the book felt like side quest after side quest. When Trail of Lightning ended, what I thought was the main quest all along…wasn’t. It felt like a bit of a bait and switch.

Though the book doesn’t necessarily end on a cliffhanger, there are still some unresolved relationships. However, there was no zombie hand bursting through a grave to signal that all is not what it seems and that some scary shit is on the horizon. I didn’t get an indication of who or what Maggie was going after next. Who is the ultimate baddie here? Who is her Thanos?! Her immortal lover who is a hottie, but clearly isn’t right for her? I’m so pleased to have spent my time with this book; I wished it were longer. However, the next installment, Storm of Locusts, just had an amazing cover reveal and comes out the day after my birthday on April 19.

If you love the Kate Daniels or Mercy Thompson series, you’re going to want to read about Maggie immediately. Just expect a lot more gore.

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Brightly Burning

Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne is $1.99! This is a YA novel that’s described as “Jane Eyre in space.” Hello! Some readers say this book gave them all the feels, while others either didn’t understand or didn’t enjoy the world building. It has a 3.7-star rating on Goodreads.

Seventeen-year-old Stella Ainsley wants just one thing: to go somewhere—anywhere—else. Her home is a floundering spaceship that offers few prospects, having been orbiting an ice-encased Earth for two hundred years. When a private ship hires her as a governess, Stella jumps at the chance. The captain of the Rochester, nineteen-year-old Hugo Fairfax, is notorious throughout the fleet for being a moody recluse and a drunk. But with Stella he’s kind.

But the Rochester harbors secrets: Stella is certain someone is trying to kill Hugo, and the more she discovers, the more questions she has about his role in a conspiracy threatening the fleet.

Alexa Donne’s lush and enthralling reimagining of the classic Jane Eyre, set among the stars, will seduce and beguile you.

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The Last Wolf

RECOMMENDED: The Last Wolf by Maria Vale is $1.99! This sale is only available for the next couple days. I really enjoyed this book and its departure from the usual shifter mythology. Be warned though, there is violence in the book and it is very descriptive. Have you read this one as well?

For three days out of thirty, when the moon is full and her law is iron, the Great North Pack must be wild.

If she returns to her Pack, the stranger will die.
But if she stays…

Silver Nilsdottir is at the bottom of her Pack’s social order, with little chance for a decent mate and a better life. Until the day a stranger stumbles into their territory, wounded and beaten, and Silver decides to risk everything on Tiberius Leveraux. But Tiberius isn’t all he seems, and in the fragile balance of the Pack and wild, he may tip the destiny of all wolves…

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The Dragon Lord’s Daughters

The Dragon Lord’s Daughters by Bertrice Small is $1.99! According to Goodreads and Amazon, this book came out in 2004, which is a more recent release compared to Small’s other works. Let me know if it’s a re-release of an older book! Content warning as some reviews do mention sexual assault/rape. If you’ve read this one, let us know what you thought.

Three sisters in the shadow of Arthurian legend find magic, menace, and passion in the New York Times–bestselling author’s enchanting historical romance.

The defiant daughters of King Arthur’s descendant, Merlin Pendragon, have an appetite for adventure and a gift for driving men wild. Marrying them off may seem an easy task, but they live and love according to their own rules . . .

Averil is the lord’s eldest daughter, whose dazzling beauty can buy her what she wants most: marriage to royalty. But fate thrusts her kicking and screaming into the arms of rugged and penniless Rhys FitzHugh. He’s looking forward to the challenge of winning her love, her loyalty, and her trust.

Maia has a hefty dowry and the man of her choice: the dangerously seductive Emrys Llyn, descendant of Lancelot and the Lady of the Lake—a man surrounded by rumors that the women in his life suffer terrible fates. Can Maia prove the cursed reputation false . . . or will she fall victim as well?

The uncontrollable and irrepressible Junia is the lord’s youngest, a free spirit content to roam the countryside where she can be alone with the golden-haired son of her father’s sworn enemy. But having a secret love might cost Junia more than she can ever imagine

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Done Dirt Cheap

RECOMMENDED: Done Dirt Cheap by Sarah Nicole Lemon is $2.99! Though I didn’t review this one, I read it and really enjoyed it. Lots of girl power, themes of racism and classism, danger! One word of warning, not all of the plot threads have a “happy” resolution. However, it definitely was a book I was thinking about for days after I finished it.

Tourmaline Harris’s life hit pause at fifteen, when her mom went to prison because of Tourmaline’s unintentionally damning testimony. But at eighteen, her home life is stable, and she has a strong relationship with her father, the president of a local biker club known as the Wardens.

Virginia Campbell’s life hit fast-forward at fifteen, when her mom “sold” her into the services of a local lawyer: a man for whom the law is merely a suggestion. When Hazard sets his sights on dismantling the Wardens, he sends in Virginia, who has every intention of selling out the club—and Tourmaline.

But the two girls are stronger than the circumstances that brought them together, and their resilience defines the friendship at the heart of this powerful debut novel.

Sons of Anarchy meets Thelma & Louise.

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Hey, y’all! This trio of Lightning Reviews has an adorable graphic novel,  a romantic memoir that was featured in a previous Hide Your Wallet, and a contemporary fiction novel with romantic elements. Enjoy!

    B
    Bingo Love

    author: Tee Franklin

    Bingo Love is a sweet romance graphic novel about true love between two Black women. Two teenagers, Mari and Hazel, meet at a church bingo game in 1963. They share their first kiss in front of church after another bingo game, but are separated by their parents. Hazel, the narrator, goes on with her life, missing Mari but marrying a veteran named James and having a stable but passionless marriage. Decades later, Hazel meets Mari at yet another bingo game, and has to decide whether to stay in her marriage or stay with Mari.

    This comic is colorful and warm, with art by Jenn St-Onge. I had mixed feelings about the marriage between Hazel (who Mari nicknames ‘Elle’) and James, and I found the revelations concerning his character to be too convenient (hence the B grade). Still, the way events unfold for Hazel and Mari are lovely and the ending bittersweet in the best way. This is a warm celebration of love between two women, of sexuality at all ages, and of friendship and family.

    Carrie S

    GLBT, Romance, Contemporary Romance, Graphic Novel
    This book is available from:


    C
    From the Corner of the Oval

    author: Becky Dorey-Stein

    This book was at turns thrilling and heart-wrenching in an exciting way (Oh, wow!) and exhausting and heart-wrenching in a cringe-filled way (Oh, honey…). Beck Dorey-Stein’s memoir focuses on the time she spent as a stenographer in the Obama administration. Her job required her to record and then transcribe every word that the president said, which means long hours in a job that can take over one’s entire waking life, monster loads of travel all over the world often at a moment’s notice, and a very close position from which to witness a unique presidential administration.

    The best parts were the behind-the-scenes accounts of what it’s like to be part of the inner workings of the White House (she calls it being inside “the bubble”) and witnessing high points and terribly painful moments of the Obama presidency. I said in the July Hide Your Wallet that I was concerned this would give me acute Obamastalgia, and it did, but that feeling was tempered by the respect and the perspective Dorey-Stein shares in each chapter.

    Running parallel to the story of her time as White House stenographer is her personal life, which is a trainwreck of lather-rinse-repeat bad decisions and susceptibility. So many chapters would end with lyrical, resolute determination to stop hooking up with the incredibly toxic person whom she acknowledges in terrible detail is a utterly manipulative tool. Next chapter: new event or travel, they hook up again with professions of no emotional entanglement, she’s deeply hurt by the fact that he does what he always does, then it’s time for florid descriptions of inner resolve, repeat. It was exhausting. It’s very much the experience of a 20-something in a very intense professional fishbowl, and while the events as chronicled make sense, reading about them in redundant cringe-cycle was difficult.

    I was so charmed and engaged by Dorey-Stein’s recounting of her professional world, especially the ways in which she built her confidence as a writer, navigated a predatory social and political environment, and crafted personally and professionally supportive friendships with women in a very cutthroat setting. The memoir aspects of her story are very difficult to put down once you start reading them. However, her recounting of her personal life became a repetitive coming-of-age story that was emotionally and mentally exhausting to read and difficult to enjoy.

    SB Sarah

    Memoir, Nonfiction
    This book is available from:


    C-
    Match Made in Manhattan

    author: Amanda Stauffer

    Match Made in Manhattan is a novel that chronicles a twenty-something-year-old woman’s year of dating using Match.com. It’s not a romance, although obviously there’s a lot of romantic content. People looking for a fun book about modern dating might enjoy this book, but the characters are flat and the story doesn’t go anywhere.

    Alison restores old buildings under the eye of a disapproving boss. After a multi-year monogamous relationship that isn’t going anywhere, she and her boyfriend break up and she signs up for Match.com. This leads to a lot of awkward dates, funny dates, and dates that either lack ‘spark’ or that have ‘spark’ but nothing else. All of the conversations felt pretty much the same no matter who was having them, but I did love the fact that while Alison was not great at finding true love on Match.com, she was fantastic at making friends.

    This book had two major problems. One was that Alison comes across as a very self-centered person. She dates a lot of men who are thoughtful. They pay for dinner; they set up some very memorable and special dates. They bring her soup while she’s sick. Alison feels guilty for not falling madly in love with these guys, but sometimes the nicest two people just aren’t romantically compatible. What bothered me is that the guys do all the giving and Alison does the taking. Not once does she plan an exciting date. Not once does she drop off the soup.

    The other problem is that Alison doesn’t grow. She learns some things about herself but we don’t see her put them into action. She discovers, among other things, that “everyone had their issues” to which I respond, “Well, DUH.” This was a cute enough book, but, like Alison’s first relationship, it doesn’t go anywhere. I never believed in any of these people which is ironic since the story is based on real experiences, and I was frustrated by the lack of character growth.

    Carrie S

    Women's Fiction, Chick Lit, Romance, Literary Fiction
    This book is available from:


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Newstead Abbey is beautiful and full of history. Its story features royal crimes, scandalous owners, and Lord Byron, the infamous poet. If, like me, you think Lord Byron was a jerkface and not romantic in the least, you can still enjoy the estate for its beauty and history. On the other hand, if you do find Byron to be romantic, then Newstead Abbey is about as romantic as a place could possibly get. This is your chance to stroll through a hedge maze in something diaphanous, murmuring, “She walks in beauty, like the night.” Seize the day, Romantics.

Newstead Abbey was born out of scandal. After Henry II was implicated in the murder of Thomas Beckett, he had to pay various penances, one of which was founding the priory of St. Mary of Newstead. It was a working priory from 1170 until 1539. And more or less scandal free for a while.

In 1540, Henry VIII gifted the place to Sir John Byron, who converted it into a country house. As people died and married and lived their lives, ownership of the property was passed from Byron to Byron and it became quite a lovely estate, with special care given to the gardens. Alas, it ended up in the hands of William Byron, 5th Baron Byron.

George Gordon Byron, brooding, as one does.

The 5th Baron, who was George Gordon Byron’s uncle (George Gordon being the “Lord Byron” of poetic fame), was nicknamed “The Wicked Lord,” and “The Devil Byron.” He married Elizabeth Shaw and had one son, the confusingly named William Byron (it’s not my fault, I don’t make these names up). One night, the Devil Byron got staggeringly drunk in the company of his similarly drunk cousin. They got into an argument over who had the most game on their estates and Devil Byron stabbed his cousin to death. According to lore, Devil Byron went home and hung the sword up in his bedroom.

After that, stories (probably fictional) circulated of his wild and murderous behavior. Elizabeth left and he promptly married one of his servants (another Elizabeth) and made everyone call her “Lady Betty.” Devil Byron was counting on his son (William Byron) to marry rich, but William eloped with his not-very-rich cousin instead. Devil Byron decided that his ingrate son would inherit nothing but a wreck, and he devoted the rest of his life to destroying as much of the abbey as he could before dying.

But, in a PLOT TWIST, Devil Byron outlived William and the estate went to his great-nephew, George Gordon Byron, AKA Lord Byron, son of, I shit you not, “Mad Jack” Byron. Legend has it that Devil Byron collected crickets and when he died they flew out of the abbey in a huge swarm. Make of that what you will.

Lord Byron was more interested in aesthetics then, say, fixing the roof, so the place continued to fall apart while Byron added statuary and so forth. He didn’t spend much time in residence at Newstead Abbey, but he found its ruinous state to be inspiring.

Newstead Abbey in 1880, drawing by F.O. Morris

Today, Newstead Abbey is being restored to highlight the time periods reflected in its design and decor, including the Middle Ages, Tudor, Regency, and Victorian Eras. It has a collection of Byron artifacts as well as “a collection of items that span the centuries.”

You can take a tour, see a special exhibition, and explore the gardens and the extensive park. There is a hedge maze, of course. You can even spend the night if you rent the recently renovated Gardener’s Cottage.

When you leave, be sure to look back at the abbey and recite the words of Lord Byron:

Through thy battlements, Newstead, the hollow winds whistle;

Thou, the hall of my fathers, art gone to decay;

In thy once smiling garden, the hemlock and thistle

Have choked up the rose which late bloom’d in the way.

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The transcript for Podcast 15. What We’re Reading: November 28, 2011 has been posted!

This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.

Click here to subscribe to The Podcast →

My goal to provide transcripts for the podcasts in the archive continues with the help of Garlic Knitter and the Patreon community. Thanks, y’all! This time, we’re going back to November 2011 to episode #15.

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