Amy Clark

The Best Books of 2016

The Best Books of 2016 from MomAdvice.com

Hey! It’s that time of year where I, LITERALLY, select my favorite child.

Well, that’s what it feels like as a bookworm.

This has felt like a long year in many ways, but a short year in others. When it comes to reading,  I am always wishing I could squeeze in just one more book and this year has been no exception to that rule. 2016 delivered on some of the best books I have read in my lifetime and I’m excited to share my top ten books of 2016 with you.

Reading has the power to change my viewpoint on the world, through stories I’m not familiar with and stories I have heard, but could benefit from a hard retelling. I think that is one of the greatest gifts for me, especially living in a small Midwestern town. I travel and learn so much through books that it helps round out my narrower viewpoints.

It’s a gift to read and to share my selections with you today.

A Few Quick Reflections on This Year

Reading Goals

Goodreads has been a great motivator for me to stay on track with my reading. As you can see, each year I am increasing my goals by just a little bit based on the year’s reading from before. I was a little nervous to move my goal to 75, but making audiobooks a part of my regular routine when tackling household chores and even when I’m soaking in the tub has been an incredible way to sneak in more books. If you get these headphones, it will make reading really convenient no matter what you are doing.

It’s also great for ignoring everyone in your family like the excellent mother you are!

You can put my mom of the year trophy in our front room!

Reading Goals Met

If I was going to say what changed the most this year, it would be that I did not shy away from big books. Normally, I “allow” myself one big book a year. This year, I read what I wanted to read and disregarded the number of pages. Some of the books were really challenging, but I tried not to let that hold me back from making a commitment.

It’s kind of crazy to see that this year I read 30,787 (!!!) pages.

I wonder if I will do that again next year?

While you are browsing around on today’s list, be sure to visit our Sundays With Writers series to see which authors were interviewed this year and hear more about their stories behind their stories. The series has been on hiatus (this girl’s plate was a little too full this year!), but I’m hoping to revisit it in 2017!

Can I Motivate You?

I started a small  MomAdvice Hangout Facebook group and we will be running a monthly MomAdvice Book Club discussion there. If you are interested in joining in the fun, be sure to send me a request. We are keeping the group private for now so people can really chat and get to know one another! It’s also the spot where you can get a list of the daily Kindle deals to take advantage of the big discounts on books you are reading.  We have over 600 enthusiastic bookworms you can connect with and it is completely FREE!

This year we are also sharing a Reading Challenge Printable for the new year to help you branch out a bit on your reading goals. Be sure to check back next week for that freebie. We are tailoring in for each bookworm demographic. This will be a great one to do if you are just getting read to dip your toes back into reading and could be a really challenging one if you want to tackle a new book each week.

Can We Be Friends?

Just as a reminder, I read many more books than are just featured here, but try to feature the ones that are my absolute best picks of year.  If you want to see more of what I am reading,  please feel free to friend me on GoodReads! You can find me right here and I am always happy to connect with people there too! There is nothing more motivating than seeing what other people are raving about and my to-be-read pile continues to grow with all of my new friends on there! In fact, many of the books featured are ones that I have found through my friends on GoodReads.

In no particular order, here are My Top Ten Books of 2016:

Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt

Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt

I have always enjoyed Leavitt’s books (you can read an interview that I did with her over here), but this book…this book is EXCEPTIONAL and, I believe, her best book yet. The Girls had a lot of hype (I still need to read this one), but I think this is the book that should have received the hype as Leavitt explores this era in such a beautiful and compelling way.

When I interviewed Caroline she was working on this book and she had said, “Cruel Beautiful World was sold on the basis of a first chapter and a thirty page synopsis. It’s set in the 60s and early 70s, the time when all the free love movement was starting to turn ugly, with the Manson murders and Altamont. It’s about a 16 year-old girl who runs off with her 30 year-old hippy teacher to join the “back to the land” movement that began in the 70s, a so-called-paradise that turns into a nightmare for her.

Who better to describe it than the author herself? What I would like to say about it is that she carves such incredible dynamics between the sisters and the fear that she creates in Lucy, as she worries for her safety during the Manson murders, is so poignant as she is being held captive herself by the man she thought she was in love with. These characters are written in a way that they feel so real and you can’t help but worry for each of them after Lucy disappears from their family.

If you are wanting to step back into that crazy time in history, this book is a perfect way to do it!

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

I am not much of a science fiction reader, but there are those exceptions that have lead me to embrace a little sci-fi in my life. If you enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, Ready Player One, or The Martian, do NOT miss Dark Matter.

It’s very hard to review this book without giving away some of the reader surprises. Crouch creates a fictional exploration that allows his character, Jason Desson, to explore different paths that his life could have taken if he had made different choices. When he is abducted on his way to the grocery store, he awakens and discovers that his wife is not his wife, his house is not his house, and nothing in his life is the way it seems. You are then lead through adventure after adventure as Jason tries to find his old life again in a rather unique way.

Equal parts science fiction adventure and equal parts a beautiful love story, there is SO MUCH to love in this book. The reader can’t help but root for Jason to be reunited with his family and there is never a dull moment with a hefty duty delivery of smart plot twists. The screenplay is already in the works so read this one before you catch it on the big screen

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

I’m not a big fan of books about animals so as soon as I see if a book is about an animal, I promptly dismiss it. I asked Sasha, from Pathologically Literate, to lead our book club discussion one month though and she selected, Lily and the Octopus, as her pick for us to read because she loved it so much she wanted to read it again.

I can’t tell you how much I love book clubs for this VERY reason because it pushed me to pick up this book, a book I would have dismissed,  and it is one of my new favorite books. I just can’t stop thinking about this sweet story that had SO MUCH humor and heart.

Teddy is a single gay man who has found the love of his life in his sweet little dog, Lily. Sounds basic, right? It isn’t though, it is rich and laugh-out-loud funny and heartfelt and gorgeous from start to finish. Rowley writes from Lily’s perspective in the most wildly unique way that it makes your heart hurt with its sweetness. When the two of them face a big challenge together, the story really begins to build.

The ending? Sheer perfection.

If a book moves me to tears, it’s a treasure. Get those tissues ready because it’s a tearjerker!

As soon as I finished it, I wanted to pick it right back up and read it again. I’m so thankful for this gentle nudge from our book club hostess to read this beautiful book. It was, truly, one of my favorite read this year.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

This book has been on my to-be-read list forever, but I felt like I needed to mentally prepare for it. This is the least glossed over story of slavery I have ever read and it is brutal in its honesty and the writing completely wrecked me at times.

It is the story of Cora who is leading, the difficult life of a slave and is brutally mistreated over and over again. When a fellow slave, Caesar, receives word about a new underground railroad that has been built, he and Cora try to escape to seek freedom. Ah, but freedom isn’t ever easy to achieve especially in this awful world.

Whitehead envisions in this story an actual underground railroad with conductors and in a Gulliver’s Travels twist, each time Cora gets off, she is in a different place with different rules. In one town, she is respected, educated, and treated with respect. In another, black face shows ridiculing her people are on display in the town park. In another she has to remain hidden in attic for months on end to protect herself and the family who houses her. It gives the reader a chance it experience that shaky ground, that uncertainty, that feeling of never feeling safe. The reader gets to experience the tiniest of fractions of this painful and true story of many slave stories that Whitehead has gathered.

I listened to this one and it was a great audiobook if you are looking for somewhere to spend that audio credit.

It’s brilliant, it will gut you, and it is important.

Everyone should read this story.

Everyone.

miss-jane

Miss Jane by Brad Watson

If I was going to pick a book that surprised me the most this year in its beauty, it would be, Miss JaneWatson pens the story of his great-aunt, Miss Jane, and her struggles with a genital birth defect that alters Jane’s life path greatly. Set in the early twentieth century in rural Mississippi, Jane knows that she is not like other girls. Her struggles with this defect every moment of her day are told in ways that often feel unfathomable.

Her kind doctor takes her under his wing and has honest discussions with her about limitations and continuing research to try to help her. He becomes her confidant in a time of true loneliness. As she ages, she knows that her biggest hurdle will be having her own love story and Watson writes poetically of Jane’s love for a boy. Yet, in a time when a woman’s most useful task is to bear children, Jane knows that her love story must be a different one and she bravely accepts what this path looks like.

Her kind doctor takes her under his wing and has honest discussions with her about limitations and continuing research to try to help her. He becomes her confidant in a time of true loneliness. As she ages, she knows that her biggest hurdle will be having her own love story and Watson writes poetically of Jane’s love for a boy. Yet, in a time when a woman’s most useful task is to bear children, Jane knows that her love story must be a different one and she bravely accepts what this path looks like.

The peacock design on this cover is beautifully woven into this story and brings together all the beauty in this gorgeous book. It reads like a well-versed literary classic. I doubt you won’t fall in love with Miss Jane too.

Get this on your book pile stat! You can also join us for our January discussion of this one in our book club group!

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

This book is incredibly compelling and gave me so much to think about as it explores Vance’s life growing up in a hillbilly family. He writes in a very real and unflinching way about the difficulties growing up in poverty and how the hillbilly mentality seems to force people to continue living in poverty even when opportunities are presented that could enable them to finally get ahead.

There are many moments in this book that helped illustrate a few of my own life moments that helped me understand my own Southern family better. Vance’s life was far more extreme, but I still could identify with a few of his stories that I hope help me feel more compassion for my own roots.

I would highly recommend this one for a book club because you would have so much to discuss and I think anyone who reads it will be able to understand this pocket of America better.

The Nix by Nathan Hill

The Nix by Nathan Hill

If I was going to select one buzz book that actually delivered this year, it would be The Nix. Samuel is a professor and struggling writer who has found solace in an online alternate world as an elf.

No, I am not kidding.

His coping mechanism is to escape into this world and not address why his marriage failed and why he can’t write that book.

When he receives a call that his mother has been arrested for assaulting a politician, he is baffled. Not that his mom would do this necessarily, but that it has been over twenty years since he has spoke with her. The thing is, it has made national news and he can’t seem to come up with a book idea for his publisher. He strikes an agreement with his agent to write a telling memoir of being abandoned by his mother. This memoir will require to get to know her better and the life she lead.

The book jumps around in time from the ’60’s hippy love movement, to Samuel’s childhood friendship and first love, to his current struggling adult life.

I was laughing out loud through many parts in this as Hill’s chapters read like many short stories that have been gathered together. The stories from Samuel’s childhood, in particular, have a cinematic quality to them. As the wife of a gamer, his online world made for a lot of hilarity for me (especially when Samuel decides to end it all). Perhaps, one of my favorite scenes is when a student cheats and then justifies it in only the way a Millennial could making my sides split from laughing. It’s basically a million short stories all pulled together as Samuel tries to figure out why his mother would leave him and if they can come together again.

Did it need some trimming? YES! I am sure that the story could have been tightened in many places.

That, however, did not take away from my enjoyment of this incredible book!

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I felt like I had been emotionally gutted reading this book. I am usually not an emotional reader, but it is impossible to not to have your heart involved in this heartbreaking story of Jude and his inconceivable childhood. What makes these raw moments even slightly bearable is the incredible company that he keeps, a friendship masterfully told, a circle that never gives up on Jude, even when he is most broken.

This book chronicles the journey of four friends from their late teens until their fifties. At the center of it all is Jude St. Francis, their shy and quiet friend. The friends know very little about Jude and his past, but they suspect, just as you begin to, that he may have been abused in his childhood. What they don’t know is the extent to the abuse and how much this abuse has taken from him.

The writing is exquisite- I have never, ever read writing like this in my life. The turn of phrasing that is used, the descriptive language telling stories in a way I have never heard, it is a gorgeously prepared book that had me reading passages aloud over and over again.

That said, I can’t recommend this one for everyone. The brutal and violent passages were so unbearable that I would put the book down and walk away for a bit or find myself holding my breath or weeping uncontrollably for the beautifully broken Jude. They are powerfully written in a way that you feel as though you are in these rooms with these people and you can’t get out. It’s a claustrophobic feeling and it is often stifling.

If you or someone you love has been abused or if you are a highly sensitive person, I don’t think I would recommend this one for you. I am still carrying around some of the abuse scenes and my eyes are still welling up over Jude. In fact, if you ask me about this book, do not be surprised if I just start crying.

Even saying that, it will be, perhaps, one of the best books I will have read in my lifetime and the writing is so brave and so beautifully descriptive that I feel like I will hold these fictional people in my heart forever! For many months I was mourning the loss of finishing this one and the sadness of ending my journey with these four fantastically written characters.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

How about a beautiful YA read to add to your pile?  This book is about three unlikely friends growing up in the rural South that are all fighting demons of their own. Dill’s father is a Pentecostal preacher, known for his snake charming church, that becomes part of a town scandal that has left his family open to scrutiny and struggling financially. Travis is obsessed with a book series called Bloodfall that helps him escape into another reality away from his abusive father. And Lydia is a blogger ready to start a new life in New York while struggling to leave behind what is familiar and those she loves. These three unlikely people bond together and end up facing a struggle none of them could have ever predicted.

This friendship is beautifully woven with humor and heart.

I could not put this book down and read it in a single day.

Be sure to check out my interview with Jeff about this book.

Want a fun fact?

He wrote the book on his iPhone!

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin

If you are a regular reader on the blog, you know I have talked, and talked, and talked about this book. What I want to say is that you should only read my brief description below and go into this one without knowing anything. It will make the book so much more enjoyable- I promise.

This book reads a bit like a mystery as you try to solve the puzzle of a child’s unusual first years of life. The story intertwines with a doctor nearing the end of his career due to a deadly diagnosis and he could be the only one who could make Noah and his mother’s life better. What Noah is suffering from is beyond what any parent could comprehend.

Gripping, thought provoking, and and an excellent pick for any book club!

After you are done reading it, you can read my interview with Sharon Guskin as we discuss her debut novel. It’s a REALLY interesting interview and it gave me a lot to think about! 

Honorable 2016 Mentions

YOU GUYS! Narrowing down books is ridiculous. Here are just a handful more that you must read!

The Assistants by Camille Perri

The Assistants by Camille Perri

Tina Fontana works for the head honcho at her company who is swimming in money. When a technical error occurs with an expense report, Tina uses it to her advantage to pay off her student loan debt…to the tune of $20K.

Only one problem though… other people in the office have been noticing and want their loans paid off too.  More people become involved, more money is funneled, more loans paid, and more stress that Tina will get busted.

Imagine a Robin Hood story, but with a modern twist. This book is just the medicine for anyone who has struggled with student loan debt (raises hand high!). I love this book so much and found the ending to be pure perfection!

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Jodi, with the exception of The Storyteller, hasn’t been a go-to for me in a long time for reading, but when I read about the premise of this story, I couldn’t resist giving her another spin. Honestly, I was REALLY glad I did.

The story focuses on a nurse, named Ruth Jefferson, that has been working in labor and delivery for over twenty years. When a couple requests that Ruth not care for their family, following the birth of their child, she is stunned to find out that she has been removed from their care because of the color of her skin.

When the baby goes into cardiac arrest while Ruth is on duty, she finds herself in the middle of a grueling murder trial and without a job to support her. Kennedy is the lawyer that is assigned to this tough case and the reader gets to go along on this journey with Ruth as she agonizes over a split second decision that may have cost her the job she has loved for so many years.

In a predictable Picoult fashion, there is a twist at the end that you may or may not see coming. That said, it was a solid read all the way through, even though it may have felt a little predictable at times.

Valley of the moon by Melanie Gideon

Valley of the Moon by Melanie Gideon

Wife 22 happened to be one of my past favorite vacation reads so I was thrilled to see that Gideon had a new novel out. Time travel is always such a fun escape and this story was a delight from start to finish.

Set in 1975, Valley of the Moon chronicles the story of a single mother who takes a camping adventure on her own to find herself again. What she doesn’t expect to find is that just beyond this thick fog is a community frozen in time in the year 1906.

The community welcomes her into their community and she finally feels a sense of purpose, worth, and love… all that have been missing as she tries to raise her son alone.

The reader gets to follow Lux as she travels back and forth through time, finding love in a different era, and learning many consequences of trying to live in parallel worlds.

Lots of lovely plot twists and the ending Gideon carves for the end is movie-worthy. Although the idea of this portal might feel a little cheesy at first, you can’t help but fall in love with both worlds and eras that the author has crafted. Time travel fans will love this one!

The Longest Child by Andria Williams

The Longest Night by Andria Williams

I love historical fiction, especially when that historical fiction involves a story that I had never been aware of. Williams shares the true story of the SN-L Nuclear Reactor and the only fatal nuclear attack to occur in America in her beautiful novel, The Longest Night.

When Nat & Paul Collier move to the town, Paul is not only frustrated with his immoral boss, but he has a growing concern with the safety at the plant. When an altercation sends Paul away, Nat becomes friends with a man in town and lines between friendship and attraction for one another becomes blurred.

Set in Idaho in 1959, Williams builds a beautiful tension between her characters. It reminded me a lot of Mad Men and Masters of Sex. Once you finish the book, you will be running to look up the facts of this little known tragedy to learn more.

I know I was.

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Good grief, Be Frank With Me, was just adorable from start to finish- I can’t recommend it enough!

Reclusive literary legend M. M. “Mimi” Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years. But after falling prey to a Bernie Madoff-style ponzi scheme, she’s flat broke. Now Mimi must write a new book for the first time in decades, and to ensure the timely delivery of her manuscript, her New York publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress. The prickly Mimi reluctantly complies—with a few stipulations: No Ivy-Leaguers or English majors. Must drive, cook, tidy. Computer whiz. Good with kids. Quiet, discreet, sane.

When Alice Whitley arrives at the Banning mansion, she’s put to work right away—as a full-time companion to Frank, the writer’s eccentric nine-year-old, a boy with the wit of Noel Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth-graders.

As she slowly gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who Frank’s father is, how his gorgeous “piano teacher and itinerant male role model” Xander fits into the Banning family equation—and whether Mimi will ever finish that book.

Frank is one one of the sweetest characters that is so perfectly formed that you just want to give this sweet little boy a hug when you get done with this book. I found myself giggling through some of Frank’s antics and well up when he just couldn’t fit in with his peers. I can’t imagine the research that went into forming all of Frank’s numerous thoughts about actors, movies, and all the fun facts that he had gathered over the years that seemed to consume him. The supporting characters were just as fascinating especially Frank’s eccentric mother.

The only criticism with this one is the ending felt unresolved and wasn’t wrapped up very tidy- it just left me dangling. I am wondering if that is because the author plans a sequel. If so, I can’t wait to read it because I already miss Frank.

Check out my interview with the author when you are done!

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

It is difficult to find thrillers that are solid all the way through, but All the Missing Girls, truly delivers a strong thriller from start to finish. This is Miranda’s first novel for adults (she had previously been writing just for young adults) and shines as one of the best thrillers I have read this summer.

This story is told backwards from Day 15 to Day 1 as the mystery of a missing girl, named Annaleise, is trying to be solved by local police.  As luck would have it, the main character (Nic) has been through a missing person case before when her best friend Corinne went missing, a decade ago, and no one ever heard from her again. Her family goes under scrutiny once again as they try to figure out where Annaleise has gone.

You are taken down a bumpy road as these two cases collide in shocking ways and everyone is suspect. Reading in reverse chronological order is a challenge for a reader and reading it digitally made it more difficult to page back to figure out where these sections came together. I would recommend reading this one as a good old-fashioned book to really pull the storyline together in a way that you can really grasp.

If you enjoyed, In a Dark, Dark Wood or Luckiest Girl Alive, I have a feeling you will really enjoy this twisty book and trying to solve the case of these missing girls. If you are like me, you really won’t know until the final pages what these family secrets hold.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

I Let You Go will be the psychological thriller you need to pull you out of a reading slump.

The book opens with a mother crossing the street with her child. She lets go for just a moment and that child is hit by a car. This hit-and-run case leaves little clues to the killer and the reader follows this grief-stricken survivor as she tries to form a new life in a new town, far from the reminders of the accident. Hold onto your hats though because nothing is as it seems and the reader is taken on plot twists that will leave you gasping. This is, truly, the next Gone Girl, friends, don’t miss it!

Check out my interview with Clare Mackintosh and hear about the case that inspired her book and the life experience that shaped the raw grief of the mother in her story!

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I find Reid’s writing to be just the right amount of heart with just the right amount of reality and her storytelling truly shines in this beautiful story of loves found and lost. When Emma’s husband dies in a helicopter crash, she is left to rebuild her life without her high school sweetheart and you feel that devastation through Reid’s words. After years of sadness though, she finds love again with an old high school friend and begins to find that happiness she has been missing. Just before her wedding though she receives a call that her husband, Jesse, is still alive and coming home to be with her again.

A heart aching love triangle is formed and Emma must choose between the man she loved and lost or the new love of her life. I couldn’t put this one down and read it in less than a day!

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

I am big on quirky characters and I’m also big on coming-of-age adventures and Mosquitoland now tops my list of incredible YA debuts with this heartfelt story of an oddly charming girl, named Mim,  who runs away from home and takes a Greyhound bus to be reunited with her mother.

After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands” of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland.

So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.

I really began to fall in love with all of these well-crafted characters that Arnold created in this charming book. Each character that she encounters comes with his own set of quirky oddities as Mim’s bus ends up making an unexpected detour and she ends up on a road trip with two unlikely friends in search of her mom. I really loved this one!

I am recommending this one for fans of Eleanor & Park and All the Bright Places. Be sure to read my interview with David Arnold about the story behind this story (and the surprising spot he crafted it!) in our Sundays With Writers series.

The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman

The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman

The Two-Family House is a sweet literary escape telling the story of brothers living in a two-family house in Brooklyn in the ‘40’s. While the men are away to work, in the midst of a winter storm, both of their wives go into labor and end up delivering their babies at home, thanks to one determined midwife. It’s the birth of these two babies that begins to threaten and unravel the two families, particularly their mothers, as they carry around a family secret that begins to impact them all.

A strong debut novel rich with characters and the raw emotional impact of family secrets, it is one that you will be unable to put down, and a storyline rich with lots to chat about for book clubs. If you prefer character-driven stories, this book is for you!

Need More Book Ideas? Here are my top ten lists from the past six years!!

My Top Ten Books of 2015

My Top Ten Books of 2014

My Top Ten Books of 2013

The Best Books Read in 2012

My Top Ten Books in 2011

The Top Ten of 2010

For more great suggestions, check out the NPR Book Concierge- swoon! It is heavenly stuff!

Tell me, what your favorite books were in 2016 or share your links to your own round-ups!

Anything I should be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads!

This post contains affiliate links. I promise to only recommend what I truly love!

The Best Books of 2016 from MomAdvice.com

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Published December 31, 2016 by:

Amy Clark

Amy Allen Clark is the founder of MomAdvice.com. You can read all about her here.

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