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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker (@JoelDicker) A demanding mystery recommended to writers and lovers of complex stories #mystery

Hi all:

Today I bring you the review of a book that had been on my mind for a while…

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker
The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker

A crime story. A love story. More than 2 million copies sold worldwide.

And now a major 10-part MGM TV series starring Patrick Dempsey and Ben Schnetzer.

August 30, 1975. The day of the disappearance. The day Somerset, New Hampshire, lost its innocence.

That summer, struggling author Harry Quebert fell in love with fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan. Thirty-three years later, her body is dug up from his yard, along with a manuscript copy of the novel that made him a household name. Quebert is the only suspect.

Marcus Goldman – Quebert’s most gifted protégé – throws off his writer’s block to clear his mentor’s name. Solving the case and penning a new bestseller soon merge into one. As his book begins to take on a life of its own, the nation is gripped by the mystery of ‘The Girl Who Touched the Heart of America’.

But with Nola, in death as in life, nothing is ever as it seems.

The film is directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (Seven Years in Tibet) and released on 23 August on SkyWitness.

The Baltimore Boys, a follow-up to the bestselling The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, is published in paperback.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Truth-about-Harry-Quebert-Affair-ebook/dp/B00ELIF0WK/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Truth-about-Harry-Quebert-Affair-ebook/dp/B00ELIF0WK/

Author Joel Dicker
Author Joel Dicker

About the author:

Joël Dicker was born in Geneva in 1985, where he studied Law. THE TRUTH ABOUT THE HARRY QUEBERT AFFAIR was nominated for the Prix Goncourt and won the Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie Française and the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens. It soon became a worldwide success in 2014, publishing in 42 countries and selling more than 3.5 million copies. In the UK it was a Times number one bestseller, and was chosen for the Richard and Judy Book Club as well as Simon Mayo’s Radio 2 Book Club.
In May 2017 his novel THE BALTIMORE BOYS, already making waves across Europe and number one in several countries, will be published for the first time in English. Both a sequel and a prequel to THE TRUTH ABOUT THE HARRY QUEBERT AFFAIR, it will centres around traumatic events that blight the lives of the Baltimore branch of Marcus Goldman’s family.
In the meantime Joël has become “brand ambassador” for the Citroen DS https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTKep1n4kFU

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jo%C3%ABl-Dicker/e/B005ZKGZWM/

My review:

I’m not sure if it was the cover (the old cover) of this book, or the title, the fact that wherever I went (Spain, the UK, France) I saw the same book in airports and bookshops, or a combination of all that together with the blurb of the book, but I had been curious about this novel for a long time and, eventually, I got around to reading it.

The book and its author have received many accolades and awards, and it is one of those books that manages to combine a gripping story (a mystery that keeps wrong-footing investigators and readers alike) with an interesting narrator and a clever way of telling the story that becomes a part of the action and almost a character in its own right.

The book is divided into Three Parts (Part One: Writer’s Disease, Part Two: Writer’s Cure, Part Three: Writer’s Paradise), a Prologue, and Epilogue, a first scene, and acknowledgements at the end. In brief, this novel is the story of the writing of a book, the book we have in our hands (we assume) by Marcus Goldman, also known as Marcus the Magnificent (you’ll have to read the book to know more about that, but let’s say that from a very young age, Marcus had been a man with a sense of his own destiny and had realised that there are ways of gaining fame and attracting everybody’s attention that are not all to do with hard work or talent). In part one, after an intriguing initial scene, we meet Marcus –who became famous after publishing his first book– suffering from writer’s block. Almost two years have passed since the publication of his novel (this is 2008), and he is desperate as his publisher has given him a deadline. To try and get out of the situation he goes to visit his writing teacher, Harry Quebert, whom he met at Burrows University, which he attended between 1998 and 2002. He lives in Somerset, Maine, and is happy to see him. While he is there, Marcus makes a discovery about Harry’s life, and as the novel progresses, we learn that there are many more secrets and mysteries hidden behind the letters and pictures he finds. A fifteen-year-old girl, Nola Kellerman, disappeared in 1975 and when her body is discovered in Harry’s property, all hell breaks loose.

The novel, although seemingly divided into the period before the writing of the novel, the actual writing of it, and its publication, keeps jumping backwards and forwards in time, sometimes through the narration of one of the characters (we go back to 1975, there are fragments where we learn more about Marcus’s relationship with Harry during university and in the in-between years, and we also travel to 1985 and to 1969), sometimes through letters and documents, sometimes we get to listen to recordings of interviews, or we get summaries of reports. There are also other written documents referred to throughout the book, the most important, The Origin of Evil, the novel that turned Harry into a famous writer, which everybody refers to as a masterpiece, and that he happened to write in Somerset, in 1975. Marcus narrates the story in first-person, but the fragments that are either written by others or part of his novel, are written in the third person. And there are false starts (as Marcus and later Gahalowood, a cranky but likeable sergeant, uncover new information, the notes and the book gets reframed and rewritten), draft versions, false endings, plenty of misunderstandings and intentional misdirection as well. We get different versions of events, but we also get alternative versions of characters, particularly of Nola, who at times appears as a Lolita, a seductress who could manipulate all adults around her, while at others she is an innocent victim of family and lusty men, or a muse intent on inspiriting a masterpiece, or perhaps just a young scared girl trying to find happiness. Nothing is what it seems to be when we consider both the plot and the characters, and even the basic things we think we know for a fact might require reconsideration.

It is perhaps not evident at the beginning, but each chapter starts with writing advice, that later we understand consists of thirty-one points Harry offers Marcus, starting from number thirty-one and going up the list. As a writer, I feel that most of the points are very insightful, and although most are not terribly personal, some, that we see given in context, later on, help us get a sense of who the characters are, and we come to realise that all the advice is pertinent to the story as well. The book follows its own advice, and it piles layer after layer of story and meaning (like Russian dolls), increasing and releasing the tension as explanation after explanation is given and eventually rejected, and as our expectations and trashed time and again.

The characters are well drawn and even some of the seemingly minor characters end up amazing us when we get to know them better (and believe me, we do). There are surprises, as I said, there is humour (mostly provided by the publisher and by Marcus’s mother, perhaps both these characters are less well drawn and caricature-like, but they are not part of Somerset and the story but instead interfere and distract the writer from his task), there are are many touching moments and those are not limited to the main protagonists either (even the least likeable characters get their spot in the limelight). Despite the repetitions and the jumps in time, the book is not difficult to follow, although it is not easy to keep all the clues in mind and guessing who did what is not simple, Of course, that is the beauty of complex mysteries. I have not read the original version, but I cannot fault the translation into English, and I kept highlighting sentences and paragraphs, some to do with writing, but some with the story.

At times readers will be almost shouting, aligning themselves with the editor, demanding that the book gets finished and there is an end to the story, but the author keeps going, pushing the sense of frustration and the patience of the reader, looping the loop once more. It’s a tour-de-force. As Harry says: Books are like life, Marcus. They never really end. Having said all that, I enjoyed the ending, even if at some points it felt as if I was watching one of those horror movies with monsters in them, where you think they are dead, but no, they keep coming. Here, the different explanations, suspects, and red herrings keep coming as well, but I loved the actual ending (even if some of the details and the explanations stretched a bit the suspension of disbelief, but I won’t go into detail to avoid spoilers).

I recommend this novel to lovers of mysteries looking for a long and involving read that requires your full attention and is fairly demanding, especially if you don’t mind complex narratives and jumps backward and forward in time. I also recommend it to writers who love novels about writers, for the plot, for the format, and for the advice (most of which will make you nod and smile). This book made me think about many other stories: Lolita, Beauty and the Beast, Cyrano de Bergerac… Although the book is not overtly sexually graphic, here goes a word of warning as it does discuss a relationship between an adult male and a young girl, and there are instances of violence and brutal assaults that could be upsetting. The book depicts a world where white men occupy the main active (and alive) roles (Marcus is Jewish and that plays a major part in the jokes about his mother’s behaviour) and in no way challenges gender or diversity prejudices either, but some of the characters offer insightful comments and have positive attitudes.

I thought I would leave you with a couple of quotations, especially dedicated to writers and readers:

You know what a publisher is? He’s a failed writer whose father was rich enough that he’s able to appropriate other people’s talents.

A good book, Marcus, is judged not by its last words but by the cumulative effect of all the words that have preceded them. About half a second after finishing your book, after reading the very last word, the reader should be overwhelmed by a particular feeling. For a moment he should think only of what he has just read; he should look at the cover and smile a little sadly because he is already missing all the characters. A good book, Marcus, is a book you are sorry to have finished.

Thanks to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, please remember to like, comment, click, and always keep reading, reviewing and smiling!
But, before you go, another one of my books has become available as an audiobook:
The first novel in my YA paranormal trilogy, Angelic Business, now available as an audiobook, narrated by the fabulous Kathy James.

Angelic Business 1. Pink Matter. Audibook. Narrated by Kathy James
Angelic Business 1. Pink Matter. Audiobook. Narrated by Kathy James

Angelic Business 1. Pink Matters.

Pink Matters is the story of Pink, a 17-year-old girl, a good student, articulate and smart. But she has never been the centre of attention or made the top ten in the rankings of the most popular and attractive girls at school. When two guys, both claiming to be angels, insist that she is, indeed, ‘special’, fight for her attention and help, and tell her she is the key to the future of the universe, she is quite cynical. But these guys can ‘do’ pretty amazing things, even miracles, so she has to wonder….

Now also available as an audiobook:

AUDIBLE.COM        AUDIBLE.CO.UK       AMAZON.COM      AMAZON.CO.UK

If you have never tried an audiobook, you can get it for free here.

You can listen to a sample here:

And you prefer a YouTube video, here it is:

Thank you!

 

 

Categories
Book launch New books

#TuesdayBookBlog New translation THE ROCK OF THE MISSING by Antonio Flórez Lage. A unique story of childhood adventures, heroes, and incredible landscapes

Hi all:

As you know, I translate books for other authors and nothing makes me happier than bringing you one of this when they see the light. I must thank not only the author but also Wendy Janes for her help with the corrections. Here it is:

The Rock of the Missing by Antonio Flórez Lage
The Rock of the Missing by Antonio Flórez Lage

THE ROCK OF THE MISSING: Aeinape International Book Awards Finalist de Antonio Flórez Lage  (Autor), Olga Núñez Miret (Traductor)

A BEST-SELLING NOVEL IN SPANISH. SPECIAL LAUNCHING OFFER.

RECEIVED WITH CRITICAL ACCLAIM. “Full of humour, sensitivity, action and mystery.” Discover a not-so-touristic Mexico and the bleakest Galicia.

SYNOPSIS: In the outskirts of a tiny Galician fishing village there is a huge rock that hides a mysterious submarine cave. What happens to those who dare to go diving there? Several events from their childhood drag the protagonist and his peculiar friend back to that eerie place. They meet again, years later, and set off on a seedy trip around Mexico, full of action and dangers. The unexpected outcome of that journey changes the life of the protagonist forever. This novel is one of a kind: it offers the readers a special something; a unique quality that means the story does not leave us when we close the book. Some readers are already applying its lessons to their own lives…

THE REVIEWERS SAY “‘If I jump, I’ll kill myself; if I don’t jump, they’ll kill me.’ With these words, in an eerie landscape full of rocks and black waves that reminded me of Hitchcock, begins the novel The Rock of the Missing. This book keeps moving, from the initial Hitchcockian scene, later becoming a chilling road movie that takes us across a scorched Mexico, full of gunshots, drug dealers and dead bodies, and ending in a permanent return to Galicia, where the whole thing begins… I recommend you read this novel if you wish to enjoy the art Antonio Flórez uses to carve his sentences if you want to join in an adventure full of humour, sensitivity, action and mystery.”Lavadora de textos, Ramón Alemán.

Autor Antonio Flórez Lage
Autor Antonio Flórez Lage

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Antonio Flórez Lage (A Coruña, 1977). A vet, passionate about the sea, travelling, and books, who writes about a world he knows very well.

10% of the profits obtained from the Kindle Book will be donated to ASOCEPA Coeliac Association.

Links:

E-book:

http://rxe.me/1FSPRW

Paperback:

http://rxe.me/846973783X

Antonio was kind enough to agree to an interview that I shared in Lit World Interviews. In case you are interested and haven’t come across it, you can check it here.

A few words:

I don’t want to write a review of the book, as it would seem suspect (although I have no stakes on the sale of the book) but I could not let this opportunity pass without recommending you this book.

If you follow my reviews you’ll know that I am a big fan of narrators, and the more unreliable and suspect, the better. Here we have a wonderful narrator who tells us a story that mixes two time-lines, one when he was a teenager in the North-West of Spain, Galicia (the part of the country where my father was from, famed for its fantastic food, particularly seafood, but also fish and meat, and its natural beauty, although it rains a fair bit) and lived many adventures with a friend, and years later, as a young man, in Mexico, where by chance he meets the same friend, and old stories rear their heads and new adventures ensue.

This is one of those books (like The Great Gatsby or Heart of Darkness) where a narrator seems to be there to tell us somebody else’s story and he is no more than an observer, although…

Full of irresistible characters, set pieces you won’t forget in a hurry (one that reminded me of the Westerns my father was so fond of), and an incredible sense of landscape and menace, this is a book about male friendship that goes beyond easy jokes and tall-tales (although there might be some of those). Do not miss this great book. Ah, and check the promotion for the book launch!

Thanks so much to the author for this opportunity, to Wendy Janes for her help and thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW.

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview GOLDEN HILL by Francis Spufford (@FaberBooks) Multi-award winner historical fiction in pre-revolution New York with a fabulous narrator and an intriguing main character.

Hi all:

Those of you who follow my blog and read my reviews (yes, you!) might remember this book kept coming up recently. Well, I had to read it. Here it is.

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
Golden Hill by Francis Spufford

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford

New York, a small town on the tip of Manhattan island, 1746.

One rainy evening in November, a handsome young stranger fresh off the boat pitches up at a counting-house door in Golden Hill Street: this is Mr Smith, amiable, charming, yet strangely determined to keep suspicion simmering. For in his pocket, he has what seems to be an order for a thousand pounds, a huge amount, and he won’t explain why, or where he comes from, or what he can be planning to do in the colonies that requires so much money.

Should the New York merchants trust him? Should they risk their credit and refuse to pay? Should they befriend him, seduce him, arrest him; maybe even kill him?

An astonishing first novel, as stuffed with incident as a whole shelf of conventional fiction, Golden Hill is both a book about the eighteenth century, and itself a novel cranked back to the form’s eighteenth century beginnings, when anything could happen on the page, and usually did, and a hero was not a hero unless he ran the frequent risk of being hanged.

Rich in language and historical perception, yet compulsively readable, Golden Hill has a plot that twists in every chapter, and a puzzle at its heart that won’t let go till the last paragraph of the last page.

Set a generation before the American Revolution, it paints an irresistible picture of a New York provokingly different from its later self: but subtly shadowed by the great city to come, and already entirely a place where a young man with a fast tongue can invent himself afresh, fall in love – and find a world of trouble.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Hill-Francis-Spufford-ebook/dp/B01FQVWXPW/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Golden-Hill-Francis-Spufford-ebook/dp/B01FQVWXPW/

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Francis Spufford has one of the most original minds in contemporary literature.”
—Nick Hornby

One is drawn ineluctably into the world of colonial New York from the first sentence of Golden Hill.  Wonderfully written and entertaining.”
—Kevin Baker

“Addictively readable.”
—Mark Haddon

“Francis Spufford has long been one of my favourite writers of non-fiction; he is now becoming a favourite writer of fiction as well. Golden Hill is a meticulously crafted and brilliantly written novel that is both an affectionate homage to the 18th century novel and a taut and thoughtful tale.”
—Iain Pears

“I loved this book so much. Golden Hill wears its research with incredible insouciance and grace; a rollicking picaresque, it is threaded through with darkness but has a heart of gold.”
—Jo Baker

“Marvelous.  A vivid re-creation of colonial New York, in which the adventures of Mr. Smith, who may be a charlatan or a hero, make for a page turner, with an unexpected and unusually satisfying ending.”
—C. J. Sansom

“Sparkling…A first-rate entertainment with a rich historical feel and some delightful twists.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“The intoxicating effect of Golden Hill is much more than an experiment in form. [Spufford] has created a complete world, employing his archivist skills to the great advantage of his novel … This is a book born of patience, of knowledge accrued and distilled over decades, a style honed by practice. There are single scenes here more illuminating, more lovingly wrought, than entire books.”
Financial Times (UK)

“Like a newly discovered novel by Henry Fielding with extra material by Martin Scorsese. Why it works so well is largely down to Spufford’s superb re-creation of New York … His writing crackles with energy and glee, and when Smith’s secret is finally revealed it is hugely satisfying on every level. For its payoff alone Golden Hill deserves a big shiny star.”
The Times (UK) 

“Splendidly entertaining and ingenious … Throughout Golden Hill, Spufford creates vivid, painterly scenes of street and salon life, yet one never feels as though a historical detail has been inserted just because he knew about it. Here is deep research worn refreshingly lightly … a first-class period entertainment.”
Guardian (UK)

“Paying tribute to writers such as Fielding, Francis Spufford’s creation exudes a zesty, pin-sharp contemporaneity … colonial New York takes palpable shape in his dazzlingly visual, pacy and cleverly plotted novel.”
Daily Mail (UK)

“Golden Hill shows a level of showmanship and skill which seems more like a crowning achievement than a debut . [Spufford] brings his people and situations to life with glancing ease … They all live and breathe with conviction … His descriptive powers are amazing … Spufford’s extraordinary visual imagination and brilliant pacing seems to owe more to the movies than anything else.”
Evening Standard (UK)

“The best 18th century novel since the 18th century.”
—BBC Radio 4

“Recounting this picaresque rale with serious undertones, Spufford adeptly captures 18th-century commercial practices and linguistic peculiarities as well as pre-Revolutionary Manhattan’s cultural hodgepodge…readers are rewarded with a feast of language, character, local color, and historical detail.”
Publishers Weekly

“A virtuoso literary performance.”
Booklist, starred review

“A successful homage to the great master of the picaresque novel, Henry Fielding.”
Library Journal, starred review 

“The entire flavor, tone, and prose of the book make this an exceptional read whose pages practically flew by.”
Historical Novel Society

Author Francis Spufford
Author Francis Spufford

About the author:

Officially, I’ve been a writer of non-fiction for the last twenty years. But when I’m excited by what I’m writing about, what I want to do with my excitement is always to tell a story – and every one of my non-fiction books has borrowed techniques from the novel, and contained sections where I came close to behaving like a novelist. The chapter retelling the story of Captain Scott’s last Antarctic expedition at the end of “I May Be Some Time”, for example, or the thirty-page version of the gospel story in “Unapologetic”. “Red Plenty” was a kind of documentary novel all the way through. Now, though, I’ve completed my shy, crabwise crawl towards fiction, and have a book coming out which is an honest-to-goodness entirely made-up story. No foot-notes, no invisible scaffolding of facts holding it up: “Golden Hill” (Scribner, 27 June 2017) is just a novel. More specifically, it’s an eighteenth century novel. It’s set in the winter of 1746, in what was then the very small colonial town of New York; but it’s also written like a novel from the eighteenth century. So the story of the charming but unreliable-seeming young Mr Smith, who turns up from London with a document in his pocket that may be a fraud or may be worth a fortune, is as hectically stuffed with event as it would have been if Fielding or Smollett had written it. Eighteenth-century readers expected to get their money’s worth, and “Golden Hill” contains (among other things) a mystery, a political intrigue, a love story, a ball, a duel, a high-stakes card game, a trial, a dash of horror, a play-within-a-play, some surprisingly graphic sex and a rooftop chase. As a slow writer, I enjoyed working on something that runs fast. It was intricate fun devising and winding up the book’s clockwork. But I hope it’s also a story that feels alive, and makes the past feel alive too, while Mr Smith runs for his life, and the snow falls on Manhattan Island. There is a tumblr for it at golden-hill.tumblr.com.

(Okay, biography. I was born in 1964, I’m married with an eleven-year-old daughter, and I teach writing at Goldsmiths College, London.)

https://www.amazon.com/Francis-Spufford/e/B001HCV3N8/

My review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to Faber & Faber for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

I had an interesting experience with this novel. In the last few weeks, every time I reviewed a novel that was nominated for an award and checked out what novel had won it, it was Golden Hill (among them, the Costa First Novel Award, The Desmond Elliott Prize, the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2017…) and I thought I had to read it and find out what the fuss what about.

It is not difficult to see why people are fascinated by this novel. It is a historical fiction novel by an author who has written non-fiction extensively and has chosen a very interesting narrative style. (I must confess to being very intrigued by his book called The Child that Books Built. A Life in Reading, especially in view of a recent discussion we had on my blog about books on reading). The story is set in the New York of the late 1740s and is narrated by an anonymous narrator (or so it seems as we read) who tells the story of a man, Richard Smith, who arrives in the New World with a money order for 1000 pounds and acts quite mysteriously. The story is told in the third person, but the narrator breaks the third wall barrier often, at times to despair at being unable to describe a card game, or a fight, at others to decide where we can or cannot enter. Although the book’s language and style are word-perfect (and will enchant those who love accuracy), it appears more sensitive to certain aspects of the society of the time than perhaps a novel of the period would have been (slavery, gender, and race issues…) but the narrating style reminds us of Henry and Sarah Fielding, and in a nod to metafiction, in the book itself there are discussions of novels that include Joseph Andrews or David Simple. I have talked often about my fascination for narrators and this is one of those novels that will keep it alive for a long time.

The book transports the reader to the New York of 1747, a provincial and small place, with only a few streets and a mixture of inhabitants mostly from Dutch and English origins, with a jumble of different coins and bank notes in circulation, what appear to be the equivalent of small-town politics and an interesting judicial system, and dependent on ships from London for news and entertainment. Although I have read historical tracts and fiction from the era, I don’t think any of them managed to give me as good an understanding and a feel for what colonial New York was like.

The story itself is built around the mystery of Smith’s character. Who is he? Is the money order real, or is he a con-man? Is he a magician, an actor, a seducer, a trouble-maker, all of the above? Everybody wants him, or better, his money, for their own goals (political, financial…) and he allows himself to be courted by all, although he is only really interested in the daughter of one of the Dutch businessmen who is holding his money order until they receive confirmation of its true value, Tabitha. Tabitha is my favourite character, a shrew, sharp and witty, and somebody I wouldn’t mind learning much more about.

Smith is a good stand-in for the reader because although he is from the era, he is naïve as to the colonies and the different social mores, politics, and customs there, and keeps getting into trouble. Although his adventures are interesting, and the mystery that surrounds him seemingly propels the story (although half-way through the novel we get a clue as to what might be behind the intrigue), I found it difficult to fully empathise with him, perhaps because of the style of narration (although the story is told by a narrator, and in the third person, at times we get a clear look at what Smith is thinking, but, for me, the hidden information somehow hindered my full investment in the character). There are many other interesting characters, although we do not get to know any of them in a lot of detail. For a great insight into the book and all that it contains, I recommend you read the About the author note I have included above. The man can write, for sure.

The ending… Well, there is an ending to the story and then there is a final twist. If you picked up the clues, the ending will not be such a big surprise. The twist… Yes, it makes one look at the book in a completely different way, although it makes perfect sense.

I highlighted many fragments that I particularly liked, but on checking them again I was worried they might, either give too much away or confuse somebody who is not following the story. So I’d advise you to check the book sample available on your favourite online bookstore and see if you enjoy the style. If you do, it only gets better.

I recommend this book to anybody curious about its reputation, to lovers of historical fiction, in particular, those set up in the colonies prior to the revolution, and to readers and writers who enjoy narrators and look for something a bit different.

Thanks to Net Galley and to the publishers, congratulations to the author, and thanks to all of you for reading, and do not forget to like, share, comment, click and of course REVIEW!

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