Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

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Quick Reviews – August 2022

Husband Material by Alexis Hall, published 02 August 2022.

The sequel to Boyfriend Material is not just as good as the first book, it's better. Knowing the characters already, it's seeing them grow and struggle and overcome obstacles, which makes it so much better. There were lots of LOL moments for me, but just as many moments where I empathised with both main characters and their struggles. 

Hall clearly knows how to write stories and how to play to the strengths of the English language. 

Caveat: The structure of the book kind of made the ending obvious, but it's the best ending for Oliver and Luc.

5/5 Harpy Eagles


Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall, published 18 May 2021.

Yes, another Alexis Hall book. I read this first book in the Winner Bakes All series in preparation for the upcoming sequel, Paris Daillencourt is about to Crumble (publishing day 18 Oct 2022). 

Does Hall know how to play with tropes? Yes! This novel features a love triangle, which is extremely well-executed; compared to all those cringe-y YA love triangles. Furthermore there's a sesquipedalian eight year old, witty banter and lots of cake since the love interests meet at a national baking competition.

Eventually though this is a story about personal growth and standing up for yourself. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole, published/released 19 December 2019.

An A.I. hotty who has to figure out his humanity, a woman suffering from PTSD following an accident, and an interesting (though not entirely unexpected) twist towards the end of the story. 

This audiobook-only sci-fi romance story was more interesting than I had expected. I thought this would be far more sizzling romance than sci-fi, but the SF parts of the story were well thought through. 

The dual point of view narration by Regina Hall and Feodor Chin is enhanced by the addition of a whole cast of narrators. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


Grand Theft Astro by Scott Meyer, published 29 July 2021.

The Audible Originals audiobook-only story is about Baird, a thief, who, on her latest heist, had been infected with a virus that has no cure yet. She has seven days to live. Her 'handler' tells her that in order to ensure a proper medical treatment Baird not only has to steal certain components of the cure, she also has to remain in stasis while she's not actively stealing. While in stasis she's being transported to her next place of 'work', which often takes several years. 

So far I was on board, if a bit sceptical about how gullible the protagonist is; accepting and relying on all information necessary provided by the handler only. 

Then the book seemed to turn to middle-grade level without being for that audience. While scoping out the places Baird has to rob, she's told everything about how the security systems work by the security people themselves. The way she then executes her heists is supposed to be funny/comical; I thought not. But that might be me. 

I gave up after the second heist. It read too much like an underdeveloped middle-grade book with way too much tell and very little show. 

1/5 Harpy Eagles


Belladonna by Adalyn Grace, published 30 August 2022.

The audiobook of this YA gothic/paranormal fantasy novel was good. The narrator, Kristin Atherton, did a good job giving each character a distinct voice. Especially Death's voice was rather sultry.  

To be honest, I might have bailed on the book had it not been for the audiobook. Why would I have bailed? It was a bit too long-winded for my taste. There was too much woe-be-me by the main character, Signa. And the mysteries were, given I had paid attention from the start, obvious to me. Add jarring anachronisms and I'm normally out. So kudos to the narrator.

If you liked Kingdom of the Wicked, you will certainly like this book. After all, it's a story of romance between a not-so-mere mortal and Death. 

2.75/5 Harpy Eagles

What just happened?

The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter, published 13 April 2021.

You won’t believe it, but I read a fantasy novel in nearly one go. That hasn’t happened in a very long time. What made me stick to this book?

Lostetter pulled me into this dark fantasy mystery/thriller told from opposing POV from the beginning. Yes, the world-building took some time and there were slow passages, but all in all I wanted to know how the POVs came together and how the whole story fit and would play out.

An artefact is being stolen right under the watchful gaze of one of our female lead, a regulator (let’s say some form of police). With the help of this artefact murders are committed ten years after the initial serial killer was caught and executed for his brutal crimes. How do you catch a dead murderer? How do you find out who committed the theft and is behind the recent murders when the thieves used distraction and enchantments to hide their identities?

The other POV is that of a young apprentice to a healer. This woman is very gifted at healing, far more gifted than her age might allow. How? Evidence suggests that she is involved with the current murder spree. Is she, though?

There are enchanted masks and bottled beasts. There’s PTSD and grief. There are strong female characters, friendships, family ties. There is knowledge to be found, but at what price?

A book that took me out of my fantasy-funk! I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

High Fantasy, Low Stakes and a Lot of Heart

Sometimes, a book jumps into your way at just the right time. I‘ve read about Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree on Goodreads, and decided to try it to get me out of a reading slump. Gladly, I loved everything about it.

It‘s about an orc called Viv, and she‘s had enough of the adventurer life. She‘s worn out, and her back hurts. So after one last job retrieving a fabled artifact, she moves to Thune to open up a coffee shop.

She quickly gathers a lovely cast of characters around her, including:

  • Cal, a hob carpenter / handyman who helps her renovating
  • Tandri, a succubus who supports her as a barista (and also in general)
  • Thimble, a rattkin who turns out to be an amazing baker

Also, there‘s an epic direcat strolling around and protecting the premises.

Let me just say that everything about this book is lovely. There is a strong found family vibe, as Viv is building a new home against all odds. This story gave me all the warm fuzzy feelings.

Keep cinnamon rolls and coffee on hand when you are diving in, though.

5/5 Magpies

Duck’s Reading Quarterly

Reading this year has been so slow for me. I focus hard on learning game development, so one of the books I read was a gigantic chunkster about the Unity Game Engine. It was boring as well as educational.

I finished the Powder Mage Trilogy and all its novellas at the start of the year, which I announced in my end of the year post – so I actually read what I had planned. Let’s look back at the series that I wanted to read:

  • Murderbot by Martha Wells: I bought the 6th Murderbot installation, immediately read it in one sitting. Who does not love Murderbot????
  • Skyward by Brandon Sanderson: I read Cytonic and 2 of the short stories. Evershore is waiting until the short story collection arrives at my doorstep. I cannot behave, I buy books. We might do a collective review of the series as a group.
  • The Hollows by Kim Harrison: Million Dollar Demon was my birthday present and I read it only a week or so after! What an achievement (insert irony here)
  • The Wayward Children by Seanan McGuire: No progress here, but I believe I am at least 2 books behind, so… I’ll let it sit.
  • The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman: I have The Untold Story on the shelf and plan to read it in the near future, when I need something a bit more fluffy.
  • Ink & Sigil by Kevin Hearne: I read Paper & Blood recently, and devoured it in a day. It’s funny, it’s wise, it has action, what more do you want? Read the review by TheRightHonourableHarpyEagle for book one here.

Additionally, I finished the First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie as a buddyread with TheMarquessMagpie. It was a blast, the books are 5/5 duckies, review here.

Our Tigana buddyread went a lot worse, but that happens.

Here is the most! important bit of news: I actually managed to DNF a book!!!! Amazing, right? Me and Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston could not connect on any level, and I did not even have the motivation to skim the second half of the book, so I just put it away! Actually, I will sell it, which might be an indicator that I am still a bit ashamed and don’t want to have the culprit near me.

So what’s to come in the second quarter of 2022: Currently, we birdies are having a Mistborn buddyread. I am the only one who knows the story, and I am so excited what the others think! I might join an Instagram buddyread of The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons, if time allows for it. For the rest of my reading, I have made a list of 20 books on my TBR that spark my current attention and roll a D20 to find out my current read! Currently, it’s The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling.

The First Law Buddyread

Say one thing for TheLadyDuckOfDoom and TheMarquessMagpie, say they enjoy the hell out of a well-written epic fantasy series. And Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series was just that.

We read the first three books as buddyreads, which really takes a lot of determination if you want to pace yourself.

The series starts of with The Blade Itself, in which our illustrous cast of characters is introduced and assembled. Here are some of them:

  • Logen Ningefingers, also called the Bloody-Nine: a humble northman haunted by his past. In Lady Duck’s estimation, he also suffers from dissociative identity disorder.
  • Sand dan Glokta, a once praised fencer, for his looks as well as his skill, he was tortured and turned into a cripple when he got captured in war. Now he serves as a torturer and investigator for the Inquisition, which is more of a police institution than religious undertaking in the Kingdom.
  • Jezal dan Luthar, the rich kid, totally loathesome. What an ass.
  • The Dogman, a named man from the north, famed for his sense of smell. It feels unlikely, but he really grows on you.
  • Ferro Maljinn, a former slave, runs on revenge plots alone. She is a force to be reckoned with.
  • Collem West, an army Major stepping up when things get difficult and dangerous. Don’t worry, he has his faults.
  • Bayaz, First of the Magi, always with a trick up his sleeve. You never know what’s up with that cheating bastard.

We spent most of the first book getting a glimpse into the lives of these characters. It‘s mainly a setup book and not a ton of stuff happens. But don‘t think that it gets boring for even a bit – we at least follow Glokta uncovering a conspiracy, after all.

Instead of suffering from a case of middle book syndrome, Before They Are Hanged turned out to be a roadtrip book. There are some very interesting character developments, and we get to know the cast a lot better. The brewing conflicts are foreshadowed very reasonably and you smell a war coming. In the 10th anniversary edition, the author’s note tells us that Abercrombie is incredibly proud of this book, and Lady Duck seconds this opinion. The middle book syndrome is expertly circumnavigated, and she laughed at the end of it.

In The Last Argument of Kings, the world is at war. New kings are crowned and need to grow into their roles very quickly. Although, do they really? There’s fighting, blood, and even more fighting. The “backwards” Northmen play quite a big part in the turn of events. The ending leaves some threads dangling, but intentionally so. The books play so well on the common epic fantasy genres, and denying the readers full closure is just another of Abercrombies tricks. Or maybe he planned more books set in this universe all along.

Overall, the series mostly deals with what it means to wield power. Who can be trusted with it? What does having a title really mean? Isn’t everybody (except one… ) just pretending to know what they’re doing and hoping for the best? Another recurring theme twists the fantasy trope of redemption arcs: sometimes, as hard as people try to be better, sometimes they can not.

The writing style was a real treat:

  • so many unexpected moments of comic relief…
  • … but still grim and bloody
  • it changes a bit with the characters (The recurring “Say one thing for Logen Ninefingers…”, “dead body found at the docks” is a recurring imagined newspaper headline in Glokta’s head after he gets into trouble)
  • some predictable plot twists and turns, but the execution is still great.

The characters feel very real. You see the bad side of every one of them. Not all of them are likeable, but all of them are captivating. I never thought I would root for a crippled torturer, but go Glokta go! Prepare yourself for some very difficult and sad death scenes – but also for a burst of joy when one absolutely loathsome character meets a very satisfying end. While the books are quite “dude-heavy”, the female characters also shine. They are morally grey, scheming and far from your classic damsel in distress.

So, I guess I really need to read all Abercrombie books now. Don’t worry, the next one (Best Served Cold) is already waiting on my shelf. Lady Duck insert: not on my shelves, oh noes. We will need to change that asap (which means summer or later, book buying ban be damned)

5/5 Birdies for each of them – still alive, still alive

Quick reviews – March ’22

A.J. Hackwith’s The God of Lost Words, first published 02 November 2021.

This is the last book in the Hell's Library trilogy. Even days after finishing it, and I savoured it slowly, I am still what the title says: lost for words that is, not a God/dess; just in case you were wondering. It's the perfect ending to the trilogy. Claire, Hero, Brevity, and Rami are trying to save the Library from falling into the clutches of Hell's demons. The dream team have to  outsmart Malphas by showing a united force to be able to save the Library of the Unwritten, or face obliteration. 
Hackwith poured her love for her characters and books into this story. She wrapped up this truly unique trilogy nicely, giving it a fitting ending. 

5/5 Harpy Eagles

The Drowned City & Traitor in the Ice by K.J. Maitland, published 01 April 2021, 31 March 2022 respectively.

It's 1606. James VI/I sits on the British throne. Daniel Pursglove sits in his majesty's prison suspected of performing witchcraft. 
On the anniversary of the foiled Gunpowder Plot a huge tidal wave destroys large parts of Bristol. Enter Charles FitzAlan, close adviser to the king, who offers Daniel a chance to win his freedom. Daniel is to go to Bristol to find one of the members of the Gunpowder Plot who managed to escape arrest and is now recruiting Jesuits. 

Unfortunately, the pace of the book is rather slow, and the verbose descriptions -although creating a wonderful atmosphere- slog down the story further. 
Just one year later, 1607, and paranoid Kind James sends Daniel to infiltrate a Catholic household that is said to be full of supporters of the pope; among them the traitor Daniel already pursuit in the first book. Soon the bodies start piling up and Daniel is determined to uncover the killer, in a house where no one is who they pretend to be. 

The second book in this series couldn't hold my attention to the end. I kept skimming pages, because of the slow pace. The writing is good, but too descriptive for my taste. 

2/5 Harpy Eagles for either novel

Tigana, or fantasy from another age

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay was our newest attempt at a Buddyread. First published in 1990, we were a bit stunned that this book is 32 years old, older than me. It is a standalone fantasy novel, and the TheMarquessMagpie recently read a much more recent novel by the same author, A Brightness Long Ago, and really enjoyed it.

Tigana is the magical story of a beleaguered land struggling to be free. It is the tale of a people so cursed by the black sorcery of a cruel despotic king that even the name of their once-beautiful homeland cannot be spoken or remembered…

But years after the devastation, a handful of courageous men and women embark upon a dangerous crusade to overthrow their conquerors and bring back to the dark world the brilliance of a long-lost name…Tigana.

Goodreads blurb, 09.03.2022

So off we went to the Lands of the Palm, modeled after Italy in the Renaissance, where we meet Devin, one of our main Protagonists. Devin is a young singer in a troupe and does not really have any defining character traits, but takes more the role of the observer of the story who gets swept up in the plot. This is where TheMostHonourableHarpyEagle left us, without intriguing characters, the book was too slow for her. And she is not wrong, there does not happen much in the book.

While the prose is certainly beautiful and I have passages that I really liked, the book feels a bit like an ancient Greek tragedy. They go this way, meet this person, then the other. Then there is a woman bent on revenge but instead she falls in love. Torn in two, she tries to find a mystical being for help and a prophecy.

There are some things which really show the age of the book, the casual racism for once, the depiction of women as incapable of controlling their feelings another. Each character feels like a certain stereotype, and a strong, non-male character is missing, at least in my opinion.

Then there is the casual incest which really adds NOTHING to the story. Absolutely nothing. The author has written a really good afterword, but the explanation that in face of war and oppression, people tend to act out in other ways is really not enough for me.

While this was a very slow, flawed read for me, it was not all bad, and I would like to quote a part of the authors afterword here:

Tigana is in good part a novel about memory: the necessity of it, in cultural termns, and the dangers that come when it is too intense.

guy gavriel kay

3/5 duckies

I’d like to feel a shiver, please.

Lately I’ve read a few books that were supposed to send shivers down my back, or a tingle up my spine, or at least give me a mild case of goosebumps, but all they did was make me wonder whether my sense of thrill is broken.

Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes, published 08 February 2022.

It was hailed as Titanic meets Event Horizon and that is more or less what you get. A luxury space liner adrift for two decades. An emergency signal picked up by a small crew. As soon as the crew enters the space liner they know something is wrong. The whole ship is frozen. The passengers are dead, but something moved. They all saw something move out of the corner of their eyes.

It wasn't that big of a surprise to me, what was behind the horror. Still, the book was interesting and entertaining enough for me to stick it out till the end.

3/5 Harpy Eagles


The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake, first published January 2020.

Take a secret society that is the heir to the Great Library of Alexandria, six young magicians, who are the best of the best, and a building that is very English and that is to be the home of the young magicians until the initiation, when one of them has to be murdered by the others.

Dark academia YA fantasy, unlikable characters that hardly ever interact with each other, lots of telling instead of showing, stilted dialogue, a big twist that just isn't. And this is the revised edition?! I do not want to know what the first - unrevised - edition looked like.

This book will have its following. It's been hyped on TikTok and has a wonderful cover. It just wasn't for me.

1/5 Harpy Eagles


Sundial by Catriona Ward, published 10 March 2022 (UK).

"... [A] twisty horror novel..." Erm, no.
Lots of animal cruelty and child torture? Yes. 
Did I enjoy the prose style? No. 
Did I guess the twist(s) beforehand? Yes.
Would I recommend the book to anyone? No.





1/5 Harpy Eagles

19th century Edinburgh in two novels

Books are perfect to travel to different places and different times; I don’t need to tell you this, I know. My recent reading took me to Edinburgh in the 19th century. Both books not only had the setting in common, both books also dealt with the study of the human body and the supernatural. Now that I think of it, both even offered a spot of romance.

The first novel was Anatomy by Dana Schwartz. The cover hooked me, the blurb got me:

Edinburgh, 1817.

Hazel Sinnett is a lady who wants to be a surgeon more than she wants to marry.

Jack Currer is a resurrection man who’s just trying to survive in a city where it’s too easy to die.

When the two of them have a chance encounter outside the Edinburgh Anatomist’s Society, Hazel thinks nothing of it at first. But after she gets kicked out of renowned surgeon Dr. Beecham’s lectures for being the wrong gender, she realizes that her new acquaintance might be more helpful than she first thought. Because Hazel has made a deal with Dr. Beecham: if she can pass the medical examination on her own, the university will allow her to enroll. Without official lessons, though, Hazel will need more than just her books – she’ll need bodies to study, corpses to dissect.

Lucky that she’s made the acquaintance of someone who digs them up for a living, then.

But Jack has his own problems: strange men have been seen skulking around cemeteries, his friends are disappearing off the streets. Hazel and Jack work together to uncover the secrets buried not just in unmarked graves, but in the very heart of Edinburgh society.

Well, this should have been my jam – apart from it being a YA novel: Gothic tale, a mystery, a romance. It wasn’t. But it sure has a great cover.

It’s the autumn of 1817, our teenage heroine, Hazel, is a smart red-head who lives in a castle. She’s read every medical book in her father’s library and knows how to distinguish the humerus from the femur, but doesn’t know that becoming a female physician – that is a woman who’s a medical professional – is not in her future. And no, before you think something along the lines of, but this girl will use her strong will to show the patriarchy what’s what, forget it. She’s the kind of girl who’s flabbergasted when she find out that her future husband will determine whether she might practice medicine, given that she first has to be allowed to study and pass the exam. Basically, we have a 21st century girl in a 19th century setting.

Jack is a dull character. He snatches bodies out of graves and sells them to anatomists. He has a crush on an actress. He snatches bodies out of graves… Oh, I said that already. Well, you get the picture.

The pacing of the novel is off. The blurb is a summary of the first 40% of the book. The mystery was a no show until about 75%. Then we get the story going, wrapped up, and a potential sequel hinted at in the remaining quarter.

While I was waiting for the (not really baffling) mystery, I realised a lot of inconsistencies with the time and place of the story: Word of mouth goes round about a teenager performing medical procedures alone in her house – but no authority cares. A pregnant woman in labour is walking for hours to get to Hazel instead of finding a midwife near her. A policeman treating Hazel like he has no care in the world about her socially higher standing. Anachronistic language and no distinction in speech between the different social classes. I could continue. There was so much more. Just thinking Edinburgh, late September, sunrise and sunset times, and my hackles rise again. Dear author, how much research did you really put into this book?

One more thing about the romance: Hazel and Jack hiding in the grave of a mutilated body and kissing and falling asleep with said body only feet away – so romantic.

1/5 Harpy Eagles


The second novel that brought me to Edinburgh was set at the other end of the century. It’s Craig Russell’s Hyde, a retelling of the Robert Louis Stevenson story.

Edward Hyde has a strange gift-or a curse-he keeps secret from all but his physician. He experiences two realities, one real, the other a dreamworld state brought on by a neurological condition.

When murders in Victorian Edinburgh echo the ancient Celtic threefold death ritual, Captain Edward Hyde hunts for those responsible. In the process he becomes entangled in a web of Celticist occultism and dark scheming by powerful figures. The answers are there to be found, not just in the real world but in the sinister symbolism of Edward Hyde’s otherworld.

He must find the killer, or lose his mind.

A dark tale. One that inspires Hyde’s friend . . . Robert Louis Stevenson.

It is always a problem for me to write a long review about a book that I enjoyed.

Hyde is a dark-ish character. He’s not the monster Stevenson painted, but works for the Edinburgh police force. He’s been hiding his episodes since his childhood, recently they have become more severe. So severe, that Hyde fears he might be the brutal killer himself. Coming out of his “spells,” he finds himself close to the murder victims too often for it to be coincidence.

The occult dark part was a tiny bit predictable for me. I have read similar stories and knew who the puppet master pulling the strings was early on. This did not diminish my enjoyment of the story, though.

Russell played with the original duality of Stevenson’s story, but gave it a different twist. Setting, characters and plot development made sense. Add a few cameos and they made me overlook the few inconsistencies.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

The Counterclockwise Heart

The Counterclockwise Heart is a middle-grade fantasy by Brian Farrey, published by Algonquin Young Readers on 01 February 2022.

Short summary provided by the publishers:

Tick . . . tick . . . tick . . .


Time is running out in the empire of Rheinvelt.
 
The sudden appearance of a strange and frightening statue foretells darkness. The Hierophants—magic users of the highest order—have fled the land. And the shadowy beasts of the nearby Hinterlands are gathering near the borders, preparing for an attack.
 
Young Prince Alphonsus is sent by his mother, the Empress Sabine, to reassure the people while she works to quell the threat of war. But Alphonsus has other problems on his mind, including a great secret: He has a clock in his chest where his heart should be—and it’s begun to run backwards, counting down to his unknown fate.
 
Searching for answers about the clock, Alphonsus meets Esme, a Hierophant girl who has returned to the empire in search of a sorceress known as the Nachtfrau. When riddles from their shared past threaten the future of the empire, Alphonsus and Esme must learn to trust each other and work together to save it—or see the destruction of everything they both love.

The ARC for this book was offered to me, with the words:

Perfect for fans of Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly and The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, THE COUNTERCLOCKWISE HEART demonstrates that, in the words of Esme, “stupid compassion must be contagious.”

Perfect might be overstretching it, but I enjoyed my time with the book, once I sat down and read it. (My fault, I kept pushing the book back onto the virtual #MountARC.) It’s definitely perfect for the kind of middle-grade reader who likes to read more mature books and can handle darker topics of death, grief, violence; those are done gracefully not gory and too dark.

Although I am a native of German, I actually struggled with the German words within the story. They pulled me out of the flow of the story more often than I liked. This might be a problem for younger readers, too. Even more so, since most of the words are not explained or translated. Young readers might not bother about the hidden meaning of those words, but I was wondering what Germanic folklore exactly Farrey was hinting at. So I checked the word “Nachtfrau” (night woman), for example. It’s been out of use for a long time, and I was only vaguely familiar with the term. It used to refer to a female ghost-like creature that was supposed to drain the blood from children’s bodies; a bo(o)geyman story told to children to make them behave well. The Nachtfrau in The Counterclockwise Heart isn’t a ghost, nor does she drink children’s blood, nevertheless she is a figure people are afraid of.

My favourite character is Esme. She’s strong. She was brought up in a small community of Hierophants in the North who blames the Nachtfrau for their problems. Despite having been told to loathe the sorceress, Esme is strong enough to trust her own instincts. She weighs what she learned growing up against what she learned during her travels. She uses her brain and heart to determine whether what she had been told is actually true, and makes an informed decision based on facts, rather than ‘fiction’.

The magic system Farrey came up with is wonderful. It’s a system of balance: if you use energy for your spell that means you have to give back something. Some sort of energy conservation. This way magic actually added to the story, since it couldn’t be used as a panacea for all sorts of problems; using magic carelessly might cause more trouble.

A good middle-grade novel that, since that’s the one I read and liked, fans of Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon will certainly enjoy.

3/5 Harpy Eagles (or Goodreads stars)

About the author:

Brian Farrey is the author of The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse, winner of the 2017 Minnesota Book Award, and the Stonewall honor book With or Without You.  He lives in  Minnesota with his husband and their sweet but occasionally evil cats. You can find him online at brianfarreybooks.com and on Twitter: @BrianFarrey.

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