Books I’ve Read This Week: January 1-January 7, 2018

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 1 – Book Selection: My Book a Day 2018 project is off to a strong start as I found plenty of time to read this week while at home recovering from the flu. My biggest challenge was choosing among my books. In recent months, my to-read shelf has expanded greatly. I have been sent review copies of recent royal history books, received copies of books by other authors at literary events and purchased signed books at book launches. I participated in a bookstore marketing workshop last year and received a substantial gift card. I love browsing second hand bookstores and rarely leave one without purchasing a few titles. Last summer, I bought a monthly Audible subscription and often purchase additional audiobook titles in the Daily Deals. After examining my book stack, I decided to read two royal history books, three other works of non-fiction, and two novels (including a classic) this week. Here are my reviews:

#1 of 365: The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution by Yuri Slezkine

Genre: History 

Format: Hardcover, 1104 pages

Acquired: Purchased at Indigo, Yonge&Eglinton, Toronto

Dates Read: December 26, 2017-January 1, 2018

Review:  The House of Government begins “This is a Work of History. Any resemblance to fictional characters, dead or alive, is entirely coincidental” and what follows is a thousand page Russian history book that reads like a classic Russian novel complete with interconnected families, political intrigue and sudden rises and falls and fortunes. Slezkine examines Moscow’s “House of Government,” the residence that housed some of the most prominent figures in the USSR during the 1920s and 1930s and their families. The book provides a fascinating looks at the social and literary history of Russia between the Revolutions of 1917 and the Second World War and is particularly compelling when it compares public and private life in the Soviet Union.

#2 of 365 The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith

Genre: Fiction

Format: Hardcover, 227 pages

Acquired: Purchased at an Alexander McCall Smith book signing at the Toronto Reference Library

Date Read: January 2, 2018

Review:  I’ve read the entire No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and enjoy Detective Precious Ramotswe’s quiet wisdom and insights. For longtime readers of the series, The House of Unexpected Sisters is an especially enjoyable read because the central mystery concerns the detective’s own family and childhood. (Another mystery, concerning a wrongful dismissal from an office furniture supply warehouse provides some comic relief as Mma Makutsi, Rra Polopetsi and Charlie all bring their own approaches to the case.) If this is the final book in the series, it provides an emotionally satisfying conclusion.

#3 of 365 Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Genre: Classic Novel

Format: Audiobook read by Prunella Scales, 6 hours, 45 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from 

Dates Listened: January 2-3, 2018

Review: A gentle and witty social satire of small town English life during the 1830s and 1840s. There are many depressing 19th century novels but Cranford has a happy, heartwarming ending for all the characters and is enjoyable from beginning to end. The audiobook is well read by Prunella Scales, who does an excellent job of bringing out the personalities of the characters and the humour in the social situations. For readers interested in royal history, the novel contains hint of the cultural impact of King William IV and Queen Adelaide as the town general store sells bonnets based on the claim that the same designs were worn by the Queen (and admired by the King), and the women of Cranford embroider “loyalty woolworks” consisting of portraits of Queen Adelaide.

#4 of 365 The Crown: The Official Companion: Volume 1 by Robert Lacey

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 336 pages

Acquired: Review Copy

Date Read: January 4, 2018

Review: Excellent companion volume to Season 1 of The Crown on Netflix. Beautifully illustrated with images from the TV series and historical images of the royal family, demonstrating how the series recreated particular scenes and costumes. Each chapter examines an episode from Season 1, separating fact from fiction and providing mini biographies of major and minor characters. Royal titles and styles, royal residences and frequently misunderstood terms such as “regnal name” and “morganatic marriage” are also explained. Recommended to all viewers of The Crown on Netflix who are interested in learning more of the history behind the drama.

#5 of 365 Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

Genre: History

Format: Audiobook read by Ruth Redman, 14 hours and 16 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from

Dates Listened: January 3-January 5, 2018

Review: Lucy Worsley’s biography of Jane Austen is told through the study of the houses that Austen lived and visited and the portrayals of domestic life in her novels. Austen and her mother and sister experienced frequent moves and financial troubles over the course of their lives and the instability of Austen’s domestic settings informed the concerns of the heroines of her novels. Worsley’s enthusiasm for Austen’s writing and the historic houses of the time is clear throughout the text and she reads the introduction and epilogue of the audiobook. A fascinating listen, filled with details about Austen’s domestic life and the challenges faced by Georgian women.

#6 of 365: Frontier City: Toronto on the Verge of Greatness by Shawn Micallef

Genre: Non-Fiction

Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages

Acquired:  Purchased at Indigo, Yonge&Eglinton, Toronto

Read: January 5-6, 2018

Review: In Frontier City, Micallef examines of Toronto’s recent municipal politics, public transit, construction and the system of ravine parks that connects the city. In each chapter, he visits a Toronto neighbourhood with a candidate for city council, examining the common concerns that knit Toronto together as a city. The book is filled with thoughtful insights about how Toronto’s past continues to shape perceptions of the city and the potential for an exciting future.

#7 of 365. George and Marina: Duke and Duchess of Kent by Christopher Warwick.

Genre: Royal History

Format: Audiobook read by Gildart Jackson, 7 hours and 35 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from

Dates Listened: January 6-7, 2018

Review: In George and Marina, royal biographer Christopher Warwick provides a good overview of the lives of Queen Elizabeth II’s uncle and aunt, the Duke and Duchess of Kent. (As “Aunt Marina,” the Duchess makes a brief appearance in the final episode of Season 2 of the Crown on Netflix). The book provides an especially interesting summary of Marina’s extensive connections to the royal families of Europe including the Romanovs. Both her grandmothers made narrow escapes from the Russian Revolutions of 1917. Marina’s influence on women’s fashion and George’s enthusiasm for interior decorating are also discussed in the book. I would have been interested to read more about the Duke and Duchess of Kent’s Commonwealth tours including the Duke’s time in Canada during the Second World War and Marina’s extensive travels during the 1950s.

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My review of Crowns and Colonies (eds. Aldrich and McCreery) in the Royal Studies Journal

My review of Crowns and Colonies: European Monarchies and Overseas Empires, edited by Robert Aldrich and Cindy McCreery has been published in the December 2017 issue of the Royal Studies Journal.

The Royal Studies Journal is available online. Click here to read Aldrich & McCreery (eds.), Crowns and Colonies: European Monarchies and Overseas Empires (Manchester University Press, 2016), reviewed by 

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My 2nd book Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe is now available in paperback

I am pleased to announce that my 2nd book, Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette is now available in paperback for $39.99 and as an e-book for $29.99.

Book Description:

Queen Marie Antoinette, wife of King Louis XVI of France and Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I of England were two of the most notorious queens in European history. They both faced accusations that they had transgressed social, gender and regional norms, and attempted to defend themselves against negative reactions to their behavior. Each queen engaged with the debates of her time concerning the place of women within their families, religion, politics, the public sphere and court culture and attempted to counter criticism of her foreign origins and political influence. The impeachment of Henrietta Maria in 1643 and trial and execution of Marie Antoinette in 1793 were also trials of monarchical government that shaped the English Civil Wars and French Revolution.

Click here to order Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette from Palgrave History.

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Imperial Russia Book Reviews: 1913 Diary of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna and Maria and Anastasia: The Youngest Romanov Grand Duchesses in Their Own Words

Grand Duchess Maria (1899-1918) is the least well known of the four daughters of Russia’s last Czar, Nicholas II and his consort, Empress Alexandra. Her two older sisters, Grand Duchess Olga (1895-1918) and Grand Duchess Tatiana (1897-1918) came of age and made their debut in Russian high society before the outbreak of the First World War and continued to be prominent public figures in wartime as nurses and heads of charitable organization. Maria’s younger sister, Grand Duchess Anastasia (1901-1918) became famous after her death as she was impersonated by numerous women who claimed to have survived the massacre of the Imperial family in 1918. In the context of her family, Maria was overshadowed by her sisters and younger brother, the heir to the throne, Grand Duke Alexei (1904-1918) and there is evidence that she sometimes felt overlooked in her own lifetime.

 In recent decades, the publication of new primary source material concerning the imprisonment and murder of the Romanovs has done little for Maria’s reputation and historical legacy. A 1918 interview with Vassili Yakolev, the Bolshevik Commissar who escorted Nicholas, Alexandra and Maria from Tobolsk to Ekaterinburg (their final place of imprisonment), translated and reprinted in The Fall of the Romanovs: Political Dreams and Personal Struggles in a Time of Revolution dismisses Maria in a few lines: “Maria, the Romanovs’ daughter, is completely immature for her years. She has no understanding at all of life in the broad sense of the word. She is under the strong influence of her mother.” The 2005 book The Fate of the Romanovs, quotes extensively from biased Bolshevik sources and presents the teenaged Maria as a flirt who was censured by her family because of her friendly relations with the soldiers who kept the Romanovs under guard in 1917 and 1918.  Helen Rappaport’s books about the Imperial family are kinder to Maria but Rappaport still emphasizes Maria’s perceived flirtations, concluding that “Gauche and naive, she was an innocent abroad in the company of men” in The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg.

Two new volumes of Maria’s letters and diaries,1913 Diary of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna: Complete Tercentennial Journal of the Third Daughter of the Last Tsar and Maria and Anastasia: The Youngest Romanov Grand Duchesses In Their Own Words: Letters, Diaries, Postcards, edited by Helen Azar, finally allow the Grand Duchess to speak for her herself and demonstrate that she was not fully understood by those who met her in passing during the final months of her life. Klavdia Bitner, a tutor employed in 1917 noted that the Grand Duchesses were unfamiliar with certain contemporary authors and concluded that they were indifferently educated but Maria’s 1913 diary reveals that at the age of thirteen and fourteen, Maria’s days were dominated by lessons. On February 5, 1913, she wrote, “Had lessons in the morning…[In the afternoon] Had a dance lesson. Had a music lesson…Then did homework.” A report card from that year demonstrates that Maria received top marks from all of her tutors and that she experienced a wide variety of educational opportunities from frequent visits to theatre and ballet to physics lessons in the science lab of a secondary school near the Alexander Palace.

During the First World War, Nicholas II spent months at a time at military headquarters as Commander-in-Chief of the Russian army and his daughters wrote him frequent letters. Of the four sisters, Maria may have been the most descriptive letter writer, providing detailed and thoughtful accounts of the hospital where she volunteered with her sister Anastasia. On May 29, 1916, Maria wrote to her father, “This afternoon we rode around then went to our infirmary. Almost all the wounded are lying in the tent…Those who are able, walk to the Catherine Park and sail around the lake in row boats. They really enjoy this and always ask the nurses to go with them.”

Both Maria’s 1913 diary and her wartime letters demonstrate how closely she and her sisters were integrated into their father’s close relationship with the military: all four of the Grand Duchesses became honourary Colonels-in-Chief of regiments from the age of fourteen, attended military reviews, organized social events for military personnel and volunteered in military hospitals. This routine meant that Maria was comfortable socializing with soldiers from a young age. Her interest in the daily lives of soldiers and ability to create a friendly rapport would be interpreted as flirtation by Bolshevik observers after her family was placed under guard following Nicholas’s abdication in March 1917.

Maria’s diaries and letters also provide insights concerning the daily routine and social circle of the Russian Imperial family during the 1913 tercentennial of the Romanov dynasty and the First World War. The involvement of two of Czar Nicholas II’s relatives, his cousin Grand Duke Dmitri and nephew by marriage Prince Felix Yusupov, in the 1916 murder of Grigori Rasputin seems to demonstrate a longstanding estrangement between Nicholas and his extended family but Maria’s letters and diaries demonstrate that Nicholas, Alexandra and their children had a warm relationship with numerous members of the Romanov extended family. Maria appears to have been particularly close to the “Ai-Todorsky,” the children of her Aunt, Grand Duchess Xenia, including Princess Irina, who married Felix Yusupov.

Maria was murdered with the rest of her family on the night of July 16-17, 1918, soon after her nineteenth birthday. Her final letters demonstrate that she was the most hopeful member of her family in their final months. In a letter written just two months before her death, Maria wrote, “It is difficult to write anything pleasant, because there is very little of it here to report, but on the other hand, God does not abandon us, the sun shines and the birds sing.” The publication of Maria’s letters and diaries provide valuable new insights about life within Russia’s last Imperial family from 1913 to 1918 and show Maria to be an intelligent and thoughtful observer of her family’s experiences during the Romanov tercentennial, First World War and Russian Revolution.

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Tudor Book Reviews: The King’s Pearl by Melita Thomas and So High a Blood by Morgan Ring

The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and His Daughter Mary by Melita Thomas

The childhood of Queen Mary I has long been viewed through the perspective of her adolescence and adulthood. As Melita Thomas, observes, Mary was known for centuries as “Bloody Mary” because of the executions of Protestants during her short reign and has recently been rediscovered as “Tragic Mary” because of the devastating impact of the divorce of her parents, King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, on her life. As a result, Mary is viewed as her mother’s daughter and the dynastic marriage negotiations of her childhood are often treated as doomed to failure from the beginning.

In The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and His Daughter Mary, Thomas re-evaluates the relationship between Henry VIII and Mary I, emphasizing Mary’s political and personal significance to her father. The dynastic marriage negotiations of Mary’s childhood are taken seriously as Henry attempted to increase his prominence in European politics by securing prestigious marriage for Mary. Henry’s relations with Catherine’s nephew, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, are particularly well analyzed by Thomas as the prospect of having a grandson who would rule most of Europe seemed to reconcile Henry to the prospect of a female heir.

Thomas makes clear that popular opinion within England and the rest of Europe deemed Mary to be Henry’s heir until the birth of a younger brother, despite the efforts of Henry and Anne Boleyn to assert their daughter’s Elizabeth’s seniority in the succession through the Act of Supremacy. After Anne’s execution, there were doubts concerning whether Henry would have subsequent children with his third wife, Jane Seymour. Mary therefore remained politically significant event after she had been declared illegitimate.

Thomas devotes less attention to the personal bond between Henry and Mary beyond their shared love of music, gardens and courtly display as well as willingness to take risks to achieve their political ambitions but this imbalance reflects the available source material. There is more evidence of Mary’s personal relations with her successive stepmothers from her antipathy toward Anne Boleyn to her warm friendship with Katherine Parr. Mary’s determination to be an active rather than passive participant in Tudor politics is evident throughout the book. The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and His Daughter Mary is an interesting and well researched counterpoint to prevailing image of Mary I as a “Bloody” or “Tragic” figure. Like her half-siblings, Elizabeth I and Edward VI, she was a child of Henry VIII and his influence had a lifelong impact on her politics and personality.

So High a Blood: The Story of Margaret Douglas, the Tudor that Time Forgot by Morgan Ring

One of Queen Mary I’s closest friends was her Scottish cousin Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of King Henry VIII’s sister Margaret Tudor and her second husband Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. Margaret Douglas was a prominent figure at the Tudor court during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Through her grandson, King James VI of Scotland/James I of England, she is an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II. Despite her importance during the sixteenth century and the dramatic circumstances of her life – she was imprisoned in the Tower of London on more than one occasion – Margaret Douglas is little known today. Her long residence at the Tudor court resulted in her being marginalized in histories of sixteenth century Scotland while her Scottish ancestry meant that she received little attention in histories of England during the same period.

In So High a Blood: The Story of Margaret Douglas, the Tudor that Time Forgot, Morgan Ring presents Margaret Douglas a strong and adaptable personality, a key figure in the religious and political upheaval of Elizabeth I’s reign and a consummate survivor. Margaret enjoyed the rare ability of reconciling with Henry VIII after incurring his displeasure on more than one occasion because of her romances with members of the Howard family. The exclusion of the Scottish line from Henry VIII’s will, however, suggests that they were in conflict at the time of his death and Ring provides a convincing analysis of these circumstances in her book.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, Margaret, a devout Roman Catholic who had enjoyed a close friendship with Mary I, opposed the Queen’s Protestant religious settlement. Margaret also favoured the marriage of her elder son, Lord Darnley, to Mary, Queen of Scots in opposition to Queen Elizabeth I’s wishes. After Darnley’s death, Margaret blamed Mary, Queen of Scots and enjoyed an improved relationship with Elizabeth that lasted until Margaret’s younger son married without the Queen’s permission. As the mother of two sons who survived to adulthood (a circumstance that was rare among the Tudors) and then as the grandmother of the King of Scotland, Margaret was an important political figure throughout Elizabeth I’s reign. Ring restores a little known member of the Tudor dynasty to her rightful place in sixteenth century history.

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Nova Scotia Book Tour Dates in September

I will be giving readings, delivering lectures and signing books in Wolfville and Halifax, Nova Scotia in September. All are welcome! Here’s the book tour schedule:

September 14, 7pm: I will be giving a reading from my new book, Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting at The Box of Delight’s Bookshop in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Book signing to follow. More information available here.

September 15, 2:30pm: I will be giving a lecture about my 2nd book, Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette for the Early Modern Studies Program at the University of King’s College in Halifax. Signed copies of all three of my books will be available for purchase. Click here for more information.

September 16, 12pm: I will be participating in the Word on Street Halifax festival, giving a presentation about my 3rd book, Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting at the Halifax Central Library. Book signing to follow. The full schedule for the festival is available here.

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Book Reviews: The Penguin Monarchs Series: Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II

Edward VII: The Cosmopolitan King by Richard Davenport-Hines is filled with fascinating details about the King’s life including his enthusiasm for games (he had a bowling alley installed at the Marlborough Club) and popularity across Europe (there is still a park named for the King in Lisbon, Portugual) Davenport-Hines captures the atmosphere of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras as the Prince of Wales set the tone for the country house parties of “the smart set.” The author is less successful at describing the king’s personal relationships and engages in needless criticism of the physical appearance of Edward VII’s wife, Queen Alexandra, daughter-in-law, Queen Mary and daughters, Princesses Louise, Victoria and Maud. The 1860 tour of Canada and the United States, Edward’s first overseas tour as Prince of Wales, is almost entirely ignored. ***

Further Reading:

Bertie: A Life of Edward VII by Jane Ridley

George V: The Unexpected King is the best of the biographies of 20th century monarchs in the series. David Cannadine strikes the right balance between the King’s personal life and political views and presents his reign as a turning point when the royal family turned their personal attention from the extended family of European monarchs to the wider British Empire. George’s decision to deny asylum to his cousin, Czar Nicholas II in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, which had tragic consequences, is presented in this context of gradual withdrawal from the close bonds that united Europe’s royal houses before the First World War. Cannadine also discusses how the reign of George V saw the invention or revival of modern royal traditions including the Windsor name, the monarch’s annual Christmas broadcast and royal weddings in Westminster Abbey. *****

Further Reading:

The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan

Edward VIII: The Uncrowned King attempts to provide a balanced portrait of the controversial king who abdicated in 1936 to marry the twice divorced Wallis Simpson. Piers Brendon describes Edward’s accomplishments as Prince of Wales including raising morale on the Western Front during the First World War and successful tours of the British Empire and Dominions during the 1920s and 1930s. Brendon also examines Edward’s difficult relationship with his parents, limited education, self-centered outlook on life, and the frequent contrast between his public and private behaviour as Prince of Wales and King. Edward’s unsavoury political activities including his enthusiasm for Nazi Germany and interference in a murder case in the Bahamas do not receive enough attention and the tone of the biography is sometimes overly sympathetic to the King. ***

Further Reading:

The Woman Before Wallis by Andrew Rose

That Woman by Anne Sebba

 George VI: The Dutiful King presents Queen Elizabeth II’s father as a monarch who spent most his life overcoming his personal inclination for a quiet, retiring life to do his duty as King after the abdication of his elder brother, Edward VIII. Philip Ziegler, who previously wrote a full length biography of Edward VIII,  provides a nuanced portrait of George VI as a political figure, especially his popularity during the Second World War. Ziegler pays less attention to the King’s personal life. George VI’s successful marriage to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) receives some attention but the example and training that George VI provided for his daughter and successor should have received greater attention in this otherwise insightful biography. ****

Further Reading:

Princes at War by Deborah Cadbury

Elizabeth II: The Steadfast is a warm tribute to Queen Elizabeth II by Douglas Hurd, who has spent time with the Queen as British Home Secretary then Foreign Secretary. The preface is by the Queen’s grandson, HRH The Duke of Cambridge (Prince William). The Queen is the most well traveled monarch in history and Hurd captures the atmosphere of royal tours. Hurd also discusses the Queen’s approach to her role, which combines caution and reserve with a willingness to embrace new technologies from television for the coronation in 1953 to social media for royal tours today. The scope of the Queen’s long reign, however, cannot be summarized in a short biography and there are whole aspects of the Queen’s reign, including her stewardship of the Royal Collection of art and subtle political influence in her role as Head of the Commonwealth, which are discussed in much greater detail in other books.  ***

Further Reading: 

Monarchy and the End of Empire by Philip Murphy

Our Queen by Robert Hardman

The Diamond Queen by Andrew Marr

Elizabeth the Queen by Sally Bedell Smith

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New Review of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting in the History of Royal Women Blog

Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting has been reviewed on the History of Royal Women Blog.

Here’s an except of the review:

“The difficulty of raising children in such an unusual role in life is quite an interesting subject, and Carolyn Harris has even managed to build bridges between the different people to make it a flowing story. I would highly recommend this book.”

Click here to read the full review on the History of Royal Women blog

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New Review of Raising Royalty in History of Royals Magazine

My 3rd book, Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting, has received a full page review  in History of Royals Magazine in the UK.

“The book is a fascinating source of well researched information and a great addition to the shelves of royalists and historians alike. Trying to cram 1,000 years worth of knowledge into one book is no mean feat and Harris does it with flair, making the information easily digested.”

Click here to read the review of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting in History of Royals Magazine

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How Kings and Queens Raised Their Children – An Interview with Carolyn Harris

 My latest interview about my new book Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting examines how royal parenting gained a negative reputation, why the book examines royal parenting over the course of a thousand years and what the biggest difference is between royal parenting in medieval times and modern times.

Click here to read “How Kings and Queens Raised Their Children” at

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