What We’re Actually Reading: January 2017

Wanna hear something crazy? Back in the day, we used to do a feature called What We’re Actually Reading, where we’d talk about – get this – the other books we were reading. I know. On a book blog. Madness.

And we’re bringing it back! Ariel’s joining in on the fun this time, and Matthew has a pathetically tiny 21-book goal to get through in 2017 (btw Matthew is writing this right now hello), and we figure it’s always fun to talk about books we actually want to read every now and then. Although they’re still not always good.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

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Why’d I Read This?

A book blogger I follow told me she thought it was really bad, but that other people seemed to really enjoy it. “AHA!” I thought immediately, “I run a blog where this might have just the home! Or if I love it, then I’ve also won!”

The book serves as the origin story of the Queen of Hearts, and imagines that Catherine used to be a passionate baker who longed for a simple life. However, the King of Hearts takes an interest in her, and her well-to-do, overbearing family pressure her into going along with his courtship. BUT UH OH the sexy court jester, aptly named Jest, is actually the man of Catherine’s dreams, so what is a girl to do?

Bad Book OR Good Time?

Bad book, but not enough of a bad book that making fun of it chapter by chapter would necessarily be a good time. I have been considering it, but given how many books with have in our backlog, it doesn’t quite make the cut.

The book is super repetitive (seriously, the whole thing is just Catherine hating that the king is courting her and wishing she could be with Jest instead), and Catherine isn’t particularly compelling. There are a number of things that could have been done to make the ending actually seem inevitable – instead, a lot of the situations seemed contrived. “Whelp, this doesn’t really make much sense, but hey, she has to become the Queen of Hearts somehow, so here we are.”

If at one point she had just tried to be honest with the king that she didn’t have feelings for him, and he had reacted in a way where you understood why Catherine couldn’t get out of the situation, that would have really helped the story.

Can You Explain It In Terms of Other Books We Read On This Blog?

No. Matthew is forcing me to answer this. I would argue it’s like the reverse of Sweet Valley Confidential where instead of an unsatisfying sequel, you can an unsatisfying prequel. 

-Ariel

One Bloody Thing After Another by Joey Comeau

Why’d I Read This?

I was a huge fan of A Softer World – the webcomic Joey Comeau did with Emily Horne – but somehow I’ve only read one of his novels before. ASW fans will be right at home with OBTAA, which hits a similarly surreal balance of quiet comedy and unrelenting sadness. It’s a horror story that juggles a few characters’ horror stories. We have a vengeful ghost, we have a flesh-eating monster, and we have unrequited teenage love. Just all kinds of horrors, really.

Bad Book OR Good Time?

Largely a good time! Comeau’s vignette-style writing handles the multi-character juggling with short chapters that offer more impressions than answers. The effect does wonders for turning characters into actual people, although the multiple stories don’t get woven together at the end quite as neatly as they all deserved. The horror didn’t stick with me like his other work, but it was a funnier horror novel. That’s definitely a good time.

Can You Explain It In Terms of Other Books We Read On This Blog?

Like Goosebumps, but instead of each chapter ending with a fake-out scare, they’re existential dread. But in a funny way. And with lesbians.

-Matthew

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

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Why’d I Read This?

Maas fever was spreading, and my Twitter feed was blowing up when A Court of Mist and Fury (the sequel to ACOTAR) came out, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Again, I always read books with the ulterior motive of being on the lookout for bad books, so I’m always kind of surprised when a book winds up totally winning me over despite there being some dumb and/or cliche elements to it.

ACOTAR is kind of a reimagining of Beauty and the Beast. Feyre kills a fairy disguised as a wolf, and his friend shows up for retribution. It was all very magical, but seemed really stupid to me because she gets whisked away from poverty and a family that is shitty to her to this gorgeous mansion where everyone is really nice to her and only kind of irritated she killed their friend. BUT THEN IT ALL WINDS UP MAKING SENSE! You guys, I couldn’t believe it.

Bad Book OR Good Time?

Good time! There are things in this story you have seen before, but ultimately I enjoyed the characters, there are some great action scenes, and I liked both the romanic leads. Their connection made sense to me, and it actually took time to grow and develop and wasn’t over the course of two days like we normally read here. I enjoyed the first half of the story, but the second half is where it’s really at. Come talk to me if you read it!

Can You Explain It In Terms of Other Books We Read On This Blog?

If Gideon and Christian were still rich and powerful but also genuinely nice dudes who respected the women they were with. Also if they were fantasy creatures of some sort.

-Ariel

Screw Everyone by Ophira Eisenberg

Why’d I Read This?

This was actually a recommendation from a date from last summer, appropriately (?) enough. And I’ve seen Ophira’s stand-up before and haven’t read a memoir in… ever. I probably didn’t really need to write more of an explanation than “funny sex memoir”, I am now realizing. Also I was too sad to finish reading Roxane Gay’s new book this month.

Bad Book OR Good Time?

Funny sex memoir. What do you think? We read so much fucking erotica for this blog, it’s nice to sit back with some personal anecdotes that seem more like things that real human people experience. And it helps that it’s pretty hilarious. Comedy is tragedy plus time! Which isn’t a bad sex tip, come to think of it.

Can You Explain It In Terms of Other Books We Read On This Blog?

Calendar Girl, but if the sex were less “an earth-shattering orgasm erupted from my O-trigger” and more, say, “misery loves company”. Or Crossfire if it described the dating scene in New York City in a way that actually resembled the dating scene in New York City.

-Matthew

What have you read this last month? Share what you’ve been reading in the comments!

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20 comments

  1. Rebecca Reply

    I finished Me Before You this week and cried so super hard 🙁 it was actually the first book I bothered reading of my own prompting in like a year, at least. I finished it in 8 hours. It was emotionally shattering and evocative, but I don’t know how to recommend it to people without saying it might ruin their lives. I think I might read A Court of Thorns and Roses now…sounds like my kind of thing.

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    • 22aer22 Post authorReply

      Omg I watched that movie on my place ride over Christmas. I cried a lot but also hated it, it was weird experience. I heard the sequel is also really sad, but the movie made it seem like there was a happy ending, which was such a weird choice! Definitely curious about the book, though, I have a feeling it works better than as a film.

      Give it a read! I’d love to know your thoughts on it.

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  2. Mara Reply

    I actually read two books this month! Which is cool, because I’ve been so busy doing other book related things this past year, I haven’t done much reading at all. (And most of the reading I have done has been with this blog.) But I went and finished The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter, which was… Somewhere between gothic fiction and magical realism, it’s about an orphan girl who goes to live with her cruel uncle in the house above his toyshop. And it’s set in the sixties. And it’s pretty weird. The prose is quite pretty, though it spends a lot of time wallowing in uncomfortable gothic squalor, and it uses the tropes of gothic literature to provide an interesting feminist commentary, but… so much of that book had me going “…why?” But I guess it’s one of those things–you either love it or you don’t.

    …And then I went and read Soul Music by Terry Pratchett–which, like most of his work, is a fantastical satiric comedy. This one specifically about the rise of rock and roll. I loved it. But then, I tend to love most of Pratchett’s books. Prachtett is always a lot of fun.

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  3. wordswithhannah Reply

    I’m always on the look-out for new book club books! Unfortunately, my contemporaries don’t share my affection for YA, so I’ll have to take a look at “One Bloody Thing After Another”. I’m a faithful “Ask Me Another” listener, so I’m glad to hear that Ophira’s as good in print as she is in stand-up.

    Our January book was a memoir, No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering, and I recommend it. It’s a book that’s far more than the sum of its parts and if (like me) you have anxiety, you’ll wonder if you blacked out and wrote the parts where the author explores her mental health breakdown and its after-effects because she absolutely nails it.

    Over Christmas/New Years, I had unprecedented free time to read, and finished Homegoing: A Novel by Yaa Gyesi, which examines the trans-Atlantic slave trade on both sides of the ocean through a series of progressive vignettes, and Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars, which is the parallel story to Hidden Figures about the women who were the US’s “computers” and did all the math that put the first satellites into space BY HAND.

    I also found R.L. Stein’s Fear Street Saga in one volume, called Betrayal, and had to buy it. Lest you be blinded by my highbrow reading choices. XD

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    • matthewjulius Reply

      whoops, sorry for the delayed response here! Should probably point out that One Bloody Thing After Another really isn’t YA. It’s definitely horror. Most of the protagonists are teenagers, but it doesn’t really hit the same notes that I think of when I think YA. It’s a little less coming of age and a little more coming of HORROR AND DREAD.
      I still need to check out Hidden Figures… and Rise of the Rocket Girls too, now, apparently!!!

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  4. Ellie Reply

    I’m surprised you guys liked ACOTAR but not Heartless. Personally I didn’t care for Heartless (but I love the author’s first series, The Lunar Chronicles), but I’ve *never* liked anything Sarah J. Maas put out. Her work tends to be very heteronormative/abusive-y/sexual assault fantasies and I’m just not here for that. I would’ve figured ACOTAR would be more fodder for this blog than a legit recommendation lol!

    I read six books this January and they were all very polarized; either really good or really awful. My favorite was A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwa which had some really interesting concepts concerning blood-based magic and alternate Londons that all coexist on the same plane but at the same time, kind of . . . don’t. As far as I know everybody loves this series and it gets rave reviews, so I’m happy to be on the positive side of a popular book for once!

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    • 22aer22 Post authorReply

      I know! I definitely went into ACOTAR expecting to hate it and see the abusive/rapey stuff, but I didn’t feel that way aside from one questionable scene between Tamlin/Feyre, but ultimately based on their entire relationship and the way Feyre was processing the scene herself, it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the book. It doesn’t bother me that the main relationship is het…but I would not argue against Tamlin/Lucien is the series went in that direction 0:-)

      However, one thing I will say is that I am fucking frightened that Rhysand is going to be the love interest either in the next book or ones after…Tamlin I feel like is genuinely a good guy, and even though Rhysand has his redemption scenes there is still quiiiite a bit of fucked up stuff that needs addressing. I could probably write a whole post on this! Purely focussing on ACOTAR he’s not the love interest, though, so I’m choosing to ignore all the warning signs that he’s end game.

      I haven’t read any of Maas’ other work, so I don’t know if you’re referring to ACOTAR or her other stuff, but I’m definitely interested in hearing more of your take on this one if you read it (what you found abuse-y/sexual assault fantasy)

      OMG Heartless was just so dumb and boring! It actually felt like there was no heart to the story, so the name was perfect. The Lunar Chronicles sounds really cool, though, and I’d like to give the series a go.

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      • Dana Reply

        *MILD SPOILERS*

        Hahahaha, you may not want to read the next book then… to keep it vague, Tamlin experiences an entire character assassination and Rhysand becomes the stand in for the hot imaginary boyfriend Sarah J. Maas clearly wishes she had. I’m also not sure if any of the super fucked up and kind of rapey stuff he does in Book 1 are ever properly addressed.

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        • 22aer22 Post authorReply

          Nooooooo!!!! I probably will end up reading it…but part of me wants to just pretend it’s not a series and be like, “Okay the end bye thanks!” I actually thought everything that happened with Rhysand would have been way more interesting if he didn’t turn out to be a love interest but wound up being an ally, and I figured if he did become a love interest it wouldn’t be like 5 minutes after all this happened. I THOUGHT THERE WAS MORE TIME!!

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    • 22aer22 Post authorReply

      Also meant to say I really want to give A Darker Shade of Magic a go!

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      • Ellie Reply

        Oh, absolutely. I think ACOTAR has kind of a polarizing affect–either people really enjoy it/love it or see it as problematic. From experience I can definitely appreciate liking something in spite of its faults! It’s just there’s some stuff concerning another character (Rhysand, I believe) that’s considered creepy and rapey, and then (no spoilers) like you said, there is a bit of conflict on the changing of love interests in the next book. The fact that the main ship is het is NOT my issue at all, it’s kind of more in consideration of the fact that SJM across the board has very alpha male characters who reinforce the sort of … submissive, claiming-of-a-sexual-partner archetype? Along with the fact that all her non-straight characters are literally throwaway mentions at best because people got on her case about it. The biting thing especially, I’ve heard a lot of people say since it’s a sexual act and it’s forced on Feyre at some point, and that constitutes rape, but at the end of the day Feyre is considered at fault because she “disobeyed” or something… I don’t really remember the details but I do remember not being happy lmao.

        Her Throne of Glass series especially has some questionable content (including hilaribad sex scenes) and I think when you look at her stuff collectively, it’s easier to see the patterns.

        Oh my god, Heartless is so bland and uninspired!! It’s so sad too because I love TLC so much that I had a /fanblog/ for it that I still update… like, I was so excited for anything else Marissa Meyer would write, but Heartless, man… Lunar Chronicles is just so good tbh. If you like fairytales and Sailor Moon and Star Wars, I think you’ll really like TLC. And yes, ADSoM is so good! I think you’d really like that one, it’s got a lovely mature tone while still having young characters, and since I read so much YA it’s a /very/ welcome change. (P.S. I am so sorry for this NOVEL of a comment)

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        • 22aer22 Post authorReply

          I can’t stop thinking about ACOTAR now knowing a bit of what happens in the next book and having to reframe everything I’ve read a bit. I obviously know it’s fine to judge this book of its own merits, but now seeing it as a self-contained piece of work feels wrong. I’m debating doing a bonus series as I read the next one because I imagine there will be a lot I want to blab about that would just overwhelm this comments thread.

          I’m obviously currently writing a novel here as well, so don’t apologize! Also, I have been dying to talk about this, so I’m thrilled.

          “It’s just there’s some stuff concerning another character (Rhysand, I believe) that’s considered creepy and rapey, and then (no spoilers) like you said, there is a bit of conflict on the changing of love interests in the next book.” Yup yup yup. And the thing is I was so excited when Rhysand was introduced as the sexiest guy ever, but then Feyre was immediately like, “He was also terrifying and I had to get away from him ASAP.” I was like OOOH TURNING THINGS ON THEIR HEAD! In the second half of the book when you find out he’s being sexually abused by Amarantha I was really interested. I was furious with the way he was choosing to “help” Feyre, but I could see a friendship/redemption arc. I can’t get over the fact, though, that at the end after they made their deal that she has to come live with him one week every month, he wasn’t like, “That deal was bullshit and manipulative, if you want to come see me again, I’d like that, but I’m not holding you to that.”

          I forgive that he kissed her so Amarantha wouldn’t know she and Tamlin had somehow snuck off to hook up. But I don’t forgive other things he did, like forcing her to drink each night or that he told her most of what he was doing was to rile Tamlin up so when he got his powers back he would be so angry he killed Amarantha. Um, what? Even if that was a lie…what purpose does that lie serve? The argument that he had to keep every piece of his plan a secret from Feyre confounds me because it was pretty clear that he was helping her (and I still don’t understand how Amarantha didn’t pick up on this more.) If Maas was setting him up to be the love interest IN THE NEXT BOOK surely she could have written another approach for him to take to help Feyre without suffering Amarantha’s wrath.

          I’m really scared to see what happens with Tamlin’s character. I loved that Feyre got to kick so much ass and be the hero. I really believed that these two loved each other, and I don’t want to see them break up because he’s actually this horrible person, I’d rather it be for more complicated reasons.

          I’m going to check out Throne of Glass, I’m interested now to see how those hold up. Also they’re making a TV series of it right now, so I’m curious.

          “The fact that the main ship is het is NOT my issue at all, it’s kind of more in consideration of the fact that SJM across the board has very alpha male characters who reinforce the sort of … submissive, claiming-of-a-sexual-partner archetype? Along with the fact that all her non-straight characters are literally throwaway mentions at best because people got on her case about it. ” UGGGG I’m with you. I can see that absolutely going in that direction with Rhysand right now…and it’s frustrating that to find out that she does include non-straight characters but then doesn’t bother to make them fully realized.

          “Lunar Chronicles is just so good tbh. If you like fairytales and Sailor Moon and Star Wars, I think you’ll really like TLC. ” YES I LOVE BOTH SO MUCH!! Definitely going to try this. It seems like it was pretty common for people who loved Lunar Chronicles to be disappointed by Heartless. And Meyer’s writing was solid, so I could see really enjoying her with the right storyline.

          Okay this comment needs to end, and I actually had editing out stuff. I could have talked about 10 more ACOTAR scenes and my complicated feelings. And probably 10 more about why I fell for Feyre.

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          • 22aer22 Post authorReply

            Update: I’m about 10% of the way done A Court of Mist and Fury, and I AM FILLED WITH FURY. I fucking hate this book so far.

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  5. Dana Reply

    The last couple quick things I read were Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, which follows the disintegration of a mixed Chinese American family in the 70s after their favorite daughter is found at the bottom of the town lake (I thought this was going to be a bit more of a mystery, but it’s overall much more of a sad drama, one that I would recommend), and the Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman, which is sort of hard to describe.

    Nothing really happens in it beyond a series of conversations, and it’s from the POV of a male Brooklyn writer who likes to think of himself as liberal and enlightened, but cannot help but be troubled by the ways he treats and thinks about the women he’s sexually/romantically interested in. I think the fact that it was written by a female author was key with this one, and though the main character is often quite infuriating, he also feels sympathetic and realistic to me.

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  6. Natalie Marrujo Reply

    Over the past month, I’ve read The Rising: A Left Behind Prequel #1. Nonfictional-wise for academic pleasure, I did Quiet by Susan Cain. Now, I’m like in the middle of Guitar Girl by Sarra Manning. I can’t wait for it to end.

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    • 22aer22 Post authorReply

      Omg what was the Left Behind prequel like?? And what’s Guitar Girl/why can’t you wait for it to end?

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  7. Rebecca Bauer Reply

    I heard that the movie leaves something to be desired insofar as the theme of voluntary euthanasia, so I’m kind of curious to watch it. The book was definitely “gruff man tells a woman how to live her life with good intentions” and “rape is the only trauma in a woman’s past duh,” and those things are getting pretty old in media, but I was still drawn in. I mean, I devoured it. So, I suppose–it could have been worse.

    LIKE WHAT JUST HAPPENED WITH A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES. I got halfway, VERY attached to Tamlin, and then I’m pretty glad I’m not really a “no spoilers” kind of person. I feel like my time is valuable, and knowing where this story goes–no. She spent half of a fucking book building up this love story, and I’m sorry, but I refuse to have my heart ripped out like that and find out that Feyre will eventually be with someone else. I’m apoplectic, Ariel! The one thing I did get from this experience was some great inspiration for my own writing, so, again, not all bad. I’m fine with what happened here and I’m going to keep taking your recommendations, lol. 🙂

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  8. matthewjulius Reply

    Holy shit, I am such a huge fan of Love Affairs of Nathaniel P but no one else has read it!!! I read it when it came out and actually reread it last year after I actually became a single dude dating in Brooklyn and was like “oh shit please say I’m not like that dude in that book dear god please”. I agree tho – definitely made him sympathetic even without pulling punches on his worst tendencies.

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  9. Rebecca Reply

    I heard that the movie leaves something to be desired insofar as the theme of voluntary euthanasia, so I’m kind of curious to watch it. The book was definitely “gruff man tells a woman how to live her life with good intentions” and “rape is the only trauma in a woman’s past duh,” and those things are getting pretty old in media, but I was still drawn in. I mean, I devoured it. So, I suppose–it could have been worse.

    LIKE WHAT JUST HAPPENED WITH A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES. I got halfway, VERY attached to Tamlin, and then I’m pretty glad I’m not really a “no spoilers” kind of person. I feel like my time is valuable, and knowing where this story goes–no. She spent half of a fucking book building up this love story, and I’m sorry, but I refuse to have my heart ripped out like that and find out that Feyre will eventually be with someone else. I’m apoplectic, Ariel! The one thing I did get from this experience was some great inspiration for my own writing, so, again, not all bad. I’m fine with what happened here and I’m going to keep taking your recommendations, lol. 🙂

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  10. Ellie Reply

    (sorry this is a bit late, I’m a slow blogger lol!) Oh my god, my condolences for ACOMAF. I never got that far but I read some very… uh.. unhappy reviews (either from fans of the first book or from people who hated the first book and decided to give the series another chance) and they were, lbr, SCATHING. If you decide to do a miniseries of posts for these books, I would NOT be opposed lmao!

    If Rhysand had been attractive but not a love interest, I think it could’ve played out a lot better and made for, like you said, an interesting way to turn things on their head…. but friend or love interest, I didn’t like the dubcon nature of his “helping” her. I don’t fully understand why he can’t TELL her his plans, gain her consent because it’s the best way of saving her boyfriend (more on that in a sec). And on the flip side, I could be forgiving IF the dubcon crap was handled very well and if Rhysand apologized without a “but”. Not, “I’m sorry I did this to you BUT I was saving you, you just didn’t need to know at the time..” and make it, “I’m sorry I did this to you, it was inexcusable, and I won’t do it again. If I need to help you out of a bad situation again I will TALK TO YOU and we’ll form a plan to get out of it together.”

    I just don’t get the necessity of “women must feel raped/assaulted but then realize it was their fault for feeling that way, because this manchild really has a heart of gold and his wandering hands are justified!!!!” ESPECIALLY in YA. Now, I recognize that authors don’t owe us readers anything, but if they’re peddling this shit to fourteen-year-olds as if it’s good and romantic and he’s ~~saving her~~, then yes, I’m going to fucking throw a fit.

    But going back to the lie…. THE LIE. His plans are stupid and his lies are DUMB. The whole plan of forcing Tamlin into anger via this stupid plan is DUMB. It’s conjured up so we can have some dubcon. Also the villain was so ridiculously weak and lame. There was no point to her other than conflict for the lovers.

    ” I don’t want to see them break up because he’s actually this horrible person, I’d rather it be for more complicated reasons. ” Yep, yep. It’s really lazy. A lot of authors do this! And then it’s the /fans’/ fault when they feel betrayed. It’s just poor writing.

    Also, I haven’t read ACOMAF but I’ve heard within the first few chapters it’s like… straight up sex? With Rhysand? Correct me if I’m wrong (tbh I’d like to be wrong).

    Tbh the idea of a ToG TV series scares me. I tried to give those books a chance because of the hype, but the MC is so ridiculously juvenile and so far up her own ass that I really could not enjoy them at all. Hopefully the show will end up like the Selection TV show. A dropped pilot.

    (I didn’t intend for this long of a comment either but it happened, I’m sorry) Yes, TLC is great! Definitely check it out if you get the chance, I’d really like to know your thoughts.

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