Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

About Sarah Frantz

http://iaspr.org

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

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REVIEW: Bad Boyfriend by K.A. Mitchell

REVIEW: Bad Boyfriend by K.A. Mitchell

Dear Ms. Mitchell.

You’ve done it again. While Bad Boyfriend is perhaps not as perfect (to my mind) as No Souvenirs, I much prefer it to Bad Company. The book focuses on two fascinating men and their relationship with each other and with those that surround them. There’s no intrigue, no mystery. There’s just people trying to live life without getting hurt too much. Eli and Quinn just jump off the page from the first time they touch and they don’t let go until their book is done.

Bad Boyfriend	MitchellThe book opens with Quinn having sex with Peter, his boyfriend of ten years, for the first time in four months. The next day, Peter leaves him because he’s getting married to the woman he got pregnant two months prior. Not only is Quinn in Peter’s wedding to  Chrissy, who has no idea about Quinn’s history with Peter, but she asks Quinn to be the baby’s godfather. So the story really starts the night before the baptism. Quinn’s at the local gay bar with his friend:

“I’m not still in love with him if that’s what you’re saying.”

“So prove it. Put an end to this insanity with a big fuck you.”

“Like how?”

“Show up tomorrow with a drag queen on your arm and ask Peter if he thinks she makes your dick look bigger.” [This is totally one of the reasons I read your books, Ms. Mitchell, for lines like this. Beautiful.]

“I can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“His family. They’ve always been good to me. I couldn’t—” He hadn’t worried about losing touch with Peter’s brother Dennis. They went back too far for that, had been through too much in the Academy together, but he’d thought losing Peter meant losing the rest of the Laurents too—cracking on pop culture with Peter’s sister Alyssa, war games with Peter’s dad, and worst of all, losing Peter’s mom. Claire had welcomed him, mothered him, from the first time Dennis had brought him home on their break from the Academy. Two weeks after Peter moved out, Claire had called to tell him her son’s business was his own, but as far as she was concerned, Quinn was still a member of her family. He couldn’t humiliate them in church like that. [This is the -- very believable because fully explained -- motivation for much of the story. Peter's family is more important to Quinn than Peter is by this point. They're the only family he has and they love him for who he is, whether or not Peter left him.]

But the idea of showing up with a date, a very obviously gay date, someone who Peter would have to notice, got entrenched in Quinn’s brain.

So Quinn finds Eli. Eli is friends with Nate and Kellan, the heroes of Bad Company (Bad Boyfriend stands alone but it’s a little bit richer if you’ve read Bad Company first). Eli is 22 (Quinn is 35). Eli has never not been out, he’s never been able to hide who he is:

Eli had always been out. He didn’t really know how to make it a question of what he was willing to talk about. People took one look at him and knew he was gay. Not for the first time he thought it was a lot harder to look like Quinn, stupid little ponytail and all.

So he works it instead:

Being fuckable was something Eli aspired to every second of the day.

[Not incidentally, this book is filled with "favorite lines" for me. At one point, Eli is trying to explain to Peter's very straight brother that Peter hit on him (Eli):

"[He's] A man whore. He hit on me.”

Dennis rolled his eyes.

It was Eli’s turn to fold his arms. “I’ll have you know most gay guys find me hot.”

Dennis looked like he was trying to figure out why.

Anyway…]

So Quinn approaches Eli to ask him to go to the baptism in the morning and somehow gets sidetracked into the hottest sex he’s ever had. The hottest sex Eli has ever had to. And something I haven’t read before in a m/m romance (although maybe I’m not looking hard enough):

He slid his hand down the muscle-ridged torso and landed on what he’d already felt rub on his belly. The fat length of Quinn’s dick stretched up to just under the waistband of his jeans. Eli stroked and let the inside of his wrist find the damp head pushing up past the denim.

“Ooo, Daddy,” Eli purred. “Is this all for me?”

Quinn didn’t stop smiling, but he looked like now they were both in on the joke. “Only if you’re a good boy.”

“Oh, I’m always good.”

Yes, Quinn and Eli get each other off with Daddy kink (I can’t find an explanatory link that’s not fanfic related). FWIW, Daddy kink is not in the slightest age-play or incest-play, or at least it’s not in this book. It’s an older, more dominant man with a younger, submissive man, using “Daddy” and “boy” as their sex-related nicknames. And in this book it’s completely fucking hot.

And…that’s really the book. Quinn and Eli have to find their way to each other, despite the hot sex, despite Quinn’s attachment to Peter’s family, despite Eli’s abandonment issues. Quinn has to appreciate the joy and heat Eli brings to his life, while Eli has to trust that Quinn will never let him go.

This book not only has the best one-liners; it also has some of the best, most deeply personal relationship-related lines:

Every game Eli had played, tied spread-eagle, a hand or paddle bruising his ass, a flogger stinging into his crack, nothing had ever forced surrender on him like this deep, gentle fuck from Quinn. Eli had thought he liked to give up control, take a break for awhile and let a man push sensation onto his body. This was different.

Terrifying.

Because this was what it was like to really lose control. To let Quinn inside, to let him make Eli feel so much more than the amazing sensations of bodies together.

And inside that surrender was safety. Quinn around him, voice in his ear whispering, “I’ve got you. Let me make you feel good, honey.”

But really, one of the best expressions of love I’ve ever read is when Quinn desperately tells Eli:

And even if you end up breaking my heart, I won’t mind, if I get to have you in my life for awhile.

::melt::

This review is much more about impressions than a solid narrative of my reading experience because that’s what it feels like to read it. I’ve read this book at least four times, and each time I read it I get a different, deeper impression of how Quinn and Eli fit together so perfectly, how they work perfectly, how they become better people together by becoming more themselves. It’s easy just to remember the kinky sex, but each time I reread it, the lines I go back to again and again are about the relationship, not the sex.

Problems? First, Quinn and Eli have the big scene in which they figure each other out, figure their relationship out, and then…there’s one last scene with Peter and his family. And while it was a necessary scene for finishing up the loose ends of the story, I vaguely wish the emotional climax (hur hur) finished the book instead. I see why it had to happen that way, and I usually love to see characters just being together with a full understanding of their love for each other, but Quinn had already had his “I feel nothing for Peter anymore” scene before the final two scenes, so this seemed a bit too much.

And second, Peter was just…so fucking selfish I don’t understand how Quinn managed to miss it for so long or how Peter managed not to be an asshole for long enough that Quinn stayed with him. I get that it’s stress that really brings out the worst (or best) in people, so we’re seeing him at his worse, but there needed to be some redeeming something to make me understand why Quinn stayed for so long.

But overall, I adore, once again, how you let the reader work things out for ourselves. You don’t force-feed us the characters’ motivations; you don’t even spoon-feed us. You let us figure it out as the characters do. And that helps me know, viscerally, that these characters are utterly made for each other.

Grade: A-

Best regards,
-Sarah

P.S. OMG, that cover’s brilliant. Those two men are perfect for Eli and his attitude and for Quinn and his smile.

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REVIEW: G-A-Y series by Kim Dare

REVIEW: G-A-Y series by Kim Dare

Dear Ms. Dare.

I’ve been intrigued by your writing for a while. Your tagline is “Kink, love, and a happy ending. Do you Dare?” which I think is incredibly cute. Honestly, though, I’ve been put off by your publishers (Total-e-Bound and Resplendence Publishing…who?) and by the fact that your series are quite so long (TWELVE stories?!). But I bit the bullet, bought all TWELVE of your G-A-Y series, and I’m going to review ALL of them here.

I chose the G-A-Y series because they’re all m/m, they’re all kink (as all your books are), and they “revolve around various problems gay men might encounter. The stories can all stand alone, and can all be read in any order,” although I’m reading them in order. And the series is complete, so I won’t be missing any. $36 initially seemed steep for 12 stories, but, God, these are SO good, it’s almost worth it.

TL;DR overall impressions for those who can’t be bothered:

  • The editing sucks. Doubled words, missed words, and homonyms, worse in some stories than in others. So I was right to be leery of your publisher. And the prices are a bit ridiculous: $2.96 each for 15,000 words each. It just seems…a bit much.
  • However! The stories are AMAZING. Oh my ghods, lots of angst; perfect emotional arcs for the short novella size of the stories; amazing distinct, individual characters; hot hot sex.
  • The stories are all D/s. You’ve got very little pain play in the stories (except one) and occasional sneers about “sadists” which set up my hackles. But the D/s is fun and very well done and it’s SO fucking refreshing to have stories in which the fact that the characters are D/s isn’t where the angst and trauma is located.
  • I’ve read more of your stories than this series (all m/m, though — none of your m/f yet) , and unreservedly recommend every one I’ve read. You’re a very consistent author with strong writing, strong individual characters, great conflict that gets solved satisfyingly every single time, and really great sex.

Gaydar by Kim Dare1. Gaydar
Mathias has incredibly bad luck with men. Either his gaydar is completely messed up, or he’s got really good asshole-dar. He makes an assignation to meet someone in the men’s room of a bar, only to be met there instead — and thoroughly kissed — by the bartender, who has been watching him and lusting after him for months. None of Matt’s experiences have ever been more than fumblings in the dark or an hour in a hotel room, so he’s completely unprepared not only to be with someone who is out, proud, happy, and looking for a longterm relationship, but is also a dominant. He’s very confused and very turned on:

The moment Flynn closed the door, Matt dropped to his knees and reached for the other man’s fly. Flynn easily caught both his wrists in his grip before he even felt denim under his finger tips.

“Don’t do that,” Matt protested.

“Do you remember what your safe word is?” Flynn checked.

Matt nodded. “Yes, but I find it a hell of a lot easier to think when you don’t do that, so if you’re going to start confusing me again, I’d much prefer it if you didn’t hold on to me like that.”

Flynn smiled. “It only distracts you because you like it, don’t you? Being held like this, belonging to another man.”

Matt looked at his wrists, somewhat scared by just how much he loved the feel of Flynn’s hands wrapped tight around his skin. Trying to push that aside, he cleared his throat. “I’d also like to suck you off. I’m good at that. I know what I’m doing with that.”

“I’m sure you do.” He made no move to release Matt’s wrists and let him get on with it.

Matt looked down. “I don’t know what you want from me,” he whispered, surprised by his own honesty. Without knowing what it was Flynn wanted, he had no idea how to keep Flynn wanting anything at all from him and that was even scarier than the lust that shot through his veins every time Flynn’s hands took hold of him.

I liked this story. Told entirely from the perspective of Matt, he’s funny and sweet and sad — partly it’s his unrealized submissive nature that steers him wrong in the first place — and it’s great to see him get his happy ending. Flynn was…pretty much a cipher, but he liked, respected, and wanted Matt and that showed. The only thing that was annoying was Flynn talked about himself in the third person: “It’s not a test. Just show your master how much you like sucking his cock and everything will be fine.” I loved the collaring scene in this story, how it shows that Matt has the courage to go after what he wants. And the sex is hot.

Grade: B+

2. Gay Like You
Gay Like You Kim DareTristan’s mother is trying to set him up with someone, anyone. She invites Cory to dinner, someone Tristan knew in high school but who hasn’t been around for years. Cory hasn’t been around because his family threw him out when he was 15. It’s implied, although never stated outright, that he hustled to make do. Certainly he doesn’t know how to interact with Tristan at all without bringing sex into the equation. Tristan shows him that he likes Cory without the sex, but it takes some intense work to get Cory to believe him:

Tristan turned the smaller man around in his grip. “If we have sex like this, you’ll disappear and I’ll never see you again.”

He had no doubt about that. Something about Cody screamed his need to belong to a man who didn’t screw him at the first opportunity. Even if Cody didn’t know it was what he needed, Tristan knew he had to prove that he knew Cody was more than a convenient screw.

“You think I’ll stick around to be turned down again?” Cody snapped. “Thanks, but humiliation isn’t one of my kinks.”

As a result of the waiting, the sex is put off and put off and is intensely emotional when it happens. I LOVED this story. I loved the angst. I loved Cody’s emotional barrier. I loved Tristan’s solution. It’s told from the alternating perspective of both men. And the sex was SO hot. I can’t think of anything wrong with it besides the fact that it was too short. Hits all MY buttons.

Grade: A-

3. Gay Till Graduation
Gay graduation Kim DareBaxter, who is gay, has lusted after his best friend for years. Spencer, who is bi, is swearing off women, because they might get pregnant and thereby prevent successful college graduation, as it does for a mutual acquaintance, six months before graduation. He’s also intrigued and, we get the impression, pissed that Baxter’s been seen subbing at a kink club. Spencer’s “gay till graduation” vow quickly includes “Baxter’s master till graduation.” Three months later, they’re doing well together, but there are cracks at the edges because Baxter’s convinced Spence is going to dump him as soon as they graduate. Seeing his stress, six weeks later, Spencer’s trying to convince Baxter that everything will be better after graduation, which hurts Baxter terribly, because he thinks Spencer wants to get rid of him.

It’s all one Big Misunderstanding, but for all that, it’s well done and believable. And the fight they have is so well done. Authors can write good sex, good barriers, good resolution, but still fuck up fights. This fight was great and natural and fun. And the make-up sex is, naturally, awesome.

Grade: B+

4. Gay For Pay

Gay for Pay Kim DareThis is NOT a Gay For You story, like I thought it would be. Ben Smith is a security consultant and has been charged with finding the missing son of one of his clients. He finds Nate Lockwood for auction as “Gay for Pay” in a ridiculous BDSM club. He buys Nate (hope he can expense that!) and gets him out of the club. He then works out that Nate has promised his father never to say that he’s gay (we find out that it’s because his father is worried that Nate, with his submissive nature, won’t be able to hold his own in business when the gold diggers come out after he comes out — it’s complicated…).

I thought the plot was a little too far-fetched, but Ben’s gentle, dominant guidance of Nate’s first sexual (and first BDSM encounter) was sweet and hot. The story wraps up all the emotional ends very nicely, but there’s one thing at the end that’s odd. Ben gets Nate to sign two documents and then uses the fact that Nate signed without reading them as an object lesson in the fact that Ben’s not a gold digger and doesn’t want any of Nate’s money. But we never find out what the documents are. And that’s just strange.

Grade: B-

5. Gay Divorcee

Gay Divorcee Kim DareThis one was a little odd. Jones is raving about the possibilities of gay marriage equality at a BDSM club and pisses of Grayson, an older Dom who, it is revealed after he makes a fool of himself ranting about how gay marriage should be banned, married his submissive as soon as he was able to but then found his submissive fucking another man and had to get divorced. So he’s bitter. But not bitter enough to refuse Jones’ offer of spending Christmas together. They hit it off while they each try to figure out what Christmas means to them, but have too much vodka-spiked punch. In their drunkenness, Grayson collars Jones using his submissive’s old collar and when he realizes in the sober light of morning what he’s done, he vows to take things much slower.

What I like about Dare’s work is how she’s got 24 men in these stories, and even though 12 of them are dominant and 12 of them are submissive, they’re all still very distinct from each other, as is the sex and even the D/s interaction between the men. This one is about two men who are really comfortable with themselves and their sexualities finding out what they like about each other and how they can negotiate each other’s baggage and still have a successful relationship, very little angst involved. Gentle, sweet, and hot.

Grade: B

6. Gay Since Today

Gay Since Today by Kim DareTyler Harris and James Ford are at university. Tyler’s had a crush, both romantic and kinky, on James Ford, even though James is straight. Except Tyler’s friend comes to tell him that James is in the gay bar across the street. Tyler rushes there and meets James, who’s just come out (“Gay Since Today”). Tyler takes him back to his place and introduces him not only to gay sex, but also to kinky sex — and he’s right: James is a fabulous dominant. But after their first encounter, it looks like James was pulling off an elaborate April Fool’s joke, rather than really coming out. The Medium-Sized Misunderstanding is dealt with quickly and the boys get back together.

I love reading about an experienced submissive and a virgin-dominant coming into his own. It’s so seldom done because the balance of being “tutored” by the submissive and still exercising dominance is pretty difficult to do. But Dare does a pretty good job. The misunderstanding in the middle was…annoying more than anything else and it seemed that the heroes went through the same realizations in the second half as they did in the first half.

But at the end, there’s a HUGE error about the day on which everything happened. First encounter is March 31, second is April 1, but at the end of the novel, they’re saying it was April 1, and then April 2. Pulled me right out of the story and pissed me off right royally.

Grade: C

7. Gay Pride

Gay Pride by Kim DareJayden shows up drunk and wearing only a gay pride flag on Crenshaw’s doorstep. Crenshaw is a gay and leather rights activist. Jayden is a reporter who nominally wants to interview him, but really just wants to introduce himself to Crenshaw and hopefully start a relationship. Crenshaw refuses Jayden’s drunk advances that night but allows Jayden to sleep on his couch and in the morning they start to explore their attraction. Crenshaw introduces Jayden to some pretty heavy bondage and Jayden loves it. There’s a hiccup when Jayden announces that he’s a reporter and Crenshaw takes it the wrong way, but Jayden sticks up for himself and gets Crenshaw to admit that he’s wrong in his assumptions.

Over all cute, but not a standout story. I like that Jayden stands up for himself, but the opening scene where he’s naked and drunk and Crenshaw turns him down (rightly so) is a little wince-inducing. But the sex is hot because so unusual

Grade: B

8. Gay Man Seeks Same

Gay Man Seeks SameCraig McKinley has a huge crush on his coworker Donovan but feels that Donovan’s way out of his league, experience-wise, and anyway, he just wants to find one guy to love and grow old with and he knows One-Night-Stand Donovan doesn’t that. So he goes onto an online dating site and tries to find someone else like him. His first date turns out to be…with Donovan, who is finally ready to admit his interest — his long-term interest. But Craig is convinced that Donovan wants with him what he’s had with all his other lovers. Refusing to consider any alternatives, he figures this is a chance for him to have one night with Donovan before he moves on.

Donovan doesn’t make clear until the very end that he’s interested in anything other than a one night stand, so the reader is taken in as much as Craig is, especially since Craig is the only point-of-view character. Donovan is dominant, of course, so Craig gets to explore bondage with his friend. Confronted with Donovan’s bedroom of kinky delights, Craig feels overwhelmed. Donovan asks him:

“Do you know what my favourite thing is—what I like to play with more than anything in the world?”

Craig shook his head.

“A submissive. Without a man to tie up, the rest is all pointless. It’s the man who goes in the bondage that’s important—everything else is just window dressing.”

I love that answer. :)

Grade: B-

9. Gay Friendly

Gay Friendly by Kim DareEllis is 18 and goes with his cousin to a “gay friendly” hotel, where he finds himself fending off unwanted advances from all the other guests. Thompson helps him out by granting him a collar of protection and then letting Ellis sleep in his room when Ellis’s cousin’s friends get too “friendly” in their room. Over the next week, Ellis and Thompson slowly start exploring each other.

The age difference here was a bit squicky: Thompson is over 30, Ellis is 18. But Dare doesn’t leave this undiscussed. Thompson insists that Ellis ask for everything, that it be obvious to all concerned that Ellis wants everything that happens to him. And it goes deeper than that:

Part of him couldn’t help but believe that Ellis would be far better off with a vanilla boy his own age. Except he’d seen how panicked Ellis became when he was with a man who wasn’t old enough to know how to take his time and appreciate someone who was so new to everything. And he’d seen the way Ellis had soaked up every touch of dominance that had been offered to him.

Bowing his head, Thompson brushed another gentle kiss against the younger man’s lips and forced himself to face the true facts of the matter. He had no intention of telling Ellis he would be better off with another kind of man because the thought of another man laying a hand on him made him want to throttle the guy. He tightened his grip around Ellis’ wrists at the very idea. Ellis whimpered his approval and rose onto his tip toes in the hopes of gaining a deeper kiss.

Because the age difference isn’t ignored, and because Thompson is such a mature character, perfectly aware of how far and how fast he’s falling and how to deal with Ellis, I totally trusted that these two would make it, despite the age difference.

Grade: B

10. Gay Best Friend

And here we have the Gay For You story I was expecting earlier and the opposite type of sub from the previous story. Carlton, who is straight, is best friends with Bryce, who is gay. At the pub one day, Carlton is sort of goaded into kissing Bryce (the other guys they’re with made a bet behind their backs, but Carlton noticed, kissed Bryce, and took the ante for the bet and split it with Bryce). This precipitates Carlton getting trashed, finding out that Bryce is not only gay, but kinky, not only kinky, but a very pushy, brash submissive, and then trying out his Gay-For-You feelings out on Bryce when utterly smashed. Bryce pours him into a cab, but the next time they get together, they explore things a bit more.

This is another story with an inexperienced dominant and an experience submissive. But this submissive is very dominant in his everyday interactions with everyone:

As fantastic a friend as he was, Carlton was more than a little aware that Bryce had the potential to be a complete bastard when you caught him in the wrong mood, and he sure as hell wasn’t the kind of guy to make things easy for a friend who suddenly found himself out of his depth.

No, Carlton couldn’t help but smile a fraction at the idea of him babying someone through anything. Bryce was very much the ‘learn how to swim fast or get back into the shallow end where you belong’ kind of guy.

I love how we get into Donovan’s head, even though the whole story’s from Carlton’s perspective:

The look of easy relaxation Carlton had seen in his friend’s expression earlier in the night deepened with every moment that passed, as if Bryce had focused in on that one task and, if only for a little while, that let him forget about the rest of the world.

I also love that this story has the dominant choosing to bottom for sex, to make a point to his submissive about how “Gay For You” he really is:

When Carlton opened his eyes, Bryce was staring up at him. It was only then that he really realised just how closely every single move he made, his every reaction was being studied. And Bryce would remember it all. He had no doubt about that. Bryce would always know, and he’d always know that his gay best friend knew just how much pleasure shone in his eyes when he rode him for the first time.

Loved this story all around.

Grade: A

11. Gayday! Gayday!

GayDay! by Kim DareOkay, first thing: Rip and Slade? Really? Scraping the bottom of the name barrel there. >.<

Right. So, Rip is a submissive who has a habit of getting himself in over his head at clubs. At which point he calls Slade, his dominant but straight — or so Rip thinks — friend to come save him. And Slade’s happy to oblige, giving them a great scene each time he does, with no strings attached. Except both Rip and Slade increasingly want strings. Finally, Rip gets himself into a really bad situation…and gets himself out of it again, meaning, he thinks, that his need for Slade’s “white knight” routine is exposed for the ruse it has been for a long time. Then things get really interesting.

I love the twist at the end where Rip thinks he’s messed everything up by NOT needing saving. But I found it incredibly frustrating that he remains utterly blind to the fact that Slade is very very bisexual. Even at the end, Rip thinks:

he had never allowed himself to fall so far into his fantasies that he’d forgotten he was playing with a straight man who was occasionally willing to indulge in a little guy-on-guy kink when given the right motivation.

This is quite so frustrating, because it’s made very clear in their very first scene that Slade comfortably identifies as bi.

That aside, this is a great story. It’s one of the very few that has some pain play in the D/s when Slade punishes Rip.

Grade: B+

12. Gayish

Gayish by Kim DareAfter reading eleven really strong, interesting, sexy stories, it was very disappointing to read the last one of the group. It seemed very scattered and confused and the characters seemed a little off.

Ben Langford, out and proud, is at a gay pride rally in the rain. He sees across the road, standing in the rain, the deli counter guy he’s been lusting after for months. The guy’s either waiting for a bus, or trying to get up the courage to go to the rally. Langford takes him home, dries him off, takes him back out to the rally to introduce him to people, then takes him back home and fucks him. And I understood why he did that, but it dragged the story out and didn’t seem to add much to character development. And Tayton was just a wet blanket. I wanted him to grow a spine and he never really did.

Grade: C-

Overall, except for the last story, I loved these stories. They all did a great job at showing the very beginnings of twelve different relationships between twelve different couples. Each of the characters were distinct, as were all the relationships, all the D/s pairings. This series utterly hooked me on your writing. Which is great, because you seem to do a lot of it.

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