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REVIEW: The Marriage Bargain by Jennifer Probst

Dear Ms. Probst:

Your publisher kindly sent this book for review and given the recent announcement of the great sales success of this book, I was eager to read it. I can only conclude that the success of this book is due to a great hunger for category books by readers who believe that they aren’t category readers because The Marriage Bargain reads like a standard Harlequin Presents.  It has a misogynistic asshole hero and a perfectly amazing self sacrificing heroine who will debase herself to save her family.

Marriage-Bargain-coverI’m not sure what I was expecting but the stock characters, predicable plot, and mundane prose wasn’t it. Alexa is unhappy. She’s single and while her bookstore is above water, her family’s home is not and thus she is need of money. She, like the ladies in The Witches of Eastwick, creates a spell to bring her the perfect man. She’s written a list of all the qualities she wants in a man along with a request for 150K.

Fate carries those wishes out on the wind toward Nicholas who needs a wife. His wealthy uncle passed away and a provision of the will (we all know how much I love these will books) requires Nicholas to marry in order to gain control of the architecture and building company. Nicholas apparently can’t run his own company but must have his uncle’s to achieve his dreams. He has his own list of requirements in a wife including that she must have no sex with him while they are married because women who have sex with men become emotionally attached to that man and he cannot deal with that in his one year marriage.

Alexa needs to get married because she is going to use this money to save her family home.  Alexa is one of those martyr heroines. Everything she does is out of selfless love for others. She is going to marry someone and be treated like dirt by him in order to save her family.  She rescues dogs.  She runs a bookstore.  She refuses to accept one penny more than the 150,000.00 from her husband. Not one thing because she is too good and honorable for that.  But, of course, Alexa refuses to tell Nicholas of her need for the money because she doesn’t want his pity and must walk away with her pride intact.  (Dude, you are marrying for money)  Nicholas assumes the worst (greedy bitch).

Nicholas is a mysgonist. The stunning supermodel he currently dates was perfect for social functions and great sex, but not marriage.  Gabriella was a sharp conversationalist and he enjoyed her company, but he was afraid she was already falling in love with him.  … No matter how he laid out the ground rules of a marriage, emotion would ruin it.  She’d become jealous and demanding, like any normal wife.  When Alexa confronts Nicholas on the fact that he can’t be celibate for one year he says “Alexa, I understand this doesn’t seem fair. But a man is different.” Later in the book, he accuses Alexa of cheating on him and the contract. For her own good. “He stood in front of her, hands on hips, and gathered all his power to make her mad as hell. Because he knew through her anger he’d find honesty -the passionate woman she hid from him in her ridiculous belief he didn’t want her.” To do this, Nicholas says “I wondered if you had time to make it to the bedroom or did Conte just take you against the wall before dessert?” Remember, he is doing this for her own good.

No matter how insulting he is, though, Alexa’s lady parts go wild.

But what dooms the book for me is its unrelenting predictability and its old school references. The old flame enters the picture to stir up jealousy.  Alexa is befriended by a handsome and wealthy man stirring those unnatural “woman” feelings in Nicholas.  Misunderstandings and lack of communication drive the two apart.  There isn’t a step in the book that a reader can’t predict.

The heroine goes to a party with a bunch of wealthy people and is overcome by the smells of “Shalimar and Obssession”.  Her eyes are described as a “disturbing mix of aquamarine and sapphire.”  I feel like this book sat under someone’s bed for 9 years and it was recently dusted off for publication.  There are idiotic phrases uttered like following:

“Is this a contract?”

He nodded. “I know you’ll need your lawyer to look it over.”

“No need. A friend of mine is a lawyer. I learned enough, since I helped him study for the bar exam.”

Or “He almost enjoyed the match of minds, just like he had in the old days.” The match of minds? The old days?  These two last knew each other when Nicholas was 16 and she was 14.  The humor seemed forced. “Could she marry a Yankees fan? Wold she be giving up all her morals and ethics?”  Marrying a guy for money is okay but marrying a Yankees fan gives her pause. There are so many throw away elements in the book that have no purpose like the spell cast in the beginning. There is no continuation of spells and magic throughout the book.  Nicholas is described as a master poker player who “had spent the past few years blowing off steam in games where the night turned into day and he walked off thousands richer” and while there is a poker game between the two, Nicholas hardly comes off as a savvy, odds minded individuals.  It’s like there was a magnetic romance hero trait set and a few were plucked out whenever there needed to be some descriptive words added to the text.

This book is selling like hotcakes.  Last week it was number 6 on the NYT Bestseller list. I chalk it up to some good promotion (many reviews appear to be from free copies); a sexy cover; and the seeming universal appeal of the category.  C-

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

59 Comments

  1. Sarah
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 14:04:08

    I think I may have gotten this when it was like $0.99 on the Kindle because I know I do have it. But no plans to read it now. I love Harlequin Presents (one of my favorite category lines!) but I do not like misogynistic heroes and the women who take it. Pass.

  2. Angela
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 14:19:06

    @Sarah: I think I got it at that same time. The cover looks incredibly familiar. But I won’t be reading it now. Mysogonistic hero AND a self-sacrificing heroine? I might be able to take one or the other, but I highly doubt both.

  3. Angela
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 14:21:07

    @Angela: Grr. Damn typos. “Misogynistic” hero.

  4. Hannah E.
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 14:27:22

    “Is my house burning down?”

    He nodded. “I know you’ll need to call 911 to get the fire put out.”

    “No need. A friend of mine is a firefighter. I learned enough, since I helped him study for his written exam.”

  5. Jackie Barbosa
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 14:57:28

    I think you should trademark the phrase “Lady Parts Gone Wild.” That has major potential…

  6. Anachronist
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 15:32:45

    Not a book I would like to touch, let alone read.

    “Is my book being published?”

    He nodded. “I know you’ll need to call your editor to straighten it up, remove all the typos and make it logical”

    “No need. A friend of mine is a publisher. I learned enough since I helped him promote many other worthless books.”

  7. Karen D
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 16:04:22

    @Hannah: OMG, I am crying/laughing here. Well done. I’ve got nothing else.

  8. Cy Price
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 16:34:24

    WOW!! Can’t stop laughing…

  9. Jenny Lyn
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 17:46:19

    “He has his own list of requirements in a wife including that she must have no sex with him while they are married because women who have sex with men become emotionally attached to that man and he cannot deal with that in his one year marriage.”

    But…but…

    “He stood in front of her, hands on hips, and gathered all his power to make her mad as hell. Because he knew through her anger he’d find honesty -the passionate woman she hid from him in her ridiculous belief he didn’t want her.” To do this, Nicholas says “I wondered if you had time to make it to the bedroom or did Conte just take you against the wall before dessert?”

    Hey, Asshole, make up your freakin’ mind. Thought you couldn’t deal with emotional attachment?

    Shalimar and Obsession? O.O

  10. Jenny Lyn
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 17:50:41

    Oh, and I’d like to add that I helped my husband study for his Residential Construction license. If anybody wants their kitchen remodeled or a new roof, I’m available!

  11. Cally
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 17:55:15

    “No need. A friend of mine is a lawyer. I learned enough, since I helped him study for the bar exam.”

    I literally sputtered with rage D: Not getting near that book, thanks for the warning!

  12. Dabney
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 18:19:05

    When Alexa confronts Nicholas on the fact that he can’t be celibate for one year he says “Alexa, I understand this doesn’t seem fair. But a man is different.”

    I’m trying to parse this. No matter how I do it, it baffles me. Either Alexa thinks it’s reasonable for him not to have sex for a year or he thinks it would be easy for a woman–but not a man–to not have sex for a year. Either way, I find myself wanting to make sure the two have a subscription to the Good Vibrations catalog.

  13. Jane
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 18:28:19

    @Dabney: The men, they have special needs.

    @Jenny Lyn: Done! I can’t wait to see your work oh study helper.

    @Hannah E.: Who doesn’t love a good firefighter romance. Is this fan fiction?

  14. Cristiane
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 18:49:05

    “Are my ladyparts going wild?”

    He nodded. “I know you’ll need to call a misogynistic asshole to calm them down.”

    “No need. A friend of mine is a misogynistic asshole. I helped him study for the written exam.”

  15. KKJ
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 18:50:12

    Penniless martyr heroine, check. High-society asshole hero, check. Forced and/or fake marriage to inherit, check. Big Misunderstandings, check. Change “billionaire” to “duke” and TADA! It’s a formulaic Regency. Romance Mad-Libs FTW!

    Are we really supposed to buy into the “must marry to inherit” bullshit in a CONTEMPORARY? Really???

    This is why people make fun of romance novels.

  16. Dani Alexander
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 18:52:04

    @Jackie Barbosa:

    I think you should trademark the phrase “Lady Parts Gone Wild.” That has major potential…

    QFT

  17. Dabney
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 18:54:09

    @Cristiane: OK, I just busted out laughing.

  18. Dabney
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 18:55:45

    @Dani Alexander: Um, check out my review at DA tomorrow. I think a major author has gone down that road recently.

  19. Dani Alexander
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 19:06:22

    @Dabney:

    @@ The only reply I have is that I have to read this book. I’ll be looking at my DA feed tomorrow with excitement. My bank account is trembling though =(

  20. Lynn S.
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 19:12:09

    Y’all have had some wonderfully mockable stuff this week and so far I’ve kept my fingers away from the keyboard, but this once is too good to resist. I mean, Shalimar?! Are you sure the dust under that bed is only nine years old?

    This actually is a category romance under the publisher’s Lori Wilde’s Indulgence line and according to them for the “young at heart”, which might explain the Shalimar. The book sounds more like Harlequin/Silhouette Desire territory than an HP. The Desire line is responsible for my favorite (is that the right word) misogynistic line ever:

    Permission to use his credit card for the day would have had most of them squealing like a litter of hungry piglets.

    Courtesy of Blackmailed into Bed by Heidi Betts and it’s just as bad, if not worse, in context.

    @Hannah E.: That was a thing of beauty, but there is always the possibility that this particular heroine might volunteer for the fire department in her spare time.

  21. Dabney
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 19:19:27

    @Dani Alexander: All I’ll say is this: Candy Land but not.

  22. Dani Alexander
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 19:23:47

    @Dabney: OH dear God in heaven please please PLEASE let that be the heroine’s name.

  23. Dabney
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 19:25:02

    @Dani Alexander: I believe we were having a discussion about anatomy not about characters….

  24. Dani Alexander
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 19:49:01

    @Dabney: Ah–oh, no. >8(

    Dear authors,

    Don’t ruin candy for me, it’s all I have left now that I can’t walk in public for fear of slipping on”dewy petals” and being “skewered” by “proud members” I saw a bumper sticker once that said “Proud Member of the NRA” and it made me move to Scandanavia. Not to mention my terror at possibly stumbling across the “baby cave” which was “sprayed” with “mighty seed”.

    Please, I beg you, leave me my Snickers and Skittles. Thank you for your consideration, Dani

  25. Dabney
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 19:52:11

    @Dani Alexander: Your candy is safe. Your maps are not.

  26. KKJ
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 20:05:09

    @Dani Alexander:

    You must have missed me and Dabney’s discussion of Snickers and va-jay-jays on the “First Reads by the DA Crew” post. If you read through to the end of that thread, do NOT click on Cleo’s link about the mayo.

    Also: My skeevy neighbor has a “Proud Member of the NRA” bumper sticker. It goes great with the Truck Nutz and naked-lady mudflaps on his $80,000 monster diesel pickup.

  27. Dani Alexander
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 20:18:13

    @Dabney: That’s such a great hook, Dabney LOL I can’t wait to read the review. Esp knowing that I can eat my Skittles. My Mounds bar lovin’ however, has taken a direct hit since the 80’s and 90’s. <8(

    @KKJ: YOu realize that I have to click it now. It’s like “Don’t push that big red shiny button”…

  28. Cheryl
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 20:50:51

    In addition to the assholierthanthou hero and Mother Theresa wantabe heroine, it was the nit picky things that bugged me and pulled me out of the story on a regular basis. Shalimar and Obsession? A cutoff sweatshirt and leggings? In my mind, I pictured the heroine dancing about the house to “What a Feeling”. And his parents were billionaires but they bought him a Mitsubishi Eclipse for his 16th birthday? At least make it a Corvette.

    And the whole reason I bought this book was because of the magic spell opening. Imagine my disappointment when that was completely dropped and the heroine’s best friend just called up her brother saying… “Yo, I found you a wife.”

    But the thing that made my head explode was the misspelling of “Hemmingway”. I get typos happen in books. But when your heroine owns a bookstore and she’s referencing a famous author, his name needs to be spelled correctly. It does, however, appear Entangled has corrected this because after loaning it and then downloading it a second time the spelling had changed.

  29. Jane
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 20:52:47

    @Cheryl: I totally forgot about the cutoff sweatshirt and leggings ala Flashdance and the Mitsubishi Eclipse but ha ha ha ha and Oy. My copy had Hemmingway spelled correctly.

  30. Dabney
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 20:53:00

    @KKJ: So was it Scruples that had the Snickers scene?

    And, to be fair, sometimes who-ha and food scenes work. I like the raspberries in Lisa Kleypas’s Suddenly You.

  31. KKJ
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 20:54:08

    @Dani Alexander:

    This will be my last thread-jacking, I *swear*…..

    The following is an excerpt from Book 1 of a god-awful cowboy erotica series I’m reading (I just e-mailed Jane about the plethora of misogynistic assholes in Book 2):

    “Your kisses are sweeter than Mounds candy.”

    “Hey, if we’re talking candy bars – I’d rather be an Almond Joy instead of Mounds.” Shit! He enjoyed picking at her; she was more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

    “What’s the deal?” she played back. “They’re both coconut?”

    “Yeah,” he said as he nipped her chin. “But, Almond Joys got nuts, Mounds don’t.” She squealed as he pinched her on the butt cheek. “And if you’ll slip your little hand between my legs, I’ll prove to you which category I fall into.”

    My first thought was “I’ll bet that tagline is trademarked, so that’s a copyright violation.”

    Then I thought, “Candy bars, shit and monkeys during foreplay. That’s a combination you don’t see every day.”

  32. Cheryl
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 20:55:17

    @Jane: I wasn’t clear in my post, but “Hemingway”, a single M is the correct spelling. Not two.

  33. Cheryl
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 20:57:49

    @KKJ: Never have I been so thankful that I hate coconut. lol

  34. Jane
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 20:59:56

    @cheryl – now I feel ridiculously foolish. Let me go check my copy…and no, they are misspelling it in the ARC sent to me: God, he hated poetry. The spilling out of emotion, messy and unbridled, for any stranger to pick up and share. The convoluted comparisons between nature and rage, the endless cliches [outtake by Jane, the cliched alphaheroasshole complaining about cliches in poetry] and the confusing imagery made a man question his intelligence. No, give him a goo biography or classic like Hemmingway. Give him the opera, where within the fierce emotions there was control.”

    Oh, Nicholas, consistently inconsistent and dumb.

  35. Cheryl
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 21:03:42

    @Jane: It’s all good. LOL

    When I first saw the typo, I refused to trust my Google-Fu and chose to walk to my bookshelf instead. And even then I kept looking at it and thinking… I cannot be seeing this correctly.

    IMO this book shows excellent promotion combined with a low introductory price will cause sales to skyrocket. I’ll be curious to see how her next title fairs.

  36. Liz Mc2
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 21:51:05

    @Jane: “God, he hated poetry. The spilling out of emotion, messy and unbridled, for any stranger to pick up and share. . . . Give him the opera, where within the fierce emotions there was control.”

    Right, because there’s no formal control in poetry. Poetry has nothing in common with melody or lyrics. (I’ll blame the Romantics, not Nicholas, for the idea that poetry is some unfiltered upwelling of emotion).

    I try not to pick on books I haven’t read, but my poor little English teacher mind just exploded. Is he SUPPOSED to be an idiot?

  37. cleo
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 21:55:20

    This totally made my day (omg! you guys are so tubular). Just what I needed after a long day of manufactured drama at work.

  38. Ridley
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 01:28:57

    Marrying a guy for money is okay but marrying a Yankees fan gives her pause.

    Makes sense to me. I’d sooner marry a Republican than a Yankees fan.

  39. Hannah E.
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 08:32:09

    @Lynn S.:

    Permission to use his credit card for the day would have had most of them squealing like a litter of hungry piglets.

    Oh, gawd. That’s revolting.

    You’re probably right about the volunteer firefighter thing. And I’m sure she does musical theater with underprivileged children and helps people do their taxes at her local library.

  40. Lada
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 09:16:45

    Thank you for reviewing this, Jane! I noticed this at BnN and Amz on the best sellers lists weeks ago and immediately mistrusted all the gushing reviews.

    I’m convinced this is a case of buying good reviews that worked out for the author. The few reviewers I checked did have 30+ reviews to their credit but all were 4+ stars and the few “lower” ratings seemed to be for “teasers” instead of actual books. I’m not even sure what that means but I did end up running into the ridiculous Badass (Hell Yeah). Heh…made my day.

  41. Julie @ Manga Maniac Cafe
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 10:07:34

    I liked this one because Nick was such a dickhead, but I went into reading it expecting it to read like an HP, and it met those expectations. I did roll my eyes at the bar exam line, and a few other ugh-worthy moments, but overall, found this to be fun brain candy.

  42. Darlynne
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 11:44:14

    @Cristiane: You’ve made my day, all the mad libs have, but this one is priceless, thank you.

    Shalimar? NFW. As a young person back in the 60s, I thought the name was one of the most romantic I’d ever heard. In truth, it stunk then, it stinks now. No one in their right mind would pick that scent.

  43. Jackie Barbosa
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 11:47:49

    @Ridley: I feel the same way about the notion of marrying a Dodgers fan :). (I live in San Diego County and therefore hate all LA teams on principle.)

  44. Ruthie
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 12:41:54

    @Lada: Actually, I’m confident this isn’t one of those cases. The book shot up the B&N best-seller list before it had any reviews at all on B&N or Goodreads, and the reviews trickled in slowly afterward. It was a B&N best-seller right out of the gate (great price point, lovely cover, strong blurb), with Amazon, USA Today, and NYT all following in due course.

  45. Lada
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 16:55:23

    @Ruthie: This is interesting, Ruthie. I guess I’m surprised it has been able to stay there for so long and that few of the reviewers had any issues with the dated references or material or any of the other things Jane mentions.

  46. Jane
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 16:57:21

    @Lada: I’m skeptical about many of the Entangled Pub reviews. On Amazon, all 59 books (and I don’t know how many they have published) have an average of 4 stars or above. Most all of them (except for one or two) have 4.5-5 star averages. That’s an incredibly high rating percentage for one house.

  47. Ruthie
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 17:15:11

    @Jane (and Lada, too): I can’t speak to this, or even to the content/source of reviews once they started rolling in — I only know that I watched the early weeks of this book with a lot of interest (my book came out the day before this one, and I have another author friend who was also part of the Indulgence launch in February alongside Jennifer Probst), so I witnessed how The Marriage Bargain became a best-seller well before the reviews began to accumulate.

  48. Nicole
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 19:05:11

    I got this one because the description sounded much more interesting than the book actually ended up being. I rolled my eyes at a lot of things about Nicholas, and Alexa was such a doormat, even though she thought of herself as tough. I didn’t believe anything about their relationship, except that they really really really wanted to have sex with each other.

    I was really disappointed by this one.

  49. Linda
    Apr 23, 2012 @ 10:46:47

    Accusing an author or publisher of “buying” positive reviews is a serious charge. I suggest you refrain from doing it unless you actually have some evidence. If you have some evidence, let’s hear it. Otherwise, stick to reviewing the book. You should consider the possibility that maybe just a fair number of readers disagree with you, which you have to admit is plausible.

  50. Jane
    Apr 23, 2012 @ 10:49:46

    @Linda: I don’t think they are buying the reviews. I never said such a thing. What I did say was that I was skeptical that the entire catalog of books published by Entangled is full of 4+ and mostly 4.5+ to 5 star reviews. That is very unusual and it makes me skeptical of the reviewers. Are they friends? family? employees of Entangled? I don’t doubt that there are people who enjoy the books but the aggregate positive ratings for an entire catalog of books is quite rare.

  51. Chelly
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 17:38:37

    I think I’ll have to start following this blog. I LOVED “The Marriage Bargain” and I work with a group of ladies who all discussed it today. We bought it several weeks ago to read for our monthly Kindle club. Our decision to buy it had nothing to do with reviews or anything you mentioned. A few of us were browsing Amazon and we loved the sample. That is the only reason we bought this book.

    The book is now number 13 at the Kindle store. So, I guess your opinion doesn’t count for much?? Dear Reviewer? :)

    I will follow your blog to find out what books you don’t like. THOSE are the ones I will buy.

  52. Jane
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 18:16:59

    @Chelly: I’m glad that you can find the blog offers you some service. You might like Natalie Anderson, Mira Lynn Kelly, and Maisey Yates. A lot of readers connect with these authors but they haven’t always worked for me and I think that they deliver some of the same “feeling” that The Marriage Bargain offers.

  53. GUEST REVIEW: Hot on Her Trail by Sable Hunter
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 10:27:39

    […] might think that would be enough to satisfy Noah’s Assholierthanthou Shame Quota, but you’d be […]

  54. Bronwen Evans
    May 27, 2012 @ 17:31:47

    Well, I have to say I bought it, read it, and loved it. I found the cahracters compelling and the HEA very satisfying. Just as good as many Presnets I have read if not better.

    Cheers

  55. Gina
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 17:52:45

    I heard that the book will coming in paperback in July…
    It sounds good… :)

  56. Patricia
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 11:54:57

    I read this very short and very disappointing book last night. I bought on my Kindle because it was cheap and on the NYT Bestseller List. I wish I had my $2.99 back.

    Where is the character development? Each was one-dimensional. All I could think while reading it is that I could now become a successful writer since apparently all it takes are sterotypical characters, a hackneyed storyline, and several mediocre sex scenes. Is this where Fifty Shades has taken fiction?

    A smart yet wide-eyed heroine, a misunderstood misogynist with a heart of gold, a potential rake who could wreck the “marriage,” the best friend; sheesh, my cat has more authentic relationships.

    Why did I keep reading? Because I wanted to like it, I really did, and I kept hoping the next page would be better. It wasn’t.

  57. Category Error | Something More
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 23:28:18

    […] line, especially once some reviewers I respect found the Entangled books they tried (including Probst’s) to be familiar Harlequin Presents-style fare, and not great examples of it either. I wondered how […]

  58. REVIEW: The Marriage Mistake by Jennifer Probst
    Nov 10, 2012 @ 17:26:16

    […] (literally) sex. I haven’t read the first one, The Marriage Bargain (Jane reviews it here), but have waded through the second […]

  59. upstart
    Nov 10, 2012 @ 18:07:02

    @Hannah E.: @Anachronist: Now you’ve made me cry!!!

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