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Staff Recommendations – March 2022

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INDEXES TO PAST STAFF RECOMMENDATIONS: BY TITLE | BY REVIEWER | TV SERIES/SPECIALS ON DVD | AGATHA CHRISTIE | STAR TREK | STAR WARS

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March 2022 Recommendations

The Words In My Hands
by Asphyxia (YA Asphyxia)

Using a colorful art journal style, the author/artist Asphyxia tells the story of a not distant future where one giant company has monopolized the food stream. People are being dissuaded from eating dangerous “wild” food and persuaded to eat chemically produced meals specially formulated to their personal health requirements. What could go wrong with one company in charge of the food supply?

The main character Piper (sixteen, smart, artistic, and Deaf) has grown up using lip-reading, hearing aids and speech training to communicate. Her mother, one of the scientists involved with the food company, felt that the best course for her daughter would be to pass as a hearing individual and to live a so-called “normal” life. What her mother doesn’t realize is how much Piper struggles with isolation and how difficult and exhausting it is to understand the world around you when your communication is limited. When Piper meets a young man who both speaks and uses sign language, she is introduced to a whole new community and a whole new way of living.

This is a thoughtful book. The author herself is Deaf, lending an authenticity to Piper’s experience. She shares aspects of growing up Deaf that as a hearing person, I hadn’t considered before, while Piper’s struggles with feeling like an outsider are completely relatable. As we follow her growth and learning, we too are charged to consider how decisions made with the best of intentions can have unexpected repercussions.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais, The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He, Into the Dark by Karen Rose, Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby or You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Garber.)

( publisher’s official The Words in My Hands web page ) | ( official Asphyxia web site )

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Recommended by Carrie K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Musics Lost and Found: Sound Collectors and the Life and Death of Folk Tradition
by Michael Church (Music 781.62 Chu)

There hasn’t been much writing about the role of song collectors in music studies, although their collective work has given us much of the recorded material used in studying early strains of music from around the world. Song collectors were early adopters at using portable recording devices, taking them all over the world to document forms of music they found interesting, that were at risk of disappearing to modernization and globalization, or that were being actively suppressed in some cases. Some learned to play the music themselves, or incorporated elements of it into their own music. Their work ties together music history, ethnomusicology, folk and classical music traditions, technology, and a measure of sociopolitical navigation that often ties these issues together. We have a great new book that documents the work and history of song collecting called Musics Lost and Found: Sound Collectors and the Life and Death of Folk Tradition by Michael Church, and it might be one of the most interesting books you can find in the Polley Music Library.

Of course, song collecting is a culturally complicated affair, too. Those collecting the songs are sometimes said to be “saving” these sounds of faraway lands, or those of our own yesteryears before they’re lost to modernity — but are they saviors, or is their arrival in an exotic locale the harbinger of gentrification or western imperialism at the door? Author Michael Church attempts to take an unflinching look at a number of song collectors throughout history, where we’ll look at the good and the bad, and reflects some of the musical traditions considered endangered or nearly extinct today.

In a way, this book acts as the sequel to Church’s previous book The Other Classical Musics: Fifteen Great Traditions, which you can also borrow from Polley. In that book, as you might gather from the title, he examines 15 musical traditions from around the world that are typically not referred to as “Classical” music by those of us raised in the Western musical tradition. To us, these are forms of “folk” music, or “world” music, or some kind of “other” that somehow doesn’t carry the intellectual gravitas ascribed to our own classical music tradition. But in a book like The Other Classical Musics, if you analyze these traditions using similar kinds of criteria as we do with our own Western classical music, such as the development of the music across eras of time, music theory, formal considerations and performance practices that can be gleaned from the music, the development of instruments and technique, etc, you have to consider these traditions “classical” in a similar sense.

Church is a bit of a song collector himself, having released several CDs of field recordings that he made in Central Asia and along Russian borderlands. With that background, Musics Lost and Found functions as a combination of music history, particularly the development of ethnomusicology, and travelogue, surveying musical forms from all over the world and some even in our own back yards. Some of the pivotal moments in the book happen very literally in our own back yards, as anthropologist Alice Fletcher endeavored to transcribe the music of the Omaha tribe, as well as songs from the Dakota, Otoe, Ponca, and Pawnee tribes, in the 1890s.

The writing style leans a little toward the academic, but these are still quite readable narratives. The book is broadly divided into sections that focus on periods of history in song collecting, and within those, each chapter considers a specific song collector or musical tradition. There is very little actual notated music in the book, so the contents should be understandable for the widest possible range of readers.

There is perhaps a more significant issue behind the lack of notated music in the book that I should mention as well: our system of notation is designed to capture music made in the western European tradition. To transcribe the music of many cultures using that system is itself a reductive process that doesn’t represent the music accurately in many cases. There are meters, rhythmic phrases, ornamentations and long forms that don’t fit nicely into our notation. There are microtones and temperaments that don’t follow our 12 notes to the octave system of pitch subdivision. Our key signatures sometimes fall short accounting for these other kinds of modalities. And we’d simply miss the particular sounds and timbres of instruments made in other cultures. Considering these limitations, the work of song collectors who have made recordings of these unique musical traditions makes even more sense — we can all hear these unique musical attributes presented in their full and natural state, rather than trying to shoehorn them into notational systems that weren’t designed for their unique needs.

The book starts with some examples of proto-song collectors, if we consider “song collecting” to be a relatively modern act that involves audio recording. Before the advent of recording, Church looks at a few examples of folks who were trying to document either folk traditions of their own nearby environment, or music of other lands they’d contacted. A few examples are Joseph Ritson’s “Select Collection of English Songs” from 1783, or the 18th century French Jesuits who documented many aspects of Chinese culture, including music.

Our own Nebraska example of Alice Fletcher working with the Omaha tribe turns out to be quite significant in the development of song collecting, in that her time documenting native musical traditions overlapped between music transcription and recording. The technology in the late 1800s was limited to wax cylinder recording, which is fairly low resolution and also limited to very short passages, typically less than a minute at a time, but it was the beginning of the more modern iteration of song recording. Francis La Flesche accompanied Fletcher during some of her travels, and the recordings he made on these trips are essentially the beginning of the modern era of musicology, with field recordings to supplement transcriptions and written narratives. We have two of Fletcher’s books on Native American music here in Polley if you’re interested in learning more about her studies, by the way: A Study of Omaha Indian Music and Indian Story and Song from North America.

Song collecting really started cooking by the 1930s, and continued to grow every decade. A lot of this growth is directly related to evolving technology, both in the obvious arena of recording devices, but also in the ease, efficiency, and cost of travel. One can look at the case of the Lomaxes to see both of these factors in action. John Lomax and his son Alan are among the most important of American musicologists, folklorists, and song collectors, and together their efforts spanned most of the 20th Century. Between the two of them, their work documenting and sharing songs has weaved through almost every conceivable format. John’s first book, Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads, was published in 1910, containing tons of songs represented with transcribed melodies and lots of lyrics. We have a later edition of this book that was expanded by Alan here at Polley. In the teens and 20s, John Lomax continued to record songs throughout the country, at the time using an Edison recorder. By the 1930s, Alan was working with him, and they stayed on top of recording technology, switching to an aluminum disc recorder in the mid-30s, and eventually to a succession of tape-based machines.

John died in 1948, but Alan continued similar lines of work, eventually traveling around the world to make recordings, producing radio programs, commercially released recordings, and contributing to national archives. In the last decades of his life, he was devoted to an ambitious project that he called the “Global Jukebox,” which was intended to harness the power of computers and the internet to create a multimedia resource of the sounds and sights of the world for anyone to access. The project remained incomplete at the time of his death in 2002, but the Association for Global Equity that he founded continued the work, and the project is now live at theglobaljukebox.org for anyone to access.

If you think of the historical narrative of the book as a story, the Lomax section is probably the climax, since they were responsible for so much activity. The rest of the book focuses on song collecting on a smaller scale, and transitions to a world music focus rather than on Western folk music. But you’ll still find lots of fascinating information here. Perhaps many folks don’t know that novelist Paul Bowles as an avid song collector in his second home of Morocco, for example. And much of the international song collecting takes on more political overtones than the earlier portion of the book: there are chapters on the music of Russia, Afghanistan, and China, for example, all countries that at different times have exerted political pressure on their musicians to discourage or outright ban the playing of traditional musical styles. There is a brief but significant chapter on the significance of sound archives around the world, who aim to preserve and share all of these recordings, and for the need for such places to stay ahead of media format obsolescence, which is likely the biggest threat of all to long-term preservation. And towards the end, we get a fascinating discussion of the UNESCO list of “intangible cultural heritage” materials that are at risk of disappearing, which includes musical traditions.

All told, this book is a wonderful overview of what has amounted to multiple races against time to preserve historical musical traditions, as they come under threat from a variety of social, political, and even technical pressures. Although the work of these song collectors is always incomplete, their collective efforts have given us the extraordinary gift of ourselves, living and loving in different times and places.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Other Classical Musics: Fifteen Great Traditions by Michael Church, A Study of Omaha Indian Music and Indian Story and Song from North America both by Alice Fletcher, or Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads by John Lomax.)

( official Michael Church blog site )

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter
by Blaize Clement (Clement)

Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter is the first book in the Dixie Hemingway pet sitter mystery series. There are currently 11 books, with the first seven written by Blaize, and the final four, after her death in 2011, by her son, John. Book #11 came out in 2016.

We follow Dixie, a widowed, 32-year-old, former Sarasota deputy, as she spends her days taking care of pets while their owners are on vacation. And like all cozy mysteries, she encounters dead bodies wherever she goes.

Well written, we get to know her clients, their pets, her brother (a firefighter), his husband (an undercover cop), and other assorted characters from town. The well-crafted mysteries carefully unfold and we end up caring about the cast. In this introduction to the series, Dixie finds a dead man apparently drowned in the water dish of one of her clients.

This isn’t great literature, but I was pleasantly surprised at how engrossed I became in the stories and everyone’s lives.

The entire series is available as physical books, with the first two titles also accessible through Hoopla Audio.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Cat Who mystery series by Lillian Jackson Braun, Mrs. Murphy mystery series by Rita Mae Brown, and the Chet and Bernie mystery series by Spencer Quinn.)

( publisher’s official Dixie Hemingway mystery series web page)

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Recommended by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Every Missing Piece
by Melanie Conklin (j Conklin)

Maddy’s father drowns in an accident when she is eight. Now at the age of eleven, she finds herself freaking out and imagining an emergency around every corner. She is on a first name basis with Sherriff Dobbs, based on the number of calls she makes to his office. But how can she stay silent when she sees something she thinks is wrong? “All it takes is one little mistake, and your world can change forever. For example, you can end up without a dad.”

An Amber Alert is issued for a boy her age, Billy Holcomb, from another part of North Carolina. It’s all over the television and radio. Maddy imagines where the boy might be — perhaps he’s the new boy in town she has discovered hiding out and setting traps out by the cemetery. Even if she’s right, who would believe her? The girl who is always crying wolf? Her new stepfather, Stan, tries to befriend her, distract her, protect her. But she isn’t ready for someone to replace her father. I enjoyed Every Missing Piece and the thoughtful way the author compared life to a puzzle. Sometimes the pieces of your life fit just right. Sometimes your world gets tilted and the pieces get messed up. Sometimes some of the pieces go missing. In this book Maddy finds that life can change and turn into a completely different new puzzle. And that’s not a bad thing, as long as she can face life with the new pieces of her family together.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Pencilvania by Stephanie Watson, or Clues to the Universe by Christina Li.)

( official Every Missing Piece page on the official Melanie Conklin web site )

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Recommended by Cindy K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Sound Inventions: Selected Articles From Experimental Musical Instruments
edited by Bart Hopkin and Sudhu Tewari (Music 784.19 Sou)

At first glance around an orchestra, you might think to yourself that there sure are a lot of different instruments, but considering the long history of civilization, it also seems like we don’t develop a lot of new instruments regularly. The main families of musical instruments are hundreds of years old in pretty much every culture, and although we gradually make updates to some of them, the common instruments have stayed stable for centuries. I guess you could say that we’ve continued to be more inventive in the area of electronic instruments and effects more recently, and maybe that area of focus is even part of the reason that there haven’t been as many innovations in acoustic instruments lately.

There are still folks who design new instruments, and sometimes these can make really exciting, new sounds. For a period in the 1980s and 90s, there was a quarterly journal that documented their collective efforts, called “Experimental Musical Instruments,” edited by Bart Hopkin. In retrospect, this was a very important publication. At the time of its arrival, the participants and their instruments often landed in an area somewhere between sound art, sound sculpture, and experimental music, and all of those fields have continued to grow over the last two decades. It seems like an especially good time to revisit some of the information first revealed in these journal pages, but the original journals are hard to come by.

Enter Sound Inventions: Selected Articles From Experimental Musical Instruments, edited by Bart Hopkin and Sudhu Tewari. As I’m sure you can guess from the title, this new book contains some of the most pivotal selections from the original journals. It also features two great introductory essays that explain the history and context of the original journal’s publication run, and discuss the context and relevance for this information and the need for new instruments today.

For me, one of the most interesting things about getting to dig into these articles from Experimental Musical Instruments is that I had some preconceived notions about the musical intentions behind a lot of new instrument design that were proven to be inaccurate. While it’s true that there was a tendency among these instrument makers toward experimental music — they’re already deep in the process of experimentation with their instrument building, after all — there were other motivations and influences afoot in this community, too. In some cases, designers were simply building on traditions. There are a couple of articles included in the book that discuss gamelan music, for example. There is a long Gamelan tradition in Indonesia, but interestingly the tradition doesn’t emphasize certain aspects of music that Western traditions gravitated towards, like having a widely shared tuning center and temperament system. There are some commonalities in terms of scales used, but each village could have some substantial variation, and gamelan builders might choose a particular tuning center for personal reasons. In “A Comparative Tunings Chart,” unique attributes of these scales are discussed, and in “Daniel Schmidt’s American Gamelan Instruments,” we get to see how composer Daniel Schmidt applied these general principles to building his own gamelan instruments. Traditional music can be played with his designs, but they also act as a sort of platform for him to use specific kinds of timbres and tunings for his own compositions.

In this broad sense, there is another point worth mentioning: when the word “experimental” is used to describe the instruments in this book, sometimes there are real experiments going on with an eye toward playfulness and discovery, but at other times, the builders know very much what they’re after, and perhaps the word “experimental” isn’t the perfect description of what’s happening. I find this to be the case in a lot of so-called “experimental” music, too: if something doesn’t sound like familiar music, that term is often used to describe it, although in truth there may not be experimentation happening in the literal sense. In many cases throughout the book, instruments are being created that improve upon previous instrument designs in some specific way, or solve a practical problem of some kind.

A great example of the latter is the article entitled “Augustus Stroh and the Famous Stroh Violin,” which details the history of a whole family of instruments that were heavily used from about 1901 to 1920, and then completely forgotten. But they solved an important technical problem of the era: early recording technology struggled to capture and reproduce frequencies above 3000 Hz. This was problematic for recording the violin, for which much of its sound happens above that range. The Stroh violin, which was a strange looking instrument using an aluminum body with a trumpet-like bell horn instead of a typical wooden violin body, helped to solve this problem. It was both louder than a conventional violin, and because of its horn, it was quite directional, so a performer could point the instrument’s horn directly toward the recording horn for better recording quality.

Where improving on instrument designs is concerned, I think the article entitled “A Musical Instrument Workshop in Hanoi” is a fascinating read. Here we learn about the studio and living space of instrument builder Ta Tham, located on the Hanoi Music Conservatory campus. Tham had studied both Western and traditional Vietnamese instruments, and realized that Western instruments such as the piano and violin came about through long periods of design refinement. Now he has set out to approach Vietnamese instruments with the same kind of attention to expanded functionality and musicality, expanding their ranges or timbral capabilities.

And then there are some incredible and very experimental kinds of instruments. An article on Ellen Fullman’s “Long String Instrument,” an installation that usually spans around 90 feet, describes an instrument and approach that has been influential in experimental music circles since she first started working with the concept in the early 1980s. Long time experimental instrument designers like Tom Nunn, circuit bender Reed Ghazala, and the original editor of “Experimental Musical Instruments” Bart Hopkins himself are represented. Some articles deal with the underlying physical nature of sound itself, which is important to all kinds of instrument design, such as the aforementioned “Comparative Tunings Chart” and a fine article entitled “Relating Timbre and Tuning.” And some, like “Mechanical Speech Synthesis,” relate to the early days of technologies that have applications beyond the musical world. And toward the end of the book, there is a great article called “Beyond the Shaker: Experimental Instruments and the New Educational Initiatives” by John Bertles, in which he describes a number of approaches that would incorporate the same core fundamentals of music used in instrument design as parts of education curriculum.

Overall, Sound Inventions is the kind of book that I think can be inspiring for all kinds of musicians. As these instrument designers address their personal musical questions through instrument building, we can all learn from their unique perspectives. And so many of their instruments are just plain fun, producing surprising results and often looking as interesting as they sound.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Musical Instrument Design: Practical Information for Instrument Making by Bart Hopkin, Making Poor Man’s Guitars: Cigar Box Guitars, the Frying Pan Banjo, and Other DIY Instruments by Shane Speal, or Circuit Bending: Build Your Own Alien Instruments by Reed Ghazala.)

( publisher’s official Sound Inventions web site ) | ( official Bart Hopkin web site ) | ( official Sudhu Tewari web site )

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village
by Maureen Johnson, with illustrations by Jay Cooper (817 Joh)

I am a huge fan of the “British Cozy” — those English mystery novels that take place in innocuous country villages or manor houses that are scattered about the English countryside. And, boy are there a lot of those! Enough so that author Maureen Johnson and illustrator Jay Cooper felt they had a good audience of Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village, which acknowledges and pokes fun at the dozens of storytelling tropes that are attached to this style of mystery fiction.

Johnson writes with a wry and sardonic sense of humor, and Cooper’s illustrations are charming and disturbing at the same time — intricate black & white drawings, with occasional highlight spots in blood red. After “A Note to the Gentle Reader”, which warns you to never venture to English Villages or Manors on threat of imminent death, the book is divided into two sections: “The Village” with sub-sections on Buildings & Spaces, The Residents of the Village, and Village Events, and “The Manor”, with sub-sections on Buildings & Spaces, Rooms & Architecture, Furnishing & Features, the Residents of the Manor, Frequent Guests, The Staff, and Manor Events.

This book is pure, silly fun, with an incredible dark and wickedly morbid sense of humor. It should greatly appeal to fans of the “Cozy” style of mystery novel, though even if you don’t read cozies, but still watch the series featured on PBS’s Mystery series, you’ll still find plenty to be amused by. Each of the two sections features a follow-up quiz, to see how much you’ve been paying attention to the dire warnings that the book offers. A quick and enjoyable read with a smart and literary sense of humor!

(Cooper’s artwork reminds me of the macabre works of Edward Gorey, including The World of Edward Gorey, Haunted House Looking Glass: Ghost Stories, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, and the various entries in the Amphigorey series. Any of those, particularly the Gashlycrumb Tinies, are good matches to Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village.)

( official Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village page on the official Maureen Johnson web site ) | ( official Jay Cooper web site )

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


I Am Hutterite
by Mary-Ann Kirkby (Biography Kirkby)

I was given a copy of this book to read, knowing very little about the Hutterites. Most of the Hutterites fled Russia to relocate and form religious colonies in North America, especially in the Dakotas and southern Manitoba, Canada. Here in Lincoln, we are familiar with the Germans from Russia who moved into the areas closest to downtown Lincoln, also leaving Russia due to religious persecution. Although Hutterites did not settle here, we have the Amana colonies in Iowa featuring Amish communities, but these groups are very different from the colonies created by Hutterite families over the past century. Hutterites work and live together all for the good of the group. Children are raised by everyone, not just their own families. Looking at the Hutterite model as an outsider, I see a well-structured community run mainly by the women, but the decisions are made by the men. When someone goes against the rule of the main leader, splits from the community are the result. I found I Am Hutterite a fascinating look at an extraordinary group of people who have managed to maintain their religious beliefs in the midst of many challenges. I highly recommend this.

( official Mary-Ann Kirkby web site )

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Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


The Lost Jewels
by Kirsty Manning (Manning)

Having an interest in gems and minerals and history, this caught my eye partially for the cover art but also after reading the book jacket synopsis. This is a multi-layered story, based on actual events, about a stash of gorgeous and valuable gems and jewelry. I had never heard of the Cheapside jewels of London, so that filled a nice spot in my interest in unique historical anecdotes and beautiful artifacts. It is also a story of love and loss in different eras, and of how a search for the human truth surrounding the gem cache highlights individual truths, regrets, and happy endings.

The main plots of The Lost Jewels revolve around a young woman seeking to keep a promise to her father while fleeing fire and plague in 1600s London, another young woman trying to keep her poor and fatherless family intact while experiencing young love in 1910s England, and a contemporary journalist from Boston who is pursuing the mysterious and fascinating linkages involved while dealing with a personal tragedy and its aftermath.

( official The Lost Jewels page on the official Kirsty Manning web site )

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Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


Snow Treasure
by Marie McSwigan (jPB McSwigan)

In WWII, the Norwegian government managed to transport and evacuate its entire store of gold just before, and during, the Nazi invasion of Norway. The Nazis knew the gold was being moved and very nearly captured it. The gold was smuggled out in hundreds of crates and barrels on trains, local trucks, and private fishing vessels frequently while under attack. The treasure ended up in Britain, then was transported across the Atlantic. The entire amount, with only the loss of a few gold coins, arrived safely in the US and Canada. With the funds safely secured, Norway was able to maintain its government in exile and participate in the allied war effort.

The value was approximately more than $54 million in 1940 (equivalent to $1.8 billion in 2015). Imagine how the tide of the war could have turned if the Nazis had been able to get their hands on that amount of funding.

Snow Treasure is a fictional account of that evacuation, and involves the children of the town assisting their parents in moving the gold by hiding it on their sleds as they played. It had a Disneyesque feel to the story, and even with the improbable idea of letting children participate in this dangerous mission, I still enjoyed the characters and the tension in the story as they successfully smuggled out the gold.

An easy afternoon read of a fantastic story.

( Wikipedia page for Snow Treasure )

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Recommended by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee
by Marja Mills (Biography Lee)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of my all-time favorite novels. The characters that Harper Lee created and described are so vivid and memorable that this book became a hit almost immediately with the American people. The success of this book was such that it nearly overwhelmed its creator, who made the choice to not publish any more books until the end of her life. Harper withdrew from fame and lived a private life in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, with her older sister, Alice. For many years, Nelle Harper Lee refused to be interviewed or to discuss her book with the media. That all changed when Marja Mills of the Chicago Tribune contacted Harper to let her know that she was doing an article about the book in conjunction with the One Book, One Chicago program in the Chicago Public Library system. Harper responded with a rare statement: “When the people of Chicago assemble in various parts of the city to read and discuss To Kill a Mockingbird, there is no greater honor the novel could receive.” Marja headed to Alabama to find out more about this illusive author. Marja met Nelle Harper Lee and eventually became friends with Nelle and Alice, even moving in next door to them. We as readers get to be part of the inner circle of friends of the Lee family, getting to know them through their daily activities and conversations. The more I read this book, the more I wished I could have been there experiencing the developing friendship between these unlikely neighbors. One of my favorite lines in the book is from Nelle Harper Lee herself, responding to the question why she never wrote anything else: “Two reasons — first, I wouldn’t go through all the pressure and publicity I went through with Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.” This is a delightful book full of love and wit. I highly recommend it.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles Shields, the movie To Kill a Mockingbird starring Gregory Peck, and the original novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.)

( publisher’s official The Mockinbird Next Door web page)

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Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Chouette
by Claire Oshetsky (Oshetsky)

Giving birth to an owl-baby makes Tiny feel like even more of an outcast amongst the dog-people of her husband’s family. She tried to explain to her husband that this pregnancy would not be what he expected, but in his dog-people way, he just wouldn’t listen. When the owl-baby Chouette was born, he didn’t know what to make of this daughter who was unlike anyone he had ever known. Her strangeness causes him to withdraw, leaving Tiny to manage on her own. Her husband and his family, might be “big and strong” but Tiny, is small and fierce, and determined to provide for her little owl.

Chouette is a confusing magical musical metaphor of a story. The words are familiar and yet strangely put together. Frequently I’d stop and ask myself, what could be happening here? What is the author trying to say? I was compelled to keep reading.

This story resonated with me, because, raising any child is a mystery, and some even more-so. I sympathized with the complete life-altering effect Chouette had on Tiny and her husband’s world. They each struggled to find what’s best for their child and to come to terms with their differing opinions — should they try to train Chouette to be like everyone else or should they embrace her differences? Would “trying” even have any effect? Would Tiny and her dog-people husband ever be on the same page again? What will Chouette’s future hold? Would Chouette’s existence consume Tiny?

Of interest especially to music-minded, Oshetsky frequently provides musical backgrounds for scenes. A playlist is available: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7nYbCnB7NnAnWHS9x2PqZv https://www.npr.org/2021/11/23/1058302815/chouette-is-part-owl-part-human-baby-fine-but-how-to-raise-her

NPR discussion with the author: https://www.npr.org/2021/11/14/1055640680/a-parable-about-motherhood-chouette-begins-with-a-human-birth-to-an-owl-baby

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try books that also have a surreal, metaphoric feel or mysterious point of view. (or maybe a “Curious” point of view, like in Alice, “curiouser and curiouser”). Some examples: Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, The Night Rainbow by Claire King (not available at the libraries presently), Nightbitch: A Novel by Rachel Yoder or Borne by Jeff Vandermeer.)

( official Chouette and Claire Oshetsky web site )

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Recommended by Carrie K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time
by Ray Padgett (Music 781.64 Pad)

Ray Padgett, editor of the online blog www.covermesongs.com, distills his writings about the hundreds, if not thousands of “cover song” performances throughout modern musical history, down to 19 of the most noteworthy covers. What is a “cover song” you ask? It has changed over the years, but essentially it is when a song that was written and/or performed by one particular musical artist, is taken by a different musical artist, who modifies it to fit their own artistic style, and releases a subsequent recording of their new version.

It is when the later version achieves even greater renown than the original that a “Cover Song” achieves true fame. The 19 songs (and their performers) profiled in this book range from (in time period) from Elvis Presley turning Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” into one of his own greatest hits, to Jimi Hendrix putting his own spin on Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”, to The Talking Heads’ version of the Al Green hit “Take Me to the River”, to Whitney Houston’s megahit version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”, and concluding with another Bob Dylan song, “Make You Feel My Love”, as performed by Adele. Along the way, there’s a stopover to look at Weird Al Yankovic’s polka medley adaptations of a variety of recent hit songs.

Each of the 19 is given a full chapter, going into the history of the original creation of the song by the original artist, the various other versions that may have been released as covers, and then the background of how the most famous cover version was recorded and marketed. I learned a little something about each and every one of these 19 hits, without feeling like I needed to read an entire book about each song.

In some ways, I wish a CD compilation of the songs (both the originals and covers) had been included with the book, to allow me to listen along, but in today’s music world of being able to call up audio and video files on demand, it was easy enough to find the music online to accompany my reading of this fascinating volume. Padgett offers a very helpful bibliography at the back, listing all of the books, and magazine and newspaper articles that he references for the songs in each chapter.

Admittedly, limiting himself to only 19 songs means that the author has merely scratched the surface of the world of cover songs. But for what it DOES cover, Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time is a very entertaining and information read. And in encouraged me to visit his blog site, which has a wealth of great information about the world of cover performances.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the online blog Cover Me, created and maintained by Ray Padgett.)

( official www.covermesongs.com web site )

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Stompbox: 100 Pedals of the World’s Greatest Guitarists
by Eilon Paz (Music 787.87 Paz)

Rock and pop guitarists have relied heavily on “stompboxes,” or effects they could control with their feet, since the days of Jimi Hendrix, Since then, players of many other instruments have incorporated them into their work, too. These little gadgets can become essential parts of various musicians’ “sound,” adding something just right and inspiring them to play differently. And in some cases, effects pedals can become instruments unto themselves.

These humble electronic devices got their start trying to emulate sounds that engineers would apply to recordings in studios, so that musicians could make similar sounds anywhere they might be playing. Likely everyone is familiar with some of the basics: there are reverb and delay pedals that make the sound appear to be in a much larger room than you might be playing in. There are various overdrive, distortion and fuzz pedals that make instruments sound like they’re overwhelming the amp that they’re being played through, or like a speaker is damaged. And various kinds of effects have become an iconic part of various music genres: slapback echo and gated reverb are a critical part of rockabilly, envelope filters on bass immediately bring funk music to mind, and distorted guitars are the classic sound of rock and roll, to name a few examples.

Musicians develop long relationships with the effects they use the most, just like their favorite instruments, and we have a great new book called Stompbox: 100 Pedals of the World’s Greatest Guitarists that is a much more in-depth look at the history and mystery of these magical boxes than the title suggests. The first section of the book, taking up a little over half of the page count, delivers on the book title. We get 100 high-quality photos of iconic effects pedals owned by notable artists from a wide range of music genres, along with a page or two of comments from each artist regarding their favorite pedal. Artists are represented in alphabetical order, so it’s easy to flip through this portion of the book to see if your favorites are there without even consulting the table of contents. The photos themselves are a lot of fun, as most of these stompboxes have been heavily used by their owners while touring, and most have the scars of a long life on the road. Many have lines or dots painted on as calibration points for their favorite settings, so each knob can be put back into place throughout the hustle and bustle of travel. We’ve all seen photos of well-worn guitars, but imagine how much more worn objects get when they spend their lives on the floors of dingy stages, and are used by stepping on them!

Most of the featured artists are still active, and it’s interesting to see the variety of their choices: some use old classics, while a surprising amount gravitate toward very new designs. Musicians tend to be their most conservative when it comes to choosing equipment, preferring to go with tried and true standards, but stompboxes are one of those corners of the musical world where the newest adventures still go hand in hand with classics. A few deceased artists who were known for their iconic use of effects are also featured, such as Allan Holdsworth, Frank Zappa, Dimebag Darrell, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and of course Jimi Hendrix, who first brought the use of effects with the electric guitar to the level of artistry. These folks are represented through quotations and remembrances of their friends or techs that worked on their equipment professionally.

If you’re into effects pedals yourself, or a fan of the electric guitar or guitar players, this much of the book would likely be enough to make it a worthwhile read. But then we get a “Features” section that makes up the rest of the book, with five very useful articles that place effects pedals into a broader historical context. This section gets started with a history lesson written by Dave Hunter, which goes back to the early history of simply trying to make guitars louder, which then lead to amplification. Once electric instruments were possible, the beginnings of effects started to happen through guitar and amplifier design. As technology evolved and the transistor became smaller and more affordable, guitar pedals became a reality in the 1960s. When viewed as part of a larger historical timeline like this, effects pedals don’t really seem so separate from electronic instruments in general—they’re just another aspect of the development of amplified instruments throughout the 20th Century.

Next we get a section called “Effects Explained,” which is very helpful to those who might not be familiar with the kinds of sounds generated by different effects by name. This is followed by a roundtable discussion with 15 different effects pedal designers, who are represented answering some general questions about what it’s like to build pedals today. This section acts as a bit of a photo essay, too, as each builders’ work environment is shown in large photos throughout the piece.

I think the next section is a particularly important one for a wide range of musicians, as it features an essay about the use of effects pedals on devices other than the electric guitar. Although effects pedals have historically been developed in conjunction with guitar players, they are frequently used by musicians who play other instruments as well, and they also come in handy as production tools in recording studios, where they are often applied to things like drum and vocal tracks. We find several excellent interviews with non-guitarist musicians here, such as drummer Matt Chamberlain, violinist Lisa Molinaro, synthesizer legend Jean-Michel Jarre, and saxophonist Skerik, all of whom use effects pedals both for studio recordings and in their live performances. Producer Justin Meldal-Johnson also chimes in about using pedals in recording studio environments, and there is a short overview about the use of effects pedals for vocalists as well.

The final two sections are an historical overview of the role of art and visual design of effects pedals, and a look at some rare pedals that belong to pedal collectors. While I generally get a little queasy at the notion of musical tools as art objects or collectibles, I did find the final collection shown here to be quite interesting, as it highlighted several Soviet-era Russian pedals, not the sort of thing one often sees. It’s a great reminder that these little devices have found musical uses outside of the English-speaking world.

As more boutique stompbox builders enter the market every day — a lot of new designers have started businesses during the pandemic—and as the features some of these devices are capable of has in some cases increased to the point where they can be considered instruments themselves, this is a great time to familiarize yourself with their history and where things are now. Stompbox is a great place to start your journey.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Pedal Culture: Guitar Effects Pedals by Megan Pai.)

( U.S. publisher’s official Stompbox web page ) | ( official Eilon Paz web site )

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


The Owly series
by Andy Runton (jPB (Series) Runton)

I stumbled across the first volume in this series a year ago and fell in love with the charming art. Actually, “Owly” first premiered in 2004 from a different publisher, with somewhat muted colors, but since his 2020 re-introduction from publisher “Graphix” (an imprint from the youth Scholastic publisher), he’s been a full-color phenomenon. Owly is a short, round, friendly little owl, who lives in a walk-up treetop home and spends his days playing, gardening, and roaming his forest, looking to make new friends. He shows none of the traits of owls that classify them as “predators”, and is in fact, one of the least-threatening characters around.

In the first volume (of four so far), Owly rescues a small earthworm from drowning in a puddle after a storm, and he and Wormy then become best friends, after Owly helps Wormy find his family. In all subsequent volumes, Owly and Wormy have become roommates and share all their exploring adventures together. Owly is constantly having to overcome the reputation of owls as a frightening species to most other animals he encounters, which causes the “making friends” part of his day to be difficult. In the second volume, “Just a Little Blue”, Owly and Wormy build a new home for a family of bluebirds, who don’t initially trust in their good intentions. In volume three, “Flying Lessons”, a skittish flying squirrel, new to the woods, ultimately teaches Owly how to glide (his wings are too small to take off, but if he starts at a high enough height, he can still glide). And in the fourth volume, “A Time to Be Brave”, a frightened Wormy has to be convinced that a timid but toothy opossum is not the frightening dragon from a fairytale book that Owly is reading.

The artwork in this entire series is incredibly vivid and bright, and each character introduced definitely has its own look. The pair of ruby-throated hummingbirds introduced in volume 1 are absolutely adorable. Unlike most of the other characters, whose word balloons include actual text, Owly does not “speak” with words, but instead his word balloons are filled with symbols or little pictures, which make perfect narrative sense, but take a little getting used to as a reader. Overall, a heartwarming and charming series of simple graphic novels, aimed at a young audience, but adults will appreciate the messages of friendship, hope and generosity exemplified by these beautifully illustrated characters.

( official Owly and Andy Runton web site )

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Pencilvania
by Stephanie Watson (j Watson)

Zora is an artist. Well, she was an artist. That was before, when her mom was alive and she wasn’t living with her Grandma. Ever since her mom died of leukemia, that special spark that ignites in her chest and bursts into her drawings — she and her mom called it Voom — hasn’t come back. Zora isn’t sure that she will ever be able to draw again.

And that makes her mad. So so mad. She scribbles through all her favorite artwork. And then something happens. The scribbles turn into dark green ropes that pull her and her sister Frankie into her artwork. The sisters wake up in a strange land, filled with all the different characters and landscapes that Zora has ever drawn. It’s called Pencilvania.

But something is wrong there. One of the horses she traced after she lost her Voom has been taken over by the green scribbles. His name is Viscardi and he is determined to scribble out Pencilvania and destroy it.

Zora finds that she doesn’t want to lose her artwork. She doesn’t want it destroyed and so she must battle Viscardi to save her artwork. But how? She thinks perhaps the drawings she made of her mother will help her to save Pencilvania. But it turns out that they are just drawings. Zora must find the power from within, she must reignite her Voom to overcome the evil Viscardi, and eventually return home.

Although Pencilvania appears a childish book, the themes in the book are anything but trivial. How do you find your way back to who you are when everything you have ever known is suddenly gone? I found the book to be a wonderful read about one girls struggle to face grief and overcome the darkness to find a new beginning.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Every Missing Piece by Melanie Conklin, or Lemons by Melissa Savage.)

( official Pencilvania page on the official Stephanie Watson web site )

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Recommended by Cindy K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


The Secret Garden on 81st Street
by Ivy Noelle Weir (jPB (Series) Weir)

I remember being enchanted with the book The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett when I read it as a child. I figured I would give the retelling, The Secret Garden on 81st Street, a shot to see if it was any good. I was pleasantly surprised to find this new graphic novel version was a beautiful retelling, but with a fun modern twist.

Mary Lennox of Silicon Valley, California lives a very secluded life connecting to the world online. She eats ordering Uber Eats or smoothies, attends charter online school, and fills her days with video games and social media. When her parents die in an accident, she is taken to New York City to live with her Uncle Archie. There’s no television, no video games, no Uber Eats, no smoothies and nothing to do. Uncle Archie is never home, traveling for work, and Mary has to learn to fill her time in the real world. She discovers museums, local restaurants, and Central Park.

She also fills her time exploring her new home. That’s when she discovers a secret roof-top garden, once cultivated and loved by Uncle Archie’s late husband Masahiro. She also discovers a room with a cousin she never knew she had, Colin Craven. Colin suffers from anxiety and other mental health issues that makes him fear the outside world. Along with Colin, and a new friend Dickon, she discovers a love for gardening and connecting to people that she has never experienced before.

The graphic novel is beautifully illustrated by Amber Padilla. I was pleased to discover it is actually second in a graphic novel series called Classic Graphic Remix. The first copy was entitled Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy (based on Little Women), but was written by a different author and illustrator. All in all, The Secret Garden on 81st Street is an engaging book that puts the children’s classic in a relatable tale for kids today. I highly recommend it to children and adults alike.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy by Rey Terciero, or Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel by Mariah Marsden.)

( publisher’s official The Secret Garden on 81st Street web page ) | ( official Ivy Noelle Weir web site )

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Recommended by Cindy K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Screening Room

formatdvdCruella
(DVD YA Cruella)

I’ll have to admit, after seeing both Maleficent and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, and this new film, Cruella— I just don’t understand the Disney company’s need to do live-action explorations of their animated villains’ backstories. Attempting to “humanize” such unrepentant evil characters from classic films puts a bit of a tarnish on the originals.

I’m a huge fan of both Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, which was enough to make me check out this DVD. Cruellaexplores the formative years of young orphan Estella, she of the shockingly distinct black and white hair. She blames herself for misbehavior that ultimately led to her mother’s tragic death. A life on the streets of London working with Pascal and Horace, as successful pickpockets and small-time thieves, ultimately leads her to a job in the fashion industry, her life-long goal. But the major hurdle to her own success is the amoral, narcissistic Baroness (Emma Thompson), head of the company Estella is employed by. Baroness is alternately Estella’s mentor and nemesis, until a secret is revealed and Estella must abandon her “good girl” persona to become “Cruella”, a “bad girl” personality she had growing up, as part of her elaborate plans for revenge.

The performances in the film are good to great. The production design, and particularly the musical backdrops of the film are spectacular. Unfortunately, Cruella, on the whole, is merely an exercise in style over substance — it is swimming in style, but ultimately has little-to-no substance to speak of. I just felt a little empty after watching it, no matter amazing some of the imagery was.

Your mileage may vary. Particularly based on how much you enjoy Emma Stone.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Maleficent, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil or 101 Dalmatians)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


formatdvdDune
(DVD Dune)

I first read Dune by Frank Herbert while still in college and was fascinated by its view of life in the future. I anticipated great things from the film version of Dune in 1984 from director David Lynch, but was sadly disappointed. When I heard that a new version of Dune was being released last year, I thought that it would be as disappointing as the first version. I am happy to say that I was very much mistaken. This production of Dune is well worth watching if you are a fan of Frank Herbert’s novels. Actor Timothee Chalamet does an outstanding job of portraying Paul Antreides, son of Duke Leto Antreides, a gifted young man who is being described as the saviour for the Fremen on the new world that his family has come to inhabit. Treachery leads to the death of his father and the attempted murder of Paul and his mother as well. They manage to escape to the desert world that the Fremen inhabit and are drawn in to their society. The special effects are outstanding. The cast is exceptionally good with Rebecca Ferguson as Paul’s mother, Jessica Atreides, Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho and Zendaya as Chani. I am looking forward to the release of part two of this well-made fantasy.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Star Wars.)

(Also available in traditional print format.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Dune (2021) web site )

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Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


formatdvdGhostbusters: Afterlife
(DVD Ghostbusters)

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021), a direct sequel to the first two Ghostbusters films (1984 and 1989 respectively), succeeds by combining a lot of direct references to the originals with a completely new setting and somewhat different tone. Director Jason Reitman (son of the original’s writer/director Ivan Reitman, capably takes the franchise in a new direction, while remaining true to the spirit of the original, unlike the 2016 film Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, which merely tried to reboot the franchise, and badly misfired along the way.

In Ghostbusters: Afterlife, struggling single mother Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon) packs up her teenage son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and 11-year-old science nerd daughter Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and drags them across the country to the middle of nowhere — Summerville, Oklahoma. Callie’s estranged father, Egon, moved there decades ago and became something of an eccentric hermit. Egon has recently passed away (actor Harold Ramis, who played Egon Spengler in the two original films, died in 2014), and she has inherited his remote country house and the property surrounding it. Trevor attempts to fit in with the local teens, while Phoebe is more interested in exploring the various scientific experiments her late grandfather left behind — though she does befriend “Podcast”, a young classmate obsessed with his social media output.

As unexplained seismic events occur in the surrounding countryside, Phoebe, Podcast and Trevor uncover the original Ghostbusters’ ectomobile, uniforms, proton packs and ghost traps. Local teacher (and fellow science nerd) Gary Gruberson (Paul Rudd), helps them connect the dots enough to realize who Egon really was and that the original Ghostbusters were actually real and not just urban legends.

The second half of Ghostbusters: Afterlife is filled with tons of throwback references to many of the things that made the 1984 Ghostbusters such a huge hit. However, this film relies more on its character relationships and development, than with the gee-whiz technology, wild special effects and snarky dialog. This film has serious heart, and in the end is a love letter to the original film and its cast. It doesn’t hurt that most of the original’s surviving cast members make significant appearances in this film, without stealing the spotlight from the “next generation”. In fact, to be honest, McKenna Grace completely steals this film as Phoebe, with her eerie similarity to Egon. Production design, effects work (done in such as way as to recreate the style of effects from the 1984 film), costume design, and cinematography are all great. I also loved the soundtrack, in which composer Rob Simonsen managed to both pay tribute to, and build on, the work of Elmer Bernstein from the first film.

While I’ll readily admit that Ghostbusters: Afterlife has numerous plot and logic holes, it was still easily my favorite new film of 2021. It succeeds because it builds on the history of the Ghostbusters, instead of trying to rewrite that history. As someone who grew up with the 1984 film as one of the pinnacles of science fiction films in my youth, this was terrific! (If you were a fan of the animated “The Real Ghostbusters” series, this movie ignore those.)

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Ghostbusters (1984), and Ghostbusters 2 (1989).)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official www.ghostbusters.com web site )

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


formatdvdLast Night in Soho
(DVD Last)

Ellie Turner dreams of becoming a fashion designer and is accepted into fashion school in London. She’s creative but she also can see visions of her dead mother wherever she goes. Ellie moves to London for school. After experiencing issues with her classmates she moves out of the dorm and rents a room in town. When she sleeps in that room she is transported back to the 60’s every night and views the life of wannabe singer, Sandie. The dreams get darker and darker each night. Is Sandie real or is she like her mother? Dreams start to blur with reality when she encounters certain people and places she sees in her dreams. Can she save Sandie before it’s too late?

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Black Swan, Split, Suspiria, Before I Wake or The Woman in Black.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official Last Night in Soho web site )

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Recommended by Carrie R.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


last updated March 2022
* Please Note: The presence of a link on this site does not constitute an endorsement by Lincoln City Libraries.

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