Review: Meet Me In Venice by Barbara Hannay

 

Title: Meet Me in Venice

Author: Barbara Hannay

Published: August 6th 2019, Michael Joseph

Status: Read August 2019, courtesy PenguinRandomHouse

 

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My Thoughts:

Meet Me in Venice is a lovely, heartfelt story from multi-award-winning author, Barbara Hannay.

A year after the sudden death of her beloved husband, Daisy Benetto can think of no better place for a family reunion than Venice, the place of Leo’s birth. While Daisy and her youngest daughter, nineteen year old Ellie, will fly in from their home in Queensland, Australia, oldest son Marc, and his wife, will be traveling from California’s Silicon Valley, and Anna from London, where she has been trying to launch her career as an actress.

Hannay has created a loving, ordinary family in Meet Me in Venice with whom most readers will relate. Daisy is a warm, caring mother who is proud of her children, and her children clearly adore her in return. I thought the dynamics of the sibling relationships rang true, with the rivalries and role playing that often carry into adulthood.

Daisy’s children all want her to have a wonderful time in Venice and so are determined not to worry her with their own problems, but that’s not easy in such close quarters when tensions sit so close to the surface. The strain only increases when the family learns that Leo kept a secret from them all which threatens to undermine what they thought they knew of the husband and father they admired. I really liked the way in which Hannay dealt with all of these varied issues and the way in which they were resolved.

Hannay‘s novels are usually set in rural Australia but this is set almost wholly in Venice. It’s such an appealing city and the descriptions of its historic architecture, delicious cuisine and rich culture enhance the enjoyment of the story.

A captivating story about family, love and life’s journey, Meet Me in Venice is an engaging and enjoyable read.

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Also by Barbara Hannay reviewed at Book’d Out 

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Review: White Horses by Rachael Treasure

 

Title: White Horses

Author: Rachael Treasure

Published: August 17th 2019, HarperCollins Au

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

When I started making notes to write this review of White Horses by Rachael Treasure, I was disheartened to realise that on balance, the negatives for me outweighed the positives. This has nothing to do with the quality of writing as such, and everything to do with specific elements of the story that I personally didn’t care for.

Treasure’s passion for regenerative agriculture, and ethical animal husbandry, something she herself practices on her farm in Tasmania, is admirable and is clearly communicated in White Horses. It’s evident, even to a lay person, that the agricultural industry needs to embrace more sustainable, holistic methods of farming and Treasure doesn’t hesitate to drive this point this point home at every opportunity. ‘The Planet’ does sound inspirational, but there is no denying it has a cultish vibe, especially with the talk of the ‘Waking World’ vs the ‘Sleeping World’.

I really wasn’t too keen on the spiritual overtones of the story overall. While I’m all for love and light, compassion and cooperation, I personally found the endless philosophising a bit grating, and I thought the idea of the ‘ghost girl’ was cheesy.

I liked Drift (aka Melody Wood) well enough, she is smart, capable, idealistic, and feisty but also insecure and a bit naive. Her unusual upbringing, spent droving with her father, certainly seemed to have had some benefits, especially when it came to her connection with the land and the environment, but I was a little bothered that the author seemed to consider her isolation from her peers and unfamiliarity with technology somehow laudable.

The romance between Drift and ‘the stockman’ was okay, and obviously it all turns out fine. I would have preferred we had the opportunity to ‘see’ them spend more time together, instead we really only witness them at two crisis points.

*spoiler* One point I feel compelled to make is that the likelihood of ‘the stockman’ being legally allowed to re-enter the country, which leads to the HEA, would be almost nil, and it bugged me.

My biggest issue with the book however was the lack of repercussions for the men who assaulted Drift. It appeared that in both instances there were no formal charges laid against any of the men for the attacks on her (though it was hinted that they eventually faced consequences for other crimes). Perhaps I’m mistaken in my interpretation, but it seemed to me that the author implied that Drift was too ‘spiritual’ to require that the men answer for their crimes against her, and I was uncomfortable with that idea.

White Horses has received several glowing reviews from readers who were delighted with it, unfortunately I just wasn’t one of them.

Read a Sample

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Available from HarperCollins Australia

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Review: The Day the Lies Began by Kylie Kaden

 

Title: The Day The Lies Began

Author: Kylie Kaden

Published: August 13th 2019, Pantera Press

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy Pantera Press/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Kylie Kaden’s third novel, The Day The Lies Began, is an absorbing contemporary story of secrets, lies, love and loyalty.

“Doing the wrong thing had felt entirely right at the time.”

It begins for Abbi Adams with a lie told with the best of intentions – to protect her husband, and her five year old daughter, Eadie – but she is soon struggling under the burden of her deception. As is Blake, Abbi’s (foster) brother and loyal co-conspirator, who has everything to lose, including his career as a police officer, if their duplicity is revealed. The dark secret Abbi and Blake share is central to the plot, but even they are not in possession of all the facts, and as the story unfolds, so too does the truth, which results in some stunning surprises for the characters, and the reader.

“And in every choice since; in every betrayal covering the one before, it lingered. She could never quite escape the stench.“

Kaden has created provocative, complex characters who are burdened by secrets which threaten to undermine the stability of not only their own lives, but the lives of those they love. The Day The Lies Began focuses on five characters, Abbi and her husband, Will; Blake, Abbi’s (foster) brother, and his on/off girlfriend Hannah; and teenage Molly. The truth for each of them is complicated by guilt and regret, loyalty and love.

“…now you know the truth, it’s your truth to do what you want with.”

While the first half of the novel is important in establishing character, relationships, and motives, it dragged on about fifty pages too long with a repetitive cycle of Abbi’s panic. Persistence is rewarded however, and the last half of the book is compelling after the shocking incident that sparked Abbi’s lie is finally revealed.

“She’d have to stay a killer. It was simpler.”

The Day The Lies Began is an enjoyable and provocative novel of domestic suspense.

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Available from Pantera Press

or from your preferred retailer via Booko I BookDepository

 

Also  by Kylie Kaden reviewed at Book’d Out

 

Review: The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoades

 

 

Title: The Burnt Country (Woolgrowers Companion #2)

Author: Joy Rhoades

Published: August 6th 2019, Bantam

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse

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My Thoughts:

The Burnt Country is the second novel from Joy Rhoades, a stand alone sequel to her debut novel, The Woolgrower’s Companion.

Set in rural NSW in 1946, Kate Dowd is making a success of Amiens, the sheep station she inherited after the death of her father three years previously. Few admire her for it though, especially neighbouring grazier, John Fleming, and his cronies, who take every opportunity to undermine Kate’s management. Already under siege from her estranged husband, the Aboriginal Welfare Board, and the unexpected return of Luca Canali, Kate is feeling the strain, which only worsens when a bushfire rages through Longhope, a man is killed, and the community seems determined to lay the blame at Kate’s feet.

Rhoades skilfully captures the setting and period in which The Burnt Country is set. Her descriptions of the environs are evocative, and I could easily visualise Amiens. The characters of The Burnt Country were fully realised, and their attitudes and behaviour felt true to the time period.

“Kate knew: the same rules didn’t apply to her as to other graziers, to the men. If she did anything that was disapproved of the town felt, without exception, that she needed to be taught a lesson, as if she were a child.”

If I’m honest I spent most of the book frustrated by Kate, even with the knowledge of the very real societal constraints a woman of her time, and in her position would face. She was very rarely the agent of her own fate, it was really only through the actions of others that she, and Amiens, were saved.

I adored Harry, Kate’s Informal teenage ward, though. Clever, cheeky and curious, he provided some levity in tense moments. I also had a great deal of sympathy for Daisy, and her daughter, Pearl. The policies of the Aboriginal Welfare Board were (and remain) shameful.

Perhaps because I hadn’t read The Woolgrower’s Companion, I wasn’t particularly invested in Kate’s relationship with Luca, though his adoration of her was clear. I was definitely glad Kate was finally able to rid herself of her awful husband.

”For the woolgrower, the turn of the seasons and the array of assaults upon his endeavours require both constancy and seal.”

Well written and engaging, The Burnt Country is a lovely novel, one I’d happily recommend to readers who enjoy quality Australian historical fiction. As a bonus, The Burnt Country also includes period recipes from the author’s family collection, and thoughtful discussion questions for the benefit of Book Clubs.

Read an extract

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Available from PenguinRandomHouse AU

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Review: The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle by Sophie Green

 

 

Title: The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle

Author: Sophie Green

Published: July 23rd 2019, Hachette

Status: Read July 2019 courtesy Hachette/

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My Thoughts:

 

The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle by Sophie Green is an inspirational and heartwarming testament to female friendship.

In need of some time for herself, busy wife and mother Theresa Howard opts for a daily dawn swim at Shelly Bay Beach. It’s there that she meets the widowed Marie, who has swum from Shelly Bay to Little Beach, and back again, almost every morning of her long life. The two women are soon joined by Elaine Schaeffer, the British wife of an Australian heart surgeon, who is struggling with homesickness, and somewhat reluctantly, Leeane, a young pediatric nurse with a painful past. Little more than strangers to one another, these four women soon become the closest of friends.

Beginning in the summer of 1982, the companionship that Theresa, Marie, Elaine and Leeane find in the water, slowly moves beyond the shore of Shelley Bay Beach, and as each woman encounters a myriad of life changes over the next two years, they reach out to one another in friendship. Getting to know these four authentically written characters is gratifying journey as we share their journeys through happiness and sorrow.

While Green sensitively explores difficult, but not uncommon, challenges faced by women such as infidelity, divorce, grief, loneliness, ageing, alcoholism, family estrangement, sexual assault and illness, her characters share moments of joy and laughter too. They find within themselves, and each other, the strength and courage, to love, and live, their lives fully.

“They’re all women she loves, and she knows they love her in return. It’s been enough to get her through some days, and she knows what Marie would say: it never ends. Love is eternal…”

Written with heart, humour and compassion, The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle is a wonderful read.

Read an Excerpt

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Available from Hachette Australia

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Review: The Desert Midwife by Fiona McArthur

Title: The Desert Midwife

Author: Fiona McArthur

Published: July 16th 2019, Michael Joseph

Status: Read July 2019, courtesy Penguin

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My Thoughts:

There’s a lot to like about Fiona McArthur’s newest rural romance novel, The Desert Midwife.

Sparks fly when Outback midwife Ava May, and locum emergency doctor, Zac Logan meet on a flight to Alice Springs, and within the week both are considering the possibility of a shared future. Then a shocking accident robs Zac of his memory and with it perhaps, their dreams of happy ever after.

The Desert Midwife is set in The Northern Territory, moving between Alice Springs, Kata Tjuta, and Ava’s family cattle station, Setabilly, situated around 70km from Uluru.

While the romance is central to the novel, McArthur explores several social important issues in The Desert Midwife, from the difficulties associated with maternity care in remote areas, to the emotional and financial stress experienced by station owners affected by the extended drought, and the importance of Uluru to the Anangu, the Pitjantjatjara people.

Unfortunately it was the initial romance that I found largely unconvincing. While I’m willing to believe in the possibility of love at first sight, I found it hard to believe a man of Zac’s background, and circumstance, would really be willing to propose within a week, especially given the practical obstacles to the relationship.

I did like the characters of Ava and Zac though, and enjoyed the attraction between them. Ava’s mother, Stella, and grandmother Mim, are wonderful characters, both strong, interesting women. Jock, Ava’s brother, is sympathetic, struggling as he is with depression.

A story of strength, struggle, family and the miracle of love, The Desert Midwife is an engaging read.

Read an Excerpt

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Available from Penguin Au

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#lovebetweenthepages

Also by Fiona McArthur reviewed at Book’d Out

 

Review: The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

 

Title: The Blue Rose

Author: Kate Forsyth

Published: July 16th 2019, Vintage

Status: Read July 2019 courtesy Penguin AU

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My Thoughts:

 

The Blue Rose is an enthralling tale of love, betrayal, peril, and adventure, set against the turmoil of the French Revolution, and the inscrutable Empire of China.

After disgracing her father, Marquis de Ravoisier, at the court of Versailles, Viviane de Faitaud is exiled to her late mother’s estate, the Chateau de Belisama-sur-le-Lac in Brittany, where she spent her childhood. Though meant as a punishment, Viviane is happy in Belisama, far from her father’s cruel attentions, and able to regularly escape the notice of her chaperone.

While the estate is barely viable after years of the Marquis’s mismanagement and neglect, when Viviane’s father remarries, he decrees that an extravagant garden shall be created to honour his new bride and hires an ambitious young Welshman to design and oversee it’s construction. David Stronach hopes that the commission will launch his career among the French nobility, allowing him to support his family, and throws himself into the project, but he soon finds himself distracted by the beauty and grace of Viviane.

Despite the impossibility of the match, Viviane and David fall in love, but when the Marquis discovers their romance, David barely escapes the chateau with his life, and Viviane is given no choice but to marry a rich Duke more than twice her age. Believing her lover dead, Vivienne returns to the palace of Louis XVI, just as the revolution begins to gather momentum, while David, believing himself betrayed, joins a British diplomatic mission to Imperial China at the behest of Sir Joseph Banks.

Forsyth deftly illustrates the decadence of life at the court of Versailles under the reign of Louis XVI, and the extraordinary evolution of the French Revolution. After the death of her hated husband during riots in Paris, Vivane serves as a lady in waiting to Marie-Antoinette and stays with the beleaguered royal family as their rule falters. Seen through Viviane’s eyes, the French royal family, especially the much maligned Marie-Antoinette, become humanised as they face the situation with bewilderment, grief, and growing horror. The author’s recounting of the astonishing historical events that defined the Revolution, from the demands of the Third Estate, to the storming of Bastille, and finally to the wholesale imprisonment and gruesome beheadings of the country’s aristocracy, is utterly engrossing.

David’s journey was inspired by the author’s discovery of a diplomatic mission led by Lord Macartney at the behest of King George III to request the Chinese Emperor open trade with Britain, during which a member of the party gathered botanicals and shipped them to Sir Joseph Banks. This trip fits neatly into the timeline of the story, and ties beautifully into David’s desire to obtain a blood-red rose, unavailable in Europe at the time. I found David’s expedition by sea, and his impressions of Imperial China, interesting.

As with much of Forsyth’s recent work, The Blue Rose also takes some inspiration from traditional lore, in this instance a version of The Blue Rose, a Chinese folk tale. It is a romantic story that ties beautifully into David’s quest, and his relationship with Vivane.

An enchanting, captivating novel, with a plausible, seamless narrative which melds compelling historical fact, with vividly imagined fiction, The Blue Rose is another spectacular story from Kate Forsyth.

Read an Excerpt

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Available from Penguin Au

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Also by Kate Forsyth reviewed at Book’d Out

 

 

 

Review: The Roadhouse by Kerry McGinnis

Title: The Roadhouse

Author: Kerry McGinnis

Published: July 2nd 2019, Michael Joseph: Penguin

Status: Read July 2019, courtesy Penguin AU

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My Thoughts:

The Roadhouse is an engaging story of romantic suspense, the eleventh novel set in the Australian Outback region from author Kerry McGinnis.

When Charlie Carver learns of her cousin’s suicide, she decides to leave behind her life in Melbourne, making her way to the remote roadhouse, east of Alice Springs, that she calls home. Little seems to have changed during her five year absence, except her mother appears to be struggling, and within days of Charlie’s return, Molly has a heart attack is is airlifted to Adelaide for life saving surgery.

Charlie willingly steps up to run the roadhouse with the assistance of long time handyman, Bob, and a new cook, Polish backpacker Ute, and is also tasked with taking care of the details related to her cousin’s death. Though she disliked Annabelle, whose beauty barely masked her selfishness, and is beginning to suspect that the suicide could have been faked, Charlie is as shocked and puzzled as everyone else when the body of a murdered woman is found at a nearby abandoned mine site, and is identified as Annabelle.

When Charlie’s family home is ransacked shortly afterwards, she believes the incident is somehow connected to a visit Annabelle made shortly before her death, and danger could be closer to home than anyone expects.

I really enjoyed the mystery element of The Roadhouse, which firstly focuses on the possible motives for Annabelle’s suicide. Charlie is suspicious of the verdict from the outset, believing that even if Annabelle killed herself, she would never choose that particular manner in which to die. After the discovery of Annabelle’s body proves her right, Charlie speculates as to the meaning of a recent visit Annabelle made to the Roadhouse with a strange man in tow, and after the break in at her home, rashly follows a hunch and finds herself in a fight for her life in a tense and thrilling confrontation.

Unfortunately I did feel that the relationship between Charlie and Mike, a stockman she meets from a nearby station, was underdeveloped. The seeds of attraction were sown, but the couple spent very little time together, even less time alone together, and their relationship was unusually chaste for two twenty somethings in this day and age, all of which made Charlie’s ‘proposal’ awkwardly presumptuous, rather than romantic, in my opinion.

The Roadhouse is also a story about family. Molly was not a demonstrative mother, and Charlie’s feckless late father favoured Annabelle, who came to live with Charlie’s family as a young girl after the death of her own parents. Charlie felt overshadowed by her beautiful cousin whose spiteful behaviour towards her often went unnoticed. Charlie hopes to forge a closer relationship with her mother on her return home, and

over the course of the novel comes to understand more about her family’s dynamics.

Ute, with her unique grasp of English, was probably my favourite character in The Roadhouse, I enjoyed the humour she brought to the story and her practical approach to every facet of her life. I also liked the curmudgeonly Bob, whose gruff exterior fails to hide his soft spot for Charlie and Molly.

With a dramatic suspense plot, and likeable characters, in an uniquely Australian setting, I enjoyed The Roadhouse.

Read an Extract

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Available from Penguin Australia

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#lovebetweenthepages

Review: Six Minutes by Petronella McGovern

 

Title: Six Minutes

Author: Petronella McGovern

Published: July 1st 2019, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

“Three hundred and seventy-one, three hundred and seventy-two, three hundred and seventy-three…I’ve made it. I can stop counting now. Three hundred and seventy-three seconds. Six minutes.”

Six minutes after leaving her daughter, Bella, playing happily with her friends at playgroup, Lexie Parker returns to discover the three year old is missing, and none of the mothers that were supposed to be watching her can tell Lexie where her daughter went. Lexie clings to the idea that Bella has somehow simply wandered away, and be will found any minute, but as the hours pass and an extensive police search fails to find her, Lexie has to face other frightening possibilities. Someone knows what happened in those six minutes, but who?

McGovern provides us with plenty of suspects in the abduction of Bella, and keeps us guessing as the plot unfolds. The narrative moves between the perspectives of several characters, among them Lexie, her husband and Bella’s father, Marty, the investigating officer, Detective Sergeant Caruso, and Tara, one of the mother’s present at the playgroup when Bella went missing.

Everyone has secrets, some which prove to be relevant to Bella’s disappearance, some not, and the story is told in such a way that it’s almost impossible to guess where guilt or innocence may lie. While the question of what happened to Bella is Intriguing on its own, there is more than the one mystery in Six Minutes that kept me turning the pages.

I haven’t read many books set in Canberra (in the Australian Capital Territory), but the small community on the fringe of the city felt authentic and familiar. Residents turn out in force to help search for Bella, the media descends and causes chaos, and outsiders, and insiders, speculate wildly on social media, eager to be heard.

With a compelling cast of characters and a riveting plot, Six Minutes is an engrossing thriller from debut author Petronella McGovern.

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Available from Allen & Unwin

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Review: The Baby Doctor by Fiona McArthur

 

Title: The Baby Doctor

Author: Fiona McArthur

Published: October 2nd 2017, Michael Joseph: Penguin

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Penguin AU

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My Thoughts:

 

Readers familiar with Fiona McArthur’s Red Sand Sunrise will be delighted to reacquaint themselves with obstetrician/gynaecologist Dr. Sienna Wilson. While Sienna’s sister, Callie, and half sister, Eve, are settled in the Queensland outback, Sienna was always adamant the heat, dust and isolation was not for her, and at the beginning of The Baby Doctor, she is the Director of Obstetrics at a Sydney hospital, enjoying the benefits of her success.

Sienna is exasperated when outback matriarch, Blanche McKay, overrides her objections and insists that she personally investigate the cause of three newborns affected by microcephaly in a remote outback town, only marginally less so when she learns Sargeant Douglas McCabe, with whom she has enjoyed the occasional dalliance, is based there. Left with no choice, Sienna reluctantly heads to Spinifex, population 300, determined to solve the medical mystery, and return to her life in the city within the week.

Housed in the local pub, The Desert Rose owned by the indomitable Alma Toms, at Blanche’s expense, Sienna is eager to begin her investigation. While McCabe refuses to let Sienna stay in his police residence, concerned at least in part about propriety, he does allow her to set up an office in his spare room, and she hires Maddy, a young woman who works at the pub to assist her with administrative tasks for an hour or so a day.

Alma and Maddy become important characters in the story. Alma who is nearly 70, is a bit of a cliche, the tough publican with a heart of gold, but delightful all the same. Maddy is barely 21, and keeping a desperate secret from everyone she knows. Maddy proves to be an incredibly resourceful young woman despite the situation she is in, and her story, sensitively told by McArthur, sheds light on an important issue.

Sienna’s relationship with McCabe is complicated. Despite their strong attraction to one another (and McArthur nails the chemistry between them), they are such polar opposites and there seems no way for them to reconcile their differences. I do like the compromise they eventually reached though (and I hope McArthur might explore this new setting further).

Microcephaly is a rare birth disorder, but there are several possible causes which Sienna needs to eliminate. I found her sleuthing interesting, especially considering the challenges she faces due to factors such as distance. I also appreciate that McArthur brings to light issues in rural medicine. The actual cause, when Sienna solves the mystery, seemed a little melodramatic to me, though it’s clear McArthur did her research and the scenario is plausible, if not very likely.

A story of resilience, friendship, and love, The Baby Doctor is an appealing rural romance with an edge of drama and suspense.

Read an Excerpt

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Available from Penguin

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