Review: The Codebreakers by Alli Sinclair

Title: The Codebreakers

Author: Alli Sinclair

Published: 3rd March 2021, HQ Fiction

Status: Read March 2021 courtesy Harlequin/Netgalley


My Thoughts:

Inspired by the women who secretly served the Australian Central Intelligence Bureau during World War II, The Codebreakers by Alli Sinclair is a highly engaging historical fiction novel about war, friendship, secrets, love and loss.

When Elanora (Ellie) O’Sullivan is approached to take up a clandestine role with the Australian Women’s Army Service, she is reluctant to give up her position as a member of the ground crew for Qantas Empire Airways, whose planes transport supplies to New Guinea as WWII continues to rage across Europe and the Pacific. Accepting the post will mean she will have to leave the home of Mrs. Hanley, where she shares a room with fellow crew member Kat Arnold, and will have to keep her activities in her new job a secret from everyone. Yet she feels compelled to accept, and finds herself living and working with a group of women whose role is to decode intercepted enemy communications. Ellie enjoys the work and is proud to be making such an important contribution to the war effort, but the intense pressure and the need for secrecy takes its toll on her, and her colleagues.

Sinclair develops a fascinating story in The Codebreakers, set in Queensland’s capital city, Brisbane, beginning in 1943. Having read the wonderful biography of Mrs Mac, an extraordinary woman who was in large part responsible for women being able to join the auxiliary armed forces in WWII (Radio Girl by David Duffy) last year, and then falling down a rabbit hole or two, I was aware that women played a role as signal operators and codebreakers in Australia during the war, and I’m delighted that Sinclair honours their significant but largely un-acknowledged contribution.

Merging historical fact with fiction, Sinclair explores the challenges the Australian people faced on the home front while at war, fearing an invasion or bombing from enemy forces. Everyone was expected to contribute to the war effort and as men were sent away to fight, many women stepped up and into non-traditional roles. Sinclair’s main protagonist Ellie represents one of thousands of women who played a vital role during the period, often with little recognition, then and even now.

If I’m honest I did not particularly care much for Ellie, I often found her character grating, always anxious about something – be it her job, or her personal relationships – even if for good reason, her thoughts throughout the book were often repetitive. I understood, as Sinclair’s Author Note confirms, that to keep such an extraordinary secret, particularly from loved ones despite the high stakes, was very difficult, but it was largely the well-crafted, sweeping plot that carried this story for me.

There is intrigue when one of Ellie’s colleagues is suspected to be a traitor, and romance when Ellie meets a handsome airman who courts her with gentlemanly ardour. Friendships are formed and broken. There is grief when young men fail to return to their sweethearts, joy when the war finally ends. Of course the main strength of the novel is what it reveals of our own history – the ‘Garage Girls’ and the remarkable women like them, a glimpse of our clandestine war activities, the revelation of a secret base in the outback, and later, the changes war wrought on society which allowed Ellie and other women to imagine a different future for themselves, other than what had always been expected of them.

An absorbing, well researched novel told with heart, warmth, and respect for the legacy of all who defended our country, The Codebreakers is a wonderful story I’d recommend.


Available from Harlequin Australia

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Review: Charlotte by Helen Moffett

Title: Charlotte

Author: Helen Moffett

Published: 14th May 2020, Manila Press

Status: Read December 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin


My Thoughts:

I have to confess that Pride and Prejudice was always one of my least favourite Jane Austen novels, until that is I watched the 2005 movie adaptation, which I adore. Since then I’ve read only a few of what must be hundreds of retellings/sequels/reimaginings/modern adaptions of the novels, of which Charlotte is one.

Helen Moffett takes a unique approach to the canon by placing Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth Darcy’s (née Bennett) friend, at the heart of her own story. It begins several years after Charlotte’s marriage to the Bennett’s cousin, Reverend Collins, with the tragic death of their third child and only son, Thomas. His death, and a visit to Pemberley, results in Charlotte contemplating the decision she made to marry Mr Collins, and the vulnerability of her own two young daughters to a fate decided by men.

In many respects, the Charlotte Moffett portrays is just as I imagined she might be, a kind and capable woman with the respect of her community, a loyal wife, and a wonderful mother. Marrying Mr Collins my have been a compromise, but she has made peace with the decision, and has created a life she generally finds satisfying., until the death of her son disturbs her equilibrium.

A months long visit to Pemberley with her girls, to stay with Elizabeth at the behest of a worried Mr Darcy in his absence, gives Charlotte time to mourn. Moffett also uses this opportunity to introduce a new character, an Austrian musician and piano tuner, Jacob Rosenstein, who prompts Charlotte to imagine a different fate for herself.

As in Austen’s novels, there is a strong feminist element at play, exploring the lack of agency women experience, their futures determined at the whim of their fathers, brothers, and husbands. While Charlotte acknowledges a semblance of luck in marrying Mr Collins, whose faults do not extend to excessive drinking or violence, she still resents that she had no real alternative, and doesn’t want her daughters to suffer similarly.

Readers familiar with Jane Austen’s oeuvre will appreciate Moffett’s references to other works, as well as glimpses of an imagined fate for many of the characters from Pride and Prejudice, none more surprising perhaps than of Anne De Bourgh. Purists may be upset by some of the liberties Moffett takes, but I happily embraced them all.

I found the writing to be lovely, in keeping with Austen’s own prose, though not quite as stiff. There is a lot of emotion in this story which I think Moffett communicates beautifully from Charlotte’s journey through grief, to her discovery of passion.

Moving, bright, and charming, I was captivated by Charlotte, and happily recommend it.


Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I HiveUK

Review: The Last Truehart by Darry Fraser

Title: The Last Truehart

Author: Darry Fraser

Published: 2nd December 2020, Mira Au

Status: Read December 2020 courtesy Harlequin Au

“A woman alone and a charismatic private detective are caught up in a dangerous quest to discover her true identity in this thrilling historical adventure romance set in 19th century Victoria, from a bestselling Australian author.

1898, Geelong, Victoria. Stella Truehart is all alone in the world. Her good-for-nothing husband has died violently at the hands of an unknown assailant. Her mother is dead, her father deserted them before she was born, and now her kindly Truehart grandparents are also in their graves.

Private detective Bendigo Barrett has been tasked with finding Stella. He believes his client’s intentions are good, but it is evident that someone with darker motives is also seeking her. For her own part Stella is fiercely independent, but as danger mounts she agrees to work with Bendigo and before long they travel together to Sydney to meet his mysterious client where they discover more questions than answers.

What role do a stolen precious jewel and a long-ago US Civil War ship play in Stella’s story? Will sudden bloodshed prevent the resolution of the mystery and stand in the way of her feelings for Bendigo? It is time, at last, for the truth to be revealed..”


My Thoughts:

Captivating adventure romance set in 19th century Australia! Full review to come…


Available from Harlequin Australia at HarperCollins

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia

Review: Dark Tides by Philippa Gregory

Title: Dark Tides {Fairmile #2}

Author: Philippa Gregory

Published: 24th November 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read December 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster


My Thoughts:

Dark Tides is the second book in Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction series, The Fairmile, and begins twenty one years after Tidelands ends.

Alinor Reekie and her daughter, Alys, have long left Sealsea Island behind and now reside on the banks of the Thames River, operating a small warehouse that services unlading ships. Alinor, who has has never regained full health after the near drowning she endured, supplements the family’s income with herbal preparations, while Alys’s children, twins Johnnie and Sarah, contribute what they can from their wages as apprentices. They live simply, honestly, and quietly, but unexpected visitors suddenly throw the family into turmoil.

The first of their visitors is James Avery aka James Summers, the man who deserted Alinor at her most vulnerable, leaving her heartbroken and pregnant. Having recovered his title and family fortune, and recently widowed, he is seeking the child he assumes Alinor birthed, desperately desiring an heir.

The second visitor brings tragic news, calling herself Nobildonna Livia da Ricci, with a babe in her arms, she claims to be the widow of Rob, Alinor’s son. Tearfully she tells the family Rob, who was practicing as a doctor in Venice, drowned in a boating accident and now she has come to England to raise their son as an Englishman.

To be honest I’m as disappointed by this sequel as I was surprised by Tidelands. Alinor is reduced to a minor character, I never much cared for Alys, and care for her even less here. Avery is still a fool, Livia and her machinations are entirely transparent, and Sarah’s potential is squandered.

I could have forgiven a lot if the plot hadn’t turned out to be almost wholly predictable, it’s immediately clear that Livia can’t be trusted and the story pivots around her obvious deceptions.

Additionally the story itself largely lacks the atmospheric appeal of Tidelines, Gregory uses not more than broad strokes to describe the life along the Thames, and I felt she gave Venice short shrift.

There is a second storyline that runs through the book which features Ned, Alinor’s brother, who fled to the New World (America) when Cromwell was unseated and a new King retook the throne. While I had some interest in Ned’s experience, there was very little action, and though the theme’s echoed that of his sister’s story, the storyline as a whole was superfluous.

I realise my assessment here is quite harsh, but I am struggling to find anything particularly positive to say. I did finish it, so it wasn’t unreadable, but I don’t think it was any more than barely okay, though I’m sure others will disagree.


Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I HiveUK I Indiebound

Also by Philippa Gregory reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: The Champagne War by Fiona McIntosh

Title: The Champagne War

Author: Fiona McIntosh

Published: November 2020, Michael Joseph

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia


My Thoughts:

Set in France during World War I, The Champagne War by Fiona McIntosh is a grand tale of romance, resilience, courage and champagne.

It is love at first sight between Sophie Delancré, a fifth generation champenoise, and vigneron Jerome Méa, but they have mere weeks together following their wedding in 1914 before Jerome must leave his bride to do his duty in defence of France. Determined that the production of the Delancré House will not falter despite the war, Sophie throws herself into her dual role of tending the vines and making her champagne while she waits for the return of her new husband. When the news that Jerome is missing, lost in action when his position in Ypres was attacked during the first deployment of Chlorine gas by the Germans, reaches her a year later, Sophie is devastated, but without a body, refuses to relinquish the hope that he is alive somewhere. As the war drags on and the fighting creeps closer, Sophie and those left behind in the villages of Épernay and Reims, nevertheless continue to nurture the vineyards and ensure the production of their champagne, though to do so risks placing Sophie in the debt of her odious brother-in-law, Louis.

Sophie is a wonderful character, she is a smart, strong, passionate, and independent woman, but her loyalty to her family’s legacy is near all-consuming. With Jerome missing, presumed dead, and the privations of war worsening affecting her ability to produce champagne, Sophie becomes vulnerable to Louis’s manipulation. It’s the fortuitous arrival of injured British Army Captain and former chemist, Charlie Nash, that provides Sophie with an alternative, not only to her grief and loneliness, but also her desperate need for sugar.

Charlie is the only member of his company to survive a fierce battle on the outskirts of Reim, having been badly injured he is invited to convalesce at Sophie’s home in Épernay along with a dozen or so other soldiers. He is an appealing character, revealing himself to be a principled man despite the compromises demanded by war. Charlie is immediately infatuated with Sophie, who is surprised to find she returns his interest, even though she can’t let go of the hope that Jerome still lives.

Though romance is an essential element of The Champagne War, the story is much more than just that. As always, McIntosh masterfully weaves historical fact into her tale of fiction. The story is meticulously researched in terms of location, period and the specifics of the champagne industry. The horrors of war, particularly as experienced by Jerome and Charlie, are portrayed with authenticity, and though I personally dislike the taste of champagne, I still found learning about its complex production and makeup to be interesting. For those that enjoy a drop or two, Fiona has thoughtfully provided a bonus, recipe’s for Sabayon and Champagne Truffles.

The Champagne War is a sparkling, elegant, and effervescent, novel, to be savoured.


Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia

Also by Fiona McIntosh reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: The Lady Brewer of London by Karen Brooks

Title: The Lady Brewer of London

Author: Karen Brooks

Published: 10th November 2020, William Morrow

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss


My Thoughts:

When Anneke Sheldrake’s father is lost at sea she is horrified to learn that she and her younger siblings have been left with nothing. Desperate to keep what remains of her family together, she strikes a bold bargain with her father’s employer and, armed with her late mother’s family recipes, daringly chooses to go into business as a brewer of ale. Despite being ostracised by most of her family and friends, and repeatedly harassed and intimidated by the local Abbot and his cronies whose monopoly of the ale trade is threatened, Anneke’s brew steadily wins favour amongst the community. Just as success seems within her reach, Anneke is targeted in a malicious attack that razes nearly everything she holds dear. Forced to flee for her life, Anneke is nevertheless determined to begin again and finds an unlikely ally in a London brothel owner. With courage and hard work, Anneke, taking the name Anna de Winter, slowly rebuilds her life and business, until the horrors of her past once again threaten to destroy her.

A saga of betrayal, love, tragedy, courage and triumph, The Lady Brewer Of London is an ambitious historical drama by author, Karen Brooks.

Anneke is strong protagonist, with spirit and convictions uncommon for her time. Despite harrowing personal tragedy she finds the strength to rise above it and carry on, refusing to be cowed by her persecutors. Her courage, loyalty and determination are admirable qualities and ensure the reader is firmly on her side, willing her to triumph.

Anneke’s loyal cast including her sweet sister, Betje, the brash Alyson, and the dashing hero, Lord Leander Rainford, are eminently appealing. The villains, including Anneke’s spiteful cousin, a raft of spiritually corrupt monks, and her inescapable enemy are infuriating and often terrifying.

Though set in medieval England, the story begins in ‘The year of Our Lord 1405 in the sixth year of the reign of Henry IV’, I didn’t get a true sense of the period. It seemed not that much different from Georgian or Victorian times, though to be fair it mattered little as the details were consistent and the setting well grounded. I was surprised at how interested I was in the history of the brewery industry, and I finally discovered the difference between beer and ale. (I don’t drink either so had never thought about it before)

The writing is articulate and the first person perspective works well. The pacing was reasonable but I did feel the story, at well over 500 pages, was too long overall. I was tempted to skim at times, particularly as the plot was, though well thought out, generally predictable, with the second half of the story essentially mirroring the events of the first.

Nevertheless, The Lady Brewer of London was a satisfying read and I’d recommend it to readers who enjoy the drama and romance of sweeping historical fiction driven by a strong heroine.


Available from HarperCollins US

Or your preferred retailer via Indiebound I Book Depository I Booko

* Published in Australia as The Brewer’s Tale *

Also by Karen Brooks reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: Death in Daylesford by Kerry Greenwood

Title: Death in Daylesford {Phryne Fisher #21}

Author: Kerry Greenwood

Published: 3rd November 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin


My Thoughts:

I have a confession to make. Despite adoring Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series, I have tried, more than once, to read the Phryne Fisher series but never gotten past Cocaine Blues. To be fair, that was some time ago and at least a decade or two before Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries made its debut on TV, a show I’ve now binge-watched in it’s entirety on at least three (or five) occasions. So when I learnt that a new Phryne Fisher mystery was being published, I absolutely had to to get my hands on it. I was a teeny bit apprehensive, but thankfully I loved it.

In Death in Daylesford, Miss Phryne Fisher, accompanied by Dot, travels to country Victoria at the invitation of a war veteran who hopes to win her patronage for the spa retreat he runs for shell-shocked returned soldiers. Accommodated near Daylesford, Phryne is looking forward to a week of leisure, but almost immediately finds herself hunting a brazen murderer, three missing women, and a kidnapper, despite the objections of the oafish local officer.

Meanwhile in Melbourne, with Detective Inspector Jack Robinson on special assignment, Detective Sargent Hugh Collins’ lazy temporary supervisor is choosing the path of least resistance to solve a murder. Taking matters into his own hands, Hugh drafts Miss Fisher’s wards, Jane, Ruth, and Tinker, who are in the care of Mr and Mrs B, to help him, when it is revealed the victim is a school friend of the girls.

That makes four mysteries which Greenwood deftly develops in Death In Daylesford, skilfully laying red herrings and clues. Each of them are interesting in their own right, though the most intriguing relates to the very public murders of three young men. Deducing the perpetrator and their motive is a rare challenge for Phryne, even though the deaths occur right in front of her. My early theory was proved right, but there was a twist that took me by surprise.

I couldn’t help but visualise the actors from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries as the story unfolded, but even if you are entirely unfamiliar with the series in any form, the characters have a strong presence. Phryne is her usual unconventional, stylish and seductive self, and Dot, her stalwart, beige-clad companion. Much is made of a barmaids beauty, her suitor’s brawn, the haggard appearance of a battered wife, and a Captain eager to please.

Greenwood’s writing is wonderfully descriptive, with the era coming across in all the details of the setting and styling, she excels at showing, not telling. I’m a fan of the Phryne’s quick wit, and dry observations, the author has a great sense of timing, and and an ear for natural dialogue.

Fans of the Phryne Fisher book series are sure to delight in this newest mystery, published seven years after the last, as should those viewers mourning the possible demise of the TV series. Entertaining and clever, Death in Daylesford is a charming, and satisfying read.


Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

Review: Letters From Berlin by Tania Blanchard

Title: Letters From Berlin

Author: Tania Blanchard

Published: 7th October 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read October 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster


My Thoughts:

Inspired by the author’s family history, Letters From Berlin by Tania Blanchard is a heartfelt story of love, courage, betrayal and survival during World War Two.

As the Third Reich escalates its purge of the Jewish people from Germany in 1943, eighteen-year-old Susanna Göttmann’s fears grow for the safety of her beloved godparents who have raised her since childhood. While both she and her Onkel Georg are Aryan, Tante Elya is a Russian Jew, and their son, Leo, is classified a ‘mischlinge’, a halfbreed. The ability of the family estate, Gut Birkenhof, on the outskirts of Berlin, to provide goods and materials for the Nazi’s has allowed Georg to keep his wife and son safe, but as the Party rhetoric intensifies, their situation grows increasingly precarious.

Letters From Berlin unfolds from Susanna’s perspective as a reasonably wealthy, educated Aryan in Berlin who loves her country but is appalled by the actions of the Nazi Party, and their treatment of the Jewish people. Her primary concern is naturally for her Aunt Elya, and Leo, with whom she has been in love since she was a child, and to help protect them she makes some naive, brave, and dangerous choices. I liked the character of Susanna, and felt for all she endured, especially when circumstances separated her from Leo, and resulted in the loss of her child.

The plot of Letters from Berlin doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises, but the story is nevertheless engaging. There are some tense and dramatic moments and the themes of war, prejudice, injustice, family and love are inherently emotive. That it’s loosely based on real experiences adds a layer of poignancy, and I was glad Blanchard offered an epilogue of sorts.

Blanchard’s portrayal of life in Berlin during the war is interesting. In mid 1943, when the story starts, there seems to be little change in the day to day life of the wealthier of Aryan citizens, but as the country’s enemies close in, and the activities of the resistance take their toll, the privations grow. Blanchard merges fact with fiction as she writes of the forced labor camps, the failed conspiracy to kill Hitler, the bombings that set zoo animals loose in the streets, and the chaos post ‘liberation’.

A touching historical fiction novel, Letters From Berlin is a satisfying read.


Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

Title: Magic Lessons

Author: Alice Hoffman

Published: 7th October 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status Read October 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster


My Thoughts:

“Do as you will, but harm no one. What you give will be returned to you threefold. Fall in love whenever you can.”

Magic Lessons is the enchanting origin story for the curse that plagues the Owens sisters in Practical Magic from Alice Hoffman.

It begins in 1664 when Hannah Owens, a practitioner of the Nameless Arts, finds an infant wrapped in a blue blanket with her name, Maria, carefully stitched along the border with silk thread abandoned in the snow. Recognising that the child is gifted with bloodline magic, Hannah teaches Maria how to help and heal as women from the surrounding villages find their way to the Owens home deep in the forest. When Maria is ten a finely dressed, red haired witch arrives asking that Hannah break a powerful love spell she had foolishly cast upon herself. The woman is Maria’s mother, Rebecca, who stays barely a night, but invites tragedy in her wake, and alters Maria’s fate.

“Love could ruin your life or set you free; it could happen by chance or be a well-planned decision.”

From England, to Curaçao, to Massachusetts and New York, Maria’s fate twists and turns driven by love, betrayal, fear and vengeance. An unwise romance blesses her with a daughter, Faith, but also places her on the gallows in Salem, and a curse spoken in anger becomes a legacy that will affect the Owens women for generations.

The characters are well-drawn, and believable, marked by joy and tragedy. Maria and her daughter are complex and appealing – bright, headstrong, and courageous, but they each make mistakes.

Hoffman weaves interesting historical detail into her story, including connecting her characters with the Salem witch trials, and one of its most prominent actors. She explores the lack of agency women had over their lives in the period, and the way women like Hannah, Maria and Faith were equally revered, and feared.

The writing is lyrical yet not pretentious, with a mesmerising cadence. Descriptions of people and places are evocative, with spell recipes a charming addition.

It’s not necessary to be familiar with Practical Magic, or The Rules of Magic to enjoy this novel, a spellbinding story, Magic Lessons is a captivating read in its own right.

“These are the lessons to be learned. Drink chamomile tea to calm the spirit. Feed a cold and starve a fever. Read as many books as you can. Always choose courage. Never watch another woman burn. Know that love is the only answer.”


Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound I HiveUK

Also by Alice Hoffman reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: The Wreck by Meg Keneally

Title: The Wreck

Author: Meg Keneally

Published: 1st September 2020, Echo Publishing

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy BFredricksPR


My Thoughts:

The Wreck is an engaging historical fiction novel from Australian author Meg Keneally.

Less than a year after Sarah McCaffrey’s parents are murdered while attending a peaceful protest against the cruelty of the Westminster government, Sarah is forced to flee London accused of high treason when a plan to attack the Cabinet is betrayed. Finding herself on a ship bound for the colony of Australia, her plans go awry when The Serpent wrecks against The Gap. As the only survivor, calling herself Sarah Marin, she is taken under the wing of local business owner, Molly Thistle, but even though she has come so far, her past threatens to sink her new life.

Set in the early 1800’s, The Wreck exposes what life was like for the women and men of the working class in London, left to starve when industrialisation made them redundant. Merging fact with fiction, Keneally places Sarah at the Peterloo Massacre, described at ‘the bloodiest political event of the 19th century in English soil’.

The wreck of The Serpent also draws inspiration from a true event, the sinking of The Dunbar in the mid 1850’s, which still ranks as one of Australia’s worst maritime disasters with the loss of all but one of its 122 crew and passengers, a young Able Seaman thrown onto a cliff ledge.

The township of Sydney, still in its infancy in 1820, is well described by Keneally with its crowded port and dusty streets. Though the colony is plagued with similar social issues as in London, which especially affect women, Sarah’s association with Mrs Thistle (modelled loosely on Mary Reibey) helps her to recognise there are alternatives to fostering change, that do less harm to those they are trying to help.

Keneally has created a strong-willed and resilient heroine in Sarah, though her age is never stated she is probably only in her late teens when she arrives in Australia. She has endured so much loss that her anger at the government and the ruling class is understandable. In the wake of the massacre, Sarah was easily convinced a bloody revolution could be the only answer, but once in Australia, Sarah’s opinion begins to change. I liked the friendship between Sarah and Nell, and the mentoring relationship that Keneally developed between Sarah and Mrs Thistle. The touch of romance is sweet addition too.

A well-written story of rebellion, betrayal, survival and courage, I enjoyed The Wreck.


Available from Echo Publishing

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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