The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson

Read November 2020
Recommended for fans of sci fi Earth, aliens
 ★     ★     ★    ★ 

The second book in the Rosewater series, and really, you can’t read and understand this without reading the first, so I really wouldn’t try. That said, should you happen upon this review in the far future, you could allow for a time gap between the books because you just need a general framework of the world. On the other side, that means if you read Rosewater and jumped right into this, the way Nataliya and I did, you will appreciate the lack of explanobabble that some series fall prey to. Thompson has a lot going on and needs to get to business. While Rosewater is mostly about the sensitive Kaaro, Insurrection is about… subsequent events surrounding the reveal, so everything that follows will have indirect spoilers for the first book. Yes, I get that you may not want to keep reading. (Remember: I can only remember complicated chemo regimens because I’ve worked with them for almost two decades. You think I can remember a story about aliens in Nigeria? Actually, to be honest, there’s a possibility I will; it’s that unique).

Narrative is centered around a group of four… people, with varying degrees of each viewpoint, so it can be a bit of a challenge figuring out as a reader who is central. Aminat begins the tale, followed by Jack Jacques, the ethically complicated mayor of Rosewater; Alyssa, white Rosewater woman who has lost her memory; and Anthony, the avatar/amalgam of Wormwood and humanity. Kaaro plays a more insignificant role, so if you are hoping for more of his specific character arc, prepare to let go of expectations, although I did appreciate the appearance of Yaro, his dog. An early sensitive who was brought into S45 gets a turn. Will is the last viewpoint, an author brought in to be a chronicler, but there will also be pieces of his novel scattered through the book. It’s a bit confusing, but I think Thompson is hoping to convey the chaos of both environmental and political change causing further upheaval (METAPHORALERT). In this, it is very much a book of our times.

I feel like the characters were as well-rounded as possible, given the constraints of time and narrative, and Jack will be the anti-hero you come to understand, if not appreciate. While it originally seems like Amarit will be playing an active role, she ends up being more of a tool in a political game, still deferential to S45 and the brother crutch. Unfortunately for me, I think the variety of viewpoints leads to overmuch detail in the wrong places. The early S45 character could have been left out, and Alyssa’s midstory-viewpoint minimalized. Word count could have been given instead to Anthony, for clarifying the alien world-finding philosophy, or to Amarit surviving in Rosewater, giving insight into life for the ordinary person. I tend to feel like more threads ends up in a more chaotic color weave, not necessarily a more complex one–at least here. Some people can achieve that riotous complexity. Your mileage may vary with how much you feel Thompson does.

World-building remains complicated, and in this installment, both the Nigerian-Rosewater relations and the alien complications are fleshed out, so to speak (groan). We get more insight into the local history of Rosewater, and the chaos of everyday life there. Although I’m no expert on western Africa, I can’t help feeling like Thompson is drawing more on current politics than future. It makes for a curious blend of contemporary and futuristic feel.

The plot is fast paced with a lot of action, as you might expect with such a title. There are likely some trigger-warnings here, and again this is where it feels contemporary. There is a brief mention made of a rape-camp and frequent mention of ‘necklacing’ as a punishment. Although it becomes more disturbing when you realize, hopefully, that necklacing has been a rare occurrence in any part of Africa and tends to horrify people when it occurs. So I’m not sure what Thompson is implying by bringing it back as an apparent social control.

Overall, I found it a fascinating read that provided a lot of fodder for thought and discussion. It feels a little like one of those nicely done big-budget sci-fi films that maybe lacks detail and finesse on scrutiny, but holds up fine on first go-through, and absolutely works as great after-movie conversation.

Many, many thanks to Nataliya for waiting for me and participating in a buddy read. I sincerely enjoyed our conversations about this book!

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Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

Read November 2020
Recommended for people who don’t understand sisters
 ★     ★     

Do you remember how it feels to spend a long road trip in the car, arguing with your sibling? Telgemeier has been kind enough to document that for the reader, so any time you feel like remembering the many arguments over being hot, or someone kicking your seat, or how bored you were, you can just open up this graphic novel and be reminded of fun times when parents determined when you could pee and eat. Yay.

This made it to my TBR through some friends’ reviews and by virtue of being a big sister myself. I was hoping Tegemeier’s autobiographical work might give some insight into that relationship. The answer is both yes-and-no; this is more a slice-of-life depiction rather than any introspective piece ala Roz Chast and her graphic book Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant. Sisters is about Amara and her family, and the summer they took a road trip from their home in San Francisco to a family reunion in Colorado. The story is interrupted by flashbacks from a wide variety of time periods through the girls’ earlier lives, largely showing how Raina and her little sister Amara are essentially two little people with very different predilections and goals.

The drawings are solidly done, in a semi-realistic style. It’s very easy to tell all the characters apart and it’s nice they are all proportional.

I give credit to Telgemeier for writing and drawing with total frankness and not sparing her adolescent self from the lens. Both sisters are clearly suffering at times and are crossing swords due to frustration. The road trip–of course–gives them an opportunity to go through a funny hardship together. It ends on a very mixed note, including potential big family changes that are never resolved, but with the sisters reaching a temporary alliance.

Ultimately, a miss, mostly because it is too on target with the conflict without bringing much of a gestalt out of it. Two and a half slug-bugs, rounding up because it’s mostly me.

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The Living Dead by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus

Called it November 2020
Recommended for serious fans only
 ★     ★     ★    

Results of a 51% read:

It’s long. Really, really long, which is an interesting genre choice. As much as I go on about the value of zombie fiction, there’s a limit to what can be drawn from it, and a limit to tolerance for immersion in the world where undead function. So, a serious strike against the book for no other reason than length, because sometimes more is just inefficient. Though I feel like that sounds petty, the reality is that we live in a busy world with many things competing for attention, and even if you are the almighty best at writing zombie fiction, a book that is 656 pages is going to turn off not only potential cross-genre readers, but fans with competing interests like jobs, family and walking the dogs.

The story is multi-threaded, and builds slowly enough for any fan. One thread follows a teenage girl who lives in a multicultural trailer park with her younger brother and her dad, while her mom is away in prison for drugs. One thread follows an African-American tv producer in Chicago, having second thoughts about his career. Another follows an aging Latino medical examiner and his younger assistant in Los Angeles. In yet another thread, a Japanese-American officer of a U.S. Navy ship stars to suspect something is going wrong. These are what I recall of the primary threads, and any one of them would be very rich. Romero gives each a fairly full arc before moving onto the next, which is somewhat satisfying. Because there is such a wide variety of settings, we get to see a wide variety of reactions to the rise of the undead, and the experience of adjusting to it, and then the survival skills, which will appeal to many fans.

However, Romero eventually does something different here–I think–which is (view spoiler) On the ship, our very likable protagonist finds himself the victim of a semi-internment camp situation, lead by

****************************spoilers below******************************************

However, Romero eventually does something different here–I think–which is give some of the undead power to think, while others act more like ants with a hive mind. On the ship, our very likable protagonist finds himself the victim of a semi-internment camp situation, lead by and I started to feel very uncomfortable with the story. This was resistance, to be sure; but a very different kind. Likewise, over in Chicago, when the tv producer became undead and continued to do his job.  and I suspect that this played a small role in losing my momentum in the tale. No longer was it simple survival against the odds, or simple humans working out humanity. In fact, I couldn’t work out where Romero was going with the plotting. Were zombies human too? Or hive minds with especially smart ones?  I wasn’t sure I liked the developments.

**************************end spoilers*********************************************

What really interrupted my momentum–and I’m not accusing, just analyzing–were the Black Lives Matter protests, which turned to riots in many cities. I was deeper into the story at this point, and as more people were undead, our L.A. characters were hiding out from both rioters and zombies, and parts of L.A. were burning around them. Add to this my own experiences in the Rodney King riots in L.A. in the 90s, and I reached my own personal bug-out point.

Add these things together: the length, the story direction, my PTSD, and it’s unlikely I’ll read another zombie book until COVID-19 pandemic is over. My apologies to both Romero and to NetGalley, as parts of it are, without doubt, exemplary for genre. But I would highly recommend considering reworking it for length, because at this point, it will be nothing more than a niche book.


Many thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for an arc of this book. 

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Tales From the Folly by Ben Aaronovitch

Read November 2020
Recommended for serious fans
 ★     ★     ★     

Mostly as advertised, a short story collection set in the Peter Grant universe, although it’s worth clarifying that Peter does not appear in perhaps half the stories. I do appreciate that these were made available to fans at large, as the majority of the pieces were ‘bonuses’ inside the Waterstones hardcover editions, and as such, not widely available. Only one piece is unique to this edition, ‘Three Rivers.’ Sadly, I think this is one I will be bypassing in hardcover, as I happen to have a few of the Waterstones editions, and while the short stories are certainly polished, they usually lack the Grant flair and magic. A Rare Book, which was available as an Audible freebie, is by far my favorite, as read–of course–by Kobna.

Ben does an intro to each piece, and mentions that ‘Home Crowd’ was one of his first tries at a short story. I’d say that squares with my reading of most of the pieces: he has trouble with the endings. This matches his writing style as a whole, however, with loads of exposition and detail, neither of which is suitable to the short story form.

The collection:

The Home Crowd Advantage–was available for free on the website.◆◆◆ Peter is called to a ‘weird stuff’ disturbance at a cafe during the 2012 Olympics. Nightingale is out of town, so it falls on him to deal with it. I enjoyed it, but the ending felt excessively short. I feel like this was changed from the website version.

The Domestic–bonus in Waterstones edition of Whispers Underground. ◆◆◆ A constable investigating what seems to be a domestic abuse is convinced that ‘weird stuff’ is going on, and Peter is called. He meets the woman living in the flat and her visitor. Has a bit of a horror-story feel that we got in Rivers Underground. Again, underdeveloped for a short.

The Cockpit–bonus in Waterstones edition of Broken Homes. ◆◆◆ 1/2 Ghost story in the Piccadilly Waterstones bookshop, investigated by Peter and Leslie.

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Granny–bonus in Waterstones edition of Foxglove Summer. ◆◆◆ Peter, Bev and not-Nicky stop at a petrol station and Peter offers to help two men whose car has broken down. I rather liked this one, although the ending felt overly pat and somewhat of a cheat. Has one of my favorite openings:

“There’s something uniquely dangerous about a motorway services station in the dead hours of the night. You can feel it as you pull off the slip road and cruise through the sodium wastes of the empty car park to stop by the sad little strip of landscaping that separates the vehicles from the children’s play area.”

King of The Rats–short story for Cityread London 2015, also done in audio. Was available online. ◆◆ 1/2 Trick ending which will make fans howl, and potentially questionable canon.

A Rare Book of Cunning Device–short story for Cityread London 2017, also an Audible freebie. ◆◆◆◆ Peter, Nightingale and Professor Postmarten solve a problem at the library. Great dynamics between the characters, with the interesting puzzle of the book. Four stars, five for the Kobna version.

A Dedicated Follower of Fashion–bonus in Waterstones edition of False Value. ◆◆◆ A very hip 70s kind of dude and his squad are holed up in a deserted mansion. Kind of fun, kind of weird due to the voice, and again, abrupt ending.

Favourite Uncle–bonus in Waterstones edition of Lies Sleeping. ◆◆◆◆. Christmas story where one of Abagail’s friends asks her to investigate an uncle that visits once a year.

Vanessa Sommer’s Other Christmas List–bonus in Waterstones edition of October Man. ◆◆ 1/2. Very short story about Tobias Winter’s partner after she learns about magic and rethinks some things she’s seen at home.

Three Rivers, Two Husbands and a Baby–new to this collection. ◆◆◆ One of the detectives and his partner are planning nuptials when a baby is discovered down by the river. Good thing there are some ladies next door to provide advice. Feels more like a conversation that could have happened in the course of the novella and got cut out because it was a bit too long. Not really any driving plot. Still, lots of ‘world of the Folly’ flavor.

Moment One–blog published short-short, between Nightingale and Oswald. Lovely fragment, but this is truly just a fragment of writing. Unratable.

Moment Two-short-short of Reynolds on an investigation. A lot of ‘mama says’ and prayer talk. Sounds unbelievable in relation to the Reynolds we may love to hate.

Moment Three–blog published short story, Tobias reports back to his boss after he discovers that the Folly has taken on an apprentice.

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The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce

Read October 2020
Recommended for adult book-fans
 ★     ★     ★     1/2

A beautiful picture book, but one written for adults more than children. I didn’t have a child to test it on, so I’m just going from memories of my child tendencies, and past experiences of trying to interest small ones in picture books.

The art is attractive and soothing but in a style that may not capture eyes used to active stimuli. Many of the pages are monochromatic, and the drawings look almost pen and ink. As a child, I remember being drawn to the more vibrant colors, and these wouldn’t have really captured my interest for long.

The story is quite metaphorical. Mr. Morris is blown off out of his world and into a new place where he meets a book friend who leads him to the place where books live.

Like Oz, the colors become more vibrant in the library.

The pattern of the story often follows one page with text and another with pictures.

I definitely enjoyed the drawings, which remained me of the style of Chris Van Allsburg, one of my favorite picture book artists.

The details of the lively books were entertaining.

On the other hand, this was made into a very watchable Academy Award-winning short film that provides more visual interest and adds even more charming notes. You haven’t seen animated books until you saw the little egg-book above play a piano at 6:05. The above ‘surgery’ scene, which follows soon after, is a charming spoof of historical medical theater. It’s only 17 minutes long and free on youtube when I wrote this review.…

Here’s Moonbot Studio’s Morris page. I didn’t try to download the app or the movie on itunes, but it has links to do both.…

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Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-A-Zoo

Read October 2020
Recommended for those who like cute monsters
 ★     ★    ★    ★     1/2

Meyer’s work has always tickled me. This book is about the Professor searching for the letter ‘Z’ beastie to round out his collection.


The Professor employs a variety of strategies to hunt for his Zipperump.

Some of his critters appear to be (un)helpfully accompanying him.


When I was younger, I loved busy picture books.  The illustrations are colorful, with big-eyed, soft-edged monsters that you can’t help but be curious about. There’s lots of activity on the pages for discussion or distraction. These remind me of a cross between Maurice Sendak and Richard Scarry, right down to Lowly Worm, with the little monsters in the corner creating mischief and offering commentary. This one seems to have a motif of the little monsters wanting to go work at Island Joe’s.

It’s cute, and the ending is satisfying, although somewhat curious. For those that are working about the zoo aspect, the animals all seem quite happy. Even as a youth, cages troubled me, but there are a notable absence of bars here. So two monstrous appendages up. I might have to add this to my childrens’ books library.


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An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson

Read October 2020
Recommended for fans of Longmire
 ★     ★     1/2

A book clearly made for the small screen.


-Walt committing more misdemeanors than a Hells Angel at a rally

-Henry in multiple bar fights

-all the sheriffs aiding and abetting Walt with much grumbling

-a dangerous high speed chase

-sexy inscrutable women, either in a sexy, dangerous way, or in a crazy, dangerous way

-a random pocket of extreme hate crime

-a tank

-a super-cute 150 pound dog

-Walt insisting a woman he doesn’t know couldn’t be a bad person because she’s a woman

What more could a tv show want?

Oh, I know… dialogue, setting, character. Whatever. You’re supposed to fill in the details. Johnson doesn’t have time for that, so he substitutes by having Walt spout random facts about the origins of ‘Frick and Frack,’ that Sherlock Holmes actually uses abductive reasoning (don’t ask), and the Hollister Riot in ’47.

Honestly, the first four pages felt more sincere and emotional than the rest of the book. They included story background from Johnson’s history watching his dad restore a motorcycle, and a long list of thanks. I’m not saying it was bad, I’m just saying it couldn’t have been more television if it tried. Between Henry and Walt, there was B&E, moving a body, disturbing the scene of a crime, at least a couple of aggravated assaults, trespass with property damage, numerous concealed crimes, and those are only the ones they were the main party to–it’s just not the straight-laced cowboy of the start of the series. Oh, and don’t forget the anti-mine, anti-assault vehicle that mostly only Walt knows how to use, despite his inability to use a cell phone.

The plot was convoluted but interesting, involving dead bodies, motorcycle gangs and money, and while it didn’t keep me guessing, it didn’t mean some of the details weren’t interesting as they developed. So I’ll call it a good palate-cleanser and be even.

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The Expert System’s Brother by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Read October 2020
Recommended for people who want a faster Book of Koli
 ★     ★     ★    

If I were a teacher, I’d say, “I expected better.” Comparisons are insidious, no doubt, but his book Children of Time was one of my ‘Best Reads’ of 2017, and ‘Walking to Aldebran was quite the little twist of of novella. So rated against himself, he has a lot to live up to, including incredible world-building, interesting characters, and fascinating biology, and this piece just doesn’t get there. Nonetheless, it remains a well-written piece on a youth confronting the harsh realities of his village, and eventually discovering larger truths on the way.

When I first started reading, I had hopes that Tchaikovsky’s fascination with insects was going to play a big role again:

“Over the next few days the hive swelled noticeably, its outsides crawling with the humble wasps we saw every day, that were the tree’s means of sampling and testing its dependents”

but he never really delved into the mechanics of that, except for a couple of throw-away, hand-wavy lines in the end. Too bad! I mean, I wasn’t really hoping for wasps, but I was would have been on board for it. 

The writing is solid, and his main character, Handry, believable. He provided an interesting contrast to Koli in The Book of Koli, also a recent buddy read, and who was similarly brought up in a small, isolated village and forced out. The emotional contrast between the two was obvious. Handry was definitely preferable and showed a far more natural emotional progression through the story.

“And yet, if I never asked, I could believe in some notional future cure that would come as soon as I did ask. It was fear of certainty that held me back.”

It’s a quick read, decently done, but with metatext that’s too simplistic for my taste. But by no means am I giving up on Tchaikovsky–this just won’t be the series to continue.

Many thanks to Nataliya for the buddy read and discussion!

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Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Read October 2020
Recommended for fans of future Earth
 ★     ★     ★     ★   

It’s disingenuous to pretend we don’t select a book looking for a certain experience, and have a loose feel for the kind of story parameters we’re looking for. I might feel like a murder mystery, a dark thriller, a fast-moving space opera or a paranormal romance, and while we may insist on avoiding spoilers, every story comes with expectations for how it will behave. I think a long history of reading and many many books might be why I’ve been in a phase where I look for the intersection of the curious and the fantastical and that’s just about where Rosewater strolls.

One of my uncontested pleasures while reading was the process of building a picture of the world in my head, much like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. I knew it was science fiction, I knew it was generating some buzz as part of the African sci-fi that’s been hitting the major publishers–finally. But that’s about all I knew, that and the recommendation that Dan 2.Ω thought, “it seems like a carol book.” And it was.

So the question becomes, do you want to read it? Depends on those above-mentioned things, right? I felt like Thompson focused on character and setting, so if you don’t have a lot of tolerance for trying to build a world in your mind, this might not work. There is a plot, and while it contains secrets, surveillance and state control, it is by no means a thriller. Nor, come to think of it, does it develop that particularly suspenseful feeling of dread. Part of this might be due to the narrator, Kaaro. Told in first person, it seems like he has always been emotionally distanced from those around him, even his parents. The voice sounds somewhat clinical, but often lacking the curiosity that might propel him farther, faster.

But the setting is intriguing as well. I’ve found one of the best places these days to explore the unknown territory of stories is to look to stories by authors who have often been left out of traditionally published storytelling. Though it’s set in a Nigeria of the not-all-that far future, it still feels very much like modern Nigeria, and indeed, Thompson has lived for long periods in both Nigeria and England.

“That I have somewhere to sit on this train is evidence of the draw of the Opening. The carriages are usually full to bursting and hot, not from heaters, but from body heat and exhalations and despair.”

Perhaps one concern I have of the story is some of the same ones I have for the old-school white male writers: for a future that includes such marvels, the rest of the culture has not changed significantly. Though the narrator is not homophobic, the culture remains legally and culturally so. On a similar note, some thought Kaaro was a bit of a sexist, but I found it to be no worse than typical male chauvinism (see Jim Butcher) and done in such a way that it was both indicative of his personality and emblematic of his social disconnect.

“He starts to talk shop, telling me of a near-intrusion. He looks to be in his twenties, still excited about being a sensitive, finding everything new and fresh and interesting, the opposite of cynical, the opposite of me.”

There’s a lot of layers in here; because it is about Kaaro undergoing an eye-opening experience, it ends up being an interesting but subtle social commentary as well. I ended up making several uncomfortable parallels with other books while reading it, but all of that should be spoiler material. Interesting stuff that I’d recommend to intersectional sci-fi readers, or those more literary fictional ones who might stray into the sci-fi world.


Huge thanks to Dan 2.Ω who sent a copy my way and encouraged me! Many thanks to both Nataliya and Samuel for the buddy read and the interesting discussion!


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Lieberman’s Folly by Stuart M. Kaminsky

Read October 2020
Recommended for fans of PI detective
 ★     ★     ★     

I need a good mystery to balance out the imagination in my other stories, and frankly, the unmitigated disaster that is normal life. The mysteries I read provide a conflict, problem-solving, solution, and resolution in a neat little package, and Lieberman’s Folly is no exception. I have a dim memory of reading Kaminsky back in the 90s and enjoying it, but somehow losing track of the series (back in the days when the library didn’t have the stellar interlibrary loan system they have now). Pandemic means time to find/rediscover new reads, and I look forward to working my way through the next nine books in this one.

The story starts off with some quick, bloody background from 1970 when member of a crime organization cut ties and came to America to parlay his gains into a fortune. Unfortunately, two of his long-term prostitutes have their eyes on his money.

Flash forward to the 1980s Chicago where Detective Abe Lieberman is meeting with his partner, Bill Hanrahan and their informant, Estralda, who is looking for a little protection. It’ll mean some time outside normal working hours, but Bill agrees to keep an eye on her while Abe attends Shabbat and works on some family issues. Trouble is, Bill’s been hitting the bottle especially hard, so Abe isn’t entirely sure how dependable he is.

“Detective William Hanrahan had grunted, smiled, and shook his head no. This morning Hanrahan glowed with confidence, his cheeks pink, his usually unkempt dark hair cut short and brushed back… His short-sleeved blue shirt was soaked through with sweat, but his tie was neatly pressed. Hanrahan was working extra hard today to convince himself, his partner, and the world that he didn’t need a drink.”

Like all P.I. stories, the city plays an important role in the story. Chicago is in flux, with immigrant shift in the neighborhoods that Lieberman and Hanrahan grew up in, and reflections of both on the changes. Religion and economics of the working and poverty classes are also mentioned and are particularly relevant to characters nicknamed ‘the Rabbi’ and ‘the Father’ by each other and their peers because of their ethnic heritage (neither are particularly devout).

There’s some interesting humor the story, particularly in Abe’s deadpan reactions:
“‘Tell me why I didn’t know you two were staking out this building. Tell me who gave you an OK to give protection to a known prostitute… I don’t known what’s going on and my men fucked up.’
‘It’s a great load to bear,’ Lieberman said seriously.
‘What’s that? Hassidic humor?’ Hughes said, straightening his tie. ‘Don’t play games with me, Abe. You know who lives in this goddamn building?’
‘One less person than an hour ago,’ said Lieberman looking back into the room.”

It takes some getting used to, because it’s not laugh-out-loud funny, just a kind of mordant approach to life. Still, I found it really worked, and it makes Lieberman a particularly unique character. I enjoyed the language and found a lot of the phrasing was stellar.

At only 216 pages, it goes quickly. It means Kaminsky is rather fast with plots and back-stories/side-stories. However, he still managed to surprise me, once emotionally and once with a twist, so extra applause. I can’t wait to continue on to the next book, although there’s a few books in the way (darn you, Koli!)

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