Rainer Maria Rilke

"Live a while in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all love them. This love will be repaid you a thousand and a thousand times, and however your life may turn,-it will, I am certain of it, run through the fabric of your growth as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys."--Rainer Maia Rilke

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Christmas in July

Advent of a Mystery by Marilyn Leach
(Adult Cozy Mystery)

I think in my past life that I must have been British.  It is the only explanation I have for this passion of mine for English mysteries.  This one is so British is just oozes fish and chips and shawls and all that other good stuff.  I mean, seriously, it's got a vicar, a barrister and even a 'lavender maven'. 

And, really, what's better than reading a chilly winter mystery on these hottest days of summer?

The main character, Berdie Elliot, is the wife of the new town vicar and she's having a bit of a hard time getting into retirement.  After years spent in investigative journalism, she has a tendency to spot a story and stick her nose into things that don't concern her.  So, when the town's 'lavender maven', also known as the town grouch, is murdered, Berdie is on the case. 

This mystery is a delight from beginning to end.  It is full of delightful, quirky characters all about the town.  The setting is a delight; Aiden Kirkwood Village is a place I would love to visit.  With the lavender cottage for sale, I might consider moving there permanently.  Really, I couldn't think of more delightful people or a more delightful place to spend time in.  Alas, it is only fiction, but a girl can dream.

The greatest strength of this story, though, is the plot.  Tightly woven with intriguing characters, the clues come hard and fast and had me guessing and re-guessing and un-guessing all the way through.  While this is a 'cozy' mystery, there isn't anything light and fluffy about the plot.  Family intrigue and World War II connections delve into serious sins of the past affecting the futures of many in this sleepy village. 

I sincerely hope this is the start of a series by Leach. I can't wait to sink my teeth into the next one!  It is one in a series of the Hometown Mystery set and I have read a couple but this one is the best by leaps and bounds.  So, in short, if you love mysteries of any kind, especially of the British bent, this is a book for you.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Biblical Mystery That Kept Me Wanting More

Shrouded in Silence by Robert L. Wise

Jack Townsend, with his wife Michelle, are on the track of the true ending to the ‘lost Gospel of Mark’.  When their research stirs up some anti-American sentiment, they are surprised.  When a story of them in the newspaper stirs up threats, they are alarmed.  When their office is bombed, they know they’re on the right track!
Normally, this is the kind of book I absolutely love.  I adore historical mysteries and anything with a biblical mystery is usually just icing on my book cupcake.

And, I was interested for about half of the book. 
Then, things started to slide for me and just didn’t get back on track.  There just wasn’t enough true historical information to keep me hanging one.  Normally, a book like this one has me running to the computer to look up and verify facts.  However, there were so few facts given that I soon lost interest in what should have been a fascinating subject.  The lost Gospel of Mark had so much promise.

I also had trouble with some grammatical errors.  There were so many errors that reading the book was jarring and I wanted to correct them.  I also found the dialogue to be very stilted, almost as if I were reading a translation from another language.
There were also some plot twists towards the end that I thought just weren’t needed and really detracted from the storyline.  Mixing anti-American terrorism with this type of historical thriller was overkill. 

Overall, not one I enjoyed or one I can recommend. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Maestro at Work

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

Sometimes, too rarely, you find a book that just takes your breath away.  One that makes all other books seem as if they aren’t books at all, but practice runs.  Ellen Foster was that kind of book for me.
Ellen Foster is about a young girl in an abusive home.  Her mother overdoses, her alcoholic father alternately takes advantage of her or neglects her completely and she soon becomes a throw-away, wandering from one uncaring relative to another. 

This story is one that hit me like a load of concrete.  Told in the young main character’s point of view, it was startlingly realistic and painful and haunting.  There was something so uncomfortable about reading the story that I often had to put the book aside to wipe my tears away.  Watching Ellen’s life unfold is like watching a gruesome car accident—you can’t look away no matter how bad it is.  You can’t stop reading although you know the next paragraph will bring you certain heartbreak.  And yet, for all that, it is still a story of hope.
This is a book you don’t read so much as experience.  In my opinion, Gibbons is one of the top 3 female writers alive today (the others being Jan Karon and Melinda Haynes).  All of her books have moved me so deeply but this one was my favorite, if such a word can be applied to this experience.  Her prose is so beautiful that it is almost poetic.  She takes words and makes them do things I’ve never seen from other authors.  This story is told from the point of view of the young Ellen so it is hard to follow and read but that makes the story so much more powerful and painful.

If you’ve never read Kaye Gibbons before, treat yourself to a concert performed by a maestro.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Not One to Take to the Pool

Nursing a Grudge by Chris Wells
(Cozy Christian Mystery)

Earl Walker is depressed.  He sits in a nursing home, in a wheelchair, and watches TV in a nursing home facility.  He is awakened from his depression by the well-meaning intentions of a college student who seems to want to jolt his from his depressive state.  While attending a dinner party, Earl is witness to a death that turns into a murder investigation.
Notice how I’ve used the word ‘depress’ a couple of times.  That’s because this is the feeling the book left me with.  Depressed and sad.  Earl and his friends in the nursing home just seem to be pitiful creatures acting out a thinly written play.

Earl and his colleague (I’ve forgotten her name which is just as well because, as a character, she was forgettable), stumble about the whole book attempting to solve the mystery.  Their investigative skills involve racing down hallways in the nursing home and accusing everyone within earshot of some sort of crime, hoping that something might stick.
The clues were largely absent or glaringly obvious; the characters weren’t likable or realistic; the dialogue was stilted; the sleuthing was haphazard and amateurish.  I also didn’t like the ‘religiousy’ tone the book had.  I would like to say it was a Christian mystery, but apart from some vague references to a bible and a couple of scripture referrals, Earl’s tepid conversion to Christianity was confusing.

Definitely not that cozy mystery you want to dive into this summer!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Third Place Ain't So Bad

hush, hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
(Teens and Up)

It is unfortunate that one can’t help comparing every paranormal romance to Twilight, the same way one compares every summer night to a magical one of their youth.  Every other book just doesn’t quite measure up, no matter how good it is.  Now, the lightning bugs I catch aren't so bright, but they are beautiful.  The ice cream not so sweet but still delicious.  hush, hush is like that for me.  Not as good as Twilight but still a great read.
hush, hush lends itself to such a comparison easily, though.  The main character, Nora, is odd and brooding and ill-tempered.  The paranormal, Patch, is elusive, handsome and mysterious.  The setting is cold and chilly.  There are forces at work beyond the main characters that throw them together with an explosive chemistry.  There are so many similarities that it draws your mind back to Twilight at every turn and I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed because it seemed to be a pale comparison.

Yet, there are things about it that is much better, more masterful and powerful than ‘the book that shall not be named’.  I thought that fallen angel idea to be one of genius.  I loved the history and references to this idea.  I loved Patch’s motivation.  He was so flawed, like Heathcliff, that one couldn’t really help but love him.  Really, if I had to choose between Patch and Edward Cullen, I would go with Patch.  He was so much more mysterious and smoldering and broken that one couldn’t help but be drawn to him.  I liked Nora better than Bella as well.  She also seemed to be to be a much more realistic and likable character with motivations and interests that I understood.
So, if you can put Twilight aside, this is a really good book, one that will have you flipping through pages to its conclusion.  One that will make you wonder and sigh.  One that will make you want to go and buy the second in the series.  Certainly, a book to spend time with.

And, if you are one of those obsessed with this genre, then this is a book you will surely love.  Of all the ones I’ve read, I would definitely rank it second or third in line of ‘Best Paranormal Romances’.  Being in the company of such greats as Twilight and Maximum Ride is certainly not a bad thing. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Crime Thriller with Heat

Justice in June by Barbara Levenson
(Adult Legal Thriller)

Another hot summer crime thriller!  Why is it that summer is the best time to indulge in this type of book?  Lazing on the beach or by the pool, I almost feel criminal as I read another thriller steeped in murder and mystery.  Perhaps it’s because only a cliff-hanger can bring me up from my sun-induced coma.  For the next few days, I have some new crime/detective stories to review.  Which one will be right for you?

If you are a fan of Janet Evanovich and her fictional character, Stephanie Plum, then this is a book and series you will enjoy.   Justice in June is the second installment of this series; the first was Fatal February.  (Random thought:  why did we skip so many months?  Why not Marauding March, Anarchistic April, Maniacal May?) 
Mary Katz Magruder is our lead ‘detective’ and is a criminal defense lawyer practicing in Miami.  In this book, Mary has been hired to defend the friend-of-friend-of-a-friend of her Cuban boyfriend, Carlos.  While originally thinking the young man’s arrest was perhaps a simple language or cultural misunderstanding, Mary is disturbed when it turns into an international incident with ties to Guantanamo Bay and dirty dealings in the local courthouse with a very powerful judge.  At the same time, she is hired by another judge to defend her from the allegations of misuse of power.

With two new cases on such a large and complicated scale, Mary is frantic the entire book through, trying to unravel the two cases and then to discover their common threads.
I really enjoyed this new series.  As I stated earlier, it reminds of me of Stephanie Plum, albeit without the boozing, cursing and philandering.  I found Mary Katz Magruder to be a much more likable character than Plum.  Her life is just complicated enough to enjoy from afar and just spicy enough to keep me turning the pages.  The plot was intricate but not so detailed that I couldn’t follow it lying by the pool listening to kids screaming in the background. 

The love interest of Carlos was probably the best part of escapism for me.  A hot, millionaire Cuban boyfriend pressuring her to get serious but also willing to follow every whim, wine and dine her and also fiercely protect her?  Sign me up for that package!
All in all, a pleasant diversion and one that I wouldn’t mind delving into again as the summer heat spikes. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Great Book for Getting Projects Done Around the House

Crash by J. G. Ballard
(Adults Only.  Make that Adult Males Only)

This book is what I like to call a "work-producing" book.  It was so bad that I put off reading it.  I looked for things to do around the house instead of finishing it.  How bad was it?  I painted my back porches, did all the laundry in the house, made some raspberry vinegar, found 3 bags of clothes that no longer fit hiding in my closet, repaired cracks in the drywall, and cleaned out and decorated the guest bedroom.  Oh, yeah-and learned to knit.  And then knitted a shawl and baby afghan. 

I was still looking for other things to do but wanted to get finished so I could start reading again.

What's it about?  As far as I can figure, there are these two guys who REALLY like car crashes--watching them, driving around looking for them, being in them.  That's about it. Bloody, bizarre and uncomfortable.

I feel better now that it's finished--on to a better book!

Friday, June 17, 2011

New For Me--In More Ways Than One!

Skindancer, Book One:  Frost Moon by Anthony Francis
(Adults Only)

As soon as I started this book, I knew I probably wouldn’t like.  The main character, Dakota Frost, and I could not have been more different.  She is over 6 feet; I’m 5’4” on a really tall day.  She is muscular and intimidating; I can occasionally make it 20 full minutes on a treadmill.  She is a tattoo artist with her body a masterpiece of work; I have been known to faint after a flu shot.  She is young and hip; I vaguely remember young but can’t even guess how to be hip.  She obliterates the mores of sexuality; I have been married to my college sweetie for almost 20 years.  She hangs out with werecreatures and biker dudes; I teach middle school (okay, maybe that one isn’t too dissimilar!)
We had absolutely nothing in common.  There was no way I was going to be able to connect with this character or this book.

And yet……..
Slowly, without me realizing it, she had me hooked.  With all of our dissimilarities, I discovered how very much we had in common.  Then I really started to like her.  She is one kick-butt heroine with a soft marshmallow center she doesn’t want anyone else to see.

The best way to describe the plot?  It is noir/goth vampire murder mystery with werewolves and other creatures of the night thrown in.  That’s the best way to describe this mess.  I mean mess in the highest complimentary way, though.  That’s the real strength of this book.  It’s like you’re traveling along in this girl’s messy life, trying to figure out who is bad and good and what should she say and/or do to not offend and just get along the best she can.  (See what I mean about having stuff in common?  Surely, suddenly!, I’m not the only one whose life is too complicated.)
The plot twists and turns were unexpected and thrilling; the secondary characters were intriguing and scary; the setting was fascinating—everything about this book worked for me.  There is plenty here for a lengthy series with new adventures. 

Did I mention the magical tattoos?  The real strength of this book, and this series, is going to be this new genre of magic.  I have honestly never read a book about doing magic with tattoos and love the concept.  The author made all those inks and colors leap off the page and into my imagination.  I can say I’ve never read anything like it before and I loved it.
Maybe enough to get my own tattoo?  Well, I’ve have to read the second book to decide for sure.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

New Kid on the Paranormal Teen Block

Girl Vs. Ghost:  Misdirected Magic, Book One by Kate McMurry and Marie August
(Adolescents and Up)

Girl vs Ghost by Kate McMurryThese are just the kinds of books I like—feisty female main character, just enough supernatural to keep things spooky and a storyline with a mystery I can really sink my teeth into.  Too often, though, many of these books make big promises and then fall short-undeveloped characters, unbelievable plot, trite or rehashed storylines.  This one, however, was a delightful surprise.  Right from the start, I really liked the main character, Isabel, and was drawn into the story right away.
Isabel is a reluctant participant in her friend Tripp’s hobbies, especially the newest one involving magic.  When a sleepover turned séance goes dreadfully wrong, Isabel is shocked when a young boy falls from her ceiling.  That shock turns to horror when she discovers the boy is actually a ghost.  After that, things goes from bad to worse as Isabel learns he is somehow tied to her and the only way she can get rid of him is to help him discover the circumstances surrounding his death.

Isabel was funny with just the right amount of sass—I had no trouble believing in her or her motivations or actions.  I felt as if I were living the story through her and would have reacted the exact same way.  The other characters in the book were just as believable and delightful.  Tripp, Isabel’s bff, is just the kind of person I would want to hang out with—funny, interesting and doesn’t back down from a challenge.  I hope she plays more of a role in another book.  Tripp is strong enough to carry her own story.
What I liked most of all about the story was the storyline.  This genre of paranormal and paranormal romance has some real duds with most books just rehashing the same old plot over and over again.  This one had something new and that’s what kept me going, kept me interested until the last page.  I really didn’t know and couldn’t predict what was going to happen next.  I loved the humor; felt the frustrations; liked the flirting; and was disappointed when the story ended!

Overall, a great read and a series I intend to follow.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Chilling Summer Read

The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg
(Adult Thriller)

What is it about Swedish writers that chill me to the bone? I wonder if it is the subconscious thought of a cold and biting landscape; perhaps those Swiss commercials for hot chocolate and throat drops? No matter the reason, Camilla Lackberg and The Preacher left me chilled and shivering the whole book through!

This second installment in the series is set in the coastal town of Fjallabacka and brings back the main character of Erica Falk, who is now side-lined with the  impending birth of her first child. This novel shifts focus to the local police force which includes the father of her baby, Peter. Peter is lead investigator on the report of a missing girl that soon turns to a death investigation.  This murder is just the first in a string of missing young women.  While Erika does some assisting with her investigative research skills, Peter is the real detective and lead investigator.  He is also responsible for his detective team, a hodge-podge of local yokels who do little but slow him down and boggle the investigation.  Peter has more than that to contend with, though, as his one case soon turns into a manhunt for a possible serial killer.

This book is a delight for some many reasons--it is as frightening as it is funny. I ran the full gamut of emotions while reading and found myself reluctant to put the book down for even a moment until I finished the whole thing. Lackberg's writing style is masterful as she draws the reader cleverly in, making us care about every character in the book. While the mystery and killings are puzzling and brilliantly done, the best part of the story really takes place in the lives of the characters and their relationships to one another.  This is one of the few books that I’ve read where I became emotionally invested in every character, both main and secondary, likable and unlikable.  It started to feel less like a book and more real, with each character becoming a person, with motives and aims that was a puzzle to me.  I kept asking myself, ‘How does this fit?’  ‘Why is he acting this way/saying these things?’.

Overall, one of the best murder mysteries/thrillers I’ve read in a long time.  The only bad news?  Now, it’s one more series that I’ll HAVE to follow—it’s that good!  But don't take it from me; read an excerpt for yourself:

Open Road Publishing Excerpt

Some information about the author:  Born in 1974, Camilla Läckberg graduated from Gothenburg University of Economics, before moving to Stockholm where she worked for a few years as an economist. However, a course in creative writing triggered a drastic change of career. Her first six novels all became Swedish No. 1 bestsellers. She lives in a suburb of Stockholm.
If you're sold, then are some easy links for purchasing:

Friday, June 10, 2011

An Interview with Author Melissa Lemon

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Melissa Lemon, author of the upcoming Cinder and Ella.  Our chat about fairy tales, princesses and clumsy husbands leads me to believe I have more in common with Cinderella than I thought!

Cinder and Ella
What were your favorite fairy tales as a young person?
     "Cinderella was my favorite, the reasons being that she’s not a princess (neither am I) and I always seemed to be cleaning."

Did you ever find fairy tales to be scary, funny or serious?
   "All of the above!  Each one holds a bit of seriousness—something tragic has happened or is happening.  Fairy tales have to be scary to hold our suspense and interest.  And a little laughter makes the ride even more enjoyable."

Did you ever learn anything from fairy tales?
   "Each fairy tale has something to teach.  Snow White taught me that kindness wins hearts.  From Cinderella I learned that hard work, a positive attitude, and perseverance pay off.  And Alice in Wonderland helped me realize that falling into holes is not such a good thing."

Why do you think fairy tales are still around and still being read today?
    "I think they represent something from our childhood that we loved and that we can go back to again and again and nobody will think we’re crazy for doing so.  There are so many things we do as kids that we’re expected to give up.  You might think I’m bizarre if you see me sitting in a corner playing with dolls and talking to myself (something my 4 year old does all the time) or if I run around in circles screaming at the top of my lungs (something my 6 year old does when I let her).  Reading fairy tales is perhaps the only thing from our childhood we’re allowed to hold onto."

Why should young people still be interested in fairy tales?
    "Fairy tales bring together people of all ages and cultures.  They provide an escape from reality while teaching us about it.  In short, fairy tales are AMAZING and POWERFUL.  Who wouldn’t want to read them?  (They’re also fun to write as well.)"
Melissa Lemon
In your opinion, why has there been such a resurgence of retellings of fairy tales lately?
   "I think it is because we love them so much and we want to make them fit into our world the way we know it.  It has been fun to see all of the supernatural and paranormal twists taken on these timeless stories.  It makes them accessible and entertaining for new generations."

You have retold the story of "Cinderella" from another perspective.  What made you decide to split that into two different people?
    "I’m not sure.  It probably comes a little from my middle child syndrome.  I am #4 of 5 in my family and have the perfect personality to go unnoticed--quiet, independent.  Even in school I knew what it was like to be the good, diligent, quiet one who never needed anything."

It seems as if you favored the character of Ella more so than Cinder.  Why is that?
   "I think there are two reasons.  One is that more happens to Ella.  Cinder starts as the proactive one but that quickly changes and Ella decides to take everything into her own hands.  It worked well with the plot to follow Ella on her adventures rather than to stay at the castle with Cinder.  It may also be because I understand Ella more and relate to her better.  Cinder is entirely too nice for me to relate to."

Why did you decide to make the "Prince Charming" character NOT a prince and such a klutz? (I loved that about the book, by the way!)
   "Okay, my husband is going to kill me, but he gave me the idea.  My head is in the perfect range for an accidental flying elbow from time to time.  He has stepped on me and whacked me with things as well (all on accident…I think).  Let’s just say I would never let him help me off of a horse, but I love him anyway.  Making the prince evil was a part of making this story different from other retellings.  And who doesn’t love (I mean hate) an evil prince?"

Where did you get the idea for the life connection to trees?
    "I only wish I knew.  I have a life long love of trees—climbing them, hugging them (aspens are the most huggable), being around them, looking at them.  They are a part of my life and I feel a connection to them, so I guess that opened the door for the idea."

What are your future book plans?
   "That is a loaded question.  I have so many ideas it is difficult to keep them straight.  I am currently working on a YA science fiction.  I would like to do somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 more retellings (3 for boys and 2 more for girls).  I may break into the middle grade market at some point since my kids will be there for a while and are great at helping inspire ideas.  I guess the short answer is that I want to keep writing for a very long time."

For more information about Melissa Lemon, check out these links below:
Melissa's Facebook Fan Page
Melissa on Twitter
Melissa's Author Blog
Melissa's Author Page on Goodreads

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Classic Story Retold

Cinder and Ella by Melissa Lemon
(Upper Elementary and Above)
Cinder and Ella
If you’ve ever heard the story of Cinderella, then, according to the author, “you have heard it wrong”!  When I read these words in the first few moments of starting the book, I automatically recoiled.  Seriously, do you know how many versions of Cinderella I’ve read?  (I’m not even counting the Disney knock-off versions!)

Dozens, literally.

And yet, I had truly never read a version even remotely like this one!  This version is so fresh and new that it is certainly a version that bears repeating and retelling and reading.  The author has done some very interesting things with the very idea of the Cinderella and I find myself re-evaluating other heroine stories now, looking deeper into the character in ways I hadn’t before.

Truly, I had never really liked the princess stories because I sure ain’t one of those girls!  However, this Cinder-Ella is one I could identify with.  Lemon has taken the dichotomy of subservient princess and free-thinking princess and split them into two very different sisters-Cinder and Ella.  Cinder, the self-sacrificing princess is the one in all the other tales and the one I have the least patience with.  Seriously, scrubbing for stepsisters and wearing glass slippers so some man will rescue me was never on my wish list. 

But Ella, yeah, her I get.  Sassy, stubborn and REAL.  She is the most realistic un-princess I’ve seen.  I especially love how she takes control of her own destiny and future.  Finally, a fairy tale I feel comfortable for my own daughters to read.

There are other elements that resemble the real story but are just different enough to be delightful.  For example, “prince Charming” isn’t either of those two things.  He is a lowly squire and is the clumsiest fellow I’ve seen (I can totally identify).  It is easy to see how love develops between the two main characters.

Perhaps the most charming thing about the book, though, wasn’t the characters or clever similarities but the author’s obvious art of writing.  The prose is almost musical and reads like a long-lost fairy tale with just enough modern wit and slang thrown in to connect with young readers.    Funny, witty, poetic and real—definitely not your average fairy tell.

Overall, a welcome addition to the retellings genre.
Some links, for your interest:
Melissa Lemon's Blog Tour
Melissa's Facebook Fan Page
Melissa Lemon on Twitter
Melissa Lemon's Author Blog
Melissa Lemon's Author Page on Good Reads

Friday, June 3, 2011

Fully Deserving of the Honor

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jaqueline Kelly
(Women or Girls, Adult or Nearly So or Wanting to Be)

This book was a Newberry Honor Award for 2010 and for the life of me, I simply cannot figure out why it didn't win the whole blamed thing.  I pride myself on reading as many of the Honor and Award Winners as I can and this one is the best of the books for several years.

The story involves a young girl named Calpurnia Tate (Callie Vee, because her name is just too atrocious).  Callie lives smack in the middle of a family of 7, with her being the only daughter.  Her family is rather well off and lives on a pecan plantation in Texas.  The book takes place in the year 1899 and revolves around the relationship between Callie and her grandfather.  Captain Tate has always lived with the family but has never really been one of them, interested instead in his own interests--Darwin, reading, study.  All things that a proper young girl of 1899 should not be interested in.

Callie is a girl after my own heart.  She doesn't quite fit in but knows exactly what she wants--something that isn't deemed suitable.  She chafes and groans at the ideas of womanhood, all sewing and cooking and cleaning.  Callie isn't one of 'those girls'.  She wants to be her own kind of person. 

The story is beautifully told and just drips that sweet charm that only a southern book can.  Callie's relationship with her grandfather is touching; with her brothers, hilarious; with her mother, strained; and with the world around her, full of wonder.

I highly recommend this book for young girls and young women.  It is a great lesson in those very things that we still struggle with today but is done in a way that is both tender and honest.  It is a story that, once finished, will stay with you like a good memory.  For me, she has joined the ranks of my other bestest literary friends--Anne of Green Gables and Pippi Longstockings.

In conclusion, a quote from the book..."Ahhh.  Bed, book, kitten, sandwich.  All one needed in life, really."  Especially if the book were this one.