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New Release Spotlight: May 4, 2021

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Welcome to May! This month marks the five year anniversary of the New Release Spotlight! I started these lists in May 2016 because I could not believe how many amazing titles were coming out that month. I didn’t know then that May is one of the best months for new book releases! I have missed a few random weeks of Spotlights, plus I don’t do any Spotlights in the last two weeks of December (because there is very little released). For the most part though, I’ve made them happen every week since!

This first list of May is so huge that I needed an extra day to get it done!

My top picks are:

  • Indivisible by Daniel Aleman (YA)
  • Equal by Joyce Moyer Hostetter (middle grades)
  • Fred Gets Dressed by Peter Brown (picture book)

This week’s Spotlight titles are #1583-#1606 on The Ginormous book list.

*Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney

Debut author! Quinn keeps lists of everything–from the days she’s ugly cried, to “Things That I Would Never Admit Out Loud” and all the boys she’d like to kiss. Her lists keep her sane. By writing her fears on paper, she never has to face them in real life. That is, until her journal goes missing…

Then an anonymous account posts one of her lists on Instagram for the whole school to see and blackmails her into facing seven of her greatest fears, or else her entire journal will go public. Quinn doesn’t know who to trust. Desperate, she teams up with Carter Bennett–the last known person to have her journal–in a race against time to track down the blackmailer.

Together, they journey through everything Quinn’s been too afraid to face, and along the way, Quinn finds the courage to be honest, to live in the moment, and to fall in love.

Booklist and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: lists, secrets, lies, writing, anxiety, journals, fear, blackmail, Texas, African Americans, grandparents, dementia, microaggressions

*Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee

Valora Luck has two things: a ticket for the biggest and most luxurious ocean liner in the world, and a dream of leaving England behind and making a life for herself as a circus performer in New York. Much to her surprise though, she’s turned away at the gangway; apparently, Chinese aren’t allowed into America.

But Val has to get on that ship. Her twin brother Jamie, who has spent two long years at sea, is there, as is an influential circus owner, whom Val hopes to audition for. Thankfully, there’s not much a trained acrobat like Val can’t overcome when she puts her mind to it.

As a stowaway, Val should keep her head down and stay out of sight. But the clock is ticking and she has just seven days as the ship makes its way across the Atlantic to find Jamie, perform for the circus owner, and convince him to help get them both into America.

Then one night the unthinkable happens, and suddenly Val’s dreams of a new life are crushed under the weight of the only thing that matters: survival.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: immigration, Titanic, Chinese Exclusion Act, circus performers, stowaways, shipwrecks, world history, discrimination, siblings

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

Cee has been trapped on an abandoned island for three years and seventeen days without any recollection of how she arrived, or memories from her life prior. All she knows is that somewhere out there, beyond the horizon, she has a sister named Kay. Determined to find her, Cee devotes her days to building a boat from junk parts scavenged inland, doing everything in her power to survive until the day she gets off the island and reunites with her sister.

In a world apart, 16-year-old STEM prodigy Kasey Mizuhara is also living a life of isolation. The eco-city she calls home is one of eight levitating around the world, built for people who protected the planet–and now need protecting from it. With natural disasters on the rise due to climate change, eco-cities provide clean air, water, and shelter. Their residents, in exchange, must spend at least a third of their time in stasis pods, conducting business virtually whenever possible to reduce their environmental footprint. While Kasey, an introvert and loner, doesn’t mind the lifestyle, her sister Celia hated it. Popular and lovable, Celia much preferred the outside world. But no one could have predicted that Celia would take a boat out to sea, never to return.

Now it’s been three months since Celia’s disappearance, and Kasey has given up hope. Logic says that her sister must be dead. But as the public decries her stance, she starts to second guess herself and decides to retrace Celia’s last steps. Where they’ll lead her, she does not know. Her sister was full of secrets. But Kasey has a secret of her own.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): science fiction, post-apocalypse
  • Recommended for: Grades 7+
  • Themes: sisters, memory loss, boats, stranded on an island, climate change, natural disasters, pollution, missing persons

All Kinds of Other by James Sie

Two boys are starting over at a new high school.

Jules is still figuring out what it means to be gay…and just how out he wants to be.

Jack is reeling from a fall-out with his best friend…and isn’t ready to let anyone else in just yet.

When Jules and Jack meet, the sparks are undeniable. But when a video linking Jack to a pair of popular trans vloggers is leaked to the school, the revelations thrust both boys into the spotlight they’d tried to avoid.

Suddenly Jack and Jules must face a choice: to play it safe and stay under the radar, or claim their own space in the world–together.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: LGBTQIA+, transgender, gay boys, new student in school, identity, coming out, being outed

*Hurricane Summer by Asha Bromfield

Debut author! Tilla has spent her entire life trying to make her father love her. But every six months, he leaves their family and returns to his true home: the island of Jamaica.

When Tilla’s mother tells her she’ll be spending the summer on the island, Tilla dreads the idea of seeing him again, but longs to discover what life in Jamaica has always held for him.

In an unexpected turn of events, Tilla is forced to face the storm that unravels in her own life as she learns about the dark secrets that lie beyond the veil of paradise–all in the midst of an impending hurricane.

Hurricane Summer is a powerful coming of age story that deals with colorism, classism, young love, the father-daughter dynamic–and what it means to discover your own voice in the center of complete destruction.

Booklist and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: fathers and daughters, Jamaica, secrets, hurricanes, belonging

Indivisible by Daniel Aleman

Debut author! Mateo Garcia and his younger sister, Sophie, have been taught to fear one word for as long as they can remember: deportation.

Over the past few years, however, the fear that their undocumented immigrant parents could be sent back to Mexico has started to fade. Ma and Pa have been in the United States for so long, they have American-born children, and they’re hard workers and good neighbors. When Mateo returns from school one day to find that his parents have been taken by ICE, he realizes that his family’s worst nightmare has become a reality.

With his parents’ fate and his own future hanging in the balance, Mateo must figure out who he is and what he is capable of, even as he’s forced to question what it means to be an American.

Booklist starred. This reminds me of Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros, which is for middle graders.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: undocumented immigrants, Mexican Americans, family separation, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), siblings, older sibling as caretaker, teens with jobs

Counting Down with You by Tashie Bhuiyan

Karina Ahmed has a plan. Keep her head down, get through high school without a fuss, and follow her parents’ rules–even if it means sacrificing her dreams. When her parents go abroad to Bangladesh for four weeks, Karina expects some peace and quiet. Instead, one simple lie unravels everything.

Karina is my girlfriend.

Tutoring the school’s resident bad boy was already crossing a line. Pretending to date him? Out of the question. But Ace Clyde does everything right–he brings her coffee in the mornings, impresses her friends without trying, and even promises to buy her a dozen books (a week) if she goes along with his fake-dating facade. Though Karina agrees, she can’t help but start counting down the days until her parents come back.

T-minus twenty-eight days until everything returns to normal—but what if Karina no longer wants it to?

SLJ starred. I will be reading this because it reminds me of Elkeles’ Perfect Chemistry books. Which I LOVED.

  • Genre(s): romance
  • Recommended for: Grades 8-12
  • Themes: fake dating, Asian Americans, Bangaladeshi Americans, arranged marriage, Muslim Americans, anxiety, parental expectations

Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard

Realm Breaker, book 1. A strange darkness grows in Allward. Even Corayne an-Amarat can feel it, tucked away in her small town at the edge of the sea.

She soon discovers the truth: She is the last of an ancient lineage–and the last hope to save the world from destruction. But she won’t be alone. Even as darkness falls, she is joined by a band of unlikely companions:

–A squire, forced to choose between home and honor.
–An immortal, avenging a broken promise.
–An assassin, exiled and bloodthirsty.
–An ancient sorceress, whose riddles hide an eerie foresight.
–A forger with a secret past.
–A bounty hunter with a score to settle.

Together they stand against a vicious opponent, invincible and determined to burn all kingdoms to ash, and an army unlike anything the realm has ever witnessed.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-12
  • Themes: magic, ensemble casts, misfits, immortals, multiple viewpoints

10 Truths and a Dare by Ashley Elston

It’s Senior Party Week, that magical in-between time after classes have ended but before graduation, chock-full of gimmicky theme parties, last-minute bonding, and family traditions. Olivia couldn’t be more ready. Class salutatorian and confident in her future at LSU, she’s poised to sail through to the next phase of her life.

But when the tiny hiccup of an unsigned off-campus P.E. form puts Olivia in danger of not graduating at all, she has one week to set things straight without tipping off her very big and very nosy extended family. Volunteering to help at a local golf tournament should do it, but since Olivia’s mom equipped her phone with a tracking app, there’ll be no hiding the fact that she’s at the golf course instead of all the graduation parties happening at the same time.

Unless, that is, she can convince the Fab Four–her ride-or-die cousins and best friends Sophie, Charlie, and Wes–to trade phones with her as they go through the motions of playing Olivia for the week. Sure, Olivia’s sudden “passion” for golf is met with some suspicion. And sure, her grasp of the rules is a little shaky. And yes, okay, a very cute, very off-limits boy keeps popping up in her orbit. But she is focused! She has a schedule and a plan! Nothing can possibly go wrong…right?

Reading this, my first thought was that it’s not realistic that a top-ranked senior would be denied graduation over some technicality. But then, I remembered that I did have a friend in high school threatened with no graduation over an unpaid school parking fine a couple of detentions she didn’t attend. She graduated, but she did have to pay the piper. I don’t know what would have happened if she didn’t do them.

  • Genre(s): romance, realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grade 7-12
  • Themes: Italian Americans, graduation, senior year, golf, lies, close-knit families

The People We Choose by Katelyn Detweiler

Calliope Silversmith has always had just two friends in her small Pennsylvania town, Ginger and Noah, and she’s fine with that. She’s never wanted anything more than her best friends, her moms, their house in the woods, and their family-run yoga studio–except maybe knowing who her sperm donor is. Her curiosity has been building for years, and she can finally find out this summer when she turns eighteen.

Then Max and his family move into the house across the woods from Calliope, and she immediately feels a special connection with her new neighbor, one that feels different than just friendship. The stability of her longtime trio wavers over the next few weeks as she and Max start to spend more time together.

But when Calliope makes contact with her sperm donor she learns a surprising truth: her donor is Max’s father. How is this even possible?

As she and Max struggle to redefine their friendship now that they know they’re half-siblings, Calliope realizes she has much to gain by recognizing and accepting that family is both the one she has been born into, and the one she chooses to make.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 9-12
  • Themes: redefining relationships, lesbian parents, half-siblings, sperm donors, fathers and daughters, surprising news

*Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh

Junie Kim just wants to fit in. So she keeps her head down and tries not to draw attention to herself. But when racist graffiti appears at her middle school, Junie must decide between staying silent or speaking out.

Then Junie’s history teacher assigns a project and Junie decides to interview her grandparents, learning about their unbelievable experiences as kids during the Korean War. Junie comes to admire her grandma’s fierce determination to overcome impossible odds, and her grandpa’s unwavering compassion during wartime. And as racism becomes more pervasive at school, Junie taps into the strength of her ancestors and finds the courage to do what is right.

Booklist and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: racism, grandparents, immigrants, Korean Americans overcoming adversity, family, Korean War

Equal by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

It’s the summer of 1959 at the foot of Bakers Mountain in western North Carolina when 13-year-old Jackie Honeycutt first bumps into Thomas Freeman fishing on the riverbank. They hit it off, and Jackie hopes the two of them can be friends. But Jackie is white, and Thomas is Black–and Jackie quickly learns their growing friendship won’t be easy.

North Carolina is the focus of the growing civil rights movement, and through his friendship with Thomas, Jackie experiences racism and prejudice first-hand through bullying at school, family turmoil and pressure from his community. Can Jackie free both his conscience and his voice–and ultimately do what’s right?

School Library Connection starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4+
  • Themes: 1950s, North Carolina, racism, segregation, civil rights, bullying

Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen

Yared Heywat lives an isolated life in Addis Prime–a hardscrabble city with rundown tech, lots of rules, and not much to do. His worrywart Uncle Moti and bionic lioness Besa are his only family…and his only friends.

Often in trouble for his thrill-seeking antics and smart mouth, those same qualities make Yared a star player of the underground augmented reality game, The Hunt for Kaleb’s Obelisk. But when a change in the game rules prompts Yared to log in with his real name, it triggers an attack that rocks the city. In the chaos, Uncle Moti disappears.

Suddenly, all the stories Yared’s uncle told him as a young boy are coming to life, of kingdoms in the sky and city-razing monsters. And somehow Yared is at the center of them.

Together with Besa and the Ibis–a game rival turned reluctant ally–Yared must search for his uncle…and answers to his place in a forgotten, galaxy-spanning war.

Publishers Weekly starred. Check out the authors here: Kwame Mbalia wrote the popular Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. Prince Joel Makonnen is literally that–a prince of Ethiopia.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, science fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: augmented reality games, secret identities, missing persons, kidnapping, monsters, Ethiopian folklore

Glitter Gets Everywhere by Yvette Clark

Debut author! After Kitty’s mother dies on an inappropriately sunny Tuesday, all Kitty wants is for her life to go back to “normal”–whatever that will mean without her mum. Instead, her dad announces that he, Kitty, and her sister are moving from their home in London to New York City, and Kitty will need to say goodbye to the places and people that help keep her mother’s memory alive.

New York is every bit as big and bustling as Kitty’s heard, and as she adjusts to life there and befriends a blue-haired boy, she starts to wonder if her memories of her mum don’t need to stay in one place–if there’s a way for them to be with Kitty every day, everywhere.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: grief, death of parent, fathers and daughters, sisters, London, England, New York City, new kid at school

*Flight of the Puffin by Ann Braden

Libby comes from a long line of bullies. She wants to be different, but sometimes that doesn’t work out. To bolster herself, she makes a card with the message You are amazing. That card sets off a chain reaction that ends up making a difference in the lives of some kids who could also use a boost–be it from dealing with bullies, unaccepting families, or the hole that grief leaves.

Receiving an encouraging message helps each kid summon up the thing they need most, whether it’s bravery, empathy, or understanding. Because it helps them realize they matter–and that they’re not flying solo anymore.

Booklist and School Library Connection starred. The Kirkus review calls it “mildly inspirational at best.” I loved The Benefits of Being an Octopus, so based on that alone, I would still buy this for my library. The Kirkus reviews tend to be sourface anyway.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: bullying, family, random acts of kindness, encouraging others, alternating perspectives, Vermont, Seattle

I Speak Boy by Jessica Brody

After a matchmaking attempt for her best friend, Harper, goes wrong, Emmy is fed up. Why are boys so hard to figure out? But then something amazing happens–she wakes up with a new app on her phone: iSpeak Boy! Suddenly Emmy has the information every girl wants to know–the super-secret knowledge of how boys think…and who they like!

Now Emmy is using her magical app to make matches left and right. But can she use it to help Harper, the only person who doesn’t seem to buy into Emmy’s “gift”? And when her secret gets out and the app ends up in the wrong hands, can Emmy figure out how to undo the damage she’s caused?

No starred reviews on this one, but Jessica Brody has always been an easy-sell in my middle school libraries! Give it to middle schoolers who want to read about dating drama but aren’t quite ready for YA.

  • Genre(s): romance, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: matchmaking, dating, phone apps, rom-com, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare

Mad for Ads: How Advertising Gets (and Stays) in Our Heads by Erica Fyvie (Author) and Ian Turner (Illustrator)

This amusing and engaging behind-the-scenes look at advertising and its influence will help kids decode the ads that surround them every day and make smart decisions. For children growing up in an advertising-saturated world, here’s an eye-opening explanation of what advertising is, how it works and why that matters.

The book covers the components of an advertising campaign, from slogans to logos, and the many ways marketers seek to influence behavior, from tapping into fears to using psychological pricing. It then brings these techniques and tools to life by taking readers through the creation of two fictional advertising plans.

Along the way, there’s information about the strategies that advertisers use to influence their audience, as well as valuable background on how digital technology allows companies to track people and what that means for privacy.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: advertising, media, privacy, marketing, persuasion

The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim

Riley Oh can’t wait to see her sister get initiated into the Gom clan, a powerful lineage of Korean healing witches their family has belonged to for generations. Her sister, Hattie, will earn her Gi bracelet and finally be able to cast spells without adult supervision. Although Riley is desperate to follow in her sister’s footsteps when she herself turns thirteen, she’s a saram–a person without magic. Riley was adopted, and despite having memorized every healing spell she’s ever heard, she often feels like the odd one out in her family and the gifted community.

Then Hattie gets an idea: what if the two of them could cast a spell that would allow Riley to share Hattie’s magic? Their sleuthing reveals a promising incantation in the family’s old spell book, and the sisters decide to perform it at Hattie’s initiation ceremony. If it works, no one will ever treat Riley as an outsider again. It’s a perfect plan!

Until it isn’t. When the sisters attempt to violate the laws of the Godrealm, Hattie’s life ends up hanging in the balance, and to save her Riley has to fulfill an impossible task: find the last fallen star. But what even is the star, and how can she find it?

As Riley embarks on her search, she finds herself meeting fantastic creatures and collaborating with her worst enemies. And when she uncovers secrets that challenge everything she has been taught to believe, Riley must decide what it means to be a witch, what it means to be family, and what it really means to belong.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: sisters, spells, magic, Korean mythology, quests, witches, Asia

Best Nerds Forever by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Being “nerdy” in middle school isn’t a bad thing–I should know!

Me and my friends are nerds. Some of us are geeky but funny, smart but never boring. One is a jock but not jerk. We don’t quite fit. But we’re funny. We’re fun. We’re total chaos.

And we own it–until one of us is targeted by a maniac. It will take all of our nerdiest skills to Sherlock Holmes our way out of one dangerous mess.

  • Genre(s): humor, supernatural
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: friends, nerd culture, ghosts, afterlife

*Wishes by Muon Van (Author) and Victo Ngai (Illustrator)

Wishes tells the powerful, honest story about one Vietnamese family’s search for a new home on the other side of the world, and the long-lasting and powerful impact that makes on the littlest member of the family.

Inspired by actual events in the author’s life, this is a narrative that is both timely and timeless. Told through the eyes of a young girl, the story chronicles a family’s difficult and powerful journey to pack up what they can carry and to leave their world behind, traveling to a new and unknown place in a crowded boat.

Booklist and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: immigration, refugees, Vietnam, journeys, based on a true story, courage

*Fred Gets Dressed by Peter Brown

The boy loves to be naked. He romps around his house naked and wild and free. Until he romps into his parents’ closet and is inspired to get dressed.

First he tries on his dad’s clothes, but they don’t fit well. Then he tries on his mom’s clothes, and wow! The boy looks great. He looks through his mom’s jewelry and makeup and tries that on, too. When he’s discovered by his mother and father, the whole family (including the dog!) get in on the fun, and they all get dressed together.

Booklist and Kirkus starred. This is my favorite book cover so far this year! The confidence on Fred’s face is just priceless. Fred is right–Mom’s clothes are infinitely more interesting than Dad’s clothes.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: clothes, nakedness, nontraditional gender roles, family

*Bubbles…Up! by Jacqueline Davies (Author) and Sonia Sánchez (Illustrator)

A day at the community pool is full of unwater magic–dunking and diving with friends; somersaulting, walking on your hands, and bursting up through the surface like a tortoise. But when a thunderstorm comes and a little brother ventures too close to the pool’s edge, will our main character be quick enough and brave enough to save the day?

In this energetic read-aloud, the words swim off the pages as the underwater world comes to life through lush, dynamic illustrations and visual poetry. Journey to an imaginative world where, always and forever, bubbles…rise…UP!

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): informational picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: swimming, outdoor play, siblings, summer, community, water safety

Escape: One Day We Had to Run by Ming & Wah (Author) and Carmen Vela (Illustrator)

CLING. Don’t let go. Hold tight. Never give up. FLY. Rev up. Lift off. Soar. PEDAL. Set off. Cycle. Pedal for your life.

Throughout history, ordinary people have been forced to leave their families and homes because of war, famine, slavery, intolerance, economic and political upheaval, or climate change. These remarkable true stories of escape show how courageous people all around the world have overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their flight to freedom.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-9
  • Themes: freedom, overcoming adversity, courage, slavery, Berlin Wall, border walls, Harriet Tubman, Underground Railroad

*Hair Twins by Raakhee Mirchandani (Author) and Holly Hatam (Illustrator)

Every morning Papa combs through his daughter’s waves like he does his own–parting it down the middle, using coconut oil to get all the tangles out.

Some days he braids her hair in two twists down the side of her face. Other days he weaves it into one long braid hanging down her back, just like a unicorn tail.

But her favorite style is when he combs her hair in a tight bun on the top of her head, just like the joora he wears every day under his turban. They call this their hair twin look!

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Sikhs, turbans, hair, hairstyles, fathers and daughters, family

*On the Trapline by David A. Robertson (Author) and Julie Flett (Illustrator)

A boy and Moshom, his grandpa, take a trip together to visit a place of great meaning to Moshom. A trapline is where people hunt and live off the land, and it was where Moshom grew up. As they embark on their northern journey, the child repeatedly asks his grandfather, “Is this your trapline?” Along the way, the boy finds himself imagining what life was like two generations ago–a life that appears to be both different from and similar to his life now.

This is a heartfelt story about memory, imagination and intergenerational connection that perfectly captures the experience of a young child’s wonder as he is introduced to places and stories that hold meaning for his family.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades K-5
  • Themes: grandfathers, hunting, living off the land, journeys, generational gaps

 

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (YA):

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (MIDDLE GRADES):

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS & FAVORITE CHARACTERS (ELEMENTARY):

ABOUT THE SPOTLIGHT

The New Release Spotlight began in May 2016 as a way to help librarians keep up with the many new children’s and YA books that are released each week. Every Tuesday, school librarian Leigh Collazo compiles the New Release Spotlight using a combination of Follett’s Titlewave, Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes and Noble. As always, titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. Recommended grade levels represent the range of grade levels recommended by professional book reviewers.

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