Book Reviews · Recommendations

Mini Contemporary Reviews: April-May 2019

Today I would like to share with you two reviews of contemporary books, that I read during the months of April and May.

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Me Before You
By: Jojo Moyes


Published: December 2012
Published by: Penguin Books
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Format Read: Trade Paperback
Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:


The beloved New York Times bestseller—with more than five million copies sold—by the author of One Plus One and The Girl You Left Behind

They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . .

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

A Love Story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?

-Goodreads

Quick Thoughts

Me Before You is a beautiful story of the relationship between a man whose life has been forever altered and the women who is hired to assist him. This book made me cry, smile and laugh. I couldn’t put it down. Yes it’s subject matter is quite controversial, however I felt that the author did a good job of presenting both sides of the debate. I would highly recommend Jojo Moyes Me Before You to fans of contemporary fiction and books that have been adapted to film.

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Welcome to Moonlight Harbor
(Moonlight Harbor, Book 1)
By: Sheila Roberts

Published: April 2018
Published by: MIRA
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Romace
Format Read: Library Book, Paperback
Rating: 3/5

Synopsis


USA TODAY bestselling author Sheila Roberts returns with a brand-new series set on the charming Washington coast

Once happily married, Jenna Jones is about to turn forty, and this year for her birthday—lucky her—she’s getting a divorce. She’s barely able to support herself and her teenage daughter, but now her deadbeat artist ex is hitting her up for spousal support…and then spending it on his “other” woman.

Still, as her mother always says, every storm brings a rainbow. And when she gets a very unexpected gift from her great-aunt Edie, things seem to be taking a turn for the better. Aging Aunt Edie is finding it difficult to keep up her business running The Driftwood Inn, so she invites Jenna to come live with her and run the place. It looks like Jenna’s financial problems are solved!

Or not. The town is a little more run-down than Jenna remembers, but that’s nothing compared to the ramshackle state of The Driftwood Inn. Aunt Edie is confident they can return it to its former glory, though Jenna feels like she’s jumped from the proverbial frying pan into the beach fire.

But who knows? With the help of her new friends and a couple of handsome citizens, perhaps that rainbow is on the horizon after all. Because, no matter what, life is always good at the beach.

Featuring all the warmth, romance and trademark humor of Sheila Roberts’s writing, this new series will delight longtime fans and welcome a generation of new readers.

Goodreads

Quick Thoughts

Welcome to Moonlight Harbor kicks off Sheila Roberts series of the same name and follows a woman and her daughter starting over after a messy divorce. I am always drawn to stories that feature some sort of renovation and the aspect I enjoyed the most in this book was the refurbishing of the Driftwood Inn. Although it had its cheesy moments and some that made
me roll my eyes, it was a cute story with a light hint of romance. It also featured a colorful cast of characters and encompassed the small town atmosphere. I am interested to see where the author will take this series in her further releases. Welcome to Moonlight Harbor would make for an enjoyable beach read, that I would recommend to fans of contemporary fiction.

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Book Reviews

California Girls by Susan Mallery

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California Girls
By: Susan Mallery

Published: February 2019
Published by: MIRA
Format Read: ARC, eBook, Kindle
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Romance

Rating: 2.5/5

NOTE: I was sent a copy of California Girls by Susan Mallery, from the publisher, via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis


The California sunshine’s not quite so bright for three sisters who get dumped in the same week…

Finola, a popular LA morning show host, is famously upbeat until she’s blindsided on live TV by news that her husband is sleeping with a young pop sensation who has set their affair to music. While avoiding the tabloids and pretending she’s just fine, she’s crumbling inside, desperate for him to come to his senses and for life to go back to normal.

Zennie’s breakup is no big loss. Although the world insists she pair up, she’d rather be surfing. So agreeing to be the surrogate for her best friend is a no-brainer—after all, she has an available womb and no other attachments to worry about. Except…when everyone else, including her big sister, thinks she’s making a huge mistake, being pregnant is a lot lonelier—and more complicated—than she imagined.

Never the tallest, thinnest or prettiest sister, Ali is used to being overlooked, but when her fiancé sends his disapproving brother to call off the wedding, it’s a new low. And yet Daniel continues to turn up “for support,” making Ali wonder if maybe—for once—someone sees her in a way no one ever has.

But side by side by side, these sisters will start over and rebuild their lives with all the affection, charm and laugh-out-loud humor that is classic Susan Mallery.

-Goodreads

My Thoughts

Susan Mallery’s California Girls is a contemporary fiction that follows three sisters, who all get dumped by their men on the same week. All the bases are covered here: one sister was married, another was engaged to be married and another was dating. Anyone who has ever been through a breakup will find something to relate to in California Girls.

I went into this book looking forward to a quick, heartwarming story about the bond between sisters. After reading the synopsis, I thought that they would really rally around each other to recover from their individual heartbreaks. Even though there were moments where they briefly came together, I felt that there was such a distance between each character. Although this was to be expected considering their upbringing with self-centered parents, it brought a different reading experience than I anticipated.

There were aspects from each sister’s story that I enjoyed including: behind the scenes in the television industry with Finola, Ali’s character development and Zennie’s friendship with Bernie. However I found the climax of events to be incredibly predictable.

Unhealthy diet, eating habits and body image were depicted in a way that I found problematic as it felt as if they were being justified instead of discouraged.

California Girls did keep my attention and had moments that were enjoyable, however I wasn’t able to connect with the characters and the plot as I hoped I would.

Book Reviews · Recommendations

Mini 5 Star Historical Fiction Reviews: March 2019

I was fortunate enough to read two books that I rated 5 stars during the month of march. Both of these books were historical fiction. Here are my quick thoughts.

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The Gilded Years
By Karin Tanabe

Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Synopsis:

Passing meets The House of Mirth in this “utterly captivating” (Kathleen Grissom, New York Times bestselling author of The Kitchen House) historical novel based on the true story of Anita Hemmings, the first black student to attend Vassar, who successfully passed as white—until she let herself grow too attached to the wrong person.

My Thoughts: The setting of Karin Tanabe’s The Gilded Years was of great interest to me as I am really drawn to books set in New York (state or city) during this time period. Life for young women in college, during a time when very few had the opportunity was fascinating. However it was the importance of Anita Hemmings story that really captivated me. Not only did she make strides during a time of women’s suffrage, but in the civil rights of her own people as well. The Gilded Age would make for a great book club selection as it will open many opportunities for discussion.

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To the Farthest Shores
By: Elizabeth Camden

Read by: Angela Brazil
Synopsis:
It has been six years since army nurse Jenny Bennett’s heart was broken by a dashing naval officer. Now Lieutenant Ryan Gallagher has abruptly reappeared in her life at the Presidio army base but refuses to discuss the inexplicable behavior that destroyed their happiness. Ryan is in an impossible situation. One of the few men in the world qualified to carry out a daring assignment, he accepted a government mission overseas that caused his reputation to be destroyed and broke the heart of the only woman he ever loved. Honor bound never to reveal where he had been during those six years, he can’t tell Jenny the truth or it will endanger an ongoing mission and put thousands of lives at risk. Although Ryan thinks he may have finally found a solution, he can’t pull it off on his own. Loyalty to her country compels Jenny to help, but she never could have imagined the intrigue she and Ryan will have to face or the lengths to which they will have to go to succeed.

My Thoughts: I was pleasantly surprised as to how much I enjoyed Elizabeth Camden’s To The Farthest Shores. There are many different aspects to this story that some may find overwhelming, but I enjoyed each part. The characters were very diverse with very detailed histories including a strong female lead. I was especially intrigued by the comparisons between the American and Japanese cultures. Angela Brazil was a wonderful and optimistic narrator for this audiobook and I hope to listen to more from her in the future. I would highly recommend To the Farthest Shores to fans of Christian historical fiction.

Book Reviews · Recommendations

The Sky Above Us (Sunrise at Normandy, #2) by Sarah Sundin

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The Sky Above Us
(Sunrise at Normandy, #2)
By: Sarah Sundin

Published: February 2019
Published By: Fleming H. Revell Company
Format Read: ARC, NetGalley, eBook, Kindle
Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian Fiction, Romance, Series

Rating: 4/5

I was sent a copy of The Sky Above Us (Sunrise at Normandy, #2) by Sarah Sundin, from the publisher via Netgalley, in exchange for a honest review.

Synopsis


Numbed by grief and harboring shameful secrets, Lt. Adler Paxton ships to England with the US 357th Fighter Group in 1943. Determined to become an ace pilot, Adler battles the German Luftwaffe in treacherous dogfights in the skies over France as the Allies struggle for control of the air before the D-day invasion.

Violet Lindstrom wanted to be a missionary, but for now she serves in the American Red Cross, where she arranges entertainment for the men of the 357th in the Aeroclub on base and sets up programs for local children. Drawn to the mysterious Adler, she enlists his help with her work and urges him to reconnect with his family after a long estrangement.

Despite himself, Adler finds his defenses crumbling when it comes to Violet. But D-day draws near. And secrets can’t stay buried forever.

Bestselling author Sarah Sundin returns readers to the shores of Normandy, this time in the air, as the second Paxton brother prepares to face the past–and the most fearsome battle of his life.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

The Sky Above Us is the second installment in Sarah Sundin’s series that follows the Paxton family. Tragedy sends them all their separate ways, however the impending Normandy invasion finds the three brothers fighting for their country in different branches of the American armed forces. This installment follows middle brother Adler and an American Red Cross worker named Violet.

Once again I was impressed by the authors knowledge of the invasion as well as the armed forces and Red Cross. I found the American relations with their British hosts to be especially interesting to me.

Adler was a more complex character than Violet. He had a tragic past that he was trying to avoid. I found his attitude in the early pages of this book to be terrible. Violet was more dull in comparison and I often found myself annoyed by her contradicting emotions. I didn’t enjoy their romance as much as I did with the couple in the first book. However they both showed good character growth.

Although I enjoyed The Sea Before Us, more than The Sky Above Us, I still loved the setting as well as learning about the Normandy Invasion from an Air Force perspective. I look forward to reading the third installment in the Sunrise at Normandy series, which is due to be released next year.

Book Reviews · Uncategorized

The Tea House on Mulberry Street by Sharon Owens

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The Tea House on Mulberry Street
By: Sharon Owens
Narrated by: Caroline Winterson

Published: February 2005
Published by: Listen & Live Audio
Format Read: Audio book, Library book, Libby App
Genre: Women’s Fiction

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis

Muldoon’s Tea Rooms, beloved for the cozy atmosphere and luscious desserts, has started looking a bit outdated — and the same could be said about the proprietors, Penny and Daniel Stanley. After seventeen years, their marriage has started to fade and wear a little thin, even as their old shop bustles with the energy of the customers who seek refuge from their particular dilemmas: Housewife Sadie Smith comes to escape her diet and her husband’s stick-thin mistress. Struggling artist Brenda Brown sits and pens love letters to the actor Nicolas Cage. And Clare Fitzgerald returns after twenty years abroad to search for a long-lost someone. Behind the cherry cheesecakes, vanilla ice creams, and chocolate cappuccinos are the stirrings of a revolution that will define lives, heal troubled hearts, and rock the very foundation of the humble teahouse. And through it all, Penny and Daniel manage to discover what truly matters in life and love.

-Goodreads

My Thoughts

Set in 1999, Belfast; The Tea House on Mullberry Street follows the owners and customers of a small cafe. I was instantly reminded of a Maeve Binchy novel, what with a group of unrelated people with one common connection. This connection was the theme of the story and followed how each character dealt with their individual situations. 


It took some time for me to get into the story, but once the plot began to move along, I enjoyed it well enough. 


Caroline Winterson was a great narrator who did justice to the different dialects.


I would recommend it to those who enjoy women’s fiction, like Maeve Binchy. 

Book Reviews · Recommendations

Shattered (Alaskan Courage, #2) by Dani Pettrey

Shattered
(Alaskan Courage, #2)
By Dani Pettrey

Published: February 2013
Published by: Bethany House
Format Read: eBook, Library Book, Libby App
Genre: Suspense, Christian Fiction, Romance, Contemporary, Mystery

Rating: 4/5
♥♥♥♥

Synopsis

Piper McKenna couldn’t be more thrilled that her prodigal brother, Reef, has returned to Yancey, Alaska, after five years. But her happiness is short-lived when Reef appears at her house covered in blood. A fellow snowboarder has been killed–but despite the evidence, Reef swears he’s innocent. And Piper believes him.

Deputy Landon Grainger loves the McKennas like family, but he’s also sworn to find the truth. Piper is frustrated with his need for facts over faith, but he knows those closest to you have the power to deceive you the most. With his sheriff pushing for a quick conviction, some unexpected leads complicate the investigation, and pursuing the truth may mean risking Landon’s career.

With Piper waging her own search, the two head deep into Canada’s rugged backcountry–and unexpected complications. Not only does their long friendship seem to be turning into something more, but this dangerous case is becoming deadlier with each step.

My Thoughts

In 2015 I read and loved the first book in Dani Pettrey’s Alaskan Courage series; Submerged. So naturally I was highly anticipating book 2; Shattered. As with book 1, I was hooked on this story from the start.

Shattered was a fast paced Christian suspense that focused on the death of a professional snowboarder and a family trying to prove their brother’s innocence. I enjoyed the adventure Piper and Landon went on to solve the mystery.

Unfortunately I didn’t love Piper as a main character, like I did with the couple from Submerged. Her need for adventure and her curiosity overshadowed the real reason why they were investigating. In fact her brother Reef (the main suspect) played a very small role in the story.

Although Shattered wasn’t as action packed as the first installment, I would still recommend it. I would suggest that readers begin with Submerged as it better explores the family’s history. I look forward to reading the next book in the Alaskan Courage series.

Book Reviews · Recommendations

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E. Pendziwol

 

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters
By Jean E. Pendziwol

Published: July 2017
Published by: Harper
Format Read: eBook, Library Book, Libby App
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Contemporary

Rating: 5/5
♥♥♥♥♥

 

Synopsis

Though her mind is still sharp, Elizabeth’s eyes have failed. No longer able to linger over her beloved books or gaze at the paintings that move her spirit, she fills the void with music and memories of her family—a past that suddenly becomes all too present when her late father’s journals are found amid the ruins of an old shipwreck.

With the help of Morgan, a delinquent teenager performing community service, Elizabeth goes through the diaries, a journey through time that brings the two women closer together. Entry by entry, these unlikely friends are drawn deep into a world far removed from their own—to Porphyry Island on Lake Superior, where Elizabeth’s father manned the lighthouse seventy years before.

As the words on these musty pages come alive, Elizabeth and Morgan begin to realize that their fates are connected to the isolated island in ways they never dreamed. While the discovery of Morgan’s connection sheds light onto her own family mysteries, the faded pages of the journals hold more questions than answers for Elizabeth, and threaten the very core of who she is.

My Thoughts

Historical fiction, set in a place I’ve visited, with a nautical element: three of my favourite things to read about. Jean E. Pendziwol’s The Lighthouse Keepers Daughters is worthy of a 5 star rating.

It follows an unlikely pair of characters as they revisit the past with the help of the Lighthouse Keepers old log books. This story was the perfect book to read during the fall, as the atmospheric tale set a haunting tone.

The premise initially reminded me of the book Perdita by Hilary Scharper with its dual timeline, lighthouse setting and artistic elements. However I did enjoy this book far more. Other books it has been related to include The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, which I have also read and would agree with.

I would highly recommend The Lighthouse Keepers Daughters by Jean E Pendziwol to fans of Canadian historical fiction.

Book Reviews

A Pro’s and Con’s Review of A Christmas Cracker by Trisha Ashley

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A Christmas Cracker
By: Trisha Ashley 

Published: October, 2015
Published By: Avon
Format Read: Trade Paperback
Genre: Contemporary Fiction 

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis


Get into the festive spirit with this heart-warming, funny and simply gorgeous Christmas read.


The eagerly awaited new novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author.


This Christmas is about to go off with a bang!


Things can’t possibly get worse for Tabby. Framed for a crime she didn’t commit, she suddenly finds herself without a job. Then to make matters worse, Tabby’s boyfriend dumps her and gives her cat away to a shelter.


But rescue comes in the form of kindly Mercy. A master of saving waifs and strays, Mercy wants Tabby to breathe new flair into her ailing cracker business. Together, they’ll save Marwood’s Magical Christmas Crackers.


But someone has other ideas. Mercy’s nephew Randal thinks Tabby’s a fraudster. Stubborn, difficult and very attractive, her future depends upon winning him round. But it’s that time of the year when miracles really can happen. Standing under the mistletoe, Tabby’s Christmas is set to be one that she will never forget . . .

Goodreads

My Thoughts

First Impressions

The Cover and Tagline:
The Pro’s: A Christmas Cracker’s cover complete with a small town covered in a blanket of snow, really put me in the mood for a cozy Christmas story. The tagline “As the first snowflakes fall, anything is possible”, made me think of a romantic storyline.

The Con’s: Although there is a sprinkling of Christmas spirit throughout the story (as it is set in a cracker making factory), the holiday season only arrives in the last couple of chapters. I found the tagline to be misleading, as snow didn’t really play a factor in the story as a whole.

The Setting

The Pro’s: I am always drawn to books set in the United Kingdom and this was no exception. The history of Mote Farm and its Friendship mill, with Quaker roots was a detailed setting that showed the sharp contrast between city and country life. The operations of the cracker making business, with its colourful staff of characters would have been enough to warrant its own story. The descriptions of the rural town and surrounding area sounded beautiful.

The Characters

Tabby:
The Pro’s: Tabby was a hard working woman who initially had a lot of faith in those around her. She put her artistic abilities to good use, not only with her own papercut art, but with the development and renovations in the mill.

The Con’s: One of my biggest pet peeves with Tabby, was that she let people walk all over her. Instead of standing up for herself, she just let the terrible things that happened to her, slide.

Mercy:
The Pro’s: Mercy Marwood was a ray of sunshine. She was warm, optimistic and lively. Not only did she give a second chance to former cons (by hiring them in her cracker making factory), but she also took one under her root, to live in her home. Mercy was truly the best part of A Christmas Cracker and a memorable character indeed.


Overall Impression

The Pro’s: Trisha Ashley’s A Christmas Cracker had a unique setting with a wonderfully strong woman named Mercy at the helm. It brought to attention the importance of second chances and generosity, not only during the holiday season, but year round. Now that I am more familiar with this authors writing, I hope that I will go into her other books with different expectations.

The Con’s: Unfortunately I think that my expectations for a different type of story played a role in my enjoyment of this book. Although I was able to adjust to the tone of the writing as I read along, it wasn’t exactly the cozy read I thought it would be. I also found the main character Tabby to be quite uninteresting.


Book Reviews · Recommendations

Her Royal Spyness (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #1) by Rhys Bowen

Her Royal Spyness
(Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #1)
By: Rhys Bowen

Published: July, 2007
Published by: Berkley Publishing Group
Format Read: eBook, Library Book, Libby App
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Rating: 3.5/5
♥♥♥.5 

Synopsis

Georgie, aka Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, cousin of King George V of England, is penniless and trying to survive on her own as an ordinary person in London in 1932.

So far she has managed to light a fire and boil an egg… She’s gate-crashed a wedding… She’s making money by secretly cleaning houses… And she’s been asked to spy for Her Majesty the Queen.

Everything seems to be going swimmingly until she finds a body in her bathtub… and someone is definitely trying to kill her.

My Thoughts

Her Royal Spyness is book one in Rhys Bowen’s mystery series, that follows Georgiana the fictional great granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

Set in the midst of the Great Depression, it tells of how the most elite of British aristocracy saw their fortunes dwindle with the crash of the stock market. The golden age is over and many including Georgiana and her family are forced to fend for themselves in ways they never had to before.

This was also a period of great change in values and moral decorum. It was becoming more common for young unmarried women to be unchaperoned. Our main character takes advantage of this newfound freedom and moves to London, where mystery ensues.

Her Royal Spyness was a quick and entertaining read, with a humorous tone. I enjoyed the time period and the inclusion of the royal family. However the mystery was quite predictable. Still, I look forward to reading the second book in the series.
Book Reviews · Recommendations

Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce

Dear Mrs. Bird
By: A.J. Pearce

Published: July, 2018
Published by: Scribner
Format Read: Trade Paperback, Library Book
Genre: Historical Fiction

Rating: 4/5
♥♥♥♥

 

Synopsis

A charming, irresistible debut novel set in London during World War II about an adventurous young woman who becomes a secret advice columnist—a warm, funny, and enormously moving story for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Lilac Girls.

London 1940, bombs are falling. Emmy Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent seem suddenly achievable. But the job turns out to be typist to the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.

Mrs Bird is very clear: Any letters containing Unpleasantness—must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant letters from women who are lonely, may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men and found themselves in trouble, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding. As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write letters back to the women of all ages who have spilled out their troubles.

Prepare to fall head over heels with Emmy and her best friend, Bunty, who are spirited and gutsy, even in the face of events that bring a terrible blow. As the bombs continue to fall, the irrepressible Emmy keeps writing, and readers are transformed by AJ Pearce’s hilarious, heartwarming, and enormously moving tale of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and ordinary people in extraordinary times.

 

My Thoughts

AJ Pearce’s debut novel Dear Mrs. Bird is a world war II historical fiction set during the London blitz. Although it does focus on the terrors of living in a city at war, it is written with typical British humor that is rare for this genre. I immediately took to Pearce’s style of writing and was reminded of more contemporary authors.

Dear Mrs. Bird was an entertaining read with a main character bursting with optimism. Along with such themes as friendship, morals and dreams it also brought gems of wisdom courtesy of Emmy’s mother. Some of my favorite quotes include:

“My mother always said that a lot of men think that having bosoms means you’re a nitwit. She said the cleverest thing is to let them assume you’re an idiot, so you can crack on and prove them all wrong.”
“Mother always said it wasn’t just about keeping going, but about standing up for what you believed in as well.”
I would highly recommend Dear Mrs. Bird and hope to read more from this author in the future.