Yarning with Mad Martha: Lockwood & Co (The Whispering Skull) …plus Make Your Own Desktop Skull-in-a-Jar!

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yarning with mad martha_Fotor (2)Welcome to another spot of yarning with me – Mad Martha!  Bruce has asked me to share with you our thoughts on the second book in the Lockwood & Co YA paranormal series by Jonathan Stroud – The Whispering Skull – as we have just managed to stab it with our grappling hook and haul ourselves over it in our climb up the Mount TBR Reading Challenge for 2016 (hosted by My Reader’s Block).  Click on the image for more information on this wonderful challenge:

Mount TBR 2016

As I’m controlling the blog today, you know there will be some DIY crafty component to the review and at the end of this post I will leave you some instructions on how to create your own skull-in-a-jar shelfmate:

   bruce and skull_Fotor

I will, however, make no guarantees as to the likelihood or otherwise of your little skull whispering to you.  Although Bruce looks hopeful.

But let’s not let this bony little cutie-pie steal the show! Without further ado, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In the six months since Anthony, Lucy, and George survived a night in the most haunted house in England, Lockwood & Co. hasn’t made much progress. Quill Kipps and his team of Fittes agents keep swooping in on Lockwood’s investigations. Finally, in a fit of anger, Anthony challenges his rival to a contest: the next time the two agencies compete on a job, the losing side will have to admit defeat in the Times newspaper.

Things look up when a new client, Mr. Saunders, hires Lockwood & Co. to be present at the excavation of Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who reportedly tried to communicate with the dead. Saunders needs the coffin sealed with silver to prevent any supernatural trouble. All goes well-until George’s curiosity attracts a horrible phantom.

Back home at Portland Row, Lockwood accuses George of making too many careless mistakes. Lucy is distracted by urgent whispers coming from the skull in the ghost jar. Then the team is summoned to DEPRAC headquarters. Kipps is there too, much to Lockwood’s annoyance. Bickerstaff’s coffin was raided and a strange glass object buried with the corpse has vanished. Inspector Barnes believes the relic to be highly dangerous, and he wants it found.

lockwood and co

It has been far too long between paranormal drinks for we shelf denizens and this series.  We loved the first book, The Screaming Staircase , and have kept the other two books in the series in our back pockets, so to speak, for those moments when we need a sure-fire ripper read.  Once the Mount TBR Challenge came along though, we decided to take the plunge and get into the second book to ensure we don’t get left too far behind as more books are released.

This one picks up pretty well immediately after the first leaves off, with Lucy, George and Lockwood drawn into an investigation featuring a dangerous relic made by members of Victorian high society who had a penchant for trying to communicate with the dead.  The banter between Lucy and George makes a welcome return and very early on it’s obvious that relationships between our three heroes will become strained as the stakes of the investigation – and the body count – gets higher. There is the added problem of the ever-present and ever-irritating Fittes agents, led by pompous Quill Kipps, who are competing with Lockwood & Co to solve the mystery and win the acclaim (and payment).

We were tantalised with the whisperings of the titular skull in the first book and this second instalment gives the trio some new insights into who the skull might have been.  Lucy knows however, that there is something not-quite-right about the skull’s sudden turn toward verbosity (apart from the obvious lack of vocal chords on a skull), yet struggles to get Lockwood to see the light.  We are left hanging again at the end of this instalment, with some questions answered about the skull, but some intriguing threads left loose.

I didn’t find this book quite as terrifying as the first in the series, but there are definitely some hairy scenes where it’s touch and go for the main characters.  Stroud seems to have a knack for stringing out the action, allowing the pace to slow before ramping things up in alarming fashion.  There were also a few niggling bits that Bruce and I found a bit off about the plot – one or two plot points that seem pretty obvious early on (and turn out as expected) but are missed, improbably, by the main characters.  That aside, this is certainly a worthy addition to the series and we are all now looking forward to The Hollow Boy, when we get around to it.

Now on to the craft!  I am certain that all fans of this series (and some who aren’t) will be itching to get their paws on a little skeletal companion so here are some instructions for how to whip up your own Whispering Skull*!

*Whispering not guaranteed*

skull and book_FotorYou will need:

*a jar (with or without lid)

*a small amount of white yarn (we used acrylic)

*a small amount of black yarn
*a small amount of grey or brown yarn
*a yarn needle
*scissors
*a small amount of stuffing
*a size 3.5 mm crochet hook
*green cellophane
*sticky tape
The Skull 
I decided not to reinvent the wheel and used this pattern by NerdyCrochetGal to create a mini skull.  It turned out to be the perfect size and something that could be whipped up super-quick.  I used grey yarn to crochet two little circles for the eyes, a triangle for the nose and just did some satin stitches for the mouth.  Unfortunately I made the nose hole too big, and the eyes too small, so my skull has a slightly odd expression – but there you are.  You can learn from my mistake.
The Jar
Here’s where you’ll need the cellophane and tape.  The skull in the book is described as having a green plasma that whirls around it now and again, so I used green cellophane to tint my jar the correct colour.  Wrap some cellophane around the outside of your jar to measure how much you will need.  Cut this section of cellophane out and tape it to the inside of your jar.  Place your skull inside the jar.
The Lid
If your jar has a lid already, you can decide whether you want to do this part.  My jar was lidless, so I crocheted a circle wide enough to cover the opening (in double crochet stitches) and then repeated the number of stitches in the final round 4 times (using single crochet stitches) to create an overhang.  Then I stretched my faux lid over the top of the jar.  Finished!  Even if your jar has a lid, you could crochet a little cosy over the top using the same method.
skull and book two_Fotor
Now your little bony friend is ready to adorn your desk, shelf or other home- or office-based niche. Enjoy!
If you haven’t discovered the Lockwood & Co series yet, we shelf denizens highly recommend taking a look at it.
Cheerio my dears,
Mad Martha

Middle Grade Fantasy Spotlight and Giveaway: The Night Parade…

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NightParade-SMGraphicToday I am excited to present to you a new release middle grade fantasy tale from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky that delves into the complex and densely populated world of Japanese folklore and mythology.  The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary features all the struggles one would expect of a young lass having to spend a potentially boring holiday in the countryside, away from her friends and the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, combined with some delightfully unpredictable forays into the spirit world around the shrine in her grandmother’s village.  I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley, and you could be lucky enough to receive a copy too, provided you read on and enter the giveaway!

But let’s get on with it.  Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

In the shadow of the forest, the Night Parade marches on…

The last thing Saki Yamamoto wants to do for her summer vacation is trade in exciting Tokyo for the antiquated rituals and bad cell reception of her grandmother’s remote mountain village. Preparing for the Obon ceremony is boring. Then the local kids take an interest in Saki, and she sees an opportunity for some fun, even if it means disrespecting her family’s ancestral shrine on a malicious dare.

But as Saki rings the sacred bell, the darkness shifts. A death curse has been invoked…and Saki has three nights to undo it. With the help of three spirit guides and some unexpected friends, Saki must prove her worth- or say goodbye to the world of the living forever.

Night Parade cover

The Night Parade

By Kathryn Tanquary

January 1, 2016; Hardcover ISBN 9781492623244

 Publishers: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

 Now if you haven’t already been sucked in by that eye-poppingly gorgeous cover, allow me to point out some of the aspects of this book I really enjoyed.  Regular readers of this blog will know that we quite enjoy a good foray into books that have any kind of link to Japan, being that it is one of the few places that Mad Martha has had the pleasure of visiting.  (We’ve even got two more Japan-y books coming up at the end of January!) Clearly then, The Night Parade was a book that certainly caught my attention and I loved the wide variety of yokai (Japanese spirits) that made an appearance in Saki’s adventures.  Having recently enjoyed the series of guest posts over at Part-Time Monster featuring various Japanese creepies, including the Tsukumogami – or spirits of old, disused, forgotten inanimate household items, including umbrellas, sandals and lanterns – I was beyond excited to see these bizarre and quirky spirits get a whole section of the story for their own towards the end of the book.

The growing relationship between Saki and her grandmother was also a highlight.  Throughout the story, Saki begins to realise that the problems of a reasonably spoilt teenager are not necessarily the worst difficulties that one could be burdened with, and her developing recognition of the needs of others was neatly executed, without any corny preaching to the target audience.

The story is quite episodic, with Saki exploring a different part of the spirit world over the three nights that she is given to reverse her curse.  These “episodes” are all different in tone, with the first having the creepiest atmosphere, the second cramming in the most action and the third devoted to solving the problems of broken relationships.  Even the most jaded reader of middle grade fantasy could not fault the sheer diversity of fantastic and mythological characters brought to bear on Saki’s quest, and those who are looking for a change of scenery from the usual middle grade fare will appreciate the world-building – and the potential for further research into the plethora of Japanese folk spirits – found here.

The only thing that slowed the pace for me during reading was the inclusion of some fairly typical “teen angst” type episodes in which Saki grapples with the pressures of trying to fit in with the cool kids both at home in Tokyo and in her grandmother’s village.  While these sections are important in terms of Saki’s overall growth throughout the novel, they felt like the same old grist for the middle grade mill that regular readers of books for this age group will have seen ad infinitum.  With such a little-used and in-depth fantasy world playing out in the rest of the story, I was a bit disappointed that the non-fantasy part of the plot trotted out such a well-worn storyline.

Overall though, this is a breath of fresh air in the middle grade market and I hope some other authors jump on the bandwagon and treat us to some more adventures featuring the world of Japanese mythology.  For now though, you’ll have to be satisfied getting stuck in to The Night Parade, in all its quirky, creepy, expansive glory!

But don’t take my word for it.  Read some for yourself!

Excerpt from The Night Parade:

In the dead of night, she woke to three cold fingers on her neck.

Saki blinked in the darkness. The sliding door was open to the forest. The fingers pressed against her jugular, and bright, thundering panic surged through her body.

The fingers curled down toward her throat.

She tried to open her mouth to scream, but her jaw was locked shut. Her hands groped for her phone under the futon. Before she reached it, she touched her grandfather’s worn-­out charm. The three fingers retracted, leaving her skin cold and bloodless.

“Oh good, you’re awake.” She heard her brother’s voice.

Saki flipped around. Lying on her back, she stared up into a pair of eyes.

It was not her brother.

It knelt next to her on the tatami floor, knees brushing the edge of her pillow. Her brother’s futon was empty, and the blankets were flung around the room. It may have been Jun’s body kneeling there, but whatever stared back at her was not her brother.

The clouds shifted, and light fell through the open door, burning moon-­blue on everything it touched. Her not-­brother’s eyes reflected the light like a will-­o’-­the-­wisp.

“I thought you might sleep through it.” The creature smiled. Her brother’s teeth seemed sharper than usual.

Saki touched her hand to her jaw. It unlocked. Her voice was little more than a whisper. “Sleep through what?”

It leaned over. She stared into its will-­o’-­the-­wisp’s eyes.

“The Night Parade, of course.”

With a single movement, it was standing by the crack in the door. The forest stretched on into the night.

“Get up, get up! We’re late already.”

Saki scrambled to her knees. She pulled a blanket around her shoulders and clutched her phone to her chest.

“W-­what have you done to my brother?”

It rolled her brother’s eyes around the room and licked his teeth. “Impressive, isn’t it?” It opened its arms and looked down at the body it had taken. “Of course, beautiful maidens are traditional, but we must work with what we have, no?”

Saki eyed the backpack in the corner. It was heavy enough to swing in a pinch. “If you touch me, I’ll scream.”

The creature with her brother’s body became very serious. “Oh no, that won’t do any good. They won’t hear you anyway. This is your burden, little one.” It barked out laughter, eyes wide open, reflecting the moon.

“This is crazy. Jun, if you’re playing a joke, it isn’t funny. I’m telling—­”

“Why do you refuse to believe what you observe to be true?” it asked. “I don’t know what sort of game you’re playing at, girl. You invited me here.”

Saki blinked. “What?”

It dropped on her brother’s knee beside her. “Don’t you remember? On hallowed ground, you put your hands to the summoning table. You called out our names. You rang the bell. So we came to you, as we must. Well, I came to you.”

“You’re Kokkuri-­san?”

“No and yes. I am the first of three. The others will be along later.”

“Others?”

“Oh yes. I’m always the first, whether I like it or not. The third you will like very much. Everyone likes him. But the second…” It covered her brother’s mouth as a malevolent glee twinkled in its eyes. “Oh my. I daresay you will not like him at all. Very…scary.” It curled and uncurled her brother’s fingers.

“No,” Saki said. “No. No, no, no, no.” She pulled the blanket over her head and rolled into a ball on the floor. “This is crazy. This is insane. This is not happening. I am asleep and having a dream. When I wake up, it will be over.”

The creature sighed. “Very well. If that is your final decision…”

Saki waited underneath the blanket. The wind whistled through the cracks of the old house, but after more than five minutes, she heard no sounds of the stranger anywhere. Bit by bit, she peeled back the blanket and peeked over the top.

Her brother slept soundly on a mess of tousled blankets. His face squished against his pillow as he drooled a bit down the side. His eyes were closed and didn’t shine at all in the moonlight. Saki wrapped her blanket around her shoulders as she rose to shut the open door.

On the wooden walkway in full moonlight sat a fox with four tails.

Praise for The Night Parade:

“Wonder and imagination abound in Tanquary’s debut, a fantasy set in a contemporary Japanese mountain village; filled with respect and admiration for cultural tradition, it evokes both Grimm’s fairy tales and Miyazaki’s films…Vivid details and realistic situations ensure accessibility, and subtle teaching moments are wrapped in wide-eyed enchantment.” –Publishers Weekly STARRED Review

An entertaining mix of Japanese folklore and teen angst” –School Library Journal

“Highly imaginative, beautifully written and what a wonderful book that talks about becoming true to oneself. While reading this all I could picture was a Miyazaki film in my head, and it was beautiful!”–Teresa Steele, Old Firehouse Books (Fort Collins, CO)

Goodreads Link:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25821928-the-night-parade?from_search=true&search_version=service

Buy Links:

Amazon- http://ow.ly/SA2z1

Apple- http://ow.ly/SA6rO

Barnes&Noble- http://ow.ly/SA2Tv

BooksAMillion- http://ow.ly/SA3qk

!ndigo- http://ow.ly/SA45o

IndieBound- http://ow.ly/SA4tE

 

About the Author:Night parade author shot

Kathryn Tanquary is a graduate of Knox College with a B.A. in Creative Writing. She currently resides in Japan as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language.

Social Networking Links:

http://kathryntanquary.com/

@KathrynTanquary

Now, onto the giveaway!  Unfortunately for us Southern Hemispherites, this one is only open to residents of the USA and Canada (booo!).  If you happen to live in one of those locales (lucky you!) you can enter by clicking on the Rafflecopter link below:.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Until next time,

Bruce
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A Super-Spooky, Adult Fiction GSQ Review: Suicide Forest…

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imageAre you sitting comfortably? Got the lights on? Wearing undies with reinforced gussets? Then you’re all set for today’s jaunt into the particularly creepy, horror novel set in Japan, Suicide Forest by Jeremy Bates. I received a copy of this one from the author for review and it certainly lived up to the series tagline “The World’s Scariest Places”.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Just outside of Tokyo lies Aokigahara, a vast forest and one of the most beautiful wilderness areas in Japan…and also the most infamous spot to commit suicide in the world. Legend has it that the spirits of those many suicides are still roaming, haunting deep in the ancient woods.

When bad weather prevents a group of friends from climbing neighboring Mt. Fuji, they decide to spend the night camping in Aokigahara. But they get more than they bargained for when one of them is found hanged in the morning—and they realize there might be some truth to the legends after all.

suicide forest 2The Good

Bates has done a brilliant job here of capturing the natural spine-tingliness of a place in which many have died by theirimage own hand.  The multiple death factor, coupled with the organic spookiness of dark, ancient woodland certainly provide the perfect setting for an unwitting set of hikers to experience nefarious doings. The best parts of this book are the slow build to the really terror-ridden parts of the story, and the dramatic twist toward the end of the book. For the straight horror fan, this book has everything – there’s gore and violence, ghosts, suspicion amongst the group, a potential stalker, and an ever-present, unseen menace hovering over the whole shebang.

Oh, and it’s set against the beautiful backdrop of Mt Fuji.

The Sad

There were only a few annoying niggles in this tome from my point of view, and these generally had sorted themselves out by two-thirds of the way through. Initially, the antics of the main character group had me thinking that I’d imageaccidentally picked up a schlock-horror book for the YA set, as none of the group seemed to be able to act (or think) like an adult. The childish egging on and teasing by some members of the group to convince others to continue further into the forest seemed very YA-like, but more so was the way in which the characters caved in to this teasing. Is this a collection of Marty McFly wannabes, I thought, who lose all sense of reason when someone calls them yellow? It seemed to me that if I didn’t want to go hiking in a suicide forest, being called a pussy would be unlikely to change my mind. Again, this was a small but persistent annoyance during the first half of the book.

Another niggle was the character of John Scott, who appears as a hanger-on and generally brash, buffoon. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with the writing of the character, I just found him to be a pain in the arse to read.

Finally, I had one or two small issues with the plot of the book, particularly when it becomes clear that the group is completely lost and have spent much longer than expected in the forest. This mainly centred around the fact that there were people on the outside who knew where they were (such as their driver Honda and the wife of one of the group) and it seems strange to me that these people wouldn’t have raised the alarm when they didn’t turn up as expected. This is one of those times when I fear I was being too logical though – horror wouldn’t be horror if the pretty girl didn’t descend into the lightless basement on her own now, would it?

The Quirky

There is quite a bit of unexpectedness in this book that raises the level of excitement and interest in the story. First off, imagethe fact that Aokigahara exists at all is pretty quirky, as is the range of opinions held about it by the Japanese characters in the book. These range from general indifference through morbid curiosity to utter terror. The actions of “the suicides” as they are referred to, such as leaving makeshift gravesites and ribbons to mark their places, are an interesting psychological piece that helps both group and reader to connect with the sense that there may be more than just possessions left behind in the forest.

The story also has a fantastic blend of straight, atmospheric, supernatural horror and visceral, violent, injurious horror – I’m generally not a fan of plain violent bloodbaths, and sometimes a plain ghost story can get a bit predictable, so Bates has created a nice balance here that kept me in throes of terror right to the end.

The twist in the tail of the tale certainly took me by surprise, but Bates has gone even further by extending the story of the survivors after their escape from the forest. Just when I thought all the creepiness had crept its last, one final jab made its way under my carefully placed headgear. So all in all, there’s a lot going on in this tale and it will certainly keep you guessing until at least the second-last page.

Overall, I enjoyed this book very much. “Enjoyed” in the sense that it completely freaked me out and I had to sleep with the light on, grasping one of Mad Martha’s dreadlocks for comfort. I will not deny that I even emitted a little scream when, after having put the book down two-thirds of the way through for the night, the dog snuck into the room, giving the impression that the door was opening on its own. Such is the effect the story had on me.

Recommended for those who want a pervasive and memorable scare.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

A Little Ripper Read-it-if Review and GIVEAWAY: The Girl from the Well…

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image

It is not often that I get to bring you a book that is a hands-down, five-star, should’ve-got-it-in-print read.  Don’t get me wrong, I do bring you lots of wonderful, interesting, original and exciting books on this here shelf, but today I’ve got one of those special ones.  It’s a keeper. The kind you buy in hardback and keep on the “special” shelf (wherein lie the oldest knick knacks with the most sentimental value).  Basically, this one is a guaranteed re-re-re-re-read.  (NB: that last bit wasn’t a hitherto unencountered stutter that I’m developing, just a fancy way of saying “book that you will read multiple times”).

I give you….The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco.  This book has loose ties to the Japanese film The Ring, that was later remade in English and if you know anything about that film, you will immediately gain the understanding that this book is not all flowers and sunshine.  If you don’t know anything about that film, it is apparently spectacularly terrifying and psychologically scarring.  I haven’t seen it, because I am far too sensitive to expose myself to horror films of this ilk.  Having said that, I am SO GLAD I requested this book to review because it is fan-fugu-tastic (as they say in the Simpsons).  Allow me to synopsise synopsisise tell you about the plot.  And if you live in the US or Canada, stay tuned for a chance to win a copy at the end of this post.

Tarquin is a teen who has trouble fitting in.  His mother has recently been sectioned in a psychiatric hospital for (among other things) attempting to kill her son, he and his father have just moved interstate to try to start a new life and, oddest of all, Tarquin has to try and fit in to this new life while attempting to hide his tattoos.  The tattoos that his mother put on him when he was a little boy.  Callie is Tarquin’s older cousin, who works as a teaching assistant at the junior section of Tarquin’s new school.  When she’s not dealing with kids who have decidedly odd abilities, she attempts to watch over Tark and try to help him fit in.  Okiku is dead.  But she’s still here.  After a long, long, long time, she’s still here.  And she knows that there’s something weird going on with Tarquin and his tattoos.  As the story unfolds, the reader is treated to a tale filled with kidnap and murder, ancient evil, creepy dolls, ghosts hell-bent on revenge and happenings that lead Tark back to his native Japan.  But unless he and Cassie can find the right people to help them overcome a lurking, malevolent presence that is desperate to escape into the world, they may find that their lives will suddenly become a lot shorter than they expected.

the girl from the well

Read it if:

*you like a scary story that has the potential to be terrifying and psychologically scarring, but also has a few elements thrown in to ensure you won’t be dragged screaming and ranting to the loony bin after reading it

*you’ve always been creeped out by Granny’s collection of hideous porcelain dolls staring with their blank, dead eyes from behind their glass cases

*you’ve ever had (or seen, or been told about) a tattoo that you later thought was a spectacularly poor idea…and that’s before it starts bubbling and moving under your skin

*you’re looking for a lesson on Japanese culture, history and legend that is not the kind you’ll find in history classes at school

The first and best thing I can tell you about this book is that it is compelling.  Compelling is the word that I use to describe books that I either (a) can’t put down or (b) keep thinking about and being drawn back to whenever I’m not reading it.  This was definitely the latter.  The Girl from the Well is a chunky read that took me a number of reasonably long sittings to get through, but whenever I took a break I was thinking about the story, the characters and how the book was going to end.  That, in my opinion, is the mark of great writing.

There is so much going on in this book, and I think that’s one of the reasons I was so drawn into the narrative.  We start off meeting Okiku, a spirit who is on a mission to hunt down and murder those who have threatened or killed children.  Now, while this might seem immediately off-putting (or fantastic, depending on where you sit on the love-of-horror-o-meter), there’s a real vulnerability about Okiku that had me sympathising with her and her situation right from the start.  Then we meet Tarquin and his weird tattoos, Cassie and her kids that appear to have ESP, and a sinister man who one can only conclude is up to some serious mischief involving helpless children.  We meet Tarquin’s mother, and discover that Okiku is not the only murderous spirit getting around.  And when that part of the story gets resolved, the narrative shifts everyone to Japan where the action kicks off again with ancient evil aplenty and the aforementioned creepy dolls and slashing and hacking and terrifying action.  I can’t say much more because it would be a definite spoiler, but there is plenty to keep you awake at night in this book – and not just from abject terror, either.

Because really, the story isn’t that terrifying.  Sure, there’s horror-type stuff going down and a number of scenes of violence and murder, but I never felt like it was over the top or too scary that I had to put the book down – and that’s saying something, coming from Mr Scaredy Pants extraordinaire.  I think that because most of the book is narrated by Okiku, and even though she’s a vengeful, murderous spirit, there’s something comforting about her ethical. justice -driven approach, and the posthumous journey of personal growth that unfolds for her over the course of the book.

And finally, I loved the Japanese elements of the story.  It was thoroughly refreshing to experience a contemporary YA novel with such an integrated focus on an Eastern culture and their legends and history.

In short, get this book. Get it now! If you live outside the US or Canada,  preorder it now, because it’s not released until August 5th.  If you happen to live in the US or Canada, enter this giveaway and possibly WIN a copy now!  Simply click on the rafflecopter link below and cross your fingers:

click to enter button

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Many thanks to SourcebooksFire for providing a copy of the book for this giveaway.

I, as an outside-the-US-and-Canada-dweller will just have to acquire it myself in print, as I received it as a digital copy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Until next time horror-lovers,

Bruce

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