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Monday, January 31, 2011

#BookReview: Drinking Closer to Home - Jessica Anya Blau

I'll just come out and tell you that I really had problems reading this book.  I didn't necessarily care for most of the characters and that made it difficult to get into Drinking Closer to Home.  I think I kept reading it hoping that I'd find a way to love it.  At best, I found a way to tolerate it enough to finish it.

Three siblings are called back home when their mother has a heart attack: Anna, a type A personality who thinks nothing of cheating on her husband; the fragile Portia, who has recently separated from her cheating husband; and Emery, the youngest and most well adjusted, in my opinion, of the three.  Told through a series of flashbacks, the reader is allowed a glimpse into what some may call dysfunctional, to which I would add disturbing, lives of the siblings.

The year Anna was 11, Portia was eight and Emery was three, their mother Louise quit the job of mother and housewife.  It's not that she gave it up to pursue a career.  She simply quit and turned the duties of running the house and raising their brother over to Anna and Portia so that she could feel free to smoke her home grown marijuana.  I guess it should have come as no surprise since Louise never really seemed to take interest in anything the children were doing.  I think I was most surprised that their father, Buzzy (who I thought was the most sensible of the lot), didn't step in and take control of the situation.  Instead, Anna becomes the family cook and laundress and Portia raises Emery.

Raised without guidance and no set of rules, the siblings respond in various ways.  Anna becomes a drug addicted bulimic, though she outgrows it.  Portia, who her father doubted was smart enough to get into college, proves him wrong but then proceeds to become a docile wife in a one-sided marriage.  Emery has the most stable relationship with Alejandro, his boyfriend with which he wants to have children.

As the trio spends the week at the bedside of their mother, you have to wonder how they managed to grow up relatively unscathed. And lest you think that only their parents are dysfunctional, you find that their grandparents are as well.  Buzzy's parents ignore Emery as a child, as if there was only room in their hearts for the oldest grandchildren.  And Louise's father is a bigoted, gay basher. As you get glimpses of Louise's upbringing, it becomes perfectly clear that she couldn't parent well because she was never parented well.  I don't know what Buzzy's excuse was.

I've read several reviews of this book where readers praised the snark and applauded the author for an accurate portrayal of a dysfunctional family.  I didn't find anything at all amusing about it.

What did you like about this book.What didn't you like about this book/What could the author do to improve this book?

Published January 2011
Disclosure: Galley received from the publisher.

Theme: You May Be Right by Billy Joel

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Friday, January 28, 2011

#BookReview: Waking Up in the Land of Glitter - Kathy Cano-Murillo

Star Esteban is a hot mess.  From the very beginning I could tell reading about this chick was going to be fun and that I would love every minute of it.  And I was right!

Twenty something Estrella "Star" Esteban works at her family business, La Pachanga, a combination restaurant and art gallery.  As an only child, Star's every whim has been catered to by her hippie parents, so it's not unusual for her to start and stop projects without worrying about the repercussions.  But when she goes overboard with her crazy antics, her father gives her an ultimatum: get yourself together or get out of our house.

Her best friend Ofi uses crafting to avoid dealing with real life.  Her mother-in-law is practically raising her daughter and running her house while Ofi overspends at the local craft mart.  She's sure that she'll make it big in crafting one day, though it would help if people could figure out what exactly it is she's making.

The ambitious Chloe Chavez is determined to get to the top.  She's long admired another newscaster turned crafting celebrity.  If she follows her path, she's sure to end up with endorsements and possibly a national news spot.  The fact that she doesn't really care for crafting is just a minor detail.

With the assistance of her friends and a 14 year old boy wonder designer, Star sets off on a path to discover her true passion and get to know herself.  Along the way, her friends begin their own journeys and find that they all have room to grow.

What did you like about this book?
So many times in books women are waiting (whether or not they know it) to be saved by a man.  Star saves herself and I loved that!  That's not to say that there is no romance involved, but it's not the determining factor in who she becomes.

The writing flows extremely well.  I'm really glad that the author took the time to develop the secondary characters so well instead of leaving them in the background.

What didn't you like about this book?
I honestly can't think of a thing.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Find someone to make it into a movie.  I could totally see this on Lifetime or HBO.

Published March 2010

Theme: Love of My Life by Santana featuring Dave Matthews
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

#BookReview: Savannah Breeze - Mary Kay Andrews

BeBe Loudermilk is one smart cookie.  At the age of 35 she owns several properties and a thriving restaurant.  While she has a good head for business, she's as blind as a bat when it comes to love.  A 3-time divorcee, though to be fair she married the same man twice, she's fair game when the smooth talking Reddy Millbanks shows up at the social event of the season.

Distracted by her grandmother's recent health scare and long hours running her businesses, BeBe is only too happy to allow Reddy, a financial analyst, to take over those tasks she's too busy to handle herself. In the words of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, "Big mistake. Big.  Huge!"

When Reddy leaves her penniless and homeless, BeBe launches a plan to get back her money, her properties and her family jewels.  Aided by her sidekick Weezy, her grandfather Spencer and Harry, the manager of her only remaining property, she sets off on a road trip to reclaim what's rightfully hers.

What did you like about this book?
I love snark and there is snark aplenty, especially from Spencer.

What didn't you like about this book?
I was really expecting a confrontation between BeBe and Reddy at some point and it never happened.

The voice the narrator used for Weezy sounded like Holly Hunter, who I've always felt sounds like she has a mouth full of spit when she speaks.  So that was a bit distracting, especially since the character was supposed to be in her 30s and instead sounded like a 50 year old woman instead.

What could the author do to improve this book?
It was so frigging long!  Most audio books I listen to range from six to 10 hours.  This was a little over 14 hours and it wore me down. Even though I enjoyed listening, I was so ready for the story to be over well before it was.  I discovered that there was an abridged version that was only six  hours long, but it makes me wonder what eight hours of dialogue/story line did the editors think was unimportant enough to delete in the abridged version.

Listening time: 14 hours, 10 minutes
Published January 2007

Theme: Would I Lie to You by The Eurythmics

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Monday, January 24, 2011

#BookReview: Sing You Home - Jodi Picoult

Just when you think she couldn't find one more issue to tackle, Jodi Picoult comes back with not one, not two, but three!  As I began reading Sing You Home, I was pretty sure I knew just where the book was going. Boy, was I wrong.  And for that, I was grateful, since I hate predictable books.

As always, Picoult gives the main characters in her books a voice so that readers get all sides of the story.  Zoe is a music therapist.  Initially I thought this was some new age load of crap, but as I read about her work and thought about how I use music to unwind, it made more sense.  Anyway, Zoe is married to Max, a landscaper and recovering alcoholic.  Their ideal life is only made less ideal by the fact that they've not been able to have children.  So right here is where you think the book is just about in vitro or adoption or something like that, right? Wrong!

Without giving anything away, I'll just tell you that this book will challenge you to think about, or re-think, your position on same sex couples.  It will make you question the motives of some members of the church.  And it will make you wonder to what end will people go to get what they want, regardless of whom it hurts.

What did you like about this book?
Almost every time I thought I knew what was about to happen, I was pleasantly surprised to find I was wrong.

What didn't you like about this book?
Picoult tends to be wordy and dwell on topics for too long, especially those that seem to be of great interest to her.  That would be a blessing if this were non-fiction and the reader was doing research.  In fiction, it can be a curse.

What could the author do to improve this book?
The title of each chapter is a song, fitting since Zoe is a music therapist.  I think it would be kind of neat to sell a CD of the songs along with the book or perhaps insert them at the beginning of each chapter in the audio book version.

Published: March 1, 2011 (Available for pre-order now)

Theme: Do You Want Fries With That? by Tim McGraw

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Friday, January 21, 2011

#BookReview: Can You Keep A Secret? - Sophie Kinsella

"When Artemis really annoys me, I feed her plant orange juice. (Which is pretty much every day.)"

"I lost my virginity in the spare bedroom while Mum and Dad were downstairs watching Ben-Hur."

And so it goes.  Emma Corrigan is deathly afraid of flying, but her job requires her to so she has no choice but to do so.  Flying to the meeting was a breeze, but after she flubs what should have been an easy presentation, she's a nervous wreck.  Emma plans to just get the flight over with, but turbulence along the way leads to her nervously spilling her guts to her handsome seat mate.  Before it's over she's told him things that she's never told anyone.  But it doesn't matter because she'll never see him again, right?  Come on now, this is a Sophie Kinsella book, you know how it works.  Who else but a Kinsella lead tells all of her secrets to her...boss?

This is probably my favorite Kinsella book right after Twenties Girl.  Not only is Emma funny, but her flat mates, Lissy and Jemima, are as well.  Lissy is an attorney by day and hoofer by night, while Jemima is...well, she's a gold digger and an unsuccessful one at that.  When Emma's secrets become public knowledge, her faithful sidekicks come to her rescue and hilarity ensues.

What did you like about this book?
I'm not sure who picks the narrators for audio books, but they add so much to the story. I would have enjoyed this book had I read it, but listening to it made it even more enjoyable.  The narrator did an excellent job of voicing the characters.

What didn't you like about this book?
In reading more chick lit, I've found that other authors give the male interest more of a voice.  I've yet to see that really happen in a Kinsella novel.  The male counterpart tends to be a secondary character.  I'd love to see her write from the male point of view.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Not so much a sequel featuring Emma, but I'd love to see a spin-off featuring Lissy and Jemima.

Listening time: 10 hours, 45 minutes
Published August 2006

Theme: She Won't Talk To Me by Luther Vandross

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#BookReview: More Than This - Margo Candela

Margo Candela's Good-bye To All That is our featured book in March, but I wanted to check out some of her other work as well.  It dawned on me after reading More Than This that this was the first time I've read a chick lit book that featured a Latino love interest.  A lot of times,  if it's a book about a woman of color, her love interest is a Caucasian male or male of her own ethnicity.  This time around we're lucky enough to meet the handsome and well-spoken Alexander Velazquez, attorney-at-law.

Occasionally I cast characters in my head and share them with you.  Well I didn't cast everyone this time around, but I did cast Alex.  I have no idea what this actor's name is, but he's from one of the AT&T Re-Think Possible commercials.  Is that McDreamy enough to make you pick up the book? No, okay, then let me tell you why you should.  It's a boy meets everyone except girl story.  Huh? What? Right.

Throughout the entire book the very wealthy Evelyn Morgan is traveling the path to discover who she really is.  After some time in Paris, where she worked at being a struggling artist, she's back in San Francisco.  A case of mistaken identity leads to a job at a local dot com firm.  Though it started off as some harmless fun, Evelyn finds herself dedicated to the company and the tasks before her.

Rebounding from a relationship gone wrong and a newly ended job, Alex Rodriquez has moved back to San Francisco from New York.  When he stops by to visit his friend Pete at work, he walks out with an offer to join the firm and take on one of its most lucrative contracts.  That wouldn't be so troubling if working with the client didn't go against everything he was raised by his parents to believe in.

As Evelyn and Alex move through their lives, there are so many instances of  near encounters that don't happen.  Ironically, their offices face each other and even though they're aware that the other exists, neither realizes that they're being admired from afar.

What did you like about this book?
I loved the family dynamic that was explored on each side.  I especially loved Alex's parents.

What didn't you like about this book?
Every time the main characters were in the same vicinity, I kept hoping that they were finally going to meet and each time, I was disappointed.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Have the characters meet earlier.

Published August 2008

Theme: The One by India.Arie

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Monday, January 17, 2011

#BookReview: The Confession - John Grisham

I had another post set for today, but after reading The Confession, especially over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, I felt it was much more appropriate.  I was especially reminded of Dr. King's Letter from A Birmingham Jail in response to A Call for Unity.

I was talking to @TiffanyNHouston on Twitter Friday about whether or not John Grisham has watered down his brand as much as James Patterson.  Tiffany was less than impressed with The Appeal and even less with The Associate.  I would agree with her that those two left something to be desired, but is Grisham headed into the mass marketing of books that are bought strictly based on the author's name and not his substance, like Patterson? I think not and here's why.

The Confession is brilliant.  It's brilliant in the same way that Grisham's first novel, A Time to Kill, was.  Grisham's books, mostly based on legal drama, tend to have the same elements: a small town lawyer at a small firm fighting against a big corporation or the government.  But Grisham is at his best when he throws socioeconomic and/or racial differences into the mix.  I don't know that there's any author writing in this genre that tackles the subject of injustices that can arise based on either of these factors better than him.  Though the author could have set this book in the 50s or 60s, he set it in present day America, a reminder that things like this can, and do, still happen in America.

In short, The Confession is the story of an accused man and his family, his attorney, a Lutheran minister, a confessor and the racially divided small town of Slone, Texas.  Donte' Drumm sits on death row in Texas for a crime he didn't commit.  Railroaded by the police department and the district attorney nine years ago, Donte' will die if a miracle doesn't happen.  That miracle comes in the form of Travis Boyett, a serial rapist that drifted through Slone around the time Donte' was accused.  Dying from an inoperable brain tumor, Travis has something to confess.

What did you like about this book?
Grisham does a great job of telling the story without getting in the way of it.  Though he could make readers struggle through figuring out legalese, he simply tells all sides of the story in the simplest way possible and lets readers draw their own conclusions.

What didn't you like about this book?
It's not so much a dislike of the book, but I really hated some of the characters.  I couldn't get past how selfish and self-involved some of them were, knowing that a man's life hung in the balance while they were busy figuring out if they could make their tee time.

What could the author do to improve this book?
 I can't think of a thing.

Published October 2010

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An Interview with Natalie McNeal, Author of The Frugalista Files

1. When and why did you begin writing?
When I was in elementary school, I used to do creative writing and win state awards. When I got to high school, I did a journalism workshop at a local college and knew I had found my calling. I've been doing the journalism thing ever since.

I'm not sure why I began writing. It's just something that I've always done. As a professional, I've identified myself more as a journalist. I haven't written fiction since childhood.

2. As a journalist, did you ever think you'd write a book or were your original plans to stay in that field?
Everyone assumes that journalists write books. A lot of people would encourage me to write a book, but for a long time, I didn't have a subject to write about.

3.What inspired you to write Frugalista?
I wrote the book after the blog took off.  A lot of the readers wanted more details than what was in my 300-word blog posts.  When you are building a brand, you are always looking for ways to connect with your people.

4.Were there any aspects of your story that you were afraid or embarrassed to share? Why or why not?
Oddly, I am a private person. I just had this story that people were asking to be told in a book, so I decided to tell it. I talk about a lot of things that happened in my life over the year. It's never easy to discuss love, life or money, but it wouldn't be a memoir if I didn't share with the reader.  I would say everything I shared had some type of emotion attached to it. Memoirs are not easy.

5.What was the hardest part of writing Frugalista?
It was hard to think of my life in a narrative arc. It's my life. It just happened.  Also as a journalist, I am used to telling and reporting stories about other people. It's very scary to turn the pen on yourself.

6. Did you learn anything from writing Frugalista and what was it?
I learned that you can't play it safe all the time. I learned that you have to take a risk and believe that even if you fail, you'll eventually get back up.

7. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in Frugalista?
Writers always think there is something to fine tune... Is there ever a perfect manuscript in the author's eyes?

8. If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I like Benilde Little's earlier works. She's great with nuance. I do not know her personally.

9. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I'm pretty random. I just read books that peak my interest. My book shelf is pretty diverse. I have everything from Gary Vaynerchuk to Zora Neale Hurston.

10. What book are you reading now?
I'm re-reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith. She's hilarious.

11. Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Nowadays, I spend my time purchasing books of my friends. I just ordered Danielle Evans' book, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self.

12. What's next for you?
I'll be promoting the book hard for all of 2011. Also, I'm inviting your readers to join me in a No Buy Month, starting in February. I will be going a month without dining out or getting my nails or hair professionally done. I won't even pay to go to the movies. I always end up saving lots of money when I do it. Buy my book and follow along as we save big money! 

13. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you for enjoying the ride with me! I cannot do this alone.

For more from the Frugalista, be sure to visit her at The Frugalista and follow her on Twitter @frugalista.  And be sure to stop back by on Friday for a Frugalista giveaway!

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Monday, January 10, 2011

#BookReview: The Frugalista Files - Natalie McNeal

It's like a grown up version of The Broke Diaries meets Sophie Kinsella! - Me

Yep, I said that.  The whole time I was reading The Frugalista Files it reminded me of Angela Nissel's The Broke Diaries, but a more mature version.  And author Natalie McNeal adds just the right amount of humor to dance along the periphery of Sophie Kinsella-dom.  All in all, it's an unbeatable combination.

So what happens when a single thirtysomething wakes up one day and realizes that her debt is out of control?  If she's smart, and our author is brilliant, she sizes up the situation and takes control of it.  What started as a 28-day plan (props to the Frugalista for trying this in the shortest month of the year) to stop spending frivolously turned into a year long journey.  Luckily for us, the Frugalista is also a journalist by trade and blogs about her adventures along the way.

What this is not: Your average financial planning guidebook.

What this is: A funny, truthful look at how spending a few dollars here and there can really add up and what you can do to stop spending and start saving.

My favorite tip:  "Friends often have similar taste.  Shake 'em down when they are moving and vulnerable."

What did you like about this book?
It wasn't preachy.  I hate reading books about saving money that make me feel like I'm being lectured to by a stodgy codger in a smoke filled interrogation room.  Instead, it was like getting a glimpse into a friend's diary and saying, "wow, I could totally do that!"

What didn't you like about this book?
Um, it ended.  Yeah, yeah, I know I can I follow the author on Twitter @frugalista or visit her blog at thefrugalista.com, BUT the book was really entertaining.

What could the author do to improve this book?
A sequel? Another book about whatever moves her?  Either is acceptable.

Published January 2010
Disclosure: Galley received from publisher.

Theme: Money's Too Tight to Mention by Simply Red

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Friday, January 7, 2011

'Fess Up Friday, January 7, 2011

Captain's Log, Stardate 2011.01.07 I wrote a really cute blog about books and Kindles, but in the middle of making a minor change, Blogger deleted it for me.  So now you get the abbreviated version.

Last year I wrote about my love for the library and how I'd never give it up for an e-reader (Why I'll Never Quit the Library for eBooks).  Back in October my father offered to buy one for my birthday and I was all, "No, DaddyO, just give me some loot."  Needless to say, he treated me like Charlie Brown and I got nothing.  Lesson learned: Never look a gift horse in the mouth or you'll end up with a mouth full of hay.  Wait, what?  It made sense when I said it in my head.

Fast forward to December and I walk into work to two presents on my desk.  I had no clue as to what they might be, but my boss gives really good gifts, so I was hoping for the best.  Don't ask me how I thought she might squeeze Idris Elba into those boxes, but a girl can wish, can't she?  He's all tall and chocolaty and has an English accent and...Ok, I got caught up for a minute.

So I open the first box and see that it has some kind of Kindle holder on the outside, but I figure she's just re-used a box and put something else inside.  But then I opened the second box and, yes ladies and gentlemen, it was a Kindle. Normally I'm cooler than the other side of the pillow. On the outside I was all meh.  But on the inside? I was all:

One of the biggest perks of the Kindle is that I'm able to receive e-galleys and ARCs from publishers, eliminating trips to the post office in hopes that a book I've requested has come in.  The question is, am I ready to quit paper books yet? Heck no, and here's why:

  1. Normally I read three to four books a week.  With the Kindle I'm only reading two to three. There's something about the opaque screen that doesn't sit right with me. 
  2. Amazon is in the money making business so they try to limit my reading options to pdfs and books I can buy on their site.  My co-worker has a Nook and is able to download books directly from the library.  Of course there's a workaround for Kindle users, but I shouldn't have to jump through hoops just to read a book.
  3. I'm easily distracted while using a Kindle.  I don't think my brain has yet learned that it's not just another toy like my iPhone.
  4. I love wandering the aisles of the library and bookstores.  What aisles am I wandering on Amazon?
  5. I would still miss the cast of characters at the library: Nonchalant Librarian, Intense Librarian, Crotchety Lady Librarian, Sympathetic & Apologetic Librarian and Sterling, my favorite librarian.
So this is my confession.  I've crossed over into the dark side of the Kindlesphere.  Just like the Borg, I knew they'd pull me in somehow.  "We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile."  And now that I've made two Star Trek references and confirmed my nerdiness, what's your confession?
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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

#BookReview: Miss New India - Bharati Mukherjee

Nineteen year old Anjali Bose wants nothing more than to get out of the small town of Gauripur. Most women in her town are married by the time they reach her age, or at least their parents are working finding a suitor for them.  Anjali's father is looking, but Anjali isn't most women.

Much like the small town girl moving to the big stories we read that are set in America, Miss New India is the story of one girl's quest to move beyond the circumstances that are presented to her through no fault of her own.  Anjali is smart.  She's managed to stave off her father's attempts to marry her off, but when a presentable suitor is found, she knows she has no other choice than to head out into the world in search of her own satisfaction.

What would satisfy a small town girl? Becoming a customer service representative at one of the many call centers in Bangalore. And becoming an Americanized, independent, savvier version of herself, representing a shift in Indian women from the set standards to the new Indian woman.  

From the small town of Gauripur to the big city of Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India, this young woman's journey from Anjali to Angie is absolutely fascinating.  Author Bharati Mukherjee skillfully intertwines Angie's story line with historical background, offering readers both entertainment and a history lesson.

What did you like about this book?
I love to learn about other cultures and thoroughly enjoyed learning more about facets of Indian culture and history.

What didn't you like about this book?
Though other parts of the book seemed very cut and dry, I was left somewhat confused by the ending of the book.   I had to go back and re-read the last chapter and prologue to find the few sentences that confirmed what became of Angie.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Perhaps make the ending more clear.

Published May 2011 (Available for pre-order now)
Disclosure: Received ARC from publisher

Theme: I Am Changing from Dreamgirls by Jennifer Hudson

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year & What Not

Welcome to a new year and new books.  I was going to launch right into a book review today, but instead I decided to give you a peek into some of the things I have planned for this year.

As most of you know, I decided to host a Colorful Chick Lit challenge here, as well as on Goodreads. It's not my intention to tell anyone what they should read, but I will be featuring at least one book and author each month that fits into the challenge guidelines.  The purpose is twofold. It will give those that are having difficulty finding colorful chick lit a book suggestion.  And it will give the author some well deserved promotion of her book.  Each book will be highlighted for a week of the month with a review that Monday, an interview or chat with the author on Wednesday, and a book giveaway on Friday.

While I'm still working out the details for the year, our first quarter books and authors will be:

The Frugalista Files by Natalie McNeal

Sweet Little Lies by Michele Grant

Good-bye to All That by Margo Candela

If you have questions for the authors, please email me at lisa@reads4pleasure.com.  Do you know of a book that you think should be featured this year?  Be sure to leave a comment and I'll see what I can do.

I'll also be hosting a readathon at some point this year to help readers catch up on their reading challenges. I've eliminated January and December as potential months because we're already in January and there's too much going on in December to play catch up.  So in what other months would you be interested in participating in a readathon? Don't worry. It doesn't have to be a hardcore 24-hour readathon.  More than likely we're talking about six to 12 hours.

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