The Black Book of Secrets

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Imagine David Copperfield in the world of Artemis Fowl . . . that's what we thought when we first read this next gripping novel, brought to us by our friends at Macmillan UK. And indeed, Eoin Colfer found something very much to like in this first novel when he said, "the story grabs at the reader with hooked talons. Anyone looking for the next big thing has come to the right place." A boy arrives at a remote village in the dead of night. His name is Ludlow Fitch—and he is running from a most terrible past. What ...
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Overview

Imagine David Copperfield in the world of Artemis Fowl . . . that's what we thought when we first read this next gripping novel, brought to us by our friends at Macmillan UK. And indeed, Eoin Colfer found something very much to like in this first novel when he said, "the story grabs at the reader with hooked talons. Anyone looking for the next big thing has come to the right place." A boy arrives at a remote village in the dead of night. His name is Ludlow Fitch—and he is running from a most terrible past. What he is about to learn is that in this village is the life he has dreamed of—a safe place to live and a job, as the assistant to the mysterious pawnbroker who trades people's deepest, darkest secrets for cash. Ludlow's job is to neatly transcribe the confessions in an ancient, leather-bound tome: The Black Book of Secrets. Ludlow yearns to trust his mentor, who refuses to disclose any information on his past experiences or future intentions. What the pawnbroker does not know is, in a town brimming with secrets, the most troubling may be held by his new apprentice.
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Editorial Reviews

Elizabeth Ward
This enticingly titled first novel is hardly flawless: Its point of view is wobbly, it flirts with melodrama, and it bristles with stage villains. But pre-teens who enjoy historically based fantasy—the story is purportedly set centuries back but reeks of Dickensian England—will find The Black Book of Secrets, thoroughly rewarding.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

This polished debut from a British writer tantalizingly blends secrets and thick, evocative atmosphere. In an indeterminate, grim past (think Dickensian squalor by way of a Broadway stage set), the boy Ludlow Fitch flees the City, "a stinking place undeserving of a name," and his parents, who have betrayed him for the last time. Chance (or is it destiny?) leads him to remote Pagus Parvus and to another newcomer, Joe Zabbidou, who sets himself up as a pawnbroker. But Zabbidou has a sideline: he pays good money for secrets. One by one the villagers come to him at midnight to unburden themselves-and they spill some doozies. The undertaker has dug up corpses, to be sold to a medical school; the butcher served his father a pie of rat, mouse, beetles and worms. As Ludlow inscribes the secrets in Zabbidou's Black Book, he fights down his suspicions of Zabbidou even as he joins the villagers in their hatred of Jeremiah Ratchet, the wealthy villain to blame for their misery and evil deeds. Higgins, framing her book as texts discovered in a hollowed wooden leg, expertly sustains the audience's curiosity, revealing just enough information to keep readers riveted. And for all the grisly details, the novel gets at important themes about self-determination and trust. Original and engrossing. Ages 9-12. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
VOYA - Rachelle Bilz
Raised by his drunken, avaricious parents to be a pickpocket, Ludlow Fitch manages to run away on the night that Ma and Pa try to sell his teeth. After a mad chase through the City, Ludlow escapes to the mountain village of Pagus Parvus by desperately clinging to the back of a carriage. Thus begins an intriguing blend of adventure and historical fiction spiced with a light touch of the fantastic. Arriving in Pargus Parvus late at night, Ludlow spies a lone man walking in the bitter cold and follows him to an abandoned shop. Ludlow, caught peeking through the window, is invited inside by Joe Zabbidou who describes himself as "the Secret Pawnbroker." Although Ludlow has no idea what it might mean, he accepts Joe's offer of a job as his apprentice. The villagers begin bringing items to sell and some get specially invited back for a midnight appointment. With Ludlow acting as scribe, the citizens of Pagus Parvus sell their secrets to Joe, confessing evil deeds and nasty affairs. The villagers initially like Joe but are turned against him by nasty Jeremiah Ratchet, the wealthiest man in town. Higgins creates a fascinating novel peopled with colorful characters and imbued with clever plot twists. The reader's interest is sustained throughout the book, and the novel's climax is both excellent and surprising. This book appears to be the first in a series, good news for junior and senior high students who appreciate a well-spun tale.
VOYA
Ludlow Fitch is a young city boy who finally escapes his thieving, lowlife parents and arrives at a small, mountain-top village to begin a new life. Fitch becomes the scribe for a pawnbroker of secrets-Joe Zabbidou buys secrets. In doing so, Joe and Fitch find out everything about the insular world of Pagus Parvus. In a world of Resurrectionists, chimneysweeps, and evil landlords, Fitch finds safety, magic, and quiet happiness with his new master. Higgins writes her debut novel as if she found Fitch's memoirs and Zabbidou's Black Book of Secrets, and the device works. Fitch is the classic Dickensian adolescent boy, who is raised by horrible parents and must choose a better, more honest life. By adding the villager's tales in the Black Book, Higgins creates fascinating characters who add depth to the plot. The author should have saved the last few chapters for a sequel-the end wrapped up too nicely. One chapter does not seem to fit with the rest of the novel, with a little too much fantasy thrown in when the rest of the book is almost a historical fiction novel with incredible characters. The book has beautiful black-edged pages, and if it were not for the illustration of the young boy on the cover, the spooky cover would draw in older readers. Reviewer: Sarah Hill
Children's Literature
Nothing in my miserable life could possibly be as bad as what is about to happen, Ludlow Fitch declares as his teeth are about to be removed solely to subsidize his parents’ greed. Ludlow fights back and escapes, sneaking a ride out of town. The carriage belongs to a wealthy tyrant named Jeremiah Ratchet, who is hated and feared by the entire village. When the carriage stops, Ludlow meets a mysterious but friendly man named Joe, who is also new to town. Joe gives Ludlow food, shelter and a job transcribing townspeople’s secrets. The first secret belongs to the gravedigger, Obadiah. Like most of his fellow townspeople, Obadiah owes impossible amounts of money to Jeremiah. Unable to get out of debt, he has been forced to dig up the bodies he has recently buried, so that Jeremiah can sell them to medical schools. When Obadiah tries to refuse, Jeremiah blackmail him. (After all, bodysnatching is punishable by death.) After unburdening his secret, Obadiah receives both a clean conscience and enough money to finally clear his debt with Jeremiah. And so it goes from one villager after another: Joe pays for each secret, and the villagers are able to pay Jeremiah. It seems like a win-win situation, until suddenly the townspeople grow suspicious of Joe. They turn on him and Ludlow … Higgins’ debut novel is a page-turning mystery brimming with humor and originality. The ending hints of a sequel, which is good news for anyone lucky enough to read this unusual and absorbing book. Reviewer: Naomi Milliner
School Library Journal

Gr 5-8- A secret pawnbroker, Joe Zabbidou pays for secrets, and everyone has one. Ludlow Fitch, escaping his parents' efforts to sell the teeth from his mouth, meets Joe in the desolate mountain village of Pagus Parvus. It is an ideal place for Joe as miserly Jeremiah Ratchet uses people's transgressions to blackmail and cheat them. Joe offers young Ludlow a job transcribing confessions into Joe's Black Book. Desperate individuals declare they are grave robbers, thieves, even murderers, and are freed by their confessions. As folk unburden their secrets, mass hatred for Ratchet begins to foment, and later Joe himself becomes a target. A tightly woven novel, Black Book grabs readers from the first image of Ludlow protecting his vulnerable teeth. The author uses the device of claiming to have found extracts of Joe's book and Ludlow's memoirs, bridging the gaps with her imagination. The shifting perspective slows the action considerably. That said, Higgins employs visceral imagery (rat pies, wives buried alive) as well as Rembrandt-like contrasts of light and dark to illuminate the loneliness of wealth and despair. Add to this a dollop of suspense and the intriguing idea that fear of our own actions is our greatest enemy, and the result is an unusual, compelling read. Readers who like Sharon Shinn or Megan Whalen Turner will love this unique novel.-Caitlin Augusta, The Darien Library, CT

Kirkus Reviews
Higgins's Dickensian debut features an opening scene that is both literally and figuratively gripping, plus an intriguing premise-but only about a short story's worth of plot, and that's riddled with gaps of logic. He frames his tale as chapters from two old volumes somehow stored in a wooden leg, plus frequent departures into other points of view to fill in gaps. It alternates between memoirs of young Ludlow Fitch, a lad who narrowly escapes his gin-soaked parents' attempt to have his teeth extracted for sale and then falls in with itinerant pawnbroker/psychotherapist Joe Zabbidou, and the confessions of several patients-most involving murders or other dark deeds-as recorded in Zabbidou's titular tome. Having engineered an ugly end for a particularly despicable villain, Zabbidou ultimately takes Fitch to a huge underground library where the ledger of confessions is shelved with thousands of others (how it came to be in that leg remains unexplained), and Fitch gets a clean, new one of his very own. Though set in an alternate universe, the tale closes with historical notes on the Victorian-style horrors mentioned or committed. The parts don't hang together at all, but readers may enjoy many of them individually. (Fantasy. 11-13)
From the Publisher
“Wonderful. Anyone looking for the next big thing has come to the right place. Higgins has created a uniquely grim fantasy world that more than holds its own with Dickens or Peake. Her characters are brilliantly realized and the story grabs at the reader with hooked talons.”—Eoin Colfer

“This polished debut from a British writer tantalizingly blends secrets and thick, evocative atmosphere . . . Higgins, framing her book as texts discovered in a hallowed wooden leg, expertly sustains the audience’s curiosity, revealing just enough information to keep readers riveted. And for all the grisly details, the novel gets at important themes about self-determination and trust. Original and engrossing.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“The story’s vaguely Dickensian atmosphere is exquisite . . . A tantalizingly revelatory ending leaves at least one thread dangling for future volumes (which are sure to evoke more picaresque oddities and nefarious tales), making this a smart, peculiarly thrilling book that is sure to appeal to readers ready to sidestep the goodygoody Harry Potters of adventure fiction.”—Booklist, Starred Review

“Higgins’s debut begins with a bang—on the streets of a London as dark as in any Dickens novel—and ends in a mysterious cave, with no let-up in pacing from start to finish . . . One of Higgins’s great achievements is the way she manages to convey a degree of innocence in Ludlow despite his harsh life surviving the city streets. Redemption emerges as a strong theme in the book, as she reveals the complexities of human nature, and she leaves open several mysteries (including the history behind a wooden leg and Joe’s prized pet frog). Readers can only hope for many more black books filled with secrets.”—Shelf Awareness

“Pre-teens who enjoy historically based fantasy . . . will find The Black Book of Secrets thoroughly rewarding.”—The Washington Post

“. . . will keep readers on the edge of their seats.”—Scripps Howard News Service

“There can be few more nightmarish openings than that of The Black Book of Secrets . . . A beguiling mix of gothic fairy tale and Dalhesque macabre for 9-13-year-olds.”—The Telegraph (UK)

“Higgins creates a fascinating novel peopled with colorful characters and imbued with clever plot twists . . . the novel’s climax is both excellent and surprising.”—Voice of Youth Advocates

“Higgins’s fine writing and wry tale will charm readers who are ready for the unusual . . . like the film Chocolat . . . a stranger enters a town and changes the lives there forever, all from the confines of a small shop, this time a pawnbroker’s place.”—KLIATT

“The resolution, as tidy a piece of plotting as can be imagined, not only collects all the plot threads but leads to the deeper revelation of who Joe is and why he plies such a curious trade. Strongly seasoned with details of nineteenth-century oddities, the story abounds with puzzles, quirks, and enticing disclosures.”—The Horn Book

“While Ludlow & Co. do live in an alternate reality, there are many details about life in the late 1800s that readers of historical fiction will enjoy—especially those who like reading about the more gruesome, less well-known details, like stealing and selling teeth, grave robbers, body snatchers and Sweeney Todd.”—Bookshelves of Doom

“I thought this book was outstanding. It’s a horror book with lots of mystery. I would give it four stars.”—Jennifer Hopkins, age 11, in The Washington Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312368449
  • Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
  • Publication date: 10/2/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 830L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 8.29 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

F.E. Higgins is the author of The Bone Magician and The Eyeball Collector. As a child, she once saw a ghostly apparition, and ever since then, she has been fascinated by the macabre. She travels the world, collecting strange artifacts and stranger stories. Born in London, F.E. Higgins now lives in a haunted house that dates back to the fifteenth century, in a small village in rural Kent.

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Read an Excerpt

Fragment from The Memoirs of Ludlow Fitch

When I opened my eyes I knew that nothing in my miserable life prior to that moment could possibly be as bad as what was about to happen. I was lying on the cold earthen floor of a basement room lit by a single candle, no more than an hour’s burning left. Instruments of a medical nature hung from hooks in the beams. Dark stains on the floor suggested blood. But it was the chair against the opposite wall that fully confirmed my suspicions. Thick leather straps attached to the arms and legs were there for one purpose only: to hold down an unwilling patient. Ma and Pa were standing over me.

“E’s awake,” crowed Ma excitedly.

Pa dragged me to my feet. He had me in an iron grip, my arm wrenched up behind my back. Ma held me by the hair. I looked from one to the other. Their grinning faces were only inches away from mine. I knew I should not look to them to save me.

Another man, concealed until now in the shadows, stepped forward and took me by the chin. He forced open my mouth and ran a blackened, foul-tasting finger around my gums.

“How much?” asked Pa, drooling with anticipation.

“Not bad,” said the man. “Thrupence apiece. Maybe twelve in all.”

“It’s a deal,” said Pa. “Who needs teeth anyway?”

“Someone, I hope,” replied the man dryly. “I sell ‘em for a living.”

And they laughed, all three, Ma and Pa and Barton Gumbroot, the notorious tooth surgeon of Old Goat’s Alley.

Once the money for my teeth was agreed with Barton, they moved quickly. Together they dragged me over to the surgeon’s chair. I kicked and shouted and spat and bit; I wasn’t going to make it easy for them. I knew how Barton Gumbroot made his living, preying on the poor, pulling their teeth, paying them pennies and selling them for ten times as much. I was racked with fear. I had no protection. I was going to feel it all. Every single nerve-stabbing twinge.

They came close to succeeding in their evil quest.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 33 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 33 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 18, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    The Black Book of Secrets- Great Read!

    I'd be lying if I didn't say that I just had to know what kinds of secrets were in The Black Books of Secrets. The Book practically opened up in front of me and dared me to read it. Fiona Higgins's first novel is elegantly worded despite the lack of cleanliness in this gothic tale. A story of a mysterious man an this apprentice who brings life into a lifeless town full of people who live in fear and torment.

    The Black Book of Secrets didn't begin like most novels- the first page literally took my breath away. Higgins's words had a strong grip around my neck as I understood more about what lies between the pages of it's ebony cover. THe story takes place in centuries past in a remote English village called Pagus Parvus. Ludlow Fitch is on the run from his parents who are barbarically selling his teeth for money. A narrow escape leads Fitch to the village of Pagus Parvus. He meets a shadowy figure in the dark who happens to be Joe Zabbidou, the tows new Pawnbroker. Fitch in desperate need for money and a place to stay begins working for Zabbidou only to find out he is a secret pawnbroker.

    Like a traditional thriller, Fitch's character has to make a series of choices. These choices would be easy for any average child his age but Fitch grew up in "the city", a place of barbaric thieves and sin. Fitch's job consists of transcribing secrests from the villagers in the "black book", for which they receive a fair amount of money and a night full of peaceful dreaming all thanks to Joe Zabbidou. Althought Zabbidou is very unrevealing and often secretive about his past, he acts as a mentor and father figure to young Fitch. The true dilemma arises when Zabbisou is accused of murdering the town blackmailer, Jeremiah Ratchet. Who is Zabbiou, really? Is he a murderer? What does destiny have in store for Fitch?

    Whether this novel is considered to be a juvenile or adult fiction read, I felt a connection to Ludlow Fitch all the same. With every turn of the page, I felt Fitch's fate reveal itself even more, and all the villagers in Pagus Parvus for that matter. Most everyone from Pagus Pargus had a secret pawned in this little black book. In a sense, the black book was a character itself- a huge weight on the scale of fate. What would happen if this book got into the wrong hands? What would happen to the people of Pagus Parvus? What would happen to Joe Zabbidou, to Ludlow Fitch? These were all questions that ran through my head when I was reading this novel. The reoccurring themes of destiny, fate and the right to choose your own path, are what tied this story together. Throughout the book, Zabbidou teaches Fitch that it was his own choice that brought him to Pagus Parvus but destiny was what brought them together. In Joe Zabbisou's own words "Fortuna favet fortibus", fortune favors the bold. Whatever your destiny, you are the one to make it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 31, 2011

    GREAT BOOK

    The first part is boring, but then it just takes off.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 23, 2011

    must read!

    this book is really good!

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 10, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    The Black Book

    This book is a very great read! The characters are very well developed, and you see the story from more than one point of view! The end twists a bit, too, and that makes the book even better! The plot is good too, and some of the confessions are just comical!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2009

    Love it!

    I loved the Black Book of Secrets! I couldn't stop reading it, I haven't done that since I read the Twilight Saga! I'm just itching for the sequeal. The Black Book of Secrets is a mysterious, and dark book but still exciting and good fun. I enjoyed reading it and was dissapointed when I had to stop, hoping for a sequeal. When I saw the little hint to it, I literally started bouncing around! I'm reading this story for my book report, and now I can be excited to do so! I hope the sequeal arrives soon!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 16, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A very interesting, absorbing read

    My brother picked this up from the library on Saturday, and I wanted a book to read, so I stole it from him and read it for a few minutes Saturday night. Sunday I was busy, and read it only for a few more minutes. Along came Monday, I wasn't busy, so I finally did what I wanted, and sat down and read. I finished it, and wanted to read more, but of course there was no more. This was definitely a children's book for various reasons; the main character was a little boy, the vocabulary was simple, anything that could have been gruesome and horrible or bad was softened considerably, and there was very little character development. However, it was a very engaging book for various reasons; the book was interesting to begin with because it was all black, it was a book about fascinating secrets, and they kept coming, and the mystery of the pawnbroker was too much suspense for me to put the book down. There was also an interesting little section about questionable careers in those times. I thought the writing was quite good in this book, and I hope F. E. Higgins writes another one like it soon.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2008

    awesome book. amazing

    this book was great! i love all the secrets. and how joe is so calm about eveything.it seems like he knows the future but, doesn't. i like this book and how it looks on the outside. its so mysterios. the black pages. Love it!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2008

    fantastamistic

    This is my ABSOLUTE favorite book and recomend to anyone of any age. It keeps you up until 3 in the morning when you finally finish it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2007

    A reviewer

    This book is very unique in that the plot reveals little secrets and hints about the character that make you wonder if the book is in the supernatural genre. However, the author leaves that open for interpretation because everything could easily be explained by natural causes and effects. This book is also unique because the author takes the time to describe all of the characters in depth. Every character is important and none are to be overlooked. There is also the clever placement of a symbol at strategically placed intervals in the chapters that reveals its meaning at the end of the book. As a whole, the book is very clever and an enjoyable read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2014

    OMG!!!

    This is the best book i have ever read! There are tons of twists and turns. So dont be surprized when you think this isbthe endnof the book!


    Im so mad that F. E. Higgins stopped making books. Or is she?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2012

    This book suffers from an intense case of target audience confu

    This book suffers from an intense case of target audience confusion. A large amount of the book seems to be written for a younger audience. The slow moving story spoon feeds you the character's emotions while constantly shoving unwanted life lessons down your throat. Then, when the reader's mind has slowed to a sluggish coma, Higgins hits you with gruesome and murderous scenes, that by contrast seem almost inappropriate. A younger reader will probably be scarred for life while an older reader will most likely fall asleep, leaving this book in a strange limbo... read full review at theofficebooks.blogspot

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2012

    JUSTINE A REVIEWER

    This book was read to me in third grade....everyone in our class loved it-justine

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2012

    Boaring

    Silly

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2012

    Slow start, disappointing ending

    That pretty mush says it all. A great concept for a fantasy book, and it falls flat. It does have its interesting points to it, and the character are well written. I wish they had a better story though. It could have been wonderful. The good thing about this book is that it is not too long. So i recommend reading it, but dont get your hopes up when you get near the end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2011

    WARNING: THIS BOOK IS VERY BORING

    "The Black Book of Secrets" was... boring... and just plain weird. I did not like it at all, sorry. In my opinion, the plot was not set up very well; there was no real plot, rising action, or any of that. It was not good at all, and I highly discourage you to read it. Don't buy!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 23, 2011

    Good read.

    Great book to read with the kids. I loved the beginning

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2009

    I couldn't put it down.

    I found myself thinking about this book while I was at work. Yes, I am a teacher. I enjoy reading books before I put them on the shelves in my room. I read late into the night to finally finish it so I could sleep. I loved it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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