Burning Bright

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Overview

From the bestselling author of Girl With a Pearl Earring comes a stirring eighteenth-century coming-of- age tale

Tracy Chevalier, author of the international bestseller Girl With a Pearl Earring, returns with another brilliantly rendered historical tale set in the waning days of eighteenth-century London. Poet, artist, and printer William Blake works in obscurity as England is rocked by the shock waves of the French Revolution. Next door, the Kellaway family has just moved in, ...

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2007 Hardcover New This book is new. Smudged bottom edge; cover shows light edge/shelfwear. With her fine eye for historical detail, Chevalier writes a romantic, sweeping, and ... thoroughly engaging story about William Blake's London. Read more Show Less

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Burning Bright: A Novel

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Overview

From the bestselling author of Girl With a Pearl Earring comes a stirring eighteenth-century coming-of- age tale

Tracy Chevalier, author of the international bestseller Girl With a Pearl Earring, returns with another brilliantly rendered historical tale set in the waning days of eighteenth-century London. Poet, artist, and printer William Blake works in obscurity as England is rocked by the shock waves of the French Revolution. Next door, the Kellaway family has just moved in, and country boy Jem Kellaway strikes up a tentative friendship with street-savvy Maggie Butterfield. As their stories intertwine with Blake's, the two children navigate the confusing and exhilarating path to adolescence, and inspire the poet to create the work that enshrined his genius.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The author of Girl with a Pearl Earring returns with another engrossing, realistic historical novel, this one set in the final decade of the 18th century. Burning Bright follows Thomas Kellaway and his family as they migrate from rural Dorset to London, where Thomas has found work as a circus carpenter and builder. The novel foregrounds the experiences of Kellaway's son Jem and his pretty sister Maisie as they adjust with varying degrees of success to urban life and the vicissitudes of adulthood. As in her previous novels, Chevalier mixes historical characters and her own creations; among the real people vividly portrayed here are circus pioneer Philip Astley and radical poet/engraver William Blake.
Chicago Sun-Times
A novel teeming with the complexities of life . . . Chevalier has a fine eye for detail and delightfully captures the sights, smells, and sounds of an earlier time.
The Times (London)
A visual delight.
The Boston Globe
Chevalier's writing is most lively and supple when depicting adolescent sexuality. Indeed, this novel could comfortably be classified as juvenile fiction—a very honorable genre. . . . If she succeeds in acquainting a new generation with the rapturous work of William Blake on the eve of the 250th anniversary of his birth, she can take pride in her accomplishment.
Elle
Chevalier's signature talent lies in bringing alive the ordinary day-to-dayness of the past . . . lovingly evoked.
Entertainment Weekly
Chevalier masterfully evokes a sense of working class life . . . [in] French Revolution– era London.
Time Out London
A wonderfully vivid portrait of eighteenth-century London.
Nicholas Delbanco
If you believe in urchins happily united in the country dusk and reciting Blake to each other, then this book will persuade. Chevalier's villains are deep-dyed villains, her good people blindingly good; they go from innocence to experience with scarcely a hitch in their stride.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, set in the home/studio of Vermeer, and other novels, Chevalier turns in an oblique look at poet and painter William Blake (1757-1827). Following the accidental death of their middle son, the Kellaways, a Dorsetshire chair maker and family, arrive in London's Lambeth district during the anti-Jacobin scare of 1792. Thomas Kellaway talks his way into set design work for the amiable circus impresario Philip Astley, whose fireworks displays provide the same rallying point that the guillotine is providing in Paris. Astley's libertine horseman son, John, sets his sights on Kellaway's daughter, Maisie (an attention she rather demurely returns). Meanwhile, youngest surviving Kellaway boy Jem falls for poor, sexy firebrand Maggie Butterfield. Blake, who imagined heaven and hell as equally incandescent and earth as the point where the two worlds converge, is portrayed as a murky Friar Laurence figure whose task is to bind and loosen the skeins of young love going on around him-that is, until a Royalist mob intrudes into his garden to sound out his rather advanced views on liberty, equality and fraternity. While the setting is dramatically fertile, there's no spark to the dialogue or plot, and allusions to Blake's work and themes are overbaked. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Late 17th-century London comes alive in this latest offering from Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring). After a tragic death in the family, the Kellaways are persuaded by a traveling circus owner to move to the bustling city, where they discover that they live next door to the famous William Blake: printer, poet, and political radical. A streetwise girl named Maggie befriends the youngest boy, Jem, and their coming-of-age adventures eventually provide material for Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience. In addition, the French Revolution has made everyone jittery, and the family is soon caught up in the excitement and uncertainty of political unrest; they also face economic hardship, struggling daily to earn enough to stay together. Chevalier's vivid descriptions and unusual mix of characters make this story an easy pleasure to read. The Blake connection, however, feels contrived and distracts from the plot, which weakens and loses steam after such a strong beginning-a minor quibble for fans of the genre or the author. Recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/06.]-Kellie Gillespie, City of Mesa Lib., AZ Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A colorful historical novel considers the perils of life in 18th-century England. Georgian London might itself be the biggest character in Chevalier's latest (after The Lady and the Unicorn, 2004, etc.). Rogues and bounders, larger-than-life benefactors and unworldly country folk populate a story that gives prominence to a fictional portrait of William Blake but devotes many of its pages to the broad social panorama-circuses and mustard factories, Bedlam and Bunhill Fields Burying Ground. The Kellaway family has just arrived from rural Dorset after a death in the family. Thomas Kellaway, a chairmaker, has been offered work by circus entrepreneur Philip Astley: The Kellaway's son, Jem, assists his father with the carpentering, when not distracted by street-wise Maggie Butterfield; pretty daughter Maisie yearns for Astley's handsome, heartless son John. The Blakes live nearby in Lambeth, and Jem becomes acquainted with the kindly radical poet and engraver who sometimes wears a red cap in support of the revolution taking place in France. Not much happens: John tries to seduce Maisie; Maggie reveals a violent past; a mob attacks the Blakes for their politics. Chevalier echoes (and quotes from) Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, aspects of which are reflected in her characters, especially the various ruined or near-ruined women. Eventually, the Kellaways go home to Dorset, Astley joins the war in France and Maggie reveals a heart of gold. A story rich in background but lacking a compelling center.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780525949787
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/20/2007
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Tracy Chevalier

"I was born and grew up in Washington, DC. After getting a BA in English from Oberlin College (Ohio), I moved to London, England in 1984. I intended to stay 6 months; I’m still here.

"As a kid I’d often said I wanted to be a writer because I loved books and wanted to be associated with them. I wrote the odd story in high school, but it was only in my twenties that I started writing ‘real’ stories, at night and on weekends. Sometimes I wrote a story in a couple evenings; other times it took me a whole year to complete one.

"Once I took a night class in creative writing, and a story I’d written for it was published in a London-based magazine called Fiction. I was thrilled, even though the magazine folded 4 months later.

"I worked as a reference book editor for several years until 1993 when I left my job and did a year-long MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (England). My tutors were the English novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. For the first time in my life I was expected to write every day, and I found I liked it. I also finally had an idea I considered ‘big’ enough to fill a novel. I began The Virgin Blue during that year, and continued it once the course was over, juggling writing with freelance editing.

"An agent is essential to getting published. I found my agent Jonny Geller through dumb luck and good timing. A friend from the MA course had just signed on with him and I sent my manuscript of The Virgin Blue mentioning my friend’s name. Jonny was just starting as an agent and needed me as much as I needed him. Since then he’s become a highly respected agent in the UK and I’ve gone along for the ride."

Tracy Chevalier is the New York Times bestselling author of six previous novels, including Girl with a Pearl Earring, which has been translated into thirty-nine languages and made into an Oscar-nominated film. Her latest novel is The Last Runaway. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., she lives in London with her husband and son.

Biography

Tracy Chevalier first gained attention by imagining the answer to one of art history's small but intriguing questions: Who is the subject of Johannes Vermeer's painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring"?

It was a bold move on Chevalier's part to build a story around the somewhat mysterious 17th-century Dutch painter and his unassuming but luminous subject; but the author's purist approach helped set the tone. "I decided early on that I wanted [Girl] to be a simple story, simply told, and to imitate with words what Vermeer was doing with paint," Chevalier told her college's alumni magazine. "That may sound unbelievably pretentious, but I didn't mean it as 'I can do Vermeer in words.' I wanted to write it in a way that Vermeer would have painted: very simple lines, simple compositions, not a lot of clutter, and not a lot of superfluous characters."

Chevalier achieved her objective expertly, helped by the fact that she employed the famous Girl as narrator of the story. Sixteen-year-old Griet becomes a maid in Vermeer's tumultuous household, developing an apprentice relationship with the painter while drawing attention from other men and jealousy from women. Praise for the novel poured in: "Chevalier's exploration into the soul of this complex but naïve young woman is moving, and her depiction of 17th-century Delft is marvelously evocative," wrote the New York Times Book Review. The Wall Street Journal called it "vibrant and sumptuous."

Girl with a Pearl Earring was not Chevalier's first exploration of the past. In The Virgin Blue, her U.K.-published first novel (due for a U.S. edition in 2003), her modern-day character Ella Turner goes back to 16th-century France in order to revisit her family history. As a result, she finds parallels between herself and a troubled ancestor -- a woman whose fate had been unknown until Ella discovers it.

With 2001's Falling Angels, Chevalier -- a former reference book editor who began her fiction career by enrolling in the graduate writing program at University of East Anglia -- continued to tell stories of women in the past. But she has been open about the fact that compared to writing Girl with a Pearl Earring, the "nightmare" creating of her third novel was difficult and fraught with complications, even tears. The pressure of her previous success, coupled with a first draft that wasn't working out, made Chevalier want to abandon the effort altogether. Then, reading Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible led Chevalier to change her approach. "[Kingsolver] did such a fantastic job using different voices and I thought, with Falling Angels, I've told it in the wrong way," Chevalier told Bookpage magazine. "I wanted it to have lots of perspective."

With that, Chevalier began a rewrite of her tale about two families in the first decade of 20th-century London. With more than ten narrators (some more prominent than others), Falling Angels has perspective in spades and lots to maintain interest over its relatively brief span: a marriage in trouble, a girlhood friendship born at Highgate Cemetery, a woman's introduction to the suffragette movement. A spirited, fast-paced story, Falling Angels again earned critical praise. "This moving, bittersweet book flaunts Chevalier's gift for creating complex characters and an engaging plot," Book magazine concluded.

Chevalier continues to pursue her fascination with art and history in her fourth novel, on which she is currently at work. According to Oberlin Alumni Magazine, she is basing the book on the Lady and the Unicorn medieval tapestries that hang in Paris's Cluny Museum.

Good To Know

Chevalier's interest in Vermeer extends beyond a fascination with one painting. "I have always loved Vermeer's paintings," Chevalier writes on her Web site. "One of my life goals is to view all thirty-five of them in the flesh. I've seen all but one -- ‘Young Girl Reading a Letter' -- which hangs in Dresden. There is so much mystery in each painting, in the women he depicts, so many stories suggested but not told. I wanted to tell one of them."

Chevalier moved from the States to London in 1984. "I intended to stay six months," she writes. "I'm still here." She lives near Highgate Cemetery with her husband and son.

The film version of Girl with a Pearl Earring is on the 2003 slate from Lions Gate Films, with Scarlett Johansson in the role of Griet and Colin Firth playing Vermeer.

Read More Show Less
    1. Hometown:
      London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 19, 1962
    2. Place of Birth:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Oberlin College, 1984; M.A. in creative writing, University of East Anglia, 1994
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 35 )
Rating Distribution

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(6)

4 Star

(8)

3 Star

(16)

2 Star

(3)

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(2)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 35 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 6, 2011

    Misses the Mark

    Although I am very much a Chevalier fan, this book misses the mark. I couldn't tell what the point of the book was until about three quarters of the way through. And, even at the end, it left me feeling like the entire read was a waste of time. However, I highly recommend all Chevalier's other books!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 5, 2010

    Must love poetry

    This is about William Blake, and young people who live around him. It is very realistic historically, however, I didn't care for the poetry within the story. A very good story though, if you can skip the poetry.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2010

    Queen Elizabeth...

    Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 - 24 March 1603) <>> I havent even read this book yet, was reading reviews trying to decide if I want to read it... when I saw the "Queen Elizabeth I" comment I had to say something... Dont trash a book if you cant even read it... Intelligent comments help people like me decide if they want to read a book... that one single comment about the dates of Queen Elizabeth made me want to read this book all the more...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    NOT TRACY CHEVALIER BEST

    For a writer I truly like, this book was rather dissapointing.
    So the real rating is two and half stars.
    There's something lacking in this book.
    I didn't totally dislike it but didn't like it that much either.
    As for the other reviews, you can notice some praise it and some say it's not a good piece of fiction. Personally, I think it is in between. It has some good things but, all in all, it doesn't satisfy.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2008

    Very Disappointed

    After reading Girl with a Pearl Earring, I bough up following novels by Chevalier. Loved them. Did not hesitate to buy Burning Bright without even reviewing it. I am very disappointed in this one. Will not even finish it. Nowhere near the complex, rich stories in former novels. She relies on all the sounds and smells of this old world to give color and atmosphere. However, the story and characters just do not matter. The whole thing seems very amateurish to me. Sorry. Hope Chevalier redeems herself with next novel. Please !

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2007

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book

    I was a bit skeptical reading this book after i read the reviews, but after reading it I loved it. I think it was one of her best novels, she gave life to all the characters and the time frame. I couldn't put it down. It reminded me of my favorite novel by her (Girl with a Pearl Earring), the way she used some part of history as a back drop of the story. This time using a person, William Blake, in Girl with a Pearl Earring using the picture. I recomend any Tracy Chevalier fan to read this, her flawless style comes alive in this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent Read Especially for Chevalier Fans! Of all Tracy Cheva

    Excellent Read Especially for Chevalier Fans!
    Of all Tracy Chevalier's novels this is probably my favorite. The plot, which weaves several very interesting story lines together, follows a smalltown working class family's adjustment to London in the late 18th century. It is filled with adventure and excitement. Each family member has his or her own colorful and unique experiences as well as their own share of pain and transforming life lessons. Romance is a major theme, particularly for the eldest son, Jem, who shares innocent young love with the sassy, spit fire Maggie. As usual, Chevalier provides exquisitely vivid details throughout, and the period was clearly well-researched.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2012

    Good historical fiction

    I am a Tracy Chevalier fan - love her attention to time period detail. This was not my favorite of her works, but it is well-researched.

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  • Posted August 31, 2012

    The cover copy on the book talked about how these children influ

    The cover copy on the book talked about how these children influenced William Blake. He's at best a minor supporting character in the book. Even with that disappointment this title was far less engaging and interesting than her other books like Remarkable Creatures.

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  • Posted May 31, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A Touching Read

    I really enjoyed this book and it made me interested in the works of William Blake.

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  • Posted July 18, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Queen Elizabeth I (clarification)

    Queen Elizabeth I ruled as Queen regnant of England and Queen regnant of Ireland from 1558 to 1603. Quenn Elizabeth II is the current Queen of England and has been since 1952; her father reigned as King of Enland before her. I just obtained a copy of Burning Bright and have not yet read it, however, I have enjoyed reading other books by Tracy Chevalier and now I'm curious to see how Queen Elizabeth I figures into 1792 history.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 27, 2009

    Tripe

    This book was without doubt sheer dirge. I hope I am not alone in this evaluation, please some feedback either way. The reason his book is dirge is because of a very thin plot line, silly names for characters and places which left me thinking after reading it...so what? The editing was appalling did it not occur to somebody who rights historical novels to check historical content? Elizabeth I in 1792, no sir! Not until 1953!

    My advice is this book is at best, a bathroom book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    terrific historical fiction

    In 1792 following a tragedy, the Kellaway family leaves their Dorsetshire village Piddletrenthide for London at the encouragement of Philip Astley, owner of Astley¿s Circus. The city seems initially overwhelming compared to where they lived, but the Kellaway brood begins to adapt although they struggle to earn enough to keep food on the table and everyone under one roof. The youngest child Jem quickly makes friends with street urchin Maggie. Together they explore the city and meet the Kellaway next door neighbor renowned radical poet William Blake at a time when the French Revolution has people either frightened that the zealots will cross the Channel or excited about a chance to reform the excesses of the royals and the aristocracy. Meanwhile Blake finds motivation with the adventures of Maggie and Jem in London as he begins to write a coming of age poems, Songs of Innocence and Experience. --- BURNING BRIGHT is a terrific historical fiction that brings to life the expectations and fears of Londoners during the French Revolution. The Kellaway family (especially Jem) and Maggie are fully developed so that the audience obtains a strong sense of how they see things especially the fears that the family will have to break up to survive. Blake is an interesting addition to the mix, but forcing the Songs of Innocence and Experience as being inspired by the preadolescent stars seems unlikely. Still this is a strong look at London knowing Paris is burning. --- Harriet Klausner

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2007

    A Flickering Flame

    I just recently finished reading Burning Bright, the latest novel by Tracy Chevalier. This is her mostly recent novel and to be honest the only reason that I read it is because it was chosen for my next book club. I have read other books by Chevalier in the past and have have mixed reactions on them. So, I wasn't super enthused to read this book...and while it didn't suck. I wasn't in love with it either. This novel primarily takes place in London, England in the year 1792, focusing around 3 teenagers: Jem, Maggie and Jem's sister Maisie. Jem & Maisie have recently moved from to quiet life in the country to the bustling city of London with their parents and are learning how to adjust. One thier first day in the city they meet Maggie, a street wise girl who likes to be the one who knows everything and tend to delight in the mistakes that Jem and his sister make while they are learning to adapt to city life. Thrown into this group in none other than Willima Blake. Who has got to be one of the most aloof, vaguley written characters that I have ever met in a book. In some ways Mr Blake is always there for the teenagers idolize him and his beliefs. Yet, even when he is in the prescence of the teens he seems to be off somewhere else. He speaks in metaphors and doesn't seem to be bothered by anything. Even when there is a mob outside his door he just stands there limply and only reacts after Maisie starts to recite one of his poems.....or songs as they are refered to in the book. Even then his reaction isn't quite what the reader expects. There are times in which I think that Blake's character is more of an after thought. Someone famous that the author tosses into the mix in an attempt at trying to accomplish......something. What exactly I am not sure. The characters of Jem, Maggie and Maisie are all pretty underdeveloped as well. There seems to be no real purpose to any of them and I found it hard to care what happened to them. I initally struggled to get through this book. Its not a hard read I just found it to be boring and lacking in plot. I was often more drawn to the various descriptions more then what was going on with the main characters. Where the major events of their lives seem to be swept aside and barely discussed while pages and pages are spent on them watching a circus procession going by. I finally had to give myself a shake and force myself to read the novel any time I had a chance because I just wanted it done.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2007

    Not Burning Bright

    I too am an avid fan of Tracy Chevalier and had finished her last book about a year ago, and was anxiously waiting another. I got so involved in all her other books-The Virgin Blue being my favorite. You actually really felt for the characters and got transported back into whatever time she was writing. I think the main problems with this book are that the main characters were just too young or inexperienced. She has put so much passion into her other charcters--and truthfully I miss all the sex scenes. They truly made the book page turners. Still a good read, but frankly I just wasn't that interested in any of the story lines.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2007

    Impressive historical fiction

    Believe it or not this is the first of Ms Chevalier's books I've read, having only seen the movie of 'Girl with the Pearl Earring'. The inclusion of William Blake as a character attracted me to 'Burning Bright' and though he is really one of the 'supporting cast' of this novel, he is important in the lives of the main characters to the forefront of the story. Chevalier's ability to re-create time, place and social conditions without pages and pages of unnecessary padding is a joy in this era of huge doorstop novels - many of which fail to deliver. In this beautifully told tale of eighteen century London, that certainly isn't the case. This won't be the last Tracy Chevalier novel I'll read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2007

    Huge Tracy Chavalier Fan

    Tracy Chavalier is one of my most beloved authors. I have been waiting for this book anxiously and was greatly disappointed. Not her best work. None of the characters, surroundings, or plot seem to be developed or even interesting for that matter. The voice of the book was so shallow and hollow compared to her other books. I felt like I was reading a book by an amateur who happened to use her name. Very disappointing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2009

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