Book Review: Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite

While at the OLA Super Conference, I had a chance to meet the authors of Dear Haiti, Love Alaine. Both Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite were enthusiastic about the novel they had written together and as I opened the first page of the story, I remembered their enthusiasm.

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Blurb:

When a school presentation goes very wrong, Alaine Beauparlant finds herself suspended, shipped off to Haiti and writing the report of a lifetime…

You might ask the obvious question: What do I, a seventeen-year-old Haitian American from Miami with way too little life experience, have to say about anything?

Actually, a lot.

Thanks to “the incident” (don’t ask), I’m spending the next two months doing what my school is calling a “spring volunteer immersion project.” It’s definitely no vacation. I’m toiling away under the ever-watchful eyes of Tati Estelle at her new nonprofit. And my lean-in queen of a mother is even here to make sure I do things right. Or she might just be lying low to dodge the media sharks after a much more public incident of her own…and to hide a rather devastating secret.

All things considered, there are some pretty nice perks…like flirting with Tati’s distractingly cute intern, getting actual face time with my mom and experiencing Haiti for the first time. I’m even exploring my family’s history—which happens to be loaded with betrayals, superstitions and possibly even a family curse.

My thoughts:

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine is told through a series of letters, texts, journal entries and emails. The various ways in which the story is told suits the age group of the main character and makes her more accessible to the reader. It also gave me the feeling, as I was reading the novel, that I was ‘in the moment’, learning information at the same time as Alaine.

What I found interesting while reading this story were the titbits I received of Haitian culture. Not knowing much about these island people, I was interested in learning more. Having said that, the references to Haitian culture are subtle and discreetly woven into the story.

I am not too sure about a school agreeing to have a student complete her semester volunteering at an organisation in another country for school credit. The idea, though, is an interesting one – and one that could be beneficial to learning. And Alaine does learn – she learns about her own culture (which children of immigrants often lose), as well as a little bit about herself and her family members. She begins to see her parents through the eyes of the adult she is becoming; and gets to spend some important time with her jet setting mom who is suffering from an illness.

I enjoyed the story as a relaxing and light read. I did not find the novel to be a deep one – though it is a fun read. I look forward to seeing what story the two sister writers will write next.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 83rd in my book pledge for 2019)

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Book Review: A Good Wife by Samra Zafar

When at the OLA Super Conference earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to receive a signed ARC of Samra Zafar’s memoir A Good Wife. Memoirs can be hit or miss and I was hoping that this one was well-written as the blurb describing the book sounded intriguing.

Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Autobiography

Blurb:

She faced years of abuse after arriving in Canada as a teenage bride in a hastily arranged marriage, but nothing could stop Samra Zafar from pursuing her dreams.

At 15, Samra Zafar had big dreams for herself. She was going to go to university, and forge her own path. Then with almost no warning, those dreams were pulled away from her when she was suddenly married to a stranger at 17 and had to leave behind her family in Pakistan to move to Canada. Her new husband and his family promised that the marriage and the move would be a fulfillment of her dream, not a betrayal of it. But as the walls of their home slowly became a prison, Samra realized the promises were empty ones.

In the years that followed she suffered her husband’s emotional and physical abuse that left her feeling isolated, humiliated and assaulted. Desperate to get out, and refusing to give up, she hatched an escape plan for herself and her two daughters. Somehow she found the strength to not only build a new future, but to walk away from her past, ignoring the pleas of her family and risking cultural isolation by divorcing her husband.

But that end was only the beginning for Samra. Through her academic and career achievements, she has gone on to become a mentor and public speaker, connecting with people around the world from isolated women in situations similar to her own, to young schoolgirls in Kenya who never allowed themselves to dream to men making the decisions to save for their daughters’ educations instead of their dowries. A Good Wife tell her harrowing and inspiring story, following her from a young girl with big dreams, through finding strength in the face of oppression and then finally battling through to empowerment.

My thoughts:

When I began reading this memoir, I did not know much about child brides, arranged marriages in Pakistan, or about the culture described in the book. I had seen women dressed to show their cultural background while walking the streets in Toronto, but had never really thought about the life they may lead behind closed doors. This memoir was an eye-opener for me. Zafar exposes not only her own experience and the loss of her dreams and innocence, but also the experience of so many women who have been encouraged into arranged marriages from a young age.

A Good Wife describes the changes Zafar experienced in her life: that from a young, independent child; to a sixteen year old who is married to a man older than her who lives across the world in another country; to a married woman living in a foreign country far from the support of her family; to the fight she took on to realise her dreams. While reading the memoir, I could not help but admire how she overcame all her obstacles. Her story is definitely an inspiration to all women – no matter what culture they are.

The memoir is extremely well-written and at no time was I bored with the story. In fact, I could not put it down and my interest was kept throughout. I felt pain when she described hurtful moments; and cheered when she worked at overcoming the obstacles to her dreams. As I completed the memoir, I could not help but feel a huge amount of respect for this woman who went against cultural expectations to be the woman she has become today.

If you enjoy reading memoirs, this is one you need to read. If you wish to find out more about the experience of child brides within this cultural context, this is a book that will add to your knowledge. If you wish to understand more of the culture of the Muslim community from Pakistan, this life story will add to your understanding. A Good Wife is a book that resonated with me and is one that I will think about for a long time.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars with no reservation

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 82nd in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart by R. Zamora Linmark

As it is ARC August, I decided to pick up another one of the Young Adult novels I was given at the OLA Super Conference earlier in thee year: The Importance of Being Wilde At Heart by R. Zamora Linmark.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

Blurb:

Readers of Adam Silvera (They Both Die at the End) and Elizabeth Acevedo (The Poet X) will pull out the tissues for this tender, quirky story of one seventeen-year-old boy’s journey through first love and first heartbreak, guided by his personal hero, Oscar Wilde.

Words have always been more than enough for Ken Z, but when he meets Ran at the mall food court, everything changes. Beautiful, mysterious Ran opens the door to a number of firsts for Ken: first kiss, first love. But as quickly as he enters Ken’s life, Ran disappears, and Ken Z is left wondering: Why love at all, if this is where it leads?

Letting it end there would be tragic. So, with the help of his best friends, the comfort of his haikus and lists, and even strange, surreal appearances by his hero, Oscar Wilde, Ken will find that love is worth more than the price of heartbreak. 

My thoughts:

Fans of Oscar Wilde will love this novel because of all the Wilde references in the story. The main character, Ken Z, is a Wilde fan and meets another while bunburying (i.e., taking on another identity while visiting a place where you are not well-known). Ran lives on the other side of the island and has a completely different living experience to Ken Z. The relationship between the two boys is at times confusing for Ken Z. who then turns to Wilde for advice in his imagination.

Linmark has created a world which exists on an island and is designated the North and South. The North is affluent and has many advantages including the airport, the military, free schooling, and the ability to move freely anywhere on the island. The South is poorer and is dependent on the North for many things. Even though the people in the South cannot visit the North without permission, they do enjoy more personal freedoms than those living in the North. It was interesting to make the comparison between Linmark’s created world and the society in which we live and to see how the author is subtly criticising our own world.

Linmark also makes references to prejudices in our society against the minorities when describing CaZZ, a transgender person; as well as makings references to a racial group minority when describing the culture of Cazz’s heritage.

The Importance of Being Wilde At Heart is a novel which does refer to many important social issues as well as LGBT ones. Linmark creates a world that mirrors our own – even in terms of social media and the manner in which teens interact. I did, however, find the novel to be a slow read. The chapters are broken up with images of text messages or references from Wilde’s work. These interruptions, while interesting, did not help increase the pacing of the novel.

This novel is not one of my favourites and, for me, it was an okay read.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️ 2 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 81st in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott

My daughter volunteers for a Youth programme at our local public library. One evening she came home with a handful of ARCs that she had been offered by the librarian. One of them was Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott. She graciously allowed me to read it first. 🙂

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Romance

Blurb:

Can you love someone you can never touch?

Stella Grant likes to be in control—even though her totally out of control lungs have sent her in and out of the hospital most of her life. At this point, what Stella needs to control most is keeping herself away from anyone or anything that might pass along an infection and jeopardize the possibility of a lung transplant. Six feet apart. No exceptions.

The only thing Will Newman wants to be in control of is getting out of this hospital. He couldn’t care less about his treatments, or a fancy new clinical drug trial. Soon, he’ll turn eighteen and then he’ll be able to unplug all these machines and actually go see the world, not just its hospitals.

Will’s exactly what Stella needs to stay away from. If he so much as breathes on Stella she could lose her spot on the transplant list. Either one of them could die. The only way to stay alive is to stay apart. But suddenly six feet doesn’t feel like safety. It feels like punishment.

What if they could steal back just a little bit of the space their broken lungs have stolen from them? Would five feet apart really be so dangerous if it stops their hearts from breaking too?

My thoughts:

I absolutely loved this emotional read – so much more than I expected I would!

Stella Grant has cystic fibrosis and, as a result, has spent a lot of time in hospitals. Will Newman arrives on her wing and, because he has been diagnosed with B. cepacia, he has to remain six feet apart from Stella so that he doesn’t infect her. However, Stella wants to get to know Will better and begins a campaign to spend time with him. A romance begins between the two of them; a romance which will have you reaching for the kleenex!

Not only did I enjoy the young – and forbidden – romance between the two teens, I also learned about cystic fibrosis. This is a disease that is not often mentioned in mainstream society. The descriptions of the disease in the novel led me to confirm symptoms and treatment online. I love it when I learn something new from a novel that I am reading. And I like that teens are the ones reading about this in their stories.

Five Feet Apart is a heartfelt story that describes young love and the sacrifices that are made for that love. The interaction between the two teens is written with sensitivity and really tugs at your heartstrings. It is a well-written story that you will remember for a long time after you have finished reading it. I recommend this read for both young and old.

Five Feet Apart is one novel you will not regret picking up!

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars without reservation.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 80th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Hello Girls by Brittany Cavallaro and Emily Henry

As the next Frenzy Presents event was approaching, I thought I would focus on reading the rests of the ARCs that I had received at the previous one. Hello Girls by Brittany Cavallaro and Emily Henry was one of them.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary

Blurb:

Best friends are forged by fire. For Winona Olsen and Lucille Pryce, that fire happened the night they met outside the police station—both deciding whether to turn their families in.

Winona has been starving for life in the seemingly perfect home that she shares with her seemingly perfect father, celebrity weatherman Stormy Olsen. No one knows that he locks the pantry door to control her eating and leaves bruises where no one can see them.

Lucille has been suffocating beneath the needs of her mother and her drug-dealing brother, wondering if there’s more out there for her than disappearing waitress tips and generations of barely getting by.

One harrowing night, Winona and Lucille realize they can’t wait until graduation to start their new lives. They need out. Now. All they need is three grand, fast. And really, a stolen convertible to take them from Michigan to Las Vegas can’t hurt. 

My thoughts:

Hello Girls is a story about two young women who go on a road trip and, in doing so, find out more about themselves and their inner strength. Winona finds the courage to be herself and to explore the person that she wants to be; Lucille finds the ability to give herself permission to live her own life unencumbered by feelings of guilt and duty.

The start of this novel was a little slow for me. The beginning of the story sets the stage for the road trip and is slow-paced. The storyline at this point is also a little predictable. Once Winona and Lucille begin their road trip, however, the pace picks up a little. It is then that the reader will begin to see a some character development as the girls begin to explore who they are.

For me, the novel became interesting about mid-way. The main characters were exploring who they were and, with mistakes along the way, they were discovering the type of people they want to be. Hello Girls is a coming of age novel of young women who become self-assured and who learn that they can depend on themselves to plan their life path.

Hello Girls is a perfect novel for a teen who is thinking about the type of person they want to be. This story shows that you can change the track your life is on – all it takes is courage and the support of a friend someone who is close to you.The saving grace of the novel, for me, was the second half of the novel. It is the second half that kept me reading to the end.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️ 2 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 79th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane

I was in the mood for a romantic comedy so I picked up the ARC of the novel I had received at the OLA Super Conference: Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane. Whenever I looked at the title of this story when I read it, I could not help but start singing the song by Simple Minds of the same title. 🙂

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary, Romance

Blurb:

If there’s one thing worse than being fired from the grottiest restaurant in town, it’s coming home early to find your boyfriend in bed with someone else.

Reeling from the indignity of a double dumping on the same day, Georgina snatches at the next job that she’s offered – barmaid in a newly opened pub, which just so happens to run by the boy she fell in love with at school: Lucas McCarthy. And whereas Georgina (voted Most Likely to Succeed in her school yearbook) has done nothing but dead-end jobs in the last twelve years, Lucas has not only grown into a broodingly handsome man, but also has turned into an actual grown-up with a business and a dog along the way.

Meeting Lucas again not only throws Georgina’s rackety present into sharp relief, but also brings a dark secret from her past bubbling to the surface. Only she knows the truth about what happened on the last day of school, and why she’s allowed it to chase her all these years…

My thoughts:

Ever wondered what it would be like to meet your first love many years later? Especially if things between you did not end properly? Georgina does – and yet it seems that he does not remember her. Therefore the interactions between Lucas and Georgina seem to start from scratch – though she cannot help but remember the Lucas from her high school years.

Meeting someone from her past takes Georgina back to an experience that she has shoved into the back of her mind. In reflecting on this experience, she finally comes to realise how much it has affected her actions in the years since she graduated from high school. Acceptance of her experience helps her to change her circumstances and step out of the life that she has fallen in. The novel takes us on her journey – a journey that some people may have taken at an earlier age. Don’t You Forget About Me does focus on Georgina’s story and, as such, we read a complete development of her character.

I love that McFarlane focuses on the story of her female character. Yes, there is a love interest and the feelings of confusion and attraction that come with it. But there is also the story is about the feelings, hesitations, desires, and dreams of a woman. We read about more than just a relationship between a man and a woman. We read of her interactions with friends, her interactions with her ex, and her interactions with those at work. We also read of her difficulties with her ex and how she deals with it.

I enjoyed reading Don’t You Forget About Me. The novel was a perfect read for a lazy summer’s day. I enjoyed the character building of Georgina and her interaction with the various characters in the novel. The story made me smile at some of the antics described. McFarlane has written a perfect modern romantic comedy that you will not regret reading.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 78th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Destroy All Monsters by Sam J. Miller

At the Spring Frenzy Presents event that I attended, I received a copy of Destroy All Monsters by Sam J. Miller. I was curious to read the story told in two points of view. In addition, mental health in teens is an issue that should no longer be taboo and I was pleased to see that a teen novel was exploring the subject.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary

Blurb:

A crucial, genre-bending tale, equal parts Ned Vizzini and Patrick Ness, about the life-saving power of friendship.

Solomon and Ash both experienced a traumatic event when they were twelve.

Ash lost all memory of that event when she fell from Solomon’s treehouse. Since then, Solomon has retreated further and further into a world he seems to have created in his own mind. One that insulates him from reality, but crawls with foes and monsters . . . in both animal and human form.

As Solomon slips further into the place he calls Darkside, Ash realizes her only chance to free her best friend from his pain is to recall exactly what happened that day in his backyard and face the truth—together.

My thoughts:

I liked the concept behind the story: that a childhood trauma affects a child’s perception on life. Solomon experiences such trauma and loses himself in a fantasy world of his own making. There were moments, however, when I read of his experience in this fantasy world that I was a bit lost in the story. Miller attempts to create a fantasy world but for me, as an avid fantasy reader, it fell a little flat. In addition, at times the link between Solomon’s fantasy world and the reality was too tenuous. Having said that, midway through the story, the connections between the two seemed more believable.

Ash’s storyline was more interesting to me as she strove to help her friend, and to remember the night that she had blanked out in her mind. Like her friend Solomon, she had found a way to erase the event out of her mind – but in different manner. While searching to help her friend Solomon, she finds a way to help her own mind heal.

What kept me reading the story was my curiosity of the trauma – which is indeed something that would cause a mental breakdown in a child. The suggestion of the trauma is revealed in increments until finally Solomon is able to reveal what happened the night Ash lost her memory. Miller resolves the story with finesse and realism – an ending that I certainly appreciate.

Destroy All Monsters is a much needed story about mental health issues. It is a story about friendship – a friendship that survives even a childhood trauma. Miller tells the story through two points of view – both Solomon and Ash – and at times I was unable to make the connection between Solomon’s created world and the reality that Ash described.

Even though I expected much when I began this story, Miller’s novel did fall a little flat for me as he tried too hard to create a fantasy world. What kept me reading was Ash’s story and my desire to know more about the trauma that they had experienced.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️ 2 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 77th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Like A Love Story by Abdi Nazeman

At the Spring Frenzy Presents event that I attended, I received a copy of Like A Love Story by Abdi Nazeman. The description of the novel sounded interesting and I looked forward to going back to the time of my adolescence.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Romance

Blurb:

It’s 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.

Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.

Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance…until she falls for Reza and they start dating.

Art is Judy’s best friend, their school’s only out and proud teen. He’ll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.

As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart–and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.

My thoughts:

Like A Love Story flashes back to the AIDS activism of the eighties and when many news items in the media were on the AIDS crisis. The novel takes us back to a time that many have forgotten: a time of fear and of uncertain knowledge; a time when people fought for the rights of those that had been struck with the disease. So many procedures and access to medication is a result of the people who boldly protested for the right (not privilege) to receive treatment.

I enjoyed the flashbacks to the music of Madonna and my love of her songs when I was a teen. As I was reading the references to the rebellious singer, the songs would play in my mind. While reading this novel, I learned how important she was in the gay community – something I had not realised before when living as a teenager in Apartheid South Africa.

Nazeman has written a beautiful story that embraces what a person is born to be. It is a story about a young man who comes to accept who he is despite the fear that surrounds him. It is a story about fighting for what you believe is right, no matter what is being reported in the media or how people treat you. It is a story that describes the fear of being different to expectations. It is a story about the courage to be yourself. It is a story about friendship and of love; and of supporting the people that you love.

Like A Love Story is one that has touched my heart. It is a read that takes you back to the past and encourages you to connect with characters that will remain with you long after you have completed the book. Be warned, though. You will feel emotional when reading this story – have a kleenex on hand!

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars with no reservation.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 76th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Little Teashop on Main by Jodi Thomas

When at the OLA Super Conference earlier this year, I picked up Jodi Thomas’ The Little Teashop on Main. The cover of the ARC attracted my gaze and, as I enjoy reading stories of this genre, I chose to bring it home with me.

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary, Romance

Blurb:

A rainy-day ritual—a tea party between three little girls—becomes the framework of not only their friendship, but their lives. 

Blonde, curly-haired Zoe is openhearted, kind and free-spirited, and dreams of becoming a famous actor in New York City. Shy Emily struggles with mental health but has the heart and soul of a writer. And Shannon—tall, athletic, strong—has a deep sense of loyalty that will serve her well when she heads off to military college.

As Zoe, Emily and Shannon grow into women—forging careers, following dreams and finding love—they’ll learn that life doesn’t always unfold the way they want it to, but through it all, the one constant is each other, and their regular tea parties. And when the unthinkable happens, the girls must come together to face the greatest test of all.

My thoughts:

The novel spans many years and begins when the friends were five years old. Thomas, however, does not take us through every year of their lives. Instead we learn more about Zoe, Emily and Shannon as adults. In addition, we read the thoughts of some of the people in their lives. Told from the point of view of many characters, we are able to see into the mind of each and how each person affects the life trajectory of the women.

Thomas takes us on the journey of three women’s lives. We read about their aspirations, their failures, the fulfilment of their dreams, and the love they experience in their lives. We read about a friendship that is so strong that it spans decades and even distance. I loved that this friendship was an important part of the story. The love and romance between two people and a potential partner is explored while the love between friends is not forgotten.

The Little Teashop on Main is a light read with plenty of romance (if you are looking for steamy sex scenes, however, this one will not deliver). The novel doesn’t delve too deeply into it characters – though as a reader, you will feel a connection with the main female characters. I enjoyed the story and it is perfect for a lazy and relaxing afternoon.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 75th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: I’ll Never Tell by Catherine McKenzie

I was happy when I won an Instagram giveaway the ARC of Catherine McKenzie’s latest novel I’ll Never Tell. I enjoyed her previous novel and looked forward to reading this one.

Genre: Adult Fiction, Thriller, Mystery

Blurb:

What happened to Amanda Holmes?

Twenty years ago, she washed up on shore in a rowboat with a gash to the head after an overnight at Camp Macaw. No one was ever charged with a crime.

Now, the MacAllister children are all grown up. After their parents die suddenly, they return to Camp to read the will and decide what to do with the prime real estate it’s sitting on. Ryan, the oldest, wants to sell. Margo, the family’s center, hasn’t made up her mind. Mary has her own horse farm to run, and believes in leaving well-enough alone. Kate and Liddie—the twins—have opposing views. And Sean Booth, the family groundskeeper, just hopes he still has a home when all is said and done. 

But then the will is read and they learn that it’s much more complicated than a simple vote. Until they unravel the mystery of what happened to Amanda, they can’t move forward. Any one of them could have done it, and all of them are hiding key pieces of the puzzle. Will they work together to solve the mystery, or will their suspicions and secrets finally tear the family apart?

My thoughts:

McKenzie’s storytelling did not disappoint. I enjoyed this tale as much as I had enjoyed her previous one, and her words kept me reading and invested right until the end.

The story moves between the past and the present as the reader gets to know the different personalities in the story, as well as what happened in the past. The movement between the time frames is done seamlessly and at no time was I confused. McKenzie paced the information perfectly so that I was neither bored nor disconcerted. Each bit of information that she gave, led me towards understanding the sequence of events as well as my understanding of the characters in the story.

As with all mystery stories, I tried to figure out the solution before reaching the final chapter. I’ll Never Tell is not predictable and therefore had a few surprises. These little twists in the story are believable and added to my enjoyment of the tale.

If you enjoy mystery stories, then you will enjoy this Canadian author’s novel. Unlike the modern psychological thriller, I’ll Never Tell is more a mystery story which the reader attempts to solve while reading.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 74th in my book pledge for 2019)