Thursday, October 23, 2014

REVIEW: CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein




Title: Code Name Verity
Series: Code Name Verity, #1
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Publisher: Egmont Press
Publication Date: February 6, 2012
Genres: YA, Historical Fiction
Reviewed by: Angie Edwards
My rating: 2/5

SUMMARY

Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun.

When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy? 




REVIEW

I am definitely in the minority here with my low star rating. I can’t say exactly what it is why I didn’t enjoy this book. All I know is that it didn’t captivate or engage me at all. Most of the time I was lost and confused and didn’t have an inkling of what was going on. Moreover, I was just plain and simply bored out of my mind. What seemed, from the book summary, to be an exciting and unique read, turned out to be something I couldn’t wait to finish.

For some reason, probably too often being confused, I couldn’t connect with the characters. I didn’t care about their stories, and much less the parts about flying and all the different aircraft. I couldn’t understand why Maggie was supposed to be the main focus. The only bits I did enjoy were the interrogation of the narrator, and her interactions with her captors.

In all fairness, I have to say that Code Name Verity isn’t a badly-written book. Quite the opposite. I just think it wasn’t my cup of tea. Or maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this book, and might read it again someday to see if I feel differently about it. The author clearly did a whole lot of research for this book, and overall I think the YA genre can do with more such unique reads that don’t focus so much on romance and the paranormal. Even though this novel wasn’t exactly for me, I would still recommend it, and I would like to read more of Wein’s books.

  


  


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ABOUT the AUTHOR


Elizabeth Wein has lived in Scotland for over ten years and wrote nearly all her novels there.  Her first five books for young adults are set in Arthurian Britain and sixth century Ethiopia.  The most recent of these form the sequence The Mark of Solomon, published in two parts as The Lion Hunter (2007) and The Empty Kingdom (2008).  The Lion Hunter was short-listed for the Andre Norton Award for Best Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction in 2008.  Elizabeth also writes short stories.



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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST by Rick Yancey




Title: The Monstrumologist
Series: The Monstrumologist, #1
Author: Rick Yancey
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: September 22, 2009
Genres: YA, Fantasy, Horror
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 5/5

SUMMARY

These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me . . . and the one who cursed me.

So starts the diary of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthorpe, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet.

A gothic tour de force that explores the darkest heart of man and monster and asks the question: When does man become the very thing he hunts?




REVIEW

Gothic horror at its purest, The Monstrumologist captivated and often horrified me. When an old grave robber discovers a dead monster with a half eaten girl, it marks the beginning of some truly nasty deaths in and around the town of New Jerusalem. Warthrop, the monstrumologist, and his twelve-year-old assistant, Will Henry, must unravel the origins of the nightmarish Anthropophagi in North America. Were these beasts meant to become a weapon or a science experiment?

Using monsters written about by historians and writers like Herodotus, Pliny the Elder, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Shakespeare, brings an enormous amount of credibility to this story. The accounts of twelve-year-old Will Henry, of the gruesome events in the town of New Jerusalem in 1888, is written down in a believable, gorily descriptive and thoroughly scary manner. 

I absolutely loved that the author wrote the whole book in the kind of prose that would have been used in the late nineteenth century. The main character, Will Henry, is well rounded and very realistic for a boy of twelve. Still mourning his dead parents, he does his best to please his guardian, or perhaps employer, dr. Warthrop. Whether Warthrop truly cares for the boy is only revealed much later in the book.

Although Warthrop gives the impression of being the typical crazy scientist, he shows remarkable clarity of mind and thought when lives are threatened. He is, however, not averse to sacrificing lives when there are no other choices.

The other brilliantly crafted major character, John Kearns, with his warped sense of humor, many names, and disgustingly cruel ways, is hinted to being a well-known historical villain.

Apart from the nonstop action in this book, the account of Anthropophagi destroying the crew of a slave ship had me biting my nails. Although none of the characters have extensive backstories, the bit given here is sufficient to make even the more dubious characters come to life.

A page turner in the true sense of the word, The Monstrumologist is an absolute must read for anybody who likes horror combined with an excellent, often profound, supporting storyline.







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ABOUT the AUTHOR


Rick is a native Floridian and a graduate of Roosevelt University in Chicago. He earned a B.A. in English which he put to use as a field officer for the Internal Revenue Service. Inspired and encouraged by his wife, he decided his degree might also be useful in writing books and in 2004 he began writing full-time.

Since then he has launched two critically acclaimed series: The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp, for young readers, and The Highly Effective Detective, for adults. Both books are set in Knoxville, Tennessee, where Rick lived for ten years before returning to Florida.



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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

REVIEW: THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater




Title: The Raven Boys
Series: The Raven Cycle, #1
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: July 30, 2013
Genre: YA, Mystery, Paranormal
Reviewed by: Angie Edwards
My rating: 5/5

SUMMARY

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

From Maggie Stiefvater, the bestselling and acclaimed author of the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, comes a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before.




REVIEW

For a long, long time I’ve heard many great things about this book, so of course, once I started reading it, I had high expectations. Still, no matter how high the expectations I had, in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have imagined just how hard and fast I was going to fall in love with this story, the characters, the writing, and the world-building. I was, to put it mildly, blown away by it all.

Yes, I know. I’m going to spit out the usual stuff about characters and world-building and such, and I might even bore you to tears with all of it. But allow me to have my say while trying to get my haphazard thoughts in order. One of the most magical elements of this book is the eloquent, enormously imaginative writing. It’s so beautiful, I read entire passages over and over in wonder of the picture the author paints with a few, well put-together, simple words.

The next thing that stood out for me were the unusual, uncomplicated, characters firmly ensnared in complex relationships.  They were each a delightful discovery that made me want to be part of their tight circle. Blue’s family of psychics might seem a little overwhelming at first, but they grow on you. However, the raven boys, for me, were the real stars that made this such an incredibly compelling read.

This is the first book I’ve read where the focus is not so much on the leading lady, but more on these three boys who share a brotherly bond unlike any other. This story is not only about how Blue came to be part of their lives, but rather how they allowed her to become part of their inner circle. There’s a good amount of angst between these boys with their rather dysfunctional lives, but instead of it becoming emotionally-draining drama, it fits in with the characters’ background stories, and gives their friendship meaning and purpose.  

Three boys and a girl – there should be romance, right? Maybe a love-triangle even? To be honest, there are hints about romance to come in the next books, but the little “romance” there is in this book, takes a massive backseat to the main storyline – exactly the way I like it! If there’s one thing I’ve learned from The Raven Boys, it’s that the author likes to surprise the reader. Then when you think about it, you realize the clues were there all along, but still the writer manages to catch you unawares.

Stiefvater took a simple concept and turned it into something plausible, possible, and magical. The idea of waking a ley line got me interested enough to Google it and discover more about this paranormal phenomenon. All in all, I loved everything about this story. The setting the author created was done magnificently, and is simultaneously breathtaking and terrifying. The pacing slowly builds up to an open ending that doesn’t really leave you hanging, but rather promises bigger things to come in the sequel. What I’ve heard from several sources so far is that the second book is even better than this one! 

If you’re in two minds about reading The Raven Boys, throw your doubts out the window, plunge with reckless abandon into this story, and be amazed and awed by the splendor of this one-of-a-kind novel! 


  



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ABOUT the AUTHOR


All of Maggie Stiefvater's life decisions have been based around her inability to be gainfully employed. Talking to yourself, staring into space, and coming to work in your pajamas are frowned upon when you're a waitress, calligraphy instructor, or technical editor (all of which she's tried), but are highly prized traits in novelists and artists. She's made her living as one or the other since she was 22. She now lives an eccentric life in the middle of nowhere, Virginia with her charmingly straight-laced husband, two kids, two neurotic dogs, and a 1973 Camaro named Loki.



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Monday, October 20, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS by Rae Carson




Title: The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Series: Fire and Thorns, #1
Author: Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow
Publication Date: September 20, 2011
Genres: YA, Fantasy, Adventure
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 4/5

SUMMARY

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness. Elisa is the chosen one. 

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will. 

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.




REVIEW

Having recently read several books in which beauty is given as the key to popularity and, ultimately, success, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, with its rather imperfect female lead, was a welcome and refreshing read. Obese and unfit princess Elisa is chosen as bearer of the Godstone; something that happens only once every century. After her politically arranged marriage to king Alejandro of Joya d'Arena, she finds herself involved in far more than just being the queen of a country on the brink of war.

Set in a fantasy world full of magic and prophecy, this book is a compelling, comfortably-paced story. Although it is full of adventure, lots of action and suspense, and some heartrending tragedy, the true magic of this book is in the characters and their interactions.

The main character, Elisa, is ordinary enough for most young girls to identify with. She is overweight, loves her food and comforts, and she is extremely unfit. Her intelligence and studious nature, however, are her main redeeming qualities. Besides her cleverness, she is loyal, brave, adaptable, and will do whatever it takes to save her people.

Other well fleshed out characters include Cosmé with her complex personality and ability to play multiple roles, as well as Rosario, the crown prince of Joya d'Arena. The clever yet always heartwarming way in which Elisa interacts with everybody who crosses her path, brings a profoundly humane element to this book. Although there is a lot of potential for romance, it is kept in the background of the actual story.

Despite the black magic, barbarism, human sacrifice and tragedy in this book, The Girl of Fire and Thorns is a clean, relaxing read with a lot of wisdom about having faith in oneself.








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ABOUT the AUTHOR


I write books about teens who must do brave things. I'm originally from California, but I moved to Ohio to marry my husband, who is the smartest and therefore sexiest man I know. We live in Columbus with my teenaged stepsons, who are awesome. My books tend to contain lots of adventure, a little magic and romance, and smart girls who make (mostly) smart choices. I especially love to write about questions I don't know the answers to.

  
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Monday, October 13, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: THE GONE DEAD TRAIN by Lisa Turner




Title: The Gone Dead Train
Author: Lisa Turner
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: July 22, 2014
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 5/5

SUMMARY

After time away to recover from the aftermath of a horrible case that left his partner dead, Billy’s back in Memphis, drawn into an ever-widening murder mystery that focuses on flawed heroes: a disgraced major league baseball player, two legendary blues musicians on the lam, a straight-arrow lady cop tortured by a guilty conscience, and two iconic civil rights warriors with secrets so dark they’ll shock the nation.

Detective Billy Able is at a crossroads. His previous case left him questioning everything he believed about his abilities as a cop and as a friend. Even though he’s considering leaving police work behind, he’s unable to turn off the instincts he’s honed after a decade on the force.

But when he stops a crime from being committed, he finds himself embroiled in a much bigger scandal. A murder that has just taken place has connections to a series of much older crimes dating back to the civil rights movement. As he investigates, Billy uncovers so many layers of secrets he can barely keep the truth from the lies. And he knows the straight-laced cop assigned to the case is hiding something big. But is it connected to the case? This time he’s determined to make sure he finds out the truth before anything else can happen. But as the search for truth with the help of a Santeria Priest leads him deeper into the underbelly of Memphis, will Billy make it out alive?




REVIEW

As it had been a while since I last read a murder mystery, I truly enjoyed reading The Gone Dead Train. After two blues musicians and a former baseball star who asked too many questions were murdered, Detective Billy Able, currently on leave, and Patrol Officer Frankie Malone follow their natural instincts as cops to solve the case. Too bad the cop actually assigned to these murders is a straight laced racist.

I simply couldn't put this many-layered mystery down. Apart from the beautifully written, never-a-dull-moment prose, colorful descriptions of Memphis, and the engaging cast of characters, the thrill of the hunt for the truth behind these deaths kept me turning the pages.

The characters, especially that of the main characters, Billy Able and Frankie Malone, are realistically crafted and well fleshed out. The author created believable back stories for both these characters; back stories that have a definite effect on how they relate to the case as well as to one another.

Other imaginative characters that make this book come alive include J.J. aka Jesus Junior, the Santerían priest, Sergio Ramos, and Theda Jones, an abused girl with a dream of stardom as well as a suspect who performs in drag at a club.

On the antagonist side of the character cast are two equally cleverly crafted characters. Don Dunsford, a supposed-to-be-good-guy who is, infact, woefully inept at police work and a blatant racist with a nastily malicious attitude towards Billy Able. The other, naturally, is the murderer, whose identity is skillfully kept a secret until just about the end.

With secrets dating back to, and deeply rooted in the civil rights era, The Gone Dead Train is a multifaceted, yet profoundly humane story anybody who loves a good mystery would want to read.
  



  


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ABOUT the AUTHOR


Born in Memphis, Lisa Turner spent her childhood either on the back of a horse or reading Southern fiction. From the experience of managing her family’s interior design firm, she earned a PhD in the peculiarities of human nature. Currently, she lives in two worlds – the Deep South of her childhood and the wildly beautiful coast of Nova Scotia. 

A Little Death in Dixie is Lisa Turner’s debut novel.

   
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Sunday, October 12, 2014

REVIEW: REBECCA by Adam J. Nicolai




Title: Rebecca
Author: Adam J. Nicolai
Publisher: Lone Road Publishing
Publication Date: January 7, 2013
Genres: GLBT, Suspense
Reviewed by: Angie Edwards
My rating: 5/5

SUMMARY

Sarah threw her life away for God.

When she realized she had feelings for her best friend, Sarah drove her off. To prove she wasn't gay, Sarah slept with a boy from school. When she got pregnant, 
she surrendered an acceptance to Yale in order to keep her daughter, Rebecca.

Finally, God's messenger tells her she's proven her virtue. She can have her life back the way it was. 

In return, she only needs to kill her baby.

"Rebecca" is a terrifying descent into the maze of one young woman's beliefs, a labyrinth of self-hate and religious abuse which asks the same question at every turn: 

What would you do for your God?






REVIEW

This is the first book by Adam Nicolai I’ve read, but it definitely won’t be the last. Lately I haven’t been reading many self-published books as the majority of the ones I’ve read have been disappointing and left me in a reading slump. I’ve downloaded this novel a long, long time ago when it was free on Amazon, and because I was undecided on what to read next, I started on this freebie with zero expectations. Now I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Despite the impression the book summary and book cover might leave with you, Rebecca isn’t really a sinister read. I would classify it under realistic fiction because it deals with serious topics such as the consequences of teen pregnancy, single parenting, emerging sexuality, and religion. Allow me to elaborate. Sarah has known from a very young age that she favors girls over boys. Because Sarah was raised by a strictly religious mother who follows the church and the Bible’s teachings to the letter, she convinced herself that she must be possessed by a demon for preferring girls over boys. Sarah then goes and does a stupid thing by getting pregnant to prove to herself and her mother that she really isn’t possessed by a demon and should be in love with a boy instead of a girl. Not taking the consequences of her actions into account, Sarah is left facing the difficulties of single parenting on her own.

Hats off to the author for making me believe, in the first third or so of the book, that Rebecca is an evil little soul-sucking demonic baby. Honestly, I was convinced! Even though I rationalized for myself that what Sarah is going through is probably post-partum depression after the traumatic events of her labor, I still couldn’t help but feel animosity towards Rebecca - exactly the way the author intended for me to feel. Well done on that, Mr Nicolai! At the same time, congratulations to you also for making me fall head over heels in love with Rebecca the same time Sarah came to realize that Rebecca is her whole life. Again, this was done convincingly! Taking into account that a man wrote this book, I was astounded at how well he makes the reader understand the emotions and exhaustion, the guilt, resentment, and regrets Sarah had to deal with. The main theme seemed to be how Sarah had to come to terms with being gay, and how it conflicts with the faith in which she was raised, and on top that having to deal with possibly being shunned by her extremely religious mother. The emerging romance between Sarah and Tiff was dealt with subtly, but expertly, and although there are a lot of negative emotions going around, I can’t describe this book as angst-ridden, because it’s not.

The one thing I wasn’t on-board with was the whole evil-messenger-sacrifice-your-baby-to-God angle. It felt separate from the main plot. Most likely it was used as a metaphor for Sarah’s struggles with her faith and her guilt for what she did to Cal, but it wasn’t convincing. I felt the story has more than enough for it to make an impact without the messenger-tormenting-Sarah parts.

But really, this book was incredible and I almost can’t believe it was written by a self-pub author. There isn’t even one mistake to be found in this book, and the prose is engaging and descriptive without being weighed down with niceties to fluff it out. I felt Sarah’s anger and frustration, and I came to accept things the same time she did. I felt resentful towards her mother, I appreciated what Tiff did for Sarah and Rebecca, I eventually came to feel protective towards Rebecca, and I was as afraid of Cal as Sarah was when he did what he did. Trust me on this: what Cal did to his baby was absolutely shocking! All I’m saying is that you can expect to feel a lot of emotions while reading this book. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, so keep an open mind when you read this. At least it’s easy to appreciate what a fantastic job the author did with the writing, especially when, for some, it comes to the sensitive matter of religion.

My overall feeling? Color me impressed!







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ABOUT the AUTHOR


Adam J Nicolai lives near Minneapolis, MN with his wife, Joy, and their two children, Isaac and Rydia. He is a life-long nerd, game lover, author, Star Wars fan, Dungeon Master, and amateur game designer, as well as a former project manager and policy debate coach.

His first novel, Alex, was self-published on Amazon and was extremely well-received, hitting #13 on the Kindle Horror Bestseller list and #1 in Ghost Horror. It was also the top-rated novel by customer review for several months in Horror, Thriller, and Suspense, and peaked at #3 top-rated in overall Kindle Fiction.

His second novel, Rebecca, is now available exclusively through Amazon. The paperback will available soon.



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Saturday, October 11, 2014

REVIEW: TOTLANDIA (THE ONESIES): FALL by Josie Brown




Title: Totlandia (The Onesies): Fall
Series: Totlandia, #1
Author: Josie Brown
Publisher: Coliloquy, LLC
Publication Date: November 9, 2012
Genre: Chick Lit, Humor
Reviewed by: Angie Edwards
My rating: 5/5

SUMMARY

The Pacific Heights Moms & Tots Club is the most exclusive children’s playgroup in all of San Francisco. For the city’s ultra-competitive elite, the club’s ten annual spots are the ultimate parenting prize.

But not everyone is PHM&TC material. The club's founder, Bettina Connaught Cross, adheres to strict membership rules: Moms only. No single parents or working mothers allowed. Membership is an arduous commitment. And there’s no room in the club for scandal, bad behavior, or imperfection...from tots or their moms.

In a world of power and prestige, no one has more than Bettina. And as every mom in Pacific Heights knows, you simply cannot cross her. But this year’s admissions process is more rigorous than ever, pitting prospective members against each other to prove their mettle.

But four of the six candidates vying for the remaining four slots have a secret that would knock them out of the running. Jade is a former stripper and porn actress, who has been absent for most of her son’s life. Jillian’s husband cleaned out their joint accounts and left her for his pregnant assistant. Ally never even had a husband—just a sperm donor—and she’s hiding a high-ranking corporate job. And Lorna fears that her son may have special needs... just the excuse her sister-in-law, Bettina, needs to deny her entry to the club.

Can these hopeful moms keep up appearances long enough to outlast the competition? Or will their chances—and their private lives—go up in flames?




REVIEW

I’ve had this on my Kindle for quite some time, and now, looking back, I wonder why I haven’t read it sooner! I could’ve been so much further into this delightful series, and also, it was such an amazingly quick read I finished it in one night! Maybe it just felt like a quick read because I devoured it and simply couldn’t put down my Kindle long enough to focus on anything else.

OK, well, I don’t have much to say. It’s pretty standard chick lit. “Pretty standard” for me – when it comes to chick lit - is synonymous with “enjoyable” and “charming”. It has its funny bits that make you snort with laughter, but mostly I really liked the characters. Their reality is very far from my own, so it was quite an adventure to walk in their shoes for awhile with all that money! In a very short time I got deeply invested in many of these characters and I could see relatively early on that close friendships were going to be formed between four specific characters.

The book ended on a humongous cliff-hanger ending which left me curious to know what’s going to happen next. Some mature content, but not too much. There you go. That’s the long and short of it.

  





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(At the time of posting, this book was still FREE on Amazon)



ABOUT the AUTHOR


Like most authors I know, I'm a voracious reader. My favorite classic authors are Edith Wharton, John le Carre, Martin Cruz Smith, Jane Austen, Graham Greene, P.D. Wodehouse, Margaret Mitchell, Glen David Gold, and Raymond Chandler.

As for contemporary authors, I think that both Martin Cruz Smith and John Le Carre are two of the best writers alive, and I love the writing styles of Helen Fielding, Jackie Collins and Allison Pearson. I think John Lescroart and MJ Rose are amazing, both as authors and author advocates.

I'm a cinephile (I see everything--chick flicks, action films, art house movies, almost every kind of foreign film) and I'm a walker and hiker--anywhere from four to eleven miles a day.

Otherwise, I'M WRITING. Or researching for my next books....meeting the wonderful people who let me know that what I write resonates with them...or hanging out in my fave bookstores (which is any bookstore in any town I happen to be in, at the time).



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