Book Reviews: The Osiris Curse by Paul Crilley and Assignment: Nepal by J.A. Squires

The Osiris CurseThe Osiris Curse
A Tweed & Nightingale Adventure
Paul Crilley
Pyr, October 2013.
ISBN 978-1-61614-857-7
Hardcover

Sebastian Tweed, seventeen-year-old reformed con artist, has dedicated his phenomenal brainpower to foiling the schemes of mysterious evildoers. Octavia Nightingale, Tweed’s best (and only) friend, is an intrepid newspaper reporter, intent on finding her kidnapped mother. Together, Tweed and Nightingale roam the streets of early 20th-century London. It’s the London of an alternate universe, though, featuring sentient automatons, invisibility devices, and “Tesla guns” that shoot electrical rays.

Over the course of The Osiris Curse, the second Tweed and Nightingale Adventure by Paul Crilley, our heroes stow away on a massive airship to Egypt, visit The Great Pyramid (which has been hollowed out and turned into a hotel for the enjoyment of the rich), and discover a hidden civilization inhabited by a (sort-of) alien race. This is the kind of book where Nicola Tesla is murdered by Osiris-worshipping cultists in the first chapter and that’s not even the novel’s big mystery.

You would be forgiven for thinking that Crilley has simply cobbled together every trendy cliché he could think of from neo-Victorian steampunk sci-fi, and . . . truthfully, that seems pretty accurate. Yet this ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach is responsible for much of The Osiris Curse‘s considerable charm. If Crilley stuck to one or two familiar tropes, Tweed and Nightingale might get lost in the crowd of similar stories. Instead, the author throws high concepts together with such maniacal glee, it’s hard to avoid being swept along.

The Osiris Curse, like its prequel The Lazarus Machine, is marketed to young adults, and it might be particularly enjoyable to readers encountering some of its sci-fi concepts for the first time. However, this series should also appeal to seasoned fans of steampunk, Doctor Who, or any of the recent Sherlock Holmes retellings. In fact, the novel’s characters share a connection to Holmes himself. (Holmes and Moriarty are real people in this universe, just as H.G. Wells is really a time traveler.) I don’t want to give the connection away in this review, though, for the sake of anyone who wants to read The Lazarus Machine first; it’s a plot point in that novel, and it’s far too good to spoil.

If you’ve been reading too many novels lately where it seems like nothing happens, this book’s breakneck pace might be just what you need in your life. It’s not all about mindless fun, though. Crilley takes time to address the moral quandaries that the plot raises in a way that manages to be thoughtful without stopping the story dead. The Osiris Curse doesn’t claim to solve all the dilemmas it raises, but that’s another nod to the narrative’s complexity. I’d be glad to see the consequences unfold in future Tweed and Nightingale books.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Caroline Pruett, November 2013.

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Assignment NepalAssignment:Nepal
An Irene Adler Mystery
J.A. Squires
Echelon Press, October 2011
ISBN 978-1-59080-854-2
Ebook

Readers of this review should be aware that this press has published some of my crime fiction and I am acquainted with the publisher, though not with the two authors writing under a single pseudonym.

The protagonist is named Irene Adler. Not the woman who beat Sherlock Holmes at his own game, her modern namesake, a Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology at Boston University. Adler has a demi-cynical outlook on life and it turns out she supplements her income by playing poker; specifically Texas Holdem in the gambling parlors around the New England area. Irene Adler is a bright, smart, single woman, an endearing protagonist.

Her former advisor, a fellow faculty member, prevails on Ms. Adler to travel to Nepal to inquire into the life and times of a former fellow undergraduate student of Irene’s, a Margot Smith, who’s in Nepal doing research on one of that country’s goddesses, one Chwwaassa Dyo. The problem is that there appears to something awry with Margot and her physician husband and Adler is supposed to sort things out. What needs sorting turns out to be only part of the story. Irene agrees to go half-way around the world to see a woman she barely knows. From this most unlikely beginning, the plot drives poor Adler into one complexity after another.

Her assignment clearly has unstated dimensions about which neither we readers nor Irene Adler herself are clear. Now, Nepal is an exotic nation from which assaults on Mount Everest are mounted and the ubiquitous Sherpa play a  important part, as do digital cameras, former Cold War adversaries, political unrest in the country, and a whole series of meddlesome individuals who seem to still show up on the fringes of the former English Empire.

The novel winds its way through a variety of conflicts among wanderers, a boorish American tourist couple, and murder and bomb blasts. At times the narrative suffers from a pedestrian pace and some lapses of editing discipline over the point of view. Still, the story is interesting, Irene is definitely a character to build a series around, the exotic setting in and around Katmandu is, well, exotic, and a satisfactory conclusion is fashioned. I think four stars in too strong a rating, but the novel is more enjoyable than three stars would indicate. Sample the novel and make your own judgment.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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Book Review: Not Dead Yet by Peter James—and a Giveaway

Not Dead Yet 2Not Dead Yet
Roy Grace Series #8
Peter James
Minotaur Books, October 2013
ISBN 978-1-250-02966-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Days before one of Hollywood’s hottest stars, Gaia Lafayette, leaves home for a movie role on location in Brighton, England, there is a bungled attempt on her life. The whole city of Brighton awaits Gaia’s arrival, including her dangerously obsessive Number One fan looking for revenge and an anxious Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, charged with protecting Gaia.

When a mutilated torso is found on a chicken farm miles away in the countryside, Roy Grace has no reason at all to connect this to the star’s visit to the county. But as events rapidly begin to unfold, Roy Grace and his police team find themselves in a desperate race against time to save Gaia’s life from a clever maniac who will stop at nothing to kill her.

When it comes to crime novels, there’s not much I like more than a British police procedural and the Roy James series is among the more accessible, meaning easy to read and absorb. I’m glad to say that Not Dead Yet is a welcome successor to the previous books even though I found it just a little too long.

Having to protect a visiting American celebrity, Gaia, is bad enough but Detective Superintendant Roy Grace soon finds that this is not just a babysitting job when it becomes obvious that a lot of people hate this woman, perhaps enough to do her real harm. While that’s going on, a torso found in East Sussex proves to be difficult to identify without any of the usual methods involving fingerprints, facial reconstruction and so forth and, when they finally do identify the victim, the possible connection to Gaia is alarming.

Meanwhile, at home,  Roy and his fiancee, Cleo, are expecting a baby at any moment and Detective Sergeant Glenn Branson has his own troubles with a problematic marriage but may finally have his shot at being lead inspector.

The numerous story arcs and characters occasionally become a little overwhelming but Mr. James neatly entwines them to make a coherent and engaging tale full of distractions and puzzles; all the twists and turns kept me turning pages long into the night. By this point in the series, I’m emotionally invested in Roy and the people in his life—although I find Cleo a bit boring and I’m tired of ex-wife Sandy—and Not Dead Yet makes me even more eager to continue with the next book, Dead Man’s Time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2013.

To enter the drawing for a print copy of
Not Dead Yet by Peter James, leave a
comment below. The winning name will
be drawn Tuesday evening, December 3rd.
This drawing is open to residents of the US.

Book Blitz: The Last Bastion of the Living by Rhiannon Frater

The Last Bastion of the Living Blitz Banner

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Title: The Last Bastion of the Living
Author: Rhiannon Frater
Publication date: June 12th 2012
Genres: Adult, Horror, Science Fiction

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Synopsis:

The Bastion was humanity’s last hope against the fearsome undead creatures
known as the Inferi Scourge. A fortified city with a high wall, surrounded by lush
land rich with all the resources needed to survive, protected by high mountain
summits, and a massive gate to secure the only pass into the valley, the Bastion
became the last stronghold of the living on earth. But one fateful day, the gate
failed and the Inferi Scourge destroyed the human settlements outside the walls
and trapped the survivors inside the city. Now decades later, the last remaining
humans are struggling to survive in a dying city as resources and hope dwindle.

Vanguard Maria Martinez has lived her whole life within the towering walls of
steel. She yearns for a life away from the overcrowded streets, rolling blackouts,
and food shortages, but there is no hope for anyone as long as the Inferi Scourge
howl outside the high walls. Her only refuge from the daily grind is in the arms
of her lover, Dwayne Reichardt, an officer in the Bastion Constabulary. Both are
highly-decorated veterans of the last disastrous push against the
Inferi Scourge. Their secret affair is her only happiness.

Then one day Maria is summoned to meet with a mysterious representative
from the Science Warfare Division and is offered the opportunity to finally destroy
the Inferi Scourge in the valley and close the gate. The rewards of success are
great, but she will have to sacrifice everything, possibly even her life, to accomplish
the ultimate goal of securing the future of humanity and saving it from extinction.

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The Badass Heroine
By
Rhiannon Frater

The Last Bastion of the LivingI’m not going to lie. I need to be honest with you from the start. The honest to God truth of the matter is that I hate/despise/loathe a lot female characters that fall under the “badass” heroine banner.  I often have to suppress the deep, dark desire to give them a roundhouse kick to the face.

Well, if I could actually manage to do a roundhouse kick. I’m not that limber.

Though there are plenty of amazing, strong female characters that I absolutely love with all my heart, there are a smorgasbord of female characters that really rub me the wrong way. The reason for this is simple. Badass has been confused with women who are just plain bitchy, self-centered, and mean.

I didn’t really realize how ingrained the bitchy heroine had become in entertainment until I saw a script for one of my books. The heroine uttered a lot of really mean, nasty comments in the first few pages of the script and I was stunned by how awful she came across. I spoke to the scriptwriter about the added dialog and he answered, “Oh, I added that because I wanted her to come across as a strong.”

“Uh, strong doesn’t mean bitchy,” I said carefully. To my surprise, and relief, he agreed and those lines were removed.

But after that event, I realized that was exactly why some heroines really rub me the wrong way. To make a woman appear strong, a lot of writers have defaulted to making her really bitchy, egocentric, and often just plain mean. It hurts me whenever I see this trope in a book, movie, or TV show. A woman doesn’t have to be a bitch to be strong or badass.

A badass female character should be someone you can see as a friend. Someone you love, cheer for, and believe in. You understand they’re flawed, but that’s okay. As they keep working hard to overcome all their obstacles and achieve a happy ending, you’re invested in their journey.

Even when my heroines have something exceptional about them like Vanguard Maria Martinez in THE LAST BASTION OF THE LIVING, they exist realistically in their circumstances. Maria’s military training, intelligence, and determination to accomplish her mission all contribute to her badass factor.  But the power that compels her to do extraordinary things isn’t her anger at an unfair world, but her love for a man who loves and respects her. Maria not only serves The Bastion, but her own heart. She struggles with fear, suffers loss, and knows that she may lose her life in the battle against the Inferi Scourge. But victory means freedom from the undead hordes and the ability to build her life with Dwayne, the man who sees beyond her hard veneer to the woman she is inside.

My goal when writing my strong female protagonists is to create realistic women who have strengths and flaws just like everyone else does.  I don’t create perfect people that have nothing bad happen to them. Or women that all the men want to be with and all other women hate. I create women who could live in our own world very easily. They could be your neighbor, friend, or family member.

In the end, I think Maria Martinez is a badass heroine because her strength doesn’t come from being bitchy, but from being a woman willing to do her very best to overcame the most terrible odds.

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About the Author

Rhiannon FraterRhiannon Frater is the award-winning author of over a dozen books, including the As the World Dies zombie trilogy (Tor), as well as independent works such as The Last Bastion of the Living (declared the #1 Zombie Release of 2012 by Explorations Fantasy Blog and the #1 Zombie Novel of the Decade by B&N Book Blog), and other horror novels. Her next novel for Tor, Dead Spots, will be published in 2014. She was born and raised a Texan and presently lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and furry children (a.k.a pets).  She loves scary movies, sci-fi and horror shows, playing video games, cooking, dyeing her hair weird colors, and shopping for Betsey Johnson purses and shoes.

You can find her online at:

Website 1  //  Website 2  //  Facebook  //  Twitter  //  Blog  //  Pinterest
Email: rhiannonfrater at gmail.com

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Small Business Saturday 2013

Book Reviews: Rutherford Park by Elizabeth Cooke, Jambalaya Justice by Holly Castillo, and “The President Has Been Shot” by James L. Swanson

Rutherford ParkRutherford Park
Elizabeth Cooke
Berkley Books, July 2013
ISBN 978-0-425-26258-0
Trade Paperback

Shades of everyone’s favorite, Downton Abbey, with a bit of Warhorse thrown in for seasoning. Not that this is a bad thing, since Rutherford Park will prove every bit as addictive as those two. A reader can’t help but become involved in the lives of characters great and small, highest society and lowest servant.

Timing for the story puts us on the cusp of World War One–the Great War. William Cavendish, owner of the massive Rutherford Park estate, is preoccupied with the politics of preventing a war. Octavia, his wife, whom he married nineteen years ago for her money, is stuck at home worrying not only about her children, but about William’s coldness toward her. It is in the midst of a snowy Christmas that Octavia sees her husband kissing another woman, rending her heart. Then her son denies the housemaid he’s gotten with child, and the girl dies. With the Cavendishs so divided, one wonders if the family can survive.

Aside from fortune hunting and matrimonial concerns, manners and the avoidance of scandal—although not always scandalous behavior—preoccupy the upper class. Secrets abound. However, their servants know everything, and in their way, class strictures are as hidebound for them as for their betters. What a world. What a fascinating world!

Excellently written, the prose flows smoothly, the settings scintillate, the history teaches without effort as the characters come alive.

Rutherford Park includes a reader’s guide, handy for book clubs.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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Jambalaya JusticeJambalaya Justice
Crescent City Mystery #2
Holly Castillo
Oak Tree Press, August 2011
ISBN 978-1-61009-020-9
Trade Paperback

The Big Easy heats up in Holly Castillo‘s latest mystery thriller. It’s a novel of the cops and the courts and it wouldn’t be New Orleans without some hot romance thrown into the mix. It’s undercover chills, bedroom thrills, and even a judge who insists on jokes in his courtroom. What else is included in Jambalaya Justice? Too much to list here and too much fun to spoil it.

Ryan Murphy, an assistant DA in New Orleans, involves herself in the death of a hooker, the latest in a serial killer’s string of victims. This while also dealing with other cases that include a trial of a slick fancy-dressing mobster, domestic abuse, and the robbery of a French Quarter strip club. Shep Chapetti, her boyfriend and an SID detective, is working the disappearance and apparent death of a prosecutor. One problem with the case is the supposed victim has a background that doesn’t add up but may have family ties to Murphy. The other problem is Shep is teamed up with an annoying ex-girlfriend, another attorney in the DA’s office.

The connections between the individuals in the cases and the characters would need a large chalkboard to figure out. I envy Castillo for keeping everything straight and by dishing out teasers. This kept me guessing and surprised by each revelation. Not everybody is who they claim to be, but you can believe this: Castillo brings a fantastic story to the forefront of mystery fiction. When it comes to writing about New Orleans, an author has to make it big and flashy and exciting. Castillo doesn’t disappoint and I’ll be keeping an eye out for her next novel.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, August 2013.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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The President Has Been Shot“The President Has Been Shot!”
The Assassination of John F. Kennedy

James L. Swanson
Scholastic Press, October 2013
ISBN 0-545-49007-8
Hardcover

James L. Swanson is not a new author.  You may recognize his name from his New York Times bestseller The 12-Day Hunt for Lincoln’s Killer.

There are many, many things I like about this book.  The level of detail is amazing.  Rarely, are we treated to such a meticulous account in a non-fiction work.  I believe that these little nuggets of awesome play a large part in making this appealing to younger audiences.  Actually, this adult reader was genuinely surprised by some remarkably interesting points that I had not been aware of, despite learning about Kennedy in history classes.  Jackie slipping her wedding band into Jack’s hand when she realized that he was gone was one of the most endearing things ever.  The explanations as to why it appeared to viewers that Kennedy won the first televised debate, while the radio listeners felt that Nixon was the winner, were very intriguing.  I would be remiss; however, if I did not state that, while this level of detail was greatly appreciated throughout most of the book, the description of the impact and damage caused by Oswald’s bullet felt very gruesome, to me.  Anything less would have detracted from the integrity of the book, I realize and appreciate that; I just think it is worthy of mention for readers with a delicate stomach.

The brief history provided really allows the reader to know Jack Kennedy, the person.  The Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis and The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty were all very important events that no longer seem prominent in history classes today.  I appreciate the refreshers, and I am certain that young readers will welcome this knowledge.

Mr. Swanson painstakingly chose photographs to accompany this telling, again helping the reader to know and appreciate President and Jackie Kennedy.  Also included are diagrams of the motorcade and The Texas School Book Depository’s sixth floor.  Speculation and questions as to why Lee Harvey Oswald decided to assassinate the president are presented in thought-provoking way, rather than just laying out the facts as we know them.

This is a fascinating account of a 50 year old tragedy that we still do not understand.  I hope to see this book in many a Middle-School and High-School library, and I strongly recommend this to History teachers everywhere.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2013.

Don’t Curse the Universe

Sunny Frazier 2Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, shares her thoughts on the pitfalls of making publication choices.

sunny69@comcast.net

http://www.sunnyfrazier.com
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I meet many aspiring writers who have their career arc planned out. They have it broken down into steps similar to outlining a novel. 1) Write a book; 2) Get an agent; 3) Get a multi-book contract with a big house; 4) Go on a book tour; 5) Get offered a film contract; 6) Become famous; 7) Repeat steps 1, 4 and 5.

Most published authors have more realistic expectations. They settle for a contract with a smaller press, hustle to do their own marketing and work furiously to finish another book. Their career is secure.

Wrong.

The book biz is full of promises and pitfalls. I have a friend who had two publishers die and one throw in the towel (and destroyed all the book stock). My first book was picked up by a major publishing house only to change editors and my book got tossed. I managed to land the agent of a best selling author until my writing teacher hounded her to the point she wouldn’t work with me anymore.

Talk to any author who has been around the block and you will hear horror stories. Books that never made it to conferences. Royalties going unpaid. I remember in the early 90’s when large houses eliminated many mystery lines. Lots of mid-list authors found themselves with contracts not worth the paper they were written on.

Worst story ever: I was in the audience listening to an author urge us to forget small publishing and hold out for a large publishing house. While he was pushing his agenda, his publishing house announced it was folding. Ouch!

The trick to surviving anything in life is flexibility. Never assume the status quo will be the same tomorrow. Recognize that there are too many variables out of our control that nevertheless impacts our plans. Roll with the punches, make lemonade out of lemons, insert any platitude you like.

Fools Rush In 2Here’s a game plan I recommend. First, make a list of all possible options. Agent, large house, small house, self-publishing. Research and list those that seem attainable. It’s natural to hold on to that first novel and stress out trying to find the best move to make. I’ve watched writers spin their wheels over a decade through indecision. My motto is “You can’t promote something that doesn’t exist.” The goal is to get your writing out there so you have a career to work with.

They say the best time to job hunt is when you have a job. I recommend writers who have a contract and are working well with their publishing house still take the time to come up with a Plan B. You may never need it, just like you may never need a life jacket when you go on a cruise, but it’s nice to know it’s there. Continue to network, keep up with changes in the industry. Do it while there is no pressure. That way if any scenarios I’ve listed above happen to you, you’re ready.

What you don’t want to do is lock yourself into the notion of what works today will work tomorrow. The economy changes, reading tastes change, department heads change, publishing houses change direction. You’re writing vampires and suddenly zombies are all the rage.

Adapting to change is the art of survival. Failure is a choice. Don’t make it yours.

Book Review: Rewrite Redemption by J.H. Walker

Rewrite Redemption Tour Banner

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Title: Rewrite Redemption
Author: J.H. Walker
Publication date: January 25th 2013
Genres: Science Fiction, Time-Travel, Young Adult

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Rewrite RedemptionRewrite Redemption
J.H. Walker
J.H. Walker, Inc., January 2013
Kindle exclusive

From the author—

She’s sixteen. He’s seventeen. They don’t know each other…at least not yet.

She has a secret and her whole life revolves around keeping it. Every few months and with little warning, she simply disappears, pulled into the past for hours or even days. She’s terrified it will happen in front of someone, changing her life forever. So far, the only witnesses have been her parents, and that didn’t end well. She has no control over it and no idea why it happens to her.

She wants answers.

He has answers—at least he understands what’s going on. He has a secret, too. He’s part of an organization that goes back in time to rewrite reality. But he also has a problem. He broke the organization’s number-one rule by altering his own timeline. As punishment, he’s been blocked from time travel, which is most unfortunate. Because the changes he made to his timeline, accidentally resulted in disaster for his family. A disaster he’s now prevented from repairing. No one can travel beneath the organization’s radar except a Shadow. But they’re rare, so rare he’s never even met one.

Then he moves to her town.

Confession time—I haven’t finished reading this book. It’s not because I’ve been bored or found it “meh” or anything like that. Sad to say, I expected to finish it yesterday and then I came down with a major backache, the kind that just won’t let you get comfortable and, well, if I’m not comfortable, I just can’t get into my reading. I’m about three fourths of the way through so let me tell you what I’m thinking and feeling so far.

First, I’ve never been a real fan of time travel but Rewrite Redemption is proving to be an exception. The alien aspect is part of the attraction for me but, even more, it’s the tree connection (and that’s a bit of a pun). Trees have always had a sort of mystical aura about them; if you ever read stories involving faeries or druids or other woodland denizens, you know what I mean, and I think it’s brilliant of Ms. Walker to combine that element with a more extraterrestrial flavor. Besides, who doesn’t understand loving trees and enjoying the sense of protection and comfort they offer?

Then, there are the characters. I love that AJ, Lex and Ipod, all damaged in one way or another, have found a way to not just survive but live quite happily by finding their own solution to their family issues. These kids are a pleasure to be around and all three pluck at my heartstrings, to make use of an old cliche, each in his or her own way.  Lex, in particular, is a lot of fun with her attitude of “I’m terrific and I know it”. Constantine, on the other hand, suffers from knowing too much in an odd sort of way and carries enormous guilt for his own heedless use of his “talent”, rightfully so. When he moves to town, the lives of all four teens are changed forever.

The one thing I don’t especially care for is the romance which borders on insta-love. It’s rare to find a Young Adult story these days that allows the characters to just be friends but it sure is refreshing and I wish more authors would realize that teens are about more than hormones.

Finally, I’m really appreciating the author’s writing style and construction. The narration is comfortable and the dialogue is natural, sounding the way you would expect teens to talk and think.  I also am grateful for the care the author has taken with editing and making the book as readable as she could. I must say I’m sorry Ms. Walker has chosen to publish only on the Kindle platform thereby losing potential readers who choose to purchase ebooks from other retailers. It’s simply not good enough to say the reader can download the Kindle for PC app since many prefer not to do so. (Note: to my knowledge, this author has never said such a thing but many authors do.)

So, I’m off to finish this now and I fully expect to enjoy it all the way to the final page. Then I’ll be anxiously awaiting the sequel, hoping I’ll be able to purchase it for my Nook 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2013.

About the Author

J.H. WalkerJ.H. grew up in Central America. She now lives in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies with her photographer husband and many, many books. In addition to her never-ending study of human behavior, she’s a political junkie and a certified tree hugger. Rewrite Redemption is her debut novel.

Author Links:

Website  //  Goodreads  //  Twitter  //  Facebook

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