“What’s Your Sign?”—Developing Characters from the Cosmos

Sharon Arthur MooreAfter 39 years as an educator, Sharon Arthur Moore “transitioned” to the life of full-time fiction writer. She’s an intrepid cook, game-player, and miniatures lover. She experiments and creates new dishes all the time. Too bad if her husband likes a dish; she may be unable to replicate it.

She writes culinary mysteries, women’s fiction, historical fiction, short stories, plays, paranormals (under the pen name River Glynn), and erotic romance (under the pen name Angelica French). The first book in the culinary mystery series, Mission Impastable, just came out. Prime Rib and Punishment is the second book in the series that should be out by year’s end.

Sharon has lived in every region of the country except the Pacific Northwest and loved every single one of them. Her current favorite region is the desert Southwest. She is married to the most extraordinary man and claims four children, one daughter-in-law, a grandson, and yellow lab Maudie.

You can find Sharon at:

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Her blogs: Parsley, Sage and Rosemary Time and Write Away

Her YouTube videos: Mission Impastable Book Trailer and Hermosillo Salsa

Email: authorsam@gmail.com

Purchase Mission Impastable here.


The classic pick up line from the 70’s has become not so much an icon as a punchline. Sleazy guys in sleazy movies think it a cool way to show the girl at the bar they are interested in her. They often follow it with a line like, “Mine is penis rising.” Har-de-har-har. What a laugh, eh? NOT!

Like any of the sleaze bag guys have ever done any research into the character traits associated with each sign! Now, whether or not you believe in astrology matters not a whit. A LOT of your readers do. Otherwise, the daily paper wouldn’t print your horoscope and you couldn’t get horoscopes delivered daily to your e-ddress. When our paper dropped the daily astrology section, there was an up-roar.

To a reader who follows astrology even a little, you can send a message about a character in your story by identifying the sign. For example, in Mission Impastable, my just-published culinary mystery, secondary character Rita is a Cancer. In-the-know readers will figure she is moody and mercurial. They expect her to be very emotional and prickly. She is a clinger who has trouble letting go. I now have a blueprint for how Rita will respond in situations I place her in. See how easy that is.

I have a computer file in my novels folder on astrological signs, what they mean, who the signs are compatible with, and who they are incompatible with.

Mission ImpastableI refer to the sign charts to find traits for my characters to build consistency of actions and motivations. For example, Cancer is a “personal” sign, meaning she is more aware of and interested in herself than in others. She is always seeking reassurance and secretly wants to feel safe financially, emotionally, and romantically. That segues beautifully into her role and how it plays out in the book.

One question on one of the character interview forms I use is, “What’s your astrological sign?” This is a great question. How well do you know your characters?

Read the zodiacal descriptors and pick the one closest to your character, then tighten up the character by explicitly including more of those traits in the story action. Be consistent with the trait building and your characters should have interesting interactions with others.

Another way to use astrological charts is to read the descriptors and start doing character sketches without a book in mind. Getting some great master characters developed could lead to a problem to solve in your book. What happens when an emotional Cancer and a cool, collected Taurus meet? Can they fall in love? Will they complement one another’s strengths or will they tear one another apart? Are their odds so at cross-purposes they cannot work together?

It’s your book. What will happen? Can’t wait to read it!

Book Review: The Secret of Isobel Key by Jen McConnel

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Title: The Secret of Isobel Key
Author: Jen McConnel
Publisher: Bloomsbury Spark
Publication date: December 19th 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery, New Adult



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The Secret of Isobel KeyThe Secret of Isobel Key
Jen McConnel
Bloomsbury Spark, December 2013
ISBN 978-1-61963-464-0

From the publisher—

Lou is in the middle of a quarter-life crisis. Fresh out of college, she’s unemployed and unsure of herself. But when she gets the chance to escape to Scotland with her best friend, it could be the answer to her quest for self-discovery. The trip is not at all what she expected, especially when her tour guide turns out to be the dreamy historian Brian, and together they embark on a hunt for information about Isobel Key, a woman accused of witchcraft in the seventeenth century.

They set out to learn the truth of the condemned witch, but Lou isn’t prepared for the knowledge that awaits her. She must face her own demons if she has any hope of righting the wrongs of the past. Flashing between the seventeenth century and modern day Scotland, The Secret of Isobel Key is a mystery that will please readers of all ages.


I like genre fiction and am very fond of the supernatural subgenre but witches have never been high on my list. There’s no particular reason for that other than perhaps witchcraft makes me a little uneasy. That slight discomfort is one reason I liked this book a lot. Through Isobel, we get a real sense of what people, especially women, went through during the witch hunts of the past when they were, in fact, innocent of the evils attributed to them. Through Lou, we get a feeling for today’s Wicca and how its true believers are not ill-intentioned.

Interweaving the stories of two women separated by 350 or so years can be difficult but it works very well in The Secret of Isobel Key because of the empathy that Lou, a modern girl floundering in search of her future, has for a woman who knew precisely who she was until the day she died a horrible death. Lou’s determination to shine a light on Isobel’s life leads to an understanding of a past that touches on Lou’s own life in unexpected ways.

I was a little puzzled—and bothered—by the relationship between Lou and Tammy. They’re supposedly very close friends and, yet, Lou doesn’t trust Tammy enough to share her feelings about faith and Tammy doesn’t know Lou well enough to understand that there’s something going on with her. Tammy also is bent on pushing Lou into the arms of a guy, any guy, and I think her intentions were good but it makes her seem very overbearing and insensitive. In turn, Lou doesn’t hesitate to stand Tammy up for dinner because she’s so besotted with Brian, their Scottish tour guide. I have to say, though, that it’s the author’s strong characterizations that allowed me to feel that I know these two girls and have a fairly good understanding of them both.

There are occasional lapses of logic, such as when the trio decide a certain letter could affect the history of multiple so-called witches while, in fact, it only clears the record of one. There is also a scene in which Lou claims to not know the rites of the church even though she was raised Catholic and supposedly was a believer until recently; it’s very unlikely she would not be familiar with the ceremonies of the church just because she has fallen away from that faith. Despite those small quibbles, I was completely engaged by both Isobel and Lou and their stories.

Bloomsbury Spark is one of a number of imprints that have cropped up in recent times to publish in ebook format only. This is a development all readers should welcome as it offers a “home” to some really good work that might otherwise go unpublished because of the sea of submissions publishers get these days. The Secret of Isobel Key is a fine example of what’s available and I will be looking for more from both Bloomsbury Spark and Jen McConnel.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2014.


About the Author

Jen McConnelJen McConnel first began writing poetry as a child. A Michigander by birth, she now lives and writes in the beautiful state of North Carolina. When she isn’t crafting worlds of fiction, she teaches college writing composition and yoga. Once upon a time, she was a middle school teacher, a librarian, and a bookseller, but those are stories for another time.  She is the author of The Secret of Isobel Key (NA 2013) and Daughter of Chaos (YA 2014).  Visit http://www.jenmcconnel.com to learn more.

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Book Reviews: Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie Alender and The Dogs of Winter by Bobbie Pyron

Marie Antoinette, Serial KillerMarie Antoinette, Serial Killer
Katie Alender
Point, October 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-46809-1

At the tender age of sixteen, Colette Iselin’s life is ruined.  Her father left the family, taking his money with him.  The lifestyle changes that abounded devastated her.  Mom was forced to get a job, constantly taking on additional shifts just to make ends meet.   Their house lost; Colette, along with her younger brother and mother, squeezed into the tiniest of apartments.

Colette must keep her disastrous crash from wealth to the poor house…err, apartment, a secret.  Her friends do not hang out with the destitute.  The wildly popular, beautiful and ridiculously wealthy Hannah is always quick with that reminder.  Rather, Colette is reduced to sneaking off to thrift stores to acquire her wardrobe for her Paris Spring Break with her friends and classmates.  A greater teen-age tragedy is hard to imagine.


You aren’t really feeling her pain.  She seems whiny, superficial, self-centered and immature?  Yes, I thought that too.  Admittedly, I found this surprising.  Generally speaking, these are not traits best-suited to creating mass appeal for the main character of a Middle-Grade mystery.  Interesting.

The reader doesn’t meet Colette first, though. A spine-tingling, wickedly original murder in Paris kicks this story off and it pulled this reader right on in.  Have I mentioned the murderer?  Marie Antoinette.  A simply fascinating woman in history; the idea of her ghost committing grisly murders at an apparently obscure time is intriguing.  There does appear to be a method to her madness, and Ms. Alender unravels this mystery beautifully.

While Colette and her classmates tour, and learn the history of the City of Love and Lights from their charmingly demure, remarkably learned French college student; young, rich, socialites are dying in bizarre accidents that result, ultimately, in beheading. As the narrative unfolds, Colette realizes that she may have something in common with the victims.  She begins to piece together the puzzle and focus on a much larger picture.  Almost as if truly opening her eyes for the first time, Colette also begins to see things about herself; her choices and her friends.  There is a discernible shift, the pace quickens, the plot thickens.

I love what Ms. Alender has done here.  In addition to giving us an enchanting, distinctively different, middle-grade, ghost-story-murder-mystery; she courageously presented the most authentic representation of today’s “typical” teen-ager as our main character.  To me, it amplified the significance of Colette’s self-discovery and revised outlook.  Quite brilliant, I think.  Romance is mandatory when an adventure takes place in Paris; there may even be a law.  Again, Ms. Alender is spot-on.  This is a fantastic book for the avid reader and it would most certainly pique the interest of a reluctant reader. Yet another Middle-Grade read that I hope will not have a limited, young-readers-only audience.  I know I will be reading more from Ms. Alender.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2014.


The Dogs of WinterThe Dogs of Winter
Bobbie Pyron
Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2012
ISBN 978-0-545-39930-2

In 1996 I was living in West Virginia.  I had been out of college for one year.  Despite having graduated with a B.S. in Business Administration, I could not find a job that paid more than minimum wage.  Things seemed bleak; I felt desperate, alone and afraid.  I felt that life was tough and unfair.  I had no clue.

At the same time, in Moscow, four year old Ivan Mishukov walked out of his flat to escape the daily horrors bestowed upon him by his mother and her alcoholic boyfriend.  Life on the streets had to be better.  He would not be alone.  It was estimated that somewhere between 80,000 and 2 million homeless children occupied Moscow and St. Petersburg as a result of the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.  Feral dogs were also there, in the streets, alleys, train stations and even riding the trains.  These facts, in and of themselves, are beyond sad.  The amazingly resilient Ivan did something so unique that he stood out among the all of the “invisible” children.

A street child simply could not endure alone.  Even if able to handle everything else, a lone child would most likely freeze to death in Russia’s harsh winter climate.  Most children lived in groups to increase their chances.  Ivan did not.  At first, it did seem like the only option, but a little guy tough enough to abandon shelter for a “better” life is definitely not going to tolerate nastiness from other children. He turned to the dogs.

The Dogs of Winter is told through the voice of this little boy.  To me, this is the absolute best way to share his story.   Short sentences, acting out in anger, hurt feelings one moment then clapping with delight the next, ensure that the reader never forgets: this is a melancholy tale of a very, very young child.   Ivan’s kindness and generosity extended to the wild canines is reciprocated.  Soon, the boy is accepted into the pack and for two years, he has a family that loves him unconditionally.  This is a family that supports and protects him, and in turn, he does the same for them.  The child who now calls himself Malchik is happy.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your view), the unique situation warranted so much attention that every effort was made to “save” Ivan.  For reasons that I simply cannot fathom, Russian police became focused on removing Ivan from the streets and placing him in an orphanage.  The child that has endured more hardship in two years than most of us have in a life-time, now faces the toughest challenge ever.  He does not wish to be “saved”; he needs to remain with the family that he chose.

While “conversations” and situations in Ms. Pyron’s sharing of Malchik’s story are fictional, insofar as no one truly knows exactly what transpired, the spirit in which it is told is true.  I closed this book feeling very conflicted.  Logic aside, I feel angry that Malchik was singled out.  With thousands (millions?) of homeless children and feral dogs, why were resources focused on the one child that, by most accounts, was getting by without harming another living soul?  Why was it imperative for Malchik to be separated from his dogs to be placed in an orphanage or mental hospital?

I wish everyone would read this book.  In today’s world it can be so easy to become self-absorbed, to exist in our own little bubbles or corners of the world.  I think that we can use these reality checks to step back and reassess.  Who knows, maybe we can be so moved that we can make a difference.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2013.

Touring Europe By Wheelchair, Part 2

Kathleen DelaneyKathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today with Part 2 of her recent adventures in a traveling wheelchair.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, was released on July 1st.

Lisbon has a beautiful airport. At least, I think it’s beautiful. I didn’t see much of it. The wheelchair attendant must get paid by the chair because we careened through the airport. The man at customs was as languid as the wheelchair attendant was tense. Luckily, there wasn’t much of a line. The customs officer smiled at my attendant, glanced at my passport, stamped it and waved us through. Seconds later, we were at the baggage carrousel and my daughter and son-in-law were standing behind the glass doors, waving. My attendant asked if they were for me, at least I think that’s what he said, and was gone before I could answer.

I was in Portugal.

I would have loved to say Lisbon is lovely, but I wouldn’t find out that night. It was raining and we were staying in Cascais, a suburb of Lisbon. We left the airport heading the wrong direction on the freeway. But that’s what travel is all about, right? New adventure? Evidently, not on unknown freeways in the rain. After much grumbling about map reading and not calling out the turns soon enough, we finally found our way and arrived somewhat damp but in one piece at our time share.

The next morning I was a bit taken back to see the restaurant overflowing with people wearing magenta robes and thick leather sandals. I had heard, from my seat companion on the flight into Lisbon, that there was a Buddhist convention taking place, but hadn’t realized that I would be staying in the middle of it. Over 5000 Buddhists overflowed narrow streets. A huge white tent had been erected in the middle of town and classes and services were held from dawn to after dusk. If a fairly small town wants to host a large convention, Buddhists are a good choice. They don’t drink or roar their motorcycles at midnight. They don’t roar at all. They don’t play music at a decibel guaranteed to deafen or even talk in loud voices, and I don’t think they leave gum wrappers in their wake. Most of them were speaking English. From England English. Most were women. Women who were middle aged or just beyond, usually a bit on the plump side, and many of them wore the robes of Buddhist monks and had shaved their heads. That last part had me scratching mine.

That day my daughter and I took the commuter train to Belem. The track runs along the Mediterranean coast and was fascinating. We had ample time to enjoy it as we mistakenly had taken the express which doesn’t stop there. However, we eventually made it, and it was worth the effort. Belem has several claims to fame. The presidential palace is there and also an Dying for a Change 2antique carriage museum. Not just any carriages, but Royal carriages, the kind Queen Elizabeth rides around in on special occasions. Some date back as far as the seventeenth century and many are so heavily encrusted with gold leaf I don’t see how they got horses big enough to pull them. I was not only amazed by the carriages, but how seemingly lax the security is. A few elderly guards wandered around. There were a couple of bored girls selling tickets and items in the gift shop, but that seemed all. Of course, those carriages are so big and heavy, someone would be bound to notice anyone who tried removing one and pawning one might prove a bit difficult.

Belem is also famous for its custard tarts. The line for them ran way down the sidewalk. My daughter went in and, knowing I’d never get my chair into that tiny shop with all those people, I stayed outside on the sidewalk where I had a great view of the Belem cathedral and monastery. It made me an easy target for the gypsy women selling shawls. I didn’t, at first, recognize the women as gypsies. They looked like many older women I’ve seen all over Europe, wearing shapeless dress, mostly black, with sensible shoes and plain shawls covering their shoulders and heads. I somehow had a mental picture of gypsies all traveling around in brightly painted wagons pulled by paint ponies, dressed like Flamenco dancers. I was wrong. They don’t. However, I liked them, and ended up with a large black scarf embroidered with bright red roses. I gave it to my granddaughter, who loves it. It was a great day and we ended it by actually taking the correct train back. That night we had a reservation at a local café to listen to Fado, the local folk music of Portugal. It is hauntingly beautiful, the guitar work, especially the 12 string guitar, wonderful, and the food was fabulous. A great evening made perfect because we took a cab back to the time share.

Another list of tips for those of you who are handicapped, and for you who aren’t.

1.    When buying train tickets, find out if there is an express train and DON”T get on it unless you verify it stops where you want to get off. Otherwise, you’ll spend a lot of time seeing the same stretch of track from two different directions.

2.    When boarding, prepare yourself to move fast. The doors don’t stay open very long. It’s no different than any city I’ve been to but the people are more helpful in Portugal and Spain then in New York. Have someone standing by to throw your wheelchair onto the train and heave you in behind it, if you can. If you can’t walk, I suggest putting out your cane to stop the doors from closing while you figure out how to get on board. If the door can’t close, help will arrive.

3.    Keep coins handy at all time as most bathrooms have coin-locks. Also, learn the word for “bathroom” and all the ways to identify it in the country you’re in. They don’t all have little signs on the door of women in dresses.

4.    Handicapped bathrooms in Portugal are required to be equipped with a panic cord.  There are lights above the outside door that flash red if the cord is pulled. It’s a great idea but where the cord is placed doesn’t seem to be regulated, so be careful what you pull. Flashing lights mean EMT people aren’t far behind.

Until next time.

Kathleen in the carriage museum in Belem, Portugal

Kathleen in the carriage museum in Belem, Portugal

Book Review: The Agent’s Daughter by Ron Corriveau

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Title: The Agent’s Daughter
Author: Ron Corriveau
Publication date: May 18th 2013
Genres: Romance, Thriller, Young Adult



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The Agent's DaughterThe Agent’s Daughter
Ron Corriveau
Geek Parade Books, May 2013
ISBN 9780615799018
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Melina has been preparing for a future career as a spy. She just doesn’t know it.

Evan Roberts, legendary field agent for an ultra-secret United States government intelligence agency always knew that his fifteen-year-old daughter Melina also possessed the absolute lack of fear required of an agent. Without telling her his real profession or his intention, he began to guide her toward an eventual career with the agency. However, Melina’s world is shattered after her mother is involved in an accident that leaves her mysteriously unhurt but unresponsive. Her father’s plan on hold, Melina settles into life at a suburban high school, immersing herself in a world of schoolwork, her friends and a budding romance with Alex, the cute new guy in her class.

When Melina and her father uncover shocking new information about her mother’s accident, Melina is pulled deep into her father’s shadowy world. With Alex desperately trying to find her and only hours to go before it will be too late to save her mother, Melina and her father work together using their combined skills to find a way to reach her.


If any book was ever to cause me to have a split personality, it would be this one. Do I like it? Yes, in some ways. Do I think it’s well-written? No, not really. So how can I say I like it?

The premise is appealing and, although it’s completely over the top, that’s okay, even a good thing, because it’s a teenaged spy/ninja warrior story so of course it has to be way beyond belief. That’s also what makes it fun and is the primary reason I enjoyed it for what it is.

On the downside, this author clearly has no idea how teens talk or behave and I wonder how he can be so removed from reality.  In a writing style that’s frequently annoying, the author apparently doesn’t believe in using contractions any more than he has to and, as a result, the dialogue is stilted and doesn’t flow as normal conversation does. We also get a tremendous amount of telling and exposition that’s unwieldy and sometimes unnecessary such as when Alex explains to Melina what a Castle Grant is after she has just told him her brother has one.

Another irritant is that this family is just too perfect. Melina, Travis and their father are all either brilliant or remarkable fighters or both, making them seem almost like comic book characters.

The scene that will stick in my mind for way too long takes place in the high school cafeteria. I can’t say why it got my attention except to say it involves kissing—and, no, I don’t mean a scene where there’s kissing going on.

When it’s all said and done, I think this story is better suited for middle graders rather than high school teens because it is, put simply, rather childish. When you get to the scene I mentioned, you’ll know what I mean and, if the author really thinks such a conversation would happen among today’s 15-year-old girls, he needs to time travel back to his own high school days. Even back then, girls were not this naive and clueless. Still and all, the premise of the book is entertaining and I think there is a market for it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2014.


About the Author

Ron CorriveauRon Corriveau is an electrical engineer and works designing custom integrated circuits. He started writing to prove to himself that he actually does have a right side to his brain. Originally from Southern California, he currently lives outside of Dallas with his lovely wife and two awesome kids. He has only recently come to terms with the fact that he is a geek, although he would like to stress that he doesn’t hold any kind of leadership role in the organization.

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Book Review: Broken by A.E. Rought

A.E. Rought
Strange Chemistry/Angry Robot, January 2013
ISBN 978-1908844316
Trade Paperback

Emma Gentry is in limbo. The love of her life is gone, cruelly snatched away from her and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Now, she’s left on autopilot and her days are as grey as her heart. But all that is about to change when Alex Franks starts at her school. Who is this boy that sparks life back into her? And what are these dark secrets he’s carrying that threatens to put them both in danger?

This book has a lot of potential, especially for younger readers but the main gripe I had with it concerns the length of time that the ‘will they, won’t they’ storyline dragged on for. In my personal opinion, it carried on too long and runs the danger of making younger readers lose interest. If it were edited to remove maybe a hundred pages or more, I feel it would really help the pace of the book. The characters are great. They’re well formed and seem genuine and real. There’s even the right amount of intrigue surrounding Alex Franks that makes him interesting. I liked the way this is a modern spin on an old classic which should be appealing to young adults and even encourage them to try the original. Coupled with the usual teenage strife of school, gossips and a good old case of unrequited love this is a good story but it needs good editing to make it into a great story.

The ending was a little too convenient for my liking. Within ten pages all the drama and danger and threat was dealt with and tied up in a nice little bow. Elements of it became farcical but while it was off putting for me, I think young adults will be fine with it and may actually like it in the end. I would recommend it to others but advise them to stick with it if it feels like the story is dragging on. Just make sure you keep stayin’ alive! (The Bee Gee’s were right about so many things….)

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, September 2013.

Book Review: In Retrospect by Ellen Larson

In RetrospectIn Retrospect
Ellen Larson
Five Star, December 2013
ISBN: 9781432827335

A wildly dystopian novel set in a never land somewhere east of Europe, yet not quite in Asia. Dystopia is the opposite of Utopia. Moreover, the time frame of this emotionally rich novel is a very long way in the future. Consequently, we are treated to a great many technological changes, and some surprising stasis. Communication for example appears to be similar to current experience, by mouth, by voice, by body language, communications devices, all of which have the same kinds of limitations we all experience, even today. Interestingly one attempt by the creatures who inhabit this world to alter and control their interactions is by shield. Everyone wears a face shield. They are of different colors and shapes but what they have in common is that this world exists largely without facial expressions as a channel of communication.

Two nations, Oku and Rasaka are at war. The year is 3324. When the novel opens, an uneasy peace through domination by the Rasaka has taken place, but the civilization is devastated and a great many people have been killed in battles and through massacre.

The theoretical question that is the platform for the story is whether history can be altered and whether in so doing, the future is significantly affected. The novel follows the lives of two women, Merit Rafi, called to be a trained Select in the Oku nation. She is now resurrected to travel back in time to learn who has murdered a beloved icon of the Oku. Because Merit is now under the rule of the despised Raskans, the task is beset with increasingly agonizing political maneuvering. The other woman may be Merit’s alter ego in another time frame. When they meet briefly, things get interesting.

Addressing the theoretical underpinning of the novel, the author has constructed her story on two interspersed time lines, thereby forcing us to keep the fundamental idea at the forefront of our reading experience. I found it difficult at times to remember where in time I was. Still Merit’s early experiences inform and explain much of her present thought and action.

The novel is well-written, emotionally engaging, perhaps too much so for some, and consistent in its internal rules. That’s always important in alternative reality fiction. This is a solid effort with some surprising twists at the end, by an accomplished writer.

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