Book Reviews: The Hit by Melvin Burgess and The Trigger by L.J. Sellers

The HitThe Hit
Melvin Burgess
Chicken House/Scholastic, March 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-55699-6

The Hit is a book that will make you think. Set in the near future, it puts us right into the conflicting world of haves and have nots, exploring the results of the worldwide financial crisis as the one-percenters have totally taken over. But that’s not all. A new drug—the drug culture having grown even more prevalent—is gaining popularity. One especially made for young people who don’t believe they have a future. Take the hit and the drug, called Death, will make the recipient euphoric and strong for seven days. Then you die.

Adam, one of the poverty-stricken ninety-nine percenters, doesn’t have much to live for. He and his parents can’t afford for him the education that would lift them out of comparative destitution. His girlfriend, Lizzie, is part of the upper-class. Adam, teenage hormones raging, lives to get laid; Lizzie can’t make up her mind. Then, when the pair attends a rock concert one evening, the star of the show dies on stage after taking the drug. The crowd goes wild! Riots pop up, the drug lords are pressing kids to take a hit, and Adam’s own brother is the chemist who invented the drug.

This is a large, convoluted plot. The concept is a bit scary actually, and is a book that seems a bit dark for the readership at which it’s aimed. Well-written, some of the characters come alive, leaping off the page with an energy equal to their years. Others seem like caricatures to me.

There were plenty of TSTL (to stupid to live) moments, plenty of bad decisions made, not a lot of hope for the world after this adventure.

True to life? God, I hope not.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.



The TriggerThe Trigger
An Agent Dallas Thriller
L.J. Sellers
Spellbinder Press, August 2013
ISBN 978-0984008650
Trade Paperback

Agent Jamie Dallas, whose specialty in the FBI is working undercover, is called upon to investigate a potential kidnapping. The wife and child of the leader of a notorious doomsday prepper has disappeared, and murder is suspected. Is she the victim of a random abduction, or of something closer to home? It’s up to Dallas to find out.

Dallas, her undercover assignment a closely guarded secret, is backed by a team of local FBI agents. Unfortunately, her main contact is soon called away to work on yet another murder that only ties in with the main plot at the end of the novel. Dallas is soon stranded and in deep trouble when communications fail and the preppers discover her mission.

The Trigger is a ripped from the headlines style story with lots of twists and turns and an edge-of-your-seat ending. Hackers, preppers, and fanatics, as well as regular people caught up in an uncertain world are featured. Dallas is a great character, with all the foibles of the human condition. Agent McCullen partners well with her. I like that the villains are not over-the-top monsters, but very human with familial loyalties and mostly good intentions—or so they’ve convinced themselves.  At least until their plot to take over the worldwide monetary system and the Internet begins to go wrong.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.


Book Review: The Only Boy by Jordan Locke

The Only BoyThe Only Boy
Jordan Locke
CreateSpace, December 2013
ISBN 978-1494415594
Trade Paperback

From the author—

After a global epidemic wipes out all the men, a girl must decide whether to help the only boy…or betray him.

Mary is stuck in Section One, living with three hundred women in a crumbling hospital. She wonders what life was like before the Cleansing wiped out all the men. But the rules-the Matriarch’s senseless rules-prevent her from exploring the vacant city to find out.

Taylor’s got a dangerous secret: he’s a boy. His compound’s been destroyed, and he’s been relocated to Section One. Living under the Matriarch means giving up possessions, eating canned food and avoiding all physical contact. Baggy clothes hide his flat chest and skinny legs, but if anyone discovers what lies beneath, he’ll be exiled. Maybe even executed.

Mary’s never seen a boy-the Matriarch cut the pictures of men from the textbooks-and she doesn’t suspect Taylor’s secret. If she knew, she might understand the need to stop the girls from teasing him. If she knew, she might realize why she breaks the rules, just to be near him. Then again, she might be frightened to death of him.

Taylor should go. The Matriarch is watching his every move. But running means leaving Mary-and braving the land beyond the compound’s boundaries.

There have been earlier stories about one gender or the other being nearly wiped out but a good author can always find ways to make a concept fresh and Jordan Locke has succeeded in doing just that. Here, we have people who’ve never known the touch of another human because the killer disease can still be passed from one to another. Imagine that, a world in which touching is strictly forbidden. At first, one might think such a lack can be acceptable considering the alternative but it soon becomes clear that not everyone can handle it.

Certain players in The Only Boy really come to life, especially Mary and Taylor but also Wren, Jade, the Matriarch, even the miserable Katherine who has reasons for being such a bully. Mary and Taylor each tell the story from their own points of view and both are truly sympathetic characters as they begin to learn each other’s secrets and a few truths that have been hidden for years.

Worldbuilding is generally nicely done but there are some hiccups. We know that it has been at least decades since all the men died so how is it Section One can still be finding and eating apparently unlimited supplies of canned goods within their relatively small territory and why aren’t the cans swollen and full of botulism? Taking it a step further, with their scientific studies over time, why do they still rely on canned goods instead of learning ways to live off the land or, for that matter, create synthetic foods for themselves? I also wonder how there can be trees or agriculture if the disease killed off plants like flowers.

And just how long has it been? In one place decades are mentioned, in another there is a reference to centuries of decay but surely that’s not right; news is still being broadcast on TV and Pepsi commercials play. Why have so many animals and insects gone extinct but not all unless it has indeed been centuries?

There will be several more installments in the series so I’ll assume many of these questions will be answered and that we’ll also find out about Sections Two through Six  and possibly more. I do want to know more about the characters we’ve met here and I’ll be looking for the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2014.


Book Reviews: The Devil on Chardonnay by Ed Baldwin, Lethal Lineage by Charlotte Hinger, and The Prince of Risk by Christopher Reich

The Devil on ChardonnayThe Devil on Chardonnay
Ed Baldwin
Brasfield Books, September 2013
Trade Paperback

Ed Baldwin is a retired U.S. Air Force surgeon with many years in grade and a wide range of service duties and it shows. It shows in the authenticity of the research and the actions of the many characters that people this thriller. There is a list of characters that is helpful, but it fills two pages on my reader.

This excellent novel would have been improved by judiciously editing out about 3,000 words. That said, I found the novel to be a good read, mostly well-paced but at times the inclusion of in-depth background and history in large chunks tended to stall the narrative, just like a small plane attempting to climb at too sharp an angle.

The plot in its fundamental essence concerns an attempt by obscenely wealthy forces to produce a vaccine for one of the most deadly tropical diseases known in a way that will give a large pharmaceutical firm absolute and highly lucrative control of the disease cultures and the vaccine. International in scope, when news of a new outbreak of Ebola reaches Washington, the government moves rapidly to send troubleshooter and fighter jock Boyd Chailand into action. His task is to identify those on the ground and the lab developing the cultures, the sources of their funding and the ultimate recipient of their work.

The story takes us from Washington D.C. to East Africa, to the Azores and South Carolina. Some of the characters are fascinating, Raybon Clive, Davann Goodman and Neville St. James, among the most interesting. Some of the confrontations—and there are many—are exciting and truly action-packed. Some of the murders—and there are several—seemed gratuitous and almost casual. In addition to all the action there are lovely moments of introspection and appreciation of the natural beauty of the Azores and tropical Africa. I find the novel to be a mixed bag and I recommend it with reservations. The title of the book is just unfortunate.

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


Lethal LineageLethal Lineage
Charlotte Hinger
Poisoned Pen Press, March 2011
Also available in trade paperback

This is an amazing novel. Almost from the first line, one is interested, entertained, and enthralled. Lottie Albright is a first-class protagonist, a bright, wealthy, well-educated woman with a healthy measure of community sense and human empathy. The fact that she’s now living on the isolated windy plains of northwestern Kansas, second wife of a widowed farmer, only enhances her claim on the reader’s attention.

The author writes with such clarity, precision and verve, one is swept into the lives of these people with intimacy, with love, and with a clear eye on the realities of life in this place in the Twenty-first Century. As isolated as they are, and feel themselves to be, the citizens of four sparsely-populated counties will be touched in tender and horrific ways by larger events happening continents away beginning with a confirmation in a new Episcopal congregation meeting in a new church.

The novel’s sojourn into the world of historical research, especially Albright’s struggle to deal with the surprises of family history projects is a fascinating and relevant subplot. The characters are all well-laid on and consistent in their roles. All in all an outstanding effort.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.


The Prince of RiskThe Prince of Risk
Christopher Reich
Doubleday, December 2013
ISBN: 978-0-385-53506-9

Mr. Reich illustrates here some of the difficulties of genre labeling in Crime Fiction. You might classify this as a flawed character study with too much bad dialogue and too little depth. You might, on the other hand, classify this as a strong legal thriller that takes a few minor liberties with the law while positing a terrifying possibility. Then again, because the story is essentially about a high-roller hedge fund manager, you might consider this an intriguing inside look at the world of the big-time gambling community we call Wall Street.

Regardless of classification, the novel has some serious problems as well as many excellent moments. In order to understand the enormity of the threat posed by the author, readers will have to wade through several background explanations of the way the world’s financial operations connect and work. For some readers that will be eye-opening. For others, tedious.

Bobby Astor is the high-flying multi-billionaire protagonist who begins as the unknowing stand-in for the puppet master who’s purpose becomes abundantly clear, to not only create financial chaos, but to destroy the American financial community. Part of the plan involves a physical attack somewhere at some near time. That threat opens the novel and underlies the rising tension that fuels the pace of this novel. There are echoes here of earlier tidier crime novels from Emma Lathen.

Enter Bobby Astor’s ex-wife, a top FBI agent in charge of counter terrorism in the New York Area. Finding and stopping threats before the fact instead of after the act is her mission. Alex is a gorgeous, driven, stone killer. Her intense desire to excel and bring down terrorists wherever they may be moves her to violate a number of federal and state laws and too frequently defy her superior.

The author does attempt to soften the hard-edged images of these two intensely driven individuals. They have a teen-aged daughter, but she is never on stage and her influence on her parents in this story is minimal. Some of the narrative which explains in great detail financial maneuvering at these billion-dollar-levels could have been profitably shortened to maintain the rising pace of the novel. The concluding chapters, while logical and satisfactory, have a mild feeling of a pro forma wrap-up. Not a bad story, but given the alarming core premise, somewhat disappointing in execution.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.


Spotlight on The Kraken Project by Douglas Preston—and a Giveaway!

The Kraken Project


Title: The Kraken Project
Author: Douglas Preston
Series: Wyman Ford #4
Publisher: Forge Books
Publication Date: May 13, 2014


Bold and brilliant former-Monk-turned-CIA-operative Wyman Ford returns
in THE KRAKEN PROJECT, on a search to stop an Artificial Intelligence
program, originally developed by NASA to pilot an explorer to the Kraken
Mare on Saturn’s moon, Titan. As the AI begins to think for itself, it escapes
onto the Internet where it can do extreme damage to all of the world’s
computer-controlled infrastructures. Booklist has given it a Starred
review, saying “Preston’s latest solo novel takes a wildly implausible
premise and turns it into a very entertaining thriller…
his characters are so compelling, his storytelling
so persuasive, that we buy it all completely…Bravo.”


NASA is building a probe to be splashed down in the Kraken Mare,
the largest sea on Saturn’s great moon, Titan. It is one of the most
promising habitats for extraterrestrial life in the solar system, but
the surface is unstable and dangerous, requiring the probe to
be outfitted with artificial intelligence software. Melissa Shepherd,
a brilliant programmer, has developed “Dorothy,” a powerful,
self-modifying AI whose potential is both revolutionary and terrifying.
When miscalculations lead to a catastrophe during testing,
Dorothy flees into the internet.

Former CIA agent Wyman Ford is tapped to help track down the
rogue AI. As Ford and Shepherd search for Dorothy, they realize that
her horrific experiences in the wasteland of the Internet have
changed her in ways they can barely imagine. And they’re not the
only ones looking for the wayward program: the AI is also being
pursued by a pair of Wall Street traders who want to capture her
code and turn her into a high-speed trading bot.

Traumatized, angry, and relentlessly hunted, Dorothy devises a
plan. As the pursuit of Dorothy converges on a deserted house on
the coast of Northern California, Ford faces the question: is rescuing
Dorothy the right thing? Is the AI bent on saving the world…
or on wiping out the cancer that is humankind?



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About the Author


Douglas PrestonDouglas Preston is the co-author with Lincoln Child of the celebrated Pendergast series of novels, including such best-selling titles as Fever Dream, The Book of the Dead, The Wheel of Darkness, and Relic, which became a number one box office hit movie. His solo novels include the New York Times bestsellers Impact, Blasphemy, The Codex, and Tyrannosaur Canyon. His most recent nonfiction book, The Monster of Florence, is being made into a film starring George Clooney. Preston is an expert long-distance horseman, a member of the elite Long Riders Guild, and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He has travelled to remote parts of the world as an archaeological correspondent for The New Yorker. He also worked as an editor and writer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and taught nonfiction writing at Princeton University. Preston is the Co-president of International Thriller Writers, and serves on the Governing Council of the Authors Guild.

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To enter the drawing for a hardcover copy of
The Kraken Project by Douglas Preston, leave a
comment below. The winning name will
be drawn Sunday evening, June 1st.
This drawing is open to residents of
the US and Canada.


“Douglas Preston has written the most wildly original novel you are
ever likely to read, a Sci-Fi thriller Isaac Asimov would have
treasured. That said, I doubt if it is fiction. A prediction, I suspect.
I loved this book, and I know you will too.”
—Stephen Coonts, New York Times bestselling author of Pirate Alley

“I never miss a Doug Preston novel, and with The Kraken Project, he
simply blew me away. Here is a book as chilling as it is provocative,
making you look anew at what it means to be ‘alive.’ Here is an eye-opening
glimpse into the fringes of artificial intelligence blended with a taut
thriller of heart-pounding suspense. It’s Preston at his finest!”
—James Rollins, New York Times bestseller of The Eye of God

Good Cop

CL SwinneyChris Swinney (C. L. Swinney), @clswinney, is currently assigned to a Department of Justice Task Force that investigates a myriad of cases ranging from street level drug dealers and Bank Robbers to homicides and complex Mexican Cartel cases. When criminals run, Chris is called to find them. He puts his unbelievable experiences and everyday life as a Detective into his writing.

Chris officially began his writing career when his feature article was published in Fly Fisherman Magazine. After this, his work continued to appear in, Alaskan Peninsula Newspaper, California Game & Fish, and again in Fly Fisherman Magazine again. He’s now a contributor to, the nation’s premier law enforcement online magazine.

Chris came up with the concept for his Bill Dix series while fly fishing in Andros, Bahamas. As he landed on the island, he noticed several downed planes, which piqued his interest. While on the island, he was fortunate enough to speak with and interview several islanders and law enforcement members. His first novel, Gray Ghost, was born from these interviews and was infused with Chris’s experiences as a Detective. His debut novel made best seller’s lists on Amazon in paperback and kindle for Crime Fiction and Mystery.

I sat staring at the screen for this blog for quite a long time. I’m not sure why since I’ve never experienced writer’s block, but something was amidst. I think I had too many ideas battling it out in my mind for me to pick one. So, like any other righteous and sophisticated author would do, I let my seven year old pick the topic. Drum roll please…he told me to write about what I do at work!

Well, that would take more than one blog post to cover, unless I did a serialized novel, but I’m pretty sure he was telling me to write about the really fun stuff. So, here goes.

I’m in a unique position, not only in California, but in the United States as well. I’m a Deputy Sheriff and part of two different task forces, one for narcotics and one for everything else. I literally investigate cases from street level dealers and pimps to homicide suspects and cartel organizations. It’s made for some very interesting days and long nights. But the satisfaction of keeping the public safe is what drives me to excel at my profession.

The men and women in law enforcement sometimes get a bad rap in the media (and I’ll be the first to admit sometimes we deserve the ridicule), but I work tirelessly to change the public’s perception of what it is we do and see on any given day. Let me share what I did last week to give you a better idea of what I’m talking about.

We get a tip that a subject who is on probation is hiding another person who is wanted. The wanted person is wanted for an indictment for raping a woman and stealing her car. The thought of what this person is “alleged” to have done makes me sick. I say “alleged” because we are all innocent until proven guilty, but listening to the victim explain what happened to her leaves no doubt. He did it, and he should serve time for it. We whip up a plan, gather enough bodies to do a search of the residence, and head out to attempt to locate the suspect. Long story short, I make contact with the wanted suspect as I enter the home. He looks fishy and won’t show me his hands. He’s thinking of running or worse, I wonder if he’s armed? The suspect still won’t show me his hands and the situation is tense. People are yelling, subjects are coming out of rooms, dogs are barking, and the guy who has an arrest warrant won’t show me his hands. This is the most dangerous time of our careers. The unknown is my greatest fear. He makes a quick movement and pulls his hand out of his pants. He’s got a black cell phone in his hand and he raises it like he wants to shoot me. I don’t pull the trigger, advance, keep giving orders, and run the entire scene until I can reach the suspect to go hands on. This is all decided and completed in a split second. My heart is pumping and my blood pressure is sky-rocketing.

In today’s court of law, it’s unclear what twelve people would have decided to do with me, loss of career, imprisonment, or nothing. Either way, I would have to live with killing someone over a cell phone and it would torment me. Often times, officers who experience such a scenario end up committing suicide. It’s just part of the job for me, but a scary part indeed.

Nonetheless, let’s get to the fun stuff. I get to talk at schools and try to educate the public on what we do in law enforcement. Seeing kids smile is truly cool. I get to participate in a camp for a week for underprivileged children. It’s tougher than pushing a patrol car, but rewarding for sure. I get to give presentations throughout the United States on my profession and attend trainings to make me better prepared for scenarios like I described above. My two favorite things are rescuing children from violent or impoverished situations, and going home at the end of my shift.

Lastly, I’d like to add that not all cops or deputies are the same. There are many of us who genuinely like to help people and are approachable. If you’re reading this and have questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to contact me here or my email ( Have a great day/night!


Gray Ghost 2Book Blurb:

While on a fly fishing vacation to Andros Island in the Bahamas, narcotics detectives Dix and Petersen discover their fishing guides were killed when a sudden blast of gunfire fractured their speedboat, Gray Ghost. Local gossip has it that Gray Ghost went to the ocean floor with a hundred million dollars’ worth of cocaine in the hull.

Dix and Petersen, against their better judgment, are drawn into helping their island friends even though it could cost them their careers. Leads are chased down in the Bahamas and Miami. The two detectives identify a diabolical plot of a sinister man known only as “The Caller.”

An elaborate trap is set for The Caller, but he’s two steps ahead of the detectives. As the drama unfolds, it’s unclear who can be trusted. When it appears The Caller will get away once again, lead detective Dix and his sidekick Petersen exhaust everything they have in an effort to capture the criminal mastermind.


Book Review: Pulled Beneath by Marni Mann

Pulled Beneath Tour Banner


Title: Pulled Beneath
Author: Marni Mann
Series: The Bar Harbor Series #1
Publisher: Booktrope Editions
Publication Date: March 18, 2014
Genre: New Adult/Adult Mystery, Contemporary Romance



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Pulled BeneathPulled Beneath
The Bar Harbor Series #1
Marni Mann
Booktrope Editions, March 2014
ISBN 978-1-62015-219-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

What happens when you uncover years of secrets and find out everything you thought to be true was a lie?

Drew Stevens finds her world turned upside down when her parents are brutally murdered. Soon after, she learns she inherited a property in Bar Harbor, Maine from recently deceased grandparents who she believed had died when she was a baby.

Drew travels north to settle her grandparents’ estate, but finds more questions than answers as the truth starts unraveling. What she didn’t expect to find was Saint, whose reputation was as tumultuous as his past. But the very thing that drew them together was the same thing that kept them emotionally caged.

With Saint’s scars so deep and Drew’s so fresh, can the pair heal from their painful wounds or will they be pulled beneath the darkness of their pasts?

A cottage on a beautiful ocean coastline, a man with a past and endless questions about how her family fell apart years ago and ended in murder —all the elements are here to entice the reader to walk along with Drew in search of answers and a future.  Drew is at a loss after the murders of her parents and finding out that they had kept so much hidden from her, including the grandparents she always believed were dead. Why had they done this?

Drew and Saint, along with lesser characters, are so well-drawn that they felt real, in a sense, almost as though I was sitting on that rocky coast watching the story unfold around me. A large part of their appeal is in their normalcy and the day-to-day concerns that make up their lives in addition to the more critical issues they have to confront. Gianna is the best friend we all need but, even more important a character is Bar Harbor itself. This is a setting I’d love to visit in real life and I found myself absorbed in its beauty and its personality, seeing it, in a way, through Drew’s photographic eye. And then there is Bella, truest friend of all.

Mysteries are often built on secrets and, in Pulled Beneath, the primary secret is a lie. Once told, or not told in the event of a lie by omission, that lie can become increasingly insurmountable. As Drew delves into her parents’ past and Saint deals with his own ghosts, they begin to drift towards each other and to new possibilities.

As a mystery lover, I found Pulled Beneath more than satisfying but I also enjoyed the love story (or stories) which, to me, are so much more meaningful than a surface romance. I’m also inordinately fond of series that make the location central to the tale. The second book, Pulled Within, is another Bar Harbor tale involving different main characters and will be out in September 2014; I’ll be looking out for it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2014.

About the Author


Marni MannA New Englander at heart, Marni Mann is now a Floridian inspired by the sandy beaches and hot pink sunsets of Sarasota. She taps mainstream appeal and shakes worldwide taboos, taking her readers on a dark and breathtaking journey. When she’s not nose deep in her laptop, she’s scouring for chocolate, traveling, reading, or walking her four-legged children.

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Spotlight on Qualify by Vera Nazarian


I missed the cover reveal for Qualify earlier
this month so, with thanks for their
understanding to the author, Vera Nazarian,
and the tour organizer, Giselle at Xpresso
Book Tours, I’d like to offer this
Spotlight to whet your appetites 😉




Title: Qualify
Author: Vera Nazarian
Series: The Atlantis Grail #1
Publication date: May 25th 2014
Genres: Dystopia, Science Fiction, Young Adult



The year is 2047. An extinction-level asteroid is hurtling toward earth,
and the descendents of ancient Atlantis have returned from the
stars in their silver ships to offer humanity help.

But there’s a catch.

They can only take a tiny percent of the Earth’s population back to the
colony planet Atlantis. And in order to be chosen, you must be a teen,
you must be bright, talented, and athletic, and you must Qualify.

Sixteen-year-old Gwenevere Lark is determined not only to
Qualify but to rescue her entire family.

Because there’s a loophole.

If you are good enough to Qualify, you are eligible to compete in the brutal
games of the Atlantis Grail, which grants all winners the laurels, high tech
luxuries, and full privileges of Atlantis Citizenship. And if you are in the
Top Ten, then all your wildest wishes are granted…
Such as curing your mother’s cancer.

There is only one problem.

Gwen Lark is known as a klutz and a nerd. While she’s a hotshot in
classics, history, science, and languages, the closest she’s
come to sports is a backyard pool and a skateboard.

This time she is in over her head, and in for a fight of her life, against
impossible odds and world-class competition—including Logan
Sangre, the most amazing guy in her class, the one she’s been
crushing on, and who doesn’t seem to know she exists.

Because every other teen on Earth has the same idea.

You Qualify or you die.



Coming May 25, 2014


About the Author


Vera NazarianVera Nazarian is a two-time Nebula Award Nominee, award-winning artist, and member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a writer and reader with a penchant for moral fables and stories of intense wonder, true love, and intricacy.

She is the author of critically acclaimed novels DREAMS OF THE COMPASS ROSE and LORDS OF RAINBOW, as well as the outrageous parodies MANSFIELD PARK AND MUMMIES and NORTHANGER ABBEY AND ANGELS AND DRAGONS, and most recently, PRIDE AND PLATYPUS: MR. DARCY’S DREADFUL SECRET in her humorous and surprisingly romantic Supernatural Jane Austen Series.

After many years in Los Angeles, Vera lives in a small town in Vermont, and uses her Armenian sense of humor and her Russian sense of suffering to bake conflicted pirozhki and make art.

Her official author website is

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