The Imagined Movie

Gray Basnight is deeply immersed in writing fiction after almost three decades as a broadcast news writer, editor, producer, and reporter. His books and writing cross several genres, and features a range of voices and characters very different from himself.

Gray lives in New York with his wife Lisa, and their golden retriever Tinta. When not writing, he’s thinking about writing while walking Tinta, watching movies, and all other daily activities. He has lived in New York City long enough to consider himself a native, though he grew up in Richmond, Virginia.

He enjoys hearing from readers about his books and other authors they enjoy.

At a recent Q&A session with three literary agents sponsored by New York Writers Workshop, a local group I proudly belong to, the inevitable topic that lives close to every writer’s heart was raised.  Among all other serial inquiries such as “to outline or not to outline,” this particular subject is always lurking.  It’s been voiced, in one manner or another, at every pitch conference, lecture, and writing forum I’ve ever attended.

The subject, of course, is—Hollywood, the adaption of book to script to box-office smash-hit film.

“Would you, Mr./Ms. Agent/Editor/Publisher/Famous Writer please talk about your experience(s) shepherding your book(s) into film?”  “How does it work?”  “Are writers allowed on set?”  “Can writers demand a screenplay credit?”  And the all-important question on everyone’s mind: “What’s the pay range?” which, by the way, no one ever explicitly answers.

When the subject came up at this latest Q&A, my friend and novelist Charles Salzberg made a valuable observation. He noted that of all writers he’s known and worked with (of which there are many), all would say “Yes!” if asked whether their novel would make a good movie.  Not a surprise, of course.  No one ever says “Naw, my book is only for reading.”

A quick Google search reports that one of the first, if not the very first book adapted to screen was an 1896 French silent movie called Trilby and Little Billee.  A mere forty-five seconds long, it was based on George du Maurier’s 1894 best seller Trilby, about a young woman making a living in Paris as an artist’s model.  The short movie was a single scene depicting her seated with Billee, one of her suitors.  It’s doubtful Monsieur du Maurier earned a windfall, or that he had any say in who played Trilby or Billee.  Nonetheless, that set the ball rolling.  For writers, nothing has been the same since.  We all want to see our name on the credit roll, and our narrative transferred to cinematic magic.

So, I admit it.  Yes, I believe my latest novel, Flight of the Fox, would make a terrific film.  So terrific, in fact, that on my acknowledgements page, I urge the Coen Brothers to call me so we can work things out.  Hey, you never know.  I do not believe, however, that the story would best be served as a two-hour feature-length movie.  The plot twists are meandering, and the second half is an exploration of character backgrounds, including the pathology of the antagonist and the government bureaucracy he works for.  Because of this, I believe the novel best qualifies as a four or six-part series on Netflix, Amazon, HBO, or any of the other outlets drawing throngs of viewers out of the multiplex.

Now for the even bigger fantasy: if I were in charge of casting—whose agents would get the phone call?  Here’s my rundown:

  •    Sam Teagarden, a middle-aged math professor running for his life from mysterious hitmen and outwitting them without weapons: Ethan Hawke or Jeff Goldblum.
  •    Cynthia Blair, a smart woman, a lawyer, and Teagarden’s new romantic interest: Sandra Bullock.
  •    Harry McCanliss, an FBI agent with a license to kill, who does kill with great speed and efficiency.  He’s over sixty, bald, and a sociopath working in service to his country: Gary Oldman.
  •    Durgan Donnursk, a young, ambitious FBI agent, also with a license to kill: Logan Lerman.
  •    Thomas Rose, a handsome FBI agent, the office stud, who’s drawn into the license-to-kill program against his will: Christian Bale.
  •    Paula Trippler, an FBI bureaucrat who runs the license-to-kill program, though she’s thoroughly unqualified for the job.  Thomas Rose is her love interest: Frances McDormand.
  •    Svetlana Gelayeva, an Eastern European living in NYC to support her family overseas, which she does as a drug dealer: Drew Barrymore.
  •    Eva Ghent, Teagarden’s daughter, navy pilot, and head of FIDROPRO which turns pilots into drone operators: Jennifer Lawrence.
  •    Pangolin (Captain Kasey Landrew), Eva’s ex-boyfriend, a retired fighter pilot who lives a hermit’s existence on a boat off the coast of Key West: Tom Hardy.
  •    Chispa, a middle-aged woman who lives on a houseboat in Key West where she works as a cabdriver.  She is tough, vulgar and scrappy: Melissa McCarthy.

There you go.  If you’re any of the above-mentioned actors, read the novel and let me know if you concur with my casting judgment.  Likewise if you’re a reader.  Visit my website and email whether you agree or, tell me your own fantasy casting call for Flight of the Fox.

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An innocent math professor runs for his life as teams of hitmen try to prevent publication of their government’s dark history…

College professor Sam Teagarden stumbles upon a decades-old government cover-up when an encoded document mysteriously lands in his in-box, followed by a cluster of mini-drones programmed to kill him.

That begins a terrifying flight from upstate New York, to Washington, to Key West as Teagarden must outfox teams of hitmen equipped with highly sophisticated technology. While a fugitive, he races to decode the journal, only to realize the dreadful truth—it’s the reason he’s being hunted because it details criminal secrets committed by the U.S. in the 20th Century.

If he survives and publishes the decoded diary, he’ll be a heroic whistle blower. But there is no guarantee. He may also end up dead.

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Book Review: Selected by J. Allen Wolfrum

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Title: Selected
Author: J. Allen Wolfrum
Publication Date: January 18, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller

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Selected
J. Allen Wolfrum
CreateSpace, January 2018
ISBN 978-1981498970
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Former Army helicopter pilot, Susan Turner is Selected as the next President of the United States. In order to avoid a nuclear war, she must overcome personal demons and learn to navigate the murky waters of international diplomacy.

Five years ago, the Dove Revolution changed the political structure of the United States. The President, Senate, and Congress are no longer elected by the public, they are Selected at random every two years. A shadow organization known only as The Board, advances their sinister agenda by taking advantage of their anonymity and Susan’s tendency to make brash decisions. Blackmail, espionage and murder are all in play as The Board manipulates geo-political events to spark a war between the Soviet Union and the United States.

With the help of her former Squadron Commander, General LeMae, Susan Turner attempts to lead the nation through these turbulent times while battling her own internal demons. Susan is a battle-hardened war veteran but she must learn what it takes to be a world leader. Nuclear war and the future of the human race hang in the balance.

Reading this book took on a strange and frightening aspect when I thought about it in terms of our very real political climate these days. I have no idea exactly when Mr. Wolfrum wrote it or if he was influenced at all by our president’s love of Big Business but the similarities are alarming. In some ways, this story is a blueprint for what could happen in our not-too-distant future.

Having a particular group control a political system isn’t a new concept—we only have to look as far as the Illuminati conspiracy theories that have existed and, supposedly, been active for centuries to see the possibilities. When Susan Turner becomes the chosen president, she doesn’t realize or fully understand the intentions of The Board but she soon finds out that she is viewed as a mere pawn. Fortunately for the country, Susan objects and the race is on to stop the intended war.

Despite her initial shoot-from-the-hip ways, Susan is a credible character with the kind of personal baggage you’d expect her to have with her Army background but that baggage also helps her when she has to face up to what is going on behind the scenes. Whether she can prevent the evil behind the scenes is at the core of an intense and exciting story.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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An Excerpt from Selected

Susan Turner looked up through a haze of white dust and saw a group of men in black suits huddled around her body. The muffled ringing in her ears overpowered their voices. The men helped her to her feet and they ran as a group toward the entrance to the underground tunnel. Her hearing slowly returned, screams of panic in the hallway replacing the ringing. As they ran, she recognized the men surrounding her were Secret Service agents.

Four agents surrounded Susan as they jogged through the underground tunnel together. Ten yards into the tunnel, she slowed down. In mid-stride, she took off one heel at a time and returned to the pace of the group. There were no words exchanged; they moved together in focused silence. Four hundred yards down the tunnel, the group stopped at two large steel doors. The lead agent opened the doors and light from the helicopter pad above burst into the tunnel.

Before moving toward the helicopter, the agent standing behind Susan shouted into his headset, “Checkpoint Bravo. Waiting for clearance.” He nodded as the response came through and relayed the message to the group: “Let’s move.” They ran from the tunnel into the daylight and across the tarmac to the open doors of the helicopter.

The agent sitting across from Susan handed her a communications headset. “Ma’am, are you okay? Any injuries?” Susan wiped the sweat and dust from her face. “No, I’m fine. My family?”

“They’re safe. Your children were brought to a safe location under the Pentagon, and your parents are there with them.”

She nodded. “Is it over?”

He pursed his lips before responding, “I don’t know. I only heard snippets of radio chatter while we were on the way to the helipad.”

Susan leaned back in her seat, cupping her hands over her face and replaying the events in her mind. The group stayed in radio silence for the remainder of the brief flight. The helicopter landed at Andrews Air Force Base and the doors immediately opened. Susan and her security detail rushed across the tarmac and boarded the Boeing 747. She walked onto the plane in her bare feet. Jogging on concrete caused the pinky toe on her left foot to bleed. She left a trail of blood down the center aisle of Air Force One.

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Excerpt from Selected by J. Allen Wolfrum. Copyright © 2018 by J. Allen Wolfrum. Reproduced with permission from J. Allen Wolfrum. All rights reserved.


About the Author

J. Allen Wolfrum is a fiction author and former Marine. He served four years as a Marine Corps Infantryman in the most decorated Regiment in Marine Corps history. During Operation Iraqi Freedom he led an infantry squad on missions spanning from the oil fields of Southern Iraq to the streets of Baghdad.

After the Marine Corps, he spent the next fifteen years exploring life from several perspectives: press operator in a plastics factory, warehouse stocker, confused college student, Certified Public Accountant, bearded graduate student, management consultant, and data analyst.

J. Allen Wolfrum’s writing career began in 2017 with his debut novel, Selected. He uses the unique combination of his Marine Corps, professional and life experience to create a realistic perspective on the political thriller genre. He lives in Southern California with his beautiful wife and two cats.

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Book Review: Blue Fire by Katherine Prairie

Blue Fire
An Alex Graham Novel #2
Katherine Prairie
Stonedrift Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-0-9949377-5-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Tanzanite, a rare blue gem born in fire and revealed by lightning, is found only in the Merelani Hills of Tanzania. But now the death of a gem smuggler points to another possibility. A South American mine owned by Tabitha Metals may hold the find of a century. But why is it kept hidden from the world? Geologist Brian Graham can draw only one conclusion: the mine’s untraceable wealth is used to fund terrorism. And he must reveal the truth.

Brian heads to Colombia to check out mines there while his geologist daughter Alex and Tanzanian miner Mosi Ongeti start in Brazil. But their daring plan ends with a gunshot, and they are now pursued by the henchmen of a sinister, powerful arms dealer.

In a high-stakes race across two continents, Alex fights to expose the mine before the man behind Tabitha Metals can stop her.

Not that I have jewels dripping off of me but, if I did, I’d have colorful gems because I find most diamonds and the like pretty boring. I used to wear a lot of rings and had some that were really beautiful—garnets, emeralds, sapphires, amethysts, aquamarine, topaz, etc.—and, yes, tanzanite. When I read the description of Ms. Prairie‘s latest book, I was immediately drawn to it.

Hunting for beautiful gems is inevitably going to be an exotic journey and, in this case, Brazil and Tanzania fit the bill. The locations alone made me want to be right there along with the characters and, naturally with this being a mystery, mining for gems is only a piece of the story. Could it be true that a previously undiscovered deposit has been found and, if so, why the secrecy? Now, granted, an abundant supply can drive prices down but that doesn’t seem to be an adequate reason, especially since a man has been killed.

Alex has to get her wounded friend, Mosi, back to Africa where her geologist father is (or is he?) but they’ll have to outrun and outwit some very bad people who have other plans in mind. Mosi needs medical attention right away and Dr. Eric Keenan, Alex’s kinda-sorta boyfriend, steps in, mainly because Eric is a very nice guy and he cares for Alex. Their relationship is growing organically and there is nothing out of place about it, much to my pleasure.

Alex really is no sleuth but she’s a strongminded, intelligent woman who can put two and two together. Sometimes, that gets her in trouble and that’s certainly true this time. Running from highly motivated criminals is bad enough; will she be able to turn the tables on them?

Once again, Katherine Prairie ensnared me with her appealing, vividly drawn characters and a plot that kept me racing around the world. What seems to start out as a hunt for a gem deposit turns into something much darker and I enjoyed every minute of this intense ride.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

Book Review: The Phoenix Project by C.A. Gray

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Title: The Phoenix Project
Series: The Liberty Box #2
Author: C.A. Gray
Narrator: Melissa Williams
Publisher: Wanderlust Publishing
Publication Date: May 2017

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The Phoenix Project
The Liberty Box #3
C.A. Gray
Narrated by Melissa Williams
Wanderlust Publishing, May 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

The haven city of Beckenshire has been demolished, and most of the rebels lie beneath the rubble. The few that remain scramble to communicate with the outside world, knowing that if they are to stand a chance in the coming war, they can’t do it alone. In a last ditch effort to grow their ranks, the remaining rebels systematically destroy the repeaters which help to propagate the control center signals. And it’s working: citizens in targeted cities are waking up in droves. But Ben Voltolini will stop at nothing to quell the uprising before it has a chance to get off the ground. And he has one major ace up his sleeve: Kate Brandeis.

During Kate’s broadcast to the nation, Voltolini unleashed targeted brainwave signals against her, causing her to allow both Jackson MacNamera’s capture, and her own. Now, despite Voltolini’s exquisite wining and dining, she can’t seem to stop the panic attacks. Whom can she trust? What is truth? Is there even such a thing?

Meanwhile, imprisoned and hopeless, Jackson realizes the depths of his feelings for Kate only after he has already lost her. The incredible self-control upon which he prides himself gets put to the ultimate test when he meets an unlikely ally who just may turn the tide in the rebels’ favor – but only if Jackson can put aside his own bitterness. In this gripping conclusion to The Liberty Box Trilogy, new and surprising alliances are formed, passions run high, and our heroes learn what they are really made of. Do they have what it takes to fight for freedom – even if it means paying the ultimate price?

It would be fair to say that The Phoenix Project neatly wraps everything up for the trilogy and so it does but that doesn’t really do the author justice. A lot goes on in this last volume and I got to know the characters even better, not always pleasantly.

With Kate being held in pampered captivity and seemingly completely under Voltolini’s sway, Jackson in the deepest of dungeons and the remnants of the resistance in tatters, it would appear that all is lost and the dictator has won but some of the rebels have a different plan. At the same time, Kate discovers Jackson in his cell and begins to doubt her thoughts, her implanted belief that he is a murderer and the cause of all that is wrong. Meanwhile, Jackson has his own doubts about himself but meets another prisoner who just might turn out to be a critical piece of his, Jackson’s, redemption.

In this third book, I came to dislike Will more and more as his need to control everything, especially Kate, became increasingly obnoxious. This man truly needs to be set straight about how to behave towards women and he really is kind of stereotypical but, truthfully, he was not my most detested character. That honor goes to Denise (I think that’s her name), Kate’s mother but I’ll leave it to you to find out why—I assure you it won’t be hard to figure it out. As for Jackson, I came away understanding that he is, indeed, very human and not a superhero, making him very likeable indeed while my empathy for Kate intensified even as I wanted to throttle her sometimes.

Narrator Melissa Williams still isn’t my favorite reader because she doesn’t differentiate voices all that well but I still enjoy listening to her. Her tone is very pleasant and I think her vocal strength comes at those times when characters are losing it. In particular, her shrill tones with both Will and Denise made their distress very evident.

All in all, The Liberty Box trilogy has been a pleasure to listen to and I’m glad I had this opportunity.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

About the Author

By day, C.A. Gray is a Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) with a primary care practice in Tucson, AZ, and she writes medical books under her real name (Dr. Lauren Deville). She lives with her husband, with whom she maintains a facetiously contentious movie review blog, and travels as often as they can get away. When not writing or seeing patients, she does yoga, drinks red wine while eating dark chocolate, and consumes audiobooks like there’s no tomorrow!

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About the Narrator

Melissa lives with her family, including two dogs and a cat, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains near Denver, Colorado.

After having a corporate job for most of her life, and as a self-proclaimed introvert, she decided to leave corporate America to work from home. Voice overs had always tugged at her heart as something she would like to explore, so she attended some classes and landed with a company that taught her how to break in to the industry.

Loving to read, she explored the fast growing world of audiobooks and fell in love with it. She has ten audiobooks under her belt and is currently working on the 11th. Understanding that she should always be learning how to improve her skills, she is currently working with Sean Pratt.

When not talking to herself in a padded room, she can be found walking her dog, singing or fishing the Arkansas River.

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Devious Inspirations

Katherine, a geologist and IT specialist, stepped away from the international petroleum industry to follow her passion for writing. An avid traveler with an insatiable curiosity, you never know where you’ll find her next! But most days, she’s in Vancouver, Canada quietly plotting murder and mayhem under the watchful eye of a cat. She is an award-winning presenter and the author of the thriller Thirst and the just-released Blue Fire.

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I recently visited an island of just ten residents, a very remote locale that instantly brought to mind Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

With ten people living in close proximity, it would be hard to keep your life private. An argument with between husband and wife, a sick child, financial difficulties — it wouldn’t take long for neighbours to learn of these secrets. Worse, simple truths passed from one neighbour to another can morph into something completely different. I still remember the lesson of a message whispered from one student to another in a class of thirty. When the last student repeated the message aloud, it bore little resemblance to the original!

So, imagine with me a secret on this isolated island of ten people: a wife who wants to escape the island for life with a man she has met online. Imagine also, that her husband of nine years would never let her go. Does she decide to slip away by boat on a moonlit night? Or does she take the ultimate step of killing the man who stands between her and happiness?

Whatever she decides, she must keep her intentions secret, a challenge when you live in a tight group of ten people. And if she does decide on murder, she must carefully cast blame in another direction; she must use the secrets of this small community against them. The perfect Agatha Christie mystery!

But as much as I love a good Agatha Christie story, my writing is more influenced by another great mystery writer: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A grisly murder in a dark alleyway in London, a devious killer, and a suspect pool drawn from thousands — Doyle’s stories are complex, and focus on forensic evidence and criminal behaviour. These are the same elements of a good thriller with a clock ticking down to a deadly crime.

Clues and motive are paramount, but so are the people who fill the pages. Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and the evil Professor Moriarty are just a few of the memorable characters Doyle has created. These richly drawn personalities pull us into the story and keep us there until the very end.

My style is unique, but the influence of authors like Doyle, Christie and P.D. James are part of my foundation, as are thriller writers Steve Berry, Daniel Silva, Frederick Forsyth and so many others. There is much to learn from these great writers and I continue to squeeze in time to read their novels. Stories that keep me reading long into the night become my textbooks, and so too do those that fail to connect with me. Both give insights into how to deliver a captivating read.

And I ask myself: what would these devious minds come up with for my desperate wife on the isolated island? Every story would be different, but what stories they would be!

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Like its predecessor, BLUE FIRE is absolutely compelling and so nicely drawn in characterization, detail, and plot that it could have been streamed directly from real life and people.
– D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

 

Book Review: Willnot by James Sallis

Willnot
James Sallis
Bloomsbury, June 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63286-452-9
Hardcover

Although I had heard very fine things about this author’s work, it has [obviously] taken me much too long to catch up to him, but fortunately I have now corrected that oversight.  His newest book, Willnot, is written in what has been described as his “inimitably spare style” and “haunting and immensely readable,” and I found it undeniably very enjoyable.

From the publisher:  In the woods outside the town of Willnot, the remains of several people have suddenly been discovered, unnerving the community and unsettling Dr. Lamar Hale, the town’s all-purpose general practitioner, surgeon, and town conscience.  At the same time, Bobby Lowndes – – his military records disappeared, being followed by the FBI – – mysteriously reappears in his hometown, at Hale’s door. Over the ensuing months, the daily dramas Hale faces as he tends to his town and to his partner, Richard, collide with the inexplicable vagaries of life in Willnot.  And when a gunshot aimed at Lowndes critically wounds Richard, Hale’s world is truly upended.

The reader is told of the discovery of the dead bodies in the opening sentence:  “We found the bodies two miles outside town, near the old gravel pit.”  We are likewise introduced to Bobby only a few pages later.  We are told [p.o.v. is that of Dr. Lamar Hale] that he was only sixteen when “he wound up at the wrong end of a prank gone horribly south.  Left town on the school’s band bus for a football game twenty miles away, came back six days after in an ambulance and a coma.  I’d taken care of him for close to a year, touch and go at first, then the long plateau and rehab.  One of those strange mirrors life can throw up to you.”  When asked by the Sheriff what he thinks of what they have found, his reply is “I think we found a hole in the ground with bodies in it.  There’s not a lot more to be thought at this point, rationally.”

A second story line has to do with another of Lamar’s patients of many years, Stephen, now 23.  “When he was eighteen, his parents and sister died in a car crash, hit and run.  He was supposed to have been in the car as well but had begged off. Over the next couple of years we watched Stephen pass from wanting to find the person responsible, to believing that the crash was intentional, not an accident at all but willful murder.  ‘The boy’s gone gumshoe, as Richard said.’ ”  A little later, the sheriff asks him “You ever figure out why so many kooks wind up living here?  His response:  We are, after all, a town rich with uncommon history.”

I found the writing absolutely wonderful, too many instances to recount here, but e.g., at the hospital, a colleague tells him, “much of the time we don’t help them live longer or better, we only change the way they die.”

I plan to catch up on Mr. Sallis’ prior novels; this one is, obviously, recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2018.

Book Review: Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne

Brightly Burning
Alexa Donne
HMH Teen, May 2018
ISBN 978-1328948939
Hardcover

Abruptly orphaned at only seven years old, Stella Ainsley slid down the human hierarchy and was relocated from the elitist Empire to a humbler space-craft, the Stalwart. Inhabited mostly by hard-working farmers that had won a lottery, Stella would never fit in. Instead, she clung to fond memories of her father, following in his footsteps to become a skilled and trusted engineer.

Sadly, she hates every moment of it. Teaching Ancient Earth Science brings her joy. Preparing students for “…when it comes time to go back down to the surface,” gives her purpose. But at almost-eighteen-years-old and without even a hint of a husband, choosing a career is not an option. Soon, Stella will be locked into her loathsome full-time position.

Unless…in the unlikeliest of events, another ship accepts one of her applications.

It is Year 210, Day 65.

A super-volcano has erupted, creating an ice-age that few humans will survive. When the explosion was only an impending threat, the wealthy (and thus assumed wise) decided not to depend on a precarious planet, but to create new habitats aboard a fleet of spaceships that would orbit the Earth until a thaw renders it once again welcoming to the lifestyle they deem acceptable.

For the majority–those with more money than empathy–this has worked quite well. The manual laborers and citizens of lesser means seemed to bear the brunt of any widespread illness. The vehicles housing commoners are always the first to de-orbit to explore and provide the status of Earth’s atmosphere.

Secretly, yet obviously, the Stalwart is being phased out. Stella doesn’t give a second thought to accepting an offer onboard the “…funny little private ship I’ve never heard of.” She’s already en route to the Rochester before she realizes that, thumbing his nose at the norm, Hugo has his ship orbiting not the Earth, but her moon. Just about right for this quirky crew.

At nineteen, Hugo is easily the youngest captain around.  Appearing to be a supremely spoiled brat with something sinister to hide, Stella decides to dismiss him and focus only on her new student, Hugo’s younger sister, Jessa. Although her intentions were solid, her instincts and curiosity were stronger. Ultimately altruistic, Stella sets aside her plan for personal happiness and embarks on a mission to save humanity.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2018.