Of Christmas Past

Returning 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, is here today with memories of Christmas with her family.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

Every family has their Christmas traditions. Relatives twenty deep gather around the tree. Kids scramble for presents and in ten seconds the floor is covered with wrapping and bows.

This was not my family’s routine. We were a military family and far away from kin. It was always just the five of us.

I believed in Santa for seven years. My mom went around the neighborhood threatening other children if they spilled the truth. She could hide presents so even Sherlock couldn’t find them. She was a pro at keeping secrets.

I knew my family didn’t have much money, but there were always presents under the tree. A rocking horse, Betsy Wetsy dolls, crayons and coloring books. Santa had to be real or where did all this stuff come from?

When we were stationed on Midway Island in the ‘50’s, Santa flew in on a helicopter. My mom convinced a pilot flying to Hawaii to pick up the newest toy that was all the rage back in the states. It was called a Hula Hoop. She managed to smuggle it in and keep it a secret. We were the only kids on the island to have one.

As we grew up, our family of five didn’t change. Three daughters and not one grandchild. In her defense, my older sister was a nun. My husband at the time came to spend it with my family one year and said “Never again!” The family tradition was to hand out the presents and ohh and ahh over the wrapping. We’d go around the room and one by one open a present. The buyer would say why she bought it and that would segue to a memory of the past. We all laughed at basically an inside joke. The ceremony took hours.

But, some Yuletides are not so cheerful. In 1999, my mother turned to me during the ritual and confided “This will be my last Christmas.” I chided her for being so negative. What I should have done was stop everything and taken her to the hospital.

She died a few days later. We didn’t know why. She never seemed sick. But, like I said, she was good at keeping secrets, right up to the end.

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Between the Bookends

Diana Savastano began her writing career as a columnist and feature writer. She later became a food journalist and editor. In 1992, she established her own company, publishing two print magazines (The Collector Newsmagazine and Gourmet Fare). In addition, Diana was the creator and host of “Cooking with Grandma”. Her first book, On the Breath of Angels, was released in April 2008. Winds of Pood series (Under the Puddle and In the Blizzard) are her first middle-grade novels, followed by The Upside Down Inside Out Life of Maureen Kiernan (Book 1: The Magic Cello), The Princess Who Loved to Swim, and The Marker. Diana is a member of the Authors Guild and SCBWI. When she’s not roaming around Gardone Riviera (Lake Garda, Italy), she can be found in suburban Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, Anthony.

Visit Diana at https://www.dianasavastano.com

Email Diana at savastano.diana7@gmail.com

Welcome to the amazing and sometimes daunting world of writing.

I’m not a person who’s usually at a loss for words—either in speech or on paper. In fact, I not only talk a lot, I write a lot. So, when I found my passion for writing, I embraced it.

Perhaps the best way I can describe my career is to say that I never thought of writing as a job. It’s a passion: creative, fun, interesting, crazy, a little heartbreaking (that comes in the form of rejections), but always thrilling.

How else would I be able to travel without ever leaving my office to a seaside village in England with two kids, a cat, and a mouse; a lakeside villa in Italy with a children’s book author turned detective; a cemetery in Mississippi with a Civil War ghost; a Scarlett Tea Party in Georgia with a teen uprooted from the Big Apple; and a splash into an undersea world where a princess is held captive by a witch.

Earlier in my career, I wrote newspaper and magazine columns and features. One of the best compliments I received from an editor was that I had a nose for news. But that nose soon got itchy, and I felt it was time to take my years of experience and start my own publishing company. I began with two print publications: The Collector Newsmagazine and Gourmet Fare magazine. By this time, the Internet domain name explosion was in full swing and both publications became e-zines with a global following.

I soon found there was enough room within my bookends to write books. And so it began with my first book about angels, followed by children’s adventures, and onto my latest novel—The Marker—a historical, murder mystery sprinkled with romance and paranormal activities.

Now, here’s the thing about writing: you’re never alone. Your characters are constantly talking, acting silly, and leading you around like you’re a trained seal. The plot goes up, circles around, and sometimes crashes to the ground in tiny slivers of nothingness. And all the while, you’re on a thrilling roller coaster ride where the imagination is in control, and you—the writer—are holding on for dear life.

When it came to writing The Marker, I found that there was no end to where my imagination could take me. The idea for the story began after I purchased a Civil War memorial grave marker at an antique shop. As soon as I held it, I felt a strong connection to its history, knowing that someday I would return it to the place from where it was taken. This extraordinary historical marker will be returned to its final resting place at the Natchez VA National Cemetery in Mississippi in December 2017.

What now? There’s plenty of room between my bookends for more novels, writing projects, and screenplays.  The only thing I have to expand is the shelf they’ll all go on. I’m a writer; this is how I roll.

The Value of Stories

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about why stories, in all forms, are so important to us all.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017.

http://www.kathleendelaney.net

Several years ago, I lived in a small town in South Carolina. I didn’t move there because I thought the opportunity for concerts, art exhibits, or evenings at the ballet would be on the agenda. I came because they had a good college and a good library in a quiet, small town setting. The concerts and art exhibits were close enough, so was a major airport.

Imagine my surprise when I heard that Gaffney was getting a traveling exhibit put together by the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian? Here? In Gaffney? Yep. An exhibit dedicated to the history of American music. I rushed to see it, thinking I’d be one of the few, hoping I was wrong. I was. The place has been packed, as have been the concerts associated with it.

That same year my grandkids stayed with me over spring break. One day, while we were driving somewhere, my granddaughter announced she had an idea for a book and I was to write it. Oh, no. It’s your idea, you write it, I said. How about if we write it together, was her answer. Sounded good to me, so I asked her the plot. Talk about gory! But, we wrote the story. Sort of. It never got a final edit, but we sure got the plot down and the characters fleshed out.

Here we have two things not connected in any way. Right? Wrong. They are both about story. The history of our country is told in the songs represented in the Smithsonian exhibit, the folk songs, the ballads, the anthems, they’re our collective story, what has made us Americans told in song. That’s one of the reasons so many people have wandered through the exhibit, have listened to the concerts. And, it was story, the joy of making one up, of letting her imagination run wild, that made the telling of that gruesome little tale so much fun for my granddaughter, but there were other things in there besides fun. Ghosts and other scary things were dealt with, and conquered, children were in danger, but were rescued by parents, also by the dog, and in the end, the children rescued the parents. We worked through a lot more than just some exciting plot points in that half-hour, and we had a lot of fun doing it.

Since mankind drew pictures on the walls of caves, we’ve been telling stories, in song, in dance, in drawings, and in—stories. We’ve kept our history alive through stories. We’ve made sense out of scary things, like death and destruction, and chronicled our high points and our low. At first, we told them around a camp fire or listened to them in the town square. Now, we write them down, print them into books or read them on our iphones. The means have changed, but our love, our need for stories hasn’t. They connect us. They  make us laugh, and cry. They take us places we’d never go, introduce us to people we’d otherwise never meet, make us think about things in ways we’ve never thought about before. All through stories.

Story telling–it’s in our DNA.

De Isla del Enchanto

Returning 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, is here today with fond memories of time spent on a lovely island.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

It was supposed to be the city of San Juan’s 497th birthday. Hurricane Maria came instead. It obliterated Puerto Rico.

For me the island was, and always will be, De Isla del Enchanto. I was stationed at Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in the ‘70’s. I’d volunteered for duty, although most of the people assigned there with no choice hated the place.

Puerto Rico isn’t a large island. It’s 100 miles long and 35 miles wide. Population at the last census was 3.5 million. After Maria, who knows?

I loved the warm Caribbean ocean after enduring the rough New England shores. People spontaneously broke out in music and dance. The food was wonderful, especially plantains and red beans and rice. We could take a motorcycle ride up to El Yunque, the rain forest, then down to Blue Beach in an afternoon. I was tanning on the beach on New Year’s Day.

Phosphorous Bay is best seen on a moonless night where, by dipping your hand in the water, all the tiny fish light up like stars. I climbed on the Arecibo satellite dish, largest in the world. Friends and I ate at the oldest restaurant on the island, picking our meal from fresh catch laid out on the sand. We went on a search for the best pina colada. We found it at the airport.

On liberty, my girlfriends and I took rooms in an old convent. We went to the Don Q rum tasting room (everyone on the island knew it was better than Bacardi) where the host plied us with exotic drinks. The next morning we went to the little panaderia and ate our pastries in Parque de las Paloma, Pigeon Park.

And such a rich history! Ponce de Leon was the first governor although he never lived there. He was hunting for the fountain of youth in Florida when he died. El Morro Fort protected the city as well as the wall that encompassed the city. The bricks were covered with steel from melted cannon balls and were expected to last forever. I wonder how they fared in the hurricane.

It was a playground for a 22 year old WAVE. Now I look at the devastation from aerial photographs and it looks like the island was hit by an atom bomb. I always dreamed of going back but my memories of what was will sustain.

         

If You Want My Body…and a Giveaway!

Lauren Carr is the best-selling author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which takes place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. Killer in the Band is the third installment in the Lovers in Crime Mystery series.

In addition to her series set in the northern panhandle of West Virginia, Lauren Carr has also written the Mac Faraday Mysteries, set on Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland, and the Thorny Rose Mysteries, set in Washington DC. The second installment in the Thorny Rose Mysteries, which features Joshua Thornton’s son Murphy and Jessica Faraday, Mac’s daughter, A Fine Year for Murder, was released in January 2017. The next book, Twofer Murder, will be released at the end of the year.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She also passes on what she has learned in her years of writing and publishing by conducting workshops and teaching in community education classes.

She lives with her husband, son, and four dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV. Visit Lauren Carr’s website at http://www.mysterylady.net to learn more about Lauren and her upcoming mysteries.

Writing is hard work. I’ve mentioned that before. Maybe not to you, but I certainly tell my family that a lot because to them it always looks like I’m playing around on my laptop.

It only looks like I’m goofing off watching all those puppy and kitten videos on YouTube. What I’m really doing is research.

So, after a long hard day of preparing for my Twofer Murder book tour with iReadsBook Tours, I really needed a break.

Now, you know how when you hear a tune on the radio and it keeps going through your mind over and over again? Well, the other day, that tune I had heard was:

If you want my body and you think I’m sexy, come on, Sugar, let me know …

So, after hours of being chained to my desk, writing one blog post and answering one interview question after another, I needed to cut loose … and I had this song going through my mind, which proved to be a dangerous combination.

With a sense of devil may care, I rose from my chair and made my way to the top of the stairs leading down to my husband’s study. I felt like Demi Moore in Striptease as I ripped open my blouse and dropped it to the floor. (Okay, maybe I didn’t actually rip it open.)

“If you want my body…” I sang at the top of my lungs while shedding one item of clothing after another on my way down the stairs to his study door.

“… and you think I’m sexy …”

I threw open the study door and strutted in wearing nothing but a smile!

“… come on, Sugar, let me know!”

The dogs flew out of the study like bats exiting hell.

I struck the sexiest pose possible for a middle-aged mystery writer, who doesn’t feel like cleaning up the kitchen.

My husband spun around in his chair. His jaw dropped open—so did the phone he was talking on. “I’m on the phone!”

“Is now a bad time?” asked the guy on the other end of the line.

With a heavy sigh, I made my way back upstairs, gathering my clothes along the way—thanking God that it was not a Skype call my husband was on.

On the bright side, during dinner, my husband told me that the guy he was talking to had said I could go over to his house and serenade him anytime.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To enter the drawing for a pre-release
ebook
copy of Twofer Murder by
Lauren Carr,
just leave a comment
below with
your thoughts about your
most embarrassing situation
.

The winning name will be drawn
on Monday evening, November 6th.
 

Midnight Louie, Epic Survivor

Carole Nelson Douglas is an award-winning journalist (former) and bestselling author of 63 novels in the mystery/thriller, epic and urban fantasy, and women’s mainstream and romance fiction genres. She was the first woman author to  spin off a Sherlock Holmes series, featuring the first woman from the Canon  to star in her own series, Irene Adler, the only woman to outwit Holmes. Good Night, Mr. Holmes was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, among other awards. Midnight Louie is the part-time feline PI narrator of 32 cozy-noir novels.

http://carolenelsondouglas.com/

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“A cat is said to have nine lives.
Where I live, on and off the Strip, the odds are your
average hip but homeless street cat will be Las Vegas lucky
to live three lives.”

—Midnight Louie, Cat in an Alphabet Endgame

Today, Oct. 29, is National Cat Day. For real.

Oct. 31, is cat detective Midnight Louie’s birthday. So he says. He spits in the face of idiotic human superstitions. And hisses too. Halloween is a Black Cat Power Day to him.

Either way,  it’s a great day to celebrate one long-ago cross-country cat rescue that has become a 44-year writing collaboration over 32 books and assorted short stories, including an Agatha nominee.

And now, for the first time ever, all of the Midnight Louie “alphabet” mystery series books (many out of print) are available for binge-reading (Louie hopes) in eBook, all 28 from Cat in an Alphabet Soup to the A-Z titles in-between to Cat in an Alphabet Endgame.

Midnight Louie himself started out homeless and struggled through foster homes both real-world and literary to conclude his adventures after 44 “lives”, if you count years as cat lives.

So Happy Birthday to you, Midnight Louie, as your interviewer-turned long-time collaborator thinks back to when we met in 1973. Assuming your stray self was six years old back then, that’s 40 lives for you, with more to come. Not bad for a homeless motel habitué destined for the needle at the sunny Palo Alto, California, pound.

Writers claim to invent characters, but Midnight Louie appeared fully formed and pre-named in the Classified Ads in snowy St. Paul, Minnesota. A cat-loving newspaper reporter, I always scanned the Classified “Cats” for sale column. Among the half-inch, tiny-type ads was three long expensive inches of Midnight Louie “available to a good home for $1.00”.

Who would pay $30 to virtually give a cat away? A woman who had flown him home in a borrowed puppy crate to escape a death sentence in California. She wanted him to be “the only cat, free to roam and not fixed”. She had me at “as at home on your best sofa as in your neighbor’s garbage can”.

I called her for an interview.

Midnight Louie had been named by the patrons of an upscale California motel. He survived by eating the $2,000 large Koi swimming in the pond. He ankled up to female guests at the outside food dispensing machines and wormed his way into their rooms for the chill northern California nights. She was working temporarily in Palo Alto and decided that such a master survivor would not die on her watch.

ML and I met only once. He was a big, black American shorthair with a piercing green gaze. Alas, Louie was not adapting to apartment life. He used the litter box to tunnel to China and naught else. Politically incorrect, he was “inappropriate” with her two fixed female cats. He attacked the Hoover upright vacuum until it was subdued in a closet again.

Back at the newspaper, I wrote the story’s “who, what, when, where” first sentence. My fingers hovered above the keys as I made the most significant decision of my reporting career. I decided to let Louie tell his story in his own voice. Good decision: he was smart, sassy and brassy. Why not? He’d been a champion big game fish catcher, successful con and ladies man, a motel detective protecting the dames feline and human in the dark of night. So what if he was wanted dead or alive?

He’d landed in clover again.

Yes, he had. He went to a farm in Minnesota and I went on to sell my first novel in 1977. After a huge “sleeper” national bestseller epic fantasy novel in 1982, I moved to sunny Texas to write  fiction full-time in 1984. Then the fantasy publisher dropped me for selling too well. (Long, disgraceful story). Writing short romance novels for Harlequin was a quick buck, but the formula didn’t thrill me and single book advances were too low to eat on.

Then Louie started scratching for entry at my mind: he reappeared as a mysterious hotel-detective narrator at a Las Vegas hotel where four couples would meet and find romance in four books. Readers would only discover the mysterious PI narrator was a cat at the end of book four. In solving my money problems (selling four short novels over six months), I also invented the first continuing mini-series inside a romance line of individual books. That went on to become a hot new trend in romance lines for years. Unfortunately, the romance editor wanted to debut this great new idea with her bestselling real romance writers, so I lived on her lies until Louie’s quartet was published in a chopped up version I hadn’t seen, after three years and I got my money after four years. (An even longer, more disgraceful story.)

I should have been devastated, but Louie had a better idea. You don’t abuse the associate of an alley cat PI packing sixteen sheathed shivs and a fish pond’s worth of cattitude. I reversed the concept from romance with a smidge of mystery to mystery with a smidge of romance.

Cat in an Alphabet Soup (formerly Catnap) came out in 1992 with a cast of four human characters: two men, two women; two amateur, two pro crime-solvers whose professional and personal story arcs would play out over each novel as a chapter in a continuing crime and family saga. The series eventually encompassed a quarter century of changing social issues and the Las Vegas scene and could veer from searingly serious to satire, from home-grown murder to international intrigue.

Louie and my partnership had one last, long challenge. Came on little cat feet the eBook. I had rights to Louie books 1-12. Writers who live on their craft get used to delivering book after book a year. For some time I wrote 270,000 words a year: a Louie and a heavily researched Irene Adler novel, plus assorted short stories. Young writers rely on their memories; older ones wonder if memory is as reliable as it seemed. So I went over and over the first 12 novels, with loyal readers like Ken Green, Denise Thompson, and my long-ago college assistant Jennifer Null, volunteering to reread for typos and glitches along with paid proofreaders and myself. I also created the covers.

Finally, this month, Oct. 14th, my husband’s birthday, the twelfth novel, Cat in a Kiwi Con, which combines New Zealand kiwi birds and Science Fiction conventions with murder most alien, went “live” to link up to the publisher’s eBooks Cat in a Leopard Spot through Cat in an Alien X-ray  (those darn aliens again; Area 51 is near Las Vegas). Then I wrote the last three novels, sure I could correct any previous undetected errors.

Besides the rare never-defeated typos that will survive all readers, two sentences in a banquet scene imported somebody’s parents as an afterthought on my part. My afterthought fled and books later I had a character present in the scene say she had never met this parental set. Little fudge, but it leaped out at readers. I “explained” it in one of the last books!

So I’m breathing a big sigh of fulfillment and finishing on National Cat Day, 2017, and wish Midnight Louie and all his clan and their clowders, inside cats and outside cats, tame and feral, lives as good as we can give them.

And I’m thinking about Midnight Louie’s next ventures: the mutilated quartet converted to eBook and the start of his new series for 2018. Forty-five years and counting . . . .

That “ole black magic” called Midnight Louie never gives a collaborator a rest, but thank goodness. Thank Bast.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Two lucky readers will each win a copy
of Cat with an Emerald Eye
by Carole
Nelson Douglas, one signed hardcover and
one ebook.
To enter the drawing, please
leave a comment below and ALSO state
whether you prefer print, ebook or either.
The winning names will be
chosen at random
on the evening of Wednesday, November 1st and
the books will be sent out after November 7th.
The drawing for the print copy is open to
residents of the US and
the drawing for
the ebook is international.

 

It’s All in the Genes

USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.

Website: http://www.loiswinston.com
Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/anasleuth
Twitter at https://twitter.com/Anasleuth
Newsletter sign-up: https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z1z1u5

On the cover of Scrapbook of Murder, the latest book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, the title is superimposed over a photograph from the 1930’s of a man standing beside a child on a pony. I believe the child is either my mother or my aunt. The man is my grandfather, Benjamin Schaffer. He spent his entire career with the Essex County Police Department, headquartered in Newark, New Jersey, working his way up to captain. I was in kindergarten when he died, but I still have vivid memories of him. In my eyes and to many others, he was larger than life.

My grandfather was responsible for the arrest of quite a few gangsters during a career that spanned nearly forty years. Ever hear of Arthur Flegenheimer? You might know him more as the prohibition-era gangster Dutch Schultz. Grandpa was the first officer on the scene the night he was gunned down in a Newark restaurant in 1935. I’ve tried to find out if he was also one of the officers assigned to stand watch over Schultz and question him as he lay dying in his hospital bed, but apparently back then news accounts didn’t mention officers’ names.

When I moved back to New Jersey in 1998, I wanted to research my grandfather’s career. I thought I might like to write a book about him, or at least use some of his cases in my own books. Unfortunately, I discovered that the Essex County Courthouse had flooded in the 1980’s, and all the archived records from the prosecutor’s office, where he worked, had been destroyed. Of course this was well before the Internet and digitized records. I was crushed. By this point anyone with in-depth knowledge of my grandfather’s career had passed away.

The only information my own Internet search turned up was a short blurb from the March 7, 1957 Independent Press mentioning that my grandfather was scheduled to speak on “Famous Murders in Essex County” at a meeting of the Republican Club that evening.

I started out my career writing romance, but when my agent suggested I try writing a crafting mystery, I found my true writing voice in the sub-genre of humorous amateur sleuth mysteries. I base all the plots in my books on actual events I’ve read about or witnessed, giving them a fictional twist. I often wonder what my grandfather would have thought of his first-born grandchild becoming a writer of murder mysteries. I hope he’s smiling down on me from Heaven.

In July of 2015 I visited Buried Under Books and wrote about a real-life mystery that had occurred in the town where I live. <https://cncbooksblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/26/a-real-life-mystery/&gt; Nearly two and a half years later, that mystery is still unsolved. I’m convinced my grandfather would have had the case wrapped up ages ago. After all, what’s a house-stalker compared to Mafia gangsters?

Since Grandpa is no longer around to solve crimes, I’ve assigned the task to Anastasia as a subplot in Scrapbook of Murder, my latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, but since I don’t want The Watcher setting his sights on me, in Scrapbook of Murder I dub him The Sentinel. And in another instance of art imitating life, the event that leads Anastasia to solve the mystery is one from my own past.

Scrapbook of Murder
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 6

Crafts and murder don’t normally go hand-in-hand, but normal deserted craft editor Anastasia Pollack’s world nearly a year ago. Now, tripping over dead bodies seems to be the “new normal” for this reluctant amateur sleuth.

When the daughter of a murdered neighbor asks Anastasia to create a family scrapbook from old photographs and memorabilia discovered in a battered suitcase, she agrees—not only out of friendship but also from a sense of guilt over the older woman’s death. However, as Anastasia begins sorting through the contents of the suitcase, she discovers a letter revealing a fifty-year-old secret, one that unearths a long-buried scandal and unleashes a killer. Suddenly Anastasia is back in sleuthing mode as she races to prevent a suitcase full of trouble from leading to more deaths.

Buy Links:

Kindle http://amzn.to/2ffIMgy
Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/scrapbook-of-murder
iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/scrapbook-of-murder/id1286758416?mt=11
Nook https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/scrapbook-of-murder-lois-winston/1127145157?ean=2940158851896
Paperback http://amzn.to/2y2Omhl