!!!Hurling Thunderbolts!!!

Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com

In the age of email and Twitter, the exclamation point has become the emblem of the times.  Americans are junkies, studding them breathlessly behind even the most mundane utterances.  It’s a molehill!  OMG!!!

Referred to variously as screamers, gaspers, slammers, or bangs, exclamation points add drama, enthusiasm, and excitement.  They indicate strong emotion – fear, anger, joy, surprise –anything intended to show high intensity at high volume.  But in these hectic days when news travels around the world at warp speed and we’re all feeling a bit hyper, periods make personal communication seem boring, unfriendly even.  In certain social exchanges, the ! has become obligatory.  The Onion satirized the phenomenon this way:  “In a diabolical omission of the utmost cruelty, stone-hearted ice witch Leslie Schiller sent her friend a callous thank-you email devoid of even a single exclamation point.”

Jeb Bush thought he had captured the zeitgeist when he adopted “Jeb!” for his campaign slogan.  Unfortunately, one ! wasn’t enough.  Compared to President Trump, Jeb is a piker, !-wise.  The Donald hurls them like thunderbolts, punctuating almost every tweet with several.  He uses them to celebrate (“The world was gloomy before I won!”); to praise (“GREAT review of my speech!”); and to berate those who get under his skin (“Enemy of the people!”).

As you might expect, authors hold strong opinions about when and how often thunderbolts should be hurled.  F. Scott Fitzgerald said an exclamation mark was like laughing at your own joke.  The British novelist Miles Kingston regards them as the equivalent of a man holding up a cue card reading “laughter” to a studio audience.  One of Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing warns writers to keep their gaspers under control.  “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.”  However as it turns out, he failed to follow his own advice.  A recent book by Ben Blatt, Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing, reveals that Leonard resorted to the bang 1,651 times over the course of his 3.4 million word career, more than 16 times as many as he advised.  Of course a lot of surprising and exciting stuff happened in his books, but by his own rule, he should have had no more than 102 bangs.

Unlike Leonard, Tom Wolfe loves the slammer.  He believes that people think in dots, dashes, and exclamation points, and only when they sit down to compose a calmly reflective essay do they end their sentences with periods.  According to Mr. Blatt’s tally, Wolfe averages 929 slammers per 100,000 words.  That’s not as many as James Joyce (1,105 per 100,000), but it runs counter to the recommendation of most grammarians.

Notwithstanding Jeb, Donald, Elmore, Tom, and James – and forgetting for a moment the stone-hearted ice witch Leslie Schiller – punctuation studies show that the vast majority of screamers are perpetrated by women.  Wouldn’t you just know?  Those of us who were born with wombs are, alas, by etymological and linguistic bias, the “hysterical” gender.  I was pleased to note that the screaming habit does not pertain to all female authors.  By Mr. Blatt’s count, Jane Austen peppered her six novels with a judicious 449 yips per 100,000 words.  The even more restrained Toni Morrison employed a scant 111 per 100,000 words in ten full-length novels.

One reason for the proliferation of the exclamation mark today may be the fact that there’s a handy key for it.  Prior to the 1970s, if you wanted to produce a ! on your manual typewriter, you had to type a period, then backspace and type an apostrophe.  Imagine how much energy it would take to type a whole row of them!!!!!!

Some writers regard this infestation of exclamation points as a blight on the English language, a copout by writers who don’t take the trouble to construct sentences that convey emotion through a careful choice of words.  On the other hand, there have been occasions when one little ! spoke volumes.  There’s an anecdote about Victor Hugo, who was traveling away from London following the publication of Les Miserables.  Telegrams were expensive back then, but he was worried and anxious to know if anyone was buying his new book.  He screwed up his courage and cabled his publisher a terse and tentative “?”.

The publisher replied with an equally terse and enthusiastic “!”.

The book was selling like hotcakes.  That’s the kind of bang every writer dreams of.

Run Dog Run

Kathleen Kaska is a writer of mysteries, nonfiction, travel articles, and stage plays. When she is not writing, she spends much of her time with her husband traveling the back roads and byways around the country, looking for new venues for her mysteries and bird watching along the Texas coast and beyond. It was her passion for birds that led to the publication The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story (University Press of Florida). Kathleen Kaska is the author the Classic Triviography Mystery Series, which includes The Alfred Hitchcock Triviography and Quiz Book, The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book, and The Agatha Christie Triviography and Quiz Book. Kathleen also writes the award-winning Sydney Lockhart mystery series set in the 1950s. Her first two mysteries, Murder at the Arlington and Murder at the Luther, were selected as bonus-books for the Pulpwood Queen Book Group, the largest book group in the country. Her latest Sydney Lockhart mystery, set in Austin, Texas, is Murder at the Driskill.

Run Dog Run is Kathleen’s first mystery in the new Kate Caraway animal rights series.

Books are available through Black Opal Books, Kathleen’s website, and many retailers.

http://www.kathleenkaska.com

https://www.facebook.com/kathleenkaska

https://twitter.com/KKaskaAuthor

Synopsis of Run Dog Run:

After five years in Africa, researching the decline of elephant populations, Kate Caraway’s project comes to a screeching halt when she shoots a poacher and is forced to leave the country. Animal rights activist Kate Caraway travels to a friend’s ranch in Texas for a much-needed rest. But before she has a chance to unpack, her friend’s daughter pleads for Kate’s assistance. The young woman has become entangled in the ugly world of greyhound abuse and believes Kate is the only one with the experience and tenacity to expose the crime and find out who is responsible. On the case for only a few hours, Kate discovers a body, complicating the investigation by adding murder to the puzzle. Now, she’s in a race against time to find the killer before she becomes the next victim.

An Excerpt from Run Dog Run

She’d been foolish and gone off alone, now she might have to pay the ultimate price…

The rocks along the bottom of the creek bed seemed to disappear. Kate felt the ropy, gnarl of tree roots instead.

The cedar break. She was approaching the road and soon the water would pass through the culvert. She knew that she would not make it through the narrow tunnel alive. Her lungs screamed for air. With one final attempt, she grabbed hold of a long cedar root growing along the side of the creek bank and hung on. Miraculously, it held. She wedged her foot under the tangled growth and anchored herself against the current. Inching her way upward, she thrust her head above water and gulped for air. But debris in the current slapped her in the face, and leaves and twigs filled her mouth, choking her. Dizziness overcame her ability to think—exhaustion prevented her from pulling herself higher.

She must not give in. Fighting unconsciousness, Kate inched her way up a little farther, and at last was able to take a clear breath. Her right arm hung loosely by her side, the back of the shaft had broken off in the tumble through the current, but the arrow was lodged in her arm. Numb from cold water and exhaustion, she lay on the bank as the water swept over her, and then, as quickly as it had arrived, the flow subsided and the current slowed. If she could hang on a few moments longer, survival looked promising. As thoughts of hope entered her mind, Kate feared that her pursuer might not have given up the chase. Perfect, Kate Caraway, just perfect. You screwed up again, she chided herself as the lights went out.

Note from Kathleen:

I’m a Texas gal. Except for an eighteen-month hiatus when I moved to New York City after college, I lived in Texas continuously for fifty years. Since then Texas has been hit and miss—a little hit, but a hell of a lot of miss. There was a time when I thought I would happily die in Austin, Texas. But things and weather—especially weather—changed that. Now I spend most of the year on Fidalgo Island in Washington State with a view of the bay and the mountains. When I get homesick, my husband and I plug in the iPhone to Pandora and select Willie—as in Nelson, (I hope you don’t have to ask). Soon we are dancing the two-step, imagining we are at our favorite honky-tonk in Tokyo, Texas where the mayor is believed to be a dog. Who wouldn’t miss that?

Romance and Suspense; Chocolate and Peanut Butter

Award-winning author Patricia Sargeant writes romantic suspense and contemporary romances. She also writes cozy mysteries as Olivia Matthews. Her romantic suspense novels feature ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Her contemporary romances reveal characters struggling to overcome their inner demons. Her cozy mysteries feature an amateur sleuth Catholic sister. In addition to reading, Patricia’s hobbies include music, jogging, hiking, movies and pizza. Raised in New York City, Patricia now lives in Ohio with her husband. You can find her on the net at PatriciaSargeant.com.

I’ve reissued my very first published novel, You Belong to Me, in ebook format. It’s available on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and Kobo. Hopefully, iTunes, too, if I ever hear back from Apple.com. This, as you can imagine, is a very exciting time for me. A mountain has been climbed. A challenge has been accepted. The Big Girl Pants are on.

You Belong to Me is a romantic suspense that reunites a divorced couple in a race to unmask a serial killer. The ex-wife/heroine is the author of a successful sci-fi series. She’s sold the film rights of the first book in her series to her ex-husband’s production company, not realizing that one of her fans is adamantly opposed to having the book turned into a movie. I’ve always likened the villain to a Stephen King fan who’s endured one too many botched film adaptations of Stephen King’s wonderful books and now he’s at the end of his rope. He’s had enough. But the villain’s psychology will have to wait for another blog post. For now, I want to wax poetic on my love of the romantic suspense subgenre.

I love romance and I love suspense. Together they’re a powerful combination. Like chocolate and peanut butter. I hate to reduce everything to food analogies, but there you have it. Two great things that just taste great together. A well-written suspense keeps readers in the story. At the heart of that story is the character’s motivation. What is the ultimate motivation? Love. Love of family, friends and country. Love compels you to reach inside of yourself and find the hero within. That’s a universal truth that connects readers and characters. Make me care about your characters and I’ll finish your story. Would you agree?

Anyway, I’m thrilled to have returned to my romantic suspense roots. I got out of the game when my publisher said the market for these books had tanked. I didn’t want to believe them, first, because I knew a lot of readers who were still enjoying the subgenre. Second, because I had more romantic suspense stories to tell.

Thanks for letting me share. Happy reading!

Family Scandals Never Sleep—and a Giveaway!

Martha Reed is an award-winning, independently published crime and mystery fiction author. Book one in her Nantucket Mystery series, The Choking Game, was a 2015 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion nominee for Best Traditional Mystery. Book two, The Nature of the Grave, won an Independent Publisher IPPY Honorable Mention for Mid-Atlantic Best Regional Fiction.

Martha recently completed a four-year term as the National Chapter Liaison for Sisters in Crime, Inc. She loves travel, big jewelry, and simply great coffee. She delights in the never-ending antics of her family, fans, and friends, who she lovingly calls The Mutinous Crew. You can follow her online at reedmenow.com or on Twitter @ReedMartha.

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do …

I was one of the lucky kids. My adorable grandfather Pop-Pop had a rambling family cottage on Lake Muskoka in Ontario, Canada. I spent my summers hanging out on a splintery wooden dock working my way through a hundred years’ worth of trashy paperback novels left to molder away in damp bookcases in one of the back rooms. It was pure heaven.

Pop had one brother and three sisters. After five o’clock, they’d all get comfortable on the porch, start sipping cocktails, and goof on each other. Because their generation grew up during the Great Depression, they knew how to entertain themselves, because basically that kind of entertainment was free. Besides criminally intense games of Gin Rummy, they would sass each other using conversations filled with jokes, double entendres, terrible puns, and true nimble wit. If I was very quiet, I was allowed to sit on the nearby steps, and listen.

I loved hearing about the world they grew up in. They were young when America partied through the Roaring Twenties, that insanely Gatsby-esque timeframe between the two great wars. I heard tales of grand weekend parties and big band swing dance contests, of car races, of dancing the Shimmy, the Black Bottom, and the Charleston. It sounded like marvelous fun. Then Pop would catch my eye, and he would sing:

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do
I’m half crazy, all for the love of you
It won’t be a stylish marriage
I can’t afford a carriage
But you’d look sweet, upon the seat
Of a bicycle built for two.

–Harry Dacre, Daisy Bell, 1892

The funny thing is, that when I sat down to write No Rest for the Wicked, Book 3 in my Nantucket Mystery series, that little ditty kept playing in my head like an unstoppable earworm. When I finally paused long enough to wonder why, I realized that my new Nantucket Mystery needed to be set deeply in the past, in 1921, so that I could write about what I had learned from them.

In No Rest for the Wicked, state archaeologists uncover a suspicious steamer trunk buried in Nantucket’s landfill. The contents reactivate intense interest in the Baby Alice Spenser kidnapping of 1921. As Detective John Jarad pursues the Baby Alice investigation, myriad family scandals emerge from the Spenser’s privileged and gilded past. Modern day events flare white-hot when a copycat criminal snatches a second child.

No Rest for the Wicked is garnering 5-star reader reviews. Offering an array of colorful island characters and an intricate plot filled with surprising twists and reveals, No Rest for the Wicked promises to be a magical summer beach read. The Nantucket Mystery Series is available in trade paperback and e-book formats from Amazon and other retailers. Support your local bookstores!

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No Writer’s Block Here

MEMORY is Sharon Ervin’s twelfth published romantic suspense novel. A former newspaper reporter, she has a degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma, is married and the mother of four grown children. She lives in McAlester, Oklahoma and works half-days in her husband and older son’s law office as probate clerk and gofer.

MEMORY can be ordered at http://catalog.thewildrosepress.com/all-titles/4889-memory.html, or from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, libraries, and bookstores.

Sharon can be contacted at www.sharonervin.com, on Facebook, Twitter, or by e-mailing her at ervins@sbcglobal.net.

I don’t believe in writers’ block.

When writer friends complain of being blocked, having no new ideas, I refer them to the jump page of any newspaper. That’s the page where long front page stories continue. The jump page also often offers the most outrageous happenings to stimulate any writer worth her salt.

Recently there was a story about a young man attempting to burglarize a home. Accessing the house, he got stuck in a chimney. Unable to dislodge himself––move either up or down––he managed to free his cell phone from his pants’ pocket and call 9-1-1. Firemen freed him while police waited to arrest him.

There was one about a burglar who rode a city bus to and from his thefts, getting off and on at the stops nearest his targets. An alert bus driver helped solve those cases.

A petite R.N. who worked nights, noted when family members sat at the hospital with their loved ones, leaving patients’ homes unattended. Working the graveyard shift, she burglarized the empty residences on her way home from work. One night, a son sitting with his hospitalized father, accidentally dialed his dad’s home phone number. The nurse picked up. Realizing his mistake, the son called police. Unable to realize her error and escape quickly enough, the tiny nurse squeezed into the cabinet under the kitchen sink. A cop passing through the kitchen thought he heard breathing, opened the cabinet door, and captured the culprit who confessed to a dozen burglaries. I used that incident in a romantic suspense novel.

Recently more than one story has told about people inadvertently catching their clothing in a car door. One unsuspecting driver dragged his former passenger two miles before he stopped. The victim was dead. The driver was charged with manslaughter.

Great plots can begin with a simple, factual news story. A writer stuck for ideas and looking for inspiration only needs to check out the jump page in a local newspaper.

You may recognize one of my jump page contributions in MEMORY, a new novel by @SharonErvin http://catalog.thewildrosepress.com/all-titles/4889-memory.html

Shaking the Family Tree

Kathleen DelaneyKathleen 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 the secondary characters an author can find in her own family tree.

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 will be out in July 2017.

http://www.kathleendelaney.net

I’ve started a new mystery and, as usual, I’m trying to figure out the plot, who killed who and why, and learn who all these new characters are. I already know the main characters. I’ve especially spent some time thinking about this new heroine, who she is, what she looks like, what brought her to the situation I’m about to throw at her, but there are a whole lot of other characters in this book I’ve not met yet. But I’m about to.

Dying for a Change 2Stories, as you know, need more than the main character. Even the most insignificant one helps move the story along and may, inadvertently, help solve the mystery. In the first Ellen McKenzie mystery, Dying for a Change,  Ellen, in her capacity as a real estate agent meets with a woman who wants to sell her house, a woman who dithers, can’t seem to complete a sentence let alone a complete thought, but she drops a vital clue at Ellen’s feet. In the upcoming 3rd Mary McGill and Millie canine mystery, a member of one of Mary’s committees mentions he saw someone where that someone shouldn’t have been, thus helping Mary figure out who murdered Mr. Wilson during the 4th of July fireworks celebration. These characters don’t have a huge part to play in the story but what they say or do is important. So is who they are. Alice Ives had no idea what she told Ellen was important, but if she’d been a different kind of person, less flighty, she might have and the story would have taken a completely different path. So, how does an author come up with these people? How does an author find someone who seems to fit in the slot the author needs filled?

There are several ways. One is simply to pay attention to the people around you. Listen to what people say, how they say it, take note of their idiosyncrasies. You’ll get lots of ideas. Another way is to comb through your family tree.

I come from a large and diverse family. On both sides. Mostly they’ve been good, hard working, church going people, but that hasn’t kept them from having some interesting quirks. Life has a way of doing that to you, giving you quirks. But quirks can be fascinating, at least to an author. One of my aunts on my father’s side was what can only be described as a “maiden lady.” The story goes that she Purebred Deadhad a “gentleman friend” but that he jilted her at the altar. It was sometime after that she moved to New Mexico where she taught school on an Indian reservation. I found this amazing because when I knew her she was a sweet but definitely not adventurous elderly lady, retired, who “enjoyed poor health’ and spent much of her time taking care of herself. She never opened the refrigerator door without putting on a hat and coat so she wouldn’t catch a chill and chose her doctor because he didn’t ask her to unrobe while he listened to her heart. I loved her to death and wouldn’t use her in a story but that doesn’t mean her little quirks wouldn’t show up in another character. She and her idiosyncrasies would have started a train of thought and a new character would be born.

Then there’s my great great grandfather on my mother’s side. The only picture I have of him shows him as an old man. Handsome still, with side burns and an impressive mustache, he lived a full and not always blameless life. If the stories about him are true, he was not a kind and gentle man. He served in the Confederate Army as a colonel during that tragic war, then when it ended loaded his wife, three children and, so the story goes, a slave girl into a covered wagon and headed for Texas where he joined the Texas Rangers. Eventually he left them and the Rangers to fend for themselves and went to California where he founded another family. Left them and went to Anacortes, Wa. where he became its first mayor and founded the Chamber of Commerce. When he died, he left behind a cape, top hat, cane and a safe no one could open. He also left a reputation for malfeasance although I’ve never found out what exactly he did to earn that dubious title. Whatever it was, they didn’t hang him.

Murder by SyllabubWould I use him in a story? You bet. Not him, exactly. Even if I’d known him, I wouldn’t, but the stories about him suggest a type of man that is fascinating. Not a very comfortable man, but a colorful one, and one that just might make the wrong person mad enough to kill him. Or, maybe I’d make him a suspect. It seemed he was the type of man it would be easy to suspect of something shady. He could also, given the right situation, drop a clue or two into our heroine’s lap. I wonder what he would have wanted in return.

Not every relative is as interesting as Frank Hogan or my sweet aunt, but everyone has a story and everyone has a quirk or two. They don’t need to be extraordinary to serve the purposes of our story, but they do need to fit the situation. My aunt wasn’t flighty, so she wouldn’t have been oblivious to the clue she was to impart as Alice Ives was in Dying for a Change. She would have wondered about the incongruity of the situation, but her other odd little habits fit Alice perfectly.  If I had used a woman in that story with my aunt’s other personality traits, more logical thinking and strict adherence to never gossiping, I think I’d have had her overhear something while waiting in the doctor’s office. She was there a lot and that would be a natural thing for her to do. Alice would never have wondered about a piece of gossip, but she’d have repeated it. While my aunt, or a woman like her, would never have repeated gossip but she would have worried about what she heard and that would have changed the whole story.

blood-red-white-and-blueI’m not sure what would be natural for Frank Hogan, but I think he’d fit somewhere I needed a cold man, someone who wasn’t bothered much by a conscience, but I don’t see him as a murderer. However, I think he might pass along information that would help solve a crime he wasn’t implicated in, but if Frank was half the man I think he was, only if it was to his advantage. I can think of several plots where a personality such as I think Frank possessed might fit right in.

A new book, new characters, new situations. Where am I going to find the characters I need? I think I’ll go back and shake the family tree one more time. Who knows who will fall off this time? Surely there’s someone up there whose little quirks are perfect to fill the slots in the plot that I’m building. The trick is going to be finding his or her story. Hummm. Another mystery to solve.

Until next time.

Visitations Abroad Inspire Author’s Ghostly Tale

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASue Owens Wright is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction. She is an eleven-time finalist for the Maxwell, awarded annually by the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) to the best writer on the subject of dogs. She has twice won the Maxwell Award and earned special recognition from the Humane Society of the United States for her writing. She writes the acclaimed Beanie and Cruiser Mystery Series, including Howling Bloody Murder, Sirius About Murder, Embarking On Murder and Braced For Murder, which is recommended on the American Kennel Club’s list of Best Dog Books.

Her nonfiction books include What’s Your Dog’s IQ?, 150 Activities for Bored Dogs, and People’s Guide to Pets. She has been published in numerous magazines, including Dog Fancy, Mystery Scene, AKC GAZETTE, Fido Friendly, The Bark, and Animal Fair. Her work also appears in several anthologies, including PEN Oakland’s Fightin’ Words, along with Norman Mailer and other literary notables. Her newest novel is The Secret of Bramble Hill.

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I’ve always loved reading a thrilling ghost story like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House or Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë.  I’m also a diehard fan of Edgar Allen Poe’s eerie tales, and I made sure to visit the Poe Museum years ago when I was in Richmond, Virginia, for my book signing at Creatures ‘n Crooks Bookshoppe. Whenever a character encounters a brooding old manor house in such stories, the chances are good that it’s haunted. The authors no doubt found their inspiration at such places in real life, as I have.

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Having visited the Brontë Parsonage Museum of Haworth on my travels in Yorkshire, England, I’m convinced that the Brontë sisters didn’t have to venture too far from home to find inspiration for their classic tales of romance and mystery. The bleak parsonage stands beside one of the spookiest graveyards I saw in England, and there are many. A walk on the windswept Yorkshire moors could stir any writer’s imagination, as it did for the Brontë sisters, who often wandered upon well-worn footpaths near the parsonage that meandered across the desolate moors. Popular Brontë walking tours offer tourists the chance to hike on the high moors and in beautiful Worth Valley, but I missed taking the tour on a gray day when it started to rain. I’m more accustomed to sunny California strolls, but I doubt that the inclement weather would have deterred the Brontës.

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While touring in England, I stayed at a number of historic homes dating back centuries. When I returned from my trip abroad years ago, I began writing my first novel, a paranormal romance inspired by the beautiful English countryside and purportedly haunted locales across Britain.  The Secret of Bramble Hill is set in Cornwall, where I walked along the same precarious shale cliffs of the scenic Cornish coast as the heroine in my novel.  In my book, Tessa Field possesses psychic abilities that enable her to see and communicate with the dead. While I don’t claim to share Tessa’s “gift,” as her dear departed aunt Emily called it, I could easily have believed that a resident ghost inhabited some of those “wuthering” English manor houses where I lodged during my travels. This book is the result of those chilling “visitations” in England. I hope that people will enjoy some thrills and chills of their own while reading The Secret of Bramble Hill.

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The Secret of Bramble Hill buy links:
Barnes & Noble  //  Amazon