Book Review: The Vatican Games by Alejandra Guibert @Aleja_Guibert @Authoright

The Vatican Games
Alejandra Guibert
Clink Street, January 2020
ISBN 978-1-913136-30-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Vera is born on the day an apocalyptic revenge is unleashed, annihilating half of the world’s population.

Her birth marks the beginning of a new world order run by powerful gaming corporations.

A warless existence with no poverty has been secured, until this fine balance becomes once more under threat.

Vera is the female David to beat Goliath and prevent further devastation.

The future lies in her hands. It’s a game that she needs to win.

What an unusual story this is! There are certain things that set it apart from most apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic/dystopian tales—Vera is born just as the worldwide terrorist attack happens, she survives a deadly brain defect, the setting is in Vatican City, etc.—but, taken as a whole, they create the beginnings of something unexpected. To be honest, I’m not quite sure how I feel about it and I suspect this is one of those books that has to sort of rumble around in my mind for a while.

To this semi-luddite, it’s appalling to think of the gaming industry being in charge of the world but this kind of story is supposed to be unsettling, isn’t it? Speaking of unsettling, Ms. Guibert is very adept at dropping little crumbs here and there that make you think, “Wait a minute…oh” starting with how hunger no longer exists.

Carry on as usual…urged people to carry on with life in the midst of death. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it, but in The Vatican Games, a diabolical attack by unknown terrorists, first against the US, then spreading around the world, is the cause of the overwhelming devastation. It’s followed by a self-justified US military retaliation against the Middle East and then a counterattack on Israel, resulting eventually in incredible loss of life as well as economic disintegration. As might be expected, though, ruling bodies around the world soon collaborate to form a world government but, in reality, this is the story of Vera and her mother, Alina, and Vera’s life after another tragic event.

So much happens in this story that I think the pacing was a bit too slow but it’s a compelling tale of the condition of our world and where it could be heading. Food for thought, indeed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2020.

Book Reviews: Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed and One Silver Summer by Rachel Hickman

Love, Hate and Other Filters
Samira Ahmed
Soho Teen, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-847-3

First and foremost, this book is exquisitely authored. Beautiful, not in a flowery, colorful sort of way; but rather in a raw, natural, simple-yet-stunning kind of way. And so, a snap-shot of Maya’s senior year: dating, spring break, planning for college…as an Indian Muslim American…would be wholly satisfying, entirely engaging and enlightening. But it would only scratch the surface. With a wide lens, Ms. Ahmed provides perspective; contrived categories soften into truer compilations.

To most of Maya’s peers, her parents are almost unreasonably strict. Maya may secretly agree, but at least they “aren’t exactly the fire-and-brimstone types”.  Aware of her family’s (limited) leniencies, Maya is surprised when Kareem, a desi Muslim, has a glass of wine. But, as he points out, “…it’s not like I eat pork.” More importantly, he is not a white American boy. Like Philip.

And so, the scene is set.

But, a somber tone seeps through. Snippets of seething anger and frustration simmer to a frenzied, desperate desire for revenge. Building tension becomes tangible. An explosion is imminent.

The inundation of information immediately following a blow-up is, unfortunately, often inaccurate and incomplete. Even more egregious, these initial errors are what people tend to remember. By the time facts have been collected and the whole, true story can be told; no one is there to listen. Life goes on, public perception remains unchanged.

Except for the person presumed guilty. And his family. Or everyone with his last name.

Love, Hate and Other Filters is the rest of the story and it is relatable and relevant.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2018.


One Silver Summer
Rachel Hickman
Scholastic Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-80892-7

Despite knowing full well that I was reading-for-review, I became so caught up in the very love story that little-girl-me always dreamed of, that I devoured this book like a starved Cookie Monster demolishes cookies.  Even at this frantic pace, I was aware of the ‘something more’ to the story—hints were subtle, yet almost undeniable—perhaps somewhat subliminal.

One Silver Summer is more than the whole-hearted-head-over-heels love story of a shattered girl and a stunning, spirited mare.  There are mysteries to be solved: what horrific happening has sent Sass across the pond to live with the uncle she only just learned of?  Maybe that’s moot.  Perhaps this was her path all along—the past has a tendency to come back, after all.

The guarded groomsman, Alexander, is a bit of a mystery himself.  To Sass, his mannerisms don’t seem to fit his position, although understanding hierarchy is not her forte—no need for that in New York City.  His moods shifts are also perplexing.  Sometimes he seems relaxed and happy with company, while other times he’s oddly secretive and suspicious.

Sass and the silver horse are certainly central, but Alexander, his quite proper British grandmother, and affable artist, Uncle David, take the tome to another level.  A love story in the broadest sense: fondness developing among family members just getting familiar; the unconditional, admiring adoration between grandparent and grandchild; forbidden love, lost in a flash (but with a lingering fondness); and love formed from empathy and nostalgia.

Also, this is a story of learning to separate who you are from a persona based solely on other people’s perceptions.  A reminder of the need to be flexible, reflective and always open-minded.  An understanding that even adults must continue to grow, to adapt—not to survive, but to thrive.  A narrative of hope and heartbreak that is fantastically fabulous.  Immediately after reading the very last words, Acknowledgements and About the Author; I turned to the first page and read the entire book again.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2017.

Book Review: Hunter by Renee Donne

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Title: Hunter
Author: Renee Donne
Publisher: Anaiah Press
Publication Date: November 14, 2014
Genres: Mystery, Young Adult



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Renee Donne
Anaiah Press, November 2014
ISBN 978-0996329033
Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-0-9909085-2-4

From the publisher—

Moving across the country isn’t Hunter’s ideal start to her Junior year of high school. She has no friends to hang out with, no beaches to lounge on, and she’s living just a few miles from the secluded hiking trail where her father died when she was a baby.

Living in Wyoming isn’t all bad, though, thanks to Logan, the handsome veterinary assistant at the animal clinic where she lands an after school job. And he seems just as interested in her as she is in him.

As Hunter begins to settle into her new home, she learns more about the circumstances surrounding her father’s tragic death, and it may not have been the accident everyone believes. The truth lies in the woods bordering her grandfather’s ranch, and Hunter might be the next victim.


Poor Hunter is being dragged off to Wyoming to live after her mother loses her job and, before they even get there, odd things happen including a woman dashing across the road in front of them. This is a prelude to other strange events but Hunter at least soon finds that living in the middle of nowhere might not be so bad, especially after she meets a hottie named Logan and lands a job with the local veterinarian. A chance encounter with a Native American named Gus intrigues her while also creeping her out a bit until her grandfather reassures her that Gus is a good guy.

Religion plays a big part in the storyline, portrayed in both a natural, comforting manner and also as a tool for those who distort and use people’s faith for their own purposes. It’s all part of the mystery surrounding Hunter’s dad’s death many years earlier but Hunter and her mom find the town to be as welcoming as they could wish.

If you’re looking for a light mystery to while away a few hours, Hunter is not a bad choice. There are some stumbling blocks—Hunter fits into her new school with nary a hiccup which is pretty unrealistic in a high school environment, it was way too easy to spot the bad guy and the writing was a bit stilted—but, on the whole, I enjoyed the story.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2015.

An Excerpt from Hunter

The early morning air was crisp when I stepped out of the house dressed in an old pair of denim shorts, a tee, and a beat up pair of sneakers. I’d tried to prepare for my hike, eating a fair breakfast and tucking some water, a sandwich, and a few granola bars into my backpack. But I hadn’t even considered it might be chilly. Probably because in South Carolina, chilly was a word that just didn’t exist in late August. I was grateful for the mild weather, though, since I would have to ride my bike forever before I would even reach the hiking trail.

“Where you off to?” Grandfather Birchum’s gruff voice stopped me in my tracks just as I was about to descend the steps from the porch to the driveway.

I turned to face him. He was completely outfitted and ready for a day of ranch work in old jeans, boots, and a button down plaid shirt. He even wore a Stetson, which seemed to be typical attire around here. “Exploring,” I answered, waving my printed map in the air as proof.

“You got a trail in mind, or are you just planning to wing it? The land can be dangerous out there, you know.” There was a warning in his tone.

“I’m a big girl, Grandpa. And yes, I do have a trail in mind. I pointed toward what I hoped was West, toward the area of Grandpa’s land that bordered the forest.

He nodded and reached into his pocket. “Take my truck.” He tossed his keys at me, and I caught them with an arm against my chest. Grandpa was clearly a man of few words, but I was happy for the offer. It sure beat biking out to the trail just to walk some more.

In no time, I’d reached the edge of Grandpa’s land and pulled to a stop when the vegetation became too thick to drive anymore. The air was warming a bit, but it was still on the cool side when I stepped out of the truck. I couldn’t remember ever seeing such gorgeous blue skies without it being ninety-five degrees outside. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and took the path leading away from Grandpa’s truck.

About an hour into my hike, I found myself wishing I had a pair of boots. My old sneakers just weren’t made for this terrain. The plant life around the path had thinned, and this was the perfect place to take a rest, sit and enjoy the solitude of nature. I slid down against a tree and pulled my snacks out of my bag.

I was just washing down my second granola bar with a bottle of water when I heard a faint shuffling noise behind me. Thinking some wild animal had happened upon me, I hopped up and spun around to face it far less gracefully than I’d intended.

Rather than a wolf or fox or whatever they had out here, it was a man. An old, Native-American man, standing no more than ten feet from me, and dressed like something straight out of a Western movie. How had he gotten so close without me hearing him? He stared at me, and not sure what to do, I just stared back.

He perched on a nearby boulder. “Relax Hunter. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“How do you know my name? What do you want?” I was relieved there was no wild animal about to pounce, but I was still wary of this odd stranger.

“I have been expecting you. Before you were born, you had a purpose.” That cryptic response was apparently the only one I was going to get. He stood and began to walk away. When I didn’t follow, he turned to look over his shoulder at me. “Don’t just stand there. Let’s go.” He sounded so much like an annoyed father speaking to a child that, without even considering my actions, I followed him.

He motioned to a multi-colored blanket which lay folded on the ground against a large rock. “Sit,” he barked and crouched several feet away. Then he used his finger to draw a line in the dry earth. Unable to deny my curiosity, I sat and watched intently, trying to figure out what he was doing.

I observed in silence while he worked, not wanting to break what appeared to be intense concentration by asking what he was doing. For almost twenty minutes, he sat creating an intricate design. I couldn’t quite tell what the image was, but he seemed quite pleased with the finished product.

“It is done. You may leave now.” He hadn’t spoken since telling me to sit, and now he wanted me to just get up and leave?

“What’s done?”

“What you came for. I have learned all I needed. Now, you better leave, return to your vehicle, and go home before anyone realizes you’re here. They won’t like that you visited. You should stay away from here; it’s too close.”

This guy was obviously more than a little on the crazy side. Leaving was starting to look pretty appealing. Granted, I kind of liked him for the eccentricity, but if there were others like him, I didn’t want to be around when they showed up and the crazy party really started. I stood and moved slowly away from him. I headed back down the path, grabbing my pack from where I left it, and slipping my arms through the straps as I walked.

I made my way back to the truck, replaying the last bizarre hour in my head all the while. It seemed like a much shorter trip back than it was to get all the way out there, but I wasn’t going to complain. I was suddenly in a hurry to get home.

Trailer for Hunter


About the Author

Renee DonneRenee Donne is a native Floridian with a penchant for writing books with a western theme. In her head, she’s a world traveler and an amateur chef. In real life, she’s a hometown girl with an affinity for fine wine and good friends. Her favorite place to write is sitting on her veranda, overlooking the beach.

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Book Review: Revolutionary by Krista McGee—and a Giveaway

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Title: Revolutionary
Series: Anomaly #3
Author: Krista McGee
Release Date: 07/15/14
Publisher: Thomas Nelson Publishers



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Anomaly     Luminary     Revolutionary


The Anomaly Trilogy Book Three
Krista McGee
Thomas Nelson, July 2014
ISBN 978-1-4016-8876-9
Trade Paperback

From the author—

All her life Thalli thought she was an anomaly. Now she must use her gifts to fulfill the role she was called to play: Revolutionary.

Back in the underground State against her will, Thalli is no longer the anomaly she was before. She has proven herself to be a powerful leader aboveground and returns with information that Dr. Loudin needs to complete his plan of uniting the world under one leader: himself. But he, too, has information. A secret he has kept from Thalli her entire life. A secret that, once revealed, changes everything about the person Thalli thought she was.

Hoping to help Thalli rise up against the Scientists, both Berk and Alex join her underground, but their presence only brings more trouble for her. Now Dr. Loudin knows just the leverage to use on his captive, and she is forced to choose between the two of them. Is her first love her true love? Or does Alex ultimately claim her heart?

Unsure of everything around her, including her own identity, Thalli doesn’t know where to turn. She knows she needs the Designer, but he seems further away than ever. What she does know, though, is that if she doesn’t do something to stop Loudin, the fragile world aboveground will be lost once and for all.


Good versus evil is at the core of the Anomaly Trilogy and everything finally comes to a head in Revolutionary with a mixture of battles and introspection and, in Thalli’s case, a lot of questioning about her faith. A theme such as this one always has a religious flavor to it and there’s plenty of it here but Ms. McGee has wrapped it in a thrilling dystopian that kept me on the edge of my seat after a little bit of a slow start.

Loudin is the very personification of evil but, at the same time, he made me reflect on our current society’s predilection towards excusing terrible behavior based on something like a rough childhood or mental abnormalities. Yes, it’s true that Loudin is clearly insane—he gives new meaning to “megalomania”—but, when you get right down to it, he’s just plain evil. Ms. McGee has drawn him so evocatively that I would get a chill down my spine every time he came on the scene, wondering what horrible plan he’d come up with this time.

The relationships between Thalli and the two young men in her life, Berk and Alex, are really interesting. It eventually becomes clear that she loves one but there is no doubt whatsoever that both are integral parts of her being and she cares deeply for both. The romance has developed naturally over three books and I’m so glad of that; it never becomes the central story even though it’s important.

Thalli herself is a young woman faced with the overwhelming need to stop Loudin because she really may be the only one who can. Imagine having the fate of humanity literally resting on your shoulders! Unfortunately, Thalli is also wrestling with doubts about her faith as so many believers do when faced with horrendous crises and those doubts will certainly affect the outcome of this epic battle.

There’s heartbreak in this story as well as hope and I found myself completely satisfied while still wishing there could be more. It’s always hard to come to the end of a much-loved series so I’ll just say, “Well done, Krista McGee, and thank you!”

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2014.

About the Author

Krista McGeeKrista writes for teens, teaches teens, and more often than not, acts like a teen. She and her family have lived and ministered in Texas, Costa Rica, and Spain. Her current hometown is Tampa, FL.

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Book Review: The Patron Saint of Ugly by Marie Manilla

The Patron Saint of UglyThe Patron Saint of Ugly
Marie Manilla
Mariner Books, June 2014
ISBN 978-0-544-14624-2
Trade Paperback

After chomping at the bit for months, finally, at long last, I get to tell you: I have read 2014’s Best Novel and it is The Patron Saint of Ugly. Created, crafted and chronicled by the magnificent Marie Manilla, this written work of art will capture your mind, tug your heart-strings and enrich your very essence. This is Garnet’s story, and what a tale it is. The intricacy of layers within, akin to hand-made lace: have been painstakingly woven to be lovely, seemingly delicate; but actually quite strong.

Growing up in Sweetwater, WV, Garnet has simple desires and dreams; to be like everyone else. Things that come so easily to others: quick conversations, best friends, flirting; all seem elusive to the girl covered in port-wine stains; looking as if a globe exploded, scattering land masses and constellations randomly over her entire body. But, this isn’t a simple story of an ugly duckling and inner beauty. Rather, it is a narrative of a family comprised of Old World Sicilians, blue-bloods able and willing to trace lineage all the way back to the Mayflower, small-town socialites, bad people, despicable people, heart-ache, hope and unconditional love.

As she begins, and throughout her memoir, Garnet’s tone is generally light; however, an undeniable sense of foreboding lurks. There is little to no doubt that Garnet’s words are most honest and sincere; just as surely as the reader realizes: Garnet is not telling us everything. As she relaxes in her role of story-teller, the whole, sordid truth begins to seep out; foreshadowing was very subtle, yet tangible. I actually got butterflies in my stomach when Garnet explained why she no longer ate penny candy. I didn’t want to keep reading, but I couldn’t stop. Sometimes, I really, truly, did not want to turn the page…..but I had to. A feeling of dread would swell up inside of me; I anticipated something bad, but the truth was never, ever, what I expected.

Continuing to provide the unexpected, Ms. Manilla’s wisdom shines as she allows Garnet to share her story orally, via recorded cassettes: pure genius. Living as an outcast, in the shadows, Garnet is privy to many secrets. Coupled with her uncanny observing skills, she simply must serve as narrator. Of course, the ladies closest to Garnet have well-guarded, deep secrets, too. Bits and pieces divulged in stolen moments, whispering into the recorder are poignant, heart-felt and sometimes…down-right shocking.

I love absolutely everything about this unique, sad, hopeful, strong, sweet story. Ms. Manilla’s craft is unparalleled, evoking tears, laughter and hope.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2014.

Book Review: Escape from Eden by Elisa Nader

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Title: Escape from Eden
Author: Elisa Nader
Publisher: Merit Press
Release Date: 08/18/13
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult



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Escape from EdenEscape from Eden
Elisa Nader
Merit Press, August 2013
ISBN 978-1-4405-6392-8

From the publisher—

Since the age of ten, Mia has rebelled against the iron fist of a fundamentalist preacher who lured her mother away to join a fanatical family of followers. At “Edenton,” a supposed Garden of Eden deep in the South American jungle, everyone follows the reverend’s strict and arbitrary rules–even about whom they can marry. Mia dreams of slipping away from the armed guards who keep the faithful in and the curious out. When the rebellious Gabe, a new boy, arrives with his family, Mia sees her chance to escape and to free her family. But the scandalous secrets the two discover beyond the compound’s facade are more shocking than anything they imagined. While Gabe has his own terrible secrets, he and Mia bond together, more than friend and freedom fighters. But there’s no time to think about love as they race against time to stop the reverend’s paranoid plan to free his flock–but not himself–from this corrupt world. Can two kids crush a criminal mastermind? And who will die in the fight to save the ones they love from a madman whose only concern is his own secrets?


I’m dating myself, I know, but I remember Jonestown very well. For those of us on the outside, it was unbearably sad but also a real shock to our sensibilities because we had never really experienced anything remotely like this. There had been other megalomaniacs before Jim Jones—Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Kim Il Sung come to mind—but, so many years later, most of us just didn’t contemplate the possibility of a “civilian” having such total control over the people who believed in him. Those other men operated with immense cruelty but they were generally removed from the acts of their followers while Jones was right in the midst of it. Besides the incredible sadness of all the lives lost, we were confronted with the reality that some people are so lost and in search of meaning in their lives that they could be completely swayed by the glibness of a madman to the point that they would murder their own children because he told them to do it.

There have been other cults with their own kinds of disasters and leaders, like Charles Manson in the 1960’s and David Koresh in the 1990’s, who also could twist the minds of vulnerable people but Jim Jones is a name that will always be the epitome of cultish horror. In recent years, though, cults have become less of a news item. They certainly still exist but their activities are no longer in the public eye as much as they were back then. That makes what Elisa Nader has done even more remarkable than a casual reader might realize.

Ms. Nader is far too young to remember Jonestown and her target audience certainly won’t but she has created a story that brings to life how a cult leader like Jim Jones can operate.  Certain traits hold true with Reverend Elias Eden including isolating his people from general society, controlling what they eat and where they go , even naming the community after himself as another subliminal means of imprinting on these people who are not allowed to keep their own family names. What’s so amazing, in real life and in this story, is how far those people will go to support their leader and I think Escape from Eden will help today’s young adult readers understand the serious pitfalls of such a life.

Yes, the scenario is frightening and sad and a matter of incredulity for those of us on the outside but here is where Ms. Nader introduces an element that relieves the sense of doom—she creates hope in the persons of Mia and Gabe, two young members of the hidden society who don’t believe, who seek to break free and perhaps bring an end to the tyranny. I appreciated the support they gave each other although I didn’t particularly care for the potential romance or Mia’s propensity to let her attraction to Gabe get in the way but it’s such a relief to have these kids bring hope to an untenable situation. Mia, in particular, is refreshingly not always the brightest bulb in the box  and Gabe has his own tragic background to overcome but they have the passion to survive. Along the way, the reader is faced with intense suspense and fast-paced action, frequently feeling the need to chew fingernails.

Elisa Nader Book Quote

The combination of appealing and credible characters, and some who are not so appealing, with such a bonechilling plot led me to race through the story because I just had to know what was coming on the next page while I was also dreading the end. I was afraid of what might happen but wanted the story to keep going. Elisa Nader has brought us a real winner with Escape from Eden and I hope we won’t have to wait too long before her next work. Perhaps she could come up with a novella or two to tide us over in the meantime ;-).

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2013.


About the Author

Elisa NaderHi. I’m Elisa. I like cheese and reading and TV show marathons. Writing is scary, but not as scary as, say, Civil War amputations. I’m an Aquarius. Uh… let’s see… I’m not very good at writing my own biography. Or autobiography. I guess this is reading more like a slightly incoherent personal ad.

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Book Review: Out of the Black Land by Kerry Greenwood

Out of the Black LandOut of the Black Land
Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2013
ISBN: 978-1-464-20038-0
Also available in trade paperback

Ancient Egypt; the land of power, luxury and intrigue. Soon-to-be Princess Mutnodjme rallies against expectations and forges her own path no thanks to her manipulating mother. Ptah-hotep finds himself thrust suddenly into a position of power that threatens his life and the lives of those he loves. Together, they must traverse the dangers of Egyptian life when the new, mad King plunges Egypt into despair. Will they survive in a world where anyone can be an enemy?

Out of the Black Land was a book that initially made me apprehensive when I saw three pages of characters listed in Egyptian names that I was convinced I’d forget instantly. But the story itself is absorbing, full of mystery, intrigue and more back stabbing than a good old episode of Dallas. From the crazy Prince to the slightly shallow, but beautiful Nefertiti, this book is full of interesting and well-rounded characters. Told from two points of view, namely that of Mutnodjme and Ptah-hotep, the story criss-crosses between the two as their lives run parallel and then over each other, bringing them together in a desperate effort to return Egypt to stability.

I loved the fact that female characters in the book had a lot of power and freedom compared to most girls today. They had rights to land, power and marriage settlements and what’s more, they were listened to and afforded the respect of men and women, regardless of their age and position. In many ways, it seemed to be a society that was more accepting and tolerant than some you see today. Marriage was made more for political reasons than love and yet both partners were free to be in relationships with others without recrimination. Homosexuality was tolerated without prejudice or fear and the older generation were given much more respect than I’ve seen lately. So, in many ways, this book is very interesting because of how advanced the Egyptians were so many years ago compared to our own technologically advanced society. People had more value then compared to nowadays and yet the same forces drove them; money, position and health.

This title does give a very interesting insight into the lives of the ancient Egyptians but it would be much more suitable for a slightly older age group rather than younger readers. This is mainly due to the frequent sexual scenes within the book that are probably not far off the mark historically but may be unsuitable for younger readers. Let’s just say those Egyptians sure got around. But, sex scenes aside, this is basically just a really good book with a tight plot, full of interesting characters that are both believable and dynamic. I would certainly recommend it to older readers aged 17+.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, May 2013.