Tag Archives: thriller

Breaking the Weak Link by Gary Westphalen Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A real-life crime begins and subsequently inspires the story of a spur of the moment theft of an armored car in broad daylight that turns into a edge-of-your-seat thriller involving crime rings, tourists, the destruction of a national monument, and a fiery romance in author Gary Westphalen’s “Breaking the Weak Link”.

The Synopsis

When an undocumented immigrant in New York City happens upon an armored truck whose guards are simply not paying attention, he seizes the moment and casually walks off with $1.6-Million dollars in pure gold. That true-life event forms the basis for Breaking The Weak Link. But the story is just beginning. Before it’s over, an international crime ring will have attacked many more armored trucks and destroyed one of America’s greatest landmarks. Along with the way, a television reporter, a gold dealer, numerous armored truck guards, uncountable tourists, many of the criminals, and even the FBI Agent chasing them will have their lives hanging by a thread. Top it off with a blazing romance so hot the pages might catch on fire, and this book is a must read.

This fast-paced thriller by Author Gary Westphalen (Plan A Never Happens, Murdered For Nothing) twists and turns through every page, leaving the reader begging to know what happens next. The story travels from New York City to Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Washington, DC, and many other points, even as far as Nicaragua and Russia. The colorful detail woven into this non-stop story will make you believe you have been transported right into the scenes. It’s as if you are the unseen bystander in every locus of the plot.

Get comfortable, because once you start reading Breaking The Weak Link, you won’t put it down until it’s over. 

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The Review

What an incredible whirlwind thriller! The amazing thing that always entertains me when I read a Gary Westphalen book is a natural way the author ties into the narrative a true crime that the fictional narrative spirals out of. The way a split-decision from one man can spiral out of control and create a cascading series of events that destroy lives was so expertly crafted and explored in this novel, balancing the action and suspense of the novel’s crime element with the mystery and intrigue of the characters and the masterminds behind this criminal organization.

The character growth really was the heart of this narrative. They brought the crimes themselves to life so vividly and chillingly, and the author did a great job of showcasing that crimes are rarely about “good and evil”, but instead reside in a cascading series of shades of grey. As the “criminal” who began this journey was a simple man who took an opportunity and made a series of bad decisions as a result, to the mastermind behind the subsequent crimes, who readers would never have seen coming a mile away, each character feels well-rounded and realistic, while also drawing upon the genres to create entertaining and visceral reading experiences.

The Verdict

A brilliant, entertaining, and hauntingly-adventurous crime drama, author Gary Westphalen’s “Breaking the Weak Link” is a must-read drama of 2021. One of the fall’s best new crime dramas, the author has brought to life a gripping thriller that will have fans on the edge of their seats and the twisted finale will leave readers totally shocked. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Gary Westphalen has spent most life in pursuit of the truth. First as a journalist working for local television stations, then moving on to work for national news organizations, eventually finding himself as part of the White House reporting teams for a major television network, where he engaged in verbal sparring with every President from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama.

He also found time to work as an independent documentary film-maker, garnering numerous major awards for his work. He went on to NASA, where he produced several major documentary productions for the space agency.

Gary’s next journalistic adventure was as publisher of a major motorcycle magazine.

Now, Gary finds himself living on a Pacific coast beach in Costa Rica, where he has reinvented himself yet again as as an author and audiobook narrator. His first two books have received great critical acclaim and the pipeline is full of upcoming books.

https://www.facebook.com/gary.westphalen

To Sleep With Stones (A Hollystone Mystery 2) by W.L. Hawkins Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

The discovery of a powerful Egyptian artifact lands a man in prison for murder, and his only hope rests in the Wicca Priest he has befriended, Estrada, who must solve the crime before it’s too late in author W.L. Hawkins’s novel, “To Sleep With Stones”, the second book in the Hollystone Mystery series.

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The Synopsis

“Estrada scrutinized the tats, wondering how far the ink extended beneath the worn leather kilt, and just how painful it would be to have your genitals tattooed. He knew about ink—wore the black lacy wings of an angel on his back. Her feathers extended across his shoulders and down his glutes. That ink had broken more than his skin. “

When a renegade archaeologist discovers an ancient Egyptian

artifact in Scotland, Dylan McBride’s world implodes. Imprisoned for murder, he summons his friend, the Wicca Priest, Estrada, to solve the crime and set him free. Unable to turn down Dylan’s cry for help, Estrada abandons his melancholy lover in Canada where he gets targeted by a vicious vampire.

Estrada faces his inner demons. After playing vampire for years, Michael Stryker confronts a real vampire in a life-changing showdown. And, sweet, virginal, Dylan McBride, faces his greatest fears in one of Scotland’s most terrifying prisons. Who will survive?

A fast-paced murder mystery spiked with edgy urban fantasy, that opens portals into the realm of witches, faeries, and vampires.

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The Review

I absolutely and truly love this series! It speaks to me on so many levels, from my fascination and interest in Wicca and my passion for mythology and history to the chilling fantasy and murder-mystery elements of the narrative. The suspense and corruption within the police department that Estrada faces early on in the narrative adds a human threat element into the more magical and historical nature of the narrative, keeping the story balanced between grounded realism and magical and historical fiction.

The characters were so enjoyable to watch grow and develop on the page. The whole narrative plays out like an HBO show waiting to be developed, combining elements of LGBTQ+ and adult storytelling into a complex character study of those who seek the answers hidden within the most complex systems of our universe, from historians and archeologists to Wiccans and Pagans. Estrada is a complex character, and readers won’t be able to help getting invested in his story as he balances his desire to protect and help his friends and the innocent with his personal romance and personality developments. 

The Verdict

A memorable, fantastic, and action-fueled fantasy murder mystery, author W.L. Hawkins’s “To Sleep with Stones” is the perfect second book in the Hollystone Mystery series. The story’s inclusion of everything from faeries and corrupt cops to magick practitioners and the gods themselves, the brilliant mythos that the author incorporates into the narrative, and the cliffhanger ending with particular characters will have readers eager to learn more and get into the rest of this amazing series. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

W. L. Hawkin writes myth, magic, and mayhem designed to inspire and entertain. Described as “intoxicating, lush, magically-edgy, page-turners,” her Hollystone Mysteries series features a coven of witches who solve murders using their wits and ritual magic with a little help from the gods. Wendy is also a published blogger, book reviewer, Indie publisher, and poet, with a background in Indigenous Studies and English literature. She loves myth and magic, so when she’s not writing, she’s studying Druidry, shamanism, and mediumship. Although she is an introvert, in each book, her characters go on a journey where she has traveled herself.

She defies genre by writing character-driven fast-paced mysteries and thrillers that involve fantastical characters. See her four book series: To Charm a Killer, To Sleep with Stones, To Render a Raven, and To Kill a King.

Trashlands by Alison Stine Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A mother struggling to save enough money to rescue her child finds an opportunity to change her and her child’s life through her art in the sci-fi dystopian thriller, “Trashlands” by author Alison Stine. 

The Synopsis

A resonant, visionary novel about the power of art and the sacrifices we are willing to make for the ones we love

A few generations from now, the coastlines of the continent have been redrawn by floods and tides. Global powers have agreed to not produce any new plastics, and what is left has become valuable: garbage is currency.

In the region-wide junkyard that Appalachia has become, Coral is a “plucker,” pulling plastic from the rivers and woods. She’s stuck in Trashlands, a dump named for the strip club at its edge, where the local women dance for an endless loop of strangers and the club’s violent owner rules as unofficial mayor.

Amid the polluted landscape, Coral works desperately to save up enough to rescue her child from the recycling factories, where he is forced to work. In her stolen free hours, she does something that seems impossible in this place: Coral makes art.

When a reporter from a struggling city on the coast arrives in Trashlands, Coral is presented with an opportunity to change her life. But is it possible to choose a future for herself?

Told in shifting perspectives, Trashlands is a beautifully drawn and wildly imaginative tale of a parent’s journey, a story of community and humanity in a changing world.

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The Review

Captivating and thought-provoking, author Alison Stine shines brightly in this emotional and relevant eco-thriller/sci-fi dystopian read. The novel’s brilliance comes through early on in the use of shifting perspectives, allowing readers not only to see how this dystopian world evolved and grew but allowing them to see how the bonds between these characters formed and how they came to be who they are. The chilling atmosphere comes not from some horrendous mutant beast or alien invasion, but the horrors humanity inflicts on our own planet, forcing the Earth to reshape its landscapes and forcing good people to do whatever it takes to survive.

The character arcs in this narrative are the true heart of this book. The various perspectives we have to allow the reader to see the balance Coral must find in not only surviving for herself but in finding the means to save her son, taken years ago from her to work in a factory. Her ability to find beauty and the means to create art for others while still putting herself through perilous work to earn the means of leaving everything behind and saving her son showcases mankind’s ability to persevere in the face of adversity and find hope in the darkness that surrounds us, a message that rings true for so many people. 

The Verdict

An engaging, emotionally-driven, and thematically important read, author Alison Stine’s “Trashlands” is a must-read novel of 2021! The perfect story of survival, hope, and finding beauty in the most troublesome of times, this story will take readers on a roller-coaster of emotions and showcase a depth of world-building that readers will come to love from this eco-thriller. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

About the Author

Alison Stine is an award-winning poet and author. Recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and an Ohio Arts Council grant, she was a Wallace Stegner Fellow and received the Studs Terkel Award for Media and Journalism. She works as a freelance reporter with The New York Times, writes for The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Guardian, 100 Days in Appalachia, ELLE, The Kenyon Review, and others, and has been astoryteller on The Moth. After living in Appalachian Ohio for many years, she now lives and writes in Colorado with her partner, her son, and a small orange cat.

Buy Links: 

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Social Links:

Author Website

Twitter: @AlisonStine

Instagram: @alistinewrites

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Q&A with Author Alison Stine

1.      Give us an out of context quote from your book to warm our hearts.

“People had thought there would be no more time, but there was. Just different time. Time moving slower. Time after disaster, when they still had to live.” 

2.      What’s the last book you read that inspired you? 

Lily Cole’s Who Cares Wins: Reasons for Optimism in a Changed World. I’m quoted in the book, which is how we met. She had me on her podcast. It’s a book of ideas and hope for sustainability and environmental action. And it inspires me that she is able to leverage her platform as an actor and model to try to do good in the world. This world really wants you to be just one thing, and she resists that, and converts the attention into calls for action.

3.      Name one song or artist that gets you fired up.

Lana Del Rey’s “Swan Song.” It has a slow build, dark and intense, like I hope my work is. I don’t listen to music with lyrics when I draft, but I listen to the same song over and over again when I revise. That song becomes the heartbeat of the book. And “Swan Song” was one of the heartbeats of Trashlands.

4.      How do you find readers in today’s market?

There’s only so much a writer can control. I do everything in my control–post on social media, do events, publish essays–but at the end of the day, my job as a writer too is to tell the best story I can, to the best of my ability, in the time I’m given. What happens after that is a function of money and attention and decisions that don’t include me. As a disabled writer, it’s especially hard– nobody does year-end best lists about us. I try to remember that the writers I most admire–Octavia Butler, Angela Carter–wrote a ton. They just kept writing. I have to just keep writing, keeping going, too. 

5.      Do you come up with the hook first, or do you create characters first and then dig through until you find a hook?

Every book is different and every book teaches you how to write it. For me, trying to be analytical about things like plot or meaning doesn’t work. If I have a story I can’t let go of, something I dreamed, or something that keeps coming back to me, I listen to it. Often a character speaks first.

6.      Coffee or tea?

Definitely coffee. I’m a lightweight, so I try to limit myself to one cup a day.

7.       How do you create your characters?

One thing that I think is missing from some contemporary literary fiction is work. As someone from a working-class background, what characters do for money, how they feed themselves and live, is important to me, and can define character. Often what you want to do is different than what you have to do. I try to make it very clear how my characters support themselves, which can be a big part of characterization and plot–like in Trashlands, where several major characters work at a strip club at the end of the world– but also, what are their larger wishes? What are their unfulfilled dreams? What do they regret? 

8.      Who would be your dream cast if TRASHLANDS became a movie?

Lana Del Rey as Foxglove, Erin Kellyman as Coral, Eric Roberts as Trillium, MJ Rodriguez as Summer, and the late John Dunsworth as Mr. Fall. 

9.      If you could grab lunch with a literary character who would it be?

Jet from Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic series. I just read The Book of Magic, which reminded me how much I love Hoffman’s characters and that world. We all need an aunt in our lives who’s a witch, someone who’s both no nonsense and a lot of nonsense–and who serves cake for breakfast. (It just occurred to me that I may be turning into that kind of witch myself.) We need someone to remind us of our own personal magic. 

10.  What are you currently reading?

Township, a collection of stories by fellow Ohioan Jamie Lyn Smith, which is slated to be published this December. 

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Here is an Exclusive Excerpt From “Trashlands”

1

Early coralroot

Corallorhiza trifida

Coral was pregnant then. She hid it well in a dress she had found in the road, sun-bleached and mud-dotted, only a little ripped. The dress billowed to her knees, over the tops of her boots. She was named for the wildflower which hadn’t been seen since before her birth, and for ocean life, poisoned and gone. It was too dangerous to go to the beach anymore. You never knew when storms might come.

Though they were going—to get a whale.

A boy had come from up north with a rumor: a whale had beached. Far off its course, but everything was off by then: the waterways, the paths to the ocean, its salt. You went where you had to go, where weather and work and family—but mostly weather—took you.

The villagers around Lake Erie were carving the creature up, taking all the good meat and fat. The strainer in its mouth could be used for bows, the bones in its chest for tent poles or greenhouse beams.

It was a lot of fuel for maybe nothing, a rumor spun by an out-of-breath boy. But there would be pickings along the road. And there was still gas, expensive but available. So the group went, led by Mr. Fall. They brought kayaks, lashed to the top of the bus, but in the end, the water was shallow enough they could wade.

They knew where to go because they could smell it. You got used to a lot of smells in the world: rotten food, chemicals, even shit. But death… Death was hard to get used to.

“Masks up,” Mr. Fall said.

Some of the men in the group—all men except Coral—had respirators, painter’s masks, or medical masks. Coral had a handkerchief of faded blue paisley, knotted around her neck. She pulled it up over her nose. She had dotted it with lavender oil from a vial, carefully tipping out the little she had left. She breathed shallowly through fabric and flowers. Mr. Fall just had a T-shirt, wound around his face. He could have gotten a better mask, Coral knew, but he was leading the crew. He saved the good things for the others.

She was the only girl on the trip, and probably the youngest person. Maybe fifteen, she thought. Months ago, she had lain in the icehouse with her teacher, a man who would not stay. He was old enough to have an old-fashioned name, Robert, to be called after people who had lived and died as they should. Old enough to know better, Mr. Fall had said, but what was better, anymore?

Everything was temporary. Robert touched her in the straw, the ice blocks sweltering around them. He let himself want her, or pretend to, for a few hours. She tried not to miss him. His hands that shook at her buttons would shake in a fire or in a swell of floodwater. Or maybe violence had killed him.

She remembered it felt cool in the icehouse, a relief from the outside where heat beat down. The last of the chillers sputtered out chemicals. The heat stayed trapped in people’s shelters, like ghosts circling the ceiling. Heat haunted. It would never leave.

News would stop for long stretches. The information that reached Scrappalachia would be written hastily on damp paper, across every scrawled inch. It was always old news.

The whale would be picked over by the time they reached it.

Mr. Fall led a practiced team. They would not bother Coral, were trained not to mess with anything except the mission. They parked the bus in an old lot, then descended through weeds to the beach. The stairs had washed away. And the beach, when they reached it, was not covered with dirt or rock as Coral had expected, but with a fine yellow grit so bright it hurt to look at, a blankness stretching on.

“Take off your boots,” Mr. Fall said.

Coral looked at him, but the others were listening, knot-ting plastic laces around their necks, stuffing socks into pockets.

“Go on, Coral. It’s all right.” Mr. Fall’s voice was gentle, muffled by the shirt.

Coral had her job to do. Only Mr. Fall and the midwife knew for sure she was pregnant, though others were talking. She knew how to move so that no one could see.

But maybe, she thought as she leaned on a fence post and popped off her boot, she wanted people to see. To tell her what to do, how to handle it. Help her. He had to have died, Robert—and that was the reason he didn’t come back for her. Or maybe he didn’t know about the baby?

People had thought there would be no more time, but there was. Just different time. Time moving slower. Time after disaster, when they still had to live.

She set her foot down on the yellow surface. It was warm. She shot a look at Mr. Fall.

The surface felt smooth, shifting beneath her toes. Coral slid her foot across, light and slightly painful. It was the first time she had felt sand.

The sand on the beach made only a thin layer. People had started to take it. Already, people knew sand, like everything, could be valuable, could be sold.

Coral took off her other boot. She didn’t have laces, to tie around her neck. She carried the boots under her arm. Sand clung to her, pebbles jabbing at her feet. Much of the trash on the beach had been picked through. What was left was diapers and food wrappers and cigarettes smoked down to filters.

“Watch yourselves,” Mr. Fall said.

Down the beach they followed the smell. It led them on, the sweet rot scent. They came around a rock outcropping, and there was the whale, massive as a ship run aground: red, purple, and white. The colors seemed not real. Birds were on it, the black birds of death. The enemies of scavengers, their competition. Two of the men ran forward, waving their arms and whooping to scare off the birds.

“All right everybody,” Mr. Fall said to the others. “You know what to look for.”

Except they didn’t. Not really. Animals weren’t their specialty.

Plastic was.

People had taken axes to the carcass, to carve off meat. More desperate people had taken spoons, whatever they could use to get at something to take home for candle wax or heating fuel, or to barter or beg for something else, something better.

“You ever seen a whale?” one of the men, New Orleans, asked Coral.

She shook her head. “No.”

“This isn’t a whale,” Mr. Fall said. “Not anymore. Keep your masks on.”

They approached it. The carcass sunk into the sand. Coral tried not to breathe deeply. Flesh draped from the bones of the whale. The bones were arched, soaring like buttresses, things that made up cathedrals—things she had read about in the book.

Bracing his arm over his mouth, Mr. Fall began to pry at the ribs. They were big and strong. They made a cracking sound, like a splitting tree.

New Orleans gagged and fell back.

Other men were dropping. Coral heard someone vomiting into the sand. The smell was so strong it filled her head and chest like a sound, a high ringing. She moved closer to give her feet something to do. She stood in front of the whale and looked into its gaping mouth.

There was something in the whale.

Something deep in its throat.

In one pocket she carried a knife always, and in the other she had a light: a precious flashlight that cast a weak beam. She switched it on and swept it over the whale’s tongue, picked black by the birds.

She saw a mass, opaque and shimmering, wide enough it blocked the whale’s throat. The whale had probably died of it, this blockage. The mass looked lumpy, twined with seaweed and muck, but in the mess, she could make out a water bottle.

It was plastic. Plastic in the animal’s mouth. It sparked in the beam of her flashlight.

Coral stepped into the whale.

Excerpted from Trashlands by Alison Stine, Copyright © 2021 by Alison Stine. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

Shooting Star: A Nikki Latrelle Mystery Book 5 (The Nikki Latrelle Mystery-Thriller Series) by Sasscer Hill Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A job to protect the horses and people involved in a Hollywood shoot forces heroine Nikki Latrelle to face off against a mysterious sniper in author Sasscer Hill’s “Shoot Star”, the fifth book in the Nikki Latrelle Mystery-Thriller series!

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The Synopsis

When Nikki’s ex-lover Will hires her to protect the horses used to film a movie at Santa Anita Racetrack, she learns evil is alive and well in Hollywood.

Keeping Thoroughbreds safe from a director who doesn’t know a horse from a hamster is tricky. More difficult are the unresolved feelings between Nikki and Will, especially when sexy, young movie star, Jamie Jackson, sets his sights on Nikki.

But when a sniper’s bullet shatters the brain of a cameraman close enough that she can smell his blood, Nikki’s need to protect overrides everything. Her sleuthing unearths a trail of corruption and when she must lie to Will to protect his life, she’s on her own. Can she identify the evil behind the scenes before she and Will become the next victims?

Shooting Star is the fifth rocket-paced story in the award-winning Nikki Latrelle mystery series. If you like protagonists with heart and courage, unexpected twists, and a thrill ride to the finish, you’ll love Shooting Star.

Find out why this series has so many fans. Buy Shooting Star today! 

The Review

This book starts off quite literally with a bang. The shocking murder of a cameraman shocks readers with a quick introduction to the setting followed by the harrowing events that spark this mystery. Now although I am a newcomer to the Nikki Latrelle series, the author did an amazing job of crafting a narrative that felt self-contained enough to stand on its own while still touching upon scenes and experiences the character had in previous entries in the series. 

The balance the author found between the pacing of the mystery and the character arcs of not only the protagonist but of the supporting cast as well as brilliantly written. Each clue and twist in the narrative was delivered naturally and kept the reader invested, while the characters kept you on the edge of your seat as readers tried to solve the mystery themselves. Add some unique and original storytelling elements involving horse racing and the treatment of animals in Hollywood productions overall, and you have the recipe for a highly engaging thriller.

The Verdict

A high octane, adrenaline-fueled, thought-provoking mystery thriller, author Sasscer Hill’s “Shooting Star” is a must-read thriller of 2021. A brilliantly original and heartfelt look into the world of horse racing and the treatment of animals in general blended with a heart-pounding murder mystery and complex character development, readers will not be able to put down this amazing story. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

I’ve never wanted to write the “Great American novel.” I believe my job is to entertain with stories about chasing a dream, fighting the odds, and helping the helpless. I want to create a world that’s a bit scary, sometimes funny, always informative, and a reliable destination for escape.

Sasscer Hill’s books have won the $10,000 Dr. Tony Ryan Award for Best Book in Racing Literature (FLAMINGO ROAD.) They have also garnered a Carrie McCray Award and been nominated for Agatha, Macavity, and Claymore awards. Her second book in her two-book “Fia McKee” series, THE DARK SIDE OF TOWN, received a Booklist Starred Review and was an Editor’s Pick in the Toronto Star.

Her newest title, TRAVEL’S OF QUINN” (out March 2010) is a mystery-thriller based on the con artists known as the Irish American Travellers. A novel of deceit, murder, greed and hope,

Currently, Sasscer is writing SHOOTING STAR, her fifth novel in the “Nikki Latrelle” mystery series.

Sasscer was a breeder, owner, and rider of race horses for over 30 years. She lives in Aiken, SC, with her husband, a dog named Rosco and a cat named Lola.

https://www.sasscerhill.com/

Fan Club by Erin Mayer Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young millennial searching for meaning in her work finds herself drawn further and further into a psychological wormhole revolving around an obsession with a pop star and a group of hard-core fans that take their fandom to all new heights in author Erin Mayer’s “Fan Club”. 

The Synopsis

In this raucous psychological thriller, a disillusioned millennial joins a cliquey fan club, only to discover that the group is bound together by something darker than devotion.

Day after day our narrator searches for meaning beyond her vacuous job at a women’s lifestyle website – entering text into a computer system while she watches their beauty editor unwrap box after box of perfectly packaged bits of happiness. Then, one night at a dive bar, she hears a message in the newest single by international pop-star Adriana Argento, and she is struck. Soon she loses herself to the online fandom, a community whose members feverishly track Adriana’s every move.

When a colleague notices her obsession, she’s invited to join an enigmatic group of adult Adriana superfans who call themselves the Ivies and worship her music in witchy, candlelit listening parties. As the narrator becomes more entrenched in the group, she gets closer to uncovering the sinister secrets that bind them together – while simultaneously losing her grip on reality.

With caustic wit and hypnotic writing, this unsparingly critical thrill ride through millennial life examines all that is wrong in our celebrity-obsessed internet age and how easy it is to lose yourself in it.

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The Review

This was such an intense, emotional, and heartbreaking yet moving read. The author brilliantly captured the tone and psychological concept of many millennial today, both the popularized “selfie-obsessed” millennial that appear in shows and films in today’s pop culture, and the more heartfelt, directionless, and depressive millennial who have inherited so many problems from previous generations and have a harder time making their schooling and degrees match up with the jobs that are available in our current market. It added depth and really challenged the notion people have of the millennial generation. 

What was so fascinating about this narrative was twofold: the protagonists’ mystery identity and the comparison of intense fandoms to cults. The lack of personalized identity to the protagonist was so interesting to read, as it allowed the reader to feel like they could either step into the protagonist’s shoes or witness her actions with somewhat of familiarity after knowing someone who has lost themselves to an obsession with pop culture. The comparison between fandoms and cults was so deeply felt in this narrative, as the protagonist and the other members of this group found themselves losing themselves more and more to this idea of having a deeper connection to this individual than they actually had.

The Verdict

Intense, mind-bending, and shocking to watch unfold on the page, author Erin Mayer’s “Fan Club” is a must-read novel. The perfect read for fans of psychological thrillers that focus on more modern themes, the author brilliantly touches upon the more intimate nature of celebrities and the access their fans have to them thanks to social media. With an emotional finale, this is one book readers will not want to miss this fall. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

About the Author

Erin Mayer is a freelance writer and editor based in Maine. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, Man Repeller, Literary Hub, and others. She was previously an associate fashion and beauty editor at Bustle.com.

BUY LINKS:

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/fan-club/9780778311591 

Indie Bound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780778311591 

Books-A-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/9780778311591?AID=10747236&PID=7310909&cjevent=65e1269f327311ec8113ab580a82b832 

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fan-club-erin-mayer/1138476507;jsessionid=447EED4856C3B3C9AFCBCB912D1233C6.prodny_store01-atgap13?ean=9780778311591&st=AFF&2sid=HarperCollins%20Publishers%20LLC_7310909_NA&sourceId=AFFHarperCollins%20Publishers%20LLC 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0778311597?tag=harpercollinsus-20

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/fan-club-4 

Apple Books:https://books.apple.com/us/book/fan-club/id1545139327 

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Fan_Club_A_Novel?id=pXAPEAAAQBAJ&hl=en_US&gl=US 

SOCIAL LINKS:

Author website: http://erinmayer.com/

Twitter: @mayer_erin

Instagram: @erinkmayer

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Here is an Excerpt from FAN CLUB

Chapter One

I’m outside for a cumulative ten minutes each day before work. Five to walk from my apartment building to the subway, another five to go from the subway to the anemic obelisk that houses my office. I try to breathe as deeply as I can in those minutes, because I never know how long it will be until I take fresh air into my lungs again. Not that the city air is all that fresh, tinged with the sharp stench of old garbage, pollution’s metallic swirl. But it beats the stale oxygen of the office, already filtered through distant respiratory systems. Sometimes, during slow moments at my desk, I inhale and try to imagine those other nostrils and lungs that have already processed this same air. I’m not sure how it works in reality, any knowledge I once had of the intricacies of breathing having been long ago discarded by more useful information, but the image comforts me. Usually, I picture a middle-aged man with greying temples, a fringe of visible nose hair, and a coffee stain on the collar of his baby blue button-down. He looks nothing and everything like my father. An every-father, if you will.

My office is populated by dyed-blonde or pierced brunette women in their mid-to-late twenties and early thirties. The occasional man, just a touch older than most of the women, but still young enough to give off the faint impression that he DJs at Meatpacking nightclubs for extra cash on the weekends.

We are the new corporate Americans, the offspring of the grey-templed men. We wear tastefully ripped jeans and cozy sweaters to the office instead of blazers and trousers. Display a tattoo here and there—our supervisors don’t mind; in fact, they have the most ink. We eat yogurt for breakfast, work through lunch, leave the office at six if we’re lucky, arriving home with just enough time to order dinner from an app and watch two or three hours of Netflix before collapsing into bed from exhaustion we haven’t earned. Exhaustion that lives in the brain, not the body, and cannot be relieved by a mere eight hours of sleep.

Nobody understands exactly what it is we do here, and neither do we. I push through revolving glass door, run my wallet over the card reader, which beeps as my ID scans through the stiff leather, and half-wave in the direction of the uniformed security guard behind the desk, whose face my eyes never quite reach so I can’t tell you what he looks like. He’s just one of the many set-pieces staging the scene of my days.

The elevator ride to the eleventh floor is long enough to skim one-third of a longform article on my phone. I barely register what it’s about, something loosely political, or who is standing next to me in the cramped elevator.

When the doors slide open on eleven, we both get off.

In the dim eleventh-floor lobby, a humming neon light shaping the company logo assaults my sleep-swollen eyes like the prick of a dozen tiny needles. Today, a small section has burned out, creating a skip in the letter w. Below the logo is a tufted cerulean velvet couch where guests wait to be welcomed. To the left there’s a mirrored wall reflecting the vestibule; people sometimes pause there to take photos on the way to and from the office, usually on the Friday afternoon before a long weekend. I see the photos later while scrolling through my various feeds at home in bed. They hit me one after another like shots of tequila: See ya Tuesday! *margarita emoji* Peace out for the long weekend! *palm tree emoji* Byeeeeee! *peace sign emoji.*

She steps in front of me, my elevator companion. Black Rag & Bone ankle boots gleaming, blade-tipped pixie cut grazing her ears. Her neck piercing taunts me, those winking silver balls on either side of her spine. She’s Lexi O’ Connell, the website’s senior editor. She walks ahead with her head angled down, thumb working her phone’s keyboard, and doesn’t look up as she shoves the interior door open, palm to the glass.

I trip over the back of one clunky winter boot with the other as I speed up, considering whether to call out for her attention. It’s what a good web producer, one who is eager to move on from the endless drudgery of copy-pasting and resizing and into the slightly more thrilling drudgery of writing and rewriting, would do.

By the time I regain my footing, I come face-to-face with the smear of her handprint as the door glides shut in front of me.

Monday.

I work at a website.

It’s like most other websites; we publish content, mostly articles: news stories, essays, interviews, glossed over with the polished opalescent sheen of commercialized feminism. The occasional quiz, video, or photoshoot rounds out our offerings. This is how websites work in the age of ad revenue: Each provides a slightly varied selection of mindless entertainment, news updates, and watered-down hot takes about everything from climate change to plus size fashion, hawking their wares on the digital marketplace, leaving The Reader to wander drunkenly through the bazaar, wielding her cursor like an Amex. You can find everything you’d want to read in one place online, dozens of times over. The algorithms have erased choice. Search engines and social media platforms, they know what you want before you do.

As a web producer, my job is to input article text into the website’s proprietary content management system, or CMS. I’m a digitized high school janitor; I clean up the small messes, the litter that misses the rim of the garbage can. I make sure the links are working and the images are high resolution. When anything bigger comes up, it goes to an editor or IT. I’m an expert in nothing, a master of the miniscule fixes.

There are five of us who produce for the entire website, each handling about 20 articles a day. We sit at a long grey table on display at the very center of the open office, surrounded on all sides by editors and writers.

The web producers’ bullpen, Lexi calls it.

The light fixture above the table buzzes loudly like a nest of bees is trapped inside the fluorescent tubing. I drop my bag on the floor and take a seat, shedding my coat like a layer of skin. My chair faces the beauty editor’s desk, the cruelest seat in the house. All day long, I watch Charlotte Miller receive package after package stuffed with pastel tissue paper. Inside those packages: lipstick, foundation, perfume, happiness. A thousand simulacrums of Christmas morning spread across the two-hundred and sixty-one workdays of the year. She has piled the trappings of Brooklyn hipsterdom on top of her blonde, big-toothed, prettiness. Wire-frame glasses, a tattoo of a constellation on her inner left forearm, a rose gold nose ring. She seems Texan, but she’s actually from some wholesome upper Midwestern state, I can never remember which one. Right now, she applies red lipstick from a warm golden tube in the flat gleam of the golden mirror next to her monitor. Everything about her is color-coordinated.

I open my laptop. The screen blinks twice and prompts me for my password. I type it in, and the CMS appears, open to where I left it when I signed off the previous evening. Our CMS is called LIZZIE. There’s a rumor that it was named after Lizzie Borden, christened during the pre-launch party when the tech team pounded too many shots after they finished coding. As in, “Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother forty whacks.” Lizzie Borden rebranded in the 21st century as a symbol of righteous feminine anger. LIZZIE, my best friend, my closest confidant. She’s an equally comforting and infuriating presence, constant in her bland attention. She gazes at me, always emotionless, saying nothing as she watches me teeter on the edge, fighting tears or trying not to doze at my desk or simply staring, in search of answers she cannot provide.

My eyes droop in their sockets as I scan the articles that were submitted before I arrived this morning. The whites threaten to turn liquid and splash onto my keyboard, pool between the keys and jiggle like eggs minus the yolks. Thinking of this causes a tiny laugh to slip out from between my clenched lips. Charlotte slides the cap onto her lipstick, glares at me over the lip of the mirror.

“Morning.”

That’s Tom, the only male web producer, who sits across and slightly left of me, keeping my view of Charlotte’s towering wonderland of boxes and bags clear. He’s four years older than me, twenty-eight, but the plush chipmunk curve of his cheeks makes him appear much younger, like he’s about to graduate high school. He’s cute, though, in the way of a movie star who always gets cast as the geek in teen comedies. Definitely hot but dress him down in an argyle sweater and glasses and he could be a Hollywood nerd. I’ve always wanted to ask him why he works here, doing this. There isn’t really a web producer archetype. We’re all different, a true island of misfit toys.

But if there is a type, Tom doesn’t fit it. He seems smart and driven. He’s consistently the only person who attends company book club meetings having read that month’s selection from cover to cover. I’ve never asked him why he works here because we don’t talk much. No one in our office talks much. Not out loud, anyway. We communicate through a private Morse code, fingers dancing on keys, expressions scanned and evaluated from a distance.

Sometimes I think about flirting with Tom, for something to do, but he wears a wedding ring. Not that I care about his wife; it’s more the fear of rebuff and rejection, of hearing the low-voiced Sorry, I’m married, that stops me. He usually sails in a few minutes after I do, smelling like his bodega coffee and the egg sandwich he carefully unwraps and eats at his desk. He nods in my direction. Morning is the only word we’ve exchanged the entire time I’ve worked here, which is coming up on a year in January. It’s not even a greeting, merely a statement of fact. It is morning and we’re both here. Again.

Three hundred and sixty-five days lost to the hum and twitch and click. I can’t seem to remember how I got here. It all feels like a dream. The mundane kind, full of banal details, but something slightly off about it all. I don’t remember applying for the job, or interviewing. One day, an offer letter appeared in my inbox and I signed.

And here I am. Day after day, I wait for someone to need me. I open articles. I tweak the formatting, check the links, correct the occasional typo that catches my eye. It isn’t really my job to copy edit, or even to read closely, but sometimes I notice things, grammatical errors or awkward phrasing, and I then can’t not notice them; I have to put them right or else they nag like a papercut on the soft webbing connecting two fingers. The brain wants to be useful. It craves activity, even after almost three hundred and sixty-five days of operating at its lowest frequency.

I open emails. I download attachments. I insert numbers into spreadsheets. I email those spreadsheets to Lexi and my direct boss, Ashley, who manages the homepage.

None of it ever seems to add up to anything.

Excerpted from Fan Club by Erin Mayer, Copyright © 2021 by Erin Mayer. Published by MIRA Books.

Cold Star: The Cold War Just Got Hotter by Dick Woodgate Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

An anonymous secret agent in 1960’s Casablanca must deal with danger, a deadly conspiracy, and heated romance in author Dick Woodgate’s espionage thriller, “Cold Star”. 

The Synopsis

An audacious plan, a dangerous attraction, a deadly agent …a fatal flaw.

The Agent is an anonymous British intelligence agent working for a department so secret the government won’t admit to its existence. In 1960s Casablanca, a devastating fire at the port leads the Agent to Morocco where he uncovers an audacious plot of epic proportions. The Agent must unravel the conspiracy and put a stop to it. The Russian embassy is implicated – and the Agent’s just fallen for one of its diplomats, a beautiful young woman who may hold the key to unearthing the secret in the Sahara… but only if he can overcome his desire for her. And all the while a fatal flaw in the Agent’s assignment goes unnoticed until its explosive revelation in the closing chapters.

The Agent takes you on a thrilling and immersive ride through the heady exoticism of early sixties Casablanca in a compelling cold war era thriller, weaving in science and buckling the classic espionage premise with a twisted finale. Readers of Fleming and le Carré will particularly enjoy this intriguing story, full of narrow escapes and wonderful characters. Brimming with style, detail and atmosphere, Cold Star confidently evokes the period with great historical authenticity. The cold war just got hotter.

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The Review

This was an incredible espionage read. The atmosphere and tone the author employed here very much captured the era of the narrative’s setting. The iconic spy thriller style novel presented both political and action thriller vibes, and the imagery the author used in the writing, from the powerful sports cars the Agent utilized in his adventures to the trickery and air of tension that the protagonist had with other key figures in the novel, really did an amazing job of crafting this fictional world in the reader’s minds.

The characters themselves really brought the novel’s heart into play here. The protagonist himself being this anonymous secret spy known only as The Agent was an inspired choice, as he represented the classic literary characters (and film) such as James Bond that readers have come to know and love over the years while allowing enough room for imagination in the reader’s minds to take over and craft a wholly original and unique experience. The ruthless and almost cold nature of the character’s actions gave such an interesting psychological aspect to his development as well, as he worked to do the “heroic” thing while still struggling to find the meaning and humanity behind his actions. 

The Verdict

A masterfully executed, creative, and engaging spy thriller, author Dick Woodgate’s “Cold Star” is a must-read novel of 2021. The author’s balance of imagery and character growth will have readers harkening back to an iconic time in espionage thriller novels, while the plot and tone will keep readers on the edge of their seat as the shocking finale explodes onto the page. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

As well as being a writer, I’m also a furniture maker. I moved from London to rural Kent seven years ago to start a family. The skies are dark down here. I bought a telescope soon after we moved and it was this – and a love of espionage fiction, Fleming in particular – which led me to start writing my first novel, Cold Star.

Cold Star is the first book featuring the Agent in a planned series charting the race to the moon in the sixties. A sense of that pioneering decade of space exploration is expressed in parallel with the plot and theme of each book – I’m nearing completion of the second book, set later on in the decade in Europe, Russia & California. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I have writing it for you. 

https://www.dickwoodgate.com/

https://www.facebook.com/dickwoodgate

Blood Mark by J.P. McLean Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A young woman who has spent her entire life with mysterious red birthmarks and terrifying nightmares finds her world turned upside down as the birthmarks begin fading, and the dreams become more vivid as a serial killer sets their sights on her in author J.P. McLean’s “Blood Mark”, the first in a brand new paranormal thriller series.

The Synopsis

What if your lifelong curse is the only thing keeping you alive? Abandoned at birth, life has always been a battle for Jane Walker. She and her best friend, Sadie, spent years fighting to survive Vancouver’s cutthroat underbelly. That would have been tough enough without Jane’s mysterious afflictions: an intricate pattern of blood-red birthmarks that snake around her body and vivid, heart-wrenching nightmares that feel so real she wakes up screaming.

After she meets the first man who isn’t repulsed by her birthmarks, Jane thinks she might finally have a chance at happiness. Her belief seems confirmed as the birthmarks she’s spent her life so ashamed of magically begin to disappear. Yet, the quicker her scarlet marks vanish, the more lucid and disturbing Jane’s nightmares become—until it’s impossible to discern her dreams from reality, and Jane comes to a horrifying realization:

The nightmares that have plagued her since childhood are actually visions of real people being stalked by a deadly killer. And all this time, her birthmarks have been the only things protecting her from becoming his next victim.

Blood Mark is the first in a brand-new paranormal thriller series by JP McLean, author of The Gift Legacy series and whose writing has been described as “. . . deftly crafted, impressively original, and inherently compelling from first page to last.”

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The Review

This was a refreshing new take on the paranormal thriller genre. The integration of Inca mythology into a modern-day thriller was engaging and thought-provoking, giving readers a wonderful blend of mythology and gritty crime thriller. The author’s own writing was outstanding, delivering a very descriptive and creative balance of imagery and character growth that felt very cinematic as a whole. 

The characters themselves were so captivating to read. Each character brought a complex and emotional background to the narrative, and the mature setting and tone of the storyline really allowed the author to explore the nuances and thoughtful approach to the character’s arc. Jane was a well-rounded new heroine in this paranormal thriller and did an excellent job of creating a bond between the reader and the narrative overall.

The Verdict

A magical, haunting, and entertaining read, author J.P. McLean’s “Blood Mark” is a brilliant new paranormal thriller! The pacing and chilling atmosphere the author crafts, along with the heartbreaking backstories and gripping action that takes place make this a standout read, and will leave readers eager to devour more books from this author. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

I’m very fortunate to live in a writer’s paradise on one of the small northern Gulf Islands off the eastern shore of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The rugged beaches and towering fir and arbutus trees that surround me often end up in my stories. When I’m not pouring my imagination into my computer, I’m futzing in gardens, making a mess of the kitchen or hiking local trails. I write stories that entice you to believe the impossible and escape the everyday for a while. Enjoy the read!

I’m also on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/JPMcLeanBooks

HELLROSE by Emma M. King Review

A doctor plagued by traumatic visions of trauma must try to fix her past by helping a new patient at the asylum she works at in author Emma M. King’s “HELLROSE”.

The Synopsis

Over the past 150 years, HELLROSE psychiatric hospital has become one of America’s most feared establishments.

After being plagued by flashbacks to a terrifying past, a psychiatrist, Dr. Lisa Williams, tries to repair her life by helping a new outlandish patient who has his own horrifying history.

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The Review

This was a gripping psychological thriller! The author did an incredible job of delivering a tense and haunting look into the world of mental health and the criminal justice system, exploring how mental health can affect so many people, not just a particular group of people, and the shocking behavior and actions that can arise within someone so completely separate from their own personalities. 

The character exploration was detailed and engaging in this novel. The protagonist’s personal struggles mirror the intensity of the environment around her, and the twisted cases that arrive on her desk daily. The mystery surrounding her new patient and the investigation that arises during his evaluation will have readers on the edge of their seats. 

The only thing of note here is that some of the dialogue between characters can come across as less natural and more pointed, so my only critique would be taking a less “tell” approach to the character’s interactions and more of a “show” approach instead, but honestly this happens only a couple of times that I could see so the narrative overall feels powerful enough to overshadow those few instances.

The Verdict

An entertaining, chilling, and thought-provoking psychological thriller, author Emma M. King’s “HELLROSE” is a must-read novel for the fall 2021 season! Shocking revelations and a twist ending will take readers by surprise, and the novel showcases the depth and experience the author has brought to this particular genre of thriller, making the narrative’s tone feel authentic and more engaging. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 8/10

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About the Author

Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Emma M. King graduated from Penn State University with a degree in journalism & psychology.

Her publishing story has been covered by the Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly. She has appeared on ABC’s World News Now and America This Morning.

Emma lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with her family. She enjoys traveling, hiking, kayaking, and exploring the city’s best brunch options. She regularly blogs about her “writing life” at www.emmaking.co.

Serpent Loop by Lynn Lipinski Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A brother is pushed to the limits when a murder at the carnival he is working at opens up a twisted mystery his younger sister is caught in, and as the investigation ramps up and she disappears, he must decide how far he is willing to go to protect the family he has left in author Lynn Lipinski’s “Serpent Loop”.

The Synopsis

Sometimes new beginnings come from destruction.

A man is murdered at a carnival. For Zane Clearwater, witnessing the crime is a dark reminder of a violent past he had hoped to put behind him and his teenage sister Lettie. But the fear on her face tells him one thing: she’s somehow involved and as her guardian, he must protect her at all costs. Even if it jeopardizes his future as a police officer.

Zane has a lot of questions, but so do the police…and the FBI. Zane had seen his sister’s genius computer skills as an asset to get her into college and out of the hand-to-mouth life he was living as security guard and janitor. But Lettie had decided to use those skills in some questionable schemes on the dark web. And now trouble had come looking for them in real life.

When Lettie takes off for California, Zane embarks on a journey of discovery that even unbreakable bonds may have their limits. Can he stay one step ahead of trouble and protect Lettie? Or has trouble finally caught up with them for good? 

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The Review

The author did a fantastic job of grabbing the reader’s attention with a gripping opening scene. While this book seems to be a continuation of the author’s first book, Bloodlines, this narrative does an amazing job of connecting the two books while still allowing new readers to jump into the story headfirst without having read the first book. The suspense and atmosphere are adrenaline-fueled as the reader is treated to twists and turns galore and the original crime spirals into something the protagonist could not have seen coming.

What was captivating the most was the balance the author found with this twisted narrative with the emotional and realistic journey the protagonist went on. Between trying to solve the mystery of what caused this violent altercation to turn into murder, to trying to bond and figure out the complicated issues his little sister has gotten into in her teenage years, and the struggle to find his life’s purpose all at the same time is something many readers are going to be able to identify with and makes for truly engaging reading overall.

The Verdict

A marvelous, entertaining, edge-of-your-seat thriller, author Lynn Lipinski’s “Serpent Loop” is the must-read crime thriller you have to be reading this fall. Beautifully written and highly creative, the author has delivered a narrative that feels real and magical all at once and brings a true depth of emotional development for these characters that readers won’t be able to help themselves from feeling a bond with them. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Lynn Lipinski is a writer who channels an overactive imagination into fictional worlds where justice rules, karma is real and the good person comes out on top. Her second book, “God of the Internet,” was named to Kirkus Reviews Best Indie Books of 2016 list.

Her first book, “Bloodlines,” is set in her hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, which also happens to be her favorite place to write about even though decades of living in L.A. have worn away the Okie accent. She earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from Mount St. Mary’s University in 2018.

http://lynnlipinski.me/