The Silent Man by Alex Berenson

I wasn't familiar with Berenson's previous works, but when I was offered an advanced copy of his newest and read the blurb, I was intrigued!

John Wells, a recurring character, is a CIA spook with a chip on his shoulder and a soft spot for his girl, Jennifer Exley. When Exley is injured in what was clearly an attack designed to kill them both, he takes off on the trail after his assailants, traveling from Russia to Zurich to DC and back again...

Meanwhile, Berenson is weaving a complex tale of two nuclear devices stolen from a Russian facility and smuggled overseas, where several Arab extremists plan to blow up DC during the State of the Union. It becomes a sprint against time, technology and men from different sides racing to the exciting conclusion.

This is a truly well-narrated, well-developed plot, filled with frightening realistic detail, complex characters, and a suspenseful plot. I really couldn't put this story down, and I can fully believe why Berenson won last year's Edgar Award with his first John Wells novel, The Faithful Spy.

This title will be released on February 10 - don't miss it!


On the Grind by Stephen J. Cannell

This is the latest novel in the "Shane Scully" suspense series - many of which I've listened to (yay Scott Brick!) and enjoyed in the past, so when I was offered an advanced copy, I jumped on it!

This page-turner starts with a bang - Scully is disgraced by the LAPD and unceremoniously dumped by the department and his wife in one night. Scully finds himself at loose ends, before finding a job at the Haven Park PD, a known department full of corruption and other disgraced cops in a small principality near LA.

Scully finds himself launched into the politics and corruption of his new PD, while simultaneously trying to put his own life back together. You really see Scully as down and out as possible, and the trip through the pages is a great one as Scully tries to find the right path again.

I absolutely flew through this book, not wanting to put it down...Cannell is great at cliffhanger chapter ends, and his novels are filled with brisk action and snappy dialogue. Scully is such an engaging character, and one I've loved for ages, so I'm always happy to go on another adventure with him. If you liked the other novels in this series, you won't be disappointed with this nail-biter!

Highly recommended!


I'm still reeling from the loss of my friend Mary a few days ago, but the only bright shining moments in the last few days have dealt with the Inauguration, and a new era of change in America as Barack takes office. His speech was stirring, and it was so nice for staff and patrons alike (for we wheeled a TV into the library itself) to stand quietly for a while, watching history.

And this just makes me feel....good. :-)

(Via Keris)

Here's to a new era!

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And the hits just keep on coming.

Four months after losing my mother, and two weeks after watching one of my best friends walk into a aortic repair surgery (but with stellar results, thank god), I have lost one of my best friends.

Mary, one of my best friends in TinyTown, as well as my co-worker and right-hand woman, had a massive heart attack late Saturday night and passed away.

She was 53.

Right now, I'm numb...not fully understanding that I won't be able to talk to my funny, selfless, smart, dedicated, motherly, supportive, and amazing friend.

To say she will be missed by everyone in TinyTown is an understatement. There was no one who wasn't touched by her selflessness, her dedication, her friendship.

I miss you, Mary.

December 2

One of our many lunches at Koodie Hoo's. It will never be the same without her.

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Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris

This is book two in the "Southern Vampire Series", and if True Blood follows book two for guiding season two closely, it could be good times.

Especially since we have more Eric the Vampire. ;-)

Sookie Stackhouse, our telepath from book one, is still dating Vampire Bill, but is both are now "working" for Eric, so when they have a request to use Sookie's unique skills for a vampire nest in Dallas, they are compelled to go.

This book explores more about the Fellowship of the Sun (the church that abhors vampires), nests, and of course, Sookie's relationships with her vampires.

I can't wait for book three!

Recommended if you love True Blood!


The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

I received an advanced copy of this novel, and read it in a scant day. Though slender is size, this novel packs a punch.

Lillian, a wonderfully welcoming character, runs a small class for people wanting to look to cook. Each chapter takes on one of the eight attendees (as well as Lillian), giving the reader just a taste of their lives, their losses, and their struggles. Though we don't know them in depth, we still *know* them. Though brought together by food for different reasons, we see a common thread running through them all as their find the recipes for their own lives.

What makes this novel shine, though, is the luminous writing. This isn't a typically written novel - it feels like poetry on the page. Some of the sentences have to be read several times, savored, for their beauty. And the descriptions of the food, the recipes, will make you smell the kitchen, taste the ingredients, enjoy the sumptuous creations. I found myself reading slower and slower, wanting the words to be impressed on my brain, so pretty were they.

This is a lovely, lovely novel, filled with aromas, beauty of language, and satisfying conclusions. I wish I could stay in Lillian's kitchen longer...


At First Sight by Stephen J. Cannell

The subtitle on this new (and non-Detective Sully) novel from Cannell is "A Novel of Obsession", which perfects sums up this new suspense read.

Chick Best is an LA-livin', Porsche driving, internet mogul, well, jackass, who has a trophy wife and a daughter who hates him. He's resigned to spending a miserable Christmas in Maui with his hateful wife and daughter...until he spots Paige Ellis at the pool one day.

What follows is Chick's growing obsession with Paige, which eventually leads to murder...

This is one of those "car wreck" books - you know it's going to end badly, but you can't look away! Chick is really a despicable character, and yet, you can't help but wonder how he's going to get himself out of his dangerous situation. Paige is a lovely character, and when it switches to her point of view, it feels like a breath of normalcy in the story.

This has all the hallmarks of a Cannell novel - great character development, fast-paced plot, a few snickering moments, and a satisfying conclusion. Recommended!

Note: I listened to the audio version, narrated by Scott Brick. I heart the Brickster.


Forever Princess by Meg Cabot

This is the tenth and final *sniff* volume of the wildly popular "Princess Diaries" series from Meg Cabot, wrapping up the high school odyssey of former geek turned princess of Genovia, Mia Thermopolis.

What a long, fun odyssey it's been.

Though I sped through this volume, I was sorry to know that the story was coming to an end, but it was so satisfying...Mia makes decisions about college, continues to obsess over her relationships with boys (one in particular...), worries about the prom, chats with her girlfriends, and wonders if she can patch up her relationship with Lilly, while still dealing with Grandmere (hee!), her parents, her father, and of course, being tailed by Lars everywhere she goes. ;-)

Though everything is tied up with a bow at the end, it's so great to see how the newly mature Mia handles everything - though she's still her spazzy self. ;-)

I have loved and enjoyed all of these books, and I had a big smile on my face as I turned the last page, feeling satisfied with the end of Mia's story.

If only we could have Mia: The College Years, but alas, it's not meant to be.

These are fantastic novels for any young adult girl - Mia is a great role model, which still being like every other girl: a geek, a nerd, an insecure girl, and everything else that every high schooler is.

I'll miss Mia, but I couldn't have asked for a better ending. Thanks, Meg! :-)


I've been forgetting to mention for ages the best memento I brought back from my trip to England this year.

As I'm sure y'all could tell from the England picture set, I heart sheep.

So when I saw my cousin Pat had a sheep in her home, I had to have one.

(I'm such a copy cat!)

It's an original made by an artist in Hay on Wye, and they are all so unique, so I spent ages finding the right "head" with the right "smile".

Carefully, carefully carrying it home in my carry on luggage (it's raku pottery, so it's very fragile), I now have a sheep of my very own! It's right outside my bedroom door, and it makes me smile every morning as I walk by.

I mean, how can you not smile when you see that? :-)

My Sheep II!

My Sheep!

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Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Okay, so poor Jen and Sean had to watch the ENTIRE season of True Blood over New Year's with me, because after only an ep or two, I was hooked, and they'd already seen it, but I forced them.

And THEN, I got a copy of Dead Until Dark from Jen, the first book in the series. Yay!

Sookie Stackhouse is a telepathic waitress in Louisiana, who falls in love with a vampire named Bill - vampires, by the way, are legal citizens with all rights and responsibilities like everyone else. But not everyone feels that way, so when colleagues start getting killed around Sookie, she starts to get scared...

This novel really follows the first season of True Blood pretty closely (glaring omissions: Tara doesn't exist at all, and Lafayette's fabulousity is SORELY lacking), so of course, I'm eager to get my hands on book two!

Recommended - whether or not you watch the HBO series!


A Wallflower Christmas by Lisa Kleypas

Though I have not read any of the other "wallflower" novels, I was caught by, yes, the pretty cover. :-)

The four "wallflowers" from the previous novels (I gather) are all settled and married in 1845 London, but when Rafe Bowman, a brother, arrives from America to meet Lady Natalie, they begin scheming a love match.

Unfortunately, Rafe falls head over heels in love with Hannah, Lady Natalie's companion, and a woman of a lesser class. We follows is a pas de deux between the two as they try to resist each other, eventually failing - miserably. ;-)

I really liked this novella (at just over 200 pages, a quick read), and I really liked the development between Rafe and Hannah, believing their attraction to each other, despite the rapidity of the novel.

A fun Christmas read - recommended!


The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I was sent an advanced reader's copy of this title, with the aside that this first novel has more excitement surrounding its release than my contact has seen in any other first novel. Between that and the names on the book jacket, I was definitely in line for a copy.

What a wonderful, wonderful read.

It's 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi, a time of gentility, manners - and maids. This novel is told in three voices - Aibileen, a wise, regal maid, Minny, her overly-outspoken fellow maid, and Skeeter, a white woman who believes there has to be more to life than bridge clubs and cotillions. Those these women are so different from each other, they come together for a secret project, that, though risky, could reap huge rewards.

This is a wonderful piece of fiction-writing, seeming to really capture the spirit and mood of race relations in 1960s Mississippi, as well as the limitations still in place for women. The murder of Medgar Evers, the integration of universities, the murder of JFK are all woven into this story, and seen through the character's eyes. What I found most remarkable was how pitch-perfect each character's voice was - the differences between not only race, but class and education. I was simply blown away, hearing each character's voice so clearly in my head.

I don't know how to adequately describe this novel, except to say that I stayed up late reading it, enjoyed every word, and plan to hand my ARC to my friends, one by one.

These characters resonate. This story will stay with you. Put it on your "to read" list now.

Note: This title will be released February 10, 2009.


Blood Brothers by Nora Roberts

This is the first in the "Sign of Seven" trilogy (Nora does love her trilogies!), and is one of those titles that for the last year, I'd have a fleeting thought of it, then forget to go get it off the shelf!

This time, though, I snapped up the audio version, knowing I was going to be in the car a lot in the coming weeks!

When they were ten years old, Caleb, Fox and Gage, childhood friends and "brothers for life" inadvertently released an ancient evil at the "Pagan Stone", which plagues their small town every seven years. Now approaching their next birthday, knowing it's time for "the seven" to appear again, they join forces to try and stop evil for good.

Of course, there are women involved, who seem to do most of the heavy lifting. ;-)

This first story focuses on Caleb, the level-headed boy, who quickly falls for Quinn Black, a journalist on the hunt for a new "ghost story", who somehow is connected on her own to the pagan stone...

This is vintage Roberts - great chemistry between the characters, some snorting laughter, a dose of creepy, and swift, easy storytelling. I really, really enjoyed this tale, and have already checked out the next in the series!

Note: I listened to the audio version, narrated by Phil Gigante. I found his female voices a bit off-putting at first, but his narration grew on me. I'm disappointed he doesn't narrate #2.


I received an email recently about a campaign called Books for Darfur Refugees.

While I don't usually post things like this, I thought it was worthwhile, especially with the holiday spirit and New Year's resolutions surrounding so many of us.

If you are interested in checking this out, the website is

From their site:

Here's how it works: we want you to count the books you received as presents this year and donate $1 per book. You can choose how the money is spent and read more details...

Sounds pretty easy, no?

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Sometimes, I either a) don't have time b) don't have enough to say c) aren't at a computer d) didn't like a book enough to write a full review, but I still want a record of what I've been reading, and at least a picture of the cover on the blog to jog my memory at times! So, without further ado, some book blurbing from the last couple of months...

Absolute Power by David Baldacci

Absolute Power is absolutely fantastic. Couldn't put it down!

The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne

This features a fantastic heroine, and I really loved the spy story!

The Quilter's Kitchen by Jennifer Chiaverini

Uber-quick read. Lots of recipes. Okay story.

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

YA novel from one of the popular authors. Kinda sad. Not as good an ending as I would have wanted.

Holly by Jude Deveraux

Chintzy Christmas story. Easy to read, but a touch unbelievable.

The Gift by Richard Paul Evans

Another Christmas story, this time listened to on audio (good narrator). Nice Christmas story.

Second Thyme Around by Katie Fforde

Cute. British. Fixer-upper cottage, romance, kind neighbor. Enjoyable.

The Christmas Pearl by Dorothea Benton Frank

Nice enough Christmas story, complete with a ghost!

Fatal Tide by Iris Johansen

I can honestly say this was one of the stupidest books I've ever read.

Past Perfect by Susan Isaacs

Former CIA girl, screenwriter, mayhem, hysteria - fun enough! Good audio narration...

A Seduction at Christmas by Cathy Maxwell

Regency romp, taking place around the holidays. Titled boy falls for girl. Happily ever after - but what about their friends? I'll read the next one...

One Perfect Gift by Kathleen Morgan

A "Culdee Creek" Christmas. Out west, times of cowboys, Christmas tale. Eh.

Sealed with a Kiss by Carly Phillips

Okay narration, okay story, can't really remember it, which doesn't bode well...

Sweet Revenge by Nora Roberts

A princess, a jewel thief, and a romance. One of Nora's much older (circa 1988) stories. Not as good as her newer ones...

La Petite Four by Regina Scott

A wanna be Regency romance for the YA set. Eh.

Friday Nights by Joanna Trollope

I kept waiting for it to improve, get happy, get something. It didn't.

What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson

Coming of age/coming out of the closet YA story, told from a male perspective. Sweetly written.

The Sweet In-Between by Sheri Reynolds

I had high hopes for this Southern, gender-confused, sassy protagonist's story. I was disppointed. Not my cup of tea.


Per tradition, it's time for my annual wrap-up of all the books I read in 2008. Though I didn't beat my personal high from 2005 (162), I came pretty close. The stats...

Number of books read in 2008: 159
Number of books read in 2007 (for comparison): 158
Average of books read per month: 13.25
Average of books read per week: 3
Daily average:
1 book read every 2.3 days
Percent of fiction read: 90%
Percent of nonfiction read: 10%
Number of audiobooks "read": 21

And now, for the best books of the year (in my humble opinion, of course!), in author alphabetical order...

Allen, Sarah Addison. Garden Spells.

de los Santos, Marisa. Belong to Me.

French, Tana. In The Woods.

Goldberg, Myla. Bee Season.

Green, John. Paper Towns.

Gregory, Philippa. The Other Queen.

Harris, Joanne. Gentleman and Players.

Johnson, Rebecca. And Sometimes Why.

Kimmel, Haven. She Got Up Off the Couch.

Murdock, Catherine. Dairy Queen.

Picoult, Jodi. Change of Heart.

Shaffer, Mary Ann. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Silva, Daniel. Moscow Rules.

Smolinski, Jill. The Next Thing On My List.

Walker, Wendy. Four Wives.

Walls, Jeannette. The Glass Castle.

Weiner, Jennifer. Certain Girls.

It goes without saying that anything written by a Brockmann, Cabot, or Evanovich is automatically on the list. :-)

To check back on the reviews of some of these past titles, or to see what reviews you might have missed, click on "book review index" over in the navigation to the right.

Can't wait to see how I do in 2009! Happy New Year!

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It's time for another yearly "mix tape" of Marissa's favorite songs for the year, those that got the most spin on ye olde iPod...

Some of the songs are new, some are old, some are rediscoveries, and some just f'n rock for all time. ;-) Maybe you'll find one or two to check out...


Echoplex - Nine Inch Nails
(My favorite song off The Slip. What I love most is when Trent plays it on concert, and we all scream and shout the lyrics, and then during the chorus, because of the key arrangement, we all sound like little angels. It makes me swoon in happy.)

- Britney Spears

(I can't help it. It's so damn catchy and fun, and it makes me wanna shake my ass. Sue me.)

Bones Theme (Squints Mix) - The Crystal Method
(I love the opening theme song to Bones, so when I found a fun mix, I snagged it. Rawk!)

Say It Isn't So - Hall and Oates
(How can I choose only ONE Hall and Oates song, after being haunted for many months?? Well, this one will do. Either that, or Sara Smile. *grin*)

Human Love - Dirty Vegas
(This was one of those "if you like that song, try this one" recommendations from iTunes, and by jove, they were right. This song rocks.)

Survivalism (Awake ReMix V 2.0) - TweakerRay
(I swear, I think I like this remix of the NIN song better than the original, if possible. Found courtesy of

Selisona Pi and Unstoppable - E.S. Posthumus
(I couldn't choose between the two, because both are incredible, goosebump-y songs in their own rights. Amazing, amazing orchestral music.)

Hot Blooded - Foreigner
(I heard it one day, then remembered how much fun it is to air guitar to it. It got put on the playlist. You air guitar too. Don't lie.)

Danny the Dog - Massive Attack
(Okay, so the Jet Li movie was not so great, but this song from the soundtrack is. Really, can Massive Attack write a BAD song? No.)

Angel on a Bus Bench - Eric Allaman
(A beautiful piece of piano/instrumental music from the movie Latter Days. So pretty.)

Nomah's Land - Metisse
(I heard this on an episode of Dead Like Me, and was haunted until I downloaded it. Amazingly beautiful song...)

Break the Ice - Britney Spears
(I know, I KNOW, another Britney song. I'm ashamed. But not really, because it's a fun song.)

I Think I'm In Love - Spiritualized
(Finally, FINALLY, I found this song! This song has been played before every NIN concert I can remember, and I absolutely lurve it! Not NIN-like, yet, somehow, it fits the pre-concert...)

Clubbed to Death [Kurayamino Variation] - Rob Dougan
(This is always on the playlist, and has been since 1999.)

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Well, Dad and I are back from our un-Christmas in Vegas, complete with pictures and memories of holidays in the very big, very weird city. ;-)

We had a touch of trouble actually GETTING to Vegas, since we were due to fly through Chicago *ahem*. Instead we did what Dad dubbed a "circular tour of the United States" by flying from Evansville to Memphis, Memphis to Dallas, and Dallas to Vegas.

But hey, we got there!

So what did we do while we were there?

Gawked at the Chihuly ceiling and Conservatory in our hotel, the Bellagio...

Chiluly Ceiling

Bellagio Conservatory

We rambled through enormous hotels like the MGM Grand, New York, Paris, and our favorite, the Venetian...

Our Turn

We ate a spectacular Christmas dinner at Sensi, complete with a glassed view of the kitchen. It was like sitting in Kitchen Stadium on Iron Chef!

Christmas Dinner

We ate crepes poolside, because, well, we could. ;-)


We marveled at the Bellagio fountain shows - once we caught them!


We watched dolphins frolic and big cats (leopards, lions and tigers) eye us warily...

Lookie There!

We watched the Sirens show at TI, and the volcano erupt at the Mirage...

Volcano VI

We also wandered through malls, ate delicious food, watched the Mystere Cirque du Soleil show, and generally walked our legs off every day. But for me, the highlight of the trip?

Taking a helicopter ride through the Grand Canyon.

Not only was it spectacular, but I totally want to learn how to fly a helicopter now. So. Much. Fun. What an memorable trip...

Let's go!


The Strip from the air...

Amazing View

Lake Mead...

Lake Mead

Hoover Dam...

Hoover Dam III

And the Grand Canyon itself...

Colorado River II

Veering Off

We're Here!


What a great un-Christmas trip! Wanna see the whole trip set? Check it out on Flickr (warning: there are a lot of pictures of drool-worthy food, mostly taken for Don to gawk at!)...

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The Daily Coyote by Shreve Stockton

With a cover like that, who could resist?

Shreve Stockton, of Vespa Vagabond fame, discovered during her cross country journey that her heart was captured by Wyoming. She moves to a tiny town with no job, no plan, and no real plot for her life. She secures a job, and then falls for Mike, a rancher who also hunts and kills coyotes on behalf of the government. She moves into a ramshackle cabin, and one day, Mike gives her a coyote cub he was compelled to let live.

What follows is the story of Shreve's journey to raise Charlie, the cub, and how their relationship matures, changes and eventually stabilizes.

This is one of those "living vicariously through someone else" stories. I absolutely adored the "pioneer spirit" of it, while being simultaneously jealous of Shreve's luck and lifestyle, while at the same time knowing I could never thrive in the same way, much less survive.

But oh, how jealous I am of her photography skills!

This was one of those reads I loved to curl up with, losing myself in the images of Wyoming, of a growing Charlie (documented in photos scattered throughout the book), and I found myself missing it when I was through. Thank goodness for the blog!

Highly, highly recommended...a lovely read...


Snowy Night With a Stranger by Jane Feather, Sabrina Jeffries, and Julia London

This is a trio of novellas (about 150 pages apiece), set in Regency England (you can tell I've been raiding Dad's stash lately!), all taking place during the snowy Christmas season.

First up is A Holiday Gamble by Jane Feather, which takes place in Northumberland when Ned Vasey, Viscount Allenton, is stranded when his carriage breaks and he is robbed by a brigand. He takes shelter in a neighbor's home, where he becomes immediately enamored with Georgiana, who has problems of her own, as she is about to be forced into marriage with a hateful man. Together they plot their escape, and how they can be together. Though I enjoyed the story, I found the ending a bit too abrupt and tidy, and didn't feel there was much development in the relationship between Ned and Georgie, though I did enjoy their verbal sparring at times.

Next is When Sparks Fly by Sabrina Jeffries, in which the maligned "Black Baron" is besiged at Christmas by a damsel in distress, her ailing aunt, and two small children. His dark heart is naturally warmed by spirited Ellie, and they eventually get together, despite their initial dislike of each other. I liked the progression of this story, and found it to be a warm and fuzzy Christmas tale.

Finally was Snowy Night with a Highlander by Julia London...Fiona makes a daring trip to the Scottish highlands in search of her brother, only to find herself beholden to a rugged, scarred Highlander who promises to deliver her safely. But the Highlander is hiding a secret of his own...

This is very much a "beauty and the beast" type of story, but I thought it was well told and compelling, and hey, who doesn't love a manly Highlander? ;-)

This is a warm, fuzzy trio of Regency novellas, all packaged together in one. What's not to love about that? :-)


The Lady Chosen by Stephanie Laurens

This is the first "official" book of the Regency-era series The Bastion Club, though I recently read the prequel, Captain Jack's Woman, which I enjoyed.

In this novel, the Bastion Club is formed (seven men of title and rank who decide that they will band together to determine their own futures in marriage, rather than being forced or dictated to by rank or family), and first out of the gate to find his wife is Tristan Wemyss, Earl of Trentham, who becomes enamored with his next door neighbor, Leonora Carling. Throw in a bad man, a new home for the Bastion Club, and some twisty plots, and you've got the basis for a great new Regency series.

I didn't find the sexual tension as compelling in this novel (as in the previous) and at times found the characters a bit wooden and predictable, though overall I enjoyed the read. I was disappointed, however, not to have the rest of the club members involved more - I trust they will surface more as the series progresses.

Recommended, as the beginning of a promising series...


Holly's Inbox by Holly Denham

I found the link to Holly's Inbox ages ago on Trashionista, and while I tried to read a bit of it, I know myself well enough to know I'll rarely sit at my computer for ages and ages, just reading, but end up going to other sites, getting distracted, whatever. So, when in Hay earlier this fall, I was thrilled to find a paperback version of the book, and eagerly bought it (along with a few others in town, natch!).

Holly Denham is a receptionist in a posh bank in London, and this novel details her bumpy work life, her romantic foibles, and the friends and family who surround her. Uniquely, this is told entirely in emails (hence the website layout), and only occasionally switches to the inbox of someone else. I really liked the progress and pace of the story, and found it hilarious, and didn't see some of the secrets until the end.

Highly recommended if you enjoy chicklit and epistolary novels of the dishy variety - of which I love both!

(By the way, Holly Denham, the lead character, is listed as the author, but interestingly, it was written by first-time author, and MAN William Surie. Never woulda guessed it was penned by a man...)