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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review - Missing You

Online dating has plenty of potential for murder, such as the 2000 Mary Higgins Clark book "Loves Music, Loves to Dance" provided.  But what if online dating was more than fodder for a serial killer, but a mechanism for tech savvy criminals to select their next victims and effectively make them dissapear with all their assets?  Dead men tell no tales after all.  Harlan Coben gives us a glimpse into how that might work, and it is frightening indeed.

Author: Harlan Coben

Copyright: March 2014 (Dutton Adult) 400 pgs

Series: Stand alone

Sensuality: Language, violence

Mystery Sub-genre: Police Procedural/Suspense

Main Character:  Kat Donovan, NYPD Detective

Setting: Modern day, New York city and rural

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review

NYPD detective Kat Donovan is one of those women with plenty of baggage who never has a long-term relationship - damaged.  Her best friend signs her up for an online dating site to help her out.  Kat manages to find the profile of her ex-fiancé Jeff who left her 18 years ago (incidentally, right around the same time that her father was murdered.)  Kat sends a message to Jeff, but he acts like he doesn't know who she is.  That message to Jeff is seen by a young man, Brandon, who hacked his mother's online dating account to try and track his mother who disappeared with the man in the profile -- Jeff, Kat's ex.  The youth tracks Kat down and convinces her to look into his mother's disappearance.  But he has gotten a couple of text messages making it seem like she is okay and extending her vacation with Jeff.  Nothing appears wrong on the surface.  Kat pursues it because it is Jeff's profile and something doesn't add up.  What she will uncover is a scary criminal enterprise that could have continued undetected for a long time, except for Jeff's profile on that dating site getting Kat involved.

A secondary plot line is Kat's father's murderer, Monte Leburne - a Cozone mob hit man, is dying and swears that inspite of his confessing to murdering her father that he actually didn't kill him.  He was already getting life in prison for two other murders that he freely admits to doing, but confessed to killing her dad, a cop, because it served a purpose and didn't really impact him since he already had life in prison.  This sends Kat to look into the eighteen year old closed murder case of her father, putting her at odds with her captain.

Missing You is the title of a song by John Waite from the 80s and is a song Kat and her ex had a running joke about. 

Kat Donovan is the damaged middle-aged heroine, a jaded and hardened cop who gets mushy over her 18 year dead relationship. There is a bit of implausibility in that sad paradox alone, but the writing makes it somewhat believable.  I like Kat and was surprised this wasn't the first in a series, because she would be a good series character. Hint, hint.  Charles (Chaz) Faircloth is Kat's partner from a wealthy family who lacks even a smidgen of class with his sexism. Money can't buy everything.  His only redeeming quality is that he gets serious and has Kat's back when she needs it.  Brandon Phelps is a University of Connecticut computer science student looking for his mother. He is a well done character that most would discount as crying wolf for attention.  Dana Phelps, missing mother of Brandon, is the surprise breakout character of the book.  Although her shining moment isn't until late in the book, she easily eclipses the other characters with her sheer guts and determination.  Titus is the criminal master mind of the online-dating money/murder scheme and he is effectively portrayed as heartless and mercenary.  Reynaldo, Titus' muscle, is a contradiction as ruthless killer while being devoted to his dog and Titus - realistic but mind boggling.

New York with O'Malley's Pub and the police precinct are well done with a sense of the overwhelming caseload homicide detectives face.  The rural setting for the farm that the victims end up at is remote and chillingly mixes rural beauty with deathly isolation. 

The plot uses online dating sites for crimes other than a lurking serial killer and is well done, the only weak link was hinging Kat's involvement on an ex who left eighteen years prior.  Most people wouldn't care after that long had passed.  But all it took was her sending one message and a computer savvy son to track Kat down and convince her something was suspicious.  In that aspect it was more believable.  The scam itself is very realistic and makes me wonder if there was a basis in reality for the idea.  The climax was heart-pounding and had me fully vested.  The wrap-up was perhaps a little too perfect, even a foregone conclusion.  That is not a bad thing necessarily in this case.  With that said, I would really enjoy another Kat Donovan novel from Mr. Coben.  Just saying.  

Rating: Excellent - Loved it! A good suspenseful novel with a few slight hiccups in an otherwise well executed book.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Author Interview - Livia Washburn

I reviewed the Pumpkin Muffin Murder in the Fresh Baked Mystery series (click here.)  You may have read other works by Livia under different pen names.  In the eighties she wrote westerns published in hardback by M. Evans, while writing mysteries for Tor Books under the name Washburn.  She co-wrote with her husband several historical novels as J.L. Reasoner, and her first small town romance, MENDING FENCES as Livia Reasoner, an Our Town book, was published in January of '98 by Jove. Under the name Elizabeth Hallam, SPIRIT CATCHER was published by Jove, July '98 in their Haunting Hearts series and during the summer of '99 her medieval paranormal ALURA'S WISH (available on Kindle). October 2006 was the release of A PEACH OF A MURDER -- the first book in the Fresh-baked series.   

I am delighted that Livia has graciously agreed to an interview, so please welcome her with comments and/or questions.

Why do you write? Do you love it or love having done it? What motivates you?

Becoming a writer was sort of accidental for me, because I got started doing it by helping my husband with his writing and discovered I enjoyed it and had a certain degree of talent at it. I wanted to see just how much I could accomplish. I guess I'm still trying to find out. I enjoy the writing process, but I think it's more enjoyable to see the end result. These days I'm motivated by deadlines and the thousand and one other things I'm trying to do!

What is your routine when you're facing your next novel?  Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?

It can really vary from book to book. Sometimes I have a good title and build a book around it. Most of the time, though, I have an idea of what I want the book to be about, an event or a setting or something else that sets things in motion, and then I figure out the victim and the killer, usually in that order.
Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc.) before sitting down and writing?

I always write an outline before I write the book, and the solution to the mystery has to be present in that outline, although sometimes in the writing the way I get to that solution can change somewhat. I don't recall ever changing killers from the one that was in the outline, though. The outlines themselves aren't very detailed, just a few pages summarizing the general structure of the book.

What do you and Phyllis Newsom have in common? How are you different?

The main thing Phyllis and I have in common is that we both love family and friends, and finding out things. One thing I discovered early on when I started writing is that I like doing research and learning about things I'm not familiar with. Phyllis usually has to do some sort of research to figure out the solutions to the mysteries that confront her, and that's a reflection of the research I do to write the books. And of course we both love cooking. We're different in that I was never a teacher, but I come from a family of teachers and have been around the educational system all my life.

Phyllis Newsom is a refreshing character, and the rest of the crew is great as well.  What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write?  How do you handle minor characters?

The characters definitely have their own opinion about things! I suppose in the beginning I had to put some thought into developing them, but it wasn't a very deliberate process. Really, right from the start they walked in and starting saying and doing the things that seemed right for them. A lot of their personalities came from bits and pieces of real teachers I've known over the years. The same thing is true for the minor characters. I just try to make them as realistic as I can.

Do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?

I don't have music playing while I work. It's too much of a distraction for me. Most of my writing is done in my recliner with two little dogs asleep in my lap and the computer slightly to one side so it won't disturb them. There's no doubt who really runs things around here!

What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?

Since I'm also pretty busy these days as a small press publisher for Western Fictioneers with Troy Smith, and Prairie Rose Publications with Cheryl Pierson, I write when and if I get a chance, so I don't have a set schedule. It usually takes around six months to get a book done, not counting all the figuring out of the plot and writing an outline beforehand. You will find me experimenting with recipes until the day the book is due.

What in your background prepared you to write mysteries?

Mostly being a long-time mystery fan and reading them as far back as I can remember. It certainly doesn't hurt being married to a mystery writer (and reader), either.

In literature (not your own) who is your favorite mystery/suspense character?

Archie Goodwin! I mean, I like Nero Wolfe, too, but what a voice Archie had. And those were the first mysteries I read where food played a major part in them, what with all of Wolfe's cooking. I also loved the Donald Lam/Bertha Cool books by A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner).

Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?

My husband James Reasoner, without a doubt! I wouldn't be a writer if it weren't for him.

How did you get your first break to getting published? Was it at a writer's conference or mailing a query letter?

That goes back to the answer just above. I sold my first few stories to the same magazine where James was selling regularly, MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE. The first novel I sold was a collaboration with him, sold through the same agent who represented both of us.

What's the one thing a reader has said that you've never forgotten and perhaps found startling?

Not really one thing, but the response the books get from readers has always surprised me a little. By that I mean, people seem to either love them or hate them. There's not much middle ground.

If your Fresh Baked mysteries were to be made into a movie, who would you cast in your top character's roles?

Well, Sam is easy. Sam has to be Sam Elliott. Jamie Lee Curtis might make a good Phyllis. I've always seen Betty White as Eve, although a younger Betty White than she is now. I'd lean toward Kathy Bates as Carolyn.

Tell us about your next book in the series - or next

project?  What is your biggest challenge with it?

The next book in the Fresh Baked Mystery series coming out is TRICK OR DEADLY TREAT, but that is written and turned in.  The next one to write in this series is THE CANDY CANE CUPCAKE KILLER. I'm sure the biggest challenge will be finding the time to write it. The next thing I have to write, though, is a novella for the Western romance anthology LASSOING A BRIDE, which will be out this summer.

Do you have a newsletter or blog for readers to stay informed of your news?

My blog can be found at, although I don't keep it updated as well as I should. I can also be found on Facebook and I'm always glad to hear from readers there. 

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Thank you Livia for the interview.  I love the image of you writing with your laptop balanced around your dogs in your lap.  Archie Goodwin, such a good one.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review - Rasputin's Shadow

I have not read Raymond Khoury before, but the book blurb and subject of Rasputin made this irresistible.  Tess Chaykin is not an active part of the novel this time as she had apparently been in prior books.  Read on to see how this part modern thriller, part historical novel measures up.

Author: Raymond Khoury

Copyright: April 2013 (Grand Central Publishing) 400 pgs

Series: 4th in Sean Reilly Thriller series

Sensuality: Violence, some graphic violence

Mystery Sub-genre: Suspense/Thriller

Main Characters: Sean Reilly, FBI Agent

Setting: Modern day, New York

Obtained Through: publisher for an honest review

The novel opens with a scene in 1916. Somewhere in the Ural mountains of western Russia, in a mining pit where an experiment results in the miners savaging murdering one another.  The carnage is stopped when infamous Grigory Rasputin and his "shadow," a monk/scientist named Misha, blow the mine and miners with explosives.  The next chapter is in modern day New York with FBI agent Sean Rilley beginning the investigation of a Russian diplomat, who seems to have been pushed from the window of a New York City apartment owned by an old Russian physics teacher named Leo Sokolov.  Sokolov has dissapeared, and his wife Daphne goes missing immediately after leaving her job.  It becomes clear somebody is seeking the old teacher and the hunter kills with terrifying efficiency anybody in his way, including agents. 

The story has occasional chapters reverting back to Rasputin's story from a journal written by Misha.  It tells of an early device that was used on the mine with non-specific but dangerous powers.  This same device, perfected by modern technology, is what is at stake in this novel.  Imagine such a device in the hands of terrorists - or military hands!  Leo Sokolov knows the secret to this catastrophic weapon and he is now in hiding trying to save his wife who is stuck in the middle.  Sean Reily and the FBI and trying to understand what is going on and stop anymore deaths, but they are lacking key pieces to the puzzle.  Leo decides to seek help from an old student who now heads up the local Korean mob.  Things are about to go from bad to worse.

There is an ongoing storyline from the previous novel, The Devil's Elixir, that is not explained involving Sean's son and a man named Corrigan. I looked it up to make sense of it and apparently Reed Corrigan, a CIA operative, brainwashed Reilly’s son.  Just a little FYI.  That was confusing and maddening so I am sparing you.

Grigory Rasputin is depicted as a master manipulator with little supernatural, but mostly con-artist abilities (think evil mentalist).  Misha is a great example of how Rasputin manipulates and uses people.  This was my first book with FBI agent Sean Reilly and he is well portrayed as flawed, and human. Leo Sokolov is very likable and even tragic.  Jonny, Leo's old student now mobster, risks so much to help out his old teacher while still being a reprobate, the Russian FSB agent Larisa Tchoumitcheva is a wild card through most of the story which adds to the uncertainty of what is happening, Russian hitman Koschey is a classic detached assassin.

The setting is mostly New York, with a few chapters in early 1900s Russia. Both are portrayed well in their own right.  The beginning was a bit slow with setting up the story. But about a fourth of the way in, the ground-work has been sufficiently laid out and it gets interesting.  The plot itself revolves around technology that isn't explained in-depth in the story, but the author's notes at the end answered remaining questions.  It raises some scary and thought provoking scenarios for our modern world.  The climax, or showdown, arrived quickly, and was over as quickly in-spite of all the lead up.

This was my first Raymond Khoury and I did enjoy it.  The historical aspects always intrigue me.  I do have to say the story had good characters that I cared about, but the continuing storyline from the previous book was frustrating without a clear explanation. There were plenty of exciting twists and turns. There was good suspense built up and the climax was logical even though it seemed too quickly resolved.

Rating: Good - A fun read incorporating a historical angle with minor flaws.

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Monday, February 17, 2014


Mystery Writers of America has announced the nominees for their annual awards.  I like to provide all the nominees because there are many excellent books that make it to this stage.  The awards will be presented on May 1, 2014 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.

Best Mystery Novel
  °      Sandrine's Case by Thomas H. Cook
  °      The Humans by Matt Haig
  °      Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
  °      How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny 

  °      Standing in Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin
  °      Until She Comes Home by Lori Roy

Best First Novel by an American Author

  °      The Resurrectionist by Matthew Guinn
  °      Ghostman by Roger Hobbs [review]
  °      Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman 

  °      Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews
  °      Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Best Paperback Original

  °      The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne 

  °      Almost Criminal by E.R. Brown
  °      Joe Victim by Paul Cleave
  °      Joyland by Stephen King
  °      The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood 

  °      Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

Best Short Story
  °      "The Terminal" by Reed Farrel Coleman Kwik Krimes
  °      "So Long, Chief" by Max Allan Collins & Mickey Spillane The Strand
  °      "The Caxton Private Lending Library and Book Depository" by John Connolly Bibliomysteries
  °      "There are Roads in the Water" by Tina Corey Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
  °      "Where That Morning Sun Does Down" by Tim L. Williams Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

Mary Higgins Clark Award

  °      There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron
  °      Fear of Beauty by Susan Froetschel
  °      The Money Kill by Katia Lief
  °      Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman
  °      The Sixth Station by Linda Stasi

There are plenty to choose from and no doubt something for every mystery lover.

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Inspired Oscar Nominations

I enjoy looking at how many of the movies that make it to the Oscars are based on books or short stories.  This year has a full slate of book-to-movie nominations and here is a listing for you reading pleasure.  Some are nominated for the lesser recognized awards, but they are still in the Oscars.

Contending for Best Picture are:

-  “12 Years a Slave” is based on the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup, also nominated for Best Director for Steve McQueen, Best Supporting Actor for Michael Fassbender, Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong’o.

-  “Philomena” is drawn from the book "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee" by journalist Martin Sixsmith, and is also up for  Best Actress for Judi Dench.

-  “The Wolf of Wall Street” used two memoirs: "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "Catching the Wolf of Wall Street" each written by Jordan Belfort, and are also nominated for Best Director for Martin Scorsese, Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio, and also Best Supporting Actor for Jonah Hill.

-  “Captain Phillips” is based on the memoir “A Captain’s Duty,”  written by the Captain Richard Phillips, which is also nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Barkhad Abdi.

-  “August: Osage County” which has Meryl Streep nominated for Best Actress and Julia Roberts for Best Supporting Actress, is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play August: Osage County by Tracy Letts.

Best Animated Feature nominees:  “Ernest & Celestine,” from various books for children written by author and artist Gabrielle Vincent.  “Frozen,” is based on the Hans Christian Andersen legend “The Snow Queen.”  “The Wind Rises” is based on the director Hayao Miyazaki’s manga, which was inspired by the book “The Wind Has Risen” by Tatsuo Hori.

Best Sound Editing nominees “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is of course based on the J.R.R. Tolkien novel "Hobbit" and “Lone Survivor” is based on the book of the same name by Marcus Luttrell.

Best Original Score has “The Book Thief,” which is based on the novel of the same name by Markus Zusak,

Of course The Great Gatsby movie was based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic and The Invisible Woman utilized a Charles Dickens biobraphy by Claire Tomalin are up for misc. awards.

What a bounty of books that were made into movies.  Have you read the book and also seen the movie of any of these nominees?  Please share your feelings about each. 

Original source:  Oscar nominations: Many films came from the page 

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Review - ZOO

The hype for this week's book proclaims: "Once in a lifetime, a writer puts it all together. This is James Patterson's best book ever" and "ZOO is the thriller he was born to write."  The book even has a graphic novel edition.  Find out if I felt it was his best, his pinnacle achievement.

Author: James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

Copyright: May 2013 (Grand Central Publishing) 416 pgs

Series: Standalone

Sensuality: Graphic violence

Mystery Sub-genre: Thriller

Main Characters: Jackson Oz, a young biologist

Setting: Modern day, New York/Washington D.C. primarily

Obtained Through: Library

Jackson Oz was in college pursuing a Biology doctoral degree when he developed his hypothesis that something was going wrong with the entire animal kingdom.  He became obsessed with his hypothesis and ended up dropping out of college with only a few classes needed to complete his degree.  Thus, he has no degree and the scientific community considers Oz loony and his theory as wild conjecture.  Oz has refined his theory, now called HAC: Human-Animal Conflict--animal behavior is changing, displaying hyperaggresive behavior towards humans. Now animal agression has begun to pop up globally and garnering some splashy headlines.  Oz is contacted by a friend in Botswana Africa with a tip that there is proof of his theory there in Africa when an entire village is anihalated by lions.  Oz, unemployed, immediately flies to Africa. 

He gets his proof in a close encounter with a large lion pride made up of all males working as a team to kill humans.  During Oz's struggle to get away alive with video, he meets Chloe who barely survived a lion attack of a team of scientists.  Naturally Chloe, from France, follows Oz to the U.S. and becomes his girlfriend, but not before finding his chimp has killed somebody in his apartment (the worn out woman-in-a-refrigerator trope used here.)  Then there is a five year jump, Oz and several other scientists are working on the HAC crisis which sees world economies crashing from the fallout.  Can Oz and the other scientists find out what is causing global animal murder of humans while there are some shreds of civilization remaining?

Jackson Oz lives with a chimpanzee when he is the voice of Human-Animal Conflict theory.  He wants to be taken seriously as a legitimate scientist and help figure out what is happening, but he comes across as whinny and short sighted (living with a chimp).  Chloe Tousignant, a French Ecologist, is a cardboard character existing mostly for Oz's benefit and only gets a smattering of speaking lines sprinkled throughout the book. She is initially the Damsel in Distress
cliché and never really progresses past that. This was a waste of a character, she could have been a layered interesting part of the plot, but no.  Attila is Oz's chimpanzee that murders and runs rampant to kill again with a chilling intelligence.  President Marlena Hardinson was an opportunity to have a strong female character, but here again the female character fell notably short.  President Hardinson is so swept away with grief from her daughter's death at the hands of the family dog that she essentially succumbs to her male advisers telling her how to handle the crisis.  Her character is practically non-existent, mowed over, and pathetic.  There are many other characters, but in general they all were rather stiff.

The setting jumps around to various locals to give examples of animal violence against humans around the planet.  The many settings are portrayed well enough.  The plot had potential but never seemed to engage me.  I believe that was due largely to the writing style that was elementary, lacking in emotion, stiff, and impersonal with an excess of "telling" rather than "showing."  Yes, I really had problems with this novel.  Even the cause of the HAC phenomenon has some logic holes.  The climax was subtle, so subtle I went back to find it.  The wrap-up is a warning to our culture that our immediate gratification mentality and inability to sacrifice for our own survival will be our downfall - a good or even great theme if it had been executed better.  

I have read early Patterson books such as "When the Wind Blows" and "Lake House" that I enjoyed.  When I read the claims that this was Patterson's best book ever, the one he was born to write, I gave it a try.  I was sorely disappointed in this book.  Really.  If the writing style had used more showing than telling the characters might have blossomed, and if female 
clichés hadn't been used for every female character of note, it might have reached okay or medium well status. 

Rating: Poor - I had to force myself to finish it. Fatally flawed on multiple levels. 


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Monday, February 3, 2014

Mystery & Crime Fiction Blog Carnival - February 2014

It is the first Monday of the month and time for another highly anticipated Blog Carnival. 

Please help the newsletter for the blog carnival to get more subscribers.  If a blog reviews mystery/suspense/thrillers (even occasionally) then I would like to feature those reviews.  I send the newsletter out once a month announcing the deadline for submitting to this blog carnival.  Multiple entries from a blog are welcome. 

Subscribe to our carnival reminder

mailing list

Now on to this month's blog carnival.  Click on the title or author's name to go to that link.

Police Procedural / PI Book Review / Legal

Carstairs Considers reviewed Mr. Monk Gets on Board by Hy Conrad 

The Crime Scene reviewed The Golden Scales by Parker Bilal

Booking Mama reviewed Sycamore Row by John Grisham

Amateur Sleuth / Cozy book Review

Mysteries and My Musings reviewed Stone Cold Dead by Catherine Dilts

Carstairs Considers reviewed You Cannoli Die Once by Shelley Costa

Debbie's Book Bag reviewed Merry Market Murder by Paige Shelton

A Date with a Book reviewed Murder Strikes A Pose by Tracy Weber 

Carstairs Considers reviewed Murder with Ganache by Lucy Burdette

Debbie's Book Bag reviewed Paws for Murder by Annie Knox

A Date with a Book reviewed Forget Me Knot by Mary Marks

Carstairs Considers reviewed Cloche and Dagger by Jenn McKinlay

Debbie's Book Bag reviewed Teacup Turbulence by Linda O. Johnston

A Date with a Book reviewed Stone Cold Dead by Catherine Dilts

Carstairs Considers reviewed NYPD Puzzle by Parnell Hall

A Date with a Book reviewed Down Dog Diary by Sherry Roberts

Carstairs Considers reviewed Lost and Fondue by Avery Aames

Thriller/Suspense Fiction Book Review

Mysteries and My Musings reviewed The King's Deception by Steve Berry

A Date with a Book reviewed The Tenth Circle by Jon Land

Tea Time with Marce reviewed The Last Dead Girl by Harry Dolan

Tea Time with Marce reviewed My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier

Author Interview

Mysteries and My Musings interviewed Catherine Dilts

The Crime Scene interviewed Adrian Magson
A Date with a Book interviewed Jon Land

Debbie's Book Bag interviewed M.L. Rowland

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A huge "Thank You" to all the wonderful bloggers out there who contributed to the carnival.  Keep them coming.

Post a widget on your blog for this carnival here (

Let's make next month's Carnival even better. For more information on the specifics of the Carnival and how to submit your posts go here

Submit your blog entry for next month's Carnival here: (

Spread the word far and wide!!!

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