It’s Time! NaNoWriMo 2019 @NaNoWriMo #NaNoWriMo #nano2019 #amwriting #amwritingromance #FictionCafeWriters

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It’s that time of year again. That month where a cadre of crazy writers make an attempt at a heroic feat. The author’s equivalent of an endurance race, writer versus keyboard.

It’s time for NaNoWriMo.

For anyone not in the know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Every November, writers taking part commit to trying to write 50,000 words of a new novel in just 30 days. Thats the equivalent of 1,667 words per day. Every day.

During this time, writers come together in the NaNoWriMo community to support each other, cheer each other on, hold each other accountable, celebrate and commiserate as appropriate. They do this in the virtual world via the NaNoWriMo website or in person via local write-ins. It’s like having the world’s biggest writing group on your side. People are talking about it on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram. In forums and WhatsApp groups and in person. You can feel the collective energy spurring you on.

Some people plot and prep their novels meticulously in advance and start with a whole, shiny plan on November 1. Some start with a blank page and a vague idea. Others, like me, fall somewhere in-between. Some aim to get their next novel kickstarted in their usual way, some are revising old manuscripts, some use the time to try something a little bit different, experiment, have some fun. Plotter, pantser, plantser, old-school wrimo or writing rebel – everyone is welcome.

This is my third year taking part. The first year I did just over 32,000 words of my first full novel. Last year was a dismal failure. This year I am trying something new and I am determined to finish. I’ve got a bit of a plot, a lot of support and fire in my belly. I’ve got all my tools. I’m ready to go.

It’s going to be intense, so I’m coming off social media and abandoning the blog for the month to focus on the challenge. Apologies in advance for my absence. Blog commitments such as tours and Friday Night Drinks will be honoured, but other than that I’m going dark. I hope you will indulge me and not abandon me entirely. I will be back early December, older, tireder, but with lots of new reviews and, hopefully, the makings of a novel. Come back and I’ll tell you how it all went.

Or better still, why not join me? If you’ve ever wanted to write that book, now is the time.   If I may steal a few words from my favourite work by the inimitable Dr Seuss:

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

So…
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
You’re off the Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!

Hop on the NaNo website, sign up now, it’s not too late. And if you are looking for a writing buddy, I’d be happy to have you on board. I’m JoolsM, pop me a request and we can cheer each other on to the finish line. I’ll see you there on 30 November.

The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton #BookReview @AuthorSJBolton @TheFictionCafe @TrapezeBooks #FictionCafeBookClub #FictionCafeReadingChallenge2019 #amreading #bookbloggers #challenges

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Devoted father or merciless killer?

His secrets are buried with him.

Florence Lovelady’s career was made when she convicted coffin-maker Larry Glassbrook of a series of child murders 30 years ago. Like something from our worst nightmares the victims were buried…ALIVE.

Larry confessed to the crimes; it was an open and shut case. But now he’s dead, and events from the past start to repeat themselves.

Did she get it wrong all those years ago?
Or is there something much darker at play?

The third category for the annual reading challenge in my online book group, The Fiction Cafe Book Club is ‘A book you received as a gift.’ You can see details of the challenge in this post.

For this challenge I have chosen The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton, which my mum bought me for Christmas (admittedly after much heavy hinting on my part!) This book has received rave reviews from my fellow bloggers, being included in a fair few of their ‘top books of 2018’ lists, so I was excited to get to it.

I finished this a few days ago but I have only just been able to sit down and consider writing my review, as I am still processing my thoughts about this book. It is so much more than a crime novel; there is so much going on that has left me with so many thoughts and feelings. I can understand why this book has received so many rave reviews, I haven’t read such a multi-layered, complex, thought-provoking and gripping thriller for quite a while.

Where to start, where to start. Okay, let’s go with the basics. This is a dual timeline crime novel that follows the investigation into the disappearance and murder of three children in the 1960’s. On this very basic level, the book works brilliantly. The crime is deeply disturbing, the horrors being revealed slowly, the clues to the investigation snuck in to the prose subtly for the reader to pick up, with plenty of dead ends and red herrings. I truly had half a dozen suspects for the crime throughout the course of the book and was equally convinced each of them was right until a new piece of information sent me spinning off on a different course. Exactly the kind of plotting that crime novel aficionados love. But there is so much more going on.

Next, there is the setting of the book, in the small, isolated town of Sabden in Lancashire, at the foot of Pendle Hill. Sharon presents a community that is insular, wary of outsiders and full of secrets and closely woven relationships that anyone not local will find hard to penetrate. And so it proves for the protagonist of the book, WPC Florence Lovelady – young, female and Southern, she doesn’t fit, isn’t trusted and has to work hard to understand the town and its inhabitants. In addition, the first mention of Pendle Hill brings to mind the witch trials and the suggestion of the supernatural immediately permeates the story, creating an extra layer of mystery and suspicion and fear throughout. Sharon also makes reference early on to the crimes of Hindley and Brady which happened close by just prior to the original crimes in the novel, which brings its own sense of menace, and a certain oppressive atmosphere to the book. It is all very deftly done.

As mentioned, this is a dual timeline novel. We begin in 1999, when Florence returns to Sabden for the funeral of the man who was convicted of the murders back in 1969. However, certain events take place that lead her to begin to review the original investigation, so we are taken back to 1969 and relive that investigation through Florence’s memory of it, when she was a young WPC newly working in an area where she is an outsider. This was also a time when women were rare in the police, and she faces overt sexism and huge obstacles to being involved in the investigation and being taken seriously. Florence is a strong, intelligent, determined woman with instinct and flair for police work, but she has to fight every step of the way, against all the disadvantages of her age, sex and background, to be heard. Given these obstacles, she sometimes has to take unorthodox steps to explore her suspicions and none of this endears her to her colleagues. One also wonders whether she is being sidelined because she is getting too close to the truth. Florence is a brilliant character to lead the story, and I had total empathy for her from the beginning.

The most unusual element in this book, is the supernatural one, and I am guessing that some people may have an issue with this as a device in a crime novel. However, here there is a specific, underlying reason the author has used this and it is because Sharon is, to a degree, using the witchcraft as a metaphor for the oppression of women throughout history. This whole book has a strong message of feminism and the empowerment of women running through it, at least for me. I don’t want this to put anyone off, it is not a book that is anti-men, but it is definitely a book about the strength, resourcefulness and intelligence of women and how men have been afraid of this and tried to suppress it through the ages, the persecution of women as witches being one of the most overt ways. The treatment of Florence in her role as police officer in the 1960’s is another example of this, and as a piece of social commentary, this book is also a riveting read. I don’t know if it was just me, but by the end, I was shaking my girl power pom-poms in the air and shouting, ‘Yay!’

There are so many things to unpack in this book, I really don’t think I have done it justice. This is a book about love, and the things people will do for it; how it can be used to control others and how it can bring out the best, and worst, in all of us. It is a book about family, and the strength of the bond between parent and child. It is a book about community, and how people will band together to support and protect one another. It is a book about ambition, and how far people will push boundaries to achieve their goals, and it is a book about finding the strength within ourselves to do what needs to be done in the most adverse of circumstances. The more I think about it, the more things I find going on, and this book works on every level.

This book is terrifying, gripping, entertaining, intelligent, informative and complicated. I am sure it is also one that will reveal additional secrets on subsequent readings. I am in awe of how much the author has managed to layer into this novel and everyone should definitely read it.

The Craftsman is now available in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Sharon (formerly SJ) Bolton grew up in a cotton-mill town in Lancashire and had an eclectic early career which she is now rather embarrassed about. She gave it all up to become a mother and a writer.

Her first novel, Sacrifice, was voted Best New Read by Amazon.uk, whilst her second, Awakening, won the 2010 Mary Higgins Clark award. In 2014, Lost, (UK title, Like This, For Ever) was named RT Magazine’s Best Contemporary Thriller in the US, and in France, Now You See Me won the Plume de Bronze. That same year, Sharon was awarded the CWA Dagger in the Library, for her entire body of work.

Connect with Sharon:

Website: https://www.sharonbolton.com

Facebook: S J Bolton Crime

Twitter: @AuthorSJBolton

Instagram: @sharonjbolton

Bones In The Nest by Helen Cadbury #BookReview @TheFictionCafe #FictionCafeBookClub #FictionCafeReadingChallenge2019 #amreading #bookbloggers #challenges

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The Chasebridge Killer is out; racial tension is rising and the mutilated body of a young Muslim man is found in the stairwell of a tower block in Doncaster. As he gets drawn into the case, Sean Denton’s family life and his police job become dangerously entwined. Meanwhile a young woman is trying to piece her life back together, but someone is out there; someone who will never let her forget what she’s done.

This is the second book I have chosen in the 2019 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club.  You can find details of what the challenge entails in this post. The second category is ‘A book set in the town in which you were born,‘ which in my case is Doncaster in South Yorkshire.

This is the second of the Sean Denton books I have read. I read the first, To Catch A Rabbit, which won a couple of awards, last year and enjoyed it and, in my opinion, this one is even better.

Sean Denton has now graduated from Police Community Support Officer to full police constable now, which gives him, and consequently the reader, a more central role in the investigation this time around. This investigation also centres around racial tensions, whether a person deserves a second chance after committing a horrendous crime, and a possible honour killing, so the topics are very current and relevant, even though this book is now a couple of years old. The author has also continued the aspects I really enjoyed from the first book, namely Sean’s family, work and romantic relationships, and the inclusion of these give him a real humanity which allows the reader to get close to him and become invested in his journey.

It is novel and interesting to have a very rooky investigator at the centre of a book of this nature, and there are certain aspects of his junior position that provide interesting plot points in the story, as he has to assert himself and find his place when manipulated by the hierarchy. He is a very warm, honest and likeable character that you can’t help but want to succeed. He also has certain disadvantages and divided loyalties to overcome – there is a lot going on in the book.

Although not a Doncaster native, the author did live in York and obviously knows and likes the Yorkshire folk and has a great grasp of the region. Although the main setting of the book, the Chasebridge estate, is fictional, there are a lot of allusions to real life areas of Doncaster and the town is depicted fairly and accurately but warmly and kindly in the book. I felt well disposed towards the author and her depiction of my birthplace having read it, despite it being rife with crime!

This book was a great read, pacy and entertaining with an enjoyable, gripping plot and interesting characters. I am looking forward to reading the third book in the series and think it is a great shame that we have lost an author who was clearly talented.

You can get a copy of Bones in the Nest by Helen Cadbury, here, along with the first book in the Sean Denton series, To Catch A Rabbit and book three, published posthumously, Race To The Kill.

About the Author

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Helen Cadbury was a British crime fiction author, poet and playwright, whose debut novel, To Catch a Rabbit, won the Northern Crime Award, was an Amazon Rising Star, and was chosen as one of the Yorkshire Post’s top novels, since the millennium, to reflect the region. It introduces Sean Denton, a young Police Community Support Officer, uncovering the murky truth behind the death of a trafficked young woman and the disappearance of a local man.

Her second novel, Bones in the Nest, follows Sean Denton back to the Chasebridge Estate, where racial tensions are rising and the notorious Chasebridge Killer has just been released from prison.

Before writing fiction Helen was an actor and teacher, including spending five years teaching in prisons. Sadly, Helen died in 2017 aged 52 after a battle with breast cancer.

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green #BookReview (@johngreen) @PenguinUKBooks @PenguinRHUK @penguinrandom @TheFictionCafe #FictionCafeBookClub #FictionCafeReadingChallenge2019

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‘It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.’

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred thousand dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

This is the first book I have chosen this year as part of the 2019 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club. (If you love books, you must check it out, it is the friendliest part of the internet for bibliophiles). The challenge is to read a new book every fortnight that fits the prescribed category for that two-week period.

The first category is ‘A book about mental health.‘ I have vowed to try and pick unread books from my TBR to fit the challenge categories, rather than buy new ones, which is where this comes in. It has been sat on my shelf since publication. Well, its time has finally come!

Is it safe to admit that I have never read a John Green book before? I know I’m probably the only person left on the planet who hasn’t read ‘The Fault In Our Stars,’ but I’ve avoided it as I thought it would really upset me. I decided it was about time I did read one, since he is one of the biggest selling authors on the planet, and I had this book waiting that seemed to fit the category. I bought it last year mainly because of the title, which piqued my curiosity and, I have to say, I was very happy when I got to the part when the title finally became clear!

So, what did I make of my first John Green novel? Well, the man can certainly write. His characters were fully developed and very intricate. I enjoyed his prose style and he obviously has a good grasp of how people, especially teenagers, tick. The book, whilst seeming to cover a very small life, explores in detail a terrifying and truly problematic mental health issue for the main character, Aza, and how this impacts every part of her life, severely, to the point that she can barely function in any ordinary way. The mystery part of the story is incidental and heavily side-lined, and the main focus is most definitely on the mental health topic and, in this, I think the blurb is a little misleading. Anyone buying this book looking mainly for a detective story is going to end up a little disappointed.

It’s quite clear that I am not the target audience for this book. It is definitely aimed at the YA market and, to be honest, those of a maturer persuasion looking back with years of like experience may find the adolescent navel-gazing a little self-indulgent. But this is how life is when you are a teenager. You do believe you are the centre of the world and your problems take on a magnified importance that can be over-whelming. Perspective comes with age and experience (hopefully, not always). Kids are monumentally self-absorbed and Green captures this very well and reflects it in his writing. And there is no doubt that any deviation in your personality from the norm at this age is terrifying. That’s not to say that mental health issues in adolescents should be trivialised or discounted. They are a real issue, and actually a lack of experience and perspective can magnify them and make them much harder to manage successfully. Aza’a issues are extreme and would be horrifying for anyone to deal with and, for me, the thoughts that she is experiencing are grotesque and would be impossible to live with, for child or adult. The author does an amazing job of displaying Aza’s thought spirals and the perpetual horror she is trapped in as she fights, and fails, to control them.

This book is an illuminating portrayal of the effects mental health issues can have on every part of a person’s life, and how surmounting these things can seem impossible. I think it will be more appealing to younger readers, just because of the focus on teenage lives, but the writing is without doubt compelling and it was a rewarding read. A little too harrowing emotionally to be classed as enjoyable, but definitely illuminating.

If you like the sound of the book, you can get a copy here.

About the Author

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John Green is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Looking For Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars, and Turtles All the Way Down. He is also the co-author, with David Levithan, of Will Grayson, Will Grayson. He was the 2006 recipient of the Michael L. Printz Award, a 2009 Edgar Award winner, and has twice been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Green’s books have been published in more than 55 languages and over 24 million copies are in print. John is also an active Twitter user with more than 5.4 million followers.

Connect with John:

Website: http://www.johngreenbooks.com

Facebook: John Green

Twitter: @johngreen

Instagram: @johngreenwritesbooks

2019 Blogging Intentions & Reading & Writing Goals @TheFictionCafe @RNATweets #RomanticNovelistsAssociation #NewWritersScheme #bookblogger #bookbloggers #bookblog #amreading #amwriting #FictionCafeReadingChallenge2019

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As it is new year, and my second blogiversary is approaching, I thought I would do a little post setting out my reading and blogging goals for the coming year, such as they are.

To be honest, after the overhaul I gave the blog last summer, I am fairly happy with where it it as and am inclined to let it coast along unchanged for a while. I have the weekly slots for my Tempted by… and Friday Night Drinks features filled up to the end of May, so they will be carrying on, along with my staple book reviews. I also intend to try and do more regular posts in the Travel, Bucket List and Writing categories, as those have been somewhat haphazard so far. I have a few exciting trips already planned for the coming year, so I’m looking forward to sharing those with you.

I am introducing one new monthly feature this year, which is called Desert Island Books. Not exactly a cryptic title so you may work out the gist of what this is about but look out for a post coming on Thursday of this week for more details on this. Otherwise, it will be business as usual on the blogging front.

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On the reading front, I decided to go back to the principles which were originally behind the blog, and spend the year trying to reduce my TBR, which has gotten completely out of hand if I’m being honest. I just made a spreadsheet to keep track of all the books I own but haven’t read across all mediums and the tally is frankly embarrassing. So, I’m cutting back a bit on blog tours and focusing on reading some of my existing titles.

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To this end, I have set my Goodreads Challenge 2019 goal at 125. I am also going to attempt my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2019, which involves reading 25 books which fall into a specific categories – one every two weeks. I’ll be fitting books from my existing TBR into these categories where possible. Here are the details of the challenge, if you are interested. Watch out for the reviews of these books popping up fortnightly under the FictionCafeReadingChallenge2019 hashtag.

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(If you are interested in joining The Fiction Cafe Book Club, please follow the link above and send a request. I highly recommend it, it is the friendliest corner of the internet for book lovers.)

On the writing front, I’m back in the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme for another year, working on edits to my work in progress following my report from my reader last year and planning on having the manuscript ready to pitch as soon as I can. I have a writing retreat booked for March and it is all systems go on the novel front. Wish me luck as this will be me for the next few months:

What are your goals for this year?

I Spy Book Tag

BOOK TAG

I don’t normally do tags or challenges but I was tagged by Inge @The Belgian Reviewer  and I thought it looked interesting so I gave it a go. Thank you, Inge!

The challenge is: Find a book that contains (either on the cover or in the title) an example for each category. You must have a separate book for all 20, get as creative as you want and do it within five minutes!!

Here goes. These are all books on my Goodreads TBR:

Food

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Transportation

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Weapon

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Animal

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Number

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Something You Read

Unknown-4

Body of Water

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Product of Fire

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Royalty

Unknown-5

Clothing Item

Unknown-6

Family Member

Unknown-7

Time of Day

Unknown-8

Music

Unknown-9

Paranormal Being

Unknown-10

Occupation

Unknown-11

Season

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Colour

Unknown-12

Celestial Body

Unknown-13

Something That Grows

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Now to tag some other people! I nominate:

Viola Bleu

Novel Gossip

Zooloo book Blog

Jill’s Book Blog

Books From Dusk Till Dawn

Susan Loves Books

Florida Straits by Laurence Shames #BookReview (@LaurenceShames) #FictionCafeBookClubChallenge @PaigeToonAuthor @CarrieJoHowe

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“People go to Key West for lots of different reasons. Joey Goldman went there to become a gangster…”

So begins this classic Key West caper, the hilarious and touching book that launched a much-loved series and introduced the world to Bert the Shirt and his chihuahua Don Giovanni, two of the most unforgettable characters in contemporary fiction.

Joey, the illegitimate son of a major NY mafioso, decides to break away from a decidedly unpromising future in the old neighborhood of Queens. But will the old neighborhood and the Family let him go in peace? Not if knucklehead half-brother Gino has anything to say about it. As Joey is finally establishing his new life in sunny Florida, Gino involves him in a disastrous scam featuring a boatload of stolen emeralds and several squads of very nasty thugs. Finding within himself resources of smarts and courage he never knew he had, Joey beats long odds and muddles through to a brilliant solution to the problems dumped on him by Gino.”

The latest fortnightly challenge in my online book group (The Fiction Cafe Book Club – check it out, it is a great place for book lovers to hang out) was to read a book set in my favourite holiday destination. Where is that, Julie, I hear you ask? Well, it’s here:

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Key West!

There are a surprising amount of books set here. One of my favourites is Paige Toon’s The Longest Holiday. I am reading another for my classic of the month, which is Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not and next month I will be reviewing another as part of the blog tour for Island Life Sentence by Carrie Jo Howe so come back on 4 June to check out that post. However, for this challenge I have stepped outside my usual genre choices and read Florida Straits by Laurence Shames.

This is the first book in Shames’s Key West Capers series which now stretches to thirteen books. I was initially drawn to it by the funky cartoonish cover. The gangster genre would not be one I would usually be drawn to but the promise of a humorous storyline intrigued me and I am always trying to stretch my reading outside my comfort zone so I decided to give it a try and I am very glad I did.

The main protagonist is Joey Goldman, the half-Jewish illegitimate son of a New York Mafia kingpin who is failing spectacularly in the family business. On the lowest rung of the gangland ladder and with no hope of getting ‘made’, he decides to swap being a tiddler in the huge pond of New York and travel to the sunnier climes of the Florida Keys to set up on his own. Dragging his reluctant girlfriend, Sandra, with him, he sets off with high hopes. Unfortunately, all does not go according to plan as you would expect and he has to battle Cubans, Colombians and his own half brother along the way.

This book is fantastic. The plot is smart and funny, the dialogue is snappy and the characters are diverse and colourful. My favourites are the staid Sandra and Bert the Shirt, a retired mafioso from New York who becomes a kind of mentor to Joey, and pretty much his only friend in Key West. Bert’s chihuahua, Don Giovanni steals the show without any lines.

What I enjoyed most about the book though was the way Shames really brought the setting and the inhabitants of Key West to life. His descriptions are spot on and very evocative – you can practically smell the sun cream and seaweed. The characters, especially the inhabitants of the condo community where Joey and Sandra end up living are so off-the-wall in the way that so many real inhabitants of Key West are (my favourite sighting there has been an elderly lady with two cats dressed in tutus on leads walking around a museum!), I particularly loved the naked landlord. This book really gave you a true flavour of Key West, which is what is what looking for when I picked it up.

I loved this book. It made me laugh, it kept me hooked and it took me back to one of my favourite places on earth. What more could you ask for, except maybe to be drinking a frozen strawberry daiquiri at Sloppy Joe’s as we speak. I wish I was there.

I enjoyed this book so much, I bought the next three in the series. If you would like to get your hands on a copy of Florida Straits yourself, you can buy it here.

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Now, here is a gratuitous picture of a pelican that I took in the Keys, just because why wouldn’t you want to see a photograph of a beautiful pelican?

Amazon/Goodreads

About the Author

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Laurence Shames has been a New York City taxi driver, lounge singer, furniture mover, lifeguard, dishwasher, gym teacher, and shoe salesman. Having failed to distinguish himself in any of those professions, he turned to writing full-time in 1976 and has not done an honest day’s work since.

His basic laziness notwithstanding, Shames has published twenty books and hundreds of magazine articles and essays. Best known for his critically acclaimed series of Key West novels, he has also authored non-fiction and enjoyed considerable though largely secret success as a collaborator and ghostwriter. Shames has penned four New York Times bestsellers. These have appeared on four different lists, under four different names, none of them his own. This might be a record.

Connect with Laurence:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laurence.shames

Twitter: @LaurenceShames

Website: http://www.laurenceshames.com