Book Review: 10 DAYS by Jule Selbo

Book Review: 10 DAYS by Jule Selbo

This Portland, Maine mystery has it all—a wounded, complicated heroine, a multi-faceted investigation with save-the-world implications, and oodles of atmosphere. Best of all, this is just the first in what promises to be a great new mystery series.

Dee Rommel is a Portland cop on extended leave after losing her leg in a fall off a building while chasing a criminal. She now works for an old family friend who runs a private detective agency. Dee wants to keep her head down and be the bookkeeper as she ponders her future, but neither her personality nor the business are going to give Dee what she thinks she wants.

The boss is out of town donating a kidney when Philip Claren walks in. Claren is a mashup of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg who wants the agency to find his adult daughter before she marries a potential gold-digger. Taking after him in the brains department, the genius daughter recently left her laboratory and sent him a note about the pending nuptials with the family safe word in it.

Feeling unequal to the task, Dee reluctantly takes on the job and heads to Chebeaque Island via ferry. Not only is it the wedding destination, but Chebeague is also the safe word.

As the tale unfolds, Claren and his daughter are involved in research that connects artificial intelligence with bionic technology. Is the pending marriage an attempt to steal world-changing tech secrets? The reveal presages the open letter recently signed by Elon Musk and other leading tech notables expressing concern over the unregulated rise of AI and calling for a 6-month development moratorium.

Just wow.

Beyond the Claren family, the cast of characters includes Gordy, Dee’s irascible but generous boss; Abshir, a Somali student with a talent for surveillance; and Robbie Donato, a smart cop who sees through Dee’s often prickly exterior and would like to know her much better.

The prose is swift and punchy. The setting is so real you can almost smell the ocean breeze on the boat to Chebeaque. Dee narrates with an inner voice that is tough yet appealing, making this mystery a great mix of exciting plot and colorful personalities.

Highly recommended.

Get 10 DAYS for your #Kindle here.

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Book Review: SENSE OF GRACE by Richard F. McGonegal

Book Review: SENSE OF GRACE by Richard F. McGonegal

This police procedural offers the best first sentence that I’ve read lately. The overall pace and plotting meet that high bar, making this a fast page-turner.

Sheriff Francis Hood of Huhman County, Missouri, is a savvy and compassionate lawman but also a recovering alcoholic wondering if he can manage the “recovering” bit. His alcohol abuse got so bad that his wife and daughter have moved out.

As the book begins, Hood finds ex-con Jacob Grace passed out drunk on a country road with an ear cut off.

Grace can’t identify his attacker.

Thirty years ago, Grace stabbed and killed his wife and two sons. A daughter survived but was disfigured. Now he’s out of prison and working as a farm hand not far from the scene of the crime.

Hood’s investigation of the ear-cutting assault leads to the daughter who lives in the house where the crime took place. She’s a reclusive artist and intriguing interlocutor as Jacob is attacked again.

This time, his nose is cut off.

The assaults are bizarre and random . . . Until they make perfect sense. At the same time, two minor criminals are on a spree, robbing church functions. They don’t seem to have any connection to the troubled Grace family . . . At first.

Alcoholism as a character’s Fatal Flaw is a well-trodden path for fictional crimefighters, but SENSE OF GRACE manages to approach it in a different way. Throughout the book Hood mulls his new identity as a recovering alcoholic, the need for spiritual support, and what to do about a deputy heading out of control.

You can’t help but root for Hood, a decent guy getting through one day at a time. I love the way he always introduces himself, “I’m your sheriff, Francis Hood.” It’s great insight into a character who’d do well on the silver screen.

Highly recommended.

Get SENSE OF GRACE for your #Kindle


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Book Review: THE DEAD CERTAIN DOUBT by Jim Nesbitt

Book Review: THE DEAD CERTAIN DOUBT by Jim Nesbitt

THE DEAD CERTAIN DOUBT is a noir gem, peppered with American muscle cars, a hard-drinking hero, and universal life lessons.

Ed Earl Burch is a Dallas private eye of a certain age. With an angel on one shoulder and the devil everywhere else, he’s too young to retire, yet too old to keep hanging on to so many bad memories. To paraphrase the Toby Keith song, he ain’t as good as he once was, but he’s as good once as he ever was.

Having triumphed over an opioid addiction, he’s making some amends. In THE DEAD CERTAIN DOUBT, guilt over an abandoned friendship puts him on the proverbial road to hell paved with good intentions.

Written in author Nesbitt’s powerfully lyrical and staccato prose, the hunt for a troubled young woman who is involved with a Mexican drug cartel woman puts Ed Earl Burch—and the reader—through the wringer. The pace is swift, the action is raw, and the characters are intense and visual. The compelling power of remorse drives the page-turning pace even as the glorious phrasing makes you want to stop and savor the work of a master wordsmith.

Just the description of the main character grips you:

Dallas private eye Ed Earl Burch is an emotional wreck, living on the edge of madness, hosing down the nightmares of his last case with bourbon and Percodan, dreading the next onslaught of demons that haunt his days and nights.

Nesbitt’s prose, characters, and gritty authenticity make him one of today’s most talented and stylish noir writers.

THE DEAD CERTAIN DOUBT is the fourth Ed Earl Burch book, each one a standalone gem.

Order it on Amazon

Book Review: Family Secrets Come with the House in SQUATTER’S RIGHTS

Book Review: Family Secrets Come with the House in SQUATTER’S RIGHTS

In SQUATTER’S RIGHTS by Cheril Thomas, compelling family secrets come with the house.

The first book in the Eastern Shores Mysteries introduces us to attorney Grace Reagan, who just bought the huge money pit on Maryland’s rural Eastern Shore where her mother grew up.

The old mansion, known as Delaney House, was last inhabited by Grace’s grandmother, Emma Delaney. Grace never knew why her late mother and grandmother were estranged. Buying the house feels like a first step toward righting a wrong from a past she doesn’t understand.

Related post: Book Review: SWEETLAND by Dareth Pray

But to Grace’s surprise, a hitherto unknown uncle and cousin feel entitled to the house, despite Emma’s will which forced the house to be sold at auction. Their goal is to push Grace out.

SQUATTER’S RIGHTS gives us a mystery embedded in the very bones of the house and in the family torn apart inside it. After setting the scene, the narrative is imbued with quickening sense of foreboding.

Grace remains at odds with the uncle and cousins as questions mount. What drove her mother away from Delaney House years ago and why do echoes of distrust and anger linger even now? What secrets did Emma take to the grave? Is Grace’s romantically-inclined contractor who he says he is?

Hints spool out in the form of letters written in the 1950’s by a newly married Emma to her parents back in Asheville, North Carolina. The suspense-building letters are inserted into the current-day action in exactly the right places, driving a two-pronged drama until past and present merge into shocking answers.

Expect spot-on atmosphere and a tantalizing family secret. There are 4 more books in the series, too.

Highly recommended.

Order it on Amazon here.

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Book review: THE MONOGRAM MURDERS by Sophie Hannah

Book review: THE MONOGRAM MURDERS by Sophie Hannah

I love reading a good mystery as much as I love writing them! Here’s what I read this week.

A new Hercule Poirot mystery

Mystery fans can’t get enough of Agatha Christie’s fussy Belgian detective (cue Sir Kenneth Branagh, please!) and THE MONOGRAM MURDERS shows why. The new Hercule Poirot books by Sophie Hannah are spot-on, capturing the style and personality of the original books right down to Poirot’s tendency to speak of himself in the third person, identify the most obscure clues and solve multi-villain crimes.

Three people are found dead in a swank London hotel. They have all been poisoned. Two women and a man are each found in their respective hotel room, prone body positioned toward the door, and a monogrammed cufflink in the mouth.

What do the initials PIJ stand for?

Poirot & Co

Edward Catchpool, a young Scotland Yard detective, is assigned to the case. Poirot, who is taking a sabbatical of sorts by staying in the same boarding house, accompanies Catchpool to the scene of the crime. Catchpool, who deals with an inner struggle regarding the bodies of the dead, becomes Poirot’s foil and sounding board. Poirot delights in the role of teacher, making many clever (and correct IMHO) observations about human nature as they investigate.

The crime traces back to an old scandal in little village. As in so many Poirot tales, the final denouement reveals complex connections. Red herrings are ultimately complicit in the crime. The ending was impossible to guess! Only Poirot or an encyclopedia would know the tiny details that lead to certain supporting conclusions.

You almost need to graph out all the twists and turns to make sure you didn’t miss anything.

Related post: Book review: THE SEPTEMBER SOCIETY by Charles Finch

Style & substance

I loved the way the novel set up the crime, with clues that appear impossible to reconcile. What happened to the room service food? How did the killer escape? Why was one victim’s room key hidden behind a loose tile? Why did the waiter lie? The crime is tantalizing and the pages flew by.

Yet after so much brilliance, the last quarter of the novel moves at a glacial pace, with chunky dialogue in which the crime is picked apart and Poirot explains far too many extraneous bits of investigative genius..

But if you love Agatha Christie, Poirot’s return is “can’t miss” reading. So far there are 5 Poirot mysteries by Sophie Hannah, all incredible brainteasers like THE MONOGRAM MURDERS.


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Book Review: SWEETLAND by Dareth Pray

Book Review: SWEETLAND by Dareth Pray

Debut thriller SWEETLAND takes off like a rocket and never loses speed. Author Dareth Pray is one to watch!

Erin Stark is a new kind of female thriller heroine, giving fictional male colleagues like James Reece (THE TERMINAL LIST) and Jack Reacher (BETTER OFF DEAD) a run for their money. Reminiscent of Lisbeth Salander in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, Erin has a cold-blooded capacity that makes her both uncommon and intriguing.

A jingoistic cult/militia group called Patriot Dawn kidnaps a busload of high school cheerleaders from a highway rest stop in Tennessee. Erin poses as a college student to be scooped up along with the cheerleaders. In the process, she saves a girl having an asthma attack. In short order we see that Erin has special skills as well as a cool head under pressure.

The group is taken to an abandoned US military base commandeered by Patriot Dawn. Fake marriages take place. Erin ends up with the group’s commanding officer, an ex-military officer who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Ruby Ridge/Jonestown nature of the Patriot Dawn compound and the forceful leader’s rules and authority are chillingly well drawn.

SWEETLAND really turns on Erin’s inner voice as she endures the horrific ordeal yet presses her own agenda. With no choice but to submit, she subtly manipulates her new “husband” to gain his trust and reveal his plans. She creates imaginative codes to records her findings.

Erin’s backstory, including her skill with languages and the spy handler who introduced her to the world of espionage, is carefully threaded through the current timeline. We realize that there is little in her life apart from constant undercover work.

Meanwhile, back in Washington DC, a weak-willed US president and a general called out of retirement learn that Patriot Dawn is the tip of a very large iceberg that threatens to propel the US into civil war. How long before the government is forced to respond? What critical information can Erin collect—and how much can she endure—before war breaks out?

I have it on good authority that more Erin Stark books are in process. Highly recommended.

Click here to find SWEETLAND on Amazon

Book Review: THE GUILTY DIE TWICE by Don Hartshorn

Book Review: THE GUILTY DIE TWICE by Don Hartshorn

THE GUILTY DIE TWICE offers a memorable cast of characters, two pivotal crimes, lots of deliciously grubby political machinations, and both sides of the death penalty argument. The writing is both fluid and precise, without (thankfully) lots of legal jargon. The smooth pacing and flow make it exceptionally readable and hard to put down.

Travis Lynch is an attorney in Austin, Texas, who is barely able to make ends meet. His wife is pregnant, he works out of his living room, and he’s estranged from the rest of the Lynch family, scions of the Texas legal establishment. The reason for Travis’s difficult situation is tied to murderer Riley Sutton, whose execution takes place early in the proceedings.

Related: Book Review: THIEF OF SOULS by Brian Klingborg

Jake Lynch, Travis’s older brother, is the District Attorney (DA). Jake is a man on the rise. Powerful kingmakers are circling around. He’s the heir-apparent to the Lynch family’s legal legacy. Jake and Travis have not spoken in 10 years, when they prosecuted the Sutton case ten years ago as both friends and up-and-coming attorneys working in the DA’s office.

When a drug deal goes wrong, two high school boys are killed and another left paralyzed. A kingmaker’s son is one of the victims and the media is all over the story. Of course, no one wants the fact to come out that the victims were in a construction zone at 3:00 am to buy drugs.

Two arrests are made. The parents of the suspected shooter turn to Travis. He reluctantly takes the case, knowing he won’t be paid, but hoping to save the kid from a death sentence.

Meanwhile, Jake is pressured into charging the suspected shooter with a capital crime, triggering the death penalty. This pits Travis and Jake against each other in circumstances that hearken back to the Sutton case. Of course the backstory merges with the current timeline here and you finally find out what started the feud so long ago. What I liked so much is that neither brother is a white knight, but each is trying to follow their conscience in a very, very bad situation.

Related: Book Review: COMMAND AND CONTROL by David Bruns & J.R. Olson

Both stories wrap the reader in double suspense. What happened during the Sutton case to create this feud between the two brothers? What will happen to the current murder investigation given all the political strings being pulled? Can this family ever be mended?

It’s a legal thriller but even more, this is a story about a family pulled apart by competing moral values.

Highly recommended. Find THE GUILTY DIE TWICE on Amazon.

The author Don Hartshorn has an interesting website with short stories and writing tips. You can find it here:

THE GUILTY DIE TWICE was published by TCKPublishing, a small press with a unique tagline: “Wealth is in the mind, not the pocket.” How true! You can find TCK here:

Book Review: A NEAPOLITAN INTRIGUE by Kate McVaugh

Book Review: A NEAPOLITAN INTRIGUE by Kate McVaugh

Past and present collide in this clever thriller that moves between present-day Naples, Italy, and Berkeley, California in 1969. A NEAPOLITAN INTRIGUE deals with serious topics with a smooth prose and a dab of humor at the right moments. I read it in one day, and learned some history, too.


Letty White is a recently retired security consultant living in Naples. Her background includes stints as a linguist for the Central Intelligence Agency and Interpol. Just as she is wondering if la dolce vita in Naples is what she truly wants, local ex-Interpol friends who own a security company find a photo of Letty as a teenager in the pocket of a dead man.

In the photo, Letty and a girlfriend are with two National Guardsmen in a Jeep, souvenir of May 1969 when Berkeley was occupied by more than 2000 Army National Guard troops. The situation began when an impromptu People’s Park was created without authorization. Attempts to dismantle the park engulfed the area in large-scale protests. Law enforcement tried to quell the protests and fatal shootings occurred. Tensions skyrocketed and the National Guard was called out.

During the second half of May 1969, Berkeley was a city in turmoil, with nearly non-stop demonstrations. Protesters were teargassed, trapped and arrested. The local prison became notorious for abuse. Events culminated with a gigantic march, with many of those present carrying daisies and singing.

Letty was 16 years old at the time, on the fringes of the protest movement with her friends and attending a high school directly adjacent to the hot zone.

As present-day Letty attempts to find out the identity of the dead man in Naples, flashbacks to Berkeley offer clues. Both Naples and Berkeley are painted with compelling visual descriptions.


Letty is a real 3-D character, with dangerous curiosity. She takes thoughtless risks at first but grows more wary as things in Naples go awry. I loved the way that, fueled by gallons of espresso, she gets away from the bad guys, argues with the good guys, crashes a wedding and a bespoke tailor, spurns her Italian lover, and gets away from the bad guys yet again, until at the end, she turns the tables on everybody.

The book is a thriller but has elements of a light-hearted caper, too. It will keep you turning the pages! Find A NEAPOLITAN INTRIGUE on AMAZON

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Book Review: A PALE HORSE by Charles Todd

Book Review: A PALE HORSE by Charles Todd

I’ve been gobbling up the Inspector Ian Rutledge historical mystery series by Charles Todd and A PALE HORSE is a prime example of what makes this post-WWI series so irresistible. You get a travelogue of Great Britain, layers of plot complexity, and a flawed hero who lives on the edge of madness caused by bloody and senseless war.

It’s 1920 and Rutledge is an inspector with Scotland Yard with jurisdiction to investigate across Britain. His first case is an unidentified body wearing a theatrical cloak and a war-time gas mask, found in the ruins of an abbey in Yorkshire. Having spent 4 years as an officer in the trenches of France, Rutledge is somewhat of a ruin himself.

He hears the Scottish voice of his dead sergeant Hamish, a voice so real that he cannot turn around for fear of actually seeing the man. Hamish was executed by firing squad for refusing to lead his men in another suicidal charge through no-man’s land. As the officer in charge, it was up to Rutledge to deliver the final shot. Moments after doing so, a German mortar attack killed everyone in the trench except Rutledge who was shielded when Hamish’s dead body fell on him.

The mystery of the unidentified body in Yorkshire soon merges with that of a missing Berkshire scientist who lived in a small cluster of cottages built near the mysterious silhouette of a horse cut into a chalk hill by ancient people. As Rutledge probes the disappearance, each of the other residents of this strange little community reveal their secrets. Soon Rutledge isn’t just trying to identify the dead or find the missing but solve multiple murders.

I’m always fascinated by plot construction and the Rutledge books follow a 3-act template. Act 1 is all about setting the scene and the pace is measured. Things pick up in Act 2, but Rutledge frequently revisits locations or questions the same people again and again, uncommon technique for a mystery author. The pace is fastest in Act 3 as clues lead to a major climax.

Throughout it all, Rutledge and Hamish debate the cases and taunt each other. Thanks to some of the best writing out there, we see how Hamish is a product of Rutledge’s troubled conscience. Here’s an example from A PALE HORSE, as Rutledge contemplates a lost love:

She was another man’s wife, now. Not his, never his . . .

Hamish, at his shoulder, said only, “It was verra’ different with my Fiona. I should ha’ come home to her, and left you dead in France. Your Jean wouldna’ have missed you . . .”

The voice was sad, as if half convincing himself that this was true.

Together the two men, one of whom didn’t exist, went back to the flat.

Highly recommended. Find A PALE HORSE on AMAZON.

Book Review: Bone Canyon by Lee Goldberg

Book Review: Bone Canyon by Lee Goldberg

I love Goldberg’s Ian Ludlow series, starting with the ridiculously wonderful KILLER THRILLER, in which a nerdy writer repeatedly saves the world, but I was willing to go along for a more serious ride in BONE CANYON. A traditional police procedural, BONE CANYON delivers the same high speed action, unfussy writing style, and excellent plot development.

Related: Book Review: KIller Thriller

Eve Ronin is a detective for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, assigned to the Lost hills station near Calabasas, California. She used some inadvertent notoriety to climb the career ladder to her current assignment, a detail which has not endeared her to many colleagues. Meanwhile, her partner is counting down the days until he can retire and Eve is more or less estranged from her has-been showbiz parents.

Her life isn’t perfect, but Eve is making it work. She’s stubborn, athletic, committed to the job. I think she sounds a lot like Detective Emilia Cruz, albeit with a racing bicycle instead of a white Suburban.

The latest wildfires have cleared the hillsides, revealing the bones of a long-dead woman. Eve is able to make a positive identification and discovers that the dead woman was raped shortly before she disappeared.

Eve investigates the rape, assuming a connection to the woman’s death, when a second body is found. As the investigation continues, Eve’s chief suspect becomes another member of the Sheriff’s Department. With her notoriety now a liability, Eve faces danger herself.

Goldberg fans will love the reference to Hollywood and the Vine, the cheesy cop show Ian Ludlow ostensibly wrote. It’s a moment of fun that lightens a seriously good whodunit. All the threads wrap at the end, along with a teaser that primes us for the next Eve Ronin tale.

BONE CANYON is the second book in the Eve Ronin series, following LOST HILLS, but stands alone quite well.

Highly recommended.

Get it on Amazon


Book Review: BACK SIDE OF A BLUE MOON by Caleb Pirtle III

Book Review: BACK SIDE OF A BLUE MOON by Caleb Pirtle III

I’ve been roaming Amazon, looking for historical fiction set in the blue collar world of the 1920’s and 30’s and won the prize when I discovered BACK SIDE OF A BLUE MOON, the first book in Caleb Pirtle’s Boomtown Saga trilogy. Part Music Man, part Grapes of Wrath, beautiful, haunting prose paints a tale you can see as well as if it was on the big screen.

And what a story it is!

The Depression and drought have combined to kill Ashland, Texas. The town on the banks of the Sabine River in east Texas is worn out and no one is as worn out as Eudora Durant. Once the town beauty, she’s now married to an abusive husband and stuck on a farm that can no longer sustain them. Her neighbors are selling off and leaving, their lives destroyed.

One night Eudora’s husband goes too far and she defends herself with the shotgun. When he isn’t seen around for some time, the sheriff starts asking questions, as do the townspeople. Eudora claims he took off but suspicion grows.

Good riddance to bad rubbish, as the saying goes. But where is his body? Without it, the sheriff can’t arrest Eudora, no matter what the gossips say.

Meanwhile, Doc Bannister comes to town, one step ahead of the law. He’s Hugh Jackman in the Music Man but instead of promising a boy’s band complete with uniforms and instruments, he’s going to use a homemade “doodlebug” machine to find oil and make Ashland richer than King Midas.

Doc is one of the best-written characters I’ve come across in quite some time. In his white suit and straw hat, he’s a breath of fresh air blowing life back into Ashland. He’s a rogue, yet a hard worker. Slippery yet drawn to the concept of stability. He knows just how to convince and manipulate while appearing honest and sincere.

In short order, he convinces everyone to part with their last two nickels to invest in his oil syndicate. Doc starts drilling on Eudora’s land, claiming to “smell” the oil below the surface, as the sheriff prowls around.

The suspense is multi-faceted. Is Doc a con artist or does he really know what he’s doing? Did Eudora really kill her husband? Will she be charged? What is going to happen to everyone who invested?

Perfectly true to time and place, the book veers more toward literary fiction than traditional mystery but it was too good to keep to myself!

It’s only available in Kindle format on AMAZON.

Highly recommended.

Book Review: COMMAND AND CONTROL by David Bruns and J.R. Olson

Book Review: COMMAND AND CONTROL by David Bruns and J.R. Olson

I was already a fan of this author duo’s espionage thrillers but COMMAND and CONTROL by David Bruns and J.R. Olson ratchets up the intensity to truly epic levels.

Buckle up, because this a fast-paced thrill ride through an ocean churning with conflict, tech wizardry, and global politics.

A string of unexplained attacks on US military forces have one thing in common: the latest Russian weaponry. Soon US forces are spread thin, not only in response to multiple threats, but also because of the new president’s vow to oust the illegal Maduro regime in Venezuela. As conflicts rage across the globe, a terror attack decimates the US Navy’s top brass gathered for a conference at Annapolis.

Don Reilly is head of the CIA’s Emerging Threats Group (a fictional unit) with access to the highest level of US policymakers (and enjoys a very enviable and fictional lack of bureaucratic red tape LOL).

He’s desperately trying to connect dots around the globe. Why would the Russian president, a thinly disguised Putin, want to go to war now? Why has North Korean suddenly decided to jettison its nuclear program? How was the Venezuelan military, on the brink of starvation and out of hard currency, able to procure the latest in Russian military technology? Who was behind the Annapolis terror attack?

Things aren’t adding up. Yet the world is hurtling toward war.

Besides Don, the cast of characters ranges from a shadowy operative who is enabling the transfer of Russian weaponry to global hotspots, to the Russian president who believes one of his inner circle is betraying him, to the US Navy admiral who must make life and death decisions as he sails his fleet into harm’s way near the Bering Strait.

Scenes are fraught with tension, and almost all are either turning or decision points. This is a long book, but it is all muscle, no fat.

Like Tom Clancy’s THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, there is lots of military activity and technology here, but kudos to the authors for knowing that not every reader appreciates a data dump or pages of tech jargon. Instead, swift explanations enhance the action. Bruns and Olson bill themselves as the Two Navy Guys and their expertise shows. The scenes at sea are absolutely authentic.

The book puts you on the bridge of the aircraft carrier as radar tracks incoming danger. You are in the submarine as the Russian communications cable is hacked. You are in the helicopter as the missile zeroes in.

You are turning pages as fast as you can. Expect chills up your spine.

COMMAND AND CONTROL is the first book in a trilogy. The second, COUNTERSTRIKE is also available.

Highly recommended.

Get COMMAND AND CONTROL on Amazon here.

Carmen Amato at Spring Hill

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