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Moonlight Reader

Lawyer, mother, avid reader. Bingo host extraordinaire! Partner in crime to Obsidian Black Plague! My bookish weaknesses include classics, fantasy, YA, and agreeing to read more books than is even remotely possible.

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

The Secret of Chimneys - Agatha Christie

You’ve already had the chance to read Obsidian’s thoughts on this Agatha Christie mystery. As she was reading, it was pretty clear to me that she wasn’t loving it, which caused me to try to reach back into my past to the first time I read this book.


Because this is one of my favorite Agatha Christie non-Poirot books, but I don’t think it was the first time I read it. What I like about it is its simplicity, which sounds really strange because the plot itself is quite convoluted. But the premise is simple: mysteriously attractive young man meets bright attractive young woman at beautiful country home, mayhem, murder, hijinks and romance ensue. The rest of it, to me, is just gravy. It is a first class romp, madcap and occasionally harebrained. It’s a grown up Nancy Drew mystery, with Virginia as Nancy and Anthony as Ned Nickerson, wandering about Chimneys in the dark with torches, running into umbrella stands and finding corpses.



I can’t take it seriously, but I can seriously enjoy it. I understand why it isn’t for everyone. Obsidian did such a good with the plot summary and analysis that I’m not going to bother with it myself. My review is about how this book makes me feel. Nothing she said is inaccurate – it is convoluted, obscure, occasionally silly, and the characters behave like ninnies from time to time. Inspector Battle is wonderful, but OB’s dig about his “twinkle” is well deserved.


It took me more than one reading for it to worm its way into my affections, and at this point it is a comfort read of the highest order.

I don't often share personal stuff about my kids, but my son's band played their first "real gig" last night, so I thought I'd share one of the videos I took. The quality is pretty horrible, but it's still cool.


He's an intern at a local music school, and this is their intern band. They played at a Blues Festival to raise money for the school. He's the lead guitarist & sings this one.


I can't figure out how to stop the autoplay, so I apologize if this is annoying!

Meh - obvious Stephanie Plum fan fiction

No Such Thing as a Secret: A Brandy Alexander Mystery (No Such Thing As...A Brandy Alexander Mystery) - Shelly Fredman

I used to read Stephanie Plum until I lost patience with the series - the humor lost its charm and began to just irritate me, and the eternal love triangle between Joe, Ranger & Stephanie, along with the constant references to blood rushing to Stephanie's girl parts just lost me.


Brandy Alexander is pretty much the exact same set up. Brandy is a broke "reporter" rather than a broke "bounty hunter." Bobby is Brandy's high school sweetheart, the hot cop who broke her heart, and is Joe Morelli's alter ego. Nick Santiago is Fredman's answer to Ranger. The Philadelphia setting is an echo of Evanovich's blue-collar Jersey. It has everything that Stephanie Plum has, except for Grandma Mazur (and Grandma Mazur is basically the best part of the Plum series).


Honestly, this book walks right up to, and may in fact cross, the line of plagiarism. 


If I'd never read Stephanie Plum, maybe I would find this book funny. Since I've read Stephanie Plum it feels stale. It also feels like theft. I'm honestly not even sure how to rate it because of this element.

Sunday Update!

Image result for newspaper extra


Reading: Right now, I'm on a crime binge. I've been reading Peter May's Lewis Trilogy, set in the Outer Hebrides, catching up on the happenings in Three Pines, Canada, and hanging out with Joanna Brady in Cochise County, Arizona.


Watching: Since I have already watched all of Poirot (at least once), I'd been looking for a new mystery series. I stumbled on Murdoch Mysteries, a series out of Canada, set in Victorian era Toronto. It is totally delightful, and I've watched the first five seasons. I also watched the first season of Bletchley Circle, which is only three episodes, and thought it was amazing. And, in honor of the current Russian spy scandal, I decided to watch The Americans. I'm only two episodes in, so I haven't made any decisions.


Making: I'm stitching a Halloween sampler, and working on a quilt for my father-in-law!


Cleaning: I went into my son's room armed with a shovel and dressed in a haz mat suit. Not really, but I did actually clean his room. It was disgusting. We had a long talk about hygiene, rodents, and filth.


Organizing: My craft projects. I'm getting ready to shift my craft room into one of the other bedrooms so we can update what is now the craft room with new flooring and paint!


Buying: I'm trying to avoid buying, actually! I did buy some candles from Bath and Body Works, since they were on sale. I have a Peach Bellini candle burning right now, and it smells wonderful!


Planning: A trip to Disneyland in June! Can't wait!


Wanting: A new sewing machine. I have my eye on a Cotton+Steel edition Bernina. I've never bought a new sewing machine for myself.


Hoping: For a big tax refund. Or at least that I don't owe several thousand dollars. What's up with you?

Yay for Grim!

I just saw Grim's post about grad school, and merely commenting wasn't enough for me!


I had to happy dance!





So exciting! Congratulations, Grimlock!

A Brief Vacation with JA Jance


I am not a fan of hot weather. Several years ago my parents took leave of their senses and moved to Arizona as snowbirds, so I am occasionally compelled to visit the Southwest, which is not my favorite place in the world (no offense intended to my bookish friend Linda Hilton). But, if one is forced to go to Arizona, February is a good time to go.


I paid them a visit over the weekend - we went on a little overnight trip from Phoenix to Tombstone, and then stopped at the Mission San Xavier del Bac, which is considered one of the premier examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States. The collage above has images from both places. Many of you may already know that I am a huge fan of Willa Cather, so seeing the Mission was like stepping into the pages of one her last and greatest novels, Death Comes for the Archbishop.


I also started reading the Joanna Brady series by J.A. Jance, which are set in Cochise County. Not great literature, they are an eminently readable series of books with a strong Southwestern flair. I read four of them in a binge, and started the fifth. My dad had been addicted to them for a while, so I think I already have 12 of them on our shared kindle account.


I'm back in the windy, rainy PNW now, and the sun is just coming up. It looks like I brought the dry weather with me, for at least today!

Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen - Laurie Colwin

Laurie Colwin died very young.


I discovered her when I was in law school - a friend of mine had picked up her last book A Big Storm Knocked It Over: A Novel and pressed it on me with the fervor of an evangelical, telling me that this book, this book was everything to her. I didn't know it then, but Laurie Colwin was already dead of a heart attack.


I read A Big Storm Knocked It Over, and then went on to read Happy All the Time, a book that I still own, that I left out in the rain and has a cover that separated and then dried in wrinkles, and Family Happiness, and then I discovered Laurie Colwin's food writing, and I read this book, and More Home Cooking, both of which I checked out of the public library.


And then I learned that she had died, a year before I had even discovered her and I felt grief because there would be no more books by Laurie Colwin and I hadn't even known it.


Home Cooking is an oddly wonderful book, a collection of stories about food written by someone who told stories about food and friendship and how food is friendship, and sometimes friendship is food. She's funny and self-deprecating and would have been a lovely person to sit down and have a meal with, and I've always wanted to make her gingerbread. Maybe someday I will.

My moment of geek

The Murder at the Vicarage - Agatha Christie
One of my reading projects for 2017 is the Miss Marple series by Agatha Christie. I've read a number of them already, but some of them it has been a very long time. I've never been as fond of Jane Marple as I am of Hercule Poirot.

However, I want to talk about a thing that happened to me in December. My office had put together an elimination of bias training for the lawyers. The training was presented by a psychologist who works for the University of Oregon - and he started the training by talking about bias in the context of the human brain. He went on to talk about how the human brain is absolutely masterful at categorizing things - our minds can observe a penguin, an eagle, an ostrich and a finch, and we immediately recognize and categorize all of them as birds although they bear very little physical resemblance to one another. From an evolutionary perspective, this is a remarkable feat. He talked about how easy it would be to write a computer program to recognize the color blue in an image, and how difficult it would be to write a computer program to recognize a bird in an image because computers aren't nearly as good at categorizing things as the human brain.

This is all super interesting as it relates to bias, of course, because our brains are constantly categorizing things - including people - and if we aren't careful with our categorizing it can turn into unconscious (or conscious) discrimination.

As he was explaining all of this, I had this personal moment of geek, where I thought to myself - aha. That's exactly what Agatha Christie has Miss Marple doing. She is exercising her skills of categorization in ways that are simultaneously broader and narrower than the way that an average person categorizes. Marple doesn't categorize by social class or sex or wealth so much as she categorizes by event and psychology, drawing parallels between, perhaps, the fish monger's crush on a post mistress and the murderer's attraction to the victim's sister.

All of this is simply to say that Agatha Christie was clearly a woman ahead of her time. I did manage to keep my mouth shut during the training, and not burst out with "OMG, that's exactly what Miss Marple does, except it's different because . . ." and out myself as the total dork that I am. I was pretty proud of myself for that.

Anyway, about this book. It's fine - introducing us to Miss Jane Marple, who isn't nearly as sweet as you think she is.


Romance Bingo Update


I've filled another 3 spots!


1. Gothic: Secrets in the Mist by Anna Lee Huber

2. Love is Murder: Death in Kenya by M.M. Kaye

3. Man in a Kilt: Highlander Untamed by Monica McCarty

4. Free space: Death in Zanzibar by M.M. Kaye

5. Young Adult: Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima

6. Blown Away: Trade Wind by M.M. Kaye

7. Guy/Girl Next Door: Emma by Jane Austen




I had a hard time deciding between Rogue and Blown Away for Trade Wind. I ultimately decided on Blown Away because there is actually a part of the book where the heroine, Hero, is actually blown off her ship in a storm and is hauled onto Rory Frost's ship, the Virago. Also, I was totally blown away by the book..


With respect to Emma, again, there were a few squares where I could put that one! I went for Guy/Girl Next Door because the fact that Mr. Knightley is Emma's neighbor was integral to the story. If there'd been a friends to lovers spot, I might have put it there. I also considered Wedding Bells for Emma, but ultimately decided on the other square.


Finally, with respect to Young Adult, I filled that square with Gray Wolf Throne, the third book in a YA fantasy series that strongly focuses on the romantic travails of Raisa and Han Alister. It's a fun series that I've read before & have been listening to in audio format.


So, Rogue and Historical Romance are my next two targets. I just started another M.M. Kaye epic, The Shadow of the Moon, which will certainly fit in Historical Romance, if no other squares that fit better crop up.


I am 50.


This is the worst thing I've ever seen.

A Beautifully Messy Mass of Contradictions

Trade Wind - M.M. Kaye

I have been sick for a couple of days, and I really should've been sleeping last night, instead of finishing this book. But, instead, I was finishing this book.


I am not even sure where to begin with the writing process here. This book is a mass of contradictions: problematic, beautiful, shocking, deplorable, and incredibly compelling. The characters, even more so, with no one character being all good or all bad, even while they are doing things that are horrifying.


This book is about the slave trade in a very real way - and all of the characters (both European and native) are involved in it in some capacity or another, and their opinion of it seems to be informed by and based upon the level to which they personally benefit from it. And the main character, Hero, is a young woman who is deeply opposed to slavery, but who also, as a result of her arrogance and naivete, interferes in the government of Zanzibar and causes the death of dozens of natives. Her interference likely kills as many Zanzibar natives as the slave trade did, in the year that she was there. Does her "pure" heart excuse her from responsibility? What about the fact that her "pure" heart is esentially acting out of ignorance and arrogance, seeking to supplant her judgment (when she has been in Zanzibar for all of about ten days) for the judgment of the native government?


"He said meditatively: ‘Leaving aside the larger issues, why, specifically, do you abominate slave traders? Because they make money out of it?’
‘No.’ Hero’s voice was ice. ‘I told you once before and I am quite certain that you have not forgotten it. But if you really wish to hear me repeat it I shall be happy to oblige you. I abominate them because they are personally responsible for the death and agony and degradation of thousands of people. Of innocent human beings who have done them no harm and with whom they have no quarrel. Because they callously condemn to appalling suffering and misery—–’ ‘
Yes, that’s what I thought. I just wanted to make sure I hadn’t got it wrong. Then perhaps, Miss Hollis, you can tell me how it is that, while holding such views, you have recently been doing your damnedest to make yourself personally responsible for the death or mutilation of several hundred human beings who cannot have done you any harm, and with whom – as far as I know – you can hardly have quarrelled? And furthermore, why you should have thought fit to assist in the extension of a trade you profess to abhor? I will absolve you from the charge of doing either of these things for the sake of personal profit; though that at least would have been a more understandable motive than a mere love of meddling. But I confess I find it interesting.’
To Hero's credit, I suppose, she is horrified to learn that she has been used by those who are far more cunning than she was to advance their own interests. But I feel like I am going horribly off track here - again. Let me try to get myself back to the point.
I can't figure out M.M. Kaye, and maybe that is because she, herself, was a mass of contradictions. She, at times, exhibits remarkable insight into the colonial arrogance, with quotes like these:
Yet saving only yourself, I have never yet met a white man who did not consider that I and my people would derive great benefit by changing our ways and imitating theirs, or who did not try and impress upon me the immense superiority of all white laws and customs. It is very strange.’ (a statement by the Sultan Majid to Rory Frost).
Or this:
Why, I ask you, should we of the East forsake the laws and customs of our forefathers at the bidding of ignorant and contentious foreigners whose own governments and priests cannot agree among themselves? Tell me that?’
‘Because,’ said Rory unkindly, ‘you are not going to be given the option. Not in the long run. You can’t argue with a gunboat if all you have is a canoe and a throwing spear – no aspersions on your fleet, you understand, I was speaking metaphorically. There is a certain tiresome and time-honoured argument that has been in use since the dawn of history and can be best summed up by that elegant sentence: “If you don’t, I’ll kick your
teeth in.”
That, my friend, is what you are up against!’ The Sultan wagged his head and said sadly: ‘There are times when I fear you may be right.’
‘I wish I only feared it instead of being sure of it,’ said Rory with regret. ‘This is only the morning of the White Man’s Day, Majid. The sun hasn’t reached its zenith yet, and it won’t sink until every Western nation in turn has done its best to foist its own particular Message onto the older civilizations of the East. And by that time, the lesson will have been learned too well and there will be nowhere left in all the world where a man can escape from Progress and do what he damn’ well pleases – or find room to breathe in!’ (a conversation between Rory Frost and the Sultan, Majid)
Or this:
Somehow Hero did not think so, and for the first time it occurred to her that there were aspects of Western cities and Western civilization that might appear as ugly, crude and appalling to Eastern eyes as Zanzibar and some of its customs had appeared to her. (Hero's ruminations on Seyidda Salme, who has fallen in love with a young German man and fled to Europe to marry him).
And then, at other times, she seems sympathetic to the worst excesses of colonialism. Kaye herself was born in India, the daughter of a British officer in the Indian Army who was raised, first in India, and then in a British boarding school. She returned to India after completing school, and married a British army officer there, and ended up moving 27 times in 19 years, all over the world. 
I haven't even gotten to the characters yet, or the so-called romance, and this review is already incredibly long. But I do need to say a few things about them before I close this meandering collection of thoughts. It is rare in a book to see so much complexity in characters. Each of the main characters, in his or her own way, demonstrated remarkable growth throughout the course of events in this book. Hero, herself, is the most obvious of these - she grows from a young woman with all of the answers to a young woman with none of the answers, while assisting in a failed rebellion, being abducted and raped, and then, finally nursing abandoned or orphaned children through a cholera epidemic with no thought to her own health. Rory, as well, exhibits enormous growth of character, from a young man who cares only for revenge and money, to something more.
But, I have to talk about the relationship between Hero and Rory. Since I closed the book, I've thought about their reconciliation and their ultimate decision to be together, and it is really difficult for me to process, and here I will get a bit spoilery, so be warned.
Rory abducted and raped Hero in retaliation for Hero's fiance, Clay, raping a young slave, Zorah, who had borne him a child. And while the rape itself is not described graphically, there is no question but that this was a rape, not a so-called "forced seduction," as was fairly common in books of this vintage. There is a second night, as well, where the question of rape is somewhat less clear, but, nonetheless, I am going to assert that was a rape as well, as it is pretty clear that Hero did not consent on either occasion.
So, wow. Rape was a fairly common trope in books of this sort that were published in the 1970's, so if that is a deal breaker for you, dear reader, by all means skip this book. And, the idea that a woman would fall in love with, and agree to marry, the man who has abducted and raped her, even if he does feel really ashamed of it and even if she might've been developing warm feelings about him before he abducted and raped her, that is really a bridge too far for me, personally. But, on the other hand, the rape is really central to the narrative arc of this story, so while it is a deal breaker for me as far as Rory's character goes - no matter what, I can't root for the rapist - I am not sure that Kaye could've written this book without it.
This book raises so many questions for me, not the least of relates to writing fiction about abhorrent aspects of our shared historical past. What is the *right* way, if there is a right way, to handle that? Reading about characters who act or speak in concert prevailing attitudes that served to oppress women, native populations, black people or whoever the minority might have been is incredibly uncomfortable, and it can be perceived as defending those attitudes and practices themselves. But, at the same time, it is important to be historically accurate, and those attitudes and practices did prevail, and it does not help confront those attitudes to pretend that they didn't. As well, I do believe that it is important for authors to not shy away from tackling tough historical subjects. I would not say that this book glorifies the slave trade. But many of its characters do not condemn it. 
To sum up, this book is super, super problematic with elements of colonialism, comment on the slave trade, white savior narratives, and rape. And in spite of all of that, it is also complicated, well-written and absolutely riveting.

Reading progress update: I've read 178 out of 553 pages.

Trade Wind - M.M. Kaye

‘Blackguards? What sort of blackguards?’ enquired Hero, intrigued. ‘Adventurers. Black sheep. Runagates. Varmints like “Roaring Rory”.’ ‘Who is he? – a pirate? He certainly should be with a name like that!"


I am reading this on my kindle, and I suspect it will end up qualifying for the "rogue" square.


Like many books of this vintage, there are colonial aspects to it that have not worn well. I like Hero, though she definitely exemplifies the "white savior" narrative. On the other hand, her ostensible "love interest" at this point, Clayton, is just a douche.


"He did not let this worry him unduly, for there was, after all plenty of time. And with a girl of Hero’s temperament he knew that he would get there a deal faster by moving slowly. Once they were safely married, things would be very different."



A Slow Read of Emma

Emma (Annotated Edition) - David M. Shapard, Jane Austen

I usually read fast. More difficult books do take me longer, but as a general rule, I can read pretty much anything in six to seven days. When I embarked on a reread of Emma, I decided, initially, to listen to the audiobook and read along with my annotated copy. I was going to do a chapter a night.


I did that for a while, and then I got sidetracked with the reading of the annotated copy because I was working on some hand stitching while I listened. I kept to my original plan, however, of reading around a chapter a night - generally no more than 30 minutes. With Christmas putting a spoke in the wheels a bit, it took me just shy of two months to listen to this book. The audiobook was 16 hours 38 minutes long, and narrated by Juliet Stevenson, who has done a lot of classics. I thought she did a thoroughly serviceable job with the narration.


I've read Emma before. Listening to the book was - as it often is - an entirely different experience, and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. The slow read, as well, changed completely my perspective on several of the characters, most notably, Jane Fairfax. I've always been ambivalent about Jane, and with this slow read I've really come around. I wish we'd gotten more Jane. She is the true heroine of this book, I think, although it is told from the perspective of Emma.

I also, even, came around to the Frank Churchill/Jane Fairfax pairing. She is too good for him, but I'm convinced at this point that he knows it and that his knowing it will make him a better man. He's not quite so shallow as I believed. Only getting Frank Churchill from the flawed and superficial perspective of Emma, I wasn't ever really able to understand how the engagement to Jane Fairfax came about. I filed him in my mind under Willoughby and Wickham, which isn't a fair assessment. He is weak, but not inconstant. He's no Darcy, Knightley or Wentworth, but he's not a terrible man, either. Callow youth with potential is pretty much where I found myself with respect to his character at the end. 

Mrs. Elton remains screamingly hilarious, and the narrator did a terrific job with her character. She is an example of the negatives that exist in an immobile society where rank is established by birth and/or marriage, and not merit, delicacy of mind, or behavior, and she overestimates her positive qualities so consistently that she reaches the level of Lady Catherine in terms of caricatured self-satisfaction (with even less reason, since she's married to "Mr. E" and is not titled). Her constant blathering about "Maplegrove" is worthy of dramatic eyerolls - very similar to Mr. Collins with his "Rosings Park" nonsense. 


Emma's character flaws became much more apparent to me through the slow process of listening to the book, but they also became more forgivable, and her growth in insight was natural and commendable.  

I love this book - not quite so much as Pride and Prejudice, but it is second in my affection. I think I could read Jane Austen for the rest of my life and it would never grow tired.


Anyway, this was such a successful process that I decided to choose another classic to "slow read." I've been meaning to read Bleak House forever, so that is the one I've picked, to begin February 1. That audiobook is looong - between 34 & 38 hours - so I expect it will take me at least two months. If anyone is interested in a listen-along, let me know.


If anyone has any experience with any of the versions available on audible, let me know if you liked/disliked. The narrators available are: Simon Vance, Hugh Dickson, Peter Batchelor, Peter Killavey, Maurice Turner, and a version with two narrators (one male/one female) Sean Barrett and Theresa Gallagher. I had sort of hoped that there would be a narration by Gillian Anderson, since she played Lady Dedlock in the BBC adaptation, but no such luck. My plan is to sample all of them, and then choose the one that is the most promising.

Gone Girl In Fifty Shades of Grey (and not in a good way)

The Girl Before: A Novel - JP Delaney

I've actually grown to dislike this book more in the few days since I finished it.


Overhyped and underwhelmed.


Honestly, I should've known better. I mean, first of all, it had the word "Girl" in the title, which was a clue that it would be bandwaggoning the tail end of a trend. And then, once I finished reading it, I found Emily May's goodreads review that made the connection between this book and Fifty Shades of Grey.


Here is a list of all of the things I hated about this book:


1. Edward. His character was completely unconvincing. I haven't read FSoG and I have no plans to do so. However, that book has permeated the pop culture to the level that even I was able to draw the parallels between his character and Christian Grey. "I don't do traditional relationships," he purred, smoothly. "I'm coming over, and I'm going to take you to bed," he told her (completely out of the blue, by the way). If a man said that to me, I'd meet him at the door with a sledgehammer and a restraining order. Not that Jane would have a sledgehammer, since it's probably a violation of the preposterous rules that she agreed to before moving into the house to have a sledgehammer.

2. BDSM. Never have I been so unconvinced of spanking in a book. Never.

3. BDSM. When Emma called him "daddy" it literally came out of nowhere. The ultimate sexual non sequitur. Where in the hell did that come from?

4. Emma. Shut your fucking face you lying liar who lies. Honestly, she was one of the most unlikeable female characters in any book ever. She lied about everything. Everything that made her sympathetic turned out to be entirely false. There were three sociopaths in this book, and she was one of them. Are we supposed to like her? I'm unclear on this point.

5. Jane. She is basically the equivalent of that dumb blonde in a horror movie who hides behind the wall of whirling knives instead of running the fuck away while she can.

6. It's treatment of trauma was totally surface and entirely based on the author's idea of what some one who has experienced trauma might do.

7. The house itself was entirely creepy and no one would ever live there. People who are alive, and who are not wax statues, do things that create clutter and mess. Even the tidiest house will have, at a minimum, a family photo displayed. Living in that house would be like living in a mausoleum. No one would voluntarily live in a mausoleum before they had actually become a corpse.

8. The twist. I figured it out. Go away.

9. The dual narrations in opposing chapters. Tired. Trite. Been done.

10. The ending. Nice gimmick.


So, yeah, there really wasn't anything I liked about this book. I should've known better, really, than to buy it. But can this trend of unrealistic characters and their behaviors in "realistic" fiction be over now, please.


The Girl Before: A Novel - JP Delaney



“Were Emma and you lovers?”

“Does it make a difference?”

“No,” I say. Of course I mean yes.

“We had a brief affair,” he says at last. “It was over long before she died.”

“Was it…” I don’t know how to ask this. “Was it like this?”

He comes very close to me, holding my head in both hands, fixing me with his gaze. “Listen to me, Jane. Emma was a fascinating person,” he says gently. “But she’s in the past now. What’s happening right now, with us—this is perfect. We don’t need to talk about her again.”






I am struggling with this book. I initially liked it a lot, but it has grown tedious, and Edward is a freaking psychopath and I can't believe that Emma/Jane are so stupid that they can't figure it out. I want to shake them and yell at them to run.


You know that commercial, where the four teenagers are fleeing from a psychopath, and one of them suggests hiding behind the chainsaws? Yeah, that's this book.


This is me

Reading Obsidian Blue's status updates for Holly by Jude Deveraux:



Damn, that book sounds ridiculous!