Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Author Interview: Kathryn Craft

I met Kathryn Craft on the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Yahoo loop prior to the WFWA’s founding in September 2013. Check out her website—Kathryn Craft. Her wit and craft were evident from the start and her debut book—THE ART OF FALLING—was a revelation of what a writer can do with heart, creativity, and the desire to allow her characters to live damaged lives. True to life situations and emotions rule Kathryn’s story. 

One Wrong Step Could Send Her Over the Edge
All Penny has ever wanted to do is dance—and when that chance is taken from her, it pushes her to the brink of despair, from which she might never return. When she wakes up after a traumatic fall, bruised and battered but miraculously alive, Penny must confront the memories that have haunted her for years, using her love of movement to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.


Kathryn Craft's lyrical debut novel is a masterful portrayal of a young woman trying to come to terms with her body and the artistic world that has repeatedly rejected her. The Art of Falling expresses the beauty of movement, the stasis of despair, and the unlimited possibilities that come with a new beginning.

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ZM: If I could give THE ART OF FALLING ten stars, it might be enough. This is a spectacular story of one woman's struggle with her body as told through her connection to dance. I have no experience with dance, but I understood every nuance of the story told about movement. Kathryn, how did your experience with dance become the heart of your book and become the metaphor for Penny’s life?

Kathryn: Hi Zan Marie! I can’t tell you how much it means to me to think that my story has given insight into the joy of movement to many non-dancers. Like Penny, I found my “voice” through the wordless medium of dance. I had come to it late, when I was sixteen, so I was old enough to see its challenges as more than training the body. Dance was tilling my soul, and teaching me a new way of moving through the world—a metaphor with enough depth to power a novel, don’t you think? The dance world setting offered me layers of conflict that any reader can relate to, even if unfamiliar with the art form. We all have bodies that have at one point or another disappointed or betrayed us. While the pressures on Penny that affect her career are external; her relationship to movement was elemental. So when she survived her horrific fall, I knew that if she could lean hard enough on her training to remobilize, the dance might be able to save her.


ZM: I’ve classified THE ART OF FALLING as women’s fiction. Would you agree? Do you think women’s fiction is limiting for writers? Do you think book club fiction is a better classification for your books or do these two categories crossover? Do you have a favorite genre to write? 

 
Kathryn: I think the term “women’s fiction” is useful to the publishing industry. By branding our writing as having female protagonists on an emotional journey, we writers can target our work to the right agents and editors. The designation informs everything from the type of cover to the back cover copy in order to beckon the “right” reader to our work—but in its own sneaky way. Most of my readers have no familiarity with the term “women’s fiction” or any use for it.


“Book club fiction” resonates with me because it’s the only way I have of describing the great big world of disparate books that I love (some of which have male protagonists): lush writing that explores important topics from a variety of viewpoints, in a way that allows us readers to fully examine and embrace the paradoxes life poses. Plus I adore book clubs so much I have led several of them. Exploring important ideas presented in literature is such a great way to get to know other people and yourself. Add wine and snacks, and I’m in heaven!


The only classification that fails to help me is calling THE ART OF FALLING a “dance novel.” Perceptions like this were the main stumbling block to getting it published, since “dance novels” have not historically sold well. Because I agree with you, Zan Marie—this is a woman’s emotional journey, set in the dance world to make use of its high expectations of the female body. The trick was finding an agent and publisher who saw it that way, too.


ZM: Tell us about your next book. Is there a publication date for it yet? 

 
Kathryn: My next novel is The Far End of Happy, due out in May of 2015. By mid-November I’ll be holding an Advance Reader Copy! If that sounds like the excitement of a debut novelist, it kind of is. While it took me eight years to write THE ART OF FALLING, this novel was seventeen years in the making.


In October 1997 my family got caught up in events that still seem shocking to me, when my husband engaged a massive police presence in a suicide standoff on our idyllic little farm. Our sons were just eight and ten. Already a dance critic, I knew I’d one day write about this tragic day. But what would be its final form—memoir? Fiction? I had several memoir essays published (you can read one here), and wanted to stay close to what I knew to be true—but as my storytelling craft matured I realized that fiction has a way of capturing emotional truths even as details are manipulated. I’d always known that day’s events didn’t happen just to me, and that additional points of view would be the best way to convey this. When the notion of telling the story of the downfall of a family within the tight twelve-hour frame of the standoff came to me, I decided to pitch it to Sourcebooks as my option novel, and they jumped right on it.


ZM: Many craft books stress that writers must read and read a lot. Who is your favorite author, or what is your favorite genre? What draws you to a book you read for enjoyment?

 
Kathryn: I want important ideas, beautiful language, and deep perspective. A world I can enter into fully, which is a trick for someone who worked as a critic for nineteen years and has been a developmental editor for eight! I sample widely from best-selling literature and fear I have no one favorite author, but I wouldn’t need to even read the back cover copy before plunking down my money for a new book by Ann Patchett, Anna Quindlen, Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan, Janet Fitch, Roland Merullo, Wally Lamb, Khaled Hosseini, and Margot Livesey. Among others!


ZM: Finally, what questions do you wish interviewers would ask, but they never do?

 
Kathryn: What might readers be surprised to hear about your life as a published author?


Books change readers’ lives. We all know this. But I’m not sure readers realize the way they change an author’s life. That might start by purchasing and reading her book. Or by attending virtual or in-person events. Or by sponsoring events, whether a book club Skype visit or hosting a party and inviting friend they might think would like the book. Or by reaching out through email—like the man who picked it up at the library because of the cover and ended up wanting to shout from the rooftops about it because it was “so true,” or the 69-year-old ballroom dancer who gifted ten copies because he loved it so, or the discouraged dancers and artists and writers my story has bolstered. Readers can help build the author’s career by writing a brief review—believe me, I will never forget the woman who wrote, “If I could give The Art of Falling ten stars, it might be enough…” Or by inviting me on her blog—honestly, you just want to hug someone like that.
 

Authors go a lot of places and meet a lot of people. Sometimes names fade. But the soul of that reader that engages fully with your work, and tells you about it, leaves an imprint that is never, ever forgotten.

ZM: Thank you, Kathryn! 
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 Kathryn Craft is the author of THE ART OF FALLING, book club fiction debuted from Sourcebooks in January 2014. Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a career as a dance critic (Morning Call, Allentown, PA). Over the past decades she has served on the boards of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and the Philadelphia Writers Conference, and is now involved with the Women's Fiction Writers Association; she hosts writing retreats for women, and speaks often about writing. She is a monthly guest at Writers in the Storm with her series "Turning Whine into Gold," and a member of the Tall Poppy Writers. She lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA. Representation: Katie Shea Boutillier, Donald Maass Literary Agency. Follow her on social media at Kathryn Craft Author (Facebook) and @kcraftwriter (Twitter).

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Next Week: Mini Book Review! Come find a good book. You know you want to. ;-)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October Mini Book Reviews--K. Callihan, C. Holmberg, S. Meissner, L. Saville

{Note to followers: if you want an email when a new post goes up, go the the left column and subscribe for emails. Thanks.}

Just when you've run out of books...

I have a few for you to consider. There's something for every taste in this list. Enjoy!



THE PAPER MAGICIAN Charlie Holmberg: Older Middle Grades fantasy

 The Paper Magician is the story of a young magician apprentice and her journey through the heart as she learns the magic of folding. While I'd peg it as Upper Middle Grades, I think lovers of Harry Potter would enjoy it at any age.



EVERNIGHT Kristen Callihan: Historical Paranormal Steam Punk Romance

Kallihan's Darkest London series continues with her usual genre bending. The romance is on the side of steamy and the plot is a baroque as her readers have come to expect. Evernight takes two unlikely lovers and builds a tale of love, torment, sacrifice, and resilience.

A FALL OF MARIGOLDS Susan Meissner: Women's Fiction

If you haven't read any of Meissner's books, A Fall of Marigolds is a good place to start. Meissner is a master of stories with two setting--in this one we have a 9-11 widow and a nurse working at Ellis Island in 1911. A Fall of Marigolds is a beautiful story of two young women--Taryn and Clare--who must discover the freedom to love and be loved will never be found if we are stuck in between choices. This is a must read! I'd give it ten stars if I could.


HENRY AND RACHEL Laurel Saville: Literary Fiction

Henry and Rachel is an intensive character study told in eight POVs. The language is rich, detailed, and hypnotic. From the jungles of Jamaica to the cold apartments of New York, Henry and Rachel traces the story of Rachel and shines a light into a deeply repressed character.


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Next Week: Author Interview with Kathryn Craft!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

October Tip: The Main Characters Readers Hate

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Our main characters are important. (I can hear you, "How important are they?" ;-) Without them, our readers have no door into the story, no way to experience the plot and setting. There are many ways to craft these important people. (Yes, they are 'people'! If they aren't real, who would want to spend any time with them?)
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There are also a lot of ways to mess them up. Anne R. Allen has a great post on five ways writers mess up their Main Characters. If your MC falls into any of these categories, you need to rethink them.
  •  Mary Sue: The character who embodies the author's secret wish fulfillment. Readers find them too good to be true. And they're right.
  • The Special Victim: These characters are never at fault for their predicament and they're never the one who saves themselves. My take on this type of MC is to say 'ho hum.'
  • Perfect Pat: This character can do no wrong, reacts to everything with perfect gratitude, perfect skills, and is loved by everyone. Really? Again, this is a boring character.
  • Looky-Loo: When the protagonist is there to tell the story, never affecting the action, you have a Looky-Loo. The story would be better from a closer POV, in my opinion.
  • Literal Larry: This character is the one that tells every last event in their life until all the story is is one of unimportant, mundane action.
Now for the hard part? Just where in this list does our MC fall? I'll admit that my main character has been in danger of being Perfect Pat. I've had to dig into her dark side. Yes, my dear, sweet retired teacher has a dark side. She's a bit judgmental at times. She has a wicked temper that she doesn't manage to control all the time. And she's been known to blurt those little questions that we're never supposed to ask one another. Oops! And hurrah! Every time she falls into the less then perfect category, she grows another layer, another reason to cheer for her to climb back to her better self.

So, where does your MC fall? Are you looking at one of our feeble five? Or do you have a red-blooded person leading your story?

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Next Week: Mini Book Reviews with everything from women's and literary fiction to an upper middles grade tale. See you In the Shade! ;-)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

October Poem, Update

{Note to followers: if you want an email to reach you every time I post  go the the left column and subscribe for emails. Thanks. (Thanks, Ane M., for reminding me of this.)}

Welcome to the heart of Fall. At least that's how October always strikes me. With the leaves turning and the bright, clear blue skies, October shows Fall's sunny side. November won't be as forgiving. ;-)

So, in honor of the seasons turning, I thought this poem would be appropriate. 

In a Clean Mirror


Misty visage, abstract face,
Who is that person floating in space?
What impressions can I receive,
If obscuring clouds are all I perceive?

Is it Winter’s white crown embracing an old face?
Wrinkles and hollows showing
Serene wisdom finally in place?
Or only Autumn’s gaze glaring back,
Watching leaves fall and wither,
All hopes and dreams crumbling, black?
Or Summer’s sun shining on happy times?
Promise rising and growing,
Sounding clear joy as wind among chimes?
Or Spring’s happy, angelic grin,
Playing hide and seek
With fireflies lit by the cool flame within?

I wipe away the steam and blotches of old toothpaste.
Trying to separate the images I see is a waste,
For all the images are true.
In a clean mirror, forever’s the view.

--Zan Marie Steadham
September 2008



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WIP Update:
Mother's Day, the new name for the first of my Cherry Hill stories is moving along at  rapid pace. I'm already 129 pages into my edit/reread/hole filling. And, wonder of wonders, the holes are filling in nicely. New ideas spring to mind often and I think the story is beginning to really gel. Changing the focus to the new/old themes has been rewarding. 

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Next Week:
I have a discussion on the character types readers hate in Main Characters. You'll want to read it, I promise. It sure opened my eyes. ;-)

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Thanks for the feedback last week! It's been invaluable. I now know how to use Facebook and Twitter as a comment ID option. Just comment and read the message. ;-)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bonus Tuesday: Snip, An Update, and Input Request

{Note to followers: if you want an email to reach you every time I post, there's two ways. (Thanks, Ane M., for reminding me of this.) Either follow again or go the the left column and subscribe for emails. Thanks.}
 
 It's been an earthquake month in my writing world. My WIP is six and a half years old. Wouldn't you think it's about time I really understood the story? ;-) It started with a working title of MOTHER'S DAY. The basic story was of a recently widowed, retired teacher who was still aching over the fact that she is childless. When she meets an abused foster child, she begins a journey that leads her to become a foster and adoptive parent. Slowly it evolved into a story about abuse in all its various guises and the working title changed to FRIENDLY FIRE.

This month I attempted writing a synopsis and ran into to a huge problem--I had too much story for one book. ;-) And so, with the help of some friends, I revamped and rejuvenated the original theme and MOTHER'S DAY is on again. Now my Cherry Hill series has grown to a potential list of five books centering on the Chandler and Talley families.

I thought I'd get your input on the one paragraph "back cover" version of MOTHER'S DAY:

 Newly widowed retired teacher, Laura Grace Chandler's long-buried ache of childlessness is becoming an open sore. But after meeting Samantha Smith, an abused foster child, she finds that abuse is rampant in her hometown. And she’s at ground zero.  Though Laura Grace isn’t a mother, she knows the look of a child whose parents are missing in action; she’s seen hundreds of children in this position during her thirty years of teaching. Samantha has all the signs. As she gets to know the girl, Laura Grace is drawn to be the mother this child needs.  But to dive into the breach and become this child’s shield, she must open herself to heartache—again.


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I'd love some more input from you, my loyal readers. Since I've been doing the new topic rotation at The Shade (June, July, August, and September) I've noticed that author interviews get the most page views. Mini book reviews and snips weeks come in second. The tips week is lagging behind. 

Comments on the actual blog have been lagging. Though, comments on Facebook and Twitter have been growing. I've been working on promotion through those two outlets and Google + as well. Though, now that I've found the answer to "How do you add share buttons to the bottom of each post?" I'm hoping traffic picks up.

So, what do you think? Is the new schedule working? Do you have any suggestions? Please give me some feedback either here In The Shade, on Facebook, on Twitter (#InTheShade), or at Google +. I can't wait to see what you think?

Speaking of blog posts, check out Rachelle Gardner's post on "13 Simple Tips for a Better Blog"

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Next week: Snips!
Peek-a-Boo!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

September Author Interview--Lara Lacombe

Lara Lacombe is one of my Forum, blogging, and Facebook friends. Her romantic suspense stories are quick and enjoyable. Check out here blog HERE.

IT'S A RACE AGAINST TIME—AND A FATAL OUTBREAK—IN THIS THRILLER OF A DEBUT
In one passionate night, Special Agent James Reynolds and scientist Kelly Jarvis went from friends to lovers. Then Kelly walked away with only an apology. Now James is charged with solving a bioterrorist attack—and Dr. Jarvis works at the suspected lab.


Is Kelly an accomplice or a victim? Just what are her secrets that drove her from James's bed? Soon one thing becomes clear: the ghosts of her past have nothing on the terrorists targeting her and Washington, D.C. Another threat bathes the city in red alert, and now there are lives at stake, in addition to hearts….

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Torn between duty and desire, two strangers must risk all for love. 


Nuclear physicist Dr. Claire Fleming has one rule: never get close to anyone. But when her colleague is murdered and she's targeted next, she must place all her trust in FBI agent Thomas Kincannon. Soon Claire forgets her tenet as she fantasizes about Thomas's touch.
Thomas is wildly attracted to Claire. But his life and his job are too complicated for any romantic entanglements. Despite this, they share a mind-blowing kiss, and there's no turning back. When Thomas's niece is abducted, the stakes become dangerously higher as Claire insists he trade her for the child. Somehow, Thomas must find a way to rescue his family and protect the woman who let her protective walls down just for him.

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ZM: Your novels are delightful, tense romps! I find I can’t put them down. What draws you to romantic suspense?

Lara:  Thank you, Zan Marie!  I’m so happy to hear you enjoy them!

One of the things that drew me to romantic suspense is the inherent conflict in these stories.  Conflict is such an important element of a good story, and with romantic suspense, there’s generally one or two external conflicts driving the plot.  Plus, it’s really easy for characters to get into trouble, and that’s always fun as well.

ZM: Your heroines are all so brainy. How has your personal connection to science helped you develop your leading ladies?


Lara:
I think being a scientist has made it easier for me to get into my heroine’s heads.  I think most people don’t know what it’s like to be a practicing scientist, and it’s gratifying to hear that readers enjoy getting to know a character who has a somewhat unusual job.  Plus, as a professor, I always try to make sure that I get my details correct so that people can (hopefully) learn something new.

ZM: What was your path from drafting the first book to publication? Who is your agent? How did the contract with Harlequin come about?


Lara: Oh, man.  Do you want the short or the long version?

Basically, I started to write DEADLY CONTACT in 2011, and I attended the RWA National conference in 2012.  At that point, I had a full draft of fifty thousand words, and I was looking to pitch to Harlequin.  I met with an editor at the conference, and she told me that the word limit for the line I was hoping to sell to had just been expanded to 75K.  Cue my heart dropping.   Fortunately though, she asked me to send the manuscript to her and she’d take a look.  I did, and a few months later she emailed me with a list of issues to fix and an invitation to resubmit.  It took me a while, but I addressed all her points and sent the book back in.  I was gearing up for another wait, but she contacted me after a week and made an offer!

At this point, I started to panic.  I didn’t have an agent, and had just started seriously looking for one.  Amara Royce (another Forum friend!) mentioned that her agent, Jessica Alvarez with BookEnds, was acquiring, so earlier in the week I had sent her an email.  When I got the offer from Harlequin, I sent her a series of increasingly panicked messages.  Fortunately, she didn’t hold my crazy against me and she responded.  We chatted for a bit, and I really liked her.  I signed with her and she took over the legalese from there!

ZM: Many craft books stress that writers must read and read a lot. Who is your favorite author, or what is your favorite genre? What draws you to a book you read for enjoyment?


Lara: My favorite author?  I’m not sure where to begin…

Seriously though, there are so many authors I admire.  Diana Gabaldon, Jim Butcher, Larry McMurtry, Joanna Bourne, Christopher Brookmyre, Geraldine Brooks, Charlaine Harris.  The list goes on and on.  Romance is my first love, but I’ll read in just about any genre.

The thing that draws me is story.  If the story is good, I’m hooked.  Writing is second—I love a well-crafted sentence, and I learn so much from reading good writing.  I try to take the lessons I absorb and apply them to my own work.  I’m not sure how successful I am, but the nice thing is I can always get better.

ZM: Tell us about what’s next for your books?


Lara: My third book, LETHAL LIES, will be released this December.  I’m also happy to report that I just signed another 2-book contract with Harlequin Romantic Suspense, which means additional books next year!  I’m really excited to share these stories, and I hope people enjoy reading them!

Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Zan Marie!


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What do you want to ask Lara about her books?

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 Lara Lacombe earned her Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology and worked in several labs across the country before moving into the classroom. Her day job as a college science professor gives her time to pursue my other love--writing fast-paced romantic suspense.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

September Mini Book Review--Ev Bishop, L.A. Heller, S. Monk Kidd, T. Walsh

Here's a healthy dose for reading with the rain sets in. Enjoy!



BIGGER THINGS Ev Bishop--Women's Fiction

Bishop deftly deconstructs all the faulty self-images women fall prey to, especially the ones associated with body image. All three of her focal characters have a secret and are fully rounded, understandable, and growing. This is a lovely read.




 THE NEVER NEVER SISTERS L. Alison Heller--Women's Fiction
 No two people grow up in the same family--even if it's the same one. The Never Never Sisters is a good exploration of this idea. Good read.


 THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES Sue Monk Kidd--Literary Woman's Fiction

Kidd conjures up a magical coming of age story that takes a deep look at the feminine divine. The collection of images of bees and women is intense and powerful. This is a must read.

THE MOON SISTERS Therese Walsh--Women's Fiction
This is a complex story that follows Olivia and Jazz Moon through the stages of grief. Neither sister has the complete picture. The Moon Sisters is a deeply felt read that will stick with you.

Which of these good reads catches your eyes the most?
 
Happy Reading! Next week I'll introduce you to Lara Lancomb, a romantic suspense author. ;-)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

September Writing Tip Week: How To Start Your Novel

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We all know that the first 250 words of our novels can make or break getting an agent, publisher--but most of all--readers. So, how do we make sure our beginnings are pulling readers in? Thanks to the weekly Industry News from Women's Fiction Writers Association, I found a great blogpost on Anne R. Allen's blog. In it her guest, Janice Hardy, analyzed four failings of opening pages.
  1. Having too much backstory and information
  2. Crafting a one-dimensional scene
  3. Using a fake opening
  4. Having a lazy protagonist
Our next step is to analyze the way we usually open. I have to admit I'm most prone to including too much backstory and information. Cutting out the fat and saving it for later is a challenge. Thankfully, I've been a member of writing groups who have helped me see all the necessary bits that needed to be cut. My buddies at the Books and Writers Forum have been the victims readers of many of my failed attempts. 

So, I invite you to weigh in. What do you think about the first 250 words of FRIENDLY FIRE?

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A cloud of sweet baby powder tickled my nose as Jen’s daughter Kayleigh helped a toddler to the serving tables. I hugged my arms to keep from grabbing the child from the teen and burying my nose in his bright silky hair. So many little foster children and none of them would spend Mother’s Day with their moms tomorrow.
 

How many times had my best friend Rosemary told me I needed to get out and back into the swing of things? Her constant concern chafed like a new shirt.
 

The foster family respite party wasn’t what she had in mind. All these poor children. So, what had I been thinking to choose this party of all places? Yet, here I was, pushing cookies, home-baked of course, on grade-school kids at the church’s foster family party.
 

Though I wasn't a mother, I knew the look of children whose parents were MIA. The tall thin blond at the end of the table was a poster child for them all. Her shoulders hunched as the noise of little children at play ricocheted off the fellowship hall’s block walls. Of course she was a foster child, too. But, unlike the others, she wasn’t playing. She didn’t even have a plate of goodies. Her only movement came from her curls that were caught in the current from the air conditioning.

My Tom, God rest his soul, would have sat cross-legged on the floor playing games with the kiddies or giving piggy back rides like some of the men were. We’d poured out our love on other people’s children for over thirty years in our classrooms. Now all I could do for them was bake cookies for them.

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Here's another nifty link for you. Check out The Secret of How to Make Your Book Un-PutDown-able.

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Next Week: September Mini Book Reveiws!