Doug Johnstone: Breakers Wednesday, Jun 12 2019 

A strikingly rich thriller that shows the pull of family in different directions underlines Doug Johnstone’s stunning Breakers.

A dysfunctional family to the hilt underscores the story, living in one of Edinburgh’s remaining tower estates, home to Tyler and his family of half-siblings, an addicted mum, and a lovely younger sister, Bean, whom Tyler wants more than anything to protect.

Forced to accompany his older siblings on their string of robberies in more affluent neighborhoods, it’s clear Tyler is only making money to put food on the table. Along the way he meets Flick, from another lifestyle entirely. She is the beam of goodness in Tyler’s life, the one who understands his situation and sees his inner strengths.

Then during one of their jobs, the wife of a crime lord interrupts them and Tyler’s brother stabs the woman and leave her for dead. Soon they are all on the run: from the police, from the crime lord, and for Tyler, maybe even from his older brother with the psychotic streak.

This is an unflinching look at a life lived in the squalor of the estates, which is matched by the gang and abusers who people it. Toxic people come in many forms, and the characterizations here are rich and harrowing. It’s a story you can easily imagine on the big screen, unfolding like a movie you can’t stop watching.

John DeDakis: FAKE Monday, Jun 10 2019 

FAKE is John DeDakis’s newest entry in his Lark Chadwick thriller series with a look inside the Beltway that will seem all too believeable.

Auntie M liked Lark as a character, and readers will, too: feisty and smart, she’s nevertheless aware of her own shortcomings and foibles, and still in the midst of deciding what she wants to be when she grows up.

Reeling from a series of losses that would decimate a lesser woman, Lark is currently working as a White House correspondent when First Lady Rose Gannon agrees to a set of interviews that will form the basis for a biography Lark plans to write.

Rose has already told Lark off the record of her pancreatic cancer, with Lark agreeing to hold that news for now. Then during one of her interviews, Rose collapses and dies suddennly, leaving the new President and his two young children dealing with their grief just as a serious international issue springs to light and he must try to avert a nuclear war.

Soon Lark has an interview with a fascinating job offer dangled in front of her with another network owned by a woman she’s considered an idol. When that idol turns out to have clay feet, the aftermath will affect Lark in ways she could never imagine, with tendrils affecting everyone she cares for. Suddenly Lark finds herself on the wrong side of a thirsty media frenzy.

Who’s behind it all and the lengths will they go to to secure the prize they want form the mystery part of this gripping ride.

This is a clear-eyed look at the supposed line journalists walk every day, juggling their personal feelings with fast-breaking news while trying to figure out the truth from the fake news we all hear about these days. Fast-pacing means the reader is in for one quick ride, with surprising results.

DeDakis has a good handle on writing emotions, too, which allows the reader to connect with all of the main characters here. Calling on his own experience as a former White House correspondant and Senior Copy Editor for CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer,” DeDakis brings a view of reality mixed with tidbits of behind-the-scenes information to the reader that make this mystery a standout.

Ragnar Jonasson: The Island Saturday, Jun 1 2019 

Jonasson’s second Icelandic series with its compelling protagonist, Detective Inspector Hulda Hermansdottir, returns with its second installment in The Island.

The time period is set earlier than in last year’s The Darkness and its startling ending. It’s 1987 when the book opens with the details of a new young couple’s romantic but secret trip to the isolation of the Westfjords, a trip that ends in disaster when the young woman is found dead.

A decade later, four friends have a reunion to honor their dead friend, reconnecting with a trip to an old hunting lodge in an even more isolated area of southern Iceland. Cut off from the outside world for the weekend, only three will survive.

Hulda is determined to find the culprit, which means she must explore the history behind the initial investigation into the young woman’s death. She needs to explore the relationships between all of the principal’s involved, some of which had drastic and tragic results, as well as the way in which the investigation itself was handled by her police colleagues.

What she finds will reveal long held secrets that have ramifications for several families as well as Hulda herself.

With the dark, foreboding setting an adjunct character, Jonasson makes the most of Hulda’s tragic life and frustrations as she finds herself looking into the deepest recesses of the darkness that lurks within us. Masterful look into the human psyche.

Three for Me: Susan Hill; Aline Templeton; Sophie Hannah Sunday, May 26 2019 

Despite receiving multiple books for review, Auntie M often buys books she wants to read and these three were from her spring crop, presented her for your Memorial Day reading pleasure. All three rate high marks are from some of Auntie M’s favorite authors, so if you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting their acquaintance, dive in now! Highly recommended!!


After an absence that seemed far too long, Susan Hill brings us a new Chief Superintendant Simon Serrailer mystery with The Comforts of Home.

After the horrendous ending to The Soul of Discretion, one could have wondered if we would see Serrailler again, but here he is, adjusting to a new life after his near-fatal injuries, which provides a shocker of an opening. Without melodrama, Serarrailler must learn to cope with his new situation, an enormous adjustment.

His recuperation on a small Scottish island is cut into when the local police ask him to become invovled in a murder inquiry. Despite being relatively new to the island, the popular victim is mourned after being found in unusual circumstances and the death creates a wave of fear that sweeps through the isolated community.

A second case, a cold case assigned by Serrailler’s new brother-in-law, brings its own thorny situation. Now married to his doctor sister, Cat, Kieron Bright relies on Serrailler’s insights, even as Cat struggles with her new marriage and an important professional decision. Her children’s futures are an additional strain on Serrailler, as is his understandably thorny relationship with his father.

This is not a fast-paced thriller, but a superb meditation on loss, family, change, and home, wrapped up in two mysteries that must be untangled. Serrailler heals his mind as well as his body with walks, meditating on his future, his new abilities, and of course, solving the cases.

Aline Templeton’s new detective, after the wonderful DI Fleming series, is DCI Kelson Strang of the Serious Rural Crime Squad in Scotland. His second outing in Carrion Comfort cements this character as strong enough to carry his weight even as he feels his way in this new position.

The small village of Forsich retains many of the old habits, which come with old lingering hatreds, too, and none is stronger than that of Gabrielle Ross, blamed for her father’s destruction of the village.

But whether the woman is benign or evil is something Strang must decide when the body of a drowning victim is found being eaten ravens in aruined croft house. Who bothered to put the body there?

Gabrielle is recovering after losing a baby with her devoted husband, but is she also losing her mind? With her sanity at question, and the villager’s loathing for her, Gabrielle is in tenuous position with fingers pointing at her as the culprit after the blowback from her dead father’s failed local business venture.

Templeton weaves in the social conflicts of modern Britain, from law enforcement budget cuts to the impact of vulture capitalism on small towns. Her descriptions of the local landscapes and the natural environment bring it to life as another character that has its own part to play in the life cycle of this rural area.

Different from the Fleming mysteries, these are edgier characters and there is a darker tone. Strang is still settling into his job, although he’s provided with a female DC who needs his tutoring and should become a series regular. The locals take center stage, with flawed characters whose grudges propel the narrative even as they blind themselves to reality.

Sophie Hannah’s Hercule Poirot is magnificently resurrected under Hannah’s skillful writing in The Mystery of Three Quarters, which starts off with Poirot immediately put on the wrong foot after arrving home from a luncheon to find a woman angrily demanding to know why he sent her a letter accusing her of murder.

Of course, Poirot has done no such thing, and the man the letter accuses Sylvia Rule of killing, one Barnabas Pandy, is someone neither Sylvia nor Poirot have ever met. As if that’s not enought to shake his equanimity, he finds another visitor waiting, claiming to have a received a similar letter from Poirot, accusing him of murdering Pandy.

It’s a lively premise and one Poirot, completely innocent, yet annoyed at being dragged into this farce, must get to the bottom of as eventually there will be four letters, seemingly from Poirot, and yes, Pandy is indeed dead, but not under suspicious circumstances.

Poirot’s “Hastings” in this series is Scotland Yard’s Edward Catchpool, whom Poirot enlists to look into each of the four people who’ve received forged letter, as well as Pandy and his seemingly innocuous death. Several secondary characters contrast nicely to Poirot; the three quarters of the title refers to a ‘church window’ cake that plays an important part in helping solve the case.

This is an elegant mystery, one that takes its due from Christie’s knack for inspecting the English way of doing things as well as keen insights into human nature. While allowing Hannah her own way of telling us these new Poirot cases, nothing of Christie’s original character is lost and, indeed, rests well in Hannah’s most capable hands. A sheer delight.

Katherine Hall Page: The Body in the Wake Wednesday, May 8 2019 

Katherine Hall Page is having a silver anniversary! The publication of her 25th Faith Fairchild mystery this week brings a new release to the well-loved series with The Body in the Wake. Don’t miss this addition, set in Maine, where the catering sleuth is supposed to be on vacation and helping to plan the wedding of her friend’s daughter.

Relaxing goes out the window when Faith finds a body while swimming. Caught in the reeds in the Lily Pond, the strange tattoo on the victim her first clue that something shocking has invaded her little corner of the world at Sanpere Island.

Addressing a real issue in our country on a smaller level brings home the drama and distress of the nationwide opiod crisis, while Faith ends up digging into what’s behind it all. There will be time for cooking and recipes, too, in another delightful installment from the double Agatha Award winner and recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from Malice Domestic.

Auntie M recently had a chance to ask Page about her books and the long-running series:

Auntie M: Congratulations on THE BODY IN THE WAKE, number 25 in this popular series. How do you keep Faith Fairchild as a series character fresh?

Katherine Hall Page: One of the joys of writing this long ongoing series—something that continues to amaze me—is the opportunity to follow Faith and family across many years, a lifetime in effect. As in our own lives, what happens, both good and bad, creates a fresh dynamic in each book. When it became apparent that this was going to be a series, I alternated the locales every other book as a way to keep the series fresh as well. There are the Aleford books, as is the first, The Body in the Belfry, set in Faith’s hometown west of Boston and then the “Someplace Else” books, set in Maine, Vermont, Savannah, New York City, Norway, and France.

AM: You chose your Maine setting for this one, Sanpere Island where the Fairchild’s have their summer home. It’s obvious that you have a deep affection for the area. Can you explain to readers why this setting has such significance for you?

KHP: I grew up in northern New Jersey, but starting in 1958 my parents decided that it made sense to drive north for twelve + hours with three kids for Dad’s precious vacation to Deer Isle, Maine despite living a short drive from the very beautiful Jersey shore! Before the war they had been camp counselors near Camden, Maine and fell in love with Penobscot Bay. They bought a small piece of land on a cove in the early 1960s and built a cottage. I’ve been on the island for part of every summer, and since my parents are buried there in a lovely cemetery with room for the rest of us, plan to be there a long time. As native Mainers say, “Just because a cat has kittens in the oven, doesn’t make them biscuits”, I will never be a “native”, but it’s where my heart is and I’m now living in our cottage for 4 months of the year. As a setting, the island is not only stunning, but abounds with tales!

AM: You’re not afraid to tackle the deepening drug crisis in this book. What made you decide to have that theme when there’s also the anticipation of a summer wedding in the action?

KHP: First of all, I have a deep seated dislike for what I call “Soapbox Mysteries” in which the author has a point of view, social, political or otherwise, that gets rammed down the reader’s throat to the detriment of all else such as plot, setting characters etc. I wanted to write about the drug crisis on the island and by extension everywhere else, but did not want to preach or have it get in the way of the story.

But it is the story today and a grim one growing worse. We all have friends and family who have fallen victim to various addictions. By telling just one I wanted to put a face on the problem. In this book, a young woman, Arlene, becomes dependent as a result of prescription medicine she was legally given for pain after a car accident. I also did want to slip in information about medically assisted treatment and also the fact that there are no simple turnarounds. Addicts relapse. This doesn’t make them bad people or criminals. It makes them human and we need to cherish them. And weddings are times of great emotion, plus so much fun to write about!

AM: Your characters are your extended family by now, as you’ve carved lives for them and written of their growth. Do you plot this growth ahead or as you start each book? Do you have an over-arching story arc for any of them for their futures that you envision?

KHP: I think about the Fairchild family even when I am not looking at a computer screen. They have become very real to me. Now I wish I were one of those writers who say their characters take on lives of their own and write themselves, but I did not receive a draught of that potion. That said I ask myself that essential for all writers question, “What if?” and think about it in regard to this family.

What if Tom and Faith start to have problems in their marriage? What form would it take? What if son Ben is not the target of a bully, but joins the bullying group? What if daughter Amy fails to recognize the obvious signs that something more than an allergy is causing her employer’s stuffed up nose? Much of what I think about the Fairchilds never makes it into any of the books, but informs all of them. Not perfect people, thank goodness, but people I think we’d like to know. The story, the essential part of each book, grows from the characters and I have to make sure they don’t get in the way with too much detail—or not enough.

AM: Close friends are important to the Fairchilds and have become repeat characters. Yet you seamlessly weave in the ones we probably won’t see again, such as the Childs and the Cranes, with several surprises there. How much outlining do you do before plunging into the writing?

KHP: In the past I outlined extensively, but found I wasn’t using them so much as other methods. I think it’s Harlan Coben who answered one of his children with “Daddy’s working” when he was just sitting and staring out the window. Before I write a single word there’s much walking around, thinking in the shower, and especially during that time just before sleep. I know it doesn’t look like I am working, but I am.

I know where the book will take place since I alternate locales and always write a very lengthy synopsis that goes to my editor who may make a suggestion or two. Then I write the book. I use those notebooks from France with the small grids to keep my messy handwriting legible and start with a list of characters. I think of them as a kind of ensemble troupe with the leads, the Fairchilds, permanently cast and then others come and go. Some never cross the stage again, but the Millers, Ursula Rowe and Millicent Revere McKinley almost always make an appearance. That’s why the wedding was such a joy to include. Everyone was invited.

Last word: the villains in the story, the alive ones, never return for an encore!

AM: What forms the germ of a plot idea for a new story?

KHP: Back to process. The synopsis forms the skeleton of the book and it may, and does, change over the course of writing it (always the hard part). I keep lists of characters with a few words describing them on that first page of the notebook, followed by pages of a timeline and list of chapters with brief descriptions about what is happening in them as I go along. The timeline helps me keep the days straight, so if a week has passed, Faith doesn’t say, “Yesterday, I….”

I also keep a list of first and last lines by chapter so each does not start with “Faith woke up.” and end with “She heard a mysterious noise…” However, that last line has to make the reader keep turning to the next chapter and stay up all night. Plot ideas come from all sorts of sources, especially eavesdropping (I have no shame and my husband is used to being shushed in restaurants if there is something juicy being said at the next table. Also women say fascinating things in restrooms to each other when they think all the stalls are empty!).

My favorite description of the writing process comes from Madeleine L’Engle: “It’s like taking dictation from one’s imagination.”

AM: The recipes included at the back are a hallmark of your stories. Do you taste test them all? (I’m trying the Blueberry Buckle soon!)

KHP: The recipes are the most difficult parts of the books to write. I start them often a book ahead, knowing where the setting will be. They must all be original—can’t just open Julia and copy—and they need to be easy—not caterer types—require no expensive or exotic ingredients, and most all off taste delicious. The recipes in the Body in the Wake are summer ones, most Down East favorites with Faith’s spin on them. Fortunately I love to cook.

AM: Can you give readers a clue as to what lies ahead for Faith and her family?

KHP: Observant readers will have noted that Faith and Tom are aging much more slowly than their children (joy of fiction-I can do this, unlike one’s own march through the years). When the first book came out, a dear friend, the late William Deeck, who knew more about the genre than anyone I’ve ever known, advised keeping the children in the wings and avoid cuteness. I’ve stuck by this, but now that they are older, they are jumping in more, as in Amy in this book. So that’s a direction. And I do love Sophie Maxwell who was introduced in The Body in the Birches and now appears in a third book.

AM: -Whose books would we find on your nightstand? Which of your colleagues books you eagerly anticipate reading?

KHP: First my colleagues. I have always been a fan of Margaret Maron’s and was devastated when she stopped the Deborah Knott series. Also Dorothy Cannell—The Thin Woman is reread often to keep me from getting too depressed by world events. I also read Peter Robinson, Charles Todd, Harlan Coben, Ian Rankin, all the Scandinavians. Very different books from the kind I write. I also go back to vintage mysteries—Christie, Sayers, Mary Stewart, Rex Stout, Patricia Moyes, people like Joan Coggin, reprinted by Rue Morgue Press and all their other titles.

I read a great deal outside the genre as well. Right now, Maeve Brennan’s The Springs of Affection Dublin Stories. I enjoy Irish fiction, old and new, plus all the titles from Persephone Books, which reprints neglected fiction and nonfiction, mostly by women starting in the mid-twentieth century https://www.persephonebooks.co.uk/

Also YA- Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczko is an amazing new discovery. Love Lois Lowry, Cynthia Voigt, Angie Thomas. And always delve into a Neil Gaiman and Gregory Maguire. There is usually a thick biography in the stack, right now The Chief by David Nasaw (William Randolph Hearst). I read cookbooks with no intent on having to make the food, but just to read them for pleasure. Also food memoirs. Oh, and I totally need frequent doses of British chicklit—Sophie Kinsella, Katie Ffjorde and on our shores, the incomparable Mary Kay Andrews (great mysteries as Kathy Trocheck too). And cannot forget my most favorite— Nancy Mitford! Phew!

AM: Thank you, Katherine, for this enlightening look into your world. Readers will certainly enjoy The Body in the Wake

Elly Griffiths: The Stone Circle Tuesday, May 7 2019 


Elly Griffith’s returns with her eleventh Dr Ruth Galloway mystery, The Stone Circle. For readers waiting anxiously for plot threads from the two previous books, some questions will be answered, but many interesting things raised in this knockout addition to the series that Val McDermid calls “One of my favourite current series.”

Readers return to the Saltmarsh that started the series off, when Ruth uncovers the bones of a young girl in a henge, or stone circle, not far from the original one in The Crossing Places. At the same time, DCI Nelson, her daughter’s father, receives an anonymous letter that highly resembles those he received during that first case.

But the writer of those first letters is dead. So who is writing this new set, and how are they connected to a decades-old cold case of a missing girl presumed dead?

When a new death occurs, all possible suspects will be scrutinized, and as things heat up in the case for Nelson, he makes a difficult personal decision, while Ruth, for the first time, considers making changes in her daily life.

Griffith’s has always had Ruth’s engaging voice contain the wry humor of someone we wish we could be friends with–a pragmatist who eschews much of the romanticism others covet, yet she yearns for something else in her life. Kate, the daughter she shares with Nelson, provides a continuing link besides their cases, and gives a counterpoint to the cases they investigate.

This series is one many writers list among their favorites, with good reason. Readers anxiously await the next installment of each book for the tight plots as much as the network of characters they have come to love and follow. With her strong sense of setting as the backdrop, the riveting plot and original characters make this an easy one to call “highly recommended.”

Death at the Dakota: Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries 2 Wednesday, May 1 2019 

Auntie M is happy to announce that her second Trudy Genova Manhattan Mystery. DEATH AT THE DAKOTA, is out and availabLe on Amazon.com in trade paperback and soon to be in Kindle. Coming in Audible later this summer, too, read by the wonderful Lucinda Gainey, Dakota is already garnering 5-Star reviews.

Part procedural, part cozy, Death at the Dakota is a well-crafted and highly entertaining mystery.- Bruce Robert Coffin, #1 bestselling author of the Detective Byron mysteries.

Nurse Trudy Genova is making plans to take her relationship to NYPD detective Ned O’Malley to the next level, when she lands a gig as medical consultant on a film shoot at the famed Dakota apartment building in Manhattan, which John Lennon once called home. Then star Monica Kiley goes missing, a cast member turns up dead, and it appears Trudy might be next. Meanwhile Ned tackles a mysterious murder case in which the victim is burned beyond recognition. When his investigations lead him back to the Dakota, Trudy finds herself wondering: how can she fall in love if she can’t even survive?

Readers of Death Unscripted, the first book in the Trudy Genova Manhattan Mystery series, will find the same pleasures in this sequel: fast pacing, engaging characters, twists and turns on the way to a satisfying close. Once again M.K. Graff reveals her talents in crafting this delightful mix of amateur sleuth and police procedural.

I fell in love — not only with co-protagonists, Trudy and Ned, the richly detailed and historic setting of The Dakota, and the unique cast of characters, but with the unusual plot of Death at the Dakota. Sherry Harris, Agatha Award nominated author of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries.

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Shirley Rousseau Murphy: Cat Chase the Moon Friday, Apr 26 2019 

Readers know that any series that can stretch to its 21st installment must have a good following for a resason. Shirely Rousseau Murphy’s Cat Chase the Moon brings her Joe Grey cozies back with a new case that will involve the entire cat community, those that speak and those that don’t.

If you haven’t read a Joe Grey book yet, now’s the time to get acquainted with Joe and his partner, Dulcie, and their brood. Able to speak to several humans who keep their secret, Joe and Dulcie prowl around their town of Molina Point when their teenaged kitten Courtney goes missing. Stolen by Ulrich Seaver and ensconed in his pretty antique shop, Courtney doesn’t understand at first that her pampering days will soon lead to something far more dangerous. Soon the entire town in involved in a cat hunt for the pretty missing calico.

At the same time, a young woman is discovered in a shallow grave, left for dead. She’s rescued in time to be saved, and while under police protection, gives details of a theft ring that ties in to a family in town known for their spectacular domestic arguments. Unfortunately, a young girl is lost in the middle of these hostile parents who had managed to arouse angry feelings in their neighbors. But how far do their activites go beyond their own troubles?

Joe is the one who understands how these disparate threads are woven together as the humans investigate with a little help from their feline friends. Perfect reading for cat lovers, fans of Mandy Morton’s Hettie Bagshot series, or anyone looking for an inside look into the world of cats who can talk, framed in a cozy mystery from the author who has received eleven national Cat Writers’ Association medals for Best Novel of the Year.

Kjell Ola Dahl: The Courier Sunday, Mar 24 2019 

Kjell Ola Dahl’s The Courier starts out in Oslo, where in 1942 a young Jewish courier, Ester, escapes the Gestapo and the horrors of Auschwitz.

Turid is the young daughter of Ester’s best friend, Ase, murdered after Ase helped Ester flee to Sweden. And then there is Falkum, Ase’s husband, baby Turid’s father, and years later, Ester’s lover?

With the action alternating between events of the time, and now with Turid almost grown, the plot resonates with emotion in each period. The complex story never loses the reader yet brings the horrors of WWII to the forefront and it reverberations to so many.

It is an accomplished writer who can combine the tragedies of historical fiction with what is essenntially a murder mystery. The thriller aspects of each time period, the 1940s, the 1960s and the close present, are highly articulated and create a visual and cinematic timeline.

Dahl does a great job keeping the tension up as the narrative threads become increasingly intertwined and the truths of each era become apparent. The jumps in this timeline, far from disturbing, feel natural as the characters are well developed both in physical appearance and the way they change over the years.

The pace continues to pick up, from the opening when Ester sees her father being arrested, to the climax as the story becomes increasingly gripping.

A solid, dark mystery with elegant prose, Dahl won two award for The Courier when it was first published before being translated into English.

Three Thrillers: Berry, Margolin,Ryan Sunday, Mar 10 2019 

For your reading pleasure this March, as the rains come and the winds blow: three thrillers certain to keep your mind off the weather! Watch this spot for Margolin and Ryan later this week!

Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone thriller, The Malta Exchange, has been compared to Brown’s The Da Vinci Code with its ties to the Vatican, but it has a more complex plot that will capture your attention.

Malone sure does get around, and readers have to hope Berry and his wife, who are co-founders of History Matters, a non-profit that preserves historic sites, manage to get in some travel to the places Malone does when Berry is doing research for a new novel.

In Italy on Lake Como, Malone is trying to track letters between Churchill and Mussolini. Having disappeared in 1945, these could literally change our experience of the history of that time. But as if that alone is not enough of a storyline, of course Malone is not the only one who’s on their trail.

This is all happening at the same time a conclave is in progress to elect a new pope. Kastor Cardinal Gallo, however, is off looking for a document in Malta that stretches back to the 4th Century, but are his motives pure?

The two trails will soon merge. Readers will learn the older history of the Catholic Church as well as the more recent the role of the popes during the rise of Fascism and Mussolini in Italy. The Knights of Malta play an important role and readers learn their history (they exist to this day), as one of the smallest sovereign nations in the world. All the settings are well described, readers will feel they have been there, without it ever coming across as a travelogue.

Because the story starts a day before the Conclave is about to begin, that time constraint adds to the fast pacing. There are older characters readers know, like Stephanie and Luke, but also new ones, including twin brothers. Sure to delight readers new to the series and repeaters.

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"I tramp the perpetual journey." Walt Whitman

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