Ann Parker is the award-winning author of the Silver Rush mystery series set in 19th century Colorado. And yes, that is Silver Rush as distinct from the possibly more well known Gold Rush.
Hi there I’m your host, Jenny Wheeler and today Ann talks about how a close family relationship led to her writing the Colorado based Silver Rush series, how she’s combined being a science writer by day with being a fiction writer by night, and why she says being a science writer has been a big advantage in writing the series.
Book Giveaway this week
Our Giveaway is Murderous May Mysteries, including Book #2 in my Of Gold and Blood mystery series Brother Betrayed, which has also now out in audio for anyone who prefers to listen to their stories.
Links for that Give away and all the other things we discuss in this episode can be found in the show notes for this episode at the website, the joys of binge reading.com.
And you can now look for Binge Reading on YouTube – audio only, no video. If you like to consume your podcasts through YouTube, now you can hear Binge Reading that way.
And don’t forget, if you enjoy the show, leave us a positive comment, so others will find us too. Word of mouth is still the best publicity anyone can get.
Links to this episode
Leadville Colorado https://www.leadville.com/
Barbara Hambly Benjamin January series: https://www.goodreads.com/series/50581-benjamin-january
Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini mysteries: https://www.amazon.com/Books-Marcia-Muller-Bill-Pronzini/
Carpenter and Quincannon series: https://us.macmillan.com/series/carpenterandquincannon
Sulari Gentile, Rowland Sinclair mysteries: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3856582.Sulari_Gentill
Kerry Greenwood: Phryne Fisher series: http://phrynefisher.com/
Michelle Black, Victorian West mysteries: https://www.michelleblack.com/
Edgar Allan Poe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Allan_Poe
Camille Minichino, the Periodic Table mysteries: http://www.minichino.com/
Where to find Ann Parker online
But now here’s our show.
Introducing historical mystery author Ann Parker
Jenny Wheeler: Hello there Ann, and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Ann Parker: Oh, and it’s so great to be here. Thank you, Jenny.
Jenny Wheeler: Now just to get our geography straight before we begin. You are in Northern California and I’m in New Zealand and we’re about 16 hours apart. I’m right about Northern California, am I?
Ann Parker: That’s correct. Yep. About 50 miles away from San Francisco. Most people know of San Francisco, so yeah.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s not that far. I must assume that I have driven up that Captain Cook Highway in the part in the past.
Ann Parker: Oh, Captain Cook Highway? I don’t know what that is..
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, I thought that it was the Coastal Road. I thought it was called Captain Cook Highway. Maybe I’ve got that wrong.
Ann Parker: oh. You could, I think you’re talking highway 1 0 1, but in any case along the coast, it’s beautiful. Yeah.
Jenny Wheeler: It’s gorgeous. You are an award-winning writer with eight books to your credit and they’re called the Silver Rush Mystery Series, and they’re set initially in Leadville, Colorado, although the most recent book, which we’re going to be talking about today, you’ve moved to San Francisco.
Tell us how you got started with these. I understand you’ve got a family connection with the Leadville. Tell us about that.
Ann Parker: I have a lot of family history in Colorado in general. My parents were raised there, and I still have cousin and a brother who’s there.
But it was my paternal grandmother who was raised in Leadville in the late 19th century. And this was a bit of family history I didn’t know until I was, oh gosh, into my forties and heading toward 50.
And as a family genealogist, I was shocked because truly all she ever talked about was Denver, Colorado and how wonderful it was and how she met grandpa and stuff.
When my uncle told me that my grandmother was raised in Leadville, I was like, what? What’s Leadville? I’ve never heard of this place.
And my uncle got very excited and said, ‘Oh my gosh. It was just the biggest mining area, in the country at the time, with silver mining.’
People came from all over. It was like the Gold Rush in California. He says, oh Ann, I know you’ve been thinking about writing some fiction. You need to research Leadville and set a novel there.
I just followed my uncle’s directions and it’s been quite a journey. I gotta say
Leadville beat the Comstock at its peak
Jenny Wheeler: Was it a bigger area than the Nevada area in its time?
Ann Parker: In its time it was, People came from all over the world to Leadville and many of them didn’t realize it’s up at 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, so it’s like almost, like two miles.
And, there was no infrastructure at first and no railroads. People would get up there and spend their last pocket money and be stuck in a place where winter lasts nine months out of the year.
There were some harrowing stories from up there in that time. Yes, it was quite interesting.
Jenny Wheeler: Your lady sleuth is Inez Stannert. She has been on quite a journey herself, because she started out on the East coast and she ended up in Leadville. In book one she makes that transition. Tell us a bit about Inez and where she came from.
Ann Parker: Okay. first of all, I’ll just say this right out. Inez Stannert is my granny’s maiden name.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh.
Ann Parker: Now Granny was a very proper woman but I just loved her name. I thought it had such a strong ring to it and I wanted to honor her in some way.
I asked the family, the ones that were left, she was long gone, ‘Do you think Granny would be okay if I took her name and gave it to this, rough, strong minded, strong willed woman who runs a saloon?’
They said, ‘oh, she’d love it. she’d just be tickled. She’d think it was great. that’s how the name came about.’
And when I was trying to think of her background, I’d been reading about how a lot of the people who came west started on the East coast and I put together a background where she’s from a wealthy East Coast Family.
The father is one of those capitalist industrialist sorts who makes a fortune in iron.
None of that’s in the book. Because you don’t really go into a lot of background.
But she comes from a very privileged background, but she’s a wild child and she meets this handsome, sweet talking gambling man and she kicks over the traces and heads west with him.
That would be her husband Mark Stannert. It was fun to write someone who comes from a privileged background but is able to be a bit of a chameleon and, fashion herself as needs be for the situation.
Inez – from East coast socialite to card sharp
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. As you mentioned, she has to become a card sharp and a saloon owner in Leadville.
There isn’t perhaps too much else for her to do. But she’s moved on through the books. She’s had a rather unrespectable persona in those first few books, but now she’s in San Francisco.
She’s gathered a young woman, to her side as a guardian, Antonia.
And she’s now trying to remake herself as a respectable businesswoman, largely for Antonia’s sake, so that Antonia will be able to have a decent life.
And in this book, a building that she purchases as an investment with a friend, one of the walls tumbles down virtually the first night they own it and there’s a body in the wall and there’s also gold coins in the wall.
That’s a great way to start and it’s quite a temptation with all these gold coins to try and find out what’s been going on.
Tell us about The Secret In The Wall? That’s the book’s name, isn’t it?
Ann Parker: Yes. The Secret In The Wall. And, yes, it’s been a lot of fun, although it was rather unexpected, for Inez to decide she was going to San Francisco, and off she went and bringing Antonio with her.
And, she helps women who run small businesses in San Francisco, and she supports them with money and forms business partnerships.
I’m always on the lookout for ideas, plot ideas that show up in either historical documents or newspapers.
And this body in the wall thing was born from a real incident in San Francisco. where they were digging in the basement or subbasement of a San Francisco house, and unearthed a coffin containing a perfectly preserved body and they had no idea who this was.
How did they end up down here? It turns out that the house was sitting on top of what used to be an old cemetery in San Francisco.
How a ‘body in a wall’ came about
All the bodies had theoretically been moved but they missed a few, including this one. I read that article back in 2016, I think, and it just sat in the back of my mind.
I was thinking, that is so cool. And then, when it came time to write this book, it’s like the body just moved into the wall and it was like, whoa, let’s see what happens from here.
And Antonia, who’s about 12 or 13, no one’s real sure of her age, she’s fascinated by Treasure Island, which at this point is coming out in serial form in in a young adult magazine.
And so when the body falls out along and our fake eye pops out of the skull and rolls across this floor, then you’ve got Antonia thinking pirates. And Inez is more like, who is this? And who does the gold belong to?
Because Inez always has her eye on the financial end of things. So that’s the start of it.
Jenny Wheeler: Looking back to Leadville, what’s Leadville like today compared with it was in the 1880s?
Ann Parker: It is a much quieter place. In 1880 there was talk of making it the capital of Colorado. It was that big and that rich.
There was a lot of money coming in and coming out of Leadville and there were like, oh, I don’t know, 20,000 people living there up at the top of the mountain and now it’s much quieter.
The mining industry has pretty much gone away now. There’s one or two small operations, but it’s become a Mecca for extreme sports. Like for people who will run a hundred miles all above 10,000 feet
Jenny Wheeler: Gosh.
Ann Parker: And bicycles or cross country ski-ing. People are starting to realize that this is really a lovely place.
You get a lot of second home buyers popping up and it’s changing.
It was very quiet for a long time. and now I think there’s more interest in it as a place for people to spend time, not just for the history, but for the beauty of the area and for the sports that are possible.
Leadville a historic delight for today’s visitors
Jenny Wheeler: Are there many historic buildings left? Is it anything like, say Virginia City, where there’s a real sense of the past history?
Ann Parker: Oh, yes. At this point, if you walk down Harrison Street, which is the main street in town, Harrison Avenue, they still have the boardwalk.
So you can walk on it and get a sense of what that sounds like.
If you imagine hundreds and hundreds of feet, walking up and down and going here and going there. And the side avenues and streets also have a lot of the historical houses still.
It’s really wonderful. they’ve put together some great hiking trails through the mining district, which is all quiet now. it’s a great place to visit and get a sense of the history.
Yeah. You could still do that. They haven’t knocked it all down.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, that’s wonderful. And of course, pretty well, everybody has heard of the Gold Rush, but hardly anybody has heard of the Silver Rush, and certainly not as far as I understand it.
Why do you think that is? And what was the difference between the two rushes?
Ann Parker: They were about 30 years apart. The California Gold Rush was, 1849, and the Colorado Silver Rush was 1879.
That’s about when it ramped up. There were a couple things that were different. The technology had evolved for, separating silver from other metals in the rocks
And the thing that intrigued me, the Gold Rush is before the Civil War and the Silver Rush is after the Civil War.
So for me, there is this resonance and these repercussions from the US Civil War that for people who lived it, that would be only 20 years in the past.
It would still affect them and the incidents and the episodes would still have a resonance. And as to why, it’s not as well-known as the Comstock. I certainly didn’t know about it, until I heard about it from my family.
What attracted Ann Parker to mysteries
Jenny Wheeler: And your family was from there, so Yes.
Ann Parker: Yeah, their PR wasn’t as good perhaps, or the marketing people. We’re a little quieter.
Jenny Wheeler: So why did you decide to write it as a mystery? You could have made it historical fiction or a romance. What attracted you to the mystery genre?
Ann Parker: I did toy with the idea of making it a straight historical novel without a dead body. But, as a child I was a voracious reader and along with everything else I read Sherlock Holmes and I read Edgar Allan Poe so I already had a tilt toward mysteries, and in my day job I was sharing an office with another woman who’s a physicist.
Her name is Camille Minichino. We became very good friends and Camille decided – Camille’s, this amazing person – She decided ‘I’m going to write a mystery series based on the periodic table.’
Jenny Wheeler: Oh my goodness.
Ann Parker: The Hydrogen Murder, The Helium Murder, and so on. And so I got to see her on her path to publication and all the fun she was having.
I thought maybe I ought to try to turn my story into a mystery.
A mystery also gives you a framework where there’s certain things that have to happen.
You have to have clues, you have to play fair, there’s justice to be served somehow or other.
And, I liked having that frame, which I could then go in and put up the wallpaper and decide where the furniture was going to go.
It’s nice to have the house, the frame of the house.
Jenny Wheeler:. You mentioned the Civil War and of course the Civil War does feature in The Secret In The Wall because there’s an aspect of the story that flicks back to that, without perhaps doing any spoiler on it.
Can you comment on that a little bit? Is that the only one of your books with a Civil War aspect?
The Civil War in California
Ann Parker: No. Most of them seem to have a Civil War aspect.
It’s just how it works out as I start writing.
And, certainly the first, Silver Lies, and Iron Ties, the second have that connection. And definitely in that second one, with the railroads, but yeah, Now, here’s the thing. I am born and raised Californian.
I make my trips to Colorado and go, oh, I would love to live here.
But then I end up coming back to California where my home is. And nowhere that I can recall in my educational upbringing was I ever told about California’s role in the Civil War. I thought all that happened back east, right
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. Yeah.
Ann Parker: Fort Sumter, and what have you.
As I started to delve into it, because I was curious and I can’t remember exactly what sparked that curiosity, it might have been the gold coins that got me thinking about it. And I was really surprised and really thrilled to find that there was quite a California history.
There were people from both sides. supporting both sides during the Civil War. A lot of skullduggery, Just a lot of things going on, and I’m thinking that’s perfect. I’m gonna bring that in somehow.
I love learning things along the way. That’s probably one of the most exciting things for me, is learning new stuff when I’m writing.
Jenny Wheeler: Of course. A lot of southerners came west after the war as well, didn’t they?
Ann Parker: Oh, absolutely. They moved to the west and particularly, as I read in passing, Los Angeles. I think because there’s a lot of farming going on down there and it’s warm. Probably the environment was a lot like the south for agriculture.
Jenny Wheeler: So turning away from the specific books to talk a little about your wider career. You are still working as a science writer as you’ve mentioned. Did your friend ever finish all of the periodic table mysteries, by the way?
Murder mysteries written around the periodic table
Ann Parker: No she didn’t. She got up to, I think oxygen was the last, that would be eight. I think she got further than that. And then she’s continued in short stories
Jenny Wheeler: You’ve had a, you’ve had a career in science yourself. Has that helped or played into your fiction career in any way?
Ann Parker: Oh, absolutely, in the sense that very early on in my science writing job I had to learn how to research.
Basically, how it works is, they assign me a subject, okay, they say, this project has just completed, they’ve got their results.
Write an article about it that’s understandable to the, general public. And a lot of times, it’s something I know nothing about.
So, I have to contact the, experts. I have to read the background, I have to really dive into the subject, understanding, enough of it plus some to write about it.
And that became very handy when researching my fiction, because I’m not a historian, I have no background in history.
Everything that I learn, I am learning for the book, so to speak. and also writing of any kind keeps those writing tools sharp.
So the day job has been very helpful in those respects.
Ann Parker – Making a splash with a debut novel
Jenny Wheeler: Now your first book was quite a humdinger in the sense of a debut novel.
It got picked up by quite a number of sites as one of the Best Books Of The Year, and now you’ve gone on to write another seven of them.
I’m not quite sure how you define success as an author, but I consider that to be a success in its own right, and I wondered, What you’d credit that with?
Is there any particular secret you could share with others about how to keep it going.
Ann Parker: That’s an interesting one. A secret? I don’t know.
For me personally, I have to be passionate about the subject. If I don’t really care about the subject or can’t get involved and excited, why spend my time writing about it?
This is for me personally, I know for many writers, it’s a very workman-like type job.
It’s write the next one. This is what it’s gonna be about, go and you do it. Success is a funny thing. I was not expecting my little Victorian West mystery to end up so high on the radar, that first one, not at all. So it’s serendipity. A lot of it is just chance.
And I think, oh my gosh, I feel for people who come to me and say, how did you do it?
I was just in the right place at the right time. I found a publisher after many publishers turned it down. I found a small publisher who said, yes, we’d love to do your book. It could have just as easily ended up in a drawer and never seen the light of day.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. I think it got, the Chicago Times made it a Book Of The Year, I think, didn’t they?
Ann Parker: Yeah, it was Chicago Times named it the Best, one of the Best Mysteries of the Year. Publishers Weekly named it one of the Best Mysteries of the Year.
It won the Willa Award for best historical fiction. Yeah. You know that first book of mine just racked them in. It made me feel very proud. Very surprised.
Novelist Ann Parker’s work process
Jenny Wheeler: That’s wonderful. Do you do more than one a year or what sort of a schedule are you on?
Ann Parker: Oh my gosh. I am on no schedule. I write them one at a time.
My contracts are for a single book. It’s because my life is as it is and I’m the kind of writer I am. Doing a book of year is not – I have seldom done that.
Let me put it that way. For the eight books, you can look at the publishing dates and get an idea.
I’ve been at this for 20 years. I have eight books. How come I don’t have 20 books? Oh, very good question.
It takes me as long as it takes and, I do tend to be driven by panic and close deadlines. The closer it gets to deadline the faster I write, and I suspect that’s true for a lot of people
Jenny Wheeler: Yeah, I’m sure it is. Has the pandemic interfered with your life in any way or changed anything about your writing?
Ann Parker: It certainly threw me for a loop personally. I was very worried about family members and work just did this, as for many people, it went 180 from being in the office, having an office environment to working from home. That was it. All the equipment came home, connections were made.
This is it. And I’m, moving my little setup. I sit out at the dining table for a while and then I go into an empty bedroom. It really took the wind outta me in a way.
But I did manage to write The Secret In The Wall during the pandemic and there are some pieces in the book, some scenes that are very claustrophobic feeling, and that was as a result of how I was feeling while, being stuck at home.
I know lots of writers, or any number of them, anyway, who just churned the books out. It was like, oh boy, I’m home alone. I’m gonna write four books a year. That wasn’t me.
What Ann Parker is reading now
Jenny Wheeler: I understand. This is Binge Reading and so we do like to ask you about your reading tastes. Have you ever been a binge reader in the past and what are you reading at the moment that you could recommend to listeners?
Ann Parker: Oh gee. Yes I have binge read in the past, and. I’m trying to think of some.
When I was a kid, there was just this wonderful feeling. It felt like I could sit and read for an entire day, just a whole weekend.
But anyway, I’m gonna mention a couple of series that I have really enjoyed and found binge readable.
One is Barbara Hambly, who writes the Benjamin January series. It’s set in New Orleans in early 18 hundreds featuring, Benjamin January, who’s a physician.
And her first book in that series is a Free Man of Color, and it’s really a great book. Oh, I think our whole series is wonderful.
And Louisa Locke writes the Victorian San Francisco mysteries, and those are light her cozy and those are wonderful.
Her protagonist – she’s had several as the series has gone on – but it started with a woman who ran a boarding house.
I often give a nod to Louisa for her amazing research. A lot of times I will turn to her with a question because she did her PhD thesis on working women in the 19th century in the West.
My gosh, she’s a wonderful resource and she writes wonderful stories.
Another binge-worthy series, a historical detecting duo – it’s the Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery Series.
It features a former Secret Service agent and a female Pinkerton agent, and it’s, co-written by Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller, who are two authors out here in San Francisco area.
And those are great fun. gee, I could mention too from your area, Sulari Gentile
Some Australian favorites in the line up
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, yes. I’m familiar with her, yes.
Ann Parker: She writes the Roland Sinclair World War II Mysteries, and the first one in that is A few Right Thinking Men. Those are great. And of course, Kerry Greenwood with Phryne Fisher. Everyone knows Kelly Greenwood.
Jenny Wheeler: She’s very famous. Yes. I was interested when you earlier referred to Victorian West because it’s a label that I’ve only just recently become aware of.
It has seemed to me in the past that Californian history has been overlooked in the fiction, it’s great to see people like you coming through now, but in the past it’s not quite got the same size of niche as something like Regency England has it?
And I wondered if there is a thing called Victorian West that is starting to et some traction, do you think there is or is that just my imagining?
Ann Parker: I hope it’s not your imagining. Victorian West was coined by OD Dear, it’s a book back here in my library somewhere, a non-fiction treatise looking at the West because so many people, when they think of the US West during this particular timeframe, they think spurs, cactus, cowboys,
Jenny Wheeler: And tumble weed.
Ann Parker: And tumbleweeds and a lot of dust. Yes. And it was so much more than that.
It had these urban centers and very wealthy areas. and I think it was author Michelle Black, who also wrote a wonderful series. She’s not writing anymore, but she started using the term that she was writing mysteries in the Victorian West.
And then we’ve got, Louise Locke with her Victorian San Francisco mysteries. there’s certainly a group of us that are gently trying to push the idea that yes, there was this other side of the west,
Jenny Wheeler: I must confess, I’m writing historical mystery set in California in the late sixties and seventies, and at the very early stages of starting to write, I went to a Romance Writers conference.
I wasn’t quite sure if I was even writing romance or what at that stage, but I pitched the very first story idea I had before I even had really written anything, and it was a historical story set in California in the 1860s, and the agent said, ‘Oh, no, we, sorry. We don’t handle westerns.’
Is the popularity of ‘Victorian West’ fiction on the rise?
Ann Parker: Yeah. Oh my gosh,
Jenny Wheeler: I had no idea if this would be regarded as a Western. I’ve seen the quote on your pages that San Francisco was dubbed the Paris of the West by the late sixties.
Ann Parker: When I was searching for a publisher and an agent and what have you, for the first book, I heard that so much. Oh, sounds interesting. But we don’t do westerns. It’s no, it’s a mystery set in the west, duh.
Jenny Wheeler: I almost think we must try and piggyback on the phrase Gilded Age, California. Maybe that would sell.
Ann Parker: There you go. That is a popular phrase. The Gilded Age in the Victorian West.
Jenny Wheeler: Looking back down the tunnel of time, is if there was one thing that you could change about your writing career, what would it be?
Ann Parker: It would’ve been nice if I could have written a little faster. Truly.
And I guess if I was going to be just totally out there, I would’ve loved to have moved to Leadville and spent a whole year there.
Seen the entire change of the seasons, maybe, I don’t know, maybe sometime in the future, but ah, the future’s getting shorter as I get older.
But I would’ve loved to have done that.
Jenny Wheeler: But then as has moved on now, so you’d have to take Inez back there or find somebody else to be there.
Ann Parker: Oh, there’s always ways to move their character around if you decide that’s what you wanna do.
Jenny Wheeler: So what’s next for Ann as writer? What have you got on your desk at the moment that you’re working on?
Ann Parker: Right now, I am getting ready to retire from the day job.
Ann Parker is preparing for full time writing
Jenny Wheeler: Ah,
Ann Parker: So on my desk are things I need to finish up so that I can leave in a good position.
I don’t just wanna throw papers in the air and say bye-bye folks.
I wanna finish the projects I’ve got, and I’m gonna take just a little time to decompress after that.
But I have ideas for Inez, I have ideas for Antonia.
I’m particularly excited about an idea for Antonia, and I’m not gonna go into it because it’s still just rumbling around in my brain and even some other timeframes.
I’m hoping that in retirement I will have more time to explore all of this,
Jenny Wheeler: Sure.
Ann Parker: Right now I’m just gathering research and bookmarking pages for particular ideas so that when I’m ready to sit down and plunge in, I’ll have a lot of research at my fingertips.
Jenny Wheeler: Wonderful. Now, do you enjoy interacting with your readers, and where can they find you online?
Ann Parker: Oh, yes. Gosh, I love to hear from readers and chat with them. that’s one of the things that keeps me going. If someone sends me an email – and you can find my contact information on my website – annparker.net – I always say, it warms my heart and keeps me going. \
It’s one of the reasons I keep writing, people out there love my books. they find that they’re a wonderful way to escape, they learn things, what more can I ask,
They can contact me directly through my website.
Where to find author Ann Parker online
I do have a newsletter sign up, but it comes out at random intervals, like my books, but I always do little giveaways and provide some interesting tidbits about the research I’m doing,
Hey folks, you like free books, sign up for my newsletter.
And oftentimes, they’re books from people that I admire, and not just my books, but people I’ve read and say, ah, this is a great book, I’m gonna give away a copy.
And, I’m on Facebook. You can find me on Facebook. That’s probably my primary social site. I dodge in and outta Twitter and, Instagram.
A fun blog every Wednhesday
I’m still trying to get a handle. I’m really slow. That’s why I say take a look at my website, contact me there, send me an email.
Take a look at my weekly blog where take a slang phrase or an idiom. Sometimes the slang dates from the 19th century and is a lost word, and I dive into it to figure out, to find out its origin and how did it come about.
That’s great fun. That’s every Wednesdays.
Jenny Wheeler: Wonderful. Now we’ll have those links in the show notes for the episode if people want to follow through with that.
So that’ll be on the joys of binge reading.com when your episode appears.
It’s been wonderful talking today, and thank you so much for your time.
Ann Parker: and thank you, Jenny. I really appreciate this opportunity. Thanks so much.
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Next week on Binge Reading multiple series author, Amy Vansant, who writes gritty mysteries about a female bounty hunter, as well as hilarious cozies, set in a Florida 55 plus age community.
Critics compare her fast-moving page-turning funny stories to big names like James Patterson and Janet Evanovich If you enjoy mysteries you won’t want to miss out on next week’s Binge Reading.
That’s if for today. See you next week and Happy Reading!