Nightblind – Iceland – Ragnar Jónasson

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2000s, 1982: Siglufjörður: a quiet little fishing village until a policeman is shot in the dead of night

Why a booktrail?

Siglufjörður is unique in Iceland for being the only village accessible by a tunnel to the world outside. Life in the village is good and peaceful but when a policeman is shot at one night, at a deserted house, the sense that something bad is lurking amongst this close knit community.  Policeman Ari Thor is joined by his old boss Tomas, who has been recalled from a move to Reykjavik to get to the bottom of what is going on.

That’s just the problem however for the deeper they delve into the case, the more it looks as if local politics are involved and a newcomer to the village, could have brought with her, bad remnants from her past.

Meanwhile, in an psychiatric ward, not far away, some one is starting to talk…

Place and setting

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Siglufjörður is the place, safe and protected from the outside world where if something comes to break that peace, the result can be more deadly and more threatening than most. The town rather like the cover of the novel itself is dark and foreboding, the snow covers the village and muffles what really goes on behind those pretty closed doors. The community starts to unravel, threats are made and the biggest threat could be hiding in plain sight.

With a policeman shot, in a country where violence is practically unheard of, the effects are shattering. Gun ownership on the island is not uncommon as they are traditionally a nation of hunters after all, yet this has never been heard of before and so unsettles many.

Ari Thór has an uphill struggle on this hands as he knows everyone in the village, everyone knows him, yet no one seems to be talking. And a desolate house on the outskirts near to the tunnel holds the darkest secrets yet. A newly installed Mayor is making his presence felt, making a mark on the town, and a newcomer to the village has a secret no one knows about.

Meanwhile, with the chilling Icelandic winds,a voice can be heard…of someone locked in a psychiatric ward, seemingly against their will. Chilling as to what they reveal and whether those in the small village of will hear what could tear them apart

A small town, suffocating secrets, and a chillingly disturbing denouement

Siglufjörður
Snapshots of Siglufjörður (C) Ragnar Jonasson

 

Review..

This man is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. How he writes so poetically and evokes so much in so few words is just outstanding. The book comes in at just over 200 pages but the world created within it is every bit as perfect as  you could imagine. The sheer beauty of the Icelandic setting, an insight into a community now linked to the rest of the island by a tunnel, the dark foreboding of a policeman’s shooting and hidden secrets make for one heck of a novel. Ragnar grew up reading and translating Agatha Christie and ti shows for the adept plotting, the sense of fear and foreboding and hiding the killer in plain sight are masterstrokes that I’m sure the great lady herself would be proud of.

There’s even time for very well developed characters in the local policeman Ari Thor, his family life and that of new characters too. The overall effect is one where you can literally see them, hear them, see their breath in the chilling Icelandic air. And sense that you are in a very unique place indeed.

Once I found out just what the ramblings of the person in the psychiatric ward was all about – well…..

A lovely note too is added at the end where Ragnar prints a small passage that his grandfather wrote about the chilling yet beautiful period where the sun disappears behind Siglufjörður’s mountains. A lovely and poignant end to a story his grandfather would be proud of.

Author information:

Twitter: @ragnarjo

Web: ragnar-jonasson

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Meet the translator – Quentin Bates – on Iceland’s National Day

quentin-bates

On Iceland National Day what better way to celebrate than with a man who knows the country, the landscape and the literature like the back of his hand. Quentin Bates, an author in his own right, is sitting waiting in a log cabin, warming the kettle on the stove for our visit. It’s chilly but he’s told us he provides blankets and cake so we’re good. If  we ever get there through this snow that is.

Well here we are – somewhere in Iceland – there’s lots of snow around that’s for sure. And flags and parties as people celebrate national day! So Quentin…..

You’re a writer and translator and have just finished working on the Ragnar Jónasson’s “ Snowblind’. How did you find that and how different were the experiences?

It was a remarkably rewarding experience. I had done a lot of translation before, but mostly very dry news or technical stuff that absolutely doesn’t need any kind of interpretation. So getting to grips with Snowblind was quite a challenge. I wasn’t sure to start with if I could pull it off, and I think it’s safe to admit that now. But it worked out very well. Ragnar writes a very clear, almost an old-fashioned, Icelandic that’s a pleasure to read.

There’s inevitably some interpretation that has to be done and two translators given the same piece of text could come up with wildly differing versions. That’s the hard part, and it’s also the fun part that keeps the grey cells buzzing – working out what the author meant rather than what the author actually wrote, and trying not so much to keep the nuances and subtleties of meaning but to transpose them into English. The real challenge is with idioms and jokes, especially if there’s a play on words, as they the translator has to find something suitable that is faithful to the feel of the original when a direct translation would be more precise but could completely lose that feel.

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You have deep links to Iceland. Can you tell us more about these?

I went to live in Iceland and stayed there for ten years. For some of that time I went native, if that’s still an acceptable phrase, frequently not speaking English for weeks at a time. Since returning to England I’ve remained immersed in Iceland, as my wife and I have always spoken Icelandic together. The internet helps as it means I can read the papers every day and have Icelandic radio on in the background while I’m working. I try and get there a couple of times a year, at least, and would spend more time there if I could.

What do you love most about Iceland and what still surprises you?

It’s probably the tranquillity – although that’s not something you get a lot of in Reykjavík. Where I normally go in the north is very quiet. In fact it can be too quiet and after a while I need to get back to the rumble of traffic.

The climate still takes me by surprise, the sheer rawness of the wind and rain when it’s really howling, as well as the distances once you get beyond Reykjavík. Sometimes you don’t dare pass a petrol station without filling up, especially when you know the next one is 200 kilometres away.

In Quentin's own books, protagonist Gunna refuses to move to Reykjavík, preferring to return to her coastal backwater.  Thanks to Quentin for the pic.
In Quentin’s own books, protagonist
Gunna refuses to move to Reykjavík, preferring to return to her coastal backwater.
Thanks to Quentin for the pic.

How different is Icelandic Noir to Scandinavian Noir?

Not an easy question… there’s so much variety in Icelandic crime fiction, just as there is across the whole sweep of Nordic Noir (if Noir is the right expression). To be blunt, we all owe a huge debt to Sjöwall & Wahlöö, and to a lesser extent to Henning Mankell. But Sjöwall & Wahlöö were the forerunners and I’d go so far as to say their books are as fresh and sharp as anything Nordic since.

If there are difference between Icelandic and Scandinavian crime fiction, it’s maybe more in the look and feel of the location itself, and in the social nuances. Iceland is politically very different to Norway, Sweden and Denmark, although maybe closest to Norway in many ways. Iceland leans more to the US culturally than the other Nordic nations, partly a legacy of the long US military presence that also brought rock n’ roll and gas guzzling cars to Iceland. All this filters through into the country’s fiction, not in an overt way, but subtly.

There are only a few Icelandic crime writers available in English translation – Ragnar is number five. There are plenty who deserve to be translated and may yet make the jump. There’s plenty of variety there, some of it pretty hard-booiled, some relatively cosy, some extremely bleak, just as there are huge differences between the work of Swedish or Norwegian crime writers

Tell us something bizarre about Iceland and its language

Icelandic is the Nordic language that has changed least since the Saga Age. For more than a thousand years Iceland was very isolated and the language changed very gradually. But with the advent of cable TV and the internet it has changed probably more in the last twenty years than in the preceding two hundred as a huge amount of English slang and loan words have sneaked in.

It’s pretty impenetrable for an outsider and it’s not easy to learn. Icelandic has a logical grammatical structure and a vocabulary that’s closely related to other Nordic languages, although there are plenty of words that are uniquely Icelandic.

So it’s certainly not impossible. The real problem is that everyone speaks English and if you make a mistake, people will instinctively switch to English, which can make it difficult to make a start practising spoken Icelandic.

My favourite word in Icelandic is mjólkurbrúsupallabrennuvargur – a vandal who sets fire to milk churn shelters.

Well rest assured, Quentin tells us that he is no mjólkurbrúsupallabrennuvargur himself and so we can safely have another cup of tea safe in the knowledge that the milk churn outside is in one piece.

Thanks Quentin for a great chat and we’ll be back to visit very soon to talk about your own books set in Iceland!

Snowblind – Siglufjörður, Northern Iceland – Ragnar Jonasson

snowblind

Why a booktrail?

The most northern town in Iceland, one where the snow cuts off from the outside world, one where a rookie cop is about to find there are a lot of secrets buried under that snow…

Story in a nutshell

Siglufjörður, Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors. It’s – accessible a small and quiet little place made to look even prettier when the snow falls and the landscape becomes one of still beauty.

But the mountain tunnel which connects it to reality is often blocked off by landslides. And when that tunnel is blocked, no one can get in or out.

And when a body is found in the snow, and a man is found dead at a local theatre, there may be those who want to escape…..justice.

The rookie cop from Reykjavik is overcome with the 24 hour darkness, the tightly knit community is darker still. Curtains twitch and the trees bristle in the wind but silence ensues..

Silence which needs to be broken. But wait,what are those screams?

Place and setting

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The red stain was like a scream in the silence.

The snow covered ground was so white that it had almost banished the winter night’s darkness elemental in its purity

Welcome to Siglufjörður, a quiet fishing village in the northern most part of Iceland where snow is as much a character as everyone else. Where a comforting light ay illuminate the immediate space but where the gloom envelops and smothers before the scream has even been formed from the depths of your throat. Closer to the Arctic Circle than Reykjavik, this is a chillingly desolate landscape.

This is a community closed off in many ways – and not just because of the tunnel which connects it to civilization. The people here are secretive and they have lived here for centuries, entire families have their roots here and a fierce level of protection surrounds them.

The ring of mountains protecting the town was almost entirely white that night and the highest peaks could just be glimpsed.

Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman is on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik. A woman’s body is found by a child who sees a ‘snow angel’ but there is no child innocence and hoinesty found elswhere – secrets and lies are deeper than any snowfall or avalanche.

Those who live here talk about you behind your back, a small local amateur dramatics group are blurring the line between what goes on the stage and what happens behind the scenes..

Ari is the only outsider, well Ugla is from Patreksfjordur but it’s as if Siglufjörður is a mask over her mouth.

Silence and snow reign and woe betide anyone who tries to fight the snowblind.

Bookish musings

Dark Iceland? This man not only invented it, he rules it. This is one of the most exciting places I’ve read about –  a real place whilst also being a real setting of intrigue with snowy landscapes, a town cut off by the elements, the isolation of hight mountains and a community cut off in every which way they can be.

From the opening page, the tension and chlling horror is there. The idyllic snow angel image is no longer full of childhood innocence and the snow blind of the title covers your eyes with white flurries and clouds of mis which shourd  the mustery and intrigue

God I felt cold reading this, wondering like Ari just who the hell I could believe. And that drama group was not even innocent here! Characters were well formed and you got the sense of isolation, history and dark secrets from the past.

Weaving in and out of secrets from one person to another, from one place to another it was a dark and twisty tale which made me doubt everyone I came across. the rookie policeman was the ideal insight into such a hidden community.

A brilliant debut from an author with Icelandic piercing eyes. Can not wait to go back there. But I might need to hold someone’s hand when I do…

Reykjavik Nights – Iceland – Arnaldur Indridason

bookThink you know Inspector Erlendur well? This book takes you back to his early days in the traffic department and how he became the man we know today.

Story in a nutshell 

Inspector Erlendur Sveinnson, a veteran detective with the Reykjavik police was left in rather  precarious circumstances, so this book returns to the young man in 1974 when he was still ‘ on nights’ as a patrol officer in the traffic department.

The old Erlendur of today however was the ever inquisitive man back then too for when a homeless man dies in a small pool of water, he, unlike others on his team, doesn’t put this down to too much alcohol or ‘ just one of those things’. He thinks more is at stake so he investigates further. What he finds and how he finds it takes him in new directions.

An interesting look back at the Erlendur we think we know. Turns out his early experiences have really given us a  wider picture with many more layers than we have now.

Place and setting

Hvassaleit /Miklabruat/Kringlumyri - where the three boys live who find the dead man. Kringlumyri where the man is found Hlidar - Erlendur’s own suburb where he grew up hverfisgata - where the police station is bustadir - where Erlendur is called to a disturbance SKulgata - the seafront near the police station and the flat topped mass of Mount Esja where Erlendur likes to walk and think Tjornin - the little lake in the centre of town where Erlendur likes to think Nauthólsvík. - where there is a geothermal beach
Hvassaleit /Miklabruat/Kringlumyri – where the three boys live who find the dead man. Kringlumyri where the man is found
Hlidar – Erlendur’s own suburb where he grew up
hverfisgata – where the police station is

Skulagata – the seafront near the police station and the flat topped mass of Mount Esja where Erlendur likes to walk and think
Tjornin – the little lake in the centre of town where Erlendur likes to think

The book is a slow start plot wise but there’s a good reason for this as we learn a lot about the Reykjavik of the 1970s. this is not the side of the city that you will have seen before and much of what you read here is like literally stepping back into a city that at that time was increasing commercialism, technology and foreign travel.

Location is evoked to show how Erlendur spends his time and the fact he is as such a loner here as in later books –

“Erlender walked over to Kringlumýri . It was not the first time his feet had led him in that direction. With little to occupy him outside work, he too k pleasure n wandering the street on fine summer evenings, round Tjörnin, the small lake in the centre of town; through the west end and out to the Seltjarnarnes peninsula, or south along the shores of Skerjafjordur  to the cove at Nauthólsvík.”

A trail in the making if we say so ourselves. Might not want to join the Icelandic touring club as he does but trekking to the hot springs at Landmannalaugar sounds better to us than it did to him.

Good to see more of where Erlendur grew up and about his early school days too. His wishful thinking when looking at his own school paints a picture of a man with regrets and with a need to make his own way in life.

The Arctic Patrol Mystery – Iceland adventure – The Hardy Boys

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The Hardy boys travel to Reykjavik and have an adventure they’ll never forget! A childhood favourite here!

Story in a nutshell

A children’s classic and a real trip to Iceland if you care to reminisce with the finest bunch of teenagers we can remember. Not read the Hardy Boy adventures? Then try this one to Iceland and you’ll want to be in the Hardy boys club for sure.

An Icelandic sailor has gone missing and no where seems to know where he could be – least of all his insurance company. So The Hardy Boys – a bunch of fearless teenage detectives  – are asked to help find him and find out what happened to him. But from the very moment that they arrive in Reykjavik,  they are in constant danger. Frank and Joe uncover a shocking and wide reaching espionage plot that threatens the life of a U.S. astronaut and NASA’S moon project.

Place and setting

Akureyi - where the hardy boys are flying to when the plane goes down Reykjavik - the capital city and setting for the main mystery Snaefell glacier  - where they get stuck Snaefellssjokull - glacier area keflavik - where the small boat is returning to from the fishing trip
Akureyi – where the hardy boys are flying to when the plane goes down
Reykjavik – the capital city and setting for the main mystery
Snaefell glacier – where they get stuck
Snaefellssjokull – glacier area
keflavik – where the small boat is returning to from the fishing trip

The chills of Iceland and the vast snowy landscape are there from the first page and fans of the Hardy boys remember the spirit of the other books which is more than present here.

From their home in Bayport USA, they fly to Akureyi in Northern Iceland but discover that the pilot is an enemy before they even arrive in Reykjavik! When a helicopter comes to rescue the pilot from the glaciers and not them, it is sometime before they are able to get help and so escape from the snowy landscape.

As Joe himself remarks – “Iceland is not a bad place for a detective case”

Later having returned to Reykjavik they search for the missing sailor at sea – the scenes in the sea are just what you would expect fro the hardy boys series :

“Then suddenly it happened. A huge wave bore down on them. It hit the raft when it was in a deep trough, and after it had passed over the clinging occupants, Frank Hardy was gone!”

This is the land for snowy and dangerous adventure all what the hardy boys are about. The usual is here such as the chases, the tying people up and getting people out of scrapes, but the snowy setting really ramped up the tension since you see how dangerous those glaciers can be.

A fun way to get into the setting of Iceland and go back to your childhood for a great adventure and a blast from the past. Books meant for children should never be over estimated in your search for a cracking adventure or to learn about a place and country. A lot of Iceland in this book for your money! And you can’t beat the Hardy Boys can you?

My Soul to Take – Iceland – Yrsa Sigurdardottir

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Prepare to be spooked and chilled in Iceland’s chilly landscape…..

Story in a nutshell

A mystery in the chilly, snowy and icy landscape of mystery, murder, hauntings and a lot of buried consequences..

1940s. Rural Iceland – Someone cruelly murders a young innocent girl.

Present day – a hotel has been built near where the girl was killed (although at this stage no one knows about her. The owner of the resort hotel is not happy and says the place is haunted amongst other faults. Thora Gudmundsdottir, lawyer and mother is asked to look into the matter and so she does.

There is an awful lot more guests at this hotel than it would first appear…

This story is awash in possible motives, history, family gothic, etc. It is well constructed, with perfect pacing. If you love a good mystery, you will love this one.

Place and setting

The hotel and spa - this hotel might be nice to experience the landscape of the novel /the mountain Kirkjufell - it stood alone in the sea/the Hvalfjörður tunnel - part of the journey you would travel to to snaefellsnes/ Reykjavik and the Fossvogur cemetery
The hotel and spa – this hotel might be nice to experience the landscape of the novel /the mountain Kirkjufell – it stood alone in the sea/the Hvalfjörður tunnel – part of the journey you would travel to to snaefellsnes from the capital/
Reykjavik and the Fossvogur /Gufunes cemetery

Snaefellsnes on Iceland’s west coast provides the ideal landscape for a story built on superstition local folklore as well as snowy and chilly soil. the book itself is called  The story of Iceland due to the level of atmosphere and evocative aspects to the writing   – around the culture and the history of the island as well as the people and the landscape of course.

The Snæfellsnes  is also known as Iceland in Miniature, because many national sights of Iceland that are popular and well known are actually located here including the Snæfellsjökull volcano. You can see it quite clearly fro the capital city Reykjavik on a good day and another exciting fact – its the setting of the novel Journey to the Centre of The Earth by Jules Verne!

Well, if you of a nervous disposition you may want to skip certain parts when reading this as, well, the sound of babies crying in the fog for example is not something you forget easily.

The supernatural theme in this book is quite fascinating though so I persevered as there’s something about a building on the old grounds of an area which has a strange and spooky history.

The air of strange and gruesome goings on starts when you realise just how the victim has been found murdered. Even before I got to that point though – the very first chapter seen through the eyes of a small frightened child was perhaps one of the most chilling for what it leads to.

I’m amazed I was able to continue reading  – as vivid as my imagination is – but I had to know what happened to her!

The book is interesting on so many levels – the Icelandic setting is only one of them – but the culture and heritage as well as the mythology alluded to is quite interesting and there were many things I felt I discovered from the book. The role of Nazism in Iceland during the war was one.

Bbrrrrr Iceland is very chilly indeed!

Iceland Noir is here! – Reykjavik -Festival of Crime fiction

Some of the great and varied! Books set in Iceland - sagas, crime fiction and even a Hardy Boys adventure!
Some of the great and varied books set in Iceland – sagas, crime fiction and even a Hardy Boys adventure!

There is a phrase in Icelandic, “Ad ganga med bok I maganum” – which literally means ‘everyone has a book in their stomach’, or everyone has a book inside them.

Iceland has apparently the highest rate per storytellers – published story tellers  – per head of the population than any other country.

So quite aptly, the latest crime festival, Iceland Noir is being held over the next four days in Reykjavik, Iceland – a great setting for chilling crime fiction!  Some of the booktrail’s favourite authors are as we speak getting settled in for a crime fest – Mari Hannah, William Ryan, Peter James and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir to name but a few!

Nordic perspectives and translating crime fiction across cultures is on topic tomorrow and perhaps the one the booktrailers are most looking forward to – Location, location – From Greenland to South America, via Romania and Greece. Well, that would be one fantastic book trail we think!

It’s the Icelandic setting however that we’re going to focus over the next four days as well, the stories that have come out of Iceland over the years never fail to impress us.

It was where we first learned that the word Saga is a literary thing and not just a holiday club for the over 60s. A saga in Iceland is a tale told over the years and passed down from one generation to another, stories  about the country’s earliest settlers, the Norse, stories about culture and tradition. Oh and the legends and myths that this country has!

There are signs of literature all over the city of Reykjavik with story-plaques on public buildings. but where we had a summer of book benches here in London – benches painted in the theme of various books – Iceland has story telling benches where by scanning a QR code on the bench activates a story or reading by a local writer.

Now that’s one kind of self service scanning experience we at the booktrail would love!

Over the next four days, we’ll be looking at Iceland Noir with a keen eye – Sagas, talking book benches and a crisp, Icelandic setting where a bunch of crime fans and crime writers have gathered to make sure your next crime read is the most chilling one yet.

For more information on Iceland Noir – please visit  – http://www.icelandnoir.com/

Come back tomorrow for Our Featured Icelandic Read!

Murder in Iceland – Burial Rites

 

burial-rites-hannah-kent

 

Set in Iceland – 1829

And based on a true story

And the setting – based on real places and real people – as the booktrail points here show – 

 

The map in the book detailing the main points of interest of the story. And stopovers for a booktrail with a difference!
The map in the book detailing the main points of interest of the story. And stopovers for a booktrail with a difference!

This is the story of Agnes Magnusdottir; a woman condemned to death for the murder of her employer and the last woman to be executed in Iceland. She is sent to live with a good Christian family in Kornsa to redeem herself before God before being led off to be executed for her crime –

They said I must die. They said that I stole the breath from men and now they must steal mine.

 

This is a book where the setting is central to the plot – chilling, raw, eerie and desperately cold and in this way becomes a leading character itself. On her transportation to Kornsa, Agnes describes her torment –

 

We are passing through the strange hills at the mouth of the valley and I  hear the caw of ravens. Their dark shapes look like omens against the brilliant blue of the sky.

Cruel birds, ravens, but wise. 

The bleak outlook in more ways than one of Burial Rites. Image courtesy of Wikipedia
The bleak outlook in more ways than one of Burial Rites. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

 

 

 

Agnes tells her story to Reverend Toti and you feel everyone last bit of the heat from the stove in the kitchen as she starts to tell her story. The story of Agnes however is only part of the real story of Burial Rites – the book is so intricately researched and crafted that we learn about Iceland through its people, customs and traditions of the time.

 

The prose and chapter lengths  – interspersed with letters, official communications from theDistrict Commissioner to the Reverend, and the thoughts of Agnes make for a haunting read, reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace and Wuthering Heights.

 

‘You look well’

‘They feed be better than at Stóra Borg

‘And you get along with the family?’

She hesitated. ‘They tolerate me’

‘What do you think of Jon, the District officer?’

‘He refuses to speak to me’

 

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One of the documents even covers the horrifying possibility of postponing the execution if the weather is too bad!

 

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The story stood out for the fact that it is based on true life and for the smatterings of Icelandic words and phrases dotted throughout the novel, makes for a thrilling and chilling literary journey to a country that is not the usual setting for a book, especially one written by a non Icelandic author.

 

I can see how Hannah Kent was so fascinated with Agnes and the events of 1829.

 

Outside of the main plot and central themes, there is one line – both in Icelandic and English that I have written in  a notebook for safe keeping –

 

Blindur er bóklaus maður – Blind is a man without a book

 

There are many lines that I have written in a notebook for safekeeping, such is the magical prose of the writing. Flowing,  raw, with the ability to change direction and mood at anytime -rather like the wind and the chilling atmosphere and story it is crafted to portray

 

Rain began to fall and the gale grew stronger. It lashed at the tall grass, flattening the stalks to the ground before whipping them skywards again.

 

What I felt when reading this book – a story of conflicting emotions

Welcome to Iceland

What an amazing first visit that was……

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Pictures from the Little Brown’s Pinterest site –

http://www.pinterest.com/pin/126945283220204465/

http://www.pinterest.com/pin/126945283219785138/

 

Meet the author here –

http://hannahkentauthor.com/