When the tail of the comet Bhaktul flicks through the Earth's atmosphere, deadly particles are left in its wake, and mankind is confronted with a virus that devastates the adult population. A renowned scientist proposes a bold plan: to build a ship that will carry a crew of 251 teenagers to a home in a distant solar system. Two years later, Galahad and its crew is launched. If their mission fails, it will be the end of the human race…
The teenage crew of Galahad has survived their first encounter with an alien race. Though shaken by the power of The Cassini, Triana and her Council are determined to continue their mission. But some of the crew don't agree. Led by the charismatic Merit Simms, a small group of crew members begins lobbying for a return to Earth—just as the ship enters the Kuiper Belt, the deadly minefield of asteroids that surrounds the solar system.
As Galahad dodges a storm of asteroids, Triana finds herself dealing with an increasingly hostile crew. Even some members of the Council are beginning to listen to Merit's arguments. Can Triana find a way to prevent a mutiny aboard Galahad, and lead her crew to safety?
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The Cassini Code
A Galahad Book
By Dom Testa
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2008 Dom Testa
All rights reserved.
The warning siren blared through the halls, running through its customary sequence of three shorts bursts, a five-second delay, then one longer burst, followed by ten heavenly seconds of silence before starting all over again. There could be no doubt that each crew member aboard Galahad was aware — painfully aware — that there was a problem.
Gap Lee found it annoying.
He stood, hands on hips and a scowl etched across his face, staring at the digital readout before him. One of his assistants, Ramasha, waited at his side, glancing back and forth between the control panel and Gap.
"Please shut that alarm off again, will you?" he said to her. "Thanks."
Moments later a soft tone sounded from the intercom on the panel, followed by the voice of Lita Marques, calling from Galahad's clinic.
"Oh, Gap darling." He sensed the laughter bubbling behind her words, and chose to ignore her for as long as possible.
"Gap dear," she said. "We've looked everywhere for gloves and parkas, but just can't seem to turn any up. Know where we could find some?" This time he distinctly heard the pitter of laughter in the background.
"Are you ignoring me, Gap?" Lita said through the intercom. "Listen, it's about sixty-two degrees here in Sick House. If you're trying to give me the cold shoulder, it's too late." There was no hiding the laughs after this, and Gap was sure that it was Lita's assistant, Alexa, carrying most of the load.
"Yes, you're very funny," Gap said, nodding his head. "Listen, if you're finished with the jokes for now, I'll get back to work."
This time it was definitely Alexa who called out from the background. "Okay. If it gets any colder we'll just open a window." Lita snickered across the speaker before Alexa continued. "Outside it's only a couple hundred degrees below zero. That might feel pretty good after this."
Gap could tell that the girls weren't finished with their teasing, so he reached over and clicked off the intercom. Then, turning to Ramasha, he found her suppressing her own laughter, the corners of her mouth twitching with the effort. Finally, she spread her hands and said, "Well, you have to admit, it is a little funny."
He ignored this and looked back at the control panel. What was wrong with this thing? Even though his better judgment warned him not to, he decided to bring the ship's computer into the discussion.
"Roc, what if we changed out the Balsom clips for the whole level? I know they show on the monitors as undamaged, but what have we got to lose?"
The very human-like voice replied, "Time, for one thing. Besides, wouldn't you know it, the warranty on Balsom clips expires after only thirty days. Sorry, Gap, but I think you're grasping now. My recommendation stands; shut down the system for the entire level and let it reset."
Gap closed his eyes and sighed. Some days it just didn't pay to be the Head of Engineering on history's most incredible spacecraft. He opened his eyes again when he felt the presence of someone else standing beside him.
It was Triana Martell. At least Galahad's Council Leader seemed relatively serious about the problem. "I don't suppose I need to tell you," she said calmly, "that it's getting a little frosty on Level Six."
"So I've heard," Gap said. "About a hundred times today, at least." He turned back to the panel. "Contrary to what some of your Council members think, I am working on it. Trying to, anyway."
Triana smiled. "My Council members? I'm just the Council Leader, Gap, not Queen. Besides, you're on the team, too, remember?"
Gap muttered something under his breath, which caused Triana's smile to widen. She reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder. "You'll figure it out. Has Roc been any help?"
Her subtle touch was enough to jar him from his bleak mood. He felt the ghost of his old emotions flicker briefly, especially when their gazes met, his dark eyes connecting with her dazzling green. A year's worth of emotional turbulence replayed in his mind, from his early infatuation with Triana, to the heartache of discovering she had feelings for someone else, to his unexpected relationship with Hannah Ross.
Even now, months later, he had to admit that contact with Triana still caused old feelings to stir, feelings that seemed reluctant to disappear completely. Maybe they never would.
"Well?" Triana said. He realized that he had responded to her question with a blank stare.
"Oh. Uh, no. Well, yes and no."
Triana removed her hand from his shoulder and crossed her arms, a look Gap recognized as "please explain." He internally shook off the cobwebs and turned back to the panel.
"I'm thinking it might be the Balsom clips for Level Six. That would explain the on-again, off-again heating problems."
"But Roc disagrees. He says he has run tests on every clip on Level Six, and they check out fine. He wants to shut down the system and restart."
Triana looked at the panel, then back to Gap. "And you don't want to try that?"
Gap shrugged. "I'm just a little nervous about shutting down the heating system for the whole ship when a section has been giving us problems. What happens if the malfunction spreads to the entire system?"
"Well, we would freeze to death, for one thing," Triana said.
"Yeah. So, maybe I'm being a little overly cautious, but I'd like to try everything else before we resort to that."
The intercom tone sounded softly, and then the unmistakable voice of Channy Oakland, another Galahad Council member, broke through the speaker. "Hey, Gap, did you know it's snowing up here on Level Six?"
Triana barely suppressed a laugh while Gap snapped off the intercom.
"I'll quit bothering you," she said, turning to leave. Over her shoulder she called out, "Check back in with me in about an hour. I'll be ice skating in the Conference Room."
"Very funny," Gap said as she walked out the door. He looked over at Ramasha, who had remained silently standing a few feet away. A cautious grin was stitched across her face. "What are you laughing at?" he said with a scowl.
They were only chunks of ice and rock. But there were trillions of them, and they tumbled blindly through the outermost regions of the solar system, circling a sun that appeared only as one of the brighter stars, lost amongst the dazzling backdrop of the Milky Way. Named after the astronomer who had first predicted its existence, the Kuiper Belt was a virtual ring of debris, a minefield of rubble ranging from the size of sand grains up to moon-sized behemoths, orbiting at a mind-numbing distance beyond even the gas giants of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.
Arguments had raged for decades over whether lonely Pluto should be considered a planet or a hefty member of the Kuiper Belt. And, once larger Kuiper objects were detected and catalogued, similar debates began all over again. One thing, however, remained certain.
The Kuiper Belt posed a challenge for the ship called Galahad. Maneuvering through a region barely understood and woefully mapped, the shopping mall-sized spacecraft would be playing a game of dodge ball in the stream of galactic junk. Mission organizers could only manage a guess at how long it would take for the ship to scamper through the maze. Taking into account the blazing speed that Galahad now possessed — including a slight nudge from an unexpected encounter around Saturn — Roc told Triana to be on high alert for about sixty days.
Now, as they rocketed toward the initial fragments of the Kuiper Belt, both Roc and the ship's Council were consumed with solving the heating malfunction aboard the ship, unaware of the dark, mountainous boulders that were camouflaged against the jet black background of space.
Boulders that were on a collision course with Galahad.CHAPTER 2
Triana sat in the back of the Dining Hall, in her customary seat facing the door. Her tray held the remnants of a scant breakfast that had begun as an energy block and two small pieces of fruit, and now that tray was pushed aside. She fixed her gaze on the table's vidscreen, scanning the list of emails that had drifted in over the past seven hours. Mostly routine reports from the various departments on the ship, it appeared, with an extra entry from Channy. Curious, Triana opened the file.
Galahad's Activities/Nutrition Director, Channy was unquestionably the crew's spirit leader, too. Always upbeat — and visible from miles away in the vividly-colored t-shirts and shorts that contrasted with her chocolate-toned skin, and had become her trademark — she was one of the most popular crew members on board. Even after drilling her shipmates to near exhaustion in notorious workouts, the girl from England always found a way to bring out a sweaty smile.
She managed to do the same thing with her emails. This one she had addressed to each of the Council members.
The time has come for another celebrated Galahad gathering, my friends. As you know, my ability to coordinate successful functions is almost spooky, a talent that many strive for, but few achieve. Reference the two smash-hit soccer tournaments so far, and the amazing concert that brought a standing ovation for our beautiful and talented doc, Lita. What's next, you ask? Well, given my uncanny skills in uncovering smoldering romance, it's only natural: a dating game.
Triana couldn't help but smile. There was no doubt that Channy had earned her reputation as a first-rate Cupid, along with a side reputation for gossip. A dating game was so Channy that Triana was surprised the Brit hadn't dreamed it up before. She quickly finished reading through the email.
I propose that at the next Council meeting we discuss a good time to host this much-needed event. Work is work, and play is play, and both are important. But so is social time. Like the song says, love is all around. It just needs a little kick in the pants every now and then.
See you in the gym. Especially if you want to participate in my little show.
With a laugh, Triana saved the note and went on to the next one, a standard progress report from Bon Hartsfield, the head of Galahad's Agricultural Department. His work in the farms was impressive, a product of his strict upbringing on his father's farm in Sweden. His rough childhood was manifested in a sour, gruff exterior that intimidated many people on the ship, and kept him isolated socially. On a couple of occasions, however, his tough outer shell had been pierced in front of Triana, revealing a gentler side that he seemed embarrassed to admit existed.
This particular note showed no signs of softness. Just the usual report on crop harvests, a report on which foods would be rotated in and out, and crew personnel files. No personal notation, no quick "Hi, how's it going?" Just typical Bon.
Triana shuffled through several more items in the inbox, but stopped on one that seemed out of the ordinary. Written by a sixteen-year-old boy from California, it struck Triana as bizarre.
I speak for a group of Galahad crew members who are concerned about certain issues aboard the ship. I'd like to request the opportunity to speak with either you, or the full Council, at the earliest convenience.
She bit her lip and read it a second time. "Concerned about certain issues." What did that mean? Triana knew Merit, but not well. The few times she had encountered him since the launch he had been surrounded by a group of friends who seemed to hang on his every word, almost a leader of his own personal Council.
She had never heard a cross word from him, nor a complaint. Yet there was no denying that this particular note suggested a complaint was forthcoming.
"Okay," she thought, and stored the email in her saved file. Could be nothing, she decided. Several crew members had voiced minor issues that required Council intervention, but never anything critical. Mostly they concerned disputes with roommates, or problems with conflicting work schedules. "We've been lucky," Triana thought, especially given the cramped quarters they had all shared during the past seven months, and the ever-present stress of the mission in general. There was no reason to think Merit's note signaled anything more involved; perhaps he simply had a flair for the dramatic.
"Good morning, Tree."
Triana looked up to see Lita holding her own breakfast tray. Lita's dark complexion, signs of her upbringing in Veracruz, Mexico, radiated a naturally friendly glow. Her smile was infectious, and, as usual, a bright red ribbon held back her long dark hair. She indicated the seat next to Triana.
"Mind if I join you?"
"No, please," Triana said, picking up her tray and moving it to an empty table beside them. "I'm just checking mail from last night and this morning."
"Anything good?" Lita asked, placing a napkin on her lap and taking a brief swig from her glass of artificial juice.
Triana shared Channy's idea of the dating game, causing Lita to snort laughter just as she was taking a bite of fruit.
"Boy, doesn't that fit perfectly?" the ship's Health Director said. "Wonder what took her so long?"
"That's exactly what I thought," Triana said. "But, you know, given her history — and her charm, of course — I'm sure it will be a big hit."
Lita chewed on an energy bar thoughtfully, then fixed her friend with a stare. "Just be ready to have Channy nominate you for the game."
Triana froze. "Don't be ridiculous."
Lita shrugged. "Okay, but don't say I didn't warn you. I wouldn't be surprised if Channy didn't dream up this whole idea just to fix you up with someone."
"Because she's worried about you, that's why. She sometimes thinks of you as the 'Ice Queen.' You know, all work and no play."
A look of disbelief fell over Triana's face. "Oh, please. Listen, you tell little Miss Matchmaker that I'm just fine. And I will not be a contestant on her game show, or whatever it is."
"Well, if she really brings it up in the next Council meeting, you can let her down easy," Lita said, finishing off a chunk of apple. "Just leave me out of it."
They sat in silence for a minute, with Lita picking at her breakfast, while Triana let her mind drift into an area she usually didn't like it to visit. Regardless of what some crew members might imagine, she knew in her heart that she was no Ice Queen. It would be so much easier, she realized, if she were. That would mean no emotional roller coaster over what to do about Bon.
And just what was she going to do about him? First she was warm to the idea of a relationship, and he was distant. Then Bon warmed up and she couldn't decide if she still wanted the same thing. Which left them exactly where they were at this point: in limbo, neither making any move right now. Was it always going to be this difficult?
Her internal debate was interrupted by the sound of a minor commotion. A group of boys had entered the Dining Hall, laughing loudly, and exchanging greetings with several crew members near the door. At the center of the cluster, an air of aloofness surrounding him, stood a boy of average height with a mane of long, jet-black hair. While his companions struck up conversations with those gathered near them, the boy's dark eyes scanned the room, taking in the occupants. After a moment his gaze settled upon Triana. She returned his steady look until he nodded slightly.
Lita looked over her shoulder at the boisterous group, then back to Triana. "Isn't that Merit Simms?"
"Yes, it is."
Lita took one more quick glance toward the door. "I've heard some stuff about him lately."
Triana raised her eyebrows. "Really? What have you heard?"
"Oh, that he's been pretty vocal about some things. Thinks we need to make some changes, stuff like that."
Triana sized him up as he casually made his way to pick up a tray. His slight build was not imposing, but something about the way he carried himself gave off an almost regal manner. The moment he started toward the food line, Triana noticed that the other boys who had entered with him immediately ended their conversations and fell into step behind him. It had all the indications of an entourage.
Excerpted from The Cassini Code by Dom Testa. Copyright © 2008 Dom Testa. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
The Science Behind Galahad
Volume 1: Artificial Intelligence
Hi. Dom Testa here. You've got your eyes trained on the first entry in a brand new series of articles that I'll be writing, and I'm excited about it.
You see, as I've spent the past few years writing the Galahad book series—which is about the ongoing adventures of 251 teenagers who live aboard a spaceship destined for another world –I've found myself increasingly interested in the science that is at the heart of what is technically science fiction. I wonder: How does artificial gravity work? What is the technology that allows Gap Lee to be such a good Airboarder? How does NASA make use of solar sails in space travel, and what really happens when the Earth passes through the tail of a comet? And when I deliver presentations at schools or talk with fans out on the road, I've found that they often wonder the very same things.
So, in an effort to satisfy my curiosity and yours, I've decided to explore some of those topics in greater detail. With each volume I'll tackle a scientific phenomenon of some sort and take it apart, bit by bit, until we all understand it a little better. It's the science behind the Galahad series, and I've got a sneaking suspicion that it's going to be a whole lot of fun. Let's dive right in, shall we? First up: Artificial Intelligence.
"Open the Pod Bay Doors, HAL"
The term ‘Artificial Intelligence', or ‘AI' for short, dates way back to 1956, and the man who has long been credited with dreaming up that nifty little phrase is a computer scientist named John McCarthy –still alive and kicking as I write these words, by the way. Good for him. Anyway, the most basic technical definition that I've found is this:
-noun; the capacity of a computer to perform operations analogous to learning and decision-making in humans
Or to boil it down even further: computers who think and reason like humans. Hmmm.
The first time that I remember being introduced to the concept of AI was in Stanley Kubrick's brilliant movie, and the Arthur C. Clarke book that accompanied it, 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was produced so long ago (1968) that the year 2001 must have seemed impossibly far away. In 2001, a spaceship sent to investigate one of Jupiter's moons is controlled by the HAL 9000 (known simply as ‘HAL'), a computer that talks and thinks and maintains all of the ships vital functions. Incidentally, four decades later a much cooler computer would appear aboard a much cooler ship and serve much the same purpose –but more on that later.
2001 wasn't the first time someone had dreamed up this idea of a sentient computer – in fact, Clarke himself had been writing stories about such things since the 1940s – but it was the first time that the idea showed up on my radar, and I'll bet I'm not alone. That movie left an indelible impression on generations of filmgoers as HAL developed an agenda of his own and then executed it, all the while explaining his actions in a very calm, very creepy monotone voice.
Also in the late 1960s, the television show Lost in Space featured a robot –aptly named ‘Robot' –that displayed its own form of artificial intelligence (and which also contributed the phrase, "Danger, Will Robinson!" to pop culture history). It was the very definition of cheesy TV, but I loved that show. Later, in the 1980s, the film Blade Runner–also based on a famous science fiction story, this time by eccentric author Phillip K. Dick –featured cyborgs that had gotten out of control and gone on a killing spree. It was a blockbuster hit with big movie stars and dazzling special effects that became something of a cult favorite over the years. And to some degree, there are lots of books and movies with similar themes dotting our cultural landscape. The Terminator and Star Wars franchises both feature a heavy dose of out-of-control androids or cyborgs, as does The Matrix trilogy. Some even argue that Frankenstein, written in 1818, deals with issues of Artificial intelligence in its story of a monster created from spare parts in a madman's laboratory. But is that all there is to the idea of Artificial Intelligence? Fictional computers run amok and bent on overtaking their human counterparts?
Hardly. Fact is, the real world of AI is just as spectacular –but much less menacing.
A (Very) Short History Lesson
Once the field of Artificial Intelligence began to take shape, it wasn't long before scientists from all over the world were raising the bar –and raising the stakes. The U.S. Department of Defense, which oversees the military, directed millions of dollars toward funding research, and other countries followed suit. Optimism ran high that within the span of a few decades, machines would possess the ability to cognitively perform many of the same tasks that humans do, and perhaps more. The train of innovation charged ahead…
…right into a brick wall. By the 1970s, the progress that was being made in the field of AI was not up to par with the lofty expectations that had been set for it, and some countries, including the United States, cut most of their funding for AI-related projects. This became known as the first (but not the last) ‘AI Winter,' where the money dried up and the momentum largely stalled. This would happen again in the late ‘80s, but new developments once again reenergized the world's imagination and the train started moving again.
It seems there are just too many possibilities for the field of Artificial Intelligence to stay buried for long… especially in light of the technological revolution that has taken place in the first part of the 21st century. In a world of satellites and digitization and quantum physics and nanotechnology, we're bound to explore the boundaries of computer capabilities.
Though we may not realize it, Artificial Intelligence does exist in today's world in various forms. We encounter it in a number of ways, some of which we don't even notice. But one of the most high-profile displays of AI technology in recent memory actually turned up in a distinctly old-world venue: the game of chess.
Beginning in 1989, Russian chess champion Garry Kasparov engaged in a series of matches against chess-playing computers designed by IBM. Perhaps the most famous match took place in 1997, when Kasparov was defeated by a computer called Deep Blue in a controversial six-game match. Kasparov would later avenge the loss in a series of rematches, but the lesson was clear: Deep Blue and the machines that followed in its footsteps clearly demonstrated an advanced capacity for creative and critical thought –something which many doubters had long claimed was impossible.
The years since Deep Blue's emergence have brought other major developments in the field of Artificial Intelligence. To one degree or another, computers now have the ability to do everything from diagnosing serious medical conditions to composing original music(both pop and classical, in case you were wondering). More often than we realize, a branch of AI is responsible for the backbone of some new technology that quickly becomes a fixture in our everyday lives. Take a quick look at all the gadgets in your home. I'll bet you can find at least a few that rely on AI, right?
Then there are the robots.
Ah yes, the robots. Every so often I will come across a news story that shows video of a robot designed by a brilliant team of scientists in some far-away lab –Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have each made great strides here in the U.S., but there are many similar projects going on overseas, particularly in Asia –and I always shake my head in awe and admiration. These robots can follow commands but, so far, have trouble thinking on their own. That's because no one has quite cracked the code for how to get them to process thoughts beyond the formal logic of, say, a Google search or a chess match. In those instances, a computer can sift through web sites or analyze probability based on previous chess moves, and it does it quite well. Far better than humans, in fact. But what computers still cannot do is connect that formal logic to abstract concepts, which is why, if a robot were to beat you in chess, it may be able to shake your hand afterward, but it would not be able to adjust if you wanted to high-five instead –not without being programmed to do so –nor would it understand the reason or the meaning behind your gesture.
Of course this doesn't mean that there is not a great deal of practical use for artificial intelligence today. Indeed, some form of AI is already being used for everything from building cars to programming your TV. And more importantly, there is nearly constant daily progress. When you stop and think about it, we've come an awfully long way in a very, very short amount of time. I wonder what tomorrow might bring.
It is true that many people fear what the future holds. (It's also true that people fear robots who look too much like real people –it's a lot like the way people fear clowns. Excuse me while I shiver away the goose bumps that suddenly appeared on my arms and neck.) Ever since John McCarthy and his peers first coined the phrase ‘Artificial Intelligence' there have been those who oppose its development on the grounds that we, as humans, may be getting in over our heads. That we may one day create a computer that we will not be able to control. That we are destined to find ourselves the servants instead of the masters. And while it is impossible to say whether that eventuality comes to pass or not, what has become clear is that when it comes to Artificial Intelligence, the sky really is the limit. Which is why, when it came time for me to send 251 of the brightest teenagers from all over the world into space in order to save mankind, the person I put at the center of their experience wasn't really a person at all.
The narrator of the Galahad series, and the one who maintains many of the ship's vital functions, is a thinking, talking computer called Roc. Roc was designed in the image of his creator, Roy Orzini, but he also flashes a personality that is very much his own. He's sarcastic and wise, and he has a sense of humor, too. He develops relationships with crew members that go beyond the formal, professional capacity that you'd expect. Triana Martell is the Council Leader of Galahad, and there's no question that she is the star of the show. Other characters come and go, and I've found when I visit with fans of the book series, they each have their own favorite character.
But if those characters are the pieces that make up the Galahad series, then Roc is the glue that holds those pieces together. He's responsible for so much of the technical aspects of their journey –everything from regulating the oxygen, to maintaining the radiation shield, to preventing a catastrophic collision with an asteroid –but he also uses his advanced powers of deduction on a personal level. He's a confidant, a mentor, a friend. He's a computer who fits the very definition of Artificial Intelligence, and then, when you least expect it, he is so much more.
Will science ever take that next leap in the development of computers? Might our children one day have a best friend who was designed and constructed in a warehouse somewhere? Or, as some claim, is there an essential part of the human experience that can never be replicated?
I don't know the answers to those questions any more than you do, but I'll tell you this: like just about everything else in the world of science, I can't wait to find out.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love liam payne. I really want to meet him that doesnt cost a fortune. Any ideas?-liamsbiggestfan
The third book in this series is continues the fascinating adventure of the Galahad crew. I think it is so cool that the author Dom Testa brings such interesting texture to the relationships going on, and yet kept me on the edge of my seat with the exciting action. I bet this is gonna be made into movies someday. So good. Really.
Comet Bhaktul entered earth's atmosphere leaving deadly paticles behind that killed every person over eighteen years old. A desperate mission to save some aspects of humanity sent 251 teens chosen on the Galahad space ship traveling to Eos. The trip has been difficult although the leader Triana and the Council have done overall well by overcoming a saboteur (see The Comet's Curse) and defeating the first alien race they met, the Cassini on a moon of Saturn (see The Web of Titan). The Galileo enters the Kuiper Belt where junk revolves around the solar system, making it a dangerous sector to travel. The heating system and the collision warning system fail. Charismatic Merit Simms begins a movement to turn around and return to earth before they all die in space. He has many supporters and new dissidents join him everyday. As the crew divides mostly between the Council and the armband wearing Merit opposition, the Cassini are back. The third Galahad teen science fiction thriller is super action-packed Wild in the Streets (except in the solar system) tale driven by the cast especially the leadership rivals of Tiana and Merit. Each has strong qualities, but whereas Triana is cautious and caring of others, Merit believes he is right and has no concern about his opponents. The Cassini Code is loaded with action as the crew reacts to a various series of crises; some caused by the schism. Readers of all ages will want to know who won the power struggle and what did it do to the mission. Harriet Klausner
I love this book!