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  • Rachelle Gardner
- Author
‘Along Muddy Banks’ and other poems
By: Jim Brosnan Along Muddy Banks On a gray morningin the early hoursafter first light, I follow a mile longwooden boardwalk,binoculars in hand, sight a pair of whiteegrets and an ibisamidst thick […]
- Author
Dressed for Tea
By: Carl Papa Palmer He wears the blue blazer every dayfor breakfast, lunch and dinnersince the lovely lady in room 18invited him to her table during teasaying how dapper he would lookin […]
- Author
The Major
By Stephen Tillman        Major Brett Stempin needed his cane as he painfully ascended the steps to his front porch. He’d been wounded near the end of his twelve-month deployment and spent […]
- Author
‘Wordless’ and other poems
By: Richard LeDue Wordless A grey sky says it allwithout a single word,even if it leaves mesearching for a wayto express sadness that isn’t heavyas lead, while his cancer diagnosissinks in- my […]
- Author
‘Why Fear the Future?’ and other poems
By: Pramod Rastogi Why Fear the Future? Not even a nanosecond to lose has Time,It has been on its trot since the Big Bang.The future continually recedes into the pastAs Time moves […]
- Author
The UPS Man
By Ruth Z. Deming He was late, very very late. I was frantic, but I had gotten a messagehe would soon be here. I was diverting myself by talking to a former […]
- Author
E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India: Double Vision
By Ramlal Agarwal Forster, as is well-known, was a humanist, soft-spoken, cultivated, cultured man. He believed in personal relations and universal brotherhood. He was also a man of rare intelligence and insight and […]
- Author
Glowing Ghostly
By Harrison Abbott You walk home at night, maybe two miles. A pumping sadness all day; these wrathful stories have worn you out. You step off the curb, clumsily, and a car […]
- Author
Seven Mountains and Seven Seas
By Ramprasath Rengasamy      “My name is Rash. I am a pharmacologist. I have been broadcasting from all the AM channels on the Rima continent from Maxas. Seven hundred billion people worldwide […]
- Author
‘Witnessed Tales’ and other poems
By Rogert Isaacs Chiwala Witnessed Tales Beautiful dyes spreadIn twilight of sunsetStories I have experiencedColourful like a rainbow I had done this beforeI was naïveNo remedy in regretOnly pain but life goes […]
- Brenda Hillman
Dear American Gun Owner: When is Enough?

This essay is excerpted from Dear America (March 2020) and was originally called “Titration.” 


I. Dear American gun owner,

Several days have passed since the most recent mass shootings. I want to write to you, as a mother, a grandmother & a teacher, about your guns. I don’t know you, but I know you aren’t all white nationalists. Some of you hunt for your food. Some like marksmanship & shooting ranges. Some go to gun shows to admire the modern technology. Some of you are my relatives.

I’ve been trying to think about your fear of being without weapons, especially without AR-15s & AK-47s. I feel despair that you are unreachable. It is the lunging inarticulate despair of an adolescent trying to talk to parents when the parents can’t hear. Your neighbors cannot reach you. These shootings numb your neighborhoods with sorrow, rage & depression while you remain unreachable. Part of the work is to keep the rage & sorrow alive, not to pursue comfort after these incidents. The country waits for there to be “enough”—as in high school chemistry where something was added drop by drop & the color suddenly changed from pale blue to orange, or orange to blue—titration, it was called.

I know you can’t give up your weapons, but I’m asking you to support reasonable limits on their use.

The weeks after these shootings have a familiar pattern: news outlets describe the shooter; law enforcement searches for a “motive.” The immediate motive behind such shootings is usually hatred of people’s skin tone, hatred of religious differences, hatred of classmates, loose hatred in an unstable mind. But the motive behind the motive is gun profiteering. Behind the sense of safety & power your guns give you—& what manipulates you into rejecting commonsense limitations on weapons—is corporate money made at the expense of the safety of your children. You who hate government, have been made fools of.

Maybe you are a mild-mannered white woman in New Hampshire watching Fox News with a pistol in the oak chest. Perhaps you are in Kansas keeping a fast rifle as self-defense against intruders. Perhaps you’re in Texas reading nationalist websites on your phone. Maybe you’re a church-going father of three girls who believes the elites in New York are servants of Satan. Maybe you find military weapons aesthetically pleasing & sexy. Perhaps you are a grandmother who finds our current president’s sociopathic messaging honest & refreshing after years of political vapidity. A friend in Frankfurt described how his grandmother was sexually attracted to Hitler & killed herself when Hitler died.

Where are your firearms made? Where are the factories? I believe some are in Virginia. I need to research this. When I get to Virginia, I will go with my friend to find the factories. How do workers endure the monotony of assembling assault rifles? Are they like any workers we know, waiting for the lunch break, & what do they have for lunch?

I know you can’t give up your weapons, but I’m asking you to support reasonable limits on their use. I’m asking that you give up your commitment to fear. We all have things that are hard to give up. I once loved cigarettes. These things are hard to give up. I ask that you give up your fear of others & your love for these violent endings.

Sincerely, Brenda Hillman



II. Dear American who doesn’t own a gun,

Several years ago, I wrote a poem about selling my father’s old World War II pistol. I’d been teaching Dickinson’s “My Life had stood, a Loaded gun,” a poem about accessing poetic power as if it were a weapon. Dickinson’s gun is of course not a physical object but a metaphor. I was meeting my brothers in Tucson to begin cleaning out the family house after our father’s death. I had been asked for a poem about gun violence for an anthology. My poem has a flat reportorial style. My brothers & I were trying to get rid of the firearm our father had kept hidden since the 1940s, the mystique of which was dramatized by our lack of knowledge about where & why he kept it. My younger brother carried it gingerly away to a gun shop.

My father’s family, of southern lineage, uses pellet guns, BB guns & hunting rifles; they hunt deer & other wild game. Our grandfather shot rats with pellet guns in the corn barn. I identified completely with the rats. My brothers & I, spending time on that farm in our childhood summers, developed no special eros around guns, though they chased each other around, fake-shooting & fake-dying, plunging to the carpet with loud groaning, arguing about who was really dead. Is the love of the gun shape connected to a Y chromosome? Probably not. Our leader blames mass shootings on video games.

“The United States makes up 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but holds almost half of all civilian-owned guns worldwide and the homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 developed countries.”

The right, the right. The Second Amendment is a time-specific right, associated with early militias & muskets that took ten minutes to load. The right to bear arms was considered a powerful right by rural settlers; the right wing remains committed to this revolutionary throwback issue. The fierce independence, the fear of being dominated by an outside power; the fear that an authority will hold unreasonable sway over you—all these led to a particularly American defiance. Settlers & occupiers since the beginning of time fear the not-us: protect family; our tribe against them; protect property & life. The Second Amendment, made by & for free white men only, assumed militias in the street to guard a particular idea of home as an individual & not a communal space.

Dickinson’s poem & the terrified rural right both express defiance toward authority. But those clinging to their guns are physically fearful, holding nothing in common with the ferocity of Dickinson’s speaker who writes of the power of her imagination as a loaded gun.

After Sandy Hook & the 2016 election, I signed up for some of the Second Amendment websites so that, like Mithridates VI who poisoned himself a bit each day to prepare for a possible “big poisoning,” I could get used to their craziness. I couldn’t read them. After Parkland, I decided to turn off all media the moment one shot is fired. Impossible; I can’t turn off all movies or “bullet points” in your PowerPoint. Gun eros flows from the corporate world. A poet recently reported (a little proudly) that her poetry reading in an international setting was punctuated by guards firing assault weapons into the air.

According to a 2016 study by Harvard and Northeastern Universities, more than half of the privately owned firearms are by just 3 percent of Americans. Congressman Mark DeSaulnier sent this out: “The United States makes up 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but holds almost half of all civilian-owned guns worldwide and the homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 developed countries. The commonsense reforms we have made in California are working. As the state with the top-rated gun laws, we also have the ninth lowest rate of gun violence in the country. Universal background checks, mandatory waiting periods, and an assault weapons ban are among the reforms that protect public safety while not infringing on Second Amendment rights.”

For decades I’ve participated in demonstrations that have turned “violent”—meaning, protesters end up getting hurt. We are losing patience. In a letter, my hero Rosa Luxemburg says she used her gun to help get a pamphlet printed in 1917. I read this in the context of her time; a gun ensuring speech, not silencing it. When I told an elderly friend that, though I am not an absolute pacifist, I don’t think I could shoot anyone, she said, You never know what you would do in the moment. She had been in the Polish Underground in World War II & had shot a Nazi soldier to protect another woman. She thought about it every day, she said.

I know my position on guns is possibly a luxury. Though my parents come from poverty, I have the advantage of being white & middle class. I am a teacher with beloved family & friends; I can write my strange poems & talk to trees or the spirit world in great freedom. My participation in street protests is optional—I protest when I can.

This is not Burma or Haiti. If an intruder came through my front door to get my grandchildren, I might lose control. Though he is himself a woman’s child, I might hit him with a pan. I might hit him with a dish or a lamp. But I don’t believe I would fire a weapon at another human being; that involves planning by having the gun handy, & my inner authorities & my old Christianity say one should not plan to kill, whether under orders or because of hatred or ideology.

That is as far as I’ve gone in my thinking, America. We need to live so we aren’t full of fear. Not doing the wrong thing is on the way to doing the right thing.

Sincerely, Brenda Hillman


Excerpted from Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy; edited by Simmons Buntin, Elizabeth Dodd and Derek Sheffield published by Trinity University Press. For more information, please visit

- Lit Hub Daily
Lit Hub Daily: May 25, 2022
TODAY: In 1925, Mexican poet and author Rosario Castellanos is born.    

“Now my job is to read reports. To know everything. As if knowing everything will help.” Two essays about life in wartime Ukraine. | Lit Hub Ukraine

It’s complicated: Lillian Fishman recommends books about solipsistic, transformative love. | Lit Hub Reading Lists

Lily King on the childhood recipes we carry with us. | Lit Hub Food

“If I weren’t a writer, I’d probably be a small-scale sawmill operator who wrote about being a small-scale sawmill operator in his spare time.” Jon Mooallem takes the Lit Hub Questionnaire. | Lit Hub

Lauren Shufran considers how Shakespeare engages with Buddhism’s dukkha, or suffering. | Lit Hub Religion 

“When I run, I’m not taking a break from life; I’m living.” Andrea Marcolongo on running to live and running to write. | Lit Hub

Behind the creation of the first female superhero comic, which “thumbs its nose at the traditionally macho conventions” of the genre. | Lit Hub History

Global journeys and impromptu swims: Jane Ciabattari captures the Bay Area Book Festival in six acts. | Lit Hub

David Yoon with the 10 most captivating apocalypse novels. | CrimeReads

How 19th-century gun-makers helped preserve the Union. | Lit Hub History

“Trying to recreate the original high of a singular reading experience has diminishing returns.” Maris Kreizman looks at the legacy of Gone Girl, ten years later. | Esquire

Women over 45 are reliable book buyers—so why won’t the publishing industry consult or celebrate them? | The Bookseller

“If the process of creation is precisely what traditional biography cannot illuminate, then what purpose does the genre serve? Is it just a form of higher gossip?” Morten Høi Jensen considers the literary biography. | Liberties

Iggy Pop and Ottessa Moshfegh discuss raging against the machine. | Document Journal 

In response to news about book bans in the US, Margaret Atwood is creating an “unburnable” edition of her book The Handmaid’s Tale. | The Guardian

Isabelle Popp outlines some of the best road trip books out there. | Book Riot

“The meaning of death in a secularized society suffuses Knausgaard’s writings as much as the question of religion does.” Daniel Silver searches for meaning in The Morning Star. | The Point

Also on Lit Hub: A conversation with Sarah Ruhl • Read an excerpt from Emma Grove’s new graphic memoir, The Third Person • Read from Daniel Birnbaum’s newly translated novel, Dr. B (tr. Deborah Bragan-Turner)

- Andrei Krasniashikh
Life in Wartime Ukraine: Two Essays by Andrei Krasniashikh

Versions of these essays—translated here by Tanya Paperny, with Katya Kompaneyets—originally appeared in Ukrayinska Pravda. A previous installment in the translation of this series appeared at Circumference.


In the frame

Borodin writes: “How’s your sense of humor?” It’s there but more wary. Father jokes though. And dumps cold water on himself.

Mom prays. Father stays quiet so he won’t bother her. When I’m not looking, he prays too. I scroll through my feed to avoid thinking about what could happen, but I still think and picture it.

On the pickled vegetables we got from volunteers, it says: “Give this jar back to grandma Ulyana after the war. I don’t want to hear anything about it.” Then the name of the village.

I’m reading obituaries for Russian officers. They write “alot” without a space. “Yesterday we bury four lieutenant colonels.” I read our reports—in Russian—and not one mistake. Plus I like the writing style.

The Russians seriously think that Stepan Bandera is alive. Our zoo renamed the panther Stepan. Stepan Panthera.

There’s apparently a lot we didn’t know about our own—Reznikov, Podolyak, Arestovych. Kim, Synyehubov. About Zelenskyy, who he really is. It’s nice to think I voted for him.

In the Telegram channel “TPYXA,” there’s a video of someone who decided to shake out their rugs amidst the shelling. Doesn’t show how it ended.

I’m the only one masked in the supermarket. They pay attention but not really. They’ve already seen saboteurs and marauders. And dead people.

“At first, we went down to the cellar for every air-raid siren. It was me, grandma, mom, my aunt, great-aunt and second cousin. And sometimes their cat. Days passed.”

I have no problem pronouncing “palianytsia.” As a kid, I went caroling in Poltava. With grandma and grandpa over winter break. “Carol, carol, caroling. Our bread is good with honey, but without it not at all. Auntie auntie, gimme a penny.” That was the only Ukrainian rhyme I knew since I skipped Ukrainian language and literature, voc-ed, P.E. and basic military training due to my eyesight. Turns out it’s the most important rhyme to know. Was back then too.

Nadya drew them all running down to the cellar after an air-raid siren. Her caption:

“In a hurry, mom mixed up her boots with her mitts and grandma put a pot on top of her head! And I — dressed normally.”

A whole poem.

When the blasts rattle our apartment windows, father says: our Air Defense is doing its job. I don’t stop to consider whether these words are calming for mom. Or if she’s just acting like they are.

Mom doesn’t hear well. But the explosions she hears. Even when there are none.

When there are no sirens and no blasts, we do what you’re not supposed to: make plans. How we’ll go to Figurovka. Figurovka, outside Chuhuiv—it’s been destroyed already.

An update in the “Lightning” Telegram channel: “Zaporizhzhia—alert!” “Kremenchuk—alert!” “Naples—alert!” Something’s off. Came back. “Nikopol—alert!”

Nadya doesn’t finish her food, leaves it on the plate. Forces it on my wife. Even feeds her. “Don’t want it.” “Just a little bite.” “I don’t want it.” “Come on, come on. So Putin dies.” “Where’d you hear that?” “I made it up.” Doesn’t even matter, everyone is thinking it now.

That he’d fall asleep and never wake up. Instead of us.

There’s no heart medication in the pharmacies. Or in storage. They’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel. Not even Valerian. My sister says it’s the same in Poltava.

Oleg tells us. He was walking along the water. At an entryway, two people were waiting, trying to get in. Came to fix the internet, they said. They even showed some documents. He didn’t believe them—looked like hooligans. So he messaged the building chat. No one said they were expecting repairmen. He didn’t let them in. Half an hour later in the chat: “That’s for us.”

School started back up. Remotely. Essay prompt: “How my life has changed since the war.” If it’s not too painful to write about.

“The evening of February 23rd, I did my homework and went to bed as usual. But when I woke up in the morning, I realized that I had a good night’s sleep and my alarm never went off. I usually get up at 6:30 to catch the school bus, which comes at 8:15. When I woke up, it was already 8:00. I looked at the clock and freaked out.”

My wife, staying in a single-family home, heard machine-gun fire. Bullets landed in the neighbor Oleg’s place—a hole where there used to be an apartment.

“At first, we went down to the cellar for every air-raid siren. It was me, grandma, mom, my aunt, great-aunt and second cousin. And sometimes their cat. Days passed. Soon we stopped going to the cellar and just turned off the lights when there was a siren.”

Before meeting up with my wife, I picked a book for the kid. Robinson Crusoe.

For the new year, we got tickets to Odessa. We didn’t go—I got sick. We didn’t go to Baturyn on my birthday.

We had tickets for Brody on March 5. Galician Jerusalem. Near Olesko Castle. And Pidhirtsi. We already planned the itinerary.

Now my job is to read reports. To know everything. As if knowing everything will help. Plugged-in-edness.

A notification went off on my phone. Got louder. Even though earlier a woman’s voice said: “Siren canceled.” And now Arestovych’s voice: “Siren canceled. You can go back to normal. Everything will be fine.”

My phone updated the wallpaper options. My screensaver is gone: Fort Tarakanivskyy. Where we went in the fall. “Ancient” ruins of the 19th century. I tried to find the picture to switch it back. Now Kharkiv looks just like it. Instead I put up Nadya’s drawing where she’s smiling and surrounded by cats.

We’re driving. Mom looks out at the destroyed city and says: “Like in the movies. And we’re in the frame.”

My wife, staying in a single-family home, heard machine-gun fire. Bullets landed in the neighbor Oleg’s place—a hole where there used to be an apartment. Our department assistant saw the saboteurs.

Anyway the enemy saboteur guys came.

Evidence: short guy, my height but skinnier, black eyes, typical bandit look, in a black vest that looked bulletproof but wasn’t actually bulletproof, and a black hat. The other was tall, athletic build, light hair, light eyes, blueish gray, dark blue jacket.

The shorter one tried to grab my phone.

There are so many kids in here.

For the first time in my life, I’m happy I’m not a mother.

They said: We support Ukraine. Our guys wouldn’t say it that way.

They asked: Which language is easier for you? We immediately became wary. Them: We need to get onto the roof. We sent them to the management office. Them: You wanna keep sitting in the basement, go ahead. They asked for the roof key, we wanted to snap a picture of them, they immediately took out their Makarov pistols and threatened us. Anyway, we kicked them out, ran into the basement and locked the door. Our TerroDefense said: “Stay in a locked basement. Do not initiate contact. TerroDefense is clearing the area.”

It sounded strange at first but I really like the Ukrainian “hang on!” instead of “bye!” Now “hang in there” is a normal goodbye phrase even in Russian.



“The enemy continues to blockade the city of Kharkiv via Slobozhanske.”

Statement hasn’t changed for thirty days.

It can be read three ways. “Trying to block.” “Blocked completely,” or partially. From two or three sides.

Driving into Kharkiv when we were kids, there was the building with the big letters, “Kharkiv—worker city, scholar city,” something else and the coat of arms. Today on the drive in, half that building is gone. Now you see how people inside lived. Photographs on the walls. A rug.

Terekhov[1] says one-third has fled. Among my friends it’s higher. Yura to Uman. Lyudochka to Drohobych. Vazik to Ivano-Frankivsk. Neighbors to Korotich. Department colleagues to Dnipro, Kropyvnytskyi, Lviv, Chernivtsi.

Terekhov starts and ends each day with a mantra: “We are together. We are Kharkivites.”

Now Kharkiv is all of Ukraine.

Trouble spotter. To avoid becoming one, you never say which neighborhood you’re in. Out of superstition. And [you] don’t ask either.

But you understand: “all day in the basement” means northern Saltivka. Rohan’. Kharkiv Tractor Factory. “Went to the store” means Pavlove Pole. Cold Mountain. “Escaped” means Novi Domy.

No one writes from Horizon, it doesn’t exist anymore.

Dobkin on the third day of the war: “I’m in Kharkiv. Up until the last minute, I couldn’t believe Russia would attack Ukraine. For me, it’s all a terrible nightmare. I am burnt out hollow.”

Sapronov: “I went to volunteer as a driver. There’s bread but no one to bring it to. I went to Kulinichi.” His golf club is in bombed-out Piatykhatky, where they’re not bringing any food. “We have a basement. There’s water. Hot food. We can host people.”

Geese saved Rome. Cats and dogs saved Kharkiv. Especially its children.

In the Telegram channel “TRYXA”: “My father was standing in line at ‘Nova Poshta,’ there were about 50 people. A black Range Rover drove up, Oleksandr Feldman got out, opened the trunk, silently handed out groceries and left.” Yaroslavskyi from London a week after the war started: “I will spare no effort nor money.” Two days later: he’s selling his yacht.

Please complete this form to list all building damage after the shelling of Kharkiv.

Neighborhood Select street address Window damaged Yes No Entry door damaged Yes No Roof damaged Yes No Wall damaged Yes No Building completely destroyed Yes No Send.

Igor called. His father is elderly, ailing. His aunt too. They don’t want to leave.

Eastern Saltivka. To drown out the blasts, he puts on headphones. “I re-listened to Queen’s live show in Kharkiv. Do you like Jethro Tull?” We talked about Vilnius, he lived there for a month, he had an exhibition, he’s a photographer. And an Actionist performance artist. Celebrates Bloomsday every year. One time, about twelve years ago, we celebrated together. “Let’s come up with something again this year.” Sadness in his voice. Bloomsday is June 16th.

“‘’…on the side of the goose?’ Thank you for everything, Andrei Petrovich. See you in the next life.”

“On the side of the goose” is from Malaparte. Most terrifying novel about World War II. Ivan wrote about it for the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, I was his advisor. “Ivan, where and how are you?” “I’m in Kharkiv. My grandmother is here. So I’m not going anywhere.”

“In the next life” we’ll continue the work. Soon the Kyiv chapter. “Ivan, how are you?” “Fine. It’s so quiet here today. Silent all night. Stressful.”

“If only we lived on the 7th floor! We’ve got 16 floors. When it’s really bad, grandmother goes down to the 14th. We’re on the 5th near the elevators. And we spend the night on the 5th. We decided it’s safest there.”

He sent me a photo: him with coffee. “Coff-aine. We’ve been drinking for a week already. You forget about the booming completely.”

In the department group chat. “Landed on our building, in the entry near ours there’s a fire. And at my parents’ too. And many other homes nearby.”

“Landed on ours too. And my parents’…”

“This is my home from the yard.” In the foreground, a completely destroyed university building.

Kids have had to mature. But pets matured first. Lyudochka says that five minutes before an air-raid siren, her dog rounds them all up. Herds them into a safer room.

Their dog was found in a dumpster. Her husband picked it up as a puppy. Refused to be on a leash. Walked without it. When they evacuated, she came up herself, stuck her face through the leash. For two whole days in transit, she wore it. Everyone brings their one thing when evacuating. Not the most necessary thing, but their thing.

“We fled Kharkiv in the morning. Cats in tow, we ran the length of six stops. You can’t drive out here anymore.”

A cat slideshow in the department group chat. Everyone’s posting theirs. Turns out everyone has one. Or a dog. They’re all Kharkivites too.

“I’m smiling for the first time in days!”

Geese saved Rome. Cats and dogs saved Kharkiv. Especially its children. Nadya had withdrawn completely, wouldn’t speak to anyone. If she spoke, she fought. At night she screamed. Refused to go down to the cellar.

In a good mood, she’d draw. Every drawing had Lotte the cat. Always next to her. We used to just call this catpetting.

“I walk to work and pray that I’ll make it.” Overheard in line.

Terekhov: “After the war we’ll make a monument to the city sanitation workers.”

Photo in a Telegram channel: a janitor in red coveralls drags a rocket to the dumpster. A heavy one. I hope it was already exploded.

One janitor. Maybe two. But over here there are ten standing around near a playground. Fighting. Arguing loudly. It’s so nice. Like old times.

“It’s bad—they said to leave today. It’ll start at night. Do you have the phone number at Poltava? I’m looking for a car to take the cats.”

Two hours later: “Lenochka, they’re retreating from Kharkiv—Vereshchuk misspoke. Synyehubov said there’s no evacuation.”

In the morning she walks around and takes pictures of the first blooms. Buttercups and violets. Sends me the pictures.

“Leave.” In the next building over there’s a hole. Instead of an apartment. Holes in the school nearby where the kids went. His daughter is in Switzerland with her Swiss husband. The other is with family in the Netherlands. Has been for a long time. His wife went to visit just one day before the war started. The son took their one-year-old grandchild out of Kharkiv to Zakarpattia. So they sent a package via Nova Poshta. He didn’t pick it up that day. The next day that location was hit by a rocket. Six dead. Fifteen injured.

“Without the cat, I’d have lost my mind.” Chatty cat. Through the phone I can hear it talking. Hear it booming and rumbling. “C’mon, leave.”

There’s no gas. In his whole neighborhood. Gas lines are broken. Power goes out for a day or two. Internet cuts out. The whole city hasn’t had hot water for a long time.

“Leave.” He’s on the 12th floor, and his wife’s sister is on the 11th. His legs hurt, almost never goes out. Has three cats. Elevators have been off since day one of the war.

Ancient Greek. Professor of ancient Greek, that is. During the sirens he reads The Magus by Fowles. In the Ukrainian translation. He’s already read it in Russian and in ancient Greek.

April 4: “Enemy forces’ primary energy is directed towards preparation for the resumption of offensive actions to surround and seize the city of Kharkiv.”

[1] Mayor Ihor Oleksandrovych


Tanya Paperny is a writer, editor, translator, educator and community builder in Washington, DC and winner of the 2021 Hazel Rowley Prize from Biographers International Organization. More at

- Lauren Shufran
Buddhism’s Dukkha and Hamlet’s Dust: On Shakespeare’s Spiritual Wisdom

I haven’t taken a complete survey of world religions, but I suspect that some form of the question “Who’s there?” is the ultimate inquiry every spiritual tradition seeks to answer. It’s certainly the fundamental question Buddhist and Hindu philosophies pose. The great Hindu sage Sri Ramana Maharshi taught the question Nan Yar? (“Who am I?”) as the gateway to the true understanding of the Self. “Who’s there?” is also the opening line of Hamlet. And while the question receives much more attention in spiritual life than it does in critical investigations of one of Shakespeare’s greatest masterpieces, it’s a fertile meeting place for the most celebrated writer of all time and a 2500-year-old Buddhist practice of mindful attention.

Nearly ten years ago I discovered meditation while working on a doctoral dissertation on early modern British literature. To say one “works on early modern British literature” is a kind of code, in the humanities, for saying one is a Shakespearean: the Bard tends to overshadow and outshine his contemporaries in the canon. Meanwhile I was teaching undergraduate courses on Shakespeare; and the resonances between Shakespeare and spiritual practice—what I’ve come to think of as “the Dharma of Shakespeare”—began to sharpen into focus.

I could point you to plenty of reasons why I think this is so. I could propose that Shakespeare’s having been an actor (a “player”) before he was a dramatist endowed him with a mind vast as space, one that made room for all forms of experience. That in the practice of emptying-himself-of-himself, night after night, surely Shakespeare began to perceive what Buddhism understands as the root of our suffering (dukkha): that we are persons and personas (temporary individuals and transient players) who earnestly believe we’re permanent selves.

I could point to the long history of the theater being used as a metaphor for human incarnation and spiritual practice—as when American spiritual teacher Ram Dass describes spiritual work as coming to “understand that you are a soul passing through a life in which the entire drama is a script for your awakening and that you are more than just the drama.”[1] (“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare has Jacques claim in As You Like It; “And all the men and women merely players.”) I could place Shakespeare and the Buddha side-by-side and say: this one had the capacity to represent inwardness and suffering better than any writer of his time; this one discerned how to liberate us from that suffering.

I was teaching undergraduate courses on Shakespeare; and the resonances between Shakespeare and spiritual practice—what I’ve come to think of as “the Dharma of Shakespeare”—began to sharpen into focus.

But in the years I occupied the role of “teacher,” something more fundamental arose in the resonance between Shakespeare and spiritual work. More and more, I realized that the acute attention I asked my students to cultivate for Shakespeare’s language transferred to a deep attention to other aspects of their lives: the ways they listened to their classmates; the ways they began choosing their own words more carefully when they spoke; the ways they paused between phrases, as though authenticating with themselves that the words they were about to speak were most true. Attention is radically transformative; it’s a form of love. And over time, I observed a shift in the question our classroom conversations hinged on: from “What is Shakespeare doing with language here?” to “What might Shakespeare be proposing about the ways we are, as human ‘players,’ here?”

It’s a question I found compelling enough to write a book about; it’s called The Buddha and the Bard. Among its reflections is how Hamlet echoes one of the Buddha’s Three Marks of phenomenal existence, dukkha, or suffering:

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god—the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals! And yet to me what is this quintessence of dust?

Hamlet, act 2, scene 2

Hamlet portrays the passage into madness—whether real or feigned is a matter of endless conjecture—of a prince who’s visited by his father’s ghost and told his uncle was his father’s murderer. Hamlet vows to avenge his father’s life and puts “an antic [bizarre] disposition on” while he determines his best course of action. Ultimately, inaction is Hamlet’s tragic flaw. But as he tarries, the play’s other characters have time to concoct their own theories for the prince’s “distemper”: King Hamlet’s death, his widowed queen’s “o’erhasty marriage,” Hamlet’s love of Ophelia and her rejection of his advances. To discover the true source of Hamlet’s erratic behavior, his mother and uncle summon his university companions, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to Elsinore. The royal couple’s hope is that the scholars can cheer Hamlet out of his melancholy… or at the very least, discover its cause.

But while Hamlet is initially delighted to see his “ex’llent good friends” at court, it doesn’t take him long to perceive what’s going on. The scholars dodge the question of what brought them to this “prison,” so Hamlet promises to save them the effort of spying on him by explicitly revealing why they were summoned. Wanting only to toy with his deceitful friends now, Hamlet enters into a grandiloquent speech that ultimately tells them nothing more than what they already knew: he’s sad. The “most excellent canopy” of the sky, Hamlet declares, “this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.” It seems the prince can’t see the stars for the immoral fog of humankind. And understandably so. Elsinore is a world of social advancement, of duplicity, of persons as pawns. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two of them.

Hamlet’s friends and Hamlet’s audience are offered a glimpse of inexhaustible beauty and potential in these lines before Hamlet demolishes that grandeur before our very eyes. Humankind is a work of art, boundless in powers of thought and understanding, remarkable in form. But it’s also only a “quintessence of dust.” Quintessence means “fifth essence” (after earth, air, fire, and water). In ancient philosophy and medieval alchemy, it referred to ether: the substance of which the stars and planets were composed, and the most perfect or precious part latent in all things.

Unlike the four earthly elements that composed matter, quintessence was believed to be incorruptible, incapable of change or decay. As such, Hamlet’s “quintessence of dust” is a contradiction in terms—the incorruptible corrupted, the eternal temporary (“dust” is what matter decays to). There’s also some sense in this speech that “quintessence” is, paradoxically, the very “foul and pestilent” star matter that’s clouding Hamlet’s sky. He can’t perceive the heavens for all the heavenly dust in his way.

When we perceive ourselves in dukkha, we feel ourselves grating against ourselves—“out of joint,” to use a phrase of Hamlet’s. The Buddhist sutras identify three categories of dukkha: 1) the dukkha of painful experiences, or experiencing that which is not desirable; 2) the dukkha of pleasurable experiences, which cause us distress because the pleasure is fleeting; and 3) the dukkha of conditioned experience: a basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all existence. This third category is called saṅkhāra dukkha. You might think of it as “background suffering”: that nagging sensation that something isn’t-quite-right in the undercurrents of our day-to-day existence.

For some, saṅkhāra dukkha has its roots in impermanence—our underlying awareness that all of “this” is temporary, a substanceless puppet show that is becoming dust. For others, it’s precipitated by the ongoing maintenance of staying alive—whether literally surviving or metaphorically upholding the illusion that there’s a substantial self at all. For others still, saṅkhāra dukkha arises from a profound sense of separation from the phenomena of this world, that it’s in our nature to experience attraction and aversion to those phenomena as they arise, or from our fruitless search for ultimate meanings and final truths. For some, it’s the “prison” of the body in our own personal Denmarks—or, as Rosencrantz suggests to Hamlet, that this phenomenal world is simply “too narrow for our minds.”

The irony of saṅkhāra dukkha is that it’s a profound sense of the unsatisfactoriness of existence whose root cause is unawakened existence. This is the gorgeous tension Hamlet points to in these lines. Man’s “reason” and “faculty,” “form” and “apprehension” are nothing short of miraculous. But—like stars that obstruct the stars—it’s precisely these elements of humanness that can obscure us from ourselves, that can lead us to believe we’re nothing but faculty or form if we let them. Reason and faculty, form and apprehension will ultimately dissatisfy us if we think they’re all there is.

Just as Hamlet can’t see the stars for the “vapours” of dishonest humanity and conditioned existence, the metaphor in Buddhism is one of light interrupted.

Buddhists don’t believe in an incorruptible “quintessence.” But Buddhism does contain a core teaching that resembles a definition of quintessence given above: the most perfect part latent in all things. Mahāyāna traditions call this principle Buddha Nature (tathāgatagharba: “Buddha womb,” the indwelling of the Buddha). Theravādin traditions call it Luminous Mind (pabhassara citta): the perfected nature and potentiality for enlightenment that’s innate in all sentient beings.

Its central idea is that the fundamental nature of our mind is wisdom and compassion, and its origin can be traced back to the Buddha’s words as recorded in the Pabhassara Sutta: “Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is defiled by incoming defilements. The uninstructed… person doesn’t discern that… [it] is present.”[2] In other words, Luminous Mind is right here, whether or not we’re aware of it. And just as Hamlet can’t see the stars for the “vapours” of dishonest humanity and conditioned existence, the metaphor in Buddhism is one of light interrupted. Buddha Nature and Luminous Mind are the sun obscured by clouds of attachment, delusion, defilements—though they’re always shining brilliantly just behind them.

To uncover the sky—to glimpse the heavens beyond our dust—we simply stay still and awake to whatever is here, whether that’s in seated meditation practice or the “moving meditations” of our day-to-day lives.  We watch the defilements (greed, anger, arrogance, complacency) arise and take shape as temporary phenomena (thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions, opinions). And then we watch them go, as they will, without interfering or identifying with them. In time, what’s at first only glimpsed as flashes of space between dust-and-vapor thoughts is perceived as exceeding spaciousness. The gaps between mental phenomena become more expansive as we stop believing or relying on them when they arise—because experience tells us their essential nature is to release. That gap, that spaciousness, is the awareness of our Buddha Nature.

Hamlet’s world is indeed clouded over with the fog of saṅkhāra dukkha—the feeling that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” though no one can quite put their finger on it. Buddhism might suggest it’s a “vapour” that prevents the prince from seeing that humankind is even more boundless and wondrous than he expresses here, and that the suffering of conditioned existence can be worked with. (Rot, after all, is part of a natural cycle of decay and regeneration, life created from death. And Buddhism, after all—far from being a pessimistic doctrine—claims that suffering can be eradicated, wholly and happily, from our lives.) As the great thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Tibetan master Rangjung Dorjé, the Third Karmapa, wrote in his “Treatise on Buddha Nature”: “All beings are Buddhas, but obscured by incidental stains. When those have been removed, there is Buddhahood.”[3]

I wrote The Buddha and the Bard because I was enchanted by the possibilities awakened at the threshold between the dramatic representation of a predicament and liberation from it. I found the tenets of Buddhism’s Eightfold Path in speeches by Juliet, Polonius, and Nick Bottom. I overheard resonances between Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths and the wisdoms of Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, and The Taming of the Shrew. Mostly, though, I heard echoes of the literary critic Harold Bloom, who once claimed that Shakespeare remains so steadfastly at the center of the canon because he read us better than we’ll ever read him. And while this might be true, I’m also quite certain that reading Shakespeare has helped me better read myself.


[1] Ram Dass, Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart (Boulder: Sounds True, 2014), 7.

[2] “Pabhassara Sutta: Luminous,” AN 1.49–52. Access to Insight, last modified November 30, 2013,

[3] Quoted by the Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, in Instructions on Treatise entitled: ‘A Teaching on the Essence of the Tathagatas (The Tathagatagarbha)’ by the Third Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, according to An Illumination of the Thoughts of Rangjung Dorje: A Commentary to ‘The Treatise that Teaches the Buddha Nature’ by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye the Great. Translated by Peter Roberts. Accessed on August 13, 2021,


Lauren Shufran’s The Buddha and the Bard is available now via Mandala Publishing. 

- Lily King
On the Foods We Bring From Deepest Childhood Into Grown-Up Life
elephant ears

I didn’t bake with my mother. She was a good cook and made all kinds of yummy desserts—lemon meringue pies, bittersweet chocolate mousse, paper-thin sugar cookies, a bûche de Noël every Christmas—but I was never her helper in the kitchen. I knew to stay away. One of my earliest memories is of her whacking my hand with a wooden spoon when I’d tried to stick a finger into the bowl.

The first thing I learned to bake was chocolate chip cookies, something my mother never made. Most likely, it was my best friend, Becky, who showed me the recipe, which was in a spiral-bound, locally published book called Essex County Cooks. My mother and her contemporaries had all contributed recipes, and every house I knew seemed to have both volumes, one green and one red, though my mother had long moved on to Julia Child. The cookie recipe was in the green book.

The story was that a few years earlier some kids who lived down the hill from me and Becky had meant to make the standard Toll House recipe from the back of the Nestlé chocolate chip bag but either accidentally or deliberately messed it up. They used less flour and more vanilla. They added a tiny ¼ teaspoon of water. They melted the butter instead of waiting for it to become room temperature, and they cooked the cookies at a higher heat—425—for a mere 4 to 5 minutes. What came out was a tray of larger, thinner cookies that had to be removed with a surgeon’s precision and cooled for a few minutes before you could put them in your mouth where they burst into a buttery, salty, chocolaty swirl of perfection. They transcended debates of crispy or chewy. They were both at the same time. They were manna.

The kids called them Elephant Ears, and children in my hometown are probably making batches of them still. Soon our copy of the green cookbook fell open to that page, which grew translucent from smears of spilled melted butter, and crunchy from the grains of white and brown sugar that got stuck in the grease.

Most weekends and all summer, Becky and I made batches of Elephant Ears. We were in third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade. We’d be in my kitchen on Proctor Street or her kitchen on Beach Street. Someone would be stirring and someone would be calling WRKO to ask them to play “Rock Me Gently,” our favorite song ever.

Once, we wrote our own song made up of all the swear words we knew: “Fuck, shit, dammit all/We want to ditch it all/So we won’t become a bitch’s ass.” There were more verses, but I will spare you. We wrote out the whole song twice, a copy for each of us. We can still sing every word on command. (Becky and I fell out of touch for twenty years then ended up in Maine, with no planning or communication, three miles apart, and took up our friendship right where it left off.)

Fifth-grade summer we both got boyfriends who were best friends, and they gave us matching engagement rings from Foster’s Gifts downtown. We made cookies and met them on the rocks at the end of the beach. Halfway through that summer, I left town with my mother. She’d filed for divorce, and I couldn’t tell anyone we were leaving, not even Becky. When we came back before school started again, my mom and I moved into an apartment near the gift shop. I called up Becky, and she rode her bike down and said it was cool. She said all the lights on either side of the mirror in the bathroom were like the dressing room of a movie star.

We made cookies there and not at my old house where my father was living with his girlfriend and her kids. That kitchen was hers now, and she made brownies. I didn’t feel comfortable rummaging through the cabinets for an old package of chips. And she’d moved the table where we always mixed up the batter into another room. There were armchairs now, in the kitchen, and that was where she and my father did a lot of their drinking and their fighting. They liked an audience for all that they said and did to each other. I didn’t invite friends over when I went there on weekends.

This recipe, the memory of these cookies, is one of the few things that made it out with me.

I left the country as soon as I finished college. I found a job in Paris cooking for three kids whose parents both worked. They walked home from school every day for lunch. I made them a snack when they returned in the afternoon, helped them with their homework, and made them dinner. Within days, I was on a hunt for baking soda. It wasn’t in my dictionary, the Internet hadn’t been invented yet, and the grocer had no idea what I was talking about. I finally found it, bicarbonate de soude, at a pharmacy. A few years later, when I lived in Spain, I was able to find bicarbonate sodico faster. I made Elephant Ears in Vermont, New York, California, and back in Massachusetts. I made them for my boss at the bookstore in California and my coworkers at the restaurant in Vermont, and our guests when I worked at an inn on an island in Penobscot Bay.

I began baking the cookies with my children as soon as they could sit cross-legged on the wooden island in our kitchen in Yarmouth, Maine. There were negotiations: who would crank the sifter first, who would crack the egg, and who would stir it in. When the brown sugar came out, each girl could have just a “smoodge,” our word for a small pinch straight from the box. These cookies went to school for bake sales and birthdays, to neighbors for celebrations and condolences, to Santa every December 24th. They weren’t called Elephant Ears or Toll House or even chocolate chip. They were just cookies. We rarely made any other kind.

A girl named Emily lived across the street, and for many years she came over on weekends and summer days to play with the girls. She was a few years older than they were, an only child, and she liked playing oldest sister to them.

The summer Emily turned eleven, my daughters were eight and six. I remember a rainy afternoon baking cookies with the three of them. I had to go to the bathroom, and while I was washing my hands and hearing their happy baking chatter from the kitchen, I realized that Emily was now the same age I was when my parents split and I started shuttling back and forth between the apartment and my old house, and my father started revealing this other side of himself with his new partner. I was seeing a therapist then for these memories, for the exposure to the drinking, the rage, the sexual language and behaviors most parents try to protect their children from.

I didn’t know that at the time, didn’t understand how abnormal it was, didn’t feel particularly young—I was the oldest of the four of us kids in my father’s new family. The therapist was trying to get me to see how aberrant it was and to connect with that younger self, to feel what she’d numbed herself against and to give that eleven-year-old girl the love and protection she needed. I thought it was a silly and futile exercise. But when I stood there in that bathroom washing my hands, I finally understood that I had been Emily’s age, this young girl who wore braids like I had and played dress-up and still rode the least scary ride at the carnival.

They were calling to me from the kitchen: Is it a half or a fourth of a teaspoon of water? But I was crying too hard to answer right away.

I didn’t bring much stuff with me from childhood into adulthood. My parents had several marriages each, moved in and out of houses, didn’t save our things. I don’t have many memories either, not normal, everyday memories. Whole years are blank. It’s like my mind wasn’t imprinting, the recorder was off. This recipe, the memory of these cookies, is one of the few things that made it out with me.

My kids are nineteen and twenty-one now. They came home, like all college students, in March of 2020 to finish out the year online. The cookies get made at night now. We turn on a show, and Eloise says, “I’m making cookies,” and we get our smoodges and soon the warm cookies are bending over our fingers, and then they are melting in our mouths, the butter, sugars, and chocolate all whorled together then washed down with cold milk.


breaking bread

Excerpted from Breaking Bread: Essays from New England on Food, Hunger, and Family, edited by Deborah Joy Corey and Debra Spark (Beacon Press, 2022). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.

- Jane Ciabattari
The 2022 Bay Area Book Festival in Six Acts

Act I. “We’re All Ecstatic to Be Back”  

The University Club atop Memorial Stadium in the Berkeley hills, with its dazzling three-bridge view of the San Francisco Bay, was layered in dramatic fog just after sunset on Friday evening, May 6, as the Bay Area Book Festival launched.

At the opening-night gala, the crowd was buzzing with the exhilaration of meeting in person after several years of virtual contact by the time executive director Cherilyn Parsons, who founded the festival in 2015, offered an opening night toast along with Norah Piehl, the festival’s new director of literary programs, formerly ED at the Boston Book Festival.

This year’s festival celebrated some 230 authors, including poet, writer and editor of The New York Times Magazine‘s poetry column Victoria Chang (Obit, The Trees Witness Everything, now working on a new book of ekphrastic poems inspired by the work of Agnes Martin), NoViolet Bulawayo (Glory), Pulitzer Prize winning poet Forrest Gander (Twice Alive: an Ecology of Intimacies), Gabriela Garcia (Of Women and Salt),  Roberto Lovato (his Unforgetting just made the 2022 shortlist of the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing); Deborah A. Miranda (Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir has just been reissued in a tenth anniversary edition), Rebecca Solnit (Orwell’s Roses, a National Book Critics Circle finalist), Sam Quinones (National Book Critics Circle winner for Dreamland),  Maw Shein Win (Storage Unit for the Spirit House), Mexico City’s Jazmina Barrera (Linea Negra, translated by Christina MacSweeney, who was part of a stellar translation panel),  Norway’s Jan Grue (I Live a Life Like Yours), Canadian Eliza Reid, first lady of Iceland (Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland’s Extraordinary Women, and Finland’s Mia Kankimäki (The Women I Think About at Night).

The Bay Area literari clustered on the outdoor glass deck included author and Berkeleyside founder Frances Dinkelspiel, Graywolf Press editorial director Ethan Nosowsky, Janis Cooke Newman, founder of the Lit Camp writers’ conference and the newly opened Page Street writing community; Grant Faulkner, executive editor of NaNoWriMo; Jasmin Darznik (The Bohemians), Marie Mockett (American Harvest, a 2021 Northern Californian Book Award winner for General Nonfiction), who had just won a Fulbright to Japan; Scott James (Trial by Fire), and Susanne Pari, whose novel In the Time of Our History, due out in December, had just made the Publishers Lunch Buzz Books Fall list.

California-based authors with books just out or on the verge who cheered each other on: Chronicle columnist and fiction writer Vanessa Hua (Forbidden City), whose launch within days  was filled with “Braid Brigade” supporters; Kirstin Chen, whose novel Counterfeit, due out in June, was optioned by Sony in a heated auction; Lee Kravetz (The Last Confessions of Sylvia P.), still doing bicoastal touring for his novel, published in early March; Peter Richardson, who spoke of the subject of his Savage Journey, Hunter S. Thompson’s propensity for finishing his manuscripts at San Francisco’s Seal Rock Inn fueled by speed. Plus Los Angeles-based Susan Straight, whose new novel Mecca spurred the Los Angeles Times to call her the “bard of overlooked California,” and Geoff Dyer, whose typically erudite memoir-essay The Last Days of Roger Federer, about the experience of approaching late middle-age, was due out within days.

Though some authors, such as Rebecca Solnit, decided to skip the gala out of COVID caution, overall the party’s mood could only be characterized as giddy. Festival director Parsons said, “After such a long haul to get here, we’re all ecstatic to be back.”

Later I asked Parsons how much COVID put a damper on the festival. “We had a few speaker cancellations because the author had contracted COVID or was directly exposed. But we had to fully cancel only one event. For others, we zoomed in authors, like Emily Rapp Black, or rejiggered. Everyone—the authors, staff, volunteers, audience—really followed the strict rules we’d set up. Honestly what I loved best about the entire festival this year was the vibe of warmth and joy—more than any festival except the first one. The attitude was, ‘let’s just roll with everything, we’re so happy to be here!’” 

Act II. From California to Oman

The festival’s opener on Saturday morning at Freight and Salvage was a weekend highlight. Greg Sarris, novelist, professor, and tribal chief of Graton Rancheria, author of the new memoir Becoming Story: A Journey Among Seasons, Places, Trees, and Ancestors, and Obi Kaufmann, whose Coasts of California: A Field Atlas, has just been published, adding to his multi-volume project on the state’s natural wonders, guided their audience through a vision of California’s past, present, and future, underscoring the ways in which restoring indigenous traditions can offer a way forward in the midst of catastrophic climate change.

Sarris spoke of the importance of maintaining connections among people and with the landscape. “We have to be careful the bad news doesn’t rob us of the possibility of a full present,” he noted. The tightly woven essays in Becoming Story reveal his complex search for identity. Sarris described how he was adopted by a white family at birth, lived in various foster homes in Santa Rosa, and discovered his Pomo and Coast Miwok heritage in his twenties, a time when he also learning tribal traditions and customs from Pomo basket weaver and healer Mabel McKay. Sarris writes of the landscape as story, of humans existing within a web of connection, not separate from and in control of the natural world. His indigenous ancestors maintained a balance with the land, the rivers, oceans and creeks, the fish and animals, the trees and plants, for millenia. Storytelling was essential.

Today he’s in his fifteenth term as Graton tribal chief, and, he mentions, his tribe’s focus is on social justice and environmental stewardship. (Graton recently donated millions to ensure all California Indians, whether federally recognized or not, can go to University of California tuition-free.)

“The attitude was, ‘let’s just roll with everything, we’re so happy to be here!’”

East Bay native Obi Kaufmann, the son of an astrophysicist and a psychologist, covers 1,200 miles of coastline in the latest in his illustrated field atlas series. When asked by an audience member what could he do to help, Kaufmann said, “Join your local land trust.” He  mentioned recent successes in restoring land bridges for mountain lions in the Santa Monica mountains.

Also on Saturday morning, at The Marsh Berkeley on Alston Way, a panel tracing the East Bay heritage of the Black Panther party, founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale at Merritt College in Oakland in 1966, featured YA authors Kekla Magoon, author of the National Book Award finalist Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People and the father-daughter team of Jetta Martin and Berkeley professor Waldo Martin Jr., co-authors of Freedom! The Story of the Black Panther Party.

At the Brower Center’s Goldman Theater, John Freeman, Knopf executive editor, literary critic, poet, and editor of Freeman’s, took the stage with Jokha Alharthi, who had flown to the festival from Oman (beating out Japan, Chile, and other international author destinations for the longest journey this year). Growing up far outside the capital, Muscat, Alharthi read García Márquez, Dickens, Hemingway, Victor-Marie Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Maurice Leblanc, Margaret Mitchell and many others (including Arab authors) during school before going to university.  She went on to receive a Ph.D. in Classical Arabic Literature from the University of Edinburgh and to became the first Omani woman to have her work published into English, translated by Marilyn Booth. Celestial Bodies won the 2019 Man Booker International Prize. Her new novel, Bitter Orange Tree, also translated by Booth, which Alharthi discussed in her second festival event (on Mother’s Day), explores the deep cross-generational emotional ties that Zuhur, an Omani student at a British university, has with a woman old enough to be her grandmother—a woman born after World War I in Oman, “a difficult time for a lonely woman living in poverty who tried to keep her dignity.” Her new novel unfolds in nonlinear time. “I’m always interested in jumping back and forth, and seeing the past from different angles,” she notes.

An audience mostly composed of aspiring writers looking for community filed into the Goldman Theater next to hear insights from Roberto Lovato, who founded the Rooted & Written initiative at the Writers’ Grotto to mentor and support writers of color; Grant Faulkner, executive director of NaNoWriMo; blogger and novelist Rebecca Phelps, with tips on connecting on social storytelling platform Wattpad, and author Janis Cooke Newman, the Lit Camp founder, who recently launched Page Street, a  co-working space in San Francisco. “What’s important to me about the communities I found is that they’re open to writers who have not yet published,” Newman noted. “It’s my experience that once you publish a book, it’s easier to find your literary community. You appear at festivals, your publisher and agent introduce you to people. But when you’re starting out and really need community, it’s much more difficult to find one.”

Act III. “Write Your Story” 

At the Festival welcome center at BART Plaza, dozens of poets, including Tony Aldarondo, Donté Clark, Cassandra Dallett, and Lucille Lang Day, read on-stage at Poetry in the Streets, a two-day reading with a responsive audience filling the seats. Around the corner, as a reminder that poetry is in Berkeley’s DNA. there’s a plaque with iconic local author Maxine Hong Kingston’s poem “Spring Peas spring harvest of snow peas,” which begins, “They’re taller than me. / I taste and eat as I pick along, / choose the flat big ones and baby ones, / and leave the bulging pods for shelling or seed.”

Civic Center Park overflowed with tents, some 150 exhibitors, at the outdoor bookfair. Thousands of attendees listened to spoken word performances, readings, panels, and music (including the Grammy-winning Alphabet Rockers) on four stages. Attendees checked out exhibits by local publishers and bookstores, plus lined up for author signings and a La Cocina food court. Half-Price Books gave out free children’s and YA books. Plenty of fun for readers of all ages.

Word Power Stage was home to a series of readings by the YA writers, beginning at 12:15 on Saturday with “Write Your Story”—new work from a workshop for young women of color, ages twelve to eighteen, under the auspices of Oakland-based Cinnamongirl, Inc. Readers from the first and second year of the program celebrated their anthology, I Am the Dream.

Next up, eight middle- and high-school Native students from Sonoma County’s Graton Writing Project read powerful essays (soon to be published in an anthology) about the transformations that came with COVID. They wrote of quarantine lockdowns that made them miss friends and be unable to participate in tribal activities, but also grow closer to family and treasure their loved ones.

On the nearby Chronicle stage the audience for “Two-minute Reads: The Plot Twist: Stories of the Startling, the Unforeseen, and the Flat-out Surprising,” heard eighteen readers in an hour. Stand-up comics Keli Dailey and Dhaya Lakshminarayanan kept the action flowing, with writer Emily Cooke ready on-stage with a supersoaker to wet down anyone who went over two minutes. (No one did.) The often comic original stories included Dailey’s “Twisting the Plot” and work from novelist Ryan Sloan, co-host of Babylon Salon, Jesus Sierra from The Writers Grotto, and Silicon Valley Metro Newspaper columnist Gary Singh.

Back on Alston Way, at the Marsh, fans of literary writing flocked to hear National Book Award nonfiction finalist Hanif Abdurraqib (A Little Devil in America: Notes on Black Performance) and poetry finalist Douglas Kearney (Sho) talk poetics and performance. The venue was so crowded that National Book Foundation Executive Director Ruth Dickey had to sit on the floor.

In a Writer to Writer conversation at the Berkeley City College auditorium, novelists Karen Joy Fowler (author of Booth and Booker Prize finalist for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves) and Lee Kravetz (The Last Confessions of Sylvia P.) talked about channeling the worlds and minds of two of history’s most mythologized figures. They spoke before a full house about the prismatic approaches each took, the points where nonfiction became fiction, and the work of finding the humanity within villainy. “For the winners, the war is over,” Fowler said, “but for the those who lose, the war never ends.”

Act IV. “When my son says, ‘I need a hug,’ it’s beautiful to me.”  

The Saturday night keynote event at Freight and Salvage featured TED talker, frequent Oprah guest, and author Shaka Senghor, whose bestselling debut memoir, Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison, chronicled how he survived nineteen years of incarceration (including seven in solitary) and also developed as a writer, an aspiration from back when he was growing up in the tough streets of Detroit.

His new memoir, Letters to the Sons of Society, consists of letters to his two sons, the first of whom he couldn’t raise because of his imprisonment, and the second he’s parenting with intentional care. He spoke of the value of showing vulnerability, of developing a mindfulness practice, and listening to his sons with love. When he said, “I am a sensitive thoughtful man. I love boxing, I love football. When my son comes to me and says ‘I need a hug,’ it’s beautiful to me,” he drew applause.

Many in the audience were in tears when he recited the affirmations he says with his son Sekou every night. When Senghor’s cell phone rang on stage, it was Sekou, seeking those affirmations at bedtime in Los Angeles. Interviewer Zach Norris (Defund Fear: Safety Without Policing, Prisons, and Punishment), gave him the go-ahead to take the call. 

Act V. More Global Journeys

Sunday’s midday Writer to Writer conversation between Booker finalist Nadifa Mohamed and Booker winner Douglas Stuart was remarkably intimate for a hybrid event. A 42-inch monitor on stage beamed in Gaby Wood, Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, from London before the two authors even walked on stage.

In some natural if eerie way, it felt like everyone was just on stage together talking—in real time—with no latency or microphone issues, with a four-camera shoot and television production software all mixing this intimate conversation for everyone watching online, thanks to festival COO Scott Gelfand and tech specialists Wildbound Live. (Like this one, many programs were livestreamed, and most are expected to be posted for free on the festival’s YouTube page in mid-June.)

“These two books show quite a lot about hidden Britain,” Wood noted in her introduction, with characters who don’t routinely appear in the pages of fiction. Stuart, author of the much lauded first novel Shuggie Bain and this year’s Young Mungo, said he wanted to highlight the struggles of young gay boys and men growing up amidst poverty in working class Glasgow, pointing out that most gay characters in English literature are from the privileged class.

Mohamed’s third novel The Fortune Men, was based on the 1952 case of Mahmood Mattan, a Somali sailor wrongfully convicted of a murder in Cardiff, Wales. She read his extensive case file in the National Archives in London. “The real person was lost. The presentation of who he was was controlled by the state. Who was the real twenty-five-year-old executed for a murder he did not commit? I also thought of who he would have been.”

Mohamed was back in the literary limelight on May 11, opening the PEN World Voices Festival in New York in conversation with Abdulrazak Gurnah in his first U.S. appearance since winning the 2021 Nobel Prize in literature. She began their conversation by thanking him for offering her guidance when she emailed him several pages of her first novel and he responded with helpful suggestions—signifying his generosity and kindness.

The conversation I moderated Sunday afternoon on the theme “In Search of Belonging” highlighted the work of two short story writers shaped by Irish culture—Dublin-born Ethel Rohan, now based in San Francisco, and Colin Barrett, raised in County Mayo in the west of Ireland and now living in Toronto. It was the last panel session of the weekend, live-streamed and IRL, with a gratifyingly large and intent audience and lots of questions at the end.

Rohan, whose In the Event of Contact won the 2021 Dzanc Books Short Story Collection Prize, described the ways in which her Irish childhood continued to shape her work—and the freedom of living in San Francisco for more than twenty-five years, not being pigeonholed based on her accent, and finding her voice in her work.

Funniest moment at this year’s fest: Claire-Louise Bennett showed up only five minutes before her program’s start time with her hair wet from a quick swim in the Bay.

Barrett, who recently expounded upon his craft in Lit Hub, described regularly driving three hours by car from his village in Mayo to Dublin for college, and how that rhythm shaped the flow of memory that fuels his stories, which still are mostly based in villages in the west of Ireland. His first book, Young Skins, published by the Dublin-based small press Stinging Fly, won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, and the Guardian first book award. When I asked what the two writers were reading now, Ethel provided a quick list off the top of her head, including Irish writers Kevin Barry, Danielle McLaughlin and Louise Kennedy, and American favorites Lori Ostlund, Yiyun Li, Bryan Washington, and Brandon Taylor.

Colin at first looked baffled. Then he explained: During the pandemic, he’s been at home in Toronto with two young children, writing fiction, but not reading much, and mostly reading aloud: “My two year old’s favorite books at the moment are Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Anthony and The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland. Short and lots of nice pictures in both!”

Act VI. “We Read in Order to Come to Life”

The final event of the festival, back at Freight and Salvage, paired Slate movie critic Dana Stevens, with film critic and historian David Thomson. They discussed her new cultural history, Camera Man, about Buster Keaton. In the course of an hour, spurred on by Thomson’s astute questions, Stevens touched upon the changes in the twentieth century that affect us to this day, all through the lens of an entertainer whose career spanned the entertainment world from vaudeville as a boy (with his parents), silent films, talkies, through television. She even offered a few film clips of a trick Keaton worked on for years.

And then the doors flew open and the confetti fell and the tents came down in the square and the Bay Area Book Festival was over.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” California native Joan Didion wrote in The White Album (that’s also the title of her 2006 essay collection).

“We read in order to come to life,” Claire-Louise Bennett writes in her new novel Checkout 19, celebrated at a panel on Saturday. (Funniest moment at this year’s fest: Bennett showed up only five minutes before her program’s start time with her hair wet from a quick swim in the Bay.) Bennett honors her predecessors—Ingeborg Bachmann, Annie Ernaux, Anais Nïn, Clarice Lispector—in her chapter epigraphs.  This year’s Bay Area Book Festival honored writers past and present, nurtured the future through children’s and YA books, and revived the exhilaration we feel in connecting through conversations about reading and writing.

As Berkeley resident Anirvan Chatterjee tweeted: “I missed @BayBookFest so much. There’s something magical about being able to just walk down the street, and spend two days thinking about books and ideas. I paid a measly $15 for tix, but this brings me so much joy. I really need to start donating.”

- Literary Hub
Sarah Ruhl Tries to Look at Grief Through the Lens of Form

Sarah Ruhl is a playwright, essayist and poet. She is a MacArthur “Genius” Award recipient, two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, and a Tony Award nominee. Her book of essays, 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write, was published by FSG and named a notable book by The New York Times. Her book Letters from Max, co-authored with Max Ritvo and published by Milkweed Editions, was on the The New Yorker’s Best Poetry of the Year list. Her plays include For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday; How to Transcend a Happy MarriageThe Oldest BoyStage KissDear ElizabethIn the Next Room, or the Vibrator PlayThe Clean HousePassion PlayDead Man’s Cell PhoneMelancholy PlayEurydiceOrlandoLate: A Cowboy Song, and a translation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters.

Her plays have been produced on and off Broadway, around the country, and internationally, where they’ve been translated into over fifteen languages. She has received the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the Whiting Award, the Lilly Award, a PEN award for mid-career playwrights, the National Theater Conference’s Person of the Year Award, and the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award.  She teaches at the Yale School of Drama, and lives in Brooklyn with her family. Her newest book, Love Poems in Quarantine, is available now from Copper Canyon Press.


Lit Hub: Who do you most wish would read your book?

Sarah Ruhl: Anyone who has felt lonely or confused by time during the quarantine.

LH: What time of day do you write?

SR: I write between 10 am and noon, usually. I’m slow to wake up, then there’s getting the kids out of doors for school, I warm up by answering emails, and by 10 am I’m fully caffeinated and ready to proceed. I used to write at night but now I find it keeps my mind too awake for sleep, so now I never write after dinner unless I’m under some horrendous deadline.

LH: How do you tackle writer’s block?

SR: I tackle writer’s block by not believing it. By believing that writing is always available to you if you sit your ass down and do it. Whether that day’s writing is for the compost heap or the drawer is another question, but I do believe one can always write, and one can also always choose not to. Choosing not to write is different from being mysteriously blocked. So when my students are having trouble writing, I counsel them to not write for a while, go to see their favorite landscape—meadow, mountain or water, and then come back to their writing when it feels better to write.

LH: What’s the best or worst writing advice you’ve ever received?

SR: Let’s see… best advice from Paula Vogel: try not to look at grief directly, but to squint at it, through the lens of form… Worst writing advice… luckily, I’ve already forgotten it.

LH: What part of your writing routine do you think would surprise your readers?

SR: Maybe they’d be surprised by how heavily I rely on Yorkshire gold tea, as if it’s a kind of essential food group for the mind.

LH: Who is the person, or what is the place or practice that had the most significant impact on your writing education?

SR: Without a doubt, it was Paula Vogel, a playwriting educator who has basically created a whole generation of playwrights. I had the good fortune to meet Paula when I was 20 years old, and she is still a primary reason why I continue to write plays.

LH: Which of your characters is your favorite?

SR: They are like children, I can’t choose!

LH: What was the first book you fell in love with?

SR: The very first—probably Harold and the Purple Crayon. I loved the idea of making up the world with a drawn line as you walk along, drawing the moon in order to see it, and then dangle from it.

LH: Which book(s) do you reread?

SR: I reread Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison, all my poetry shelves, and the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace.

LH: Name a classic you feel guilty about never having read?

SR: Okay, I admit it, I’ve never read The Remembrance of Things past.

LH: What book has elicited the most intense emotional reaction from you (made you laugh, cry, be angry)?

SR: I remember crying my eyes out when I read Where the Red Fern Grows as a child.

LH: How do you decide what to read next?

SR: I love a good long browse in a beautiful bookstore (thank God we can do that again, post-pandemic) or a recommendation from a good friend.

LH: What’s one book you wish you had read when you were young?

SR: I am so grateful for all the books I read in my local library as a child, they were such bounty, such food for the soul, that I’m having trouble imagining a more helpful book that I didn’t get a chance to read…

LH: What do you always want to talk about in interviews but never get to?

SR: I’m rather reserved, so there probably isn’t a single thing I wished someone asked me about that they didn’t already ask me. When an interviewer says, is there anything you wished I asked you? I always say no.

LH: Which non-literary piece of culture—film, tv show, painting, song—could you not imagine your life without?

SR: Schitt’s Creek

LH: How do you organize your bookshelves?

SR: My living room books are organized by color, which seems a little vulgar, but my husband hates visual clutter, and I do enjoy the weird juxtapositions putting our books together, like the green DSM next to the green Peter Pan. (My husband is a psychiatrist.) My office books are organized in a more literary way, plays, by author, poetry by author, 19th-century novels, by author, etc. with a section devoted to literary talismans.

LH: What is your favorite book to give as a gift?

SR: When I give a book to a friend it is always tailored towards the recipient, so it’s hard to say if there’s a particular book I would give out universally. I will say that A Year With Rumi translated by Coleman Barks was one book I gave out like candy during the quarantine because I myself found it so helpful to order my days.

LH: What’s a book you recommend to other writers?

SR: Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.

LH: What is your favorite way to procrastinate when you are meant to be writing?

SR: Napping!

LH: If you weren’t a writer, what would you do instead?

SR: I used to want to be a portrait painter when I was younger. Now I think I’d be a Buddhist nun.


Love Poems in Quarantine by Sarah Ruhl is available now via Copper Canyon Press.

- Lillian Fishman
From Eve Babitz to Raven Leilani, Readings on Solipsistic, Transformative Love

“I don’t know if what we have is love, but it’s on my mind,” Drake sings, in “Talk To Me.” This lyric has haunted me over the last year. It perfectly encapsulates one of my favorite subjects: those relationships that seem loose, that remain untitled by mutual unspoken agreement, but in which every moment and sign is keenly meaningful, so that some half-hour conversation from two weeks ago takes on a circling and relentless weight. Like many love stories, these seem less about love between two people than about the slippery traction between where you’re both coming from and what you’re both going through.

It’s a pleasure to encounter a book that acknowledges how romance lives in one’s mind, and attempts to chronicle those unsteady, urgent movements. Here are eight favorites of mine that use the mirage of love and the presence of another person to get at something crucial and messy in oneself—from Updike’s controversial 1968 novel Couples to this year’s lovely Sheila Heti novel, Pure Colour.


Raven Leilani, Luster

Raven Leilani, Luster (Picador)

The flaming, brilliant first book that comes to mind when I think of this lyric. Leilani’s novel is about much more than Edie’s relationship with Eric, the colleague with whose marriage she becomes knottily involved, but at its heart it tracks the way Edie follows her uncertain and shifting relationship with Eric—and then his wife, Rebecca—ever deeper, shifting to and from attraction, need, fascination, gratitude, pity, and tenderness. A power differential between Edie and Eric that at first appears simple comes to seem, by the close of this book, quaint and nostalgic when replaced by the reckonings Leilani confronts, both in the couples’ marriage and in Edie’s life and sense of herself. Not a love story, but a story about the vicissitudes of ardency and love, with teeth.

Annie Ernaux, Simple Passion (Seven Stories Press)

“As soon as I heard A’s voice, my long, painful wait, invariably tinged with jealousy, dissipated so quickly that I felt I had been mad and had suddenly become sane again.” Time is the tyrant of this book. Ernaux’s brief, unbelievably rich memoir is not a love story but the story of experiencing a love affair, an experience which is more than anything else one of being alone in a room, waiting for love to happen. Her lover, a married diplomat whose call from a telephone booth she eagerly awaits, is far less present than the afternoons she spends thinking of him, the dresses she buys in anticipation of his attention, the apartment which remembers and misses him, and the precious sound of his Renault 25 as it approaches. A book about the form obsession occupies inside, when we are alone with our reality.

Eve Babitz, Slow Days, Fast Company (New York Review of Books)

I can never forget the first line of this book: “This is a love story and I apologize; it was inadvertent.” For Babitz, a love story always requires a bit of apology, since love stories have had too much airtime and there is so much else (LA, gossip, swimming, clothes, driving, friendship, party-going) that concerns her—but romance, when it gets in the way, can’t be resisted. The men in her writing, and her life, are never as interesting as she is, but they serve an important purpose. She deliciously describes the excitement of the sharply-dressed stranger who arrives in a period of boredom. And she has absolute respect for the architecture of the affair itself, which she memorably names as the crowning creative adventure in most of our lives—our single chance “to touch the face of heaven.”

Celia Paul, Self-Portrait (New York Review of Books)

Rare, stark, at once subtle and raw: an unmatched expression of what it is to be simultaneously a woman and an artist. Paul’s künstlerroman is deeply intertwined with the figure of Lucian Freud, who, thirty-eight years her senior, was at first her mentor, then her lover and the father of her son. Her feeling for Freud, fluctuating over more than a decade, contains within it her initial repulsion from him, her confused discomfort at acting as his muse, her determination to avoid being subsumed into motherhood, and simultaneously her admiring and compassionate loyalty toward him. Their relationship is one of deeply ingrained roles—the muse and the artist—which tremble and twist over the years. “I too felt that my growing love for Lucian was more like a sickness,” she writes early on in their relationship. “I resolved to try and forget about him and to re-establish my ambition.”

Peter Stamm, Seven Years (Other Press)

At once measured and incandescent, a book that interrogates how desire and love emerge from, and in opposition to, the terms in which we define ourselves. Alex, a comfortably married man and father of two inhabiting a successful upper-class life, finds himself mysteriously drawn to Ivona, a woman with whom he seems to have little in common and who he consciously disdains. He is haunted by Ivona’s attraction to him, which has nothing to do with his social identity: she is blindly and unselfconsciously devoted to him. Ivona’s love “had been embarrassing, just like the idea of being seen in public with her, but even so the thought of her love had something ennobling about it,” Alex recounts, in a passage that frequently floats through my mind. “I kept thinking of her, and I knew that I would have to see her again, if only to free myself from her.”

Kathleen Collins, Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? (Ecco Press)

So many stories in this collection see Collins observing and recording the shape love takes in the midst of everything that gets in its way—family, city, time, movement, politics, and the irrepressible demands and attractions of other people. She stares without flinching at the terrific highs and lows which attend relationships (“if one is willing to admit that romances are a bit like balloons”), the contagious energy of new love and the slow dawning of its impossibility. My favorite line, in “Exteriors,” perfectly expresses that occasional brutal fear which apparently isn’t mine alone, that I am a curse on the person I love: “sometimes I get the feeling that when I’m dead happiness is gonna rise up out of your soul and wreak havoc on life…”

John Updike, Couples (Random House)

A novel apparently about sex, Couples is actually about something much more interesting: how adultery itself—“its adventure, the acrobatics its deceptions demand, the tension of its hidden strings, the new landscapes it makes us master”—can breathe life into a prematurely settled existence. Though he describes a number of affairs among the couples of Tarbox, Updike follows most closely behind Piet, whose womanizing is never premediated but who falls into one affair-adventure after another, believing his talent is that he genuinely loves every woman he touches. Sincere and special in the way it expresses how we explain ourselves to ourselves, and deeply forgiving of our failings, especially when they occur in the service of reanimating a life.

Sheila Heti, Pure Colour (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Among Heti’s writing on grief, art, criticism, God, and life itself, I found myself intrigued by her portrait of the relationship between Mira and Annie, who experience a confused attraction to each other. Mira, a bird-like woman who cares most of all for art and beauty, reveres Annie, who, like a fish, is devoted to a social project of collective good. Yet both of them lack the talent for love possessed by that third type Heti describes, the bear-like people. “To properly love another—this is the stumblingest part of [Mira], the most nonsensical part, the part of her that is most scattered and always to blame.” I love this story about how hard we work at moving outside ourselves when we find something to admire, and how freeing it is to recognize the value of our particular talents, our way of loving the world, even if we remain stumbling and inexpert in loving another person.


Acts of Service

Acts of Service by Lillian Fishman is available via Hogarth Press.

- Literary Hub
Jon Mooallem Writes in the Morning (Before the World Snuffs Out His Brief Glimmer of Positivity)

Jon Mooallem is a longtime writer at large with The New York Times Magazine and a contributor to numerous other radio shows and magazines, including This American Life and Wired. His first book, Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America was chosen as a notable book of the year by The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, NPR’s Science Friday, and Canada’s National Post, among others. He lives on Bainbridge Island, outside Seattle, with his family. His latest book, Serious Face: Essays, is available now.


Lit Hub: What time of day do you write?

Jon Mooallem: I once read an interview with Francis Ford Coppola where he described his habit of getting up early and bolting straight for his office to start working on screenplays before anyone else in the house woke up. He said something like, “I have to start writing before anyone has a chance to hurt my feelings.” I identify with that—it describes my attitude exactly.

I’ve always been aware that, on a fundamental level, the idea of writing nonfiction is a little bit insane: somehow, you’re supposed to cram an enormous, wildly chaotic chunk of reality into an exceedingly narrow, linear sequence of words. It helps to have a certain amount of confidence or optimism about the whole thing—some shred of belief that it might be possible.

That can be a pretty fragile feeling for me; it helps to start working before anyone can snuff out that delicate little glimmer of positivity by yelling at me that I poured the wrong amount of milk in their Cheerios (or whatever.) In truth, I’ve kept a fairly conventional schedule for a working parent for most of my career. But those solitary times at dawn, or even pre-dawn, is always when writing has felt most free and most fun.

LH: What book has elicited the most intense emotional reaction from you (made you laugh, cry, be angry)?

JM: The other morning, I read a play about Hurricane Katrina called “The Play About My Dad,” by Boo Killebrew. It’s a complex, elegant, completely original piece of writing that would be hard for me to summarize in any meaningful way. Reading the play was an extraordinary experience for me, and at the end I started downright bawling.

I don’t cry a lot in regular life, and I’ve only cried while reading twice before (Chanel Miller’s Know My Name, and John Williams’ Stoner were the culprits) and both of those other cries happened very recently. I suppose this is who I am now: someone who cries while reading. I accept it and look forward to crying while reading more.

LH: What was the first book you fell in love with?

JM: I was a late bloomer, reading-wise. As a kid, I was the only member of my family who didn’t regularly have his head down in a book, and when we had to do book reports in elementary school, I remember shrugging off the poor school librarian with her sampling of literature and choosing crappy novelizations of 80s teen films like “Some Kind of Wonderful” instead. (I’m honestly not sure what was going on; I was just kind of a lunkhead, I guess.)

But when I was about 16, I picked up a copy of Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and was instantly rapt. The intensity of the language—the volume of thought and awareness he’d concentrated into every line—wasn’t like anything I’d experienced before. Plus, the revelation that this was journalism, that someone named Tom Wolfe had existed within the reality he was describing, then tried to transmit those events and feelings in prose—that was all new to me, too. I wonder what I’d think of the book if I reread it now. It’s not very subtle. But back then, I needed a book that was going to smack me in the face with its sentences.

LH: What’s your favorite book to give as a gift?

JM: Carson Ellis’s magnificent picture book Home. I have so many beautiful memories of reading Carson’s book to my younger daughter when she was little, and every time I give Home to someone who’s just had a baby, I imagine it’s like giving them a tiny factory for making similar memories for themselves.

LH: If you weren’t a writer, what would you do instead?

JM: Early last year, I had what you might describe as a kind of mid-life/mid-pandemic crisis and, feeling aimless and exasperated with the instability of freelancing, spent a lot of time thinking about this question, and even made some inquiries about switching careers. I talked to an attorney-friend about doing research for an innocence project. I had conversations about teaching history to middle-schoolers. At one point, two friends attempted to recruit me to become part owner with them of a small-scale sawmill on the island near Seattle where we all live. (The guy who’d founded the mill and run it for decades was thinking of retiring and seemed to want to offload the operation for cheap.)

The three of us spent a morning touring the mill, climbing all over giant logs, just dreaming and scheming about becoming high-end lumber barons, discussing how we’d spend our days milling hardwoods for custom projects and the woodworking market. For some reason, they imagined I could manage the administrative end of things so I started making phone calls, familiarizing myself with sawmill business models and common industry pitfalls. I started listening to interviews with wood-business entrepreneurs and small business owners on a podcast called The Woodpreneur. I floated various disruptive ideas. (Would affluent urbanites pay to come out for the weekend, mill a nice slab of walnut, and make some kind of coffee table or shelf?) I managed to get very excited about being a sawmill operator, honestly. And yet, every time I told someone about it, they assumed that I was being insincere–that I was only interested in being part owner of a small-scale sawmill so that I could eventually write a book about being part owner of a small-scale sawmill. No, I’d tell them. I don’t think I want to write anymore; I just want to be a small-scale sawmill operator. And I truly believed that. But in retrospect, they might have been right. They might have known me better than I knew myself.

What I’m saying is, if I weren’t a writer, I’d probably be a small-scale sawmill operator who wrote about being a small-scale sawmill operator in his spare time.


Serious Face by Jon Mooallem is available now via Random House. 

- Tracy Dawson
On the Radical, Popular Creator of the First Female Superhero
Tina Berning

In 1938, the release of Action Comics #1 changed the world forever when it introduced America to a fella by the name of Superman, and the superhero genre was born. That was the beginning of what is known as the Golden Age of comics.

Three years later, in April 1941, another game changer showed up: the first female superhero. Nope, not Wonder Woman—she would arrive eight months later in her star-spangled blue skirt (the high-waisted control-top briefs would come later). No, the FIRST female superhero was Miss Fury, created, written, and drawn by Tarpé Mills, who also happened to be a woman.

June Tarpé Mills was born in Brooklyn in 1912 or 1918, depending on the source. She was raised by a single mother, a widowed working woman who raised June and the children of June’s deceased sister. Mills worked as a model to help support her family and then to put herself through New York’s prestigious Pratt Institute, where she studied fashion illustration. Side note: Pratt Institute, founded in 1887, was one of the first colleges in the country open to all people, regardless of gender, race, or class.

After a brief stint as a fashion illustrator, Mills started her comics career with her first comic, Daredevil Barry Finn, published in 1938 by Centaur Publications. As cartoonist and historian Trina Robbins writes, “From the beginning, Mills signed her comics with her sexually ambiguous middle name, a French-sounding version of her Irish grandmother’s maiden name, Tarpey.” Mills later told the New York Post, “It would have been a major let-down to the kids if they found out that the author of such virile and awesome characters was a gal.”

Mills’s career was going swimmingly, with her work regularly appearing in Amazing Mystery Funnies, Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics, and Target Comics, as she crafted such stand-out characters as the Catman and the Purple Zombie. However, the more coveted job in comics back then was the steady and reliable work of a weekly strip in a newspaper. This prestigious gig was not easy to come by, but in 1941 Tarpé Mills’s tremendous artistic talent and glamorous flair led her to sign a contract with the Bell syndicate to begin writing her game-changing Sunday strip The Black Fury (which soon became Miss Fury), featuring the first major female superhero ever.

It is the men who pine in Miss Fury.

With Fury, Tarpé Mills introduced the world to smart and seductive socialite Marla Drake, whose origin story as Miss Fury slyly thumbs its nose at the traditionally macho conventions of the superhero genre. Marla finds out that she and her friend Carol are wearing identical gowns to a masquerade ball. So, instead, she dons a skintight black leopard suit that had been given to her by her uncle and that once belonged to an African witch doctor. On her way to the soirée, Marla accidentally stumbles into vigilantism when she helps recapture an escaped murderer, disarming him using her suit’s claws, her quick thinking, and a puff of powder blown from her compact. And just like that, Miss Fury was born. Hey, I know it’s not being bitten by a radioactive spider . . . it’s better.

Tina Berning Illustration by Tina Berning

In November 1941, seven months after the strip began, The Black Fury was renamed Miss Fury. Even leading Tarpé Mills expert Trina Robbins doesn’t know why. It’s possible the change was made to really hit home that this superhero was a female, the likes of whom had never been seen before. The strip also reflected what was happening in the American workforce: women taking on roles and jobs previously reserved for the men who were now away, serving overseas. Fittingly, instead of random bad guys and gangsters, the villains in Miss Fury soon became colorful, wild, and weird Nazis, including archnemesis Erica von Kampf (yes, my friends, Kampf), a sexy spy who concealed a swastika-branded forehead beneath her bangs.

Miss Fury’s popularity exploded, and there was no way for Mills to continue being an anonymous creator who hid behind an idiosyncratic, gender-neutral name. When the truth was discovered, newspapers hopped on the red-hot story that Tarpé Mills was in fact a dame! The Fury strip had been running for about a year when the New York Post announced on April 6, 1942: “Meet the Real Miss Fury—It’s All Done with Mirrors.”

Tarpé Mills not only created the first female superhero and not only was she herself a woman, but she based the look and style of her glamorous protagonist on herself. Yes, Marla/Miss Fury LOOKED like Mills. A woman in 1941 creating a female superhero was groundbreaking enough; the fact that said superhero was made in her own image is stunning. It’s no wonder the newspapers all viewed Mills as fabulous World War II-era fodder. Soon Mills was being featured in Time magazine and the Miami Daily Herald. According to the Tarpé Mills website, images of Miss Fury in her black catsuit went on to adorn the nose of “no less than four B17 and B24 bombers, serving in the European and South Pacific theatres.” Tarpé Mills and her creation were a sensation.

While there has been progress, comics have far too often featured female characters who existed for the sole purpose of being saved by the male protagonist, or, an even worse fate, they were “fridged,” a contemporary term that refers to the slaying of a female character to intensify the hero’s motivation and move his story forward, making her a plot device rather than a fully realized character. The term, coined by legendary comic book writer Gail Simone, who also coined “Women in Refrigerators,” was inspired by an issue of Green Lantern, in which Kyle Rayner, the title hero, comes home to find that his girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, has been killed and stuffed in the refrigerator.

There would be no “fridging” in Tarpé Mills’s work. She had a very different idea about what female comic characters could and should be: complex, capable women who didn’t need superpowers or a man to get shit done. In Mills’s slyly subversive world, it was the men who often needed saving and who were portrayed as lovesick, with sappy and tortured thought balloons above their heads.

Even in Wonder Woman, which was created by the self-proclaimed feminist William Moulton Marston, the superheroine pines over love interest Steve Trevor. The author even goes so far as to depict Diana Prince as being jealous of her own alter ego because Steve fancies Wonder Woman more. Tarpé Mills was downright radical in her portrayal of Marla Drake as someone who had more than one love interest and who never pined over men. It is the men who pine in Miss Fury.

It’s such a shame that while Wonder Woman flourished, Miss Fury faded from memory and has little to no legacy.

Another striking thing about Miss Fury is that Marla Drake is sharp and skillful even when she is not in the black catsuit. The comic consistently highlights Marla’s depth of ability, like showing her on a fishing trip, angling effortlessly before she runs off to battle evil. Even her physical conquests are portrayed as being possible because of her wits. Unlike Diana Prince, Marla Drake does not have superpowers, yet she is more self-reliant and independent than her Amazonian peer. Nor is she a super genius who achieves feats outside the realm of possibility to readers. She is a viable and relatable hero who is simply courageous and competent and who happens to be a grade-A hottie.

One of Tarpé Mills’s unparalleled contributions to comics was how she added a level of hyper detail and accuracy to her characters’ wardrobe, her background in fashion illustration serving her well. It was the first time in comics that such attention was given to fashion. Previously, characters, mostly drawn by men, appeared in simple blue suits or basic red dresses, but as the Los Angeles Review of Books puts it, “Miss Fury, by contrast, is midcentury clothes porn.”

The comic won over both men and women. There was action and intrigue and sexiness and feminism and depth of character and fashion and WOW. Come for the ten-panel catfight between Miss Fury and hot Nazi Erica von Kampf, wrestling on a rooftop in gauzy lingerie, stay for the fashion, female empowerment, and making men the lovelorn puppies. Something for everyone!

Halfway through the series, Marla, dissatisfied with only fighting bad guys, gets a job, and—shockingly, for the times—adopts the abandoned baby of her chief adversary, Erica, becoming a single mother. Tarpé Mills not only gave her readers a female character who defied all societal expectations and gender norms, she also gave the world the first depiction of a superhero who was a mom when positively portraying a single mother, one who had agency, was simply unheard of.

After the war, American women lost their jobs to returning servicemen (because duh, you’ve had your fun being strong and capable but get out of the way, the men are back), and the energy began to shift around how women should be portrayed in comics. One wouldn’t think comics would be so policed, but in conservative postwar America, the daddies—I mean men— in charge thought that comics were corrupting young minds and even began linking juvenile delinquency to the increasing number of unconventional comic-book heroines. By 1954, the Comics Code Authority was formed. To meet code approval, a comic couldn’t be lurid or excessively violent, and women were to be portrayed in traditional gender roles. It was in this climate that Miss Fury’s run came to an end. Couldn’t even let us have make-believe.

It’s such a shame that while Wonder Woman flourished, Miss Fury faded from memory and has little to no legacy. It ran for more than a decade, from 1941 to 1952, and was syndicated in one hundred different newspapers at the height of its wartime fame. Timely Comics (now Marvel) obtained the rights to reprint the strips in comic-book form and ran it as a series from 1942 to 1946, selling a million copies an issue.

Even though Miss Fury and Tarpé Mills are both feminist icons, there is no biography about Mills’s life, which is utterly disappointing and why much of this chapter is about Miss Fury, not Ms. Mills. One can barely find the compilation volumes of Miss Fury (published by IDW in 2011 and 2013), as they are out of print. If Timely reprinted the strips in the 1940s and Timely has since become Marvel, why isn’t Marvel all over the Miss Fury legacy and resurgence? WHERE’S THE MISS FURY MOVIE?

In 2019, Mills’s work and legacy were finally recognized with her induction into the Eisner Awards Hall of Fame at Comic-Con in San Diego. There she resides—finally—where she belongs, alongside the other, mostly male, creators of the Golden Age. In the beginning, Mills may have felt compelled to hide her gender, but she never hid her convictions about female empowerment and self-sufficiency in her work. She also had a style no one could touch. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go daydream about which actress should star in the film.


Let Me Be Frank

From Let Me Be Frank by Tracy Dawson. Copyright © 2022 by Tracy Dawson. Reprinted courtesy of Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Top image credit: Illustration by Tina Berning

- Community
High School Activist Given PEN Award for Organizing Protests Against “Don’t Say Gay” Bill

A Florida high school activist has been given a PEN award for organizing protests against the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. The PEN/Berenson award was presented to Jack Petocz at the annual PEN America Literary Gala on May 23rd for “exceptional acts of courage in the exercise of freedom of expression.” The award recognizes his efforts in organizing a statewide student walkout earlier this year to protest HB 1557, the bill that’s become known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The bill prohibits discussing anything relating to gender identity and sexual orientation from kindergarten to third grade within schools.

The walkout gained nationwide attention and inspired protests at other schools. It also garnered negative attention for him from his school, as he was suspended from Flagler Palm Coast High School on March 3rd. Although he was allowed to come back to school on March 7th, he has faced repeated disciplinary actions since. Some of these actions have even prevented him from running for senior class president.

Despite these and other setbacks, he proclaimed that he “will not and cannot stand idly by as lawmakers across the country strip us of our basic constitutional rights” while accepting the award. Continuing on, he encouraged others to “make their voice heard in November, not just by voting in local, state and national elections, but also by supporting young organizers working to guarantee a more progressive and democratic tomorrow.”

The award was presented to Petocz by actor Asia Kate Dillon. Dillon, who plays TV’s first nonbinary main character on the show Billions, took the moment to highlight the significance their character has played in young people’s lives. They also acknowledged how “books, and screenplays, and creativity in other forms can make this world a better – and a safer — place. That is why,” they continued, “what Jack and his fellow students are doing is so important.”


The gala’s other presenters included actors Michael Douglas and Ruth Negga, and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. The host was award-winning journalist, writer, and actress Faith Salie. Among the other honorees were author Zadie Smith, Ukrainian freelance journalist Vladislav Yesypenko, and Audible founder Don Katz.

The event was held at the American Museum of Natural History and its proceeds will help fund PEN America’s mission to advocate for free expression.

Find more news and stories of interest from the book world in Breaking in Books.

- Community
Party to Celebrate Bookstore Cat’s Retirement

Loganberry Books bookstore is hosting a party to celebrate the retirement of Otis the bookstore cat. Otis, a gray and white cat found as a stray, has delighted patrons of the Ohio store as a professional greeter for the past ten years. Otis’ biography on the staff page recounts how he got his start as a bookstore cat when store owner Harriet Logan came to find him as a kitten who very loudly “demanded a job in book sales.”

Since then, other staff members and patrons alike have come to love Otis. The store even features a special gift section during the holidays called “Otis’ Old Curiosity Box” in honor of him. The sad news of Otis’ retirement comes as a result of a diabetes diagnosis and advanced age.

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The party will take place on May 29th from 12-5 pm, have cat cakes, feline Wordle games, and a fundraiser for the Weirdo Cat Lovers of Cleveland.

It will celebrate his 14th birthday and commemorate his last day in the bookstore.

Find more news and stories of interest from the book world in Breaking in Books.

- Deals
Book Riot’s Deals of the Day: May 25, 2022

The best book deals of the day, sponsored by Lanternfish Press

Today’s Featured Deals Never Saw Me Coming $3.99 Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian Get This Deal The Unbroken $3.99 The Unbroken by C. L. Clark Get This Deal The Recovering $2.99 The Recovering by Leslie Jamison Get This Deal Patsy $2.99 Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn Get This Deal I Know What You Did Last Summer $1.99 I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan Get This Deal You Deserve Each Other $2.99 You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle Get This Deal Taft $1.99 Taft by Ann Patchett Get This Deal The Girl On The Train $1.99 The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins  Get This Deal In Case You Missed Yesterday’s Most Popular Deals The Thursday Murder Club $2.99 The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman Get This Deal Sweetbitter $1.99 Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler Get This Deal Previous Daily Deals

D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding by Chencia C. Higgins  for $1.99

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang for $2.99

The Taste of Sugar by Marisel Vera for $2.99

Wandering In Strange Lands by Morgan Jerkins for $1.99

Six Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused and Their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials by Marilynne K. Roach for $3.99

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown for $2.99

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert for $1.99

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar for $2.99

Under The Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta for $1.99

The Last Nomad by Shugri Said Salh for $2.99

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones for $2.99

Squire by Nadia Shammas and Sara Alfageeh for $2.99

The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donohue for $1.99

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro for $1.99

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller for $1.99

What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan for $2.99

Admissions: A Memoir of Surviving Boarding School by Kendra James for $3.99

The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska for $1.99

Walls by L.M. Elliott for $1.99

The Circle by Dave Eggers for $1.99

Could You Survive Midsomer? by Simon Brew for $1.99

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters for $1.99

Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson for $2.99

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty for $2.99

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha for $1.99

Burro Genius by Victor Villaseñor for $1.99

The City of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafón for $1.99

Seasonal Work by Laura Lippman for $1.99

I Came All This Way to Meet You by Jami Attenberg for $2.99

The Matter of Black Lives by Jelani Cobb and David Remnick for $1.99

The Goodbye Coast by Joe Ide for $3.99

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa for $2.99

The Heiress by Molly Greeley for $1.99

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin for $2.99

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen for $1.99

The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy for $2.99

Blood Scion by Deborah Falaye for $2.99

Shipped by Angie Hockman for $1.99

- Kelly Jensen
Stay Hydrated with Bookish Tumblers and Reusable Bottles

Something I will forever be fascinated by is that water bottles trend. As in, one kind of water bottle will be popular for a while, but then it’ll be succeeded by another style or brand that will become the hyped bottle, only to be replaced not long after. In many ways, it’s intimately tied to wellness culture, and in other ways, it’s related to the upgrades in understanding what might be the least harmful bottle environmentally while also being the largest/best at keeping ice cold/keeping beverages hot/easiest to lug around/whatever other qualifier one might attach. I know when I was pregnant, I spent a not-insignificant amount of time looking for a giant water bottle and coming up with “only” a 64 ounce option. Two years later, I’m able to find those easily, as well as water bottles nearly double the size.

I use a fancy (and pricey) Stanley Cup now, thanks to the fact it holds carbonation nicely, and I’m a seltzer drinker. I keep a couple of other tumblers and water bottles around, too, in my car and in my yoga bag, so that I do have access quickly and don’t need to rely on disposable cup/seeking out a smaller option. And though I’m satisfied with my collection, I am tempted to add a bookish tumbler or reusable bottle to my stash. Drinking receptacles may not be my love language as they are for others, but I do enjoy looking at them and think these bookish options would be perfect for the reader itching to add to their collection and have something to tote with them on their reading jaunts in the park, the cafe (yes, you can ask your drinks be made in them!), the beach, or anywhere else you may park with a book and a sip.

Bookish Tumblers and Reusable Bottles Image of a tumbler on a table. The tumbler is decorated with a book page, glitter, and the words "just one more page."

This glittery tumbler is one you can not only choose a color for, but if you have a specific page request, you can submit that, too — how fun to have a “just one more page” tumbler featuring your favorite book? $35.

Image of a white tumbler on a marble counter with white tiles on the wall behind it. The tumbler features a black line drawing of an open book with flowers and insects.

Pick your favorite color for this understated open book tumbler. $24.

Image of a white tumbler with three bookshelves filled with colorful books and plants.

I love how bright and colorful this bookshelf tumbler is. $20.

Image of several colorful tumblers on an ivy background. The tumblers all have white font that reads "books and coffee."

Pick your favorite color for this books and coffee tumbler. I love how simple these are and they’d be perfect for….not just your coffee, but your water, seltzer, wine…as well. $20 and up, as you can customize these, too.

Image of a glass tumbler. It has black text which reads "a book a day keeps reality away."

I think glass tumblers and mugs are so fun. This “a book a day keeps reality away” glass tumbler is no exception. $25.

Image of a white tumbler. It has green text in a swirly font that reads "between the pages of a book is a lovely place to be."

It sure is! You can snag this tumbler in several colors for $23.

Image of a clear starbucks reusable cup. It's been customized with words like "read" and with images of books. It is in front of two books being held by a light colored hand.

If you love Starbucks and you love books, this customized tumbler is calling your name. $22.

Image of a white tumbler on aa white background. The tumbler features hand-drawn images including books, bookmarks, and plants.

This tumbler is simple with its hand-drawn books, but it’s really pretty for that. $32.

Image of a metal tumbler. It's been engraved in the style of a comic book.

How fun is this engraved comics tumbler? $35, with some color choices, too.

Four glass tumblers on a white furry background. The mugs have black writing. The writing says "book addict," "book lover," "book nerd," and "book worm."

Choose your fighter among these four book-themed glass tumblers. They come with a lid and star for $20.

A teal tumbler featuring an array of brown people, young and old, all reading.

I love this beautiful tumbler featuring an array of brown people reading. $33.

A light pink tumbler with black text that reads "book nerd."

Last but not least, just keep it simple. We would all do well with a book nerd tumbler. $35 and customizable.

Now that you’ve got a bookish tumbler, you’ll want a bookish tote bag to toss it in for when you’re on the go. Don’t forget a bookish hat, either.

- Kelly Jensen

- Addison Rizer
How Much Do Most Anticipated and Best-Of Lists Overlap?

Every year, I devour most anticipated book lists from publications like Lit Hub, TIME, Vogue, Book Page, Buzzfeed, and more. I can’t get enough of them. My preorders always skyrocket late in the year when these start to come out, much to my wallet’s chagrin. But recently, I’ve seen some chatter on social media saying most anticipated book lists were often exact duplicates for the subsequent best-of book lists at the end of the year. It made me curious, was that true? Were most anticipated and best-of booklists the same? Which voices made the cut for both and which were missing? Are the ones that make both similar in any way?

I took a look at 2021’s most anticipated and best-of lists from a few publications to see what I could find.

The Overlapping Books

First, let’s talk about what kind of overlap actually exists between these lists, one publication at a time. There were quite a few publications that posted either best-of or most anticipated lists, but not both, so those were, obviously, left out of this. In total, I looked at ten publications.

TIME’s 2021 most anticipated list and best-of list overlapped by nine titles of the 21 on their most anticipated list. The books were:

A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George SaundersKlara and the Sun by Kazuo IshiguroThe Committed by Viet Thanh NguyenSomebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. FordThe Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila HarrisOne Last Stop by Casey McQuistonHow the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint SmithMatrix by Lauren GroffHarlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Vulture’s 2021 most anticipated list and best-of list overlapped by four titles of the 46 on their most anticipated list. The books were:

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo IshiguroMatrix by Lauren GroffNo One is Talking About This by Patricia LockwoodDetransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

BuzzFeed News’ most anticipated and best-of lists overlapped by seven titles out of the 75 they had on their most anticipated list. The books were:

Afterparties by Anthony Veasna SoA Little Devil in America by Hanif AbdurraqibCrying in H Mart by Michelle ZaunerSeek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen RadtkeDetransition, Baby by Torrey PetersThe Committed by Viet Thanh NguyenNo One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

Lit Hub’s most anticipated and best-of lists overlapped by 19 titles out of the massive 228 they had on their most anticipated list. The books were:

Detransition, Baby by Torrey PetersNo One is Talking About This by Patricia LockwoodA Little Devil in America by Hanif AbdurraqibAnimal by Lisa TaddeoThe Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove DitlevsenThe Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana EnriquezBurnt Sugar by Avni DoshiMilk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. MonizBlow Your House Down by Gina FrangelloGreat Circle by Maggie ShipsteadThe Scapegoat by Sara DavisDear Senthuran by Akwaeke EmeziCrossroads by Jonathan FranzenSomething New Under the Sun by Alexandra KleemanFake Accounts by Lauren OylerMona by Pola OloizaracWhite Magic by Elissa WashutaFestival Days by Jo Ann BeardThe Great Mistake by Jonathan Lee

Book Riot’s most anticipated and best-of lists overlapped by five titles out of the 36 we had on our most anticipated list. The books were:

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. ManansalaDial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. SutantoHow to Find a Princess by Alyssa ColeLast Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda LoThe Rib King by Ladee Hubbard

NetGalley’s most anticipated and best-of lists overlapped by one title out of the 13 they had on their most anticipated list. The book was:

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

Newsweek’s most anticipated and best-of lists overlapped by two titles out of the 26 they had on their most anticipated list. The books were:

The Four Winds by Kristin HannahChildren Under Fire: An American Crisis by John Woodrow Cox

Book Page’s most anticipated and best-of lists overlapped by six titles out of the 30 they had on their most anticipated list. The books were:

How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo MbueKlara and the Sun by Kazuo IshiguroMilk Fed by Melissa BroderMatrix by Lauren GroffHarlem Shuffle by Colson WhiteheadGreat Circle by Maggie Shipstead

The A.V. Club’s most anticipated and best-of lists overlapped by one title out of the three books they had on their most anticipated list. The book was:

No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

So, what’s the overlap in total? Around 12%! 

Which isn’t nearly as many as I expected. Often, though, the most “buzzed about” books don’t go on to become bestsellers. Publisher’s Weekly talked to editors about which 2021 books they were most excited about, and out of the 27 they named, only four made a bestseller list. Publisher’s Weekly also reported a draw to nonfiction and memoirs, which we can see supported by the popularity of books like Crying in H Mart and Somebody’s Daughter. Readers aren’t so easily swayed after all.

The Authors

Out of the 41 books that made both lists, there were 31 female authors and ten male. And of these authors, 19 were white, followed by 11 Black, seven Asian, two Latine, one South Asian, and one Native American. There’s a clear lack of Latine, South Asian, and Native American voices finding a place on these most anticipated and best-of lists. This isn’t new information, necessarily, but important to point out. When you’re making your own most anticipated or best-of lists, maybe take a moment and see which voices are missing and why that might be.

The Books

In terms of genre, the highest was nonfiction with 12 books, followed by historical fiction (9), and contemporary (7). Six of the books had LGBT storylines or plots according to Goodreads. The lowest represented genres were YA, horror, and romance, which considering the jump in sales and popularity TikTok has spurred in YA and romance, I was surprised. This might be due to the nostalgic, backlist reading TikTok often does rather than newly published works, but it still seems low.

It’s pretty clear a few of these books keep showing up across different publications’ articles. No One is Talking About This was selected by Vulture, Buzzfeed, Lithub, and A.V. Club. Klara and the Sun made TIME, Vulture, and Book Page. If you take a look at Lit Hub’s ultimate best books of 2021 article, you’ll see No One is Talking About This made 19 different best-of booklists. Harlem Shuffle made 17, Klara and the Sun and Detransition Baby, 16. The books on these lists were well-loved, at least by publications.

But how well-liked were they by the public? The number of ratings on Goodreads ranged from 472 for Children Under Fire to 386,037 for The Four Winds. On average, they received 33,593 ratings and 4,597 reviews per book. The highest rated was How the Word is Passed with a 4.76 rating, the lowest was Fake Accounts with a 2.94. Goodreads ratings certainly aren’t the end-all be-all for how well-liked a novel is, but the general perception is that people liked these books.

Publication Information

The publication dates of these books were almost exclusively in the earlier six months of the year with March leading with 8, January and June with 7, February with 5, April with 4, and May with 3. August had 3, July 2, September and October 1, and there none in November or December. Logically, this makes sense. Books being published earlier in the year give readers more time to read, rave about, and recommend these books to other people. There’s also more time for reviews and lists and TikToks to get the book into more people’s hands. 

The publishers with the most books on these lists were Knopf and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux with 4 each followed by Random House and Riverhead books with 3 each. In total, 27 different imprints published this spread, which is a fairly good range.

So, What?

At the end of the day, it turns out that most anticipated and best-of lists aren’t really as similar as they seem. While there are trends in representation, genre, and publication dates, the books seem well-liked by readers and critics alike. What’s missing are books by authors of color, as well as YA, romance, and horror books.

When you’re putting together your most anticipated list for the rest of the year or start noodling on what’ll be on your best-of, take a look at what’s there and what’s missing. Try a book that comes out in November! Pick up a book by an Indigenous author! Maybe you’ll find a new favorite by reading in the gaps.

- Tracy Shapley Towley
Why Difficult Books Matter: How One Line from a Book I Read as a Child Helped Me Heal

There’s a lot of discussion in our year of the Lord 2022 about what books are “appropriate” for children to read and which can be potentially damaging. I understand parents not wanting to be forced to have conversations they find difficult with their children. I also understand parents wanting their children to remain innocent of some of the horrors that adults have to deal with. I do. I get it.

I understand these points of view; I just think they’re wrong. The disconnect for me comes here: preventing kids from learning about bad things doesn’t prevent them from experiencing or participating in bad things. It just leaves them defenseless to face those bad things when they happen. It leaves them without the vocabulary necessary to go to an adult and say, “A bad thing happened. I need help.”

When I was in elementary and middle school, I had access to many books that I’m sure would have seemed inappropriate for my age. In 7th grade reading class, for example, I picked up a book because it had ice cream in the title and I was (and remain) an ice cream enthusiast. But the book ended up being about a teenage boy coercing his girlfriend into having sex with him through a really stupid ice cream metaphor. She ended up pregnant, and while I don’t remember what soapbox the author was on about, the book did teach me a thing or two about consent. I’m sure that book would be banned today for “sexual content,” but nearly 30 years later, I still remember how empowered I felt knowing the tactics boys and men might use to get me to do something I didn’t want to do, to make me feel like I owed it to them in some way — and the ways in which I could fight against those tactics.

Years before that, when I was 7 years old, I checked out a book of essays that I believe were written by childhood survivors of sexual abuse. I don’t remember everything about the book — or much about it, really. What I do remember is keeping it hidden in my bedroom closet for fear my mother would find it and have questions. Why was I reading it? What did it have to do with me? I couldn’t have articulated it at the time, but I do remember reading those stories and feeling like there was something in them that made sense to me. That they applied to me and my life in some way.

Decades later, months before my 40th birthday, I was sitting in my therapist’s office, twiddling my thumbs. I’d just gone over the long list of traumas I’d experienced throughout my life. I sat there quietly while she gave me that cock-headed therapist look that I believe is supposed to be thoughtful and empathic, giving me space to say more. I called her bluff and waited her out. She finally asked me, “How do you feel talking about these issues?”

I shrugged and finally looked away. “I mean, it sucks, but it’s what, like one in three women are abused physically and/or sexually in their lives? So, you know…” I shrugged again.

“No, I don’t know.”

“You don’t know what?”

“I don’t know how you feel about what you’ve told me today. You’ve given me a lot of information, but I haven’t heard any feelings about any of it. How are you feeling right now — not what are you thinking. What are you feeling?”

I thought about it for a minute, realizing that was the opposite of what she wanted me to do. “I guess I feel sad for the kid I was and the woman I was in my 20s and all the people I was, I guess, who were hurt. And I know they thought it was their fault. I know that’s not true, like, intellectually, but… Yeah, I guess sad, and I wish I could go back and talk to them and let them know that it’d be okay. That I’d eventually be able to walk down the street again.”

My therapist let me sit with this for just a touch longer than was comfortable. “Is that it? You feel sad for that girl and that woman? What about the people who abused you? How do you feel about them?”

I shrugged again, “I don’t know. They’re gross? I don’t want to see them again, is that an answer? I try not to think about them. I don’t have any control over them or what they’ve done or what they’ll do, so I don’t want to waste any time on them.”

At that point, I’d had enough physical and emotional wriggling and I made a joke about something and she took the hint and we moved on. In the months that followed, she tried to bring the conversation back to that abuse and those abusers but I would cut her off quickly.

Then my therapist got pregnant and took an extended leave from therapizing. In our last session, she asked if I wanted to hear some thoughts she’d had during our year together. Of course I said yes, assuming she was just going to confirm that I am extremely good at therapy and very funny and she’d never had a better patient, A+ for me, I had won therapy!

Not quite.

“Do you know that in the many times you’ve talked to me about the abuse you’ve survived and the people that did these things to you, you’ve never mentioned feeling angry?”

I was stunned — and I mean that in a very dictionary definition sort of way: “so shocked that one is temporarily unable to react.”

She gave me some time to process before gently asking me, “What are you feeling. . . or thinking?”

“There was this book,” I told her. “I haven’t thought about it for years. It was a book of essays written by childhood abuse survivors. I don’t remember it very well, there’s only one thing I really remember about it in any kind of specific way. This girl, writing about her experience talking to her family about her abuse, writing about her process of healing, she talked about how mad her mom had gotten at her abuser. About how angry her mother had been that someone had hurt her child in that way. The essay ended with ‘My mother gave me the gift of anger.'”

And that’s when I started weeping at my therapist for the first time. That was when I could physically feel what I’d felt like as a helpless child. That was when I remembered how sore my hands had been the day after I talked to my mom about my abuse at 17, sore because I’d balled up my fists so tight when she’d told me “just don’t think about it, it’s not something to talk about.”

I’ve since asked her why she’d responded that way. She told me that she genuinely thought that it would do more harm than good to think about it or talk about it too much. That just “getting over it” was the easiest and best thing. She really thought she was doing what was right.

And you know why she thought that? Because she had been taught that as a kid. Because she had never been exposed to other opinions. Because she had never read a book of essays written by abuse survivors. Because she had never heard someone say, “I was abused as a child and I am better because I talked about it and because I grieved.”

I do not think of anger as a positive feeling or something to strive for, just like I don’t think of sadness as a positive feeling or something to strive for. But they are both very real and a person has a right to them, sometimes, and a person is allowed to feel them. My therapist gave me that right, that gift of anger, the ability to be angry at someone who had done something terrible to me.

My therapist gave me that gift of anger when I was 39-years-old, and I cannot express how essential that gift has been. But what if my mom had had the resources to give me that gift when I was 17? What if I’d had a wealth of resources at my local library, discussing child abuse, child sexual abuse, and trauma? What if I’d been able to read the words of girls and boys like me, who were hurt and scared and felt that they had to hold it all in, that they had to bury the very feelings that would free them?

What if those who seek to remove books that deal with difficult topics could come to understand that it is not the discussion of those difficult topics that ruins a child? It is the people who commit those crimes. It is the silence the children live with.

What if.

- Isabelle Popp
The Best Books You’ve Never Heard of (Spring 2022)

Are you always trying to keep up with the latest buzzy books and new releases? There’s an undeniable draw to reading what everyone’s talking about, but there’s also value in deliberately picking up books that don’t get that same amount of attention. When it seems like “everyone” online and off is talking about a certain book, that usually just means it got a lot of publicity money. So if all we pick up are “buzzy” books, all we’re reading are the books publishing has told us to read.

That’s why every few months, we like to shine a spotlight on the books we’ve read and loved that don’t get the attention they deserve. While BookTok and Bookstagram might tell you that a New York Times Best Seller or a title often assigned in high schools is “underrated,” we’re more interested in the truly under-the-radar reads. These are books that have under 250 ratings (not reviews) on Goodreads. For context, The Hunger Games has over 7 million ratings on Goodreads, and In Watermelon Sugar has 17,000.

Get ready to discover some of your new favorite books that deserve a lot more buzz than they’ve gotten!

the cover of An Illuminated Life An Illuminated Life: Belle da Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege by Heidi Ardizzone

When The Personal Librarian, a historical novel about J.P. Morgan’s librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, came out in 2021, I was surprised to find how few people have read the nonfiction book about her. This deeply researched book paints a portrait of Greene that is as real as it is confusing. How did the daughter of the first Black graduate of Harvard decide to pass as white? How were her personal and political views so fractured? More than any biography I’ve ever read, this one shows how people really do contain multitudes. Instead of making her a tidy and consistent character, this book shows the true complexity of her astonishing and fascinating life. —Isabelle Popp

the cover of Thirty Talks Weird LoveThirty Talks Weird Love by Alessandra Narváez Varela

This YA novel in verse follows a teen girl in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico who meets her future self. Adult Anamaría keeps giving her cheesy advice about being kind to herself and saving some girl that teen Anamaría has no interest in. She doesn’t need any saving; she’s a hardworking perfectionist who’s doing just fine. Until she realizes maybe she’s not, and suddenly the advice her future self has been giving her starts to make more sense. The novel was inspired by the author’s experiences as a teacher and deals with heavy — but important — topics that are sure to encourage thought-provoking discussions. —Rachel Brittain

the cover of The Language We Were Never Taught to SpeakThe Language We Were Never Taught to Speak by Grace Lau

Whether you’re new to poetry or a regular poetry reader, The Language We Were Never Taught to Speak is sure to delight you, surprise you, and make you think. This debut poetry collection had me all-in from page one with a poem about RuPaul’s Drag Race, and by the time I reached a poem about Killing Eve, I was an eternal fan. It’s a wonderfully queer, fresh, rebellious collection infused with pop culture, politics, and family history. Lau’s poetry is so smart and full of life, and I truly can’t wait to read her next collection. —Susie Dumond

the cover of Queers Dig Time LordsQueers Dig Time Lords edited by Sigrid Ellis and Michael Damian Thomas

Now stick with me, because I know this is a niche topic, and it’s also almost ten years out of date by now, but what if I told you this includes an essay from Amal El-Mohtar (of This Is How You Lose the Time War fame) that still bounces around my brain almost a decade after reading it?

“Consuming film and television and books [as a queer woman of color] is often like being handed beautiful, elaborately sculpted meals with bits of cockroach poking antennae and carapace out of the sauces and soufflés. You try to eat around the bugs, try to surgically remove them, but you can’t quite get away from the fact that they’ve flavored the dish and will probably make you sick. But you have to eat, or go hungry.”

Of course, it also completely lives up to the title and explores the queer history of Doctor Who that I wasn’t aware of. If you’re a fan of the show, it’s a must-read, but honestly, I think Amal El-Mohtar’s essay is worth the cost of admission alone. —Danika Ellis

The Big Reveal by Jen Larsen book coverThe Big Reveal by Jen Larsen

I adored this frank and funny YA novel about a girl who just wants to dance. It felt like Moxie, but set at a theater boarding school and combined with some modern-day Hairspray. It was a ton of fun while also hitting on some incredibly relevant and heavy topics. Addie is an extremely talented dancer who also happens to be fat. She’s proud of herself and her background and works her butt off to get into an exclusive dance program. The only problem: she realizes she doesn’t have enough money to go. Along with the help of her friends at her theater school, they put on a top-secret, speakeasy-style burlesque show to help raise money for Addie’s program. But as soon as the show is revealed, the slut-shaming and body-shaming comes out of the woodwork, and Addie is newly fearful and confused at what is happening. The show forces Addie and her friends to confront feminism and what it truly means for all people, how they can be supportive to others, and how to fight back against those who want to put them down. It was a glowing book where a fat girl gets to succeed and shine and be her very best self while also getting to learn from mistakes and grow as a person — just like anyone else! I was so excited to see Addie get to be the main character in her own story and truly take center stage. —Cassie Gutman

the cover of Palestine +100Palestine +100: Stories from a Century after the Nakba edited by Basma Ghalayini

In this collection, 12 Palestinian writers present short stories imagining the future — taking their uncertainty, generational trauma, memories, and terrors and crafting possible future worlds for the Palestinian people and nation. The stories are unified by their common themes — walls, parallel words, various forms of apartheid; collective memory and forced forgetting; virtual reality; fierce government surveillance, drones, and spies. These stories were well worth the investment — from Saleem Haddad’s eerie false utopia in “Song of the Birds” to the surreal, often absurd “The Curse of the Mud Ball Kid” by Mazen Maarouf, translated by Jonathan Wright. It’s an incredible collection, first published by Comma Press in the UK and then by Deep Vellum in the U.S., and it deserves a wide readership. Any fan of sci-fi will love this collection, but as a bonus, it provides space on the page for often marginalized voices. —Leah Rachel von Essen

Book cover for A Girl Called RumiA Girl Called Rumi by Ari Honarvar

Based on the author’s own experience emigrating to the USA from Iran as a child refugee, this story starts in Iran.

The main character, a 9-year-old child, is given the task of buying naan. But on her way to fulfill the obligation, she is pulled in by the magical and mysterious power of a storytelling session taking place in the town’s square.

She forgets the bread, but the stories stay with her, even as the conflict around the country spreads.

In America, older and independent, she has built a life, but as she returns to Iran with her ill mother and brother, the stories from the past arise once again.

Taken from the past to the present, and back again, we get to understand the power of stories, and especially of poetry. —Carina Pereira

the cover of Tender SpotTender Spot by Naomi Shihab Nye

This is a collection of selected poems from various chapbooks along with a few new poems. Naomi Shihab Nye is a Palestinian poet who writes about her Arab heritage and the wonder in small things. The tenderness in her poetry urges us to slow down. It’s an entire experience to let her words wash over us with their soft strength. I read this poetry collection over months and it brought me peace, insight, and reassurance throughout. —Yashvi Peeti

the cover of The 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance Comic Book: Revised and ExpandedThe 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance Comic Book: Revised and Expanded by Gord Hill

This is a graphic history book that covers the colonization of the Americas and Indigenous resistance to it, which is obviously a huge topic to try to tackle in one volume, but these short glimpses offer a great entry point. It was originally published in 2010, and this version is not only in color, but also updates it so it runs up to the current day. This history taught in white spaces often robs Indigenous people of agency, so these stories are a much-needed counterpoint, showing how Indigenous people across continents and centuries have been fighting back against colonialism. This is a fantastic entry point for learning about the history of colonialism in North America, especially (though it also includes Central and South America). —Danika Ellis

Can’t get enough hidden gems in the world of books? Try our previous editions of The Best Books You’ve Never Heard of!

- Danika Ellis
Unalive, Le$bean, and More: It’s Not Newspeak, It’s Algospeak

People on all sides of the political spectrum have been calling 1984 prophetic since almost the moment it was published. It’s been interpreted to fit any agenda, and any demonstration of government (or even corporate) power will inevitably be called Orwellian by someone. But one aspect of the novel that’s become relevant in the age of TikTok is Newspeak.

Newspeak is the language of Oceania, where 1984 takes place, and it was created by the Party to try to control not only how people communicate, but what thoughts they’re even capable of having. This is supported by the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, which argues that the way a language is structured influences how speakers think. For instance, because of the way English structures sentences (subject → verb → object), English speakers are more likely to assign outcomes to a certain actor: “The dog broke the vase” vs. “The vase broke itself.”

Newspeak’s aim was to simplify and streamline language both to keep the population ignorant and docile and to guide citizens towards approved ways of thinking. One of the markers of Orwell’s invented language was simplified prefixes and suffixes: doubleplusgood or ungood.


If you’ve ever taken a scroll through TikTok, you probably noticed its own language forming. You might have seen words in captions with letters replaced with symbols, or emojis filling in for words (instead of “white people,” it’s “:white circle emoji: people”). There are a few different forces converging to create this dialect, which can be seen to a lesser extent on other forms of social media.

One factor is that TikTok and most other social media platforms rely on moderation by algorithm, at least for the first pass. The easiest way to do this is to have a list of banned words: words associated with threats or with sexual content or with controversial content. When creators realize their videos using these words are suppressed, they get around them with creative substitutions: “seggs” for sex, “le$bean” for lesbian. Taylor Lorenz at Washington Post calls this “algospeak”: language developed in response to an algorithm.

The other consideration for the emergence of algospeak is that the algorithm on any social media platform, but perhaps especially TikTok, is mysterious. You might upload a video one day and get millions of views, and then get hardly any other views the next time. Because you can be shadowbanned — have your content not shown to anyone else, but not be notified of it — it’s almost impossible to tell if your video is being suppressed because of what you talked about or if it just wasn’t popular.

This is a perfect breeding ground for paranoia. What words or topics are being suppressed by the algorithm isn’t possible for creators to know for certain, and it’s always changing. It’s safer to self-censor, even though those substitutions could also end up censored, or they may be completely unnecessary and were never being targeted at all.


The most striking similarity between Newspeak and algospeak is in one of its most popular substitutions: “unalive” for “dead” or “kill.” Video gamers livestreaming will talk about “unaliving” monsters. Teens looking for help for suicide ideation might mention wanting to “unalive themselves.”

Of course, Newspeak and algospeak differ greatly: while Newspeak is a top-down attempt to control language and thought, algospeak is an attempt to resist censorship and dictated off-limits topics. That also includes anti-vaccine groups and pro-eating disorders groups that have found ways to hide the actual topics they’re discussing through code words.

Moderation is a necessity of social media, and it’s also a monstrous challenge: it requires filtering through an endless stream of pieces of audio, visual, and text data. The stakes are high, because you may be providing a platform for terrorist groups or encouraging large-scale harassment.

Trying to fix this through algorithmic filtering makes sense, but it’s a blunt instrument for a nuanced and thorny problem. When it’s applied this simplified way, marginalized groups suffer the most: discussions of queerness, sexual health, racism, and more are all suppressed and may be kept from the people who need them most.


When Orwell invented Newspeak, he wasn’t anticipating Twitter or TikTok or the massive communication revolution that would come with the internet. But the idea behind Newspeak is still relevant now: the words we use are important. They help us to clarify and structure our thoughts. They guide the conversations happening online and off. Already, social media and its moderation strategy is changing how we think and speak. Now that we know, we need to start talking about the effects of this kind of language policing and what we want our linguistic future to look like — after all, we still have the words to do so.

- Chris M. Arnone
The Best Comics of All Time

The best comics of all time. What a tall order. Comic books first emerged in the United States and United Kingdom in the 1930s, and have since grown into a juggernaut of entertainment. The term now encompasses comic strips, monthly comic book issues, trade paperbacks and graphic novels, manga, manhwa, and so much more. One of the greatest cinematic powerhouses in history, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has sprung from these funny pages.

How to choose the best comics of all time? I set a few rules. I decided not to double up on creators or titles. Alan Moore is undoubtedly one of the greatest comic book writers of all time, but he’s only on this list once. I’m not letting my love of Batman or the X-Men overshadow many other incredible comics, either.

This list spans comic book stories from the big two, independent publishers, graphic memoirs, and manga. The stories and their creators are varied and diverse. All of them have made a significant splash in comic books as a whole, influencing books that have come after them. Some are obvious choices while others are more subtle. Each one of them is one of the greatest stories you can find, with or without pictures.

cover image of American Born Chinese by Gene Luen YangAmerican Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

It’s rare for a comic book to be a finalist for a National Book Award in addition to a slew of comic book awards, but American Born Chinese did just that. Seamlessly weaving together three fictional tales of China and Chinese immigrants, Yang depicted the daily struggles of Chinese immigrants alongside a touching coming-of-age tale.

cover of Fullmetal Alchemist mangaFullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa

Running from 2001 to 2010, Arakawa’s steampunk series has inspired two hit anime series, films, video games, and an empire of merchandise. The steampunk tale of family and loss is adventurous, touching, inventive, and has been mimicked many times over the years. More than a decade since finishing publication, Fullmetal Alchemist endures.

book cover of fun home by alison bechdelFun Home by Alison Bechdel

Any book repeatedly banned should certainly land on a best-of list like this one. Bechdel’s seminal, autobiographical graphic memoir details her childhood, growing up and coming out, as well as confronting family issues like her depressed and closeted father. Simple in its delivery and powerful in its effect, it has even inspired a successful musical.

cover of Inuyasha by Rumiko Takahashi coverInuyasha by Mangaka Rumiko Takahashi

Here is another foundational manga that ran for a long time and built an empire from its humble pages. It tells the story of a young woman who travels to a different dimension, a different time, and allies with a half-demon named Inuyasha. They forge a friendship and bond through their adventures, challenging preconceived notions of good and evil and everything they know along the way.

cover of DC's Kingdom ComeKingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross

How to pick any one Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman story? Perhaps by choosing one of the greatest Elseworlds tales ever that heavily involves all three. It is a tale of tragic loss, of how far heroes can fall, and how hope persists even in the darkest moments. It’s also one of very few books in which Alex Ross paints sequential art.

cover of Locke and KeyLocke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Horror has a very long history in comics, from old-school monster tales to modern takes from all sorts of people and publishers. When novelist Joe Hill teamed up with Gabriel Rodriguez for this story, it put horror back in the comic book spotlight. The recent Netflix series has only cemented it as one of the greatest horror comics ever, especially since it’s grounded in a beautiful family story.

cover of March by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin book coverMarch by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

What can I say about this remarkable book from the late Congressman John Lewis. It’s his story, the story of getting in “good trouble,” in his own words. Congressman Lewis’s life is a story of American Civil Rights itself, from the very beginning to the inauguration of President Barack Obama. March is a masterpiece.

The Complete Maus coverMaus by Art Speigelman

Here is another graphic memoir that is even more important than it is beautiful, and also (even very recently) banned. Maus is the story of Art Speigelman and his father, who survived the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. It’s not just a tale of survival, but of the difficulties between a father and son, about finding common ground in their uncommon lives.

Ms Marvel Vol. 1 coverMs. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

Yes, Kamala Khan is about to make her small-screen debut on Disney+, but that’s not why this book is on this list. Kamala’s story is the quintessential “We Too Are America” tale with a superhero twist. Spider-Man has endured because he is so relatable, though largely only to white men. As the young daughter of Muslim, Pakistani immigrants, this new Ms. Marvel brought a whole new angle and energy to the Marvel Universe.

cover of NimonaNimona by ND Stevenson

Another National Book Award finalist, and this one from a college project by the immensely talented ND Stevenson. At times silly and at times deeply poignant, Nimona takes everything we assume about heroes and villains, throwing in a beautiful blender. Deeply layered and subtly personal for Stevenson, it’s definitely one of the best comics of all time.

Cover of One Piece for Shonen MangaOne Piece by Eiichiro Oda

There might not be a bigger, more influential manga in existence. Starting in 1997 and still running to this day, One Piece is a fantasy adventure that has raised an entire generation of comic and manga creators. Fans speak of Eiichiro Oda in the same breath as other fantasy masters like J.R.R. Tolkien and N.K. Jemisin. It’s a series with something for everyone, which is why is towers.

cover of Persepolis by Marjane SatrapiPersepolis by Marjane Satrapi

The last graphic memoir on this list is another frequently banned comic, which should tell you how important it is. Marjane Satrapi grew up in Iran and Austria during the Islamic Revolution, and her perspective is one not often told in the west, let alone in this visual medium. Her story is heartbreaking and eye-opening.

saga volume 1 coverSaga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

Is there a comic book on the planet as widely loved and wildly inventive as Saga? Part space opera and part fantasy, this epic focused on a Romeo and Juliet-style couple coming from opposing sides of an epic galactic war. When they have a child, it only complicates things more. People with TVs for heads, quirky bounty hunters, and, of course, Lying Cat make for an incredible comic.

The Sandman Vol. 1- Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman coverThe Sandman by Neil Gaiman, Yoshitaka Amano, Mike Dringenberg, Marc Hempel, Sam Kieth, Dave McKean, Jill Thompson, and many more

Okay. Maybe there’s one comic that is arguably more inventive than Saga. Beginning in 1989, a young Neil Gaiman took an old DC Comics property and made it his own. Adult in nature and fantastical in every way, Sandman was a master class in comic book writing that ran for 75 issues and has moved beyond that. One issue even won a World Fantasy Award.

cover of Usagi Yojimbo volume 1Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai

Since 1984, Stan Sakai has been writing and drawing every issue of Usagi Yojimbo. To this day, he still does it old-school, taping word bubbles over his art. For nearly four decades, this samurai rabbit has been part of the comic book landscape, influencing countless action and anthropomorphic comic books and creators. Part history and part fiction, it’s definitely one of the best comics of all time.

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons book coverWatchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

You knew it would be on here. Before Watchmen, comic books were ruled by camp. The colors were too bright and too simple. The dialog was unrealistic. Good and evil were clearly defined. Watchmen changed everything, a book just for adults, as it was highly political and steeped in commentary about the comic book industry itself. Moore and Gibbons took pastiches of the old Charlton Comics characters and created a monument in comic book history.

If you’re looking to read comics for the first time, where better to start than the greatest comics of all time? Here’s your list, though it’s certainly not exhaustive. What are your favorites?

- Steph Auteri
My Favorite Books About Female Friendships

In the isolation of the past two years, I’ve come to realize something: My female friendships truly are a lifeline.

And yet I’ve spent the past two decades neglecting them.

It hasn’t been intentional. It’s just that, as a cisgender female, I was raised to believe that one day, I would meet my soul mate, fall in love, get married, and have children. At that point, my life would revolve around my spouse and child and, to a lesser extent, my job. Everything else would fall away.

And though I believe that the concept of soul mates is bullshit, that’s still pretty much how it played out for me. I met a guy, I got married, I had a child, and I reshaped my life to revolve around that child. And though I wanted to see my friends, I truly did, it always felt like the logistics were too hard. And my chaotic schedule was too…chaotic. And on top of that, I was exhausted.

Endless back-and-forths with friends resulted in quick coffee dates scheduled weeks into the future. If there were more than two of us, we sometimes had to resort to sending out a Doodle.

This isn’t specific to me. It’s a familiar story. With the societal diminishment and deprioritization of female friendships in the face of heterosexual romantic relationships, we often forget how essential those friendships are to our well-being. We minimize their role in our lives. And then? They fall away.

When the pandemic happened and I was stuck in the house with only my husband and child, I felt as if I were suffocating. It was at that point that something strange happened. I became more social than I’d ever been before (albeit via Zoom).

Female friends reached out to form virtual book clubs and writing groups. Female friends reached out to schedule regular video chats. When it felt safe to do so, female friends texted me about going on walks and having outdoor playdates with our children.

The playdates were really for us. As our children ran feral around our backyards, we sat six feet apart, sipped our beers, and checked in with each other. If I mentioned that I couldn’t find graham crackers at the market, multiple boxes would appear on my doorstep a day or two later. If I mentioned that my child was driving me bonkers, I’d receive an onslaught of links to activity ideas.

In long-running chat groups, we’d allow ourselves to fall apart. Oftentimes, we felt we couldn’t do so in front of our immediate families.

I didn’t read a huge amount of books that centered on female friendships before the pandemic, but I find that, in recent years, they hold greater appeal. Here are a few of my faves.

Lumberjanes Vol. 1 book cover - an illustration of five Lumberjanes chilling in font of their camp cabinLumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen, Maarta Laiho, and Aubrey Aiese

Until recently, most of the books I read that centered on female friendships were comics. And this one was the first — the first friendship-focused book I loved and my first comic. This series is a favorite here at Book Riot, but just to recap, a group of campers comes to realize that the forest they’re in is host to a vast number of mythical creatures. Hijinks and supernatural adventures ensue. Most of the series stays close to the five campers staying in Roanoke Cabin, and the friendship they forge is just as essential to the plot as the magical beasties they discover.

Giant Days, Vol. 1 - book cover - illustration of Esther deGroot sitting on a duffel bag and looking at her phone, against a yellow-orange ombre backgroundGiant Days by John Allison, Lissa Treiman, Whitney Cogar, and Jim Campbell

After getting hooked on Lumberjanes, I quickly discovered Giant Days. The series is about three very different women who meet at university and become fast friends. Again, there are hijinks, but this time, they’re of your average going-away-to-college sort of hijinks. You know. Reinventing yourself. Gaining a sense of independence. Figuring out who you are. Surviving life away from home. Obviously, individual survival is more likely when you have some close friends to keep you on track.

Slam by Pamela Ribon - book cover - illustration of roller derby girl in shades of green, close up, against a pink background, with yellow, spray paint style letteringSLAM! by Pamela Ribon, Veronica Fish, Brittany Peer, and Jim Campbell

Once I exhausted the supply of trade paperbacks available in the previously-mentioned, long-running series, I turned to more limited series, like SLAM!, which is about two friends who get involved in roller derby, only to find themselves on opposing teams. I’ve long had a fascination with roller derby, even though I can barely stand upright on roller skates without hugging a wall. SLAM! allowed me to live vicariously through its characters, who also sort of sucked at the beginning, but who developed into absolute powerhouses. And as they learned the ins and outs of the sport, growing stronger on their skates, the strength of their friendship was also tested.

Heavy Vinyl cover image - illustration of four young women in Charlie's Angel's-esque fight positions in the record store where they workHeavy Vinyl by Carly Usdin, Nina Vakueva, Irene Flores, Rebecca Nalty, and Jim Campbell

By this point, I realized I had a thing for comics about kickass girls kicking ass…together. So I picked up Heavy Vinyl next (originally titled Hi-Fi Fight Club), which gave me some major Empire Records vibes. The series takes place in late-’90s New Jersey, where the young protagonist has recently landed her dream job at a local record store. But things are not quite what they seem — they’re actually even cooler. It turns out Vinyl Mayhem is a front for a teen girl vigilante fight club! This comic is teen me wish fulfillment on so many levels, and it also features a group of young women who grow closer as they work, train, and eventually take down some big bads together.

Misfit City book cover - illustration of four female-presenting friends and a dog against a map backgroundMisfit City by Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith, Kurt Lustgarten, Naomi Franquiz, Brittany Peer, and Jim Campbell

While the previous comic series took me right back to the ’90s, this one takes me all the way back to the ’80s — my favorite decade, at least as far as movies and music are concerned. This one gives a major nod to The Goonies in particular. It’s set in a town in which a movie called The Gloomies was filmed. I mean, really. ANYWAY. A group of female friends discovers that the story behind the film may actually be grounded in fact when they stumble upon an old treasure map. Can they track down the treasure before it falls into the wrong hands?

My Riot book cover - illustration of three bandmates in a Polaroid frame, with the title written on the bottom of the Polaroid as if in markerMy Riot by Rick Spears and Emmett Hobbes

More recently, I received a copy of this one in the mail and I was immediately charmed. When My Riot opens, it’s 1991 and the young protagonist is chugging along through her average suburban life. But when a rookie police officer murders a Salvadorian man, sparking two days of rioting by Black and Latino youth in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Washington, D.C., she begins to question the path she’s expected to follow. At around this time, she meets the young woman who will become her best friend, and they start their own punk band. The rest of the graphic novel takes readers through a fictionalized accounting of the Riot Grrrl movement, with the bond between the members of this musical act at center stage.

book cover of The Return by Rachel HarrisonThe Return by Rachel Harrison

Lest you think I only read comics (not that there’s anything wrong with that), my most recent female friendship reads have been prose-only. Harrison in particular is so good at depicting female friendships on the page, and she does it in the midst of the most fun horror stories ever. The Return was her first novel and is about a friend who goes missing, only to come back…changed. But her more recent book, Cackle, also has a burgeoning friendship at the center of its story. That and witchcraft. I can’t wait until her next one, which isn’t out until the fall, which feels unfair.

cover of Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi AndreadesBrown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades

Okay. I read this one when it came out this past January, and it is a stunner. This is written in the first person plural, in a Greek chorus of brown girls who are growing up in Queens, New York. It’s about everything from childhood to female friendships to race to the tug of war between ambition and loyalty. It is about home. It is about family. It is about being a woman. But most of all, it is about being a brown girl who is struggling to find her way in the world.

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry book coverWe Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry

And finally, we have my most recent friendship-focused read. I’ve mentioned this book before, in a post about horror in which the supernatural takes a back seat, but I need to give it a shout-out here, too. In Barry’s book, a field hockey team turns to witchcraft in order to turn around a long-running losing streak. But all of this is secondary to the individual story of each girl: who they are, how they relate to each other as friends, and how they relate to the world around them. Have they really harnessed black magic in order to become a winning team? It’s hard to say. But I don’t mind not knowing. Learning about this tight-knit group, and about their everyday lives, is far more interesting.

And there you have it. My favorite books about female friendships. If this list didn’t give you nearly enough to read in the realm of not-comics, I invite you to check out this list of 12 more female friendship books.

- Jamie Canaves
9 Books to Read After JUST MERCY

Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy was a big hit that resonated with readers, as it put a spotlight on our unjust criminal system through his work with the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). Since its original publication in 2014, the book has gotten a YA release, Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults): A True Story of the Fight for Justice, and has been adapted into a film starring Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson.

It’s an excellent book that uses Stevenson’s hard work to free people from unjust and wrong convictions to spotlight the systematic issues that target Black, brown, and marginalized people. It is one of those books that I think everyone should read, but I also don’t believe in reading only one book on a topic. Systematic issues affect a great deal of people and listening to as many voices as possible is always my goal. With that in mind, I’ve rounded up more books to read after you’ve read Just Mercy, from memoirs of lawyers who recount their cases and experiences with our unjust criminal system to memoirs by people who have been wrongly incarcerated for years, some of whom were on death row, and a journalist who went undercover in the private prison system.

cover image of A Knock at Midnight by Brittany K. BarnettA Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom by Brittany K. Barnett

This memoir is exceptionally written and covers really difficult topics while somehow keeping a spirit of hope — attributes that remind me of the writing of Just Mercy and even Chanel Miller’s Know My Name. In the memoir part of the book Brittany K. Barnett tells her story of growing up with a loving family, which included her mom who dealt with drug addiction, deciding to go to law school, and then discovering cases of people imprisoned for lengths of time that were grossly disproportionate to the crimes. The cases she takes readers into focuses on how the war on drugs created a war against Black and brown communities disproportionate to white ones by creating a fixed sentencing that was different for those found with powder cocaine versus crack cocaine. This unjust system gave many people life sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. Barnett also shows how addiction is treated cruelly, but she presents everything with hope and shows how to turn outrage into action.

Bonus: Karen Chilton does a great job narrating the audiobook.

Just Pursuit by Laura Coates book coverJust Pursuit: A Black Prosecutor’s Fight for Fairness by Laura Coates

Laura Coates worked as a prosecutor for the Department of Justice, hoping to advocate for vulnerable people. Instead, she realized that the system itself created problems. Specifically, she saw how the system was designed to have more Black, brown, and marginalized defendants and witnessed those within the system abusing their power. It’s impactful from the very opening where Coates takes you through the time a witness helping with a case was instead arrested by ICE no matter how much Coates attempted to help him.

Bonus: if you’re a fan of author narrated audiobooks, pick that format.

Better Not Bitter book coverBetter, Not Bitter: Living on Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice by Yusef Salaam

Heartbreakingly and unjustly, Yusef Salaam was known for a long time as one of the Central Park Five and wrongly incarcerated for years. Now he’s a prison reform activist, and in his memoir, he tells his story of growing up in the ’80s in Harlem, life in prison, finding faith, and channeling what happened to him into positive action. Ultimately, it’s the story of Yusef Salaam being cruelly treated by society and finding a way to motivate and lead change.

Bonus: if you’re a fan of author narrated audiobooks, pick that format.

cover image for My Time Will ComeMy Time Will Come: A Memoir of Crime, Punishment, Hope, and Redemption by Ian Manuel, Bryan Stevenson (Foreword)

Ian Manuel was one of the people the Equal Justice Initiative crusaded for. He tells his story of growing up in Tampa, Florida without a home, the botched mugging attempt where he shot a woman at the age of 14, and life in prison — 18 years of which were spent in solitary confinement. The U.S. is one of the only countries that sentences children ages 13 and 14 to life in prison without parole. Stevenson, through his EJI, fights against this cruel punishment of children, and Manuel tells how he spent two-thirds of his life in prison because of it.

Bonus: if you’re a fan of author narrated audiobooks, pick that format.

My Midnight Years cover imageMy Midnight Years: Surviving Jon Burge’s Police Torture Ring and Death Row by Ronald Kitchen, Thai Jones, Logan M. McBride

This memoir once again shows how unjust the system is in a true crime memoir blend. You get to know Kitchen and his upbringing and how he was suddenly accused of a murder he did not commit by police commander Jon Burge and his rogue cops, the Midnight Crew, who terrorized and incarcerated men for decades. Kitchen waited at every step for the justice system to correct this grave injustice, but instead ended up on death row. It was in prison where he co-founded the Death Row 10 to expose how the system is unjust and creates wrongful convictions.

If you audiobook, I highly recommend that format as Prentice Onayemi is an excellent narrator.

cover image for Juvenile in JusticeJuvenile In Justice by Richard Ross, Ira Glass (contributor), Bart Lubow (contributor)

This book has photographs and essays by Ira Glass of National Public Radio’s This American Life and Bart Lubow, Director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group. Richard Ross went to 200 juvenile detention institutions in 31 states to visit over 1,000 confined youths. Here, he shares their photographs and their stories as told to him. This book is the voice of imprisoned children — which, should we even be able to say “imprisoned children?”

cover image for Inside This Place, Not of ItInside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons by Robin Levi (Editor), Ayelet Waldman (Editor)

This books speaks with people incarcerated in women’s prisons with a focus on the abuses experienced while in prison. Women are taken in for surgeries and years later discover that they were sterilized without their knowledge or consent. There is mental, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse suffered with no one to listen or care. Here we hear their voices and the horrific treatment they’ve endured.

cover image for American PrisonAmerican Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment by Shane Bauer

Shane Bauer takes us into his undercover work as a guard at a private prison in Winnfield, Louisiana. We get a look at how private prisons work, including their history, the cruel treatment of inmates, and the entry-level jobs that paid $9 an hour. All while Bauer discovers that the actual job he was doing was changing him, and not for the better.

cover image for Halfway HomeHalfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration by Reuben Jonathan Miller

I’m going to end with a focus on how prisons and our unjust system is not designed to rehabilitate people. Here, Reuben Jonathan Miller, a chaplain and a sociologist studying mass incarceration, spotlights the lie that people can pay their debt to society and then return to society with full rights. Instead, they’ll find it increasingly difficult to rent, be hired, and may not even be given back their right to vote.

You can learn more about Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative, along with how to donate. And here’s a deep dive inside prison newspapers.

- Alice Nuttall
16 of the Best Children’s Books About Friendship

Friendships are the first relationships we choose for ourselves and often the first ones that we have to work out for ourselves (unlike family relationships, where we’re likely to be following existing relationship patterns). While some kids fall into friendships as easily as blinking, others might find it a little more difficult to build lasting bonds with new peers and classmates. Friendship dramas and fallouts can be a lot to deal with, particularly at a young age, but at the same time, the early friendships children make can sometimes last for the rest of their lives. Elementary and middle school-age are crucial times in a kid’s life, where a child is developing as the person they are, and the friendships they make during this time can have a massive impact on that — and can sometimes be a lot to deal with emotionally.

Luckily — and unsurprisingly, considering how important friendships are to children of all ages — there are thousands of children’s books about friendship out there that deal with many different aspects of friendship. Included among these books are adventure stories that are focused around tight-knit groups of friends fighting monsters or seeking treasure, stories specifically looking at friendship loss, toxic friendships, making new friends and maintaining old friendships when you move, and much more. From picture books and early readers to longer middle grade reads, this list of children’s books about friendship will help your child through the ups and downs of first friendship.

Picture Books About Friendship A Letter to Amy coverA Letter to Amy by Ezra Jack Keats

This classic children’s picture book deals with the nuances of different-gender friendships for young children — something that can sadly still be seen as contentious today. Peter is having a birthday party and inviting his friend Amy, but he’s unsure whether she’ll want to attend, being the only girl.

Be a Friend coverBe a Friend by Salina Yoon

This sweet book explores friendship between children with different personalities and interests. Dennis likes to express himself through mime but is lonely when other children don’t understand his form of expression — until he meets new friend Joy.

Julián at the Wedding coverJulián at the Wedding by Jessica Love

Featuring Julián from the bestselling book Julián Is a Mermaid, this book looks at new friendship, love, and celebration. Julián and his cousin Marisol take part in a wedding, make a new friend, and cause adorable, muddy chaos at the celebration.

Lotus and Feather coverLotus and Feather by Ji-Li Jiang

Following an illness, young Lotus is lonely — until she finds Feather, an injured crane. The two become fast friends, getting into multiple adventures, but Lotus realises that to be a real friend to Feather, she has to help him migrate with the other cranes.

Owen and Mzee coverOwen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Craig Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, and Paul Kahumbu

Animal-loving children will adore this true story of friendship between an orphaned baby hippo, Owen, and 130-year-old tortoise Mzee, who became friends when Owen arrived at the wildlife conservation park in Kenya where Mzee lived. The unlikely pair bonded and became fast friends until Owen was old enough to be socialised with other hippos.

The Not-So-Friendly Friend coverThe Not-So-Friendly Friend by Christina Furnival

Learning to set healthy personal boundaries is one of the most important lessons for anyone, adult or child. In The Not-So-Friendly Friend, Furnival teaches young-child-appropriate lessons on how to deal with a bully, how to negotiate on-and-off friendships, and how to be assertive.

Chapter Books About Friendship Sophie Washington: My BFF coverSophie Washington: My BFF by Tonya Duncan Ellis

There are many Sophie Washington books for new readers to enjoy, but My BFF is a great choice for any child negotiating a difficult or changing friendship. Sophie finds that her best friend, Chloe, has started leaving her out of things and doesn’t know what to do — especially when Chloe then asks Sophie to lie on her behalf.

Ivy and Bean coverIvy and Bean by Annie Barrows

The first in an ongoing series, Ivy and Bean introduces readers to two sparky characters. When they meet, Ivy and Bean are both convinced that they could never be friends, but circumstances soon prove them wrong.

Jada Jones Rock Star coverJada Jones: Rock Star by Kelly Starling Lyons

This story is an ideal read for any young child who is dealing with a friend moving away. When Jada Jones’s best friend starts a new school, she feels lonely, as she knows more about finding cool rocks than making new friends. But when her teacher assigns a class project on rocks and minerals, Jada may be able to combine her hobby with her hunt for friendship.

The Year of the Book coverThe Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng

Bookworm Anna finds reading a lot simpler than making friends. Up until now, she has always sought comfort and companionship in the stories she reads, but Anna realises that while she can learn a lot from books, she has to step outside her literary comfort zone in order to make friends.

Planet Omar Accidental Trouble Magnet coverPlanet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian

Omar has recently moved to a new house, which comes with a new school and a need to make new friends — unfortunately, this is made more difficult by racism from the class bully. Despite the serious topic, this is a laugh-out-loud funny story for elementary readers.

Room to Dream coverRoom to Dream by Kelly Yang

Third in the Mia Tang series, Room to Dream follows Mia, whose family runs a motel, and her family and friendship dramas. In this book, Mia and her family go to Beijing on holiday, and Mia processes the two different sides to her cultural identity as she builds her friendship with her cousin Shen.

Middle Grade Books About Friendship A Kind of Spark coverA Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll

Addie, a young autistic girl living in Scotland, starts a campaign to create a memorial for the local women killed in the medieval witch trials, as she believes that many of these women would have been neurodivergent like her. Along the way, she makes a good friend in new girl Audrey, who cares about Addie’s special interests and doesn’t try to make her hide her autistic traits.

Thief coverThief! by Malorie Blackman

New girl Lydia has begun to make friends at her school when she is wrongly accused of stealing the school trophy. After running away, Lydia is caught in a freak storm and transported to the future, where she finds out the impact that the fallout from her accusation will have, not only on her own life, but on that of her new friends.

Loki coverLoki: A Bad God’s Guide to Being Good by Louie Stowell

The Norse god of mischief, Loki, undergoes his greatest challenge yet when, after a prank gone wrong, he’s sentenced to attend school on Earth as an 11-year-old boy. To get back to his previous godly status, Loki has to show “moral improvement” — which includes learning to tell friends from enemies.

Pea's Book of Best Friends coverPea’s Book of Best Friends by Susie Day

Following her mum’s success as a best-selling author, Pea moves to London and starts attending a brand new school. But while there are many parts of her new life that she loves, she’s lonely — so she sets herself the task of finding a new best friend.

These stories are just some of the many children’s books about friendship that are out there for children of all ages who want to learn about friendships, find ways to combat loneliness, or just enjoy a good tale. For more middle grade recommendations, check out our list of 15 Great Middle Grade Books About Friendship. If you’re an adult who needs some bookish friendship guidance, try 9 of the Best Books for Adults About Friendship.

- Tirzah Price
Flower Face Covers in YA

For fans of Anna and the French Kiss and Loveboat Taipei, this effervescent debut takes readers on a journey to the place where trends are born—Seoul, Korea—where Melody Lee unwillingly moves with her family and must start a new life, a new school…and maybe a new romance.

I like to keep an eye on cover trends because I think they can be fun to watch, and because sometimes they can be weirdly, delightfully specific. The latest one I couldn’t help but notice this spring is something I’ve affectionally come to call “flower face covers.” They usually feature a close up of a girl’s face surrounded by flowers, and while that sounds pretty or romantic, what’s great about this trend is that it runs the range from dreamy to downright creepy — and intentionally so! So without further ado, feast your eyes on some new flower face covers to adorn your shelves with!

Note: I enjoy this trend and would love to see iterations of it featuring more characters of color.

horrid book coverHorrid by Katrina Leno

After the death of her dad, Jane and her mom move from California to Maine to live in the creepy old house her mom grew up in. Strange things start happening, and when Jane discovers a hidden child’s bedroom that’s been perfectly preserved, she has to wonder what her mom is hiding. I love the contrast of the blonde girl and the black roses, and the way they’re placed on her eyes — chilling!

Primal Animals coverPrimal Animals by Julia Lynn Rubin

Arlee is sent to a remote summer camp in the North Caroline wilderness after she fails to live up to her mom’s expectations. At first, the camp seems to be a respite as she makes friends…but soon odd moments and strange actions put Arlee on edge. So, I’m fudging with this one because it’s not florals, but I love the greenery and the moth wings — so striking!

Belladonna coverBelladonna by Adalyn Grace (August 20, 2022)

Signa is a wealthy orphan raised by a string of guardians who all seem to meet an untimely end. But her newest guardian lives on an estate full of secrets…and when her mother’s ghost appears claiming she was poisoned, it’s up to Signa to get to the bottom of the mystery. I like that the florals are delicate here, although just getting the bottom half of her face reminds me of the headless girl cover trend from a decade ago!

The Depths CoverThe Depths by Nicole Lesperance (September 13, 2022)

Addie is stuck on the most awkward vacation ever, tagging along on her mom’s honeymoon. Eulalie Island is beautiful, but there’s something off about it. As she discovers its magic and beauty, she also uncovers the island’s dark secrets and begins to wonder if she’ll ever be able to leave. So much about this cover is a big yes from me — the flowers, the way the girl’s face is turned and in partial shadow, the look of fear (or surprise?) on her face. I can’t wait to devour this one.

The Sacrifice coverThe Sacrifice by Rin Chupeco (October 4, 2022)

The island of Kisapmata is said to harbor great power and great secrets, so naturally a Hollywood film crew is arrogant enough to think they can capture it on film. They’re guided by local teen Alon, who knows that as soon as they’ve arrived, they’re cursed, and it’ll be up to her to convince them to turn back before it’s too late. I love the creepy dead hands covering the girl’s face and the pink florals. Talk about a mood of a cover!

Where Darkness Blooms coverWhere Darkness Blooms by Andrea Hannah (February 21, 2023)

In a town famous for its endless sunflower fields and missing women, the daughters of two recently missing women discover terrible secrets and are determined to get to the bottom of their mother’s disappearances. Who knew sunflowers could look so creepy? Not me!

Want more 3 on a YA Theme? We’ve got you covered!

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- A.C. Wise
Non-Binary Authors To Read: July 2021

Non-Binary Authors To Read is a regular column from A.C. Wise highlighting non-binary authors of speculative fiction and recommending a starting place for their work.

Welcome back to Non-Binary Authors to Read! To my great shame, I let both this column, and its sibling column, Women to Read, lapse in the first half of the year. I don’t really have a good excuse. I’ve still been reading tons of fantastic fiction that I want to bring to people’s attention, but somehow I blinked and half the year is gone. But, better late than never! So without further delay, here are four new recommendations for your reading pleasure.  

Richard Ford Burley is a speculative fiction author and poet, as well as Deputy Managing Editor of the journal Ledger. My recommended starting place for their work is “The Stealing Gift” published in the Summer 2021 issue of Kaleidotrope.  

Thea is a war hero, or so the narratives about her claim. She’s retired now, but once she used her Gift to stop a bombardment of shells and bombs, saving hundreds of lives, though at the cost of her vision. Max, a former friend and the journalist who contributed to her legend, and Esme, an army Engineer whose own Gift allows her to use technology to replicate the Gifts of others, have come to beg Thea to explain how she did what she did in hopes of saving more lives and maybe even ending the war. 

She closes her eyes again, remembering what she’d done with her Gift that day. She can still see the wall of shimmering, golden light, the brilliant incendiary explosion she couldn’t look away from—that she’ll never be able to look away from again. And she remembers the way that Max and the other embedded press had reported it. “Thea White, National Hero,” the newspapers had proclaimed. But the headlines were as accurate at the stories that followed. As they’d squawked on about Heroism and the National War Effort and her Great Sacrifice, they’d never once managed to approach the truth. 

The story is at once beautifully-written and heartbreaking, examining the cost of war, and the narratives surrounding it that forward a picture of heroism while denying individuals their lived truths of grief, guilt, and suffering. Thea has already given all can for the war, and lost so much, yet the world wants more of her. From the outside, her refusal looks like selfishness, or cowardice. The popular narrative of her great heroism only increases her own feelings of powerless and guilt, as if she should be able to stop the war, save more lives, and protect those that matter to her, but she cannot. 

In contrast to Thea’s suffering, Esme could easily have been a flat character caught up in idealism and believing the propaganda fed to her. However, Burley gives us something more nuanced – a character who still holds on to hope, who genuinely wants to help others, and who sees Thea’s pain and wants to help her as well. Neither of them are wrong, and the understanding they build over the course of the story adds another layer of richness. While the subject matter is painful, dealing with loss, survivor’s guilt, PTSD, and the horrors of war, the darkness is balanced with characters caring about each other and genuinely desiring to do good in the world.  

Kel Coleman is an author and editor, and my recommended starting place for their work is a bit of a cheat as I’m recommending a “A Study of Sage” published at Diabolical Plots in February, paired with “Delete Your First Memory for Free” published in Fiyah Magazine #17. As I already reviewed “Delete Your First Memory for Free” in my May 2021 Words for Thought column in Apex Magazine, I’ll focus on “A Study of Sage” here, while touching on why the stories make for excellent paired reading. 

“A Study of Sage” opens with the main character using a simulation to practice breaking up with their girlfriend, Sage. But no matter how many times they try, nothing ever seems to go right – they end up feeling clumsy, guilty, apologizing, wanting to take Sage back and smooth things over. All the while, Sage delivers passive-aggressive comments and cutting remarks, twisting the protagonist’s words and making them feel small.  

I don’t remember the exact words, how she explained that I needed her more than she’d ever needed me, but each syllable pecked and nipped until I was shredded. I tried to dredge up the script from dozens of simulations, reply with something smart and insightful, but the real Sage was more vicious than the designers could’ve gleaned from her social media profiles or my account of our relationship. I hadn’t seen her clearly, not after six years, not even near the end. 

The story pairs nicely with “Delete Your First Memory for Free” in that both showcase Coleman’s talent for stories with incredibly personal stakes, where technology is used in an innovative way to solve one person’s problem. There are no apocalypses on the horizon; humanity is not at stake, and maybe no one else will even notice the change wrought by the story’s end, but to the protagonists of both tales, the change matters deeply. It’s an intimate kind of storytelling that we don’t always see in science fiction. Stories where protagonists employ technology to save their community, or even the world at large, are lovely too, but it’s nice to see a story one person’s life is altered and it is enough. Coleman does small-scope stakes very effectively, underlining that stories whose events impact just one person are still well-worth telling. 

M. B. Hare is an author of weird fiction, and my recommended starting place for their work is “You, Tearing Me Apart on Stage” published in Fusion Fragment #4.  

Terry Weldon is a pop icon, forever young-looking through a variety of enhancements, and forever beautiful. Every aspect of his life, his image, and his career is heavily managed.  

Brand consistency is what sells me. Biweekly hormone suppression. Luxury iris reconfiguration. Hair re-glossing, liposuction, selective liquification pills. A carefully curated avatar in meatspace and the digital that maintains broad demographic appeal without appearing to change over the years in any significant way.  

Celebrity holds little appeal anymore, but neither does real life. Terry goes through the motions every night, performing as if watching someone else. Then one night he receives an invitation to a club on a shady server. Even knowing it’s a bad idea, he goes for the sheer fact that it’s something different and new, only to discover that the club’s specialty is virtual celebrities, including John Lennon, Britney Spears, and himself, who die and or dismember themselves on stage in a gory and realistic fashion in front of a wildly cheering crowd. 

It’s a short and powerful story that explores the dark side of celebrity and the idea that their bodies and lives are public property. A nude pictures leaks, and the celebrity themself is blamed. Paparazzi follow them everywhere, and if they dare complain, they’re called ungrateful. They’ve been paid in fame and recognition and therefore owe the public access to every single aspect of their lives. Hare takes this line of thinking to the extreme, as Terry’s image is literally dissected for the pleasure of the crowd, and of course, it’s Terry doing it to himself, because who does he have but himself to blame? By being famous, he asked for this. He’s made himself into a commodity for his fans’ approval, who is he to object when he’s consumed? It’s an effective exploration of the ways in which the line between public and private, product and producer, can blur, and the unhealthy relationships that can develop between fans and content creators. 

Nhamo is an author of dark, speculative fiction, and my recommended starting place for their work is “Before Whom Evil Trembles” published in Anathema Magazine.  

This story pairs nicely with Hare’s, showing another side of celebrity, and the darkness – both metaphorical and literal – that can lie behind a public persona. The protagonist is a ballerina, relentlessly driven and highly successful, but behind the façade of her success, her life is miserable. When she was a child, her mother was murdered, reduced in the headlines to a “dead prostitute”. Her mother’s profession, murder, and the fact that she’s Arabic lead the ballerina to be bullied as a child and mean she has to work at least twice as hard for every scrap of success.  

Even now, those around her primarily perceive her worth based on her skill as a dancer; she is still treated with suspicion, questioned as to whether she belongs when staying in a hotel with the rest of the company, viewed as an outsider and possibly a criminal due to the color of her skin. She is not seen as a human being, rather as a dancer or a threat, depending on who is perceiving her, until ultimately it is revealed that she may indeed something more than human after all. 

The fur begins to sprout about your neck and face while you stand in the center of the stage, struck prostrate. En pointe. The toes that form the foundation of your grace—battered, bruised, black beneath satin slippers. Black with and without the bruising. 

The story is full of striking imagery and beautiful, poetic language. As with Hare’s story, Nhamo’s explores public versus private identity, but also the question of a person’s worth and the way people are too often valued by what they can do for others, rather than being valued for themselves. The story also looks at ideas of monstrousness and beauty, and what is considered acceptable in society (the monstrous ballerinas and their treatment of the protagonist) and what is not (the supernatural nature of the protagonist, and her mere existence as a brown woman).  

I’ll try not to let things go so long before the next column, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy these stories. Happy reading! 

The post Non-Binary Authors To Read: July 2021 appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Charles Payseur
X Marks The Story: May 2021

Finding excellent short SFF can often feel like hunting for buried treasure. Sometimes it takes a guide to help fill in the map, connecting readers with fantastic fiction and showing where X Marks The Story–a monthly column from Charles Payseur.

We’ve officially moved past “early 2021.” And as we get deeper into the meaty part of the year, the short speculative fiction isn’t letting up. At turns delightful and obliterating, it can be difficult to navigate the wide landscape of the field without a guide, without a map. Which is where I come in! Looking for a story that will tug your heartstrings? I know just the route to get there! Prefer something with more action to get your heart pumping and your feet stomping? I can show you where to look! Whatever your tastes, from science fiction to fantasy to a lovely mix of the two, slip on some sensible shoes and let’s get on the trail of some X-cellent short SFF! 

The Steel Magnolia Metaphor” by Jennifer Lee Rossman (Escape Pod) 

What It Is: Astrid is a talented mechanic and inventor. She’s also autistic, and metaphors, however, are something of her nemesis. So when she crafts a literal steel magnolia as a kind of present for her mother, she’s not aware that what she’s doing is actually creating an entirely different kind of metaphor, one that has little to do with the movie and everything to do with Astrid’s feelings about her mother’s cancer. The science fiction comes from what Astrid’s inventions end up doing, and how that plays into the wider lines between the literal and the figurative. 

Why I Love It: This is a bittersweet story, one that looks at this raw and emotionally devastating situation and doesn’t flinch. Doesn’t pull away. It captures all of Astrid’s struggles to come to terms with what’s happening, and the ways her autism complicates the process. It does an amazing job of taking what is a very delicate situation, though, and just beautifully exploring it. Showing all the emotion, all the frustration, all the humanity on display as Astrid and her mother talk. As Astrid faces the ways her invention does and doesn’t go to plan. She’s a child yet, and despite a rather mature way of looking at the world the story finds her growing in some important ways, faced with things she’s never had to face. Not breaking. But being changed all the same by the weight and grief of it all. And learning a bit more about herself, and the world, and metaphors. Be sure to have some tissues to hand for this one, because it is an emotional rollercoaster (and so good). 

Heart Shine” by Shveta Thakrar (Uncanny) 

What It Is: Though it wasn’t available online until June, I’m still considering this a May release from Uncanny Magazine, as that’s when the full issue was out. And people, it is another story that aims at the heartstrings and hits its mark. It finds Komal, a young girl who feels ignored except for when she’s being bullied. Desperate for escape, she chases after Faerie magic, only to find that Faerie doesn’t want her. At least, not in the way she thought she wanted. It’s a complex look at loneliness and escape, explored with a careful hand by the author, who understands how easy it might have been to nudge Komal’s story into tragedy but doesn’t. Who finds a different ending instead, one that is beautiful and inspiring and affirming. 

Why I Love It: Everything about Komal seems to make her vulnerable. The subject of racist and misogynist harassment. Isolated, without an advocate. A girl who wants to disappear, and who takes risks in part because she knows that she has to in order to maybe find a way out of her situation. On the edge of something deep and grim, what ends up finding her isn’t a darkness but a friend. Not one who can wave away her problems or extract her from the dangers and difficulties of her life. But someone who can for once see her and the good in her. Her power and her potential. And that is a magic that is powerful indeed. One that you don’t need to be a Faerie to understand or practice. And I love how the piece brings Komal to a place where she can hope for something in her own life. Not erasing the very real issues and injustices around her. But recognizing that she has power, and will have more, to shape her place in the world, to connect with people who do see her, and who she can in turn see. It’s a lovely and tender and heartwarming read. 

Shi Shou” by E. A. Xiong (Strange Horizons) 

What It Is: In a peopled solar system where travel between planets and moons is common, and where there’s an increasing market for creating artificial body augmentations for a variety of reasons, the arts are seeing something of a transformation. And for a pianist, and for an artisan specializing in flesh, in somatology, the future means pushing the boundaries of what is possible, both with regards to the human body, and how a human body can create art. And what follows is something of a controversy, something of a risk, but also an undertaking that might bring both to new heights in their fields. 

Why I Love It: I love the pacing of this story, which might seem strange at first because it is a slow piece, one that unfolds over months as the characters work toward this rather huge project. As they are caught in other things, as they make plans, as they go about their lives. They aren’t consumed by just this single project, but rather are committed to their careers, to their ambitions, leading them to the moment when they can reveal their breakthrough, the fruits for their intense labor, and push the boundaries of their arts forward. I just love the way that it’s understated, showing that this isn’t the work of a moment. Or a day or a week or even a year. That it happens in the flow of things, the constant effort that works within the constraints of making a living, funding their passions. But through all that how they still shine, and how the moments of their success ring loudly, echoing through the solar system, through time, as something new, momentous. For me it’s a careful and fantastically crafted story, subtle but poignant, and very worth checking out! 

Synesthesia” by Devin DeMarco (Lackington’s) 

What It Is: Appearing in the “battle” themed issue of Lackington’s, this story imagines a kind of team sport. One that’s only possible thanks to the fact that in this world some people are have synesthesia that isn’t just about senses but allows them to manifest their altered sensations in physical form. Players of the game then use these powers to try and knock down the opposition using a point system that’s not difficult to follow. Sia can make light from sound, and wield that light as a solid force. A useful power, especially when some dirty pool from the opposing, Chicago team, meaning holding back isn’t an option. 

Why I Love It: SFF sports stories aren’t exactly common, and I love the premise here, the rules, and the energy that the game brings to the story, and that the author brings to the game. The setup is classic and for a Chicago-area native, only a little bit of a dig. The big city team versus the local underdogs. Some less than legal play. Some mighty comeuppance. The piece shines thanks in part to the great cast of characters and their unique powers and the ways they weave those together. There is a very visual flare to the work, something that I especially like given the idea of synesthesia, where here reading the words evokes the sounds and smells, the sights and textures and tastes. It’s tightly paced and powerfully rendered, full of determination, drive, and a lot of fun. It really does make me wish this sport existed, because I’d have season tickets. An incredible read! 


Looking for even more recommendations? Then good news, because here are some more great stories to X-plore! 

If all the X-tra Xs don’t give it away, I’m a bit of a fan of superheroes, and I absolutely loved Jen Brown’s take on a particularly messy and traumatic superhero journey in “To Rise, Blown Open” (Anathema).  

Along the same line, you can squint and read “Throw Rug” by Aurelius Raines II (Apex) as something of a superhero story, though it might be closer to say it explores the intersections of confidence, family, and the power of never giving up. Whatever the case, it’s an inspiring read! 

Two women with big dreams and an even bigger love find that might not be enough in “Blood in the Thread” by Cheri Kamei (Tor). It’s difficult at times, wrenching, visceral, but also unflinching and reaching for joy and triumph, and it reaches using art, trust, and a refusal to betray the people who really matter. 

Meanwhile, in the first issue of The Deadlands, “Peristalsis” by Vajra Chandrasekera looks at a very strange television show, and a very strange fandom—ones that might break the barriers between life and death, between audience and show, between story and reader. 

And that’s all for this month! Remember to tune in again next time, for more X-quisite speculative X-periences! 

The post X Marks The Story: May 2021 appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Thea

Today we’re thrilled to have guest author Chloe Gong over to chat with us about history, representation, and monsters from her book These Violent Delights.

A Chat with Chloe Gong

The Book Smugglers: These Violent Delights prominently features rival gangs vying for power and leading to chaos and a body count—as well as a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River, leading to even greater chaos and a higher body count. What research did you do if any to capture your vision of 1920s Shanghai?  

CHLOE: It was a combination of technical research (aka flipping through history textbooks and spending hours at a time in my school library) and asking my parents and relatives a lot of questions! I wanted the setting to feel as real as possible even while I was inventing fantastical elements like a monster and a deadly contagion. Even though this is fiction, 1920s Shanghai in true history was still this glittering, vibrant place, and I wanted to capture its atmosphere as much as possible with a combination of culture and facts so that readers really feel like they are there at this time while these fictionalized events are happening. 

The Book Smugglers: Talk to us a bit about Shakespeare, and the influence Romeo and Juliet had on you and this book. 

CHLOE: I’m a complete Shakespeare nerd. Sometimes people think that means I’m some big brain English major who can understand his plays super easily, and while I am an English major (the big brain part, however, is to be determined), I also have a lot of trouble understanding Shakespeare so it feels rewarding when I dive in and work through the language to emerge with all this rich thematic content and these craft choices. There’s gold buried under the complicated older English! Romeo and Juliet is such a touchstone text to the later emerging themes of Western literature! This book was basically my effort to re-engage with major themes that have always inspired me, except with a fresh spin and a new cultural lens that hasn’t been seen before.

The Book Smugglers: You’ve said that this book is your love letter to Shanghai, Shakespeare, and your younger self, searching for representation in YA fiction. You’ve told us about the first two pillars that inspired your book, but we would love to explore the importance of representation in your work. (Especially now, through the lens of the world in 2021, where the clear legacy of colonialism and AAPI hate are so painfully prevalent.) 

CHLOE: To me, representation in fiction is about showing the world as it is. It’s about telling our own stories, and putting fully-realized identities on the page: people who get to experience stories as whole human beings, not as just an Asian person or a Chinese person. Having a marginalized identity colors the way that someone sees the world, and stories that explore this as its main focus are super important and need a place in mainstream fiction, but I also grew up with fantastical tales of (white) girls simply saving the world and going on adventures, and I wanted to write those kinds of stories, only with heroines that would allow my teen self to see herself right on the page.

The Book Smugglers: If you could host an opulent, era-appropriate gala with characters from These Violent Delights, and any other characters from any other fictional world: who and why? And, what would you serve? 

CHLOE: Oooh, the characters from Cassandra Clare’s The Last Hours trilogy! On a technical level the time periods match up already, but also because I think Juliette and Matthew Fairchild would be great friends, so it would be an absolute hoot. The gala can serve the finest wine money can buy and all the excellent Shanghai dishes.

The Book Smugglers: Finally, a question we ask all of our interviewees: We Book Smugglers have faced condemnation because of the sheer volume of books that we carry back home on a daily basis. As such, we have on occasion resorted to “smuggling books” home to escape judgmental, scrutinizing eyes. Have you ever had to smuggle books? 

CHLOE: I used to devour books at my local library, and since I dropped in about every week, I needed to make sure I was taking home enough that my selection would actually last me seven days because I was such a fast reader. While I’ve never smuggled anything out, I’ve had to hide some checked books in a bag or carry them in two trips because anytime I actually carried the whole stack of like, 15 books from the library doors to my mum’s car I would get so many strange side eyes.

About The Author

Chloe Gong is the New York Times bestselling author of These Violent Delights and its sequel Our Violent Ends. She is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she double-majored in English and International Relations. Born in Shanghai and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, Chloe is now located in New York pretending to be a real adult.

After devouring the entire YA section of her local library, she started writing her own novels at age 13 to keep herself entertained, and has been highly entertained ever since. Chloe has been known to mysteriously appear by chanting “Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best plays and doesn’t deserve its slander in pop culture” into a mirror three times.

You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok under @thechloegong. She is represented by the wonderful Laura Crockett at TriadaUS Literary Agency.

About The Book

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.

The post THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS: A Chat with Chloe Gong appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Thea
On the Smugglers’ Radar: June 2021

On The Smugglers’ Radar” is a feature for books that have caught our eye: books we have heard of via other readers, directly from publishers, and/or from our regular incursions from various corners of the interwebs. Because we want far more books than we can possibly buy or review (what else is new?), we are revamping the Smugglers’ Radar into a monthly (mostly) SFF-focused feature – so YOU can tell us which books you have on your radar as well!

As of last month, all of our monthly picks can be found on Bookshop!

June 2021

First on our radar today, a locked room (ok, locked spaceship) mystery with two boys and what promises to be an excellent romance:

The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer

Katherine Tegen Books | June 1, 2021

Two boys, alone in space.

After the first settler on Titan trips her distress signal, neither remaining country on Earth can afford to scramble a rescue of its own, and so two sworn enemies are installed in the same spaceship.

Ambrose wakes up on the Coordinated Endeavor, with no memory of a launch. There’s more that doesn’t add up: Evidence indicates strangers have been on board, the ship’s operating system is voiced by his mother, and his handsome, brooding shipmate has barricaded himself away. But nothing will stop Ambrose from making his mission succeed—not when he’s rescuing his own sister.

In order to survive the ship’s secrets, Ambrose and Kodiak will need to work together and learn to trust one another… especially once they discover what they are truly up against. Love might be the only way to survive.

Next up, a teen witch given the task of sacrificing her first love in order to save her family’s magic. I’m listening…

Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury

Margaret K. McElderry | June 15, 2021

A rich, dark urban fantasy debut following a teen witch who is given a horrifying task: sacrificing her first love to save her family’s magic. The problem is, she’s never been in love–she’ll have to find the perfect guy before she can kill him.

After years of waiting for her Calling–a trial every witch must pass in order to come into their powers–the one thing Voya Thomas didn’t expect was to fail. When Voya’s ancestor gives her an unprecedented second chance to complete her Calling, she agrees–and then is horrified when her task is to kill her first love. And this time, failure means every Thomas witch will be stripped of their magic.

Voya is determined to save her family’s magic no matter the cost. The problem is, Voya has never been in love, so for her to succeed, she’ll first have to find the perfect guy–and fast. Fortunately, a genetic matchmaking program has just hit the market. Her plan is to join the program, fall in love, and complete her task before the deadline. What she doesn’t count on is being paired with the infuriating Luc–how can she fall in love with a guy who seemingly wants nothing to do with her?

With mounting pressure from her family, Voya is caught between her morality and her duty to her bloodline. If she wants to save their heritage and Luc, she’ll have to find something her ancestor wants more than blood. And in witchcraft, blood is everything.

This next book combines Greek mythology with a feminist twist, and apparently an enemies to loves to enemies storyline? I’m intrigued.

Daughter of Sparta by Claire M. Andrews

Jimmy Patterson | June 8, 2021

Sparta forged her into a deadly weapon. Now the Gods need her to save the world!

Seventeen-year-old Daphne has spent her entire life honing her body and mind into that of a warrior, hoping to be accepted by the unyielding people of ancient Sparta. But an unexpected encounter with the goddess Artemis—who holds Daphne’s brother’s fate in her hands—upends the life she’s worked so hard to build. Nine mysterious items have been stolen from Mount Olympus and if Daphne cannot find them, the gods’ waning powers will fade away, the mortal world will descend into chaos, and her brother’s life will be forfeit.

Guided by Artemis’s twin-the handsome and entirely-too-self-assured god Apollo-Daphne’s journey will take her from the labyrinth of the Minotaur to the riddle-spinning Sphinx of Thebes, team her up with mythological legends such as Theseus and Hippolyta of the Amazons, and pit her against the gods themselves.

A reinterpretation of the classic Greek myth of Daphne and Apollo, Daughter of Sparta by debut author Claire Andrews turns the traditionally male-dominated mythology we know into a heart-pounding and empowering female-led adventure.

Another book on the hereditary power theme, this debut SFF sounds pretty badass.

Star Eater by Kerstin Hall

Tordotcom | June 22, 2021

From Nommo Award finalist Kerstin Hall comes a layered and incisive examination of power.”—Rory Power, New York Times bestselling author of Wilder GirlsAll martyrdoms are difficult.Elfreda Raughn will avoid pregnancy if it kills her, and one way or another, it will kill her. Though she’s able to stomach her gruesome day-to-day duties, the reality of preserving the Sisterhood of Aytrium’s magical bloodline horrifies her. She wants out, whatever the cost.So when a shadowy faction approaches Elfreda with an offer of escape, she leaps at the opportunity. As their spy, she gains access to the highest reaches of the Sisterhood, and enters a glittering world of opulent parties, subtle deceptions, and unexpected bloodshed.A phantasmagorical indictment of hereditary power, Star Eater takes readers deep into a perilous and uncanny world where even the most powerful women are forced to choose what sacrifices they will make, so that they might have any choice at all.

We have been fans of Carrie Vaughn’s since her urban fantasy/paranormal days (Kitty Norville, anyone?!)–so when I saw that she was writing an RPG/DnD style novel I immediately preordered. Because. It. Looks. Awesome.

Questland by Carrie Vaughn

John Joseph Adams Book Paper | June 22, 2021

Questland is a thrill ride…Richly imagined, action-packed, maximum fun.”—Charles Yu, New York Times bestselling author of Interior Chinatown

YOU FIND YOURSELF IN A MAZE FULL OF TWISTY PASSAGES…Literature professor Dr. Addie Cox is living a happy, if sheltered, life in her ivory tower when Harris Lang, the famously eccentric billionaire tech genius, offers her an unusual job. He wants her to guide a mercenary strike team sent to infiltrate his island retreat off the northwest coast of the United States. Addie is puzzled by her role on the mission until she understands what Lang has built:  Insula Mirabilis, an isolated resort where tourists will one day pay big bucks for a convincing, high-tech-powered fantasy-world experience, complete with dragons, unicorns, and, yes, magic.Unfortunately, one of the island’s employees has gone rogue and activated an invisible force shield that has cut off all outside communication. A Coast Guard cutter attempting to pass through the shield has been destroyed. Suspicion rests on Dominic Brand, the project’s head designer— and Addie Cox’s ex-boyfriend. Lang has tasked Addie and the mercenary team with taking back control of the island at any cost.But Addie is wrestling demons of her own—and not the fantastical kind. Now, she must navigate the deadly traps of Insula Mirabilis as well as her own past trauma. And no d20, however lucky, can help Addie make this saving throw.

“Gamers rejoice! Carrie Vaughn has conjured up a fun and fast-paced story filled with elves, d20s, and Monty Python riffs.”—Monte Cook, ENnie Award-winning creator of the Numenera roleplaying game

This next book is a reimagining of The Great Gatsby–but from the perspective of a queer, adopted, Vietnamese-American female lead. And magic.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Tordotcom | June 1, 2021

Gatsby the way it should have been written?dark, dazzling, fantastical.” ?R. F. Kuang“A vibrant and queer reinvention of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s jazz age classic. . . . I was captivated from the first sentence.”?NPR“Vo has crafted a retelling that, in many ways, surpasses the original.”?Kirkus Reviews (STARRED REVIEW)Immigrant. Socialite. Magician.Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society?she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer and Asian, a Vietnamese adoptee treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.

But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.

Nghi Vo’s debut novel The Chosen and the Beautiful reinvents this classic of the American canon as a coming-of-age story full of magic, mystery, and glittering excess, and introduces a major new literary voice.

The third and final book of Megan O’Keefe’s phenomenal The Protectorate science fiction series is out this month and we are here for it:

Catalyst Gate by Megan E. O’Keefe

Orbit | June 22, 2021

In the final book of this explosive Philip K. Dick Award-nominated space opera, the universe is under threat and an ancient alien intelligence threatens to bring humanity down – unless Major Sanda Greeve and her crew can stop it…

The code has been cracked. The secrets of the Casimir gates have been revealed. But humanity still isn’t safe. The alien intelligence known as Rainier and her clones are still out there, hell-bent on its destruction. And only Sanda can stop them.

With the universe’s most powerful ship under her command and some of the most skilled hackers, fighters and spies on her team, it will still take everything she has to find the key to taking down an immortal enemy with seemingly limitless bodies, resources and power.

I was instantly drawn into this next book by its beautiful cover illustration–and then I started reading and it is wonderfully magical.

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

Bloomsbury YA | June 29, 2021

Darkness blooms in bestselling author Kalynn Bayron’s new contemporary fantasy about a girl with a unique and deadly power.

Briseis has a gift: she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms with a single touch.

When Briseis’s aunt dies and wills her a dilapidated estate in rural New York, Bri and her parents decide to leave Brooklyn behind for the summer. Hopefully there, surrounded by plants and flowers, Bri will finally learn to control her gift. But their new home is sinister in ways they could never have imagined–it comes with a specific set of instructions, an old-school apothecary, and a walled garden filled with the deadliest botanicals in the world that can only be entered by those who share Bri’s unique family lineage.

When strangers begin to arrive on their doorstep, asking for tinctures and elixirs, Bri learns she has a surprising talent for creating them. One of the visitors is Marie, a mysterious young woman who Bri befriends, only to find that Marie is keeping dark secrets about the history of the estate and its surrounding community. There is more to Bri’s sudden inheritance than she could have imagined, and she is determined to uncover it . . . until a nefarious group comes after her in search of a rare and dangerous immortality elixir. Up against a centuries-old curse and the deadliest plant on earth, Bri must harness her gift to protect herself and her family.

From the bestselling author of Cinderella Is Dead comes another inspiring and deeply compelling story about a young woman with the power to conquer the dark forces descending around her.

This next book is written by twin sisters, which seems incredibly fitting.

Sisters of the Snake by Sarena & Sasha Nanua

Harper Teen | June 15, 2021

A lost princess. A dark puppet master. And a race against time—before all is lost.

Princess Rani longs for a chance to escape her gilded cage and prove herself. Ria is a street urchin, stealing just to keep herself alive.

When these two lives collide, everything turns on its head: because Ria and Rani, orphan and royal, are unmistakably identical.

A deal is struck to switch places—but danger lurks in both worlds, and to save their home, thief and princess must work together. Or watch it all fall into ruin.

Deadly magic, hidden temples, and dark prophecies: Sisters of the Snake is an action-packed, immersive fantasy that will thrill fans of The Crown’s Game and The Tiger at Midnight.

And last but certainly not least, Tasha Suri’s new book and first in a new fantasy series–I CANNOT WAIT TO TALK TO EVERYONE ABOUT THIS BOOK.

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Tor Books | May 25, 2021

Author of Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne, beginning a new trilogy set in a world inspired by the history and epics of India, in which a captive princess and a maidservant in possession of forbidden magic become unlikely allies on a dark journey to save their empire from the princess’s traitor brother.

Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of the powerful, magical deathless waters — but is now little more than a decaying ruin.

Priya is a maidservant, one among several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, so long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides.

But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne. The other is a priestess seeking to find her family. Together, they will change the fate of an empire.

And that’s it from us! What books do you have on your radar?

The post On the Smugglers’ Radar: June 2021 appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Thea
Book Review: NEAR THE BONE by Christina Henry

A young woman finds out the truth about her past and escapes a monster in Christina Henry’s newest novel, Near the Bone.

Title: Near The BoneAuthor: Christina HenryGenre: Horror, ThrillerPublisher: BerkeleyPublication Date: April 13, 2021Paperback: 336 pages

A woman trapped on a mountain attempts to survive more than one kind of monster, in a dread-inducing horror novel from the national bestselling author Christina Henry.

Mattie can’t remember a time before she and William lived alone on a mountain together. She must never make him upset. But when Mattie discovers the mutilated body of a fox in the woods, she realizes that they’re not alone after all.

There’s something in the woods that wasn’t there before, something that makes strange cries in the night, something with sharp teeth and claws.

When three strangers appear on the mountaintop looking for the creature in the woods, Mattie knows their presence will anger William. Terrible things happen when William is angry.

Stand alone or series: Standalone novel

How did I get this book: Purchased

Format: Paperback

CW: implication of rape, child abuse, and other abuse


On a winter’s day like so many others, Mattie awakens and goes about her chores. Her husband, William, is not a patient man, nor is he kind. Mattie knows that she is a bad wife because she continually disappoints William–she woolgathers, she’s clumsy, and most importantly, she hasn’t been able to bear him a son (though she performs her wifely duty every night). Mattie might not care for William’s approval, but she certainly knows that she must avoid his rage–William’s caprice is often accompanied by blows that leave Mattie bruised and bloodied, for even the smallest provocations. (Or, indeed, even when there is no provocation beyond William’s mercurial temper.)

So, on this particular winter’s day when Mattie discovers a fox’s mutilated remains and enormous prints in the snow, she hesitates. She knows she should collect the rabbits from their traps or there will be hell to pay, but no bear or other creature would have done that to a fox. William is predictably upset with Mattie’s dallying and even more upset when she tells him about the fox (it’s not Mattie’s job to think), though he decides to investigate. A bear, William concludes, and one that could feed them all winter if they’re able to catch it.

Soon, though, Mattie and William learn that the creature that left those prints is no bear. It is an impossible creature, the likes of which no one has ever seen before, and William is immediately concerned about what the creature will bring with it: people. People who will want to hunt the creature, people who will want to study it, people who might just discover William and Mattie’s secluded cabin.

For Mattie–who hasn’t seen another soul but has memories of a girl and a song that she carefully tucks away from William–strangers arriving on their mountain is exhilarating and terrifying. And, as Mattie grasps for memories about a time outside of the mountain and before William, she also understands very keenly that the creature on the mountain is very real and very dangerous. Mattie is very good at sensing danger.

Near the Bone is a kind of hybrid novel–it’s part creature-feature horror story, part locked-room (or, more accurately, stranded on a mountain) thriller. But really, and most importantly, it’s a story about a young woman who repeatedly faces incomprehendable horror. It’s not a surprise that Mattie has been abducted, abused, and her past erased by her “husband” William–it’s also not a surprise that Mattie’s memories are fragmented and disjointed, her thoughts solely focused on survival. Near the Bone is told in Mattie’s voice and filtered through her thoughts, adding an even more terrifying layer to the narrative–her focus on keeping herself safe, warring with her desire to even imagine a world without William, is absolutely harrowing stuff. This is the real horror novel and the stuff of nightmares–William’s ice-chip blue glare, his physical and emotional abuse–and Christina Henry does an incredible job of pulling back Mattie’s layers, giving her voice strength and surety as she learns more about her past and the prison William has constructed for her. Know that this is not an easy book to read, but for Mattie’s journey alone, it’s worth it.

Of course, the other part of this story–the less-well done bit–is the creature feature. Reminiscent of an X-Files monster-of-the-week episode with a dash of Crichton-esque thriller juice, Near the Bone‘s catalyst for action is the sudden discovery of a creature in the woods. This cryptid–as the zoologist student researchers in the book come to call it–is large, brutal, and, most vitally, smart. Unlike bears or other more common creatures, the cryptid doesn’t just stockpile its food, it collects and separates bones from organs. It moves quickly and soundlessly, and… well, likes to play with its food. Sort of. There are some motivations that are hinted at, but unlike a monster-of-the-week episode, there’s no Mulder or Scully to connect the dots, which is oddly frustrating. The cryptid’s sudden appearance and its motivations for hunting Mattie, William, Griffin, C.P., and Jen are mysteries that remain unsolved. The why isn’t something that we get into in Near the Bone and that makes sense–but it does diminish the overall impact of the story. (It is the cryptid, after all, that is the entire reason for Mattie’s ultimate motivation to escape.)

This criticism said, the author does a damn good job of building tension through the sequences with the creature–and the dual specter of William and the cryptid looming over Mattie’s choices is plenty terrifying. This, paired with Mattie’s heart-wrenching narration and the refreshingly human, flawed good Samaritans who intervene, makes Near the Bone a solidly entertaining read.

Absolutely recommended for anyone who wants to get lost in a good horror-thriller.

Rating: 7 – Very, Very Good

The post Book Review: NEAR THE BONE by Christina Henry appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Charles Payseur
X Marks The Story: April 2021

Finding excellent short SFF can often feel like hunting for buried treasure. Sometimes it takes a guide to help fill in the map, connecting readers with fantastic fiction and showing where X Marks The Story–a monthly column from Charles Payseur.

April is dead. Long live May! X-cept, well, before turning fully toward the promise of May and its bright flowers, let’s look back a minute on what April had to offer. Because while the rainiest month might seem to some a bit glum, a bit dreary, the stories on offer from April are anything but, and bring a raw defiance and energy to the season. Like a renewing and invigorating rain, the stories breathe life back into a landscape left harrowed by winter, just recovering with the touch of spring. These stories are bracing and strong, featuring people reaching for something affirming, something warm, something beautiful. So make sure you packed your poncho and boots and follow me on an adventure to map out some X-cellent short SFF!

The White Road; Or How a Crow Carried Death Over a River” by Marika Bailey (Fiyah #18)

What It Is: Broadfeather is a crow living on a small island—one split by a river that separates Life and Death. And on this island the custom is that crows are given names by First Crow that fit them, that reflect something they’ve done. And Broadfeather wants a great name, one that will shine. So she sets out to earn it with an adventure, one that takes her to the bottom of the sea, and to the dark depths of space, and even to the door of a vile man responsible for a lot of pain and suffering. The story is easily accessible and fun even while dealing with themes of slavery, death, and justice. It bounces with Broadfeather’s desire for a name and her clear sense of right and wrong, balanced by her willingness to act, even in the face of danger and difficulty.

Why I Love It: I adore and am incredibly impressed by the way this story takes on some very grim subjects and yet maintains a kind of positive energy, an earnest and hopeful tone and feel. There is that mythic to it, seeded by the way the title echoes a fable and the way it opens in the traditional “long ago.” It unfolds as a spoken piece, paced perfectly for reading aloud, and Broadfeather’s quest for a better name is something that on its surface is innocent enough, neutral enough. What she finds, though, is anything but, and I love how the story builds that up, the series of straightforward steps where Broadfeather finds this injustice and works to undo it. Which isn’t simple at all. But what is simple is that it needs to be done, that the work is vital, even when it means crossing the boundaries between life and death with a zombie army to bring justice where it has been sorely missed. Which is really awesome.

A Study in Ugliness” by H. Pueyo (The Dark #71)

What It Is: Unfolding in a religious school run by nuns, Basilia is a bit of a disappointment. For the school. For her family. For the classmate who refuses to acknowledge what they do in the dark together. Until a new student arrives, one who everyone else thinks has been there all along. Gilda. And Gilda seems to have a different set of values than everyone else. And doesn’t see Basilia as ugly. And might be able to show her a world where she can truly belong. The story is grim, Basilia’s situation wrenching, lonely, and Gilda is a strange shadow cast over her life. But it’s also a freeing story about rejecting cultural values that don’t fit, that act as chains and bars rather than something affirming or empowering.

Why I Love It: I love what this story does with expectations and reflections. Basilia doesn’t match the traditional models of beauty. She’s tall and buff. Aggressive and not willing to take shit. Queer as fuck. Where she is, all of those things code ugly. Worthless. Defective. And it puts her at risk. From the teachers and her parents. From the other students, even the ones who secretly admire her, who secretly want her. The problem for Basilia is that she has no real use for secrets. Her life is a click winding down and what she needs is a way out. And that’s where Gilda comes in, to show her a world where values are different. Where for everything that makes her ugly in this world, it makes them beautiful there. It makes them wanted. And I love that the piece shows how important that can be, that if Basilia had one person willing to show desire for her, to say they wanted her, then it might have been different. As it is, for me the story isn’t tragic, doesn’t feature a defeat. It’s a pulling free, and the ending is wonderful, sharp and alive and so worth checking out!

A House Is Not a Home” by L Chan (Clarkesworld #175)

What It Is: Home seems to be just going through the motions. Making food. Cleaning the floors. Doing her best to keep things normal despite the fact that normal shattered when the authoritarian government sent forces to Home to silence her family. Which Home couldn’t prevent. Which Home might even have helped to happen. In the wake of that, it might be guilt that Home feels, that keeps her doing her tasks. But it might also be something else. The story is short, and especially so for the publication, but it packs a lot in, crafting an emotionally resonating and wrenching story that looks at family, trauma, and the horror of living in an authoritarian state.

Why I Love It: Uncertainty is the name of the game in this story, and the author uses it to devastating effect. Though short, the piece builds this aching portrait of what happened, Home partly responsible for the destruction of her family, for the deaths of those that made her feel complete. The take on surveillance culture is chilling and profound, looking at the ways that Home has been violated, forced to hurt those she cared about. And she knows it to her core, a haunting reminder that might be the reason behind her apparent shock, the traumatized cycle she is caught in. Alone. Empty. Only…the story leaves just the barest window for something else, something like hope, and it’s so telling how hard I hold to that, how hard Home holds to that as well, seemingly broken but maybe just covering for the fact that she refuses to be used again to hurt those she loves. Which is beautiful and tragic all at once.

A Minnow, or Perhaps a Colossal Squid” by C. S. E. Cooney and Carlos Hernandez (Mermaids Monthly #4)

What It Is: In an alt-historical, perhaps even second world fantasy Mariposan state, two women who have very little to do with one another find their fates drawing closer and closer together. Damiana Cardosa y Fuentes is a doctor of natural philosophy and something of a rebel in the sciences, chasing enormous underwater sirenas—beings who are known only because of the occasional corpses found in the deep oceans. Meanwhile Estrella Santaez y Perreta is an apprentice executioner and self-described empress of el Estanque, the prison where debtors are transformed into fish to serve their sentences. Despite their differences, both have to face the role that money plays in their professional lives, and how it twists their work into something they can’t be wholly comfortable with. The piece might not directly deal with mermaids, but it does examine the lines between humans and the natural world, and does feature humans transformed into different kinds of aquatic life.

Why I Love It: The split narrative works so well here, dovetailing (or, dare I say it, fishtailing) into a beautifully defiant look at natural philosophy, biology, and indeed science’s position relative to authority. Not just the alt-historical authority of the crown, either, though I do love that the voice and the time period the story evokes and captures, the personalities of the two women as they chafe under the injustices they are pressured to participate in. No, what I love most is that the piece reveals that this kind of binding of scientific discovery and environmental ethics continues to this day, where the crown is the money funding the science. The money deciding what science is valuable while claiming at objectivity, when money is rarely without strings, without an agenda that props up capitalism and the corrupt wielding of power, that traps people in debt and a carceral system where escape is reserved for those who can pay. The piece is unflinching but also fun, and the ending comes as a release, a celebration even as it’s also a warning.


Looking for some X-tra recommendations? Then good news, because here are some more great stories to X-plore!

Let’s start with an un-X-pected delight, “Mysteries of the Visiocherries” by and translated by Rio Johan (Samovar), which features a series of strange occurrences and the rise of some truly devious…fruit. Meanwhile, in Samovar’s sister publication Strange Horizons, Nadia Shammas’ “The Center of the Universe” is a much grimmer read, but one that’s razor sharp, unsettling, and so good.

Moving to some shorter works, “Ursus” by Ada Hoffmann (Million-Year Elegies) is a brilliant poem in a fantastic speculative poetry collection that complicates the past, present, and future through the act of X-cavating the bones of animals ancient and contemporary. “Bandit, Reaper, Yours” by Jen Brown (Baffling Magazine), meanwhile, is a tense and (let’s face it) thirsty story about two women who have grown passionately close and might be willing to throw away their relative safety to be together and cause problems on purpose. And in a lovely and compl-X twist on portal fantasies, “This is not my adventure” by Karlo Yeager Rodríguez (Cast of Wonders) imagines a man having something of a midlife crisis getting some help from some old friends. It’s warm and just lovely.

And let’s close on a pair of stories that move through some very grim spaces, but hold tight to hope and love and affirmation. “Wives at the End of the World” by Avra Margariti (The Future Fire) might unfold in a post-apocalyptic waste, but that doesn’t mean the characters can’t enjoy a victory tour of their relationship, remembering why they’re still in love and together. And isolation and loneliness collide in “Jenny Come Up the Well” by A.C. Wise (PodCastle), where a young woman deals with her desires, finding the power that comes from realizing that she isn’t alone, that she doesn’t have to hide or destroy herself. So good!

And that’s all for this month. Join me again ne-X-t time, intrepid travelers, for further X-citing adventures in speculative fiction!

The post X Marks The Story: April 2021 appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Thea
ARSENIC AND ADOBO: A Chat with Mia P. Manansala

Today, we are thrilled to celebrate the release of Arsenic and Adobo–an own voices cozy mystery (featuring an adorable dachshund named Longanisa) from debut author Mia P. Manansala!

And in order to kick off the celebration in style, we’re thrilled to have interviewed Mia to talk about her book.

A Chat with Mia P. Manansala

The Book Smugglers: If you could host a dinner party with characters from your book at Tita Rosie’s, and any other characters from any other fictional world: who and why? And, what would you serve? 

MIA: Ooh, great question! My guest list:

Odessa Dean from Olivia Blacke’s Killer Content – she’s a small-town transplant currently living in NYC and has been expanding her palate (and crime-solving skills) ever since moving there. I’m sure Lila and her family would love to take her under their wing and introduce her to the world of Filipino food.

Lana Lee from Vivien Chien’s Noodle Shop Mystery series – anybody who can appreciate a good bowl of noodles the way Lana does is always welcome at Tita Rosie’s.

Charlotte Holmes from Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series – Charlotte is someone who appreciates food, particularly sweets, and it would be hilarious to have her turn her sharp insight toward the aunties and Lola Flor.

Elizabeth Bennett from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – I’m super basic and absolutely love Lizzie. I think it’d be so much fun to have her over for a tea party full of gossip and judgment. Plus I think she’d appreciate a loud, ridiculous, loving family.

I’d keep the dishes on the simple side since it would likely be everyone’s first time trying Filipino food: pancit bihon, lumpiang shanghai, lumpiang togue, shrimp sinigang, chicken adobo, maybe a vegetable dish like pinakbet, and lots of different kakanin so they can sample the wide variety of sweet rice cakes we have in the Philippines. An icy bowl of halo-halo would be the perfect finish.

The Book Smugglers: Your thoughtful author’s note mentions that as a Filipina American, this book is shaped through your experience and worldview. How did you use parts of your background in Lila Macapagal’s voice?

MIA: Unlike Lila, I didn’t have a Filipino community growing up. All I had was my family and the food we shared. I grew up in a multi-generational household with my maternal grandparents, parents, younger brothers, and cousins. I was the second oldest kid in the house and the only girl, so that deep-seated feeling of obligation and family responsibility is something we both share. Both of us were raised to put family first, but while I’m a bit of a people pleaser, Lila is a little resentful of always having to put others before herself.

The Book Smugglers: Did you do any research (arsenic, etc) or recipe-testing (adobo, etc) to write Arsenic and Adobo

MIA: Yes to both! I like to joke that I’m probably on some FBI watch list thanks to all the poison research I did. I had to look up how quickly certain poisons take effect, what the symptoms look like, how to easily source them, etc. As for the recipes, I looked up a few versions online (my dad was the cook in the family and sadly didn’t leave behind any of his recipes before he passed away) and cobbled them together, tweaking them to fit my taste. This is probably my favorite part of writing this series since whenever I’m procrasti-baking, I can say it’s research for my books!

The Book Smugglers: A central theme examined in your novel is the importance of family (even if there are some relatives that may be overbearing and judgmental). Please elaborate on those bonds and what they mean to you in the context of your writing. 

MIA: As I mentioned earlier, I was raised to think of family first and I still genuinely believe it. But like Lila, it’s something I’ve struggled with. As the oldest girl in an immigrant family, I had a lot of responsibility, particularly regarding my little brothers who were much younger than me. I resented it as a kid, but my brothers are still the most important people in the world to me. And similar to Lila, with her judgmental aunties and grandmother, my relationship with my grandparents was complicated, because as a child, how do you understand that your family says things that are hurtful because they love you? That the words “I love you” aren’t ones they can say, but there are so many ways they try to show it?

And as I got older, I started to realize family doesn’t just extend to blood relations, and on the flip side, just because someone’s blood doesn’t necessarily make them your family. For me, looking at all the ways these complicated feelings bash up against each other, and how love and resentment or jealousy can sit so close to each other in a person’s heart…it’s fascinating. Family is such a central theme in my life, I can’t imagine it not being one in my writing.

The Book Smugglers: Arsenic and Adobo is a delightful, food-centric cozy mystery–what are some of your favorites in the genre and/or works that influenced this book? 

MIA: I love Vivien Chien’s Noodle Shop Mystery series, Ovidia Yu’s Aunty Lee Singaporean Mystery series, and Gigi Pandian’s Accidental Alchemist series (not exactly a culinary cozy, but there are still loving descriptions of food and recipes).

The Book Smugglers: Finally, a question we ask all of our interviewees: We Book Smugglers have faced condemnation because of the sheer volume of books that we carry back home on a daily basis. As such, we have on occasion resorted to “smuggling books” home to escape judgmental, scrutinizing eyes. Have you ever had to smuggle books? 

MIA: I was probably the only kid in my neighborhood to get in trouble for “reading too much.” I would spend what little allowance I had on Scholastic book orders and book fairs, and would often have my mom or grandmother snatch away my book because they didn’t like me reading while eating (or while I was supposed to be doing homework, or watching my brothers, or helping with dinner, or…) so would often have to sneak around with my reading material. My husband has resigned himself to my book addiction and knows not to make comments on any new books I’ve brought home (despite having towering piles of unread books all over the house and a library job…)

About The Author

Mia P. Manansala is the winner of the 2018 Hugh Holton Award, the 2018 Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, the 2017 William F. Deeck – Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers, and the 2016 Mystery Writers of America/Helen McCloy Scholarship. She’s also a 2017 Pitch Wars alum and 2018-2020 mentor. You can visit Mia online at

About The Book

The first book in a new culinary cozy series full of sharp humor and delectable dishes—one that might just be killer….

When Lila Macapagal moves back home to recover from a horrible breakup, her life seems to be following all the typical rom-com tropes. She’s tasked with saving her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant, and she has to deal with a group of matchmaking aunties who shower her with love and judgment. But when a notoriously nasty food critic (who happens to be her ex-boyfriend) drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila, her life quickly swerves from a Nora Ephron romp to an Agatha Christie case.With the cops treating her like she’s the one and only suspect, and the shady landlord looking to finally kick the Macapagal family out and resell the storefront, Lila’s left with no choice but to conduct her own investigation. Armed with the nosy auntie network, her barista best bud, and her trusted Dachshund, Longganisa, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case and soon finds her own neck on the chopping block…

Adobo and Arsenic is available today, May 4th, 2021.

The post ARSENIC AND ADOBO: A Chat with Mia P. Manansala appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Thea
Grishaverse Re-read: RUIN AND RISING by Leigh Bardugo

In preparation for the Netflix show, Thea is re-immersing herself in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse and rereading the Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows books! Today, she tackles the third and final novel in the original trilogy: Ruin and Rising.

Title: Ruin and RisingAuthor: Leigh BardugoGenre: Fantasy, Young AdultPublisher: Square FishPublication Date: June 17, 2014Paperback: 417 pages

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

Stand alone or series: Book 3 in the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and part of the overall Grishaverse

How did I get this book: Purchased

Format: Paperback

Warning: This review contains unavoidable spoilers for Shadow and Bone and Ruin and Rising. If you have not yet read the first two books in the trilogy and wish to remain unspoiled, look away!


The Darkling has won.

At least, that’s what it seems like at the beginning of Ruin and Rising, the third book in Leigh Bardugo’s original Shadow and Bone trilogy. Thanks to the disastrously ill-informed actions of Prince Vasily, the Darkling and his loyal Grisha were able to slip across borders and march directly on Os Alta, devastating the Crown loyalists and killing nearly all of the Grisha that Alina was working so hard to train and organize under her leadership. Still, Alina was able to fight the Darkling and win a (admittedly pyrrhic) victory, by using his own tricks against him,channeling his darkness and power to do her bidding.

Alina and the remaining Grisha survivors find refuge from an unlikely source–the Apparat and his zealous flock of Santka Alina followers are able to provide enough cover to whisk the survivors underground. Now, while the Darkling recovers his strength and amasses power above ground, the weakened, frail Sun Summoner finds herself in a different kind of trap. Unable to call sunlight or use her abilities, kept separate from her friends–all in the name of her protection, of course, the Apparat claims with his shrewd piousness–Alina is become a ghost.

But she is not defeated.

Slowly, Alina gathers her strength. And all the while, the Apparat’s network of underground tunnels and secrets fuel her ambition–using the mad Morozova’s lost notebooks, Alina is single-mindedly devoted to finding her third and final amplifier. If she can get to the firebird, if she can convince Mal to help her this one last time, she is sure she can kill the Darkling and destroy the Fold. But a growing part of her also knows that her hunger for power is no longer purely patriotic or born of a sense of duty–her desire to understand Morozova’s past and unlock her own power becomes an obsession. And Alina must ask herself: what is she willing to sacrifice, and for what real end?

Ruin and Rising is not an easy book. It’s not easy to start, knowing that Alina’s Grisha have been utterly decimated, their plans ruined. It’s also hard to see Alina broken and dissembling once more, unable to call the sun and feigning meekness to appease the Apparat. Since she didn’t have the good sense to be a martyred saint, the Apparat is single-mindedly focused on controlling her every move (in the hopes that she doesn’t ever recover her strength). In many ways, this is another another defining moment of the series—the way miracles of power are presented to a desperate population who knows only war and conflict; the way Alina’s sanctity is wielded as yet another weapon by powerful men with vested interests in the throne; the way Alina herself is inconsequential, when compared to the symbolic figure she may pose. Ravka has a sickness, rooted in the greed and power of the Fold–commoditizing and weaponizing of the Sun Summoner’s power and body is natural, even expected, leap.

It is because of this discomfort, this lack of easy answers, that makes Ruin and Rising so memorable. Unlike Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm, Leigh Bardugo is not afraid to go there in this third and ultimate volume in Alina’s story. While she begins the story as a dissembling waif, it’s no surprise that Alina is so utterly focused on finding the Firebird and unlocking the final amplifier to harness her power. In a world where even the most powerful Grisha is cajoled, manipulated, imprisoned, and intimidated, of course she yearns for power of her own and damn the consequences. I also very much love that the consequences are anything but inconsequential–when Alina finally learns what she must do to unlock her third and final amplifier, it is a powerful reckoning. There are a lot of things that I don’t like about Alina as a character (her penchant for self-pity and complaining, especially earlier on in the series), but at the end of book 2 and throughout this book, I admire her determination. Her arc is poignant and painful, and I appreciate how she grows up over the course of the trilogy.

But let’s get to the real star of this book: Prince Nikolai, who we are scared we will never see again after the events of Siege and Storm. Nikolai’s brand of confidence, strategic decision-making, and sheer audacity makes him one of my favorite characters in the entire Grishaverse–his return in Ruin and Rising and what he endures in this book have deep ramifications for the future of Ravka (and for any readers who are Team Nikolai). The other characters we’ve gotten to know over the course of the trilogy also play important roles in this final book, from Genya and David (their relationship is one of the few non-toxic ones in the entire trilogy), to Tamar and Nadia (I love them so much), and especially Zoya (whose attitude towards Alina has softened to the point where, by book’s end, Zoya and Alina count each other as true friends).

And of course, there is the ending. On that item, I will say simply this: Ruin and Rinsing is a perfect, epic ending that changes everything, and a bitter, sweet and fitting close to Alina and Mal’s stories. (And yes, even, the Darkling’s.)

I loved it. Absolutely recommended.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

The re-read continues next with Six of Crows (the first book in the Six of Crows duology)

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- Thea
On the Smugglers’ Radar: May 2021

On The Smugglers’ Radar” is a feature for books that have caught our eye: books we have heard of via other readers, directly from publishers, and/or from our regular incursions from various corners of the interwebs. Because we want far more books than we can possibly buy or review (what else is new?), we are revamping the Smugglers’ Radar into a monthly (mostly) SFF-focused feature – so YOU can tell us which books you have on your radar as well!

As of last month, all of our monthly picks can be found on Bookshop!

May 2021

First up, a book that blends E. Lockhart with Studio Ghibli and sisterhood–obviously, we need it.

The Ones We’re Meant To Find by Joan He

Roaring Book Press | May 4, 2021

Cee has been trapped on an abandoned island for three years without any recollection of how she arrived, or memories from her life prior. All she knows is that somewhere out there, beyond the horizon, she has a sister named Kay. Determined to find her, Cee devotes her days to building a boat from junk parts scavenged inland, doing everything in her power to survive until the day she gets off the island and reunites with her sister.

In a world apart, 16-year-old STEM prodigy Kasey Mizuhara is also living a life of isolation. The eco-city she calls home is one of eight levitating around the world, built for people who protected the planet?and now need protecting from it. With natural disasters on the rise due to climate change, eco-cities provide clean air, water, and shelter. Their residents, in exchange, must spend at least a third of their time in stasis pods, conducting business virtually whenever possible to reduce their environmental footprint. While Kasey, an introvert and loner, doesn’t mind the lifestyle, her sister Celia hated it. Popular and lovable, Celia much preferred the outside world. But no one could have predicted that Celia would take a boat out to sea, never to return.

Now it’s been three months since Celia’s disappearance, and Kasey has given up hope. Logic says that her sister must be dead. But as the public decries her stance, she starts to second guess herself and decides to retrace Celia’s last steps. Where they’ll lead her, she does not know. Her sister was full of secrets. But Kasey has a secret of her own.

One of the most twisty, surprising, engaging page-turner YAs you’ll read this year—We Were Liars meets Black Mirror, with a dash of Studio Ghibli.

This next book is the second in Zoraida Córdova’s exceptional new YA fantasy series–we cannot wait to get our hands on this one.

Illusionary by Zoraida Córdova

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers | May 11, 2021

In Zoraida Córdova’s thrilling sequel to Incendiary, Renata embarks on a dangerous journey to bring justice to the kingdom — perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir and Sarah J. Maas.

Reeling from betrayal at the hands of the Whispers, Renata Convida is a girl on the run. With few options and fewer allies, she’s reluctantly joined forces with none other than Prince Castian, her most infuriating and intriguing enemy. They’re united by lofty goals: find the fabled Knife of Memory, kill the ruthless King Fernando, and bring peace to the nation. Together, Ren and Castian have a chance to save everything, if only they can set aside their complex and intense feelings for each other.

With the king’s forces on their heels at every turn, their quest across Puerto Leones and beyond leaves little room for mistakes. But the greatest danger is within Ren. The Gray, her fortress of stolen memories, has begun to crumble, threatening her grip on reality. She’ll have to control her magics–and her mind–to unlock her power and protect the Moria people once and for all.

For years, she was wielded as weapon. Now it’s her time to fight back.

E.K. Johnston can do no wrong, and when we heard she had a new YA sci-fi series coming out, we were ecstatic.

Aetherbound by E.K. Johnston

Dutton Books for Young Readers | May 25, 2021

A thought-provoking new YA space adventure from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Ahsoka.

Set on a family-run interstellar freighter called the Harland and a mysterious remote space station, E. K. Johnston’s latest is story of survival and self-determination.

Pendt Harland’s family sees her as a waste of food on their long-haul space cruiser when her genes reveal an undesirable mutation. But if she plays her cards right she might have a chance to do much more than survive. During a space-station layover, Pendt escapes and forms a lucky bond with the Brannick twins, the teenage heirs of the powerful family that owns the station. Against all odds, the trio hatches a long-shot scheme to take over the station and thwart the destinies they never wished for.

Another book that I (Thea) cannot wait to share is this debut from a Filipina-American author–it features adobo, poison, and a dachshund named Longanisa.

Adobo and Arsenic by Mia P. Manansala

Berkley | May 4, 2021

The first book in a new culinary cozy series full of sharp humor and delectable dishes—one that might just be killer….

When Lila Macapagal moves back home to recover from a horrible breakup, her life seems to be following all the typical rom-com tropes. She’s tasked with saving her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant, and she has to deal with a group of matchmaking aunties who shower her with love and judgment. But when a notoriously nasty food critic (who happens to be her ex-boyfriend) drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila, her life quickly swerves from a Nora Ephron romp to an Agatha Christie case.

With the cops treating her like she’s the one and only suspect, and the shady landlord looking to finally kick the Macapagal family out and resell the storefront, Lila’s left with no choice but to conduct her own investigation. Armed with the nosy auntie network, her barista best bud, and her trusted Dachshund, Longanisa, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case and soon finds her own neck on the chopping block…

Andy Weir has a new book out this month! Can’t wait to learn a lot about something I never thought I would ever need to learn about. (And I’m not just being facetious, the rudimentary knowledge I now have of potato farming (The Martian) and welding (Artemis) is pretty cool.)

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Ballantine Books | May 4, 2021

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission–and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian–while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

We’re not ones to judge a book by its cover, but this cover is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. And also, pre-colonial West African fantasy–yes, please.

Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

Orbit | May 11, 2021

From one of the most exciting new storytellers in epic fantasy, Son of the Storm is a sweeping tale of violent conquest and forgotten magic set in a world inspired by the pre-colonial empires of West Africa.

In the ancient city of Bassa, Danso is a clever scholar on the cusp of achieving greatness—only he doesn’t want it. Instead, he prefers to chase forbidden stories about what lies outside the city walls. The Bassai elite claim there is nothing of interest. The city’s immigrants are sworn to secrecy.

But when Danso stumbles across a warrior wielding magic that shouldn’t exist, he’s put on a collision course with Bassa’s darkest secrets. Drawn into the city’s hidden history, he sets out on a journey beyond its borders. And the chaos left in the wake of his discovery threatens to destroy the empire.

This mythology inspired retelling also sounds intriguing (and has a lovely cover to boot):

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Flatiron Books | May 4, 2021

As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.

In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?

Ariadne gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.

A mesmerising retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Perfect for fans of CIRCEA SONG OF ACHILLES, and THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS.

Zen Cho Alert! This contemporary fantasy, set in Malaysia, looks UTTERLY WONDERFUL. Also, it’s Zen Cho therefore will absolutely keep you reading until an ungodly hour because her storytelling is just that damn good.

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Ace | May 11, 2021

A reluctant medium discovers the ties that bind can unleash a dangerous power in this compelling Malaysian-set contemporary fantasy.

Jessamyn Teoh is closeted, broke and moving back to Malaysia, a country she left when she was a toddler. So when Jess starts hearing voices, she chalks it up to stress. But there’s only one voice in her head, and it claims to be the ghost of her estranged grandmother, Ah Ma. In life Ah Ma was a spirit medium, the avatar of a mysterious deity called the Black Water Sister. Now she’s determined to settle a score against a gang boss who has offended the god–and she’s decided Jess is going to help her do it.

Drawn into a world of gods, ghosts, and family secrets, Jess finds that making deals with capricious spirits is a dangerous business. As Jess fights for retribution for Ah Ma, she’ll also need to regain control of her body and destiny. If she fails, the Black Water Sister may finish her off for good.

Sarah Pinkser returns with a new science fiction novel that sounds thought-provoking as heck with this next pick:

We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinkser

Berkley | May 11, 2021

From award-winning author Sarah Pinsker comes a novel about one family and the technology that divides them.Everybody’s getting one.

Val and Julie just want what’s best for their kids, David and Sophie. So when teenage son David comes home one day asking for a Pilot, a new brain implant to help with school, they reluctantly agree. This is the future, after all.

Soon, Julie feels mounting pressure at work to get a Pilot to keep pace with her colleagues, leaving Val and Sophie part of the shrinking minority of people without the device.

Before long, the implications are clear, for the family and society: get a Pilot or get left behind. With government subsidies and no downside, why would anyone refuse? And how do you stop a technology once it’s everywhere? Those are the questions Sophie and her anti-Pilot movement rise up to answer, even if it puts them up against the Pilot’s powerful manufacturer and pits Sophie against the people she loves most.

I’m on a heist kick right now (rereading the Six of Crows duology), so this next book sounds perfectly timed and right up my alley.

The Helm of Midnight by Christopher Buehlman

Tor Books | May 25, 2021

Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path.

But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark.

Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. She is searching for her queen, missing since a distant northern city fell to giants.

Unsuccessful in his robbery and lucky to escape with his life, Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva’s. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on an epic journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford.

And that’s it from us! What books do you have on your radar?

The post On the Smugglers’ Radar: May 2021 appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Thea
Awards Season 2021: Announcing the Hugo and Ignyte Finalists

It is that time of year again, folks–awards time! We are thrilled to share with you the news of two exciting speculative fiction awards: The Hugo Awards and the Ignyte Awards.

The Hugo Award

The Hugo Awards are one of the longest-running SFF awards, distinguished from all other major speculative fiction awards in that it is voted on by fans who are members of the World Science Fiction Convention. Each year, Hugo Award winners (and associated Not-A-Hugo-Awards, like the Lodestar and Astounding Awards) are announced at WorldCon. This year’s WorldCon will be in Washington D.C., though unlike previous years the ceremony will take place December 15-19, 2021.

A reminder for everyone interested: even if you are not attending WorldCon 79, note that ANY SFF fan can sign up for a supporting membership ($50) which gives you the right to vote for your favorites to win the Hugo Award.

The 2021 Hugo Award Finalists

This year’s finalists are absolutely awesome. Check out the full list below!

Best Novel

Black Sun, Rebecca Roanhorse (Gallery / Saga Press)The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir ( Effect, Martha Wells (, Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)The Relentless Moon, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books)

Best Novella

Come Tumbling Down, Seanan McGuire ( Empress of Salt and Fortune, Nghi Vo (, Nino Cipri ( Shout, P. Djèlí Clark ( Baby, Tochi Onyebuchi ( Women Wanted, Sarah Gailey (

Best Novelette

“Burn, or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super”, A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny Magazine, May/June 2020)“Helicopter Story”, Isabel Fall (Clarkesworld, January 2020)“The Inaccessibility of Heaven”, Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny Magazine, July/August 2020)“Monster”, Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, January 2020)“The Pill”, Meg Elison (from Big Girl (PM Press))“Two Truths and a Lie”, Sarah Pinsker (

Best Short Story

“Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse”, Rae Carson (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2020)“A Guide for Working Breeds”, Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Made to Order: Robots and Revolution, ed. Jonathan Strahan (Solaris))“Little Free Library”, Naomi Kritzer (“The Mermaid Astronaut”, Yoon Ha Lee (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, February 2020)“Metal Like Blood in the Dark”, T. Kingfisher (Uncanny Magazine, September/October 2020)“Open House on Haunted Hill”, John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots – 2020, ed. David Steffen)

Best Series

The Daevabad Trilogy, S.A. Chakraborty (Harper Voyager)The Interdependency, John Scalzi (Tor Books)The Lady Astronaut Universe, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books/Audible/Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction/Solaris)The Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells ( Daye, Seanan McGuire (DAW)The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager)

Best Related Work

Beowulf: A New Translation, Maria Dahvana Headley (FSG)CoNZealand Fringe, Claire Rousseau, C, Cassie Hart, Adri Joy, Marguerite Kenner, Cheryl Morgan, Alasdair Stuart.FIYAHCON, L.D. Lewis–Director, Brent Lambert–Senior Programming Coordinator, Iori Kusano–FIYAHCON Fringe Co-Director, Vida Cruz–FIYAHCON Fringe Co-Director, and the Incredible FIYAHCON team“George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into the Sun, Or: The 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony (Rageblog Edition)”, Natalie Luhrs (Pretty Terrible, August 2020)A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler, Lynell George (Angel City Press)The Last Bronycon: a fandom autopsy, Jenny Nicholson (YouTube)

Best Graphic Story or Comic

DIE, Volume 2: Split the Party, written by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans, letters by Clayton Cowles (Image Comics)Ghost-Spider vol. 1: Dog Days Are Over, Author: Seanan McGuire,  Artist: Takeshi Miyazawa and Rosi Kämpe (Marvel)Invisible Kingdom, vol 2: Edge of Everything, Author: G. Willow Wilson, Artist: Christian Ward (Dark Horse Comics)Monstress, vol. 5: Warchild, Author: Marjorie Liu, Artist: Sana Takeda (Image Comics)Once & Future vol. 1: The King Is Undead, written by Kieron Gillen, iIllustrated by Dan Mora, colored by Tamra Bonvillain, lettered by Ed Dukeshire (BOOM! Studios)Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, written by Octavia Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy, illustrated by John Jennings (Harry N. Abrams)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), written by Christina Hodson, directed by Cathy Yan (Warner Bros.)Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Sagawritten by Will Ferrell, Andrew Steele, directed by David Dobkin (European Broadcasting Union/Netflix)The Old Guard, written by Greg Rucka, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Netflix / Skydance Media)Palm Springs, written by Andy Siara, directed by Max Barbakow (Limelight / Sun Entertainment Culture / The Lonely Island / Culmination Productions / Neon / Hulu / Amazon Prime)Soul, screenplay by Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Powers, directed by Pete Docter, co-directed by Kemp Powers, produced by Dana Murray (Pixar Animation Studios/ Walt Disney Pictures)Tenet, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Warner Bros./Syncopy)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Doctor Who: Fugitive of the Judoon, written by Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall, directed by Nida Manzoor (BBC)The Expanse: Gaugamela, written by Dan Nowak, directed by Nick Gomez (Alcon Entertainment / Alcon Television Group / Amazon Studios / Hivemind / Just So)She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: Heart (parts 1 and 2), written by Josie Campbell and Noelle Stevenson, directed by Jen Bennett and Kiki Manrique (DreamWorks Animation Television / Netflix)The Mandalorian: Chapter 13: The Jedi, written and directed by Dave Filoni (Golem Creations / Lucasfilm / Disney+)The Mandalorian: Chapter 16: The Rescue, written by Jon Favreau, directed by Peyton Reed (Golem Creations / Lucasfilm / Disney+)The Good Place: Whenever You’re Ready, written and directed by Michael Schur (Fremulon / 3 Arts Entertainment / Universal Television, a division of Universal Studio Group)

Best Editor, Short Form

Neil ClarkeEllen DatlowC.C. FinlayMur Lafferty and S.B. DivyaJonathan StrahanSheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form

Nivia EvansSheila E. GilbertSarah GuanBrit HvideDiana M. PhoNavah Wolfe

Best Professional Artist

Tommy ArnoldRovina CaiGalen DaraMaurizio ManzieriJohn PicacioAlyssa Winans

Best Semiprozine

Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edotor Scott H. AndrewsEscape Pod, editors Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya, assistant editor Benjamin C. Kinney, hosts Tina Connolly and Alasdair Stuart, audio producers Summer Brooks and Adam Pracht and the entire Escape Pod team.FIYAH Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, publisher Troy L. Wiggins, executive editor DaVaun Sanders, managing editor Eboni Dunbar, poetry editor Brandon O’Brien, reviews and social media Brent Lambert,  art director L. D. Lewis, and the FIYAH Team.PodCastle, editors, C.L. Clark and Jen R. Albert, assistant editor and host, Setsu Uzumé, producer Peter Adrian Behravesh, and the entire PodCastle team.Uncanny Magazine, editors in chief: Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, managing editor: Chimedum Ohaegbu, non-fiction editor:  Elsa Sjunneson, podcast producers: Erika Ensign and Steven SchapanskyStrange Horizons, Vanessa Aguirre, Joseph Aitken, Rachel Ayers, M H Ayinde, Tierney Bailey, Scott Beggs, Drew Matthew Beyer, Gautam Bhatia, S. K. Campbell, Zhui Ning Chang, Tania Chen, Joyce Chng, Liz Christman, Linda H. Codega, Kristian Wilson Colyard, Yelena Crane, Bruhad Dave, Sarah Davidson, Tahlia Day, Arinn Dembo, Nathaniel Eakman, Belen Edwards, George Tom Elavathingal, Rebecca Evans, Ciro Faienza, Courtney Floyd, Lila Garrott, Colette Grecco, Guananí Gómez-Van Cortright, Julia Gunnison, Dan Hartland, Sydney Hilton, Angela Hinck, Stephen Ira, Amanda Jean, Ai Jiang, Sean Joyce-Farley, Erika Kanda, Anna Krepinsky, Kat Kourbeti, Clayton Kroh, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Catherine Krahe, Natasha Leullier, A.Z. Louise, Dante Luiz, Gui Machiavelli, Cameron Mack, Samantha Manaktola, Marisa Manuel, Jean McConnell, Heather McDougal, Maria Morabe, Amelia Moriarty, Emory Noakes, Sara Noakes, Aidan Oatway, AJ Odasso, Joel Oliver-Cormier, Kristina Palmer, Karintha Parker, Anjali Patel, Vanessa Rose Phin, Nicasio Reed, Belicia Rhea, Endria Richardson, Natalie Ritter, Abbey Schlanz, Clark Seanor, Elijah Rain Smith, Hebe Stanton, Melody Steiner, Romie Stott, Yejin Suh, Kwan-Ann Tan, Luke Tolvaj, Ben Tyrrell, Renee Van Siclen, Kathryn Weaver, Liza Wemakor, Aigner Loren Wilson, E.M. Wright, Vicki Xu, Fred G. Yost, staff members who prefer not to be named, and guest editor Libia Brenda with guest first reader Raquel González-Franco Alva for the Mexicanx special issue

Best Fanzine

The Full Lid, written by Alasdair Stuart, edited by Marguerite KennerJourney Planet, edited by Michael Carroll, John Coxon, Sara Felix, Ann Gry, Sarah Gulde, Alissa McKersie, Errick Nunnally, Pádraig Ó Méalóid, Chuck Serface, Steven H Silver, Paul Trimble, Erin Underwood, James Bacon, and Chris Garcia.Lady Business, editors. Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan.nerds of a feather, flock together, ed. Adri Joy, Joe Sherry, The G, and Vance KotrlaQuick Sip Reviews, editor, Charles PayseurUnofficial Hugo Book Club Blog, ed. Amanda Wakaruk and Olav Rokne

Best Fancast

Be The Serpent, presented by Alexandra Rowland, Freya Marske and Jennifer MaceClaire Rousseau’s YouTube channel, produced by Claire RousseauThe Coode Street Podcast, presented by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe, Jonathan Strahan, producerKalanadi, produced and presented by RachelThe Skiffy and Fanty show, produced by Shaun Duke and Jen Zink,  presented by Shaun Duke, Jen Zink, Alex Acks, Paul Weimer, and David Annandale.Worldbuilding for Masochists, presented by Rowenna Miller, Marshall Ryan Maresca and Cass Morris

Best Fan Writer

Cora BuhlertCharles PayseurJason SanfordElsa SjunnesonAlasdair StuartPaul Weimer

Best Fan Artist

Iain J. ClarkCyan DalySara FelixGrace P. FongMaya HahtoLaya Rose

Best Video Game

Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Publisher and Developer: Nintendo)Blaseball (Publisher and Developer: The Game Band)Final Fantasy VII Remake (Publisher Square Enix)Hades (Publisher and Developer: Supergiant Games)The Last of Us: Part II (Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment / Developer: Naughty Dog)Spiritfarer (Publisher and Developer: Thunder Lotus)

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

Cemetery Boys, Aiden Thomas (Swoon Reads)A Deadly Education, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)Elatsoe, Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido)Legendborn, Tracy Deonn (Margaret K. McElderry/ Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)Raybearer, Jordan Ifueko (Amulet / Hot Key)A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, T. Kingfisher (Argyll Productions)

Astounding Award for Best New Writer

Lindsay Ellis (1st year of eligibility)Simon Jimenez (1st year of eligibility)Micaiah Johnson (1st year of eligibility)A.K. Larkwood (1st year of eligibility)Jenn Lyons (2nd year of eligibility)Emily Tesh (2nd year of eligibility)

For more information about the Hugo Awards and how to vote, check out the official website.

FIYAHCON’s Ignyte Awards

The truly awesome FIYAH magazine created FIYAHCON in 2020 (and as you’ll see above, the con itself is on the Hugo Award ballot for Best Related Work), focused on BIPOC in SFF. The Ignyte Awards are part of FIYAHCON, and we’re thrilled to share the 2021 finalists below!

Best Novel – Adult

for novel-length (40k+ words) works intended for the adult audience

Black Sun – Rebecca Roanhorse (Gallery Books/Saga Press)The City We Became – N. K. Jemisin (Orbit)Midnight Bargain – C. L. Polk (Erewhon Books)The Only Good Indians – Stephen Graham Jones (Gallery Books/Saga Press)Vagabonds – Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu (Gallery Books/Saga Press)

Best Novel – YA

for novel-length (40k+ words) works intended for the young adult audience

Elatsoe – Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido)Legendborn – Tracy Deonn (Margaret K. McElderry Books)Raybearer – Jordan Ifueko (Amulet Books)A Song Below Water – Bethany Morrow (Tor Teen)A Sky Beyond the Storm – Sabaa Tahir (Razorbill)

Best in MG

for works intended for the middle grade audience

Frightville: Curse of the Wish Eater – Mike Ford (Scholastic Paperbacks)Ghost Squad – Claribel A. Ortega (Scholastic)Maya and the Rising Dark – Rena Barron (HMH Books for Young Readers)Race to the Sun – Rebecca Roanhorse (Read Riordan/Disney Publishing Worldwide)A Wish in the Dark – Christina Soontornvat (Candlewick Press)

Best Novella

for speculative works ranging from 17,500-39,999 words

Empress of Salt and Fortune – Nghi Vo ( Four Profound Weaves – R. B. Lemberg (Tachyon Publications)Ring Shout – P. Djèli Clark ( Baby – Tochi Onyebuchi ( & Steel – Eboni J. Dunbar (Neon Hemlock)

Best Novelette

for speculative works ranging from 7,500-17,499 words

The Inaccessibility of Heaven – Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny Magazine)Love Hangover – Sheree Renée Thomas (Mocha Memoirs Press)The Night Sun – Zin E. Rocklyn ( Hand in the Coffin – Justin C. Key (Strange Horizons)The Transition of Osoosi – Ozzie M. Gartrell (FIYAH)

Best Short Story

for speculative works ranging from 2,000-7,499 words

Body, Remember – Nicasio Andres Reed (Fireside Magazine)EXPRESS TO BEIJING WEST RAILWAY STATION | ????????? – Congyun ‘Mu Ming’ Gu, translated by Kiera Johnson (Samovar)My Country is a Ghost – Eugenia Triantafyllou (Uncanny Magazine)Rat and Finch are Friends – Innocent Chizaram Ilo (Strange Horizons)You Perfect, Broken Thing – C. L. Clark (Uncanny Magazine)

Best in Speculative Poetry

The Alt-History of King Kong – Renoir Gaither (Speculative City)Fin – Terese Mason Pierre (Uncanny Magazine)The Harrowing Desgarrador – Gabriel Ascencio Morales (Strange Horizons)Hungry Ghost – Millie Ho (Uncanny Magazine)Tequila Mockingbird | Matar un Ruiseñor – Raúl Gallardo Flores, translated by Juan Martinez (Strange Horizons)

Critics Award

for reviews and analysis of the field of speculative literature

Jesse @ Bowties & BooksCharles Payseur @ Quick Sip ReviewsMaria HaskinsA. C. WiseStitch @ Stitch’s Media Mix

Best Fiction Podcast

for excellence in audio performance and production for speculative fiction

Beneath Ceaseless Skies – Editor Scott H. AndrewsEscape Pod – Editors Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya; Assistant Editor Benjamin C. Kinney; Hosts Tina Connolly and Alasdair Stuart, Audio Producers Summer Brooks and Adam Pracht, and the entire Escape Pod teamNightlight Podcast – Tonia RansomPodCastle – Editors Jen R. Albert, Cherae Clark, Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, Host + Assistant Editor Setsu Uzume, & Audio Producer Peter Adrian BehraveshThe Magnus Archives – Written and performed by Jonathan Sims, Directed by Alexander J Newall, Produced by Lowri Ann Davies. Distributed by Rusty Quill

Best Artist

for contributions in visual speculative storytelling

John PicacioNilah MagruderOdera IgbokwePaul LewinRovina Cai

Best Comics Team

for comics, graphic novels, and sequential storytelling

Cuisine Chinoise: Five Tales of Food and Life – Zao Dao, with Diana Schutz & Brandon Kandor (Dark Horse Comics)Far Sector – N. K. Jemisin & Jamal Campbell (DC Comics)Giga – Alex Paknadel & John Lê (Vault Comics)Parable of the Sower – Written by Octavia Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy, illustrated by John Jennings (Abrams ComicArts)You Brought Me the Ocean – Alex Sanchez & Jul Maroh (DC Comics)

Best Anthology/Collected Works

A Phoenix First Must Burn – ed. Patrice Caldwell (Viking Books for Young Readers)Glitter + Ashes: Queer Tales of a World that Wouldn’t Die – editor, publisher dave ring (Neon Hemlock)Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction – ed. Joshua Whitehead (Arsenal Pulp Press)Nine Bar Blues – Sheree Renée Thomas (Third Man Books)Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with a Fresh Bite – ed. Zoraida Cordova & Natalie C. Parker (Imprint)

Best in Creative Nonfiction

for works related to the field of speculative fiction

“The African Superhero and the Legacy of Captain Africa” – Suyi Davies Okungbowa (“Fine Weather, Isn’t It?” – Tochi Onyebuchi (SFWA Bulletin #215)“How to Make a Family: Queer Blood Bonds in Black Feminist Vampire Novels” – Tamara Jerée (Strange Horizons)“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream: The Duty of the Black Writer During Times of American Unrest” – Tochi Onyebuchi (“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Excellence” – Nibedita Sen (Uncanny Magazine)

The Ember Award

for unsung contributions to genre

Clarion WestDhonielle ClaytonK. Tempest BradfordMichi TrotaTananarive Due

The Community Award

for Outstanding Efforts in Service of Inclusion and Equitable Practice in Genre

Anathema Magazine: Spec from the Margins – Michael Matheson, Andrew Wilmot, Chinelo OnwualuBeth PhelanDiana M. Pho#PublishingPaidMe – L.L. McKinney & Tochi OnyebuchiWriting The Other: Online Classes and Workshops – Nisi Shawl + K Tempest Bradford

Congratulations to all of the finalists!

The Ignyte Awards will be presented on Saturday September 18, 2021 at 4pm ET. The finalists are determined by the Ignyte Awards Committee, who comprise FIYAHCON staff and previous award-winners of diverse backgrounds. Voting for the winners of the Ignyte Awards is open to all fans of SFF through May 21, 2021 at 11:59 PM EST! Click here to cast your vote!

Get your tickets to the 3.5 day convention (including panels, games, office hours, workshops, and more) online for $40, or (or a free Fringe ticket) here.

A huge congratulations to all of the finalists! We’ll be casting our ballots for the immensely talented creators on both the Hugo and Ignyte Awards shortlists. If you are planning to attend either WorldCon or FIYAHCON, let us know–we’d love to catch up with you!

The post Awards Season 2021: Announcing the Hugo and Ignyte Finalists appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Thea
Grishaverse Re-read: SIEGE AND STORM by Leigh Bardugo

In preparation for the Netflix show, Thea is re-immersing herself in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse and rereading the Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows books! Today, she tackles the second full-length novel in the original trilogy: Siege and Storm.

Title: Siege and StormAuthor: Leigh BardugoGenre: Fantasy, Young AdultPublisher: Square FishPublication Date: June 4, 2013Paperback: 435 pages

Darkness never dies.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her—or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and part of the overall Grishaverse

How did I get this book: Purchased

Format: Paperback

Warning: This review contains unavoidable spoilers for Shadow and Bone. If you have not yet read the first book in the trilogy and wish to remain unspoiled, look away!


Alina Starkov–humble, orphan mapmaker that was–has been discovered as a Grisha of rare and terrible power. Alina has the uncanny ability to call sunlight in the same way other Grisha can move water or air, and through training has learned to sharpen and hone her abilities to deadly precision. With the help of the stag bone amplifier, now permanently set around her neck as a collar, Alina’s powers have grown even stronger–maybe even strong enough to challenge the Darkling himself, though he intended the collar to control Alina and her powers.

Some call her the Sun Summoner; others think of her as a holy and blessed Saint, sent to deliver Ravka from the Fold and the monsters within.

In truth? Alina does not feel very holy. Following her dramatic escape from the Little Palace and using the Cut to strand the Darkling and his followers in the Fold, Alina and Mal find themselves on the True Sea, without much in the way of friends or provisions. Soon enough, the Darkling finds them. Yet again, he coerces cooperation from Alina by threatening violence against Mal–and yet again, they are on the search for a mythological beast whose body can serve as an amplifier for power.

Luckily for Alina and Mal, there are other players in the game of power with vested interests in Ravka’s future. An unlikely ally emerges in the form of Prince Nikolai–the royal younger son, rumored bastard, and apt charmer who always knows the right thing to say to any audience. Alina agrees to help Nikolai for the sake of Ravka, seizing control of the Second Army and, yes, even agreeing to embrace her “Sainthood” if it means stopping the Darkling once and for all.

Of course, things are never so simple and this time, the Darkling has learned some new tricks. Instead of just calling the darkness, it seems he can literally create monsters from the Fold and control them, as Alina learns with horrified dismay. With the future of her friends, her country, perhaps even the world on the line, Alina is determined to embrace her power–even if it means sacrificing her own humanity.

Ah, Siege and Storm. I have a confession to make: when I first attempted to read this book, I DNF’d it. I had a hard time shifting back into the Grishaverse with Alina and Mal playing the same game–weak, meek Alina hiding herself away and swaggery, brawny Mal making friends and Providing–and the emergence of a potential third love interest for Alina (i.e. Prince Nikolai). BUT, I came back to the book and ultimately was able to push aside some of those trope-laden misgivings and enjoy the fast plotting, high stakes, and wicked good world-building Leigh Bardugo wields with Cut-like precision.

This second time around, I found myself more forgiving of Alina (which, incidentally, I think is the key to the entire series). Once I could get over the fact that, yes, this is another Chosen One storyline with a main character of nigh unprecedented power, I felt much more sympathy for our Sun Summoner. I appreciated the implications and dangerous fanaticism of becoming a Saint and the power struggles of the Grand and Little Palace that she has to navigate. Moreover, I appreciate how ill-equipped for the job Alina appears to be, and how she rallies despite Mal being basically THE WORST (sorry, Mal fans) and comes into her own abilities as a negotiator and… well, general. I have a deep respect for Alina’s arc in this second book (and third book) as she also struggles with her own desire for more power, her attraction to the Darkling, and her own tangled allegiances and emotions.

Beyond Alina’s journey, there are some other standout characters in this second book, such as:

Genya. One of my absolute favorite characters in the entire series, I respect Genya’s choices especially in this book.

Zoya. Another favorite character, who has layers and depth and whose behavior Alina questions, rightfully!

Tamar and Tolya–the siblings from Shu Han who also end up becoming part of Alina’s retinue, but of murky allegiances in this particular novel.

There are also the many other members of the Grisha, like Sergei and Nadia and Adrik and David, who will become important, pivotal players in the war to come.

And of course, there’s Nikolai–the charming, adroit bastard prince with a plan, who is so much more than what he seems.

Beyond the characters, I love the vision of Os Alta as a slowly dying city, more preoccupied with grandeur and appearances than in the lives of its people. The juxtaposition of Crown Prince Vasily versus Nikolai was also a welcome addition of nuance to the series–the political entrapments of the King and his First Army juxtaposed against the tension with the Grisha and the Second Army was particularly well developed this time around.

Of course, I can’t write a review of this second novel without acknowledging the pull between Alina and the Darkling, right? There’s a Kylo Ren x Rey visitation vibe (and yes, I know this series predates The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker but you know exactly what I mean, right?) that is undeniably sexy and works because of Alina’s isolation and hunger for power–ultimately, this shared, destructive bond is irresistible. Less likable is the bond between Alina and Mal, but that is mostly personal bias–I have a really hard time liking Mal mostly because of his controlling, shitty, bad boyfriend flags.

There are hints at what might have caused the Fold to begin with and the mythology behind the Darkling’s origins that appear in this book. There are also political machinations and power plays that will shape and change everything, all of which I loved deeply upon this re-read.

Ultimately? Siege and Storm delivers and is significantly better than the first book.

Onward, to Ruin and Rising.

Rating: 7 – Very Good

The re-read continues next with Ruin and Rising (book 3 in the Shadow and Bone trilogy)

The post Grishaverse Re-read: SIEGE AND STORM by Leigh Bardugo appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Thea
Grishaverse Re-Read: SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo

In preparation for the Netflix show, Thea is re-immersing herself in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse and rereading the Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows books! Today, she tackles the book that started it all: Shadow and Bone.

Title: Shadow and BoneAuthor: Leigh BardugoGenre: Fantasy, Young AdultPublisher: Square FishPublication Date: June 5, 2012Paperback: 358 pages

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

Shadow and Bone is the first installment in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy.

Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and part of the overall Grishaverse

How did I get this book: Purchased

Format: Paperback


A mapmaker, a tracker, and an ageless power-wielder walk onto the field of battle, and nothing will ever be the same.

Alina Starkov–the mapmaker–has lived her entire life by keeping her head down. Always a little sickly, always a bit frail and clumsy and graceless and awkward, Alina enlisted in Ravka’s First Army partially out of civic duty (and by enforced necessity), but more importantly to stay connected to her best friend and unrequited love, Mal. Mal–the tracker–is young and handsome and carefree, renowned already throughout the ranks of his battalion as an uncannily good tracker and seducer of beautiful women (including Grisha), though he is Alina’s oldest and closest friend. Mal and Alina find themselves on the battlefield aboard skiffs and enter the Fold–a region severing Ravka from other countries with its unpassable, monster-filled darkness. When they enter the Fold, something very peculiar happens–when Mal is attacked by volcra and on the pair are on the verge of sure death, Alina unlocks an unforetold ability to summon light, and repel the monsters and the darkness.

No such thing has ever happened in Ravka. There are other Grisha–wielders of magic, experts of the Small Science, and fighters of the Second Army–including those who can manipulate the natural elements (Etherealki), those who are experts of the limits of the human body (Corporalki), and those who can manipulate composite materials to their ends (Materialki). The closest thing to Alina’s power is an Etherealki of unparalleled power: the Darkling, an ageless and immensely powerful Grisha who commands the Second Army, with an ability to summon darkness.

The Darkling–the ageless power-wielder–instantly takes interest in Alina, inviting her to train as a Grisha and unlock her true potential. Unlike Mal and the life Alina has known before, for the first time she grows into herself and her abilities. She becomes more confident, more powerful, and yet… more conflicted at each step along the way. As Alina adjusts to her gilded surroundings, she starts to question everything–especially the Darkling, and his motives.

When I first read (and reviewed) Shadow and Bone, I was both invested in the world, and slightly underwhelmed by characters. Upon this re-read, nearly a decade later, this initial observation still holds true. I *love* the concept of the “unsea” (the shadow fold), of Grisha, and a world sundered by monsters and darkness from some unknown source. And, this many years later, I know just how much time and effort Leigh Bardugo has invested in this world and its inhabitants, and can appreciate the grand scope of the Grisha, of Ravka, of the Shu Han and the politicking and choices that shape this world.

But I can’t deny that even upon re-reading this book, there are a lot of problematic elements.

All cards on the table: Alina’s entire character arc is a little… well, twee. I should note that it is slightly unfair reading this book in a vacuum because Alina becomes so much more in books 2 and 3, but judging book 1 on its own? Yeah, you can’t really deny the fact that her arc reads like a page from the post-Twilight-heroine playbook. Alina is consumed with what Mal will think of her, and what the Darkling thinks of her, and what the other Grisha think of her–her focus is entirely outside of herself, and her character growth seems tied to becoming more beautiful (and less clumsy and awkward) and other peoples’ perceptions of her. Both love interests in this book are similarly controlling, domineering, and unconscionably shitty. The Darkling is seductive and dark and broody and nigh-immortal and calls to Alina’s nascent power while trying to control her. Mal is overbearing, jealous, and judgmental, accusing Alina of liking her gilded cage (and the Darkling) too much. Not to mention the fact that Mal signs up for a secret mission to bring a powerful amplifier to Alina to feel, like, closer to her, and yet blames her for the Darkling’s manipulations, etc. In other words–all of the bad, abusive boyfriend red flags are flying full mast in this first novel.

And yet.

Despite these flags, there’s no denying that on its own, Shadow and Bone is still incredibly compelling. Alina’s arc, while utterly predictable, is still powerful in her choices. The fact that Alina is an outsider, that she feels alone and isolated, that she struggles with other Grisha as well as her best friend, is empathetic as hell and I deeply admire her ability to make choices the further out her story goes. Similarly, Alina’s bonds with other female characters–Zoya and Genya in particular–are nuanced, and have so much further implication for the rest of the series.

It’s impossible to re-read a series without also evaluating the things to come. Things that I didn’t notice as much the first time around but loved this time around:

The importance and quiet strength of Baghra, Alina’s teacher when she reaches the Palace.

The spectacle of the Grisha and how the entire kingdom of Ravka is slowly rotting on itself, with its preoccupation with glamor and beauty.

The beginnings of the understanding that absolute power corrupts absolutely–especially for Grisha, and including Alina herself.

Shadow and Bone is very much a first novel, lacking polish (and those aforementioned boyfriend red flags), but there’s so much promise in this book that it’s worth it to stick around for the ride.

I’m both more invested and more critical on a second read, and cannot wait to dive into the rest of the Grishaverse to evaluate the rest.

Rating: 6 – Good, but with some reservations

The re-read continues next with Siege and Storm (book 2 in the Shadow and Bone trilogy)

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- Charles Payseur
X Marks the Story: March 2021

Finding excellent short SFF can often feel like hunting for buried treasure. Sometimes it takes a guide to help fill in the map, connecting readers with fantastic fiction and showing where X Marks The Story–a monthly column from Charles Payseur.

The snow has finally melted from my yard! For most of the Northern Hemisphere, that means Spring is in the air! Plants are sluggishly trying to poke up, the squirrels are incredibly chonky, and the fiction is…well, complicated and wrenching and so so beautiful. And this month there’s some interesting and innovative flourishes as well. From interactive fiction to stories framed as wiki entries with annotated song lyrics, the stories I’m rounding up today show how varied and how creative short SFF can be, while losing nothing in power or impact. So grab your compass and your map and let’s get to it!

Diamonds and Pearls” by JL George (Fireside Magazine #88)

What It Is: Language is quite literally tied to gems in the world of this story, where as people learn words, they cough up different kinds of gemstones. And Osian grows up learning to covet diamonds, for the language of the common tongue, rather than pearls, which only emerge as people learn words in the old tongue. The story finds Osian struggling against his culture, his heritage, his desires, a ball of conflicting emotions that threatens to come spilling loose once he goes away to university and meets another student, a linguist, and has to challenge everything he thinks he knows. The story is built around this core of language and how we value it, how we lose it, and how we can reclaim it, and interwoven with that is a love story that is warm and sharp all at once.

Why I Love It: Osian is such a compelling character to me, so caught up in his own bullshit, hurt and damaged by an upbringing but rather ignorant of it, not wanting to examine the ways he’s been cut off from his past, from his family’s history. He’s invested in the valuation that society has put on the dominant language and the suppressed one. The new and the old. And it takes meeting someone who deeply challenges him, who captivates him, who has such a different set of values, to threaten that worldview. That comfort with all that he’s lost. And it makes so much sense, it speaks so real, especially to me as an American where there is no “official language” but where there’s certainly a value placed on what languages a person does (and doesn’t) know. And the ending is so sweet, so heart-meltingly adorable, that I can’t help but recommend going out and reading this story immediately!

The Captain and the Quartermaster” by C.L. Clark (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #326)

What It Is: For most of this story, the characters are marked not by their names but by their roles in a revolution that has been going on for much longer than anyone expected. For years they have been fighting against a Tyrant, and their fortunes shift with the seasons. But the Captain keeps on fighting, and the Quartermaster keeps on making sure the army has enough food and supplies, and together their love is something that gives the rest of the army hope. And the story looks at that, at these two women giving everything they have to a war and to each other, and finding that after all that they might not have much left for themselves.

Why I Love It: The relationship at the heart of this story is so amazing, messy, and queer, that I can’t help but love it to bits. And the way that the story flits through time, teasing out the different moments, the first meeting, the falling for each other, the turmoil, the resilience—it’s just a fabulous ride that the reader is treated to. More than that, though, the story breaks expectations with the romance, pulling away from what we might have been taught happy endings look like. I won’t spoil it but the story does a fantastic job of complicating how people can love, how people can stay together, and how they sometimes need to drift apart. And it reveals that no relationship is as important as the people in it, and ultimately people have to do what’s best and right for them, even when I might cry a bit at the ending. An emotionally stunning read!

According to Leibniz (maybe this isn’t what he meant); or, Rasharelle Little: Goddess of Postal Worker NBs” by Isana Skeete (Strange Horizons 03/15/2021)

What It Is: Felix’s Dyad is a headless chicken that might also be a physical manifestation of their uncontrolled anxiety. It clucks. And sort of makes a spectacle of itself. And isn’t any good at parties. Though neither is Felix, really. The story follows them as they deal with being a Monad with a headless chicken Dyad (not as cool as a cobra or a sexy cat), through their work at the post office, and around their crush on a coworker. And it reveals how they start to approach having their Dyad, how they can maybe stop seeing it as an enemy and hindrance, and instead embrace it for what it is, embrace themself for who they are, and even begin to practice some self-care. All that captured in a charming voice that flows, that keeps things casual and sarcastic and amazing.

Why I Love It: The story has such an energy to it, where Felix is just trying so hard to get by, to live their best life, and having to navigate what that means and how to do that when it’s just hard to inhabit their body sometimes, with its headless chicken Dyad and anxiety and baggage. Their go-to move is to avoid, to laugh through, to joke about things. But that doesn’t face their problems, and the story finds them starting to change that, to confront the things they would rather avoid, to have hard conversations, both with themself and with those they want to be closer to. It’s really a lot of fun, too, from the strangeness of this headless but not voiceless chicken to the way that they are able to break out of their insecurity in order to take a chance that they’ve been wanting to take for a long time. And the informal structure, the breaks of almost poetic formatting, add further personality to the work. It’s an incredible story!

Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny #39)

What It Is: Framed as an entry on a kind of wiki or other crowd-sourced site, this story unfolds as a conversation had between people contributing to the entry on a particular folk song. One that might have origins in something strange and…true. At least, that’s the narrative that begins to come clear as the work progresses, moving from interpretations and posts to a full annotated analysis of the song in line by line fashion. It might not sound like it, but it’s a rather tense and chilling work, full of mystery and possibility, implications that are all the more ominous for the nature of the framing technique, the outdated internet format that makes the story itself seem a seed waiting to full grow and flower.

Why I Love It: There’s something just so satisfying about the way this story comes together, all the pieces so meticulously placed, waiting for the reader to click them into a whole picture. The story is grounded with such care that for me is has this very authentic feel to it, as if this could be a thing on the internet, casually stumbled across. And I think that’s part of the horror, too, that the pieces here haven’t quite all been put together by the people on the board. Like so many things on the internet, they’ve been assembled in a bout of passion and interest and now just sort of…languish. And while this might seem like it would be frustrating, for me it’s rather sinister, this hanging implication, this warning that no one seems to be fully picking up on, and it’s chilling and wonderfully done!

Las Girlfriends Guide to Subversive Eating” by Sabrina Vourvoulias (Apex #122)

What It Is: It’s rare to come across an interactive story in a more traditional short SFF publication, in part because they’re rather difficult to include in an issue format. Which is why Apex has broken this one out to live entirely online, and the story is framed beautifully and rather convincingly as a kind of website, promising a tour of a local food scene mixed with magic, resistance, survival, and love. The format is fascinating and embedded into the tour stops, About Page, and other links there emerges a story, a narrative of people coming together from many different backgrounds to enrich a place that’s become all of their home.

Why I Love It: I do love the way this all fits together, the way that the story manages to take me on a journey. I mean, that it’s a functioning map is just great, and that it covers so much, not just food but the different roads these women have walked, the different routes to the same physical space, is amazingly done. The food descriptions sound delicious but don’t overshadow the culture or magic on display here, the web of different people and peoples all coming together in defiance to protect what can be protected, to spread what joy and love can be spread. The characters pop from the screen, and the work acts as a bridge between some of the author’s other stories, as well (including links to where to check those out), which is a nice way to make the setting more vivid, more real. It’s got such a warm heart, and so many layers, that make it a wonderful and unforgettable experience!


Looking for some X-tra recommendations? Then good news, because here are some more great stories to X-plore!

There were actually a few novellas out recently from short fiction publications, including the intricate and thoroughly world-built Arisudan” by Rimi B. Chatterjee (Mithila Review #15). It imagines a world rocked by corruption and disaster, but not yet without hope. And Submergence” by Arula Ratnakar (Clarkesworld #174) is part murder mystery, part romance, part dive into memory and consciousness, and is a powerful read.

I also read some recent short story collections, and of the originals I had some favorites. Useless Eaters” by Brian Koukol (Handicapsules: Short stories of Speculative Crip Lit) is brash and compelling, about a group of disabled buskers supporting each other and refusing to shrink in the face of ableist bullshit. Meanwhile Love: An Archaeology” by Fabio Fernandes (Love: An Archaeology) is a kind of possibility-hopping story, linking alternate realities to the conversation and correspondence of two sisters, and the complicated ways they are linked..

And I guess though most of my Xs this month leaned fantasy, I did read a bunch of strong science fiction stories, including The Office Drone” by Nic Lipitz (Future Science Fiction Digest #10), which is fun and funny and features a literal office drone showing the figurative drones how to really get some office work done. k.a. (birthright)” by Lam Ning (The Future Fire #2021.56) is a more somber and serious story, finding two people in the aftermath of a war figuring out how to live and recover. A theme that echoes in A Sunrise Every 90 Minutes” by Victoria Zelvin (Flash Fiction Online 03/2021), told from outer space, and perhaps the last human astronaut wonders what’s happened to Earth after a mysterious disaster, and decides how to meet this uncertain future.

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- Thea
Announcing the SHADOW AND BONE/SIX OF CROWS Re-read

You may have heard of Leigh Bardugo–the internationally best-selling author of delightful, action-packed, high-stakes fantasy novels set in an interconnected universe. To date, the prolific Bardugo has published three full-length series (one trilogy and two duologies) as well a collection of short stories and other ephemera from the world of the Grishaverse. And then Netflix comes along, and, partnering with Leigh Bardugo, creates a Grishaverse fantasy television show that looks utterly awesome.

In the parlance of the youth, I am here for it.

Netflix showrunner Eric Heisserer and Leigh Bardugo have been impressively secretive about the show since it was announced, but over the past few months we’ve learned a couple of pretty cool things. For one, Bardugo acknowledged the diversity problem in her early books, and attempted to fix them with the show’s casting–I, for one, am excited about this more inclusive approach to the Grishaverse characters. I love that Jessie Mei Li–a biracial half-Asian actress–has been cast as Alina, and that her biracial background has been written into Alina’s character (who is now explicitly half-Shu Han).


Similarly, Sujaya Dasgupta who plays Alina’s frenemy Zoya is also mixed-race (explicitly revealed by Bardugo in 2019’s King of Scars), and both Inej and Jesper are also actors of color. (Also, if you’re a reader of this site, you probably know I have a huge thing for Inej and CANNOT WAIT to see her onscreen.)

Which brings me to my next point: shocking, to me, was the revelation that Shadow and Bone will include characters from the eponymous original trilogy as well as characters from the Six of Crows duology. How these two series will be tied together since they’re kinda on different timelines is still unknown but, I say again: I AM HERE FOR IT.


SO–to get ready for the show, I’ll be re-reading and reviewing the books in the original Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows this month! The readalong starts this week with Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm–stick around for more Grishaverse (including a giveaway and a surprise) leading up to the show’s release on April 23rd.

Until then, I’ll be rewatching this trailer a few more times.

The post Announcing the SHADOW AND BONE/SIX OF CROWS Re-read appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Thea
On the Smugglers’ Radar: April 2021

On The Smugglers’ Radar” is a feature for books that have caught our eye: books we have heard of via other readers, directly from publishers, and/or from our regular incursions from various corners of the interwebs. Because we want far more books than we can possibly buy or review (what else is new?), we are revamping the Smugglers’ Radar into a monthly (mostly) SFF-focused feature – so YOU can tell us which books you have on your radar as well!

Starting this month, all of our monthly picks can be found on Bookshop!

April 2021

This one had us at “navigating an afterlife in which [the main character] must defeat an AI entity intent on destroying humanity.”

The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Simon & Schuster BFYR | April 6, 2021

Westworld meets Warcross in this high-stakes, incisive, dizzyingly smart sci-fi about a teen girl navigating an afterlife in which she must defeat an AI entity intent on destroying humanity, from award-winning author Akemi Dawn Bowman.

Eighteen-year-old Nami Miyamoto is certain her life is just beginning. She has a great family, just graduated high school, and is on her way to a party where her entire class is waiting for her—including, most importantly, the boy she’s been in love with for years.The only problem? She’s murdered before she gets there.When Nami wakes up, she learns she’s in a place called Infinity, where human consciousness goes when physical bodies die. She quickly discovers that Ophelia, a virtual assistant widely used by humans on Earth, has taken over the afterlife and is now posing as a queen, forcing humans into servitude the way she’d been forced to serve in the real world. Even worse, Ophelia is inching closer and closer to accomplishing her grand plans of eradicating human existence once and for all.As Nami works with a team of rebels to bring down Ophelia and save the humans under her imprisonment, she is forced to reckon with her past, her future, and what it is that truly makes us human.

From award-winning author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes an incisive, action-packed tale that explores big questions about technology, grief, love, and humanity.

This next book is the second in a Mughal-inspired fantasy series (clearly I need book 1 to read immediately as well).

Gifting Fire by Alina Boyden

Ace Books | April 13, 2021

The battle has been won, but the war is just beginning.

Although at long last Razia Khan has found peace with herself and love with her prince, Arjun, her trials are far from over. In order to save her prince and his city from certain destruction, Razia made a deal with the devil–her father, the Sultan of Nizam. Now the bill has come due.

Razia must secure the province of Zindh, a land surrounded by enemies, and loyal to a rebel queen who has survived her father’s purge. But when her old tormentor Prince Karim invades her new home and forces her into a marriage alliance, Razia finds herself trapped in the women’s quarters of a foreign palace, with her beloved Prince Arjun exiled from her side.

Now, in order to free herself, and her province, from Karim’s clutches, she must call upon all of her training as a royal princess, a cunning courtesan, and a daring thief to summon new allies and old friends for a battle that will decide her fate, and the fate of an empire.

The next book in Becky Chambers’ optimistic, charming Wayfarer’s series is out at the end of this month–HUZZAH!

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

Harper Voyager | April 20, 2021

Return to the sprawling, Hugo Award-winning universe of the Galactic Commons to explore another corner of the cosmos—one often mentioned, but not yet explored—in this absorbing entry in the Wayfarers series, which blends heart-warming characters and imaginative adventure.With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.

At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.

When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.

Speaking of new releases in favorite series, the newest Murderbot is out this month as well (thank you kindly, Martha Wells):

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

Tordotcom | April 27, 2021

The sixth part of the Murderbot Diaries series that began with All Systems Red, this novella takes place between Exit Strategy and the novel Network Effect.

No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall.

When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people–who knew?)

Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans!


Leigh Bardugo has a big April–Shadow and Bone starts streaming, and this second book in the King of Scars duology (also set in the Grishaverse) just dropped.

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

Imprint | March 30, 2021

The wolves are circling and a young king will face his greatest challenge in the explosive finale of the instant #1 New York Times-bestselling King of Scars Duology.

The Demon King. As Fjerda’s massive army prepares to invade, Nikolai Lantsov will summon every bit of his ingenuity and charm—and even the monster within—to win this fight. But a dark threat looms that cannot be defeated by a young king’s gift for the impossible.

The Stormwitch. Zoya Nazyalensky has lost too much to war. She saw her mentor die and her worst enemy resurrected, and she refuses to bury another friend. Now duty demands she embrace her powers to become the weapon her country needs. No matter the cost.

The Queen of Mourning. Deep undercover, Nina Zenik risks discovery and death as she wages war on Fjerda from inside its capital. But her desire for revenge may cost her country its chance at freedom and Nina the chance to heal her grieving heart.

King. General. Spy. Together they must find a way to forge a future in the darkness. Or watch a nation fall.

This historical thriller sounds tantalizingly awesome:

The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

Feiwel & Friends | April 20, 2021

Suspenseful and richly atmospheric, June Hur’s The Forest of Stolen Girls is a haunting historical mystery sure to keep readers guessing until the last page.1426, Joseon (Korea). Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest near a gruesome crime scene.

Years later, Detective Min?Hwani’s father?learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared from the same forest that nearly stole his daughters. He travels to their hometown on the island of Jeju to investigate… only to vanish as well.

Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village?and collides with her now estranged sister, Maewol?Hwani comes to realize that the answer could lie within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.

Speaking of thrillers, I’m excited for this monster-in-the-woods tale:

Near The Bone by Christina Henry

Berkeley | April 13, 2021

A woman trapped on a mountain attempts to survive more than one kind of monster, in a dread-inducing horror novel from the national bestselling author Christina Henry.

Mattie can’t remember a time before she and William lived alone on a mountain together. She must never make him upset. But when Mattie discovers the mutilated body of a fox in the woods, she realizes that they’re not alone after all.

There’s something in the woods that wasn’t there before, something that makes strange cries in the night, something with sharp teeth and claws.

When three strangers appear on the mountaintop looking for the creature in the woods, Mattie knows their presence will anger William. Terrible things happen when William is angry.

Charlie Jane Anders’ first YA novel! It’s almost here!

Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

Tor Teen | April 13, 2021

Outsmart Your Enemies. Outrun the Galaxy.“Just please, remember what I told you. Run. Don’t stop running for anything.”

Tina never worries about being ‘ordinary’–she doesn’t have to, since she’s known practically forever that she’s not just Tina Mains, average teenager and beloved daughter. She’s also the keeper of an interplanetary rescue beacon, and one day soon, it’s going to activate, and then her dreams of saving all the worlds and adventuring among the stars will finally be possible. Tina’s legacy, after all, is intergalactic–she is the hidden clone of a famed alien hero, left on Earth disguised as a human to give the universe another chance to defeat a terrible evil.

But when the beacon activates, it turns out that Tina’s destiny isn’t quite what she expected. Things are far more dangerous than she ever assumed–and everyone in the galaxy is expecting her to actually be the brilliant tactician and legendary savior Captain Thaoh Argentian, but Tina….is just Tina. And the Royal Fleet is losing the war, badly–the starship that found her is on the run and they barely manage to escape Earth with the planet still intact.

Luckily, Tina is surrounded by a crew she can trust, and her best friend Rachel, and she is still determined to save all the worlds. But first she’ll have to save herself.

Buckle up your seatbelt for this thrilling YA sci-fi adventure set against an intergalactic war from internationally bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders.

This one is a bit of a cheat since it technically came out in 2017, but is now getting a beautiful paperback repackage this month (and also it’s Silvia Moreno-Garcia so obviously gonna recommend it):

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Tor Trade | April 27, 2021

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a sweeping romance with a dash of magic.

They are the Beautiful Ones, Loisail’s most notable socialites, and this spring is Nina’s chance to join their ranks, courtesy of her well-connected cousin and his calculating wife. But the Grand Season has just begun, and already Nina’s debut has gone disastrously awry. She has always struggled to control her telekinesis?neighbors call her the Witch of Oldhouse?and the haphazard manifestations of her powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.

When entertainer Hector Auvray arrives to town, Nina is dazzled. A telekinetic like her, he has traveled the world performing his talents for admiring audiences. He sees Nina not as a witch, but ripe with potential to master her power under his tutelage. With Hector’s help, Nina’s talent blossoms, as does her love for him.

But great romances are for fairytales, and Hector is hiding a truth from Nina ? and himself?that threatens to end their courtship before it truly begins.

The Beautiful Ones is a charming tale of love and betrayal, and the struggle between conformity and passion, set in a world where scandal is a razor-sharp weapon.

Last but certainly not least, Marina Lostetter–the glorious, brilliant author behind the Noumenon series–has a fantasy novel out this month, and I need it in my life RIGHT NOW.

The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter

Tor Books | April 13, 2021

A legendary serial killer stalks the streets of a fantastical city in The Helm of Midnight, the stunning first novel in a new trilogy from acclaimed author Marina Lostetter.In a daring and deadly heist, thieves have made away with an artifact of terrible power–the death mask of Louis Charbon. Made by a master craftsman, it is imbued with the spirit of a monster from history, a serial murderer who terrorized the city with a series of gruesome murders.

Now Charbon is loose once more, killing from beyond the grave. But these murders are different from before, not simply random but the work of a deliberate mind probing for answers to a sinister question.

It is up to Krona Hirvath and her fellow Regulators to enter the mind of madness to stop this insatiable killer while facing the terrible truths left in his wake.

And that’s it from us! What books do you have on your radar?

The post On the Smugglers’ Radar: April 2021 appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Kimberly
Dead Against Her by Melinda Leigh

Please welcome Sophia Rose to the blog with the latest Bree Taggert romantic suspense novel. Get comfy and see why Dead Against Her by Melinda Leigh had some nail-biting moments. Fans of police procedural novels and murder mysteries will enjoy this one!

Dead Against Her by Melinda LeighDead Against Herby Melinda Leigh Series: Bree Taggert #5 Genres: Romantic Suspense Source: Publisher Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliateGoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star Heat Level: One FlameOne Flame

Sheriff Bree Taggert’s downfall is part of a killer’s cunning design in #1 Amazon Charts and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Melinda Leigh’s novel of murder, lies, and revenge.

Called to an isolated farm to check on an elderly widow, Sheriff Bree Taggert finds a brutal double homicide. One of the victims is Eugene Oscar, the bitter and corrupt former deputy she recently forced out of the department.

Working with criminal investigator Matt Flynn, Bree discovers that she isn’t the only one who had a troubling history with Eugene. But someone doesn’t want Bree digging up the past. She becomes the target of a stranger’s sick and devious campaign calculated to destroy her reputation, career, family, and new relationship with Matt. To make matters worse, she’s the prime suspect in Eugene’s murder.

When her chief deputy goes missing while investigating the case, Bree refuses to back down. She won’t let him become the next victim. His life and her future depend on finding a killer nursing a vengeful rage.

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When a killer makes it deeply personal and Bree’s rep and livelihood on the line, she has to step up and close out the case with the odds against her. The Bree Taggart series constantly raises the bar of expectation and never fails to bring home a stellar read. Dead Against Her is no exception.

As the fifth book in the Bree Taggart suspense series, Dead Against Her works best read in order because of ongoing personal and relationship threads.

Bree responds to a well-being check call and finds the old woman and her son have been killed in cold blood. Her feelings are mixed when the son turns out to be former Deputy Oscar, whom she had to fire for repeated misconduct and ineptitude on the job. 

Someone makes it personal by going after Bree with fake video porn and set-ups to discredit her character, forcing her out of her sheriff’s job and endangering her family. Solving the murder is more complicated when the trail leads to a dangerous secret group and so many suspects and motives. Bree, Matt, and her loyal deputies have to dig deep. Meanwhile, her chief deputy and Matt’s sister seem to have something going on and Bree is learning to take help, including with raising her niece and nephew on their family farm.

In all these books, Bree is up against a lot from her own tortured past needing to be dealt with, to being a woman attempting to prove herself in a tough mostly male job, powerful people who have their own agenda for her department, and all the way to some tricky cases. Dead Against Her digs deep and pushes her hard with all that, plus the insidious attack on her reputation. 

I loved seeing her work through it all and getting past her vulnerable and raw feelings, looking to Matt as a trustworthy man in her personal life and on the job. Matt is also settled in what he wants with Bree and her family and what he can do now that he’s contracted as an investigator and working with his retired K-9 companion, Brody.

I figured out the killer early, but that took nothing from the suspense because there was a lot more going on than just fingering the person and they did it by the book with their investigation and following the evidence trail. There were actually a few mysteries that may or may not have anything to do with the murder, and I liked that extra complication. This one had some nail-biter moments and particularly the last big money scene.

Wrapping it up, I blew through it and was left chagrined to have to wait once again for a new installment. The romance is secondary to the suspense, but the series development and background on the characters is strong. The slow build and confusion at the beginning untangles and picks up the pace to a rush at the end and works great for this type of story. Those who like police procedural murder mysteries with good character development should definitely grab up the beginning of the series.

Amazon* | Audible

*Kindle Unlimited

Dead Against Her by Melinda Leigh is perfect for those who love murder mysteries. #SophiaRose #bookreview #BreeTaggertClick To Tweet About Melinda LeighMelinda Leigh

Wall Street Journal bestselling author Melinda Leigh is a fully recovered banker. A life-long lover of books, she started writing as a way to preserve her sanity while raising her kids. Over the next few years, she learned a few things about writing a book. The process was much more fun than analyzing financial statements, and she decided to turn her hobby into a career. Melinda’s debut novel, SHE CAN RUN, was nominated for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers. She is a RITA® Award Finalist and has earned three Daphne du Maurier Award nominations, two Silver Falchion Awards, and a Golden Leaf.

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About Sophia RoseSophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate. Associate Reviewer for Delighted Reader blog.


- Kimberly
Anniversary Blog Tour: Along Came a Spider by Kate SeRine

We are back with another Transplanted Tales novel as we celebrate the series 10-Year Anniversary. In this third novel, we are hunting vampires with Trish Muffett and Nicky, aka “Little Boy Blue”. Come read an excerpt, check out my review, and enter to win some goodies before grabbing your copy!

Along Came a Spider

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Apple

Little Miss Muffet and Little Boy Blue are all grown up—and hunting the world’s most famous vampire—in this gritty paranormal romance novel.

Ever since Make Believe characters were transported into the ordinary world, their Happily Ever Afters have been a thing of the past. So when Trish Muffet is attacked at a grisly crime scene, the last person she expects to come to her rescue is Nicky “Little Boy” Blue. But these days Nicky’s doling out vigilante justice as “The Spider,” taking on predators of the night in the hopes of locating his ultimate target—Vlad Dracula. And he needs Trish’s help.

Although Nicky’s renegade style goes against everything Trish stands for, she’ll do what she must to bring Dracula down. With danger stalking her, Trish knows the only person she can count on is the one man who has the power to leave her breathless. There’s no way she’s letting this spider frighten her away.

Transplanted Tales Series


Grimm Consequences

The Better to See You

Along Came A Spider

Ever After

Better Watch Out (Fall 2022)

Read an Excerpt


I glanced around, searching frantically for some escape, but it was useless. Unless I suddenly discovered some latent ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound, I was well and truly hosed. I pressed my lips together and squared off. If I was going down, I wasn’t going to make it easy. They’d have to earn my blood.

            “Come on, you bitch!” I growled at the blonde. “You want a piece of me? Bring it on!”

            She leaped forward like she was on a spring. My eyes went wide, my courageous last stand suddenly not such a brilliant idea. But a split second later, she jerked back with a screech, her hand clawing at a small black arrow lodged in her shoulder. I heard an answering screech from the brunette and swung around in time to see her head snap back as an arrow pierced her eye.

            What the hell?

            There was a scuffling noise behind me that brought my head around in time to see the blonde struggling with a figure dressed in black fatigues and wearing a black ski mask. As I watched, he swung his fist, catching her jaw with a right hook, then slamming her chin with a left uppercut that knocked her on her ass. In the next instant, he had a knee on her chest and snatched from his ammo belt something that looked like a railroad stake. The blonde didn’t even have time to react as he drove it down into the center of her chest.

            I hadn’t even realized I was holding my breath until it burst from me with a gasp. But my relief was short-lived. An arm came around my throat, cutting off my air. I drove my elbow into my attacker’s ribs, but it barely fazed her. I grabbed her arm and tucked my chin down to take some of the pressure from my esophagus, then drove the edge of my snow boot down along her exposed shin, making her howl in pain.

            “Get down!”

            My eyes darted toward the sound of the man’s voice. He stood over the body of the blonde, a small crossbow aimed at the brunette. I bit down on the vampire’s arm as hard as I could, drawing her tainted blood. When she roared with rage, her grip loosening for a fraction of a second, I dropped, rolling out of the way as the man in black fired the crossbow. The arrow struck the center of the woman’s chest. Her eyes went wide for a fraction of a second before she crumpled into a permanently dead heap.

            So this was the infamous Spider…

            I totally took back everything I’d said about the guy being no better than the criminals he brought down. He was my new BFF. I was tempted to see if he was a bit parched after the ass kicking he’d just doled out and maybe wanted to join me for a super stiff drink at Ever Afters, but then the mind-numbing pain in my wrist reminded me I probably had other business to tend to first.

Out of breath, I scooted myself back with my good arm until I could lean against one of the dumpsters. My adrenaline left me in a rush, and I was suddenly completely exhausted. I closed my eyes and let my head fall back against the dumpster.

            “Are you hurt?”

            My eyes snapped open, my stomach clenching painfully. There was something so familiar about that voice. . . . “What?”

            My rescuer squatted down in front of me. “Are you all right?”

            I blinked at him, suddenly experiencing a serious case of déjà vu. The man’s tone was rough, clipped, and there was no hint of mischief or roguish charm. Still . . .

            “My wrist is broken,” I said a little breathlessly. “But it’s already healing. I’ll be fine by tomorrow.”

            He gave me a tight nod and started to rise, but then seemed to reconsider and resumed his crouch before me. He studied me for a long moment, giving me a good glimpse of his eyes, but they were in shadow, obscuring the color, and he was completely on his guard. There was no way I was getting in.

            “You did good, doll,” he said finally. “Made my job one helluva lot easier.”

            I felt my cheeks going warm at the praise. “Thanks.”

            His eyes narrowed, crinkling a little behind his ski mask and giving me the impression that he was grinning. “But you know, you shouldn’t be out here alone at night, even if you can kick ass,” he admonished. Then he reached up and twisted one of my ringlets around his gloved index finger and pulled gently before letting it spring back into place. “I’d hate to see harm come to a girl as pretty as you.”

            My eyes went wide. Holy shit. “Nicky Blue?” I gasped. “You’re the Spider?” He jumped to his feet and took a few quick steps before I found my voice to cry out, “Wait! Nicky! It’s okay—I know you!”

            He halted midstride and shook his head. “No, you don’t,” he said over his shoulder. “No one does. Not anymore.”

            I scrambled awkwardly to my feet, my knees still shaky from my encounter with the vampires, but when I looked up again he was gone. I turned a full circle, searching for him in the shadows, but he had slipped away as silently and mysteriously as he’d come. I let out a disappointed sigh.

            “You’re wrong, Nicky Blue,” I announced to the darkness. “Nobody knows you better than I do.”


Read My Review

Originally published: August 20, 2013

I have been enjoying Kate SeRine’s Transplant Tale series and was excited to read Along Came a Spider featuring the tale characters Trish Muffet and Nicky “Little Boy” Blue. This is the third book in the series and I recommend reading them in order since you will lose some of the story and charm. When a spell went wrong, some of our favorite fairy tales, characters etc were pulled from their books and ended up in the Here and Now. They live secretly among us; have their own government, rules and task force. Once again, SeRine gave me an entertaining, action-packed, sweet ride, and I consumed this in a single sitting. Three-word review: unique, captivating and fun.

Trish Muffet, yes that’s right “Little Miss Muffet” complete with cork-screw blood hair, is a member of the Chicago branch of the Fairytale Management Authority. (FMA) when she is attacked at a crime scene, she is both surprised and elated when Nicky “Little Boy” Blue comes to her rescue. She hasn’t laid eyes on him since he left two years ago. She is surprised to discover he is the vigilante known as “The Spider” who has been taking out predators in search of Vlad Dracula. Nicky needs Trish’s help and the tale that unfolds is action-packed, laced with a romance straight from one of those black and white noir movies.

Trish Muffet is one tough little cookie wrapped in cuteness. Since she crossed over, she has had a thing for Nicky and it was delightful seeing their feelings come to the surface. She is a little snarky, and brave despite some serious fear issues. I loved how she would step in front of her friends to protect them. Nicky is smexy, cocky, and I just envisioned him as Neal Caffrey from the hit TV series White Collar. He has ties to the criminal world, and it seems everyone owes him a favor. I loved how he called Trish, “Doll”. It fit his entire persona. He also carries around a lot of guilt and doesn’t feel he is worth making him incredibly irresistible. Nate and Red make an appearance, as do the rest of the gang. I adored some of the secondary characters, such as Gideon, with his arching eyebrow. Many story characters make appearances throughout the novel and seeing what they were doing in the Here and Now was cool. The Agency (human enforcement team that knows about Tales) and its men are heavily involved and I wanted to smack a few of them in the head, making for some intense scenes.

SeRine weaved a fascinating tale surrounding Vlad Dracula, the Agency, and our couple. It was filled with intense action scenes and creepy mental games. The tender moments between the tales had me sighing. I love that all the characters are unique and while we recognize them and their tales they have developed in the Here and Now. SeRine’s interpretation of them had me giggling one moment and dropping my jaw the next. It was fantastic! Nicky and Trish have a history and I loved the back-story. Watching feelings emerge and experiencing the sexual tension and heat had me searching for my happily-ever-after. They are two strong, slightly damaged characters that draw on each other, making the other one better. They made a terrific team investigating the mystery, and I quite enjoyed it. There is an epilogue, and it wraps things up nicely, but I was sad to see this plot ARC end.

Fans of fairy tales, suspense, mystery, and humor wrapped with a side dish of romance will enjoy Along Came a Spider and the entire Transplanted Tales series.

About the Author Kate SeRine

Kate SeRine (pronounced “serene”) is a hopeless romantic who firmly believes in true love that lasts forever. So it’s no surprise that when she began writing her own stories, Kate vowed her characters would always have a happily ever after. She’s the author of the award-winning TRANSPLANTED TALES paranormal romance series as well as two romantic suspense series: PROTECT AND SERVE and DARK ALLIANCE.

Kate lives in a smallish, quintessentially Midwestern town with her husband and two sons, who share her love of storytelling. She never tires of creating new worlds to share and is even now working on her next project — probably while consuming way too much coffee.

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Giveaways Along Came A Spider Blog Tour Giveaway

Enter to win a $25.00 eGift card from the retailer of your choice (Amazon, Apple, B&N or Kobo). Ends June 5, 2022.

a Rafflecopter giveaway 10-Year Anniversary Giveaway

Join Kate SeRine’s newsletter for the chance to win a US Amazon eGift Card. Winner will be selected at random from her active subscriber list on December 16, 2022. Enter here ➡

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- Kimberly
Our Last Days in Barcelona by Chanel Cleeton

I love spending time with the Perez family and looked forward to settling in with Our Last Days in Barcelona by Chanel Cleeton. This historical fiction has it all from romance to suspense as Isabel Perez travels to Barcelona to find her sister Beatriz. Grab an iced coffee and see why this is the perfect beach read…

Our Last Days in Barcelona by Chanel CleetonOur Last Days in Barcelonaby Chanel Cleeton Genres: Historical Fiction Source: Publisher Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliateGoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

When Isabel Perez travels to Barcelona to save her sister Beatriz, she discovers a shocking family secret in New York Times bestselling author Chanel Cleeton’s new novel.

Barcelona, 1964. Exiled from Cuba after the revolution, Isabel Perez has learned to guard her heart and protect her family at all costs. After Isabel’s sister Beatriz disappears in Barcelona, Isabel goes to Spain in search of her. Joining forces with an unlikely ally thrusts Isabel into her sister’s dangerous world of espionage, but it’s an unearthed piece of family history that transforms Isabel’s life.

Barcelona, 1936. Alicia Perez arrives in Barcelona after a difficult voyage from Cuba, her marriage in jeopardy and her young daughter Isabel in tow. Violence brews in Spain, the country on the brink of civil war, the rise of fascism threatening the world. When Cubans journey to Spain to join the International Brigades, Alicia’s past comes back to haunt her as she is unexpectedly reunited with the man who once held her heart.

Alicia and Isabel’s lives intertwine, and the past and present collide, as a mother and daughter are forced to choose between their family’s expectations and following their hearts.

Family historical ROMANCE well written

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This story focuses on the eldest daughter, Isabel Perez. The family has been exiled from Cuba and, as the oldest daughter; she felt the pressure and need of her family as they try to carve out a home in South Florida. She was a dutiful daughter and did what was expected, including marrying an older gentleman she did not love.

When Beatriz is unreachable in Spain, it is Isabel who books a flight to Barcelona to search for her. This trip will forever change her.

I have loved everything Cleeton has published, but it is her historical fictions that truly shine. Her stories of Cuba and the Perez family are rich, detailed, captivating and perfectly paced. From the landscaping to the bond between the siblings, these are stories that feel rich and real.

I love fictional stories set during historical periods and Cleeton touches on a few in Our Last Days in Barcelona. Things are unsettled in Spain and the author shares the climate of two periods.

Barcelona, 1964 Beatriz disappears in Barcelona, Isabel goes to Spain in search of her and joins forces with Diego who is also looking for Beatriz. She is soon making discoveries about her own past as she traipses across Spain. Along the way Isabel will find her passion, herself and maybe the chance at real love.

Barcelona, 1936 A young Alicia Perez journey’s to Spain from Cuba with her young daughter Isabel in tow. The country is on the brink of Civil War. Young men are traveling to Spain to fight the cause and among them is Roe’s husband.

The two timelines weave back and forth, giving us several stories. Cleeton kept me engaged with each thread she wove. I loved trying to figure out how these Perez women would tackle each problem with dignity and courage. I loved how the author wove them together, giving Isabel strength.

This historical fiction has it all from family honor to matters of the heart. It’s all set against the backdrop of Spain, from the civil war to the horrors of Guernica.

I am hoping Cleeton delivers more historical fiction romance and while each of the following books will work as standalone; they are intertwined by the Perez siblings. When We Left Cuba, The Last Train to Key West and The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba and Our Last Days in Barcelona.

Amazon | Audible

Our Last Days in Barcelona by Chanel Cleeton delivered from suspense to a slow romance. #PerezFamily #HistoricalFiction #MustRead #bookreview #BeachRead Click To Tweet About Chanel CleetonChanel Cleeton

Chanel Cleeton is the USA Today bestselling author of Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick Next Year in Havana. Originally from Florida, Chanel grew up on stories of her family's exodus from Cuba following the events of the Cuban Revolution. Her passion for politics and history continued during her years spent studying in England where she earned a bachelor's degree in International Relations from Richmond, The American International University in London and a master's degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics & Political Science. Chanel also received her Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law. She loves to travel and has lived in the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia.

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- Kimberly
The Honeymoon Cottage Lori Foster

Come fall in love with the characters of Cemetery in Lori Foster’s newest women’s fiction romance, The Honeymoon Cottage. Small town drama, an abandoned pup and a mannequin will have you packing your bags and heading to Cemetery.

The Honeymoon Cottage Lori FosterThe Honeymoon Cottageby Lori Foster Series: Cemetery Indiana #1 Genres: Romance, Women's Fiction Source: Purchase Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliateGoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star Heat Level: One FlameOne Flame

From New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster comes a heartwarming, romantic story for fans of Jill Shalvis, Lori Wilde and Sarah Morgan. In The Honeymoon Cottage, locals of a quirky small town help their favorite wedding planner find her own happily-ever-after.

She was fine arranging other people’s weddings… But life had other plans.

When it comes to creating the perfect happily-ever-after, Yardley Belanger is a bona fide miracle worker. From bridal bouquets to matching cowboy boots, the quirky wedding planner’s country-chic affairs have caused quite a stir in the small town of Cemetery. But when it comes to her own love life? She’s clueless.

Completely clueless.

Perhaps it’s for the best. The thirty-one-year-old has poured her heart and soul into her business and doesn’t have time for anything—or anyone—else. And that’s something not even the gorgeous older brother of her newest client can change…right?

All Travis Long wanted was to give his little sister, Sheena, the wedding of her dreams. Ever since the tragic death of their parents, he’s done everything he can to make her feel loved and give her everything she needs. Still…a country wedding? In a place called Cemetery? But Yardley seems to know exactly what to do and how to do it—and Travis finds himself falling for her a little more each day.

Soon Yardley and Travis find themselves being nudged together by well-meaning locals who want to see the town’s favorite wedding planner get her own happy ending.

Family ROMANCE Small-town Sweet

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If you are looking for a small-town, feel good romance. The Honeymoon Cottage, the first novel in the Cemetery, Indiana series, is the perfect choice. It’s here we meet thirty-one-year-old Yardley Belanger, a wedding planner who works out of the Victorian home she shares with her aunt and Mother. She’s worked hard to restore the Victorian and build a business in Cemetery.

Her newest client, Sheena, arrives with her older brother Travis Long. For the first time in a long time, something stirs in Yardley. Travis and Sheena lost their parents in a tragic accident since he stepped in to raise her. Sheena was sweet and Travis will curl your toes.

Yardley and Travis hit it off from their passion for restoration to an abandoned puppy. This was a slow-burn, low drama romance, as Travis didn’t want to move forward until after the wedding of his sister’s dreams.

We get perspectives from Yardley, Travis, Yardley’s best friend Mimi and her husband Kevin. The town of Cemetary is a hoot, and we witness their affection for Yardley and she interacts with the unmoving leader of the business district. I loved the town mannequin and the shenanigans. Yardley has built her business by uplifting other local business from venues to restaurants. It’s the kind of place you’ll want to spend a long weekend exploring.

Family, character growth, trust, friendship and more are explored in this sweet romantic tale. We get side stories about Yardley’s father, family, and Mimi’s struggles as the new mother of Sammy. From the perfect pacing to the characters you’ll want to call friends, the story pulls you in and holds you until the end.

The Honeymoon Cottage is the perfect summer read, whether on the beach or curling up on the back deck with an iced tea. Perfect for fans of Jill Shalvis.

Amazon | Audible

The Honeymoon Cottage Lori Foster delivered all the elements you've come to love from Foster in her newest series, #CemeteryIndiana #WomensFictionRomance #NewRelease #bookreview Click To Tweet About Lori Foster

Since first publishing in January 1996, Lori Foster has become a USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly and New York Times bestselling author. Lori has published through a variety of houses, including Kensington, St. Martin’s, Harlequin, Silhouette, Samhain, and Berkley/Jove. She is currently published with HQN.

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- Kimberly
Sunday Post #525 Last Week of School
Sunday Post

The Sunday Post is a blog news meme hosted here @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news~ A post to recap the past week on your blog and showcase books and things we have received. Share news about what is coming up on your blog for the week ahead. Join in weekly, bi-weekly or for a monthly wrap up. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme

This is the Royals last week of school, but Mr. C and I are escaping for a few weeks. On Wednesday we are driving to Florida to see my mother, whom we haven’t seen since pre-covid and will visit our son, who lives about forty-five minutes from her. After our visit with them, my husband booked us a bed-and-breakfast in NOLA. We have some scheduled sites to visit that we missed the last time we stayed. So many of my favorite books are set there and while I am not interested in Bourbon St, we love the history, manors and atmosphere. Elbow hugs! Stay Caffeinated.

Last Week on the Blog 🎧 Quicksilver By Dannika Dark (audio review) Rescued: A Collection Of Contemporary Romances With Heart, Heat, And Dog Treats (blitz, spotlight)Bloomsbury Girls By Natalie Jenner (guest post, book review, blog tour)Midnight Dunes By Laura Griffin (book review)🎧 Between Family By W.R. Gingell (audio review) This Week on the Blog The Honeymoon Cottage Lori Foster (book review) Our Last Days In Barcelona By Chanel Cleeton (book review)Anniversary Blog Tour: Along Came A Spider By Kate SeRine (giveaway, book review, blog tour)Dead Against Her By Melinda Leigh (book review) New Arrivals at the Caffeinated Cafe

Learn more:

Max Abaddon and the Crystal King by Justin S. Leslie

Special thanks to

Around The Blogosphere SYNC Free Summer Audiobooks 2022 from AudioFile Magazine. Get details and register HERE for Free. #COYER Seasons ~ Time to sign up for Spring – Because Reading Caffeinated PR open-events2

We’ve got an open tour and a book release blitz for a contemporary romance. ARCs available .

Open Events Link Up Your Edition Of The Sunday Post

Before you link up: Please be sure your weekly post includes a link back to Caffeinated Reviewer and the Sunday Post

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🎧 Between Family by W.R. Gingell

Narrated by Zehra Jane Naqvi, Between Family by W.R. Gingell is the ninth audiobook in the City Between urban fantasy series. The Heirling Trials have begun and things are about to get deadly…

🎧 Between Family by W.R. GingellBetween Familyby W.R. Gingell Series: The City Between #9 Narrator: Zehra Jane Naqvi Length: 8 hours and 49 minutes Genres: Urban Fantasy Source: Publisher Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliateGoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star Narration: 5 cups Speed: 1.35x

When someone tries to threaten me by telling me they know my name, I take that personally.

G’day. I’m not really a pet anymore, but you might as well keep calling me Pet. It’s not like I’m gunna tell you my name anyway. And if I sound stroppy, well, I am. First, I was threatened. Now, someone has cut off my house from the human world and left my emotional support vampire on the human side. On the inside, it’s just me and an emotionally compromised fae; outside, a closed arena in the world Behind, where everyone is out to kill us and a few of that everyone might actually be capable of it.

Yep. The Heirling Trials have begun, and it seems like it’s either be king or be dead when it comes to the world Behind…

magical smartfunny SUSPENSE urban

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When someone tries to threaten me by telling me they know my name, I take that personally... Pet

We are drawing closer to the conclusion of this series and as you might image things have become very addictive. Things go all topsy-turvy when the house is trapped in the Behind and cut off from the human world. To make matters worse, Jin Yeong is stuck in the human world and Zero has feelings he doesn’t know what to do with.

The Heirling Trials have become, and it’s kill or be killed. Oh, this was so good with non-stop actions. Pet is quite clever. The girl has spunk and with only one book left; we learn some things and face the King… well, sort of. Pet amazed me with her skills and when she exposed someone, I was thrilled.

I am still firmly team “emotional support vampire* but Zero got some things sorted. Despite all the action, this was a reprieve from the last novel and the final. I adore the world and characters and will sorely miss them.

Zehra Jane Naqvi continues to narrate and truly has become the voices of these characters. Even If I decide to re-read the series, it is her voices I will hear. She has brought Pet to life from her sarcasm to her emotions. Her voice for Jin Yeong, Zero and the others have enhanced the overall story and brought these characters to life.

I cheered as Pet continues to blossom, navigates love and comes into her powers. To think she once hid in her bedroom. The entire series is brilliant. If you are looking for a fresh, well developed and entertaining series with a cast of characters you’ll fall in love with. You’ll find mystery, suspense, magic and unique creatures.

Amazon* | Audible

Between Family by W.R. Gingell has Pet and the others trapped in the Between as the Heirling Trials begin. #urbanfantasy #TheCityBetween #Audiobook #ZehraJaneNaqvi #audiobookreviewClick To Tweet About W.R. GingellW.R. Gingell

W.R. Gingell is a Tasmanian author who lives in a house with a green door. She spends her time reading, drinking an inordinate amount of tea, and slouching in front of the fire to write. Like Peter Pan, she never really grew up, and is still occasionally to be found climbing trees.

About Zehra Jane NaqviZehra Jane Naqvi

Zehra Jane Naqvi is a full-time voice-over artist, actress, and singer of Anglo/Indian origin. Originally from Australia, Zehra Jane has been based in the UK for the past twenty years, where she has enjoyed a successful career spanning stage and screen. From leads in West End shows to Bollywood movies and Dr. Who radio plays, her career has been diverse, to say the least! Zehra set up her home studio in 2013, and, by immersing herself in the voice-over world, quickly discovered her passion for narrating audiobooks. Her mixed race heritage gives her a unique versatility that makes her completely convincing across age, ethnicity, class, and period.

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- Kimberly
Midnight Dunes by Laura Griffin

Midnight Dunes by Laura Griffin is the third novel in the Texas Murder Files and will work as a standalone. Midnight Dunes brings murder to Lost Beach, Texas, and our heroine discovers she is renting the victim’s residence. Danger, swoons and intrigue await you in this engaging romantic suspense.

Midnight Dunes by Laura GriffinMidnight Dunesby Laura Griffin Series: The Texas Murder Files #3 Genres: Romantic Suspense Source: Publisher Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliateGoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star Heat Level: One FlameOne FlameOne Flame

When the shocking discovery of a murdered woman’s body disturbs the tranquility of tourist season, the police detective in charge of the puzzling case must work alongside the new filmmaker in town to pursue every lead in the new romantic thriller from New York Times bestselling author Laura Griffin.

After a scandal derails her television reporting career, Macey Burns comes looking for a change of pace in Lost Beach, Texas. She’s ready to focus on her first passion—documentary filmmaking—and has a new job working for the island’s tourism board, shooting footage of the idyllic beachside community. Her plans for a relaxing rebound are dashed when she realizes the cottage she’s renting belonged to the woman whose body was just found in the sand dunes.

Detective Owen Breda is under intense pressure to solve this murder. Violent crimes are rising in his small town, and he can’t stand to see anyone else hurt…especially not the beautiful documentarian who keeps showing up at the precinct.

With the clock ticking, cameras rolling, and body count climbing, Macey and Owen must use all their resources to find the killer without getting caught in the crosshairs.


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Each of the books in the Texas Murder files work as a standalone and features one case and a side of romance. Macey Burns has arrived after a scandal forced her to leave her last job. She’s sworn off men and is working on a documentary for the local tourism board. Her first encounter with Detective Owen Breda was bizarre and left her shaken.

Her seaside cottage isn’t quite what she expected, and the town is in the spotlight when the body of a missing female is found in the dunes near to Macey’s rental cottage.

The case was interesting without many leads, but when someone attempts to break into Macey’s cottage, things heat up. Griffin weaved an interesting case with red herrings and carefully threaded clues that built up the suspense until the killer was revealed. I thought it was well done with a solid motive. The way the author placed Macey in danger felt realistic and I was engaged from beginning to end.

The romance was a slow burn until it wasn’t. Macey has hang-ups from her previous relationship and Owen wasn’t very clear. Their first meet is a prime example, and I found it odd. I felt he should have been aware and advised Macey who he was. Maybe it’s just me? I’d love to hear what you think.

Overall, this was another enjoyable romantic suspense, and I look forward to the author’s next book. Fans of murder-mysteries, law enforcement and romantic suspense will enjoy the Texas Murder Files.

Amazon | Audible

Midnight Dunes by Laura Griffin delivered a suspenseful tale in the seaside town of Lost Beach Texas in the latest #TexasMurderFiles #NewRelease #RomanticSuspense #BookReviewClick To Tweet About Laura Griffin

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Laura Griffin started her career in journalism before venturing into the world of writing romantic suspense. Her books have won numerous awards, including a RITA Award (Whisper of Warning) and a Daphne du Maurier Award (Untraceable). Laura currently lives in Austin where she is working on her next book.

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- Kimberly
Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner

Sophia Rose is here on tour with Austenprose PR and it’s a title on my audio wishlist. Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner, the bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society. Grab a cuppa and see what she has to say….

Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie JennerBloomsbury Girlsby Natalie Jenner Genres: Historical Fiction Source: Publisher Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliateGoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star

Natalie Jenner, the internationally bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society, returns with a compelling and heartwarming story of post-war London, a century-old bookstore, and three women determined to find their way in a fast-changing world in Bloomsbury Girls.

Bloomsbury Books is an old-fashioned new and rare book store that has persisted and resisted change for a hundred years, run by men and guided by the general manager's unbreakable fifty-one rules. But in 1950, the world is changing, especially the world of books and publishing, and at Bloomsbury Books, the girls in the shop have plans:

Vivien Lowry: Single since her aristocratic fiance was killed in action during World War II, the brilliant and stylish Vivien has a long list of grievances--most of them well justified and the biggest of which is Alec McDonough, the Head of Fiction.

Grace Perkins: Married with two sons, she's been working to support the family following her husband's breakdown in the aftermath of the war. Torn between duty to her family and dreams of her own.

Evie Stone: In the first class of female students from Cambridge permitted to earn a degree, Evie was denied an academic position in favor of her less accomplished male rival. Now she's working at Bloomsbury Books while she plans to remake her own future.

As they interact with various literary figures of the time--Daphne Du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Sonia Blair (widow of George Orwell), Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and others--these three women with their complex web of relationships, goals and dreams are all working to plot out a future that is richer and more rewarding than anything society will allow.

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Bloomsbury Girls follows up on the gently paced and delightful The Jane Austen Society, continuing with the story of one of the main players while introducing an all new cast of characters who are brought together at a 1950s era London bookshop. Anticipating more of the same good thing from Natalie Jenner’s pen, I eased into my comfy chair to fall in love with old books and an old bookshop while rooting on three intrepid women who choose not to be satisfied with the status quo or repressed in a man’s world.

The author painted the hundred-year-old bookshop, and the large cast of characters as well as 1950s London and the literary scene so well that I was wholly immersed in it all. I felt right at home inside the old bookshop and with the people there.

Bloomsbury Girls takes a bit to get going because there are a great many primary characters who need to be introduced along with the background and current situation of the bookshop. The narrator’s perspective shifts among several of the characters. Interesting how the battle of the sexes includes a battle over business ideology when it comes to the store. Because of this, the book comes with a ‘big front porch’ as one of my old writing teachers described the large amount of setup before the plot really gets underway. 

It was a full book and had a ponderous pace at times, but I wouldn’t want to miss one person and I could see how many of the scenes had to be there for a reason. I liked how each added to the story and had their place. 

The relationship dynamics are a sparkling element. All three women come from different backgrounds, but they share a need to be respected for their skills when, time after time, they are not. I enjoyed seeing them find their way. There are romances, but this is not the focus of the book, though yes, it plays a role.

The book is peopled with a rich, colorful, diverse cast and, of course, it is all things book. The exciting part was Evie’s diligent research into locating the first edition of a very rare book by a woman author with male academics hot on her trail and attempting to steal her recognition once again. Along the way, books contemporary and in the past by women authors are given the spotlight as are real life women involved in literature and the arts at the time. This includes a personal favorite, Daphne du Maurier.

In summary, this slow-build story of a bookshop’s survival, the role three vital women played, and the search for a rare book was a satisfying good read. It will likely not be for everyone with the multiple narrators, deep dive into description and characterization, and gentle, thoughtful tension, but I do heartily recommend it as a solid combo of women’s and historical fiction.

Amazon | Audible

Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner #BookTour – a satisfying read- #SophiaRose #bookreview Click To Tweet About Natalie JennerNatalie Jenner

Natalie Jenner is the author of two books, the instant international bestseller THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY (2020) and the forthcoming BLOOMSBURY GIRLS (2022). A Goodreads Choice Award runner-up for best historical fiction and finalist for best debut novel, THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY was a USA Today and #1 national bestseller, and has been sold for translation in twenty-one countries. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie has been a corporate lawyer, career coach and, most recently, an independent bookstore owner in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.

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About Sophia RoseSophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate. Associate Reviewer for Delighted Reader blog.


- Kimberly
Rescued: A Collection of Contemporary Romances with Heart, Heat, and Dog Treats

Today we are excited to share the release of Rescued. This anthology from New York Times and USA bestselling authors delivers a collection of contemporary romances filled with heat, heart and dog treats! The authors have rescue dogs and came together because of their beloved pups. They are donating release day sales to Roxanne St. Claire’s rescue charity.   

Rescued Release Day!!

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Apple

What happens when 10 dog-loving romance authors get together and brainstorm? Why, books with rescue dogs, sexy heroes, dirty talking, and lots of dog treats, of course.From Cynthia D’Alba – Hot Assets– A Dallas socialite must team up with a cop to save her rescued dog from a determined dognapperFrom Donna Alward – Doggie on her Doorstep When Emily’s flighty cousin leaves her dog on Em’s doorstep, she enlists the help of the sexy grouch next door.From Jenna Bayley-Burke – The Guy Next Door –Fourth grade teacher has the naughtiest dog, the punniest jokes, and perfect washboard abs…and now an angry neighbor with a busted fence thanks to his dog.From Mandy Harbin– Rescuing Orion – When undercover FBI agents foster a dog to investigate a money launderer, ignoring their attraction becomes difficult with playing house with a cute pooch.From Cindy Kirk – For the Love of Ivy – A city girl and the dog she rescues turns a sexy rancher’s life upside downFrom Melissa Schroeder – Last Love – A single mom tries to avoid her one-night stand, but her dog, Houdini, keeps leading her to his door.From Lexxie Couper – Who’s A Good Boy? – After meeting a feisty dog trainer and a 3-legged dog, the future PM of Australia questions his future and his life.From Shana Gray – Dogs on A Plane- A heavy snow strands a bush pilot and socialite with a pack of love hungry pups. Who saves who?From Laura Trentham –Nobody’s Hero – An ex-con tries to persuade an abandoned puppy and an innocent romance author he’s nobody’s hero.From Tamlyn Black  Nobody But You – A grumpy cowboy has his world upended by his sister’s new BFF and the stray dog she brings to his door

Teaser from A Dog on Her Doorstep


Emily Janssen stood at the bottom of her driveway and stared at her front step. Even from fifty feet away, she could see that the black and-brown lump blocking her front door was a dog.

A big dog.

A big, hairy dog.

She wasn’t afraid of dogs, though she always took care when approaching one she didn’t know. That was just responsible. She was just… confused. Why on earth would a dog choose her front step? There was nothing to entice a pup to her townhouse. No other dogs—or cats, for that matter—or treats or toys or kids looking to play.

More was the pity, but who had time for all that, anyway?

The dog finally noticed her, sat up, and let out a deep woof accompanied by a swooshy, waggy tail.

She sighed, but couldn’t help but be charmed.

“Well, hello to you too,” she said starting up the driveway. “And who might you be? Aren’t you pretty?”

The swishy tail swished faster as the dog stood, and its back end started to wiggle. She recognized the breed easily. Bernese Mountain Dogs were lovely, but large. If this guy decided to jump up to say hello, she’d find herself on her butt. – Excerpt from Doggie on Her Doorstep by Donna Alward

Grab your copy: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Apple

Release Day sales benefit Roxanne St. Claire’s rescue charity.   


Cynthia D’Alba, Donna Alward, Jenna Bayley-Burke, Mandy Harbin, Melissa Schroeder, Lexxie Couper, Shana Gray, Laura Trentham, Tamlyn Black, & Cindy Kirk forward by Roxanne St. Claire.

#NewRelease RESCUED: A COLLECTION OF CONTEMPORARY ROMANCES WITH HEART, HEAT, AND DOG TREATS #Anthology #Romance #DogLovers #BookLovers Click To Tweet Caffeinated PR


- Kimberly
🎧 Quicksilver by Dannika Dark

Narrated by the talented Nicole Poole, Quicksilver by Dannika Dark was a suspenseful, action-packed story as an invitation to a formal winter ball turns into a nightmare for Keystone. As this series nears its end, Dark delivers one of the best stories yet!

🎧 Quicksilver by Dannika DarkQuicksilver by Dannika Dark Series: Crossbreed #11 Narrator: Nicole Poole Length: 13 hours and 5 minutes Genres: Urban Fantasy Source: Publisher, Purchase Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliateGoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star Heat Level: One FlameOne FlameOne FlameHalf a Flame Narration: 5 cups Speed: 1.3x

Keystone goes to battle with their most fearsome foe yet in this USA Today bestselling series by Dannika Dark . . .

In the world of crime fighting, Raven has learned that formal affairs are a necessary evil. So when Keystone receives an invitation to a winter ball, she tries to make the best of it. The most powerful elites in Cognito are attending—a perfect opportunity to network and have a few drinks. But when a guest hijacks the party in a violent display of dark power, chaos ensues.

It's a race against time as Raven searches for a way to thwart his diabolical plan. Will Keystone find the fortitude to prevent the downfall of civilization? Or will they bow to a new king to save their souls?

magical ROMANCE SUSPENSE urban

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Quicksilver delivered from beginning to end and pulls us ever closer to the conclusion of the Crossbreed series. Fresh storylines, and unique characters combined with swoons and laughter make Darks’ audiobooks memorable.

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Dannika Dark and the world she has set all of her series in. Quicksilver is the eleventh novel in the Crossbreed series. If you haven’t yet visited Cognito and joined the members of Keystone, a covert operation that handles outlaws, you need to drop everything and begin! Seriously, you’ll love Raven Black, a half-vampire/half-mage kick-ass female and her partner sexy and lethal vampire, Christian Poe. The rest of the motley Keystone crew will steal your hearts along the way. The villains, danger and missions they face will keep you listening into the wee hours.

The Winter Ball is being hosted and held by Lenore. No one likes Lenore, especially Christian and Raven, but for their leader, Viktor, they’ll dress up and attend. In attendance are the powerful elite and the event is meant for networking. It was fun seeing the Keystone crew decked out in their version of formal wear, from Raven’s red dress to another’s elf slippers. The party takes a serious turn when a guest hijacks the party and demands fealty. They have ten days to accept the demands. Can Raven and the crew stop this power hungry mage or will the world fall?

The next ten days are action-packed, as the gang deals with what the mage has done. They find themselves in hiding as they regroup and make a plan. Gads, I hate Lenore, and Dark gives us more reasons to loath the greedy bitch. Our new villain desires power, loyalty and an end to the higher council.

While the storyline was intense, we got sweet and sexy moments in the romance department and plenty of chuckles as the group deal with this mess. Dark has endeared these characters to me and in each book we learn more. This story shared Viktor’s backstory, and I just wanted to hug our loyal Russian.

Raven continues to astound with her powers. Keystone, her friends and Christian, have really allowed her to grow. The story gave us a unique twist and intense tale, but Dark wrapped it in some of the most romantic moments between Raven and Christian. I couldn’t stop listening and despite wanting to savior the story, I ended up devouring it in two days.

Nicole Poole narrates all of Dark’s audiobooks and has become the voice of these characters. Each voice is so unique that I know who is speaking immediately. I love that. Both are male and female voices are delightful from accents to tones.

The Crossbreed series is perfect for fans of urban fantasy and paranormal romances who love working with an elite team and catching some baddies.

Amazon | Audible

Cancel your plans and grab your earbuds! #NewRelease Quicksilver by Dannika Dark, narrated by Nicole Poole #audiobook #Crossbreed #Swoons #suspense #urbanfantasy Click To Tweet About Dannika DarkDannika Dark

Dannika was born on a military base in the U.S. and spent her youth traveling abroad. She developed an interest writing poetry and song lyrics early on, eventually gravitating toward a job that involved writing procedural training documentation. In her spare time, she wrote novels before she decided to pursue a career in publishing. In addition to writing about supernatural worlds, Dannika is passionate about graphic design and creates all her own covers and series art. When not writing, she enjoys indie music, movies, reading, Tex-Mex, strawberry daiquiris, heaps of chocolate, and unleashing her dark side. All of her published books to date are written in the same universe and contain material suitable for adults only. Dannika's books have sold more than 1 million copies worldwide.

About Nicole PooleNicole Poole

Nicole Poole is a classically trained actor with equal passions for literature and improvisation. She has toured with the Royal Shakespeare Company, has been a member of the critically acclaimed Walter Thompson Orchestra for over fifteen years, and recently became a member of the Parisian groups SPOUMJ and Anitya. She is honored to have been recognized for her narration by an AudioFile Earphones Award, a Publisher's Weekly Listen-Up Award, and nomination for an Audie Award.

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- Kimberly
Sunday Post #524 Heat Wave
Sunday Post

The Sunday Post is a blog news meme hosted here @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news~ A post to recap the past week on your blog and showcase books and things we have received. Share news about what is coming up on your blog for the week ahead. Join in weekly, bi-weekly or for a monthly wrap up. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme

This week it felt like summer with temps in the 90s during the day and thunderstorms at night. My A/C was doing double time. We spent a lot of time outdoors. The Royals rode their bikes and all three grandchildren loved playing with the water table and running in the sprinklers. Elbow hugs! Stay Caffeinated.

Last Week on the Blog Seasonal Fears By Seanan McGuire (book review)🎧 Heroic Hearts Anthology (audio review)The Best Of Me By Sharon Sala (guest post, book review)🎧 The Devil You Know By Kit Rocha (audio review) This Week on the Blog 🎧 Quicksilver By Dannika Dark (audio review) Rescued: A Collection Of Contemporary Romances With Heart, Heat, And Dog Treats (blitz, spotlight)Bloomsbury Girls By Natalie Jenner (guest post, book review, blog tour)Midnight Dunes By Laura Griffin (book review)🎧 Between Family By W.R. Gingell (audio review) New Arrivals at the Caffeinated Cafe

Learn more:

The Secret of Bow Lane by Jennifer Ashley The Warden by John Richter

Special thanks to Berkeley and Tantor Audio

Around The Blogosphere SYNC Free Summer Audiobooks 2022 from AudioFile Magazine. Get details and register HERE for Free. #COYER Seasons ~ Time to sign up for Spring – Because Reading Caffeinated PR open-events2

We’ve got an open tour and a book release blitz for a contemporary romance. ARCs available .

Open Events Link Up Your Edition Of The Sunday Post

Before you link up: Please be sure your weekly post includes a link back to Caffeinated Reviewer and the Sunday Post

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- Kimberly
🎧 The Devil You Know by Kit Rocha

Narrated by Lidia Dornet, The Devil You Know by Kit Rocha is the second audiobook in the Mercenary Librarians sci-fi fantasy series. Information brokers and a group of elite soldiers join forces in this post-apocalyptic world. This time they need a cure for one of their own. Come check out my thoughts…

🎧 The Devil You Know by Kit RochaThe Devil You Knowby Kit Rocha Series: Mercenary Librarians #2 Narrator: Lidia Dornet Genres: Fantasy Source: Publisher Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliateGoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star Heat Level: One FlameOne FlameOne FlameHalf a Flame Narration: 5 cups Speed: 1.4x

The Mercenary Librarians and the Silver Devils are back in the next installment of USA Today and New York Times bestselling author Kit Rocha’s post-apocalyptic Action/Romance, with hints of Orphan Black and the Avengers

The Silver Devils and the Librarians are starting to get the hang of working together—but then a job goes sideways. Instead of the package they expected to retrieve, they find a young girl and discover she is a modified clone… just one of many. Horrified by the implications, the team try to track the missing children, but then Gray, one of the Devils, collapses. His implant is fading, and once rejection starts there's very little hope of a reversal.

Maya, the team’s resident mechanical and programming genius, finds herself torn in multiple directions. She wants to help find the endangered children and track down a threat from the past. And she wants to find an impossible solution to help Gray.

But she also wants to stay as far away from him as she can. Because the more time she spends with him the more she cares about him, and she's already watched one man she loves die because of the TechCorps.

apocalypse ROMANCE scifi well written

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The Librarians (Maya, Nina, and Dani) and the Silver Devils (Gray, Conall, Knox, and Garrett) are working together after they joined forces in The Deal With the Devil. They’ve got a secure building and are overhauling it as they help the community, build hospital beds, and take on missions..

Their latest mission goes sideways when they retrieve a young girl instead of their intended package. They soon realize the young girl is a modified clone and that actual children are being kidnapped. The enemy is on the move and they prepare to intercept when one of their own collapses. While the rest of the team goes ahead, Maya stays back with Gray.

This is part of a trilogy and has an overall story arc, but each book has its own side romance and mission. This book belongs to Gray and Maya. I adore Maya. She has been through a lot, but has spunk. She is walking encyclopedia. Seriously. She has an eidetic memory and is the team’s mechanical and programming genius. While she wants to help save the children, she also wants to help Gray. It seems his body is rejecting his implant. The outlook isn’t good, but Maya is determined to beat the odds.

Our story is set in Atlanta in the year 2081. TechCorps is abducting and cloning children for nefarious purposes. Much of the story is told from Maya’s point of view. We spend time within the compound and surrounding neighborhood. It gave us a sense of their world and daily life between missions.

The suspense came from the romance and Gray’s illness. Don’t get me wrong, we see plenty of battle, torture and villains, but this wasn’t as nomadic as book one. Gray is a good guy, a little shy but loyal to the core. He is second in command to Knox and quite smitten with Maya. Through him we see a growth in Maya as she overcomes some of her fears, learns to trust and stretches her abilities.

The tale can be dark and gritty. In their search for the children, they expose themselves to TechCorps, who takes some of them hostage. We learn quite a lot about Maya’s past and I was sweating bullets the entire time. I loved seeing the teams work together and the trust Maya and Gray have in each other tugged at my heartstrings.

I enjoyed the camaraderie between the Librarians and the Silver Devils. They have become quite the unit. We get to see them rely on each other, mourn, tease and break bread together. It’s them against the machine and I loved spending time with them again.

We got to know some key secondary characters as this writing duo fleshed out the world. I was so excited this finally came out on audio. The books are published through Tor, but we waited almost a year for the audiobook release. I stubbornly waited, and it paid off.

Lidia Dornet narrates and did a stellar job giving voice to Maya. She captured her personality, fears, and unique skills. Her male voices are well developed and her villain voices will make you shiver.

Because this is a trilogy I recommend listening in order. While each story deals with a current mission and romance, the overall story arc and spoilers make starting from the beginning the best way to enjoy this post-apocalyptic world.

Fans of science fiction, romantic fantasy and post-apocalyptic worlds will want to grab their earbuds and listen to the Mercenary Librarians. Kit Rocha is the pen name for Bree Bridges and Donna Herren. Fans of Ilona Andrews will want to try this duo.

Amazon | Audible

The Devil You Know by Kit Rocha delivered suspense, romance, nail-biting action and a stellar second novel in the Mercenary Librarians series #audiobook #NewRelease #mustlisren #LidiaDornet #TantorAudio Click To Tweet About Kit RochaKit Rocha

Kit Rocha is the pseudonym for co-writing team Donna Herren and Bree Bridges. After penning dozens of paranormal novels, novellas and stories as Moira Rogers, they branched out into gritty, sexy dystopian romance. The series has appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists, and was honored with a 2013 RT Reviewer's Choice award.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

2022 Audiobook Challenge


- Kimberly
The Best of Me by Sharon Sala

Please welcome Sophia Rose with a review of contemporary romance The Best of Me by Sharon Sala, the final book in the Blessings, Georgia novels. Perfect for fans of small-town romances.

The Best of Me by Sharon SalaThe Best of Meby Sharon Sala Series: Blessings Georgia #13 Genres: Contemporary Romance Source: Publisher Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliateGoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star Heat Level: One FlameOne FlameOne Flame

Take a trip to Blessings, Georgia, where bestselling author Sharon Sala welcomes you with a touching small-town romance: An orphaned little girl who desperately needs a new home A couple ready to welcome her with open arms Friendly neighbors who are always there for each other A Southern small town where great things happen to good people

Ruby Butterman and her husband, Peanut, cannot have children, but they're given a second chance at a family when eight-year-old orphan Carlie is left in their care. It's a challenge for Carlie to adapt to a new town, a new school, and a new family, and when she gets bullied at school, Ruby and Peanut discover how to step up as parents, and how to make a forever family for their beloved little girl.

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As grand finales go, this last Blessings, Georgia book, left nothing to chance. A second chance romance, a man’s redemption, a little girl experiences grief and loss, and the mainstays of the series get their heart’s desire. Thirteen books in and I am mourning the end of a nostalgic, heartwarming small town series that stayed solid from beginning to end.

The Best of Me is the thirteenth in the Blessings, Georgia series and offers up a new pair second chance romance, but also culminates Ruby’s story with finally getting a child of her own. In some ways, it can be standalone, but I recommend getting it in order to be properly connected in with the world and characters.

The story opens with a grab the tissue box moment and then gradually goes from sorrow to hope and happiness like one can count on with this series. Blessings, Georgia is a dream world of small-town southern charm that doesn’t truly exist, but one wishes it did. People have their foibles, but overall, this town comes together when one of their own or a visitor is in need.

The main storyline is two-part. There is the arrival of little Carlie Durvoy whose mother passes away on arrival and leaves her precious girl in Ruby’s capable hands. Ruby and Peanut have found love and happiness, but they are childless and they are more than ready to step up and be what Carlie needs. Carlie’s child grief and fears are there and Ruby and Peanut try hard to help her work through it. Meanwhile, back in Little Rock, AR where Carlie is from a man who thought to get guardianship of Carlie and her life insurance payout, has his own storyline going on.

The secondary plot that shares the spotlight with Carlie, Ruby and Peanut’s story is a second chance romance. Ladd and Deborah were teenage sweethearts until Ladd went to college and got the idea that the thing with Deborah was a merely a teen relationship and not meant to last. It’s not until after she is long gone as a big animal vet and he’s working his architectural career that he realizes he’d messed up something good. Fate brings them both back home to Blessings and their neighboring family farms and a dangerous event forces them together and dealing with the past.

Anyone who has followed the series knows that these books often have a few plots going on at the same time and little drop ins around Blessings with the regular cast of characters. I’ve gotten used to and enjoy this way of telling the story on people, relationships, and events that makes the small town element almost a character in its own right.

The characters have flaws and work through them, but the majority of the drama is external, so the angst remains relatively low. There’s a little spice in the romances and mostly closed door sexual encounters. Sometimes there are big events that have the town members pulling together to help each other. In this case, the event is Carlie’s mother’s passing followed by some serious accidents befalling others like Ladd. There is always the certainty that all will come right in the end, which makes this and the others in the series great comfort reads.

All in all, I was emotionally invested, not just because it was the last book, but Carlie’s grief, the Buttermans’ working toward adoption, and the second chance romance. The gentle-paced nostalgic small town sweeter romances make this a book and series I do not hesitate to recommend.

Amazon | Audible

The gentle-paced nostalgic small town sweet-romances make Best of Me by Sharon Sala and the Blessings, Georgia series one Sophia Rose recommends. #bookreview #BlessingsGeorgia #smalltownromanceClick To Tweet About Sharon SalaSharon Sala

Sharon Sala is a Native Oklahoman and still lives within a two hour drive of where she was born. First published in 1991, she is a New York Times/USA Today, best-selling author with a 135 plus books published in seven different genres, including Romantic suspense, Mystery, Young Adult, Western, Fiction, Women’s Fiction and Non-Fiction.

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About Sophia RoseSophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate. Associate Reviewer for Delighted Reader blog.


- Kimberly
🎧 Heroic Hearts Anthology

Heroic Hearts is dedicated to Rachel Caine, who was supposed to be a contributor before her passing. This anthology is filled with some of my favorite authors and narrators, so naturally I devoured their stories about heroes. Whether you listen or read, this one is a keeper. 

🎧 Heroic Hearts AnthologyHeroic Heartsby Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, Kelley Armstrong, Annie Bellet, Anne Bishop, Jennifer Brozek, Kevin Hearne, Nancy Holder, Chloe Neill, R.R. Virdi. Narrator: Holter Graham, Sean Patrick Hopkins, Travis Baldree, Alexandra Harris, Cassandra Morris, Maggi-Meg Reed, Nancy Linari, Suzanne Elise Freeman, Daniel Henning, James Masters, Johanna Parker, Luke Daniels Genres: Urban Fantasy Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliateGoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star Narration: 5 cups Speed: 1.3x

An all-star urban fantasy collection featuring short stories from #1 New York Times bestselling authors Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, Kelley Armstrong, and more . . .

In this short story collection of courage, adventure, and magic, heroes—ordinary people who do the right thing—bravely step forward.

But running toward danger might cost them everything. . . .

In #1 New York Times bestselling author Jim Butcher’s “Little Things,” the pixie Toot-Toot discovers an invader unbeknownst to the wizard Harry Dresden . . . and in order to defeat it, he’ll have to team up with the dread cat Mister.

In #1 New York Times bestselling author Patricia Briggs’s “Dating Terrors,” the werewolf Asil finds an online date might just turn into something more—if she can escape the dark magic binding her.

In #1 New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris’s “The Return of the Mage,” the Britlingen mercenaries will discover more than they’ve bargained for when they answer the call of a distress beacon on a strange and remote world.

And in #1 New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong’s “Comfort Zone,” the necromancer Chloe Saunders and the werewolf Derek Souza are just trying to get through college. But they can’t refuse a ghost pleading for help.

ALSO INCLUDES STORIES BY Annie Bellet * Anne Bishop * Jennifer Brozek * Kevin Hearne * Nancy Holder * Kerrie L. Hughes * Chloe Neill * R.R. Virdi

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Brand-new stories from my favorite authors with a few new to me authors to sample- a feast from beginning to end. If you love urban fantasy, this is a must have collection.

Little Things by Jim Butcher read by James Masters (The Dresden Files, standalone)First kudos to Masters for keeping in character. I love the pixie Toot-Toot and this is his heroic tale. When enemy forces breach the castle walls, not even Bob believes Toot. This event takes place about a fortnight after the battles. Harry is recovering from injuries and dealing with loss. It was a clever way to give us an update and give our Pixie the spotlight. The Dark Ship by Ann Bishop read by Alexandra Harris (Others World, standalone) I loved this! The Others is one of my favorite urban fantasy series. This takes us to a port city in one of the human areas and a young girl with a gift finds herself at significant risk after aiding a pony. Alexandra Harris was wonderful and the reason I listen to the series on audio first before diving into my hardcover editions. I want more!!Comfort Zone by Kelley Armstrong read by Cassandra Morris (The Summing Series, standalone) I love this author, but have not read the Summoning series. I found myself engaged and enjoyed spending time with Derek and Chloe as they help a ghost who is worried about his little sister. Cassandra Morris provided the voices and did a wonderful job. Train to Last Hope by Annie Bellet read by Maggi-Meg Reed (new to me author) An interesting story involving witches, demons and grim reapers. We travel with a mother and daughter as they try to discover what happened to their daughter. Not sure if this is tied to a series, but I found the world fascinating and enjoyed the narration. I would dip into this western world again. Delightful narration by Reed. Fire Hazard by Kevin Hearne read by Luke Daniels (Iron Druid Chronicles, standalone) It was wonderful spending time with Atticus, Oberon and Starbuck, as they investigate a forest fire. The story told from Oberon’s POV had me snickering with delight. Luke Daniels as always did a stellar job with the narrator and is the reason I listen to all of Hearne’s series. Grave Gambles by R.R. Virdi read by Travis Baldree – (Grave Beginnings, standalone) I have not read this author, but loved the concept of Grave Gambles. The protagonist wakes up in a body and has a limited amount of time to determine how the person was murdered. Travis Baldree was a new to me narrator who did a stellar job from voices to tone. I am adding this series to my wishlist. Silverspell by Chloe Neill read by read by Suzanne Elise Freeman (Heirs of Chicagoland, standalone) I am enjoying the Heirs of Chicagoland and this was a nice short. Elisa and Connor are investigating a series of ritualist murders. It was an intriguing case, and I enjoyed watching Elisa do her thing. Suzanne Elise Freeman was delightful with the narration and has me curious about the series on audio. It was the perfect teaser to hold me over until the next release. Troll Life by Kerrie L. Hughes read by Sean Patrick Hopkins (new to me author) The world made me curious enough to see if there was a series tied to it. Trolls, vampires and more await you at the train station where trouble lurks. I liked Sean Patrick Hopkins narration and added him to my list of narrators to look for. Return of the Mage by Charlaine Harris read by Johanna Parker – I’ve read some of the author’s work but was not familiar with these characters or world. I listened twice and felt a tad lost. There are mages, rituals, combat and a distress call answered by the Britlingen mercenaries. Johanna Parker gave a delightful narration that fit the tone and characters. The Vampires Karamazov by Nancy Holder read by Daniel Henning (The Brothers Karamazov) This is another new to me author and my least favorite story of the collection. It was dark, old school and grim. The writing is good, I just felt like I would have enjoyed it more if I knew the series. Daniel Henning is a new to me narrator, but has a pleasant tone and I would listen to him again. The Necessity of Pragmatic Magic by Jennifer Brozek read by Nancy Linari. (new to me author) The story held my attention as an evil entity caused problems at a museum. I would like to read more about these witches. The story was engaging despite the quickly ending that left me flat. This has a cozy mystery vibe you might like, and the narrator was perfect for this story. Dating Terror by Patricia Briggs narrated by Holter Graham (Alpha & Omega, standalone) Both Briggs and Graham are favorites of mine and I slipped right into this story. This is another adventure involving dating for Asil and is set in the Mercy Thompson world. As always, I had a blast listening. Briggs has a way of pulling you in and making you laugh.

A fantastic collection for urban fantasy readers and listeners! From shorts in beloved series to new to me authors, narrators and series, I devoured this and highly recommend adding it to your audio collection. Some of my favorites were from Butcher, Bishop and Hearne.

Amazon | Audible

Heroic Hearts Anthology featuring short stories from New York Times best-selling authors Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, Kelley Armstrong, and more. A must have fantasy collection #audiobook #NewRelease #mustlisten…Click To Tweet About Anne Bishop

Anne Bishop lives in upstate New York where she enjoys gardening, music, and writing dark, romantic stories. She is the author of fourteen novels, including the award-winning Black Jewels Trilogy. Her most recent novel,Twilight’s Dawn, made the New York Times bestsellers list. She is currently working on a new series, which is an urban dark fantasy with a bit of a twist.

About Charlaine HarrisCharlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris is a New York Times bestselling author who has been writing mysteries for thirty years. She was born and raised in the Mississippi River Delta area of the United States. She now lives in southern Arkansas with her husband and three children. Though her early work consisted largely of poems about ghosts and, later, teenage angst, she began writing plays when she attended Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. She began to write books a few years later. Her later books have been in the urban fantasy genre. She is best known for The Southern Vampire Mysteries series, which HBO later adapted for its dramatic series entitled True Blood.

About Chloe NeillChloe Neill

Chloe Neill is the New York Times bestselling author of the Chicagoland Vampires Novels, the Devil's Isle Novels, and a YA series, the Dark Elite. Chloe was born and raised in the South, but now makes her home in the Midwest. When she's not writing, she bakes, works, and scours the Internet for good recipes and great graphic design. Chloe also maintains her sanity by spending time with her boys--her husband and their dogs, Baxter and Scout.

About Jim ButcherJim Butcher

Jim Butcher is the author of the Dresden Files, the Codex Alera, and a new steampunk series, the Cinder Spires. His resume includes a laundry list of skills which were useful a couple of centuries ago, and he plays guitar quite badly. An avid gamer, he plays tabletop games in varying systems, a variety of video games on PC and console, and LARPs whenever he can make time for it. Jim currently resides mostly inside his own head, but his head can generally be found in his home town of Independence, Missouri. Jim goes by the moniker Longshot in a number of online locales. He came by this name in the early 1990′s when he decided he would become a published author. Usually only 3 in 1000 who make such an attempt actually manage to become published; of those, only 1 in 10 make enough money to call it a living. The sale of a second series was the breakthrough that let him beat the long odds against attaining a career as a novelist.

About Kelley Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong has been telling stories since before she could write. Her earliest written efforts were disastrous. If asked for a story about girls and dolls, hers would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to her teachers' dismay. All efforts to make her produce "normal" stories failed. Today, she continues to spin tales of ghosts and demons and werewolves, while safely locked away in her basement writing dungeon. She's the author of the NYT-bestselling "Women of the Otherworld" paranormal suspense series and "Darkest Powers" young adult urban fantasy trilogy, as well as the Nadia Stafford crime series. Armstrong lives in southwestern Ontario with her husband, kids and far too many pets.

About Kevin HearneKevin Hearne

Kevin is the NYT bestselling author of the Iron Druid Chronicles, as well as two forthcoming series: The Seven Kennings, an epic fantasy trilogy, and Tales of Pell, a fantasy series co-authored with Delilah S. Dawson.

About Patricia Briggs

Patricia Briggs was born in Butte, Montana to a children’s librarian who passed on to her kids a love of reading and books. Patricia grew up reading fairy tales and books about horses, and later developed an interest in folklore and history. When she decided to write a book of her own, a fantasy book seemed a natural choice. Patricia graduated from Montana State University with degrees in history and German and she worked for a while as a substitute teacher. Currently, she lives in Montana with her husband, children and six horses and writes full-time, much to the delight of her fans.

About Alexandra HarrisAlexandra Harris

Alexandra Harris is a British/Canadian voice-over artist and actor. She now lives in Los Angeles where she’s been narrating audiobooks for over half a decade. She's been nominated for her work on stage, including Reverie and The Edinburgh Festival. Film and TV credits include MVP, Four Hours, and The Last Man.…

About Holter GrahamHolter Graham

Holter Graham is an actor and voiceover artist whose principal film credits include Fly Away Home, Hairspray, and Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive. His television credits include Army Wives, Damages, and Rescue Me. A multiple Audie Award Nominee, Graham has received Best of the Year awards from AudioFile magazine.

About Johanna ParkerJohanna Parker

Johanna Parker is an Audie Award Winning, Earphone Award Winning actress living and working in San Francisco. Since narrating her first audiobook for Recorded Books in 2002, Johanna has received high praise for her work in all genres, including the young adult Mediator series by Meg Cabot, Earlene Fowler’s Bennie Harper Mysteries, and her portrayal of Sookie Stackhouse in Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire books of which Audiofile has said, “Parker personifies Harris's perky Southern heroine, Sookie Stackhouse. Her splendid pacing allows listeners time to absorb the action and emotions…listeners will be enthralled.”

About Luke DanielsLuke Daniels

Luke Daniels has narrated over 250 audiobooks, has been the grateful recipient of thirteen AudioFile Earphones Awards, and has earned three Audie nominations. His background is in classical theater and film. Luke has performed at repertory theaters around the country, but now he resides in the Midwest with his pack.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

2022 Audiobook Challenge


- Kimberly
Seasonal Fears by Seanan McGuire

Seasonal Fears by Seanan McGuire is the second novel in the Alchemical Journeys Series, and it was a thrilling tale that pulled me in and never let go. Science, alchemy, and magic blend together in this delightful fantasy. Come meet new and old characters as the battle for Summer King and Winter Queen begins….

Seasonal Fears by Seanan McGuireSeasonal Fearsby Seanan McGuire Series: Alchemical Journeys #2 Genres: Fantasy Source: Publisher Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliateGoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Melanie has a destiny, though it isn’t the one everyone assumes it to be. She’s delicate; she’s fragile; she’s dying. Now, truly, is the winter of her soul.

Harry doesn’t want to believe in destiny, because that means accepting the loss of the one person who gives his life meaning, who brings summer to his world.

So, when a new road is laid out in front of them—a road that will lead through untold dangers toward a possible lifetime together—walking down it seems to be the only option.

But others are following behind, with violence in their hearts.

fantasy magical scifi UNIQUE

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One must maintain a little bit of summer even in the middle of winter.” —Thoreau

Sean McGuire dazzled me with the Middlegame where we met Roger and Dodger (language and math) and this time, she tells us about the Summer and Winter courts. Her lyrical prose begins with the fall of the current king and queen.

This is a story best savored as we learn about the seasons and kingdom when the summer king sleeps and the winter queen reigns. We learn about candidates who awaken when a new king or queen is needed. There are Jack Frosts and Corn Jennies who aid these contenders for the throne. This science fiction fantasy is brilliant, complex, well developed, and downright magical. I am always left in awe of McGuire’s mind and her magic with the written word.

As we learned in Middlegame, there are always those who hope to take advantage and bend the outcomes in their favor. In Seasonal Fears we meet Melanie Cosgrove, a fragile teenage girl with a weak heart and protective father who shelters her even from the Jack Frosts who seek her out. We also meet Harry March, a young boy who is as drawn to her as he is to the summer sun.

He is a football player, and she is his biggest fan. The two are in love but as winter falls, so does Mel and to save her, Harry will have to believe the impossible and accept his fate.

I loved the race, battles and folks we met along the way as Harry and Mel run away or perhaps towards their destiny. They are traveling with Mel’s Jack Frost, but where is Harry’s Corn Jennie? A wicked game is a foot, one without rules until they reach the court. They aren’t the only ones hoping to fulfil their destiny and for the losers; it means the end of the road.

Our young couple will be tested as the seasons call to them, but a little help from Roger and Dodger will steer them in the right direction. From the world-building to the outside threats, I was enthralled. We learn about Mel’s parents and their intentions. We meet those involved in the courts and the rules of who reigns and how. Someone wants to be Mel’s partner on the throne and will stop at nothing to succeed.

There is so much I want to discuss, but will leave you to unfold the story on your own. I confess I re-read a few chapters before moving on just to be sure I understood this complex world. McGuire writes stories that are original and ones you’ll want to read again and again. I have already grabbed the audio versions as this is a series I will want to revisit.

If you love McGuire’s Wayward Children series, you’ll want to devour the Alchemical Journeys. You’ll discover romance, suspense, magic and a world as intriguing as the characters who reside there.

Amazon | Audible

Seasonal Fears by Seanan McGuire was brilliant as Mel and Harry find themselves in a race for their lives. #AlchemicalJourneysSeries #Fantasy #mustread #NewRelease Click To Tweet About Seanan McGuireSeanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire is a native Californian, which has resulted in her being exceedingly laid-back about venomous wildlife, and terrified of weather. When not writing urban fantasy (as herself) and science fiction thrillers (as Mira Grant), she likes to watch way too many horror movies, wander around in swamps, record albums of original music, and harass her cats. Seanan is the author of the October Daye, InCryptid, and Indexing series of urban fantasies; the Newsflesh trilogy; the Parasitology duology; and the "Velveteen vs." superhero shorts. Her cats, Lilly, Alice, and Thomas, are plotting world domination even as we speak, but are easily distracted by feathers on sticks, so mankind is probably safe. For now.

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- selena
Interview with Marjorie Duryea, Author of A Little Blues Story from the Jersey Shore

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write A Little Blues Story from the Jersey Shore?

I was inspired by anecdotal experiences from my life I wanted to share, but I didn’t want to write a memoir or to write a nonfiction account of them in any genre. I chose to use them for inspiration only and create fictional stories in their spirit. Unsurprisingly, I am able to identify with the stories in my novel, but I hope other people will be able to do the same.

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of A Little Blues Story from the Jersey Shore, what would they be?

Liz-I Will Survive; Rocky-In the Summertine by Mungo Jerry; Mitzy-Happy by Pharrell Williams

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

Read: Contemporary fiction; thrillers; dystopian science fiction; Write: Women’s fiction.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

Trust by Daines L. Reed and Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

Rocky and Liz’s honeymoon in Key West.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

I have a 21 year old cat behind me on my chair and occasionally climbing up my back.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

Take one day at a time.

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

The people around you can bring happiness or sadness into your life but it’s all necessary to make you who you are.


Marjorie Duryea is the author of the new book A Little Blues Story from the Jersey Shore

Connect with Marjorie Duryea

Author Site



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- selena
Interview with Randolph Lalonde, Author of Psycho Electric

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Psycho Electric?

For about ten years I’ve been daydreaming about, researching, and scheming to put this book together. After talking to a couple of friends who are in the medical and software development fields about the pieces I was missing, I got to work. Shortly after that, my Patreon Subscribers got to see the rough draft as I wrote it because I serialized it there. Most of their comments improved the manuscript in a couple of ways. A few edits later, and here we are!

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of Psycho Electric, what would they be?

Theme songs? I would choose Essenger: Empire of Steel for now. A good friend of mine, and great composer, is working on an orchestral theme for the audiobook right now though, so I’m sure I’ll like what he does better.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

I read biographies! I used to read a lot of science fiction and horror, though. This year I’m only writing science fiction.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

I’m re-reading and listening to all the Spinward Fringe books at the moment so I know what I’m doing while I write the next 2-4 books. I don’t have much time for other novels right now because I’m in Spinward Fringe school.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

I can’t reveal which scene was my favourite because it’s a huge spoiler. A close second is the very first chapter, where he’s getting ready to connect to the Cyberscape and embark on a heist. I’m still happy with the scene setting and emotional tone there, even though it’s a short chapter.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

When I was a kid I used to have a die-cast toy version of the Millenium Falcon. After joining an online psychology workshop for writers that inspired me to reach back to my childhood self, to get in touch with the open-minded imagination of that kid, I got my hands on that toy and it’s been sitting nearby ever since.

Even when I’m writing sci-fi or fantasy that couldn’t be more different from Star Wars, I still see the Millenium Falcon as my “ship of dreams” and it helps me connect to the kid whose imagination was utterly unfettered and unlimited. Whoa, that got deep quick!

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

It changes, but right now I’d say; “Good habits are hard to form, but worth the work.”

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

I’d like them to remember Rafe’s flaws. Some of them were difficult for me to write because they reflect some of my own, and after examining them, I’ve seen that so many people carry the same burdens. I won’t go into specifics, but I invite you to see them for yourself. I believe his strengths and flaws make Rafe one of my best characters.


Randolph Lalonde is the author of the new book Psycho Electric

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- selena
Interview with Geneva Lee Albin, Author of Filthy Rich Vampire

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Filthy Rich Vampire?

I’ve always been a sucker (no pun intended) for vampires. A few years back I started dreaming up a steamy, decadent world of magic and forbidden romance. Recently I was enjoying some regency romance and thought ‘I bet vampires’ still have balls, social seasons, and arranged marriages. It was the final piece of the puzzle for my vampire world: a vampire heir trying to avoid marriage.

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of Filthy Rich Vampire, what would they be?

Human by Christina Perri.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

I read all over the place. When I’m writing, I tend to read lots of nonfiction, which I used to hate! When I’m taking a break, I read a lot of romance and fantasy.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

I’m finally starting Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

There’s a scene where the characters visit a magical village hidden in Paris, and it’s full of enchantments, romance, and dark corners.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

I can’t write a book until I have a title! I have to know the title.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

A queen directs her own empire.

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

How they felt while reading it. I want my readers to know they can always return to my books and feel like they’re visiting a good friend.


Geneva Lee Albin is the author of the new book Filthy Rich Vampire

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- selena
Interview with Jason Creed, Author of Unmitigated Violence

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Unmitigated Violence (Empire of Violence #1)?

I wanted to write a story that was unapologetically brutal and masculine, to provide catharsis in the face of all the frustrations that we’re all faced with every day. I wanted to write a story for any people who had faced some form of injustice that seemed impossible to set right, for those people who had to sit there and take it, but had fleeting images go through their mind of just going berserk and showing everybody what happens when you f*#@ with somebody too much. I think stories like this are a good outlet.

I hope I’ve written this one in an entertaining enough way that, every now and then, readers will clench a fist and say “f*#@ yeah, get ’em” and feel like, at least in some universe, the bad guys got what they deserved and the reader got to see it all. The hero of this story is able to apply brute force to a problem that, unfortunately, is a lot more nuanced in real life. I love watching movies and I’m sure people will be reminded of such films as Death Wish, Law Abiding Citizen, and The Crow while reading Unmitigated Violence.

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of Unmitigated Violence (Empire of Violence #1), what would they be?

Bachman Turner Overdrive – Let it Ride.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

I like reading Horror and Fantasy books. Two genres I haven’t written much in actually.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

A Book of Short Stories by Stephen King.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

Probably the bonfire scene. This was the first scene from the book that I saw in my head and I was looking forward to getting to it the whole time. It took longer than I wanted to get there, but I felt for it to have the right impact, I had to build up the world enough so that while it was happening, and afterwards, the reader would agree that the bad guy deserved it and the hero was still a hero… albeit one not above using over-the-top violence.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

Nothing too crazy, certainly nothing superstitious. I do prefer to be by myself while writing, so it mostly happens in my room with either nobody else in the house or nobody awake at least. I’m not the type of author who thrives in a coffee shop, people would be too close. If the weather is nice, I can find enough space for myself in a park under a tree, that’s nice.

I need the space because I can’t seem to write when I’m hearing words, they just get in the way of the words I’m trying to write. So I can’t be around people talking, and I can’t listen to music either.

Sometimes I listen to purely instrumental music, if it captures the mood of the scene I’m trying to write, but I prefer it to not be a song I would listen to for pure enjoyment on its own. I once listened to a 10 hour looping version of the Hans Zimmer theme from the movie Inception while writing a few chapters in a book.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

Be kind, because everybody you meet is fighting a hard battle.

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

Dear Reader, please remember that you had fun reading the book!


Jason Creed is the author of the new book Unmitigated Violence (Empire of Violence #1)

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- selena
Interview with A.L. Hawke, Author of Alondra

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Alondra?

I wanted to continue my series [The Hawthorne University Witch Series], but I was looking for something different. I always found Cadence’s teacher and mentor, Alondra, mysterious and captivating in my series.

The problem was that, whereas Cadence was an outsider to witchcraft, innocent and uncertain about her magic, Alondra was a full-fledged powerful witch. So, to give the prequel a similar flavor as the series, I felt a need to change the POV. Alondra is narrated by her love interest, Liam.

Finally, I delved headlong into the tale after I was inspired to write about Alondra in the setting of her college life at Hawthorne U. in the 1990s.

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of Alondra, what would they be?

“Geek U.S.A” by the Smashing Pumpkins fits Alondra. It’s heavy and intense, a bit crazy, but with a subtle bit of etherealism. Sticking with more grunge ‘90s music I love, I’ll assign the pained song “Warm Machine” by Bush to Liam.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

I write what I read—escapist fantasy. My taste runs the gamut from Alice in Wonderland, to realistic horror like The Exorcist, to paranormal romance novels like the Twilight series. If I can fall into a different world, I’m hooked. If I can write it, I feel like I’ve done my job.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

Midnight Sun, Shiftless, and Falling Angel.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

I actually loved writing the scene about Alondra and Liam just hiking together. This was the most memorable to me as a writer because, even though it lacked magic and witchcraft, their personalities came alive. Bringing characters to life through dialog spurred me to become a novelist in the first place. But I also enjoyed writing and researching all those ghost-hunting encounters.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

I listen to music when I write. At night, I write in the dark with the screen set at the dimmest light. These are my ways to escape, I suppose.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

No, not really.

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

Okay. On second thought, “love conquers all” is a great classic motto by Virgil that rings true in Alondra; and in all my other novels too. My characters survive by it. Some of my anti-heroes have not fared well confusing lust for love. Others are saved by love.


A.L. Hawke is the author of the new book Alondra

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- selena
Interview with Kaci Rose, Author of Falling in Love on Route 66

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Falling in Love on Route 66?

One of my bucket list items is to travel Route 66. I have been to some spots but not driven the whole thing, so when I needed to do a vacation romance for a project this idea jumped at me. The project fell through but I still had to write this story!

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

I read all romance, but my favorite changes depending on my mood. Right now I’m into more darker romance, BDSM clubs, mafia, etc. I just came off the monster romance binge, and before that it was all things age gap and ex-boyfriend’s father.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

I have a bunch of BDSM club books on my TBR including Cherise Sinclair Club Shadowlands Series, 1462 South Broadway by KC Decker, Dom X box set by MS Parker, and the odd ball is 100% Brat by Frankie Love.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

The balloon fiesta was a completely spur of the moment scene I hadn’t plotted and one of my favorite to write. It’s where things get spicy too!

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

I have been dictating and coloring while I dictate. I like to have a candle going and each book will have it’s own scent associated with it. Falling in Love on Route 66’s scent was Mountain Woods from Smoky Mountain Handmade Candles.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

When I am having trouble with certain scenes I live by “Write Drunk and Edit Sober” – Ernest Hemingway

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

Check off your bucket list items no matter what! You never know how they will shake up your life!


Kaci Rose is the author of the new book Falling in Love on Route 66

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- selena
Interview with Romeo Vitelli, Author of True Crime Stories You Won’t Believe

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write True Crime Stories You Won’t Believe?

I love true crime stories, especially little known stories that are often forgotten.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

Science fiction, fantasy, True Crime, and history.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

Anything new by my favorite authors like John Scalzi or Lois McMaster Bujold.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

Describing bizarre Crimes and how ordinary people respond to them.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

Planning out writing in bed.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

Anything Terry Pratchett has said.

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

Bizarre crimes can happen anywhere.


Romeo Vitelli is the author of the new book True Crime Stories You Won’t Believe

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- selena
Interview with Annaliese Plowright, Author of The Hallowed

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write The Hallowed: Part I?

The Hallowed was inspired by a nightmare where I woke up on a grocery store floor with no idea how I got there. The nightmare felt important and got my brain ticking over, and soon after The Hallowed was born.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

I read across genres, but love to write supernatural/fantasy.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

The Familiars by Stacey Halls arrived in the post today!

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

My favorite scene to write was definitely when Cherry and Daisy break into Nicolas’s house. My heart pounded the whole time, like I was right there with them sneaking around in the dark. It was terrifying one moment and hilarious the next, so much fun!

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

Never give up.

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

I hope my readers remember The Hallowed, and the town of Strangeways, with a tiny tingle at the nape of their necks that has them obsessing day and night about what’s going to happen to Cherry Stokes in Part II!


Annaliese Plowright is the author of the new book The Hallowed: Part I

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- selena
Interview with Mary Vensel White, Author of Starling

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Starling?

Starling has many inspirations. I wanted to remember the sights and sounds of Chicago, a city I love. I wanted to explore the idea that the lives we live are very much a product of our minds; that is, we have the ability to write our own stories. And I was thinking about the many forms love can take and how each is important and unique.

I began the book with a film-inspired scene and wanted to keep that idea throughout the narrative. Like me, Gina has watched a lot of movies in her lifetime, and it affects the way she sees the world. One of my favorite films focuses on the love of a sister for her baby brother and I thought: what if the love of someone’s life is that particular, sibling love? Why do we focus so much on romantic love when other types are just as strong, or life-changing, or life-defining?

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of Starling, what would they be?

Along with movies, there are several songs mentioned in Starling already. I never thought about it, but they seem to nicely reflect some of the themes in the novel. They are “You Were Meant for Me” by Jewel, “Shall We Dance” from The King and I, and “Macarena” by Los Del Rio.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

Yes, my favorite genre to read and write is literary fiction. I think it’s because what I love best is character—fully drawn, living and breathing, complicated and imperfect characters. I tend to like books in any genre as long as that aspect is present.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

Well, I complete a summer reading project each year, based around a topic or theme. This year I decided to have a Summer of Faulkner and read four or five books by William Faulkner. That stack is next to my desk and is very daunting! I’m also reading several YA titles for possible inclusion in a writing class I’m teaching in the fall. A couple from that pile: “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan, and “Goodbye Days” by Jeff Zentmer.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

I still get choked up over the scene when Gina sees her niece for the first time. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have a baby in the family—and I think that incomprehensibility is something everyone who has met and immediately loved a baby can relate to. In Gina’s case, it opens up a part of herself she has tried very hard to keep locked up.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

No! But I can be extremely creative in methods of procrastination.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

Let it Be! I often fail at this, miserably, but I keep trying.

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

The backbone of this novel, I think, is the idea of love—the unique forms it can take, the way it lingers after someone is gone from our life, how it lights our way to an uncertain future. I hope readers find some recognition and solace in that message.


Mary Vensel White is the author of the new book Starling

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- selena
Interview with Lauren Louise Hazel, Author of The Reign of the Occult

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write The Reign of the Occult?

I had always started writing stories and got stuck around the 40k mark. This was the book that I felt like I would enjoy.

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of The Reign of the Occult, what would they be?

Bargain – Basement Avengers soundtrack.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

I read a bit of everything (except maybe horror). I only write YA at the moment, but I would love to branch out. One of my long-term goals is to complete an adult novel (probably romance).

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

So many! I am desperately trying to finish A Court of Thorns and Roses. I want to read the whole series.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

Probably the climax. I was excited to do a reveal, and nobody I know guessed it right.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

I put sports on in the background (tennis and football). And sometimes I take yoga breaks.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

It’s not failure until you give up.

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

It was a good time!


Lauren Louise Hazel is the author of the new book The Reign of the Occult

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- Maryse

MEGA SALE ALERT!!! In anticipation of their upcoming June release, USA Today Bestselling Author Lauren Runow and Jeannine Colette are having a SALE-ebration of the Falling for the Stars series – a collection of standalone novels featuring unique tropes, and heroes of a specific zodiac sign. P.S. The authors say: *HEY READER!! Please note the titles in this series do […]

The post Lauren Runow and Jeannine Colette’s Falling for the Stars series SALE ALERT + BIG NEWS! appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

9:32am UPDATE IT’S READY!! —> HAPPY TUESDAY NEW RELEASE DAY!! Time to build another awesome list, and right off the bat, I already found a blurb jolter!! Keep checking back while I continue to add. 😀 BLURB JOLTS: One Wish by Jaimie Roberts (YES YES YESSS!! Love the sound of this one. She’s obsessed with a […]

The post Latest Romance Book Releases – 05-24-2022 appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

HAPPY MONDAY!! TIME FOR NEW BOOKS (and my review of the latest by Tarryn Fisher is coming soon, too). 😀 Keep checking back since this list is gonna grow! THREE THINGS: 1.) We went to hang out with friends yesterday and eat pizza, and watch the hockey game. GO BOLTS!!!! 2.) The friend has a […]

The post Monday Early Bird Book Releases – 05-23-2022 appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

HAPPY FRIDAY MY BOOK BUDS!! I hope your weekend is loaded in happy times, yummy foods, peaceful moments, and amazing stories (whether books or marathon watching). 😉 Aimee: Guilty pleasure alert right now…… I’m hooked on the Elite series on Netflix 😳👀🤷‍♀️ It is so bad…. But so good! An elite high school in Spain. […]

The post Friday Finds & Reader Recommendations – 05-20-2022 appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.