Sunday, May 19, 2019

Blog Tour and Book Sketch: Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small

By: A.K. Small
Published By: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date: May 21, 2019
Series: None
Pages: 304
Genre: Contemporary
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: ALA
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders have trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School since childhood, where they’ve formed an inseparable bond forged by respective family tragedies and a fierce love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves what they would do to win the ultimate prize: to be the one girl selected to join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they die? Cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic would make them shine, too? Neither girl is sure.

But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. And as selection day draws near, the competition—for the prize, for the Demigod—becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other.

First Thought After Finishing: Oh, these characters!

If a book is about ballerinas, chances are good that I will read it. I love stories about ballerinas and ballet school (Center Stage is one of my favorite movies), and books set in foreign countries help curb my wanderlust by helping my live vicariously. Since Bright Burning Stars combines two of my favorite things, I was excited to dive in to the story.

Marine and Kate are students at the Paris Opera Ballet School. Since early in the program, they have been been friends and even made pacts about being sisters forever. However, with the final year of school upon them, they have to face the harsh reality—only one of them can win The Prize (a place with the company), and the other will have to leave. They think they can continue helping each other, but soon their weaknesses catch up with them, forcing both girls to make decisions that might affect their futures forever. But when ballet is your whole life, is there room for anything—friendship, love, or loyalty—or can there only be dance?

Let me just say—the ballet is strong with this book. The author studied dance and grew up in Paris, so everything in the story has a ring of authenticity. I loved the technical terms and bits of French sprinkled throughout the writing. Even without perfect knowledge of ballet terminology, all of the spins and jumps described helped the dancers fly off the page and onto a stage in my mind (and made me want to buy tickets to my city’s ballets next year!).

Bright Burning Stars is told in dual POVs, with chapters alternating between Marine and Kate. Knowing that only one could ultimately win, it almost felt like the chapters were competing for me to root for one girl over the other. I found myself drawn into both girls’ stories, celebrating their triumphs, sympathizing with their heartaches, and wanting to fix their problems when life became hard for them to handle. This book didn’t just show the difficulties of thriving in a competitive ballet school, although those elements were certainly part of the story. Sabotage, shifting rankings, boys, and constant pressure tested the girls’ friendship more than perhaps a normal high school would. However, both Marine and Kate have their own non-ballet baggage, and watching them work through these problems was a journey relevant for both teens and adults.

In addition to Marine and Kate, we see glimpses of their classmates and their teachers. Hands-down, my favorite characters were Luc (sorry to Cyrille the Demigod) and Monsieur Chevalier. If there were ever a spinoff about Luc, I would love to read that. I may or may not have some choice words for a few other characters, but what can I say—the world is comprised of flawed human beings, and that deserves to be represented on the page. Because of that, I read through this book rather quickly. I needed to see how the answer to the ultimate question—would you die for The Prize?—played out. When I did reach the ending, I found myself wishing that there was still more story to be read.

This book delves into myriad issues that teens (and adults) face. While it was good that the author did not shy away from these, I also wish that each one, when they appeared in the story, would have been given more time on the page and a more thorough resolution. I have so many feelings about the ending of this story, which for the sake of spoilers, I will omit here. But if you read this book and need someone to talk about it with, you know where to find me!

Overall, I appreciated this story and the way it made me reflect on my own life. A.K. Small has another book coming out in 2021 which sounds very interesting, and I will definitely be reading that one as well!

Most Memorable Aspect: The descriptions of being one with music or one with an instrument. It’s almost indescribable, and yet it was here on the page.

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

A.K. Small is thrilled for her debut novel, BRIGHT BURNING STARS, to come out May 21, 2019 through publisher Algonquin Young Readers. Her talent for writing and passion for classical ballet fuse together in this novel and earned A.K. Small the honor of an Entertainment Weekly review.

In addition to BRIGHT BURNING STARS, A.K. Small spends time on short stories. Her short story, Anthrocon, 2017 was just nominated for a Pushcart prize by the Bellevue Literary Review. Other stories such as the Flour Baby and The Interior Designer were also nominated or runner-up to prizes.

She also ran a column titled, "A French Girl's View Du Monde" at Barrelhouse Magazine.

A.K. Small graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2009 with an MFA in fiction. When she's not reading her favorite authors (Rainbow Rowell, Angie Thomas, Anna Gavalda, Jandy Nelson, Ann Hood, Sue Miller, Anais Nin, Tayari Jones, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Wright, and J.R.R. Tolkien, to name a few!), she's studying her favorite dancers: Sylvie Guillem, Noella Pontois, Marie-Agnes Gillot, and Aurelie Dupont.

A.K. Small grew up near the Sacré Coeur in Paris and married her Tobagonian soul mate. She has three gorgeous daughters and owns a min-chi named Dallas.

Find her online:
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads



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Monday, April 15, 2019

Blog Tour & Book Sketch: All We Could Have Been by T.E. Carter

By: T.E. Carter
Published By: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: April 23, 2019
Series: None
Pages: 304
Genre: Contemporary
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Five years ago, Lexie walked home from school after her older brother failed to pick her up. When she entered her house, her brother sat calmly, waiting for the police to come arrest him for the heinous crime he had just committed.

Treated like a criminal herself, Lexie now moves from school to school hiding who she is—who she's related to. She struggles with loving her brother, the PTSD she now suffers from, and wanting to just live a normal life. But how can she be normal when she can’t even figure out how to just live?

This is a powerful look at the assumptions we make about people. Lexie's emotional journey to separate her brother's horrific act from herself is stunning and heartbreaking. This is Lexie’s story and journey—not her brother's—and it will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

First Thought After Finishing: What a journey!

I was intrigued by the synopsis of this book--the sister of a convicted murderer seemed like such an interesting perspective. This book was an emotional journey, to be sure, but there was also an examination of the nature of people and whether or not change is possible.

Ever since her brother committed and confessed to murder, Lexi's life has never been the same. She was never particularly popular at school, but now school is a battlefield, and she is always the victim. Lexi has spent the past five years moving every year, praying that nobody would find out, but she has yet to survive a school year. But this year will be different, she promises herself. She will keep her head down for 162 days, nobody will find out about Scott, and she'll graduate and be done with it. Only not letting people in is much harder than it sounds, especially when the possibility of friends is so tempting. But what will she do if they find out?

This book delves into the age-old question: Can people truly be loners? Lexi wants to keep to herself, but when she meets Ryan and Marcus, she can't help but be drawn to them, although for different reasons. Ryan's enthusiasm and general kindness make him impossible to ignore, and when he introduces Lexi to his friends in the drama club, she can't help but be caught up in their infections energy. With Marcus, she can't help but want to know him better, and to want him to know her, despite the warnings from her aunt. And although all of these characters may seem straightforward, there is more to each of them than meets the eye.

Lexi has been battling a fair amount of mental health issues ever since her brother's arrest. She has a therapist and has internalized many of his sayings, but that hasn't solved any major problems yet. The depth of Lexi's pain goes beyond what might be expected. But with the help of Marcus, she starts to realize that perhaps she wants more out of life. In some ways, Marcus is a bit of a crutch for her, but I think everyone needs that at some point. The themes of the book certainly made me think--is it human nature to be selfish? How fair is it to expect people to change? How does one keep trying for genuine connection in the face of so much hurt? These questions may not be definitely answered in the book, but I think they have the possibility to make the reader reflect on their own emotional lives.

To be honest, a few of the characters--especially Ryan--disappointed me. I wanted more for him; I wanted to see something more hopeful. In other ways, I would have liked to see more depth and development from Lexi. I felt a sense of disconnectedness through most of the book, and although that reflects her current emotional state, there was an opportunity for so much more depth of feeling. Still, I would be open to reading more from this author in the future to see what other emotional journeys there are.

Most Memorable Aspect: The premise is unlike anything I've seen before.

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

TE Carter was born in New England and has lived in New England for pretty much her entire life. Throughout her career, she’s done a lot of things, although her pas-sion has always been writing. When she’s not writing, she can generally be found reading classic literature, playing Xbox, organizing her comic collection, or binge watching baking competitions. She continues to live in New England with her hus-band and their two cats.

Find her online:



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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Book Sketch: Dating You, Hating You by Christina Lauren

Dating You, Hating You
By: Christina Lauren
Published By: Gallery Books
Release Date: June 6, 2017
Series: None
Pages: 350
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Reading Level: New Adult
Source: Bought
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: All’s fair in love and work. The first standalone romance by New York Times and #1 international bestselling author Christina Lauren (Beautiful Bastard) is a sexy, compulsively readable romantic comedy that dives headlong into the thrill and doubt of modern love.

Despite the odds against them from an embarrassing meet-awkward at a mutual friend’s Halloween party, Carter and Evie immediately hit it off. Even the realization that they’re both high-powered agents at competing firms in Hollywood isn’t enough to squash the fire.

But when their two agencies merge—causing the pair to vie for the same position—all bets are off. What could have been a beautiful, blossoming romance turns into an all-out war of sabotage. Carter and Evie are both thirtysomething professionals—so why can’t they act like it?

Can Carter stop trying to please everyone and see how their mutual boss is really playing the game? Can Evie put aside her competitive nature long enough to figure out what she really wants in life? Can their actor clients just be something close to human? Whether these two Hollywood love/hatebirds get the storybook Hollywood ending or just a dramedy of epic proportions, you will get to enjoy Christina Lauren’s heartfelt, raucous, and hilarious romance style at its finest.

First Thought After Finishing: I need to read more romance stories!

I’ve heard for a while that Christina Lauren books are popular, but I’ve never had a chance to read one before. This book lived up to its promises—fun, fast-paced, and more than a little flirty.

Evelyn Abbey is a top-notch talent agent in Hollywood. She loves her job, and she is good at it, too—so good, in fact, that she has never really had time for a relationship. But all that changes when a friend sets her up at a party. Finally, she’s found someone she can see herself with—at least, until he’s suddenly her competition at work. Will sabotage drive them apart? Or will they figure out how to mix business with pleasure?

I love the fact that New Adult is a growing genre. As a thirtysomething professional who has never been married, it’s nice to have stories I can relate to. Evie is the kind of adult I want to be—confident, competent, with a good group of friends behind her, and happy with the way her life is going. I loved that she wasn’t afraid to work hard to be the best, especially in a male-dominated field. Enter Carter, who is in many ways the perfect match for Evie. He understands her work and respects how capable she is. He is also ambitious, but he hasn’t been corrupted by Hollywood, at least not yet. He’s the kind of guy that we all hope is still out there for us.

In terms of chemistry, Evie and Carter definitely have it. Both their competitive tension and their romantic tension are easily felt. I loved seeing what they came up with as the competition went on, but I was also rooting for them to find their way back to each other. Told in dual POVs, I felt that I got to know both characters very well. It was fun to see their banter as well as how they both reacted to tough situations, not to mention seeing the practical jokes they devised. This book also has a dash of intrigue and mystery woven throughout the story

Admittedly, this book did not have quite as much romance as I was expecting. In terms of language for the romance scenes, the descriptions fell short of other scenes I have read. And at times, I just wanted more of them and less of the work environment, but I can’t deny that it was fun to see a glimpse of Hollywood politics. Still, the book was a quick read that kept me interested from start to finish.

Most Memorable Aspect: Seeing the ins and outs of behind-the-scenes Hollywood.

Snapshot Review: If you are looking for a sassy romance with a flair for the dramatic, definitely add Dating You, Hating You to your t-read list. I will be picking up more books from Christina Lauren!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Book Sketch: Circle of Shadows by Evelyn Skye

Circle of Shadows
By: Evelyn Skye
Published By: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: January 22, 2019
Series: Circle of Shadows #1
Pages: 400
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Friend
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Sora can move as silently as a ghost and hurl throwing stars with lethal accuracy. Her gemina, Daemon, can win any physical fight blindfolded and with an arm tied behind his back. They are apprentice warriors of the Society of Taigas—marked by the gods to be trained in magic and the fighting arts to protect the kingdom of Kichona.

As their graduation approaches, Sora and Daemon look forward to proving themselves worthy of belonging to the elite group—but in a kingdom free of violence since the Blood Rift Rebellion many years ago, it’s been difficult to make their mark. So when Sora and Daemon encounter a strange camp of mysterious soldiers while on a standard scouting mission, they decide the only thing to do to help their kingdom is to infiltrate the group.Taking this risk will change Sora’s life forever—and lead her on a mission of deception that may fool everyone she’s ever loved.

First Thoughts After Finishing: How am I supposed to wait a year for the next book?

I love a good fantasy story, and adding flair from other cultures is always a bonus. In this case, Evelyn Skye's Asian-influenced fantasy story brought to life worthy fighters in a lush setting infused with magic. Although I have not read Skye's first books, I am convinced that she knows how to tell a good story!

Ten years ago, Kichona citizens were at war in the Blood Rift, until Empress Aki defeated Prince Gin and restored peace. Still, the honorable society of taiga warriors that has always been maintained is alive and well. Sora and Daemon have spent their life training to be taigas. Blessed by the goddess Luna as babies, they were sent to the Academy to learn to fight. On the brink of graduation, they are sent on a mission that will help determine their first official assignment. While returning to the Academy, they catch sight of suspicious activity and hurry back to report their findings to the Council. As it turns out, the Blood Rift might not be over. Sora and Daemon have taken an oath to protect their country, but if they start investigating surreptitious activities, will they be able to protect themselves?

My favorite stories are the ones with multiple layers that are gradually revealed over the course of the book. Circle of Shadows definitely meets that criteria. There is magic in this book, to be sure, but at its heart, this is a story of relationships. I loved the different bonds that were explored—gemina bonds with their loose telepathy, friendship that requires sacrifice, loyalty to cause and country, and the bond between siblings. It was easy to feel the emotions of all the characters coming to life on the page. I also loved the mythology and folklore woven throughout the story. I hope to see more of their legends of gods and goddesses in the next book!

As for the characters themselves, I loved that they retained distinct personalities despite taiga training. Among the four main friends—Sora (Spirit), Daemon (Wolf), Fairy, and Broomstick—each had their own strengths complementary strengths, and respect for those helped them to be such good friends. Throughout the book, these characters must come to terms with what they believe and what they are willing to risk in support of that belief. With shifting POVs, we are given glimpses into each character’s head, and this is definitely a group of friends you would want to have. Their bravery, though not always shown in a conventional way, as well as their creativity and resourcefulness kept me turning the page to see what would happen next. I loved watching Sora grow into the taiga everyone believed her to be, and as I saw so much of myself in Wolf, I couldn’t help but root for him each step of the way.

As far as fantasy stories go, Circle of Shadows was not full of plot twists. The world building, though descriptive, left me confused about the difference in taiga and ryuu magic. As much balance as there seemed to be in this book, it bothered me that Prince Gin seemed to be undefeatable. I hope that this resolves resolves itself in the next book. With that being said, if you enjoy a good fantasy story, you will likely enjoy Circle of Shadows as well.

Most Memorable Aspect: The mythology woven through the story.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Blog Tour & Book Sketch: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White

By: Kiersten White
Published By: Delacorte Press
Release Date: Sept. 25, 2018
Series: None
Pages: 304
Genre: Historical Fiction
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: ALA
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Elizabeth Lavenza hasn't had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her "caregiver," and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything--except a friend.

Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable--and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.

But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth's survival depends on managing Victor's dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.

First Thought After Finishing: What a story! Dark descent indeed.

I love retellings that show a familiar story from a new angle. Add to that the fact that Kiersten White is a brilliant storyteller, and this book was one of my highly anticipated reads. And the book did not disappoint!

Elizabeth Lavenza has spent almost all of her life being everything that Victor Frankenstein needs. Orphaned at an early age and rescued from cruel caretakers to be Victor’s companion, Elizabeth perfected the art of denying who she was to make sure that Victor was okay. When Victor goes away to study and hasn’t written in months, Elizabeth knows that she has to find him and bring him home. Only she wasn’t prepared for what she finds on the journey. And even if he does return home, can life ever really return to normal?

Anyone familiar with the original Frankenstein story will find much to appreciate about Kiersten White’s retelling, but even if you’ve never read the original, this book is a well-conceived story in its own right. I loved the style of the book—from the language to the interspersed flashbacks to the commentary on human nature. Elizabeth is a fascinating narrator. She admits that she is flawed, a con artist of the highest degree, and yet one cannot help but want her to succeed. She is driven by passion, devotion, and self-preservation, and whatever else she may be, she is determined to be a survivor. In a world that would have been hopeless for a female orphan like herself, she created her own version of hope—sometimes monstrous in its own right.

Almost all of the characters in this novel have a depth to them that is not immediately present but that is revealed over the course of the book. I enjoyed reading about the relationships that were formed between the characters; friends became family, and in certain instances, family became something beautifully, almost horrifyingly, more. Chilling depictions of deserted city buildings combined with knowledge of nineteenth-century life and language pervade this book with a haunting quality that lingers far after one has turned the last page.

If you want to read about the depravity of the human mind alongside the triumph of the human spirit, this is the book for you. Although the story itself does not offer many surprises, particularly to those who know the Frankenstein story, the emotional journeys of the characters made for very compelling reading. If you like Victorian horror stories or have ever thought of trying one, look no further!

Most Memorable Aspect: The thought-provoking analysis of human nature and the blurred lines between good and evil.

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

KIERSTEN WHITE is the New York Times bestselling author of The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, the And I Darken series, comprised of And I Darken, Now I Rise, and Bright We Burn; the Paranormalcy series; Slayer, and many more novels. She lives with her family near the ocean in San Diego, which, in spite of its perfection, spurs her to dream of faraway places and even further-away times. Visit her at

Find her online:
Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram


Week One:
10/15/18 - Under the Book Cover - Review
10/16/18 - Simply Daniel Radcliffe - Review
10/17/18 - Novel Novice - Review
10/18/18 - My Fangirl Chronicles - Review
10/19/18 - Pandora's Books - Review

Week Two:
10/22/18 - Jessica Writes - Review
10/23/18 - Tween 2 Teen Book Reviews - Review
10/24/18 - Here's to Happy Endings - Review
10/25/18 - Savings in Seconds - Review
10/26/18 - Vicky Who Reads - Review

Week Three:
10/29/18 - Smada's Book Smack - Review
10/30/18 - YA Books Central - Interview
10/31/18 - For the Lover of Books - Review
11/1/18 - Malanie Loves Fiction - Review
11/2/18 - Oh Hey! Books - Review

Week Four: 11/5/18 - The Hermit Librarian - Review
11/6/18 - Tales of the Ravenous Reader - Interview
11/7/18 - Bookhounds YA - Review
11/8/18 - Eli to the Nth - Review
11/9/18 - Portrait of a Book - Review


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Saturday, October 27, 2018

Blog Tour & Book Sketch: This Mortal Coil & This Cruel Design by Emily Suvada

By: Emily Suvada
Published By: Simon Pulse
Release Date: Nov. 7, 2017
Series: This Mortal Coil (#1)
Pages: 425
Genre: Sci-Fi
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Catarina Agatta is a hacker. She can cripple mainframes and crash through firewalls, but that’s not what makes her special. In Cat’s world, people are implanted with technology to recode their DNA, allowing them to change their bodies in any way they want. And Cat happens to be a gene-hacking genius.

That’s no surprise, since Cat’s father is Dr. Lachlan Agatta, a legendary geneticist who may be the last hope for defeating a plague that has brought humanity to the brink of extinction. But during the outbreak, Lachlan was kidnapped by a shadowy organization called Cartaxus, leaving Cat to survive the last two years on her own.

When a Cartaxus soldier, Cole, arrives with news that her father has been killed, Cat’s instincts tell her it’s just another Cartaxus lie. But Cole also brings a message: before Lachlan died, he managed to create a vaccine, and Cole needs Cat’s help to release it and save the human race.

Now Cat must decide who she can trust: The soldier with secrets of his own? The father who made her promise to hide from Cartaxus at all costs? In a world where nature itself can be rewritten, how much can she even trust herself?

First Thought After Finishing: I’m so glad I have the next book already!

I have always been fascinated by genetics—it’s one of the few aspects of science I actually enjoyed. I was highly intrigued by a book about genetic coding, and This Mortal Coil did not disappoint!

In a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a virus, living outside security bunkers is dangerous. But that’s exactly what Cat Agatta, daughter of the foremost genetic coder, has been doing. She’s managed to stay alive on her own, and she would have kept surviving. But when a stranger shows up to inform her that her father has died, her world begins unraveling. Soon she is drawn into a mission to complete his work on a vaccine that could literally save the world. Despite the danger, Cat agrees. She never imagined that she’d barely scratched the surface on what coding could do...

Computer coding is not my forte, but I’ve dabbled in it here and there. Reading about people who can code endlessly, with a thought, made me want to dive into it again. But this book is so much more than coding. It’s a glimpse into what our future could be if technology keeps progressing, and that’s both scary and exciting. Apps and virtual reality abound—but not for Cat. She has hypergenesis, an allergy to most technology, and this made her immediately relatable. Although she had a few minor upgrades, she mostly had to rely on her own mind. Cat is brilliant and fierce in her own right, and for teens reading this, I love that they have a character like this.

The world was complex, with many layers to government agencies and the people who work there. As more characters were introduced and I got to know them, they became a group of friends I would want to be part of. With life itself hanging in the balance, emotional tensions ran high at times, but that helped to forge bonds quickly. Romance certainly does play a part, but it is not as straightforward as it might seem. Honestly, there is so much that I could say about the characters and their gradual development, but why spoil the surprise? Some aspects of books just need to be experienced.

As much as this book can be considered science fiction, it also has elements of a thriller. With high stakes and constant twists, it was an engrossing, fast read. I flew through the pages, eager for the next confirmation of suspicions or surprising revelation. This book does have some similarities to other recent sci-fi novels, but the coding continues to set it apart. I’ll be diving into the sequel right away!

Most Memorable Aspect: The coding and intrigue.

By: Emily Suvada
Published By: Simon Pulse
Release Date: Nov. 7, 2017
Series: This Mortal Coil (#2)
Pages: 425
Genre: Sci-Fi
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary (May Contain Spoilers for Book 1): Cat thought the Hydra epidemic was over, but when new cases pop up, Cat must team up with an enemy to fix the vaccine before the virus spirals out of control in this thrilling sequel to This Mortal Coil, which New York Times bestselling author Amie Kaufman says “redefines ‘unputdownable.’”

The nightmare of the outbreak is finally over, but Cat’s fight has only just begun.

Exhausted, wounded, and reeling from revelations that have shaken her to her core, Cat is at a breaking point. Camped in the woods with Cole and Leoben, she’s working day and night, desperate to find a way to stop Lachlan’s plan to reprogram humanity. But she’s failing—Cat can’t even control her newly regrown panel, and try as she might to ignore them, she keeps seeing glitching visions from her past everywhere she turns.

When news arrives that the Hydra virus might not be as dead as they’d thought, the group is pushed into an uneasy alliance with Cartaxus to hunt down Lachlan and fix the vaccine. Their search takes them to Entropia, a city of genehackers hidden deep in the desert that could also hold the answers about Cat’s past that she’s been searching for.

But when confronted with lies and betrayals, Cat is forced to question everything she knows and everyone she trusts. And while Lachlan is always two steps ahead, the biggest threat to Cat may be the secrets buried in her own mind.

First Thought After Finishing: I’d like the third book now please!

Some books take you on an emotional journey; some books raise philosophical questions; and some books keep you frantically turning pages to see what happens next. This Cruel Design does all three.

This Cruel Design starts just where This Mortal Coil ended. Cat’s work fighting the Hydra vaccine and saving the world is nowhere near done, but at least she does not have to do it alone. Armed with new knowledge, she goes in search of the one person who can help her fix the problem—but is she prepared to find him?

Second books in a trilogy can have a tendency to be slow and feel unnecessary, but that is certainly not the case here. The pacing was on par with the first book, keeping me engaged page after page. And Emily Suvada has no shortage of surprises. The fate of the world once again hangs in the balance, which would create enough tension on its own, but Suvada skillfully weaves in past memories and revelations that serve to up the ante.

We meet new characters in this installment, and once again, they are fascinating and complex. Knowing who to trust is never easy in this world, and the shifting loyalties and heroism only adds to the air of mystery pervading this book. There were so many other aspects that I appreciated—subjects like sexuality and gender were explored in a way that felt authentic, and the moral/ethical dilemmas presented here by technology are good food for thought.

Writing a spoiler-free review—especially for a second book, and one like this—is nearly impossible. As with the first book, I want to say so much about the characters, but why deprive you of experiencing Cat’s emotions and discoveries firsthand? This is definitely a book that should be on TBR piles, so go forth and read it!

Most Memorable Aspect: The roller coaster of plot and emotions.

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

Emily Suvada was born and raised in Australia, where she went on to study mathematics and astrophysics. She previously worked as a data scientist, and still spends hours writing algorithms to perform tasks which would only take minutes to complete on her own. When not writing, she can be found hiking, cycling, and conducting chemistry experiments in her kitchen. She currently lives in Portland, OR, with her husband.

Find her online:
Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram



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Friday, September 28, 2018

Blog Tour & Book Sketch: The Lantern's Ember by Colleen Houck

By: Colleen Houck
Published By: Delacorte Press
Release Date: Sept. 11, 2018
Series: None
Pages: 416
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: ALA
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Welcome to a world where nightmarish creatures reign supreme.

Five hundred years ago, Jack made a deal with the devil. It’s difficult for him to remember much about his mortal days. So, he focuses on fulfilling his sentence as a Lantern—one of the watchmen who guard the portals to the Otherworld, a realm crawling with every nightmarish creature imaginable. Jack has spent centuries jumping from town to town, ensuring that nary a mortal—or not-so-mortal—soul slips past him. That is, until he meets beautiful Ember O’Dare.

Seventeen, stubborn, and a natural-born witch, Ember feels a strong pull to the Otherworld. Undeterred by Jack’s warnings, she crosses into the forbidden plane with the help of a mysterious and debonair vampire—and the chase through a dazzling, dangerous world is on. Jack must do everything in his power to get Ember back where she belongs before both the earthly and unearthly worlds descend into chaos.

First Thought After Finishing: What if the world really worked this way?

I’ve always loved stories about witches—my favorite book as a child was about a group of chimney witches. The cover of this book as well as the fact that it was about a witch made me excited to read this story.

Jack is a Lantern, sworn into service guarding portals to the Otherworld. No souls should slip through his crossroads—but he wasn’t expecting Ember. She’s a witch who feels a pull to the Otherworld, and she’ll do whatever it takes to get there. When a handsome yet mysterious vampire appears and offers her passage, she jumps at the chance. But Ember discovers that as appealing as the Otherworld may be, it holds just as many dangers. And Jack is not about to let Ember slip away from him again.

The world that Colleen Houck is built is fascinating. She pulls from various myths and legends to build a unique world that parallels our own. The various creatures that populate the Otherworld—as well as the mortal world—make me wonder if such things could really exist. In this book, it seems only normal that witches walk among us, that creatures could have guardians, and that all the creatures one only reads about could truly coexist somewhere. The steampunk elements were also quite interesting, making me think about our own technology in new ways.

This book has a bit of everything—a touch of mystery, a bit of adventure required to save the world, and of course a dash of romance. Ember is a headstrong young witch, rushing into action without thinking through the consequences. As for the male characters involved, they certainly have very different personalities, but each have appealing characteristics. Following their adventures through the Otherworld was mostly an interesting journey, though it did take a bit to get into the world, and I never felt quite as attached to the characters as I wanted to. But the beauty of this story is that it’s a standalone and a quick read, good for the beginning of fall or to get into the mood for Halloween.

Most Memorable Aspect: The unique world that could almost be an alternate reality.

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

New York Times Bestselling author Colleen Houck is a lifelong reader whose literary interests include action, adventure, paranormal, science fiction, and romance. When she’s not busy writing, she likes to spend time chatting on the phone with one of her six siblings, watching plays, and shopping online. Colleen has lived in Arizona, Idaho, Utah, California, and North Carolina and is now permanently settled in Salem, Oregon with her husband and a huge assortment of plush tigers.

Find her online:
Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram


Week One:
9/3/18 - Captivated Reading - Review
9/4/18 - Jrsbookreview - Review
9/5/18 - Two Chicks on Books - Excerpt
9/6/18 - YA Books Central - Interview
9/7/18 - Zach's YA Reviews - Review

Week Two:
9/10/18 - Such a Novel Idea - Review
9/11/18 - Lisa Loves Literature - Review
9/12/18 - Wishful Endings - Interview
9/13/18 - The Bookish Libra - Review
9/14/18 - Here's to Happy Endings - Review

Week Three:
9/17/18 - The Desert Bibliophile - Review
9/18/18 - Smada's Book Smack - Review
9/19/18 - Book-Keeping - Review
9/20/18 - A Dream Within a Dream - Review
9/21/18 - A Court of Coffee and Books - Review

Week Four: 9/24/18 - Do You Dog-Ear? - Review
9/25/18 - Savings in Seconds - Review
9/26/18 - Book Briefs - Review
9/27/18 - Pacific Northwest Bookworm - Review
9/28/18 - Portrait of a Book - Review


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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Book Sketch: The Other Side of Lost by Jessi Kirby

By: Jessi Kirby
Published By: HarperTeen
Release Date: August 7, 2018
Series: None
Pages: 320
Genre: Contemporary
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: ALA
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Girl Online meets Wild in this emotionally charged story of girl who takes to the wilderness to rediscover herself and escape the superficial persona she created on social media.

Mari Turner’s life is perfect. That is, at least to her thousands of followers who have helped her become an internet starlet. But when she breaks down and posts a video confessing she’s been living a lie—that she isn’t the happy, in-love, inspirational online personality she’s been trying so hard to portray—it goes viral and she receives major backlash. To get away from it all, she makes an impulsive decision: to hike the entire John Muir trail. Mari and her late cousin, Bri, were supposed to do it together, to celebrate their shared eighteenth birthday. But that was before Mari got so wrapped up in her online world that she shut anyone out who questioned its worth—like Bri.

With Bri’s boots and trail diary, a heart full of regret, and a group of strangers that she meets along the way, Mari tries to navigate the difficult terrain of the hike. But the true challenge lies within, as she searches for the way back to the girl she fears may be too lost to find: herself.

First Thought After Finishing: Jessi Kirby has such a way with words!

I really enjoy self-discovery stories and stories set in nature so that I can experience it vicariously. This story gave me a view of the John Muir trail, something I could never hike, but it made me want to go outside and explore. It should come as no surprise that I loved everything about this story.

Mari has spent most of high school cultivating a perfect Instagram life. She even lost contact with her cousin Bri, who always lived life to the fullest. After what should have been their shared eighteenth birthday, Mari starts to rethink her life. She posts an soul-bearing video on social media before deleting her accounts. When Bri’s hiking backpack shows up, she makes a split-second decision to hike the trail both as an escape and in Bri’s honor. Along the way, she had to push herself out of her comfort zone both physically and emotionally. But will she conquer the journey, or will it conquer her?

"It's just what everyone does, I guess. We walk around carrying invisible weights, and doing our best to look like everything is okay even when it may not be...It's easy to do when you have a screen, and filters, and editing abilities standing between you and real life. But when you actually step out into the world, you don't get those options. Life is right there in front of you, and sometimes the only choice is to be real."

I’ll be honest: At the beginning, I thought Mari would annoy me. But giving up social media like she did is no easy feat. Although the adult part of me couldn’t believe that she was going alone (or without training), once she was out on the trail, I couldn’t help but cheer her on. Mari certainly has her work cut out for her on the trail, but she kept pushing herself forward. There’s something to be said about physically moving past a difficult time in life, and even reading about her hike seemed like a cathartic experience.

"Josh nods. 'Most definitely. Anyway,' he says. 'As long as we're beinng philosophical...I don't think that what we came looking for is as important as what we end up finding out here.'

I look at him, then back out at the creek, and think about what I've found so far. What I'm finding, every day I spend on the trail--strength and gratitude and wonder--all of these big things I didn't start out looking for."

Jessi Kirby has a knack for writing friendships and romances that can only happen away from the real world on trips or under the stars. Mari meets another group of teens who become a kind of trail family, and they not only showed her what life was missing but also helped her along the way. Even though I could tell most of the tests their friendship would face, I loved reading about their adventures together. This is the type of friend group that I would want to go road tripping or hiking with (if I actually went hiking, that is).

"Maybe that's the point--not to have figured out life by the end of it, but to have experienced living in an entirely different way. Fully present, and in ourselves, where we have to sit with our faults and find our strengths. One step at a time."

One of my favorite things about this book was the vivid depictions of the scenery along the trail. Jessi always writes scenes that I wish could be captured in paintings, and this book was no exception. I also really enjoyed the snippets from Bri’s journal and the connections formed between different people. It was a good reminder of the importance of living life to the fullest, because there are no guarantees. This book was a wonderful summer read and a groom way to refocus in quiet moments before a hectic school schedule set in. I highly recommend it to anyone!

Most Memorable Aspect: The breathtaking descriptions of nature.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Blog Tour & Book Spotlight: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

By: Somaiya Daud
Published By: Flatiron Books
Release Date: August 28, 2018
Series: Mirage #1
Pages: 320
Genre: Sci-Fi
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancĂ©, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection...because one wrong move could lead to her death.

~ ~ ~ READ AN EXCERPT ~ ~ ~


He is the only one of his family without the daan. They say this makes him ideal; no traditional markings on his face to identify him should he die. No way to trace him back to his family. He is young, not yet fifteen, too young for the daan ceremony. This is what she says to him when she comes to choose him. That he is young and that he is skilled and that he is steady. This, she says, is all that matters. He does not feel young. He feels hungry, the sort of hungry that gnaws at him day and night, until it is so much his companion he does not know how to live without it. He feels hard, because he knows how to take a beating, how to fall just so when a guard hits him with a baton. He feels angry, so angry, the sort of anger that does not need fuel.

He is invisible in a sea of invisible faces.

The crowd is silent, but then the crowds at these events are always silent. They are solemn. Too solemn. The nobles sit on velvet cushions behind gold rope, but those who stand, who look up at the podium waiting for her to appear, they are the poor. The hungry. The weak. They are here because they must be here. The makhzen titter among themselves like jeweled birds, gowns glittering in the sunlight, scabbards flashing as men shift in the uncomfortable summer air. It is a wonder any of them are Andalaan; they all look Vathek now. They have accepted Vathek rule. They would not dress so, not if they truly were Andalaan in their hearts. He thinks of his younger sister as he moves through the crowd. Dead for two summers now, her stomach bloated from hunger. His father, long gone, too weak to support them, to stay.

He has one sister left, and a brother besides, and his mother. All to be taken care of after this. She’d sworn. A husband for Dunya. A cottage away from the city for them all, with access to grain and a garden, and mayhap even livestock. Away from everything they know, but a chance for a new life.

His hands sweat. He has trained for this, he is ready, but he has never taken a life.

The blood never dies, he remembers. The blood never forgets.

This is for a higher purpose — one more important than his life, more important than any life. These things must be done, he thinks. In the name of Andala. In the name of freedom.

He marvels, as she climbs the steps to the dais, that one who looks so much like his kin is capable of causing such terror. He has heard the stories, knows that these things are often twisted through the telling. But his life, the lives of his siblings and neighbors, bear witness to some truth. The occupation is cruel. Its heirs crueler still.

The sun flashes against the silver metal of his blaster. He lifts it, aims, fires. Twice.

Mizaal Galaxy, Ouamalich System Cadiz, a moon of Andala

CHAPTER ONE On a small moon orbiting a large planet, in a small farmhouse in a small village, there was a box, and in this box was a feather.

The box was old, its wood worn of any trace of design or paint. It smelled of saffron and cinnamon, sharp and sweet. Along with the feather there sat an old signet ring, a red bloom preserved in resin, and a strip of green velvet cloth, frayed around the edges.

I crept into my parents’ room often when I was small, always to peek into the box. And its mystique only increased in my eyes when my mother began to hide it from me. The feather fascinated me. A five-year-old had no use for a ring or a flower or fabric. But the feather of a magical, extinct bird? Like all things from the old order, it called to me.

The feather was black, made up of a hundred dark, jewel shades. When I held it up to the light it rippled with blues and greens and reds, like magic reacting to some unseen hand, roiling to the surface. It had belonged to a tesleet bird, my mother said, birds once thought to be messengers of Dihya.

When Dihya wanted to give you a sign He slipped the feather into your hand. When He wanted to command you to a calling, to take action, He sent the bird itself. It was a holy and high calling, and not to be taken lightly. War, pilgrimage, the fate of nations: this was what the tesleet called a person for.

My grandfather had received a tesleet, though my mother never talked about why or even who he was. “A foolhardy man who died grieving all he did not accomplish,” she’d said to me once.

I stared into the old box, my eyes unfocused, my gaze turned inward. The sun would set soon, and I didn’t have time to waste by staring at an old feather. But it called to me as it had when I was a little girl, and my thumb swept over its curve, back and forth, without thinking.

There were no tesleet left on Cadiz or our mother planet, Andala. Like many things from my mother’s childhood, they had left, or been spent, or were extinguished. All we had were relics, traces of what once was and would likely never be again.

I jumped when my mother cleared her throat in the doorway.

“Amani,” was all she said, one eyebrow raised.

It was too late to hide the box, and I could not keep down the surge of guilt for having snooped in my parents’ room just to bring it out again.

But my mother said nothing, only smiled and came forward, hand outstretched.

“Did . . . did your father give you the feather?” I asked at last, and handed the box over.

Her eyes widened a little. For a moment, I thought she wouldn’t answer.

“No,” she said softly, closing the box’s lid. “I found it a little while after the bird had gone. In a moment of weakness in some shrubbery.”

I rarely saw my mother look as she did now, soft and wistful, as if remembering a kinder time. She’d survived two wars: the civil war, and then the Vathek invasion and following occupation. She was hard, with a spine of steel, unbendable, unbindable, and unbreakable.

“What was your moment of weakness?” I asked. I wouldn’t get a response. I never did.

But my mother surprised me and smiled. “I was running from love,” she said. “Your father, to be specific. I saw in my own heart my father’s capacity to lose himself in another person, and it frightened me.” My mouth dropped to her amusement. I knew my parents loved each other; it was obvious to anyone who watched them, despite their differences. But I’d never heard my mother say as much, and to hear her admit it of her own free will—

< “What are you doing here, at any rate? You are meant to be getting ready for tonight.”

I didn’t know how to explain it, so I just shook my head and shrugged.

“I don’t know. I just — I love it. I suppose I wanted to see it again.”

She came forward and tilted my chin up. I was full grown, and my mother still towered over me by a full head. The backs of her fingers brushed over my cheek, tracing the lines where I would receive my daan — sharp geometric tattoos that would mark my first step into adulthood. I hoped they looked as hers did: stark and powerful, letting the whole world know who she was and where she was from in a single glance.

“I know this week has been difficult,” she said at last. “More difficult than most. But it will pass, as they all do.”

I bit my tongue rather than say what I thought. We shouldn’t have to wait for them to pass. They should never be in the first place. We had suffered not only the burning of our fields this week, but the increased presence of the Vath.

But my mother surprised me into silence a second time, and set the box back in my hand.

“I think this should pass to you,” she said, her voice soft again. “Hope is a younger girl’s game, and you find more comfort in it than I do.”

I opened then closed my mouth, wordless with shock.

“Really?” I said at last.

She smiled again. “Really,” she repeated and kissed my forehead. “Perhaps Dihya will send you a second feather, and you shall have your own sign in these trying times.”

My mother left me alone in her room, the box still clasped to my chest. After a moment I moved to hide the box away in my room, lest she come up the stairs and change her mind.

The sun was setting truly now, and I hurried to put it away, and find my things. Khadija would be waiting, and I hated to hear her skewer me for my tardiness. Outside, the village was quiet. Normally, around now, I could hear the quiet singing of field workers as they made their way back to the village, and the ringing of the end of day bell. The march of boots, the cries of sellers hawking their wares in our small village square, dogs and goats crying out; all those sounds were absent.

There were no fields left, not after the fire the Imperial Garda set last week. Rebels — or, more likely, starving thieves — had taken shelter in one of the gate houses. Rather than looking through each one, the Garda had set fire to the fields. We’d heard the rebels screaming from as far away as the village square. Now, with the fields gone, the village was counting down the weeks till winter, and the famine that was sure to follow.

What would I want my own feather, my own sign, for? In the wake of this — of life — I had no need for a sign. I wanted something else, something more tangible and immediate. I wanted the world.

The Vath were not settlers in our nebula — they’d lived on their planet, Vaxor, mostly peacefully and in accordance with galactic laws. But they’d poisoned their own atmosphere, and were forced to relocate to an orbiting moon. A stopgap measure, with an exploding population and a lack of resources. Some said it was inevitable that they chose to expand to other systems.

There were moments when I glimpsed the world as it was before the occupation of the Vath. When my mother or father spoke without thinking, or a village aunt said when I was young, or a man sang an old song I’d never heard before. The bones of our old ways of life were there, barely traceable, and I wanted them back. I wanted all of us to remember what we’d been, how strong we were. And endurance was strength, to be sure, but even a rock wore away to nothing if asked to endure enough rain.

I could want until I was dead and nothing would come to pass. Wanting never solved anything. I tucked the box away with a sigh, found my cloak and shoes, and made my way downstairs.

In the kitchen, I packed away the last of the food we were taking with us. We were celebrating my majority night. I and twelve other girls had finally come of age, and as was our way, the whole village would travel to one of the abandoned kasbahs. There, we would receive our daan and become adults in the eyes of the village, and follow with dinner and dancing to celebrate.


I turned to see Husnain, my brother, standing in the doorway. My parents had three children: Aziz, the eldest of us, more than ten years my senior. Myself, the youngest, and Husnain, fifteen months older than I was. I might have relied on Aziz for wisdom, but Husnain was one half of me, a twin despite the months between us. He had all the foolhardiness and fire of a second son, rarely tempered but for me.

“I brought something for you,” he said when I sat down.

I grinned and held out my hands. “Give it to me.”

“Close your eyes.”

I did so, but kept my hands outstretched. A moment later a wide, thin object was folded into my hands. I peeked before he told me I could open my eyes and nearly dropped the sheaf of papers as if they were on fire. “Amani!”

“Is that—?”

Almost a month ago we’d journeyed to Cadiza Prime, the capital city on our moon, to pick up supplies for the small farm my brothers and father kept on our tiny sliver of land. I’d wandered through the open market, and shoved in the back of a bookstall was an aging sheaf of papers — Massinite poetry. It was too expensive to even consider purchasing it, and besides, most religious poetry was outlawed. It had been used too often as a rallying point for the rebels during the occupation.

Massinia was the prophetess of our religion and though we all loved her, I loved her above all other things in our faith. Just as we had songs in her name, so too had an entire tradition of poetry sprung up venerating her life and accomplishments. I loved such poetry above all else, and hungered for it despite the risk of being caught with it. My hands shook as I reached for the collection.

“You took a huge risk—”

“Never you mind the risk,” he said. “It belongs to you now, and that’s all that matters.”

I was afraid to grin or to touch them. Mine! I could hardly believe it. I’d never owned a collection of poetry before.

“Oh, for Dihya’s sake,” he laughed, and undid the twine around them before setting them in my hands. I would have to transcribe them to holosheets or put them in a database or some such. There was no telling if they’d survive the weather here, or if I would lose them or any number of things that could happen. And I would have to hide them, or risk them being confiscated by the magistrates.

Our souls will return home, we will return, the first poem read. We will set our feet in the rose of the citadel.

I closed my eyes, seeing the imagined citadel, no doubt now turned to dust. I could imagine the pain of the writer, could feel it like a bruise on my heart as my soul looked over its shoulder, leaving something treasured behind. I knew what it was like to trace a quickly fading memory in my mind, to watch it fade with every remembering until it was nothing but a feeling, a well-worn groove you could walk but not recall. The pain on the page was palpable — everyone had a citadel. The city of their birth, turned to rubble, family long gone, buried in an unmarked grave, all of it unreachable except through death.

And this, poetry like this, was all we had to preserve our stories, our music, our history.

“Thank you,” I said at last, and threw my arms around him. “You have no idea—”

“I have some,” he laughed, and kissed my forehead. “You are my favorite person in the the world, Amani. I’m glad to give you this. Dihya, are you crying?”

“No!” But I could feel the lump in my throat, ready to dissolve into tears at any minute. I’d been so afraid, so nervous about tonight. And in the end, it was a night of joy. I would step into adulthood not just with family and friends, but now with a treasure that would comfort me on nights too difficult to comprehend. “Maybe now you’ll write some of your own,” he said, a little softer.

I snorted out a laugh. I was a poor poet, to be sure, and in a world where poetry didn’t pay, I’d had no chance to improve.

“You’re good,” he insisted. “You should write more.”

I flushed, hungry for praise. Husnain was the only person who’d ever read my poetry, but I knew he spoke out of the loyalty born between us and not out of any knowledge of what my skill looked like compared to true poets.

“In another world,” I said, and clutched the poetry to my chest.

Our souls will return home, we will return.

I looked up, and smiled at my brother, the other half of my heart. “But not this one. In this one, these poems are enough.”

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

Somaiya Daud was born in a Midwestern city, and spent a large part of her childhood and adolescence moving around. Like most writers, she started when she was young and never really stopped. Her love of all things books propelled her to get a degree in English literature (specializing in the medieval and early modern), and while she worked on her Master’s degree she doubled as a bookseller at Politics and Prose in their children’s department. Determined to remain in school for as long as possible, she packed her bags in 2014 and moved the west coast to pursue a doctoral degree in English literature. Now she’s preparing to write a dissertation on Victorians, rocks, race, and the environment. Mirage is her debut, and is due from Flatiron Books in 8/28/2018.

Find Her Online:
Website | Twitter | Instagram


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