Where Dreams Descend – Blog Tour + Excerpt

by Janella Angeles

I was so excited when I got invited to be a part of this blog tour! I had seen this gorgeous book all over bookstagram – Owlcrate’s special edition is pure magic – and could tell right away that this book is special. I still can’t believe how quickly I read it!

Summary

In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.

As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.

The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost

The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told

The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide

Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.

Musings

Before I even started this book, I read it was “a combination of Moulin Rouge and Phantom of the Opera with a dash of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus” (thanks, goodreads reviewer!) and I was hooked, though it meant my expectations were really, really high. The book delivers: it’s fun, it’s dark, and it’s showy. It captures this old timey glitz and glam of the circus and stage magicians – only this time with real magic, to make it even more enticing.

The characters we follow are brilliant and charismatic, though perhaps a twinge over the top? The headhopping was unsettling at first, though I’m assuming that comes from the formatting of the eARC I was given. Thankfully, the wordbuilding was so powerful I was willing to read on and was quickly hooked.

Kallia is incredibly stubborn and headstrong, but she’s also smart and has the talent to show for it. Since their society is incredibly sexist and women aren’t exactly allowed to do show magic, she has to fight for every minute she’s on stage. This made her a little hard to relate to, but then I realized I was criticizing her the same way we criticize ‘bossy’ women, and it hit me that her stubbornness was just pure determination. Gotta love a girl like that.

All in all, it’s a fun, solid debut, and I’m looking forward to the sequel!

Meet the author

JANELLA ANGELES is a Filipino-American author who got her start in writing through consuming glorious amounts of fanfiction at a young age—which eventually led to penning a few of her own, and later on, creating original stories from her imagination. A lifelong lover of books, she’s lucky enough to be working in the business of publishing them on top of writing them. She currently resides in Massachusetts, where she’s most likely to be found listening to musicals on repeat and daydreaming too much for her own good. Where Dreams Descend is her first book.

Excerpt

(Blogger’s note: the first line of the book seems oddly on point for our current world, don’t you think?)

Never come to Hellfire House without wearing a mask.

It was one of the rare rules in a joint without any. The only rule the master of the club did not mind following. He blended in with the sea of suits and white masks that arrived every other night, switching appearances from crowd to crowd. A bartender one moment, a dealer at the card tables the next.

Only his face remained the same, half-masked and haunting. Like a prince who relished the bloody crown on his head, and the ghosts that came with it. A face almost hardened by beauty, though glints of youth ran deep beneath soft black eyes. It always shocked new guests, to see him. The master of the House was rumored to be a dragon of a man. A monster. A magician who had no mercy for fools.

Only those who dared slur the word boy in his face understood how true those rumors were.

To the rest, he played the devil on all shoulders, leading patrons to his bar and game tables, guiding them toward his enchanted smoke lounge to drown in curated memories. The warmth of first love, the heady rush of triumph, the immense joy of dreams come true. The master kept a selection of sensations, and one hit of the pipes delivered magic the people came crawling to his house to taste.

They had no idea the show that was in store for them.

The master of the House sipped his short glass of scarlet whiskey in peace, tapping along the wide black strip over his brass knuckles. He’d long since manipulated his attire, sitting casually at a card table and savoring the mayhem. Raucous cheers erupted from the next table as dice rolled out across the surface. Smiling Hellfire girls in black blazers and masks of lace denied patrons begging for a dance. Loudest of all, the dealer’s crisp shuffling of the black cards with teeth-white numbers before she doled out hands to players at the table.

“No, no more,” one moaned. “I can’t.”

“Sure you can, chap.” A young man in a white thorn-edged mask cheerfully pressed him back in his seat. “We can’t leave. Haven’t even finished your drink, yet.”

His drunken friend’s mouth puckered under another gulp. “Think it’s true, the drink? Magician’s Blood, the menu said.”

“Think you have power, now?” Thorn Mask laughed, leaning back to appraise the club. “Here, you take your magic where you can get it. You wear a mask. You flip a card, smoke a memory. Or you look up . . . at her.”

The master’s fingers tightened around his glass, just as the lights dimmed. Dancers cleared the floor under the hush of music, shifting from smooth, steady beats to a racing rhythm loud as thunderous applause.

Right on cue.

The band’s worth of instruments he’d charmed for the night started up a wild entry tune of drums, the thick trill of trumpets. Chatter ceased and backs straightened as a beam of light speared toward the ceiling. A panel slid open over the dance floor.

And the chandelier descended.

Strings of crystals dangled along tiered rims of rose gold, cutting sharply into a jewel-set swing where a masked showgirl sat. A throne of glittering jewels, casting luminous lace across the walls and the ground and the audience taking her in. Her brown skin glowed against her corset, red as her gem-studded mask. Arms stretched out, she crossed and extended her legs in smooth lines all the way down, until her heels touched the lacquered black dancefloor. With the hint of a smile, she rose from her throne and stalked forward, thrusting a hand up with a snap.

Darkness engulfed the room.

Hoots and hollers rang at the drop of the beat, before a glimmer of her form reappeared in the shadows. The room pulsed at her command, matching the spike of heartbeats the master sensed throughout the club.

The smirk on his lips matched the girl’s as she arched her back to the raw stretch of the melody. She thrived under the attention, like a wildflower under the sun. A star finding the night.

His star.

“I’ll be damned.” The drunk at the card table breathed in awe, as the girl’s palms began brightening with a molten glow. “Nothing like an academy girl.”

“Worth the trip, right?” His friend clapped a hand on his shoulder.

“I didn’t know they could be magicians like . . . this.

The master smothered a dark scoff under a sip of whiskey. The girl showed off good tricks—improvised and bettered from his basic crowd-pleasers. Treating the ceiling like a sky and showering comets from it, casting an elaborate shadow show of dancing shades over the floor, shifting every candlelight in the room to different colors to the beat of the music.

But always the performer, she preferred to be front and center. Teasing her power just enough to make the audience want more of her magic, more of her.

He wet his lips as flames shot from her hands, arcing over her head and around her body. The fire’s melody bent to her every movement, and she gave everything to it. If she wasn’t careful, she’d overexert herself like she did most nights, never knowing when to stop. How to pull back.

Careful never was her strongest suit.

Sparks fell before her, sizzling on the ground. Unafraid, she sauntered down her stage of flames with slow swaying hips and a firelit smile.

“Magicians like this are best kept a secret,” Thorn Mask went on. “And besides, the work is far too scandalous for a lady. Only clubs will take them.”

“What a shame. Imagine going up against the likes of her at the competition.”

The master paused, drawing his gaze back to his glass.

“Not this again. That flyer was nothing but a joke.” Thorn Mask slapped the table with a groaning laugh. “A prank.”

The drunk sloppily patted around his coat, pulling from his breast pocket a dirty, scrunched ball of paper. “It’s real. They’re all over the academies, in Deque and New Crown and—”

“A prank,” repeated Thorn Mask, unfolding the flyer anyway. “It has to be. No one’s been to that city in ages, it would never open itself to such games.”

“That makes it all the more interesting, don’t you think?” As another roar of cheers erupted around them, the friend sipped his drink smugly. “Imagine if she entered, the city might implode.”

“Right. As if that would ever happen.” Thorn Mask leered. “Competition would eat a creature like her alive.”

“Because she’s . . . ?”

With an impish lift of his brow, the man in the thorny mask flicked the flyer off the table and returned to his forgotten spread of cards. “Let’s get on with the game, shall we?”

Before he could gesture at the dealer, the master suddenly appeared at their table, snatching the young man’s wrist in a biting grip. The man yelped as the force knocked over his drink, and sent a stream of hidden cards spilling out from his sleeves.

“What’s this?” The master bent toward the ground and picked up a couple, entirely too calm. “Cheating in my house?”

The man froze, recognition dawning at the brass knuckles alone. “Where did you—I-I mean,” he sputtered, patting frantically at his sleeve. “That’s impossible. Those aren’t mine, I swear.”

“Then where did they come from?”

Sweat dripped from his temple, his face paler than the white of his mask. “I emptied my pockets at the door. Honest.”

Honest. That was the best he could do? The master almost laughed.

“You want to know the price cheaters pay in my joint?” His question offered no mercy. Only deliverance, served on ice. “Memories.”

“No, please!” The man’s lip trembled. “I didn’t, I-I’ll do whatever you want!”

“This is what I want.” The master rose from the table with the jerk of his wrist. The cheat flew to the ground in a gasp as he gripped at the invisible chain-like weight around his neck. Sharp, staccato breaths followed the master as he dragged his prisoner toward the smoke dens.

The man screamed, but no one heard him. No one saw, no one cared. All eyes fell on the star of the show as she searched for a dance partner to join her. The drunken friend, noticing nothing amiss, raised his half-full glass of Magician’s Blood to his lips before waving his hand high like the others. The man thrashed harder, only to feel his cries smothered and deeper in his throat. His form, invisible at the sweep of the master’s hand.

With a disdainful glance, the master chuckled. “You’re only making this more difficult for yourself. One memory won’t kill you.”

At once, he paused. The lights blinked around them, the air grown still. Dim and hazy, as though locked in a dream.

He thought nothing of it until he caught the movements of the patrons—their arms raised and waving slowly, increment by increment. Their cheers dulled and stretched into low, gravelly roars, as if the sound were wading through heavier air. Against time itself.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

The sound of her voice slithered around him, stopping the master in his tracks. The man quieted. Sweat soaked his pale face, his chest heaving. The showgirl stood in their path, every stare in the room still locked on the spotlit floor where she’d been. As though she’d never left.

Impressive.

Her red corset glinted as she cocked her hip and pointed at the man on the floor. “I choose him.”

She could never let things be easy.

“Kallia,” he growled, warning.

She smiled. “Jack.”

“Pick another. He’s a cheater.”

Her lips pursed into a dubious line. “Then let me teach him a lesson. He’ll no doubt prefer it more.” She swung a leg over the man’s prone form so she stood directly above him. Invitation dripped from the crook of her fingers. “The music calls, darling. Let’s have ourselves a grand time.”

The man’s terror turned swiftly into awe, and he looked at her as if ready to kiss the ground she walked on. As soon as he took her beckoning hand, the room resumed its lively rhythm—a song snapped back in full swing. The cheers and hollers returned to their normal speed, exploding in delight as patrons found their lovely entertainer in their midst, her chosen dance partner in tow.

She bypassed the master, pressing a casual hand on his chest to move him. It lingered, he noticed. Unafraid, unlike most. Their gazes locked for a moment, their masked faces inches apart.

No one ever dared to get this close. To him, to her.

Only each other.

At the next round of cheers and whistles, she pushed him away, smug as a cat. Tugging the man close behind her, she sent fires onto the ground that illuminated her path and warded others from trying to follow them to the stage. Never once looking back at the master, even as he watched on after her.

His fist tightened, full of the cards from his earlier trick. They disappeared into mist, having served their purpose. Along with the flyer he managed to grab.

He didn’t even bother giving it a read. It died in the fire caged by his palm. Tendrils of smoke rose between his brass knuckles, and when he opened his fingers, nothing but ash fell to the ground.

LOBIZONA Blog Tour + Excerpt

by Romina Garber

I am really living for unique werewolf stories lately! Last year I read The Devourers and still can’t get it out of my head. And today I’m lucky to be a part of the blog tour for Lobizona, a YA urban fantasy novel that blends Argentinian culture, US immigration, and magic in such a beautiful and exhilarating read! ⁣

Blurb

Some people ARE illegal.

Lobizonas do NOT exist.

Both of these statements are false.

Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who’s on the run from her father’s Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida.

Until Manu’s protective bubble is shattered.

Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past—a mysterious “Z” emblem—which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobizón, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong.

As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it’s not just her U.S. residency that’s illegal. . . .it’s her entire existence.

Musings

Manu is such a gripping character. She’s quick witted and fierce, having spent her entire life hiding from ICE and devouring books behind closed doors. She’s proud of her Argentinian culture but is cut off from it. When her mother is taken into custody, Manu runs, and finds a secret school for people like her. She’s never had a chance to fit in the outside world, but as she starts to discover her true culture and nature, it seems she won’t quite fit in here as well…⁣

I want to tell you more but I don’t want to give the twists away! The twists are amazing. And the world building is exceptional: suffice to say the werewolves are more connected to the moon than you’d think. It’s so creative. And the juxtaposition of Manu’s illegal status with her illegal existence is both excruciating and powerful. It’s evidence of something I love in YA fiction: the ability of an author to use the fantastic to shine a light on current atrocities.⁣

In case you can’t tell, I loved it.

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🐺 Blog Tour Post! 🐺 ⁣ ⁣ Attention breeds scrutiny. ⁣ Silence is your salvation. ⁣ Discovery = Deportation. Death.⁣ ⁣ QOTD: who’s your favorite werewolf from fiction? ⁣ ⁣ I am really living for unique werewolf stories lately! Last year I read The Devourers and still can’t get it out of my head. And today I’m lucky to be a part of the blog tour for Lobizona, a YA urban fantasy novel that blends Argentinian culture, US immigration, and magic in such a beautiful and exhilarating read! ⁣ ⁣ Manu is such a gripping character. She’s quick witted and fierce, having spent her entire life hiding from ICE and devouring books behind closed doors. She’s proud of her Argentinian culture but is cut off from it. When her mother is taken into custody, Manu runs, and finds a secret school for people like her. She’s never had a chance to fit in the outside world, but as she starts to discover her true culture and nature, it seems she won’t quite fit in here as well…⁣ ⁣ I want to tell you more but I don’t want to give the twists away! The twists are amazing. And the world building is exceptional: suffice to say the werewolves are more connected to the moon than you’d think. It’s so creative. And the juxtaposition of Manu’s illegal status with her illegal existence is both excruciating and powerful. It’s evidence of something I love in YA fiction: the ability of an author to use the fantastic to shine a light on current atrocities.⁣ ⁣ In case you can’t tell, I loved it. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⁣ ⁣ #lobizona #rominagarber #blogtour #werewolf #lobizon #argentina #newrelease #mustread #youngadultbooks #youngadultfiction #ireadya #sunnyday #summervibes #summerday #summeraesthetic #wednesdaybooks #picnictable #sunshine #summetime #brujas #bookstagram #booknerd #booknerdigans #booklover #bookishlove #bookishlife #alwaysreading #igreads #readingislife #summerreading ⁣

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Meet the Author

ROMINA GARBER (pen name Romina Russell) is a New York Times and international bestselling author. Originally from Argentina, she landed her first writing gig as a teen—a weekly column for the Miami Herald that was later nationally syndicated—and she hasn’t stopped writing since. Her books include Lobizona. When she’s not working on a novel, Romina can be found producing movie trailers, taking photographs, or daydreaming about buying a new drum set. She is a graduate of Harvard College and a Virgo to the core.

Excerpt

2

I awaken with a jolt.

It takes me a moment to register that I’ve been out for three days. I can tell by the well-rested feeling in my bones—I don’t sleep this well any other time of the month.

The first thing I’m aware of as I sit up  is an urgent need  to use the bathroom. My muscles are heavy from lack of use, and it takes some concentration to keep my steps light so I won’t wake Ma or Perla. I leave the lights off to avoid meeting my gaze in the mirror, and after tossing out my heavy-duty period pad and replacing it with a tampon, I tiptoe back to Ma’s and my room.

I’m always disoriented after lunaritis, so I feel separate from my waking life as I survey my teetering stacks of journals and used books, Ma’s yoga mat and collection of weights, and the posters on the wall of the planets and constellations I hope to visit one day.

After a moment, my shoulders slump in disappointment.

This month has officially peaked.

I yank the bleach-stained blue sheets off the mattress and slide out the pillows from their cases, balling up the bedding to wash later. My body feels like a crumpled piece of paper that needs to be stretched, so I plant my feet together in the tiny area between the bed and the door, and I raise my hands and arch my back, lengthening my spine disc by disc. The pull on my tendons releases stored tension, and I exhale in relief.

Something tugs at my consciousness, an unresolved riddle that must have timed out when I surfaced . . . but the harder I focus, the quicker I forget. Swinging my head forward, I reach down to touch my toes and stretch my spine the other way—

My ears pop so hard, I gasp.

I stumble back to the mattress, and I cradle my head in my hands as a rush of noise invades my mind. The buzzing of a fly in the window blinds, the gunning of a car engine on the street below, the groaning of our building’s prehistoric eleva- tor. Each sound is so crisp, it’s like a filter was just peeled back from my hearing.

My pulse picks up as I slide my hands away from my temples to trace the outlines of my ears. I think the top parts feel a little . . . pointier.

I ignore the tingling in my eardrums as I cut through the living room to the kitchen, and I fill a stained green bowl with cold water. Ma’s asleep on the turquoise couch because we don’t share our bed this time of the month. She says I thrash around too much in my drugged dreams.

I carefully shut the apartment door behind me as I step out into the building’s hallway, and I crack open our neighbor’s window to slide the bowl through. A black cat leaps over to lap up the drink.

“Hola, Mimitos,” I say, stroking his velvety head. Since we’re both confined to this building, I hear him meowing any time his owner, Fanny, forgets to feed him. I think she’s going senile.

“I’ll take you up with me later, after lunch. And I’ll bring you some turkey,” I add, shutting the window again quickly. I usually let him come with me, but I prefer to spend the morn- ings after lunaritis alone. Even if I’m no longer dreaming, I’m not awake either.

My heart is still beating unusually fast as I clamber up six flights of stairs. But I savor the burn of my sedentary muscles, and when at last I reach the highest point, I swing open the door to the rooftop.

It’s not quite morning yet, and the sky looks like blue- tinged steel. Surrounding me are balconies festooned with colorful clotheslines, broken-down properties with boarded- up windows, fuzzy-leaved palm trees reaching up from the pitted streets . . . and in the distance, the ground and sky blur where the Atlantic swallows the horizon.

El Retiro is a rundown apartment complex with all elderly residents—mostly Cuban, Colombian, Venezuelan, Nicara- guan, and Argentine immigrants. There’s just one slow, loud elevator in the building, and since I’m the youngest person here, I never use it in case someone else needs it.

I came up here hoping for a breath of fresh air, but since it’s summertime, there’s no caress of a breeze to greet me. Just the suffocating embrace of Miami’s humidity.

Smothering me.

I close my eyes and take in deep gulps of musty oxygen, trying to push the dread down to where it can’t touch me. The way Perla taught me to do whenever I get anxious.

My metamorphosis started this year. I first felt something

was different four full moons ago, when I no longer needed to squint to study the ground from up here. I simply opened my eyes to perfect vision.

The following month, my hair thickened so much that I had to buy bigger clips to pin it back. Next menstrual cycle came the growth spurt that left my jeans three inches too short, and last lunaritis I awoke with such a heightened sense of smell that I could sniff out what Ma and Perla had for dinner all three nights I was out.

It’s bad enough to feel the outside world pressing in on me, but now even my insides are spinning out of my control.

As Perla’s breathing exercises relax my thoughts, I begin  to feel the stirrings of my dreamworld calling me back. I slide onto the rooftop’s ledge and lie back along the warm cement, my body as stagnant as the stale air. A dragon-shaped cloud comes apart like cotton, and I let my gaze drift with Miami’s hypnotic sky, trying to call up the dream’s details before they fade . . .

What Ma and Perla don’t know about the Septis is they don’t simply sedate me for sixty hours—they transport me.

Every lunaritis, I visit the same nameless land of magic and mist and monsters. There’s the golden grass that ticks off time by turning silver as the day ages; the black-leafed trees that can cry up storms, their dewdrop tears rolling down their bark to form rivers; the colorful waterfalls that warn onlookers of oncoming danger; the hope-sucking Sombras that dwell in darkness and attach like parasitic shadows . . .

And the Citadel.

It’s a place I instinctively know I’m not allowed to go, yet I’m always trying to get to. Whenever I think I’m going to make it inside, I wake up with a start.

Picturing the black stone wall, I see the thorny ivy that

twines across its surface like a nest of guardian snakes, slith- ering and bunching up wherever it senses a threat.

The sharper the image, the sleepier I feel, like I’m slowly sliding back into my dream, until I reach my hand out tenta- tively. If I could just move faster than the ivy, I could finally grip the opal doorknob before the thorns—

Howling breaks my reverie.

I blink, and the dream disappears as I spring to sitting and scour the battered buildings. For a moment, I’m sure I heard a wolf.

My spine locks at the sight of a far more dangerous threat: A cop car is careening in the distance, its lights flashing and siren wailing. Even though the black-and-white is still too far away to see me, I leap down from the ledge and take cover behind it, the old mantra running through my mind.

Don’t come here, don’t come here, don’t come here.

A familiar claustrophobia claws at my skin, an affliction forged of rage and shame and powerlessness that’s been my companion as long as I’ve been in this country. Ma tells me I should let her worry about this stuff and only concern myself with studying, so when our papers come through, I can take my GED and one day make it to NASA—but it’s impossible not to worry when I’m constantly having to hide.

My muscles don’t uncoil until the siren’s howling fades and the police are gone, but the morning’s spell of stillness has broken. A door slams, and I instinctively turn toward the pink building across the street that’s tattooed with territorial graf- fiti. Where the alternate version of me lives.

I call her Other Manu.

The first thing I ever noticed about her was her Argentine fútbol jersey: #10 Lionel Messi. Then I saw her face and real- ized we look a lot alike. I was reading Borges at the time, and

it ocurred to me that she and I could be the same person in overlapping parallel universes.

But it’s an older man and not Other Manu who lopes down the street. She wouldn’t be up this early on a Sunday anyway. I arch my back again, and thankfully this time, the only pop I hear is in my joints.

The sun’s golden glare is strong enough that I almost wish I had my sunglasses. But this rooftop is sacred to me because it’s the only place where Ma doesn’t make me wear them, since no one else comes up here.

I’m reaching for the stairwell door when I hear it.

Faint footsteps are growing louder, like someone’s racing up. My heart shoots into my throat, and I leap around the corner right as the door swings open.

The person who steps out is too light on their feet to be someone who lives here. No El Retiro resident could make it up the stairs that fast. I flatten myself against the wall.

“Creo que encontré algo, pero por ahora no quiero decir nada.”

Whenever Ma is upset with me, I have a habit of translat- ing her words into English without processing them. I asked Perla about it to see if it’s a common bilingual thing, and she said it’s probably my way of keeping Ma’s anger at a distance; if I can deconstruct her words into language—something de- tached that can be studied and dissected—I can strip them of their charge.

As my anxiety kicks in, my mind goes into automatic trans- lation mode: I think I found something, but I don’t want to say anything yet.

The woman or girl (it’s hard to tell her age) has a deep, throaty voice that’s sultry and soulful, yet her singsongy accent is unquestionably Argentine. Or Uruguayan. They sound similar.

My cheek is pressed to the wall as I make myself as flat as possible, in case she crosses my line of vision.

“Si tengo razón, me harán la capitana más joven en la his- toria de los Cazadores.”

If I’m right, they’ll make me the youngest captain in the history of the . . . Cazadores? That means hunters.

In my eight years living here, I’ve never seen another per- son on this rooftop. Curious, I edge closer, but I don’t dare peek around the corner. I want to see this stranger’s face, but not badly enough to let her see mine.

“¿El encuentro es ahora? Che, Nacho, ¿vos no me podrías cubrir?”

Is the meeting right now? Couldn’t you cover for me, Nacho?

The che and vos sound like Argentinespeak. What if it’s Other Manu?

The exciting possibility brings me a half step closer, and now my nose is inches from rounding the corner. Maybe I can sneak a peek without her noticing.

“Okay,” I hear her say, and her voice sounds like she’s just a few paces away.

I suck in a quick inhale, and before I can overthink it, I pop my head out—

And see the door swinging shut.

I scramble over and tug it open, desperate to spot even a hint of her hair, any clue at all to confirm it was Other Manu— but she’s already gone.

All that remains is a wisp of red smoke that vanishes with the swiftness of a morning cloud.

MAYHEM blog tour + Excerpt!

by Estelle Laure

This book is so unique and atmospheric I’m not even sure how to put it into words. Part of me feels like the pacing was all over the place, but how then was I so hooked? It’s a little gem of a book, something so unique I won’t stop thinking about it for ages.

How do I tell her I don’t want to be an innocent anymore? Innocents get hit. I want to hit back.

Summary

It’s 1987 and unfortunately it’s not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy’s constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem’s own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren’t like everyone else. But when May’s stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem’s questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good. But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.

Musings

I think the reason the story is so strong is that it all rests on the power of the well-written characters, which is surreal to me because, at the end, I’m still not sure I even know Mayhem. Perhaps this is because she’s still getting to know herself? Elements of abuse, domestic violence, drug use, murder, and suicide are included in this story, but never did they feel like a gimmick. The characters are shaped by these events and are striving to grow from them.

This book feels like historical fiction of women, witches, and witchcraft, yet it’s got this soothing 80’s beach vibe. Didn’t think that would go together, did you? I didn’t. But it creates this amazing aesthetic that sucks you right in.

All in all, I can’t thoroughly put into words how I feel about this book, because my critical brain is picking at details, while the rest of me is soothed by the magical lyricism. I think we need more books like this, ones which defy genre, build up young women, and stick with you forever.

It deals with some intense subject matter (domestic violence, sexual assault) so be forewarned going in. 

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What books do you love that seem to transcend genre? 💧⁣ ⁣ Blog tour post! I just finished Mayhem and it was unlike anything I could ever have expected. This book is so unique and atmospheric I'm not even sure how to put it into words. feels like historical fiction of women, witches, and witchcraft, yet it's got this soothing 80's beach vibe. It creates this amazing aesthetic that sucks you right in.⁣ ⁣ Blurb:⁣ ⁣ It's 1987 and unfortunately it's not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy's constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem's own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren't like everyone else. But when May's stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem's questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good. But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.⁣ ⁣ In short, it’s magical. It deals with some intense subject matter (domestic violence, sexual assault) so be forewarned going in. I think we need more books like this, ones which defy genre, build up young women, and stick with you forever.⁣ ⁣ Thank you @wednesdaybooks and @estellelaurebooks for this amazing book! Full disclosure, my physical ARC didn’t reach me in time so this is a photomontage.⁣ ⁣ #mayhem #estellelaure #wednesdaybooks #blogtour #yafiction #summervibes #prettybooks #booksandflowers #booksandroses #youngadultbooks #youngadultfiction #alwaysreading #mustread #roses #rosesofinstagram #abandonedplaces #summervibes #magicalrealism #bibliophile #bookstagram #booklover #bookaddict #bookaholic #summertime #su

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Chapter 1 Excerpt

“Trouble,” Roxy says. She arches a brow at the kids by the van through the bug-spattered windshield, the ghost of a half-smile rippling across her face.

“You would know,” I shoot. “So would you,” she snaps.

Maybe we’re a little on edge. We’ve been in the car so long the pattern on the vinyl seats is tattooed on the back of my thighs.

The kids my mother is talking about, the ones sitting on the white picket fence, look like they slithered up the hill out of the ocean, covered in seaweed, like the carnival music we heard coming from the boardwalk as we were driving into town plays in the air around them at all times. Two crows are on the posts beside them like they’re standing guard, and they caw at each other loudly as we come to a stop. I love every- thing about this place immediately and I think, ridiculously, that I am no longer alone.

The older girl, white but tan, curvaceous, and lean, has her arms around the boy and is lovely with her smudged eye makeup and her ripped clothes. The younger one pops some- thing made of bright colors into her mouth and watches us come up the drive. She is in a military-style jacket with a ton of buttons, her frizzy blond hair reaching in all directions, freckles slapped across her cheeks. And the boy? Thin, brown,

hungry-looking. Not hungry in his stomach. Hungry with his eyes. He has a green bandana tied across his forehead and holes in the knees of his jeans. There’s an A in a circle drawn in marker across the front of his T-shirt.

Anarchy.

“Look!” Roxy points to the gas gauge. It’s just above the E. “You owe me five bucks, Cookie. I told you to trust we would make it, and see what happened? You should listen to your mama every once in a while.”

“Yeah, well, can I borrow the five bucks to pay you for the bet? I’m fresh out of cash at the moment.”

“Very funny.”

Roxy cranes out the window and wipes the sweat off her upper lip, careful not to smudge her red lipstick. She’s been having real bad aches the last two days, even aside from her bruises, and her appetite’s been worse than ever. The only thing she ever wants is sugar. After having been in the car for so long, you’d think we’d be falling all over each other to get out, but we’re still sitting in the car. In here we’re still us.

She sighs for the thousandth time and clutches at her belly. “I don’t know about this, May.”

California can’t be that different from West Texas.

I watch TV. I know how to say gag me with a spoon and

grody to the max.

I fling open the door.

Roxy gathers her cigarettes and lighter, and drops them in- side her purse with a snap.

“Goddammit, Elle,” she mutters to herself, eyes flickering toward the kids again. Roxy looks at me over the rims of her sunglasses before shoving them back on her nose. “Mayhem, I’m counting on you to keep your head together here. Those kids are not the usual—”

“I know! You told me they’re foster kids.”

“No, not that,” she says, but doesn’t clarify. “Okay, I guess.”

“I mean it. No more of that wild-child business.”

“I will keep my head together!” I’m so tired of her saying this. I never had any friends, never a boyfriend—all I have is what Grandmother calls my nasty mouth and the hair Lyle always said was ugly and whorish. And once or twice I might’ve got drunk on the roof, but it’s not like I ever did anything. Besides, no kid my age has ever liked me even once. I’m not the wild child in the family.

“Well, all right then.” Roxy messes with her hair in the rear- view mirror, then sprays herself with a cloud of Chanel No. 5 and runs her fingers over her gold necklace. It’s of a bird, not unlike the ones making a fuss by the house. She’s had it as long as I can remember, and over time it’s been worn smooth by her worrying fingers. It’s like she uses it to calm herself when she’s upset about something, and she’s been upset the whole way here, practically. Usually, she’d be good and buzzed by this time of day, but since she’s had to drive some, she’s only nipped from the tiny bottle of wine in her purse a few times and only taken a couple pills since we left Taylor. The with- drawal has turned her into a bit of a she-demon.

I try to look through her eyes, to see what she sees. Roxy hasn’t been back here since I was three years old, and in that time, her mother has died, her father has died, and like she said when she got the card with the picture enclosed that her twin sister, Elle, sent last Christmas, Everybody got old. After that, she spent a lot of time staring in the mirror, pinching at her neck skin. When I was younger, she passed long nights telling me about Santa Maria and the Brayburn Farm, about how it was good and evil in equal measure, about how it had desires that had to be satisfied.

Brayburns, she would say. In my town, we were the legends.

These were the mumbled stories of my childhood, and they made everything about this place loom large. Now that we’re here, I realize I expected the house to have a gaping maw filled with spitty, frothy teeth, as much as I figured there would be fairies flitting around with wands granting wishes. I don’t want to take her vision away from her, but this place looks pretty normal to me, if run-down compared to our new house in Taylor, where there’s no dust anywhere, ever, and Lyle prac- tically keeps the cans of soup in alphabetical order. Maybe what’s not so normal is that this place was built by Brayburns, and here Brayburns matter. I know because the whole road is named after us and because flowers and ribbons and baskets of fruit sat at the entrance, gifts from the people in town, Roxy said. They leave offerings. She said it like it’s normal to be treated like some kind of low-rent goddess.

Other than the van and the kids, there are trees here, rose- bushes, an old black Mercedes, and some bikes leaning against the porch that’s attached to the house. It’s splashed with fresh white paint that doesn’t quite cover up its wrinkles and scars. It’s three stories, so it cuts the sunset when I look up, and plants drape down to touch the dirt.

The front door swings open and a woman in bare feet races past the rosebushes toward us. It is those feet and the reckless way they pound against the earth that tells me this is my aunt Elle before her face does. My stomach gallops and there are bumps all over my arms, and I am more awake than I’ve been since.

I thought Roxy might do a lot of things when she saw her twin sister. Like she might get super quiet or chain-smoke, or maybe even get biting like she can when she’s feeling wrong about something. The last thing I would have ever imagined was them running toward each other and colliding in the driveway, Roxy wrapping her legs around Elle’s waist, and them twirling like that.

This seems like something I shouldn’t be seeing, some- thing wounded and private that fills up my throat. I flip my- self around in my seat and start picking through the things we brought and chide myself yet again for the miserable packing job I did. Since I was basically out of my mind trying to get out of the house, I took a whole package of toothbrushes, an armful of books, my River Phoenix poster, plus I emptied out my underwear drawer, but totally forgot to pack any shoes, so all I have are some flip-flops I bought at the truck stop outside of Las Cruces after that man came to the window, slurring, You got nice legs. Tap, tap tap. You got such nice legs.

My flip-flops are covered in Cheeto dust from a bag that got upended. I slip them on anyway, watching Roxy take her sunglasses off and prop them on her head.

“Son of a bitch!” my aunt says, her voice tinny as she catches sight of Roxy’s eye. “Oh my God, that’s really bad, Rox. You made it sound like nothing. That’s not nothing.”

“Ellie,” Roxy says, trying to put laughter in her voice. “I’m here now. We’re here now.”

There’s a pause.

“You look the same,” Elle says. “Except the hair. You went full Marilyn Monroe.”

“What about you?” Roxy says, fussing at her platinum waves with her palm. “You go full granola warrior? When’s the last time you ate a burger?”

“You know I don’t do that. It’s no good for us. Definitely no good for the poor cows.”

“It’s fine for me.” Roxy lifts Elle’s arm and puckers her nose. “What’s going on with your armpits? May not eat meat but you got animals under there, looks like.”

“Shaving is subjugation.”

“Shaving is a mercy for all mankind.”

They erupt into laughter and hug each other again.

“Well, where is she, my little baby niece?” Elle swings the car door open. “Oh, Mayhem.” She scoops me out with two strong arms. Right then I realize just how truly tired I am. She seems to know, squeezes extra hard for a second before letting me go. She smells like the sandalwood soap Roxy buys sometimes. “My baby girl,” Elle says, “you have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to see you. How much I’ve missed you.”

Roxy circles her ear with a finger where Elle can’t see her.

Crazy, she mouths. I almost giggle.

The Audacity 2: Time Warp

By Laura Loup

Happy Pride month! And happy release to book two of my favorite gaylien series, The Audacity by Laura Loup. I discovered this series last year and instantly fell in love with May and Xan, every day human turned rocket racer and blue-skinned Thuntian with a mysterious past turned I Love Lucy binge-watcher. Now the sequel is out, and it’s even more hilarious than the first.

Summary

May’s career as an interstellar rocket racer is just ramping up. She’s got a stunning ship, her best friend Xan for a co-pilot, and a rocket-full of winnings. But obscenely good luck can’t last forever, and May has been racing in a stolen ship. When Xan’s arrested by a tea-sipping, goddess-possessed pink robot for a crime he can’t bring himself to explain without baking analogies, May’s career is over. With the help of an adventure biologist and her freshly un-dead girlfriend, May and Xan must find a way to change the past before the goddess of Chaos squashes everything May loves.

Musings

There’s just so much to love about this series: anyone who’s a fan of Douglas Adams and the absurd of the cosmos will feel at home among these pages, laughing at the zany space adventures and the narrator’s deft turn of phase – and occasional meta joke. Book 2 does not disappoint: it’s got everything you love from the first book and is sure to make you roar with laughter.

But the series has so much heart, too. The developing relationship between Xan and May isn’t one you see often (if at all), where May is openly Asexual/Aromantic while Xan is on the other side of the spectrum. Are they a couple, or a couple of besties? It doesn’t seem to matter to them. They are fully loving and supportive of each other which only makes me love them more.

We also meet Xan’s sister, Aimz, a hilarious StarTaxi driver who’s rather miffed her brother hasn’t been around for a millenia. Xan’s past is coming to bite him in the rear – we finally learn how he acquired the Audacity, and what happened to planet Thunt. It’s not pretty. Loup somehow manages to balance absurdity and a deep examination of mental illness as a result of trauma in the same go, which is difficult to achieve and amazing to read.

Tie this all together with a planet-saving-or-destroying adventure, a mad goddess enraged from the last book, a reanimated corpse, busted translators, and revealing swimwear, and you’ve got a wonderful book to devour. I can’t wait for book three!

Sword of Seven Sins

By Emily Colin

Hello, dear readers. How are you doing? Are you on lockdown in your country, your state? Are you with people or completely alone? I hope that you are hanging in there. It’s hard, but we can get through this together.

All this extra time has given me a moment to catch up on my book reviews, so let me proudly present – Sword of the Seven Sins!This is the most intense book I’ve read while under quarantine, binging it in just two days. It’s got amazing characters and a fast plot that will keep you up all night! An edge-of-you-seat, unputdownable roller coaster of a book. With So. Many. Feels.

Summary

Eva Marteinn never wanted to be a killer.

Raised in the Commonwealth, where citizens live and die by the code of the Seven Sins, Eva is sickened by the barbaric punishments the High Priests inflict. She sees the Bellators of Light, the Commonwealth’s executioners, as no more than conscienceless killers.

When she’s Chosen as the first female bellator—and can’t refuse, on threat of exile or disgrace—Eva is devastated. But she turns out to be inordinately gifted at the very role she abhors…no thanks to her mentor, Ari Shepherd, who alternates between ignoring her and challenging her to impossible tests.

Ari’s indifference conceals a dangerous secret: He’s loved Eva since they were children. When Eva falls for Ari too, she knows they should do anything to avoid each other. Love is forbidden. Lust is a death sentence. But as mentor and apprentice, they’re bound by the blood oath they swore the day of Eva’s Choosing.

Balanced on a razor’s edge of desire and betrayal, the two uncover a secret that could overturn the Commonwealth itself. Now Eva must make an impossible choice: Turn her back on Ari, and remain loyal to the only home she’s ever known—or risk everything on the slim hope of freedom, and stake her life on the boy she’s come to love. 

Musings

This book took me completely by surprise: I assumed it would take place in some sort of medieval setting, but instead, it’s in a dystopian, close-knit future society with 1984-level surveillance and a police-state run by the sword.

Imagine a society based on the Christian sins and virtues – but without belief. When a bastardization of morals are used to keep citizens in check. Eva and Ari live in the commonwealth of Ashes in a dystopian tomorrow, stumbling in love though the consequence is death. Here, if you are caught breaking one of the seven (deadly) sins, you’re lucky to get out alive, though the punishment is public and demeaning.

Eva is the first woman to be brought into the ranks of the commonwealth’s equivalent of police enforcers. Much to her dismay, I should add – she’s a computer wiz. It’s not like she has much say in the matter (ironically the day they are assigned their roles in society is called Choosing Day, despite them having no choice), and any complaint could see her badly punished.

To make matters worse, she is falling for her mentor, Ari. But imagine a society where love is a concept undefined from Lust: any feelings towards him make her a sinner. No matter how innocent their teenage love, they’re disgusted by their own feelings. Despite this, they have undeniable chemistry: both characters are complex and wonderfully fleshed out, and seeing them together is a blessing. You can’t help but hope that they love can prevail.

Of course, everything they know about their world is a lie – but I won’t say anything more here. No spoilers, I promise. And the author is STILL hiding things from us, so you know I can’t wait for the sequel!

Expected publication: July 6th 2020 by Blue Crow Books

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⚔️ COVER REVEAL! 🗡 QOTD: which ‘sin’ are you most guilty of this week? Isolation has brought out the glutton in me! 🍰 Happy Monday, friends! One week down of quarantine for me, not sure how many more to go, but I’m keeping my spirits up with good books. I’m so thrilled to be a part of the SWORD OF THE SEVEN SINS cover reveal by @emily_colin! This is the most intense book I’ve read while under quarantine, binging it in just two days. It’s got amazing characters and a fast plot that will keep you on the edge of your seats! BLURB: In a society governed by the Seven Sins, where attachment is forbidden and lust is punishable by death, reluctant teenage assassin Eva Marteinn must make an impossible choice: Remain loyal to the only home she’s ever known—or stake her life on the boy she’s come to love. 🗡 Imagine a society based on the Christian sins and virtues – but without belief. When a bastardization of morals are used to keep citizens in check. Eva and Ari live in the commonwealth of Ashes in a dystopian tomorrow, stumbling in love though the consequence is death. I adored these two complex characters, who spring off the page! You can’t help but root for them and feel their incredible chemistry: it hits the shelves July 6th and I’m already excited for the sequel! How is this Monday treating you? Please, if you need anyone to talk to, don’t hesitate to drop me a DM! ❤️ #swordofthesevensins #coverreveal #emilycolin #fantasybooks #youngadultbooks #yafantasy #bookreview #booksandflowers #rosesofinstagram #pinkroses #dystopian #indieauthor #authorsofinstagram #houseplants #alocasia #bibliophile #bookphotography #bookish #bookstagramfeature #booklover #bookaddict #bookaholic #igreads #instabooks #bookalicious #yalovin #bookstragram

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This Vicious Way

By Madeline Dyer

(The Dangerous Ones #2)

Readers of this blog know that I’m a massive fan of Madeline Dyer, and have been for a few years now. I’m always excited when she releases a new book in the Untamed universe, this dark, end-of-humanity dystopia where those that are left are divided between the Enhanced, a majority where mankind takes drugs to become superior, and the untamed, the small remnants of society who are determined not to give up what makes them human.

This Vicious Way is her newest release, in the Dangerous Ones spin-off series. And it’s of the best books Madeline Dyer has written to date: fast-paced, thrilling, with unforgettable characters and twists you will never see coming!

Summary

REVENGE IS NEVER EASY…

Aged five, Inga was snatched from her sister’s arms by Bridie’s Assassins, a group of Untamed rebels who believe the way to win the War of Humanity is to use more Untamed children as soldiers. For seven years, Inga’s life consisted of violence, exploitation, and death as they shaped her into their most deadly weapon. Then she escaped.

Now twenty-one, Inga has spent the last six years seeking revenge on the assassins—using the skills they taught her against them—and trying to find her family. She knows the Gods and Goddesses are behind her, because with every assassin she murders, Inga’s gifted with a vision of her cousins, Keelie and Elf. And soon—very soon—Inga is sure she will find her family again. She’s just got to kill all the assassins first.

But when she discovers her own sister is now leading the assassins, Inga’s resolve is tested. Sure, she will stop at nothing to get the life she deserves—even if it means putting other Untamed in danger and losing herself—but can she kill her own flesh and blood?

Musings

It’s always hardest to write a review about a book I adored because most of my thoughts are just muddled screaming nonsense of just “read it read it read it!” which I am urging all my friends to do with this book right now.

Whether you’ve read the Untamed series or not, this book still manages to grip you from the first page. It’s perfectly self-contained, though certain familiar characters make a return. It’s not a spoiler to say that Keelie from A Dangerous Game plays a role, and seeing her from a different perspective was really cool. Vice versa, being inside Inga’s head after having met her in the main series was a fascinating change.

Inga is violent. Not in the uninhibited way Keelie was in ADG, but in the cool and calculated way an assassin behaves. This is, at its core, a revenge story: a girl’s childhood is stolen away, and she will kill all of those responsible for making her into the killing machine is today. She’s brutal in a way the other Untamed characters haven’t been yet, and it makes the read all the more engrossing.

This book was a wild ride start to finish. I can’t wait to see who we’ll meet next in this series!

Every Wrong Right

by M.C. Frank
Outlaws, #2

You know that I’m a sucker for a good retelling. I love books that take a story we all know and love and turn it on its head, bringing depth to the characters we thought we understood and making a classic more complex. There’s a wonderful safety and warmth in these stories, and authors who manage to shift our expectations are to be commended.

Such as author M.D. Frank, who has embraced the task of revisiting the tale of Robin Hood and turning it into a story of assassins, betrayal, torture, and revenge. It’s brilliant, making Maid Marian so much more than a swooning princess, turning her into something bold and new. And her Robin Hood? Swoon. Worthy.

I should shut up and just let you check out my review. And take a minute to swoon over this gorgeous cover with me!

Summary

In the second installment of the Outlaws series, there are more deadly secrets, more pining and more danger to be found.
You’ll discover the answers to many of your questions from book one, and new ones will keep you at the edge of your seat.
Will Robin Hood find out the truth about Ru?
Will Robin and Ru kiss?
Will they finally share the truth about their origins?
Will they stay alive?
Will every wrong be made right?

Musings

Unlike the first book, this book was fast – it takes place over the course of around 24h, and would be perfectly adapted a television episode if this series was ever made into a show (which you know I would LOVE). It centers around a high stakes mission that the band of Outlaws leads in the heart of the castle, with a daring escape and a dangerous fallout.

Ru and Robin’s past becomes clearer, flashbacks filling us in as we go along, giving us more information about how they were split and Ru’s transformation into a little killing machine. We also learn more about her relationship with her father and the other men in the castle – including her future husband. This girl just cannot catch a break, and my heart weeps for her.

Her loyalties are put further to the test as her brother is once again waved in front of her eyes. Yet she cannot deny the positive change Robin is striving for. Whose side is she on – and who will she choose? I just can’t wait for the next book!

Expected publication: April 7th 2020

Tweet Cute Blog Tour + Excerpt!

by Emma Lord

Are you tired of everything being so gloomy? Do you need a break from stress and anxiety? Well, Tweet Cute is the adorable little book that will set your heart fluttering and warm again. I hadn’t realized how much I just needed a book like this in my life until I had finished it, and breathed a breath of fresh air. It’s hot tea and a warm bath for the soul.

Summary

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming — mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account. 

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time. 

All’s fair in love and cheese — that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life — on an anonymous chat app Jack built. 

As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate — people on the internet are shipping them?? — their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.

Musings

I just can’t get over how cute and sweet this book was. There are stakes, but there’s nothing but people with good intentions on both sides. There are complex relationships and flawed people, but there was heart in every single one of them.

It’s lighthearted, so if you need something more down to earth, it might not be your best match. But if you need something sweet to lift the soul? Tweet cute is the book for you. It’s fun, it’s witty, and so darn lovable.

And hey, it’s out today!

Excerpt

JACK

“Look.” I glance into the classroom, where Ethan is thoroughly distracted by Stephen and no longer keeping an eye on us. “I may have . . . overreacted.”

Pepper shakes her head. “I told you. I get it. It’s your family.”

“Yeah. But it’s also—well, to be honest, this has been kind of good for business.”

Pepper’s brow furrows, that one little crease returning. “What, the tweets?”

“Yeah.” I scratch the back of my neck, sheepish. “Actually, we had a line out the door yesterday. It was kind of intense.”

“That’s . . . that’s good, right?”

The tone of my voice is clearly not matching up with the words I’m saying, but if I’m being honest, I’m still wary of this whole overnight business boom. And if I’m being honest, I’m even more wary of Pepper. If this really is as much of a family business as she claims it is—to the point where she’s helping run the Twitter handle, when even I know enough about corporate Twitter accounts to know entire teams of experienced people get paid to do that—then she might have had more of a hand in this whole recipe theft thing than she’s letting on.

The fact of the matter is, I can’t trust her. To the point of not knowing whether I can even trust her knowing how our business is doing, or just how badly we need it.

“Yeah, um, I guess.” I try to make it sound noncommittal. My acting skills, much like my breakfast-packing skills, leave much to be desired.

“So . . .”

“So.”

Pepper presses her lips into a thin line, a question in her eyes.

“So, I guess—if your mom really wants you to keep tweeting . . .”

“Wait. Yesterday you were pissed. Two minutes ago you were pissed.”

“I am pissed. You stole from us,” I reiterate. “You stole from an eighty-five-year-old woman.”

“I didn’t—”

“Yeah, yeah, but still. You’re them, and I’m . . . her. It’s like a choose your fighter situation, and we just happen to be the ones up to bat.”

“So you’re saying—you don’t not want me to keep this up?”

“The way I see it, you don’t have to make your mom mad, and we get a few more customers in the door too.”

Pepper takes a breath like she’s going to say something, like she’s going to correct me, but after a moment, she lets it go. Her face can’t quite settle on an expression, toeing the line between dread and relief.

“You’re sure?”

I answer by opening the container she handed me. The smell that immediately wafts out of it should honestly be illegal; it stops kids I’ve never even spoken to in their tracks.

“Are you a witch?” I ask, reaching in and taking a bite of one. It’s like Monster Cake, the Sequel—freaking Christmas in my mouth. I already want more before I’ve even managed to chew. My eyes close as if I’m experiencing an actual drug high—and maybe I am, because I forget myself entirely and say, “This might even be better than our Kitchen Sink Macaroons.”

“Kitchen Sink Macaroons?”

Eyes open again. Yikes. Note to self: dessert is the greatest weapon in Pepper’s arsenal. I swallow my bite so I can answer her.

“It’s kind of well-known, at least in the East Village. It even got in some Hub Seed roundup once. I’d tell you to try some, but you might steal the recipe, so.”

Pepper smiles, then—actually smiles, instead of the little smirk she usually does. It’s not startling, but what it does to me in that moment kind of is.

Before I can examine the unfamiliar lurch in my stomach, the bell rings and knocks the smile right off her face. I follow just behind her, wondering why it suddenly seems too hot in here, like they cranked the air up for December instead of October. I dismiss it by the time I get to my desk—probably just all the Twitter drama and the glory of So Sorry Blondies getting to my head.

“One rule,” she says, as we sit in the last two desks in the back of the room.

I raise my eyebrows at her.

“We don’t take any of it personally.” She leans forward on her desk, leveling with me, her bangs falling into her face. “No more getting mad at each other. Cheese and state.”

“What happens on Twitter stays on Twitter,” I say with a nod of agreement. “Okay, then, second rule: no kid gloves.”

Mrs. Fairchild is giving that stern look over the room that never quite successfully quiets anyone down. Pepper frowns, waiting for me to elaborate.

“I mean—no going easy on each other. If we’re going to play at this, we’re both going to give it our A game, okay? No holding back because we’re . . .”

Friends, I almost say. No, I’m going to say. But then—

“I’d appreciate it if even one of you acknowledged the bell with your silence,” Mrs. Fairchild grumbles.

I turn to Pepper, expecting to find her snapping to attention the way she always does when an adult comes within a hundred feet of disciplining her. But her eyes are still intent on me, like she is sizing something up—like she’s looking forward to something I haven’t anticipated yet.

“All right. No taking it personally. And no holding back.”

She holds her hand out for me to shake again, under the desk so Mrs. Fairchild won’t see it. I smile and shake my head, wondering how someone can be so aggressively seventeen and seventy-five at the same time, and then I take it. Her hand is warm and small in mine, but her grip is surprisingly firm, with a pressure that almost feels like she’s still got her fingers wrapped around mine even after we let go.

I turn back to the whiteboard, a ghost of a smirk on my face. “Let the games begin.”

Captive: A Poetry Collection on OCD, Psychosis, and Brain Inflammation + Excerpt

by Madeline Dyer

It’s not often I review poetry collections, but Madeline Dyer’s makes for an exception as it is an exceptional read. Being a fan of her YA Dystopian series ‘Untamed’ (reviewed quite a few times on this blog) I knew alrighty that she had a talent for vivid imagery, but this collection puts that talent on full display. It’s astounding, and, frankly, terrifying: it details a slow descent into darkness, madness, chronicling the ways your brain can turn against you.

Summary

I just want to get better and see the stars and believe in hope again.

Captive, Madeline Dyer’s first poetry collection, is based on the therapy writings she produced when she was experiencing psychosis and OCD due to Autoimmune Basal Ganglia Encephalitis, a rare type of brain inflammation caused by the immune system attacking the brain. While her communication skills and cognitive abilities diminished due to the effects of the inflammation, she was able to share her thoughts and emotions via the written word, a process that gave her great comfort when she otherwise felt possessed.

Captive provides readers with a glimpse of her tormented mind during this dark time of loneliness, loss, and fear.

Musings

It’s not every day you get to see directly into someone’s mind. Dyer’s poetry chronicles the evolution of her disease, Autoimmune Basal Ganglia Encephalitis, a type of brain inflammation which presents itself in her mind as OCD and psychosis. How terrifying must it be to be trapped inside your mind as it feeds you lies? To know what’s happening but unable to do anything about it? To reach out for help and have no one believe you?

You need no longer wonder. This book is so raw and personal you can’t help but feel angry and afraid, hopeful and heartbroken. More than a person recounting these things to you, Dyer uses poetry to connect with you deeper. The poems are varied in style and tone, but are so well connected, they have a real thread between them. Reading the collection is an experience, almost like being a part of a performative art piece.

I don’t think it’s extreme of me to say that it’s like holding the piece of someone’s soul, laid bare. An absolute must read.

Excerpt: Looking Through Water

Tear-stained and bleary,
the shapes of the world
merge and the wrens
are flying,
too many of them
inside my head
scratching sand into my brain

and I want to escape it all
and swim up, up, up,
until my head breaks the surface
where the sun is warm
and the sky is blue
and the birds aren’t out to get me
and my mind isn’t broken.

But my eyes are heavy,
too heavy.
They weigh my mind down,
anchors from my skull,
and everything is too blurry
and I wake in the night
because I can’t see
and my eyes are inside out.

Looking Through Water, Madeline Dyer, Captive,

Captive is available on Amazon.

Hood – an Outlaws novella

By M.C. Frank
Outlaws Series, book #0

Still in the spirit of sharing novellas, a new one has hit my radar and I’m excited to share it with you. M.C. Frank has been prolific lately: after her magnificent prequel to Salt for Air, Ice Mermaid, we now have a prequel for Everything I Do, her incredible Robin Hood retelling. And wow, what a prequel!

Cover of Hood. Robin looks pensively towards the reader.

Summary

We are probably going to die today,” said John.
“I’m aware,” Robin replied. “But then again, we’re constantly going to die.”
“So what you’re saying is,” Alis hissed behind them, “that you’re used to being about to die.”
“More or less,” Will Scarlet replied, rare laughter in his voice. “The excitement is gone.”

Meet Robin Hood’s band of outlaws. Their story starts with Christmas, a lost love, a hungry town and a robbery.
In this Outlaws novella, Robin Loxley is a tortured young man mourning the loss of his title, his lands and his first love. Tonight, with the help of his close friends, he will get a new name that will live in history, a cat that could care less that Robin happens to be the most brilliant archer in medieval England, and a chance to prove himself by rescuing a lady from a fire.
But this is no ordinary lady…
And that is no ordinary fire…

Musings

Taking place on Christmas (perfect timing!), not too long before the events of Everything I Do, we get the inside scoop on how the little band of Outlaws made a name for themselves. And speaking of names – why is he called ‘Robin Hood’, by the way? This is wonderful insight for those who have already started the Outlaws series, but also makes a great invistation into the series for those who are only just now discovering it. And clocking in at 90 pages, this isn’t a short novella!

Unlike in Everything I Do, the perspective of Hood belongs solely to Robin himself. I felt a tonal shift compared to the novel: much more introspective, like when the author wrote her No Ordinary Star series. Absolutely beautiful. We follow Robin as he tries to find his new place in the world, after escaping the prison with his friends: trying to do what’s right, save the people of Nottingham from a terrible villain, keep them from starving on christmas day… while at the same time, trying to save himself. The trauma of his time in the prisons, starving to death, and the loss of his love. As a result, the author weaves high tension moments with quiet scenes that pack an emotional punch.

It’s definitely a loving introduction to the band of merry men, whether you have read the first book or not. It feels essential to the series, like it could have been in an extended version of Everything I Do. There’s no more loving squad than Alis, Little, Tuck, John, and Robin. If you love Good vs Evil type stories, classics brought back with depth, and of course, a great dose of adventure, then you need this book!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ZZJ4JC5/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/48716534-hood