We’re officially one week away from the launch of ‘Wanderer’, the ninth book in the Starstruck saga, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. This has been such an incredible journey, and I want to extend my deepest gratitude to all of you who’ve been with me every step of the way.
For Sally and Zander, enjoying much-needed R&R means hitting up spa planets and chasing buried treasure. But their sun-soaked vacation is rudely interrupted by a visitation from Nimien, who’s more Yoda than ghost. Suddenly they’re on a wild goose chase for the mysterious Wanderer, and the Alliance is more than happy to let them lead a rescue mission for some good PR. Little did they know that Sally’s bestie Marcy, the newly crowned first-lady of the Alliance, had snuck on board for a chance to escape the responsibilities – and boredom – of her new position.
When their ship crashes on Planet Nope, Sally and the gang find themselves cut off from each other and jumping altogether. And to make matters worse, the planet is home to a race of floating octopi who find humans to be the cutest things ever, and promptly adopt Sally as their unwilling pet. But with no eyes or ears, communicating with these giant cephalopods is a real challenge, especially when they can’t hear Sally’s cries for a hot shower and anything but kibble.
With Marcy missing and Zander fighting to put the pieces of his memory back together, Sally is on a mission to break free from her tentacled tyrants and reunite with her friends. Her only ally is a washed-up alien Rockstar who’s making every moment into a power ballad. Can Sally stage a rebellion and escape the clutches of her pet parents and bring everyone home? Or will she be stuck in her own personal rock opera forever?
As the old saying goes, “It’s a bit gauche to review your own book, but hey, here we are.” So instead, let’s call this a sneak peek of what you can expect from the upcoming ninth installment of the Starstruck Saga, WANDERER. And let me tell you, it’s going to be a celestial ride you won’t want to miss.
In Sally’s latest adventure, we’ll be diving into some thrilling exploits: ⛰️ Ever wondered what alien treasure hunting would look like? You’re about to find out. ❤️🔥 If you’re a fan of the friends-to-lovers trope, you’re in for a treat. 🧑🏻🎤 A washed-up interstellar rockstar? You bet. We’re cranking it up to 11. 🦑 And let’s not forget the struggle against oppressive pet-parents. Octopi, to be exact.
In essence, this book is burning with fervor: passion for love, for standing up against injustice, and for a good rock anthem (or two). It’s been an absolute blast writing WANDERER, and I’m beyond excited for you all to join in on this otherworldly journey.
So mark your calendars, folks. The cosmos awaits you in WANDERER, where the stakes are high, the romance is sizzling, and the space-rock anthems are loud!
To make the countdown to launch day even more exciting, I’ve put together some cosmic swag for anyone who pre-orders ‘Wanderer’. If you order the ebook, you’ll receive a beautiful signed postcard featuring the alternate book cover. Perfect for framing, this postcard will make an interstellar addition to any wall.
And for those of you who prefer a physical book to hold in your hands, I’ve got you covered. Along with the signed postcard, you’ll receive a signed bookplate and an incredible enamel pin designed by the talented @No0neDesigns. This exclusive enamel pin is the epitome of space chic and will surely make you the envy of the galaxy.
To claim your pre-order swag, just beam up to the link below and fill out your information.
It’s time for another book review, and today, I have something truly exceptional to share. ‘The Saint of Bright Doors’ by Vajra Chandrasekera is not just a book; it’s a journey into a world both familiar and alien, both mundane and mystic.
The Saint of Bright Doors sets the high drama of divine revolutionaries and transcendent cults against the mundane struggles of modern life, resulting in a novel that is revelatory and resonant.
Fetter was raised to kill, honed as a knife to cut down his sainted father. This gave him plenty to talk about in therapy.
He walked among invisible devils and anti-gods that mock the mortal form. He learned a lethal catechism, lost his shadow, and gained a habit for secrecy. After a blood-soaked childhood, Fetter escaped his rural hometown for the big city, and fell into a broader world where divine destinies are a dime a dozen.
Everything in Luriat is more than it seems. Group therapy is recruitment for a revolutionary cadre. Junk email hints at the arrival of a god. Every door is laden with potential, and once closed may never open again. The city is scattered with Bright Doors, looming portals through which a cold wind blows. In this unknowable metropolis, Fetter will discover what kind of man he is, and his discovery will rewrite the world.
Our protagonist, Fetter, is a man honed as a deadly weapon, born and raised to be a master assassin. From an early age, he is fashioned into a tool of change, a catalyst meant to shatter the world as we know it. But life, in all its unpredictability, has a different course charted for him. As Fetter’s once razor-sharp skills dull from disuse, he strays from his destined path. On paper, this may not sound wildly unique, but trust me – the journey we embark on is something else entirely… as he joins a lost Chosen One support group.
One of the most enchanting aspects of ‘The Saint of Bright Doors’ is Chandrasekera’s sheer artistry in worldbuilding. He paints a vivid picture of a city teetering on the brink of the unknown. It’s a city that’s eerily similar to ours, complete with the humdrum of everyday life – the ringing phones, buzzing planes, even the bureaucratic hustle of entities like the United Nations. Yet, beneath this veneer of normality, the city pulses with a mystical energy that’s hard to describe but impossible to ignore. It’s surreal and foreign, like it evolved in an alternate reality.
As we navigate through the streets of Luriat, we’re continually reminded of its supernatural underbelly. The city is dotted with ‘Bright Doors’ – What are they? Where do they open to? Why are they cared for in the way that they are, without being spoken of?
What’s really compelling is how Chandrasekera blends these elements into a seamless narrative. It’s a delightful dance between the ordinary and the surreal, with the author deftly leading us through the story. This balance creates a tantalizing tension that’s prevalent throughout the book, making for a truly gripping read.
Truth be told, this isn’t an easy book to review. Not because it’s lacking in any way – quite the opposite. ‘The Saint of Bright Doors’ is such a unique reading experience that it’s tough to adequately capture its magic in words. It’s like trying to describe the taste of a delicious new dish to someone who’s never tried it before. All I can say is, this book isn’t just one of my favorites this year, but one of the most memorable I’ve ever come across.
Set to be published on July 11, 2023, by Tordotcom, I eagerly urge you to mark your calendars for the release of ‘The Saint of Bright Doors.’ You’re not just getting a book; you’re getting a key to a city that teems with wonders and secrets, waiting to be unlocked.
I hope this post finds you well and in the midst of a captivating read — actually, no, maybe you need me to tell you to stop scrolling and get back to your book?
Also, it’s my birthday today! Happy birthday to me! If you want to get me a gift and not pay a dime, sharing this blog would be oh-so-lovely.
I’ve recently finished “After the Forest” by Jessica Woods, a reimagining of the classic Hansel and Gretel tale that weaves in post-war German history and a touch of magic. I must admit, I had high expectations for this one — I mean, who wouldn’t be intrigued by the idea of a grown-up Hansel and Gretel grappling with their past trauma?
After the Forest is a dark and enchanting fantasy debut from Kell Woods that explores the repercussions of a childhood filled with magic and a young woman contending with the truth of “happily ever after.”
Ginger. Honey. Cinnamon. Flour.
Twenty years after the witch in the gingerbread house, Greta and Hans are struggling to get by. Their mother and stepmother are long dead, Hans is deeply in debt from gambling, and the countryside lies in ruin, its people starving in the aftermath of a brutal war.
Greta has a secret, the witch’s grimoire, secreted away and whispering in Greta’s ear for the past two decades, and the recipe inside that makes the best gingerbread you’ve ever tasted. As long as she can bake, Greta can keep her small family afloat.
But in a village full of superstition, Greta and her mysteriously addictive gingerbread, not to mention the rumors about her childhood misadventures, is a source of gossip and suspicion.
And now, dark magic is returning to the woods and Greta’s magic—magic she is still trying to understand—may be the only thing that can save her. If it doesn’t kill her first.
I was really excited about this one – a grown-up Hansel and Gretel trying to make it after that whole witch debacle? Sign me up! But I think this one just wasn’t for me.
The book places us in the shoes of Gretel or “Greta” (Margareta) and Hansel, Hans, the siblings who once escaped the clutches of a witch, now two decades older and grappling with the traumas of their past. Woods paints a vivid picture of their struggle, setting the story in post-war Germany, riddled with superstition and suspicion. The addition of a few Scottish characters brings a fresh cultural mix into the narrative. Felt super authentic and I was here for it.
I loved the first third of the book and was completely engrossed. Greta wrestling with the expectations placed on women back in the day was a powerful read. Her use of a stolen spellbook to bake mysteriously addictive gingerbread is a delightful blend of light magic and survival instinct, a creative twist to their childhood encounter with the witch.
However, as the narrative unfolds, the story appears to lose its way. It just felt like there were too many stories shoehorned into one—in shapeshifters, eternal curses, and characters too big for the world (Liesbeth). They didn’t seem to fit together. Mattias was a great love interest and his own story was excellent, but it felt like it had been forced into the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale when it should have been the entire focus of the story.
Further, the second half of the book felt increasingly tedious to navigate through. The unveiling of villains’ motivations stretched the bounds of plausibility, undermining the earlier grounded world-building. The addition of an evil dwarf character felt a little insensitive and unnecessary.
It felt like it was going to say a lot about women’s agency, how widows and single women, or simply too independent, are viewed with suspicion and called a witch, or are forced to degrade themselves at the hands of the powerful. But it didn’t feel like much was really said in the end, and when it came down to it, just kind of missed the mark.
So, in the end, After the Forest started off strong, but lost me in the second half. I loved Greta, and the historical detail was top-notch, but the rest of it just didn’t do it for me. If you’re down for a fairy tale with a historical twist, give it a go – just be prepared for a few bumps along the way.
It’s been a while, hasn’t it? The last time I posted was back in 2021, a whole two years ago. The digital cobwebs may be thick, but I’m excited to dust them off and reignite the warm glow of literary discourse in this space.
You might wonder what took me away. The answer is a celestial one – I was wholly absorbed in working on my Astrophysics thesis. As you can imagine, delving into the mysteries of the cosmos is a time-consuming endeavor. It was a grand adventure, but it also meant that my beloved blog had to take a back seat for a while. But now that I’m a legit PhD, I have no excuse to stay away!
Another reason, and it’s important to be candid about these things, was my mental health. It’s been a rough ride, with more downs than ups, and maintaining a regular blog – not to mention reading whole books – amidst the turbulence was a challenge too steep. I believe in being open about such issues, and I hope that anyone reading this who may also be battling their mental health knows they’re not alone.
But let’s talk about now, about this beautiful moment of reconnection. I’ve missed this. I’ve missed diving into literary worlds, surfacing with treasures to share, and engaging with all of you in a mutual love for books.
So, what’s the first gem I’m bringing to you from my reading treasure chest? Well, I thought I’d start with something a little different, a little exciting – ‘Dino-Rift’ by Derek Borne. Trust me, it’s a wild ride, filled with prehistoric excitement, teenage angst, and yes, plenty of dinosaurs.
A gateway to a prehistoric world.
For years, SauraCorps has kept its existence confidential while touting themselves as a run-of-the-mill dinosaur museum.
For two Utah teens, Kamren and Vivienne, a care-free night to themselves quickly turns into a daunting trek through an exotic, unfamiliar time.
Not only do they stumble upon SauraCorps’ nefarious agenda, they also encounter major discrepancies concerning the past that would rewrite history books as we know them.
Kam and Viv’s reliance on each other through the primeval environment also tests their friendship in unexpected ways.
Will they survive and make it home…together?
“Dino-Rift” by Derek Borne sweeps you up in a whirlwind adventure that will leave dinosaur enthusiasts and thrill-seekers alike brimming with excitement. Honestly, it’s a rollercoaster of a read, and I kept picturing it as a blockbuster movie.
The characters are a joy to journey with. Kamren and Vivienne are not just likeable, but relatable and fun, which makes their journey all the more engrossing. You’ll find yourself rooting for them as they navigate the exotic prehistoric world they’ve stumbled into. The romance in the story is a delight. I’ve always had a soft spot for the friends-to-lovers trope, and Borne has nailed it here. It’s sweet, a touch sappy, but ultimately heartwarming and just adds that extra layer of depth to the characters’ relationship.
The dino-facts and tidbits throughout the book are a delight! The illustrations accompanying the species descriptions make the prehistoric world come alive, adding a layer of immersion that is simply fantastic.
The villains are superbly crafted – they’re complex, morally grey characters that you can’t help but love to hate and hate to love. They add an extra dash of spice to the mix that keeps the story feeling fresh and exciting.
That’s not to say that “Dino-Rift” is without its quirks. There’s a bit of narrative whiplash as we jump between perspectives – it’s a little disorientating at times. Some of the scientific discoveries also push the boundaries of believability (let’s be real, not all dinosaurs can be plant-eaters), but this is, but these surprising moments are part of what keeps the story fresh and entertaining.
In essence, Dino-Rift feels like a delightful cross between Jurassic Park and The Kaiju Preservation Society. It might lean more towards the middle-grade side of the spectrum, but that doesn’t stop it from being a rollicking good time for all ages. Perfect for fans of thrilling, adventurous stories featuring our long-extinct friends!
Find me on socials!
Some of you may have noticed my Instagram handle has changed. I’m no longer @readcommendations, but @seandersonauthor full-time now. You can also find me on TikTok, of all places.
Thank you for your patience, understanding, and support. Here’s to our shared journey back into the heart of literature and an exciting new chapter for Readcommendations! Let’s hope I can keep it up!
“I have learned that when a hurricane passes through, it knows no favor. It takes no precedence. When the time is right and it is ready, it will destroy you. It will destroy everything. Even the good things. Even the things you love.”
BLOG TOUR POST! I’m thrilled to be a part of the blog tour of HURRICANE SUMMER, the debut novel of Asha Bronfield! Thank you @wednesdaybooks for inviting me to participate.
This book, you guys, this book… it’s beautiful, it’s painful, it’s the full package. Be forewarned, it’s covers incredibly heavy topics. But it’s powerful, poignant. Despite not having the same experiences as the MC, Tilla, there’s this underlying connection of the things we go through as women. I also related from to the culture shock she experiences, when you’re caught between two countries but never fully a part of one or the other. It’s got a complex father-daughter relationship which felt so real. Right now I just seem to be listing praises, but hey, there’s just so much to unpack here, so much I want to talk about but I’m limited here.
A profound experience. Absolutely incredible!
In this sweeping debut, Asha Bromfield takes readers to the heart of Jamaica, and into the soul of a girl coming to terms with her family, and herself, set against the backdrop of a hurricane.
Tilla has spent her entire life trying to make her father love her. But every six months, he leaves their family and returns to his true home: the island of Jamaica.
When Tilla’s mother tells her she’ll be spending the summer on the island, Tilla dreads the idea of seeing him again, but longs to discover what life in Jamaica has always held for him.
In an unexpected turn of events, Tilla is forced to face the storm that unravels in her own life as she learns about the dark secrets that lie beyond the veil of paradise―all in the midst of an impending hurricane.
Hurricane Summer is a powerful coming of age story that deals with colorism, classism, young love, the father-daughter dynamic―and what it means to discover your own voice in the center of complete destruction.
About the Author
Asha Bromfield is an actress, singer, and writer of Afro-Jamaican descent. She is known for her role as Melody Jones, drummer of Josie and the Pussycats in CW’s Riverdale. She also stars as Zadie Wells in Netflix’s hit show, Locke and Key. Asha is a proud ambassador for the Dove Self-Esteem Project, and she currently lives in Toronto where she is pursuing a degree in Communications. In her spare time, she loves studying astrology, wearing crystals, burning sage, and baking vegan desserts. Hurricane Summer is her debut novel.
Q&A with the Author
R: How has the transition been of actor to author? Do some of the acting skills you acquired serve you when putting pen to paper?
AB: Most definitely! I finally understand why I had to tape for so many auditions that I didn’t book (haha). Being an actress allowed me to understand dialogue and script analysis in a really beautiful way. Writing dialogue is effortless for me because I have so much practice (12 years in the business!) reading scripts and dialogue. My mentor and acting coach, Ingrid Hart, was instrumental in the creation of this book. She helped me understand scene structure, character arcs, and objectives in the most profound way. She’s a true master at understanding life and stories. Being an actress has completely shaped my writing process and the way I understand stories.
R: The feeling of constant culture shock felt incredibly personal to me. Did you draw on your own experience when writing that aspect of the book?
AB: I definitely drew on some of my own experiences, but it also took a lot of stepping outside of myself as well. As much as I had to humanize Tilla, I also had to humanize the people around her. That part wasn’t always easy, but it was so worth it. Writing this book really helped me understand the perspective of the locals in the countryside, and it gave me a great empathy for how Tilla’s presence was a huge disruption for them as well. So much of Tilla’s journey is about her learning to understand herself and her culture, because the culture belongs just as much to her as it does to them. It’s a huge reclamation of power for her, because just as much the summer destroys her, she gains her strength from the island as well.
R: The novel is a powerful and painful exploration of the sexualization of young women, the paradox of forcing them out of their innocence while weaponizing their womanhood against them. If there’s anything you want the reader to take away from your book, what would it be?
AB: I want people to know it is safe to reclaim themselves. So often, we go through life being defined by the judgments and limitations of other people. We gather up their shame and start to wear it as our own. I want young women to know that they are deserving of a safe space to figure it all out. They are allowed to be flawed, make mistakes and discover themselves. It’s all beautiful, and it’s all a part of the journey. I want to eradicate the shame that we feed women, and I hope that this book inspires them to celebrate their pleasure. They are worthy. We all are.
Expected publication: May 4th 2021 (TOMORROW!) from Wednesday Books.
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!
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.
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.
(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.
“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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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