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- admin

By: KJ Hannah Greenberg

Zindzi peeled, washed, and then diced four onions. She added them to a pan. Thereafter, she washed and diced three tomatoes and added those vegetables, too. As they stewed, she checked, washed, and diced generous handfuls of cilantro and parsley. Smiling, she reached into her refrigerator for her red curry paste and added a heaping tablespoon of it to her mix.

The woman smiled once more at the good smells wafted from her stove. The phone rang. She turned the flame to its lowest setting. Adding the fish would have to wait.

Many minutes later, she returned to her kitchen and sighed. The call had been from her agent, who had insisted that Zindzi participate in yet one more Internet interview about her new book.

That grandma next removed some salmon from a plastic container. When the large filets had arrived, she and her youngest son, a boy needing a shidduch, had cut the fish into portions and had frozen each of those lots. Over a period of months, she had fashioned stir-fries, wraps, and more from that oceanic flesh. That day, she would add a spicy meal to her repertoire.

Zindzi used a special cutting board to chop the fish. Because it was possibly bacteria-laden, fish, akin to poultry and red meat, had their own cutting boards.

It was nice to have an agent. It was nice to have publishers who sought her work. The woman had promised a short story collection to one such producer for the coming year and a poetry collection to another.

Sighing, she weighed that she was not brave enough to make sushi despite her love for it. Zindzi worried that even freezing fish flesh could leave behind nasty things that might pollute her family members’ stomachs. In fact, she had given away her sushi mat after tiring of rolling rice and seaweed with cucumbers, avocados, and carrots.

Satisfied with her knife’s results, Zindzi added the fish to the pan and then added a little more oil and a lot more water. She stirred, made sure that her flame was still low, cleaned her cutting board, and then left the kitchen.

In her office, tens of emails awaited her. One was from her undergraduate university. Another was from the school that had granted her a terminal degree. There was even a solicitation from the last university where she had taught. It was the season when academic institutions globally beseeched for handouts.

Sighing, she deleted all of those notices; she preferred to support a local soup kitchen. Her ribbon of degrees had done nothing to prevent her grandchildren from catching the flu or her neighbor from losing his job. All of the scholarly publications in the world could not shorten the gap between her heart and The Aibishter. Plus, she had yet to be completely unresentful when her grocery delivery was missing items or when her husband sang “Adon Olam” too fast for her to follow the words.

Zindzi reprimanded herself that her family was among the fortunate few who could save effort by getting food delivered. She was equally in a minority in terms of wives whose husbands praised G-d with enthusiasm. Gratitude would have to suffice where a lack of annoyance was still missing.

Exhaling, she paused to integrate that thought. After long moments, Zindzi returned to her emails. She thanked one Ezine for including an essay that she had written and reminded another that she needed confirmation on whether or not that publication was going to include a particular poem of hers – she needed to correct that poem’s bibliographic notion in her forthcoming poetry collection.

After hitting “send,” she once more sighed. Her students regarded her as prolific, but she knew herself to be merely a writer who created works one paragraph at a time. She also knew herself to be a safta whom sometimes burned fish.

Zindzi sniffed and ran out of her office. More than her impatience with the world’s imperfections failed to change.

After stirring and then adding additional water, she moved the pan to a burner with a smaller flame. She set that flame, too, on its lowest setting.

Zindzi’s son peeked out of his room, taking a break from entering code, to exclaim about the good smell that were filling the house. He asked if he could take a sample from the source of the aroma.

His once more beamish mother reminded him that there was still chard and lettuce to bodek as well as celery and cucumbers to dice. There would be salad with dinner. She then added that once the fish was fully cooked, he could have a taste.

The young man nodded in response and, before ducking back into his room, asked if the filets had bones or not. He did not like fish bones.

Back in her office, Zindzi again stared at her email queue. It now contained a missive from her married daughter and one from the oldest of her married sons. The first featured pictures of a new granddaughter. The latter was full of commentary about that son’s newest dog. There was a letter, as well, from a small, print magazine congratulating her on it acceptance of one of her narratives.

Sometime later, Zindzi returned to the kitchen. Her husband often teased her about her forgetting simmering food. He meant well.

She covered the fish and closed the flame beneath it. In forty minutes or so, the dish would be cool enough to place in the refrigerator.

Afterward, she made another pass on a story about a family that tried to resolve conflicts originating from cleaning their menorahs and from buying Chanukah candles. Among the characters, the oldest daughter had to remind the mom that long tapers were needed for Shabbot Chanukah. At least, mused the tale’s family matriarch, they needed no yahrzeit torches.

Zindzi sighed. Her father’s yahrzeit had just passed, again.

Zindzi’s agent called again. This time, she wanted to know why Zindzi wasn’t making better use of her social media accounts. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were what sold books, that hired help scolded.

The woman inhaled. Her first book, published while she was still an undergraduate, had seemed like a miracle. Her second, which went into print shortly after she had finished graduate school, too, had looked as if it were a marvel, a mistake, or a miracle. That second book, alone, among all of her titles, had been a scholarly work.

There was supposed to have been another scholarly tome, but that project’s publisher had dropped the book a year after inviting Zindzi to create it. The grandmother remembered calling other academics to see if she was having a unique nightmare or whether broken contracts happened but were largely unreported.

To her dismay, it turned out that scholarly presses did not always honor their agreements. Decades later, upon recalling that truth, she anyway felt hurt, but not discarded, when similar contract terminations occasionally occurred with her trade books.

Zindzi heard her son bumble in the kitchen. She appreciated his willingness to assess the family’s greens — her eyesight had changed as she aged. Technically, she could wear her glasses and count her inspections as valid, but she felt more comfortable knowing that her family’s leaves were being examined by someone with naturally perfect vision.

Sure, her brother, a rising politician, had gloried in his accounts of his cook, his housekeeper, and his gardener, and had let others take on many of his household’s jobs, but Zindzi wasn’t sure that if she had more money that she’d let a nonfamily member evaluate her produce. Support staff, as her agent’s actions too often reminded her, could only be relied upon limitedly.

The writer returned to her story, got tired of making the characters within it reflect a specific hashkafa, and then opened the end matter section of her new fiction collection. She liked the MLA standard, but, weirdly, the press that had invited that book had asked her to use Oxford as her style guide.

Too soon there was a knock at her office door. Her son peeked in and asked if she wanted the vegetables diced regular or fine. Zindzi smiled and told him to choose. She asked her child to put the pan of fish and herbs into the refrigerator, too.

Hours later, she closed the file containing the end matter. While there was an app to convert MLA notations to Oxford ones, she preferred to make changes by hand as too often computer aides left punctuation and spelling mistakes in a manuscript. Mechanics mattered.

Looking out her window, Zindzi realized that she needed to daven Mincha. Her habit of leaving her prayers for the last minute ought to have been temporary, meaning, ought to have been an artifact left behind after her children had grown. At present, it was not.

Following her recitation of prayers, Zindzi returned to the kitchen, tested the salad, and boiled water for rice. Her husband would be home in two hours and would want to enjoy completed dinner preparations.

The phone rang, again. It was one of her unmarried daughters. That daughter’s roommate’s

cousin’s chavrusa was looking for a shidduch. That daughter’s roommate had suggested that daughter. That daughter, going forward, wanted her mom to look into the boy since he sounded promising.

Zindzi jotted down some of the details and then asked her dear girl to email the boy’s resumé to her. She also asked for the shadchan’s contact information.

That daughter replied that there was no shadchan, only a cousin of a roommate.

Once more, Zindzi sighed.

Just as she was finishing another pass on the story that she had earlier set aside, Zindzi heard her husband’s footsteps. He was plodding down their main hall into the kitchen. She heard him open the refrigerator. Dinner wasn’t on the schedule for another hour later; he probably wanted a snack.

Meanwhile, the woman had enough minutes left to email her agent and to begin to rework the preface of her story collection. Another knock on her door pulled her from the paragraphs she was composing that shared that she felt a need to include both flora and fauna in her tales.

Her husband tapped again.

To Zindzi, that man remained the dapper soul that she had married decades earlier. His pants were neatly cuffed and his shirt, despite it being the end of the day, remained tucked in. The little hair that he had left on his head was carefully combed.

That he sweated a bit was of no importance. Beneath the few drops of perspiration trickling down forehead, past his ethnic nose and thick glasses, was an enormous smile.

She gestured him into her office at the same time as she saved her file. She might as well set the table and serve dinner early.

Her partner bowed in a theatrical way and offered her the hand that he had been holding behind his back. Inside of his fist was a bunch of her favorite posies.

She gasped. It was days away from Shabbot.

A few warm kisses later, the couple went into the kitchen and set the table together. He took out dishes and cutlery. She found napkins and then set the covered fish pan to warm in the oven. Thereafter, she put the salad on the table and a bowl of the rice into the microwave.

The two talked while dinner reheated. They invited their son to join them.

Their son spoke about code with his father and then regaled both of his parents with some thoughts on a section of “Nezikin.”

His mother oohed and awed in all of the right places. His father asked relevant questions. His parents discussed the topic with him for more than half of an hour.

When blessings were completed, Zindzi cleared and cleaned the dishes. Her son helped put away the leftovers and then joined his father for Maariv.

After wiping the table and sweeping the floor, the woman returned, once more, to her keyboard. She was determined to create one more draft of the story. Contrariwise, her students protested whenever she lectured that a sound piece of writing often was the result of dozens of rewrites. They argued that it was adequate to plop words on pages and then to submit such assemblages. Unsurprisingly, such unformed work was never published.

On balance, those rare students, who heeded her and devoted the greater part of their writing time to rewrites, found their names in print. Some even advanced to full-time writing.

From her window, Zindzi could see clouds drift across the sky. It was a clear night.

Her son knocked on her office door to tell her that he and some of his friends were meeting for starlit basketball. Soon, it would be too rainy for evening games.

Later, her husband, too, knocked. Kissing her gently on her head as to not break her concentration too much, he reminded her that she had an interview, about her new book, in the morning, and that she did best with extra sleep.

The woman spoke affections in his direction. After her dear one closed her door, she returned to her file. She was a just smidge away from getting her narrator’s tone right.

Too many hours later, she, too, closed her office door. Quietly, she walked through their home, making sure that windows were shut, and interior lights were off. It would be up to her son to remember to bolt the front door when he returned.

Before she slipped under her blanket, Zindzi mused about her fish concoction, about the pleasant way in which she had communicated with her agent, about her unmarried daughter’s potential match, about her new grandbaby, about her husband’s surprise of flowers, and about her older son’s newest canine. Life was good.

- admin

By: Brenton Booth

Ignis FatuusThe Time of Their LivesThe Beautiful PeopleLast ChanceSouth of Heaven Ignis Fatuus

What a special period
it was. Living in a
miniscule apartment
in the red-light district.
Without family. Without
friends. Without
females. Without sex.
Just books, books–
books! And the belief
I would be as great
as the authors of those
incredible works.
Magical years standing
miles ahead of the
crowd. Years that now
feel like seconds.
Abandoned too long

The Time of Their Lives

Watching the cars
through my window
on a Friday night.
Loud, bright, powerful
machines gliding
along the road like
ancient chariots.
Packed with anxious
teenage boys. Some
looking for girls.
Some looking for
fights. Some looking
for even greater thrills.
Last week a boy killed
a pregnant woman
driving out of a
supermarket carpark
with his friends.
The concrete block
effortlessly penetrating
the driver’s side
window. Triggering
an immediate
round of high-
fives and cheers.
Fleeing shortly after
with smiles and
great laughter.
Boasting about it
the entire night.

The Beautiful People

The first
time they
have to
do more
than just
they will
than their

Last Chance

My neighbour
hates me. Had
a double stroke
a few months
back. Does
everything she
can to make
my life more
difficult. Brutal
words. Constant
slamming of
doors. Perpetual
honking of her
car horn outside
my house.
Always trying
her best to
assassinate me
with her dark,
vicious stare.
Old, failed and
dying. Blaming
me. Blaming
everything. Not
we all experience
the same demise.
Some sooner
than others. Hers
long overdue.

South of Heaven

We all
end up
the things
we always
said we
The tragedy
is when
you start
to like


Brenton Booth lives in Sydney, Australia. Poetry of his has appeared, or is forthcoming in Gargoyle, New York Quarterly, Chiron Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Main Street Rag, Heavy Feather Review and Nerve Cowboy. He has two full length collections available from Epic Rites Press.

- admin

By: Ramlal Agarwal

The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh takes its readers back and forth from Dhaka to Calcutta to London, from the past to the present, with a gathering of characters from three countries and three generations who connect with one another notwithstanding differences of nationality, colour or religion.

It starts with the family of Justice Chandra Shekhar Datta, Chaudhari, and his brother, Gostobihari. Justice Datta-Chaudhuri has two daughters, Tha’mma and Mayadevi. Tha’mma is married to an engineer working in Burma, and Mayadevi is married to a famous advocate. Tha’mma’s husband dies of pneumonia, and she comes to Calcutta with her son, daughter-in-law, and grandson.

The novel is the autobiography of Tha’mma’s grandson, who remains anonymous. In Calcutta, Tha’mma works as a school teacher to support her family. She is very proud and self-reliant and does not seek any help from her rich sister. Mayadevi has three sons. Her eldest son Jatin works with the U.N.; her second son Tridib is an archaeologist engaged in research; and her youngest son Robi is in the civil service. Tridib does not wear his scholarship on his sleeve. Tha’mma thinks he is a wastrel since he has no job and idles away gossiping with boys in the street. The grandson of Tha’mma is very fond of Tridib, which Tha’mma dislikes. Unmindful of his grandmother’s disapproval, the child clings to his uncle. Tridib, too, is very fond of the child and tells him about famous places, famous sights, and buildings in vivid detail, recreated in his imagination. It gives the young lad a strong desire to visit those places. He is also very fond of his cousin Ila, and they engage in games that children play. He also takes a liking to her. Likewise, Tridib has a fancy for May Price, the daughter of Mrs. Price, a family friend of the Datta-Chaudhuri family since her father-in-law, Mr. Lionel Tresawsen. When May returns to London and Ila to her father, both Tridib and the young narrator bong for their company. Tridib writes in May. May works for an orchestra and collects funds for destitute children, and Ila makes friends in her school and moves with her father’s postings. In one of his letters to May, Tridib writes how a couple gets desperate for sex and seeks an awkward place in a theatre in war times. He describes the act in all its details, including the movements of their bodies.

At the end of the letter, he wrote, it all happened so long ago that he did not know whether it really happened or he had imagined it. But he did know that that was how he wanted to meet her, May, as a stranger—strangers across the seas—all the more strangers because they knew each other already. He wanted them to meet far from friends and relatives—in a place without past, without history, free, really free—two people coming together with the utter freedom of strangers. May stops reading the letter as Nick appears in the doorway. Later, her mother asked her “What did Tridib say in his letter? and May said “He had invited her to India”. Her mother said, “She should go”. May was also doing research on a musician who was influenced by Indian music, and she decided to go to India. When she arrives in India, she is received by Tridib and the narrator. Once, as they were speeding along the road, they came across a badly mangled dog writhing with pain. The sight does not affect Tridib, but it touches May, and she stops the car and goes to the dog and helps it die without prolonged suffering.

A similar incident occurs later, when the family is in Dhaka. The narrator’s interest in Ila wanes as she shows photographs of friends, describes her adventures with them, and finally marries Mick Price, the son of Mrs. Price. He left and became a mere chronicler. In the meantime, the war between India and Pakistan broke out, and Bangladesh came into existence. Dhaka is now a part of Bangladesh and mutated beyond recognition. After the death of H. Datta Chaudhuri, Gostobihari, called Jatha Moshai, acts as the head of the family. He is alone, and his health deteriorates. The Muslim migrants from India flood Dhaka, and Jethamoshai provides shelter to Khalil, who runs a cycle rickshaw. Khalil is grateful to him and takes care of the old man during his disintegration.

Robi, who is in Dhaka, informs his mother and Tha’mma about the old man and how he needs help from his relatives. So, Tha’mma Maydevi, Tridib, and May reach Dhaka to fetch the Jethamoshai. The old man refuses to leave Dhaka. Then Khalil suggests that he take him in his rickshaw and follow their car, and the plan works.

They hardly make a move when a group of rioters attacks them. Fortunately, they had an armed guard with them who fired a shot in the air, and the rioters dispersed, but soon they saw the rickshaw and attacked it.

Tha’mma wants to get away from the place at the earliest, but May stops the car and rushes at the rioters. Tridib follows her, pushes her back, and surges ahead. Soon the rioters disperse, but not before they have slashed three men dead: Tridib, Jethamoshay, and Khalil.

Soon after the incident, May returns to London. The narrator is told that Tridib died in an accident. Later, the narrator gets a scholarship and goes to London. He meets May, for whom he has taken a fancy. He tries to force himself on her, but May jerks him away, and he apologizes for his indiscretion. May forgives him, and they are together for a blissful night. May also tells him how Tridib died in Dhaka.

Amitav Ghosh draws his characters realistically. Tha’mma is prejudiced against the family of her sister because it is more affluent and successful. Her prejudice against Tridib and Ila is peevish. She acts like a villain when she writes to the principal of the narrator’s school to expel him because he has taken to visiting women of ill repute. She shows no concern for her uncle when he is attacked by rioters. It also leaves a bad taste in the mouth. She is so materialistic and flippant. She cries bitterly for her husband’s faithlessness and soon forgets it all. However, their shortcomings look insignificant compared with the redeeming qualities of May Price and Khalil. Their humanity and kindness touch the hearts of the readers.

Tridib and the narrator play a vital role in the novel. Tridib plays the role of the teacher in the formation of the narrator into a mature man. He defines the shadow lines, the title of the novel, as the shadow lines that mark history, which hides truth and serves the purpose of the present state, nationalism, national borders, and wars and riots, which serve the purpose of dividing people and impinge on humanity, human happiness, and friendship among human beings.

The novel is loaded with intellectualism and postmodern experimentalism.

- admin

By: Aurora Skye

MaskVisionShapeshifterGhosts Mask

Your broken childhood was littered
by the shadows of monsters, unleashed
to a chorus of screams. There lies
your father, below him your shattered
dreams, that have slipped through
your fingers like sand. The monsters
emerge through the mist, taunting,
the worst one of all was wearing the
mask of ‘mother’. Your only parent now.
One that shook your life up like a kaleidoscope
and complained when she saw the broken
glass, the remains of your heart, on the floor.
The monsters remain, warp everything.
All of your partners are monsters with
different masks, they do not understand
your darkness and make space for it,
twisting your mind round like the rope
they wish to hang you on.

The identity of mother is a foreign word
on your tongue. Only three memories
cutting through it all, faces sliding
away from your grasp.
You have no children. Only a trio of strangers.
Looks like the monster under the bed
wormed its way into your head and won
the war.


A vision is what I see,
of something dark and sepulchral appearing to me.

When my time comes, death takes my hand,
guiding me on a leisurely stroll across pure white sand.
Taking me, I would imagine, to its ruined land,
because my demise was pre-destined, already planned.

It senses my fear, it sees my pain.
I know what I’ll never be able to do again.
Like a crown, my sun-kissed hair tumbles down;
cascades as a river does, one last time.

Shining gold for all to see,
my own personal halo. Made just for me.
Although I’m not an angel or a saint,
I’m not quite a sinner. No soul
for my sickly sins to taint.

My heart is on fire,
your preacher is a liar.
Hell isn’t here nor is heaven.
Purgatory? Please.
Not a chance.
The Grim Reaper asks me for one last dance.

His kiss on my lips, and the thrill, is now all I can remember.
And that, some years ago, I was born in the chill of December.
I wasn’t touched by death so much as tapped on the shoulder,
still, I guess that becomes inevitable as you get older and older.

I let out a rattling gasp, refusing to believe this breath is my last.
Yet my work here is done, finished, game over, time out,
before I could eve figure what it’s all about.
The sun may be setting on my tale,
but I lie here and hope a sunrise will arrive soon-
that a new day will prevail.

He whispers some love words into my ear,
telling me that I’ll enjoy it here.
And although this wispy half-existence is new,
it is probably something which I could get used to.
I must admit, though, that it is not quite bless,
when you’re finally touched by death’s tender kiss.

But then I open my eyes, and my life is still with me,
for the time being.
No time at all to comprehend the unusual apparitions which I was seeing.

I don’t know what is left, what words can I say?
Except maybe: enjoy every moment, make the most of every day.
Before life is stripped away from you like wood on a tree;
before it is taken away.

The vision will haunt me for an eternity, I know.
One thing is certain: life is precious, don’t wait for it to go.
Before you realise your true, honest calling.
I was stumbling through the air, falling-

so, before you go tumbling into the abyss,
make sure to lead a loving life that you will miss.
Living life, there’s nothing better than this-
because it is terrifying, being tainted by death’s final kiss.

Don’t let it slip away,
or before you know it, it will be your doomsday.
For Death is a master, but it does not play.
Before the Grim Reaper grabs your hand and asks you to dance,
go ahead. Surprise yourself, and give life a chance.


I recall the poisonous potion
scattered on the kitchen table.
Did you try to resist it? Or were you unable?
It turned you from Jekyll and Hyde,
this drug that’s wrecked you inside.

A shadow of a child flickers into your vision.
Is she ready for the show?

You morph into a monster in front of our eyes,
your sweeping rage taking us all by surprise.
We dance and tiptoe around you to avoid stepping.
on the eggshells littering the floor. My father is gone.

A lying shapeshifter has taken his place,
wearing your face.


Today, I’m laying flowers at the graves
of the friendships I lost along the way,
wishing I could turn back time and take them
with me, to see the best version of my life.

Losing some of my friends feels like
my only true regret through the nostalgic
haze of rainy days. I wish I could but can’t
forget; their ghosts still loiter in my head.

When I try to shut my eyes tight at night,
they soon spring open out of fright,
knowing I slowly lost what once was mine.
I have all of their birthdays memorised by heart.

There’s puzzle pieces from their lives that
fit into my jigsaw just fine. If only they
could see who I’ve become, make amends.
Knowing me now, would they want to be friends?

I let a few friendships slip through my fingers,
then cut my foot on the broken glass and cried.
For others, I threw them out in a toddler tantrum,
with these all gone, a piece of me has died.

I don’t desire to drag down these souls and
muddy memories of old, all the way to the grave,
or worryingly wonder what could have been.
I’ll wish to move on with my life, knowing deep

down inside, that I’d do some stuff differently,
if ever I could do them all over again.
Aware that ultimately, instead, at 3am,
it’s their faces that’ll haunt me all over again.

The faces of old friends will haunt me to the end.

- admin

By Daniel Pratt

Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixPart SevenPart EightAuthor Bio Part One

Alpha’s nose quivered as the acrid scent of disease in his prey rushed to greet him.  He hesitated a moment before signaling to the rest of the pack that the old doe was to be their mark.  If he was wrong, and she were healthy, it could mean death.  A deer could crack the skull of a wolf with one of her hooves as easily as his jaws could crush the skull of a rabbit.  This hunt was important for the pack.  The pups were just about to leave the comfort of the cave for the first time.  Luna was exhausted and thin caring for them in the den these past months and needed to recoup some of her strength.

A pained gurgle in his stomach overrode his hesitation, Alpha signaled and the pack moved in for the kill.  They moved together as a single organism.  Alpha’s only role now, was to play his part in the hunt.  One small piece of a deadly puzzle.

Grazing heads snapped up as one, and the heard began to flee toward the safety of the tall firs.  Alpha’s tongue lolled out the side of his mouth as he became one with the spirit of the hunt.  As his senses took over, he became reborn, his conscious mind moving into the background as his body took over—moved by sheer instinct.  His muscles flexing and moving in perfect synchronicity with the rest of the pack.

Three wolves broke left, cutting off the doe’s escape.  The doe panicked and put on a burst of speed, hopping over a fallen branch and darting deeper into the woods.  That was just fine.  Wolves love to run.

The wind snapped at Alpha’s nose.  It was cold.   He felt a wet trickle licking the tip of his muzzle as he willed his legs to go faster and faster, paws beating the forest floor in a steady rhythm.  This was the best part of the hunt.  Not the feast, but the chase that comes before.

The three wolves dropped back a little, allowing the doe to tire herself out—putting on a burst of speed every time she tried to change direction so she knew that she was nowhere near safe—with each pivot she would lose enough ground that she could feel the hot breath of her relentless pursuers.  She let out a fearful braying as teeth lightly raked against her leg.  The leaping wolf’s teeth snapped shut on thin air.

She began to slow.  The sickness that was eating away at her from the inside was fast devouring the last tendrils of her strength.  Worse, every move brought her further from her herd.  Further away from safety and closer to the end of her life.

Alpha saw that this doe was certainly ill and dying—she would not have seen the first falls of snow.  Alpha knew he had selected his prey well today.

Glancing to his left, Alpha saw that Beta had been steadily gaining on the struggling doe’s right flank, outside her field of vision, and was about to strike.  Beta struck.  Alpha’s heart skipped several beats as he realized that the doe had been aware of his friend’s presence the whole time as was about to end his life.  She placed a well aimed kick at his head.  Alpha let out a whine as his heart sung out in panicked horror.

Beta danced aside in mid-air with the grace and dexterity of a hawk in flight, and managed to sink his teeth into the bludgeoning leg that had nearly turned his skull into an unrecognizable stain on the forest floor.

The doe wriggled out of the jaws clamped on her leg, but it had been enough.  She crashed into the ground, and Alpha heard a loud snap as one of her legs broke.  Beta opened her throat, ending her pain quickly, the forest floor drinking away the tendrils of her life.  A murder of crows descended into the trees above.  The entire forest would feed this night.  Her life had been spent to keep the precariously balanced wheel of the forest turning.  It was a good death.

Part Two

Luna caught Alpha’s scent when he was still over a mile away, the iron sweet smell of the kill mixed with his like a beacon.  He was bringing something back for her.  She licked away the globules of saliva that began to form at the corners of her muzzle in anticipation of her upcoming meal.  The pain of hunger, a dormant fire mountain, exploded within her.  She let go an almost imperceptible whine that escaped along the soft currents of wind; a breeze that caused the surrounding forest sentinels to spring into a green dance that seemed to reflect the hunger boiling within her.

Sensing that something was happening, the pups began to yip excitedly.  One particularly brave and precocious youngster began a clumsy climb to sit on her back, then began to nip playfully at Luna’s ear leaving the others to paw at her from below.  They were hungry, too, and some of them began biting painfully at her nipples, even though her milk had dried up several turning of the moons ago.  Luna barely noticed.  She was in hunger.

Alpha dropped his prize with obvious pride at her feet and nuzzled her muzzle.  Love for her mate briefly edged out her hunger.  He was still the same proud, bold pup she had fallen for.  She let his nuzzle linger for a moment in deference to his pride before her hunger began tearing into the fresh meat with gusto.  Her stomach growled in warning to any would be scavengers.

Knowing that it was their time to feed as well, the cubs began running over to Alpha as well.  The ball of fluff perched on Luna’s back leapt down, and did a slight tumble before joining her sisters and brothers who were pawing frantically at their father.  The excited pups began to lick at Alpha’s muzzle as he opened wide, like a nesting mother robin, letting loose the extra food he had prepared for them into their hungry mouths.

Sated, Luna looked warmly at her family; she carefully worried some of the kill’s pelt from flesh, fashioning a toy for her pups.  By the time she was done, the pups had finished their meal, and were eager to play.

The rest of the pack had returned from eating their fill—leaving the rest to the scavengers, birds, and insects—and everyone joined in playing with the little wolves; lighthearted tug-of-wars that the older wolves would lose, much to the delight of the young ones as they tumbled back, victorious.

The pack’s play was a palpable shield of happiness and sheer joy that encompassed their beloved home.  A substance that was both soft and powerful, like the feathers of an enormous bird.  The forest echoed with their joy.

Sound shattered the calm.  It was like a nest of angry hornets being amplified to such an incredible volume that Luna saw the skies blackened out by clouds of angry insects in her mind’s eye, the pack’s joy suddenly shadowed in a shroud of buzzing.  She cast her gaze up, actually seeing a swarm of hornets blanketing the sky before her vision caught up to her fear, and she saw only open sky.  It wasn’t a swarm; it was a single creature shredding the forest’s calm.

The roaring buzz stung her ears, and she howled in pain along with the rest of the pack.  Their play forgotten, the pups shivered in fear behind the comforting wall of their mother and father.

One of the older wolves threw herself into the ground, wriggling and pushing her head against the hard dirt floor, trying to block out the painful sounds.  More wolves began writhing against the ground and snapping at the roaring torment of sound. 

Luna jumped at a crash that shook the earth.  Whatever was making the evil roar of sound was so large and powerful that it could rip the very trees from the earth.  She had once seen a bear bending a tree over to get at a hive of bees higher up, but that was a fairly small tree, and once the bear had snagged his prize, the tree snapped right back up to stand guard over the forest.

The sound of buzzing and giant trees falling to forest floor continued until the sun started to hang low in the sky.  The pack whined in relief as the creature terrorizing the forest finally fell into a silent rest.

The empty quiet slowly gave way to the peaceful sounds of the forest.  Luna, her mate, their pups, and the pack huddled close together in the cave as they fell into an uneasy rest of their own, certain that the creature would soon begin its violent buzzing again.

Part Three

The dark clung to Alpha’s fur like fine mist as he stalked gingerly out of the cave.  The birds still slept, but mournful cricket song kept him company as he headed out toward the source of the terrifying sounds of yesterday.

He crept along the forest floor, softly stepping over the leaves that had just begun to fall from the trees.  The crisp morning air stung his nose as he took in the sharp, wet scent of frosted dew.  The calming forest smell began to give way to a new, unfamiliar smell.  First it tickled, then assaulted his nose until his head was filled with it.  The smell convulsed against his skull, stung his eyes, and turned his stomach.  Stars danced along the edges of his vision.  He shook his head, trying to rid himself of the reek that was drowning the forest.  His heart began to quicken and throb against his ribs.  Now the stench of fear began to mix with the ripping, stinging cacophony in his nose.  He hesitated, then resolutely pushed himself further toward the source of fear.  Toward death.

All smell, air, and life were sucked out of him.  The trees were gone.  Stumps scarred the forest floor like a disease. His fear grew until it was a looming monster that hung over the air as a dense morning fog. blotting out every last ray of morning sunshine.  Such devastation; he had seen old, rotten trees felled by great winds; some young ones brought down by the sky flashes—but never anything like this.  But where had they gone?  There were no trunks, no branches.  Only the scars of stumps, some scatterings of needles and leaves stood out like drops of blood against the forest floor remained.

He could still smell them, though.  The smell of wood was so powerful that his mind was telling him that he must be trapped inside a tree.  His sharp eyes and keen nose were at war with one another.  How could the scent be so strong when they were no longer here?

A roar pushed him violently from his trance.  He ran, cowering low on his belly behind a cluster of ferns, his hackles shredding the air around him.  A blinding light stole his vision.  The sound grew louder.  Became a dangerous purr.  Stopped.  His vision began to crawl back.  His vision resolved into the form of a monster with two glowing, predatory eyes.

The monstrous beast was the color of dried blood.   It was the largest creature he had ever seen.  Taller than the largest bear, and as long as a tree is tall.  Perhaps longer.  Alpha gagged as the smell that had plagued his home grew even more oppressive—he hadn’t thought that possible—pushing him heavy against the soft earth cringing below the pads of his feet.  He was held captive by his fear.

More roars overwhelmed him, and more beasts with glowing eyes began to gather, like a pack preparing for a hunt.  Most of these new creatures would have been the largest Alpha had ever encountered had he not seen the giant first.  Alpha thought the smaller monsters must be the giant’s young joining the hunt for the first time.

Alpha stifled a gag as the sides of the creatures begin to burst open.  They were infested with parasites, he realized, as smaller—though still quite large—creatures begin pouring out of the giant growling beasts like beetles bursting out of the decaying corpse of some long dead animal.

Fear expelled every drop of breath from his lungs, his throat was torn away, he forgot how to breathe, and his heart raced like prey fleeing a predator.  Today, he was prey.

As the buzz that sounded of clouds of bees assaulted his ears, he smelled bleeding sap, and watched in horror as another great tree crashed down to earth.  The resounding roar tore through his paralysis.  Alpha fled.

Part Four

Luna was torn from sleep and thrust into the morning by a blood chilling howl in the distance.  The sound sent cascades of shivers down her spine.  It had erupting from the throat of her mate, who was stoic and fearless.  His fear infected her and radiated like ripples through the pack.  As one, they bared their teeth and raised their hackles to the dying moon above.

She first caught his scent, then saw him—her breath frozen in horror—he was running at top speed toward the place they had called home for the past several months; the place where she had given life to their young.  His eyes were white with terror, and she knew in that moment that she would never again see this place she had grown to love.

As Alpha franticly tried to communicate the danger he had just fled, the buzzing sounds from the day before begin to grow louder, rendering all explications unnecessary.  The danger was coming closer to her home.  Closer to her pack.  Closer to her pups.  Luna fled.

The pups had barely started coming out of the cave, and now, instead of being allowed the weeks of the carefree play that would help transition them into hunters, they had become prey.  Even in the best of times children were lost to the balance.  These were not the best of times.  If they lost some or even most of the growing pups, the entire pack would morn as one, but life would go on.  She hoped.  But if all the pups were lost, the pack would wither and die.

After what felt like several days, the ominous chorus of sound began to fade behind them and the pack slowed to a trot.  The children looked tired, but the fear that was present in the adult wolves did not show on their faces or in their scent.  They thought that this was a great adventure.  Maybe it was.  Her heart burned for her young; she would keep them safe.

They ranged for several more miles after the sounds, had completely faded and fell into exhausted sleep.  The sickly blackened sap of fear that they had been drowning in down began to fade into a light fog, and then a mist.  Luna slept.

She awoke to the sounds of Alpha growling softly.  The sun was bright in her eyes, how long had she slept?  She was completely enveloped by white when she first opened her eyes.  Her ears flicked as she became aware of a strange rumbling sound.  It was like a distant winter avalanche.  As she turned her head away from the bright light, she realized that she was still covered by the dark furs of night.  The moon and stars winked at her from above.  On any other night, the stars would have lulled her tranquilly back into sleep.  Tonight, she felt uneasy.

The light she had mistook for day, burned like a tiny moon.  It was coming from one of the parasites that had been stalking her young.  The parasite held the sun in its paw, and the glare of its bright eye was staring directly at her.

A shriek of alarm echoed from her heart; her body was electrocuted with fear.  More of the parasites begin to fade into the perception of her terrified eye.  One of them cast its hideous gaze on her pups.  Her fear turned to anger.  The pack ran into the night.

There was a loud bang, and then all sound and all thought was swept aside by a high pitched ringing whine in her ears.  Another bang tore through the chaos in her ears; her heart rent in two as she stumbled.  A mother knows when her child dies.  Luna ran on, howling at the uncaring sky.

Part Five

The sun pulled Alpha from his rest.  The sun was already high overhead, he couldn’t remember having ever slept this late—or being this exhausted.  They had been running for several days already.  The puppies wouldn’t survive this frantic running for much longer, and though she tried to hide it, Luna was still recovering her strength after giving birth just a few weeks ago.  The run was her first real time out of the den in months the nights hard running dragging it out to years.

Three of the older wolves, including his father, had already fallen dead from exhaustion.  As if the pack could hear his thoughts, all of the wolves lifted their heads in a single chorus, howling their mournful eulogy for their losses.

After running through the night, the pack collapsed under the dawning smile of morning, taking refuge under a small outcropping of earth and stone that was not quite a cave.  Nearby was a small laughing stream, and Alpha drank with a single-minded determination to lap it dry before the cold turned into winter.

He had led them to the place of his birth.  The spirit of the forest had guided him to back to his first home.  He hadn’t been running with any conscious purpose.  Just away.  Away from the cruel creatures and their buzzing fangs.  Fangs that ate through trees as though they were summer mushrooms.

Though he had eaten only days ago, the run had gobbled the energy from that feast down to bare bones.  He was very hungry and very tired.  The scars of a hundred hunts clawed at him as though they were all fresh wounds.

The pups were awake, but had nuzzled themselves deeper within the safety of Luna’s fur, the fear that gripped the pack had finally wormed into the hearts of his young.  A mixture of love, fear, and great frustration welled in his heart.  He let out a low, mournful howl that was almost a whine, almost a growl.  He would protect his young.  Perhaps they had already run far enough.  Maybe the hunters had given up the chase and the pack could begin to heal.

The sounds of danger broke the exhausted silence of the forest.  The glimmer of hope that had been holding back the damn keeping his sanity in check gave way.  What kind of relentless predator stalked their prey without rest?  The pack knew when a hunt was too difficult and when to go after easier game.  Had the roles been reversed, they would have given up the hunt within the first ten, no more than fifteen minutes.  Hunting strong prey made the forest weak, wither and die.

He thought of the evil glowing eyes of their relentless pursuers, and the parasites that infested them, driving the into this single-minded insanity.  This predator didn’t care e about the balance in the forest, it lusted after them as though the pack were a bitch in heat.

The parasites must have driven these giant creatures mad.  He had seen it before, animals spouting foam, not hungering for flesh, but wanting to bite, rip and kill just the same.  Once a foaming raccoon had launched itself at him, shocking him nearly to stillness before he came back to himself and ended the poor creature’s suffering.  Perhaps the predators had been driven mad by the parasites, perhaps they were driven past the point of insanity.  Perhaps they were even dying.  Could the parasites live without their giant hosts?

They had traveled nearly the entire span of forest.  Normally they would have covered this distance over the course of an entire season, but they had done it in just a handful of nights.

The evil sounds of looming death grew ever closer.  Alpha let out another growling moan tinged with the hysteria that had begun to take control of his mind.

Luna nudged his muzzle, breaking through his exhausted, frantic thoughts, and for the moment, his madness.  There was love, hope and urgency there.   Even though the fear told him it was time to curl up and die, her fire snapped him out of his fear and replaced the creeping madness with determination.  The pack ran on.

As Alpha wove in and out of trees, however, his hope fled out ahead of him and then died.  As fast as the pack was running, the sounds of danger kept drawing ever closer.  Nothing could be this fast, not for this long.  The fleetest of creatures in the forest also tired the quickest.  The things that stalked them were unnatural.  Alpha didn’t know the word for it, but in his heart, he knew that the things were pure evil.  An evil so great it had swallowed the world whole.

The forest became a blur, not because he was running, but because he was exhausted.  He shook his head violently in an effort to clear the fog that seemed to fill the world around him, and to fight off sleep that seemed to be chasing him as relentlessly as the parasitic monsters gaining behind.  Unfamiliar sounds, unfamiliar smells, unfamiliar sights.  He no longer recognized any of the land the pack was now traveling.  They were in alien territory, with an alien terror chasing, chasing, chasing.  The pack ran on.

The pack ran for what seemed like an entire season, the sun had been replaced by the moon, and the moon replaced by the sun as they continued their ragged run through the trees.  More of the pack, even some of the younger wolves had simply laid down and died.  Were it not for Luna and their cubs, he would have happily laid down beside them.

The trees began to thin around them, and then suddenly, the forest broke open onto a green field rich with purple, blue, yellow, white, and orange flowers, their stalks drooped as though they were as exhausted as he felt.  The exhaustion they all felt.  Bereft of the shade thrown by the trees, the sudden explosion of light brought him halting to a stop, stars sparkling near the edges of his vision.  The land was washed in white.  His legs stopped working.

He collapsed, belly pointing to the sky, tongue lolling out of the corner of his jaws, sweat blanketing his fur, and basked in the sun’s rays.  As his exhaustion began to slowly fade, he realized that he no longer heard the sound of the pursuing predators, nor could he catch their alien scent in the calm breeze.  The land was at rest, and finally, so was the pack.

Alpha felt tired.  No, tired was something he was familiar with.  This was an exhaustion past the point of reality.  It was better to rest, he was probably already asleep and dreaming anyway.  His eyes closed, and perhaps because he was very hungry, he dreamed of hunting caribou.

The fields that had become their new home were absolutely devoid of caribou, however.  Alpha had sent out several scouting parties, but no food larger than a rabbit or two was to be found.  It seemed they had escaped one predator right into the jaws of another.  Starvation.

As the days turned into weeks, Alpha saw the entire pack beginning to look haggard and thin.  An underfed pack is not a pack which survives.

The scouting parties began ranging back toward their familiar home, like some kind of beacon they were irresistibly being drawn to.  They returned to report finding nothing but poor hunting, and an eerily quiet forest.  Alpha resolved to search in the other direction, deeper into the tiny forests of grass and flowers.

Not wanting to spend any of his pack mates rapidly evaporating puddle of energy, he slunk gingerly away from what they had begun to think of as their new, unwanted, home under the cover of a taunting moon.

The darkness of night enveloped him as he made his way into the unknown.   He had stalked the night for maybe a half hour when the scent of damp that was not morning dew hit his nose.  He padded toward the smell, being guided as though he were a bee seeking nectar.

Lost in his thoughts, he nearly yipped like a pup when a tiny cold paw touched his nose.  He started, but nothing was there.  He felt another cold paw touching his snout, and realized that the first snows of winter had come.  If he couldn’t find a source of food today, the pack would not survive.

He pushed these thoughts aside as he continued on toward the source of the smell.  His heart soared as he entered the loving embrace of a proper forest again, and began to wind his way through the increasingly dense clusters of trees.  Soon he was among giants—verdant pines that ran far past the reach of his gaze.  A feather of snow dotted his eye.  He blinked the snow out of his eye and moved on.

Gingerly he leapt over a fallen log, no doubt an ancient sentinel finally brought low by a wicked wind.  Its life supported the small scurrying things and vegetation that clung to the forest floor.  All life served the balance.  Except the monsters that had driven them from their home.  He shuddered and pushed the shadow of that thought away as his paws carried him on.

His ears were greeted by the low babbling sound of water.  The sound of a river.  The sound of life.  A river meant that they would survive.

He began a trot that turned into a run.  Soon he was loping full out toward the water, heedless of the ferns, nettles, and low hanging branches that slapped at his face and sides.  The whooshing of the wind in his ears turned into the roar of a great river.

He stopped just short of the bank, small rocks making tiny plopping sounds as they tumbled ahead of him into the water.  His stomach roared as he saw fish jumping out of the water, trying to leap up a small fall of water.  The snows may have come early, but the salmon were still making their annual journey home.  Ignoring the pangs of hunger, he turned around and rushed back.  The pack would survive.

Part Six

Luna led the cubs in a playful dance beneath the falling snow, snapping at the fluffy white flakes as they floated down to the earth.  She savored the looks of joy on her children’s faces, the youngest lolled her tongue in glee.  She understood her place in the world, her life was for her children.  She would do anything to protect them.

Eight nights had passed since the salmon feast.  They had returned to the river every day since.  On the first morning, ice had begun to form along the banks.  The water was frigid, and only five or six fish had been caught.  As the days went by, the ice crept further across the water, until the ice completely shielded the fish swimming below from the pack.  Luna crept cautiously from one bank to the other, looking for any gaps in the ice where a fish might be pulled through.  The river, and their only source of food, had frozen over for the winter.

She had hoped that the play in the snow would scare some small game out into the open, but their new world seemed to be completely devoid of life.  The pack, and the salmon safely hidden below the ice were the only living things here.  The balance was all wrong here.  Luna shuddered.

Her sleep was stinted and uneasy that night; Alpha kept slinking out of their new den in search of prey.  She yearned for her old home.  The familiar territory, the plentiful herds of elk, deer, and caribou.  The soothing susurration of the familiar pines speaking to one another as they danced in the wind.  The fresh scent of pine, soft dirt, and lush vegetation.  It felt so close.  So close she could feel it pressing against her snout.  She whined softly in longing, nostrils pulling in phantom scents, wondering if she would ever see her old home again.

She opened her eyes and saw that she was no longer in the den.  She was back home, in her familiar home.  A ray of sunlight pushed through the dense tree cover and warmed her side.  The past several weeks was a fading nightmare as her heart filled with joy.

Her ears perked as she heard a twig snapping.  She jerked her head toward the sound and saw salvation.  An old stag was looking arrogantly into her eyes, as though it was taunting her.  A bead of saliva dripped from her jaws.  Before it hit the ground, she was off in a blur of deadly motion after her prey.

It turned, as if in slow motion, and began to run.  Alpha had picked her for his mate because she was the best hunter of the pack.  It had been far too long since she had been on a hunt, and the chase exhilarated her, her paws racing ahead of her hunger until all that existed was her prey.

She was a feather gliding over the landscape, her paws not quite touching the soft, lush ground below.  Her world was a blur of green as the forest, the stag standing out in sharp contrast.  Nothing else mattered.  The old stag was faster than any prey she had hunted before.  This was good, it would have been a disappointment if the hunt had been an easy one.

She leapt over a fallen tree, feeling the exhilarating energy of life warming her heart and her legs.  She was alive.  She was hunting.  She would save her cubs.  She would save the pack.

So lost in her thoughts, she didn’t notice that her quarry had stopped in his tracks, frozen by something far more terrible than the wolf perusing him.  She barreled right into the large stag, knocking him over.  She stumbled through the air, sailing over and past him.  The old stag didn’t even try to get up.  Something was wrong.

As she regained her feet, she saw that the stag’s eyes were wide with terror.  With a jolt, she realized he was looking past her.  She turned around, beginning to feel the stag’s fear, knowing the parasite ridden monsters would be behind her.  She knew this, didn’t want to look, couldn’t not look.  Her head swiveled toward the source of fear as if it was being controlled by mind other than her own.  She would be lucky to escape with her sanity, much less her life.

What she saw was worse than she had imagined.  The forest was on fire.  The foul, unnatural smelling monsters that had driven them from their homes were engulfing the world in flames of fire.  One of them locked eyes with hers, opened its mouth wide and showed her his teeth.  Its fangs seemed to grow until they were impossibly long, sharp, and deadly.  The eyes of the monster glowed red and menacing, the small patch of fur on the top of its head burst into flame.  Flames shot from the foul creature’s gaping maw.

As the creature’s flame began to lick her hide, it let out a piercing howl.  She recognized the howl coming from the monster.  It was her mate’s.  It was Alpha’s cry.  She collapsed into a shivering heap of saliva and fear; the creature faded as the nightmare of her dream merged into the nightmare of reality.

Part Seven

Alpha watched as Luna groggily gained her feet.  He could feel the flames doing their destructive dance in the distance behind him.  The danger had returned.  He was lucky to have been so restless this night, spotting the monsters as they set fire to their new home.

He jumped as the clear skies barked out thunder.  One of the pack’s oldest hunters was frozen in a partial rise before she fell back into the earth, a patch of red spreading through her snow-colored fur.

Every moment was an eternity as the pack struggled to gain their feet.  More than a few of them returning into an eternal rest as the thunder struck out from behind a shield of flames. 

The thunder wasn’t coming from the sky, Alpha realized in shocked horror, it was coming from the monsters setting fire to their lives.  As several lifetimes passed, and several lives ended, the pack fled the flames, away from the monsters that had made the pack their prey.

Alpha’s ears were assaulted by a horrifying—and familiar—growling purr.  He saw one of the creatures with glowing eyes racing toward him.  He could see two of the parasites inside the impossibly fast creature—a creature which had parts he could see right through.  The parasites were making whooping sounds that reminded him of the excited yips and howls the pack made when hunting prey. 

The creature passed by him in a flash of red.  The lifeless bodies of his fallen pack mates appeared to hold little interest to the monsters as they sailed past—and sometimes over—the dead.  Alpha turned away in horror as one of the large creatures trampled over Beta’s head.  There was a sound of something being squeezed and then a loud popping sound marked the passing of his friend, then the creature finished passing over the wolf, leaving a flattened, unrecognizable mess of fur and red in the place where Beta’s head had been.

The paws of the creature that had killed his lifelong friend trailed continuous bloody footprints as it hunted on.  Alpha’s terror grew as he realized they weren’t even being hunted for food.  They were being slaughtered without purpose.  No animal of the forest killed without reason.  Killing for fun rather than for survival destroyed the balance.  It wasn’t just his pack at risk, he now understood, it was the whole world.

He became lost in his terror like a drowning rat becomes forever lost beneath the surface of a black lake.  The pack was being herded.  Toward where?  For what purpose? 

When his pack herded, it was to move the weak away from the strong.  The weakest would then become the prey.  The predator strengthened the heard by feasting on their weak, ensuring that both pack and heard remained strong.  Alpha only understood the balance.  These monsters served chaos.  Alpha had known nothing of chaos in his other life; the life that these monsters had stolen.

As Alpha risked several glances around him.  Only a little more than half of his pack remained with him.  The monsters left a bloody trail of carcasses staining the pure white with their blood.  Blood that had been spilled without purpose. 

The monsters’ appetite for killing seemed to be growing even stronger.  The fearsome whooping noises, and the constant growling of the beasts they rode inside grew to a piercing crescendo as they pushed the pack closer to their end.  The pack was already dead, Alpha knew, but they kept running.

Suddenly, the creatures split off, the strange growls of the large beasts, and the whoops of their parasitic riders faded into empty silence.  Had their monstrous lust for death and destruction of these creatures finally been sated?  Was it finally over?  Alpha knew in his heart that something even more terrible was yet to come.

Thoomp, thoomp, thoomp.  It sounded like it was coming from all around him, but Alpha couldn’t see anything other than the pack, and endless fields of snow.  He thought it was the sound of a massive hummingbird.  Alpha glanced up into the sky to see another parasite ridden beast hovering in the air.  It looked like a giant bulbous insect without wings.  That wasn’t quite right.  It seemed to have wings on the very top, spinning so fast he could barely see them.  This reminded him again of a hummingbird; but this hummingbird, he knew, was an apex predator.  One that would share all the other monsters’ endless appetite for blood and death. This time the sound of thunder did come from the sky.  The head of one of his precious young—one that had been playing carefree in the snow just a day before—exploded into a shower of blood, brain, and chunks of skull.

The pack ran on.

There was no getting away from the giant flying insect, however.  Now Alpha understood why the monster had led them here.  They had been led into an open killing field without a single blade of grass to hide behind.  Thunder exploded from above and the world ended.

Alpha howled his denial.  He refused this reality.  The pack would survive, he would give his life; but his pack would survive.  Another bolt of lightning tore his heart from his chest.  He watched, helpless, as Luna—his love—fell. One of her legs vanished and the snow drank her blood greedily.  Letting out only a whispered whimper, she pushed herself up.  She would protect her young, and she began howling her warning at the thing in the sky.

Luna’s eyes burned with fire.  She would rip all of the monsters, and the parasites inside them, to pieces.  Luna and Alpha would die here today, yes, but the puppies would be safe.

Thunder roared again, and a hole appeared in Luna’s side.  Alpha shrieked out a howl as light shone briefly through his beloved mate before she fell to the earth for one final time. 

He exploded in fear and anger as he ran on.  With every crash of thunder, another of the pack fell and did not rise again.  All of his pups.  His mate.  His pack.  Their lives spent; not for the balance of or even some greater purpose, but for pointless death.

He felt a bee drive its stinger into his flank, his eyes went blank, and he crashed into the earth.  It would be good to die with his pack.  He faded into the black and knew no more.

Part Eight

When he awoke, Alpha’s head felt as though a rock were resting on his skull.  His mind filled with visions of Luna’s final moments.  He wondered briefly if his mate had survived long enough to die in slow agony as he was doing now.

Eyes sticky with some sort of sap, he tried in vain to take in his new surroundings.  He blinked a few times and the dark began to fall away into a confused vision of captivity.  He wasn’t dying after all.  It was worse, he was trapped inside some kind of enclosure made from silver, leafless branches.  They were perfectly smooth, and perfectly cylindrical.  There were no leaves, no knots in this strange wood at all.

He tried to push open the branches with his muzzle, frantic to see if any of his pack still remained.  For a moment, he forgot that Luna was gone, and yearned for her comfort.  The cold reality of her violent passing stung him as hard and cold as the bars he was helplessly trapped behind.  His pups were dead.  Beta was dead.  His pack was dead.  There was no life left in him, either.

The enclosure was inside some sort of cave without entrance.  It was dark, but he could hear the wind rushing outside.  He pushed himself as tightly as he could in a corner up against the cold bars of his cage, covered his muzzle with his paws.  He felt himself sinking back into terror as he took in the scent of the parasites somewhere nearby.  There was no scent of the forest.  There was no scent of the balance he had served his entire life.  He howled for death to take him.

Finally, the cave shuddered and then he felt it come to a stop.  He was gripped with vertigo, and began to gag as he realized that he had been moving.  Terror gripped him in a vice so tight that he fell back into the depth of the dark, letting it take him out of this nightmare and into an uneasy sleep.

He saw Luna, his cubs, and his pack.  He howled for them, but they couldn’t hear him.  They turned and began to walk away.  He ran toward them, but the more he ran, the further they seemed to be.  After several more moments, they vanished from his sight forever.  He kept running after them.  Alpha’s feet kicked out in his sleep as he ran and ran and ran.

Alpha came awake under a blazing sun.  The parasitic monsters were everywhere, barking ceaselessly to one another as though barking was their only way to communicate with one another.  He was lying in a grassy field, though the grass felt lifeless and wrong.  There was a cluster of trees, and a river between him and the parasites.  He hoped that they couldn’t swim.  He was tired of running.  Even if he weren’t, there was no place to run to.

Fear seized him again.  There was a parasite here with him, on his side of the river.  He welcomed the death this parasite would grant him.  It didn’t kill him, though.  It barked something incomprehensible at him.  Alpha shrank back, then the parasite tossed a slab of meat in Alpha’s direction.

Alpha backed away from the meat as though it would bite.  His stomach hurt from hunger, however, and the smell… he approached cautiously, ready to flee in an instant.  As the parasite disappeared into a stone wall, his hunger overcame his caution, and he tore into his meal.

“Looks like we came at a good time, Bobby.  It’s feeding time.  Isn’t that exciting?” one of the monsters said from across the river to a little monster standing next to it.

Bobby gripped the rail with both fingers as he followed his father’s finger toward the wolf.  The wolf was lost in its hunger.  Bobby’s eyes grew wide with fear, feeling his gorge rise, and he hid behind his father’s leg.

“Oh, don’t be afraid Bobby, he can’t hurt you.  The wall’s too high for him to jump over.  Besides, he’s probably friendly.  It says here he was bred in captivity.”


Author Bio

Daniel Pratt, an autistic software developer, faced life-altering disability due to Long COVID in March 2020, halting his career and passions. Amidst the challenges, he rediscovered his love for writing, ending a 15-year hiatus. Despite mourning his lost normalcy, writing became his newfound purpose, offering hope and resilience.

- admin

By: Alshaad Kara 

“Destiny”“Eyes of Deception” “Destiny”

I am living those nights
Without your smile
And your happiness.

If only you were
By my side,
I could lean on your

But here I am,
Promising to
Your wish
Of seeing me

Despite the
Nightly gaze,
I am submerged
In living in the past
With you…

“Eyes of Deception”

The eyes of deceit
Lie more than
A heart full of hate.

Poisonous spells
Can bleed
Thousands of
Yet the purity
Of one’s love
Can camouflage

But the deceit
In itself is a decision
That breaks
A heart for a lifetime.

- admin

By: Jim Bates

The last week in January
Rolling rural farmland
Nighttime deep and still
Stars floating in a cosmic haze
He stands in wonder
The old farmhouse a dream come true
Escape from the city
To this
To the country
To the deep stillness and peace and quiet
Cornfields frozen and resting until spring
Frost floating through crystalline air.

Suddenly from the house the cry of a baby
He smiles and turns to go inside
In that instant a star falls trailing silver light
He takes a moment absorbing the wonder
The essence of this special place
Then he waves goodbye
“See you later,” he says
“Tomorrow I’ll bring my son out to meet you.”
And he goes inside
Already looking forward returning with his boy
The two of them together with the land

- admin

By: Rimli Bhattacharya

The lyrics wouldn’t leave my head. The case was similar with my daughter as well. Upon returning home we tuned in to the famous YouTube our savior and resigned to our fates. We finally could call it a home. I mean finally I could call my house a home.

I was in search of His Grace Prabhu Gaur Gopal Das, the famous motivational speaker. I had heard him. Not exactly. I had heard his sermons somewhere, sometimes it was from a Whats App message, sometimes…….and sometimes, only sometimes. What I couldn’t realize was there is a message from every action and also from people around us. Don’t you sometimes get lonely in a room full of people? There is a nagging ache in the heart that refuses to leave you. Come on, I know what you are thinking of. People often ask me if it was me getting reflected in all my writings. This time too it was no different: “Are you writing your own story?” asks my friend. I answered softly “It could be your story as well.” In fact it’s everybody’s story. We all are in search of our purpose in life. And the answer would be to marry and settle down, to get good grades and settle down with a hefty pay check, to become a politician and settle down, do be a great dancer and settle down and the list is endless.

Make no mistake friends. I too wanted to know my purpose of life. At that I only knew I had the best mother and the worst father. Sadly it turned reverse. Now my mind talks to me: “Shaming your mother who carried you in her womb for nine months, the same mother who treated you as her world?” I counter my mind: “She is the cause of all my ailments as she was the one who decided to write my purpose in life.” You know, I haven’t forgiven her as on date. It’s my strong believe that a child shouldn’t come under the pressure of studies and too many extracurricular activities. But in my case it was entirely different. I was an average student who loved literature but my mother thought I was no less than Sir Albert Einstein. Therefore I remained a sex slave of my own Math teacher for two years. My mother knew it and father was oblivious. That was just the beginning. The Math teacher later became my professor in the Engineering College. As I refused to give in to his desires I was given the worst marks one could possibly get in a subject. Here I would like to add that I passed my degree with a gold medal wherein I got the least marks in the subjects he taught. I hadn’t forgiven him either. It is often said we should forgive for our peace and happiness. I too agree, but is that so easy to forgive these two people who had done immense damage to a child that she could no longer function in a way which a normal stable human could otherwise live.  

So I thought I finally have got the purpose in my life: One to forgive my mother, two to forgive my teacher, and three to rise above. As I said it isn’t that easy. I had to drink the most poisonous water in my four decades of lifetime. And in process I had almost died. Neither could I conduct the forgiving drama nor could I rise above. I was doomed. But this time it was something different. With the death of my father in year 2020, I hit the rock bottom. I realized my mind, body and everything is between was in jeopardy. Yes, I realized and I plunged into action. While my physical and mental agonies were taken care of from the professionals I was still in search of peace and happiness.

You know after spending two decades with the corporates, my carrier took a shift. I became a teacher to teach young minds. I would also stress on the fact that the journey from the corporate to becoming a teacher was not hunky dory. My father in his death bed wanted to see his daughter achieving peace, sadly he couldn’t.

Teaching requires perfection and also honing your skills. May be I have passed in Grade B when it came to perfection and honing the skills. So that wasn’t my calling either and I would land up hating my colleagues, and at times would even fight with them. No, not boxing but the thing which everyone likes: A drama. One day I was suggested by one of my colleagues to listen to the spiritual Gurus. That he said could curb my emotions and I landed up listening to Prabhu Gaur Gopal Das.

It was a Thursday and I was returning home brain drained when I saw two saints in saffron in the middle of the road, trying to distribute Bhagvad Gita. One of them kindly offered me a book of Bhagvad Gita and I declined his wish. In a whisper I asked one of them, if he knew Prabhuji and also if Prabhuji had any secretary to plan his schedules. He smiled and replied: “He is a monk who does all his chores alone and also he did not have a secretary.” And to whoever reading this memoir just know this: There I found happiness. No, I am neither a monk nor have I reached that level to attain Moksha. But I found peace. The one who never lifted a broom in her house took up one in the Ashram and cleaned the floor. The one who was not an early bird started her day in the early hours. The one who couldn’t chant started doing what she could never focus on – chanting for inner peace. My mind too diverts, the negative thoughts clutter my mind. But each time it did, I came back again. I am still far behind perfection but I could gain my first step to self-liberation.

I end this narration with the lyrics of the song which is playing in my head. It was sung by an ISKCON devotee H.G Yamuna Devi Dasi. It’s in Sanskrit. Translation is available. Need you one, do ask me.

Hare Krishna.

Govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami

Venum kvanantam aravinda-dalayataksam

Barhavatamsam asitambuda-sundarangam


Govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami

Angani yasya sakalendriya-vrtti-manti

Pasyanti panti kalyanti ciram jaganti


Govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami


Rimli Bhattacharya is an Engineer by profession but a writer in passion. Her writings have appeared in around 19 literary magazines. To name a few: Indian Cultural Forum, Daily O, Literary Yard, Café Dissensus, Feminism In India, Womens web, Education Post. She has authored two books “The crosshairs of Life” and “The day it rained and other stories”. She has also contributed to two anthologies “Book of Light” edited by Jerry Pinto and “Muffled Moans”. An avid reader she is a single mother to a teenage daughter. She is also an Indian classical dancer.

- admin

By: Georgios Karagiannis

Steve and his brother Bill walked down the narrow dirt road, towards the river. It was still dark outside and cold, but they didn’t mind. They snuck out right before dawn, while dad was snoring on the sofa. That scene of dad sleeping downstairs had been repeating so often lately, that it was now almost expected of him – some sort of routine. 

The night before they had prepared everything – the lines, rods, and bait. They put the lines and bait inside a plastic fishing box with a transparent top, and the plastic fishing box was put inside a plastic bag. Bill now carried the bag, and they each held their own rod. It was always done that way – that was the agreement. Steve would carry the bag on their way back home.

‘‘Do you think today will be the day?’’ Bill asked.

Steve didn’t get a chance to reply: ‘‘Because I do. Can you imagine how much the big one will pull? I hope my rod is strong enough.’’

They had walked for a while when the first light appeared from behind the hills.

‘‘Do we have enough bait?’’

‘‘I took six from dad’s stash, the biggest ones I could find’’ Steve replied.

‘‘Good. Big fish need big bait; don’t you remember my personal record last summer?’’

Steve was never allowed to forget about Bill’s personal record.

‘‘Of course I remember’’ he said.

‘‘It chose my bait instead of yours, simply because I chose a bigger worm’’.

They arrived at the river bank and lay a big towel down on the grass. There was a familiar, distinct smell around, that of wet soil and old wood. They opened the small bait case and took out one worm each. They passed their hooks all the way through the worms, and cast the rods into the water.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was silent by the river; you could only hear the occasional sounds of insects and the water flowing. Across the west bank, on the horizon, the flock of dim town lights had already started to fade away, making place for the faint shapes of houses and trees. Sitting next to each other on their big towel, the brothers focused all their attention on the floats.

‘‘Do you think mum and dad are getting a divorce?’’ whispered Steve.

‘‘Do you even know what a divorce is?’’

‘‘I do. Larry’s parents got one last year, you forgot?’’

‘‘I did not. So, what about it?’’ Bill said and turned his face back towards the river.

‘‘What will happen next?’’

‘‘I don’t know. ’’

Steve looked back at his float, which was spawning small, irregular waves around it every now and then. 

‘‘Would you prefer to live with mum or with dad?’’ he finally asked, and the tone of his voice was now different, more decisive than before.

‘‘What kind of stupid question is this?’’ Bill said and looked at him.  

‘‘It’s not stupid. This is exactly what happened to Larry.’’

‘‘His father always smelled bad, so Larry is lucky to live with his mother now. Dad does not smell and loves mum.’’

‘‘But what about her?’’ Steve insisted.

‘‘Well, she loves him back, don’t you think?’’ Bill replied, and he was visibly irritated.

At that very moment, Steve’s float dove fully into the water and then popped out. Then again, and again, until Bill jumped up from the ground:

‘‘A bite! Wake up, Steve, set the hook!’’

Steve needed a couple of seconds to realize what was happening and stand up, and, with a swift, aggressive move, he pulled the rod’s tip back towards his body.

‘‘It’s on, Bill! The float is gone, look how it bends the rod!’’

‘‘This is it! My new record. Don’t you dare lose it!’’

Steve started turning the reel, but there was a lot of resistance. He tried harder, but the fish was too big. They heard a daunting sound; after that, the rod straightened.

‘‘What are you doing? You have to give it some line when it’s so big! Are you stupid?’’ yelled Bill, and threw his rod on the grass. He didn’t mean it.

Steve did not respond. He slowly reeled in what was left of the line; the worm was gone, and so was the hook. Bill would not waste time; he grabbed the cut line swiftly, and tied a knot to the new hook he took from the fishing box.

‘‘There, this will do it. Cast it back into the water.’’

He didn’t say a word and obeyed the command.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was calm for a long time after the bite. The sun was now over their heads, blinding their eyes and breaking the morning chill. Far away, on the other side of the river, the town lay quietly surrounded by the green countryside and short, uneven hills.Sitting down on the towel, they were both looking at the floats.

‘‘Well, we can make a competition about it. How does that sound?’’ Bill said, and caught Steve by surprise.

‘‘A competition about what? ’’

‘‘Your previous question, Steve. One of us will have to stay with mum, I guess, so it is only fair to leave it up to fate.’’

‘‘Maybe you are right, I don’t see any other way.’’ Steve admitted. ‘‘What do you have in mind?’’

‘‘It is very simple actually – whoever catches the biggest fish today gets to decide with whom to live.’’ explained Bill. ‘‘He must choose either dad, or mum. The loser has no say in it.’’ His eyes were wide open and his face looked proud, as if he’d made some profound discovery.

Steve agreed to the terms, and they shook hands in a very formal way. After all, he never really thought his brother was better than him in fishing, regardless of what Bill believed. There was, however, a small detail: ‘‘What if nobody catches anything?’’ Suddenly, it was evident to both that there was no point in asking this question out loud:

‘‘Steve, where’s your float? I can only see mine.’’ said Bill, and stood up from the ground out of instinct.

 This time Steve was more prepared, and he landed the fish quickly while trying not to think of the high stakes involved. It was a small gray trout, with yellow spots on its sides and an orange belly. Bill, whose face grew pale following the bite, regained his confidence when he saw the fish. There was a subtle smile of relief on his face, but he said nothing.

‘‘Well, he really looks small’’ Steve admitted. ‘‘What should I do with him?’’

‘‘What do you mean? It’s our only catch so far, and we are almost out of time.’’

‘‘But he’s so small,’’ he said. ‘‘nothing compared to your personal record.’’

‘‘What do you want to do then?’’ Bill asked. His brother was looking down and would not reply, as if he was not physically able to.

Bill continued: ‘‘Keep him, Steve. We can put him in the pond next to the house. He might be happier there, where the water is still. Swimming upstream all your life must be very hard.’’

Steve kept thinking for some seconds, and then grabbed the fish. Although small, the hook looked quite big compared to the trout, and it was not an easy task to take it off its mouth without cutting its lip. He walked with a steady pace until he reached the water, and then gently placed the fish back inside. They both watched silently as it got carried away, almost indistinguishable from the colorful pebbles lying on the bottom of the river.

They took off without saying a word, and walked side by side up the dirt road. Steve held the bag with the fishing box, and they each held their own rod. The load was now heavier for him, but that was the agreement. It was always much heavier on the way back home.


Georgios Karagiannis was born in Athens, Greece and currently resides in Croatia. He has a Ph.D in Theoretical Physics, and works for an information technology company. He has numerous publications in scientific journals, and is currently exploring his abilities in writing what he loves reading the most: flash and short literary fiction.

- admin

By: Don Kingfisher Campbell

Instant CrushHuntington MeridianSimile CitySunset Instant Crush

in your shoes
on a sidewalk

take your sandal
in your hand and smash
a spider perched
on a tiled shower wall

walk into
a car crusher
and sit

fly a helicopter
or plane at
full speed into a hillside
or tall building

climb into
an uncertified submersible
and descend to
10,000 feet

Huntington Meridian

Bushy trees like
giant broccoli

Pointed tall
pines undermatched
across the street
by church steeple

Towering palms
on side of road
sway like pom poms
over elementary school
on opposite side

Simile City

A family of red roses
Cluster together
Like a solar array

A pair of parrots
Screech overhead
Like pod racers

Two honking cars
Pass in parking lot
Like dogs barking

Air conditioners
Hang out windows
Like bored citizens

A couple walk their
Pooch on the sidewalk
Vanish like settlers


because I saw a bright glow coming
from between the window blinds
I stepped out of my rented house

looked to the sky and envisioned
brilliant yellow ragged rams horns
of lit up cloud formations arresting

like two raised arms over the Earth
below they widened until they were
spread out like crab claws dining on

welkin crustacean an orange ocean
skirting the tree lined silhouette
horizon which led my eyes westward

to unseen millions of unknown souls
who no doubt if they were outside
took mental notes or cell phone

photos to share with the ephemeral
moving feed of creation itself
switched on not just for hue man

- Lit Hub Daily
Lit Hub Daily: September 25, 2023
TODAY: In 1952, bell hooks is born. (Image courtesy of Denison)    

“Over the last hundred years, diabetes should have lost much of its bite.” Stuart Bradwel breaks down the insulin crisis of the 21st century and the tragic consequences of unethical profiteering. | Lit Hub Health

Ken Follett on finding inspiration in Ian Fleming, playing the bass guitar, and more. | Lit Hub Questionnaire

Alexander Chee welcomes back Lan Samantha Chang’s Hunger: “She is one of the few American writers who can be said to have actively worked to change the literary landscape in which she is understood.” | Lit Hub Criticism

The making of “Alabama’s Gandhi”: How Bayard Rustin inspired Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent activism. | Lit Hub History

“In every context and at every level, Ballard’s gaze is fixed, fixated, on the man behind the curtain.” Tom McCarthy on J.G. Ballard. | The Paris Review

The Brooklyn Public Library is launching a seven-episode limited series this Friday called Borrowed & Banned, featuring librarians, writers, students, and others on book bans. | Brooklyn Public Library

“The turtle reminds me that I owe my small human life to the generosity of the more-than-human beings with whom we share this precious homeland.” Robin Wall Kimmerer on the animal refugees of the climate crisis. | New York Times

The Strand Magazine will publish a newly discovered Truman Capote story, “Another Day in Paradise,” which was found written in pencil in a notebook among papers at the Library of Congress. | The Guardian

Alexandra Wolfe considers the many literary feuds of her father, Tom. | Air Mail 

Also on Lit Hub: Jen Silverman on imagining dystopias and utopias • Molly Lynch on chaos, childcare, and civilizational collapse • Read from Isle McElroy’s latest novel, People Collide

- Alexander Chee
New Homelands: Alexander Chee on Lan Samantha Chang’s Hunger

In an interview she gave to The Morning News in 2005 Lan Samantha Chang described herself as someone who had at first wanted to write novels, many novels, but could not write stories more than 25 pages long. And the stories do have a remarkable, almost paradoxical density to them, a weight that also seems carried so easily on her sentences.

She told the interviewer, David Birnbaum, that she was trying to break it to her family that she would be an artist, aiming for a rebellion and acknowledging that it looked at first like she’d acquiesced to their plans for her by attending Yale, Harvard, Iowa, and Stanford. By the time she got to Iowa she was writing. Her parents thought of her as sowing wild oats, as if she were a bachelor putting off getting married. One of her sisters told people she was going to journalism school. “I am working up to the big rebellion,” she said. And it may be that writing the rebellious daughter characters in her debut collection was like a rehearsal for doing the same herself. But it may be she had her eye on something else.

Chang was 31 years old in 1998 when she debuted with Hunger. The reviews were raves, the praise, incandescent. The New York Times profiled her two years after publication as if to observe just how extraordinary the collection and the reviews had been. The critics said often that Chang was writing about lost homelands but you will see that these are stories mostly about the new homeland, not lost at all. These are mostly stories about America, about people who gave up everything to move here only to learn they would need to give up even more. People who fled China for Taiwan and who then had to flee Taiwan as well.

These are stories mostly about the new homeland, not lost at all.

“Pipa’s Story,” the story set firmly in China, is the last story in the collection and the first story she published. It appeared in the Atlantic in 1993 and was selected for Best American Short Stories 1994, edited by Tobias Wolff. The attention she received after that story alone nearly got her a book deal but she wanted to choose her moment. “I was afraid of being that young writer whose acclaim surprised me into silence. I wanted to wait until I knew what and who I wanted to be as a writer,” she said. After she appeared in the Best American Short Stories 1996 edition edited by John Edgar Wideman, with “The Eve of the Spirit Festival,” published in Prairie Schooner in 1995, she seemed to know something more of the what and who she wanted to be, and this is the result.

Hunger takes its name from a novella she has said she wrote in six months, a short time by her measure. “Hunger” is a tour de force, told from the point of view of a mother describing the war that develops between her demanding, disappointed husband Tian and his demanding, disappointed daughter Ruth. Their inability to see how alike they are, to apologize to each other, each brings the other to their knees, a final doubled humiliation that overshadows the mother and the other sister. But this is no ordinary story of tragedy, and in the determination of the mother, speaking from beyond the grave, to tell the story of her husband, her daughters and herself, we find a very different kind of beauty, love, and intelligence. I won’t ever forget Tian, who carried his violin wrapped in oil cloth over his head as he swam to the boat that helped him escape China and then had to spend his life as an adjunct at a music school that would not give him tenure but tried to take credit for the education he gave his daughter.

While her stories here do have some themes that repeat, they each feel distinct. It is not repeating oneself when writing about Chinese immigrants in the mid to late 20th century to have highly educated professional fathers working in restaurants, fathers who are passed over for promotions, fathers with defiant daughters. There are also the mothers who feel trapped by their husbands’ decisions or their husband’s failures, the mothers who feel betrayed by their daughters’ independence and even their childhood rebellions. But they do not blend together. Reading this collection now it feels like the kind of story collection you could educate yourself with, on how to treat your parents, your spouse, your children, in order to avoid the conflicts here. It is a wise book, for the way it is full of the sorts of mistakes people make and cannot take back. But what’s more, the haunting decision in one story, to skip drinks with co-workers, contrasts with the haunting decision to host drinks for co-workers too many times in another. You as the reader come to understand the way it doesn’t matter. There is no special key here at least to get your coworkers to understand that you’re human, that you fear you could die in front of them and it wouldn’t matter. I see the stories as being about people lost inside of a system indifferent to their survival, and indifferent to the beliefs they have about what it takes to succeed.

There are no weak stories to my mind in this very slim collection. And if Chang seems to know a great deal about the violin in these stories, or the life of the precocious performer, she was a precocious violinist as a child. If she seems to know the Midwest, she was born in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1965. Her parents are Chinese immigrants who came to the United States in 1949–a chemical engineer and a piano teacher. There is something especially moving about the way they helped her with the research she did at Princeton for her first novel, Inheritance, helping her with the Chinese translations of the materials.

While her stories here do have some themes that repeat, they each feel distinct.

She has published only novels since this first collection, three of them, no other stories thus far. The titular novella, “Hunger,” in that context, would seem to be where she broke free from who she had been, the writing of it letting her reach for who she would eventually become.


Full disclosure: I was a classmate of Chang’s at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a year behind her. She had the blithe confidence of a house captain when she hosted us, and she still does in her new role as director, a job she took back in 2005, where I also taught alongside her at Iowa in 2011 when I was invited there. In preparing to write this, I found myself reading the profiles, the interviews, seeing how the young writer declared she would do X, and the next iteration of her declared it done, whether it was writing a novel when she was ready to do so or raising enough from donors to give the writers at the Workshop more support. She has attained enough to receive the sort of introduction I hate: “I don’t need to list all of her many fellowships and awards,” this sort of person says, and yet you do, you should: she had to earn them to be where she is, writing as she is, in America.

This book returns now to a publishing landscape that is very different from the one in which it first was published. Imagine back to when the many successful writers of color Chang has shepherded just through the Iowa Writers Workshop in her time as the director have not even imagined themselves as writers yet. Some are yet to be born. There were so few Asian American women writers that Chang was compared to two writers she does not at all resemble in style–Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston–and who are in turn very different from each other. Whatever big rebellion she had on her mind back in 2005, she is one of the few American writers who can be said to have actively worked to change the literary landscape in which she is understood, helping to create a more diverse literature in which she might actually be seen for the writer she is.

Please welcome again Lan Samantha Chang and Hunger.


Excerpted from Hunger (25th Anniversary Edition) by Lan Samantha Chang, forward by Alexander Chee. Copyright © 2023. Available from W.W. Norton & Company.

- Jonathan Eig
How Bayard Rustin Inspired Martin Luther King Jr.’s Nonviolent Activism
Martin Luther King Jr

Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the porch of his tiny Montgomery parsonage. An agitated crowd of neighbors gathered around him, waiting for his orders.

King’s home had just been bombed. His wife, Coretta, and his infant daughter, Yolanda, had been in the house at the time. They escaped unhurt. King rushed home upon hearing the news of the attack and found his neighbors gathered on the lawn and in the street. White police officers and city officials stood by, nervously, fearing the mostly Black crowd might turn violent.

“We believe in law and order,” King told the crowd. “Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky at all. Don’t get your weapons. He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword. Remember that is what God said. We are not advocating violence…I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. Love them and let them know you love them. I did not start this boycott. I was asked by you to serve as your spokesman. I want it to be known the length and breadth of this land that if I am stopped, this movement will not stop. If I am stopped, our work will not stop. For what we are doing is right, what we are doing is just. And God is with us.”

The date was January 30, 1956. The Montgomery bus boycott was in its second month. At the age of twenty-seven, King found himself thrust unexpectedly into a role of leadership. As his remarks from his damaged front porch make clear, he was not yet a committed follower of Gandhi. He had read and studied the Indian political activist and ethicist, as well as other proponents of nonviolent protest, but Gandhi’s tactics and philosophy were not yet at the fore of his mind. King’s calls for love and forgiveness, at that point, were inspired by Jesus, and by the commonly held view among Black leaders at the time that justice would never be won through violence. King remained ambivalent about nonviolence. He made that much clear after the dynamite attack on his home when he applied for a gun permit. He faced real danger, and he was prepared to defend himself and his family if necessary.

Rustin saw a chance to extend the Montgomery model, and he recognized quickly that King might be the partner he needed.

But things were changing rapidly. America had never experienced anything like this protest in Montgomery, former capital of the Confederacy, former hub of the Alabama slave trade, and current defender of racial segregation. Black people had united in bold defiance of Jim Crow laws, standing up to the Ku Klux Klan, the police, and the city’s all-white lineup of lawmakers. For two months, the people had refused to ride the city’s segregated buses, refused to participate in a system and way of life that sought to batter and belittle them. King urged them to embrace the power of nonviolence for largely practical reasons: to stake out the position of moral superiority in confrontation with those who assumed and sought to enforce Black people’s inferiority.

King captured the imagination of his followers in Montgomery, across church and class lines. He emboldened the community. He also excited progressive activists around the country. The activists saw potential for a nationwide movement, a movement rooted in resistance, built around the Black church, and led by Black people, with the brave, brilliant, and highly telegenic Martin Luther King guiding them. One of those activists, the novelist Lillian Smith—a board member of an international pacifist group called the Fellowship of Reconciliation—wrote to King on March 10, 1956, with advice. “You can’t be an expert in nonviolence; it’s like being a saint or an artist: each person grows his own skill and expertness,” she wrote. But if King decided he wanted to try to grow as an expert and practitioner of nonviolence, Smith added, if he wanted to explore the potential application of Gandhi’s tactics in the United States, he would do well to talk to Bayard Rustin.

Rustin, as it turned out, had not been waiting for an invitation from King. He had reached Montgomery days before Smith’s letter, eager to see if he could help King use nonviolent tactics to extend the reach of his campaign. Rustin was forty-five years old, and he had already been a part of some of the century’s most important protests. He had worked with FOR, the War Resisters League, and A. Philip Randolph’s Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The fact that he was gay was an open secret among activists. The fact that he had been a member of the Young Communist League was no secret at all. His arrival in Montgomery marked a turning point, not only in King’s life but in the history of America radicalism and rebellion.

Nonviolent protest was hardly a novel idea in 1956. Nearly a century before King’s birth, the white abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison had called for the use of passive resistance to attack slavery. Decades later, labor unions had used sit-down strikes and factory seizures to demand better pay and working conditions. Throughout the 1940s, A. J. Muste, Asa Philip Randolph, and others had led campaigns of nonviolent protest, including marches and boycotts, inspiring activists such as Rustin, James Farmer, and Montgomery’s E. D. Nixon to look for opportunities to organize protests of their own.

In a letter dated February 21, 1956, just prior to his arrival in Montgomery, Rustin announced his goal: “to bring the Gandhian philosophy and tactic to the masses of Negroes in the South.” Nothing short of strict adherence to nonviolence throughout the South, he wrote, “can save us from widespread racial conflict.” Rustin saw a chance to extend the Montgomery model, and he recognized quickly that King might be the partner he needed.

When he arrived at King’s tiny parsonage in Montgomery, Rustin was pleased to discover that he had already met King’s wife, Coretta, having lectured years prior to her class at the Lincoln School in Marion, Alabama. Rustin never said whether he remembered meeting Coretta, and it seems unlikely that any one student in the class would have stood out, even one so impressive as Coretta.

Nevertheless, Coretta remembered Rustin. Years later, King’s friend and colleague Ralph Abernathy would say Coretta played a key role in King’s decision to embrace Rustin as an advisor in those early days of the boycott in Montgomery. Coretta’s endorsement mattered. At that point, she had had more experience than her husband as an activist. As an undergraduate at Antioch College in Ohio, she had joined the campus chapter of the NAACP, a race relations committee, and a civil liberties committee. She had challenged a rule that prevented Black students from student-teaching in local schools. One fellow student recalled that Coretta had also joined in a protest when a barbershop in Yellow Springs had refused to cut Black people’s hair. In 1948, she had supported Henry Wallace and the Progressive Party for president and attended the party’s national convention as a student delegate. In the early days of the Montgomery bus boycott, Coretta was her husband’s most important advisor.

Rustin presented a risk for King. Enemies of the bus boycott would call out the presence of this gay man with a background in communism to smear and sidetrack the protest movement. But King could see that Rustin had a level of experience others in Montgomery lacked. Rustin knew the major figures in the civil rights movement and understood the interplay of the big organizations. Almost immediately, the men engaged in a “very long, philosophical discussion of nonviolence,” as Rustin recalled.

In years to come, Rustin would complain that King was too cautious at times, that his desire for consensus prevented him from making the tough decisions required of a leader. But King was hardly cautious in his initial acceptance of Rustin. King had always had an appetite for big ideas, and Rustin helped him conceive of his protest in the grandest terms, terms that firmly linked three of his greatest interests—philosophy, religion, and social justice. In Montgomery, the pieces were coming together for the greatest nonviolent movement America had ever seen, and they were coming together in no small part because King and Rustin had the vision for how the pieces might be arranged, because King proved willing to adapt, and because these two men managed to forge a complicated but dynamic working relationship.

In his first visit to King’s house in Montgomery, Rustin saw armed guards stationed outside and a pistol on a chair in King’s living room. When Rustin asked about the weapons, King replied, “We’re not going to harm anybody unless they harm us.” To Rustin, that did not sound like a Gandhian approach. King knew that many Black southerners owned guns. He also knew that supporters of the boycott were risking their lives standing up to Alabama’s system of white supremacy. Alabama had seen 360 lynchings since Reconstruction. A violent white response to the Black uprising was all but guaranteed. As King’s remarks from his blasted front porch made clear, he recognized the possibility of escalating violence. Rustin argued that a violent outbreak would be a disaster for the movement and for the Black people of Montgomery, that Gandhian protest required a rejection of all violence, even in self-defense. Glenn Smiley, another FOR activist who had arrived to help the movement, reported in a letter from Montgomery that King recognized that the presence of armed bodyguards undercut his nonviolent message, but King didn’t seem to mind the contradiction. “He believes and yet he doesn’t believe,” Smiley wrote.

Rustin and other activists recognized that King, perhaps uniquely, had the ability to lead a movement that forged deep and wide cultural and political change.

King’s journey was underway. He began to read more Gandhi and to refer to him more often in speeches and sermons. He discarded the gun he had purchased for personal protection and ordered the men protecting his home to do so without weapons. Rustin recalled telling King that he would have to make a deep commitment to nonviolence for his message to have an impact. King’s followers, like his bodyguards, were unlikely to fully embrace nonviolence, Rustin said. They didn’t have to. If King convincingly adopted the philosophy and if his followers sensed their leader’s dedication, they would adhere to his instructions. They would follow him. They would protest nonviolently, even if they didn’t devote their lives to nonviolence. And that would be enough.

The more King mentioned Gandhi in speeches and sermons, the more the national media latched on to the nonviolent element of the Montgomery protest story. Reporters—especially reporters from the North—saw a classic morality tale, one that starkly separated the good guys from the bad guys. King’s commitment to peaceful protest gave his movement an aura of moral superiority. Reporters began referring to him as “Alabama’s Gandhi.” Not everyone bought it, of course. “The man is a genuine intellectual,” wrote Grover C. Hall, editor-in-chief of the Montgomery Advertiser, in reference to King. “But that constant Gandhi business of his, that love-those-who-hate-you routine is the biggest bunch of nonsense I’ve ever run into.”

But the anger generated among people like Hall helped King’s cause. The more the protesters were threatened and attacked by segregationists in the South, the more support the protesters received from Black southerners and liberal white northerners. King became a central focus of the growing racist fury for the same reasons he became a beloved figure among his followers—because he spoke so beautifully and so calmly and because he maintained his insistence that the segregationists who wanted to shut him down and perhaps even cause him physical harm were, in fact, his brothers in Christ. King emerged from Montgomery as the nation’s most visible and influential Black leader. He held no national office. He possessed no great political clout. He attracted only modest financial support. His power derived primarily from his high moral standing and from his extraordinary voice—a voice that resonated with a broad audience, from poor, Black men and women in the South to wealthy liberals in the North. Rustin and other activists recognized that King, perhaps uniquely, had the ability to lead a movement that forged deep and wide cultural and political change.

In early March, Rustin wrote to A. Philip Randolph, recommending that King and others organize a workshop on nonviolence in Atlanta, one that would bring together Black leaders from across the South for a discussion about nonviolent protest. Rustin understood the organizational power of the Black church, having seen its force in Montgomery. The gathering in Atlanta took place less than a year later. It would lead to the creation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and it would lay the groundwork for much of the course of King’s future as an activist. The entire blueprint was there, in the documents Rustin prepared for the meeting; the preachers would advise and support more protests like the one in Montgomery, demanding integration with nonviolent protests, threatening economic consequences for segregationists, and pushing for the federal government to expand voting rights for the disenfranchised Black residents of the South.

Though their methods were radical, the movement’s leaders were not. They were men of God, their words imbued with nobility and love. Most of them were family men, well educated, conservative in dress and lifestyle, hardly the bomb-throwing radicals many Americans associated with protest movements. They believed they had found a method by which, at last, they might achieve not just integration but a reckoning with the sins of slavery and a path to a new and more equitable society.


Excerpted from Bayard Rustin: A Legacy of Protest and Politics, edited by Michael G. Long. Copyright © 2023. Available from NYU Press.

- Stuart Bradwel
“One of the Single Most Expensive Substances on the Planet”: The Insulin Crisis of the 21st Century

In 2017, almost a hundred years after insulin was ‘defensively’ patented for the express purpose of preventing unethical profiteering, Alec Smith was found dead in his Minneapolis home at only 26 years old. He had been diagnosed with T1DM two years previously, but seemed to have adapted well to the demands of insulin treatment. What had gone wrong? Smith’s great misfortune was that he had been lucky enough to be born a citizen of Earth’s wealthiest nation. Unlike most industrialized countries with the finances to do so, the United States offers no universal health coverage to its population. When he ran out of insulin and could afford no more, he was simply left to die.

This tragedy was far from unforeseeable. While a small number of Americans are able to access subsidized healthcare through government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, almost all working- age people rely on a fully privatized, insurance-based marketplace to meet their medical needs. Those fortunate enough to have stable, full-time employment often receive health insurance as a perk of the job, but this leaves many to fall through the cracks.

When he was first diagnosed in 2015, Smith was registered with the insurance that his mother held through work. According to the terms of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA), this provided him with coverage until his twenty- sixth birthday. Unfortunately, he was already approaching the cut-off date. In 2017, he “aged out,” and was left to fend for himself.

Smith did not live in poverty. He worked as a manager at an independent restaurant, and received a salary of around $35,000 per year: not an extravagant income by any means, but comfortable enough for a single man. Losing his health insurance, however, was devastating. As a small business, his employer offered no coverage, but he was paid too much to qualify for Medicaid assistance. His only options were to either take out an individual health insurance policy, or to go without and pay for any costs up front.

It quickly became obvious that for Smith to maintain the level of care he had enjoyed on his mother’s insurance, even the most “affordable” policy would involve crippling costs. In addition to a $450 per month premium, he would be expected to pay full price for his supplies until he met an annual deductible of $7,600. Even after all of that, he would still be liable for smaller ‘co- pay’ fees every time he picked up a prescription until he met his “out of pocket maximum.” In short, Smith was looking at a potential yearly bill of at least $13,000 – over a third of his total income.

It must have seemed absurd. For only $5,400 per year, he could buy the right to spend up to another $7,600 on medical care alone, and his other expenses – rent, utilities, food, etc. – had not gone anywhere. At work he had heard talk that the owners planned to open branches at several new locations, and, as the ACA had also stipulated that companies with more than fifty employees should offer health coverage to at least 95% of their full-time workforce or face penalty fines, he reasoned that, as a manager, he would almost certainly be offered insurance when the move went through.

After his diagnosis, Smith remembered being shocked at an initial pharmacy bill of around $500 for a month’s worth of insulin and supplies. This was a lot, but it must have seemed manageable. It was, after all, only $50 more than he would be paying in premiums if he took out an individual policy. His mother later remembered him telling her how he planned to go without insurance, asking “how bad could it be?”

The answer, as it turned out, was very. Insulin is now one of the single most expensive substances on the planet. When he went to the pharmacy to pick up his prescription, he was told that a single month of supplies would set him back $1,300 – quite a sum for a substance that one recent article suggested could be produced – profitably (!) – at an average cost of only $133 per user per year.

Smith was shocked. He had, with some justification, never imagined just how expensive such an apparently ubiquitous thing might have become. He simply did not have the money that was being asked of him and, lacking insurance, was not eligible for any of the commercial discount schemes that might have reduced his immediate costs, however modestly. In the end, he left with only a fraction of what he needed to effectively manage his condition.

With little other option he began to ration what little he could afford, injecting as little as he felt he could get away with while also radically cutting his carbohydrate intake. If he could buy enough time to reach his next pay packet, he must have thought, at least he could replenish his supplies and take stock of the situation. This decision, however, proved to be disastrous. Smith’s strategy was a desperate gamble, and, as it turned out, a fatal one. Only a month after being unceremoniously dumped from his mother’s insurance policy, he fell into a coma and died of DKA. Damningly, his experience was far from unique.

When Allen Hood, for example, turned eighteen, he was rejected by Medicaid. In the end, he also turned to insulin rationing. Two years later his mother came home to find him on the floor, unconscious. Cruelly, she was forced to watch for over two hours, only days before Mother’s Day, as paramedics tried in vain to save her son.

Jada Baldwin was also uninsured. When she was taken to hospital with DKA in 2019, she admitted that she had been unable to give herself insulin for three whole weeks (!) prior to her admission. She was sent home, and died eight days later.

After he lost his job in November 2017, Jesse Lutgen’s health insurance went with it. The most ‘affordable’ individual plan he could find at short notice came with an incredible $10,000 deductible so, like Smith, he tried to pay out of pocket. He was found dead in February the following year.

These stories represent only a tiny fraction of those who have died for want of a vial that, twenty-five years ago, could be bought for less than the cost of a round of drinks at most mid- range bars. At the time of writing, typing “insulin” into the fundraising website GoFundMe returns countless results, many of them last-ditch attempts to acquire vital supplies from uninsured (and underinsured) Americans. Make no mistake, this is a crisis.

It is not, however, by any means a uniquely American one. Global diabetes rates are increasing rapidly, and demand for insulin along with them. As the planet’s richest country, however, the United States makes for a telling case study. The argument that the resources or infrastructure to provide universal health coverage is simply not there holds little water. If the political will to do so existed, the authorities in Washington D.C. could end the crisis for their constituents almost overnight several times over.


Whatever the “type,” diabetes is a dangerous condition that can lead to disabling and even potentially fatal long-term complications. In reality, however, it need not – with enough insulin it can be effectively controlled. People living with diabetes do, on average, live slightly shorter lives than the general population. Nonetheless, their life expectancy is now substantially greater than it was in the mid-twentieth century, and there is no reason to believe that this gap might not close further in the future, should we allow it to.

Over the last hundred years, diabetes should have lost much of its bite. With effective treatment it is an unpleasant inconvenience and often a chore to deal with, but it should be little more than that. However, for many it remains an existential burden, and it continues to be recognized as one of the leading causes of death worldwide. This framing, however, is somewhat misleading. When people die after rationing insulin, ‘diabetes’ is usually listed as the cause. When they develop avoidable complications that end up killing them, the same thing happens. It is true that in most of these cases the condition has physically contributed to their deaths, but many would have survived had they been able to access the supplies that they needed. Often, they did not die ‘of diabetes’, but rather of inadequate access to healthcare. The problem here is political, not biological.

Those who argue against universal –  or at least more affordable – healthcare usually do so out of an ostensible commitment to free market economics. On paper, the free market is one in which private companies can set whatever price they choose for their products, while individuals are able to freely decide where to buy what they need. In theory, this leads to a community of rational consumers who continuously seek out the best deals, encouraging businesses to undercut one another to attract customers. This, so the thinking goes, leads to affordable prices and greater efficiency.

Over the last hundred years, diabetes should have lost much of its bite. With effective treatment it is an unpleasant inconvenience and often a chore to deal with, but it should be little more than that.

This utopian, self-regulating free market is, of course, nonsense, and insulin serves as a perfect example of why. Those who use it, and especially those with T1DM, are a captive audience. They cannot choose to go without. Furthermore, global production is dominated by only three major companies – Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi. In practice, these manufacturers hold a near-monopoly, but they rarely undercut one another as the theory suggests they should. Instead, they do the opposite, forming an effective cartel that is able to maintain artificially high prices. If their customers have no choice but to buy their products, why ruin the party by competing when they can work together to guarantee one another’s profits?

There are some ways in which insulin can be acquired more affordably. Doctors can pass on “samples” to their patients, for example, which of course also function to advertise certain branded products. Sometimes “free clinics” can help in the short term, and pharmacy coupons or the so-called “co-pay” cards issued by manufacturers might also reduce immediate costs.

None of these, however, are real solutions, and they tend to come with a long list of terms and conditions. ‘Co-pay’ cards, for example, are often not available to the uninsured, and even where they are, the holes in the system become rapidly apparent.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, Eli Lilly announced that it would make a card capping monthly insulin ‘co-pays’ at $35 available to those without insurance. Should someone acquire one of these cards and have it accepted by a pharmacy, neither of which is a given, they might still be expected to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year for their supplies. There is also a $7,500 annual limit, based on Lilly’s ‘contributions’ towards the still-extortionate list price with each purchase. In practice, this means that virtually nobody is able to get everything they need at the reduced price.

“Co-pay” cards are also never issued simply out of goodwill. They also function as effective marketing schemes that encourage people to buy certain products – and still at a significantly inflated cost. They may save money for individuals in the short term, but manufacturers more than recoup their costs in the process, and never fail to cynically use the opportunity to considerable PR effect by highlighting how much they apparently care. This is not the only way companies work to repackage profit-oriented policies as charitable benevolence.

Eli Lilly, Sanofi, and Novo Nordisk each, on paper, donate vast quantities of insulin to those in need through what are known as patient assistance programs (PAPs). Each company has its own with slightly different small print, but they operate similarly in practice and provide one avenue through which some uninsured people who meet certain criteria can receive their prescriptions free of charge, apparently direct from the manufacturer. This sounds very generous on the face of it, and undoubtedly some people have benefited from insulin acquired through PAPs. We should, however, be very careful about attributing any social consciousness to profit-seeking enterprises. No private insulin manufacturer makes its products for the good of humanity, but rather to secure the greatest possible return on its investment – that has been clear since the 1920s. PAPs are no exception. In fact, they represent a very clever piece of misdirection indeed.

When someone receives insulin from, say, Lilly Cares – Eli Lilly’s PAP – they are not actually getting it from Eli Lilly the manufacturer. Instead, it comes from the Lilly Cares Foundation, an affiliated, but ostensibly independent, non- profit organization. Eli Lilly proper provides thousands of dollars’ worth of insulin to Lilly Cares, which then distributes it to successful applicants. Why the middleman? The answer should surprise no one. When Eli Lilly “donates” insulin to Lilly Cares, they are able to designate this as a charitable contribution. This “donation” can then be claimed back as tax relief at “fair market value” – a value which is determined entirely by the manufacturer cartel of which Eli Lilly is a controlling member!

Insulin may be sold for far more than it costs to produce, but its “value” here is determined wholly by its list price. As prices go up, these generously minded companies can claim back ever more from the government, even while their expenses remain stable. The system is framed as manufacturers doing people a favor, but in reality, the function of PAPs is clear. This is a clever system of tax avoidance dressed up as humanitarianism.


Book cover for Stuart Bradwell's Insulin: A Hundred Year History

Excerpted from Stuart Bradwel’s Insulin: A Hundred Year History. Used with permission of the publisher, Polity Press. Copyright 2023 by Stuart Branwel.

- Future Fables
Listen to a Future Fable from Caleb Azumah Nelson: “Forever We Shall”

A new volume of succinct yet stirring stories arrives with the second season of Future Fables. Exploring how the ancient fable form may bring us replenishment, comfort and perhaps guidance for the modern day, celebrated contemporary writers weave yarns that resonate and illuminate in equal measure.

The work of avid photographer, South East London resident and award-winning novelist Caleb Azumah Nelson is influenced by his Ghanaian heritage, visits to local cinemas and galleries, and the playlists that soundtrack his writing. His second novel, Small Worlds, was released in May 2023.

In his Future Fable, two canine companions grow to understand the preciousness of moments spent together, despite the looming fear of being torn apart.

Forever We Shall by Caleb Azumah Nelson

It had been like this, always: Joel and Jeff, waking up beside one another, sometime in the early hours of the morning. Perhaps, in the course of the night, one of them had rolled and twisted, a limb now lazed across the other’s coat or resting atop the snout. Either way, one of the brothers would shift, and after a few seconds of a blind stumble, a morning greeting. Outside, where, whatever the season, a dawn frost on the ground beneath their feet. All this quiet in the world before anyone else had woken, all this possibility in the approaching hours of the day.

They would be fed, as music drifted down towards them from the main house, and after this, they would make their own music as they raced out and up of their enclosed space, coming up the hills of the countryside they called home. From here, they would observe the shift in the seasons: winter’s quiet devastation, the ground grazed by snow and frost; spring’s new promise of blossom and bloom and possibility; summer’s endless days, the night barely appearing, before sunlight arrived once more; autumn’s soft tumble towards the end of the year, towards the certainty of time passing. It didn’t seem like much, but to them, it was everything.

‘I could do this forever,’ Joel would say to Jeff, watching light graze the horizon.

‘And forever we shall.’


A few days before Jeff’s 7th birthday, sometime towards the end of summer, he woke up alone. This had happened before, on the few occasions Joel couldn’t sleep, and he would break out through the flap while it was still barely light, taking time to pad about the green space, to contemplate, to occupy his own quiet while he waited for Jeff to wake up. But today, when Jeff emerges, Joel is nowhere to be found. He calls for his brother, once, twice but the echo of his own bark is the only response. In the uncertainty, the distance grows; the anxiety multiplies with each moment that passes.

Minutes become hours. His hope becomes despair. He half hopes Joel is playing with him, hiding in the seclusion of plain sight, at any moment, bursting out in front of him, gently ribbing and teasing, I was right in front of you, you passed me so many times, and they’ll carry on with their daily routine, with their wander across hills and plains, always something new to discover, or another way of seeing what they already know. They’ll carry on spending time together, which Jeff believes is what love is: time spent occupying the space possibility makes.

But Joel doesn’t magically appear. There’s no trace or hint of his bark. Only silence. Jeff feels like a rib has been wrenched from its cage, like he’s missing something. He eyes his breakfast in the corner of the room, but can only nudge the food around the bowl. Eventually, he decides to settle outside, on the grass, where he can watch and wait for Joel’s return.

When Joel does appear, halfway through the day, that late summer sun sitting high in the sky, it’s with a limp. Some of his beautiful brown coat has been shorn away, a little on his hind. He’s exhausted.

‘Where were you?’ Jeff demands.

‘Good to see you too, brother,’ Joel says, always smiling, always joking.

‘I thought…well I don’t know what I thought,.’ Jeff says.

‘It’s ok. I’m here now.’

‘Shall we go up the hill?’

‘If it’s ok with you, I would like to rest for a bit. I’ll be ready to run again tomorrow. But feel free to go without me.’

Jeff had never imagined life without Joel, and as this fresh possibility arrives, he doesn’t really know what to do with it. His mind spins with confusion, but he goes out all the same, running as hard he as he can, running until he is breathless. The sharpness of the pain in his rib dulls, but the small, low ache remains.


As the year goes on, and they slide through Autumn, towards a wet and cold winter, Joel is less and less active. He often sleeps in, and it takes a nudge on the snout from Jeff to wake him. The blind stumble that Joel blinks awake last minutes, rather than seconds, and he’s eating less too. But still, they make it out and up the hill, still, they watch for the shift in seasons, the passing of time.

‘I’m very tired today,’ Joel says. ‘Come lie beside me.’ Jeff does, twisting himself as tightly as he can into Joel’s body.

After a while, Joel says, ‘There will be a time when we won’t be able to do this anymore. When I won’t be here.’

‘I don’t know what I’ll do,’ Jeff says. ‘It’s always been like this, me and you.’

‘And it’ll be like this always. The memories won’t go. I’ll always be somewhere close.’ Joel nudges at one of Jeff’s ribs. Jeff can barely look at his brother, scared of what he’s being confronted with.

‘Everything will change.’

Joel nods. ‘It’ll feel like that time just before dawn, when the night feels endless. It will feel like the sun isn’t coming. It will probably feel like that for a long time. And then, some light will break through.’

‘But for now? We’ll do this forever.’ And by this, Joel means they’ll carry on spending time together, which they both believe is what love is: time spent occupying the space possibility makes.

‘And forever we shall.’


Caleb Azumah Nelson is a British-Ghanaian writer and photographer living in South East London. His first novel, OPEN WATER, won the Costa First Novel Award and Debut of the Year at the British Book Awards, and was a number-one Times bestseller. It was also shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, Waterstones Book of the Year, and longlisted for the Gordon Burn Prize and the Desmond Elliott Prize. He was selected as a National Book Foundation ‘5 under 35’ honoree by Brit Bennett.

- Literary Hub
Ken Follett Wants His Books to Feel as Exciting as James Bond
ken follett

Ken Follett’s The Armor of Light is now available from Viking, so we asked him a few questions about his writing practice, his favorite books, and more.

What time of day do you write (and why)?

I write all day, Monday to Friday. I usually take weekends off but if I’m coming up to a deadline, I’ll write all day Saturday and Sunday as well too if I need to. I like to get up early and start at seven or eight o’clock in the morning and I finish around five o’clock in the afternoon.

About that time, I start to struggle a little creatively, I get restless, I don’t have any ideas and I think to myself that it’s time for a glass of champagne.

How do you tackle writer’s block?

Now, touch wood, I’ve been very fortunate not to have suffered from writer’s block. I have never sat down at my desk and thought I have no idea what to write next. I’ve always had a waterfall of story ideas flowing in my head.

However, the difficulty for me lies in figuring out which ones are the good ones. Sometimes an idea doesn’t work out. It often happens that I spend two or three weeks working on an idea before deciding that it’s just not going to cut it. Then I have to scrap it and try something new. Now, that’s not quite the same as having writers block but it can still be quite demotivating.

Which of your characters is your favorite?

I have always liked Prior Philip from my novel, The Pillars of the Earth, because he is about as different from me as a character can get. He’s a devout Christian, while I’m an atheist. He dedicates his life to helping other people, which I did not, and he has a complete disinterest in women. He is the ideal of a good person and someone I admire enormously.

What was the first book you fell in love with (why)?

The first book I fell in love with would have been Noddy Goes To Toyland by Enid Blyton. It was one of the first books I read and the book which gave me the reading bug.

However, the first adult novel that I fell in love with was probably Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming. His books got me invested in exciting stories. When I started writing fiction, my aim was to give readers the same excitement that I got from James Bond.

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

I have always enjoyed music and playing the bass guitar. I’m currently in a band called ClogIron and we play a few gigs each year at different venues around the UK.

While I’d love to say that I would have been a musician, the likelihood is that I would have continued in journalism. I was a reporter, first in Wales and then in London, before I became a novelist. I was born curious, and I’ve always loved listening to other people’s stories. Speaking to people was my favorite part of being a reporter.


The Armor of Light - Follett, Ken

The Armor of Light by Ken Follett is available via Viking.

- Molly Lynch
Maternal Vertigo: Molly Lynch on Chaos, Childcare, and Civilizational Collapse

I didn’t plan to take my child to the ghost city. We went there spontaneously, on our way to the beach. We were in Greece, on the island of Kythira, and we’d been driving along a road when I saw the sign for Paleochora and I hit the brakes.

I knew the legend of place because I’d written about it in a recent novel. As the story goes, the city had been built on a narrow precipice between two deep ravines to protect it from the pirates that roamed the Mediterranean. Hidden by the gorge from the view of ships, Paleochora thrived. But the famous pirate, Barbarossa, heard rumors of the prosperous city and coerced some shepherds to show him to the way. He and his raiders attacked. While the men of Paleochora were being massacred, the women calculated their options and made a horrifying choice. Rather than be taken into slavery, they threw their children and themselves over the edge.

At the end of the dusty road I got out of the car. We were the only people there. From the backseat my child called out, Is the beach? I said, Not quite.

Wind was blowing wildly. A hill blocked my view of the ruins, but I was already imagining it—a world collapsing, mothers clutching their children at its edge.

But then it’s easy for my mind to go such places.


Sometime in the early weeks after becoming a mother, it occurred to me that by giving birth to a baby I’d also given birth to chaos. I don’t mean that my child embodied chaos. It was more like when the baby exited my body, a dark, swarming force rushed in. By wanting to protect someone, I’d invited into my life all that I could never protect him from. I’ve since thought that part of what changes you when you become a parent has to do with the way you encounter this contradiction: at the very moment that you take on the greatest act of caring, you discover how powerless you are.

Around the life of small child, threats ripple out in concentric circles: the choking hazards and toxins in the home, the crosswalks and highways outside the home, the seas, and so many things at once alluring and treacherous, like humans, capable of kindness and stunning cruelty: out and out go the circles, through the precariousness of the times we live in, with the forces of its politics and the things at stake in those politics, such as the inhabitability of the planet itself.

It occurred to me that by giving birth to a baby I’d also given birth to chaos.

In those early weeks, I became trapped between these opposing forces—protection/powerlessness—and the discord vibrated through my being. I couldn’t sleep beside my child for fear of what might happen if I closed my eyes in his presence. When my husband took over and I slept in another room, it was with white noise, ear plugs, a duvet blocking the crack in the door, and I was still prone to waking up from the slightest creak of the floorboards, adrenaline coursing through me, heart pounding, claws out, teeth bared. It was true that my child and I had both almost died during labor, and that event had most likely left me with a touch of PTSD. But there was a deeper unsettling in me. It came from my new dilemma: becoming the guardian of a life, in a universe where I had basically no control.

We talk about postpartum “depression,” but after comparing notes with other mothers, I’ve come to think of that language as limited, if not misleading. Postpartum “total psychic reconfiguration” feels closer. But you could get even more specific, finding language for the initiation ritual in which you become acquainted with and humbled by the forces of chaos that determine so much of our lives.

Ideally, when you have a child you grow a thick skin and a good sense of humor. But it could easily go the other way. You could grow more anxious, more desperate to control environments, more edgy when the “chaos” creeps in. The steady, low-grade tension might be enough to make you want to flee.


Before we went to Kythira, my son and I met up with family and traveled to the island of Syros. One windy day, we went swimming in the sea. The waves were big for a four-year-old, but he dove in joyfully, floating on his belly, spreading his arms out like wings. Finding ground with his feet, he came up gasping, wiping wet hair off his face, then he dove back under. He did this over and over while I followed. We were far from shore, but the water was shallow, spread across vast, flat plain. No drop-off, no undertow, but something else was there. I saw it.

A big wave broke over his small body and for a moment he was hidden by the churning water. I saw that if I let him get too far and if he got knocked over, I might get confused by the waves. There were so many. I saw how they would keep coming, keep breaking, indifferent to me and my search for him.

That didn’t happen.

We returned to the beach, to the company of others, and wrapped ourselves in towels and ate biscuits and apricots and gazed out at the restless sea.

A few days later we said goodbye to Syros, literally, calling out, Goodbye Syros! while waving from the window of a fast ferry bound for Piraeus Harbor. We settled into row seats and my son listened through headphones to British actors reading Beatrix Potter stories. Beside him, I scrolled through the world’s bad news. I read about temperatures in the southern United States being hot enough to cook you alive and people being without power because windstorms had destroyed parts of the grid. No power meant no air conditioners. I read two separate stories, one about South Africa and one about Lebanon, where people had limited access to electricity and where they were increasingly arming themselves. I squinted my eyes so that the text blurred in front of me. I imagined this as the early throes of something that would become common, as governments operated more like private corporations and organized crime rings, and as feeble democratic institutions went down like dominoes.

Just a thought.

I looked around at the rows of Greek families and people on holiday and I tried to picture the world as it would be when my four-year-old turned fourteen. Or twenty-four. I found it impossible to see.

Through the window of the ferry I could see the small white houses of a picturesque village up on the hill. I tapped my child and pointed. An island! he exclaimed, his voice full of awe.


When our ferry reached Piraeus, we descended with a large crowd into the belly of the ship. Steel ramps clattered down and we began to move with a few hundred other humans. I had our luggage. I said to my child, Please keep your hand on this suitcase. He did at first, but there was a lot of shuffling and I had to look where I was going and when I looked down, he was gone. I scanned a thicket of bodies, baggage, people hurrying as a herd, but there was no sight of him. My heart began racing. I called his name sharply. Then I spotted his blue and white train engineer’s hat, his round eyes looking in the direction of my voice. People made space as I pushed my way toward him. I said, I need you to stay beside me!


In my novel, The Forbidden Territory of a Terrifying Woman, mothers do flee. Against a backdrop of climate catastrophe, mothers around the world begin to dissociate and to spontaneously walk away their homes, their jobs, their families. This might seem like a sci-fi scenario, but the novel is actually a domestic drama, with the narrative centering on a family as they navigate the emotional fallout of the mother’s vanishing and her attempt to reenter their lives.

During the question-and-answer period at a recent book event, an audience member asked me if I thought of the novel as a postpartum allegory. The story no doubt explores questions about motherhood, but that particular allegory hadn’t been my intention. In fact, no allegory had been my intention. I had treated the story as a simple documentation of a family’s experience of a crisis affecting the wider society. I hadn’t treated that crisis as a metaphor. Instead, I imagined the mass abandonment of mothers as a symptom of a larger problem. In my own conception of it, the epidemic of mothers walking out on their civilization is the sign of a limit of that civilization, a sign of a breaking point. The mass abandonment is thus caused by something affecting us all.

But after being asked the question, it struck me that the existential disorientation of our current times are themselves like some postpartum allegory—these times being ones when, if we choose to look, we all might all recognize the vulnerabilities, the breaking points, the limits of the world we’ve designed. Times in which we consistently refer to things being “unsustainable” resemble that postpartum self-reckoning.

Ideally, when you tune into the threats you have no power over, when you recognize how helpless you are in the face of those threats, you’ll grow skin and a better sense of humor. But this, too, could easily go the other way.


After visiting Syros, we traveled to Kythira, an island where my husband’s family is from. My husband couldn’t come with us this time, so we went without him to stay with family in a valley of olive and almond and orange trees. A place with ancient ruins and giant snail shells and lizard skeletons and luminescent pink butterflies. You can pick wild thyme in the fields and say hello to goats. The neighbor brings over fresh cheese from sheep’s milk that she has whipped with a hawthorn branch. She gives you a satchel of olive oil rusks and she suggests eating these with the cheese. At night you all sit on the roof, or in a garden, with cold wine under blazing stars.

I rented a car and took my son to villages and bakeries and beaches. We met up with family at restaurants and at a Sunday market where people sold varieties of honey. Then one day, on our way to a cove, I saw the sign for the ruins of Paleochora and I hit the brakes.


For a moment I thought I’d gone far enough. It would be better to come back on my own, another time. But my child was calling to be let out and then I was leaning in and unbuckling the straps of his car seat.

He asked where we were, and I told him it was an ancient city. A ghost city, I said.

He looked up at me and said, Real ghosts?

I explained that this was just what people call a place where no one lives anymore.

We walked along a narrow path with prickly thorns that scratched his bare ankles and at first this consumed our attention.

Then I saw the ruins. Stone structures with gaping black doorways. A crumbling portion of a wall with battlements at the top. All around the site were overgrown bushes, wild herbs, wild wind, and a cliff edge, its deadly drop forming the perimeter of the town. The path led away from the cliff, toward the abandoned entry. We went through it, into the places where people had lived. Around us were broken stone walls, everything falling into the earth. This was one of countless ruins in Greece—too many for the state to preserve. Eventually none of these walls would remain.

As we looked around, my child asked why nobody lived there anymore. I said nobody really knew, that people told different stories about the place. I said, Maybe they decided to live somewhere else. Or maybe something happened that caused them to leave. Then I said, Some people think that pirates came.

Are pirates real? he asked.

Nature’s forces don’t care about your civilization, whether it gets destroyed by foreign invaders, or you destroy it yourself.

This child often went around saying, Shiver me timbers! but my mind was going other places. I’d heard about modern slaves held on shrimping ships and human chattel markets in Libya and Canadian mining companies coercing Indigenous communities off their land and I tried to figure out my definition of pirate. Was a pirate just a thief or did they always have to use threats of violence? Was a person a thief even if they found legal justifications or loopholes for their thefts? I was always, in some way, feeling aware of the world’s billionaires who profited from epic exploitations of human life and of the planet, and I said, There are still greedy people who do mean things. Yeah, I guess pirates are real.

My son climbed around the ruins. He scrambled up onto a wall and sat in the frame of an old window. The wind whooshed around us and I felt nervous and that nervousness seemed appropriate.

I called to him, and we entered a room with two standing walls and porticos with remnants of frescoes. The faces of saints and saviors were still visible. He got close to them, studying the ancient paintings, images of the peoples’ ideas, sacred images, symbols they had put their faith in. Whole chunks of these frescos were crumbling off and turning to dust in the soil below.

Then we went to the edge. There were still low stone walls between our bodies and the drop, but I didn’t trust these walls and I said, I need you to hold my hand. On the opposite side of the ravines were the opposing walls of the gorge. The view was stunning and terrifying at the same time. The thing that had allowed this city to thrive, was the danger that had been built into its very design.

I knew the story of the women throwing themselves over with their babies was maybe only legend, and likely a xenophobic one, told by Greeks about their heroic women who would rather die than be taken by foreign invaders. I knew there were other versions of what happened and that there may never be definitive proof of what had caused that civilization’s end. But as I gripped my son’s hand and looked down, I saw the flat fact that it had ended.

Locals say this gorge is haunted, but I don’t know what that means. I love ghost stories, but I’ve never known how to read them. By that, I mean, read into. The concept of the ghost forecloses interpretation. I can imagine a ghost story of Paleochora with a conclusion that fits the familiar genre. In it, it would be said that the energy of the women’s last moments, their anguish and terror, has been trapped in that gorge forevermore.

But maybe you could take this further, imagine something that might at first seem more terrifying: the thing that’s trapped in the gorge isn’t the women’s anguish, it’s the surrounding environment’s indifference to that anguish. In this version, the gorge is haunted by the fact that there’s nothing exceptional about the human experience. The waves don’t stop for you and your child. Nature’s forces don’t care about your civilization, whether it gets destroyed by foreign invaders, or you destroy it yourself.

For a moment, on the edge, I felt history collapse. It was like some fold in an accordion had closed and I was standing in the place the women had stood and nothing had changed: not the wind in the crevasses, not the uncertainty. The gravity of the earth was also the same. That force that holds us here is the same force that causes us to fall.

I didn’t let go of my son’s hand. He complained and tried to wriggle free. He felt capable of managing the trail without my help and I’m sure he would’ve been fine. But I was capable of superstition. I said, When we’re back on the flat part you can run as fast as you want.

Then I told him about good things we would do, like put on our goggles and dive for seashells and read our chapter book in the shade. And later, I said, we’d get ice cream.


The Forbidden Territory of a Terrifying Woman by Molly Lynch is available from Catapult Books.

- Jen Silverman
Another Possible World: Jen Silverman on Imagining Dystopias and Utopias

When I was a teenager, my martial arts teacher always told us that the gaze was everything. “Your fist goes where your eyes are looking,” he would say, meaning: don’t look away at the last second. And it was true—if we blinked or glanced away, the strike went off-course.

I think about this often in my adult life. It applies to so much else. Our bodies turn toward where we place our gaze. Even if we tell ourselves we’re thinking about something else, we drift closer. We can’t help it.


I wrote a Dystopian Play once, in grad school. A visiting playwright was in town, and one of their duties was to sit down with all of us one by one and discuss our work. By the time the playwright got to me, they were reasonably exhausted—by us as well as by the burdens of adult life in the theater. “Look,” they said (in my recollection). “I mean, just…Why?? Are you writing a dystopian play? What is the point? Aren’t there enough?” At the time, I was startled by their bluntness. But now, I have a real appreciation—both for their candor but also for the level of cultural exhaustion that makes an artist say, in their real voice and not their interior-monologue-voice: What is the point? Aren’t there enough?


It’s not that I’m against dystopian fictions. There is something to be said for processing our collective fears and traumas in narrative form. Numerous plays and films that I love have come out of these narratives.

Maybe the opposite of dystopia is the process by which we imagine what we most need to thrive.

But this is my question, for myself as well as you: in funneling our despair and frustration into dystopian world-building, are we also reinforcing our own worst ideas about ourselves and our potential for destruction? Do we create a sense of inevitability to the idea that things can only ever end in catastrophe? As we think about what is ahead, is there not power in placing our eyes on what we want to move toward? I don’t mean an optimistic take on the world we’re in; I mean: imagining a world that’s better than the one we’re in.

What happens if we imagine for ourselves abilities and capacities we don’t currently have? What if we imagine structures and communities our societies don’t yet hold? What if we place our narrative gaze there? Do we start to move toward it?


Theater makes alternate approaches to reality tangible and manifest. If theater is a place of concentrated communal witnessing, is that not an especially powerful space into which to place a vision?

We dream ourselves into physical spaces and then invite people to join us there. The experience of witnessing the world presented to us by a play is not wholly intellectual; it’s an embodied reality that lives in our breath, our heartbeat, the blood and meat of our bodies reacting. What feels real is, to our bodies, real. And thus we might physically experience life inside a world that, beforehand, we couldn’t bring ourselves to imagine existing.

Maybe the opposite of dystopia is the process by which we imagine what we most need to thrive, and then invite other people to join us there.


When Taylor Mac did A 24-Decade History Of Popular Music at St. Ann’s Warehouse in 2016, there was a moment in which I looked around the packed theater and I saw so many kinds of queer bodies. Bodies that had brought themselves into being. I could see the labor on them: a labor of self-dreaming and self-knowing made manifest in scalp and ink, sequin or denim, clothing as armor or bare skin as clothing, gender blurred or brought into striking focus. A language of self-declaration that so many of us first learned to speak at a whisper, or in code. In that vibrating room, every body was out loud. Taylor Mac was singing songs from the past, and we were gathered in the present, but in that moment of gazing around me, I saw the future. A kind of future. One possible future.


Something I love: the defiant, expansive, restless imagination that I see in queer artists, in queers who are not artists, in people who have survived and built a means of thriving inside a culture that was not made for their safety or happiness.

There is a thing that happens to you—slowly, grindingly, over time—when you live in a country where your existence is subject to public debate. More than that: where your identity is something so dangerous that it must be regulated or disbelieved—or regulated by disbelief. We could talk of the most obvious violences, but let me describe a different and subtler one: an exhaustion that always lives under the bones. The tendency to question yourself before someone else even gets around to questioning you: Am I really what I think I am? Am I sure? What are the consequences? Is it worth it? You might argue yourself into nonexistence before someone else can even get there.

But here is something else that happens. You learn—in equally bone-deep ways—that you cannot trust society’s reflection back to you of what you are and what is possible for you. You can’t trust it, nor do you require it. It just doesn’t apply. It’s a story in a language that does not describe you. And when you realize that, a kind of constraint goes away, and suddenly you are in a space in which your imagination is larger than the cultural imagination that surrounds you.

There is a freedom in that, I think. Many of us are destroyed by it, or are destroyed before we get to it. But those who aren’t, seem able to access a singular vision and reach. I see how they fling open doors for the rest of us and say: Come see what it looks like over here.

There is a depth of imagination tied to survival: physical, spiritual and cultural. As humans, our imagination becomes more profound and muscular when it is also our means of salvation.


When I first read Andrea Lawlor’s astonishing Paul Takes The Form of A Mortal Girl, I thought: Somebody is speaking to me. I have waited my whole life for somebody to speak to me in this way.

Paul Takes the Form is set in the mid-90s, but it opens up a window on the future. The titular Paul is a shapeshifter, a polymath who radiates curiosity and desire…and who shifts between genders. Paul is also Polly. Polly/Paul is witty and bold and sometimes arrogant and often vulnerable. Paul is not a different person when Polly, Paul just has access to a whole other side of human experience, in large part because he is seen and treated differently by others.

Paul is not a pretender except for the ways in which all humans who want to be loved are pretenders. Paul is not sad except for the ways in which all humans get sad. Paul is not punished for the audacity to be fluid and multiplicitous; though Paul gets a bit heartbroken in the way that all of us do, he also gets wiser, more joyful. Paul is a story about queerness that is also the story of somebody who has a thrilling and truthful future, in part because he wouldn’t settle for anything less.

What theater offers us is the act of boundless dreaming made concrete.

In a book that combines casual fisting with philosophy, what seems to me most subversive of all is that Lawlor uses the pronoun “he” for Paul/Polly throughout. And what this does, instead of driving home the idea that Paul is “really” a boy, is that it takes the pronoun and renders it meaningless. “He” becomes repurposed and stretched and shifted until all of a sudden it means a million things and nothing at all. I was talking with someone about this book the other day, and they said: “The thing about Paul is that he…she…they…fuck it! – are so joyful.”

And I thought: that “fuck it” is my utopian future.

I thought: I want to live in a world where I get to be Paul.


Monica Byrne’s 2021 novel, The Actual Star is set in a future where the population is made up of nomadic climate refugees whose highest religion is one of mutual aid. This is a world that has eradicated power differentials in terms of how different bodies are perceived or acted upon by systems of governance. Though there are many bodies who have inabilities, all have access to supportive technologies that make up for what they lack, creating unfettered and equal access to community. In this way, characters have inability without disability, and this is part of a larger framework in which bodies are not seen as sites of virtue or failure, strength or weakness. They’re just bodies—supplemented as needed, each in a different way.

This vision stayed with me long after I finished the book: a future where there is no loaded meaning afforded to any one kind of body. A future in which all bodies have become sites of transformation, possibility, and play.


What am I looking for?

Stories that dream. Stories that conjure. Is this what I mean?

Stories in which reality flickers and there is a new thought on the other side, a truly new thought.


If you’re driving down a highway and you look to the side, eventually you’ll swerve. You won’t be able to help it. Like my teacher said all those years ago: you can’t move forward if you’re looking somewhere else.

These days, I’m trying to figure out what it means to look straight ahead, at a horizon-line I can’t make out. I’m trying to understand what it takes to get there—what are the vehicles by which one travels? How do we ensure that it’s not all rubble when we get there?

What theater offers us is the act of boundless dreaming made concrete: the door left open, the seats awaiting those who wish to dream with us.

I used to joke with my non-arts friends that they were doctors and teachers and scientists and my calling was “make believe.” That’s still true, but to my own surprise, I’ve come to have an abiding respect for the make believe: the labor in the verb Make, the vital difficulty in the word Believe.

How can we move forward without believing that something better is ahead? What better future can we believe in, so that it can be made?


This essay was commissioned for Almanac, a new literary magazine from Playwrights Horizons, a compendium of commissioned works by artists and staff members that captures the rapidly changing ideas and mindset of this critical moment. This ambitious endeavor—a snapshot of artistic thought in a time of seismic change—features essays, drawings, interviews, manifestos, short plays, and more that chronicle this unique moment of reflection and transformation.

- First Draft: A Dialogue on Writing
Edan Lepucki on How Editing Changed Time’s Mouth

First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.

In this episode, Mitzi talks to Edan Lepucki about her new novel, Time’s Mouth.

Subscribe and download the episode, wherever you get your podcasts!

From the episode:

Mitzi Rapkin: So, you sold your book but it wasn’t in its final form.  It’s interesting because I think a lot of people assume when you sell a book you’re not going to wholesale change it like you changed yours.

Edan Lepucki: You know, people say editors don’t edit, but I’ve been edited three times. I’ve always had editors who are super passionate and interested.  This case was the most extreme where Dan Smetanka at Counterpoint Press bought the book. Before he bought it, we had a phone call about his ideas. And he was like, I don’t even know if you like this idea, but here it is. And at that point, I felt like this book had so many special parts to it but wasn’t totally working and I couldn’t figure out why. Dan is kind of a legend in the business, and I really trusted him. And I loved his idea.  And I was like, let’s give it a shot. We kind of took this book down to the studs a little bit. Some of it is exactly how it always was and some of it is totally new material that just was there maybe a little bit of summary, and then I just blew it open and wrote 75 pages. And the ending is exactly how it always was, but we were sort of moving to get to that ending. I don’t know, maybe I’m not supposed to talk about how central my editor was, I feel like that’s maybe not allowed. You’re supposed to just pretend like this book arrived fully formed from the writer’s consciousness, but I think it’s useful for people to talk about the ways that their editors are involved in terms of having a vision for it, or a way to push you because Dan really challenged me and I know it’s a better book. I feel so much more confident about the book, and I feel like it came together in a way that it hadn’t come together before.


Edan Lepucki is the author of the novella If You’re Not Yet Like Me and the novels California, Woman No. 17, and Time’s Mouth. She is a graduate of Oberlin College and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and her fiction and nonfiction have been published in Esquire, the New York Times Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, The Cut, Romper, and McSweeney’s, among other publications.

- Keen On
Kerri Maher on Writing a Novel about Jane

Hosted by Andrew Keen, Keen On features conversations with some of the world’s leading thinkers and writers about the economic, political, and technological issues being discussed in the news, right now.

Andrew talks to Kerri Maher, author of All You Have to Do is Call, about the Jane Collective in the early 1970s and how to write fiction about an issue as divisive as abortion.

Find more Keen On episodes and additional videos on Lit Hub’s YouTube Channel!

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Kerri Maher is the USA Today bestselling author of The Paris Bookseller, The Girl in White Gloves, The Kennedy Debutante, and, under the name Kerri Majors, This Is Not a Writing Manual: Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and lives with her daughter and dog in a leafy suburb west of Boston, Massachusetts.

- Community
The Bestselling Books of the Week, According to All the Lists

September is one of the biggest publishing months of the year, and with it comes some new additions to the bestseller lists. You won’t see a lot of brand-new names here, though: the new titles this week are from established authors like Vince Flynn or celebrities like Oprah. As we continue into fall, we’ll see if any debuts manage to crack into this list.

To get these numbers, we look at the USA Today overall top 10; Publishers Weekly overall top 10; the New York Times top 10, both Combined Print & E-Book Fiction and Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction lists; Amazon Charts top 10, both Fiction and Nonfiction; and Indie Bestsellers top 10, Fiction and Nonfiction, both Paperback and Hardcover. New additions to the list this week are bolded.

This list continues to have a lack of diversity on many levels, including being disproportionately by white authors. Some Indie Bestsellers you should know about are The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride and Babel by R. F. Kuang.

Books On All Five Bestseller Lists:

Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson (Publishers Weekly #1, USA Today #2, NYT #1, Amazon #3, Indie Bestsellers #1)

Holly by Stephen King (Publishers Weekly #3, USA Today #1, NYT #2, Amazon #2, Indie Bestsellers #4)

Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros (Publishers Weekly #4, USA Today #3, NYT #3, Amazon #4, Indie Bestsellers #7)

Books On Four Bestseller Lists: the cover of Build the Life You Want

Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier by Arthur C Brooks and Oprah Winfrey (Publishers Weekly #2, USA Today #4, Amazon #1, Indie Bestsellers #2)

Things We Left Behind by Lucy Score (Publishers Weekly #6, USA Today #5, NYT #5, Amazon #1)

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett (USA Today #9, NYT #7, Amazon #3, Indie Bestsellers #1)

Books On Three Bestseller Lists:

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (NYT #3, Amazon #7, Indie Bestsellers #1)

the cover of Counting the Cost

Counting the Cost by Jill Duggar with Derick Dillard and Craig Borlase (Publishers Weekly #5, USA Today #8, NYT #2)

Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity by Peter Attia and Bill Gifford (NYT #4, Amazon #4, Indie Bestsellers #7)

Code Red: A Mitch Rapp Novel by Vince Flynn and Kyle Mills (Publishers Weekly #8, USA Today #7, NYT #1)

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (NYT #8, Amazon #8, Indie Bestsellers #8)

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk (NYT #5, Amazon #6, Indie Bestsellers #5)

Go beyond the bestseller lists with made-for-you book recommendations from TBR, our book recommendation service!

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

- Danika Ellis
The Bestseller List is Broken

In September of 2022, I wrote a post called The Bestselling Books of the Week, According to NYT, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and Amazon. It got a lot of views, so it became a weekly feature, soon retitled The Bestselling Books of the Week, According to All the Lists.

In this feature, which I’ve been faithfully writing weekly for the past year, I take a look at the biggest bestseller lists (The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, USA Today, Amazon, and the Indie Bestseller List) to see where the overlap is — because despite all claiming to represent the bestsellers of the week, they disagree on what those titles are.

These bestseller list round-ups continue to be popular. They get more views than anything else I write. And if I’m honest, I have grown to resent this feature. Because it is the most mind-numbingly boring thing I’ve ever written. In fact, calling it writing is generous; it’s mostly copying and pasting as well as basic addition.

Don’t get me wrong: I love a good spreadsheet. I often enjoy repetitive tasks like this, especially while listening to a podcast. The main problem isn’t the format of the post; it’s the content.

In July of 2020, the #1 book on the Fiction New York Times bestseller list was The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. In Nonfiction, there were titles like Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. They reflected a national conversation about race in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

Look at The New York Times overall Fiction and Nonfiction bestseller lists today, though, and you’re unlikely to see any conversations about anti-racism. In fact, you’re unlikely to see any books by authors of color. If you do, they’re far outnumbered by books from white authors who have published dozens of books over many decades.

Despite all the promises from anti-racist book clubs in 2020, at least in the world of book sales, not much seems to have changed. The authors who dominated the charts in 2019 are mostly still crowding them four years later…

Click here to continue reading this free article via our subscription publication, The Deep Dive! Weekly staff-written articles are available free of charge, or you can sign up for a paid subscription to get additional content and access to community features.

- Liberty Hardy
Sea It To Believe It: 10 Great Books About Oceans and Ocean Life

I love horror books. Already, you’re wondering, “Wait, isn’t this post about oceans?” I’m getting to it. Recently, I have been unable to find a horror novel that scared me. I don’t know if I have horror burnout or what. So I turned to something else that scares me: the ocean. I am terrified of oceans, and sharks in particular. In reading about the ocean and marine life this summer, I have learned so much about how they need our immediate attention and about more of the amazing things that reside beneath the waves. Which is why I wrote this post on 10 great books about oceans and ocean Life. (But I’m still not getting in the water.)

My fear of the ocean began with sharks when I read In Harm’s Way by Douglas Stanton, about the sinking of the U.S. S. Indianapolis. (Which is the inspiration for Quint’s speech in Jaws.) After that, I didn’t want to get back in the water, although it did ignite a fascination with sharks, which has become one of my favorite subjects to read about. In reading books about our oceans this summer, I have learned so much about how they affect our climate, how little time and money we spend exploring them compared to outer space, and what we can do to help right now.

So here are great books that will hopefully ignite your interest or help you continue your fascination with the deep blue. There are still, sadly, few books about the ocean by authors of color being published. But you can learn more from these sites and articles:

Black History and Ocean History are Inextricably Tied, Diversity in Marine Science – Ocean Conservancy Org Historical Trail Blazers and Rising Stars in Marine Science – National Marine Sanctuaries Celebrating Black History Month with Five Scientists Who Changed Our Understanding of the Ocean – Oceana cover of Deep Water: From the Frilled Shark to the Dumbo Octopus and from the Continental Shelf to the Mariana Trench; photo of blue jellyfishDeep Water: From the Frilled Shark to the Dumbo Octopus and from the Continental Shelf to the Mariana Trench by Riley Black 

Because of the rapid rise in ocean levels and the constant threats from climate change, the deep, unexplored parts of the ocean are hot subjects right now. So much of the ocean is still unexplored. Black takes a look at many of the fascinating creatures living there, both now and millions of years ago, and how we have impacted the ocean environment.

cover of The Underworld: Journeys to the Depths of the Ocean by Susan Casey; photo of a submersible investigating an ocean caveThe Underworld: Journeys to the Depths of the Ocean by Susan Casey

And speaking of the deep! Casey has had a lifelong fascination with oceans. She has written previous books about sharks, waves, dolphins, and more. This book is about her attempt to get on a submersible craft that would take her to the deepest point on the ocean floor. It’s a dangerous and rarely visited place. While readers wait to find out if she actually gets to go, she talks about our need for more deep-sea exploration.

cover of The Blue Machine: How the Ocean Works by Helen Czerski; photo of a huge wave against a pink skyThe Blue Machine: How the Ocean Works by Helen Czerski (October 3)

Do you know how the oceans work? (It’s something about the moon, right? Wait, are oceans werewolves??) Earth’s oceans are responsible for so much of what happens to every living thing, from weather to food to energy. But how? Physicist and oceanographer Czerski explains the vital role oceans play in our lives. And I cannot stress enough just how vital they are.

cover of Ocean, New Edition (DK Definitive Visual Encyclopedias) by DK and Fabien Cousteau; image of a blue jellyfishOcean (The Definitive Visual Guide) by DK and Fabien Cousteau

I am a DK guide evangelist! They publish the most informative, visually pleasing guides on a multitude of subjects for children and adults. This is an amazing 500+ page coffee table book of incredible images of all things pertaining to the world’s oceans.

cover of How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler; image of a colorful blue and black fish tail swimming through dark waterHow Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler

This is a remarkable memoir-slash-science book. Imbler, a queer, mixed-race science and conservation journalist, describes their life working in a largely white and male-dominated field. They compare parts of their experiences to some of the amazing creatures that live in the ocean, to beautiful and moving effects.

cover of Ancient Sea Reptiles: Plesiosaurs, Ichthyosaurs, Mosasaurs, and More by Darren Naish; illustration of finned dino creatures under waterAncient Sea Reptiles: Plesiosaurs, Ichthyosaurs, Mosasaurs, and More by Darren Naish

I may be afraid of what lives under the sea now, but these creatures are nothing compared to what used to swim in our Earth’s waters! Naish details the enormous, many-toothed creatures that roamed the oceans over 150 million years during the Mesozoic period. And to give sharks their due, they have been around even longer, almost 200 million years before dinosaurs.

cover of Kings of Their Own Ocean: Tuna, Obsession, and the Future of Our Seas by Karen Pinchin; illustration of tuna fishesKings of Their Own Ocean: Tuna, Obsession, and the Future of Our Seas by Karen Pinchin 

And speaking of large ocean creatures, this is all about tuna! The tuna is one of the most widely used fish captured for food and sport. But overfishing and climate change have led to depleted populations. Pinchin looks at the fish and one man’s sometimes unappreciated attempts to track and study tuna for conservation.

Book cover of Chasing Shadows: My Life Tracking the Great White Shark by Greg Skomal and Ret TalbotChasing Shadows: My Life Tracking the Great White Shark by Greg Skomal and Ret Talbot

Book on sharks, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo… Skomal is one of the foremost experts on great white sharks (which scientists often just call the white shark). These huge sharks, responsible for most of the very few shark-related injuries to humans each year, are still feared and misunderstood. Skomal talks about how he fell in love with the ocean, and sharks in particular, and why we need to protect the white shark.

cover of Move Like Water: My Story of the Sea by Hannah Stowe; illustration of an ocean with a whale, gulls, and a sailboatMove Like Water: My Story of the Sea by Hannah Stowe

Stowe grew up on the coast of Wales, which fostered her early love for water and the open seas. Now a marine biologist and sailor, Stowe has written and illustrated a memoir about her journeys across thousands of miles of ocean and the creatures she has encountered.

cover of The Deepest Map: The High-Stakes Race to Chart the World's Oceans by Laura Trethewey; illustration of a small ship in the middle of a radarThe Deepest Map: The High-Stakes Race to Chart the World’s Oceans by Laura Trethewey 

And last but not least, the book that kicked off my new ocean obsession this summer. This is another look at the very deepest parts of our oceans on the planet. Tretheway explains how we have explored so much more of outer space than we have of our ocean. And why it is important that we map the ocean floor and the various problems that impede our advances in the study of the deep seas, an area that could help us all.

For more reading on the deep blue sea, check out Books About Ocean Life for All Ages, 8 of the Best Mermaids from Books, and Diving Into the Sub-Genre of Oceanpunk.

- Rey Rowland
Why Latin American Horror Hits Close to Home

Looking back, I’ve enjoyed horror stories since I was a child. From the very first horror movie I watched at the cinema at age 13 to the Goosebumps books I read in middle school, I have always loved horror. But none of those stories really frightened me. Seriously, at one point in my adolescence, I had watched The Ring so many times that it became my go-to movie to fall asleep when my insomniac brain refused to quiet. Why? I have NO idea. This is important though, because I really thought of myself as “immune” to horror in some ways. I even read fewer horror books, claiming they were thrilling but just not that scary. How could a book be frightening? I guess I’d just been reading the wrong kind of horror.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago, when I began to read Latin American horror books. To my complete shock, they hit very close to home. Some of these stories made me genuinely angsty, and a couple of them had me turning on the lights at night. Now I’m obsessed. So whenever I seek a good fright, I know where to look. But why? Why does Latin American horror make my skin crawl, and my heart beat faster? What’s the reason it hits so close to home?

Why Latin American Horror Hits Close to Home Hurricane Season Fernanda Melchor cover

I guess, in the end, the answer is rather simple. It hits close to home because I’m Mexican, and I live in Latin America. Let me explain. As I mentioned in my boom of Latin American horror essay, the most common characteristic of these stories is that they focus on everyday horrors. In other words, these books take something quotidian that is already pretty terrifying in order to create dark and often harrowing stories. They can have supernatural elements, but that’s not really what makes them frightening. The horror relies on the fact that these books mirror what we have to live with every day.

This is tied to my firm belief that horror is contextual. So, what scares me might not scare everyone else. But I can tell you without a doubt that misogyny, sexual assault, and femicides scare me, and they’re shadows that follow me every day. What if one night I don’t come back home? What if my friend is in a difficult relationship, and one day, I wake up to learn she’s dead? Or what if I leave a party early, and someone sexually assaults one of my friends?

Latin America is home to 14 of the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide. That means that more than half of the countries with the most gender-based violence in the world are in this territory. Latin America also has a severe abundance of child abuse cases. UNICEF reported that 2 in 3 children in Latin America and the Caribbean experience some form of domestic violence.

In Argentina, 30,000 people were killed or disappeared by the government during the Dirty War. Many children were taken and given to military couples. Can you imagine being raised by the same people who tortured and possibly killed your biological parents?

In 2022, it was estimated that Mexico had about 100,000 missing or disappeared people, with 10,000 of them going missing in 2021 alone. And we still haven’t seen justice for the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa—even though it happened nine years ago. Going back to gender-based violence, this is a country in which 10 women are killed every day.

In Ecuador, gang violence and drug-related violence have become unpredictable. The country’s homicide rate doubled from 2021 to 2022, and people live in constant fear of the violence that floods the streets.

I could go on and on, and the point of these examples isn’t to paint Latin America in a negative light. James Baldwin once said, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” I feel the same way about Latin America. The point is that these violent acts are all things that happen on a day-to-day basis, and they’re the kinds of topics that Latin American horror often discusses. It’s no wonder these books hit so close to home.

The Books That Scarred Me Book cover of Our Share of Night by Mariana Enriquez

Well, now you know why Latin American horror novels are the stuff of nightmares for me. And I mean that as a compliment. Truly, it’s rare that other horror novels elicit such an anxious and uneasy response from me. I will never forget the sheer nausea and anxiety I felt while reading Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor, which explores misogyny and the violence it generates. Or the terror I felt reading the child abuse and domestic violence in Our Share of Night by Mariana Enríquez. Seriously, that book had me turning on the lights at night if I had to leave my room. Then there’s the quieter but still chilling horrors of female adolescence depicted in Jawbone by Mónica Ojeda.

I recently discovered The Houseguest and Other Stories by Amparo Dávila, which really surprised me. These short stories were written in the ’50s and ’60s, and their representation of how society treats women is still relevant today. The short story “Tina Reyes,” for example, features a woman who is terrified of sexual assault and femicide.

If you pay close attention to those books, there’s something they all have in common. They were written by women. I’m 100% positive that’s another reason why Latin American horror hits so close to home for me. The realities, the everyday horrors they represent, feel all too real when they write about them—likely because they share those fears, too. 

I know I said horror is contextual, and I stand by it. That’s why so many of these stories feel so personal to me—and why they also feel scarier. But that doesn’t mean that people with different life experiences can’t read them and see the horrors they carry within. So, with that, I urge you to read more Latin American horror. You might not sleep so easily at night, but you certainly won’t regret it.

- Elisa Shoenberger
If You Liked These Great British Bake Off Contestants, Check out These Fiction Books

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The leaves will be changing colors, the temperatures will get cooler, and Halloween is in the air. And it’s time for The Great British Bake Off (GBBO, or The Great British Baking Show as it’s technically called here in the U.S.). We get to watch 12-13 continents from all over Great Britain challenge themselves to make incredible feats of baking engineering and triumph over increasingly baffling technical challenges. 

It’s cozy television at its best; the bakers are so supportive of one another and become life-long friends. (The last 2 minutes of the final episode are so special for this reason.) We get to watch people realize their own strengths and find their voices. I also love that being named champion doesn’t mean their baking career is over; a good number of bakers write cookbooks and develop followings on Instagram. 

Each fall, we inevitably wonder: Who will become the fan favorite? Who will be Star Baker? Whose baked good will fall apart just before judging and break all of our hearts? Will there be a scandal to top the great binned Baked Alaska episode in 2014? Who will become this year’s British? And when will they do a themed week of murder mysteries? (Come on, now!). Who will take the crown? So, to get into the GBBO spirit, we’ve decided to help readers out with fiction books to read based on their favorite contestants and, in some cases, by them!

Note there are spoilers for past seasons of GBBO.

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If You Liked Nadiya Hussain, Check out: The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters coverThe Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters by Nadiya Hussain

Watching Nadiya Hussain come to realize her strengths and expertise is probably the best part of GBBO’s history, in my opinion. Every time I watch the final episode, I still get tears in my eyes. Nadiya Hussain might be the biggest star to come out of GBBO. She’s got several cooking and baking shows on Netflix; she’s written many cookbooks, and she has written several children’s books and now a fiction series. This is the story of the four Amir sisters who are trying to realize their dreams: one wants to be an artist; one sister wants a child; another is finding who she is; and the last is a YouTube star. Can the four of them help each other fulfill their dreams despite a family disaster? It’s the first in three books!

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If You Liked Kim Joy, Check Out: Turtle Bread coverTurtle Bread: A Graphic Novel About Baking, Fitting In, and the Power of Friendship by Kim Joy, Illustrated by Alti Firmansyah, Lettering by Joamette Gil

Watching Kim Joy is happiness. She’s known for making the most delightful baked goods with orange cat madeleines, a two-tiered lavender & lemon curd fox cake, and more. Her Instagram is quite honest; while she showcases her new bakes, she shares her struggles with social anxiety, self-confidence, and more. She’s bringing mental health front and center, showing that it’s a process for everybody. Like Nadiya, she’s been quite prolific in publishing cookbooks, including her most recent book, Bake Me a Cat: 50 Purrfect Recipes for Edible Cakes, Cookies and More! 

Now, she has published a graphic novel about the power of baking, friendship, and mental health. Yan wants to make friends, but her anxieties get in the way. She decides to go for gold by joining a Baking Club where she comes to find a place where she can share her whole self with other members.

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If You Loved Helena Garcia, Check Out: My Mummy's a Witch book coverMy Mummy is a Witch by Helena Garcia and Jess Rose

Helena Garcia is another fan favorite who had the most terrifying, delightful bakes — Wicked Witch Fingers, her Pumpkin & Maple Jack O’Lantern Cake, and, of course, her incredible spider biscuit sculpture.  She’s written a couple of books and has created her own line of witchy merchandise from witch’s straw hats, knife barretts, and a coffin picnic basket. Now she’s written a wonderful children’s book about mother-daughter bonding…when mummy is a witch. 

As a bonus, Lana Harper’s Payback’s a Witch might be another book to check out if you want witchy vibes and romance.

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If You Loved Chetna Makan, Check Out: The Indian Café in London book coverThe Indian Café in London by Veena Nagpal

Chetna Makan is another GBBO alumnae who was fun to watch as she brought together Indian flavors into her baked goods. She was a fashion designer with her own label before she got married and began baking. After GBBO, she’s written six cookbooks (so far), including Chetna’s 30 Minute Indian: Quick and Easy Everyday Meals. 

While I hope she’ll write some fiction in the near future, for now, check out Veena Nagpal’s book about food, identity, and culinary secrets. All Akhil wants to be is a chef, but his father, an Army officer, isn’t having it. His friend Jamila is at culinary school but is not willing to make connections with anyone around her. Puru has his own restaurant but is filled with regrets. Plus, there’s a lost recipe book! The book shifts perspectives of the three main characters and Akhil’s diary as they come together about food. 

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A post shared by Dr Rahul Mandal (@bakewithrahul)

If You Loved Rahul Mandal, Check out: Donut Fall in Love book coverDonut Fall in Love by Jackie Lau

Like with Nadiya Hussain, it was incredible to watch Rahul come to realize his own skills as a baker and person during his season of GBBO. He brought his scientific eye and creativity into harmony with his bakes. So naturally, he would make a cookbook that brings together art and science: Showstopping Cakes: Mastering the Art and Science of Baking.

In honor of his recent marriage and love of baking and science, this wonderful rom-com seems like a great place to go. Actor Ryan Kwok may be suave on the big screen, but not so much in the real world. His family life is not going well; he and his father are dealing with the death of his mother in different and not entirely productive ways. His sister just had a child, and he’s learning to be an uncle. When he knocks over an artistic display of baked goods at Lindsay McLeod’s bakery, their chemistry is a bit off. But things start to heat up when Ryan asks Lindsay to help him prepare for the Baking Fail, a popular television show that was Ryan’s mother’s favorite.  

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If You Loved Lottie Bedlow, Check Out: Book cover of TWO PARTS SUGAR, ONE PART MURDER by Valerie BurnsTwo Parts Sugar, One Part Murder by Valerie Burns

Lottie Bedlow was a fan favorite in GBBO. She brought her struggles with the increasingly devilish baking challenges to the forefront with her snarky and honest wit. And like many other baker contestants, she learned her own baking strengths; she didn’t think she’d make it so far and only packed two outfits and had to borrow clothing. In honor of her 2022 cookbook Baking Imperfect: Crush, Whip and Spread It Like Nobody’s Watching, it seemed like matching her with Valerie Burns’ most recent cozy mystery series, The Baker Street Mysteries, made sense. While Lottie Bedlow is a much better baker than Maddy, the pairing of books works because Maddy realizes her own abilities as well as celebrating her baking errors — using videos of her baking fails to promote the bakery she inherited. It’s a fun two-book series (so far).

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If You Loved Yan Tsou, Check out: Love at 350 Degrees coverLove at 350 Degrees by Lisa Peers (October 10, 2023)

Yan Tsou is the best. She’s an NHS molecular biologist who discovered baking between 24-hour shifts, according to her GBBO profile. We loved how she’d make practically every bake with a reference to science, whether in its creation or its decoration. I mean decorative pies called πr2? Yes, please. And, of course, we have to love that her sourdough starter is named “Muvver.” So in honor of Yan the Great,  I’ve selected this forthcoming Queer baking romance. Kendra Campbell is a celebrity chef and judge of the Bake-o-Rama show; Tori Moore is coming out of a messy divorce and encouraged to apply for the show. But neither expected to find anything more than baked goods and competition. Can they figure out their feelings and manage their respective roles in the show?

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If You Loved Michael Chakraverty, Check Out: Love and Other Disasters book coverLove & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

Michael Chakraverty is another fan favorite, and as a bonus, he’s live-tweeted GBBO with Scott Bryan since he was on the show. We may disagree over the wonders of mango (It’s delicious!), but we all definitely felt his struggle and successes on the show. Since GBBO, he’s started a podcast with David Atherton called Sticky Bun Boys as a part-dating advice, part-baking advice show.  So we’re going to pair Chakraverty and this wonderful Queer Romance. Both Dahlia Woodson and London Parker are on Chef’s Special to make their careers and win the prize money. Dahlia needs the money after her divorce and financial ruin; London wants to prove something to themself as a baker and competitor. Dahlia gets a reputation for her clumsiness, and London has to deal with the transphobic trolls. Soon, they realize a mutual attraction, but can they afford to focus on a romance?

I can’t wait to see what the GBBO alumni will do next. (More fiction! Mysteries, please). If you want more GBBO, here’s a list of Great British Bake Off cookbooks. Or if you want a taste of cozy mysteries around food, check out this post I wrote in 2020 on culinary cozy mysteries.

- Eileen Gonzalez
When Snoopy Ruled the Music Charts: The Story of “Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron”

Snoopy and the Peanuts gang have found a place in almost every creative medium out there, from the original comic strip to TV specials, movies, and Broadway musicals. So it’s not too surprising that they’ve indirectly wormed their way onto the Top 100 as well.

In late 1966, “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” was all the rage. The only reason it didn’t reach number one on the charts was because the Monkees happened to release their monster hit “I’m a Believer” around the same time. It took four Monkees to defeat one beagle in a scarf.

So how did this all come about, anyway? The song was written by Dick Holler, better known for the more sober hit “Abraham, Martin, and John,” and music producer Phil Gernhard. But it was brought directly to the world’s eardrums courtesy of a band called the Royal Guardsmen. Despite the name, which they came up with to cash in on the British Invasion, they were six kids — five in high school, one in college — from central Florida.

The Guardsmen found success the old-fashioned way: according to a 2006 interview with vocalist and guitarist Barry Winslow, they “played proms and little dances and a little teen club,” eventually working their up to opening for other acts. That’s when Gerhard approached them.

Now, according to Winslow, Gerhard only showed them the lyrics to “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” and told them to go to town with it. That makes it sound like the Guardsmen were the ones to come up with the melody and orchestration, yet the band itself has no writers’ credits on the song. Another source states that the song was a reworked version of Dick Holler’s “The Red Baron,” which he wrote years earlier but had no success with.

Maybe somebody misspoke or misremembered. That can happen when relating events so many years after the fact.

In any case, the Guardsmen hated their initial take on the song but sent it to Gerhard anyway. Gerhard loved it, and a hit was born.

And how did Charles M. Schulz, Snoopy’s creator, react to all this? Apparently, he was cool enough with it to draw the album cover for the Guardsmen’s second album, Snoopy and His Friends. But nobody on the music side of things had bothered to ask permission to use his characters ahead of time, and while they were all working out the legal kinks, the Guardsmen recorded a copyright-friendly version of the song, “Squeaky vs. the Black Knight.” This version was released in Canada but quickly forgotten once Schulz’s team gave their blessing.

The rest of the Guardsmen’s first album (also named Snoopy vs. the Red Baron) is mostly covers of profoundly ’60s hits like “Alley Oop” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” Apparently, this is because no one was expecting “Snoopy” to be such a hit, so the label, Laurie Records, had to scramble to find enough material to fill out a whole album.

Like with many novelty hits, this one was followed by a label-enforced lack of creativity. The Royal Guardsmen’s other albums were all suspiciously Snoopy-centric, featuring ditties like “The Return of the Red Baron,” “It’s Sopwith Camel Time,” and even “Snoopy’s Christmas,” which I personally listen to many, many times every December.

Then came “Snoopy for President,” which is cute, but honestly, they sound tired. You can kind of tell the joke had worn thin. Once the group missed out on the chance to record “Abraham, Martin, and John,” which became a huge hit for Dion, they got fed up, and that was basically it for them, career-wise.

In 2006, 40 years after the original song’s release, the Royal Guardsmen released one more Snoopy song, which I regret to inform you was called “Snoopy vs. Osama.” It’s about as oblivious as you’re thinking and a lot more serious than the previous songs. It even drags hapless Charlie Brown into things (which seems a bit out of character since poor ol’ Charlie was never invited to join in Snoopy’s rich fantasy life, but I think complaining about continuity in a novelty song is getting a bit picky).

In the Winslow interview, both he and the interviewer refer to the album this song appears on as “strange,” which is as good a way to put it as any.

From the same interview, as of 2006, five of the band’s six original members were still alive and still occasionally reunited to perform. If nothing else, it’s nice to know that, unlike so many other bands, they were able to maintain a cordial relationship during and after fame.

As a big fan of kitschy ’60s pop AND a lifelong Peanuts fan, I genuinely enjoy the Royal Guardsmen’s discography. Songs inspired by comics are uncommon enough that they’re always fun to talk about, even when they’re not so great. Fortunately, “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” is two minutes and forty seconds of good old-fashioned fun!

- Carolina Ciucci
10 Witchy Bookish Items to Make Your Life Magical

You know how most kids outgrow their fascination with magic as they become adults? Well, I was the skeptical kid who became fascinated with magic as I grew up. Sure, there was a brief phase there when I fell in love with fairy tales, but I had moved past them by the time I was 7. I wanted my fiction to be realistic. A woman finding love after divorce? Yes. A stalwart detective chasing down a serial killer? Absolutely. An epic war between elven families? Meh.

But even at my most anti-magic, there was one type of magical being that I couldn’t help but be drawn to. Witches. Something about them called to me. Maybe it was the idea of a uniquely female power, or maybe it was the collision of nature and spirituality. Hell, perhaps it was something as simple as me being a fan of the aesthetic. Whatever it was, I read every witchy book I could get my hands on. And this is an interest that has only grown with time. The only difference between then and now? I can now afford to buy the occasional witchy bookish item to enhance my reading or decorate my home. Want in on my favorites? Read on.

(Be assured, when it comes to magical books, I have long since seen the short-sightedness of my ways. I still love my romances and my mysteries, but they now share space on my shelves with fantasy and paranormal horror. And I love a good elven epic.)

Black book sleeve with an illustration of a witch stirring a cauldron. There are also a cat and bats. Text: Apothecary Shoppe. Potions. Elixirs

Sure, most of us have to settle for going to the pharmacy for ibuprofen and the like, but you can pretend that you’re on your way to purchase a potion if you carry this apothecary book sleeve with you. $20

T-shirt that reads "Well read and witchy." It has a painting of an open book with flowers sprouting from it.

Sometimes you don’t want to tell people that you’re well-read and witchy. Let this adorable tee do the talking for you. $15+

Cauldron-shaped mug that reads "Witches Brew"

Okay, so this mug isn’t technically a bookish item, but really, what kind of person is out there reading books without coffee or tea at hand? $17

Coffin-shaped bookshelf

I mean, I suppose you might prefer not to store your books in a coffin-shaped bookshelf, but… why? $28

Witchy bookshelf insert

I have never wanted anything more than I want this magical apothecary bookshelf insert. $79

Witchy bookends, with witchy books on one side and a cauldron on the other

I have seen some beautiful bookend sets in my life. This is the most beautiful by far. (Did I consider going full-on dad pun and calling it bewitching? Yes. Did I manage to contain myself? Partly.) $79

Tarot card bookmark

I don’t need these Tarot card bookmarks, I don’t need these Tarot card bookmarks, I don’t need… Oh, to hell with it. $11+

Night cat bookmarks

Wherever there’s a witch, a cat (bookmark) isn’t far behind. $5

Leather journal with a stone of your choice

Would you like a grimoire-like notebook to write down potions, moon phases, and grocery lists? Of course you would. $49+

Moon Notebook

You would like all of those things but more affordably? Say no more. $18

If you haven’t had enough of witchiness, have you considered witchy books? Maybe of the mystery variety?

- Carolina Ciucci

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Charles Payseur
X Marks The Story: May 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Heart Shine” by Shveta Thakrar (Uncanny) 

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

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

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

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

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

Synesthesia” by Devin DeMarco (Lackington’s) 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Thea

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

A Chat with Chloe Gong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

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

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

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

About The Book

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

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

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

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

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

- Thea
On the Smugglers’ Radar: June 2021

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

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

June 2021

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

The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer

Katherine Tegen Books | June 1, 2021

Two boys, alone in space.

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

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

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

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

Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury

Margaret K. McElderry | June 15, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Daughter of Sparta by Claire M. Andrews

Jimmy Patterson | June 8, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Star Eater by Kerstin Hall

Tordotcom | June 22, 2021

From Nommo Award finalist Kerstin Hall comes a layered and incisive examination of power.”—Rory Power, New York Times bestselling author of Wilder Girls

All martyrdoms are difficult.

Elfreda Raughn will avoid pregnancy if it kills her, and one way or another, it will kill her. Though she’s able to stomach her gruesome day-to-day duties, the reality of preserving the Sisterhood of Aytrium’s magical bloodline horrifies her. She wants out, whatever the cost.

So when a shadowy faction approaches Elfreda with an offer of escape, she leaps at the opportunity. As their spy, she gains access to the highest reaches of the Sisterhood, and enters a glittering world of opulent parties, subtle deceptions, and unexpected bloodshed.

A phantasmagorical indictment of hereditary power, Star Eater takes readers deep into a perilous and uncanny world where even the most powerful women are forced to choose what sacrifices they will make, so that they might have any choice at all.

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

Questland by Carrie Vaughn

John Joseph Adams Book Paper | June 22, 2021

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


Literature professor Dr. Addie Cox is living a happy, if sheltered, life in her ivory tower when Harris Lang, the famously eccentric billionaire tech genius, offers her an unusual job. He wants her to guide a mercenary strike team sent to infiltrate his island retreat off the northwest coast of the United States. Addie is puzzled by her role on the mission until she understands what Lang has built:  Insula Mirabilis, an isolated resort where tourists will one day pay big bucks for a convincing, high-tech-powered fantasy-world experience, complete with dragons, unicorns, and, yes, magic.

Unfortunately, one of the island’s employees has gone rogue and activated an invisible force shield that has cut off all outside communication. A Coast Guard cutter attempting to pass through the shield has been destroyed. Suspicion rests on Dominic Brand, the project’s head designer— and Addie Cox’s ex-boyfriend. Lang has tasked Addie and the mercenary team with taking back control of the island at any cost.

But Addie is wrestling demons of her own—and not the fantastical kind. Now, she must navigate the deadly traps of Insula Mirabilis as well as her own past trauma. And no d20, however lucky, can help Addie make this saving throw.

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

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

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Tordotcom | June 1, 2021

Gatsby the way it should have been written?dark, dazzling, fantastical.” ?R. F. Kuang

“A vibrant and queer reinvention of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s jazz age classic. . . . I was captivated from the first sentence.”?NPR

“Vo has crafted a retelling that, in many ways, surpasses the original.”?Kirkus Reviews (STARRED REVIEW)

Immigrant. Socialite. Magician.

Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society?she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer and Asian, a Vietnamese adoptee treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.

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

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

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

Catalyst Gate by Megan E. O’Keefe

Orbit | June 22, 2021

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

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

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

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

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

Bloomsbury YA | June 29, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sisters of the Snake by Sarena & Sasha Nanua

Harper Teen | June 15, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Tor Books | May 25, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Thea
Book Review: NEAR THE BONE by Christina Henry

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

Title: Near The Bone
Author: Christina Henry
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Publisher: Berkeley
Publication Date: April 13, 2021
Paperback: 336 pages

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

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

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

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

Stand alone or series: Standalone novel

How did I get this book: Purchased

Format: Paperback

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7 – Very, Very Good

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

- Charles Payseur
X Marks The Story: April 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Chat with Mia P. Manansala

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

MIA: Ooh, great question! My guest list:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

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

About The Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

Title: Ruin and Rising
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication Date: June 17, 2014
Paperback: 417 pages

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

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

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

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

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

How did I get this book: Purchased

Format: Paperback

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


The Darkling has won.

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

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

But she is not defeated.

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

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

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

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

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

I loved it. Absolutely recommended.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

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

The post Grishaverse Re-read: RUIN AND RISING by Leigh Bardugo appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Thea
On the Smugglers’ Radar: May 2021

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

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

May 2021

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

The Ones We’re Meant To Find by Joan He

Roaring Book Press | May 4, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Illusionary by Zoraida Córdova

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aetherbound by E.K. Johnston

Dutton Books for Young Readers | May 25, 2021

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

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

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

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

Adobo and Arsenic by Mia P. Manansala

Berkley | May 4, 2021

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

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

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

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

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Ballantine Books | May 4, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

Orbit | May 11, 2021

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

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

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

This mythology inspired retelling also sounds intriguing (and has a lovely cover to boot):

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Flatiron Books | May 4, 2021

As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.

In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?

Ariadne gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.

A mesmerising retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Perfect for fans of CIRCEA SONG OF ACHILLES, and THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS.

Zen Cho Alert! This contemporary fantasy, set in Malaysia, looks UTTERLY WONDERFUL. Also, it’s Zen Cho therefore will absolutely keep you reading until an ungodly hour because her storytelling is just that damn good.

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Ace | May 11, 2021

A reluctant medium discovers the ties that bind can unleash a dangerous power in this compelling Malaysian-set contemporary fantasy.

Jessamyn Teoh is closeted, broke and moving back to Malaysia, a country she left when she was a toddler. So when Jess starts hearing voices, she chalks it up to stress. But there’s only one voice in her head, and it claims to be the ghost of her estranged grandmother, Ah Ma. In life Ah Ma was a spirit medium, the avatar of a mysterious deity called the Black Water Sister. Now she’s determined to settle a score against a gang boss who has offended the god–and she’s decided Jess is going to help her do it.

Drawn into a world of gods, ghosts, and family secrets, Jess finds that making deals with capricious spirits is a dangerous business. As Jess fights for retribution for Ah Ma, she’ll also need to regain control of her body and destiny. If she fails, the Black Water Sister may finish her off for good.

Sarah Pinkser returns with a new science fiction novel that sounds thought-provoking as heck with this next pick:

We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinkser

Berkley | May 11, 2021

From award-winning author Sarah Pinsker comes a novel about one family and the technology that divides them.

Everybody’s getting one.

Val and Julie just want what’s best for their kids, David and Sophie. So when teenage son David comes home one day asking for a Pilot, a new brain implant to help with school, they reluctantly agree. This is the future, after all.

Soon, Julie feels mounting pressure at work to get a Pilot to keep pace with her colleagues, leaving Val and Sophie part of the shrinking minority of people without the device.

Before long, the implications are clear, for the family and society: get a Pilot or get left behind. With government subsidies and no downside, why would anyone refuse? And how do you stop a technology once it’s everywhere? Those are the questions Sophie and her anti-Pilot movement rise up to answer, even if it puts them up against the Pilot’s powerful manufacturer and pits Sophie against the people she loves most.

I’m on a heist kick right now (rereading the Six of Crows duology), so this next book sounds perfectly timed and right up my alley.

The Helm of Midnight by Christopher Buehlman

Tor Books | May 25, 2021

Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path.

But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark.

Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. She is searching for her queen, missing since a distant northern city fell to giants.

Unsuccessful in his robbery and lucky to escape with his life, Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva’s. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on an epic journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford.

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

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

- Thea
Awards Season 2021: Announcing the Hugo and Ignyte Finalists

It is that time of year again, folks–awards time! We are thrilled to share with you the news of two exciting speculative fiction awards: The Hugo Awards and the Ignyte Awards.

The Hugo Award

The Hugo Awards are one of the longest-running SFF awards, distinguished from all other major speculative fiction awards in that it is voted on by fans who are members of the World Science Fiction Convention. Each year, Hugo Award winners (and associated Not-A-Hugo-Awards, like the Lodestar and Astounding Awards) are announced at WorldCon. This year’s WorldCon will be in Washington D.C., though unlike previous years the ceremony will take place December 15-19, 2021.

A reminder for everyone interested: even if you are not attending WorldCon 79, note that ANY SFF fan can sign up for a supporting membership ($50) which gives you the right to vote for your favorites to win the Hugo Award.

The 2021 Hugo Award Finalists

This year’s finalists are absolutely awesome. Check out the full list below!

Best Novel

Black Sun, Rebecca Roanhorse (Gallery / Saga Press)The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir ( Effect, Martha Wells (, Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)The Relentless Moon, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books)

Best Novella

Come Tumbling Down, Seanan McGuire ( Empress of Salt and Fortune, Nghi Vo (, Nino Cipri ( Shout, P. Djèlí Clark ( Baby, Tochi Onyebuchi ( Women Wanted, Sarah Gailey (

Best Novelette

“Burn, or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super”, A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny Magazine, May/June 2020)“Helicopter Story”, Isabel Fall (Clarkesworld, January 2020)“The Inaccessibility of Heaven”, Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny Magazine, July/August 2020)“Monster”, Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, January 2020)“The Pill”, Meg Elison (from Big Girl (PM Press))“Two Truths and a Lie”, Sarah Pinsker (

Best Short Story

“Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse”, Rae Carson (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2020)“A Guide for Working Breeds”, Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Made to Order: Robots and Revolution, ed. Jonathan Strahan (Solaris))“Little Free Library”, Naomi Kritzer (“The Mermaid Astronaut”, Yoon Ha Lee (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, February 2020)“Metal Like Blood in the Dark”, T. Kingfisher (Uncanny Magazine, September/October 2020)“Open House on Haunted Hill”, John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots – 2020, ed. David Steffen)

Best Series

The Daevabad Trilogy, S.A. Chakraborty (Harper Voyager)The Interdependency, John Scalzi (Tor Books)The Lady Astronaut Universe, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books/Audible/Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction/Solaris)The Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells ( Daye, Seanan McGuire (DAW)The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager)

Best Related Work

Beowulf: A New Translation, Maria Dahvana Headley (FSG)CoNZealand Fringe, Claire Rousseau, C, Cassie Hart, Adri Joy, Marguerite Kenner, Cheryl Morgan, Alasdair Stuart.FIYAHCON, L.D. Lewis–Director, Brent Lambert–Senior Programming Coordinator, Iori Kusano–FIYAHCON Fringe Co-Director, Vida Cruz–FIYAHCON Fringe Co-Director, and the Incredible FIYAHCON team“George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into the Sun, Or: The 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony (Rageblog Edition)”, Natalie Luhrs (Pretty Terrible, August 2020)A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler, Lynell George (Angel City Press)The Last Bronycon: a fandom autopsy, Jenny Nicholson (YouTube)

Best Graphic Story or Comic

DIE, Volume 2: Split the Party, written by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans, letters by Clayton Cowles (Image Comics)Ghost-Spider vol. 1: Dog Days Are Over, Author: Seanan McGuire,  Artist: Takeshi Miyazawa and Rosi Kämpe (Marvel)Invisible Kingdom, vol 2: Edge of Everything, Author: G. Willow Wilson, Artist: Christian Ward (Dark Horse Comics)Monstress, vol. 5: Warchild, Author: Marjorie Liu, Artist: Sana Takeda (Image Comics)Once & Future vol. 1: The King Is Undead, written by Kieron Gillen, iIllustrated by Dan Mora, colored by Tamra Bonvillain, lettered by Ed Dukeshire (BOOM! Studios)Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, written by Octavia Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy, illustrated by John Jennings (Harry N. Abrams)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), written by Christina Hodson, directed by Cathy Yan (Warner Bros.)Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Sagawritten by Will Ferrell, Andrew Steele, directed by David Dobkin (European Broadcasting Union/Netflix)The Old Guard, written by Greg Rucka, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Netflix / Skydance Media)Palm Springs, written by Andy Siara, directed by Max Barbakow (Limelight / Sun Entertainment Culture / The Lonely Island / Culmination Productions / Neon / Hulu / Amazon Prime)Soul, screenplay by Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Powers, directed by Pete Docter, co-directed by Kemp Powers, produced by Dana Murray (Pixar Animation Studios/ Walt Disney Pictures)Tenet, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Warner Bros./Syncopy)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Doctor Who: Fugitive of the Judoon, written by Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall, directed by Nida Manzoor (BBC)The Expanse: Gaugamela, written by Dan Nowak, directed by Nick Gomez (Alcon Entertainment / Alcon Television Group / Amazon Studios / Hivemind / Just So)She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: Heart (parts 1 and 2), written by Josie Campbell and Noelle Stevenson, directed by Jen Bennett and Kiki Manrique (DreamWorks Animation Television / Netflix)The Mandalorian: Chapter 13: The Jedi, written and directed by Dave Filoni (Golem Creations / Lucasfilm / Disney+)The Mandalorian: Chapter 16: The Rescue, written by Jon Favreau, directed by Peyton Reed (Golem Creations / Lucasfilm / Disney+)The Good Place: Whenever You’re Ready, written and directed by Michael Schur (Fremulon / 3 Arts Entertainment / Universal Television, a division of Universal Studio Group)

Best Editor, Short Form

Neil ClarkeEllen DatlowC.C. FinlayMur Lafferty and S.B. DivyaJonathan StrahanSheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form

Nivia EvansSheila E. GilbertSarah GuanBrit HvideDiana M. PhoNavah Wolfe

Best Professional Artist

Tommy ArnoldRovina CaiGalen DaraMaurizio ManzieriJohn PicacioAlyssa Winans

Best Semiprozine

Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edotor Scott H. AndrewsEscape Pod, editors Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya, assistant editor Benjamin C. Kinney, hosts Tina Connolly and Alasdair Stuart, audio producers Summer Brooks and Adam Pracht and the entire Escape Pod team.FIYAH Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, publisher Troy L. Wiggins, executive editor DaVaun Sanders, managing editor Eboni Dunbar, poetry editor Brandon O’Brien, reviews and social media Brent Lambert,  art director L. D. Lewis, and the FIYAH Team.PodCastle, editors, C.L. Clark and Jen R. Albert, assistant editor and host, Setsu Uzumé, producer Peter Adrian Behravesh, and the entire PodCastle team.Uncanny Magazine, editors in chief: Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, managing editor: Chimedum Ohaegbu, non-fiction editor:  Elsa Sjunneson, podcast producers: Erika Ensign and Steven SchapanskyStrange Horizons, Vanessa Aguirre, Joseph Aitken, Rachel Ayers, M H Ayinde, Tierney Bailey, Scott Beggs, Drew Matthew Beyer, Gautam Bhatia, S. K. Campbell, Zhui Ning Chang, Tania Chen, Joyce Chng, Liz Christman, Linda H. Codega, Kristian Wilson Colyard, Yelena Crane, Bruhad Dave, Sarah Davidson, Tahlia Day, Arinn Dembo, Nathaniel Eakman, Belen Edwards, George Tom Elavathingal, Rebecca Evans, Ciro Faienza, Courtney Floyd, Lila Garrott, Colette Grecco, Guananí Gómez-Van Cortright, Julia Gunnison, Dan Hartland, Sydney Hilton, Angela Hinck, Stephen Ira, Amanda Jean, Ai Jiang, Sean Joyce-Farley, Erika Kanda, Anna Krepinsky, Kat Kourbeti, Clayton Kroh, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Catherine Krahe, Natasha Leullier, A.Z. Louise, Dante Luiz, Gui Machiavelli, Cameron Mack, Samantha Manaktola, Marisa Manuel, Jean McConnell, Heather McDougal, Maria Morabe, Amelia Moriarty, Emory Noakes, Sara Noakes, Aidan Oatway, AJ Odasso, Joel Oliver-Cormier, Kristina Palmer, Karintha Parker, Anjali Patel, Vanessa Rose Phin, Nicasio Reed, Belicia Rhea, Endria Richardson, Natalie Ritter, Abbey Schlanz, Clark Seanor, Elijah Rain Smith, Hebe Stanton, Melody Steiner, Romie Stott, Yejin Suh, Kwan-Ann Tan, Luke Tolvaj, Ben Tyrrell, Renee Van Siclen, Kathryn Weaver, Liza Wemakor, Aigner Loren Wilson, E.M. Wright, Vicki Xu, Fred G. Yost, staff members who prefer not to be named, and guest editor Libia Brenda with guest first reader Raquel González-Franco Alva for the Mexicanx special issue

Best Fanzine

The Full Lid, written by Alasdair Stuart, edited by Marguerite KennerJourney Planet, edited by Michael Carroll, John Coxon, Sara Felix, Ann Gry, Sarah Gulde, Alissa McKersie, Errick Nunnally, Pádraig Ó Méalóid, Chuck Serface, Steven H Silver, Paul Trimble, Erin Underwood, James Bacon, and Chris Garcia.Lady Business, editors. Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan.nerds of a feather, flock together, ed. Adri Joy, Joe Sherry, The G, and Vance KotrlaQuick Sip Reviews, editor, Charles PayseurUnofficial Hugo Book Club Blog, ed. Amanda Wakaruk and Olav Rokne

Best Fancast

Be The Serpent, presented by Alexandra Rowland, Freya Marske and Jennifer MaceClaire Rousseau’s YouTube channel, produced by Claire RousseauThe Coode Street Podcast, presented by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe, Jonathan Strahan, producerKalanadi, produced and presented by RachelThe Skiffy and Fanty show, produced by Shaun Duke and Jen Zink,  presented by Shaun Duke, Jen Zink, Alex Acks, Paul Weimer, and David Annandale.Worldbuilding for Masochists, presented by Rowenna Miller, Marshall Ryan Maresca and Cass Morris

Best Fan Writer

Cora BuhlertCharles PayseurJason SanfordElsa SjunnesonAlasdair StuartPaul Weimer

Best Fan Artist

Iain J. ClarkCyan DalySara FelixGrace P. FongMaya HahtoLaya Rose

Best Video Game

Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Publisher and Developer: Nintendo)Blaseball (Publisher and Developer: The Game Band)Final Fantasy VII Remake (Publisher Square Enix)Hades (Publisher and Developer: Supergiant Games)The Last of Us: Part II (Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment / Developer: Naughty Dog)Spiritfarer (Publisher and Developer: Thunder Lotus)

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

Cemetery Boys, Aiden Thomas (Swoon Reads)A Deadly Education, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)Elatsoe, Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido)Legendborn, Tracy Deonn (Margaret K. McElderry/ Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)Raybearer, Jordan Ifueko (Amulet / Hot Key)A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, T. Kingfisher (Argyll Productions)

Astounding Award for Best New Writer

Lindsay Ellis (1st year of eligibility)Simon Jimenez (1st year of eligibility)Micaiah Johnson (1st year of eligibility)A.K. Larkwood (1st year of eligibility)Jenn Lyons (2nd year of eligibility)Emily Tesh (2nd year of eligibility)

For more information about the Hugo Awards and how to vote, check out the official website.

FIYAHCON’s Ignyte Awards

The truly awesome FIYAH magazine created FIYAHCON in 2020 (and as you’ll see above, the con itself is on the Hugo Award ballot for Best Related Work), focused on BIPOC in SFF. The Ignyte Awards are part of FIYAHCON, and we’re thrilled to share the 2021 finalists below!

Best Novel – Adult

for novel-length (40k+ words) works intended for the adult audience

Black Sun – Rebecca Roanhorse (Gallery Books/Saga Press)The City We Became – N. K. Jemisin (Orbit)Midnight Bargain – C. L. Polk (Erewhon Books)The Only Good Indians – Stephen Graham Jones (Gallery Books/Saga Press)Vagabonds – Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu (Gallery Books/Saga Press)

Best Novel – YA

for novel-length (40k+ words) works intended for the young adult audience

Elatsoe – Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido)Legendborn – Tracy Deonn (Margaret K. McElderry Books)Raybearer – Jordan Ifueko (Amulet Books)A Song Below Water – Bethany Morrow (Tor Teen)A Sky Beyond the Storm – Sabaa Tahir (Razorbill)

Best in MG

for works intended for the middle grade audience

Frightville: Curse of the Wish Eater – Mike Ford (Scholastic Paperbacks)Ghost Squad – Claribel A. Ortega (Scholastic)Maya and the Rising Dark – Rena Barron (HMH Books for Young Readers)Race to the Sun – Rebecca Roanhorse (Read Riordan/Disney Publishing Worldwide)A Wish in the Dark – Christina Soontornvat (Candlewick Press)

Best Novella

for speculative works ranging from 17,500-39,999 words

Empress of Salt and Fortune – Nghi Vo ( Four Profound Weaves – R. B. Lemberg (Tachyon Publications)Ring Shout – P. Djèli Clark ( Baby – Tochi Onyebuchi ( & Steel – Eboni J. Dunbar (Neon Hemlock)

Best Novelette

for speculative works ranging from 7,500-17,499 words

The Inaccessibility of Heaven – Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny Magazine)Love Hangover – Sheree Renée Thomas (Mocha Memoirs Press)The Night Sun – Zin E. Rocklyn ( Hand in the Coffin – Justin C. Key (Strange Horizons)The Transition of Osoosi – Ozzie M. Gartrell (FIYAH)

Best Short Story

for speculative works ranging from 2,000-7,499 words

Body, Remember – Nicasio Andres Reed (Fireside Magazine)EXPRESS TO BEIJING WEST RAILWAY STATION | ????????? – Congyun ‘Mu Ming’ Gu, translated by Kiera Johnson (Samovar)My Country is a Ghost – Eugenia Triantafyllou (Uncanny Magazine)Rat and Finch are Friends – Innocent Chizaram Ilo (Strange Horizons)You Perfect, Broken Thing – C. L. Clark (Uncanny Magazine)

Best in Speculative Poetry

The Alt-History of King Kong – Renoir Gaither (Speculative City)Fin – Terese Mason Pierre (Uncanny Magazine)The Harrowing Desgarrador – Gabriel Ascencio Morales (Strange Horizons)Hungry Ghost – Millie Ho (Uncanny Magazine)Tequila Mockingbird | Matar un Ruiseñor – Raúl Gallardo Flores, translated by Juan Martinez (Strange Horizons)

Critics Award

for reviews and analysis of the field of speculative literature

Jesse @ Bowties & BooksCharles Payseur @ Quick Sip ReviewsMaria HaskinsA. C. WiseStitch @ Stitch’s Media Mix

Best Fiction Podcast

for excellence in audio performance and production for speculative fiction

Beneath Ceaseless Skies – Editor Scott H. AndrewsEscape Pod – Editors Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya; Assistant Editor Benjamin C. Kinney; Hosts Tina Connolly and Alasdair Stuart, Audio Producers Summer Brooks and Adam Pracht, and the entire Escape Pod teamNightlight Podcast – Tonia RansomPodCastle – Editors Jen R. Albert, Cherae Clark, Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, Host + Assistant Editor Setsu Uzume, & Audio Producer Peter Adrian BehraveshThe Magnus Archives – Written and performed by Jonathan Sims, Directed by Alexander J Newall, Produced by Lowri Ann Davies. Distributed by Rusty Quill

Best Artist

for contributions in visual speculative storytelling

John PicacioNilah MagruderOdera IgbokwePaul LewinRovina Cai

Best Comics Team

for comics, graphic novels, and sequential storytelling

Cuisine Chinoise: Five Tales of Food and Life – Zao Dao, with Diana Schutz & Brandon Kandor (Dark Horse Comics)Far Sector – N. K. Jemisin & Jamal Campbell (DC Comics)Giga – Alex Paknadel & John Lê (Vault Comics)Parable of the Sower – Written by Octavia Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy, illustrated by John Jennings (Abrams ComicArts)You Brought Me the Ocean – Alex Sanchez & Jul Maroh (DC Comics)

Best Anthology/Collected Works

A Phoenix First Must Burn – ed. Patrice Caldwell (Viking Books for Young Readers)Glitter + Ashes: Queer Tales of a World that Wouldn’t Die – editor, publisher dave ring (Neon Hemlock)Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction – ed. Joshua Whitehead (Arsenal Pulp Press)Nine Bar Blues – Sheree Renée Thomas (Third Man Books)Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with a Fresh Bite – ed. Zoraida Cordova & Natalie C. Parker (Imprint)

Best in Creative Nonfiction

for works related to the field of speculative fiction

“The African Superhero and the Legacy of Captain Africa” – Suyi Davies Okungbowa (“Fine Weather, Isn’t It?” – Tochi Onyebuchi (SFWA Bulletin #215)“How to Make a Family: Queer Blood Bonds in Black Feminist Vampire Novels” – Tamara Jerée (Strange Horizons)“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream: The Duty of the Black Writer During Times of American Unrest” – Tochi Onyebuchi (“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Excellence” – Nibedita Sen (Uncanny Magazine)

The Ember Award

for unsung contributions to genre

Clarion WestDhonielle ClaytonK. Tempest BradfordMichi TrotaTananarive Due

The Community Award

for Outstanding Efforts in Service of Inclusion and Equitable Practice in Genre

Anathema Magazine: Spec from the Margins – Michael Matheson, Andrew Wilmot, Chinelo OnwualuBeth PhelanDiana M. Pho#PublishingPaidMe – L.L. McKinney & Tochi OnyebuchiWriting The Other: Online Classes and Workshops – Nisi Shawl + K Tempest Bradford

Congratulations to all of the finalists!

The Ignyte Awards will be presented on Saturday September 18, 2021 at 4pm ET. The finalists are determined by the Ignyte Awards Committee, who comprise FIYAHCON staff and previous award-winners of diverse backgrounds. Voting for the winners of the Ignyte Awards is open to all fans of SFF through May 21, 2021 at 11:59 PM EST! Click here to cast your vote!

Get your tickets to the 3.5 day convention (including panels, games, office hours, workshops, and more) online for $40, or (or a free Fringe ticket) here.

A huge congratulations to all of the finalists! We’ll be casting our ballots for the immensely talented creators on both the Hugo and Ignyte Awards shortlists. If you are planning to attend either WorldCon or FIYAHCON, let us know–we’d love to catch up with you!

The post Awards Season 2021: Announcing the Hugo and Ignyte Finalists appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Thea
Grishaverse Re-read: SIEGE AND STORM by Leigh Bardugo

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

Title: Siege and Storm
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Paperback: 435 pages

Darkness never dies.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her—or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and part of the overall Grishaverse

How did I get this book: Purchased

Format: Paperback

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


Alina Starkov–humble, orphan mapmaker that was–has been discovered as a Grisha of rare and terrible power. Alina has the uncanny ability to call sunlight in the same way other Grisha can move water or air, and through training has learned to sharpen and hone her abilities to deadly precision. With the help of the stag bone amplifier, now permanently set around her neck as a collar, Alina’s powers have grown even stronger–maybe even strong enough to challenge the Darkling himself, though he intended the collar to control Alina and her powers.

Some call her the Sun Summoner; others think of her as a holy and blessed Saint, sent to deliver Ravka from the Fold and the monsters within.

In truth? Alina does not feel very holy. Following her dramatic escape from the Little Palace and using the Cut to strand the Darkling and his followers in the Fold, Alina and Mal find themselves on the True Sea, without much in the way of friends or provisions. Soon enough, the Darkling finds them. Yet again, he coerces cooperation from Alina by threatening violence against Mal–and yet again, they are on the search for a mythological beast whose body can serve as an amplifier for power.

Luckily for Alina and Mal, there are other players in the game of power with vested interests in Ravka’s future. An unlikely ally emerges in the form of Prince Nikolai–the royal younger son, rumored bastard, and apt charmer who always knows the right thing to say to any audience. Alina agrees to help Nikolai for the sake of Ravka, seizing control of the Second Army and, yes, even agreeing to embrace her “Sainthood” if it means stopping the Darkling once and for all.

Of course, things are never so simple and this time, the Darkling has learned some new tricks. Instead of just calling the darkness, it seems he can literally create monsters from the Fold and control them, as Alina learns with horrified dismay. With the future of her friends, her country, perhaps even the world on the line, Alina is determined to embrace her power–even if it means sacrificing her own humanity.

Ah, Siege and Storm. I have a confession to make: when I first attempted to read this book, I DNF’d it. I had a hard time shifting back into the Grishaverse with Alina and Mal playing the same game–weak, meek Alina hiding herself away and swaggery, brawny Mal making friends and Providing–and the emergence of a potential third love interest for Alina (i.e. Prince Nikolai). BUT, I came back to the book and ultimately was able to push aside some of those trope-laden misgivings and enjoy the fast plotting, high stakes, and wicked good world-building Leigh Bardugo wields with Cut-like precision.

This second time around, I found myself more forgiving of Alina (which, incidentally, I think is the key to the entire series). Once I could get over the fact that, yes, this is another Chosen One storyline with a main character of nigh unprecedented power, I felt much more sympathy for our Sun Summoner. I appreciated the implications and dangerous fanaticism of becoming a Saint and the power struggles of the Grand and Little Palace that she has to navigate. Moreover, I appreciate how ill-equipped for the job Alina appears to be, and how she rallies despite Mal being basically THE WORST (sorry, Mal fans) and comes into her own abilities as a negotiator and… well, general. I have a deep respect for Alina’s arc in this second book (and third book) as she also struggles with her own desire for more power, her attraction to the Darkling, and her own tangled allegiances and emotions.

Beyond Alina’s journey, there are some other standout characters in this second book, such as:

Genya. One of my absolute favorite characters in the entire series, I respect Genya’s choices especially in this book.

Zoya. Another favorite character, who has layers and depth and whose behavior Alina questions, rightfully!

Tamar and Tolya–the siblings from Shu Han who also end up becoming part of Alina’s retinue, but of murky allegiances in this particular novel.

There are also the many other members of the Grisha, like Sergei and Nadia and Adrik and David, who will become important, pivotal players in the war to come.

And of course, there’s Nikolai–the charming, adroit bastard prince with a plan, who is so much more than what he seems.

Beyond the characters, I love the vision of Os Alta as a slowly dying city, more preoccupied with grandeur and appearances than in the lives of its people. The juxtaposition of Crown Prince Vasily versus Nikolai was also a welcome addition of nuance to the series–the political entrapments of the King and his First Army juxtaposed against the tension with the Grisha and the Second Army was particularly well developed this time around.

Of course, I can’t write a review of this second novel without acknowledging the pull between Alina and the Darkling, right? There’s a Kylo Ren x Rey visitation vibe (and yes, I know this series predates The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker but you know exactly what I mean, right?) that is undeniably sexy and works because of Alina’s isolation and hunger for power–ultimately, this shared, destructive bond is irresistible. Less likable is the bond between Alina and Mal, but that is mostly personal bias–I have a really hard time liking Mal mostly because of his controlling, shitty, bad boyfriend flags.

There are hints at what might have caused the Fold to begin with and the mythology behind the Darkling’s origins that appear in this book. There are also political machinations and power plays that will shape and change everything, all of which I loved deeply upon this re-read.

Ultimately? Siege and Storm delivers and is significantly better than the first book.

Onward, to Ruin and Rising.

Rating: 7 – Very Good

The re-read continues next with Ruin and Rising (book 3 in the Shadow and Bone trilogy)

The post Grishaverse Re-read: SIEGE AND STORM by Leigh Bardugo appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Thea
Grishaverse Re-Read: SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo

In preparation for the Netflix show, Thea is re-immersing herself in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse and rereading the Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows books! Today, she tackles the book that started it all: Shadow and Bone.

Title: Shadow and Bone
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication Date: June 5, 2012
Paperback: 358 pages

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

Shadow and Bone is the first installment in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy.

Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and part of the overall Grishaverse

How did I get this book: Purchased

Format: Paperback


A mapmaker, a tracker, and an ageless power-wielder walk onto the field of battle, and nothing will ever be the same.

Alina Starkov–the mapmaker–has lived her entire life by keeping her head down. Always a little sickly, always a bit frail and clumsy and graceless and awkward, Alina enlisted in Ravka’s First Army partially out of civic duty (and by enforced necessity), but more importantly to stay connected to her best friend and unrequited love, Mal. Mal–the tracker–is young and handsome and carefree, renowned already throughout the ranks of his battalion as an uncannily good tracker and seducer of beautiful women (including Grisha), though he is Alina’s oldest and closest friend. Mal and Alina find themselves on the battlefield aboard skiffs and enter the Fold–a region severing Ravka from other countries with its unpassable, monster-filled darkness. When they enter the Fold, something very peculiar happens–when Mal is attacked by volcra and on the pair are on the verge of sure death, Alina unlocks an unforetold ability to summon light, and repel the monsters and the darkness.

No such thing has ever happened in Ravka. There are other Grisha–wielders of magic, experts of the Small Science, and fighters of the Second Army–including those who can manipulate the natural elements (Etherealki), those who are experts of the limits of the human body (Corporalki), and those who can manipulate composite materials to their ends (Materialki). The closest thing to Alina’s power is an Etherealki of unparalleled power: the Darkling, an ageless and immensely powerful Grisha who commands the Second Army, with an ability to summon darkness.

The Darkling–the ageless power-wielder–instantly takes interest in Alina, inviting her to train as a Grisha and unlock her true potential. Unlike Mal and the life Alina has known before, for the first time she grows into herself and her abilities. She becomes more confident, more powerful, and yet… more conflicted at each step along the way. As Alina adjusts to her gilded surroundings, she starts to question everything–especially the Darkling, and his motives.

When I first read (and reviewed) Shadow and Bone, I was both invested in the world, and slightly underwhelmed by characters. Upon this re-read, nearly a decade later, this initial observation still holds true. I *love* the concept of the “unsea” (the shadow fold), of Grisha, and a world sundered by monsters and darkness from some unknown source. And, this many years later, I know just how much time and effort Leigh Bardugo has invested in this world and its inhabitants, and can appreciate the grand scope of the Grisha, of Ravka, of the Shu Han and the politicking and choices that shape this world.

But I can’t deny that even upon re-reading this book, there are a lot of problematic elements.

All cards on the table: Alina’s entire character arc is a little… well, twee. I should note that it is slightly unfair reading this book in a vacuum because Alina becomes so much more in books 2 and 3, but judging book 1 on its own? Yeah, you can’t really deny the fact that her arc reads like a page from the post-Twilight-heroine playbook. Alina is consumed with what Mal will think of her, and what the Darkling thinks of her, and what the other Grisha think of her–her focus is entirely outside of herself, and her character growth seems tied to becoming more beautiful (and less clumsy and awkward) and other peoples’ perceptions of her. Both love interests in this book are similarly controlling, domineering, and unconscionably shitty. The Darkling is seductive and dark and broody and nigh-immortal and calls to Alina’s nascent power while trying to control her. Mal is overbearing, jealous, and judgmental, accusing Alina of liking her gilded cage (and the Darkling) too much. Not to mention the fact that Mal signs up for a secret mission to bring a powerful amplifier to Alina to feel, like, closer to her, and yet blames her for the Darkling’s manipulations, etc. In other words–all of the bad, abusive boyfriend red flags are flying full mast in this first novel.

And yet.

Despite these flags, there’s no denying that on its own, Shadow and Bone is still incredibly compelling. Alina’s arc, while utterly predictable, is still powerful in her choices. The fact that Alina is an outsider, that she feels alone and isolated, that she struggles with other Grisha as well as her best friend, is empathetic as hell and I deeply admire her ability to make choices the further out her story goes. Similarly, Alina’s bonds with other female characters–Zoya and Genya in particular–are nuanced, and have so much further implication for the rest of the series.

It’s impossible to re-read a series without also evaluating the things to come. Things that I didn’t notice as much the first time around but loved this time around:

The importance and quiet strength of Baghra, Alina’s teacher when she reaches the Palace.

The spectacle of the Grisha and how the entire kingdom of Ravka is slowly rotting on itself, with its preoccupation with glamor and beauty.

The beginnings of the understanding that absolute power corrupts absolutely–especially for Grisha, and including Alina herself.

Shadow and Bone is very much a first novel, lacking polish (and those aforementioned boyfriend red flags), but there’s so much promise in this book that it’s worth it to stick around for the ride.

I’m both more invested and more critical on a second read, and cannot wait to dive into the rest of the Grishaverse to evaluate the rest.

Rating: 6 – Good, but with some reservations

The re-read continues next with Siege and Storm (book 2 in the Shadow and Bone trilogy)

The post Grishaverse Re-Read: SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Charles Payseur
X Marks the Story: March 2021

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

The snow has finally melted from my yard! For most of the Northern Hemisphere, that means Spring is in the air! Plants are sluggishly trying to poke up, the squirrels are incredibly chonky, and the fiction is…well, complicated and wrenching and so so beautiful. And this month there’s some interesting and innovative flourishes as well. From interactive fiction to stories framed as wiki entries with annotated song lyrics, the stories I’m rounding up today show how varied and how creative short SFF can be, while losing nothing in power or impact. So grab your compass and your map and let’s get to it!

Diamonds and Pearls” by JL George (Fireside Magazine #88)

What It Is: Language is quite literally tied to gems in the world of this story, where as people learn words, they cough up different kinds of gemstones. And Osian grows up learning to covet diamonds, for the language of the common tongue, rather than pearls, which only emerge as people learn words in the old tongue. The story finds Osian struggling against his culture, his heritage, his desires, a ball of conflicting emotions that threatens to come spilling loose once he goes away to university and meets another student, a linguist, and has to challenge everything he thinks he knows. The story is built around this core of language and how we value it, how we lose it, and how we can reclaim it, and interwoven with that is a love story that is warm and sharp all at once.

Why I Love It: Osian is such a compelling character to me, so caught up in his own bullshit, hurt and damaged by an upbringing but rather ignorant of it, not wanting to examine the ways he’s been cut off from his past, from his family’s history. He’s invested in the valuation that society has put on the dominant language and the suppressed one. The new and the old. And it takes meeting someone who deeply challenges him, who captivates him, who has such a different set of values, to threaten that worldview. That comfort with all that he’s lost. And it makes so much sense, it speaks so real, especially to me as an American where there is no “official language” but where there’s certainly a value placed on what languages a person does (and doesn’t) know. And the ending is so sweet, so heart-meltingly adorable, that I can’t help but recommend going out and reading this story immediately!

The Captain and the Quartermaster” by C.L. Clark (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #326)

What It Is: For most of this story, the characters are marked not by their names but by their roles in a revolution that has been going on for much longer than anyone expected. For years they have been fighting against a Tyrant, and their fortunes shift with the seasons. But the Captain keeps on fighting, and the Quartermaster keeps on making sure the army has enough food and supplies, and together their love is something that gives the rest of the army hope. And the story looks at that, at these two women giving everything they have to a war and to each other, and finding that after all that they might not have much left for themselves.

Why I Love It: The relationship at the heart of this story is so amazing, messy, and queer, that I can’t help but love it to bits. And the way that the story flits through time, teasing out the different moments, the first meeting, the falling for each other, the turmoil, the resilience—it’s just a fabulous ride that the reader is treated to. More than that, though, the story breaks expectations with the romance, pulling away from what we might have been taught happy endings look like. I won’t spoil it but the story does a fantastic job of complicating how people can love, how people can stay together, and how they sometimes need to drift apart. And it reveals that no relationship is as important as the people in it, and ultimately people have to do what’s best and right for them, even when I might cry a bit at the ending. An emotionally stunning read!

According to Leibniz (maybe this isn’t what he meant); or, Rasharelle Little: Goddess of Postal Worker NBs” by Isana Skeete (Strange Horizons 03/15/2021)

What It Is: Felix’s Dyad is a headless chicken that might also be a physical manifestation of their uncontrolled anxiety. It clucks. And sort of makes a spectacle of itself. And isn’t any good at parties. Though neither is Felix, really. The story follows them as they deal with being a Monad with a headless chicken Dyad (not as cool as a cobra or a sexy cat), through their work at the post office, and around their crush on a coworker. And it reveals how they start to approach having their Dyad, how they can maybe stop seeing it as an enemy and hindrance, and instead embrace it for what it is, embrace themself for who they are, and even begin to practice some self-care. All that captured in a charming voice that flows, that keeps things casual and sarcastic and amazing.

Why I Love It: The story has such an energy to it, where Felix is just trying so hard to get by, to live their best life, and having to navigate what that means and how to do that when it’s just hard to inhabit their body sometimes, with its headless chicken Dyad and anxiety and baggage. Their go-to move is to avoid, to laugh through, to joke about things. But that doesn’t face their problems, and the story finds them starting to change that, to confront the things they would rather avoid, to have hard conversations, both with themself and with those they want to be closer to. It’s really a lot of fun, too, from the strangeness of this headless but not voiceless chicken to the way that they are able to break out of their insecurity in order to take a chance that they’ve been wanting to take for a long time. And the informal structure, the breaks of almost poetic formatting, add further personality to the work. It’s an incredible story!

Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny #39)

What It Is: Framed as an entry on a kind of wiki or other crowd-sourced site, this story unfolds as a conversation had between people contributing to the entry on a particular folk song. One that might have origins in something strange and…true. At least, that’s the narrative that begins to come clear as the work progresses, moving from interpretations and posts to a full annotated analysis of the song in line by line fashion. It might not sound like it, but it’s a rather tense and chilling work, full of mystery and possibility, implications that are all the more ominous for the nature of the framing technique, the outdated internet format that makes the story itself seem a seed waiting to full grow and flower.

Why I Love It: There’s something just so satisfying about the way this story comes together, all the pieces so meticulously placed, waiting for the reader to click them into a whole picture. The story is grounded with such care that for me is has this very authentic feel to it, as if this could be a thing on the internet, casually stumbled across. And I think that’s part of the horror, too, that the pieces here haven’t quite all been put together by the people on the board. Like so many things on the internet, they’ve been assembled in a bout of passion and interest and now just sort of…languish. And while this might seem like it would be frustrating, for me it’s rather sinister, this hanging implication, this warning that no one seems to be fully picking up on, and it’s chilling and wonderfully done!

Las Girlfriends Guide to Subversive Eating” by Sabrina Vourvoulias (Apex #122)

What It Is: It’s rare to come across an interactive story in a more traditional short SFF publication, in part because they’re rather difficult to include in an issue format. Which is why Apex has broken this one out to live entirely online, and the story is framed beautifully and rather convincingly as a kind of website, promising a tour of a local food scene mixed with magic, resistance, survival, and love. The format is fascinating and embedded into the tour stops, About Page, and other links there emerges a story, a narrative of people coming together from many different backgrounds to enrich a place that’s become all of their home.

Why I Love It: I do love the way this all fits together, the way that the story manages to take me on a journey. I mean, that it’s a functioning map is just great, and that it covers so much, not just food but the different roads these women have walked, the different routes to the same physical space, is amazingly done. The food descriptions sound delicious but don’t overshadow the culture or magic on display here, the web of different people and peoples all coming together in defiance to protect what can be protected, to spread what joy and love can be spread. The characters pop from the screen, and the work acts as a bridge between some of the author’s other stories, as well (including links to where to check those out), which is a nice way to make the setting more vivid, more real. It’s got such a warm heart, and so many layers, that make it a wonderful and unforgettable experience!


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

There were actually a few novellas out recently from short fiction publications, including the intricate and thoroughly world-built Arisudan” by Rimi B. Chatterjee (Mithila Review #15). It imagines a world rocked by corruption and disaster, but not yet without hope. And Submergence” by Arula Ratnakar (Clarkesworld #174) is part murder mystery, part romance, part dive into memory and consciousness, and is a powerful read.

I also read some recent short story collections, and of the originals I had some favorites. Useless Eaters” by Brian Koukol (Handicapsules: Short stories of Speculative Crip Lit) is brash and compelling, about a group of disabled buskers supporting each other and refusing to shrink in the face of ableist bullshit. Meanwhile Love: An Archaeology” by Fabio Fernandes (Love: An Archaeology) is a kind of possibility-hopping story, linking alternate realities to the conversation and correspondence of two sisters, and the complicated ways they are linked..

And I guess though most of my Xs this month leaned fantasy, I did read a bunch of strong science fiction stories, including The Office Drone” by Nic Lipitz (Future Science Fiction Digest #10), which is fun and funny and features a literal office drone showing the figurative drones how to really get some office work done. k.a. (birthright)” by Lam Ning (The Future Fire #2021.56) is a more somber and serious story, finding two people in the aftermath of a war figuring out how to live and recover. A theme that echoes in A Sunrise Every 90 Minutes” by Victoria Zelvin (Flash Fiction Online 03/2021), told from outer space, and perhaps the last human astronaut wonders what’s happened to Earth after a mysterious disaster, and decides how to meet this uncertain future.

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

- Thea
Announcing the SHADOW AND BONE/SIX OF CROWS Re-read

You may have heard of Leigh Bardugo–the internationally best-selling author of delightful, action-packed, high-stakes fantasy novels set in an interconnected universe. To date, the prolific Bardugo has published three full-length series (one trilogy and two duologies) as well a collection of short stories and other ephemera from the world of the Grishaverse. And then Netflix comes along, and, partnering with Leigh Bardugo, creates a Grishaverse fantasy television show that looks utterly awesome.

In the parlance of the youth, I am here for it.

Netflix showrunner Eric Heisserer and Leigh Bardugo have been impressively secretive about the show since it was announced, but over the past few months we’ve learned a couple of pretty cool things. For one, Bardugo acknowledged the diversity problem in her early books, and attempted to fix them with the show’s casting–I, for one, am excited about this more inclusive approach to the Grishaverse characters. I love that Jessie Mei Li–a biracial half-Asian actress–has been cast as Alina, and that her biracial background has been written into Alina’s character (who is now explicitly half-Shu Han).


Similarly, Sujaya Dasgupta who plays Alina’s frenemy Zoya is also mixed-race (explicitly revealed by Bardugo in 2019’s King of Scars), and both Inej and Jesper are also actors of color. (Also, if you’re a reader of this site, you probably know I have a huge thing for Inej and CANNOT WAIT to see her onscreen.)

Which brings me to my next point: shocking, to me, was the revelation that Shadow and Bone will include characters from the eponymous original trilogy as well as characters from the Six of Crows duology. How these two series will be tied together since they’re kinda on different timelines is still unknown but, I say again: I AM HERE FOR IT.


SO–to get ready for the show, I’ll be re-reading and reviewing the books in the original Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows this month! The readalong starts this week with Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm–stick around for more Grishaverse (including a giveaway and a surprise) leading up to the show’s release on April 23rd.

Until then, I’ll be rewatching this trailer a few more times.

The post Announcing the SHADOW AND BONE/SIX OF CROWS Re-read appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Thea
On the Smugglers’ Radar: April 2021

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

Starting this month, all of our monthly picks can be found on Bookshop!

April 2021

This one had us at “navigating an afterlife in which [the main character] must defeat an AI entity intent on destroying humanity.”

The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Simon & Schuster BFYR | April 6, 2021

Westworld meets Warcross in this high-stakes, incisive, dizzyingly smart sci-fi about a teen girl navigating an afterlife in which she must defeat an AI entity intent on destroying humanity, from award-winning author Akemi Dawn Bowman.

Eighteen-year-old Nami Miyamoto is certain her life is just beginning. She has a great family, just graduated high school, and is on her way to a party where her entire class is waiting for her—including, most importantly, the boy she’s been in love with for years.

The only problem? She’s murdered before she gets there.

When Nami wakes up, she learns she’s in a place called Infinity, where human consciousness goes when physical bodies die. She quickly discovers that Ophelia, a virtual assistant widely used by humans on Earth, has taken over the afterlife and is now posing as a queen, forcing humans into servitude the way she’d been forced to serve in the real world. Even worse, Ophelia is inching closer and closer to accomplishing her grand plans of eradicating human existence once and for all.

As Nami works with a team of rebels to bring down Ophelia and save the humans under her imprisonment, she is forced to reckon with her past, her future, and what it is that truly makes us human.

From award-winning author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes an incisive, action-packed tale that explores big questions about technology, grief, love, and humanity.

This next book is the second in a Mughal-inspired fantasy series (clearly I need book 1 to read immediately as well).

Gifting Fire by Alina Boyden

Ace Books | April 13, 2021

The battle has been won, but the war is just beginning.

Although at long last Razia Khan has found peace with herself and love with her prince, Arjun, her trials are far from over. In order to save her prince and his city from certain destruction, Razia made a deal with the devil–her father, the Sultan of Nizam. Now the bill has come due.

Razia must secure the province of Zindh, a land surrounded by enemies, and loyal to a rebel queen who has survived her father’s purge. But when her old tormentor Prince Karim invades her new home and forces her into a marriage alliance, Razia finds herself trapped in the women’s quarters of a foreign palace, with her beloved Prince Arjun exiled from her side.

Now, in order to free herself, and her province, from Karim’s clutches, she must call upon all of her training as a royal princess, a cunning courtesan, and a daring thief to summon new allies and old friends for a battle that will decide her fate, and the fate of an empire.

The next book in Becky Chambers’ optimistic, charming Wayfarer’s series is out at the end of this month–HUZZAH!

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

Harper Voyager | April 20, 2021

Return to the sprawling, Hugo Award-winning universe of the Galactic Commons to explore another corner of the cosmos—one often mentioned, but not yet explored—in this absorbing entry in the Wayfarers series, which blends heart-warming characters and imaginative adventure.

With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.

At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.

When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.

Speaking of new releases in favorite series, the newest Murderbot is out this month as well (thank you kindly, Martha Wells):

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

Tordotcom | April 27, 2021

The sixth part of the Murderbot Diaries series that began with All Systems Red, this novella takes place between Exit Strategy and the novel Network Effect.

No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall.

When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people–who knew?)

Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans!


Leigh Bardugo has a big April–Shadow and Bone starts streaming, and this second book in the King of Scars duology (also set in the Grishaverse) just dropped.

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

Imprint | March 30, 2021

The wolves are circling and a young king will face his greatest challenge in the explosive finale of the instant #1 New York Times-bestselling King of Scars Duology.

The Demon King. As Fjerda’s massive army prepares to invade, Nikolai Lantsov will summon every bit of his ingenuity and charm—and even the monster within—to win this fight. But a dark threat looms that cannot be defeated by a young king’s gift for the impossible.

The Stormwitch. Zoya Nazyalensky has lost too much to war. She saw her mentor die and her worst enemy resurrected, and she refuses to bury another friend. Now duty demands she embrace her powers to become the weapon her country needs. No matter the cost.

The Queen of Mourning. Deep undercover, Nina Zenik risks discovery and death as she wages war on Fjerda from inside its capital. But her desire for revenge may cost her country its chance at freedom and Nina the chance to heal her grieving heart.

King. General. Spy. Together they must find a way to forge a future in the darkness. Or watch a nation fall.

This historical thriller sounds tantalizingly awesome:

The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

Feiwel & Friends | April 20, 2021

Suspenseful and richly atmospheric, June Hur’s The Forest of Stolen Girls is a haunting historical mystery sure to keep readers guessing until the last page.

1426, Joseon (Korea). Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest near a gruesome crime scene.

Years later, Detective Min?Hwani’s father?learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared from the same forest that nearly stole his daughters. He travels to their hometown on the island of Jeju to investigate… only to vanish as well.

Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village?and collides with her now estranged sister, Maewol?Hwani comes to realize that the answer could lie within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.

Speaking of thrillers, I’m excited for this monster-in-the-woods tale:

Near The Bone by Christina Henry

Berkeley | April 13, 2021

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

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

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

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

Charlie Jane Anders’ first YA novel! It’s almost here!

Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

Tor Teen | April 13, 2021

Outsmart Your Enemies. Outrun the Galaxy.

“Just please, remember what I told you. Run. Don’t stop running for anything.”

Tina never worries about being ‘ordinary’–she doesn’t have to, since she’s known practically forever that she’s not just Tina Mains, average teenager and beloved daughter. She’s also the keeper of an interplanetary rescue beacon, and one day soon, it’s going to activate, and then her dreams of saving all the worlds and adventuring among the stars will finally be possible. Tina’s legacy, after all, is intergalactic–she is the hidden clone of a famed alien hero, left on Earth disguised as a human to give the universe another chance to defeat a terrible evil.

But when the beacon activates, it turns out that Tina’s destiny isn’t quite what she expected. Things are far more dangerous than she ever assumed–and everyone in the galaxy is expecting her to actually be the brilliant tactician and legendary savior Captain Thaoh Argentian, but Tina….is just Tina. And the Royal Fleet is losing the war, badly–the starship that found her is on the run and they barely manage to escape Earth with the planet still intact.

Luckily, Tina is surrounded by a crew she can trust, and her best friend Rachel, and she is still determined to save all the worlds. But first she’ll have to save herself.

Buckle up your seatbelt for this thrilling YA sci-fi adventure set against an intergalactic war from internationally bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders.

This one is a bit of a cheat since it technically came out in 2017, but is now getting a beautiful paperback repackage this month (and also it’s Silvia Moreno-Garcia so obviously gonna recommend it):

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Tor Trade | April 27, 2021

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a sweeping romance with a dash of magic.

They are the Beautiful Ones, Loisail’s most notable socialites, and this spring is Nina’s chance to join their ranks, courtesy of her well-connected cousin and his calculating wife. But the Grand Season has just begun, and already Nina’s debut has gone disastrously awry. She has always struggled to control her telekinesis?neighbors call her the Witch of Oldhouse?and the haphazard manifestations of her powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.

When entertainer Hector Auvray arrives to town, Nina is dazzled. A telekinetic like her, he has traveled the world performing his talents for admiring audiences. He sees Nina not as a witch, but ripe with potential to master her power under his tutelage. With Hector’s help, Nina’s talent blossoms, as does her love for him.

But great romances are for fairytales, and Hector is hiding a truth from Nina ? and himself?that threatens to end their courtship before it truly begins.

The Beautiful Ones is a charming tale of love and betrayal, and the struggle between conformity and passion, set in a world where scandal is a razor-sharp weapon.

Last but certainly not least, Marina Lostetter–the glorious, brilliant author behind the Noumenon series–has a fantasy novel out this month, and I need it in my life RIGHT NOW.

The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter

Tor Books | April 13, 2021

A legendary serial killer stalks the streets of a fantastical city in The Helm of Midnight, the stunning first novel in a new trilogy from acclaimed author Marina Lostetter.

In a daring and deadly heist, thieves have made away with an artifact of terrible power–the death mask of Louis Charbon. Made by a master craftsman, it is imbued with the spirit of a monster from history, a serial murderer who terrorized the city with a series of gruesome murders.

Now Charbon is loose once more, killing from beyond the grave. But these murders are different from before, not simply random but the work of a deliberate mind probing for answers to a sinister question.

It is up to Krona Hirvath and her fellow Regulators to enter the mind of madness to stop this insatiable killer while facing the terrible truths left in his wake.

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

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

- Kimberly
Murder at the Merton Library by Andrea Penrose
murder at the merton library banner

Narrated by James Cameron Stewart, Murder at the Merton Library by Andrea Penrose was one of my most anticipated releases. With its wonderful characters and well plotted murder-mysteries, the Wrexford & Sloane series is one of my favorites.

Murder at the Merton Library by Andrea PenroseMurder at the Merton Library
by Andrea Penrose
Series: Wrexford & Sloane #7
Narrator: James Cameron Stewart
Length: 12 hours and 12 minutes
Genres: Historical Fiction
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star
Narration: 5 cups Speed: 1.5x

Responding to an urgent plea from a troubled family friend, the Earl of Wrexford journeys to Oxford only to find the reclusive university librarian has been murdered and a rare manuscript has gone missing. The only clue is that someone overheard an argument in which Wrexford’s name was mentioned.

At the same time, Charlotte—working under her pen name, A. J. Quill—must determine whether a laboratory fire was arson and if it’s connected to the race between competing consortiums to build a new type of ship—one that can cross the ocean powered by steam rather than sails—with the potential to revolutionize military power and world commerce. That the race involves new innovations in finance and entrepreneurship only adds to the high stakes—especially as their good friend Kit Sheffield may be an investor in one of the competitors.

As they delve deeper into the baffling clues, Wrexford and Charlotte begin to realize that things are not what they seem. An evil conspiracy is lurking in the shadows and threatens all they hold dear—unless they can tie the loose threads together before it’s too late . . .

Family historical MURDERMYSTERY well written

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Andrea Penrose has created magic with this series. She blends strong complex characters with engaging storylines. Each novel shares the complexities of their daily life, romance and family, all against the backdrop of historical London. She does so while delivering fresh murder-mysteries that keep me guessing. I highly recommend the series.

In Murder at the Merton Library, the Earl of Wrexford received an urgent missive from the Oxford librarian. When he arrived at the library, he discovered that someone had murdered the man and stolen a rare manuscript. Charlotte has her own investigation and is trying to determine if a laboratory fire was arson. She is curious to know if it’s related to the race to develop the first steam powered oceanic ship.

The tale that unfolds delivered a suspenseful murder-mystery. Why was Neville Greeley murdered and what was so important about the Latin manuscript? Who is responsible for the arsons? With Kit investing, Charlotte is determined to find answers. Wrexford & Sloane soon come together as pieces to the puzzle click. The historical tidbits on steam-powered ships proved fascinating.

With Peregrine off to Eton, the Weasels have a new friend. A young midshipman, and the great nephew of the Dowager Duchess Alison, Countess of Peake. Naturally, the boys give him a bird name. Osbrey. I enjoy these young folks and how Wrexford and Charlotte dote on them.

Penrose blends history, beloved characters, mystery and intrigue to create a story that transports the listener. James Cameron Stewart narrates the story and does a brilliant job with these characters and enhances the story.

Perfect for fans of the Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas.

Amazon | Audible

Murder at the Merton Library by Andrea Penrose delivered a wonderful edition to the Wrexford & Sloane mystery series. #historicalfiction #audiobook #JamesCameronStewart
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About Andrea PenroseAndrea Penrose

Andrea Penrose is the USA Today bestselling author of Regency-era historical fiction, including the acclaimed Wrexford & Sloane mystery series, as well as Regency romances written under the names Cara Elliott and Andrea Pickens. Published internationally in ten languages, she is a three-time RITA Award finalist and the recipient of numerous writing awards, including two Daphne Du Maurier Awards for Historical Mystery and two Gold Leaf Awards. A graduate of Yale University with a B.A. in Art and an M.F.A. in Graphic Design, Andrea fell in love with Regency England after reading Pride and Prejudice and has maintained a fascination with the era’s swirling silks and radical new ideas throughout her writing career. She lives in Connecticut and blogs with a community of historical fiction authors at

About James Cameron StewartJames Cameron Stewart

James Cameron Stewart trained at Hull University and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Some theater highlights of his thirty-six-year career include Frank-n-Furter (The Rocky Horror Show), Thénadier (Les Misérables), the poet Philip Larkin in Larkin with Women (Best Actor nominee, MEN Awards 2005), and originating the part of Hamish in Sir Alan Ayckbourn's Things We Do for Love. In 2008 he published his grandfather's World War I memoirs and toured his one-man show based on them from 2008 to 2011. His television/film credits include Outlander, Jericho, Flying Blind, Golden Years, Emmerdale, London's Burning, Eastenders, Coronation Street, Holby City, and Taggart. He often appears on Radio 4, and is a regular presenter on the weekly The Economist podcast. James loves recording audiobooks and is delighted to have had the opportunity to narrate such a variety of magnificent authors, from Seneca through Max Hastings and Antony Beevor, to superlative fiction by J. M. Coetzee, Michael Dibdin, Stuart MacBride, and more.

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- Kimberly
Sunday Post #594 Welcome Fall

The Sunday Post is a blog news meme hosted here @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news~ A post to recap the past week on your blog and showcase books and things we have received. Share news about what is coming up on your blog for the week ahead. Join in weekly, bi-weekly or for a monthly wrap up. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme

I spent all of my free time resting and finished all twelve seasons of Call The Midwife. It’s a wonderful series. Trying a new round of antibiotics. It has been raining all weekend and I’ve been trying to catch up on the blog. Stay Caffeinated.

Last Week on the Blog Holly By Stephen King (audio review) Bazaar Girls By Kerrigan Byrne & Cynthia St. Aubin (book review) Fatal Fudge Swirl By Meri Allen (book review, guest reviewer) Door To Door By T.L. Brown (audio review) Gray Court By Hailey Edwards (audio review) This Week on the Blog Murder At The Merton Library By Andrea Penrose (audio review) The Duke Gets Desperate By Diana Quincy (book review) Guardian Of Torment By Michelle Manus (audio review) Dark Horse Dive Bar #1 Wilde Love By Jennifer Ryan (book review) 2023 Ho-Ho Ho Readathon Sign Up (event) New Arrivals at the Caffeinated Cafe

Learn more:

The Night Island by Jayne Ann Krentz Long Past Dues by James J. Butcher Stop Ghosting Me by Tara Sivec More Than A Little Warped by Annette Marie & Rob Jacobsen Midnight Is the Darkest Hour by Ashley Winstead

A special thanks to Berkley Romance, Penguin Audio, Tantor Audio

Around The Blogosphere Sign Up for the 2023 Fraterfest Readathon October 12th through 16th. Hosts needed. Save the Date! 2023 HoHoHo Readathon November 16th through 27th. Hosts needed. Sign up will post on September 29, 2023. Caffeinated PR open-events2 Open Events Link Up Your Edition Of The Sunday Post

Before you link up: Please be sure your weekly post includes a link back to Caffeinated Reviewer and the Sunday Post

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- Kimberly
Gray Court by Hailey Edwards

Gray Court, narrated by Stephanie Richardson, is the seventh audiobook in the Black Hat Bureau. This cozy, urban fantasy series written by Hailey Edwards is a blast. The Maudit Grimoire is affecting Rue and worse, it is leaking into her familiar bond with Coby. The tale that unfolds will keep you listening….

Gray Court by Hailey EdwardsGray Court
by Hailey Edwards
Series: Black Hat Bureau #7
Narrator: Stephanie Richardson
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star
Narration: 4.5 cups Speed: 1.5x

After wiping out an entire black witch coven on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, Rue can no longer afford to have a laissez-faire attitude toward the Maudit Grimoire. Its black magic is infecting her, and it’s leaking into her familiar bond with Colby, poisoning the loinnir with its thirst for violence.

A trip to the fae realm ought to be just the ticket, but any hope for a quick fix dies when a message arrives from High Priestess Naeema. Her daughter has gone missing, and she expects Rue to find her. As much as Rue wants to help Naeema, can she afford to put off disposing of the cunning book yet again?

KICKASS magical ROMANCE smartfunny

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I have been having so much fun with these characters and series. Like most urban fantasy, it is important to listen to the Black Hat Bureau novels, in the order of their release.

Rue is desperate to resolve the issues surrounding the Maudit Grimoire, especially when the evil affects Colby. She thinks a trip to the fae realm will help, but when the High Priestess Naeema’s daughter goes missing, Rue and the gang will need to find her.

A lot happens in Gray Court to advance the plot. It didn’t have a big mystery to solve like the previous books, but we spent plenty of time with Rue, Asa, Colby and Clay. And trust me, a lot happens. From a challenge, Asa can’t refuse to a demon. Rue;s parents arrive for a visit and we have some threads tied-up. We still need to solve the grimoire issue and I really want Rue’s grandfather to get his just desserts.

Edwards mixes humor, romance and family into the mix, making the story fly by. I think I listened to this in two sittings and wished it was longer. Stephanie Richardson narrates the series and does such a good job giving voice to these characters. Clay cracks me up.

This series is perfect for fans of light, cozy urban fantasy with rich characters, humor and romance.

Amazon* | Audible


Gray Court by Hailey Edwards advanced the plot, made me laugh and tied up loose threads. I cannot wait for the next audiobook #BlackHatBureau #urbanfantasy #StephanieRichardson #audiobookreview
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About Hailey EdwardsHailey Edwards

Hailey Edwards writes about questionable applications of otherwise perfectly good magic, the transformative power of love, the family you choose for yourself, and blowing stuff up. Not necessarily all at once. That could get messy. She lives in Alabama with her husband, their daughter, and a herd of dachshunds.

About Stephanie RichardsonStephanie Richardson

Stephanie Richardson records audiobooks from her professional home studio near the mountains in Utah. She places a special emphasis on bringing positive and wholesome content in the world and records work in a variety of nonfiction and fiction genres, including self-development, memoir, children's and young adult, and cozy mystery. She has trained with award-winning narrators PJ Ochlan and Sean Pratt and was awarded the ABR award for best mystery in 2020. While not enjoying a book, she can be found playing zoo-keeper to her four rambunctious children, playing nerdy board games, or talking to her plants.

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- Kimberly
Door to Door by T.L. Brown

Narrated by Elyse Osterhaug, Door To Door by T.L. Brown, is the first audiobook in the Door to Door mystery series. This genre-bending, cozy, paranormal murder-mystery pulled me. Emily Swift receives a book on her thirtieth birthday and opens a door to another world.

Door to Door by T.L. BrownDoor to Door
by T.L. Brown
Series: Door to Door Mystery #1
Length: 9 hours and 37 minutes
Genres: Cozy Mystery, Paranormal
Source: Author
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star
Narration: 5 cups Speed: 1.5x

Two worlds collide when Emily Swift turns 30, and her late father’s journal lands on her doorstep...

Seventeen years after Emily Swift’s father died, a door is opened to a new world, an Empire led by peculiar men and women called Salesmen–transporters of magical items. These Salesmen have the unique ability to travel from place to place, and even world to world, simply by stepping through the “right” door. Now that Emily is 30, it turns out that she can “door travel” too, stumbling unplanned into kitchens, bathrooms, and alleyways as her connection to the Salesman Empire is revealed.

Fueled by the cryptic notes and sketches in her father’s journal, Emily discovers the real reason behind his death: he was targeted and assassinated by the Fringe, a terrorist group of rogue Salesmen. After an attack that leaves an innocent woman dead, a rare book containing clues to the whereabouts of the Crimson Stone is missing. Emily is charged with getting it back. As she races through the Empire, she pursues John Templeton, the mysterious Salesman with extraordinary abilities, who seems to help and undermine Emily at whim.

With new friends Anne Lace and the seemingly-boyish Rabbit, she tracks Templeton, but the Fringe is not far behind–as two new murders prove. Along the way, Emily struggles to balance her desire to find out who killed her father against the task of recovering the legendary stone. The internal journey of reconciling the father she hardly knew with the great leader she’ll never know forms the foundation for a fast-paced race to keep powerful magic out of violent, fanatical hands.


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Emily Swift’s world takes a turn when her deceased father’s journal appears on her doorstep on her thirtieth birthday. It’s been over seventeen years since her father’s tragic death. It seems her father was a salesman for another realm. He traveled through doors, transporting magical items, and wearing a top hat. As Emily reads the journal, she discovers that she, too, can travel through doors. With no training, she accidentally stumbles into kitchens, bathrooms and more. But danger is lurking and someone is seeking something for nefarious purposes.

As we learn about the alternate world of Empire, Emily soon finds herself in danger and questioning her father’s death. The tale that unfolds has a cozy murder-mystery vibe steeped in fantasy. Author T.L. Brown quickly pulled me in from Rabbits to the mysterious Fringe.

Emily’s mission is to locate the Crimson Stone, an influential artifact. During her travels, she’ll need to be bold and choose whom to confide in. Emily’s discoveries made the world come to life with vivid detail. I loved adventure, danger, and discovery. The story flowed well, and the danger built. I found myself unable to set the audiobook down.

There are currently three books in the Door to Door Mystery series and I am hoping the author brings the next two books to audio. Elyse Osterhaug does a lovely job of giving voice to Emily and setting the tone of the story. Her narration enhanced the tale and I hope to continue in this format.

Amazon* | Audible

Narrated by Elyse Osterhaug, Door to Door by T.L. Brown, delivered an engaging cozy fantasy mystery and is the first in the Door To Door Mystery series. #audiobook #audiobookreview
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About T.L. BrownT.L. Brown

T.L. Brown is the author of the Door to Door Paranormal Mystery Series, three books about an average 30-year-old caught between two worlds: the known one and a new, often dangerous place known as the Empire. She is also the author of an adult dark fantasy series: Bellerose Witchline.

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Fatal Fudge Swirl by Meri Allen

Sophia Rose is here with the third novel in the Ice Cream Shop Mysteries. Grab a cone and check out her thoughts on Fatal Fudge Swirl by Meri Allen.

Fatal Fudge Swirl by Meri AllenFatal Fudge Swirl
by Meri Allen
Series: Ice Cream Shop Mysteries #3
Genres: Cozy Mystery
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

A movie production brings drama—and murder—to a close-knit New England village, forcing Riley Rhodes to scoop out the suspects.

Former CIA librarian and amateur sleuth Riley Rhodes is loving her fresh start as the manager of the Udderly Delicious Ice Cream Shop. The leaves are turning, tourists are leaf-peeping, and Penniman, Connecticut is putting finishing touches on the weekend long Halloween Happening. But the village is also buzzing. Former child star Cooper Collins is overseeing the production of a romantic comedy that’s filming on the town green and his domineering socialite mother, Diantha, is planning her lavish Halloween themed wedding at her Inn on the Green. Her fiancé has run the Inn's kitchen for years, ably aided by his recent ex-wife, chef Mary Ann Dumas. An old friend of Riley’s, Mary Ann turns to her when the bride requests a spooky ice cream wedding cake.

But the weekend takes a frightful turn when Diantha is found dead and suspicion falls on Mary Ann. The cast of potential suspects is long—each wedding guest had a chilling motive to kill the vicious heiress. Can Riley unmask the murderer before another guest ends up on ice?

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Confession time. If I spy a mystery featuring ice cream, an ex-CIA Librarian, and Halloween, I’m going to reach for the book. Was it as delicious as my anticipation? Get your two scoops of tie-dye flavor and let’s go, kids.

Fatal Fudge Swirl is the third in the series.  I jumped into this one and did fine out of order since the author painted in the backdrop of what was going on for Riley and her small town.  That said, I did struggle to keep track of so many sub-plots and characters going on around and with Riley.

So, Riley Rhodes is content to work at her friend’s ice cream shop in her small home town.  She’s adjusting to her dad’s marriage to a woman she’s not keen on and who now is berserkers over getting into film and is shoving Riley into a romance she’s not quite ready for after her ex did a number on her.

The end of the seasonal ice cream shop work is coming up with the town’s big Halloween festivities that include a big publicity Halloween-themed wedding and a film production.  Riley’s in the middle of it because she was asked to make the wedding cake, an ice-cream Halloween theme, and asked to wrangle her friend’s diva cat who is a pet star in the film production.

Lots of drama is swirling around this festive time with the caterer for the wedding being the ex to the gold-digging groom when he leveled up, the caterer’s assistant is a slippery character, the bride’s sons who can’t stand mommy dearest and don’t seem cut up about her death.  And, really, there isn’t a soul connected to Diantha the bridezilla, who doesn’t have a reason to like her when she’s discovered dead in her inn on her wedding day.  The huge suspect and motive list is what had the mystery hard to solve.

Riley jumps in when her friend, the spurned ex, Mary Ann is tagged as suspect number one.  I liked that Riley did her sleuthing, but, when she comes up with something to share, she doesn’t hold out on the police and go it alone.  She gives the detective what she knows.  In truth, the sketchy one was her friend, Caroline, who wasn’t very bright about things much of the time and, incidentally, I could have done without her relationship drama.

I liked the gentle-pacing, visiting the ice cream shop, the fun Halloween festivities, visiting the ice cream shop, seeing Riley fleshed out as a caring person who is well-placed and good with people even when she’s doesn’t necessarily like them, and, oh, it bears repeating that part about visiting the ice cream shop.  I also loved the secondary historical mystery that does eventually tie in involving George Washington and the coded info that would be of town interest and shed light on the present.

While hooked by a few of the flashy elements that, incidentally, the fun seasonal cover captures so well, I was glad this first taste of Meri Allen’s series and her writing turned out to be a hit.  Those who enjoy seasonal cozy mysteries and foodie cozies should definitely give this a go.

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Fatal Fudge Swirl by Meri Allen delivered Sophia Rose's first taste of the Ice Cream Shop Mysteries #bookreview #cozymystery
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About Meri AllenMeri Allen

MERI ALLEN lives in a quiet corner of Connecticut, where she haunts libraries, used book stores, and vintage shops. Books? Travel? Ice Cream? Yes, please! Former librarian Meri Allen loves exploring the back roads - and ice cream shops - of her native New England. She also writes the award-winning Lobster Shack Mystery series as Shari Randall. Check out her travels, recipes, book giveaways and fun in her quarterly newsletter, The Scoop.

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About Sophia RoseSophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.


- Kimberly
Bazaar Girls by Kerrigan Byrne & Cynthia St. Aubin

Bazaar Girls by Kerrigan Byrne & Cynthia St. Aubin is the third RomCom novel in the Townsend Harbor series. This quirky little town has been a joy to visit. This time around, we get Gemma McKendrick’s story and romance with Gabe Kelly. Both have baggage or issues to overcome and I hope you fall in love with them, too.

Bazaar Girls by Kerrigan Byrne & Cynthia St. AubinBazaar Girls
by Kerrigan Byrne, Cynthia St. Aubin
Series: Townsend Harbor #3
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Source: Author
Purchase*: Amazon *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star
Heat Level: One FlameOne FlameOne FlameHalf a Flame

From USA Today and Amazon Charts bestselling authors Kerrigan Byrne and Cynthia St. Aubin, comes their latest Romcom featuring a quirky cast of characters who represent the hilarious absurdity of life while making you fall head-over-heels in love. This steamy, laugh out loud, opposites-attract small town romance reminds us that we don't have to be perfect to deserve our own happily ever after!

Gemini "Gemma" McKendrick knows just about everything about everybody in Townsend Harbor. When she's not serving on one of the many civic positions or leaping headlong into another hobby, she's hosting the Sunday Stitch 'N Bitch at her yarn and craft shop, Bazaar Girls. With her quirky boutique in big financial trouble, she makes a snap decision to rent out the basement of her cozy craftsman to Townsend Harbor newcomer Gabe Kelly. A man with a past as colorful as his tattoo sleeves, who has become an urban legend since he blew into town. And who better than Gemma, Townsend Harbor's own gossip guru, to answer the rumor mill's most pressing questions? Like whether the silver-tongued mechanic is as good with his hands as he is with a socket wrench.

Gabriel "Gabe" Kelly wasn't born into a family so much as a criminal enterprise. Taught to lift, chop, and rebuild cars since before he could tie his own shoes, he's obliged to pay his debt to society before deserting South Boston for Townsend Harbor, Washington. Surely he can stay out of trouble here, right? He immediately finds the only position an ex-con with prison muscles and neck tattoos could easily find in a town like this, and buys the vintage car mechanic shop from it's retiring owner . Moonlighting as the only tow truck in a thirty-mile radius, he rescues the absent-minded hottie who runs the local yarn shop. But he quickly discovers that a toy-sized car with a dashboard lit up by Christmas isn't the only thing in Gemma McKendrick's life desperately in need of maintenance. Gabe, who is uniquely qualified to diagnose and fix complicated mechanisms, finds his sexy landlord is impossible to figure out. Looks like he'll have to take a peek at her undercarriage to find out what makes her purr before he hits the road again.
Because women of her caliber don't take home guys with his make and model...

But he knows she wants a test drive.

friends RomCom Small-town smartfunny

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We met both Gemma & Gabe in the previous books and while each story contains its own romance; I encourage you to read the series in order.

Gemma owns the local craft store and hosts Stitch & Bitch. She is also actively involved with the town council and events. Sometimes this takes a toll, particularly because she suffers from neurodivergent issues. I adored Gemma. She is sweet and her intentions are pure despite her family’s attitudes towards her ADHD. Her father, who owns the building housing her store, is demanding to see the books. Her sister Lyra scolds Gemma like she is a toddler and don’t even get me started on Lyra’s fiancé.

We met Gabe Kelly in a previous novel and I was delighted to learn more about this man. Gabe had a rough upbringing in Boston, suffers from PTSD and is looking for redemption. He thinks he has found it here in Townsend where he bought the local auto repair shop. He is attracted to Gemma, but doesn’t see himself as worthy.

When Gemma discovers he is sleeping in his garage, she offers to lease her basement. I loved the forced proximity and the romance that develops as these two learn to trust.. Family drama, growth and the past create obstacles as I stayed up into the wee hours hoping for a happily ever after.

I love the town and enjoy these authors. I struggled with a few threads/scenes and inconsistencies. Nothing an editor couldn’t correct and the overall story and characters overshadowed them.

If you are looking for a steamy, heartfelt, diverse RomCom set in a seaside town, I think Bazaar Girls would make a lovely fall read.



Bazaar Girls by Kerrigan Byrne & Cynthia St. Aubin delivered another must read romance in the Townsend Harbor RomCom series. #NewRelease #bookreview
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About Cynthia St. AubinCynthia St. Aubin

USA Today bestselling author Cynthia St. Aubin wrote her first play at age eight and made her brothers perform it for the admission price of gum wrappers. A steal, considering she provided the wrappers in advance. Though her early work debuted to mixed reviews, she never quite gave up on the writing thing, even while earning a mostly useless master's degree in art history and taking her turn as a cube monkey in the corporate warren.

About Kerrigan ByrneKerrigan Byrne

Kerrigan has done many things to pay the bills, from law enforcement to belly dance instructor. Now she’s finally able to have the career she’d decided upon at thirteen when she announced to her very skeptical family that she was going to “grow up to be a romance novelist.” Whether she’s writing about Celtic Druids, Victorian bad boys, or brash Irish FBI Agents, Kerrigan uses her borderline-obsessive passion for history, her extensive Celtic ancestry, and her love of Shakespeare in almost every story. She lives in a little Victorian coast town on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State with her wonderful husband. When she’s not writing you can find her sailing, beach combing, kayaking, visiting wineries, breweries, and restaurants with friends, and hiking…okay…wandering aimlessly clenching bear spray in the mountains.

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- Kimberly
Holly by Stephen King

Holly Gibney is one of my favorite Stephen King’s character. She first appeared in the Bill Hodges trilogy as Bill Hodges partner, and in The Outsider and its novella, If It Bleeds as a private detective. Grab a cuppa and see why I recommend you listen to Holly.

Holly by Stephen KingHolly
by Stephen King
Narrator: Justine Lupe
Length: 15 hours and 24 minutes
Genres: Horror
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star
Narration: 5 cups Speed: 1.5x

Stephen King’s Holly marks the triumphant return of beloved King character Holly Gibney. Readers have witnessed Holly’s gradual transformation from a shy (but also brave and ethical) recluse in Mr. Mercedes to Bill Hodges’s partner in Finders Keepers to a full-fledged, smart, and occasionally tough private detective in The Outsider. In King’s new novel, Holly is on her own, and up against a pair of unimaginably depraved and brilliantly disguised adversaries.

When Penny Dahl calls the Finders Keepers detective agency hoping for help locating her missing daughter, Holly is reluctant to accept the case. Her partner, Pete, has Covid. Her (very complicated) mother has just died. And Holly is meant to be on leave. But something in Penny Dahl’s desperate voice makes it impossible for Holly to turn her down.

Mere blocks from where Bonnie Dahl disappeared live Professors Rodney and Emily Harris. They are the picture of bourgeois respectability: married octogenarians, devoted to each other, and semi-retired lifelong academics. But they are harboring an unholy secret in the basement of their well-kept, book-lined home, one that may be related to Bonnie’s disappearance. And it will prove nearly impossible to discover what they are up to: they are savvy, they are patient, and they are ruthless.

Holly must summon all her formidable talents to outthink and outmaneuver the shockingly twisted professors in this chilling new masterwork from Stephen King.

HORRIFIC mystery SUSPENSE twisted

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When Penny Dahl calls Finders Keepers desperate to find her missing daughter, Holly almost doesn’t take the case. Her partner Peter out with Covid, but something in Penny’s voice has Holly accepting the case. The tale that unfolds leads to unthinkable horrors. Once again, King pulled me into a dark story that held me captive.

Narrator Justine Lupe brought a voice to Holly and others. She captured the tone and this creeptastic tale came to life. King is an autobuy for me. In the beginning I bought the hardcovers, but once I heard one of his stories, audio became my preferred format.

Married octogenarians, Professors Rodney and Emily Harris, seem to live a respectable life. They are active in the community, but not even their neighbors are aware of activities taking place in their basement. What we discover will shock you.

Holly was a clever. Working with very little clues it leads to more missing persons. King touches on some relevant topics, including societies’ race, to remain youthful. Holly really has to dig in on this case and she slowly pieces things together. A hunch leads her to the Harris home, but will she survive? You’ll need to listen to discover for yourself.

While Holly Gibney has appeared in the Bill Hodges series and The Outsider, along with the anthology If It Bleeds, this book, Holly can be read as a standalone. If you are like me, you’ve read all of his works and I can assure you this is the perfect fall listen.

Amazon | Audible

Holly by Stephen King delivered a dark, engaging tales Holly Gibney takes on a missing persons case. #audiobook #NewRelease #JustineLupe
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About Stephen King

Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine in 1947, the second son of Donald and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King. He made his first professional short story sale in 1967 to Startling Mystery Stories. In the fall of 1973, he began teaching high school English classes at Hampden Academy, the public high school in Hampden, Maine. Writing in the evenings and on the weekends, he continued to produce short stories and to work on novels. In the spring of 1973, Doubleday & Co., accepted the novel Carrie for publication, providing him the means to leave teaching and write full-time. He has since published over 50 books and has become one of the world's most successful writers. Stephen lives in Maine and Florida with his wife, novelist Tabitha King. They are regular contributors to a number of charities including many libraries and have been honored locally for their philanthropic activities.

About Justine LupeJustine Lupe

Justine Lupe-Schomp is an American actress. She is known for her roles on Mr. Mercedes, Succession, Cristela, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Lupe grew up in Denver, Colorado. She is a 2007 graduate of Denver School of the Arts theater program and 2011 graduate of the Juilliard School in New York City. Her grandmother, Kay Schomp, has a theater named after her at the Denver School of the Arts. Her father, John Lupe, is an exhibition specialist at the Denver Art Museum.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

2023 Audiobook Challenge


- Kimberly
Sunday Post #593

The Sunday Post is a blog news meme hosted here @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news~ A post to recap the past week on your blog and showcase books and things we have received. Share news about what is coming up on your blog for the week ahead. Join in weekly, bi-weekly or for a monthly wrap up. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme

I am still under the weather and trying to shake the blues. I’ve been binge watching Call The Midwife. It’s a wonderful series. Stay Caffeinated.

Last Week on the Blog Hemlock Island By Kelley Armstrong (book review) Witch Of Wild Things By Raquel Vasquez Gilliland (book review) Catch Her Death By Melinda Leigh (book review, guest reviewer) The Brightest Fell By Seanan McGuire (audio review) Book Tour: The Lady And The Rogue By Ruth A. Casie (book tour/giveaway) This Week on the Blog Holly By Stephen King (audio review) Bazaar Girls By Kerrigan Byrne & Cynthia St. Aubin (book review) Fatal Fudge Swirl By Meri Allen (book review, guest reviewer) Door To Door By T.L. Brown (audio review) Gray Court By Hailey Edwards (audio review) New Arrivals at the Caffeinated Cafe

Learn more:

The Quiet Room by Terry Miles Murder Road by Simone St. James

A special thanks to Berkley Publishing

Around The Blogosphere Sign Up for the 2023 Fraterfest Readathon October 12th through 16th. Hosts needed. Save the Date! 2023 HoHoHo Readathon November 16th through 27th. Hosts needed. Sign up will post on September 29, 2023. Caffeinated PR open-events2 Open Events Link Up Your Edition Of The Sunday Post

Before you link up: Please be sure your weekly post includes a link back to Caffeinated Reviewer and the Sunday Post

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- Kimberly
Book Tour: The Lady and the Rogue by Ruth A. Casie

Ruth A. Casie, a USA Today Best-selling author, has released the third standalone Regency romance novel in the Return of Ladies of Sommer by the Sea series. Come check out an excerpt of THE LADY AND THE ROGUE and celebrate with us! Be sure to enter the giveaway.

The Lady and the Rogue

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Feisty and passionate. He’ll enjoy making her fall in love with him…or die trying.

In the shadowy depths of London, Lady Euphemia Brandt, a renowned concert pianist, is mistaken by an English nobleman for his intended rendezvous. She defends herself, losing her reticule in the process. Reluctantly, she takes coins from her attacker and secures a carriage home. Their eyes lock, and they share a searing kiss, altering their lives forever.

At an affair honoring the Prime Minister, Euphemia discovers that the rogue who accosted her is a much sought-after, wealthy member of society. Struggling to resist his attraction, she battles memories of their kiss.

Cayden Whitford, the Duke of Thornton, seeking a woman with vital information, mistakes Euphemia for his contact and is surprised by her swift blow and the ensuing kiss. Intrigued, he vows to find her. At a dinner party, Thornton leans she is the daughter of a trusted advisor and masquerades as a suitor to discover her allegiance.

As Thornton unravels Euphemia’s wit, logic, and passion, his initial mission falters. He’s fallen in love with her.

About the Author

RUTH A. CASIE is a USA Today bestselling author of historical swashbuckling action-adventures and contemporary romance with enough action to keep you turning pages. Her stories feature strong women and the men who deserve them, endearing flaws and all. She lives in New Jersey with her hero, three empty bedrooms and a growing number of incomplete counted cross-stitch projects. Before she found her voice, she was a speech therapist (pun intended), client liaison for a corrugated manufacturer, and vice president at an international bank where she was a product/marketing manager, but her favorite job is the one she’s doing now-writing romance. She hopes her stories become your favorite adventures.

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Read an Excerpt

“This is our second dance, Your Grace. Do you care about gossip?”

The dance started.

“Not at all. And you, my lady? Do you care about gossip?”

He led her through the steps with a strong yet gentle hand.

“I won’t be here long enough to take notice. To the ton, the gossip is only fun if they can watch their target squirm. I’d rather not be their source of entertainment. You, on the other hand, will have to endure it for weeks.”

He laughed as he spun her around. To him, the discomfort would be worth it.

With her in his arms, a spark grew into a flame that drew him closer to her with every step and every turn. Though he maintained the expected propriety, it was clear to anyone who cared to look that something was happening. An attraction that threatened to ignite into something… explosive.

Effie remained stoic, ice-queen-like. But her very stillness accentuated the tension between them. When she finally gazed into his eyes, she was caught in his web of desire, and he didn’t allow her a way out.

As the music came to an end, she was left breathless and flushed. The intense passion that had shone in her eyes was gone, replaced by her usual detached and aloof manner. Thornton wondered if he would need to constantly play music to keep her fiery desire alive, to melt away the icy barrier she erected around herself.

He escorted her off the dance floor and settled her with her mother.

“Thank you, Lady Euphemia. You made an ordinary waltz quite exciting.” He focused on her mother. “Thank you, ma’am, for an enjoyable evening.”

“Are you leaving so soon, Your Grace?” The duchess gave him a pained look, then glanced at Effie.

“Yes, I’m afraid so. I have things to prepare for an early morning meeting.”

He took his leave, letting Effie believe she’d won, but she didn’t know how persistent he could be.

As he reached the door across the room, he felt a sudden tug on his sleeve. Glancing to his right, he saw that it was Lady Euphemia. He was surprised when she tucked her arm in his.

“What are you up to, Thornton? You danced with me twice this evening. You assisted me with the challenge. You have the entire room whispering.”

He stopped and faced her. “What would you like me to do?” He glanced over her head at the people that filled the ballroom. “I can make an announcement that you are very much available.”

She pulled him out of the room. “You wouldn’t dare.”

They arrived at the door. “Mr. Gregory, His Grace’s carriage, please.”

The butler went outside to call up his carriage.

“No. I wouldn’t. I’ll think of a way to protect you.”

He saw his carriage coming into the drive. He pulled Effie into his arms and kissed her. He had wanted to do it since he spotted her hours ago.

He found her lips even softer than he had remembered, with a sweet and fresh taste. He allowed himself to deeply kiss her, passionate yet gentle, savoring every moment before finally pulling away. They stood staring into each other’s eyes, breathing heavily, the air thick with longing and desire.

“Something to remember me by,” he whispered in her ear.

He stepped back. The passion was back in Effie’s eyes. That’s the way he wanted to remember her. Effie. He kissed the tip of her nose and was gone.


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Enter Giveaway

Enter to win a $15.00 Amazon gift card and eBook copy of The Lady and the Barrister. Ends September 20, 2023.

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- Kimberly
The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire

I have been devouring the October Daye audiobooks. Today, I have The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire. This is the eleventh novel in the series and they just keep getting better. No rest for our hero, it seems. Come see why I am loving this series….

The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuireThe Brightest Fell
by Seanan McGuire
Series: October Daye #11
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal
Length: 11 hours and 36 minutes
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchase
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star
Narration: 5 cups Speed: 1.5x

Things are slow, and October "Toby" Daye couldn't be happier about that. The elf-shot cure has been approved, Arden Windermere is settling into her position as Queen in the Mists, and Toby doesn't have anything demanding her attention except for wedding planning and spending time with her family.

Maybe she should have realized that it was too good to last.

When Toby's mother, Amandine, appears on her doorstep with a demand for help, refusing her seems like the right thing to do...until Amandine starts taking hostages, and everything changes. Now, Toby doesn't have a choice about whether or not she does as her mother asks. Not with Jazz and Tybalt's lives hanging in the balance. But who could possibly help her find a pureblood she's never met, one who's been missing for over 100 years?

Enter Simon Torquill, elf-shot enemy turned awakened, uneasy ally. Together, the two of them must try to solve one of the greatest mysteries in the Mists: what happened to Amandine's oldest daughter, August, who disappeared in 1906.

This is one missing person case Toby can't afford to get wrong.


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Just when things seem to be normal, the doorbell rings and in walks your mother. The next thing you know, two of your inner circle are taken hostage and you have to find your missing sister, August to save them. Only August has been missing for a hundred years… where to begin?

Amandine the Liar is wickedly scary…like mommy dearest scary. She rips people out of Toby’s life and demands she find her true daughter. From the first chapter, I was all in and devoured this in just a few sittings.

It was hard. People we care about get hurt, Toby will have to pay, and some who harmed her are redeemed. We will travel the road by candlelight again and there will be danger and bargains met before it is all done.

McGuire’s work has made me grow attached to these characters. Not all those in fairy are to be feared, but their games and nonsense hurt the innocent. The more we learn, the more I understand why Toby stepped up and became the hero she is.

The story wraps up nicely, but we know danger is just around the corner. Mary Robinette Kowal has become the voices of these characters, from the Sea Witch to Quentin. She enhances this already brilliant storyline and I highly recommend listening.

Amazon | Audible

The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire held me captive as #OctoberDaye searches for her missing sister to save two of her own. #UrbanFantasy #Audiobook #IOwnIt #MaryRobinetteKowal
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About Seanan McGuireSeanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire is a native Californian, which has resulted in her being exceedingly laid-back about venomous wildlife, and terrified of weather. When not writing urban fantasy (as herself) and science fiction thrillers (as Mira Grant), she likes to watch way too many horror movies, wander around in swamps, record albums of original music, and harass her cats. Seanan is the author of the October Daye, InCryptid, and Indexing series of urban fantasies; the Newsflesh trilogy; the Parasitology duology; and the "Velveteen vs." superhero shorts. Her cats, Lilly, Alice, and Thomas, are plotting world domination even as we speak, but are easily distracted by feathers on sticks, so mankind is probably safe. For now.

About Mary Robinette KowalMary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of The Spare Man,The Glamourist Histories series, Ghost Talkers, and the Lady Astronaut Universe. She is part of the award-winning podcast Writing Excuses and has received the Astounding Award for Best New Writer, four Hugo awards, the Nebula and Locus awards. Her stories appear in Asimov’s, Uncanny, and several Year’s Best anthologies. Mary Robinette, a professional puppeteer, also performs as a voice actor (SAG/AFTRA), recording fiction for authors including Seanan McGuire, Cory Doctorow, and John Scalzi. She lives in Nashville with her husband Rob and over a dozen manual typewriters.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

2023 Audiobook Challenge


- Kimberly
Catch Her Death by Melinda Leigh

Sophia Rose is joining us today with another Bree Taggert romantic suspense novel, Catch Her Death by Melinda Leigh. Come see why the seventh novel was as good as the first.

Catch Her Death by Melinda LeighCatch Her Killer
by Melinda Leigh
Series: Bree Taggert #7
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Sheriff Bree Taggert and those she loves become the target of a family’s deadly revenge in a chilling novel of suspense by #1 Amazon Charts and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Melinda Leigh.

After Sheriff Bree Taggert’s takedown of cold-blooded murderer Travis Ekin, his family vows revenge. Travis’s mother and brothers are every bit as violent, and Bree is in their crosshairs.

To complicate matters, Bree’s best friend, Dana Romano, walks into her date’s home and finds him shot in the chest. Dana tangles with an unidentified intruder, but he escapes through the back door. The crime scene is in another police department’s jurisdiction, and the lead investigator focuses on Dana as the prime suspect.

While Bree and investigator Matt Flynn work off the books to clear Dana, Bree’s family receives deadly threats. A second dead body and a shocking piece of evidence link the two cases. Bree and Matt must find the killer fast—before either case takes another deadly turn.

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I don’t even pay attention these days to the blurb or the title when I spot that it’s by Melinda Leigh and it’s in her Bree Taggert series.  I’m well beyond auto-buy at this point and would be more shocked if I wasn’t a hundred percent into the latest release- and I was.  I tried to hold back and relish it slowly, but nope, I two-sat Catch Her Death.

Catch Her Death is the seventh entry in the Bree Taggert series that is loosely connected to the earlier Scarlett Falls and Morgan Dane series.  Each book presents a new case, but carries on the character and relationship development to previous books.  And, fun times for Morgan Dane fans, she gets a few solid scenes in this latest.

Catch Her Death has a blockbuster opening when Bree and several members of her department serve a warrant and get a pretty ugly customer off the streets.  Yay for Greta the K-9 and Officer Collins’ getting their first big call-in to duty.  But, while Bree’s getting threatened by the puss-pocket’s equally evil family members for taking down one of theirs, Dana’s date night ends in a blood bath.

Bree, Matt, the sheriff’s department and their families are all put on alert as danger comes from more than one direction and they have to solve two cases to keep everyone safe.  I love that Bree is super good at her job, but she still has step-back moments when she feels the vulnerability of finally having a love life and family- people to care about who are hostages of fate.  Matt is standing solid right there with her.  In this book, it was grand to also get some scenes from Bree’s ex-detective partner now nanny, Dana getting a chance at happy with Matt’s retired MMA fighting older brother Nolan during a tough, vulnerable time for Dana.  I hope to see patient Nolan win her over as the series progresses.

I loved seeing how both cases were whittled away at bit of evidence and witnesses and strong police work including lots of K-9 action along the way.  I read this in the height of summer and the biting chill of an upstate NY winter was perfect seasonal setting for cooling me off and causing complications for Bree to save the day.

All in all, I was flipping pages and on a reading terror as the suspense grew steadily to the surprising twist and the big finish.  Those who enjoy getting lots of depth with good policing action to their romantic suspense set in a rural county with an engaging cast should give this series a go.

Amazon*| Audible

Catch Her Death by Melinda Leigh had Sophia Rose flipping pages as the suspense grew. #bookreview #SophiaRose #BreeTaggert #RomanticSuspense
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*available in kindle unlimited

About Melinda LeighMelinda Leigh

Wall Street Journal bestselling author Melinda Leigh is a fully recovered banker. A life-long lover of books, she started writing as a way to preserve her sanity while raising her kids. Over the next few years, she learned a few things about writing a book. The process was much more fun than analyzing financial statements, and she decided to turn her hobby into a career. Melinda’s debut novel, SHE CAN RUN, was nominated for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers. She is a RITA® Award Finalist and has earned three Daphne du Maurier Award nominations, two Silver Falchion Awards, and a Golden Leaf.

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About Sophia RoseSophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.


- Kimberly
Witch of Wild Things by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

Witch of Wild Things by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland is the story of a dysfunctional family with gifts and what happens when Sage Flores comes home. Magical Realism, an “enemies to lovers” romance, fantasy and paranormal woo-woo await you. Grab a pumpkin spice latte and curl up with this addictive tale.

Witch of Wild Things by Raquel Vasquez GillilandWitch of Wild Things
by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Genres: Magical Realism
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star
Heat Level: One FlameOne FlameOne FlameHalf a Flame

Legend goes that long ago a Flores woman offended the old gods, and their family was cursed as a result. Now, every woman born to the family has a touch of magic.

Sage Flores has been running from her family—and their “gifts”—ever since her younger sister Sky died. Eight years later, Sage reluctantly returns to her hometown. Like slipping into an old, comforting sweater, Sage takes back her job at Cranberry Rose Company and uses her ability to communicate with plants to discover unusual heritage specimens in the surrounding lands.

What should be a simple task is complicated by her partner in botany sleuthing: Tennessee Reyes. He broke her heart in high school, and she never fully recovered. Working together is reminding her of all their past tender, genuine moments—and new feelings for this mature sexy man are starting to take root in her heart.

With rare plants to find, a dead sister who keeps bringing her coffee, and another sister whose anger fills the sky with lightning, Sage doesn’t have time for romance. But being with Tenn is like standing in the middle of a field on the cusp of a summer thunderstorm—supercharged and inevitable.

Family Magical Realism paranormal ROMANCE

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Sage Flores left her home after her sister Sky died and things became heated between her and her sister Teal. When Sage loses her job teaching a jewelry class, it forces her to return to her Appalachian home. Sage and her sisters have gifts. Sage is a plant whisperer and Teal’s mood can affect the weather. Sage also has a secret. She can see and communicate with Sky her dead sister, who leaves her coffee.

This was an interesting tale about healing with character growth and some neat twists. Cranberry Rose Company, her previous employer, offers her a job. The job involves scouting for plants they can reproduce and sell. They partnered her with Tennessee Reyes, the boy, now man who broke her heart in high school.

The tale offers a romance filled with secrets and passion. Sage has a lot of growing up to do and we see her do just that. I wasn’t always happy with her behavior and actions, but in the end, I was happy.

I loved the magical realism from the plants to lightning. The story involving Sky was unique and kept me curious. A strong thread involving their dysfunctional family held me captive. The story, despite the heated romance, felt like we should shelve it in the women’s fiction section.

Witch of Wild Things delivered a heartfelt story, and I would certainly try this author again.

Amazon | Audible

Witch of Wild Things by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland offers a tale of healing, romance and magical realism. Perfect for a fall afternoon. #bookreview #NewRelease
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About Raquel Vasquez GillilandRaquel Vasquez Gilliland

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland is a Mexican American poet, novelist, and painter. She received an MFA in poetry from the University of Alaska, Anchorage in 2017. She’s most inspired by fog and seeds and the lineages of all things. When not writing, Raquel tells stories to her plants and they tell her stories back. She lives in Tennessee with her beloved family and mountains. Raquel has published two books of poetry. Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything is her first novel.

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- Kimberly
Hemlock Island by Kelley Armstrong

I am a huge Kelley Armstrong fan and was ecstatic when she announced she was writing a horror novel. Hemlock Island was suspenseful, scary, and addictive. Check out my review and see why this novel is perfect for the spooky season!

Hemlock Island by Kelley ArmstrongHemlock Island
by Kelley Armstrong
Genres: Horror
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Laney Kilpatrick has been renting her vacation home to strangers. The invasion of privacy gives her panic attacks, but it’s the only way she can keep her beloved Hemlock Island, the only thing she owns after a pandemic-fueled divorce. But broken belongings and campfires that nearly burn down the house have escalated to bloody bones, hex circles, and now, terrified renters who’ve fled after finding blood and nail marks all over the guest room closet, as though someone tried to claw their way out…and failed.

When Laney shows up to investigate with her teenaged niece in tow, she discovers that her ex, Kit, has also been informed and is there with Jayla, his sister and her former best friend. Then Sadie, another old high school friend, charters over with her brother, who’s now a cop.

There are tensions and secrets, whispers in the woods, and before long, the discovery of a hand poking up from the earth. Then the body that goes with it… But by that time, someone has taken off with their one and only means off the island, and they’re trapped with someone—or something—that doesn’t want them leaving the island alive.

HORRIFIC Standalone Supernatural SUSPENSE

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I love a horror story where the characters are cut off from the outside world. Armstrong mixed supernatural elements with suspense to provide a hair-raising thriller. This one might require a night light.

After her divorce from Kit, Laney Kilpatrick began renting out the island home the two of them built on Hemlock Island. The home is the only inhabitant of the island. When her latest guest complains of blood in the closet, she and her teenaged niece head to the island. At the campground where they keep their boat, they are met by Kit and Jayla, his sister and her former best friend meet them there. They are later joined on the island by Sadie, another old high school friend, and her brother, who’s now a cop.

Armstrong blends shared history between the characters with the supernatural to create a story that kept me on edge. When Sadie goes missing and a severed hand is discovered, the group soon learns someone trapped them.

I am convinced Armstrong could write any genre she set her mind to. From historical to fantasy. The story is well done and reads like this is her hundredth horror novel. Fans of Ruth Ware will want to grab this one.

Hemlock Island shares its secrets and we soon learn about Kit & Laney’s failed marriage. It’s evident from the start that these two still have feelings for one another. We learn about the rifts between childhood friends and the darkest secrets from Laney’s past.

I highly recommend adding this to your fall reading list.

Amazon | Audible

About Kelley Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong has been telling stories since before she could write. Her earliest written efforts were disastrous. If asked for a story about girls and dolls, hers would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to her teachers' dismay. All efforts to make her produce "normal" stories failed. Today, she continues to spin tales of ghosts and demons and werewolves, while safely locked away in her basement writing dungeon. She's the author of the NYT-bestselling "Women of the Otherworld" paranormal suspense series and "Darkest Powers" young adult urban fantasy trilogy, as well as the Nadia Stafford crime series. Armstrong lives in southwestern Ontario with her husband, kids and far too many pets.

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- Kimberly
Sunday Post #592 Books & a Cold

The Sunday Post is a blog news meme hosted here @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news~ A post to recap the past week on your blog and showcase books and things we have received. Share news about what is coming up on your blog for the week ahead. Join in weekly, bi-weekly or for a monthly wrap up. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme

First sinus & ear infections of the season. Pfft. I saw the doctor on Friday and the meds are working but I am miserable. I spent Saturday binge watching tv and sleeping. We are at least experiencing fall like weather. I have so many reviews to write as I felt more like reading & listening than sitting at my laptop. Stay Caffeinated.

Last Week on the Blog Black Soul, White Heart By Hailey Edwards (audio review) Cursed At Dawn By Heather Graham (book review) The Darcy Secret By Kelly Miller (book review, guest reviewer) Assistant To The Villain By Hannah Nicole Maehrer (audio review) Burning Justice By Tee O’Fallon (audio review) This Week on the Blog Hemlock Island By Kelley Armstrong (book review) Witch Of Wild Things By Raquel Vasquez Gilliland (book review) Catch Her Death By Melinda Leigh (book review, guest reviewer) The Brightest Fell By Seanan McGuire (audio review) Book Tour: The Lady And The Rogue By Ruth A. Casie (audio review) New Arrivals at the Caffeinated Cafe

Learn more:

The Last Devil to Die by Richard Osman Murder at the Merton Library by Andrea Penrose

A special thanks to Penguin & Tantor Audio

Around The Blogosphere Sign Up for the 2023 Fraterfest Readathon October 12th through 16th. Hosts needed. Save the Date! 2023 HoHoHo Readathon November 16th through 27th. Hosts needed. Sign up will post on September 29, 2023. Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) BEGINS! Caffeinated PR open-events2 Open Events Link Up Your Edition Of The Sunday Post

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- Kimberly
Burning Justice by Tee O’Fallon

Narrated by the impeccable Vanessa Daniels, Burning Justice is the second novel in the K-9 Special Ops series by Tee O’Fallon. Sparks fly between ATF Agent Brett Tanner and insurance investigator Gemma Scott as they work together to solve a string of arsons in Colorado.

Burning Justice by Tee O’FallonBurning Justice
by Tee O'Fallon
Narrator: Vanessa Daniels
Length: 10 hours and 25 minutes
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star
Heat Level: One FlameOne FlameOne FlameHalf a Flame
Narration: 5 cups Speed: 1.5x

After narrowly surviving a childhood fire that killed two of his friends, ATF Special Agent Brett Tanner knows what it’s like to get too close to the flame. The trauma only spurs him and his K-9 partner to track down the arsonists targeting a Colorado town. This latest warehouse blaze looks suspicious as hell…and there’s a body. Now it’s murder.

Fiercely independent insurance investigator Gemma Scott has been burned enough times to know she doesn’t need anyone—especially a handsome agent with an agenda. Teaming up with the hardened and determined ATF agent means not just trusting her instincts…it also means trusting him.

Now they’re racing against an arsonist with a lethal agenda—one who’s willing to burn and kill to hide the evidence. But the killer is only part of a larger mystery. And the searing attraction between Gemma and Brett adds fuel to an already dangerously lethal fire. One that will smoke out a killer…along with Brett’s darkest secret.

Each book in the K-9 Special Ops series is STANDALONE:
* Tough Justice
* Burning Justice

MansBestFriend ROMANCE Small-town SUSPENSE

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I am a sucker for a romantic suspense story featuring agents and K9 units. I jumped into this blind. Each book in this series is a standalone, but I promise you’ll want to listen to them all.

Gemma Scott, an insurance investigator, is confident despite a past teammate claiming her work as his own. When she and ATF Agent Brett Tanner, a strong, confident but wounded hero work together to solve a string of arsons the two butt-heads even as sparks fly.

I loved getting Tanner’s backstory and understood how protective he was towards Scott. Her determination drives her to take part in all parts of investigations. She wants to be right alongside Tanner, exploring charred buildings and interrogating suspects. As the two work together, their respect for one another grows, as does the sexual tension. I loved seeing the two of them work through things on a personal and professional level.

Of course, Blaze, Tanner’s K9 added to the tale from his instant like of Scott to working the case. The author crafted a well-rounded, suspenseful tale with plenty of twists.

Vanessa Daniels narrates and does a lovely job of giving voice to Tanner & Scott. Her male voices are well-done and I always enjoy listening to her narrations.

The romantic element woven throughout added some spice and felt genuine. Fans of romantic suspense, K9 units and mystery will want to add this to their reading list.

Amazon | Audible

Burning Justice by Tee O'Fallon delivered romance & a suspenseful arson case. #audiobook #audiobookreview #VanessaDaniels
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About Tee O'FallonTee O'Fallon

Tee O’Fallon has been a federal agent for twenty-three years, giving her hands-on experience in the field of law enforcement that she combines with her love of romantic suspense. Tee’s job affords her the unique opportunity to work with the heroic and sexy men in law enforcement on a daily basis. For Tee, research is the easy part! Besides writing, she loves cooking, gardening, chocolate, lychee martinis, and all things canine. Tee is the author of the NYPD Blue & Gold Series: Burnout, Blood Money, and Disavowed. Visit to sign up for newsletters and keep tabs on Tee’s latest releases, including her next novel, Lock ’N’ Load, the first of her brand-new Federal K-9 romantic suspense series.

About Vanessa DanielsVanessa Daniels

Vanessa Daniels has worked as a professional actress in theater, film, TV, commercials, and voice-over for almost two decades. She holds a BFA in drama from New York University and is a member of SAG-AFTRA and Actors' Equity Association.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

2023 Audiobook Challenge


- selena

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The post The Buzziest Books of September | 2023 appeared first on NewInBooks.
- selena

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- selena

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Sign up for our email and we’ll send you the best new books in your favorite genres weekly.

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Sign up for our email and we’ll send you the best new books in your favorite genres weekly.

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Hold on to the edge of your seat as we hunt for clues and solve the case with these exciting new mystery and thriller books for the week! There are so many bestselling authors with new novels for you to dive into this week including Richard Osman, J.A. Jance, Mary Stone, and...

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- selena

Looking to fall in love with some new romance reads? You’ll adore these exciting new novels! This week you can get your hands on books by bestselling authors M.M. Koenig, Winter Renshaw, Breanne Randall, and more. Enjoy your new romance books and happy reading! Sign up for our email and we’ll send...

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- selena

Literary fiction readers are in for a treat. This week’s latest releases list is full of intriguing reads you won’t want to miss! The new releases list includes so many bestselling authors like Daniel Mason, Graham Norton, Nathan Hill, and many more. Enjoy your new literary fiction books. Happy reading! Sign up...

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Set off on an adventure to new worlds this week! This selection of new science fiction and fantasy books will surely please! Science Fiction fans should be excited about the latest from bestselling authors Fiona Forbes, John Scalzi, John Walker, and more. If Fantasy is what your library needs, you’ll be able...

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- Maryse

Connor is looking for this one! Lots of detail so hopefully this sparks someone’s memory. 🙂 She asks: Can’t remember this book for the life of me So I came across this book a couple of years ago and have recently been trying to find it again. I only vaguely remember how it starts and […]

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- Maryse

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- Maryse

FOUR BOOKS OUT & a 5th will be live soon!!! 😀 I hear these are hilarious and steamy!!! Aini: I totally love shelly laurenston’s books …I totally need to read new books since I have re-read Shelly Laurenston’s books a dozen time… Elaine: Shelly Laurenston. I absolutely adore her books. Sandy: My FAVORITE author who […]

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- Maryse

<— SALE ALERT!!! Oooooh this one is much loved by our crew (DID YOU LOVE IT TOO?) and is on sale (09-24-2023)!!! If you’ve been waiting for a sale to try it, here it is (who knows how long it will be at this price?) P.S. There are already 3 books out and a 4th […]

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- Maryse

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- Maryse

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- Maryse

Archer’s Voice rocked our worlds (reclusive hero that took sooooo long to warm up to the heroine – and we LOVED that slow burn!!) and guess what? Book #3 is up for preorder and this is officially a series, my friends. P.S. Here’s my 5-star review of it. 🙂 P.S. Archer’s Voice is officially listed […]

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- Maryse

Dani needs our book help! Sounds like it may have started as a bit of a bully book! Maybe it’s a reverse harem? She asks: I read a book a while ago and I can’t remember its name. The book is about a girl who gets brought to a town and is forced to join […]

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- Maryse

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- Amanda
Contemporary Romances and Fantasy Novels
Game Changer

READER RECOMMENDED: Game Changer by Rachel Reid $2.99! This is the first book in a series of the same name and is a M/M hockey romance. I know other books in the series have been reviewed on the site. Are you a fan? Do you have a favorite?

New York Admirals captain Scott Hunter takes his pregame rituals very seriously. In this case, it’s not just a lucky smoothie he’s craving—it’s the man who made it.

Pro hockey star Scott Hunter knows a good thing when he sees it. So, when a smoothie made by juice bar barista Kip Grady precedes Scott breaking his on-ice slump, he’s desperate to recreate the magic…and to get to know the sexy, funny guy behind the counter.

Kip knew there was more to Scott’s frequent visits than blended fruit, but he never let himself imagine being invited back to Scott’s penthouse. Or kissed with reckless abandon, never mind touched everywhere all at once. When it happens it’s red-hot, incredible and frequent, but also only on Scott’s terms and always behind his closed apartment doors.

Scott needs Kip in his life, but with playoff season approaching, the spotlight on him is suddenly brighter than ever. He can’t afford to do anything that might derail his career…like introducing the world to his boyfriend. Kip is ready to go all-in with Scott—but how much longer will he have to remain a secret?

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You can find ordering info for this book here.





Thirsty by Mia Hopkins is $1.99! This is book one in the Eastside Brewery series and I’ve heard and see many romance readers recommend this one. Have you read it?

A gangster hiding from his past. A single mom fighting for her future. Can she show this bad boy the man he’s meant to be?

My name is Salvador Rosas. Back in the barrio, my past is written on the walls: ESHB. Short for East Side Hollenbeck, my father’s gang—my gang. Hell, it’s a family tradition, one that sent both my brothers away. They used to call me “Ghost” because I haunted people’s dreams. Now I’ve got nothing going for me except a hipster gringo mentoring me in a new career. An ex-con making craft beer? No mames.

Still, people in this neighborhood look out for one another. That’s how I became Vanessa Velasco’s unwelcome tenant. Chiquita pero picosa. She’s little, but with curves so sweet they’re dangerous. I remember Vanessa from the old days, the straight-A student with big plans. Plans that were derailed by another kid stupid enough to think he was bulletproof. Now Vanessa knows better than to believe in empty promises. There’s fire in her . . . and if I touch her, I might get burned.

I’m trying everything I can to go straight. But when East Side Hollenbeck comes calling, I might have to risk it all to find out if there’s a future for Vanessa and me. Because she’s the only one who can quench my thirst for something real.

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You can find ordering info for this book here.




The Foxglove King

The Foxglove King by Hannah Whitten is $2.99! I mentioned this one in a previous Hide Your Wallet. I did start reading it, but wound up putting it down pretty early. However, I think my short attention span lately is more of a me problem than a book problem.

When Lore was thirteen, she escaped a cult in the catacombs beneath the city of Dellaire. And in the ten years since, she’s lived by one rule: don’t let them find you. Easier said than done, when her death magic ties her to the city.

Mortem, the magic born from death, is a high-priced and illicit commodity in Dellaire, and Lore’s job running poisons keeps her in food, shelter, and relative security. But when a run goes wrong and Lore’s power is revealed, she’s taken by the Presque Mort, a group of warrior-monks sanctioned to use Mortem working for the Sainted King. Lore fully expects a pyre, but King August has a different plan. Entire villages on the outskirts of the country have been dying overnight, seemingly at random. Lore can either use her magic to find out what’s happening and who in the King’s court is responsible, or die.

Lore is thrust into the Sainted King’s glittering court, where no one can be believed and even fewer can be trusted. Guarded by Gabriel, a duke-turned-monk, and continually running up against Bastian, August’s ne’er-do-well heir, Lore tangles in politics, religion, and forbidden romance as she attempts to navigate a debauched and opulent society.

But the life she left behind in the catacombs is catching up with her. And even as Lore makes her way through the Sainted court above, they might be drawing closer than she thinks.

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You can find ordering info for this book here.




Kingdom of the Wicked

RECOMMENDED: Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco is $2.99! I’ve mentioned this YA fantasy romance a couple times on the site. Once in Hide Your Wallet and another in Get Rec’d. I definitely think it’ll appeal to fans of Sarah J. Maas and Jennifer L. Armentrout.

Kerri Maniscalco introduces her next series, a dark tale of a beautiful young witch, a troubled demon, and their epic romance, set against a 19th century Italian backdrop.

Emilia and her twin sister Victoria are streghe – witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Victoria misses dinner service at the family’s renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin…desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to discover who did this, and to seek vengeance at any cost—even if it means using dark magic that’s been long forbidden.

Then Emilia meets Wrath, the outlier among the seven demon brethren, always choosing duty over pleasure. He’s been tasked by his master with investigating a series of women’s murders on the island. When Emilia and Wrath’s fates collide, it’s clear this disturbing mystery will take a bewitching turn…

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You can find ordering info for this book here.




- Amanda
Cover Snark: A Lot Going on at the Carnival

Welcome back to Cover Snark!

Crow's Fate by Kim Fielding. A very blond cover model with blond hair, blond beard, and pale eyes. He looks mad. Behind him is a carnival wagon, a crystal ball, and a merry-go-round. The cover border is striped circus pattern with lights.

From Syntha: I suppose it’s not awful, but there’s definitely too much going on.

Amanda: That man is on too many covers

Shana: THIS dude, again?

Sarah: He went to the carnival! He needed a selfie.

Shana: Does he hate crystal balls and carny fun? Smile for your selfie, carnival goer, you look angry!

Sneezy: But Shana! How will we know he’s Broody McBrooderson then?

Goddess of Beast by J. Peach. A very dark cover in terms of lighting. There's a naked woman squatting right in the middle. Behind her is both a black woman and a black wolfman in jeans.

Shana: This cover is so silly I might actually read it.

Tara: OMG, please report back. This cover alone is a rich text.

Elyse: She looks like her Diva Cup got stuck and she’s trying to get it out.

Carrie: Me trying to poop with IBS-C.

Sarah: I can hear my yoga app now. Bound ankle pose. Seated star pose. Bend forward. Feel your lower back release. Ignore the wolf man behind you. Breathe in.

Sneezy: Imagine if this was an actual yoga class though. The teacher just keeps going, and the entire class is screaming and demanding to know why there’s a wolf man in the studio.

The Lion by Hildie McQueen. A shirtless, flexing man holding a sword behind his back, but his arms are above is head so there's a likelihood that he's going to slice his back open.

From Pam G: Ya know, it would have been so very easy to let your eyes just skate by this mostly monochromatic cover until someone decided to obliterate this guy’s head with the author’s name in a giant font, I mean–all abs, all the time, amirite? And if you failed to get the message, you have all the standing stones(?) rising through the golden mist. Objectification: it’s not just for wimmens anymore!

Sarah: Again, with the “do I see a face in this person’s abs?” quiz.

Tara: I feel like I can’t even snark this one because I’m just seeing all the usability issues that weren’t taken into account with the text.

Sarah: Such as?

Tara: There’s not enough contrast for any of it, so it’s going to be a lot harder for anyone with visual impairments to read. The “Clan Ross of the Hebrides” is by far the worst, because it’s too close to the colours around it. The white text wouldn’t be so bad, except that by putting it over his face, the whole area is too cluttered for the eyes to take it in easily.

Sarah: I didn’t even SEE the hebrides part!

Amanda: Is a “hebride” just a groom? I feel like this is the equivalent to adding “FOR MEN” and changing the color palette to slate gray for skincare items.

Carrie: Why do so many people think armpits are sexy?

Sarah: LOL Another reader has sent me this same cover!

From Lils: He looks like he’s taking off an invisible shirt. Plus, someone’s hands are fused to his sides? And what’s up with his sword?

Sarah: ANOTHER reader sent this cover!

From Elizabeth S: There are demons trapped by his six pack (8pack?). Facing towards his belly button. And pokey nipple. Somehow bad 80’s design style but worse.

Elyse: He looks like he’s trying to scratch between his shoulder blades.

Sneezy: Omg Tara, so much of what you said. Plus with the author’s name in such a stark white, it makes the title feel even more muted and indistinguishable. Also the dude looks like he’s trying to win the Darwin award.

Lassos and Lace by L. Eveland. In front of a barn in the mountains is a man with blue hair. He's using a wheelchair and clasping the monster paw on his shoulder. Behind him, a monster man that is half human and half jackalope, is kneeling behind him. He has a human, bearded face, but has antlers, bunny ears, and is covered in fur. He is wearing jeans and cowboy boots.

From Cory: This is a prime example of “never judge a book by its cover”, but if I wasn’t already invested in the series and saw this cover, I’d avoid this book like the plague.
To be clear, this book is actually very good.

The cover is atrocious. On the bright side it’s what the characters look like (a jackalope monster man and a femme twink with fading blue hair in a wheelchair). On the downside?

It might be the most painfully horrible book cover I’ve seen.

Sarah: Blink. blink blink.

Are his ears growing out of his trapezius?

Claudia: Something is going on with the blue-hair person’s head too.

Tara: Blink. Blink. Blink. is right.

Then it made me think of that Seinfeld bit about calling ugly babies “breathtaking”. This certainly is that, too.

Carrie: She had me at “jackalope” and sealed the deal with “wheelchair.”

Sneezy: It’s like being haunted by the Ghost of 3D Renderings Past.

- Amanda
SBTB Bestsellers: September 9 – September 22

Our latest bestseller list is brought to you by blustery days, warm drinks, and our affiliate sales data.

Marry Me By Midnight by Felicia Grossman Amazon | B&N | Kobo Nevermore Bookstore by Kerrigan Byrne, Cynthia St. Aubin Amazon | B&N The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews Amazon | B&N | Kobo The Duke’s Rules of Engagement by Jennifer Haymore Amazon | B&N | Kobo The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez Amazon | B&N | Kobo Ten Things I Hate About the Duke by Loretta Chase Amazon | B&N | Kobo Two Rogues Make a Right by Cat Sebastian Amazon | B&N | Kobo How the Marquess Was Won by Julie Anne Long Amazon | B&N | Kobo His Study in Scandal by Megan Frampton Amazon | B&N | Kobo The Fiancée Farce by Alexandria Bellefleur Amazon | B&N | Kobo

I hope your weekend reading was the perfect way to unwind!

- Amanda
Whatcha Reading? September 2023, Part Two

Cup of coffee and yarn for knitting on plaid with books close-upWe’re wrapping up September with our second Whatcha Reading. We want to know what you’re reading to close out the month.

Elyse:  I’ve been knitting more than reading lately, but I did just start Salt Kiss by Sierra Simone. ( A | BN | K )

Sarah: I have been listening to a book that KJ Charles recommended on the podcast – definitely not a romance: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer. He has a year to collect 100 souls for the devil so he can get his soul back (lack of a soul interfering with his science experiments you know) and has to do so by running a traveling carnival.

Elyse: I LOVE the Cabal series so hard.

One of my favorites.

Sarah: I was struggling to get into it at the beginning but Johannes is signing souls or whatever it is he does and I’m intrigued. The narrator for the audio is terrific.

Elyse: The second book is my favorite. Let me know when you get to the origami swan.

Can’t Let Her Go
A | BN Sarah: The wat.

Shana: I just finished A Match for Bernadette by Parker J. Cole. ( A ) It’s an inspirational romance with a Quaker heroine which isn’t a genre I read often, but it was just the easy and short read that I needed. I adore mail order bride romances and it’s hard to find ones featuring women of color. Now I’m celebrating Sapphic September by starting Can’t Let Her Go by Kiana Alexander.

Sneezy: I had vertigo last week, of probably the inner ear imbalance variety, so I couldn’t lie on my side and only barely look at screens. And it turns out I got overstimulated easily, even though I was bored! A French podcast about baking turns out to be just the right amount, where I was only catching snatches of words here and there and can dream about cake. Not being able to understand most of what was being said kept the dreams vague and fluffy enough that they didn’t set off my nausea. Papilles by Léa Reverdy saw me through!

Wed by Proxy
A The idea came from Catherine, actually. She suggested I watch a French baking show that had no subs to practice listening for the rhythm of French while enjoying beautiful food porn. So not applied as intended, but that’s where the idea to listen to something in a foreign-to-me language came from. Since there are so many languages in the world, this trick will always be available! Thanks Catherine!

Now that I can have more screen time, I’ve of course been rolling around in webtoons again!

This story isn’t free of angst, but it starts off really cute and slightly ridiculous. I love the art! It’s a simpler style, softer colours, and the artist/artist team uses both very cleverly, I think.

Lara: I should be reading the next book for my international reading challenge, but I keep losing myself in Alice Coldbreath novels. Alpha men who are humbled by the love of a woman. I’m hooked.

Tara: I’ve been listening to Deep Work by Cal Newport, to see if it could help me focus better, but based on the names he’s dropping throughout, I’m expecting it to show up on a future episode of the If Books Could Kill podcast.

Sarah: Oooh it will I’m nearly certain.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club
A | BN | K | ABThe thing about Cal is that he can do all this deep work because he’s not doing any of the unnamed forms of labor. He’s offloaded that to other people.

Susan: I’m in the middle of Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo, which is both very good and very stressful.

I love Lily discovering her queerness in 1950s San Francisco! It’s just that between the Red Scare, the Lavender Scare, and the social pressure on her, it constantly feels like there’s another shoe about to drop.

Tara: That’s why I couldn’t finish that one. Beautifully written, made me too anxious.

So, whatcha reading? Let us know!

- SB Sarah
Podcast 581, Your Transcript is Ready!
Smart Podcast, Trashy Books Podcast The transcript for Podcast 581. Death, Candy Corn, and Witches with Amanda and Maria Vale has been posted!

This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.

Click here to subscribe to The Podcast →

- Amanda
KDDs: Sci-Fi, Young Adult, & More
Maggie Moves On

Maggie Moves On by Lucy Score is $2.99! This was mentioned on Hide Your Wallet and has a new cover design. Score’s books aren’t for me, but I’d love to hear from some people who love them.

Can these opposites turn up the heat… without burning down the house?

House-flipping sensation and YouTube star Maggie Nichols can’t wait to dig into her next challenge. Arriving in tiny Kinship, Idaho, with only a cot and a coffeemaker, Maggie is prepared to restore a crumbling Victorian mansion in four months or less. She has her to-do lists, her blueprints, and her team. What she doesn’t have is time for sexy, laid-back landscaper Silas Wright.

The man takes flirtation to a whole new level. And he does it shirtless…sometimes pants-less. He and his service school-dropout dog are impressively persistent. But she’s not interested in putting down roots. Not when fans tune in to watch her travel the country turning dilapidated houses into dream homes. A short-term fling on the other hand could fit nicely into her calendar. After all, Maggie remembers what fun is like. Vaguely.

As their summer gets downright steamy, Silas manages to demolish the emotional walls she’s spent years building, sending Maggie into a panic. He’s the wrench in her carefully constructed plans. With the end of the project looming, she has a decision to make. But how can she stay when her entire career is built on moving on?

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You can find ordering info for this book here.




Fortune’s Pawn

Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach is $2.99! Catch this one as part of today’s Kindle Daily Deals. This is a scifi novel with some strong romantic elements and, in the past, I’ve heard it described as Kate Daniels in space.

Devi Morris isn’t your average mercenary. She has plans. Big ones. And a ton of ambition. It’s a combination that’s going to get her killed one day – but not just yet.

That is, until she just gets a job on a tiny trade ship with a nasty reputation for surprises. The Glorious Fool isn’t misnamed: it likes to get into trouble, so much so that one year of security work under its captain is equal to five years everywhere else. With odds like that, Devi knows she’s found the perfect way to get the jump on the next part of her Plan. But the Fool doesn’t give up its secrets without a fight, and one year on this ship might be more than even Devi can handle.

If Sigouney Weaver in Alien met Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, you’d get Deviana Morris — a hot new mercenary earning her stripes to join an elite fighting force. Until one alien bite throws her whole future into jeopardy.

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You can find ordering info for this book here.




The Wolf of Oren-Yaro

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso is $2.99! Ellen wrote a great review of this one, giving it a B-:

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso presents a strong entry in the annals of badass fantasy heroines in the form of Queen Talyien of Jin-Sayeng.

A queen of a divided land must unite her people, even if they hate her, even if it means stopping a ruin that she helped create. A debut epic fantasy from an exciting new voice.

“I murdered a man and made my husband leave the night before they crowned me.”

Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart. Her upcoming marriage to the son of her father’s rival heralds peaceful days to come.

But his sudden departure before their reign begins fractures the kingdom beyond repair.

Years later, Talyien receives a message, urging her to attend a meeting across the sea. It’s meant to be an effort at reconciliation, but an assassination attempt leaves the queen stranded and desperate to survive in a dangerous land. With no idea who she can trust, she’s on her own as she struggles to fight her way home.

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You can find ordering info for this book here.




Stars, Hide Your Fires

Stars, Hide Your Fires by Jessica Best is $2.99! This is a queer, YA, fantasy novel and was mentioned on Dahlia’s queer release round-up for July. It definitely sounds like it has a lot of adventure!

A wanted thief. A murdered emperor. A killer loose on the station.

Knives Out goes sci-fi in this gripping YA mystery set in space.

As an expert thief from a minor moon, Cass knows a good mark when she sees one. The emperor’s ball is her chance to steal a fortune for herself, her ailing father, and her scrappy crew of thieves and market vendors.

Her plan is
1. Hitch a ride to the planet of Ouris, the dazzling heart of the empire.
2. Sneak onto the imperial palace station to attend the emperor’s ball.
3. Steal from the rich, the royal, and the insufferable.

But on the station, things quickly go awry. When the emperor is found dead, everyone in the palace is a suspect—and someone is setting Cass up to take the fall. To clear her name, Cass must work with an unlikely a gorgeous and mysterious rebel with her own reasons for being on the station. Together, they unravel a secret that could change the fate of the empire.

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You can find ordering info for this book here.




- Elyse
Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival Recap

One of my favorite weekends of the entire year is the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. I save my yarn shopping money just for this weekend and make plans to go with my fiber-inclined friends.

Sheep and Wool Festivals (there’s one for NY and MD too) are different than yarn shows and cons. One of the reasons I love Sheep and Wool Festivals is that you get to experience the process of fiber arts from the animals themselves all the way to the finished products.

Also sometimes you’re waiting in line for a hot pretzel and a goat is waiting for his turn behind you.

A brown and white goat stands behind me, being walked on a leash

The Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival offers opportunities for 4H students and professional breeders to enter their livestock in competitions. I always find it cool to see where my wool comes from (and also sheepsies are cute).

There are also competitions like Sheep to Shawl. In this event teams make have to make woven fabric from fleece within a certain time frame. That means they get the fleece and have to make it all the way from preparing the fleece to spinning it to weaving it in about five hours. I know people who have done this and it is so awesome.

You can also sign up for all kinds of skills classes and there are equipment auctions and raffles as well.

The educational aspect of the event is really fun, and I’ve had non-crafty friends come along just to see how all the cool stuff is made and to pet the lambs (because of course you want to pet the lambs).

Then there’s the shopping. There are two large barns at this festival that sell everything from finished yarn to spinning wheels to notions to fleece.

Want to see my yarn haul?

Of course you do!

Five skeins of yarn from A Hundred Ravens in russet red, gold, and muted green with purple and grey

I may have found my new favorite sock yarn, A Hundred Ravens Yak Sock. It’s so cozy I want to crawl into a tub of it. I also got some of their Iachos sock yarn. The three colors I got left to right are: Eos, Here Be Dragons, and Halls of Lore. I also got some sock yarn from Bumblebee Acres. Left to right is Horn of Gondor and Return to Lallybroch.

Two skeins of yarn and two mini skein sets resting against a project bag with a cat pattern.

Left to right is a cotton/bamboo blend from Ohmi Fibers, a skein of Targhee Sock from Oink Pigments in the show-exclusive colorway Wisconsin Malibu, a project bag from Kalediscope Fibers, and two mini skein sets from A Hundred Ravens in Pixie Surfer Madness and Dark Prism.

I was super excited for the mini skein sets because I’ve been doing more colorwork socks using Charming Colorwork Socks by Charlotte Stone ( A | BN | K | AB ).

If you plan to attend a Sheep and Wool Festival I have a few words of advice.

You can bring your own bag in, so bringing a tote for your purchases is a good idea since not all vendors carry bags. Wear comfortable, washable shoes as livestock will be around and sometimes there’s poop when you’re walking between areas. Also they allow you to bring in bottled water so it’s a good idea to bring your own water bottle since the lines for food and drinks tend to be long and the prices pretty steep.

Have you been to any Sheep and Wool Festivals? What did you think?

- SB Sarah
581. Death, Candy Corn, and Witches with Amanda and Maria Vale

Molly Molloy & the Angel of Death
A | BN | K Several years ago, Amanda had coffee with Maria Vale at a conference, and Maria mentioned a book she was working on that sounded really cool.

And now, Molly Molloy and the Angel of Death is available to read! So we got together to talk about the book, what it’s like to write something that feels risky, different, and comes with warnings about HEA-expectations.

This becomes a conversation about the HEA, how it works, and how it is interpreted by different readers. What are your expectations for an HEA?


Listen to the podcast → Read the transcript → Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:

You can find Maria Vale on her website,, on Instagram @MariaValeAuthor, and on Blusky, @MariaValeWrites.

If you like the podcast, you can subscribe to our feed, or find us at iTunes. You can also find us on Stitcher, and Spotify, too. We also have a cool page for the podcast on iTunes.

More ways to sponsor:

Sponsor us through Patreon! (What is Patreon?)

What did you think of today's episode? Got ideas? Suggestions? You can talk to us on the blog entries for the podcast or talk to us on Facebook if that's where you hang out online. You can email us at or you can call and leave us a message at our Google voice number: 201-371-3272. Please don't forget to give us a name and where you're calling from so we can work your message into an upcoming podcast.

Thanks for listening!

Remember to subscribe to our podcast feed, find us on iTunes or on Stitcher.
- Amanda
Soup, Sci-Fi, & More
Chaos Reigning

Chaos Reigning by Jessie Mihalik is $1.99! Ellen reviewed it, giving it a B-:

I think if you have enjoyed the series overall this is a worthwhile read, but I wish my expectations had not been so high coming off the second book.

Interplanetary intrigue and romance combine in this electrifying finale to the Consortium Rebellion series.

As the youngest member of her High House, Catarina von Hasenberg is used to being underestimated, but her youth and flighty, bubbly personality mask a clever mind and stubborn determination. Her enemies, blind to her true strength, do not suspect that Cat is a spy—which makes her the perfect candidate to go undercover at a rival House’s summer retreat to gather intelligence on their recent treachery.

Cat’s overprotective older sister reluctantly agrees, but on one condition: Cat cannot go alone. Alexander Sterling, a quiet, gorgeous bodyguard, will accompany her, posing as her lover. After Cat tries, and fails, to ditch Alex, she grudgingly agrees, confident in her ability to manage him. After all, she’s never found a person she can’t manipulate.

But Alex proves more difficult—and more desirable—than Cat anticipated. When she’s attacked and nearly killed, she and Alex are forced to work together to figure out how deep the treason goes. With rumors of widespread assaults on Serenity raging, communications down, and the rest of her family trapped off-planet, Catarina must persuade Alex to return to Earth to expose the truth and finish this deadly battle once and for all.

But Cat can’t explain why she’s the perfect person to infiltrate hostile territory without revealing secrets she’d rather keep buried. . .

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

You can find ordering info for this book here.




Untethered Sky

Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee is $2.99! This is a high fantasy novella that came out in the spring. Wow, just look at that cover. I’m curious how the genre and world building does in a novella format.

From World Fantasy Award-winning author Fonda Lee comes Untethered Sky,an epic fantasy fable about the pursuit of obsession at all costs.

Ester’s family was torn apart when a manticore killed her mother and baby brother, leaving her with nothing but her father’s painful silence and a single, overwhelming need to kill the monsters that took her family.

Ester’s path leads her to the King’s Royal Mews, where the giant rocs of legend are flown to hunt manticores by their brave and dedicated rukhers. Paired with a fledgling roc named Zahra, Ester finds purpose and acclaim by devoting herself to a calling that demands absolute sacrifice and a creature that will never return her love. The terrifying partnership between woman and roc leads Ester not only on the empire’s most dangerous manticore hunt, but on a journey of perseverance and acceptance.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

You can find ordering info for this book here.




The Spear Cuts Through Water

The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez is $1.99! I recently mentioned this on Get Rec’d if you’re looking for more fantasy in you life, by new-to-you authors. Did anyone wind up giving this a try?

Two warriors shepherd an ancient god across a broken land to end the tyrannical reign of a royal family in this epic fantasy from the author of The Vanished Birds.

“A beguiling fantasy not to be missed.”—Evelyn Skye, New York Times bestselling author of The Crown’s Game


ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Oprah Daily, Vulture, Polygon, She Reads, Gizmodo, Kirkus Reviews, The Quill to Live

The people suffer under the centuries-long rule of the Moon Throne. The royal family—the despotic emperor and his monstrous sons, the Three Terrors—hold the countryside in their choking grip. They bleed the land and oppress the citizens with the frightful powers they inherited from the god locked under their palace.

But that god cannot be contained forever.

With the aid of Jun, a guard broken by his guilt-stricken past, and Keema, an outcast fighting for his future, the god escapes from her royal captivity and flees from her own children, the triplet Terrors who would drag her back to her unholy prison. And so it is that she embarks with her young companions on a five-day pilgrimage in search of freedom—and a way to end the Moon Throne forever. The journey ahead will be more dangerous than any of them could have imagined.

Both a sweeping adventure story and an intimate exploration of identity, legacy, and belonging, The Spear Cuts Through Water is an ambitious and profound saga that will transport and transform you—and is like nothing you’ve ever read before.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

You can find ordering info for this book here.




Soup of the Day

RECOMMENDED: Soup of the Day by Kate McMillan is $2.99! I was just talking about soup in yesterday’s links post. Elyse recommended this one and particularly its mushroom soup recipe in our 2021 Gift Guide for cookbooks.

A revised collection of seasonal soups for each day of the year, featuring 100 new recipes and new full-color photography.

Soup is often thought of as comfort dish for cold weather, Soup of the Day showcases how diverse soups can be. From light gazpachos to hearty chowders, cream of tomato to chicken noodle, vegetable-lentils to steak and potatoes, there’s something to please every palate throughout the year—and plenty of full-meal soups for easy dinner solutions.

New recipes include:

Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Crispy Pancetta & Gremolata

Creamy Brussels Sprouts Soup with Maple Bacon

Indian-Spiced Parsnip Soup with Grilled Naan

Mac & Cheese Chili

Tofu-Kimchi Stew

Mushroom, Leek, Wheat Berries & Shrimp Soup

Snow Pea Consommé with Cheese Tortellini

Caramelized Leek Soup with Blue Cheese Crumble

Lamb & Chickpea Chili with Cumin Crema

Carrot-Gruyere Soup with Brown Butter Croutons

Asiago-Stout Soup with Caramelized Spicy Pears

Ramen with Roasted Pork & Soft Egg in Spicy, Soy Broth

Clam & Celery Root Chowder

Cream of Black Bean Soup with Roasted Poblanos & Cotija Cheese

Provencal Chard Soup with Lardoons

Ginger–Galangal Broth with Chili & Chicken

Meyer Lemon & Potato Soup

Tomato Tarragon Soup with Fennel Croutons

Grilled Asparagus & Green Onion Soup with Poached Egg

Corn & Spinach Chowder with Avocado

The recipes are categorized by month of the year and laid out in an easy-to-follow, calendar format. The monthly calendars highlight the season’s best ingredients to bring you fresh and delicious flavor combinations all year round.

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You can find ordering info for this book here.




- Amanda
The Rec League: Shakespeare Retellings

The Rec League - heart shaped chocolate resting on the edge of a very old bookThis Rec League came from Meg in our SBTB Patreon Discord server. Thanks, Meg!

Do you have recommendations for books based on or inspired by Shakespeare plays? I recently read Two Wrongs Make a Right by Chloe Liese, which is inspired by Much Ado About Nothing (my favorite play) and it made me want more! Shakespeare’s comedies end in marriage, so they seem like good candidates to be adapted into romance novels.

Sarah: Ramón and Julieta!

Amanda: Eva Devon’s Much Ado About Dukes. It’s the second in a series and they’re all literary-inspired.

Sarah: Nisha Sharma’s two newest. Tastes Like Shakkar ( A | BN | K ) is a Much Ado About Nothing retelling.

Much Ado About Dukes
A | BN | KOh there’s a Mary Stewart – This Rough Magic ( A | BN | K ) is the Tempest. And the early Eloisa James novels I believe too – her first few were retellings, weren’t they?

Amanda: She has some fairy tale ones but not sure about Shakespeare

Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights ( A | BN | K | AB ) is inspired by Romeo and Juliet (so not a comedy) but it’s a new adult romance set in a magical 1920s Shanghai and the main characters are the heirs to rival crime families.

Kiki: Ten Things I Hate About The Duke by Loretta Chase is a Taming of the Shrew retelling and one of my favorite romances of all time

Elyse: The Dane of My Existence by Jessica Martin

Amanda: Oh that’s right, she did For Love of the Bard! ( A | BN | K )

Which books would you recommend? Tell us in the comments!

- SB Sarah
Stuff We Like: Recs from Our Purchase Histories

It’s time for another edition of Stuff We Like!

This month we looked through our purchase histories to make some recommendations for organization, writing, coffee drinking, and more!

Stuff We Like - Recommendations from our purchase history with a picture of some organizing bins, a coffee maker and a candle


Want to see? Just click that image above or click right here, and come shop with us!

And if you’d like to browse some more, we have a complete Stuff We Like archive, including past Gift Guides and other posts of our favorite items.

- Amanda
Links: A GoFundMe, Sapphic Reading Recs, & More

Workspace with computer, journal, books, coffee, and glasses.Welcome back to Wednesday Links! How are we all doing?

I can start to feel fall in the air and I’m so ready. Also, I’m eager for this jam-packed month to be over.

Before my partner and I go grocery shopping, we pick the 3-4 meals we plan to cook in the next couple weeks. I found a harissa-spiced cauliflower soup recipe in the Cookish cookbook and I’m looking forward to that the most. I love a soup season and one of my favorites to make (if you want recs) is the red pepper soup from Smitten Kitchen. So easy and tasty!

Donna Herren, who is half of the romance-writing duo Kit Rocha, has a GoFundMe up to assist with medical treatment costs. If you’d like to donate or share the link, you can find it here.

I will warn that this next article is emotional and deals with drug addiction, but I was really captured by the compassion in it. Meet Jessica, a volunteer with the Never Use Alone hotline. The article was inspired by a This American Life episode, which is equally as powerful.

Need more things to read? Amanda over at the Talk About Swoon instagram account has dozens of sapphic romances that should be on your radar.

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A post shared by Amanda // Talk About Swoon (@talk_about_swoon)

Maya put this one on our radar! Anna Biller, director and costume designer of the movie The Love Witch, wrote a Gothic novel inspired by the Bluebeard legend. Lots of worlds colliding and interests intersecting!

Don’t forget to share what cool or interesting things you’ve seen, read, or listened to this week! And if you have anything you think we’d like to post on a future Wednesday Links, send it my way!

- Amanda
A Travelogue, Urban Fantasy, & More
Blood Heir

Blood Heir by Ilona Andrews is $1.49! This is a spin-off of Andrews’ Kate Daniels series with the main character being Kate and Curran’s ward. Obviously this will be a more nuanced read if you’ve finished or are familiar with the prior series. I dropped off that train around book three.

From award-winning author, Ilona Andrews, an all-new novel set in the New York Times #1 bestselling Kate Daniels World and featuring Julie Lennart-Olsen, Kate and Curran’s ward.

Atlanta was always a dangerous city. Now, as waves of magic and technology compete for supremacy, it’s a place caught in a slow apocalypse, where monsters spawn among the crumbling skyscrapers and supernatural factions struggle for power and survival.

Eight years ago, Julie Lennart left Atlanta to find out who she was. Now she’s back with a new face, a new magic, and a new name—Aurelia Ryder—drawn by the urgent need to protect the family she left behind. An ancient power is stalking her adopted mother, Kate Daniels, an enemy unlike any other, and a string of horrifying murders is its opening gambit.

If Aurelia’s true identity is discovered, those closest to her will die. So her plan is simple: get in, solve the murders, prevent the prophecy from being fulfilled, and get out without being recognized. She expected danger, but she never anticipated that the only man she’d ever loved could threaten everything.

One small misstep could lead to disaster. But for Aurelia, facing disaster is easy; it’s relationships that are hard.

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You can find ordering info for this book here.




A Dowry of Blood

A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson is $2.99! This a sapphic Gothic novel tied to Dracula. I believe it was originally e-only and then received a successful print release.

This sensational novel tells the darkly seductive tale of Dracula’s first bride, Constanta.

This is my last love letter to you, though some would call it a confession. . .

Saved from the brink of death by a mysterious stranger, Constanta is transformed from a medieval peasant into a bride fit for an undying king. But when Dracula draws a cunning aristocrat and a starving artist into his web of passion and deceit, Constanta realizes that her beloved is capable of terrible things.

Finding comfort in the arms of her rival consorts, she begins to unravel their husband’s dark secrets. With the lives of everyone she loves on the line, Constanta will have to choose between her own freedom and her love for her husband. But bonds forged by blood can only be broken by death.

“A dizzying nightmare of a romance that will leave you aching, angry and ultimately hopeful.” —Hannah Whitten, New York Times bestselling author of For the Wolf

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You can find ordering info for this book here.





Clanlands by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavis is $1.99! This is a mix of travel writing and Scottish history. I’m sure it’ll appeal to Outlander fans as well! I bet it’s great on audio.

Two Men. One Country. And a lot of whisky.

As stars of “Outlander”, Sam and Graham eat, sleep and breathe the Highlands on this epic road trip around their homeland. They discover that the real thing is even greater than fiction.

“Clanlands” is the story of their journey. Armed with their trusty campervan and a sturdy friendship, these two Scotsmen are on the adventure of a lifetime to explore the majesty of Scotland. A wild ride by boat, kayak, bicycle and motorbike, they travel from coast to loch and peak to valley and delve into Scotland’s history and culture, from timeless poetry to bloody warfare.

With near-death experiences, many weeks in a confined space together, and a cast of unforgettable characters, Graham and Sam’s friendship matures like a fine Scotch. They reflect on their acting careers in film and theatre, find a new awestruck respect for their native country and, as with any good road trip, they even find themselves.

Hold onto your kilts … this is Scotland as you’ve never seen it before.

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You can find ordering info for this book here.




Crush the King

Crush the King by Jennifer Estep is $1.99! This is book three in the Crown of Shards series. Elyse has enjoyed this one, but I believe these have to be read in order. However, if you’ve been waiting to collect all the books at a discount, snap this one up.

A fierce gladiator queen must face off against her enemies in an epic battle in this next thrilling installment of New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Estep’s Crown of Shards series—an action-packed adventure full of magic, murderous machinations, courtly intrigue, and pulse-pounding romance.

Queen Everleigh Blair of Bellona has survived the mass murder of the royal family, become a fearsome warrior trained by an elite gladiator troupe, and unleashed her ability to destroy magic. After surviving yet another assassination attempt orchestrated by the conniving king of Morta, Evie has had enough. It’s time to turn the tables and take the fight to her enemies.

There is no better opportunity to strike than during the Regalia Games, a time when warriors, nobles, and royals from all the kingdoms come together to compete in various sporting events. With the help of her loyal friends, Evie goes on the attack at the Regalia, but things don’t turn out the way she hopes. Soon, she is facing a terrifying new threat, and she will have to dig deep and learn even more about her growing magic if she has any chance of defeating her foes.

Because to secure her throne and ensure her kingdom’s survival, Evie must think like a true Bellonan: she must outsmart and outwit her enemies . . . and crush the king.

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You can find ordering info for this book here.




- Amanda
Black Sheep by Rachel Harrison
Black Sheep B- Black Sheep

by Rachel Harrison
September 19, 2023 · Berkley

TW/CW Cults, religious trauma, home invasion, emotional and physical abuse against a child, narcissistic parents, animal sacrifice, sexual harassment, disordered eating.

I’m generally a fan of Rachel Harrison’s horror novels. They tend to offer up commentary on things like toxic friendships, trauma, and complicated family dynamics in this darkly comedic, hyperbolic package. When I heard this blended the prodigal daughter of a cult with the catharsis of rebuilding after escaping a narcissistic mother, it jumped to the top of my TBR pile. Unfortunately, it loses some momentum at the halfway point. While I could have used more oomph overall, the delivery is full of enough sardonic quips and macabre comedy that I had to keep reading.

Vesper left home roughly six years ago, just shy of her eighteenth birthday. She picks up waitressing gigs to make ends meet and currently works as a chain restaurant called Shorty’s. In the six years since leaving her family’s compound, she’s never been able to find a community or make lasting friendships. Her coworkers find her snobby and pretentious, and her time at Shorty’s comes to an abrupt end when boiling hot nacho cheese explodes into an aggressive patron’s face, through no fault of Vesper’s.

Once again jobless and frustrated, Vesper is overcome by a bout of homesickness. As if sensing her longing for family, an anonymous red envelope appears on her doorstep, inviting her back to the compound to celebrate the marriage of her cousin Rosemary and Vesper’s ex/first love Brody.

While most of Vesper’s community is happy to see her return, her mother is unmoved. Vesper’s mom, scream queen Constance Wright, has always been icy. She was either never around due to her filming schedule, passing off motherly duties to her sister Grace, or she actively derided and humiliated her daughter. Vesper’s own father has been mostly out of the picture, visiting sporadically when she was younger and then disappearing entirely. Part of Vesper’s motivation for leaving the cult was to find her dad and reconnect. She always suspected he wasn’t part of the “church” and was shunned for being an outsider.

I will say that Vesper is a complicated character and falls under the “unlikable heroine” umbrella. She’s bitchy, petty, and at times mean. The main reason why she accepted the invitation to Rosemary and Brody’s wedding was to wear a “revenge dress” and undermine their ceremony. But there are parts of Vesper I felt I intimately understood.

I have my own “mommy issues” and I recognized the hard, cruel shell Vesper had formed. I can count on several fingers the times I’ve heard, “You’re nicer than I thought you’d be” after people have gotten to know me. The lack of attachment to others resonated with my own fears that attachment meant vulnerability and opportunities for people to let you down and disappoint you. I identified with Vesper’s hope that, even after all their estrangement, that her mom would have been happy to see her or would somehow have taken the time to reflect and offer an apology for the way she’d treated her daughter. Girl, I feel you and shoutout to my therapist, Katie.

There’s a moment during the climax of the book, though, that felt like a truce between Vesper and Constance. I didn’t buy it and it undermined this moment of Vesper taking her power back. I would have preferred to see Vesper tell her off or give this cathartic, moving speech, but this lifelong baggage just sort of fizzled out. In fact, the bulk of the conflict fizzled out.

The first half of the book is heavy on tension as more and more things are revealed about Vesper and her upbringing. I loved all the dribs and drabs of context we got, though only the first of the three major plot reveals truly surprised me. Rather than Vesper slowly gaining agency as she realizes her family hasn’t changed and never will, she finds herself lured back into their manipulation over and over again. I’m familiar with that toxic cycle, but I was hoping for more of the fantasy of a daughter having the strength to truly confront her family. Give me that rage!


For a lot of us in similar relationships, we never quite get the opportunity to tell our parents how we really feel (usually out of fear of retribution). The reality is we may silently set boundaries, become more estranged, or not even break that cycle entirely. What I wanted was to be sucked into the fantasy of seeing a daughter truly stand up to her toxic mother, to live vicariously through her by making her mother confront her maternal failings since I don’t know if I will ever be able to do that with my own mom.

mild spoilers ahoy
Instead, the ending felt sad and rueful and lacked the fantasy I wanted. The tension of the story grew as more was revealed about Vesper and her family, and that tension seemed to indicate that a cathartic showdown might be coming, but I was a little let down when it did not.

I opted to listen to this one on audio and loved it. Narrator Jeremy Carlisle Parker nailed Vesper’s personality and did a fabulous job creating distinct voices for the surrounding cast. Cackle is still probably my favorite of Harrison’s books, but I appreciate her wicked twisting of relationships in wildly horrific and humorous scenarios.

- Amanda
Sci-Fi, Fake Dating, & More
Scoundrel of My Heart

Scoundrel of My Heart by Lorraine Heath is $1.99! It’s book one in the Once Upon a Dukedom series, which is great news if you don’t like reading out of order.s

Lorraine Heath begins an exciting new series with a breathtaking romance about a young woman who must marry a titled gentleman to obtain her inheritance and the usuitable man she begins to fall madly in love with…

She is desperate to wed a duke…

Lady Kathryn Lambert must marry a titled gentleman to claim her inheritance and has finally gained the attention of a duke. Yet she is unable to forget the scandalous second son who aided in her achievement—or his betrayal.

He wants what he can never possess…

Lord Griffith Stanwick is tormented by the bitter truth that as a “spare,” he will never be able to give Kathryn what she yearns to possess. But when his father is found guilty of treason, Griff detours into the dark and dangerous corners of London, haunted by memories of the woman lost to him forever.

Love not to be denied…

As the duke’s courtship intensifies, Kathryn discovers Griff has become a man to be reckoned with. When old passions flare and new desires ignite, she must decide if sacrificing her legacy is worth a lifetime shared with the scoundrel of her heart.

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You can find ordering info for this book here.




A Proposal They Can’t Refuse

A Proposal They Can’t Refuse by Natalie Caña is $1.99! This was Caña’s debut and features rivals to lovers and fake dating. The second book in the series is out next month. Lots of good food and drink descriptions!

Natalie Caña turns up the heat, humor and heart in this debut rom-com about a Puerto Rican chef and an Irish American whiskey distiller forced into a fake engagement by their scheming octogenarian grandfathers.

Kamilah Vega is desperate to convince her family to update their Puerto Rican restaurant and enter it into the Fall Foodie Tour. With the gentrification of their Chicago neighborhood, it’s the only way to save the place. The fly in her mofongo–her blackmailing abuelo says if she wants to change anything in his restaurant, she’ll have to marry the one man she can’t stand: his best friend’s grandson.

Liam Kane spent a decade working to turn his family’s distillery into a contender. Now he and his grandfather are on the verge of winning a national competition. Then Granda hits him with a one-two punch: he has cancer and he has his heart set on seeing Liam married before it’s too late. And Granda knows just the girl…Kamilah Vega.

If they refuse, their grandfathers will sell the building that houses both their businesses. With their futures on the line, Kamilah and Liam plan to outfox the devious duo, faking an engagement until they both get what they want. But soon, they find themselves tangled up in more than either of them bargained for.

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You can find ordering info for this book here.




Nevermore Bookstore

Nevermore Bookstore by Kerrigan Byrne and Cynthia St. Aubin is 99c at Amazon! I’ve see a few people mention this one in the comments before, so much so that I featured it on Book Beat.

Cadence “Cady” Bloomquist knows two things for sure: First, shelving books at her shop, Nevermore Bookstore, totally counts as cardio. Second, staying late every Thursday night to take a certain mysterious customer’s order is not the same as waiting by the phone for some man.


Until the calls with the man who identifies himself only as “Fox” last for hours, and become the highlight of her week. Which leaves her to wonder, if his jagged velvet voice can kindle her fire over the phone, what sort of alchemy might it inspire if they met in person?

There’s nothing Roman Fawkes wants more than the brilliant, beautiful bookstore owner, but Roman Fawkes knows it can never happen. Secreted in his mountain hideaway high above sleepy little Townsend Harbor, his hermit’s existence shields him–and those around him–from the pain of his past.


Until one of their weekly calls is interrupted by a break-in, and Fawkes is powerless to protect the woman who has become his one link to the world. Orchestrating a trap for the fool who dared harm her, Fawkes finds himself not just ensnared, but beguiled by her. Now so close to Cady, he discovers she’s fallen for “Fox”, and yet he’s unable to reveal her heart’s desire is closer than she thinks.

Can Fawkes resist the temptation to get between Cady’s covers, knowing they’ll never have a happily ever after?

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You can find ordering info for this book here.




Some Desperate Glory

Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh is $2.99! I mentioned this one on a previous Hide Your Wallet. Might be worth picking up if you̵