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  • Rachelle Gardner
- Author
Leave Taking
By: Earl Smith She opened the door just enough. He was lying on his back snoring softly. She listened to the rhythm of his breathing. It was shallow but slow and steady. […]
- Author
‘Cuttlefish’ and other poems
By: Christian Ward Cuttlefish We wear the ocean for haute couturebut have upside down McDonald’s archesfor eyes in an unexpected show of humility.Misunderstood? You bet. We feed budgieswith the bones of our […]
- Author
‘The Nap’ and other poems
By: Erik Priedkalns The Nap I woke up from a dreamy nap.Not beautiful dreamy,but a slashing scene withshortness of breath, sweat drenched face,heart scooping sadness.I saw the boys when they were young,heard […]
- Author
The End of the Town Dog
By: Michael Gigandet No one agreed if the dog apprehended his destruction or if he “never seen it comin’” like old man Forrest said. The old man had the best view from […]
- Author
‘Grandma and the Memories of Octobers’ and other poems
By: Paarmita Vedi Grandma and the Memories of Octobers A dense foliage of five auburn OctobersSpecked with dirty honey-brown nuts.On and Within.Daadi picks them up in her straw basket.Her soft dimpled feet […]
- Author
Against The Currents
By: Cailey Tarriane His devious little body could be swept away by the ocean like a cat playing with a mouse. My brother’s feet would try to push deep in the sand, […]
- Author
I Want to Marry a Poet
By: Haleema Dalhat I want to marry a poetTo be seduced by his penTo cuddle in the ocean of his inkA romantic life well imaginedLife forever with a poet I want to […]
- Author
‘Spirit’ and other poems
By: Tabassum Tahmina Shagufta Hussein Spirit Oh my loveWith your love free my body and soulFrom Fetters.In your festival lights of loveOf this universe,I am a mere earthen lamp.Oh love,Add to it […]
- Author
‘Chrysanthemums On Her Grave’ and other poems
By: Raj Ratan Mala Chrysanthemums On Her Grave Spine made up of porcelain tucked under a corset dressLipstick overlined for a DIY smile – a womanly drug to cure distress,“Tuck a chrysanthemum […]
- Author
‘Nature’s Touch’ and other poems
By: Noel Burra Nature’s Touch I am waiting. Longing. Yearning. For the rain to wet the cracks rippled along my dry lips.The breeze to sweep the hair brushing against my olive eyes. […]
- Jonny Diamond
German chain Aldi calls Schindler’s List ideal for “relaxing, unwinding” on holiday.

German super-discount chain Aldi got called out on Twitter for selling Schindler’s List as a great read for “relaxing” and “unwinding” while on holiday, “a gripping story that will have you hooked as your body soaks in those sun rays.”

As you probably know, Thomas Keneally’s 1982 novel, originally published as Schindler’s Ark, isn’t exactly a lighthearted romp, telling as it does the story of Oskar Schindler’s rescue of over a thousand Jews from the horrors of the Holocaust.

Danny Stone, the chief executive of the Antisemitism Policy Trust, took to Twitter to call out the cringeworthy marketing copy (that has since been taken down):

Hey, @AldiUK does anyone check your book descriptions before they’re published? Do you think maybe a description of Schindler’s Ark might feature some reference to the genocide of Jews which people are supposed to, apparently, ‘relax and unwind’ to?

— Danny Stone (@DannyStone1) October 3, 2022

Looking forward to settling in with my new DVD from Aldi, a “lighthearted romp” called Night and Fog!

- Katie Yee
15 paperbacks coming to bookstores near you this October.
paperbacks _ empire of pain

Ah, paperbacks. So soft and comforting. So nice to curl up with. (No hard edges!) This month sees the publication of paperbacks from Jonathan Franzen, Rebecca Solnit, Patrick Radden Keefe, Louise Glück, and more. Get cozy.


Jonathan Franzen, Crossroads

Jonathan Franzen, Crossroads
(Picador, October 4)

Crossroads is Franzen’s greatest and most perfect novel to date, but more importantly, it is his most promising: an inexhaustible resource for future novels, and not only his own.”

devil house

John Darnielle, Devil House
(Picador, October 4)

“The thing about Darnielle’s writing, in all its forms, is this: If you’re that dorky outcast kid drawing a pentagram on the back page of your three-ring binder in algebra class, not because you want to drink anyone’s blood but because you think it’s cool, he sees you.”
–The New York Times

Laurie Woolever, Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography

Laurie Woolever, Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography
(Ecco, October 4)

“Woolever’s skill as an editor is in merging these disparate voices to appear as though the whole cast is engaged in one great conversation with each other.”
–The Chicago Review of Books

a carnival of snackery_david sedaris

David Sedaris, A Carnival of Snackery
(Back Bay Books, October 4)

“What he does in his exquisitely crafted essays is reconstruct his life as a funny story, the kind you’d hear at a dinner party if you were very lucky in your friendships.”
–The New York Times Book Review

until i am free_keisha n blain

Keisha N. Blain, Until I Am Free
(Beacon Press)

“As white conservative backlash grows in the United States, Keisha N. Blain’s new biography of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer stands out for its relevance.”
–The Los Angeles Review of Books

Louise Glück, Winter Recipes from the Collective

Louise Glück, Winter Recipes from the Collective
(FSG, October 11)

“The poems often feel like fables or strange little fictions, positing characters with unclear relation to the poet … The book is full of echoes of her earlier work, its winds (the breath of the void) and silence.”
–The New York Times Book Review

Margaret Verble, When Two Feathers Fell From the Sky
(Mariner, October 11)

“Verble artfully brings in the supernatural as the plot flows into a mystery with the hobbled protagonist the principal investigator. She will have you believing and cheering, especially for the ghost.”
–The Jacksonville Florida Times–Union

jay caspian kang_the loneliest americans

Jay Caspian Kang, The Loneliest Americans
(Crown, October 11)

“If the past 18 pandemic months have offered an intravenous drip of hate crimes against Asians, Kang’s book titrates those events into a potent mix of memoir, cultural criticism, and deep reporting.”
–The Brooklyn Rail

Patrick Radden Keefe_Empire of Pain

Patrick Radden Keefe, Empire of Pain
(Anchor, October 18)

“Even when detailing the most sordid episodes, Keefe’s narrative voice is calm and admirably restrained, allowing his prodigious reporting to speak for itself.”
–The New York Times

Alice Hoffman, The Book of Magic

Alice Hoffman, The Book of Magic
(Scribner, October 18)

“Hoffman brings the Owens family full circle in a tale of finely wrought female relationships, magic, and love.”

Rebecca Solnit, Orwell's Roses

Rebecca Solnit, Orwell’s Roses
(Penguin, October 18)

“Solnit is having fun when she makes these connections—finding joy in the intellectual pursuit of writing and thinking. That she allows herself to do so in a book that is in many ways very serious too is in keeping with the very aesthetics it’s engaging with.”

the Pessimists

Bethany Ball, The Pessimists
(Grove Press, October 18)

“A stinging satire about the hollowness of the suburban dream. Each couple is glittering but damaged.”

alan cumming_baggage

Alan Cumming, Baggage: Tales from a Fully Packed Life
(Dey Street, October 18)

“Mercurial is a word often used of Cumming; and the quicksilver quality of his personality and career is fully and sometimes brilliantly reflected in this memoir.”
–The Scotsman

The Book of Mother

Violaine Huisman, tr. Leslie Camhi, The Book of Mother
(Scribner, October 18)

“In her description of maternal horrors and ecstasies, Huisman strikes an airy tone, confiding yet remote and prone to comic understatement.”
–The New York Times Book Review

N. Scott Momaday, The Death of Sitting Bear

N. Scott Momaday, The Death of Sitting Bear
(Harper Perennial, October 25)

“An admirable capstone to a distinguished literary career, this splendid selection should be a treasure for Momaday’s readers and an excellent introduction for those new to Native American writing.”
–Library Journal

- Lit Hub Daily
Lit Hub Daily: October 3, 2022
TODAY: In 1997, Don DeLillo’s Underworld is published by Scribner.   

“Fascism, fires, fevers: these things are more persistent than we tend to allow.” Thea Lenarduzzi considers pandemics past and present, and the recent Italian election. | Lit Hub History

How Amazon accelerated the commodification of literature—and then used our reading data to “slowly subsume all else.” | Lit Hub

Lynn Melnick reflects on her earliest writing lessons: in a community college comp class… and working for a phone sex line. | Lit Hub Memoir

Douglas Dreishpoon on the artwork of Helen Frankenthaler, whose “vision of beauty reflected the depths of a human condition.” | Lit Hub Art

Raina Lipsitz examines the growing coalition between the new left and labor unions. | Lit Hub Politics

An Alan Moore story collection, the return of Saga, and more of October’s Best SF and Fantasy Books. | Book Marks

It must be fall: in which Alex Shephard promises to eat a Haruki Murakami t-shirt (and attempts some Nobel Prize predictions). | The New Republic

“When you write something down you pretty well kill it. Leave it loose and knocking around up there and you never know—it might turn into something.” A look back at Cormac McCarthy’s early interviews. | The New York Times

Daniel Torday considers Salvage the Bones, Ulysses, and the power of proprioception. | The Millions

Books alone are not bridges. They needed bridge builders. Interpreters. Readers.” Jacki Lyden on an encounter in a Baghdad library. | Arrowsmith Press

Kaitlyn Greenidge talks to Andrea Ritchie and Mariame Kaba about the police abolition movement and their new book, No More Police. | Harper’s Bazaar

Jessica Winter revisits the work of E. Nesbit, the British Socialist and children’s book author. | The New Yorker

The Atlantic staff discusses the books they needed when they were younger. | The Atlantic

Bill Carter asks: Do we need yet another “bombshell” book about the Trump administration? | CNN

Also on Lit Hub: A reading list of labyrinthine realities • New poetry by Olena Kalytiak Davis • Read from Lucy Ives’s latest novel, Life Is Everywhere

- Future Fables
Introducing Future Fables, Bedtime Stories for Adults

Our newest podcast series, Future Fables, in partnership with Aesop, offers freshly penned fables that may provide catalysts for conversation, contemplation and quietude. Written by some of the most thought-provoking authors of today, each of these bedtime stories for adults adopts the ancient fable form to elucidate morals for modern times.

Listen to a teaser below, and join us tomorrow for our first Future Fable from Amelia Abraham.

The season will include:

The Rat and the Hamster by Amelia Abraham
October 4, 2022

In a playful tale of friendship, envy and empathy, Abraham’s Future Fable features a pair of ambitious rodents. Abraham is a journalist and the author of two books—Queer Intentions (2020) and We Can Do Better Than This (2021), an anthology which brings together 35 voices on the future of LGBTQIA+ rights.

The River Cat’s Brother by Akwaeke Emezi
October 6, 2022

Emezi’s Future Fable highlights the importance of accepting help from others. They have won a plethora of prestigious awards, and have been featured on the cover of TIME magazine as a 2021 Next Generation Leader.

The Butterfly Man by Lydia Millet
October 11, 2022

Lydia Millet’s Future Fable explores the nature of change through the tale of a slightly stubborn insect. Millet is a prolific author of over 13 books, whose collection of short stories Love in Infant Monkeys (2010) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Her most recent novel, A Children’s Bible, was published in 2020.

The Pack by Rivers Solomon
October 18, 2022

In Solomon’s Future Fable we join a pack of wolves to discover the importance of community. Solomon is an award-winning author, self-proclaimed gender malcontent and keen bird watcher, whose novel An Unkindness of Ghosts featured in the Aesop Queer Library last year.

Sleep Is All Hers by Mieko Kawakami
October 25, 2022

Kawakami’s Future Fable invites us to reconsider common fears, while underlining the preciousness of friendship. She was recently shortlisted for the International Booker Prize for her novel Heaven (2009), translated by David Boyd, who also translated this fable.


Aesop—the literary-leaning skin, hair and body care brand—has launched a new podcast series which asks the question, what sort of fables might its namesake—Aesop, the ancient Greek fabulist—write in 2022? Featuring compelling yarns by some of the most thought-provoking authors in contemporary literature, this series of succinct yet stirring stories may help listeners navigate life’s big questions, with morals for the modern day revealed through tales of river cats, gluttonous caterpillars and ambitious rodents. The podcast is available at and wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribe, listen, and enjoy each fable as we bring you Future Fables, presented by Aesop. Episodes will be available for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Amazon Music, Pandora, Google Podcasts, Castbox, iHeartRadio, Pocket Casts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

- Emergence Magazine
Amitav Ghosh on the Importance of Re-Centering Stories of the Land

Emergence Magazine is an online publication with annual print edition exploring the threads connecting ecology, culture, and spirituality. As we experience the desecration of our lands and waters, the extinguishing of species, and a loss of sacred connection to the Earth, we look to emerging stories. Our podcast features exclusive interviews, narrated essays, stories and more.

How can stories return us to what is essential as we navigate an uncertain future? In this conversation with Amitav Ghosh, author of The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis, he calls on storytellers to lead us in the necessary work of collective reimagining—decentering human narratives and re-centering stories of the land.

Emergence Magazine, Vol 3: Living with the Unknown explores what living in an apocalyptic reality looks like through four themes: Initiation, Ashes, Roots, and Futures. Every two months we’ll release a new chapter online. Experience “Chapter Three: Roots.”


Listen to the rest of this story on Emergence Magazine’s website or by subscribing to the podcast.

Amitav Ghosh is an Indian-born scholar, novelist, and nonfiction writer. His many books include The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable and The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Jnanpith Award—India’s highest literary honor—the Pushcart Prize, the Blue Metropolis International Literary Grand Prix, the Tagore Literature Award, and three lifetime achievement awards. His essays have appeared in The New YorkerThe New Republic, and The New York Times.

- Douglas Dreishpoon
What the Word “Beauty” Meant to Helen Frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler never questioned why she painted or for whom. Expressing herself through art was something she had done since childhood. Making art channeled her emotional energies, kept her focused, stable. Being a committed artist meant finding ways to accommodate external concerns, knowing full well that the world outside the studio would never be the world inside, where one fearlessly confronts angels and demons head-on.

Seeing the process of painting as perpetually in flux enabled Frankenthaler to see the medium of painting as perennially relevant—a mounting challenge as the 1960s rolled into the1970s and 1980s and a critical mass declared modernism moribund.[1] As the death toll from AIDS escalated, with more and more artists mobilizing in the streets, Frankenthaler’s solitary studio practice, dedicated to abstraction and the pursuit of beauty, seemed to many solipsistic, out of step.

With a raging epidemic claiming the lives of countless individuals, any retreat to rarefied aesthetics could be construed as reactionary.[2] But beauty defies simple definitions, binary differences, and art-historical distinctions. Go back to John Ruskin’s second volume on Modern Painters, to the chapter “Of False Opinions Held Concerning Beauty,” or re-read Dave Hickey’s provocative essays on the same subject, to understand how nuanced the word is.[3] Beauty may well boil down to a state of ideational grace untainted by outside influences, a creative urge transcending fickle politics and party affiliations.

The novelist Toni Morrison, in a 1992 interview with The Paris Review, a year before she received the Nobel Prize in Literature, advocated for beauty “as an absolute necessity. I don’t think it’s a privilege or an indulgence,” she urged. “It’s not even a quest. I think it’s almost like knowledge, which is to say, it’s what we were born for. . . . I don’t think we can do without it anymore than we can do without dreams or oxygen.”[4]

What did beauty mean to Frankenthaler? “Today,” she told Voice of America correspondent Susan Logue Koster in1993, a day after her sixty-fifth birthday, “there’s a fashion in the art world where the word beauty is ostracized as being obsolete, meaningless, and that other considerations in art are far more important. Beauty is a very tricky word, and the way I use it means an order and a sense of rightness that moves you and that usually has to do with the scale, and the light, and the tradition, and everything else that goes into a painting.”

Like the myth of the Matissian armchair, Frankenthaler’s vision of beauty reflected the depths of a human condition.

Four years later she said to curator Julia Brown: “All beautiful painting has a sense of necessity and urgency, as if it were imperative that the artist make this work, that it had to be born. The painting becomes a means of expressing one’s inner gift. It is a catharsis.”[5] Beauty had many faces. Some were light, others dark. Some were raw and unhinged, others full of grace. Whatever its significance, beauty’s representation was never superficial. Like the myth of the Matissian armchair, Frankenthaler’s vision of beauty reflected the depths of a human condition. Still, her persistent use of the word, particularly during such a politically fraught period, made her (and the work) vulnerable.[6]

© 2022 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; plate 73, Untitled, 2003, pastel on paper. 18 × 23 ½ inches (45.7 × 59.7 cm)

Though at times dispirited, she courted beauty, in the studio more than anywhere else, as she rose to the occasion, time and time again, to paint. Blessed with memorable encounters, a vast art-historical image bank, and technical prowess, the artist moved in whatever direction suited her mood and imagination. Some of the most poignant late works, conceived as minimal pastel horizons (Untitled, 2003, plate 73), or as acrylic trails dissipating into silent space (Southern Exposure, 2002, plate 67), feel like veils of time fleeting. In works bearing titles like Almost Dark, Ebbing, The Other Side, and Port of Call (all 2002, plates 65, 69, 64, and 63), one senses a glimpse of finality. Looking at Driving East (2002, plate 66), it’s hard to know whether the flickering light along the horizon is ascending or descending. Is it dawn or dusk?

© 2022 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; plate 63. “Port of Call,” 2002; acrylic on paper. 60 × 74 ⅞ inches (152.4 × 190.2 cm) © 2022 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; plate 67
“Southern Exposure,” 2002; acrylic on paper. 60 ½ × 73 ⅞ inches (153.7 × 187.6 cm)

Approaching artistic lateness is inherently complicated. “Does one grow wiser with age?” Edward Said asks in On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain, his own swan song. “And are there unique qualities of perception and form that artists acquire as a result of age in the late phase of their career?” Said accepted the “notion of age and wisdom in some last works that reflect a special maturity, a new spirit of reconciliation and serenity often expressed in terms of a miraculous transfiguration of common reality.” But he also recognized another dimension of artistic lateness, “not as harmony and resolution but as intransigence, difficulty, and unresolved contradiction.”[7] Both tendencies, evident in Frankenthaler’s late works, had been there from the start.

There’s every reason to be philosophical about growing old. Simone de Beauvoir clearly understood the realism of aging as she herself crossed the midlife threshold and wrote The Coming of Age. Could it be that artistic creativity (visual, literary, musical, theatrical, filmic, choreographic) is one of the last bastions where any individual, regardless of their age, can still impact the cultural realm? “Like all human conditions,” De Beauvoir proposes in the book’s preface, “[old age] has an existential dimension—it changes the individual’s relationship with time and therefore his relationship with the world and his own history.”[8]

Frankenthaler’s own history was paced by intimate friendships, nurtured and sustained. “I suppose the older we get the more we appreciate the continuity of friendship—the fortunate gift of sharing the present with the nostalgia,” she wrote to the sculptor Anthony Caro.[9] Her closest friends had always been a sounding board for ideas and feelings, fears and conundrums. Her letters and notes to Caro, painter Grace Hartigan, author Sonya Rudikoff, and sculptor Anne Truitt, honest and heartfelt, reveal the challenges each of them faced at this point in their lives. “I think the older we get the longer it takes to rally, in many ways—and a different set of fears hangs over us,” she admitted to Rudikoff.[10] Whatever her physical and emotional challenges, and there were many during the last decade of her life, the painter remained committed to art and to the people who mattered to her. “Over time, we’re left with the best” was how she summed up her pursuit of an art unencumbered by rules. At that moment, nearing the end of her candid conversation with Brown, there was no reason to believe otherwise.


[1] Painting’s contested place in a postmodern discourse played out prominently in journals and exhibition catalogues (see Douglas Crimp, “The End of Painting,” October 16 (Spring 1981), 69–86; and Yve-Alain Bois,“ Painting: The Task of Mourning,” Endgame—Reference and Simulation in Recent Painting and Sculpture (Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art, 1986), 29–49). For a nuanced account of painting’s perennial hardships, see Katy Siegel and David Reed, High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting, 1967–1976 (New York: Independent Curators International, 2006).

[2] Such were the optics, during the culture wars, around Frankenthaler’s association with Hilton Kramer and The New Criterion, a conservative organ for writers railing against art’s multicultural incursion into politics.

[3] John Ruskin, “Of False Opinions Held Concerning Beauty,” in The Complete Works of John Ruskin in Twenty-Six Volumes, Modern Painters(Philadelphia: Reuwee, Wattley & Walsh, 1891), 253–62; and Dave Hickey, The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty (Los Angeles: Art Issues Press, 1993).

[4] Toni Morrison to Claudia Brodsky Lacour, Princeton University,1992, accessed in “Episode 13: ‘Before the Light’” podcast, October 23, 2019,

[5] Frankenthaler’s conversations with Julia Brown, in New York and Connecticut, during the spring and into the fall of 1997 appear in the publication that documents the exhibition After Mountains and Sea: Frankenthaler 1956–1959 (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1998), 27–47.

[6] Frankenthaler’s defense of beauty and quality, as criteria for determining artistic merit, had rippling consequences during her tenure(1985–1992) as the sole visual artist on the National Council on the Arts; see Michael Brenson, Visionaries and Outcasts: The NEA, Congress, and the Place of the Visual Arts in America (New York: The Free Press, 2001), 115–120.

[7] Edward W. Said, “Timeliness and Lateness,” On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain (New York: Pantheon Books, 2006), 6–7.

[8] Simone de Beauvoir, The Coming of Age, translated by Patrick O’Brian (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1972), 9. The book was published (in French in 1970) when De Beauvoir was sixty-two years old. In it she advocates for the aged in the same empathetic way she advocated for women decades earlier in The Second Sex (1949).

[9] Helen Frankenthaler letter to Anthony Caro, June 18, 2000, Helen Frankenthaler Foundation Archives, New York.

[10] Helen Frankenthaler letter to Sonya Rudikoff, September 23, 1990, Sonya Rudikoff Papers, Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library.


Excerpted from Helen Frankenthaler: Late Works, 1988-2009, with a preface by Elizabeth Smith, text by Douglas Dreishpoon and Suzanne Boorsch, and roundtable with Katharina Gross, Pepe Karmel, and Mary Weatherford. Available via Radius Books.

Lead image: Helen Frankenthaler working on Untitled (1991) in her Saddle Rock Road studio, Shippan Point, Stamford, CT, July 1991. Helen Frankenthaler Foundation Archives, New York. Photograph by Vincent Dion.

- Lynn Melnick
On Phone Sex, First Writing Jobs, and Unexpected Teachers

When I was not in the 11th grade because I had stopped going to school, I took an equivalency exam and enrolled in community college. Because I’d failed so spectacularly at high school, I hadn’t learned much after 8th grade. Even when I showed up, I was in the principal’s office a lot, or I was smoking in the girl’s room, or I was giving blow jobs in the back of the dark auditorium. So it wasn’t that I wasn’t busy; I just wasn’t learning grammar or the structure of an essay.

Community college was $5 a credit in California back then, plus the cost of books. I signed up for two classes my first semester: an intro comp class and poli sci. I went to the campus bookstore and bought two college-ruled notebooks, one in pink and one in purple. Pink was for the comp class. “Santa Monica College” was embossed on the front of each.

The Big Blue Bus down Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles was 50 cents in 1990 and after I enrolled at school, not far from the ocean, I took the bus east and more east and then transferred to another line and ended up downtown in a ramshackle office building where I held a part time job at a phone sex line.

The ad for phone sex workers had promised $9/hour, which was obscene; the minimum wage at the time was $4.25. On impulse a few weeks earlier, I had called them from a pay phone somewhere in Hollywood and a brusque man with a heavy Slavic accent gave me the office address.

The office was a big square and stunk like wet fiber because there was a leak from the roof and a perpetual damp stain on the industrial carpeting. There were about a dozen women spread around the periphery and they were their own little factory of movement. One woman was bouncing up and down in her chair panting. Another was knitting. Lisa always had her schoolbooks with her, and sometimes her kids.

No one looked up when I came in. I panicked and almost left but then John, the owner, emerged from the only separate office. He was a portly white man with a face that completely changed when he smiled. He sweat a lot, wore mostly brown suits, treated everyone at the office with a genuine respect I don’t think many of us were used to.

He took out a pen and marked up where I needed to slow down, what details would improve the story, and how to hold tension until the (literal) release at the end.

I totally flunked phone sex. I was horrible at it. I was so shy and couldn’t figure out how to coordinate each man’s desire to the things he wanted to hear to get off, and I couldn’t remember what sounded like what—how many fingers to suck to sound like a dick or how hard to clap to sound like a spank. I became so overwhelmed and embarrassed, I cried. John felt sorry for me and asked me if I could write. Yes, I nodded, though I hadn’t done much of it. I didn’t tell him I wanted to be a poet. He told me he had a job writing scripts that would be recorded for people who called in and were too shy for a live girl, or who didn’t want to pay for a live girl. He told me if I could get his dick hard with my script, I could have the job. He set me up at an empty desk near the carpet stain.

I wrote a script about a man sitting alone in a movie theater who is interrupted by a beautiful woman who miraculously wants to sit on him. I showed it to John, and he took out a pen and marked up where I needed to slow down, what details would improve the story, and how to hold tension until the (literal) release at the end. He crossed out several superfluous sentences. Callers won’t care what color the seats are, he said. The whole paper was a mess of edits, but he gave me the job anyway.

It was the first writing job I would have. John said he could pay me only $7/hour, which was still a ton of money, and it was in cash. I sat at the desk near the stinky carpet drip, in the middle of the room, far enough from everyone else and the cacophony of phony fucking sounds, and I wrote scripts: missionary sex, butt sex, group sex, lesbian sex, oral sex, rape, bondage, mind control, feet. I made up what I hadn’t experienced, or I asked the women in the office. Anitra had been a dominatrix and gave me some tips. Lisa coached me on where to place stage directions for sex sounds.

I got used to the work like any other job, and I was happy there and proud of my scripts, but I didn’t tell many people about it. It was cordoned off, another part of my life. I was trying to turn my world around.

I’d been working at the phone sex line for a few months already when I started Hari Vishwanadha’s Reading and Composition 1 class at Santa Monica College. The purpose of this intro course was to learn to outline, draft, and revise an essay. Mr. Vishwanadha seemed middle-aged but was probably under 40. He was thin, wore shirts with buttons but with the sleeves rolled up. He had a thin moustache and spoke quickly. He was stern and yet somehow also gentle.

After we got our term paper assignment—seven to pages on the subject of our choosing—I walked over to the library to find something to write about. I wish I could tell you how I landed on Civil War photography as my research essay topic, but I have no memory of the process. I had no particular interest in the Civil War or the portrait photography of lauded and long-dead men. Maybe it seemed like a real capital-T Topic. Maybe there was such an endless amount of information my research would be easier. Maybe I opened the catalog to Matthew Brady and grabbed those books before catching the bus down Pico to write phone sex scripts.

I have held many jobs and written many things since 1990. There are things I know I’ve dashed off and they’ve been beloved. There are things I’ve labored over and it showed and those I labored over and it didn’t. But I honestly don’t think I have ever worked harder on any piece of writing than I did on that paper for Reading and Composition 1. I typed and retyped. I spent hours in the library lugging big jacketless books around, clutching them to my chest and then thudding them into a cubicle to get one more fact, one more perspective. I spent hours transcribing the paper from my scribble on pink paper to a perfectly typed document. I didn’t have eraser tape; I started over every time I made a mistake.

I knew Mr. Vishwanadha’s office hours well. I’d had him approve my essay topic and outline, my first paragraph, my general vision for the paper. I turned it in at the 10-page maximum. Do you know that feeling where you just feel so high after doing a thing you love and doing it well? I felt that.

I got a B-.

I picked up the paper from the stack in Mr. Vishwanadha’s mailbox in the English office and a wave of dizziness made me reach for the wall. I signed my name at the top of his office hours sheet and sat on the linoleum in the hallway. While I waited, I edited phone sex scripts. I’d learned to make them leaner, to create tension in fewer words, to hint at the excitement around the corner without blowing the whole wad at once. John would suggest edits in the interest of perspective; he often thought the men should be treated more manly. The women in the office were sometimes bored enough to offer me their ideas, too, which were spot on due to their lived experience of taking the sex calls. “RIP HER CLOTHES OFF,” Anitra had written in all-caps on the top of one of my scripts. Most of the girls kept cloth to rip in their cubicles. Okay! I ripped her clothes off.

I channeled that girl in the hallway at Santa Monica College: a little defeated and yet sure she could do better.

Mr. Vishwanadha showed up at his office, on time as ever, and I took out my pink notebook and sat down in the chair beside his desk. He was disappointed too, he said. As a writing teacher now, I understand his empathy was genuine, but at the time I didn’t know if I could believe it. We went over edit ideas. He showed me where I had failed to back up assertions with proof. He complained that I spent too long describing the photos rather than the history and importance of the photos. He good-naturedly laughed at some very bad sentences.

Try again, he gently prodded. I will revise your grade accordingly, he said. Meanwhile, I gave serious thought to quitting school. I’d been offered a better job at the phone sex company, chatting with men who didn’t want sex talk, but were just lonely and wanted to chat. It paid $8 an hour.

I typed my final revised draft of the Civil War photography paper on the phone sex office typewriter because my own was broken. I told Lisa and Anitra that if I didn’t get an A on the paper, I would quit school and double my work hours. Lisa called me a dumbass white girl, which I was. I had no idea how many chances I’d had to rise from the seedy underbellies in which I had found myself as a teenager. No idea. I had no idea how privileged I was to have had a K-8 education that taught me enough that I could survive college while having skipped most of high school.

Mr. Vishwanadha gave me an A- on the revised paper, and an A in the class.

I stayed on at my phone sex office job for only a few more months. I didn’t mind writing the scripts, but I was running out of ideas and starting to imagine a life for myself that didn’t leave a knot in my stomach. I joined the Scholar’s Club at Santa Monica College, took a job tutoring other students in the writing center in the library on campus, and turned 17. I made $5.85 an hour, on the books, and I felt great. I used all the tricks that John and Mr. Vishwanadha had taught me about outlining and pace and supporting details and when my students became frustrated with all my pen marks on their papers I told them, this is a sign of your eventual success.

I have now spent my life thinking about writing and being a writer, and many years teaching writers. Those early lessons I got on craft—from likely and unlikely sources—have stayed with me through every essay, every editing job, every student manuscript, and through to writing my memoir. Having spent most of my writing life as a poet, I didn’t know if I could write a whole book of prose, but it was exhilarating to try, to be at the beginning again. I channeled that girl in the hallway at Santa Monica College: a little defeated and yet sure she could do better. I just kept at it until I got it right.


I've Had to Think Up a Way to Survive

I’ve Had to Think Up a Way to Survive: On Trauma, Persistence, and Dolly Parton by Lynn Melnick is available via University of Texas Press.

- Book Marks
October’s 8 Best SF and Fantasy Books

Book Marks logo

The hits just keep coming: As autumn descends with blessedly cooler temperatures and falling leaves, so too drop some excellent science fiction and fantasy books. We already sung the praises of Elijah Kinch Spector’s clever debut Kalyna the Soothsayer in August, but that’s moved to October, so be sure to add it to your TBR. Otherwise, there’s Saturnalia celebrations, Martian mathematics messages, and murder mysteries in spaaace. Plus, new works from comics legends like Alan Moore (in a short fiction collection) and Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (with the return of their beloved comic book series Saga).


Station Eternity

Station Eternity by Mur Lafferty
(Berkley Books, October 4)

This year’s SFF has had just the best hooks, with “Miss Marple on a space station” right up there. But because this is Mur Lafferty, who already won at the locked-room murder mystery with Six Wakes, she adds a snarky but necessary twist to the Marple influence: Imagine if people kept getting murdered around you, and you were something between a constant suspect and an amateur detective despite solving every single case. It would ruin any chance at a normal life with relationships and the ability to put down roots. So no surprise that Mallory Viridian turns herself into a pariah by escaping to space… but when a shuttle of humans prepares to dock at the sentient Station Eternity, Mal will have to draw upon her preternatural crime-solving ability once again.

Saga Vol. 10

Saga Volume 10 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
(Image Comics, October 5)

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ expansive space opera series about star-crossed lovers turned surprise parents left us on the most devastating cliffhanger imaginable in 2018… and then a few things happened to utterly change our world. But Saga, which has been running since 2012, was only halfway through its planned run, so we knew it was only a matter of time before Hazel and her family (blood, found/chosen, ghosts, and otherwise) returned with the next chapter in her childhood. This latest volume collects all of the issues from 2022 (including the double-sized return issue from the start of the year), as Hazel’s exploration of magic, just like her impossible existence, yet again radically changes how her parents’ two warring races see the universe.


Saturnalia by Stephanie Feldman
(Unnamed Press, October 11)

I haven’t always been one for occult secret society stories because they can be almost too removed from reality, but Stephanie Feldman’s latest seems grounded in the relatable: Philadelphia’s Saturn Club is an elite social tier full of its own pecking-order bullshit, which is why Nina walked away from it three years ago. There’s also the fact that its annual celebration of Saturnalia, or the winter solstice (which has become as entrenched in American culture as Thanksgiving) is a holiday for ignoring the looming climate change, which feels very much like something our present world would do. But when Nina gets an enticing invite to don her blackest black dress and the anonymity of a mask to plunge back into that genteel underworld, of course she can’t resist. Because when you’re most ignoring the problem is when it’s also most likely to become a world-changing issue—and I’m willing to bet that the Saturn Club doesn’t just flirt with the occult, but may be harnessing some real powers on the solstice.

Illuminations Alan Moore

Illuminations: Stories by Alan Moore
(Bloomsbury Publishing, October 11)

At this year’s U.S. Book Show, Alan Moore described the short story as “the best form for any writer to start and presumably end their career with.” Big emphasis on presumably—the comics stalwart and novelist (Jerusalem) will soon be embarking on a five-novel fantasy series called Long London. But that’s not out til 2024, and in the meantime there’s Illuminations, a collection of nine pieces spanning forty years of Moore’s illustrious career. Certainly the biggest draw for Watchmen fans will be the novella “What We Can Know About Thunderman,” which bitingly retells comics history (through thinly veiled aliases) and examines the chasm between the original medium and the cinematic attempts at adaptation. But there are also shorts like “A Hypothetical Lizard,” which was adapted into a comic in 2007 but now is present in its original prose form. As you might have guessed from the collection’s title, each entry involves some level of illumination or realization, as processed through Moore’s wild imagination.

The Immortality Thief

The Immortality Thief by Taran Hunt
(Solaris, October 11)

Though a certain fantasy series kind of cornered the market on the Philosopher’s Stone, it’s nice to be reminded that this mythical alchemical artifact has existed for centuries and that it can be used in other narrative contexts—like in Taran Hunt’s sci-fi adventure debut. This fast-paced space heist drops criminal (slash linguist slash refugee) Sean Wren into an abandoned ship on the edge of a dying star about to go supernova. Days away from being wiped out is a good ticking clock for a thief who must snatch a chance at immortality for the human Republic mounting a last stand against the ruling alien Ministers. Whether Wren’s talent for ancient languages will let him decipher the Philosopher’s Stone, while fending off the claustrophobic spaceship’s inhuman inhabitants, is another matter entirely.

Singer Distance

Singer Distance by Ethan Chatagnier
(Tin House Books, October 18)

With TV series like For All Mankind and Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut books, there’s a rising subgenre of alternate history SF wondering how Earth’s relationship to space and other planets might have changed depending on various factors: a shift in the space race, a meteorite turning up the Doomsday Clock on our little planet… or if Mars started communicating with us. Such is the case in Ethan Chatagnier’s (Warnings from the Future) debut novel, set in a version of the 1960s where Earth has been communicating with Mars since 1894 via symbols carved (or burnt, or planted) into its surface. MIT genius Crystal Singer is the latest would-be messenger who thinks she has solved the Martians’ impossible math; but when she manages to start up the conversation again, her own disappearance prompts her boyfriend Rick and their hippie friends to ponder just how much distance is actually between Crystal and her fellow Earthlings.

Into the Riverlands

Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo
(Tordotcom Publishing, October 25)

Nghi Vo’s latest installment in the Singing Hills Cycle of novellas sees wandering cleric Chih, accompanied by their talking bird companion Almost Brilliant, recording the stories of the riverlands’ martial artists. But considering these legends’ near-immortal lifespans as well as differences in perspective and memory, Chih learns that there is no single story but rather various retellings—including concerning the adventures of Chih themself. The Singing Hills Cycle can be read in any order, but this seems the perfect entry point for new readers.

The Scratch Daughters

The Scratch Daughters by H.A. Clarke
(Erewhon Books, October 25)

My favorite way to describe August Clarke’s witchy 2020 banger The Scapegracers is that it’s got The Craftvibes but for readers like me who by dint of age or generation just happened to miss The Craft. (I’m much more of a Practical Magic gal.) It also doesn’t feel like it’s trying to capture that specific moment of 1990s cinematic history, but is hip to the times without pandering to Gen Z, or any generation, for that matter. It’s sharp, it’s queer, it’s techy, it’s spiky, it’s magical: Social outcast Sidways Pike found her unlikely coven in the cool girls and the incredible spells they conjured together, but now she’s back to being on her own. As she chases down the infuriatingly hot girl who stole her specter (a.k.a. what makes her a witch), Sideways may not be able to rely on anyone but Mr. Scratch, the inky book devil she’s let possess her. But a specter-less daughter of Scratch is her own force to be reckoned with.


Natalie Zutter is a Brooklyn-based playwright and pop culture critic whose work has appeared on, NPR Books, Den of Geek, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @nataliezutter.

- Write-minded
Jeff Vandermeer on Writing Imaginative Fiction

Write-minded: Weekly Inspiration for Writers is currently in its fourth year. We are a weekly podcast for writers craving a unique blend of inspiration and real talk about the ups and downs of the writing life. Hosted by Brooke Warner of She Writes and Grant Faulkner of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), each theme-focused episode of Write-minded features an interview with a writer, author, or publishing industry professional.


As we continue on with our Craft-minded series, Write-minded is honored to have Jeff Vandermeer speaking about imagination and how to mine the depths of your imagination to make yourself a better writer. Jeff’s classic craft book, Wonderbookis written for the “imaginative fiction writer” rather than the “realistic fiction writer,” so we’re taking a dive into imagination, into creativity.

This is an episode about keeping an open mind and having fun, which is the kind of energy anyone who’s going into NaNoWriMo next month needs to cultivate. So come on the journey with us. We have your supplies all ready for you!

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


Jeff VanderMeer is a three-time World Fantasy Award winner and fourteen-time finalist. He has also won the Shirley Jackson Award and Nebula Awards, as well as been a finalist for the Hugo and Philip K. Dick Awards. His novels include the NYT bestselling Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance). He’s also the author of the class craft book, Wonderbook, which was recently reissued in 2020.

- Alyssa Quinn
Beyond Metafiction: A Reading List of Labyrinthine Realities

The story within a story. It’s a common enough trope—from The Arabian Nights to Hamlet to the postmodern canon, we’re familiar with books that nest realities inside one another. Moving from the main narrative to the nested narrative can reveal interesting echoes, parallels, and reflections, and can offer thematic insight into the book as a whole.

Such books are good fun. However, my most cherished books are often those that take this time-honored technique, then train it to do backflips. Rather than simply nesting a story within a story, these books create labyrinthine layers of narrative, in which each level of reality feeds back Möbius strip–like into the others. It becomes impossible to distinguish the “nested narrative” from the “main narrative”—these books look more like M.C. Escher paintings than Russian nesting dolls.

Aside from being aesthetic marvels, these books do something else that’s deeply important: they reside in indeterminacy. Inside their wormhole-esque tunnels, it becomes impossible to say which of the book’s layered realities is the “truest.” All levels of reality exist as equals, none collapsed into “mere” fiction or privileged as “pure” reality. And to hold different, even contradictory, realities side by side—to exist in openness, uncertainty, and paradox—is surely one of the greatest affordances that literature has to offer.

To that end, here are seven exceptional works whose narratorial layers burst the bounds of hierarchy.


Claude Simon, Triptych

Sometimes the books we love best are the ones we’re most nervous to recommend, because what if no one else loves them as fiercely as we do? Claude Simon’s Triptych is such a book for me. First published in 1973, Triptych features three storylines, which unfold not consecutively, but simultaneously. Told in exquisitely precise prose, the narrative alternates between storylines with no warning, mid-paragraph. The effect can be disorienting and demands slow and careful reading, but no book will better reward your slowness. As the intertwined narratives progress, cryptic connections form between them, eventually revealing an intricate web of narrative portals. It’s a stunning palimpsest of a book that had me flat on the floor when I finished it.

Yoko Tawada, Memoirs of a Polar Bear

Tawada’s novel follows three generations of polar bears as they navigate life in the literary world, the circus, and the zoo. As their stories unfold, autobiography becomes fiction, dreams become waking life, readers become protagonists, and first-person narrators become third-person characters. It’s an extraordinarily loopy, unruly narrative structure, and sorting out which level is “real” is much less interesting than getting lost in its whimsical maze. Fantastical and fun, Memoirs of a Polar Bear is also a moving meditation on borders, freedom, family, and love.

Lydia Davis, The End of the Story

Much of Lydia Davis’s extensive oeuvre would be at home on this list, as her short prose attends carefully to the realities of mental life—to dreams, mistakes, confusions, memories, imaginings, and irrational beliefs. Importantly, the mental landscapes of Davis’s narrators are usually wrong—reality is not as they perceive it. And yet, because of the careful attention she lavishes on these mistakes, and the minute detail with which she describes them, they take on a full-fledged reality of their own, one which cannot be dismissed as simple error. The End of the Story charts many such counterfactual realities. Furthermore, it follows a Davis-esque narrator who is attempting to write a novel, often referred to as “this novel,” which both is and is not the one we’re reading.

Renee Gladman, To After That

Described as a “true account of a fictional work,” To After That is a novella about a failed novella, called After That. A fictionalized Gladman describes her experiences writing three drafts of this novella and never being able to finish it. As she does so, she includes some scenes from the original novella, creating the sense that it both does and does not exist. “I have always been a white space writer,” the narrator tells us. In many ways, To After That is about those white spaces: about what’s missing from the text, about the perpetual presence of what’s been lost.

W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz

Haunting, surreal, and elegiac, Sebald’s novel tells the story of Jacques Austerlitz, who, as an infant, was evacuated from his native Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II and grows up knowing nothing of his true origins. Austerlitz traces his efforts to uncover the truth about his past and to reconstruct his lost identity. However, the novel is actually narrated by a different man, an acquaintance to whom Austerlitz is telling his life story. Sebald uses this extra narratorial layer to uncanny effect: many pages of Austerlitz’s narration appear unfiltered, only then to be ruptured by the dialogue tag “Austerlitz said.” At times, the narration becomes even more layered. For instance, when Austerlitz describes a story which was told to him by a woman named Vera, we get clauses as jolting as this: “And I remember, Vera told me, said Austerlitz…” The intentional clunkiness of these intrusions serves to disorient the reader, and to blur the lines between story and life, past and present.

Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star

On the surface, Lispector’s strange and slender novel might seem like a fairly straightforward metafiction: the book begins with a male narrator, Rodrigo, who declares his intention to write a story about a young woman living in Rio de Janeiro, Macabéa. As Macabéa’s story progresses, Rodrigo remains present, inserting himself and commenting on the story as he writes it. So far, so good—nothing too twisty here. But things are weirder than they seem. Rodrigo is plagued by the sense that he is unreal—he feels a lack of identity, and hopes that through writing, his sense of self might congeal. In fact, the opposite happens. He and Macabéa (who also lacks a sense of self) become interchangeable; twin voids dressed in the garb of individuals. In innovative and spectral prose, the narrative gradually reveals the hollowness that lies at the center of every self. By the end, Macabéa, Rodrigo, Lispector, and the reader all exist side by side, each of us equally unreal.

Kenneth Goldsmith, Soliloquy

During the third week of April, 1996, conceptual artist Kenneth Goldsmith hung a voice-activated recorder around his neck, capturing every single word he spoke during those seven days. The result, transcribed over the course of eight weeks that summer, is Soliloquy, a massive work of hyperrealism, now available online. Nothing demonstrates the eerie feedback loops between “text” and “reality” as vividly as Soliloquy. Here, reality is ostensibly laid bare, in raw, unfiltered form. And yet, nothing could be further from the truth. The presence of the recorder has altered reality itself, as we see in one bizarre moment when Goldsmith engages in dirty talk with his wife: “That’s on tape,” he has recorded himself saying to her. “I said that just to spice up the tape.” Such interactions disrupt any vestige of a border between reality and art and emphasize an inescapable fact: language is visceral stuff.


Habilis by Alyssa Quinn is available from Dzanc Books.

- Danika Ellis
The Bestselling Books of the Week, According to NYT, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and Amazon

Last week, I put together a combined list of the biggest bestseller lists to see where they line up and where they differ. It looks like I wasn’t the only one curious about this, so here it is again for a new week! This time, I’ve used the Amazon Charts page, both Nonfiction and Fiction lists, which update weekly. That more closely aligns to the other weekly lists, instead of using the ranking that changes every hour.

I’ve taken four of the most well-known bestseller lists — the New York Times, both Combined Print & E-Book Fiction and Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction lists; Amazon Charts, both Fiction and Nonfiction; USA Today; and Publishers Weekly — and noted the overlap between them. I’ve only included books that showed up on multiple lists. Each of these has their own criteria, but I hope that the combination gives some worthwhile information.

Like last week, Colleen Hoover continues to dominate the charts, with five separate titles on this list. Most of the other books also carry over from last week’s bestsellers, but there are a few new releases, including Nicholas Sparks’s newest novel as well as a new nonfiction book from Gabor Maté. Unfortunately, like last week, this is also not a very diverse list: the vast majority of the authors featured are white.

Books on All 4 Bestseller Lists: the cover of amland by Nicholas Sparks

Dreamland by Nicholas Sparks (NYT #1, Amazon #5, USA Today #1, Publishers Weekly #1)

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy (NYT #1, Amazon #1, USA Today #8, Publishers Weekly #6)

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover (NYT #2, Amazon #3, USA Today #2, Publishers Weekly #2)

Verity by Colleen Hoover (NYT #3, Amazon #2, USA Today #3, Publishers Weekly #3)

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (NYT #4, Amazon #4, USA Today #4, Publishers Weekly #5)

Fairy Tale by Stephen King (NYT #5, Amazon #1, USA Today #5, Publishers Weekly #4)

Books on 3 Bestseller Lists:

Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover (NYT #7, USA Today #10)

Maybe Now by Colleen Hoover (NYT #8, USA Today #9, Publishers Weekly #7)

The Divider by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser (NYT #2, Amazon #2, USA Today #6)

Books on 2 Bestseller Lists: the cover of The Myth of Normal by Gabor Maté

The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman (NYT #6, USA Today #7)

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (NYT #10, Amazon #10)

Reminders of Him by Colleen Hoover (Amazon #7, Publishers Weekly #10)

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk (NYT #4, Amazon #6)

The Myth of Normal by Gabor Maté with Daniel Maté (NYT #6, Amazon #8)

The Simply Happy Cookbook by Steve Doocy and Kathy Doocy (Amazon #7, Publishers Weekly #9)

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

- Community
Riot Roundup: The Best Comics We Read July-September 2022

Welcome, welcome to another edition of Riot Roundup! We’ve asked contributors to share the best comics, graphic novels, and manga they’ve read within the past few months. In this list, you’ll find everything from battles with mental illness to battles with literal devils, journeys of self-discovery and journeys through the cosmos.

Some of the stories are raucous and bloody with nonstop action, while others are subtle and sweet portrayals of everyday life. Whether you decide to pick up one of the standalones mentioned here or one of a series, you’ll want to move it up in priority on your TBR.

Chainsaw Man Volume 1 CoverChainsaw Man by Tatsuki Fujimoto

Denji. My poor, sweet Denji. He’s a teenager who’s forced to work for the Yakuza killing these things called devils because, even though his dad is gone, his dad’s debt still looms over him. He’s never really been loved, nor has he received an education, but once he’s betrayed by someone he works with, the little devil dog he found, Pochita, saves his life by fusing with him. Now he’s part devil, and his life is about to change.

This is such a wild ride of a manga. My mans Denji has literally the simplest dreams and his life is anything but. Plus, if you like anime, the anime adaptation of Chainsaw Man is one of this fall’s most anticipated, and if you get into the manga now, you could read it in time to watch it become beautifully animated by the same studio that did Jujutsu Kaisen and the last season of Attack on Titan.

— Erica Ezeifedi

Wash Day Diaries coverWash Day Diaries by Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith

This is basically the extended version of the award-winning mini comic Wash Day. It’s a slice-of-life comic that actually feels like a slice from my life. Seriously, the hair care routines, the different friendship dynamics, right down to the text conversations all feel like things I’ve experienced. Readers are dropped right into the lives of four Black female friends living in the Bronx — Kim, Tanisha, Davene, and Cookie. A chapter is dedicated to each woman, and uses her hair care routine to show how she relates to herself and the world. I loved the art style, which is distinct, cute, and colorful, and how each character seemed to have their own color palette. I need more slice-of-life comics showing everyday Black life!

—Erica Ezeifedi

cover of Everything is OK by Debbie TungEverything is OK by Debbie Tung

Debbie Tung knows how anxiety and depression can make every day feel like an uphill battle, and she uses this graphic memoir to illustrate how they impact her life. It’s a powerful conversation starter about mental health, as well as a book to help readers feel seen and remember that better days are ahead. The art is simple and has a huge impact. I really appreciate Tung using her own experience to destigmatize mental health issues in this beautiful, life-affirming book.

—Susie Dumond

cover of Seek You: A Journey Through American LoneSeek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke

Kristen Radtke has such a gift. Every section of this compelling graphic essay collection — about laugh tracks in sitcoms, Harry Harlow and his isolated monkeys, the typical “loner” descriptor of mass shooters — is gentle and nuanced. Seek You stands as a reminder that humans are a social species, and without human connections, we will crumble.

—Ashley Holstrom

Mister Miracle: The Great Escape coverMister Miracle: The Great Escape by Varian Johnson, Daniel Isles

“What if the hellscape that is the dystopian planet of Apokalips was also a high school, with bullies and cliques…and MURDER?” sounds like a ridiculous idea that should never, ever work, but somehow Johnson and Isles pull it off. This take on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World is brilliant and charming, with an utterly lovable teen Scott Free (Mister Miracle) at its heart. Whether you’re a diehard New Gods fan or have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, you should pick it up. Bonus: Scott Free and Big Barda are one of my all-time favorite DC couples, and this might be the swooniest take on their relationship I’ve seen yet.

—Jess Plummer

The Low Low Woods book coverThe Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado, illustrated by Dani

El and Vee are two queer girls who grew up in a small mining town in Pennsylvania called Shudder-to-Think. All their lives they’ve heard stories of the town’s oddities, from its constant burning to its women, who, once they come of age, begin waking up in odd places missing their memories. One day El and Vee wake up in a movie theater and know something is wrong. In getting to the bottom of what is happening in the decaying town, they come up against monstrous men with no skin, deer women, and festering sink holes where wombs should be. Yeah, it’s a lot, but the monster stuff might not actually be what sticks with you.

I find myself still thinking about the ending of this story — what caused the monsters and the burning — and it is really disturbing. Most of all because I think it’s not too far from reality.

— Erica Ezeifedi

Book cover of Flamer by Mike CuratoFlamer by Mike Curato

Aiden Navarro is at summer camp before the start of junior high. It’s an intense summer of hanging out with his friends, navigating bullies desperate to make him feel bad about himself as a half Asian boy, and coming to terms with the fact he might be gay.

One night, when Aiden kisses his best friend and campmate, things shift immediately. Has he forever lost the trust of his friend Elias? Did that kiss mean anything romantic? Was it an accident?

This is a moving, heartfelt story and one that will resonate with younger (and older!) teens. It’s about traversing that tricky space between what faith might tell you is right, what it might tell you is a sin, and how you come to accept yourself as you are.

—Kelly Jensen

cover of Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey  by Akiko HigashimuraBlank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey by Akiko Higashimura

I love reading about the writing process from writers, but I’ve never read about it from a mangaka (or manga artist). This is about Akiko Higashimura, author of Princess Jellyfish, and her high school years as she starts trying to make her way as a manga artist. She has hopes of becoming super famous while she’s still young, and like many people at that age, she thinks she has everything figured out. Once she realizes she’ll need to get better at drawing before this happens, she decides to attend the art classes her friend tells her about. Thing is, they’re way far out in a quiet town by the ocean, and they’re run by a man who Akiko thinks is a little too harsh. This is a more subtle slice-of-life kind of story, and I love how honest Higashimura is about her skill level in the beginning. It has both funny (her sensei is beyond extra) and inspiring moments. I bought the other volumes and am excited to read the rest.

—Erica Ezeifedi

Bingo Love coverBingo Love by Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, and Joy San

As a fan of historical stuff and queer stuff, I was delighted to discover Bingo Love! Such a sad yet ultimately sweet story. It follows two Black girls who fall in love during the inhospitable ‘60s. Though separated by their families, they end up finding their way back to each other on a long, difficult, rewarding journey toward true love.

—Eileen Gonzalez

cover of The Bone Orchard Mythos: The Passageway by Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino, and Dave Stewart The Bone Orchard Mythos: The Passageway by Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino, and Dave Stewart

Free Comic Book Day 2022 brought with it the first glimpse of the Bone Orchard Mythos, a line of standalone horror comics and limited comic series by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino that would exist within the same universe. In reading about the horror stories that were about to unfold over the next few years, my dark, morbid little heart grew (at least) three sizes. The Passageway released this past summer, and is about a geologist who is sent to a remote lighthouse to check out an odd phenomenon: a deep pit that has appeared out of nowhere. Where does it come from, and does the lighthouse keeper know more than she’s revealing? The creep factor here was pitch perfect, and I can’t wait for the next book in this horrific universe.

—Steph Auteri

cover of Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League - Superman #1 by Tom King, Brandon Thomas, Fico Ossio, and Chris BurnhamDark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League – Superman #1 by Tom King, Brandon Thomas, Fico Ossio, and Chris Burnham

In what amounts to an Elseworlds story (it’s more complicated than that, but let’s avoid spoilers), an aging Clark and Lois are raising Jon Kent in the very house Clark grew up in. The tale spans Jon’s teenage years, with Jon hearing the screams of people across the universe and butting heads with Clark on how to deal with them. The story is beautiful, touching, and tragic. It really hits on the Messiah Complex of being Superman from two different perspectives, which is so fresh and wonderful.

—Chris M. Arnone

Starstruck coverStarstruck by Elaine Lee, Michael William Kaluta, and Lee Moyer

Starstruck is a delightful space opera that enchants the reader from the very first panel. This graphic novel follows some of the most colorful characters in the entire galaxy, and brings the reader along to the most mind-boggling locations there are. With a plot so intricate it defies synopsis, and scenarios so absurd they actually make sense, this comic is for any reader who loves to do close reading and be taken on a journey. Not to mention the artwork is absolutely breathtaking. I’m so glad I found this book because it’s already a book I keep coming back to to just to look at, and to reread.

—Mara Franzen

cover of Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd & Michelle Mee Nutter Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd & Michelle Mee Nutter

I adored this sweet middle grade graphic novel about pet allergies, a problem I also have. Ten-year-old Maggie loves animals and dreams of one day becoming a vet. She’s been begging her parents for a dog for years, and they’ve finally capitulated. She and her twin brother pick the perfect puppy at the humane society. However, Maggie immediately begins having allergy problems that culminate in a severe allergic reaction. An allergist confirms her worst fears: not only is she severely allergic to dogs, but she’s also allergic to all furred animals. Maggie tries out many other pets, but none are the same. Meanwhile, she has trouble making friends at her new school and her mom is pregnant, but when she befriends a new neighbor, they hatch a plot to find Maggie a pet. I also love animals, have pet allergies, and receive allergy shots, so I really appreciated seeing this representation on the page. And it’s such a good story!

—Margaret Kingsbury

- Community
Riot Roundup: The Best Books We Read July-September 2022

Hey, did you know the writers here at Book Riot collectively read a lot of books? It’s true! And while we try to jam as many recommendations as we can into posts, newsletters, and podcasts, and messenger pigeon missives, sometimes we want to just tell you what we’ve read and loved lately without having to fit it into a theme.

That’s where our Riot Roundups come in! Our contributors are each sharing their favorite book they read in the least quarter. It wasn’t necessarily necessarily published then: some of these are backlist and some haven’t even come out yet. They represent a range of genres and age categories, so there’s something for everyone! Let’s jump in!

Book cover of Babel by R. F. KuangBabel by R.F. Kuang

In this alternate history fantasy novel, Robin Swift was born in China under unusual circumstances. When his mother dies, he’s taken away to England to learn translation and silverworking. Silver, in this world, is imbued with magic, powered by translation, and is the cornerstone of the British Empire. But not everyone loves the empire, and there are forces working to pull it down. Those forces need Robin’s help. Magic, Oxford, and word nerdiness make this an incredible novel.

—Chris M. Arnone

cover of Big Swiss by Jen BeaginBig Swiss by Jen Beagin (Scribner, February 7, 2023)

Do you love darkly humorous novels with messy protagonists making questionable decisions? Then this is the book for you! Ever since it was announced many months ago that the adaptation of Big Swiss was going to be Killing Eve star Jodie Comer’s next television show, Comer’s fans have been trying to get their hands on this book. Seriously, I know booksellers who have been offered money for their galleys. (Which they declined.) It’s wild. It’s now readily available to book reviewers, and I have to say, I don’t think I have read a book as fast as I read this one. It’s set in Hudson, New York, and follows a restless middle-aged woman named Greta, who works as a transcriber for a sex therapist. Greta knows a lot of secrets about many people she sees every day in her town, since she spends her days listening to the recordings and typing them down. But it’s not until she starts transcribing the sessions of “Big Swiss” that she crosses boundaries in a big way. Big Swiss, a nickname given to a particular married patient by Greta, is the most fascinating person Greta has ever “met.” And when a chance encounter leads them to actually meeting IRL at the dog park, Greta lies about her identity, and the two begin an affair. How far will Greta go before she confesses the truth? This is a screamingly funny and also heartbreaking book about trauma, love, violence, and sex. It’s really funny, really filthy, slightly disturbing, and so refreshingly weird and honest. I can’t wait to hear what other people think about it!

—Liberty Hardy

cover of The Book of Secrets by Alex DunneThe Book of Secrets by Alex Dunne

When fairies return to a small Irish village, they bring with them something else, something sinister. Now, a group of friends must work together to stop their home from being destroyed. This is a fantastic middle grade novel brimming with Irish folklore!

—Lucas Maxwell

cover of A Caribbean Heiress in Paris by Adriana HerreraA Caribbean Heiress in Paris by Adriana Herrera

This historical romance is set against the backdrop of 1889 Paris. Luz Alana is a rum heiress and distiller who is looking to expand her family’s business into the European market. She knew it would be hard, but most people still  aren’t willing to do business with a woman, let alone a woman of color. After an initially frosty meeting, whisky manufacturer Evan Sinclair, Earl of Darnick, finds himself drawn to Luz and agrees to help her out. And when both Evan and Luz find themselves in legal situations where they each need to get married in order to fully control their inheritances, a delightful marriage of convenience romance ensues!

—Alison Doherty

The Dead Romantics Book CoverThe Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston

Florence is already having a really bad week when her beloved dad dies suddenly: she’s the ghostwriter for a famous romance author and her book is very late; not only that, but she saw her shitty ex who’s the reason she no longer believes in love and promptly made out with her new editor in an alley. Which is when she got the call from her mom. She travels home to her family’s small town funeral parlor, where, oh yeah, she and her dad were both able to communicate with ghosts, and sees the last ghost she expected: her editor. The one she just made out with. He was hit by a car, and she has to figure out how to help him move on, while also carrying out her father’s complex funeral wishes. Unfortunately, she really likes spending time with him. This novel deftly balances grief, heartbreak, writer’s block, and falling in love, somehow making it seem like a ghost romance could have a happy ending. (Spoiler: it does.)

—Annika Barranti Klein

Cover of Iveliz Explains It All by ArangoIveliz Explains It All by Andrea Beatriz Arango

This middle grade verse novel by Puerto Rican author Andrea Beatriz Arango is a gorgeous, nuanced portrayal of mental health and trauma. Iveliz hopes everything will be better for her first year in middle school. Her father died in her last year in elementary school, and now she has PTSD. Only one friend has stood by her side through the last year of grief, though he is a jewel of a friend. When her grandmother with Alzheimer’s comes to live with her and her mother from Puerto Rico, Iveliz is thrilled. She loves her grandmother so much. However, her grandmother fails to understand why Iveliz takes medication and mocks her. Meanwhile, Iveliz’s mental health is spiraling, and she keeps losing parts of her day, especially when she gets angry — and she gets angry a lot. I listened to this beautiful book on audio, and Alyssa Bermudez’s narration was lovely. However, the print version also has illustrations, so I’m hoping to get my hands on a copy of the illustrated version too!

—Margaret Kingsbury

cover of Just Like Magic by Sarah HogleJust Like Magic by Sarah Hogle (October 4, Putnam)

This romantic comedy really leans in to the humor and chaos of its premise. I loved it so much. It was the perfect comfort read: emotionally healing and so much fun.

When struggling celebrity Bettie Hughes accidentally plays a vinyl of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” backwards, she summons Hall — a humanized spirit of the holidays. The more Bettie and Hall spend time together, the happier she becomes — and the more she falls in love with him. But if Bettie becomes happy enough, Hall’s mission will be fulfilled and he will have to return to the realm of holiday spirits.

—CJ Connor

the cover of The Memory PoliceThe Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa and translated by Stephen Snyder

While I normally don’t think of dystopia as soft and gentle, that description somehow fits this novel set on an unnamed island. The narrator interweaves episodes of collective forgetting with mundane events as she navigates a world that is surreal on multiple levels. While there are many ominous moments, reading this feels like walking in a peaceful landscape. Everything is somehow present and held at a distance at the same time. Despite this inherent distance, the story feels so contemporary that I was shocked to find it was published in 1994 (yes, I know that wasn’t that long ago, but still) and only translated to English in 2019. My immense thanks to Yoko Ogawa for her imaginative work and to Stephen Snyder for bringing Ogawa’s thought-provoking novel to English readers around the world. Content warnings: rape, confinement.

—Summer Loomis

cover of A Merry Little Meet Cute cover by Julie Murphy and Sierra SimoneA Merry Little Meet Cute by Julie Murphy and Sierra Simone

An adult film actress is surreptitiously cast in a holiday romance movie alongside an ex-bad-boy boyband member relaunching his career as a family-friendly celeb. Ingenue Bee Hobbes has a successful career as Bianca von Honey, a fat adult film star. Her favorite producer, Teddy, is diversifying his income with holiday movies, but to do so, he needs to keep his adult film company a secret, even with some of his old colleagues on set. Just one problem: Bee has always had a major crush on Noah Shaw, her new co-star, and he is a loyal fan of her ClosedDoors account. Falling in love with a time-traveling duke on screen is hard enough, but now, Bee and Noah also have to pretend their relationship is not warming up behind mostly closed doors. I highly recommend this Christmas romcom with unique intimacy, hilarious banter, and a bisexual couple who is absolutely too cute for this world.

—R. Nassor

cover of Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng; image of a bird's feather slowly disintegrating into several little birdsOur Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng (October 4, Penguin Random House)

Twelve-year-old Bird has limited memories of his mother, a Chinese American poet who went missing three years ago. But he’s not the only person wondering what happened to a loved one after a law was passed encouraging Americans to report their neighbors for “unpatriotic ideals,” particularly people of Asian descent. When Bird receives a curious drawing he believes is from his mother, he goes on a dangerous journey to find her. I was completely drawn into this stunning book from page one and never wanted it to end. It’s quite different from Celeste Ng’s other books, more dystopian and frightening, especially considering how closely her story tracks with the real-time dissolution of our democracy and humanitarian crises. But it’s masterfully crafted, perfectly weaving together political turmoil, magical folk tales, and complicated family dynamics. The last few chapters are some of the best writing I’ve read in a decade.

—Susie Dumond

cover of Partners in Crime by Alisha RaiPartners in Crime by Alisha Rai (October 18, Avon Books)

I. Love. A heist. Make it a heist that is also a second chance and forced proximity romance, and there’s no way I couldn’t love this book. Not to mention it’s written by the amazing Alisha Rai. Mira and Naveen were set up by an Indian matchmaker a few years ago, but one of them chickened out. When Mira walks into Naveen’s small family practice after her estranged aunt died, it’s obvious the attraction between them wasn’t the problem. Mira’s past was always hazy to Naveen, and when the two end up kidnapped together because of her late father’s shady dealings, he starts to understand why she was hesitant to open up. Let the adventure begin! Over the course of each task they must complete, the two learn more about each other and start to question if they could possibly try again. If they make it out of this alive, that is. Add this book to your preorder list now because as soon as it arrives, you won’t be able to put it down.

—Nikki DeMarco

Cover of The Three-Body Problem by Cixin LiuThe Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu and translated by Ken Liu

This has been a pillar of the science fiction genre for a while, so I was delighted to finally carve out time to read it! And oh my gosh am I so glad I did. This book starts during the height of the Chinese cultural revolution and doesn’t stop pulling punches. When signals from an alien planet reach Earth, a terrible choice is made, one that will shape humankind for centuries to come. Earth must prepare for the worst: full scale invasion and takeover. It’s up to a team of scientists to figure out what’s happening, and hopefully give humanity a fighting chance. This book absolutely swept me off my feet; the writing, setting, and characters were all fantastic, and the pacing of the story was so fast I finished the book in one weekend. I am looking forward to when I have time again so I can devour the sequel.

—Mara Franzen

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow book coverTomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Book Twitter is the best. I keep getting these incredible recommendations and this one made my heart explode. Two childhood friends, Sam and Sadie, rekindle their friendship in a chance meeting in a Boston subway and eventually decide to make a computer game. Thus begins their immense partnership to make genre-defying games alongside Sam’s roommate, Max. It follows 30 years of the trio’s partnership to change the world of gaming as they know it. I’m not a big gaming person, but I was drawn to Sam, Sadie, and Max as they worked to find themselves and each other. While it is a love letter to what computer games can do, it’s also a story about love. But as the official blurb best says, “Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.”

—Elisa Shoenberger

Undercover Latina coverUndercover Latina by Aya de León (Candlewick Press, October 4)

I wish this book had existed when I was a kid. I’m glad that I got to read it as an adult. I hate that it will be banned in a bunch of states’ schools.

Imagine finding out one day your parents are spies working for a world organization. Now imagine that at 14, you’re given your first assignment, because this is the Hail Mary and you’re the only person in the organization who fits the age range and can pass as white. That’s Andréa Hernández-Baldoquín’s life right now. She’s moved to California with her mom to go undercover at a high school in order to befriend the estranged son of a white nationalist. But stripping her identity, even for a good cause, comes with a lot of questions and soul searching for Andréa, who immediately has to drop the accent from her name, keep her mouth shut about xenophobic comments, and shelve her Spanish. Cue crush on target’s Latino roommate…

You get so much from this book, including action, friendship, a first crush, a tight family unit, spies, and fandom. Bonus: Victoria Villarreal does a great narration on the audiobook!

—Jamie Canavés

cover of Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World's Most Notorious Diaries by Rick EmersonUnmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World’s Most Notorious Diaries by Rick Emerson

As a former angsty youth who adored Go Ask Alice and everything else Beatrice Sparks published as various “anonymous” teenagers, I knew Rick Emerson’s Unmask Alice would be my jam, but I had no idea how deep and winding the rabbit hole went. Sparks desperately wanted to be a writer, but struggled to make that happen — and when it did, her name wasn’t anywhere to be found. She was fueled by satanic panic and homophobia, and the books served as cautionary tales about drug use, sex, cults, eating disorders, teen pregnancy, and the foster care system, among other things. Emerson dives deep into the stories surrounding the creation of the two most controversial of the books, Alice and Jay’s Journal, as well as the cultural landscape when they were published. Unmask Alice reads like a thriller, forever chasing down this elusive woman who shaped the foundation of young adult literature.

—Ashley Holstrom

cover of The Undying by Anne BoyerThe Undying by Anne Boyer

This Pulitzer Prize–winning memoir is all about Boyer’s journey with breast cancer as a single mother and woman who refuses the classic, imposed narrative of what it means to be a “survivor.” She breaks down the toxicity of pink ribbons, rages at the inadequacies of our medical system, its bias, and its lack of a plan for care, and talks vividly and honestly about the feelings of hopelessness, exhaustion, pain, alienation, and suffering that come from being ill in a capitalist, data-focused, and individualistic society. It’s a poetic and rich book that had me hooked on every chapter. It’s both a cry of rage and a sigh of pain. A must-read.

—Leah Rachel von Essen

When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill coverWhen Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill

I loved the hell out of this book. The story Barnhill weaves is about a world in which women, constrained into submissiveness, sometimes spontaneously transform into dragons. Because this transformation is tied to women’s bodies, it is considered a taboo topic. (I mean, obviously.) Caught in between a mother who refuses to acknowledge the existence of dragons and an aunt who transformed into one, our young narrator struggles to find her way in a world that doesn’t seem invested in her or in her dreams.

—Steph Auteri

- Margaret Kingsbury
12 Must-Read October Children’s Book Releases

I used to be a summer girl, but now my favorite season is fall, and October is my favorite month of the year. After a September full of school viruses, I am ready to get outside and visit some pumpkin farms and jump in some leaf piles. My 4-year-old spent all year telling me she wanted to be Peter Rabbit for Halloween, and I was quite excited to dress up as Mr. McGregor and visit our community garden for a photo shoot. Sadly, she has now changed her mind and insists on being a black cat, which she was a few years ago. This isn’t wholly unexpected; she has always been obsessed with cats, especially black cats (#FutureWitch). But I was really looking forward to being Mr. McGregor! Now I need to think of a whole new literary reference. I’m considering going as the dragon from Kitty and Dragon by Meika Hashimoto, but that seems a bit complicated and possibly uncomfortable. We shall see. If you follow Book Riot’s newsletter, The Kids Are All Right, I’m sure I will post updates. The last time she was a black cat, I went as a witch, and I still have my witch costume (of course). So I might be a witch again.

Anyway, my must-read picks for October children’s book releases include several by Latine authors for Latine Heritage Month — which ends October 15th, but of course these books can be read all year long — some really silly picture books that get big belly laughs from both my kid and me, and so much more. It’s a great month full of excellent children’s book releases. There are even three picture books with cats (two black, one white), so my introduction isn’t totally irrelevant.

October Children’s Book Releases: Picture Books Cover of This Story is Not about a Kitten by de SeveThis Story is Not About a Kitten by Randall de Sève & Carson Ellis (October 4; Random House Studio)

This super adorable picture book based on a true story claims it isn’t about a kitten, but it seems to be pretty much about a kitten, specifically, how an abandoned kitten under a car brings a community together. A little girl, her mom, and their dog discover a kitten under a car but are having trouble coaxing it out when neighbors step in to help. One by one, each neighbor offers their help until the kitten is finally inside its new home, receiving lots of love, and the neighbors gather together to celebrate. So okay, it’s also a picture book about community. The repetitive, lyrical prose where each line is repeated makes this a really great read-aloud, and Carson Ellis’s illustrations are as fantastic as they always are. We just received a copy of this in the mail and I’m anticipating it will become a favorite.

Cover of The Moonlight Zoo by Powell-TuckThe Moonlight Zoo by Maudie Powell-Tuck & Karl James Mountford (October 4; Tiger Tales)

Like their previous picture book together, Last Stop on the Reindeer Express, The Midnight Zoo features peek-through pages and lift-the-flaps among beautiful, ornate illustrations. Luna’s cat has been missing for two days, and she’s so worried. Hearing animal noises under her bed at night, she crawls under the bed and discovers a magical zoo for lost pets and animals. Transported to the zoo, Luna searches for her beloved pet and finds many wondrous things along the way. Though it’s never mentioned in the story, Luna wears a hearing aid. I love seeing disability representation in stories like these.

Cover of Witch Hazel by IdleWitch Hazel by Molly Idle (October 11; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

When I requested this picture book, I was not expecting to cry while reading it, but I’ve read it three times now and cried every time. So be warned. The child Hilda loves helping the witch Hazel around the house, and in return, hearing Hazel’s stories from long ago and watching the stories play out in magical dust. As the seasons pass, Hilda watches and listens to more and more of Hazel’s stories until one day, Hazel is no longer there, and Hilda sweeps the house only in the company of Hazel’s cat. But the magical dust still remembers Hazel and knows precisely what Hilda needs. Everything about this picture book is magical, from the sweet, lyrical prose to the sepia-toned illustrations.

Cover of Still Dreaming by MartinezStill Dreaming / Seguimos Soñando by Claudia Guadalupe Martínez & Magdalena Mora, Translated by Luis Humberto Crosthwaite (October 11; Lee & Low Books)

This bilingual picture book explores the 1930s Mexican Repatriation, when, amidst the Great Depression, the U.S. government forced U.S. citizens of Mexican descent into Mexico, even though many had lived on their land for many generations. The text itself never mentions the history, instead centering on a boy’s story about his sadness at leaving his home and how his family comes together to support one another during this time. The author’s end note explains more about the Mexican Repatriation movement. While it takes place in a specific moment in U.S. history, it’s also a universal story and feels very modern. Mora’s vibrantly colored, smudged illustrations are beautiful.

Cover of Tiny Spoon vs. Little Fork by LombardoTiny Spoon vs. Little Fork by Constance Lombardo, Dan Abdo, & Jason Patterson (October 18; Hippo Park)

This extremely silly picture book will get big belly laughs from young readers. Tiny Spoon and Little Fork both think they’re Baby’s favorite eating utensil. They both come from a long line of spoons and forks excellent at their jobs, and they both have photographic evidence of Baby enjoying some yum yums with their aid. When it’s time to eat, however, Baby throws both Tiny Spoon and Little Fork, sending them on a wild ride into the floor alongside Baby’s bunny lovey. Will Spoon and Fork find a way to cooperate instead of compete so they can return to Baby? This one is genuinely hilarious and so much fun to read aloud.

Cover of The Talk by WilliamsThe Talk by Alicia D. Williams & Briana Mukodiri Uchendu (October 18; Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)

The Talk is a beautifully written and heartfelt picture book about possibly one of the hardest conversations Black and Brown caregivers have with their children. Jay loves to race around the neighborhood with his friends and pretend he’s a wolf in his hoodie. His mother measures him in a doorway, but as Jay grows taller, his family begins to worry. His Grandma mentions people may see him as threatening now, and his dad explains how to act when police confront him. But Jay is still a kid and wants to act like a kid. How is it fair that he has to behave differently just because of the color of his skin? With lovely, warm illustrations and gentle prose, this picture book provides lots of room for caregivers to have tough but essential conversations with their kids. This picture book can also be a meaningful tool for white families to discuss the impacts of racism with their children.

Cover of Digestion: The Musical by RexDigestion! The Musical by Adam Rex & Laura Park (October 25; Chronicle Books)

Get your singing voice ready for this wildly inventive picture book about how digestion works, presented as a musical. It’s Lil’ Candy’s big chance to do something great, but the human body doesn’t want to eat Lil’ Candy. Lil’ Candy has nothing to offer the teeth, lungs, liver, etc. However, the tongue wants to give Lil’ Candy a chance, and in the stomach, Lil’ Candy makes a friend — Gum. With the help of four baby carrots, Gum, and a red blood cell, Lil’ Candy learns all about human digestion, and it turns out Lil’ Candy has a secret that will change how the rest of the body thinks of it. This book is hilarious, adorably illustrated, and very informative. I’m a big musical fan, so I love making up tunes and belting out the book. However, this has backfired, and my daughter will now only read the book with me, ha!

October Children’s Book Releases: Middle Grade Cover of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Inspiring Young ChangemakersGood Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Inspiring Young Changemakers Edited by Jess Harriton & Maithy Vu (October 4; Rebel Girls)

The fifth book in the Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls series features mini-biographies of young women who are changing the world for the better. From Gitanjali Rao, who helped invent water sensors to detect pollution, to Brazilian skateboarder Rayssa Leal, these biographers center girls from around the world pursuing numerous, varied goals. Each biography is accompanied by a gorgeous portrait illustrated by more than 60 young women and nonbinary artists worldwide. This entire series is worth collecting, and I love this latest addition.

Cover of A Rover's Story by WargaA Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga (October 4; Balzer + Bray)

This innovative and lovely middle grade is told from the perspective of Resilience (Res), a fictional Mars rover. NASA scientists Rania and Xander built Res to help find a lost rover on Mars and to test for signs of water and life there. During his testing period, Res begins to develop emotions alongside the more logical skills he needs to navigate Mars. Once on Mars, he befriends his drone, Fly, and seeks to prove himself worthy of one day returning to Earth. Meanwhile, Rania’s daughter Sophie becomes interested in the rover and writes him letters. She continues to write him letters for the many years Res is on Mars, relating her mother’s illness and school struggles. This is a heartwarming, emotional read for space lovers of all ages.

Undercover Latina coverUndercover Latina by Aya de León (October 11; Candlewick)

I had so much fun listening to this contemporary middle grade spy novel on audio, narrated by Victoria Villarreal. Like her parents, 14-year-old Andréa Hernández-Baldoquín works as a spy for the Factory, an organization of non-white spies whose mission is to help protect people of color from terrorism and other major crimes. Andréa’s first lead mission is to pose as a white student to get close to the estranged son of a white supremacist and terrorist, Kyle, to uncover his father’s whereabouts. She soon realizes that the best way to befriend Kyle is to learn to play a card game and read the comic book series it’s based on. However, while learning about the game and befriending Kyle, she begins to have romantic feelings for Kyle’s best friend and roommate, Rámon. There’s lots of good stuff in here: excellent, nuanced discussions about race and being a light-skinned Latina, action-packed spy scenes, a look inside gaming and cosplay communities, and I love that the main character is 14, an underrepresented age in middle grade.

Cover of Dad's Girlfriend and Other Anxieties by CrockerDad’s Girlfriend and Other Anxieties by Kellye Crocker (October 18; Albert Whitman & Company)

Ava has recently been diagnosed with anxiety and is seeing a therapist for coping mechanisms. She especially struggles with surprises, and when her father informs her that they will be spending two weeks in Colorado to meet his girlfriend and her daughter at the last minute, Ava’s anxiety spikes. She doesn’t want to add people to their life, no matter how nice they are, and she definitely doesn’t want to go to Colorado, especially after reading about how dangerous it is online. She actually does find she likes her father’s girlfriend and her daughter Z; however, that doesn’t mean she’s prepared to upend her entire life to include them in it. This middle grade is a super fun, compulsive read, and the anxiety portrayal is so well done. There are even sections of Ava’s journal included where she lists some of the coping strategies she’s learned.

Frizzy Book CoverFrizzy by Claribel A. Ortega & Rose Bousamra (October 18; First Second)

Dominican middle schooler Marlene is tired of going to the hair salon to get her curly hair straightened or braided. She loves hanging out with her friends and playing — she does not love her mother’s constant criticism about how playing ruins her hair and how her hair must be “presentable” at all times. Marlene’s Tía Ruby keeps her hair natural, and Marlene has decided she wants to do the same. But how does she let her mom know without disappointing her? With beautiful, soft illustrations and a very lovable main character, this middle grade graphic novel is an empowering ode to Black and Brown hair and self-love.

If you’re looking for more new releases beyond this list of October children’s book releases, check out my lists for July, August, and September.

- Annika Barranti Klein
The Best Books Like BOOK LOVERS

Emily Henry’s third adult romance, Book Lovers, is a book that I never tire of reading. But one of the ways that I ensure I won’t eventually get tired of revisiting Nora and Charlie is by reading other romances, and I’m finding that I especially love books that touch on some of the same themes as Book Lovers. It’s an enemies to lovers story, with themes of family and grief playing a huge role in the plot (some might say even larger than the romance itself), and various tropes are twisted, played with, laid out, and trampled.

I have taken all of the things I love about Book Lovers and sought out a small collection of books that compare favorably in each manner, beginning with one that I think is a fairly perfect comp all around!

The Dead Romantics Book CoverThe Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston

The book industry? Check! Enemies to lovers? Check! City people in a small Southern town? Check! Grief over the death of a parent? Check! Complicated familial relationships? Check! Two people absolutely longing for each other? Oh my goodness, this book has everything. It’s even written in first person from a single point of view.

Almost no one knows Florence is the ghost writer for beloved romance novelist Ann Nichols. And absolutely no one knows she has terrible writers block because she no longer believes in love after her ex behaved terribly. When her father dies, she finds herself in the small South Carolina town where she grew up, and…did I mention that she can see ghosts? Because the weirdest thing happens: the ghost of her brand new editor, infuriatingly handsome Ben, shows up after he is hit by a car back in New York. So now Florence has to follow her father’s funeral wishes, finish her overdue novel, and deal with the fact that she’s falling in love with a ghost.

If You Love the Book Industry Setting: Cover of Meet Me In The MarginsMeet Me in the Margins by Melissa Ferguson

Savannah is an editor at a publisher in the south, working on high brow fiction under a CEO who hates romance, which Savvy dreams of writing. When the boss brings in her son William as an executive, and Savvy drops her manuscript in a company meeting, she is devastated when William picks up a page, and looks for a hiding spot to work on her edits. She leaves it in the secret ARC room, and is shocked when someone starts leaving handwritten editorial notes in the margins. She starts to answer, and as she gets to know William in person, she starts to fall for the anonymous editor.

The Neighbor Favor by Kristina Forest coverThe Neighbor Favor by Kristina Forest (February 28, 2023)

Wannabe book editor Lily used to have a correspondence with her favorite fantasy novelist, and it seems like they’re heading for something more than friendship when he ghosts her. Months later, she asks her new neighbor Nick to help her find a date for her sister’s wedding…not realizing he’s the very author. He recognizes her, though, and has to decide whether to tell her who he really is.

If You Love the Banter cover of The Wedding Party by jasmine GuilloryThe Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory

Maddie and Theo have three things in common: their close friend Alexa, the fact that they hate each other, and, oh yeah, the fact that they hooked up once. Forced to work together as Alexa plans her wedding, they agree to a no-strings arrangement just until the wedding. But oops! They develop feelings. This really is the perfect enemies-to-lovers (or…enemies-and-lovers?) for anyone who loves the way Nora and Charlie constantly trade barbs while also wanting each other.

take a hint dani brown coverTake a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

This is the perfect fake dating romance, and while all three Brown Sisters books feature razor sharp dialogue, Dani is the heroine most like Nora in Book Lovers in the way she knows what she wants and sets about getting it — but this time, in an academic setting.

If You Want a Swoonworthy Love Interest Like Charlie Book cover of For Her Consideration by Amy SpaldingFor Her Consideration by Amy Spalding (February 21, 2023)

Nora Rice is a ghostwriter, but not of novels or screenplays. She ghostwrites celebrities’ emails, including up and comer Ari Fox, who she maybe has a little crush on. But Nina doesn’t date anymore after a devastating breakup with her ex-girlfriend. She doesn’t even see her old friends.

Then Ari wants to meet to discuss an email Nina sent as her, and after their initial meeting, she wants to meet again…and again. Ari is truly one of the hottest fictional women I’ve ever read. The scene when she and Nina first kiss is…well, I won’t spoil it, but it’s amazing.

(Disclosure: Amy is a friend of mine!)

If You Really Need Enemies to Lovers The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon CoverThe Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Public radio producer Shay already resents her new coworker, Dominic, when he is pulled on air — something she’s dreamed of for 10 years. Then Shay has the chance to pitch her own show, and suddenly finds herself co-hosting with Dominic. No problem, except the premise of the show is dating advice from exes, so they have to pretend they used to date. Obviously they start secretly dating for real.

If You What You Really Want is a Book Like People We Meet on Vacation funny you should ask by elissa sussman coverFunny You Should Ask by Elissa Sussman

This book industry–adjacent novel moves back and forth between 10 years ago, when 26-year-old writer Chani is hired to write a celebrity profile of actor Gabe, who is set to play the first American James Bond, and now, when 36-year-old Chani, who has spent 10 years fending off questions about what really happened during the weekend she spent with him, is asked to interview him again.

Interspersed with sections of the profile she wrote and assorted other media about Gabe (and Chani!), this book is absolutely swoonworthy and beautifully written, and genuinely convinced me that this unlikely pairing would have spent 10 years pining for each other.

For even more romance recommendations, check out these reads like Beach Read, or try Tailored Book Recommendations for a personalized set of recommendations based on your exact taste.

- Susie Dumond
October 2022 Horoscopes and Book Recommendations

Reading the Stars by Book Riot will help you better understand how your zodiac sign shapes your reading life. Publishers Weekly calls Reading the Stars "an ideal gift for bookworms with a celestial bent." Through October 31, enter to win Book Riot's Reading the Stars with an Obvious State celestial print, notebook, and tote bundle.

Welcome to Book Riot’s October 2022 Horoscopes and Book Recommendations! We may be three quarters of the way through the year, but some of 2022’s biggest books are yet to come. Which new October release should you add to your TBR? Let the planets be your guide! Check out your horoscope below for a glimpse at the month ahead, along with a book recommendation perfect for your sign.

Our dastardly dance with Mercury retrograde comes to an end on October 2nd, but another planetary change is coming at the end of the month to take its place. Mars retrograde will be in effect from October 30 through the beginning of next year. But this one isn’t necessarily all bad! Mars rules ambition, motivation, and energy. That means that when it enters retrograde, all signs will find themselves stepping back from the action and doing a bit of introspective work. The last two months of the year are the perfect time to put your career on the backburner and focus on other aspects of your life in need of attention. But if you have any goals that need to be accomplished before the holidays, focus on them early in October before your energy and priorities shift with Mars.

October 2022 Horoscopes and Book Recommendations

Note: Book release dates may have shifted between the writing and publication of this article.

Aries (March 21-April 19) Madly, Deeply by Alan Rickman book coverMadly, Deeply: The Diaries of Alan Rickman by Alan Rickman (Oct. 18, Henry Holt and Co.)

Seek out good vibes, Aries. October promises to be a fulfilling and uplifting month for you, especially if you make time for friends and family activities. Travel may also be in your future, both planned and unexpected. Getting out of your comfort zone can help answer some lingering questions. All of the socializing and adventuring may take a hit on your finances, so spend thoughtfully. Check out Madly, Deeply, a collection of writing by actor Alan Rickman he intended to publish as a memoir before he passed. From his legendary roles on the screen to general insights on life, relationships, politics, and art, it’s a moving glimpse into a beloved icon. Even better, it’s got an introduction by Emma Thompson!

Taurus (April 20-May 20) Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison - book cover - black silhouette of a werewolf head against a blood red moon, set upon a black background and with pale pink textSuch Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison (Oct. 4, Berkley)

Are you ready to get what you want, Taurus? There are things you hope will enter your life this month, but they can’t happen if you aren’t open to them. A shift in your romantic life is ahead — good if you’re ready for it, perhaps bad if you fight the change. Your career is especially demanding in October. Be sure to put energy toward your work goals before Mars enters retrograde on the 30th. Read Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison. Rory will do anything to support her single and pregnant sister, even move back to her detested hometown. After a night at the local bar, Rory hits some kind of large animal with her car. She gets out to investigate and is attacked. Although she survives, she notices some strange changes in herself afterwards, particularly around the full moon. Is embracing the wildness within the answer? Or will it put her loved ones at risk?

Gemini (May 21-June 20) Jackal by Erin E. Adams book coverJackal by Erin E. Adams (Oct. 4, Bantam)

Feeling scattered, Gemini? You’ve got a lot of competing priorities fighting for your attention this month. You’re used to balancing all the things on your plate, but October might force you to make some choices about what you do and don’t have time for. Taking up a meditation practice can help you decide what matters most. A trip away from home may usher in some good luck, particularly for romance. I recommend Jackal by Erin E. Adams. Liz grew up as one of only a few Black kids in a mostly white Pennsylvania town, and now she’s less than thrilled to be returning as an adult for her best friend’s wedding. When her best friend’s daughter goes missing during the reception, leaving behind an ominously blood splattered piece of fabric, the town starts a frenzied search. But Liz remembers a similarly frightening occurrence from her high school years, and it might be the key to finding out what happened.

Cancer (June 21-July 22) Making a Scene by Constance Wu book coverMaking a Scene by Constance Wu (Oct. 4, Scribner)

Be careful when cutting corners, Cancer. You may be in a rush this month, but the planets demand you give full attention to the things that really matter. Family trouble may require your focus. You can’t save your loved ones from all hardship, but you can still be there for them. In your career, October may be the time your work shifts to make you more personally and creatively fulfilled. You should read Making a Scene, a memoir by actress Constance Wu. As a child, Wu was told she was too emotional, too reactive, too much. But then she discovered community theatre, where she learned her emotions were not a weakness but a superpower. In these essays, Wu describes her journey to fame, as well as the sexism and racism that stood in her way and the difficulties of finding her voice in the public eye.

Leo (July 23-August 22) The Stand-Up Groomsman by Jackie LauThe Stand-Up Groomsman by Jackie Lau (Oct. 25, Berkley)

Ready to take a risk, Leo? October wants you to be anything but boring. Now is the time to think about your personal likes and dislikes, not what impresses or pleases others. Pushing yourself at work can lead to a big realization. Your romantic life is entering a period of discovery; trying something new may be just what you need to shake things up. If you’re lost, look for answers in nature. Check out The Stand-Up Groomsman by Jackie Lau. Comedian Melvin Lee and finance professional Vivian Liao met once before, and it went horribly. But now their best friends are getting married, and they’ve got to play nice if they want to help their friends have the wedding of their dreams. As they butt heads again and again as maid of honor and best man, they start to realize opposites really do attract.

Virgo (August 23-September 22) cover image for The Storyteller's Death by Ann Dávila CardinalThe Storyteller’s Death by Ann Dávila Cardinal (Oct. 4, Sourcebooks)

A breakthrough is ahead, Virgo. Your talents and skills are finally lining up with your goals, clearing the path for advancement. You’ve been working hard to strike a balance between your business and personal life as well, and October will see you find that sweet spot. If you’re looking for love, you may even find some time to meet someone new. A little romance may lead to surprising self-discoveries. Read The Storyteller’s Death by Ann Dávila Cardinal. Isla’s life changed dramatically after her father died, when her mother was consumed by grief and Isla was sent to stay with family in Puerto Rico. Isla learns from her grandmother that she comes from a line of cuentistas, family storytellers. And after seeing the stories of her dead relatives play out before her eyes, Isla figures out that she’s a cuentista too.

Libra (September 23-October 22) When We Were Sisters by Fatimah Asghar book coverWhen We Were Sisters by Fatimah Asghar (Oct. 18, One World)

Relationships are everything this month, Libra. You prefer to be on the giving side of those relationships, doing whatever you can to help and support the people in your life. But in October, it’s time to let all the energy you’ve put into others come back to you. You’re in for some good times and great memories with loved ones. Unexpected money may be coming your way too, so treat yourself! I recommend When We Were Sisters by Fatimah Asghar. Three Muslim American sisters’ lives are upended when their parents die and they are left to raise themselves. The oldest struggles to live her own life while taking responsibility for her younger siblings; the middle clashes with both sisters as she tries to cling to her idea of family; the youngest grapples with gender identity and her public and private self. It’s a beautifully written story of building new bonds through tragedy and grief.

Scorpio (October 23-November 21) Poster Girl by Veronica Roth book coverPoster Girl by Veronica Roth (Oct. 18, William Morrow & Company)

Keep it moving, Scorpio. You hate sitting still, and the planets are on the same page. October is the time to try new things, meet new people, and travel to new places. These experiences will provide inspiration for quieter months ahead. If anyone in your life doubts you, let that negative energy motivate you to bring your dreams to fruition. Your haters have always been your best motivators! You should read the dystopian mystery Poster Girl by Veronica Roth. Sonya Kantor has a famous face once associated with a repressive regime that enforced strict surveillance laws. But that regime fell a decade ago, and Sonya has been imprisoned with the rest of the group since then. Now, she’s offered an opportunity: she can be released if she helps find a missing girl kidnapped by her former leaders.

Sagittarius (November 22-December 21) You're a Mean One Matthew Prince Book CoverYou’re a Mean One, Matthew Prince by Timothy Janovsky (Oct. 4, Sourcebooks Casablanca)

You’re not an island, Sagittarius. As much as you like to think you can do everything alone, the planets are positioned to remind you that you need people. In your job, playing well with others is especially crucial this month. Family and friends need your help and attention. You’ll find that being there for the people you love isn’t at odds with being independent and in control. Check out You’re a Mean One, Matthew Prince by Timothy Janovsky. After a PR nightmare, spoiled rich kid Matthew Prince is sent to hide in his grandparents’ small town. Even worse, he’s forced to share space with Hector Martinez, a local who is decidedly unimpressed by Matthew’s charisma and good looks. Matthew jumps at the chance to coordinate a charity gala — for the brownie points, obviously — but his selfish good deed might just awaken some of his hidden holiday spirit.

Capricorn (December 22-January 19) You Are Home coverYou Are Home by Catana Chetwynd (Oct. 4, Andrews McMeel)

Mark incremental success, Capricorn. You have a tendency to always look three steps ahead. The planets want you to recognize what you’ve achieved before you focus on the next thing. The upcoming Mars retrograde is the time to pause and celebrate your accomplishments. In love, appreciate where you are instead of trying to push your relationship toward where you think it should be. I recommend You Are Home, a graphic novel by Catana Chetwynd. These relatable comics about the artist and her partner’s relationship are heartwarming, adorable, and playful. From jointly admiring their dog to figuring out where to order dinner from, Chetwynd finds joy and meaning in the little moments of love.

Aquarius (January 20-February 18) cover of Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng; image of a bird's feather slowly disintegrating into several little birdsOur Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng (Oct. 4, Penguin Press)

Be honest with yourself, Aquarius. Your idealism is a gift, but this month, the planets want you to take a hard look at yourself and what you need to move forward. Who do you need in your corner to achieve your goals? How can you win them over? It’s also a good time to focus on your mental health and physical wellness. Deep conversations with family and trusted advisors may provide needed clarity. Read Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng. Twelve-year-old Bird has limited memories of his mother, a Chinese American poet who went missing three years ago. But he’s not the only person wondering what happened to a loved one after a law was passed encouraging Americans to report their neighbors for “unpatriotic ideals,” particularly people of Asian descent. When Bird receives a curious drawing he believes is from his mother, he goes on a dangerous journey to find her.

Pisces (February 19-March 20) Savor by Fatima Ali book coverSavor: A Chef’s Hunger for More by Fatima Ali with Tarajia Morrell (Oct. 11, Ballantine Books)

Your eyes are wide open, Pisces. The planets are aligned to show you all the pieces of the puzzle. You can see clearly where you are and how to get where you’d like to be. You’ve also got superhuman perception of other people’s intentions and emotions this month. You decide how you use that information. Lots of travel may be ahead for you, but beware of complications later in the month. Check out Savor by Fatima Ali with Tarajia Morrell. Pakistani chef (and Top Chef fan favorite) Fatima Ali’s star was only beginning to rise when she was given a terminal cancer diagnosis. She was determined to complete her bucket list in her last year, traveling the world and eating all the delicious food she’d always dreamed of trying. In this memoir co-written by Ali, her mother, and writer Tarajia Morrell, we hear her life story, her passion for food, and her tragic end at the age of 29.

Thanks for joining us for your October 2022 horoscopes and book recommendations! Looking for more books you’ll love based on your sign? Check out your July, August, and September horoscopes and book recommendations!

- Eileen Gonzalez
8 Great New Comics to Read This October

Autumn is well and truly here, dear reader. The leaves are falling, the pumpkin spice is pumping, and the new comics are dropping! Here you’ll find eight spectacular new titles that you can bring into your life throughout October 2022. They’re just the thing to read as you snuggle into a blanket, munch on some should-have-been-for-Halloween candy, and ignore all those leaves you were supposed to rake but didn’t.

Although Halloween is the main event this month, very few of these comics involve ghosts, curses, or other appropriately creepy things (unless you consider the Greek gods creepy, which is fair). So if you’ve already had enough of ghouls and ghosties, there are still plenty of new titles for you to dive into this month.

While a few of these comics can stand alone, many of them are continuations of long-running sagas or franchises. I guess it makes sense to spotlight so many of these comics in the final quarter of the year, when many of us start to look back on everything that has happened in the past as we anticipate the holidays, the new year, and the many new adventures to come. Read these comics in good health and good spirits!

My Hero Academia Vol 32 coverMy Hero Academia Vol. 32 by Kohei Horikoshi (October 4)

The English translation of this popular series continues this month with Midoriya leaving the Hero Academy, believing he can do more good by putting his powers to use out in the real world rather than staying stuck in school. His attempts to trap his archenemy, All For One, work a little too well, and Midoriya finds himself targeted by a series of superpowered assassins — including one who is more than a little familiar to him…

You Are Home coverYou Are Home by Catana Chetwynd (October 4)

Chetwynd has a way of perfectly and poignantly capturing the little moments that make up a life. This latest collection captures how relationships change, for better and for worse, once a couple moves in together. From daily tasks (like trying to remember to buy toilet paper) to the biggest of big events (like committing to another person), this sweet book will have you laughing and wiping away a tear or two. And there are stickers!

Hollow coverHollow by Shannon Watters, Branden Boyer-White, and Berenice Nelle (October 6)

Sleepy Hollow has been the subject of myth, rumor, and legend for centuries — but newcomer Izzy Crane doesn’t believe a word of it. She’s got more than enough on her plate dealing with a new school and the beautiful Vicky van Tassel, descendant of the girl who captured that other Crane’s heart so long ago. When Vicky learns about a family curse, will Izzy be forced to accept that ghosts are real after all? And can she save her crush from the supernatural forces that haunt her?

Lore Olympus Vol 3 coverLore Olympus Vol. 3 by Rachel Smythe (October 11)

The story of Hades and Persephone continues! Despite their mutual attraction, each feels they have too much baggage to ever have a happy relationship. But the more they tell themselves that they are better off alone and that the expectations of others are too much to bear, the more they find themselves drawn into each other’s arms…

Mission Yozakura Family Vol 1 coverMission: Yozakura Family Vol. 1 by Hitsuji Gondaira (October 18)

Meet Taiyo Asano. Orphaned and socially anxious, he has only made one friend at school: Mutsumi Yozakura, who is always willing to support and care for him. So what’s the problem? The Yozakura family are all spies. In particular, Mutsumi’s brother is determined to protect her at all costs — and that means he now has his sights set on the unsuspecting Taiyo!

Frizzy Book CoverFrizzy by Claribel A. Ortega and Rose Bousamra (October 18)

As a fellow curly-haired person, this one speaks to me personally. Marlene loves her curls, but it seems like she’s the only one. Her mother insists that straightening her hair is a critical part of growing up. With help from her best friend and beloved aunt, can Marlene show her mother that curly hair is just as beautiful as straight hair?

Star Wars The High Republic Adventures coverStar Wars: The High Republic Adventures – Quest of the Jedi by Claudia Gray (October 19)

In this exciting comic, two Jedi encounter a strange and powerful artifact: the Echo Stone. The Stone could have serious consequences for the world of Angcord, and it’s up to our heroes to figure out what they are and protect the planet however they can.

Tarzan of the Apes coverTarzan of the Apes by Roy Thomas and Pablo Marcos (October 25)

This beautiful hardcover collects the Tarzan of the Apes comic that was previously only available digitally and by subscription. Comic book icons Roy Thomas and Pablo Marcos, both known for their work at Marvel, retell the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs novel in comic strip format.

Still catching up on your graphic novel reading? Check out September’s new release list or our list of best comics ever!

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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.

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

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

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

Title: Ruin and 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)

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- Thea
On the Smugglers’ Radar: May 2021

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

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

May 2021

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

The Ones We’re Meant To Find by Joan He

Roaring Book Press | May 4, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Illusionary by Zoraida Córdova

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aetherbound by E.K. Johnston

Dutton Books for Young Readers | May 25, 2021

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

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

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

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

Adobo and Arsenic by Mia P. Manansala

Berkley | May 4, 2021

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

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

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

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

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Ballantine Books | May 4, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

Orbit | May 11, 2021

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

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

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

This mythology inspired retelling also sounds intriguing (and has a lovely cover to boot):

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Flatiron Books | May 4, 2021

As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.

In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?

Ariadne gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.

A mesmerising retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Perfect for fans of CIRCEA SONG OF ACHILLES, and THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS.

Zen Cho Alert! This contemporary fantasy, set in Malaysia, looks UTTERLY WONDERFUL. Also, it’s Zen Cho therefore will absolutely keep you reading until an ungodly hour because her storytelling is just that damn good.

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Ace | May 11, 2021

A reluctant medium discovers the ties that bind can unleash a dangerous power in this compelling Malaysian-set contemporary fantasy.

Jessamyn Teoh is closeted, broke and moving back to Malaysia, a country she left when she was a toddler. So when Jess starts hearing voices, she chalks it up to stress. But there’s only one voice in her head, and it claims to be the ghost of her estranged grandmother, Ah Ma. In life Ah Ma was a spirit medium, the avatar of a mysterious deity called the Black Water Sister. Now she’s determined to settle a score against a gang boss who has offended the god–and she’s decided Jess is going to help her do it.

Drawn into a world of gods, ghosts, and family secrets, Jess finds that making deals with capricious spirits is a dangerous business. As Jess fights for retribution for Ah Ma, she’ll also need to regain control of her body and destiny. If she fails, the Black Water Sister may finish her off for good.

Sarah Pinkser returns with a new science fiction novel that sounds thought-provoking as heck with this next pick:

We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinkser

Berkley | May 11, 2021

From award-winning author Sarah Pinsker comes a novel about one family and the technology that divides them.

Everybody’s getting one.

Val and Julie just want what’s best for their kids, David and Sophie. So when teenage son David comes home one day asking for a Pilot, a new brain implant to help with school, they reluctantly agree. This is the future, after all.

Soon, Julie feels mounting pressure at work to get a Pilot to keep pace with her colleagues, leaving Val and Sophie part of the shrinking minority of people without the device.

Before long, the implications are clear, for the family and society: get a Pilot or get left behind. With government subsidies and no downside, why would anyone refuse? And how do you stop a technology once it’s everywhere? Those are the questions Sophie and her anti-Pilot movement rise up to answer, even if it puts them up against the Pilot’s powerful manufacturer and pits Sophie against the people she loves most.

I’m on a heist kick right now (rereading the Six of Crows duology), so this next book sounds perfectly timed and right up my alley.

The Helm of Midnight by Christopher Buehlman

Tor Books | May 25, 2021

Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path.

But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark.

Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. She is searching for her queen, missing since a distant northern city fell to giants.

Unsuccessful in his robbery and lucky to escape with his life, Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva’s. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on an epic journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford.

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

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

- Thea
Awards Season 2021: Announcing the Hugo and Ignyte Finalists

It is that time of year again, folks–awards time! We are thrilled to share with you the news of two exciting speculative fiction awards: The Hugo Awards and the Ignyte Awards.

The Hugo Award

The Hugo Awards are one of the longest-running SFF awards, distinguished from all other major speculative fiction awards in that it is voted on by fans who are members of the World Science Fiction Convention. Each year, Hugo Award winners (and associated Not-A-Hugo-Awards, like the Lodestar and Astounding Awards) are announced at WorldCon. This year’s WorldCon will be in Washington D.C., though unlike previous years the ceremony will take place December 15-19, 2021.

A reminder for everyone interested: even if you are not attending WorldCon 79, note that ANY SFF fan can sign up for a supporting membership ($50) which gives you the right to vote for your favorites to win the Hugo Award.

The 2021 Hugo Award Finalists

This year’s finalists are absolutely awesome. Check out the full list below!

Best Novel

Black Sun, Rebecca Roanhorse (Gallery / Saga Press)The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir ( Effect, Martha Wells (, Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)The Relentless Moon, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books)

Best Novella

Come Tumbling Down, Seanan McGuire ( Empress of Salt and Fortune, Nghi Vo (, Nino Cipri ( Shout, P. Djèlí Clark ( Baby, Tochi Onyebuchi ( Women Wanted, Sarah Gailey (

Best Novelette

“Burn, or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super”, A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny Magazine, May/June 2020)“Helicopter Story”, Isabel Fall (Clarkesworld, January 2020)“The Inaccessibility of Heaven”, Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny Magazine, July/August 2020)“Monster”, Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, January 2020)“The Pill”, Meg Elison (from Big Girl (PM Press))“Two Truths and a Lie”, Sarah Pinsker (

Best Short Story

“Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse”, Rae Carson (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2020)“A Guide for Working Breeds”, Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Made to Order: Robots and Revolution, ed. Jonathan Strahan (Solaris))“Little Free Library”, Naomi Kritzer (“The Mermaid Astronaut”, Yoon Ha Lee (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, February 2020)“Metal Like Blood in the Dark”, T. Kingfisher (Uncanny Magazine, September/October 2020)“Open House on Haunted Hill”, John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots – 2020, ed. David Steffen)

Best Series

The Daevabad Trilogy, S.A. Chakraborty (Harper Voyager)The Interdependency, John Scalzi (Tor Books)The Lady Astronaut Universe, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books/Audible/Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction/Solaris)The Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells ( Daye, Seanan McGuire (DAW)The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager)

Best Related Work

Beowulf: A New Translation, Maria Dahvana Headley (FSG)CoNZealand Fringe, Claire Rousseau, C, Cassie Hart, Adri Joy, Marguerite Kenner, Cheryl Morgan, Alasdair Stuart.FIYAHCON, L.D. Lewis–Director, Brent Lambert–Senior Programming Coordinator, Iori Kusano–FIYAHCON Fringe Co-Director, Vida Cruz–FIYAHCON Fringe Co-Director, and the Incredible FIYAHCON team“George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into the Sun, Or: The 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony (Rageblog Edition)”, Natalie Luhrs (Pretty Terrible, August 2020)A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler, Lynell George (Angel City Press)The Last Bronycon: a fandom autopsy, Jenny Nicholson (YouTube)

Best Graphic Story or Comic

DIE, Volume 2: Split the Party, written by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans, letters by Clayton Cowles (Image Comics)Ghost-Spider vol. 1: Dog Days Are Over, Author: Seanan McGuire,  Artist: Takeshi Miyazawa and Rosi Kämpe (Marvel)Invisible Kingdom, vol 2: Edge of Everything, Author: G. Willow Wilson, Artist: Christian Ward (Dark Horse Comics)Monstress, vol. 5: Warchild, Author: Marjorie Liu, Artist: Sana Takeda (Image Comics)Once & Future vol. 1: The King Is Undead, written by Kieron Gillen, iIllustrated by Dan Mora, colored by Tamra Bonvillain, lettered by Ed Dukeshire (BOOM! Studios)Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, written by Octavia Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy, illustrated by John Jennings (Harry N. Abrams)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), written by Christina Hodson, directed by Cathy Yan (Warner Bros.)Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Sagawritten by Will Ferrell, Andrew Steele, directed by David Dobkin (European Broadcasting Union/Netflix)The Old Guard, written by Greg Rucka, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Netflix / Skydance Media)Palm Springs, written by Andy Siara, directed by Max Barbakow (Limelight / Sun Entertainment Culture / The Lonely Island / Culmination Productions / Neon / Hulu / Amazon Prime)Soul, screenplay by Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Powers, directed by Pete Docter, co-directed by Kemp Powers, produced by Dana Murray (Pixar Animation Studios/ Walt Disney Pictures)Tenet, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Warner Bros./Syncopy)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Doctor Who: Fugitive of the Judoon, written by Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall, directed by Nida Manzoor (BBC)The Expanse: Gaugamela, written by Dan Nowak, directed by Nick Gomez (Alcon Entertainment / Alcon Television Group / Amazon Studios / Hivemind / Just So)She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: Heart (parts 1 and 2), written by Josie Campbell and Noelle Stevenson, directed by Jen Bennett and Kiki Manrique (DreamWorks Animation Television / Netflix)The Mandalorian: Chapter 13: The Jedi, written and directed by Dave Filoni (Golem Creations / Lucasfilm / Disney+)The Mandalorian: Chapter 16: The Rescue, written by Jon Favreau, directed by Peyton Reed (Golem Creations / Lucasfilm / Disney+)The Good Place: Whenever You’re Ready, written and directed by Michael Schur (Fremulon / 3 Arts Entertainment / Universal Television, a division of Universal Studio Group)

Best Editor, Short Form

Neil ClarkeEllen DatlowC.C. FinlayMur Lafferty and S.B. DivyaJonathan StrahanSheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form

Nivia EvansSheila E. GilbertSarah GuanBrit HvideDiana M. PhoNavah Wolfe

Best Professional Artist

Tommy ArnoldRovina CaiGalen DaraMaurizio ManzieriJohn PicacioAlyssa Winans

Best Semiprozine

Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edotor Scott H. AndrewsEscape Pod, editors Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya, assistant editor Benjamin C. Kinney, hosts Tina Connolly and Alasdair Stuart, audio producers Summer Brooks and Adam Pracht and the entire Escape Pod team.FIYAH Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, publisher Troy L. Wiggins, executive editor DaVaun Sanders, managing editor Eboni Dunbar, poetry editor Brandon O’Brien, reviews and social media Brent Lambert,  art director L. D. Lewis, and the FIYAH Team.PodCastle, editors, C.L. Clark and Jen R. Albert, assistant editor and host, Setsu Uzumé, producer Peter Adrian Behravesh, and the entire PodCastle team.Uncanny Magazine, editors in chief: Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, managing editor: Chimedum Ohaegbu, non-fiction editor:  Elsa Sjunneson, podcast producers: Erika Ensign and Steven SchapanskyStrange Horizons, Vanessa Aguirre, Joseph Aitken, Rachel Ayers, M H Ayinde, Tierney Bailey, Scott Beggs, Drew Matthew Beyer, Gautam Bhatia, S. K. Campbell, Zhui Ning Chang, Tania Chen, Joyce Chng, Liz Christman, Linda H. Codega, Kristian Wilson Colyard, Yelena Crane, Bruhad Dave, Sarah Davidson, Tahlia Day, Arinn Dembo, Nathaniel Eakman, Belen Edwards, George Tom Elavathingal, Rebecca Evans, Ciro Faienza, Courtney Floyd, Lila Garrott, Colette Grecco, Guananí Gómez-Van Cortright, Julia Gunnison, Dan Hartland, Sydney Hilton, Angela Hinck, Stephen Ira, Amanda Jean, Ai Jiang, Sean Joyce-Farley, Erika Kanda, Anna Krepinsky, Kat Kourbeti, Clayton Kroh, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Catherine Krahe, Natasha Leullier, A.Z. Louise, Dante Luiz, Gui Machiavelli, Cameron Mack, Samantha Manaktola, Marisa Manuel, Jean McConnell, Heather McDougal, Maria Morabe, Amelia Moriarty, Emory Noakes, Sara Noakes, Aidan Oatway, AJ Odasso, Joel Oliver-Cormier, Kristina Palmer, Karintha Parker, Anjali Patel, Vanessa Rose Phin, Nicasio Reed, Belicia Rhea, Endria Richardson, Natalie Ritter, Abbey Schlanz, Clark Seanor, Elijah Rain Smith, Hebe Stanton, Melody Steiner, Romie Stott, Yejin Suh, Kwan-Ann Tan, Luke Tolvaj, Ben Tyrrell, Renee Van Siclen, Kathryn Weaver, Liza Wemakor, Aigner Loren Wilson, E.M. Wright, Vicki Xu, Fred G. Yost, staff members who prefer not to be named, and guest editor Libia Brenda with guest first reader Raquel González-Franco Alva for the Mexicanx special issue

Best Fanzine

The Full Lid, written by Alasdair Stuart, edited by Marguerite KennerJourney Planet, edited by Michael Carroll, John Coxon, Sara Felix, Ann Gry, Sarah Gulde, Alissa McKersie, Errick Nunnally, Pádraig Ó Méalóid, Chuck Serface, Steven H Silver, Paul Trimble, Erin Underwood, James Bacon, and Chris Garcia.Lady Business, editors. Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan.nerds of a feather, flock together, ed. Adri Joy, Joe Sherry, The G, and Vance KotrlaQuick Sip Reviews, editor, Charles PayseurUnofficial Hugo Book Club Blog, ed. Amanda Wakaruk and Olav Rokne

Best Fancast

Be The Serpent, presented by Alexandra Rowland, Freya Marske and Jennifer MaceClaire Rousseau’s YouTube channel, produced by Claire RousseauThe Coode Street Podcast, presented by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe, Jonathan Strahan, producerKalanadi, produced and presented by RachelThe Skiffy and Fanty show, produced by Shaun Duke and Jen Zink,  presented by Shaun Duke, Jen Zink, Alex Acks, Paul Weimer, and David Annandale.Worldbuilding for Masochists, presented by Rowenna Miller, Marshall Ryan Maresca and Cass Morris

Best Fan Writer

Cora BuhlertCharles PayseurJason SanfordElsa SjunnesonAlasdair StuartPaul Weimer

Best Fan Artist

Iain J. ClarkCyan DalySara FelixGrace P. FongMaya HahtoLaya Rose

Best Video Game

Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Publisher and Developer: Nintendo)Blaseball (Publisher and Developer: The Game Band)Final Fantasy VII Remake (Publisher Square Enix)Hades (Publisher and Developer: Supergiant Games)The Last of Us: Part II (Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment / Developer: Naughty Dog)Spiritfarer (Publisher and Developer: Thunder Lotus)

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

Cemetery Boys, Aiden Thomas (Swoon Reads)A Deadly Education, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)Elatsoe, Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido)Legendborn, Tracy Deonn (Margaret K. McElderry/ Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)Raybearer, Jordan Ifueko (Amulet / Hot Key)A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, T. Kingfisher (Argyll Productions)

Astounding Award for Best New Writer

Lindsay Ellis (1st year of eligibility)Simon Jimenez (1st year of eligibility)Micaiah Johnson (1st year of eligibility)A.K. Larkwood (1st year of eligibility)Jenn Lyons (2nd year of eligibility)Emily Tesh (2nd year of eligibility)

For more information about the Hugo Awards and how to vote, check out the official website.

FIYAHCON’s Ignyte Awards

The truly awesome FIYAH magazine created FIYAHCON in 2020 (and as you’ll see above, the con itself is on the Hugo Award ballot for Best Related Work), focused on BIPOC in SFF. The Ignyte Awards are part of FIYAHCON, and we’re thrilled to share the 2021 finalists below!

Best Novel – Adult

for novel-length (40k+ words) works intended for the adult audience

Black Sun – Rebecca Roanhorse (Gallery Books/Saga Press)The City We Became – N. K. Jemisin (Orbit)Midnight Bargain – C. L. Polk (Erewhon Books)The Only Good Indians – Stephen Graham Jones (Gallery Books/Saga Press)Vagabonds – Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu (Gallery Books/Saga Press)

Best Novel – YA

for novel-length (40k+ words) works intended for the young adult audience

Elatsoe – Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido)Legendborn – Tracy Deonn (Margaret K. McElderry Books)Raybearer – Jordan Ifueko (Amulet Books)A Song Below Water – Bethany Morrow (Tor Teen)A Sky Beyond the Storm – Sabaa Tahir (Razorbill)

Best in MG

for works intended for the middle grade audience

Frightville: Curse of the Wish Eater – Mike Ford (Scholastic Paperbacks)Ghost Squad – Claribel A. Ortega (Scholastic)Maya and the Rising Dark – Rena Barron (HMH Books for Young Readers)Race to the Sun – Rebecca Roanhorse (Read Riordan/Disney Publishing Worldwide)A Wish in the Dark – Christina Soontornvat (Candlewick Press)

Best Novella

for speculative works ranging from 17,500-39,999 words

Empress of Salt and Fortune – Nghi Vo ( Four Profound Weaves – R. B. Lemberg (Tachyon Publications)Ring Shout – P. Djèli Clark ( Baby – Tochi Onyebuchi ( & Steel – Eboni J. Dunbar (Neon Hemlock)

Best Novelette

for speculative works ranging from 7,500-17,499 words

The Inaccessibility of Heaven – Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny Magazine)Love Hangover – Sheree Renée Thomas (Mocha Memoirs Press)The Night Sun – Zin E. Rocklyn ( Hand in the Coffin – Justin C. Key (Strange Horizons)The Transition of Osoosi – Ozzie M. Gartrell (FIYAH)

Best Short Story

for speculative works ranging from 2,000-7,499 words

Body, Remember – Nicasio Andres Reed (Fireside Magazine)EXPRESS TO BEIJING WEST RAILWAY STATION | ????????? – Congyun ‘Mu Ming’ Gu, translated by Kiera Johnson (Samovar)My Country is a Ghost – Eugenia Triantafyllou (Uncanny Magazine)Rat and Finch are Friends – Innocent Chizaram Ilo (Strange Horizons)You Perfect, Broken Thing – C. L. Clark (Uncanny Magazine)

Best in Speculative Poetry

The Alt-History of King Kong – Renoir Gaither (Speculative City)Fin – Terese Mason Pierre (Uncanny Magazine)The Harrowing Desgarrador – Gabriel Ascencio Morales (Strange Horizons)Hungry Ghost – Millie Ho (Uncanny Magazine)Tequila Mockingbird | Matar un Ruiseñor – Raúl Gallardo Flores, translated by Juan Martinez (Strange Horizons)

Critics Award

for reviews and analysis of the field of speculative literature

Jesse @ Bowties & BooksCharles Payseur @ Quick Sip ReviewsMaria HaskinsA. C. WiseStitch @ Stitch’s Media Mix

Best Fiction Podcast

for excellence in audio performance and production for speculative fiction

Beneath Ceaseless Skies – Editor Scott H. AndrewsEscape Pod – Editors Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya; Assistant Editor Benjamin C. Kinney; Hosts Tina Connolly and Alasdair Stuart, Audio Producers Summer Brooks and Adam Pracht, and the entire Escape Pod teamNightlight Podcast – Tonia RansomPodCastle – Editors Jen R. Albert, Cherae Clark, Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, Host + Assistant Editor Setsu Uzume, & Audio Producer Peter Adrian BehraveshThe Magnus Archives – Written and performed by Jonathan Sims, Directed by Alexander J Newall, Produced by Lowri Ann Davies. Distributed by Rusty Quill

Best Artist

for contributions in visual speculative storytelling

John PicacioNilah MagruderOdera IgbokwePaul LewinRovina Cai

Best Comics Team

for comics, graphic novels, and sequential storytelling

Cuisine Chinoise: Five Tales of Food and Life – Zao Dao, with Diana Schutz & Brandon Kandor (Dark Horse Comics)Far Sector – N. K. Jemisin & Jamal Campbell (DC Comics)Giga – Alex Paknadel & John Lê (Vault Comics)Parable of the Sower – Written by Octavia Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy, illustrated by John Jennings (Abrams ComicArts)You Brought Me the Ocean – Alex Sanchez & Jul Maroh (DC Comics)

Best Anthology/Collected Works

A Phoenix First Must Burn – ed. Patrice Caldwell (Viking Books for Young Readers)Glitter + Ashes: Queer Tales of a World that Wouldn’t Die – editor, publisher dave ring (Neon Hemlock)Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction – ed. Joshua Whitehead (Arsenal Pulp Press)Nine Bar Blues – Sheree Renée Thomas (Third Man Books)Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with a Fresh Bite – ed. Zoraida Cordova & Natalie C. Parker (Imprint)

Best in Creative Nonfiction

for works related to the field of speculative fiction

“The African Superhero and the Legacy of Captain Africa” – Suyi Davies Okungbowa (“Fine Weather, Isn’t It?” – Tochi Onyebuchi (SFWA Bulletin #215)“How to Make a Family: Queer Blood Bonds in Black Feminist Vampire Novels” – Tamara Jerée (Strange Horizons)“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream: The Duty of the Black Writer During Times of American Unrest” – Tochi Onyebuchi (“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Excellence” – Nibedita Sen (Uncanny Magazine)

The Ember Award

for unsung contributions to genre

Clarion WestDhonielle ClaytonK. Tempest BradfordMichi TrotaTananarive Due

The Community Award

for Outstanding Efforts in Service of Inclusion and Equitable Practice in Genre

Anathema Magazine: Spec from the Margins – Michael Matheson, Andrew Wilmot, Chinelo OnwualuBeth PhelanDiana M. Pho#PublishingPaidMe – L.L. McKinney & Tochi OnyebuchiWriting The Other: Online Classes and Workshops – Nisi Shawl + K Tempest Bradford

Congratulations to all of the finalists!

The Ignyte Awards will be presented on Saturday September 18, 2021 at 4pm ET. The finalists are determined by the Ignyte Awards Committee, who comprise FIYAHCON staff and previous award-winners of diverse backgrounds. Voting for the winners of the Ignyte Awards is open to all fans of SFF through May 21, 2021 at 11:59 PM EST! Click here to cast your vote!

Get your tickets to the 3.5 day convention (including panels, games, office hours, workshops, and more) online for $40, or (or a free Fringe ticket) here.

A huge congratulations to all of the finalists! We’ll be casting our ballots for the immensely talented creators on both the Hugo and Ignyte Awards shortlists. If you are planning to attend either WorldCon or FIYAHCON, let us know–we’d love to catch up with you!

The post Awards Season 2021: Announcing the Hugo and Ignyte Finalists appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Thea
Grishaverse Re-read: SIEGE AND STORM by Leigh Bardugo

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

Title: Siege and 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
📚A Turn of the Tide by Kelley Armstrong

A Turn of the Tide by Kelley Armstrong is the third full-length novel in the Stitch in Time series. Romance, adventure and pirates await you as Miranda Hastings steps through the time slip at Thorne Manor looking for adventure and lands in Georgian England.

📚A Turn of the Tide by Kelley ArmstrongA Turn of the Tide
by Kelley Armstrong
Series: A Stitch in Time #3
Genres: Time Travel
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star
Heat Level: One FlameOne FlameOne FlameHalf a Flame

In Thorne Manor there is one locked door. Behind it lies a portal to the twenty-first century, and nothing is going to stop Miranda Hastings from stepping through. After all, she is a Victorian writer of risqué pirate adventures—traveling to the future would be the greatest adventure of them all.

When Miranda goes through, though, she lands in Georgian England…and in the path of Nicolas Dupuis, a privateer accused of piracy. Sheltered by locals, Nico is repaying their kindness by being their “pirate Robin Hood,” stealing from a corrupt lord and fencing smuggled goods on the village’s behalf.

Miranda embraces Nico’s cause, only to discover there’s more to it than he realizes. Miranda has the second sight, and there are ghosts at play here. The recently deceased former lord is desperate to stop his son from destroying his beloved village. Then there’s the ghost of Nico’s cabin boy, who he thought safe in a neighboring city. Miranda and Nico must solve the mystery of the boy’s death while keeping one step ahead of the hangman.

It may not be the escapade Miranda imagined, but it is about to be the adventure of a lifetime.

ROMANCE SUSPENSE Time Travel well written

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I am absolutely loving this series (and several others) by this author. Miranda Hastings is a writer, explorer and good with a sword. She slips through the time slip intending to explore the future… only she goes thirty-years back in time from the Victorian era she lives in….back to where Nicolas Dupuis, a privateer accused of piracy, will die.

Miranda saves Nicolas Dupuis life, but mischief is a foot and soon the two are trying to solve a murder to set a ghost free, attempting to stop a corrupt lord who is overtaxing the good people of this seaport and keeping Dupuis from a date with the noose.

This was such an engaging tale from Miranda’s inquisitive nature to Nicolas and his whispered words in French. Ghosts, aid from the lord’s granddaughter and moments in caves to explore one another had me reading this in just two sittings.

I like the concept that Armstrong has developed that the time-slip sends the traveler where they are needed. Each book is an adventure with a delightful romance. As we travel, we learn about the places and times and get to enjoy a mystery or two.

The ending has me excited about the next book in this series. We get hints at the possible adventure, and I hope they come to fruition.

On a side note. These stories can be read as standalone. Armstrong does a great job of making each hold its own. I recommend reading the novella Snowstorms & Sleigh Bells if you’d like to learn how Miranda knew about Nicolas Dupuis.

Amazon | Audible

A Turn of the Tide by Kelley Armstrong was another fantastic time-slip tale filled with pirates, swoons and danger. #NewRelease #StitchInTime #HistoricalRomance
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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
🎧 The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman

Narrated by Fiona Shaw, The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman is the third audiobook in the Thursday Murder Club. We are back at the Cooper Chase Retirement Center in Kent with Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron investigate two murders, and Elizabeth finds herself in trouble….

🎧 The Bullet That Missed by Richard OsmanThe Bullet That Missed
by Richard Osman
Series: Thursday Murder Club #3
Narrator: Fiona Shaw
Length: 11 hours and 16 minutes
Genres: Mystery
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star
Narration: 4 cups Speed: 1.3x

It is an ordinary Thursday, and things should finally be returning to normal.

Except trouble is never far away where the Thursday Murder Club are concerned. A local news legend is on the hunt for a sensational headline, and soon the gang are hot on the trail of two murders, ten years apart.

To make matters worse, a new nemesis pays Elizabeth a visit, presenting her with a deadly mission: kill or be killed...

While Elizabeth grapples with her conscience (and a gun), the gang and their unlikely new friends (including TV stars, money launderers and ex-KGB colonels) unravel a new mystery. But can they catch the culprit and save Elizabeth before the murderer strikes again?

friends MURDERMYSTERY refreshing well written

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With book three, we saw a change in narration. Lesley Manville narrated the first two and while I was initially worried and it took me some time to adjust, particularly to the voice of Joyce, Fiona Shaw ended up doing a fine job. She is more breathy than Lesley, but speeding up the narration to 1.3x and upping the volume at a notch, did the trick.

I absolutely love this series and while each book deals with a murder-mystery, I recommend listening in order as we get to know our four main characters, seniors; Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron. You’ll get to know their backgrounds, personalities, and day-to-day problems. I admit to enjoying them all. Elizabeth can be tenacious, as her background suggests. Joyce cracks me up. Ron is in a new relationship, and Ibrahim is slowly recovering from events in the previous book.

The cold case involves the murder of a journalist that they believe got too close to uncover a theft. It was an interesting case from retracing her steps to interviews. In the meantime, Elizabeth along with Stephen find themselves kidnapped. The kidnapper is demanding the Elizabeth kill someone and is threatening to kill Joyce if she doesn’t. The twists and turns kept me listening into the wee hours.

Well paced, humorous and realistic Osmen has me smitten. These characters are brilliant and at I feel as if I am a full-fledged member of the Thursday Murder Club. The story is told from alternating points of views all from the four members and it was splendidly done. Not only did it allow for several threads, it gave us a more personal knowledge of each character.

These four end up getting themselves into some pretty precarious situations. Somehow, maybe because of their age (they don’t seem like a threat) they get themselves out unscathed. It keeps the listener on the edge. More than once I found myself saying, “Oh, no, she didn’t…”

Fans of unique, clever, and loveable characters who enjoy an engaging murder-mystery need to grab the audiobooks/books and discover the Thursday Murder Club for themselves.

Brilliant. I cannot wait for the next one!

Amazon | Audible

The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman delivered a delightful and clever story. I loved being back with the Thursday Murder Club. #Mystery#audiobookreview #FionaShaw #NewRelease
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About Richard OsmanRichard Osman

Richard Osman is an author, producer and television presenter. The Thursday Murder Club is his first novel. He is well known for TV shows including Pointless and Richard Osman’s House of Games. As the creative director of Endemol UK, Richard has worked as an executive producer on numerous shows including Deal Or No Deal and 8 Out of 10 Cats. He is also a regular on panel and game shows such as Have I Got News For You, Would I Lie To You and Taskmaster.

About Fiona ShawFiona Shaw

Fiona Shaw CBE is an Irish film and theatre actress. She is known for her roles as Petunia Dursley in the Harry Potter film series, Marnie Stonebrook in the fourth season of the HBO series True Blood, and Carolyn Martens in the BBC series Killing Eve.

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2022 Audiobook Challenge


- Kimberly
Sunday Post #544 Another Year Older….
Sunday Post

The Sunday Post is a blog news meme hosted here @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news~ A post to recap the past week on your blog and showcase books and things we have received. Share news about what is coming up on your blog for the week ahead. Join in weekly, bi-weekly or for a monthly wrap up. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme

Turned fifty-six yesterday and cake was devoured. I binge watched The Rings of Power and am loving it. We watched Hocus Pocus 2. I read and listened to some good books and wrote my reviews within 24 hours. Yippee! Fall weather has settled in but I am still wearing my Now that October is here, have you signed up for the Fraterfest Readathon? Stay Caffeinated.

Last Week on the Blog 🎧 The Long-Forgotten Winter King By Annette Marie (audio review)🎧 The Hob & Hound Pub By Seana Kelly (audio review)Spells For Forgetting By Adrienne Young (book review, guest post)🎧 The Twice-Scorned Lady Of Shadow By Annette Marie (audio review)🎧 Across The Green Grass Fields By Seanan McGuire (audio review) This Week on the Blog 🎧 The Bullet That Missed By Richard Osman (audio review)A Turn Of The Tide By Kelley Armstrong (book review)The Good-Bye Girls By Juliet Domvile (book review, guest post)🎧 The Book Haters’ Book Club By Gretchen Anthony (audio review)Ho-Ho-Ho Readathon Sign Up (event) New Arrivals at the Caffeinated Cafe

Learn more:

Where the Darkness Blooms by Andrea HannahThe Other Side of Night by Adam HamdyThe Midnight Club by Christopher Pike Ghost 19 by Simone St. James Iron Ember by Donna Grant The Akseli by Dianne Duvall

Special thanks to Wednesday Books, Simon Audio, Penguin Audio & Tantor Audio

Around The Blogosphere Hallowtween Readathon October 1-31st. Middle Grade hosted by Storm ReadsCOYER Sign up for Fall!!! Time to Sign up, Fall COYER Starts October 1st @Reading Is More FunFraterfest 2022 Readathon October 14th-24thThankful for Books Giveaway Hop November 21-28th Save the Date: 2022 #HoHoHoRAT Readathon November 18-30th 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
🎧 Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire

Narrated by Anne Marie Carlson, Across the Green Grass Fields is the sixth story in the Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire. Regan opens a door to a world filled with centaurs, kelpies, and other magical equines in this enlightening installment. Come, step into a world where humans are expected to be heroes….

🎧 Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuireAcross the Green Grass Fields
by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children #6
Narrator: Anne Marie Carlson
Length: 4 hours and 3 minutes
Source: Purchase
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star
Narration: 4 cups Speed: 1.3x

A young girl discovers a portal to a land filled with centaurs and unicorns in Seanan McGuire's 'ACROSS THE GREEN GRASS FIELDS', a stand-alone tale in the Hugo and Nebula Award-wining Wayward Children series.

“Welcome to the Hooflands. We’re happy to have you, even if you being here means something’s coming.”

Regan loves, and is loved, though her school-friend situation has become complicated, of late.

When she suddenly finds herself thrust through a doorway that asks her to "Be Sure" before swallowing her whole, Regan must learn to live in a world filled with centaurs, kelpies, and other magical equines - a world that expects its human visitors to step up and be heroes.

But after embracing her time with the herd, Regan discovers that not all forms of heroism are equal, and not all quests are as they seem. . .

fantasy SUSPENSE UNIQUE well written

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At just around four hours, Across the Green Grass Fields was a magical listen. I love the Wayward Children’s series and McGuire’s imagination.

Regan isn’t like the other girls in her class, and when she shares the truth with her friend, things go terribly wrong. On her way home, she stumbles upon a door and escapes reality through it. Regan arrives in Hooflands.

Hooflands is filled with centaurs, kelpies, and magical equines. When Regan arrives, she is captured by a herd of centaurs. Things are not perfect in this magical land, and Regan will need to step up and help. As she does, she will learn about friendship, herself, and more.

The world McGuire creates is well developed. Her imagery brought the lands and the creatures who dwell there to life. While it appears perfectly magical, like our world, there are issues from prejudices to vicious rumors and outdated traditions. McGuire creates realistic children with troubling problems and sets them into worlds, and the results are fascinating. I connected and loved seeing the growth as Regan finds herself and matures.

Like the rest of the series, this novel will stand on its own, but if you haven’t read/listened to the others, I encourage you to do. They are wonderful, magical, and imaginative stories.

Anne Marie Carlson does a splendid job with the narration. She captures everyone from the mean friend to the mystical creatures in the Hooflands. McGuire’s stories work well in this format and the narrators enhance her stories.

Amazon | Audible

Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire takes us to a land filled with centaurs, kelpies, and other magical equines as a young girl finds herself. #WaywardChildren #AnneMarieCarlson #audiobookreview
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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.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

2022 Audiobook Challenge


- Kimberly
🎧 The Twice-Scorned Lady of Shadow by Annette Marie

Narrated by Cris Dukehart and Tim Campbell, The Twice-Scorned Lady of Shadow by Annette Marie continues the story of Saber and Zak. Listeners are rewarded with answers, suspense and romance…

🎧 The Twice-Scorned Lady of Shadow by Annette MarieThe Twice-Scorned Lady of Shadow
by Annette Marie
Series: The Guild Codex: Unveiled #3
Narrator: Cris Dukehart, Tim Campbell
Length: 7 hours and 37 minutes
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star
Narration: 5 cups Speed: 1.3x

I'm learning to embrace who and what I am, but there's one thing I can't face: the night Zak betrayed me. But even with the mysteries of our shared past hanging between us, I can't turn Zak away when he asks for my help.

Powerful fae are going missing, and when he tried to investigate, Lallakai vanished too. Now he wants me to venture with him into the territory of the Shadow Court, but its bloodthirsty courtiers don't welcome meddling druids.

Danger is gathering around us, seen and unseen. As we uncover incomprehensible clues about the missing fae, we realize this nightmare runs deeper than we imagined, and unveiling it means delving into the past-our past.

If I abandon Zak now, he'll never make it out alive. But if I stay at his side, if I face the truth of that night, it will destroy us both.

magical ROMANCE SUSPENSE urban

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This story picks up after the previous installment and Saber is continuing the conditions of her probation and coming to terms with who she truly is. We see Saber work with the animals at the rescue where she lives and get to tagalong to her first meeting and the Crow & Hammer. Fans of the Guild Codex world will enjoy seeing familiar faces, especially Tori.

When Echo and Lallakei go missing, Zak appears at the Crow & Hammer and I loved being witness to Saber’s reaction. Of course Saber agrees to give aid; after all, Zak helped her and Rikr.

The tale that unfolds was brilliant, from the Court of Shadows to betrayals. The story is told in alternating POVs. In Zak’s, we learn what happened when he left Sabar ten years ago. I felt for Zak and was glad to see Saber be supportive. We keep seeing growth in her. She really has come a long way from the prickly heroine we first met.

Cris Dukehart narrates and is joined by Tim Campbell, who provides Zak’s point of view. Both did a wonderful job of capturing the characters’ emotions and personalities. This series/world is perfectly suited to audio and I cannot imagine not listening to them.

The story ends with a cliffhanger and fair warning; it’s a doozy. I don’t mind telling you it left me worried about the characters and downright angry at one in particular. The audiobook for The Unbreakable Bladesong Druid cannot come soon enough.

Amazon* | Audible

The Twice-Scorned Lady of Shadow by Annette Marie delivered answers, action and more in the Unveiled series. #audiobookreview #ChrisDukehart #TimCampbell #UrbanFantasy @TantorAudio
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About Annette MarieAnnette Marie

Annette Marie is the author of YA urban fantasy series Steel & Stone, its prequel trilogy Spell Weaver, and romantic fantasy trilogy Red Winter. Her first love is fantasy, but fast-paced urban fantasy, bold heroines, and tantalizing forbidden romances are her guilty pleasures. She proudly admits she has a thing for dragons, and her editor has politely inquired as to whether she intends to include them in every single book.

About Cris DukehartCris Dukehart

An award-winning storyteller and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, Cris Dukehart has narrated books in a plethora of genres, from romance, science fiction, and young adult to children's literature and autobiography. Her voice, with an endearing mix of sweetness and pluck, can be heard around the world and across the Web in commercials, e-learning projects, and corporate narrations.

About Tim CampbellTim Campbell

Tim Campbell is the Audie and AudioFile Earphones Award–winning voice of hundreds of audiobook titles in almost every literary genre.

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2022 Audiobook Challenge


- Kimberly
Spells For Forgetting by Adrienne Young

Sophia Rose is here with a new romantic suspense for you. Come check out Spells For Forgetting by Adrienne Young and see why Sophia recommends this atmospheric tale.

Spells For Forgetting by Adrienne YoungSpells For Forgetting
by Adrienne Young
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star
Heat Level: One FlameOne FlameOne Flame

A rural island community steeped in the mystical superstitions of its founders and haunted by an unsolved murder is upended by the return of the suspected killer in this deeply atmospheric novel.

Emery Blackwood’s life was forever changed on the eve of her high school graduation, when the love of her life, August Salt, was accused of murdering her best friend, Lily. Now, she is doing what her teenage self swore she never would: living a quiet existence among the community that fractured her world in two. She’d once longed to run away with August, eager to escape the misty, remote shores of Saiorse Island and chase new dreams; now, she maintains her late mother’s tea shop and cares for her ailing father. But just as the island, rooted in folklore and tradition, begins to show signs of strange happenings, August returns for the first time in fourteen years and unearths the past that no one wants to remember.

August Salt knows he is not welcome on Saiorse, not after the night that changed everything. As a fire raged on at the Salt family orchard, Lily Morgan was found dead in the dark woods, shaking the bedrock of their tight-knit community and branding August a murderer. When he returns to bury his mother’s ashes, he must confront the people who turned their backs on him and face the one wound from the past that has never healed—Emery. But the town has more than one reason to want August gone, and the emergence of deep betrayals and hidden promises that span generations threatens to reveal the truth behind Lily’s death once and for all.

Evocative and compelling, Spells for Forgetting is a vivid exploration of lost love and the unraveling of a small town and its many secrets.

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Years ago, a teen boy set fire to an orchard and there are strong suspicions he murdered a teen girl. Now, years later, the mystical island he left under a dark cloud of suspicion is his destination. Something stirs with his return and secrets won’t stay buried.

Adrienne Young is a popular Young Adult author and I’ve been curious about her books for some time, but this atmospheric, adult standalone was my first engagement with her writing.  Wow, she can make the very air of the story resonate with the reader.

Magical realism is employed early and to ominous effects to set a mood on this remote Washington State island. A storm is coming, the locals see in every omen and the storm is led by the return of August Salt. August made a huge teenage angsty mistake, but was it more than that and he killed a girl? That is what his old small community thinks. This includes the girl now woman who never got over what he did and that he left her behind.  Emery never left the island and it is emotional when she sees August for the first time in years.

August had my heart from the beginning even as I learned he was an accused murderer. Lily Morgan was dead, and the orchard is now in the town’s hands, but August’s very presence stirs up the past and someone- a lot of someones want him gone.  His first love seems to have moved on with another guy, though she didn’t and refused to commit.  Now, there is an adult romance possibility and as the menace toward August grows, Emery is determined that August stick around and they unbury the truth once and for all.

This was an adult story, but it was not a long stretch to see the author was used to writing YA because the main characters seemed to be in an arrested development situation in that they had to deal with their teenage selves and that time. In fact, there are flashback timelines to reinforce this impression with me. 

There is lag in bits of the middle so that I got impatient for the plot to get going, but after reading it I can see how some of that was set up and explanation for what comes later. The last quarter was the best, and this book ended on a high note for me. I had my suspicions early of what was really going on. I come from a small town so I can say this and still love where I came from. But sometimes small town roots, particularly isolated communities, can get twisted and growth is stunted so that people lose a sense of proportion and rightness. Not so great in real life, but oh so choice in a suspense story. I say all that because I enjoyed this darker aspect going on to give the murder mystery added complexity and made the denouement make a good sense the way it’s very ho-hum normalcy balances out what came before.

If you’re looking for a tasty atmospheric magical realism fall read, I highly recommend this one. Meanwhile, I’ll be bumping up a few from the author’s backlist on my reading list.

Amazon | Audible

Spells For Forgetting by Adrienne Young delivered an atmosphere fall read. #NewRelease #MagicalRealism #bookreview #RomanticSuspense #SophiaRose
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About Adrienne YoungAdrienne Young

Adrienne Young is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Sky and Sea duology, the Fable series, and Spells for Forgetting. When she’s not writing, you can find Adrienne on her yoga mat, on a walk in the woods, or planning her next travel adventure. She lives and writes in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

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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
🎧 The Hob & Hound Pub by Seana Kelly

The Hob & Hound Pub by Seana Kelly is the fourth audiobook in the Sam Quinn urban fantasy series featuring Sam Quinn, newly married werewolf & book nerd owner of the Slaughtered Lamb Bookstore and Bar. She and Clive, her vampire husband, are on honeymoon where Sam can’t shake the feeling she is being watched….

🎧 The Hob & Hound Pub by Seana KellyThe Hob and Hound Pub
by Seana Kelly
Series: Sam Quinn #4
Narrator: Samantha Desz
Length: 10 hours and 9 minutes
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star
Heat Level: One FlameOne FlameOne FlameHalf a Flame
Narration: 4 cups Speed: 1.3x

’m Sam Quinn, the newly married werewolf book nerd owner of the Slaughtered Lamb Bookstore and Bar. Clive and I are on our honeymoon. Paris is lovely, though the mummy in the Louvre inching toward me is a bit off-putting. Although Clive doesn’t sense anything, I can’t shake the feeling I’m being watched.

Even after we cross the English Channel to begin our search for Aldith—the woman who’s been plotting against Clive since the beginning—the prickling unease persists. Clive and I are separated, rather forcefully, and I’m left to find my way alone in a foreign country, evading not only Aldith’s large web of hench-vamps, but vicious fae creatures disloyal to their queen. Gloriana says there’s a poison in the human realm that’s seeping into Faerie, and I may have found the source.

I knew this was going to be a working vacation, but battling vampires on one front and the fae on another is a lot, especially in a country steeped in magic. As a side note, I need to get word to Benvair. I think I’ve found the dragon she’s looking for.

Gloriana is threatening to set her warriors against the human realm, but I may have a way to placate her. Aldith is a different story. There’s no reasoning with rabid vengeance. She’ll need to be put out of our misery permanently if Clive and I have any hope of a long, happy life together. Heck, I’d settle for a few quiet weeks.

howlinggood magical SUSPENSE urban

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Ah, Paris, the city of love… but Sam keeps gets the feeling she is being watched, and that feeling persists when they cross the English channel in their search for Aldith the vampire plotting Clive’s demise. Kelly pulled me right in from the chess set Sam spies in a shop to the plot against the Fae.

It seems the magic of Fae is seeping into our world and destroying their lands. Sam accidentally stumbles upon the cause, or at least she thinks she has. Then there are Aldith and her henchmen. This trip is anything but romantic as the danger mounts and Sam and Clive battle for their lives and those of the Fae kingdom.

This is such a fun series. I quite enjoyed this time away from the Slaughtered Lamb Bookstore & Bar. We have met Gloriana, the Fae Queen, previously, but if Sam doesn’t solve the problem, she may send forces here. Did I mention the Dragons? Aldith is horrible and needs to go. You’ll need to discover why for yourself. There are vampires and then there are bloodsucking villains.

We are really seeing Sam come into her own and to trust herself. A lot of the steps they took were based on her gut feelings or intuition. Of course Clive and his unwavering support help.

I love Sam and Clive’s relationship and we see it strengthen as they must learn to trust when all is not what is seems. From dragon caves to mist and dungeons, the author gives us an action-packed tale with battles, twists and plenty of excitement.

Samantha Desz gives voice to Sam and the other characters. Her narration enhances both the story and the characters. The story itself works wonderfully in this format. I am looking forward to the next story in the series.

Amazon | Audible

The Hob & Hound Pub by Seana Kelly delivered as Sam & Clive travel abroad on their honeymoon while tracking down his enemy. #UrbanFantasy #SamQuinn #AudiobookReview #audiobook #SamanthaDesz #TantorAudio
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About Seana KellySeana Kelly

Seana Kelly lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two daughters, two dogs, and one fish. When she's not dodging her family, hiding in the garage and trying to write, she's working as a high school teacher-librarian. She's an avid reader and re-reader who misses her favorite characters when it's been too long between visits. She's represented by the delightful and effervescent Sarah E. Younger of the Nancy Yost Literary Agency

About Samantha DeszSamantha Desz

Samantha Desz is a classically trained actor with extensive theater experience. She also is an experienced voice actor, working on a variety of long form voice-over projects. Samantha has a passion for learning about different cultures and lifestyles. She's lived around the US and in London, England, called New York City home for nearly twenty years, and is currently living in the Midwest.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

2022 Audiobook Challenge


- Kimberly
🎧 The Long-Forgotten Winter King by Annette Marie

The Long-Forgotten Winter King is the second audiobook in the Unveiled series and is part of Annette Marie’s Guild Codex world. Narrated by Cris Dukehart, the author shares Saber and Zak’s stories. Druids, suspense and surprises await you. The story left me excited about the next installment….

🎧 The Long-Forgotten Winter King by Annette MarieThe Long-Forgotten Winter King
by Annette Marie
Series: The Guild Codex: Unveiled #2
Narrator: Cris Dukehart
Length: 8 hours and 12 minutes
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchase
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star
Narration: 5 cups Speed: 1.3x

I thought I was a useless witch whose only weapons were a switchblade and a mean disposition.

I thought Zak was a rogue druid with waning power and an alluring aura that's impossible for me to resist.

And I thought my fae familiar was a harmless shape-shifter who chose me because I'm "mildly interesting".

But nothing is what I thought. Nothing is what it seems. Including me.

I need answers, and I need them fast - before I sink any deeper in the quagmire of secrets I've fallen into.

The Crystal Druid's. The Winter King's.

magical ROMANCE smartfunny urban

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Somehow I missed this and the next audiobook and immediately set out to catch up. I have listened to all the books in the Guild Codex and was excited to dive in. I thought this would be Zak’s story and in some ways it was, but we get Saber’s story, too.

For Saber, life has not been easy. Her parents were murdered, and Zak, the Crystal Druid who she knew previously is keeping secrets. Saber, despite being on probation, is determined to solve her parents’ murders, and for reasons unknown, Zak has joined her.

This was such an exciting instalment. I loved getting Saber and Zak’s backgrounds. Druids are a favorite of mine (thank you, Kevin Hearne) and I was eager to journey with them.

I loved the chemistry between them, which has teased us from the start. Their banter and barbs only seem to ignite the flames. They will need to trust each other. Saber holds a lot of anger and frustration combined with doubt. She is fiercely determined, though, and I truly like her. I have loved Zak from the start, and learning his story only endeared me further.

Cris Dukehart narrates, and I love the voice she brings to these characters. She brilliantly captures their emotions, the tone of the story, and brings the story to another level of enjoyment. I cannot imagine not listening to these stories.

For fans of the Guild Codex world, I am sitting here biting my tongue. We see characters and places that have me excited, but I won’t spoil them for you. As for new listeners, I think you could begin with Unveiled #1, but recommend starting at the very beginning with Taming Demons for Beginners. The world is full of adventure, suspense, romance, and characters you’ll cheer for.

I have as you might have imagined already devoured the next audiobook, The Twice-Scorned Lady of Shadow, and I will share my thoughts later this week. I am told this will be a four book series.

Amazon* | Audible

*available in KindleUnlimited

The Long-Forgotten Winter King by Annette Marie delivered Saber's story and the Crystal Druid helps her get answers regarding her parents. #UrbanFantasy #ChrisDukehart #audiobookreview #Unveiled #GuildCodex
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About Annette MarieAnnette Marie

Annette Marie is the author of YA urban fantasy series Steel & Stone, its prequel trilogy Spell Weaver, and romantic fantasy trilogy Red Winter. Her first love is fantasy, but fast-paced urban fantasy, bold heroines, and tantalizing forbidden romances are her guilty pleasures. She proudly admits she has a thing for dragons, and her editor has politely inquired as to whether she intends to include them in every single book.

About Cris DukehartCris Dukehart

An award-winning storyteller and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, Cris Dukehart has narrated books in a plethora of genres, from romance, science fiction, and young adult to children's literature and autobiography. Her voice, with an endearing mix of sweetness and pluck, can be heard around the world and across the Web in commercials, e-learning projects, and corporate narrations.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

2022 Audiobook Challenge


- Kimberly
Sunday Post #543 First Weekend of Fall
Sunday Post

The Sunday Post is a blog news meme hosted here @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news~ A post to recap the past week on your blog and showcase books and things we have received. Share news about what is coming up on your blog for the week ahead. Join in weekly, bi-weekly or for a monthly wrap up. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme

Huzzah… I am caught up with reviews. I have three weeks scheduled ahead with reviews & posts sprinkled well into October and November. It feels so good not to have all those Goodreads emails in my Inbox reminding me I’ve finished a book. I actually wrote reviews for the books I READ this week. Now to keep it that way. I finished the Crown and need to find something else to binge until new stuff comes out. Any recommendations? I have Netflix, Hulu, Disney and Prime. Stay Caffeinated.

Last Week on the Blog Sweetwater & The Witch By Jayne Castle (book review)Devouring Darkness By Chloe Neill (book review)Back To The Garden By Laurie R. King (book review, guest post)🎧 Signal Moon By Kate Quinn (audio review)Nonna’s Corner: Eric The Earthworm By Cheryl Bond-Nelms (book review) This Week on the Blog 🎧 The Long-Forgotten Winter King By Annette Marie (audio review)🎧 The Hob & Hound Pub By Seana Kelly (audio review)Spells For Forgetting By Adrienne Young (book review, guest post)🎧 The Twice-Scorned Lady Of Shadow By Annette Marie (audio review)🎧 Across The Green Grass Fields By Seanan McGuire (audio review) New Arrivals at the Caffeinated Cafe

Learn more:

A Hard Day for a Hangover by Darynda Jones

Special thanks to St. Martin

Around The Blogosphere Hallowtween Readathon October 1-31st. Middle Grade hosted by Storm ReadsFraterfest 2022 Readathon October 14th-24thThankful for Books Giveaway Hop November 21-28th Save the Date: 2022 #HoHoHoRAT Readathon November 18-30th Caffeinated PR open-events2 Open Events Link Up Your Edition Of The Sunday Post

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- Kimberly
Nonna’s Corner: Eric the Earthworm by Cheryl Bond-Nelms

Nonna’s Corner is a special feature where I share books I’ve reviewed with my grandchildren, affectionately referred to as the “Royals” here at Caffeinated.

The Royals and I are back with a new book to share with you! Eric the Earthworm by Cheryl Bond-Nelms, illustrated by Mike Motz. Come along as Eric the Earthworm learns how to deal with feelings of envy.

Nonna’s Corner: Eric the Earthworm by Cheryl Bond-NelmsEric the Earthworm
by Cheryl Bond-Nelms
Illustrator: Mike Motz
Genres: Childrens
Pages: 34
Source: Author
Purchase*: Amazon *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Beautifully illustrated, Eric the Earthworm helps us recognize and deal with feelings of envy. This book is about a young worm who loves life in the park where he lives. Eric looks around and just beams at all the sights and sound, but one day his joy turns to sadness when he begins to envy the abilities of other residents in his park. Without even realizing it, Eric's thoughts of wonder and amazement suddenly change to feelings of envy. Eric's mother notices a difference in her son and helps him realize he has no reason to envy anyone, and by doing so boosts his self-esteem.

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The Royals and I settled in with this oversized, colorfully illustrated hardcover edition of Eric the Earthworm. It begins with a preface for parents and readers explaining Envy and mentions the six other deadly sins. I read this part to myself, but it offers some explanation about envy.

The text is large, and simple and wonderfully spaced with plenty of beginner words for early readers. The author first introduces us to Eric and had the Royals quite excited as they tried to find him under the tree. I loved the description of how Eric walks and the kids thought he was cute. As Eric moves through the park he sees other animals who can fly, have lots of legs and big fluffy tales. With each encounter, Eric wishes he could do the things they do. Soon, he is quite glum and feels sad. He confides to his mother that he wishes he could do things like the caterpillar, ant, green worm, etc.

Eric’s mom, who is quite wise, shows Eric all the things an earthworm can do. She points out the things they can do and how it differs from the other creatures and how it is similar. She encourages him to feel good about the things he can do. That each of us is special.

The Royals talked about things they can do, and things others can. We talked about Eric’s feelings and how it made them feel. The story left us all smiling and Eric too!

The story delivered an entertaining story while encouraging children to understand their emotions and to see the good in themselves. This is a lovely story for the classroom, bedtime, church, and more.


Reading Ages 3-8 *Available in KindleUnlimited

Nonna's Corner: Eric the Earthworm by Cheryl Bond-Nelms touches on envy and embracing the things you can do. #childrensbook #bookreview #earlyreader
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- Kimberly
🎧 Signal Moon by Kate Quinn

I have several of Kate Quinn’s novels in my TBR pile, so when I got the chance to try Signal Moon, narrated by Saskia Maarleveld and Andrew Gibson, I jumped in blind. This short story delivered a fantastic story as past meets present in this brilliant and suspenseful tale.

🎧 Signal Moon by Kate QuinnSignal Moon
by Kate Quinn
Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld, Andrew Gibson
Length: 1 hour and 22 minutes
Genres: Historical Fiction
Source: Prime, Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star
Narration: 5 cups Speed: 1.3x

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Diamond Eye comes a riveting short story about an impossible connection across two centuries that could make the difference between peace or war.

Yorkshire, 1943. Lily Baines, a bright young debutante increasingly ground down by an endless war, has traded in her white gloves for a set of headphones. It’s her job to intercept enemy naval communications and send them to Bletchley Park for decryption.

One night, she picks up a transmission that isn’t code at all—it’s a cry for help.

An American ship is taking heavy fire in the North Atlantic—but no one else has reported an attack, and the information relayed by the young US officer, Matt Jackson, seems all wrong. The contact that Lily has made on the other end of the radio channel says it’s…2023.

Across an eighty-year gap, Lily and Matt must find a way to help each other: Matt to convince her that the war she’s fighting can still be won, and Lily to help him stave off the war to come. As their connection grows stronger, they both know there’s no telling when time will run out on their inexplicable link.

historical Novella Standalone well written

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Imagine intercepting a message from an American ship from the future. That’s exactly what happens to Lily Baines, a young woman working to intercept enemy naval communications and send them to Bletchley Park for decryption in 1943 Yorkshire. US Officer Matt Jackson is relaying the attack on open air in the year 2023. He and his crew die.

The story that unfolds was captivating as Lily uses information provided to send a message to Matt. I loved the mystical aspect of the story and the phenomenon that allows these two to communicate. While the story is less than an hour and a half long, it felt complete and left me satisfied. So much so, I’ve bumped her other novels up on my reading list.

I adore Saskia Maarleveld and grab books narrated by her whenever I can. The story is third person/duel narration and she, along with Andrew Gibson, did a stellar job of narrating the tale. They captured the emotions, friendship, and tone of the story perfectly.

Fans of historical fiction and wartime stories will want to grab this one! It is the perfect listen on a rainy afternoon with a spot of tea.

Amazon* | Audible

*Read and listen for Free with Prime

Signal Moon by Kate Quinn, narrated by Saskia Maarleveld & Andrew Gibson delivered the perfect tale for a rainy afternoon with a spot of tea. #historicalfiction #audio #WWII #audiobookreview
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About Kate QuinnKate Quinn

Kate Quinn is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction. A native of southern California, she attended Boston University where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. She has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance, before turning to the 20th century with “The Alice Network”, “The Huntress,” and “The Rose Code.” All have been translated into multiple languages. Kate and her husband now live in San Diego with three rescue dogs.

About Andrew GibsonAndrew Gibson

Andrew G Gibson is an author, narrator, editor and curator of the Incredible Science Fiction: Amazing Tales from the 50’s and Beyond series of books.

About Saskia MaarleveldSaskia Maarleveld

SASKIA MAARLEVELD is an AudioFile magazine Earphones Award–winning narrator living in New York City. Working full-time in the voice-over world, Saskia has recorded over 160 audiobooks. She switches seamlessly between accents and can often be heard speaking in British, Australian, New Zealand, and various European accents, in addition to her own American accent.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

2022 Audiobook Challenge


- Kimberly
Back to the Garden by Laurie R. King

Sophia Rose is here with a mystery for us! Grab a cup of pumpkin spice coffee and see why Sophia recommends, Back to the Garden by Laurie R. King.

Back to the Garden by Laurie R. KingBack to the Garden
by Laurie R. King
Genres: Mystery
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

A fifty-year-old cold case involving California royalty comes back to life—with potentially fatal consequences—in this gripping standalone novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series

The Gardener Estate is one of the most storied and beloved places on the West Coast: a magnificent house in vast formal grounds, home to a family that shaped California—and fought hard to conceal the turmoil and eccentricities within their walls.

And now, just as the turmoil seems buried and the Estate prepares to move into a new future, construction work unearths a grim relic of the estate’s history: a skull, hidden away some fifty years ago.

Inspector Raquel Laing of the SFPD Cold Case Unit has her work cut out for her. Back in the '70s, the Estate was a commune, when its young heir, Rob Gardener, turned the palatial setting into a counterculture Eden of peace, love, and equality. But the '70s were also a time when serial killers preyed on such innocents—monsters like The Highwayman, whose case has just assumed a whole new urgency.

Could these bones belong to one of his victims?

For Raquel Laing—a woman who knows all about hidden turmoil and eccentricities—the Gardener bones seem clearly linked to The Highwayman. But as she dives into the Estate’s archives for evidence of his presence, what she finds there begins to take on a dark reality of its own.

Everything brings her back to Rob Gardener himself—now a gray-haired recluse, then a troubled young Vietnam vet whose girlfriend vanished after a midsummer festival at the Estate, fifty years ago.

But a lot of people seem to have disappeared from the Gardener Estate that summer, when the commune fell apart and its residents scattered: a young woman, her child, Rob’s brother Fort…

The pressure is on, and Raquel needs to solve this case—before The Highwayman slips away, or another Gardener vanishes.

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When old bones are found under a statue on the grounds of a fabulous mansion with a colorful history, a cop on probation wonders if there is a tie to the infamous The Highwayman serial killer from the same period in history.

Laurie R. King has been a favorite author since I first devoured the then released Mary Russell series, Harris Stuyvesant, and the Kate Martinelli series books. King can set up the world of a story and do a deep dive into the personhood and background of her main characters while serving up a steadily paced march to that big suspenseful moment like few others. I was eager to read this latest, which I hope doesn’t turn out to be a standalone.

Raquel is a San Francisco police detective who is good at what she does, but stumbles on the social complexities which gets her into trouble so that when the story opens she’s home on leave.  She is put on the Highwayman serial killer case that has been unsolved for fifty years.  While working that case, a stunning and intriguing investigation turns up when a hippie festival on the grounds of an old hippie compound that was once the Gardener Estate is capped by the finding of skeletal bones under a statue.  Raquel gets pulled to work this new investigation that she privately wonders if it has ties to her serial killer.  But even she couldn’t predict the outcome once she follows the evidence to the truth of that time in the past.

Back to the Garden is a split time line mystery with Raquel’s investigation in the present and the Gardener brothers and their choice to turn their inheritance into a commune back in the 70s Robert Gardner had a bad war and came back from Vietnam different which makes him suspect when his girlfriend disappears. But others at the commune go missing when something breaks it up and slowly but surely the answers come for Raquel and the reader. I vaguely remember this period, but I felt the author nailed it and made me feel a tad nostalgic.

I am used to the author’s books sometimes starting slow and ponderous, but it’s been a while since I read one that had the introduction of a new world and characters. I found myself struggling to be interested at times. I did enjoy the cold case investigation skills going on with the police and meeting some of the huge cast of characters.  Raquel was okay. I found her imperviousness to social cues made her interesting. Sadly, I was only semi-interested in the past situation though I thought the author wrote the 70’s and the fading hippie culture well. I preferred to stick with the present day investigation mostly because it paced out more swiftly and seemed more relevant, at least in the first half.

But, before I have everyone thinking I didn’t like the book, let me say that it picked up for me as it went along. By the end, I was figuratively biting my nails and tense enough that I couldn’t put the book down until I made to the surprising finish. I got a big surprise over the statue body and somewhat of a surprise about the serial killer. This was a complete mystery though abrupt, but I could see where this could become a series and wouldn’t mind that in the least. If readers haven’t tried the author or her mysteries in the past, I recommend this one for a chance to see her stuff and already fans won’t want to miss this one.

Amazon | Audible

Back to the Garden by Laurie R. King delivers a complete mystery. #SophiaRose #NewReleaase #Mystery #bookreview
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About Laurie R. KingLaurie R. King

Laurie R. King is the New York Times bestselling author of 27 novels and other works, including the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes stories. She is probably the only writer to have both an Edgar and an honorary doctorate in theology.

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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
Devouring Darkness by Chloe Neill

Devouring Darkness by Chloe Neill is the fourth novel in the Heir of Chicagoland series. This is a spinoff of Neill’s Chicagoland Vampire series featuring the next generation. Danger, snark, friendship, romance and a paranormal entity threatening Chicago gave way to an exciting installment that left me craving more….

Devouring Darkness by Chloe NeillDevouring Darkness
by Chloe Neill
Series: Heirs of Chicagoland #4
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star
Heat Level: One FlameOne FlameOne Flame

In the newest installment of the USA Today bestselling Heirs of Chicagoland series, vampire Elisa Sullivan unearths an ancient grudge, with potentially devastating consequences.

As the only vampire ever born, and the daughter of two very powerful Chicago vampires, Elisa Sullivan knew her life was going to be…unusual. But she wanted to make her own way in the world, preferably away from her famous family. Then supernatural politics—and perhaps a bit of destiny—intervened, and Elisa had to steady her nerves and sharpen her steel to fight for the city of Chicago. Luckily, Connor Keene, son of the North American Central Pack’s Apex wolf, is right by her side.

When Elisa and her Ombudsman colleagues agree to escort a vulnerable supernatural to Chicago, they inadvertently set in motion a scheme of long-awaited magical vengeance. The city may pay an arcane price it can’t afford unless Elisa and her allies rise to the challenge.

Kick Ass Heroine magical urban yummy alpha

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While each story in the Heir of Chicagoland series features a case to be solved, I truly recommend beginning with book one, Wild Hunger. The overall series arc, friendships, and of course the romance are best served fresh from the beginning. At the time of writing this review, one more installment was contracted with the publisher.

The story starts off slowly as Elisa Sullivan and her Ombudsman partner are asked to rescue an informant who has been compromised. All goes well until they are attacked. We and the Ombudsman have little information after the attack, but a part of Chicago was destroyed. The young woman they rescued is missing and her partner has been injured. We muddle through picking up clues and face another attack where the villain is revealed. On the third attack, things really pick up and I found myself completely invested. In fact, from the fifty percent mark, I could not set this one down.

I love each of the heirs individually and throughout the series we’ve gotten to know them and witness growth, bonding and seeing them work as a team. Their friendship and alliances have proven how well they work together, and in Devouring Darkness, they truly must not only work together, but trust each other. Threats to the shifters increase the pressure, as does a slight rifle with the fae. I loved seeing Elisa bring her A game.

The romance between Connor and Elisa continues to strengthen and we some significant development. And Lulu… oh my, that girl really comes into her own and shines in this one. LOL

I thought the storyline was well done, as it kept me on the edge of my seat. We see a solid, unrushed conclusion before getting hints of things to come. Neill left me excited about the next book.

Fans of the Chicagoland Vampires, urban fantasy and paranormal romances will want to add Devouring Darkness and the Heir of Chicagoland to their bookshelves.

Amazon | Audible

Devouring Darkness by Chloe Neill delivered as new threats threaten the city. Elisa Sullivan and her friends will need to band together along with allies to save the city. #UrbanFantasy #HeirsOfChicagoland #NewRelease #bookreview
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About Chloe NeillChloe Neill

Chloe Neill is the New York Times bestselling author of the Chicagoland Vampires Novels, the Devil's Isle Novels, and a YA series, the Dark Elite. Chloe was born and raised in the South, but now makes her home in the Midwest. When she's not writing, she bakes, works, and scours the Internet for good recipes and great graphic design. Chloe also maintains her sanity by spending time with her boys--her husband and their dogs, Baxter and Scout.

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- Kimberly
Sweetwater & the Witch by Jayne Castle

It’s no secret that I love Jayne Castle and her off planet Harmony series with those adorable, yet deadly dust bunnies. Ravenna Chastain, a fire witch and Ethan Sweetwater’s fake date, turns complicated when someone tries to kill them. Humor, suspense and swoons await you in Sweetwater & the Witch.

Sweetwater & the Witch by Jayne CastleSweetwater & the Witch
by Jayne Castle
Series: Ghost Hunters #15
Genres: Paranormal Romance
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star
Heat Level: One FlameOne FlameOne Flame

Welcome to the world of Harmony, where—despite its name, things are anything but—danger lurks just beneath the surface in this new novel by New York Times bestselling author, Jayne Castle.

If there’s something Ravenna Chastain knows, it’s when to end things. And after she almost winds up the victim of a cult that believes she’s a witch, it’s easy to walk away from her dead-end career, ready for a new start. But where to find a job that would allow her to use her very specialized skill set? The answer is clear: she becomes a matchmaker.

But even a successful matchmaker can’t find someone for everyone, and Ravenna considers Ethan Sweetwater her first professional failure. After nine failed dates, Ravenna knows it’s time to cut Ethan loose. But Ethan refuses to be fired as a client—he needs one final date to a business function. Since Ravenna needs a date herself to a family event, they agree to a deal: she will be his (business) date if he will be her (fake) date to her grandparents’ anniversary celebration.

What Ethan fails to mention is that attending the business function is a cover for some industrial espionage that he’s doing as a favor to the new Illusion Town Guild boss. Ravenna is happy to help, but their relationship gets even more complicated when things heat up—the chemistry between them is explosive, as explosive as the danger that’s stalking Ravenna. Lucky for her, Ethan isn’t just an engineer—he’s also a Sweetwater, and Sweetwaters are known for hunting down monsters…

paranormal ROMANCE smartfunny SUSPENSE

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Sweetwater & the Witch may be the fifteenth book in the Ghost Hunters series set on the planet Harmony, but each book features a romance, suspense and its own story. Readers can jump in and join in the fun. I must warn you though, chances are you’ll go back to read the rest.

The story opens deep in the tunnels under the surface where Ravenna posing ironically as a witch is being held by a group determined to rid the planet of witches. Ravenna is actually undercover with the Paranormal FBI (FBPI), but her backup is late. She, along with a fuzzy dust bunny who she later names Harriet, are going to need to save themselves. It is here we get an inkling of the power Ravenna wields.

After the events in the tunnel, Ravenna left the agency and took her skill set as a criminal profiler and applied it as a matchmaker. Her client, Ethan Sweetwater, isn’t satisfied with her service, and none of the women who went out with him were impressed. Ravenna wants to discharge the contract, but Ethan is requesting she accompany him on a fake date to assess where he is failing. I love the fake troupe and immediately snuggled in. She reluctantly makes a deal with him, a tit for tat, if you will. It’s a good thing to, because her employer indicated a failure with this high-profile match might mean the end of her career.

The tale that unfolds delivers suspense and a wonderful romance. Ethan is donning his ghost hunter skills as a favor and investigating a casino owner. Ravenna finds past dates trying to kill her. As always, we have a feisty dust bunny. Harriet has a fondness for pens and sweets.

The mystery was well done, with plenty of action and twists. It helped force the couple to spend more time together. Both have powerful abilities, and those skills will be needed. Ravenna struggles with people, fearing her skill set, but Ethan doesn’t seem deterred. Family, sexual tension, and a little heat gave way to a delightful romance.

I loved the back-and-forth banter between them and the reader’s awareness that Ethan is quite smitten. The author delivered allowing both to shine, while having room to grow and trust.

For those who don’t know, Jayne Anne Krentz writes of this paranormal world and investigative teams that began with the Arcane Society. She writes historical stories as Amanda Quick where it all began in Second Sight, modern stories as herself and off-planet adventures as Jayne Castle. All of them deal with artifacts that contain some sort of power, people with abilities, suspenseful stories, and delightful romances.

As always, I loved my trip to Harmony and encourage fans of romantic suspense with paranormal elements to add this to their bookshelf.

Amazon | Audible

Sweetwater & the Witch by Jayne Castle delivered another suspenseful, swoon-worthy off planet adventure in the #GhostHunters series #ArcaneSociety #Harmony #NewRelease #bookreview
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About Jayne Castle

The author of over 40 consecutive New York Times bestsellers, JAYNE ANN KRENTZ writes romantic-suspense, often with a psychic and paranormal twist, in three different worlds: Contemporary (as Jayne Ann Krentz), historical (as Amanda Quick) and futuristic (as Jayne Castle). There are over 30 million copies of her books in print. She earned a B.A. in History from the University of California at Santa Cruz and went on to obtain a Masters degree in Library Science from San Jose State University in California. Before she began writing full time she worked as a librarian in both academic and corporate libraries. Ms. Krentz is married and lives with her husband, Frank, in Seattle, Washington. Pseudonyms: Jayne Ann Krentz, Amanda Quick, Stephanie James, Jayne Bentley, Jayne Taylor, Amanda Glass.

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- Kimberly
Sunday Post #542 Winchester
Sunday Post

The Sunday Post is a blog news meme hosted here @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news~ A post to recap the past week on your blog and showcase books and things we have received. Share news about what is coming up on your blog for the week ahead. Join in weekly, bi-weekly or for a monthly wrap up. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme

It’s busy season on the blog from readathons to blog hops. You can now sign up for the Fraterfest Readathon & the Thankful for Books Giveaway Hop. I do hope you’ll join us. If you follow me on social media, you may have seen pictures of the newest addition to our family. On September 4, I adopted the cutest kitten. His name is Winchester and he and I are becoming fast friends. He had his first veterinarian visit yesterday and is adjusting quite nicely. Stay Caffeinated.

Meet Winchester …. Last Week on the Blog 🎧 Thank You For Listening By Julia Whelan (audio review)I’m The Girl By Courtney Summers (book review)Beyond The Desert Sands By Tracie Peterson (book review, guest post)Blog Tour: Grimm Consequences By Kate SeRine (blog tour, giveaway, review)🎧 Rebel Magic By Kim Richardson (audio review)Thankful for Books Giveaway Hop Sign-Up (event) This Week on the Blog Sweetwater & The Witch By Jayne Castle (book review)Devouring Darkness By Chloe Neill (book review)Back To The Garden By Laurie R. King (book review, guest post)🎧 Signal Moon By Kate Quinn (audio review)Nonna’s Corner: Eric The Earthworm By Cheryl Bond-Nelms (book review) New Arrivals at the Caffeinated Cafe

Learn more:

A Wish for Winter by Viola Shipman The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman The Book Haters’ Club by Gretchen Anthony

Special thanks to Harlequin, Harlequin Audio, Penguin Audio

Around The Blogosphere Fraterfest 2022 Readathon October 14th-24thThankful for Books Giveaway Hop November 21-28th Save the Date: 2022 #HoHoHoRAT Readathon November 18-30th 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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- selena
Fantasy Books That Will Have You Hooked on the First Page
Fantasy Books That Will Have You Hooked on the First Page

Looking for a new fantasy book to read this fall? We’ve got aliens, superheroes, witches, and so much more awaiting in the pages of these new fantasy releases. We promise, these books will have you hooked on the very first page!

B0B6JMGBVM cover image
Alien Thrill Seeker (Adrenaline Rush Book 2) by Lawrence M. Schoen & Brian Thorne

Release Date: August 23, 2022

Before being injected by an alien virus, Ben “Coop” Cooper was an alcoholic, washed-up movie star. Saved from dying by an out-of-this-world offer, his body was healed and his aging process reversed. Now a race of machine intelligences called the Box are hunting both him and Dr. Jessica Acorns, the doctor who created the virus. It’s curtains for Coop. Or maybe not…

Buy on Amazon B0B5W5HNKN cover image
Praesidium (Shadows in the Wind Book 1) by McKinley Aspen

Release Date: July 4, 2022

Kathryn Bek gets the chance of a lifetime: a job offer right out of college, and in New York City, where adventure lies around every corner. Believing she is recruited for her marketing prowess, she is excited by the prospect of her new job in the intelligence sector; but all is not what it seems. Before long, Kathryn and her new team are thrown into a world of mystery, murder, and magic.

Buy on Amazon B0B1BSY2HR cover image
Only Bad Options by Jennifer Estep

Release Date: September 20, 2022

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Estep blasts off with an exciting new science-fiction fantasy adventure with a dash of historical romance. This action-packed space opera features a mix of magic and technology, along with a soul mates and enemies-to-lovers story. Perfect for fans of Star Wars, Bridgerton, and Pride and Prejudice.

Buy on Amazon B0B9T96T3W cover image
Facets of Revolution (The Firebird Chronicles Book 4) by T.A. White

Release Date: September 27, 2022

The line between loyalty and betrayal has never been so fine. Chasing the trail of the woman who was once considered her best friend, Kira Forrest returns to the planet of her birth. When a near deadly incident jeopardizes her arrival, Kira will find the secrets she’s worked so hard to hide bubbling to the surface one by one. Her only hope to control her destiny and protect the ones she loves is to embark on a dangerous rite of passage that may require far more of her than she’s willing to pay.

Buy on Amazon B0BFGWN8WJ cover image
When Gracie Met The Grump by Mariana Zapata

Release Date: September 15, 2022

Of all the things that could have landed in her yard… it had to be him. For most people, finding a half-naked superbeing in their yard might be a dream come true. Unfortunately for Gracie Castro, it’s the exact opposite. Especially when he’s grouchy, rude, and shows no signs of leaving anytime soon. But when a hero of mankind needs you, you do what you have to. Even if it compromises everything you know. And totally changes your life.

Buy on Amazon B0B9LNKQWQ cover image
Druid Heir: Books 1 – 3 by N. Z. Nasser

Release Date: September 3, 2022

A woman in her midlife knows who she is. Unless her family has been hiding a magical secret. If you’re a fan of Paranormal Women’s Fiction and magic-wielding heroines over forty, get your hands on Druid Heir: Books 1 to 3 today. Features an exclusive bonus short story!

Buy on AmazonThe post Fantasy Books That Will Have You Hooked on the First Page appeared first on NewInBooks.
- selena
New Literary Fiction Books for Your TBR List
New Literary Fiction Books for Your TBR List

Looking for new literary fiction books to add to your reading list? We’ve curated a selection of new releases from authors Roxanne Remy, Olivia Hawker, Ted Fox, and more! Don’t miss out on these new literary fiction books, perfect for your TBR list!

B0B5FPBMCD cover image
They Didn’t Eat Me for Supper by Roxanne Remy

Release Date: July 7, 2022

In the wake of a devastating tragedy, nineteen-year-old Lennon Camek swears never to return to small-town life. She’s forced to face the aftermath of her family’s sordid past when her younger sister, Olivia, is hospitalized. And Lennon wonders if someone is up to their old habits. Reunited, can these sisters rebuild their relationship before disaster strikes again?

Buy on Amazon B09KLLGPFV cover image
The Fire and the Ore by Olivia Hawker

Release Date: October 1, 2022

Three spirited wives in nineteenth-century Utah. One husband. A compelling novel of family, sisterhood, and survival by the Washington Post bestselling author of One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow.

Buy on Amazon B09RK5SYJF cover image
Schooled by Ted Fox

Release Date: October 1, 2022

From a delightful new voice in fiction comes the story of a stay-at-home dad reclaiming his past and discovering a new future.

Buy on Amazon B0B786FXF4 cover image
When We Were Innocent by Kate Hewitt

Release Date: September 20, 2022

You love your father with all your heart. But what if he’s not who you think he is? What if he’s kept an unforgiveable secret from you his whole life?

Buy on Amazon B09KGZ87J3 cover image
The Secret of Elephants by Vasundra Tailor

Release Date: September 1, 2022

Navsari, India. Penniless and trapped in a loveless marriage, Nirmala spends her days anxiously caring for her sick young son, Varun. Looming over Nirmala’s impoverished home is an imposing mansion built by her grandfather, and from its balcony her cruel aunt scorns them, refusing to help in any way. But when a mysterious letter addressed to her long-dead father arrives from Zimbabwe, it opens a door to a past Nirmala never knew existed and a future she never imagined possible.

Buy on Amazon B0B4PJXTRY cover image
The Silence Before Dawn (WW2 Resistance Series Book 1) by Amanda Lees

Release Date: September 13, 2022

Nazi-occupied France, 1944: I tear open the envelope, extracting a sheet of folded paper. I read it, my heart cracking with every word. There is no mistaking the name of the man who betrayed us. Jack. My beloved fiancé – and now, a traitor.

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- selena
Books To Read If You Like L.J. Shen
Books To Read If You Like L.J. Shen

As a bestselling contemporary romance author, L.J. Shen knows a thing or two about romance books. If you’re looking for your next steamy read to keep you warm this fall, then look no further! We’ve curated a list of the hottest new romance reads for fans of L.J. Shen.

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Primal Lust (To Be Claimed Saga Book 3) by Willow Winters

Release Date: September 27, 2022

With human mates and the paranormal world on the brink of war, the Alpha and his pack have never faced greater risks. Primal Lust is just as hot as it is addictive.

Buy on Amazon B0B57N458X cover image
Claiming Jessica (Moretti Family Rules Book 1) by Ivy Adams

Release Date: August 1, 2022

“Push me away now, or I stay forever.” If there’s one thing I won’t abide, it’s being stolen from. But when the rival family sets out to take what’s mine, they unwittingly lead me to meet the woman of my dreams.

Buy on Amazon B0BCHHKFL4 cover image
Zane Ambrose by N R Emerald

Release Date: September 22, 2022

Zane Ambrose is an interracial age-gap inspirational romance. Zane lands an internship as a Research Assistant at a prestigious UK university. Regan, a wealthy university professor, thought ‘Zane’ was a young man, a house guest with whom he could discuss sports and get his mind off a failed marriage. They are both in for a surprise.

Buy on Amazon B09GC96FLJ cover image
Runaway Allie Cat (Wicked Warriors MC) by Gillian Grey

Release Date: August 22, 2022

When my stepfather’s henchmen catch up with me, jumping a gorgeous biker’s bike is my only escape. I needed to hide, and Chase had the perfect spot among his MC club family. I take advantage that he met me in disguise, and each time he returns, I live this double life to be with him. As danger closes in around me, my only choice is to run again.

Buy on Amazon B0B4FFXL4N cover image
About Last Night by Aimee Nicole Walker

Release Date: September 20, 2022

Detective Christopher “Topher” Carnegie is unlucky in love. He either tries too hard, doesn’t try hard enough, or hasn’t found the right person yet. But recently, he’s started seeing Julian Fine, his sister’s best friend, in a new light. If there’s one thing a fabulous tailor knows, it’s how to take a person’s measure. Julian recognizes a straight man when he sees one, but that doesn’t stop him from falling head over heels for the unattainable man…

Buy on Amazon B0B9GFC3NH cover image
Dark Gambit The Pawn (The Children Of The Gods Paranormal Romance Book 65) by I. T. Lucas

Release Date: September 24, 2022

Temporarily assigned to supervise a team of bioinformaticians, Marcel expects to spend a couple of weeks in the peaceful retreat of Safe Haven, enjoying Oregon Coast’s cool weather and rugged beauty. Things quickly turn chaotic when the retreat’s director receives an email with an encoded message about a potential new threat to the clan. While those in charge of security debate what to do next, Safe Haven’s first ever paranormal retreat is about to begin, and one of the attendees is a mysterious woman who makes Marcel’s heart beat faster whenever she’s near. Is the beautiful mortal his one truelove?

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- selena
New Mystery Books for the Spooky Season!
New Mystery Books for the Spooky Season!

With Halloween just around the corner, the time for murder mysteries, chilling thrillers, and other spooky stories is here! Don’t miss out on these new mystery releases, perfect to get you ready for the spooky season ahead.

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The Silent Woman by Minka Kent

Release Date: September 27, 2022

Newlywed Jade Westmore has finally found her forever in husband Wells, a charming and recently divorced architect—only there’s one caveat. Behind the gates of their picturesque estate, hidden from street view in the caretaker’s cottage… lives Wells’ first wife, Sylvie. Years ago, a tragic accident rendered Sylvie unable to communicate. Until now. Her message? Run.

Buy on Amazon B0B94LXR14 cover image
The Coffee Killer (Motel at the End of the World Book 1) by A. R. Shaw

Release Date: September 2, 2022

“I LOVED this cozy apocalyptic mystery! The characters are interesting, the mystery was interesting, and the setting and circumstances were spot-on for a post-apocalyptic story. I laughed out loud and worried with the main characters as they worked their way through the mystery, and I can not wait for the next book in the series!” Katherine McKamey

Buy on Amazon B0B57FWY6F cover image
On Revelation’s Wall (The Frank Gould Mysteries Book 10) by Alan Asnen

Release Date: June 26, 2022

This is scary, close to the witching season. A sort of “thriller” series? But not. Breaking all the molds. Genres? No. You’ll have to read, discover what people call “THE WITTIEST, MOST ORIGINAL ROMANTIC MYSTERY-THRILLER SERIES IN YEARS.” A sweet mouthful. Add the latest book cheap. How’s that for a treat without a trick? Individual ebook discounts or PBs (not cheap). For a while. Nothing lasts.

Buy on Amazon B09MRPKMN5 cover image
A Familiar Stranger by A. R. Torre

Release Date: September 27, 2022

Lillian Smith leads an unexceptional life, writing obituaries and killing time with her inattentive husband and disconnected son. Then she meets David, a handsome stranger, in a coffee shop. Lured into an affair, she invents a new persona, one without strings, deadlines, or brooding husbands. As lies beget lies, Lillian’s two worlds spiral dangerously out of control. And betrayals run deeper than she imagines. Because Lillian isn’t the only one leading a double life.

Buy on Amazon B09QCMRPZ7 cover image
The Hike by Susi Holliday

Release Date: October 1, 2022

Four hikers enter the mountains. Only two return. But is it tragedy? Or treachery? When sisters Cat and Ginny travel with their husbands to the idyllic Swiss Alps for a hiking holiday. As they head into the mountains, morale is high, but as the terrain turns treacherous, cracks in the relationships start to show. With worrying signs that someone might be following them, the sun begins to set and exhaustion kicks in. Suddenly, lost high on a terrifying ridge, tensions spill over—with disastrous consequences.

Buy on Amazon B09MVR97Y3 cover image
The Flock by J. Todd Scott

Release Date: October 1, 2022

From J. Todd Scott comes a chillingly engrossing thriller about a cult survivor who must confront the horrors of her past to ensure the safety of the future.

Buy on AmazonThe post New Mystery Books for the Spooky Season! appeared first on NewInBooks.
- selena
Interview with Roxanne Remy, Author of They Didn’t Eat Me for Supper

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write They Didn’t Eat Me for Supper?

As a child of divorce who was alienated from her father, I wanted to tell the story of how childhood trauma manifests in our lives later. Sometimes it shows up as a phobia, other times it’s a physical manifestation. Either way, unprocessed trauma will emerge if not addressed.

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of They Didn’t Eat Me for Supper, what would they be?

I love this question! I aways create a soundtrack for my books to keep me motivated when writing. Lennon’s song is “Grenade” by Bruno Mars. Olivia’s song is “All of Me” by John Legend.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

No. I hate fiction. LOL. I’m a non-fiction reader all the way.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

Rich Bitch, by Nicole Lapin and How Women Rise by Sally Helgesen

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

The scene where Lennon sees Olivia in the hospital for the first time.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

I play my soundtrack while editing.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

“They can’t eat you for supper” is a phrase my mother used to say to me as a child. It means “What’s the worst that can happen?” It helps me find courage in tough times. And it’s the name of my first book.

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

Type One diabetics are true warriors. So many are diagnosed as children, who already have enough going on, but somehow manage to thrive despite this disease.


Roxanne Remy is the author of the new book They Didn’t Eat Me for Supper

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- selena
Interview with Alan Asnen, Author of On Revelation’s Wall

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write On Revelation’s Wall: A Frank Gould Mystery?

The story behind the story… Really? Okay, you asked.

I had an odd life. My friends asked me to write a memoir. But my life was a bit more dull than any of us thought. So I turned it into fiction, using bits and pieces of my reality to give the main character some… character. Then the first book folded into a second, the second into a third, on and on, continuing into this eighth. And now I’m working on a ninth. With three volumes of short stories that fill in some gaps.

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of On Revelation’s Wall: A Frank Gould Mystery, what would they be?

Theme Songs… Now you unlock my ancient DJ mastermind… For Frank, my first pick would have been “Something in the Way” by Nirvana but “The Batman” already stole that, so I’m left with a toss-up between “Do You Want to Know a Secret” by The Beatles and “Sunny Afternoon” by The Kinks (or perhaps the entirety of “Muswell Hillbillies”). For Paula Panday, no question, “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf. Melissa Berger is a harder nut to crack, musically. Probably “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper because she generally doesn’t.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

Fav genre to read… Cannot lie. I do so much research for my books that I end up reading mostly non-fiction and, there, my nose can be found in certain periodicals, so I can keep up to date.

I used to read loads of thrillers and mysteries but found I was mimicking them. I don’t want to do that. I still love them, though, especially Manchette, Highsmith, Householder, Modiano and Westlake.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

My TBR… This I should skip. I gave most of my library away to my Alma Mater. (And a nice plaque they gave me in return. How sweet.) All so that I could make room for the books I haven’t read.

I have a youngish admirer in London who keeps sending me lists of books I should read that I promise I will. Actually, I read them when I was more youngish than she and they’re all in my old school’s library now, so I’m having to buy new copies and put them back on my shelves to reread them. A promise is a promise. All except The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson which I’ve not read yet. That’s TBR…

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

My fav scene… I used to hate writing both sex and violence. Now that I’ve gotten the “feel” for it I am loving writing the sex scenes. I still have some difficulty getting up the nerve to sit through an entire scene of violence in one gulp. Don’t get me wrong. I can sit through an entire sequence of Avengers movies in one night without a blink. It’s trying to make that brutality come to life on the page that gives me nightmares.

But this time it clicked because I’d taken my darling Emily Dickinson with me. I know. Ironic. Emily? Violent? Lines from her poetry form the titles for all my books. In this book I went the next step and also used them as titles for each chapter and they guided me along much as an outline would (I don’t use outlines; I’m a “pantser”). In one scene the chapter title acted almost like a spirit guide. That was exciting. And it was one of the more violent scenes. I guess you had to be there. Glad I was.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

Quirky writing habits… I write in front of a large window (well, of course, also in front of a computer with a large screen…) that looks out over some small woods occupied by, you guessed it, wildlife, which keeps me necessarily distracted as I need to be between thoughts and typing. This was not handed to me, either. I earned it. Up the 1%!!! And every once in a while there’s a strange calico creature who sneaks up and screams at me to scratch her or cuddle for a few minutes. It’s a healthy thing to get up and stretch. That’s me, not her. “You gotta move, you gotta move.” That’s a theme song, too.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

Motto and quote… On the title page of every book: Si bonum facere non potes, malum minorem facere conar (if you cannot make it better, don’t make it worse) and “Not the book needs so much to be the complete thing, but the reader of the book does.”—Walt Whitman

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

That one thing to remember… Get involved with the world, the living things in it that need your energy and kindness.


Alan Asnen is the author of the new book On Revelation’s Wall: A Frank Gould Mystery

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- selena
Interview with AR Shaw, Author of The Coffee Killer

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write The Coffee Killer (Motel at the End of the World Book 1)?

I write in the post-apocalyptic genre and The China Pandemic was my debut novel in 2013 but after the last couple of years, I think most readers are ready for something a little lighter in the genre. I’m inspired by humor even in dark times and thought there should be a subgenre titled Cozy Apocalypse. A warm and fuzzy take on the end of the world as we know it.

I came up with a scenario for how the world might go on if you had to run a motel and instead of money, you checked in with toiletries and scarce food supply in a world where no plant ever grew again. Coffee would certainly be a hot commodity. It seemed like a fun project, and I was right.

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of The Coffee Killer (Motel at the End of the World Book 1), what would they be?

It’s hard to imagine anything better than Bad Moon Rising for this storyline. It’s apocalyptic but with an upbeat, if that makes sense.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

I don’t traditionally read in post-apocalyptic genre. But I do love some of the newer titles by Adrian Walker, like: End of the World Running Club and The Last Dog on Earth was hilarious. Though I’ll read anything by Anthony Doerr or C. A. Fletcher.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

At the moment, I’m reading The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. Amazing author.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

As you can imagine, I seldom get to write humor but there are a few scenes between the motel manager and his housekeeper that were a lot of fun to write. They have a great aunt/nephew kind of relationship, and he’s just not sure about her character most of the time. She keeps him guessing…

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

I have a space heater under my desk and will run it, not because it’s cold, but because of the noise it generates – even in a heatwave. It just makes me lose time in a scene. I’m convinced it’s some kind of portal.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

As a writer, I always tell others you have to be there, in the scene. Or it will never work. (Bring your space heater)

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

3 words: This is fiction. (Trust me… it’s been a problem.)


AR Shaw is the author of the new book The Coffee Killer (Motel at the End of the World Book 1)

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New Mystery and Thriller Books to Read | September 27

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 Alan Asnen, Minka Kent, A.R. Shaw, and many more. Enjoy your new mystery, thriller, and suspense novels. Happy reading! B0B57FWY6F cover imageGet The Book B0B57CFQ7Z cover imageGet The Book B0B94LXR14 cover imageGet The Book B09NXDMC9Z cover imageGet The Book B0BCDWF56T cover imageGet The Book B0B4TY4MBR cover imageGet The Book B09SYZY2TM cover imageGet The Book Sign up for our email and we’ll send you the best new books in your favorite genres weekly. The post New Mystery and Thriller Books to Read | September 27 appeared first on NewInBooks.

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New Romance Books to Read | September 27

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 Willow Winters, Ivy Adams, N.R. Emerald, and more. Enjoy your new romance books and happy reading! B09H7VWCC2 cover imageGet The Book B0B57N458X cover imageGet The Book B0BCHHKFL4 cover imageGet The Book B09GC96FLJ cover imageGet The Book B09QJNDDHS cover imageGet The Book B09RTLPXZ7 cover imageGet The Book B09X69Q5Q2 cover imageGet The Book Sign up for our email and we’ll send you the best new books in your favorite genres weekly. The post New Romance Books to Read | September 27 appeared first on NewInBooks.

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New Books to Read in Literary Fiction | September 27

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 Roxanne Remy, Kate Atkinson, Fredrik Backman, and many more. Enjoy your new literary fiction books. Happy reading! B0B5FPBMCD cover imageGet The Book B09RQHCHL5 cover imageGet The Book B09R2J1DXF cover imageGet The Book B09KXHWTFR cover imageGet The Book B09NW4HM24 cover imageGet The Book B09HRGJBY3 cover imageGet The Book B0B63P3T5L cover imageGet The Book Sign up for our email and we’ll send you the best new books in your favorite genres weekly. The post New Books to Read in Literary Fiction | September 27 appeared first on NewInBooks.

- Maryse

<—- NOT YET!!! BUT SOOOOOOOOOON!!!! (THIS MONTH) 😊 HAPPY MONDAY AGAIN!!!! And happy October (one of my favorite months of the year!!) October, November & December are my happy months. Also… spring time in Florida is amazing. Anyway, all that to say, GUESS WHAT COMES OUT THIS MONTH!!!!!!?????? —> It Starts with Us: A Novel by Colleen […]

The post Monday Early Bird Book Releases – 10-03-2022 appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

HAPPY FRIDAY AND I’M BACK!! It was a crazy storm (and completely devastated some areas nearby which freaks me out). We had some fence damage (we were able to put it back together) and definitely plenty of roof damage, but luckily that’s already on the list to fix and in progress. Best of all, nothing […]

The post Friday Finds & Reader Recommendations – 09-30-2022 appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

HAPPY TUESDAY NEW RELEASE DAY!!! I will do my very best to get some fun stuff posted over the next day or so, but being in Central Florida means we currently have a hurricane headed right at us. And I mean I now live smack dab in the middle of where it looks like it’s […]

The post Latest Romance Book Releases – 09-27-2022 appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

HAPPY FRIDAY AND HAPPY WEEKEND EVERYONE!! I’m building today’s list as we speak, and have a bunch of personal reader recommendations to post. 😀 Those are always my favorite. P.S. I’m watching “Dahmer” on Netflix and holy moly… I didn’t know much about him at all, so this is pretty much new-to-me, but I can’t […]

The post Friday Finds & Reader Recommendations – 09-23-2022 appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

Tammy needs our book help! Hrmmm… this one reminds me of an Aly Martinez book that was pretty great (similar premise), but the major detail is that they new each other beforehand, and he was avoiding her because he was mad (acted like he hated her). I LOVE this trope, so I’m dying to know […]

The post Reader Question… Solved! The book about the Hero that was just released from prison and moves across the hall from the heroine… appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

Fifi is looking for this book! Ooooooh MC Prez’s and surprise pregnancy romances are exciting!! She asks: Lookin for a book part of an MC series Looking for an mc book where the heroine is friends with the old lady of the VP (i think) theirs is the first book. But the heroine has something […]

The post Reader Question – The book about the heroine that gets pregnant by the MC Prez and she leaves… appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

Brooke is looking for this one! Oh wow this one sounds angsty and totally up my romance alley. I wanna know it too! She asks: Looking for this book NEW ADULT AGE GAP Romance SERIES. SWEET & SMART HEROINE with abusive family FALLS FOR OLDER SISTER’S RICH BOYFRIEND IN MILITARY? THEY WRITE TO EACH OTHER SPOILERS AHEAD. […]

The post Reader Question – The book about the heroine who’s in love with her sister’s military boyfriend and writes to him… appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

Devi needs our book help! HOLY MOLY this one sounds crazy!! She asks: Hi Maryse Could you please help me figure out the name of this series? Heroine has an abusive marriage with a cop. She kills the cop when she thinks he’ll kill her. She starts running away from the law and turns to […]

The post Reader Question – The book about the heroine in an abusive marriage with a cop. She kills the cop when she thinks he’ll kill her, and her millionaire high school sweetheart protects her… appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

Jenny is looking for this book! I love a good book series that makes me laugh. I’m dying to know which one this is!! She asks: Shifter book I read a series along time ago and can’t remember name. It was where the shifters rented a hotel for an annual meeting and they meet their […]

The post Reader Question – The funny book series about the shifters that rented a hotel for an annual meeting and they meet their mates that were curvy and so funny… appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

Kolleen needs our book help! This is one she hasn’t read and I’m not even sure if it exists or not. She asks: Find this book This was maybe 5 years ago, the author posted something about the new book she was writing was different from her usual type of stories. She went on to […]

The post Reader Question – The book where the cop mistakes the boy reaching for his cell phone, as a gun, and shoots him. appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Amanda
Highlanders, Thrillers, & More
The Romance Recipe

RECOMMENDED: The Romance Recipe by Ruby Barrett is $2.99! Tara reviewed this one can gave it a B+:

This story will especially work for people who like romances with restaurant settings, complicated characters, messy family dynamics, and relationships that start from a place of antagonism (I wouldn’t call it enemies-to-lovers). If you’re looking for a reality show romance, especially a cooking show, though? This won’t be the book for you.

A fiery restaurant owner falls for her enigmatic head chef in this charming, emotional romance

Amy Chambers: restaurant owner, micromanager, control freak.

Amy will do anything to revive her ailing restaurant, including hiring a former reality-show finalist with good connections and a lot to prove. But her hopes that Sophie’s skills and celebrity status would bring her restaurant back from the brink of failure are beginning to wane…

Sophie Brunet: grump in the kitchen/sunshine in the streets, took thirty years to figure out she was queer.

Sophie just wants to cook. She doesn’t want to constantly post on social media for her dead-in-the-water reality TV career, she doesn’t want to deal with Amy’s take-charge personality and she doesn’t want to think about what her attraction to her boss might mean…

Then, an opportunity: a new foodie TV show might provide the exposure they need. An uneasy truce is fine for starters, but making their dreams come true means making some personal and painful sacrifices and soon, there’s more than just the restaurant at stake.

Carina Adores is home to romantic love stories where LGBTQ+ characters find their happily-ever-afters.

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Girls of Brackenhill

RECOMMENDED: Girls of Brackenhill by Kate Moretti is $1.99 and a Kindle Daily Deal! Elyse reviewed this thriller last year and and gave it a B+ and mentioned there was a twist she didn’t see coming:

Girls of Brackenhill is spooky and thrilling and contains all the Gothic elements I love. It’s a fun read for your dark winter nights.

Haunted by her sister’s disappearance, a troubled woman becomes consumed by past secrets in this gripping thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Year.

When Hannah Maloney’s aunt dies in a car accident, she returns to her family’s castle in the Catskills and the epicenter of a childhood trauma: her sister’s unsolved disappearance. It’s been seventeen years, and though desperate to start a new life with her fiancé, Hannah is compelled to question the events of her last summer at Brackenhill.

When a human bone is found near the estate, Hannah is convinced it belongs to her long-lost sister. She launches her own investigation into that magical summer that ended in a nightmare. As strange happenings plague the castle, Hannah uncovers disturbing details about the past and startling realizations about her own repressed childhood memories.

Fueled by guilt over her sister’s vanishing, Hannah becomes obsessed with discovering what happened all those years ago, but by the time Hannah realizes some mysteries are best left buried, it’s too late to stop digging. Overwhelmed by what she has exposed, Hannah isn’t sure her new life can survive her old ghosts.

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The Highland Duke

The Highland Duke by Amy Jarecki is 99c! This is the first book in the Lords of the Highlands series, and features some forced proximity and the heroine who heals the hero. Readers loved the blend of action and romance, though some found the plot a little unbelievable.

She’ll put her life on the line for him . . .

When Akira Ayres finds the brawny Scot with a musket ball in his thigh, the healer has no qualms about doing whatever it takes to save his life. Even if it means fleeing with him across the Highlands to tend to his wounds while English redcoats are closing in. Though Akira is as fierce and brave as any of her clansmen, even she’s intimidated by the fearsome, brutally handsome Highlander who refuses to reveal his name.

Yet she can never learn his true identity.

Geordie knows if Akira ever discovers he’s the Duke of Gordon, both her life and his will be forfeit in a heartbeat. The only way to keep the lass safe is to ensure she’s by his side day and night. But the longer he’s with her, the harder it becomes to think of letting her go. Despite all their differences, despite the danger-he will face death itself to make her his . . .

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This Rebel Heart

This Rebel Heart by Katherine Locke is $1.99! This one released in April and was on an edition of Cover Awe. This is a YA historical novel with a hint of fantasy. I also believe this is incredibly violent, so please double check content warnings.

A tale set amid the 1956 Hungarian revolution in post-WWII Communist Budapest.

In the middle of Budapest, there is a river. Csilla knows the river is magic. During WWII, the river kept her family safe when they needed it most–safe from the Holocaust. But that was before the Communists seized power. Before her parents were murdered by the Soviet police. Before Csilla knew things about her father’s legacy that she wishes she could forget.

Now Csilla keeps her head down, planning her escape from this country that has never loved her the way she loves it. But her carefully laid plans fall to pieces when her parents are unexpectedly, publicly exonerated. As the protests in other countries spur talk of a larger revolution in Hungary, Csilla must decide if she believes in the promise and magic of her deeply flawed country enough to risk her life to help save it, or if she should let it burn to the ground.

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- Amanda
Cover Awe: Great Color Palettes

Let’s look at some pretty covers, shall we?

Ship Wrecked by Olivia Dade. An illustrated cover. A plus-sized man and woman are kissing in from of some icy cliffs. He is wearing a suit and she's in some leather fantasy armor that actually covers her body.

Cover design by Diahann Sturge

Cover art by Leni Kauffman

Shana: Oooh. Their outfits make me very curious about the story, and I love both the icebergs and the swooniness of it all.

Sneezy: It looks SO swoony!!!!

Sarah: I love how the references are obvious and familiar, and the people themselves make it new and different.

Uncommon Charm by Emily Bergslein and Kat Weaver. An illustrated cover. An old house that is open to look like a doll house of sorts so we can see into rooms. It's in shades of blues and grays. A man and woman are in the middle of the cover coming down a staircase as playing cards billow around them.

Cover art by Marlowe Lune

Amanda: This was mentioned in our comments by Penny!

Sarah: This illustrator is so talented. I keep finding little things to look closely at: the little heart card above their heads! The tiny door!

Shana: There’s so much movement! And I’m obsessed with her hair.

Sneezy: Gorgeous colours and clever use of the colour of light! I love the tone the illustrator managed to create here!

The Witchery by S. Isabelle. A group of four women holding hands in a circle. They're looking out at the reader as if they've been interrupted.

Cover designed by Stephanie Yang

Cover art by Thea Harvey

Amanda: I love how pissed they all look

Tara: They are not here for anyone’s shit. I love it.

Amanda: “Uh…you interrupted our séance, you dipshit.”

Tara: I imagine they’d get along with the girls from Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall ( A | BN | K ).

Sarah: I definitely cannot sit with them and that’s okay.

Sneezy: Another cover with gorgeous use of colours and the colour of light! If I ever become an auntie, I hope my nibblings have friends just like them!

A Little Bit Country by Brian D. Kennedy. An illustrated cover mostly in shades of orange, red, and purple. Two men face each other in front of a country theme park. One is wearing boots, jeans, and a cowboy shirt with fringe. He's holding a guitar. The other is in jeans, a white t-shirt, and a baseball cap. His hands are in his pockets.

Cover designed by Chris Kwon

Cover illustration by Betsy Cola

Amanda: Definitely love all the detail and the sort of fish eye lens perspective.

Sarah: The colors and style remind me of older YA paperbacks from the 80s and I love it.

Shana: This makes me want to read the book, so mission accomplished!

Sneezy: The colours and perspective give the feeling of slight unreality and them being in their own world. I adore how romantic that feels!

- Amanda
Non-Fiction Kindle Daily Deals, Romantic Suspense, & More
Well Matched

Well Matched by Jen DeLuca is $2.99! This is DeLuca’s latest release in her contemporary ren faire romances. I believe there’s another on the way? The series has been reviewed well here and seems great for some low angsty reads, but correct me if I’m wrong.

An accidentally in-love rom-com filled with Renaissance Faire flower crowns, kilts, corsets, and sword fights.

Single mother April Parker has lived in Willow Creek for twelve years with a wall around her heart. On the verge of being an empty nester, she’s decided to move on from her quaint little town, and asks her friend Mitch for his help with some home improvement projects to get her house ready to sell.

Mitch Malone is known for being the life of every party, but mostly for the attire he wears to the local Renaissance Faire–a kilt (and not much else) that shows off his muscled form to perfection. While he agrees to help April, he needs a favor too: she’ll pretend to be his girlfriend at an upcoming family dinner, so that he can avoid the lectures about settling down and having a more “serious” career than high school coach and gym teacher. April reluctantly agrees, but when dinner turns into a weekend trip, it becomes hard to tell what’s real and what’s been just for show. But when the weekend ends, so must their fake relationship.

As summer begins, Faire returns to Willow Creek, and April volunteers for the first time. When Mitch’s family shows up unexpectedly, April pretends to be Mitch’s girlfriend again…something that doesn’t feel so fake anymore. Despite their obvious connection, April insists they’ve just been putting on an act. But when there’s the chance for something real, she has to decide whether to change her plans–and open her heart–for the kilt-wearing hunk who might just be the love of her life.

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You can find ordering info for this book here.





RECOMMENDED: Whiteout by Adriana Anders is $1.99! Elyse gave this one an A-:

I love romantic suspense with survival elements (especially cold weather survival) and I also really enjoyed the espionage/global threat aspect of the mystery. I wish I’d read the prequel novella first, but it wasn’t a huge issue, and I’m delighted to have a new series to look forward to.

Angel Smith is finally ready to leave Antarctica for a second chance at life. But on what was meant to be her last day, the remote research station she’s been calling home is attacked. Hunted and scared, she and irritatingly gorgeous glaciologist Ford Cooper barely make it out with their lives…only to realize that in a place this remote, there’s nowhere left to run.

Isolated with no power, no way to contact the outside world, and a madman at their heels, Angel and Ford must fight to survive in the most inhospitable—and beautiful—place on earth. But what starts as a partnership born of necessity quickly turns into an urgent connection that burns bright and hot. They both know there is little chance of making it out alive, and yet they are determined to survive against the odds—and possibly, the world.

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You can find ordering info for this book here.




The Witches Are Coming

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West is $2.99 and a Kindle Daily Deal! A bunch of us were excited for this one on a previous Hide Your Wallet. While this nonfiction may be a cathartic read, it also might be a little heavy right now.

The firebrand New York Times columnist and bestselling author of Shrill–soon to be a Hulu series starring Aidy Bryant–provides a brilliant and incisive look at how patriarchy, intolerance, and misogyny have conquered not just politics but American culture itself.

What do Adam Sandler, Donald Trump, and South Park have in common? Why are myths like “reverse sexism” and “political correctness” so seductive? And why do movie classics of yore, from Sixteen Candles to Revenge of the Nerds, make rape look like so much silly fun? With Lindy West’s signature wit and in her uniquely incendiary voice, THE WITCHES ARE COMING lays out a grand theory of America that explains why Trump’s election was, in many ways, a foregone conclusion.

As West reveals through fascinating journeys across the landscapes of pop culture, the lies that fostered the catastrophic resentment that boiled over in the 2016 presidential race did not spring from a vacuum. They have in fact been woven into America’s DNA, cultivated by generations of mediocre white men and fed to the masses with such fury that we have become unable to recognize them as lies at all.

Whether it be the notion overheard since the earliest moments of the #MeToo movement that feminism has gone too far or the insistence that holding someone accountable for his actions amounts to a “witch hunt,” THE WITCHES ARE COMING exposes the lies that many have chosen to believe and the often unexpected figures who have furthered them. Along the way, it unravels the tightening link between culture and politics, identifying in the memes, music, and movies we’ve loved the seeds of the neoreactionary movement now surging through the nation.

Sprawling, funny, scorching, and illuminating, THE WITCHES ARE COMING shows West at the top of her intellectual and comic powers. As much a celebration of America’s potential as a condemnation of our failures, some will call it a witch hunt. To which West would reply, so be it: “I’m a witch and I’m hunting you.”

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You can find ordering info for this book here.




Yours Cruelly, Elvira

Yours Cruelly, Elvira by Cassandra Peterson is $3.99 and another KDD! This is a memoir by none other than Elvia, Mistress of the Dark. Hello! I will warn that Elvira discusses her miscarriages and sexual assault in her memoir, if those are sensitive topics for some of you.

The woman behind the icon known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, the undisputed Queen of Halloween, reveals her full story, filled with intimate bombshells, told by the bombshell herself.

On Good Friday in 1953, at only 18 months old, 25 miles from the nearest hospital in Manhattan, Kansas, Cassandra Peterson reached for a pot on the stove and doused herself in boiling water. Third-degree burns covered 35% of her body, and the prognosis wasn’t good. But she survived. Burned and scarred, the impact stayed with her and became an obstacle she was determined to overcome. Feeling like a misfit led to her love of horror. While her sisters played with Barbie dolls, Cassandra played with model kits of Frankenstein and Dracula, and idolized Vincent Price.

Due to a complicated relationship with her mother, Cassandra left home at 14, and by age 17 she was performing at the famed Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas. Run-ins with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Andy Williams, and Tom Jones helped her grow up fast. Then a chance encounter with her idol Elvis Presley, changed the course of her life forever, and led her to Europe where she worked in film and traveled Italy as lead singer of an Italian pop band. She eventually made her way to Los Angeles, where she joined the famed comedy improv troupe, The Groundlings, and worked alongside Phil Hartman and Paul “Pee-wee” Reubens, honing her comedic skills.

Nearing age 30, a struggling actress considered past her prime, she auditioned at local LA channel KHJ as hostess for the late night vintage horror movies. Cassandra improvised, made the role her own, and got the job on the spot. Yours Cruelly, Elvira is an unforgettably wild memoir. Cassandra doesn’t shy away from revealing exactly who she is and how she overcame seemingly insurmountable odds. Always original and sometimes outrageous, her story is loaded with twists, travails, revelry, and downright shocking experiences. It is the candid, often funny, and sometimes heart-breaking tale of a Midwest farm girl’s long strange trip to become the world’s sexiest, sassiest Halloween icon.

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- Amanda
SBTB Bestsellers: September 17 – September 30

Our latest bestseller list is brought to you by crisp apples, warm cinnamon, and our affiliate sales data.

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher Amazon | B&N | Kobo Every Rogue Has His Charm by Susanna Craig Amazon | B&N | Kobo At Your Service by Sandra Antonelli Amazon | B&N | Kobo The “I Do” Dilemma by Jayci Lee Amazon | B&N | Kobo Only Bad Options by Jennifer Estep Amazon | B&N | Kobo Grave Reservations by Cherie Priest Amazon | B&N | Kobo Wicked Beauty by Katee Robert Amazon | B&N | Kobo How to Fake It in Hollywood by Ava Wilder Amazon | B&N | Kobo A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross Amazon | B&N | Kobo The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker Amazon | B&N | Kobo

I hope you weekend was all sorts of cozy!

- Amanda
October 2022 New Releases, Part One

If you’re new to Hide Your Wallet, this is where we list new releases we’re pretty excited for in the coming month.

Each reviewer has a book maximum (five per person), and we’ve separated HYW into two parts. The first HYW of the month will cover books that release from the 1st to the 14th. The second HYW will cover books released from the 15th to the end of the month.

We also think this will help us feature books from smaller publishers who don’t have buy links up as early as the bigger trade houses.

As always, if we missed any books that you’re particularly looking forward to, tell us all about them in the comments.

A Curse of Queens A Curse of Queens by Amanda Bouchet

Author: Amanda Bouchet
Released: October 4, 2022 by Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: ,
Series: The Kingmaker Chronicles #4

Discover an all-new adventure in USA Today Bestselling author Amanda Bouchet’s thrilling, white-hot fantasy series, The Kingmaker Chronicles!

The queen has been cursed, and no one knows who’s behind the plot to threaten the realm’s fragile peace. Desperate to help, Jocasta hatches a plan to find Circe’s Garden, a fabled island where she hopes to discover an antidote. But she can’t do it alone. She needs the strong arm and unflinching bravery of the warrior she’s loved since childhood—her brother’s right-hand-man and captain of the guard, Flynn of Sinta.

Together they can do the impossible. Yet with treachery brewing on Mount Olympus, one thing is clear: Thalyria and its new royals are still pawns in an epic game of power—one that might end in a War of Gods.

Amanda: So excited to return to this world!

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A Scatter of Light A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo

Author: Malinda Lo
Released: October 4, 2022 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Genre: ,

Award-winning author Malinda Lo returns to the Bay Area with another masterful coming-of-queer-age story, this time set against the backdrop of the first major Supreme Court decisions legalizing gay marriage. And almost sixty years after the end of Last Night at the Telegraph Club, Lo’s new novel also offers a glimpse into Lily and Kath’s lives since 1955.

Aria Tang West was looking forward to a summer on Martha’s Vineyard with her best friends–one last round of sand and sun before college. But after a graduation party goes wrong, Aria’s parents exile her to California to stay with her grandmother, artist Joan West.Aria expects boredom, but what she finds is Steph Nichols, her grandmother’s gardener. Soon, Aria is second-guessing who she is and what she wants to be, and a summer that once seemed lost becomes unforgettable–for Aria, her family, and the working-class queer community Steph introduces her to. It’s the kind of summer that changes a life forever.

I know readers are ready for more Malinda Lo sapphic longing!

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A Turn of the Tide A Turn of the Tide by Kelley Armstrong

Author: Kelley Armstrong
Released: October 4, 2022
Genre: , ,
Series: A Stitch in Time #3

In Thorne Manor there is one locked door. Behind it lies a portal to the twenty-first century, and nothing is going to stop Miranda Hastings from stepping through. After all, she is a Victorian writer of risqué pirate adventures—traveling to the future would be the greatest adventure of them all.

When Miranda goes through, though, she lands in Georgian England…and in the path of Nicolas Dupuis, a privateer accused of piracy. Sheltered by locals, Nico is repaying their kindness by being their “pirate Robin Hood,” stealing from a corrupt lord and fencing smuggled goods on the village’s behalf.

Miranda embraces Nico’s cause, only to discover there’s more to it than he realizes. Miranda has the second sight, and there are ghosts at play here. The recently deceased former lord is desperate to stop his son from destroying his beloved village. Then there’s the ghost of Nico’s cabin boy, who he thought safe in a neighboring city. Miranda and Nico must solve the mystery of the boy’s death while keeping one step ahead of the hangman.

It may not be the escapade Miranda imagined, but it is about to be the adventure of a lifetime.

Aarya: I like the idea of time travel between two different historical eras (eliminating the 21st century altogether).

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Blackmail and Bibingka Blackmail and Bibingka by Mia Manansala

Author: Mia Manansala
Released: October 4, 2022 by Berkley
Series: Tita Rosie's Kitchen Mystery #3

When her long lost cousin comes back to town just in time for the holidays, Lila Macapagal knows that big trouble can’t be far behind in this new mystery by Mia P. Manansala, author of Arsenic and Adobo.

It’s Christmastime in Shady Palms, but things are far from jolly for Lila Macapagal. Sure, her new business, The Brew-ha Cafe, is looking to turn a profit in its first year. And yes, she’s taken the first step in a new romance with her good friend, Jae Park. But her cousin Ronnie is back in town after ghosting the family fifteen years ago, claiming that his recent purchase of a local winery shows that he’s back on his feet and ready to give back to the Shady Palms community. Tita Rosie is thrilled with the return of her prodigal son, but Lila knows that wherever Ronnie goes, trouble follows.

She’s soon proven right when Ronnie is accused of murder, and secrets and rumors surrounding her shady cousin and those involved with the winery start piling up. Now Lila has to put away years of resentment and distrust to prove her cousin’s innocence. He may be a jerk, but he’s still family. And there’s no way her flesh and blood could actually be a murderer…right?

This is the third in the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery series. Are you keeping up?

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Hallows End Hallows End by Kristen Proby

Author: Kristen Proby
Released: October 4, 2022 by Ampersand Publishing, Inc.
Genre: ,
Series: The Curse of the Blood Moon #1

New York Times bestselling author Kristen Proby returns to tales beyond the natural and normal with her brand-new, captivating paranormal romance series that is sure to capture your heart and make you believe in magic.

Returning to her beloved home of Salem after a trip away, Lucy Finch can’t shake the feeling of anxiety that suddenly plagues her. Nor can she shrug off her third eye’s urging that she has a mission she must undertake—a secret she must uncover.

As a green witch, Lucy has always felt strongest and the most at home in the forest, surrounded by nature. But when a disturbing dream wakes her and sends her fleeing into the woods, she isn’t prepared for what she finds. She expected her element. Perhaps a message from spirit. She didn’t expect to cross paths with a sexy-as-sin man, straight out of a movie scene.

Jonas Morley isn’t like the other residents of Hallows End. He knows the town’s secrets, as well as Salem’s, and it has been his honor and duty to protect them for as long as he can remember. But the gorgeous witch who graces the town’s hidden border shakes him and makes him second-guess his directive. She calls to him like no other. But can he save his home and those under his care and still make her his? Or will their union mean danger and destruction for not only them but also those who live within the town’s borders?

Curses don’t discriminate, and the curse of the blood moon is the most determined and dangerous of all.

Hallows End is the first book in the Curse of the Blood Moon Series.

Aarya: Between this and Molly Harper’s audible original Witches Get Stuff Done, I have enough witch content to get in the Halloween spirit.

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Just Like Magic Just Like Magic by Sarah Hogle

Author: Sarah Hogle
Released: October 4, 2022 by G.P. Putnam's Sons
Genre: ,

From the author of Twice Shy comes a sprightly Christmas novel, a rollicking romp through the absurdity of family holidays and the hope of new love.

Bettie Hughes once knew the comfort of luxury, flaunting a ridiculous collection of designer shoes and a stealthy addiction to CBD oils. That is, until her parents snipped her purse strings. Long obsessed with her public image, Bettie boasts an extravagant lifestyle on social media. But the reality is: Bettie is broke and squatting in Colorado, and her family has no idea.

Christmas, with its pressure to meet familial expectations, is looming when a drunk Bettie plays a vinyl record of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” backwards and accidentally conjures Hall, an unexpectedly charming Holiday Spirit in the form of a man. Once the shock wears off, Bettie knows she’s stumbled upon the greatest gift: a chance to make all her holiday wishes come true, plus a ready-made fiancé.

But as the wiles of magic lose their charm, Bettie finds herself set off-kilter by Hall’s sweet gestures. Suddenly, Bettie is finding her heart merry and light. But the happier she gets, the shorter Hall’s time on earth grows. Can Bettie channel the Christmas spirit and learn to live with goodwill toward all men? Or will her selfish ways come back as soon as the holidays are over?

Aarya: Really enjoyed Hogle’s first two books, but I might wait for December to get in the proper mood for this.

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The Mountain in the Sea The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler

Author: Ray Nayler
Released: October 4, 2022 by MCD

Humankind discovers intelligent life in an octopus species with its own language and culture, and sets off a high-stakes global competition to dominate the future.

Rumors begin to spread of a species of hyperintelligent, dangerous octopus that may have developed its own language and culture. Marine biologist Dr. Ha Nguyen, who has spent her life researching cephalopod intelligence, will do anything for the chance to study them.

The transnational tech corporation DIANIMA has sealed the remote Con Dao Archipelago, where the octopuses were discovered, off from the world. Dr. Nguyen joins DIANIMA’s team on the islands: a battle-scarred security agent and the world’s first android.

The octopuses hold the key to unprecedented breakthroughs in extrahuman intelligence. The stakes are high: there are vast fortunes to be made by whoever can take advantage of the octopuses’ advancements, and as Dr. Nguyen struggles to communicate with the newly discovered species, forces larger than DIANIMA close in to seize the octopuses for themselves.

But no one has yet asked the octopuses what they think. And what they might do about it.

A near-future thriller about the nature of consciousness, Ray Nayler’s The Mountain in the Sea is a dazzling literary debut and a mind-blowing dive into the treasure and wreckage of humankind’s legacy.

Amanda: This gives me all the Arrival vibes!

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So This Is Christmas So This Is Christmas by Jenny Holiday

Author: Jenny Holiday
Released: October 4, 2022 by Avon
Genre: ,
Series: A Princess for Christmas #3

USA Today bestselling author Jenny Holiday concludes her beloved royal Christmas series with an unforgettable romance about a confident American woman and the strait-laced royal advisor who falls hopelessly in love with her.

Matteo Benz has spent his life serving at the pleasure of the Eldovian crown. His work is his life and his life, well…he doesn’t have much of one. When he is tasked to aid a management consultant who has been flown in to help straighten out the king’s affairs, he is instantly disturbed by her brash American manner–as well by an inconvenient attraction to the brainy beauty.

Cara Delaney is in Eldovia to help clean up the king’s financial affairs, but soon finds herself at odds with the very proper Mr. Benz. As intrigued by his good looks as she is annoyed by his dedication to tradition for its own sake, she slowly begins to see the real man behind the royal throne.

As they work together to return Eldovia to its former glory during the country’s magical Christmas season, Matteo discovers he is falling hopelessly in love with the unconventional American. But a man who has devoted his life to tradition doesn’t change easily. Can he become the man Cara needs, or will their love be another sacrifice to the crown?

Elyse: A royal holiday romance sounds like the feel good read I need.

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Station Eternity Station Eternity by Mur Lafferty

Author: Mur Lafferty
Released: October 4, 2022 by Ace
Genre: ,
Series: The Midsolar Murders #1

From idyllic small towns to claustrophobic urban landscapes, Mallory Viridian is constantly embroiled in murder cases that only she has the insight to solve. But outside of a classic mystery novel, being surrounded by death doesn’t make you a charming amateur detective, it makes you a suspect and a social pariah. So when Mallory gets the opportunity to take refuge on a sentient space station, she thinks she has the solution. Surely the murders will stop if her only company is alien beings. At first her new existence is peacefully quiet…and markedly devoid of homicide.

But when the station agrees to allow additional human guests, Mallory knows the break from her peculiar reality is over. After the first Earth shuttle arrives, and aliens and humans alike begin to die, the station is thrown into peril. Stuck smack-dab in the middle of an extraterrestrial whodunit, and wondering how in the world this keeps happening to her anyway, Mallory has to solve the crime—and fast—or the list of victims could grow to include everyone on board…

Amanda: I’ve been on a murder mystery kick lately and I love seeing this mix in other genres like fantasy and sci-fi.

Sarah: I’m so, so excited to read this, and not just because of the absolute charming cleverness of “Midsolar Murders.”

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Such Sharp Teeth Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison

Author: Rachel Harrison
Released: October 4, 2022 by Berkley

A young woman in need of a transformation finds herself in touch with the animal inside in this gripping, incisive novel from the author of Cackle and The Return.

Rory Morris isn’t thrilled to be moving back to her hometown, even if it is temporary. There are bad memories there. But her twin sister, Scarlett, is pregnant, estranged from the baby’s father, and needs support, so Rory returns to the place she thought she’d put in her rearview. After a night out at a bar where she runs into an old almost-flame, she hits a large animal with her car. And when she gets out to investigate, she’s attacked.

Rory survives, miraculously, but life begins to look and feel different. She’s unnaturally strong, with an aversion to silver—and suddenly the moon has her in its thrall. She’s changing into someone else—something else, maybe even a monster. But does that mean she’s putting those close to her in danger? Or is embracing the wildness inside of her the key to acceptance?

This darkly comedic love story is a brilliantly layered portrait of trauma, rage, and vulnerability.

Amanda: I think Rachel Harrison is doing such fun things with fantasy and horror.

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The Belle of Belgrave Square The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews

Author: Mimi Matthews
Released: October 11, 2022 by Berkley
Genre: ,
Series: Belles of London #2

A London heiress rides out to the wilds of the English countryside to honor a marriage of convenience with a mysterious and reclusive stranger.

Tall, dark, and dour, the notorious Captain Jasper Blunt was once hailed a military hero, but tales abound of his bastard children and his haunted estate in Yorkshire. What he requires now is a rich wife to ornament his isolated ruin, and he has his sights set on the enchanting Julia Wychwood.

For Julia, an incurable romantic cursed with a crippling social anxiety, navigating a London ballroom is absolute torture. The only time Julia feels any degree of confidence is when she’s on her horse. Unfortunately, a young lady can’t spend the whole of her life in the saddle, so Julia makes an impetuous decision to take her future by the reins—she proposes to Captain Blunt.

In exchange for her dowry and her hand, Jasper must promise to grant her freedom to do as she pleases. To ride—and to read—as much as she likes without masculine interference. He readily agrees to her conditions, with one provision of his own: Julia is forbidden from going into the tower rooms of his estate and snooping around his affairs. But the more she learns of the beastly former hero, the more intrigued she becomes…

Claudia: I really enjoyed this one! Heroine suffers from social anxiety and it’s well handled here.

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