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- Onkar Sharma
Don’t Make These Content Marketing Mistakes in 2023
Content marketing is an ever-evolving function, and as digital media continues to grow and change, so too do the pitfalls that marketers should avoid. As we enter into 2023, there are a […]
- Author
‘Love Notes’ and other poems
By Emily Breen Love Notes I wrote heartfelt love notes before I knew what love wasBefore I knew what like wasAnd while I was writing them I knew I felt every emotion […]
- Author
‘Thin Tally’ and other poems
By: Viator Thin Tally My fingers are scored with the incisionsof these dry days, my skin shrinking,unable to meet the square-inchrequirements of the underneathuncaring bones, so separatingin pain and small slices, invisible […]
- Author
Review: ‘Flame at Door and Raisin: The First Three Short Stories’ by Alex M. Frankel
By Radomir Vojtech Luza Alex M. Frankel may be the best writer in Los Angeles who has not hit The New York Times Bestseller list.  “FLAME AT DOOR AND RAISIN,” his latest […]
- Author
Negotiating with Terrorists
By: Terry Trowbridge Brussels sprout sorbetsaid the terrorist in the kitchentaking the birthday boy’ssocial life hostagethose chocolate cake eyesfocused on tomorrow’s eight flamesconsidering the limits pick up his clothes then whatclean the […]
- Author
‘Wind, Tree’ and other poems
By: Brandon McQuade WIND, TREE The sun is a yellow axechopping at our backs. A single, barren treeits branches splayed in the open air. Veiny,naked limbs longing for a companion,settling for the […]
- Author
‘Where have they all gone?’ and other poems
By: Vanaja Malathy Where have they all gone? Where have all my dear and near ones gone?their memories heal and reinvigorate my mindand at times stifle and sting my heart.i feel I […]
- Author
‘It’s always darkest before the dawn’ and other poems
By John RC Potter It’s always darkest before the dawn    1968:“You’re in big trouble now!” I shouted.Absent sister, worried motherFalling window, bleeding fingerShe came home late, up to no good.Troubled sister, […]
- Author
The Deepest Bruise
By: Daniel Millard There is a woundingA psychic bruiseNot an actual memoryBut my body knowsI feel it deeplyInside of sickened bones When I was 27, you told meWhat you used to do […]
- Author
By: James Maloney Ask the lines of late Januaryin which marrow either is or is not.Declared four gases from the tongue,against our stride on Heritage trail. What is the shape of our […]
- Jonny Diamond
Gillian Anderson wants to hear all about your sexual fantasies.

Yup. The recent star of the absolutely charming series Sex Education is collecting the sexual fantasies of women as part of her plan to reprise Nancy Friday’s 1973 book, The Secret Garden: Women’s Sexual Fantasies. Friday’s book, which was groundbreaking at the time, collected (anonymously) the deepest, darkest sexual desires of women in an effort to demonstrate that it’s not just men who have rich inner erotic lives (duh).

Anderson, who will be doing her updated version of The Secret Garden for Bloomsbury, wrote in an essay for The Guardian that she:

wants women across the world, and all of you who identify intrinsically as women now – queer, heterosexual and bisexual, non-binary, transgender, polyamorous – all of you, old and young, whatever your religion, and married, single or other, to write to me and tell me what you think about when you think about sex. Whether it’s when you’re having it by yourself or with a partner, or with more than one. Tell me. Fantasies, frustrations, explorations, the forbidden, childhood, sounds, fetishes, guilt, insatiability. Fifty years on, the boundaries have been erased, no more so than in our own sexuality: BDSM, the modern meaning of gender etc, anything is up for grabs. Are women still the silent sex? I suppose that is one of the things we’re going to find out.

Here’s the actual solicitation, if you feel so inclined.

- Lit Hub Daily
Lit Hub Daily: February 3, 2023
TODAY: In 1899, Chinese novelist and dramatist Lao She is born.   

From Dear Edward to Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, here’s the Literary Film and TV You Need to Stream in February. | Lit Hub Film & TV

How Jane Fonda somehow combined dance aerobics and progressive politics. | Lit Hub Sports and… Politics?

“The book can strip us of our assumptions of what a woman, and an artist, can and cannot write.” Ayşegül Savaş considers the work and career of Turkish writer Tezer Özlü. | Lit Hub Criticism

In praise of the literary journal longform interview: Nick Ripatrazone goes deep into the archives to uncover gems from Gass, Murdoch, Elkin, and more. | Lit Hub Criticism

Pamela Anderson’s Love, Pamela, Kevin Cook’s Waco Rising, and Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand all feature among the Best Reviewed Books of the Week. | Book Marks

A guide to the life and work of Marcia Muller, “the founding mother” of the hardboiled woman as private eye. | CrimeReads

“There is enough love in his work to redeem half the hate I see floating on my screen or pumped into my earbuds.” Gary Shteyngart remembers writer and friend Paul La Farge. | The New Yorker

Recommendations for our rogue year: a goblin mode reading list. | Electric Lit

“What is the purpose of an outlet that’s dedicated feminist? I think that one of the answers to that is that it allows us to dig into intra-feminist conflict in a way that might be too risky or too scary to do out in front of the world.” From the last Red Ink Panel on feminist publishing. | LIBER: A Feminist Review

Lincoln Michel considers “fairy tales as an MFA antidote,” and the myriad ways to tell a story. | Counter Craft

“As The I Hate to Cook Book proved after it was published in 1960, a lot of women hated to cook.” Aimee Levitt on the charms of a 60-year-old cookbook that embraced convenience and mediocrity. | Eater

Two-time finalist for the National Book Award and celebrated poet Linda Pastan died on Monday. | The Washington Post

Also on Lit Hub: Quan Barry in praise of writing across genre • In this week’s Life Advice for Book Lovers, Dorothea recommends books for all the single ladiesNew poetry from Deborah Levy

- Emily Temple
The Literary Film and TV You Need to Stream in February

Every month, all the major streaming services add a host of newly acquired (or just plain new) shows, movies, and documentaries into their ever-rotating libraries. So what’s a dedicated reader to watch? Well, whatever you want, of course, but the name of this website is Literary Hub, so we sort of have an angle. To that end, here’s a selection of the best (and most enjoyably bad) literary film and TV coming to streaming services this month. Have fun.


Dear Edward
Apple TV+, February 3

Literary bona fides: based on Ann Napolitano’s Dear Edward (2020)

Connie Britton and Taylor Schilling lead this adaptation of Napolitano’s novel about a 12-year-old boy who is the only survivor of a plane crash who learns, through his connections with others affected by the tragedy, how to cope. Pack your tissues!

You (Season 4)
Netflix, February 9

Literary bona fides: based on the novel series by Caroline Kepnes

Joe Goldberg goes to London! (Yes, I’ll just keep watching this insane show, don’t @ me. Take all my free time, Sera Gamble.)

We Have a Ghost
Netflix, February 24

Literary bona fides: based on this short story by Geoff Manaugh (2017)

This looks so dumb . . . in the best way. David Harbour is haunting Anthony Mackie and his family, and of course, in 2023, when you have a ghost, you put it on social media. Add Jennifer Coolidge as a TV-famous medium, Tig Notaro as some kind of CIA ghosthunter, and it’s sure to be, at the very least, a ludicrous night.


A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
Peacock, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun (1959)

Peacock has two adaptations of Hansberry’s classic on offer this month; the first is the powerful 1961 version that features the play’s original Broadway cast—Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil—and which has been preserved in the National Film Registry. This should be your first stop.

breakfast at tiffanys

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Paramount +, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958)

Capote famously put Marilyn Monroe forward for the role of Holly Golightly, and was more than annoyed by the studio’s decision to cast Audrey Hepburn. “Paramount double-crossed me in every way and cast Audrey,” Capote said. But that wasn’t the only reason he hated the film. “The book was really rather bitter,” he told Playboy in 1968, “and Holly Golightly was real—a tough character, not an Audrey Hepburn type at all. The film became a mawkish valentine to New York City and Holly and, as a result, was thin and pretty, whereas it should have been rich and ugly. It bore as much resemblance to my work as the Rockettes do to Ulanova.” Still—it’s a classic!

Dr. No (1962)

Dr. No (1962)
HBO Max, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on Ian Fleming’s Dr. No (1958)

HBO Max is adding a bunch of Bond movies to its roster this month, but you might as well begin at the beginning.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
HBO Max, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (1988)

You know the one—still one of the most influential (and best) films in the history of American cinema.

Devil in a Blue Dress 

Devil In A Blue Dress (1995)
Prime Video, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress (1990)

Denzel Washington plays Mosley’s Easy Rawlins with aplomb in this satisfying neo-noir, but it’s Don Cheadle as Mouse who really steals the show.

Trainspotting (1996)
Paramount +, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (1993)

The literary adaptation that launched a thousand college dorm room posters (not to mention Ewan McGregor’s career).

beloved 1998

Beloved (1998)
Peacock, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)

No film could ever touch Morrison’s novel, but Oprah (along with Danny Glover and Thandiwe Newton) does a surprisingly great job in this classic (and underrated) adaptation.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Prime Video, Paramount +, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)

The rare case where the movie is (almost) as good as the book. And the book is very, very good.

Cruel Intentions (1999)
Paramount +, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos (1782)

Man, Paramount + is really bringing back all my 90s faves this month. Sarah Michelle Gellar! Ryan Phillippe! Reese Witherspoon! Selma Blair! Joshua Jackson! Sean Patrick Thomas! The cocaine-filled crucifix! The lip gloss spit strand! Can’t beat it. No notes.

The Cider House Rules (1999)
Paramount +, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on John Irving’s The Cider House Rules (1985)

Ah, the perfect old-fashioned ’90s obstetrics melodrama. John Irving won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Michael Caine won one too.

grady tripp_wonder boys

Wonder Boys (2000)
Paramount +, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys (1995)

One of the best campus movies, based on one of the best campus novels.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
Neftlix, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954)

If you have 11 hours and want to escape the endless it’s-still-winter of February, Netflix has got you covered. Nerds and stoners (and everyone else who enjoys a good epic fantasy chill sesh) rejoice.


Seabiscuit (2003)
Prime Video, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand (1999)

Everyone’s favorite feel-good sports/animals/Tobey Maguire movie—based (as you can see) on a true story!

Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Peacock, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

Featuring one of the very best Mr. Darcys (Mr. Darcies?) known to screen, and I beg you, do not @ me.

A Raisin in the Sun (2008)
Peacock, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun (1959)

The second adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun on Peacock this month is, of course, the Diddy version, starring Mr. Combs as well as Audra McDonald, Phylicia Rashad, and Sanaa Lathan. It’s definitely not better—but it’s not bad, either.

Julie & Julia (2009)
Neftlix, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme (2006), and Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell (2005)

Meryl Streep is the perfect Julia Child, and Stanley Tucci is as charming as ever. No cinematic masterpiece, but certainly a nice way to spend an evening.

eat pray love

Eat Pray Love (2010)
Neftlix, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on the memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)

Julia Roberts finds herself in this essentially bad (but pretty popular) adaptation of Gilbert’s bestselling memoir. I think with fondness on Peter Bradshaw’s review of it in The Guardian, which begins: “”Sit, watch, groan. Yawn, fidget, stretch. Eat Snickers, pray for end of dire film about Julia Roberts’s emotional growth, love the fact it can’t last for ever. Wince, daydream, frown. Resent script, resent acting, resent dinky tripartite structure. Grit teeth, clench fists, focus on plot. Troubled traveller Julia finds fulfillment through exotic foreign cuisine, exotic foreign religion, sex with exotic foreign Javier Bardem. Film patronises Italians, Indians, Indonesians. Julia finds spirituality, rejects rat race, gives Balinese therapist 16 grand to buy house. Balinese therapist is grateful, thankful, humble. Sigh, blink, sniff. Check watch, groan, slump.”

Ruby Sparks (2011)
Hulu, February 1

Literary bona fides: a movie about a novelist who falls in love with his own character—who then comes to life.

Paul Dano is a blocked novelist who writes about a girl he met in a dream—and then finds her (Zoe Kazan) in his kitchen, fully alive but also subject to his narrative pen. Yikes! I remember this being treated as a romantic comedy, but it’s really kind of a horror story about fragile male ego and consent and idealization and art. Wonder how it’ll land in 2023.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
HBO Max, February 1

Literary bona fides: concerned with Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”

A weird and wonderful film, about an aging, depressed, and possibly floating actor trying to put on a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” and presented (almost) in a single shot.

Call Me by Your Name (2017)
Netflix, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman (2007)

One of my very favorite adaptations of recent memory, Armie Hammer cringe notwithstanding.

if beale street could talk

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
Hulu, Peacock, Paramount +, February 1

Literary bona fides: based on James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk (1974)

It’s tough to adapt a book by so beloved a writer—and critics were divided on Barry Jenkins’s adaptation of Baldwin’s fifth novel. As Ben Rybeck wrote, “is this an inferior artist slaughtering a great artist’s work? Or is this one of those cases whose recent examples include In the Bedroom, No Country for Old Men, and Inherent Vice: not so much an adaptation of source material, but a translation of an artist who mastered one medium by another artist who has equally mastered another?” You’ll have to make up your own mind.

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (2019)

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (2019)
Prime Video, February 1

Literary bona fides: a documentary about one of America’s most important writers

A fascinating and celebratory documentary that will send you straight back to your bookshelf.

- Natalia Mehlman Petrzela
Sweating in Public: On Jane Fonda’s Dance Aerobics Empire and Progressive Politics
jane fonda

Lady Jayne Seymour Fonda was born in 1937 and was also raised to believe that weight management was a paramount concern for a young woman. As a teenager, she and her boarding school friends sent away for tapeworms and stuck their fingers down their throats after dinner to stay slim.

As Fonda followed in her father’s footsteps to acting, a slim body maintained at any cost became even more important to her increasingly glamorous image. The storied liberalism of 1960s Hollywood hardly liberated Fonda and her female peers from these pressures. Despite her involvement in various liberationist struggles—raising money for the Black Panthers, marching for Native American land rights, and (infamously) traveling to North Vietnam to criticize American military involvement—women’s liberation was not central to her worldview.

In 1969, the year Missett launched Jazzercise, Fonda was flummoxed by a feminist who pointed out how her recent role in the sci-fi film Barbarella—all skimpy outfits and sex with questionable consent dynamics—had objectified her: “I did not even know I had been. The burgeoning new women’s consciousness had not yet found its way into my mind and heart.” A foot injury Fonda sustained on the set of The China Syndrome would be key to developing that feminist identity. In 1978, her stepmother recommended that in order to rehabilitate her foot and get in shape for bikini scenes in an upcoming role, she should visit Body by Gilda, an exercise studio located in a Century City medical building.

Fonda had always danced ballet, but Gilda’s, which offered strength training and dance exercise and was frequented by actors and celebrities such as Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler, was an entirely different experience. Gilda was founder Gilda Marx, a self-described former “chubette” and Pittsburgh native who had relocated to southern California, where she found exercise gave her the confidence to fit in and earn a livelihood. Marx had started out instructing homemakers who gathered in her San Fernando Valley living room, but her workouts became so popular that she expanded to multiple locations and in 1975 even launched a fashion line, featuring nylon-spandex body stockings branded as “Flexatards,” which ultimately became a multi-million-dollar business.

But it wasn’t fashion, or even Marx, that entranced Fonda and convinced her of the transformative potential of exercise. It was the classes taught by petite former ice skater—and current smoker— Leni Cazden that Fonda found nothing short of “a revelation.” In the company of forty other women sweating and leg-lifting to pounding music over ninety minutes, Fonda felt “in her gut” how “exercise could affect a woman’s body and mind.”

Sure, she lost weight for California Suite as she initially intended, but she did so in the company of women strengthening rather than starving themselves. Marx was a contemporary of Orbach and Nidetch, and she also never challenged the conventional physical ideal of “sleek and flexible,” despite proclaiming, “I am against dieting!” But even as her studios perpetuated the timeless pursuit of thinness, Marx insisted that the real transformation that exercise enabled came from the “first-rate feeling” and “self-assured attitude” borne of “mental and physical harmony.”

Sure, she lost weight for California Suite as she initially intended, but she did so in the company of women strengthening rather than starving themselves.

Fonda soon hired Cazden to teach her privately, and even led a version of the class herself when she was on a movie set. If Fonda didn’t yet explicitly associate her growing passion for fitness with her burgeoning feminism, she did understand it as a concrete way to energize progressive politics. Six years earlier, she had married activist Tom Hayden, a founder of Students for a Democratic Society, and his antipoverty nonprofit, California’s Campaign for Economic Democracy, desperately needed cash. Cazden’s workout, with Fonda’s celebrity imprimatur, could be their ticket.

Within a few months, they moved forward—that is, Fonda did, as Cazden remembers painfully: over lunch one day in 1978, under pressure from a lawyer, Fonda told Cazden, “This is going on, with or without you.” The two made amends years later, but Cazden remembers that lunch as “literally taking everything from me.” Cazden swallowed her pain, and took off for the next six years, sailing around the world with her third husband on a self-described “soul retrieval.” She was not there in September of 1979, when Jane Fonda’s Workout studio opened on Robertson Boulevard, in a space that Cazden had found, in Beverly Hills.

Fonda was far from first to the dance-fitness world, but her celebrity was crucial to making the format famous. Gilda Marx brushed off the idea that she was offended that Fonda’s name had become more synonymous with working out than her own; the exposure benefited all of them. The choreography in Fonda’s Workout was similar to that in Jazzercise, but liberal Hollywood was a markedly different environment than Missett’s San Diego, and the Workout united women’s fitness more closely with Fonda’s overtly progressive politics.

Clients who visited the three studios she opened over the next few years may not have known their class purchase supported a left-wing nonprofit, but they found a space Fonda described as designed explicitly to “create more realistic, less anxiety-ridden standards” for women, judges or janitors, who all struggled with body image and sexual exploitation. Fonda was so famous that even before VHS tapes would make the Workout a global phenomenon, this ethos suffused the experience of exercise even for women who never set foot in one of her studios. Fonda made it acceptable “to sweat in public,” countless women told me.

Gloria Steinem, no stranger to feminist consciousness-raising, marveled at the “Family of Woman” engendered by the intimacy of the locker room at her own women’s gym. In a Ms. magazine essay, she remarked that Fonda-style exercise was unmaking the assumption that athleticism was unfeminine and frivolous. The camaraderie of the locker room was a powerful antidote to messages that women’s bodies should look a certain way or existed primarily for male pleasure.

Unashamedly changing together before or after a class was in itself a feminist experience, making “great beauties seem less distant and even mastectomies seem less terrifying.” Molly Fox, who had taught at Fonda’s San Francisco studio, credited Fonda with inspiring a generation of women to be unabashed about their new exercise habits, proudly wearing the pantyhose they cut into crop tops, or the belted leotards and off-the-shoulder sweatshirts that advertised they were coming to or from a class.

If Fonda didn’t yet explicitly associate her growing passion for fitness with her burgeoning feminism, she did understand it as a concrete way to energize progressive politics.

Fonda had been inspired by Gilda Marx, and so was Kathy Smith, the midwesterner turned Hawaii marathoner. She had recently caught Marx’s eye while running on the beach. Marx quickly hired her as a “hangtag model” to shoot in her Flexatards, which women were not only wearing to exercise, but increasingly pairing with jeans and skirts too. Smith was working at a small gym on Montana Boulevard, Sean Harrington’s Nautilus, that under the banner “it’s torture, but it works” advertised a twenty-minute circuit on Nautilus weight machines that were then cutting edge, but rarely at clubs that welcomed women. Smith not only loved the workout herself but found herself lining up with the likes of stars like Linda Evans, Bo Derek, Cher, and Morgan Fairchild.

Smith sensed an opportunity, and asked Harrington if she could build out a small, unused space in the gym to sell workout wear: Flexatards, but also the tiny, clingy Dolfin shorts favored by the growing ranks of active men and women. “People wanted them in every color,” Smith recalled. Decorated with a Superman logo and repainted in bright colors, the space was called “Kathy’s Knockouts.” Around 1977, Smith remembers, she asked Harrington if she could take over another space in his club as “an exercise room,” to teach her own version of the class she loved at Body Design by Gilda—but with more choreography. He built it out, and before long, Smith built “a huge following.” And because it was at a gym, not a “studio,” Smith told me, it was unique in being “really male-female.”

Another Body Design by Gilda regular, Richard Simmons, went still further in launching a fitness phenomenon that redefined both exercise and who could participate in it. A frizzy-haired Louisianan working as a waiter in Los Angeles, Simmons had always struggled with his weight, and had “felt like a failure” at every workout he attempted. But a friend sent him to Marx, whose red lips, nails, and matching leotard reminded Simmons—before the music even began—of a warrior princess. Marx’s luminous smile, the live piano, and the room full of music and movement were a game changer.

Simmons broke into song several times and signed up for a multi-class membership on the spot, practically floating with joy at having found such a fun version of exercise that made him feel his “body was really alive.” But that night, as Simmons worked the dinner shift, Marx and her husband showed up to deliver some bad news: Simmons was “too much of a cutup, too much of a disruption” to be welcomed back to class. She returned his money and walked away, leaving him heartbroken and furious.

This was Simmons’s interpretation of the snub, but Marx clarified that the problem was really that “women were not comfortable with a man in the class.” He was skeptical, and doubly hurt because he dreaded returning to unwelcoming men’s gyms, where the trainers were militaristic and his emerald-green tracksuits with white piping stood out uncomfortably amid the sea of stained, gray sweats.

Redefining exercise beyond calisthenics, weight lifting, and organized sport—and as an activity appropriate for everyone—was revolutionary.

Simmons took matters into his own hands and opened a studio called the Anatomy Asylum in 1974. His classes were performances as much as workouts, and he declared everyone was welcome. Gay men and fat women in particular would effuse that the studio was unique in that it “made them feel at home,” since “you didn’t have to look like you already go to the gym to belong there.”

Unlike muscled weight lifters or his slim, white, female contemporaries in dance-exercise, Simmons did not immediately present like a diehard exerciser, and in favoring spangled, multicolored hot pants and clownish makeup, refused to suppress his flamboyance or joy. The Los Angeles Times described him as “a kind of freaked-out Jack LaLanne” determined not to run “another phony hangout for the beautiful people,” despite the Beverly Hills location.

There were limits to his inclusiveness, as one hundred dollars would buy only ten introductory classes (four dollars apiece thereafter), rather than a year’s membership at the Y. Despite these democratic pretensions, Simmons explained, “it’s a matter of life-style,” likening the experience to that of luxury department store Bonwit Teller: “Some people like to buy a dress at [bargain store] Lerner’s In our field, we’re the Bonwit’s.” Anatomy Asylum also featured a salad bar, Ruffage, which at the time was an amenity found only in steak houses.

If dance-aerobics represented a convergence of the slenderizing spa, athletic field, yoga retreat, and ballet studio, Anatomy Asylum was equally influenced by the men’s gyms that had long been vibrant social spaces. What had been underground meeting places for most of the twentieth century were by the height of gay liberation in the 1970s far more visible in urban landscapes; even famed conservative attorney Roy Cohn was an investor in a Greenwich Village men’s gym.

The nightclub and fitness scenes often overlapped in New York City and Los Angeles, sometimes explicitly: party promoter John Blair opened The Body Center in Los Angeles in the early 1970s and described it as “the first gay gym: Nautilus machines, tiny shorts, tube socks, and Abba all day long.” Blair invited the best-looking members to parties to attract crowds, which in turn sold gym memberships to revelers who aspired to look like them.

In 1978, Blair opened a New York gym and later told the New York Times he “would give one month’s free gym membership to every cute boy I met at Studio 54.” Gay culture—in what some considered its most superficial form—flourished in fitness clubs, but also began to become normalized in mixed spaces like the Anatomy Asylum. As recently as 1971, Good Housekeeping had published the aesthetic exercise routine of a “remade man” who warned readers: “Before you get some idea that this is a little strange, let me tell you I’m not one bit ashamed of it, and I don’t feel effeminate either.” Within a decade, Simmons helped make obsolete such caveats from men who worried exercise would emasculate them.


“Jane Fonda’s Exercise Salons Aiding Her Husband’s Candidacy,” reported the New York Times of the crucial role of The Workout in funding Tom Hayden’s congressional aspirations. He didn’t much appreciate the idea that his wife and a bunch of sweaty women in legwarmers held so much power over his political career, and he needled her about this activity he perceived as incommensurate with their serious activism.

Hayden echoed a chorus of intellectuals such as Christopher Lasch and Tom Wolfe who derided yoga, aerobics, jogging, and other aspects of New Age “encounter culture” as part of a lamentable “fadeout” of legitimate political and civic commitments that had been supplanted by a “culture of narcissism.” According to these critics, the popularization of fitness was enabled by this dubious, self-centered spirit of the seventies, which Lasch disdained as the “prevailing passion … to live for yourself, not for your predecessors or posterity.”

Interestingly, Joel Kramer, a former resident yogi at Esalen, agreed with Lasch that the culture was becoming terribly self-absorbed, but saw an authentic yoga culture “gobbled up by the Me-Generation” as a casualty rather than cause of this troubling trend. Such laments resonated with a very different criticism from the Right, which argued yoga was part of “an evil tide sweeping America,” worshipping the body but “scarring the soul.”

So too were the groups of women sweating together in scanty body stockings discomfiting to religious conservatives; Missett, who sought to rent space in churches, had to convince clergymen that Jazzercise was no tool of the devil. Lasch argued that the “cult of expanded consciousness, health, and personal ‘growth’” was actually similar to religious fundamentalism, and a similarly unfortunate response to despair about a changing society. These blanket dismissals—mostly issued by men—overlooked or misunderstood the nature of the transformations afoot. Americans were channeling their spiritual, emotional, and—at times—explicitly political energies into a new sort of movement culture.

Redefining exercise beyond calisthenics, weight lifting, and organized sport—and as an activity appropriate for everyone—was revolutionary. And some who flocked to new spaces like yoga retreats, dance-fitness studios, and jogging trails saw participating in these activities as bound up with the fight for bodily liberation that powered activism for reproductive and civil rights, and a general search for authenticity in an era of disillusionment with so many social and political institutions.

The choreography in Fonda’s Workout was similar to that in Jazzercise, but liberal Hollywood was a markedly different environment than Missett’s San Diego, and the Workout united women’s fitness more closely with Fonda’s overtly progressive politics.

Others created and participated in these new arenas for physical expression as a path to a less explicitly political, but no less personally important, self-possession. Title IX, and the 1970s fitness boom more broadly, enabled women athletes to break into the mostly male realm of competition, but the broader democratization of physical activity also came to engage girls and women with little desire to participate in an athletic culture defined by men. Many of these enthusiasts specifically disavowed the revolutionary effect of their ambitions, emphasizing instead the uncontroversial benefits of fitness for beauty (for women) or athleticism (for men), or just their own personal achievement, untethered from any greater cause.

Companies happily capitalized on this new market, sometimes explicitly packaging a tepid politics with exercise apparel, as with the Nike “Liberator.” The Presidential Council on Youth Fitness, which had barely included girls in its early days, released advertisements in the mid-1970s that also reflected this measured transformation in ideas about girls and women. A “lovely revolution,” the ad announced, revealed a new reality: “Physical fitness is beautiful.”

But what about those weight lifters and bodybuilders who had first brought national attention to the salutary, transformative possibilities of physical fitness? Muscle Beach had planted the seeds of the sensibility that made fitness as a form of work and leisure acceptable, and bodybuilding ironically both became more popular than ever and remained a relatively marginal form of the pastime it helped popularize.

In Stay Hungry, a 1972 novel about an unambitious wealthy southerner who becomes captivated by a circle of Birmingham weight lifters, a Junior League debutante, Dorothy, stares at the massive shoulders of the “ruddy and foreign” protagonist, Joe Santo, in a mixture of awe and fear, mustering the courage to ask what on earth he does. When he replies he “lifts weights,” she wonders “what the hell that meant.” By 1976, Stay Hungry was released as a feature film, starring a new actor as the eccentric, inscrutable Santo: Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the movie, a blushing Dorothy reacts to his unconventional appearance with a common misconception: she had “always heard that people of your profession were … homosexuals.” He offers to prove her wrong.

The next year, Pumping Iron made Schwarzenegger a national celebrity and gave bodybuilding—and the gym—cultural currency. He spoke about the mind-blowing thrill of lifting weights in a way that resonated with a culture in which exercise was increasingly intertwined with exhilaration that infused all aspects of life.

“The greatest feeling you can get in a gym … is … blood is rushing into your muscles, and that’s what we call the pump. It feels fantastic.” But his elaboration on the specifically heterosexual ecstasy of exercise was also evidence of the continuing pressure on bodybuilders to prove their sexual normalcy. “It’s as satisfying to me as having sex with a woman and coming,” Schwarzenegger elaborated. “So can you believe how much I’m in heaven? I’m getting the feeling of coming in the gym. I’m getting the feeling of coming at home. I’m getting the feeling of coming backstage when I pump up I’m coming day and night. I mean it’s terrific, right?” He made the point even more clearly in a 1977 interview: “Men shouldn’t feel like fags because they want to have nice-looking bodies.”

If Schwarzenegger’s breathless words resonated with Jeannine Medvin’s celebration of yoga as a path to orgasmic self-possession, Jim Fixx’s elegies to endorphins, or Jane Fonda’s insistence on the “joy, excitement, vitality, and wellbeing” afforded by exercise, weight lifting felt oddly out of step with the moment it helped launch.

The macho brutality and bulging aesthetic were increasingly unpalatable for a mainstream culture more comfortable with the controlled family jog around the neighborhood first recommended by Bowerman, or the sorority of Jazzercise or a Lotte Berk studio, especially as women and gay men became more powerful presences at the gym and on the streets, if not in always in the marches and demonstrations that captured headlines and show up in history books—a different revolution brought about by these dynamic new movement cultures.


fit nation

From Fit Nation: The Gains and Pains of America’s Exercise Obsession by Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, published by the University of Chicago Press. © 2022 by Natalia Mehlman Petrzela. All rights reserved

- Nick Ripatrazone
Mysteries Contained Therein: In Praise of the Literary Journal Longform Interview

“I’ve never consciously strategized about how to make a sentence, let alone a poem. But I can see, even in the earliest poems, that my way of making a sentence involves enacting the push and pull of my interior life, a way of approaching a statement while also making room for its opposite.” In the year since the poet Carl Phillips wrote those lines in our conversation for Image, I’ve lingered over their sound and sense. Their wisdom. How we might discover ourselves through syntax.

No literary action is more instructive for me than the longform interview. At Image, we feature one interview per issue: an anchor for the surrounding words and art. I’ve long admired Phillips as a poet, but after our conversation I more fully appreciated his method. Interviews partially reveal the mysteries of process and vision. Literary magazines—spaces where craft and contemplation reside—are the perfect homes for these conversations.


The Winter 1985 issue of Southwest Review includes a great poem by James Merrill, “The Fifteenth Summer”: “Why were we here? / To flow. To bear. To be.” Yet I was quickly drawn to the interview featured in the issue, titled “Virtuous Dogs and a Unicorn,” a conversation between Jo Brans and Iris Murdoch, the British philosopher and novelist.

Brans taught at Southern Methodist University, where the Southwest Review has been continuously published since 1924. The magazine was founded in 1915 as The Texas Review, and published at the University of Texas at Austin. Stark Young, the founding editor, published one of the great literary journal manifestos: “The Texas Review comes into the world with no mission, nothing so flamboyant or remonstrant or overt. It has in mind the law of thought and life and letters only; neither to upset nor convert the world, but only to speak with it in its finer and quieter moments.”

Young was advised to publish poetry, a diverse range of articles, to “eschew book reviews that are perfunctory and done on a formulary,” and most of all, to let the magazine “reek of the soil.” Young scoffed at the idea. “The one unusual thing in Texas seems to be the opinion at home and abroad that there is something quite unusual about us.” Young ended his manifesto with a request: have “patience if we do not always reek.”

Young would have loved Brans’s own wit. She started an essay for the June 1982 issue of D magazine: “I haven’t met him yet, you understand, but he’s out there somewhere, my third husband.” During a party, someone read her palm “and there he was, hovering guiltily in a crevice between lifeline and love line—my third husband.” She joked: “No one wanted him around.” She and her husband, Willem, were happy. They remained married for 45 years—until her death in 2019.

Brans was a prolific interviewer for the Southwest Review. She spoke with Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Margaret Atwood, Donald Barthelme, and Eudora Welty. Brans begins her interview with Murdoch by asking about Zed, the Pomeranian in Murdoch’s The Philosopher’s Pupil and Mingo, the Alsatian in Under the Net: “I wondered why these dogs often seem to be a lot better than some of your people.”

Murdoch agrees. “Yes, they’re virtuous dogs.” “Dogs,” she says, “are very different from cats in that they can be images of human virtue.”

Murdoch, of course, was preoccupied with virtue—with truth. “A writer,” she tells Brans, “cannot avoid having some sort of moral position, and attempting to be nonmoral is in a way a moral position, an artificial one.” Brans asks if Murdoch is religious. Murdoch thought she gave that up long ago—when she became a Marxist—but had since ditched that ideology. “I thought when I gave up believing in God that religion was gone out of my life. Then I realized that this wasn’t so after all. Religion is still there, even if one holds no supernatural or dogmatic belief.”

Gass was one of the most playfully pugilistic writers of his time. His jousts with John Gardner, he once told me, were sharpened for public view.

Brans then asks Murdoch if “grace touches your life?” It is a delicate—dare I say doctrinal—question. I love Murdoch’s answer: “Oh, yes, though again not in the dogmatic, supernatural sense. But I think that there are forces of good that you suddenly can find, streams flowing toward you, whatever the metaphor would be. Yes. And I think sometimes people try for a long time in a rather dull way to do what they think is right, and then they’re suddenly rewarded or cheered up. Some sort of vision holds the world together, and this is part of the subject matter of literature.”

I appreciate how Murdoch later ends the interview: “Stories are a very good way, you know, of getting away from one’s troubles. Now let’s have a drink.”


A few issues later, Brans interviewed philosopher and writer William H. Gass for the magazine. Brans says that Murdoch’s occasional phrase “the corruption of philosophy” refers to Murdoch’s belief that “philosophy keeps us from knowing right from wrong.”

Gass responds: “Yes, she wants to say that with philosophy we’ve banished good and evil, and she wants to make those metaphysical categories again. Which is another philosophical enterprise, of course, though it’s not the prevailing mode. And again, she’s wrong, but it works wonderfully for fiction. She should think that way. Her fiction’s wonderful.”

It is. I also find myself, as usual, nodding in agreement with Gass.

Gass was one of the most playfully pugilistic writers of his time. His jousts with John Gardner, he once told me, were sharpened for public view. Gass bantered with the novelist Stanley Elkin in the Winter 1976 issue of The Iowa Review (the conversation was actually taped in June 1975 by Jeffrey L. Duncan).

Early in the interview, Elkin says: “It seems to me that when a writer talks about himself he talks an awful lot of bullshit, and after I have been interviewed—see the thing in print—I think, oh God, what a jackass I am.” He thinks most interviews that make it into the pages of magazines are rewritten, polished, and pressed: “Essentially what the writer is doing in an interview is just some more writing.” That sounds like a venial sin—but I understand his lament, in spirit.

We expect the literary interview to reveal; to be an inner view, as the quip goes. The act of an interview might be a moment of intimacy, or a moment of artifice. Perhaps, like most literature, it is both.

Elkin had published early stories from Gass in Accent, a quarterly literary magazine at the University of Illinois. He remains interested in Gass’s current work, which Gass first described as a rather unwieldy long essay. “Oh, it’s a book which will be about eighty pages, I guess, called On Being Blue. It’s about the word blue, as sexuality, melancholy, perception—that is, the color blue—and the imagination. The initial impetus is about the difficulty of writing about sexuality and the nature of blue language, but it’s basically about the imagination.”

Gass was by training (and occasional trade) a philosopher, and those familiar with such discourse and syntax will find it within On Being Blue—but the book is preternaturally formed by the eccentricity and amalgamation of literary journals. Literary magazines allow Gass, and others, to be chameleons of both subject matter and form. “I don’t think of myself as a novelist,” Gass tells Elkin. “I want to be in any format that will let me play with language the way I want to… I just want to get in the words and go.”

In that vein, they talk about film, plays, and poetry (Elkin: “There just ain’t no people in poetry, nobody’s home.”). Gass is characteristically punchy, but also aware that a good interview needs to offer small gifts. Writers are often the central audience for literary magazines. Editors hope they will do so to “familiarize yourself with what we publish.” That’s fine. Yet writers—hopeful creatures we are—want a little enticement through mystery. We want a little guidance.

Gass offers some: “The writer’s responsibility is to turn out good writing, to do what he is required to do, not by [the audience], but by the demands of the art he’s practicing. It’s like achieving a proof in mathematics: if it’s proved it’s proved, and there it is. That’s the whole point of the artistic adventure, to achieve some thing that says it for itself, that proves itself.”

- Quan Barry
Quan Barry on the Benefits of Writing Across Genre.
pencils, writing

The following first appeared in Lit Hub’s The Craft of Writing newsletter—sign up here.

As a poet-novelist-playwright, my mantra is: Try it all on for size. Take risks in your writing, and reinvent yourself constantly. (And if your husband asks, What if we fail? tell him: “We fail! That’s why we’re holding onto our day jobs, bruh.”)

I know there are some folks out there who think in terms of “branding,” of becoming known to the world as the writer who does X. But if that doesn’t sound like fun to you, then forget it. Instead, maybe try becoming the writer who’s unpredictable, who has fun wearing all kinds of hats. Don’t be afraid to make your hat collection your brand (though if you’re a one-hat writer, that’s cool too).

In addition to making my soul more compassionate, playwriting has made my dialogue smarter and sharper. As a playwright, you’re asking actors to sell what you’re cooking up, so you better make sure you’re giving them your absolute best cuts of meat. There’s no room for flab.

At the end of the day, actors are the face of your writing. I am in awe of them and the ways they make themselves vulnerable on my behalf. Being in this theater world has given me a newfound appreciation for the folks who star in real clunkers like Battlefield Earth. As a playwright, I feel much more compassion towards, shall we say, aesthetically challenged art. Everyone’s doing their best, so maybe let’s cut folks some slack.

Now that we’ve checked the “playwriting’s made me a better person” box: in my fiction, when I create a character who’s a person of color or a member of an underrepresented community, the impact that character has on the flesh and blood world feels mostly conceptual in nature. It’s hard to gauge how much that character’s existence moves the real-world needle toward justice.

Maybe try becoming the writer who’s unpredictable, who has fun wearing all kinds of hats. Don’t be afraid to make your hat collection your brand.

But when it comes to theater, creating characters who are people of color is meaningful in a very tangible manner because it creates work for real flesh and blood folks. Creating Black and Brown characters is literally foundational to the work of expanding the theater. Please know that I’m not suggesting that it’s incumbent on creatives of color to singlehandedly carry the burden of expanding representation, but wowzer! I feel beyond fortunate to have done my small part in helping to make space for folks this world needs to see more of.

And for me, writing these POC characters for the stage is an exercise in freedom. My play, The Mytilenean Debate, features three Black characters. For once in my writing life I don’t have to pull up the menu at Starbucks to establish who these folks are—I don’t have to use words like “caramel” or “cinnamon” or “espresso” or mocha Frappuccino.” I can just let them be them. I don’t have to push back against the pre-established mode that all characters, unless otherwise stated, are white. Yass! Hold that S. That’s the sound of me effervescing, luxuriating in the fact that I don’t have to constantly remind the audience that Latimer, Nina, and Mary are Black.

Finally, having one’s play produced is a tremendous lesson in trust and in giving up control. With both my poetry and fiction, in the months before publication, I’m generally hunkered down in the trenches, hitting SEND on a million emails about fonts and cover art and blurbs. Here in the rehearsal room I need to sit back, watch, be patient, give the folks in this room the freedom to try all kinds of things with my words. I need to trust that my intentions are there on the page, and I need to trust that the artistic team who believed in me enough to put up the real-world scratch to bring my words to life know what they’re doing.

It makes me happy to see so many young writers trying new things and not getting bogged down in labels—this fluidity is something writers of all ages can embrace, especially folks who’ve been in this game for a while and might be ready to change things up. I wish you writing that interests and empowers you. Multi-hyphenateness for all!


When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East by Quan Barry is available now via Vintage. 

- Book Marks
What Should You Read Next? Here Are the Best Reviewed Books of the Week

Book Marks logo

Pamela Anderson’s Love, Pamela, Kevin Cook’s Waco Rising, and Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand all feature among the Best Reviewed Books of the Week.

Brought to you by Book Marks, Lit Hub’s “Rotten Tomatoes for books.”



Geetanjali Shree_Tomb of Sand Cover

1. Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree

7 Rave • 4 Positive • 1 Mixed
Read an excerpt from Tomb of Sand here

“Epic … An engrossing fable about an octogenarian’s liberation from her decades-long roles as wife and mother … Shree scrupulously examines the demarcation between life and death, mother and daughter, past and present, and how grief and memory, when harnessed, have the power to cultivate long lost connections. The narrator’s witty observations and lengthy humorous asides…add to the breadth and depth of this rich novel … For the reader who wades in Shree’s luminous prose, the book’s threads braid into a single, vivid tapestry.”

–Anjali Enjeti (The Star Tribune)

Joseph O'Connor_My Father's House Cover

2. My Father’s House by Joseph O’Connor
(Europa Editions)

6 Rave

“A…magnanimity—though of a more ebullient kind—infuses the work of the Irish writer Joseph O’Connor … The overall tone of Mr. O’Connor’s new novel, My Father’s House, is, by contrast, more urgent than elegiac, and its suspenseful plot has little time for bittersweet rumination … Mr. O’Connor re-creates with consummate skill while painting a subtle portrait of an erudite scholar who was also a defiant and formidable man of action … For all its thrills, however, My Father’s House is primarily—and triumphantly—an intimate drama that illuminates both the fragility and the wonder of unlikely human connections forged in adversity and, in some cases, enduring for a lifetime.”

–Anna Mundow (The Wall Street Journal)

Annalee Newitz_The Terraformers Cover

3. The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz
(Tor Books)

4 Rave • 2 Positive
Watch an interview with Annalee Newitz here

“The reader of Annalee Newitz’s third novel, The Terraformers, will surely walk away, stunned and bedazzled … This generously overstuffed tale has enough ideas and incidents to populate half a dozen lesser science fiction books. But the reading experience is never clotted or tedious, never plagued by extraneous detours. The story…rollicks along at a brisk clip while allowing Newitz space to dig into characters and milieu, and pile on startling speculative elements … [Newitz has] indeed gifted us a vibrant, quirky vision of endless potential earned by heroism, love and wit.”

–Paul Di Filippo (The Washington Post)



Pamela Anderson_Love, Pamela Cover

1. Love, Pamela by Pamela Anderson
(Dey Street Books)

3 Rave • 3 Positive

“The most disappointing thing about Love, Pamela is that it doesn’t come in a form that can be injected directly into your veins … Anderson is a natural storyteller, which shouldn’t come as a surprise; her ability to sustain a personal narrative is what’s kept her in the public eye for going on four decades. Love, Pamela is a dazzling and occasionally dizzying ride through this period, in which vivid scenes of ’80s and ’90s decadence bump up against blind items about Russian oligarchs and brief but iconic celebrity cameos … Woven throughout are passages written in verse, which is not as annoying as it sounds: There’s so much going on that you need the extra line breaks to catch your breath.”

–Jessica Pressler (The New York Times Book Review)

Siddharth Kara_Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives Cover

2. Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives by Siddharth Kara
(St. Martin’s Press)

4 Rave • 1 Positive

Cobalt Red takes the form of a righteous quest to expose injustice through a series of vignettes of exploitation and misery … Many of Kara’s interviews are carried out under the gaze of armed guards and, although he describes in sharp detail the poverty and hazards faced by the miners, the limitations of his method are evident in places where the locals are flattened into brief figures of suffering … But the strength of the book lies in how Kara… analyzes the exploitation that extracts value from the miners’ labor, then launders their tainted product into the global supply chain … The fervor of Kara’s abolitionism contrasts with his proposal for reform, which prioritizes “accountability” from those who profit from the miners’ labor.”

–Matthieu Aikins (The New York Times Book Review)

Kevin Cook_Waco Rising: David Koresh, the Fbi, and the Birth of America's Modern Militias Cover

3. Waco Rising: David Koresh, the FBI, and the Birth of America’s Modern Militias by Kevin Cook
(Henry Holt & Company)

1 Rave • 5 Positive • 1 Mixed
Read an excerpt from Waco Rising here

“A fresh, powerful account … In this engrossing resurrection… Cook digs deep to uncover the forgotten human side of these terrible events, and he offers a painstaking reconstruction of leader David Koresh’s life and ascent … In describing the standoff with exquisite detail and care, Cook masterfully portrays the scope of the violence and heartbreak on all sides … A thorough, engaging work that reminds us of the humanity behind tragedy.”


- Dorothea
Life Advice for Book Lovers: For All the Single Ladies (The Book You Need Now)
dear dorothea_single

Welcome to Life Advice for Book Lovers, Lit Hub’s advice column. You tell me what’s eating you in an email to and I’ll tell you what you should read next.


Dear Dorothea,

Last year alone, I went to four weddings of close friends. People tell you to expect this in your 20s, but I always thought they were exaggerating! You can probably guess where this is going: I am nowhere close to getting married. I haven’t been in a real relationship since 2018. In fact, I’m just starting to “get back out there” “post-pandemic.”

Don’t get me wrong: I actually like being alone. Most of the time. I live alone, and I love it. I have friends who I see regularly, and family close by. I don’t think I’m lonely. I’m just afraid I’m falling behind. I always thought I’d be married with kids by the time I was in my early 30s, so logically, I guess I should start working towards that? 

Please, for the love of god, no romance novels or love stories that will “give me hope of finding that special someone.” Thanks!

With gratitude,
Single Snail


Dear Single Snail,

Boy oh boy have I been there! (Last year I attended only three weddings, so you do have me beat, and I feel for you.) One day, you’re sitting on your shitty couch (the cheapest IKEA had to offer) with your friends, overthinking every Hinge message—and the next thing you know, you’re holding someone’s wedding dress train in a bathroom stall. How did we even get here?

It feels like one day, a bell went off and everybody heard it but you. (I feel this way in love and with regards to Roth IRAs. Why didn’t anybody tell me to open one?? Do you have one? If so, you’re already ahead in some respects!)

The book you absolutely need right now is Sex and the Single Woman. It’s a re-envisioning of Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl—updated for the modern day. This anthology includes essays from Kristen Arnett, Melissa Febos, Morgan Parker, and more. And the subjects really run the gamut: interracial dating, living alone, IVF, abortion, you name it. What this variety of voices really allows for is that nuance of experience.

This collection is so powerful for the way it doesn’t put one person’s story on a pedestal; everyone’s path equally valued and celebrated. (And it does feel like a celebration!) What these pieces do have in common is that they’ll give you a more essential hope—not that you’ll meet your Special Someone, but that you will always be okay. It is honest and heartbreaking and raw and with heart. (So much heart.) 

Also, there is no right window for things to happen during. Life isn’t linear like that. And how wonderful that our lives can surprise us with the way they ebb and flow away from the rivers of our friends.

So much love for you,

- Aysegül Savas
Ayşegül Savaş on the Work and Career of Turkish Writer Tezer Özlü
Tezer Ozlu

I first read the works of Tezer Özlü in my mid-twenties, in the years when I knew that I wanted to be a writer but didn’t yet know what I should write, nor what sort of “identity” I must take on. I wondered constantly what it meant for me to be a Turkish writer—whether it came with any responsibilities or particular subjects. It seemed, in those years when I read voraciously, that I was always reading the wrong things; that the books closest to my heart were somehow random rather than belonging to a literary lineage, and that I, their reader, wouldn’t belong anywhere in my writing, either.

I was feeling particularly adrift, having just moved from California to Paris, and soon enrolled to audit a university class in Turkish literature in an effort to fit myself into some kind of tradition. I was familiar with most of the texts though I didn’t have any sort of feeling for them. And it was precisely for this reason that I thought I should take the class: to grow a bond—surely a more vigorous one from my vast and haphazard reading of books that I was drawn to without design.

One half of the class comprised second-generation Turkish students who seemed to be there for an easy grade; the other half studious, unsmiling linguists. The reading materials unravelled steadily, each writer connected to the next, building an impenetrable wall of influence and fraternity, into which I had to try and wedge myself; from whose edifice scrape off my own influences.

If literature is also a map of human experience, then certain experiences are conspicuously absent from the canonical landscape.

All writers are part of a literary lineage, of course, though these lineages are rarely neatly marked, even if it appears that way in retrospect, from texts that constitute a national canon. If literature is also a map of human experience, then certain experiences are conspicuously absent from the canonical landscape.

The first work of Özlü’s I read—in my “free” time from class reading—was her second novel, Journey to the Edge of Life, a metaphysical travelogue in the footsteps of Özlü’s favorite writers: Italo Svevo, Franz Kafka and Cesare Pavese. I found it refreshing that this Turkish author had chosen her own writers to follow, breaking away from the great wall of texts. When I read Cold Nights of Childhood next, it confirmed for me that her work didn’t belong to any school or style, that her voice was uniquely her own: consciousness distilled into narrative form.


Cold Nights of Childhood is Özlü’s first novel, and the second of three books she published in her short lifetime. She died of breast cancer at the age of forty-three in Zurich, a death even more tragic, perhaps, after years of battling with mental illness. Yet her small œuvre has always had a devout following, especially among young Turkish readers, for its madness, its honest sexuality, its lack of national fervor and its individuality.

It is surprising to me that Özlü’s work has not been translated into English until now but this translation arrives at a time when women’s writing of the self is experiencing a golden age: finding its place among a wider readership not as the representative of a national ethos, but rather of particular lives, nonetheless universal in its attention to daily experience.

The book shares many similarities with its author’s life. Born in 1943, Özlü studied at St. George’s Austrian High School in Istanbul but dropped out in her final year to hitchhike around Europe. In Paris, she met the actor and playwright Güner Sümer at the Montparnasse café Le Select and was married to him for a short period.

In her late twenties, she was treated in various psychiatric hospitals in Ankara and Istanbul for bipolar disorder. She was friends with prominent writers and artists of her generation, many of whom she met through the social circles of her brother, the writer Demir Özlü, who was arrested during the 1971 coup d’état, one of three that Tezer would witness in her lifetime. She got married again, this time to the film director Erden Kıral with whom she had a child. (Özlü would marry for a third and final time as well, shortly before her death.)

Perhaps what is daring is that the book can strip us of our assumptions of what a woman, and an artist, can and cannot write.

While these facts of Özlü’s life story overlap with the events of Cold Nights, the interest of the book is not so much its autobiographical mirror but the way that life is endowed with an electric mutability. Madness, after all, disrupts the temporal narrative. Here, time is broken and reshuffled through the sharp-edge of consciousness. The self is peeled away layer by layer to arrive at its core: “Then slowly, very slowly, I begin to remember. Myself. This is me. I am twenty-five years old. I am a woman. I am living through the second part of the madness that begins with joy. I have suffered the anguish of lethargy.”

In a letter to the writer Ferit Edgü, from the period of her frequent depressions and psychiatric treatment, Özlü offers a glimpse of what will become her first novel: “I’m alone here. I’m listening to Bach. Not that I’m really listening. Here there is only me. Or maybe someone who wants to appear like me. Everything is entangled in my mind. My childhood. The province. Men. Boredom. But my mind is completely empty. I have never been so lonely and so at ease. Completely empty.”

The book’s settings bleed into one another. At one moment we are in Berlin, the next, entering a hospital in Istanbul. The narrative jumps between interiors, all of them architecturally precise, cluttered with furniture. (Yet for a book that moves through so many interior spaces, Cold Nights is adamantly undomestic). There is a sense of walls closing in, of being entrapped, so that it matters little what city of what country we are in.

Once again, the experience is that of the essential “I,” wholly independent. There is no attachment to any place; Istanbul, Ankara, Berlin, Paris are all observed from the same remove, without nationalist feeling and without awe for Europe. The narrator subtly mocks her husband’s fawning admiration for Paris: “The man I’ve married begins to show his true face. His one and only world is Paris. Paris! Paris! Paris! […] But now he’s in Ankara. Deprived of Paris, he’s still resentful and getting worse. But the idea remains as fixed as ever: Paris is the city of his deliverance.”

A similar coolness comes across Özlü’s letters from Europe. To her friend, the great feminist writer Leylâ Erbil: “I have time to think about many things. I’ve met lots of writers. Almost all Latin American writers. All the Germans. Others through the DAAD [German Academic Exchange Service]. Many of them are mere fluff…Octavio Paz isn’t a more intellectual person than you and me.”

But too much independence is also detachment. The narrator is so staunchly an individual that she cannot seem to anchor herself in the world. She floats from the cold nights of her childhood to school, to Europe, to marriage and divorce, never quite able to shake off the seed of loneliness that sets her apart. Is this her condition, or that of society? Is it her inability to belong, or society’s rejection of those who do not fit its mold? Her family and friends offer sympathy at a distance but ultimately hand her over. Again and again, she finds that she has been brought back to a hospital, though she wishes those around her to understand that madness is contagious, and that she will only get worse among the sick.


The novel bears echoes of the political turmoil of the 1970s, leading up to the 1980 coup d’état (during which Özlü’s brother was denaturalized). Still, the unrest never comes to the foreground, or rather, does not warp the young woman into its own flow: the narrator is located in her mind, in the back-and-forth swing of sanity. It is worth noting just how radically unpolitical Cold Nights would have appeared in the fraught years of its publication, amidst the mainstream of political engagement that defines the literature of Özlü’s contemporaries.

Still, the book isn’t indifferent to the country’s situation. (Özlü’s own daughter, Deniz, was named after the revolutionary Marxist student Deniz Gezmiş, who was executed by hanging in 1972.) The lack of engagement is, rather, a frankness, the un-self-glorifying honesty particular to Özlü’s prose, and increasingly alien to contemporary auto-fiction so concerned with one’s own image, and the presentation of an exceedingly moral and moralizing self: “It’s the spring of 1971…In a year blighted by political unrest across the land. Unrest I shall never quite manage to understand. During the months of April and May, I am more cut off from the world than ever before.”

It is with the same frankness that Özlü writes about sexuality, neither sensational nor metaphorical. The book’s catalogue of orgasms (from early childhood to the novel’s final image) is once again daring, not just because of its writer’s cultural milieu but alongside the socially engaged works of her contemporaries.

But “daring” is perhaps not entirely just. After all, there is nothing outwardly defying in Özlü’s writing of sexuality. It is neither confrontation nor bravado, but an examination of an essential state. Perhaps what is daring is that the book can strip us of our assumptions of what a woman, and an artist, can and cannot write, given her time period, her country, her political context.

I had enrolled in the Turkish literature classes hoping to find out what sort of topics I should inherit, not knowing yet that the greatest challenge for a writer was the ability to discern her own curiosities. In my first encounters with Özlü’s work, I considered that it was an outlier, a one-off voice that had broken away from the great wall to follow its writer’s obsessions. Yet, this is also the mark with which all literature must be distinguished: the unique investigation of what it is to be alive, riding the current with open eyes.

On Sundays…these days…if I am strolling down an alley…and catch sight of a father in pyjamas…or if, on a grey and raining winter day, I see smoke rising from a stovepipe…and windows fogged with steam…if I look in to see laundry hanging up to dry…if the clouds are almost low enough to touch the damp bricks…if it’s spitting rain…if I hear live football matches blaring from every radio…all I want is to go, go, go, and keep going.


From Ayşegül Savaş’ introdiction to Cold Nights of Childhood by Tezer Özlü (translated by Maureen Freely) by Transit Books, available in May 2023. Preorder here. Excerpt reproduced with permission from the publisher.

- New Books Network
Why Denise Crittendon Won’t Write About Violence

Denise Crittendon’s debut science fiction novel, Where It Rains In Color, leads us to the planet of Swazembi, a blazing, color-rich utopia and famous vacation center of the galaxy. Set far in the future, this idyllic, peace-loving world sees no real trouble. But Lileala’s perfect, pampered lifestyle is about to be shattered.

The book deliberately plays with concepts of color and beauty. Tourists are drawn to Swazembi for its floating color vapors, its wind-force transit system, and the most beautiful woman in the galaxy, the Rare Indigo.

“We love colors when we see beautiful flowers,” says Crittendon. “We love colors when we see birds that are incredibly colorful and neon. So why wouldn’t we love seeing colors floating across the surface of the planet? I wanted to show that we enjoy color so much. As I was writing the novel, my thought process was, So you don’t like color, huh? You don’t like people of color, huh? Well, you know, check this out. Look at all these colors.”

From the episode:

Rob Wolf: Let’s talk about the main character, Lileala. She’s been chosen to receive a very select title, The Rare Indigo. But when we meet her, she hasn’t actually been formally inducted into the position. What is the Rare Indigo?

Denise Crittendon: The Rare Indigo was considered the most beautiful woman in the entire galaxy. She’s this icon. In our society she would be known as a beauty queen. This role of Rare Indigo is a coveted title and she was selected. She’s been groomed most of her life for this position and there are strict restrictions. She’s a little frustrated. She’s a little immature. She’s spoiled. She’s pampered. So we show her starting out in that capacity as someone who’s privileged and entitled and a little bit whiny at times.

Rob Wolf: She’s a Black woman, but she can also generate colors on her skin. Could you talk a little bit about the significance of those colors that she’s generating and mesmerizing people with and luring the tourists to the planet?

Denise Crittendon: I played with skin tone, and I made her as dark as she could possibly be. She’s blue black. Blue black was once a term, and maybe it still is. In some communities, that was used as an insult. You call someone they’re so black, they’re blue. That was not supposed to be a compliment. Well, I flipped it. I made it a compliment because I was a little tired of Black women, women of color, being the lowest on the totem pole.

You’ll see in other parts of the world, if women have this rich hue, they’re kind of pushed back at times. And it does not make any sense. This is absolutely ridiculous, so I was showing how ridiculous it is. I have this protagonist whose skin is so brilliantly black; it’s like coal mixed with diamonds. She can do something called shimmer. Her shimmer is one of her greatest glories, and it’s what people come to experience when they come to see the Rare Indigo. When she shimmers, it’s almost hypnotic. People are like spellbound.

Rob Wolf: There is an illness spreading in the story and what makes it so devastating to Lileala in particular, is that it manifests as keloids, which she feels make her ugly and disfigure her. It takes away the thing she values most, the thing that has made her most special. There’s so many different kinds of illnesses, but you chose one that actually destroys beauty.

Denise Crittendon: That came to me in a dream. A lot of the novel, I can say, was inspired by Zimbabwe, but most of it, too, came from this dream I was having, a series of dreams of seeing this woman standing on a cliff, which I now know was the asteroid.  I don’t know how often I have had that dream. I’m not sure. But one night I had this amazing dream and this woman was standing there and she said that these glassy looking beings with large heads and dressed like they were trying to mimic earth attire said, We sentence you to the keloid planet.

It was clear in the backdrop that their belief is that if you want to torture someone or attack someone, you take what is their glory and you use that against them. Well, dark skin has a tendency to keloid when it’s when it’s been punctured or when you have a wound. They were taking what was our gift and using it against us, that that was the whole point of the dream.

Brenda Noiseux: I read a lot of sci fi and fantasy and oftentimes there’s a lot of violence. One of the things that stands out in this book for me is the lack of violence. Was that a conscious choice on your part or did the story happen to avoid violence or not need violence?

Denise Crittendon: It was conscious. It was deliberate. Everyone who knows me knows I can’t take violence. I don’t want to criticize the state of the world in that way but I honestly believe that if we would tone down the violence in what entertains us, the movies, whatever books, that maybe we would tone it down in society. Some people disagree with me for this. What you take in is what you’re going to put out. Because I avoid violence at all costs, I’m ultrasensitive to it. If I go to certain movies and it gets to be too much, I’m in the lobby. So there’s no way that it was going to exist in the world and in any world that I ever create. I deliberately made them a peaceful, peace loving society.

Rob Wolf: It’s very subtle, but it definitely evokes a very different culture that you’ve created this greeting for people. They greet each other by saying “waves of” and, it’s usually something positive, like waves of joy. It has a religious quality to it. I felt like it came from somewhere that I’m just ignorant of, but it could also have come from one of your dreams. That kind of thing goes a long way to evoking a very different sense of place and culture.

Denise Crittendon: You know, energy travels in waves, so I wanted it to be that they’re in touch with waves. I was invoking that sense of energy and that they understood energy and were tapped into energy. I wanted this to be a society that, in addition to being peaceful, that they’re focused on being happy. So your greeting is waves of joy, waves of peace. And if you’re saying thank you, you might say waves of thanks. And if you’re teasing someone or they’re doing something you don’t like or they’re acting jealous of you, then they’re a light stealer.

Brenda Noiseux: You had mentioned who you’re hoping to reach with Where It Rains In Color, not necessarily just existing fans of science fiction, but some folks who have not necessarily seen themselves in the genre before.

Denise Crittendon: I perceive it as a crossover. I’m hoping that sci fi fans embrace it, even though it’s different from other sci fi books that they may have read and not the type of worldbuilding that they’re used to. I’m hoping that the sci fi community engages, but I’m really hoping that women of color see themselves, especially young women of color.  I think that women of color will pick up the book, enjoy seeing themselves elevated. Put on a pedestal. As I keep saying to people, a woman who was not being admired and revered despite the fact that she’s Black, but a woman who’s being admired and revered because she’s Black. Now, that’s the switch.

Brenda Noiseux: For those  who are looking for a little bit more, you have a friend who inspired you to create a glossary?

Denise Crittendon: A friend called me and said her book arrived. She said  I don’t want to start reading it because I don’t even know how to pronounce these names. I said, there’s a glossary. She said, Yes, the glossary gives you the reminders, the definitions, but it doesn’t tell you how to pronounce it. I said, I didn’t even think about that. And she said, That’s okay, we’ll create one. So she contacted me again and she had me pronounce every single, not every single word in the book obviously, but the difficult terms. So if you go to my website you’ll see a glossary that includes the pronunciation for the terms that might be tongue twisters.


Denise Crittendon is the author of Where It Rains In Color. Before making the big leap into the world of sci-fi & fantasy, Denise held a string of journalism jobs. In addition to being a staff writer for The Detroit News and The Kansas City Star, she was editor-in-chief of the NAACP’s national magazine, The Crisis. Later, she became founding editor of a Michigan-based lifestyle publication for black families. These days, she fulfills ghostwriting assignments for clients and writes speculative fiction on the side. She divides her time between Spring Valley, Nevada and her hometown, Detroit, Michigan.

Brenda Noiseux and Rob Wolf are co-hosts of New Books in Science Fiction.

- Kelly Jensen
Here’s How Moms For Liberty Is Lying About Books

This week across the book banning social media world, a new guidebook to inappropriate books across the state of Iowa has been circulating. This 111 page guidebook, put together by Moms For Liberty in Polk County, reiterates that their quest to remove inappropriate books from schools is not about book banning. Indeed, they use the Stephen King philosophy to suggest that just because they do not want books in schools does not mean that students cannot get them from public libraries (conveniently leaving out their quest to get those books removed in public libraries, too).

The booklet, which you can access in full here, also makes ample use of the home-grown Moms for Liberty book rating system, BookLook/BookLooks. They do not mention that it is their own creation.

In addition to highlighting the books they deem inappropriate, they offer a QR code to their group’s own reviews, and they indicate where in Iowa schools the books are located. This is how so many of these groups operate: they recruit volunteers to spend their one wild and precious life scouring catalogs in school libraries to find what they deem to be naughty books.

But here’s where to pay attention: Moms for Liberty is lying throughout the book.

Page 58 details how Toni Morrison’s classic The Bluest Eye is available in several schools throughout the state. In addition to the standard cherry-picking of passages to highlight–clearly ignoring any indication of even pretending that The Miller Test is the standard for obscenity–the book includes a letter sent from Johnston High School’s educators about the book’s use in junior AP Language and Composition class.

screen shot of page 58 in moms for liberty book guide

Guess what is not included in the booklet, either within the section on The Bluest Eye or elsewhere?

The second page of the letter sent to all parents of students in that class. The second page of the letter wherein parents are explicitly told they can opt their students out.

second page of letter sent to AP parents in Johnston schools, IA

Wild, isn’t it, how Moms For Liberty wants to be the authority on reading by cherry picking the passages they deem inappropriate while also conveniently leaving out the fact they’ve been granted “parental rights” by educators this entire time? Or the fact that The Bluest Eye is ONE CHOICE among several for study?

This book is being passed around dozens of groups, creating a false sense of urgency about naughty books in school libraries. But it’s a full circle of committing and recommitting to the cause of Moms For Liberty and not at all about the books, curriculum, education, or “parental rights.” The group chooses to ignore their own rights in order to build a case for how they deserve to remove books and curriculum from schools.

They’ve been lying to you since their formation. Now they’re codifying the lies, sharing them, and crying victim.

The only victims here are the kids who have to grow up under this regime and the teachers whose careers and lives are being destroyed by a well-funded, right-wing group.

Oh, and this Moms for Liberty chapter? They’ve not only had several members pull their kids from the public schools and send them to private schools–where now they’ll potentially be able to get taxpayer money to do just that, thanks to new laws in Iowa–but the governor is their partner in it all.

It’s one lie of thousands this group has perpetuated. But aided and abetted by legislators across the country, their targeted destruction of public education will continue to grow until those who are committed to First Amendment Rights for all put an end to it.

- Kelly Jensen
The Book Banners’ Recruitment Agenda: Book Censorship News, February 3, 2023

There are only so many ways to state that book censorship is not coming to an end any time soon. That until there is significant money and action on the part of those dedicated to the First Amendment rights of all, until anyone in the government does anything meaningful, we’re all subject to the rule of right wing Christian nationalist bigots.

Here’s a look at the recruitment website for “Community Patriots of Manatee County,” meant to call in members to go raid the schools and public libraries of books they don’t like. They lay out their goals very clearly. The agenda is not hidden.

Some screenshots from a website of "parents" who are recruiting local censors. This is Manatee County, Florida.

— Buttered Jorts (fka kelly jensen) 🐱🐰 (@veronikellymars) January 31, 2023

One of the pieces that should be most disturbing from their call to action is this:

goals for the "wokebusters" of manatee county

That “parents” and “kids” are under scare quotes makes clear neither one need to be real. More, they are using children to push their agenda. Is that not what they’re claiming they are trying to stop from happening?

Manatee County, as you might remember from earlier this month, made entire classroom libraries inaccessible. Then, rather than point the finger where it needed to be pointed, the teachers were blamed. In this case, advocates for students got the classroom libraries reopened, but this is nowhere near the end of the battle in Manatee. It’s a tiny victory — classroom libraries aren’t inaccessible, which is literally the bare minimum — as there are untold numbers of “parents” sending their “kids” into the library to create a fake outrage over “inappropriate” books that “indoctrinate” young people. Dozens of books remain under review in the county.

Not enough? This week, Flagler County’s Moms For Liberty chapter shared a new list of books they want their members searching for. These titles come from Laverna in the Library, which is Confused yet? is an arm of Utah Parents United and No Left Turn in Education, so the fact that Moms for Liberty shared it should start to make you think about how all of these groups and their separate websites of “parental” book reviews are one in the same.

Keep an eye out for these books to hit challenge radars hard soon. Post from Flagler (FL) Moms group. Many aren't new, but they'll get traction.

— Buttered Jorts (fka kelly jensen) 🐱🐰 (@veronikellymars) January 30, 2023

Many of these titles have already been subject to challenges, but expect these to see more bans in the coming months. Flagler’s Moms for Liberty group is one of the most active. Wondering what the links all are? They’re the downloadable reports from that cherry pick the passages from the text deemed “inappropriate.” Because who cares about the legal precedent of the Miller Test?

Yes, nearly every book on there is queer and/or about or by people of color.

All of that is to say: You need to act. This will not be ending through wishful thinking nor shedding tears or anger on the internet. If you still don’t know what to “do,” let me note that we have years and years of tips, tools, techniques, and templates for you to use. It’s everything short of writing the name of your school board members into the template, signing with your name, and emailing and/or showing up to the meeting.

Want all of that information in one place? Got you there, too: you can now buy How To Fight Book Bans and Censorship for $3, giving you all of the tools, tips, and information in a handy ebook.

Book Censorship News: February 3, 2023 Several schools in Alabama are kicking off Black History Month by canceling book events by Derrick Barnes, a Black children’s book author. The Sora Digital Reading App, used in Orange County Unified Schools (California), has been banned pending investigation into the books available on it. THIS IS CENSORSHIP — an entire digital library removed because a couple of books made some parents angry. Moms For Liberty in Broward County, Florida, have demanded several more books be removed from school shelves. Many are books used in AP classes. The Black Friend has been banned in Spring Independent School District (Texas). In Willard schools (Missouri), Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has been banned. The parent behind this one is eager to bring up 23 more book challenges. “Someone in the Central Bucks School District [Pennsylvania] administration is behind the first test of the district’s new controversial library book policy, and if successful, five book titles — all but one containing LGBTQ themes — could be removed.” How surprising. It’s so hard to not want to shake these parents who are just realizing when they said books would be inaccessible and removed from schools, that meant empty shelves. “According to the list read by Zerbe, parents have submitted requests for the district to reconsider the following books: ‘Tricks’ by Ellen Hopkins; ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini; ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Toni Morrison; ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ by Jesse Andrews; ‘This Book is Gay’ by Juno Dawson; ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ by Stephen Chbosky; ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’ by George M. Johnson; and ‘Out of Darkness’ by Ashley Hope Perez.” This is Methacton school district in Pennsylvania. They can’t even be creative. You don’t say: major corporations support a bigoted book banning legislator in North Dakota. Homer Public Library (Alaska) will NOT be moving their queer books from the children’s section. Ways to Make Sunshine will remain on shelves in Sumner County Schools (Tennessee). The district attorney in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, will not be pressing charges against Hempfield School District after seven parents complained about explicit content in three books. That is a real sentence in 2023. And in Penncrest School District (Pennsylvania), the lawyer has left because he disagrees with new book banning policies and policies targeting transgender students. Their. Lawyer. Left.A mom who isn’t bothering to read the entirety of Gender Queer wants the book removed from Baltimore County Schools (Maryland). “Last week, the Wilson County School board [Tennessee] voted to move The Perks of Being a Wallflower to the mature reading list. Following that decision, the school board received a letter from a Tennessee state representative that claims the school board is in violation of a state law by not removing it.” Government so small they are emailing school boards about one book. Cardinal High School in Middlefield, Ohio, has had their spring play canceled because of concerns over “vulgarity.” The play gets performed in high schools all over the country. This is the second play to be canceled in the last month, and students involved in the first cancelation of a Holocaust play in Florida have been fearing for their own safety. “The legislation that cleared the House Thursday was put forward by Del. Tim Anderson, R-Virginia Beach, and would require school principals or their designee to electronically catalog all printed and audiovisual materials in school libraries, identify whether the item contains graphic sexual content and make the catalog available to parents. It would also direct schools to permit parents to restrict their child’s access to any item that contains graphic sexual content and allow parents to request a graphic sexual content notation for any item.” This bill does not have a good chance of passing in the Virginia Senate, but this is how legislators are spending their time and taxpayer’s money. Meanwhile, a 6-year-old shot his teacher in the state a couple of weeks ago and weirdly, it was not over a book. Leavitt Area High School (Maine) is seeing the same bigoted arguments in the challenge raised against Gender Queer as seen throughout the state and country. The book will remain on shelves. And Tango Makes Three will remain on shelves in Root Elementary School (Fayetteville, Arkansas). “‘Educators must be reined in from wasting precious school time from indoctrinating students from CRT, CSE or SEL,’ said Robbie Adams, a testifier in support of LB374.” This conversation is getting boring (Nebraska). Woodland Park School District (Colorado) has suspended an entire part of a high school class lesson because a parent claimed it was “Critical Race Theory.” The lesson is about Civil Disobedience, you know, not only a crucial aspect of American history but part of the fundamental rights within the First Amendment. But I guess only white rights matter.And in Hollidays Area School District (Pennsylvania), they spent precious school board time debating how big a “message of kindness, support, or inclusion” could be and decided no larger than a sheet of printer paper. Turning Point is a dangerous organization, and if you haven’t been paying attention to how they’re infiltrating high schools and colleges, you need to. Another top official in Orem Public Library (Utah) is retiring amid censorship controversies. Orem Public Library has been dealing with this since the early wave of book banning launched in 2021. Monster by Walter Dean Myers will remain on shelves at Henrico Schools (Virginia). “Parents, check your children’s libraries. Most will contain books promoting the far-left’s anti-American and racially divisive agenda. Fair enough; it’s a free society. Or maybe it’s not. As seen in D-20, literature unhelpful to progressive indoctrination may get banned by committees of experts.” An incredibly ignorant and disingenuous op-ed published in the Colorado Gazette about “book banning.” It fundamentally does not bother to understand how libraries operate. These are the people getting on school boards, y’all, and I cannot emphasize that enough. Joe Dirt thinks he’s a better expert on how libraries operate and how literacy works than the actual trained professionals. Isn’t it interesting that after the book banners get their 15 minutes of fame, they lose interest in doing what they demanded? (Pitt County, North Carolina). This North Carolina NPR story on the attempt to ban Stamped at New Hanover County schools is worth reading. But what I want to draw your attention to is the top image and the sign being held: “Homeschool your kids.” This is their goal, y’all. This is what they want you to do in order to destroy public education. It should be noted that the homeschools they want you to attend line their pocketbooks. Now they want taxpayer money to do it, too. I’ve been explaining this for over a year now. Pay attention. The link to to Citizen Moms is about their homeschooling initiative. The Jamestown Sun (North Dakota) really ran a letter to the editor comparing books about queer people to the heinous murderer Ted Bundy. “The ticketed event, ‘Stolen Innocence: A Panel on the Insidious Ideology Infecting Your Children’s Education,’ took place inside the Pewaukee hotel, 2810 Golf Road [Wisconsin]. Hosted by local organization Parents on Patrol, five panelists explained to the sold-out venue how schools are ‘sexually grooming’ children by teaching them about gender identity and sexual orientation. A reporter covering the protest was not allowed access to the event.” They’re running this in Illinois this month, too. If a reporter can’t show up, you know how much they want their falsehoods publicized. “Parents on Patrol.”Know what is NOT happening in Dublin, Ireland? The removal of queer books from children’s areas of the library.Here are the next books being reviewed in Beaufort Public Schools (South Carolina). The Mama Bears of Forsyth, Georgia, won their court case against the school board, wherein they were told they could not continue to read book passages aloud at meetings and cause a scene. Expect more of that coming out of that school district. A parent in Sparta, New Jersey, is mad about The Upside of Unrequited being on school library shelves.
- Emily Martin
Quiz: Act Like A Social Media Influencer, Get A Book Recommendation

Social media seems harmless enough, right? Wrong! It’s a scary place, and if you don’t know how to navigate the wild world of Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, etc., well then you might just find yourself lost in the weeds. Thank goodness we have social media influencers. Their whole job is to make sense of the world of social media, create content for us to enjoy, and create a sense of organization on the otherwise chaotic Internet.

Have you ever dreamed of becoming a social media influencer? Or maybe you already are one? Or maybe you don’t even know what TikTok is (okay, of course you know what TikTok is). Whatever your level of digital literacy is in real life, now’s your chance to take on the role of a social media influencer. Live out your dreams of being a social media star in this quiz. After you live out a day as an influencer, we’ll give you a book recommendation that explores the scarier side of online life.

Wondering what other books you might have gotten recommended, had you been some kind of other social media maven? Here are the other possible results!

people like her book coverPeople Like Her by Ellery Lloyd

Emmy Jackson is a momfluencer, a.k.a. @the_mamabare. Her followers love her for her honesty and the way she tells it like it is. But her husband is less of a fan. He knows how much Emmy bends the truth, and he’s not fond of how Emmy has monetized their personal life. The deeper Emmy gets into her social media career, the more she makes questionable choices. And the more she becomes a target for a very real danger threatening her whole family.

going dark book coverGoing Dark by Melissa de la Cruz

Amelia Ashley is a beautiful young influencer who shares everything with her followers. So when she disappears without a word during her European trip with her boyfriend Josh, people are suspicious. And no one believes Josh when he says he just lost track of Amelia. Especially when there’s blood on her suitcase. Told through a mixture of social media posts, diary entries, and firsthand accounts, Going Dark is an exciting thriller that explores the ramifications of living a public life.

#FashionVictim book cover#FashionVictim by Amina Akhtar

Anya St. Clair is a fashion editor on the verge of greatness. She’s got a killer wardrobe, a big social media following, and her dream career. But she still doesn’t have everything. When she looks at the life of fashion icon Sarah Taft, Anya can’t help but think about all the ways her life is lacking. Anya doesn’t just want to be Sarah’s friend. Anya wants to be Sarah’s only friend. And when Anya and Sarah end up in direct competition for the same job, Anya literally wants to become Sarah.

ripper book coverRipper by Isabel Allende

Indiana and Amanda are mother and daughter, but they couldn’t be any more different. Indiana is a holistic healer. Meanwhile, Amanda, her daughter, is obsessed with true crime novels and Ripper, an online mystery game she plays with her grandfather and her friends from around the world. When a string of murders occurs in her city, Amanda takes to the internet to start her own investigation.

cover of The Verifiers by Jane Pek; illustration of a woman in black walking towards the Brooklyn BridgeThe Verifiers by Jake Pek

Claudia Lin is a lit lover just like all of us. She’s obsessed with mystery novels, and she wrote her senior thesis on Jane Austen. Now, Claudia believes she’s landed her ideal job. She’s just been recruited by Veracity, a referral-only online dating detective agency. But when one of the agency’s clients goes missing, Claudia finds herself breaking the rules to dive deep into the secret world of people’s online lives and corporate deceit.

Looking for more books about social media? Here are some YA books that explore social media and online fame. And here are some books about the dark side of social media. See you on BookTok, BookTube, and Bookstagram, friends!

- Emily Martin
Moments in Young Adult Novels That Made Me Feel Old

Hello. I am a fully-grown adult who loves reading young adult fiction. And I’m not alone. Over half of today’s YA readers are over the age of 18. Sure, young adult literature focuses on teenagers, but no matter your age, it’s easy to identify with the trials and tribulations of self-discovery and coming of age. Not just because we remember going through it, but because each of us is continuing to grow and change every day.

Sometimes, when I read young adult fiction, it feels like no time has passed. It’s like I’m tapping into the memories of being a teenager all over again. But more often than not, especially lately as I inch closer and closer to 40, I identify with these YA characters and their actions less and less. While I still love young adult novels just as much as I always have, they’re starting to become a reminder that I am definitely not a teenager anymore. And thank goodness for that, am I right?

To be clear, all of the books I am about to mention in this list are books that I love! In fact, if you’re looking to read some really great YA novels, I would say start with some of these. But I will be real with you. Sometimes these books did make me feel very, very old.

cover of Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar GilesWhen I Find Myself Relating to the Parents More Than the Kids

This one’s the biggie and my whole reason for making this list in the first place. The older I get, the more I identify with the parents in young adult novels. Heck, at this point, these parents are probably right around my age. Words cannot express how much I loved Lamar Giles’s contemporary YA novel Not So Pure and Simple. But when the main character Del takes a purity pledge to impress his crush, I related so much more to Del’s teacher and parents who work towards unteaching him toxic masculinity.

never ever getting back together book coverWhen the Young People Start Drinking

Oh, boy. I’m glad that many YA novels include drinking, because teen drinking is very much a reality, but it certainly does remind me of how old I am. For instance, in Never Ever Getting Back Together by Sophie Gonzales, our protagonist Maya says she prefers Jell-O shots over wine. In fact, she wishes Jell-O shots were served with dinners instead of wine. Honestly, I feel like when I was a teenager, I would have felt the same way.

Drinking to get drunk is a young person’s game that I can no longer identify with, and that behavior comes with consequences. For instance, in volume 3 of Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper, the kids throw a party on a school trip, and one of them gets super sick from drinking so much and has to go to the teacher for help. I would say probably the only unrealistic thing about that situation is that only one of the teens got sick from drinking. Youths, am I right?

Mercury Boys book coverWhen Characters Do Wild Things for Love Interests Who Aren’t That Great

You remember that person you had a huge crush on in high school? Yeah, looking back on it now, they probably don’t seem as cool and wonderful as they used to, right? Sometimes looking at all of these love interests in young adult novels now, I wonder what the appeal is and why characters act in totally bananas ways to try to get the person they’re crushing on. The book that takes the cake? Chandra Prasad’s Mercury Boys. There are girls literally poisoning themselves with mercury in this book to make contact with cute boys from the past. I cannot.

Book cover of This is Not the Jess ShowWhen I Realize the ’90s Were, Like, A Long Time Ago

To be fair, this one comes up for me all the time, not just when it comes to young adult books. But any time I am confronted with ’90s nostalgia, I am reminded just how long ago the ’90s, and therefore my old childhood/teen years, were. As I was reading This is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey, I was so drawn in by all of the ’90s references. But I also did the math. Without spoiling too much, Jess in This is Not the Jess Show thinks she’s living in the 1990s, but really, in the outside world, it’s 2037. She’s 17. Which means she was born in 2020. Which means her parents are likely around my age. This feels intentional, like Anna Carey is saying, “hey, old people who read YA fiction, I got you.” There is a lot of ’90s and even ’00s nostalgia out there in the world right now reaching out to us olds, but This is Not the Jess Show takes the cake.

Moxie CoverWhen Teens Discover Feminism For the First Time

Ah yes, I remember my first foray into feminism. When I was in 6th grade, our PE coach had the boys playing football while the girls did Buns of Steel videos in the gymnasium. Something about that seemed not right to my young, adolescent brain. In Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, Vivian discovers the power of feminism through Riot Grrrl zines, which was super cool. But it also reminded me of how long ago it was that I was making the same discovery. And how old the Riot Grrrl movement is (these zines, you guessed it, belonged to her mom).

Look, even though YA novels might make us old people feel even older sometimes, they’re still worth reading. The teen years are a tumultuous time when we were all figuring out how to be people and navigate an adult-ish world. It’s fun to look back on that time, and it’s still easy to identify with these teen stories. Looking for more good young adult recommendations? You can’t go wrong with the Best YA Books of All Time.

- Emily Martin
8 Books Like REMINDERS OF HIM by Colleen Hoover

Colleen Hoover’s romance novel Reminders of Him has been out for a little over a year now, and CoHo fans are loving it. Did you devour Reminders of Him and looking for more? Read on to find more books like Reminders of Him, Colleen Hoover’s bestselling novel.

Colleen Hoover has written over 20 books and has been publishing and self-publishing her works since 2012. But with the rise of BookTok, Hoover has enjoyed quite a large surge of popularity in the past few years. So when Hoover’s 2022 novel Reminders of Him was released, of course everyone you know was reading it.

Reminders of Him follows Kenna Rowan, a young woman who has recently been released from prison after five years. Kenna was incarcerated for causing the death of her boyfriend Scotty in a drunk driving accident. Now, Kenna returns to town in the hopes of gaining custody of her daughter, whom Scotty’s parents have been raising. This novel is a love story, but it’s also a heartbreaking story of grief, forgiveness, and redemption.

Some of the books like Reminders of Him on this list are less emotional than Hoover’s novel while still exploring similar themes. Some books on this list will make you cry just as hard as you did the first time you read Reminders of Him (if not harder). So whatever devastation level you prefer, so long as you love CoHo, there’s a book on this list for you.

mika in real life book coverMika in Real Life by Emiko Jean

This book is a lighter story about a mother reconnecting with her daughter and trying to get her life together. Mika Suzuki is 35 and her life is a complete disaster. So when she gets a phone call from Penny, the daughter she put up for adoption 16 years ago, Mika is desperate to be a good role model for her daughter. So Mika tells a little lie. And then another lie on top of that lie to cover up the first lie. And before Mika knows it, she’s invented an entire made-up life for herself.

things we never got over book coverThings We Never Got Over by Lucy Score

This book starts with Naomi running away from her own wedding to deal with her evil twin sister. Tina stole her car and cash and left behind something unexpected: a niece Naomi didn’t even realize she had. Now Naomi is stuck with no car, no job, and an 11-year-old to take care of. Knox is the kind of guy who prefers a life of solitude, but when he sees Naomi’s life fall apart right in front of him, he can’t help but offer a helping hand.

Window Shopping coverWindow Shopping by Tessa Bailey

Here’s another romance novel about a character who is down on her luck, and this one comes from another TikTok favorite, Tessa Bailey. Two weeks before Christmas, Stella is staring into a shop window when the store owner, Aiden, asks her opinion of the décor. Unable to lie, Stella tells Aiden it’s a “tragedy in tinsel.” Before Stella knows it, she’s working for Aiden. But can she ignore her extreme attraction to him and keep things professional?

all rhodes lead here book coverAll Rhodes Lead Here by Mariana Zapata

All Rhodes Lead Here is a romance that, like Reminders of Him, deals with grief, single parenthood, and looking for fresh beginnings. After breaking up with her boyfriend, Aurora De La Torre is looking for a fresh start back in her hometown. So she rents out a garage apartment and prepares to plan her new beginning. What she couldn’t plan for: her landlord, Tobias Rhodes, a single dad who has a secret past of his own.

All The Things We Never Said by Yasmin Rahman book coverAll The Things We Never Said by Yasmin Rahman

This dark YA romance is all about the healing powers of love and will kind of make you think of not one but two TikTok sensations. Think Colleen Hoover crossed with They Both Die at the End. Suffering from anxiety and depression, 16-year-old Mehreen Miah has decided to end her life.  So she joins MementoMori, a website that pairs people with partners and gives them a date and method of death. It’s called “the pact.” As Cara, Olivia, and Mehreen secretly meet over the next couple of days, they develop a strong bond and realize there might still be something to live for.

if he had been with me book coverIf He Had Been With Me by Laura Nowlin

This novel is perfect if you’re looking for another book that will break your heart the way Reminders of Him did. When they were younger, Autumn and Finn were inseparable, but as they got older, something changed. Now, they practically ignore each other. Autumn has a boyfriend and a close-knit group of friends, but she can’t stop wondering what things would be like if she and Finn were together. Then in August, everything changes forever, and Autumn is left with the nagging question of what would have happened if they’d never gone their separate ways.

Every Summer After Book CoverEvery Summer After by Carley Fortune

Ten years ago, Persephone Fraser made the biggest mistake of her life. Now, she spends her days living in a stylish apartment in the city, going out with friends, and trying to stay far away from the life she left behind on the lakeshore of her childhood. But then she receives a call that sends her back to Barry’s Bay and back to the world of Sam Florek, a man she’d thought she would be with forever.

love and other words book coverLove and Other Words by Christina Lauren

How could we have a list like this without including Christina Lauren’s Love and Other Words? Macy Sorensen thinks she has her life all figured out, but when she runs into Elliot Petropoulos — the first and only love of her life — she suddenly remembers just how much she’s been missing him. Elliot used to be Macy’s entire world, but that was before one night changed everything.

Craving more Colleen Hoover content? Here’s where to start with Colleen Hoover books if you’re just now getting into the author. And after you read your way through Colleen Hoover’s catalogue, here are more unputdownable authors like Colleen Hoover.

Or, if you want made-for-you recommendations from a professional book recommender, check out TBR! Find the next book you’ll love with our book recommendation service. Happy reading, friends!

a gif with the text: Tailored Book Recommendations: Real Book Nerds Making Tailored Recommendations That Are Really, Really Good
- Arvyn Cerézo
The State of Diversity in the Publishing Industry

“I often look up lists made by users on Goodreads, [and] has a resource page with links to various sites or LGBTQ Reads by Dahlia Adler. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s hard to naturally find such books, as they are often published by smaller publishers with not enough advertising resources. That’s why it’s important to take some time each year to look for books by authors you wouldn’t normally see on a shelf in your favorite bookstore,” says Denis Ristić, a reader and a business owner.

The book publishing industry has been historically white, and it continues to be so.

In a 2019 blog post, Lee and Low Books published their Diversity Baseline Survey in which it was revealed that 76% of publishing is still white. This includes publishing staff, review journal staff, and literary agents. The blog initially conducted this survey in 2015, and in the 2019 edition, it concluded that “the field is just as white today as it was four years ago.”

The survey also showed that 74% of people in publishing are cis woman but that about 38% of executives and board members are cis men, which indicates that men continue to rise to positions of power more quickly than women. Further findings showed 81% are straight and 89% are non-disabled. One of the most concerning results of the 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey is the conclusion that “editorial is even more white than before” despite the efforts of publishers to provoke change.

In that same year, Publishers Weekly released its Publishing Industry Salary Survey, which only corroborated this statement. According to the survey, 84% of the workforce is white and publishing is still primarily a “white business.” This didn’t change much in the most recent edition of said survey, wherein the results show only a 1% difference.

Then, in the #PublishingPaidMe Twitter trend in 2020, authors exposed publishing’s big pay gap between white and non-white authors. Award-winning authors of color such as Jesmyn Ward and N.K. Jemisin revealed that their publishers had paid them lower advance money, while some white authors admitted to having been paid higher than their non-white counterparts.

These are just few of the recent cases that demonstrate that publishing is indeed still white.

But before these stats rolled in, there was a push for diversity from both readers and publishers in recent years, which occurred well ahead of the Black Lives Matter 2020 protests that helped sparked slow changes in the industry.

In September 2015, author Corinne Duyvis started the Twitter hashtag #OwnVoices so that readers recommend books written by authors who shared the diverse traits of the main characters in their works, e.g. Black authors writing Black characters. The hashtag, however, was actually never meant to be used in a more general sense. According to the nonprofit organization We Need Diverse Books, the publishing industry has since expanded its use to the point where it is now used as a “catch-all” marketing term.

Throughout the years, there have also been a lot of similar NGOs, projects, or initiatives that advocate diverse reading.

Even before the rise of BookTok, there has also been a wave of book blogs that actively support diverse reading, which wasn’t a possibility in the decades past. These blogs support diversity in many ways, and their writing caters to a variety of specific audiences. Book Riot, for example, has made inclusivity a cornerstone of its publication.

Diverse reading movements also found their way inside classrooms. Teachers in many schools joined the efforts in recommending, purchasing, and reading diverse books, even to aim in eliminating stereotypes.

A Reckoning in Publishing

After the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, publishers caught on, took action, and improved their diversity efforts. Among them is Penguin Random House, the biggest trade publisher in the United States, which promised to publish more Black authors, admitting that while it has published Black authors in the past, they did not actually publish enough. In previous years, PRH also took the initiative to hire more non-white staff, and that somehow paid dividends. We’ll explore the publisher’s latest social impact report and its U.S. workplace demographics in 2021 to 2022 in the latter part of this piece.

HarperCollins, another Big 5 publisher, in its website says it’s doing its part to increase diversity. It appears inadequate, however, as the recent HarperCollins Union strike demanded for more attention to diversity, among other issues.

Smaller publishers also joined the movement.

“As a Native Hawaiian, I helped put together a publishing company for my children because of this very issue. My children are Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, English, and Irish and born in Hawaii. As children, they wanted to see more books with characters that they could relate to. So now that they are older, we created that publishing company to help make that a reality,” says author and publisher AJ Paki Perkins of Perks Publishing.

Tiffany Obeng, children’s book author and publisher of Sugar Cookie Books Publishing, has made diversity a priority as well.

“As a woman- and minority-owned independent publisher, I create and publish quality literary content that features BIPOC characters in spaces where they have historically been absent, such as in children’s literature, in media and in certain professions,” says Obeng. “Equally important, I create and publish universally relatable content featuring Black child characters, especially Black boys, in normal everyday situations. In this way, our children are normalized, humanized, and the world can be made a safer place for them.”

In a similar vein, the Association of American Publishers in November 2021 said it aims to expand its diversity, inclusion and equity efforts. In other areas of publishing, meanwhile, many publications started advocating books by authors of color, especially by Black people, at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. At the time, anti-racist books even skyrocketed to the top of many best-selling lists.

With this multitude of efforts from both readers and publishers in the wide publishing landscape, has it shaken up the way publishing does things?

Publishing Remains Unchanged

In October last year, PEN America published the comprehensive report Reading Between the Lines: Race, Equity, and Book Publishing, where researchers used metrics to determine whether the diversity pledges of Big 5 publishers translated to an actual change. The 50-page report also included interviews, conversations with publishers, and open-source data, and it somewhat defined the current state of diversity in publishing.

PEN America analyzed the data from the employee demographics of the Big 5 publishers in the report. According to the organization, the number of white employees varies slightly, although not much, between the three biggest publishing houses. Penguin Random House (PRH) employees are 74% white, while 70.5% are white at Macmillan, and 64.6% white at Hachette. PRH, Macmillan, and Hachette each reported the composition of their top management teams. The statistics revealed that senior managers are disproportionately white, outnumbering white employees in lesser positions. “All of this data helps to confirm the widespread assumption that the industry remains overwhelmingly white, particularly at the higher echelons,” the report reads.

To expound, in PRH’s Workforce Demographics released in October 2021, white employees still dominate with 74% non-warehouse and 75% warehouse employees. Meanwhile, its contributors – authors, illustrators, and other creators – from 2019 to 2021 are 74.86% white. Hachette’s report, released in 2022, boasts that diversity increased in its workforce, but white employees still stand out. The other three major houses have not made their diversity reports publicly available.

At the height of the response to George Floyd’s death, there was also a surge of diversity pledges from various publishers. PEN America believes that the industry has undertaken current reforms with a genuine commitment to effect change. Still, they say, “it is too early to evaluate how much long-term change this burst of post–George Floyd efforts will bring.” According to PEN America, experts and longstanding insiders have warned that previous attempts have peaked and fallen off when public and media interest dwindled after gaining significant hype. This is evident in the current diversity statistics reports and the statement of many publishing and writing professionals of color PEN America spoke to.

And despite the minor improvements in the system the protests brought, the fundamental issues still exist. An interviewee summarizes all of them: “low salaries, toxic culture, lack of timely promotions, employees being generally overworked, and an industry steeped in whiteness.”

PEN America also acknowledged that this longstanding diversity problem not only lies in editorial, but also in marketing and publicity.

“There is little available market research on book buyers and readers of color. This absence is seldom discussed but critical to understanding the lasting biases in the industry. Readers of color may have different preferences or buying habits, different media that they follow or topics that they read about, different ways that they learn about and consume books,” the report says.

In other words, publishers aren’t targeting readers of color enough, which perpetuates the lie that “diverse books don’t sell” and forces publishers to put out less books by authors of color.

PEN America’s extensive report reveals that every step of the publishing process is impacted by “ingrained prejudices, preconceptions, and ossified thinking,” which collectively hinder the rise of authors of color and other ethnicities.

With all these anecdotal evidence and hard-to-swallow statistics from various sources — from Lee and Low Books to Publishers Weekly and PEN America — it just confirms the truth we all knew all along: the publishing industry remains white and more work is needed to be done to level the playing field.

- Megan Mabee
Talk Wordy To Me: 20 Ways to Celebrate a Bookish Valentine’s Day

Despite the overflow of cultural messaging about what Valentine’s Day should entail, I am here to share some alternative ideas. Valentine’s Day can be celebrated whether you have a significant other or not. I am all for expanding the narrative of this holiday to commemorate not just romantic love, but also the many different facets of love, from family and friendship to self-love.

In the spirit of self-love, I say let’s treat ourselves this Valentine’s Day! As a bookish person, my favorite way to treat myself is with lots of fun, bookish activities, and I think Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to enjoy these.

Below, you’ll find amusing and silly tasks related to books. These can be done on your own, with friends, family, or significant others. You can choose an activity off the list that suits your mood on Valentine’s Day or select one at random. If you’re feeling extra motivated, try challenging yourself to do them all. I’d be impressed if you’re able to check off all 20, especially in one day.

How ever many you feel inspired to do, I hope these bookish Valentine’s Day activities bring you joy. And yes, they get a little more outlandish by the end of the list, but what’s the fun in a bookish Valentine’s Day without a little adventure?

Journal With Pen and Teacup ImagePhoto by Carli Jeen on Unsplash 20 Ways to Celebrate a Bookish Valentine’s Day 1. Visit Your Local Library or Bookstore

I thought I’d kick off the list with a warm-up activity. Stopping by your local library or bookstore is an easy way to get bookish on V-Day.

2. Check Out An Indie Bookstore

There are chain bookstores, and then there are cute, indie ones. You know the ones. The bookstores where you feel like you’re stepping into your own romcom when you walk in. The quirkier, the better. This Rioter shares just how impactful visiting an indie bookstore can feel.

3. Get a Treat In a Bookstore Cafe and Read While Eating It

So often, I feel like I’m rushing from one place to the next. One way we can perform self-care on Valentine’s Day is pausing and savoring the moment. For us bookish folk, this equates to getting a treat in a bookstore cafe, finding a table to sit at, and cracking open a book to read while you nom.

4. Discover a New Reading Nook and Read There

I am always on the hunt for a cozy new place to read. Boardwalks along the water with benches to sit at are my current favorite. This Valentine’s Day, I challenge you to find a new spot around your town to read in.

5. Build Your Own Cozy Reading Nook

Ok yes, sometimes, we have those days where we don’t want to go anywhere. I am all for that too. If that’s the case for you this Valentine’s Day, try building a comfy reading nook at home. This Rioter has some great suggestions on how to get started.

6. Go On a Little Free Library Scavenger Hunt

When I have some free time, I love poking around town for Little Free Libraries. You get that heady feeling of not knowing what books await you in the next one you stumble upon. There’s something cathartic about donating your own books in them as well. Not sure if you have any Little Free Libraries near you? Check out this handy map tool.

Book cover of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry 7. Watch a Movie Adapted From a Book

Spend this Valentine’s Day snuggled up with a good movie adapted from a book. I recommend the recent adaptation of Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. Forewarning, tears will be shed.

8. Write a Romantic Poem or a Sad Poem

Poetry is just the place for letting big feelings out. Whether you’re feeling romantic, sad, or anywhere in between, try your hand at some poetry this Valentine’s Day.

9. Write a Short Story or Piece of Micro-Fiction in the Romance Genre (Or Any Genre That Strikes Your Fancy)

While you’ve got your writer’s notebook and favorite fountain pen out for poetry, why not dabble in some short story writing? There’s the romance genre of course, or you could dig into another favorite genre of yours. Remember, we’re talking self-love here on Valentine’s Day, so it’s all about writing what makes you feel happy.

If a short story seems like too much to undertake on one day, you could also attempt writing micro-fiction. For example, you could challenge yourself to write a story in 100 hundred words or less. My writer’s group has done it before, and it’s quite fun.

10. Read Aloud From Your Favorite Books With Friends

While reading often feels solitary, it can also bring people together. Invite your friends over and tell them to bring a book. Take turns reading aloud together from the books everyone has brought.

My little brother and I have done this on road trips before, and the character voices we came up with were legendary. Another time, my older brother, aunt, uncle, and I took turns reading aloud from a book of scary short stories while we were cooking together. I’ve never had so much fun cooking as I did that day.

11. Start a Reading Journal

This Valentine’s Day, treat yourself to a cute notebook and start a reading journal. I use my reading journal to collect favorite quotes, and I’ve got some tips on how to start one.

12. Listen to An Audiobook While You Work On a Puzzle

Listening to audiobooks can be fun, but have you ever listened to one while you work on a puzzle? That’s some serious next level contentment.

13. Bookish Fortunes: Open a Book to a Random Page, And Point to a Sentence at Random. This is Your Bookish Fortune for the Day.

Alright, I’m a little (a lot) superstitious. For reference, I have a set of 80 “Good Fortune Sticks” that you can shake to draw your good fortune for the day. I found them in the gift shop of an art museum during my undergrad days, and while I had every intention of buying them for a friend’s birthday present, I instead selfishly kept them for myself. So in the spirit of finding out your bookish fortune this Valentine’s Day, open a book at random, point to a page, and read the sentence. How did your fortune come out?

Book cover of Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin 14. Cook or Order a Dish Mentioned In a Book You’ve Read

Nothing says self-love better than indulging in a delicious new recipe, or treating yourself with take-out if you’re not in the cooking mood. Make it bookish this Valentine’s Day by choosing a tasty recipe or dish from a book you’ve read. If you need inspiration, Uzma Jalaluddin includes a recipe for chai at the end of her delightful Pride and Prejudice retelling, Ayesha At Last.

15. Check Out a Literary Event

Whether it’s an author talk, writers group, book club, or library program, try venturing out to a literary event this Valentine’s Day. If you can’t find an event taking place on Valentine’s Day itself, spend some time researching upcoming literary events in your area. Pick something, and mark it on your calendar! Literary events are a great way to meet cool bookish people to connect with.

16. Reread a Favorite Comfort Book

Rereading favorite books brings me such comfort. Treat yourself on Valentine’s Day by sinking into the cozy embrace of a beloved book you’ve read before. The stakes are low since you already know you love the book, and there’s no pressure to finish it again since you know how it ends.

17. Read a Valentine’s Day–Themed Fan Fiction

Looking for something shorter (and maybe spicier) to read this Valentine’s Day? Read fan fiction, like one of these in Archive Of Our Own’s Valentine’s Day Works.

18. Play a Round of MASH Using Your Favorite Literary Characters As Your Significant Other Matches

If you were a ’90s and ’00s kid like me, you may have played the fantastic match-making game called MASH. It’s a silly game of chance where you find out who your future significant other will be from a set of options, along with other intriguing life outcomes, like your career and number of kids. On Valentine’s Day, play a bookish variation on MASH using literary characters as significant other options. There’s even a wikiHow guide on playing MASH for those who need a refresher.

19. Write a Letter to Your Literary Crush or Favorite Author

While we’ve got literary loves on the brain, why not write a love letter to your literary crush? One of the risks (benefits?) of being a reader includes falling in love with fictional characters, so dig into that vibe this Valentine’s Day. Write about what you love most about the character, or why you think you’re perfect for each other. If you’re in the mood to write a letter to a real person, choose a favorite author of yours, and gush over why you love their books.

20. Emulate A Book Character And Go On An Adventure That Reminds You of Them

Reading allows us to go on adventures in our heads as we follow along with the character’s journey. Why not push yourself to attempt a real adventure this Valentine’s Day just like one of your favorite bookish characters might do? When I had an afternoon off from work recently, I decided to take a spontaneous ferry ride. Sitting on the deck looking out over the water, I thought, I feel like a character in a story. Let’s be the main characters in our own stories this Valentine’s Day!

Before You Go…

I hope this list helps you find some bookish joy this Valentine’s Day. As Gabrielle Zevin says in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, “We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone.”

- Summer Loomis
8 Books About Country Music

This is my list of the best country music books for anyone who thinks country music is all big hair and straight white men. Below is proof that country music is way more than that and anyone pushing or still believing that view is just peddling nonsense.

But first, a little background on my love for country. Unlike many other fans, I grew up in an American suburb far from any country music destinations. I also grew up in a time long ago when you couldn’t take your music with you everywhere in your pocket. You had to listen to things that other people chose for you, particularly on this old timey thing called a radio. Being from a city that only had one country music station as far as I knew, I don’t know how I thought I didn’t like country music. I probably had little to no exposure to it to begin with.

However, I distinctly remember being one of those people who would say, “I like a lot of music but not country.” Ugh! I hope you will forgive the ignorance and stupidity of youth. As an aside, I also thought I didn’t like Billy Joel, and for the record, I was wrong about that as well. Thanks for hearing my confession; I feel much better now that I have unburdened myself.

Given where I grew up and my ridiculous prejudices, I might have stayed ignorant of the beauty and richness of country music. However, I ended up working somewhere that had one radio (remember, I grew up in the dark ages when this was normal). That radio was tuned only to two things ever: country music and baseball. Since it was the boss’s radio, I didn’t have any say. She liked those two things and dang it if I didn’t end up listening to a lot of both. Sadly, I never gained an appreciation for America’s National Pastime. However, I did develop a deep love of country music that has only grown over the years. Hence my list of books for others who would like to deepen their love or are at least curious about this kind of music.

Put some spurs on your sneakers because we’re about to jump in.

Cover of Black Country MusicBlack Country Music by Francesca Royster

This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking read with a country music fan who also happens to be female, Black, and queer. I feel like her book is somehow coming out at just the right time and is also overdue in some way. I found Royster’s explanations to be very accessible and moving, and I would happily read more from her. I hope her work is widely read now and in the future by country music fans from all kinds of backgrounds. I was happy to see this book reviewed in so many places so that others can find it too.

Cover of Pride The Charley Pride StoryPride: The Charley Pride Story by Charley Pride and Jim Henderson

Charley Pride set out to be a baseball player, and the world is pretty lucky that he didn’t end up making that dream happen. By the time he passed away in 2020, he had recorded some of the most famous country songs of all time and become one of the genre’s superstars. If you appreciate his music, you should definitely get a copy of this book. It covers so much of his life and most of it is pretty fascinating. The little bits that aren’t — like some failed business deals and the like — probably won’t bother most readers, since he lived through so many interesting places and times in American life.

Cover of Brother RayBrother Ray: Ray Charles’ Own Story by Ray Charles and David Ritz

This book has a very personal tone and feel to it. If you like to read things where you feel like you’re getting it “straight from the horse’s mouth,” as we say, and don’t mind cursing, then this will probably work well for you. I enjoyed Charles’s stories about his childhood and was very moved by his reaction to the loss of his mother, who died when he was just a young teenager. The discussion of his and other’s sex lives was much less interesting to me but I think this book is still a decent place to start reading about another one of country music’s biggest stars.

Cover of She Come By It NaturalShe Come By It Natural by Sarah Smarsh

I first read Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth and was just blown away. So of course when I saw that Smarsh had also written about Dolly Parton’s music, I was really interested in getting a copy of this. However, it is not a straight forward biography or even a fan’s appreciation of Parton’s music. Instead, it’s more of a thoughtful analysis of what Dolly Parton’s life and work has meant to Smarsh and others around her. A must read for sure. And if you haven’t picked up her book Heartland, then you should read that too!

Cover of Queer CountryQueer Country by Shana Goldin-Perschbacher

This is another analysis-heavy book. However, unlike Smarsh’s more journalistic tone, this has a much more academic feel. If you’re not sure what I mean, consider this sentence, “Chapter 1 explores the centrality of sincerity to country music and the problem of sincerity’s ties to essentialism (the notion that aspects of self are inherent).” Goldin-Perschbacher writes in a way that will make total sense to you if you also have a PhD in a humanities discipline. However, even if you don’t, you might be interested in thinking about some of the same things she is. Be prepared for the presentation to be different and give her book a try if you want something more “chewy.”

Cover of Rednecks Queers and Country MusicRednecks, Queers, and Country Music by Nadine Hubbs

This is also one of the more “academic” books of this list, and for some readers, that may be exactly what they are looking for. If you want a lot of analysis with your music, then definitely get a copy of Hubbs’s book and chew on it a bit. There is a lot going on here to digest and I think those who like Queer Country will also find Rednecks to be an interesting and worthwhile title to dig into.

Cover of Broken Horses A MemoirBroken Horses by Brandi Carlile

Carlile’s memoir is a fast and fascinating read. I knew vaguely that Carlile had grown up in the Pacific Northwest, but I really did not know much more until I started reading this. Likely no surprise to anyone familiar with her music, she is a gifted storyteller. She locks you in from the first pages and you’ll feel like you need to see where all this is going. Enjoy the ride, and if you aren’t already a fan of her work, there is a lot of good music online that you should also explore as you read about her childhood and beyond. I’m not a wedding person but I still enjoyed reading about her various weddings (you’ll have to read the book to figure out what I mean). Here’s wishing her and her wife many happy years to come.

Cover of Country Music an Illustrated HistoryCountry Music: An Illustrated History by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns

Before you ask, no, I haven’t watched my way through the Ken Burns’s documentary that this is a companion volume for. Yes, I know I’m probably missing out. However, if you can’t quite get yourself to watch 16 hours, you may want to take a look at this book anyway. As someone who hasn’t watched it yet either, I still found this to be an interesting read to dip in and out of. I particularly liked the illustrated part of it since the other books above tended to have far fewer photographs and things that help you see what some of the performers and settings were like.

And that is it, folks. I hope this list will get you started on the vast richness that is country music and its many stars. There are so many more incredible books I haven’t included above an I have yet to get my hands on. To name just two that look like I’d enjoy them: Her Country: How the Women of Country Became the Success They Were Never Supposed to Be by Marissa Moss and Kelefa Sanneh’s Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres (which isn’t only about country music of course, but has a section devoted to it).

If you still need more, give me a few months to catch my breath and maybe I can come up with a second list. Keep your fingers crossed for me. For now, I’m off to listen to some Mickey Guyton or Rissi Palmer or Dolly Parton or…you get the idea.

- Rey Rowland
Kindle Unlimited Pricing: Is It Worth It?

Each new year brings new reading goals for us bookworms — and if you’re like me, you probably look for ways to read more and spend a little less. Which is why I had my sights set on Kindle Unlimited (KU) for a long time…at least until last year, when I finally gave in and paid for my subscription. Back then I wondered what you’re probably wondering now: is Amazon’s reading service worth it? I’ve used KU for a few months, so I have my own answer now. But the reason we’re here today is to look at the Kindle Unlimited pricing, catalog, free trial, and the rest of its elements in order to determine if it’s worth it for the average reader — and for you.

How Does Kindle Unlimited Work?

We already have a comprehensive guide to Kindle Unlimited if you want to check that out. But the gist of it is that you pay a monthly subscription of $9.99 + taxes and you get unlimited access to a catalog that boasts over 3 million titles including audiobooks, comics, and magazines. Just keep in mind that Kindle Unlimited is not the same as Prime Reading! You can borrow titles (think of it as a digital library) as often as you want, as long as they remain on the catalog. Plus, they don’t have a due date, so they’ll stay in your personal Kindle library as long as you don’t return them. As of 2022, you can borrow up to 20 titles at a time.

More On Kindle Unlimited Pricing

So we’ve already established that KU costs $9.99 + taxes per month. But if you want to test it out before you commit, there’s a 30-day free trial available! Know that Amazon no longer offers other membership plans; the monthly fee is the only one. Plus, it doesn’t matter if you have a Prime membership. The fee stays the same. Although you can gift a Kindle Unlimited membership for 6, 12, or 24 months and the total cost is quite cheaper.

How to Use Kindle Unlimited

This is actually super easy. To use Kindle Unlimited, you just need the Kindle reading app. Of course actual Kindle devices are handy, but they’re not a requirement to use the subscription service. You can easily download the free Kindle app on a computer, tablet, or smartphone and use that to read. To access the catalog you can do it either through the app or online. The selection is absolutely huge though, so if you want recommendations on where to begin you can check out some of the best romance books of 2022, mystery series available on KU, or some of the best Kindle Unlimited books of 2023!

So, is it worth it?

Well, that depends! I’m going to get into some math here so bear with me. As of 2021, the average American reads 12.6 books per year. So about one book each month. Paying basically $10 for one ebook a month with a limited selection ends up being on the pricier side. Especially considering that Amazon has discounts for ebooks all the time, and some can cost as little as 99¢. Overall, if you average the price of ebooks at about $5, you’d need to read at least two books on Kindle Unlimited each month for it to be worth it.

For the average reader, with one book a month, this can definitely be pricier than buying a single ebook. Of course, the biggest downside is that you can only pick your single monthly read from a catalog that might not have the selections you want. So if you’re more of an average reader, I’d take the free trial and then decide if I use KU enough to make the expense worth it.

On the other hand, if you read more than the average reader, I’d say the Kindle Unlimited pricing turns into a great deal. If you read around five digital books per month through KU, that would mean each book cost about $2. If you use Kindle Unlimited to read seven books per month, that would average each book at about $1.40. It’s like with any subscription service. In this case, the more you read the more useful you’ll find paying for a KU subscription.

So is Kindle Unlimited worth it? To me it was. If you want to read more books this 2023, it could be. If you’re an avid reader and you like digital books, it absolutely is worth it. But in the end, with so many reading subscription services out there, the choice is up to you.

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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)

The post Grishaverse Re-read: RUIN AND RISING by Leigh Bardugo appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Thea
On the Smugglers’ Radar: May 2021

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

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

May 2021

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

The Ones We’re Meant To Find by Joan He

Roaring Book Press | May 4, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Illusionary by Zoraida Córdova

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aetherbound by E.K. Johnston

Dutton Books for Young Readers | May 25, 2021

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

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

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

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

Adobo and Arsenic by Mia P. Manansala

Berkley | May 4, 2021

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

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

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

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

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Ballantine Books | May 4, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

Orbit | May 11, 2021

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

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

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

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

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Flatiron Books | May 4, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Ace | May 11, 2021

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

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

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

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

We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinkser

Berkley | May 11, 2021

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

Everybody’s getting one.

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

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

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

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

The Helm of Midnight by Christopher Buehlman

Tor Books | May 25, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hugo Award

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

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

The 2021 Hugo Award Finalists

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

Best Novel

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

Best Novella

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

Best Novelette

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

Best Short Story

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

Best Series

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

Best Related Work

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

Best Graphic Story or Comic

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

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

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

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

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

Best Editor, Short Form

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

Best Editor, Long Form

Nivia EvansSheila E. GilbertSarah GuanBrit HvideDiana M. PhoNavah Wolfe

Best Professional Artist

Tommy ArnoldRovina CaiGalen DaraMaurizio ManzieriJohn PicacioAlyssa Winans

Best Semiprozine

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

Best Fanzine

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

Best Fancast

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

Best Fan Writer

Cora BuhlertCharles PayseurJason SanfordElsa SjunnesonAlasdair StuartPaul Weimer

Best Fan Artist

Iain J. ClarkCyan DalySara FelixGrace P. FongMaya HahtoLaya Rose

Best Video Game

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

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

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

Astounding Award for Best New Writer

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

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

FIYAHCON’s Ignyte Awards

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

Best Novel – Adult

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

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

Best Novel – YA

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

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

Best in MG

for works intended for the middle grade audience

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

Best Novella

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

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

Best Novelette

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

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

Best Short Story

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

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

Best in Speculative Poetry

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

Critics Award

for reviews and analysis of the field of speculative literature

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

Best Fiction Podcast

for excellence in audio performance and production for speculative fiction

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

Best Artist

for contributions in visual speculative storytelling

John PicacioNilah MagruderOdera IgbokwePaul LewinRovina Cai

Best Comics Team

for comics, graphic novels, and sequential storytelling

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

Best Anthology/Collected Works

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

Best in Creative Nonfiction

for works related to the field of speculative fiction

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

The Ember Award

for unsung contributions to genre

Clarion WestDhonielle ClaytonK. Tempest BradfordMichi TrotaTananarive Due

The Community Award

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

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

Congratulations to all of the finalists!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Title: Siege and Storm
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Paperback: 435 pages

Darkness never dies.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her—or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and part of the overall Grishaverse

How did I get this book: Purchased

Format: Paperback

Warning: This review contains unavoidable spoilers for Shadow and Bone. If you have not yet read the first book in the trilogy and wish to remain unspoiled, look away!


Alina Starkov–humble, orphan mapmaker that was–has been discovered as a Grisha of rare and terrible power. Alina has the uncanny ability to call sunlight in the same way other Grisha can move water or air, and through training has learned to sharpen and hone her abilities to deadly precision. With the help of the stag bone amplifier, now permanently set around her neck as a collar, Alina’s powers have grown even stronger–maybe even strong enough to challenge the Darkling himself, though he intended the collar to control Alina and her powers.

Some call her the Sun Summoner; others think of her as a holy and blessed Saint, sent to deliver Ravka from the Fold and the monsters within.

In truth? Alina does not feel very holy. Following her dramatic escape from the Little Palace and using the Cut to strand the Darkling and his followers in the Fold, Alina and Mal find themselves on the True Sea, without much in the way of friends or provisions. Soon enough, the Darkling finds them. Yet again, he coerces cooperation from Alina by threatening violence against Mal–and yet again, they are on the search for a mythological beast whose body can serve as an amplifier for power.

Luckily for Alina and Mal, there are other players in the game of power with vested interests in Ravka’s future. An unlikely ally emerges in the form of Prince Nikolai–the royal younger son, rumored bastard, and apt charmer who always knows the right thing to say to any audience. Alina agrees to help Nikolai for the sake of Ravka, seizing control of the Second Army and, yes, even agreeing to embrace her “Sainthood” if it means stopping the Darkling once and for all.

Of course, things are never so simple and this time, the Darkling has learned some new tricks. Instead of just calling the darkness, it seems he can literally create monsters from the Fold and control them, as Alina learns with horrified dismay. With the future of her friends, her country, perhaps even the world on the line, Alina is determined to embrace her power–even if it means sacrificing her own humanity.

Ah, Siege and Storm. I have a confession to make: when I first attempted to read this book, I DNF’d it. I had a hard time shifting back into the Grishaverse with Alina and Mal playing the same game–weak, meek Alina hiding herself away and swaggery, brawny Mal making friends and Providing–and the emergence of a potential third love interest for Alina (i.e. Prince Nikolai). BUT, I came back to the book and ultimately was able to push aside some of those trope-laden misgivings and enjoy the fast plotting, high stakes, and wicked good world-building Leigh Bardugo wields with Cut-like precision.

This second time around, I found myself more forgiving of Alina (which, incidentally, I think is the key to the entire series). Once I could get over the fact that, yes, this is another Chosen One storyline with a main character of nigh unprecedented power, I felt much more sympathy for our Sun Summoner. I appreciated the implications and dangerous fanaticism of becoming a Saint and the power struggles of the Grand and Little Palace that she has to navigate. Moreover, I appreciate how ill-equipped for the job Alina appears to be, and how she rallies despite Mal being basically THE WORST (sorry, Mal fans) and comes into her own abilities as a negotiator and… well, general. I have a deep respect for Alina’s arc in this second book (and third book) as she also struggles with her own desire for more power, her attraction to the Darkling, and her own tangled allegiances and emotions.

Beyond Alina’s journey, there are some other standout characters in this second book, such as:

Genya. One of my absolute favorite characters in the entire series, I respect Genya’s choices especially in this book.

Zoya. Another favorite character, who has layers and depth and whose behavior Alina questions, rightfully!

Tamar and Tolya–the siblings from Shu Han who also end up becoming part of Alina’s retinue, but of murky allegiances in this particular novel.

There are also the many other members of the Grisha, like Sergei and Nadia and Adrik and David, who will become important, pivotal players in the war to come.

And of course, there’s Nikolai–the charming, adroit bastard prince with a plan, who is so much more than what he seems.

Beyond the characters, I love the vision of Os Alta as a slowly dying city, more preoccupied with grandeur and appearances than in the lives of its people. The juxtaposition of Crown Prince Vasily versus Nikolai was also a welcome addition of nuance to the series–the political entrapments of the King and his First Army juxtaposed against the tension with the Grisha and the Second Army was particularly well developed this time around.

Of course, I can’t write a review of this second novel without acknowledging the pull between Alina and the Darkling, right? There’s a Kylo Ren x Rey visitation vibe (and yes, I know this series predates The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker but you know exactly what I mean, right?) that is undeniably sexy and works because of Alina’s isolation and hunger for power–ultimately, this shared, destructive bond is irresistible. Less likable is the bond between Alina and Mal, but that is mostly personal bias–I have a really hard time liking Mal mostly because of his controlling, shitty, bad boyfriend flags.

There are hints at what might have caused the Fold to begin with and the mythology behind the Darkling’s origins that appear in this book. There are also political machinations and power plays that will shape and change everything, all of which I loved deeply upon this re-read.

Ultimately? Siege and Storm delivers and is significantly better than the first book.

Onward, to Ruin and Rising.

Rating: 7 – Very Good

The re-read continues next with Ruin and Rising (book 3 in the Shadow and Bone trilogy)

The post Grishaverse Re-read: SIEGE AND STORM by Leigh Bardugo appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Thea
Grishaverse Re-Read: SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo

In preparation for the Netflix show, Thea is re-immersing herself in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse and rereading the Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows books! Today, she tackles the book that started it all: Shadow and Bone.

Title: Shadow and Bone
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication Date: June 5, 2012
Paperback: 358 pages

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

Shadow and Bone is the first installment in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy.

Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and part of the overall Grishaverse

How did I get this book: Purchased

Format: Paperback


A mapmaker, a tracker, and an ageless power-wielder walk onto the field of battle, and nothing will ever be the same.

Alina Starkov–the mapmaker–has lived her entire life by keeping her head down. Always a little sickly, always a bit frail and clumsy and graceless and awkward, Alina enlisted in Ravka’s First Army partially out of civic duty (and by enforced necessity), but more importantly to stay connected to her best friend and unrequited love, Mal. Mal–the tracker–is young and handsome and carefree, renowned already throughout the ranks of his battalion as an uncannily good tracker and seducer of beautiful women (including Grisha), though he is Alina’s oldest and closest friend. Mal and Alina find themselves on the battlefield aboard skiffs and enter the Fold–a region severing Ravka from other countries with its unpassable, monster-filled darkness. When they enter the Fold, something very peculiar happens–when Mal is attacked by volcra and on the pair are on the verge of sure death, Alina unlocks an unforetold ability to summon light, and repel the monsters and the darkness.

No such thing has ever happened in Ravka. There are other Grisha–wielders of magic, experts of the Small Science, and fighters of the Second Army–including those who can manipulate the natural elements (Etherealki), those who are experts of the limits of the human body (Corporalki), and those who can manipulate composite materials to their ends (Materialki). The closest thing to Alina’s power is an Etherealki of unparalleled power: the Darkling, an ageless and immensely powerful Grisha who commands the Second Army, with an ability to summon darkness.

The Darkling–the ageless power-wielder–instantly takes interest in Alina, inviting her to train as a Grisha and unlock her true potential. Unlike Mal and the life Alina has known before, for the first time she grows into herself and her abilities. She becomes more confident, more powerful, and yet… more conflicted at each step along the way. As Alina adjusts to her gilded surroundings, she starts to question everything–especially the Darkling, and his motives.

When I first read (and reviewed) Shadow and Bone, I was both invested in the world, and slightly underwhelmed by characters. Upon this re-read, nearly a decade later, this initial observation still holds true. I *love* the concept of the “unsea” (the shadow fold), of Grisha, and a world sundered by monsters and darkness from some unknown source. And, this many years later, I know just how much time and effort Leigh Bardugo has invested in this world and its inhabitants, and can appreciate the grand scope of the Grisha, of Ravka, of the Shu Han and the politicking and choices that shape this world.

But I can’t deny that even upon re-reading this book, there are a lot of problematic elements.

All cards on the table: Alina’s entire character arc is a little… well, twee. I should note that it is slightly unfair reading this book in a vacuum because Alina becomes so much more in books 2 and 3, but judging book 1 on its own? Yeah, you can’t really deny the fact that her arc reads like a page from the post-Twilight-heroine playbook. Alina is consumed with what Mal will think of her, and what the Darkling thinks of her, and what the other Grisha think of her–her focus is entirely outside of herself, and her character growth seems tied to becoming more beautiful (and less clumsy and awkward) and other peoples’ perceptions of her. Both love interests in this book are similarly controlling, domineering, and unconscionably shitty. The Darkling is seductive and dark and broody and nigh-immortal and calls to Alina’s nascent power while trying to control her. Mal is overbearing, jealous, and judgmental, accusing Alina of liking her gilded cage (and the Darkling) too much. Not to mention the fact that Mal signs up for a secret mission to bring a powerful amplifier to Alina to feel, like, closer to her, and yet blames her for the Darkling’s manipulations, etc. In other words–all of the bad, abusive boyfriend red flags are flying full mast in this first novel.

And yet.

Despite these flags, there’s no denying that on its own, Shadow and Bone is still incredibly compelling. Alina’s arc, while utterly predictable, is still powerful in her choices. The fact that Alina is an outsider, that she feels alone and isolated, that she struggles with other Grisha as well as her best friend, is empathetic as hell and I deeply admire her ability to make choices the further out her story goes. Similarly, Alina’s bonds with other female characters–Zoya and Genya in particular–are nuanced, and have so much further implication for the rest of the series.

It’s impossible to re-read a series without also evaluating the things to come. Things that I didn’t notice as much the first time around but loved this time around:

The importance and quiet strength of Baghra, Alina’s teacher when she reaches the Palace.

The spectacle of the Grisha and how the entire kingdom of Ravka is slowly rotting on itself, with its preoccupation with glamor and beauty.

The beginnings of the understanding that absolute power corrupts absolutely–especially for Grisha, and including Alina herself.

Shadow and Bone is very much a first novel, lacking polish (and those aforementioned boyfriend red flags), but there’s so much promise in this book that it’s worth it to stick around for the ride.

I’m both more invested and more critical on a second read, and cannot wait to dive into the rest of the Grishaverse to evaluate the rest.

Rating: 6 – Good, but with some reservations

The re-read continues next with Siege and Storm (book 2 in the Shadow and Bone trilogy)

The post Grishaverse Re-Read: SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Charles Payseur
X Marks the Story: March 2021

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

The snow has finally melted from my yard! For most of the Northern Hemisphere, that means Spring is in the air! Plants are sluggishly trying to poke up, the squirrels are incredibly chonky, and the fiction is…well, complicated and wrenching and so so beautiful. And this month there’s some interesting and innovative flourishes as well. From interactive fiction to stories framed as wiki entries with annotated song lyrics, the stories I’m rounding up today show how varied and how creative short SFF can be, while losing nothing in power or impact. So grab your compass and your map and let’s get to it!

Diamonds and Pearls” by JL George (Fireside Magazine #88)

What It Is: Language is quite literally tied to gems in the world of this story, where as people learn words, they cough up different kinds of gemstones. And Osian grows up learning to covet diamonds, for the language of the common tongue, rather than pearls, which only emerge as people learn words in the old tongue. The story finds Osian struggling against his culture, his heritage, his desires, a ball of conflicting emotions that threatens to come spilling loose once he goes away to university and meets another student, a linguist, and has to challenge everything he thinks he knows. The story is built around this core of language and how we value it, how we lose it, and how we can reclaim it, and interwoven with that is a love story that is warm and sharp all at once.

Why I Love It: Osian is such a compelling character to me, so caught up in his own bullshit, hurt and damaged by an upbringing but rather ignorant of it, not wanting to examine the ways he’s been cut off from his past, from his family’s history. He’s invested in the valuation that society has put on the dominant language and the suppressed one. The new and the old. And it takes meeting someone who deeply challenges him, who captivates him, who has such a different set of values, to threaten that worldview. That comfort with all that he’s lost. And it makes so much sense, it speaks so real, especially to me as an American where there is no “official language” but where there’s certainly a value placed on what languages a person does (and doesn’t) know. And the ending is so sweet, so heart-meltingly adorable, that I can’t help but recommend going out and reading this story immediately!

The Captain and the Quartermaster” by C.L. Clark (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #326)

What It Is: For most of this story, the characters are marked not by their names but by their roles in a revolution that has been going on for much longer than anyone expected. For years they have been fighting against a Tyrant, and their fortunes shift with the seasons. But the Captain keeps on fighting, and the Quartermaster keeps on making sure the army has enough food and supplies, and together their love is something that gives the rest of the army hope. And the story looks at that, at these two women giving everything they have to a war and to each other, and finding that after all that they might not have much left for themselves.

Why I Love It: The relationship at the heart of this story is so amazing, messy, and queer, that I can’t help but love it to bits. And the way that the story flits through time, teasing out the different moments, the first meeting, the falling for each other, the turmoil, the resilience—it’s just a fabulous ride that the reader is treated to. More than that, though, the story breaks expectations with the romance, pulling away from what we might have been taught happy endings look like. I won’t spoil it but the story does a fantastic job of complicating how people can love, how people can stay together, and how they sometimes need to drift apart. And it reveals that no relationship is as important as the people in it, and ultimately people have to do what’s best and right for them, even when I might cry a bit at the ending. An emotionally stunning read!

According to Leibniz (maybe this isn’t what he meant); or, Rasharelle Little: Goddess of Postal Worker NBs” by Isana Skeete (Strange Horizons 03/15/2021)

What It Is: Felix’s Dyad is a headless chicken that might also be a physical manifestation of their uncontrolled anxiety. It clucks. And sort of makes a spectacle of itself. And isn’t any good at parties. Though neither is Felix, really. The story follows them as they deal with being a Monad with a headless chicken Dyad (not as cool as a cobra or a sexy cat), through their work at the post office, and around their crush on a coworker. And it reveals how they start to approach having their Dyad, how they can maybe stop seeing it as an enemy and hindrance, and instead embrace it for what it is, embrace themself for who they are, and even begin to practice some self-care. All that captured in a charming voice that flows, that keeps things casual and sarcastic and amazing.

Why I Love It: The story has such an energy to it, where Felix is just trying so hard to get by, to live their best life, and having to navigate what that means and how to do that when it’s just hard to inhabit their body sometimes, with its headless chicken Dyad and anxiety and baggage. Their go-to move is to avoid, to laugh through, to joke about things. But that doesn’t face their problems, and the story finds them starting to change that, to confront the things they would rather avoid, to have hard conversations, both with themself and with those they want to be closer to. It’s really a lot of fun, too, from the strangeness of this headless but not voiceless chicken to the way that they are able to break out of their insecurity in order to take a chance that they’ve been wanting to take for a long time. And the informal structure, the breaks of almost poetic formatting, add further personality to the work. It’s an incredible story!

Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny #39)

What It Is: Framed as an entry on a kind of wiki or other crowd-sourced site, this story unfolds as a conversation had between people contributing to the entry on a particular folk song. One that might have origins in something strange and…true. At least, that’s the narrative that begins to come clear as the work progresses, moving from interpretations and posts to a full annotated analysis of the song in line by line fashion. It might not sound like it, but it’s a rather tense and chilling work, full of mystery and possibility, implications that are all the more ominous for the nature of the framing technique, the outdated internet format that makes the story itself seem a seed waiting to full grow and flower.

Why I Love It: There’s something just so satisfying about the way this story comes together, all the pieces so meticulously placed, waiting for the reader to click them into a whole picture. The story is grounded with such care that for me is has this very authentic feel to it, as if this could be a thing on the internet, casually stumbled across. And I think that’s part of the horror, too, that the pieces here haven’t quite all been put together by the people on the board. Like so many things on the internet, they’ve been assembled in a bout of passion and interest and now just sort of…languish. And while this might seem like it would be frustrating, for me it’s rather sinister, this hanging implication, this warning that no one seems to be fully picking up on, and it’s chilling and wonderfully done!

Las Girlfriends Guide to Subversive Eating” by Sabrina Vourvoulias (Apex #122)

What It Is: It’s rare to come across an interactive story in a more traditional short SFF publication, in part because they’re rather difficult to include in an issue format. Which is why Apex has broken this one out to live entirely online, and the story is framed beautifully and rather convincingly as a kind of website, promising a tour of a local food scene mixed with magic, resistance, survival, and love. The format is fascinating and embedded into the tour stops, About Page, and other links there emerges a story, a narrative of people coming together from many different backgrounds to enrich a place that’s become all of their home.

Why I Love It: I do love the way this all fits together, the way that the story manages to take me on a journey. I mean, that it’s a functioning map is just great, and that it covers so much, not just food but the different roads these women have walked, the different routes to the same physical space, is amazingly done. The food descriptions sound delicious but don’t overshadow the culture or magic on display here, the web of different people and peoples all coming together in defiance to protect what can be protected, to spread what joy and love can be spread. The characters pop from the screen, and the work acts as a bridge between some of the author’s other stories, as well (including links to where to check those out), which is a nice way to make the setting more vivid, more real. It’s got such a warm heart, and so many layers, that make it a wonderful and unforgettable experience!


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

There were actually a few novellas out recently from short fiction publications, including the intricate and thoroughly world-built Arisudan” by Rimi B. Chatterjee (Mithila Review #15). It imagines a world rocked by corruption and disaster, but not yet without hope. And Submergence” by Arula Ratnakar (Clarkesworld #174) is part murder mystery, part romance, part dive into memory and consciousness, and is a powerful read.

I also read some recent short story collections, and of the originals I had some favorites. Useless Eaters” by Brian Koukol (Handicapsules: Short stories of Speculative Crip Lit) is brash and compelling, about a group of disabled buskers supporting each other and refusing to shrink in the face of ableist bullshit. Meanwhile Love: An Archaeology” by Fabio Fernandes (Love: An Archaeology) is a kind of possibility-hopping story, linking alternate realities to the conversation and correspondence of two sisters, and the complicated ways they are linked..

And I guess though most of my Xs this month leaned fantasy, I did read a bunch of strong science fiction stories, including The Office Drone” by Nic Lipitz (Future Science Fiction Digest #10), which is fun and funny and features a literal office drone showing the figurative drones how to really get some office work done. k.a. (birthright)” by Lam Ning (The Future Fire #2021.56) is a more somber and serious story, finding two people in the aftermath of a war figuring out how to live and recover. A theme that echoes in A Sunrise Every 90 Minutes” by Victoria Zelvin (Flash Fiction Online 03/2021), told from outer space, and perhaps the last human astronaut wonders what’s happened to Earth after a mysterious disaster, and decides how to meet this uncertain future.

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

- Thea
Announcing the SHADOW AND BONE/SIX OF CROWS Re-read

You may have heard of Leigh Bardugo–the internationally best-selling author of delightful, action-packed, high-stakes fantasy novels set in an interconnected universe. To date, the prolific Bardugo has published three full-length series (one trilogy and two duologies) as well a collection of short stories and other ephemera from the world of the Grishaverse. And then Netflix comes along, and, partnering with Leigh Bardugo, creates a Grishaverse fantasy television show that looks utterly awesome.

In the parlance of the youth, I am here for it.

Netflix showrunner Eric Heisserer and Leigh Bardugo have been impressively secretive about the show since it was announced, but over the past few months we’ve learned a couple of pretty cool things. For one, Bardugo acknowledged the diversity problem in her early books, and attempted to fix them with the show’s casting–I, for one, am excited about this more inclusive approach to the Grishaverse characters. I love that Jessie Mei Li–a biracial half-Asian actress–has been cast as Alina, and that her biracial background has been written into Alina’s character (who is now explicitly half-Shu Han).


Similarly, Sujaya Dasgupta who plays Alina’s frenemy Zoya is also mixed-race (explicitly revealed by Bardugo in 2019’s King of Scars), and both Inej and Jesper are also actors of color. (Also, if you’re a reader of this site, you probably know I have a huge thing for Inej and CANNOT WAIT to see her onscreen.)

Which brings me to my next point: shocking, to me, was the revelation that Shadow and Bone will include characters from the eponymous original trilogy as well as characters from the Six of Crows duology. How these two series will be tied together since they’re kinda on different timelines is still unknown but, I say again: I AM HERE FOR IT.


SO–to get ready for the show, I’ll be re-reading and reviewing the books in the original Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows this month! The readalong starts this week with Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm–stick around for more Grishaverse (including a giveaway and a surprise) leading up to the show’s release on April 23rd.

Until then, I’ll be rewatching this trailer a few more times.

The post Announcing the SHADOW AND BONE/SIX OF CROWS Re-read appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

- Thea
On the Smugglers’ Radar: April 2021

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

Starting this month, all of our monthly picks can be found on Bookshop!

April 2021

This one had us at “navigating an afterlife in which [the main character] must defeat an AI entity intent on destroying humanity.”

The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Simon & Schuster BFYR | April 6, 2021

Westworld meets Warcross in this high-stakes, incisive, dizzyingly smart sci-fi about a teen girl navigating an afterlife in which she must defeat an AI entity intent on destroying humanity, from award-winning author Akemi Dawn Bowman.

Eighteen-year-old Nami Miyamoto is certain her life is just beginning. She has a great family, just graduated high school, and is on her way to a party where her entire class is waiting for her—including, most importantly, the boy she’s been in love with for years.

The only problem? She’s murdered before she gets there.

When Nami wakes up, she learns she’s in a place called Infinity, where human consciousness goes when physical bodies die. She quickly discovers that Ophelia, a virtual assistant widely used by humans on Earth, has taken over the afterlife and is now posing as a queen, forcing humans into servitude the way she’d been forced to serve in the real world. Even worse, Ophelia is inching closer and closer to accomplishing her grand plans of eradicating human existence once and for all.

As Nami works with a team of rebels to bring down Ophelia and save the humans under her imprisonment, she is forced to reckon with her past, her future, and what it is that truly makes us human.

From award-winning author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes an incisive, action-packed tale that explores big questions about technology, grief, love, and humanity.

This next book is the second in a Mughal-inspired fantasy series (clearly I need book 1 to read immediately as well).

Gifting Fire by Alina Boyden

Ace Books | April 13, 2021

The battle has been won, but the war is just beginning.

Although at long last Razia Khan has found peace with herself and love with her prince, Arjun, her trials are far from over. In order to save her prince and his city from certain destruction, Razia made a deal with the devil–her father, the Sultan of Nizam. Now the bill has come due.

Razia must secure the province of Zindh, a land surrounded by enemies, and loyal to a rebel queen who has survived her father’s purge. But when her old tormentor Prince Karim invades her new home and forces her into a marriage alliance, Razia finds herself trapped in the women’s quarters of a foreign palace, with her beloved Prince Arjun exiled from her side.

Now, in order to free herself, and her province, from Karim’s clutches, she must call upon all of her training as a royal princess, a cunning courtesan, and a daring thief to summon new allies and old friends for a battle that will decide her fate, and the fate of an empire.

The next book in Becky Chambers’ optimistic, charming Wayfarer’s series is out at the end of this month–HUZZAH!

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

Harper Voyager | April 20, 2021

Return to the sprawling, Hugo Award-winning universe of the Galactic Commons to explore another corner of the cosmos—one often mentioned, but not yet explored—in this absorbing entry in the Wayfarers series, which blends heart-warming characters and imaginative adventure.

With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.

At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.

When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.

Speaking of new releases in favorite series, the newest Murderbot is out this month as well (thank you kindly, Martha Wells):

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

Tordotcom | April 27, 2021

The sixth part of the Murderbot Diaries series that began with All Systems Red, this novella takes place between Exit Strategy and the novel Network Effect.

No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall.

When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people–who knew?)

Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans!


Leigh Bardugo has a big April–Shadow and Bone starts streaming, and this second book in the King of Scars duology (also set in the Grishaverse) just dropped.

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

Imprint | March 30, 2021

The wolves are circling and a young king will face his greatest challenge in the explosive finale of the instant #1 New York Times-bestselling King of Scars Duology.

The Demon King. As Fjerda’s massive army prepares to invade, Nikolai Lantsov will summon every bit of his ingenuity and charm—and even the monster within—to win this fight. But a dark threat looms that cannot be defeated by a young king’s gift for the impossible.

The Stormwitch. Zoya Nazyalensky has lost too much to war. She saw her mentor die and her worst enemy resurrected, and she refuses to bury another friend. Now duty demands she embrace her powers to become the weapon her country needs. No matter the cost.

The Queen of Mourning. Deep undercover, Nina Zenik risks discovery and death as she wages war on Fjerda from inside its capital. But her desire for revenge may cost her country its chance at freedom and Nina the chance to heal her grieving heart.

King. General. Spy. Together they must find a way to forge a future in the darkness. Or watch a nation fall.

This historical thriller sounds tantalizingly awesome:

The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

Feiwel & Friends | April 20, 2021

Suspenseful and richly atmospheric, June Hur’s The Forest of Stolen Girls is a haunting historical mystery sure to keep readers guessing until the last page.

1426, Joseon (Korea). Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest near a gruesome crime scene.

Years later, Detective Min?Hwani’s father?learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared from the same forest that nearly stole his daughters. He travels to their hometown on the island of Jeju to investigate… only to vanish as well.

Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village?and collides with her now estranged sister, Maewol?Hwani comes to realize that the answer could lie within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.

Speaking of thrillers, I’m excited for this monster-in-the-woods tale:

Near The Bone by Christina Henry

Berkeley | April 13, 2021

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

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

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

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

Charlie Jane Anders’ first YA novel! It’s almost here!

Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

Tor Teen | April 13, 2021

Outsmart Your Enemies. Outrun the Galaxy.

“Just please, remember what I told you. Run. Don’t stop running for anything.”

Tina never worries about being ‘ordinary’–she doesn’t have to, since she’s known practically forever that she’s not just Tina Mains, average teenager and beloved daughter. She’s also the keeper of an interplanetary rescue beacon, and one day soon, it’s going to activate, and then her dreams of saving all the worlds and adventuring among the stars will finally be possible. Tina’s legacy, after all, is intergalactic–she is the hidden clone of a famed alien hero, left on Earth disguised as a human to give the universe another chance to defeat a terrible evil.

But when the beacon activates, it turns out that Tina’s destiny isn’t quite what she expected. Things are far more dangerous than she ever assumed–and everyone in the galaxy is expecting her to actually be the brilliant tactician and legendary savior Captain Thaoh Argentian, but Tina….is just Tina. And the Royal Fleet is losing the war, badly–the starship that found her is on the run and they barely manage to escape Earth with the planet still intact.

Luckily, Tina is surrounded by a crew she can trust, and her best friend Rachel, and she is still determined to save all the worlds. But first she’ll have to save herself.

Buckle up your seatbelt for this thrilling YA sci-fi adventure set against an intergalactic war from internationally bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders.

This one is a bit of a cheat since it technically came out in 2017, but is now getting a beautiful paperback repackage this month (and also it’s Silvia Moreno-Garcia so obviously gonna recommend it):

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Tor Trade | April 27, 2021

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a sweeping romance with a dash of magic.

They are the Beautiful Ones, Loisail’s most notable socialites, and this spring is Nina’s chance to join their ranks, courtesy of her well-connected cousin and his calculating wife. But the Grand Season has just begun, and already Nina’s debut has gone disastrously awry. She has always struggled to control her telekinesis?neighbors call her the Witch of Oldhouse?and the haphazard manifestations of her powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.

When entertainer Hector Auvray arrives to town, Nina is dazzled. A telekinetic like her, he has traveled the world performing his talents for admiring audiences. He sees Nina not as a witch, but ripe with potential to master her power under his tutelage. With Hector’s help, Nina’s talent blossoms, as does her love for him.

But great romances are for fairytales, and Hector is hiding a truth from Nina ? and himself?that threatens to end their courtship before it truly begins.

The Beautiful Ones is a charming tale of love and betrayal, and the struggle between conformity and passion, set in a world where scandal is a razor-sharp weapon.

Last but certainly not least, Marina Lostetter–the glorious, brilliant author behind the Noumenon series–has a fantasy novel out this month, and I need it in my life RIGHT NOW.

The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter

Tor Books | April 13, 2021

A legendary serial killer stalks the streets of a fantastical city in The Helm of Midnight, the stunning first novel in a new trilogy from acclaimed author Marina Lostetter.

In a daring and deadly heist, thieves have made away with an artifact of terrible power–the death mask of Louis Charbon. Made by a master craftsman, it is imbued with the spirit of a monster from history, a serial murderer who terrorized the city with a series of gruesome murders.

Now Charbon is loose once more, killing from beyond the grave. But these murders are different from before, not simply random but the work of a deliberate mind probing for answers to a sinister question.

It is up to Krona Hirvath and her fellow Regulators to enter the mind of madness to stop this insatiable killer while facing the terrible truths left in his wake.

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

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

- Kimberly
Junkyard War by Faith Hunter

Narrated by Khristine Hvam, Junkyard War by Faith Hunter is the third audiobook in the Junkyard Cats featuring Shining Smith. This post-apocalyptic science fiction series has been a favorite. Shining Smith is seeking retribution, and she’s willing to die to get it.

Junkyard War by Faith HunterJunkyard War
by Faith Hunter
Series: Junkyard Cats #3
Narrator: Khristine Hvam
Length: 6 hours and 35 minutes
Genres: Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction
Source: Audible Plus
Purchase*: Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star
Speed: 1.5x

It’s find retribution or die trying in Shining Smith’s ultimate challenge, from the author of the Jane Yellowrock and Soulwood series.

Shining Smith and her crew have obtained the weapons they need to rescue one of their own from the grips of their mortal enemy, Clarisse Warhammer. But to mount an assault on her fortified bunker, they have to cobble together an army of fighters.

That could be the biggest battle of them all.

Shining will need to step back into the biker world she left behind to broker an uneasy peace, then lead rival factions into a certain death trap. Can Shining take Warhammer down without having to compel more and more people to do her bidding? And will her feline warriors, the junkyard cats, remain loyal and fight alongside her? Or will Shining have to become something and someone she hates, so that vengeance can finally be hers?

apocalypse scifi smartfunny SUSPENSE

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We are back with Shining and her motley crew as they prepare to mount a rescue and take down their enemy, Clarisse Warhammer. To do this, she’ll need weapons, cats, and bikers from her dad’s past.

The story was intense from the get go. I quickly slipped into the story. I loved the setting, Nanos, and the cats. Her motley crew of friends and allies added to the tale with humor, suspense, and romance. Shining is one tough cookie and she’ll have to use her wits to keep her team alive and work with the biker gangs.

The world is post-apocalyptic and while there is a government of whom, Shining wants to draw zero attention, supplies are limited and it’s very much a fend for yourself, be or be killed kind of world.

The epic showdown was perfectly executed and kept me listening. Hunter took her time, weaved in humor, changed the dynamics between teams and kept me on edge.

The story arc wrapped up well with a curious turn of events. I loved the snark, romantic moments and banter. I am hoping we get more of the Junkyard Cats world and time with Shining.

Khristine Hvam captures Shining’s personality and the tone of the story. She brought the characters to life and made listening pleasurable.


About Faith HunterFaith Hunter

NYT Bestselling author Faith Hunter writes three series: the Jane Yellowrock series, dark urban fantasy novels featuring Jane, a Cherokee Skinwalker; the Rogue Mage novels, a dark, urban fantasy / post apocalyptic series and role playing game featuring Thorn St. Croix; and the Soulwood Series featuring Nell Nicholson Ingram.

About Khristine HvamKhristine Hvam

Khristine Hvam is a professional voice artist whose work includes audiobooks, video games, and voice-overs, including as Professor Juniper in the Pokemon television series. Among her narrations are the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa, Dare Me by Megan Abbott, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Khristine lives in New York City.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

2022 Audiobook Challenge


- Kimberly
Abandon: A Novel by Blake Crouch

I was delighted that Blake Crouch’s back matter will be on audio and grabbed Abandon. Narrated by Soneela Nankani, Jennifer Jill Araya, Timothy Jackson, and Max Meyers, Abandon tells a tale of journalist Abigail Foster and her historian father who along with their party explore a town where its inhabitants disappeared Christmas Day 1893. Horror meets thriller in this chilling listen.

Abandon: A Novel by Blake CrouchAbandon
by Blake Crouch
Narrator: Soneela Nankani, Jennifer Jill Araya, Timothy Jackson, Max Meyers
Length: 12 hours and 41 minutes
Genres: Horror
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star
Narration: 4.5 cups Speed: 1.5x

A century-old mystery—and a desperate battle to survive—unfold in this standalone thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of Dark Matter and Recursion.

On Christmas Day in 1893, every man, woman, and child in a remote mining town disappeared, belongings forsaken, meals left to freeze in vacant cabins, and not a single bone found.

Now, journalist Abigail Foster and her historian father have set out to explore the long-abandoned town and learn what happened. With them are two backcountry guides—along with a psychic and a paranormal photographer who are there to investigate rumors that the town is haunted.

But Abigail and her companions are about to learn that the town’s ghosts are the least of their worries. Twenty miles from civilization, with a blizzard bearing down, they realize they are not alone.

The ordeal that follows will test this small team past the breaking point as they battle the elements and human foes alike—and discover that the town’s secrets still have the power to kill.

Part journey into old-West history, part nail-biting survival thriller, Abandon is a bloody, darkly surprising tale as only Blake Crouch could deliver.

historical SUSPENSE thriller twisted

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The tale that unfolds was chilling from the changing point of views to the timelines. Crouch gave us both the current storyline and shared events of 1893 as they unfolded.

Abigail is a journalist, and she has joined her father, a historian, to document the abandoned town. With them are two guides and a couple. The couple is a psychic and paranormal photographer team.

If the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island intrigues you, then this story will pull you in. The town has been abandoned. Meals are still on tables, but not a single man, women or child were found. Not even their bones.

The story built as we learned about events that unfolded in 1893, and see things quickly deteriorate in the present. Suspense, twists and horrors await you in this spin-chilling tale. The story was grounded, making it all the more terrifying.

Narrated by Soneela Nankani, Jennifer Jill Araya, Timothy Jackson, and Max Meyers, early Crouch did not disappoint. The story lends itself perfectly to the audio format. I was glad they chose multiple narraters and found it enhanced the story and transitions from timeline and perspective occurred smoothly.

Amazon | Audible

About Blake CrouchBlake Crouch

Blake Crouch is a bestselling novelist and screenwriter. He is the author of the forthcoming novel, Dark Matter, for which he is writing the screenplay for Sony Pictures. His international-bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy was adapted into a television series for FOX, executive produced by M. Night Shyamalan, that was Summer 2015’s #1 show. With Chad Hodge, Crouch also created Good Behavior, the TNT television show starring Michelle Dockery based on his Letty Dobesh novellas. He has written more than a dozen novels that have been translated into over thirty languages and his short fiction has appeared in numerous publications including Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Crouch lives in Colorado with his family.

About Jennifer Jill ArayaJennifer Jill Araya

Jennifer Jill Araya has been listening to audiobooks since she was a young child, and the fact that she now gets to narrate audiobooks for a living is a dream come true. Jennifer's training as an opera singer and orchestral cellist lend a musicality and depth of understanding to her narration that help bring her authors' stories to life. She loves nothing more than giving life and breath to the printed word. When she's not narrating, Jennifer can be found hiking, biking, running, or generally exploring her home city of Cincinnati with her husband Arturo (a.k.a. "Partner in Crime") and their two children.

About Soneela NankaniSoneela Nankani

Soneela Nankani is a classically trained Brooklyn-based actress. She has performed at many prestigious theaters and is an ensemble member of the award-winning Sojourn Theatre. In addition, Soneela has worked in film and television and has narrated over 60 audiobooks. Soneela holds an MFA in Acting from Columbia University.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

2023 Audiobook ChallengeCOYER 2023 Upside DownCOYER Upside Down Chapter 1: It's a Cold Summer


- Kimberly
Highland Dragon by Genevieve Jack

Narrated by Holly Adams, Highland Dragon by Genevieve Jack is the sixth audiobook in the paranormal romance series, the Treasure of Paragon. This time we are off to Ireland to meet Xavier as Avery Tanglewood agrees to retrieve him. Romance, magic, danger and swoons await you…..

Highland Dragon by Genevieve JackHighland Dragon
by Genevieve Jack
Series: The Treasure of Paragon #6
Narrator: Holly Adams
Length: 8 hours and 55 minutes
Genres: Paranormal Romance
Source: Audible
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star
Heat Level: One FlameOne FlameOne Flame
Narration: 5 cups Speed: 1.5x

Sometimes the things that keep us safe hold us captive. Avery Tanglewood has had enough of rearranging her life for the sake of others. After years of prioritizing her family over herself, she's ready to strike out on her own, even if she's not sure what she wants to do with her life. If only she was brave enough to face the backlash the truth will bring.

He's a prisoner of the past. For hundreds of years, Xavier has used his dragon magic to protect his Highland clan inside a pocket of space called the builgean. Thanks to his unique magical abilities, generations have enjoyed peace and prosperity while cut off from the modern world. But when a fairy trickster captures him and claims his throne, his refuge becomes his prison.

Can they free each other from the chains that bind? Avery agrees to journey into the builgean to persuade Xavier to help with the crisis in Paragon, but she finds a mysterious stranger in his place - a problematic complication, considering she can't leave the pocket without Xavier's assistance. Worse, although she frees the captured dragon, he refuses to comply without winning back his land and his clan first. And the longer Avery spends in Xavier's world, the harder it is to remember why she should return to her own.

magical paranormal ROMANCE SUSPENSE

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The Treasure of Paragon is a fun series with each book dealing with one couple as the dragon siblings of Paragon reunite. The overall series arc deals with witches & dragons and the fate of the dragons’ world, Paragon.

In Highland Dragon, we learn about Xavier when Nathaniel asks her to go into a pocket frozen in time in 1745, Ireland. He and Xavier built it, but only a human can enter. Avery is the oldest Tanglewood sister and not a witch. She has sacrificed for her sister and mother. Now that they are ok, it’s time for her to discover herself and this trip, while dangerous, seems like the perfect opportunity to spread her own wings.

The tale that unfolds was delightful, suspenseful and swoon-worthy. From the time we entered the bubble, I was enthralled. Xavier is no longer the Laird of the castle, and she’ll need to save him before she completes her mission.

I loved the characters from the brownies to the townfolk. Xavier is every bit the highlander and his reactions to modern day Avery had me laughing more than once. Avery discovers things about herself and I enjoyed seeing her find her power.

While one could listen to this a standalone, I recommend you listen in the order of their release, to best appreciate the overall arc. We get some chapters from previous characters which are important. Plus, there are spoilers and updates regarding previous characters.

Holly Adams narrates and delighted me with her voices for Avery and Xavier. Even her voice for the villain enhanced the story. I pictured him as Gargamel from the Smurfs…lol. I recommend listening to the series as it lends perfectly to this format.

Amazon | Audible

About Genevieve JackGenevieve Jack

USA Today bestselling author Genevieve Jack writes weird, witty, and wicked-hot paranormal romance and fantasy. Coffee and wine are her biofuel, the love lives of witches, shifters, and vampires her favorite topic of conversation. She harbors a passion for old cemeteries and ghost tours, thanks to her years attending a high school rumored to be adores the beaches of the southeast, where she spends her days with her laptop and one lazy dog.

About Holly AdamsHolly Adams

Holly Adams is a classically trained, award-winning actor and narrator who loves every single thing about stories and the beings that inhabit them. With her attention to tone and character integrity, Holly enjoys narrating pretty much anything, and specializes in action-adventure/fantasy, mysteries/thrillers, and the subtle comfort of self-help nonfiction. Holly's first language was Southern, after which her family moved around a lot, finally settling in rural New York. Combined with a love of languages and her professional training, these experiences gave her a range of regional Southern dialects and an excellent capacity for accent and dialect in general. When not behind a mic, Holly continues to perform on stage, in films, and with the circus, especially Red Nose.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

2023 Audiobook ChallengeCOYER 2023 Upside DownCOYER Upside Down Chapter 1: It's a Cold Summer


- Kimberly
Silence For the Dead by Simone St. James

I am continuing my readings of Simone St. James backlist and I’m quite enjoying these historical ghost stories. In Silence for the Dead, it’s 1919, and Kitty Weeks has falsified her papers to get a remote nursing job at Portis House. The tale that unfolds is atmospheric and suspenseful, with a side of romance and plenty of supernatural elements.

Silence For the Dead by Simone St. JamesSilence For the Dead
by Simone St. James
Genres: Historical Fiction, Paranormal
Source: Purchase
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star

In 1919, Kitty Weekes, pretty, resourceful, and on the run, falsifies her background to obtain a nursing position at Portis House, a remote hospital for soldiers left shell-shocked by the horrors of the Great War. Hiding the shame of their mental instability in what was once a magnificent private estate, the patients suffer from nervous attacks and tormenting dreams. But something more is going on at Portis House—its plaster is crumbling, its plumbing makes eerie noises, and strange breaths of cold waft through the empty rooms. It’s known that the former occupants left abruptly, but where did they go? And why do the patients all seem to share the same nightmare, one so horrific that they dare not speak of it?

Kitty finds a dangerous ally in Jack Yates, an inmate who may be a war hero, a madman… or maybe both. But even as Kitty and Jack create a secret, intimate alliance to uncover the truth, disturbing revelations suggest the presence of powerful spectral forces. And when a medical catastrophe leaves them even more isolated, they must battle the menace on their own, caught in the heart of a mystery that could destroy them both.

historical Supernatural SUSPENSE thriller

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From the fog to the closed off water-damaged sections of the home and its remote location, the Portis House is the perfect setting for this tale. Kitty is running from something, something we learn about as the story unfolds.

Portis House is a gloomy place with cold drafts, odd smells, plumbing issues and strange noises. The veterans of the Great War are here for treatment from shell shock, but something or perhaps someone is giving them nightmares and aggravating their fragile states.

Kitty is found out almost immediately by the head nurse, but times are hard and she needs an able body. Since she didn’t hire Kitty and the doctor did, she’ll use her. The nurses sleep in the former nursery and work round the clock. They rotate the night shift. Kitty is curious about the previous owners and the things she sees and hears. What happened to them? Why is this beautiful estate crumbling?

Simone writes delightfully ominous ghost stories and Silence For the Dead delivers. The suspense builds as Kitty befriends the nurses, patients and the mysterious patient in room 13. The characters are fleshed out, and unique. Each offered something to enhance the tale from their backstories to their nightmares. We get a little a romance which felt genuine and also learn of Kitty’s past, and the house’s history.

Portis House’s history and the current situation will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end as the excitement and danger build. The tale is well researched and felt historically accurate for the period. The treatment of the men and the shame that came from were heartbreaking. It was well told and enhanced the story.

From supernatural elements to the atmospheric setting, you’ll want to turn on a light and curl up with Silene for the Dead with a nice hot toddy.

Amazon | Audible

About Simone St. JamesSimone St. James

Simone St. James is the award-winning author of The Haunting of Maddy Clare, which won two RITA awards from Romance Writers of America and an Arthur Ellis Award from Crime Writers of Canada. She wrote her first ghost story, about a haunted library, when she was in high school, and spent twenty years behind the scenes in the television business before leaving to write full-time. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and a spoiled cat.

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- Kimberly
Almost Home by Pam Jenoff

Narrated by Jennifer Jill Araya, Almost Home by Pam Jenoff is the first audiobook in the Jordan Weiss historical fiction series filled with mystery and romance tying the past and present. Despite some early struggles, you’ll want to grab a hot cup of tea and curl up with this listen.

Almost Home by Pam JenoffAlmost Home
by Pam Jenoff
Narrator: Jennifer Jill Araya
Genres: Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star
Heat Level: One FlameOne FlameOne Flame
Narration: 4.5 cups Speed: 1.5x

A breathtakingly poignant novel of suspense about a woman who must face a past she’d rather forget in order to uncover a dangerous legacy that threatens her future.

Ten years ago, U.S. State Department intelligence officer Jordan Weiss’s idyllic experience as a graduate student at Cambridge was shattered when her boyfriend Jared drowned in the River Cam. She swore she’d never go back—until a terminally ill friend asks her to return. Jordan attempts to settle into her new life, taking on an urgent mission beside rakish agent Sebastian Hodges. Just when she thinks there’s hope for a fresh start, a former college classmate tells her that Jared’s death was not an accident—he was murdered.

Jordan quickly learns that Jared’s research into World War II had uncovered a shameful secret, but powerful forces with everything to lose will stop at nothing to keep the past buried. Soon, Jordan finds herself in grave peril as she struggles to find the answers that lie treacherously close to home, the truth that threatens to change her life forever, and the love that makes it all worth fighting for. Fast-paced and impossible to put down, Almost Home establishes Pam Jenoff as one of the best new writers in the genre

historical mystery ROMANCE SUSPENSE

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I’ve enjoyed some of the authors’ previous titles and was drawn to the synopsis of Almost Home. Ten years ago, U.S. State Department Intelligence Officer Jordan Weiss’ graduation from Cambridge was met with tragedy when her boyfriend, Jared, drowned in the River Cam. Jordan swore to never return to England, but a letter from a dear, terminally ill friend prompts a transfer. She now works for the American Office in London and is paired with Agent Sebastian Hodges.

Her new assignment is critical, and her partner is devilishly handsome. She is adapting when an old classmate tells her he believes Jarad was murdered. The tale that unfolds takes place in the present, but chapters take us back to Cambridge, the row team and her relationship with Jared.

The mystery was fantastic and quickly pulled me in. Jordan worked to solve both cases, as past and present blended and blurred. I struggled in the beginning with Jordan. I expected a much more confident personality, especially as an intelligence officer, but Jordan second guessed everything, and seemed to walk on eggshells.

We get romance, secrets, twists and some nail-biting moments of intrigue and danger. The last third of the audiobook had me completely hooked, and the ending left me counting the days until the next audio release.

Jennifer Jill Araya narrates and did a wonderful job of capturing the characters, suspense and tone of the tale. I am hoping she continues on the next audio.

Amazon | Audible

About Pam JenoffPam Jenoff

Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor. Following her work at the Pentagon, Jenoff moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Jenoff developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community. Having left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school at the University of Pennsylvania, Jenoff is now employed as an attorney in Philadelphia. Pam is the author of The Kommandant's Girl, which was an international bestseller and nominated for a Quill award, as well as The Diplomat's Wife and Almost Home.

About Jennifer Jill ArayaJennifer Jill Araya

Jennifer Jill Araya has been listening to audiobooks since she was a young child, and the fact that she now gets to narrate audiobooks for a living is a dream come true. Jennifer's training as an opera singer and orchestral cellist lend a musicality and depth of understanding to her narration that help bring her authors' stories to life. She loves nothing more than giving life and breath to the printed word. When she's not narrating, Jennifer can be found hiking, biking, running, or generally exploring her home city of Cincinnati with her husband Arturo (a.k.a. "Partner in Crime") and their two children.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

2023 Audiobook ChallengeCOYER 2023 Upside DownCOYER Upside Down Chapter 1: It's a Cold Summer


- Kimberly
Sunday Post #560 Winter Persists
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 was a busy week with meetings, kids and this nagging funk I am in. It has been dark and cold, which doesn’t help. I’ve been binge watching shows. I am all caught up on SEALS, devoured the first season of Fire Country and started Scorpion. We’ve been watching season three of Scarlet and the Duke and I binge watched Lockwood & Co today since it was below thirteen degrees for most of the day. I’ve been blowing through audiobooks as well. I am on a bit of a mystery/crime binge and going with the flow. However, I also listened to a fantastic witchy/magical realism audiobook called Weyward. It releases in March and I highly recommend it. Stay Caffeinated.

Last Week on the Blog Square³ By Mira Grant (audio review) Ghost Of A Chance By Chris Tullbane (audio review) An Excellent Walker By Lyndsay Constable (book review, guest post) Marcus By Lori Foster (book review) Hungry Ghosts By Stephen Blackmoore (audio review) This Week on the Blog Almost Home By Pam Jenoff (audio review) Silence For The Dead By Simone St. James (book review) Highland Dragon By Genevieve Jack (audio review) Abandon: A Novel By Blake Crouch (audio review) Junkyard War By Faith Hunter (audio review) New Arrivals at the Caffeinated Cafe The Founders

Learn more:

The Founders by Stacy M. Jones Miami Ripper by Stacy M. Jones Dead Air by Erik Carter

A special thanks to Tantor Audio & Gary Bennett, narrator

Around The Blogosphere It’s not too late to join the Iron Druid Chronicles Read-a-long hosted by Books of My Heart 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
Hungry Ghosts by Stephen Blackmoore

Hungry Ghosts by Stephen Blackmoore is the third Eric Carter audiobook. Narrated by Rudy Sanda, it shares the last confrontation with the Queen of Death. Grab a cup of coffee and travel with us to the Aztec land of the dead.

Hungry Ghosts by Stephen BlackmooreHungry Ghosts
by Stephen Blackmoore
Series: Eric Carter #3
Narrator: Rudy Sanda
Length: 9 hours and 15 minutes
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star
Narration: 5 cups Speed: 1.5x

Stephen Blackmoore's dark urban fantasy series follows necromancer Eric Carter through a world of vengeful gods and goddesses, mysterious murders, and restless ghosts.

Necromancer Eric Carter's problems keep getting bigger. Bad enough he's the unwilling husband to the patron saint of death, Santa Muerte, but now her ex, the Aztec King of the dead, Mictlantecuhtli, has come back—and it turns out that Carter and he are swapping places. As Mictlantecuhtli breaks loose of his prison of jade, Carter is slowly turning to stone.

To make matters worse, both gods are trying to get Carter to assassinate the other. But only one of them can be telling him the truth and he can't trust either one. Carter's solution? Kill them both.

If he wants to get out of this situation with his soul intact, he'll have to go to Mictlan, the Aztec land of the dead, and take down a couple of death gods while facing down the worst trials the place has to offer him: his own sins.

magical Mythology SUSPENSE urban

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In Hungry Ghosts, as with most urban fantasy it is best to begin at the start. Eric is slowly turning to jade, and it seems both Santa Muerte and her ex, the Aztec King of the Dead, want him to nix the other. Eric isn’t sure who to believe, but he is racing against the clock. Each time he taps into the powers he’s been given, he loses a little more of himself. Now that he has the weapon, he’ll need to travel to Aztec land of the dead.

This was a clever tale and my favorite of the trilogy involving Santa Muerte. I love the way the author blends old gods, necromancy, ghosts and more into his tale. While I was vaguely familiar with Santa Muerte, I found the Aztec land of the dead and Eric’s journey fascinating.

The mystery of why the Queen of the Dead set things into motion and what she ultimately wants was intriguing. We see character growth from Eric. Oh, he is still jaded, but perhaps he’s forgiven himself a little. The build up to the end kept me listening. I was impressed with how it all unfolded. We are given a bit of an epilogue that left enough of a hook me into wanting more. I’ll be curious to see what Eric does next in Fire Season.

Rudy Sanda did a stellar job of capturing the tone and characters of this series. He is perfect as the voice of Eric bringing forth his gruff personality, doubts, fears and anger.

Amazon | Audible

About Stephen BlackmooreStephen Blackmoore

Stephen Blackmoore is the author of the noir / urban fantasy Eric Carter series (DEAD THINGS, BROKEN SOULS, HUNGRY GHOSTS, and FIRE SEASON), about a necromancer in modern-day Los Angeles.

About Rudy SandaRudy Sanda

Rudy Sanda is a versatile actor, singer, voice-over artist, and fight choreographer. He has acted all over the United States and England on the stage and screen, including Laguna Playhouse, Ivoryton Playhouse, the Colonial Theatre, and Ocean State Theatre. Rudy holds a BFA in acting from the University of Rhode Island and received further training at the Beverly Hills Playhouse in Los Angeles and RATA in London. He has been described as a powerful, deeply connected presence bursting with charm and enthusiasm.

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- Kimberly
Marcus by Lori Foster
Marcus Banner

The Love Undercover series was one of my favorites, so when Marcus by Lori Foster published I scooped it up. For fans, Marcus appeared as a child in Getting Rowdy and was adopted by one of the guys. He’s now a police officer and crushing on his neighbor….

Marcus by Lori FosterMarcus
by Lori Foster
Series: Love Undercover #4.5
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Source: Purchase
Purchase*: Amazon *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star
Heat Level: One FlameOne FlameOne Flame

They’ve been crushing on each other for months… So what’s holding them back?

A sizzling new Love Undercover novella

For Marcus Bareden, Lucy Cortland is more than the girl next door. She’s beautiful, funny and easy to talk to. He’d really like to get closer, but something about her occasional wariness sets off his spidey sense. When he was nine, Marcus was plucked from an abusive situation and adopted by the most amazing parents a boy could wish for.

Lucy Cortland spent years overcoming an awful youth. Now, she’s got a great job, her own place and a super sexy neighbor. Marcus is warm, kind and they’ve become good friends. She’s only known him a few months, but their chemistry is undeniable. Yet for Lucy, getting close isn’t possible.

Lucy believes no one could love her after what she’s been through. No one could understand…except maybe the guy next door, who knows how it feels to be mistreated and how hard it can be to learn to hope—even love—again.

friends Novella ROMANCE Sweet

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Marcus was a quick and engaging romance filled with best friends, romance, and a cute cat that I devoured in one sitting. It’s a novella in the Love Undercover series but works as a standalone and is a light intro to the world. Fans of the series will love hearing about beloved characters and there is even a Rowdy moment. Be still my heart.

Lucy Cortland hides herself under oversized clothes, has an enormous heart, loves to bake & cook and watch the fights with the guys. She is friends with her neighbors, all guys including Marcus and they get together on fight night. The guys handle the pay-per-view costs and she feeds them appetizers and homemade cookies.

Marcus has been crushing on her for months, but Lucy is a little skittish, and he isn’t sure if she is interested. Lucy is definitely interested, but why would a guy like Marcus ever look twice at her?

The romance that unfolded was sweet, and Foster wrapped it up in a bow. It delivered confessions, sweet moments, and tender reveals. The reasons for Lucy’s hesitation were deep-rooted, & heartbreaking. Foster lightened the story with some laughs and a cute cat. All the feels in this novella.


About Lori Foster

Since first publishing in January 1996, Lori Foster has become a USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly and New York Times bestselling author. Lori has published through a variety of houses, including Kensington, St. Martin’s, Harlequin, Silhouette, Samhain, and Berkley/Jove. She is currently published with HQN.

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- Kimberly
An Excellent Walker by Lyndsay Constable

Sophia Rose is here with a review of the Pride & Prejudices variation, An Excellent Walker by Lyndsay Constable. Grab a warm cuppa and enjoy her thoughts on this historical romantic fiction….

An Excellent Walker by Lyndsay ConstableAn Excellent Walker
by Lyndsay Constable
Genres: Historical Romance
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star
Heat Level: One Flame

Is Mr Darcy capable of wanting to marry just for the sake of love?

AN UNEXPECTED MEETING between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet becomes suddenly and shockingly dangerous. Mr Darcy is determined to protect Elizabeth but his exertions leave him grievously wounded. Sheltering with him in a shepherd’s hut, Elizabeth tends to Darcy’s injuries while trying to suppress her concern about the impropriety of her circumstances, as well as the fever-induced proposal that results.

WHILE THEY SURVIVE the imminent threat, others at Rosings do not, altering the fates of their friends and relations. The connexion between them seems to have thus come to an end. Elizabeth’s emotions, enflamed by the forced intimacy in the shepherd’s hut, are aggravated when Darcy—now healing from his injuries—arrives to make good on his proposal. What woman wants an offer of marriage made in service to her reputation rather than to romantic love? Or was there love there all along?

An Excellent Walker is a Pride and Prejudice variation.

{ "@context":"", "@type":"Review", "datePublished": "2023-01-25T05:00:00+00:00", "description": "Sophia Rose is here with a review of the Pride & Prejudices variation, An Excellent Walker by Lyndsay Constable. Grab a warm cuppa and enjoy her thoughts on this historical romantic fiction.... ", "publisher": { "@type": "Organization", "name": "Caffeinated Reviewer" }, "url": "https:\/\/\/2023\/01\/an-excellent-walker-by-lyndsay-constable.html", "itemReviewed": { "@type": "Book", "name": "An Excellent Walker", "author": { "@type": "Person", "name": "Lyndsay Constable", "sameAs": "" }, "isbn": "" }, "author": { "@type": "Person", "name": "Kimberly", "sameAs": "https:\/\/\/" }, "reviewRating": { "@type": "Rating", "ratingValue": 4.5, "bestRating": "5" } } Sophia Rose’s Review

What if the French invaded the English coast of Kent right about the time Miss Bennet and Mr. Darcy were both out for a ramble in Rosings Park grounds? In a light alternate history Pride & Prejudice variation romance, Lyndsay Constable’s sophomore effort captivates early on and reads swiftly to a satisfying end.

While I think someone utterly unfamiliar with Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice can appreciate a sweet Regency era romance about a pair who misunderstood each other, had some outside interference, and struggled with the class differences against the setting of England during the Napoleonic War, I suspect there will be the sense of landing into the middle of a story.  An Excellent Walker opens with the couple already having known each other for several months and have a history of circumstances that play into their current feelings about each other. There is also the backstory of the other characters at Rosings Park that aren’t as teased out as well. All that to say, readers somewhat familiar with the P&P storyline will get more out of the story, but newcomers can enjoy it, too.

An Excellent Walker begins when Elizabeth is out on an invigorating walk to a hilly vista and her thoughts are in a little turmoil as she ponders what she thinks she knows about the events of the last few months and the people she has encountered namely charming Mr. Wickham and the arrogant Mr. Darcy who seems to have a way of confusing her by not being only what she supposed. After seeing the estate from the hill, she is annoyed when she encounters Mr. Darcy out for a ride. A surprising appearance of French soldiers.  Darcy is shot.  They work to escape and the focus becomes safety, though not without the surprise of a drunken confession from a feverish Darcy.

An Excellent Walker is told entirely from Elizabeth’s point of view and has two halves when it comes to setting and pacing. The first half is the suspenseful events of a French invasion of the Rosings Park estate and the immediate aftermath. The second half becomes more thoughtful as Elizabeth must sort out complicated and confusing feelings about a drunk emotional proposal, a follow up and, frankly, disastrous proposal, and the actions of a man who is so much more than Wickham’s insinuations and her own faulty judgment imagined. Even though the second half was less action-oriented, it was just as exciting when it came to the romance and character development. It all read swiftly and easily, so there wasn’t lag, but there was strong story development.

All in all, it was satisfying and an interesting twist to the original classic. It’s a sweet romance with some sensual attraction in a forced proximity situation, but has the decorum of the period and personalities of the characters. It’s a sparkling fun read for Regency or Austen romance fans.

Amazon* | Audible


About Lyndsay ConstableLyndsay Constable

Lyndsay Constable has been a passionate reader since her early teen years and frequently selected books that could be successfully hidden behind the person sitting in front of her in class. Originally from North Carolina, she attended both North Carolina School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase for dance. She currently lives in Virginia with her husband, child, dog, cat and a small murder of crows who refuse to become friendly with her despite all of the peanuts she has given them. Whatever, she’s not bitter.

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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
Ghost of a Chance by Chris Tullbane

Ghost of a Chance, the third novel in the Many Travails of John Smith by Chris Tullbane, delivered another snarky, suspenseful tale in this urban fantasy series narrated by Joel Richards. John Smith searches for missing ghosts and gets in trouble with the vampire queen.

Ghost of a Chance by Chris TullbaneGhost of a Chance
by Chris Tullbane
Series: The Many Travails of John Smith #3
Narrator: Joel Richards
Length: 13 hours 40 minutes
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star
Narration: 5 cups Speed: 1.5x

"Broken-Neck spat forth a stream of Spanish which no doubt contained disparaging comments about my intelligence. Or my appearance. Or my fashion sense. The only Spanish words I knew were the expletives my friend Mike had taught me. Even so, I recognized insults when I heard them."

The White Ladies of San Diego are one of the city's supernatural powers, organized and led by Graciela. But now their leader is missing, and the Ladies have hired John Smith, supernatural mediator and sometimes-private-investigator, to find her. Which raises some questions: How do you track down a ghost? What if she doesn't want to be found? And if foul play was involved in her disappearance like the Ladies believe, how exactly? It's not like ghosts can be kidnapped... right?

John doesn't have any answers. As usual. He also doesn't have much time. The White Ladies aren't known for their patience, and if Graciela can't be found soon, he might just find himself permanently retired.

magical snarky twisted urban

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I am having a blast with this series and am excited to see the next audio in the series releasing with Tantor Audio. John is still living in his parents’ basement and finds he has competition in the mediator business. He has a fresh case involving missing ghosts and is ankle deep in trouble with the vampire queen.

Twists, romance, powers and a fantastic mystery kept me listening. We get snark, as this motley crew gathers around John to give aid. John is building ties in the supernatural world, including an unexpected protector.

The world building is stellar, and each audiobook has been more impressive than its predecessor. Fans of urban fantasy, paranormal tales and private investigators will want to grab the series. As with most UF, it is best to listen in order of release.

The tale can get dark and gritty. John is tortured and what happens with the vampire queen is twisted. John hasn’t quite mastered the art of diplomacy, or maybe he likes to call out bullshit. Either way, it gets him in trouble. He did a splendid job with the werewolves, though.

For me, this was the best in the series. The tone is different, darker and suspenseful, while still having wonderful humor, awkward moments and even some swoons. We saw character growth from John and it ended in such a way that I am excited to listen to more.

Joel Richards gives voice to these characters and captures their personalities, as well as the overall tone of the story. The story/series lends itself perfectly to audio.

Amazon* | Audible

*Kindle Unlimited

About Chris TullbaneChris Tullbane

Chris Tullbane began as a gleam in someone’s eye, but birth and childhood were quick to follow. He’s been fortunate enough to live in Spain, Germany, and all over the United States of America, and is busy planning a tour of the distilleries of Scotland. He currently lives in Nevada with his angelic wife and ever-expanding whisky collection and occasionally ventures outside to peer upwards, mutter to himself about ‘day stars’, and then scurry back into the house. Chris is the author of two series; The Murder of Crows and The Many Travails of John Smith, as well as a collection of novelettes and stand-alone novels, Stories from a Post-Break World, which are set in the world of The Murder of Crows.

About Joel RichardsJoel Richards

Joel Richards was the kid who did crazy things just to have a good story to tell afterward. On deciding to make his affection his profession, he received a BFA in acting and a BA in English from the University of Utah, and later an MA in oral storytelling from East Tennessee State University. He has narrated over 150 audiobooks (fiction and nonfiction) and continues to tell his original stories to live audiences.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

2022 Audiobook Challenge


- Kimberly
Square³ by Mira Grant

I had Square³ by Mira Grant in my TBR pile, but jumped at the chance to listen to the novella narrated by Rachel F. Hirsch. Grant shares a science fiction tale that will grab you from the first chapter.

Square³ by Mira GrantSquare³
by Mira Grant
Narrator: Rachel F. Hirsch
Length: 3 hours and 25 mins
Genres: Science Fiction
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star
Narration: 4 cups Speed: 1.4x

We think we understand the laws of physics.

We think a lot of things. It was perhaps inevitable that some of them would turn out to be wrong.

When the great incursion occurred, no one was prepared. Of all the things physicists had predicted, "the fabric of reality might rip open and giant monsters could come pouring through" had not made the list. But somehow, that was precisely what happened.

For sisters Susan and Katharine Black, the day of the incursion was the day they lost everything. Their home, their parents, their sense of normalcy . . . and each other, because when the rift opened, each sister was stranded in a separate form of reality. For Susan, it was science and study and the struggle to solve the mystery of the altered physics inside the zones transformed by the incursion. For Katharine, it was monsters and mayhem and the fight to stay alive in a world unlike the world of her birth.

The world has changed. The laws of physics have changed. The girls have changed. And the one universal truth of all states of changed matter is that nothing can be completely restored to what it was originally, no matter how much you might wish it could be.

Nothing goes back.


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A great incursion occurred, ripping the fabric of our existence. From those rips monsters broke through. Now the areas are quarantined and heavily guarded. Anything that comes out dies, as does anything that goes in. When the incursion occurred, Susan and Katharine Black were separated. Susan made it out, but their home & parents did not. Now Susan works for the government, studying the altered physics of these zones. Humans live within the zone, but are also altered. Susan has never given up hope that her sister, Katherine is among them.

The tale that unfolds held me captive from the beginning. Grant is a master at world-building and creating a reality that feels grounded in science. When a camera picks up a signal, Susan races to the containment area and what she discovers will forever change her. I found myself invested in the characters, and curious for more of this world.

Of course mankind tries to use this incurion to their advantage against world powers. Will we ever learn? I did not want the story to end and image there are more stories to be told. In truth, I would have enjoyed a full-length version of this tale.

An exciting and riveting tale, perfect for a snowy weekend or day trip. Rachel F. Hirsch did a wonderful job setting the tone and bringing the characters to life.

Amazon | Audible

About Mira Grant

Born and raised in Northern California, Mira Grant has made a lifelong study of horror movies, horrible viruses, and the inevitable threat of the living dead. In college, she was voted Most Likely to Summon Something Horrible in the Cornfield, and was a founding member of the Horror Movie Sleep-Away Survival Camp, where her record for time survived in the Swamp Cannibals scenario remains unchallenged. Mira lives in a crumbling farmhouse with an assortment of cats, horror movies, comics, and books about horrible diseases. When not writing, she splits her time between travel, auditing college virology courses, and watching more horror movies than is strictly good for you. Favorite vacation spots include Seattle, London, and a large haunted corn maze just outside of Huntsville, Alabama. Mira sleeps with a machete under her bed, and highly suggests that you do the same. Mira also writes as Seanan McGuire.

About Rachel F. Hirsch

Rachel F. Hirsch is a voice-over artist, theater actor, and musician. She is known for her youthful sound, ability to bring truth and playfulness to every character she portrays, and facility with accents, dialects, and character voices. Her audiobook credits include numerous New York Times bestsellers for top publishing houses and production companies such as Harper Audio, Audible Studios, Macmillan, and Podium Audio. As a theater performer, most of her career has been focused on the development of new works. She is a cofounder and producer of the Play Incubation Collective, where she helps facilitate and build relationships between playwrights, actors, and other theater artists in the New England area. Rachel is a proud member of SAG-AFTRA and AEA. She currently lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband, two young kiddos, a dog, a turtle, and five chickens.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

2022 Audiobook Challenge


- Kimberly
Sunday Post #559 Snow Week
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.

A snow storm swept in on Wednesday, shuttering school but ended up fizzling out with less than two inches and a lot of ice. On Saturday we did a girl’s day shopping trip and then took Sophia out for dinner to celebrate her eighth birthday, which is later this week. Stay Caffeinated.

Last Week on the Blog The Backup Plan By Jill Shalvis (book review) How To Sell A Haunted House By Grady Hendrix (book review) Lie To Her By Melinda Leigh (book review, guest post) Blog Tour: Ever After By Kate SeRine (spotlight,book review, giveaway) Broken Souls By Stephen Blackmoore (audio review) This Week on the Blog Square³ By Mira Grant (audio review) Ghost Of A Chance By Chris Tullbane (audio review) An Excellent Walker By Lyndsay Constable (book review, guest post) Marcus By Lori Foster (book review) Hungry Ghosts By Stephen Blackmoore (audio review) New Arrivals at the Caffeinated Cafe

Learn more:

The Dying Place by Charly Cox Weyward by Emilia Hart Dog With A Bone by Hailey Edwards Harmony of Lies by Brian Feehan Knife Edge by Kerry Buchanan

A special thanks to Hera Books, Macmillan Audio, Penguin, & Tantor Audio

Around The Blogosphere Amazon Is Changing Its Ebook Return Policy in Major Breakthrough for Authors I am glad to see this change take effect. Books Adaptations to Movie & TV in 2023 Caffeinated PR open-events2 Open Events Link Up Your Edition Of The Sunday Post

Before you link up: Please be sure your weekly post includes a link back to Caffeinated Reviewer and the Sunday Post

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- Kimberly
Broken Souls by Stephen Blackmoore

Broken Souls is the second audiobook in the Eric Carter urban fantasy series by Stephen Blackmoore. Narrated by Rudy Sanda, Eric deals with a killer who can wear the skins of his victims. You’ll want to grab your earbuds and listen to this gritty, noir urban fantasy.

Broken Souls by Stephen BlackmooreBroken Souls
by Stephen Blackmoore
Series: Eric Carter #2
Narrator: Rudy Sanda
Length: 7 hours and 46 minutes
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star
Narration: 4.5 cups Speed: 1.5x

Stephen Blackmoore's hard-bitten necromancer Eric Carter returns in this noir urban fantasy series populated by ghosts, gods, and monsters bringing murder and mayhem to the mortal world.

When he returned to L.A. to find his sister’s murderer, Eric Carter knew it would be a rough ride. Especially since he managed to make more than his share of enemies in the city—both in this world and the next.

Like his new wife. Who happens to be the patron saint of death, Santa Muerte. She has him walking the razor’s edge. And even the if unholy union has increased his magical powers—it’s slowly killing him both physically and mentally. Carter’s going to have break his connection to the Aztec goddess before she breaks him into pieces.

And then things get really interesting. As he tries to find a way out of his predicament, Carter crosses paths with a twisted, ruthless killer can assume his victim’s form and inherit their powers—which barely discovers surviving when the monster tries to kill him. But why? That’s what Carter would very much like to ask them. So he’s going to hunt them down and ask them—and not nicely.

That is, if his prey doesn’t turn predator… and take more than just his life…

magical Mythology SUSPENSE urban

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Broken Souls is a gritty, dark, noir style urban fantasy featuring a necromancer named Eric Carter. Carter has found himself bound to the patron saint of death, Santa Muerte. No wedding ceremony took place, but the Queen of Death has placed a wedding band on his finger and their contract is binding. With it, he has gained new powers.

In his quest to break this unholy union, he crosses paths with a twisted, ruthless killer. This killer can assume his victim’s form and inherit their powers. He’ll need to stop the man and his partner who wants him dead.

The author continues to flesh out the world and our protagonist, Eric. The pacing was well done, as was the mystery line which kept me hooked. Santa Muerte is one freaky Queen and their interactions amused me. Eric has some ward tattooed on his skin and meets up with contacts who added to the tale. Eric’s powers are unique, but so are the dangerous supernatural creatures he encounters.

We meet new characters and learn some alarming information regarding Eric, the Queen and this new character. Oh, boy! I am looking forward to finding out how Eric will escape this mess.

Rudy Sanda continues the narration and does a splendid job of bringing these characters to life. The story lends itself perfectly to this format and highly recommend listening.

From mythology to the magic, the Eric Carter story entertained me, and I look forward to the next audiobook Hungry Ghosts.

Amazon | Audible

About Stephen BlackmooreStephen Blackmoore

Stephen Blackmoore is the author of the noir / urban fantasy Eric Carter series (DEAD THINGS, BROKEN SOULS, HUNGRY GHOSTS, and FIRE SEASON), about a necromancer in modern-day Los Angeles.

About Rudy SandaRudy Sanda

Rudy Sanda is a versatile actor, singer, voice-over artist, and fight choreographer. He has acted all over the United States and England on the stage and screen, including Laguna Playhouse, Ivoryton Playhouse, the Colonial Theatre, and Ocean State Theatre. Rudy holds a BFA in acting from the University of Rhode Island and received further training at the Beverly Hills Playhouse in Los Angeles and RATA in London. He has been described as a powerful, deeply connected presence bursting with charm and enthusiasm.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

2022 Audiobook Challenge


- Kimberly
Blog Tour: Ever After by Kate SeRine

Today I am excited to share the fourth book in the Transplanted Tales series, EVER AFTER by Kate SeRine. It’s the 10-Year Anniversary of the Transplanted Tale series. Kensington and the author are celebrating with new covers, blog tours and giveaways. Today I will share my original review. Be sure to enter the giveaway before grabbing your copy!


Amazon | iTunes | Kobo | B&N

A beautiful Robin Hood reconnects with her love Little John after transporting to the real world in this “paranormal romance filled with suspense” (SmexyBooks).
For centuries, Gideon Montrose has mourned the loss of his true love. Throwing himself into his work, he has served the King of Fairies without question—and, often, without mercy. So when the King orders him to apprehend a notorious thief, Gideon obeys. But this time, Gideon is on for a shock when he finally gets his hands on the beautiful culprit.

Arabella Locksley is none other than the spirited, unpredictable woman he knew back in Make Believe. As Robin Hood, Arabella stole from the rich and gave to the poor with Gideon—then known as Little John—by her side.
Believing that she had fallen to her death five hundred years ago, Gideon naturally has some questions. But Arabella has secrets she must keep even from him. Now Gideon faces an impossible choice: he must either betray the woman he once loved, or the king he’s bound to serve.

Amazon | iTunes | Kobo | B&N | Goodreads

My Review

*originally posted August 12, 2014

Each time I open up a new Transplanted Tale from Kate SeRine, I know I am in for a treat and Ever After was delightful and suspenseful. From the King of Fairies to Merlin, it was enchanting. We met Gideon Montrose in Along Came a Spider, and I like many wished for his story. SeRine gave him an excellent story and introduced Arabella Locksley “Robin Hood” What? You thought Robin Hood was a man?

Coffee Dates with Ever After:

First Date: Gideon Montrose serves the King of Fairies, and he is ordered to hunt down a thief who is stealing fairy dust. SeRine shares his back history and the loss of the woman he loved. Once again, I feel myself slipping into another Transplanted Tale. Someone is stealing fairy dust & King Arthur’s artifacts in the Here and Now. My spidey senses tingled and sure enough; our thief is Arabella Locksley, the love of Gideon’s life and Robin Hood of Make Believe. I love second chance romances don’t you?

Second date: Anger, lust, love, and fear are the emotions we encounter as they two entwine. I felt their connection and loved that Gideon heard her side of the story, despite feeling betrayed. This is second chance romance, and I am not sure everyone will connect, but I swallowed the pill and believed! They travel to see Merlin and learn more about who is stealing the artifacts and fairy dust. Robin is not innocent, but there is a lot she is holding back. Wait!- If she is the thief, will he turn her over to his king? We get a couple of hot, almost moments, but these two keep getting interrupted. Gideon has one week to turn over the thief and right now Arabella is his only suspect. Eeep!

Third date: Secrets, deception, lost artifacts and betrayal notch up the suspense. Our couple final reignites the old flame and ooh-la-la SeRine brings the heat. Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor, and nothing has changed; someone else is involved, but who? With the aid of his friends, the Queens’ mirror, and Merlin himself, they need to solve the crime before the king demands justice. I loved seeing Trish, Nick, Nate, Lavender, Red and Seth again. Ooo, this last date was intense with battles, action, and one of our characters is in great peril. Will they get their happily ever after or will fate turn ugly? What? You thought I would tell you how my date ended? Nope, not even for chocolate truffles.

Ever After was a fun edition to the Transplant series, and I enjoyed the ride. While each of the books will work as standalone, you will miss out on some serious snark, romance, intense cases and Tale mischief. I highly recommend reading them in order!

Transplanted Tales Series


Grimm Consequences

The Better to See You

Along Came A Spider

Ever After

Better Watch Out (coming 2023)

Read an Excerpt


Excerpt from Ever After (Transplanted Tales #4)


“This was a mistake.”

            “Well, I guess that’s the theme of our relationship,” I mumbled. “And I made the biggest mistake of all, believin’ y’ever cared for me.”

            The sting of her open palm connecting with my cheek caught me off guard.

            “Say what you want about the mistakes I’ve made,” she raged, her cheeks growing red with indignation. “There’s certainly no shortage of them. But don’t you ever question how much I loved you! By doing so you insult us both.”

            I stared at her, literally struck mute.

When I didn’t speak, she swallowed a sob and turned away. “I have to go,” she called over her shoulder. “I’ve already stayed too long.” Her hurried steps carried her a few yards before I blew out a harsh sigh and let fly a stream of juicy curses, knowing I was a glutton for punishment even as I went after her.

            “Arabella! Wait!” I grabbed her arm, bringing her to a stop but releasing her when the wounded look in her eyes cut me to the core. I put my hands on my hips, staring at my feet as I debated what to say, not willing to look her in the face, afraid that if I met the eyes I adored, I’d lose myself in them.

I’d never stopped loving her, had never stopped thinking about her. As ridiculous as it seemed, some part of me had always held out hope that she’d somehow miraculously return. And here she was, right before me. She said she didn’t know what had happened to her, what had kept her away . . . And I wanted to believe it. My long-broken heart whispered bitter words, telling me to walk away and never look back, that that part of my life was over.

But it was a lie. That part of my life would never be over. She’d filled my heart in a way no woman ever had or would again. And I wasn’t about to piss on that by turning her away when she clearly needed me.

“What trouble are y’in?” I asked, forcing my voice to be gentle.

            “It’s my concern,” she said with a sniff, making me feel like an irredeemable jackass for bringing her to tears. “I didn’t come here to beg you to help me or to drag you into my mess. I just . . . I just wanted to see you again. I dream of you, of us, every night, Gideon. When I close my eyes, your face is all I see. I know you don’t believe me, but I did love you—I still do. I always will.”

            I felt my chest tighten at her words, wanting so desperately to believe her. I risked raising my gaze to hers, gauging her sincerity. To my surprise, she actually seemed to be telling the truth.

            Damn me to hell, but I was gonna fall for her all over again. Even though I was furious and hurting and knew with certainty that I was bound for heartache again, I was powerless to stop it. But she didn’t have to know that. And I’d make sure she didn’t. I’d managed to keep my emotions in check all these years, had learned to maintain the stoic silence that was required of my servitude to the king. I never imagined I’d need those skills to guard my heart. And when she left again—as she’d already admitted she would—I’d at least be able to maintain my dignity.

In the meantime, I couldn’t abandon her now any more than I could the day we’d met. What nobility remained a part of me forbade it. I’d be a friend to her. Just a friend. I owed it to what we’d once shared to at least try to accept that whatever had happened to her, whatever mysterious force had kept her from coming to me, she was here now. And she needed my help.

I smoothed my hand down her arm, drawing her closer, shoving aside all my feelings of anger and betrayal to focus on quieting the fear I saw in her eyes, on being the friend she needed me to be at this moment. “Tell me what’s happened to you, lass. Let me help you. I’ll talk to my king. I’ll do whatever I can. You know I will. Just tell me what you’ve done.”

            The look she gave me was agonized, torn. Finally, she nodded and slipped her hand into mine, little sparks of desire firing off in my blood at the touch of her skin. “Let me show you.”



Enter to win a $25.00 gift card from Amazon, Kobo, B&N or Apple. Giveaway ends January 27, 2023.

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- Kimberly
Lie to Her by Melinda Leigh

Sophia Rose is here with the sixth romantic suspense novel in the Bree Taggert series. Lie to Me by Melinda Leigh features a gutsy and smart detective. Grab a cup of tea and check out her thoughts…

Lie to Her by Melinda LeighLie To Her
by Melinda Leigh
Series: Bree Taggert #6
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
GoodreadsRating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Lies from the heart lead to a dangerously intimate case for Sheriff Bree Taggert in #1 Amazon Charts and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Melinda Leigh’s novel of revenge and fatal deceptions.

When a digital marketer is found murdered in his backyard—hands bound and face smothered by plastic wrap—Sheriff Bree Taggert and criminal investigator Matt Flynn respond to the call. Their investigation focuses on the man’s dating-app profile and the word liar carved into his forehead.

One day later, the killer strikes again.

Both victims are players in the internet dating scene. In their wake, they leave a trail of hurt—and angry—women. But Bree and Matt aren’t convinced the motive is as simple as it appears. Everyone they interview seems to be lying or hiding something.

As the list of suspects grows, the killer’s rage escalates, and he leaves a personal and deadly warning for Bree. They must act fast. Because someone Bree loves is targeted as the next to die.

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As Christmas nears and Bree is worried how her nephew and niece are going to deal with their first holiday without their parents, she and Matt get the call to a new weird murder scene and it looks like a ‘woman scorned’ might be a lethal if old adage. Melinda Leigh is a gifted romantic suspense author who continues to deliver each and every new release.

Lie to her is the sixth of the Bree Taggert romantic suspense series. The relationships between Bree and Matt and their extended family and friends makes this a good series to read in order even if each book presents a new and twisting murder mystery to solve.

Blending home life and new career where Bree has moved from being a big city cop to a country small town sheriff to care for her murdered sister’s children on their home farm and striking up a relationship with Matt, a former K-9 Sheriff’s deputy turned sheriff’s department contracted investigator, Bree and Matt along with Todd and the rest of the department are confronted with a baffling crime and a clever well-planned killer. 

The reader knows a little more than the investigating team because the opening chapter and a few along the way are from the killer’s point of view.  For instance, the victim in the first chapter is a guy who lies to the women he dates through a dating app about his job and pretends to want a relationship only to get into the women’s panties before he ‘catch and releases’ to keep playing the field.  He meets a gruesome end from someone set on revenge.  Bree and Matt work out that the guy being a player is a strong motive, but then so is expensive illegal reptiles that are found to be involved.

This time, the case gets close to home for Bree and she needs to solve the case to save someone close to her because the killer has decided to kill two birds with one stone when revenge against a list of certain people includes payback to a sheriff who is getting too close to the truth.

I enjoy how these stories blend a good personal story for Bree and Matt including their relationship and time with the family along with a smart police procedural murder mystery.  The series is connected to earlier Scarlett Falls and Morgan Dane series, but can be read alone featuring a gutsy, but smart woman cop and her dedicated, respectful and equally smart partner who also happens to be her love interest.  Romantic suspense fans really need to slip this book/series onto their stacks.

Amazon* | Audible

About Melinda LeighMelinda Leigh

Wall Street Journal bestselling author Melinda Leigh is a fully recovered banker. A life-long lover of books, she started writing as a way to preserve her sanity while raising her kids. Over the next few years, she learned a few things about writing a book. The process was much more fun than analyzing financial statements, and she decided to turn her hobby into a career. Melinda’s debut novel, SHE CAN RUN, was nominated for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers. She is a RITA® Award Finalist and has earned three Daphne du Maurier Award nominations, two Silver Falchion Awards, and a Golden Leaf.

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About Sophia RoseSophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.


- selena
Memoirs to Read for Fans of Prince Harry’s Spare
Memoirs to Read for Fans of Prince Harry’s Spare

Have you just finished Prince Harry’s insightful new memoir and are looking for more inspiring books? Then look no further! We’ve compiled 6 new memoirs that are perfect for readers looking to gain new perspectives of themselves and others. Check out these must-read memoirs for fans of Prince Harry’s Spare.

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Soul Lessons from the Light: How Spiritually Transformative Experiences Changed My Life by Yvonne Kason M.D.

Release Date: December 18, 2022

Dr. Yvonne Kason intimately shares her spiritual awakening story – her 5 Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) and other Spiritually Transformative Experiences, plus her personal and professional reflections on them. She describes her Kundalini Awakening in medical school, medevac plane-crash NDE, mystical experiences in Israel, and a miracle healing STE!

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Love, Pamela by Pamela Anderson

Release Date: January 31, 2023

In this honest, layered and unforgettable book that alternates between storytelling and her own poetry, Pamela Anderson breaks the mold of the celebrity memoir while taking back the tale that has been crafted about her.

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Feral: Losing Myself and Finding My Way in America’s National Parks by Emily Pennington

Release Date: February 1, 2023

A bracing memoir about self-discovery, liberating escape, and moving forward across an adventurous and volatile American landscape. One year. One national park at a time.

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Life Support: Surviving Guillain-Barre Syndrome – A Mother’s Story of Hope and Recovery by Holly Frances

Release Date: January 15, 2023

Life Support tells the story of how Holly struggled to overcome the despair, hopelessness and pain of recovery, to regain her health and get back to being a mother to her daughter.

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I Am the Storm: Inspiring Stories of People Who Fight Against Overwhelming Odds by Janice Dean

Release Date: January 17, 2023

New York Times bestselling author Janice Dean shares the journeys and lessons she’s learned from everyday heroes taking on long odds.

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Homeless to Hopkins by Christopher L. Smith

Release Date: January 18, 2023

I journeyed from a broken, homeless teenager sleeping in the car to eventually being a Medical Doctor at the world-renowned Johns Hopkins. But most important of all, I found me, I found joy. This is my story…

Buy on AmazonThe post Memoirs to Read for Fans of Prince Harry’s Spare appeared first on NewInBooks.
- selena
Books to Read While You Wait for Hogwarts Legacy
Books to Read While You Wait for Hogwarts Legacy

With the highly anticipated release of Hogwarts Legacy coming in just one week, it can be hard to patiently wait for the Harry Potter based game to go live. Why not spend the time immersing yourself in a brand new fantasy or science fiction world? Check out these 6 new fantasy and science fiction books that will have you hooked until the very moment Hogwarts Legacy becomes available!

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The Vilokan Asylum of the Magically and Mentally Deranged Omnibus Collection (Books 1-9) by Theophilus Monroe

Release Date: January 27, 2023

9 Books and over 2000 pages of magic, deranged chaos, and werewolf shenanigans fill this expansive urban fantasy omnibus collection. Welcome to the Vilokan Asylum of the Magically and Mentally Deranged. I’m Doctor Cain. I’ve come a long way since I became the world’s first murderer (and werewolf). I’m now a licensed psychiatrist.

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She is the Principle (The School of Harder Knocks Book 1) by Michael Anderle

Release Date: December 31, 2022

Kirian Larsen knows he won’t live to see adulthood. Dex and his gang only care that he’s a human living on “their” planet. Their determination to make his life harder bothers Kirian less than their efforts to do the same for their other victims. What can he do, bound to his wheelchair and dealing with unimaginable, unending pain? Fight back, and damn the consequences.

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Forbitten Fae (Fated Guardians Book 1) by T.W. Pearce

Release Date: December 27, 2022

Sir Adrian Sutton is the vampire king, one of the world’s most powerful beings. Moira Collins is a healing fae who works for him but is really an undercover spy. A game of cat and mouse is afoot and Adrian is about to be betrayed. When the unthinkable happens, Adrian and Moira must decide who they can trust…and how to survive.

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Layers of Darkness: Six Twisted Tales of Horror and Psychological Torment by T.W. Malpass

Release Date: December 29, 2022

Layers of Darkness: Six Twisted Tales of Horror and Psychological Torment is a horror anthology consisting of one short story and five novellas. These stories explore many sub-genres of horror and fantasy, and are more classical, back-to-basics in nature. This release is available at a special price and is currently exclusive to Amazon.

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Meru (The Alloy Era Book 1) by S.B. Divya

Release Date: February 1, 2023

One woman and her pilot are about to change the future of the species in an epic space opera about aspiration, compassion, and redemption by Hugo and Nebula Award finalist S. B. Divya.

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The End of an Era by Nate Johnson

Release Date: January 9, 2023

Five young people trapped in a skyscraper at the end of the world must learn to survive in a new era. An era where all the old rules no longer apply…

Buy on AmazonThe post Books to Read While You Wait for Hogwarts Legacy appeared first on NewInBooks.
- kali
Books to Read if You Like The New Yorker: Fiction Podcast
Books to Read if You Like The New Yorker: Fiction Podcast

Do you love The New Yorker: Fiction Podcast and all things fiction? Then you won’t want to miss these amazing new-release literary fiction novels! Check out our latest recommendations from bestselling authors Robert Horton, Ann-Helén Laestadius, M. Darusha Wehm, Anstey Harris, Delia Cai, and Catherine Hokin. Enjoy your new books!

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Dr Connie Smythe by Robert Horton

Release Date: January 26, 2023

Terry Thompson’s wife, Julie-Ann, is everything to him. But his world comes crashing around his ears when she dies giving birth to their daughter. The attending doctor, Dr. Connie Smythe, helps to comfort him afterwards. Little does he know that his wife had plans for him and Dr. Smythe and tried to set them in motion before her death…

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Stolen by Ann-Helén Laestadius

Release Date: January 31, 2023

Louise Erdrich meets Jo Nesbø in this spellbinding Swedish novel that follows a young indigenous woman as she struggles to defend her family’s reindeer herd and culture amidst xenophobia, climate change, and a devious hunter whose targeted kills are considered mere theft in the eyes of the law.

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Hamlet, Prince of Robots by M. Darusha Wehm

Release Date: January 31, 2023

A beat-by-beat retelling of the Shakespeare classic, Hamlet, Prince of Robots grapples with conscience, ambition, and pain, and what it means to be, or not to be, human.

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When I First Held You by Anstey Harris

Release Date: January 24, 2023

In 1960s Glasgow, anti-nuclear activists Judith and Jimmy fall in love. But their future hopes are dashed when their protestors’ squat is raided and many, including Jimmy, are sent to prison. Pregnant and with no word from Jimmy, Judith is forced to enter an unmarried mothers’ home, give up their baby and learn to live with her grief. More than half a century later, Judith’s tranquillity is shattered when Jimmy—so different and yet somehow the same—reappears, yearning to unpick the painful past.

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Central Places by Delia Cai

Release Date: January 31, 2023

A young woman’s past and present collide when she brings her white fiancé home to meet her Chinese immigrant parents in this vibrant debut from an exciting new voice in fiction.

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The Girl in the Photo by Catherine Hokin

Release Date: January 27, 2023

A heart-wrenching novel about love and courage in the face of terrible odds. Fans of The Alice Network, The Nightingale and The Tattooist of Auschwitz will need a box of tissues handy.

Buy on AmazonThe post Books to Read if You Like The New Yorker: Fiction Podcast appeared first on NewInBooks.
- kali
New Romance Reads for People Who Love Love
New Romance Reads for People Who Love Love

Looking for a new romantic comedy or a small town romance to satisfy your inner romantic? Don’t miss out on our favorite new romance reads from bestselling authors Measha Stone, Paula Adler, Allyson Lindt, Kate Clayborn, C.W. Farnsworth, and Devney Perry. Enjoy your new romance books!

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Ravaged Innocence (Innocent Brides Book 3) by Measha Stone

Release Date: December 9, 2022

A simple task. Keep the girl away from the front of the bar. Easy. But then she ran from me. It doesn’t matter that she’s not the target. I couldn’t care less I’m supposed to take out my mark and then get out of New York. She ran from me. When I catch up with her there’s no doubt in my mind. I’m going to make her mine.

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Make A Wish: A Welcome To Beck Creek Novel by Paula Adler

Release Date: January 30, 2023

Small town. Southern. Semi-sweet… Romance doesn’t stand a chance against secrets and lies — or does it? *The* last person Kenzie Hart would ever fall in love with is Ryder Beck, golden son of the mighty Beck family. Then Fate laughed…

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The Layover (Three Player Grind Book 3) by Allyson Lindt

Release Date: January 23, 2023

Carly loves being single, especially when it leads to hook-ups like the one she has with the two hotties on her flight to Italy. When she realizes they’re her new clients, she’s screwed in a whole new way. And when she starts to get attached to their daughter, her bachelorette life and her job are both in danger.

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Georgie, All Along by Kate Clayborn

Release Date: January 24, 2023

The acclaimed author of Love Lettering weaves a wise and witty new novel that echoes with timely questions about love, career, reconciling with the past, and finding your path while knowing your true worth. “A modern yet timeless love story.”—Kirkus Reviews

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Pretty Ugly Promises by C.W. Farnsworth

Release Date: January 26, 2023

A steamy, standalone, second chance mafia romance. When people choose to leave, you should let them. That’s a lesson Lyla Peterson has learned over and over again. Abandoned more than once, her focus is on ensuring her son never experiences that familiar sting, not on lingering questions from the pain-filled past. Until the opportunity arises to seek elusive answers and Lyla seizes it, opening old wounds and revealing dangerous secrets. He chose to leave. She should have let him.

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Jasper Vale by Devney Perry

Release Date: January 31, 2023

Eloise Eden’s pride and joy is her family’s hotel in Quincy, Montana. Her lifelong dream is to own The Eloise Inn. All she has to do is prove to her parents that she’s the epitome of responsible. That her days of being duped and making reckless decisions are history. She’s so close she can taste it. Until after one weekend in Las Vegas, she comes home married to a stranger… Her only hope is to keep this marriage a secret until it’s annulled. Then she’ll pretend it never happened. Except Jasper begs her to stay married. To fake it for three months so she can accompany him to a wedding. Maybe she’s lost her mind to agree. But her brooding husband seems desperate. It’s only three months, right?

Buy on AmazonThe post New Romance Reads for People Who Love Love appeared first on NewInBooks.
- kali
Books to Read if You Like The Woman in the Window
Books to Read if You Like The Woman in the Window

‘The Woman in the Window’ by bestselling author A.J. Finn took the world by storm upon its release and was even made into a Netflix movie. If you are in the mood for an exciting mystery, thriller & suspense novel, we think these brand new releases are perfect for you. The list includes bestselling authors John Etterlee, Richard Rybicki, Lyn Liao Butler, Saul Herzog, Kiersten Modglin, and Karen King.

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Blood Red by John Etterlee

Release Date: January 30, 2023

On a mission with his Special Forces team in Ukraine, Rob Walker is on the hunt for an elusive enemy who strikes from the shadows and disappears without a trace.

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The Green Line (The Sam Laska Crime Thriller Series Book 4) by Richard Rybicki

Release Date: January 17, 2023

A promise made to the family of a murdered man is broken. Eight years later, a death threat forces Sam Laska to return to Chicago and the dormant investigation.

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Someone Else’s Life by Lyn Liao Butler

Release Date: February 1, 2023

A new life in paradise should have healed her wounds. But for a woman struggling to hold on to her family and her sanity, one stormy night could change everything.

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The Fixer by Saul Herzog

Release Date: January 30, 2023

If you read only one book this year, this is it. Action, adventure, rebellion, provocative foreign agents, characters you can sink your teeth into. This dazzling tour de force is a full standalone novel. From the mind of one of the most creative and versatile writers working in America today, this book will surely go down as a classic of the spy thriller genre.

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The Family Secret by Kiersten Modglin

Release Date: January 31, 2023

When freshly engaged Austyn Murphy and Lowell Bass receive the news that Lowell’s parents have died unexpectedly, they set out for the historic Bass estate to handle their affairs and lay the former heads of the family to rest. Enshrouded in layers of secrecy and tradition, the Bass estate, and the family residing within its walls, give anything but a warm welcome. With distressing revelations hidden around every corner and time running out before final decisions are made about her future, Austyn must uncover the truth about the opulent and powerful Bass family… at the risk of becoming another one of their dark secrets.

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The Family Reunion by Karen King

Release Date: January 23, 2023

She’s the daughter you never knew… But how far will she go to get the life she never had? An utterly gripping psychological suspense novel with a twist you’ll never see coming. Perfect for fans of Lisa Jewell, Mark Edwards and K.L. Slater.

Buy on AmazonThe post Books to Read if You Like The Woman in the Window appeared first on NewInBooks.
- selena
Interview with Dr. Yvonne Kason MD, Author of Soul Lessons from the Light

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Soul Lessons from the Light?

A dramatic Near-Death Experience in a medevac plane crash when I was a young doctor changed the course of my life, but I continued to have multiple more powerful Spiritually Transformative Experiences over the course of my life. Soul Lessons from the Light is my personal spiritual awakening stories, from childhood NDEs, to mystical experiences as an adult, to a miraculous healing experience in 2016, that enabled me to write this book…

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of Soul Lessons from the Light, what would they be?

I can see clearly now, the pain is gone! Oh God, Beautiful! You are the Wind Beneath my Wings!

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

True stories of Spiritual Experiences that changed people’s lives. This is also what I write about.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

Multiple books by Near-Death Experiencers, and Spiritually Transformative Experience Experiencers.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

I enjoyed writing about all of my peak spiritual experiences. I have 2 favorites – the story of my 2003 Near-Death Experience when I was dead for a period of time, welcomed into the Light by saints from my path, remembered my past lives, and was given the choice whether or not to return to my body. My other favorite is the miraculous brain healing experience I had in 2016. It shows that miracles can and do happen!

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

I write with great passion. I can forget to eat, and would miss appointments if I did not set timers! In addition I often get up in the middle of the night around 3 AM, and write for an hour or two!

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

Yes – “With God, all things are possible” and “Never Give Up”.

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

My Near-Death Experiences and mystical experiences have shown me first-hand that the Higher Power is real, that our souls live on after the death of the body, and with God, all things are possible. Miracles are Possible. I am a living testimonial to that!


Dr. Yvonne Kason MD is the author of the new book Soul Lessons from the Light: How Spiritually Transformative Experiences Changed My Life

Connect with Dr. Yvonne Kason MD

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- selena
Interview with Richard Rybicki, Author of The Green Line

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write The Green Line?

The inspiration for the book came from a real unsolved murder in Chicago back in the 1990s.

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

I mainly read crime thrillers and mysteries. These are also my favorite genres to write. They say write what you know so I do.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

‘Wrecked’ by Joe Ice and ‘A Ticket to the Boneyard’ by Lawrence Block

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

The opening scene was my favorite. It’s where I reintroduce the main character and the mysterious woman who sets in motion the events in the story.

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

Always do the right thing no matter how difficult.

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

No one should get away with murder.


Richard Rybicki is the author of the new book The Green Line

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- selena
Interview with Allyson Lindt, Author of The Layover

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write The Layover?

I have a contemporary book world with so many interconnected characters, and sometimes side characters just scream for their own book. That was Carly. She was the BFF who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and who was happily single, so of course I had to give her her own story.

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of The Layover, what would they be?

Carly would be Raspberry Beret. Raul and Diego… anything sweet and tender and really sexy. Like Seal’s Kiss from a Rose.

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

I love so many genres, but my absolute favorites are contemporary anything–romance, fiction, fantasy–and urban fantasy. I love to write the same things I love to read, though I probably read a lot more urban fantasy than I write.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

I’m just diving into Twilight Heist by Katherine McIntyre, and Good Girl Fail by Roni Loren. I’ve been looking forward to both for a while.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

I think the fake wedding scene, where Raul and Diego’s little girl Ellie ‘marries’ her daddies to Carly in the old church they’re turning into a restaurant. It was so much fun and such an adorable scene.

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

I really like to go to coffee shops to write. I have a few that I rotate through, and I prefer to be there early in the morning. A large coffee and a blueberry muffin and I’m set for words for a few hours.

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

Always be willing to adapt.

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

I always hope readers will remember my characters. That living my characters’ lives with them for the hours it took to read the book will leave the kind of impression on a reader that leaves them thinking for a long time when the book is over.


Allyson Lindt is the author of the new book The Layover

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- selena
Interview with T.W. Malpass, Author of Layers of Darkness

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Layers of Darkness?

I had just come off writing three books in a series. I needed a break from it, and I was considering a standalone novel or a story collection. I decided on the horror anthology I had planned. It includes new stories and other projects I have left on the back-burner for some time.

I find writing short stories/novellas quite liberating. Moving from one story to the next reasonably quickly seems to free up my creativity in a different way than writing a novel or part of a series. There were lots of themes I haven’t had a chance to explore before, such as existential dread, and this collection gave me the opportunity to do so.

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of Layers of Darkness, what would they be?

Music did play an important part in the writing of this anthology. In the story RIPE there was a particular piece of music called Return of the Dark Lord by composer Peter Gundry, which I had in my head to play over specific scenes. There was also a song from 1937 called With My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock that actually featured in the story DREAM TOWN.

I often use music when writing. It has a significant influence on my creative process.

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

I do tend to read a lot of horror because it’s the genre that speaks to me most, but I sometimes read non-fiction, true crime. It can help with my writing, certainly when it comes to better understanding human psychology.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

Tony and Susan by Austin Wright. I’ve also heard some good things about The Institute by Stephen King.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

I think the final scene of the story OLD CRONE was the most enjoyable to write. I can’t say too much without spoiling it, but it is a macabrely satisfying end and fitting for something that was inspired by Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

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

Ha! I tend to be quite method when I’m writing. One of the lead characters in the Fallen Gods Saga was blind, and I spent days trying to perform simple tasks in the house wearing a blindfold in the hope of getting a better understanding what it was like to experience the world when you can’t see it.

I also locked myself in the boot/trunk of a car once. Don’t ask!

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

Never censor yourself during your first draft.

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

With my current anthology, I’m hoping readers can see the range of stories I am able to tell and the various themes explored within them. I really try to use horror as a vessel to explore the human condition because I believe that should always be the motivation behind any narrative.


T.W. Malpass is the author of the new book Layers of Darkness: Six Twisted Tales of Horror and Psychological Torment

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- selena
Interview with Paula Adler, Author of Make A Wish

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Make A Wish: A Welcome To Beck Creek Novel?

I love writing small town Texas romances. I call this Small town – Southern – Semi-sweet! My books aren’t super spicy, but they aren’t cutesy, either. I like my characters to have a little life behind them, making them a little wiser and just a little jaded. It makes finding love all the sweeter.

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of Make A Wish: A Welcome To Beck Creek Novel, what would they be?

I’d Like To Be Your Last by Clay Walker – “I don’t care if I’m your first love, but I’d love to be your last.”

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

I don’t tend to read in my genre while I’m writing, but I always go back to it! I love anything with dragons… which I’ll write someday!! I love literary fiction. I love Women’s Fiction (which I write); I love romance. Basically, I read everything except horror!

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

A Bullet at the BBQ – SL CalderThe Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid Last Dance on The Starlight Pier by Sarah Bird The School Mistress of Emerson Pass – Tess Thompson Lots of craft books.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

Ryder and Kenzie dancing!

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

Coffee!… except that’s probably not quirky!

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

I choose to be happy.

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

There’s no time limit on love.


Paula Adler is the author of the new book Make A Wish: A Welcome To Beck Creek Novel

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The post Interview with Paula Adler, Author of Make A Wish appeared first on NewInBooks.
- Maryse

HAPPY FRIDAY AND HOLY MOLY WHAT A START TO A WEEKEND!! Some of our favorite authors just released some goodies for us. Like that one to the left. *happy dance* YAY US!! LET’S READ! P.S. I’m finishing up a book tonight, and then, I start Maestro!!! Finally!! 😀 P.P.S. February Amazon First Reads are up!!! […]

The post Friday Finds & Reader Recommendations – 02-03-2023 appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

The Empathy Academy by Dustin Grinnell <— BLURB JOLT!!! A TEST TO PREDICT UNETHICAL BEHAVIOR?? OH YOU GUYS!!! I LOVE THE SOUND OF THIS ONE (you know me and sci-fi social issues and genetic testing books! Techno-thrillers??? YES PLEASE!!. I devour those!!) And… the author is sponsoring today’s newsletter!! Dustin explains it to us as: […]

The post Dustin Grinnell’s techno-thriller “The Empathy Academy” sounds so exciting! A test to predict unethical behavior… appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

HAPPY TUESDAY NEW RELEASE DAY!! I’m still working on today’s list (we’re almost up to 40 55)  and I have a few more hours of adding to go. Let me know if I missed one. 🙂 BLURB JOLTS!! Jasper Vale  (married in Vegas to a brooding stranger… and she was trying to appear responsible to […]

The post Latest Romance Book Releases – 01-31-2023 appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

JANUARY 2023 (You can also check out all of January 2022’s romance releases here) Spare by Prince Harry – January 10th 2023 The Back Nine (40s, Love, and Romance Book 1) by Rachel Blaufeld – January 10th 2023 Breaking All The Rules by Amy Andrews – January 24th 2023 Blush by Helen Hardt – January 24th […]

The post Archiving the January 2023 Book Releases appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

HAPPY MONDAY EARLY BIRD BOOK RELEASES!! OH YEAH!!!! A NEW ANGSTY ROMANCE BY A.L. JACKSON (one of my absolute favorites!!) Plus quite a few more early birds to play in… THREE THINGS: 1.) I’m discovering all the cool things that is Aldi. It’s pretty new-to-me (once, a year or so ago… I went there and […]

The post Monday Early Bird Book Releases – 01-30-2023 appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

Long Enough to Love You <— RECENT RELEASE!! MARITAL STRIFE ALERT!! SHE’S MARRIED BUT HE NO LONGER SEES HER… and then she reconnects with someone from her past. And the author is celebrating her latest release by sponsoring today’s newsletter!! “So many times, I imagined just once he would do something so wrong that I could […]

The post Kirsten Pursell’s “Long Enough to Love You” is LIVE & we’re having a fun giveaway bundle!! appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

HAPPY FRIDAY FINDS DAY!! Our list is already nicely loaded, but I’m adding more as we speak. 🙂 Let me know if you found something unforgettable, and I’ll add it too! Don’t forget to check out: Kirsten Pursell’s “Long Enough to Love You” is LIVE & we’re having a fun giveaway bundle!! <— Today’s newsletter sponsor!! […]

The post Friday Finds & Reader Recommendations – 01-27-2023 appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

LOOKIT YOU GUYS!!!! One of our favorite authors ever, and her latest duet is complete and LIVE!! Linda: Jennifer Hartmann. Giving my heart a pounding!! R. Renee: I just finished The Wrong Heart by Jennifer Hartmann and loved it. She seems to be a good fit for me. Starting her Still Beating tonight, which has […]

The post Jennifer Hartmann – Heartsong Duet Reading Order appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

Mel needs our book help! I’ve heard of one like this in a recent reader question, so I suspect this *might be* the same one. Now off I go, to hunt for that question!! She asks: I am trying to find a book—it’s part of a series (the second book). The book entails the cousin […]

The post Reader Question – The second book in a series about an arranged marriage, but he kept seeing the woman he was in love with and she didn’t know… appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- Maryse

Susan is looking for this one! It’s not one that I’ve read because it’s recent enough that there is a “lock down” mention in the description. She asks: Read MC romance book a few years ago, and unable to find it. I am unsure if it is part of a series but I feel it […]

The post Reader Question – The biker book about the woman that leaves her abusive relationship and ends up at a club… appeared first on Maryse's Book Blog.

- SB Sarah
Podcast 548, Your Transcript is Ready
Smart Podcast, Trashy Books Podcast The transcript for Podcast 548. Enthusiastic Sex and Podcasting (not at the same time) with Emily Nagoski has been posted!

This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.

Click here to subscribe to The Podcast →

- Amanda
Lesbian Romances & Historicals
The Duke Heist

The Duke Heist by Erica Ridley is $1.99! This is book one in a new series and was mentioned on a previous Hide Your Wallet. Elyse was super excited about the heist element and I feel like the other books in the series have been talked about positively here.

NYT bestselling author kicks off a new Regency series of “irresistible romance and a family of delightful scoundrels” as a woman looking to recover a stolen painting accidentally kidnaps a duke instead. (Eloisa James)

Chloe Wynchester is completely forgettable—a curse that gives her the ability to blend into any crowd. When the only father she’s ever known makes a dying wish for his adopted family of orphans to recover a missing painting, she’s the first one her siblings turn to for stealing it back. No one expects that in doing so, she’ll also abduct a handsome duke.

Lawrence Gosling, the Duke of Faircliffe, is tortured by his father’s mistakes. To repair his estate’s ruined reputation, he must wed a highborn heiress. Yet when he finds himself in a carriage being driven hell-for-leather down the cobblestone streets of London by a beautiful woman who refuses to heed his commands, he fears his heart is hers. But how can he sacrifice his family’s legacy to follow true love?

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

You can find ordering info for this book here.




The Spinster and the Rake

The Spinster and the Rake by Eva Devon is 99c! This is the first book in the Never a Wallflower historical romance series. The book description says it’s a mix between My Fair Lady and Pride and Prejudice. Have you read this one?

The marriage game is afoot in this clever blend of My Fair Lady meets Pride and Prejudice with a twist!

Edward Stanhope, the icy Duke of Thornfield, likes his life in a certain order. Give him a strong drink, a good book, and his dog for company, and he’s content. But when he goes to his library and finds a woman sitting in his chair, petting his dog, what starts as a request for her to leave quickly turns to a fiery battle of wits, leading to a steamy kiss that could ruin them both if they were caught.

So of course, damn it all, that’s when Edward’s aunt walks in, and thereafter announces Miss Georgiana Bly is the future Duchess of Thornfield.

Georgiana was content to be a spinster, spending her days reading and working to keep her family out of debt. But now her days are spent locked away with a growly duke, learning how to be the perfect duchess, and her nights spent fighting the undeniable attraction to a man who was never meant for her.

As their wedding day approaches, the attraction between them burns hot and fierce, but is it enough to melt the duke’s chilly facade?

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

You can find ordering info for this book here.




She Gets the Girl

She Gets the Girl by Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick is $1.99! This is a new adult romance that was mentioned on both Cover Awe and Hide Your Wallet (Tara’s pick!). Did any of you pick this one up?

She’s All That meets What If It’s Us in this swoon-worthy hate-to-love YA romantic comedy from #1 New York Times bestselling coauthor of Five Feet Apart Rachael Lippincott and debut writer Alyson Derrick.

Alex Blackwood is a little bit headstrong, with a dash of chaos and a whole lot of flirt. She knows how to get the girl. Keeping her on the other hand…not so much. Molly Parker has everything in her life totally in control, except for her complete awkwardness with just about anyone besides her mom. She knows she’s in love with the impossibly cool Cora Myers. She just…hasn’t actually talked to her yet.

Alex and Molly don’t belong on the same planet, let alone the same college campus. But when Alex, fresh off a bad (but hopefully not permanent) breakup, discovers Molly’s hidden crush as their paths cross the night before classes start, they realize they might have a common interest after all. Because maybe if Alex volunteers to help Molly learn how to get her dream girl to fall for her, she can prove to her ex that she’s not a selfish flirt. That she’s ready for an actual commitment. And while Alex is the last person Molly would ever think she could trust, she can’t deny Alex knows what she’s doing with girls, unlike her.

As the two embark on their five-step plans to get their girls to fall for them, though, they both begin to wonder if maybe they’re the ones falling…for each other.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

You can find ordering info for this book here.




Satisfaction Guaranteed

RECOMMENDED: Satisfaction Guaranteed by Karelia Stetz-Waters is $2.99! Both Tara and Shana reviewed this one and gave it an A:

Shana: I stayed up late reading Satisfaction Guaranteed because I just couldn’t put it down. This book reminded me why I love contemporary romances—experiencing the heady rush of falling in love through characters that feel so real, they could walk off the page and into one of my dinner parties. Reading this brought me such joy.

Opposites attract in this playful and laugh-out-loud rom-com from Lambda Award finalist Karelia Stetz-Waters.

Cade Elgin has a life and career in New York City, and she’s determined to get back to both as soon as possible after her aunt’s funeral in Portland. However, when she unexpectedly inherits her aunt’s sex toy store — and has to save it from foreclosure — Cade realizes she’s not going anywhere. But making Share the Love profitable won’t be as easy as Cade had hoped. Her new partner has an infuriating lack of business sense, and an infuriating ability to turn Cade on.

Selena Mathis knows that nothing is more important than saving Share the Love. Not her pride, not her inconvenient attraction toward her new business partner. Cade may be more buttoned-up than Selena usually goes for, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know how to turn the store around. But the more they work together, the harder it becomes for Selena to ignore her growing feelings for Cade. And she starts to wonder if there is something more important than saving Share the Love.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

You can find ordering info for this book here.




- SB Sarah
548. Enthusiastic Sex and Podcasting (not at the same time) with Emily Nagoski

COME AS YOU ARE podcast logo with words in yellow against a pinkpurple and red background showing undergarments, lube, a vibrator, and some pillows and beddingEmily Nagoski has a new podcast, Come As You Are! If you’ve read her books, you know what this is about. We dive right into questions of consent and enthusiasm, the way the ace/aro community has developed conversations about sexuality within the field of sex education, and how the pandemic has affected sexuality. So much of her show and this conversation center on how to address sexual satisfaction in your own life.

We also talk about her next book, which is about how couples sustain sexual attraction over the long term.


Listen to the podcast → Read the transcript → Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:

You can find the Come As You Are podcast wherever you download your favorite shows. You can find Emily Nagoski on her website,, and on Instagram @ENagoski.


If you like the podcast, you can subscribe to our feed, or find us at iTunes. You can also find us on Stitcher, and Spotify, too. We also have a cool page for the podcast on iTunes.

More ways to sponsor:

Sponsor us through Patreon! (What is Patreon?)

What did you think of today's episode? Got ideas? Suggestions? You can talk to us on the blog entries for the podcast or talk to us on Facebook if that's where you hang out online. You can email us at or you can call and leave us a message at our Google voice number: 201-371-3272. Please don't forget to give us a name and where you're calling from so we can work your message into an upcoming podcast.

Thanks for listening!

Remember to subscribe to our podcast feed, find us on iTunes or on Stitcher.
- Amanda
A Freebie, Romantic Suspense, & More

Reputation by Lex Croucher is $2.99! I feel like the publisher put a lot of marketing dollars behind this one, but I don’t know many people that read it. It’s been compared to Mean Girls in a historical setting, though I don’t know how much romance is in the plot.

The hilarious debut novel from Lex Croucher. A classic romcom with a Regency-era twist, for fans of Mean Girls and/or Jane Austen.

Abandoned by her parents, middle-class Georgiana Ellers has moved to a new town to live with her dreary aunt and uncle. At a particularly dull party, she meets the enigmatic Frances Campbell, a wealthy member of the in-crowd who lives a life Georgiana couldn’t have imagined in her wildest dreams.

Lonely and vulnerable, Georgiana falls in with Frances and her unfathomably rich, deeply improper friends. Georgiana is introduced to a new world: drunken debauchery, mysterious young men with strangely arresting hands, and the upper echelons of Regency society.

But the price of entry to high society might just be higher than Georgiana is willing to pay …

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

You can find ordering info for this book here.





RECOMMENDED: Hidden by Laura Griffin is $1.99! Lara reviewed this one and gave it a B+:

There are some VERY satisfying twists and turns in this book. If you are in the mood for competent heroines and you’d like to immerse yourself in a different life for a bit, then this is the book for you.

A riveting new thriller featuring an ambitious female investigative reporter in Austin, Texas by New York Times bestselling author Laura Griffin.

When a woman is found brutally murdered on Austin’s lakeside hike-and-bike trail, investigative reporter Bailey Rhoads turns up on the scene demanding access and answers. She tries to pry information out of the lead detective, Jacob Merritt. But this case is unlike any he’s ever seen, and nothing adds up.

Bailey has a hunch the victim wasn’t who she claimed to be and believes this mugging-turned-murder could have been a targeted hit. When she digs deeper, the trail leads her to a high-tech fortress on the outskirts of Austin where researchers are pushing the boundaries of a cutting-edge technology that could be deadly in the wrong hands.

As a ruthless hit man’s mission becomes clear, Bailey and Jacob must embark on a desperate search to locate the next target before the clock ticks down on this lethal game of hide and seek.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

You can find ordering info for this book here.




The Worst Woman in London

The Worst Woman in London by Julia Bennet is $1.99 at Amazon! I’m not super knowledgeable about historical accuracy, but I do know I prefer a Victorian over a Regency setting. I have a feeling this one might be divisive as the heroine is already married.

A defiant Victorian wife fights to escape a bad marriage but her love for a forbidden man jeopodizes her chance at freedom.

James Standish knows how to play society’s game. He’ll follow the rules, marry a virginal debutante, and inherit a massive fortune. At least, that’s the plan until he meets Francesca Thorne. She’s not the sort of woman a respectable gentleman like James could ever marry—not least because, strictly speaking, she’s married already.

Francesca is determined to flout convention and divorce her philandering husband. When James sweet talks his way into her life tasked with convincing her to abandon her dream of freedom, she’s unprepared for the passion that flares between them.

Torn apart by conflicting desires, James and Francesca must choose whether to keep chasing the lives they’ve always wanted or take a chance on a new and forbidden love.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

You can find ordering info for this book here.




Mission: Improper

Mission: Improper by Bec McMaster is FREE! This is book one in the The Blue Blood Conspiracy series, which is a spin off of McMaster’s London Steampunk series. While not completely necessary, reviewers say that readers might understand the nuances of the romance and setting more if they’ve read the London Steampunk series. Other books in this spin-off series are on sale.

Three years ago, London society changed forever, with a revolution placing the widowed Queen firmly on the throne her blue blood husband tried to take from her. Humans, verwulfen and mechs are no longer considered the lesser classes, but not everybody is happy with the new order…

Entire families have gone missing in the East End. When Caleb Byrnes receives an invitation to join the Company of Rogues as an undercover agent pledged to protect the crown, he jumps at the chance to find out who, or what, is behind the disappearances. Hunting criminals is what the darkly driven blue blood does best, and though he prefers to work alone, the opportunity is too good to resist.

The problem? He’s partnered with Ingrid Miller, the fiery and passionate verwulfen woman who won a private bet against him a year ago. Byrnes has a score to settle, but one stolen kiss and suddenly the killer is not the only thing Byrnes is interested in hunting.

Soon they’re chasing whispered rumours of a secret project gone wrong, and a monster that just might be more dangerous than either of them combined. The only way to find out more is to go undercover among the blue blood elite… But when their hunt uncovers a mysterious conspiracy, Byrnes and Ingrid must set aside their age-old rivalry if they have any chance at surviving a treacherous plot.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

You can find ordering info for this book here.




- SB Sarah
Crafty Book Tracking

I’ve ferociously curated my Reddit feed so that it’s all books and crafts and adorable animals and a low-key happiness dose.

Recently, on r/CrossStitch, a cross stitch reading tracker was shared, and oh, my gosh, the noise I made:

LOOK how CUTE this is: (embedded for ALT text purposes)

Two cross stitch projects, one a 2022 complete bookshelf with little books indicating finsihed books color coded by genres - pink is romance and there's a lot of pink. The 2023 bookshelf has been started and there's a mark from the hoop frame on the aida

I know we just shared our nifty-difty Reading Tracking Spreadsheet, but if you want to get crafty about it, grab your embroidery floss, because I have some patterns for you.

First, if you want a pattern that is very similar to the above: the 100 Books 2023 Reading Goal Tracker pattern is $8 on Etsy from StirCrazyCrafterUK.

There are a bunch of customizable options inside the pattern, too.

This one comes with 24 or 42 book options, but reviews say that the designer can customize to over 200 titles:

A hand showing a hoop with cross stitch in progress against a furry blanket. The pattern is books on a shelf with some groups of books labeled with back stitched author names like Sarah J Maas or Victoria AveyardBook Tracker Pattern by My Precious Stitches, $6.50

I love the tiny plants on the shelves!

If you’d like to track ratings instead of genre, this pattern color codes your star ratings (though I bet you could customize with colors for genre instead of stars, if you wanted to!)

A cross stitch pattern with 100 tiny books and the words 2023 Star Ratings at the bottom with a color code for each star rating below 2023 Book Star Rating Tracker by SunsetGiftz, $11.02

A cross stitch pattern of some bookshelves with curved tops and lots of books all over the shelves, both upright and laying on their sidesDaily Weather or Mood Tracker Bookshelf from Wicked Stitch, $15.00

This is a mood or weather tracking pattern, not reading, but it was so charming and beautiful (CAT! Plants! Tiny GEODES!) I wanted to include it. There are 365 books, and you could easily customize this pattern to track whatever you like.

And finally, this pattern is really gorgeous:

An embroidery pattern of a five shelf bookcase with tiny plants and a globe with outlines of books with a color code for genre 104 Book Reading Tracker Bookshelf by Stitching Cabin Co, $9.04

I love this pattern – the tiny plants! The wee elephant! I also like how the color coding can be adapted, and 104 books is plenty of space for a year of reading.

Have you thought about crafting your reading tracker? Any patterns you recommend?

- Amanda
Links: Art, Spongebob, & More

Workspace with computer, journal, books, coffee, and glasses.Welcome back to Wednesday Links! It’s definitely a week where I barely know what day it is.

It’s supposed to get pretty hold in New England. I live in an old apartment and the heat isn’t the greatest, so my old cat Linus will be coming with me this weekend to my partner’s place. They have amazing heat and my partner is very excited for a kitty sleepover.

It’s also February and we all know what that means. Every year, I feel like I need to issue a reminder to take deep breaths before rage commenting on whatever romance genre think piece starts making the rounds on social media. Stay vigilant, but maintain your peace!

There’s a DC comics line titled Harley Quinn Romances and the clinch overs are wonderful. You can see some of them here.

We are so sad to hear of the passing of author Lorelie Brown. Carrie Lofty made the announcement on Twitter. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The fundraiser will remain open for one more week.

Sarah: I don’t remember how I discovered this app, but as a delightful break for your brain and your eyes, I want to recommend Google Arts & Culture.

Each day there are different virtual exhibits from museums and art collections and photographers and musicians – it’s so neat. One of my favorites was a collection of famous Impressionist artworks, followed by current Google Street View photographs of those same locations today.

You can also search for artworks based on a favorite color, which was surprisingly entertaining, especially when I discovered Raoul Dufy’s Window Opening on Nice

When I need a break and want to look at something that doesn’t make noise or try to talk to me, and isn’t going to make me anxious or fearful, I’ve been opening Google Arts & Culture. It’s so much fun.

I took great delight in learning what Spongebob Squarepants is called in other countries. Click through to the Twitter thread to see more.

Don’t forget to share what cool or interesting things you’ve seen, read, or listened to this week! And if you have anything you think we’d like to post on a future Wednesday Links, send it my way!

- Amanda
Historical Romance, Non-Fiction, & More

Fake by Kylie Scott is 99c! Elyse read this one and gave it a B-:

Some readers will likely find Fake to be too under developed for them, and some, like me, will find it works just fine. It gave me a happy, angst free reading experience I enjoyed. Just know, your mileage may vary.

The newest romance from New York Times bestselling, Audie Award winning author Kylie Scott!

He walks the red carpet. She’s more familiar with vacuuming one.

When a scandal tarnishes the reputation of hot as hell A-lister, Patrick Walsh, he needs a reputation rescue, pronto.

Enter waitress Norah Peers–a nobody who’s average with a capital A. She’s available, dependable, and has sworn off men for the rest of her natural born life. In other words: the perfect match for a no-strings fake romance.

For the right amount of money, she can avoid waitressing and play the part of his dependable down-to-earth girlfriend. What she can’t avoid–dammit–is the growing steam between them.

But being hounded by the paparazzi and having her life dissected on social media is a panic attack in the making. And while Patrick might be a charming rogue on screen, in real life he’s a six-foot-two confusing, gorgeous, brooding grump, who keeps her at a distance . . . but also makes her feel like this bond between them might be more than just an act.

Being dumped on cue should be no big deal. Except being fake with Patrick is the realist relationship Norah has ever had. What’s a girl to do, but flip the script, and ask for a re-match made in Hollywood?

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

You can find ordering info for this book here.




The Scot Beds His Wife

The Scot Beds His Wife by Kerrigan Byrne is $2.99! This is the fifth book in the Victorian Rebels series and Elyse was really excited for this one in a previous Hide Your Wallet. Some readers warn that the writing is over the top, while others recommend Byrne if you need a crazysauce fix.

The Scot Beds His Wife is the next lush, captivating Victorian romance in the Victorian Rebels series by Kerrigan Byrne. 

They’re rebels, scoundrels, and blackguards—dark, dashing men on the wrong side of the law. But for the women who love them, a hint of danger only makes the heart beat faster.

Gavin St. James, Earl of Thorne, is a notorious Highlander and an unrelenting Lothario who uses his slightly menacing charm to get what he wants—including too many women married to other men. But now, Gavin wants to put his shady past behind him…more or less. When a fiery lass who is the heiress to the land he wishes to possess drops into his lap, he sees a perfectly delicious opportunity…

A marriage most convenient

Samantha Masters has come back to Scotland, in a pair of trousers, and with a whole world of dangerous secrets from her time spent in the Wild West trailing behind her. Her only hope of protection is to marry—and to do so quickly. Gavin is only too willing to provide that service for someone he finds so disturbingly irresistible. But even as danger approaches, what begins as a scandalous proposition slowly turns into an all-consuming passion. And Gavin discovers that he will do whatever is necessary to keep the woman he has claimed as his own…

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

You can find ordering info for this book here.




A Gentleman Says “I Do”

A Gentleman Says “I Do” by Amelia Grey is $1.99! This is a historical romance with a heroine posing as her writer father when he skips town. It’s also the fifth book in The Rogues’ Dynasty series. Some readers complained that the book was slow and a bit boring, while others loved the book’s secondary characters.

Iverson Brentwood has finally met his match. Catalina Crisp heats his blood like no other lady. Her alluring countenance has stopped him dead in his tracks. But no matter how attracted he is to her, he can’t give into his desire to possess her in every way…she is the daughter of the man he’s sworn to destroy.

Catalina’s father is a well-known writer, but wastrel whose disappearances continuously put them close to destitution. Something drastic must change, so it is with quill in hand, that Catalina completes her father’s latest parody of Iverson and Matson Brentwood’s spectacular arrival in London. When the story hits the newsprint, a darkly handsome man is at her door, looking for her father.

Seeing the dashing rogue in the flesh, for a bewildering moment dallying with the rake seems like the perfect fictional escape—and it’s all she can do not to give into the madness of the intriguing man.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

You can find ordering info for this book here.




Rise of the Rocket Girls

Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt is $2.99! Readers say this book is a great companion to Hidden Figures and that they loved the author’s writing. However, if you’re buying the ebook, the images featured aren’t of the greatest quality (unless some edits have been made last time we featured this one on sale).

The riveting true story of the women who launched America into space.

In the 1940s and 50s, when the newly minted Jet Propulsion Laboratory needed quick-thinking mathematicians to calculate velocities and plot trajectories, they didn’t turn to male graduates. Rather, they recruited an elite group of young women who, with only pencil, paper, and mathematical prowess, transformed rocket design, helped bring about the first American satellites, and made the exploration of the solar system possible.

For the first time, Rise of the Rocket Girls tells the stories of these women–known as “human computers”–who broke the boundaries of both gender and science. Based on extensive research and interviews with all the living members of the team, Rise of the Rocket Girls offers a unique perspective on the role of women in science: both where we’ve been, and the far reaches of space to which we’re heading.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

You can find ordering info for this book here.




- Amanda
February 2023 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.

The Witch of Tin Mountain The Witch of Tin Mountain by Paulette Kennedy

Author: Paulette Kennedy
Released: February 1, 2023 by Lake Union
Genre: , , ,

In Depression-era Arkansas, something wicked has come to a haunted mountain town in a novel of uncanny suspense by the author of Parting the Veil.

Blood and power bind three generations of women in the Ozark Mountains. So does an evil that’s followed them across the decades.

1931. Gracelynn Doherty lives peacefully on Tin Mountain, helping her adoptive granny work her cures. Despite whispers that the women are witches, the superstitious locals still seek them out, whether they suffer from arthritis or a broken heart. But when evangelist Josiah Bellflower comes to town touting miracle healing, full bellies, and prosperity, his revivals soon hold Tin Mountain in thrall—and Granny in abject fear.

Granny recognizes Josiah. Fifty years ago, in a dark and desperate moment, she made a terrible promise. Now Josiah, an enemy, has returned to collect his due.

As Granny sickens and the drought-ridden countryside falls under a curse, Gracelynn must choose: flee Tin Mountain and the only family she knows or confront the vengeful preacher whose unholy mission is to destroy her.

Amanda: Saw the She Wore Black podcast tweeting about this one!

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

Want this book? Here are helpful buy links..




It’s Always Been Ours It’s Always Been Ours by Jessica Wilson

Author: Jessica Wilson
Released: February 7, 2023 by Hachette Go

We will rewrite the narrative of Blackness that centers and celebrates our joy.

In It’s Always Been Ours eating disorder specialist and storyteller, Jessica Wilson, challenges us to rethink what having a “good” body means in contemporary society. By centering the bodies of Black women in her cultural discussions of body image, food, health, and wellness, Wilson argues that we can interrogate white supremacy’s hold on us and reimagine the ways we think about, discuss, and tend to our bodies.

A narrative that spans the year of racial reckoning (that wasn’t), It’s Always Been Ours is an incisive blend of historical documents, contemporary writing, and narratives of clients, friends, and celebrities to examine the politics of body liberation. Wilson argues that our culture’s fixation on thin, white women reinscribes racist ideas about Black women’s bodies and ways of being in the world as “too much.”  For Wilson, this white supremacist, capitalist undergirding in wellness movements perpetuates a culture of respectability and restriction that force Black women to perform unhealthy forms of resilience and strength at the expense of their physical and psychological needs.

With just the right mix of wit, levity, and wisdom, Wilson shows us how a radical reimagining of body narratives is a prerequisite to wellbeing. It’s Always Been Ours is a love letter that celebrates Black women’s bodies and shows us a radical and essential path forward to rediscovering their vulnerability and joy.

Shana: I’m obviously very biased, but I’m excited that I’m on the cover of this book! I’m sure my next stop will be a clinch cover .

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Not Your Ex’s Hexes Not Your Ex’s Hexes by April Asher

Author: April Asher
Released: February 7, 2023 by St. Martin's Griffin
Genre: ,
Series: Supernatural Singles #2

In April Asher’s next Supernatural Singles novel, Not Your Ex’s Hexes, a one-night-stand between a willful witch and a broody half-demon conjures an adventure that wouldn’t be complete without several magical mishaps.

For her entire life, Rose Maxwell trained to become the next Prima on the Supernatural Council. Now that she’s stepped down, it’s time for this witch to focus on herself. And not think about her impulsive one-night stand with Damian Adams, a half-Demon Veterinarian who she can’t get out of her head. Neither of them is looking for a relationship. But when Rose is sentenced to community service at Damian’s animal sanctuary it becomes impossible for them to ignore their sparking attraction. A friends-with-benefits, no feelings, no strings arrangement works perfectly for them both.

After a sequence of dead-end jobs, it’s not until Rose tangos with two snarly demons that she thinks she’s finally found her path. However, this puts Damian back on the periphery of a world he thought he left behind. He doesn’t approve of Rose becoming a Hunter, but if there’s one thing he’s learned about the stubborn witch, it was telling her not to do something was one sure-fire way to make sure she did.

Working—and sleeping—together awakens feelings Damian never knew he had…and shouldn’t have. Because thanks to his ex’s hex, if he falls in love, he’ll not only lose his heart—but his humanity.

Amanda: You had me at witch and half-demon!

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Of Manners and Murder Of Manners and Murder by Anastasia Hastings

Author: Anastasia Hastings
Released: February 7, 2023 by Minotaur Books
Genre: ,
Series: Dear Miss Hermione #1

Of Manners and Murder is the first in the delightful new Dear Miss Hermione mystery series from Anastasia Hastings.

1885: London, England. When Violet’s Aunt Adelia decides to abscond with her newest paramour, she leaves behind her role as the most popular Agony Aunt in London, “Miss Hermione,” in Violet’s hands.

And of course, the first letter Violet receives is full, not of prissy pondering, but of portent, Ivy Armstrong is in need of help and fears for her life. But when Violet visits the village where the letters were posted, she find that Ivy is already dead.

She’ll quickly discover that when you represent the best-loved Agony Aunt in Britain, both marauding husbands and murder are par for the course.

Sarah: I love this concept of an Agony Aunt solving crime, and I heard that there’s a romance inside, too.

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Radiant Sin Radiant Sin by Katee Robert

Author: Katee Robert
Released: February 7, 2023 by Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: ,
Series: Dark Olympus #4

There’s nowhere more dangerous than Olympus…and no one more captivating than its golden god: Apollo. Keeper of secrets, master of his shining realm…and the only man I am powerless to deny.

*A scorchingly hot modern retelling of Apollo and Cassandra that’s as sinful as it is sweet.*

As a disgraced member of a fallen house, Cassandra Gataki has seen firsthand what comes from trusting the venomous Thirteen. But when the maddeningly gorgeous and kind Apollo asks her to go undercover as his plus-one at a week-long party hosted by a dangerous new power player…Cassandra reluctantly agrees to have his back.

On one condition: when it’s all over, and Apollo has the ammunition he needs to protect Olympus, she and her sister will be allowed to leave. For good.

Apollo may be the city’s official spymaster, but it’s his ability to inspire others that keeps him at the top. Despite what the rest of Olympus says, there’s no one he