PHEW! Today has been BUSY! But I’m finally getting a chance to sit down and write this review and let me start off by saying you’re gonna want to read it. You know those books that are just enjoyable? Well, this is one of them!
I went into this story expecting to enjoy it, but I didn’t expect to fall in love with the characters as much as I did. They just really drew me into the story and made me so invested in what was going to happen next. Plus I just extra loved our powerhouse of a heroine and all she stood for. But out of all of this it was really just a clever story that worked and flowed so well.
Remember how I’ve repeatedly said how much I enjoyed this book? Well, it’s true. SO when you read it make sure you’re prepared to devour this and not want to set it down. My favorite set up is a bunch of blankets, some fur babies, and a nice hot chocolate.
About the Author
It’s a rough world out there, and we all sometimes need a good, romantic beach read, even if we can’t make it to the beach. I’ve spent many lazy days walking the streets of Paris and other gorgeous European cities, and if I’m doing it right, I’m bringing you a dash of romance and a vacay fantasy.
I can’t sit still, so when I’m not hiking, biking or running, I’m playing a very average game of tennis. Background music for writing undoubtedly features some U2, Lizzo, Billy Joel, Pink, Taylor Swift, and Led Zeppelin. Not necessarily in that order. And if I could only eat one food group, it would be cheese. Or wine. Or bread. Are those food groups? Whatever.
He studied me for a moment. Then he was silent again. Of course, he wasn’t having fun. He was facing potential jail time and major fines from the SEC, not to mention he’d been put on leave from the job he loved, and his tenured position was probably in jeopardy. What a stupid thing to ask. “Sorry. I know this can’t be fun for you.”
After looking through the conference room glass for a moment, he nodded. “Actually, it is. But only because I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you since we met, and now that I have the pleasure of your company, it makes me happy,” he said.
“Wait, what?” I felt just as giddy as I had at age fourteen when a boy I’d been crushing on for months asked me if I’d mind paying for his slice of pizza after a high school football game. This was pre-cheerleading, to be clear. After I made the squad, the fourteen-year-olds paid for me. Mostly.
“Was that not clear? I can’t stop thinking about you. I’ve barely thought of anything but you since we met. And given that I’m charged with insider trading and facing jail time, I find that significant.”
“I mean, that’s… ordinarily, it’s exactly what a woman wants to hear. But now…”
“Now that you know I’m charged with insider trading?”
“No, now that you’re my client. You insisted on being my client. I gave you an out, and you insisted. So now you get lawyer me, not Saturday night me. That was your choice,” I said. It was my turn to look through the glass because I couldn’t keep gazing at him without repercussions.
“I wasn’t aware you were two different people. For the record, I like both,” he said with a smile.
“You don’t get both. That’s not how this works.” I turned toward my notes, hoping he understood that recess was over.
“I’m the client. Don’t I get to dictate how things work?” he asked.
“No, you get to be the client. You answer my questions, and you behave yourself so I don’t get fired or disbarred. I feel like you weren’t listening when I just explained all that.”
“I was listening. I just chose to ignore it.”
He was frustrating. The fact that he was hot in a nerdy chiseled-jaw professor way was also frustrating. I needed to get control of the situation. Looking at the stacks of books on the conference room shelves, I saw nothing to give me direction as to how to handle the situation.
They should make law books for this. Or self-help books. Any guidance would be welcome.
*I received a copy in exchange for an honest review*
The Rookie, an action-packed romantic suspense full of heat from USA Today bestselling author Kimberly Kincaid is available now!
Police recruit Xander Matthews wants two things: to help people and to keep his dark and dangerous past in his rear-view, where it belongs. He never thought he’d see brash, beautiful A.D.A. Tara Kingston after she tried to prosecute him two years ago.
Yet here she is, smack in the middle of a crime scene and now they have to work together to catch a killer.
Tara prides herself on being tough— after all, she learned the hard way how fleeting life can be. But the closer she gets to Xander the more she wants to open up and let him in. The more she wants everything.
The stakes are high and the passion is hot. But Xander’s secrets run deep and now, their hearts and their lives are on the line…
This is the first story in a brand-new, scorching hot romantic suspense series from Kimberly Kincaid. A shorter version of this story will appear in the Danger and Desire anthology from September 15-25, 2020. This is the extended version, containing bonus scenes and added content. It will be 99 cents for preorder and release week only (until October 13, 2020). Release day is October 6, 2020.
The Intelligence Unit series is a spinoff from Station Seventeen and Remington Medical. Xander first appears in DOWN DEEP. All of Kimberly’s romances stand alone.
This was such a fun, intense, and quick read! The story started off with a bang and just kept going from there! And the romance was just so cute. But what I liked most of all was that these two were equals. The female didn’t get shoved aside just because she now has a “protector,” she was just as involved as all of the others.
I have such a soft spot for precinct stories, but it might be because I’m absolutely obsessed with Brooklyn Nine-Nine. But I just loved the subject of this novella. However, I do wish that there was a bit more . . . steam . . . throughout. Yet on the other-hand it was kind of refreshing to read a romance more focused on the story aspect. Regardless, I still really enjoyed this one!
And lastly, since this is a novella it was a SUPER fast read. Yet the pace never felt rushed, the story fit perfectly into the length of the book and there wasn’t excess information to distract us from the story itself. Plus I find that I always really enjoy novella romances, I feel like they just work!
About the Author
Kimberly Kincaid writes contemporary romance that splits the difference between sexy and sweet and hot and edgy romantic suspense. When she’s not sitting cross-legged in an ancient desk chair known as “The Pleather Bomber”, she can be found practicing obscene amounts of yoga, whipping up anything from enchiladas to éclairs in her kitchen, or curled up with her nose in a book. Kimberly is a USA Today best-selling author and a 2016 and 2015 RWA RITA® finalist and 2014 Bookseller’s Best nominee who lives (and writes!) by the mantra that food is love. Kimberly resides in Virginia with her wildly patient husband and their three daughters.
Tara took a step toward him, her arms softening at her sides. “You’re a really nice guy, you know that?”
The urge to correct her was strong, but Xander bit it in half and said, “Just doing my job.”
“The standard answer when someone says ‘you’re a nice guy’ is usually ‘thank you’.”
The words carried none of her usual heat, filled instead with curiosity, and hell, Xander would take her ire a million times over the beautiful, wide-open look on her face right now. “Thank you.”
Another step, and now Tara was right in front of him, close enough to touch. “How come you don’t like being called a nice guy?”
His pulse flared, but that shit about old habits was real.
This time, he stepped toward her, cutting the distance between them to inches. “The standard answer when someone says ‘thank you’ is usually ‘you’re welcome’.”
“Oh,” Tara breathed. Her lips parted to release the sound as a sigh, and suddenly, there was nothing in the universe other than him, her, and the red-hot urge to claim her mouth. “You’re welcome, Xander.”
*I received an e-arc in exchange for an honest review*
Check out my stop on the blog tour for The Legend of Akikumo by Dani Hoots!
The Legend of Akikumo by Dani Hoots Genre: YA Japanese Fantasy Release Date: September 15th 2020 FoxTales Press
Ketsueki would give anything to find out why her mentor Akikumo, the last wolf in Japan, abandoned her. He left her with other kitsune at the Inari Shrine, but she doesn’t fit in. And now the other kitsune are bullying her and saying Akikumo is dead.
After causing trouble for the hundredth time, the Inari, instead of punishing her, has given Ketsueki a task: she must find out what happened to Akikumo. She quickly agrees, not realizing the delinquent son of the shrine’s head priest must accompany her.
Will Ketsueki be able to make peace with a human? Or will her years of resentment make this partnership impossible?
So I was super excited for this book as soon as I saw the cover and noticed one of my favorite types of mythical, magical, fluffy creatures: kitsune! And that cover! Muah! Perfection! And if anyone knows me, they know I’m a sucker for a good cover. So two things for an instant win with me!
This book definitely reads like an anime, it’s quirky and wild and might not have that much story but is still highly enjoyable because of that. So if you love animes you’ll probably enjoy this book. But don’t go into it expecting something else, it’s just a fun story to read. I also feel as if this book is intended for younger YA audiences, as it’s a nice quick read that doesn’t go too in depth. The story is very interesting and I love the mythology explored, but I also wanted more. But then again I like my lengthy never ending books!
While some people might get disgruntled over some of the language used within (there are quite a few Japanese terms used), I found it kind of endearing. But maybe it’s my obsession with animes that made me not really notice it while reading. But if you’re not familiar with these terms, there is a glossary so don’t fret! Plus I think it just helps add to the quirkiness that I’ve come to expect with anything Japanese themed.
My seven tails dangled off the edge of the red torii, swishing back and forth, dancing to the warm summer breeze that flowed through the air. Inhaling deeply, I breathed in the sweet scent of the maple trees. I rubbed the deep blue magatama pendant I wore around my neck to pass the time as I awaited my next victim. My ears twitched at the footsteps coming up the path leading up the mountain. I cocked my head, my long black and red hair tossing to the side, to peer down at four teenagers giggling as they held two lanterns to light the way. It was well past midnight, so these couples were out on a dare. The warm summer nights caused many teens to come up from the city for what they called a “romantic challenge” among the serene landscape. There were rumors of ghosts playing tricks on this mountain. I had never seen a ghost here, but I had seen my fair share of terrified humans. This time it was two couples. Usually a larger group showed up, and they would take turns going up the mountain, seeing who would chicken out and come down first. It made no sense to me, but that didn’t matter—I enjoyed playing tricks on them either way. The couples parted ways at the fork, and I followed the boy and girl on the right first. I noted their clothes as human teens were always wearing similar outfits these days. They both wore a blue blazer, but the girl was wearing a green-and-blue plaid skirt while the boy wore blue pants. Both had a green piece of fabric around their necks, but they tied them differently. Why did so many teens want to match clothes? One of the other kitsune had explained it was what they wore to school every day, but I didn’t believe him. Then again, I didn’t care for human culture anyway. I hopped to the ground, landing silently on my geta, which took a lot of skill to do. Normally the wood hitting the concrete made a loud noise. It took me a few years to master, but it was useful, not only for scaring humans but to sneak past Ichika when she was looking for me. She didn’t care for my antics, and if it weren’t for the fact I was the last kitsune born in Japan, she would have kicked me out by now for quite a few different reasons. These humans weren’t patrons though—they wanted me to terrify them. I stayed in my natural form—half fox, half human—as it scared the teens the best. If I turned into a fox, they confused me with the other foxes that lived in the forest and would comment on how cute I was. Kids these days. And if I stayed as a human, they wouldn’t even care. But when I was half-and-half, they screamed and panicked as they realized the tales of old were true and that the monstrous kitsune exist. Then they would tell their friends, who would decide to go out on the dare days later. The cycle never ended, and I felt as if it were my duty to keep it going. The girl hung on to the boy’s arm as if scared for dear life, but it was an act. Taking in a deep breath, I noted no scent of fear was coming off either of them. This couple must not have believed the stories their friends had told them about this place. They were playing the part in order to hold on to one another. These two were in for an enormous surprise. As silent as an autumn breeze, I followed, watching as the girl kept clinging to the boy’s arm, giggling, blind to what was going on around her. “Don’t you think this place is spooky?” the girl asked. “I can’t believe Yuki-san was the one who came up with this dare.” “Don’t worry—you have nothing to fear with me here. I’ve been to this shrine many times, and it’s not scary.” The boy was full of himself. There were things to fear in these woods as I had lived here all my life. He lied or only visited in the daytime. During the day, the creatures of the shadows, us yokai, hid from humans. During the night, however, was a different story. They used to dread us, and I wasn’t sure if the modern ignorance or past fear was better. Now humans expanded, not caring if they were in the yokais’ territory, but at least we weren’t being persecuted any longer. I shook my head, pushing away those memories. Humans once hunted me, but now things had changed. I was the predator, and I could seek my revenge by scaring these kids. “Besides,” the boy kept talking. “Yuki-san just suggested this so she could hold on tight to Shigure-kun.” The girl laughed. “Well, I can’t say I blame her.” “What? You want to hang on to Shigure-kun as well?” “No, I meant so I could hang on to you.” I rolled my eyes. The scent of teenage pheromones filled my nose, making me want to vomit. They were way too lovey-dovey for me. I wanted to add a little excitement in their lives and get them to see each other’s true selves. Running around the torii and through the woods, I stood behind the red lacquered wood a few meters in front of them. As they stepped closer, I let my tails appear from behind the torii. “What’s that?” the girl squeaked. I moved my tails back and forth. “I think it’s just a fox.” The boy shrugged. “They are active in these parts because of the Inari shrine.” “Is it going to hurt us?” “No. Foxes are harmless. We will scare it away.” I grinned. Although he acted fine, I smelled the tangy fear coming off his body. It tasted as tantalizing as cold sake on a warm summer night. I hid behind the torii and jumped up on top of it as the kids passed underneath me. They did not understand what horrors stood above them. Such naive creatures. Leaping forward, torii after torii, I peered down to find the couple starting to calm down. Now for the next part of my plan. Using my powers, I summoned a small kitsunebi to appear in the middle of the pathway. “Ara ma!” the girl screamed. “What is that light?” “It’s just a firefly.” “During this time of year? That’s not possible. It looks like… It looks like a blue flame!” “I… I don’t know.” “Maybe we should turn back…” The boy shook his head. “No. We are supposed to meet the others at the top of this mountain.” “Text them!” “But we will lose! It’s just an illusion. We should keep going.” That was my cue. I jumped down, igniting dozens of more littlekitsunebi, giving a faint blue light around the couple and me. I smiled, exposing my fangs, and swayed my seven tails. The boy and girl screamed, and I wasn’t sure which one had a higher pitch. They both spun around and started running, no longer arm in arm. I, however, was much faster than them. I ran around and stood in front of them, laughing. Screams and cries filled the once silent air as the couple tried to figure out what to do next. They turned to run up the mountain, but I ran in front of them again. This time I surrounded them with my blue kitsunebi so they had nowhere else to go. They both stopped and fell to the cement, crying in each other’s arms. I raised my hand, creating a big kitsunebi. They shut their eyes as tight as possible. I disappeared, jumped up on the torii, and watched. It was a pleasant couple of moments until one of them opened an eye to see why I hadn’t killed them yet. Scared, they picked themselves up, looking for any sign of me. I gave none. Before anything else could happen, they ran down the mountain, tears still falling from their eyes and fear emanating from them like an aroma coming off a grill. I took a big whiff of it and licked my lips. This was the life. Now to terrorize the other two. “Tsuki Ketsueki!” I heard a voice call. Kuso. I was in trouble now. I straightened my red kimono and black obi and turned to find Yamato standing under the torii I was on, her nine orange tails swishing every which way. Her auburn hair was pulled back in a bun. To most it appeared as if she dyed it, but it was her natural color. She folded her arms and pursed her lips into a tight line. “Ichika-sama, what are you doing up?” I jumped to the ground as I gave her my most innocent smile. “Don’t even try, Tsuki-san. You are in a lot of trouble. What did I tell you about messing with our parishioners?” “But they aren’t parishioners—they are here on a dare.” “I don’t care. This is sacred land, and we must keep everyone on it safe no matter why they are here. Over a century has passed and you still haven’t learned that.” I bowed my head a little as my ears folded down. “I’m sorry, Ichika-sama. I wanted to give those kids a good story to tell their friends.” She sighed as she flipped open her black fan, which was decorated with gold butterflies that matched her formal kimono. She waved it at herself as the summer nights were rather warm this year and because it was the way she dealt with her pent-up rage against me. She stared me straight in the eyes with her own blue eyes. “I don’t know what to do with you, Tsuki-san. We took you in because Akikumo-sama was the one who brought you to us. But that was a long time ago, and you still don’t fit in. You are the last kitsune ever to be born. Why don’t you behave?” I said nothing as memories of Akikumo came back to me, causing tears to form in my eyes. I grabbed the magatama and closed my eyes for a moment. It had been over a century since I last saw him. He disappeared without a trace, and I still hadn’t forgiven him for that. “How about you go back to the shrine and get some sleep? Tomorrow I will have a lengthy conversation with Inari-sama. Then you and I will discuss what to do next.” Bowing, I did as she ordered and wondered what I would do without this place. I had never been on my own. I traveled with Akikumo for hundreds of years until he brought me to this place. What would I do if I had to leave?
About the Author
Dani Hoots is a science fiction, fantasy, romance, and young adult author who loves anything with a story. She has a B.S. in Anthropology, a Masters of Urban and Environmental Planning, a Certificate in Novel Writing from Arizona State University, and a BS in Herbal Science from Bastyr University.
Currently she is working on a YA urban fantasy series called Daughter of Hades, a YA urban fantasy series called The Wonderland Chronicles, a historic fantasy vampire series called A World of Vampires, and a YA sci-fi series called Sanshlian Series. She has also started up an indie publishing company called FoxTales Press. She also works with Anthill Studios in creating comics through Antik Comics.
Her hobbies include reading, watching anime, cooking, studying different languages, wire walking, hula hoop, and working with plants. She is also an herbalist and sells her concoctions on FoxCraft Apothecary. She lives in Phoenix with her husband and visits Seattle often.
“A perfectly woven tale rife with secrets, lies and seduction. Plenty of action with a perfect dose of snark. High Fantasy done the JLA way!” -Lily Alexander, author
A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire, the enthralling and epic second book in A Blood and Ash Series by New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout, is available now.
Is Love Stronger Than Vengeance?
Everything Poppy has ever believed in is a lie, including the man she was falling in love with. Thrust among those who see her as a symbol of a monstrous kingdom, she barely knows who she is without the veil of the Maiden. But what she does know is that nothing is as dangerous to her as him. The Dark One. The Prince of Atlantia. He wants her to fight him, and that’s one order she’s more than happy to obey. He may have taken her, but he will never have her.
Casteel Da’Neer is known by many names and many faces. His lies are as seductive as his touch. His truths as sensual as his bite. Poppy knows better than to trust him. He needs her alive, healthy, and whole to achieve his goals. But he’s the only way for her to get what she wants—to find her brother Ian and see for herself if he has become a soulless Ascended. Working with Casteel instead of against him presents its own risks. He still tempts her with every breath, offering up all she’s ever wanted. Casteel has plans for her. Ones that could expose her to unimaginable pleasure and unfathomable pain. Plans that will force her to look beyond everything she thought she knew about herself—about him. Plans that could bind their lives together in unexpected ways that neither kingdom is prepared for. And she’s far too reckless, too hungry, to resist the temptation.
But unrest has grown in Atlantia as they await the return of their Prince. Whispers of war have become stronger, and Poppy is at the very heart of it all. The King wants to use her to send a message. The Descenters want her dead. The wolven are growing more unpredictable. And as her abilities to feel pain and emotion begin to grow and strengthen, the Atlantians start to fear her. Dark secrets are at play, ones steeped in the blood-drenched sins of two kingdoms that would do anything to keep the truth hidden. But when the earth begins to shake, and the skies start to bleed, it may already be too late.
Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.
The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.
Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel.
Haven’t I already written a review of this book? Yep, yes I have. But I’m still finding myself thinking about it non-stop so HERE I AM with ANOTHER review because I’m insane. But I also just want to brag about having it in paperback now as well. I mean, look at my baby up there all sleek and sexy and thicc. I know I’ve gone a little too far into the obsession realm with this book, but honestly that should just work as a bigger motivator for you to read it!
But anyways, enough of my obsessing and back to the nitty gritty. You know how some series the second book just seems like a filler or it’s just not quite as exciting? Well, A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire blew that stereotype out of the water and into outer space. I mean, as soon as I finished From Blood and Ash (review below) I thought nothing would touch or top that. But then I started, read ahead (bad habit), read back, reread, read ahead some more in fear, and then continued on and finished A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire and I couldn’t believe it when I realized that it was so much better than the first.
I think what made me love this one even better is that the characters were finally able to come into their own. There were no more veiled faces or personas, they were their brutally honest selves. Plus a few new characters that I instantly fell in love with. And then there was still action and some *smexy* scenes (prepare a fan for yourself) that just made this book wholly perfect. Well, actually, I take that back! It’s not perfect because I am now DYING and considering selling my soul for the third book.
#1 New York Times and #1 International Bestselling author Jennifer lives in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. All the rumors you’ve heard about her state aren’t true. When she’s not hard at work writing. She spends her time reading, watching really bad zombie movies, pretending to write, hanging out with her husband and her Border Jack Apollo. In early 2015, Jennifer was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a group of rare genetic disorders that involve a breakdown and death of cells in the retina, eventually resulting in loss of vision, among other complications. Due to this diagnosis, educating people on the varying degrees of blindness has become of passion of hers, right alongside writing, which she plans to do as long as she can.
Her dreams of becoming an author started in algebra class, where she spent most of her time writing short stories….which explains her dismal grades in math. Jennifer writes young adult paranormal, science fiction, fantasy, and contemporary romance. She is published with Tor, HarperCollins Avon and William Morrow, Entangled Teen and Brazen, Disney/Hyperion and Harlequin Teen. Her Wicked Series has been optioned by PassionFlix. Jennifer has won numerous awards, including the 2013 Reviewers Choice Award for Wait for You, the 2015 Editor’s Pick for Fall With Me, and the 2014/2015 Moerser-Jugendbuch- Jury award for Obsidian. Her young adult romantic suspense novel DON’T LOOK BACK was a 2014 nominated Best in Young Adult Fiction by YALSA. Her adult romantic suspense novel TILL DEATH was an Amazon Editor’s Pick and iBook Book of the Month. Her young adult contemporary THE PROBLEM WITH FOREVER is a 2017 RITA Award Winner in Young Adult Fiction. She also writes Adult and New Adult contemporary and paranormal romance under the name J. Lynn. She is published by Entangled Brazen and HarperCollins.
She is the owner of ApollyCon and The Origin Event, the successful annual events that features over a hundred bestselling authors in Young Adult, New Adult, and Adult Fiction, panels, parties, and more.
Suddenly, I thought of all those girlish fantasies I’d had before I learned who I was and what was expected of me—daydreams given life because of the love my parents had for one another.
Never once did those little-girl dreams include a proposal that wasn’t remotely an actual proposal. Nor did they incorporate it being announced at a table full of strangers, half of which wanted me dead. And those dreams surely hadn’t involved what had to be the kingdom’s worst—and possibly most insane—non-proposal of marriage to a man currently holding me captive.
Perhaps I had some sort of ailment of the brain. Maybe I was experiencing hallucinations brought on by stress. After all, there had been so much painful death to process. His betrayal to deal with. And I’d just learned I was descended from Atlantia, a kingdom I’d been raised to believe was the source of all the evil and tragedy in the land. Stress-induced hallucinations seemed a far more believable reason than what was actually happening.
All I could do was stare at the larger hand holding my much smaller one. His skin was slightly darker than mine as if kissed by the sun. Years of wielding a sword with deadly, graceful precision had left his palms callused.
He lifted my hand to an indecently well-formed and full mouth. To lips that were somehow soft yet unrelentingly firm. Lips that had spun beautiful words into the air and whispered heated, wicked promises against my bare skin. Lips that had paid homage to the many scars that riddled my body and face.
Lips that had also spoken blood-soaked lies.
Now, that mouth was pressed against the top of my hand in a gesture that I would’ve cherished for an eternity and thought exquisitely tender just days or weeks ago. Simple things like hand-holding or chaste kisses had been forbidden to me. As were being wanted or feeling desire. I had long since accepted that I would never experience those things.
I lifted my gaze from our joined hands, from that mouth that was already curving up on one side, hinting at a dimple in the right cheek, and from the slowly parting lips that revealed just a hint of fatally sharp fangs.
His hair brushed the nape of his neck and toppled over his forehead, and the thick strands were such a deep shade of black, it often shone blue in the sunlight. With high and angular cheekbones, a straight nose, and a proud, carved jaw, he often reminded me of the large, graceful cave cat I had seen once in Queen Ileana’s palace as a child. Beautiful, but in the way all wild, dangerous predators were. My heart stammered as my eyes locked onto his, orbs a shade of stunning, cool amber.
Six Angry Girls by Adrienne Kisner Publisher: Feiwel & Friends Release Date: August 18th 2020 Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT, Feminism, Queer, Realistic Fiction, Gay, Asexual
A person didn’t want to se all the library magic too quickly. It might melt the books or something.
A story of mock trial, feminism, and the inherent power found in a pair of knitting needles.
Who invented the system where you had to figure out what you wanted to do with the rest of your life before you could vote or buy a vibrator?
Raina Petree is crushing her senior year, until her boyfriend dumps her, the drama club (basically) dumps her, the college of her dreams slips away, and her arch-nemesis triumphs.
Things aren’t much better for Millie Goodwin. Her father treats her like a servant, and the all-boy Mock Trial team votes her out, even after she spent the last three years helping to build its success.
But then, an advice columnist unexpectedly helps Raina find new purpose in a pair of knitting needles and a politically active local yarn store. This leads to an unlikely meeting in the girls’ bathroom, where Raina inspires Millie to start a rival team. The two join together and recruit four other angry girls to not only take on Mock Trial, but to smash the patriarchy in the process.
Competition was life. What did you possibly do for fun if you didn’t compete? Knit, I guessed.
Ah, this book came at the perfect time since I just started a ton of knitting projects and FINALLY taught myself how to crochet. It also made me sentimental and miss living in an area where yarn shops were galore and you could just pop in and hang out with a group of like minded (or should I say like hobbied?) individuals. But alas, living in Florida is not the most knit friendly seeing as you get MAYBE one good month to fit in all of the spectacular knitted clothing and accessories.
Maybe I could be a librarian. A really theatrical librarian. Or a theatrical law librarian.
But anyways, this was such a fun and clever and witty and oftentimes awkward read. So, you know, something I would (and did) really enjoy! I could easily see myself in these six angry girls growing up… well, and to this day, it’s not like my personality has changed THAT much. And while I found myself laughing frequently throughout the story, there was still such a powerful female message throughout. I mean, these girls got done what they set their minds to and refused to allow any male to tear them down. So, GIRL POWER!
We are classy, classy people.
This book does diversity in all the right ways. Each of the characters are unique in their own way and it isn’t a forced uniqueness, if you know what I mean. There is meaning behind every person being their own person and there is also a sense of finding oneself along the way. Because humans are fluid and while we inherently remain “us,” we do often have some stumbling blocks along the way of self-discovery.
About the Author
Adrienne Kisner has lived her entire “adult” life in a college dormitory working in both Residence Life and college chaplaincy. (She prefers the term “dormitory” over “residence hall.” Don’t @ her.) She went to school for a long time so that now she gets to swoop around in a fancy robe and silly hat (like at Hogwarts). She also has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts (a place like Hogwarts). Adrienne is a birder and knitter with more heart and enthusiasm than actual skill. Her debut novel DEAR RACHEL MADDOW won a 2016 PEN New England Susan P Bloom Discovery Award and was one of YALSA’s 2019 picks for Best Fiction for Young Adults. Her second novel, THE CONFUSION OF LAUREL GRAHAM, will be released in June of 2019. Book three, SIX ANGRY GIRLS, is due out in the spring of 2020. She loves her current home in Boston but will always be a Pennsylvanian at heart.
Everything was great, actually, until Brandon had to go and ruin my life.
School was back in session from winter break, and I was ready to live it up in my final semester at Steelton High. I’d killed it as Katherine Minola in the Stackhouse Players’ winter production of Taming of the Shrew. (Everyone said so, including the reviewers in This Town: Steeltown and the Tribune Republican. And nothing usually impresses those people. Nothing.) The admissions department at Carnegie Mellon had caught wind of my performance and everyone said they’d be fighting NYU and even Juilliard for me, even if I hadn’t applied to Juilliard. My evenings were filled with talks with my best friend, Megan, about theater craft and Brandon and college and Brandon and method and Brandon. (Brandon and theater were kind of tied together for me, since he’d been the one to encourage me to audition for my first play in elementary school, way before we were even going out.) At the end of last year, I’d just been elected Drama Club president to replace Cate Berry, who got cast in a movie and moved to LA. I’d narrowly edged out the awful Claire Fowler by two votes. She’d been my chief rival since she won the lead at fifth-grade summer camp (and every blasted summer after that), but I’d finally triumphed over her. Life had hit perfection by New Year’s Eve, and it was only going to get better.
Or it would have, had it not all come crashing down because of dick Brandon.
I came back to school on day one of the new term ready to persuade Mr. Cooper that we should ditch Almost, Maine (which we had done for the spring production two years in a row) and perform Radium Girls instead. I had notes and a USB-saved PowerPoint. We had a full hour for clubs and sport meetings right after lunch, thank you, Football Boosters, so I planned to corner Mr. Cooper before he got an earful from Claire about Arsenic and Old Lace or, God help me, fucking Our Town.
I practiced my pitch on Megan between bites of my sandwich.
“Almost, Maine sucks!” said Megan. “Isn’t Arsenic and Old Lace done everywhere? We need something different.”
“Well, Radium Girls is super popular, too, but we’ve never done it here,” I said. “And I want it for my portfolio.”
“Yes. Heaven forbid we not have something in our portfolio,” said Megan.
(She might have been hearing about said portfolio since Claire first bested me at aforementioned camp.)
“You need to show diversity—”
Megan held up her hands. “Yes, yes. For Carnegie Mellon’s competitive drama department. I know, I know. You’ve convinced me. Down with John Cariani. Ring in the reign of D.W. Gregory to Steelton High’s spring production.”
“Yes,” I said, but I was pleased she had been listening to my presentation. The PowerPoint had crashed her laptop.
“Go get ’em, tiger,” said Megan as the bell rang.
I strode out of the cafeteria and down the hall with a purpose. This was my year. We were going to do the play I wanted, and everyone would thank me for it. Even Claire. I rounded the corner by the guidance office to hit up my locker before my date with Mr. Cooper. I practically exploded with joy to see Brandon standing there.
“Hey!” I said, rushing over to him. Before he could say anything, I threw my arms around him and pressed my mouth to his. That was not allowed in our sacred hallways of learning, but if you were fast the teachers didn’t say anything.
The asshole even kissed me back.
“I thought you were doing some fancy extra chem lab today?” I said.
“Oh yeah. Mr. Bower is out sick, and the sub didn’t want any active flames. Something bad happened in his past involving eyebrows. I don’t know. I’m going to stop in to Mock Trial. New session is upon us. We have so many members this year, we might have a whole crew dedicated to researching for the competition team.”
“Awesome,” I said.
I meant it. Brandon had wanted to be a lawyer ever since we started going out in eighth grade. He was the only kid I knew who read Supreme Court decisions for fun. His passion for law stuff kept me going in theater, even when I wanted to try something else like debate or Mock Trial myself. But Brandon said it was better to stick with one thing. He always said it’d distract him if I branched into his activities. I respected that. I could be incredibly distracting. Though I always thought I’d kill it up there in front of a real judge.
“I’m going to convince Mr. Cooper that we can’t have yet another year of Almost, Maine—”
“Listen, Raina?” he said, putting up his hands. “Can I just stop you right there? I actually need to talk to you.” He looked at the floor. He dug the toe of his loafer into a gray hole in the dirty hallway linoleum.
“Uh. Sure. You okay?” I said. Oh God, did his grandma die? She’d been sick since shortly after her ninetieth birthday party. Brandon’s mom was stressed about it every time I ate dinner over at his house. “Is it your grandma?”
“No, no. Nan is fine. It’s just … well, you know how I went to Model UN camp this last week?”
“Yes,” I said. He hadn’t been home for New Year’s Eve, but I’d made the best of it with Megan.
“Well, some stuff happened there I didn’t tell you about. Because I didn’t think it mattered and because of your Stackhouse show and everything. But now…” He trailed off.
Dig went his shoe. Dig, dig.
“Stuff? What stuff?”
“Ruby Carol and I hooked up.”
His dialogue came out all wrong. Rushed. Forced. No emotional connection at all. I didn’t believe it.
“Ruby Carol. From Model UN,” I said.
“You hooked up,” I said.
“Yes,” he said.
“But you were happy to see me. You were really happy to see me just this Sunday,” I said. I hadn’t been ready to sleep with him until this year. But once we got started, woooo boy. Brandon’s parents both worked late on Sundays, so we had his house to ourselves and believe me—I always got a great start to the week over there.
“We were safe. I would never…”
“You were safe?” I said. My voice bounced off the silver lockers and the diversity mural and the skylight outside the auditorium. “You had sex with her?”
“That’s what I said.” He glanced around. “Maybe you should lower your voice…”
“No, you … there are a lot of meanings to ‘hooked up.’ And you can shove my loud voice up your ass.” I stepped toward him, forcing him to back up against my locker. “Why are you telling me this shit in the hallway? Between classes? Before drama period?” I said.
“Apparently there are pictures of me and Ruby. My buddy Kyle—well, you know he’s an idiot—he posted them someplace. And I’m tired of it being a secret. She wants to go to Duquesne, too, so we wouldn’t have to break up in May, even. We’re together.”
His blocking was all off. The movements were slow. Labored. Rehearsed.
“But we’ve been together for five years. CMU and Duquesne are in the same city. What about last Sunday?” I gasped.
The bell rang. I could feel the staring eyes of the people who were trying to pretend they weren’t milling around in the hallway to watch the fight.
“Five years is a long time. We’re just not in the same place anymore,” he said. “We were both bored, Raina. Admit it.”
I would not. I could not honestly say that, ever. I loved Brandon. His blue eyes, his blond hair, his crooked nose, his round ears. And his brain. I loved his brain. He remembered everything, even stupid details like your favorite cartoon from when you were a kid or that you didn’t like coconut. He first asked me to the movies under the apple tree in Central Park on September 4. We had our first kiss on the day after Thanksgiving at the mall. We’d talked every day since then. He laughed at my jokes. He ran lines with inflection and improvised blocking. He said he believed in me and my talent.
“I’m not bored,” I said. “I love you.” I balled my hands into fists and willed myself to breathe slower, steady breaths. “You said you loved me, too. Every day. Until now,” I said.
“I did. I do. But it’s just not the same, Raina.” His eyes pleaded. For what? Forgiveness? Understanding?
“But…” I said. My nose was starting to burn and my eyes to throb. I was standing next to a “Six Foods Teen Bodies Need to Thrive” poster. And the love of my life was shitting all over my heart.
I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“I’m sorry,” Brandon said. How did he manage to sound like he actually meant it?
I stared into his crystal blue eyes, looking for the gag. The joke. The prank that this had to be. A tiny part of me grew pissed off that this asshole was ruining the color blue for me.
“If you see the pictures, I’m sorry.”
I just stared. Mouth open. Comic, exaggerated features. Jagged little shards of my heart poked against my chest.
Brandon edged his way to the side, until he slipped outside of my reach. He straightened his sweater and ran a hand through his hair. He walked away and didn’t look back.
I put one hand on the wall, another on the locker. Tears threatened. Tears of shock, rather than grief or sadness. I’d studied how my face felt when angry or sad or excited, so I could replicate the feelings needed in a given scene. But now—only shock.
Breathe in, breathe out, I told myself. From the diaphragm. Shallow breaths reduce vocal power. Brandon turned the corner. But I knew he heard my scream.
JANUARY 7: ANSWER AND NEW MATTER
I didn’t do much in the few days after Brandon stomped my heart into dust. Mom only let me stay home from school one day, saying that since life would continue on, I had to, too. Mom wasn’t a sit-at-home-and-cry type. She was a night nurse at a retirement community and took care of a lot of people whose minds and bodies no longer did what they were supposed to. It gave her too much perspective to be able to put up with much from me. And since Dad was away most of the year hauling dairy freight, it wasn’t like she had any backup in the daily-life department.
She patted me on the head before leaving for her shift. “There are plenty of other boys, Raina.”
“We were together for five years,” I said. He knew I collected teddy bears. He knew exactly when to put his arm around me at scary movies. I let him know everything about me, even things I wouldn’t admit to Megan. He was another part of my body. A limb. An internal organ you couldn’t just donate to some other girl without a thought.
“You are babies. You have nothing but time and chances. Use this in your art.”
“Are you kidding?” I said.
“No. I know it hurts. But there are worse things. Find a new boy,” she said. “Or a new whoever. Maybe we should get a pet. I’ve always thought having a cat would be nice.”
She’d never liked Brandon much. She said that he was too pretty and that the pretty ones take what they want and then leave when they want. I hated how she might have been right about that.
Mom left to go work a double, and I buried my face in the old, overstuffed fuzz of the couch.
Still mourning? Megan’s text buzzed my phone.
No one cares. No one understands, I texted back.
I care. I understand. Want company? she wrote.
Yes, I texted.
Megan brought chocolate-chip cookie dough ice cream and slightly more empathy than Mom.
“I saw them today,” I told her. “Making out by the gym. You’d think he’d have some respect for me, in our shared space.”
“Yes. Surely the dude who broke up with you for two weeks sophomore year so he was single for his spring-break trip to Cancún would have some consideration,” said Megan.
Megan didn’t like Brandon much, either.
“Was I this unsympathetic when you broke up with Todd? Or Kevin? Or Jack?”
“Jake. Most recent one was Jake,” she said. “And mostly. But I was only with them for about a month each.”
“I will never get over this,” I said. “I feel like I’m going to barf if I even hear his laugh.” I had, in fact, barfed twice just from hearing his laugh. I’d made it into the bathroom, but each time had been a close call. I didn’t even know what I had to throw up, since I’d barely eaten.
“You know what I think you need? Professional advice,” Megan said.
“Like a shrink?” I said.
“Oh, maybe. Your mom has health insurance, doesn’t she? She’s a nurse.”
“Yeah. But it’s super expensive. We have the probably-will-keep-you-from-dying plan. I don’t know if it’d cover much. Maybe I could go to the guidance counselor.”
“Oh. Maybe,” said Megan.
“What do you have against him?” I asked.
“Oh, nothing. He’s a nice guy. I went for my college-application stuff. It’s just…” She chewed on her thumbnail. “Ruby is a student volunteer in that office.”
I stared at her. “You aren’t serious.”
“I am. I saw her sitting at the desk, folding brochures.”
“Well, forget that,” I said. “I don’t want to go anywhere near her.”
“Yeah,” said Megan. “Well, how about here?” she said, digging through her backpack. She unearthed an Oprah magazine.
“You think I should call Oprah?” I said. “A shrink would probably be cheaper, even without insurance.”
“No! Well. I mean. If only. No—I think you should write for advice. They have life coaches in here. And money coaches and relationship people. You don’t have to do the Oprah staff. Write to that woman from the Tribune Republican who does the Two Hearts column. Bet she’d be all over this. She loves heartbreak.”
I glared at Megan.
“You know what I mean,” she said. “This is her job.”
“What are her qualifications?” I said. I sniffed back tears that always lurked anytime we started talking about Brandon the dick.
“You are worried about the newspaper lady’s credentials?” said Megan.
“I just don’t want someone who is going to mess me up more,” I said.
“Okay, okay, here,” she said, picking up my phone. “I’ll look at her blog online.” She tapped on the screen. “Here’s a good one. ‘Dear Hearts, I have been with my boyfriend for two-and-a-half years. Recently, I flew to France with him to meet his family. I thought it went well. His sister and I really hit it off, and his mother and father were so sweet and kind. When we flew home, we talked about shopping for an engagement ring! Everything seemed perfect. But then fast-forward to a few months later, and things seem to have fallen apart. He barely calls, cancels plans, and asked for my key to his apartment back because “repair people” will be doing work in his place soon. When I asked what is wrong, he says it’s “family stuff,” and nothing more. I don’t understand what is happening. Did I insult his parents? Am I missing signals I should understand? Help?! Sincerely, Confused Constance.’”
“Ouch,” I said. “What’s the answer?”
“‘Dear Constance,’” Megan read. “‘That sounds so hard. You think you are on one route, and then the plane turns in the middle of the sky and heads off into the clouds in another direction. I wouldn’t read into the family visit—it sounds like that went well. It might be related, but since the behavior is more recent, it might be tied to something else. Perhaps your boyfriend was caught up in the excitement of the visit when he started the marriage conversation and is now pulling back. I would encourage you to sit down and have an honest talk about where you both want your relationship to go and the pace at which you want to pursue that vision. Take heart, he could be acting this way for reasons completely separate from you. But the only way to find out is through open, honest communication. Readers—do you think the French family made her boyfriend want to say au revoir? Comment below!’”
“She didn’t tell her that the boyfriend was probably banging Ruby since sophomore year spring break,” I said. “So how could she help me?”
“Well, that wasn’t what the question was about. There are others that are more related to your situation. Read those.”
I flopped over onto her lap, knocking the phone out of her hand.
“Or you could continue to imitate a wounded orca,” she said.
“Why does no one feel my pain?” I said. “This is the worst feeling in the world.”
“I know,” said Megan. “It sucks. It really does. I hate Brandon. I want to cut off his balls.”
“Good,” I said from her lap.
She stroked my hair for a second. “But it’s still your senior year. You’ve lost the beginning of your last term to this dick. I don’t want you to lose spring theater auditions. Or Carnegie Mellon auditions. None of it. Say it with me. Not because of the dick! Not because of the dick!”
“Not because of the dick,” I mumbled.
“There you go. You are on your way toward healing. Which is good, because my mom is texting me to pick up groceries on the way home.”
“Mmph,” I said, rolling onto my furry throw pillows.
“Read the column, Raina. Write to this woman. It couldn’t hurt, right?”
I lifted my head. “I guess not.” I plopped back down onto the pillow.
Megan tried to give me a hug before she got up and went home, though I refused to stop lying prone on the bed.
I turned over and stared at the ceiling for a while. It was seven o’clock. Usually at seven, I’d text Brandon and he’d tell me all the latest gossip from Mock Trial, and I’d tell him what Claire had said that day, before our exchange devolved into eggplant and peach emojis.
I picked up my phone from the floor. The screen lit up with the Two Hearts column still open.
“‘Dear Hearts,’” I read out loud. “‘My fiancé of two years recently announced he no longer could live with my four cats…’”
They were all like that. Dudes changed their minds. Women got cold feet. Nonbinary partners decided that their person’s crippling debt was too much to take on. Two Hearts really brought home the reality that love sucked for everyone and forever was a lie.
Two Hearts just tells people to keep going and honestly communicate their feelings. If I communicate my feelings in the way I would like, I think I’ll be arrested, I texted Megan.
She didn’t text back. She was probably getting ready for bed. She had the annoying habit of getting up for swim practice at five a.m., so she was never awake much past nine.
I got up to pee. I wandered around the quiet, dark house. I kept picking up my phone, expecting Brandon to live-text some video games or MSNBC on a really wild night.
But nothing came.
Around midnight, I sat down at my computer. My screen flashed to life, a picture of Brandon and I last homecoming. I went into my settings and changed it to a plain blue purple screen. I opened up a Word doc.
“Dear Two Hearts,” I said, typing the letters.
What? I just turned eighteen and thought I’d marry the first boy I ever kissed? How pathetic that seemed. But it was true. I led with that.
I loved him, and he dumped me out of nowhere, I typed. No explanation, other than he had moved on before even breaking up with me in the first place. And now I’m alone and I don’t know what to do. I finished with a flourish. I didn’t reread it, I didn’t edit it, I just copied and pasted it and emailed the remaining slices of my pride to the email address on the bottom of the Two Hearts page. I closed my computer, fell into bed, and dreamed of Ruby and Claire chasing me with giant knives.
JANUARY 8: RELEVANT PARTIES AND ENTITIES
I barely woke up to my alarm. I stepped into the shower and leaned my head against the freezing morning tile. The water ran over me, pointing out that my body still had nerves that fired and my brain still registered touch. Stupid brain. I half-heartedly blotted my hair with my towel and pulled on old jeans and a hoodie. There was no one to look cute for at school anymore, so why bother?
Megan tried to poke me into action before school and at lunch, but what was the point of laughing? Before drama, Brandon and Ruby passed me in the hall. Neither of them paid attention to anything other than each other, hand in hand, laughing at some joke only they knew. That joke was probably me.
I reached the drama room where Mr. Cooper stood in the front, deep in conversation with Claire and two sophomores I didn’t know very well. They usually kept to the stage crew. I sat down in the front row of rickety chairs and folded my arms across my chest. Breathe, Raina. Diaphragm. In and out. I focused on the white board in front of me, the swaths of old marker arching like rainbows where an eraser just couldn’t rid it all.
“Raina?” said a voice. I looked up. Claire stood over me.
I didn’t answer.
“Did you hear us? Mr. Cooper called you.”
I looked over and nodded at him.
“Are you okay?” she said. “Do you need to go to the nurse? You don’t look so good.” She backed away from me, as if significant-other abandonment was contagious.
“Fine,” I mumbled. The story of Brandon dumping me by my locker was all over our small school within an hour. Claire had to know.
“Mr. Cooper asked you to come up to see him. Over there.” She pointed to his desk.
I got up and walked over.
“Raina, did you hear anything I just said to the group?”
Mr. Cooper had been talking? Drama had started? It probably wasn’t a great look that I hadn’t been paying attention.
“No,” I said. I tried to make eye contact with him. I’d blubbered in Mr. Cooper’s office about Brandon more than once in our three-plus years of knowing each other. Three of those times had been in the last week alone.
“It’s okay. Listen, we are voting on the spring production. Do you want to call people to order?” he said.
“Spring production?” I said. The words bounced around my head like a foreign language I used to understand. “Voting?”
“Yes, it’s today. We determined the three selections on Tuesday and so we are going to vote—”
Tuesday. The day I sat at home hiding under my pillows after dick Brandon …
“As president,” Mr. Cooper went on, interrupting my grief spiral, “it’s your privilege to lead the process. Are you … are you feeling up to it?”
I glanced at the board. Even though I’d been concentrating hard enough on it to crack it, I hadn’t notice the names of three plays written there: Almost, Maine; Twelve Angry Jurors; and fucking Our Town.
“Our Town?” I said. “These are our choices?” A small part of my brain registered Twelve Angry Jurors. I’d never been in that play, either. I’d seen a part of it at a festival once. That could be interesting.
“We had several members suggest that enthusiastically,” said Mr. Cooper.
“I thought Radium Girls…” I said softly. But on Monday after Brandon broke up with me, I’d cried in the bathroom until Megan found me and persuaded me to go home. I skipped Tuesday and just zoned out in drama Wednesday and Thursday, and Mr. Cooper kindly let me. I’d never even suggested Radium Girls to anyone.
“All of these are by men,” I said.
“So they are,” said Mr. Cooper. He clapped his hands. “Okay, everyone, listen up!”
The twenty or so people in the room filed over to the folding chairs. Curious eyes stared up at me.
Mr. Cooper handed me the chalk. “Ready?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. I just walked over to the board.
“All for Almost, Maine?” he said. One hand went up.
“Yeah, it was a good run while it lasted,” he said. “Twelve Angry Jurors?”
Claire’s hand rose. Mine went up, too.
“Two for number two,” said Mr. Cooper.
Claire and I exchanged a surprised glance. We never agreed on anything.
“So that leaves…” Mr. Cooper didn’t even get a chance to finish. Everyone’s hands shot up.
“Our Town?” Claire cried. “You can’t actually be serious.” She turned and glared at the group. “Everyone everywhere does this tired, old play. We should do something relevant. Something fresh.”
Twelve Angry Jurors was from the 1950s, but I didn’t have the energy to point that out. It was still more contemporary than something written in 1938.
“It’s what we want,” said Ben, a junior.
“It’s a classic. It’s time this department puts it on. Besides, maybe we can put our own spin on it,” said Jane, a freshman.
Heads nodded around her.
Claire turned back to me. “Excuse me, new Drama Club leader? Are you really going to let this stand?”
The eyes turned back toward me.
“We voted,” said a sophomore girl. “You could have said something before, but you didn’t. This is what we want.”
“Fair and square,” said someone else.
The group cheered as Claire scowled. I tried to pay attention to it all, because fucking Our Town, but I kept flashing back to the beginning of the week, when everything seemed set and perfect.
“All right, then,” said Mr. Cooper, clapping his hands and snapping me out of my daze. “I’ll order the scripts tonight!”
The bell rang as I placed the chalk on the grooves next to the board. Our Town. God. My chest twinged with a weird burning sensation. I was either having a heart attack or being assigned this production felt like Brandon dumping me for Ruby again.
I drifted into the hallway without saying goodbye to Mr. Cooper. I felt an arm on my shoulder. I turned to find Claire looking over me.
“What the hell was that?” said Claire. “You just caved to fucking Our Town. Do you know how many schools are going to put that on in the greater Steelton area this semester alone? Probably, like, six. We could have done anything. But you let that happen, Madam President.”
A familiar exercise-and-stress-induced asthmatic cough sounded next to Claire. Brandon, Ruby-free for a moment, stood next to her arm. A look of confusion crossed his face, as if his instincts were telling him he was meant to intervene with a sarcastic comment right at this very moment. But his dick brain also registered that I was no longer technically his concern.
“Uh. What? Hey,” he managed.
Claire turned toward him. “Oh, don’t think I don’t know that this is your fault, you unfaithful dirtbag. Everyone knows that. I swear to God you better leave this hallway right now, and never let me see your stupid pimple-free face for the rest of the year. Because of you I have to compete to be Emily Webb or some shit. Leave. Now.”
Because Claire was about two inches taller and a third more muscular than Brandon’s skinny five-foot-seven frame, he listened. I watched him retreat down the hall as fast as regulation permitted him. Claire tried looming over me, as well. But all the fight I once held had just run toward the science wing.
“Look, I’m sorry about the moron. But this is bigger than him. Bigger than both of us. This is Drama Club. Don’t you care?”
I nodded, but my face started the stupid burning thing. I closed my eyes, willing the tears to stay inside the ducts. Breathe. He wasn’t worth it. Breathe. Diaphragm. I gave Claire a small wave that I hoped she interpreted as “thank you for being mean to dick Brandon.” I headed to class. I didn’t want to flunk out, though I didn’t know if it mattered whether I did. It’s not like I could bring myself to audition for fucking Our Town. I could hear Carnegie Mellon laughing at the joke my chances had become all the way from Pittsburgh.
Drama was my life. But so was Brandon. Now it seemed like both had slipped through my fingers, and I hadn’t even realized I was losing my grasp.
JANUARY 11: MATERIAL WITNESSES
Today was the day.
I looked in the mirror for the twentieth time. I smoothed the deep ocher and sienna folds of my skirt. I bent down and straightened my new knee-high socks. My faux suede Mary Janes completed this look. So what if it was 11 degrees outside?
I was ready.
“Millie, hurry up already or I’m not driving you to school. You can walk.”
I couldn’t walk. It was four miles, a mile of it through woodlands with poorly maintained paths covered in snow to get to school. But Dad might make me take the bus, the experience of which was on par with wildlife and avalanches.
“Coming,” I yelled. One more look in the mirror. I turned and picked up my backpack next to my bathroom door and grabbed my coat hanging neatly on the hook just inside my room.
“Have a toaster pastry,” said Dad. He shoved a piece of toast in his mouth, narrowly avoiding sticking the sleeve of his suit coat in the butter dish.
“Dad, look out. You don’t have any other clean work clothes. Which reminds me, you need to go to the dry cleaner and pick up your work clothes.”
“Yes. Right. Where is the ticket?”
“In your briefcase, in the little pocket on the front. Where it was, oh, I don’t know, last week when we had this discussion.”
“Right, right. Thanks, baby. Are you ready?”
Oh heck yes, was I ever. I smiled to myself as we headed to the Jeep.
We drove down our driveway and the long, winding woodland access road in silence. Traditionally, Dad didn’t like conversation until we hit the highway. He needed to concentrate on not taking out a deer or raccoon or fox after hitting a patch of ice. Ever since Mom had left and then gotten remarried, the silence between him and me stretched the remaining miles and yards and feet until he stopped the car long enough for me to hop out in front of Steelton High.
I looked a lot like her, my mom. Same long dark hair, same dark eyes. I think that’s why Dad had a hard time with me. Maybe I should have gone to live with her in Ohio. She kept offering. But she had a new baby, and cute as he was, I hadn’t really felt like being live-in childcare or starting over in a new place my senior year of high school.
Besides, this was my year. Today I would gather my forces to make the most kick-butt Mock Trial team that Cambria County, the state of Pennsylvania, or our fine nation had ever seen. Mr. Darr, the Mock Trial teacher, had been at a conference last week when we got back from break, but now he had returned, and it was my time to take over. I didn’t know if many people would join up. Most of the old team had graduated or defected to Model UN, since the field trips were better. But Jeffrey would still be there, of course, and Brandon. I’d be the third lawyer, but we’d need to find witnesses. Last year we’d almost taken state, so maybe that would generate some interest. I’d heard rumblings before winter break that the boys had a plan to recruit members, but no one new had shown up to meetings yet.
New-term energy still buzzed around me as people danced like honeybees communicating the directions their new schedules had taken.
“Focus,” I said to myself. “Only you can manifest your inner power.” My affirmation app always seemed to know what to say.
Or at least what to tell me to repeat to myself.
“Millie, over here!” Claire called.
“Hey,” I said. The frenetic surge around me gave me life and made me nervous all at the same time.
“Look at you. You look hot,” she said, eyeing me up and down. “I don’t suppose…”
“Claire, we’d kill each other,” I said.
Claire legitimately pouted. “We’d be good together,” she said.
“No, you’d get sick of me in a week. Plus, as I have mentioned before about a hundred times when you bring this up, you like sex. A lot. You talk about that frequently. I do not. With anyone at all, maybe ever. It’s nothing personal,” I said.
“Yeah, yeah. I get it. Can’t blame someone for trying. I haven’t been on a date in a million years. And that really is an amazing skirt.”
I beamed. “Thanks! Mom sent it. Mom guilt is really helping my wardrobe. I asked if she wanted to FaceTime on the first day of my last term. She burst out crying and then the Zara box arrived five days later.”
“It sucks,” I said. “Kinda. But there are pros and cons to parents no matter where they are.”
“Tell me about it,” said Claire.
“What’s up for you today? Spring play discussions, right? You’ll be ruling VP style.”
Claire sighed. “Yeah, Raina didn’t choke on a strain of iambic pentameter in December, so I still have to deal with her. That girl has been bugging me in every play since The Food Pyramid almost a decade ago. She got to play the carrot, and I was stuck as the beet. And she was barely there last week so now I’m about to audition for fucking Our Town. Our. Town.”
“Yes, you mentioned that a few times over the weekend. I’m sure you’ll be great in it anyway. Break a leg!”
“I will be great in it,” Claire mumbled. She looked up at me. “Same to you? Do you need luck?”
“A little,” I said. “Let’s hope I don’t have to recruit people. I hate that.”
“I believe,” said Claire.
* * *
After lunch, I made my way down to Mr. Darr’s classroom.
“Hello, Millie! Have a good break?” he greeted me.
“Yes!” I said. I looked around the room. I counted the people slumping into desks and chairs. Jeffrey and Brandon nodded to me.
“Wow,” I said to Brandon. “Look at all these people. Who are these”—I strained my neck to look past him—“all these guys?”
“I emailed a few friends. So did Jeff. I knew we’d be short a few and didn’t want to put the burden on you to solve our witness problem.”
“Oh. Thanks!” I said encouragingly. Problem solved already. Perfect.
The bell rang, and Mr. Darr raised his hands to quiet us.
“Wow, there are a lot of you. How about we go around the room and introduce ourselves. I’ll start. I’m Mr. Darr.” All of us laughed.
“I’m Emilia,” I said. “You can call me Millie.”
They went around the room. I only really remembered Chad because he was the first. Or maybe that was Mike. I’d gotten them confused already. I made a mental note to study their faces.
Mr. Darr distributed the Mock Trial handbook, charter, and case materials for the district competition case. The papers burned fiery in my hands. This was the case that would send us to states in Harrisburg, and then the state case could send us to Pittsburgh for nationals. I’d committed 90 percent of my brain to knowing every inch of these documents (saving 10 percent for college applications, the rest of school, and talking Claire out of dating weird girls) since November. But this was the first time we would discuss it as a team, since the boys mostly kept to themselves or did other forensics competitions during the fall.
No one could want Mock Trial victories as much as I did.
None of the guys spoke or even looked up from their papers. I decided to take the lead. I stood and straightened my skirt. “Mr. Darr, if I may,” I said.
“In any given trial, there are at least six people. There are three witnesses and three lawyers. Others can be on the team for research and consultation. Or we can rotate people for various competitions until we make it to states. And we will make it to states. Any questions so far?”
They shook their heads.
“Mm-hmm,” murmured Jeffrey.
“Our season starts in about six weeks. We have one meet in February and one in March. Then districts are the week after that. Those are the three that we will focus on because we know for sure we’ll be competing. We win our district, we go to states. After states—nationals.”
“Thanks, Millie. Great summary. Everyone got it?”
Then Mr. Darr divided us into teams. Jeffrey, Brandon, two sophomores, and one freshman and I formed the first. There were two other teams of six as well.
“Three lawyers and three witnesses,” I said to Brandon. “This is great for the future of the program! We can rotate the sophomores and freshmen. And that one junior over there could be groomed for lawyer. Or, if you want to have a research team, those can be the guys who want lawyer next year.”
“Yeah,” said Brandon. He didn’t look up from doodling in his notebook.
His flippant attitude annoyed me. They supposedly led this team. I was just the secretary of the group. (I didn’t think the graduating seniors should have voted on the executive board officers of the club, since they wouldn’t even be here this year. Why did they get a say in secretary and treasurer, let alone president or vice president? But I didn’t have to be in charge. I’d learned freshman year that I could more effectively lead the team from behind the scenes, and Emilia Goodwin was nothing if not a team player.)
“Maybe we should swap out lawyers as well,” I said. “One per competition. Two of us with experience could be at each trial, right? We’d only miss one each. I think it’s important to get as many people participating as possible, because having this much interest in Mock Trial only bodes well for the future of government, don’t you—”
“Millie,” Jeffrey interrupted, “I’ve been meaning to address this issue.”
I blinked at him. Oh, had he now? He could have mentioned this months ago, when I’d first asked about recruitment. Or last week. But this is how Jeffrey operated.
Jeffrey cleared his throat. “Excuse me, everyone?” He stood up and clapped his hands. “I have an announcement.” Everyone turned to look at him. Mr. Darr glanced up from the papers he’d been grading.
“It’s amazing that there are so many of us on the team this year. But as you know, only six people can actually participate in a trial as a lawyer or a witness. So, we’ve decided to have a competition team, some understudies, and a research crew.”
“What?” I said. “Why can’t everyone get trial experience? We could make it work.”
“No, this is the way it should be. We are going to audition for spots on the trial team,” said Jeffrey.
“Audition?” Heat crept under my sweater and blouse to the buckles of the latest mom-guilt brand shoes. “How long did you know about this?” I looked up at Jeffrey, who was still standing over me.
He smiled. “We’ve been knocking around a few ideas.”
“And who is this ‘we,’ exactly? Last I knew, I was still the secretary and had a say in these kinds of things.”
“We didn’t want to stress you out,” said Brandon. “You have a lot going on.”
I did? All I had going on was Mock Trial. I barely even saw my best friend anymore, as she was busy trying to take over the Drama Club from the president.
A gross feeling clawed its way up from my stomach. I fought it down. This might not be the end of the world. It sucked for the freshmen who’d be saddled with research. I’d been in that position. But preparation never killed anyone.
“Fine,” I said. Best for a team player to keep the peace. “What are we having these guys do, exactly?”
“Oh. Well. We’ll all be auditioning. Each one of us. Only the best people should be on the team, don’t you agree?”
I frowned. Yes, I agreed. But I also knew that the chances of the Steelers winning the Super Bowl after an undefeated season were higher than Jeffrey’s definition of “best” matching mine.
“So, Mr. Darr has found a case for us to argue, with some witness statements to practice and such. We’ll audition Wednesday.”
“One day to prepare?” I said. “One. Day. What? Mr. Darr, you knew about this?”
“I’m sorry, Millie. I thought you had agreed to this,” he said. “I would say we could hold off a bit, but we really should have the team set. The first trial isn’t that far away.”
My mouth dropped open. Brandon didn’t look surprised. Most of the other guys in the room didn’t, either. Had they planned this? Why wouldn’t they include me? Especially Mr. Darr? I was the hardest worker on this team. I’d single-handedly brought down the toughest witness Fogton Creek had to offer last spring. Was this some sort of horrible joke?
“You can grab the audition materials on the way out,” said Brandon.
“Why don’t we just use the actual case?” I said.
“It’ll be fine,” said Jeffrey. “I’m sure everything will work out the way it is supposed to.”
The last time I’d heard that, Dad had been trying to talk us both into the fact that Mom didn’t really want the divorce, that she’d leave her new contractor boyfriend and come home within the month.
She married the contractor exactly seven months later.
After the bell rang, I gathered my stuff and ripped the stupid audition case file out of Brandon’s hand on my way out. I hoped I gave him a paper cut that would get infected and his arm would turn bright green or something. I glanced over the sheets.
“A death-penalty case? Are you serious? We would never see a death-penalty case in competition,” I said.
“Talking to yourself?” said a voice.
I realized I’d walked straight to Claire’s locker. “Get this. There was a boy coup d’état. I have to audition for the team.”
“Welcome to my world,” said Claire.
I glared at her.
“Sorry, sorry. It’s just that ridiculous Raina is a mess. She isn’t even trying at all.”
“It was probably Brandon’s fault. The Mock Trial VP. Apparently, he likes ruining things.”
“Yeah,” said Claire, unable to hide her disgust. “Clearly.”
“I can help you run lines?” I said. That usually made her feel better.
“I don’t know if I can bring myself to speak this shit out loud.” She shook her script at the sky.
“Well, then maybe you can help me. Do you happen to know anything about lethal injection?”
Claire threw me a blank look.
“Yeah. Me either.”
A stone sank from my brain to my throat and settled somewhere behind my appendix. Several more rolled out of my brain and wedged themselves around internal organs until I felt like they filled my body from head to toe. I barely managed to lift my feet to get in the car and go home.
“Good day, baby?” asked Dad.
“Yeah, Dad,” I said. “Great.”
“Mock Trial going well?” he said.
“It’s going,” I said.
I leaned against the cool glass as we bumped our way home. The silence filled the spaces between my stone insides, its heavy loneliness spilling out my ears and raining onto the floor until it filled up my room. I could drown in this, here at the bottom of a pool in my own head.
JANUARY 13: DISCOVERY CONTROL PLAN
“You’ve got this,” said Claire. “You live this.”
“Yeah.” I tried to say it confidently, but my voice cracked on even that one syllable word. Who could be ready in one freaking day? This was a set up for failure, and I didn’t understand. Claire’s face would have melted off if she’d had one day to rehearse a new play.
“These guys aren’t going to get to you. You studied. You looked stuff up online. I ran lines with you. This is a complete role reversal, and I still don’t know how I feel about it. But in my heart, I know you are going all the way to nationals. I believe in you.”
I looked over at her. The soft tendrils of hair that escaped her headband floated up in the cold wind.
“Thanks,” I said. “Wish me luck on the prosecution.”
“Break a leg,” she said, squeezing my arm.
All through morning classes, I kept going over anything I thought could help in my “audition.” This whole thing seemed off, like Brandon and Jeffrey had a plan I just wasn’t in on. I hadn’t even known that Pennsylvania had reinstated the death penalty in 1976 and that three people had been executed since then. I didn’t like what I’d learned. I always saw myself moving on to fight voter suppression or kids being taken away from their parents at the border or something.
At tryouts, I watched two freshmen mumble their way through their arguments. Mr. Darr made notes. So did Jeffrey. Would he get to decide the team? How would that be fair? I didn’t have too much time to ruminate because I heard my name.
“Millie,” said Mr. Darr, “you’re next.” He smiled warmly, but he could have ended this whole fiasco before it started. I didn’t know whose side he was on, but it didn’t feel like mine.
“Um,” I started. Dang. That was like rule one of public speaking. “Ever since the Supreme Court, uh.” Double darn. I looked down at my notecards. Poop, card two was on top. I slid the back card onto the top. No, that was card nine. Where was card one? Did I leave it in my backpack? I should just wing it. I’ve been in more dire circumstances than these. Oh no. Had I been silent this whole time? Had it just been seconds? A minute? The freshmen dudes weren’t this bad.
“Can I start again?” I said.
“Sure,” said Mr. Darr.
Jeffrey and Brandon glanced at each other.
Focus on who you are. You are the best version of yourself right now, I thought.
“In 1995, punishment, um, arrived for a nearly fifteen-year-old murder in the form of lethal injection. I plan to argue … comment on the issues surrounding this form of execution.”
I stumbled my way through the rest of the cards. It had to be the worst presentation I’d ever done in my life, including the time I’d accidentally lost Claire’s pet rabbit at my fifth-grade talent show during my magician phase. (The bunny had been fine. We found him an hour later enjoying radishes in the sustainability garden.)
“What did you end up arguing, exactly?” asked Claire before our English class at the end of the day.
“I don’t even remember.” I put my hands against her locker and leaned my face into them. “I entered a fugue state.”
“Surely it didn’t go that badly.”
“It did. It did, it did, it did.”
“Would mozzarella sticks help?”
“Maybe,” I said.
“And even if this bullshit was the worst ever, they’ll make you a lawyer. They have to. You are a senior who has put in three years, and now it will be four. You’ve worked your ass off in everything I’ve ever seen you do. Especially this. They owe you.”
“Okay,” I said. “You mentioned fried cheese?” The thought of Pappy’s restaurant, a mere two blocks away, made life feel a little more bearable.
“Yes, I did. I’ll drive you home after.”
“Thanks,” I said. I texted Dad that he could stay at work as late as he wanted and that I’d bring him leftovers. I knew he’d love that.
I could get through the rest of this day. I could get through tomorrow if necessary. Eventually I’d find out that I was a lawyer, that Jeffrey, Brandon, and I could somehow work together to train the next generation of Steelton Mock Trial participants, and we could forget this messing around and get back on the path to winning.
Yes. I was sure of it.
Though I kind of dreaded whatever might be coming next.
New apartments should come with a trial period… I’ve just signed a two-year lease on an apartment I can barely afford. My job hit a brick wall so I need the place to be perfect to help me get my life back on track. But the first night in, and I already know my neighbor isn’t going to make it easy on me. Tall, sexy, irresistible (and did I mention the British accent?), Shane Logan likes his nightly activities…a lot. I can hear everything through the paper-thin walls. I’m about to tell him that in not-so-friendly terms when I realize he isn’t just sexy, he’s also friendly and eager to be of help. Maybe having a neighbor like him isn’t such a bad idea. I’m a writer in desperate need of inspiration. Shane so happens to turn into mine. With a deadline approaching fast, his offer to do me a favor turns into two and three. Before I know it, he’s forced his way into my life with the tenacity of a whirlwind. I can deal with the fact that he’s far too loud and far too sexy. But when my dog likes him more than me, I start to get a little suspicious. Soon it becomes clear Shane Logan has secrets. Plunged into the suspicions surrounding my neighbor, suddenly the only thing I can be sure of is that Shane is fiercely determined to hide the truth about himself. Remember when I said the lease should have come with a warning? Well, mine should also have come with a big, red, flashing signal.
Author’s note – Neighbors and Favors is a full-length romantic comedy with no cliffhanger.
I stare at the six-foot-three British guy, taking in his lopsided grin and the cleaning gloves and garbage bags in his hands. He’s wearing a white, snug T-shirt and jeans that hang low on his hips—nothing remarkable, really, but for some reason, he looks like he’s stepped straight out of a fragrance advertisement—you know, the expensive kind.
And for some reason, the realization annoys the heck out of me. No one looks so good in the middle of the night. I know I certainly don’t.
“What do you want?” I squeeze through gritted teeth. My good manners have apparently deserted me.
“Ah, now that’s neighborly friendliness if I ever saw some.” His lips stretch into a stunning smile with perfect, white teeth and two little dimples.
I suck in my breath as another wave of annoyance hits me.
Does he have to have a perfect pair of those?
I mean, why toss him a good thing or two from the genes pool when he can win the whole darn lottery?
I bet his personality sucks.
Apparently, Sammy doesn’t think so because she’s instantly stopped her barking and is now making those tiny wailing sounds that signal elation and are usually reserved for her best friends.
“Like I said, what do you want?” I really want to slam the door in the guy’s face but that goes against everything I stand for. So, I take a deep breath and begin my inner chant.
Patience. Forbearance. I treat my neighbor as I want to be treated.
“Anyone ever told you not to open the door to strangers when they come knocking in the middle of the night?” The guy’s grin widens.
Kate Davis is a real-life coffee lover with her very own Pomeranian who was her biggest inspiration for this book. Yes, Sammy is real and her favorite command is “cheese.” In fact, it might just be the only command she obeys. Kate loves to play matchmaker, transporting readers to a place where her bold heroines have endearing flaws, the men are fierce and protective, the world isn’t always a safe place, and chivalry is alive and thriving! You can visit both Kate and Sammy online at katedavisauthor.blogspot.com or connect with her on Facebook. Stay in touch. She loves to hear from her readers! Sign up to Kate’s newsletter for more info on her next release here
Jo & Laurie by Margaret Stohl & Melissa de la Cruz Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers Release Date: June 2nd 2020 Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Romance, Retellings
‘What it’s like to be tormented by having a writer of books in your family. What it’s like to be tortured by having a scamp in your tutelage.’
‘Well, that surely took hours.’
Margaret Stohl & Melissa de la Cruz
Bestselling authors Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz bring us a romantic retelling of Little Women starring Jo March and her best friend, the boy next door, Theodore “Laurie” Laurence.
Remember who you are. She would not let herself be pampered
Margaret Stohl & Melissa de la Cruz
1869, Concord, Massachusetts: After the publication of her first novel, Jo March is shocked to discover her book of scribbles has become a bestseller, and her publisher and fans demand a sequel. While pressured into coming up with a story, she goes to New York with her dear friend Laurie for a week of inspiration—museums, operas, and even a once-in-a-lifetime reading by Charles Dickens himself!
But Laurie has romance on his mind, and despite her growing feelings, Jo’s desire to remain independent leads her to turn down his heartfelt marriage proposal and sends the poor boy off to college heartbroken. When Laurie returns to Concord with a sophisticated new girlfriend, will Jo finally communicate her true heart’s desire or lose the love of her life forever?
Everything past was prologue, including the fact that both of them had loved, and been rejected by, other people. Only the future mattered now.
Perhaps one of the most known (and argued about) “romances” is the one between Jo March and Theodore Laurence. Growing up I was obsessed with Little Women and because of the chemistry between Christian Bale and Winona Ryder I thought that Jo and Laurie had to be endgame and refused to believe anything else, even if the book said so. HOWEVER, when I went to see the new Little Women film, and promptly reread the novel afterwards, I found myself rethinking my resolute belief that Jo and Laurie should be together. However, regardless of my currently wavering beliefs in this timeless love triangle, you best believe I was beyond excited when I found out about this book. For Jo & Laurie poses the question of: what would happen if these two star-crossed lovers actually did end up together?
What was happening was alternately dull and frightening.
Margaret Stohl & Melissa de la Cruz
Ok, so I realize that this book is going to be VERY dividing. I can understand why some people would be upset about this retelling, since Jo was meant to be an independent woman, but I was still overly excited for this book and am just taking it as an exciting “what if” instead of a slight on an epic work of literature. But I most definitely thought of the Winona and Christian Jo and Laurie while reading this book.
Margaret Stohl & Melissa de la Cruz
This book was like a walk down memory lane (even though I just reread Little Women this year). It was such an endearing take on beloved characters and I truly enjoyed reading the reimagined version of such a well known and discussed story. And that’s what this story was, it was about the characters and their relationships. But it is important to remember that while these are the characters we know and love, they’re also the authors’ take on these beloved characters. So they are both the same and different and new. So go into this book expecting a new story that reminisces the original.
About the Authors
She is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for teens including The Au Pairs series, the Blue Bloods series, the Ashleys series, the Angels on Sunset Boulevard series and the semi-autobiographical novel Fresh off the Boat.
Her books for adults include the novel Cat’s Meow, the anthology Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys and the tongue-in-chic handbooks How to Become Famous in Two Weeks or Less and The Fashionista Files: Adventures in Four-inch heels and Faux-Pas.
She has worked as a fashion and beauty editor and has written for many publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Allure, The San Francisco Chronicle, McSweeney’s, Teen Vogue, CosmoGirl! and Seventeen. She has also appeared as an expert on fashion, trends and fame for CNN, E! and FoxNews.
Melissa grew up in Manila and moved to San Francisco with her family, where she graduated high school salutatorian from The Convent of the Sacred Heart. She majored in art history and English at Columbia University (and minored in nightclubs and shopping!).
She now divides her time between New York and Los Angeles, where she lives in the Hollywood Hills with her husband and daughter.
She is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling
Margaret Stohl is a #1 New York Times bestselling nerd, world-builder, video game creator, comic book writer and festival founder.
As an award-winning young adult author, she has been published in fifty countries and thirty-two languages and has sold more than ten million books worldwide. Beautiful Creatures debuted as the Amazon #1 Teen book of the year; seven of Margaret’s books have reached bestseller lists around the world.
She has published fifteen novels and graphic novels, as well as contributed to several games and countless comics since her debut. Her last book, Cats Vs Robots: This is War, was a family affair, illustrated by her child, the artist Kay Peterson, and co-written with her husband, Lewis Peterson. It also starred three of her family’s five cats.
After Beautiful Creatures was released as a feature film from Warner Brothers and Alcon Entertainment, Margaret began working with Marvel on her bestselling Black Widow: Forever Red duology; in 2017 she began writing the ongoing Mighty Captain Marvel comic, followed by the acclaimed Life of Captain Marvel miniseries, where she established a new origin story for Carol Danvers in preparation for the theatrical debut of Brie Larson as “Captain Marvel” for the MCU.
When not roaming the halls of Seattle game developer Bungie – where she oversees the creation of new global IPs – Margaret can often be seen at a Comicon or at one of the teen and youth book festivals she co-founded, YALLFEST (Charleston, SC) and YALLWEST (Santa Monica, CA), the largest in the country. Wherever she goes, you can find out more about her (and invariably her cats) at @mstohl on twitter or margaret_stohl on instagram or margaret_stohl on snapchat or at mstohl.com.
The story that we now think of as Little Women was originally published as two separate volumes written by Louisa May Alcott in 1868 and 1869.
In those pages, Jo March—one of young adult literature’s most beloved writers and sisters—writes and publishes the story of her life with her family at Orchard House.
Our own reimagined story takes place between the two volumes, after the success of the first, as Jo struggles to write the second.
Just as we expect “Lu” did.
—MS & MdlC
The Offices of Roberts Brothers, Publishers and Bookbinders
Washington Street, Boston, Massachusetts
“Little Women? That’s the title?” The author looked concerned. Above her light brown eyes and beneath her threadbare linen cap, the chestnut curls that framed her face were shaking. Miss Josephine March was all of seventeen years old, and though her girlish curves were slight, her spirit was immense.
There was nothing little about her, or her characters.
Or so she had thought.
The book in question—a volume of domestic stories, loosely inspired by her own family—was one she hadn’t wanted to write, had in fact steadfastly refused to write, until her editor had offered a notably unrefusable royalty, instead of the usual piffling advance. Only then had she dashed off a dozen chapters in a fit of pique. To her dismay, he’d loved them, and she’d had no choice but to finish the final chapters, which she’d come to deliver now.
And lo—insult beyond injury—it would be called Little Women.
“Isn’t it perfect?” Mr. Thomas Niles beamed at her over his spectacles. Her editor at Boston’s (moderately) respected and (moderately) solvent Roberts Brothers Press, Niles felt he had developed some (moderate) expertise in the publishing industry. His authors, at times, disagreed.
This was one of those times.
“Far from it!” Jo drew a worn cambric handkerchief square from her pinafore pocket and dabbed dramatically at the corner of her left eye, although both author and editor knew there was no actual tear to be wiped away.
Only fury, and there’s not a cambric square big enough in the world for that—
“It’s dismissive!” Jo seethed. “It’s pap!”
“Oh?” Niles pushed his spectacles back up the bridge of his bulbous red nose. “How so?”
“It’s . . . trite!” Jo dropped the handkerchief upon the bundled pages in front of her. They were tied with string, the requested final chapters, as painstakingly inked as the others before them. Her hands hovered, as always, just above the parcel; it was never easy, letting go of the fruit of so many stolen hours in her damp writing garret under the attic eaves, where she’d burnt her last saved stumps of candle-wax—as well as her fingers—and ruined her eyes in the service of one of these so-called little stories. The nerve!
“Trivial!” Jo huffed.
“When you say trivial,” Niles began, “do you mean—?”
“For starters, that’s not a title, it’s a literal restatement of the very essence of the plot,” Jo interrupted.
He eyed the parcel hungrily. “Yes, and I’m told it’s charming.
Jo’s head-shake was very nearly violent. “It’s not charming. I’m not charming.” After making a living writing her customary blood-and-thunder tales—or so she thought of them—this business of feminine tradition and treacle was all very unfamiliar. To be fair, with the exception of her sisters, Jo knew and liked hardly any girls at all.
“You’re very charming, Miss March. Nearly as charming as your book,” Niles said, looking amused. “And a tribute to little women everywhere.” He pulled a tin from his outer vest pocket. “Peppermint?”
Buying time with sweets, again. Niles offered them up only when he found himself in a tough conversational crossroads, Jo knew.
So that’s it, then.
There really is no changing the title.
“Thank you, no.” Jo looked out the window as a horse and carriage clattered up Washington Street, spraying mud in every direction, including onto the glass of the (moderately) well-kept Roberts Brothers offices. She tried not to wring her hands in despair and failed. “I suppose it is what it is. Perhaps it doesn’t matter what you call it. I dashed the thing off in weeks, and for what?”
“Money,” Niles said. “The almighty dollar. Which you happen to need, not unlike the rest of us. Speaking of earning your wage, are those the chapters you owe me?” He reached for the bundled pages between them.
“It’s not about earning my wages,” Jo said, tightening her grip on the manuscript. “Not just about that.” She’d written it on assignment, because Niles was experimenting beyond the standard Continental Gothic that came flowing from Jo’s pen so easily.
And, yes, because of the money.
The result was a collection of domestic moments, sure, but it had surprised even her; it wasn’t just feminine drivel, even if the title might perhaps now doom it to be. She hadn’t expected it to come as quickly as it had, or as pleasantly. Not that she would admit that to her editor. “Money’s not a reason. Not a proper one, anyway.” Even if we are poor as rats.
“Many people—most—seem to think otherwise,” Niles said, yanking his handkerchief from his pocket and mopping his brow, which was beginning to perspire as they argued. He was never without a handkerchief; decades of sobbing authors, Jo suspected, had trained him thus.
“Not all people,” she sniffed.
“Certainly my investors do. You aren’t the only family with war debts, you know.”
Jo had no answer for that, for he was right. She supposed she would never be considered a real writer now, never be taken seriously by the public. Never invited to lecture at the Athenaeum with Ralph and Henry and . . . Who was that other chap? Perhaps this was what happened to feminine scribblers who aspired above their little place in the Concord world.
Strike another blow to the weaker sex—and all that rot.
“Charming,” she sighed.
“Ideally, you’ve written equally charming last chapters as well.” Niles eyed the stack hopefully. “Seeing as my typesetters have very nearly caught up with you.”
Jo snorted, which was a good indication of her feelings concerning the process that put her words on the page. Lottie Roberts, who manned the letterpress, had once changed “Christopher Columbus!”—Jo’s most oft-uttered oath—to “My Heavens!” and Jo had never forgiven her. This was, truthfully, not an isolated event; “Blazes!” had been mysteriously printed as “How sad!”—“Hell” as “The Down Below”—“Blow me down!” as “No!”—and “A French pox upon you, Adventuress!” had been eliminated altogether.
“Your typesetters go too far.” She glared, repeating the warning not to change a word of her text for the twentieth time.
“Yes, well.” He snapped shut his peppermint tin. “When women of polite society are allowed to speak like common sailors, you are welcome to terminate their employment yourself, Miss March.”
“And I look forward to the day, sir.” Jo pursed her lips.
“I am confident you shall meet it.” Niles smiled. For despite all indications to the contrary, the two were fond friends. Niles reminded Jo of her father, who had left Concord years earlier to join the Union army as a chaplain. Mr. March had come home only once in all that time—when the Union prevailed and the war was won, three years ago. Shortly thereafter, he’d left once more to volunteer in the Reconstruction efforts in the South, helping to build schools and churches for previously enslaved people. And though his letters usually came frequently, the March women felt his absence keenly.
But Jo still had Niles, and if they fought, they fought well, each considering the other the more harmless version of their species. (The dollar a story Niles paid to run Jo’s wild romantic adventures didn’t hurt, either. Neither did the fact that subscriptions to his circular, The Tall Taler, had gone up by forty-three since engaging her. Forty-three!)
“Call it what you will. No one will read it, anyway.” Jo tapped her fingers along the brown-paper-wrapped parcel. “I don’t know why you believed you could sell it.”
“Perhaps.” Niles nodded.
“I should have used a different name instead of my own,” she sighed. “Eustacia. Thomasina.”
“Possibly.” He nodded again. “Eustacia Emerson is lovely. I’m quite partial to Thomasina Thoreau, but Hildegarde Hawthorne could also do just fine.” He winked.
Hawthorne. That was his name, the other Athenaeum chap!
“Fine.” She picked at the string about the parcel. “Take my daft little book of scribbles and do with it as you will.”
“I’ve seen dafter. Trust me.”
“Trust you? You have no sense of anything, least of all publishing! Why, you couldn’t sell Romeo and Juliet if I wrote it for you.”
“Admittedly a bit somber for my taste—I do prefer a happy ending to my sensation stories. So do our Tall Taler readers. Why couldn’t Romeo have married Juliet and settled down in a nice Tuscan villa? A sequel by any other name . . .”
The author bit her lip; it kept her from responding in a discourteous manner.
“Now give it here,” the editor said, sliding his fingers impatiently across the blotter atop his desk and taking the manuscript from her hands.
“Take it.” She scowled.
Manuscript obtained, Niles traded his peppermints for the bottle of peppermint schnapps he kept in the bottom of his drawer for special occasions.
“A toast!” he offered, pouring two thimblefuls into two cups.
Jo grudgingly accepted.
“To our Little Women!” her publisher cried. “And to the bright future of Jo March, Thomas Niles, and Roberts Brothers! May 1868 prove to be a banner year for us all!”
Jo clinked her glass against his. It seemed rude otherwise. With a final sigh and a shake of her curls, the author drank to her defeat. The editor drank to her success.
Kingdom Above the Cloud (Tales from Adia, #1) by Maggie Platt Publisher: Ambassador International Release Date: April 17th 2020 Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Allegory
The future. Damien hated the thought of the future. He hated how little he could control without knowing for certain the identities of those four conquerors and if he had really put an end to them.
What if the nine Fruit of the Spirit and the Seven Deadly Sins were locked in a battle for control?
Abandoned as infants, Tovi and her twin brother were raised by an eclectic tribe of warm, kind people in a treehouse village in the valley. After her brother’s sudden disappearance Tovi questions her life and her faith in an invisible King. Ignoring her best friend Silas’ advice, she decides to search for her brother in the kingdom on top of the mountain.
It seemed like the walls were closing in, and she felt dangerously close to being crushed by the weight and enormity of death.
Above the cloud, the Council of Masters receives their orders. Tovi and her brother are the objectives. King Damien has a plan and Tovi is the key. The Council of Masters want her, but will she remain unscathed?
Amidst the glamour of the kingdom above the cloud Tovi is torn between her own dark desires and unanswered questions. It starts with a snake and a crown. When the ring is complete, will her life be over?
There was an unspoken understanding on the mountain: anyone who valued his life pretended that gloves were in fashion. No one spoke of the heart beneath.
Kingdom Above the Cloud is one of those achingly beautifully written stories. You’re just immediately taken into the story and the writing is so intricately beautiful that you instantly fall in love. Plus there is a lot of world building, and if you know me you know I salivate at the thought of that. I blame it on my love for Lord of the Rings. This is definitely a story that is going to make you think about how we grow as a person.
Instead, she sat very still, entranced by the danger of their proximity and the way his voice caressed the words.
Now, this book is listed as an allegorical fantasy. And, if you’re like me, you might have to admit to not knowing what the genre allegory is (you know, until I looked it up). Basically it’s quite simple and means that there will be themes of morality and often religion. Reading Kingdom of the Cloud while knowing this I was able to pick up themes of Christianity throughout, but there was nothing explicitly stated and I think it worked really well with the overarching style of the book.
When someone dies, they go into the eternal sleep. We bury their bodies outside of the city. No one just disappears.
I really enjoyed this story and found myself plunging into the world. The characters were all really intriguing and I enjoyed seeing how they developed and grew throughout the story. Because there is a lot of world building, some might find that the beginning had a slow start. I personally didn’t feel that way because I like finding everything out about the world and not feeling confused about how everything works, but I know that not everyone likes that type of stylization. But even still, the story is amazing and it does “pick up” in pace.
About the Author
Maggie Platt is a writer, traveler, cancer survivor, and dreamer. Her greatest joys are being Auntie M to her amazing nieces and nephew and sitting with students and friends over cups of coffee and deep conversations. She works at her alma mater, Anderson University in Indiana, and she lives in a cozy little cottage nearby where students come to sit on her couch just to laugh, cry, and talk about life.
Murky black eyes shining with reflected fire searched the mural for anything he could have missed. In the half-light of bracketed torches, the ruby on King Damien’s finger looked as black as his hair.
As he studied the images all around him, a dozen stealthy and agile guards stood at attention in the glittering throne room on the other side of the stone wall. Each guard wore a simple black bodysuit with attached gloves and held two long swords, one in each hand. There were sheathes crisscrossing their backs, but they would only stow the swords when the king was no longer in their presence.
Warm light from the domed glass ceiling made everything in the enormous outer chamber appear golden. The chains of chandeliers reached up into the heights, and a brightly painted mural covered every inch of the walls. It was this same mural that the king pondered, but his eyes fell on the darker portions, the hidden stories on the other side of the wall that were kept in deepest secret.
There were terrible mysteries waiting here, prophecies recorded with paint and brushes on upright stone slabs. King Damien had tortured and killed his own people in efforts to understand, and he felt growing frustration that he still had no answers. He could not let this forecasted future come to pass.
The king was alone, hidden within a protected corridor in the center of his vast palace. He wore the customary clothing for the mountain kingdom’s royal men: black trousers, shiny black shoes, black leather gloves, and a crisp white shirt. The back of his shirt had a large circle cut out of the fabric, exposing intricate black designs that covered his skin. Most of the markings were the size of a fist, and there were seven of them forming a large ring from his shoulders to his waist. Hissing snake. Pointed crown. Unbalanced scales. Heavy chains. Thorny rose. Sharp diamond. Twisted flames. Taking up the center of this wreath was a much larger image — a highly-detailed heart, strangled by ragged veins.
His palatial estate sat on top of a low, squat mountain in the very center of the known world. Mount Damien — named for him — was encircled by a thick layer of cloud separating the civilized peak from the wild frontiers on the slopes below. When looking out from the palace’s highest tower, the city looked as if it floated in a sea of white cotton with brief glimpses of greener lands beneath. Most of the mountain’s inhabitants had never ventured below the clouds.
King Damien looked closely at a troubling span of the mural. It was the same spot he had obsessed over a million times before. It portrayed four warriors atop his mountain with victory in their expressions and armies coming behind them. The next scene was a barren landscape, with nothing but a small mound of rocks where Mount Damien used to be. Then, the mural stopped.
With each year of his reign, more of the painted prophecies came to pass. All that was left was this last corridor behind the curtain. Would these final scenes come to be, too? Had he done enough to stop these conquerors? What if he had been wrong about their identities? How exact were these paintings, and did he have the power to change them?
He had a nagging suspicion that he had missed something. He daily paced along this wall looking for any hint that would lead him to answers. His middle-aged son and heir, Prince Ajax, sometimes joined him, but he didn’t share his father’s enthusiasm for deciphering the future.
The future. Damien hated the thought of the future. He hated how little he could control without knowing for certain the identities of those four conquerors and if he had really put an end to them. But how could he ever learn these things when the artist who painted the scenes left the mountain nearly fifty years ago? It was enough to drive him mad.
It was in this madness that he had created a bit of a game. Six months had passed since he gathered seven of his most powerful up-and-coming leaders, named them the Council of Masters, and sent them below the cloud to the land of Adia, where the painting prophet had fled. The rules were simple. They must brand an Adian with the symbol of their specific expertise and bring the victim back to the mountain. The first to do so would earn a large chest filled with gold, a fortune that could fund the most lavish lifestyle for several years.
They didn’t need to know that there were many deeper reasons for bringing an Adian above the clouds. He longed to interrogate one and find out if there were more prophecies, to find out if there were more murals, to find out if Adwin was still in Adia. Even more so, he salivated over the thought of Adwin himself coming to the mountain to retrieve the victim. Could he finally have Adwin in his grasp after all these years?
The click of heels against tile made his ears perk, and the king quickly passed through the thick red curtain that separated the dark corridor from the glittering throne room. He squinted at the sudden onslaught of light. The guards let him pass before reclaiming their positions.
He moved toward the center of the room and pondered the seven young people as they entered. They were his kingdom’s finest weapons. Formidable. Hardened. Lethally clever.
The three men wore the same white shirt as the king, but their trousers and gloves were gray instead of black. The four women wore loosely draped gowns of varying gray hues with gloves to match. All seven looked beautiful, uneasy, and dangerous.
Damien addressed them quietly, each syllable articulated and precise. “I must admit I’m disappointed. Six months and you bring me nothing from Adia. Is the task too difficult?”
They remained silent, staring back.
“I asked you a question,” he declared, his vision going dark for a split second as the veins in his eyes pulsed. “Do you think the task is too difficult? Too much for you?”
“No, Your Majesty,” they responded in unison.
“Maybe the reward has been too small?”
“No, Your Majesty.”
“Well, I am a gracious king. You do not ask for more incentive, yet I am prepared to offer it. If mere gold does not entice you, would an entire kingdom suffice?” He allowed the words to sink in before going on, enjoying the play of emotions as these young weapons tried to understand. He ascended three marble steps and sat on his emerald-encrusted golden throne. His son, Prince Ajax, sat just below him to the left. Ajax’s son was not present, so the seat on the king’s right remained empty.
“If you are the first to mark an Adian and bring the fool to this mountain,” Damien continued, shifting forward for a better view of their faces, “You will be the rightful king or queen of Adia. I will send my armies to defeat that rebellious land, and I will place you as the crowned ruler. It would all be yours.”
That would get their attention. None of their demeanors had changed a bit, but he had always been good at reading stony faces. Hunger and greed glowed in many of their eyes, terrified panic in a few. Some of them were growing soft.
He stood from his throne and approached them once more, starting with the far end of the line. Xanthe had long lemon-yellow hair with one thick aqua stripe that reached from scalp to tip. She was tall and slender, with excellent posture that betrayed the hours and hours her mother spent turning her into a perfect young woman. Xanthe’s eyes were intensely purple, and they were dull and cold as they stared at the far wall. She was betrothed to the king’s grandson, Prince Jairus, who was not in the room. As Damien drew near, Xanthe took a sharp breath and lifted her chin, but her gaze remained unfocused and distant.
“What’s wrong, Xanthe?” the king asked with over-exaggerated concern, stroking her smooth cheek with his wrinkled finger. “Don’t you want to rule your own kingdom one day?”
“Of course, Your Majesty,” she replied with no sign of emotion. “But not Adia.”
“Not Adia?” Damien prodded, poison creeping into his voice. “Why not Adia?”
“I will be this mountain’s queen one day when Jairus is king. I have no need for another kingdom.”
“If you were truly invested you would want both. So, you will not continue in this quest. You may leave.”
“Your Majesty, I didn’t say —”
“You will not go back,” he ordered forcefully. “Leave us.”
Xanthe’s eyes locked on the king and flashed with hatred as she turned to leave.
“Is there anyone else who would like to leave these ranks? This Council of Masters?”
No one moved.
“That’s what I thought.” Damien sauntered along the line, eyeing each weapon and looking for signs of cowardice. He took an especially long time examining Eryx. He was huge — an excellent athlete and fighter. He had recently shaved his head, which added to his menacing aura. He towered at least six inches over the next tallest Master, and his highly-defined and powerful body was crisscrossed with white scars, trophies of his time in the fighting ring. “What about you, Eryx? Enjoying this game?”
With great articulation but no fervor, he answered, “It’s not a game, Your Majesty.”
“Oh? Isn’t it?” Damien asked with feigned innocence.
“‘Game’ is too trivial for this assignment, Your Majesty. Your orders are law.”
Damien loved the words, but he hated the monotonous delivery. “Hmm. Thank you for this passionate speech, Eryx. You will do well to use this spirit and zeal in the next fight.”
“You haven’t put me in a fight for years!” Eryx bellowed, a sudden fire lit in his tone. “It is below my status as Master.”
“You argue with me?” Damien asked softly and dangerously, standing toe to toe and looking up into Eryx’s face. “You will fight when I tell you to. You will prove you are still able to harness your power. Now, off with all of you. You have much work to do.”
His eyes bounced to each of them in turn as they filed through the door. Without looking at his son, he asked, “Ajax, what are your thoughts? Who is leading this race?”
“You already know I don’t care for your stunts, Father. You should just send the armies now if defeating Adia is what you’re after.”
“That’s just it,” he said softly, dreamily, as he imagined a better world. “Defeating Adia is only a small part of what I’m after. Yes, I want their land. Yes, I want its rich resources and fertile soil and clean waters. But I want so much more. I want Adwin to quake in fear at the mere mention of my name. I want him to hurt. I want him to break.”
“Adwin? This is about Adwin? Wouldn’t defeating Adia make him ‘quake’ as you call it?”
This snapped the king back to attention. Sternly he asked, “How old are you, Ajax?”
“In forty-nine years, you still have not learned. We could burn every tree and building in his village to the ground, and it would not shake him nearly as much as marking one of his beloved Adians with my symbols.”
“I doubt that very much. But you didn’t answer my question. Why have you never mentioned to me that this silly game is about Adwin?”
“My son, when will you discover that everything is about Adwin?”
Love all things romantic suspense? Don’t miss DEADLY SURRENDER, the latest Sin City novel from New York Times bestselling author Katie Reus! Be sure to grab your copy today!
About the Book
About DEADLY SURRENDER
Getting too close could end their friendship…
Good old-fashioned heartbreak sent Grace running to Las Vegas for a new start. There, she has the support of a college buddy and her social group, which includes Logan…funny, sexy, protective Logan MacNeil. They’ve become close friends, but that’s all Grace is willing to offer. Logan’s a known player, and Grace has been hurt enough for one lifetime, thanks. Getting left at the altar will do that to a woman.
Being apart could end their lives…
Logan’s reputation is more than a little exaggerated, and he’s never cared. Until Grace. She’s worth risking his heart again, if he can convince the brave, independent woman he’s not the playboy he seems. Right now she needs a friend…and a protector. Someone has already targeted them both—twice. Logan suspects he gained an enemy for his part in his boss’s recent failed business deal. But until he’s sure, he’s keeping Grace close. Achingly, torturously close… And when things turn deadly, he’ll lay everything on the line to make her his.
Happy book birthday! There are so many amazing new releases today! I’m kind of new to the whole romance genre, so I was really excited to check out romance suspense! I mean it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like but I absolutely enjoyed it! I’m also not typically a huge friends to lovers trope lover, but I’ve read two lately and now I’m thinking that maybe I need to reconsider how I feel about that. Because dang was this book steamy and amazing! The chemistry was so on point and there was all of my beloved angst.
But this book was just so good! I loved all of the characters and the dialogue was so witty! I find that lately I’ve been able to better focus on romance books than any other genre. They just take my mind off of everything for a moment and I can just sit back and relax a bit. I also love the slice of life that they can bring, even if there is extra drama. That extra-ness just makes it all the more fun!
But yeah, this book is good! PLUS it’s a part of a series so there’s just all that much more for you to devour and love! It’s got it all though chemistry, drama, romance, suspense, and more! You’ll just have to read it to find out the more!
Ever since she’d walked into his orbit, he’d had one focus. Grace. The first time he’d met her, her bright smile had nearly knocked him on his ass. When he looked at her, he wanted to smile too. Hell, it was impossible not to.
“I’ve gotta have some secrets.” He pulled her close as they reached the dance floor.
She was five foot seven and fit perfectly against his six foot two frame. Tonight she had on some sparkly, multicolored dress he’d never seen her in before but it hugged all her curves, dipping low in front and flaring out with every step she took. It definitely fit in with the Vegas club scene. Every time she moved, a rainbow of colors shimmered across her body. Normally she wore jeans and flowy tops, but this? Oh, he liked this so much.
“Fine, be that way.” She mock pouted as she started swaying her hips to the music.
He wasn’t a big dancer, mainly because he didn’t have much rhythm—but no way was he letting her out on the dance floor without him. He was claiming her for everyone to see even though she clearly had no idea how he felt about her. And she was pretty much the only one who didn’t realize how into her he was.
He understood though. She’d gotten burned so bad before she’d moved here, so he was simply biding his time until she was ready for him. And if she decided she never wanted to take a shot with him, well, at least they were friends. Though that was something he didn’t want to think about. Because he would always want more, and he couldn’t even pretend to himself that he was okay with that. So he shut the thought down hard.
When some guy started creeping up behind her and getting a little too close, he gave the man a look that immediately made him back off.
It made Grace laugh and dance even closer to him. Good God, the way she moved was pure erotic fantasy. And her laugh? He wanted to drown in that too. To just soak up everything that was her.
“Heads-up, your ex is here,” he murmured as he leaned down closer. He didn’t want to hurt her with the knowledge, but he wanted her aware that the loser had just stepped onto the dance floor. “Want to put on a show?”
Her eyes widened as she looked up at him. And he noticed that she didn’t look around to see if he was telling the truth. No searching looks for that loser who’d left her on their wedding day. Maybe she didn’t care about her ex anymore. She never talked about him. Maybe…she was ready to move on?
“What do you have in mind?” She raised her voice again, still moving in tune with the music.
He leaned down, making his intentions clear. Things were about to change between them, even if this was just for show. Because he knew once he got a real taste of her there was no going back.
Her eyes widened slightly but she didn’t pull back. Instead she leaned into him, and when he slanted his mouth over hers, he hoped that this was more than just a show for her.
Because it was real to him. The taste of champagne on her lips made him go lightheaded as she leaned into him, holding on to his shoulders as she teased her tongue against his. He clutched onto her hips, savoring the feel of her curves pressed against him.
He hadn’t had sex in forever, not since he’d met Grace. Hell, since before then. He’d been tired of the dating scene long before he met her. But he had a reputation and everybody assumed he was this giant player. He had been once upon a time, but that phase hadn’t lasted long. He’d gotten tired of one-night stands and meaningless hookups but the reputation had stuck. Probably because he was a huge flirt.
He shoved thoughts of his past and everything else away as Grace plastered her body to his, wrapping her arms around his neck.
This didn’t feel like a show; this felt totally real. So damn real he was afraid to hope for more.
And as he nibbled on her bottom lip, he realized he didn’t want anyone else seeing them making out. Her kisses and moans and everything else were just for him. And the way she was melting against him completely caught him off guard. He’d just wanted a little taste. Now? God, she couldn’t be acting. He sure as hell wasn’t. Holding her tight, he nibbled his way along her jaw, not bothering to hide his reaction to her. And she didn’t seem to mind. “Want to get out of here?” he murmured before gently biting her earlobe.
About the Author
Katie Reus is the New York Times, USA Today, and IndieReader bestselling author of the Red Stone Security series, the Moon Shifter series and the Deadly Ops series. She fell in love with romance at a young age thanks to books she pilfered from her mom’s stash. Years later she loves reading romance almost as much as she loves writing it.
However, she didn’t always know she wanted to be a writer. After changing majors many times, she finally graduated summa cum laude with a degree in psychology. Not long after that she discovered a new love. Writing. She now spends her days writing dark paranormal romance and sexy romantic suspense. Her book Avenger’s Heat recently won the Georgia RWA Maggie Award for Excellence in the fantasy/paranormal category.
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Blog
Sparrow by Mary Cecilia Jackson Publisher: Tor Teen Release Date: March 17th 2020 Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
It’s soft. Like feathers.
Mary Cecilia Jackson
In the tradition of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, a devastating but hopeful YA debut about a ballerina who finds the courage to confront the abuse that haunts her past and threatens her future.
There are two kinds of people on the planet. Hunters and prey
I thought I would be safe after my mother died. I thought I could stop searching for new places to hide. But you can’t escape what you are, what you’ve always been.
My name is Savannah Darcy Rose.
And I am still prey.
All the hearts around me, once so big and filled with joy. And now look.
They’re broken all to pieces.
Mary Cecilia Jackson
Though Savannah Rose―Sparrow to her friends and family―is a gifted ballerina, her real talent is keeping secrets. Schooled in silence by her long-dead mother, Sparrow has always believed that her lifelong creed―“I’m not the kind of girl who tells”―will make her just like everyone else: Normal. Happy. Safe. But in the aftermath of a brutal assault by her seemingly perfect boyfriend Tristan, Sparrow must finally find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past, or lose herself forever….
There was just something about this book that drew me to it upon just a brief first glance. As soon as I happened to get a glimpse of it I thought, yes, I’ll like this one. It is just one of those raw and terribly real stories that I seem to have grown fond of this year. You know, the ones with the broken characters that you so desperately want to pick all of the pieces of them up and put them back together.
I hear the beat and murmur of her terrible wings.
Mary Cecilia Jackson
Give me a story about a terrible and abusive relationship this year and I will be desperately clawing me way through the hordes for it. I’ve been in a *mood* with relationships ever since my crummy breakup to a crummy human being many moons ago, so now it’s apparently altered my reading interests. But I am NOT complaining, because this has been a happy side-effect. I have found some amazing new reads and I am beyond happy to have added Sparrow to that list. It is haunting and disjointed and highlights the visceral reaction many people have to abusive relationships.
Nothing hurts. I am whole.
Mary Cecilia Jackson
Now, you may have noticed me saying that this story is told in a disjointed manner. Never fear, this was a genius move from the author. The flash forwards and the instances where major moments were seemingly swept under the rug really depicted how someone in an abusive relationship tries to shrug things off and “ignore” all of the warning signs. Add in the dual POV for this story and slowly the whole story starts to come together and we see not only how Sparrow see’s her relationship, but also how her dance partner and friend Lucas sees the relationship as an “outsider.” The horror of this situation was so beautifully written that the tragedy of what Sparrow faced became even more eviscerating.
About the Author
Mary Cecilia Jackson has worked as a middle school teacher, an adjunct instructor of college freshmen, a technical writer and editor, a speechwriter, a museum docent, and a development officer for central Virginia’s PBS and NPR stations. Her first novel, Sparrow, was an honor recipient of the SCBWI Sue Alexander Award and a young-adult finalist in the Writers’ League of Texas manuscript contest. She lives with her architect husband, William, in Western North Carolina and Hawaii, where they have a farm and five ridiculously adorable goats.
Running down the hall, phone pressed to my ear, I raise my eyes to the huge clock above the library doors. It offers no hope.
“Where are you, Birdy?” Lucas says. “Levkova’s going to slaughter you! She’s already doing that thing where she’s standing near the piano with her arms crossed, looking at us like we’re a bunch of zoo animals.”
I take a corner too fast and my elbow hits the lockers. I run faster.
“Are you seriously talking to me in the studio? Put your phone away, or she’ll murder you before she even gets to me!”
“I’m not that stupid. I’m in the hall, but even out here I can see her eyes turning all frosty. You know how they get, like freaky little balls of ice.”
“Oh my God, it’s almost two forty. I’m going to have to drive like a fiend to get changed in time.”
I’m breaking the Eleventh Commandment, incised into our brains for the last three years: Thou Shalt Not Be Late for Ballet Class.
“Holy crap, Birdy, you’re still at school? You’ll never make it! You know you won’t get in if you’re late. She loves locking that door at three o’clock, hearing the cries of the damned on the other side.”
“I’m going as fast as I can! Try to stall her.”
“Oh, right. Like that’ll work. She’ll turn me to stone with her ice-ball eyes before I even get close. I’m telling you, she’s in a mood. She just told Charlotte to stand up straight, that orangutans moved with more grace. Why are you so late?”
I turn the last corner, backpack slipping off my shoulder, dance bag banging against my hip. I can feel my bun falling out of its knot, hear the tiny metallic pings as bobby pins hit the floor behind me.
“Ugh, Coscoroba kept me after class. He wanted to talk about my term paper. You know how you can never get away from him, right? I mean, he’s nice, but God, once he gets going you can’t get a word in. Today he had to tell me the entire story of Prometheus and his super-unfortunate liver. I swear he never took a breath the whole time.”
“Gross! Okay, look, she sees me out here,” Lucas whispers. “I don’t want to die a horrible death, so I’m going in. Good luck! If you don’t make it, I promise I’ll cry real loud at your funeral.”
“Stop it, Lucas! I’m running as fast as I can!”
Lucas hangs up, and I shove my phone into my bag. The halls are empty, echoing with the sound of my feet pounding the tile floor, the ragged gasp of my breath. I hate disappointing Madame Levkova. She is my rock star, the sun at the center of my universe. Today she’ll give me the look that tells me I’ve let her down, remind me that people who are late are lazy and inconsiderate, and I’ll feel like crap for a week. If I rush in just as she’s locking the door, she may not even let me dance today. Depends on how irritated she is.
Juggling books, bag, and backpack, I burst through the massive front doors and breathe the cold winter air into my lungs.
The student parking lot is practically deserted, which would be a little weird for a Thursday, except it’s been a tough winter. After the last bell, people scurry home, like rabbits to their burrows. A few cars are left, probably yearbook kids, or people staying late for tutoring. My car is all by itself, in the corner under a huge maple tree, now bare of leaves, empty branches silhouetted against the leaden sky. Some people hate winter in Virginia, but I like how spare it is, cold and clean and uncluttered. I raise my face to the sky. There’s snow on the wind.
A car squeals to a stop inches from my left hip. I fall to my knees, dropping everything, spilling notebooks, pens, and all my ballet stuff across the asphalt. I’m so terrified I can’t even breathe. I count to nine in my head, trying to slow the panic. When my hands stop shaking and I can breathe again, I look up and see the grille of a huge black Mustang. I smell exhaust, feel the relentless percussion of heavy metal.
I know this car.
Tristan King, white in tooth, blond in hair, rich in parents. Hollins Creek High School’s highest deity, star of the track team, lusted after by anyone with a pulse. Delaney and I have been swooning over him since middle school.
“Oh my God, did I hit you? Are you hurt?” He and all his gorgeousness come flying out of the car, wearing the dark gray suit and crimson tie all the athletes had to wear for the awards assembly this morning. He kneels down to help me collect my things.
“No, no, I’m fine,” I manage to croak. “I’ve got this, really. It’s okay.”
“I am so, so sorry! Oh no! Your knees are bleeding!”
“Really, it’s nothing, honestly.” I hold my hands out to keep him away. “They don’t even hurt.” I’ve torn huge, gaping holes in the knees of my black tights, and the skin underneath is scraped and raw. Blood trickles slowly from the cuts and soaks into the ragged edges.
My pointe shoes, tied into their nerdy mesh bag, are under his car, along with my books and notebooks. But all the truly awful stuff—deodorant, tampons, panty liners, body spray, Dr. Scholl’s blister pads and foot powder, even the dryer sheets I stuff into my dance bag so it won’t reek of sweat and BO—is right out there in the pale winter sunlight. All the embarrassing, disgusting detritus of my life. My own personal Museum of Mortification.
I pray for a sudden sinkhole to swallow me whole, a bolt of lightning to fry me to ash, an alien abduction. I’m straight up dying of embarrassment. Dying. Like I-can’t-breathe-and-my-heart-hurts dying.
Tristan looks at my knees and says, “Hang on a second. I’ll be right back, okay? Don’t go anywhere.”
I stumble around, gathering my things, surreptitiously trying to wipe away the blood. I lied. My knees hurt like a stinker. I give up and sit down on the curb to assess the damage.
Tristan comes back holding a first aid kit. Kneeling down in his perfect suit, paying no attention to the dirt and gravel, he says, “I’m so, so incredibly sorry. At least let me fix you up.”
“You actually carry a first aid kit in your car? Do you run over a lot of people?”
He laughs, and the sound is low and sweet, like soft notes rising from a cello. His teeth are dazzling up close, straight and impossibly white, probably representing a small fortune in orthodontics and bleach. Even his eyebrows are gorgeous.
“Nah,” he says. “You’re my first attempt at roadkill. If you think your knees are messed up, you should see mine. Bruises and scars like you wouldn’t believe. I run high hurdles, and sometimes I miss.”
He gently wipes the blood from my knees and brushes away stray bits of gravel. He’s so close that I can smell his hair. Lavender, I think. Or rosemary. I breathe him in as deeply and quietly as I can while he dabs Neosporin on the scrapes and covers them with Band-Aids.
When he leans forward and kisses each bandage, I have to work hard not to gasp. Once, when I was really, really small, my mother did the same thing, and for a moment I’m lost in the memory. The way her long hair fell like a dark waterfall over her shoulder as she knelt on the bathroom floor in front of me. Her polished fingernails peeling the wrapping from the bandages. The softness of her lips as she kissed my scraped knees. And though I know it’s impossible, for a few seconds I swear the fragrance of my mother’s lily of the valley perfume dances in the cold air.
“There,” Tristan says, looking up at me. “Now you’ll heal faster. Kisses always make things better, don’t you think?”
I’m not thinking at all, because my brain has stopped working. I should stand up and push him away. I should tell him he’s way out of line, and call him a presumptuous Neanderthal. But his strong hands, his lips on my skin, are making me shiver, and I feel all hot and floaty and liquid, like warm honey is flowing through my veins. I don’t want him to stop. I want him to do it again.
“Yes,” I whisper, mesmerized by the depth of his gray eyes, the color of a mourning dove’s wing. “Kisses always help.” I wonder if he can hear my heart pounding.
He stands and helps me to my feet, holding on to my hands for longer than seems necessary. Standing so close, I feel the heat of him, how alive he is. I have the completely bizarre urge to rest my head on his chest, wrap my arms around his waist, and draw that warmth, that life, into myself. I shake my head, tell myself to snap out of it. Me: Amoeba. Him: Tristan King.
Still holding my hands, he pulls me a little closer, then reaches out to tuck a stray curl behind my ear. Looking into my eyes, he smiles and says, “Better now? Will you be okay? Want me to drive you home?”
I nod, never taking my eyes from his face. “I’ll be fine, really,” I whisper.
I don’t want him to let go. With my hands in his, I feel safe, as though he’s standing between me and the entire rest of the world, like my own personal knight, complete with sword and shield, sworn to protect me. He is so impossibly beautiful.
He gathers up all my books, places them carefully in my backpack, and zips it. Then he crawls under the car for my pointe shoes.
“Your suit,” I say, as he wriggles back out. “It’s all dirty now.”
He shrugs and smiles. “Doesn’t matter. Assembly’s over, pictures are done.” Cradling my pink satin pointe shoes in both hands, he holds them out like an offering, as though he knows how precious they are to me.
“I’m glad I ran into you, Sparrow.”
“You’re hilarious.” I take my shoes from him and stuff them into my dance bag. I feel like I’m moving in slow motion, my heart, my body unwilling to let this end, my brain knowing that it will, and that when he’s gone, it will feel like none of it ever happened. I try to fix all the details in my brain, right now, so they’ll be there later. So it will be real.
“Thanks. I do what I can.”
“So, anyway,” I say. “Thanks for not killing me, but I need to run. I’m unbelievably late for ballet.”
I head toward the ancient Volvo that my dad lets me drive to school and ballet but nowhere else. Tristan runs after me and grabs my hand.
“Wait, Sparrow. Don’t go. Not yet.”
It feels like my heart has jumped straight up into my throat.
“You sure have changed a lot since we were in geography class together,” he says.
“That was fifth grade, Tristan. We’ve all changed. The last time you spoke to me, you said nobody likes ballerinas and ballet was stupid.”
His eyes widen and he puts his hand over his heart and staggers backward, like he’s had a sudden shock. “Seriously? I said that?”
“You did. I remember every word.”
“Wow, I was kind of a jackass, wasn’t I?”
“Yeah, you kind of were.”
“I was wrong. And ballet is awesome.”
I can’t help it. I laugh.
“Right. Have you actually been to any of our performances? You don’t exactly seem like the kind of person who’d be wild about ballet.”
“Okay, totally busted. But my mother’s on the conservatory board, and she’s always talking about you. She showed me that article that was in the paper last year. She says you’re mad talented.”
That article is still taped to the refrigerator. My father refuses to take it down. He even highlighted the line about me being “the rising star of the Appalachian Conservatory Ballet” and called me “Superstar” for a week. It was mortifying.
I feel myself blushing, the red stain creeping all the way up my neck and into my cheeks. Now my freckles will look awesome. “You should come see a performance with your mom sometime.”
“Maybe I will,” he says softly. He reaches out and cups my face in the palm of his hand, stroking my cheek with his thumb. “You’re blushing.” He’s so close I can feel his warm breath on my skin.
My knees go all rubbery, and I picture myself falling down right where I’m standing, fainting like a Victorian maiden in one of my aunt Sophie’s romance novels.
When I speak, my voice comes out all shaky and whispery.
“Listen, really, thanks for the Band-Aids and everything. But I’ve got to go. We get fined five dollars every time we’re late for class. I’m sorry I ran out in front of you. Hope I didn’t give you a heart attack or anything.”
He smiles and pushes his sun-streaked hair out of his eyes. He has deep dimples on both sides of his mouth. “Have dinner with me on Saturday. Please. Let me make up for almost killing you.”
Approximately five thousand thoughts rush through my head. Me at dinner with Tristan King, holding his hand at a candlelit table, sharing a dessert. Kissing him at my front door. Wondering why he’s bothering with me, when he’s had tons of girlfriends, some of them even college girls. How tightly Sophie will hug me, how she’ll whisper that she’s happy I’m finally getting out of the house and, even better, going on an actual date. Best of all, telling Delaney. She’ll completely lose her mind and scream the scream she reserves for all miraculous occurrences.
“Ummm, that would be great, but I can’t. I have rehearsal most of the day on Saturdays, and then—”
“And then what? You’ll go home and sit by your window, crying sad little ballerina tears and wishing you’d said yes. You have to eat. I’ll take you wherever you want to go, even if you want, I don’t know, a gluten-free, vegan, pizza-free pizza. Come on, say yes. Please. Otherwise I’ll never get over the guilt.”
I hesitate. This will require all kinds of explaining and promising to my father. I’ll have to get Sophie to run interference. If we start tonight, it’s possible that we can get my dad to cave. My heart beats a little faster. This could actually work.
“Sparrow, come on. I’m sorry I was a jerk in fifth grade. I’m sorry I almost ran you over. Let me make things right. It’s just dinner, some pasta and bread, maybe a glass of sparkling water if you’re feeling fancy. It’s not like I’m asking you to donate a kidney.”
I melt, fast and gooey, like a marshmallow in a campfire. “Okay, yes. But I eat like a normal person, just so you know. It’s a total myth that ballerinas live on celery sticks and bee pollen.”
He laughs. “Point taken. We’ll have cheesecake and ice cream, too. I’ll pick you up at seven.”
“Just be prepared for my dad. No way he’ll let me walk out the door without grilling you. He’s a trial attorney, and he almost always wins.”
“Got it. Beware of kick-ass lawyers. I heard about his big murder case.”
“Yeah, everybody says he’s ferocious in court. And he’s going to treat you like a hostile witness, so gird your loins.”
“I’ll suck up hard-core. Maybe he’ll let me off easy.”
“I wouldn’t count on it.”
Laughing, he walks to his car and gets in, gunning the engine and waving as he peels out of the parking lot.
Levkova has definitely locked the door by now. I may as well go straight home and scrape up five bucks to put in the Jar of Shame she keeps on the piano. I’ll do an adagio barre in my room and give myself corrections. I’ll be alone, but maybe it won’t suck so much today.
I throw my dance bag on the passenger seat and sit for a minute while the heater groans. My knees hurt, and my hands are so cold I can’t even feel them, but I can’t stop smiling. I resist the urge to text Delaney about what just happened, because I want to hear her laugh when I tell her how my tampons were scattered all over the parking lot like candy from a piñata. I want to see the look of utter disbelief on her face when I tell her I have an actual date. With Tristan King.
It always surprises me, how life can change in an instant, how everything can turn upside down on an ordinary winter afternoon. In my heart, I feel the cautious flutter of hope.
▪︎Tag a friend (each friend will be an extra entry). ▪︎Share on your stories about the giveaway (remember to tag me @whatmakespatri and @theffbc) ▪︎Follow @michellesulk ▪︎Follow any other FFBC team member participating in the tour & let us know on the comment section who did you follow! Other participants: @TheReadingCornerforAll @bookishconnoisseur @popthebutterfly @belleeeey_ @_bookishaestha_ @fictitiouswonderland @confessionsofayareader @musingsofagirl @sometimesleelynnreads @amysbooketlist @bookriot_anjedah @trappedinsidestories @books_andpoetrii @esperdenoire
T&Cs & Disclaimers (TO INCLUDE IN THE COMMENTS SECTION): ▪︎Giveaway ends on March 31st (00:00 GMT+1). 1 winner will be chosen on @theffbc. ▪︎Open to residents of US only ▪︎This sweepstakes is not sponsored by Instagram.
The winner will be announced after APRIL 2ND 2020 on our Instagram stories. ONLY 1 WINNER. OPEN US ONLY. The winner will be contacted via Instagram.
*I received a copy of an arc in exchange for an honest review*