What I’m Doing for Preptober

Me during Preptober and NaNoWriMo !

What is Preptober?

Preptober is when people share their stories via social media posts through mood boards or tweets (or whatever you feel like doing) or that they’re planning on participating in NaNoWriMo during November. This is also the month where most people create their outlines.

What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month is when you write 50,000 words in a month. The program has a young writer’s program for anyone who’s in school or wants to set their own word count goal.

Teachers can also create a NaNoWriMo classroom for their classes to assign the program as a graded project.

Jess from New Girl is putting on her glasses via GIPHY

Alright, now that you know what it is; here’s what I’m doing!

What I’m Doing

So for those of you who don’t know, this is my 10th year doing NaNoWriMo!

I’m working on a modern-day Little Mermaid retelling that I’m tentatively calling “Silenced Salaams.” Below, is a pic of my mood board:

My mood board

I also got a writing bujo notebook from Etsy that I’m going to use to help me plot the book.

Is anyone interested in a post on NaNoWriMo essentials?

Question for the writers: Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? I actually made a discord group and if you’d like the link to that please feel free to let me know in the comments below!

and in case I don’t see ya… Good afternoon, Good evening, & good night ! via GIPHY

C.S. Lewis’s Writing Routine

C.S. Lewis is best known for writing The Chronicles of Narnia.

Aslan tells Lucy, “Things never happen the same way twice, dear one.” Via GIPHY.

This is from his routine that he mentioned was his ideal one in Surprised Joy.

Tan France says, “This is my routine.” Via GIPHY.

The Routine

  • 8:00 – breakfast
  • 9:00 – He’s at his desk to read or write until 1pm.
  • 11:00 – TEA TIME!
Tea is being poured via GIPHY
  • 1:00 – Lunch time!
  • 2:00 (at the latest) — Lewis would take a long walk (alone), but no longer than 2ish hours.
  • 5:00 -7:00 – back to writing/reading
  • Supper
  • In bed no later than eleven!

Question for the writers: is this a routine that you’d try? I feel like this one is definitely doable.

If I try it out, I’ll make a Tik tok or YouTube video on it. For anyone who wants to check out my social media accounts you can find them here: https://linktr.ee/AmaniSalahudeen/

Cute lil Penguin is waving and says, “See you later!” via GIPHY.

Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha is a Must-See!

GIF of Hometown cha cha cha vs my week

Synopsis

Yoon Hye-Jin (Shin Min-A) works as a dentist. She is mostly a realist, but due to her rightfulness, which is only a tiny part of her mind, her life changes. She ends up moving to the seaside village of Gongjin.

There, Yoon Hye-Jin meets Hong Du-Sik (Kim Seon Ho). She becomes curious about him. Hong Du-Sik is called Chief Hong by the local residents. He is a handsome and smart man. Officially, he is unemployed, but he always seems busy. If somebody needs help, Hong Du-Sik is the first one to appear and provide help. (Via Asian Wiki)

My initial thoughts

This starts off as a cute, fluffy kdrama but it picks up rather quickly and it becomes very intense. I adored Kim Seon Ho ever since I saw him in Start-Up! Good boy is finally getting his main character moment.

Start-Up kdrama via GIPHY

I was hooked from episode one, which rarely happens to me with korean dramas. This show is incredible and you’re going to fall in love with Gongjin. Oh and Chief Hong, of course!

I also adored the supporting cast -especially the elderly woman in this Korean drama! The romance is really good so far and I plan on doing a more in-depth review (with my rating) once I get a chance to finish watching this show.

Are you into Korean Dramas or thinking of starting one soon? Let me know in the comments below.

Hometown cha cha cha (the main leads are hugging) via GIPHY

Cover Reveal: Daughters of the Dawn

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Cover Reveal

Daughters of the Dawn Cover Reveal!

This is an Indian Inspired “The Parent Trap” but in a fantasy world!

This book is the sequel to Sisters of the Snake which is currently available to purchase or you can request it at your local library!

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Synopsis for Sisters of the Snake (Book One)

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

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

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

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

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

Blog Tour: Vial of Tears Excerpt!

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I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the VIAL OF TEARS by Cristin Bishara Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!

About the book

Vial of Tears Book Cover

Title: VIAL OF TEARS

Author: Cristin Bishara

Pub. Date: October 5, 2021

Publisher: Holiday House

Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook

Pages: 320

Find it:  GoodreadsAmazon, Kindle, Audible, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, TBDBookshop.org

Two sisters become trapped in the underworld–and in the machinations of deities, shapeshifters, and ghouls–in this lush and dangerous Phoenician mythology-inspired fantasy.

Sixteen-year-old sisters Samira and Rima aren’t exactly living the dream. Instead, they live with their maddeningly unreliable mother in a rundown trailer in Michigan. Dad’s dead, money’s tight, and Mom disappears for days at a time. So when Sam’s grandfather wills her the family valuables–a cache of Lebanese antiquities–she’s desperate enough to try pawning them before Mom can.

But she shouldn’t. Because one is cursed, forbidden, the burial coin of a forgotten god. Disturbing it condemns her and Rima to the Phoenician underworld, a place of wicked cities, burning cedar forests, poisoned feasts of milk and lemons, and an endless, windless ocean.

Nothing is what it seems. No one is who they say. And down here, the night never ends.

To get home–and keep her sister safe–Sam will have to outwit beautiful shapeshifters, pose as a royal bride, sail the darkest sea… and maybe kill the god of death himself.

Reviews:

★  “A heroic tale that feels both classic and fresh.”Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

Excerpt

PROLOGUE

Karm El Mohr, Syria ( modern- day Lebanon), 1903

In the night his mother disappeared, the boy had tiptoed to her room to ask for a glass of water. 

The moon shone through the windows, casting a glowing walk-way across the floor. The air was fragrant with blossoming orange trees. He would tell her that he couldn’t sleep, that lately his dreams had been strange. Had hers been, too? 

It was an uncertain time. The Turks had been coming without warning. They galloped through the village taking whatever they wanted— livestock, clothing, jewelry, young men for their army. In his dreams, they rode dragons instead of horses. 

He nudged her bedroom door open. Father was not yet home; he was drinking arak and playing backgammon next door at Aami Hanna’s. 

Mother stood in the center of the bedroom in her nightgown. Her hair was down, long tangles of black. In her arms she cradled a jug— 

the one she’d found yesterday while exploring the mountain caves. 

Over the years, she’d come home with other treasures: a metal spear, the jawbone of a lion, a clay seal, glass beads. Truly, though, she told her son, the most precious thing she found was a bit of solitude. 

“Mother,” he whispered. Was she asleep with her eyes open? 

Behind her, the moonlight glistened on a spiderweb, a hexagon of silken threads. “Shoo saar? Shoo aam b’seer?”  What happened? What  is  happening? 

She tilted her head as if she’d heard something beyond his voice. 

Perhaps it was an animal; wolves sometimes stalked the village at night. He, too, listened so intently that, for a moment, he thought he could hear the spider plucking its legs along the web, perfecting its trap. 

He noticed she held something— small and round— between her fi ngers. “What do you have, immi?” he asked. 

And then he saw something strange spreading before his mother’s bare feet: a dark pool, black smoke bubbling up from its center. 

Fire! 

He tried to scream, but he could hardly breathe. Instead he stumbled backward, bumping into the half- open door, his heart pounding against his ribs. Why was there no burning odor, no heat from the smoke? The air was cold. 

“Get back, Mother!” he managed to whisper desperately, shivering. 

But she seemed oddly calm— trancelike— as she stood near the cusp of the widening pool, which began to swirl like a pot of soup stirred by an unseen ladle. The boy knew he should cry for help or pull her back, but now he himself was unable to turn away, unable to move. 

What was it? What was in there? 

What was at the bottom? 

Long fi ngers, tendrils of smoke, beckoned him forward with a shushing noise like a mother soothing a child. Mesmerized, horrifi ed, he stepped closer. 

Something was materializing and rising up out of the churning pool. Some one. 

A man. 

“Give it to me,” the man hissed, shadowed in smoke. 

His face was hidden by a beard, his cloak trimmed with fur. He spoke in a foreign tongue, with ancient words— but the boy understood. It was the language of his long- lost ancestors. It was in his blood. 

But give  what? Perhaps he wanted the jug? 

The man glanced at the boy before grabbing his mother by the wrist. Her face collapsed into an expression of pain. The jug fell with a thud. 

“Let her go!” the boy begged, frozen. 

“Mine,” the man said. 

“She is not yours!” 

His mother’s eyes snapped into focus. She fi nally looked at her son— fi nally saw him standing there— and her face dimmed with terror. 

“Go,” she croaked. The ghostly man pulled her toward the pool, which was now a yawning black mouth consuming half of the room. 

“You cannot take her!” the boy cried. 

 “Habibi.”  His mother’s voice was nothing more than a thick moan. 

“Bhebak aatool.” 

He reached out to her, the tips of his fi ngers grazing her nightgown. His balance wavered at the edge of the spiraling chasm. 

With a grunt of determination, she pushed the boy away with more strength than he’d known she had, sending him across the room. 

He landed on his back, hitting his head on the doorframe. Helplessly, he watched as the man wrapped his cloak around his mother, envelop-ing all but her pale face. Outside, a cloud slid over the moon, turning the light ashen. His mother and the stranger stepped into the bubbling black vortex, which narrowed. 

And disappeared. 

A final sigh of smoke lingered briefly before it went out like a forgotten campfire. 

All was quiet. The bedroom floor was as solid as ever. 

But his mother was gone. 

He whimpered and pulled himself across the room, lying fl at across the spot where she’d been just moments ago. Under his cheek, the fl oor grew cold and wet with tears. Surely this was only another nightmare— his worst yet— but he could not wake himself up. 

 I love you,  she’d said. Forever. 

He picked up the jug and held it to his chest; he rocked back and forth and called for her. Outside the window, an owl responded with a forlorn  who- who. 

When he finally stumbled next door, frantic and babbling, his father stubbed out his cigarette and cursed. “The Turks!” he cried. 

He stood and knocked over the backgammon board, scattering pieces everywhere like a fistful of lost coins. “They kidnapped her!” 

He tore through the village, his angry shouts waking children from their sleep. A few men mounted horses and went chasing shadows into the night, ready to slit the throats of her captors. Other than a pack of hyenas, they found nothing. 

Secretly, no one held out hope. She was too beautiful. She had surely been taken as a bride. After a month, the village priest stopped praying for her return. After a year, no one spoke of it. 

 “Bayye,”  the boy would say to his father, tugging on his pants in their grove of walnut trees. “It was not the Turks.” 

He had told and retold his story, but the more he recounted what had truly happened, the less people listened. They patted his head, crossed themselves, and changed the subject. 

“There is no such thing as a genie!” his father said finally. “Now stop your talk, once and for all. People are beginning to think you are akhwet. ” 

But the boy knew what he had seen. He kept the jug hidden and close. He rubbed it every night, making the same unfulfilled wish— 

 Please bring my mother home— until he was an old man ready to die. 

1

“No, no, no.” Sam swore under her breath. “Go away.” 

She pressed her eyes shut, as if that would make their landlord’s car disappear. 

But his ancient Mercedes was still rasping along behind her, its belly low to the ground, slinking like an animal. Sam dipped her head and picked up the pace. Her shoes were tucked under her arm, and the gravel road bit into her bare feet. As she reached the mailbox, she heard the car sputter to a stop, and there was the snap of the driver’s door. 

“What’s the rush?” Mr. Koplow called, laughing as he trailed her up the cracked cement driveway. 

Sam stopped and steeled herself before turning to face his empty smile and icy blue eyes. His pants hung low underneath his belly; his thinning hair was combed straight back. 

“It’s not the first yet,” Sam said, even though she knew they still owed last month’s rent. 

Mr. Koplow tipped his chin toward the trailer. “Your mother here?” 

“She went to get milk.” 

“Milk,” Mr. Koplow repeated. 

“And toilet paper,” Sam said, adding to the lie. 

“Right. So she’ll be back soon,” Mr. Koplow suggested, reaching into his shirt pocket for a pack of cigarettes. He pulled one out, crooked, and pressed it between his lips. 

Sam glanced up at the sky, where the sun was inching its way down. “Sorry, but I really need to get to the lake.” She raised her hand. 

Goodbye. 

Mr. Koplow didn’t move. He let out a curl of smoke. “She wants me to fi x the back stoop. I need to take a look, see what happened.” 

“Nothing happened. It’s rotten.” 

At her feet was an oil stain from her mother’s leaking car, and behind her there was yet another dent in the carport. She knew Mr. 

Koplow was keeping tabs; they would never get their security deposit back when the time came. 

He squinted at her dirty feet, at her chipped green toenail polish. His eyes climbed higher, lingering on her purse, then the stack of bracelets up her arm. “How much did those cost?” he asked as his phone rang. 

Three dollars. That was how much she’d paid for her bracelets. 

Clearance table, plus her employee discount. 

“Yeah, this is Alan. Slow down, slow down,” Mr. Koplow said into his cell, his voice rising. “What’s leaking? The toilet on the second fl oor?” He pointed his cigarette at Sam. “I’ll be back.” 

A moment later, his car engine sputtered and caught, and Sam watched as he vanished down the gravel road, a wall of dust rising behind him. 

With a sigh, she turned to face the lopsided trailer with its mildew- stained siding and ripped welcome mat. Mr. Koplow had once told Mom that it wasn’t the Taj Mahal and she was no princess, so what did she expect? 

Whatever it was, it was home. It was the place of rushed Monday mornings and the smell of Mom’s perfume. It was where Rima had fallen against the coffee table and gotten the scar on her shoulder, where Dad had taught Sam how to cast a net from the top of the picnic table, pretending the backyard was teeming with baitfish. It was the place Dad would come home to, when he finally came home. He could fold his clothes and put them away. His grape soda would take up the top shelf of the fridge. He’d get Outside magazine delivered again. 

He’d pick up right where he left off. 

“See you soon,” he’d said the day he was deployed, ruffling Sam’s hair. “Take care of your mom and baby sister while I’m gone.” 

“Yes, sir,” she’d said. 

Then he’d stooped down and put his hands on her shoulders. His military boots— which always smelled like motor oil— were tightly laced under his flight suit. His hands were so big. Invincible. He could survive anything. 

“Promise me,” he said, his blond eyebrows drawn together. The air had been laced with the sweetness of spring flowers and grass and new leaves, just like today. “Promise me you’ll look out for them until I get back.” 

“I will, sir,” Sam had repeated, an uneasy knot in her stomach. 

“I’ll try to, Dad.” 

“Try hard, kiddo. I love you.” That was the last thing he’d said to her. 

She could almost feel Dad’s hands on her shoulders now as she jiggled the house key into the rusty lock. Another broken thing that needed to be replaced. 

Behind her, brakes squealed and then sighed. She spun around to look. Was it Mr. Koplow again, or Mom fi nally home, or someone Mom owed money, or a favor? 

It was a hulking UPS truck. A man in a brown uniform hopped down with a box in his hands. 

“It’s probably for Mrs. Jarvis,” Sam said to the deliveryman as she finally jerked the door open. She pointed down the street at a lawn cluttered with gnomes and metallic balls on pedestals. “QVC addict.” 

“Nope,” he said, reading the box. “This is for Samira Clark. 

That you?” 

“It’s just Sam,” she said. “Nobody calls me Samira.” 

“Whoever sent this package does. I’ll need a photo ID for this one.” 

Sam pulled her wallet from her purse and handed over her driver’s license. 

“Wow, your hair,” the deliveryman said as he glanced back and forth between her face and her license. She was sixteen in the photo, almost two years ago. At the time she’d had shoulder- length hair bleached to a brassy shade of blond. Now her black hair hung down to her waist. 

“That’s me,” Sam assured him. 

He held the electronic clipboard out for her. “Initial here. And put the date right there at the bottom.” 

The date. It was Friday. Mom had been gone since Monday. That made four nights. Too long. If she didn’t hear from her by tomorrow, she’d have to call the police. 

“Hello?” 

“Yeah, sorry,” Sam said, scribbling her signature. “Stressful day, that’s all. Couldn’t remember the date for a second.” 

He smiled, took back the board, and handed her the package and her driver’s license. “Hang in there.” 

“Thanks,” she said, though he was already jogging back to his truck. 

Sam stepped inside, looking at the box. It was lighter than she expected, and it smelled like spices and tobacco. Postage stickers were everywhere, and on the right- hand corner LIBANPOST, BEIRUT was stamped within a rectangle of bright blue ink. The sender had meticulously written The United States of America under Sam’s zip code, and the return address had been perfectly penned, as though a ruler had been held underneath each line. Karm El Mohr,  it said, which Sam recognized as the name of her mother’s hometown in Lebanon, a little village in the mountains. 

Curiosity tugged at her, but it was getting late. She had to hurry to the lake, or there would be nothing at all for dinner. 

“Rima?” Sam called into the house. Their tiny kitchen table, too small for three people, teetered when Sam set the package on top. She tucked her driver’s license away and tossed her purse and shoes into the corner. 

“Hello?” she called one more time before peeking into her mother’s bedroom. There was always the slim chance she could be back, and asleep. 

But nothing had changed since the last time Sam looked. Mom’s bed was unmade, her fl oral comforter tangled. The curtains were drawn. On a chair, nestled between two throw pillows, a teddy bear stared at Sam with vacant eyes. MY VALENTINE was stitched across its heart- shaped belly. Sam stared back. Though she’d never asked, she was sure it was a gift from Dad— it had been around a lot longer than any of Mom’s boyfriends. 

She closed her mother’s door and went to her own room, where she changed into jeans, a fi shing shirt with a dozen little pockets for supplies, and sneakers. Her old Girl Scout sash— loaded with badges for archery, horseback riding, cookie sales— 

had fallen from its 

thumbtacks again. She pressed it back into the wall and then tossed a makeup bag and a jacket onto Rima’s upper bunk, which was already piled high with dirty clothes, schoolwork, and at least twenty jars of nail polish. There was only enough space in their windowless room for one dresser, and there was no closet, so the floor was cluttered with semiorganized piles. Picking through them, Sam found everything she needed, making a mental checklist as she went: fi shing rod; Dad’s Swiss Army knife in case she needed to cut a line; a cooler. Back in the kitchen she grabbed an ice pack from the freezer and, finally, moldy cheese for bait. 

“Go, go, go,” she urged herself. 

The winter had been so long and gray. She’d missed Glen Lake’s waters— turquoise blue and crystal clear, a reassurance that not everything in the world was dark and muddy underneath. No matter how many times she pulled her boat out onto the lake, her heart still swelled, as if those Caribbean- looking waters were a gift just for her, and that unexpected beauty was all she needed to carry on. 

Her hand was on the door, but at the last moment she glanced back at the UPS package on the table. If Mom came home while she was fi shing, she would open the package herself, even though it was addressed to Sam. 

What could be inside? 

The only person they knew from Lebanon was Mom’s grandfather, Jiddo Naameh. Packages from him came very rarely, and they were always for Mom, never Sam. She’d never even met her great- grandfather, had only seen him in a handful of yellowed pictures that hung on the walls of Mom’s bedroom. He looked old in those photos, and they were all taken before Sam was born. 

It would only take a second to open the package. She took her hand off the doorknob, set her fi shing gear down, and found a pair of scissors in the kitchen junk drawer. 

Judging by the weight and size of the box, there might be a book 

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or two inside. In the past, he’d sent calendars, tourist guides, poetry written in Arabic, and books with glossy photos of Roman and Phoenician ruins. Sometimes he’d include bars of olive oil soap, jars of pomegranate molasses, and cans of sesame seed paste. 

Sam slit the tape along the edges of the box and pulled the card-board flaps up. A white envelope sat on top of the packing material, addressed to her. 

She ran her finger across the handwriting, then slid her thumb under the envelope’s flap and pulled it open. Inside was a piece of folded paper, so thin it was translucent. She unfolded it, eager to read, but the entire note was indecipherable to her: It was written in Arabic, in bright purple ink, the color of peacock feathers. 

She dug into the box again, half convinced that only pillows of bubble wrap filled the rest of it, but her fingers hit something solid. 

The hairs on the back of her neck stood up as she pulled out a fat, pear- shaped object enshrouded in newspaper. Setting it on the table, she began unpeeling the sheets, layer after layer, her fingertips turning black from the newsprint. 

Finally, the last square of paper fell to the floor. Sam stood staring at a piece of dull clay pottery. 

Its narrow neck was flanked by two circular handles, hardly big enough to fi t her fingers through. Simple, symmetrical lines criss-crossed its belly. It had a look of homemade imperfection; maybe Jiddo had made it himself. 

The letter surely explained it. She refolded it and tucked it back inside the envelope, glancing at the clock on the microwave. She’d already wasted a solid ten minutes of fi shing time. She had to hide everything and get out on the water. 

“Go,” she told herself again, pushing away from the table. It wobbled, and the jug shuddered off the edge. 

“No!” she cried. 

For a moment, the jug seemed suspended in air, simply waiting to be caught— and then it hit the linoleum floor with a hollow, sickening sound. 

Sam let out a groan as she knelt to examine the damage. It had split in half; she tried to fi t it back together like two puzzle pieces, but there was a thin seam between them. Just like my life,  she thought. Split apart and then precariously put back together. You only noticed the cracks when you got close enough. 

And that was when she saw the coins. 

There were seven, crusted to the dirty bottom of the jug. She tipped it upside down over the table, shook, and the coins spilled out. 

Sam blinked. 

Treasure. 

Time and dirt had turned a few of them black. Others were only slightly tarnished, stamped with images of pine trees and ships, sea castles and owls, spears crossed to make an X. PIASTRES, one of them said; another had a perfect hole drilled through its middle, flanked by two small lions. 

Sweat trickled down her temples. Her mind raced. What if Mom came home right this second? She had already pawned every last item of worth in their possession. She would take the coins without a second thought. 

There was one more, she noticed: stuck to the bottom, caked with a mud- hardened residue, so camouflaged with the dark pottery she almost missed it. She tipped the jug piece again and shook, hard, but it wouldn’t come loose. When she tried with a fingernail, her nail bent and snapped, and the coin stayed put. 

“Super,” she said, sucking on her finger to take the sting away. 

Letter- like shapes arced along the top edge of the coin. They might have been words, but they were written in an alphabet she didn’t recognize. Even though she couldn’t read Arabic, she knew its familiar curves and dots. This was something altogether different. 

Sam glanced at the clock again. 

She needed to go— but instead she pulled Dad’s Swiss Army knife from one of her shirt pockets. His initials were engraved on its bright red side: B.C.C. She gave the knife a quick kiss like she always did before she used it, knowing her father’s fingerprints were still there underneath her own. 

Carefully, she worked the tip of the smallest blade under the coin, until it finally sprang out onto the table. 

For some reason, she hesitated to touch it. It seemed different than the other coins. Older, thicker. It made her heart beat faster. 

These coins could change everything for them. This one could really be worth something. 

She picked the coin up, and the moment her fingers met the metal, her hand turned icy cold. She bit the inside of her mouth and winced, tasting blood. 

A presence filled the room. She was suddenly sure she was being watched. 

“Who’s there?” she asked, spinning to look. 

Something pulled on her, pushed her. The room turned dark, as if the electricity had failed and a storm cloud had rolled right inside the house. There was the distant sound of a flute, and then a whispering voice. Raspy and urgent. 

 You have what is mine! 

The language was foreign, but somehow she understood. 

Give it to me! 

The pull on her intensified, a fierce current sweeping her out into deep waters. It felt as though her feet were no longer on the floor, that the worn gray linoleum beneath her had become fluid. The storm cloud swirled and widened into a funnel in the floor, a pit of smoke. 

Her hand had frozen shut, fingers curled tightly around the coin. But with a determined shriek, she threw it down. 

The strange storm stopped as suddenly as it had started. 

The light returned to the room. The linoleum was as chipped and ordinary as always. She stood panting for air, staring at the coin where it had landed. 

Sam rubbed her throbbing hand, her heart pounding with such ferocity she had to lie down. She made her way to the couch and collapsed, listening. 

All was silent, other than her own frantic breathing. There was no hypnotic fl ute, no voice. Her stomach turned over with something that felt like motion sickness, as if she’d just stepped off a spinning carnival ride and still couldn’t fi nd her footing. 

Outside the window, a dog barked, and Mrs. Jarvis yelled. “Get over here! Peanut!” She called the dog’s name over and over again. 

“Peanut! Peanut! There you are!” 

Sam counted to one hundred and then stood. 

Warily, she went back to the kitchen and stared at the coin. She was afraid to touch it, but she couldn’t just leave it there. 

After pacing the house, searching for an idea, she went to Rima’s collection of beauty supplies, a pink plastic cabinet with four drawers. 

She yanked open the drawer labeled EYES and dug through a rainbow of shadows, liners, and tubes of mascara until she found the tweezers. 

Metal meeting metal made a dull ting as she tapped the coin. Carefully, she slid the tweezers around it and clamped down. All good. 

Nothing happened. As Dad would say, No holes in the boat. 

She let out a little laugh of relief. She had almost expected it to spring to life like a coiled snake. 

Back in the kitchen, she slipped the coin into a large Ziploc bag, along with the other seven coins and the two halves of the broken jug. 

The back door squeaked behind her as she headed outside, down the rotting stoop and into the yard. The gardening tools were already laid out, right next to the plants she’d bought last week. After setting down the bag, she thrust the big metal shovel into the ground, thinking how her mother accused her of burying everything— her emotions, herself— in school and work. 

She would get some answers tomorrow. At the library or on the internet, there would be information about old coins. She would find someone— other than Mom— to translate Jiddo’s letter. In the mean-time, this was the best hiding place for the things he had sent her. 

An hour later, she had a decent- sized hole in the backyard, deep enough. After burying the bag, Sam looked back up at their sagging trailer. 

Maybe it wasn’t lopsided after all. Maybe it was her. 

2

A door slammed with a gunshot bang and Sam sat up. 

She was surprised to find herself back on the couch; a rogue metal spring dug through the thin cushions and jabbed at her thigh. 

Across the room, their hazy TV was on mute, and a woman silently urged her to act now and buy an Immortal Youth skincare system in three easy payments. 

Sam had a dim recollection of putting on her nightshirt, of trying to stay awake until Rima came home. She’d never made it to the lake. 

Morning sunlight streamed into the room, illuminating the dusty air. 

“Rima?” she called, her voice hoarse. 

She cleared her throat and stood, rolling her neck until it cracked. 

Her fingers ached where she’d touched the coin. 

The coin. 

She sucked in a breath as the whole thing came flooding back to her. 

The remote shook in her hand as she clicked off the TV. She must have fallen asleep watching some crazy movie, that’s all it was. Her imagination on overload. She tossed the remote onto the couch and went to the kitchen for a drink, but with a start she remembered the smoky pit in the fl oor, exactly where she stood now. She skittered away from the spot and tried to laugh at herself. 

There was no way that had happened. 

And yet she was completely sure it did. 

Heart thumping, she poured herself a glass of water from the sink and drank it in one long gulp. She grabbed Jiddo’s letter from the table and backed away from the kitchen, feeling like it was set with snares. 

“Rima?” she called again. 

She padded cautiously to their bedroom. Her sister’s clothes were fl ung across the fl oor, making a trail to the bed, where she snored quietly on the top bunk, murmuring in her sleep, her arm slung over the railing. Sam felt a surge of relief before catching a whiff of vape and beer. And barf. 

“Soccer practice,” Sam mumbled under her breath. There were brambles in Rima’s hair. “Yeah, right.” 

She slid Jiddo’s letter underneath her own pillow, and then crossed the tiny hallway to open her mother’s bedroom door. 

She was back. Finally. 

Her duffel bag was on the bed, its contents spilling out, and among the jumbled clothes was the picture she always took with her, no matter where she went. Her wedding photo, framed in silver. Dad in a suit and tie, so serious. Mom in her white gown. 

“Mom?” Sam called, walking quickly through the small house, searching. 

Her mother’s voice answered, muffled and distant. “Out here!” 

Through the kitchen window, Sam could see her waving from the backyard. Sam waved back. 

Still in her bare feet and nightshirt, she threw open the patio door and ran out across the weeds and dirt. Above her, the sky was a happy pastel blue, like some sort of candy drink. The cold air took her by surprise, though. Yesterday had been summer- like, but now her breath spilled out ahead of her as she rushed toward her mother. 

“You’re home!” Sam said. 

“Hey, gorgeous,” Mom said, smiling up at her. 

Mom was the one who was gorgeous. Her black hair shone almost blue in the sunlight, and her skin glowed with olive undertones. She was on her knees with a rusty gardening spade and polka- dotted gloves; the potted vegetables Sam had bought the week before were beside her, an investment that would literally grow all summer. A five- dollar plant gave them vegetables for months. 

“Stand up so I can hug you,” Sam said, her teeth chattering against the cold. 

She nervously scanned the grass, looking for the rock that marked the place where she’d buried everything. Exactly where she’d put it was a blur; she’d been in such a state of shock and panic, and had worked until after dark. 

“Yes. I could use a hug.” Mom pulled off her dirty gardening gloves and stood, dusting her knees. “And a week of sleep.” 

Sam wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist and kissed her cheek. She seemed thinner than ever; Sam’s arms could practically go twice around her tiny waist. “Where’ve you been?” she asked, sneaking in one more peck on the other cheek before her mother pulled away. 

“Getting stuff to plant your garden,” Mom said, dodging the real question. 

Sam looked down at the dozen or so plants she had already bought, plus a few bags of black soil Mom must have just brought home. A fat bumblebee floated past, investigating the new plants. 

“Thanks,” Sam said. 

“Tomatoes need phosphorus.” Mom pointed her gardening spade at a bag of fertilizer. She read the planting instructions aloud. “ ‘Roma tomato. Pear- or plum- shaped. Plant in full sun in rows thirty- six inches apart.’ ” 

“Yeah, I was kind of waiting for the weather to warm up,” Sam said. “For good.” 

She’d covered the plants the previous week because it had dipped into the thirties overnight. The old sheet she’d used to protect them was strewn across the ground now, streaked with mud. Underneath a corner of the striped fabric, a rock—  the rock she’d used to mark the spot— peeked out. 

“I got some stakes and twine,” Mom said, “and a green pepper plant.” She bumped her hip against Sam’s. “You’re shivering. Go get dressed. You’ll catch a cold out here.” 

“The entire garden is supposed to go over there,” Sam said, point-ing to the opposite corner of the yard. “All these plants need sun.” 

You need sun,” Mom said. “Look how pale you are. Go inside and get a warm drink.” 

“Come with me,” Sam said, but Mom put her gardening gloves back on and squinted at the tag from the green pepper plant. Sam studied the rim of bone under the collar of her mother’s shirt. So thin. 

“Where were you?” Sam asked quietly. “I was going to call the police today.” 

Mom dropped the tag she was holding. “Do not do that.” All the cheer that had been in her voice moments ago was gone. “Never ever do that.” 

“I know, but . . .” 

“You’re not eighteen yet. They’ll put you in a foster home. And Rima somewhere else, in a different one.” She cast a gloved finger in one direction and then in another. Opposite ends of the world. 

“Why was Mr. Koplow here yesterday?” Sam pressed. “How many months behind are we? He said he was here about the stoop, but it’s more than that, right?” 

Mom sighed and raked her fingers through her hair, sending a stripe of dirt through her bangs. “The credit card company won’t increase our limit.” She shook her head. “I had to get new brake pads for the car. Then your wisdom teeth came out, and that wasn’t completely covered. I bought soccer cleats for Rima, plus her summer registration fees. Things add up.” 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Sam looked over her shoulder toward the house, wondering if Rima was awake yet. She didn’t need to hear another argument. Especially not the same old argument. “I could have put in some extra hours at the jewelry store.” 

She held back the rest: I don’t like how Mr. Koplow looks at you. I don’t want you owing him anything. 

Mom considered the hole she’d just dug. “Do you think that’s deep enough?” 

“How much did you spend on all this gardening stuff ?” Sam asked. “Maybe we can return a couple things.” 

“Well,” Mom said, a smile tugging at her lips. “I wanted to save the surprise, but since you’re asking . . .” 

From the front pockets of her jeans, she pulled out two thick wads of cash. And then, while Sam stood frozen with disbelief, she sprinkled the bills all over the ground. Like she was planting seeds for money trees. 

What?  What did you do?” Sam asked. Possibilities— all of them bad— swirled through her mind. “Where did you get all this? Is it real?” 

There were tens and twenties . . . even fifties. The wind picked up and Sam dropped to her knees to gather the money before it blew away. 

“I won at the casino.” Mom laughed. She sounded proud of herself. “I won big.” 

“You were gambling all week?” Sam held the money tight in her fists, fighting back the torrent of angry words that swelled inside her. Mom had been playing slots at the casino again? That  was where she was? 

But the money. The money! It was more than Sam made in a month. Maybe even more than their check from the Marines. 

“Karma, baby!” Mom said. “Mercury retrograde ended last week, so the timing was good.” She looked up at the sky. “I wonder if there’s a lunar eclipse in Pisces right now. I should check on that.” 

“The stars were aligned,” Sam said. 

“Yes,” Mom said, ignoring Sam’s sarcasm. “And today, we’re going to Lowe’s to buy a washer and dryer. No more trips to the laundromat.” She dipped her hand into her shirt pocket and found a pair of sunglasses, then slid them on and smiled, posing. “Like them?” 

“Yeah. They’re great, Mom.” Sam sighed, reluctantly handing the money back. “Really great.” 

“We’ll get Alan off our backs, buy some new clothes,” Mom continued, “and go out for steaks tonight. Let’s go see a movie, too.” She cleared her throat. “What? I see your wheels turning.” 

“I just . . . We have a lot of bills to pay, obviously. Those should come first. And that other thing . . . remember?” But clearly Mom had forgotten. “The entrepreneurship certificate program. The small- business classes I’ve been saving for.” 

Mom swatted her words away. “You haven’t even graduated high school yet. Enjoy the last few weeks of senior year. Enjoy the summer.” 

“ But—” 

“Your dad took a few college classes, you know, before he enlisted. 

And what did they get him? Nothing.” Her eyes lit up. “We should spend the money on a prom dress for you!” 

“No! That’s a total waste. I’m just going with my friends anyway,” 

Sam said. “I’ll wear Rima’s blue dress.” 

“That dress won’t fi t you. Come on, you could be the belle of the ball,” Mom said, fanning the bills. She twisted her mouth when Sam shook her head. “You are no fun.” She shoved the cash back into her pockets. “You’re so serious all the time, so practical. You weren’t always like this. I worry about you.” 

“I worry about you, ” Sam countered, keeping her voice in check. 

“Next time please leave a note. That’s all I’m asking, so I know where you are. I called all your normal jobs. I was starting to think you were dead.” 

“Dead!” Mom said. “That’s dramatic.” 

“ ‘Dear Sam, I’ll see you Saturday morning. Here’s how you can reach me if you need to. Have a good week. Love, Mom.’ ” 

“A note,” Mom repeated. “That would’ve been thoughtful. But then you might have come searching for me.” 

And she didn’t want to be found. 

Sam gave her mother a look. They’d had this standoff so many times, and getting angry only made things worse. Mom was home, with money to spare, so Sam tamped down her frustration and pasted on a smile. 

“I’m glad you’re home,” she said, picking up the shovel and ducking underneath the branches of the only tree in their yard. Its trunk wore a hundred scars where she and Dad had thrown knives into it. Sam could almost see herself taking aim, see the ghost of her ten- year- old self, of Dad standing by chewing on a toothpick. It’s all in the wrist,  he would coach, but more often than not she missed the tree altogether and the knife would land in the grass. 

Mom pushed her new sunglasses onto the top of her head. They were Ray- Bans, and they weren’t knock- offs. The wad of gambling money would be gone by next week. 

“Yep,” Sam mumbled, deciding for certain that she needed to keep the jug and coins a secret. With a grunt, she jammed the shovel into the ground. She’d worn blisters across her palms last night from digging, and now they flared up again. That part, at least, had really happened— burying the Ziploc bag. Her mind flashed to the smoky mist and the man’s voice, which now felt so dreamlike and impossible. 

“Are you okay?” Mom asked. “You really do look sick.” 

“The last time I ate was yesterday at lunch.” 

“Inside,” she said, putting an arm around Sam. “You’re freezing! I bought bagels. I was just waiting for Rima to wake up.” 

“I’ll go play reveille in her ear,” Sam said, but when they turned to walk back to the house, she saw that Rima was standing at the door with a cup of coffee. She lifted a hand toward Mom as if she’d been gone five minutes rather than five days. No big deal. Totally normal. 

Mom kissed Rima’s forehead before she could duck away. “How’s my baby?” she asked. “Good?” 

“How was the party last night?” Sam asked, following Rima into the kitchen. Her hair was in a messy knot, her face oily with yesterday’s makeup. “I mean, soccer practice?” 

Rima shot her a look. Shut up,  she mouthed silently. 

“Mom won some money at the casino,” Sam added, opening the refrigerator and handing Rima a tub of cream cheese. Mom had bought caramel- flavored, the best, and probably without a coupon. 

Sam chose a cinnamon bagel from the open box on the kitchen table. 

“We’re going shopping today.” 

“After I nap,” Mom said, stifling a yawn. In the kitchen’s fluorescent light, the skin under her eyes looked purple. She’d probably gambled all night and slept in her car during the day. “It’s hard work winning cold, hard cash.” 

“How much?” Rima asked, trailing Mom into her room. “What’d you play? Slots or blackjack?” 

Sam swallowed the last bite of her bagel. She showered and dressed, stacking a few bracelets over her wrist and slipping on her old sneakers. The lake was calling to her, but she had econ homework, an entire business plan due on Friday. Plus, if she went to the library, she could search for clues about the coins. 

She tucked Jiddo’s letter into her pocket and walked through the house. When she looked inside Mom’s room, she found her already asleep, her cheek pressed crookedly against her half- unpacked duffel bag. 

The back door was ajar, and Rima was singing somewhere. 

And then Sam heard a noise that made her spine stiffen: the chink of a shovel hitting rock. 

Panicked, Sam pressed her fingertips against the window. Rima was on her knees in the yard. She was digging. 

Sam threw open the back door. “What are you doing?” she asked, her voice cracking as she sprinted toward her sister. 

“Mom told me to move all the plants to this one spot.” Rima had the Ziploc bag in her hands, the pieces of the broken jug showing through. The hose was running, creating a thin river of mud around Rima’s bare feet. “But check this out,” she said. “I found this.” 

“Don’t open it,” Sam warned. She was breathless from running. 

“But there’s a bunch of coins in here.” Rima pointed through the clear bag. “They look old.” 

“Give it to me,” Sam said, thrusting her hand out. 

“Finders keepers,” Rima replied, pulling the bag toward her chest. 

“You don’t understand,” Sam said. “Jiddo sent that to me. It’s mine.” 

“Huh?” Rima made a face. “Jiddo?” 

Sam nodded. 

“So why is it out here?” 

“Because,” Sam said. “I needed to hide it for now.” She put her hand out again, but instead Rima opened the bag and pulled the two chunks of pottery out. Three or four coins fell to the ground. “You’re going to lose something!” 

“Is it from Lebanon?” Rima let out a low whistle. “This stuff looks ancient.” 

“One of the coins is . . .” Sam’s voice trailed off. She wanted to say 

“magical” or “cursed,” but that seemed ridiculous in the broad daylight of their backyard. Birds chirped, and the clouds were ribbons across the blue sky. 

Rima picked up the coins and set them in the palm of her hand. 

“Do you think they’re worth something?” She smiled and her eyes lit up with excitement. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and Sam felt herself smile back. 

“We have to research everything first,” she said. “Don’t tell Mom, okay? She’ll just take them to the pawnshop. I need to go to a museum or find a guidebook or something, so we can sell them for the right price.” 

“Yeah,” Rima said. “That makes sense.” 

“They might not be worth anything,” Sam cautioned. “And they were from Jiddo, so part of me thinks we should just keep them anyway. Maybe they’re family heirlooms. I thought I’d glue the jug back together, at least.” 

Rima nodded. She took the last few coins from the bottom of the bag and placed them alongside the others in her cupped hand. Her posture turned rigid. “C-cold,” she gasped. 

It was happening again. 

A small patch of soil seemed to turn loose at Rima’s knees. 

“Drop them,” Sam cried. “Hurry!” 

She grabbed Rima’s wrist and shook until the coins fell to the ground. Sam knelt over them, guarding them, counting them: fi ve, six . . . There were supposed to be eight. The seventh coin was nestled next to Mom’s gardening gloves. Where was the last one? 

“D’you hear that?” Rima asked, her words slurred. She looked around the yard. “A flute.” Smoke rose from the twisting earth. 

“Are you still holding one?” Sam demanded, horrified. She dragged Rima back, away from where the ground was moving, turning, becoming a dark spiral that widened and reached toward their toes. “Drop it! Drop it! ” 

Rima’s eyes, so full of life a moment earlier, were glazed over. 

“Look at me.” Sam snapped her fingers in front of Rima’s face, but she was somewhere far away. “Listen to me. Let go of the coin!” She shook her by the shoulders. 

Rima slumped into her arms, but her fingers held the coin like a vise. 

Sam peeled them back, one by one, and plucked the coin from her sister’s palm. She pinched it between two fingertips, and the mesmerizing, eerie music of the flute filled her head once again. The inky fog rushed to embrace her, twisting, pulling, shushing her. Sam felt her voice trapped in her throat. The world was unfurling. 

It’s going to take us. 

“Mine,” a man’s voice said. 

Sam turned to look. There was no one in the yard— other than wide- eyed Rima— but now there was the smell of incense burning. 

Her fingers refused to open. The coin’s icy poison was spreading, making her entire arm brittle. 

“My obol.” 

The man’s voice was closer . . . and then Sam saw him. 

Bearded and cloaked and made of the dark clouds that spun across the yard. His breath spilled from his mouth in cold currents. 

He lunged with dizzying swiftness, his hands going to Rima. I have the coin,  Sam wanted to say. Leave her alone! 

Rima cried out as the ghost gripped her by the wrist and yanked her away. He looked at Sam, his face full of fury. His eyes were golden, but his pupils were all wrong. One of them was the shape of a keyhole. 

Stop!  Sam silently screamed over the sound of the flute, a drum-beat also rising. She desperately crawled after Rima, her fingers finding a belt loop in her sister’s jeans. They were at the cusp of the dark, revolving funnel. 

With a last, desperate effort, Sam flicked the coin away. Over her shoulder, she caught a glimpse of it flipping through the air, as if someone had tossed it to call heads or tails. It landed in the black soil of their garden, behind them. 

No. Above them. 

It was too late. The three of them were sinking down, down, down; the backyard had become something like a raised stage they’d fallen from. 

Sam closed her eyes and spun. 

About the author

PROLOGUE

Karm El Mohr, Syria ( modern- day Lebanon), 1903

In the night his mother disappeared, the boy had tiptoed to her room to ask for a glass of water. 

The moon shone through the windows, casting a glowing walk-way across the floor. The air was fragrant with blossoming orange trees. He would tell her that he couldn’t sleep, that lately his dreams had been strange. Had hers been, too? 

It was an uncertain time. The Turks had been coming without warning. They galloped through the village taking whatever they wanted— livestock, clothing, jewelry, young men for their army. In his dreams, they rode dragons instead of horses. 

He nudged her bedroom door open. Father was not yet home; he was drinking arak and playing backgammon next door at Aami Hanna’s. 

Mother stood in the center of the bedroom in her nightgown. Her hair was down, long tangles of black. In her arms she cradled a jug— 

the one she’d found yesterday while exploring the mountain caves. 

Over the years, she’d come home with other treasures: a metal spear, the jawbone of a lion, a clay seal, glass beads. Truly, though, she told her son, the most precious thing she found was a bit of solitude. 

“Mother,” he whispered. Was she asleep with her eyes open? 

Behind her, the moonlight glistened on a spiderweb, a hexagon of silken threads. “Shoo saar? Shoo aam b’seer?”  What happened? What  is  happening? 

She tilted her head as if she’d heard something beyond his voice. 

Perhaps it was an animal; wolves sometimes stalked the village at night. He, too, listened so intently that, for a moment, he thought he could hear the spider plucking its legs along the web, perfecting its trap. 

He noticed she held something— small and round— between her fi ngers. “What do you have, immi?” he asked. 

And then he saw something strange spreading before his mother’s bare feet: a dark pool, black smoke bubbling up from its center. 

Fire! 

He tried to scream, but he could hardly breathe. Instead he stumbled backward, bumping into the half- open door, his heart pounding against his ribs. Why was there no burning odor, no heat from the smoke? The air was cold. 

“Get back, Mother!” he managed to whisper desperately, shivering. 

But she seemed oddly calm— trancelike— as she stood near the cusp of the widening pool, which began to swirl like a pot of soup stirred by an unseen ladle. The boy knew he should cry for help or pull her back, but now he himself was unable to turn away, unable to move. 

What was it? What was in there? 

What was at the bottom? 

Long fi ngers, tendrils of smoke, beckoned him forward with a shushing noise like a mother soothing a child. Mesmerized, horrifi ed, he stepped closer. 

Something was materializing and rising up out of the churning pool. Some one. 

A man. 

“Give it to me,” the man hissed, shadowed in smoke. 

His face was hidden by a beard, his cloak trimmed with fur. He spoke in a foreign tongue, with ancient words— but the boy understood. It was the language of his long- lost ancestors. It was in his blood. 

But give  what? Perhaps he wanted the jug? 

The man glanced at the boy before grabbing his mother by the wrist. Her face collapsed into an expression of pain. The jug fell with a thud. 

“Let her go!” the boy begged, frozen. 

“Mine,” the man said. 

“She is not yours!” 

His mother’s eyes snapped into focus. She fi nally looked at her son— fi nally saw him standing there— and her face dimmed with terror. 

“Go,” she croaked. The ghostly man pulled her toward the pool, which was now a yawning black mouth consuming half of the room. 

“You cannot take her!” the boy cried. 

 “Habibi.”  His mother’s voice was nothing more than a thick moan. 

“Bhebak aatool.” 

He reached out to her, the tips of his fi ngers grazing her nightgown. His balance wavered at the edge of the spiraling chasm. 

With a grunt of determination, she pushed the boy away with more strength than he’d known she had, sending him across the room. 

He landed on his back, hitting his head on the doorframe. Helplessly, he watched as the man wrapped his cloak around his mother, envelop-ing all but her pale face. Outside, a cloud slid over the moon, turning the light ashen. His mother and the stranger stepped into the bubbling black vortex, which narrowed. 

And disappeared. 

A final sigh of smoke lingered briefly before it went out like a forgotten campfire. 

All was quiet. The bedroom floor was as solid as ever. 

But his mother was gone. 

He whimpered and pulled himself across the room, lying fl at across the spot where she’d been just moments ago. Under his cheek, the fl oor grew cold and wet with tears. Surely this was only another nightmare— his worst yet— but he could not wake himself up. 

 I love you,  she’d said. Forever. 

He picked up the jug and held it to his chest; he rocked back and forth and called for her. Outside the window, an owl responded with a forlorn  who- who. 

When he finally stumbled next door, frantic and babbling, his father stubbed out his cigarette and cursed. “The Turks!” he cried. 

He stood and knocked over the backgammon board, scattering pieces everywhere like a fistful of lost coins. “They kidnapped her!” 

He tore through the village, his angry shouts waking children from their sleep. A few men mounted horses and went chasing shadows into the night, ready to slit the throats of her captors. Other than a pack of hyenas, they found nothing. 

Secretly, no one held out hope. She was too beautiful. She had surely been taken as a bride. After a month, the village priest stopped praying for her return. After a year, no one spoke of it. 

 “Bayye,”  the boy would say to his father, tugging on his pants in their grove of walnut trees. “It was not the Turks.” 

He had told and retold his story, but the more he recounted what had truly happened, the less people listened. They patted his head, crossed themselves, and changed the subject. 

“There is no such thing as a genie!” his father said finally. “Now stop your talk, once and for all. People are beginning to think you are akhwet. ” 

But the boy knew what he had seen. He kept the jug hidden and close. He rubbed it every night, making the same unfulfilled wish— 

 Please bring my mother home— until he was an old man ready to die. 

1

“No, no, no.” Sam swore under her breath. “Go away.” 

She pressed her eyes shut, as if that would make their landlord’s car disappear. 

But his ancient Mercedes was still rasping along behind her, its belly low to the ground, slinking like an animal. Sam dipped her head and picked up the pace. Her shoes were tucked under her arm, and the gravel road bit into her bare feet. As she reached the mailbox, she heard the car sputter to a stop, and there was the snap of the driver’s door. 

“What’s the rush?” Mr. Koplow called, laughing as he trailed her up the cracked cement driveway. 

Sam stopped and steeled herself before turning to face his empty smile and icy blue eyes. His pants hung low underneath his belly; his thinning hair was combed straight back. 

“It’s not the first yet,” Sam said, even though she knew they still owed last month’s rent. 

Mr. Koplow tipped his chin toward the trailer. “Your mother here?” 

“She went to get milk.” 

“Milk,” Mr. Koplow repeated. 

“And toilet paper,” Sam said, adding to the lie. 

“Right. So she’ll be back soon,” Mr. Koplow suggested, reaching into his shirt pocket for a pack of cigarettes. He pulled one out, crooked, and pressed it between his lips. 

Sam glanced up at the sky, where the sun was inching its way down. “Sorry, but I really need to get to the lake.” She raised her hand. 

Goodbye. 

Mr. Koplow didn’t move. He let out a curl of smoke. “She wants me to fi x the back stoop. I need to take a look, see what happened.” 

“Nothing happened. It’s rotten.” 

At her feet was an oil stain from her mother’s leaking car, and behind her there was yet another dent in the carport. She knew Mr. 

Koplow was keeping tabs; they would never get their security deposit back when the time came. 

He squinted at her dirty feet, at her chipped green toenail polish. His eyes climbed higher, lingering on her purse, then the stack of bracelets up her arm. “How much did those cost?” he asked as his phone rang. 

Three dollars. That was how much she’d paid for her bracelets. 

Clearance table, plus her employee discount. 

“Yeah, this is Alan. Slow down, slow down,” Mr. Koplow said into his cell, his voice rising. “What’s leaking? The toilet on the second fl oor?” He pointed his cigarette at Sam. “I’ll be back.” 

A moment later, his car engine sputtered and caught, and Sam watched as he vanished down the gravel road, a wall of dust rising behind him. 

With a sigh, she turned to face the lopsided trailer with its mildew- stained siding and ripped welcome mat. Mr. Koplow had once told Mom that it wasn’t the Taj Mahal and she was no princess, so what did she expect? 

Whatever it was, it was home. It was the place of rushed Monday mornings and the smell of Mom’s perfume. It was where Rima had fallen against the coffee table and gotten the scar on her shoulder, where Dad had taught Sam how to cast a net from the top of the picnic table, pretending the backyard was teeming with baitfish. It was the place Dad would come home to, when he finally came home. He could fold his clothes and put them away. His grape soda would take up the top shelf of the fridge. He’d get Outside magazine delivered again. 

He’d pick up right where he left off. 

“See you soon,” he’d said the day he was deployed, ruffling Sam’s hair. “Take care of your mom and baby sister while I’m gone.” 

“Yes, sir,” she’d said. 

Then he’d stooped down and put his hands on her shoulders. His military boots— which always smelled like motor oil— were tightly laced under his flight suit. His hands were so big. Invincible. He could survive anything. 

“Promise me,” he said, his blond eyebrows drawn together. The air had been laced with the sweetness of spring flowers and grass and new leaves, just like today. “Promise me you’ll look out for them until I get back.” 

“I will, sir,” Sam had repeated, an uneasy knot in her stomach. 

“I’ll try to, Dad.” 

“Try hard, kiddo. I love you.” That was the last thing he’d said to her. 

She could almost feel Dad’s hands on her shoulders now as she jiggled the house key into the rusty lock. Another broken thing that needed to be replaced. 

Behind her, brakes squealed and then sighed. She spun around to look. Was it Mr. Koplow again, or Mom fi nally home, or someone Mom owed money, or a favor? 

It was a hulking UPS truck. A man in a brown uniform hopped down with a box in his hands. 

“It’s probably for Mrs. Jarvis,” Sam said to the deliveryman as she finally jerked the door open. She pointed down the street at a lawn cluttered with gnomes and metallic balls on pedestals. “QVC addict.” 

“Nope,” he said, reading the box. “This is for Samira Clark. 

That you?” 

“It’s just Sam,” she said. “Nobody calls me Samira.” 

“Whoever sent this package does. I’ll need a photo ID for this one.” 

Sam pulled her wallet from her purse and handed over her driver’s license. 

“Wow, your hair,” the deliveryman said as he glanced back and forth between her face and her license. She was sixteen in the photo, almost two years ago. At the time she’d had shoulder- length hair bleached to a brassy shade of blond. Now her black hair hung down to her waist. 

“That’s me,” Sam assured him. 

He held the electronic clipboard out for her. “Initial here. And put the date right there at the bottom.” 

The date. It was Friday. Mom had been gone since Monday. That made four nights. Too long. If she didn’t hear from her by tomorrow, she’d have to call the police. 

“Hello?” 

“Yeah, sorry,” Sam said, scribbling her signature. “Stressful day, that’s all. Couldn’t remember the date for a second.” 

He smiled, took back the board, and handed her the package and her driver’s license. “Hang in there.” 

“Thanks,” she said, though he was already jogging back to his truck. 

Sam stepped inside, looking at the box. It was lighter than she expected, and it smelled like spices and tobacco. Postage stickers were everywhere, and on the right- hand corner LIBANPOST, BEIRUT was stamped within a rectangle of bright blue ink. The sender had meticulously written The United States of America under Sam’s zip code, and the return address had been perfectly penned, as though a ruler had been held underneath each line. Karm El Mohr,  it said, which Sam recognized as the name of her mother’s hometown in Lebanon, a little village in the mountains. 

Curiosity tugged at her, but it was getting late. She had to hurry to the lake, or there would be nothing at all for dinner. 

“Rima?” Sam called into the house. Their tiny kitchen table, too small for three people, teetered when Sam set the package on top. She tucked her driver’s license away and tossed her purse and shoes into the corner. 

“Hello?” she called one more time before peeking into her mother’s bedroom. There was always the slim chance she could be back, and asleep. 

But nothing had changed since the last time Sam looked. Mom’s bed was unmade, her fl oral comforter tangled. The curtains were drawn. On a chair, nestled between two throw pillows, a teddy bear stared at Sam with vacant eyes. MY VALENTINE was stitched across its heart- shaped belly. Sam stared back. Though she’d never asked, she was sure it was a gift from Dad— it had been around a lot longer than any of Mom’s boyfriends. 

She closed her mother’s door and went to her own room, where she changed into jeans, a fi shing shirt with a dozen little pockets for supplies, and sneakers. Her old Girl Scout sash— loaded with badges for archery, horseback riding, cookie sales— 

had fallen from its 

thumbtacks again. She pressed it back into the wall and then tossed a makeup bag and a jacket onto Rima’s upper bunk, which was already piled high with dirty clothes, schoolwork, and at least twenty jars of nail polish. There was only enough space in their windowless room for one dresser, and there was no closet, so the floor was cluttered with semiorganized piles. Picking through them, Sam found everything she needed, making a mental checklist as she went: fi shing rod; Dad’s Swiss Army knife in case she needed to cut a line; a cooler. Back in the kitchen she grabbed an ice pack from the freezer and, finally, moldy cheese for bait. 

“Go, go, go,” she urged herself. 

The winter had been so long and gray. She’d missed Glen Lake’s waters— turquoise blue and crystal clear, a reassurance that not everything in the world was dark and muddy underneath. No matter how many times she pulled her boat out onto the lake, her heart still swelled, as if those Caribbean- looking waters were a gift just for her, and that unexpected beauty was all she needed to carry on. 

Her hand was on the door, but at the last moment she glanced back at the UPS package on the table. If Mom came home while she was fi shing, she would open the package herself, even though it was addressed to Sam. 

What could be inside? 

The only person they knew from Lebanon was Mom’s grandfather, Jiddo Naameh. Packages from him came very rarely, and they were always for Mom, never Sam. She’d never even met her great- grandfather, had only seen him in a handful of yellowed pictures that hung on the walls of Mom’s bedroom. He looked old in those photos, and they were all taken before Sam was born. 

It would only take a second to open the package. She took her hand off the doorknob, set her fi shing gear down, and found a pair of scissors in the kitchen junk drawer. 

Judging by the weight and size of the box, there might be a book 

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or two inside. In the past, he’d sent calendars, tourist guides, poetry written in Arabic, and books with glossy photos of Roman and Phoenician ruins. Sometimes he’d include bars of olive oil soap, jars of pomegranate molasses, and cans of sesame seed paste. 

Sam slit the tape along the edges of the box and pulled the card-board flaps up. A white envelope sat on top of the packing material, addressed to her. 

She ran her finger across the handwriting, then slid her thumb under the envelope’s flap and pulled it open. Inside was a piece of folded paper, so thin it was translucent. She unfolded it, eager to read, but the entire note was indecipherable to her: It was written in Arabic, in bright purple ink, the color of peacock feathers. 

She dug into the box again, half convinced that only pillows of bubble wrap filled the rest of it, but her fingers hit something solid. 

The hairs on the back of her neck stood up as she pulled out a fat, pear- shaped object enshrouded in newspaper. Setting it on the table, she began unpeeling the sheets, layer after layer, her fingertips turning black from the newsprint. 

Finally, the last square of paper fell to the floor. Sam stood staring at a piece of dull clay pottery. 

Its narrow neck was flanked by two circular handles, hardly big enough to fi t her fingers through. Simple, symmetrical lines criss-crossed its belly. It had a look of homemade imperfection; maybe Jiddo had made it himself. 

The letter surely explained it. She refolded it and tucked it back inside the envelope, glancing at the clock on the microwave. She’d already wasted a solid ten minutes of fi shing time. She had to hide everything and get out on the water. 

“Go,” she told herself again, pushing away from the table. It wobbled, and the jug shuddered off the edge. 

“No!” she cried. 

For a moment, the jug seemed suspended in air, simply waiting to be caught— and then it hit the linoleum floor with a hollow, sickening sound. 

Sam let out a groan as she knelt to examine the damage. It had split in half; she tried to fi t it back together like two puzzle pieces, but there was a thin seam between them. Just like my life,  she thought. Split apart and then precariously put back together. You only noticed the cracks when you got close enough. 

And that was when she saw the coins. 

There were seven, crusted to the dirty bottom of the jug. She tipped it upside down over the table, shook, and the coins spilled out. 

Sam blinked. 

Treasure. 

Time and dirt had turned a few of them black. Others were only slightly tarnished, stamped with images of pine trees and ships, sea castles and owls, spears crossed to make an X. PIASTRES, one of them said; another had a perfect hole drilled through its middle, flanked by two small lions. 

Sweat trickled down her temples. Her mind raced. What if Mom came home right this second? She had already pawned every last item of worth in their possession. She would take the coins without a second thought. 

There was one more, she noticed: stuck to the bottom, caked with a mud- hardened residue, so camouflaged with the dark pottery she almost missed it. She tipped the jug piece again and shook, hard, but it wouldn’t come loose. When she tried with a fingernail, her nail bent and snapped, and the coin stayed put. 

“Super,” she said, sucking on her finger to take the sting away. 

Letter- like shapes arced along the top edge of the coin. They might have been words, but they were written in an alphabet she didn’t recognize. Even though she couldn’t read Arabic, she knew its familiar curves and dots. This was something altogether different. 

Sam glanced at the clock again. 

She needed to go— but instead she pulled Dad’s Swiss Army knife from one of her shirt pockets. His initials were engraved on its bright red side: B.C.C. She gave the knife a quick kiss like she always did before she used it, knowing her father’s fingerprints were still there underneath her own. 

Carefully, she worked the tip of the smallest blade under the coin, until it finally sprang out onto the table. 

For some reason, she hesitated to touch it. It seemed different than the other coins. Older, thicker. It made her heart beat faster. 

These coins could change everything for them. This one could really be worth something. 

She picked the coin up, and the moment her fingers met the metal, her hand turned icy cold. She bit the inside of her mouth and winced, tasting blood. 

A presence filled the room. She was suddenly sure she was being watched. 

“Who’s there?” she asked, spinning to look. 

Something pulled on her, pushed her. The room turned dark, as if the electricity had failed and a storm cloud had rolled right inside the house. There was the distant sound of a flute, and then a whispering voice. Raspy and urgent. 

 You have what is mine! 

The language was foreign, but somehow she understood. 

Give it to me! 

The pull on her intensified, a fierce current sweeping her out into deep waters. It felt as though her feet were no longer on the floor, that the worn gray linoleum beneath her had become fluid. The storm cloud swirled and widened into a funnel in the floor, a pit of smoke. 

Her hand had frozen shut, fingers curled tightly around the coin. But with a determined shriek, she threw it down. 

The strange storm stopped as suddenly as it had started. 

The light returned to the room. The linoleum was as chipped and ordinary as always. She stood panting for air, staring at the coin where it had landed. 

Sam rubbed her throbbing hand, her heart pounding with such ferocity she had to lie down. She made her way to the couch and collapsed, listening. 

All was silent, other than her own frantic breathing. There was no hypnotic fl ute, no voice. Her stomach turned over with something that felt like motion sickness, as if she’d just stepped off a spinning carnival ride and still couldn’t fi nd her footing. 

Outside the window, a dog barked, and Mrs. Jarvis yelled. “Get over here! Peanut!” She called the dog’s name over and over again. 

“Peanut! Peanut! There you are!” 

Sam counted to one hundred and then stood. 

Warily, she went back to the kitchen and stared at the coin. She was afraid to touch it, but she couldn’t just leave it there. 

After pacing the house, searching for an idea, she went to Rima’s collection of beauty supplies, a pink plastic cabinet with four drawers. 

She yanked open the drawer labeled EYES and dug through a rainbow of shadows, liners, and tubes of mascara until she found the tweezers. 

Metal meeting metal made a dull ting as she tapped the coin. Carefully, she slid the tweezers around it and clamped down. All good. 

Nothing happened. As Dad would say, No holes in the boat. 

She let out a little laugh of relief. She had almost expected it to spring to life like a coiled snake. 

Back in the kitchen, she slipped the coin into a large Ziploc bag, along with the other seven coins and the two halves of the broken jug. 

The back door squeaked behind her as she headed outside, down the rotting stoop and into the yard. The gardening tools were already laid out, right next to the plants she’d bought last week. After setting down the bag, she thrust the big metal shovel into the ground, thinking how her mother accused her of burying everything— her emotions, herself— in school and work. 

She would get some answers tomorrow. At the library or on the internet, there would be information about old coins. She would find someone— other than Mom— to translate Jiddo’s letter. In the mean-time, this was the best hiding place for the things he had sent her. 

An hour later, she had a decent- sized hole in the backyard, deep enough. After burying the bag, Sam looked back up at their sagging trailer. 

Maybe it wasn’t lopsided after all. Maybe it was her. 

2

A door slammed with a gunshot bang and Sam sat up. 

She was surprised to find herself back on the couch; a rogue metal spring dug through the thin cushions and jabbed at her thigh. 

Across the room, their hazy TV was on mute, and a woman silently urged her to act now and buy an Immortal Youth skincare system in three easy payments. 

Sam had a dim recollection of putting on her nightshirt, of trying to stay awake until Rima came home. She’d never made it to the lake. 

Morning sunlight streamed into the room, illuminating the dusty air. 

“Rima?” she called, her voice hoarse. 

She cleared her throat and stood, rolling her neck until it cracked. 

Her fingers ached where she’d touched the coin. 

The coin. 

She sucked in a breath as the whole thing came flooding back to her. 

The remote shook in her hand as she clicked off the TV. She must have fallen asleep watching some crazy movie, that’s all it was. Her imagination on overload. She tossed the remote onto the couch and went to the kitchen for a drink, but with a start she remembered the smoky pit in the fl oor, exactly where she stood now. She skittered away from the spot and tried to laugh at herself. 

There was no way that had happened. 

And yet she was completely sure it did. 

Heart thumping, she poured herself a glass of water from the sink and drank it in one long gulp. She grabbed Jiddo’s letter from the table and backed away from the kitchen, feeling like it was set with snares. 

“Rima?” she called again. 

She padded cautiously to their bedroom. Her sister’s clothes were fl ung across the fl oor, making a trail to the bed, where she snored quietly on the top bunk, murmuring in her sleep, her arm slung over the railing. Sam felt a surge of relief before catching a whiff of vape and beer. And barf. 

“Soccer practice,” Sam mumbled under her breath. There were brambles in Rima’s hair. “Yeah, right.” 

She slid Jiddo’s letter underneath her own pillow, and then crossed the tiny hallway to open her mother’s bedroom door. 

She was back. Finally. 

Her duffel bag was on the bed, its contents spilling out, and among the jumbled clothes was the picture she always took with her, no matter where she went. Her wedding photo, framed in silver. Dad in a suit and tie, so serious. Mom in her white gown. 

“Mom?” Sam called, walking quickly through the small house, searching. 

Her mother’s voice answered, muffled and distant. “Out here!” 

Through the kitchen window, Sam could see her waving from the backyard. Sam waved back. 

Still in her bare feet and nightshirt, she threw open the patio door and ran out across the weeds and dirt. Above her, the sky was a happy pastel blue, like some sort of candy drink. The cold air took her by surprise, though. Yesterday had been summer- like, but now her breath spilled out ahead of her as she rushed toward her mother. 

“You’re home!” Sam said. 

“Hey, gorgeous,” Mom said, smiling up at her. 

Mom was the one who was gorgeous. Her black hair shone almost blue in the sunlight, and her skin glowed with olive undertones. She was on her knees with a rusty gardening spade and polka- dotted gloves; the potted vegetables Sam had bought the week before were beside her, an investment that would literally grow all summer. A five- dollar plant gave them vegetables for months. 

“Stand up so I can hug you,” Sam said, her teeth chattering against the cold. 

She nervously scanned the grass, looking for the rock that marked the place where she’d buried everything. Exactly where she’d put it was a blur; she’d been in such a state of shock and panic, and had worked until after dark. 

“Yes. I could use a hug.” Mom pulled off her dirty gardening gloves and stood, dusting her knees. “And a week of sleep.” 

Sam wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist and kissed her cheek. She seemed thinner than ever; Sam’s arms could practically go twice around her tiny waist. “Where’ve you been?” she asked, sneaking in one more peck on the other cheek before her mother pulled away. 

“Getting stuff to plant your garden,” Mom said, dodging the real question. 

Sam looked down at the dozen or so plants she had already bought, plus a few bags of black soil Mom must have just brought home. A fat bumblebee floated past, investigating the new plants. 

“Thanks,” Sam said. 

“Tomatoes need phosphorus.” Mom pointed her gardening spade at a bag of fertilizer. She read the planting instructions aloud. “ ‘Roma tomato. Pear- or plum- shaped. Plant in full sun in rows thirty- six inches apart.’ ” 

“Yeah, I was kind of waiting for the weather to warm up,” Sam said. “For good.” 

She’d covered the plants the previous week because it had dipped into the thirties overnight. The old sheet she’d used to protect them was strewn across the ground now, streaked with mud. Underneath a corner of the striped fabric, a rock—  the rock she’d used to mark the spot— peeked out. 

“I got some stakes and twine,” Mom said, “and a green pepper plant.” She bumped her hip against Sam’s. “You’re shivering. Go get dressed. You’ll catch a cold out here.” 

“The entire garden is supposed to go over there,” Sam said, point-ing to the opposite corner of the yard. “All these plants need sun.” 

You need sun,” Mom said. “Look how pale you are. Go inside and get a warm drink.” 

“Come with me,” Sam said, but Mom put her gardening gloves back on and squinted at the tag from the green pepper plant. Sam studied the rim of bone under the collar of her mother’s shirt. So thin. 

“Where were you?” Sam asked quietly. “I was going to call the police today.” 

Mom dropped the tag she was holding. “Do not do that.” All the cheer that had been in her voice moments ago was gone. “Never ever do that.” 

“I know, but . . .” 

“You’re not eighteen yet. They’ll put you in a foster home. And Rima somewhere else, in a different one.” She cast a gloved finger in one direction and then in another. Opposite ends of the world. 

“Why was Mr. Koplow here yesterday?” Sam pressed. “How many months behind are we? He said he was here about the stoop, but it’s more than that, right?” 

Mom sighed and raked her fingers through her hair, sending a stripe of dirt through her bangs. “The credit card company won’t increase our limit.” She shook her head. “I had to get new brake pads for the car. Then your wisdom teeth came out, and that wasn’t completely covered. I bought soccer cleats for Rima, plus her summer registration fees. Things add up.” 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Sam looked over her shoulder toward the house, wondering if Rima was awake yet. She didn’t need to hear another argument. Especially not the same old argument. “I could have put in some extra hours at the jewelry store.” 

She held back the rest: I don’t like how Mr. Koplow looks at you. I don’t want you owing him anything. 

Mom considered the hole she’d just dug. “Do you think that’s deep enough?” 

“How much did you spend on all this gardening stuff ?” Sam asked. “Maybe we can return a couple things.” 

“Well,” Mom said, a smile tugging at her lips. “I wanted to save the surprise, but since you’re asking . . .” 

From the front pockets of her jeans, she pulled out two thick wads of cash. And then, while Sam stood frozen with disbelief, she sprinkled the bills all over the ground. Like she was planting seeds for money trees. 

What?  What did you do?” Sam asked. Possibilities— all of them bad— swirled through her mind. “Where did you get all this? Is it real?” 

There were tens and twenties . . . even fifties. The wind picked up and Sam dropped to her knees to gather the money before it blew away. 

“I won at the casino.” Mom laughed. She sounded proud of herself. “I won big.” 

“You were gambling all week?” Sam held the money tight in her fists, fighting back the torrent of angry words that swelled inside her. Mom had been playing slots at the casino again? That  was where she was? 

But the money. The money! It was more than Sam made in a month. Maybe even more than their check from the Marines. 

“Karma, baby!” Mom said. “Mercury retrograde ended last week, so the timing was good.” She looked up at the sky. “I wonder if there’s a lunar eclipse in Pisces right now. I should check on that.” 

“The stars were aligned,” Sam said. 

“Yes,” Mom said, ignoring Sam’s sarcasm. “And today, we’re going to Lowe’s to buy a washer and dryer. No more trips to the laundromat.” She dipped her hand into her shirt pocket and found a pair of sunglasses, then slid them on and smiled, posing. “Like them?” 

“Yeah. They’re great, Mom.” Sam sighed, reluctantly handing the money back. “Really great.” 

“We’ll get Alan off our backs, buy some new clothes,” Mom continued, “and go out for steaks tonight. Let’s go see a movie, too.” She cleared her throat. “What? I see your wheels turning.” 

“I just . . . We have a lot of bills to pay, obviously. Those should come first. And that other thing . . . remember?” But clearly Mom had forgotten. “The entrepreneurship certificate program. The small- business classes I’ve been saving for.” 

Mom swatted her words away. “You haven’t even graduated high school yet. Enjoy the last few weeks of senior year. Enjoy the summer.” 

“ But—” 

“Your dad took a few college classes, you know, before he enlisted. 

And what did they get him? Nothing.” Her eyes lit up. “We should spend the money on a prom dress for you!” 

“No! That’s a total waste. I’m just going with my friends anyway,” 

Sam said. “I’ll wear Rima’s blue dress.” 

“That dress won’t fi t you. Come on, you could be the belle of the ball,” Mom said, fanning the bills. She twisted her mouth when Sam shook her head. “You are no fun.” She shoved the cash back into her pockets. “You’re so serious all the time, so practical. You weren’t always like this. I worry about you.” 

“I worry about you, ” Sam countered, keeping her voice in check. 

“Next time please leave a note. That’s all I’m asking, so I know where you are. I called all your normal jobs. I was starting to think you were dead.” 

“Dead!” Mom said. “That’s dramatic.” 

“ ‘Dear Sam, I’ll see you Saturday morning. Here’s how you can reach me if you need to. Have a good week. Love, Mom.’ ” 

“A note,” Mom repeated. “That would’ve been thoughtful. But then you might have come searching for me.” 

And she didn’t want to be found. 

Sam gave her mother a look. They’d had this standoff so many times, and getting angry only made things worse. Mom was home, with money to spare, so Sam tamped down her frustration and pasted on a smile. 

“I’m glad you’re home,” she said, picking up the shovel and ducking underneath the branches of the only tree in their yard. Its trunk wore a hundred scars where she and Dad had thrown knives into it. Sam could almost see herself taking aim, see the ghost of her ten- year- old self, of Dad standing by chewing on a toothpick. It’s all in the wrist,  he would coach, but more often than not she missed the tree altogether and the knife would land in the grass. 

Mom pushed her new sunglasses onto the top of her head. They were Ray- Bans, and they weren’t knock- offs. The wad of gambling money would be gone by next week. 

“Yep,” Sam mumbled, deciding for certain that she needed to keep the jug and coins a secret. With a grunt, she jammed the shovel into the ground. She’d worn blisters across her palms last night from digging, and now they flared up again. That part, at least, had really happened— burying the Ziploc bag. Her mind flashed to the smoky mist and the man’s voice, which now felt so dreamlike and impossible. 

“Are you okay?” Mom asked. “You really do look sick.” 

“The last time I ate was yesterday at lunch.” 

“Inside,” she said, putting an arm around Sam. “You’re freezing! I bought bagels. I was just waiting for Rima to wake up.” 

“I’ll go play reveille in her ear,” Sam said, but when they turned to walk back to the house, she saw that Rima was standing at the door with a cup of coffee. She lifted a hand toward Mom as if she’d been gone five minutes rather than five days. No big deal. Totally normal. 

Mom kissed Rima’s forehead before she could duck away. “How’s my baby?” she asked. “Good?” 

“How was the party last night?” Sam asked, following Rima into the kitchen. Her hair was in a messy knot, her face oily with yesterday’s makeup. “I mean, soccer practice?” 

Rima shot her a look. Shut up,  she mouthed silently. 

“Mom won some money at the casino,” Sam added, opening the refrigerator and handing Rima a tub of cream cheese. Mom had bought caramel- flavored, the best, and probably without a coupon. 

Sam chose a cinnamon bagel from the open box on the kitchen table. 

“We’re going shopping today.” 

“After I nap,” Mom said, stifling a yawn. In the kitchen’s fluorescent light, the skin under her eyes looked purple. She’d probably gambled all night and slept in her car during the day. “It’s hard work winning cold, hard cash.” 

“How much?” Rima asked, trailing Mom into her room. “What’d you play? Slots or blackjack?” 

Sam swallowed the last bite of her bagel. She showered and dressed, stacking a few bracelets over her wrist and slipping on her old sneakers. The lake was calling to her, but she had econ homework, an entire business plan due on Friday. Plus, if she went to the library, she could search for clues about the coins. 

She tucked Jiddo’s letter into her pocket and walked through the house. When she looked inside Mom’s room, she found her already asleep, her cheek pressed crookedly against her half- unpacked duffel bag. 

The back door was ajar, and Rima was singing somewhere. 

And then Sam heard a noise that made her spine stiffen: the chink of a shovel hitting rock. 

Panicked, Sam pressed her fingertips against the window. Rima was on her knees in the yard. She was digging. 

Sam threw open the back door. “What are you doing?” she asked, her voice cracking as she sprinted toward her sister. 

“Mom told me to move all the plants to this one spot.” Rima had the Ziploc bag in her hands, the pieces of the broken jug showing through. The hose was running, creating a thin river of mud around Rima’s bare feet. “But check this out,” she said. “I found this.” 

“Don’t open it,” Sam warned. She was breathless from running. 

“But there’s a bunch of coins in here.” Rima pointed through the clear bag. “They look old.” 

“Give it to me,” Sam said, thrusting her hand out. 

“Finders keepers,” Rima replied, pulling the bag toward her chest. 

“You don’t understand,” Sam said. “Jiddo sent that to me. It’s mine.” 

“Huh?” Rima made a face. “Jiddo?” 

Sam nodded. 

“So why is it out here?” 

“Because,” Sam said. “I needed to hide it for now.” She put her hand out again, but instead Rima opened the bag and pulled the two chunks of pottery out. Three or four coins fell to the ground. “You’re going to lose something!” 

“Is it from Lebanon?” Rima let out a low whistle. “This stuff looks ancient.” 

“One of the coins is . . .” Sam’s voice trailed off. She wanted to say 

“magical” or “cursed,” but that seemed ridiculous in the broad daylight of their backyard. Birds chirped, and the clouds were ribbons across the blue sky. 

Rima picked up the coins and set them in the palm of her hand. 

“Do you think they’re worth something?” She smiled and her eyes lit up with excitement. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and Sam felt herself smile back. 

“We have to research everything first,” she said. “Don’t tell Mom, okay? She’ll just take them to the pawnshop. I need to go to a museum or find a guidebook or something, so we can sell them for the right price.” 

“Yeah,” Rima said. “That makes sense.” 

“They might not be worth anything,” Sam cautioned. “And they were from Jiddo, so part of me thinks we should just keep them anyway. Maybe they’re family heirlooms. I thought I’d glue the jug back together, at least.” 

Rima nodded. She took the last few coins from the bottom of the bag and placed them alongside the others in her cupped hand. Her posture turned rigid. “C-cold,” she gasped. 

It was happening again. 

A small patch of soil seemed to turn loose at Rima’s knees. 

“Drop them,” Sam cried. “Hurry!” 

She grabbed Rima’s wrist and shook until the coins fell to the ground. Sam knelt over them, guarding them, counting them: fi ve, six . . . There were supposed to be eight. The seventh coin was nestled next to Mom’s gardening gloves. Where was the last one? 

“D’you hear that?” Rima asked, her words slurred. She looked around the yard. “A flute.” Smoke rose from the twisting earth. 

“Are you still holding one?” Sam demanded, horrified. She dragged Rima back, away from where the ground was moving, turning, becoming a dark spiral that widened and reached toward their toes. “Drop it! Drop it! ” 

Rima’s eyes, so full of life a moment earlier, were glazed over. 

“Look at me.” Sam snapped her fingers in front of Rima’s face, but she was somewhere far away. “Listen to me. Let go of the coin!” She shook her by the shoulders. 

Rima slumped into her arms, but her fingers held the coin like a vise. 

Sam peeled them back, one by one, and plucked the coin from her sister’s palm. She pinched it between two fingertips, and the mesmerizing, eerie music of the flute filled her head once again. The inky fog rushed to embrace her, twisting, pulling, shushing her. Sam felt her voice trapped in her throat. The world was unfurling. 

It’s going to take us. 

“Mine,” a man’s voice said. 

Sam turned to look. There was no one in the yard— other than wide- eyed Rima— but now there was the smell of incense burning. 

Her fingers refused to open. The coin’s icy poison was spreading, making her entire arm brittle. 

“My obol.” 

The man’s voice was closer . . . and then Sam saw him. 

Bearded and cloaked and made of the dark clouds that spun across the yard. His breath spilled from his mouth in cold currents. 

He lunged with dizzying swiftness, his hands going to Rima. I have the coin,  Sam wanted to say. Leave her alone! 

Rima cried out as the ghost gripped her by the wrist and yanked her away. He looked at Sam, his face full of fury. His eyes were golden, but his pupils were all wrong. One of them was the shape of a keyhole. 

Stop!  Sam silently screamed over the sound of the flute, a drum-beat also rising. She desperately crawled after Rima, her fingers finding a belt loop in her sister’s jeans. They were at the cusp of the dark, revolving funnel. 

With a last, desperate effort, Sam flicked the coin away. Over her shoulder, she caught a glimpse of it flipping through the air, as if someone had tossed it to call heads or tails. It landed in the black soil of their garden, behind them. 

No. Above them. 

It was too late. The three of them were sinking down, down, down; the backyard had become something like a raised stage they’d fallen from. 

Sam closed her eyes and spun. 

About the author

PROLOGUE

Karm El Mohr, Syria ( modern- day Lebanon), 1903

In the night his mother disappeared, the boy had tiptoed to her room to ask for a glass of water. 

The moon shone through the windows, casting a glowing walk-way across the floor. The air was fragrant with blossoming orange trees. He would tell her that he couldn’t sleep, that lately his dreams had been strange. Had hers been, too? 

It was an uncertain time. The Turks had been coming without warning. They galloped through the village taking whatever they wanted— livestock, clothing, jewelry, young men for their army. In his dreams, they rode dragons instead of horses. 

He nudged her bedroom door open. Father was not yet home; he was drinking arak and playing backgammon next door at Aami Hanna’s. 

Mother stood in the center of the bedroom in her nightgown. Her hair was down, long tangles of black. In her arms she cradled a jug— 

the one she’d found yesterday while exploring the mountain caves. 

Over the years, she’d come home with other treasures: a metal spear, the jawbone of a lion, a clay seal, glass beads. Truly, though, she told her son, the most precious thing she found was a bit of solitude. 

“Mother,” he whispered. Was she asleep with her eyes open? 

Behind her, the moonlight glistened on a spiderweb, a hexagon of silken threads. “Shoo saar? Shoo aam b’seer?”  What happened? What  is  happening? 

She tilted her head as if she’d heard something beyond his voice. 

Perhaps it was an animal; wolves sometimes stalked the village at night. He, too, listened so intently that, for a moment, he thought he could hear the spider plucking its legs along the web, perfecting its trap. 

He noticed she held something— small and round— between her fi ngers. “What do you have, immi?” he asked. 

And then he saw something strange spreading before his mother’s bare feet: a dark pool, black smoke bubbling up from its center. 

Fire! 

He tried to scream, but he could hardly breathe. Instead he stumbled backward, bumping into the half- open door, his heart pounding against his ribs. Why was there no burning odor, no heat from the smoke? The air was cold. 

“Get back, Mother!” he managed to whisper desperately, shivering. 

But she seemed oddly calm— trancelike— as she stood near the cusp of the widening pool, which began to swirl like a pot of soup stirred by an unseen ladle. The boy knew he should cry for help or pull her back, but now he himself was unable to turn away, unable to move. 

What was it? What was in there? 

What was at the bottom? 

Long fi ngers, tendrils of smoke, beckoned him forward with a shushing noise like a mother soothing a child. Mesmerized, horrifi ed, he stepped closer. 

Something was materializing and rising up out of the churning pool. Some one. 

A man. 

“Give it to me,” the man hissed, shadowed in smoke. 

His face was hidden by a beard, his cloak trimmed with fur. He spoke in a foreign tongue, with ancient words— but the boy understood. It was the language of his long- lost ancestors. It was in his blood. 

But give  what? Perhaps he wanted the jug? 

The man glanced at the boy before grabbing his mother by the wrist. Her face collapsed into an expression of pain. The jug fell with a thud. 

“Let her go!” the boy begged, frozen. 

“Mine,” the man said. 

“She is not yours!” 

His mother’s eyes snapped into focus. She fi nally looked at her son— fi nally saw him standing there— and her face dimmed with terror. 

“Go,” she croaked. The ghostly man pulled her toward the pool, which was now a yawning black mouth consuming half of the room. 

“You cannot take her!” the boy cried. 

 “Habibi.”  His mother’s voice was nothing more than a thick moan. 

“Bhebak aatool.” 

He reached out to her, the tips of his fi ngers grazing her nightgown. His balance wavered at the edge of the spiraling chasm. 

With a grunt of determination, she pushed the boy away with more strength than he’d known she had, sending him across the room. 

He landed on his back, hitting his head on the doorframe. Helplessly, he watched as the man wrapped his cloak around his mother, envelop-ing all but her pale face. Outside, a cloud slid over the moon, turning the light ashen. His mother and the stranger stepped into the bubbling black vortex, which narrowed. 

And disappeared. 

A final sigh of smoke lingered briefly before it went out like a forgotten campfire. 

All was quiet. The bedroom floor was as solid as ever. 

But his mother was gone. 

He whimpered and pulled himself across the room, lying fl at across the spot where she’d been just moments ago. Under his cheek, the fl oor grew cold and wet with tears. Surely this was only another nightmare— his worst yet— but he could not wake himself up. 

 I love you,  she’d said. Forever. 

He picked up the jug and held it to his chest; he rocked back and forth and called for her. Outside the window, an owl responded with a forlorn  who- who. 

When he finally stumbled next door, frantic and babbling, his father stubbed out his cigarette and cursed. “The Turks!” he cried. 

He stood and knocked over the backgammon board, scattering pieces everywhere like a fistful of lost coins. “They kidnapped her!” 

He tore through the village, his angry shouts waking children from their sleep. A few men mounted horses and went chasing shadows into the night, ready to slit the throats of her captors. Other than a pack of hyenas, they found nothing. 

Secretly, no one held out hope. She was too beautiful. She had surely been taken as a bride. After a month, the village priest stopped praying for her return. After a year, no one spoke of it. 

 “Bayye,”  the boy would say to his father, tugging on his pants in their grove of walnut trees. “It was not the Turks.” 

He had told and retold his story, but the more he recounted what had truly happened, the less people listened. They patted his head, crossed themselves, and changed the subject. 

“There is no such thing as a genie!” his father said finally. “Now stop your talk, once and for all. People are beginning to think you are akhwet. ” 

But the boy knew what he had seen. He kept the jug hidden and close. He rubbed it every night, making the same unfulfilled wish— 

 Please bring my mother home— until he was an old man ready to die. 

1

“No, no, no.” Sam swore under her breath. “Go away.” 

She pressed her eyes shut, as if that would make their landlord’s car disappear. 

But his ancient Mercedes was still rasping along behind her, its belly low to the ground, slinking like an animal. Sam dipped her head and picked up the pace. Her shoes were tucked under her arm, and the gravel road bit into her bare feet. As she reached the mailbox, she heard the car sputter to a stop, and there was the snap of the driver’s door. 

“What’s the rush?” Mr. Koplow called, laughing as he trailed her up the cracked cement driveway. 

Sam stopped and steeled herself before turning to face his empty smile and icy blue eyes. His pants hung low underneath his belly; his thinning hair was combed straight back. 

“It’s not the first yet,” Sam said, even though she knew they still owed last month’s rent. 

Mr. Koplow tipped his chin toward the trailer. “Your mother here?” 

“She went to get milk.” 

“Milk,” Mr. Koplow repeated. 

“And toilet paper,” Sam said, adding to the lie. 

“Right. So she’ll be back soon,” Mr. Koplow suggested, reaching into his shirt pocket for a pack of cigarettes. He pulled one out, crooked, and pressed it between his lips. 

Sam glanced up at the sky, where the sun was inching its way down. “Sorry, but I really need to get to the lake.” She raised her hand. 

Goodbye. 

Mr. Koplow didn’t move. He let out a curl of smoke. “She wants me to fi x the back stoop. I need to take a look, see what happened.” 

“Nothing happened. It’s rotten.” 

At her feet was an oil stain from her mother’s leaking car, and behind her there was yet another dent in the carport. She knew Mr. 

Koplow was keeping tabs; they would never get their security deposit back when the time came. 

He squinted at her dirty feet, at her chipped green toenail polish. His eyes climbed higher, lingering on her purse, then the stack of bracelets up her arm. “How much did those cost?” he asked as his phone rang. 

Three dollars. That was how much she’d paid for her bracelets. 

Clearance table, plus her employee discount. 

“Yeah, this is Alan. Slow down, slow down,” Mr. Koplow said into his cell, his voice rising. “What’s leaking? The toilet on the second fl oor?” He pointed his cigarette at Sam. “I’ll be back.” 

A moment later, his car engine sputtered and caught, and Sam watched as he vanished down the gravel road, a wall of dust rising behind him. 

With a sigh, she turned to face the lopsided trailer with its mildew- stained siding and ripped welcome mat. Mr. Koplow had once told Mom that it wasn’t the Taj Mahal and she was no princess, so what did she expect? 

Whatever it was, it was home. It was the place of rushed Monday mornings and the smell of Mom’s perfume. It was where Rima had fallen against the coffee table and gotten the scar on her shoulder, where Dad had taught Sam how to cast a net from the top of the picnic table, pretending the backyard was teeming with baitfish. It was the place Dad would come home to, when he finally came home. He could fold his clothes and put them away. His grape soda would take up the top shelf of the fridge. He’d get Outside magazine delivered again. 

He’d pick up right where he left off. 

“See you soon,” he’d said the day he was deployed, ruffling Sam’s hair. “Take care of your mom and baby sister while I’m gone.” 

“Yes, sir,” she’d said. 

Then he’d stooped down and put his hands on her shoulders. His military boots— which always smelled like motor oil— were tightly laced under his flight suit. His hands were so big. Invincible. He could survive anything. 

“Promise me,” he said, his blond eyebrows drawn together. The air had been laced with the sweetness of spring flowers and grass and new leaves, just like today. “Promise me you’ll look out for them until I get back.” 

“I will, sir,” Sam had repeated, an uneasy knot in her stomach. 

“I’ll try to, Dad.” 

“Try hard, kiddo. I love you.” That was the last thing he’d said to her. 

She could almost feel Dad’s hands on her shoulders now as she jiggled the house key into the rusty lock. Another broken thing that needed to be replaced. 

Behind her, brakes squealed and then sighed. She spun around to look. Was it Mr. Koplow again, or Mom fi nally home, or someone Mom owed money, or a favor? 

It was a hulking UPS truck. A man in a brown uniform hopped down with a box in his hands. 

“It’s probably for Mrs. Jarvis,” Sam said to the deliveryman as she finally jerked the door open. She pointed down the street at a lawn cluttered with gnomes and metallic balls on pedestals. “QVC addict.” 

“Nope,” he said, reading the box. “This is for Samira Clark. 

That you?” 

“It’s just Sam,” she said. “Nobody calls me Samira.” 

“Whoever sent this package does. I’ll need a photo ID for this one.” 

Sam pulled her wallet from her purse and handed over her driver’s license. 

“Wow, your hair,” the deliveryman said as he glanced back and forth between her face and her license. She was sixteen in the photo, almost two years ago. At the time she’d had shoulder- length hair bleached to a brassy shade of blond. Now her black hair hung down to her waist. 

“That’s me,” Sam assured him. 

He held the electronic clipboard out for her. “Initial here. And put the date right there at the bottom.” 

The date. It was Friday. Mom had been gone since Monday. That made four nights. Too long. If she didn’t hear from her by tomorrow, she’d have to call the police. 

“Hello?” 

“Yeah, sorry,” Sam said, scribbling her signature. “Stressful day, that’s all. Couldn’t remember the date for a second.” 

He smiled, took back the board, and handed her the package and her driver’s license. “Hang in there.” 

“Thanks,” she said, though he was already jogging back to his truck. 

Sam stepped inside, looking at the box. It was lighter than she expected, and it smelled like spices and tobacco. Postage stickers were everywhere, and on the right- hand corner LIBANPOST, BEIRUT was stamped within a rectangle of bright blue ink. The sender had meticulously written The United States of America under Sam’s zip code, and the return address had been perfectly penned, as though a ruler had been held underneath each line. Karm El Mohr,  it said, which Sam recognized as the name of her mother’s hometown in Lebanon, a little village in the mountains. 

Curiosity tugged at her, but it was getting late. She had to hurry to the lake, or there would be nothing at all for dinner. 

“Rima?” Sam called into the house. Their tiny kitchen table, too small for three people, teetered when Sam set the package on top. She tucked her driver’s license away and tossed her purse and shoes into the corner. 

“Hello?” she called one more time before peeking into her mother’s bedroom. There was always the slim chance she could be back, and asleep. 

But nothing had changed since the last time Sam looked. Mom’s bed was unmade, her fl oral comforter tangled. The curtains were drawn. On a chair, nestled between two throw pillows, a teddy bear stared at Sam with vacant eyes. MY VALENTINE was stitched across its heart- shaped belly. Sam stared back. Though she’d never asked, she was sure it was a gift from Dad— it had been around a lot longer than any of Mom’s boyfriends. 

She closed her mother’s door and went to her own room, where she changed into jeans, a fi shing shirt with a dozen little pockets for supplies, and sneakers. Her old Girl Scout sash— loaded with badges for archery, horseback riding, cookie sales— 

had fallen from its 

thumbtacks again. She pressed it back into the wall and then tossed a makeup bag and a jacket onto Rima’s upper bunk, which was already piled high with dirty clothes, schoolwork, and at least twenty jars of nail polish. There was only enough space in their windowless room for one dresser, and there was no closet, so the floor was cluttered with semiorganized piles. Picking through them, Sam found everything she needed, making a mental checklist as she went: fi shing rod; Dad’s Swiss Army knife in case she needed to cut a line; a cooler. Back in the kitchen she grabbed an ice pack from the freezer and, finally, moldy cheese for bait. 

“Go, go, go,” she urged herself. 

The winter had been so long and gray. She’d missed Glen Lake’s waters— turquoise blue and crystal clear, a reassurance that not everything in the world was dark and muddy underneath. No matter how many times she pulled her boat out onto the lake, her heart still swelled, as if those Caribbean- looking waters were a gift just for her, and that unexpected beauty was all she needed to carry on. 

Her hand was on the door, but at the last moment she glanced back at the UPS package on the table. If Mom came home while she was fi shing, she would open the package herself, even though it was addressed to Sam. 

What could be inside? 

The only person they knew from Lebanon was Mom’s grandfather, Jiddo Naameh. Packages from him came very rarely, and they were always for Mom, never Sam. She’d never even met her great- grandfather, had only seen him in a handful of yellowed pictures that hung on the walls of Mom’s bedroom. He looked old in those photos, and they were all taken before Sam was born. 

It would only take a second to open the package. She took her hand off the doorknob, set her fi shing gear down, and found a pair of scissors in the kitchen junk drawer. 

Judging by the weight and size of the box, there might be a book 

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or two inside. In the past, he’d sent calendars, tourist guides, poetry written in Arabic, and books with glossy photos of Roman and Phoenician ruins. Sometimes he’d include bars of olive oil soap, jars of pomegranate molasses, and cans of sesame seed paste. 

Sam slit the tape along the edges of the box and pulled the card-board flaps up. A white envelope sat on top of the packing material, addressed to her. 

She ran her finger across the handwriting, then slid her thumb under the envelope’s flap and pulled it open. Inside was a piece of folded paper, so thin it was translucent. She unfolded it, eager to read, but the entire note was indecipherable to her: It was written in Arabic, in bright purple ink, the color of peacock feathers. 

She dug into the box again, half convinced that only pillows of bubble wrap filled the rest of it, but her fingers hit something solid. 

The hairs on the back of her neck stood up as she pulled out a fat, pear- shaped object enshrouded in newspaper. Setting it on the table, she began unpeeling the sheets, layer after layer, her fingertips turning black from the newsprint. 

Finally, the last square of paper fell to the floor. Sam stood staring at a piece of dull clay pottery. 

Its narrow neck was flanked by two circular handles, hardly big enough to fi t her fingers through. Simple, symmetrical lines criss-crossed its belly. It had a look of homemade imperfection; maybe Jiddo had made it himself. 

The letter surely explained it. She refolded it and tucked it back inside the envelope, glancing at the clock on the microwave. She’d already wasted a solid ten minutes of fi shing time. She had to hide everything and get out on the water. 

“Go,” she told herself again, pushing away from the table. It wobbled, and the jug shuddered off the edge. 

“No!” she cried. 

For a moment, the jug seemed suspended in air, simply waiting to be caught— and then it hit the linoleum floor with a hollow, sickening sound. 

Sam let out a groan as she knelt to examine the damage. It had split in half; she tried to fi t it back together like two puzzle pieces, but there was a thin seam between them. Just like my life,  she thought. Split apart and then precariously put back together. You only noticed the cracks when you got close enough. 

And that was when she saw the coins. 

There were seven, crusted to the dirty bottom of the jug. She tipped it upside down over the table, shook, and the coins spilled out. 

Sam blinked. 

Treasure. 

Time and dirt had turned a few of them black. Others were only slightly tarnished, stamped with images of pine trees and ships, sea castles and owls, spears crossed to make an X. PIASTRES, one of them said; another had a perfect hole drilled through its middle, flanked by two small lions. 

Sweat trickled down her temples. Her mind raced. What if Mom came home right this second? She had already pawned every last item of worth in their possession. She would take the coins without a second thought. 

There was one more, she noticed: stuck to the bottom, caked with a mud- hardened residue, so camouflaged with the dark pottery she almost missed it. She tipped the jug piece again and shook, hard, but it wouldn’t come loose. When she tried with a fingernail, her nail bent and snapped, and the coin stayed put. 

“Super,” she said, sucking on her finger to take the sting away. 

Letter- like shapes arced along the top edge of the coin. They might have been words, but they were written in an alphabet she didn’t recognize. Even though she couldn’t read Arabic, she knew its familiar curves and dots. This was something altogether different. 

Sam glanced at the clock again. 

She needed to go— but instead she pulled Dad’s Swiss Army knife from one of her shirt pockets. His initials were engraved on its bright red side: B.C.C. She gave the knife a quick kiss like she always did before she used it, knowing her father’s fingerprints were still there underneath her own. 

Carefully, she worked the tip of the smallest blade under the coin, until it finally sprang out onto the table. 

For some reason, she hesitated to touch it. It seemed different than the other coins. Older, thicker. It made her heart beat faster. 

These coins could change everything for them. This one could really be worth something. 

She picked the coin up, and the moment her fingers met the metal, her hand turned icy cold. She bit the inside of her mouth and winced, tasting blood. 

A presence filled the room. She was suddenly sure she was being watched. 

“Who’s there?” she asked, spinning to look. 

Something pulled on her, pushed her. The room turned dark, as if the electricity had failed and a storm cloud had rolled right inside the house. There was the distant sound of a flute, and then a whispering voice. Raspy and urgent. 

 You have what is mine! 

The language was foreign, but somehow she understood. 

Give it to me! 

The pull on her intensified, a fierce current sweeping her out into deep waters. It felt as though her feet were no longer on the floor, that the worn gray linoleum beneath her had become fluid. The storm cloud swirled and widened into a funnel in the floor, a pit of smoke. 

Her hand had frozen shut, fingers curled tightly around the coin. But with a determined shriek, she threw it down. 

The strange storm stopped as suddenly as it had started. 

The light returned to the room. The linoleum was as chipped and ordinary as always. She stood panting for air, staring at the coin where it had landed. 

Sam rubbed her throbbing hand, her heart pounding with such ferocity she had to lie down. She made her way to the couch and collapsed, listening. 

All was silent, other than her own frantic breathing. There was no hypnotic fl ute, no voice. Her stomach turned over with something that felt like motion sickness, as if she’d just stepped off a spinning carnival ride and still couldn’t fi nd her footing. 

Outside the window, a dog barked, and Mrs. Jarvis yelled. “Get over here! Peanut!” She called the dog’s name over and over again. 

“Peanut! Peanut! There you are!” 

Sam counted to one hundred and then stood. 

Warily, she went back to the kitchen and stared at the coin. She was afraid to touch it, but she couldn’t just leave it there. 

After pacing the house, searching for an idea, she went to Rima’s collection of beauty supplies, a pink plastic cabinet with four drawers. 

She yanked open the drawer labeled EYES and dug through a rainbow of shadows, liners, and tubes of mascara until she found the tweezers. 

Metal meeting metal made a dull ting as she tapped the coin. Carefully, she slid the tweezers around it and clamped down. All good. 

Nothing happened. As Dad would say, No holes in the boat. 

She let out a little laugh of relief. She had almost expected it to spring to life like a coiled snake. 

Back in the kitchen, she slipped the coin into a large Ziploc bag, along with the other seven coins and the two halves of the broken jug. 

The back door squeaked behind her as she headed outside, down the rotting stoop and into the yard. The gardening tools were already laid out, right next to the plants she’d bought last week. After setting down the bag, she thrust the big metal shovel into the ground, thinking how her mother accused her of burying everything— her emotions, herself— in school and work. 

She would get some answers tomorrow. At the library or on the internet, there would be information about old coins. She would find someone— other than Mom— to translate Jiddo’s letter. In the mean-time, this was the best hiding place for the things he had sent her. 

An hour later, she had a decent- sized hole in the backyard, deep enough. After burying the bag, Sam looked back up at their sagging trailer. 

Maybe it wasn’t lopsided after all. Maybe it was her. 

2

A door slammed with a gunshot bang and Sam sat up. 

She was surprised to find herself back on the couch; a rogue metal spring dug through the thin cushions and jabbed at her thigh. 

Across the room, their hazy TV was on mute, and a woman silently urged her to act now and buy an Immortal Youth skincare system in three easy payments. 

Sam had a dim recollection of putting on her nightshirt, of trying to stay awake until Rima came home. She’d never made it to the lake. 

Morning sunlight streamed into the room, illuminating the dusty air. 

“Rima?” she called, her voice hoarse. 

She cleared her throat and stood, rolling her neck until it cracked. 

Her fingers ached where she’d touched the coin. 

The coin. 

She sucked in a breath as the whole thing came flooding back to her. 

The remote shook in her hand as she clicked off the TV. She must have fallen asleep watching some crazy movie, that’s all it was. Her imagination on overload. She tossed the remote onto the couch and went to the kitchen for a drink, but with a start she remembered the smoky pit in the fl oor, exactly where she stood now. She skittered away from the spot and tried to laugh at herself. 

There was no way that had happened. 

And yet she was completely sure it did. 

Heart thumping, she poured herself a glass of water from the sink and drank it in one long gulp. She grabbed Jiddo’s letter from the table and backed away from the kitchen, feeling like it was set with snares. 

“Rima?” she called again. 

She padded cautiously to their bedroom. Her sister’s clothes were fl ung across the fl oor, making a trail to the bed, where she snored quietly on the top bunk, murmuring in her sleep, her arm slung over the railing. Sam felt a surge of relief before catching a whiff of vape and beer. And barf. 

“Soccer practice,” Sam mumbled under her breath. There were brambles in Rima’s hair. “Yeah, right.” 

She slid Jiddo’s letter underneath her own pillow, and then crossed the tiny hallway to open her mother’s bedroom door. 

She was back. Finally. 

Her duffel bag was on the bed, its contents spilling out, and among the jumbled clothes was the picture she always took with her, no matter where she went. Her wedding photo, framed in silver. Dad in a suit and tie, so serious. Mom in her white gown. 

“Mom?” Sam called, walking quickly through the small house, searching. 

Her mother’s voice answered, muffled and distant. “Out here!” 

Through the kitchen window, Sam could see her waving from the backyard. Sam waved back. 

Still in her bare feet and nightshirt, she threw open the patio door and ran out across the weeds and dirt. Above her, the sky was a happy pastel blue, like some sort of candy drink. The cold air took her by surprise, though. Yesterday had been summer- like, but now her breath spilled out ahead of her as she rushed toward her mother. 

“You’re home!” Sam said. 

“Hey, gorgeous,” Mom said, smiling up at her. 

Mom was the one who was gorgeous. Her black hair shone almost blue in the sunlight, and her skin glowed with olive undertones. She was on her knees with a rusty gardening spade and polka- dotted gloves; the potted vegetables Sam had bought the week before were beside her, an investment that would literally grow all summer. A five- dollar plant gave them vegetables for months. 

“Stand up so I can hug you,” Sam said, her teeth chattering against the cold. 

She nervously scanned the grass, looking for the rock that marked the place where she’d buried everything. Exactly where she’d put it was a blur; she’d been in such a state of shock and panic, and had worked until after dark. 

“Yes. I could use a hug.” Mom pulled off her dirty gardening gloves and stood, dusting her knees. “And a week of sleep.” 

Sam wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist and kissed her cheek. She seemed thinner than ever; Sam’s arms could practically go twice around her tiny waist. “Where’ve you been?” she asked, sneaking in one more peck on the other cheek before her mother pulled away. 

“Getting stuff to plant your garden,” Mom said, dodging the real question. 

Sam looked down at the dozen or so plants she had already bought, plus a few bags of black soil Mom must have just brought home. A fat bumblebee floated past, investigating the new plants. 

“Thanks,” Sam said. 

“Tomatoes need phosphorus.” Mom pointed her gardening spade at a bag of fertilizer. She read the planting instructions aloud. “ ‘Roma tomato. Pear- or plum- shaped. Plant in full sun in rows thirty- six inches apart.’ ” 

“Yeah, I was kind of waiting for the weather to warm up,” Sam said. “For good.” 

She’d covered the plants the previous week because it had dipped into the thirties overnight. The old sheet she’d used to protect them was strewn across the ground now, streaked with mud. Underneath a corner of the striped fabric, a rock—  the rock she’d used to mark the spot— peeked out. 

“I got some stakes and twine,” Mom said, “and a green pepper plant.” She bumped her hip against Sam’s. “You’re shivering. Go get dressed. You’ll catch a cold out here.” 

“The entire garden is supposed to go over there,” Sam said, point-ing to the opposite corner of the yard. “All these plants need sun.” 

You need sun,” Mom said. “Look how pale you are. Go inside and get a warm drink.” 

“Come with me,” Sam said, but Mom put her gardening gloves back on and squinted at the tag from the green pepper plant. Sam studied the rim of bone under the collar of her mother’s shirt. So thin. 

“Where were you?” Sam asked quietly. “I was going to call the police today.” 

Mom dropped the tag she was holding. “Do not do that.” All the cheer that had been in her voice moments ago was gone. “Never ever do that.” 

“I know, but . . .” 

“You’re not eighteen yet. They’ll put you in a foster home. And Rima somewhere else, in a different one.” She cast a gloved finger in one direction and then in another. Opposite ends of the world. 

“Why was Mr. Koplow here yesterday?” Sam pressed. “How many months behind are we? He said he was here about the stoop, but it’s more than that, right?” 

Mom sighed and raked her fingers through her hair, sending a stripe of dirt through her bangs. “The credit card company won’t increase our limit.” She shook her head. “I had to get new brake pads for the car. Then your wisdom teeth came out, and that wasn’t completely covered. I bought soccer cleats for Rima, plus her summer registration fees. Things add up.” 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Sam looked over her shoulder toward the house, wondering if Rima was awake yet. She didn’t need to hear another argument. Especially not the same old argument. “I could have put in some extra hours at the jewelry store.” 

She held back the rest: I don’t like how Mr. Koplow looks at you. I don’t want you owing him anything. 

Mom considered the hole she’d just dug. “Do you think that’s deep enough?” 

“How much did you spend on all this gardening stuff ?” Sam asked. “Maybe we can return a couple things.” 

“Well,” Mom said, a smile tugging at her lips. “I wanted to save the surprise, but since you’re asking . . .” 

From the front pockets of her jeans, she pulled out two thick wads of cash. And then, while Sam stood frozen with disbelief, she sprinkled the bills all over the ground. Like she was planting seeds for money trees. 

What?  What did you do?” Sam asked. Possibilities— all of them bad— swirled through her mind. “Where did you get all this? Is it real?” 

There were tens and twenties . . . even fifties. The wind picked up and Sam dropped to her knees to gather the money before it blew away. 

“I won at the casino.” Mom laughed. She sounded proud of herself. “I won big.” 

“You were gambling all week?” Sam held the money tight in her fists, fighting back the torrent of angry words that swelled inside her. Mom had been playing slots at the casino again? That  was where she was? 

But the money. The money! It was more than Sam made in a month. Maybe even more than their check from the Marines. 

“Karma, baby!” Mom said. “Mercury retrograde ended last week, so the timing was good.” She looked up at the sky. “I wonder if there’s a lunar eclipse in Pisces right now. I should check on that.” 

“The stars were aligned,” Sam said. 

“Yes,” Mom said, ignoring Sam’s sarcasm. “And today, we’re going to Lowe’s to buy a washer and dryer. No more trips to the laundromat.” She dipped her hand into her shirt pocket and found a pair of sunglasses, then slid them on and smiled, posing. “Like them?” 

“Yeah. They’re great, Mom.” Sam sighed, reluctantly handing the money back. “Really great.” 

“We’ll get Alan off our backs, buy some new clothes,” Mom continued, “and go out for steaks tonight. Let’s go see a movie, too.” She cleared her throat. “What? I see your wheels turning.” 

“I just . . . We have a lot of bills to pay, obviously. Those should come first. And that other thing . . . remember?” But clearly Mom had forgotten. “The entrepreneurship certificate program. The small- business classes I’ve been saving for.” 

Mom swatted her words away. “You haven’t even graduated high school yet. Enjoy the last few weeks of senior year. Enjoy the summer.” 

“ But—” 

“Your dad took a few college classes, you know, before he enlisted. 

And what did they get him? Nothing.” Her eyes lit up. “We should spend the money on a prom dress for you!” 

“No! That’s a total waste. I’m just going with my friends anyway,” 

Sam said. “I’ll wear Rima’s blue dress.” 

“That dress won’t fi t you. Come on, you could be the belle of the ball,” Mom said, fanning the bills. She twisted her mouth when Sam shook her head. “You are no fun.” She shoved the cash back into her pockets. “You’re so serious all the time, so practical. You weren’t always like this. I worry about you.” 

“I worry about you, ” Sam countered, keeping her voice in check. 

“Next time please leave a note. That’s all I’m asking, so I know where you are. I called all your normal jobs. I was starting to think you were dead.” 

“Dead!” Mom said. “That’s dramatic.” 

“ ‘Dear Sam, I’ll see you Saturday morning. Here’s how you can reach me if you need to. Have a good week. Love, Mom.’ ” 

“A note,” Mom repeated. “That would’ve been thoughtful. But then you might have come searching for me.” 

And she didn’t want to be found. 

Sam gave her mother a look. They’d had this standoff so many times, and getting angry only made things worse. Mom was home, with money to spare, so Sam tamped down her frustration and pasted on a smile. 

“I’m glad you’re home,” she said, picking up the shovel and ducking underneath the branches of the only tree in their yard. Its trunk wore a hundred scars where she and Dad had thrown knives into it. Sam could almost see herself taking aim, see the ghost of her ten- year- old self, of Dad standing by chewing on a toothpick. It’s all in the wrist,  he would coach, but more often than not she missed the tree altogether and the knife would land in the grass. 

Mom pushed her new sunglasses onto the top of her head. They were Ray- Bans, and they weren’t knock- offs. The wad of gambling money would be gone by next week. 

“Yep,” Sam mumbled, deciding for certain that she needed to keep the jug and coins a secret. With a grunt, she jammed the shovel into the ground. She’d worn blisters across her palms last night from digging, and now they flared up again. That part, at least, had really happened— burying the Ziploc bag. Her mind flashed to the smoky mist and the man’s voice, which now felt so dreamlike and impossible. 

“Are you okay?” Mom asked. “You really do look sick.” 

“The last time I ate was yesterday at lunch.” 

“Inside,” she said, putting an arm around Sam. “You’re freezing! I bought bagels. I was just waiting for Rima to wake up.” 

“I’ll go play reveille in her ear,” Sam said, but when they turned to walk back to the house, she saw that Rima was standing at the door with a cup of coffee. She lifted a hand toward Mom as if she’d been gone five minutes rather than five days. No big deal. Totally normal. 

Mom kissed Rima’s forehead before she could duck away. “How’s my baby?” she asked. “Good?” 

“How was the party last night?” Sam asked, following Rima into the kitchen. Her hair was in a messy knot, her face oily with yesterday’s makeup. “I mean, soccer practice?” 

Rima shot her a look. Shut up,  she mouthed silently. 

“Mom won some money at the casino,” Sam added, opening the refrigerator and handing Rima a tub of cream cheese. Mom had bought caramel- flavored, the best, and probably without a coupon. 

Sam chose a cinnamon bagel from the open box on the kitchen table. 

“We’re going shopping today.” 

“After I nap,” Mom said, stifling a yawn. In the kitchen’s fluorescent light, the skin under her eyes looked purple. She’d probably gambled all night and slept in her car during the day. “It’s hard work winning cold, hard cash.” 

“How much?” Rima asked, trailing Mom into her room. “What’d you play? Slots or blackjack?” 

Sam swallowed the last bite of her bagel. She showered and dressed, stacking a few bracelets over her wrist and slipping on her old sneakers. The lake was calling to her, but she had econ homework, an entire business plan due on Friday. Plus, if she went to the library, she could search for clues about the coins. 

She tucked Jiddo’s letter into her pocket and walked through the house. When she looked inside Mom’s room, she found her already asleep, her cheek pressed crookedly against her half- unpacked duffel bag. 

The back door was ajar, and Rima was singing somewhere. 

And then Sam heard a noise that made her spine stiffen: the chink of a shovel hitting rock. 

Panicked, Sam pressed her fingertips against the window. Rima was on her knees in the yard. She was digging. 

Sam threw open the back door. “What are you doing?” she asked, her voice cracking as she sprinted toward her sister. 

“Mom told me to move all the plants to this one spot.” Rima had the Ziploc bag in her hands, the pieces of the broken jug showing through. The hose was running, creating a thin river of mud around Rima’s bare feet. “But check this out,” she said. “I found this.” 

“Don’t open it,” Sam warned. She was breathless from running. 

“But there’s a bunch of coins in here.” Rima pointed through the clear bag. “They look old.” 

“Give it to me,” Sam said, thrusting her hand out. 

“Finders keepers,” Rima replied, pulling the bag toward her chest. 

“You don’t understand,” Sam said. “Jiddo sent that to me. It’s mine.” 

“Huh?” Rima made a face. “Jiddo?” 

Sam nodded. 

“So why is it out here?” 

“Because,” Sam said. “I needed to hide it for now.” She put her hand out again, but instead Rima opened the bag and pulled the two chunks of pottery out. Three or four coins fell to the ground. “You’re going to lose something!” 

“Is it from Lebanon?” Rima let out a low whistle. “This stuff looks ancient.” 

“One of the coins is . . .” Sam’s voice trailed off. She wanted to say 

“magical” or “cursed,” but that seemed ridiculous in the broad daylight of their backyard. Birds chirped, and the clouds were ribbons across the blue sky. 

Rima picked up the coins and set them in the palm of her hand. 

“Do you think they’re worth something?” She smiled and her eyes lit up with excitement. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and Sam felt herself smile back. 

“We have to research everything first,” she said. “Don’t tell Mom, okay? She’ll just take them to the pawnshop. I need to go to a museum or find a guidebook or something, so we can sell them for the right price.” 

“Yeah,” Rima said. “That makes sense.” 

“They might not be worth anything,” Sam cautioned. “And they were from Jiddo, so part of me thinks we should just keep them anyway. Maybe they’re family heirlooms. I thought I’d glue the jug back together, at least.” 

Rima nodded. She took the last few coins from the bottom of the bag and placed them alongside the others in her cupped hand. Her posture turned rigid. “C-cold,” she gasped. 

It was happening again. 

A small patch of soil seemed to turn loose at Rima’s knees. 

“Drop them,” Sam cried. “Hurry!” 

She grabbed Rima’s wrist and shook until the coins fell to the ground. Sam knelt over them, guarding them, counting them: fi ve, six . . . There were supposed to be eight. The seventh coin was nestled next to Mom’s gardening gloves. Where was the last one? 

“D’you hear that?” Rima asked, her words slurred. She looked around the yard. “A flute.” Smoke rose from the twisting earth. 

“Are you still holding one?” Sam demanded, horrified. She dragged Rima back, away from where the ground was moving, turning, becoming a dark spiral that widened and reached toward their toes. “Drop it! Drop it! ” 

Rima’s eyes, so full of life a moment earlier, were glazed over. 

“Look at me.” Sam snapped her fingers in front of Rima’s face, but she was somewhere far away. “Listen to me. Let go of the coin!” She shook her by the shoulders. 

Rima slumped into her arms, but her fingers held the coin like a vise. 

Sam peeled them back, one by one, and plucked the coin from her sister’s palm. She pinched it between two fingertips, and the mesmerizing, eerie music of the flute filled her head once again. The inky fog rushed to embrace her, twisting, pulling, shushing her. Sam felt her voice trapped in her throat. The world was unfurling. 

It’s going to take us. 

“Mine,” a man’s voice said. 

Sam turned to look. There was no one in the yard— other than wide- eyed Rima— but now there was the smell of incense burning. 

Her fingers refused to open. The coin’s icy poison was spreading, making her entire arm brittle. 

“My obol.” 

The man’s voice was closer . . . and then Sam saw him. 

Bearded and cloaked and made of the dark clouds that spun across the yard. His breath spilled from his mouth in cold currents. 

He lunged with dizzying swiftness, his hands going to Rima. I have the coin,  Sam wanted to say. Leave her alone! 

Rima cried out as the ghost gripped her by the wrist and yanked her away. He looked at Sam, his face full of fury. His eyes were golden, but his pupils were all wrong. One of them was the shape of a keyhole. 

Stop!  Sam silently screamed over the sound of the flute, a drum-beat also rising. She desperately crawled after Rima, her fingers finding a belt loop in her sister’s jeans. They were at the cusp of the dark, revolving funnel. 

With a last, desperate effort, Sam flicked the coin away. Over her shoulder, she caught a glimpse of it flipping through the air, as if someone had tossed it to call heads or tails. It landed in the black soil of their garden, behind them. 

No. Above them. 

It was too late. The three of them were sinking down, down, down; the backyard had become something like a raised stage they’d fallen from. 

Sam closed her eyes and spun.

About the author

Author Pic

Cristin grew up in a small Ohio town where she got her first library card at age three. She’s been reading and writing ever since. Before publishing Relativity, Cristin worked as a freelance business writer, authoring magazine articles, as well as copy for food catalogs, ads, websites, and tourist guides. She’s taught composition and creative writing, both at the college level andCristin grew up in a small Ohio town where she got her first library card at age three. She’s been reading and writing ever since. Before publishing Relativity, Cristin worked as a freelance business writer, authoring magazine articles, as well as copy for food catalogs, ads, websites, and tourist guides. She’s taught composition and creative writing, both at the college level anded her eyes and spun. 

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Tour schedule

Week One:

9/27/2021YA Books CentralExcerpt
9/27/2021A Bookish DreamReview
9/28/2021Rajiv’s ReviewsReview
9/28/2021BookHounds YAExcerpt
9/29/2021Sometimes Leelynn ReadsReview
9/29/2021Books a Plenty Book ReviewsReview
9/30/2021abackwardsstoryReview
9/30/2021Emelie’s BooksReview
10/1/2021A Court of Coffee and BooksReview
10/1/2021FyreKatz BlogReview

Week Two:

10/4/2021Amani’s Honest ReviewsExcerpt
10/4/2021Simplybeccamee Review
10/5/2021The Momma SpotReview
10/5/2021The Litt Librarian Review
10/6/2021The Bookwyrm’s DenReview
10/6/2021@coffeebooksandmascara Review
10/7/2021Dana’s Book GardenReview
10/7/2021two points of interedtReview
10/8/2021@jypsylynn Review
10/8/2021History from a Woman’s Perspective Review

Blog Tour: The Throwback List Excerpt!

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I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the THE THROWBACK LIST by Lily Anderson Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!

About the book

The Throwback List Cover

About the Book:

Title: THE THROWBACK LIST

Author: Lily Anderson

Pub. Date: October 5, 2021

Publisher:  Hyperion Avenue

Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook

Pages: 400Find it:GoodreadsAmazonKindle, Audible, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, TBD, Bookshop.org

Quote by Sarah Watson on The Throwback List: “Witty and fiercely relatable… a fun, funny, and surprisingly emotional look at how friendship evolves but always endures.”

Synopsis

Welcome to Sandy Point, Oregon: a sleepy beach town that’s home to a giant anchor statue, a sometimes-karaoke-bar, and Frosty’s questionably legendary Sunday Sundae Surprise. A town Jo, Autumn, and Bianca thought they’d left far behind when they graduated high school, finally moving on to greener pastures than the midway point for tourists heading to the Goonies house. But life seldom goes according to plan.

Bianca Boria-Birdy, former prom queen and valedictorian, has always been an overachiever. As she juggles managing the family tattoo parlor, caring for her grandmother, and adjusting to a new marriage, Bianca’s schedule becomes stricter than ever, with no room for disruption. What she really needs is a vacation, but not even Bianca Boria-Birdy can achieve the impossible.
Autumn Kelly used to be an actress. Now she teaches drama at Sandy Point High. She may have had to kiss her movie-star dreams goodbye, but molding the next generation of performers has given her life meaning in a whole new way. Until the sudden reappearance of her ex-best friend throws everything off-balance.

Jo Freeman has it all together. With a cool job in Silicon Valley, connections at the trendiest fitness studios, and a down payment on her dream condo, she’s well on her way to reaching every one of her goals before thirty. Or she was, before she got fired and landed right back home with her parents and teenage sister.

When Jo finds an old bucket list in her childhood bedroom, it sets the three women on a path that brings them closer to one another with each task. And it just might lead to a life none of them could have planned. 

Excerpt

one

Palo Alto, California

Jo

Jo Freeman stepped off the elevator with “Lose Control” stuck in her head. That morning’s exercise coach—Salvador of Confident Kickboxing—put a song on the playlist for every heavy bag in the room and Jo had found herself hitting in the Missy Elliott zone.

“Take your anthem with you into the world today! Use your big-bitch energy!” Salvador called after them as the class split up to go to their various Silicon Valley desk jobs.

Normally, Jo left her buy-in at the door, discarding all of the silly mantras and platitudes inside her gym du jour. But today, she could feel the “Lose Control” beat keeping her hips loose as she took long strides past the reception desk at Quandt Corporation’s Palo Alto headquarters.

Work wait. Work work work, wait, Jo’s heartbeat chanted in time with the music in her head.

If she was still thinking about kickboxing two hours after taking off her gloves, Salvador deserved five stars and a tip. She slipped her phone out of her tote and popped open the Gym Class app.

Once Jo got the promotion she’d spent the last five years strategizing for, Confident Kickboxing could become her regular gym. As grateful as she was for the free subscription to Gym Class—a Q-Co work perk—she was getting tired of being an exercise vagabond. Lurking in six a.m. classes with strangers. Never knowing where the parking was.

When she finally got to update her business cards to say Director of Digital Strategy, she was going to buy that loft downtown—a huge upgrade from the college-kid-infested apartment building she’d lived in since she was one of the students—and then she was going to buy an annual pass to a gym. She could even get gym buddies. It’d been a minute since she’d had nonwork friends.

“Johanna?” College Kevin called after her as she passed him on her way to her cube. He skittered around the standing desk of shame that Jo herself had spent eight months chained to when she had been Q-Co’s Stanford intern. Back in the day, the standing desk of shame had also come with a heavy phone headset that made Jo look like she was taking drive-thru orders. College Kevin wore AirPods all day that may or may not have been playing music.

Jo glanced slightly past Kevin’s head toward Gia’s office. Behind the glass partition, her friend-slash-mentor was sitting barefoot on top of her desk, the receiver of her office landline tucked under her chin as she gesticulated wildly with one hand and cut a Starbucks Pink Drink with diet Red Bull with the other.

“Is Gia talking to… the other guys?” Jo asked College Kevin, knowing he wasn’t allowed to tell her. Even Gia, a girl who’d once been fired as a pharmaceutical rep for being “too fun,” hadn’t

officially spilled the beans on the rumored merger. But Jo had worked for the Q long enough to know when change was in the air. And Gia working her ass off at nine a.m. was a big change. Client relations usually didn’t start until lunch.

College Kevin squirmed. “Devo wants to see you.”

Work work work, wait.

“Great,” Jo said. She gave him a smile that he couldn’t see with his eyes focused on the toes of his shoes. “I’m on my way.”

Her phone trembled in her hands as she pulled up the interoffice messenger.

TODAY’S THE DAY!! she shot off to Gia, whose mouse clicked twice before the read receipt came through.

Gia sent back a thumbs-up, then noticed Jo through the glass and waved. Jo mimed walking toward Devo’s office with an oh my God can you believe today’s the day giddy smile. In return, she got a distracted IRL thumbs-up. Gia’s eyes looked tired. Or possibly just lacking concealer. Jo felt bad for even noticing—there was too much pressure for women in the office to adhere to a problematically narrow beauty standard; she herself was guilty of daily flat-ironing on top of her Brazilian blowout just to keep natural 3c curls straight and glossy. Meanwhile College Kevin’s hair was unbrushed.

After work, she comforted herself, I’ll invite Gia out for celebratory drinks and I’ll let her vent about all the secret merger stress. We’ll finally be equals. 

Without Gia, Jo would never have considered a career in social media. She’d never been a do it for the gram type of person. But Gia—a Portlander who had moved six hundred miles to avoid getting sucked into her family business—had seen Jo’s résumé back in her standing-desk days and spotted their similarities.

If you’ve spent your whole life giving your parents’ business free promo, you have more job experience than anyone else your age, she’d told Intern!Jo. Just do the job you’re already trained for. 

And that job was digital public relations. Jo switched her major from English to communications, took a summer intensive in photography so her student loans would cover a camera and Photoshop, and she offered to run Q-Co’s Facebook from the standing desk. She tripled their followers and got a forty-hours-a-week and a job title: social media coordinator.

Now twenty-six-year-old Jo was on step three of the four-step career plan she and Gia had mapped out:

0. Internship (unpaid foot in the door)

1. Social Media Coordinator

2. Social Media Manager

3. Content Strategist and Influencer Relations Manager

4. Director of Digital Strategy by thirty

All it had cost her were her weeknights and her social life—both largely disposable since most of her college friends left town for grad school or love or cheaper rent. It had been a few months since she’d dusted off her dating apps and she hadn’t been home to see her parents in ages. It would all be worth it when she became the first Black woman on the management team.

A biracial, bisexual girl-boss in Silicon Valley? Gia would say to hype Jo up when she got discouraged. You know that is 30 Under 30 bait! The second you get promoted, I will call my Forbes contact.

Jo wasn’t in it for the 30 Under 30 lists—although she wouldn’t mind having something cool to post about while everyone back home was getting married or having babies. She just wanted to reap what she’d sown. After five years of planting all of her hard work into Q-Co and their fancy fitness trackers, she was ready to harvest a real life for herself.

It was only what she deserved. She did more than talk the talk; she even wore the product. Today: a small silver ring on her index finger tracked her mounting heartbeat as she strode into the boss’s office.

Devo—Devon Quandt Jr., operations manager and son of the founder—had a small water feature built into the longest wall of his office so that it was eternally raining on his mounted classics degree. The noise made Jo want to stuff erasers in her ears. It was expensive and wasteful water torture.

Devo himself was expensive and wasteful, sitting sideways in his ergonomic office chair.

No one else on the first floor had an ergonomic chair. But no one else’s dad had successfully opened three start-ups and left them the last one to babysit.

“I see you, Johanna,” Devo sang throatily, like a cartoon frog. “I see you.”

“Pretty sure that Sweeney Todd isn’t workplace appropriate, Devo,” Jo said. She sat in the non-ergo chair across from him. “That song is about a stalker and a pedophile.”

“I didn’t realize you were a theater buff,” Devo said, twirling in his chair before resting his elbows on his desk.

“I’m a woman of the world,” Jo said. Devo didn’t care that her childhood best friend had been a theater geek. “You wanted to see me?”

“Right!” Devo clapped his hand on his desk, momentarily focused on something other than humming stray bits of Sondheim. “I’m gonna need you to sign a little NDA, ’kay?”

Jo made herself smile with all of her teeth as he pulled a tablet seemingly from thin air and spun it to face her. A stylus was pressed into her hand while she read through the company’s most basic nondisclosure agreement. There were no dollar signs or Welcome to your new life! notes of congratulation mixed in among the legalese.

She signed it and forced herself to sit back again. “What’s up?”

“Well…” Devo leaned forward into the space Jo had vacated. “You may have heard some rumors…” He trailed off, waiting for her to jump in.

“Devo,” Jo said, knuckles cracking as she made fists in her lap. “Don’t make me guess. Please. I don’t like guessing.”

“Fine,” he said, sulking, shoulders falling down to the desktop. “It’s all true. We’re being acquired by Fitbit. They’re moving us to their office in the city. I say us but I mean… well, I don’t mean you.”

Jo stared at him. Her brain was doing its damnedest to hold on to the words, but she couldn’t quite make herself believe them enough to stick. For a moment, she couldn’t help but imagine everyone lined up in the school gym, Challenge Day style. Everyone who has a job step forward. The air left her lungs like it’d been punched out.

“You aren’t—” Jo shook her head and coughed a laugh. “That can’t be how you’d fire someone, right?”

Devo’s lips pulled back into a yikes face.

This was why Gia hadn’t smiled at her. If Jo had really been getting promoted today, Gia would have known first and Gia had a terrible poker face.

“You can’t fire me,” she said, entering bargaining as quickly as possible. Quandt Corporation simply couldn’t run without her. The higher-ups still needed her help with the new copier and College Kevin was useless with technology bigger than a phone. “I have spent every weeknight for two years cycling through seven social media accounts! Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok! All the stupid new ones that no one uses! I had us on Mastodon! I write the copy! I take the pictures! I got us viral movement on a picture of a fucking nose ring! Our accounts are my babies. I watch them morning, noon, and night.”

“But that’s it, Jo,” Devo said, sitting up again and twisting his chair from side to side. “They aren’t our accounts anymore. They’re Fitbit’s. Well, they’re no one’s. We’ll be starting all-new campaigns when we relaunch, so take screenshots of your babies before they go off to boarding school or whatever—I’m sorry, I really wasn’t following the baby metaphor. Do you think you just stare at babies all day or… ? Never mind.”

He had her sign a termination form and gave her a boiled-chicken handshake. Jo didn’t wipe her palm on her slacks out of a habitual politeness. But by the time she made it to the

door—crushed under the weight of a new, shittier reality—she was ready to throw politeness out a window. This was the last time she would ever be in this office, on this floor, in front of this skid mark of nepotism….

Devo said, “Oh, wait, Jo—”

Optimism flicked on like a light switch in her chest, making her pause. She turned back, brows high and hopeful. “Yeah?”

“Your Gym Class subscription is a company perk, so it’ll expire after you check out with HR, ’kay?”

Sandy Point, Oregon

TWO MONTHS LATER.

Rock bottom smelled like the briny dumpster that was the ocean.

Jo’s childhood bedroom was childhood small, about the same size as the office she’d cleaned out back in Palo Alto. The walls, small rug, and bedding on the teeny-tiny twin mattress were all hot pink and charcoal gray. The combination might have seemed like haute couture to tweenage Johanna—at the time she also envisioned her prom dress and wedding in the same color scheme—but it made her adult eyes want to bleed.

Home sweet home.

It took three rounds of wrestling to get the cork out of what Jo had decided to refer to as her first bottle of wine, a surprisingly decent Malbec. Especially considering it was also the only Malbec at Fred Meyer. Jo had doubted department-store wine and she was being proven wrong.

Finally, a single win for Jo Freeman. Woo.

Sitting on the edge of her tiny bed, she dusted sand off her feet. Her entire hometown was covered in a fine eponymous dust of windblown sand and the inside of the Freeman house was absolutely no exception.

Jo couldn’t believe she was back in a town that didn’t even have sidewalks.

Separated from Portland by two hours of forest, Sandy Point, Oregon, was the town people stopped in when they got winded on the way to see the Goonies house in Astoria or where they went to walk off all the ice cream and cheese they ate in Tillamook. It wasn’t as quaint a seaside as Seaside and it was too far north to have any of the famous sand dunes.

Sandy Point only existed because of a roadside attraction that had closed a hundred years ago. The Waterfront Cove resort had been torn down and replaced with a subdivision of McMansions that towered over the otherwise modest neighborhoods. With four thousand

residents, it was too populated to be considered cute-small yet remained too small to be practical. There was one post office, one grocery store, and a boardwalk instead of a downtown. The only doubles were nautical bars and empty vacation rentals.

Cloudy moonlight made the dry-erase-board wall at the end of her twin bed gleam. Arced across the white acrylic were the words Welcome Home, Jojo!!! in huge letters. She wiped them away with the back of her arm, impatient to start a list of things to dive for in the garage. So far, only the boxes marked Wardrobe had made it upstairs.

Comforter, she wrote. She looked around the room critically. On the other side of the window, the ocean droned on. Noise machine. 

It felt good to list. Like complaining to a friend after a long hard day.

Essential oil diffuse—

Overused after a decade of neglect, the marker promptly expired. Jo pitched it aside and reached over to the desk. The single drawer rattled open. Inside were all the ingredients to conjure her teenage self: gel pens, Post-its, digital camera cords, a gunky lip-gloss tube, and a slim journal with a wraparound vintage map of the world as its cover.

The inside cover had Jo’s unchanged handwriting: If lost, please return to Johanna Jordan Freeman, 22 South Jetty Avenue, Sandy Point, Oregon.

She flipped to the first page. The left-hand margin was studded with scraps, evidence of ripped-out pages. The lists inside the world journal had been too important to be anything short of perfect. These were Jo’s original road maps. 

Jo Freeman’s Battle Plan to GTFO of Sandy Point FOREVER 

Take eight AP classes 

Take extension courses at Ocean Park Community College 

Become president of the Honor Society 

Become editor-in-chief of the Sandy Point High yearbook 

Get into Stanford 

Check check check, she thought. All tasks she had accomplished almost a decade ago. 

Except for becoming president of the Honor Society. Jo had only wanted that because her high school girlfriend Wren had held the office when she was a senior at Point High; Jo’s campaign had been a brief reason for them to talk again while Wren was away at college. Once Jo had lost the race to Bianca Boria, she and Wren had lapsed into a forever silence. 

She took the journal back to her bed, squishing herself against the window and drawing long pulls from the Malbec bottle. A month ago, this list would have immediately gone up on all of

her social media under the hashtag #DopeSinceDayOne. Proof that she had accomplished everything she’d ever dreamed of. 

But she hadn’t, really. Because all she ever wanted was to stay gone. 

She closed her eyes and tipped another gulp of wine into her mouth. Wiping away an errant drop, she bounced the back of her head against the whiteboard wall.

After her layoff, she had spent over a month scrambling to find work. Calling all of her contacts. Haunting job sites instead of sleeping.

But no one needed a social media director. Or even a slightly overqualified marketing assistant. She could temp or she could leave California. Neither would pay the bills that had started to pile up. After PG&E sent their final notice with her service shut-off date, she broke down and called her mom.

“Mom.” Jo had hated how weak she sounded. It would have been easier if she could have started on equal footing and called her mom Deb. Instead, she felt herself de-age, confessing in a brittle, babyish voice, “Mom, I got laid off.”

“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.” Waves and teaspoons crashed behind Deb. Her footsteps took her farther away from the noise. Jo imagined her mother stepping into the back room of her shop, the one recently converted to a prep kitchen. “You’re gonna bounce back in an instant. Right now, you need to take yourself out for some fun self-care. A mani-pedi or a nice lunch at that—”

“It’s been a month,” Jo whispered. “Almost two.”

“Oh,” her mom said, clearly injured and determined not to acknowledge the hurt. “You tell me what you need.”

Jo had squeezed her eyes until she saw flashbulb swirls. “I need to store some stuff in your garage for a little while. Just. Everything I own.”

“And do you think you’re gonna need to come with that stuff?”

“Yeah,” she said. The finality of it crushed her. “I should probably come, too.”

Tonight, after twelve hours of driving—but only six hours of crying—Jo arrived home to the same elaborate dinner her mom used to make for Jo’s birthday every year. Beef ribs, Grandma Freeman’s recipe for mac and cheese, and a two-tier German chocolate cake. And with the spread, a gift: a pineapple necklace with a card saying What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! 

Like it was a party. Like her failure was worth a feast.

When Jo recoiled at the spread without meaning to, her teenage sister beat their mom to a hug. Eden hugged Jo with loose arms like Jo was someone at a networking event with whom Eden would rather shake hands.

“Mom and Dad closed the store for this,” Eden hissed in her ear, her loose curls scratching against Jo’s cheek. “Be nice, please.”

A senior in high school now, Eden was too young to remember when Mr. and Mrs. Freeman had zero days off. For most of Jo’s life, they’d been too busy keeping their various businesses and side hustles afloat. For reasons beyond Jo’s understanding, the change from consignment store to art gallery to tea-and-surf shop seemed to be paying off for her parents.

She had been younger than Eden when she wrote out the battle plan to GTFO. The map journal had homework assignments, shopping lists, and names for the paint-your-own-pottery place her parents had debated opening. She got lost in a pro/con list about whether or not to wear pants to homecoming: Is being subversive really just begging for my classmates to acknowledge my queerness? asked the con list. “Yes,” she told her younger self. “Do it anyway”—and relived the drama of deciding to drop out of the yearbook prank. How had life felt so big back then? How could anyone feel like Sandy Point was big enough to breathe in?

The end of the journal and the end of the Malbec bottle occurred around the same time, which was enough like kismet that Jo decided she deserved another slice of leftover German chocolate cake.

Chocolate and wine are perfect together, she thought. I’m basically a sommelier.

Definitely a drunk thought. Drunk mission accomplished.

The last page of the map journal was another list—longer than the others, reaching every corner of the page and continuing onto the endpapers.

– TP Bianca’s house

Be in a play with Autumn Perform onstage

– Get nose TONGUE eyebrow belly button pierced

– Surf the Point

– Host a dinner party

Plan Do Redo the yearbook prank

– Have a paintball glitter fight

– Eat the giant sundae at Frosty’s

– Get a pet

– Learn a whole dance routine

Smoke eat brownies Get stoned

– Try everything on the menu at TGI Friday’s

– Do a keg stand

– Play hide-and-seek in public

– Pose like a suicide girl pinup girl

– Break a jack-o’-lantern something with a sledgehammer

– Climb the giant anchor on the boardwalk (and survive!!)

– Get a perfect high score at the boardwalk arcade

– Host a bonfire party where everyone brings a picture to burn

– Eat breakfast at sunrise midnight

– Dig up the time capsule

Something this messy would never have been allowed if there’d been a page left to rip out. The inks didn’t match, so Jo knew it was a first draft. Some items were written in blue, some with a glittery silver gel pen that wasn’t her handwriting at all, but Autumn Kelly’s.

It was strange to be able to recognize the handwriting of someone she hadn’t seen in almost a decade. But could you ever really forget your old best friend, even when passed notes gave way to internet likes?

The last item on the list sparked Jo’s memory. Dig up the time capsule.

After reading about the idea in a rainy-day activity book when they were eleven, she and Autumn filled a metal tackle box with pictures and toys and letters to their future selves. Having buried it behind the doghouse in the Kellys’ backyard, they agreed to dig it up again after they had done everything worth doing in Sandy Point.

It wasn’t supposed to be a long list. Sandy Point wasn’t a big town and nothing much ever happened there. They consulted Autumn’s older brother for dumb townie traditions like climbing the anchor or surfing to the Point. They searched the internet for ideas like “glitter fight.”

Throughout junior high and high school, they brainstormed the list whenever conversation dipped. And then suddenly it was nearly senior year and they hadn’t done a single thing.

The list became official in the back of the map journal. It would be how she and Autumn would spend the end of high school, celebrating the end of childhood by doing every fun thing their town had to offer. Things they’d need to know how to do before college. Things they couldn’t get anywhere else.

Senior year, Jo split her time between yearbook and working at her parents’ store while Autumn became fully enmeshed in Point High Theater—playing both Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and Ado Annie in Oklahoma!

They got distracted. They grew apart. They were childhood best friends and their childhood had already ended.

Jo half tumbled down the stairs toward the beacon that was her Welcome Home from Your Real Life cake—inscription not included. She took the journal with her and reread the final list. She couldn’t tick off a single item. Thus far, her life had been void of pets, dinner parties, and sledgehammers.

Seventeen-year-old me would think I was so boring.

She tried not to be offended by the thought. After all, Present!Jo hated Teen!Jo’s bedding, hometown, and wardrobe. If any of Teen!Jo’s ruffled plaid shirts or colorful flip-flops were still around, Present!Jo would throw them into the ocean.

And yet.

The battle plan had been so clear about who Jo wanted to grow up to be. Someone who made 30 Under 30 lists. Independent, educated, physically fit, head-bitch-in-charge Jo Freeman.

Now, unemployed with zero prospects, Jo had bounced all the way back to the starting line and she couldn’t even live up to her younger self’s dream of doing a keg stand.

She wasn’t even sure where kegs came from. Bars? Breweries?

Peeling the foil away from her cake, Jo pulled off a bite with her thumb and forefinger, too glum to bother with a fork. The coconut frosting was an adrenaline burst of sugar and fat. She could have cut a piece and taken it back upstairs to her appointment with Second Bottle of Malbec, but something stopped her.

At the end of the long galley kitchen, past the shelving covered in decades of forgotten juicers and George Foreman grills, was a window. It faced the front yard of the house next door.

Bianca Boria’s house.

Bianca Boria had been Jo’s pace car in high school. If Jo did well, Bianca did better. If Jo worked hard, Bianca worked harder.

While Jo did everything with sweat in her eyes and the wind in her hair, Bianca glided past her with an easy smile. When people talked shit about her single mom and tattooed grandparents, she didn’t even flinch. She wore a bikini on social media and captioned it Fat Doesn’t Mean Ugly, single-handedly bringing body positivity to Point High. She was president of the Honor Society and prom queen, a feat that rocked the core of their teen social hierarchy.

It’s like living next door to a unicorn, Jo thought. Or a princess. Or a… princess unicorn? Nope. That’s the wine talking. 

Like any self-respecting marketing professional, Jo wasn’t unfamiliar with the art of internet stalking. She knew that Bianca still lived next door—although her mother had moved out—and

she was married to a guy whose name Jo didn’t recognize from the yearbook. Jo had tried scrolling through their wedding album—Bianca had worn the poofiest Cinderella dress imaginable—but had been too weirded out when she saw Autumn Kelly as the maid of honor.

Autumn and Bianca must have become friends in college. Basically anyone going to college after Point High went to Oregon State.

Seeing Autumn weepily help Bianca into a wedding dress had flared an uncomfortably territorial feeling in the back of Jo’s mind. She hadn’t been able to enjoy peering into Bianca’s account since.

But now, TP Bianca’s house was staring up at her from the top of the list. She took another pinch of cake. Popped it into her mouth. Mashed it into the roof of her mouth. Tried again. Chewed it like a sober girl.

She went searching for toilet paper.

There was a roll hidden behind eight cans of baked beans from the hall-closet emergency kit and then three rolls from the bathroom that she and Eden now shared upstairs. Jo grabbed her phone and ran out the front door.

Freezing in the pitch-dark, she loped across the sandy driveway toward the yellow glow of Bianca Boria’s porch light. Unlike the Freemans’ house with its dehydrated wood shingles responsible for a million childhood splinters, Bianca’s house was bright white with a pastel-blue door and a yard full of matching hydrangea plants.

Right in front, nearest to Jo’s house, there was the biggest tree in the neighborhood. An Oregon maple.

Supplies set down in the grass, Jo threw a roll of toilet paper at the tree. It bounced off a branch and fell to the ground, dribbling back toward her across the perfectly trimmed grass.

“Oh. Fuck,” she said out loud, genuinely surprised.

She hadn’t come out here to fail at TP-ing. It wasn’t a par game. It was a skill test. She squared her shoulders. Picking up the failed throw, she quickly unwrapped as much of the paper as she could while having a decent handful left on the roll to hold on to. She tossed it again. The little tail flapped between branches while the rest fell to the ground.

Success was a rush even better than a tipsy mouthful of German chocolate cake.

She launched more toilet-paper rolls, delighting in the way they floated in the darkness like ghosts. Soon she didn’t feel the cold. Bianca’s lawn rinsed the sand from her feet.

If she’d still been wearing a Q-Co tracker—rather than leaving all of them in a toilet at HQ after cleaning out her desk—it would have shown her pulse rate up in the heart-eyes emoji range.

Behind the warm glow of exertion and wine, she imagined TP-ing becoming the next fitness craze. All-black athleisure, ski masks, the pseudo-nemesis of your choosing’s house, a coach in your earpiece screaming something motivational.

Until losing her Gym Class app, Jo never realized how much she would miss the aggressive affirmations. How did people get out of bed without being called a sweat goddess at five thirty every morning?

With the tree covered, Jo reached for her phone and took a few pictures of her work. The shot would have been better with her camera and tripod, but they were in boxes in the garage. The picture was just a souvenir, proof to her younger self that she was capable of hitting a goal. Even a stupid one.

Through her phone lens, she saw that a single roll of toilet paper had fallen to the ground between two tree roots. Determined to leave no roll behind, she scooped it up. Looking for the perfect place to launch it, she ran around the tree, smiling as beatifically as Bianca Boria crushing her GPA. Running the student council. Getting married at twenty-five with the only best friend Jo had ever had by her side…

“Johanna?”

Bianca Boria stood directly beneath the porch light. For a moment, Jo was positive that Bianca was wearing a long-sleeved evening gown, red-carpet-ready in the middle of the night, but as her eyes adjusted, she realized it was a large plush bathrobe. Bianca’s dark hair was pulled up in a high, elegant bun that had never known frizz. Her skin was clear.

Jo looked at the last roll weighing down her right hand. She threw it.

It bonked Bianca in the nose.

Jo ran home and didn’t look back.

TP Bianca’s house

About the author

Lily Anderson is the author of The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You; Not Now, Not Ever; and Undead Girl Gang. A former school librarian, she is deeply devoted to Shakespeare, fairy tales, and podcasts. Somewhere in Northern California, she is having strong opinions on musical theater. Find her online at http://www.mslilyanderson.com. 
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GIVEAWAY!!!

3 winners will receive a finished copy of THE THROWBACK LIST, US Only.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/e2389ba21339/?

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour stops down below!

TOUR SCHEDULE

Week One:

10/1/2021brittreadsalattebooksExcerpt & IG Post
10/2/2021Amani’s Honest ReviewsExcerpt

Week Two:

10/3/2021Rajiv’s ReviewsReview
10/4/2021The Pages In-Between Review
10/5/2021BookHoundsExcerpt
10/6/2021@curlygrannylovestoread Review
10/7/2021Lexijava_BookishReview
10/8/2021The Book Review CrewReview
10/9/2021Cocoa With BooksReview

Week Three:

10/10/2021Kait Plus BooksReview
10/11/2021@bookisheclectic Review
10/12/2021Sometimes Leelynn ReadsReview
10/13/2021More Books Please blogReview
10/14/2021A Bookish DreamReview
10/15/2021@enjoyingbooksagainReview
10/16/2021My Fictional OasisReview

Week Four:

10/17/2021Zainey LaneyReview
10/18/2021@moonlight_rendezvous Review
10/19/2021@jypsylynn Review
10/20/2021The Momma SpotReview
10/21/2021The Phantom ParagrapherReview
10/22/2021coffeebooksandmascaraReview
10/23/2021Lifestyle of MeReview

Week Five:

10/24/2021PerusewithcoffeeReview
10/25/2021Pagesofyellow Review
10/26/2021cindysloveofbooksReview
10/27/2021Popthebutterfly ReadsReview
10/28/2021two points of interestReview
10/29/2021Fire and IceReview
10/30/2021BookBriefsReview

Week Six:

10/31/2021Phannie the Ginger BookwormReview

Blog Tour: Triston Strong Keeps Punching Excerpt!

I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the TRISTAN STRONG KEEPS PUNCHING by Kwame Mbalia Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway! 

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About the Book

Triston Strong Keeps Punching Book Cover

Title: TRISTAN STRONG KEEPS PUNCHING (Tristan Strong #3)

Author: Kwame Mbalia

Pub. Date: October 5, 2021

Publisher:  Rick Riordan Presents

Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook

Pages: 320

Find it: GoodreadsAmazonKindleAudibleB&NiBooks,KoboTBDBookshop.org

Kirkus Reviews

Synopsis

Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents the finale of Kwame Mbalia’s trilogy, in which Tristan Strong faces off with his archenemy King Cotton once and for all.

“Imagine if you combined Anansi the Spider, John Henry, and Marvel into, like, one book.”–New York Times best-selling author and Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander

After reuniting with Ayanna, who is now in his world, Tristan travels up the Mississippi in pursuit of his archenemy, King Cotton. Along the way they encounter new haints who are dead set on preventing their progress north to Tristan’s hometown of Chicago. It’s going to take many Alkean friends, including the gods themselves, the black flames of the afokena gloves, and all of Tristan’s inner strength to deliver justice once and for all. 

Shocking twists, glorious triumphs, and a cast of unforgettable characters make this series conclusion as satisfying as it is entertaining.

Grab the first 2 books in the series now!

Quote about Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky from Eoin Colfer

Excerpt

Stay Strong 

It should be physically impossible for the human body to burst into flame. Aren’t there rules against that? I’m pretty sure my Life Science class covered it last year. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a firm believer that people aren’t meant to be matches. 

So that’s why I stared in utter horror at the small silver flame popping out of my knuckles. 

“I don’t like that,” I said, my voice sounding faint and distant to my own ears. 

That was probably wrong to say. For several reasons. First, I was already trying my best not to lose my temper and attract attention. Our tour guide kept shooting angry looks at our group and shushing us. And we weren’t even being that loud! No more so than anyone else on the tour. Still, I was pretty sure my bursting into flame would get us more than a mean look.

We were stuffed in the middle of a crowd in a tiny museum crammed with fascinating exhibits. Granddad called it the Pharmacy Museum. From that name I expected to see boring displays, like the history of headache medicine or something like that. Instead, I learned about century-old tools used to probe, prod, and investigate the human body. Pretty cool! But again, the place was jam-packed. Everybody in the French Quarter must’ve come for a tour. So I definitely didn’t want to cause a panic because my fist had turned into a Flamin’ Hot.

Yes, the Strongs were in New Orleans. One last adventure before I headed back to Chicago to start the new school year. It was bittersweet. I mean, I was looking forward to getting home, being back in my neighborhood, and seeing my parents. Still, I’d had fun with Granddad and Nana. I’d eaten a bunch of key lime pie, done a little boxing, fallen into another world with powerful gods and made a bunch of folk-hero friends…. You know, the normal summer.

I was excited to visit the Big Easy, but this trip had come with a few strings attached. And—

“What don’t you like?” someone said over my left shoulder. “The artificial leech? C’mon! That’s so cool! Apparently back then you’d jam that thing into your—”

“Thank you, Terrence,” I whispered, covering up my burning hand.

The tour guide glared as Terrence continued to hiss facts

at me. I shot a glare right back, and the guide huffed and turned around. Then I looked at the walking encyclopedia behind me. Terrence was a short, thin Black boy with a red-tipped lightning bolt dyed into his close-cropped hair. He was also one of those aforementioned attached strings.

“No more ancient surgery lessons,” I said in a low voice. “Please.”

He shrugged and continued to mutter trivia to the stranger next to him. I shook my head. Terrence was my nine-year-old cousin, Dad’s brother’s son, and the second reason I had to keep things to myself. The powers that be (Nana) had decided that Terrence needed a buddy, someone to partner with as we toured New Orleans, and guess who that was?

Lucky me.

Terrence wore an oversize lime-green T-shirt with an icon of a flexed bicep on the front and strongs on the move written beneath it in bold black letters. On the back, black is a rainbow arced over interlocking hands in different shades of brown. Yeah. Brown and lime green. The message was great! The aesthetics? Eh. I (unfortunately) was wearing the same shirt, and four or five others in the Pharmacy Museum were sporting it as well.

You’ve probably figured out what was happening.

It was a Strong family reunion.

Relatives I hadn’t seen in years—and some I’d never met at

all—had made the trip. Great-aunts, cousins, their children. I

met my Uncle Jeff-Jeff and what he called his emotional support pug (also, strangely, called Jeff-Jeff). In fact, it seemed the only ones not here were my parents. They’d been unable to make the trip—something about car trouble—and Mom had stressed the importance of me representing for the Chicago Strongs. What I did would reflect on them. So, you know how it goes. Best behavior and all that.

Which brings us to the third reason I had to avoid making a scene. I was on a mission.

Two weeks ago I had returned from my second trip to Alke, the magical world where storied folk heroes like John Henry, heroines like Keelboat Annie, gods like Anansi and Nyame, and goddesses like Mami Wata reigned.

Unfortunately, it was also my last trip there. Alke had been destroyed, and the only way to save its inhabitants had been to weave the story of their world into mine. Now Alkeans were scattered across the country, and it was my responsibility to help find them and make sure they were okay.

Whiiich you can’t really do when you’re a line buddy for your cousin.

“Where should we visit next?” Terrence asked as we exited the museum. “I could use some dinner first.” He pulled out his phone and started scrolling different travel websites, then gasped. “Tristan, look! There’s a pizza parlor that gives you an oversize spatula if you eat a whole supreme pie!”

He looked at me with way too much glee in his eyes (could that be a medical condition?) and I shook my head. “We’re supposed to wait here for Granddad, then we’ll move to the next stop.” The hotel, I hoped.

My phone vibrated. I froze for a second before reaching for it. Fortunately, the flame had disappeared from my knuckles, and Terrence was still busy reading about pizza. I pulled a sleek black smartphone from the back pocket of my basketball shorts.

The SBP, or Story Box Phone, was the magical treasure chest of Anansi tales. Nyame the sky god had transferred the stories from an actual box into my phone and then trapped Anansi himself inside with them. That hadn’t stopped the spider god from bossing and heckling me at every opportunity. The plus side? Anansi had turned out to be a talented web designer and had added all sorts of cool apps, including one that alerted us to the location of Alkeans. I now had the most advanced smartphone in this realm or any other.

The spider god stared out at me from the home screen. His expression was impatient as he pointed to the Maps app icon. “What’s taking you so long? We’ve got to get a move on!”

“Okay, where’s the alert coming from?” I asked Anansi.

I wanted to tell him about the knuckle flames, but just at that moment Terrence moved closer to me. I turned to prevent him from being able to see the SBP’s screen. I’m on the phone, I mouthed to him, pointing to the buds in my ears. He frowned but went back to scoping out which pizza he apparently wanted to cram inside his face.

“Hurry up, Tristan,” said Terrence. “I’ve always wanted a pizza spatula. I’m going to be a chef, you know. Open my own restaurant and serve my famous teriyaki pizza.” He licked his lips, and I shivered. Some food preferences should remain private.

I looked back at Anansi. “Well? Where should I send Nyame?”

Hey, I was only twelve. I couldn’t exactly go gallivanting across the country by myself to find every Alkean. But the sky god could.

Anansi shook his head. “No, you’re not listening. Right here, just a few blocks away. There’s an Alkean who needs help in the French Quarter!”

I inhaled sharply. Yes! We could handle this ourselves! All I had to do was give Terrence the slip, and then we could—

A tingling sensation pricked the corners of my eyes.

That was weird. I squinted. Rubbed at them. Blinked a few times, but the sensation wouldn’t go away. I had just turned to ask Terrence if there was anything in my eyes when I saw someone I recognized. He was whistling while walking down the street in the opposite direction.

Tall.

Neatly dressed.

Evil.

King Cotton was strolling through the French Quarter without a care in the world.

The way I figure it, no one is owed anything. Not an easy life. Not a happy ending. Nothing. I learned that from Granddad. Life comes at you fast, like a flurry of jabs and hooks, and sometimes the only thing you can do is learn how to take a few on the chin and keep on standing.

And not every story is neat and tidy, either. Sometimes pages are missing, ripped out by forces beyond our control. Sometimes the villain wins. Sometimes the villain wins by a lot. And not every question may get answered. I mean, there are a hundred stories unfolding without our knowledge every day, and the details will never see the light of day because we either can’t or won’t seek them out. So, tough luck, the ending to that chapter is forever shrouded from view.

Until someone comes along and tries to tell it. Tries to tease out the answers, give folks some closure. That’s my role as an Anansesem—a seeker, recorder, and teller of stories. I didn’t ask for the title—the title chose me when I was in Alke. In fact, I didn’t want the job. I didn’t think I’d be any good at it. But I was wrong. And despite my best attempts to avoid the responsibility, the magic of my people’s stories didn’t care

about my objections. Since I was the reason the characters in those tales were now scattered around the globe, telling their stories was one thing that only I could do.

Maybe Nana had said it best the first week after we’d returned to our world. She’d been laid up in bed, recovering from being abducted, and the two of us were talking about Alke. And stories. When I mentioned it was hard to find the energy to speak about the world I had destroyed, she peered at me over the new quilt she was working on.

“You gotta find the pulse of the story, baby,” she’d said. “Let the rhythm beat like a heart, and hold on to that pulse once you got it. Don’t change it, no matter what anybody else says. Even if they call you a liar or selfish, or say you lucky to be here, or tell you to go somewhere else if you so unhappy, you don’t let it go. Then speak those words. Tell the story.”

Tell the story. I wanted to do just that. But how could I when King Cotton, the haint who had corrupted everything in Alke, now had his sights on my world? I had to stop him first.

“Hoo HOOO! Boy oh boy oh boy.”

I’d shoved the phone back into my pocket and was two seconds away from tearing off after Cotton when Granddad walked out of a seafood grill a few doors down from the Pharmacy Museum. He was licking his fingers and doing a little jig, something everyone in the family called his good-eatin’ shuffle. Nana followed him, no stranger to Granddad’s apparent inability to say no to an order of battered clam strips. He had a bunch of take-out bags in his hand, and Nana was scolding him.

“Walter, you done stopped at every restaurant selling fried clams. You ain’t supposed to be eating those! What you gonnado with all them, plant them?”

Before I could duck away, she spotted Terrence and me and steered Granddad toward us. Granddad didn’t look up from his clam strips. He’d eat two or three, smack his lips and exclaim how good they were, then roll the bag closed and open another. It was like watching a squirrel eat nuts, except this particular squirrel knew how to throw a mean right hook and could ground you.

“Maaaaaaaaaaan, let me tell you about these clam strips right here!” Granddad said when they reached us.

I rolled my eyes. Anytime he started with a Let me tell you, I knew we weren’t going anywhere soon. Might as well unfurl a sleeping bag and put on your pajamas, you’re going to be there for a while. Few things riled up Walter Strong more than a crisp, well-fried clam strip. Which would have been fine any other day (that’s not exactly true, but what was I, a mere twelve-year-old, supposed to do?), just not when Cotton was on the loose.

My pocket vibrated twice. I checked to make sure Granddad was distracted (which was easy, since his eyes were

as he bit into another clam strip) before pulling out the phone. Granddad hated how often I checked it. Meanwhile, Terrence told Nana about the pizza parlor.

The screen winked to life, and the worried face of a trickster godstared out at me.

On an average day, Anansi had a contagious smile and a twinkle in his eye. You never knew if he had your back or had a trick in his back pocket. He was the Weaver, the owner of all stories, from truths to tall tales, and his name was embedded in my title of Anansesem. But at the moment, the spider god looked far from his normal self.

I slipped in one earbud and his voice, normally melodic and lilting, was flat and strained. “Well, are we leaving or not?”

I peered around the crowded street filled with tourists just like me and my grandparents. It was early evening, but the Louisiana sun still beamed down on the French Quarter as if focused through a magnifying glass. My own reunion T-shirt (yes, still lime green) clung to my back, my black basketball shorts felt like they weighed thirty pounds, and my new all-black Chuck Taylors (That’s the second pair we bought you, Granddad had grumbled) felt like their soles were melting.

Still, everywhere I looked, people were laughing, joking, shopping, eating, dancing, and carrying on their merry way through what was possibly the most vibrant square mile in the whole country. Music thumped from Bourbon Street a few blocks over while the casinos on Canal Street flickered

to life. Adults and teens and children walked by with powdered sugar dusting their lips and fingers as they bit into soft, hot beignets and—if you didn’t know any better—life was all good.

Yet a shadow lingered now, just out of sight. Cotton. The haint’sspecter hovered in my peripheral vision, waiting for the right moment to strike.

I shook my head. “Not just yet,” I told Anansi. “But—”

“Time is running out, Tristan! We have to move!” There was resignation in his voice. He already knew the answer.

“I know,” I said. “It’s just… all my family is here.”

Anansi didn’t respond, and when I glanced at the SBP, I saw he was sitting with his back against the edge of the screen, slumped and depressed. I realized, too late, what I’d just said, and I opened my mouth to say more, but no words would bring back his family—specifically, his son—safe and sound, so I closed it. Sometimes condolences don’t ease the hurt—they just make things worse.

“Hey now, what’s with that face?”

Granddad’s voice came from behind me. He cradled another container of clam strips as if it were a baby, but he wore a concerned look. Nana was speaking to Terrence a few feet away, both of them huddled over his phone as they picked the next destination for our Strong subgroup. “You look like you just got sucker punched, boy. What’s the best way to defend against that happening again?”

I snorted, though there wasn’t much humor in it. Granddad always had a boxing analogy ready to apply to any situation, and he’d quiz me at various points throughout the day to test my knowledge of the sport. History, theory, techniques—it didn’t matter. He’d only let me go back to doing whatever I was doing if I answered his questions correctly.

If Gum Baby were here, she’d call it a Grandpop Quiz. I smiled, and then it faded from my face. The little loudmouth was lost out there somewhere, too. As much as I hated to admit it (and if you tell her, I will sing “The Ballad of the Gummy” nonstop outside your window), I missed the tiny sap monster.

“Well?” Granddad asked.

I sighed, stared into the crowd streaming past, and racked my brain. “Um, dodge it?”

“You take a sucker punch, you didn’t dodge anything. Not for a good minute. Try again.”

“Keep my head on a swivel? Make sure I’m always aware.”

Granddad pursed his lips. “Better, but still not all the way there. Think about it. Sometimes an opponent will get the drop on you, and they’ll send punch after punch at you. Those blows gonnaland and land hard. Knock you back. Stun you. How do you defend against a flurry like that? How do you respond?”

I struggled to come up with an answer, but at that moment

the SBP vibrated. Three times in a row. That wasn’t a signal from Anansi. That was an alert.

“Tristan.”

Granddad’s voice jerked me from my thoughts. He loaded me up with his take out boxes and bags so he could place both hands on my shoulders. Then he pulled me close, into a hug. My arms were too full to hug him back, but I was too surprised to respond anyway.

“Sometimes,” Granddad said, squeezing me tight, “you just have to hold on. Clinch, and catch your breath. The world is going to hit you hard, son. Clinch and don’t let go until you can keep on fighting. Hear me?”

“Yessir,” I said, my voice muffled by his shirt.

Sometimes I forgot that Granddad had been violently introduced to the world of Alke when Bear—under the poisonous influence of the haint King Cotton—had attacked the farmhouse and kidnapped Nana. Had Granddad felt helpless while we were gone? Sucker punched?

The SBP vibrated again. Granddad sucked his teeth and stepped back. “Boy, who is that blowing up your phone? Tell them Stanleys to give you a break.”

I groaned. “No, Granddad, no, no, no. They’re called stans. Stans.”

“Stans, Stanleys, Stanford Cardinals, you need to tell them to lay off.” Granddad took back his clam strips and popped

a few more golden-brown pieces into his mouth, chewing angrily. “I’m trying to teach here, and you, Mr. Popular, can barely focus. Go on and answer that, boy. I won’t stand in the way.” 

I grinned even as I pulled out the phone and began to back up. “It’s not like that, Granddad. I just need to check something real—” 

“Tristan, watch out!” 

Anansi’s shout came from the earbud I still wore, even as the SBP was snatched from my hand. I whirled to see a kid running into the crowd. 

“Hey!” I cried. 

“Tristan—” Granddad began, but I was already tearing off after the robber. 

“C’mon, Granddad!” I shouted and sprinted down the street.

Nic Stone’s testimonial for Tristan Strong Punches

About the Author

Author

Kwame Mbalia is the New York Times  best-selling author of  Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky,  for which he received a Coretta Scott King Author Honor award.   The book was also named to best-of-the-year lists  compiled by  Publishers Weekly , the Chicago Public Library, and the  New York Times .   The second book in the trilogy is  Tristan Strong Destroys the World , and Tristan Strong Keeps Punching is the third . Kwame lives with his wife and children in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he is currently working several projects, including a new middle grade series. Follow him on Twitter @KSekouM.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Amazon |

Giveaway

3 winners will receive a finished copy of TRISTAN STRONG KEEPS PUNCHING, US Only.

Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/e2389ba21338/

Check Out the Rest of the Tour!

Week One:

10/1/2021

Amani’s Honest Reviews

Excerpt

10/2/2021

BookHounds YA

Excerpt

 

Week Two:

10/3/2021

YA Books Central

Excerpt

10/4/2021

Rajiv’s Reviews

Review

10/5/2021

Lexijava_Bookish

Review

10/6/2021

What A Nerd Girl Says

Excerpt

10/7/2021

GivernyReads

Review

10/8/2021

Kait Plus Books

Review

10/9/2021

The Bookwyrm’s Den

Review

 

Week Three:

10/10/2021

Books and Ladders

Review

10/11/2021

More Books Please blog

Review

10/12/2021

@bookstagramofmine

Review

10/13/2021

Nerdophiles 

Review

10/14/2021

Books a Plenty Book Reviews

Review

10/15/2021

Rockstar Book Tours

Excerpt

10/16/2021

The Momma Spot

Review

 

Week Four:

10/17/2021

Books Are Magic Too

Review

10/18/2021

onemused

IG Post

10/19/2021

Lifestyle of Me

Review

10/20/2021

Bri’s Book Nook

Review

10/21/2021

coffeebooksandmascara

Review

10/22/2021

Locks, Hooks and Books

Review

10/23/2021

Feed Your Fiction Addiction

Review

 

Week Five:

10/24/2021

Lily Luchesi’s Blog

Excerpt

10/25/2021

Little Red Reads

Review

10/26/2021

@drewsim12

Review

10/27/2021

@fictitious.fox

Review

10/28/2021

BookBriefs

Review

10/29/2021

Popthebutterfly Reads

Review

10/30/2021

two points of interest

Review

 

Week Six:

10/31/2021

Two Chicks on Books

Excerpt

If You Like Mean Girls, then you’ll LOVE these books!

Book Recs for Mean Girls Day!
Mean Girls giph with the caption “It’s October 3rd!”

1. How We Fell Apart by Katie Zhao

How We Fell Apart book cover

This is a dark academia book with gossip girl meets mean girls vibes!

2. The Lying Game by Sara Shephard

The Lying Game book cover

This is a darker version of Mean Girls!

3. Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

Hana Khan Carries On book cover

Hana’s colleagues and her boss feels like an adult version of Mean Girls.

4. Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Iyimide

Ace of Spades book cover

This is a dark academia mean girls meets gossip girl vibes kind of book!

5. You Truly Assumed by Laila Sabreen

You Truly Assumed book cover

This is available for pre-order!! The girls deal with hate comments that they receive after publishing a blog together.

6. The Upside of Falling by Alex Light

The Upside of Falling by Alex Light

This is a book about fake dating and dealing with what others think of them (similar vibes to mean girls).

7. Not Here to Be Liked by Michelle Quach

Not Here to be Liked

This book has a feminist theme and I really loved the arc!! I highly recommend this book and it’s got a rivals to lovers trope.

Want more book recs based on iconic movies? Feel free to leave me a comment down below!

Mean Girls “Duh!” With Karen pointing to her mouse ears via GIPHY

Blog Tour: The Deceit of a Devil

Blog Banner for The Deceit of a Devil by Holly Renee

Synopsis

Sinless. Stunning. Damaged. Tempting.

 

The Deceit of a Devil, the passion-filled and emotional conclusion to The Taste of an Enemy Duet from Holly Renee is available now! 

 

Sinless. Stunning. Damaged. Tempting.

Allie Taylor had been the girl I hated for as long as I could remember.

And now she loathed me just as much.

It didn’t matter that I betrayed her to save her.

Completely devastated and infuriated by my dishonesty, she had no intentions of ever trusting me again.

Her trust was shattered, her hate raging on with each second. She would never look at me the same again.

Our past was full of pain and lies that could never be forgotten.

I knew what I did was irreparable, but I refused to let her walk away without another chance.

I should have left things in the past.

I didn’t.

I couldn’t.

I won’t.

I needed her. Even if it cost me everything. 

 

Download your copy today!

FREE in Kindle Unlimited

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3gEbTKk

Amazon Worldwide: http://mybook.to/deceitdevil

 

Start the duet with The Taste of an Enemy!

FREE in Kindle Unlimited

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3xnd6Le

Amazon Worldwide: http://mybook.to/tasteenemy

The Deceit of a Devil cover

Excerpt

Excerpt from The Taste of an Enemy, Book One

 

“What?” I chuckled as I slipped on my socks and shoes.

“Nothing.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I’m just impressed, is all.”

I chuckled and Beck shoved his sister’s chair, almost making her fall. “That’s my friend, asshole. You don’t get to be impressed.”

“No. She’s right.” Josie was still staring at me too. “I really expected you to have the smallest dick.”

“I feel like I should be offended.” I leaned back in my chair.

“It’s your personality.” Allie shrugged. “You know, cocky guy, small dick. Showy car, small dick.”

“Okay, Allie.” I pressed my elbows into my knees and looked across the fire at her. “Truth or dare?”

She stared at me, and I had a feeling that no matter what she picked she wouldn’t do it. “Truth.”

I let my gaze slide to Eli before it went back to her. I shouldn’t have even called her name. I should just ask her something stupid and move on, but my heart raced in my chest, and I didn’t hesitate with what I asked her next. “When was the last time that you were truly turned on? I mean really and truly, couldn’t-think-about-anything-else turned on?”

A few people snickered, but I didn’t look away from her. She didn’t pull her gaze away from me either as she answered, but I knew her answer was a lie the moment it left her mouth.

“When Eli kissed me.”

“Carson, truth or dare?”

“Truth.”

“When was the last time you were really and truly turned on? And I mean to the point that you actually considered kissing the girl?”

“Oh shit.” That came from Olly, but no one said anything to stop us.

“Just about any time I’m with you, but if you’re looking for a specific moment, the night the cops walked in while I was going down on you.”

Laughter rang out around us, but neither of us was deterred.

“Allie, truth or dare?”

“Truth.” There was no hesitation in her eyes. She wasn’t scared of what I had to say.

“Do you actually like Eli, or are you just pissed off at me?”

“This is the exact reason people think you have a small dick.” She crossed her arms. “You assume that everything anyone does it about you when it isn’t. I actually like Eli, for your information.” She tucked a blonde curl behind her ear. “Carson, truth or dare?”

“This is about to get messy,” Josie whispered to Beck, but I heard her. She was right. It probably was.

“Dare.” I cocked my head to the side and looked at her.

“I dare you to stop being such an asshole and just tell us what the hell your problem is.”

“My problem?” I rubbed at my jaw. “Currently my problem is you. You haven’t barely spoken to me in days, you’ve been avoiding me like the plague at community service, and now…”

“Now what?” She was angry.

“Now I have to sit here and watch you with him.” I pointed at Eli, and he had the nerve to fucking smirk at me.

“I haven’t spoken to you because the last time we spoke, you made it very clear where we stood. I’ve been avoiding you because I don’t want to deal with you, and you’re going to have to continue to watch me with him because I like him. And it’s the oddest thing, but he likes me too.”

“Truth or dare?”

“I’m done playing this stupid game.” She pushed out of her seat, and I knew that Eli was about to follow her.

“Truth or dare, Allie? It’s not that hard.”

She spun back around to face me, and I could see the anger in her eyes. “Fine. Dare.” She held out her arms because she thought by ending the truths, she was going to end this argument between us.

“I dare you to kiss me.”

“That’s not happening.” Eli had the balls to say that out loud to me, and it took everything inside me not to close the space between us and finish what we had started last weekend.

“The last time I checked, you weren’t Allie’s boyfriend, and you don’t speak for her.” I looked back to Allie, and she was staring at me. “Allie can either kiss me or she can drink.” I lifted the bottle of liquor and shook it between us.

“You kissing me changes nothing.” She shook her head.

“Then it won’t hurt.” I shrugged my shoulders and tried to act like I didn’t care one way or another, even though I didn’t know what would happen if she walked away from me now. “If you’re so into Eli and kissing me won’t change anything, then what are you so scared of?”

About the Author

Author Holly Renee

I’m Holly Renee, a small-town east Tennessee girl who is obsessed with all things romance. I love bringing flawed, sassy, and real characters to life in a way that makes you feel like you’ve been best friends with them for years. No two Holly Renee books are the same, but if you love real, relatable, fun female characters and swoon-worthy heroes, I’m your girl.

When I’m not writing or reading, you can find me momming so hard, being disgustingly in love with my husband, or chilling in the middle of a lake with my sunglasses and a float. #lakelife

I have a 2-year-old adorable little man who is as wild and sweet as they come and a baby girl on the way. 

 

Connect with Holly

Facebook: https://bit.ly/3Cfk6xt

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2VxNPkE

Instagram: https://bit.ly/2Vn6kIh

Join Holly’s Facebook reader group Hollywood: https://bit.ly/37kgiNb

To stay up to date with Holly join her mailing list: https://bit.ly/3jm5a83

Website: https://www.authorhollyrenee.com

Thank you to Social Butterfly PR for this excerpt!

ALL The Books I Want to Read Before the End of this Year

Text states: Books I want to Read Before the End of the Year
Text states: Books I want to Read Before the End of the Year

1. It ALL COMES BACK TO YOU BY FARAH NAZ RISHI

It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi

SYNOPSIS

After Kiran Noorani’s mom died, Kiran vowed to keep her dad and sister, Amira, close—to keep her family together. But when Amira announces that she’s dating someone, Kiran’s world is turned upside down.

Deen Malik is thrilled that his brother, Faisal, has found a great girlfriend. Maybe a new love will give Faisal a new lease on life, and Deen can stop feeling guilty for the reason that Faisal needs a do-over in the first place.

When the families meet, Deen and Kiran find themselves face to face. Again. Three years ago—before Amira and Faisal met—Kiran and Deen dated in secret. Until Deen ghosted Kiran.

And now, after discovering hints of Faisal’s shady past, Kiran will stop at nothing to find answers. Deen just wants his brother to be happy—and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep Kiran from reaching the truth. Though the chemistry between Kiran and Deen is undeniable, can either of them take down their walls?

2. The Love Hypothesis

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

synopsis

As a third-year Ph.D. candidate, Olive Smith doesn’t believe in lasting romantic relationships–but her best friend does, and that’s what got her into this situation. Convincing Anh that Olive is dating and well on her way to a happily ever after was always going to take more than hand-wavy Jedi mind tricks: Scientists require proof. So, like any self-respecting biologist, Olive panics and kisses the first man she sees.

That man is none other than Adam Carlsen, a young hotshot professor–and well-known ass. Which is why Olive is positively floored when Stanford’s reigning lab tyrant agrees to keep her charade a secret and be her fake boyfriend. But when a big science conference goes haywire, putting Olive’s career on the Bunsen burner, Adam surprises her again with his unyielding support and even more unyielding…six-pack abs.

Suddenly their little experiment feels dangerously close to combustion. And Olive discovers that the only thing more complicated than a hypothesis on love is putting her own heart under the microscope.

3. Six Crimson cranes

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim
Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

Synopsis

Shiori’anma, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted. But it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.

A sorceress in her own right, Raikama banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes. She warns Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.

Penniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and uncovers a dark conspiracy to seize the throne. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in a paper bird, a mercurial dragon, and the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she’s been taught all her life to forswear–no matter what the cost.

Weaving together elements of The Wild Swans, Cinderella, the legend of Chang E, and the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, Elizabeth Lim has crafted a fantasy like no other, and one that will stay with readers long after they’ve turned the last page.

4. The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Inheritance Games ended with a bombshell, and now heiress Avery Grambs has to pick up the pieces and find the man who might hold the answers to all of her questions—including why Tobias Hawthorne left his entire fortune to Avery, a virtual stranger, rather than to his own daughters or grandsons. 

Thanks to a DNA test, Avery knows that she’s not a Hawthorne by blood, but clues pile up hinting at a deeper connection to the family than she had ever imagined. As the mystery grows and the plot thickens, Grayson and Jameson, two of the enigmatic and magnetic Hawthorne grandsons, continue to pull Avery in different directions. And there are threats lurking around every corner, as adversaries emerge who will stop at nothing to see Avery out of the picture—by any means necessary. 

With nonstop action, aspirational jet-setting, Knives Out-like family intrigue, swoonworthy romance, and billions of dollars hanging in the balance, The Hawthorne Legacy will thrill Jennifer Lynn Barnes fans and new readers alike.

5. A Psalm of Storms and Silence by Roseanne A. Brown

A Psalm of Storms and Silence by Roseanne A. Brown
A Psalm of Storms and Silence by Roseanne A. Brown

Karina lost everything after a violent coup left her without her kingdom or her throne. Now the most wanted person in Sonande, her only hope of reclaiming what is rightfully hers lies in a divine power hidden in the long-lost city of her ancestors.

Meanwhile, the resurrection of Karina’s sister has spiraled the world into chaos, with disaster after disaster threatening the hard-won peace Malik has found as Farid’s apprentice. When they discover that Karina herself is the key to restoring balance, Malik must use his magic to lure her back to their side. But how do you regain the trust of someone you once tried to kill?

As the fabric holding Sonande together begins to tear, Malik and Karina once again find themselves torn between their duties and their desires. And when the fate of everything hangs on a single, horrifying choice, they each must decide what they value most—a power that could transform the world, or a love that could transform their lives.

Harley Quinn is sitting cross -legged sipping a cup of tea while reading a book via GIPHY

Question for the readers: What’s a book you’d like to read before the end of this year?

Blog Tour: The Taste of an Enemy (Excerpt Promo)

The Taste of an Enemy Blog Tour sponsored by Social Butterfly PR

Rich. Vicious. Vengeful. Forbidden. The Boys of Clermont Bay had always been untouchable. 

Synopsis

Cover

Rich. Vicious. Vengeful. Forbidden. The Boys of Clermont Bay had always been untouchable. 

And Carson Hale was the worst of them all. 

He was pretentious and a player, and he had hated me for so long I forgot that we were ever anything more than enemies. 

Brutally beautiful and savagely heartless, his only plan was to ruin everything I loved. 

But dares were made, and even though I had no business saying yes, I found myself in trouble and forced to work with my rival to get us out of it. 

He had always been cruel, but something changed. 

The lure of him was too much. The way I craved his touch was unbearable. 

Just as I fell for him, he proved himself to be exactly who he had been all along. 

 

Grab Your Copy today!

FREE in Kindle Unlimited

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3xnd6Le

Amazon Worldwide: http://mybook.to/tasteenemy

 

Add to Goodreads: https://bit.ly/3rP228A

 

Pre-order the stunning conclusion, Deceit of a Devil!

Releasing September 23rd

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3gEbTKk

Amazon Worldwide: http://mybook.to/deceitdevil

Excerpt

On Sale 9/23

I walked into Wings and Things and spotted Eli as soon as I made it through the door. He smiled before standing and coming to meet me. I couldn’t tell if anyone else was already at the table, and I tried to remind myself that I shouldn’t care. Tonight was about having fun and getting to know Eli. 

Carson didn’t matter for either of those things. I would just drown him out and pretend he wasn’t there. That was what I was used to doing. That was what the two of us had been doing for years. 

Even though I was already a little but irritated that Eli hadn’t offered to pick me up. My dad was irritated by that fact too. 

“You look beautiful.” Eli grinned before pulling me into a hug. 

“Thank you.” I breathed in the scent of his warm cologne, the smell familiar and calming. “You look nice as well.” 

I looked up at him as he let me go. He was much taller than me, although shorter than Carson, and he had a smile that made me feel comfortable. 

He grabbed my hand in his and led the way back to the table. I fixed my hair while I was still blocked from view, and I planted the best smile I could manage on my face as he pulled out the chair for me that was directly across from Carson.

“Thank you.” I settled into my seat and tried to avoid making eye contact with Carson.

“Allie, this is Kimberly. Kimberly, Allie. I think you all might know each other.” 

I looked across the table at Kimberly, and of course I knew her. We had gone to school together since grade school, and I had hated her almost as long. She was popular, conceited, and a perfect fit for Carson. 

“Of course.” I nodded and pulled out my menu. “How are you, Kim?”

“I’m perfect.” She giggled and looked over at Carson. His hand disappeared under the table, and even though I couldn’t see it, I knew that his hand probably rested on her thigh. 

I wanted to rip it off. 

“Awesome,” I mumbled and tried to focus on the menu. 

Carson laughed under his breath, but I ignored him. 

“What are you getting?” I looked to my right where Eli sat. “Do you want to share some wings?”

“Oh.” He looked up from his menu. “I was thinking about getting the burger.” 

“A burger at a wing place.” Carson scoffed and tossed his menu down on the table. “I’ll share an order with you, Allie. Kim’s getting a salad.” 

He didn’t give me time to answer. As soon as the waitress came to our table, Carson opened his mouth. “My girl Allie and I are going to share a large order of wings, extra ranch for both of us. No carrots. She hates those.” 

I looked at him like he had lost his mind because I was pretty sure that he had. 

“What can I get you to drink?” The waitress was now looking at me. 

“Um, just a Coke, please.” 

Everyone else ordered their food, and I fidgeted with my hands under the table. 

“So, Allie, how is school going for you?” I looked up at Eli. I had almost forgotten he was there. 

“It’s all right. I’m so ready for fall break, though.” 

“Me too.” He nodded. “Are you going anywhere? My family is taking a trip to Europe.” 

“No.” I almost choked on the word. Sometimes I forgot just how far apart my family was from those who went to Prep. They were made of money, old money to be exact, and guys like Eli had never had to think about working or how he’d pay for college. “We typically stay home and do a Thanksgiving meal at our house. It’s real low-key.” 

And my dad would still be working every day except for Thanksgiving, and my small house would be busting with people. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. We were always together on holidays, and I loved it. 

It may not have been Europe, but it was ours. 

“That’s cool.” He nodded and turned his chair to where he faced me better. “We’ve been going to Europe for years now. My parents love it, and they take us about every other year. Have you ever been?” 

“To Europe?” I shook my head, and suddenly I felt ridiculous. “No. The farthest I’ve been is Disney World.” I didn’t mention that had been almost ten years ago. 

I could hear Carson and Kimberly talking across from us, and I hoped he was too enthralled with her and her perfect face to even consider listening to our conversation. 

Eli laughed like I had just told a joke, but I hadn’t. “That’s too bad. I bet you would really like Europe.” 

“What makes you think that, Eli?” Carson was leaned back in his chair with his arm resting on the back of Kimberly’s. 

Eli laughed nervously and looked between me and Carson. “It’s Europe.” He shrugged his shoulders. 

“But you don’t know anything about Allie specifically that would make her love Europe, correct?” 

Eli opened his mouth, but Carson continued. 

“Like you have no clue that she’s been dreaming of going to Paris forever, and she has this little Eiffel Tower key chain that she’s had on her set of keys since she’s had them. Or that she thinks she’s part Irish because she has a little bit of green in her eyes.” 

“I didn’t realize you knew so much about her.” Eli was no longer aloof. He was sizing Carson up, and I wasn’t here for a pissing contest. 

“Well, now you do.” Carson stared back at him with the same unrelenting gaze, and I felt like I was going insane. 

Carson hadn’t given a shit about me since that night he needed me and I wasn’t there. If he wasn’t ignoring me altogether, he was making me wish he was, and now all ofthe sudden, he wanted to share wings and spew facts about me like he was my best friend. 

“Stop,” I hissed. “You’re being an ass. Aren’t you supposed to be on your own date?” I looked over at Kimberly, and she looked uncomfortable. I couldn’t blame her. I felt uncomfortable too. 

The waitress arrived back at our table with food in hand, and we were spared from whatever Carson was going to say next. He looked down at the food, and his bright eyes looked so hollow. He scrunched his brow, something he always did when he was upset, and his jaw stiffened. I didn’t know if he was angry with me or with himself. 

But I didn’t want to find out. I quickly grabbed a wing from our plate and took a huge bite. Sauce dripped down my chin, but I didn’t stop. The food was a distraction. If we were eating, then we weren’t talking, and I couldn’t stand to hear anything more from Carson right now. 

Not after everything he just said. Not with the way he had brought up memories of me like it wouldn’t mess with my head. 

“This is good.” I wiped at my mouth with the back of my hand. “Do you want a bite?” I looked over to Eli, and he shook his head as he looked at my half-bitten wing. 

“Nah. I’m good.” 

“Suit yourself.” I shrugged as I looked down at his measly-looking burger. 

“I’ll take one.” Carson reached forward, his fingers wrapping around my wrist, and he stood in his seat enough to bring my hand to his lips. I stared at him, shocked by what he was doing, but there wasn’t an ounce of shame in his gaze. 

He didn’t look away from me for a second as he bit down into the wing I was still holding, and I couldn’t stop myself from holding my breath as his lips met my fingers. Carson Hale wasn’t just taking a bite of my chicken. He was causing a scene, and part of me wondered how he had gotten so damn good at it. 

He ran his tongue over the edge of my thumb, licking up the sauce that had dripped there, and I felt like he had just used his tongue on parts of my body that no one else ever had. I pressed my thighs together as I watched his mouth, and I couldn’t bring myself to care that Eli was watching me as Carson finally let go of my hand and settled back into his seat. 

“You’re right, Allie. That’s absolutely delicious.” He licked his lip before picking up a wing of his own, then began eating like that display hadn’t just happened. 

I picked up my napkin, quickly dropping my gaze to my lap as I wiped my hands, but I couldn’t get the feel of him off. And I didn’t know if I wanted to.

About the Author

Author Holly Renee is holding up their book: “The Truth of a Villain.”

I’m Holly Renee, a small-town east Tennessee girl who is obsessed with all things romance. I love bringing flawed, sassy, and real characters to life in a way that makes you feel like you’ve been best friends with them for years. No two Holly Renee books are the same, but if you love real, relatable, fun female characters and swoon-worthy heroes, I’m your girl.

When I’m not writing or reading, you can find me momming so hard, being disgustingly in love with my husband, or chilling in the middle of a lake with my sunglasses and a float. #lakelife

I have a 2-year-old adorable little man who is as wild and sweet as they come and a baby girl on the way.

Facebook: https://bit.ly/3Cfk6xt

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2VxNPkE

Instagram: https://bit.ly/2Vn6kIh

Join Holly’s Facebook reader group Hollywood: https://bit.ly/37kgiNb

To stay up to date with Holly join her mailing list: https://bit.ly/3jm5a83

Website: https://www.authorhollyrenee.com

Blog Tour: The Shaadi Set-Up

Synopsis

The Shaadi Set-Up cover via Lonely Pages Book Tours

In this witty and heartfelt rom-com debut for fans of Jasmine Guillory, Emily Henry, and Tessa Bailey, an Indian American woman signs herself and her boyfriend up for a matchmaking site to prove they’re a perfect match, only to be paired with her ex instead.

High school sweethearts Rita Chitniss and Milan Rao were the golden couple, until the day he broke her heart. Now, six years later, Rita has turned her passion for furniture restoration into a career and has an almost-perfect boyfriend, Neil. The last thing she needs is for Milan to re-enter her life, but that’s exactly what happens when her mother, an unfailing believer in second chances, sets them up. Milan is just as charming, cocky, and confident as he was back in school. Only this time, he actually needs her business expertise, not her heart, to flip a hard-to-sell house for his realty agency.

While Rita begrudgingly agrees to help, she’s not taking any risks. To prove she’s definitely over him, she signs herself and Neil up on MyShaadi.com, a Desi matchmaking site famous for its success stories and trustworthy enough to convince everyone that she and Neil are the new and improved couple. Instead, she’s shocked when MyShaadi’s perfect match for her isn’t Neil…it’s Milan. Ignoring the website and her mother is one thing, but ignoring Milan proves much more difficult, especially when she promises to help him renovate the beach house of her dreams. And as the two of them dive deeper into work—and their pasts—Rita begins to wonder if maybe her match wasn’t so wrong after all.

Desi bride is twirling in a shalwar Lakers

My Review

I don’t usually enjoy exes to lovers but I really enjoyed this one! If you’re a fan of slow-burn romances and island romance you’re going to want to read this. I got to meet the author through Love, Arctually’s book club chat and it was so much fun! I highly recommend this for anyone who wants to start reading adult romance books but doesn’t know where to start.

My Rating

4/5 stars

I don’t know if I’ll reread it and the beginning was a little slow but it eventually picks up!!

About the Author

Lillie Vale is the author of the young adult novel Small Town Hearts. She writes about secrets and yearning, complicated and ambitious girls who know what they want, the places we call home and people we find our way back to, and the magic we make. Born in Mumbai, she grew up in Mississippi, Texas, and North Dakota, and now lives in an Indiana college town. The Shaadi Set-Up is her debut novel for adults.

Thank you to the Lonely Book Tours for the gifted copy !

Check out the other stops on the tour!

The Shaadi Set-Up Tour Schedule

Nevertheless Initial Thoughts

Nevertheless Kdrama via GIPHY

So I’ve watched the first couple of episodes of Nevertheless and I get why people love it. But, there’s so much hype around it that I expected more.

Synopsis

Park Jae-Eon (Song Kang) is a university student, majoring in art. He seems nice to everyone and he is usually cheerful. Yet, he is really indifferent to others and he doesn’t want to have a romantic relationship. Unexpectedly, he falls for Yoo Na-Bi (Han So-Hee) and begins to change. Yoo Na-Bi is an art student at the same university as Park Jae-Eon. In her past, she broke up with her first love due to his unfaithful ways. After that, decided to become unswayed by love. She then meets Park Jae-Eon and develops feelings for him. (Via Asian Wiki).

Nevertheless via GIPHY

I will say that these two reminded me a little bit of Chuck and Blair. Especially with their sexual tension and undeniable chemistry. I also liked that this was different from the usual kdramas that I watched. It’s a lot more intense!

Chuck and Blair via GIPHY

I also really liked the fact the Na-bi, the main protagonist was not a straight – A student. She struggles, but does her best.

I can’t really give my final thoughts on this yet, because I’m still watching it but if you watched it let me know who was your favorite character in the comments below!

Never Have I Ever Review

Never Have I Ever Season 2 Review Banner
Devi says “Oh My God!” Via GIPHY

I’m probably not the only one who has mixed feelings about Never Have I Ever. I’ll start with the good and end with the bad.

The Good

Paxton and Devi are sitting down and smiling at each other via GIPHY

I loved seeing Paxton’s story this season! Paxton has his faults like blaming Devi for when he failed that exam and inviting her on a date when his friends were also there; but viewers get to see a different side to the popular jock.

For the most part I really liked all of the side characters. Devi’s friends- especially Fabiola is great! I also liked Ben up to a point. I also loved seeing Eleanor interact with her dad and new step mom. It was also cool to see Faviola’s relationship with her mom and significant other. I also liked her relationship with her cousin!

Devi’s mom’s character growth was phenomenal this season! I also adored Paxton’s sister, Lily. Gigi Hadid was hilarious as the voiceover for Paxton.

Gigi Haddid is smiling via GIPHY

Devi is still dealing with the aftermath of her father’s death and the grief is real. She’s listening to her father’s voicemails on her phone because she doesn’t want to forget how her dad’s voice sounds. I thought this storyline was going to be brief, but I liked how it tied into each of the episodes even until the very end. Devi’s therapist is one of my favorite side characters. She’s incredibly supportive and has a fantastic sense of humor!

The Bad

Never Have I Ever Netflix show via GIPHY

Eleanor leaving her friends for some guy she doesn’t really know. Kind of reminds me of when Bella would leave her friends whenever Edward showed up.

Bella swan enters biology class in Twilight via GIPHY

Not going to lie Devi was a mess this season. She goes from dating two guys she supposedly cares about and she can’t seem to be happy when her mom is finally trying to move on with another guy. Everyone grieves differently, but I was hoping that by season 2 viewers would get to see Devi grow up a bit.

What she did to Aneesa was the worse. I get that she’s a teenager and teens make mistakes but this was just one too many. I know teens with better sense than Devi. I didn’t like Aneesa’s representation as a Muslim. Would it kill Netflix to have a character that is unapologetically Muslim? Like Hana from Hana Khan Carries On or Zayneb from Love from A to Z.

Asian Representation Matters via GIPHY

Aneesa is less of a hot mess in comparison to Devi. I loved her character and how her storyline wasn’t related to Islamophobia. Instead, Devi spreads a rumor about her and it turns out that the rumor is a harsh truth. Damn, Devi you really love messing up other people’s lives.

Season 3 Thoughts

– I hope Devi finally learns to appreciate her culture.

– I also hope she learns to become a better friend.

– I would love to see Paxton hanging out with her friends and a meet the parents dinner.

– Ben tries to win her back.

– A new guy comes in but he ends up with Aneesa. He’s also a Muslim and they have an enemies to lovers trope.

– Devi makes up with Aneesa and learns to deal with her mom dating.

Final Thoughts: Overall, it was a fun show to binge-watch. I just hope Season 3 is better.

What about you via GIPHY?

Are you Team Ben or Team Paxton?

Got any comments or predictions for Season 3? Let me know in the comments down below 🌸

Leisha’s Song Book Review

Leisha’s Song by Lynn Slaughter Cover

Thank you to Books Forward for this copy!

Synopsis

Leisha knows something’s wrong. Her beloved vocal coach at boarding school would never have resigned and disappeared like this in the midst of preparing her prize students for a major vocal competition. Leisha’s determined to find her, make sure she’s okay. 

Cody, a sensitive cellist, insists on helping her. Sparks fly, clues multiply, and romance blossoms, despite the disapproval of their families.

Cellist via GIPHY

My Review

This book had an incredibly strong premise and I loved the mystery in it! I was more fond of Cody than Leisha. Ms.Wells disappearance was what kept me interested in the book, but this is not the type of book that I normally would pick up. It has a slow middle and I would have liked to know more about Cody and why he wanted to pursue Leisha.

My Rating

3/5 stars

Question for the Readers: What’s your current read?

The Writer’s Nook: Current Writing Projects

Spider-Man is holding Captain America’s Shield and says: “Hey, everyone!” via GIPHY

Hey, there! For those of you who don’t know I write about as much as I read. I have always been a writer, but between last year and this year I actually started querying some of my books. If you’d like to know more about what I write you can follow me on Twitter @goldenseeker97.

  1. Don’t Meet Your Heroes- A Devil Wears Prada Retelling with a Muslim protagonist. It’s in Draft 2 so this is my WriteMentor book and my Camp NaNo Rebel project. It’s been a long process but I’m excited to see what happens.
  2. Just Court With It- Crazy, Rich Asians X My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This was initially written as aa screenplay. Naeem and Sarah are newly engaged, but someone leaks their engagement ring photos to their parents before they get a chance to tell their parents their news. Little do they know the culprit is closer to home than they anticipated. I’m currently working on turning it into a novel.
  3. Unconditionally Yours – Love from A to Z X Ayesha at Last. Saira and Rashid have a hospital meet-cute where they gain the first worse impressions of each other. Drama ensues when they find out that the two of them have to man a table together at a da’wah booth. I’m currently querying this novel.
  4. Unnamed Fantasy Novel – This book is in the drafting process and the only thing I’ll reveal is that it’s got mermaids, fairies, and a lot of plot twists!
  5. Little Mermaid Retelling – A what if Ariel doesn’t want the prince story? but make it *desi edition*. It is currently in the drafting process.
Ariel is sitting on a rock. The moon’s reflection hits the water via GIPHY.

Question for the Writers: What’s your writing process like? What’s your current WIP about? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to know!

Netflix’s A Love So Beautiful Took Me By Surprise

A Love So Beautiful via GIPHY

Xiao Xi and Jiang Chen have known each other since they were small kids. They are neighbors and their parents have a solid, close-knit relationship in the original. In the K-drama version, this does not seem to be the case. The parents have little to no interaction with each other. Xiao Xi has had feelings for Jiang Chen since they were younh, but now that they are both in high school she is head over heels for him and is adamant about making him like her. Yet, both are complete opposites. Xiao Xi is lively and not too good at school. Jiang Chen is cold and an extremely good student. It’s a cute, but pretty predictible drama… or so I thought.

As Xiao Xi gets older, she’s no longer the same giggly kid she was. Her past hardens her and I thought that the drama could have handled it better. I won’t say what happens but due to this traumatic experience she breaks up with Jiang just as he catches feelings for her. They don’t meet again until a few years later. Jiang reminds me a lot of Suho from True Beauty so if you were a fan of that drama or webtoon then you’ll adore Jiang. Personally I thought Xiao should have gone with the second lead but I loved that everyone got a happy ending in this drama.

Suho from True Beauty Webtoon via GIPHY

My Rating

3/5 stars

Due to how they didn’t handle Xiao’s traumatic experience I rate this drama 3/5 stars. Other than that this was an overall feel-good drama that got me through a difficult time. If you’re going through a rough patch I recommend this and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo.

Question for Drama Watchers: What shows are you currently watching?

The Mid-Year Freak Out Tag

Hey, Everyone! It’s time for the Mid-Year Freak Out Tag. I was inspired to do this after watching Read with Cindy’s video. This tag was initially created by Chami.

Best Book You’ve Read So Far in 2021

Shoutout to Uzma Jalaluddin for Hana Khan Carries On, S.K. Ali for Misfit in Love, Talia Hibbert for Brown Sisters Trilogy, Nicola Yoon for Instructions for Dancing, and Maureen Johnson for The Box in the Woods.

Anna from Frozen via GIPHY is excited !

Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far in 2021

Misfit in Love by S.K. Ali. You can check out my interview with S.K. Ali here: http://pop-culturalist.com/exclusive-interview-pop-culturalist-chats-with-s-k-ali-on-misfit-in-love/. This was such a fun interview to do and S.K. Ali is on my auto-buy list. I adore Janna and loved seeing Adam and Zeyneb again.

We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal. I love the fact that Hafsah is an American Sri Lankan (I’m also American Sri Lankan ) Muslim author so this interview was a dream come true: https://culturess.com/2021/01/19/interview-author-hafsah-faizal-we-free-stars/. We Free the Stars is one of my favorite sequels because I got to see more action and more of Zafira and Nasir!

Rapunzel from Tangled is holding a book via GIPHY. Pascal is sitting on her shoulder.

New Release You Haven’t Read Yet but Want To

Legendborn by Tracey Deonn. I’ve heard so many incredible things about it but I haven’t had the time to read it yet.

Most Anticipated Release for The Second Half of the Year

Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong. You can check out my interview with Chloe on These Violent Delights here: http://pop-culturalist.com/exclusive-interview-pop-culturalist-chats-with-chloe-gong/

It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi

Huda F Are You by Huda Fahmy

The Bronzed Beasts by Roshani Chokshi

The Wild Ones by Nafisa Azad

How We Fell Apart by Katie Zhao

Biggest Dissappointment of 2021

I’m probably going to get hate for these three but it’s Counting Down With You by Tashie Bhuiyan. There are others but the ones listed were the most disappointing.You can read my full review on GoodReads here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3651884311

An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi. You can also read my review for it on GoodReads.

Zara Hossein is Not Here by Samirah Ahmed. This review is also up on GoodReads if I’m not mistaken.

A look of disappointment via GIPHY

Biggest Surprise of 2021

For this one I’m only going to list the good surprises.

The Descent of the Drowned by Ana Lal Din is essentially like if The City of Brass and An Ember in the Ashes had a baby this book would be it!!! I highly recommend it and I talk about it to Azanta (@azantareads) on my podcast, Raise Your Words. Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you’re tuning in from. It’s the episode where we talk about The Importance of Muslim representation in books and we also gush about our favorite kdramas towards the end so stay tuned for that!

Kdrama actress smiling via GIPHY

Wings of Ebony by J. Elle.

These Deadly Games by Diana Urban.

Favorite New Author (debut or new to you)

Sarwat Chadda

S. A. Chokraborty

Nic Stone – thank you to Latesha or @bookishgirlmagic for gushing about Nic’s books so much that I had to read it!! You can check out her blog here: https://bookishgirlmagic.blog/ and listen to our book club segment on my podcast Raise Your Words!

Talia Hibbert- again thanks Latesha for introducing me to Talia’s books especially since Talia is one of my new favorite authors (and she’s only a year younger than I am which is incredible)!! You can check out my interview with Talia here: http://pop-culturalist.com/exclusive-interview-pop-culturalist-chats-with-talia-hibbert/. Talia was hilarious and so incredibly kind. I adore her and her books .

Newest Fictional Crush

Ayman from Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

Layth from Misfit in Love by S.K. Ali

Ali from The City of Brass by S. A. Chokraborty

Wes from Made in Korea by Sarah Suk

New Favorite Character

Chloe Brown from Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Ali from The City of Brass Trilogy by S.A. Chokraborty

Book That Made You Cry

A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir

We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal

Misfit in Love by S.K. Ali

Hana Khan Carries on by Uzma Jalaluddin

Book That Made You Happy

Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

Misfit in Love by S.K. Ali

The City of Brass by S. A. Chokraborty

The Khorasan Archives by Ausma Zehanat Khan. We also talk about the book series on my podcast, Raise Your Words! Ausma was so much fun to interview and I can’t wait to read her next book!

Will Smith is happy via GIPHY

The Most Beautiful Book You Bought this Year or Recieved

We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Shine by Jessica Jung

Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

Sweet and Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley

Of Princes and Promises by Sandhya Menon

What Books Do You Need to Read Before the End of this Year?

Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong

The Bronzed Beasts by Roshani Chokshi

Heartbreak for Hire by Sonia Heartl

The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynne Barnes

Favorite Book to Movie Adaptation You’ve Seen This Year

Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han. My co-host (and very close friend) Andrea Shaw and I talk about this with our friend, Amaly on my podcast, Raise Your Words! It was one of our favorite episodes from this year.

The Covey girls singing in the last to all the boys I’ve loved before movie via GIPHY
Always and Forever Lara Jean prom night via GIPHY

To all the boys I’ve loved before always and forever Lara Jean via GIPHY

Well, that’s a wrap!! If you do this tag please tag me or send the link to me. I’d love to see all the posts!

Looney Toons “That’s all folks!” Via GIPHY

Question for the readers: what was your best read of 2021 and your biggest disappointment of 2021?

The Island Blog Tour

The Island by Mary Grand Book Cover

Thank you SO much to Rachel from @Rachel’s Random Resources.

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Tour Dates: 24th – 30th June 2021

Publication Date: 24th June 2021

PublisherBoldwood Books

Standalone Novel

Formats available: Netgalley Widget

Types of post available: Review Only

Pre-Order Link: https://amzn.to/2OJXBwQ

Synopsis

The Island – where everyone knows everyone, and secrets are impossible to keep…

‘Be careful, you don’t know them as well as you think. Remember – anyone can kill.’

Juliet has returned to the Isle of Wight from years abroad to visit her sick father and to be reunited with her three sisters – Cassie, a professional musician who seems to have lost her way in life, Mira, who is profoundly deaf, is married to the local vicar but their relationship is falling apart, and Rosalind, glamorous and charming but now deeply unhappy and secretive about her life. 

As Juliet’s father lies dying, he issues her with a warning. There is a killer on the loose, and they may be closer than she can ever imagine. He anxiously tells Juliet that he confided a family secret in son-in-law Rhys, and now regrets ever saying a word.

Days later, as the clock strikes one in the morning, a man comes out of Rhys’s church, walks along the path and is run down by a car driven by an unidentified person. When the finger of suspicion points to Juliet, she realises the only way to clear her name is to uncover the secrets her family has been keeping from her for years. But with a killer on the loose, danger is getting closer all the time…

The Island  is set on the Isle of Wight – insular,  claustrophobic, and where secrets are hard to keep. Mary Grand’s heart-stopping who-dunnits are perfect for fans of Louise Candlish. Agatha Christie and Lucy Foley.

My Review

One of my favorite characters is Juliet. I loved how resilient she was despite all the shit that she’s been through. Juliet heads back to her childhood home when she finds out her father is in the hospital. The story really begins after finding out that Juliet’s brother in law is dead.I would’ve liked the story a little more if we got it through Rhys’s perspective. Overall, it’s still compelling but it has a slow start.

My Rating

3/5 stars

About the author

Author Mary Grand

Mary Grand is the author of five novels and writes gripping, page-turning suspense, with a dark and often murderous underside. She grew up in Wales, was for many years a teacher of deaf children and now lives on the Isle of Wight where her new novel, The House Party, which was published by Boldwood in August 2020, is set.

Follow Mary Grand

Bookbub Profile: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/mary-grand?list=about

Newsletter Sign Up Link: https://bit.ly/MaryGrandNewsletter

Blog / website URL:   https://marygrand.net/

#TheWriteReads Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon Review

Instructions for Dancing Blog Tour Banner

Synopsis

#1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star Nicola Yoon is back with a new and utterly unique romance.

Evie is disillusioned about love ever since her dad left her mum for another woman – she’s even throwing out her beloved romance novel collection.

When she’s given a copy of a book called Instructions for Dancing, and follows a note inside to a dilapidated dance studio, she discovers she has a strange and unwelcome gift. When a couple kisses in front of her, she can see their whole relationship play out – from the moment they first catch each other’s eye to the last bitter moments of their break-up.

For Evie, it confirms everything she thinks she knows about love – that it doesn’t last.

But at the dance studio she meets X – tall, dreadlocked, fascinating – and they start to learn to dance, together. Can X help break the spell that Evie is under? Can he change Evie’s mi
nd about love?

Instructions for Dancing Cover

My Review

I should’ve known that just because this book had happy vibes does not mean it was going to be a romantic book. I’m a huge Nicola Yoon fan and her books are always phenomenal!! Instructions for Dancing is no exception. Evie was the character I resonated the most with but I also loved reading about X. I’m not usually a fan of the accidental magic trope, but Nicola Yoon managed to make it work!! One of my favorite lines is: “Not everybody can dance good, but everyone can dance!”

My Rating

5/5 stars

Overall thoughts: This book made me laugh, cry, and also made me angry at times but I loved this book SO freaking much and it’s one you need to add to your shelves!! I’ve reread it already and I know I’ll reread it again.

You can get the book here!

About the Author

Author Nicola Yoon

She is best known for writing the 2015 young adult novel Everything, Everything, a New York Times best seller and the basis of a 2017 film of the same name. In 2016, she released The Sun Is Also a Star, a novel that was adapted to a film.

Rockstar Book Tour: Instructions for Dancing Blog Tour

Instructions for Dancing Blog Tour

I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the INSTRUCTIONS FOR DANCING by Nicola Yoon Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway! 

About the Book:

Title: INSTRUCTIONS FOR DANCING

Author: Nicola Yoon

Pub. Date: June 1, 2021

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook

Pages: 304

Find it: GoodreadsAmazonKindle, AudibleB&N Exclusive Signed Edition, iBooks, Kobo, TBD, Bookshop.org

#1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star Nicola Yoon is back with her eagerly anticipated third novel. With all the heart and hope of her last two books, this is an utterly unique romance.

Book Trailer

Praise for INSTRUCTIONS FOR DANCING: 

A Junior Library Guild selection 

★ “An endearing, affecting exploration of the journey of love. Everything Yoon touches turns to gold and this cinematic supernatural romance will be no exception.”—Booklist, starred review

★ “A remarkable, irresistible love story that will linger long after readers turn the final page.”—Kirkus, starred review

 “Yoon delivers a story of love’s unpredictability and the importance of perspective that unfolds with ease and heart.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

 “A sweet, genuine love story sure to pull on the heartstrings.”—School Library Journal, starred review

 “Yoon delivers this captivating story of first love with beautiful prose, clever dialogue that swings between laugh-out-loud funny and wildly insightful, clear respect for the complexity and nuance of her teen characters’ perspectives and emotions—and just enough magic to make it all truly unforgettable.”—BookPage, starred review

Giveaway

3 winners will receive a finished copy of INSTRUCTIONS FOR DANCING, US Only.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/e2389ba21287/?

Synopsis

Evie Thomas doesn’t believe in love anymore. Especially after the strangest thing occurs one otherwise ordinary afternoon: She witnesses a couple kiss and is overcome with a vision of how their romance began . . . and how it will end. After all, even the greatest love stories end with a broken heart, eventually.

As Evie tries to understand why this is happening, she finds herself at La Brea Dance Studio, learning to waltz, fox-trot, and tango with a boy named X. X is everything that Evie is not: adventurous, passionate, daring. His philosophy is to say yes to everything–including entering a ballroom dance competition with a girl he’s only just met.

Falling for X is definitely not what Evie had in mind. If her visions of heartbreak have taught her anything, it’s that no one escapes love unscathed. But as she and X dance around and toward each other, Evie is forced to question all she thought she knew about life and love. In the end, is love worth the risk?

My Review

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon cover

THIS WAS ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS OF THIS SUMMER AND IT WAS ALSO A HIGHLY ANTICIPATED READ! As in, I had very high expectations especially since I’ve been a fan of Nicola Yoon’s for YEARS. Evie and X are both relatable and I loved Evie’s character development throughout the book. I could relate to Evie’s pessimistic outlook on relationships and X’s say yes mentality. Although the two of them are opposites, it worked. I have to admit the only thing I knew about this book going into it was the fact that Nicola Yoon and her husband David Yoon went dancing as a part of the research aspect for Instructions for Dancing. Unlike most romance books, Evie has a good group of friends and I loved reading about them. If dance competitions and romance is your thing then this book is meant for you!!

MY RATING

5/5 Stars

About thee author

Author Nicola Yoon in a pink shirt

Nicola Yoon is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Instructions for Dancing, Everything, Everything and The Sun Is Also a Star. She is a National Book Award finalist, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book recipient and a Coretta Scott King New Talent Award winner. Two of her novels have been made into major motion pictures. She’s also co-publisher of Joy Revolution, a Random House young adult imprint dedicated to love stories starring people of color. She grew up in Jamaica and Brooklyn, and lives in Los Angeles with her husband, the novelist David Yoon, and their daughter.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Amazon

Check out the other stops on the tour!

Tour schedule

Week One:

6/1/2021YA Books CentralExcerpt
6/2/2021Kait Plus BooksExcerpt
6/3/2021Jotted by JenaExcerpt
6/4/2021Stuck in the Stacks Review
6/5/2021EveryonesLibrarianReview

Week Two:

6/6/2021BookInNeverlandReview
6/7/2021Rajiv’s ReviewsReview
6/8/2021Do You Dog-ear?Review
6/9/2021The Reading WordsmithReview
6/10/2021What A Nerd Girl SaysReview
6/11/2021Emelie’s BooksReview
6/12/2021Nay’s Pink Bookshelf Review

Week Three:

6/13/2021MidnightbookloverReview
6/14/2021Lisa Loves LiteratureReview
6/15/2021Becky on BooksReview
6/16/2021Books and Zebras @jypsylynn Review
6/17/2021Two Points of InterestReview
6/18/2021BiancaBuysBooksReview
6/19/2021A Court of Coffee and BooksReview

Week Four:

6/20/2021Eli to the nthReview
6/21/2021Books Are Magic Too Review
6/22/2021Amani’s ReviewsReview
6/23/2021onemusedReview
6/24/2021FrayedBooksReview
6/25/2021Fire and IceReview
6/26/2021Book BriefsReview

Week Five:

6/27/2021Polish & PaperbacksReview
6/28/2021Book-KeepingReview
6/29/2021The Book ViewReview
6/30/2021The Bookwyrm’s DenReview

Turn the Pages Blog Tour: A Sisterhood of Secret Ambitions by Sheena Boekweg

Blog Tour Banner

TITLE: A Sisterhood of Secret Ambitions

AUTHOR: Sheena Boekweg

PUBLISHER: Feiwel & Friends

RELEASE DATE: June 1st, 2021

GENRE(S): YOUNG ADULT FICTION–Historical

BUY LINK: https://bookshop.org/a/11727/9781250770981

SYNOPSIS

Book Cover

Behind every powerful man is a trained woman, and behind every trained woman is the Society. It started with tea parties and matchmaking, but is now a countrywide secret. Gossips pass messages in recipes, Spinsters train to fight, and women work together to grant safety to abused women and children. The Society is more than oaths—it is sisterhood and purpose.

In 1926, seventeen-year-old Elsie is dropped off in a new city with four other teenage girls. All of them have trained together since childhood to become the Wife of a powerful man. But when they learn that their next target is earmarked to become President, their mission becomes more than just an assignment; this is a chance at the most powerful position in the Society. All they have to do is make one man fall in love with them first.

My Review

The premise of the book grabbed my attention immediately! I would’ve liked to see Elsie wanting to help others out more rather than a girl boss attitude. A group of women are denied power in their own right so they end up taking back the reigns by marrying the “right” men.I loved the body positivity message in this book and the fact that as a reader, I got to see Elsie grow up throughout the book. I would’ve liked it a lot more if the POC characters had more character development especially since the protagonists were all white. One of the things that really ticked me off about Elsie is the fact that when she finds out her friend is interested in a guy that she’s not interested i; Elsie gets jealous and messes things up for her friend. If you’re a fan of protagonists who are not good people, then this is for you! The Society aspect of the book is what kept me from DNF’ing it. The shenanigans that the Society got into is what piqued my interest.

My Rating

3/5 stars

About the author

Author Sheena Boekweg is sitting down and is smiling.

Sheena Boekweg grew up reading books with tree branches peeking over her shoulder. Her novels Glitch Kingdom and A Sisterhood of Secret Ambitions, both with Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, feature fat positive girls with ambitions, love stories, and sometimes battle axes. She’s a contributor to Every Body Shines, a fat-positive anthology publishing May 2021 with Bloomsbury, and is an alumni of the 2015 Pitch Wars Program and was a Pitch Wars mentor in 2017, 2018, and currently in 2020. Sheena believes that beauty is intrinsic and worth is unquestionable, and thinks you can’t solve all problems with food, but it will always help.

She is well-loved by a tall man with a great beard, her three kids, and the world’s most spoiled puppy. Visit her online at boekwegbooks.com, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @SheenaBoekweg. She’s represented by Jessica Sinsheimer at Context Literary.

Check out the other stops on the tour!

Sandhya’s Sweethearts Blog Tour: Of Princes & Promises

Synopsis

Caterina LaValle is determined to show she’s still the queen of St. Rosetta’s Academy. Sure, her crown may be slightly askew after her ex-boyfriend, Alaric, cheated on her, but she’s a LaValle. She’ll find a way to march right back in there, her hands clutching the strings to the whole puppet show. This time, she’s going to be untouchable.

Rahul Chopra knows that moment he shared with Caterina LaValle at the winter formal meant something. Surely she feels it, too. He’s a little uncertain how someone like him (socially inept to a point way past “adorkable”) could fit into her world, but he’s loved Caterina for years. He knows they’ll find a way. 

When Caterina finds out Alaric is taking a supermodel to the upcoming gala, she knows she cannot arrive without the perfect date. But the thought of taking another superficial St. R’s boy exhausts her. The solution? Sweet-but-clueless Rahul Chopra and a mysterious pot of hair gel with the power to alter the wearer into whatever his heart desires. 

When Rahul tries it, he transforms instantly into RC—debonair, handsome, and charming. But transformation comes with a price: As Rahul enjoys his new social standing, the line between his two personas begins to blur. Will he give up everything, including Caterina, to remain RC? Or will this unlikely pair find their way back to each other?

Prince crown via GIPHY

My Review

First off : I freaking love the cover !! Caterina was a character introduced to us in Of Kisses & Curses and I hated her.

Caterina was a character I loved to hate until this book. I have to admit, I’m not someone who likes to sympathize with the bully but I really felt for her. Rahul was definitely my favorite and if you loved of curses and kisses, you’re going to adore the second book of the Rosetta Academy series!!

Another concept that I really enjoyed was the speculation of is it magic or an illusion and that’s something I’m still curious to find out. I have a theory about the magic part : I feel like it’s probably an illusion kind of like how the genie didn’t actually make Aladdin Royal but he gave him the clothes and the confidence in a way to be a prince!

Genie from Aladdin via GIPHY

My Rating

5/5 stars via Google Images

Overall thoughts: I loved Rahul more than Caterina but it was great to see Caterina’s character development in this one!

Question for the readers: What’s your favorite retelling?

Check out the other stops on the tour ( sorry for the delay on my stop- I was out of town for the weekend)!

Of Princes and Tours Schedule dates via Sandhya’s Sweethearts on Instagram

Rockstar Blog Tour Presents: Battle of the Bullies Review!

Battle of the Bullies Tour Banner

I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the BATTLE OF THE BULLIES by Fenyx Blue Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway! 

About the Book:

Title: BATTLE OF THE BULLIES

Author: Fenyx Blue

Pub. Date: October 28, 2020

Publisher: Wisdom Works

Formats: Paperback, eBook

Pages: 313

Find it: GoodreadsAmazonKindle, TBD, Bookshop.org

Read for FREE With A Kindle Unlimited Subscription!

SYNOPSIS

Ebony, Eris, and Emani Robertson have been through so much more than most high school freshmen. When they were younger, they survived a school shooting that killed their friend and left their oldest sister unable to speak. After giving homeschooling a try, they enroll in a promising new academy, hoping for the best.The Robertsons soon discover, however, that their new classmates are anything but kind. A mysterious group of bullies known as the Dimes rules the hallways and spreads fear everywhere they go. All three sisters end up being targets of the gang and have to find a way to defend themselves.The triplets couldn’t be more different, but their loyalty to each other and to their school never fails. Along with diverse group of friends, the Robertsons do everything they can to uncover the identity of the Dimes and restore order to the school.As if their lives weren’t complicated enough, they also get sucked in to a much bigger game—discovering who was responsible for the attack on their old school. Can they bring down the Dimes and bring the murderer to justice, all while trying to make it through ninth grade?

Praise for the book

“Bullying is a topic that needs to continue to be discussed, and I’m so happy to see these types of stories being written. This was an interesting mix of high school drama, bullying, and sisterly relationships.”― She Just Loves Books


“As someone who dealt with many bullies in school, I was a little nervous about reading this, but knew I needed to. I honestly wish I’d been able to read this book back then. It might be a young adult book, but it has a depth and complexity to it that I wasn’t expecting. Bullies, racism, friendship, love, and family populate this story. I highly recommend this to any teens struggling with bullies and to anyone who has dealt with them in the past.” ―Goodreads Review

“Tackling violence in schools is a challenge, but Battle of the Bullies does so with strong, optimistic characters that embrace life a refuse to take a back seat in conflict.” ―A Dream Within A Dream

My Review

I loved how the author tackled bullying in this book. I went into this not knowing what it was about and personally, this is the best way for this book! I adored the emphasis on friendship and family throughout the book. I didn’t expect to get so emotional while reading it, but it happened!This book is essential for teachers, educators, parents, etc. and I highly recommend it!

My Rating

4/5 stars

About the author

Author pic

If author Fenyx Blue actually had a tattoo, it would be a heart. Ms. Blue has written every book with love. Blue is a teacher, coach, mentor, and motivational speaker focused on women and youth empowerment. She has written a young adult novel about bullying entitled Who Failed Johnny?, a poetry book about purpose named The Blue Ink Movement, and a children’s book about the power of a solid father daughter relationship called Worth the Weight.

Fenyx believes in service to the community. After being chosen as teacher of the year for her school district, she continued to mentor teenagers and facilitate discussions about controversial topics like drugs, sex, violence, cyberbullying and mental health. She has been a guest poet for several women’s retreats and workshops and loves the energy she receives from a live audience.

Throughout her years as an educator and youth ministry leader, Blue created Team Bully-Free Forever, a poetry team for her school, and a mentoring group called D.I.V.A.S to address the needs of young people. She is dedicated to teaching the next generation to follow their dreams and feels it is her mission to equip them for the future. Ms. Fenyx Blue is a proud mother of three beautiful children who inspire her to write each day.

You can follow Ms. Fenyx Blue @FenyxBlueInk on Instagram and Youtube.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon

Giveaway

1 winner will win a $10 Amazon GC, International.

1 winner will win a $10 Starbucks GC, International.

Rafflecopter link:http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/e2389ba21280/?

Check out the other stops on the tour!

Tour Schedule

Week One:

5/17/2021Drunk On PopExcerpt
5/18/2021Jill PiscitelloExcerpt
5/19/2021YA Books CentralPre-made Guest Post
5/20/2021Living in a BookworldPre-made Guest Post
5/21/2021Rajiv’s ReviewsReview
5/22/2021BookHounds YA Interview

Week Two:

5/23/2021Two Chicks on BooksExcerpt
5/24/2021Haunted By BooksReview
5/25/2021Lifestyle of MeReview
5/26/2021The Reading WordsmithReview
5/27/2021Lady HawkeyePre-made Guest Post
5/28/2021Fyrekatz BlogReview
5/29/2021Chrikaru ReadsReview

Week Three:

5/30/2021MidnightbookloverIG Spotlight
5/31/2021whatissheuptoReview
6/1/2021Diary Of A BookgirlReview
6/2/2021Here’s to Happy EndingsReview
6/3/2021JenguerdyReview
6/4/2021Momfluenster Review
6/5/2021Jaime’s WorldExcerpt

Week Four:

6/6/2021The Keysmash BlogReview
6/7/2021Musing of SoulsReview
6/8/2021Amani’s ReviewsReview
6/9/2021Fire & IceReview
6/10/2021two points of interestReview
6/11/2021@pagesofyellow Review

Here’s why I’m in Love with Misfit in Love and Why You Need to Read this !!

Misfit in Love Blog Tour banner via Turn the Page Tours

Book Information

TITLE: Misfit in Love (Saints and Misfits, #2)

AUTHOR: S.K. Ali

PUBLISHER: Salaam Reads

RELEASE DATE: May 25th, 2021

GENRE(S): YOUNG ADULT FICTION–Contemporary, Romance

BUY LINK: https://bookshop.org/a/11727/9781534442757

Synopsis

In this fun and fresh sequel to Saints and Misfits, Janna hopes her brother’s wedding will be the perfect start to her own summer of love, but attractive new arrivals have her more confused than ever.

Janna Yusuf is so excited for the weekend: her brother Muhammad’s getting married, and she’s reuniting with her mom, whom she’s missed the whole summer.

And Nuah’s arriving for the weekend too.

Sweet, constant Nuah.

The last time she saw him, Janna wasn’t ready to reciprocate his feelings for her. But things are different now. She’s finished high school, ready for college…and ready for Nuah.

It’s time for Janna’s (carefully planned) summer of love to begin—starting right at the wedding.

But it wouldn’t be a wedding if everything went according to plan. Muhammad’s party choices aren’t in line with his fiancée’s taste at all, Janna’s dad is acting strange, and her mom is spending more time with an old friend (and maybe love interest?) than Janna.

And Nuah’s treating her differently.

Just when things couldn’t get more complicated, two newcomers—the dreamy Haytham and brooding Layth—have Janna more confused than ever about what her misfit heart really wants.Janna’s summer of love is turning out to be super crowded and painfully unpredictable.

Cover

Misfit in Love by S.K. Ali Cover

Book Playlist

  • Love Story (Taylor’s Version)
  • Helpless -Hamilton Soundtrack
  • You Are in Love – Taylor Swift
  • Mr. Perfectly Fine (Taylor’s Version)
  • Paper Rings – (Taylor’s Version)
  • Let’s Get Married- Bleachers
  • Everytime-Chen
  • Nobody Compares to You- Gryffin, Katie Pearlman
  • Chale Jaise Hawaien – KK,Vasundhura Das
  • Personal-Against the Current
  • Running-Red Velvet
  • Stand by You -Rachel Platten
  • Fight Song- Rachel Platten
  • Better Place-Rachel Platten
  • happier- Olivia Rodrigo
  • good 4 u -Olivia Rodrigo
  • i’m just a kid- Simple Plan
  • enough for you -Olivia Rodrigo
  • I Like Me Better- LAUV
  • Begin Again-Taylor Swift
  • Baddhu Sa Mann- Amaal Malik, Armaan Malik
  • Al-Burdah -Mesut Kurtis
  • This One’s for the Girls-Martina McBride
  • In Too Deep-Sum 41
  • Still Got Time -ZAYN, PARTYNEXTDOOR

Review

Thank you SO much to Turn the Pages for a copy of this book! I’m going to keep this spoiler-free for now, because there’s no way to hide spoilers on WordPress. This book is beautiful and heartbreaking. I absolutely LOVED this book. Although it can be read as a stand-alone I recommend reading S.K. Ali’s books in this order: Saints & Misfits, Love From A to Z, and Misfit in Love. One of my favorite moments was seeing Adam and Zeyneb interact with one another. The character development is phenomenal and I love reading about how far Janna has come. She’s still learning but what I love about Janna is how she fights for what she believes in and stands up to any injustices. I resonate with Janna and Zeyneb a lot (more specifically Zeyneb) and S.K. Ali has a beautiful way of representing a diverse community. One of the major themes in this book is tackling racism within your own family and it was so well-written. All of the characters are flawed and loveable (with the exception of Janna’s Dad- not a major spoiler). You can also check out my interview with S.K. Ali for Pop-Culturalist here. If you’d like to stay updated on when I post online, my links can be found here.

My Rating

5/5 stars

Top 10 Favorite quotes from MIL

  • “The couple requests donations to Islamic Relief USA in lieu of gifts.”
  • “Team Dad and Janna only lasted so long, though.”
  • “Why did you only ask your son? What about what our daughter has to say?” Sarah: “That would be nice too.” Sarah’s Mom to Sarah: “But you didn’t ask us!”
  • “But then what happens next? My only plan is to go as far as telling him tomorrow before the henna party, before all the guest arrive.”
  • “Mom turns to him, and her entire face lits up.”
  • “He got here early. Today. For me.”
  • “I hated chaperoning you guys.”
  • “He tips his head back like he’s caught and allows a smile, again an actual smile, to take over his face. And then he laughs.”
  • “Too bad for Muhammad this wedding is going to turn into a little war.”
  • “This girl. She’s one of those rare people who you can actually soak sunshine from.”

Mood Board

This moodboard can also be found on my bookstagram account @meetcuteromancebooks.

About the author

Author pic of S.K. Ali

S. K. Ali is the author of Saints and Misfits, winner of the 2018 APALA Honor award, the 2017 Middle East Book Honor Award, and a 2018 William C. Morris Award finalist. Her second novel, LOVE FROM A TO Z, a story about finding love in the time of Islamophobia, was an Entertainment Weekly Top Ten Young Adult Book of 2019. She also has a picture book co-authored with Team USA Olympic Medalist, Ibtihaj Muhammad, THE PROUDEST BLUE, which debuted on the New York Times bestseller list. Releasing on May 5, 2020 is ONCE UPON AN EID, an anthology of joyful stories by 15 Muslim creatives, edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed. She lives in Toronto with her family, which includes a very vocal cat named Yeti. Find her on twitter at https://twitter.com/SajidahWrites, on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/skalibooks/ and on her website at https://skalibooks.com/.

Check out the other stops on the tour down below!

Tour Schedule

June 5th

Turn the Page Tours – Welcome Post
The Aiya Times – Review & Book Playlist
Lyrical Reads – Review, Mood Board & Book Playlist

June 6th

Belle’s Archive – Spotlight
Amani’s Reviews – Review, Favorite Quotes, Book Playlist & Mood Board
Coastal Readers – Dream Celebrity Cast & Mood Board

June 7th

Lost in a Bookstore – Review & Favorite Quotes
Kayla’s Book Nook – Review
The Clever Reader – Spotlight

June 8th

In Vogue with Books – Review, Book Playlist, Dream Celebrity Cast & Favorite Quotes
Kait Plus Books – Spotlight
Sheaf and Ink – Review

June 9th

Book Lover’s Book Reviews – Review
Emelie’s Books – Review, Favorite Quotes & Mood Board
Brinn’s Books – Review & Favorite Quotes

June 10th

Books Tea Healthy Me – Spotlight
The Reading Wordsmith – Review & Favorite Quotes
Sincerely, Manasa – Review, Favorite Quotes & Mood Board

June 11th

Literary Delirium – Review
Whimsical Blessings – Author Interview
Lily’s Cozy Blog – Review & Favorite Quotes

Rachel’s Random Resources Paparazzi Tour

Paparazzi Blog Tour

Synopsis

A stalker. A popstar’s family murdered. A terrified photographer.

It’s thirty years since Becky White joined the police. Now, six months after leaving the force, she is suffering from PTSD, when an old friend turns up with a tempting offer. 

Following the creation of The White Knight Detective Agency, their first client is a press photographer – a member of the Paparazzi – a young woman with a mysterious and troublesome stalker.

But as the case develops, Becky and Joanna find themselves embroiled in murder. When they are unable to prevent further deaths, their investigation takes them down an unexpected path.

But can they trust their instinct? And will they identify the killer in time to save a child’s life?

Paparazzi, the second instalment in the bestselling Becky White Thriller series. takes you on a journey into the deceptive world of superstars – and those who follow them! 

Buy the Book

Paparazzi by Jo Fenton book cover

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08ZCK7S37/

US – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08ZCK7S37/

My Review

This was my first book by Jo and it was an incredible fast-paced thriller! There’s a murderer and the story focuses on Becky and Dan. Becky has to figure out who the killer is in order to save a kid’s life. On top of that she’s also dealing with PTSD from being in the force. I loved reading about Becky’s character development as she strives to overcome her fears. This book will draw you in and it’s one you’ll finish pretty quickly if you’re into thrillers. Thank you to Rachel’s Random Resources for this copy. All opinions are my own.

My Rating

4/5 stars

About the author

Author Jo Fenton [Image Description: Author Jo Fenton is wearing a gray and white patterned shirt].

Jo Fenton grew up in Hertfordshire, UK. She devoured books from an early age, particularly enjoying adventure books, school stories and fantasy. She wanted to be a scientist from aged six after being given a wonderful book titled “Science Can Be Fun”. At eleven, she discovered Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer, and now has an eclectic and much loved book collection cluttering her home office.

Jo combines an exciting career in Clinical Research with an equally exciting but very different career as a writer of psychological thrillers.

When not working, she runs (very slowly), and chats to lots of people. She lives in Manchester with her husband, two sons, a Corgi and a tankful of tropical fish. She is an active and enthusiastic member of two writing groups and a reading group.

Website www.jofenton137.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jofentonauthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jl_fenton

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/jofenton137/

Giveaway (OPEN INTERNATIONALLY)

Giveaway to Win a signed copy of Revelation by Jo Fenton (Open INT)

*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/33c69494421/?

High School Musical The Musical The Series: The Road Trip A RockStar Book Tour

High School Musical The Musical The Series: The Road Trip Banner via RockStar Book Tour

I am ECSTATIC to be hosting a spot on the HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL: THE ROAD TRIP by Melissa de la Cruz Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!

About the book

Title: HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL: THE ROAD TRIP

Author: Melissa de la Cruz

Pub. Date: May 4, 2021

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Formats: Hardcover, eBook

Pages: 272

Find it: GoodreadsAmazon, Kindle, B&NiBooks, KoboTBD, Bookshop.org

Synopsis

An original novel inspired by the hit Disney+ television series HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL: THE MUSICAL, by the #1 New York Times best-selling author of the Descendants series, Melissa de la Cruz.

Join everyone’s favorite Wildcats from the Disney+ smash hit original series High school Musical: The Musical: The Series in this novel by New York Times bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz.

On the heels of their wildly successful run of High School Musical, the gang learns of a can’t-miss opportunity—a High School Musical convention in the next state. There’s something for everyone: panels about mounting your next hit show, cafeteria-tray-dance workshops, Wildcat cosplay, and even a special appearance from the pooch who played Sharpay’s dog (well, one of her puppies, that is).

Ready to hit the road, the crew immediately begins making plans. Nini can’t wait to use the weekend to show how much she cares for Ricky (especially since they just got back together). Kourtney debates signing up for a singing workshop (especially if she’s maybe, just maybe, considering auditioning for the next show), and Gina and Ashlyn decide it’ll be the perfect trial run for living together (especially because Gina has never actually had a friendship last this long). Carlos can’t wait to help Miss Jenn prep for the spring musical, even if Seb has to stay behind to help with the family farm. But car breakdowns, late starts, and a lost E.J. throw a wrench in their plans. 

Will the East Highers get the weekend getaway of their dreams? Or will the bumps on the road get the better of them?

Praise for high school musical: the road trip

[Image Description: Text states: “A breezy and fun read, the book contains chapters that offer pithy first-person accounts from each character, including quirky Miss Jenn; Carlos and his boyfriend, Seb; recently reunited couple Nini and Ricky and their BFFs, Kourtney and Big Red; popular senior E.J. and his songwriter cousin, Ashlyn; and talented triple threat Gina. The plot includes references to the series and themes straight from the musical: nurturing your talent, showing others how much they matter, and acknowledging the importance of teamwork. Although race isn’t mentioned overtly, the characters are cued as racially diverse, following the casting of the TV show. Fans will appreciate the inside jokes, but explanations in the text make it accessible even to those unfamiliar with the program.

A lighthearted and charming read.” —Kirkus Reviews. There is a white and red van with the title of the book on the back of the van.]”

Review

I’m a sucker for books with road trips and I have to admit watching High School Musical The Musical: The Series is a guilty pleasure show.I love that this story begins right where season 1 ended in the show. I’m also a huge fan of Melissa De La Cruz’s books and this was a fun study break for me! I loved the humor and getting to read about the characters while waiting for season 2 to premiere. There were a few slow moments, but over all, I enjoyed this one! They’re headed to a High School Musical convention and nothing goes according to plan. I especially loved reading about E.J.’s character development!!

My Rating

4/5 stars

About the author

Author Melissa De La Cruz [Image Description: Author Melissa De La Cruz is sitting down on a yellow chair wearing a navy blue, yellow, white, and black shirt].

Melissa de la Cruz (www.melissa-delacruz.com) is the author of the #1 New York Times best-selling Descendants series, as well as many other best-selling novels, including all the books in the Blue Bloods series: Blue BloodsMasqueradeRevelationsThe Van Alen Legacy, Keys to the Repository, Misguided Angel, Bloody Valentine, Lost in Time, and Gates of Paradise. She lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and daughter.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Tumblr | Goodreads | Amazon

Giveaway

3 winners will win a finished copy of HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL: THE ROAD TRIP, US Only.

Rafflecopter link:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/e2389ba21271/?

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on this tour!

Tour schedule

Week One:

5/1/2021jillpiscitelloExcerpt

Week Two:

5/2/2021YA Books CentralExcerpt
5/3/2021Living in a BookworldExcerpt
5/4/2021BookHounds YAExcerpt
5/5/2021Perusewithcoffee (blog)Review
5/6/2021Musing of SoulsReview
5/7/2021Kait Plus BooksExcerpt
5/8/2021The Book ViewReview

Week Three:

5/9/2021onemusedReview
5/10/2021Lifestyle of MeReview
5/11/2021Emelie’s BooksReview
5/12/2021MidnightbookloverReview
5/13/2021Fire and IceReview
5/14/2021Shelf LoveReview or Excerpt
5/15/2021JenguerdyReview

Week Four:

5/16/2021Margie’s Must ReadsReview
5/17/2021Amani’s ReviewsReview
5/18/2021two points of interestReview
5/19/2021Haunted By BooksReview
5/20/2021booksaremagictooReview
5/21/2021fictitious.foxReview
5/22/2021The Reading WordsmithReview

Week Five:

5/23/2021MomfluensterReview
5/24/2021michellemengsbookblogReview
5/25/2021Rajiv’s ReviewsReview
5/26/2021Struck by StoriesReview
5/27/2021Fyrekatz BlogReview
5/28/2021BiancaBuysBooksReview
5/29/2021Do You Dog-ear?Review

Week Six:

5/30/2021A Dream Within A DreamExcerpt
5/31/2021Lady HawkeyeExcerpt

Rachel’s Random Resources Blog Tour: Italy Ever After

Blog Tour Header via Rachel’s Random Resources

About the Book

Escape to the sun and head off to Italy, with the wonderfully warm and ever-so-page-turning Leonie Mack!

TV journalist Lou feels battered and bruised after her divorce from Phil, the father of her daughter Edie. Her confidence and sense of fun have steadily been drained away, and she isn’t sure who she is any more.

When the opportunity arises to accompany Edie on a music camp in Italy for a month in the summer, Lou jumps at the chance for new adventures, new horizons and new friends. The hazy warmth of the summer sun, shining brightly over the stunning Lake Garda, slowly brings Lou back to life. 

Nick Romano, Edie’s music teacher, loves being home in Italy, but coaching his students for their concert in Milan, is bringing back difficult memories. His blossoming friendship with Lou is the perfect distraction, although a summer fling would be easier to conduct without the scrutiny of his mother Greta, not to mention the interference of his extended Italian family.

As the summer passes, full of sunshine and breath-taking scenery, gelato and delicious feasts, Lou and Nick get ever closer. But as the time for farewell creeps up on them, will they be able to say goodbye and leave their memories behind in the Italian sun, or can a summer romance last a lifetime?

Leonie Mack is back with a sizzling, sun-baked love story, perfect for all fans of Mandy Baggot, Jo Thomas and Carole Matthews.

Purchase Links: https://amzn.to/3qfXhDq

Cover of Italy Ever After

My Review

I love that Lou and Nick are flawed character. They don’t have a ton of self-confidence and it was refreshing to see characters who were not a 100% sure of themselves. Edie was one of my favorite side characters and I loved the journalism aspect of the book. The only thing I wasn’t a huge fan of was the fact that Lou kept making a lot of reckless choices that she could have easily avoided. Nick and Edie are my favorite characters from this book!

My Rating

4/5 stars

Image Description: 4/5 star rating!

Check out the Tour Schedule!

Tour Schedule!

About the Author

Author Leonie Mack

Leonie Mack is a debut novelist whose first book My Christmas Number One was published by Boldwood in September 2020. Having lived in London for many years her home is now in Germany with her husband and three children. Leonie loves train travel, medieval towns, hiking and happy endings!

Social Media Links

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LeonieJMack

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LeonieMAuthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leoniejmack/

Newsletter Sign Up Link: https://bit.ly/LeonieMackNewsletter

Bookbub profile: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/leonie-mack

Hear Our Voices: Amina’s Song Reflection Post

Amina’s Song book with fairy lights and a tapestry in the background.

I love that Amina is proud of who she is and she’s proud of where she came from which is incredibly refreshing to see in a fictional book so I would highly recommend this to anyone!! Amina wants to share her culture with other students in the US at her new school. She grew up in Pakistan but moved to the U.S. where U.S. students are under the impression that Pakistan is a violent place. I love that the author Hena Khan put an emphasis on embracing your culture even when others are racist towards you or make fun of you for your culture and religion. As a Muslim reader this is incredibly heartwarming to read. Although it’s a Middle-Grade book that’s meant for a younger audience I think this is great for anyone who wants to learn about Islam through a fictional book.

Disclaimer: I was gifted a copy in exchange for my reflection as an #OwnVoices reviewer.

Check out my brief review on GoodReads: https://linktr.ee/AmaniSalahudeen/

Rockstar Book Tour: Willa of Dark

Willa of Dark Hollow Blog Tour Banner via Rock Star Blog Tour

About the Book

I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the WILLA OF DARK HOLLOW by Robert Beatty Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway! 

About the Book:

Title: WILLA OF DARK HOLLOW

Author: Robert Beatty

Pub. Date: May 4, 2021

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook

Pages: 384

Find it: Goodreads, Amazon,Kindle, Audible, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, TBD, Bookshop.org

Cover of Willa of Dark Hollow

Synopsis

Young nightspirit Willa discovers an ancient, powerful magic deep in the forest in the enchanting companion to Robert Beatty’s instant #1 New York Times best-seller, Willa of the Wood.

This enchanting companion to Robert Beatty’s instant #1 New York Times bestseller Willa of the Wood is perfect for any reader who cares deeply about the natural world. 

 

Willa and her clan are the last of the Faeran, an ancient race of forest people who have lived in the Great Smoky Mountains for as long as the trees have grown there. But as crews of newly arrived humans start cutting down great swaths of the forest she loves, she is helpless to stop them. How can she fight the destroyers of the forest and their powerful machines?

 

When Willa discovers a mysterious dark hollow filled with strange and beautiful creatures, she comes to realize that it contains a terrifying force that seems to be hunting humans. Is unleashing these dangerous spirits the key to stopping the loggers? Willa must find a way to save the people and animals she loves and take a stand against a consuming darkness that threatens to destroy her world.

Praise for Willa of Dark Hollow

“Willa of the Wood will grip readers from its first page… Willa is… an admirable protagonist.”—Culturess

“A moving, atmospheric journey of hope.”—KirkusReviews

“Beatty conjures up a resourceful, compassionate heroine. Full of atmospheric details and richly described magic… this well-paced tale asks insightful questions about the relationship between nature and humans.”—Publishers Weekly

“The heroine is an appealing character… and her anguish is clear as she wavers between frightened self-preservation and her desire to help her friends.”—School Library Journal

“Willa is a strong and likable creature of the natural world, and seamlessly represents themes of loyalty, tradition, family, and stewardship of the Earth in this engaging story.”—School Library Connection

Accolades

2018 Goodreads Choice Awards: Middle Grade, finalist

2018 Cybils Award, Elementary Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Nominee

Amazon: Best Children’s Books of 2018, ages 9-12

Imagination Soup: Best Middle Grade Chapter Books of 2018

BNKids: July’s Best Books for Young Readers, selection (2018)

Brightly: 9 Middle Grade Books for Environmentally Conscious Kids, selection (2018)

PopSugar: The Best books for Kids in 2018, as Voted by Actual Kids and Parents Who Read Them, selection

A Mighty Girl: 2018 Books of the Year, ages 9-12

GRAB WILLA OF THE WOOD NOW!

 

Willa of the Wood and Willa of Dark Hollow are being adapted into a multi-season, live-action television series!

My Review

This is a stand-alone and you don’t have to be familiar with the author’s other books. Although according to GoodReads this is Willa #2. However, this was my first time reading a book from this author. I think it’s pretty good as a stand-alone and you don’t need to be familiar with the series in order to understand what’s going on. This is a Middle-Grade book and it is perfect for Middle School students or adults who prefer to read MG books. It had a bit of a slow beginning but overall it was a fun fantasy book to read! It’s a historical fantasy novel and it’s the perfect summer book.

My Rating

4/5 stars

About the Author

Robert Beatty author of Willa of Dark Hollow

Robert Beatty is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of the Serafina series and the Willa of the Wood series published by Disney Hyperion. Loved by young readers and adults alike, the Serafina and Willa books are being taught in over a thousand classrooms nationwide and have been translated into over 22 languages. Robert lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, North Carolina with his wife and three daughters. He writes full-time now, but in his past lives, Robert was one of the early pioneers of cloud computing, the founder/CEO of Plex Systems, the co-founder of Beatty Robotics, and the chairman/CTO of Narrative magazine. In 2007, he was named an Entrepreneur of the Year. When asked about the inspiration for his books, Robert said, “The Serafina and Willa books grew out of my desire to write stories about unusual and heroic young girls for my three daughters.”

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads | Amazon

Giveaway

3 winners will win a finished copy of WILLA OF DARK HOLLOW, US Only.

Rafflecopter link:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/e2389ba21269/

Tour Schedule

Check out the other stops on the tour!

Week One:

5/1/2021

BookHounds YA 

Excerpt

Week Two:

5/2/2021

Log Cabin Library

Excerpt

5/3/2021

jillpiscitello

Excerpt

5/4/2021

YA Books Central

Excerpt

5/5/2021

Nerdophiles

Review

5/6/2021

Jenguerdy

Review

5/7/2021

booksaremagictoo

Review

5/8/2021

Amani’s Reviews

Review

Week Three:

5/9/2021

Little Red Reads

Review

5/10/2021

The Bookwyrm’s Den

Review

5/11/2021

A Court of Coffee and Books

Review

5/12/2021

Emelie’s Books

Review

5/13/2021

Books and Zebras

Review

5/14/2021

Kait Plus Books

Excerpt

5/15/2021

michellemengsbookblog

Review

Week Four:

5/16/2021

two points of interest

Review

5/17/2021

History from a Woman’s Perspective 

Review

5/18/2021

Rajiv’s Reviews

Review

5/19/2021

Lifestyle of Me

Review

5/20/2021

Haunted By Books

Review

5/21/2021

The Momma Spot

Review

5/22/2021

Fyrekatz Blog

Review

Week Five:

5/23/2021

The Try Everything

Excerpt

5/24/2021

Musing of Souls

Review

5/25/2021

Popthebutterfly

Review

5/26/2021

more.books.yes.please

Review

5/27/2021

DearRivarie

Review

5/28/2021

Momfluenster

Review

5/29/2021

A Dream Within A Dream

Excerpt

Week Six:

5/30/2021

Lady Hawkeye

Excerpt

5/31/2021

Do You Dog-ear?

Review

RockStar Blog Tours : Giveaway and Review of The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim

Blog Tour Banner

I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the THE LAST FALLEN STAR by Graci Kim Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!

Cover Image

About the Book:

Title: THE LAST FALLEN STAR

Author: Graci Kim

Pub. Date: May 4, 2021

Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents

Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook

Pages: 336

Find it: GoodreadsAmazon, KindleAudibleB&NiBooks, KoboTBD, Bookshop.org

Image Quote graphic from The Last Fallen Star

Synopsis

Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents Graci Kim’s thrilling debut about an adopted Korean-American girl who discovers her heritage and her magic on a perilous journey to save her witch clan family.

Graci Kim does such an amazing job of blending Korean mythology into the modern world, I am now wondering how I ever lived without knowing all this cool information.”–New York Times #1 best-selling author Rick Riordan

 
Riley Oh can’t wait to see her sister get initiated into the Gom clan, a powerful lineage of Korean healing witches their family has belonged to for generations. Her sister, Hattie, will earn her Gi bracelet and finally be able to cast spells without adult supervision. Although Riley is desperate to follow in her sister’s footsteps when she herself turns thirteen, she’s a saram–a person without magic. Riley was adopted, and despite having memorized every healing spell she’s ever heard, she often feels like the odd one out in her family and the gifted community.

Then Hattie gets an idea: what if the two of them could cast a spell that would allow Riley to share Hattie’s magic? Their sleuthing reveals a promising incantation in the family’s old spell book, and the sisters decide to perform it at Hattie’s initiation ceremony. If it works, no one will ever treat Riley as an outsider again. It’s a perfect plan!

Until it isn’t. When the sisters attempt to violate the laws of the Godrealm, Hattie’s life ends up hanging in the balance, and to save her Riley has to fulfill an impossible task: find the last fallen star. But what even is the star, and how can she find it?

As Riley embarks on her search, she finds herself meeting fantastic creatures and collaborating with her worst enemies. And when she uncovers secrets that challenge everything she has been taught to believe, Riley must decide what it means to be a witch, what it means to be family, and what it really means to belong.

Quote graphic from The Last Fallen Star.

Praise for The Last Fallen Star

The Last Fallen Star folds Korean culture as well as diaspora feelings into a magical adventure. The way Graci Kim takes traditions and lore and incorporates them into an exciting contemporary fantasy setting makes my heart soar as a Korean reader. This fantastical story is filled with heart and humor. Readers who love magical adventures, complex family relationships, and sisterhood—not to mention food!—should pick up THE LAST FALLEN STAR immediately!”—Kat Cho, internationally best-selling author of Vicious Spirits.

“Korean mythology gets a modern twist in this rollicking adventure by debut author Graci Kim. From entering a secret temple by way of the fried chicken counter at H-Mart to summoning a goddess at the Santa Monica Pier, every chapter of this novel delights and surprises. At times laugh-out-loud hilarious, at times heartwarming and poignant, The Last Fallen Star will capture the imaginations of readers for years to come!”—Axie Oh, author of Rebel Seoul and Rogue Heart.

“Reading The Last Fallen Star is like taking a course in Korean mythology taught by your favorite teacher ever—while riding a gigantic roller coaster beneath a sky filled with shooting stars! I loved following Riley’s thrilling adventures, and pass the bulgogi tacos, please.”—Linda Sue Park, Newbery Medalist for A Single Shard.

“Like a true magician, Graci Kim intertwines Korean mythology with an all-too-relatable sister story in her heart-stopping adventure that’s sure to capture the heart of anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider. You can’t help but root for plucky Riley Oh as she engages on a quest to find belonging and acceptance.” —Jessica Kim, author of Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

“I wish I could go back in time and hand this book to young Ellen. I would have loved it so much, because this was what I was missing in my life. Thank you, Graci, for writing it!”—Ellen Oh, author of The Dragon Egg Princess and the Spirit Hunters series.

The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim absolutely shines. Riley Oh’s positive voice is infectious and will have readers wanting to follow her adventures long after the last page is turned.” — Zoraida Córdova, award-winning author of the Brooklyn Brujas series.

My Review

This book is about Korean American witches and it was absolutely incredible!! I adored the sibling dynamics and the magic in this novel. This was my first time reading a book with Korean mythology and I’m excited to read more books by Graci Kim. In LA, there’s a society of Korean witches and I loved that it took place in California. Riley Oh is the only one in her family without powers and life’s hard when you’re the odd one out in your family. She gets along pretty well with her sister Hattie and things take an interesting plan when Hattie comes up with a scheme to give Riley magical abilities. The only catch? it’s an illegal spell and they’d have to break into their parent’s safe. It goes about as well as you’d think. Anything that could go wrong, happens. I love the world-building and the plot of this book! It’s honestly perfect for both kids and adults!

My Rating

5/5 stars

About the author

Author Graci Kim picture

Graci Kim is a Korean-Kiwi diplomat turned author who writes about the magic she wants to see in the world. The Last Fallen Star is her middle grade debut. In a previous life she used to be a cooking show host, and she once ran a business that turned children’s drawings into plushies. When she’s not lost in her imagination, you’ll find Graci drinking flat whites, eating ramyeon, and most likely hugging a dog (or ideally, many). She lives in New Zealand with her husband and daughter. Follow her on Twitter @gracikim and Instagram @gracikimwrites.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Amazon

Giveaway

3 winners will win a finished copy of THE LAST FALLEN STAR, US Only.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/e2389ba21270/?

Check out the Other stops on the tour!

Tour Schedule:

Week One:

5/1/2021YA Books CentralExcerpt

Week Two:

5/2/2021jillpiscitelloExcerpt
5/3/2021NerdophilesReview
5/4/2021Amani’s ReviewsReview
5/5/2021Little Red ReadsReview
5/6/2021The Bookwyrm’s DenReview
5/7/2021BookHounds YAExcerpt
5/8/2021A Court of Coffee and BooksReview

Week Three:

5/9/2021Kait Plus BooksExcerpt
5/10/2021onemusedReview
5/11/2021MidnightbookloverReview
5/12/2021booksaremagictooReview
5/13/2021History from a Woman’s PerspectiveReview
5/14/2021CeliamcmahonreadsReview
5/15/2021AbellafairytaleReview

Week Four:

5/16/2021Fyrekatz BlogReview
5/17/2021Haunted By BooksReview
5/18/2021MomfluensterReview
5/19/2021The Momma SpotReview
5/20/2021FicticiouswonderlandReview
5/21/2021Bookwyrming ThoughtsReview
5/22/2021Book BriefsReview

Week Five:

5/23/2021Rajiv’s ReviewsReview
5/24/2021fictitious.foxReview
5/25/2021Emelie’s BooksReview
5/26/2021Eli to the nthReview
5/27/2021PopthebutterflyReview
5/28/2021Books and ZebrasReview
5/29/2021YA Book NerdReview

Week Six:

5/30/2021two points of interestReview
5/31/2021Lifestyle of MeReview
Tour Schedule!

Korean Dramas I Want to See After Ramadan

1. Suspicious Partner

Suspicious Partner via Giphy

This is a K-drama I started back when I was in Sri Lanka two years ago because it was on Netflix there and then I couldn’t remember where I left off so I’d need to see it again.

2. The King’s Avatar

This is a drama I started pre-Ramadan and I intend on finishing it after! It’s perfect for fans of the Chinese Drama Love 020 or for those who love gaming! Even if you’re not a fan of gaming I still highly recommend it.

3. Extraordinary You

Extraordinary You via GIPHY

I’ve been meaning to watch this one for awhile and I can’t wait to see it. If you’re a fan of True Beauty, you’re going to love this!

4. W: Two Worlds

W: Two worlds via GIPHY

I still can’t believe I haven’t seen this one yet! Especially since one of my favorite actors- Lee Jong Suk is in it so I know it’s going to be an incredible drama. If you haven’t seen any of his dramas I recommend starting with While You Were Sleeping which is also on Hulu or you can watch it on Kiss Asian!

5. A Love So Beautiful

A Love So Beautiful via GIPHY

This was another one that I started Pre-Ramadan and I plan on finishing after Ramadan. It’s a story about a young girl who gets a crush on a guy but it’s unrequited for a long time. Still- the girl is persistent and never gives up. In addition, the actress is the same one from Meteor Garden. This K- drama is on Netflix and it was initially a C-Drama if I’m not mistaken!

Question for the Readers

Do you watch K-Dramas? If yes, what are some of your current faves? Also, if you’ve seen any of these please let me know which drama I should watch first!

True Beauty via GIPHY

Ready or Not by Elizabeth Hayley

Ready or Not via publisher

Title: Ready or Not (The Love Game 4)Authors: Elizabeth HayleyRelease Date: April 20Website: http://authorelizabethhayley.comGoodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7176561.Elizabeth_Hayley

Synopsis

Synopsis:
Taylor Peterson is hoping for a fresh start. With her best friend, Sophia, and the rest of their little gang by her side, she’s confident she can shake off the problems that haunted her last semester and move forward. The only thing standing in her way of total happiness is an inconvenient new crush.

Ransom Holt has had to work hard for everything he has. With enough family drama to inspire a soap opera, he’s thankful to have met new friends he can count on. Now if he could only convince Taylor she can count on him back, life would be perfect.

The more they get to know each other, the deeper this unlikely pair falls. But Ransom doesn’t know everything, and when Taylor’s past comes calling, they’ll only have each other to depend on.

Buy Links

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3ob65cm
Print: https://amzn.to/3a9qcEa
Nook: https://bit.ly/2Jnhmb0
Apple Books: https://apple.co/37zOSmu
Google Play: https://bit.ly/2VAhshD
Kobo: https://bit.ly/39CL9Hs
Goodreads: https://bit.ly/GR_ReadyOrNot

Happy Pub Day to Elizabeth Hayley!! Thank you so much to the publisher and NetGalley for a copy of this book.

Blog Tour: Aru Shah and the City of Gold by Roshani Chokshi

Blog Tour: Aru Shah and the City of Gold by Roshani Chokshi, April 1st-30th. RockStar Book Tour.

Aru Shah and the City of Gold by Roshani Chokshi
Series: Aru Shah #4
Published by Rick Riordan Presents on April 6, 2021
Genres: Middle GradeFantasyRetellingsMythology
Pages: 400
Goodreads

Synopsis

Aru Shah and her sisters–including one who also claims to be the Sleeper’s daughter–must find their mentors Hanuman and Urvashi in Lanka, the city of gold, before war breaks out between the devas and asuras.
Aru has just made a wish on the tree of wishes, but she can’t remember what it was. She’s pretty sure she didn’t wish for a new sister, one who looks strangely familiar and claims to be the Sleeper’s daughter, like her.
Aru also isn’t sure she still wants to fight on behalf of the devas in the war against the Sleeper and his demon army. The gods have been too devious up to now. Case in point: Kubera, ruler of the city of gold, promises to give the Pandavas two powerful weapons, but only if they win his trials. If they lose, they won’t stand a chance against the Sleeper’s troops, which will soon march on Lanka to take over the Otherworld.
Aru’s biggest question, though, is why every adult she has loved and trusted so far has failed her. Will she come to peace with what they’ve done before she has to wage the battle of her life?

Cover via RockStar Book Tour

Review

I absolutely adored this book! One good thing about quarantine life is the fact that I started my Bookstagram account and a friend I met through the Bookstagram community introduced me to The Gilded Wolves which is the first Roshani book that I read. This book is a part of a series and I highly recommend reading all of it! Even though it’s a MG book, I still enjoyed it. If you’re a fan of the Percy Jackson series, give this one a chance! I honestly don’t have any cons to mention. This has hindu mythology and the story was incredible.

Rating

5/5 stars

Giveaway

3 winners will receive a finished copy of ARU SHAH AND THE CITY OF GOLD, US Only.

Click the link here or the image below to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!

Aru Shah Rick Riordan Presents banner

About the author

Roshani Chokshi author pic

Roshani Chokshi is the author of the instant New York Times best-selling books in the Pandava series, Aru Shah and the End of Time, and its sequel, Aru Shah and the Song of Death. She also wrote the New York Times best-selling YA books The Star-Touched Queen and The Gilded Wolves. She studied fairy tales in college, and she has a pet luck dragon that looks suspiciously like a Great Pyrenees dog. The Pandava novels were inspired by the stories her grandmother told her as well as Roshani’s all-consuming love for Sailor Moon. She lives in the south and says “y’all,” but she doesn’t really have a Southern accent. Her Twitter handle is @roshani_chokshi.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads | Amazon

Stay updated on the next stop in the tour!


Tour Schedule:

Week One:

4/1/2021A Dream Within A DreamExcerpt/Spotlight
4/2/2021Lisa-Queen of RandomExcerpt/Spotlight

Week Two:

4/5/2021BookHounds YaExcerpt/Spotlight
4/6/2021For the Love of KidLitExcerpt/Spotlight
4/7/2021Kait Plus BooksReview
4/8/2021onemusedSpotlight
4/9/2021MidnightbookloverReview

Week Three:

4/12/2021Emelie’s BooksReview
4/13/2021What A Nerd Girl SaysReview
4/14/2021Little Red ReadsReview
4/15/2021PopTheButterflyReview
4/16/2021Amani’s ReviewsReview

Week Four:

4/19/2021Moonlight RendezvousReview
4/20/2021booksaremagictooReview
4/21/2021Feed Your Fiction AddictionReview
4/22/2021The Momma SpotReview
4/23/2021I’m ShelfishReview

Week Five:

4/26/2021Book BriefsReview
4/27/2021Confessions of a YA ReaderReview
4/28/2021The Book Nut : A Book Lovers GuideReview
4/29/2021The Book DutchessesReview
4/30/2021Two Points of interestReview

Zara Hossein is Here Mood Board for Hear Our Voices Blog Tour

Blog Tour Banner for Zara Hossain is Here

Book Info: 

Publisher: Scholastic

Release Date: April 6, 2021

Genre: YA Fiction

Zahra Hossain is Here cover with a Brown girl on the cover wearing a red and black striped t-shirt.

Synopsis

Zara’s family has waited years for their visa process to be finalized so that they can officially become US citizens. But it only takes one moment for that dream to come crashing down around them.

Seventeen-year-old Pakistani immigrant, Zara Hossain, has been leading a fairly typical life in Corpus Christi, Texas, since her family moved there for her father to work as a pediatrician. While dealing with the Islamophobia that she faces at school, Zara has to lay low, trying not to stir up any trouble and jeopardize their family’s dependent visa status while they await their green card approval, which has been in process for almost nine years.

But one day her tormentor, star football player Tyler Benson, takes things too far, leaving a threatening note in her locker, and gets suspended. As an act of revenge against her for speaking out, Tyler and his friends vandalize Zara’s house with racist graffiti, leading to a violent crime that puts Zara’s entire future at risk. Now she must pay the ultimate price and choose between fighting to stay in the only place she’s ever called home or losing the life she loves and everyone in it.

From the author of the “heart-wrenching yet hopeful” (Samira Ahmed) novel, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali, comes a timely, intimate look at what it means to be an immigrant in America today, and the endurance of hope and faith in the face of hate.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble  | Bookshop.org | Book Depository

Mood Board

Mood Board for Zara Hossein is Here blog tour created by Amani.

About the author

pic of author Sabina Khan

Sabina Khan is the author of  ZARA HOSSAIN IS HERE (Scholastic/ April 6, 2021) and THE LOVE & LIES OF RUKHSANA ALI (Scholastic, 2019). She is an educational consultant and a karaoke enthusiast. After living in Germany, Bangladesh, Macao, Illinois and Texas, she has finally settled down in beautiful British Columbia, Canada, with her husband, two daughters and the best puppy in the world.

Twitter | Instagram | Website |

An Interview with the Hosts of Books & Boba!

An Interview with Books & Boba!

Earlier this month, I got the opportunity to interview Books & Boba! I’ll be posting about it on my bookstagram sometime next week. You can check out my Bookstagram here.

Books & Boba Spotify podcast

Hi Marvin & Reera (@books & boba) and welcome to my Blog! Do you have any advice for others who want to start a podcast ?

Marvin: It’s honestly never been easier to start a podcast, but if it’s something that you want to do long term, it’s important to have a clear concept and a long-term vision past your first few episodes. If you’re really serious about it, you should ask yourself what your show will offer your listeners, why people will tune in, and how you can structure your show so that your listeners can get the most out of it. (on the other hand, you can always just make something for yourself and do what you want!).

Reera: Do it for the passion and not the numbers. Pick a concept you can talk about for several episodes without getting bored because you won’t gain listeners right away. If you’re not having fun on your podcast, you’ll quickly lose motivation.

What is an episode that you’re proud of?

Reera: One episode that stands out in my memory is Ep. 46 – The Leavers. I remember having so much fun chatting with our guest Lily Rugo. I was truly grateful that she shared her own experience as a Chinese American transracial adoptee with us for the discussion.

Marvin: Not a specific episode, but I’m really proud of our author interviews, I’m still amazed that actual writers agree to chat with us on the podcast.

What is your current read?

Marvin: The Burning God by RF Kuang & A Pho Love Story by Loan Le.

Reera: Arsenic & Adobo by Mia P. Manansala.

What is your favorite and least favorite book trope?

Marvin: Favorite: I’m not sure why, but I’ve been really into grimdark SFF lately (gimme them bad feels).

Least Favorite: White savior narratives.

Reera: Favorite: Civilian-turned-reluctant-detective. Extra points if the civilian is the prime suspect for murder.
Least: Anything that romanticizes mental illness or suicide.I hate it when a character with a mental illness is only in the story to serve as inspiration for the protagonist.


If you could have a conversation with anyone (dead or alive ) who would it be and why?

Reera: Namjoon of BTS. I think he’s brilliant and so wise for his age. He always seems to find the right words of comfort without belittling other people’s struggles.

Namjoon from BTS via GIPHY

Marvin: Honestly don’t have anyone top of mind, but I think it’d be fun to talk to Randall Park

Randall Park as James E. Woo in WandaVision via GIPHY

Rapid Fire-Round

What is your favorite (or go-to) boba tea order?

Marvin: Black Sesame Milk Tea from Soma in Fullerton, CA.

Reera: Brown sugar milk tea, no boba (gasp!)

Do you have a comfort tv show or book recommendation? If yes, what is it (and if not what are you planning to read or watch next)? 

Reera: Pride & Prejudice the BBC series.

Marvin: My comfort watch right now is definitely Top Chef! I like rooting for the Asians.

Who is your least favorite character?

Marvin: I don’t think I have a specific person in mind, but manipulative dudes in positions of power are always sucky.

Reera: Wade Watts in Ready Player One.

How do you feel about pineapple on pizza?

Reera: I am unapologetically Team Pineapple.

Marvin: I don’t mind it, but I also won’t go out of my way to order it myself.

What is something you hope listeners take away from your podcast episodes?

Marvin: To engage more with works by Asian authors, and to appreciate and demand more diversity in media. We created the podcast because we wanted to highlight works by authors who look like us and are writing cool stories and I hope our listeners are able to gain a better understanding of these stories through us sharing our perspectives.

Reera: I hope our listeners realize that Asian stories are rich and diverse just like our cultures. Asian and Asian diasporan authors write about topics aside from immigration, assimilation, and generational trauma. We have stories about us falling in love, leading rebellions, going on magical quests, and chasing after our dreams. I hope our listeners give those stories a chance.

Questions for the readers

  1. Who would you like to see me interview next?
  2. Do you have a current read? I’m currently reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor and The Secrets of Divine Love.

Blog Tour: Uncork My Love

Uncork My Love Blog Tour Banner March 31st – April 13th!

Hi , everyone & welcome to my stop on the blog tour! I was supposed to post yesterday, but it was the beginning of Ramadan so things got a little hectic on my end!

Thank you so much to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for this copy!!

Cover of Uncork my Love via Rachel’s Random Resources

Synopsis

A sweet romantic comedy set in beautiful Napa Valley!

Ivy needs a miracle and a drink—not necessarily in that order. With a struggling winery, the only hope of keeping her dream alive is snagging a gold medal at the annual wine competition. She’s determined to win, but she can do it without the help of Ted Jacobs, aka Mr. Know-it-All.

Ted wants to catch lightning in a bottle and create the world’s greatest wine, but he’s smart enough to know he can’t do it alone. When he heads to Napa to keep his grandma from ending up in jail (don’t ask), he meets Ivy. She’s as complex and intoxicating as his award-winning cabernet, but as stubborn as the mule next door when she stomps on his offer to collaborate.

Ted knows it’s risky to mix business with pleasure, but if Ivy would only listen, they might just be the toast of the town.

Get the Book!

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Uncork-My-Love-Rich-Amooi-ebook/dp/B08WRGDY48

US – https://www.amazon.com/Uncork-My-Love-Rich-Amooi-ebook/dp/B08WRGDY48


My Review

This book is an adorable romance! It’s got a lot of cute romance moments and you will crave chocolate croissants while reading this book. I loved that this book made me feel like I was in Napa; a place I’ve been curious about ever since The Parent Trap! Ivy and Ted’s banter was something that I adored in this novel.

My Rating

4/5 Stars

Author Bio

Rich Amooi is a Taleflick Discovery Winner, Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal Recipient, Holt Medallion Finalist, and the Amazon Bestselling author of 16 romantic comedies, including It’s Not PMS, It’s You, Dying to Meet You, There’s Something About a Cowboy, and Madam Love, Actually.

A former radio personality and wedding DJ, Rich now writes romantic comedies full-time in San Diego, California, and is happily married to a kiss monster imported from Spain. Rich believes in public displays of affection, silliness, infinite possibilities, donuts, gratitude, laughter, and happily ever after.

Social Media Links

Author website: www.richamooi.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/author.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/richamooi.author

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RichAmooi

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/richamooi

Giveaway

Win a $25 Amazon Gift Card (Open INT)

*Terms and Conditions – 

Worldwide entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception ofthe winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Enter to Win!!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/33c69494414/?

Check out the other stops for the Tour!

Blog Tour Schedule!

The Ramadan Readathon

Ramadan Readathon Blog Banner with a gold moon and star doodle. In the other corner is a lantern and in the middle is the Arabic phrase: “Bismillaharamanaraheem!” via a graphic I made.

This tag was created by YA Book Corner!

Hello, everyone! Welcome to the 5th annual Ramadan Readathon! During this month, I’ll be reading books specifically by Muslim authors (in addition to the Qur’an, of course). Use #RamadanReadathon and tag @MuslimReadathon on Twitter and Instagram. You don’t have to be a Muslim in order to participate in this tag! In fact, if you decide to do this tag, please leave a link to it in the comments down below!

The Ramadan Readathon TAG

Ramadan lanterns via GIPHY

~*Mirrors and Windows*~

  1. Name a book that you felt represented you or that you were able to relate to.

For this one, I’m going to reread Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin! Feel free to check out my book review here.

~*My Muslim Hero/Heroine*~

2. Name your favorite Muslim character and explain why.

My favorite Muslim character is Zeyneb from S.K. Ali’s book, Love from A to Z!

~*Patience is a virtue*~

3. Name your most anticipated read by a Muslim author.

Misfit in Love by S.K. Ali!

~*Muslim Scribe*~

4. Name your favorite Muslim author.

I have a lot. Sabaa Tahir, Uzma Jalaluddin, S.K. Ali, Ausma Zehanat Khan, S.A. Chokraborty, G.Willow Wilson, Huda Fahmy, Hafsah Faizal, Sahira Javaid, Aamna Qureshi, and Melati Lum!

~*The Muslim Shelf*~

5. Recommend one book by a Muslim author that everyone should read.

The City of Brass by S.A. Chokraborty.

Ramadan Mubarak to everyone celebrating next week, insha’ Allah! For everyone else: Have you read a book by any of these authors? I highly recommend checking them out.

K-Drama Review: Crash Landing on You

Crash Landing on You via GIPHY

Synopsis

A paragliding mishap drops a South Korean heiress in North Korea – and into the life of an army officer, who decides he will help her hide.

My Review

I was hesitant about watching this one, because of the hype but a friend of mine told me she loved it. She knows my taste in K-Dramas so when she said she thought this would be something I’d love I told her I’d give it a chance.

It took quarantine life to happen for me to actually sit down and stream it on Netflix. Although I had accidentally spoiled it for myself (scrolling through IG) I was still pleasantly surprised and don’t worry I won’t spoil it for you!

If you’re into K-Dramas, then you know the actor & actress of this drama are currently dating IRL!

Crash Landing on You via GIPHY

I knew almost right away that I would fall in love with the main couple because of the chemistry I’ve seen while watching snippets of it on reels.

However, I didn’t know that I’d become fond of the friendships that were in this show!!

Honestly, I see the hype. This k-drama is like if The Heirs and Descendants of the Sun had a child this would be it! (I still need to see Descendants of the Sun but I know most of the plot by now).

Crash Landing on You via GIPHY

Honestly, how can you not fall in love with this show? Look at the chemistry and the smiles 🙂 Also the plot is really good too and will keep you on your toes! I tried to be as spoiler -free as possible because I’m almost done watching it which is why there’s no rating for this one yet.

Q: Do you watch K-Dramas? If yes, what are some of your favorites? I’ve been thinking of making a list of my favorite K-Dramas.

Hana Khan Carries On is the Muslim Rep I Want to See More of!

Via GoodReads

Published by Berkley Romance on 6 April 2021 in Canada, US publication date is on April 13th!

Genre: Romance

Age Range: Adult

Goodreads // IndieBound // Libro.fm

Synopsis

Sales are slow at Three Sisters Biryani Poutine, the only halal restaurant in the close-knit Golden Crescent neighborhood of Toronto. Hana waitresses there part time, but what she really wants is to tell stories on the radio. If she can just outshine her fellow intern at the city radio station, she may have a chance at landing a job. In the meantime, Hana pours her thoughts and dreams into a podcast, where she forms a lively relationship with one of her listeners. But soon she’ll need all the support she can get: a new competing restaurant, a more upscale halal place, is about to open in the Golden Crescent, threatening her mother’s restaurant. 

When her mysterious aunt and her teenage cousin arrive from India for a surprise visit, they draw Hana into a long-buried family secret. A hate-motivated attack on their neighborhood complicates the situation further, as does Hana’s growing attraction for Aydin, the young owner of the rival restaurant–who might not be a complete stranger after all. 

As life on the Golden Crescent unravels, Hana must learn to use her voice, draw on the strength of her community and decide what her future should be.

My Spoiler-Free Review

First off: a huge thank you to NetGalley, Kate, and Uzma Jalaluddin for an early reviewer copy which ended up being so good that I had to pre-order it!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing a book that’s going to stay with me forever! I also have some exciting media coverage that I’ll be doing next week so I’ll try to keep this as an informal review.

Hana hit home for me. I’ve never read a book about a Muslim women who was dealing with journalism before this. For those of you who don’t know, I did my B.A. I’m Journalism and Professional Writing. A lot of what Hana went through with dealing with racist people at work is what I went through even in some of my journalism classes.

Like Hana, I also have a podcast (called Raise Your Words ) and I loved how Hana used her podcast to talk about her life. The way she told her stories felt so raw and I honestly ended up highlighting a majority of the book on my kindle (got an e-arc and I can’t wait to take pics of the physical book when it finally arrives)!

There’s so much drama and romance in this book which is one of the reasons why Uzma Jalaluddin is an insta-buy author for me.

I usually guess the plot twists, but I didn’t in this one. I also love that there’s a cameo from Ayesha & Khalid (if you didn’t read Ayesha at Last, it’s a cameo you might miss)!

I’ll admit when I first started reading it, I wasn’t a fan of her aunt until later on.

I also loved her cousin Rashid (although at times I thought he was a bit of an inconsiderate jerk).

Aydin’s bolder than Khalid and he’s definitely snarkier but I loved reading about him.

The character development in this book is incredible!!

I guessed only one of the plot twists but the others took me by surprise!!

My Rating

5/5 stars
I love you 3000 via GIPHY

This GIF is honestly how I felt about this book. As an American Asian Muslim, I’m extremely picky about the books that I consider to be good Muslim rep. I loved that Uzma Jalaluddin’s characters are proud of their religion and they practice their religion! I want to see more books like this one by Muslim authors!!

With the recent news about France banning the hijab and the consenting age is eighteen (despite the fact that in France kids as young as fifteen can give consent for sex) this is a must-read! There’s also been news in Sri Lanka (I’m American Sri Lankan) where there is a burqa ban.

With all of these Islamophobic hate crimes happening I thought it would be a good idea to recommend a book that sheds light on that and has one of the most compelling storylines I’ve read in a romance.

Here’s 5 Books to Read instead of Jay Kristoff and Emily A. Duncan’s books

If you don’t already know about the Jay Kristoff and Emily A. Duncan situation then I recommend looking up what happened on Twitter. To summarize, Jay Kristoff and Emily A. Duncan said things that were anti- Asian and anti-semetic.

Here are some authors of colors that deserve your support instead!

1. We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

Via GoodReads

Synopsis

People lived because she killed. People died because he lived. 

Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the sultan. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways. Both Zafira and Nasir are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya―but neither wants to be.
War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow.

When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the sultan on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds―and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.

2. The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

Via GoodReads

Synopsis

No one believes in them. But soon no one will forget them. 

It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance. 

To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood. 

Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history–but only if they can stay alive.

3. The Beautiful by Reneè Ahdieh

Via GoodReads

Synopsis

In 1872, New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead. But to seventeen-year-old Celine Rousseau, New Orleans is a safe haven after she’s forced to flee her life as a dressmaker in Paris. Taken in by the sisters of the Ursuline convent in the middle of the carnival season, Celine is quickly enraptured by the vibrant city, from its music to its fancy soirées and even its danger. She becomes embroiled in the city’s glitzy underworld, known as La Cour des Lions, after catching the eye of the group’s enigmatic leader, Sébastien Saint Germain.

When the body of one of the girls from the convent is found in Sébastien’s own lair–the second dead girl to turn up in recent weeks–Celine battles her attraction to Sébastien and suspicions about his guilt along with the shame of her own horrible secret.

After a third murder, New Orleans becomes gripped by the terror of a serial killer on the loose–one who has now set Celine in his sights. As the murderer stalks her, Celine finally takes matters into her own hands, only to find herself caught in the midst of an age-old feud between the darkest creatures of the night, where the price of forbidden love is her life.

At once a sultry romance and a decadent, thrilling mystery, master storyteller Renée Ahdieh embarks on her most potent fantasy series yet.

4. The Poppy War by R.F.Kuang

Via GoodReads

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

Trigger Warnings: Genocide; self-harm; drug use; substance addiction; misogyny; abuse; animal cruelty; rape; death (often graphic); torture; child death; starvation; mutilation; bodily experimentation; gaslighting; suicide; cannibalism (alluded to off-page, committed by background characters).

This book is on my TBR list and I hope that I’ll get around to reading it sometime this year. Finding time to read has been difficult (I’m a substitute teacher and I’m also doing my master’s, but because my students are on spring break I’m hoping to catch up on some reading before Ramadan starts next week, insha’ Allah (God Willing)!

5. Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Via GoodReads

I’ve heard so many good things about this and I know I want to get to it (most likely after Ramadan since this book is over 700 pages if I’m not mistaken) !!

Synopsis

After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.

The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.

She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.

Other than the last two, this is a list of books that I’ve read that I’d recommend to readers who are looking for something with similar vibes but are not written by those two authors.

Poomba from The Lion King says: “Oh, the shade!” Via GIPHY

Slightly off topic but I did a Tik Tok video recently on book recs to read to support Asian authors (although I think by now you know I’ve been reading books by Asian authors for a long time – especially if you’ve been around since my previous blog)! I was thinking of compiling a complete list of books and I also have a couple of other posts planned out for Ramadan as well!

If you’d like to check it out, you can find it here: https://linktr.ee/AmaniSalahudeen/ .

Ginny & Georgia Review

Ginny & Georgia via GIPHY

Ginny & Georgia recently aired on Netflix directed by Anya Adams (Blackish). After the whole Taylor Swift situation, I wanted to watch it for myself. To summarize: as far as it went, it’s an old misogynistic joke to talk about Taylor writing songs about exes especially when male singers do the same but they don’t get nearly as much hate for it as Taylor does.

Ginny & Georgia reminds me a lot of Gilmore Girls but for older viewers and the show Twisted. This show follows Ginny (Brianne Howey) who has a sketchy past and she moves into a new home with her two kids in a suburban town in Massachusetts. Ginny got pregnant with Georgia (Antonia Gentry)  when she was only fifteen. There are a lot of scenes that pay a tribute to Gilmore Girls. There are a lot of similarities between Georgia’s Dad and Christopher from Gilmore Girls. This show also stars a lot of familiar Degrassi cast members.

However, there are a lot of differences in this show. It’s not as lighthearted as Gilmore Girls. This show tackles racism, feminism, and high school drama. Without giving away any spoilers, viewers find out that Georgia isn’t as innocent as she appears to be. There are hints to this within the pilot episode. Although she claims to be as close to Ginny as Lorelai was to Rory, Georgia isn’t Lorelai. This show also jumps between Georgia’s present and past. Even though it’s about Ginny & Georgia, season one seemed to focus more on Georgia than Ginny.

Christopher & Rory via GIPHY

If this show gets a second season, I hope it will go in-depth with feminism, racism, and high school drama. It should still show viewers Georgia’s past but not as much as season 1 did. I really liked how Ginny stands up to her teacher and her friend’s brother. It’s something that isn’t shown that often in TV shows. I also loved that Ginny acts responsible one minute and is completely reckless the next. It shows that she’s still a kid and she is still learning. It’s intriguing to see all these characters with completely different backgrounds. Ginny’s mother has violent tendencies due to her tragic past. After episode two, I wasn’t a fan of Georgia, but I did feel a little sorry for her.

My Rating

3/5 Stars

I think if this show gets a second season, it would be nice if Georgia is a little less violent and not as manipulative. There were certain scenes when she was too much (like letting another kid get punched in the nose because he bullied her kid). I would love to see more scenes with Ginny and her friends. I love how Ginny is more than capable of taking care of herself and standing up to bullies. She fights for what she believes in and she makes mistakes along the way. One good thing that Netflix did was adding the Trigger Warnings before each episode. This show has the potential to be better if it has another season!

Did you watch Ginny & Georgia? What did you think of it?

Space Taxis Blog Tour

Space Taxis Blog Tour

Synopsis

“A perfect blend of science fiction and alternate history”

He’s abducted by aliens to the planet Vost.

He’s saving up for his fare home.

But he’s got the small matter of a planetary apocalypse to deal with first…

In 1977 a New York Cab driver Mike Redolfo is abducted by aliens after being mistaken for a renegade scientist. Meanwhile, back in 1944 a mysterious man and his Jewish fiancée are fleeing across Nazi-occupied Europe.

Redolfo tries to keep a low profile on his new world whilst earning his fare home, but unwittingly gets involved with a shady gang of alien criminals, inadvertently bringing the planet to the brink of catastrophe.

As the link between the timelines becomes clear, Redolfo must discover secrets from the past that may hold the key to saving the planet.


If you like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, and Frank Herbert’s Dune, you’ll love this gripping and entertaining sci-fi mystery thriller.

Get the Book!

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Space-Taxis-Adam-Frosh-ebook/dp/B08H19CCWR

US – https://www.amazon.com/Space-Taxis-Adam-Frosh-ebook/dp/B08H19CCWR

B& N: https://m.barnesandnoble.com/w/space-taxis-adam-frosh/1137547514

My Review

Thank you so much to Rachel’s Random Resources for this copy of the book! I’ll start with what I liked: I liked that it was a sci-fi alien book that had a historical element to it. It was pretty adventurous and fast-paced so I was able to finish it in two days. I loved learning about Vost and how vibrant it was. However, I didn’t like the fact that at certain points some of the characters acted out of character for them. It also had a bit of a slow start, but other than that it was good!

My Rating

4/5 stars

Author Bio

Adam wasted much of his youth watching Star Trek on the TV and films like Planet of the Apes and Alien on the big screen. He redeemed himself by becoming a surgeon but has since graduated from writing articles for science journals into writing his own Sci Fi and Alternate History stories. As a writer he is dedicated to giving his readers a great story laced with strong, fun and scary characters. Descended from Jewish refugees who escaped from the pogroms, he is haunted by the stories of the Holocaust but inspired by heroes who put themselves at risk to save others. Adam likes to hear from his readers. You can find him at http://adamfroshauthor.com or on his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/AdamFroshAuthor

Harriet will never be able to let go of Greek gods. No, not the sculpted Adonis-like figures on the beach, but the ancient ones.
Loving all things mythological, her writing incorporates myths and legends from around the world. Her other fascination is with the criminal mind, and you can expect to see a blend of these two interests in her writing.
As a student of English, she spends her day critiquing literature and her evenings creating exciting characters and fun stories.
Harriet is also an artist, and she would like to hear from her readers and those interested in her art. You can get in contact at http://harrietfrosh.com/

Social Media Links –

https://www.facebook.com/AdamFroshAuthor

Blog Tour: Trouble for the Leading Lady

Thank you to Rachel’s Random Resources and I’m sorry I couldn’t post last night (had some wifi issues (and yolk was a scheduled post).

Trouble For The Leading Lady by Rachel Brimble

Genre: Historical romance

Tour Dates: 4th – 13th March 2021

Publication Date: 4th March 202

Publisher: Aria Fiction

Standalone Standalone Book in a series

Estimated Page Count – 350

Barnes & Noble- https://m.barnesandnoble.com/w/trouble-for-the-leading-lady-rachel-brimble/1138245982

Pre-Order from Amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Trouble-Leading-Lady-gripping-Victorian-ebook/dp/B08GTT5H2K/

Trouble for the Leading Lady Blog Tour

Synopsis

Bath, 1852.

As a girl, Nancy Bloom would go to Bath’s Theatre Royal, sit on the hard wooden benches and stare in awe at the actresses playing men as much as the women dressed in finery. She longed to be a part of it all and when a man promised her parents he could find a role for Nancy in the theatre, they believed him.

His lie and betrayal led to her ruin.

Francis Carlyle is a theatre manager, an ambitious man always looking for the next big thing to take the country by storm. A self-made man, Francis has finally shed the skin of his painful past and is now rich, successful and in need of a new female star. Never in a million years did he think he’d find her standing on a table in one of Bath’s bawdiest pubs.

Nancy vowed never to trust a man again. Francis will do anything to make her his star. As they engage in a battle of wits and wills, can either survive with their hearts intact?

The second in Rachel Brimble’s thrilling new Victorian saga series, Trouble for the Leading Lady will whisk you away to the riotous, thriving underbelly of Victorian Bath.

Review

Nancy is an incredibly confident woman and I loved finding out about her past. She has a past that explains why she’s so reserved. Nancy made a promise to herself that she wouldn’t trust a man again, but Francis is determined.

If you’re a fan of Bridgerton, this is perfect for you because Nancy reminds me a lot of Daphne Bridgerton (from the show not the books because Daphne was horrible in the books). I loved reading about Victorian Bath and the society. The only con is that it took me awhile to get into it, but other than that I really enjoyed it!

Rating

4/5 stars

About the Author: Rachel Brimble

Author Rachel Brimble

She is the author of over 20 published novels. She is also the member of the Romantic Novelists Association.

You can sign up for her newsletter here (she hosts monthly giveaways):

https://us12.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=ab0dc0484a3855f2bc769984f&id=bd3173973a

Follow her on Social Media:

Website: https://rachelbrimble.com/

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rachelbrimbleauthor/?hl=en

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi Blog Tour

Yolk Blog Tour banner from Rockstar Book Tour

I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the YOLK by Mary H.K. Choi Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!

Synopsis

Trigger Warning: eating disorder, racism, cheating, cancer, female fertility, and parental abandonment

I kind of said this on GoodReads but when I initially got this ARC of Yolk from Rockstar Book Tour I thought it was going to be a relatively happy book. This book focuses on sisters June and Jayne who were inseperable when they were younger. But, now they want nothing to do with each other until June is diagnosed with cancer and Jayne has to step up and care for her.

From New York Times bestselling author Mary H.K. Choi comes a funny and emotional story about two estranged sisters switching places and committing insurance fraud to save one of their lives.

Jayne Baek is barely getting by. She shuffles through fashion school, saddled with a deadbeat boyfriend, clout-chasing friends, and a wretched eating disorder that she’s not fully ready to confront. But that’s New York City, right? At least she isn’t in Texas anymore, and is finally living in a city that feels right for her.

On the other hand, her sister June is dazzlingly rich with a high-flying finance job and a massive apartment. Unlike Jayne, June has never struggled a day in her life. Until she’s diagnosed with uterine cancer.

Suddenly, these estranged sisters who have nothing in common are living together. Because sisterly obligations are kind of important when one of you is dying.

About this book

About The Book:

Title: YOLK

Author: Mary H.K. Choi

Pub. Date: March 2, 2021

Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers

Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook

Pages: 400

Find it:  GoodreadsAmazon, Kindle, AudibleB&N, iBooks, Kobo, TBDBookshop.org

The cover

Cover via RockStar Book Tour

Giveaway

2 winners will win a finished copy of YOLK, US Only.

You can enter this giveaway here.

Text: “Insightful and intricately constructed, Choi’s novel provides a tender look at the sister’ layered bond while addressing aspects of Jayne’s experience, including sibling resentment,anxious efforts to navigate relationships, and a long-term eating disorder.” -Publisher’s Weekly via Rockstar Book Tour

Review

I’ll start with everything I loved in this book! I loved seeing how June and Jayne started off being practically inseperable. But, then everything changed. Jayne is struggling to get through fashion school, has a shitty boyfriend, and even shittier friends. Jayne’s living her dream by being in New York City and she feels at home. More than she ever did in Texas.

On the other hand, her sister June seems to be on top of things. June has is living in this lavish apartment while Jayne is struggling in every aspect of her life. She’s financially independent and has never struggled with anything until she’s diagnosed with cancer. I sobbed during this book.

The parts where the eating disorder and everything was mentioned was SO heartbreaking to read. I don’t have a sister, but I do have a brother. I loved how Mary Choi wrote the sibling relationship. It starts off where they both have a lot in common because they’re under the same roof, but then as the years go on and they go their seperate ways they lose touch with each other. It’s natural. I hated Jayne’s boyfriend and her friends but I also felt incredibly sympathetic towards her. This was my first Mary Choi book and I’m excited to read her other books!

Rating

5/5 stars
Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Tour Schedule:

Week One:

3/1/2021Westveil PublishingExcerpt
3/1/2021A Dream Within A DreamExcerpt
3/2/2021BookHounds YASpotlight
3/2/2021Book-KeepingReview
3/3/2021Lifestyle of MeReview
3/3/2021What A Nerd Girl SaysReview
3/4/2021MomfluensterSpotlight
3/4/2021Not In JerseyReview
3/5/2021Kait Plus BooksSpotlight
3/5/2021Trapped Inside StoriesSpotlight
Blog Tour Schedule Part One

Week Two:

3/8/2021My Fictional OasisReview
3/8/2021Eli to the nthReview
3/9/2021The Scribe OwlReview
3/9/2021Nay’s Pink BookshelfReview
3/10/2021Lala’s Book ReviewsReview
3/10/2021The Mind of a Book DragonReview
3/11/2021Odd and BookishReview
3/11/2021Little Red ReadsReview
3/12/2021Amani’s ReviewsReview
3/12/2021michellemengsbookblogReview
Blog Tour Schedule Part Two

About the author: mary H.K. Choi

Mary H.K. Choi author via Rockstar Blog Tour

Mary H.K. Choi is a Korean-American author, editor, television and print journalist. She is the author of young adult novel Emergency Contact (2018). She is the culture correspondent on Vice News Tonight on HBO and was previously a columnist at Wired and Allure magazines as well as a freelance writer. She attended a large public high school in a suburb of San Antonio, then college at the University of Texas at Austin, where she majored in Textile and Apparel.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Amazon

Switch Games That Are Worth Your Money While in Quarantine

Hey, Everyone! I thought I’d write something a little different from my usual. We’re currently in the second wave of Quarantine life and I’m starting to miss traveling. I don’t plan on traveling until after it’s safe to do so, but in the meantime I’ve been spending more time on my switch and I occassionally stream on Twitch. I’m still learning how to stream so I probably won’t link it until I’ve gained some followers. Once I figured out the kinds of games I liked, it was easy for me to get lost in it. I could see why gamers stayed up all night playing. So, if you’ve got a switch and you’re looking for recommendations or if you’re thinking about getting one, keep reading!

1. Super Mario Odyssey

via GIPHY

Okay, so I have to admit: I got a little lost trying to figure out Breath of the Wild when I first got my switch. I’m just glad I didn’t give up on all open-world games and decided to try Super Mario Odyssey! I fell in love with the game and it’s been a blast so far. I haven’t played the original, but I know my parents did when it originally came out. I absolutely love it so far and it’s been one of my favorite gifts that I got from a relative.If you’re new to open-world games then I’d suggest trying out this one! There’s a reason it’s been number one for the first few years that it came out!

2. Pokemon Shield/Pokemon Sword

via GIPHY

Okay, so I know there’s been a huge controversy about the pokedex, but if that’s something that doesn’t bother you then you’ll love this if you’re a Pokemon fan! When I first got it, I was able to beat the game in four days. I pretty much made it my mission to beat every gym. If you’re trying to decide between Shield and Sword take a look at the pokemon and the gym leaders. Which one do you like more?

3. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

via GIPHY

It’s crazy to think that Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out around my birthday last year (March 27th is my birthday) and I still occassionally pull it out when there’s a seasonal update. The recent Mario update is one of my favorites! It’s a nice escape when I need a break from reading or work. Have you played Animal Crossing? Who’s your favorite villager? I love Bluebear!

4. SUPERSMASH BROTHERS ULTIMATE

via GIPHY

Okay, so this one is fun for a virtual game night! Lately, I’ve been missing late night game nights and hanging out with friends so this is the next best thing! Super Smash Brothers Ultimate doesn’t need an introduction. It’s a really fun multi-player game. If you have never played a Super Smash game I recommend looking up tutorials because it’s not exactly beginner-friendly. If it’s of interest, I can also compile a list of fun, free games to play with friends online. Let me know and I’ll share the links.

5. OVERCOOKED

via GIPHY

This is a super fun, chaotic game! Don’t be fooled by its appearance. This is a game for anyone and it’s especially with a group of friends! One of my family friends figured out a way for all of us to play this online and it’s almost like hanging out with each other in person. Almost.

Q: What’s your favorite switch game or tell me about a hobby you picked up while in quarantine! Not doing much because everything’s overwhelming – that’s okay too! it’s a weird time and it’s okay to have rough days or rough months.

Rory Gilmore said, “It’s ok. It’s going to take time for everybody.” via GIPHY.

WANDAVISION: SPOILER-FREE

WandaVision via GIPHY / The show airs only on Disney +.

Here’s What I Loved

In the first episode when Vision first appeared my immdiate thought was…. HOW? Is this all a dream that Wanda’s having? The series opens up to Wanda and Vision living as newly weds in Westview, New Jersey.I have to admit I was intrigued and confused by the time the episode ended. But, I wanted to know more after that cliff-hanger ending in episode one so I kept watching. The storyline and the pacing really picked up as the episodes went on. I loved seeing Monica as an adult and Darcy’s a doctor now!! It was like everything kind of came in a full circle. I also loved seeing the S.W.OR.D. agent Jimmy. I also loved the bitter-sweet ending, with a few exceptions. The plot twist was perfect especially since I didn’t see it coming and I usually guess plot twists. Make sure to tune into the very end for the post-credit scene.

Here’s What I DIDN’T LOVE

I won’t give any major spoilers, but I didn’t like how there were some storylines that felt too rushed or slightly unfinished. I really wish it wasn’t titled as a series finale, because I would’ve loved to see a season 2! But, maybe there’ll be a part two or a spin-off of it. I know Wanda will show up in the new Dr.Strange film so I’m eager to see how that unfolds.

My Rating

via WordPress

The Ultimate Guide to Requesting ARCS (Advanced Reader’s Copies)

Photo by Sunsetoned on Pexels.com

Are you a book blogger or influencer? Do you have a following or want to grow your following?

If you answered yes, keep reading!

What the Heck is an Arc?

This is a question I get a lot nowadays; especially from friends who stumble upon my bookstagram account (@meetcuteromancebooks). An ARC is an Advanced Reader’s Copy or proof that publishers send out to bloggers/influencers to review the book before it’s published.

In exchange for ARCs, bloggers and influencers need to provide honest feedback and let the publisher know if there are any obvious issues. In some cases, an author might even go back and edit their manuscript if the book has a lot of errors. The reviews also help to promote the book. Personally, I think negative reviews are fine because sometimes that makes other people even more curious about the book and want to know if they feel the same way.

How do I get an Arc?

Okay, so this sounds neat and all, but you’re probably wondering well … how do you get started?

When I was starting out I used NetGalley and Edelweiss + Above the Treeline. http://www.netgalley.com takes you through the steps and Edelweiss is a bit more complicated.

The thing I like the most about NetGalley is that you don’t have to write about why you’re interested in a book.

You can just request it. You’re more likely to get a book if you have a following or you write for a magazine.

When you’re requesting a book on Edelweiss + talk about where you’ll publish the review and your following. Provide a link to a writing sample, a blog, or a google doc if you have a sample review to share. You can also try emailing the publisher. Make sure to include a brief bio (1-2 sentences), link to previous work (if you have an article that’s been published or a book blog), and your stats.

I have a following. How do I find arcs? Where do I sign up?

This is another question I get a lot. I have over a 1,000 or 2,000 followers or in some cases you might be an #ownvoices reviewer which will improve your chances of getting that ARC.

Most publishing companies have an influencer program. I’m a part of a couple influencer programs .

Read the guidelines and fill out the form for each of the companies that you’re interested in recieving ARCS from. Don’t expect a response immediately. It really depends on the company. One got back to me the next day, another took so long I forgot I even applied in the first place. It happens. I have also gotten rejected from places I really wanted, but that is also something to keep in mind. Without further ado, here are the links:

PHYSICAL & DIGITAL:
Atria Books


Berkley

  • Link here (currently closed)

Entangled

Finch House Press

FIREreads

Flatirons Books

Hachette Book Group

  • Grand Central Publishing influencer form here
  • Forever here

Harper:

Henry Holt 

KDPG

Macmillan: (as of 2/2/2021)

  • General link here
  • Celadon
    • Note – requires you to put a twitter link and have more than 0 followers. I just put 1
  • Children’s sign-up
    • Fierce Reads Galley Request Form

Penguin & Viking

  • This form refreshes monthly

Penguin Teen

Poison Pen Press

Random House Children’s

Riverhead Books

  • Form refreshing monthly

St. Martin’s

William Morrow

AUDIO:

Libro.FM (Audiobooks)

Macmillan Audio 

Penguin Random House Audio

  • Email audio@penguinrandomhouse.com

ANOTHER WAY TO GET ARCS

If you’re just starting out, I highly recommend signing up for blog tours. You’re more likely to get an ARC this way. Just don’t forget to post on the day you’re assigned and it should be fine. Below are some Blog Tours:

  • Colored Pages Blog Tour. I love this blog tour and I’ve had a positive experience with them. They do their best to look for #OwnVoices rep when promoting a book.
  • Rachel’s Random Resources. I love working with Rachel and I only request books I know I’ll love.
  • Join book clubs. NetGalley is more likely to give an arc if your book club is listed.
  • Author Street Teams. Sometimes, authors will have a sign up sheet to join their street team. Members get to promote the authors’ books and meet other fans. It’s always been a fun experience and I’m in a lot. It’s a good time. If you get in, just remember to follow the guidelines and make sure you’re on time.
Peter Parker said, “With Great Power comes great responsibility.” VIa GIPHY

There are other tours, but I’m only sharing the ones I’ve tried and love. I hope this lengthy list helps another reader out. A lot of this was new information for me when I first started out as a book blogger/influencer. If you’d like to follow me, you can check out my links here to see what I’m up to when I’m not blogging.

Writing Resources from Author Rochelle Smit

Hey, Everyone! I just recieved a ton of helpful writing resources from Rochelle Smit (part of the AMM or Author Mentor Match feedback). Rochelle Smit is a romance writer.

“Something I am encouraging everyone to do (It’s also the very first homework assignment for my mentee) is to reverse outline their book into a romance beat sheet. I think this is SOOO helpful to locate areas that could be stronger/more fleshed out/more tension added, etc.

Here are just a few links that help me out as I worked on my writing on a craft level and like to take a peek at when I go through and edit! For books, I love: Save The Cat Writes A Novel, Story Genius, and I never write without The Emotion Thesaurus open at my side! It is SO helpful with showing emotions both externally and internally!”

The following list is a list of links to other helpful resources for writers:

http://www.invisibleinkediting.com/blog/how-to-master-showing-vs-telling/

http://www.invisibleinkediting.com/blog/how-to-find-filter-words-and-filter-them-out/

https://annerallen.com/2017/06/filter-words-and-phrases-to-avoid-in-writing/

http://naomiedits.com/most-common-problems.html

https://dianaurban.com/words-you-should-cut-from-your-writing-immediately

https://jerichowriters.com/writing-dialogue/

Q: Have you used any of these resources before? The only ones I was familiar with are Save The Cat Writes A Novel, The Emotion Thesaurus, and Diana Urban’s website because I’m a fan of hers. If you’re also a writer, what are some of your essential writing resources? My other two favorite resource books are: Juicy Writing by Brigid Lowry and Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book by Ally Carter!

The Top 10 Romance Books to Read This Valentine’s Day

With Valentine’s Day coming up, I thought it would be a good time to compile a list of some of my favorite romance books. The following are all books that I believe are 5/5 stars and some of them are coming out soon (I recieved ARCS for these).

1. Love from a to z by s.k. ali

A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes–because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.

An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.

When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.

Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.

Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

This is a book I’ll resonate with forever. It’s one I’ll recommend to anyone.

2. Ayesha at last by uzma jalaluddin

via my bookstagram account @meetcuteromancebooks

Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid, who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and who dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.

When a surprise engagement is announced between Khalid and Hafsa, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and the unsettling new gossip she hears about his family. Looking into the rumors, she finds she has to deal with not only what she discovers about Khalid, but also the truth she realizes about herself.

This is an incredible rom-com that also touches on a lot of real life issues. You’re in for one hell of a ride!

3. misfit in love by s.k. ali

I got an ARC of this book from @NetGalley and this book comes out in May! It was a highly anticipated read and it lived up to my high expectations.

This is what it’s about:

Janna Yusuf is so excited for the weekend: her brother Muhammad’s getting married, and she’s reuniting with her mom, whom she’s missed the whole summer.

And Nuah’s arriving for the weekend too.

Sweet, constant Nuah.

The last time she saw him, Janna wasn’t ready to reciprocate his feelings for her. But things are different now. She’s finished high school, ready for college…and ready for Nuah.

It’s time for Janna’s (carefully planned) summer of love to begin—starting right at the wedding.

But it wouldn’t be a wedding if everything went according to plan. Muhammad’s party choices aren’t in line with his fiancée’s taste at all, Janna’s dad is acting strange, and her mom is spending more time with an old friend (and maybe love interest?) than Janna.

And Nuah’s treating her differently.

Just when things couldn’t get more complicated, two newcomers—the dreamy Haytham and brooding Layth—have Janna more confused than ever about what her misfit heart really wants.

Janna’s summer of love is turning out to be super crowded and painfully unpredictable.

4. hana khan carries on by uzma jalaluddin

Sales are slow at Three Sisters Biryani Poutine, the only halal restaurant in the close-knit Golden Crescent neighborhood of Toronto. Hana waitresses there part time, but what she really wants is to tell stories on the radio. If she can just outshine her fellow intern at the city radio station, she may have a chance at landing a job. In the meantime, Hana pours her thoughts and dreams into a podcast, where she forms a lively relationship with one of her listeners. But soon she’ll need all the support she can get: a new competing restaurant, a more upscale halal place, is about to open in the Golden Crescent, threatening her mother’s restaurant.

When her mysterious aunt and her teenage cousin arrive from India for a surprise visit, they draw Hana into a long-buried family secret. A hate-motivated attack on their neighborhood complicates the situation further, as does Hana’s growing attraction for Aydin, the young owner of the rival restaurant–who might not be a complete stranger after all.

As life on the Golden Crescent unravels, Hana must learn to use her voice, draw on the strength of her community and decide what her future should be.

I got an ARC of this copy from NetGalley and it’s one of my favorite romance books! S.K. Ali and Uzma Jalaluddin are my favorite romance authors. I would read anything by them.

5. The wrath and the dawn by renee ahdieh

Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

This is a modern day 1001 fantasy romance! If you’ve already read the duology and the short stories I highly recommend checking out the WEBTOON!!

6. Frankly in love by david yoon

Frank Li has two names. There’s Frank Li, his American name. Then there’s Sung-Min Li, his Korean name. No one uses his Korean name, not even his parents. Frank barely speaks any Korean. He was born and raised in Southern California.

Even so, his parents still expect him to end up with a nice Korean girl–which is a problem, since Frank is finally dating the girl of his dreams: Brit Means. Brit, who is funny and nerdy just like him. Brit, who makes him laugh like no one else. Brit . . . who is white.

As Frank falls in love for the very first time, he’s forced to confront the fact that while his parents sacrificed everything to raise him in the land of opportunity, their traditional expectations don’t leave a lot of room for him to be a regular American teen. Desperate to be with Brit without his parents finding out, Frank turns to family friend Joy Song, who is in a similar bind. Together, they come up with a plan to help each other and keep their parents off their backs. Frank thinks he’s found the solution to all his problems, but when life throws him a curveball, he’s left wondering whether he ever really knew anything about love—or himself—at all.

One of the things I loved the most about this book is because it talked about racism within your own family and how to deal with it. It’s a very raw and vulnerable book. I loved Frank and his sister’s relationship.

7. The sun is also a star by nicola yoon

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true? 

I loved Daniel and Natasha’s story and I highly recommend reading and watching it.

8. Charming as a verb by ben philippe

Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger can charm just about anyone. He is a star debater and popular student at the prestigious FATE academy, the dutiful first-generation Haitian son, and the trusted dog walker for his wealthy New York City neighbors. But his easy smiles mask a burning ambition to attend his dream college, Columbia University.

There is only one person who seems immune to Henri’s charms: his “intense” classmate and neighbor Corinne Troy. When she uncovers Henri’s less-than-honest dog-walking scheme, she blackmails him into helping her change her image at school. Henri agrees, seeing a potential upside for himself.

Soon what started as a mutual hustle turns into something more surprising than either of them ever bargained for. . . .

This is a sharply funny and insightful novel about the countless hustles we have to keep from doing the hardest thing: being ourselves.

This was such a cute book and I loved the banter!!

9. I’ll be the one by lyla lee

Skye Shin has heard it all. Fat girls shouldn’t dance. Wear bright colors. Shouldn’t call attention to themselves. But Skye dreams of joining the glittering world of K-Pop, and to do that, she’s about to break all the rules that society, the media, and even her own mother, have set for girls like her.

She’ll challenge thousands of other performers in an internationally televised competition looking for the next K-pop star, and she’ll do it better than anyone else.

When Skye nails her audition, she’s immediately swept into a whirlwind of countless practices, shocking performances, and the drama that comes with reality TV. What she doesn’t count on are the highly fat-phobic beauty standards of the Korean pop entertainment industry, her sudden media fame and scrutiny, or the sparks that soon fly with her fellow competitor, Henry Cho.

This is a super cute book and I loved the body positivity vibes in this. It’s perfect for fans of Maurene Goo!

10. that can be arranged by huda fahmy

Chaperones, suitors, and arranged marriages aren’t only reserved for the heroines of a Jane Austen novel. They’re just another walk in the park for this leading lady, who is on a mission to find her leading lad. From the brilliant comics Yes, I’m Hot in This, Huda Fahmy tells the hilarious story of how she met and married her husband. Navigating mismatched suitors, gossiping aunties, and societal expectations for Muslim women, That Can Be Arranged deftly and hilariously reveals to readers what it can be like to find a husband as an observant Muslim woman in the twenty-first century.

What’s on your TBR pile this Valentine’s Day? Based on this list, what books would you recommend to me?

A Pho Love Story has a R & J Feel but with a Restaurant Feud

Synopsis

A Pho Love Story by Loan Le

When Dimple Met Rishi meets Ugly Delicious in this funny, smart romantic comedy, in which two Vietnamese-American teens fall in love and must navigate their newfound relationship amid their families’ age-old feud about their competing, neighboring restaurants.

If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there, he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.

If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.

For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.

But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember.

Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?

Review

Thank you to @NetGalley and @SimonTeen for a copy of this book! I also did a promo on my bookstagram. This book reminded me a lot of Romeo and Juliet (R & J) with the feuds. I also loved the restaurant feuding aspect of it because that reminds me of The Upside of Falling by Alex Light and Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin (I recieved an ARC for this and I will have a review on Pop-Culturalist soon. I loved the enemies to lovers trope It’s super cute. Pho real. You’ll crave pho when you read this and I actually went out and got pho from the store to make a halal version of it at home. Bao sees Linh in an alley one day and becomes infatuated with her. You’re going to want to eat while reading this book and I HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend it.

Pho via GIPHY

Rating

5/5 stars

I fell in love with the characters and the plot! Everything about this is so freaking cute and you need a copy of this on your shelves! In fact, you can get your copy here! You can also follow Loan Le on her blog!

Here’s the Top 5 Books to Read if You Love the K-Drama True Beauty

Jugyeong Lim

True Beauty is a popular Korean Drama that is based on the Webtoon series of the same name by  Yaongyi. Its story centers around a high school student named who is bullied by everyone for her looks. She’s inspired by beauty gurus online to wear makeup to hide how she looks. By the time she transfers out of her old school, she is able to wear makeup professionally to the point where she looks like a model. Even the neighbors start to think her mother has three daughters instead of two. True Beauty also has an irresistible love triangle. Whether you’re Team Suho or Team Seojun, these are the book recommendations for you! While you’re waiting for another episode of True Beauty to air with English subtitles, I recommend checking these books out!

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

How it’s similar to True Beauty: Molly doesn’t see herself as beautiful-similar to how Jugyeong Lim feels in True Beauty. The difference is that this book, it talks more about body positivity and the love triangle is great in this one as well. Will and Reid are different from Suho and Seojun but I love how this book shows the ups and downs of teenage romance.  It’s great because this takes place in the Maryland-DC-VA area and it’s in the Simon Spier universe!

There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon

There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon

There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon

There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon

How it’s similar to True Beauty: Sweetie has always been described as fat by everyone around. her. Her relationship with her Ammi (Mom in Bangla) is about as rocky as the relationship Jugyeong Lim has with her mom. But, Sweetie isn’t lazy and she’s the fastest person on her track team. If you’re Team Suho, you’re going to love Ashish and Sweetie’s story.

Odd One Out by Nic Stone

Odd One Out by Nic Stone

How it’s similar to True Beauty: The love triangle. It’s a book about how friendship and love make things complicated. Courtney or as he’s usually known as “Coop” is similar to Suho and I would say that Rae kind of reminds me of Seojun. This book doesn’t tackle beauty or looks like True Beauty does. Instead, it focuses more on how sexual identities and desires go hand in hand. This is a topic that more YA books need to discuss!

I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee

I’ll be the One by Lyla Lee

How it’s similar to True Beauty: Sky Shin has always been told that fat girls shouldn’t dance. I love how she comes out of her shell and breaks stereotypes of what it means to be a K-Pop star. Skye wants to show society how wrong they are for their intense beauty standards. It’s the perfect mix of True Beauty and Shine by Jessica Jung; but with its own spin on it.

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren

How it’s similar to True Beauty: Hazel is similar to Jugyeong Lim in the sense that she is just as clumsy around her crushes. If you’re Team Seojun, then you’re going to want to read this book because Josh reminds me of Seojun. These two set each other up on dates which also reminds me of something Chuck and Blair did in Gossip Girl.

True Beauty’s coming to an end this week, but these books will help with the True Beauty withdrawal feels!

Did you read any of these books? Comment which ones are your favorite or ones you’re excited to read about!

February TBR : All the Books I Want to Read This Month

Februart TBR post. Pink and yellow flowers rest on top of a book. A pair of brown glasses is on the other page. It has a white background. The Text reads February TBR
All the books I want to read in February!

Hi, everyone! My name is Amani from Amani’s Reviews (my old blog was called Amani’s Honest Reviews, but I think this fits better). Who knows I might feel differently later. So much has happened recently! I have to admit I kind of had a mid-life crisis until I got accepted into a Master’s program and finally landed a temporary part-time job as a virtual teacher. My Master’s program is in Teaching Secondary English Education. It’s super different from anything I’ve done before because I got my B.A. in Journalism and Professional Writing.

I also got the opportunity to interview Hafsah Faizal for Cultures!!! You can read it under my portfolio link. I also have other exciting news … but I’m not allowed to share that until it’s closer to the release date. I’m ecstatic about it, though! With grad school starting on Monday and a part-time job starting later in the month I’m not sure how far I’ll get with my TBR (to be read), but I’m hoping to read at least three books!

1. What if it’s us by Adam silvera and becky albertalli

What if it’s Us By Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

ARTHUR is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

BEN thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them . . . ?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t nail a first date even after three do-overs?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?

What if it’s us?

I’m SO excited to read this one! There’s a sequel in the works and I can’t wait to read it!!

2. Dear Ally, how do you write a book? by Ally Carter

Dear Ally, How Do You Write A Book by Ally Carter

Have you always wanted to write a book, but don’t know where to start? Or maybe you’re really great at writing the first few chapters . . . but you never quite make it to the end? Or do you finally have a finished manuscript, but you’re not sure what to do next? Fear not―if you have writing-related questions, this book has answers!

Whether you’re writing for fun or to build a career, bestselling author Ally Carter is ready to help you make your work shine. With honesty, encouragement, and humor, Ally’s here to answer the questions that writers struggle with the most.

Filled with practical tips and helpful advice, Dear Ally is a treasure for aspiring writers at any stage of their careers. It offers a behind-the-scenes look at how books get made, from idea to publication, and gives you insight into the writing processes of some of the biggest and most talented YA authors today. 

With contributions from Jesse Andrews, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Holly Black, Sarah Rees Brennan, Z Brewer, Rachel Caine, Soman Chainani, Cassandra Clare, Dhonielle Clayton, Jay Coles, Zoraida Córdova, Melissa de la Cruz, Elizabeth Eulberg, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Alan Gratz, Shannon Hale, Kody Keplinger, Gordon Korman, David Levithan, Alex London, Marie Lu, Marissa Meyer, Julie Murphy, Daniel José Older, Stephanie Perkins, Carrie Ryan, Eliot Schrefer, Maggie Stiefvater, and Kiersten White, Dear Ally is a must-read for anyone who has ever asked the question “How do you write a book?”

I adore this book! I always refer to it and I was recently given my own copy of it. Ally Carter is one of my favorite childhood authors. I loved the Gallagher books (Ally Carter is also the author of the Gallagher Academy books) and I’m actually going to be participating in Star’s readathon this month as well!

3. Hungry hearts: 13 tales of food & love edited by Elise Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmmond

Hungry Hearts : 13 Takes of Food and Love
Indian food via GIPHY

A shy teenager attempts to express how she really feels through the pastries she makes at her family’s pasteleria. A tourist from Montenegro desperately seeks a magic soup dumpling that can cure his fear of death. An aspiring chef realizes that butter and soul are the key ingredients to win a cooking competition that could win him the money to save his mother’s life.

Welcome to Hungry Hearts Row, where the answers to most of life’s hard questions are kneaded, rolled, baked. Where a typical greeting is, “Have you had anything to eat?” Where magic and food and love are sometimes one in the same.

Told in interconnected short stories, Hungry Hearts explores the many meanings food can take on beyond mere nourishment. It can symbolize love and despair, family and culture, belonging and home.

4. Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Scythe   Book
Scythe by Neal Shusterman

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

I’ve got to thank Sam for introducing me to Scythe. I was also gifted a copy (not sure who because there was no note and it’s not something I ordered but I wish I could thank whoever gifted me this copy)!

5. The Gilded Wolves by Roshani CHokshi

The Gilded Wolves paperback copy

No one believes in them. But soon no one will forget them.

It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.

Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history–but only if they can stay alive.

Thank you to @booksta.chiggs on IG for giving me this copy of The Gilded Wolves!! I’ve heard a lot of incredible things about this one.

What books are you excited to read this month? Want to be friends on GoodReads? You can add me on here!

Worldbuilding and Fantasy with Ausma Zehanat Khan

Ausma Zehanat Khan is a crime fiction and fantasy writer. Her recent book The Bladebone came out in October 2020, and is the final book in her Khorasan Archives fantasy quartet. It’s the perfect series to binge read while waiting for A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir to come out. This series is also about a corrupt society and I got to talk to Ausma Zehanat Khan for a podcast episode on my podcast, Raise Your Words and on here. On our podcast episode, we talked a lot about Ausma’s writing rituals and what it was like to finish a series. In this interview, we talk more about her characters and her writing advice.

1.What inspired the One-Eyed Preacher ?
The One-Eyed Preacher stands for any tyrant who governs without the consent of the governed, and in his case, someone who tolerates no dissent on how scripture may be interpreted. He’s clearly an ideologue, and I thought in the first instance of Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, but also of Dajjal—who is a figure similar to the anti-Christ in the Islamic tradition.

2.Do you have any writing advice for those who want to be writers?
I offer writing advice with the caveat that you have to find what works for you as an individual. But what I’ve found helpful is to read widely not only for pleasure, but to study craft and technique. There’s so much to be learned about pacing, character development and the art of storytelling by studying those writers who do it really well. And I also point out that the more you practice, the better you get. My first drafts are far from perfect, but I get them down and then I continue to edit and refine.

3.Who was the easiest and hardest character to write?
Arian and Sinnia were easier to write because I had a very clear sense of their personalities, their background and their story arcs from The Bloodprint all the way through to The Bladebone. I knew their histories well, and with Arian in particular, I was writing very close to my own background, history and heritage so that allowed me a fullness of expression that maybe other characters did not. 
The hardest characters to write were Rukh, the Black Khan, and Ilea, the High Companion of Hira. With Rukh, I didn’t know him inside out from the beginning, so there were shades of Rukh that I continued to explore throughout the series, and I realized in the end that this was because he has an ambivalent nature, and that’s never easy to pin down. But it does also allow for a great deal of creative freedom. With Ilea, I had to keep asking myself what she wanted, as she had some forward progression from the first book to the final book that I wasn’t entirely expecting.

4. You mentioned that “Call the stars, Rukh!” is your favorite line. Why?
The line is actually from my favorite scene in The Bladebone. It’s said by a character named Arsalan who is the Commander of the Zhayedan, the Black Khan’s army. The Zhayedan are defending the capital of Ashfall from two besieging armies. The city is on the brink of collapse, but the Zhayedan are indomitable and battle on, led by Arsalan—a warrior whose skills and commitment to his people are unparalleled. Arsalan is a very straightforward character, the closest friend and confidant of The Black Khan, so in this scene as battle rages all around them, and the city’s fate seems hopeless, he continuously encourages Rukh (aka the Black Khan) to make full use of his gifts and his power. His faith in Rukh—who is a very dubious character—is what gives Rukh faith in himself, so you have this moment of quiet intimacy between these two men while chaos rages around them. That was hard to pull off but it felt beautiful and true.

5.What inspired you to write the Khorasan Archives?
The story holds that this is the oldest written record of the Qur’an, compiled by Caliph Uthman, the third leader of the early Muslim community after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Uthman was assassinated while reading it, and it is said that his blood stains the pages of this Qur’an. I was in the presence of a bloodstained manuscript—the Bloodprint, in other words. For those who are unfamiliar with Ausma’s work, “The Bloodprint” is the first book in The Khorasan Archives.
I wanted to capture that sense of reverence in the presence of the written word, and also that sense of mourning—the idea that a faith community was still mourning the death of this revered figure, and in the presence of his bloodstained Qur’an, we were deeply moved.

       6.What is one thing you hope readers take away from this?
I hope readers come away from all my books with a greater sense of curiosity about the world, and with greater empathy for histories, traditions and communities different from their own.
  

 You can purchase The Bloodprint here and The Bladebone here. Follow Ausma on Instagram and Twitter @ausmazehanat to keep up with her adventures, books, and to  see cute cat pictures!

Interview with Author Miriam Wade

Author Miriam Wade

What made you pick Guinevere as the protagonist instead of The Lady of the Lake?

Honestly, I never considered picking the lady of the lake as the protagonist. When I first formed the idea it always revolved around Guinevere as the main character. This mostly comes from the idea of writing this as a series and exploring additional character relationships. Lots of things have changed from the original idea but the protagonist has always remained consistent. 

I love that there were dinosaurs included alongside this famous King Arthur legend retelling. What inspired you to include dinosaurs and pirates?

The idea for the universe came in pieces. When I first told my husband my idea of steampunk and dinosaurs, he thought that it was a little much. But when he read the first draft, he realized that it all worked together. I have always liked dinosaurs, and they seemed like a perfect fit in the story. What is a dinosaur but a dragon? 

This question is for the readers who also hope to be writers one day. Can you tell us about your writing process? As in: are you a panster or a plotter?

My writing process is fairly chaotic. Usually I have some idea of the basic plot but often add additional scenes in the middle as I go. I don’t write in order (e.i. chapter one, chapter two, etc.) but rather jump around. Once I finish a scene, or chapter, I try to leave it alone and not constantly edit it. Eventually there are enough scenes that the book comes together into something cohesive. 

Who was your favorite and least favorite character to write?

My favorite character to write is probably Merlin. I had a lot of fun writing all of the knights, with her in particular. I don’t have a particular character that was my least favorite to write. 

There is a lot of action in this book. Did you start off with something in mind (as in writing about dinosaurs and then adding in the pirates) and then added other elements or was everything planned out this way from the beginning stages?

I had an idea of what I wanted the world to be before I started writing the book. I really wanted to create this universe that blended steampunk with other fantasy elements such as the dinosaurs. As I went about writing the book, the scenes flowed into each other and a lot of the action elements just came naturally. What was really critical to the cohesiveness of the story was the editing. I did several rounds myself as well as had a beta reader read the book and give feedback before I began querying it for publication. It was in this stage of the writing that everything melded together. 

What is something that you hope readers will take away after reading the Rise of Knight and Sword?

I just hope that readers enjoy it, recommend it to their friends, and are excited for the next book in the series. 

How long did it take you to write The Rise of Knight and Sword?

It took me just under a year to write the first draft and then an additional six months of revising before I began the querying process. 

How many books do you plan on having in the series (if you are allowed to say this)?

There will be several (at least four) books in the series. Right now, I am working on editing the sequel and writing the third book. I also plan on releasing a series of short stories focusing on each of the knights that will further expand the universe between books two and three. 

Which character do you relate to the most (personality-wise or other)?

I would say that I relate the most to Guinevere which makes sense since I made her the main character of the book. One thing I wanted her to be relatable with is her internal dialogue and anxiety which is something I too have dealt with. There is a lot about her that is different than myself which is what makes writing characters fun. 

Other than reading, do you have any advice for anyone who is interested in getting their book published?

Just keep trying. It took many months and lots of rejections before I found publishers that were interested in my book. Its hard to hear criticism and rejection for something you have devoted so much time and energy towards, but you have to reframe how you view it. Remember why you started writing in the first place and figure out what success means to you. Is it finishing the novel? Getting published? Selling a single, or a hundred, copies of your book? Being a bestseller? It is up to you to decide. 

You can buy Miriam’s book, here and you can follow Miriam on Instagram here.

METEOR GARDEN NETFLIX CHINESE DRAMA

originally posted on my old blog on 8/4/20

SYNOPSIS

​”A remake of the 2001 Taiwanese drama of the same name, Meteor Garden chronicles the unexpected love story between a rich, hot-tempered college senior, Dao Ming Si, and a strong-willed Shan Cai who chooses not to be cowed by Si’s domineering ways.”
Starring:
Shen Yue as Dong Shan Cai
Dylan Wang, Darren Chen, Connor Leong, and Caesur Wu as F4. 
*End of the Spoiler-free version*

MY THOUGHTS

​There was another couple in the show that had more chemistry than the main leads. I think that overall, it was really cute if you’re into korean dramas like Boys Over Flowers or The Heirs. The dynamics between characters were incredible but there were moments when I skipped to the more interesting scenes because I predicted what was going on.

MY RATING

3/5 stars
3/5 stars

The Ex Talk is Perfect for Fans of Podcasts and Enemies-to-Lovers

Graphic created by Amani Salahudeen

Synopsis

Public radio hosts deal with mixed signals and an enemies to lovers that will have readers swooning over the romance in Rachel Lynn Solomon’s debut novel.

Shay Goldstein has been working at her radio station for almost a decade and she can’t imagine being anywhere else. She’s been working her dream job but lately things haven’t been as easy as they usually are. Her newest colleague, Dominic Yun, is a recent Journalism graduate with a Master’s degree and is convinced he knows everything there is to know about public radio.

When Shay’s beloved station is in need of a new idea, Shay pitches The Ex Talk. A place for exes to give their relationship advice live on the air. Their boss believes this will sell since Shay and Dominic already hate each other. Although they don’t want to lie to their listeners but it’s better than the alternative which would be: unemployment.

Review

I couldn’t stop smiling as I was reading this book. I’m a sucker for a good enemies-to-lovers and this was perfect for me! If you love listening to podcasts or enemies -to lovers that will make you fall in love with the story then this is for you!

For those of you who don’t know my friend and I also host a podcast called Raise Your Words and I love reading books where the protagonists are podcast hosts. In our recent episode, we interview the hosts of Brown Girls Read and talk about starting (and maintaining) a podcast!

One of my favorite lines is when Dominic said, “It’s your typical co-workers turned enemies turned fake exes turned real romantic partners kind of story.” It pretty much sums it up perfectly in one sentence and if you’re in a mood for a feel-good rom-com book then this is for you!

This is an Adult Rom-Com book that is also an ideal book to read in time for Valentine’s Day. Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publisher.

Rating

5/5 stars
5/5 stars

Although it’s a little predictable at times, the romance is incredible and you’ll fall in love with the story. Shay and Dominic’s banter kept me interested and I’m so happy I got to read this before it was released.

If you’d like to get your copy of The Ex Talk you can check it out here! You can follow the author on Twitter here for updates on her upcoming books.

If you’d like to stay updated on where I post when I’m not writing for this blog, check out my link here! If you read The Ex Talk feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!

Unconditionally Yours

Chapter One: The Run-In at the Hospital

Rashid’s P.O.V:

          I’m an idiot. I should’ve noticed the signs immediately! Now that I think about it it makes sense how tired Ammi has been recently. Before she was hospitalized, Ammi wanted me to learn how to make her famous samosas saying that the family recipe shouldn’t end with her. That was an obvious sign. Yet I still went back to med school that semester. 

“Why didn’t you tell me about this sooner, Ammi?” I asked, as I held her hand. I had rushed home the minute Abbu (Dad)  told me the news. Apparently, Ammi didn’t want to worry us, but Abbu thought I deserved to know. I’d rather know later than never. I finished my last final at med school just before winter break officially started. Once I informed my professors about what was happening at home, I was able to rush back home to be there for Ammi during her chemotherapy.

“You should be in med school, jaanu.” Ammi told me. Ammi was lying in the hospital bed in one of those hospital gowns.She looked so pale and it terrified me. I didn’t know what to do or what to say to make it better.  It was hard to see Ammi like this. The hospital room had the usual bare-white walls. There was a plant in the corner to spruce up the room, but this wasn’t like the children’s hospital – that place was like colors exploded on the walls. But, here it was like they wanted the patients to be as miserable as they felt. 

          “I came back early to be with you, Ammi. Aren’t you happy to see me?” I  teased Ammi. Ammi held my hand and gave me a weak smile.

          “I’m glad you’re home, beta. But, you should be studying for your finals, no?” Ammi inquired.

          “I was able to take them early. I want to be here with you on the days Abbu has work, Ammi.” 

“Come sit, beta. I am going to be fine. At Thanksgiving, we’ll have a chicken masala and guests will be over. You’ll see, jaanu.” 

“Ammi, you don’t know if that’ll happen. We don’t.” I  wished Ammi would just admit that everything wasn’t fine and that things will never be the same again no matter how badly I wanted it to be. 

“Rashid, you can’t live your life in fear. Whatever Allah (S.W.T.) has planned will happen, insha’ Allah!” Ammi said, as she emphasized the last two words. All I could do in response was hold her hand. When  Ammi fell asleep, I  sighed and looked out at the night sky. Abbu would be here soon and then he will know exactly how severe the situation was. I  needed to know even if Ammi didn’t want me to. Ammi wanted me to pretend everything was okay and that she will get better but it just didn’t feel right. 

  I remembered the first time Ammi told me she had cancer. She had ordered Halal pepperoni pizza and even ordered garlic knots …one of my favorites. She waited until I had finished my share before breaking the news. I was  in so much shock that I had run out and went for a bike ride with Ammi calling after me.When I got home, Abbu  explained that he had wanted to tell me sooner but Ammi was still in denial about how severe the situation was.  “She doesn’t want to miss out on your life, son.” Abbu told me gently. When that sunk in, I  realized I  should’ve thought about it the other way around: I didn’t want to miss out on being in Ammi’s life. I didn’t know how much longer I had with her or what would happen if… I  shuddered thinking of that what if moment. I didn’t want to think about that. Instead, I focused on counting my blessings that I even had this time with Ammi.  Not everyone is lucky enough to have these moments with their parents. I texted my friends telling them that I couldn’t make it tonight. We initially had plans to see a football game. I wouldn’t be an asshole again and miss this. There would be other games in the future.

“Assalamu Alaikum, Abbu!” I stepped out of the hospital room as quietly as I could.I  didn’t want to wake Ammi up now that she was asleep.

“Yes… I will. Right. Yes I prayed Isha, Abbu. I went to the masjid before driving over. Will you be here tonight? Okay… I will wait until you come. You have to tell her, Abbu.“ I  told  Abbu before hanging up. I sighed before walking back in.

“Rashid? What is it, beta?” Ammi said as she sat up in bed.

“Abbu is coming, but he is going to be a little late, Ammi.” 

“You shouldn’t be here… you should be with your friends, Rashid. You have friends, right?” Ammi teased, as I  rolled my  eyes.

“Yes, Ammi. I have friends – but I’d rather be here with you. Besides, Abbu will be here soon and then I’ll head home.” 

“Go home, Rashid. I’m just going to go back to sleep. I will tell Abbu you were here all day.” Ammi patted my  hand and motions to the door with a small smile. “Thank you for coming, beta, but I don’t want you watching me sleep.” I kissed Ammi on the cheek, gathered my things, and rushed out the door. I looked back in the direction of  Ammi’s hospital room and shook my head. It had been a long night, but it was time to head home. I was on my way out when someone crashed into me.

“Watch where you’re going!” I  snapped as the girl looked up in surprise. She took out her headphones from her ears and quickly fixed her hijab. 

“Sorry – I was on my way to the west wing and I got lost. I didn’t even realize you were there.”  Realization dawned on me  as I realized I had been an asshole.

“Sorry for being an asshole. I know it’s no excuse, but it’s been a rough week.”

“Likewise.” 

“The west wing is just around the corner after you go straight and take a left.”

“How do I know you’re not leading me to some weird part of this building?”

“Take my advice or not … I really don’t care. But, if you don’t it’ll be awhile before an assistant can help you out.” I  pointed to the line of people waiting to talk to the desk assistant. She gave me the middle finger and walked off in the direction I had given her. I laughed at how bold she was and she was so defiant that I had to admit I was enamoured by her. What a weird girl. I  had forgotten to say salaams but figured I’d never see her again. She had left quite an impression on me but I knew the chances of seeing her again were slim to none. I didn’t even know anything else about this girl.

I don’t have time for love anyway, I thought to myself. I was going to meet up with Hashim – the Imam’s son and hang out before heading home that night. Hashim had insisted that he stopped by. I  realized maybe  Ammi was right – maybe I did need the distraction.

          The Imam opened the door with a smile. “Assalamu Alaikum, Rashid! Come in, come in!” The Imam was this tall, Arab guy originally from Palestine. The Imam was gentle but firm. He was the kind of man anyone would be willing to approach due to how understanding he was. Unless you asked his son, Hashim. 

“Hashim is in his room, Rashid. How is your mother doing?” The Imam inquired.

“She is good, still recovering, Uncle AbdulRahman. Please continue to keep her in your du’aas.” I  replied, with a smile as I headed upstairs before the Imam could ask him anything else. Inside his house, the Imam had insisted that Rashid called him Uncle saying it was good to separate work from home. 

“Salams, so did my dad hold you up?” Hashim asked.

“Nah – he just asked about Ammi.”

“How are you holding up?”

“Not great – I could use a distraction to be honest.”

“I know a good one – let’s watch Star Wars: A New Hope!”

“Alright!” I  took off my jacket and sat on the bean bag. Hashim came back with two bags of popcorn and handed one to him.

“Kettle for you and butter for me,” Hashim said,as he pressed play. Getting to see Laia  escape with Luke’s help helped me  momentarily forget about what Abbu had told me. More like sprung on me.

“Are you okay, man?” Hashim shot me a look of concern.

“Huh? Oh yeah… I’m alright. Why?”

“You kinda zoned out a little. I tried calling your name and wasn’t sure if you were okay.”

“I’m fine… it’s just …it’s been a weird night, man.” Hashim put the movie on pause and turned on the fan. “If you don’t want my parents to overhear it’s better to turn on the fan. Anyway, so what happened?”

I sighed as I hought about brushing off what I was thinking. When Hashim gave me  a look I cracked and told him about meeting the girl at the hospital.

“You were an asshole, moron.” Hashim replied, with a grin as I  shook my head. I  gave Hashim what I had hoped was an annoyed look before I started laughing.

“Damn it – I kind of was. Wasn’t I?”

“Here’s the good news – you’re probably never going to run into her again. So, don’t worry about it.”

“And if I do?”

“You’re smart. I’m sure you’ll figure it out. If not … maybe you’re not as smart as I think you are.” I rolled my eyes and grabbed the remote. 

“Do you want to finish this?”

“Yeah,” With that, the two of us went back to watching the movie; almost as if nothing happened in the first place. We were so engrossed in our movie that we didn’t notice when Hashim’s mom knocked on the door.

“HASHIM! RASHID! Dinner is ready!” Hashim’s Mom was the kind of woman who will insist on feeding you no matter how many times you tell her you already ate. “I’m sorry it’s not much – Hashim told me you were staying a little while ago.” I  looked in amazement at the macaroni bechamel, the pastries, and the kebabs. 

“This looks incredible, Aunty!” I said, meaning every word he said. It really was an incredible sight to behold. Arab food was amazing but it could use some hot sauce. Some pepper flakes couldn’t hurt either. I thankfully didn’t say any of that out loud and by the way Hashim’s Mom beamed at me I knew I  had made the right decision. They sat down at the table and the Imam began serving me dish by dish and then served his wife. After he served Hashim and then himself.  “BismillAllah Rahman Ar-Raheem!” The Imam declared before eating. Everyone else followed suit and dug in. By the end of the night, I was in a happy food coma. The bachamel had been his favorite and Hashim’s Mom insisted that he take some home with him when she heard that he liked it. I tried to say it was okay (brown culture customs or maybe it was a Muslim thing) but I was secretly ecstatic that I’d get to drive home with it. Hashim walked me to the car and the two of us  talked for a bit before I drove off. By the time I entered the house, it was still quiet. Abbu had stayed the night by Ammi’s hospital bed so I had the whole house to myself. 

***

Abbu had texted earlier in the day to tell me to attend some masjid event. Apparently, it was a D’awah booth. The D’awah booth is usually a table that is handled by local Muslim students and supervised by the Imam or other elders in the community. It was for an interfaith session. I had to attend a workshop training tonight to make sure I was prepared for whatever happened. Abbu thought this would be a good distraction for me. When I had attempted to protest, Abbu rebutted my rebuttals saying that whatever I wanted to do probably isn’t a one way ticket to Jannah (Paradise). So here I was about to go to my first D’awah workshop. 

“Asaalamu Alaikum, everyone!” The Imam greeted us with a smile as we walked in and removed our shoes.  The women sat behind us and I sat with the other male teens in the front. “We will take a break for Asr salah but feel free to pray dhur before we commence.” The Imam paused and watched as many of the students got up to pray. Once we were done, I sat back down and did my best to listen attentively to the Imam.  

“Remember that we always ask if they would like a flyer. Never get angry regardless of what the other person says. Remember not to take it too personal if the other person is rude to you. If you’re talking to a Christian, be empathetic. Acknowledge that you also believe in Prophet Isa (A.S.) or as they say Jesus. We just don’t believe in the trinity. Focus on the common ground with whomever you’re talking to. If you don’t have patience, this will be a tedious task for you and I suggest that you think about whether or not you’re cut out for it. You will have a supervisor with you at the booth should you have any questions or if things get out of hand. We have never had any dire situations.” The Imam handed out booklets with information on topics that could be of interest to others. He droned on for a bit and I zoned out.

“We will have a container of candy for kids to walk by and take. When that happens, this is your time to hand out a booklet. One woman and man will be manning the table every hour. If you are unable to make it, please come and see me before you leave tonight. This is my number if you need to reach me at any time.” The Imam wrote down his number on the white board and everyone took a picture or wrote it down. “I am going to pass this sheet around and I want each of you to sign up for the time slot.” I looked around to see if I recognized any of the guys. 

There was one kid he recognized from school – they had the same Art class but other than that he didn’t recognize anyone. He was always making Tik Tok videos when he thought the teacher wasn’t looking. The kid was never as smooth as he thought he was. Hashim avoided these workshops as often as he could and usually only attended them if his Dad guilt tripped him into attending one. The Imam droned on for a few more minutes and then it was finally time to head out.

“Rashid!” I spun around to face the kid from his Art class.

“It’s me… Samad!” Samad replied.

“Oh… right. Hey, so what did you want to talk about?”

“You have no idea who I am … right?” Samad asked.

“Sorry… no. “

“That’s alright. Anyway… what time did you sign up for?”

“Five pm.” I  said silently hoping that Samad didn’t sign up for the same time. I  just wanted to head out but this kid was persistent.

         “Damn … I have the last shift.”

         “That’s a shame… well, I have to head out.” With that, I smiled at him and got inside my car. I was finally able to drive away.  I  turned on some music and listened to Eminem as I drove home.I was more introverted than most and preferred solitude to large gatherings which is why it was a miracle that I had even agreed to volunteer for that Da’wah booth. The only reason I went through with it was because Ammi had been so ecstatic when she heard that I didn’t want to disappoint her. 

      When I  finally arrived at home, it was already eight pm and Abbu was asleep on the couch. CNN played in the background and I have no idea why he  insisted on watching it whenever he was home when he could read about it or do anything else. I  quietly walked in, locked the door, and lowered the volume of the TV. I  knew if I  turned off the TV it would startle Abbu awake and Abbu didn’t get a lot of sleep recently so that was the last thing I  wanted to do. Instead, I put away my things and started to make dinner.

         A family friend had dropped off food so I  just had to heat it up. I wasn’t sure if Abbu ate so I  made two plates filled with Nihari, biriyani, and naan. The broth smelled of turmeric and other traditional spices. There were slow-cooked beef chunks in the stew and even though I had already eaten it was an overwhelming day and I tend to stress eat. I wasn’t planning on sleeping yet, so I  made some chai on the stove and added some cinnamon and spice. 

        Although I’m not an expert cook, I  knew my way around a kitchen.Ammi believed that both men and women should learn how to cook. It had been drilled into my  head that you needed food for survival and cooking isn’t just something for girls.  Still, I  appreciated it  when I didn’t have to worry about cooking even though the reason Aunties would send food is because they thought  Abbu  and I didn’t know how to cook. A common misconception. The aunties’ food was scrumptious, so we never corrected them when they made their assumptions. 

      I  sat at the dining table and it was only when I  was washing the dishes that Abbu woke up. “Ah, beta, you’re home!” Abbu exclaimed, as he rubbed his eyes and got up from the couch. “What did Aunty Samreena bring today?” 

      “Nihari, biriyani, and some naan. She also left a tray of pakoras and some samosas.” I  replied, as I handed Abbu his plate. 

Abbu smiled and microwaved his food. “Thanks for the chai, beta. How was  the workshop? You did go, right, Rashid?”

       “Yes, Abbu. I went and it was alright. I probably won’t do it again but I’ll go for the D’awah workshop over the weekend, Insha’ Allah!” Abbu patted my shoulder.  “Good, good, beta. Your Ammi will be pleased. Are you stopping by the hospital this weekend after the D’awah booth?” 

          “Yes, Abbu. I’m going to go upstairs. I’m meeting with Hashim and some others tomorrow evening. Do you want me to do anything before then?” 

       “That’s okay. I’ll be at the hospital in the evening after work, beta. I know Ammi didn’t want you to be there during the week but I’m sure she’ll want to see you over the weekend.” Abbu informed me as he started eating. I sipped my chai as I nodded along. I  didn’t get the logic, but I  knew better than to pressure Abbu into answering his questions about Ammi and the chemotherapy. 

           When Abbu was done, I  washed the dishes and we talked for a little while. Abbu got a call from a relative and I  rushed upstairs before Abbu could ask me to come and talk to whoever was on the phone. 

    I  turned on his TV and began to watch Hassan Minhaj’s Homecoming King. Hassan got what it was like being a kid from an immigrant family with all this pressure to be perfect. Hassan wasn’t perfect and he shared his struggles of being Brown in America. I  also thought it was hilarious how people used to view Hassan’s mom as a model. “She was like the iPhone 8 of Aligarh. Everyone was like, ‘Oh, my God, have you heard of Seema? She’s very slim and slender. Her family owns a camera,” Hassan said in Homecoming King and I shook my head. I looked at the TV in amusement. 

         When the show was over, we prayed Isha at the masjid and then headed back home. The masjid has a big dome shape in the center and two minaret.  By the end of the night, I scrolled through Instagram before drifting off. I’ve never been to a D’awah booth before and I never would’ve guessed that I’d meet my future wife at a booth.

Concrete Rose Is A Must-Read

Image from HarperCollins

Synopsis

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas is the prequel to The Hate U Give or THUG. The story is set in Garden Heights, when Starr’s Dad, Maverick, finds out he’s going to be a dad. It’s an important novel about racial injustice, death,sex, and discrimination.It has a more mature tone than THUG does.  Maverick is only seventeen when this happens and he has already been through so much trauma. In this book, he witnesses his cousin being shot in front of his own house.

Maverick Carter or Mav knows the importance of family. He’s the son of the former gang legend and he deals with the King Lords because his dad’s in prison and the money could help out his mom. His mom works two jobs and is doing the best that she can under the circumstances. He’s living in a society where he’s told he probably won’t make it big or be successful. He wants to show his kids that there’s something worth fighting for. But walking away from the King Lords comes with a price and no one walks away without consequences.It’s through his journey of becoming a father that Mav discovers what it’s like being a father.

Review

I can’t believe I only recently found out that authors Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, and Becky Albertalli wrote their characters into each other’s worlds. When you read Love, Creekwood you’ll know what I’m talking about and if not, here’s the twitter thread where I found out about it and it made me want to reread all of their books. You can read all about it on here and the authors have acknowledged it. Becky Albertalli also talks about it under the acknowledgment section in Love, Creekwood.

As a reader, I loved seeing how Mav changes when he realizes he’s going to be a dad. The only thing is he never had a good father as a role model because his dad was in prison. He also knows he can’t just walk away from the King Lords without facing the consequences. He’s also thankful for Lisa which makes me wonder why he cheated on her in the first place (this is not a spoiler if you’ve read The Hate U Give or if you have seen the movie). On the other hand, Lisa hints at how she’s feeling about all of this when she gives Starr advice years later. You’ve got to have a lot of strength to stay with someone who cheated on you, but I have to admit everyone’s situation is different and this is what happened in a fictional book.

My Rating

5/5 stars
5/5 stars

Final thoughts: I was rooting for Maverick even when I didn’t always agree with what he did. Overall, he’s a likeable character doing the best that he can under the circumstances. Mav’s story is just as compelling as Starr’s and it’s a must-read for everyone!

Here’s Why Wings of Ebony is a 5/5 Stars!

Synopsis

“Make a way out of no way” is just the way of life for Rue. But when her mother is shot dead on her doorstep, life for her and her younger sister changes forever. Rue’s taken from her neighborhood by the father she never knew, forced to leave her little sister behind, and whisked away to Ghizon–a hidden island of magic wielders.

Rue is the only half-god, half-human there, where leaders protect their magical powers at all costs and thrive on human suffering. Miserable and desperate to see her sister on the anniversary of their mother’s death, Rue breaks Ghizon’s sacred Do Not Leave Law and returns to Houston, only to discover that Black kids are being forced into crime and violence. And her sister, Tasha, is in danger of falling sway to the very forces that claimed their mother’s life.

Worse still, evidence mounts that the evil plaguing East Row is the same one that lurks in Ghizon–an evil that will stop at nothing until it has stolen everything from her and everyone she loves. Rue must embrace her true identity and wield the full magnitude of her ancestors’ power to save her neighborhood before the gods burn it to the ground.

Review

“Mom raised a diamond and diamonds don’t crack.” -J.Elle. This is what Rue often says when times are tough and she needs to power through it. Rue’s life changes the moment she witnesses her mother being shot dead in front of her. She’s sent to live with a father who abandoned her when she was younger and spends most of the time loathing him. Understandably so. Especially when her father forces her to leave her little sister behind because she’s not his daughter. Rue is. Rue’s father introduces her to Ghizon- a place for magic wielders. It turns out that Rue is special-she’s the only half-god, half-human.

Wings of Ebony is an incredible, fast-paced fantasy! The world-building was perfect and I adored Rue as a protagonist. When her sister, Tasha, is in danger Rue goes back to save her which puts them in danger. It’s an epic fantasy that has a lot of action, magic, and betrayal. I was able to predict one of the major events in the book, but that’s probably because I’m an avid reader and writer.

Rating

5/5 stars
5/5 stars

Although it was slightly predictable – (I knew one of the major plot points that was going to happen)I absolutely adored this because it happened at a different point in the book from when I assumed it was going to happen. Overall thoughts: Go pick up Wings of Ebony and #GiftWINGS!

Here’s Why You Need to Read the City of Plague God by Sarwat Chadda

City of Plague God by Sarwat Chadda
City of Plague God by Sarwat Chadda

Thank you SO much to Sarwat Chadda, Disney Books, and Net Galley for this ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) of the City of Plague God

Synopsis and Background

Thirteen=year old Sik always knew he was the Enkido to his older brother Mo’s Gilgamesh. But now that he’s gone, the God of Plagues, is after him, and Sik, Ishtar, and Belet are New York’s only hope. The books in the Rick Riordan Presents series talk about modern stories and myths/legends thrown in together from different cultures around the world.

Review

The City of Plague God is an incredible story that feature Muslim kids dealing with generational trauma, a pandemic, grief, and a plague.It also has an adorable orange tabby cat named Sargon! In his author’s note, Chadda discusses how Jihad has been misused in the media and what it actually means in Islam.Sik helps out in his parent’s deli and one day, he finds out that he’s immortal. I absolutely adored reading about the Mesopotamian mythology and the accurate Muslim rep in a fantasy series is everything I could ever want.

My Rating

5/5 stars pic
5/5 stars

I have no complaints about this book and I can’t wait to read more of Sarwat Chadda’s books! I read this pretty quickly because of how compelling it was so I can’t wait to see what Sarwat’s next book is.

The Top 5 K-dramas I can’t wait to binge-watch

If you’ve been following me on my old blog, then you know that I LOVE Korean Dramas (aka K-Dramas)! I love the pacing, the plot, and all of the twists. They’re irresistible. Here’s my top 5 K-dramas that I plan on watching this month!

1. True Beauty

True Beauty is based on the popular Webtoon written by Yaongyi . It follows Jugyeong Lim: a girl who’s constantly teased for her looks. So much so that she’s relieved when she’s told she’ll be switching schools due to a move. She ends up watching makeup beauty guru tutorials and learns how to enhance her looks. At her new school, she’s somehow caught between Suho Lee and Seojun Han; two boys with a tramautic past together.