How to Be the Best Third Wheel by Loridee De Villa

How to Be The Best Third Wheel blog banner that I made

Synopsis

It’s the last year of highschool, and everything has changed . . .

After a summer spent in the Philippines with her family, Lara Dela Cruz is eager to start her senior year and, most importantly, reunite with her three besties, Carol, Jasmine, and Kiera. Of course summer is the season of change, and Lara knew she’d have to get caught up on the major updates, hot gossip, and other shenanigans she may have missed. But what she did not expect was to show up on the first day of school to all three of her friends now in relationships.

The mushy public displays of affection and lunches spent gushing about their new “boyfries” has Lara quickly realizing her last year of high school is nothing like she imagined.

Since she’s been back, Lara’s long time frenemy, James, has become impossibly annoying. Sure, they are now both third wheels, but why is he asking her to tutor him in classes? And why, after they start spending more time together, does she begin to notice how cute he looks when he smiles . . . uh oh.

Fighting for the attention of her best friends, catching some pretty new and confusing feelings for James, and wading through the pressures post-high-school plans all have Lara reeling. And to make matters worse, Lara’s beautiful and untrustworthy cousin conveniently appears and wiggles her way right between her and James’ budding relationship. Feeling like a third wheel in more ways than one, Lara must learn to accept that change is inevitable, love is complicated, and being the odd one out is sometimes where inner power is found.

Gif with three cats that states: “When they say come join us you won’t be a third wheel.” Via GIPHY.

You’ll Like it if ..

💕 You want a clean, romance .

✨ Perfect for those who are around 11-15. I know my younger self would have LOVED this!!

🇵🇭 Philippine rep!

💖 For anyone who’s ever felt like a third wheel!

This book left me feeling like this:

Jane from Jane the Virgin looks down and then smiles via GIPHY.

I definitely feel like it’s perfect for a younger audience and I remember reading an earlier draft of it when I was younger which is why it’s so nostalgic for me.

If you’ve gotten to this point please feel free to let me know what book makes you feel nostalgic in the comments below!

Winnie the Pooh is holding a blue balloon and the text message sees: “See You!” Via GIPHY.

Ramadan Mubarak: Here’s My Favorite Books by Muslim Authors to Read This Ramadan!!

Ramadan Mubarak is next to a moon that also says Ramadan Mubarak in Arabic via GIPHY.

1. Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali

Love From A to Z book cover via Barnes & Nobles

Synopsis

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.

My Thoughts

I still can’t find the right words to describe how much I ADORE this book!! I love the airport meet-cute scene. The descriptions of Doha are also a lot of fun to read. What I especially love is how it’s not just a love story!!

Love from A to Z also tackles Islamophobia, a main character living with MS, and stuff that people in real life deal with!

Patrick from SpongeBob is looking up and smiling. There are pink hearts everywhere via GIPHY.

2. Salaam, With Love by Sara Sharaf Beg

Salaam, with Love by Sara Sharaf Beg

Synopsis

Being crammed into a house in Queens with her cousins is not how Dua envisions her trip to New York City. But here she is, spending the holy month of Ramadan with extended family she hasn’t seen in years.

Dua struggles to find her place in the conservative household and to connect with her aloof, engaged-to-be-married cousin, Mahnoor. And as if fasting the whole day wasn’t tiring enough, she must battle her hormones whenever she sees Hassan, the cute drummer in a Muslim band who has a habit of showing up at her most awkward moments.

After just a month, Dua is surprised to find that she’s learning a lot more than she bargained for about her faith, relationships, her place in the world—and cute drummers. . . .

Underlined is a line of totally addictive romance, thriller, and horror paperback original titles coming to you fast and furious each month. Enjoy everything you want to read the way you want to read it.

My Thoughts

This was the first time I read about a practicing Hijabi Muslim woman celebrating Ramadan. I loved the big family gatherings and I’m so happy that I’ve gotten to know the author on Twitter as well!! I love how Dua has a strong character development from the beginning of the book to the end. Her interactions with her family reminded me of some of my own interactions with my family. I adored seeing positive Muslim parental representation!!

3. All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir

All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir promo box from PenguinTeen!!

Synopsis

Lahore, Pakistan. Then.
Misbah is a dreamer and storyteller, newly married to Toufiq in an arranged match. After their young life is shaken by tragedy, they come to the United States and open the Clouds’ Rest Inn Motel, hoping for a new start.

Juniper, California. Now.
Salahudin and Noor are more than best friends; they are family. Growing up as outcasts in the small desert town of Juniper, California, they understand each other the way no one else does. Until The Fight, which destroys their bond with the swift fury of a star exploding.

Now, Sal scrambles to run the family motel as his mother Misbah’s health fails and his grieving father loses himself to alcoholism. Noor, meanwhile, walks a harrowing tightrope: working at her wrathful uncle’s liquor store while hiding the fact that she’s applying to college so she can escape him—and Juniper—forever.

When Sal’s attempts to save the motel spiral out of control, he and Noor must ask themselves what friendship is worth—and what it takes to defeat the monsters in their pasts and the ones in their midst.

From one of today’s most cherished and bestselling young adult authors comes a breathtaking novel of young love, old regrets, and forgiveness—one that’s both tragic and poignant in its tender ferocity.

My Thoughts

I wrote an article on this book for Pop-Culturalist and I also wrote an IG post on my bookstagram account @ meetcuteromancebooks!

4. Once Upon an Eid edited by Aisha Saeed and S.K. Ali

Once Upon an Eid book

This is a beautifully written anthology with 15 Muslim Voices!!

Synopsis

Eid! The short, single syllable word conjures up a variety of feelings and memories for Muslims. Maybe it’s waking up to the sound of frying samosas or the comfort of bean pie, maybe it’s the pleasure of putting on a new outfit for Eid prayers, or maybe it’s the gift giving and the holiday parties, or carnival rides to come that day. Whatever it may be, for those who cherish this day of celebration, the emotional responses may be summed up in another short and sweet word: joy.


Contributors include G. Willow Wilson, Hena Khan, N. H. Senzai, Hanna Alkaf, Rukhsana Khan, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Ashley Franklin, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, Candice Montgomery, Huda Al-Marashi, Ayesha Mattu, Asmaa Hussein, and Sara Alfageeh.

5. Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf

Queen of the Tiles Book Cover

Synopsis

CATALYST
13 points
noun: a substance that speeds up a reaction without itself changing

When Najwa Bakri walks into her first Scrabble competition since her best friend’s death, it’s with the intention to heal and move on with her life. Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to choose the very same competition where said best friend, Trina Low, died. It might be even though Najwa’s trying to change, she’s not ready to give up Trina just yet.

But the same can’t be said for all the other competitors. With Trina, the Scrabble Queen herself, gone, the throne is empty, and her friends are eager to be the next reigning champion. All’s fair in love and Scrabble, but all bets are off when Trina’s formerly inactive Instagram starts posting again, with cryptic messages suggesting that maybe Trina’s death wasn’t as straightforward as everyone thought. And maybe someone at the competition had something to do with it.

As secrets are revealed and the true colors of her friends are shown, it’s up to Najwa to find out who’s behind these mysterious posts—not just to save Trina’s memory, but to save herself.

Final Thoughts

So this is just part one of my list of Muslim Authored books!! I will try to do a part two after April 20th when I’m back in the US. For those who are celebrating: Ramadan Mubarak!! 🌙

Ramadan Mubarak with lanterns via GIPHY.

I’m currently in Sri Lanka (visiting my grandmother ) and the situation is pretty awful.

There’s a 36 hour curfew and all of social media is blocked. By all I mean Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even Snapchat! It’s to silence the protestors and I have to say I’m unsure if things will get better in Sri Lanka but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to return safely. My family and I are thankfully doing okay- just keeping an eye on the news and the curfew. People are panic buying and getting resources (even something as simple as eggs and water is a challenge). If you’re a Muslim and you’re celebrating Ramadan please keep the people of Sri Lanka in your du’aas/thoughts.

Tolkein Reading Day!!

What is Tolkien Reading Day? Tolkien Reading Day is held on the 25th of March each year. The date of the 25th of March was chosen as the date on which the Ring was destroyed, completing Frodo’s quest and vanquishing Sauron.

This year I made a mood board to celebrate Tolkein Reading Day!

Mood Board

Moodboard that I created using pics from Pinterest & Canva!!

According to the Tolkein Society: “It has been organised by the Tolkien Society since 2003 to encourage fans to celebrate and promote the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien by reading favourite passages. We particularly encourage schools, museums and libraries to host their own Tolkien Reading Day events.”

Question for The Readers: Are you an LOTR fan? How are you celebrating Tolkein Reading Day. Let me know in the comments!

Apologies for being MIA! I’ve been out of town to visit an elderly relative but I’ll be back to my regular posting schedule on April 20th.

All the March Releases I Can’t Wait For!

So March is also my birthday and this year I’ll be turning 25.

It’s kind of hard to believe and this year has been a lot. I am finally done with the praxis exam which is 5 hours with no break. Yeah. That wasn’t a typo. I literally had no break and it was just go go go from one section to the next.

Joshua Basset is sitting down and says : “This is a nightmare!” Via GIPHY.

I have a new semester starting in March and a lot going on in my personal life that’s occasionally overwhelming which is why I haven’t posted on here as often as I would like to. I really wish I could promise regular posts, but I will try to update monthly with the exception being Ramadan.

Qotd: How’s everyone doing? Let me know in the comments. Are you excited about any of the releases that I mention below?

Okay, on to what everyone’s waiting for: THE BOOKS!

A woman says: “I’d be fine with just the books!” Via GIPHY.

1. All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir

All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir – pic that I took.

Release Date: March 1st!

Synopsis

Lahore, Pakistan. Then.

Misbah is a dreamer and storyteller, newly married to Toufiq in an arranged match. After their young life is shaken by tragedy, they come to the United States and open the Clouds’ Rest Inn Motel, hoping for a new start.

Juniper, California. Now.

Salahudin and Noor are more than best friends; they are family. Growing up as outcasts in the small desert town of Juniper, California, they understand each other the way no one else does. Until The Fight, which destroys their bond with the swift fury of a star exploding. 

Now, Sal scrambles to run the family motel as his mother Misbah’s health fails and his grieving father loses himself to alcoholism. Noor, meanwhile, walks a harrowing tightrope: working at her wrathful uncle’s liquor store while hiding the fact that she’s applying to college so she can escape him – and Juniper – forever.

When Sal’s attempts to save the motel spiral out of control, he and Noor must ask themselves what friendship is worth – and what it takes to defeat the monsters in their pasts and the ones in their midst.

YODA : Heal You, I must via GIPHY.

2. Travelers Along the Way: a Robinhood Remix by Amina Mae Safi

Travelers Along the Way by Amina Mae Safi cover.

Release Date: March 1st!

Synopsis

Jerusalem, 1192. The Third Crusade rages on. Rahma al-Hud loyally followed her elder sister Zeena into the war over the Holy Land, but now that the Faranji invaders have gotten reinforcements from Richard the Lionheart, all she wants to do is get herself and her sister home alive.

But Zeena, a soldier of honor at heart, refuses to give up the fight while Jerusalem remains in danger of falling back into the hands of the false Queen Isabella. And so, Rahma has no choice but to take on one final mission with her sister.

On their journey to Jerusalem, Rahma and Zeena come across a motley collection of fellow travelers―including a kind-hearted Mongolian warrior, an eccentric Andalusian scientist, a frustratingly handsome spy with a connection to Rahma’s childhood, and an unfortunate English chaplain abandoned behind enemy lines. The teens all find solace, purpose and camaraderie―as well as a healthy bit of mischief―in each other’s company.

But their travels soon bring them into the orbit of Queen Isabella herself, whose plans to re-seize power in Jerusalem would only guarantee further war and strife in the Holy Land for years to come. And so it falls to the merry band of misfits to use every scrap of cunning and wit (and not a small amount of thievery) to foil the usurper queen and perhaps finally restore peace to the land.

3. Love, Decoded by Jennifer Yen

Release Date: March 8th!

Synopsis

Love , Decoded by Jennifer Yen

High school junior Gigi Wong strives to be the best. After all, that’s what everyone expects of her—her parents, friends, and even potential colleges. Thankfully, her best friend, Kyle, is always there to listen with a smile and a delicious bowl of ramen. Still, with her future—and her dreams—on the line, how is she to stand out when her classmates seem so perfect too?

Her answer comes in the form of an app writing contest. If Gigi can secure the nomination to represent her school, she has a chance at a prestigious tech internship. That’s sure to get her applications noticed . . . All she needs is a winning entry.

When transfer student and new friend Etta confides that she’s struggling to fit in, it gives Gigi an idea. What if she takes what she’s learned from shadowing her aunt Rose, a professional matchmaker, to create a fun friend-making app? Perfect!

When Gigi’s app goes viral at school, she’s the center of attention–and a major scandal. She never meant to hurt anyone, let alone Etta and Kyle. Can she save all she worked so hard for and the relationships that mean so much to her?

Nam Joo Hyuk is smiling via Netflix’s Start-Up.

4. Kamila Knows Best by Farah Heron

Release Date: March 8th!

A finished copy of Kamila Knows Best by Farah Heron- this is a pic that I took

Synopsis

This is an Emma retelling!

Kamila Hussain’s life might not be perfect, but, whew, it’s close. She lives a life of comfort, filled with her elaborate Bollywood movie parties, a dog with more Instagram followers than most reality stars, a job she loves, and an endless array of friends who clearly need her help finding love. In fact, Kamila is so busy with her friends’ love lives, she’s hardly given any thought to her own . . .

Fortunately, Kamila has Rohan Nasser. A longtime friend of the family, he’s hugely successful, with the deliciously lean, firm body of a rock climber. Only lately, Kamila’s “harmless flirting” with Rohan is making her insides do a little bhangra dance.

But between planning the local shelter’s puppy prom, throwing a huge work event, and proving to everyone that she’s got it all figured out, Kamila isn’t letting herself get distracted—until her secret nemesis returns to town with an eye for Rohan. Suddenly, it seems like the more Kamila tries to plan, the more things are starting to unravel—and her perfectly ordered life is about to be turned upside down.

“It is the greatest amusement in the world!” Via Emma.

5. Squire by Sara Alfageeh & Nadia Shammas

Squire Book Cover

Release Date: March 8th!

Synopsis

Aiza has always dreamt of becoming a Knight. It’s the highest military honor in the once-great Bayt-Sajji Empire, and as a member of the subjugated Ornu people, Knighthood is her only path to full citizenship. Ravaged by famine and mounting tensions, Bayt-Sajji finds itself on the brink of war once again, so Aiza can finally enlist in the competitive Squire training program. 

It’s not how she imagined it, though. Aiza must navigate new friendships, rivalries, and rigorous training under the unyielding General Hende, all while hiding her Ornu background. As the pressure mounts, Aiza realizes that the “greater good” that Bayt-Sajji’s military promises might not include her, and that the recruits might be in greater danger than she ever imagined.

Character says : “This is a lie for the greater good!” Via Netflix.

6. Blood Scion by Deborah Falaye

Blood Scion book cover

Synopsis

Fifteen-year-old Sloane can incinerate an enemy at will—she is a Scion, a descendant of the ancient Orisha gods.

Under the Lucis’ brutal rule, her identity means her death if her powers are discovered. But when she is forcibly conscripted into the Lucis army on her fifteenth birthday, Sloane sees a new opportunity: to overcome the bloody challenges of Lucis training, and destroy them from within.

7. Dating Dr. Dil by Nisha Sharma

Release Date: March 15th!!

Dating Dr. Dil Book Cover

Synopsis

Nisha Sharma’s new romantic comedy features enemies to lovers, a cast of best friends, and a gaggle of aunties determined to make a match.

Hi! I’m Kareena Mann. As cheesy as it sounds, I’m looking for my soulmate. In four months. And he must gain the approval of my meddling aunties.

Kareena dreams of having a perfect love story like her parents did. That’s why on the morning of her thirtieth birthday, she’s decided to suit up and enter the dating arena. When her widowed father announces he’s retiring and selling their home after her sister’s engagement party, Kareena makes a deal with him. If she can find her soulmate by the date of the party, he’ll gift her the house, and she’ll be able to keep her mother’s legacy alive. 

Hi, I’m Dr. Prem Verma, host of the Dr. Dil Show. Prem means love, Dil means heart, and I’m a cardiologist. Don’t let my name fool you. I only fix broken hearts in the literal sense.

Prem doesn’t have time for romance, which is why it’s no surprise when his first meeting with Kareena goes awry. Their second encounter is worse when their on-air debate about love goes viral. Now Prem’s largest community center donor is backing out because Prem’s reputation as a heart-health expert is at risk. To get back in his donor’s good graces, he needs to fix his image fast, and dating Kareena is his only option.

Even though they have warring interests, the more time Prem spends with Kareena, the more he thinks she’s might actually be the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with. In this Taming of the Shrew re-imagination, for Prem and Kareena to find their happily ever after, they must admit that hate has turned into fate.

Marie from Aristocats says: “How romantic!” Via GIPHY.

8. A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lim

A Magic Steeped in Poison book cover

Synopsis

Release Date: March 29th!!

I used to look at my hands with pride. Now all I can think is, “These are the hands that buried my mother.”

For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her―the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.

When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi―masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making―she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life. 

But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.

Uncle Iroh says: “Here, have some calming tea!”

9. Wave by Diana Farid & Kris Goto

Wave book cover

Synopsis

Thirteen-year-old Ava loves to surf and to sing. Singing and reading Rumi poems settle her mild OCD, and catching waves with her best friend, Phoenix, lets her fit in—her olive skin looks tan, not foreign. But then Ava has to spend the summer before ninth grade volunteering at the hospital, to follow in her single mother’s footsteps to become a doctor.

And when Phoenix’s past lymphoma surges back, not even surfing, singing, or poetry can keep them afloat, threatening Ava’s hold on the one place and the one person that make her feel like she belongs. With ocean-like rhythm and lyricism, Wave is about a girl who rides the waves, tumbles, and finds her way back to the shore.

Moana high fives an ocean.

10. Four Aunties and a Wedding by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Four Aunties and a Wedding Book Cover

Synopsis

Meddy Chan has been to countless weddings, but she never imagined how her own would turn out. Now the day has arrived, and she can’t wait to marry her college sweetheart, Nathan. Instead of having Ma and the aunts cater to her wedding, Meddy wants them to enjoy the day as guests. As a compromise, they find the perfect wedding vendors: a Chinese-Indonesian family-run company just like theirs. Meddy is hesitant at first, but she hits it off right away with the wedding photographer, Staphanie, who reminds Meddy of herself, down to the unfortunately misspelled name. 

Meddy realizes that is where their similarities end, however, when she overhears Staphanie talking about taking out a target. Horrified, Meddy can’t believe Staphanie and her family aren’t just like her own, they are The Family—actual mafia, and they’re using Meddy’s wedding as a chance to conduct shady business. Her aunties and mother won’t let Meddy’s wedding ceremony become a murder scene—over their dead bodies—and will do whatever it takes to save her special day, even if it means taking on the mafia.

Pikachu and Piplup wave goodbye via GIPHY!

That’s all for now!

All the Right Reasons Turn the Pages Tour

All the Right Reasons Blog Banner Turn the Pages Tour

Book Information

Synopsis

My Review

Gilmore Girls Emily and Lorelai are wearing matching outfits and the song Girls Just Wanna Have Fun plays in the background during this scene via GIPHY.

Trigger Warnings: toxic parent relationship

I really liked that this is centered around Cara and her mother. It definitely screams Gilmore Girls! I loved the family vibes in it more than the romance. I think this book was a lot of fun and I liked learning more about the behind the scenes of being in a reality tv show. I also enjoyed reading about Cara and she’s got a very strong voice. Cara’s parents are divorced and she’s dealing with the addition of a stepmother in her family.

My RATING

4/5 stars!!

About the Author

About

https://www.instagram.com/bethanymangle/

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19831288.BethanyMangle

The Top 5 Shows I’m Watching this month!

1. The Book of Boba Fett

Boba fett from Disney Plus

This is an action packed show and I love that the actress who plays Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) from Agents of Shield also plays a bad ass character in this show!

2. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Phil Coulson says Boo-yah! Via GIPHY.

I’m on season 6 and it’s an incredible show so far!!

3. Only Murders in the Building

Selena Gomez as Mabel in Only Murders in the Building via GIPHY.

I freaking love this show!! Selena Gomez, Steve Martin, & Micheal Scott are phenomenal in Only Murders in the Building. You can stream this on Hulu.

4. Fruits Basket Season 2

Tohru from Fruits Basket is smiling via GIPHY.

This is such a good show!! I’m on season 2 and I love the character development. Every episode is even better than the previous one. There is never a dull moment.

5. Sweet Mangolias

Helen smiles and says: “Perfect!” via GIPHY.

I love that season 2 of Sweet Mangolias included a hijabi Muslim as a doctor on the show! I wish she had more lines and that she had a more prominent role. Overall, this was an incredible show and Helen is my favorite of the three Sweet Mangolias. My second favorite is Maddie. This show is perfect for fans of Gilmore Girls and Good Trouble! It’s got a lot of family drama and I like the fact that the parents play a prominent role in their kid’s lives.

Question: If you’re still reading this, what shows are you currently watching or hoping to watch next?

My thoughts on being a writer

I just wanted to start off by saying I’ve always loved writing. I think my mistake began by sharing early rough drafts with others. In the beginning I thought I had a thick skin for whatever negative things critique partners might say. And, for a while I did.

I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d ever write about this. I joined a critique group online and that’s when things started to go wrong. One person went so far as to say that I should read writing resource books that they read when they were ten because apparently my writing was just that shitty.

I get that not everyone will like my writing. That’s totally okay. What’s not okay is to act condescending towards another writer because you think they’re writing is awful. It’s totally fine to write negative reviews – yes even on goodreads! Especially since reviews on goodreads are meant to help a book. However, when you’re entrusted with someone else’s manuscript you can definitely tell them that they need to improve their grammar or that sentences are redundant. But, don’t tell them something if you wouldn’t say it to their face or to your friend’s face.

I’m still going to keep writing eventually. But, I’m planning on taking down the writer’s nook portion of the site and maybe even a break from writing books for this month. I need to figure out how I’m going to move forward especially since writing has always been therapeutic and fun for me. I know I’m not an expert writer, but I wouldn’t call myself a shitty one either. I’ll leave The Writer’s Nook Posts up until Friday before I take them down for those who want to read the writing posts.

Our Beloved Summer is so cute!!

Our Beloved Summer kdrama via GIPHY

Synopsis

The series is a coming-of-age story about a former couple who are forced to come together again when a documentary they shot in high school goes viral!

My Review

I adore the cast and the storyline so far! I’m only on episode 11 but there’s so much more to it than I initially expected . It’s one of my highly anticipated K-Dramas and I will have another blog post once I’m done watching it! I’m not rating it until I’m done but it’s so so cute!

Do you watch K-Dramas or Any Asian dramas? I’ve also started a new Thai series called Bad Bunny and I’m planning on watching the rest of Suspicious Partner next!

Two guys are smiling and waving via GIPHY.

Books I’m Excited to Read in February

Tokyo Dreaming

Princess Diaries via GIPHY me ? A Princess?! Shut Up!

Synopsis

When Japanese-American Izumi Tanaka learned her father was the Crown Prince of Japan, she became a princess overnight. Now, she’s overcome conniving cousins, salacious press, and an imperial scandal to finally find a place she belongs. She has a perfect bodyguard turned boyfriend. Her stinky dog, Tamagotchi, is living with her in Tokyo. Her parents have even rekindled their college romance and are engaged. A royal wedding is on the horizon! Izumi’s life is a Tokyo dream come true. 

Only…

Her parent’s engagement hits a brick wall. The Imperial Household Council refuses to approve the marriage citing concerns about Izumi and her mother’s lack of pedigree. And on top of it all, her bodyguard turned boyfriend makes a shocking decision about their relationship. At the threat of everything falling apart, Izumi vows to do whatever it takes to help win over the council. Which means upping her newly acquired princess game. 

But at what cost? Izumi will do anything to help her parents achieve their happily ever after, but what if playing the perfect princess means sacrificing her own? Will she find a way to forge her own path and follow her heart?

Crazy Rich Asians via GIPHY

I got an arc of this so I’m super excited to read it!

Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

Dory saying Just keep reading, just keep reading via GIPHY.

Synopsis

A captivating debut fantasy inspired by the legend of the Chinese moon goddess, Chang’e , in which a young woman’s quest to free her mother pits her against the most powerful immortal in the realm and sets her on a dangerous path—where choices come with deadly consequences, and she risks losing more than her heart.

Growing up on the moon, Xingyin is accustomed to solitude, unaware that she is being hidden from the powerful Celestial Emperor who exiled her mother for stealing his elixir of immortality. But when Xingyin’s magic flares and her existence is discovered, she is forced to flee her home, leaving her mother behind. 

Alone, untrained, and afraid, she makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom, a land of wonder and secrets. Disguising her identity, she seizes an opportunity to learn alongside the Crown Prince, mastering archery and magic, even as passion flames between her and the emperor’s son. 

To save her mother, Xingyin embarks on a perilous quest, confronting legendary creatures and vicious enemies across the earth and skies. When treachery looms and forbidden magic threatens the kingdom, however, she must challenge the ruthless Celestial Emperor for her dream—striking a dangerous bargain in which she is torn between losing all she loves or plunging the realm into chaos.

Something Wilder by Christina Lauren

Synopsis

When I’m doubt go to the library via GIPHY.

Growing up the daughter of notorious treasure hunter and absentee father Duke Wilder left Lily without much patience for the profession…or much money in the bank. But Lily is nothing if not resourceful, and now uses Duke’s coveted hand-drawn maps to guide tourists on fake treasure hunts through the red rock canyons of Utah. It pays the bills but doesn’t leave enough to fulfill her dream of buying back the beloved ranch her father sold years ago, and definitely not enough to deal with the sight of the man she once loved walking back into her life with a motley crew of friends ready to hit the trails. Frankly, Lily would like to take him out into the wilderness—and leave him there.

Leo Grady knew mirages were a thing in the desert, but they’d barely left civilization when the silhouette of his greatest regret comes into focus in the flickering light of the campfire. Ready to leave the past behind him, Leo wants nothing more than to reconnect with his first and only love. Unfortunately, Lily Wilder is all business, drawing a clear line in the sand: it’s never going to happen.

But when the trip goes horribly and hilariously wrong, the group wonders if maybe the legend of the hidden treasure wasn’t a gimmick after all. There’s a chance to right the wrongs—of Duke’s past and their own—but only if Leo and Lily can confront their history and work together. Alone under the stars in the isolated and dangerous mazes of the Canyonlands, Leo and Lily must decide whether they’ll risk their lives and hearts on the adventure of a lifetime.

I got an arc of this and I’m so excited because I ADORE Christina Lauren’s books!!! It’s so freaking good and I absolutely love them. They’re the perfect romance book to read on a cold winter day.

What are you reading this weekend?

Harley Quinn sipping coffee and reading a book via GIPHY.

The Top 10 Highly Anticipated Sequels of 2022

Here are all the sequels I’m excited for this year!

1. Ashes of Gold

Ashes of Gold book cover

Synopsis

In the heart-pounding conclusion to the Wings of Ebony duology, which #1 New York Times bestselling author Nicole Yoon calls “bold, inventive, big-hearted and deeply perceptive,” Rue makes her final stand to reclaim her people’s stolen magic.

Rue has no memory of how she ended up locked in a basement prison without her magic or her allies. But she’s a girl from the East Row. And girls from the East Row don’t give up. Girls from the East Row pick themselves back up when they fall. Girls from the East Row break themselves out.

But reuniting with her friends is only half the battle. When she finds them again, Rue makes a vow: she will find a way to return the magic that the Chancellor has stolen from her father’s people. Yet even on Yiyo Peak, Rue is a misfit—with half a foot back in Houston and half a heart that is human as well as god, she’s not sure she’s the right person to lead the fight to reclaim a glorious past. 

When a betrayal sends her into a tailspin, Rue must decide who to trust and how to be the leader that her people deserve…because if she doesn’t, it isn’t just Yiyo that will be destroyed—it will be Rue herself.

I got an arc of this and it was incredible!! The world-building and the magic was so good.

2. Bloodmarked by Tracey Deonn

Bloodmarked Cover book by Tracey Deonn

Synopsis

The shadows have risen, and the line is law.

All Bree wanted was to uncover the truth behind her mother’s death. So she infiltrated the Legendborn Order, a secret society descended from King Arthur’s knights—only to discover her own ancestral power. Now, Bree has become someone new:

A Medium. A Bloodcrafter. A Scion.

But the ancient war between demons and the Order is rising to a deadly peak. And Nick, the Legendborn boy Bree fell in love with, has been kidnapped.

Bree wants to fight, but the Regents who rule the Order won’t let her. To them, she is an unknown girl with unheard-of power, and as the living anchor for the spell that preserves the Legendborn cycle, she must be protected.

When the Regents reveal they will do whatever it takes to hide the war, Bree and her friends must go on the run to rescue Nick themselves. But enemies are everywhere, Bree’s powers are unpredictable and dangerous, and she can’t escape her growing attraction to Selwyn, the mage sworn to protect Nick until death.

If Bree has any hope of saving herself and the people she loves, she must learn to control her powers from the ancestors who wielded them first—without losing herself in the process.

I’m on the list to get an arc of this and I can’t wait!

3. Love from Mecca to Medina by S.K. Ali

There’s no cover for it, but S.K. Ali recently shared the news that this is the sequel for Love from A to Z . The manuscript has been submitted to her agent and I am so excited to read this!!

4. Loveboat Reunion by Abigail Hung Wen

Loveboat Reunion by Abigail Hung Wen

Synopsis

Hearts were broken, revenge was plotted—but at least they’re friends now. They left the drama behind them back in Taipei—at their summer program, Loveboat—forever.

Now that fall is here, they’re focusing on what really matters. Sophie has sworn off boys and is determined to be the best student Dartmouth’s ever had. Xavier just wants to stay under his overbearing father’s radar, collect his trust fund when he turns eighteen, and concentrate on what makes him happy.

But the world doesn’t seem to want Sophie and Xavier to succeed. Sophie’s college professor thinks her first major project is “too feminine.” Xavier’s father gives him an ultimatum: finish high school or be cut off from his inheritance.

Then Sophie and Xavier find themselves on a wild, nonstop Loveboat reunion, hatching a joint plan to take control of their futures. Can they succeed together . . . or are they destined to combust?

I got an arc of this and it was so swoon-worthy!!

5. One True Loves by Elise Bryant

One True Loves Book Cover

Synopsis

Headed to New York University as an “undeclared” major, Lenore Bennett is feeling the pressure of figuring out what she wants to do in life. It’s a stress heightened by her parents, who want her to be as prepared as possible. On a post-graduation European cruise, she meets Alex Lee, who has the next ten years of his life mapped out. He’s exactly the type of person she’d never be interested in. That is, until the two spend more time together and she finds herself completely, totally falling for him.

This was so adorable and I loved the arc I got.

6. The Fae Keeper by H.E. Edgmon

The Fae Keeper Cover

Synopsis

This highly anticipated sequel to The Witch King picks up with the door to Faery closed and everything in chaos. After abolishing the corrupt Guard, Emyr and Wyatt are simultaneously hunting Derek and Clarke and trying to get other kingdoms to follow their lead. And in the midst of it all, they discover a truth about witches’ real place in fae society and realize Asalin’s problems might be more than the two of them can fix.

7. Godslayers by Zoe Hana Mikuto

GodSlayers book cover

Synopsis

It has been months since Heavensday, when the Gearbreakers landed a blow against Godolia, and the rebels who have escaped retribution are being hunted by the last Zenith, the only surviving Godolia leader. While Eris is being held prisoner, Sona now believes herself a loyal soldier for Godolia, after a cybernetic brainwashing courtesy of the Zenith. The rebels last hope may depend on Eris and Sona finding their way back to each other.

8. Shattered Midnight by Dhonielle Clayton

Shattered Midnight by Dhonielle Clayton

Synopsis

Zora comes to New Orleans as a Black woman from the south that’s escaping her magical gift and the accidents it has caused. All she has with her is magical red shoes and a perfect singing voice, as well as a bag of clothes. She tries to blend in, trying to avoid her mean family there and trying not to draw too much attention, and one day she gets an opportunity she cannot refuse to play at a known jazz club. There, she meets Phillip, who also has magic and a mirror that tells the future and could change her life.

What follows is a tale of forbidden love and the secret family connections that can come to haunt us, perfect for those seeking a unique escape.

9. Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko

Redemptor book Cover

Synopsis

For the first time, an Empress Redemptor sits on Aritsar’s throne. To appease the sinister spirits of the dead, Tarisai must now anoint a council of her own, coming into her full power as a Raybearer. She must then descend into the Underworld, a sacrifice to end all future atrocities.

Tarisai is determined to survive. Or at least, that’s what she tells her increasingly distant circle of friends. Months into her shaky reign as empress, child spirits haunt her, demanding that she pay for past sins of the empire.

With the lives of her loved ones on the line, assassination attempts from unknown quarters, and a handsome new stranger she can’t quite trust . . . Tarisai fears the pressure may consume her. But in this finale to the Raybearer duology, Tarisai must learn whether to die for justice . . . or to live for it.

10. Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong

Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong

This book came out this year and it’s one of the best sequels I’ve ever read.

Synopsis

Summary: The year is 1927, and Shanghai teeters on the edge of revolution. After sacrificing her relationship with Roma to protect him from the blood feud, Juliette has been a girl on a mission. One wrong move, and her cousin will step in to usurp her place as the Scarlet Gang’s heir.

What sequels are you excited for? Let me know in the comments down below.

Pikachu is waving goodbye via GIPHY

The Top 5 Best and Worse Movies from 2021

The Best

1. Spider-Man: No Way Hone

Tom Holland as Spider-Man

This was one of my highly anticipated movies and it was so freaking awesome!! I loved every minute of this. No spoilers but: It’s beautiful and heartbreaking.

2. Black Widow

Natasha is doing the pose! via GIPHY.

“Why do you always do that thing? That thing you do when you’re fighting? With the arm and the hair, when you do like a fighting pose.” -Yelena says to Natasha in Black Widow.

This movie was heartbreaking and incredible! I loved learning more about Natasha.

3. Shang-Chi

Shang in Shang-Chi via GIPHY.

Shang and Katy have this beautiful friendship dynamic in Shang-Chi. I loved how bad-ass all of the characters were.

4. Always & Forever, Lara Jean

Lara Jean at Prom Night I’m Always & Forever, Lara Jean via Netflix.

The final installment in the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It’s one of my favorite book to movie adaptations!

My friends and I talked about it on my podcast, Raise Your Words earlier this year. You can tune in by clicking here.

If you like the episode don’t forget to rate us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you’re tuning in from! We appreciate all of our listeners.

5. Cruella

Cruella states: “You In?” Via GIPHY.

I had so much fun watching Cruella! This movie was unexpected and hilarious.

The Worse

Michael Scott states: “This is the worst!” Via GIPHY

1. He’s All That

He’s All That GIPHY caption states: “You don’t think I can do it?”

He’s All That is so terrible it’s honestly not even worth the watch.

2. The Kissing Booth 3

Elle says: “The Best Summer Ever … Period!” Via Netflix.

Instead of talking about this, I think it’s better if y’all listened to the episode my friends and I did on The Kissing Booth 3.

3. Cinderella (Camila Cabello)

Camila Cabello via Amazon Prime.

Camila Cabello stars in Amazon’s Cinderella. Don’t get me wrong – I love Camila’s songs and have been listening to her music since The Ex-Factor. The Amazon version of Cinderella was NOT it.

4. Home Sweet Home Alone

Home Sweet Home Alone via Disney Plus’s movie. The kid states: “They don’t even know I’m here!”

I loved the classic Home Alones with Macaulay Culkin. But the premise for this wasn’t nearly as exciting. It was lame and had a terrible ending.

5. The Suicide Squad

Harley Quinn smiles via GIPHY.

I loved The Suicide Squad in the CW show and the cast for the movie was pretty good, but I wasn’t a fan of the premise.

What was your favorite and least favorite movies from this year?

Let me know in the comments below!

Spotify Unwrapped Book Challenge

@itskooreviews tagged me in the Spotify Unwrapped Book Challenge 2021. I love pairing music and books, so thank you so much for tagging me. It’s also great for an end of the year wrap up. (Intro from @ itskoosreviews)!

“The idea of this challenge is to put your playlist on shuffle, and for the first five songs, you need to pick a book you read in 2021 that fits that song. It doesn’t have to be a perfect fit. You just have to explain why you chose that book for that song. There may not be a book match for every song, so please feel free to skip.”

Song: Real Friends by Camila Cabello, Swae Lee

Book: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas via Bookshop.org.

Hailey is the definition of being a toxic friend. She doesn’t actually care about Starr or any of the struggles that Starr has endured. Maya Yang on the other hand is Starr’s actual friend and I loved that The Hate U Give touches on that.

Starr in The Hate U Give movie adaptation.

You can pick up your copy here!

Song: It’s Nice to Have a Friend by Taylor Swift

Book: Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli.

Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli via Bookshop.org.

“Have my back, yeah, everyday/ Feels like home, stay in bed.”

Kate and Anderson always have each other’s back. That is, until they end up fighting over the same person.

You can buy your copy here!

Leah asks Simon: “Do you ever feel weird?” In Love, Simon.

Song: Shakespeare by Miranda Cosgrove

Book: Misfit in Love by S.K. Ali

Misfit in Love by S.K. Ali via Bookshop.org

This is an old love song and I think it’s perfect when it comes to describing Sarah and Muhammad’s relationship in Misfit in Love.

Here’s my interview with S.K. Ali!

You can get your copy from this link!

Schmidt asks Cece: “Can you stop looking at me like that, please?” Via GIPHY.

Song: Over Again by One Direction

Book: These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong.

These Violent Delights via Bookshop.org

Roma and Juliette reminds me of the line: “Hole in the middle of my heart like a polo/And it’s no joke to me.” These Violent Delights is a Romeo and Juliette retelling with a darker twist set in Shanghai.

You can check out my interview with Chloe here.

Here’s the link for the book!

Taylor Swift in her music video “Love Story.” Via GIPHY.

Song: Soon You’ll Get Better by Taylor Swift ft. The Chicks

Book: You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao!

You’ve Reached Sam – picture I took

You can read my interview with Dustin here!

You’ve Reached Sam talks about grief in a way I’ve never seen before and Soon You’ll Get Better is one of Taylor’s best sad songs.

That’s a Wrap via GIPHY.

Alright, that’s all for now! I’ll see y’all in the New Year.

I’m tagging: (only if you want to do this)

Latesha from BookishGirlMagic

Amna from perusingbooks

BookishRantings

A girl says: “and you!” points fingers and smile
Mr. Rogers smile and says: “SEE YOU NEXT TIME!” Via GIPHY.

The Best Books I’ve Read in 2021!

Hello, everyone!! I know it’s been awhile since my last post and I have to be honest grad school life has sucked out any ounce of creativity that I had.

Belle states: I just finished the most wonderful story via Giphy.

1. All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir

Sadie Sink from the All Too Well The Short Film via Giphy

This book comes out in March and thanks to Penguin Teen I got an ARC of it! This is heartbreakingly beautiful and is a must-read for everyone!!

Here’s a synopsis:

Lahore, Pakistan. Then.
Misbah is a dreamer and storyteller, newly married to Toufiq in an arranged match. After their young life is shaken by tragedy, they come to the United States and open the Cloud’s Rest Inn Motel, hoping for a new start.

Juniper, California. Now.
Salahudin and Noor are more than best friends; they are family. Growing up as outcasts in the small desert town of Juniper, California, they understand each other the way no one else does. Until The Fight, which destroys their bond with the swift fury of a star exploding.

Now, Sal scrambles to run the family motel as his mother Misbah’s health fails and his grieving father loses himself to alcoholism. Noor, meanwhile, walks a harrowing tightrope: working at her wrathful uncle’s liquor store while hiding the fact that she’s applying to college so she can escape him—and Juniper—forever.

When Sal’s attempts to save the motel spiral out of control, he and Noor must ask themselves what friendship is worth—and what it takes to defeat the monsters in their pasts and the ones in their midst.

From one of today’s most cherished and bestselling young adult authors comes a breathtaking novel of young love, old regrets, and forgiveness—one that’s both tragic and poignant in its tender ferocity.

2. Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

From You’ve Got Mail via Giphy.

This is a book that I resonate with a lot! I already posted my in-depth book review of all the reasons why I adore it earlier this year.

Here’s the 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.

3. Misfit in Love by S.K. Ali

Two rings and underneath it says Forever via Giphy.

The best Muslim wedding! Here’s the synopsis:

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 b

4. The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

Kylo and Rey from Star Wars

This is a book I’ve been rereading. It’s the perfect book to read after finals! If fake dating between scientists appeal to you then this is for you!! For those who don’t know this is also a Kylo x Rey fanfic. Here’s what it’s about:

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.

5. Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong

Taylor Swift in her Love Story music video via Giphy.

This epic conclusion to the duology is a must-read! It’s a Romeo and Juliet retelling. Here’s what it’s about:

The year is 1927, and Shanghai teeters on the edge of revolution. 

After sacrificing her relationship with Roma to protect him from the blood feud, Juliette has been a girl on a mission. One wrong move, and her cousin will step in to usurp her place as the Scarlet Gang’s heir. The only way to save the boy she loves from the wrath of the Scarlets is to have him want her dead for murdering his best friend in cold blood. If Juliette were actually guilty of the crime Roma believes she committed, his rejection might sting less. 

Roma is still reeling from Marshall’s death, and his cousin Benedikt will barely speak to him. Roma knows it’s his fault for letting the ruthless Juliette back into his life, and he’s determined to set things right—even if that means killing the girl he hates and loves with equal measure. 

Then a new monstrous danger emerges in the city, and though secrets keep them apart, Juliette must secure Roma’s cooperation if they are to end this threat once and for all. Shanghai is already at a boiling point: The Nationalists are marching in, whispers of civil war brew louder every day, and gangster rule faces complete annihilation. Roma and Juliette must put aside their differences to combat monsters and politics, but they aren’t prepared for the biggest threat of all: protecting their hearts from each other.

6. A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir

I like big books and I cannot lie via Giphy.

This is one of my favorite series ever!! Here’s what it’s about:

Picking up just a few months after A Reaper at the Gates left off…

The long-imprisoned jinn are on the attack, wreaking bloody havoc in villages and cities alike. But for the Nightbringer, vengeance on his human foes is just the beginning.

By his side, Commandant Keris Veturia declares herself Empress, and calls for the heads of any and all who defy her rule. At the top of the list? The Blood Shrike and her remaining family.

Laia of Serra, now allied with the Blood Shrike, struggles to recover from the loss of the two people most important to her. Determined to stop the approaching apocalypse, she throws herself into the destruction of the Nightbringer. In the process, she awakens an ancient power that could lead her to victory—or to an unimaginable doom.

And deep in the Waiting Place, the Soul Catcher seeks only to forget the life—and love—he left behind. Yet doing so means ignoring the trail of murder left by the Nightbringer and his jinn. To uphold his oath and protect the human world from the supernatural, the Soul Catcher must look beyond the borders of his own land. He must take on a mission that could save—or destroy—all that he knows.

7. We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal

Effie says May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor via Giphy.

If you’re looking for another epic duology this is it!! Here’s the synopsis:

Darkness surged in his veins. Power bled from her bones.

The battle on Sharr is over. The Arz has fallen. Altair may be captive, but Zafira, Nasir, and Kifah are bound for Sultan’s Keep, determined to finish the plan Altair set in motion: restoring the hearts of the Sisters of Old to the minarets of each caliphate, finally bringing magic to all of Arawiya. But they are low on resources and allies alike, and the kingdom teems with fear of the Lion of the Night’s return.

As the zumra plots to overthrow Arawiya’s darkest threat, Nasir fights to command the magic in his blood. He must learn to hone his power, to wield it against not only the Lion but his father as well, trapped under the Lion’s control. Zafira battles a very different darkness festering in her through her bond with the Jawarat―it hums with voices, pushing her to the brink of sanity and to the edge of a chaos she dares not unleash. In spite of everything, Zafira and Nasir find themselves falling into a love they can’t stand to lose . . . But time is running out, and if order is to be restored, drastic sacrifices will have to be made.

8. The Bronzed Beasts by Roshani Chokshi

The Gilded Wolves Bookish meme via Google Images.

The Gilded Wolves is the first book in the series. I won’t spoil what happens but if you’re into geists then you need to read this!

9. You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao

Sadness from Inside Out and the captain states: “It’s Ok…. I’m fine.” via GIPHY which is how I felt after reading You’ve Reached Sam.

Here’s my interview with Dustin Thao for Pop-Culturalist: http://pop-culturalist.com/exclusive-interview-pop-culturalist-chats-with-dustin-thao/.

The synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Julie Clarke has her future all planned out–move out of her small town with her boyfriend Sam, attend college in the city; spend a summer in Japan. But then Sam dies. And everything changes. Heartbroken, Julie skips his funeral, throws out his belongings, and tries everything to forget him. But a message Sam left behind in her yearbook forces memories to return. Desperate to hear him one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cell phone just to listen to his voice mail recording. And Sam picks up the phone. The connection is temporary. But hearing Sam’s voice makes Julie fall for him all over again and with each call, it becomes harder to let him go. What would you do if you had a second chance at goodbye?

10. The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

My soulmate will be… books! via The Good Place

This is the best upper YA/Adult fantasy series!!! I’d recommend this to ANYONE.

On the streets of eighteenth-century Cairo, Nahri is a con woman of unsurpassed skill. She makes her living swindling Ottoman nobles, hoping to one day earn enough to change her fortunes. But when Nahri accidentally summons Dara, an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior, during one of her cons, she learns that even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.

Forced to flee Cairo, Dara and Nahri journey together across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire and rivers where the mythical marid sleep, past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises and mountains where the circling birds of prey are more than what they seem, to Daevabad, the legendary city of brass. 

It’s a city steeped in magic and fire, where blood can be as dangerous as any spell; a city where old resentments run deep and the royal court rules with a tenuous grip; a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound–and where her very presence threatens to ignite a war that has been simmering for centuries.

11. Sweet & Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley

Spongebob says: “It’s magical!”

This was a book I wasn’t sure I’d love but I’m so freaking happy that I read it this year because it had an incredible plot!!

Tamsin is the most powerful witch of her generation. But after committing the worst magical sin, she’s exiled by the ruling Coven and cursed with the inability to love. The only way she can get those feelings back–even for just a little while–is to steal love from others. Wren is a source–a rare kind of person who is made of magic, despite being unable to use it herself.

Sources are required to train with the Coven as soon as they discover their abilities, but Wren–the only caretaker to her ailing father–has spent her life hiding her secret. When a magical plague ravages the queendom, Wren’s father falls victim. To save him, Wren proposes a bargain: if Tamsin will help her catch the dark witch responsible for creating the plague, then Wren will give Tamsin her love for her father. Of course, love bargains are a tricky thing, and these two have a long, perilous journey ahead of them–that is, if they don’t kill each other first.

12. The Lady or The Lion by Aamna Qureshi

Bookish meme one says Read the Books and the other says didn’t read the books!

This is a pakistani-inspired fantasy and I’m not saying you should read it just because Aamna is literally one of the nicest authors I know but it’s a compelling fast-paced fantasy novel!!

As crown princess of Marghazar, Durkhanai Miangul will do anything to protect her people and her land. When her grandfather, the Badshah, is blamed for a deadly assault on the summit of neighboring leaders, the tribes call for his head. To assuage cries for war, the Badshah opens Marghazar’s gates to foreigners for the first time in centuries, in a sign of good faith. His family has three months to prove their innocence, or they will all have war.

As Durkhanai races to solve who really orchestrated the attack, ambassadors from the neighboring tribal districts arrive at court, each with their own intentions for negotiations, each with their own plans for advantage. When a mysterious illness spreads through the villages and the imperialists push hard on her borders, Durkhanai must dig deep to become more than just a beloved princess-she must become a queen. 

To distract Durkhanai from it all is Asfandyar Afridi, the wry ambassador who tells her outright he is a spy, yet acts as though he is her friend-or maybe even something more.

13. The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Rory Gilmore is holding up a book and the caption says: “Now smell it.” via GIPHY.

If you ever loved The Westing Game when you were younger, this series is like an adult version of it. I adore both and even if you’re not into thrillers you should still give it a shot.

Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why — or even who Tobias Hawthorne is. To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch — and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes.

Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a conwoman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive.

14. Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

Star in The Hate U Give.

Concrete Rose is the prequel to The Hate U Give. I have already written a blog post on this earlier this year.

Here’s the synopsis:

If there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it’s that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing for the King Lords. With this money he can help his mom, who works two jobs while his dad’s in prison.

Life’s not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav’s got everything under control.

Until, that is, Maverick finds out he’s a father.

Suddenly he has a baby, Seven, who depends on him for everything. But it’s not so easy to sling dope, finish school, and raise a child. So when he’s offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. In a world where he’s expected to amount to nothing, maybe Mav can prove he’s different.

When King Lord blood runs through your veins, though, you can’t just walk away. Loyalty, revenge, and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart, especially after the brutal murder of a loved one. He’ll have to figure out for himself what it really means to be a man.

15. Wings of Ebony by J.Elle

Aang says : “Now… check this out!”

Author J.Elle is a new author that I recently discovered and I love her writing style!!! Ashes pf Gold is also getting a sequel.

“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.

16. Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

How you’ll feel after reading this book via GIPHY.

This is the second book in the Brown Sisters Trilogy and it’s so freaking cute!

Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom.

When big, brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and former rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact to him, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Suddenly, half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse? 

Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf is secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his… um, thighs. 

The easy lay Dani dreamed of is now more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?

17. The Wild Ones by Nafisa Azad

A blonde woman says: “Keep Reading!” via Netflix

If you haven’t read a Nafisa Azad book, what are you doing? Go pick up one of her books from your local library.

We are the Wild Ones, and we will not be silenced.

We are girls who have tasted the worst this world can offer. Our story begins with Paheli, who was once betrayed by her mother, sold to a man in exchange for a favor. When Paheli escaped, she ran headlong into Taraana—a boy with stars in his eyes, a boy as battered as she was. He tossed Paheli a box of stars before disappearing. With the stars, Paheli gained access to the Between, a place of pure magic and mystery. Now, Paheli collects girls like us, and we use our magic to travel the world, helping to save other girls from our pain, our scars. 

When Taraana reappears, he asks for our help. Dangerous magical forces are chasing him, and they will destroy him to get his powers. We will do everything to save him—if we can. For if Taraana is no longer safe and free, neither are the Wild Ones. And that is a fate that we refuse to accept. Ever again.

18. Those Deadly Games by Diana Urban

Text states: “Because two can keep a secret if one of them is dead!”

This is Diana’s second book and it’s one pf my favorite thrillers. Diana has a way of making you want to read more!

Let’s play a game.

You have 24 hours to win. If you break my rules, she dies. If you call the police, she dies. If you tell your parents or anyone else, she dies.

Are you ready?

When Crystal Donavan gets a message on a mysterious app with a video of her little sister gagged and bound, she agrees to play the kidnapper’s game. At first, they make her complete bizarre tasks: steal a test and stuff it in a locker, bake brownies, make a prank call. 

But then Crystal realizes each task is meant to hurt–and kill–her friends, one by one. But if she refuses to play, the kidnapper will kill her sister. Is someone trying to take her team out of the running for a gaming tournament? Or have they uncovered a secret from their past, and wants them to pay for what they did… 

As Crystal makes the impossible choices between her friends and her sister, she must uncover the truth and find a way to outplay the kidnapper… before it’s too late.

19. Dating Dr.Dil by Nisha Sharma

Desi Wedding via Giphy.

Nisha Sharma is my new favorite romance author!! I love the desi rep.

Kareena Mann dreams of having a love story like her parents, but she prefers restoring her classic car to swiping right on dating apps. When her father announces he’s selling her mother’s home, Kareena makes a deal with him: he’ll gift her the house if she can get engaged in four months. Her search for her soulmate becomes impossible when her argument with Dr. Prem Verma, host of The Dr. Dil Show, goes viral. Now the only man in her life is the one she doesn’t want.

Dr. Prem Verma is dedicated to building a local community health center, but he needs to get donors with deep pockets. The Dr. Dil Show was doing just that, until his argument with Kareena went viral, and he’s left short changed. That’s when Kareena’s meddling aunties presented him with a solution: convince Kareena he’s her soulmate and they’ll fund his clinic. 

Even though they have conflicting views on love-matches and arranged-matches, the more time Prem spends with Kareena, the more he begins to believe she’s the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with. But for Prem and Kareena to find their happily ever after, they must admit that hate has turned into fate.

20. Huda F Are You? By Huda Fahmy

A young Muslim woman is adjusting her hijab via GIPHY.

Huda Fahmy’s comics are hilarious and I resonated with this muslim graphic novel. Even if you’re not Muslim, you’ll love the humor in this!

Huda and her family just moved to Dearborn, Michigan, a small town with a big Muslim population. In her old town, Huda knew exactly who she was: She was the hijabi girl. But in Dearborn, everyone is the hijabi girl.

Huda is lost in a sea of hijabis, and she can’t rely on her hijab to define her anymore. She has to define herself. So she tries on a bunch of cliques, but she isn’t a hijabi fashionista or a hijabi athlete or a hijabi gamer. She’s not the one who knows everything about her religion or the one all the guys like. She’s miscellaneous, which makes her feel like no one at all. Until she realizes that it’ll take finding out who she isn’t to figure out who she is.

Turn the Pages Blog Tour: If This Gets Out

If This Gets Out Blog Tour

Synopsis

If This Gets Out
by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich
Published by Wednesday Books
Releasing on December 7, 2021
YA FICTION-Contemporary, LGBTQ+ Fiction

Eighteen-year-olds Ruben Montez and Zach Knight are two members of the boy-band Saturday, one of the biggest acts in America. Along with their bandmates, Angel Phan and Jon Braxton, the four are teen heartbreakers in front of the cameras and best friends backstage.

On a whirlwind tour through Europe, with both an unrelenting schedule and minimal supervision, Ruben and Zach come to rely on each other more and more, and their already close friendship evolves into a romance. But when they decide they’re ready to tell their fans and live freely, they start to truly realize that they will never have the support of their management. How can they hold tight to each other when the whole world seems to want to come between them?

If This Gets Out is an absolute showstopper! Equal parts edgy and adorable, this bright, joyful book has everything I look for in a queer YA romance.” —Phil Stamper, bestselling author of The Gravity of Us

IF This Gets Out Cover

Review

A BOY BAND ?!! Yes, please!! The only other boy band book I’ve read so far was Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon. This book was such a fun, quirky romance. I’ve read Sophie’s other book and I’m also reading this one for the IG book club, Love, Arctually and for the Turning the Pages tour. I would have liked to see more scenes of the tour that they go on and the countries that they visit. The boy band reminds me a bit of One Direction, but there’s no actual reference to them. It had a slow start, but it picks up!! This is perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera.

My Rating

4/5 stars!

My Playlist

Leah says, “I have something to tell you!” via Love, Simon via GIPHY.
  • Rollercoaster-Bleachers
  • Alfie’s Song (Not So Typical Love Song)
  • Wild Heart – Bleachers
  • Stay, Stay, Stay – Red (Taylor’s Version)
  • Nothing New – Taylor Swift, Phoebe Bridgers
  • Run – Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran
  • Message in a Bottle- Taylor Swift
  • Heat Waves – Glass Animals
  • hope ur ok- Olivia Rodrigo
  • Jump Then Fall- (Taylor’s Version) Taylor Swift

The Red (Taylor’s Version) Book Tag

The Red (Taylor’s Version) Book Tag pic created by Amani (me) and you can find me here : https://linktr.ee/AmaniSalahudeen/

This was made in collaboration with @itskoosreviews!!

MC = Main Character.

Ronan will not be listed out of respect for Ronan and his family.

Taylor is smiling in a car via GIPHY

1. State of Grace

State of Grace- Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “And I never (Never) saw you coming / And I’ll never (Never) be the same.”

Prompt: A book you didn’t see coming, one that ended up being better than expected.

2. Red

Red (Taylor’s Version)

Lyrics: “But loving him was red / (Red, red) / (Red, red).”

Prompt: A book you love with a red cover

3. Treacherous

Treacherous (Taylor’s Version)

Lyrics: “I’ll be smart to walk away / but you’re quicksand.”

Prompt: A book you couldn’t help but read in one sitting.

4. I Knew You Were Trouble

I Knew You Were Trouble (Taylor’s Version)

Lyrics: “And I realize the blame is on me / ‘Cause I knew you were trouble when you walked in”

Prompt: A book you ended up not liking, one that was more trouble than it was worth.

5. All Too Well

All Too Well- Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “I remember it all too well.”

Prompt: A book you remember everything about.

6. 22

22- Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22.”

Prompt: Turn to page 22 or 22% of the last book you read and share the first few lines.

7. I Almost Do

I Almost Do- Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “Every time I don’t, I almost do, I almost do.”

Prompt: A book on your TBR you keep passing over. You almost read it. You almost do…

8. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together – Taylor’s Version

Prompt: A trope you used to like but can no longer read anymore.

9. Stay Stay Stay

Stay Stay Stay – Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “No choice but to / stay, stay, stay.”

Prompt: A book that made you mad but you couldn’t help but finish it.

10. The Last Time

The Last Time- Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “This is the last time I’m asking you why.”

Prompt: The last book that hurt you.

11. Holy Ground

Holy Ground – Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “Spinning like a girl in a brand new dress/ We had this big wide city all to ourselves.”

Prompt: Find a book that’s located in a different city than the one you live in.

12. Sad Beautiful Tragic

Sad Beautiful Tragic- Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “Distance, timing, breakdown, fighting.”

Prompt: A book with a messy breakup.

13. The Lucky One

The Lucky One- Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “And your lover in the foyer doesn’t even know you.”

Prompt: Find a book where the MC has a crush on the main love interest but the main love interest has no idea.

14. Everything Has Changed

Everything Has Changed – Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “And your eyes looking like coming home.”

Prompt: A book that contains the Childhood friends to lovers trope.

15. Starlight

Starlight- Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “He said, ‘Look at you, worrying too much about things you can’t change.’”

Prompt: A book that has a love triangle trope.

16. Begin Again

Begin Again- Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “I’ve been spending the last eight months
Thinking all love ever does is break and burn and end/ But on a Wednesday in a café, I watched it begin again.”

Prompt: A book where the MC doesn’t believe in love and falls in love with the main lead.

17. The Moment I Knew

The Moment I Knew – Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “As I comb back through my memory/ How you said you’d be here.”

Prompt: A book where the MC is disappointed by the main love interest.

18. Come Back… Be Here

Come Back… Be Here – Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “I guess you’re in London today.”

Prompt: A book set in London.

19. Girl At Home

Girl At Home- Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “So don’t look at me you’ve got a girl at home.”

Prompt: A book where the main love interest is a flirt.

20. State of Grace (and this includes the Acoustic version too)

State of Grace- Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “Mosaic broken hearts
But this love is brave and wild.”

Prompt: A book where the MC has a broken heart.

21. Better Man

Better Man- Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “I’m probably better off alone/ than loving a man who didn’t know what he had when he had it.”

Prompt: A book where the main lead puts herself first.

22. Nothing New

Nothing New – Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “Will you still want me when I’m nothing new?”

Prompt: “A book where the MC is not special.”

23. Babe

Babe- Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “What about your promises, promises?”

Prompt: A book where the main couple makes a promise to each other.

24. Message in a Bottle

Message in a Bottle – Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “’Cause you could be the one that I love
I could be the one that you dream of!”

Prompt: A book where the MC has a crush so intense that it feels like that person could be the one.

25. I Bet You Think About Me

I Bet You Think About Me- Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “I bet you couldn’t believe/When you realized I’m harder to forget than I was to leave.”

Prompt: A book where the guy is pining for the girl or regrets breaking up with the main lead.

26. Forever Winter

Forever Winter -Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “I’ll be summer sun for you forever/ Forever winter if you go.”

Prompt: A book about finding the right person at the wrong time.

27. Run

Run- Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “Darling, let’s run/ Run from it all.”

Prompt: A book where the couple escapes or runs away together.

28. The Very First Night

The Very First Night- Taylor’s Version

Lyrics: “I miss you like it was the very first night.”

Prompt: A book where the MC is pining for the main lead. Bonus if they’re both pining for each other.

29. All Too Well – The 10 Minute Version

All Too Well -The Short Film

Lyrics: “Photo album on the counter, your cheeks were turning red.”

Prompt: A childhood book that’s left a lasting impact on you.

Tagging @ Ismahane, @ Maggie, @ Maya, @ Mishi on Twitter , @ Taye, @ Deborah, @ Margaret, @ Saima!

Taylor Swift via GIPHY

Turn The Pages : The Winning Ingredient Blog Tour

Turn the Pages Presents The Winning Ingredient tour banner

Title: The Winning Ingredient

Author: Kelly Swan Taylor

Publisher: Link Press

Release Date: September 22nd, 2021

Genre : YA contemporary/ sports romance

You can buy your copy here!

Synopsis

The Winning Ingredient Book Cover

Mia DeSalvo is one tough cookie, who can throw a perfect spiral and bake perfect biscotti. But, as George Washington High’s top student and ninth-grade class president, she’s thrown off her game when asked to tutor boarding school drop-out and secret-weapon-on-the-football-field, Bryce Fitzgerald. Despite his to-die-for dimples, he’s a total bore. Besides, her plate is already full, trying to save her family’s struggling century-old Italian bakery.

Determined to tackle her family’s business woes, Mia secretly devotes her free time to developing new recipes, with the help of her Sicilian great-great-grandmother’s handwritten cookbook. She soon discovers that blending her own innovations with her Nonna Antoinette’s history may be the key to the bakery’s success.

But Mia’s not the only one with a secret. As rumors swirl around Bryce’s lightning-speed exit from prestigious Chadwick Academy, she’s resolved to get to the bottom of it. Unfortunately, the star quarterback’s bad attitude, mixed with her flaming temper, is a recipe for disaster. 

When Mia stumbles upon Bryce’s beautifully written journal, it’s clear his talents aren’t confined to the football field, and there’s much more to the hazel-eyed quarterback than she could’ve imagined. While the journal may hold all the answers she’s looking for, the weight of its heartbreaking words may be too much for her to carry.

With the future of the DeSalvo Bakery and the football State Championship hanging in the balance, Mia and Bryce might just have what the other is missing.

My Review

I loved Bryce and Mia’s undeniable chemistry and the tension between them was done really well! I loved reading about how Mia has to tutor him and how they start to get a little more comfortable around each other as the story goes on. It’s a fast-paced book that’s perfect for fans of Textrovert by Lindsey Summers. It was a little slow at times, but overall I enjoyed this one!

My Rating

4/5 stars

Favorite Quotes

A young Asian woman says: “One of my favorites!” via GIPHY.
  • “Bryce revealed a hint of his impressive dinoles as he folded his muscular arms across his navy jersey.”
  • “Her mood brightened with the room, finding her own gleaming cobalt KitchenAid mixer waiting patiently for her.”
  • “Mia was taken aback , having heard the same words from Abbie.”
  • “At first glance, there is a look of disdain in her eyes.”

About the Author

Author of The Winning Ingredient

Kelly Swan Taylor is a Boston-based attorney and former laboratory scientist. As a competitive runner, racing from sun-drenched Hawaii to frigid Iceland, her first publishing credit was in Simon & Schuster’s best-selling book series, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Running for Good, highlighting her experiences in the historic 2013 and 2014 Boston Marathons. Growing up immersed in beloved “Teen” novels, Kelly now crafts her own sweet stories that bridge the gap between middle grade and young adult fiction that is so often forgotten but so sorely needed in the market today. She has a soft spot for the sincere yet flawed character with a kind heart who tries to do the right thing, stumbles along the way, but eventually becomes a hero in everyday life. In her free time, Kelly enjoys traveling and collecting snow globes and race medals from around the world. A proud alumnus of Syracuse University, she cheers her Syracuse Orange from both her sofa and the metal bleachers of the Carrier Dome. She resides in Providence, Rhode Island with her architect husband, Jonathan, and two spoiled geriatric kitties.

Check out the other stops on the tour!

Tour Schedule

Bojack Horseman says: “Keep Reading!” via GIPHY

BLOG TOUR

November 11

Amani’s Honest Reviews – Review and Favorite Quotes

November 12

Book Butterfly in Dreamland – Review

November 13

Twirling Book Princess – Review and Favorite things about TWI

November 14

Book Butterfly in Dreamland – Review

November 15


Stuck in Fiction – Review & Mood Board

November 16

Brinns Books – Review & Favorite Quotes

November 17

Offictionandfantasy – Book Review
Peppermintnplottwists – Book Review & Favorite things about TWI

November 18

Leann Reads Books – Review

November 19

She Reads Again – Review
Whispering Stories – Review &Favorite things about TWI

November 20

HerBookishObsession – Review
Sheaf and Ink – Review
Booklore – Review & Favorite Quotes

November 21

Book Corner – Review & Favorite Things about TWI

Gilded Blog Tour


I’m on the blog tour for GILDED!!! Huge thanks to Macmillian, fiercereads, and mackidsbooks for my gifted finished copy and Gilded Themed Box!

It’s here! It’s here! It’s here!

Text states: “It’s finally here!” Via GIPHY.
Gilded Book Box, picture taken by me!

Synopsis


Marissa Meyer, #1 New York Times-bestselling author, returns to the fairytale world with this haunting retelling of Rumpelstiltskin.

Long ago cursed by the god of lies, a poor miller’s daughter has developed a talent for spinning stories that are fantastical and spellbinding and entirely untrue. Or so everyone believes. When one of Serilda’s outlandish tales draws the attention of the sinister Erlking and his undead hunters, she finds herself swept away into a grim world where ghouls and phantoms prowl the earth and hollow-eyed ravens track her every move. The king orders Serilda to complete the impossible task of spinning straw into gold, or be killed for telling falsehoods.

In her desperation, Serilda unwittingly summons a mysterious boy to her aid. He agrees to help her… for a price. Love isn’t meant to be part of the bargain. Soon Serilda realizes that there is more than one secret hidden in the castle walls, including an ancient curse that must be broken if she hopes to end the tyranny of the king and his wild hunt forever.

Get the Book!

GOODREADS AMAZON B&N INDIGO TARGET BOOKSHOP.ORG

Gilded Cover

Gilded Book Cover

I’ve been a huge fan of Marissa Meyer for awhile. It’s cool to finally get Rumplestiltskin’s story!

This is the first in a duology. This story has Germanic folklore. So far, Serilda is one of my favorite narrators. He’s sarcastic and funny which is why I really enjoy reading about him. I got the book later than expected so I’m still reading this but overall it’s just as good as I thought it would be! My full review will be up on GoodReads once I’m done.

About the Author

Author Marissa Meyer

Marissa Meyer is the #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Lunar Chronicles, Heartless, The Renegades Trilogy, and Instant Karma, as well as the graphic novel duology Wires and Nerve. She holds a BA in Creative Writing from Pacific Lutheran University and a MA in Publishing from Pace University. In addition to writing, Marissa hosts The Happy Writer podcast. She lives near Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and twin daughters.

http://www.marissameyer.com

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

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

Blog Banner

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!

Sisters of the Snake Banner

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!

Vial of Tears Blog Banner

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 

index-16_2.png
index-16_3.png

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 

index-16_2.png
index-16_3.png

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 

index-16_2.png
index-16_3.png

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. 

Website | Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads | Amazon

GIVEAWAY

3 winners will win a finished copy of VIAL OF TEARS, US Only.

Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/e2389ba21336/?

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the tour!

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!

The Throwback List Blog Banner

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. 
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub

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! 

Blog Tour Banner

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

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?

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!

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

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.

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.