Hurricane Summer by Asha Bromfield – Blog Tour Review

Thanks to Wednesday Books for providing me with an eARC for this wonderful book and letting me join in on this blog tour! Today I will be reviewing HURRICANE SUMMER, a stunningly powerful debut that is set in the countryside of Jamaica from the POV of a Jamaican-Canadian teenager who discovers her estranged father’s side of the family over the course of a summer that changes her life.

HURRICANE SUMMER by Asha Bromfield

On-sale: May 4th, 2021

SYNOPSIS

In this sweeping debut, Asha Bromfield takes readers to the heart of Jamaica, and into the soul of a girl coming to terms with her family, and herself, set against the backdrop of a hurricane.

Tilla has spent her entire life trying to make her father love her. But every six months, he leaves their family and returns to his true home: the island of Jamaica.

When Tilla’s mother tells her she’ll be spending the summer on the island, Tilla dreads the idea of seeing him again, but longs to discover what life in Jamaica has always held for him.

In an unexpected turn of events, Tilla is forced to face the storm that unravels in her own life as she learns about the dark secrets that lie beyond the veil of paradise―all in the midst of an impending hurricane.

Hurricane Summer is a powerful coming of age story that deals with colorism, classism, young love, the father-daughter dynamic―and what it means to discover your own voice in the center of complete destruction.


REVIEW

Before I get into my review I would like to share the content/trigger warnings for this book as the story is heavy and intense and I recommend you look into these TWs before reading this for yourself.

TRIGGER WARNINGS: sexual assault, rape, racism, colorism, classism, slut shaming, abuse (verbal and physical), death


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
"How beautiful it was to be destroyed" 

HURRICANE SUMMER was a book I had been anticipating ever since I read the title, the synopsis and saw THAT gorgeous cover. When finally read it, I found myself thrusted into something that put me through anxiety and intense emotions. There were many unexpected things and often times unpleasant and tense moments that happened over the course of HURRICANE SUMMER. Moments of bliss and summer vibes that eventually spiraled like a hurricane into moments of violence, tension, and raw emotion.

This is a pretty typical YA premise. Being that of a coming of a age story and finding out about yourself through your family and the new people and places you meet along the way. But this one has a unique and fresh perspective that stands out to me. HURRICANE SUMMER follows 17 year old Tilla, a Jamaican-Canadian teenager who alongside her 9 year old sister Mia, go to spend the summer in Jamaica with their estranged father, Tyson. What follows is a tale that explores Tilla’s complicated and heartbreaking dynamic with her father, her father’s side of the family whom she used to know when she was younger but is also as estranged and distant as her father and how she comes to learn the ways of Jamaica and what it means to be yourself.

I really enjoyed the writing. It felt immersive as I entered in a story where I was not familiar with the Patois dialect that nearly every character speaks (there is a Patois Word Bank at the beginning of the book if you feel lost), but I began to be more familiar with the language of the book as Tilla becomes herself. The lush and wondrous descriptions of Jamaica, both as its being stormed in on by Hurricane Gustav and before the storm, when Tilla and her cousins and the neighborhood kids venture through the cooling waters and greenery.

Tilla is a strong protagonist. I ached for her as the story went on and as it got more intense and emotional. She faces a lot of adversity throughout the story, starting with her relatives, especially her religious yet hypocritical and abusive Aunt Herma, and her cousin Diana. She also faces cold treatment from her other aunts and uncles. And it never changes. I had expected maybe things could be better as Tilla did as well. There were some things in the story that addressed the reasons for maybe why they hated her. For one instance being that since she’s from Canada she is more privileged than they are which Tilla herself acknowledges that she has privilege. However a lot of their hatred towards her is way more personal and eventually becomes way beyond redeeming when things get more violent and toxic and it ends up breaking Tilla apart. When Tilla stands up to them, there is a lot of anger and strength within her that I have to applaud her for. When I say this story is intense, I mean it is intense.

The few people she does feel warmth from are Hessan and Andre. Hessan being her love interest…as well as Diana’s fiancé which becomes more complicated throughout the story. I bought their chemistry but at the same time I could feel it easily being upended due to him easily believing the lies and hate that the others in the town believe about Tilla. I’m happy that at the end Tilla was able to see that Hessan was not for her and that didn’t have to forgive him. Andre, her cousin, faces prejudice because of having dark skin and is punished physically and emotionally by the neighborhood kids and his own family, with Tilla being one of the only people in the story to understand how much pain and suffering he goes through and treats him like a person. Their friendship was nice to see and it broke my heart when he was found dead after the hurricane since he was one of the few genuine bonds that she made during her trip.

Her story with her father grows even more complicated than it ever had been as she uncovers many secrets about him that she never knew: he owns a farm, he is seen as respected by everyone in town, he has another family which includes a young woman and a son. Which leads her to eventually come to understand that her father is never going to be the father she wants him to be.

Overall, this story’s strength is Tilla’s growth in realizing she doesn’t need to look for a home in her father or his family or in Jamaica. But she needs to find her own.

But I know now that there will always be a hole in my heart the size of my father. And that is okay. In time, I will learn to fill it with my own magic. My own resilience. My own love. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Asha Bromfield is an actress, singer, and writer of Afro-Jamaican descent. She is known for her role as Melody Jones, drummer of Josie and the Pussycats in CW’s Riverdale. She also stars as Zadie Wells in Netflix’s hit show, Locke and Key. Asha is a proud ambassador for the Dove Self-Esteem Project, and she currently lives in Toronto where she is pursuing a degree in Communications. In her spare time, she loves studying astrology, wearing crystals, burning sage, and baking vegan desserts. Hurricane Summer is her debut novel.

Link to a buy-this-book page:
https://wednesdaybooks.com/the-real-deal/hurricane-summer/

These Feathered Flames by Alexandra Overy BLOG TOUR – Excerpt

Hello again! Today I’m excited to share an excerpt from THESE FEATHERED FLAMES, which is OUT NOW! This is a lush, sapphic fantasy retelling of “The Firebird”, Thanks again to Inkyard Press for providing me with the eARC and excerpt! Hope y’all enjoy 🙂

Synopsis

Three Dark Crowns meets Wicked Saints in this queer #ownvoices retelling of “The Firebird,” a Russian folktale, by debut author Alexandra Overy.

When twin heirs are born in Tourin, their fates are decided at a young age. While Izaveta remained at court to learn the skills she’d need as the future queen, Asya was taken away to train with her aunt, the mysterious Firebird, who ensured magic remained balanced in the realm.

But before Asya’s training is completed, the ancient power blooms inside her, which can mean only one thing: the queen is dead, and a new ruler must be crowned.

As the princesses come to understand everything their roles entail, they’ll discover who they can trust, who they can love—and who killed their mother.


Excerpt

Excerpted from These Feathered Flames by Alexandra Overy © 2021, used with permission from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins. 

Chapter One

The prey wasn’t meant to be a child.

When Asya had smelled the sharp tang of magic—strong even before she emerged from the tree line—that possibility hadn’t so much as fluttered across her mind. It was never meant to be a child.

But the scent of magic was undeniable. That indistinguishable combination of damp overturned earth and the metallic copper of blood, cut through with the acrid burn of power. It was overlaid with the cloying sweetness of waterose, as if someone had tried to mask it.

A futile attempt.

And Asya was sure this time. The person they were looking for had to be here.

The comfort of the forest stood at her back, the dark canopy of trees stretching behind her in every direction. The fading sunlight could not break through the writhing tangle of branches, so in the shadow of the trunks, it was dark as twilight.

Most people feared the forest. Stories of monsters that lurked in its depths, witches who lured unsuspecting children in and tore out their hearts. But to Asya it had always felt safe, the gnarled trunks and rustling leaves were like old friends.

“This is it,” Asya said, inclining her head toward the clearing in front of them.

A slight smile tugged at her lips. Two years ago, when her great-aunt had first deemed her ready to try tracking herself—to follow the magic with only her mortal senses once they were close enough to the source—she’d found it impossible. More often than not, she just led them in circles until Tarya gave up on her. But today, Asya had managed it.

She might not be as unwavering as her aunt, as strong or as dutiful, but at least Asya had succeeded in this.

She glanced over at Tarya, waiting for her reaction. But her aunt stood stiller than the trees, an immovable presence in their midst. The shadowed light filtering through the leaves cast her face in stark relief, carving deep hollows into her snow-white cheeks and emphasizing the wrinkles at her brow. She could have been a painting—one of the old oil portraits of the gods, soft brushstrokes of light adding an ethereal glow to her stern face.

It made her look otherworldly. Inhuman.

Which she was. One of the creatures that prowled these trees.

While Asya, or any other mortal, could smell the residual magic, her aunt could feel it. No amount of waterose or burned sage—or any of the other tricks people tried—could hide magic from Tarya.

Her dark eyes flickered to Asya. “Correct,” her aunt murmured, a hint of satisfaction in her soft voice.

In front of them, the comforting trees gave way to an open paddock. It had been allowed to run wild, chamomile glinting yellow in the long grass, like sun spots on water. Purple-capped mushrooms pushed their way through the weeds, intertwining with the soft lilac of scattered crocuses.

The tinge of pride in Asya’s chest melted away, replaced by a thrumming anticipation. The paddock could have been beautiful, she supposed. But the cold apprehension burning in her stomach overshadowed it, darkening the flowers to poisonous thorns and muting the colors like fog. It was always like this. Ever since the first time Tarya had taken her on a hunt. Once she was left without a task to complete—a distraction—Asya couldn’t pretend to forget what came next. She’d hoped it would get better, but she still couldn’t shake the lingering fear.

She shifted her feet, trying to ignore the erratic rhythm of her heart. She hated waiting. Each frantic beat stretching out into an eternity.

She just wanted this to be over.

After all, her sister had always been the brave one.

But that was why Asya was here. Why she had to follow this path, no matter how she wavered. She owed it to her sister. They were the two sides of a coin, and if Asya failed, then her sister would too.

Tarya’s words—the words Asya had to live by—pounded through her. This is our duty. Not a question of right or wrong, but balance.

Her aunt stepped forward. She moved silently, slipping like a shadow untethered from its owner, from the gnarled trees and out into the overgrown paddock beyond. She didn’t speak—she rarely did when she felt a Calling—but Asya knew she was meant to follow.

Asya took a shaky breath, touching one finger to the wooden icon around her neck. An unspoken prayer. She could do this.

Far less quietly, she followed Tarya into the uneven grass, wincing at the snapping twigs beneath her boots.

The paddock led to a small cottage, surrounded by more soft crocuses. Their purple seeped out from the house like a bruise. The building’s thatched roof had clearly been recently repaired, and the gray stone was all but consumed by creeping moss. The stench of magic grew with each step Asya took. Wateroses lay scattered on the ground, interspersed with dried rosemary sprigs. The too-sweet scent, cut through with the burn of magic, made her stomach turn.

Tarya stopped by the wooden door. Marks of various saints had been daubed across it in stark black paint, uneven and still wet. Acts of desperation. They felt out of place in the idyllic scene. The sight sent a prickle of unease through Asya’s gut.

“Your weapon,” Tarya prompted, her voice as low as the rustle of grass behind them.

Asya’s fingers jumped to the curved bronze shashka at her waist. A careless mistake. She should have drawn the short blade long before. She couldn’t let the apprehension clawing at the edge of her mind overwhelm her. Not this time. 

She had to be sure. Uncompromising. She had to be like Tarya.

Asya unsheathed the weapon, the bronze glinting in the fading light, and forced her hand to steady.

Her aunt gave her a long look, one that said she knew just how Asya’s heart roiled beneath the surface. But Tarya just nodded, turning back to the freshly marked door. Sparks already danced behind her eyes—deep red and burnished-gold flames swallowing her dark irises. It transformed her from ethereal into something powerful.

Monstrous.

Asya swallowed, pushing that thought away. Her aunt wasn’t a monster.

Tarya reached out and pressed her palm to the wood. Heat rolled from her in a great wave, making Asya’s eyes water. A low splintering noise fractured the air, followed by the snap of the metal bolt. The door swung open. All that was left of the painted sigils was a scorched handprint. Asya’s mouth went dry. She couldn’t help but feel that breaking the saints’ signs was violating some ancient covenant.

But Tarya just stepped inside. Asya tightened her grip on the blade, trying to shake off the sense of foreboding nipping at her heels, and followed.

The cottage was comprised of a single small room. Heavy fabric hung over the windows, leaving them half in shadow. As Asya’s vision adjusted, she took in the shapes of furniture—all overturned or smashed against the cracked walls. Clothes were strewn across the floor in a whirl, along with a few shattered plates and even a broken viila, its strings snapped and useless. A statue of Saint Meshnik lay on its side, their head several paces from their armored body. The room looked like it had been ransacked, perhaps set upon by thieves.

Or like someone wanted it to seem that way.

Tarya turned slowly, her sparking eyes taking in the room. Then her gaze fixed on a spot to her left, and flames reared across her irises again. Asya couldn’t see anything. But she knew her aunt was not really looking at the wall, she was feeling—reaching for those intangible threads that bound the world and using them to narrow in on her prey.

Asya waited, her breath caught in her chest.

Tarya moved in a flash, as though Vetviya herself had looked down and granted her secret passage through the In-Between. One moment beside Asya, the next in front of the wall. Flames, as golden and bright as sunlight, sputtered from her wrists, licking along her forearms. She put her hands on the wall, and the flames eagerly reached out to devour.

They burned away what must have been a false panel, revealing a tight crevice behind. Three faces stared out, eyes wide and afraid. Two children, a boy and a girl, clutching onto a man with ash-white hair, now covered in a faint sheen of soot.

“Oryaze,” he breathed, terror rising on his face like waves over a hapless ship. Firebird.

Bile burned in Asya’s throat. She took a halting step back, staring at the huddled family. It’s the man, she told herself. It had to be. The thought murmured through her, a desperate prayer to any god or saint who might be listening.

The man leaped forward, spreading his arms as though hiding the children from view might protect them. As though anything he did would make a difference. “I won’t let you touch her!” he cried, grabbing one of the broken chair legs and brandishing it like a sword.

Asya clenched her teeth, a sharp jab of pity shooting through her. It would be no use. Nothing would.

The flames coiled lazily around Tarya’s wrists as she watched the man with a detached curiosity. “The price must be paid.”

He let out a low sob, the chair leg clattering uselessly to the ground as he clasped his hands together as if in prayer. “Please, take it from me. She didn’t know what she was doing.”

The room was too hot, the flames scorching the very air in Asya’s lungs. This is what has to be done, she intoned. This is our duty. The same words her aunt had hammered into her. Asya’s knuckles shone white on the hilt of her shashka, the cool metal tethering her to the ground, to this moment, and not the rising guilt in the back of her mind. A panic that threatened to crush her.

“I cannot,” Tarya said, her voice hollow. “The price must be taken from the one who cast the spell.” With a casual flick of her wrist, a burst of fire sprang at the man. He dived aside, toppling into an overturned table.

The little boy was crying now, soft whimpers barely louder than the spitting flames. But the girl did not cry, even as Tarya wrapped an elegant hand around her arm and dragged her forward.

Asya saw the stratsviye clearly against the milk-white skin of the girl’s wrist. A mass of black lines that coalesced to form a burning feather, seared into her flesh like a brand. The mark of the Firebird. The mark that meant a debt had to be paid. 

“Please,” the man said again, pulling himself from the collapsed table. “Please, she didn’t mean to—”

“Asya,” her aunt said, without looking up from the mark.

Asya knew what she was meant to do, but her legs took a moment to obey. Muscles protesting though her mind could not. But she moved forward anyway, placing herself between the man and the little girl, shashka raised in warning.

No one could interfere with the price.

The man scrambled for the chair leg again, leveling it at Asya with trembling hands. “She only did it to save her brother,” he pleaded, emotion cracking through his voice like summer ice. “He was sick. She didn’t know the consequences.”

Asya’s gaze slid to the little girl. To the determined set of her jaw, her defiantly dry eyes. That look wrenched something in Asya’s chest. The resolve she’d so carefully built crumbled around her. She knew what is was like to have a sibling you would do anything—risk anything—for.

But Tarya was unmoved. “Now she will know—magic always comes with a price.”

He lunged. He was clumsy, fueled by fear and desperation. Asya should have been able to stop him easily, but she hesitated. A single thought caught in her mind: Is it so wrong of him to want to protect his daughter?

That one, faltering breath cost her. The man swung the chair leg at her, catching the side of her head. Bright lights danced in front of her eyes. She stumbled into the wall as the man let out a fractured cry and threw himself toward Tarya.

Tarya did not hesitate.

Another tongue of flame reared from her, forcing the man back. This one was more than a warning. The acrid smell of burnt flesh sliced through the scent of magic. A low, broken sob trembled in the air as the man clutched his now-scorched left side.

Tarya’s head snapped to Asya, flames flashing bloodred.

Ignoring the throbbing pain in her head, Asya darted forward. She grabbed the man’s arm and twisted, sending the chair leg tumbling to the ground again. It was painfully easy. The injury made his attempt to swing back at her fly wide, and her hands fastened on him again. She spun him, one arm wrapping around him, the other holding the shashka to his throat. Her chest heaved, and her head reeled. But she didn’t move.

He let out a low whimper, still trying to struggle free. Asya pressed the blade deeper, almost wincing as a trickle of blood ran down his throat. “Don’t,” she said, half command, half plea. “You’ll just make it worse.”

Tarya had already turned back to her prey. Her gleaming eyes, still threaded with flame, stared down at the girl. There was no malice on her face, just a cold emptiness. Asya wasn’t sure if that made it better or worse.

“You must understand, child,” Tarya said. “The price has to be paid.”

And in a breath, she transformed.

Flames devoured her eyes, spreading from the pupils until they were no more than luminous orbs. Twin suns, captured in a face. But the fire did not end there. It rose up out of her like a living thing. Glinting golds and burnt oranges twisted with deepest crimson to form hooked wings, spread behind her like a blazing cape. Another head loomed above her own, a vicious, living mask. It formed a sharp beak, feathered flames rising from it to forge the great bird’s plumage. They arched up into an expression of cruel indifference, mirroring the human features below. The very walls of the cottage trembled.

The Firebird.

Asya felt her hand go slack. A deep, instinctual fear sank into her bones. She had seen her aunt transform before, more times than she could count. But that primal fear never went away. The mortal instinct that she should run from this creature.

She was eleven when she’d first seen her aunt exact a price. Asya had been naive and desperate to shirk her new responsibility, to run back to her sister. Tarya had brought her on a hunt to see—to truly understand—the weight of this responsibility.

It had terrified Asya then. It still terrified her now, six years later.

Everything about the flaming creature exuded power. Not the simple spells mortals toyed with, but the kind of power drawn from the depths of the earth, ancient and deadly.

The girl could not hide her fear now. It shone in her dark eyes like a beacon as she tried to back away, but Tarya’s curled fingers held her tight. The boy was screaming. The sound rose in Asya’s ears to a high keening, writhing through her insides.

The creature—Tarya—looked down at the girl, head cocked to one side. Considering.

Asya wanted to close her eyes. To pretend she was somewhere far away, safe beneath a canopy of trees. But she couldn’t. 

She had to do this. This was the duty the gods had chosen her for. The burden she had accepted.

And looking away would feel like abandoning the little girl.

Asya tried to take a breath to steady her whirling thoughts, but the very air was bitter and scorched. Please be something small, she thought. Not her heart.

She couldn’t stand back and watch that. Or, perhaps, she didn’t want to believe that she would just stand aside as this monster tore the girl’s heart from her body.

Because Asya knew she would. Knew she had to. That was her price.

The flames spread down Tarya’s left arm, coiling like a great serpent as they bridged across her fingers to the girl. A cry tore through the air, raw and achingly human. The greedy, blazing tendrils wrapped around the girl’s arm, as unmoved by the screams as their master. They consumed the flesh as if it were nothing more than parchment.

In only a few frantic beats of Asya’s heart, the girl’s left arm was gone. Not just burned, but gone. No trace of it remained. No charred bone, not even a scattering of ashes.

The price had been paid.

The flames receded, the creature folding back in on itself until it was no more than a spark in Tarya’s eyes. All that was left was a heavy smoke in the air, thick and choking.

Asya let her hand holding the shashka fall. The man threw himself forward—though Asya had a feeling he would have moved even if her blade had still been at his throat—and clutched the little girl, who was still half-frozen in shock. The boy flung himself at his sister too, his screams reduced to gasping cries. 

Asya’s stomach curled as she stared down at the huddled family, enclosed in a grief she had helped cause.

She backed away. It was suddenly all too much. The suffocating smoke. The man’s ragged sobs. The blistered stump that had been the girl’s arm. Her aunt’s impassive face, as empty as the carved saint’s head on the ground.

Asya whirled around, pushing back through the broken door. She doubled over as she stumbled across the threshold, leaning a hand against the moss-eaten stone to keep upright. Bile rose in her throat.

It had never been a child before. Despite all the hunts Tarya had taken her on, all the training lessons, Asya hadn’t thought of that possibility—that it could be a little girl desperate to save her brother.

Something wet trickled from the wound on Asya’s head, but she barely felt it. Her insides had been hollowed out.

All she could see were the little girl’s eyes. The ghastly reflection of the Firebird in them, looming and monstrous. A creature of legend.

A creature that, one day, Asya would become.


About the Author
Image of author, Alexandra Overy

ALEXANDRA OVERY was born in London, England. Ever since she was little she has loved being able to escape into another world through books. She currently lives in Los Angeles, and is completing her MFA in Screenwriting at UCLA. When she’s not working on a new manuscript or procrastinating on doing homework, she can be found obsessing over Netflix shows, or eating all the ice cream she can.

Social Links:

Author website: https://www.alexandraovery.com/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/alexandraovery 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/AllyWritesAndStuff/ 

Facebook: N/A

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19571930.Alexandra_Overy 

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/These-Feathered-Flames/dp/1335147969/ 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/these-feathered-flames-alexandra-overy/1137165080 

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335147967 

Books-A-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/These-Feathered-Flames/Alexandra-Overy/9781335147967 

AppleBooks:    https://books.apple.com/lv/book/these-feathered-flames/id1518023051 Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/audiobooks/details/Alexandra_Overy_These_Feathered_Flames?id=AQAAAEBcPkN-DM

This Golden Flame by Emily Victoria: BLOG TOUR – Excerpt

Today I’m participating in yet another blog tour post from Inkyard Press! Thanks again to Inkyard Press for providing me with an eARC of THIS GOLDEN FLAME. Today I am sharing an excerpt from this fascinating new YA fantasy featuring ace rep! Which by the way, is OUT NOW!

THIS GOLDEN FLAME BY EMILY VICTORIA

On Sale Date: February 2, 2021

9781335080271, 1335080279

Hardcover

$18.99 USD, $23.99 CAD

Young Adult Fiction / Fantasy / Epic 

Ages 13 And Up

384 pages

SYNOPSIS

An Ember in the Ashes meets Mask of Shadows in Emily Victoria’s #ownvoices debut YA fantasy, This Golden Flame, in which asexual Karis, a servant to the mysterious Scriptorium, accidentally awakens long-dormant automaton Alix, initiating an epic adventure full of magic, rebellion, and finding where you truly belong.

Orphaned and forced to serve her country’s ruling group of scribes, Karis wants nothing more than to find her brother, long ago shipped away. But family bonds don’t matter to the Scriptorium, whose sole focus is unlocking the magic of an ancient automaton army.

In her search for her brother, Karis does the seemingly impossible?she awakens a hidden automaton. Intelligent, with a conscience of his own, Alix has no idea why he was made. Or why his father?their nation’s greatest traitor?once tried to destroy the automatons.

Suddenly, the Scriptorium isn’t just trying to control Karis; it’s hunting her. Together with Alix, Karis must find her brother…and the secret that’s held her country in its power for centuries.

1

KARIS

The hallways of the Tallis Scriptorium are always so black at night. Statues and busts loom out of the dark and ribbed columns stretch down from the roof like pale fingers. I’ve taken my sandals off, twined their laces together, and hung them off my shoulder where they can’t make any noise, and the cold of the floor leeches through the soles of my feet. I pull my himation tighter around me, the rustling of the cloak a bare whisper. If this were day, I would hear the quiet scratch of reed pens against parchment in the study rooms to the east, the droning buzz of a master’s lecture from the hall. But in the night, it’s so stiflingly quiet. Like a tomb.

Even after seven years I’m still not used to it. To the quiet. The dark. Back on Heretis, the island I grew up on, there was always noise, always light, even in the run-down streets my brother and I haunted, where not many could afford oil for their lamps. Here on Tallis, the black is deep and somber, every door locked and every shutter latched firmly shut, as if the masters fear thieves who might lurk out there in the wilderness and the night.

If only they knew the thieves were already inside.

I slink down the shadowy hall, my eyes straining to navigate the black, even though it isn’t really the dark that’s a risk. Being out of bed this late would earn me a lashing, but at least that’s all I’d get. The true risk is in anyone dis- covering what I stole: the ledger currently clasped to my chest, its leather cover warm beneath my fingers. I can’t even say what the punishment for this would be, because as far as I know no one’s ever been impudent enough to try it.

At least not before me, and I prefer the term reckless.

I reach the west hall. Giving a quick glance up and down the silent corridor, I lift the latch on the closest window, wincing as it squeaks. I push the shutters open and night air brushes my skin.

The chilled marble of the windowsill stings against my legs as I swing over and drop into a crouch in the deep shadows by the edge of the building. From far off I can make out the sound of the waves crashing against the cliffs, the sharp tang of seawater hanging in the air. I take a deep breath, trying to trap the taste of it in my lungs.

I look across the dark courtyard to one of the smallest buildings. Despite its size, it’s all marble with a full colonnade around its edges and elaborate moldings of masters and ledgers and automatons in the frieze running along the edge of its roof, darkened now with shadows.

The Hall of Records.

The second watch rings across the complex. I allow my- self a smile. Perfect. There shouldn’t be a patrol anywhere near here right now. I take off across the courtyard, bare feet pounding the packed dirt, not slowing until I slip past the colonnade. Bars of moonlight glow against the floor, stretching from the pillars that surround the open atrium I stand in. The back of the space is lost in the gloom, but it’s impossible to miss the glimmer of gold, too vivid and bright to be anything but Scriptwork.

I pad silently over, avoiding the strips of moonlight and sticking to the shadows. As if the night sky will tell on me. Details swim from the dark: olivewood doors stretching high above my head, framed with brass and cut with flourishes and curls; the seal of bronze plastered to their center; and the rune carved deep into the metal, a tangle of thick golden strokes, bent around each other as if in a knot. A lock rune. The most complicated rune on this island.

I run my fingers over the ridges of the lines, warm and tingling beneath my skin despite the night air. The truth is, I’m not even supposed to know Scriptwork, at least no more than what’s needed to climb automatons and make rubbings of the runes. The actual work of study is done by the masters and the aristoi scholars who come to study on Tallis. We orphans are only here for grunt labor. The Scriptmasters barely believe we can think for ourselves, never mind do something like this.

Lock runes are tricky. You have to understand which strokes engraved into the seal are part of the base rune and which have been added by that particular Scriptmaster. Then you have to replicate it perfectly in a ledger, all in the right order. Runes have rules, some of which haven’t even been discovered yet, and we were certainly never al- lowed to study them.

But just because a crotchety old master wasn’t going to teach me didn’t mean I wasn’t going to learn.

The light’s just enough to let me see the ledger as I flip it open to the last page, the golden glow spilling over the rough stretch of parchment. I pull out the stub of charcoal from my belt pocket. Once I draw a line, there’s no changing my mind. I’ll have to sneak the ledger back eventually, and lines will only mean evidence, since trying to tear a page out will just be more obvious. If this doesn’t work, I’ll have taken all this risk for nothing.

Only then I think of Matthias. It’s been seven years since they shipped my older brother away, all because he tried to defend me against them. Because they decided he would be too troublesome to keep. Behind these doors is the only record on the whole of this island that can tell me where he was sent.

And I am getting through tonight.

I dash off the first of the lines on the page. It comes off black and bold and perfect.

That’s when I hear voices. Low. Serious.

A patrol.

There shouldn’t be a patrol here, not at this time of night. Which means I’m either not as observant as I think or I’m real unlucky.

As soon as they enter the courtyard, I won’t be able to get back to the window, not without them noticing. A hint of panic thrums beneath my skin, telling me to leave now, while I still can. But then I look down at the parchment, the rune already started. They can’t catch me if I’m already inside the Hall.

As soon as I have the idea, I know it’s a terrible one. I suppose that fits me perfectly.

I bend over the ledger and keep going. The lines unfurl across the parchment as the rune takes shape, each line in the proper order and form. Excitement curls around my heart, even as the voices come closer. I’m doing it.

The rune is finished. I look up at the seal on the door, waiting for the golden line to cut it in half, to let me through.

Nothing happens.

The seconds pound through my head. No. I look down at the page, at this rune that looks exactly like the one on the door. I’m sure I did it right. Why isn’t it working?

One of the soldiers speaks again, their voice close. Too close.

I’m out of time.

I bite down my curse and dash away from the glow of the rune, toward the courtyard. Maybe I can still get across. I’ve just reached the colonnade when the soldiers step into view through the main gates. There are two of them, a man and a woman, their red chitons dark enough it’s hard to make them out. Short gladius swords are strapped to their hips. They’re coming closer.

There’s one other way to my quarters, through a door I can possibly sneak to by circling the back of the buildings. A door that always stays unlocked because it’s used by the patrols themselves to get inside.

I jam the ledger into a fold in my himation and run, sticking close to the wall that surrounds the Scriptorium complex. I can see the door I need ahead, nestled at the back of the acolytes’ quarters.

I’m reaching out when it swings open toward me. I stumble back, off balance, and a hand from behind me clamps around my upper arm.

I jam my elbow back at whoever has me, but they’re quick. An arm scoops me around the waist and jerks me behind the closest pillar, right as another two soldiers step out the door. I snap my head up at whoever has me, and catch a glimpse of a trainee’s red sash. Of tousled dark hair and deep green eyes, currently narrowed to order me to shut up.

Dane.

I go still, both of us hidden in the narrow space between the pillar and the building. It throws me back, to years ago, when I wasn’t the only one sneaking out at nights. When this picture of him and me was as natural as breathing.

The footsteps fade away.

I let out a breath. That was close. I know I shouldn’t, but I look back the way I came. Maybe now that Dane’s here, I could try again. Maybe he’d come with me.

But he doesn’t even give me the chance to ask. Before I can open my mouth, he grabs my hand and pulls me through the door. Our footsteps hush over the floor, two sets this time, and even though I can practically feel the exasperation wicking off of him, see the tension in his neck, I feel strangely relieved. At least he’s here.

He doesn’t stop until we reach the small linen storeroom near my quarters, piled high with coarse chitons. There’s a thin crack in the shutters, letting in just enough moonlight that I can see him. His hand is pressed over his eyes, obscuring most of his face, as if that’s enough to hold back whatever he’s thinking. Under different circumstances, that would have made me laugh.

“Karis.” His voice is that dangerous sort of calm that, as far as I know, is only reserved for me and only when I’ve done something incredibly reckless. “What in all of every- thing were you thinking?”

I fold my arms over my chest. “You don’t even know what I was doing.”

He drops his hand and glowers at me. It’s an expression I haven’t seen in a while. Not because I haven’t been doing reckless things. But because he hasn’t been around to no- tice. “I got back after the rest of the patrol and I saw you near the Hall of Records. I know what you were doing.”

I wince. I hadn’t even considered that the patrol might have been spread out. It was careless.

“What were you even hoping to achieve without a ledger?” He’s facing the moonlight. I’m not. I doubt he can make out my expression, but my silence must speak volumes.

He groans. “You didn’t.”

I reach into my himation, the cloth looped about my shoulders and waist, and pull out the ledger. “I’m going to return it.”

Dane shoves his hands through his hair, growling at the ceiling. “Of all the ill-thought, hardheaded, impulsive…”

Dane’s my best friend. My only friend really. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stand around while he verbally berates me to the roof. “You couldn’t have expected me not to try.”

“Try to do what? What exactly were your plans for this?”

He catches my wrist and holds it up, forcing me to look at the bronze bracelet suckered there like a malignant growth. A copy of the one he wears. That every orphan brought to this island wears.

And he’s right. I hate it, but he is. Even if I’d figured out the rune and written it perfectly, even if I’d gotten in and found exactly where Matthias had been sent, I would still be trapped here. Because of this hunk of metal around my wrist, this perfect circle with no clasp. As long as it’s attached to me, going anywhere near the beach will burn my bracelet’s identifying rune into their scrolls. They’d know exactly where I was and what I was doing. And there’d be no running from them then. There’s only one ledger that can unlock the bracelets, and it’s always with the head Scriptmaster. Not even I can steal that.

I meet Dane’s eyes over my hand, and for a moment I’m so achingly tired. I almost want to apologize, to tell him he’s right. Because maybe he is. Maybe I don’t want to spend my entire life fighting a battle I can’t win, when I couldn’t even open a door. Maybe the masters were right about me and I am exactly what they judge me to be.

Only then I think of Matthias. Of the way he looked the last time I saw him, the day he was dragged away. Me screaming. Him calling out my name as his hand was ripped from mine.

The truth is, it isn’t in me to quit. Not now, not ever. There are things I will not—cannot—concede, and my brother is at the top of that list.

So I don’t say anything, just stare Dane down, and in the end he’s the one who looks away, dropping my hand. A part of me is naive enough to believe it might be because he understands.

“You’re lucky I was on patrol,” he finally says.

“I know,” I whisper. It’s the most I can give him. It must be enough because he lets out a breath, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Did it work?” he asks. “The rune?”

I don’t want to say it and make it more real. But I lie to so many people in my life, and I won’t lie to him. “No.” I swallow, staring down at the floor. “It didn’t.”

I can feel his eyes on me and when he speaks, his voice is gentler. “I’m sorry.”

I raise my head to look back at him and force a smile. As impish and real as I can make it. “I know that, too.”

He rolls his eyes, but that crooked grin, which doesn’t belong to the soldier but to the street brat, to my friend, is already stealing over his face. I’ve missed that smile. “Yes, well, now that I’ve saved your sorry hide, I need to get back. And you should go to bed.”

He must have forgotten the ledger, hidden in the dark. I rub my fingers over it and for a moment I’m tempted not to say anything. To let him leave and to give it another try. Maybe I would have, if I had any idea where I went wrong with the rune. Maybe I would have if Dane wasn’t standing right there.

But he is. I don’t know how he managed to get away from his patrol for this long, but I do know that if anything happens tonight, he’ll be implicated in it. And I wouldn’t do that to him. The risks I take, I take on my own.

I hold the ledger up. “I need to get this back.” When I left, Master Kaius was snoring into his wine, but even he’ll notice a missing ledger when he wakes up. The masters would tear this Scriptorium apart to get it back.

Dane looks at the book between us, and then he takes it. “I’ll slip it into his study. At least if I get caught in the halls, I’ll have an excuse.”

I wasn’t expecting that, not even from him. “Dane…”

He’s already taken a step away, but he looks over his shoulder, and maybe more of the street boy still exists than I thought because trouble darts across his deep eyes. He comes back to me and pecks a kiss on my forehead. “Go to bed, Karis, before someone notices.”

Then he’s gone, disappearing back into the shadows of the hall, and the only evidence he ever stood here is the soft tread of his fading footsteps.

I failed. The knowledge sits like a thorn in my chest, prickling at the tender flesh of my heart. I was right there, I had the ledger in my hands, and I failed.

I drag my feet as I walk through the hallways, silently following the other acolytes in my group. Master Vasilis strides down the hall at our head, his robe billowing around his legs as he leads us to whatever work site he’s chosen today to re-catalog for the umpteenth time. All in the hopes that something will have changed that will unlock the secrets of the automatons.

The Scriptorium, which rules Eratia, flaunts itself as a leader among the nations in knowledge, but for the past two hundred years all the Scriptmasters have been obsessed with is recovering what they lost—reanimating and con- trolling the automatons littered over the islands.

It’s mind-numbingly pointless. If it hasn’t happened yet, it isn’t going to happen. The power of the automatons is dead. And right now, with the knowledge of my failure sit- ting heavy in my heart, I’m spitefully glad the Scriptorium is never going to get what they want either.

Outside, it’s barely dawn, pale colors stretching across the sky. Despite the early hour, the yard is already busy with the organized chaos of morning drills, men and women scattered about the yard. I look for Dane, even though I know he’s smart enough to take care of himself.

There are so many sparring pairs, it takes me a moment to spot him. Despite the chill in the air, his skin’s flushed and sweaty, and his sword flashes in the sun as dust flies around his sandals. Fatigue sits like a stone behind my eyes, but Dane looks as awake as ever. He lunges out fast and his opponent, a boy named Erys, jerks back and trips over his own feet. He falls in a tangle of flailing limbs. Dane lets out a whoop and jogs a few paces of a victory lap before helping Erys to his feet and slapping the other boy on his back.

I can’t help the grin that cracks across my face. Some- one’s having fun.

As if Dane can sense my attention on him—which I’m half convinced he can—he turns and sees me. He flashes me a smile that’s all secrets and all mine, and for a moment I almost forget how much the last few years have changed us. I wave back, ignoring the odd looks some of the nearby soldiers throw my way. As if it’s unnatural that someone like Dane would pay attention to someone like me. I wonder how many of them remember that Dane came here as an orphan, too. Before he picked up sword-fighting like he’d been doing it his whole life. Before he was allowed to join the militia ranks and became a favorite of his master and his squad. Before he grew from a gangly child into some- one who fits in perfectly.

Dane is good-looking and the worst thing is, he knows it. Knows exactly the effect he has on other people, especially on girls. At least girls besides me.

I’ve never felt that way about him. Actually, I’ve never felt that way about anyone. It’s not as if I think Dane is bad-looking. Objectively speaking, he’s quite nice to look at. There are plenty of people on Tallis who are nice to look at. I just wouldn’t ever want to kiss one of them over it. Whatever it is that makes my group mates sigh and go misty-eyed, I’ve never felt for myself.

I know all that about myself and most of the time I’m fine with it. But right now, under all these stares…there’s a part of me that wonders if I’m the strange one.

The drill sergeant, Master Adalis, gives a sharp whistle, raising her eyebrows at Dane. Looking only mildly abashed, he readies himself for another spar. I jog after the tail end of my group, slipping out through the front gate.

The island spreads before me, all pale craggy rocks and waving grasses. Stiff stalks poke at my calves and dust settles into every itchy space in my sandals. Orchids, just now blooming, open their delicate, purple petals to the sky. I lift my face to the thin rays of sun, ignoring the chatter of the other students, none of it directed at me.

I wonder what Matthias would think of this island. Even though he has low vision, he was always an adventurer, certainly more than I was. Maybe that was just because he was older. Or maybe that was just him. Back when we were young, I’m sure he knew every corner of our parents’ weaving shop and our tiny yard, where we used to pluck figs from the tree and eat them crouched in the shade on hot days, or separate lentils into bowls for dinner. When we were on Heretis, every run-down building we took shelter in was a chance for him to poke his fingers into the nooks and cracks. Our childhood was one of small spaces and I’m sure he’d have loved the wide-open possibilities of Tallis.

“Acolyte Karis.”

I snap back to attention just in time to hear the snickers. My cheeks burn as I see Master Vasilis standing in front of me. Behind him I can make out the curving edge of the eastern side of the island, where it turns sharply into white cliffs. We arrived at our work site and I didn’t notice.

Master Vasilis glowers down his aquiline nose at me. “Tell me, Acolyte Karis, what has so riveted your attention that you ignored my instructions?”

I almost want to tell him, just to see his face when he learns I stole a ledger. But if I said that, I might as well go walk off that cliff. So I bite down the impulse and mumble, “Nothing, Master.”

“Nothing? Well then, your wandering thoughts must simply be in need of a task. Attach the pulley system to the automaton.”

My group mates snicker again and I don’t understand why until I turn to the behemoth of a creature standing not five feet from us.

In the seven years since I arrived on Tallis, I’ve gotten plenty used to automatons. Back home on Heretis, there were only two on the outskirts of the city, and since Matthias and I always stayed near the central agora, where thieving was the easiest, I never actually saw them. Only heard the tales from the other street kids.

Here on Tallis, there are close to a dozen, leftover from the days when this island was a guard post. The things are massive. Monstrous. Great hulking bodies made of Scriptstrengthened bronze, most of it tarnished a dull green be- cause there aren’t enough of us to keep them all polished, thick arms and legs made from interconnecting plates meant for bashing and breaking, tiny heads placed atop for no reason I can see except to provide a point of normality to creatures that don’t look normal at all. When I came to this island, I screamed the first time I saw one. And though the years have taken that blinding edge of fear away, the things still give me the shivers. Even though they’re the pride of Eratia, the proof for the Scriptorium that once we were more powerful than anyone.

This automaton looks like any of its frozen kind, except for one thing: it’s at a tilt, its upper body leaning out over the cliff’s edge as if stilled in the moment before it was to dive into the water below. The ocean glints from up here, deceptively bright and beautiful. But I know there are rocks just beneath those waves. One wrong misstep on the climb up and I’ll be taking a quick trip to a long sleep.

One of my fellow acolytes, Demetrius, steps forward and shoves the pack with the pulley system into my hands. I meet his smug eyes. The others crowd behind him— Jocasta, Petros, Thetis—whispering as they sneak glances at me. There’s not a scrap of kindness in any of their faces, even though once there was. In Jocasta’s, especially. Of everyone, she was maybe the one I could have made friends within those early days. She was the one willing to reach out, who would smile when she passed me in the halls. Only I didn’t want friends.

And I don’t need their kindness.

I jut out my chin as I swing the pack onto my back. My gaze tracks up the automaton, trying to find the best route. Its tarnished and dented skin is littered with runes: reach, lift, bend. Hard lines carved into the hard metal. They aren’t lit—they haven’t been lit since Master Theodis, the greatest villain of the ages, triggered the Great Lapse that made all the things still. But they’re as close to handholds as I’m going to get.

I grab the lowest rune and haul myself up. I stick to the back of the thing’s thigh, where at least its body is between me and the fall, but the runes down here are far and few between.

Sweat prickles from my palms and slides down my spine. My arms ache from the sheer effort of pulling myself up the steep incline. I grit my teeth and push on. I refuse to give anyone the satisfaction of seeing me plummet to my death.

I’m almost to its back. I reach for another rune and my fingers slip. I scramble for a new hold, any hold, but it’s too late. My balance tips and I fall, screeching. The world tumbles over itself, flashing water and sky and cliff side. My body slams into rock, a steep slope turning my free fall into a desperate tumble, until with a bone wrenching thud, I stop.

I choke on air, my chest heaving, as I stare up at the bright blue sky. A hazy din of panic screams in my ears, and agony burns under every bit of my skin, like hundreds of scratching insect legs. I’m…alive. A strangled laugh tears from my throat. I’m alive.

My shaking fingers probe the ledge I’m on, slick with salt spray and barely larger than I am. This little outcropping of rock that saved my life. If it didn’t involve flipping over, I might have kissed it. Gritting my teeth, I heave myself up to my elbows.

There’s a crack in the cliff side, a few feet farther down the ledge. Its edges are lit with a faint glimmer of golden light.

I blink slowly, my aching head still sluggish. Is that… Scriptwork?

“Master, she isn’t dead.”

My group mate, Archus, has stuck his head out over the edge of the cliff side. Master Vasilis appears next to him, and even though I can’t hear his sigh, I see it in the way his shoulders heave. As if my nearly dying is some great inconvenience.

“Well, I suppose someone ought to grab a rope and throw it down,” he says.

There’s some shuffling up above and then the frayed end of a rope is thrown down. Every bit of me feels battered and bruised, and I have no idea how I’m going to climb all the way back up. But I do know that if I don’t do it, no else is going to come down here and get me. So, with a growl, I grab the rope and drag myself to my feet.

Excerpted from This Golden Flame by Emily Victoria, Copyright © 2021 by Emily Victoria. Published by Inkyard Press.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emily Victoria lives on the Canadian prairies with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, works at her public library, and has just finished her Masters of Library and Information Studies.

SOCIAL LINKS:
Author website: https://www.avictoriantale.com/

Twitter: @avictoriantale

Instagram: @avictoriantale

BUY LINKS:

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/this-golden-flame/9781335080271 

Powell’s: https://www.powells.com/book/-9781335080271 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/this-golden-flame-emily-victoria/1134633347 

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335080271

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/This-Golden-Flame-Emily-Victoria-ebook/dp/B07ZXCWTYF/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1603379509&sr=8-1 

Chapters: https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/this-golden-flame/9781335080271-item.html?ikwid=this+golden+flame&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=3

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ww/en/ebook/this-golden-flame

We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen: Blog Tour – Excerpt

We Could Be Heroes  

Mike Chen

On Sale Date: January 26, 2021

9780778331391

Hardcover

$27.99 USD, $34.99 CAD

336 pages

ABOUT THE BOOK:

An emotional adventure about two misfits who have extraordinary powers, but have forgotten who they were before. The vigilante and the villain must team up to stop a mad scientist who threatens the city, while trying to figure out who they really are.

Jamie woke up two years ago in an empty apartment with no memory and only a few clues to who he might be, and also with the power to read other people’s memories. In the meantime, he’s become the Mind Robber, holding up banks for quick cash. Similarly, Zoe is searching for her past, and using her new extraordinary abilities of speed and strength…to deliver fast food. And occasionally beat up bad guys, if she feels like it.

When the two meet in a memory-loss support group, they realize they are each other’s best chance at discovering what happened to them. The quest will take them deep into a medical conspiracy that is threatening to spill out and wreak havoc on their city, and maybe the country. As the two get past their respective barriers, they’ll realize that their friendship is the thing that gives them the greatest power.


Today I’m here to share an excerpt from this fun, fresh superhero story that you definitely need to add to your TBR!!

Chapter 3

Jamie stopped, catching himself. He’d gone too far this time. Close eyes, deep breaths, count to five, and then open eyes to see the damage.

Damn it. He’d really done it. He looked at the grout brush, then the lines between the countertop’s tiles, then back at the brush. Yes, he’d gotten the coffee stain out, but he’d also scrubbed too hard, wearing away some of the grout.

Twenty minutes ago, he’d arrived home, throwing his cashfilled backpack on the futon cushion. It landed with a thump, startling Normal out of her cat tuffet next to the window. And though he stopped to give Normal a calming pet, his instincts took over, starting with a meticulous cleaning of the litter box, then a complete vacuum of the small apartment. Then organizing his stack of library books into a preferred reading order, putting away the neatly folded clothes in the laundry basket, cleaning the pour-over coffee carafe and kettle before brewing a fresh cup. As it settled, he noticed some drips of coffee had absorbed into the grout lines adjacent to his row of ceramic mugs, thus kicking off his quest for a completely clean and reset kitchen. All of the fear and concern and guilt from the day funneled into his end-to-end cleaning spree even though it wasn’t Sunday, the day he typically reserved for getting his home in order.

But this. Flecks of dried grout stuck to the brush bristles, and Jamie squinted, examining them as if he tried to break into the memory of the synthetic fibers. He blinked when Normal mewed at him, snapping him back into the present. He had to slow down. He had to regroup. He’d gone too far this time, and though the counter looked clean, a closer examination showed a tiny degradation in the grout.

Damn it. Jamie blew out a sigh and surveyed the room.

So neat. So organized. In fact, it was nearly identical to when he’d woken up here, standing in the middle of a barely furnished apartment two years ago. On that morning, he had blinked as he came to, his eyes adjusting from blurry to focused, taking in the sun shining through the cheap tan drapes onto the futon in the middle of the living space. Once he’d realized where he was, it had dawned on him that he didn’t know who he was. He’d walked methodically through the semifurnished apartment, looking for triggers. Coffee table, bread, water, sink, bed, toothbrush. He knew what those were, their purpose, but none offered clues about himself. Even the mirror produced zero recognition; he didn’t know what history lay behind those eyes, what the story was behind the scar on his palm.

So neat. So organized. In fact, it was nearly identical to when he’d woken up here, standing in the middle of a barely furnished apartment two years ago. On that morning, he had blinked as he came to, his eyes adjusting from blurry to focused, taking in the sun shining through the cheap tan drapes onto the futon in the middle of the living space. Once he’d realized where he was, it had dawned on him that he didn’t know who he was. He’d walked methodically through the semifurnished apartment, looking for triggers. Coffee table, bread, water, sink, bed, toothbrush. He knew what those were, their purpose, but none offered clues about himself. Even the mirror produced zero recognition; he didn’t know what history lay behind those eyes, what the story was behind the scar on his palm.

And now? What he wouldn’t give for that blissful ignorance, free from knowing that the injured woman from today was all his fault.

How could he have been so stupid, so reckless?

As with each of his bank robberies, he’d taken his time, planned a strategy, even wrote out his script beforehand and memorized it. He still lacked in execution, but that was why he had checked out some acting books from the library. The whole goal, the entire focus was to get in and out as quickly, as cleanly as possible. That meant brain-stunning the people in the building in a very specific order under a very specific time frame, all while cackling like a cartoon character and reciting over-the-top lines in a not-quite-there American accent.

If he controlled the entire situation, then no one got hurt and he did his job.

Except when one of them had a medical condition.

Jamie cursed at himself, cursed his fake-it-till-you-make-it attitude, cursed the whole damn situation. Not once, not a single time had he ever considered the possibility of a medical issue.

He finally broke, forcing himself to move. A click on the remote control brought his small TV to life, flashing a news report about electrical surges throughout the city before turning to the bank heist. His fingers fumbled to hit the power button again, taking several tries before the screen thankfully went to black, leaving only the sounds of a hungry cat meowing to remind him that he hadn’t given her dinner or her nightly treat of coconut water yet. Jamie set the grout brush in the sink, and obliged the demanding cat.

Seconds later, the room filled with a content rumbling of purrs.

But even Normal’s happy noises failed to remove the trauma of the day. The sound of the woman’s head hitting the tile. The sight of the blood pooling. The desperate cries of her coworker.

Don’t think about it don’t think about it don’t think about it.

Onward. Next task: the money. He grabbed the backpack and headed to the bedroom. The backpack’s large top zipper got caught as he tugged on it, and the stress of the day gnawed at his patience, skipping past his normal mode of meticulously fixing it and jumping right to forcing it free. On the underside of the zipper, the corner of a hundred-dollar bill clung in between the metal clasps.

Jamie sighed, a sound soon mimicked by Normal yawning at his feet. “You have no idea,” he told the cat before reaching in and starting his post-robbery sorting process for cash.

A buzzing sound rattled the room, causing a handful of loose coins on the end table to dance; it broke his focus, jolting his shoulders and neck in surprise. From the hallway, he heard Normal’s claws catch in the thin carpeting before dashing off to find a hiding spot from the abrupt noise.

He picked up the phone, heart pounding that it might be someone on his trail. But a glance at his screen caused a sigh of relief. Reminder: Support Group. San Delgado East Side YMCA. Six o’clock.

Right. The weekly support group—more specifically, San Delgado Memory Loss & Dementia Support Group.

Not that Jamie cared about the giant gap in his personal life, the big cloud of nothing stemming from the moment he awoke in this apartment all the way back to, well, his birth. Something pulled him away from those thoughts whenever he even approached the matter, like staring into a bright beam of light until the intensity forced his eyes away. Every time. That avoidance happened so frequently it felt instinctive at this point, skirting whatever that was and whoever truly stood behind the impenetrable fog.

It didn’t matter. No, the support group was for learning more about memory loss in general, to guard himself from any further memories vanishing.

The irony of the Mind Robber dealing with all that didn’t escape him.

He resumed unloading the cash, first putting the stacks by denomination from left to right, then counting and rubber-banding any loose ones complete with a Post-it note with the total on each makeshift bundle. In the closet sat a safe—something that had been absolutely terrible to get into his apartment. He pulled off the blanket hiding it and turned the dial. Left with click click clicks. Then right. Then left again.

It opened up, revealing a larger version of the stacks assembled on his bed. Jamie took new bundles, two at a time, and neatly set them in the appropriate spots, making each tower of cash grow until the backpack and the bed were clear of evidence. A notebook leaned on the cash; Jamie pulled it out and opened it to the ledger he’d crafted, filling out the columns with the latest tally of earnings, anticipated expenses, safety-net cash and overall savings.

At the top of that column was a little drawing he’d made of a palm tree and a beach. Based on today’s earnings, he was nearly 80 percent to his goal. Depending on the size of each haul, a few more robberies—especially if he remembered to ask for the stacks of hundreds specifically—would provide enough financial comfort to retire on a tropical beach at a much lower cost of living. He’d read that the coffee in the Caribbean was excellent.

A comfortable permanence, as long as the Throwing Star didn’t track him down. That further complicated things, and Jamie wondered if he’d jinxed it all by invoking her during his bank performance. He gritted his teeth.

So close to a fresh start. For him and Normal, and he wouldn’t let the Throwing Star jeopardize that.

Normal gave an urgent meow, which translated in cat speak to “Where is my bed?” Jamie folded the blanket exactly and draped it over the safe, then put a small cat tuffet back on top of it. A gray-and-orange blur zipped by, and in one leap, landed on the tuffet, turning his trail of crime and/or source of income into the world’s most valuable cat bed.

Jamie exhaled, and his mattress bounced as he flopped on his back, eyes glued to the ceiling but brain refusing to shut off. One blink and he saw the woman fall again. Every time he closed his eyes, the image reappeared, except each instance seemed to intensify in its color and sound, the sheer vibrancy of his mind seemingly taunting him.

He could lift the memory out. He’d done it before as an experiment, including writing a note with steps and details as proof that he’d removed his immediate recall of the moment. It left him with what he presumed to be the same nausea that his victims experienced, and other than a few follow-up trials, he hadn’t done it for any practical purpose.

A small price to pay to be relieved of the guilt.

Jamie raised his hand, this time pointed at himself, and he closed his eyes, digging deep to flip through his own memories. Bright and fresh, full volume and movement, no haziness or missing pockets of moments. One wipe and it’d be gone.

But what would that make him? A possible murderer without a conscience? He treated his villain persona and robberies as a job, an income. Not to hurt people, not with malevolence or sociopathic apathy.

No.

This memory had to stay.

Jamie lowered his hand.

There was a knock at the door, jolting him to his feet.

He closed his eyes and stretched out with his mind, sensing the ghostly silhouette of a single form at his door.

No one ever came to his door.

“San Delgado police. Is anyone home?”

The very idea of having law enforcement at his door caused Jamie’s hands to tremble and a thin layer of sweat to form on his forehead. He could brain-stun the officer and run. He could dive into the officer’s memories, see what happened, why he was here—maybe it was just a fundraiser for the Police Athletic League.

Another knock rattled the door.

If he brain-stunned the officer, that wouldn’t exactly be inconspicuous. You couldn’t just leave gawking, unresponsive police on your doorstep. And the officer’s location was probably tracked by SDPD, which meant that lifting memories and sending him on his way would only lead to more trouble.

No, the only way out of this was through it.

Jamie took a deep breath, put on a baseball cap with a logo of the local San Delgado Barons hockey team, then marched to the door. He opened it halfway to find the very serious, very professional face of a plainclothes officer. Despite the fact that he stood shorter than Jamie, his sturdy build made him far more intimidating.

“May I help you?” Jamie held the door ajar. “Sorry,” he said, native English accent in full display, “I have a cat that tries to get out if I open the door all the way.” As if on cue, mews came from behind him and Jamie scooped up the pudgy feline. Mental note: she deserved extra coconut water tonight. “Be nice, Normal.”

The detective tilted his head at the name, then chuckled, sunlight gleaming off the light brown skin of his shaven bald dome. “No problem. Sorry to bother you this evening. Detective Patrick Chesterton. I’m the lead on the Mind Robber case.”

No reaction rippled through Jamie. Which was probably a reaction in itself. He waited, seconds stretching into vast chunks of time, and though he somehow managed to keep a polite expression on his face, the pounding in his chest might have given him away.

“We get anonymous tips all the time about the Mind Robber. Some people even claim to be him. But this one was very specific. And since we know he left on a train heading eastbound about ninety minutes ago, I thought I’d check it out.” He glanced over his shoulder, eyes tracking past the courtyard and toward the parking lot. “Traffic is going to be hell getting back to the station.”

Jamie told himself to laugh, though in a completely different way from the forced maniacal display of the Mind Robber. Calm, quiet, a little nervous—the natural kind of nervous anyone got when questioned by law enforcement. Normal must have agreed, as she continued mewing in his arms.

“Well, aren’t you a nice cat?” the detective said, his voice softening. He reached up to pet Normal’s round head, but the cat replied with a hiss. Before Jamie could stop her, she swatted at Chesterton. The cat kicked out of his arms, and Jamie turned to see a streak of pudgy fur dashing for the bedroom.

“Oh, I’m so—” Jamie stopped himself at the realization that the detective nursed a fresh scratch across the knuckles.

If they weren’t going to get him for being the Mind Robber, what about assault via cat scratch?

“I’m so, so sorry. Normal usually loves strangers.” That was a lie, or it might have been a lie. Normal never met anyone, regular or stranger, so the sample size on that remained small. “But she gets weird occasionally.” That part was true. Jamie held up his hand, palm out. “See this scar across my palm? Normal got me good one time.”

Flat-out lie: Jamie had no idea where that scar came from, though whenever he focused on it for too long, a strange mix of nausea and embarrassment would flood over him.

“It’s okay,” Chesterton said. “I had a cat growing up. They can be temperamental. I should know better than to do that. Anyway, the tip said that someone who fit the build and look of the Mind Robber was in this area. This block, actually.” He looked Jamie up and down. If Jamie decided to risk it, he probably could have poked into the detective’s memories and seen specifically what he was thinking, even the source of the tip. “Have you seen anyone who fits that profile?”

In the courtyard, Jamie caught sight of the old couple across the way trying to get their mini schnauzer puppy to obey commands. They looked over at Chesterton, then Jamie, and Jamie offered a reassuring wave. Despite being a theoretical villain, he still wanted to be a good neighbor. “I, um, actually don’t watch the news much. I find it triggering.”

“Ah, got it. He’s Caucasian. Around six feet tall. Thin build. Strong chin. That’s about it, really, though. His hood and mask obscure everything else.”

“Well,” Jamie said. A response came to mind, and he debated whether or not he was being too clever. His arms extended and a wry smile came over his face a little too easily. Maybe learning to play a villain had turned the gesture into muscle memory. “That sounds like me.” The words came out smooth, just enough of a joking lilt that they threaded the needle between bullshit and levity. It came naturally, almost uncannily so.

For a moment, nothing happened. Neither man blinked, and even Normal stayed quiet. The only noise came from squeaking brakes as a car pulled into the adjacent parking lot.

Then the detective burst out laughing. “I like you,” he said, before reaching into his back pocket. Jamie’s hand moved into position, a subtle gesture that only he could detect should he need to brain-stun. His fingers raised ever so slightly in preparation when a buzz in his back pocket caused both men to stand at attention.

“Sorry, just my reminder,” Jamie said after pulling out his phone. The device’s blinking screen gave him an idea. “My weekly support group. I, uh, need to get going.”

“Oh, of course. Good for you,” he said. “It takes a strong person to seek out help.” Jamie’s head bobbed at the compliment, and the detective finished reaching in his back pocket. He held up a business card. “Do me a favor and call if you see or hear anything that strikes you as suspicious. About him or the Throwing Star. We’re no fan of vigilantes, extraordinary or not. You can’t just run around in a suit beating up people. I don’t care if they’re good or bad. You know, if either of them just called us first and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got these abilities,’ you can bet we’d have found a job for them.” Chesterton glanced at the cat scratch on his hand before letting out a short laugh. “I heard she tripped in the Metro station and let the Mind Robber get away,” he said with a headshake. “I guess ‘extraordinary’ comes in many forms.”

All forms. That skepticism, if not admirable, at least provided some cover. “Right,” Jamie said, taking the card. “I’ll keep an eye out.”

“Even if you hear anything about weird crimes in Hartnell City. Their PD asked us about the Mind Robber. Guess they’re seeing some strange activity too.”

“Of course, Detective.”

Jamie’s exhale was nearly as loud as the slamming of the door. He’d never been that close to getting caught before.

Who could have possibly tipped the police? He’d wiped the memories of any OmegaCars driver that took him close by, and even then, he’d always walked the last few blocks, taking different routes each time. Could the Throwing Star have tracked him? Possibly, but she seemed more like the “punch in the teeth” than “call the cops” type.

Questions circled as Jamie heard the roar of the detective’s car coming to life. Through the blinds, Jamie watched a dark blue sedan pull halfway across the parking lot before pausing for a handful of seconds and then finally rolling away. Chesterton was gone for now, but if he suspected anything, the best course of action would be for Jamie to act as any normal civilian would. In this case, it meant going exactly where the detective expected him to be.

Normal meowed a farewell as Jamie grabbed a jacket—not his black hoodie—and locked the door behind him.

It was almost time for the support group. Even if he didn’t want to go.

Excerpted from We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen, Copyright © 2021 by Mike Chen. Published by MIRA Books.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter

SOCIAL LINKS:

Author website: https://www.mikechenbooks.com/ 

Twitter: @mikechenwriter

Instagram: @mikechenwriter

BUY LINKS:

Bookshop.org

Barnes & Noble 

Amazon

IndieBound

Google Books

Apple Books

Kobo

Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine / Blog Tour: Review + Excerpt

ROAD OUT OF WINTER

Author: Alison Stine
ISBN: 9780778309925
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
Publisher: MIRA Books

Many thanks to the publisher for letting me participate in this blog tour and granting me access to the ARC for this title.

Surrounded by poverty and paranoia her entire life, Wil has been left behind in her small Appalachian town by her mother and her best friend. Not only is she tending her stepfather’s illegal marijuana farm alone, but she’s left to watch the world fall further into chaos in the face of a climate crisis brought on by another year of unending winter. So opens Alison Stine’s moving and lyrical cli-fi novel, ROAD OUT OF WINTER.

With her now priceless grow lights stashed in her truck and a pouch of precious seeds, Wil upends her life to pursue her mother in California, collecting an eclectic crew of fellow refugees along the way. She’s determined to start over and use her skills to grow badly needed food in impossible farming conditions, but the icy roads and desperate strangers are treacherous to Wil and her gang. Her green thumb becomes the target of a violent cult and their volatile leader, and Wil must use all her cunning and resources to protect her newfound family and the hope they have found within each other.

Chapter One

I used to have dreams that Lobo would be arrested. The sheriff and his deputies would roll up the drive, bouncing on the gravel, but coming fast, too fast to be stopped, too fast for Lobo to get away through the fields. Or maybe Lobo would be asleep, and they would surprise him, his eyes red, slit like taillights. My mama and I would weep with joy as they led him off. The deputies would wrap us in blankets, swept in their blue lights. We were innocent, weren’t we? Just at the wrong place at the wrong time, all the time, involved with the wrong man—and we didn’t know, my mama didn’t know, the extent.

But that wasn’t true, not even close. 

I sold the weed at a gas station called Crossroads to a boy who delivered meals for shut-ins. Brown paper bags filled the back of his station wagon, the tops rolled over like his mama made him lunch. I supposed he could keep the bags straight. That was the arrangement Lobo had made years ago, that was the arrangement I kept. I left things uncomplicated. I didn’t know where the drugs went after the boy with the station wagon, where the boy sold them or for how much. I took the money he gave me and buried most of it in the yard.

After his station wagon bumped back onto the rural route, I went inside the store. There was a counter in the back, a row of cracked plastic tables and chairs that smelled like ketchup: a full menu, breakfast through dinner. They sold a lot of egg sandwiches at Crossroads to frackers, men on their way out to work sites. It was a good place to meet; Lisbeth would come this far. I ordered three cheeseburgers and fries, and sat down.

She was on time. She wore gray sweatpants under her long denim skirt, and not just because of the cold. “You reek, Wil,” she said, sliding onto the chair across from me.

“Lobo says that’s the smell of money,” I said.

“My mama says money smells like dirty hands.”

            The food arrived, delivered by a waitress I didn’t know. Crinkling red and white paper in baskets. I slid two of the burgers over to Lisbeth. The Church forbade pants on women, and short hair, and alcohol. But meat was okay. Lisbeth hunched over a burger, eating with both hands, her braid slipping over her shoulder.

“Heard from them at all?” she asked.

“Not lately.”

“You think he would let her write you? Call?”

“She doesn’t have her own phone,” I said.

            Lisbeth licked ketchup off her thumb. The fries were already getting cold. How about somethin’ home made? read the chalkboard below the menu. I watched the waitress write the dinner specials in handwriting small and careful as my mama’s.

“Hot chocolate?” I read to Lisbeth. “It’s June.”

“It’s freezing,” she said. 

And it was, still. Steam webbed the windows. There was no sign of spring in the lung-colored fields, bordered by trees as spindly as men in a bread line. We were past forsythia time, past when the squirrels should have been rooting around in the trees for sap. 

“What time is it now?” Lisbeth asked.

I showed her my phone, and she swallowed the last of her burger.

“I’ve got to go.”

“Already?”

“Choir rehearsal.” She took a gulp of Coke. Caffeine was frowned upon by The Church, though not, I thought, exclusively forbidden. “I gave all the seniors solos, and they’re terrified. They need help. Don’t forget. Noon tomorrow.”

The Church was strange—strange enough to whisper about. But The Church had a great choir; she had learned so much. They had helped her get her job at the high school, directing the chorus, not easy for a woman without a degree. Also, her folks loved The Church. She couldn’t leave, she said.

“What’s at noon?” I asked.

           She paused long enough to tilt her head at me. “Wylodine, really? Graduation, remember? The kids are singing?”

“I don’t want to go back there.”

“You promised. Take a shower if you been working so my folks don’t lose their 

minds.”  

“If they haven’t figured it out by now, they’re never going to know,” I said, but Lisbeth 

was already shrugging on her coat. Then she was gone, through the jangling door, long braid and layers flapping. In the parking lot, a truck refused to start, balking in the cold.  

I ordered hot chocolate. I was careful to take small bills from my wallet when I went up to the counter. Most of the roll of cash from the paper bag boy was stuffed in a Pepsi can back on the floor of the truck. Lobo, who owned the truck, had never been neat, and drink cans, leaves, and empty Copenhagen tins littered the cab. Though the mud on the floor mats had hardened and caked like makeup, though Lobo and Mama had been gone a year now, I hadn’t bothered cleaning out the truck. Not yet.

The top of the Pepsi can was ripped partially off, and it was dry inside: plenty of room for a wad of cash. I had pushed down the top to hide the money, avoiding the razor-sharp edge. Lobo had taught me well.

I took the hot chocolate to go.

In the morning, I rose early and alone, got the stove going, pulled on my boots to hike up the hill to the big house. I swept the basement room. I checked the supplies. I checked the cistern for clogs. The creek rode up the sides of the driveway. Ice floated in the water, brown as tea. 

No green leaves had appeared on the trees. No buds. My breath hung in the air, a web I walked through. My boots didn’t sink in the mud back to my own house in the lower field; my footprints were still frozen from a year ago. Last year’s walking had made ridges as stiff as craters on the moon. At the door to my tiny house, I knocked the frost from my boots, and yanked them off, but kept my warm coveralls on. I lit the small stove, listening to the whoosh of the flame. The water for coffee ticked in the pot.

I checked the time on the clock above the sink, a freebie from Radiator Palace. 

“Fuck,” I said aloud to no one.

Excerpted from Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine, Copyright © 2020 by Alison Stine. 
Published by MIRA Books

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

So here are in the middle of an influenza pandemic and during one of the hottest years ever and I happen to be reading a story about a post apocalyptic society set in an endless winter. Honestly its quite the experience. Just the cool down I needed. So I cranked my AC down to a chilling temperature to get that feel of wintery apocalyptic dread that ROAD OUT OF WINTER delivers on.

This is one of those reads where I felt a bit out of my comfort zone since lately I’ve been reading YA contemporary, so going from that to a climate change apocalypse sci-fi for adults is a stark difference.

Plus this has the fun little addition of having a cult! Cults are very much my thing and I have to say that the one in this story is so well done. It added to the psychological element of this book that slowly creeps on you and it’s characters.

And I adored Wil! She’s a Bi female lead who sells weed to get by. I appreciate this hustle. I also appreciate and was delightfully surprised by this fact since I had no idea it would be here but it was and it was refreshing that the queer rep was well executed. Her character arc is so well done and nuanced. Along with most of the characters the story’s setting and tone help to bring out Wil’s darker and grittier side. The sides of humanity that come out when we are trying to survive.

My biggest draw to any story like this is the survival element and how it affects the characters psychologically. Surviving something makes us act in different ways. These parts where things go bad made it feel so real. Because societal collapse is a very real thing that could happen as soon a tomorrow.

I highly recommend you check this out for yourself if you’re willing to dive into a bleak, gritty story that is hard hitting and hard to put down once you really get into it. It does take its time but I thought it was worth it despite the slow build up.

ALISON STINE lives in the rural Appalachian foothills. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She has written for The Atlantic, The Nation, The Guardian, and many others. She is a contributing editor with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

Buy Links: 
Harlequin 
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Books-A-Million
Powell’s

Social Links:
Author Website
Twitter: @AlisonStine
Instagram: @AliStineWrites
Goodreads

BLOG TOUR: Body Talk Review – Edited by Kelly Jensen

Thanks so very much to Algonquin Books for Young Readers for providing me a digital review copy via NetGalley and letting my join in on this blog tour!

SYNOPSIS

It’s time to bare it all about bodies!
 
We all experience the world in a body, but we don’t usually take the time to explore what it really means to have and live within one. Just as every person has a unique personality, every person has a unique body, and every body tells its own story.
 
In Body Talk, thirty-seven writers, models, actors, musicians, and artists share essays, lists, comics, and illustrations—about everything from size and shape to scoliosis, from eating disorders to cancer, from sexuality and gender identity to the use of makeup as armor. Together, they contribute a broad variety of perspectives on what it’s like to live in their particular bodies—and how their bodies have helped to inform who they are and how they move through the world.
 
Come on in, turn the pages, and join the celebration of our diverse, miraculous, beautiful bodies!


REVIEW

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I haven’t had the opportunity to read non-fiction in a while and I was glad to have the chance to read this one. BODY TALK is all about the ins and outs of our bodies. From the way we look on the outside to the way that our bodies make us feel on the inside.

Complex, diverse, impacting, hopeful, and emotional. These are some of the words I’d use to describe this anthology. This anthology made me feel so many emotions from relating to the pains of being insecure about how I look and feel about my own body to being uplifted by the more humorous tales. From tackling scoliosis, body hair, body dysmorphia, endometriosis, chronic illness, achondroplasia dwarfism, teeth, makeup, being fat, puberty, blindness, the color of ones’ skin, BODY TALK offers multiple accounts of the joy and pains of literally living with ourselves told through multiple mediums, such as essays, comic strips, and illustrations.

I also enjoyed the FAQs about related words and terms that are important when talking about our bodies such as disabled, fat, body positivity, accessibility, etc. Which explains thoroughly about the how, when, and why we use these words when talking about our bodies.

This is an important and unique anthology and I would recommend this to any teen or adult who is confused about how to feel about their own body as this offers a plethora of voices. Even if I can’t personally relate to some of the stories, I feel that its important to hear from people who live beyond your own experiences. There were some stories that I could relate to regardless of my own experiences that I found emotionally impactful. I recommend taking your time with one as there are many stories to take in and each and every one brings its own lasting impression.

My personal favorites were from Rachael Lippincott, Eugene Grant, Tyra Banks & Carolyn London, Sara Saedi, D.M. Moerhle, Julie Murphy, Junauda Petrus-Nasah, Rosahni Chokshi, Jourdain Searles, and Gavin Grimm.

BODY TALK is OUT NOW and I highly recommend you go out and get it from your local bookstore, online, or at your local library!

More Than Maybe by Erin Hahn – Blog Tour Review

Buy this book: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250231642

SYNOPSIS

Growing up under his punk rocker dad’s spotlight, eighteen-year-old Luke Greenly knows fame and wants nothing to do with it. His real love isn’t in front of a crowd, it’s on the page. Hiding his gift and secretly hoarding songs in his bedroom at night, he prefers the anonymous comfort of the locally popular podcast he co-hosts with his outgoing and meddling, far-too-jealousy-inspiringly-happy-with-his-long-term-boyfriend twin brother, Cullen. But that’s not Luke’s only secret. He also has a major un-requited crush on music blogger, Vada Carsewell. 

Vada’s got a five year plan: secure a job at the Loud Lizard to learn from local legend (and her mom’s boyfriend) Phil Josephs (check), take over Phil’s music blog (double check), get accepted into Berkeley’s prestigious music journalism program (check, check, check), manage Ann Arbor’s summer concert series and secure a Rolling Stone internship. Luke Greenly is most definitely NOT on the list. So what if his self-deprecating charm and out of this world music knowledge makes her dizzy? Or his brother just released a bootleg recording of Luke singing about some mystery girl on their podcast and she really, really wishes it was her?

In More Than Maybe, Erin Hahn’s swooniest book yet, Luke and Vada must decide how deep their feelings run and what it would mean to give love a try.


REVIEW

Rating: 4 out of 5.

If there’s one thing I’ve taken from reading both of Erin Hahn’s stories, it’s that she has THE KNACK, the powerful ability to write swoonworthy romance. Vada and Luke are cute, adorable, awkward, angsty All that good stuff that makes for a great teen romance. I enjoyed both characters together and on their own.

Vada is a confident, spunky teen girl with a path to music journalism that makes me feel so nostalgic because I also wanted to go down that path in high school as well. I even interviewed a music journalist for one of those kind of dumb and awkward as hell “interview a person in a career you want to into things” for school. But I can tell that Vada has the PASSION and that critical lens of a music critic that I appreciated seeing. Although I cannot tolerate Stevie Nicks slander (mostly joking) and some of her own music choices because I can’t help being a pretentious music snob.

And Luke is simply adorable. An introverted Brit who’s dad is a former punk rocker??? I feel like I definitely wrote this character in some of my own stories before because that kind of character is definitely my type.

Th side characters were quite likable. I really enjoyed the story with the Loud Lizard bar owner/Vada’s potential stepdad Phil and the dysfunctional relationship she has with her biological dad Marcus. It was a interesting side story that added some drama but not too much drama to drag down the romance. I was mostly okay with the side characters not having so much dimension since this story isn’t about them but I still wold have liked some characters to have been fleshed out a little more than a few personality traits. If I had to critique that.

Also I have to applaud the absolute power move of referencing characters and songs from your previous book because it was so good 😉

If I had anything else to critique it would maybe be the lack of diverse music choices? This is definitely a ME thing and it doesn’t affect the rating for the book but as far as someone who is interested music journalism I would think listening to an even wider variety of music other rock and sub-genres of that would be beneficial. I can see however since she’s writing for Rolling Stone she’d be more into that genre but I guess this was more focused on classic rock and alternative music which I can’t complain about.

My biggest takeaway is that MUSIC IS EVERYTHING. I’m listening to music as I type this review because of course I am. The passion found throughout the characters, the references, and writing was so fun to see. No matter what kind of music you listen to, who you listen with and where, listening and creating music is such an experience.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ERIN HAHN is the author of You’d Be Mine and More Than Maybe. She teaches elementary, would rather be outside and makes a lot of playlists. So many playlists in fact, that she decided to write books to match them! She married her very own YA love interest who she met on her first day of college and has two kids who are much, much cooler than she ever
was at their age. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, aka the greenest place on earth and has a cat named Gus who plays fetch and a dog named June who doesn’t.

Author website: https://www.erinphahn.com/
Author Twitter: @erinhahn_author
Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17130322.Erin_Hahn
Author Instagram: @erinhahn_author

BLOG TOUR: Mayhem by Estelle Laure – Review

Thanks to the publisher Wednesday Books for giving me the opportunity to review this title via NetGalley.

A YA feminist mash up inspired by The Lost Boys and The Craft.

It’s 1987 and unfortunately it’s not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy’s constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem’s own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren’t like everyone else.

But when May’s stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem’s questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good.

But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.

From the acclaimed author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back, Estelle Laure offers a riveting and complex story with magical elements about a family of women contending with what appears to be an irreversible destiny, taking control and saying when enough is enough.


a note from the author

Dear Reader,

Like Mayhem, I experienced a period of time when my life
was extremely unstable. I can still remember what it was like to
be shaken so hard I thought my head would come off, to watch
the room vibrate, to feel unsafe in my own home, to never
know what was coming around the next corner. I wanted to
run. I always wanted to run.

I ran to friends, but also movies and books, and although
girls were more passively portrayed in movies like The
Lost Boys back then, that feeling of teenagers prowling the
night, taking out bad people, being unbeatable . . . that got
me through it.

I guess that’s what I tried to do here. I wanted girls who feel
powerless to be able to imagine themselves invincible. And
yes, I used a rape as the seed for that fierce lineage, not without
thought. For me, there is nothing worse, and I like to think
great power can rise up as a result of a devastating trespass.

Please know I took none of this lightly. Writing this now, my
heart is beating hard and my throat is dry. This is the first time
I not only really looked at my own past, the pain of loss, the
pain of the loss of trust that comes when someone puts hands
on you without permission, the pain of people dying, the
shock of suicide, and put all of it to paper in a way that made
me feel victorious, strong, and warrior-like. It is also
terrifying.I know I’m not the only one who had a scary
childhood, and I know I’m not the only one who clings to stories as salve to
smooth over burnt skin. I am so sick of girls and women being
hurt. This was my way of taking my own vengeance and trying
to access forgiveness.

Thank you for reading and for those of you who can relate,
I see you and you are not alone.

Estelle Laure


Review + Thoughts

Before I start talking about what I enjoyed about this book I do want to emphasize that this is a heavy and darker read. I’m placing the content warnings that you can read from the author’s website about MAYHEM at the bottom of this review.

With that being said I thoroughly found this to be an excellent and nuanced exploration of these difficult experiences. I could feel the raw emotion in the writing and the anger coming off the pages. Girls being angry is the kind of thing I like to read about and MAYHEM fits so well into one of my super specific favorite genres, that is feminist revenge stories with magical elements mixed in.

I also love that MAYHEM contains complex, messy, and humanized characters. Troubled, messy, and hurt women such as her mother, Roxy, her Aunt Elle, her grandmother Julianna and Neve. Victims of the patriarchy wanting revenge and justice and peace. This also ties into a secondary plot of the story that revolves around the missing girls in Santa Maria.

This book is not for everyone but I think if you’re able to handle the content and want to read a story like this, you should check it out for yourself.


Content Warnings via Author’s Website

Rape: the Brayburn family’s backstory centers around the matriarch’s rape and explores the ensuing generational trauma and its effects on the women within its lineage. The rape is on the page but is not graphically depicted.

Suicide: a suicide takes place off the page.

Drug use: there is one scene in which multiple adolescents take hallucinogenic mushrooms. There is much use of pills and alcohol by one of the adults in the story as a coping mechanism for chronic pain and trauma.

Serial kidnapping and murder: part of the story centers around an active serial kidnapper and killer. There is also murder depicted throughout, sometimes on the page and sometimes off, including the murder of two of the children’s parents, which takes place in dialogue and is not explicitly on the page.

Child abuse: central to the story is a depiction of violence experienced by a child.

Domestic violence, intimidation, and emotional abuse: also central to the story is long-term domestic violence and its attendant cycle. This is mostly off stage, however there are several scenes of emotional manipulation and intimidation, and one scene that contains stalking and breaking and entering and a physical altercation.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Estelle Laure, the author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back believes in love, magic, and the power of facing hard truths. She has a BA in Theatre Arts and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and she lives in Taos, New Mexico, with her family. Her work is translated widely around the world.

Author’s social handles
o Twitter: @starlaure
o Instagram: @estellelaurebooks

BUY YOUR COPY OF MAYHEM HERE: https://wednesdaybooks.com/galaxies-and-kingdom/mayhem/

Out Now: Queer We Go Again! edited by Saundra Mitchell: Blog Tour Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Out Now: Queer We Go Again!
By Saundra Mitchell
On Sale: May 26, 2020
Inkyard Press
YOUNG ADULT FICTION/Diversity & Multicultural | YOUNG ADULT FICTION/Romance/LGBT
9781335018267; 1335018263
$18.99 USD
 416 pages

about the book

A follow-up to the critically acclaimed All Out anthology, Out Now features seventeen new short stories from amazing queer YA authors. Vampires crash prom…aliens run from the government…a president’s daughter comes into her own…a true romantic tries to soften the heart of a cynical social media influencer…a selkie and the sea call out to a lost soul. Teapots
and barbershops…skateboards and VW vans…Street Fighter and Ares’s sword: Out Now has a story for every reader and surprises with each turn of the page! This essential and beautifully written modern-day collection features an intersectional and inclusive slate of authors and stories.


As we enter the first week of Pride Month 2020, I recommend those of you that want to start reading LGBTQIAP+ books from queer authors read Out Now, which is in fact OUT NOW. This book contains short stories each with their own unique story set mostly in the modern day such as the first story from Candice Montgomery, Kick. Push. Coast about skateboarding, Julian Winter’s Victory Lap about finding a prom date and being on the swim team. Some with more fantastical and sci-fi elements in them such as Caleb Roehrig’s What Happens in the Closet which features vampires, Tara Sim’s One Spell to Many featuring Bi witches running a bakery and Fox Benwell’s Once Upon a Seastorm about trans selkies.

The diversity is a major plus for this anthology. We see teens that are trans, gay, lesbian, ace, bi, pan, demisexual, questioning, non-binary, Black, Choctaw, fat, Taiwanese, Pakistani, Latinx. It’s a beautiful thing to see so much diversity in not only the main characters of each story but the subtle representation of side or mentioned characters. I appreciated to see not only the stories where the characters are PROUD of who they are but also their struggle with their identities. There’s a big emphasis on romance, but also with friendships and family.

As with most anthologies, not ever story is going to be the perfect match. There were a few stories were a bit more fleshed out than others. Some stories i actually wished were full on novels. But I’m overall just satisfied to see these kind of stories in 2020. We need these stories and these authors to be flourishing.

MY PERSONAL FAVORITES

Kick. Push. Coast by Candice Montgomery
What Happens in the Closet by Caleb Roehrig
Victory Lap by Julian Winters
Floating by Tanya Boteju
One Spell Too Many by Tara Sim


about the author

Saundra Mitchell has been a phone psychic, a car salesperson, a denture deliverer and a layout waxer. She’s dodged trains, endured basic training and hitchhiked from Montana to California. She teaches herself languages, raises children and makes paper for fun. She is the author of Shadowed Summer and The Vespertine series, the upcoming novelization of The Prom musical, and the editor of Defy the Dark. She always picks truth; dare is too easy. Visit her online at http://www.saundramitchell.com.

Social Links:
Author website: wwww.saundramitchell.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Saundra-Mitchell/164136390442617
Twitter: @saundramitchell
Instagram: @smitchellbooks
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/52172088-out-now

Buy Links:
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Out-Now-Queer-We-Again/dp/1335018263
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/out-now-saundra-mitchell/1133810272
IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335018267
Books-A-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Out-Now/Saundra-
Mitchell/9781335018267?id=4861510030088
AppleBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/out-now/id1481649552
Google Play:
https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Saundra_Mitchell_Out_Now?id=0SeyDwAAQBAJ


Thanks for reading!

Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith – Blog Tour Stop Review

Don’t Read the Comments
Eric Smith
On Sale Date: January 28, 2020
9781335016027, 1335016023
Hardcover
$18.99 USD, $23.99 CAD
Ages 13 And Up
368 pages

SUMMARY

Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.

At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…

And she isn’t going down without a fight.


I honestly won’t have too much to say but this book was so delightful and fun!

WHAT I LIKED

  • DIVYA AND AARON – Both of the main characters are truly likable and feel so much like the teen I used to be. Which is super nerdy and trying so hard. I liked that both of their stories centered around these wanting to achieve their dreams but also wanting to support their families because its harder than it looks.
  • Both Divya and Aaron are teens of color (Divya is
  • Divya loves her mom and I do too (love Divya’s mom and my mom that is)
  • I overall just really liked the family element in this story.
  • I also love reading about supportive friendships (my fave being Divya and Rebekah)
  • THE REFERENCES!!! I adored the video game references (shouout to Garrus the Cat!) There’s also references to bookstagram and some popular YA titles! Overall the references were well done, relevant, and not forced.
  • Also shoutout to the author for referencing the very good game Remember Me!!!!
  • Cute romance that isn’t a big focus but it still amused me
  • The conflict between Divya/Aaron and their harassers is well done and important given concern over racism and sexism within the gaming community which is something that needs to be addressed towards teens especially going into these communities and being bullied.
  • The video game itself Reclaim the Sun sounds so cool. It’s this open world sci-fi adventure game. I wish I could play it.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

  • I can’t play Reclaim the Sun in real life

Anyways that’s my review and if you like video games and want more YA about it, it’s OUT NOW!!!

BUY IT HERE:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Dont-Read-Comments-Eric-Smith/dp/1335016023
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dont-read-the-comments-eric-smith/1131303425#/
Books-A-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Dont-Read-Comments/Eric-Smith/9781335016027?id=7715580291810
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/don-t-read-the-comments
Indie Bound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335016027
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Eric_Smith_Don_t_Read_the_Comments?id=Go6PDwAAQBAJ

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Smith is an author, prolific book blogger, and literary agent from New Jersey, currently living in Philadelphia. Smith cohosts Book Riot’s newest podcast, HEY YA, with non-fiction YA author Kelly Jensen. He can regularly be found writing for Book Riot’s blog, as well as Barnes & Noble’s Teen Reads blog, Paste Magazine, and Publishing Crawl. Smith also has a growing Twitter platform of over 40,000 followers (@ericsmithrocks).

SOCIAL LINKS:

Author website: https://www.ericsmithrocks.com/
Twitter: @ericsmithrocks
Instagram: @ericsmithrocks
Facebook: @ericsmithwrites