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Creatures Most Vile by Chelsea Lauren Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman who has been hunted by creatures her whole life has her world turned upside down when she discovers she has rare supernatural abilities, and is forced to fight the beasts that have haunted her in an arena. She must find a means of escape before the arena’s ruthless Commander before its too late in author Chelsea Lauren’s “Creatures Most Vile”. 

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The Synopsis

Stalked by monsters in the woods and her past, Anora finds safety in the quiet comforts of her small town life.

It’s another ordinary day when she’s sent to a Guardian assessment designed to unleash rare supernatural abilities, until she blasts a tunnel of water across the room. Her coach calls her gift a blessing, but Anora knows it’s a death sentence. Now she must train as a Guardian and battle the very monsters that have tormented her entire life.

After being thrown into the arena with a clawed and cackling creature, Anora refuses to accept this new life. She appeals to the Commander and begs her trainers to let her go home. The more they refuse, the more Anora realizes this isn’t a training camp—it’s a prison and they will never let her leave. Now she must escape the camp before the Commander catches on, for if he does, he may turn out to be worse than the monsters lurking in the woods. 

The Review

The world-building in this novel was fantastic! The author did an incredible job of not only captivating readers with a strong protagonist who evolved greatly over the course of the narrative but crafted a merciless and haunting dystopian world full of monsters, both the ravenous and humankind. The mythos that the author crafted around these fictional nations and the creatures that inhabit them, as well as the Guardians and their purpose, was incredible to watch unfold and did a great job of putting a new spin on the dystopian SCI-FI genre. 

The character arcs were what really brought me into this narrative fully. Anora was a fantastic hero to watch grow, as her arc from a scared and family-driven young girl into a strong and rebellious young woman was such a great and well-rounded story arc. The antagonists of this book were so vile and twisted, and the author did a great job of shocking readers with twists and turns that would change character perspectives constantly.

The Verdict

A heart-pounding, jaw-dropping, and entertaining read, author Chelsea Lauren’s “Creatures Most Vile” is a must-read dystopian sci-fi of 2021! The perfect read for sci-fi fans during the spooky season, the chilling monster attacks to set up the novel’s setting, and the twisted mind-games that the protagonist must endure making this a tense-filled world that cries out for a sequel. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

I never knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. At school, everyone seemed so convicted in their career aspirations while I was constantly changing my mind. My two favorite subjects were science and English, so I decided to follow a biology track in college.  

During those four years my love for biology solidified. A career in research started to take shape. I was accepted to a graduate program winter of my senior year and was ready for a new adventure. Little did I know, that adventure was waiting for me in a Creative Writing 101 course that upcoming spring.  

After a semester of exploring my creative side through poetry and short stories, I was hooked. After graduation, I continued writing for fun and in graduate school it was an outlet for stress. My best friend and I would have de-stress writing sessions. We wrote a little, talked a lot, and she is the one who encouraged me to seek publication and share my stories with the world.   

Throughout the years, my fiancé has been a constant source of encouragement.  Balancing a career in microbiology, a blossoming career as an author, and everything else would not be possible without his hugs and our baby puppy Otis’s cuddles and kisses.  

Here’s a link to a Q&A I did with author Joshua Gillingham. 

https://www.chelsea-lauren.com/

The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A half Reaper, Half-Shinigami warrior must find her place in the underworld and life as a whole while trying to earn the trust of the Goddess of Death in 1890’s Japan in author Kylie Lee Baker’s “The Keeper of Night”, the first in the series of the same name.

The Synopsis

Julie Kagawa meets Scythe in this captivating and evocative journey into Death’s domain as one soul collector seeks her place in the underworld of 1890s Japan. Book 1 of a planned duology.

Death is her destiny.

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough yearns for the acceptance she has never found among the Reapers who raised her. When the Shinigami powers she can no longer hide force her to flee for her life, Ren and her younger brother—the only being on earth to care for her—travel to Japan and the dark underworld of Yomi, where Ren hopes to claim her place among the Shinigami and finally belong.

But the Goddess of Death is no more welcoming than the Reapers who raised her, and Ren finds herself set on an impossible task—find and kill three yokai demons, and maybe, just maybe, she can earn a place in Death’s service. With only her brother and an untrustworthy new ally by her side, Ren will learn how far she’ll go to win the acceptance she craves, and whether the cost of belonging is worth any sacrifice.

The Review

Wow, that was truly a captivating and visceral reading experience. The author has expertly crafted an original YA Fantasy/Historical Fiction horror tale that will not only entertain audiences but introduce many readers to the rich mythos that exists within Japanese folklore and the culture as a whole. The balance of Asian and European mythology that the author explores is great, but what really is amazing to see is how the European lore is very much a secondary component to the narrative, serving more as a stepping board for the character’s beginning arc rather than taking up the majority of the novel’s mythos. 

The characters were so unique and rich to watch unfold. The protagonist herself was interesting, as she really toed the line between morality and her dark origins the further and further she went on her journey. Seeing how her brother and this new ally of Ren’s served as devil and angel on her shoulders throughout this journey, highlighting the hardship of having others tell you who you are while you are in the middle of trying to decide that for yourself. 

The Verdict

A mesmerizing, haunting, and emotionally driven YA Fantasy and action novel, author Kylie Lee Baker’s “The Keeper of Night” is a must-read novel for YA Fantasy and horror fans this fall! Incorporating truly chilling mythology and brilliant character growth, the shocking final chapter and cliffhanger of an ending will have readers on the edge of their seats, eager for the next entry into this amazing duology. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

About the Author

Kylie Lee Baker grew up in Boston and has since lived in Atlanta, Salamanca, and Seoul. Her writing is informed by her heritage (Japanese, Chinese, and Irish), as well as her experiences living abroad as both a student and teacher. She has a B.A. in Creative Writing and Spanish from Emory University and is currently pursuing a Master of Library and Information Science degree at Simmons University. In her free time, she watches horror movies, plays the cello, and bakes too many cookies. The Keeper of Night is her debut novel.

SOCIAL LINKS:

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

Twitter: @KylieYamashiro

Instagram: @kylieleebaker

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56030267-the-keeper-of-night

BUY LINKS:

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/the-keeper-of-night/9781335405661 

Porter Square Books: https://www.portersquarebooks.com/signed/signed-keeper-night-hardcover

Indie Bound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335405661

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-keeper-of-night-kylie-lee-baker/1138317760?ean=9781335405661 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Keeper-Night-duology/dp/1335405666/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=the+keeper+of+night&qid=1613326691&sr=8-2

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Kylie_Lee_Baker_The_Keeper_of_Night?id=6asJEAAAQBAJ

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ph/en/ebook/the-keeper-of-night

Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/dk/book/the-keeper-of-night/id1540957269

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Q&A with Kylie Lee Baker

Q: What was the hardest scene to write in The Keeper of Night? What was the easiest?

A: The opening scene was probably the hardest to write because I had to introduce a complex magic system. The Reapers control time, and that kind of power makes the story vulnerable to a lot of plot holes if you don’t word it carefully. It’s such a powerful tool that it raises the question of why there’s ever any conflict at all, or why any battle is ever hard for Reapers. I needed to address that very early on so the whole world wouldn’t fall apart, while still making the story move forward. 

The easiest scene to write was an argument between Ren and Neven, when Neven tries to dictate Ren’s identity, and Ren responds: “Why am I the only one with no say in who I am?” That was one of the first scenes I wrote, and it contains a lot of my raw feelings about how biracial people are treated. Very little of the dialogue changed from the first draft of that scene. The challenge, then, was to build up the rest of the book to bring the reader to the point where that question, and that very emotionally charged scene, made sense. 

Q: Did you hide any secrets in your book? (names of friends, little jokes, references to things only some people will get)?

A: I wouldn’t really call these hidden secrets, but a lot of details about the British Reapers are a huge nod to the Black Butler anime, which fans of that show might notice. For instance, the Reapers in The Keeper of Night are known for their poor vision, much like the Reapers in Black Butler who all have to wear glasses, which are important details in both stories. Neven’s love of cats came from Sebastian Michaelis, the titular character from Black Butler who is inexplicably obsessed with cats. Another reference (unrelated to Black Butler) is to Alfred Lord Tennyson–Ren often refers vaguely to themes in his poetry, but she’s talking specifically about a poem called “Love and Death” in which love defeats death, which is something she probably should have internalized a bit sooner. 

Q: What do you hope people remember about The Keeper of Night?

A: I hope people remember how complex, traumatic, and powerful Ren’s existence as a biracial character is. I hope that this gives people more respect for the uniqueness of biracial identity, and that biracial readers feel solidarity in their struggles. 

Q: Did The Keeper of Night have a certain soundtrack you listened to while writing?

A: I listened to an acoustic cover of Sia’s “Elastic Heart” and Billie Eilish’s “You Should See Me in a Crown” a lot when writing, because those songs reminded me both of Ren’s vulnerability and thirst for power. I also distinctly remember sitting in a coffee shop in Seoul listening to RM’s “Tokyo” while writing some of the first scenes in Japan. It has a very cold, lonely, wistful atmosphere that I tried to emulate. 

Q: What is your dream cast for The Keeper of Night?

A: This question is hard to answer, partially because I don’t often imagine real people when writing, and partially because the pool of mixed race white/Asian actors who you can discover through a quick Google search is much smaller than for actors of other races, not even taking into account things like age or face shape. The closest I can come for Ren is Pom Klementieff (who plays Mantis) with black hair. I know she’s Korean, not Japanese, but she also grew up estranged from that culture, much like Ren. Timothee Chalamet with blonde hair is probably the closest match for Neven, since I’ve heard a lot of people say he looks like he should have been a wealthy Victorian child, and Terada Takuya for Hiro–he’s very silly at times, and very sharp at other times, much like Hiro. 

Enjoy this Exclusive Excerpt from “The Keeper of Night”

chapter two

At the far edge of London, somewhere between nightmares and formless dreams, the Reapers slept by daylight.

The only way to enter our home was through the catacombs of the Highgate Cemetery, through a door that no longer existed. It had been built there long ago, when the Britons first came to our land and Ankou carved a hole in their world so that Death could enter. But humans had sealed it shut with layers of wood, then stone, then brick and mortar, all in the hopes of keeping Death out.

By the nineteenth century, humans had mostly forgotten about the Door and what it meant. Then, when the London churchyards began to overflow with bones, the humans had searched for a place just outside of London to bury their dead. By chance or fate, they’d built their new cemetery right on top of the Door. It turned out that Death drew all of us close, even if we weren’t aware of it.

No streetlights lit the path through Highgate at night, but I didn’t need them to find my way home. Before I’d even passed through the main gate, Death pulled me closer. All Reapers were drawn to him, our bones magnetized to the place of our forefather. As soon as I entered the cemetery, a humming began just under my skin, like a train’s engine beginning to whir. My blood flushed faster through my veins as I brushed aside the branches of winter-barren lime trees and low-hanging elms. My boots crunched shattering steps into the frosted pathways as I ran.

I stumbled through jagged rows of ice-cracked tombstones on uneven ground and through a village of mausoleums, finally reaching the gothic arched doorway of the catacomb entrance. The pull had grown unbearable, dragging me along in a dizzy trance as I descended the stairs into the cool quietness of damp bricks and darkness. The labyrinth would have been unnavigable if not for the fervent pull.

At last, my hands came out to touch the wall where the Door used to be, but now there were only damp bricks and an inscription on the arch overhead that read When Ankou comes, he will not go away empty in rigid script. I dug one hand into my pocket and clutched my clock, pressed my other hand to the bricks, then closed my eyes and turned time all the way back to the beginning.

Time flowed through the silver-and-gold gears, up into my bloodstream and through my fingertips, dispersing into the brick wall. Centuries crumbled away, the mortar growing wet and bricks falling loose. One by one, they leaped out of their positions in the wall and aligned themselves in dry stacks on the ground, waiting once again for construction. Objects were easy to manipulate with time, for I could draw from their own intrinsic energy rather than siphoning off my own. Rather than paying in years of my own life, I could borrow years before the bricks crumbled and quickly repay the debt when I put them back.

I stepped through the doorway and the pull released me all at once. I breathed in a deep gasp of the wet night air, then turned around and sealed the door behind me. The bricks jumped back to their positions in the wall, caked together by layers of mortar that dried instantly, the time debt repaid.

The catacombs beyond the threshold spanned infinitely forward, appropriated as resting places for Reapers rather than corpses. Mounted lanterns cast a faint light onto the dirt floors and gray bricks. It was almost Last Toll, so only the last Reapers returning from the night shift still milled around, their silver capes catching the dim light of the tunnels, but most had retreated to their private quarters for the morning.

I turned right and hurried down the block. The low ceilings gave way to high-arched doorways and finally opened up to a hall of echoing marble floors and rows of dark wood desks. Luckily, there was no line for Collections this close to Last Toll.

I hurried to the first Collector and all but slammed my vials into the tray, jolting him awake in his seat. He was a younger Reaper and seemed perplexed at having been awoken so unceremoniously. When his gaze landed on me, he frowned and sat up straight.

“Ren Scarborough,” I said, pushing the tray closer to him.

“I know who you are,” he said, picking up my first vial and uncapping it with deliberate slowness. Of course, everyone knew who I was.

He took a wholly unnecessary sniff of the vial before holding it up to the light to examine the color, checking its authenticity. The Collectors recorded every night’s soul intake before sending the vials off to Processing, where they finally released the souls into Beyond. He picked up a pen from his glass jar of roughly thirty identical pens, tapped it against the desk a few times, then withdrew a leather-bound ledger from a drawer. He dropped it in front of him, opened the creaky cover, and began flipping through the pages, one by one, until he reached a fresh one.

I resisted the urge to slam my face against the desk in impatience.

I really didn’t have time to waste, but Collections was a necessary step. I didn’t consider myself benevolent in times of crisis, but even I was above leaving souls to expire in glass tubes instead of releasing them to their final resting place, wherever that was. And besides, a blank space next to my name in the Collections ledger meant a Collector would pay a visit to my private quarters to reprimand me. The last thing I needed was someone realizing that I’d left before Ivy could even report me.

But when the Collector uncorked my fourth vial and held it up to the lamp, swirling it in the light for ten excruciating seconds, I began to wonder if I’d made the right decision.

The bells of Last Toll reverberated through the bricks all around us, humming through the marble floors. In this hazy hour between night and day, the church grims came out in search of Reaper bones to gnaw on. Night collections had to be turned in by then, while day collections had to be processed by the First Toll at dusk.

The Collector sighed as he picked up my fifth vial. “I’m afraid I’ll have to mark your collections as late.”

My jaw clenched. “Why.”

“It’s past Last Toll, of course,” he said.

My fingers twitched. The lamp on the Collector’s desk flickered with my impatience, but I took a steadying breath.

“I was here before Last Toll,” I said, trying to keep my voice even.

“According to my ledger, your collections still have not been processed,” he said, spinning my fifth vial in his left hand.

I sighed and closed my eyes. Of course, I knew what he was doing. Chastising a “latecomer” would earn praise from higher management. It was the easiest way for him to climb the ranks—to exert his power over the half-breed. He would be praised for his steadfastness and gain a reputation as a strict and immovable Collector, while I could do nothing to complain. I could explode his lamp and send glass shards into his eyes, but that wouldn’t make him process my vials any faster. The fastest way to get out of there was subservience.

“Forgive me, Reaper,” I said, bowing my head and dropping my shoulders. I let my voice sound timid and afraid. “I apologize for being late.”

The Collector blinked at me for a moment, as if surprised that I’d given in so quickly. But he looked young and power-hungry and not particularly perceptive, so I wasn’t too afraid that he’d see through my tactic. As expected, he sneered as if I truly had offended him, finally beginning to process the fifth vial.

“It’s a great inconvenience to both Collections and Processing,” he said, “though I wouldn’t expect a half-breed to understand the workings of the educated Reapers.”

The only believable response to his goading was humiliated silence, so I hung my head even further and tried to make myself as small and pathetic as possible. It wasn’t hard, because the memory of the night’s events was still wringing my heart out like a wet rag and my skin prickled with nerves so fiercely that I wanted to claw it all off and escape before Ivy could find me, yet here I was, brought to my knees before a glorified teller. I imagined being a High Reaper, being able to reach over and smash his face into his blotter and shatter his owlish glasses into his eyes for delaying and insulting me.

His lamp flickered more violently and he paused to smack it before finally finishing with my last vial. He placed all seven in a tray and pressed a button that started the conveyor belt, sending the souls down to Processing. The moment he put a black check next to my name in the ledger, I stood up straight and turned to leave.

His hand twisted into my sleeve, yanking me back.

I shot him a look that could have melted glass, but he only pulled me closer.

“There’s the matter of your sanction,” he said.

“My sanction,” I said, glancing around the office to see how many people would notice if I simply twisted the Collector’s neck. Too many.

“For your tardiness, of course,” he said, smirking sourly. From his position stretched across the desk, the lamplight caught in his glasses and turned them into two beaming white moons.

The standard punishment for failing to make curfew was a night on the pillory, hands and feet nailed to the wood and head locked in a hole that was just slightly too tight, letting you breathe but not speak. The other Reapers could pull your hair or pour mead over your head or call you a thousand names when you couldn’t talk back. But the worst part wasn’t the nails or the insults. It was the Reapers who did nothing but look at you and sneer like you were nothing but an ugly piece of wall art, like they were so perfect that they couldn’t fathom being in your place. And far worse than that was my own father and stepmother walking past me and pretending not to see.

“Come back at First Toll,” the Collector said. “We’ll find a nice place to hang you up by the Door.”

It took every ounce of restraint I had left to keep my expression calm. This was the part where I was supposed to say, Yes, Reaper, and bow, but he was lucky that I hadn’t smashed his glasses into his face with my fist.

As if he could smell my defiance, he pulled me closer. His glasses fell out of the lamplight, revealing a deep frown.

“Scrub that look from your face,” he said. “Remember that I’ll handle your collections in the future.”

The future, I thought.

Luckily, I didn’t have a future.

The light bulb flashed with a sudden surge of power, then burst. Glass shards rained down over the desk, forcing the man to release me as hot glass scored his hands. Some of his paperwork caught fire, and he frantically patted out the flames with hands full of shards.

“Yes, Reaper,” I said, bowing deeply so he wouldn’t see my smirk as he sputtered about “bloody light bulbs, I knew we should have kept the gas lamps.”

Then I turned and rushed off to the West Catacombs.

Excerpted from The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker, Copyright © 2021 by Kylie Lee Baker. Published by Inkyard Press. 

Interview with Issac Nasri

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

I’m a 27-year-old indie author that’s a native of Washington, DC and I have a penchant for cyberpunk. My passion for writing extended when I was young but I definitely made very good use of it as I was in college. In University of Maryland, I participated in writing clubs, where members shared insights and feedback on each other’s chapters or stories. Then my writing, though imaginative, was juvenile. But looking back and to now, I have to say my writing has significantly improved and age also plays a factor as we become sage over the years flying by, at times we recoil at what is done in the past. 

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2) What inspired you to write your book

The story itself is heavily based on the real-life events that went on, and the elements presented in Into the Violet Gardens shine light on the issues present in humanity today. Albeit cyberpunk, the novel is set two years later from now but ties in elements that are deemed ongoing issues in our society today. Plus humanity has played a great part in exacerbating these issues. 

3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

Readers should take heed that this novel covers themes that extend to the chimerical concept of peace, mendacity, and most importantly the dark reality of human nature, an element I do hope many readers look into. The latter is commonly demonstrated in this story where after the events involving the drug war, cyborgs and robots become targets for human prejudice concerning the turmoil plaguing Latin America in the aftermath of the war. As a result, this corruption enacted by humans takes a toll on the characters in my novel, giving fuel and pent-up anger within my main antagonist. The reality is that many people will take delight in taking part in an act that may seem trendy just to achieve gratification, even if the act is devious.

4) What drew you into this particular genre?

I’ve been a fan of science fiction due to how grounded the genre is to real-life and I believe that many authors can take liberty in applying its components to the modern world.

5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?

This is a challenging one. A dangerous choice here, but I’d say that Eva Moreci, the main antagonist, would be a suitable candidate. She’s undergone numerous struggles in the story such as mortification and deception from humans, the people she once placed her trust in, and as a result, creating her into that monster that wants nothing but their decimation. Her motives are something readers can’t snub so freely. It would be interesting knowing how would she go about revolutionizing the world for all cyborgs and robots if she had succeeded in her plan. 

6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

The use of fiverr has been beneficial in helping me improve on my fiction. I’ve found a good amount of beta readers and editors that were willing to give their insights in components that needed fixing such as the Spanish dialect, which is very common in the story.

7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

I encourage readers to make use with editing rounds. One round of editing isn’t enough to make your writing transparent, and use editors that are convenient for your budget. Second is make use of beta readers. They have been of much help to me during my period of revising and their insights will help you figure plot holes and inconsistencies in stories.

8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

I definitely look forward to possible sequels to continue the storyline if I’m successful with the audience. As of far, the reaction has been going positive but I’m still pushing forward in reaching out to more people.

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About the Author

Isaac Nasri is a self-published author. He grew up in Washington DC and graduated in May of 2017 from the University of Maryland, College Park with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology. His stories focus on offering allusion to recent events happening in contemporary society and how they affect his characters.

Heart of the Scrapdog is his self-published work that was released in 2020.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20806995.Isaac_Nasri

Cult by Warren Adler Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

After receiving a frantic call from the man she once loved claiming his current wife has been taken, a woman must put aside her misgivings and risk all to help the man she cared for deeply save his wife from the hands of a dangerous cult in author Warren Adler’s “Cult”. 

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The Synopsis

In the dead of night, Naomi Forman receives a phone call. Barney Harrigan, the man she once loved—now happily married with children—utters, “My wife Charlotte has been captured by the Glories.” What began as a rude interruption of her night becomes a horrifying interruption of her life, as she is unable to ignore Barney’s cry for help.

Drawn into the Glory Church doomsday cult by her estranged sister, Charlotte Harrigan succumbs to the will of the enigmatic Father Glory. Brainwashed beyond comprehension, she is now not herself, but only one of many who have been entrapped by the cult’s promise of rebirth into a new, idyllic life.

Against her better judgment, Naomi agrees to help Barney confront the Glories and save Charlotte. But naïve optimism quickly plummets to misery as their plans are systematically picked apart, dashed by members of the cult past and present, and even by the local Sheriff T. Clausen Moore, who is only as helpful as the Glories want him to be. His awareness of the Glory’s practices and their secluded compound—including the river, where there has been more than one “accidental” drowning—is the one obstacle that he too must overcome to restore order to his county. No one is safe.

Naomi’s will is tested and Barney becomes more and more desperate. The lengths he is willing to go to save his wife are as sinister as the Glories themselves.

From the Manson family to Scientology, cults have been fascinating, disturbing, and terrifying, from their induction methodologies to doomsday imperatives. The Glory Church of Warren Adler’s vision is no different. Just look to the headlines. Their time will come. 

The Review

When a story like this comes along, the thing that always separates the well-written from the more sensationalized storylines is how the story impacts the conversations they stir up. This novel really did an amazing job of creating buzz-filled conversations that pushed the limits of what we think about when it comes to religious freedom vs indoctrination. 

The character growth was so layered and complex that it really drew readers into the narrative. The novel introduced a story that felt very real, due in large part to the conflicted and flawed protagonists and antagonists of this narrative. The question of morality comes into play so strongly that readers will be forced to analyze how they would approach this emotional and mentally challenging subject. While saving our loved ones from indoctrination seems like a simple enough task, the means by which we do so and the consequences for those actions are what the characters here are forced to deal with.

The Verdict

A brilliant, complex, and engaging read, author Warren Adler’s “Cult” is a fantastic read. It allows readers to understand the challenging and emotional task of losing loved ones to fanaticism and cult activity, while also exploring the consequences of our choices. The concept of choice is a major theme in this novel, and the twists and turns both halfway through the novel and in the end will keep readers on the edge of their seats. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Acclaimed author, playwright, poet, and essayist Warren Adler is best known for The War of the Roses, his masterpiece fictionalization of a macabre divorce that was adapted into the iconic dark comedy that starred Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito. Following the success of his The War of the Roses, Adler went on to option and sell film rights to more than a dozen of his novels and short stories to Hollywood and major television networks. Random Hearts, The Sunset Gang, Private Lies, Funny Boys, Madeline’s Miracles, Trans-Siberian Express and his Fiona Fitzgerald mystery series are only a few titles that have forever left Adler’s mark on contemporary American authorship from page to stage to screen.

Adler illuminates the intricacies of the modern American family through wit and realism, a trademark that has earned him the moniker ‘master of dysfunction’. On the other hand, he navigates the turbulent waters of the American political and social scene with unsurpassed authenticity; his political thrillers such as The Henderson Equation, The Casanova Embrace, and American Quartet – a ‘New York Times notable crime book’ are born from his experiences as a former White House correspondent, and co-owner of Washington Dossier Magazine, chronicling the social history of the nation’s capital from 1975-1991. He was also a businessman and once campaign strategist to President Richard Nixon. With over 40 years of an insider’s view of the exclusive domain of the nation’s political elite, Adler writes with a unique insight and command rendering him an invaluable voice in the evolving American experience, and a trademark in American literature. 

https://www.warrenadler.com/popularbooksbywarrenadler/

Tiny Yellow Hat by J. Michael Chamberlain Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Author J. Michael Chamberlain takes readers on a humorous journey through his life through anecdotes and true life experiences in his brilliant book, “Tiny Yellow Hat”. 

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The Synopsis

This wildly entertaining book is laced with wicked concepts, cheap shots and a few bright ideas; a feast of funny words and clever notions without once mentioning vampires or zombies. J. M. Chamberlain created the perfect blend of madcap rants and true life experiences guaranteed to put a never-ending smile on your face. Actually, a never-ending smile might be cause for alarm; if your smile lasts longer than four hours, please call a doctor. In a nutshell, this extraordinary slice of life is almost too good to read, but I suggest reading it anyway. I also suggest telling forty or fifty of your closest friends to read it, because www.peopleneedtolaugh.com 

The Review

This was a truly entertaining and engaging read. The author found the perfect balance between humor and personal reflection that this memoir needed. The quick-wit the author employs through his writing while regaling readers with relatable experiences like stage fright, brushes with death, and so much more made this a driven read. 

With such a storied and memorable career as this amazing author has had, it was so fascinating to see the author hone in on both the career aspect of his work as a stand-up comedian/actor and how it relates to the life lessons and memorable moments that stood out to him within his personal life. The author’s poetic delivery of witticisms and humor to explore these lessons will have readers laughing while also connecting to the author personally, something all great memoirs hope to do.

The Verdict

A remarkable, heartfelt, and funny memoir, author J. Michael Chamberlain’s “Tiny Yellow Hat” is a must-read book of 2021! The author’s creativity and life experiences will have readers enthralled, and the charming delivery of his life will have readers chuckling and smiling as they engage with the author’s writing on a very personal level. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Originally hailing from Brooklyn, New York, J. Michael Chamberlain, the doctor of comedy, began his career as the class clown with cohort Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld and resident neurotic on Curb Your Enthusiasm. After a brief stint with a brokerage firm on Wall Street, the bestselling author signed up as a horse-and-carriage driver in Central Park. Comical tours through the park steered the way to stage doors, television studios, and major motion pictures. Soon, the gifted performer was working alongside Gene Wilder in The Woman in Red and Ed Harris in the timeless Irwin Winkler production, The Right Stuff. As a young actor and writer in Hollywood, he performed in over thirty motion pictures and countless television productions. When he isn’t penning bestsellers and appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman, he can be found playing the blues across America and enjoying the good life with his spouse and their rescued hounds, Charles Beresford Tipton and Gracie Poochinella Pants.

Interview with Tamel Wino

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

– I stumbled into writing in elementary school. Everyone in class had to write a poem, in celebration of Independence Day. I was shocked and thrilled that my poem was one of the very few that got picked to be submitted to a local newspaper agency. It was never published but ever since then, I started writing and experimenting more. 

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2) What inspired you to write your book

-I’m a big fan of ‘the Moth’ podcast. One of the episodes is about a female African writer who had to move heaven and earth just to publish her book. That truly inspired me to publish my own book.

3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

-I want the readers of my book to walk away with gnawing uneasiness. Realizing the vileness that lurks within certain people. And wondering what if.

4) What drew you into this particular genre?

-I’ve been reading horror for as long as I can remember. Growing up with and devouring the works of the lords of terror (King, Koontz, Barker, Poe, etc.) immensely influence my own writing.

5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?

-It’d be really intriguing to probe more into their motives, intentions and turning points.

6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

-I’m never been very active in social media. Just really started using it recently. Instagram is my preferred platform.

7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

-Perfect first drafts don’t exist. Everybody has great stories to tell, more often than not, it’s down to timing, luck and perseverance to fish them out.

8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

I see myself exclusively writing short-form fiction. Currently working on my third collection in the same vein as the first two.

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About the Author

Tamel Wino is a Canadian fiction writer from the resplendent British Columbia whose works focus largely on degeneration of sanity and morality. He studied Health Sciences and Psychology, which only furthered his interest in human nature.

With inspirations including Alice Munro, Chuck Palahniuk, Cormac McCarthy, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood and Edgar Allan Poe; Tamel’s expositions are strongly grounded in traditions of dark fiction. Yet, with his bold narrative voice and incisive plot construction, Wino is paving a new movement within the space.

When he’s not reading or scribbling away on his laptop, Tamel loves listening to jazz, rewatching good ol’ classic shows and traveling.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ekleipsis29/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ekleipsis29/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ekleipsis29

Website: https://ekleipsis.ca/

https://books2read.com/links/ubl/38dQwZ

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Hell Fighters: 21st Century Lovecraft by Bill Richardson Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A chance at finding some semblance of security and newfound purpose in his life takes a dark turn when Dr. Max Heller must lead a ragtag group of people against malevolent entities in author Bill Richardson’s “Hell Fighters: 21st Century Lovecraft”. 

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The Synopsis

21st CENTURY LOVECRAFT

A terrifying evil wants to enter our world, and Dr. Max Heller and the Hell Fighters are the only ones who can stop it. Heller is a man of science but when he stumbles upon something that defies all logic, he must put aside his old ways of thinking and plunge into the unknown.

In the tradition of HP Lovecraft comes a tale of cosmic horror that will have you on the edge of your seat. There are things in the universe beyond our understanding, malevolent entities of immense power. Can Heller and a ragtag group of townspeople prevail against such beings? Find out in this gripping tale filled with horrors more frightening than any nightmare.

The Review

This book hits readers immediately with a punch! The author brilliantly alternates the pacing according to the atmosphere of each chapter, slowly introducing readers to the protagonist before unleashing all hell on him and forcing him into a shocking fight for his life. Honestly, some of the most compelling reads and even films/shows that have drawn me in over the years tend to be cosmic horror. From classic H.P. Lovecraft to Stephen King’s The Mist and even more modern tales like Stranger Things, the combination of exploring what lies just beyond our universe and the fight for hope and life in the face of overwhelming horror is so highly creative and vastly open for new stories, and this author has found the perfect take on this iconic storytelling device.

What really stood out to me was how much humanity the author was able to infuse into this cosmic horror adventure through such strong character development. A truly great horror story infuses the narrative with emotional storytelling through personal character growth, and the author did this brilliantly, especially with protagonist Max Heller and supporting characters like Lydia and the Hell Fighter Club. These personal and emotionally-driven character interactions not only opened up the mental and emotional journey they were on but also did a great job of bringing thought-provoking concepts and scientific theories such as other dimensions/universes into the conversation while delivering a chilling and haunting atmosphere. 

The Verdict

A chilling, horrifying, and entertaining Lovecraftian-style horror thriller, author Bill Richardson’s “Hell Fighters: 21st Century Lovecraft” is a must-read horror story this fall season, and one of 2021’s best horror reads overall. Brilliant character development, shocking twists, and turns as the mythos of this haunting world is developed, and an open-ended finale that both closes a chapter in the character’s lives and leaves open the possibilities for more, this is a novel readers do not want to miss. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Most people want you to be just one thing, but unfortunately I’m not. I work in many genres, many media and many voices. I’m an award-winning filmmaker, an artist, playwright, poet and author. I do humor, horror, poetry, history and more. I create work that is serious, uplifting and explores important questions and I do things that are just pure entertainment. Some of the things I’ve done have been deep and thoughtful, and some just plain silly and fun. If there is a unifying thread, it is that I am a storyteller. And one of the main functions of stories is to aid us in making sense of the world. Stories help us deal with things we are frightened of – whether that’s a creature in the night or death. Stories also help us deal with the cares of life by understanding them or just being distracted from them. Our lives are varied and complex. At times we are happy or sad, challenged or victorious, high or low. So it is not surprising that the things we create should reflect that complexity and diversity. That’s how it is with me. Now if you want information on some of my specific accomplishments then just keep on a readin’.

As a filmmaker I’ve produced feature films, documentaries, commercials and TV series. I’ve appeared on numerous national TV shows including CBS This Morning, CBS Sunday Morning, American Pickers, Nat Geo’s Diggers, Discovery Networks’ Blood Feuds and America: Fact or Fiction and the Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum. My films have been used as teaching tools at such prestigious universities as UC Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon and Marquette, and are part of the U.S. Library of Congress holdings. I’ve been quoted in the New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, London Times and hundreds of other newspapers. I’ve published fiction and non-fiction through Random House and other companies. I’ve been a featured speaker nationally and internationally. My work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and I’ve done covers for books, magazines, movies and graphic novels. I’ve even appeared onscreen in four internationally distributed feature films.

https://bilrichardson.com/

Oh Daddy Chronicles 2: Return of Covfefe by Barry Robbins Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Author Barry Robbins returns with a follow-up to his acclaimed contemporary political satire collection featuring all-new skit-like segments focusing on Former President Trump now living life as “Citizen Trump” in the book “Oh Daddy Chronicles 2: Return of Covfefe”. 

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The Synopsis

Oh Daddy Chronicles 2: Return of Covfefe is a contemporary political satire. It continues the hilarious lampooning of the 45th President of the United States – a guy named Trump – that began with the original Chronicles. But the scene has shifted – from the White House to Mar-a-Lago and the object of ridicule now responds to the title Citizen Trump. Join the fun as “Return of Covfefe” brings you the first annual “I Love Trump Beauty Pageant,” the Cheneys vs.Trumps showdown, Biden’s summit with Putin, Allen Weisselberg’s flip, Bernie’s craving for gefilte fish, and lots more.

The Chronicles 2 consists of 47 largely independent skit-like episodes, each taking on a different target. It’s what you get when you take real or imagined events, toss in a healthy dose of comic imagination, and turn the blender speed to high.

The Review

A brilliant follow-up to a fantastic contemporary satire that reflects the central figures of our political scene today. The humor and wit with which the author delivers these scenes and the characterization of political figures like Trump, Vladimir Putin, Joe Biden, and more was not only hilarious but somehow captured the essence and tone of their behavior and actions over the last few years. 

One thing that stood out in this read, much like in the first book, was the author’s ability to balance the humorous character interactions with the contemporary real-world issues that we are still facing to this day. From the attack on the Capitol Building to COVID and the pandemic as a whole, the author finds a creative way to not only criticize the ridiculous nature of some of these individuals but to bring humor and a much-needed break from the reality of the life we are all living right now.

The Verdict

A masterful, well-written, and hilarious sequel to Oh Daddy Chronicles, author Barry Robbins’s “Oh Daddy Chronicles 2: Return of Covfefe is a must-read satire read. The natural way the author meshed the humor and contemporary scenarios together was incredible writing, and fans of political satire, in particular, will thoroughly enjoy as the strange, unusual, and shocking behavior of Trump takes on a whole new meaning in this evenly-paced read. If you haven’t yet, grab your copy today! 

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Barry Robbins is a retired CPA with a keen interest in things having nothing to do with accounting. He spent 26 years working for a large accounting firm. Then he quit. He moved to Helsinki, Finland with his Finnish wife and two beautiful daughters 20 years ago. He now spends much of his time living in Florida, struggling to adapt to life in what often seems like a foreign country. The years spent in Europe gave him new eyes through which to see the U.S. That, plus the time spent freelancing as a ghostwriter of book reports for lazy third graders, make him uniquely qualified to serve as Chronicler-in-Chief of the Oh Daddy Chronicles.

Luminous by Mara Rutherford Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A young witch who has hidden her power her entire life must unlock her potential after her sister is taken by a nefarious warlock and her best friend disappears in author Mara Rutherford’s “Luminous”.

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The Synopsis

From the author of Crown of Coral and Pearl comes an immersive new fantasy about a witch who must learn to harness her power—or risk losing her loved ones forever.

Liora has spent her life in hiding, knowing discovery could mean falling prey to the king’s warlock, Darius, who uses mages’ magic to grow his own power. But when her worst nightmare comes to pass, Darius doesn’t take her. Instead, he demands that her younger sister return to the capital with him. To make matters worse, Evran, Liora’s childhood friend and the only one who knows her secret, goes missing following Darius’s visit, leaving her without anyone to turn to.

To find Evran and to save her sister, Liora must embrace the power she has always feared. But the greatest danger she’ll face is yet to come, for Darius has plans in motion that will cause the world to fall into chaos—and Liora and Evran may be the only ones who can stop him.  

The Review

A truly unique and intense new YA Fantasy world! This novel did an amazing job of drawing the reader into this unique world where witches, mages, and warlocks take on an entirely new meaning. The theme of sisterhood and family, as well as the theme of accepting ourselves for who we are, was felt widely in this narrative, as the story unfolded the layers of Liora’s past and her true nature beautifully.

The balance of world-building, mythology, and character growth was so well-written in this book. The exploration of Liora’s sheltered life and the fear of her magic was a great reflection of every parent’s desire to shield their children from the dangers our world presents, and the harm that can come from being too protective and letting our own fears dominate our children’s lives. Liora’s evolution as a protagonist was great to see unfold, showing the inner strength that blossomed her from a shielded witch in hiding to a powerful force for change and light in the darkness. 

The Verdict

Emotional, mythological in its world-building, and heartfelt in its delivery, author Mara Rutherford’s “Luminous” is a must-read YA Fantasy novel of 2021. A wholly unique take on witches and magic overall, and the theme of self-acceptance, this novel does a wonderful job of keeping the reader on the edge of their seat, delivering shocking and heartbreaking revelations, epic confrontations, and beautiful relationships that tie into the story of hope that Liora represents. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Mara Rutherford began her writing career as a journalist but quickly discovered she far preferred fantasy to reality. Originally from California, Mara has since lived all over the world with her marine-turned-diplomat husband. A triplet born on Leap Day, Mara holds a master’s degree in cultural studies from the University of London. When she’s not writing or chasing after her two sons, she can usually be found pushin_g the boundaries of her comfort zone, whether at a traditional Russian banya or an Incan archaeological site. Mara is a former Pitch Wars mentee and three-time mentor.

Social Links:

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mararaewrites

Instagram: www.Instagram.com/mararutherfordwrites 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/56030266-luminous 

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Luminous-Mara-Rutherford/dp/1335405658 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/luminous-mara-rutherford/1138317759?ean=9781335405654 

Books a Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Luminous/Mara-Rutherford/9781335405654?id=8287773942852 

IndieBound:  https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335405654

BookShop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/luminous-9781335405654/9781335405654 

AppleBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/luminous/id1540957165 

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Mara_Rutherford_Luminous?id=gK0JEAAAQBAJ 

Q&A with Mara Rutherford

Q: What was the hardest scene to write in Luminous? What was the easiest?

A: The hardest scene to write in Luminous was probably the climax. This book has changed a ton over the past five years, so balancing a few different aspects of the novel was challenging. I don’t want to give anything away, but I hope I hit the right combination of exciting and heartbreaking. Fingers crossed! The easiest part to write was somewhere in the middle… Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say I really enjoy writing anything with monsters. 

Q: Did you hide any secrets in your book? (names of friends, little jokes, references to things only some people will get)?

A: I always have some inside jokes/secrets in my books. In Luminous, the three sisters are inspired by the three daughters of our good friends. My husband and I had a black greyhound as our first dog, so that helped inspire Lord Darius’s sighthounds (although ours was adorable and in no way demented!). There’s a part where Liora, the MC, is looking at the stars and she recalls a myth about one of the constellations. The triplets referenced are inspired by my triplet siblings.

Q: What do you hope people remember about Luminous?

A: I suppose with all my books I hope people will remember how they felt when reading them, and in this case, I hope they feel inspired to embrace the parts of themselves they may fear or doubt. Liora is a somewhat reluctant heroine given her circumstances, and I hope young readers will remember that even if you don’t feel like the hero of your own story, you can be.

Q: Did Luminous have a certain soundtrack you listened to while writing?

A: I currently listen to a combination of alternative music, classical, and Taylor Swift when I write. I drafted this novel a long time ago, and at the time I didn’t listen to music when I wrote. But I will say that Folklore and Evermore were on repeat for all of 2020.

Q: What is your dream cast for Luminous?

A: This question is always weird for me because I’m 41 now and not particularly in touch with who the up and coming young actors are! I think Mackenzie Foy would make a good Liora based on looks, however.

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Excerpted from Luminous by Mara Rutherford, © 2021 by Mara Rutherford. Used with permission from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.

My father once described magic as an invisible beast, an unseen enemy that could snatch our lives away at any moment. As a small, impressionable child, I had imagined a lupine creature lurking outside among the whispering pines, breathing over my shoulder in our garden. For years, I didn’t even leave the house; it was magic that had killed my mother, after all.

I was old enough now to understand that magic didn’t work that way. But as I hurried down the dark road, past the woods that had become my haven during daylight hours, my childhood fears didn’t feel so foolish. I glanced behind me, sure I’d find Belle Sabine, the fabled witch of every young woman’s nightmares, swooping down as silent as an owl, ready to steal my youth and leave an empty husk behind.

To my relief, there was nothing there. My only traveling companion was the wind nipping at my heels, spurring me forward. But in my brief distraction, I tripped over a rock in the road, falling hard onto my knees. Cursing myself for my clumsiness and superstition, I dusted off my hands, wincing as a sharp pebble dislodged from my palm. I couldn’t afford this kind of delay. It was close to midnight, and there was no moon to speak of, which made my situation even more precarious; my exposed skin glowed so brightly that moths circled me like a flame. But my little sister, Mina, was missing. I had to tell Father.

As I rose, I heard the sound of footsteps up the road. I glanced around for a place to hide, but there was no time. A moment later, a figure loomed at the margins of my glow.

Some said Belle Sabine had died, others that she was biding her time until the townspeople became complacent once again. But I was convinced she had come to kill me on the one night I had dared to venture past our threshold.

I shrank back as skirts and slippered feet came into view, followed by a woman’s arms cradling a basket, and finally, the face of Margana, the weaver who lived next door. Not here to kill me, then. But a witch, nevertheless. And one arguably as dangerous as Belle Sabine, given who she worked for.

“What are you doing on the road, Liora? It’s the middle of the night.”

“Mina is gone,” I said. “Father is still at work, and I didn’t know what else to do.”

Margana scrutinized me for a moment. “You’re a witch.”

A chill that had nothing to do with the cool night air crept over my scalp. No one had ever called me a witch to my face before, though of course I knew what I was. My entire life revolved around my glowing skin and the fear that the kingdom’s most powerful warlock would discover it. Lord Darius was employed by the king himself, gathering mages and torturing them if they didn’t do his bidding.

I pulled Father’s cloak tighter around myself, but it was futile. She already knew. I had wasted too much time getting up the nerve to leave the house after I found Mina’s bed empty, wringing my hands at the window, wondering if she’d been kidnapped by drifters or lured into the forest by a ghost lantern. Then, once I was on the road, I had foolishly stopped to look at the devil’s footprints, little white mushrooms that grew in pairs of two, resembling the cloven hooves of a demon. I’d seen them in daylight plenty of times, but never at night. They had caught my eye because their glow was so similar to my own.

Oddly, Margana’s basket was full of the mushrooms. Her cornflower-blue eyes and auburn hair were pale and otherworldly in their light. As if sensing my curiosity, she shifted the basket to her other hip. Margana was one of the few people who lived outside the gates of the ancient village of Sylvan, like us. She was also my best friend Evran’s mother—and the only other witch I knew.

“I always wondered why your father moved you girls out here after your mother died,” she said. “Now it all makes sense. But something tells me your father wouldn’t be pleased to know you’re outside, exposing yourself.” She grabbed one of my hands and turned it over, examining it like a bruised apple at market. Against Margana’s dull skin, mine looked false, as if I wasn’t a real person at all.

I pulled my hand free as politely as possible. “I should go.”

She sighed. “Keep your head down, and pray you don’t meet anyone on the road. Darius’s spies are everywhere.”

My eyes widened in fear, and she chuckled to herself. “Not me, silly girl.”

I swallowed audibly. If there really were spies in Sylvan, Margana was the most likely suspect. After all, she did work for Lord Darius. She might not be his servant by choice, but he was dangerous enough that no mage dared cross him. No mage who had lived to tell about it, anyway.

I was about to step around her when my eyes drifted to the basket once again. “I thought the devil’s footprints were poisonous.”

Her lips curved in a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Oh, they are. Highly. Fortunately, I don’t plan on eating them. Good luck, Liora.”

I nodded and hurried to the stone steps leading down to Sylvan, which was tucked away in a gorge, hidden from the roving eyes of river pirates. Above me, a heavy iron chain was suspended between the cliffs. As far as I knew, Sylvan was the only village in Antalla—maybe the world—that could boast having attracted not one, but two falling stars. A fragment of the first had been melted into the shape of a five-pointed star and hung from the chain. At night, it was only a glimmer overhead.

The second star—my star—had disintegrated amid the flames when it landed.

I wound my way silently through Sylvan’s narrow streets, toward Father’s shop. He and Adelle, my older, more responsible sister, were likely the only ones working at this hour. Just as I quickened my pace, I heard a high-pitched shriek from somewhere above me. I looked up to where a lamp winked on in an apartment window, illuminating two silhouettes, then down to the shop on my left. The tailor’s shop.

Mina.

Without thinking, I grabbed the cast-iron boot scraper sitting by the front door of the shop and hurled it through the window. Glass shattered, leaving a jagged hole that gaped like a mouth midscream.

Heart racing, I flattened myself against the alcove by the door as a man shouted and a window screeched open. The tailor, a young man nearly as alluring as the fabrics he sold, poked his head out for a moment, then disappeared, likely heading downstairs to look for the culprit. I scurried to the nook in front of the butcher’s, hoping my light would be hidden there.

“Get behind me,” Luc said from somewhere inside the shop. “The thief could still be out there.”

“You’re so brave.”

I sighed in relief at the sound of Mina’s voice, before fury shot through me like an arrow. I should have known she would come to the tailor’s; she had flirted with Luc relentlessly today, which was how we’d acquired four yards of the champagne-colored silk she wanted for the dress I’d spent all evening working on.

A moment later, they emerged onto the street, Mina clutching at Luc’s sleeve as he lifted his lamp and peered into the darkness.

He tossed his black hair out of his eyes and frowned. “It doesn’t look like they stole anything. Just vandals, I suppose.”

“Or someone trying to send you a message,” Mina breathed, dramatic as ever. “Do you have any nemeses?”

When he turned his dark gaze on her, something tugged at my heart. She was wearing a dress I’d made for myself when I was her age. It hung loose on her thin frame, but the hem grazed her calves, a sure sign she had altered it. She had nothing but a shawl pulled around her shoulders, and from where I stood, it was painfully clear that the tailor was not interested in her the way she no doubt hoped.

“I have to find a member of the night guard and report this. You shouldn’t be here. If your father catches you, he’ll have me hanged. You’re a sweet girl, Mina, but this is inappropriate.”

“But the silk…”

“That was for your sister. Now, please, go home.”

Mina caught her lip in her teeth to keep from crying. With a nod, she hurried away, tears already streaming down her cheeks. I waited for Luc to start up the street before I ran out of the alcove to catch her.

She squealed in alarm when I placed my hand on her shoulder, and I quickly clapped my other hand over her mouth.

“It’s me,” I whispered, lowering my hand slowly when I was confident she wouldn’t scream.

She swiped at her tears. “Liora? What are you doing out? What if someone sees you?”

My anger softened at her concern, until I remembered that she was the reason I was out in the first place. “I might ask you the same questions. If Father had come home and found you missing, he’d have killed you.”

“And what if he goes home and finds both of us missing? Have you considered that?”

I opened my mouth to scold her, but she was right. “You can explain what you were doing once we get back,” I said.

In typical Mina fashion, she stuck her tongue out at me, then turned and ran toward home.

* * *

We were indeed lucky. We made it home not long before Father and Adelle. By the time he came to our room to check on us, we were both in bed. I waved sleepily at him and Mina let out an emphatic snore, but once the door was closed, I threw back my covers and leaped out of bed.

“I hope you have a good explanation for this,” I hissed.

Her voice was muffled by the thick blanket pulled up to her nose, but I could hear the tremor in it when she said, “I thought Luc liked me.”

“And I thought you were dead!” I whisper-shouted, then stalked to the window ledge to keep myself from throttling her. I plucked a pendant from the collar of my nightgown, running my fingers over the five points on the star charm to calm myself. Evran had given it to me, years ago, and its contours were as familiar to me now as the feel of his hand in mine as he pulled me through the Sylvan woods toward home at twilight. Perhaps I was being too hard on Mina. I would risk a lot of things for Evran.

“Luc told me he was having a party tonight,” she said. “I didn’t realize how late it was when I got there. Everyone else had already left.”

I was surprised that the thought of her getting ready for a party, the excitement she must have felt as she sneaked into Sylvan to meet a handsome young man, made me more envious than angry. “I heard you cry out.”

The whites of her eyes flashed in the dark.

“Don’t you dare roll your eyes at me,” I snapped.

“I’m just stretching them, Ora.” The world-weary tone was classic Mina: so eager to be a grown-up, ever since she was little. “A moth got tangled in my hair. Anyway, Luc was a perfect gentleman. And as it turns out, it’s not me he wants.”

The silk was for me. The last of my anger waned as I imagined how sure Mina must have been of Luc to do something so foolish, only to find she’d made a huge mistake. This was his fault as much as it was hers. “He was just being kind because I spend so much money in his shop.”

She snorted. “He spoke about you the entire time. He asked why you hadn’t come to the party, and what you liked to do in your free time, and why he never saw you out in town.”

“What did you tell him?” I dropped the pendant into my collar and pulled back the edge of the curtain just a bit to gaze at the real stars.

“I told him you were making me a dress, that that’s what you’re doing most of the time.”

I sighed and let the curtain fall. For a girl with glowing skin, I sounded unbearably dull. But it was the truth. If I wasn’t sewing, I was cooking, cleaning, or rereading one of our few books.

Father trusted me enough to let me go out on sunny days now. The smallest stars don’t shine at noon, he said, and my glow could be kept dim as long as I stayed in control of my emotions. But the downside of having even just a little bit of freedom was that it came with responsibilities. Father had only given me permission to go to town for errands, never to dawdle, which made taking Mina along particularly frustrating. She had made an art form out of window-shopping. I missed my afternoons in the woods with Evran, those glorious days when I could sneak out unnoticed while Father was working and my sisters were in their lessons.

I climbed back into bed and pulled the covers up, a wave of guilt washing over me. Had I really believed Mina was in mortal peril? Because if not, there was no excuse for my own behavior. What if some part of me had risked going out tonight because I wanted to prove to myself, finally, that my magic wasn’t as dangerous as Father feared?

If that was the case, I had failed spectacularly. It had only taken a few minutes for me to undo all our years of hard work, and I couldn’t blame my sister for that.

“Promise me you won’t sneak out again, Mina. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you.”

She twisted onto her side to face me. “I’m sorry. I should never have put you at risk like that. I won’t do it again.”

“It’s all right. Get some sleep now.”

Mina responded a moment later with a very genuine snore.

I smiled and tried to fall asleep myself, but I lay awake for hours, thinking about Margana. Would she tell Darius about me, potentially destroying not just my life but those of everyone I loved? I thought of Father and wondered if all this time it hadn’t been me he was protecting, but them.

Because as much as I had wanted to believe that the invisible beast was out there, that if I simply hid myself away like a secret, we would be safe, I had known for quite some time that the beast Father feared most lived inside of me.