Ziggy, Stardust and Me Blog Tour: Guest Post by Author James Brandon

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Today’s post is a guest post by author James Brandon. His debut novel, Ziggy, Stardust and Me, released on August 8th. Since music is a central theme in the novel, I’ve asked him to tell us what theme songs he would pick for each of his characters. Ziggy, Stardust and Me is an absolutely beautiful novel about self-discovery, love, acceptance, and finding the strength to stand up for what you believe in. It is a beautiful story and I cannot recommend it highly enough, so please make sure to check it out! 🙂

What theme song would you choose for each character and why?

Such a great question! For me, music is the key to unlocking closed doors within our soul, doors we may be too scared to open ourselves or are afraid to face. This is why music is a huge part of Jonathan’s world; it’s his form of escape, his way of coping with the awfulness that continues to assault him in “the real world.” In fact, while writing the first drafts of Ziggy and discovering Jonathan’s character, I found a musicality to his voice that I think really speaks to the inner workings of his mind, and hopefully adds a more intimate connection to his personal journey.

Music of the early seventies was revolutionary: from glam rock to Soul Train, every faction of marginalized society was finding its voice in new modes of musical expression. And I wanted Ziggy, Stardust & Me to be a soundtrack of the time, a nostalgic look back at some of the greatest music ever created. So even before the initial drafts, I had a theme song in mind for each character because I knew it would allow me a deeper connection to their being…

For Jonathan, the obvious album is Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. (Ziggy Stardust is his Messiah after all.) But his theme song is “Rock N’ Roll Suicide.” I quote a lyric from this track at the beginning of Part Three because this is the song Jonathan plays on repeat as he faces some horrific battles in his life. Bowie screams, “You’re not alone,” over and over again at the end of the song, and those three words became Jonathan’s only lifeline to what was left of his spirit.

For Web, Jonathan’s love interest, his first obsession is Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of the Moon. And for good reason: the album is frigging genius and, when listened to carefully, can take you on a roller coaster ride to the depths of your soul. It’s confident, fearless and unapologetic, just like Web. But I’d also attach “I Feel the Earth Move” by Carole King to his character; it balances his feminine side while also directly speaking to his inner journey.

For Starla, Jonathan’s best friend, the song she’s currently playing on repeat is “Killing Me Softly” by Roberta Flack. It’s soulful and powerful, spiritual and strong—all traits I think Starla possesses. I’d also add, “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar” as her theme song; Starla’s a budding activist, a true believer in making your voice heard to effectively create change. And as she steps more confidently into this part of her being, she begins to discover her own inner power.

For Jonathan’s dad, his personal soundtrack is Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” or “Dream On” by Aerosmith. (Both of which you’ll find him singing in the narrative.) For lack of a better description, there’s a nostalgic aggressiveness to these songs I love for him. Jonathan’s father longs for lost memories, clings desperately to them, and is so lost in the past he won’t allow himself to see the love that’s right in front of him.

There’s a theme song for every character in the story, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what they are. 🙂 And if you want to enjoy any of the songs mentioned in the novel to fully immerse yourself in Jonathan’s world, I created a Spotify playlist to take you deeper on the journey: 

https://open.spotify.com/user/1261155990/playlist/477lx4RRdyv3Qse0laMLte?si=8_H0w_4HTRGaZBXlqBLEfQ&nd=1

Book Info:

ziggystardustandmeZiggy, Stardust and Me by James Brandon

Date Published: August 6th, 2019

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Pages: 368 pages

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Penguin Random House

The year is 1973. The Watergate hearings are in full swing. The Vietnam War is still raging. And homosexuality is still officially considered a mental illness. In the midst of these trying times is sixteen-year-old Jonathan Collins, a bullied, anxious, asthmatic kid, who aside from an alcoholic father and his sympathetic neighbor and friend Starla, is completely alone. To cope, Jonathan escapes to the safe haven of his imagination, where his hero David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and dead relatives, including his mother, guide him through the rough terrain of his life. In his alternate reality, Jonathan can be anything: a superhero, an astronaut, Ziggy Stardust, himself, or completely “normal” and not a boy who likes other boys. When he completes his treatments, he will be normal—at least he hopes. But before that can happen, Web stumbles into his life. Web is everything Jonathan wishes he could be: fearless, fearsome and, most importantly, not ashamed of being gay.

Jonathan doesn’t want to like brooding Web, who has secrets all his own. Jonathan wants nothing more than to be “fixed” once and for all. But he’s drawn to Web anyway. Web is the first person in the real world to see Jonathan completely and think he’s perfect. Web is a kind of escape Jonathan has never known. For the first time in his life, he may finally feel free enough to love and accept himself as he is.

A poignant coming-of-age tale, Ziggy, Stardust and Me heralds the arrival of a stunning and important new voice in YA.

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Author Bio:

18089438James Brandon produced and played the central role of Joshua in the international tour of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi for a decade, and is codirector of the documentary film based on their journey, Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption. He’s the cofounder of the I AM Love Campaign, an arts-based initiative bridging the faith-based and LGBTQ2+ communities, and serves on the Powwow Steering Committee for Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (BAAITS) in San Francisco. Brandon is a contributing writer for Huffington PostBelieve Out Loud, and Spirituality and Health MagazineZiggy, Stardust and Me is his first novel. You can visit James Brandon at justbejb.com

Blogger Campaign Schedule:

Week One: Ziggy, Stardust and Me

August 5 – The Book Bratz – Covers inspired by favorite singers

August 6 – Goblet of Fiction – Creative Instagram Picture

August 7 – The Quirky Book Nerd – Author Guest Post: What theme song would you choose for each character and why?

August 8 – Confessions of a YA Reader – Playlist

August 9 – Velarisreads – Inspired by the Book: Makeup

Week Two

August 12 – Liv The Book Nerd – Review + Playlist

August 13 – The Nerdy Girl Express – Review

August 14 – Rants and Raves of a Bibliophile – Raves and Craves

August 15 – LGBT YA Catalog – Author Guest Post

August 16 – @booksandbrandy – Creative Instagram Picture

 

Week One: As Many Nows As I Can Get

August 19 – Just Add a Word – Review + Playlist

August 20 – Evil Queen Books – Moodboard + Review

August 21 – NovelKnight Book Reviews – Author Guest Post: What are the benefits and struggles of creating a character-reader connection with a non-linear timeline? In other words, what is the process of writing characters that readers can become invested in while also alternating through the past and present?

August 22 – So She Tries – Creative Instagram Picture

August 23 – Thrifty Bibliophile – Playlist

Week Two

August 26 – The Geeky Yogi – Creative Instagram Picture + Review

August 27 – Two Points of Interest – Review

August 28 – Wishful Endings – Moodboard + Instagram Picture

August 29 – Swoony Boys Podcast – Author Interview

August 30 – High Lit Books – Review

 

Week One: We Speak in Storms

September 2 – Book Princess Reviews – Books that Blend Magic and Real Life

September 3 – A Court of Coffee and Books – Moodboard + Review

September 4 – Emma Reads – Review + Inspired by the Book

September 5 – Fiction No Chaser – Review

September 6 – The Bookish Chick – Playlist + Review

Week Two

September 9 – BW Reviews – Review

September 10 – Books and Wildflowers – Listicle: 10 Things to Keep You Occupied During a Storm

September 11 – Musings of a (Book) Girl – Listicle: Items you should pack for a Tornado

September 12 – ELA Everyday – Creative Instagram Picture + Review

September 13 – Book Fidelity – Review

 

Week One: The Stars and The Blackness Between Them

September 16 – Forever and Everly – Moodboard + Review

September 17 – The Paige-Turner – Creative Instagram Picture

September 18 – The Library Voice – Author Guest Post

September 19 – Books and Blends – Review + Creative Instagram Picture

Week Two

September 23 – GladiatorGlory – Inspired by the Book: Makeup

September 24 – The Heart of a Book Blogger – Moodboard

September 25 – The Baroness of Books – Favorite Quote Graphics + Review

September 26 – Fictionally Sam – Review

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Review: One Little Secret by Cate Holahan

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onelittlesecretOne Little Secret by Cate Holahan

My Rating: 2.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: July 9th, 2019

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Pages: 320 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Everyone has a secret. For some, it’s worth dying to protect. For others, it’s worth killing.

The glass beach house was supposed to be the getaway that Susan needed. Eager to help her transplanted family set down roots in their new town – and desperate for some kid-free conversation – she invites her new neighbors to join in on a week-long sublet with her and her workaholic husband.

Over the course of the first evening, liquor loosens inhibitions and lips. The three couples begin picking up on the others’ marital tensions and work frustrations, as well as revealing their own. But someone says too much. And the next morning one of the women is discovered dead on the private beach.

Town detective Gabby Watkins must figure out who permanently silenced the deceased. As she investigates, she learns that everyone in the glass house was hiding something that could tie them to the murder, and that the biggest secrets of all are often in plain sight for anyone willing to look.

A taut, locked room mystery with an unforgettable cast of characters, One Little Secret promises to keep readers eyes glued to the pages and debating the blinders that we all put on in the service of politeness.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

Going in, this book seemed like it would be right up my alley in terms of the types of mystery/thriller novels I enjoy. So I am disappointed to say that I came out with rather mixed feelings about it—it was just a bit underwhelming for me. On the one hand, this story is packed with a few too many clichés and there are a number of elements of the plot that could have been executed better. On the other hand, it is a fast and fairly entertaining read that still completely held my attention all the way through. All this being said, I have come to the conclusion that the majority of my issues with the narrative are simply connected to my personal taste.

The characters that make up the intriguing cast of this story are definitely not particularly likable people. The tension in the house is incredibly palpable with the constant stilted interactions, nasty thoughts, and full-blown arguments. And they will immediately have you questioning why in the world they would ever agree to go on vacation together for a week in the first place. Despite this, there are still redeemable qualities in some of them and not everyone is quite as bad as they seem in the beginning.

Though my mixed feelings really apply to every aspect of this novel, I thought the characterization was decent. I found most of the characters to be realistic and thought they had a good amount of dimension. The majority of them evolved—along with my opinion of them—as the story progressed and as more of their backgrounds were revealed. Many of them are dislikable, but in a very purposeful way—you are meant to be suspicious of them for a while, and almost all of them do end up acting poorly at some point. I did feel like this only added to their believability. There are a couple characters—only one main one—who are quite one dimensional and somewhat unrealistic, but this is avoided for the most part.

Quite honestly, this novel is absolutely full of adult mystery novel clichés. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Commonly used elements can still make for a great story and I do not think that this is an entirely negative thing when it comes to this one. I do think it is a bit overdone. The topics used to create drama between the couples and in the plot of the novel overall are well written for what they are. There are scenes of domestic abuse that are so realistically portrayed they are quite intense and hard to read. The themes of betrayal are very vivid and the moments of insecurity are extremely relatable. All in all, Holahan truly brings every theme dealt with in this novel to life in a multi-dimensional way.

The issue here—and it is certainly more related to personal preference than an actual problem with the story—is that these commonly used plot points became too overwhelming. Trying to crowd all of them in caused the originality of the narrative to take a significant hit. Every unique moment is overshadowed by tropes like infidelity, abuse, alcoholism, and petty arguments. Though these topics are common in many novels and add a good deal of tension and drama, there needs to be more substance. In this novel, it felt like one was being piled onto the next just for the sake of raising more issues for the couples rather than actually building or progressing the plot.

The most major element of the novel that I feel could have been executed better is the creation of suspicion in the reader’s mind. A mystery novel should allow the reader to form their own thoughts about and distrust in the possible culprits by subtly directing their attention to potential motives. While Holahan does do that in some ways, it lacks a lot of that subtlety and ends up coming across as a bit forced. Though every person in the house is clearly going to be a suspect, there are constant and far too obvious reminders of why they could be guilty. It becomes very over-the-top and detracts from the suspense of the plot.

I definitely think Holahan could have left a little room for the reader to come to their own conclusions about each of the characters’ potential for being the killer. Developing them more naturally and relying solely on laying out personalities and backstories with the progression of the plot would have allowed for this. It is easy to get a clear picture of each character and form one’s own opinion based on the way she does these things over the course of the novel. However, too often the narrative strays toward a less delicate way of weaving in distrust of the characters, instead, pointing the finger quite plainly from one person to the next.

Another element of the novel I feel could have been executed better is the narrowing down of suspects over the course of the story. As the narrative progresses, each of the potential killers is cleared one by one until there are only two left in the end. This approach, for me, sort of killed the suspense. It would have kept me more on the edge of my seat if Holahan had left a few more options in there. This, though, is undeniably something that did not work for me personally and could easily be perfectly fine for a different reader. As it stands, I found the ending to be extremely predictable and it fell rather flat. I have to say, the choice of the killer upset me a bit for a number of reasons as well.

The writing itself is a strong point in this book. I really like Holahan’s writing style—it flows very naturally and is easy to get into. Her descriptions are very vivid and help to pull the reader into the story. She sets the scene for all the mystery and deception well, forming an environment that reflects the tone and emotion of each scene. The narrative never lacks realism, helping to immerse the reader and connect them with the setting and characters.

Now, after all that I have said, it may seem like this reading experience was a primarily negative one, but that is not entirely true. There were a lot of issues I personally had with it but, as I said before, I doubt they would apply to everyone. Personal taste was a big factor here. Also, I was very engaged in the story. I did not absolutely love it but it held my attention from beginning to end and I was truly interested in finding out how everything would resolve. Despite the predictability of many plot points, there were still enough surprises to keep me guessing. Overall, this is a novel that I would recommend giving a try. I know it is something that plenty of readers will find enjoyment in.

2.5 TARDISes

Author Bio:

13482092Cate Holahan is the USA Today Bestselling author of The Widower’s Wife, Lies She Told, and Dark Turns, all published by Crooked Lane Books. The Widower’s Wife was named to Kirkus’ best books of 2016. An award-winning journalist and former television producer, she has written for BusinessWeek, The Boston Globe, and The Record newspaper. Her short fiction won first place in the 19th annual Calliope competition, a magazine published by the writer’s group of American Mensa. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters, ages 7 and 5, and dog Westley. She graduated from Princeton University in 2002.

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Review: Changeling by William Ritter

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changelingChangeling by William Ritter

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: The Oddmire #1

Date Published: July 16th, 2019

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Pages: 272 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Magic is fading from the Wild Wood. To renew it, goblins must perform an ancient ritual involving the rarest of their kind—a newborn changeling. But when the fateful night arrives to trade a human baby for a goblin one, something goes terribly wrong. After laying the changeling in a human infant’s crib, the goblin Kull is briefly distracted from his task. By the time he turns back, the changeling has already perfectly mimicked the human child. Too perfectly: Kull cannot tell them apart. Not knowing which to bring back, he leaves both babies behind.

Tinn and Cole are raised as human twins, neither knowing what secrets may be buried deep inside one of them. Then when they are twelve years old, a mysterious message arrives, calling the brothers to be heroes and protectors of magic. The boys must leave behind their sleepy town of Endsborough and risk their lives in the Wild Wood, crossing the perilous Oddmire swamp and journeying through the Deep Dark to reach the goblin horde and discover who they truly are.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I absolutely loved this novel. It is such a fun and magical read with just the right amount of suspense and creepiness to it. At its’ core, it is a beautiful story of love, belonging, and the true meaning of family. It shows the bravery and strength one can find in themselves when protecting the ones they love. On top of being an action-packed adventure, this story is also full of heart and positive messages. Changeling is a fast-paced and fantastical journey. I was hooked from page one and I never wanted it to end.

In this novel, we follow two young brothers, Tinn and Cole. By looking at them, they appear to be human twins—however, one of them is actually a changeling. When a goblin named Kull’s plan to switch the human baby for the goblin one goes wrong, they are both left behind. For years, their mother Annie raises the boys as brothers despite the unusual circumstances. They live as a normal family, though the boys have always wondered what they are deep down. When, at twelve years old, Tinn and Cole receive a mysterious message telling the changeling they must return to the Wild Wood and save the dying magic, they set off on a dangerous adventure to cross the Oddmire swamp and find the goblin horde.

The unique and colorful cast of characters is the driving force of this narrative. Each one has a distinct and memorable personality that adds depth and dimension to the world as a whole. Tinn and Cole are such loveable characters with a beautiful relationship—they are truly the definition of brothers. They both have very individual personalities that mesh together really well. Annie is a remarkable mother who loves the two boys equally and thinks of them as her own no matter what. She is such a strong and brave character, risking everything to find and protect them once they have run off on their journey. Ritter also packs this novel with imaginative magical beings. It is clear that he has put much time and effort into forming every aspect of the setting and the creatures and weaving those two elements tightly together.

It is incredibly interesting to hear the internal conflicts the boys have about discovering who the changeling is. They both have reasons to believe that they are the changeling due to a part of themselves and their personalities that they are unable to understand or explain. For instance, Cole wonders why he is always so compelled to cause trouble and do things he knows he shouldn’t. On the other hand, they both believe the other deserves to be the human because of what a good person they are. They both want the absolute best for the other, despite their own fears of being the changeling. It shows just how much they love and care about each other.

William Ritter does a wonderful job crafting this novel. His writing flows seamlessly and is incredibly easy to get sucked into and follow. His descriptions are vivid as he builds the unique world and palpable atmosphere of the narrative. The mysterious and treacherous nature of the Wild Wood is shown so well in the way he constructs the environment. From the encroaching trees with their gnarled roots to the mist that permeates the air, the suspense of Tinn and Cole’s journey is drastically enhanced. Ritter consistently blends reality with magic that will spark readers’ imaginations. This is true for every part of the world, making it incredibly multi-dimensional and highly immersive.

This novel fits the middle-grade genre perfectly. It is one of those universally enjoyable novels, offering something that both children and adults alike will love. The messages packed into the story are inspiring and heartwarming—they are great things for a young audience to learn about. The ideas that family can truly be found in others whether they are related to you or not and the importance of taking care of those you love are beautiful and meaningful messages to understand. The darkness in the story never becomes overwhelming and is very suitable for younger readers. Overall, this was a charming read. I cannot wait to see more from this series.

5.0 TARDISes

Author Bio:

Ritter,_Will_HR (c) Katrina SantoroWilliam Ritter is an Oregon author and educator. He is the proud father of the two bravest boys in the Wild Wood, and husband to the indomitable Queen of the Deep Dark. The Oddmire is Ritter’s first series for middle-grade readers. He is also the author of the New York Times bestselling, award-winning Jackaby series for young adult readers. Visit him online at rwillritter.wordpress.com and find him on Twitter: @Willothewords. 

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The Top 10 Virtues of The Virtue of Sin by Shannon Schuren

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Today’s post is part of the blog tour for the recently released young adult novel The Virtue of Sin by Shannon Schuren. Huge thanks to Penguin Teen for giving me the opportunity to participate and to help promote this fantastic book. This is the story of two teenagers who have spent their entire lives in a cult and how they deal with their newfound clarity about their situation as thrown into adulthood in the community. It is a novel that portrays the importance of not always taking what people in power say at face value, fighting for equality, and learning to accept others—and oneself—for who they are.

There are so many aspects of this story that appealed to both the book nerd and psychology nerd in me and I was completely absorbed from the start. So, while thinking about a topic for this post, I decided I would like to share what I found to be the strongest aspects (the virtues) of The Virtue of Sin!

Book Info:

thevirtueofsinThe Virtue of Sin by Shannon Schuren

Date Published: June 25th, 2019

Publisher: Philomel Books

Pages: 432 pages

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

A compelling novel about speaking out, standing up, and breaking free perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and Tara Westover’s Educated.

Miriam lives in New Jerusalem, a haven in the desert far away from the sins and depravity of the outside world. Within the gates of New Jerusalem, and under the eye of its founder and leader, Daniel, Miriam knows she is safe. Cared for. Even if she’s forced, as a girl, to quiet her tongue when she has thoughts she wants to share, Miriam knows that New Jerusalem is a far better life than any alternative. So when God calls for a Matrimony, she’s thrilled; she knows that Caleb, the boy she loves, will choose her to be his wife and they can finally start their life together. 

But when the ceremony goes wrong and Miriam winds up with someone else, she can no longer keep quiet. For the first time, Miriam begins to question not only the rules that Daniel has set in place, but also what it is she believes in, and where she truly belongs.

Alongside unexpected allies, Miriam fights to learn–and challenge–the truth behind the only way of life she’s ever known, even if it means straying from the path of Righteousness.

A compelling debut novel about speaking out, standing up, and breaking free.

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Strong female lead

Miriam is an incredibly strong female lead right from the very beginning of the novel. She does not want to put up with the suppression and ill treatment of women that the men of the cult have turned into an accepted way of life. She gradually finds her voice and stands up for not just herself and the other women, but for everyone who is under the control of the Prophet. Headstrong and intelligent, Miriam makes a wonderful protagonist.

Distinct dual perspectives

This story is not just told from Miriam’s perspective but also from Caleb’s, the boy she’s sure she is meant to marry. Alternating between these characters and seeing every situation through two different sets of eyes made this an even more intriguing plot. Schuren writes these narrators well, making their voices distinct from the other, which can be a challenge when working with more than one point of view.

Beautiful writing

Schuren’s writing style is definitely one of the strongest aspects of this novel. I found it very easy to get into and it had a very captivating quality to it. It was not just the story but the way she told it and worded it that held me in the narrative. The writing and the message it sends are both beautiful.

Detailed and realistic worldbuilding

I found Schuren’s worldbuilding to be absolutely fantastic. She creates this extremely detailed and frighteningly realistic picture of what living in a cult is like. She forms both the physical world and the psychological world of these characters through her words. It feels like you are there in the desert—in the supposed safety of the community. You experience the raw emotions and the sinister atmosphere. She really brings this story to life.

Vivid and multi-dimensional characters

Both main characters and side characters alike are multi-dimensional in this story. They are clearly carefully crafted and they evolve and respond realistically to their environment and the events of the novel. They don’t feel flat—they are the driving force of the plot. I felt that I got to know many of the characters well, no matter what size part they play in the grand scheme of things. Just like the worldbuilding, the characters are equally as detailed and fully fleshed out.

Accurate portrayal of psychological aspects

I absolutely love anything to do with psychology—I am actually a forensic psychology major—and the psychology of cults is particularly interesting to study. Seeing the mindsets of both the members and the leaders is both fascinating and chilling. This novel primarily demonstrates how the beliefs and laws a leader comes up with are drilled into members. We see how this warps a person’s thoughts and view of the world and how incredibly challenging it is to break free of these beliefs. Schuren’s depictions of these elements of a cult are very accurate, enraging, and heartbreaking.

Plenty of diversity and a huge focus on equality

The primary subject dealt with in this novel is the unequal and extremely poor treatment of women within the cult. We see how the men silence them and do not allow them to make their own decisions. There are also other elements of unfair treatment of minorities in the plot. The importance of standing up for these types of injustices, whether you are part of that minority or not, and of treating others with respect are shown through this story.

Keeps you on your toes

I was surprised at how many twists there were in this novel that I did not see coming. And I liked every single one. Schuren takes the narrative in a number of unexpected directions. There are so many secrets spilled and revelations that propelled me through every chapter. This is a true page-turner.

Good character development

Tying in with what I said before about the characters being multi-dimensional, Schuren does a good job of clearly indicating how they develop over the course of the story. They learn and grow and evolve. The events that take place and the upheaval they experience consistently affect each character, their actions, and their views of life and the world around them.

An overall captivating story

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year and it absolutely did not disappoint. It was so easy to become engrossed in this novel and I found it extremely hard to put down. Schuren brings so many interesting elements together to create a story that will quickly draw in readers and open their eyes to topics that are very important and timely. I highly recommend picking this up.

Author Bio:

5190994Shannon Schuren (shannon.schuren.org) works as a children’s librarian at a public library and writes from a cozy she-shed in her backyard. Her short stories have appeared in various journals such as Toasted Cheese Literary JournalBig Pulp, and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Shannon lives in Sheboygan Falls, WI, with her husband and three children. Follow her on Twitter @shannonschuren.

Blog Tour Schedule

Week One: The Virtue of Sin

June 24 – Cozybooknook – Review + Creative Instagram Picture

June 25 – The Book Shire – Playlist

June 26 – JeanBookNerd – Author Guest Post: What fiction most influenced your childhood, and what effect did those stories have on THE VIRTUE OF SIN?   

June 27 – The Quirky Booknerd – Listicle: The Top 10 Virtues of The Virtues of Sin

June 28 – YA Books Central – Author Guest Post: Ten Random Facts about The Virtue of Sins (or yourself)

Week Two: The Downstairs Girl

July 1 – Nerdy By Nature – Review

July 2 – YA Wednesdays – Creative Instagram Picture

July 3 – Awkwordly Emma – Author Guest Post: Her Research Process

July 4 – It Starts at Midnight – Moodboard

July 5 – The Reading Corner for All – Book Aesthetic

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Review: Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker

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zenobiajulyZenobia July by Lisa Bunker

My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: May 21st, 2019

Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers

Pages: 320 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Zenobia July is starting a new life. She used to live in Arizona with her father; now she’s in Maine with her aunts. She used to spend most of her time behind a computer screen, improving her impressive coding and hacking skills; now she’s coming out of her shell and discovering a community of friends at Monarch Middle School. People used to tell her she was a boy; now she’s able to live openly as the girl she always knew she was.

When someone anonymously posts hateful memes on her school’s website, Zenobia knows she’s the one with the abilities to solve the mystery, all while wrestling with the challenges of a new school, a new family, and coming to grips with presenting her true gender for the first time. Timely and touching, Zenobia July is, at its heart, a story about finding home.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This was an incredibly enjoyable read. There are so many intriguing aspects of this novel that captivated me right from the start. At its core, this is a story of love, compassion, and finding ones’ place in the world. It is a story that shows the amazing strength a person can have when standing up for what they believe in and doing what is right. All of these themes are made all the more interesting with the element of mystery that is thrown in here. Zenobia July is an all-around uplifting and poignant novel.

In this novel, we follow a young transgender girl named Zenobia July. Zenobia has just moved from Arizona to Maine to live with her aunts. This, coupled with the many recent discoveries she has made about her true self and who she is meant to be, means that she is beginning a new and very unfamiliar life. She is finally starting to open up and discover a supportive group of friends while also getting the chance to live openly as a girl. When offensive and intolerant memes from an anonymous poster begin to appear on her school’s website, Zenobia gets to put her hacking and coding talents to good use in order to solve this mystery and stop the poster.

The characters were a very strong part of this story. Bunker does a great job of fully building each one and presenting them in a realistic and three-dimensional way. She clearly shows how each person and their relationships with each other grow and evolve throughout the course of the narrative. Every character has a unique voice and personality, and seeing how they all blend into each others’ lives is a lot of fun.

Zenobia is an absolutely beautiful person and an extremely strong protagonist. She learns many important lessons about life and, in turn, teaches these same things to the reader. This cast of characters is very diverse, which intensifies the deep and meaningful messages that can be found in this novel. Zenobia and her friends and family are so loveable and a joy to read about.

One of the only issues I ran into while reading this was with the writing itself. I found it to be a bit choppy and, in the beginning, this made it slightly difficult to follow. It took me a while to become fully immersed in the story. However, I think this was mainly a case of me not completely clicking with the author’s writing style. It is very obvious that Bunker is a talented author, and she creates a vivid and engrossing narrative. As I mentioned already, the characters are beautifully and uniquely crafted. She addresses many important and timely topics and does so in a clear and widely accessible way. Every element is woven together seamlessly.

It is always so wonderful to see more LGBTQ+ novels coming into the world, especially in middle-grade literature. This is a story that many people could learn a lot from, especially a younger audience. It makes important and complex topics understandable to any age and spreads a very positive message. It is one of those books that definitely has the potential to have a profound impact on a reader’s life and broaden their view of society and the world itself.

The true meaning of family—that is does not only apply to blood relatives—and the support and love they can give are such powerful things to learn about and we are given a great example of both within these pages. Zenobia’s story displays the importance of being true to yourself no matter what and encourages readers to remember to listen to their heart. Figuring out who you are is a challenging experience—presenting that person to everyone else in your life even more so.  However, remaining strong and sure of yourself will get you over the many hurdles life puts in your path. This novel is a shining example of that very message and is a fantastic addition to the literary world.

4.0 TARDISes

Author Bio:

14153366Lisa Bunker lives in Exeter, New Hampshire. Before taking up writing full time, she had a thirty-year career in public and community radio. In November of 2018, she was elected to represent her town in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. She is married and has two grown children. Her geekeries include chess, piano, gender, storycraft, and language.

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This is Not a Love Scene by S.C. Megale Blog Tour

Hey everyone! Today’s post is part of the blog tour for an upcoming young adult novel, This Is Not a Love Scene by S.C. Megale. Below, you can find some basic information on the book and the author as well as an exclusive early excerpt from the book itself. And if you like what you see, make sure to check out the novel when it releases on May 7th!

Book Info:

41150303This Is Not a Love Scene by S.C. Megale

Date Published: May 7th, 2019

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Pages: 320 pages

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

This Is Not A Love Scene rings brilliantly true from the first page to the last.” —David Baldacci, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Funny, emotional, and refreshingly honest, S.C. Megale’s This is Not a Love Scene is for anyone who can relate to feeling different while navigating the terrifying and thrilling waters of first love.

Lights, camera—all Maeve needs is action. But at eighteen, a rare form of muscular dystrophy usually stands in the way of romance. She’s got her friends, her humor, and a passion for filmmaking to keep her focus off consistent rejection…and the hot older guy starring in her senior film project.

Tall, bearded, and always swaying, Cole Stone is everything Maeve can’t be. And she likes it. Between takes, their chemistry is shockingly electric. 

Suddenly, Maeve gets a taste of typical teenage dating life, but girls in wheelchairs don’t get the hot guy—right? Cole’s attention challenges everything she once believed about her self-image and hopes for love. But figuring this out, both emotionally and physically, won’t be easy for either of them. Maeve must choose between what she needs and what she wants, while Cole has a tendency to avoid decisions altogether. And the future might not wait for either.

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Book Excerpt

I liked being ridden, and offered the chance to pretty much every guy in Video II. I guess it made me feel as if I had something to contribute to the group.

So when Elliot jumped on the back of me and I felt his weight pull me down, I smiled. Pushed the wheelchair joystick. Increased acceleration. The smooth terrain of Jackson Memorial Mall was perfect for showing off.

“Kim Possible, I mean, I thought she was attractive— that doesn’t mean I needed to start jacking.” Elliot laughed behind me, full of life. He was eighteen, like me. Tall, black, he wore skinny jeans and the hoodie of a band I’d never heard of. We were debating which animated characters of our youth were worthy of sexual awakenings.

“Robin Hood could get it from Little Maeve,” I said. “The Disney one, the fox.” I don’t know. He had a mischievous smile.

“Disney?” said Elliot. He shook the handlebar of my wheelchair near my ear.

“Kim Possible is Disney,” I retorted.

“Disney Channel, completely different ball game.” “No way! Disney jack sesh!” I said.

“Maeve,” Mags, my best friend, reprimanded me from my right.

Air conditioners wafted along the scent of free-sample lotion and buttery pretzels. One of those pretzels was folded in a paper bag resting on my footplate. KC had dove in front of the register to buy it for me. I couldn’t lift my arm high enough to swat away his credit card.

“Abuse of the disabled,” I’d accused.

We cruised our way back towards the food court now, after a few loops of circling.
About halfway through Video II an hour ago, my classmates and I—Elliot, Mags, KC, and Nate—had decided to dip for the mall. Not that we’d been doing anything in class. Mags had been sitting on the floor at my wheels, reading Bridge to Terabithia, and I was swiping through last night’s fun with Hot Tinder Guy. “Mags, look.” I’d shoved my screen in her face. She looked up from her book and then away real fast. All she must have caught were the words swallow and babe.

“Oh my God, Maeve.”

I grinned and returned to the screen. I knew it was messed up, but I was proud I’d successfully sexted a guy from Tinder. I mean . . . after eighteen years of experience trying otherwise, it seemed like it could only happen on Tinder. With the photos I’d chosen, the guy couldn’t see the whole me.

“He’s so hot,” I’d said.

“He’s not, though.” Mags hadn’t looked up from her book.

She was petite with long, dyed red hair, and I was mad jealous of her in Video I until I realized having to reject a guy every day, like she did, sucked almost as much as never getting that chance, like I didn’t.

Despite my handicap, I looked all right, I guessed. Brown hair and eyes, almost acceptable weight at just under a hundred pounds. I sat a little crooked, but whenever someone held a camera up, I made sure to lean against my scoliosis so you could barely tell. My skin was nice. I always wore the same blue, low-top Converse shoes. And I had other things going for me—humor and dreams and an attempt at positivity. My life’s ambition was to be a famous director, and I had twelve scripts completed by the age of sixteen.

Mr. Billings, Seefeldt High School’s premier film teacher, had to combine Video I and II this semester in order for the school not to cancel both electives due to low enrollment. There was this really valiant entreaty at the beginning of the year in which Billings convinced the principal we were worth holding the class on block days, and the principal conceded with the requisite that Billings film the football games for the coaches every Friday. Then maybe he’d consider having Billings film baseball in the spring so we could have Video III. Billings literally took one for the team. But we were usually left to our own devices while he taught the newbies to render shit onto their Mac desktops. This was the first time things got bad enough for us to ditch.

The mall crowd’s chatter rose near the food court. We picked a table for three since KC and Nate had left for physics; it was just Elliot, Mags, and me. Elliot hopped off my wheelchair and took a seat to my right. I bulldozed aside a chair and it screeched on the tile as Mags sat on my left.

Flapping ears and a jingle of dog chains ripped through the air next to Mags, and I looked down. Technically, I wasn’t supposed to let Mags hold the leash of my service dog. His nonprofit company had strict rules. But the way she’d walked through the mall with her leash hand dangling down, blasé as shit (not to mention totally able-bodied) to match François’ blasé-as-shit expression amused me. Only two years old, François wore a blue-and- gold vest and silver choke collar. His half retriever, half Labrador fur was almost white, and everyone pretty much had to resist the urge to scrunch all that extra skin over his large brown eyes. I mean, that and the fact that his name was François.

Normally those eyes were dull and disinterested. Now, he looked up at me and gently swayed. Food.

I mouthed no warmly, and he kept wagging.

“Fam, I don’t know what we’re doing,” said Mags, gazing absently around the food court and twirling François’ leash on her wrist.

Elliot draped across the sticky linoleum table. “I know.” He covered his face. “We need these damn shirts.”

“I mean, we’re filming next week; that’s still enough time for eBay.” I lowered my left arm for François to slap with his tongue. My right was too stiff and weak to hang down that far.

“Do they have to be identical?” said Mags. “Can some of the actors just have, like, different uniforms?”

“Nah . . .” Elliot and I answered simultaneously. We were codirecting the group’s final project for Video II. I was glad we were on the same page. Most times.

“Imma get a wrap.” Elliot drew out his wallet and plucked a few bills. “You guys want anything?”

“No, thanks,” said Mags. He pointed at me. “Maeve?”

I smiled. “I’m good, thanks.” “Aight.”

Elliot left me with just Mags, his cologne pushing the air. They were comfortable with me—my classmates. I had that weird bubbling happiness in my chest that reminded me it’s not normal for me to feel normal. Being born with a neuromuscular disease that cripples your strength and locks up your joints and confines you to a wheelchair made normal an unrealistic standard. I had a form of muscular dystrophy, which is a pretty big sucky umbrella of genetic diseases that erode muscles and get worse as time goes on until you basically shrivel up like plastic sheets in the microwave.

As a baby, I’d begun to lose milestones rather than gain them. Only weeks after my first steps, I started to fall over and eventually never get back up. A shake developed. Making sure I could breathe whenever I came down with something became critical. But the severity of the condition varies for no explicable reason—there are those with my disability who use standers and others who are already dead. What’s really messed up is when I drag through Google images of others with my disease that’re frailer and more twisted just so I can think: Screw that, I’m not like you.

Yet.

Sometimes I’m an asshole, but only in my head.

“How are you doing?” said Mags. Her pretty eyes watched me with a mix of sympathy and refreshing nonchalance. Pain wriggled in my stomach. We’d been texting, and she knew I was depressed.

You’d think my reason for depression was, like, hospital visits and wheelchair parts on back order, right? I don’t grieve my disability; I grieve the shitty side effects of it. Sure, you make the best of being different. I’ve shaken a lot of hands and looked into a lot of tear-filled eyes of really rich people I somehow inspired to make a donation that won’t solve any of my problems. But for the most part? The pain of having a condition is about rejection and desires to feel human in ways that can never possibly be filled.

“Maeve?”

“Yeah, sorry.”

“You’re fine. Have you heard from R?”

Ugh. I don’t let my friends use his name anymore. “No.” I shifted.

“I’m sorry.”

I cringed. It sounded so final when Mags apologized. “I’m used to it,” I said. “I wouldn’t want me either.”

“That’s stupid,” said Mags. “Don’t say that.”

“It’s true.”

“Nah, fam, it’s stupid.” She never let me get away with bullshit and I smiled.

François sniffed the air gingerly with pushed-back ears and mollified eyes. He sort of looked stoned all the time.

“François,” I said. He looked at me. I’d meant to chastise him, but I actually chuckled instead.

“Oh my Gawd!” a middle-aged woman with long dark hair and Chanel sunglasses (in the mall?) squealed at our table and made us jump. She held a vegan wrap in her manicured nails—I could tell from the VEGAN! VEGAN! VEGAN! print spiraling the wrap paper.

“What a precious dog!” she said, and flipped that o pretty hard in her New York accent.

“Yeah, you can pet him,” said Mags, without asking my permission. “She’s not one of those crazy strict handlers.” She let go of the leash.

“Oh my Gawd.” The woman crouched and kneaded François’ ears in her hands.
With my previous service dog, Martin, now was the time when he’d look at me like: Why? Who is this? How is this supposed to help you?

But François was my European second love and we have an open relationship, so he started smacking his tongue out for her face.

I’d typically use this time to hardcore flirt with whatever guy knelt in front of me, but in general, I was a little less invested in François’ female catches.

“Yes,” the woman cooed. “Yes.” She made kissy noises at François, and Mags and I watched. Our boredom grew into furrowed brows as it started to get a little weird.

“Mwah!” The woman ended strong and rose, facing me. “So cute!”

IF SHE WERE A GUY: “You’re not bad either. Can you pet me now?”

BECAUSE SHE’S NOT: “Thanks.”

“Listen,” the woman said. Uh-oh.

“Have you heard of . . .” Insert charity organization for physical handicap I’ve never heard of.

“Nope.”

“Oh my Gawd, you’re kidding. They’re right here in Fredericksburg!”

“That’s wonderful,” I said.

“We’ve been trying to get a service dog team in to speak to our donors for months. The top investor is a huge dog lover.”
“Aww. Well, I could give you his company info,” I said. “Maybe they can hook you up with a trainer to come in and—”

“Oh, honey, no. The event is next week.”

“Ah,” I said. “What do you do for them?”

“I’m their CFO. Isn’t that right, sweetie?” She cooed down at François. No, I thought, François doesn’t know your career life choices. But François wagged.

“Anyway,” the woman said. “I’m Patricia. I think you would be perfect for inspiring these donors to help out the kids at the special needs camp.”

“Oh . . .”

Mags looked away and suppressed a grin. She knew she couldn’t save me. Anxiety already built in my throat.

“I’m flattered, but I don’t know . . .” I said. But gee, I always had a hard time saying no to special camp kids. “When is it?”

“It’s on the twenty-first; they’ll love you. Oh my Gawd, you’ll be a hit.”

Thank God—an out.

“Damn. I’m filming with my class all day that day.” I motioned to include Mags.

An anvil fell down the woman’s face. The tiny muscles in her expression stiffened. “Sigh.” She actually said sigh. Awkward silence stretched. “If you change your mind, let me know.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “How about I come this summer and read to the kids? Teach them about service dogs?” Blergh. “Do you have a card or anything?”

The corner of her mouth flicked up a little at my offer. “That’d be sweet. I’m out of cards. Just Google the camp. I’m at the bottom of their web page.”

“I will.”

When she left, I only had time to draw in breath at Mags’ comical look before Elliot plopped back down in his seat, wrap and fries on a pink tray.

“Who was that?”

“Some wheelchair charity person,” said Mags. She stole a fry and Elliot unfolded his wrap.

“So what else do we need still for the shoot?” I said as Elliot took a huge bite. “I handled the props. Location is locked. Do the actors know their call times?”

“Mmm!” Elliot hummed around his mouthful. He swallowed. “Bad news. Cole can’t make it.”

“What?”
“I know,” said Elliot.

“No,” I said. “Give me his number. Right now. He’s making it. Dammit.” I rolled my eyes. Actors.

Elliot laughed. “Okay, I will.” “Who is this?” said Mags. “Cole Stone,” said Elliot. “Like the creamery?”

“No,” I said, “like the actor.” Elliot huffed with humor.

“Yo, what did you and Nate 2.0 talk about last night?” Mags asked Elliot. Elliot and Nate went to the new Marvel film together. We call him Nate 2.0 because there was a really creepy Nate in Video I that we don’t talk about anymore.

“I don’t know.” Elliot laughed. “He’s wild.” “Sometimes,” I said. Nate’s humor was hit or miss with me.

“Why sometimes?” said Mags. I noticed she was starting to get defensive and inquisitive and highly interested in Nate.

“I dunno,” I said. “I think he’s really funny, but sometimes I think he doesn’t like me.” I wasn’t sure I really believed that. I wanted to see what they’d say.

“That’s stupid,” said Mags.

“Mmm . . .” said Elliot. We looked at him as he wiped a napkin over his mouth. “He can be insensitive.”

“How?” said Mags.

“He just says things to be funny sometimes and it’s not funny.”

“Like what?” said Mags.

Elliot rolled his shoulders uncomfortably.

“He said something about me, didn’t he?” I said. “What’d he say?”

“I dunno.”

“Come on.”

Elliot sighed. “He said something like . . . Maeve will be a virgin forever.”

Mags fell silent. I did too.

Elliot made a sad, shrugging face. “He’s just immature.” No. He was kind of right, though.
“Don’t listen to him.”

The humor and ease and acceptance I basked in extinguished. My teeth ground together and I nodded, staring across from them at the Chinese buffet. One thing I’ve learned from getting endless feedback on my scripts is that criticism doesn’t hurt unless you kind of agree with it.

“Well . . . that sucks,” said Mags, genuinely.

Elliot rubbed my hand and some of that love flowed back into my blood. “Love you, co-director,” he said.

“Love you, co-director,” I mumbled back. Elliot smiled. I ticked alight my phone on the table.

“My dad’s probably waiting outside,” I said. “I better head out.”

“I’ll walk you out,” said Elliot. “I’ll walk you out,” I said. “Eyyyy . . .” Elliot grinned.
I tapped my joystick and my wheelchair gave its mechanical clicking sound before moving. I froze. François always leapt up from the floor at that sound. I looked down beneath the table and choked.

François was gone.

Author Bio:

SC MegaleS.C. Megale is an author and filmmaker. She’s been profiled in USA Today, The Washington Post, and New York Newsday, and has appeared on NBC’s “Today Show” and the CBS Evening News for her philanthropic and literary work. As a humanitarian, she’s spoken on the USS Intrepid, at the NASDAQ opening bell, and to universities and doctors nationwide. She enjoys making connections all over the world. 

Megale was raised in the long grass of the Civil War, hunting for relics and catching fireflies along the banks of Bull Run. A shark tooth, flutes, and a flask are some of the items that hang from her wheelchair, and she had a fear of elevators until realizing this was extremely inconvenient. She lives with her family which includes her parents, sister and brother, service dog, and definitely-not-service dog.

Reviews:

Megale is a terrific new voice in the world of YAThis Is Not a Love Scene rings brilliantly true from the first page to the last. Megale’s prose is refreshingly original, her pacing already at a master level, and her storytelling abilities will pull hard on every emotion you have…Look out for this writer.” —David Baldacci, #1 New York Times bestselling author

A humorous, hearty novel about the realities (and fantasies) of being a teenager with a disability….Readers will want to zoom in on this [#ownvoices] story featuring a strong, sexually confident, disabled female character.” —Kirkus Reviews 

Informative and inspiring. It makes for an altogether thought-provoking and empathetic reading experience.” —Booklist

This Is Not a Love Scene is so good. S.C. Megale is remarkable… This book is the result of her unswerving determination and undoubted talent.” —John Flanagan, New York Times bestselling author of the Ranger’s Apprentice series

My ride-along with Maeve was a joy from first sentence to last. She’s authentic, unabashedly honest, fun to be with, and I still catch myself wondering what she’s been up to lately.” —Eric Lindstrom, author of Not If I See You First   

Megale’s pacing and style are absolutely wonderful. I feel deeply attached to her characters, and I can’t believe how perceptive many of her descriptions/observations are, especially disability related ones.”  —Shane Burcaw, author of Laughing at My Nightmare

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Review: Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

WickedSaints_BlogTourBanner_BEFORE 4.2

wickedsaintsWicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

My Rating: 3.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Something Dark and Holy #1

Date Published: April 2nd, 2019

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Pages: 400 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.

Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light. Wicked Saints is the thrilling start to Emily A. Duncan’s devastatingly Gothic Something Dark and Holy trilogy.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

Wicked Saints was one of my most anticipated novels of the year, though I was a combination of excited and wary to read it. This seemed like one of those plots that I would really get into or just not enjoy at all. And while I didn’t absolutely love it, it still ended up falling into that first category and I had a pretty good time with it. From the vivid characterization to the unique and intriguing magic systems, I was sucked into this novel very quickly. A dark tale full of diverse characters and a vividly depicted setting, this proved to be an interesting read.

The countries of Kalyazin and Tranavia have been locked in a war that has spanned nearly a century and there still seems to be no end in sight. Nadya, an orphan who has lived within a monastery all her life, is not only there for training but also for her own protection. She is the first Kalyazin in many years to possess magic—a magic that allows her to communicate with the gods and goddesses and receive powers from them. If she were to fall into the hands of the Tranavians it would mean the downfall of Kalyazin. As she runs from the Tranavians, desperate to survive and determined to keep the religion of Kalyazin alive, she must draw on her great bravery to try and end the war while accepting the help of some people she is hesitant to trust.

The narrative starts off extremely fast-paced—perhaps a bit too fast-paced. We are thrown into the action immediately and while I do like books that really get into things quickly, I felt that it would have been nice to have a just little bit more exposition in the first few pages. There is not a whole lot that lets us know who the characters are, their relationships, nor what their situation is. Also, we know very little about the initial setting before we are thrown out of it. This made it a little hard to form my first connections with the characters and I felt that the scene that ensues definitely needed that.

That being said, when Duncan begins to reveal more information and backstory throughout the following chapters, she does a good job of working it into the narrative. I found things to be a bit confusing for a little too long at the beginning, but I felt that everything was cleared up at some point. There are no major info dumps or any slowing of the pace as she reveals these facts, which is a trap that is quite easy to fall into.

Each piece of description about the characters and the magic system fits into the moment—they are relevant to what is taking place in the main narrative and are seamlessly sewn throughout the plot. Formatting the story this way also allows Duncan to show rather than tell while building the world. She does a great job of giving the reader knowledge of an aspect such as the characters’ personalities through showing their exchanges with each other and how they interact with the environment.

Speaking of the characters, they were a very strong element of this novel. She does a good job of not only creating three-dimensional characters but also depicting how they change and evolve over the course of the narrative. The good guys were easy to love and the villains were fun to hate. I particularly liked the portrayal of the gods and goddesses and how Nadya interacts with them. I also really liked Serefin and how Duncan built his character (at this point, I’m fairly sure I just have a thing for bad boys). I found him to be a particularly interesting and complex character who captured my attention right from the start. My only complaint character-wise was the romance. To be fair, I am extremely hard to please when it comes to romance in novels and this was one I was just not sold on.

Duncan builds the world in which this story unfolds very well. Her descriptions are very vivid and detailed—they truly pull the reader in. She has a wonderful talent for writing. Her words flowed beautifully and easily carried me all the way through to the final page. Very lyrical and captivating, her words were so enjoyable to read. I absolutely loved the Russian and Polish influences in all aspects of this book. Duncan clearly put a huge amount of time and effort into incorporating these cultures into the creation of everything from the setting to the magic systems.

The magic was one of my absolute favorite parts of the plot. Nadya’s magic as a cleric particularly caught my attention. As I said early, I found it to be extremely unique as it was completely based around the gods and goddesses of the world in this novel. I loved learning about each of the gods and goddess and what sort of powers they each bestowed on Nadya. I did feel that she fell a bit into the “special-snowflake” category, but that did not bother me as much as it can in some stories. And though she was not as strong a lead as I hoped she would be, I still liked hearing her story. Overall, I quite enjoyed this novel. I am definitely interested enough to continue on with this series as the next installments come out.

3.5 TARDISes

Author Bio:

Emily A. DuncanEMILY A. DUNCAN works as a youth services librarian. She received a Master’s degree in library science from Kent State University, which mostly taught her how to find obscure Slavic folklore texts through interlibrary loan systems. When not reading or writing, she enjoys playing copious amounts of video games and dungeons and dragons. Wicked Saints is her first book. She lives in Ohio.

Social Links:

Website: https://eaduncan.com/
Twitter: @glitzandshadows
Instagram: @glitzandshadows
Tumblr: http://glitzandshadows.tumblr.com/

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