Book Blitz & Excerpt: Where We Belong by Shann McPherson

Where We Belong
Shann McPherson
Published by: HQ Digital
Publication date: February 21st 2020
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

An emotional, compelling page-turner from your next romance obsession, Shann McPherson, about the power of friendship and finding love where you least expect it.
When Alice ‘Murph’ Murphy’s beloved mother died, she promised to keep the family bakery in Graceville, Georgia afloat—even if it meant letting her high-school sweetheart, Nash Harris, go. For years, Murph has been biding her time, waiting for Nash to come back for her.
So when he strolls into Piece O’ Cake, Murph’s heart skips a beat—until he hands her an invitation to his wedding… There are painful secrets in both their pasts that only the two of them share, and Murph can’t bear the thought of Nash belonging to someone else.
There’s only one thing Murph can think of to do: fake a relationship with local bar owner and old friend Harley Shaw to remind Nash of what he’s losing, and win him back for good.
Nash is Murph’s best friend, a vivid reminder of her childhood and all the things she’s lost—but the more time Murph and Harley spend together, the more the lines between real and pretend begin to blur. Can Murph choose between the one who got away and the one who never left—and heal her aching heart?
I push my glasses up my nose for the millionth time, and while holding my breath and with one eye narrowed, I wipe a tiny smudge of frosting from the silver turntable holding Mr. and Mrs. Robertson’s fiftieth wedding anniversary cake. It may have taken me two full days and most of last night, but I’ve finally finished. Exhaling the breath I’ve been holding for a beat too long, I take a step back to really appreciate my craftsmanship. Four layers of lemon and blueberry perfection, covered in a fluffy whipped buttercream frosting, decorated with beautiful red roses, delicate peonies, and a smattering of baby’s breath, all of which have been hand-piped by yours truly.
I place a hand on my hip, smiling proudly. “Alice Murphy, once again you’ve outdone yourself,” I whisper under my breath, mentally high-fiving myself.
The bell above the door to the shop jingles, pulling me from my musings, and I walk through from the kitchen to the front of the store, still smiling at the thought of my latest masterpiece.
“Welcome to Piece O’ Cake,” I sing in a cheerful customer service voice. “How can I help yo—” Stopping dead in my tracks, my eyes go wide as I gawp at the unexpected figure standing in the middle of the shop. He’s shadowed by the afternoon sun shining in through the windows, backlighting him to nothing more than a darkened silhouette, and I blink hard, unsure whether or not I’m imagining things. But then he speaks. And I would know that voice anywhere. This is definitely not my imagination playing tricks on me.
“Hey, Murph.” The shadow takes a step forward, coming in to the glow of the overhead lights, and I’m immediately enamored by that all too familiar grin.
“N-Nash?” I gasp.
His smile is bright and those eyes. I’d remember those eyes anywhere after spending such a big part of my life dreaming about them.
“Oh my God!” I scream, covering my mouth with trembling hands until I finally come to, ripping off my apron before practically throwing myself over the counter. Jumping up, I wrap my arms around his neck, and emotion gets the better of me as I stand there in the familiarity of his warm embrace with tears of happiness streaming down my cheeks.
He’s here.
The love of my life.
He’s home.

Author Bio:
With big dreams of being a published author since she was an eleven-year-old girl writing Beverly Hills 90210 fan fiction before fan fiction was even a thing, Shann McPherson has been writing angsty, contemporary romances for most of her thirty-something years.
Living in sunny Queensland, Australia, when she’s not writing Shann enjoys making memories with her husband and cheeky toddler son, drinking wine, and singing completely off-key to One Direction’s entire discography.

We'd like to thank the awesome team over at Xpresso for allowing us to be a part of this tour!


Review: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Title: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
Author: Ocean Vuong
Publisher: Penguin Press
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Hardcover, 246 Pages
Published June 2019

Summary: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family's history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one's own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.

I had heard a lot of great things about this book throughout the last few months, but it wasn’t until our campus book club selected it as our read for this semester that I actually got a chance to sit down and read it. And let me tell you, I’m so glad that I did, because I ended up being exposed to such a beautiful story that I wasn’t expecting, and I just have so many great things to say about it. So without further ado, let’s get into my review!

As the summary explains, ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS is, in its entirety, a letter from Ocean Vuong to his mother, an immigrant woman from Vietnam who can’t read. So in this story, he speaks to her about several things, such as his childhood, his upbringing, Vietnam, his sexuality, and the many bouts of sadness and trauma that he endured as a child growing into young adulthood. And throughout it all, there is this aching sense of both sadness AND hope – because how do you say all of these raw, emotional things to someone who will most likely never read them? Reading this book was truly such a powerful experience, and I can only imagine the kind of power that Ocean Vuong must have felt while writing it.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I thought that the writing style was absolutely gorgeous, in a way that I haven’t really seen in many of the other books that I’ve read before. As someone who reads primarily YA fiction – and romantic comedies, at that – I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened this book, or if I was even going to like it. But I ended up really loving all of the gorgeous prose, and the raw, honest, open, and even sometimes painful way that Vuong tackled particularly tough or emotional topics. This book is, at its core, a letter to his mother. Someone who is supposed to understand him more than anyone else, but who probably won’t even get the chance to read this letter (and I do remember seeing that she has unfortunately since passed away). So there’s just this surreal, super emotional quality to this book when you know that you’re witnessing someone’s private memories, pains, and joys – as an outside observer who is reading a letter that was not really meant for you in the first place.

Something else that I really enjoyed about this book was the fact that the timeline wasn’t linear. When I first started reading, that was definitely something that was a little bit confusing and took a little bit of time to get used to, but then after I really started to fall into the story and get used to it, I fell in love with the way that the story jumped around and spoke about different parts in Vuong’s life. Because that’s the way memory really is – it isn’t linear. We don’t necessarily always remember things in order. So this book, and the honest and jagged way that its written, really helps the reader fall into the experience of being in Vuong’s letter, and actually being able to place themselves in his memories.

Overall, I thought that ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS was such a gorgeous (ha, no pun intended) , calming book that I really fell into, as both a reader and a writer. It’s safe to say that I can absolutely see why so many people have been saying such incredible things about this book, and I know that I’m about to become one of them as well. Less than 250 pages, this book is a quick but deep, emotional, raw story that you can find yourself getting hooked on. There is an honest, painful,  yet hopeful history here that I’m glad I got a chance to explore. I’m incredibly glad that I was given the opportunity to read ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS with students on my campus this semester, and I hope that you all take the chance to read this incredible book as well.


ARC Review: Wildfire by Carrie Mac

Title: Wildfire
Author: Carrie Mac
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Hardcover, 272 Pages
Published January 2020

Summary: Annie and Pete have been best friends since they were little. They know each other better than anyone, and they've been on more adventures than they can count--they even have a notebook filled with all the times they've almost died. But they always survive, because together, they're invincible. And they've always been just friends. But lately, Annie has been thinking that maybe friendship is just the beginning, and she's been mentally replaying all the times they were almost something more. Now they're heading out on their next great quest: a ten-day backpacking trip through the mountains of Washington State, ending at Fire Camp, where they'll learn to fight the area's growing wildfire problem. The woods spark with the promise of adventure, but a freak climbing accident interrupts their progress, and as the wildfires close in and smoke envelops them, Annie and Pete wander farther from the trail.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, and let me tell you, I am SO glad that I did! When they first reached out for me and told me the premise of the story, I was immediately on board, because you all know that I'm such a huge fan of YA contemporaries, especially ones involving some element of romance or pining, so this one was right up my alley. And let me tell you, it ended up being such a delightful treat. So without further ado, here's my review!

As the summary explains, Annie and Pete have been best friends forever, always going on daring adventures, having sleepovers, and just generally being the best of friends. They've always been a unit -- that is, until Pete gets a girlfriend, and Annie finds herself getting pretty jealous, and she starts to wonder if maybe they could be something more. And then tragedy strikes, and in an effort to make her feel better, Pete takes Annie on an epic hiking trip in the mountains. But what they're not expecting is for the local wildfire to be getting so close, and for danger to be closer than they anticipated. And what happens on their trip will leave you hanging on the edge of your seat.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It's pretty short, less than 300 pages, so I found myself practically hanging on the edge of my seat and enthusiastically flipping through it, hardly able to put it down. Let me tell you, without spoiling anything, that this book takes you on an emotional rollercoaster that you definitely wouldn't expect. There were so many plot twists that left me gasping out loud, and Carrie Mac is such an excellent writer that she truly leaves you wanting more. The fact that the chapters were pretty short was helpful, too -- because it just made me keep falling for that "one more chapter" disease over and over again! 

As someone who falls more into Preet's (Pete's girlfriend's) line of thinking with being afraid of the outdoors, and bugs, and scrapes and sweating and hikes and bruises (I'm really quite lazy), I thought it was absolutely delightful to indulge in reading about the outdoor experience from the comfort of my very own bed. I'd like to say that this book inspired me to go out and take a hike, but nope, I'm still too horribly lazy for that. Instead, it definitely inspired me to read more books involving the great outdoors -- it definitely had major Jenn Bennett/Starry Eyes vibes! 

(MAJOR SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH -- PLEASE SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH TO AVOID THEM!) And let me tell you, that ending was definitely not something that I expected. You know when you're watching a movie and things are getting tough, but you tell yourself that subconsciously, you know everything is going to be okay, since all books have happy (or at least semi-happy) endings? I know there are a million books that break that rule, but just, know what I mean. So when Pete was getting really sick, I kept telling myself that everything was going to be okay. So when it WASN'T okay, I was genuinely floored and emotionally gutted...but I was also seriously impressed, because Carrie Mac managed to catch me TOTALLY off guard. So while I wouldn't say I loved what happened to Pete (I was devastated, actually), I was definitely impressed with the writing. The only thing that I wasn't 100% sold on with this book was the very ending, when Annie just decides to...what? Hop on a train with her dog and go...places? She's still a teenager, and she's just disappearing like that, and her dad is still willing to let her go off on her own even after everything that happened? It just felt a little bit off and TOO neatly tied together for me. But that's just my own reading tastes, I guess -- I absolutely loved everything else about the book!

Overall, I really loved reading Wildfire. If you're looking for a deep, emotional read that keeps you on the edge of your seat and rips your soul apart while also being short enough to tear through in just a day or two, then I'd definitely recommend picking this one up. I'm super grateful for Penguin for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review, and I can't wait to read more of Carrie Mac's work in the future! 


2020 Debut Author Interview: Nora Shalaway Carpenter!

In 2019, we made it our goal is to work with as many debut authors as possible and spread the word about their debut novels. It was such a success last year that we decided to continue the fun this year as well! Follow us this year as we pick the minds of the 2020 debuts and chat with them. Also stay tuned for news of giveaways, Twitter chats and more!
At the end of 2019, we Tweeted about wanting to discover more debut authors and their books. We ended up finding Nora Shalaway Carpenter and her novel THE EDGE OF ANYTHING, and we have been interested in it ever since. We are so excited to have Nora on the blog today to answer some of our questions! 

Nora Shalaway  Carpenter

Nora Shalaway Carpenter holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Before she wrote books, she served as associate editor of Wonderful West Virginia magazine and has been a Certified Yoga Teacher since 2012. Originally from rural West Virginia, she currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her husband, three young children, and one not-so-young dog.

Keep up with Nora: Website / Twitter / Goodreads / Instagram

The Book Bratz: First of all, congratulations! How does it feel to be a debut author?
Nora: Thank you! It’s a bit surreal, to be honest. I’ve dreamed of becoming a traditionally published author since I was a little kid, so to see that dream realized is a bit wild. 
The Book Bratz: In your opinion, what's the best part of the writing process? What's the hardest?
Nora: For me, the hardest part is definitely getting started from a blank page. You have this spark of an idea and you know how great it could be, but you also realize you have a lot of thinking and planning to do (in addition to writing!) to flesh that idea out into something substantial, something that provides meaning to you (and hopefully others, of course). There’s going to be missteps and frustration, and that’s all part of the writing process, but even once you know that, it doesn’t make it much easier. For me, the best part of writing is revision, which is totally the opposite of what 17-year-old Nora would have said. But now, I love having a full draft in front of me. Even if it is terrible, as first drafts always are, you at least have something to work with. I love Brendan Kiely’s quote, “you can work with a mess. You can’t work with a dream.” I hold on to that as I force myself to “write badly” in my first draft, which means not letting my inner critic hold me up from getting ideas down on the page. If I write a terrible sentence, so what? I know I’m going to fix it later. I love the transformation a story goes through during revision, as themes become clearer and you can really play up story connections that your unconscious brain put into your book without you even realizing! There’s something magical about that. 

The Book Bratz: Where did you get the inspiration for THE EDGE OF ANYTHING?
Nora: There are two answers, really, because THE EDGE OF ANYTHING is a dual narrative that tells the stories of two very different young women. Sage is a teenage volleyball superstar. While I wasn’t near Sage’s Division 1 recruitment level, I did live and breathe volleyball for most of my pre-teen and teenage life. But shortly before college, I tore my ACL playing basketball, and decided to accept an academic scholarship at a large university instead of pursing volleyball at a smaller one. So I went from my life revolving around this sport to not playing it competitively at all, which was a hard shift, I confess. It stayed with me for such a long time that I knew I wanted to write a story examining that aspect of identity—if what defines you is irrevocably stripped away, how do you find yourself and your place in the world again? (I am also a firm believer that more YA stories need to star female athletes, so there was that part of it, too!) Okay, the second answer is harder for me, personally. Although the reader doesn’t find out exactly what’s going on with Len until about midway through the book, it’s clear even from the first page that something isn’t quite right with Len’s mental health. The inspiration for her character came from my own horrific experiences with undiagnosed mental health issues and trauma. I talk a bit more about it in the book’s Author’s Note, but basically I wrote Len’s character because I wish I’d had an #ownvoices mental health story like hers to grasp onto when I was going through the darkest point of my life. I also wanted to give readers who didn’t suffer like Len a glimpse into the kind of pain she was carrying and hiding away. It really saddens me that there are still some people who don’t believe that mental health issues are real and just as serious as physical illnesses. That has to change. So I had these two ideas in my head for years, percolating, when one day I realized that Sage and Len lived in the same place. They knew each other. That’s when The Edge of Anything started to materialize.

The Book Bratz: Who was your favorite character to write? Who was the most difficult?
Nora: Sage and Len were both my favorite to write. Len, though, was the most difficult, because I was essentially reprocessing a bunch of traumatic emotions that I’d gone through years ago. That’s one of the reasons I couldn’t write the book until years after my own trauma. I needed that distance. Even though it was challenging at times, though, it was also deeply cathartic. 

The Book Bratz: How do you go about covering such sensitive topics, such as grief and mental health? What kind of planning and research goes into a story like this?
Nora: In Len’s case, I relied on my previous own experiences and emotions. Certainly mental health disorders present differently in different people, but I had firsthand knowledge of what it was like for me, and I used that in creating Len’s emotional experience. As for Sage’s medical condition, I definitely did a lot of research. One of my good friends is a pediatric cardiologist, and he let me interview him and come into his office to undergo the same testing that Sage endures. My favorite part of this was when he let me pretend to be Sage and bombard him with questions. He answered as he would have to a real patient, and some of that conversation shows up verbatim in the book.

The Book Bratz: What do you hope that readers will take away from THE EDGE OF ANYTHING?
Nora:Any time I write something, my biggest wish is that it makes readers think. That it pushes them perhaps out of their comfort zone a bit and forces them to confront ideas they might not have wanted to think about before. For this book in particular, I also hope that readers take away admiration for the astounding power of human connection. More than anything, I want readers to see that, even in the most desperate of times, there is always a sliver of light, and it is usually found in the connections we have with other people. 
The Book Bratz: Do you plan on returning to the world of THE EDGE OF ANYTHING in the future, or do you have other projects in mind? Can you tell us anything about them?
Nora: I don’t have any plans for a sequel, but I am currently writing another contemporary YA novel, this one set in West Virginia. Although I can’t reveal the details about that book yet, I can tell you that I have another book, a mixed-genre anthology, coming out October 13 from Candlewick called RURAL VOICES: 15 AUTHORS CHALLENGE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT SMALL-TOWN AMERICA. I both edit it and have a story in it, and I’m super excited that this book will help smash the rural monolith. The pitch is as follows: 
For most of America's history, rural people and culture have been casually mocked, stereotyped, and, in general, deeply misunderstood. Now an array of short stories, poetry, graphic short stories, and personal essays, along with anecdotes from the authors' real lives, dives deep into the complexity and diversity of rural America and the people who call it home. Fifteen extraordinary authors - diverse in ethnic background, sexual orientation, geographic location, and socioeconomic status - explore the challenges, beauty, and nuances of growing up in rural America. From a mountain town in New Mexico to the gorges of New York to the arctic tundra of Alaska, you'll find yourself visiting parts of this country you might not know existed - and meet characters whose lives might be surprisingly similar to your own. 
Goodreads link here:

Thank you so much for having me on the blog, Jessica! It was great to chat.

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Title: The Edge of Anything
Author: Nora Shalaway Carpenter
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Publication Date: March 24th, 2020

Summary: Len is a loner teen photographer haunted by a past that’s stagnated her work and left her terrified she’s losing her mind. Sage is a high school volleyball star desperate to find a way around her sudden medical disqualification. Both girls need college scholarships. After a chance encounter, the two develop an unlikely friendship that enables them to begin facing their inner demons. But both Len and Sage are keeping secrets that, left hidden, could cost them everything, maybe even their lives. Set in the North Carolina mountains, this dynamic #ownvoices novel explores grief, mental health, and the transformative power of friendship.

Thank you so much to Nora for stopping by and answering our questions! We are super excited about THE EDGE OF ANYTHING and can't wait for it to be out in the world on March 24th! If you're interested, you can PREORDER HERE! We're also running a pre-order giveaway with Nora on our Twitter, so check it out!

Celebrate So Excited GIF by Hey Violet

Guest Post By Author Claire Bartlett!

Hey everyone! Today on the blog, we have something exciting for you -- author Claire Barlett is here to talk about her latest book, The Winter Duke! So without further ado, let's get into it!

About Claire

Claire Eliza Bartlett

Claire Bartlett lives in an enchanted forest apartment in Copenhagen with too many board games and too few cats.

Claire Barlett Discussing the Setting of The Winter Duke

The setting of THE WINTER DUKE was my favorite part of building the novel. In fact, the setting was one of the first things I had nailed down. Some years ago, when I was still working on my debut novel WE RULE THE NIGHT, I had the idea of a city above, and a city below. A city that sat atop a frozen lake, and a city that thrived beneath it, connected and bound and incapable of complete independence from each other.

I didn't have characters, inciting incidents, a plot, or anything else. I just had these two cities. The setting stuck around in my mind for years, until WE RULE THE NIGHT was done and my publisher was asking, "What else have you got?" So I smashed these cities together with a bit of fairy tale and a bit of history, and I put it all to work. Here are a few things about the duchy Above and the duchy Below:

The duchy of Kylma Above is a frozen kingdom atop a lake. Everything is ice, from the palace bedrooms to the boulevards to the outer fortifications. Nestled up against the mountains, its only weak point is the plains that stretch out to one side - assuming an army can march through the wild winters to get there. And when they do, they still have to content with the moat, chopped right through the lake's center and protected by guards from both Above and Below.

Beneath the thick ice sheet, the duchy Below is populated by fishmen and fishwives, who can sometimes be seen by people strolling along the ice roads Above. The people Below hunt, farm and trade, and their own Grand Duke ensures that they have what they need.

Until recently, relations between the duchies were cordial. Now they're more complicated, thanks to Ekata's father. When she inherits the throne she doesn't just get the chance to study Below up close - she also gets the responsibility of seeing them as they are, a valuable trading partner and a people in need.

The duchy Above is tiny...

Like, Vatican City terms of tiny. The whole thing fits on a lake. You could walk from one end to the other in about forty minutes. This size means, of course, that the duchy has to rely on its neighbors and allies for a lot of things, and it trades magic, fish, and reindeer products in exchange.

...And everything's manufactured to work with ice.

I had a lot of fun thinking about how buildings would have been constructed, how their fireplaces would be insulated to keep their chimneys from melting, what kind of food service people had so that their lips didn't freeze to their of my favorite parts of worldbuilding is going through and asking how a decision I've made will affect my world in terms of details, and freezing my setting definitely gave me a lot to think about!

The duchy Below is both human and other...

Legends go that the people who live under the ice used to be human, too - until a jealous god pulled them Below and turned them into his supplicants. Ekata sees buildings, roads and even streetlamps in her visits to the duchy Below, but she also sees carnivorous algae, and the people Below speak to her without vocal cords. Their world is, to an extent, a mirror of the world Above, but they've had to make some adjustments to live underwater, surrounded by monsters.

...And it provides the magic that the duchy Above so desperately needs.

Two things tie these places together: first, the duchy Above is the only point of contact that the duchy Below has with the outside world. Second, the duchy Below is the only place in the world that provides magic, in the form of little pearls that get harvested from flowers at the bottom of the lake. This magic is what keeps the duchy Above financially independent from its neighbors, and both duchies rely on each other for prosperity (and survival). And that means, whenever one party starts taking the other for granted, things are bound to get difficult...

About The Winter Duke


Title: The Winter Duke
Author: Claire Eliza Bartlett
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Hardcover, 432 Pages
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2020

Summary: When Ekata's brother is finally named heir, there will be nothing to keep her at home in Kylma Above with her murderous family. Not her books or science experiments, not her family's icy castle atop a frozen lake, not even the tantalizingly close Kylma Below, a mesmerizing underwater kingdom that provides her family with magic. But just as escape is within reach, her parents and twelve siblings fall under a strange sleeping sickness. In the space of a single night, Ekata inherits the title of duke, her brother's warrior bride, and ever-encroaching challengers from without—and within—her own ministry. Nothing has prepared Ekata for diplomacy, for war, for love...or for a crown she has never wanted. If Kylma Above is to survive, Ekata must seize her family's power. And if Ekata is to survive, she must quickly decide how she will wield it.

We'd like to thank Claire for being awesome enough to stop by the blog today and for writing this fabulous guest post. If you're interested in learning more about her or The Winter Duke, we made sure to include tons of links to the Goodreads page and also to Claire's own social media -- so don't miss out on your opportunity to discover an amazing author and story!

Spotlight & Excerpt: Something Wicked by Nicole M. Rubino!

Hi everyone! Today on the the blog, we have something exciting for you -- an exclusive excerpt from Nicole M. Rubino's latest release, SOMETHING WICKED! So without further ado, let's get into it!



Title: Something Wicked
Author: Nicole M. Rubino
Publisher: Magnolia Press
Published November 2019

Summary: A breakup and a car accident are no way to start your seventeenth birthday. For Theo Montgomery, that is exactly how it began. Her bad luck turns worse when she returns home from a school dance to find her house on fire--with her parents still inside. Following their deaths, Theo is sent to live with her estranged aunt in Salem, Massachusetts. If a new home and a new school aren’t enough to deal with, Theo discovers her aunt has a secret: she is a witch. And so is Theo. Theo must learn keep her magic in check, lest the Town’s notorious witch hunters discover that magic has returned to the world after more than three hundred years. But how can she navigate a new school, new magical powers and avoid the witch hunters, when she finds herself enjoying the company of one? Trystan de Lancre is a dangerous witch hunter, but that doesn’t keep Theo from wanting to discover more about him. Harboring secrets of his own, Trystan isn’t the only perilous force in Salem. Something has returned to the village; something that the witches believed to have been dead and buried long ago. Salem’s dark past rises to haunt Theo and the present-day witches, unraveling a shocking revelation: the real cause of the Salem Witch Trials.


“I’m not going to hurt you, Theo. Why would you ever think that?”

Her own eyes fell to the hand at her elbow, and he dropped it. “Your one job in life is to hunt down and kill witches,” she explained. “It has been for generations. And like you just said, you know I am one. So why would I trust you?”

Trystan laughed again, and Theo wished she was making him laugh for different reasons other than the fact that he clearly thought what she just said was idiotic.

“You think I want to kill you? I know I was rude the other day, but I didn’t think it was that bad.” He smiled, and she noticed a dimple in his left cheek. “Being a witch hunter is my birthright–that’s all. It’s not my job and it’s not the person I am.”

Theo debated on her internal struggle to accept his statement as genuine or remain resolute in avoiding him. Trystan’s gaze was unyielding, as though he knew she was making her final decision about him.

And she did.

Theo stepped closer to him, closing the remaining inches of space between them. She looked up at him, chin raised and eyes wide. “Prove it,” she challenged.

The corner of Trystan’s mouth quirked. His green eyes sparkled with mischief.

But he didn’t answer her. Instead, he moved to the side and opened the car door for her. “Until we meet again, belle sorcière.”

He spoke French. Of course, he did.

She gave him a crooked smile as she climbed into the car. He closed the door once she was inside, and Theo didn’t dare turn to see if he was still there watching her as she drove away.

But when she glanced into the rear-view mirror, Trystan was indeed still standing where she left him, watching her with none other than a predatory hunter’s gaze.

What had she just gotten herself into?


Nicole Rubino is the author of SOMETHING WICKED, the first in a four-book series about witches, witch hunters, and everything in between! She fondly remembers Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach as the first book that took her on an adventure, and so, she fell in love with reading and writing fantasy. Her equal love for history propelled her to dive further into the witch hunts throughout Europe and the witch hunts in Salem, which is where she got the idea for her debut novel.

Keep with with Nicole: Website / Goodreads / Instagram / Twitter

We'd like to thank Nicole for being awesome enough to allow us to share this excerpt! If SOMETHING WICKED sounds like something you'd be interested in reading, don't forget to add it to your Goodreads TBR! :-)

2020 Debut Author Interview: Alechia Dow!

In 2019, we made it our goal is to work with as many debut authors as possible and spread the word about their debut novels. It was such a success last year that we decided to continue the fun this year as well! Follow us this year as we pick the minds of the 2020 debuts and chat with them. Also stay tuned for news of giveaways, Twitter chats and more!

At the end of 2019, we Tweeted about wanting to discover more debut authors and their books. We ended up finding Alechia Dow and her novel THE SOUND OF STARS, and we have been interested in it ever since. We are so excited to have Alechia on the blog today to answer some of our questions! 

Alechia Dow

Alechia Dow is a former pastry chef, food critic, culinary teacher, and Youth Services librarian. When not writing about determined black girls (like herself), you can find her chasing her wild child, baking, or taking teeny adventures around Europe.

Keep up with Alechia: Website / Twitter / Goodreads / Instagram 

The Book Bratz: First of all, congratulations! How does it feel to be a debut author?
Alechia: It feels unreal. I spent so much time over the years pursuing this; writing books, querying, going through the process of doubt and uncertainty, questioning if I'm talented enough. Now my book is coming out, and I'm still unsure if I deserved this, yet, I want to cherish every moment. I want to celebrate and hope that teens will read my book and it'll resonate with them. It's a wild, overwhelming time, but also a dream come true. 
The Book Bratz: In your opinion, what is the best part of the writing process? What's the hardest?
Alechia: My favorite part of the writing process is when the story just clicks in your mind and you have fun creating this brand new world. My least favorite: there’s this moment when you get an edit letter and you look at it and the blood drains from your face and you’re like, HOW AM I GOING TO DO THIS? You feel a bit hopeless and worried that you won’t know how to fix these issues and no one will want your book, your agent will drop you or your editor will be like, this was a mistake. Thankfully it passes with time :)) 

The Book Bratz: Where did you get the idea for THE SOUND OF STARS?
Alechia: I'd just shelved two books I wrote, and then, out of nowhere, I was inspired by the idea of a secret, illegal library. Which got me to thinking, why is it illegal? And then it evolved over the course of a long walk into a story about a rebel librarian and an alien who loves music. This is often how my mind works, one minute I have a fragment of an idea, and the next, it's a full-fledged plot bunny that I tend to follow on the page! 
The Book Bratz: Who was your favorite character to write? Who was the hardest?
Alechia: The weird thing is...both main characters in The Sound of Stars were easy to write. I sat down and they just came to mind, their personalities, their struggles, their loves... I find that when I struggle with a character, either I shouldn't be writing them, or I haven't really given them enough thought yet. Writing for me is like making a movie, (I know that sounds weird), the more details and traits I include, the clearer the character. 

The Book Bratz:Your book deals a lot with the idea of creative expression being illegal. Why do you think creativity and the arts is so vital to our society (especially reading, since you know, we're all bookworms here!)? 
Alechia: The Sound of Stars is all about what brings us together when the world seems to be tearing us apart. Art, I feel, has a way of liberating and connecting people, and allows us to escape our own realities. We speak different languages, grow up with different cultures, eat different foods, but we may like the same Stevie Wonder song and The Neverending Story. Sometimes focusing on what connects us can make what separates us a little less important.

The Book Bratz: What do you want readers to take away from THE SOUND OF STARS?
Alechia:Hope. I desperately want you, the readers, to know that this book is about hope. It's dark at times, and sometimes it feels like all is lost, but it tries to find joy wherever possible, and it begs you to fight for the future. 

The Book Bratz: Do you plan on returning to the world of THE SOUND OF STARS in the future, or do you have other projects in mind? Can you tell us anything about them?
Alechia: Fingers crossed, I'd LOVE to return to the world of THE SOUND OF STARS. We'll see if there's a push for that in the future. I have a magical foodie fantasy that has some of my favorite recipes, and two more science fiction projects, one a love story about humanity and hope (common themes for me, can you tell?), another an action-packed story about found family and society...I hope beyond hope that I get the chance to put more stories out in the world! 

Thank you all for reading and having me on here!!! 

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Title: The Sound of Stars
Author: Alechia Dow
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publication Date: February 25th, 2020

Summary: Two years ago, a misunderstanding between the leaders of Earth and the invading Ilori resulted in the deaths of one-third of the world’s population. Seventeen-year-old Janelle “Ellie” Baker survives in an Ilori-controlled center in New York City. Deemed dangerously volatile because of their initial reaction to the invasion, humanity’s emotional transgressions are now grounds for execution. All art, books and creative expression are illegal, but Ellie breaks the rules by keeping a secret library. When a book goes missing, Ellie is terrified that the Ilori will track it back to her and kill her. Born in a lab, M0Rr1S (Morris) was raised to be emotionless. When he finds Ellie’s illegal library, he’s duty-bound to deliver her for execution. The trouble is, he finds himself drawn to human music and in desperate need of more. They’re both breaking the rules for love of art—and Ellie inspires the same feelings in him that music does. Ellie’s—and humanity’s—fate rests in the hands of an alien she should fear. M0Rr1S has a lot of secrets, but also a potential solution—thousands of miles away. The two embark on a wild and dangerous road trip with a bag of books and their favorite albums, all the while making a story and a song of their own that just might save them both.

Thank you so much to Alechia for stopping by and answering our questions! We are super excited about THE SOUND OF STARS and can't wait for it to be out in the world on February 25th

Celebrate So Excited GIF by Hey Violet

ARC Review: When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey

Title: When We Were Magic
Author: Sarah Gailey 
Genre: Fantasy, Witches, LGBT
Source: Simon Pulse via NetGalley 
Publisher: Simon Pulse 
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2020

A moving, darkly funny novel about six teens whose magic goes wildly awry from Magic for Liars author Sarah Gailey, who Chuck Wendig calls an “author to watch.” Keeping your magic a secret is hard. Being in love with your best friend is harder. Alexis has always been able to rely on two things: her best friends, and the magic powers they all share. Their secret is what brought them together, and their love for each other is unshakeable—even when that love is complicated. Complicated by problems like jealousy, or insecurity, or lust. Or love. That unshakeable, complicated love is one of the only things that doesn't change on prom night. When accidental magic goes sideways and a boy winds up dead, Alexis and her friends come together to try to right a terrible wrong. Their first attempt fails—and their second attempt fails even harder. Left with the remains of their failed spells and more consequences than anyone could have predicted, each of them must find a way to live with their part of the story.

When We Were Magic was the first book I finished in 2020 and I am so happy it is. This book is full of such a diverse cast of characters who love and support each other no matter what. Plus this book and it’s cover scream girl power! This story is about a group of witches, like c’mon!

All Alexis wanted to do on prom night was to lose her virginity, maybe it wasn’t for the best reasons but that was her plan. But when she is in the moment and her magic backfires causing a certain part of Josh explode which ends up killing him. Alexis calls her best friends to the rescue. Alexis, Roya, Pauli’s, Iris, Marceline and Maryam all have one specific thing in common: they are magic. After a spell goes wrong and their backup plan fails even worse, they must find a way to deal with the problem. But when their magic begins to punish them for the failed spells each girl must make it right.

I expected When We Were Magic to go in one direction BUT it actually went in a whole other direction that I didn’t think it was going to go. I expected it to more or less to just address the issue of Josh and whether the group of girls where going to be able to bring him back to life. When We Were Magic was so much more then that. It address Alexis’ friendship with each other girls, her growing feelings for Roya and her own insecurities that she doesn’t deserve the love and support that her friends are giving her.

I really enjoyed Alexis’s character and getting to be inside her head. I loved her rationale on certain things and her side comments, it made her feel more real to me in a way. Through out the novel we see Alexis dealing with the fall out of her decision, the regret, trying to defend it and in the end the tough love that she gets from Maryam about the whole thing. Throughout When We Were Magic we see her struggle with the idea that she doesn’t deserves her friends help and how they are sacrificing so much for her when they don’t need to be. I saw a lot of myself when Alexis would think these things because I think the same exact way sometimes.

I really enjoyed When We Were Magic and the dynamic of this witchy friend group. I’m sad to see that their story is over, but I feel like Sarah did a great job in wrapping it up and giving both Alexis and the reader the closure that was needed.

If you are looking for a book with a diverse cast, queer girls and some steamy moments, magic and witches then this is the book for you!