Spotlight on Twelfth Knight (Alexene Farol Follmuth), Excerpt

June 19th, 2024 by

Today we’re spotlighting Twelfth Knight by Alexene Farol Follmuth!

Read on for more about the author and the book!




About the Author: Alexene Farol Follmuth

Alexene Farol Follmuth is a first-generation American, a romance enthusiast, and a lover and writer of stories. Alexene has penned a number of adult SFF projects under the name Olivie Blake, including the webtoon Clara and the Devil and the BookTok-viral The Atlas Six. My Mechanical Romance is her YA debut, coming Summer 2022 from Holiday House. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, new baby, and rescue pit bull. Find more about Alexene at @afarolfollmuth or

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About the Book: Twelfth Knight

Reese’s Book Club Summer YA Pick ’24

“YA is a feeling. It’s a warm summer day reading in the sun, lots of nostalgia, gushing together over the characters in Twelfth Knight.”—Reese Witherspoon

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Atlas Six (under the penname Olivie Blake) comes Twelfth Knight, a YA romantic comedy and coming of age story about taking up space in the world and learning what it means to let others in.

Viola Reyes is annoyed.

Her painstakingly crafted tabletop game campaign was shot down, her best friend is suggesting she try being more “likable,” and her school’s star running back Jack Orsino is the most lackadaisical Student Body President she’s ever seen, which makes her job as VP that much harder. Vi’s favorite escape from the world is the MMORPG Twelfth Knight, but online spaces aren’t exactly kind to girls like her—girls who are extremely competent and have the swagger to prove it. So Vi creates a masculine alter ego, choosing to play as a knight named Cesario to create a safe haven for herself.

But when a football injury leads Jack Orsino to the world of Twelfth Knight, Vi is alarmed to discover their online alter egos—Cesario and Duke Orsino—are surprisingly well-matched.

As the long nights of game-play turn into discussions about life and love, Vi and Jack soon realise they’ve become more than just weapon-wielding characters in an online game. But Vi has been concealing her true identity from Jack, and Jack might just be falling for her offline…









When I was a kid, everyone naturally assumed that because I was
the son of Sam Orsino, I was an All-American quarterback in the
They were . . . half right.
I mean, I can see the logic. My dad, the only son of a janitor and
a waitress, famously set the Northern California record for passing
yards when he was at Messaline High in the ’90s, only to be surpassed four years ago by my older brother—so yeah, I have some
idea of what people expect from me. The family arm! Practically my
birthright. People assume I’ll be no different from my father and
brother: a playmaker, a leader. Someone who can command the
field, and in a lot of ways, they’re not wrong.
I do see the game differently than other people. I think the commentators usually call it vision, or clarity, even though to me it’s
something more innate. When Illyria was recruiting me last fall,
they said I saw the field like a chess prodigy, which feels closest to
the truth. I know where people are going to be, how they’ll move.
I feel it somewhere, like the tensing of a muscle. I can sense it like
a change in the wind.
Like, for example, right now.
Messaline Hills, California, isn’t exactly Odessa, Texas, but for
an affluent San Francisco suburb, we know how to pull off your
classic Friday-night lights. The late-August heat burns away as the
sun molts into stadium brights, transforming the familiarity of
our home turf to the singular mythos of game day. The stands are
packed; whoops and chatter buzz from the crowd, all alight with
Messaline green and gold. There’s a snap from a drumline snare,
sharp like the edge of a knife. From the field, the tang of sweat and
salt mixes with the charred scent of barbeque, the storied hallmark
of our home opener’s Pigskin Roast.
Tonight, standing on this field for my final year feels like the
start of an era. Destiny, fate, whatever you want to call it—it’s here
on the field with us; I can sense it from the moment our next play is
called, my team collectively suspending in time for the same fleeting breath.
There’s immediate pressure on Curio, our quarterback, so I force
some space and quickly change directions, shaking off a linebacker
to reach Curio’s left for the handoff. We’ve run this exact play hundreds of times; it worked last week in our season opener, an away
game against Verona High, and it’s going to work again now. I take
the ball from him and spot an oncoming defender, shouting for a
blocker to take my right. Naturally he misses, so I pivot again to
drop a right-side defender. He can’t hang. Too bad, so sad.
Now it’s just a forty-yard run with the entire Padua defense at
my heels.
You know how I said everyone was half right about me following
in my dad’s footsteps? That’s because I’m an All-American running
back. It’s who I am, what I love. After watching me take off with the
ball every chance I got during my first peewee season, my coach had
the foresight to start me at running back instead. My dad supposedly threw a fit—once prophesied to be the rare Black quarterback
who could rival Elway or Young, his career had ended abruptly,
with an injury cutting his pro dreams short. Naturally, he saw in
his two sons the mirror-slivers of his own glory, craving for us the
greatness foretold for himself.
But when I took off for the full length of the field, even King
Orsino couldn’t argue with that. They say every great football player’s got some supernatural spark, and mine—the thing that makes
me the best player on the field—is that when I catch even a glimpse
of an opening, I can outrun anyone who tries to stop me. What
I’ve got absolute faith in is the pulse in my chest, the sanctity of my
own two feet. The knowledge that I will fight my way back up from
every hard fall. Most people don’t know what their purpose in life
is, or why they exist, or what they were meant for, but I do. In the
end, it’s a very short story.
In this case, only forty yards.
By the time I’m across the goal line the band is blasting our
school fight song, the whole town going wild in the stands. As far
as home openers go, I’m definitely giving them a show, and they
return the favor with their usual chant—“Duke Orsino,” a variation
on my father the king and my brother the prince.
This year, nobody uses the phrase if we win State, but when.
I toss the ball over to the ref while glancing at the too-late Padua
cornerback, who looks less than pleased about me scoring on his
watch yet again. He’s probably the fastest person on his team,
which must seem like a hell of an accolade if you haven’t met me.
Some people really take issue with coming in second—just ask
Viola Reyes, the student body VP to my president. (She demanded
a recount after the results had us coming in within twenty votes,
ranting something about election protocols while staring me down
like my popularity was somehow both malicious and personal.)
Unfortunately for the Padua cornerback—and Vi Reyes—I really
am that good. The speed and agility that secured my spot at Illyria
next fall isn’t something to sneeze at, and neither is the fact that I
spend every minute of every day being likable enough for ESPN.
With . . . minor exceptions. “A little more steam next time,” I
advise the cornerback, because what’s a game without a little smack
talk? “Few more sprints and you’ll have it.”
He scowls and flips me off.
Coach motions me over to the sideline as we swap with special
teams, rolling his eyes when I saunter over with what he calls my
“eat shit” grin.
“Let your runs do the talking, Duke,” he grunts to me, not for
the first time.
Humility’s easy to preach when you’re not the one being lauded
by the crowd. “Who says I’m doing any talking?” I ask innocently.
He glances at me sideways, then gestures to the bench. “Sit.”
“Sir, yes, sir.” I wink at him and he rolls his eyes.
Did I mention that Coach occasionally goes by Dad? Yep, that’s
right—King Orsino became Coach Orsino, and thanks to his work
in the community as varsity football coach, he’s still the local boy
made good. He won Man of the Year last year from the Bay Area
Black Business Association, plus he’s been honored at almost every
school function in the last decade. Together, our wins while proudly
wearing Messaline emerald and gold afford us a rare place in this
town’s predominantly white history.
When it comes to the Orsino skill on the field, some call it luck.
We call it a legacy. Still, compared to my father and brother, I’ve got
a lot more to prove. At my age, they were both All-Americans and
top-recruited NCAA prospects, too—but unlike me, they had State
Champion titles under their belts by the start of their senior season.
I may be the best running back in California, arguably the country,
but I’m still fighting my way out from under a shadow that goes for
miles. As far as nicknames go, Duke Orsino is a great one until you
consider what that actually means in terms of lineage. Every year is
a vicious new experiment in close, but no cigar.
Still, it’s a good thing I’ve got such a powerful motivator, because
while I’m having the game of my life tonight—I’ve already run for
two hard touchdowns so far, bringing me within a single good run
of the Messaline record for career yards gained—Padua’s got a battalion of big defenders putting in work to keep our offensive line
at bay. Our defense is holding their own against Padua’s sleeve of
trick plays, but Curio, our senior QB who’s finally risen through
the ranks, isn’t nearly the player Nick Valentine was in his senior
season. It’ll be up to me to make sure we’re getting that ball to the
end zone come hell or high water, which means my all-time record
is definitely getting broken tonight.
I shake myself at the sound of the Padua crowd’s cheers; their
receiver makes an incredible catch that leaves our side of the stands
groaning. This will be a tough one, definitely. But these stakes,
however crucial, are no different from any other game. It’s always
about the play right in front of me, and the moment it passes, we’re
on to the next one.
Ever forward. Ever onward.
I roll out my neck and exhale, rising to my feet at the exact moment that a perfect spiral gets Padua to first and goal. If they score
here, it’s our turn next. It’s my turn. My moment. Everyone I know
is out there in the stands holding their breaths, and I won’t let them
down. Before I walk off the field tonight, they’re all going to bear
witness to my destiny: a winning season.
A state championship.
Immortality itself.
Am I being dramatic? Yes, definitely, but it’s hard not to be romantic about football. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say
there’s always been something waiting for me. Something big, and
this is my chance to take it.
So right now, it’s time to run.


Things in the game are definitely getting heated. We’ve lost some of
our best players from last year, and with a pace this arduous, focus is
everything, so getting this team to a win is going to take . . . well,
a miracle.
But miracles have been known to happen.
“They’re coming” is all Murph says. Instantly, I feel a shiver.
This is the exciting part, but also the time when most mistakes are
made. I lean forward, anxious but not concerned. We can do this.
(We have to do this. If we don’t, there’s no way I get my shot, and
that’s just not an acceptable alternative.)
On my left, Rob Kato’s the first to respond. “How many are
Murphy, or Murph (whose real name is Tom, though nobody
calls him that—honestly, don’t bother learning anyone’s names,
they’re really not important), says from across the table, “Ten.”
“Some people will have to take two.” That’s Danny Kim. He’s
new—not just to the group, but to the game itself. Which is exactly
as helpful as you’d expect, and he’s just as unworthy of committing
to memory. (I’d happily number them instead for ease of consumption, but I’ve been in all the same AP classes with them for the last,
oh, four hundred years, so for purposes of atmosphere, let’s pretend
like I care they exist.)
“I will,” volunteers Leon Boseman, on Rob’s left. The boys call
him Bose or Bose Man, a brotastic endowment of reverence with no
meaningful effect on his personal appeal.
“And me,” I say quickly.
“What?” That’s Marco Klein, on Murph’s left. He’s a huge bitch.
But I’m used to him, so better the devil you know, I guess.
“Check my character sheet, Klein,” I growl. “I’ve got a black belt
From outside Antonia’s kitchen window there’s a sudden, deafening roar, followed by the blast of a marching band.
“Ugh, sorry.” Antonia rises to her feet and closes the window.
“Gets so loud on game days.”
The distant sounds of high school football are successfully muffled, leaving us to return to our kitchen table game of ConQuest.
Yes, that ConQuest, the role-playing game for nerds, ha-ha, we
know. The thing is that 1) we are nerds, by which I mean we collectively make up the top 1 percent of our graduating class and are
probably going to rule the world someday even if it loses us some
popularity contests (don’t get me started on the idiotic grift that
is student body elections, I will throw up), and 2) it’s not just for
antisocial weirdos in basements. Did you know that tabletop roleplaying games like ConQuest are the forerunners to massive multiplayer online RPGs like World of Warcraft and Twelfth Knight? Most
people don’t, which drives me crazy. I hate when people dismiss revolutionary forms of media just because they don’t understand them.
Though, don’t get me wrong—I get where the misconception
comes from. Murph’s floppy ash-blond hair is currently swept
forward to cover an Orion’s belt of cystic acne. Danny Kim has
anime-style black hair that still doesn’t take him past my shoulder.
Leon is best known for his hyena cackle; Rob Kato’s prone to uncontrollable stress sweats; Antonia—the only person here I actually
like or respect, by the way—is wearing a hand-knitted vest-thing
that’s more lumpy than trendy; and hey, even on a good day I still
look like I might be twelve, so current company might not be the
perfect sell. Still, this game is a revolution, regardless of whether a
bunch of high-achieving teens have settled into their post-pubescent
forms or not.
“You were saying?” Antonia prompts me, though I’m still annoyed with Marco. (He once begged me to make Murph invite
him, as if Murph has ever been in charge.)
“I’ve got a black belt in Tawazun,” I finish irritably. It’s Arabic
for balance, and one of the five major fighting disciplines from the
original ConQuest game. They say that War of Thorns—my favorite
TV show, a medieval fantasy adaptation about warring kingdoms—
originated from a massive homebrewed ConQuest campaign that
the book series’ author, Jeremy Xavier, played QuestMaster for
when he was a student at Yale. (He’s kind of my hero. Every year I
cross my fingers that I’ll run into him at MagiCon, but no luck yet.)
“Isn’t Tawazun like, ceremonial fan fighting or something?” says
Danny Kim, who, once again, doesn’t know anything. Yes, there are
hand fans in Tawazun, but the use of a fan as a weapon is not uncommon in martial arts. And anyway, the point is that it’s all about
using your opponent’s momentum against them, which makes it
a super practical choice for a smaller female character like Astrea.
(That’s me: Astrea Starscream. I’ve been role-playing as her for two
years now, refining her story a little more each campaign. Basically,
she was orphaned and trained in secret as an assassin for hire, but
then she found out her parents were murdered by the people who
trained her and now she wants revenge. A tale as old as time!)
Before I can correct yet another of Danny Kim’s annoying misconceptions, Matt Das answers. “Tawazun is basically jiu jitsu.”
“And either way, I said I could do it,” I add, “which is all you
need to know.” There hasn’t been much combat yet; we got into a little skirmish earlier with some bandits, leaving us with a small onyx
arrowhead that none of us know what to do with. Still, I shouldn’t
have to prove anything to him.
“Why don’t you just, like, seduce him?”
Okay, I kind of hate Danny Kim. “Do you see ‘seduction powers’
listed anywhere on my Quest Sheet?” I demand, this time not very
patiently. Danny exchanges a glance with Leon, who brought him
here, and suddenly I want to smack both their heads together like
a pair of coconuts. But I don’t, of course. Because apparently I’m
supposed to be nicer if I want people to agree with me. (Big ups to
my grandma for that sage advice.)
“Believe it or not, Danny,” I say with a pointed smile, “I’m just
as capable of imaginary martial arts as you are.” More so, actually,
since I’ve done Muay Thai with my twin brother Bash for the last
four years. (Bash does it for stage combat, but I do it for moments
like this.)
Danny Kim doesn’t smile back, so at least he’s not a complete
“I can try something,” Antonia cuts in, ever the peacemaker of
the group. “I’ve got a love potion that might work. Feminine wiles
or whatever, right?”
She did not just say feminine wiles. I love her dearly, but come on.
“Is that your official move?” Murph asks her, reaching for the dice.
I smack a hand out to stop him because for the love of god, ugh.
“Larissa Highbrow is a healer,” I remind the rest of the table, because every campaign, without fail, leaves at least one of us in need
of Antonia’s healing powers in order to keep going. She’s basically
the most crucial character here, which naturally the boys are unable
(or unwilling) to recognize. “You should stay back and tend to the
“She’s right,” says Matt Das, who’s surprisingly helpful despite
being new to our group. (Matt is tan and wavy-haired and seems
well acquainted with deodorant, so if I cared what anyone here
looked like, I’d say his appearance was reasonably good.) “The rest of
us can handle combat amongst ourselves.”
“Or—” I begin to say, only to be interrupted.
“Can we stop talking about this and actually fight?” whines
“Or,” I repeat loudly, ignoring him, “maybe we should try diplomacy first.”
In unison, the boys groan. Except Matt Das.
“Uh, they’re coming at us with axes,” says Rob.
“Murph didn’t say shit about axes,” I remind him, since as
Master, Murphy’s the one who narrates the game and gives us the
information we need. And likewise, he doesn’t give us information
that’s not applicable. “Do they have weapons, Murph?”
“You can’t see from this distance,” Murphy answers, briefly
skimming the page in the QuestMaster’s Bible (it has a stupid name
and I covet it). “But they’re getting closer by the minute,” he adds,
reaching blithely for a pizza roll.
“They’re getting closer by the minute!” Rob informs me urgently,
as if I cannot also hear what Murph just said.
“I get that, but it might be a mistake to just assume they’re armed.
Remember what happened to us in the Gomorra raid last year?” I
prompt, arching a brow as they all nod, minus Danny Kim, who
still knows nothing. “We don’t even know if these guys are with
the rest of the army.”
Luckily for me, I’m being blatantly ignored.
“I say we shoot first, ask questions later,” says Leon, blowing off
the invisible barrel of an imaginary pistol even though his character,
Tarrigan Skullweed, specifically uses a bow and arrow.
I glance witheringly at him. He winks at me.
“How far away are they?” Antonia asks Murph. “Is there a way
that someone can get closer to see whether they’re armed?”
“Try it and see,” invites Murph, shrugging.
“Oh sure, does anyone volunteer to fall on that grenade?” demands Marco.
Okay, this is exhausting. “Fine. Combat it is,” I say, “and let the
die be cast.”
“Is that from War of Thorns?” asks—who else—Danny Kim. Yes, it
is, and it’s also from a scene right before Rodrigo, the main protagonist
who is honestly kind of a dud compared to the other characters, leads
his army into a losing battle.
“Whose turn is it?” I ask loudly.
“Mine.” Rob sits up. “I take my sword and throw it directly at the
heart of the biggest warrior.”
Well, that’s typical, but at least Rob’s character, Bedwyr Killa
(I know, eye roll, but it’s actually not the worst of the bunch), is
massive and strong in addition to being impractically reckless.
Murph rolls. “It’s a successful hit. The leader of the group falls to
the ground, but just as he does, his arm comes up, and—”
Oh my god. I swear, if he’s holding a white flag . . .
“—the white piece of cloth in his hand flutters to the ground,”
Murph concludes, and I groan. Of course. “The rest of the horde
falls around their leader in anguish.”
“Great work, boys,” I sarcastically applaud them.
“Shut up, Vi,” says Marco half-heartedly.
“So what now?” asks Matt Das.
If I were in charge? We’d use Antonia’s character’s magic to heal
him and resolve the conflict, possibly trading with the horde for
supplies or extracting information about the missing gems that
make up the whole purpose of this campaign. But I already know
there’s no point bringing that up—if I’m going to successfully parlay
the group’s good graces by the end of the night, then I need to win
this game their way.
If the boys crave violence, then violence they shall have.
“We’ve obviously got to fight now, don’t we? I’m next,” I remind
them, turning to Murph. “I approach the horde’s lieutenant and
offer safe passage in exchange for surrender.”
Murphy rolls. “No go,” he says with a shake of his head. “The
lieutenant demands blood and lunges, aiming a knife at your chest.”
We do the usual contested strength check, but I know my skills.
“I wait until the last possible moment, then slip the knife, twisting
his arm around and directing it into his kidney.”
Murphy rolls again. “It’s a critical hit. The lieutenant is down.”
I sit up straighter, pleased. The boys look impressed, which reminds me that even if they’re the portrait of incompetence, I do
actually want them to believe I can handle this.
“I take the next biggest one,” says Marco. “With my mace.”
“I shoot an arrow,” adds Leon.
“At what?” I ask, but he waves me away.
“Arrow lands in the blade of a horde member’s shoulder, but it’s
not fatal. Mace is a swing and a miss,” says Murph.
“Another swing,” says Marco.
“I use my lasso,” says Matt Das, whose character is kind of
weirdly Western—a vestige from an old campaign, I suspect.
“Lasso holds, but not for long. Mace lands, but now they’ve got
you surrounded.”
The others are excited about the possibility of battle, but what
everyone always forgets about ConQuest is that it’s a story. As in,
there are good guys and bad guys, and all the characters have motives. Why would the horde come over with a white flag? We must
have something they want. They’re built into the quest regardless of
who our characters are, so it has to be something we’ve picked up
within the game. That weird arrowhead . . . ?
Oh my god, I’m an idiot. The quest is literally called The Amulet
of Qatara.
“I remove the Amulet of Qatara from my holster and hold it
aloft,” I blurt out, shooting to my feet, and everyone turns to stare
at me. Blankly. (This is why I hate playing with people who don’t
pay attention. It actively makes me dumber.)
Murph, however, gives me a noncommittal thumbs-up. “The
fighting stops,” he says, “and the horde requests a personal parlay
with Astrea Starscream.”
Finally. It’s time to get this done.




Title: Twelfth Knight

Author: Alexene Farol Follmuth

Release Date: May 28, 2024

Publisher: Tor Teen

Genre: Young Adult

Age Range: 13-18

Spotlight on A Lie For a Lie (Jane Buckingham), Excerpt & Giveaway ~ US/CAN Only!

June 19th, 2024 by

Today we’re spotlighting A Lie For A Lie by Jane Buckingham!

Read on for more about the author, the book, plus enter the giveaway!




About the Author: Jane Buckingham

Jane Buckingham is the Founder and CEO of Trendera. She is one of the countries’ leading experts on Generations X, Y, and Z. Trendera provides trends, consulting, and market research to Fortune 500 clients including The Coca Cola Company, L’Oreal, NBC Universal, Nike, Sony, and Target.

Prior to starting Trendera, Buckingham helped pioneer the trend forecasting field by creating the leading youth marketing and consulting firm Youth Intelligence, and The Cassandra Report in 1996, both of which she sold to Creative Artists Agency in 2003.

At 17, Buckingham wrote the book Teens Speak Out to help explain her generation. She was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show and many others.

Jane is the bestselling author of the Modern Girl’s Guide book series and starred in the TV show of the same name. Buckingham has been a contributing editor to Glamour Magazine and Cosmopolitan Magazine. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, 60 Minutes and The Los Angeles Times. Buckingham has served on the Board of Directors for Baby2Baby, The Rape Treatment Center at St. John’s Hospital and Women in Film.

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About the Book: A Lie For A Lie


An action-packed thriller that keeps you guessing until the end

Boyfriend cheating? A bully wreaking havoc? A classmate plagiarizing? Don’t get mad. Get @Revenge. At Milford High, if you’ve got a problem, message @Revenge, and the mysterious figure behind the account will take care of it with an embarrassing, public comeuppance. But when the school’s star basketball player falls victim to a dangerous prank orchestrated by Revenge, the consequences are life-threatening.

Praise for A Lie for a Lie: “A Lie for a Lie has twists you won’t see coming and explores what really happens when you get back at someone . . . and when getting what you wish for comes with a high price. I couldn’t put it down!”

—Sara Shepard, #1 New York Times best-selling author of Pretty Little Liars

Purchase * Goodreads






It’s a beautiful night to die.

We crowd inside the gym. The familiar smell of old tennis shoes and stale sweat follow us to our seats. The cheerleaders are already on the court, tossing a skinny girl in the air. Personally, every time I see a cheerleader soar, I wish the girls catching her would change their minds at the last minute.


Sorry. Never said I was a nice person.

At seven on the dot, the lights dim, and that stupid techno song they always play before the game comes on. The announcer booms into the loudspeaker. I try to tune him out as soon as he starts blabbering about how these players have gone undefeated. Does he really think we should bow down to them? Last I checked they were just boys, not God’s gift to Milford High. Yet we hold up cheesy signs to show our support. Some hold them for their boyfriends. Others for their latest boy crush. Those stupid signs turn my stomach. I always want to say, “Do you know who those boys even are, deep down? Do you know what they’re capable of?”

Smoke fills the stadium. We drum on the bleacher seats, screaming until our voices are hoarse. In a cloud of dry ice, our school’s team parades through a bal- loon archway. The announcer names each player along with his stats. Most of the players duck their heads and rush to the sidelines, proud but also not quite sure what to do with all the attention.

But not the last guy. He walks through the archway as the applause roars and spreads out his arms to accept our undying affection. We give him what he wants. We cheer and scream. The announcer reads his list of impressive points. Leading scorer all year. Total powerhouse. Yawn. Our hero.

I check the time. Any minute now.

The other players strip off their warm-up gear and take their seats on the benches, but our star player remains in the center of the court like he’s owed this. But as the overhead spotlights gleam against his forehead, a thin bead of sweat forms. It’s my first clue. It’s happening.

First, his arms droop just a little, like someone has pulled down on invisible strings in his armpits. A confused expression comes over his face as he drops to his knees. Still, most of us still think this is part of his routine. We still cheer.

But then he’s on all fours. A few of the players on the sidelines look over, con- fused. The music throbs. We figure it’s nothing serious. But then, the star player pukes up his guts on the shiny school logo at center court, right where the tip-off takes place.

A puddle spreads. It must smell pretty awful, because the player nearest to him makes a grossed-out face and moves away.

The coach runs over with towels. We rise, tip forward, our brows furrowed. Whispers travel down the seats. The coach leans over our star. He puts a hand on the boy’s back and says something, tries to get him to stand. But the star’s knees buckle. He drops to the floor again in an X and starts to flail. His muscles move uncontrollably. The assistant coach is there, too; he wheels around and shouts something to another player. “Get an ambulance! Shut off that music!”

The techno song stops mid-beat. Voices, shouts, screams fill the gymnasium. We’re all on our feet, gawking, wondering what we can do. The coach can’t get the star to stop seizing. His pained face is turning blue.

A trainer rushes in. Some medics. A woman runs onto the court, pushing peo- ple aside. It’s the star’s mother. We hear a perverse laugh in the stands—not mine, but hey, I can’t be the only one who wanted this. And then, an interesting rumor I hadn’t expected starts to swirl—he puked out his intestines. He’d vomited a lung. There’s an organ lying there, literally, on the polished wood floor.

It makes no sense,” other people say. “He was fine minutes ago.”

When they load the player onto the cot, he’s eerily pale and lifeless. We grow hushed, fearful. A few girls burst into tears. His mother walks next to the medics as they wheel him out. I feel bad for her, I guess. I always feel bad for the families, even though it’s probably partially her fault. Bad behavior, toxic masculinity—it’s learned at home. When a seedling is rotting, all you have to do is look at the tree from which it came. Chances are, there’s rot there, too.

Still, I feel a little bad. I have a pretty good feeling how this is all going to end. How do I know? I put all of this into motion.
I’m the one who got revenge.
It’s been real, Milford.

I don’t care if you miss me. Just remember not to lie to me.


Copyright © 2024 Jane Buckingham All rights reserved.




Title: A Lie For a Lie (An @Revenge Story)

Author: Jane Buckingham

ISBN: 9798886452181

Release Date: June 18, 2024

Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group

Genre: YA Thriller


Five (5) winners will receive an ARC copy of A Lie For A Lie (Jane Buckingham)! ~ US/CAN Only
*Click the Rafflecopter link below to enter the giveaway*

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Spotlight on SHOCK THE MONKEY (Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman), Excerpt

May 17th, 2024 by

Today we’re spotlighting Shock The Monkey by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman!

Read on for more about the authors and the book!




About the Author: Neal Shusterman

Neal Shusterman c Gaby Gerster

Neal Shusterman is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of over thirty books, including I Am the Walrus; Challenger Deep, which won the National Book Award; Scythe, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book; Dry, which he cowrote with his son, Jarrod Shusterman; and Unwind, which won more than thirty domestic and international awards. He invites you to visit him online at

Website* XInstagram  




About the Author: Eric Elfman

Eric Elfman is a screenwriter and the author of several books for children and young adults, including I Am the Walrus; The Very Scary Almanac and Almanac of the Gross, Disgusting & Totally Repulsive (an ALA Recommended Book for Reluctant Readers); and coauthor of the popular Tesla’s Attic trilogy. He invites you to visit him on Twitter @Eric_Elfman.





About the Book: Shock The Monkey

Noah Prime must set out to save his friends and the universe once again in this jaw-dropping sequel to the New York Times bestselling novel, I Am the Walrus

Noah Prime never expected to wind up a fugitive hunted by aliens. 

To be honest, he had never even believed in aliens…until a team of them blew up his house. He escaped—and managed to save the world—by using his mysterious ability to harness the traits of every animal on earth. Now he’s in hiding, and thinks all is well.…

…Until his friend Ogden buys a star for Claire, the most popular girl in school. However, instead of a quaint romantic notion, it turns out to be an actual real estate deal—and aliens from that star system abduct Claire to take her to the nasty, trash-filled planet she now owns.

It’s up to Noah, Sahara, and Ogden to cross the cosmos in search of Claire to save her and her strange new world from the evilest body-snatching worms in the galaxy. This time it’s going to take a lot more than walrus blubber, cheetah speed, or skunk funk to save the day…it’s going to take friendship of the most extraordinary and extraterrestrial variety.

Critically acclaimed authors Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman are back with an action-packed, laugh-out-loud sequel to the New York Times bestselling novel I Am the Walrus, perfect for fans of Eoin Colfer and Rick Riordan.







Chapter 1

With Claws Like That . . .

The creature was clearly not of Earth. It did not even bear the slightest resemblance to anything that had ever legally been on this planet.

Wherever it was from, it was obviously an apex predator. Even its teeth had teeth.

“Can’t you go any faster?” asked Andi, clinging to Noah’s back as he raced through the Latvian forest to escape the hellish creature.

“Maybe if you weren’t so heavy.”

“Oh, so now it’s my fault?”

Noah was pushing himself as hard as he could. He had employed cheetah-​speed and tried to use horseshoe bat echolocation to anticipate trees, boulders, and other obstacles in their path—but using two complex animal traits simultaneously? Impossible! It was like trying to do math while someone was shouting random numbers at you. He could do them one after the other, but not simultaneously—so they ended up bouncing off a tree, taking critical seconds away. The neon-​blue monstrosity was almost on them now.

“Slime trail!” shouted Andi.

“I tried that already!” Noah shouted back. “Twice! I slopped our trail with hagfish slime, then snail slime, and it didn’t even stumble!”

The creature’s scales, each with its own miniature mouth, screeched as the creature galloped toward them. Although “galloped” wasn’t quite the right word for a thing with five legs. “Gallolloped” was more like it. The rhythm of its hooves cut a five-​beat cadence that just felt wrong on so many levels.

“You’re the brainiac!” Noah yelled to his sister. “Think of something!”

“I’m not a miracle worker!” shouted Andi. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a product of science, not a magical being.”

Andi was, as her name suggested, an android. Not the phone, but an actual android, although she was also a phone, but that was a very small part of her functionality. Most of the time she was in humanoid form, indistinguishable from an actual human. But once in a while, she was a


She had already tried all her countermeasures against the monstrosity closing in on them, from dark-​energy quantum lasers to self-doubt torpedoes. But nothing had worked.

“Fractillian Abysmal Beasts are extremely difficult to discourage once they get their mind set on something.”

“Is that what it is?”

“Duh— isn’t it obvious?”

Noah leaped into a tree with gibbon agility to clear an unexpected bog— but the Fractillian Abysmal Beast stomped right through the bog as if it weren’t there.

“Maybe,” said Andi, “we should find out what it wants.”

“It wants to eat us!”

“Not us,” reminded Andi. “You. My metallic alloys are not digestible to it. But that aside, we’re not certain it does want to eat you.”

“Are you kidding me? Look at it!”

“All that drool discharging from its primary mouth does not necessarily indicate hunger. Fractillian Abysmal Beasts tend to have issues with saliva overproduction.”

Noah dropped back down to the forest floor and called up cheetah-​speed again. While he had still not mastered all the defense mechanisms of the million-​plus species held within his DNA, there were several hundred he could summon at a moment’s notice— if not simultaneously, then at least one after another. For instance, he could go all poison dart frog on the monster, forcing his skin to secrete a deadly neurotoxin— but there was no guarantee it would work. And even if it did, the thing wouldn’t die until after it had eaten Noah, so that was a nonstarter.

Had Noah been able to effectively echolocate while also running like a cheetah, he would have known about the granite face of a mountain in front of them before it could be seen. And although Andi’s radar did catch it, she couldn’t communicate the threat in time.

Noah hit the mountain face at nearly sixty miles an hour. That would have killed a normal human, but his body responded like a tardigrade— a microscopic creature that could survive bullet-​speed impact. Of course, that didn’t stop it from hurting.

But he didn’t have time to yowl. He swallowed the pain of his near splat and, realizing he had to climb the sheer cliff, called up some gecko. Gecko was easy— it was, in fact, one of his favorite traits. His fingers spatulated, and he began to scale the rock wall, but just a few feet off the

ground, he realized his critical error.


To successfully gecko, he needed all ten fingers and all ten toes to climb. Quickly, he kicked his shoes off and tried again, but to no avail.

Because he was also wearing socks.

How pathetic to have survived an entire alien conspiracy trying to kill him, only to be defeated by a stupid pair of socks. The irony that they were from “Target” was not lost on him.




Author: Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman

Release Date: May 7, 2024

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Genre: Middle Grade Action / Adventure

Age Range: 8-12

Interview With Tess Sharpe (THE GIRL IN QUESTION) Plus Bonus Content!

May 16th, 2024 by

Today we are very excited to share an interview with Author Tess Sharpe (The Girl in Question) Plus a bonus excerpt from 6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did) (Tess Sharpe) now in paperback!





Meet the Author: Tess Sharpe

Born in a mountain cabin to a punk-rocker mother, New York Times bestselling author Tess Sharpe grew up in rural California. She lives deep in the backwoods with a pack of dogs and a growing colony of feral cats. You can find her on twitter @sharpegirl.

Website * Instagram * X * Facebook




About the Book:  The Girl in Question

In this shocking psychological thriller and follow-up to New York Times bestseller The Girls I’ve Been, four teens face off against a wicked man in a remote forest in a desperate fight for their survival.

High school is over, but Nora O’Malley’s life isn’t, which is weird now that her murderous stepdad Raymond is free. Determined to enjoy summer before her (possibly) imminent demise, Nora plans a ten day backpacking trip with Iris and Wes. Her plans hit a snag when Wes’s girlfriend tags along. Amanda is nice, so it’s not a huge issue—until she gets taken. Or rather, mistaken…for Nora. All because of a borrowed flannel.

Now Raymond has a hostage. Nora has no leverage. Iris has a spear and Wes is building boobytraps. It’ll take all of their skills to make it out of the forest alive.

There are three problems: Someone is lying. Someone is keeping secrets.

And someone has to die.





~Author Chat~


YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?

Turbo the one-eyed dog! The dogs in my books are always my favorite characters!

YABC: How do you know when a book is finished?

My very boring answer here is: when I reach the final scene. I am someone who cannot start a book officially until I have the beginning AND the end. It really helps me to have something to write towards.

YABC: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I was a very ambitious homeschooler, so I started writing books very early—at ten years old. So I’ve basically been honing my skills since then! It wasn’t until my early 20’s though that I realized it was going to be my career. All my formal training is actually in acting, but I only use that training now for writing and audio narration!

YABC: What word do you have trouble overusing?

There are definitely habitual ones like “just” but each book there are a few habit words that crop up! For this one, I think it was “terrible”. A big tip I always give revising writers: as you go through your first two passes, keep a notebook and scribble down those problem words you keep seeing repeated! Then you can do a search for them and replace them easier!

YABC: What hobbies do you enjoy?

I love to garden and cook! And while it’s not as active, vintage clothes collecting is my big hobby.


YABC:  What fandom would you write for if you had time?

I am VERY lucky that I am a work-for-hire writer that specializes in licensed and franchise books, because I’ve actually gotten to write in some of my favorite fandoms officially! Jurassic Park is my big one that I love working in on the official level because: dinosaurs!!!! But also the fandom is seriously the sweetest fandom ever!

YABC: What other age group would you consider writing for?

I would love to write more chapter books. Writing licensed books for chapter book and middle grade aged kids is SO fun. And writing with illustrations in mind is such a challenge as a writer, because you want to create scenes and moments that the artist can really latch onto!

YABC: What’s up next for you?

I am working on my next thriller for adults, called NO BODY NO CRIME. It’s a romantic thriller about a rural PI who’s on the trail of the one who got away—with her heart and with murder. Years after that night they spent as terrified teenagers in the woods, the two women are about to find out they didn’t bury that boy–or their feelings for eachother–deep enough. It’ll be out in 2025 with MCD/FSG and it features a plane crash, a gang of feral peacocks intent on revenge, and a second chance Romance that’s complicated, let’s say.






Author: Tess Sharpe

Release Date: May 14, 2024

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Genre: YA thriller

Age Range: 14+


~ Bonus Content~

Book’s Title: 6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did)
Author: Tess Sharpe
Release Date: Paperback 5/14/2024
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA novel
Age Range: 14+
Purchase now

Nina LaCour meets Jenny Han in this beautiful and charming story of six moments that lead to two
girls, one kiss, and eventually, three little words that were maybe always true.
After years of bickering, Penny and Tate have called a truce: they’ll play nice. They have to. Their
mothers (life-long best friends) need them to be perfect, drama-free daughters when Penny’s mother
becomes a living liver donor to Tate’s mom. Forced to live together as their moms recover, the girls’
truce is essential in keeping everything—their jobs, the house, the finances, the Moms’
healing—running smoothly. They’ve got to let this thing between them go.
There’s one little hitch: Penny and Tate keep almost kissing.
It’s just this confusing thing that keeps happening. You know, from time to time. For basically their
entire teenaged existence.
They’ve never talked about it. They’ve always ignored it in the aftermath. But now they’re living across
the hall from each other.
And some things—like their kisses—can’t be almosts forever.
Told through the two girls’ present, and six moments from their past, this dynamic love story shows that
sometimes the person you need the most has been there for you all along.


~EXCERPT from 6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did) by Tess Sharpe ~

FAMILY MEETING TONIGHT at 6. Don’t be late!
I stare at the text as June scoots past me, tying on her apron.
“You do all your prep work?”
“Yep,” I answer. “And I married all the ketchups.”
“You okay?” She shoots me a look. I’m holding my phone too tight, staring at Mom’s message.
I paste on a smile. “I’m fine. I should go. See you later?”
“Bye, Pen.”
I get another text as I leave: Can you pick up Tate at the pool? Anna came home with me, she
wasn’t feeling well.
So when Mom said family meeting, she really meant it. They aren’t sisters, Mom and Anna. They
like to say they’re more than that. Ride‑or‑die best friends. A bond deeper than blood.
Was Gran there, too? My head’s spinning, but I don’t know what crisis to land on. . . . Did Mom
get all impulsive again? Is there bad news about Anna’s health? Those are the two big ones that
dominate our lives . . . unless this is some sort of intervention. But I don’t need to be intervened on. I
haven’t done anything, unless you count the color-coding on my wall- sized year‑to‑date calendar. Tate
had told me it was excessive, but she says that about everything I do.
Okay. Maybe that’s a little bit of a lie. I have been doing something Mom’s banned me from. But
if she knew that, she wouldn’t have the control to call a family meeting. She would’ve tracked me down
and screamed by now.
So it can’t be my thing.
Does Tate need an intervention? That can’t be right. Tate doesn’t do anything but swim laps and
roll her eyes when I talk. Tate is like, the perfect daughter. Anna never has to worry about her. My mom
likes to say that, all envious. Because I’m so troublesome.
Even though having Tate in my car for more than ten minutes usually spells disaster, I text Mom:
She doesn’t text back. Doesn’t give me any more info.
That means someone’s dying, right?
No. God. Stop freaking out. Don’t think about—
Someone already died.
God dammit.
Am I ever going to get through a day without—
Of course not. He was my father.
Of course not.
She wears his ring around her neck. My mom. When she got it, afterward, it was clipped in half
because they’d had to cut it off him. She’d thrown one of the halves across the living room, she was so
upset. I tried to stop her, but she couldn’t be stopped— or maybe I just
didn’t know how.
Anna had known, though. She held my mother tight and urged me to go outside with Tate. Mom
was living with Anna back then, while I was with Gran. Anna found the piece Mom had tossed and she
got the ring fixed somehow. Now, two years later, Mom’s never without it.
Is it Anna? My stomach twists into knots as I get in my car and pull out of the Blackberry Diner
parking lot. It’s hard to remember a time when Anna wasn’t sick. She had ovarian cancer when Tate and
I were little, but she’s been cancer free for a few years. But she got sick again. Last year, she was
diagnosed with Alpha‑1, which is this genetic thing that messes with your liver and lungs. With Anna, it’s
her liver. My mom’s been in fix‑it mode ever since the diagnosis.
I turn off South Street, heading away from the diner and toward the other side of town.

The pool’s inside a concrete building that’s aggressively seventies, down to the weird slanted
roof. A remnant of a time when the town was supposed to grow, before the lumber boom went bust.
Inside, half the floodlights are already off, making the pool glow.
She’s still going hard, the lap clock set where she can see it.
I watch her for a second; I can’t help myself. I’d challenge anyone not to be caught up in it, the
way Tate moves in water. She’s not a mermaid or anything mystical—she’s a shark, bulleting through
the water like it’s where she belongs and she knows where she’s headed.
She’s alone in the pool. The team doesn’t swim together in the summers—or at least, they don’t
swim with Tate.
Tate’s always last to leave practice. I know this, too, just like I know watching her cut through
the water will make me have to concentrate hard on my feet for a few steps. She used to be the last to
leave because she worked harder than anyone else. She still does, but there’s more to it now. She stays
in the water until the rest of the girls are gone because she’s not friends with any of her teammates.
That’s my fault, and Tate may seem like she’s over it, but I’m not sure how she
could be when I’m not.
She hasn’t noticed me yet, so I walk over to the stack of kickboards and pull buoys, pick up one
of the striped buoys, and throw it into the pool toward her head. It splashes in front of her— I may not
be a star athlete, but I can aim— and she jerks up midstroke.
Spinning in a slow circle, she doesn’t even take off her goggles when she spots me.
“Seriously?” she asks. Before I can respond, she grabs the pull buoy out of the water and chucks
it back at me with the kind of deadly precision I’m barely fast enough to dodge.
The giggle that bursts out of me is entirely involuntary. She knows it, too, because she almost
smiles as she swims over to the edge of the pool.
She pulls herself out, and I know well enough to stay far away so she can’t shake water on me
like a dog. We’ve been there, done that when we were little. Multiple times, because apparently I can’t
be smart about all things . . . especially when it comes to her.
Tate’s got two racing suits layered over each other and drag shorts pulled over them, one leg
torn halfway. She wraps herself in her towel as she asks, “My mom send you?”
“No, my mom. You should check your phone.”
She yanks off her swim cap and goggles as she heads over to her bag and pulls on her parka. I
wait, wondering if she got a text or a voicemail. Text, if her frown at the screen is any indication.
Did she get more information than me? Or did she just get the purposefully vague—and clear
portent of doom—“family meeting” excuse, too?
I try to read the answers in the sliver of profile I can see. Her nose tilts up at the tip, and her
French- braided hair is fuzzy from the cap and the wet and the conditioner she slicks through it before
she gets in the water. She needs to shower still to rinse off the chlorine and the swim, but when she
looks up from her phone, I know we’re heading straight home.
“Let’s go,” she says, and normally I’d make noise about her getting my car all wet from her swim
parka, but now I just nod.
She keeps staring at her phone after we get into the car, and I want to know, I need to know
more, but I just drive instead. The worry is there, looming and tense, and it’s like we’re both stretching it
so tight, any second it’ll snap.

Rockstar Tours: BEASTLY BEAUTY (Jennifer Donnelly), Excerpt & Giveaway! ~US ONLY

May 8th, 2024 by

I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the BEASTLY BEAUTY  by Jennifer Donnelly Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!


About the Book:


Author: Jennifer Donnelly

Pub. Date: May 7, 2024

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook

Pages: 336

Find it: Goodreads

*”A dreamy, sublimely written tale.” — Publishers
, starred review

From New York Times bestselling,
award-winning author Jennifer Donnelly comes a revolutionary, gender-swapped
retelling of Beauty and the Beast that will forever change how
you think about beauty, power, and what it really means to follow your heart.

What makes a girl “beastly?” Is it having too much
ambition? Being too proud? Taking up too much space? Or is it just wanting
something, anything, too badly?

That’s the problem Arabella faces when she makes her debut in
society. Her parents want her to be sweet and compliant so she can marry well,
but try as she might, Arabella can’t extinguish the fire burning inside her —
the source of her deepest wishes, her wildest dreams.

When an attempt to suppress her emotions tragically
backfires, a mysterious figure punishes Arabella with a curse, dooming her and
everyone she cares about, trapping them in the castle. As the years pass,
Arabella abandons hope. The curse is her fault — after all, there’s nothing
more “beastly” than a girl who expresses her anger — and the only
way to break it is to find a boy who loves her for her true self: a cruel task
for a girl who’s been told she’s impossible to love.

When a handsome thief named Beau makes his way into the
castle, the captive servants are thrilled, convinced he is the one to break the
curse. But Beau — spooked by the castle’s strange and forbidding
ladies-in-waiting, and by the malevolent presence that stalks its corridors at
night — only wants to escape. He learned long ago that love is only an
illusion. If Beau and Arabella have any hope of breaking the curse, they must
learn to trust their wounded hearts, and realize that the cruelest prisons of
all are the ones we build for ourselves.


 Excerpt From Beastly Beauty by Jennifer Donnelly


Once upon a time and ever since, a key turned in a rusted lock, and a  woman stepped into a small and dismal cell.

Her gown, the color of ashes, hung off her shoulders like a shroud.  Her hair, styled high on her head, was as black as ebony. Her dark eyes  glittered; their gaze pulled at whomever it fell upon, sucking them in like  a whirlpool.

Across the room, a high window, shaped like a half-moon, was filled  with midnight, yet the room was not without light. A wan glow suffused  it, like that of a single candle.

It came from a child.

She was gazing up at the window, her hands clasped behind her back.  “Lady Espidra, always a pleasure,” she said at length, turning to face the  woman.

Her pink dress, once pretty, was dirty and torn. Her hair, so blond  it was almost white, was wild. Her face was open and frank. Anyone  glimpsing it would guess she was nine or ten years of age, except for her  eyes, which were as ancient as the stars.

Lady Espidra set her lantern down on a table. She opened the small  wooden box she was carrying. “Shall we play? To pass a bit of time?” she  asked, taking out a deck of cards. “How long has it been since we last  chatted, you and I? A year? Two?”


Lady Espidra laughed. It was an ugly, jangling sound, like shattered  glass raining down. “Ah, it’s true what mortals say—the days are long  and the years are short.”

She placed the deck faceup on the table, then fanned it expertly. The  cards were yellowed at their edges but beautifully illustrated. The kings,  queens, and jacks were framed by a thin line of black. Rich pigments  colored their robes. Their golden crowns sparkled; their silver swords  gleamed.

The queen of hearts blinked and stretched. Then she glimpsed the queen of spades, who was next to her, and waved excitedly. The queen  of spades gasped, then laughed. She reached a hand to the frame sur rounding her and pushed at it. Gently at first. Then harder. Until she  was beating her fists against it.

The king of diamonds placed a hand over his heart and gazed with  anguished longing at his queen. The queen of clubs, stuck between two  numbered cards, stared listlessly ahead of herself.

Espidra seemed not to notice their distress. She briskly gathered the  cards, shuffled them, and dealt two hands.

But the child noticed.

“Poor things,” she said, picking up her cards. “Imprisoned in their  boxes, just like the mortals who drew them.”

“A box is the best place for mortals,” Espidra retorted. “It keeps them  out of trouble.”

Espidra looked at her cards and smiled; she’d dealt herself an excel lent hand. As she arranged them in order of rank, the queen of clubs  blew a fervent kiss to the handsome jack of hearts. The king of clubs saw  her do it. His smile crumpled. He gripped his sword in both hands and,  with an anguished cry, plunged it into his heart. The queen turned at  the sound, then screamed when she saw what he’d done. Blood flowed  from the king’s wound. It pattered onto the bottom of the frame, spilled out of a crack in the corner, and dripped onto Espidra’s withered fingers.  She slapped the cards down on the table, scowling, and wiped the blood  off on her skirt.

“Such a lovely way you have about you,” the child said. “Why have  you come? Surely it wasn’t to play cards.”

“Of course it was,” Espidra said. “I like a challenge when I play, and no  one bluffs like you do.”


Espidra shot the girl a baleful look. “All right, then. I wish to offer you  a deal.”

“Ah, now we have the truth. What kind of a deal?” the child asked. “Leave this place. Do not come back.”

“What do you offer me in return?”

“Your life.”

A slow smile spread across the child’s face. “Why, Lady Espidra, you  are afraid.”

Espidra flapped a hand at her. “Me, afraid? Of you? Don’t be absurd.” “You would not offer me this deal otherwise.”

“Yes, I would. Because I wish to be rid of you, and you would be wise  to accept my offer. The girl is beaten. She has given up. She merely bides  her time now, waiting for the end.”

Pain sliced across the child’s features at the mention of the girl.  Espidra saw it. She leaned forward. “You cannot win. The clock winds  down. The story is over.”

The child lifted her chin. “Almost, but not quite.”

Her words were like a torch to straw. Espidra smacked the cards off  the table. She shot up out of her chair; the legs screeched over the stone  floor.

“You are nothing but a trickster,” she hissed, jabbing a bony finger  at the child. “You come and go, as careless as the wind, leaving a trail of broken mortals in your wake. But I stay. I am here for them after you  abandon them, with my arms wide open, my embrace as deep—” “As a freshly dug grave.”

Lady Espidra looked as if she would like to wrap her hands around  the child’s thin neck and snap it. “You will be sorry you did not take my  offer,” she said.

“This cell will not hold me forever.”

“Big words from a small girl. I hope you enjoy the darkness.” The door clanged shut. The key turned in the lock.

Espidra’s footsteps receded, and silence descended once more, suffocating and cruel.

The child sat, motionless and alone, her head bent, her fists clenched. Trying to remember the light.


― One ―

“I’m freezing my balls off,” grumbled Rodrigo. “Hungry as hell, too.  What about you, boy?”

Beau didn’t reply. He couldn’t; his teeth were chattering too hard. Icy  rain needled his face. It plastered his hair to his skull and dripped from  his earlobes.

The storm had swept down upon the thieves as they’d ridden out of  the merchant’s lands. It howled ferociously now, scouring the rocky hills  FOR REVIEW PURPOSES ONLY

around them, tangling itself in the branches of the bare black trees. It seemed to Beau as if the thrashing limbs were warning them, wav ing them back. But back to what? They were lost. Riding with their heads  bent against the driving rain, they’d missed the trail to the mountains.  To the border. To safety.

Raphael was certain that if they just kept heading south, they’d find  their way. A few more miles . . . a little bit farther . . . he kept saying. They’d  passed ruined cottages, a deserted village. They’d ridden through dense  woods and crossed a river, but still could not find the path.

Beau hunched down in his wet coat now, seeking comfort and  warmth, but found neither.

“What’s the matter, Romeo? Missing Her Ladyship’s pretty smile?”  Rodrigo asked. He was riding on Beau’s left.

“Look at him, melting in the rain like he was made of sugar!” taunted  Miguel from Beau’s right. He leaned in close and grinned, revealing a  mouthful of rotten teeth. “That pretty face is your fortune, but what hap pens if I carve it up, eh?” He pulled out his dagger.

“What happens is that Raphael carves you up, you fool, since my face  is also his fortune,” Beau replied.

“Poodle,” Miguel grumbled, sheathing his blade. “All you do is beg  rich women for treats and kisses while we do the hard work.”

“Begging for treats and kisses is hard work,” Beau said. He pictured his mistress now. Former mistress. She was older than he  was, but not by much. Married to a man who only loved his money. She  hadn’t given Beau this information; he was a thief—he’d stolen it. He’d  taken the sorrow in her smile, the hunger in her eyes, the ache in her  voice, and he’d used them. Just as she’d used him.

“Oh, you beautiful thing,” she’d whispered to him last night, tracing  the line of his jaw with her finger.

He’d been standing in her bedchamber, looking at the books on her  FOR REVIEW PURPOSES ONLY

night table. His eyes had lit up when he’d seen Candide. “I’ve read everything Voltaire’s written,” he said, turning to her excitedly, thinking he’d found a kindred spirit, someone—the only one—in  his life he could talk to about a book. “Could I borrow this? Just for a day  or two? I’m a fast reader.”

But his mistress had only laughed at him. “You’re just a servant,  boy. I don’t pay you to read. Or talk,” she’d said, pulling the book from  his hands. Then she’d tugged at the ribbon that bound his dark hair  and caught her breath as it tumbled around his shoulders. A moment  later, her lips were on his, and the things he’d wanted to say, the  thoughts he’d wanted to share about books and ideas, turned to ashes  on his tongue.

Beau pictured her face as she’d learned that her servant was gone,  and her fine emerald ring with him, and remorse pinched him like a  pair of borrowed boots. He fought it, telling himself that her husband  was wealthy; he’d buy her another ring. He almost believed it.

The ring was nestled safely inside a slit he’d made behind a button  on his jacket—a place where its contours couldn’t be felt. Raphael often  patted them down after a job, all of them, and Beau had seen him beat a  man bloody for keeping back a single coin. The ring would buy him the  thing he wanted most: a way out. For himself, for Matteo.

The boy had been unwell the last time Beau had seen him, listless and  pale, with a rackety cough. A fever. It will pass, Sister Maria-Theresa had  said. Beau had written to her two weeks ago, to ask if his little brother  was better, and just that afternoon he’d received a reply, but he’d tucked  the letter inside his jacket unopened. There had been no time to read it.  Not with the robbery planned for that very night.

“It’s not fair. I could be the inside man. Why not?” said Miguel, breaking into Beau’s thoughts, jutting his chin at him. “What does he have that  I don’t have?”

“Teeth,” said Rodrigo.

“Hair,” said Antonio.

“A bar of soap,” said Beau.

Miguel threw him a venomous look. “I’ll get you, boy. When you least  expect it. Then we’ll see who’s laughing. Then we’ll—” “Shut up. Now.

Raphael’s words fell across the men like the crack of a whip. He was  several strides ahead of them, but Beau could still see him through the  lashing rain—with his felted black hat, water dripping from its brim,  and his sodden gray ponytail trailing down his back. His shoulders were  tensed; his head was cocked.

An instant later, Beau heard it—the baying of hounds. Amar, his  horse, danced nervously under him. The pack likely numbered a dozen  or so, but the hills amplified their cries, making it sound as if there were  a thousand.

“The sheriff’s men,” Rodrigo said tersely.

Raphael gave a grim nod and galloped off. Beau and the others followed. The wet ground made for treacherous footing and they had to  work to keep their seats. The rain had let up, but a heavy mist was moving through the trees now. One minute, Beau could see the thief lord up  ahead of him; the next minute he vanished.

Faster and faster the men rode, but the hounds still pursued them,  their cries savage and bloodthirsty. Beau’s heart slammed against his  ribs. Not now, he thought desperately. Not here. This was supposed to  be his last job. Just a few more miles, and he’d be beyond the reach  of sheriffs and jails and gallows. Beyond Raphael’s reach. Him and  Matti both.

The baying grew louder. Amar’s nostrils flared. He surged ahead, trying to catch up to Raphael’s horse. Every second, Beau expected him to  stumble over a fallen limb or break his leg in a ditch. He could see lather on the animal’s neck; he could hear him panting. They would have to  surrender. The horses couldn’t keep going.

And then came a shriek that severed the night like a saber. “Hold up!” Raphael shouted. “Nobody move!” It was his horse that  had made the awful sound. He was rearing, his hooves slashing at the  air. Beau, right behind him, only had a split second to halt Amar. “Whoa! Whoa, boy!” he shouted, yanking on the reins. The bit caught;  the horse stopped short, snapping Beau forward like a rag doll. He  jammed his weight into his stirrups to keep from falling. The others halted behind him, jostling, swearing, their hands on their  weapons. Eyes searched for movement, but the mist blinded them. Ears  strained for sounds, but the baying had stopped. All they could hear was  the panting of their played out animals. They waited, hearts thumping,  blood surging, bodies tensed for an attack, but none came. Instead, the mist receded like a treacherous sea falling back from  jagged rocks, and the men saw a cliff, high and sheer, sweeping down  into nothingness. Raphael, perched at the very edge of it, had come  within inches of an ugly death. Yet fear, if he’d felt any, had not lingered  on his hard, scarred face. Instead, his features were fixed in a look of  astonishment—a look that only deepened as the ebbing mist revealed  what lay on the far side of the abyss.

Beau squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them again, but they were not  playing tricks. He clearly saw the things around him—the mist, the men,  their stamping horses. These things had all been there a moment ago. But the castle had not.



About Jennifer:


Jennifer Donnelly is the author of A Northern Light,
which was awarded a Printz Honor and a Carnegie Medal; Revolution (named
a Best Book by Amazon, Kirkus ReviewsSchool Library
, and the Chicago Public Library, and nominated for a Carnegie
Medal); the Deep Blue series; and many other books for young readers,
including Lost in a Book, which spent more than 20 weeks on
the New York Times bestseller list. She lives in New York’s
Hudson Valley.


Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | TikTok | Goodreads
| Amazon

Meet Jennifer! 


Giveaway Details: 

1 winner will receive a finished copy of BEASTLY BEAUTY, US Only.

Ends June 4th, midnight EST.

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Spotlight on EDDY EDDY (Kate De Goldi) Excerpt & Giveaway ~ US/CAN Only!

May 7th, 2024 by

Today we’re spotlighting EDDY EDDY by Kate De Goldi!

Read on for more about the author, the book, plus enter the giveaway!


About the Author: Kate De Goldi

Kate De Goldi is an award-winning writer of short fiction, novels, and picture books for readers ranging from young children to teens and adults. A New Zealand Arts Foundation Laureate, she lives in Wellington, New Zealand.

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About the Book:  EDDY EDDY

After the deadly 2011 earthquakes in Christ Church, New Zealand, Eddy Smallbone must navigate the ruins of his hometown along with the ruins of his personal life. A Catholic-school dropout itching to break free of the eccentric uncle who raised him and newly mourning the death of his dog, Eddy starts his own dog-walking and pet-sitting business. Through his work, he meets and cares for an extraordinary cast of characters, including a precocious seven-year-old girl and a nun and her unruly parrot. Meanwhile, Eddy’s former girlfriend, Boo, is back, and their relationship fraught, to say the least. And his best friend, Thomas Moore, who lives in a cabin behind his parents’ house, is suffering from a mysterious and devastating illness. Layered and resonant, intellectually rigorous, and as soothing as it is shocking, this sophisticated literary novel for mature teens plumbs the depths of trauma and healing. With its sensitive take on important issues—including grief and faith, unplanned pregnancy, and mental illness and self-harm—Eddy’s story will speak volumes to adult readers also.

A series of earthquakes exposes the fault lines in a teenager’s unconventional life in a powerful crossover novel that explores raw emotion with wit and warmth.

Goodreads * Preorder



Eddy, Eddy

Chapter Sample

“Marley was dead: to begin with. There was no doubt whatsoever about that.”

Eddy’s uncle got to the immortal words first. It was a quotation begging to be said that day. One of them had to say it, Eddy supposed.

Brain grabbed the moment.

Funny, really, since Brain was a slow thinker and mover most of the

time. But he spoke the second they settled into the car. Then he shut

the passenger door softly — a full stop. Brain did most things carefully,

even delicately. This sometimes made Eddy itch.

Maybe he’d been waiting years to say it. Maybe, all that time ago, he’d named Marley just so he could say the line when Marley died. Only now he said it wrong.

No doubt whatever,” said Eddy. Really, for a research librarian, Brain could be surprisingly imprecise. He often fluffed song lyrics and quotes. “No ‘so.’”

“Are you sure?”


Brain looked at Eddy: his baffled-animal look, the raccoon eyebrows

bending inward. He seemed to be staring at Eddy’s forehead

as if trying to make out the words etched there or something, proof.

“Marley was dead:” Eddy paused.

“Colon,” said Brain, with a wan smile.

“Marley was dead colon: to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that.”

There really wasn’t any doubt. Marley was in the back seat, head resting on her old pillow with its stains and holes and sprouting kapok.

She was wrapped in the Kaiapoi Pure Wool blanket. The blanket was Eddy’s sole inheritance from his unknown maternal grandmother. He’d donated it to Marley when she was a pup, and it had been her bed rug for as long as anyone could remember. It was all felted from years of washing, spattered with ragged holes from Marley’s unclipped

claws. She liked to rough up the rug before she slept; she pawed at it, bunched it into little hillocks, then thumped down onto it, exhaling noisily, her long nose between front paws.

“Memories of snow,” Brain told Eddy all those years ago. “The reptilian brain remembering Labrador — you know, all the snow, how they paw into the snow for warmth.

“Labrador. Where Labs come from,” said Brain unnecessarily. Every moment a teaching moment. Labrador habits. Dreamtime lore. The Jesuits’ misdeeds in China. Lines of poetry — misquoted probably, now that Eddy thought about it. The arguments for and against veganism. The meaning of thanatology . . . It had been all right when he

was young, Eddy supposed. He couldn’t stand it these days.

Marley’s old rug would go with her now, into the ground beneath the wattle tree in the backyard, where she had lain in the shade all the hot afternoons of Eddy’s life.

He’d already prepared the hole, spent half the morning marking out the plot and digging, manufacturing a decent sweat. It was sweltering by 11 a.m., a breathless, pressing heat, though it was only September. Eddy had derived a grim enjoyment from the liquid gathering under his cap, leaking unpleasantly down his neck and back. He imagined it glistening in the sun, a moist and manly rebuke to Brain. One of them was practical, the sweat said. One of them had borrowed the spade from next door and prepared the grave.

Not that Brain had been watching. He was inside with Marley, contemplating the animal soul. Saying a prayer, no doubt.

In the car now, Brain still stared, dwelling on the quotation, listening

to it in his head. Everything in Brain’s head happened at adagio.

“Marley was dead: to begin with,” he said again. “There was no doubt whatever

about that.”

Eddy had been there at the death. Brain, too, but only Eddy watched. Brain laid a big white hand on Marley’s flank but stared fixedly at the poster on the otherwise bare clinic wall: an image of a gadfly petrel, aslant against a blue sky.

Eddy held Marley’s shabby left forepaw. It had troubled her for years; she couldn’t manage a run longer than 3km without developing

a limp — a Marley limp, graceful and apologetic. He massaged the furless patch on the side of the paw with his thumb. He watched Marley’s face, the grizzled muzzle all slack now, her lovely eyes gummy with sickness.

At the same time, from the corner of his eye, he watched the vet expertly filling the syringe.

“It’s very quick,” the vet said. “And completely painless.” Eddy doubted the vet knew this for sure, not being a dog. It was Fat Vet.

He was in practice with his brother Thin Vet: Fat Bob and Thin Tim.

Yeah, but shut up, Fat Vet, Eddy thought. Don’t talk.

He liked Fat Vet well enough. He liked him much better than Thin Vet, who was terse and kind of bitter. But Eddy didn’t want Fat Vet talking, not while Marley was getting the needle. He wanted it just to be Marley’s sounds, her little snuffles and wheezy exhalations, the occasional tail thwomp, pathetically tired. He wanted to hear her breathing right to the end.

Fat Vet obliged. He said nothing more. He felt around with his competent sausage fingers for the soft gap in Marley’s neck and slid the needle neatly into the cavity, and Marley was as dead as a doornail.

In less than a minute. No doubt whatever.

“Except,” said Eddy now, “it isn’t ‘to begin with.’ It’s the end. The end of an era. The Marley Era. Marley was dead. Full stop. The End.”

He started the car and pulled out into the road, pitted and hummocky like so many of the roads in the area; even at normal speed, the going was bumpy. Today the traffic ambled, befuddled by the heat. The air was hazy, filled with spores. This city is comatose, thought Eddy.

He imagined flooring it, frightening all the dozy motorists, driving somewhere at great speed. He pictured the long straight roads north of town, the magical vanishing point. But really, you couldn’t floor a Suzuki Alto with any conviction.

“Marley was dead to end with,” said Brain, trying it out.

Eddy felt the familiar spike of irritation with his duffer uncle, with Brain’s over- de liberate enunciation, his ponderous — as he called them — cerebrations. He felt the evil little urge that visited him sometimes to pinch Brain someplace painful.

“To begin with is better,” said Brain, oblivious. “God closes a door, opens a window.”

If he closed his eyes, thought Eddy, they might end up in the river, sink into the silted- up bottom, let the water close over the Suzuki Alto, their banana- colored coffin, Amen, Amen.

“Lift up your heads, oh ye gates!” sang Brain through windscreen, into the suburban middle distance.

Copyright © 2022 by Kate De Goldi



Title: Eddy Eddy

Author: Kate De Goldi

Release Date: May 2024

Publisher: Candlewick Press

ISBN-13: 9781536232820

Genre: Fiction

Age Range:  Young Adult 12+


 Title: The 10 P.M. Question

Author: Kate De Goldi

Release Date: May 2012

Publisher: Candlewick Press

ISBN-13: 9780763658489

Genre: Fiction

Age Range: Young Adult 12+



Five (5) winners will receive a copy of of EDDY, EDDY and THE 10PM QUESTION (Kate De Goldi) ~US/CAN Only
*Click the Rafflecopter link below to enter the giveaway*


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Spotlight on THE DOOR IS OPEN (Edited by Hena Khan)

April 25th, 2024 by

Today we’re spotlighting THE DOOR IS OPEN edited by Hena Khan!

Read on for more about the author and the book!




About the Editor: Hena Khan

Hena Khan is a Pakistani-American who was born and raised in Maryland, where she still lives. She enjoys writing about her culture as well as all sorts of other subjects, from spies to space travel. You can learn more about Hena by visiting her website:

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About the Book: THE DOOR IS OPEN

Discover stories of fear, triumph, and spectacular celebration in this warm-hearted novel of interconnected stories that celebrates the diversity of South Asian American experiences in a local community center.

Discover stories of fear, triumph, and spectacular celebration in the fictional town of Maple Grove, New Jersey, where the local kids gather at the community center to discover new crushes, fight against ignorance, and even save a life. Cheer for Chaya as she wins chess tournaments (unlike Andrew, she knows stupid sugary soda won’t make you better at chess), and follow as Jeevan learns how to cook traditional food (it turns out he can cook sabji– he just can’t eat it).

These stories, edited by bestselling and award-winning Pakistani-American author Hena Khan, are filled with humor, warmth, and possibility. They showcase a diverse array of talented authors with heritage from the Indian subcontinent, including beloved favorites and rising stars, who each highlight the beauty and necessity of a community center that everyone calls home.








by Veera Hiranandani

I pick up the queen and twirl her between my forefinger and thumb. I can see my path. My opponent has left his rook unguarded, and my queen can take it. It will leave my bishop open to his knight, but my other rook will take it if he does, so I’m protected. I make my move and look him in the eyes.

I once read that the queen wasn’t always the most powerful piece on the chessboard. In fact,

the queen didn’t use to be the queen at all. She was only an advisor to the king, with very little

power. Her power grew over the years, especially during the rise of Queen Isabella I in Spain, when

chess traveled all the way from India, to Persia, and then to Europe. Queen Isabella sounded like a terrible person, though, because she forced all the Jews and Muslims to leave Spain. During that time, the queen chess piece started to change into what she is now. My queen is not like Isabella. My queen protects all her people.

The air sits still around us, and I can hear the creaking as my opponent leans forward in his wooden chair, studying the chessboard. He squints a little and rests his chin on his clasped hands as

the steam of his coffee rises from the mug on the table. A few minutes go by.

“Well, Grandpa?” I say.

“It’s a good move,” he says, but then he moves his other knight and takes one of my pawns. “Check.”

“Darn it,” I say, and check. How did I not see his other knight just two moves away from my king? I scan my eyes over every spot on the board, drawing imaginary lines where each piece could

go and to see what pieces they could capture. I try to stay a move or two ahead, but it’s hard to think into the future like that. That’s what the game of chess is about, though. The present, yes, but

mostly it’s about imagining the future.

The pieces are made from marble. My queen is black with little white marble veins running through her—all my pieces look like that. The pieces on Grandpa’s side are white with little black veins running through them. He gave me the set last spring on my twelfth birthday. It’s smooth and shiny, and the pieces have a nice heavy feel in my hand. Though sometimes I prefer the simple wooden board I bought with my own allowance when I first started to play. But I wouldn’t tell Grandpa that.

I look at my queen again and now see that Grandpa’s queen from all the way on the other side of the board can move in a straight diagonal and capture my king. How did I not notice? I squeeze my eyes shut and open them again. Come on, Chaya, I tell myself. You’re a better player than this.

“Grandpa, I think I need a break,” I say with a smile so he doesn’t suspect the sinking feeling that

is taking over my stomach.

“Okay,” he says, “but we’ll practice again tomorrow. You only have two days before the tournament.” Then he leans back in his chair and repeats what he’s said many times before. “Remember, don’t think about the player. Think about what’s happening on the board.”

“I know, I know,” I say lightly, but inside I still feel a weight in the bottom of my stomach. I pad in my sock feet toward Grandpa’s cozy kitchen with its yellow table and white cabinets. He moved into

the apartment down the street from our house ten years ago when my grandma died. I don’t really remember her. Over the years, Grandpa taught me how to play chess, and now I stay at his apartment after school most days until Mom and Dad get home from work.

I rummage through the kitchen cabinets looking for the exact snack that will distract me from

worrying about Saturday’s tournament. It’s the final local tournament, and whoever wins will

compete for the state chess championship. Last year, I lost to Andrew Pierson in the final game and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Though I do think about the board, I also think about the player— well, particularly one player: Andrew.

I probably wouldn’t win state anyway, because New Jersey’s pretty competitive. I just want to beat him. I can’t stand the way he struts around at chess club giving everyone tips they didn’t even ask for. It’s like he thinks he invented the game.

I find the snack I am looking for in the back on the bottom shelf—soup nuts. Grandpa usually

saves them for soup, but I like to eat them straight out of the can. Soup nuts are not even nuts at

all, but puffy little round crackers that are kind of crunchy and a little bit salty. They remind me of cold winter days and Jewish holidays when my mom makes matzo ball soup. My dad likes them too, even though he was born in India and didn’t grow up eating them like my mom did. I open the can and stuff a big handful in my mouth.

“Blah!” I say with my mouth full. I run over to the garbage and spit them out. “Gross!”

“What?” Grandpa says as he comes into the kitchen.

“These are so stale,” I say as I wipe my mouth. I grab a glass, fill it with water, and take a big gulp, washing away the stale taste. Then I look at the expiration date.

“Grandpa, these expired a year ago!”

He waves his hand. “I don’t pay attention to those dates. They just want you to throw out perfectly good food and buy more.”

“I don’t think that’s true, Grandpa. I feel like I’ve just been poisoned,” I say, and put my hand

around my neck, sticking out my tongue.

“Oh, you’re fine,” he says. “Stale soup nuts never poisoned anyone.”

He finds a box of chocolate chip cookies, peers through his thick glasses, and reads the side of the package. “These don’t expire until a month from now, so eat up.”

I smile and we both dig into the cookies.

Later that night, at dinner, as I push around the aloo gobi and rice on my plate, I can’t stop thinking about the game Grandpa and I never finished and that I would have probably lost.

“What’s wrong?” my mother asks.

I shrug and take a bite of rice.

“School okay?” she asks.

I nod.

“How was Grandpa’s?”

“Fine,” I say.

“Nervous about the tournament?” she says.

“Nah,” I say.

My dad looks up from his food. “I’ll play a game with you tonight,” he says, and wipes his mouth.

“That’s okay, Dad. I’m good. Thanks, though.”

He nods, and then he and my mom start talking about their workdays, which can get boring, so I head upstairs, grabbing more cookies on the way. If I tell them I’m nervous, they’ll go into very annoying problem- solving action, and the truth is my dad’s not the greatest chess player. I always beat him. My mom’s a little better, because Grandpa taught her, but she never seems to have time to play.

That night, my belly full of too many cookies, I lie on my bed and imagine the future. I imagine beating Andrew. I think about the last game of the tournament, everyone else tired and disappointed

and Andrew and I facing off. I think about the moment when I can say “Checkmate,” and his cheeks turn a little red. I think about standing up, being a good sport, shaking his hand, and how he would have to shake my hand, smile, and be gracious. Then I think of calmly walking to the bathroom, making sure I’m alone, and punching my fist in the air with a burst of glory so delicious, I’ll coast on it for months.

I feel a little mean, thinking all of this, but I heard Andrew say once that a girl had never beat him, which first of all isn’t true because I’ve beat him in chess club practice games and so has Maha

Iqbal. So, if he’s going to lie like that, maybe he deserves to lose to one of us, the only two girls

in chess club. Because there aren’t as many girls, some people (mostly boys) think that girls aren’t

as good at chess. I know that’s not true, but the only way to prove it is for one of us to win the tournament.

Thinking about this, I try extra hard with Grandpa the next day after school and manage to beat him in three out of the five games we play.

“You’re ready, Chaya, and no matter what happens, you’re doing it because you love the game.”

“I don’t know. Yesterday was a mess.”

“Just nerves. If you stay focused like today, you’ll be golden.”

“Thanks, Grandpa,” I say, and we fist- bump. I hope he’s right.

Saturday morning comes, the day of the tournament. Mom makes my power breakfast: scrambled eggs and buttered wheat toast because she says the protein in the eggs and the fat in the butter will keep my energy steady. I force myself to eat it even though my nerves rattle through my body.

She drops me off at the Maple Grove Community Center, which I’ve played at many times.

I love having tournaments here because I know exactly how they’re set up and the main room has nice high ceilings and big windows. Sometimes I’ve had to play in much smaller rooms or hot and musty school basement spaces, which make me feel like I can’t breathe, especially if things aren’t going well.

“Good luck! We’re here for you no matter what happens,” my mom says, but I can see the hope in her eyes. She’s hoping I win, not just for me, but because she knows how grumpy I get for days

when I lose a big tournament.

“Thanks, Mom,” I say, and shiver a little at the cold air that hits my face. I walk in and see a big

sign in black marker— THE FUTURE OF THE COMMUNITY CENTER IS IN OUR HANDS! TOWN HALL MEETING NEXT THURSDAY!— which makes me more nervous. I’m not sure what’s going on with the center, but I push these thoughts out of my head. Focus, Chaya.

I wish Grandpa were here, but they don’t let parents or grandparents or any guests of the players watch, which is probably for the best. The times my mom watches practice games, she makes

all these concerned faces if I’m losing and happy faces if I’m winning. My dad tries to focus but glazes over at a certain point, so I’m either worried that they’re paying too much attention or too little. But when Grandpa watches me play, he’s in the story of every game just like I am, wondering how it’s going to end.

Every chess game has its own story. Some games start out bold and fast, some slow and careful. The pieces have different personalities, depending on who’s playing them. There are little pawns who become fierce and overwhelming, chipping away the opposing forces like death from a thousand papercuts. There are subtle, sneaky queens and assertive ones and hyper ones. There are quiet, cowardly kings hiding behind everyone else, and kings who do their best to support everyone working hard to protect them. Then of course there are the rest of the supporting pieces, who are all important.

Though I love the queen, because who doesn’t, my favorite piece is the knight. The knight has the most unexpected move. It can fly. Well, not actually fly, but jump over other pieces to reach its destination. The knight, especially for newer players, is often the piece you don’t see coming.

I put my backpack in a locker, check in, and look at the pairing list. Then I find the table for my

first game. I sit down, glad my opponent isn’t there yet, and take in the room. The familiar smell is

comforting to me, a combination of polished wood floors, coffee, and the orange- scented soap used in the bathrooms. My first opponent is Ben Geller.

“Hi,” he says. I say a quick hi back, but I don’t smile. I like to keep it serious while I play. I beat

Ben pretty quickly and play a few more easy games. In the beginning, the lowest- ranked players are matched against the highest- ranked players, and usually by the end of the tournament, only the strongest players are left playing each other.

During the lunch break, I go and find my secret spot on the basement floor down a long hallway.

It’s dark and quiet. I don’t like to talk to people during a tournament. It makes me feel too competitive,

and I start getting distracted by thoughts of winning rather than paying attention to the story on the board, as Grandpa says. Even so, I’ve kept my eye on Andrew and Maha, and they also beat out the lower- ranked players.

I sit and eat my energy bar and apple and imagine different chess openings. I try not to think

about Andrew, but it’s impossible. When I finish, I get up and hear some kids talking. I freeze at the sound of their voices and stand back behind the corner of the hallway. Then I peek around, hoping they can’t see me. It’s Andrew, Ben, and another kid, Aiden. What are they doing down here?

“Maha and Chaya are the ones to beat. I’ve lost to them both today,” says Ben.

“Well, I’m about to go up against them after lunch, so their winning streak will end,” says Andrew.

“Be careful. You’ve got to watch out for those Indian girls,” Aiden says. “They’re good at that kind of stuff.”

“What do you mean?” Ben says.

“You know, math, chess, science, computers.

They’re all good at that stuff.”

 “Maybe,” Andrew says. “But I can beat any girl who comes my way, Indian or not.”

“Not if I beat them first,” Aiden says.

Ben just shrugs, but my heart is pounding so hard, I feel the thudding in my ears.

“Do you have the magic?” Aiden asks.

“Yup,” Ben says, and takes three cans of Mountain Dew out of his bag. What’s so special about Mountain Dew?

“Bring on the sugar rush,” Andrew says.

“Those girls are going down for sure.” Then they all clink the cans together and chug the soda. I duck back behind the wall while they finish and wait for them to go back upstairs. My head is spinning with everything I’ve just heard. First, they think Maha and I are good at chess only because of our Indian background, even though Maha’s family is from Pakistan. Second, they think we’re not as good at chess because we’re girls. Third, they drink some stupid sugary soda because they think it will make them better at chess!

I take a few deep breaths to calm myself down, something my father taught me. I count for five

on the inhale and five on the exhale. After I do it a few times, I feel more relaxed, more like myself. I think again of Aiden’s words— the part about being Indian and good at chess. I didn’t even know that was a thing people thought.

I usually like things that make me feel more Indian because only my father is Indian. Sometimes

when I’m around people who have two Indian parents, I don’t feel Indian enough, almost like I’m pretending. But I don’t want anyone to think that I’m good at chess just because of my Indian background.

I look at the clock on the wall. I have to be back in the main room in five minutes. I lift my arms

over my head and stretch, then pick up my backpack and head upstairs. It seems like Andrew and his friends don’t want to give me, the actual person I am, credit for being good at chess. I’m either not good enough because I’m a girl or too good because I’m Indian. What would they think about the fact that my Jewish grandfather is the one who taught me how to play?

As I enter the main room, again the wooden, soapy smell comforts me. The pairing list says I’m

up against Aiden. I walk over to the assigned table and sit down, and we face each other. I nod with

laser eyes. He returns my nod.

“Prepare to go down,” he says.

“Nice chess etiquette,” I say sarcastically, but then regret it. The last thing I need is to get into an

argument with Aiden. Luckily, he doesn’t respond. We start, and I decide to play extra fast. Maybe it’s because of the adrenaline running through my veins because of what happened downstairs, or the knot of anger that’s growing inside me, but after I capture his rook, it doesn’t take me long to see the move that will win the game— just me, Chaya, being good at something because I am. My bishop and a pawn have trapped his king after moving him into the corner with my queen.

“Checkmate,” I say after only twenty minutes, and press my lips together so I won’t smile. This game is a quick story, ending before it really began. Aiden abruptly stands up and shakes my hand, though he doesn’t look me in the eyes. His hand feels a little clammy with a slight tremble to it. I want to tell him, “Maybe next time, don’t drink so much Mountain Dew,” but I don’t. I have to focus on the next round, because Andrew just beat Maha.

Suddenly my own hands feel clammy and shaky. I look over at Maha, and she gives me a

little secret thumbs‑up. I smile and nod. Then we turn away quickly. It’s nice she’s encouraging me even though she lost. We’re friends in chess club, but we don’t talk during tournaments. It’s a kind of silent understanding we have. Maybe it’s because we don’t want to act like we’re part of a “girls’ team.” We just want to be seen as two separate kids, playing chess.

I wipe my hands on my jeans and again wish Grandpa were here to give me the look he has

in his eyes when we play, the look that tells me no matter what happens, he’s always rooting for me.

Andrew and I sit down at the same time. I usually try to look my opponent in the eyes right away, but this time when I look at him, I see one corner of his mouth turned up into a slight smile and it sends me back to an hour ago, listening to him in the hallway. So I keep my eyes down and think of Grandpa’s words: Don’t try to beat the person. Just focus on the board.

I’m playing white this time. Chess rules say the white pieces always go first, though I’m not sure who made up that rule. It means I have the advantage, because I won against a higher- ranked player than Andrew did, but now I feel even more pressure. When you play white, you’re supposed to win.

I start out moving my pawn in the e4 space and decide to follow with my knights. Andrew

will probably do the same, and our four knights will be in a sort of face- off. Grandpa says the real game happens in the center of the board, during the middle part. And I agree. It’s what my chess teacher says at the club, too. But the pieces waiting in the corners and on the edges can be just as powerful, even if they’re not in the center, even if they get forgotten sometimes. In certain games, they’re the most powerful pieces of all.

But right now, Andrew is moving his pieces aggressively. He’s got his queen on my side of

the board. He’s already taken several pawns and a bishop and I’m down several points. I turn my head from side to side, stretching my neck, and try to ignore what’s coming— that dreaded last- game‑of‑the- tournament moment. It’s the moment when my adrenaline starts to drop and my breathing slows and I remember that I’ve been playing chess all day. My limbs start to feel heavy and my eyes burn. I just want to go home, have dinner with my family, and feel safe.

This time I look up at Andrew to see if he’s losing his energy, and what does he do? He winks at

  1. It feels like someone has just dropped a handful of ice down my back.

“Check,” he says.

I frantically eye the board. I’ve lost sight of the future. He’s got his rook aimed straight at my

king. I need to move my king, but then I see my knight next to my king, waiting for me. I haven’t touched it in a while and can use it to launch over Andrew’s pawn and take his rook. That will open up my bishop, and then I can put him in check with my queen.

We play a few more moves, and I do put him in check. People who have finished their games start to watch us. Andrew clears his throat loudly. I see the sweat glisten on his forehead. He meets my eyes again, and I can tell how much he wants to beat me— not my pieces, but me. If he moves one way, I have a plan to win. If he moves another, he might win. The future is unknown.

I start to think about why this game matters so much. The reason it matters to Mom and Dad

is because they know I want to win. It matters to Grandpa because he knows I’ll learn something no matter what happens. I already beat Aiden, showing him that girls can beat him. If I lose to Andrew, will it show him that maybe people with Indian backgrounds aren’t always good at things like chess? Maybe, but I don’t want that to be the story of this game.

Instead, he makes the move I hoped he would. Now I have the future all planned out. After two moves, I say, “Checkmate.”

Andrew’s face falls and his cheeks turn red. I almost wonder if he’s going to cry. But then he

straightens his shoulders, takes a deep breath, and stands up slowly.

“Nice game,” he says in a low voice, and holds out his hand. He even manages a small smile. A part of me still wants to shake him by the shoulders and say, “But what about all that ridiculous stuff you said downstairs about girls and Indian people while guzzling Mountain Dew?” Instead I decide to let the game speak for itself.

“Thank you,” I say, and accept his handshake. Then I do one last thing: I wink at him. He blinks and moves his head back like he’s startled and quickly turns toward the back of the room, where Aiden and Ben are waiting for him. His shoulders drop a bit as he walks away. Aiden and Ben give him a nudge in the arm and a pat on the back, but Andrew doesn’t look at them. He just stares straight ahead and keeps walking.

When I leave the community center I see Grandpa, Mom, and Dad near the front steps waving

to me. I keep my gold trophy behind my back and watch each one of them, their faces looking at me, searching for the end of the story. I know they all hope for the same ending, but for different reasons. I hold out my trophy toward them. The gold glints in the late- afternoon sun and their faces light up.

“Fantastic!” Dad says, and claps.

“You did it!” Mom says, and holds her arms out for a hug.

“You were ready,” Grandpa says, and squeezes my shoulder.

They all surround me, and it feels even better than pumping my fist in the air alone in the bathroom. But this is just the ending of today’s story. Tomorrow, in the future, all the parts of me that make me who I am will start a new one.





Author: Edited by Hena Khan

Contributors: Veera Hiranandani, Supriya Kelkar, Maulik Pancholy, Simran Jeet Singh, Aisha Saeed, Reem Faruqi, Rajani LaRocca, Naheed Hasnat, Sayantani DasGupta, and Mitali Perkins.

Release Date: 4/23/2024

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

Age Range: 8-12

Spotlight on We’re Never Getting Home (Tracy Badua)

April 18th, 2024 by

Today we’re spotlighting We’re Never Getting Home by Tracy Badua!

Read on for more about the author and the book!




About the Author: Tracy Badua

Tracy Badua is an award-winning Filipino American author of books about young people with sunny hearts in a sometimes stormy world. By day, she is an attorney who works in national housing policy and programs, and by night, she squeezes in writing, family time, and bites of her secret candy stash. She lives in San Diego, California, with her family.

Website * Instagram * X * TikTok




About the Book: We’re Never Getting Home

Jana Rubio and her best friend, Maddy Parsons, have an epic senior year finale queued up: catching their favorite band at the Orchards, an outdoor music festival a two-hour drive away. When a blowup over Maddy’s time-sucking boyfriend exposes a rift that may have already been growing between them, Jana calls off their joint trip and gets a lift to the festival from her church friend Nathan…only to realize Maddy and her boyfriend are along for the ride, too.

All Jana wants is to enjoy the concert and get home as soon as possible. But then Nathan loses his car keys crowd-surfing, and it’s up to Jana and Maddy to find them. As they navigate stolen phones and missing friends, scale Ferris wheels and crash parties, the two of them are forced to reckon with the biggest obstacle of all: repairing their friendship.

Will Jana and Maddy find their way home—and also back to each other? 

Amazon * B&N * IndieBound







Copyright © 2024 by Tracy Badua

Despite the pain and drama of the past minutes, days, and years, I am having a good time. Better than good, actually. This may be the best night in ages, like I thought it would be. The more I sing along, the more I feel weightless, like nothing is holding me down. I can float, drift where I please. I am free. Nothing is going to ruin this.

I think I actually scream that aloud at some point, but I can no longer hear myself above the crowd and the boom from the speakers.

When CoGo launches into “Say Something Interesting,” Nathan flashes a look at me so full of unabashed excitement that he practically glows. He turns then to Tyler, and before I know it, Tyler hoists Nathan up, with Everett’s help. Up and over shoulders Nathan goes, singing along with the lyrics of his favorite song as he crowd-surfs.

“Be careful!” I don’t even know why I yell that. No way he can hear me. And even if he could, who am I to tell him what to do? I’m simply a friend, a girl he knows from church: despite whatever sparks we might feel tonight, I’ve made sure to keep things at surface level.

Hands surge up to catch Nathan, and he bobs and twists over shoulders and outstretched arms. Tyler, Everett, Maddy, and I clap and cheer him on. He and I lock eyes again for a moment, and any lingering awkwardness from earlier has vanished. Instead, his thrill is contagious. I find myself grinning wide to match him. He makes it about thirty feet away before someone ducks away instead of bracing him, and Nathan disappears into the dancing crowd.

A song passes, and he still hasn’t come back to our group. “I don’t see him,” I tell Everett in the momentary calm. “Do you?”

Everett shakes his head. “He knows where we are. He’ll find us.”

I nod, ignoring the squirm of worry in my gut. Something doesn’t feel right, but I forget it as soon as Derrick and Keaton start telling a story about how they wrote the next song. It involves churros, staying up until dawn, and a unicorn-shaped pool floatie, to my surprise.

Nathan doesn’t find us until three whole songs later. His palm-tree tank top is rumpled, and his face is scrunched in a way that doesn’t immediately say “I had a great time crowd-surfing.”

“Took you long enough,” I start to tease, but then I catch his unnatural stance. “Hey, are you all right?” I put a hand on his arm to steady him.

“My knee. Again,” he says to all of us.

“Again?” Maddy asks, eyebrow raised. Some strands of hair have come loose from her fishtail braid, and I’m sure we all look the worse for wear after our haphazard dancing.

“The soccer injury?” Everett manages to cut in through the thump of the music. He takes my place next to his brother: a relief, because the height difference made it tough for me to reliably carry any of his weight.

Nathan nods in response, his mouth set in a frown.

Tyler leans in. “Should we get out of here? I can drive.”

Nathan’s face somehow goes even more sour, so at odds with the happy, fast-paced beat and light show swirling around us. And somehow, in that pain-induced wince, I catch a hint of something else: Guilt? What is he hiding?

The notes suddenly ring off-key, Keaton’s voice strained, the lights too bright and glaring. My shoulders tense unwittingly, like when you see lightning rip across the sky and your body braces for the crack of thunder.

“About that,” Nathan says. He flinches as if speaking the next words will hurt more than his knee. “I—I lost the minivan keys.”

“Mother—” The big finale note of CoGo’s latest hit covers up the obscenity I screech into the night air.




Title: We’re Never Getting Home

Author: Tracy Badua

Release Date: April 16, 2024

Publisher: Quill Tree Books

Genre: Young Adult contemporary

Age Range: 13-17




Spotlight on THE YEAR OF THE PUPPY: HOW A PUPPY BECOMES YOUR DOG (Alexandra Horowitz), Excerpt & Giveaway ~ US Only!

April 17th, 2024 by

Today we’re spotlighting THE YEAR OF THE PUPPY: HOW A PUPPY BECOMES YOUR DOG by Alexandra Horowitz!

Read on for more about the author, the book, plus enter the giveaway!




About the Author: Alexandra Horowitz

Alexandra Horowitz observes dogs for a living. Her research began more than two decades ago, studying dogs at play, and continues today at her Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College. She is the author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know and three other books: On Looking; Being a Dog; and Our Dogs, Ourselves. She lives with her family of Homo sapiensCanis familiaris, and Felis catus in New York City.

Website * Instagram





What is it like to be a puppy? What’s going on in their minds? In this adaptation for young readers, Alexandra Horowitz answers those questions all kids have–and more!


Few people get to meet their dogs on the dog’s actual first birthday. Most of us missed the day our puppy opened her eyes, the first sweet sounds she made, or watching her learn to walk, bark, and play with her siblings. But the dog scientist Alexandra Horowitz got to. She met a litter of newborn pups, and traces their journey through their first year of life.

In this adaptation for young readers, follow along as one of the litter, Quiddity, grows from a sweet potato-sized puppy who can’t lift her head to a member of Horowitz’s family. Equal parts scientific and adventurous, Alexandra Horowitz’s delightful study of her own puppy’s developing personality is an enticing read that will answer every question a reader could have during a puppy’s first year.







Sweet Potatoes

I pull into the driveway of Amy’s home on a cold day. The sky is the kind of fathomless gray that makes you forget it could ever be blue.

I have come to see the puppies. As I knock, a commotion erupts inside—a chorus of barks, mixed with the sounds of dogs runing and scratching the door. A dog nose appears suddenly from behind a curtain, then just as quickly retreats. As the door opens, more dogs dart out: kelpies, wagging and barking and jumping up. Two older border collies saunter among them, calm schooners surrounded by crazed motorboats. There are eight dogs here, plus two more, I learn, that Amy is fostering, in another room. And then, too, the puppies.

Amy lets me in, and we step gently through the carpet of dogs. A radio is playing, an appliance hums; the smell of a birch fire greets me. One wall of the room is lined with shelves of trophies and ribbons from dog-competition events: agility, sheepherding, disc, mushing. Another wall has a giant cage in which a cockatoo who is missing her back feathers side-eyes me warily. “I’m bird sitting,” Amy explains, “and the people haven’t come back.” She gestures to another room, which has been given over completely to her own two parrots. At the same time, a calico cat saunters in and checks me out before sitting down to clean herself. Boxes of food and supplies donated for the fostered pups tower to the ceiling.

The new mom, Maize, is just visible outside the back of the house, staring intently at the screen door. I follow her gaze inside to the kitchen. I approach and navigate a baby gate, then climb over a makeshift wall segregating the kitchen appliances. Beyond that wall is a smaller pen, and within the pen is a small dog bed, and on one half of the bed is a pile of eleven puppies curled around one another. That pile is the object of Maize’s gaze.

Amy opens the door, and Maize runs in. Spotting a new person, she crouches submissively, and I also crouch and turn away to calm her. Amy places a large sausage of dog food on a plate for her, and she is calmed. We step into the pen and settle beside the dog bed. The pups, only several days old, are not quite dog- shaped yet; instead, they’re lumpish forms the eye registers as living but whose species one cannot quite place. They appear to be perfect sweet potatoes with ears, feet, and a tail. A white sweet potato adjusts herself and morphs into a piglet, short of snout and pink of body.

We scoot the bed onto a heating pad. The pile shifts. It is just above freezing outside, and the puppies will not be able to maintain their own body temperature until they are four weeks old. They lack the necessary extra fat for insulation, and they cannot shiver to warm themselves. Each pup’s body temperature is still several degrees below where it needs to be, and they instinctively keep one another’s close company. In the pile they form, they can get close to the 101.5-degree temperature that’s normal for adult dogs.

When Maize finishes eating she steps into the pen. Her smell steps in with her, the odor of milk and mom wafting over the pups. They stir as a heap, gently pulsing in her direction. Maize pokes her nose among the pups, licking and rousing them. She suffers my presence there with grace and even, guardedly, lets me pet her. Tiny heads lift, and mouths open, aimed mom-ward. At this age the puppies spend their lives mostly sleeping or nursing, and over the three hours that I am there, they do both, sometimes at once. The pups make soft squeaking, whimpering noises, shimmying over one another in the general direction of their mother’s belly. As they make their way over to Maize, she licks each one’s behind clean without comment. “She’s a good mom,” Amy says: patient, deliberate, and rump-cleaning.

When they fall off her belly, they collapse into the pancake-like posture typical of animals who cannot yet lift their heads for any length of time. After birth and their first meal, they weighed between just eight and thirteen ounces. Eight ounces is scanty: a simple cup of coffee. (Coincidentally, I have seen many a wee pup weighed by being put in a coffee cup set on a kitchen scale—a sight that is off-the-charts adorable.) Now, only a few days into life, some have doubled their weight, while others are struggling. The tiniest pup, whom Amy has named Chaya, with a head smaller than my fist, is half the size of Pawpaw, a merle puppy—his coat marked with patches of black, white, the gray called blue, and a copper called red, with moody dark makeup under each eye. I grasp Pawpaw and lift him toward me. He is heavy in my hand, but I can nearly circle his body when I close my fingers. Pawpaw squirms and utters a small gurgle, his paws outstretched, every toe reaching for ground. Each plump pad is an almost fluorescent pink, completely new out of the box. I set him down and grasp Chaya, then settle her between her siblings, where she has a chance at breakfast. A tan puppy with expressive eyebrows and a blaze of white, Pumpkin, coos at me, and I coo back to him as I stroke his soft back.

I gaze at them with astonishment. I feel let in on a secret, as a witness of this time in the lives of puppies. For now, it is not clear who is who; it is not clear that there is any who in there at all yet. In these early days of their puppyhood, eager to know them, we gather facts about their size and weight, comment on their colors, study whose ear is starting to stand upright. Later, when they begin showing distinct behaviors, we will note them all, collecting them like baseball cards—as though with each new fact or description, their true essence will be revealed to us.

We prod softly at the bodies to try to identify them all. Amy has named them for indigenous North American foods. Here are Fiddlehead, a blue merle with extra black markings, and three other merles, Calais Flint Corn (Flint), Blue Camas, and Persimmons, each with a distinguishing spot or fetching stripe of color. Underneath them we reveal Cholla Cactus, Acorn, and Cranberry, whose vary from gold to white as a sunbeam enters a high window and moves across their backs.

The final pup is not among the pile at Maize’s belly. Wild Ramps is a tricolor merle but mostly black, with a snout dipped in a white paint can and gold eyebrows. She is marooned on the puppy bed, the last one to whom it occurred either that Oh, the smell of mom is near or Oh, the warmth of siblings is missing, directing them toward mom. Her eyes, like those of all her siblings, are sealed closed in quiet protest at this bright world. Her ears, like those of all her siblings, are sealed closed in bright protest at this noisy world. She scooches herself on her belly, using the tools she has, pursuing warmth or smell, until she reaches the rim of the bed. Heading over the great wall, she topples dramatically, somersaulting and whimpering. Maize turns at her cries and licks her entire body in one long swipe, sending Wild Ramps onto her back. Righting herself, she heads straight for my knee, clothed in soft corduroy, and tests it for milk. I feel her tiny mouth puckered against it and am vividly aware of the inadequacy of my knee’s offerings. I pivot her lightly toward the rump of another puppy. Then she need only climb him, creep up the length of his body, and at last nuzzle her way in to the desired belly.





Author: Alexandra Horowitz

Release Date: April 16, 2024

Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers

ISBN-10: 0593351304

ISBN-13: 9780593351307

Genre: Hardcover Middle Grade Nonfiction

Age Range: 8-12





Three (3) winners will receive a hardcover copy of THE YEAR OF THE PUPPY: HOW A PUPPY BECOMES YOUR DOG (Alexandra Horowitz)! ~ US Only
*Click the Rafflecopter link below to enter the giveaway*

Rockstar Tours: THE MARK OF THE SALAMANDER (Justin Newland), Excerpt & Giveaway! ~ US & UK ONLY

April 16th, 2024 by

I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the THE MARK OF THE SALAMANDER by Justin Newland Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!


About The Book:

Title: THE

Author: Justin Newland

Pub. Date: September 28, 2023

Publisher: The Book Guild Ltd.

Formats: Paperback, eBook

Pages: 256

Find it: Goodreads 


1575: Nelan Michaels is a young
Flemish man fleeing religious persecution in the Spanish Netherlands. Settling
in Mortlake outside London, he studies under Queen Elizabeth’s court
astrologer, conjuring a bright future – until he’s wrongly accused of murder.
Forced into the life of a fugitive, Nelan is dramatically pressed into the crew
of the Golden Hind.
Thrust into a strange new world on board Francis Drake’s vessel, Nelan sails
the seas on a voyage to discover discovery itself. Encountering mutiny, ancient
tribes and hoards of treasure, Nelan must explore and master his own mystical
powers – including the Mark of the Salamander, the mysterious spirit of fire.
The Mark of the Salamander is the first in The Island of Angels series: a
two-book saga that tells the epic story and secret history of England’s coming
of age during the Elizabethan era.



Book Trailer:



The Fire

The village of Mortlake, near London, England

31st March 1575

Nelan stepped carefully over the planks of the wooden jetty, moist  from an early morning shower. He boarded the wherry bobbing in  the flow of the spring tide. The wherry master grinned, showing  a tranche of rotting black teeth behind a ragged salt-and-pepper  beard. As far as Wenceslaus was concerned, this passed as a morning  salutation.

Wenceslaus let go of the rope and kicked the jetty with the sole of his tattered boot, shoving the boat into the flow of the River Thames.  As usual, the wherry master’s breath stank of ale, and to enhance the  delights of the morning, he let out a huge fart. As with everyone else  in England, more vacant air than solid food filled the wherry master’s  guts. Well, it was Maundy Thursday, the last day of Lenten fasting.  Wenceslaus eased out the oars and bent his back to the task, and with  each pull he emitted a low grunt, like the wild boars that roamed the  woods near Nelan’s Mortlake home.

“Tide’s on the full, little master,” said Wenceslaus.

“’Tis that,” Nelan said.

Reaching the middle of the flow, Nelan glanced back at his house.

Next door and nestling on the bank was their neighbour’s place – a  large, rambling house just west of the church between it and the river.  The natural philosopher and celebrated astrologer to the court of Queen Elizabeth, Dr John Dee, lived there. Dr Dee was a great friend  of Nelan’s father Laurens, who had encouraged Nelan to visit Dee’s  house for private tuition in matters both sacred and secular. Just the  other week, Dee had agreed to cast Nelan’s horoscope, but before he  could reveal his findings, Dee’s second wife had died. And on the day  of her funeral, the Queen herself had paid him a surprise visit. How  Nelan mixed with such exalted company!

Today was a special day: the last school day before Easter. Nelan

pulled out a crumpled broadsheet that Dee had recently given him. It  was dated March 1575, and depicted an elegant city with tall spires  protruding into the heavens. One more term at school, and Nelan  would be off to university and strolling down Oxford’s alleys. The time  was ripe for him to make his own way in life.

They passed wherries tacking upriver, and avoided ferries crossing from bank to bank. Wisps of mist rose from the glassy  swell. Wenceslaus stopped by the hamlet of Sneakenhall to pick  up two other boys from Nelan’s school. Dressed in doublets of  fine Spanish cloth, leggings, and leather shoes, they stood behind  their stepfather, St John of Southampton, or San Juan de Antón in  Spanish. They sniggered and pointed their fingers at Nelan, but that  wasn’t unusual. The brothers climbed into the wherry. Nelan had  been born in Sangatte, Picardy, Northern France, while Guillermo  and Pedro harked from Seville, Spain. They attended the same school  and were of a similar age. They had that in common. But Nelan  couldn’t stand the boys; nor they him. They had that in common  too.

Wenceslaus disliked their rivalry. “Now, be civil to them both, young Nelan,” he warned.

“I’ll try,” Nelan murmured.

“You do just that.”

Nelan said, “Good morrow, Guillermo, Pedro. The Lord be with you both.”

“I want nothing to do with your Lord!” Guillermo snarled. “Now move over, you stupid!” He pushed Nelan off the seat.

“Oi!” Wenceslaus intervened. “Stop it. Hell’s teeth. Every mornin’, every month, every year. Always the same. You two spar like a pair of  fightin’ cocks. An’ old Wenceslaus gotta keep yous apart.”

He was right, Nelan thought. But what could he do? In Queen Bess’s England, the law compelled ordinary folks to follow the  new Protestant religion and forgo the old Catholic one. Nelan was  Protestant. The brothers were Catholic. He and they were like oil and  water. They fought in words on the wherry, just as their respective  armies warred in Europe and clashed all over the New World.

A pall of silence shrouded the rest of the trip around the Barnes–

Chiswick oxbow. As Wenceslaus grunted and groaned, passing more air  from his orifice, he rowed the wherry past Putney and then Battersea  Fields. Nelan stretched his legs. He was a shorty, and they barely  reached half the length of Guillermo’s, who sat, arms folded, avoiding  eye contact. Pedro mimicked his older brother, brooding beneath a  dark, forbidding frown.

As the wherry moored by the Westminster jetty, Nelan and

Guillermo stood up at the same time, rocking the boat. Wenceslaus  scowled at them, which annoyed Guillermo, who took a leap. The jetty  was still moist from the overnight rain, and he slipped and smashed  his knee.

As Guillermo winced with pain, Wenceslaus passed comment and more air. “Silly boy. Serves you right; it does that.”

Rubbing his knee, Guillermo snapped at the wherry master, “Me,

I am Guillermo. You ferry me and my brother to school and back. You  speak to me like that again, I tell my stepfather. You know he is very  important man, ¿cierto?

“Beggin’ your pardon, young master,” Wenceslaus said, doffing his cap and clutching it to his chest.

As far as Nelan was concerned, this was more respect than the boy deserved for his rudeness and arrogance. But Guillermo’s stepfather  was a senior figure with influence at Elizabeth’s court. A word in the  local constable’s ear, and Wenceslaus could easily have spent the day  battened down in the stocks at Putney market.

Pedro jumped out of the wherry and helped his brother hobble along the landing quay. Passing the woodshed, they headed towards an imposing  brick building boasting tall, graceful spires and elegant stone etchings:  Westminster Abbey. Next to the abbey lay the entrance to the newly  formed Westminster School. There, the school’s steward, a burly man with  a black beard and black cap, stood by and greeted them one and all.

Nelan joined the rest of the school for the church assembly.

Pastor Christopher, the school’s minister, conducted the morning  service, which concluded with the singing of Psalm 23, ‘The Lord is  My Shepherd’. Nelan mouthed a silent prayer to the Lord. If only He  would shepherd him to the place where he could deal with Guillermo.  Because of late, the Spanish boy had grown increasingly hostile towards  Nelan, and it frightened him.

After Mass, Nelan attended lessons in Greek, Latin and French.

Then came rhetoric, astronomy, and classical studies touching on the  School of Athens and the philosophers Plato and Aristotle.

On another day of fast, Nelan’s stomach rumbled like the eruption of Vesuvius. Dusk drew in its gentle wings. To celebrate the end of  term, all the boys ran out of class and jumped in the air with elation.  Nelan said a prayer of thanksgiving in the abbey, then headed towards  the river to find a wherry to take him home. He spotted Guillermo  talking to Pastor Christopher by the school entrance, and then the boy  turned and headed Nelan’s way. To avoid any confrontation, Nelan  darted into the woodshed.

In the shed stood a solid oak table. Its numerous scratches and indents bore testament to a life of long and dedicated service. It was  as old as King Henry VIII, the father of Elizabeth, the present Queen.  In the middle of the table was a ceramic bowl, like the fruit bowl on  the cedar table in Nelan’s home, except that this one had no fruit in  it. Twists of straw and a scattering of dead leaves bedecked the top of  the table. The shed was crammed on both sides with logs, kindling and  twigs, various tools, saws and axes.

Nelan’s right palm itched. He scratched the source of the irritation: three wavy vertical lines beneath his middle finger. His father had  scolded him when he was a child, saying that, because he never washed  his hands, the lines were like three wisps of smoke rising from his  smelly paws. Nelan was unconvinced. Either way, he scratched his  palm. He’d always wondered how he’d got the lines. Were they a kind  of birthmark? His father had never told him. And what did it mean  when they itched at certain times, like now?

From outside the shed, he heard the distinctive sound of Guillermo’s limp. His heart sank. The door squeaked open. Nelan ducked beneath  the table.

Too late, because he heard a voice crow, “Come out, muchacho!”

Nelan crawled out from under the table. Guillermo lurked on the other side.

“I’m not a baby. I’m a man!”

“You not a man! A man, he stand up like a pole. He face the world.

Insects, they creep along the ground!” Guillermo thundered, smashing  his fist on the table with so much force that it shuddered under the  impact.

“What’s got into you? Are you possessed by a diablo?”

Guillermo put his palms on the table and leaned towards Nelan, his eyes glaring like fire. “My stepfather says all Protestants are heretics,  and we must cleanse the world of their sin.”

“You Spanish do that anyway. All around the world you spread torture and cruelty! Spain is pain.”

“No! Spain is top, highest country in world. You, you’re a low

country boy. You’re from the nether regions. Ha!” Guillermo laughed  at his pun.

“Yes, I lived in the Netherlands… until you Spanish invaded, forcing my family to seek refuge here!”

“Bah!” Guillermo gritted his teeth, rubbing his forefinger and thumb together. “You are a flea, a tiny flea, and I, Guillermo de Antón,  am going to squash you!”

“I may be small, but I’m not that small,” Nelan said, trying to make light of the insult.

“You’re – how you say? – seventeen years old. I meet you when you come here six years ago. But after that, you never grow. Not like me  and Pedro. We big, strong Spanish boys. For King Felipe, we build a  world empire.”

The spite flowed thick and fast. As much as he wanted to fight, Nelan swallowed his bile and lurched around the table.

“Ha! You cobarde!” Guillermo sniped, blocking his way.

Nelan faced his nemesis. “Enough! I’m no coward!”

Quick as a flash, Guillermo pulled out a small canvas bag from the pouch hanging from his belt. He emptied its contents,  a brownish powder, into the ceramic bowl. The powder whiffed of  sulphur.

“What on earth are you doing?”

“You’ll see, amigo,” Guillermo scowled. With both hands he scooped up the twists of straw and dried leaves and dropped them on  top of the brown powder.

“Wait. You’re not going to…?”

Guillermo pulled two strike-a-light irons and a flint from his pouch and brandished them in front of Nelan’s face. “, amigo. I am,”  he said with a mischievous grin.

“Let me out!” Nelan cried, and tried to push past the Spanish boy again.

With a demonic expression on his face, Guillermo shoved him aside, and Nelan fell against the log pile, but got up as quickly as he could.

“It’s gunpowder! You’ll kill us both!”

“No! I run out the door. You heretic, you die! It’s Easter. It’s the time to cleanse the world of sin!” Guillermo crushed an iron against the  flint. A solitary spark leapt from the flint, but didn’t catch the strands  of straw and leaves. He shoved one of the irons back into his pouch,  then crunched the other against the flint, squeezing out another spark.

Thankfully, the gunpowder failed to ignite – or so Nelan thought.

But he smelled burning. A spark had lit a piece of straw next to  the ceramic bowl. Again, he rushed at the madman. Flint in hand,  Guillermo raised his fist. Nelan ducked to avoid the blow. Guillermo  lost his balance and fell, dropping the iron and flint. He winced with  pain as he clutched his knee, then crawled along the floor.

The door was flung open. Two men stood there: the school’s steward and Pastor Christopher. Nelan swept up the iron and flint. The  gunpowder was going to ignite. The men blocked the exit. A small blue  flame leapt from the straw across the open space and, as if drawn to the  bowl of gunpowder, dropped into it. The shed was about to explode.  Think. Quick. Nelan crawled across the floor and dived between the  men’s legs before scrambling through the open door.

The world ground to a shuddering halt. Everything slowed, like the actor he’d seen at one of those new theatres in the city who moved  at a snail’s pace. A burst of flame followed a massive explosion. The  force of the blast threw him backwards. Winded and half blinded, he  crawled away from the scorching heat. Hungry flames devoured the  kindling, sending orange-yellow embers into the dusk. Had it not been so frightening, it would have been beautiful. The flames crackled and  spat as the logs caught fire. Nelan’s ears were ringing, but the sound  was muted. His head spun like a top. The burning seared into his  mind’s eye.

As the flames engulfed the shed, it rained hot embers, covering the steward in soot. The pastor crouched on the ground, holding his  head. The explosion must have thrown them clear. The blast had also  ejected Guillermo, but only just. Smoke rose from his ruined clothes  into the dry, early evening air. The Spaniard lay on the ground near the  blazing shed, his mouth open as if he were shouting or crying. Nelan  could hear no sound coming from his mouth. Pedro hared across the  yard towards them.

Dazed and confused, Nelan hugged his knees, rocking back and forth. It eased the pain. Because in his imagination, he saw painful,  destructive pictures from his past. In this vision, he was in an earlier  time, another town, a different country altogether. It felt strange,  unreal. It was as if he watched the scene unfold from a distance. He  stood at the edge of a crowd. They yelled and shook their fists. They  shouted, but not in English. He was young and small. Even on tiptoe,  he couldn’t see over the tops of the heads of those in front of him.  He climbed on top of a barrel to get a better view. Before the heaving  crowd, soldiers lashed two men and a woman to three wooden posts.  They tied the woman to the middle one. She wore a black headscarf  from which a loose strand of brown hair protruded. Nelan yearned to  tuck it into her scarf, but he couldn’t. Tears rolled down her cheeks.  Her chin trembled. She glanced towards him and then turned away.  She moved her shoulders, wrenched her arms, and twisted her legs, but  then fell as still as a scarecrow. Had she accepted her fate? No. She must  never do that. She must keep struggling to get free. Nelan desperately  wanted her to escape and take him with her.

A wooden crucifix hung from the top of each post. Perhaps Jesus peered down from the cross at what was about to transpire. Did He  know that this was being done in His name? Why didn’t He stop it?  A crow glided over the heads of the crowd – once, twice – and then  squatted on top of the woman’s post. Black wings, black beak, black  squawk; an omen that the woman’s soul was about to fly off into the  beyond. She was going to surrender her soul. But was it to Jesus or to the black crow? No one answered that question. Nelan wished they  would.

A military cohort appeared from behind him. Pikes pointing up and frowns pointing down, the soldiers pushed through the crowd.  Following them came a man wearing a black cloak. A pair of narrow  eyes looked out from two tiny slits in the hood. The cohort stopped by  the woman tied to the pole. Nelan stared at the pole and the woman.  It was no ordinary pole. She was no ordinary woman. Kindling, logs,  bits of rags, and curved struts from broken barrels nestled at the base  of the post. It was a fire in waiting. This was an auto-da-fé or an act of  faith, though he doubted there was much faith involved.

The image of the woman and the pole shattered, and he was jolted out of his reverie.

“Nelan! Nelan Michaels!” someone called.

Nelan turned around.

“Hell’s teeth,” the steward said. “What are you doing sitting there like a stone?”

The huntsman accompanied him, along with a clutch of schoolmasters and a legion of boys drawn by the roar of the explosion  and the spectacle of the fire. The huntsman’s wife tended to Guillermo.  Pastor Christopher got down on his knees and prayed for the boy.  Pedro cradled his brother’s head in his hands. Wisps of smoke rose  from Guillermo’s jerkin as he shrieked in agony.

“Quick. Move the boy to the infirmary. Get a hand cart,” the steward said to the huntsman, and then added, “Boys, get in a line.  We need water.”

They passed buckets from hand to hand, scooping water from the river and dousing the fire, then sending the empty vessels back to be  refilled. The woodshed resembled the burning bush; an eternal flame,  a testament to the Lord’s fury and His power to cleanse the furious and  bring down the proud. From where he stood, at twelve paces, Nelan  felt the heat of the fire. He didn’t move as wave upon wave scorched his  face and arms. The flames were a marriage of reds, yellows and golds.  Deep within the inferno’s inner sanctum, they were coloured a lithe  violet blue.

Pedro confronted him, his face a picture of anguish. “You. You let my brother burn!”

“I did?” Nelan murmured.

¡Sí! I saw it with my own eyes. My own brother. His clothes burn. And you. You did nothing to help him. You wanted to give pain to my  brother!”

Guillermo screamed and writhed on the ground. The flames didn’t  care. They burned anything and everything. They were ravenous, with  neither mercy nor pity.

Nelan shook himself and said, “I-I don’t know. I-I would’ve done.

I didn’t mean it. I don’t know what happened to me.”

“You always hate him,” Pedro said, jabbing a finger at him. “You want him to suffer. Happy now?”

The huntsman approached with a rickety handcart and said, “You boys, help me get the lad onto the cart.”

Nelan went to help. Pedro blocked him.

“Let me help. I want to.”

“Stay away from him!” Pedro said, staring him down.

Carefully, the men lifted Guillermo. He yelled as they loaded him onto the cart. Nelan had heard screams like that before – from a fox  snared in a trap.

“You will pay for this!” Pedro growled.

Nelan shrank back. I defended myself. And that dreadful vision… Why doesn’t anyone understand that? 

The huntsman hauled the cart across the courtyard towards the infirmary, followed by his wife and Pedro.

“How could you ignore the boy’s distress?” the steward said.

“It… It wasn’t my fault,” Nelan stammered. “Guillermo’s mad. He wanted to blow me up. He lit the gunpowder and wanted to leave me  in there.”

“Is that what you saw, Pastor?” the steward asked. But before

Pastor Christopher could answer, the steward added, “Because that’s not what I saw.”

“But… he started the fire. He wanted to kill me,” Nelan murmured.

“No! When I arrived, you stood over Guillermo, who lay on the floor. You’d hit him!”

“I didn’t. You must believe me.”

“I saw you clutching the strike-a-light iron and flint. You must’ve started the fire.”

Nelan bit his lip. A silent scream rose from the depths of his being.

“No! It wasn’t like that!”

“Go home, and don’t come back!” The steward shooed him away like a fly.

“What d’you mean?”

“You’re expelled.”

“But I’ve only one more term before—”

“We don’t want the likes of you at Westminster School.”

Nelan slouched off towards the river, as low as he’d ever felt since arriving in England. He found Wenceslaus and slumped down on the  wherry seat. Plunging his hands into his purse, he fingered the iron  and the flint – a lot of good they’d do him now.

By the time they pulled into the jetty at home, the cloak of sadness and misfortune weighed heavily on his shoulders. He hauled himself  out of the wherry. He felt like a creature dredged up from the ocean’s  depths, thick with sludge and bound with seaweed. Now he had to  gird himself to tell his father. With hard steps on grassy soil, he trudged  along the path from the jetty to his house.

The maidservant told him that his father had gone to the city on business and would return early the next day. Nelan waited in his  room. His clothes stank of fire and smoke, evoking memories of the  explosion. Images of the woman tied to the stake flashed through his  mind. Her screams beat against his ears… or were they Guillermo’s  yells of pain? From his north-facing room, he could hear the swishing,  gurgling sounds of Old Father Thames as it raced towards its destiny in  the estuary. The river had ferried him to Westminster School and back  for nigh on seven years. And in this, his last school year, his dream to  attend university in the autumn had gone up in flames. His head sank  low. The Lord was pitted against him. For this to happen to him, he  must have committed some awful sin. Either way, he needed justice  and a pardon, and quick. Damn Guillermo. And once and for all, he  needed to know the identity of the woman tied to the Inquisition’s  stake, lest her image haunt him for the rest of his days.

He must have dropped off to sleep, because when he awoke, the first  slithers of dawn slanted across the river, and he heard his father’s booming  voice echo around the rafters of the house and the front door slam shut.

Nelan knocked on the door of his father’s study. Laurens Michaels was a bulk of a man; as tall as an oak tree and just as thickset. His  bald head showed his years. Dressed in his favourite dark green velvet  doublet, he dominated his desk.

When Nelan had explained what had happened, his father got up and adjusted his flat, black Anglican hat. Pacing the floor, he asked,  “Nelan, what’s happened is terrible. But why did Guillermo threaten  your life? Tell the truth, as God is our witness.”

“He said his father wanted him to cleanse the world of heretics.”

“So, it concerned religion. I might have known,” Laurens said with a sigh. “I’ve always tried to be neighbourly to the St John family,  but to no avail. By coming to England, I hoped we’d escape Spanish  persecution. I was wrong.”

“We left the Netherlands… what about…?” For a moment, Nelan’s

head spun. He turned away from his father’s gaze and instead stared at  the painting behind his father’s head: the hamlet of Sangatte with its  white, sandy coastal dunes. It brought back memories of his mother;  her smell and her touch. He felt her staring at him from one of the  cottages in the painting. He jerked his head away and looked through  the study’s solitary window. On this cloudless day, he could see all the  way to the bank on the other side of the river.

“What about what, Nelan?” his father repeated.

Once and for all. Nelan’s voice broke in his throat. “Mother.”

“What about your mother?”

“What happened to her?”

“I told you already. She was English. Her maiden name was Pickford. She fell into the arms of Our Lord before we left the Netherlands.”

“Yes, I know, Father. But you’ve never told me how she died.”

This time, his father averted his gaze and studied the wainscoting.

“I’m seventeen; you don’t need to protect me anymore.”

“I’m going to tell you—”

There was a loud rapping on the front door. The door opened,

squeaking on its hinges. Footsteps marched up to the study door. The  footman hauled it open.


“Yes? Who is it?” Laurens asked.

“Dr Dee.”

“Dr John Dee?”

“Yes, sir, the same. He’s on the porch.”

“It must be important for him to call at this time of the morning.

Well, don’t stand there, man. Show him in.”


Dr Dee had a milk-white beard and was a tall, wiry man with the stare of a lighthouse. He wore a black cap and a long black gown with  hanging sleeves, crisp in the morning’s rays. “Good morrow to you  both,” he said in a husky voice. “May the Lord be with you.”

“And with you, Dr Dee,” Laurens replied.

“I cannot stay long; I must return to my experiments,” Dee said.

He appeared to drift around the room, touching the spines of the books  on the shelves and then examining a portrait of Laurens attending a  Low Church Calvinist meeting.

“Our condolences over the demise of your dear wife,” Nelan’s father said.

“Thank you. I’ve been in mourning these last days.”

“She’s resting in the arms of Our Lord,” Laurens said.

“Have you been able to cast my horoscope, m’lord?” Nelan asked.

“I’m so excited to hear your interpretation of it.”

“Yes, I’ve just finished it, and that’s why I come bearing urgent news,” Dee said. Every word he spoke sounded like a Sunday sermon.  “I’m here to warn you that over these two days – yesterday and today  – the planets Mars and Saturn figure prominently in your chart. Has  anyone in the family recently died violently?”

“That’s extraordinary! No, not in our family,” Nelan said, “but yesterday evening an explosion badly hurt one of the St John boys.”

“I see.” Dee nodded. “There’s also an unfortunate opposition in

Libra, the scales of justice.”

“What does that mean?” Nelan asked.

“I suspect it means that the law is now involved in this case, and that there’s a warrant out for your arrest.”

“What? That’s not justice; that’s injustice,” Nelan yelled.

“So, we’ll wait for the constables, then,” Laurens said.

“Father, they can’t arrest me. Only the pastor and the steward witnessed the incident. On their evidence, they’ll hang me. I’m sorry,  but with the news Dr Dee has brought, I must leave.”

“If you’ve not sinned, the Lord will protect you.”

“The Lord might, Father, but the law might not. I must clear my name.”

There was a loud knock at the front door. A cry rang out: “The Queen’s constables here. Open up in the name of the law.”

“Well, that was prescient, Dr Dee,” Laurens said. “They’re here already.”

There were voices at the front door, and then a knock at the study door. It was the footman.

“What is it?” Laurens asked him.

“The constables are here with a warrant to arrest Master Nelan for murder.”

“Let them in,” Laurens said.

“No, don’t!” Nelan cried.

“Let. Them. In,” Laurens snapped.

The footman left the study.

“Then I must go,” Nelan said.

“No,” his father replied. “We are visitors here. Refugees. England is renowned for its adherence to the law. You must surrender to the  constables.”

“Quickly, Dr Dee, what do I do?” Nelan asked.

“There are other significant elements in your horoscope that suggest you have a part to play in the future of this country. That’s why  I’m here to help you escape: because you can’t do that while confined  within a prison. So, you must run away and avoid capture for as long as  possible. Then you can absolve yourself of this unjust accusation. Now,  you must go,” Dee said, pointing to the window.

Nelan opened it.

“Do not go,” his father said. “You must defend yourself, and my honour.”

“Father, I must. The constables—”

Laurens squeezed himself between Nelan and the window. There he stood, legs astride, arms folded, glaring at him. At times, he had a  fearsome presence. This was one of them. “You are staying here,” he  said through gritted teeth.

“But, Dr Dee, even if I run, they’ll catch me,” Nelan said. “It’s broad daylight outside.”

“Not anymore,” Dee murmured, nodding his head. “Look out the window.”

Outside, a mist as thick as pea soup hung over the river. Where’s that come from? Did it arise naturally, or did Dr Dee conjure it out of the  ether? 

“Where is he?” an unfamiliar voice boomed from the corridor.

“Nelan, be a man,” his father said, “and account for your actions.

If you flee, you will dishonour the Michaels’ family name.”

Nelan clenched his fists. “Father, I have to find another way to clear my name. I’ll not end my days in Newgate or Marshalsea for a  crime I didn’t commit. Besides, if anyone’s guilty, it’s Guillermo. Now,  move, please!”

“I will not!”

“This time, I’ll not bow to your wishes. I’m innocent and disappointed that you don’t believe me. I beg you, get out of my way.” “No.”

The study door burst open, and Laurens glanced towards the intruder. In one swift, agile movement Nelan darted between his  father’s legs and came out the other side. He scrambled onto the  windowsill and jumped down to the ground outside before his father  had time to stop him. Finally, he’d found an advantage to being small.  The ground was moist and soft from the mist. A light breeze swirled  vapour around him, adding a ghostly effect to the scene. From the  study he heard muffled voices: those of the constables, his father, and  Dr Dee.

He knew the paths leading to and from the house like he knew the course of the river. He felt invisible to the world, and in a way, he was.  Leaving one life behind and taking the first frightened, tentative steps  into a new one, he concentrated on every footstep. He could barely see  the path, but he knew that the river flowed by some fifty paces in front  of his house.

There he met an extraordinary sight. He stepped out of the swirling mist and into broad daylight. Apart from his house,  everywhere was clear: the north bank of the river in Chiswick, the  monastery of Syon Abbey to the west, and to the east the city of  London, where filaments of woodsmoke snaked into the dawn skies  on the horizon. The mist had settled around his house, but nowhere else. He’d never witnessed such a strange phenomenon in all the years  he’d lived there.

He still didn’t know the identity of the woman in his vision. During  the fire, she had made him freeze at the crucial moment. Providence  had spoken. So had Dr Dee, and so had Nelan’s horoscope. Dee had  told him that he had a part to play in England’s future. What on earth  did that entail? If only he could have had more time with Dr Dee.  But time was the one thing he didn’t have, so, after one last Parthian  glance at his old home, he set off along the riverbank away from the  mysterious cloud of mist and into a new life.




About Justin Newland:


JUSTIN NEWLAND’s novels represent an innovative blend of
genres from historical adventure to  supernatural thriller and magical
realism. His stories explore the themes of war and religion, and
speculate on the human’s spiritual place in the universe.  

Undeterred by the award of a Doctorate in Mathematics from
Imperial College, London, he  conceived his debut novel, The Genes of
(Matador, 2018), an epic fantasy set under Ancient Egyptian

The historical thriller, The Old Dragon’s Head (Matador,
2018), is set in Ming Dynasty China  in the shadows of the Great

The Coronation (Matador, 2019) was another historical adventure and
speculates on the genesis  of the most important event in the modern world
– the Industrial Revolution.  The Abdication (Matador, 2021) is a
mystery thriller in which a young woman confronts her faith  in a higher
purpose and what it means to abdicate that faith.  

The Mark of the Salamander (Book Guild, 2023) is the first in a two-book series, The
Island of  Angels.
Set in the Elizabethan era, it’s an epic tale of
England’s coming of age.  His WIP is the second in the series, The
Midnight of Eights
, the charting of the uncanny  coincidences that led
to the repulse of the Spanish Armada.  

Author, speaker and broadcaster, Justin appears on LitFest
panels, gives talks to historical  associations and libraries and enjoys
giving radio interviews and making podcasts.  Born three days before the
end of 1953, he lives with his partner in plain sight of the Mendip  Hills
in Somerset, England. 

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub


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