Review: Burn Down, Rise Up

Title: Burn Down, Rise Up
Author: Vincent Tirado
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Contemporary
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Source: Raincoast Books
Format: Paperback ARC
Release Date: May 3, 2022
Rating: ★★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Stranger Things meets Get Out in this Sapphic Horror debut from nonbinary, Afro-Latine author Vincent Tirado.

Mysterious disappearances.

An urban legend rumored to be responsible.

And one group of teens determined to save their city at any cost.

For over a year, the Bronx has been plagued by sudden disappearances that no one can explain. Sixteen-year-old Raquel does her best to ignore it. After all, the police only look for the white kids. But when her crush Charlize’s cousin goes missing, Raquel starts to pay attention—especially when her own mom comes down with a mysterious illness that seems linked to the disappearances.

Raquel and Charlize team up to investigate, but they soon discover that everything is tied to a terrifying urban legend called the Echo Game. The game is rumored to trap people in a sinister world underneath the city, and the rules are based on a particularly dark chapter in New York’s past. And if the friends want to save their home and everyone they love, they will have to play the game and destroy the evil at its heart—or die trying.

Review:

Fifteen-year-old Racquel has been ignoring the recent disappearances in her home of the Bronx for the last year. When Cisco, the cousin of her crush Charlize, goes missing and her mom comes down with a mysterious illness that’s linked to the disappearance, Racquel has to figure out what’s going on. Racquel and Charlize team up to play the Echo Game, which Cisco was playing when he went missing. She starts having visions of a burning version of the Bronx, which is hidden in the underground game. The game starts to blend into their reality, so they have to finish the game and make it out alive before it kills them. 

This story was so intense and hard to put down. The Echo Game was a terrifying ride through the subway, and the rules had to be followed precisely so that they wouldn’t get trapped there. The underground version of the Bronx was burning and full of the walking dead, so that added to the tension. 

The history of the Bronx was an important part of this story. I’ve never been there and I didn’t know the horrific history. The buildings were turned into slums and many were burned down in fires in the 1970s. There was even a bridge built that was too low to allow buses through so people couldn’t travel under the bridge. These were systemic problems that are still affecting them today. I appreciated that this history was woven into the narrative. 

Burn Down, Rise Up is an intense page-turner!

Thank you Raincoast Books and Sourcebooks Fire for providing a copy of this book.

What to read next:

Survive the Dome by Kosoko Jackson

The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Have you read Burn Down, Rise Up? What did you think of it?

Blog Tour Review: The Murder of Mr. Wickham

Title: The Murder of Mr. Wickham
Author: Claudia Gray
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Vintage
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Format: Ebook
Release Date: May 3, 2022
Rating: ★★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

A summer house party turns into a whodunit when Mr. Wickham, one of literature’s most notorious villains, meets a sudden and suspicious end in this mystery featuring Jane Austen’s leading literary characters.

The happily married Mr. Knightley and Emma are throwing a house party, bringing together distant relatives and new acquaintances—characters beloved by Jane Austen fans. Definitely not invited is Mr. Wickham, whose latest financial scheme has netted him an even broader array of enemies. As tempers flare and secrets are revealed, it’s clear that everyone would be happier if Mr. Wickham got his comeuppance. Yet they’re all shocked when Wickham turns up murdered—except, of course, for the killer hidden in their midst.

Nearly everyone at the house party is a suspect, so it falls to the party’s two youngest guests to solve the mystery: Juliet Tilney, the smart and resourceful daughter of Catherine and Henry, eager for adventure beyond Northanger Abbey; and Jonathan Darcy, the Darcys’ eldest son, whose adherence to propriety makes his father seem almost relaxed. The unlikely pair must put aside their own poor first impressions and uncover the guilty party—before an innocent person is sentenced to hang.

Review:

The happily married Knightly couple decide to throw a house party, with four other couples attending. These couples are the Darcys and their son, Jonathan, the Wentworths, the Brandons, and the Bertrams, as well as Juliet Tilney, the daughter of the Tilneys. The party comes to an abrupt stop when Mr. Wickham shows up. He has harmed each member of the party, either by personally harming a female relative or swindling them out of money. Mr. Wickham is trapped there with everyone during a storm. Then one night he is found dead. Everyone there has a motive to kill him, but Juliet Tilney and Jonathan Darcy both have alibis. This younger generation take on the task of investigating the murder on their own, to prevent an innocent person from conviction. 

I love Jane Austen’s novels so I knew I would love this novel with all of them brought together. It was so well written! Each of the stories were assigned a year at the beginning of the book to show when they took place, so many years had passed from the events of some of the novels. It would be helpful for readers to be familiar with these characters before reading this one. The only problem I had was that the characters were very similar because they were similar in the original novels, but that isn’t a fault for this book. 

Mr. Wickham was a deplorable character from Pride and Prejudice, and he didn’t have any redeeming qualities. I don’t think I’ve ever read a mystery where I thought the victim deserved to be murdered right from the start. He had done horrible things to all of the characters, so any of them could be justified in murdering him. I was surprised at the outcome but I was glad at how it ended. 

The Murder of Mr. Wickham is a great murder mystery!

Thank you Vintage and Austenprose for providing a copy of this book.

What to read next:

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

Pride and Premeditation by Tirzah Price

About the author:

Claudia Gray is the pseudonym of Amy Vincent. She is the writer of multiple young adult novels, including the Evernight series, the Firebird trilogy, and the Constellation trilogy. In addition, she’s written several Star Wars novels, such as Lost Stars and Bloodline. She makes her home in New Orleans with her husband Paul and assorted small dogs.

Have you read The Murder of Mr. Wickham? What did you think of it?

Happy Pub Day – May 3

Happy Pub Day to all of these authors!

Book Lovers by Emily Henry

The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray

Darling Girl by Liz Michalski

I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston

Bravely by Maggie Stiefvater

The Agathas by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson

Family of Liars by E. Lockhart

Games in a Ballroom by Jentry Flint

Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado

When You Call My Name by Tucker Shaw

If You Change Your Mind by Robby Weber

The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester by Maya MacGregor

Inheritance by Elizabeth Acevedo

Confessions of an Alleged Good Girl by Joya Goffney

The Noh Family by Grace K. Shim

An Unreliable Magic by Rin Chupeco

How to Be the Best Third Wheel by Loridee De Villa

Ballad and Dagger by Daniel José Older

Girl Overboard by Sandra Block

The Prince of Nowhere by Rochelle Hassan

The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton

The Lost Chapter by Caroline Bishop

Chef’s Kiss by T.J. Alexander

Skander and the Unicorn Thief by A.F. Steadman

The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan by Salma Hussain

The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

When She Dreams by Amanda Quick

Book of Night by Holly Black

What books are you most excited for this week?

Blog Tour Excerpt: Love, Hate and Clickbait

Title: Love, Hate and Clickbait
Author: Liz Bowery
Genre: Romance, Contemporary, LGBTQ
Publisher: Mira
Release Date: April 26, 2022

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Shake some hands. Kiss some coworkers.

Cutthroat political consultant Thom Morgan is thriving, working on the governor of California’s presidential campaign. If only he didn’t have to deal with Clay Parker, the infuriatingly smug data analyst who gets under Thom’s skin like it’s his job. In the midst of one of their heated and very public arguments, a journalist snaps a photo, but the image makes it look like they’re kissing. As if that weren’t already worst-nightmare territory, the photo goes viral–and in a bid to secure the liberal vote, the governor asks them to lean into it. Hard.

Thom knows all about damage control–he practically invented it. Ever the professional, he’ll grin and bear this challenge as he does all others. But as the loyal staffers push the boundaries of “giving the people what they want,” the animosity between them blooms into something deeper and far more dangerous: desire. Soon their fake relationship is hurtling toward something very real, which could derail the campaign and cost them both their jobs…and their hearts.

Excerpt:

When he cared enough to try, Thom Morgan was great with people. For one thing, he was very handsome, which led most people to believe that he was charming. He also had bulletproof bullshitting skills, thanks to a lifetime in politics. And it was especially easy to win people over when they were caught up in emotional crap—like at a wedding.

So it wasn’t a surprise that he was a hit at his girlfriend’s sister’s wedding. Her family was eager to meet the boyfriend that Ashley had told them all about, and not just because of his looks or his charm. Everyone loved politics these days, and every Californian had an opinion of his boss, their governor, Leonora Westwood. Luckily, whenever someone tried to ask him something boring about the true business of governing—What’s she doing about forest management? Don’t you think taxes are too high? There’s a pothole outside my house—he could remind them what he really did for a living.

“Actually, I’m the governor’s top political consultant,” he said, injecting just the right amount of apology into his tone to make the boast go down seamlessly. “So I have less to do with the day-to-day and more—”

“Ahh, I got it, your eye’s on the White House,” said—Thad? Chad? Something bro-y, Thom hadn’t been listening. They were with the rest of the wedding party in a wallpapered bedroom, waiting for the ceremony to begin.

“Oh, no, of course not,” Thom said. “Right now we’re just focused on keeping forty million Californians happy.”

“Right now,” Chad said predictably. “But when the primaries roll around?”

Thom feigned a gaping mouth, as if he didn’t pretend to be caught off guard by this question dozens of times a day. “I mean, by then, who can really say…”

“Sure,” Brad said, looking fucking ecstatic to be in on the world’s biggest open secret: that Leonora Westwood would be running for president next year, which was exactly why she’d hired Thom.

Thom winked at him and took a swig of his beer. Then he glanced at Ashley across the room and sent her a silent plea for help with his eyes. She muffled a laugh behind her hand before quickly crossing the room to them, saying to Thad, “Excuse me—I have to steal him away for a second.”

Out in the elegant hallway of Ashley’s parents’ home, Thom slumped against the wall in relief. “Thank god,” he said, phone already in hand. “Any more small talk with the yokels and I would’ve melted down.”

“Uh, hey,” Ashley said, batting his hand away before he could look at his phone. “Don’t I deserve more thanks than that?”

“You’re right,” he said, grinning and reeling her in with his arms around her waist. “Thank you, thank you…”

He trailed off as he kissed her. After a moment, she made an unhappy noise against his lips. “What?” he asked, pulling back. “Don’t like my technique?”

“I can feel your phone in the small of my back,” she said.

He grinned wider. “Is it a turn-on?”

“Definitely not.” She pulled away. With a sigh and a glance down the hall, she said, “I should go make sure my sister’s ready. It’s almost time.”

“Fine,” he said. “Leave me here alone.”

“Don’t stay on that thing the whole time,” Ashley said as she backed down the hall. “Go mingle! Network. Do your thing.”

“Trust me,” he told her, “the only person here I care about is you.”

A small, happy smile flashed across her face. Then she ducked away, down the hall.

That left Thom alone with his phone, so that he could finally—finally—check on news from the office. Governor Westwood—or Lennie, as her staff called her—had just wrapped up an incredibly successful trip to Singapore, and he was eager to see how it was playing in the news. International trips weren’t exactly standard fare for governors, but given the size of California’s economy, it made sense for Governor Westwood to travel overseas to develop the state’s trade relationships. Of course, the real reason for the visit would come across plain as day but go tastefully unspoken: an international trip made Lennie look like a head of state.

Like, say, a future president.

Thom grinned as he scrolled through all the good headlines the trip was generating so far. Lennie’s plane should have just touched down in Van Nuys, so she’d be back in the office soon. Itching with impatience, he slid his phone back into his pocket and strolled over to a window at the end of the hallway. He was in no mood to rejoin the other groomsmen, so he took his time scanning the crowd that was milling around in the garden among the spindly white chairs that had been set up for the ceremony. Ashley’s family was vast, well-off, and very well-connected, and he’d met many of them at other pre-wedding events. Unfortunately, it seemed that some of her most notable relatives had decided not to attend. Shame.

His phone pinged in his pocket. When he checked it, he jolted in excitement: it was an email from a Politico reporter he’d been chasing for months. Finally, the guy had gotten back to him—he wanted to stop by the office to chat about a possible article on the Singapore trip, and he wanted to do it now.

National coverage. Thom’s mouth watered, and he made a quick but easy decision.

Sliding his phone into his suit pocket, he strolled back down the hallway to the room Ashley had disappeared into. He knocked gently, and when he poked his head in, he was greeted by a cloud of perfume and tulle. “Hi, ladies,” he said with a grin. “Ashley, can I grab you for a sec?”

She rolled her eyes, clearly thinking he wanted to get her into a dark corner to make out some more. “Give me a second, girls,” she said, and followed him out into the hall.

Outside, she ran her hands up the sides of his suit jacket, looking put-upon but also warmed by the attention. “What now?” she asked. “More small talk you want to avoid?”

“Mmm,” he said, and kissed her before pulling back. “No, sadly. Um, I hate to do this—”

She frowned. “What is it?”

“Nine-one-one at the office,” he said, grimacing as if this was paining him. “I have to go.”

“Go? What do you mean, go?” She blinked, confused. “Thom, you’re in the wedding.”

“I know.” 

“You—you asked me to be in the wedding,” she said in dawning outrage. “You bothered me about it constantly until I forced my sister to make you a groomsman.”

He winced, saying, “I know, but—”

“No, are you kidding me?” she demanded. “You’re really going to leave?”

“They need me over there!” To fluff a reporter. “It’s an emergency.”

“No,” Ashley said firmly, shaking her head. “You work all the time. I’m sure they can spare you long enough not to ruin my sister’s wedding.”

“I’m so sorry, babe,” he said, pouting. “I’ll make it up to you.”

“No!” Ashley shouted quietly, seemingly struggling between her anger and her desire not to cause a scene. “I’m serious, Thom. No.”

He said nothing. As she realized that he was really about to leave, she stared daggers at him and whispered, “If you leave this wedding, we’re over.”

Thom pressed his lips together, making a point of looking pained and indecisive. When he felt like it had been long enough, he sighed and said, “Okay.”

Ashley was stunned. “You’re…you’re breaking up with me?”

“I don’t want to,” he said. He kind of did want to. The relationship had really reached the limits of its utility for him. “But babe, I told you—”

“You have to go to work,” Ashley said bitterly. “You always cared about your job more than me.”

True, but he’d been willing to put in his time anyway—after all, her uncle was a Supreme Court justice, which made her family nothing short of DC royalty. But being a groomsman had paid off a lot less than he’d hoped in that regard, and her uncle hadn’t even bothered to fly out for the wedding, which probably meant he was going to die soon anyway. So much for that connection.

Thom took Ashley’s hand in his. “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice low and passionate.

Ashley glared at him, tears hovering in her eyes. Thom was used to that look—he saw it a lot when his relationships ended, if he even bothered doing it face-to-face. He just couldn’t understand why the women he dated got so invested in him. Most of them were in politics too, or in similar fields, where winning and advancing were all that mattered. Why did they let emotions get in the way of that?

Ashley yanked her hand out of his and walked away. Thom blew out a relieved breath and jogged outside to meet his Uber.

Once he was on the way, he scanned the headlines on his phone again. Right now they were in the midst of one of the most delicate stages of campaigning: the pre-primary. The first presidential primary contests were so far-off that it was too early, and would be viewed as unseemly, to be openly campaigning. Instead, Lennie had to achieve a favorable position for the upcoming primary without seeming like she was doing anything at all. It was like trying to win a race she couldn’t afford to be seen running in.

And she had her work cut out for her, because the current front-runner in both the pre- and actual primary was not Lennie but Senator Samuel Warhey. A veteran and former elementary school teacher, he’d become famous for having saved dozens of students during a dangerous flood in the eighties. That star-making moment had propelled him to the governor’s mansion and then the Senate, and he maintained the glow of nonpolitical celebrity. He was on the older side, but young enough for it to come across as gravitas. He was moderate in his voting record but passionate on the stump. He was experienced, he was popular, he was good on TV, and his staff had not returned any of Thom’s calls.

So, he’d ended up taking a job with Lennie. And that was to his liking, anyway: he could stay in the city that he loved. Technically, the office of the Governor of California was in Sacramento, but Lennie was smart enough to know that she wouldn’t recruit any top-flight talent if she forced them to relocate to that shithole. Interns and volunteers were thick on the ground in Los Angeles, and so were many of the top political reporters on the West Coast, who were much easier to entice to cover Lennie’s campaign when it was in their backyard.

Thom had grown up in the sleepy inland California suburbs, but he’d moved to LA as soon as he’d had a chance. As his ride traveled from the secluded, leafy neighborhood where the wedding had been to the dense heart of the city where Lennie’s office was located, glittering high-rises surrounded them. A shadow fell on Thom’s face as the sun was blotted out, and he smiled to himself.

Senator Warhey was from Indiana. DC, Thom would relocate for, but the Midwest? No fucking thank you.

Anyway, taking Lennie from the middle of the pack to the White House would be his crowning achievement. Thom had managed some mayoral and state senate campaigns in his day, ghostwritten a few speeches, done a few good media hits, but it hadn’t been enough to build him a national profile, not just yet. He’d have been one more aspiring staffer to Warhey. To Lennie, he was a lifeline.

The plan was this: in three months, right after New Year’s, Lennie would officially announce the launch of her campaign. She’d follow the announcement with a nationwide tour of stump speeches and town halls, highlighting her bio and her accomplishments. From there it’d be Iowa, debates, the general election, and Thom getting a sun-soaked apartment in Foggy Bottom with a nice short commute to the West Wing.

He could see it already. Propelling Lennie to the White House was a crucial part of his life plan. Since joining the campaign he’d already gained some much-deserved notoriety—he’d finally gotten that blue checkmark on Twitter, and he was racking up followers. With the Singapore trip having gone so well, it felt like all the pieces were finally falling into place.

At the office, three separate staffers congratulated him on how the trip was playing. Every TV in the bullpen was set to news coverage of the trip so that he could drink in the spoils of his plan.

And leaning against his desk, the cherry on top of his perfect day, was Felicia Morales. Felicia was Lennie’s chief of staff, and had been with her roughly since birth. As usual, she held a cooling coffee in one hand and her phone in the other. Her black hair was coiled in a neat bun at the nape of her neck, and her golden skin somehow always glowed even though she saw as little sun as Thom. Her lips and eyebrows were set in a perpetual, subtle smirk that said Don’t fuck with me.

He had definitely thought about fucking her anyway. But he and Felicia had built a good working relationship over the last year. As one of Lennie’s newer hires, it had taken time and patience for him to win her trust. Sure, she was gorgeous, and there was occasionally a tension between them that hinted there could be more, but Thom was fine with things as is. He didn’t want to rock the boat.

“Seems like it’s going well,” Felicia said mildly, not looking up from her phone. 

Thom grinned and shucked his jacket, draping it carefully over his chair. “Where’s the governor?”

“Her plane was scheduled to land a few minutes ago, so she should be en route.”

Thom sat down. “You’re not going to congratulate me?”

That finally got her to glance at him. “I said it was going well, didn’t I?”

He leaned back and closed his eyes, basking in the glow of his success. “Hey, great job,” another staffer said as he walked past Thom’s office.

Before he could respond, another voice called out, loud and brusque, “Fuck yeah!”

Thom rolled his eyes as Clay Parker strolled into view, pointing at the guy he’d thought was talking to him. He stopped when he reached Thom’s office doorway and added, loudly to make sure he’d be overheard, “Man, it’s good to finally be getting some recognition around here.”

Clay was one of the governor’s most recent hires, brought on to helm their data analytics department, whatever that was. As a person, Clay was both thoroughly unimpressive and massively impressed with himself.

“Uh, Clay?” Felicia said. “He was congratulating Thom.”

Clay scowled. “For what?”

Thom stood up and walked over to him. “The real question is, what would he have been congratulating you for?”

Clay crossed his arms as Thom came closer. He was a tall guy, but his frame wasn’t intimidating so much as gawky. It didn’t help that he wore ugly bargain-basement suits that he clearly didn’t get tailored, based on the way they gaped and bunched in strange places. His sandy-brown hair was tufty and bowl shaped, like his mother cut it for him, and he had broad, blunt features that could have made him look brooding or mysterious, except that every single emotion Clay felt appeared immediately on his face.

And every single one of Clay’s emotions was terrible.

Clay answered smugly, “Uh, for being the guy who’s single-handedly keeping this campaign afloat?”

“Oh, god,” Thom muttered.

“What do you even do around here?” Clay asked. “Oh, you sent her to another country? How is that helpful, Thom, she’s running for president of America.”

“Well, we can’t all sit in our offices and tweet all day,” Thom said.

“Hey, I’m generating the most valuable currency this campaign will ever have—page views and clicks, baby.” Thom shuddered as Clay rubbed his fingers together. “I’m building buzz.”

“Ew,” Felicia said.

“Clay, what can I do to get you to leave my office?” Thom asked. “Wait, I have an idea.” He reached for his door to slam it in Clay’s face.

Clearly predicting this, Clay jerked to the side and quickly said, “You’re just jealous about the article.”

Thom narrowed his eyes. “What article?”

Clay grinned in a way he probably thought was intriguing. “You didn’t hear?” he asked, and brazenly sauntered past Thom into his office. Thom stiffened, but Felicia held up a hand as if to say Let’s see where this goes.

Clay stopped by the TV in Thom’s office, which had been silently playing cable news. He tapped around on his phone until the screen flickered off, then lit up again with what must have been on his phone. “Read it and weep,” he said.

Thom sighed and looked at the screen, which was showing a profile of Clay on some website he’d never heard of. 

“Ousted Pinpoint Founder Clay Parker…” He read the start of the headline and didn’t bother to read the rest.

Clay’s past career, if you could call it that, had been in Silicon Valley, where he’d cofounded a database management program with his college roommate. The software had taken the tech world by storm, but right before they’d all gotten rich, Clay had been unceremoniously dumped from the company. The rumor was that his roommate had invented the whole thing and Clay had just hitched on for the ride. There was no way to tell for sure, but just weeks after the company sold, Clay’s roommate had been snapped up as the head of data analytics for Senator Warhey, and they’d gotten a nice round of press coverage about their cutting-edge campaign. Lennie had hired Clay the next week.

Clay was standing by the big-screen version of the article with his arms crossed, smug satisfaction radiating from every pore. “Great,” Thom said. “You got another gullible journalist to write about your sob story.”

“My quest for justice,” Clay corrected him. “My noble quest.”

“And why the hell did you do this now, anyway?” Thom asked, irritated. “This whole week is supposed to be about my Singapore trip.”

“The governor’s Singapore trip,” Felicia interjected.

“Hers, ours, the trip,” Thom said, waving his hand back at her and then at the screen. “This was not on the message calendar this week.”

Clay’s cocky smile just widened. “Wow. You are jealous.”

Thom ground his teeth. Felicia, meanwhile, seemed more concerned about the substance of the article, squinting as she quickly skimmed it from the screen. “Clay, this is all about you and Pinpoint,” she said. “You don’t even mention the governor. How is this supposed to help the campaign?” 

“I work for the campaign,” Clay said, as if this was obvious. “So an article about me brings publicity to the campaign.”

“Not really.”

“Uh, guys, I’m a celebrity,” Clay said, emphasizing the word so hard it made Thom’s jaw crack. “That’s why you hired me.”

The only way in which Clay was a celebrity was that he’d become a meme based on some footage of him having a meltdown outside the courthouse where he’d been locked in a legal battle with his former roommate. Clay had gone in close to one of the news cameras and yelled, “Lawsuit, bitch!” These days people mostly used it as a reaction GIF.

“You’re not a celebrity, Clay,” Thom said. “You’re like a D-list Winklevoss twin.”

He smirked. “At least people know who I am.”

“Then I feel sorry for them.”

“Oh, come on,” Clay said good-naturedly, turning back to the screen and scrolling on his phone so that the article jerked downward with a pixelated blur. “You don’t—”

“Clay,” Felicia interrupted him, staring down at her phone with a taut expression. “Is your stupid screen mirroring thing interfering with our Wi-Fi?”

“What?” Thom bleated, feeling an instinctual jab of panic as he looked at his own phone. Shocked, he realized that he hadn’t gotten any new emails in the last two minutes. Horror flooded him.

“It may have jammed the signal a little,” Clay said defensively. “But only because the office’s Wi-Fi already sucks, which by the way I’ve been trying to get you to—”

“Fix it,” Thom hissed, grabbing Clay’s tragically off-the-rack jacket in his fist. “Now. I cannot be off-line.”

“Wait,” Felicia said. “It seems like it’s coming—oh. Shit.”

Thom went cold. “What? What is it?” 

Felicia’s phone was buzzing intensely, dozens of backdated messages flowing in as the network came back online. Thom’s phone did the same a second later.

“Uh, guys?” A staffer poked his head into Thom’s office, an ominous look on his face. “I think you might want to see this.”

Dread climbing up his throat, Thom followed Fe out into the bullpen, where another staffer was turning up the volume on one of the TVs. On the news, a clip was playing of the governor at the airport just a little while ago. It was a shaky handheld video of Lennie walking across the airport tarmac to her car, smiling and laughing as she bantered with reporters. She looked a bit disheveled from her long plane ride, and a lock of hair was sticking up oddly on one side of her head, like she’d slept on it funny. As she drew even with her car and someone opened the door for her, one of the reporters shouted, “Governor, what’s with the hair?”

Lennie frowned and put a hand on her head. Then she rolled her eyes and said, at a volume the mics picked up distressingly well, “Well, that’s what happens when you have no gays on your staff.”

The clip froze, and silence fell across the office.

“Fuck,” Thom said.

“Double fuck,” Felicia said.

This was going to fuck them in the campaign. It would kill all the good press Thom had gotten from her international trip. In the invisible race, this was like falling into a sinkhole.

The comment made Lennie look homophobic. It made her look retrograde. It made her look like a senile relative everyone dreaded seeing at Thanksgiving. Their base voters were liberal—hate-has-no-home-here, we’re-glad-you’re-our neighbor, the-A-is-for-Ally liberal. Bigotry was basically the worst thing they could be accused of. 

On the TV, the clip had ended and the cable news anchor was shaking his head, looking incredibly disappointed as he cut to a six-person panel. Felicia had a look of fixed dread on her face that Thom was sure matched his own. In his palm, his phone buzzed again, and he glanced down to see a text from that Politico reporter he’d promised to meet up with: Almost there. Spoiler alert: I’m writing about the gaffe now, not the Singapore trip.

“Fuck.” His week of perfect news coverage was crashing and burning before his eyes. “Why?” he heard himself whine to Felicia. “Why the fuck would she say that?”

“Because I know I can always count on assholes like you to clean it up for me,” a silky-smooth voice said from the doorway.

Lennie Westwood was exactly what you’d want in a political candidate: beautiful, charming, and ruthless. Most voters thought of her as a down-to-earth farmer because she mentioned her family’s beloved almond farm every chance she got, despite the fact that most of her millions came from massive agribusiness and GMOs. She picked her policy positions with the help of Thom and Felicia’s polling data, and she was smart enough to seem warm instead of smart on TV. She had honey-brown hair and big hazel eyes that usually seemed wide and understanding.

Right now they were staring daggers at Thom. “Uh. Madam Governor,” Thom said feebly. “I—I didn’t—”

“Oh, I know you didn’t, Thom,” she said warningly. “I know you wouldn’t be so fucking disrespectful after I just worked the whole way back on a sixteen-hour flight that you sent me on.”

“Ma’am,” Thom said, swallowing, “I really—”

“Maybe we should do this in private,” Felicia broke in, glancing around the office. 

“Great idea,” Lennie said, with a poisonous smile. “Thom, grab us some coffee, would you? Maybe that’s a job more suited for your talents.”

Meekly, he responded, “Happy to, ma’am.” As Felicia followed the governor into her office, he grabbed her arm and said under his breath, “The blinds.”

Felicia glanced at the blinds on the interior windows of the governor’s office and nodded. Reporters were always drifting in and out of the office looking for quotes or consulting with someone on a story, and Thom didn’t want any of them to see the campaign in crisis mode. After the door shut behind her, Felicia drew them closed.

Thom turned around to find the entire bullpen staring at him. In the background, the cable news coverage was still dissecting the gaffe, and Thom heard one commentator say, “Is this the end of the Westwood campaign?” His heart was racing, and everyone in the office seemed as on edge as he was. Everyone except one.

Clay strolled past Thom, whistling under his breath. Thom straightened the cuff on his jacket and followed him down the hallway.

When they were sufficiently out of view of the bullpen, Thom grabbed Clay by the arm and threw him against the frosted-glass wall, balling his fists in Clay’s jacket and leaning in close to hiss, “You. How do you always manage to fuck up everything?”

“What?” Clay protested, though he didn’t actually push back against Thom’s arms pressing him into the wall.

“It’s always you making this office look ridiculous,” Thom spat. “If you ever fucking cut me off from the internet again, I will personally cut your balls off of your body, okay?”

“Let me go,” Clay said, squirming against him. He was a good deal taller than Thom and should have been able to fight back, but instead he was like a child, huffing and clawing at his wrists ineffectually.

“God, you’re pathetic,” Thom commented.

“Shut up,” Clay said. “You’re just pissed because you’re threatened by me.”

Thom barked out a laugh. “Threatened by you?” He tightened his fist in Clay’s shirt, pinning him in place. Clay’s whole face was flushed, his mousy hair frizzed and sticking up in all directions. Thom lowered his voice and leaned in. “Do you not understand what a joke you are?”

Clay flinched.

“My god,” Thom breathed. “You’re so useless you don’t even know how useless you are. I bet you think you’re like me, some power player with real influence around here. But you’re not. You’re nothing.”

As Thom spoke, Clay’s face went from furrowed in anger to slack with shock and humiliation. As always, Thom could read every thought that flitted across his face. It actually made his blood run cold, imagining what it would be like to be that transparent, that vulnerable—to have no poker face whatsoever.

Clay’s breath was coming fast, his wide shoulders taut where Thom was pinning him. But his pale green eyes were fixed on Thom, blinking sluggishly. As the seconds ticked by, it became clear that he was searching for a comeback, but couldn’t quite think of one.

Thom wondered what that was like. To not always have something venomous on the tip of your tongue.

The silence had gone on too long, and Thom felt more exhausted than victorious. His heart was still pounding, though it was starting to slow. He let go of Clay’s collar, shoving him away.

“Fuck you, Thom,” Clay said hollowly, and lumbered off. 

From around the corner, Thom heard Felicia call his name sharply. “You coming?”

He sighed, and followed her into the lion’s den.

Excerpted from LOVE, HATE & CLICKBAIT by Liz Bowery, © 2022 by Liz Bowery. Used with permission from MIRA/HarperCollins.

About the author:

Liz Bowery writes love stories about terrible people. Her interests include politics, cheese, TV shows you can’t stop watching even when it’s 3 AM, and playing Among Us with friends. Like most romance writers, she is a lawyer, and lives in Alexandria, Virginia with her family. Cover Story is her debut novel.

Is this one on your TBR?

Review: Meet Me in the Margins

Title: Meet Me in the Margins
Author: Melissa Ferguson
Genre: Romance, Contemporary
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Source: Purchased
Format: Ebook
Release Date: February 15, 2022
Rating: ★★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Savannah Cade is a low-level editor at Pennington Publishing, a prestigious publisher producing only the highest of highbrow titles. And while editing the latest edition of The Anthology of Medieval Didactic Poetry may be her day job, she has two secrets she’s hiding.

One: She’s writing a romance novel.

Two: She’s discovered the Book Nook—a secret room in the publishing house where she finds inspiration for her “lowbrow” hobby.

After leaving her manuscript behind one afternoon, she returns to the nook only to discover someone has written notes in the margins. Savannah’s first response to the criticism is defensive, but events transpire that force her to admit that she needs the help of this shadowy editor after all. As the notes take a turn for the romantic, and as Savannah’s madcap life gets more complicated than ever, she uses the process of elimination to identify her mysterious editor—only to discover that what she truly wants and what she should want just might not be the same. Melissa Ferguson’s latest—a love letter to books, readers, and romance—will leave fans laughing out loud and swooning in the same breath.

Review:

Savannah Cade is an acquisitions editor at the high-brow Pennington Press which publishes literary fiction and nonfiction. She has two secrets. The first is that she’s writing a romance novel under the pen name Holly Ray. The second is that she’s found a hidden room in the attic of her office. When she sends her manuscript to an editor, she’s given 44 days to improve it before that editor retires. Savannah leaves the manuscript in her secret room one day, and comes back to find that someone has made editorial notes. At first she’s offended at the criticism, but when she realizes these notes the ones from the editor, she decides to take the advice. As Savannah improves this manuscript, she tries to figure out the identity of her mystery editor. 

This was such a fun story. I loved the writing aspects of it. Savannah struggled with her manuscript in many of the same ways I have in the past. It’s hard to take criticism, but with the right editor, it can really make a difference. 

This was a slow romance. There wasn’t really any romance until the end. However, it was fun to see Savannah and her mystery editor slowly get closer throughout the anonymous editing process. 

Meet Me in the Margins is a fun bookish romance!

What to read next:

The Cul-de-Sac War by Melissa Ferguson

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer

Have you read Meet Me in the Margins? What did you think of it?

Review: Darling Girl

Title: Darling Girl
Author: Liz Michalski
Genre: Contemporary, Fantasy
Publisher: Dutton
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Format: Ebook
Release Date: May 3, 2022
Rating: ★★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In this beautiful, grounded, and darkly magical modern-day reimagining of J. M. Barrie’s classic, to save her daughter’s life one woman must take on the infamous Peter Pan–who is not the innocent adventurer the fairy tales make him out to be . . .

Life is looking up for Holly Darling, granddaughter of Wendy–yes, that Wendy. She’s running a successful skincare company; her son, Jack, is happy and healthy; and the tragedy of her past is well behind her . . . until she gets a call that her daughter, Eden, who has been in a coma for nearly a decade, has gone missing from the estate where she’s been long tucked away. And, worst of all, Holly knows who must be responsible: Peter Pan, who is not only very real, but more dangerous than anyone could imagine.

Eden’s disappearance is a disaster for more reasons than one. She has a rare condition that causes her to age rapidly–ironic, considering her father is the boy who will never grow up–which also makes her blood incredibly valuable. It’s a secret that Holly is desperate to protect, especially from Eden’s half-brother, Jack, who knows nothing about his sister or the crucial role she plays in his life. Holly has no one to turn to–her mother is the only other person in the world who knows that Peter is more than a story, but she refuses to accept that he is not the hero she’s always imagined. Desperate, Holly enlists the help of Christopher Cooke, a notorious ex-soldier, in the hopes of rescuing Eden before it’s too late . . . or she may lose both her children.

Darling Girl brings all the magic of the classic Peter Pan story to the present, while also exploring the dark underpinnings of fairy tales, grief, aging, sacrifice, motherhood, and just how far we will go to protect those we love.

Review:

Holly Darling is the granddaughter of Wendy Darling, who travelled with Peter Pan a hundred years ago. The story made the Darling family famous, but only they know that it was a true story. Holly has experienced many tragedies, including losing her husband and son in a car accident. Her remaining son is happy and healthy, but that’s come at a cost. One day, Holly gets a call that her daughter has gone missing from her home in Cornwall. Her daughter, Eden, has been in a coma for ten years, and has a rare condition that causes her to age quickly so she looks much older than her thirteen years. The problem is that Eden is a secret. Holly hasn’t told her friends or even her son that Eden exists. Holly returns to her childhood home, enlisting an ex-soldier, Christopher Cooke, to find her daughter before Peter Pan returns to their lives. 

I tried to read the original Peter Pan story a year ago but I couldn’t get into it. I watched the movies when I was a kid so I know the story. I really enjoyed this book. It would be helpful for readers to have some familiarity with the story, because many of the characters were referenced, but it was a very different kind of story. 

This story took a dark turn that I wasn’t expecting. It was unusual that Holly kept her ill daughter a secret from everyone who was close to her, so that was a hint that this wouldn’t have the same fairytale feeling as Peter Pan. Some of the dark scenes included drug abuse, drug overdose, kidnapping, and rape. These intense scenes took away the innocence of the original story and made it more mature. 

Dating Girl is a dark twist on Peter Pan.

Thank you Wunderkind PR and Dutton for providing a copy of this book.

What to read next:

Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas

Have you read Darling Girl? What did you think of it?

Happy Pub Day – April 26

Happy Pub Day to all of these authors!

Veil by Dylan Farrow

Love, Hate and Clickbait by Liz Bowery

Hunters of the Lost City by Kali Wallace

Watch Out for Her by Samantha M. Bailey

Never a Duke by Grace Burrowes

The Wrong Victim by Allison Brennan

Harley Quinn: Reckoning by Rachael Allen

The Good Left Undone by Adriana Trigiani

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel

The Discord of Gods by Jenn Lyons

The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon

Buffalo is the New Buffalo by Chelsea Vowel

Dandelion by Jamie Chai Yun Liew

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher

The Island of Forgetting by Jasmine Sealy

Dig Two Graves by Gretchen McNeil

Uncertain Kin by Janice Lynn Mather

Arden Grey by Ray Stoeve

What books are you most excited for this week?

Review: Shattered Midnight (The Mirror #2)

Title: Shattered Midnight (The Mirror #1)
Author: Dhonielle Clayton
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Format: Ebook
Release Date: January 18, 2022
Rating: ★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Zora Broussard has arrived in New Orleans with not much more than a bag of clothes, a beautiful voice, and a pair of enchanted red shoes. Running from a tragic accident caused by her magic, Zora wants nothing more than to blend in, as well as to avoid her overbearing aunt and mean-spirited cousins. Music becomes Zora’s only means of escape, yet she wonders if she should give it all up to remove the powers that make her a target, especially as a Black woman in the South.

But when Zora gets the chance to perform in a prominent jazz club, she meets a sweet white pianist named Phillip with magic of his own, including a strange mirror that foretells their future together. Falling into a forbidden love, Zora and Phillip must keep their relationship a secret. And soon the two discover the complicated connection between their respective families, a connection that could lead to catastrophe for them both. In the era of segregation and speakeasies, Zora must change her destiny and fight for the one she loves . . . or risk losing everything.

Review:

1928: Zora Broussard has moved to New Orleans to live with her aunt and cousins after causing a tragic accident with her magic in New York. She brought her grandmother’s red slippers to protect her. Her only escape from her family is when she sneaks out to a club to sing, but she has to be careful to follow the rules imposed on her as a Black woman in the South. Zora’s magic comes out through her music, so she has to work to not lose control. She meets Phillip, a white pianist, at the club and everything changes. Phillip has a magic mirror that was passed down through his family, which shows him the future, including a woman lying in a coffin with Zora’s red slippers. Zora is scared of causing another accident with her magic so she makes a deal to get rid of her magic. She must find a bigger solution to her forbidden romance with Phillip so they can be together. 

This is the second book in The Mirror series. This series tells the story of a family through generations. The first one was about Zora’s grandparents, who were mentioned many times in this book. I love how it shows how stories and mementos are passed down through a family, with some magic added in too.

There seemed to be a lot of important plot points introduced and continued in this story. The mirror was continued from the first story, but there were some new things that Zora had to deal with in this story. There was a mysterious crow and snake symbol that appeared too. I’m really curious to see where this story goes with the next generation. 

Shattered Mirror is a great fairy-tale style story!

Thank you Disney for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What to read next:

Rebel Rose by Emma Theriault

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Other books in the series:

Have you read Shattered Midnight? What did you think of it?

Review: Belle Morte

Title: Belle Morte
Author: Bella Higgin
Genre: New Adult, Fantasy, Parnormal, Contemporary
Publisher: Wattpad Books
Source: Raincoast Books
Format: Paperback ARC
Release Date: April 5, 2022
Rating: ★★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

There’s only one way out.

Belle Morte. One of five houses where vampires reside as celebrities and humans are paid to be their living donors. While others came here seeking fortune, I came in search of my sister who walked into Belle Morte five months ago . . . and never walked back out.

Now that I’m here, the secrets about this world have proven to be much bigger than I ever anticipated. And lurking around every corner are shocking insinuations of what happened to my sister.

There’s only one person who might have the answers I need, and the undeniable pull I feel toward him is terrifying: Edmond Dantès―a vampire, and my mortal enemy.

The harder I try to resist him, the further I fall under his spell. And in one instant my life is irrevocably changed. My past becomes prologue and my fate becomes sealed behind these doors.

Belle Morte has spoken. And it may never let me go.

Review:

Belle Morte is one of the five vampire houses in the UK, where humans can work to be living blood donors to the vampires. Renie’s older sister June was obsessed with vampires, and she was chosen to live there. However, a few months later, June stopped sending letters to Renie and no one could tell her what happened. Renie decides to apply to live in Belle Morte to finally learn what happened to her, but when she arrives at the house, no one will answer her questions. Renie has to do her own investigation into what happened to her sister, but what she discovers is life changing. 

This was a refreshing vampire story. I loved that it focused on the “donor,” who had the job of giving their blood to vampires. Vampire are often characterized as predators but these ones paid people who wanted the chance to feed vampires. There were strict rules that they had to follow in the house to maintain a distance between the donors and the vampires, but they didn’t always follow these rules in this story. 

The vampire culture in this story reminded me of reality stars and influencers who are famous because of their famous parents or for no apparent reason. The vampires were rich and famous, just because they were vampires. A lot of the donors didn’t know what they were actually getting into by moving into the house, including June. This was an interesting way for the vampires to fit into modern society. 

Belle Morte is a fun and thrilling vampire story!

Thank you Raincoast Books and Wattpad Books for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What to read next:

Vampires Never Get Old edited by Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker

Have you read Belle Morte? What did you think of it?

Review: Squad

Title: Squad
Author: Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Lisa Sterle
Genre: Young Adult, Graphic Novel, Contemporary, Fantasy
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Source: Purchased
Format: Ebook
Release Date: October 5, 2021
Rating: ★★★★★

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Pretty Little Liars meets Teen Wolf in this fast-paced, sharply funny, and patriarchy-smashing graphic novel from author Maggie Tokuda-Hall and artist Lisa Sterle. When the new girl is invited to join her high school’s most popular clique, she can’t believe her luck—and she can’t believe their secret, either: they’re werewolves. Fans of Mariko Tamaki and Elana K. Arnold will devour the snappy dialogue, vivid artwork, and timely social commentary.

When Becca transfers to a high school in an elite San Francisco suburb, she’s worried she’s not going to fit in. To her surprise, she’s immediately adopted by the most popular girls in school. At first glance, Marley, Arianna, and Mandy are perfect. But at a party under a full moon, Becca learns that they also have a big secret.

Becca’s new friends are werewolves. Their prey? Slimy boys who take advantage of unsuspecting girls. Eager to be accepted, Becca allows her friends to turn her into a werewolf, and finally, for the first time in her life, she feels like she truly belongs.

But things get complicated when Arianna’s predatory boyfriend is killed, and the cops begin searching for a serial killer. As their pack begins to buckle under the pressure—and their moral high ground gets muddier and muddier—Becca realizes that she might have feelings for one of her new best friends.

Lisa Sterle’s stylish illustrations paired with Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s sharp writing make Squad a fun, haunting, and fast-paced thriller that will resonate with fans of Riverdale, and with readers of This Savage Song, Lumberjanes, and Paper Girls.

Review:

When Becca and her mom move to an elite suburb in San Francisco, she’s surprised to be welcomed into the popular clique at school. Arianna, Marley, and Mandy are idolized at school and go to all the parties. However, one night Becca learns their secret: they’re werewolves. Every month the wolves target a guy from another school who takes advantage of girls. Then the werewolves take turns feeding off of him. Becca joins in their hunting, until things take a dark turn. Arianna’s boyfriend is murdered, which makes the police investigate a number of similar murders of young men in the area. This puts pressure on the pack, and they have to figure out how to hide their true lifestyle. 

This graphic novel immediately reminded me of Mean Girls. Arianna, Marley, and Mandy were a lot like the Plastics. Becca was an unsuspecting new girl, who they took under their wing, just like Kady in Mean Girls. That’s one of my favourite movies, so these similarities were so fun. 

I loved the social justice part of this story. The werewolf pack wanted to get justice for the girls who had been harmed by these horrible guys, so they chose them as their targets. Some of the names of these guys were similar to real life male predators, which was an insightful reference. Eventually, though, these attacks went too far and the trail appeared to lead back to the wolf pack.

Squad is a fun, feminist graphic novel!

What to read next:

Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

Have you read Squad? What did you think of it?