Review: Amira & Hamza (The Quest for the Ring of Power)

Fun Middle Grade fantasy in book 2 of this great series. Get the full tour here!

Amira and Hamza are back in this epic sequel, which takes readers on a thrilling magical adventure as the siblings face their most terrifying and formidable opponent yet.

All human and jinn kind shall bow down to me. Control the Ring, control the worlds.

Amira and Hamza have returned from Qaf, the magical Jinn world, as triumphant heroes—and life has been pleasantly quiet. Too quiet. Hamza is determined to have one last monumental, epic adventure before summer ends. But when sneaking off to explore an old, abandoned castle goes from life-changing adventure to potentially deadly, Amira and Hamza find themselves in the middle of another dangerous quest to save the worlds. One they didn’t bargain for.

The siblings are brought face to face with the evil dev, Ahriman, angry and out for revenge. And if Amira and Hamza thought Ifrit was bad, his dad Ahriman, the last in an ancient line of fire spirits, is far worse. Ahriman kidnaps Hamza and forces him to help locate the lost Ring of Power, an ancient and mysterious artifact that will allow him to rule the universe. Desperate to save her brother, Amira must outsmart perilous traps and confounding puzzles in a race against time to retrieve the artifact before Ahriman does or say goodbye to Hamza and their world forever.

Book Links:


TOP FIVE REASONSE TO READ Amira & Hamza

  1. It’s smart! This book is definitely middle grade, but it’s so well written. Amira and Hamza are 100% kids and 100% smarties who can and just might actually save the universe. The writing is tight and the story flows fast, so even reluctant readers will be engaged.
  2. Amira & Hamza are hilarious. Their inner monologues and even when they talk to every other being in the world, is funny. They think like kids and they act like kids – which is so important in a book like this. These are kids that your kids and your neighbors kids can indentify with for sure.
  3. It’s a great lesson in multi-cultural experiences. There is a lot of lore, mystery, and history wrapped up in this seemingly simple kids book. If you want to expose your kids to other cultures in a fun, excitng way, this is the book for you.
  4. Amira & Hamza are true siblings. They love each other, but they fight. They want to protect each other, but they can be selfish. They’re committed to saving each other’s lives, but they annoy the snot out of each other. They are each other’s best friend, but they fight about their enemies and how to destroy them. They’re exactly what you think siblings should be.
  5. There is real stuff hidden in the story. Check out the back of the book when you’re done and you’ll learn the real history and information about some of the fantastical things in the story. It’s a great addition to your bookshelf, and it provides more resources for kids that want to learn more.

Samira Ahmed is the bestselling author of Love, Hate & Other FiltersInternmentMad, Bad & Dangerous to Know, and  Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds, as well as a Ms. Marvel comic book mini-series.  Her poetry, essays, and short stories have appeared in numerous publications and anthologies including the New York TimesTake the MicColor Outside the LinesVampires Never Get Old and A Universe of Wishes.

She was born in Bombay, India, and grew up in Batavia, Illinois, in a house that smelled like fried onions, spices, and potpourri. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Samira has taught high school English in both the suburbs of Chicago and New York City, worked in education non-profits, and spent time on the road for political campaigns.

Samira currently lives in the Midwest. When she’s not reading or writing, she can be found on her lifelong quest for the perfect pastry.

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Review: The Berliners

Thank you to TBR & Beyond Tours for the Review Copy! Check out the entire tour here!


About the Book:

A riveting story about the rivalry between two brothers living on opposite sides of the Berlin wall during its construction in the 1960s, and how their complicated legacy and dreams of greatness will determine their ultimate fate.

A city divided. A family fractured. Two brothers caught between past and present.

Berlin, 1961. Rudi Möser-Fleischmann is an aspiring photographer with dreams of greatness, but he can’t hold a candle to his talented, charismatic twin brother Peter, an ambitious actor.

With the sudden divorce of their parents, the brothers find themselves living in different sectors of a divided Berlin; the postwar partition strangely mirroring their broken family.But one night, as the city sleeps, the Berlin Wall is hurriedly built, dividing society further, and Rudi and Peter are forced to choose between playing by the rules and taking their dreams underground. That is, until the truth about their family history and the growing cracks in their relationship threaten to split them apart for good.

From National Book Award-nominated, critically acclaimed author-illustrator Vesper Stamper comes a stark look at how resentment and denial can strain the bonds of brotherhood to the breaking point.

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Review and Favorite Quotes:

I really enjoyed this book, even though it took longer than I thought it would to get to the action described in the description! There is a lot of build up as you learn about the year Peter & Rudi turn 16 and the wall goes up through Berlin. Rudi is more who I am (trying my best, often failing), while Peter is the golden child, successful, smart, funny, and passionate. As I followed them through their story, here are some of my favorite quotes and why I loved them:

“The Western sectors may have had better movies and pastries. But that wasn’t going to save the world.” pg 35
It’s such a Western brain to want to change the world and save the world, but think that some of the least consequential things ever would do that.

“He preferred to get the day into his bones so he could be equal to its challenges.” pg 46
As a NOT morning person, I totally agreed with Peter on this one. Let’s ease into the morning, the day, and the challenges. (My friend Tori, on the other hand, is full speed ahead into the day).

This was it, his answer. But he found, now that it was in his hands, that he couldn’t bear to open the envelope.” pg 107
Have you ever gotten a piece of mail you’ve been dying to get, but when it shows up, you’re not sure you REALLY want it? That’s Peter here and me about 9/10 of the time I get mail.

“This girl was unafraid to stand out, to be new and see it as adventure instead of terror.” pg 144
Maybe this also more who I’d like to be. The performer in me is this, but the real Emily is very much a blend in and not be pushed kind of person.

“You were always the minimalist, but now it’s me, the last one standing in an empty house.” pg 277
Peter is rage-cleaning everything, and finally finds himself like his brother.

The quotes stop there because I sped through the rest of the book. The wall has gone up both physically and metaphorically and the journey toward breaking it down was too interesting for me to keep remembering to write down the quotes I loved.


About the Author:

Born in Germany and raised in New York City, Vesper Stamper writes and illustrates novels which tell, through both words and pictures, stories of history’s rhymes. Her debut illustrated YA novel, What the Night Singsabout the aftermath of the Holocaust through the eyes of a young musician, was a National Book Award Nominee, a National Jewish Book Award Finalist, a Morris Award FinalistGolden Kite Honor Book and Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner, and was named one of the Best YA Books of 2018/9 by YALSA, the Wall Street Journal and Kirkus.

Vesper has a BFA in Illustration from Parsons and an MFA in Illustration as Visual Essay from School of Visual Arts and is the host of the podcast Vesperisms: The Art of Thinking for Yourself, which aims to cultivate a rehumanized worldview through artistic thinking. She lives with her husband, filmmaker Ben Stamper, and her two teenagers, in the Northeast, and teaches illustration at School of Visual Arts.

Review: The Bluest Sky

Tender, Hopeful, Devastating… Thank you to TBR & Beyond Tours for this review copy!
Check out the full tour here!

Middle Grade Fiction at its Best!

A boy and his family must decide whether to remain in Cuba under a repressive government or risk everything for the chance of a new beginning in this gripping story from the award-winning author of The Red Umbrella.

There are two versions of Héctor: the public and the private. It’s the only way to survive in communist Cuba—especially when your father was exiled to the U.S. and labeled an enemy of the people. Héctor must always be seen as a fierce supporter of the regime, even if that means loudly rejecting the father he still loves.

But in the summer of 1980, those two versions are hard to keep separate. No longer able to suppress a public uprising, the Cuban government says it will open the port of Mariel to all who wish to leave the country—if they can find a boat. But choosing to leave comes with a price. Those who want to flee are denounced as traitors by family and friends. There are violent acts of repudiation, and no one knows if they will truly be allowed to leave the country or not.

So when Héctor’s mother announces that she wants the family to risk everything to go to the United States, he is torn. He misses his father, but Cuba is the only home he has ever known. All his dreams and plans require him to stay. Can he leave everything behind for an unknown future?

In a summer of heat and upheaval, danger and deadly consequences, Héctor’s two worlds are on a collision course. Will the impact destroy him and everything he loves?

Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s great-grandmother, great-uncle, and extended family came to the U.S. through the Mariel boatlift. She vividly remembers meeting them all for the first time in the summer of 1980 and is proud to share this part of her family’s history.


My Review:

There is something about Middle Grade fiction that just gets to my heart. It’s tender and emotional and raw in a way that YA tends to be angsty and Adult fiction tends to be jaded. There is an earnestness to Middle Grade fiction and a longing for the world to make sense that I remember so well still from those years. The Bluest Sky is all those things and more. It’s hopeful and optimistic in a time when neither is really a thing to be. Héctor is the perfect MG hero – longing for a place in the world, wanting to fit in, scared of the future, but also unsure of the past.

Héctor is an outsider in a country full of them. Branded a traitor to the communist regime, his father is in America, and his mother wants the whole family to join them there. But Héctor loves his Cuba, his friends, and his chances of folloiwng his dreams. Until the world comes crashing down around him, that is.

At times dark and scary, The Bluest Sky is about the bonds of family, the power of friendship, and finding yourself in the middle or a changing world.

Get Your Copy Here:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/60372352-the-bluest-sky

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0593372794/

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bluest-sky-christina-diaz-gonzalez/1140956671

Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Bluest-Sky-Christina-Diaz-Gonzalez/9780593372791

Indigo: https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/the-bluest-sky/9780593372807-item.html IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780593372791


Christina Diaz Gonzalez is the Edgar® award-winning author of several books including The Red UmbrellaA Thunderous WhisperMoving TargetConcealed, and two upcoming books, Invisible (a graphic novel available in August 2022) and The Bluest Sky (a historical fiction novel available in September 2022). Her books have received numerous honors including the Florida Book Award, the Nebraska Book Award, and the International Latino Book Award. Her work has also been designated as an American Library Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults selection, a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, a Junior Library Guild Gold Selection, and as an International Reading Association’s Teachers’ Choice book. Christina currently lives in Miami, Florida with her husband, sons, and a dog that can open doors.

Website: https://christinagonzalez.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ChristinaDG

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

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1030094.Christina_Diaz_Gonzalez

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

Review: The Decoy Girlfriend

Thank you to TBR & Beyond Tours for the review copy! Check out the full tour here!

About the Book:

A laugh-out-loud funny and whip-smart romantic comedy from the author of The Shaadi Set-Up, about a young woman who takes the place of her celebrity doppelgänger, and must fake-date the actress’s sexy costar boyfriend.

Writer Freya Lal has a huge secret: she’s a dead ringer for It-girl actress Mandi Roy. Her second novel is due in a month, but inspiration is nowhere to be found. Desperate to shake off her writer’s block, Freya leans into her look-alike abilities and indulges in some mistaken identity for simple perks, like scoring a free mimosa or getting into a trendy nightclub.

Actor Taft Bamber appears to have it all: gorgeous, talented, and Mandi’s love interest both on- and off-screen. But what nobody knows is that their relationship is a PR stunt, and after years of playing make-believe, he’s yearning for something real.

When Freya’s latest impersonation of Mandi goes viral thanks to Taft’s accidental interference, rumors of a breakup threaten Hollywood’s golden couple. To make amends, Freya is forced to give Mandi a little time off: she’ll pretend to be the actress for a month, move in with Taft, and squash the rumors by acting completely in love. But as Freya and Taft play house, it becomes impossible to ignore that their instant chemistry isn’t just for the cameras. While faking it, they might have just found the real thing. 

Content Warning: Please be aware that through the course of the novel, Freya recounts fond memories of her mother, who passed away before the book begins (off-page), and the ways in which that love is intertwined with her writing. Taft stands firm against toxic masculinity and learns to let go of toxic friendships. There is also explicit on-page sex between two consenting adults

Review & Favorite Quotes

Listen, your girl likes a spicy romance every now and then, and this one is both cute and sexy! I love both Freya and Taft and their mixed up lives. As I was reading, I found myself giggling at many of the bookish/writer-ish quotes, as well as the romance that was brimming on each page. Some of my favorites:

They made it through the query trenches together, sharing solidarity screenshots of agent form rejections, impersonal batch rejections, and this close passes so specifically brutal they made them want to quit their daydreams.

This one is all about the power of friendships and people sharing your dreams. As Freya trusts her writer friends more, she realizes how much they can offer her – if she trusts herself AND them.

Under the california penal code, are Freya’s crimes a felony or a misdemeanor?

Freya was playing wife fire and got caught – ish.

Should have swooned when I had the chance. What a missed opportunity.

Freya’s internal monologue is acerbic and hilarious, especially when it comes to Taft and her feelings for him!

You’re an author. Shouldn’t a library be, like, holy ground?

Librarian here. Enough said.

Who told you honesty should be brutal?

Taft says the thing I wanted to say – brutal honesty is just thinly veiled cruelty.

THE DECOY GIRLFRIEND is everything I wanted in a late summer book – fun, flirty, tender, hopeful, and a little bit funny!

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57979398-the-decoy-girlfriend#

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09N6WMXDS/

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-decoy-girlfriend-lillie-vale/1140672945

Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Decoy-Girlfriend-Lillie-Vale/9780593422021

Indigo: https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/the-decoy-girlfriend/9780593422021-item.html

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780593422021


Lillie Vale is the author of books for both teens and adults, including The Decoy Girlfriend, Beauty and the Besharam, The Shaadi Set-Up and Small Town Hearts, an American Library Association’s 2020 Rainbow Books List selection. She writes about secrets and yearning, complicated and ambitious girls who know what they want, the places we call home and people we find our way back to, and the magic we make. Born in Mumbai, she grew up in Mississippi, Texas, and North Dakota, and now lives in an Indiana college town.

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Review: It’s All In How Your Fall

Teen love, simpler times, competition, and more are all what make It’s All In How You Fall a great summer read. Thanks to TBR & Beyond Tours for the ARC. Check out the whole tour here!

About the Book:

A contemporary young adult romance about moving on, finding your place, and recovering after life falls apart.

Gymnast Caroline Kepler has three state balance beam titles, a new trick even most elites can’t do, and chronic, undeniable back pain. While she might never be an Olympian, she has dreams of leveling up to elite, making Nationals, and competing in college. But when one epic face-plant changes all that and Caroline’s back pain goes from chronic to career-ending, her dreams are shattered and her life is flipped upside down.

Enter Alex Zavala, a three-sport athlete who’s both incredibly cute and incredibly off-limits. He offers to give Caroline a crash course in all the sports she’s missed, and she has an offer for him in return: For every sport Alex teaches her, she’ll play matchmaker for him. Deal done, Caroline “dates” new sports with Alex for the rest of the summer, which is loads more fun than wallowing in despair. Just as Caroline starts to see herself as more than her past athletic successes, she picks up something she didn’t bargain for: a big fat crush on Alex. Turns out life was way easier when it was just layout-fulls and beam burns….

Top 5 Reasons to Read It’s All in How You Fall

  1. This is just a fun book. You’re hard pressed to not immediately adore Caroline, Sunny, Peregrine, Alex, Nat and their whole crew.
  2. It’s simple. This one follows all the normal romance tropes, including the necessary happy ending, but it leaves out that part I don’t like about those books — the almost/maybe insurmountable thing that the main characters have to overcome in order to find a way to be together.
  3. It’s clean. This is a YA Rom-Com, so there is some kissing, but nothing that leaves you blushing and wondering what in the world you just read. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind that sometimes, but this was a nice, simple, fun book.
  4. It’s a celebration of female friendship. All the pieces are there to make this a book about girl drama and feuds, but instead it’s about friends loving each other and wanting to see each other happy. The mean girl trope doesn’t exist, and there is not catty back stabbing. Such a welcome relief.
  5. It reminds readers that there is more to life than just romance, especially in high school. Caroline and Alex are great at a lot of things – sports, friendships, and more – and nothing has to be completely sacrificed for the other.

Where to get a Copy:

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About the Author:

Sarah Henning is a recovering journalist who has worked for the Palm Beach PostKansas City Star and Associated Press, among others. When not writing, she runs ultramarathons, hits the playground with her two kids, and hangs out with her husband Justin, who doubles as her long-suffering IT department. Sarah lives in Lawrence, Kansas, hometown of Langston Hughes, William S. Burroughs, and a really good basketball team. 

Sarah is the author of SEA WITCH, which was a 2018 Indies Introduce and Indie’s Next selection.

Its follow up, SEA WITCH RISING, came out in 2019. THROW LIKE A GIRL, about a down-spiraling softball player who is recruited to play quarterback on her ex-boyfriend’s football team, was her first YA contemporary novel and came out in January 2020. THE PRINCESS WILL SAVE YOU, the first book in her fantasy trilogy—a feminist tale inspired by The Princess Bride—came out in July 2020. Its sequel, THE QUEEN WILL BETRAY YOU, came out on July 6, 2021.

Other upcoming projects include THE KING WILL KILL YOU, available August 2, 2022 and will be the conclusion to her Kingdoms of Sand & Sky Trilogy inspired by The Princess Bride. Also scheduled for summer 2022 is IT’S ALL IN HOW YOU FALL, available May 31, 2022, which takes place in the same fictional universe as THROW LIKE A GIRL. Slated for summer 2023 is OUT OF OUR LEAGUE, a YA anthology of contemporary short stories about girls in sports.

Website: https://www.sarahhenningwrites.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/shhenning

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

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14671253.Sarah_Henning

Review: Goth Girl Queen of the Universe

Thank you to TBR & Beyond for the ARC of “Goth Girl, Queen of the Universe!” Check out the full tour here and read on for my 15 reactions while reading this phenomenal debut!

About the Book:

Bounced between foster homes since the age of seven, Jessica knows better than to set down roots. Most of the kids at her new Michigan high school think she’s a witch anyway (because, you know, goth). The only one who gives her the time of day is geeky Oscar, who wants to recruit her fashion skills for his amateur cosplay group. But Jess is fine showing off her looks to her Insta fans—until a woman claiming to be her biological mother barges into her DMs.

Jess was claimed by the state when her bio mom’s mental illness made her unstable. While their relationship is far from traditional, blood ties are hard to break. There’s only one problem: Jess can’t reunite with her mom in New York City without a bunch of paperwork and she worries her social worker will never approve the trip. That’s when she remembers Oscar’s cosplay group, which is aiming for that big convention in New York . . .

So, Jess joins Oscar’s team—with every intention of using them to get to her mom. But her plan gets complicated when she discovers that, actually, cosplay is pretty great, and so is having friends. And Oscar, who Jess thought was just a shy nerd, can be as gallant and charming as the heroes he pretends to be. As the big convention draws near, Jess will have to decide whether or not chasing a dream of “family” is worth risking the family she’s built for herself. 



15 Thoughts I had while reading Goth Girl, Queen of the Universe.

  • When you get a Kirkus starred review and a blurb from Francesca Zappia, I am EXCITED.
  • Great intro. As someone who usually tries to fit in, I already love Jess’s confidence.
  • Is the instagram handle real? Runs to instagram to check. It exists, but is empty. I’d love to see some goth looks here!
  • I love the quotes at the beginning of each chapter. I really thought they’d all be Poe, but was happy to see it changed up every now and then. They definitely help set the mood for the chapter.
  • I really feel for Jess. I get that her mom wants to reach out, but as an instagram comment? That would stress me out and I’m not even her! I appreciate her cynical side.
  • Okay, Oscar’s basement….hahaha. And, I totally know a person that would be Oscar. I love it. And long live geek culture!
  • Any time there is an Emily in a book, I’m like, “please be a cool character and not a mean girl!”
  • I love that Jess’s foster mom is really trying to reach out and connect, even if it feels forced to Jess. I think she’s trying and wants to not change Jess, but I cannot imagine how hard that would be. Also, is Barbra a single mom foster mom? I’m for it!
  • Jess’s first experience with cosplay and a con makes my nerdy heart just explode. And I kinda want to be both more into cosplay and cons than I am.
  • There is a lot to unpack in this book. I’m glad Jess is willing to risk her Goth Girl exterior for something new.
  • I hate the part of books where there in conflict, even though I know it’s part of what makes books great.
  • I’m not sure Jess deserves Barbra. She’s the best foster mom and her past makes her the perfect person for Jess
  • Time for Jess to come clean. I already trust her friends more than she does.
  • This bench scene with Jess and Barb makes me cry.
  • The Princess Bride. Enough said.

About the Author:

Lindsay S. Zrull is a former foster teen and current book nerd. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science and earned a second Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Harvard Extension. Goth Girl, Queen of the Universe is her first novel. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @LSZrull.

Website: https://www.lindsayzrull.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LSZrull

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

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21580305.Lindsay_S_Zrull

Review: Game of Strength and Storm

Dreams and futures are on the line in this epic fantasy courtesy of TBR & Beyond Tours.

Get the whole tour here.

About the Book

Victory is the only option.

Once a year, the Olympian Empresses grant the wishes of ten people selected by a lottery—for a price. Seventeen-year-old Gen, a former circus performer, wants the freedom of her father, who was sentenced to life in prison for murders she knows he didn’t commit. Castor plans to carry the island Arcadia into the future in place of her brother, Pollux, but only after the Empresses force a change in her island’s archaic laws that requires a male heir.

To get what they want, Gen and Castor must race to complete the better half of ten nearly impossible labors. They have to catch the fastest ship in the sea, slay the immortal Hydra, defeat a gangster called the Boar, and capture the flesh-eating Mares, among other deadly tasks.

Gen has her magic, her ability to speak to animals, her inhuman strength—and the help of Pollux, who’s been secretly pining for her for years. But Castor has her own gifts: the power of the storms, along with endless coin. Only one can win. The other walks away with nothing—if she walks away at all.

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My Review

Game of Strength and Storm drops you into the middle of a chaotic, magical, mystical world that requires you to be paying attention from page one. Gen wants her family’s name cleared. Castor wants to rule her homeland. They are pitted against each other in a merciless contest that pushes them to the edges of what they think is possible…any beyond.

This is one of those books that requires the reader to be paying attention, and it’s the kind of book I wished I had in paper – easier to flip back and forth to keep the characters, families, and mystical world straight! Author Rachel Menard has created a fantastic, fully-fledged world that is beautiful and fun. The book, in general, is great fun, a little dark, and a great summer escape. As Gen & Castor criss-cross around the world to try and win the Empresses’ contests, the reader is transported under the waters, into the skies and back to the (somewhat firm) ground. Along the way, romance blooms and the reader realizes they’re just beginning to understand the real story behind the story.

This Hercules re-telling has a lot of potential and I’m looking forward to the next book.

About the Author

Rachel Menard was born in New Jersey, raised in Arizona, and then relocated to Rhode Island. Throughout her life she has been a barista, college radio DJ, singer in an alt-country band, marketer, designer, and finally, a writer. Her short fiction has been featured on the Cast of Wonders podcast and her non-fiction has been seen in Writer’s Digest. Her debut novel, Game of Strength and Storm, is coming from Flux Books in 2022.

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Review: Two Truths and a Lie

Locked Room Mystery. Teenage Drama Stars. Misdirection. Mystery. Fire. Cougars. Two Truths and a Lie has it all and I’m excited to be a part of this great tour with TBR and Beyond Tours!

Get the whole Tour Line Up Here!


A group of teens are trapped in an old motel with a murderer in this chilling YA mystery by New York Times bestselling author April Henry.

What a cover!

Nell has always wanted to be an actor, but doubts her ability. As a member of her school’s theater program, she prefers working backstage. On the way to a contest, an unexpected blizzard strands her acting troupe in a creepy motel. Soon they meet a group of strangers from another high school—including the mysterious and handsome Knox, who insists they play the game Two Truths and a Lie. When it’s Nell’s turn, she draws a slip of paper inked in unfamiliar handwriting:

I like to watch people die.
I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve killed.

Suddenly a night of harmless fun turns into a matter of life and death. As guests go missing, it becomes clear that a murderer is hiding in their midst ready to strike again. In a room full of liars and performers, the truth is never quite what it seems. Nell is going to have to act like her life depends on it—because it does.

Pick up your copy today

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My Thoughts:

I LOVED LOVED LOVED this book. It’s a fast-paced thriller that is smart without being too smart, creepy without being scary, and even though I guessed the killer right away, I wasn’t sure until the end that I was REALLY right.

When teen actors on their way to a competition get stuck in a snowstorm, the only option is a run down motel with serious serial killer vibes – and those vibes turn out to be true. Nell wants to trust the other kids she’s stuck in the motel with, but can she? And what about the cute boy that seems to maybe like her, too? Can you decide you like somone that fast? Nell is smart and observant, and that will either help save them all or lead to their doom.

The characters are funny and smart and true teens – full of the bravado and superiority that you would expect – but also still kids at heart. The adults in the room are doing their best, but also D.O.N.E. with their charges.

This s the perfect rainy day read. I read it in a quick afternoon with a cup of warm tea and my dog by my side.


New York Times-bestselling author April Henry knows how to kill you in a two-dozen different ways. She makes up for a peaceful childhood in an intact home by killing off fictional characters. There was one detour on April’s path to destruction:  when she was 12 she sent a short story about a six-foot tall frog who loved peanut butter to noted children’s author Roald Dahl. He liked it so much he showed it to his editor, who asked if she could publish it in Puffin Post, an international children’s magazine. By the time April was in her 30s, she had started writing about hit men, kidnappers, and drug dealers. She has published 26 mysteries and thrillers for teens and adults, with more to come. She is known for meticulously researching her novels to get the details right. 

Author Links:

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Life In Summary: Hard Stuff & Hope

I’ve been writing mostly book reviews on this blog for awhile now. That’s for several reasons. The first is that I am part of a great review team and reviews are fun. The second is because life has felt like a lot and putting it all down on paper has been hard and weird. But, I process through words and writing and we are sitting in a season of change so there are a lot of things to process.

Endings

In January, I stepped away from the Board of the Friends of the Library after six years. I loved every moment and I miss it a ton, but term limits are a thing, and they matter to keep the board fresh and ideas flowing. But, I miss the work AND the people immeasurably. I found myself in books and libraries, and the older I get, the more important I realize libraries are to communities and people. (Insert LONG DIATRIBE about necessary free third spaces here).

Come July 1, my employment with the Bloomington Academy of Film & Theatre will end as they merge with two other Bloomington Arts organizations to form a new entity, Constellation Stage and Screen. I am SO excited for the work the new org is going to do and for what it means for arts in our little town, but I am also so sad to lose a job I’ve done for years that I love. I think I am one of three remaining staff from when we first started, and it’s been one of the absolute joys of my life. While I won’t be on staff anymore, I’m looking forward to hopefully teaching again soon through their education program.

In addition to those changes, I just haven’t found creative outlets post-Covid! I haven’t been cast in any of the last few shows for which I’ve audtioned (from community theater to professional) and the role I was hoping to audition for this summer actually requires skills I don’t have.

Sickness and Death

The last two years have seen no shortage of sickness, Covid or otherwise, and deaths in the families of those I love. Sorry feels heavier these days – worry has so easily replaced peace and weariness has so easily replaced energy. We’ve said goodbye to lovely, strong, beautiful people. Both Tim and I have had Covid, we know people fighting cancer and other diseases.

Even our little dog, Madi, has not been spared. She is fighting cancer, congestive heart failure, a stage 6 heart murmur, and constantly in flux bowels. She looks like she just doesn’t feel good most days. I know we’re counting down the days and just waiting until she gets worse, and it’s hard. A friend lost her dog this week and it was a stark reminder that their time is fleeting.

Life is just Hard.

That’s it. That’s the entire sentence. 2.5 years into pandemic that doesn’t feel like it’s going to end, life full of weird changes and stressors, a job that is hard on the good days and really hard on the bad days, and not a lot of places or spaces for peace. But, I’m fighting hard for my mental health (even if my therapist is moving and I have to start COMPLETELY OVER with somone new), fighting to find joy, and fighting to be the good in this world that I so desperately want to find in others.

But Hope Remains.

No matter how hard the days have been, I have held on to hope with a tenacity I didn’t know I had. There have been days when that hope has been no bigger than a poppyseed, and there have been days when it’s been big and taking up most space in my head and heart.

I’ve lost opportunities I’ve loved, sure. But new ones will come around. I will be designing playbills for Constellation’s new season, and I am still serving on a committee with the Library. I will keep auditioning and believe a new opportunity will come my way soon. I am meeting with a couple people from our local writer’s guild next week to explore some opportunities. I published my first book on Kindle Vella and one of my absolute favorite authors is helping me dig in and clean it up and make it even better than it was before. Maybe I’ll even submit it for publication one of these days!

I’ve learned we can’t avoid sickness. But we can survive it. Tim getting Covid threw me for a loop, because he’s the most germ-conscious person I’ve ever met. We’re vaxxed and boosted and I feel like doing the right things, but it didn’t matter. But, we’re on the other side of it, hopefully no more worse for the course of the disease. And hey, my house is CLEAN right now.

Madi is a very sick puppers. But she’s ours. We still have her and she’s still here and I’m trying to soak up all the good days I can with her.

Work is hard. But it’s hard because I’m trusted and hard because change is hard. It will get better. And being part of the team matters so much to me.

Mental health is a journey. I’ve learned so much in my two rounds of therapy, and I’m sure I’ll find another therapist soon to help me even more.

Joy is worth the fight. Kindness is worth the risk. Hope is worth holding on to.

Review: Twelfth

Theater sleep-away camp, murder mystery, and the power of friendship combine in this sweet story from Janet Key.

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About the Book:

Better Nate Than Ever  meets The Parker Inheritance in this heartwarming mystery about finding your people and accepting others as they are.

Twelve-year-old Maren is sure theater camp isn’t for her. Theater camp is for loud, confident, artsy people: people like her older sister, Hadley—the last person Maren wants to think about—and her cinema-obsessed, nonbinary bunkmate, Theo. But when a prank goes wrong, Maren gets drawn into the hunt for a diamond ring that, legend has it, is linked to the camp’s namesake, Charlotte “Charlie” Goodman, a promising director in Blacklist Era Hollywood.
 
When Maren connects the clues to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, she and her new friends are off searching through lighting booths, orchestra pits and costume storages, discovering the trail and dodging camp counselors. But they’re not the only ones searching for the ring, and with the growing threat of camp closing forever, they’re almost out of time. 

Review
Maren’s sister is struggling with depression after her first year of college. Maren feels like a burden to everyone, but that doesn’t mean she really wants to spend the summer at her sister’s favorite summer camp. But, when she’s dropped off, she is dropped into a mystery maybe only she can solve – is there a ghost at camp? Is there someone out there trying to find a mysterious treasure that might save the camp from financial ruin?

As a theater kid myself, I thought this was a fun summer mystery that will keep kids entertained but won’t scare them too much. Listed as middle grade, I would definitely say it’s for older middle school kids. It deals a great deal with identity, gender fluidity, and finding who you are. I thought the main story of Maren, Theo, Graham and their goofy friendship and hunt for the treasure were great fun. Incorporating Charlie’s story provided a solid background for the camp, the treasure, and the real jewel of the story – finding and embracing who you really are.

About the Author:

When Janet Key was twelve, she sang and danced onstage in the background of musicals, stayed up too late reading Shakespeare, and had a closet full of themed, handsewn vests.

This is her first novel. 

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