Book Review – A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

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Title: A Darker Shade of Magic

Author: V.E. Schwab

Genre: Adult fantasy

I loved this book! It was exactly what I needed to read right now. A Darker Shade of Magic is clever, and brilliant, and captivating.

She looked at him as if it were a strange question. And then she shook her head. “Death comes for everyone,” she said simply. “I’m not afraid of dying. But I am afraid of dying here.” She swept her hand over the room, the tavern, the city. “I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”

V.E. Schwab is a powerhouse when it comes to world-building, and I was impressed at how effortless it was for the reader to become immersed and quickly understand the ways of the world she was building. Schwab’s backdrop involves four parallel worlds, all with parallel London’s. However, each London, like the world surrounding it, has a different ruler, history, and even scent. There is Grey London, the magic-less city; Red London, the healthy empire; White London, the starving world; and Black London, the world that was destroyed.

Only Antari can travel between the London’s, and Kell is one of the last of the Antari’s. He is the personal ambassador (and adopted Prince) of Red London’s Maresh royal family, and carries the personal correspondences between the royal family’s in each world. Kell, however, smuggles on the side, and one day he smuggles something out of White London that could wreak havoc on all of the worlds.

“Aren’t you afraid of dying?” he asked Lila now.

Bad magic, Kell had called it.

No, thought Lila now. Clever magic.

And clever was more dangerous than bad any day of the week.”

There are so many things I loved about this book. The invented language, the magic, the epic adventure with a female cut-purse from Grey London – Delilah Bard – and the stubborn but loyal Antari – Kell. It is dark and violent, but also filled with small humorous asides. The type of magic in Scwab’s created world is fun and jealousy-inducing….well, at least in Red London!

The two main characters are fantastic. First there is Kell. A rare blood magician, I squirmed a little everytime he had to slice his palm or arm to travel between the worlds. His coat that is more than one coat that he uses to blend into the surroundings of the different London’s was such a marvelous touch. Kell is a force to be reckoned with, but with sentimental weak spots: his brother Rhy, and later in the story, Lila Bard.

Delilah Bard. Lila. Badass, pickpot, adventure heroine extraordinaire. She is tough, and she does what she has to do to survive. I loved her. She comes into Kell’s life after helping him in a dangerous situation, and strongarms him into letting her tag along for the ride. Which is good for Kell, because she ends up helping him out of trouble so many times that I lost count.

“I apologize for anything I might have done. I was not myself.”

“I apologize for shooting you in the leg. I was myself entirely.”

The humor and easy banter between these two was wonderful, without being over-the-top. I like a fantasy book that does not become overwhelemed by the romance angle. I look forward to seeing what further adventures are in store for these two!

Favorite supporting characters: The Dane twins, Astrid and Athos. Those two are evil! They use magic to control and/or possess others in body and mind – it reminded me a bit of the Lunar ability from the Lunar chronicles. Those two can really mess with your mind.

Least favorite supporting characters: Rhy. Heir to Red London’s throne, and a bit of a jerk, albeit with a good heart buried in there somewhere. I felt he was the least developed of the primary characters, so I hope that changes in the next book.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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WWW Wednesday – 28 September 2016

 

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Welcome to this week’s WWW Wednesday post, a meme hosted by Sam over at Taking on a World of Words. Don’t forget to go take a look at what everyone else is reading! You can post your own WWW in the comment thread here.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading:

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A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab – I sped through ADSoM, but the beginning of AGoS has slowed me down somewhat. I love tough, badass Lila, but the story of how she spent the four months since the end of ADoM has not been holding my attention as her solo parts in the last book. The coup on the pirate ship was fantastic, but now the storytelling is dragging just a bit. And Rhy at the beginning of this book is incredibly annoying. What has gotten in to him? I hope there is an explanation for his weird behavior later in the book.

Just Finished:

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A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab – I am working on writing the review today, and will be posting it tomorrow!

Up Next:

Wherever There is Light by Peter Golden – I may have to put AGoS on hold to read this one in time for my book club next week.

Little Girls Can Be Mean by Michelle Anthony – Yes, little girls can be mean. My daughter stands out a bit in the Bible Belt for not being Christian, and she has already had a few kids say some not so nice things to her about that. We are working with her on formulating the a way to respond to mean behavior in general (not necessarily just bullying) in the elementary years, and I am hoping this book has some helpful advice.

What are you reading this week?

Top Ten Tuesday: Autumn TBR List

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we’re talking about the books on our Fall TBR lists. I thought about doing a list of upcoming new releases I am excited about, but decided to stick to what is currently on my reading list for the next two months.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne. For a while, I didn’t think I would read it. But I can’t resist, good or bad!

Heartless – Marissa Meyer. The release date for Heartless could not come soon enough!

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson. Every October I like to read gothic horror, thriller, or another type of spooky story to put me in the mood for Halloween. When Jekyll and Hyde made an appearance at the end of last season on Once Upon a Time, I knew I had to read the book this year! (Side note: Who else watched the season kick-off on Sunday? Emma, no!!)

A Darker Shade of Magic  – V.E. Schwab. I just finished DSoM today, but since I started it after the first day of fall, I’m counting it on my Autumn list! My review is on its way.

A Gathering of Shadows – V.E. Schwab:.Starting this one tonight!

Leave Me – Gayle Forman. Gayle Forman will be doing an author visit at the small, independent bookstore close to my home in October. I hope to read her latest before she’s in town!

 

The War of the End of the World – Mario Vargas Llosa. I have a beautiful Folio Society edition of this one. It’s such a delight to hold!

The Story of My Experiments with Truth – Mahatma Gandhi. I think the whole world could use a bit of Ghandi right now.

Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-proof Girls in the Early Grades – Michelle Anthony. I have heard great things about this book. My daughter is at that age where, well, where little girls can be mean.

Wherever There is Light – by Peter Golden. This is the October selection for my book club.

 

2016 Banned Books Week: Spotlight on Diversity

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Banned Books Week has rolled around again! Celebrating the freedom to read, Banned Books Week runs from September 25 through October 1. This year the theme is celebrating diversity.

From BannedBooksWeek.org:

It is estimated that over half of all banned books are by authors of color, or contain events and issues concerning diverse communities, according to ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. This year’s Banned Books Week will celebrate literature written by diverse writers that has been banned or challenged, as well as explore why diverse books are being disproportionately singled out in the first place.

Looking at the books that have been banned or challenged over the last few years, it is easy to see a connection to the politics of our times. While diversity is rarely given as a reason for a ban, there seems to be a definite trend towards the presence of diversity in a book as an underlying factor in why it is challenged. As stated above, the majority of banned books are disproportionately from diverse authors. Furthermore, challenged books are often about gender diversity, people with disabilities,  ethnic and/or religious minorities, LGBTQ, or people of color.

It always saddens me to see books we have in our home, books that we love as a family, appear on the Banned Books list. Here are a few of books from our home library that have made the list. The sad state of affairs is, if I include all the books we that have been banned in the past, this list would be really, really long.

Banned Books  I am Proud to Own

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

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Reasons: sexually explicit (there is a quick peck between two male characters during a musical performance)

Top Ten Challenged Book: 2014

 

the curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon

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Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).

Top Ten Challenged Book: 2015

 

George by Alex Gino

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Reasons: Gender identity “confusion”.

 

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

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Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence

Top Ten Challenged Book: 2008, 2012, and 2014

Will you be reading any banned or challenged books this week? Which banned books do you own?

You can take a look at the Top Ten banned books in years past at the ALA’s website here.

 

Book Review: Roots by Alex Haley

Over the past few days, I have had to take a few days off from blogging, and here’s why: I live in Charlotte, North Carolina. If you have been watching the news, you have probably seen my city at one of its most tumultuous moments in recent history. I have lived in Charlotte for only 5 years, but it is the longest that I have lived anywhere since I graduated from high school almost 20 years ago, and I consider it my home.

It is difficult to watch your city break down into violence on the streets that you have walked over and over again. It is difficult to watch the turmoil on the news, knowing you have friends at the protests; knowing the few dozen who broke off from the main protest and turned to violence do not speak for everyone. It is difficult to witness the arrival of the National Guard, the imposition of a mandatory curfew, and the declaration of a state of emergency.

Yesterday, I attended the peaceful afternoon protest, along with thousands of others. We marched the streets of Charlotte in unity for a better tomorrow. I participated because racial discrimination happens every day in Charlotte to a countless number of people, and something needs to change. In the crowd were public school teachers, lawyers, public defenders, social workers, clergy and faith leaders, and many of the youth of this city. The protests are not spreading hate against police officers, in fact, I witnessed many protestors handing out water to the National Guard and Charlotte police officers, and chatting with them on the sidelines. No, it’s not about hate…it’s a desperate plea for equality in a country that has some very serious systemic problems that need to talked about out of the shadows.

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I have a diverse group of friends, and a long time ago I realized I owe it to them to understand the complexity that is race relations, white privilege, and social justice in the United States. Sometimes the best way to understand is by talking to people. Other times, it can include picking up and reading a book, such as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, or The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

It is in that frame of reference I move on to my review of Roots by Alex Haley.

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Title: Roots: The Saga of an American Family

Author: Alex Haley

Genre: Historical fiction

Roots tells the story of Kunta Kinte, an 18th century Mandinka man who was captured near his village in The Gambia and sent into slavery in the United States. The story is a sprawling family epic that follows the life of Kunta Kinte, as well as the lives of his descendants, continuing all the way to the author himself.

Setting aside the controversy surrounding this novel – Haley has been accused of plagiarizing parts of the novel from author Margaret Walker – doesn’t diminish the impact the book has had in helping modern-day readers understand the deplorable institution of the slave trade, and how it was carried out.

This is no Gone With the Wind. It is a gritty, raw look at the slave trade. It is not sugar-coated or glossed over. My timing in reading Roots, as well as The New Jim Crow last month, couldn’t be more powerful. It is challenging to read about American history’s darkest moments at a time when protests over the current mistreatment of people of color rock the streets of America.

As much as I enjoyed reading this novel, and especially the first few hundred pages detailing Kunta Kinte’s childhood, his kidnapping, and adjustment to life as a slave on a Southern plantation, the last part of the novel felt rushed. The reader is with Kunta for almost 550 pages or so. From Kizzy (Kunta’s daughter) and Chicken George (one of Kunta’s grandchildren) onwards, it became hard for me to get to know any of the characters. In fact, the last 100 pages, I had a hard time following all of the names and how they are interconnected, with events flying by so quickly. The reverse lineage that is described once Haley brings himself into the novel towards the end helped to an extent.

It’s an important book that should be required reading. Some say slavery was long ago, and we need to forget about it, but let’s face it: the system of slavery helped shape America into what it is today. To forget that it happened, or to brush it aside, does nothing to help us look at where we were, where we are now, and where we still need to be.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

 

 

WWW Wednesday – 21 September 2016

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I was finishing up my current read, Roots by Alex Haley, as my city of Charlotte started reeling from another officer-involved shooting yesterday. Forgive me if my thoughts are quite brief and distracted. There is a lot of pain and anger in my local community today. On this International Day of Peace, I stand in solidarity with those who want to be the change in our community, and those who peacefully protest the systems of inequality that ravage America.

Okay, now that I have that off my chest, onwards to WWW, a weekly meme hosted by Same at Taking on a World of Words. You can join by commenting on Sam’s post, and answering three questions.

Currently Reading: 

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Just Finished: 

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What’s Next:

Top Ten Tuesday: Podcasts

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Today’s Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme hosting by The Broke and the Bookish, is all about audio. I don’t read audio books, so I decided to focus on podcasts. I love to listen to podcasts when I’m out jogging or walking, and on day’s like today, when my endometriosis is flaring up. It’s no fun having a chronic illness, and I love that you can listen to podcasts with your eyes closed!

I couldn’t come up with 10 this week, so here are my Top 6 podcasts:

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Serial – This podcast is SO good! I think I walked twice as much as I usually do while listening to it. I love the concept of mystery podcasts (even non-fiction ones, like Serial). If you like Making a Murderer on Netflix, this podcast is for you.

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Ted Talks and Tedx – There are so many great Ted Talks. Some of my favorites are The danger of a single story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (TED); Transgender: You’re Part of the Story by Nicole Maines (TEDx); The beauty of being a misfit by Lidia Yuknavitch (TED), and Inside the mind of a master procrastinator by Tim Urban (TED).

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Books on the Nightstand – I am so sad that this podcast came to an end in July. It was one of my favorites that I listened to on a regular basis. You can still find many of the podcasts online, and I definitely recommend the ones from this summer.

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Nerdist – I love the Nerdist celebrity conversations. Particular favorites are the interviews with Daniel Radcliffe, Seth Rogen Returns, and the latest one with John Stamos (talking about him being a Comic Con virgin was particularly funny).

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Book Riot – This is primarily a book blog, so of course you are going to find at least two book-related podcasts on my list! I don’t catch the podcast every week, but I do listen as often as I can to this weekly podcast. You are guaranteed to add to your TBR shelf every time you listen, and it is a great source of news from the publishing world.

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America’s Test Kitchen  – I love America’s Test Kitchen. This week’s show is particularly interesting, considering this week’s topic is the world of the Brothers Grimm and the connection to food in fairy tales.

The Wine Book Tag!

 The Wine Book Tag

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I was tagged by Jasmine at How Useful It Is , and I have to admit, this is the perfect book tag. I love wine, I love books…it’s a match made in heaven!

Box Wine – a book people will judge you for liking but you like it anyway!

12262741Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I know a lot of people who didn’t like this book. I found it a very candid story of one woman’s struggle overcoming grief.

Organic Wine – a book that doesn’t have any added crap in it and is just written perfectly.

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The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald. I read this for the first time earlier this year, and it lived up to all of its expectations!

Gluhwein – a really spicy, Wintry read.

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Any of the Outlander series books by Diana Gabaldon, which take place in the first books in the Scottish highlands. The relationship between Claire and Jamie Fraser is definitely spicy. And the actor who plays Jamie Fraser on the Starz Outlander series – Sam Heughan – he’s pretty spicy, too!

Sauvingnon Blanc – a really sharp and aggressive read that you couldn’t put down. 

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I read this in one sitting, and then went back to read it again thoughtfully and slowly.

Pinot Noir – a book you didn’t expect much from but ended up getting blown away.

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Cress by Marissa Meyer. The second and third book can often make or break a series. I liked Cinder and Scarlet, but Cress blew me away (so did Winter).

Chardonnay – a good summer read that was super zesty.

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Guests on Earth by Lee Smith. I don’t really have a good book for this category, as I don’t read a lot of romance. I really want to be snarky and say Shades of Grey, since that was the book to read at our neighborhood pool a few years ago, but I never actually read it. So I’m going with a book the features Zelda Fitzgerald, a very zesty individual.

Rosé – a book that has a little bit of everything in it.

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Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. Marukami books always have a little bit of everything in them. This one has talking cats, fish falling from the sky, philosophy, supernatural happenings, magical realism, cultural history, and an excellent story.

Shiraz – a full-bodied book that is dark and juicy.

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Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning. Did I say that I don’t read romance? I lied, considering this is on my list, LOL. This is quite an interesting series, and definitely dark as Shiraz.

Merlot – a smooth easy read with a soft finish.

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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. This is quite a charming and sweet story. And most of it takes place in a bookstore, which is like icing on a cake to book lovers.

Champagne – your favorite book.

 

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The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s. Only one? How dare you! I recently re-read A Secret Garden, which was a childhood favorite, and the illustrated edition I purchased for my daughter is absolutely gorgeous. So that would definitely be on my favorites list for this year, but there are so many others!

I Tag:

M Reads Books

Chrissi Reads

Reading My Life Away

Clemi’s Bookish World

Curious Daisy

Standalone books to read when you have Series Burnout

My bookshelves are filled with standalone novels. In my family, it is a well-known fact that I easily get series burnout. When I start to juggle multiple series at the same time, or I’m trying to read through a new-to-me series and find myself reading the same author for weeks, I take a break and pick up something else.

If this happens to you, here is a list of a few standalone novels, from a variety of genres, that have helped me break a reading slump in the past!

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The Night Circus  – Erin Morgenstern (fantasy, historical fiction) –

It is ethereal, magical, other-worldly. The dreamlike imagery the author provokes is astounding; it is also the reason why so many people dislike it. If you need a plot-driven novel, this may not be for you. I loved every second of it, and found it to be a beautifully written, visual book. The descriptions of the circus, vividly drawn but only in the shades of black, white and red, stay with the reader long after finishing the book.

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The Fault in Our Stars – John Green (YA contemporary)

I shed so many tears reading this book. It didn’t help that I had just lost a close family friend to cancer two month’s previously. A beautifully written book about making peace with the unfairness of life. A lesson that rings true no matter what your age. It may also make a good starting point for older readers who typically only read adult literatures but want to explore YA.

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman (fiction, fantasy, horror)

Oh, to be inside Neil Gaiman’s brain and see how it ticks. The is the first book I read by Neil Gaiman that was not a graphic novel, and boy, did it give me the chills! This story brought me back to my childhood; it’s like all of those monsters under the bed came to life in terrifying and menacing way. But it’s not just horror, it’s much more nuanced than that, or I would not have liked it. There is truth and beauty, melancholy and sadness, and a hard look at the innocent ignorance of childhood.

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All The Missing Girls – Megan Miranda (mystery, thriller)

I just reviewed this one recently, which you can read here. I will never look at Ferris Wheel’s the same way again. All The Missing Girls is the perfect stand alone novel to read in the fall at a time when county and state fairs are happening all across America.

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All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr (historical fiction)

I don’t usually recommend novels set during WWII, because I don’t read them very often. I read this one for book club this year, and absolutely loved it. It is very character-driven, which is right up my alley, and the attention it has received is well-deserved. The author does an excellent job of heightening your senses along with young Marie-Laure after she loses her vision. And it tackles so many themes in a way that is not over the top: military culture and bullying, free will vs. predetermination, physical vs. spiritual blindness, moral relativism. It is a fascinating read.

What standalone novels would you recommend to readers who need a break from series works?

Book Review: Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

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Title: Flora & Ulysses

Author: Kate DiCamillo

Illustrator: K.G. Cambell

Genre: Middle grade

Kate DiCamillo never, ever disappoints. I have long loved Because of Winn-Dixie, and all of her other subsequent books. She’s an author that you are never too old to read! Flora & Ulysses comes very, very close to out-ranking Winn-Dixie as my all-time favorite DiCamillo book.

Flora & Ulysses is written in a new format for the author, with comic-book style sequences and full-page illustrations dispersed between the text. The story is about a 10-year old cynic named Flora, who one day saves a squirrel that has accidentally been sucked up into her neighbor’s vacuum cleaner. She performs CPR, the squirrel is saved, and soon they find out that this little squirrel now has superpowers! It comes as a surprise to both Flora and the squirrel, who is coined Ulysses after the vacuum that gave him his newfound powers.

What are these powers you ask? He can type! He can fly! He can type poetry!

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? ANY other author, and this story would have fallen flat on its face. But in the hands of the gifted Kate DiCamillo, it soars. It is hilarious and incredibly touching, all at the same time. It is certainly worthy of the 2014 Newbery Medal it received.

You see, Flora’s parents recently went through a divorce, and both Flora and her parents seem to be floundering in an attempt to find their new normal. Flora uses her cynicism as a way to protect her capacious heart, until Ulysses comes along and opens it up. Flora & Ulysses is a story of loneliness, and longing, despite the whimsical and silly tone.

“Bah, cynics,” said Dr. Meescham. “Cynics are people who are afraid to believe.”

Kate DiCamillo is a master of the art of storytelling, as I had the pleasure to witness first-hand at the Festival of Books and Authors last weekend. Every question that was asked by the audience, she managed to turn into a delightful story in her response. We were all spellbound. I look forward to reading her latest book, Raymie Nightingale, and she said she is currently working on her next novel! No details were given, but I can’t wait to find out what it is.

Rating: 4/5 stars