Secrets, Magic, And Plot Twists Abound In "Shadow Study"

16130758Title:  Shadow Study
(Soul Finders #1)
Author:  Maria V. Snyder
Format:  eARC
Length:  384 pages
Publisher:  Mira
Rating:  4 Stars
When Yelena was a poison taster, her life was simpler. She survived to become a vital part of the balance of power between rival countries Ixia and Sitia.

Now she uses her magic to keep the peace in both lands—and protect her relationship with Valek.
Suddenly, though, dissent is rising. And Valek’s job—and his life—are in danger.
As Yelena tries to uncover her enemies, she faces a new challenge: her magic is blocked.And now she must find a way to keep not only herself but all that she holds dear alive.


Ugh, mud, Kiki said as she splashed through another puddle. The wet muck clung to her copper coat and dripped from her long tail. It packed into her hooves and coated the hair of her fetlocks with each step.

Through our mental connection I sensed her tired discomfort. Stop? I asked, Rest?

No. Images of fresh hay, a clean stall, and being groomed formed in Kiki's mind. Home, soon.

Surprised, I glanced around the forest. Melting piles of snow mixed with black clumps of dead leaves—signs that the cold season was losing its grip. Rain tapped steadily on the bare branches. The light faded, turning the already gray woods leaden. For the past few hours, I'd been huddling under my sopping wet cloak, trying to keep warm. With my thoughts fixed on my rendezvous with Valek, I'd failed to keep track of our location.

I scanned the area with my magic, projecting my awareness out to seek life. A few brave rabbits foraged in the soggy underbrush and a couple of deer stood frozen, listening to the squishy plodding of Kiki's passage. No souls haunted these woods. No humans within miles.

That wasn't a surprise. This remote area in the northern Featherstone lands had been chosen for that very reason. After Owen Moon ambushed us four years ago, Valek and I had decided to move to a less well known location between the Citadel in Sitia and the Commander's castle in Ixia.

I leaned forward in the saddle. We were getting close and my wet cloak no longer pressed so hard on my shoulders. At this pace, we'd reach our cozy cottage within the hour. Valek's involvement with Opal's rescue from the Bloodrose clan and the aftermath had kept him busy for months. Finally we would have a few precious days all to ourselves before he reported back to the Commander. He should already be there waiting for me. Visions of sharing a hot bath, snuggling by a roaring fire and relaxing on the couch once again distracted me.

Kiki snorted in amusement and broke into a gallop. Behind the clouds the sun set, robbing the forest of all color. I trusted Kiki to find the path in the semi-darkness as I kept a light magical connection to the wildlife nearby.

In mid-stride, Kiki jigged to the right. Movement flashed to the left along with the unmistakable twang of a bow. Kiki twisted under me. I grabbed for her mane, but a force slammed into my chest and knocked me from the saddle.

Hitting the ground hard all the air in my lungs whooshed out as pain erupted. Fire burned with each of my desperate gasps. Without thought, I projected again, searching for the...person who had attacked me. Despite the agony, I pushed as far as I could. No one.

Kiki, smells? I asked. She stood over me, protecting me.

Pine. Wet. Mud.

See magician?


Not good. The person had to be protected by a magical null shield. It was the only way to hide from me. Null shields blocked magic. At least it also prevented the magician from attacking me with his or her magic since it blocked magic from both sides of the shield. But it wouldn't stop another arrow. And perhaps the next one wouldn't miss.

I glanced at the shaft. The arrow had struck two inches above and one inch to the left of my heart, lodging just below my clavicle. Fear banished the pain for a moment. I needed to move. Now.

Rolling on my side, I paused as an icy sensation spread across my chest. The tip had been poisoned! I plopped back in the mud. Closing my eyes, I concentrated on expelling the cold liquid. It flowed from the wound, mixing with the blood already soaked into my shirt.

Instead of disappearing, the poison remained as if being refilled as fast as I ejected it. With pain clouding my thoughts, the reason eluded me.

Kiki, however figured it out. She clamped her teeth on the arrow's shaft. I had a second to realize what she planned before she yanked the arrow from my chest.

I cried as intense pain exploded, blood gushed and metal scraped bone all at once. Stunned, I laid on the ground as black and white spots swirled in my vision. On the verge of losing consciousness, I spotted the hollow barbed tip of the arrow coated with my blood, reminding me of the danger. I remained a target. And I wasn't about to make it easy for my attacker to get another shot.

Fix hole, Kiki said.

I debated. If I healed myself now, then I'd be too weak to defend myself. Not like I was in fighting condition. Although I still had access to my magic, it was useless against arrows, and, as long as the assassin hid behind the null shield, it couldn't touch him or her with my magic either.

Kiki raised her head. Her ears cocked. We go. Find Ghost.

I groaned. How could I forget that Valek was nearby? Smart girl.

With the arrow still clutched in her teeth, Kiki knelt next to me. Grabbing her mane, I pulled myself into the saddle. Pain shot up my arms and vibrated through my rib cage when she stood. She turned her head and I took the arrow. It might give us a clue about the assassin's identity.

I crouched low over Kiki's back as she raced home. Keeping alert for another twang, I focused my awareness on the surrounding wildlife. If the animals sensed an intruder, I'd pick up on their fear. A sound theory, except I'd been in contact with the deer when the arrow struck. I'd be impressed by the assassin's skills if I wasn't in so much pain.

It didn't take long for us to reach our small stable. The main doors had been left open. A warm yellow glow beckoned. Kiki trotted inside. The lanterns had been lit and Onyx, Valek's horse, nickered a greeting from his stall. Kiki stopped next to a pile of straw bales. Relieved to be safe, I slid onto them then lay down.

Kiki nudged my arm. Lavender Lady fix hole.

After Ghost comes. I suspected I would drop into an exhausted sleep once I healed the injury and I knew Valek would have questions.

She swished her muddy tail and stepped away. Ghost.

Valek appeared next to me. His confusion turned to alarm as his gaze swept my blood-soaked shirt. "What happened?"

No energy for a detailed explanation, I filled him on the basics and handed him the arrow.

All animation dropped from Valek's angular face. Fury blazed in his sapphire-blue eyes as he examined the weapon. Clear liquid dripped from the hollow shaft. He sniffed it. "Did you expel all the poison?"

"I think so." Hard to tell for sure, but I wouldn't add more fuel to his anger. Valek's hard expression already promised murder.

He smoothed the hair from my cheek. "How bad is it?"

"Not as bad as it looks. Now go, before the assassin gets away." I shooed.

"I'm not leaving you unprotected."

Kiki huffed and flicked her tail, splattering mud on Valek's black pants. I yanked my switchblade from its holder, triggering the blade. "I'm far from unprotected. Douse the light before you go."

"All right. I'll station Onyx outside the stable. Stay here." Valek opened Onyx's stall and the black horse trotted out. After he extinguished the lantern, Valek disappeared into the blackness.

I lay there listening for any sounds. My shoulder and left arm throbbed. Each inhalation caused a sharp stab of pain in my chest. To ease the discomfort, I pulled a thin thread of magic from the blanket of power that encompassed the world. A mental picture of the injury formed when I focused on the wound. My clavicle had been broken. The arrow had sliced through my muscles on impact, and the metal barbs in the arrow's head had ripped chunks of skin when Kiki had yanked it out. Lovely. I used the ribbon of power to lessen the pain—a temporary measure.

Sending my awareness into the surrounding forest, I kept a light contact with the nocturnal creatures. Too bad my bat was hibernating over the cold season. His unique senses would have helped with finding the assassin in the dark. The wildlife conducted their nightly hunt of food and showed no signs of agitation—not even from Valek. His immunity to magic prevented me from keeping track of him. I hoped he stayed sharp.

As time passed without incident, I wondered who had attacked me. That line of thought didn't go far as all I could deduce at this point was the person was a magician who had the power to form a null shield, who favored a bow and arrow, and may have an affinity with animals. Either that or he/she was really quiet and had masked his/her smell.

Unfortunately, pondering why I was attacked generated a longer list. As the official liaison between the Commander of the Territory of Ixia and the Sitian Council, I've created at least a dozen political and criminal enemies in the last six years. As the heart mate of Valek, the infamous Ixian assassin, for the last eight years I was a target for anyone who hated Valek, which included most of Sitia and probably hundreds of Ixians. As a magician and Soulfinder, I made many people nervous, worrying I'd turn rogue. These people were under the mistaken impression that I could create a soulless army when in fact all I did was find lost souls and guide them to either to an eternity of peace in the sky or an eternity of suffering in the fire world, depending on their deeds while alive.

A slight squish jolted me from my thoughts. Careful of my injury, I sat up and swung my legs over the bales of straw. Then I slid off. Better to stand and fight then be caught lying down. The darkness outside was one hue lighter than inside due to the faint moonlight. It illuminated just enough to see shapes.

I kept alert for any movement, peering through the door. When Kiki stepped between me and the entrance, I startled. Even though she was sixteen and a half hands high she could be really quiet. Her back was taller than me and she blocked my view. Granted I only reached five foot four inches, but she was a big girl like most Sandseed horses.

A few more squishes set my heart to beat in double time. I tightened my grip on my switchblade.

Ghost, Kiki said, moving away.

I sagged against the bales. A Valek-shaped shadow strode into the stable. He lit the lantern. One look at his grim expression and I knew he'd lost the assassin's trail.

"The guy's a pro," he said. "He used magic to erase his footprints. They just stopped. And without leaves on the bushes, it's harder to track him, especially at night. I'll go out again in the daylight."

"He? How do you know?"

"Big boots, deep prints. We can discuss it later. Let's go inside and take care of you."

"Kiki first." And before he could argue, "She saved my life. If she hadn't moved, the arrow would have pierced my heart."

Valek's shoulders dropped. Knowing I wouldn't leave, he worked fast. He removed her saddle and knocked the dried mud off her legs and stomach. After he cleaned out her hooves, she walked into her stall and munched on hay.

"Guess she's happy enough," Valek said, tossing the pick into a bucket. "Now, let's get you warm and dry, love."

I removed my muddy cloak and left it on the bales before I wrapped my right arm around Valek's shoulders. He wanted to carry me, but I worried he might jar the broken bone out of alignment and I wouldn't have enough strength to heal it.

The sharp pain returned by the time we reached the house. I made it as far as the couch. A bright fire burned in the hearth and a bottle of wine sat on the end table with two glasses and a plate of cheese. Valek must have arrived a few hours before me.

Tilting my head at the food, I said, "That's lovely."

"We'll indulge after you're healed and rested. Do you want to change first?"

Just the thought of moving my left arm hurt. "No."

"Then what are you waiting for?"

"A kiss. I haven't seen you in months."

Valek transformed when he smiled. The sharp angles of his face softened and warmth radiated from him. He leaned forward and pressed his lips to mine. Before I could deepen the kiss he pulled back.

"No more until you're better."


"Yelena." His stern tone would have made my mother proud.

"All right." I reclined on the couch and closed my eyes.

Reaching for the power blanket, I gathered a thick thread of magic. I wound this ribbon around my broken clavicle, fusing the two pieces back together. A second thread knitted the muscles and a third replaced skin. The effort exhausted me. Drained dry, I passed out.


By the time I woke, afternoon sunlight flooded the living area. Besides the green plaid couch, a couple of oversized nubby brown armchairs and a matching love seat made a semi-circle in front of the hearth. In the center, a deep pile dark brown rug—soft on the feet and...other body parts.

All that was left of the fire was ashy coals and half-burnt logs. The wine and glasses remained—a promise for later. No sounds emanated from the rest of the cottage, but moving without a sound was second nature for Valek. I called his name just in case. No response.

I opened my mind to Kiki. Is everything okay? I asked.

Quiet. Nap time, she said.

If the horses could sleep, then all should be well. Ghost?

Out. Woods.

My left shoulder and upper chest ached. The muscles would be sore for a few days. I sat up and examined the wound. Purple bruises surrounded an angry red circle. Another scar to add to my collection. I'd stopped counting three...or was it four injuries ago? Stretching with care, I tested my range of motion. Not bad.

The cold had soaked into my bones. My blanket had fallen to the floor. A hot soak in the tub should cure it in no time.

Stiff with blood and poison, my shirt reeked. All the more reason to bathe. But first a quick check of the rest of the cottage. It wouldn't take long. I palmed my switchblade, but didn't trigger the blade.

The ground floor consisted of a living area, kitchen, and washroom. The living area spanned the left half of the cottage while the kitchen and washroom occupied the right half. The hearth sat in the middle of the building so all the rooms could share its warmth.

I peered into the kitchen. A layer of dust covered the table and chairs, but the wash sink, cold storage box, and water jugs had been cleaned. Nothing appeared out of place.

The washroom's entrance was to the right of the hearth. I smiled. Valek had filled the large water tank near the back wall. Hot coals glowed underneath—one of the benefits of having a stone floor. I tested the water with my finger. Almost perfect.

I climbed the stairs to the single bedroom in the loft. Our cottage was too small for company, another excellent reason to purchase it.

My red-silk robe and clean clothes had been spread out on the king sized bed. Valek had been busy. I resisted the urge to check under the bed as I undressed. I'd have to ask my cousin Nutty to repair yet another shirt. Other than a few mud stains, I could still wear my black wool pants. I donned the robe--a gift from Valek. Running my fingers over the smooth material, I verified all my surprises remained in place. Valek always included weaponry with my gifts.

Which reminded me. I removed the lock picks, releasing my long black hair.

After a quick peek outside to check for signs of intruders, I returned to the washroom. Steam floated from the water's surface. I opened the valve and the warm liquid rushed into the sunken tub—another selling point. Turning off the water, I banked the coals, hung my robe on the hook, and settled in, oohing and ahhing until only my head remained above water.

Wonderful for about five minutes. Then the door squeaked and I lunged for my switchblade.

"Sorry," Valek said. He leaned against the door's frame as if it kept him from falling.

Had he been up all night? "Did you find anything?"

"He's gone. I found nothing except those boot prints. No doubt he's a professional with magical abilities." He rubbed the stubble on his chin. "That will be the key to finding him. Not many people have that combination of skills. He's probably already a person of interest. I'll have to check my sources."

I resisted correcting him. What he called sources were really Ixian spies in Sitia, which as Liaison, I'd been trying to stop. Ixia and Sitia shouldn't be spying on each other. Instead, they needed to form a relationship based on mutual trust and respect.

"Unless he's a new assassin. Some young hot shot."

Valek straightened. "That's a possibility. And if that's the case, then he chose the wrong target if he wishes to grow old."

"After you find out who hired him."

"Of course. Any ideas who..." He shook his head. "We should make a list of who doesn't want to kill you, love. It'd be shorter."

I'd be offended, but it was actually a good idea. "Let's not let it ruin our vacation. Join me."

He hesitated, frowning.

Oh no. Bad news. "Tell me."

"I have to leave in the morning."

"Not because of the attack?"

"No. The Commander ordered me to return earlier than I'd planned. He's been very patient. I've been in Sitia for most of the last year and he says I'm needed for an urgent matter. I'm sorry we have to cut our vacation a few days short."

Even though disappointment pulsed, I understood his loyalty to the Commander. And the Commander has been more than generous with Valek's time. Working with Opal and helping to stop the Bloodrose clan, Valek has done more for Sitia than Ixia.

No sense moping about something I couldn't change. Suppressing my frustration with the time limit, I splashed Valek. "Come on in while the water's hot."

He grinned and peeled off his clothes. Scars crisscrossed his long lean muscles, and a faded C-shaped scar marked the center of his chest. Even after spending seasons in Sitia, his skin remained pale, which contrasted with his shoulder-length black hair.

"Like what you see, love?" Valek stepped into the water.

"You lost weight."

He huffed. "Janco's a lousy cook."

"Did Janco pout when you ditched him to come here?"

"Yes, but it was fake. He's more than ready to return to Ixia." Valek settled next to me. "Do you really want to talk about him right now?" He gaze burned hotter than the water.


"Exactly." He ran his thumb over my wound. "Does it hurt?"

"No." His touch drove the cold away as a fire ignited in my heart.

He closed the distance between us and our lips met. Another perk of stone floors, no worries about water damage.


Morning sunlight and chills woke me late the next morning. Memories of last night replayed and I remained in bed savoring them. We'd gone from the tub to the living area, drank the wine, tested the softness of the rug, and then up to the bedroom. My lips still tingled from Valek's pre-dawn good-bye kiss.

Another chill raced along my skin. Shivering, I pulled the blanket up to my chin. All my bones ached as if encased in ice. Unease swirled. Something Wrong.

Without warning, a wave of heat slammed into me. I yanked the blankets off and jumped to my feet. Sweat poured, soaking my nightshirt as dizziness threatened to topple me. I sank to the ground. The heat disappeared as fast as it had arrived, but the cold returned, seeping into my skin, freezing the sweat into a layer of ice.

Before I could pull the blanket over me, another hot flash consumed me. Memories of going through the fire to enter the fire world rose unbidden. The searing pain of my flesh burning all too familiar. I batted at my arms even though I knew my skin hadn't been set on fire.

Maybe I hadn't expelled all the poison.

Between gasps of breath, the ice extinguished the heat. My muscles tightened and cramped. My teeth chattered hard enough to cause a headache. I curled into a ball, afraid I'd shatter like an icicle hitting the ground.

When the fire blazed again, I straightened as steam rose from my skin. Then the cold reclaimed me. And it kept going back and forth, hot to cold and hot again. Like I had a super fast fever, which gave me no time to draw power to counter it

I endured the waves. Each flip drained my strength. One of two things was bound to happen. I'd either pass out or the attack would stop. There was a third possibility, but I preferred to stay positive.

After hours...days...weeks...the seizures ceased. At first I laid there bracing for the next cycle. But as time progressed without an attack, I slowly relaxed. With no energy to stand, I groped for the edge of the blanket and pulled it down, covering me. At this point, even the hard floor couldn't stop me from falling asleep.


Darkness greeted me when I woke. Every single muscle ached as if I'd ran here from the Citadel. My dry throat burned and my stomach hurt. I needed water, food, and a bath. But first, I needed to ensure that I didn't have another attack. Had the poison run its course? Or was it still inside me? One way to find out.

I drew a deep breath and reached for the blanket of power. Nothing happened. Trying again, I concentrated on pulling a thread of magic.


Fear pushed up my throat. I swallowed it down determined not to panic.

I opened my mind to Kiki. What's going on?

No response. Not even images.

Dead air surrounded me.

My magic was gone.

From SHADOW STUDY MIRA Books, February 24, 2015

My Thoughts
Shadow Study does double duty as both Maria Snyder's fourth release in the critically acclaimed Study series, and the first offering in her Soulfinder series.  What this book is, more than anything however, is the biggest case of  "hi...ho...the gang's all here" that fans of the Poison character stable could ever want.

We've got Yelena and Valek, together and as close to being married as two people can be without actually tying the knot.  Janco and Ari brawling, besting, snooping, and doing what they do best.  Commander Ambrose holding the peace as only he can.  Fisk operating from the shadows and always managing to have as much information as he does coin.  Leif just being Lief.
And...Opal doing her magic thing.

Just when readers thought that things were finally cooling down for Yalena and Valek.  Shadow Study puts the two right into the heart of danger in a  most deadly way.  It appears that in acting as acting liaison to both Sitia and Ixia, Yelena has made her share of very powerful friends and even more vengeful enemies.
One of whom, is out to hurt her in the worst way possible.  By taking her magic!
When an unseen arrow full of a mysterious potion finds its target in Yelena's body and manages to do just that.  It is up to a very human Yelena and the people she trusts most to find the key to restoring her magic, and find the one responsible.  Before it's too late and before her secret is discovered.

"Secrets" seems to be the word of the day plot-wise.  As we soon discover that Valek, Ambrose, and even the villain of the read have things about themselves and their motives that they spend the entire read keeping very close to the vest. Alternating POV's also help to keep the suspense alive and well.
It is in fact, the reader's task to follow the proverbial breadcrumbs in this most magical whodunit to a  surprisingly memorable  conclusion. Highlighting the fact that the action found in this read is far more mental than physical.

Topping the negative column this time around.  We have the following.  While the character interactions, character development, settings, and pacing are all spot on.  The plot seems to have a big deja vu point when we get to Valek and his latest protégée Onora.  There is also a large swath of story spent on Yelena chasing her tail.  In her quest to find her magic.
If however, you can make it over these bumps in story road. The story, and its cliffhanger ending are well worth the effort.

About Maria
Maria V. SnyderMeteorologist turned novelist, Maria's been writing fantasy and science fiction since she was bored at work and needed something creative to do. A dozen novels and numerous short stories later, Maria's learned a thing or three about writing. She’s been on the New York Times bestseller list, won a half-dozen awards, and has earned her MA degree in Writing from Seton Hill University where she's been happily sharing her knowledge with the current crop of MFA students. She also enjoys creating new worlds where horses and swords rule, 'cause let's face it, they're cool, although she's been known to trap her poor characters in a giant metal cube and let them figure out how to get out. Readers are welcome to check out her website for book excerpts, free short stories, maps, blog, and her schedule at

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Forever Romance Presents: The Trouble With Dukes Book Blitz + Giveaway

Author: Grace Burrowes
Series: Windham Brides, #1
On Sale: December 20, 2016
Publisher: Forever
Mass Market: $7.99 USD
eBook: $6.99 USD
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This first novel in a new Regency series from USA Today bestselling author Grace Burrowes is a spinoff of her highly popular Windham series.


The gossips whisper that the new Duke of Murdoch is a brute, a murderer, and even worse—a Scot. They say he should never be trusted alone with a woman. But Megan Windham sees in Hamish something different, someone different.

No one was fiercer at war than Hamish MacHugh, though now the soldier faces a whole new battlefield: a London Season. To make his sisters happy, he'll take on any challenge—even letting their friend Miss Windham teach him to waltz. Megan isn't the least bit intimidated by his dark reputation, but Hamish senses that she's fighting battles of her own. For her, he'll become the warrior once more, and for her, he might just lose his heart.

“I don’t want any damned dukedom, Mr. Anderson,” Hamish MacHugh said softly. 
Colin MacHugh took to studying the door to Neville Anderson’s office, for when Hamish spoke that quietly, his siblings knew to locate the exits.
The solicitor’s establishment boasted deep Turkey carpets, oak furniture, and red velvet curtains. The standish and ink bottles on Anderson’s desk were silver, the blotter a thick morocco leather. Portraits of well-fed, well-powdered Englishmen adorned the walls.
Hamish felt as if he’d walked into an ambush, as if these old lords and knights were smirking down at the fool who’d blundered into their midst. Beyond the office walls, harnesses jingled to the tune of London happily about its business, while Hamish’s heart beat with a silent tattoo of dread.
“I am at your grace’s service,” Anderson murmured, from his side of the massive desk, “and eager to hear any explanations your grace cares to bestow.” 
The solicitor, who’d been retained by Hamish’s late grandfather decades before Hamish’s birth, was like a midge. Swat at Anderson, curse him, wave him off, threaten flame and riot, and he still hovered nearby, relentlessly annoying.
The French infantry had had the same qualities.
“I am not a bloody your grace,” Hamish said. Thanks be to the clemency of the Almighty.
“I do beg your grace’s—your pardon,” Anderson replied, soft white hands folded on his blotter. “Your great-great aunt Minerva married the third son of the fifth Duke of Murdoch and Tingley, and while the English dukedom must, regrettably fall prey to escheat, the Scottish portion of the title, due to the more, er, liberal patents common to Scottish nobility, devolves to yourself.”
Devolving was one of those English undertakings that prettied up a load of shite.
Hamish rose, and for reasons known only to the English, Anderson popped to his feet as well.
“Devolve the peregrinating title to some other poor sod,” Hamish said.
    Colin’s staring match with the lintel of Anderson’s door had acquired the quality of man trying to hold in a fart—or laughter.
    “I am sorry, your—sir,” Anderson said, looking about as sorry as Hamish’s sisters on the way to the milliner’s, “but titles land where they please, and there they stay. The only way out from under a title is death, and then your brother here would become duke in your place.”
    Colin’s smirk winked out like a candle in a gale. “What if I die?”
    “I believe there are several younger siblings,” Anderson said, “should death befall you both.”
    “But this title is Hamish’s as long as he’s alive, right?” Colin was not quite as large as Hamish. What little Colin lacked in height, he made up for in brawn and speed.
    “That is correct,” Anderson said, beaming like headmaster when a dull scholar had finally grasped his first Latin conjugation. “In the normal course, a celebratory tot would be in order, gentlemen. The title does bring responsibilities, but your great-great aunt and her late daughter were excellent businesswomen. I’m delighted to tell you that the Murdoch holdings prosper.”
    Worse and worse. The gleeful wiggle of Anderson’s eyebrows meant prosper translated into “made a stinking lot of money, much of which would find its way into a solicitor’s greedy English paws.”
    “If my damned lands prosper, my bachelorhood is doomed,” Hamish muttered. Directly behind Anderson’s desk hung a picture of some duke, and the old fellow’s sour expression spoke eloquently to the disposition a title bestowed on its victim. “I’d sooner face old Boney’s guns again than be landed, titled, wealthy, and unwed at the beginning of London season. Colin, we’re for home by week’s end.”
    “Fine notion,” Colin said. “Except Edana will kill you and Rhona will bury what’s left of you. Then the title will hang about my neck, and I’ll have to dig you up and kill you all over again.”
    Siblings were God’s joke on a peace-loving man. Anderson had retreated behind his desk, as if a mere half ton of oak could protect a puny English solicitor from a pair of brawling MacHughs.
Clever solicitors might be, canny they were not.
    “Then we simply tell no one about this title,” Hamish said. “We tend to Eddie and Ronnie’s dress shopping, and then we’re away home, nobody the wiser.”
    Dress shopping, Edana had said, as if the only place in the world to procure fashionable clothing was London. She’d cried, she’d raged, she’d threatened to run off—until Colin had saddled her horse and stuffed the saddle bags with provisions.
    Then she’d threatened to become an old maid, haunting her brothers’ households in turn, and Hamish, on pain of death from his younger brothers, had ordered the traveling coach into service.
    “Eddie hasn’t found a man yet, and neither has Ronnie,” Colin observed. “They’ve been here less than two weeks. We can’t go home.”
    “You can’t,” Hamish countered. “I’m the duke. I must see to my properties. I’ll be halfway to Yorkshire by tomorrow. I doubt Eddie and Ronnie will content themselves with Englishmen, but they’re welcome to torment a few in my absence. A bored woman is a dangerous creature.”
    “You’d leave tomorrow?” Colin slugged Hamish on the arm, hard. Anderson flinched, while Hamish picked up his walking stick and headed for the door.
    “Your pugilism needs work, little brother. I’ve neglected your education.”
    “You can’t leave me alone here with Eddie and Ronnie.” Colin had switched to the Gaelic, a fine language for keeping family business from nosy solicitors. “I’m only one man, and there’s two of them. They’ll be making ropes of the bedsheets, selling your good cigars to other young ladies again, and investigating the charms of the damned Englishmen mincing about in the park. Who knows what other titles their indiscriminate choice of husband might inflict on your grandchildren.”
    Hamish had not objected to the cigar selling scheme. He’d objected to his sisters stealing from him rather than sharing the proceeds with their own dear brother. He also objected to the notion of grandchildren when he’d yet to take a wife.
    “I’ll blame you if we end up with English brothers-in-law, wee Colin.” Hamish smiled evilly, though he counted a particular few Englishmen among his friends.
    A staring match ensued, with Colin trying to look fierce—he had the family red hair and blue eyes, after all—and mostly looking worried. Colin was soft-hearted where the ladies were concerned, and that fact was all that cheered Hamish on an otherwise daunting morning.
    Hope rose, like the clarion call of the pipes through the smoke and noise the battlefield: While Eddie and Ronnie inspected the English peacocks strutting about Mayfair, Hamish might find a peahen willing to take advantage of Colin’s affectionate nature.
    Given Colin’s lusty inclinations, the union would be productive inside a year, and the whole sorry business of a ducal succession would be taken care of.
    Hamish’s fist connected with his brother’s shoulder, sending Colin staggering back a few steps, muttering in Gaelic about goats and testicles.
    “I’ll bide here in the muck pit of civilization,” Hamish said, in English, “until Eddie and Ronnie have their fripperies, but Anderson, I’m warning you. Nobody is to learn of this dukedom business. Not a soul, or I’ll know which English solicitor needs to make St. Peter’s acquaintance posthaste. Ye ken?”
    Anderson nodded, his gaze fixed on Hamish’s right hand. “You will receive correspondence, sir.”
    Hamish’s hand hurt and his head was starting to throb. “Try being honest, man. I was in the army. I know all about correspondence. By correspondence, you mean a bloody snowstorm of paper, official documents, and sealed instruments.”
    Hamish knew about death too, and about sorrow. The part of him hoping to marry Colin off in the next month—and Eddie and Ronnie too—grappled with the vast sorrow of homesickness, and the unease of remaining for even another day among the scented dandies and false smiles of polite society.
    “Very good, your grace. Of course you’re right. A snowstorm, some of which will be from the College of Arms, some from your peers, some of condolence, all of which my office would be happy—”
    Hamish waved Anderson to silence, and as if Hamish were one of those Hindoo snake pipers, the solicitor’s gaze followed the motion of his hand.
    “The official documents can’t be helped,” Hamish said, “but letters of condolence needn’t concern anybody. You’re not to say a word,” he reminded Anderson. “Not a peep, not a yes-your-grace, not a hint of an insinuation is to pass your lips.”
    Anderson was still nodding vigorously when Hamish shoved Colin through the door.
    Though, of course, the news was all over Town by morning.

Authors Are Raving About The Trouble With Dukes
 “The hero of THE TROUBLE WITH DUKES reminds me of Mary Balogh's charming men, and the heroine brings to mind Sarah MacLean's intelligent, fiery women... This is a wonderfully funny, moving romance, not to be missed!” —Eloisa James, New York Times bestselling author of My American Duchess

“Grace Burrowes writes from the heart--with warmth, humor, and a generous dash of sensuality, her stories are unputdownable! If you're not reading Grace Burrowes you're missing the very best in today's Regency Romance!” —Elizabeth Hoyt, New York Times bestselling author

“Sexy heroes, strong heroines, intelligent plots, enchanting love stories...Grace Burrowes's romances have them all.” —Mary Balogh, New York Times bestselling author

“THE TROUBLE WITH DUKES has everything Grace Burrowes's many fans have come to adore: a swoonworthy hero, a strong heroine, humor, and passion. Her characters not only know their own hearts, but share them with fearless joy. Grace Burrowes is a romance treasure.” —Tessa Dare, New York Times bestselling author

“THE TROUBLE WITH DUKES is captivating! It has everything I love in a book--a sexy Scotsman, a charming heroine, witty banter, plenty of humor, and lots of heart.” —Jennifer Ashley, New York Times bestselling author of The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie

What are your top five reasons for enjoying Winter?

Maggie Moo organic wool socks. Those suckers are a hug for your poor aching feets.
Hot chocolate.
Hot chocolate with a dash (or three) of Baileys.
Roaring fires before which one can sit with one’s cats and read for hours.
The Trouble With Dukes coming out December 20th (of course)!!!

 About Grace
Grace Burrowes grew up in central Pennsylvania and is the sixth out of seven children. She discovered romance novels when in junior high (back when there was such a thing), and has been reading them voraciously ever since. Grace has a bachelor's degree in political science, a bachelor of music in music history, (both from Pennsylvania State University); a master's degree in conflict transformation from Eastern Mennonite University; and a juris doctor from the National Law Center at the George Washington University.

Grace writes Georgian, Regency, Scottish Victorian, and contemporary romances in both novella and novel lengths. She's a member of Romance Writers of America, and enjoys giving workshops and speaking at writers' conferences. She also loves to hear from her readers, and can be reached through her website or her social channels.

Find Grace

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Readers Will Always Win When They Begin "Bidding On The Billionaire"

28119253 Title:  Bidding On The Billionaire
(Seattle Bachelors #1)
Author:  JM Stewart
Format:  eARC
Length:  256

Publisher:  Forever Your
Rating:  4.5 Stars

Safety. Anonymity. Invisibility.

Those are just a few advantages of Internet “dating.” Even better, as far as Hannah Miller is concerned, is the fact that she can shed all inhibitions without worrying about what he thinks of her figure or her face. “He” is bikerboy357, the man who knows what Hannah likes, and wants her—every night—as much as she wants him. When he asks to meet, Hannah hesitates. But the temptation is too strong. And after one look into his sultry green eyes, there’s no turning back.

Cade MacKenzie’s never met a woman who’s wasn’t blinded by his billion-dollar net worth, but “H” knows neither his face nor his name. Her words are so smart, sweet, and scorchingly sexy that Cade’s willing to gamble she’ll be just as amazing in person. And she is. But even as every delicious encounter makes Cade want Hannah more, what he wants most is her trust.

It’s something all his money can’t buy. And now, Cade will do anything to earn it.


Hannah forced a laugh to cover the unease gripping her by the throat.

Apparently, her laugh sounded as phony as it felt for Cade’s smile fell. Gaze somber, he lifted his left hand, stroking his thumb over her chin. “You okay?”

She wanted to laugh it off, but she’d lied to him enough. The second time around, she gave him a more honest smile, though it still wobbled a bit. “I’m nervous.”
His fingers tightened in hers. “Mmm. Me, too.”

The quiet tone of his voice caught her, filling her with questions. “May I ask why? You don’t look it.”

Cade pushed the door open fully and pulled her inside the suite. She barely registered the click of the door falling shut before his large, warm hands slid into her hair. A bare breath later, he pressed her back against an adjacent wall.

“Because I’ve been dying to do this.” He covered her mouth with his, and any thought of being nervous flew right out the window.

The kiss on the street had been sweet, a taste, passion withheld. The kiss of two people trying each other out for the first time. This one was a hot brand. It promised pleasure lay in her future. His tongue traced the seam of her lips, a question and a tease in one hot stroke. When she opened on a soft sigh, he plunged inside, his tongue dueling with hers. Goose bumps chased each other over the surface of her skin.

If his kiss alone weren’t enough to overwhelm her senses, his hands moved, stroking over her. Down her sides, over her hips to her butt, only to stroke back up her stomach and skimming the underside of her breasts. His body surrounded her, blocking out everything but him, and Hannah let herself get lost. She sought him out, as well, feeling over his firm pecs to his flat abdomen. She yearned to discover the hard muscle and warm skin beneath the fabric of his shirt. Yearned to discover all those luscious places that would drive him mad, make him gasp and groan. She wanted to remember every tiny detail for when he eventually went back to San Diego and she lay alone in the dark, craving exactly this.

“I’ve been dying to get my hands on you.” He murmured against her skin as his lips skimmed across her jaw and down her neck. “Do you know how torturous it is to be so turned on by someone you can’t even see? You have a way with words, Miss Miller.”

His use of her name had a shiver running over the surface of her skin. She yearned to hear him call her name in the grip of an orgasm. Her hips pushed forward, seeking contact with his body. When the softness of her belly brushed the hard bulge in his pants, she couldn’t contain a moan.

He nipped at her bottom lip, then pulled back and took her hand. “Come on. Before I fuck you against this wall.”

My Thoughts
Hannah Miller is a woman who knows a lot about books.  They are, after all her business.  As co-owner of the Second Chance bookstore along with her best friend Maddie.  But it seems that the last thing that this literature loving lady ever expected was the searing online affair that resulted from a heated debate with an intriguing stranger.  With each taking an opposing viewpoint on the merits of a certain work of erotic fiction.

Caden McKenzie the "golden boy" billionaire lawyer, should have the world by the tail.
And he did...
Until the day that he lost his best friend and the woman that he thought loved him because of a seemingly unforgivable act of calculated betrayal.
Now alone...and having narrowed the scope of his life considerably.  Caden is a man resigned to keep affairs of the heart under the strictest of locks and key.  While diverting his passions into his work...and her.
The mysterious woman who makes words at him from behind a computer screen.  Words that excite, intrigue, inspire, challenge, and inflame him to the point of obsession. Words from a woman whom he knows only as JusstAGurl456.
A woman about whom he can't help wanting to know so much more.

Bidding On The Billionaire is the first book in JM Stewart's Seattle Bachelors series.  It is also a book that is unafraid to take readers from 0 to 60, in terms of sensuality and emotionality 
within the course of only the first few chapters.

Cade and Hannah are bold and intelligent characters that readers are sure they want to see together from word one. The hurts suffered by each, in their respective pasts provide very legitimate causes for their very circumspect beginnings.  Once these two get together, there is a natural rapport between them that speaks to a soul deep connection.
It is this connection that makes the lightening speed dive into sexual depths seem nothing but natural.
Speaking of the sex.  It's HOT HOT HOT!  There are many varied and intense scenes.  Each one doing more to draw the reader in, while simultaneously working to solidify the validity of our leads as a couple in the process.

The best thing about this book however, has to be what doesn't happen here.  While this book is about a billionaire, his money and status never becomes an issue.  In fact, the connection between Hannah and Cade is so strong that it is hard to relate to the two as more than a man and a woman trying to find love.

The only negative in this read comes in the form of the grand gesture surrounding the auction that readers encounter at its close.  It is a negative only due to its predictability.  A predictability is negated very quickly by the awesome and highly heart-melting epilogue.

Reviewer's Note:
This book is the first in a companion series which may be read in any order.
All opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the reviewer, and have not been influenced by Forever or those acting as their agents.

About JM Stewart
J.M. StewartJM is a multi-published author of passionate, heartfelt contemporary romance. She’s a wife, a mother, a spiritualist, and lover of puppies, and happily addicted to coffee and chocolate. She lives in the rainy Pacific Northwest with her husband, two sons, and two very spoiled dogs. She’s a hopeless romantic who believes everybody should have their happily-ever-after and has been devouring romance novels for as long as she can remember. Writing them has become her obsession. 
See Her Socially:  Web / Goodreads / Twitter 

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"Otherworld Chills" Offers Plenty of Supernatural Thrills

Title:  Otherworld Chills
Author:  Kelley Armstrong
Format:  ERC
Length:  400 pages
Publisher: Plume
Rating:  3.5 Stars

 These stories will cover a whole range of characters from the Women of the Otherworld, and answer many mysteries and questions from the series. A vital and fantastic collection of stories, many of which will be brand-new, while others will have only appeared on the author's website.

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***

Copyright © 2016 Kelley Armstrong


When Nick Sorrentino’s alarm went off at 5 a.m., he bolted upright, certain it was his phone ringing, some emergency unfolding. Five years ago, he would have figured it’d be Elena or Clay with a Pack problem. These days, his first thought was “the boys.” Reese or Noah was in trouble and needed his help. Or they’d been out drinking and needed a lift. Even with were- wolves, the second was more likely, particularly if the werewolves in question were twenty-two and nineteen.
But it wasn’t a phone call—it was the alarm. Why the hell would he set it for 5 a.m.? It must have been one of the boys, playing a sadistic . . .
As he reached to shut the phone off, he realized it wasn’t on the nightstand. Well, yes, it was, but there was an obstacle in between him and it. A woman.
She groaned, fumbled for his phone, and handed it to him.
Right. That was why he’d set the alarm. He needed to get home in time to take Noah to school because Noah had been forbidden to use his car, which was, Nick had to admit, turning out to be more of a punishment for him.
At least he’d had the presence of mind to set the alarm. That alone was an accomplishment, given that he hadn’t decided he wasn’t heading home until he’d been in the back of a cab, with Jacinda undoing his zipper. Maybe it was a sign that he’d really had one too many women go down on him in the back of a taxi if he could still pause to think, Huh, I should set my alarm. That, or he was getting old.
“Are you going to turn that off?” It was a woman’s voice . . . but didn’t sound like Jacinda. Nick turned his head to see her friend, Heidi, curled up on his other side. Right. Huh. Well, maybe he wasn’t that old yet.
He shut off the alarm. Then he checked his e-mail, making sure he didn’t have an angry message from Frank Russell. Russell was the client he’d taken out last night on a double date with Jacinda and Heidi. Nick looked from one woman to the other. Not the way a double date was supposed to work.
He did have an e-mail from Russell, but it only thanked him for the evening out and asked for Heidi’s phone number. Russell had apparently left with Heidi, but he said that she’d had an emergency and taken off. Which must have been when she’d hopped into the cab with Nick and Jacinda, just before it pulled away from the curb. At least Russell hadn’t figured that out.
Nick climbed over Jacinda and started pulling on his trousers.
Heidi rolled from bed and stumbled into the bathroom.
“Where are you rushing off to?” Jacinda asked as she watched him dress. “You never start work before nine, which means we have plenty of time for another round. Or two.”
She tugged back the covers, showing him what was on offer. It was, he had to admit, a very nice offer. Tempting, though? Well, that was the problem. Ten years ago he would have already been back in that bed. Now, though, he felt only an answering twitch in his groin and a spark of regret.
“I’d love to,” he said. “But I need to take Noah to school, and it’s an hour drive home.”
“The kid has his license, Nick. He even has a car.” “He lost his privileges. He drove after having a beer.” “A beer? One?”
Nick pulled on his shirt. “That’s the rule.”
“Since when do you follow rules?”
Since always, he could say. Maybe not the ones most of society lived by—grow up, get a job, marry, have kids—but he obeyed the laws of his kind, of his Pack. Imposing them on Noah was as important as sticking to them himself, no matter how inconvenient.
“If I set out a punishment, I need to follow through with it.”
Jacinda shook her head. “I’m not sure I like this new Nick. The old, irresponsible one was a whole lot more fun.”
“Could have sworn you had fun last night. Or maybe that was just Heidi.”
She gave him a smile for that. “Okay. But still, taking in those cousins? And going to work every day? That’s not the Nick I knew.”
“I haven’t been that Nick in years, Jace.”
“I know, but it’s getting worse. How long has it been since you called me? I’m beginning to think I might need to bring a friend more often, just to keep you interested.”
He bent to kiss her. “You know better than that. Adding Heidi to the mix was your idea. I’m just flexible and accommodating.”
“You are indeed.”
She caught his hand and pulled him closer. Her other hand went to his waistband, but he peeled her fingers off.
“Don’t tempt me, Jace. I really do need to leave.”
He gave her a last quick kiss and started for the door. “Were you even planning to come back?” she asked. He glanced over his shoulder at her.
“Last night,” she said. “Before I jumped you in the cab, were you even planning to come back to my place?”
“If you wanted me to,” he said, which was the truth, even if it didn’t quite answer the question. “Get some more sleep. I’ll call you.”
He hesitated. He could lie and say yes. Most guys would. But that was never how he’d done things.
“I’ll call when I can,” he said, and slipped out the door.

As Nick drove home, he left a voice mail with his admin assistant to say he might be late. He worked for his father at the family business, which just happened to be a multinational corporation. Nick’s corner of it was small, by choice. There was no way in hell he could run a business like that—he had neither the aptitude nor the interest.
Nick’s niche was graphic design and client services. He had an eye for what worked and an unerring instinct for knowing what people wanted. It wasn’t a cutthroat ability to pander and manipulate, but a genuine desire to please.
When he disconnected, his phone pinged with a text message for an entirely different sort of business. Pack business.
Nine months ago, Elena had become Pack Alpha. At almost the same time, they had discovered that a long-dead member was actually very much alive. Between shifting Pack dynamics, regular Pack business, and raising six-year-old twins, Elena and Clay had little time to search for Malcolm. Nick had offered to do it.
Malcolm Danvers. Estranged father of Jeremy Danvers, the former Alpha. Nick remembered Malcolm well. And not fondly. No one remembered Malcolm fondly. They weren’t searching for him to welcome him back. They needed to find and kill him. Preferably before Jeremy found out he hadn’t already been dead for twenty years, as they had thought.
Werewolves are, by nature, violent sons of bitches, as Clay would say. Clay had been bitten at the age of five, rescued and brought up by Jeremy. The first time Nick met him, Clay knocked him flying. His way of saying hello . . . and establishing dominance.
Nick didn’t have much use for dominance. He was happier obeying orders than giving them. Except now that his best friends led the Pack, he’d realized it was time for him to step up and do more. Hence offering to handle the hunt for Malcolm.
A hunt like this wasn’t Nick’s area of expertise. While he was a fine fighter, he didn’t feel the usual drive to hunt, to protect territory, to fight for his place. Elena teased he satisfied that urge in his romantic pursuits, yet the truth was that he didn’t really pursue there, either. Like hunting, he enjoyed it and he’d rarely turn down an opportunity, but it wasn’t a driving force in his life.
Malcolm was different. He’d always pursued fights and women with equal vigor. And with the same ferocity. Women were prizes to be conquered and then discarded. Or worse. Nick’s grandfather, Dominic, had believed Malcolm killed Jeremy’s mother. Not that the old Alpha had turned him out of the Pack for it. Malcolm was too good a fighter to lose over a dead woman. Another Pack, another time.
Now, Malcolm was back and very much alive. And finding him was Nick’s job.

My Thoughts
The best thing that can be said about this book is...
The worst thing that can be said about this book is...

This is a good thing because of the great number of stories, characters, and supes involved.
A fact that works as a bit of a double edged sword in that there are stories that are strong, fully fleshed out and very well articulated.
Some...sadly are not.
In the interest of reader exploration I will leave the opinion portion of this review, as it pertains to the individual offerings unspoken.

This is however, a very fun and light journey into Kelley Armstrong's world, and those parts of it that are inhabited by her creations.

1.  If you are a person who is unfamiliar with Kelley's work.

2.  If you are looking to add to your Kelley collection.

3.  If you are a fan of supernatural.

This book could be for you!

Reviewer's Note:  I received this book as part of Penguin First To Read.

*The following links appear on the author's website found here:  Kelley Armstrong
Collection Contents
1) Brazen – Subterranean Press 2013 Nick novella
2) Amityville Horrible – Subterranean Press Jaime/Jeremy novella
3) Chaotic – Hope/Karl novella from Dates from Hell, Hope’s 1st appearance in the series *
4) Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word – Zoe short story from Expiration Date
5) Off-Duty Angel – Eve/Kristof story from The Hunter & The Hunted
6) The Puppy Plan – Logan Danvers novella from Gifted
7) Baby Boom – new Paige/Lucas novella

About Kelley
Kelley ArmstrongKelley Armstrong has been telling stories since before she could write. Her earliest written efforts were disastrous. If asked for a story about girls and dolls, hers would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to her teachers' dismay. All efforts to make her produce "normal" stories failed.

Today, she continues to spin tales of ghosts and demons and werewolves, while safely locked away in her basement writing dungeon. She's the author of the NYT-bestselling "Women of the Otherworld" paranormal suspense series and "Darkest Powers" young adult urban fantasy trilogy, as well as the Nadia Stafford crime series. Armstrong lives in southwestern Ontario with her husband, kids and far too many pets. 

 See Her Socially!

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"The Memory Book" Is A Truly Unforgettable Read

25988934 Title:  The Memory Book
Author:  Lara Avery
Format:  eARC
Length:  368 pages
Publisher:  Poppy/Hachette Book Group
Rating:  3.5 Stars

They tell me that my memory will never be the same, that I'll start forgetting things. At first just a little, and then a lot. So I'm writing to remember.

Sammie was always a girl with a plan: graduate at the top of her class and get out of her small town as soon as humanly possible. Nothing will stand in her way--not even a rare genetic disorder the doctors say will slowly start to steal her memories and then her health. What she needs is a new plan.

So the Memory Book is born: Sammie's notes to her future self, a document of moments great and small. It's where she'll record every perfect detail of her first date with longtime crush, Stuart--a brilliant young writer who is home for the summer. And where she'll admit how much she's missed her childhood best friend, Cooper, and even take some of the blame for the fight that ended their friendship.

Through a mix of heartfelt journal entries, mementos, and guest posts from friends and family, readers will fall in love with Sammie, a brave and remarkable girl who learns to live and love life fully, even though it's not the life she planned.  -Goodreads

If you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering who you are. I’ll give you three clues.
Clue 1: You just stayed up all night to finish an AP Lit paper on The Poisonwood Bible. You fell asleep briefly while you were writing and dreamed you were making out with James Monroe, the fifth president and arbiter of the Monroe Doctrine.
Clue 2: I am writing this to you from the attic at the little circular window, you know the one, at the east end of the house, where the ceiling almost meets the floor. The Green Mountains have just recently turned green again after a freakish late-spring dump of wet, sloppy snow, and you can just barely see Puppy in the early dark, doing his morning laps up and down the side of our slope in his pointless, happy Puppy way. Sounds like the chickens need to be fed.
I guess I should do that. Stupid chickens.
Clue 3: You are still alive.
Do you know who you are yet?
You are me, Samantha Agatha McCoy, in the not-so-distant future. I’m writing this for you. They say my memory will never be the same, that I’ll start forgetting things. At first just a little, and then a lot. So I’m writing to remember.
This won’t be a journal, or a diary, or anything like that. First of all, it’s a .doc file on the tiny little laptop I carry with me everywhere, so let’s not get too romantic about this. Second, I predict that by the time I’m done with it (perhaps never) it will exceed the length and breadth of your typical journal. It’s a book. I have a natural ability to overwrite. For one, the paper on The Poisonwood Bible was supposed to be five pages and turned out to be ten. For another, I answered every possible essay question on NYU’s application so the admissions committee could have options. (It worked—I’m in.) For another, I wrote and continually edit Hanover High’s Wikipedia page, probably the longest and most comprehensive high school Wikipedia page in the country, which is funny because technically I’m not even supposed to go to Hanover High because as you know (I hope), I don’t live in New Hampshire, I live in Vermont, but as you also know (I hope), South Strafford is a town of five hundred and I can’t go to the freaking general store for high school. So I bought Dad’s old pickup on an installment plan and found some loopholes in the district policy.
I’m writing this book for you. How can you forget a thing with this handy document for reference? Consider this your encyclopedia entry. No, consider this your dictionary.
Samantha (proper noun, name): The name Samantha is an American name, and a Hebrew name. In English, the meaning of the name is “listener.” In Hebrew, the meaning of the name is “Listen, name of God.”
Listen, name of God, this isn’t supposed to be a feelingsy thing, but it might have to be. We tried emotions in middle school and we didn’t care for them, but they have snuck back into our life.
The feelings came back yesterday in Mrs. Townsend’s office.
Mrs. Townsend (proper noun, person): A guidance counselor who has allowed you to test into all of the advanced classes you wanted to take even if they didn’t fit your schedule, and has made you aware of every scholarship known to woman so that you don’t have to bankrupt your parents. She looks like a more tired version of Oprah, and with the exception of Senator Elizabeth Warren, she is your hero.
Anyway, I was sitting in Mrs. Townsend’s office, making sure that I hadn’t missed any deadlines because Mom and I had to go to the geneticist in Minnesota two times in the past month. I didn’t even get a real spring break. (I type that as if I’ve ever had a spring break, but I was hoping to get some major prep in with Maddie, Debate Nationals being just a month away.)
I will try to reconstruct the scene:
White walls covered in old MILK: IT DOES A BODY GOOD posters, left over from the last guidance counselor because Mrs. Townsend has been so busy since she started five years ago, she hasn’t had the chance to replace them. Me, on a carpeted block that was supposed to be a cool, modern version of a chair but is really just a block.
Across from me, Mrs. Townsend, in a yellow sweater, her hair jetting out in thick black curls.
I was asking her to get me a twenty-four-hour extension on the Poisonwood Bible paper.
Mrs. T: Why do you need an extension?
Me: I’ve got a thing.
Mrs. T (staring at her computer screen, clicking): What thing?
Me: Google “Niemann-Pick Type C.”
Mrs. Townsend types, and begins to read.
Mrs. T (muttering): What?
I watched her eyes move. Right, left, right, left, across the screen. I remember that.
Me: It’s very rare.
Mrs. T: What is it, Neeber Pickens? Is this a joke? I had to laugh in spite of her face scrunching up, still reading.
Me: Niemann-Pick Type C. Basically, it’s dementia.
            Mrs. Townsend takes her eyes off the computer, her mouth hanging open.
Mrs. T: When were you diagnosed with this?
Me: Two months ago, initially. It’s been a back-and-forth process to confirm. But yeah, I have it for sure.
Mrs. T: You’re going to have memory loss? And hallucinations? What happened?
Me: Genetics. My great-aunt died of it when she was much younger than I am now.
Mrs. T: Died?
Me: It’s common among French Canadians, and my mom’s originally French Canadian, so…
Mrs. T: Excuse me, died?
Me: I’m not going to die.
I don’t think she heard the part about me not dying, which is probably for the best, because at this point it is a statement I can neither confirm nor deny. What I do know, which I forgot to tell Mrs. Townsend (sorry, Mrs. T), is that people my age who exhibit symptoms (without having it when they were younger) are extremely rare. Usually kids get it very young, and their bodies can’t handle the strain. So we’re looking at a “different timeline,” the doctor said. I asked if this was good or bad. “At the moment, I believe it’s good.”
Mrs. T (hand on forehead): Sammie, Sammie.
Me: I’m okay right now.
Mrs. T: Oh my god. Yes, but . . . are you seeing someone? How are your parents handling this? Do you need to go home?
Me: Yes. Fine. No.
Mrs. T: Tell them to call me.
Me: Okay.
Mrs. T (throwing up her hands): And you told me this by asking for an extension on your AP Lit paper? You don’t have to write it, for god’s sake. You don’t have to do anything. I can call Ms. Cigler right now.
Me: No, it’s okay. I’ll write it tonight.
Mrs. T: I’m happy to do it, Sammie. This is serious.
Yes, I guess it is serious. Niemann-Pick (there are three types—A, B, and C—and I have C, commonly called NPC, the only C I’ve ever gotten, ha ha ha) happens when the wrong kind of cholesterol builds up in the liver and spleen, and as a result, blockage collects in the brain. The buildup gets in the way of cognition, motor function, memory, metabolism—the works. I don’t have any of that yet, but I have been exhibiting symptoms for almost a year now, apparently. It’s interesting the names they put on stuff I thought were just weird tics. Sometimes I get this sleepy sensation after I laugh: That’s cataplexy. Sometimes when I reach for the saltshaker, I miss it: That’s ataxia.
But all of that is nothing compared to losing my memory. As you know (ever hopeful!), I’m a debater. Memory’s kind of my thing. I wasn’t always a debater, but if I hadn’t become one four years ago, no joke, I would probably be addicted to weed. Or erotic fan fiction. Or something like that. Let me tell you the story:
Once upon a time, Future Sam, you were fourteen, and you were tremendously unpopular (still true) and felt alienated and like there was not a place for you in high school. Your parents wouldn’t buy you cool clothes, you were the first one out in dodgeball, you didn’t know you were supposed to say “Excuse me” after you burped, and you had become a human encyclopedia of mythical beasts and scientifically impossible space vehicles. Stated simply: You cared more for the fate of Middle Earth than actual Earth.
Then your mom forced you to join a club, and debate team was the first table at the club fair. (I wish it were more epic than that.) Anyway, everything changed. The brain you used to employ memorizing species of aliens you used instead to memorize human thought, events, ways of thinking that connected your tiny house tucked in the mountains to a huge timeline, one just as full of injustice and triumph and greed as the stories you craved, but one that was real.
Plus, you were good at it. After all those years of devouring books, you could glance at a passage and repeat it verbatim ten minutes later. Your lack of politeness was to your advantage, because politeness isn’t necessary in getting your point across. Debate made you realize you didn’t have to lose yourself in invented worlds to experience life outside the Upper Valley. It gave you hope that you could be yourself and still be part of the real world. It made you feel cool (despite still being unpopular). It made you want to do better in school, so that once you reached the real world, you’d be able to actually work on all the issues you debated.
So yeah, ever since then, I have counted myself proudly among the people who roam the halls of high schools on a weekend, talking to themselves at a million miles an hour about social justice issues. Yes, the weirdos who decide it might be a fun idea to read an entire Internet search yielding thousands of articles on Roe v. Wade and recite them in intervals at a podium across from another person in a battle to the rhetorical death. The ones who think they are teenage lawyers, the ones who wear business suits. I love it.
Which is why I haven’t quit, even though I’m now kind of stutter at practice, and I make excuses when I miss research sessions for doctor’s appointments, and I have to, you know, psych myself up in the mirror at tournaments. Before this happened, my memory was my golden ticket. My ability to memorize things got me scholarships.
My memory won me the Grafton County Spelling Bee when I was eleven. And now it’s gonna be gone. This is, like, inconceivable to me.

Back to the office, where I can hear people in the hallway, yelling at one another about stupid shit.

Me (over the noise): It’s fine. Anyway, can you give me the name of that NYU pre-law mentorship thing again? I know only college juniors are eligible, but I think I could—
Mrs. T makes a choked sound.
Me: Mrs. T?
Mrs. Townsend pulls Kleenexes from her drawer and starts wiping her eyes.
Me: Are you okay?
Mrs. T: I just can’t believe this.
Me: Yeah. I have to go to ceramics now.
Mrs. T: I’m sorry. This is shocking. (clearing her throat) Will you have to miss more school?
Me: Not until May, right around finals. But it will be a quick trip to the specialist. Probably just a checkup.
Mrs. T: You’re very strong.
Me (starts packing up stuff, in anticipation of leaving): I try.
Mrs. T: I’ve known you since you were a little fourteen-year-old with your (puts fingers in a circle around eyes) little glasses.
Me: I still have glasses.
Mrs. T: But they’re different glasses. More sophisticated. You look like a young woman now.
Me: Thanks.
Mrs. T: Sammie. Wait.
Me: Okay.
Mrs. T: You are very strong, but . . . But considering everything . . .(begins to choke up again)

At this point, I began to feel an uncomfortable tightness in the back of my throat, which at the time I attributed to a side effect of my pain medicine. Mrs. T really had been there for me since I was a freshman. She was the only adult that actually listened to me.
Sure, my parents tried, but it was only for five minutes, between their jobs and feeding my younger siblings and fixing some hole in our crap house on the side of a mountain. They don’t care about anything I do as long as I don’t let my siblings perish and I get my chores done. When I told Mrs. Townsend I was going to win the National Debate Tournament, get into NYU, and be a human rights lawyer, the first thing she said was, “Let’s make it happen.” She was the only one who believed me.
So for what she said next, at the risk of being melodramatic, she might as well have stuck her hand down my esophagus and clutched my heart in her hands.

Mrs. T: Do you think you can even handle college? Explosions in head.
Me: What?
Mrs. T (pointing at computer screen): This—I mean, I will read up on it more, but—it seems like it affects everything. It could do serious damage.
Me: I know.

And here’s the thing. The health stuff I could take, but don’t take away my future. My future I had worked so hard to set up so nicely. I have worked for years to get into NYU, and now I was in the homestretch. The very idea that Mrs. Townsend would even consider that I would give it up filled me with rage.

Mrs. T: And on top of that, your memory is going to suffer. How
are you going to go to class with all of this? You might—
Me: No!

Mrs. T jumped back. Then it was my turn to begin weeping. My body wasn’t used to crying, so the tears did not come out in clean, clear supermodel drops like I thought they would. I shook a lot and the saltwater pooled up in my glasses. I was surprised by the strange whine that came out of the back of my throat.

Mrs. T: Oh, no. No, no. I’m sorry.
I should have accepted her apology and moved on, but I couldn’t. I yelled at her.
Me: I am NOT not going to college.
Mrs. T: Of course.
Me (sniffling): I am NOT going to stick around Strafford, riding around on four-wheelers, working at a ski resort and smoking pot and going to church and having tons of children and goats.
Mrs. T: I didn’t say that . . .
            Me (through snot): I pushed my way into Hanover, didn’t I? I got into NYU, didn’t I? I am the valedictorian!
Mrs. T: Yes, yes. But—
Me: Then I can handle college.
Mrs. T: Of course! Of course.
Me (wiping snot on my sleeve): Jesus, Mrs. Townsend.
Mrs. T: Use a Kleenex, hon.
Me: I’ll use whatever surface I want!
Mrs. T: Sure you will.
Me: I haven’t cried since I was a baby.
Mrs. T: That can’t be true.
Me: I haven’t cried in a long time.
Mrs. T: Well, it’s okay to cry.
Me: Yeah.
Mrs. T: If you ever need to talk to me again, you can. I’m not just an academic resource.
Me (exiting): Yeah, cool. Bye, Mrs. T.

I walked out of Mrs. Townsend’s office (perfectly normally, thank you) and skipped ceramics and went straight home to work on my paper until the feelings went away. Or at least until the feelings and me got some miles between us. I cried because I have never been more scared in my life. I fear that Mrs. Townsend has a point. I envision a vague gray shape that is supposed to be my brain inside my head, but instead it’s this blob outside of me, empty, that I won’t be able to use.
And I’m tired.
It’s like, take my body, fine, I wasn’t really using it anyway. I’ve got this enormous butt on ostrich legs, the hair of a “before” picture, and weird milky brown eyes like a Frappuccino. But not my brain. My true connection to the world.
Why couldn’t I wither slowly and roam around on an automatic  chair, spouting my brilliance through a voice box machine like Stephen Hawking?
Uggggghhh. Just thinking about it makes me—
I don’t know how else to say it right now. And I don’t like not knowing. Anything. I don’t like not knowing in general. I should always be able to know.
And that’s where you come in, Future Sam.
I need you to be the manifestation of the person I know I will be. I can beat this, I know I can, because the more I record for you, the less
I will forget. The more I write to you, the more real you will become.
So: I’ve got a lot to do today. It’s Wednesday morning. I’ve got to read seven articles on living wage conditions. I’ve got to call Maddie and remind her to read these articles, too, because in her three-year tenure as my debate partner, she has had a terrible habit of “winging it” because she thinks she’s God’s gift to affirmative speeches. (She is, sometimes.) The dumb chickens still need to be fed. The window is cracked open. I smell dew and cool air coming off the Green Mountains. No one else in my house is up yet, but they will be soon. And look, the sun is rising. At least I know that.


·         goes by “Sam” or “Samantha”
·         eats only nuts and berries
·         wears fashionable glasses (or maybe contacts?)
·         wears tailored outfits, only in solid neutrals, blue, or black
·         laughs only on occasion and always in a low register
·         gets cocktails every week with group of witty, professionally competent women
·         reads the New York Times in bed in a soft white robe
·         is recognized by people on the street and told that her op-ed on international development changed their life


·         goes by “Sammie” because no one will adjust to addressing her as Sam—except for Davy, but with lisp it sounds like “Tham”
·         eats anything put in front of her, including fake fruit by accident at a church function
·         glasses are okay, just way too “gold” and “huge” and possibly disco
·         wears whatever free school-function T-shirts haven’t been visibly slobbered on by one of the smaller organisms in the house
·         laughs at SpongeBob and fart jokes even when stupid people make them (I can’t help it, it’s actually so funny)
·         closest female friend is Maddie, but I’m not sure if we’re really friends or just that she and I spend so much time in the government classroom that we are friends by proxy, and between you and me, her ego is way too off the charts
·         reads the New York Times at Lou’s when other people throw it out because Mom and Dad refuse to pay for it
·         gets high fives from debate team, so at least that’s a start

My Thoughts
Niemann-Pick Type C (or NPC) is a lysosomal storage disease associated with mutations in NPC1 and NPC2 genes.  [1] Lysosomes are sacs of enzymes within cells that digest large molecules and pass the fragments on to other parts of the cell for recycling. This process requires several critical enzymes. If one of these enzymes is defective, because of a mutation, the large molecules accumulate within the cell, eventually killing it.[2]

It is this disease and its prognosis of a certain death, that protagonist, Samantha Agatha McCoy, is faced with.  At a time in her life when SAT's and college applications should be the most difficult considerations.  Sammie is faced with the fact that a rare form of what is essentially dementia, is depriving her of balance, motor function, metabolism, and most importantly...her memory.

Told in a series of journal entries and notes written by Sammie.  This very intimate and touching story is one of a girl trying to hold on to a life and the people that are coming closer to slipping away from her forever.
Her attempts at chronicling her hopes, dreams, triumphs, failures, and lessons, while living with her illness and her struggle to maintain her personhood in the process is priceless.

Though hard to read.  The change in the social dynamic of Sammie's life as her illness progresses, and those not of her core circle fade away, is portrayed in a very true to life way.  So are the struggles that she faces as a result of first this, and then the several other changes in her life that take place. In effect, changing her focus and that of her family from support of a college bound teen, to the care and maintenance of a progressively more debilitated one.

Though this book and its author are very careful to make Sammie a fighter.  The marked downhill spiral that she experiences in the second half of the book may present a problem for some readers.
There is an important transition between the homebound and not parts of Sammie's life that is missing.  Making the latter part of the book seem like a race to the finish-line.
Please do not take the above criticism to mean that the last half of the book is any less poignant, thought provoking, or heartbreaking than the first.  This is far from the case.  What does happen here however, is a dramatic change in the specificity and uniqueness of the plot.

She suddenly finds love with a person whom she basically ignored for the entire read.
Her family starts to close ranks, baby and coddle her.
There is a very concerted closing of shop going on plot wise.

Hence, the 3.5 rating for this title.

In short, if you are looking for an informative, emotionally charged, and engrossing read.  This is definitely a book to consider. 

About Lara
Lara Avery is the author of A MILLION MILES AWAY and ANYTHING BUT ORDINARY. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she is a contributor to Revolver.
Find Her:  Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads

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