Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Road to Paradise by Paullina Simons + a Giveaway

Happy book birthday to Paullina Simons whose latest, Road to Paradise, releases today! To celebrate, the publisher is letting me offer up a fabulous giveaway - a copy of Road to Paradise as well as reader's choice of one of Simons's backlist titles

Shelby never knew her mother or her father. The latter she knows is dead but the former ran off not long after Shelby was born, sending just a postcard as a clue to her whereabouts. 

Now, newly graduated and with drivers license and new car in hand, Shelby is off to see if she can find her missing mother. With careful planning, she thinks she can get to Mendocino and back in just under two weeks. But her plan is immediately off to a rocky start when an ex best friend decides to tag along. And when Shelby breaks her steadfast rule about hitchhikers, her plan takes a dangerously unexpected detour. 

Unexpected is an understatement considering the book begins with Shelby holed up in a motel in Reno. Her car is gone as is her money and her companions. And apparently Shelby is convinced someone is coming to murder her!

Shelby is a wonderful character. She has more patience than me, but hits her breaking point early on with her friend's lack of help in the trip. And the elephant in the room is the fact that their friendship broke up ages ago thanks to horrendous gossip about Shelby's family. Gossip Shelby herself believed.

As their trip progresses, things run further off the rails bringing our main character (and her companions) well beyond what they think they can handle. It's mostly light and amusing, but there are some dark turns as well. That light and dark, though, make the book a compulsively readable one! For me, a person who likes the idea of a road trip more than the reality of one, it's kind of perfect. All of the ridiculous things I can imagine going wrong on a road trip - and a few things I would never imagine - seem to happen in Road to Paradise.

Oh, and it's made that much more fun by being set in 1981!

Road to Paradise is such a fabulously fun read. I love Shelby, I love the setting, and I really need to go make a playlist off of all the songs mentioned!

And now for the giveaway: To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, December 12. Open US only and no PO boxes please.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Faller by Will McIntosh

When Faller woke up, he and everyone around him seemed to have lost all memory of who and where they were. They called it Day One. 

Shortly after, the people who were left began to starve and to fight over the few resources they could find. And so Faller, armed with the few items he found in his pockets on Day One, came up with a plan. To gain food and resources for his tribe, Faller built a parachute and dove off the highest building he could find. But rather than land on the ground below, Faller fell... and fell, and fell.

So Faller wakes up with no memory. He has a few items in his pockets - a picture of a woman he's determined to find, a toy paratrooper, and a note he's clearly written to himself in his own blood. Given these are all his possessions in the world, he's sure each of them is equally important.

It's an intriguing start, one that I certainly couldn't resist. But when Faller plans his first jump, I had no idea where the story was headed next.

Faller's chapters are interrupted shortly thereafter with a story about Peter Sandoval, his brother-in-law and colleague Ugo Woolcoff, and their family and friends. Their present is in conflict, with world powers unleashing biologically manipulated viruses on one another willy nilly. Ugo's research involves finding a cure to one, a ruthless prion, but while the cure works it also wipes the person's memory completely.


While Faller's story had my interest piqued, I was a bit in danger of losing interest until the introduction of Peter. I have to admit too that I've been in a bit of a rut and really wanted something I could sink my teeth into - I'd been waffling between a couple of books hoping one would grab me more than another and the prospect of a post apocalyptic story hinging on a sideshow act wasn't quite what I was in the mood for. Yes, that was kind of what I expected when Faller put the parachute on for the first time. Fortunately for me, Peter is introduced very early on.

With each Peter chapter, the story began to pull closer together: the prion, the cure, the conflicts that were all coming to a head, each kept the story moving and offered just enough hints at the overall plot to keep me fully invested in the tale.

The overall premise of Faller was a bit similar to a couple of other titles I've come across of late, but the various building blocks of the story do make it stand out from those other titles. The questions added a layer of mystery that most definitely appealed to the mystery/thriller fan in me. (I especially liked trying to tease out the identities of Faller and the people he meets along the way!) And of course the virus and the post apocalyptic aspect were right up my alley too. Finally, the actual science fiction aspects themselves were really only explained in the most basic of ways. This was both a pro and a con of the story in my opinion because while it didn't go over my head, I never felt there was much of an effort to truly explain what was happening.

Faller is a fun read that'll appeal to lighter science fiction readers.

Rating: 3.5/5

Friday, November 25, 2016

Short Fiction Friday: Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

John Persons's latest client is a doozy: a feisty ten-year-old who wants the PI to kill his stepfather for him. The boy says the stepfather is abusive, which John has no trouble imagining, and if John doesn't help, the boy's younger brother will most certainly be killed.

Of course it's the boy's claim that his stepdad is a monster that really cements the deal. See, John Persons isn't quite human himself and monsters are a bit of a specialty for him.

Cassandra Khaw's latest is a noir tinged mystery steeped in Lovecraftian lore. And it's cool!

This London is just a tad bit off from the "real" London. Here, monsters are real. They inhabit everyday people and evade the notice of anyone who isn't like them. But Persons IS like them. He can see them, and is all too aware that they're up to no good.

The prose of the tale is all noir - the cadence and the tone. It makes the story feel dark and grey, even beyond any outright description used by Khaw. And of course I love the melding of genres - mystery, sci-fi, and horror. It's all foggy atmosphere and dark tentacley creepiness! The perfect kind of cross genre tale - one that gets under your skin and invades your thoughts even when you're not inside it's pages.

I sincerely hope this is just the first of many John Persons stories. The world of Hammers on Bone is one I would love to spend more time in - and soon! (Of course, there's always Rupert Wong to tide me over and I do plan on checking that world of Khaw's out very shortly).

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thankfully Reading Weekend

Happy almost Turkey Day, y'all! In honor of the occasion (and the long weekend for most) Jenn over at Jenn's Bookshelves is hosting her annual Thankfully Reading Weekend!

This is my official kickoff post.

Since we're staying home this holiday, we've been invited over to our friends' house for dinner. Which means I don't have to worry about cooking a turkey! But I am cooking a few dishes for our contribution. In between prepping and eating, though, I'm planning to tackle James S. A. Corey's Caliban's War, the second book in the Expanse series. It's a big honking monster (just under 600 pages!), so we'll see if I'm able to squeeze in anything else besides :)

I'll keep you posted!

In the Blue Hour by Elizabeth Hall

Hi, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Elizabeth Hall's In the Blue Hour. 

Elise Brooks had a dream about a car accident. The road was snowy, the car was hers, but in the dream she couldn't see the driver. She never told anyone because she never believed dreams could be real. 

But then her husband died - driving her car on a snowy road. 

Elise senses that her husband may still be with her. And though she never believed before, she recognizes that even those around her are open to the idea. As time goes by, she begins to believe her husband might be trying to tell her something. Something important. And so Elise embarks on a journey to find the meaning of her husband's messages.

This is a quite different book from Hall's debut, Miramont's Ghost. It begins in New Mexico, in the time since her husband's death, Elise hasn't really dealt with the loss. She's holed herself up in their remote cabin, closing herself off from the world. As we meet her, she's entering her husband's studio for the very first time. It's her first step to rejoining the world in the wake of her loss.

With some prompting from her best friend, some help from a psychic and fellow widow, and a surprising new acquaintance, Elise begins to heal from her loss while unraveling the message she believes is coming from beyond the grave.

Hall's characters are wonderful - full of depth and emotion. And I loved how place itself became almost becomes a character as well. New Mexico - its life and spirit, culture, food... - are all a big part of the story. As is the Native American lore of the area. From there, Elise travels to Tennessee, a place she barely remembers thanks to having left early in her childhood. These places anchor and inspire Elise and her story. They all - the characters and settings - come to life in Hall's prose in a way that allows the reader to easily slip into and become completely immersed in the story.

I quite enjoyed In the Blue Hour. I've been in something of a reading rut of late, taking what feels like ages to finish even one book. But I found myself sucked into In the Blue Hour from the start, finishing the first third of it almost before any time at all had passed. And of course then had to continue!

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

Purchase Links: Amazon | Books a Million | Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for the final book in Erika Johansen's Tearling trilogy, The Fate of the Tearling.

WARNING: If you have not yet read The Queen of the Tearling and Invasion of the Tearling do not read any further!

Kelsea has given herself and her sapphires over to the Red Queen, brokering a peace agreement she hopes will protect her kingdom. But it also means being captive and prisoner of her enemy all the while stripped of the powers the stones once gave her. Except it seems Kelsea's ability to see beyond her own time hasn't left her. Visions of a girl living in William Tear's time, just after the crossing, have replaced those of Lily, giving Kelsea a look into her kingdom's earliest days. But what wisdom can be gained by these visions? 

Meanwhile, Mace has been left in charge in Kelsea's stead. As public sentiment suffers thanks to the damage left behind in the Mort soldiers' wake and the church's attempts at destabilization, Mace is also tasked with cleaning out the dirty underbelly of the city. All this as he and the rest of the Queen's guard try desperately to figure out how they can save their queen. 

So when we last left Kelsea she had surrendered both herself and the sapphires to the Red Queen. Her strategy did leave her prisoner, but it also made it possible for her to discover the identity of the enemy that has been tormenting her kingdom for so long. And it also revealed the fact that the sapphires are apparently useless to anyone other than Kelsea.

Kelsea had also been having visions of a pre crossing woman named Lily. The visions were attributed to the power the stones had apparently given her. Her physical powers left her with the stones, but in the days after her surrender Kelsea realizes that the visions haven't gone at all. They have changed, though. Rather than seeing and feeling Lily's pre-crossing experiences, she's now seeing a girl born just after the crossing.

These visions allow the reader to see more of the history of Kelsea's world, a history that's not really understood by even Kelsea and her people. And there's a suspicion, as the visions continue, that something very important is being conveyed to Kelsea. Something that (considering this is the final book in the trilogy) must lead to some sort of resolution. But Johansen does, as with the prior two installments, keep her cards close, leaving the reader guessing as to what might be coming for Kelsea, the Red Queen, and even William Tear and his people.

The scope of the world of this trilogy is amazing. I never suspected, in the opening pages of The Queen of the Tearling that the world was anything close to what it turned out to be. It's funny, too, that Johansen herself notes some of the feelings I had while reading in her acknowledgements. The fact that the history of the world is limited to what the characters know - and they really know very little at all -, that identities are hidden, that information is just plain lost, was at times incredibly frustrating. Don't worry, it was never frustrating to the point of discouragement, but instead in the most I-must-keep-reading-I-must-know-what's-going-on agonizingly edge of your seat kind of way. It's made the wait for this third and final installment quite difficult, let me tell you.

If you ignored my warning above, I did try to go no as no spoilers as possible. You do have to read the trilogy in order, though, in order to have any inkling of what's going on. It's a highly inventive trilogy and a fabulous world, though, and I definitely recommend checking them out.

If you have read them all, or at least the first two, then you may have missed this recent little extra over on Bustle (a short story about a young Mace called "The Boy"). Mace is probably everyone's favorite character (or maybe that's just me) so don't miss it! 

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Erika Johansen and her series you can like her on Facebook and visit her on Tubmlr.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Arena by Holly Jennings + a Giveaway

Kali is a gamer - a professional gamer. Every week, viewers from around the world tune in to watch her team, Defiance, battle it out on the virtual field. But just before the start of the latest RAGE tournament, Defiance - the favorite to win, is beaten by a new team. They still have a chance to come out on top, but it will mean battling it out with the rest of the losing bracket before once again taking on InvictUS, the team no one seems to be able to take down. 

Though Kali is confident, she and her team are shaken when one of their own dies of an overdose. And while Kali's still reeling from the loss of her teammate (and lover), Defiance's owner names her captain of the team - the first female captain in history -, and recruits a new member. One comes with the burden of responsibility while the other threatens the strength and cohesion of the team. 

If you're a fan of gaming, this first in Holly Jennings's Arena - series, duology? - is for you. My own diving in comes at a fortuitous time: I was victorious in obtaining one of the shockingly few released Nintendo Minis last week! Our classics are Kali's classics as well and quite a few of the games I grew up with appear as pop culture references in Jennings's debut :)

So Kali's world is one in which virtual reality has evolved to the point that gamers must be athletes in order to succeed. She and her team train physically in order to be able to duke it out in the programmed world. And if they're hurt inside, they feel it when they unplug.

The popularity of virtual gaming is such that Kali and her team are subject to the whims of owners, sponsors, and media (much like real sports and celebrity today). And image is everything. Which is why the team must win and must appear to have recovered even after one of their teammates dies. Which becomes tough considering Kali's much more affected by the death than anyone wants to admit.

Jennings's story isn't just about gaming. She's taken the trappings of celebrity - the constant attention, the pressure to be at the literal top of the game at every moment, and the need to live up to the expectations and narratives created by the media - and illustrated just how much that can affect a person. Kali is a leader and a passionate player, which means walking away isn't an option. The careers and futures of her teammates rests on her shoulders. And it's getting to be too much to handle on her own.  

Arena is fun, readers, and I can't wait until next spring and the release of Gauntlet! (It's synopsis on Goodreads does include spoilers for Arena, so I'd wait to check that out until you've finished the first book.) I kind of wish there had been more detail of the world and the tournament themselves, but the depth of the characters and the evolution of their relationships as a team and beyond make it easy to get wrapped up in their story.

Thanks to the publisher, I get to offer up one copy of the brand new trade paperback edition of Arena today! To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, November 28. Open US only and no PO boxes please.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Grape, Olive, Pig by Matt Goulding

Good morning, readers! Today I'm kicking off the TLC blog tour for Matt Goulding's latest, Grape, Olive, Pig.

Part travelogue, part history, and all food, Grape, Olive, Pig offers an in depth look at the culture and cuisine of Spain. Beginning in Barcelona, where Goulding not only fell in love with everything edible but also the woman he'd eventually marry, the book takes readers through a crash course in Catalan history and the literal lesser known hot spots for the best drinks and tapas. From there, he takes readers on a winding trip throughout the country: Salamanaca and the story behind jamón ibérico; Valencia and paella; Basque Country and Goulding's own education in their dishes and techniques; Cadiz and the famed bluefin hunters; Asturias with José Andrés; percebes in Galacia; cocida and cocido variations in Madrid; and finally migas in Granada.

Of course there's more to each section than the dishes and people I mentioned above. Enough to inspire the traveler in you to book a ticket and begin planning a feast!

Goulding's focus on spots beyond tourist favorites is one of the highlights throughout the book, giving readers interested in a real Spain experience tips on how and where to accomplish that. But of course the best part of the book is the food. Unfortunately, if you're looking for recipes for the dishes Goulding mentions throughout, you're kind of out of luck, but behold the beauty of the internet!

My favorite pieces, beyond Goulding's own personalized tales and the honestly stomach-growling inducing descriptions of the food, were the bits in between chapters. Anatomy of a Dish pieces, Life Skills: Eat Like a Spaniard, Amazing Shit in the Middle of Nowhere, profiles of chefs, and Tapas Truths: Tapas Taxonomy.

Grape, Olive, Pig is the latest collaboration between Anthony Bourdain, Roads & Kingdoms, and Matt Goulding, which kicked off with Goulding's Rice, Noodle, Fish. Again, if you're in search of a Spanish cookbook, this is not the book for you. If you're in search of mouthwatering and insightful travel writing, though, you can't go wrong with Grape, Olive, Pig.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. And for more on Matt Goulding, his eats, and travels, you can follow him in Twitter.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Sunday, November 13, 2016

New Releases 11/15/16

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Desolation Flats by Andrew Hunt

Chaos by Patricia Cornwell (11/17)

Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich

Ruler of the Night by David Morrell

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

No Man's Land by David Baldacci

Nest by Terry Goodkind

The Sleeping Beauty Killer by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke

This is Our Story by Ashley Elston

The Girl in the Picture by Alexandra Monir

The Turncoat's Gambit by Andrea Cremer

My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

Flashfall by Jenny Moyer

New on DVD:
Finding Dory

Friday, November 11, 2016

Short Fiction Friday: How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea and Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus by Mira Grant

This summer saw the release of Mira Grant's Rise, the collected shorts and novellas of the Newsflesh series. I had already bought most of the novellas individually, including today's, but didn't get around to diving into about half of them until the collected volume released. Since I'd already started covering the stories individually, though (here and here), I figured I'd continue in that vein.

First up, How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea finds intrepid reporter Mahir Gowda traveling Down Under to see how Australia handles their little zombie issue. And in true down under fashion, it's nowhere near as uptight as the way others do. Of course this means that Mahir is in more danger than unusual, but that's pretty much to be expected in his line of work.  

This one is a lot of fun because, while Mahir has featured in most - if not all - of the other shorts, this is really the first time he's been an active part of the story. And it's fun to see the world expanded to include Australia. Which is, according to the author's note in Rise, pretty much why and how this tale came about - to illustrate the global effects of the outbreak.

This one is a chunky novella - clocking in at 115 pages, making it the longest short in the series. Which is doubly great because it means spending that much more time with Mahir and the zombie wombats!

Next up, Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus is connected directly to book three and The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell. I did debate about revealing the latter, but considering it's part of Grant's own intro to the tale in Rise, I figured it was ok to mention the connection.

Dr. Shannon Abbey has made her lab a virtual fortress. It's location is all but secret and entry is heavily protected. But when a delirious and malnourished woman makes her way onto the grounds, Abbey takes her in and decides to nurse her back to health. The decision is one that she may come to regret, but Abbey and her people certainly aren't going down without a fight. 

So the woman in question is Foxy and this tale is a companion to The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell, which is Foxy's origin story. I loved Day, so it was especially glad to see a return to that character. Though I was sad to see how things had shaped up for her. Hers is a story of survival, but at a cost.

Shannon Abbey, on the other hand, is fabulously snarky and exceptionally wonderful to return to. She's such a fun character, and one I think has a wonderful ability to analyze situations, even possibly disastrous ones, and keep her cool while working out a solution. She's faced with exactly that scenario in Please Don't Taunt the Octopus, but this time without the benefit of the Masons.

I may have mentioned it before, but I'm pretty sure Mira Grant is one of the busiest people in publishing. I was talking her up just the other day and commented that if there's a genre anthology out, she's likely part of it. And that's above and beyond the multiple worlds she's writing in: Newsflesh and the finished Parasitology trilogy as Grant; October Daye, Incryptid, Wayward Children, and more as Seanan McGuire. And those are just the series. She's got a ton of stand alone tales, like the upcoming Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day. It seems I stumble upon something new from her every month: the upcoming Black Feathers anthology, the What the #@&% is That anthology that released this week, last month's The Starlit Wood anthology, Urban Allies from July... Which of course is perfect for a fan girl like me because it seems to mean an endless supply of her work to feed my book junkie needs!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Dreamology by Lucy Keating

Alice's dreams are full of wonders - and Max. Max is perfect and he's by her side in every adventure. But Max isn't real. 

Or is he. 

Alice and her father have just moved to Boston. Alice is the new girl, lonely already thanks to having to leave her best friend behind. A friend who advises her that it's time to give up the fantasy of Max and meet someone in the real world. But lo and behold, who does Alice meet on her very first day at school: Max. Real Max. And real Max IS dream Max. But the more time Alice and Max spend together outside of their dreams, the more their dreams seem to be seeping into the real world. 

Ah, Lucy Keating's debut is so freaking charming!

I dream. I dream vividly. Which I guess is something of a trade for the fact that I don't actually get much in the way of rest when I sleep thanks to hereditary insomnia. So yeah, there was part of the appeal in this one: dreams, dream boy, new girl in school, and overall a debut that sounded uber cute. Which it definitely was.

Passages of Alice's dream journal are peppered throughout the book, pretty perfectly depicting the wacky world of sleep. And her relationship with dream Max is incredibly sweet.

Of course, neither Alice or Max ever believed the other existed outside of their dreams. Which proves to be a bit problematic. And at first, Max doesn't even admit to knowing Alice at all. So poor Alice is faced with the one thing she's wanted and yearned for for so very long and the very possibility that it's all only in her head!

You can probably imagine Alice's emotional state as the story begins. Plus, there are issues with her mom. ISSUES.

Both Alice and Max are developed pretty well. They both have a lot of emotional baggage, which Keating subtly works into their behaviors and characteristics. Some of the side characters could have used a bit more attention, but seeing as how it wasn't their story it really isn't a complaint - simply a wish that I could have spent a bit more time with Dreamology before it ended.

Dreamology is a contemporary tale with a whimsical edge. Like I said, charming and oh so cute. As usual, I want to avoid spoiling anything for you. But yes, Alice and Max do find out why they're dreaming about each other and how it all began. Whether they get their happily ever after in their dreams or the real world is part of the story.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun & Susan Mullen - Excerpt

Morning, all! I have another fantastic excerpt for you today, this one from Michael Kun and Susan Mullen's brand new release We Are Still Tornadoes.

Before we dive in, here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Growing up across the street from each other, Scott and Cath have been best friends their entire lives. Cath would help Scott with his English homework, he would make her mix tapes (it's the 80's after all), and any fight they had would be forgotten over TV and cookies. But now they've graduated high school and Cath is off to college while Scott is at home pursuing his musical dreams.

During their first year apart, Scott and Cath's letters help them understand heartache, annoying roommates, family drama and the pressure to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. And through it all, they realize that the only person they want to turn to is each other. But does that mean they should be more than friends? The only thing that's clear is that change is an inescapable part of growing up. And the friends who help us navigate it share an unshakable bond.

And now for a taste of We Are Still Tornadoes:



Where Men and Boys Shop


September 2, 1982

Dear Cath,

I’m appauled that you would accuse me of going through your panties when I left that heartwarming note in your suitcase. Appauled, I tell you. (Did I spell “appauled” correctly? If not, please correct it for me.) Just so we’re clear, are you talking about the yellow bikini ones with the stars on the hip that were packed right beneath your running shoes? Or the light blue bikini ones with the white polka dots? Or the hot pink ones? Or the orange-and-red ones? Or that really big beige pair that you must have stolen from your grandmother?

Seriously, though, your stupid dog knocked over the entire suitcase when I was trying to stick the note inside. I had to scramble to put everything back into the suitcase. And that’s the story I’ll tell the police!

Anyway, unless your roommate hung it up to be funny, the HANG IN THERE, BABY poster is pretty scary. Didn’t Mrs. Wilkins have that same stupid poster behind her desk in fourth grade? But your Elvis Costello poster’s even scarier, if you ask me. You’d never even heard of Elvis Costello until I got you to listen to him over the summer, and now you have his poster up on your wall to try to convince everyone that you’re the cool chick in the dorm? How sad. How very, very sad. You better pray I don’t come down to visit you in whatever state Wake Forest is in and tell all your new buddies about how you were still listening to Tony Orlando and Dawn just a few months ago. Yes, you’d better get on your knees and pray, college girl.

On a different note, my job is terrible. The days are endless. That’s what I get for working at my father’s store, I suppose. Yes, I know, it’s my own damn fault. If I’d just “buckled down” and “put my nose to the grindstone” and gotten some decent “grades,” I could have gone off to college like you and everyone else in our class, but I “didn’t” do those things, and it’s too late to “cry over spilled milk.” I “made my bed,” and now I have to “lie” in it. I imagine I’ll work at “Agee’s Men’s Clothing” until it becomes “Agee & Son’s Men’s Clothing.” Then someday my father will die—it’s going to be a heart attack, in case you want to bet—and it will become “Agee’s Men’s Clothing” again. I will have spent my whole life selling clothes to people in this “one-horse town,” and I will be “fat” and “old” and “disgusting.” But your mother will still have a crush on me.

I think I use quotation marks too much. What do you “think,” college girl?

And I really do think your mother has a crush on me. (By the way, I saw her walking Plum last night. I assume she’s feeding her, too.)

Oh, did I mention that Samantha broke up with me? I know I didn’t mention it, but I waited a few paragraphs to tell you to make it sound casual. Did it work? Anyway, after we agreed that we would date long-distance while she was at college, she sent me a letter telling me she’d met someone else at school and didn’t think it would be fair to lead me on. She sent me the letter after her thirdday at college. Three days, can you believe it? Honestly, I’m more surprised than hurt. I figured we could stick it out until Christmas, at the very least. But three days? I’ve had pimples that have lasted longer than that. I’ve had gas that’s lasted longer than that. You get the point.

I have to go do something very important right now, at least as far as you know. Hope you’re having fun at school, college girl.


P.S. Did I tell you that my dad is giving me a 10% discount off anything at the store? How cool is that? (I’m being serious. I really want to know how cool that is. I think the answer is, “Not very,” but I’m not sure.)

P.P.S. Want me to send you some Tony Orlando and Dawn albums to listen to when you get homesick?

P.P.P.S. Three days! Can you believe it?

September 6, 1982

My Dearest Scottie,

I knew Plum knocked over the suitcase. I asked my mom how you left me a note in my suitcase since my dad made you give back the key to our house after that party, and she said she let you go up to my bedroom, but she heard Plum knock over the suitcase and heard you cursing a blue streak. So you’re off the hook. For now.

And I’ll deal with the dorm room poster thing in a minute.

But first, if you’re going to insist on calling me “college girl,” then I’m going to start calling you “underachiever guy.” Or “really bad speller boy.” How does that work for you? (By the way, it’s “appalled.”)

And yes, you do overuse quotation marks. Particularly since you also misuse quotation marks. Who puts “grades” in quotation marks? Oh, yeah—you do. Which is why I had to “help you” through “English class” all during “high school,” underachiever guy.

I’m sorry work sucks, but I love your dad’s store! I love everything about it. I really do, although I’ve never been there for eight hours at a time. Maybe it will get more interesting when it gets busier for the holidays. Or maybe you’ll move up and get more involved in other aspects of the business. (There are other aspects, right?) I don’t know, but your dad always seems happy and that’s where he’s worked forever, so it can’t be that bad, right? (I have some very fond memories of coming into the store to see you, and your dad calling me his “little Catherine” and sneaking me some hard candies. Speaking of which, you might want to check under that last suit rack in the back corner. I never really liked the orange ones.) Or maybe you’ll change your mind and go to college. Despite your quotation mark “challenges,” and despite your spelling challenges, you are way smarter than most of the people here. Besides me, of course.

You think my mom has a crush on you? Please. My mother is thrilled that you will eat her cooking. My dad and I know better. And yelling the F-word (as my mom would say) at Plum when she knocked over my suitcase didn’t endear you to my mother at all, trust me. Although I have to admit that I enjoyed making her repeat it over the phone.

As for your news about Samantha, because you waited until the end of your letter before telling me about her, I’ve delayed in responding. That’s called tit for tat. (Insert a lame sex joke here.) Samantha, Samantha, Samantha. What to say about Sa-Man-Tha? Um, okay. This is what I’m going to say about Samantha. Nothing. And do you know why? Because by the time you get this, Samantha may have come crawling back to you. Hopefully, literally crawling 200 miles on those bony little knees of hers from the Western Kentucky College for Morons, or whatever the name is of that “college” she’s attending. My roommate, who’s hanging in there, keeps saying, “This is just like camp! This is just like camp!” I’m guessing that she means that this whole college thing doesn’t seem real. So maybe that’s what Samantha’s going through. Maybe she’ll wake up and not be hungover for once in her life and realize what a huge mistake she’s made. That you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to her. That she was lucky to have you. And that, really, she didn’t deserve a minute of your time. But until I know that this really is a “breakup” and not just one of her Boone’s Farm–fueled, bubble-headed freak-outs, I’ll keep my opinions to myself.

Okay, on to the dorm room poster thing. Yes, I know you are Mr. Cool Music Guy and got Elvis’s My Aim Is True before anybody else in the galaxy except for Elvis himself and maybe his mother, but I had to put something on my side of the room. Dorothy’s mom showed up with matching black-and-gold Wake Forest bedspreads, curtains, and bulletin boards for both of us. I kid you not. I’d never even met them before, and they’re going to pick out my bedspread? I said something like, “Well, gee, thanks, but I brought my own stuff.” Her mom was clearly miffed and started banging nails into the walls and hanging up all these framed posters all over the place. Elvis is all I had, and I was sort of glad that it clashed with all their matchy-matchy stuff. Besides, “Accidents Will Happen” is like a theme song here. I’ve never seen so many people throw up! In bushes, in hallways, sometimes they even make it to the bathroom. It’s disgusting. And then I hum “Accidents will happen…” and think about riding around town with you, listening to it on the tape deck, and then it’s not so bad.

I have to go to the library. Classes started and there’s a lot to do. They don’t call this place “Work Forest” for nothing. And I have to tell you about my Calculus professor. My parents would die if they knew they were cutting a big check to Wake Forest to pay for this dork. He reminds me of Mr. Laire. Which isn’t a compliment.

Write soon and let me know if Samantha is as dumb as I think she is. About the breakup, I mean.


College Girl

P.S. No, I don’t want to bet on how your father will die! What is wrong with you?

P.P.S. Your dad’s 10% discount? Not very cool. He used to give me 20% just for being so darned lovable.

P.P.P.S. Tony Orlando and Dawn are awesome, and “Knock Three Times” is super awesome. Don’t pretend I was the only one who would dance to that song. I may even have pictures of you dancing to it that I could use as evidence.

Ha! I don't know about you, but this sounds super cute and I definitely need super cute this week! Plus, it's set in the 80s and I am a sucker for anything set in the era of my childhood :)

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Infinity of You and Me by J. Q. Coyle

Alicia has a problem. And said problem has quite a few diagnoses attached to it, but basically she has a tendency to space out when faced with too many decisions. Or so she thinks. Alicia hallucinates other worlds - vivid hallucinations that sometimes include her father, who she hasn't seen since she was a little girl. She'd give anything for these visions to go away. To live a normal teenaged life. And her uncle, psychiatrist, and mother all think "normal" is a possibility for Alicia. But no amount of pills seems to be doing the trick. 

But what if that's because these hallucinations aren't hallucinations at all. What if Alicia has the ability to see and somehow travel to other worlds. Other existences - like ones where her father never left. Or ones where she's in very real danger. Or even ones where she has the power to save everyone around her from a terrible fate...

Readers, I thoroughly loved The Infinity of You and Me. From the very start, with Alicia trying to literally escape a sinking ship while also desperately trying to pass a Spanish exam, I was hooked! (If you haven't checked out the excerpt, be sure to head over to that post next.)

Alicia doesn't have it easy. Her father left when she was little and her teenage years have been plagued by increased instances of these fugue/dream states. Unfortunately they happen at quite inopportune moments and are gravely affecting her school work. Which is why she's failing multiple classes. And why she's deemed to be a problem child in school. And probably also why she only has one friend.

Her mother tries to help, as does her uncle - her father's brother -, but even before things really start rolling in the story, it's clear that Alicia doesn't quite trust her brilliant neuroscientist Uncle Alex. Maybe it's because his brother bailed on them or maybe it's because she doesn't want to be beholden to him. Or maybe it's because he's not really out to help her at all?

I loved the idea of the spandrels. (Read the book for explanation.) And I really loved the way the story played out. If you haven't checked out the excerpt post, then you probably missed the fact that J. Q. Coyle is a pseudonym for co authors Julianna Baggott (Pure) and Quinn Dalton (Midnight Bowling). The two definitely play well together in the writing sandbox, creating a seamless narrative that's super fast paced and super, crazy imaginative!

The Infinity of You and Me by J. Q. Coyle - Excerpt

Good morning, everyone! Today I've got two posts for you. First up is an excerpt from The Infinity of You and Me by J. Q. Coyle, aka Julianna Baggott and Quinn Dalton!

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

What if every life-altering choice you made could split your world into infinite worlds?

Almost fifteen, Alicia is smart and funny with a deep connection to the poet Sylvia Plath, but she’s ultimately failing at life. With a laundry list of diagnoses, she hallucinates different worlds—strange, decaying, otherworldly yet undeniably real worlds that are completely unlike her own with her single mom and one true friend. In one particularly vivid hallucination, Alicia is drawn to a boy her own age named Jax who’s trapped in a dying universe. Days later, her long-lost father shows up at her birthday party, telling her that the hallucinations aren’t hallucinations, but real worlds; she and Jax are bound by a strange past and intertwining present. This leads her on a journey to find out who she is while trying to save the people and worlds she loves. J.Q. Coyle’s The Infinity of You & Me is a wild ride through unruly hearts and vivid worlds guaranteed to captivate.

I'll be following up a bit later today with my review of The Infinity of You and Me, but for now here's look at this excellent mind-bending read:

The Infinity of You and Me
by J.Q. Coyle
Chapter One 

The beginning is always a surprise. 

(The endings are, too.)

I never quite know what I look like. I’m myself, yes, but different. Never tall and leggy, but my hair might be long and tied back or cut in a short bob. Sometimes I’m in jeans and sneakers. Once or twice, a dress.

I’ve been alone in a field of snow.

I’ve woken up in the backseat of a fast car at night, my father driving down a dark road.

I’ve been standing in the corner at a party where none of the faces are familiar.

This time, noise comes first. A clanging deep inside the hull of a ship—a cruise ship. I’m running down a corridor of soaked red carpet.

The ship lurches.

Someone’s yelling over the crackling PA speakers—I can’t understand the words over the rush of water. Alarms roar overhead.

I shoulder my way down another corridor, fighting the flood of people running in the opposite direction, screaming to each other.

Some part of my brain says, Me? On a cruise ship? Never. But if I was so lucky, it’d be a sinking one.

The rest of my brain is sure this isn’t real, no matter how real it feels.

I run my hand down the wall, the cold water now pushing against my legs. I’m wearing a pair of skinny jeans I don’t own. I know someone’s after me—I just don’t know who. I look back over my shoulder, trying to see if anyone else is moving against the crowd like I am.

No one is.

Where’s my mother? She’s never here when I go off in my head like this.

A man grabs me roughly by the shirt. My ribs tighten. 

Is this who I’m running from?

No. He’s old, his eyes bloodshot and wild with fear. He says something in Russian, like the guys in the deli at Berezka’s, not too far from my house in Southie. I shouldn’t be able to understand him, but I do. “Run! This way. Do you want to die, girl?” I don’t speak Russian. I’m failing Spanish II.

But then I answer, partly in Russian. “I’m fine. Thank you. Spasiba.” The words feel stiff in my mouth. I can barely hear myself over the screaming, the water rushing up the corridor, and the groaning ship.

The man keeps yelling, won’t let go of me, so I rip myself loose and run.

A glimpse of gray through a porthole, only a sliver of land and heavy dark sky.

I see myself in the porthole’s dark reflection—my hair chin length, my bangs choppy, just a bit of faded red lipstick.

We’re on the Dnieper River. It’s like this: I know things I shouldn’t. I don’t know how.

A woman falls. I reach down and help her up. Her head is gashed, her face smeared with blood. She nods a thank-you and keeps marching against the current, soaked.

I wonder if she’ll make it. Will I?

I’m looking for my father. I want to call out for him, but I shouldn’t. The people chasing me are really after him—I know this too, the way you know things in a dream.

The ship lists, hard, and my right shoulder drives into a wall. Stateroom doors swing open. The sound of water surging into the hull is impossibly loud.

And then my father appears up ahead—shaggy, unshaven, his knuckles bloody. I love seeing him in these hallucinations. (That’s what my therapist calls them.) It’s the only time I ever see him. I even love seeing him when he looks like hell, and older than I remember him, more worn-down. But he always has this energy— like his strength is coiled and tensed.

“Alicia!” he shouts. “Down!”

I fall to my knees. The water is up to my neck and so cold it shocks my bones.

My father raises a gun and fires. 

Some men fire back.

I put my head underwater, and the world is muted. I hold my breath, can only hear my heart pounding in my ears. My face burns with the cold, my back tight, lungs pinched. I swim toward the blurry yellow glow of an emergency light.

When I lift my head, a tall and angular man slides down a wall and goes under, leaving a swirl of blood. My father shot him. This should shock me, but it doesn’t. My father, who’s really a stranger to me, is always on the run and often armed.

Another man, thick necked and yelling, returns fire from a cabin doorway.

My father disappears around the corner up ahead, then lays cover for me. “Get up!” he shouts. “Move now!”

I push through the icy water, wishing my legs were stronger and tougher, feeling small and easily kicked off-balance.

“Just up ahead,” he says, “—stairs.”

But then a little boy with a buzz cut doggy-paddles out of a cabin. The water’s too deep for him.

I reach out, and he grabs my hand, clinging to my shirt. 

“Alicia, get down!” my father yells.

Instinctively, I shield the kid. 

A gunshot.

I feel a shattering jolt in my shoulder blade. I can’t breathe, can’t scream.

The boy cries out, but he hasn’t been shot. I have. The pain is stabbing. “He shot me!” I shout, shocked. I can only state the obvious, my voice so rough and ragged I don’t even recognize it.

My father pulls me and the boy into a tight circular stairwell, the water whirling around us, chest deep. As he lifts the little boy high up the stairs, I glimpse the edge of a tattoo and skin rough with small dark scars and fresh nicks on his wrists. “Keep climbing!” he says to the little boy.

Wide-eyed with fear, the boy does what he’s told.

The water is rising up the stairs, fast, but my father props me up with his shoulder, and we keep climbing. I try to remember what it was like before he left my mom and me. Did he carry me to bed, up the stairs, down the hallway, and tuck me in?

“We’re going to get out,” my father says. 

“We can jump.” “We can’t jump,” I say. Off the ship?

“Trust me,” my father says.

I’ve never trusted my father, never had the chance. After he left, he wasn’t allowed within five hundred feet of me or my mother. “What the hell am I doing here?” I ask.

My father stares at me. “Is it you? Really you?” 

“Yes, it’s me,” I say. Of course it’s me!

My father looks stunned and scared and relieved somehow all at the same time. “You’re finally here.”

“Finally where?”

“Things have gotten too dangerous,” he says quickly. He reaches into his pocket, and in his hand I glimpse what looks like a strangely shaped shiny wooden cross about the width of his palm, but it’s not a cross, not exactly. “You’ve got to get lost and stay lost.”

I am lost, I want to tell him, but the pain in my back is so sharp it takes my breath.

As the water pushes us up the stairwell, my blood swirls around me like a cape. I can’t die here.

I look up into cloudy daylight.

The ship’s listing so hard now it seems to be jackknifing. Suddenly I’m terrified we’re all going to drown.

I expect to see the little boy’s face at the top of the stairs, but he’s gone. Instead, there’s a group of men with guns trained on my father and me.

“Ellington Maxwell.” The man who speaks is the one who shot me. In the hazy glare off the water I see a jagged scar on his cheek. “Welcome to our world. This time we hope you stay awhile.”

I look up at the sky again and abruptly it swells with sun. My right hand hurts and I know this signals an ending . . . Bright, blazing, obliterating light.

And I’m gone.

Whoa, right!? The Infinity of You and Me officially hits shelves tomorrow! Stay tuned for my review :)

Sunday, November 6, 2016

New Releases 11.8.16

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington

After Atlas by Emma Newman

Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino

The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier

This Was a Man by Jeffrey Archer

Bronx Requiem by John Clarkson

Night School by Lee Child

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Timekeeper by Tara Sim

The Door That Led to Where by Sally Gardner

Double Eclipse by Melissa de la Cruz

Dead Girls Society by Michelle Krys

The Lost Property Office by James R. Hannibal

New on DVD:

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Pre Pub Book Buzz: Ararat by Christopher Golden

How in the world are we already in November, folks? I don't know where this year has gone! And now I'm looking towards 2017 releases for my TBR, yeesh.

I've had my eye on Christopher Golden's upcoming Ararat for quite some time now. It doesn't come out until April, but holy crap does it sound amazing!

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

When a newly engaged couple climbs Mount Ararat in Turkey, an avalanche forces them to seek shelter inside a massive cave uncovered by the snow fall. The cave is actually an ancient, buried ship that many quickly come to believe is really Noah’s Ark. When a team of scholars, archaeologists, and filmmakers make it inside the ark for the first time, they discover an elaborate coffin in its recesses. The artifact tempts their professional curiosity; so they break it open. Inside, they find an ugly, misshapen cadaver—not the holy man that they expected, a hideous creature with horns. A massive blizzard blows in, trapping them in that cave thousands of meters up the side of a remote mountain…but they are not alone.


So yeah, it's Christopher Golden PLUS they're comparing Ararat to Dan Simmons's The Terror, which you may recall is one of my favorites. Here's hoping that by the time this one comes out in April that we're well beyond any power outage worthy snow storms! I'm all for mood reading, but I'd be happy not to repeat my frigid Terror reading experience. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Fill the Sky by Katherine A. Sherbrooke - Excerpt

Morning, all! I have another excerpt to share with you today. This one is perfect for book clubs and anyone looking for a truly emotional read.

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Tess Whitford’s world is thrown into turmoil when Ellie, her dearest friend, runs out of medical options and grabs onto the hope that traditional healers in Ecuador might save her from a terminal diagnosis. Tess is skeptical, but cannot deny a request that might be Ellie’s last. Together with Joline, whose spiritual work inspired the trip, they travel to the mountain village of Otavalo, where they are immersed in nature and introduced to strange, ancient traditions. After an ayahuasca ceremony goes awry, and an unlikely betrayal threatens their friendship, each woman faces her own deep need for healing. Fill the Sky is a story about the complexity of friendship, the power of the spirit, and the quest to not simply fight death, but to shape an authentic life.

Like I said, emotional! You've been warned :)

Here's a taste to get you started:

Fill the Sky
a novel
Katherine A. Sherbrooke

Look deep, deep into nature, 
and then you will understand everything better.
Albert Einstein

Tell me who you walk with, 
and I’ll tell you what kind of person you are.
Ecuadorian Proverb



Tess hung up the phone and fought against an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. She wasn’t willing to accept her inability to help, to do something. She had pulled it off four years ago, the last time Ellie was sick. She’d done the research and found just the right medical team to blow away the odds and usher Ellie into remission. But that same team had now told her friend, her dearest friend, that she would be lucky to get another six months—nothing much they could do—and in her desperation, Ellie had already decided that flying off to Ecuador to work with shamans, or medicine people, or whatever they were called might be her only chance at survival. How had she failed her friend so completely?

“Jonathan!” she yelled from her chair.

“At your service.” He appeared so fast, she sometimes wondered if he just stood outside her office waiting for her command.

“Cancel everything for this afternoon,” she said. “Tell Rafferty I’ll look at his data first thing tomorrow. Then I need you to call Parker and tell him to meet me at Il Fornaio at eight.”

Jonathan’s eyebrows went up at this.

“Jesus, Jonathan, it’s not a date.” He did have a point. “Make sure he knows that. But tell him it’s urgent.” She closed her laptop and grabbed her phone and keys off the desk.

“Um, can I give him any context for this extremely demanding, in-case-you-forgot-you-dumped-him request?” He tilted his head to the side with a mock smile. Jonathan loved to remind her that at forty-six, she couldn’t afford to break up with guys he called “a dream and a half.”

She gave him a not now look and slung her bag over her shoulder. Halfway through the door she stopped.

“Oh, and just in case,” she said, “you better clear my calendar for the week after next. I might need to be out of the country.”

“Did an alien sneak past me somehow and possess you? You just told everyone at the staff meeting to prepare for a lock-in for the next month, and now you’re going, where exactly?”

The timing sucked, no doubt about it. Her company was on the line. The convergence of all this would crush most people, but she couldn’t afford to collapse. People were depending on her.

“It’s Ellie,” she said.

“Oh, no.” All his puff deflated with just two words.

“Go home tonight and give Daniel an extra hug,” she said. “Life’s too damn short.”

She knew she was in trouble as soon as she saw Parker’s reflection in the mirror behind the bar. His hair had gotten a little longer, and he was wearing his trademark oxford tucked neatly into the same pair of jeans that had been left in a heap at the foot of her bed so many times. He didn’t try to contain his smile when he saw her. As he walked over, a pair of women at the maitre d’s podium followed him across the room with their eyes.

“Hello, stranger,” he said, and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. “What’s wrong? Jonathan was pretty vague.”

Tess had handled Ellie’s news all day like a crisis manager in charge of contingency planning, but telling Parker was different. She clasped her hands together and tried to find the courage to speak.

“Please don’t tell me you’re getting married,” he said, with true alarm on his face.

She told him about Ellie, everything she knew about her condition, how she had called everyone she knew who worked in the field and the prognosis was definitely grim.

“God, you must be devastated,” he said. “I’m so glad you called.”

“Here’s the thing.” She took a sip of her drink. “I know your work is confidential, but I need you to tell me if any of your clients are working on any under-the-radar trials that might help her.”

“You called me for my research?” He leaned forward in his seat. “Listen, you know I would tell you in a minute if there was something on the horizon that could help Ellie, but how are you, Tess? How’ve you been? I’ve missed you.”

“So you don’t know of anything.”

“I’m sorry.” Parker put his hand on hers.

This was proving harder than she thought. He was looking right into her, and she knew he was trying to determine if the spark was still there between them or if she was only after information. She should have emailed him. She needed to stay focused on her purpose. This had to be about Ellie. She pulled her hand back.

“Joline wants to take her to Ecuador to see some medicine people or something. She’s got Ellie’s hopes up they can actually help. It’s crazy, Parker. Ellie’s going to die, and I can’t do one thing to help her.”

Parker understood this dynamic. Joline was Tess’s and Ellie’s other roommate at Stanford, and while Tess loved her, it was hard not to be exasperated by thirty years of introductions to the latest new-age solution for health and wellbeing. Ellie bought into it every time. It all drove Tess a little nuts.

“Maybe going to Ecuador isn’t such a bad idea,” he said.

“How would it possibly be a good idea?”

“Well, the research on the placebo effect I’ve studied is pretty clear that a patient’s chances of recovery are most highly correlated with their own belief about whether or not they will get well.” Tess loved hearing him talk research. “If Ellie believes going to Ecuador will help, maybe it will.”

“She wants me to go,” she said.

“Then maybe that’s the single most important thing you can do for her.”

Tess stabbed the lone olive in her glass and considered ordering another drink.

“Tess, let me drive you home. You must be running on fumes.”

She knew she wouldn’t resist inviting him in. As soon as they shut the door behind them, he unclasped the hair clip at the base of her neck, hitched her up to his hips, and wrapped her legs around him. In the space between the front door and the bedroom, the year they had been apart dissolved like sugar in a boiling beaker. Gone.

The morning of her flight to Quito, Tess felt the warmth of Parker’s body next to her before she opened her eyes. Every morning since Ellie’s news, he’d been there. It had been a relief to dive back in without any questions, without rehashing old issues. There were already too many top priorities in her life right now without worrying about that.

She had to get moving. She’d have only a few hours at the office before heading to SFO. Forcing herself to open her eyes, she found Parker watching her.

“God, don’t do that,” she said. “What are you doing?”

“Can I drive you to the airport later?” he asked, brushing her hair off her face.

“That’s okay. The driver will pick me up at the office,” she said. “Shit, I still have to pack.”

She tried to swing her leg out of the bed, but his hand was on her thigh.

“Are you ready for this?” he asked.

“For jumping into Joline’s crazy healer world? What in God’s name would make you think I wasn’t ready?” she said.

“Ready to behave, I mean.”

Tess rolled her eyes.

“I told you,” he said. “Casting doubts won’t help Ellie. You have always been the one she can lean on. She’s going to need that from you more than ever.”

Tess felt a tear threatening to surface. She shut it back, under a long blink.

“I know,” she said.

“And when you need somewhere to lean, I’m here,” he said.

“Oh, I’ll be fine.”

“How can you possibly be fine, Tess? Your best friend is dying and your company is on the brink.”

“What choice do I have?” she said, feeling anger rise. What good would it do to sit around and whine about the shit-show her life was at the moment?

“No, you’re right. You’ve always been a force of nature, Tess. I get that. You’ve never needed help from anyone in your life.” He sat up on his side of the bed, his back to her.

“What did I say?” she said.

He put his jeans on and wandered around the room in search of his shirt.

“This doesn’t work for me if you don’t let me in,” he said. “These last two weeks have been . . . It’s been amazing to be with you again. But I need more than that. I want to be needed. I need to know that I am the one you count on—”

“I can’t do this right now,” Tess said. Could anyone give her a break?

“I know. But I couldn’t let you leave without telling you how I feel. I love you, Tess, like it or not. And I need to be loved back. Otherwise there’s no point.”

She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to say.

“You get packed. I’ll make you some breakfast,” he said, and left her clutching the edge of the cool white sheet.

As the plane banked toward Quito, the rising sun pushed a yolk of light across Tess’s screen, making her spreadsheet unreadable. She hadn’t slept. She still couldn’t believe she was actually headed to Ecuador. The idea that a group of people with no medical training could possibly help Ellie was ludicrous. But as hard as she’d tried, Tess had found no better option to offer. Not yet, anyway. After they got through their week of “healing ceremonies,” as Joline called them, Tess would continue her search for a new drug or new trial or new procedure that could save her friend. There had to be something.

She glanced over at Joline, still asleep in the aisle seat, the static from the paper pillowcase pulling at her graying spikes of hair, her bare arm hanging into the empty seat between them. Her silver rings encircled almost every finger, and an arc of bangles hung on her wrist. With her dark brown eyes closed, her face lost its usual warmth, the hollow of her cheeks emphasizing the crest of her cheekbones and edge of her jaw. Her wiry frame, tightly wrapped in her skinny jeans and tank tops, made her look a little older than her forty-seven years, or maybe it was having a teenaged boy under her roof while getting no help from a deadbeat dad.

Tess sighed and tried for the umpteenth time to stretch her legs out under the seat. She re-clipped the jade barrette at the base of her neck, then pulled up the shade and squinted into the sun. Not far below, multiple mountain peaks surged toward the sky, some still covered in snow, their ridges rough and strong. She hoped Otavalo would have plenty of trails, the steeper the better. A long run was all the healing Tess needed.

She couldn’t stop thinking about Ellie’s kids. She loved to be in that house, where dinner was allowed to go cold in favor of a good snowball fight. It reminded her of her own childhood, back before her mother had died, when life was a carefree orbit around her mother’s warmth. Tess couldn’t bear the idea of Ellie’s kids having to endure the pain of losing their mother—it was too much to expect of a child. She shook off the thought. Ellie just couldn’t die. They all needed her too much.

Tess spotted what looked like the mouth of a volcano. She knew there were dozens of them around Quito, now dormant, mountains that had molded their inner roiling into something strong and reliable, immovable. One was even taller than Denali, all of them now playgrounds for hikers trying to conquer obscene altitudes. She admired the sculpted cliffs and slants, every angle representing a challenge of mortal strength.

Just beyond the peaks, patches of dark green and brown land sloped down toward Quito, its buildings tilted in haphazard groupings, as if they had slid down from the hills and bunched up at the bottom, like slush on a windshield. A lone cell tower stood above the city, and Tess wondered just how backwater a place they might be headed for.

The pilot’s announcement of their final approach woke Joline.

“Looks like we’re going to be early,” Tess said, looking at her watch. “If we hurry we can get to Ellie’s gate before she gets off.”

“Good morning to you, too,” Joline said, rubbing her face. She slid into the middle seat and leaned over Tess. “What magical mountains. How amazing that we’re all going to be here together.”

“I can’t believe it either,” Tess said.

“Give it a chance. Nature will support.”

Her favorite phrase. Joline always managed to boil the most complex issues down to her belief that whatever should happen will happen, that nature was a divine force that found the best solution on its own. Nonsense. Ellie was an amazing mother, devoted wife, the best friend Tess had ever had. How could “nature” possibly justify any of this? Ellie simply didn’t deserve to be sick.

Tess wondered if her friends would say the same if she were the one to get sick. Or would they think she had brought it on herself with her endless hours, her drive, always pushing for one more mile, one more bend in the trail? It was the one thing she knew Joline and Ellie would never quite understand. Life as a solo warrior was different. She did what she had to do to survive.

Tess put away her laptop and fastened her seatbelt.

“Just tell me they make martinis in Ecuador,” Tess said.

“Oh, they make better than that,” Joline said.

Tess was too tired to ask what she meant.

If you're still not quite sold, here are a few BIG blurbs to help convince you further: Anita Shreve calls this one "deeply moving" and Brunonia Barry said Fill the Sky is "A journey every woman should take."

For more on Katherine and her work be sure to visit her website here. And if you you do happen to be in a book club, Katherine has fabulous perks on offer for you. You can find that info on her book groups page here