Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Lovely War by Julie Berry {audiobook review}

The Lovely War
by Julie Berry
♦publisher: Viking Books for Your Readers
♦release date: March 5th, 2019
♦hardcover, 480 pages
♦intended audience: Young adult
A sweeping, multi-layered romance with a divine twist, by the Printz Honor-winning author of The Passion of Dolssa, set in the perilous days of World Wars I and II.

It's 1917, and World War I is at its zenith when Hazel and James first catch sight of each other at a London party. She's a shy and talented pianist; he's a newly minted soldier with dreams of becoming an architect. When they fall in love, it's immediate and deep—and cut short when James is shipped off to the killing fields.

Aubrey Edwards is also headed toward the trenches. A gifted musician who's played Carnegie Hall, he's a member of the 15th New York Infantry, an all-African-American regiment being sent to Europe to help end the Great War. Love is the last thing on his mind. But that's before he meets Colette Fournier, a Belgian chanteuse who's already survived unspeakable tragedy at the hands of the Germans.

Thirty years after these four lovers' fates collide, the Greek goddess Aphrodite tells their stories to her husband, Hephaestus, and her lover, Ares, in a luxe Manhattan hotel room at the height of World War II. She seeks to answer the age-old question: Why are Love and War eternally drawn to one another? But her quest for a conclusion that will satisfy her jealous husband uncovers a multi-threaded tale of prejudice, trauma, and music and reveals that War is no match for the power of Love.

{My thoughts}

What an outstanding reading experience! The story is lovely, to begin with, but with an excellent full cast narration on the audiobook, complete with musical interludes, this was something special.

The tale told in The Lovely War is so compelling---the goddess Aprhodite relays the love story of two couples to prove a point to her husband and her lover, Hephaestus and Aries. It's the tale of Hazel and James, and of Colette and Aubrey---four young people caught up in the Great War. It's a glaring look at the ugliness of war, the effect it can have on family and love and growing up, and a heartbreaking look at the how African American soldiers were treated, even by their own countrymen. The romance was sweet, made all the more charming by Aphrodite's telling of how she had a hand in nudging them all in the right direction and her own sheer delight at watching it all unfold.

Despite the serious subject matter and the moments it has it's readers bawling their eyes out ...The Lovely War was such a beautiful tale of bravery and kindness, music and passion, friendship and most of all, love.

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{About The Author}

Julie Berry is the author of the 2017 Printz Honor and Los Angeles Times Book Prize shortlisted novel The Passion of Dolssa, the Carnegie and Edgar shortlisted All the Truth That’s in Me, and many other acclaimed middle grade novels and picture books. She holds a BS from Rensselaer in communication and an MFA from Vermont College. She lives in Southern California with her family.

Purchase the book:  Indiebound  •  BookDepository  •  Amazon 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Things She's Seen by Ambelin & Ezekiel Kwaymullina {review}

The Things She's Seen
by Ambelin & Ezekiel Kwaymullina
♦publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
♦release date: May 14th, 2019
♦hardcover, 224 pages
♦Intended audience: Young adult
♦arc from publisher for honest review
Nothing's been the same for Beth Teller since the day she died.

Her dad is drowning in grief. He's also the only one who has been able to see and hear her since the accident. But now she's got a mystery to solve, a mystery that will hopefully remind her detective father that he is still alive, that there is a life after Beth that is still worth living.

Who is Isobel Catching, and why is she able to see Beth, too? What is her connection to the crime Beth's father has been sent to investigate--a gruesome fire at a home for troubled youth that left an unidentifiable body behind? What happened to the people who haven't been seen since the fire?

As Beth and her father unravel the mystery, they find a shocking and heartbreaking story lurking beneath the surface of a small town, and a friendship that lasts beyond one life and into another...

{My Review}

Small but mighty! The Things She's Seen looks like a little slip of a book, but inside the story is a wondrous tale, a ghostly mystery full of scandal and sharp turns, a touching father-daughter relationship that has proven itself stronger than death, and a glimpse of aboriginal mythology and history.

The story is told in two perspectives. Beth is a recently deceased teen who hasn't left the side of her living father and now helps him in his job as a detective. He's the only one who can see her and sometimes it's just like she never left, other times he is consumed with the sadness and guilt that comes with grief.  Their path crosses with that of Isobel Catching, a supposed witness to a crime they are investigating and she lends her voice to the story with a curious tale of her capture by strange creatures told in verse.  Through it all we get a dark and magical look at both ancient and modern aboriginal culture, community, and legend. The history of the Stolen Generation is woven in in such a personal way and I love how it showed the characters finding strength in her ancestry. Meanwhile, Beth coming to terms with her ghostly existence and trying to help her father reconnect with the world was incredibly poignant. Though I do feel the darkly enchanting and courageous chapters in verse overshadowed the murder mystery plot just a bit, it all converged into a horrifying and satisfying end. I hope that this brother/sister author team write more like this. 


Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina are a brother-sister team of Aboriginal writers who come from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. They've worked together on a number of short novels and picture books. Catching Teller Crow (original AU title of Things She's Seen) is their first joint YA novel. They believe in the power of storytelling to create a more just world.

Purchase the book:  Indiebound  •  BookDepository  •  Amazon 

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Spectacle by Jodie Lynn Zrdok

by Jodie Lynn Zdrok
♦publisher: Tor Teen
♦release date: February 12th, 2019
♦hardcover, 368 pages
♦intended audience: Young adult
♦standalone (currently)
♦source: received from publisher for honest review
Paris, 1887.

Sixteen-year-old Nathalie Baudin writes the daily morgue column for Le Petit Journal. Her job is to summarize each day's new arrivals, a task she finds both fascinating and routine. That is, until the day she has a vision of the newest body, a young woman, being murdered--from the perspective of the murderer himself.

When the body of another woman is retrieved from the Seine days later, Paris begins to buzz with rumors that this victim may not be the last. Nathalie's search for answers sends her down a long, twisty road involving her mentally ill aunt, a brilliant but deluded scientist, and eventually into the Parisian Catacombs. As the killer continues to haunt the streets of Paris, it becomes clear that Nathalie's strange new ability may make her the only one who can discover the killer's identity--and she'll have to do it before she becomes a target herself.

{My thoughts}

This was quite a gripping mystery! With the bleek atmosphere of Paris 1800, when folks used to consider a little morgue-visit quite the amusement, Natalie finds herself a person of interest to the Paris's newest serial killer trying to make a name for himself. I would recommend a strong stomach and a taste for the macabre to take this one on. There's twists and gruesomeness and I dare you not to gasp at least once in this dark and gritty tale.

Natalie is a smart, level-headed character. During a murderous rampage by a killer known as the Dark Artist, she's been assigned as a fill-in morgue reporter and is determined to prove herself but frustrated that the social norms require her to disguise herself as a boy to do so. She longs to make her way with her own identity. When her most recent morgue visit results in a overwhelming vision of the victim's murder, followed by a strange memory loss, she begins to dig around to find out why this could be happening---why she seems connected to these murders, and how it seems to tie in to her Aunt's mental health issues as well.

The story is expertly told, jutting off into little pockets of plot that all circle around to weave themselves together eventually. I felt a quick little disconnect somewhere in the middle, but it had me well in it's grasp again before too long. Natalie really struggles to find reason to put herself through this dangerous situation, but is pulled to find answers when it becomes personal on several levels.

It is, in turn, grotesque, intriguing, heartbreaking, and completely enthralling. Definitely worth checking out if you can take a bit of gut-churning blood and death!

{About The Author}

Jodie Lynn Zdrok holds two MAs in European History and an MBA. In addition to being an author, she's a marketing professional, a freelancer, and an unapologetic Boston sports fan. She enjoys traveling, being a foodie, doing sprint triathlons, and enabling cats. Spectacle is her debut.

Purchase the book:  Indiebound  •  BookDepository  •  Amazon 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Raven's Tale by Cat Winters {review}

The Raven's Tale
by Cat Winters
♦publisher: Amulet Books
♦release date: April 16, 2019
♦hardcover, 368 pages
♦intended audience: Young adult
♦stand-alone, historical fantasy
♦source: arc from publisher for honest review
Seventeen-year-old Edgar Poe counts down the days until he can escape his foster family—the wealthy Allans of Richmond, Virginia. He hungers for his upcoming life as a student at the prestigious new university, almost as much as he longs to marry his beloved Elmira Royster. However, on the brink of his departure, all his plans go awry when a macabre Muse named Lenore appears to him. Muses are frightful creatures that lead Artists down a path of ruin and disgrace, and no respectable person could possibly understand or accept them. But Lenore steps out of the shadows with one request: “Let them see me!”

{My review}
This was spectacular! Just beautiful and moody and dark and perfect. Granted, Cat Winters was already of favorite of mine, and her taking on the early life of Edgar Allen Poe was nothing short of a dream pairing for me---but this still blew me away. Winters has so perfectly captured what I would imagine Poe being like as a teen.The fictional story she has lovingly intertwined with what is obviously hours upon hours of detailed historical research culminates into a wonderfully rich, eerie, and heart-wrenching fantasy. I took my time with this one, savored every beautiful word and just enjoyed every moment.

As with many of Cat Winters works, I feel that this book won't be for everyone. It's not fast-paced or action packed, and it certainly isn't lacking in it's peculiarity. I felt completely immersed in Poe's world..his troubled home life, his hopeful romance, his triumphs and failures at school.  As an enchantingly dark and bizarre twist, Poe's muse becomes a physical being with needs and emotions and hopes. Lenore is a shining character, even in her grotesqueness, and all she wants is to be seen and acknowledged and made whole. The story manages to have almost no actual romance but still be completely romantic.
Those new to Poe's work will hopefully get a taste enough that they're left with the desire to seek out more. And fans of Poe are sure to adore every easter egg of his many works, every insight to his dark genius, every carefully Poe-stylized phrase, and (my personal favorite moments) the imaginative take on his creative process, with him wildly spinning tales and gushing out poetry line by painstaking line, with Lenore at this side setting his mind ablaze with dark images. This whole story was such a cool concept and I absolutely loved it!

{About The Author}

Cat Winters is an award-winning, critically acclaimed author of fiction that blends history with the supernatural. Her young adult works include IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, THE CURE FOR DREAMING, THE STEEP AND THORNY WAY, ODD & TRUE, and a forthcoming novel about Edgar Allan Poe's teen years, THE RAVEN'S TALE (available April 16, 2019). She is also the author of two adult novels, THE UNINVITED and YESTERNIGHT. She has been named a Morris Award finalist, a Bram Stoker Award nominee, and an Oregon Spirit Book Award winner, and her books have appeared on numerous state and "best of" lists.

Winters was born and raised in Southern California, just a short drive down the freeway from Disneyland, which may explain her love of haunted mansions, bygone eras, and fantasylands. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids.

Purchase the book:  Indiebound  •  BookDepository  •  Amazon 


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett {book birthday review & interview!}

Dear Readers---listen up!!
Today a fantastic debut hits the shelves,
full of fierce flying, historical influence,
powerful magic, and a hefty dose of girl power!!
Happy Birthday to

Seventeen-year-old Revna is a factory worker, manufacturing war machines for the Union of the North. When she’s caught using illegal magic, she fears being branded a traitor and imprisoned. Meanwhile, on the front lines, Linné defied her father, a Union general, and disguised herself as a boy to join the army. They’re both offered a reprieve from punishment if they use their magic in a special women’s military flight unit and undertake terrifying, deadly missions under cover of darkness. Revna and Linné can hardly stand to be in the same cockpit, but if they can’t fly together, and if they can’t find a way to fly well, the enemy’s superior firepower will destroy them–if they don’t destroy each other first.

We Rule the Night is a powerful story about sacrifice, complicated friendships, and survival despite impossible odds.

  First a quick mini-review:
I really enjoyed this one, from the moment we meet Revna and Linné, we know we are going to be in for an interesting friendship. They are so different, and so fierce and complicated each in their own way. When they are both brought on to a secret military force of young women who have shown the needed skills to mount a surprise attack on the enemy using a magical force called The Thread, their two worlds are thrown together and they find themselves with their lives in each others hands. Their friendship is a rocky one and hard won, but it's quite the adventurous ride getting there. The legacy of the Night Witches heavily inspires this story of feminine strength and determination, what hardships and mistreatment these women who put their lives on the line just as much as any of the male soldiers endured and it is just as inspiring as it is frustrating to imagine how that felt. The worldbuilding and magical system are so creative, vivid descriptions of the aircrafts give this a slightly steampunk feel, and the family conflict and realistic interactions of a group of young women from many different backgrounds all being thrown together all felt genuine.  A wonderful debut and one I highly recommend!

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I was honored to be able to ask Claire Eliza Bartlett a few things about her amazing book:

•Linné and Revna--wildly different personalities. Both great characters. Do you feel you're most like Linne or Revna?

I am more like Revna. Practically thinking, second-guessing myself, not too intent on rocking the boat - at least, not the way Linné does it! Though Linné's sarcasm is allll me.

We Rule the Night has lots of beautiful steampunk fantasy elements, but is also very grounded in history. What most drew you to tell a story inspired by the WWII Night Witches?
After learning about the Night Witches in a rather roundabout fashion involving a power metal song, what drew me most to their story was this sense of strength in the face of unrelenting tribulations. The Night Witches faced certain death every time they got in their planes - and when they got out of their planes, they were often met with sexism and derision from their own side. Some of the women who flew were even considered traitors, for the simple reason that they'd been shot down and captured or killed in enemy territory. But these women kept going, and they relied on each other to keep going. Something spoke to me about fighting so hard for a country that cares about you so little. And as with much of history, I found a lot of parallels for that feeling today.

Speaking of steampunk fantasy, what was the inspiration for your mechanical dragons, serpents, and other machinery flown in the story?
The machinery is inspired by fantasy and art deco design. Think the swooping lines of a Bugatti. There are a fair few mechanical dragons in fantasy literature, and a big visual aesthetic for mine came from Havemercy by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett (though the dragons in WRTN are very much machines!). Art deco pins and insects served as a design standpoint for war beetles and palanquins - then I added a dash of tank in there, because it's war time. Pinterest has a lot of great dieselpunk and steampunk spiders, horses and so on, but I had to do a little extra thinking to make them practical additions to the world.
•Every character held such distinct threads of the story, was there any character that was especially hard to write? Any that was your favorite to write?
Probably the hardest was Revna, which makes sense to me. She's my main main character, at least in my head! Her character arc is also less...explosive than Linné's. The other characters were built up over time, in layers, so it was just a matter of thinking hard enough about them that they felt like individuals, not copies of each other. My favorite character is Magdalena. She hopped into my head pretty much fully formed, and she's been a cheerful presence there since the novel's first draft!

The magical system is such a unique one, a bit like telekinetic energy, but more interwoven into the world...what is one thing you would use it to do in today's world if you could? 
Ooohh, that's a tricky one! If I could use the Weave well, I'd probably use it to give my bicycle a push in the mornings! I ride my bike to work, and Copenhagen can get pretty windy, which is no fun for a lazy girl like myself.

•What is one thing you hope readers take away from Linné and Revna's story?
That sometimes you fight for something, and you lose. But that doesn't mean it wasn't worth fighting for, and it doesn't mean you didn't gain something else in the process. I hope that doesn't sound too dismal. 
Thank you so much Claire, for giving us even more insight into your story!!

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{About The Author}

 Claire Eliza Bartlett grew up in Colorado. She studied history and archaeology and spent time in Switzerland and Wales before settling in Denmark for good. When not at her computer telling mostly fictional stories, she works as a tour guide in Copenhagen, telling stories that are (mostly) true.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

To Best The Boys by Mary Weber {review}

To Best The Boys 
by Mary Weber 
♦publisher: Thomas Nelson Books
♦release date: March 19th, 2019
♦intended audience: Young adult
♦stand alone, fantasy
♦source: from publisher for honest review
Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port receive a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. Every year, the poorer residents look to see that their names are on the list. The wealthier look to see how likely their sons are to survive. And Rhen Tellur opens it to see if she can derive which substances the ink and parchment are created from, using her father’s microscope.

In the province of Caldon, where women are trained in wifely duties and men are encouraged into collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her Mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition.

With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone’s ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the maze.

{My review}
Ah, this book. It easily takes its place among my favorites shelf.  And as a longtime fan of author Mary Weber, I can also say it's become my new favorite of her works. It's a feminist tale, for sure, as Rhen fights her way to what she wants and needs in a world that seems only geared toward the success of young men, but the author spins a tale that gracefully shows that feminism doesn't have to be about showing all men as monsters, but about empowering women and putting men who think women deserve to be thought of as powerless in their place.  She's created an enchantingly rich fantasy world full of sirens and ghouls and a terrifying and magical labyrinth competition, and a group of fun characters to carry each other through it all.

I loved the lighter and humorous tone at the beginning, drew me right into the story and put even me at ease with the fact that they were, in fact, cutting into corpses in the very first scene. You quickly get to know Rhen through her snarky interactions and inner dialogue. But further in, the story also puts her through quite a heart-wrenching and time-sensitive challenge---one that becomes her motivation and strength behind her brave decision to sneak into the labyrinth competition.

The plot is so engaging, every twist and turn through the labyrinth is sure to keep readers enticed, thinking through mysterious clues right along with the characters and holding your breath as Rhen, Lute and the others face each puzzle and run a treacherous race to the finish. The subtle romance that grows between Rhen and Lute is perfection---and I love that she makes clear from the beginning that she doesn't have time for any drama and nonsense. I also love how she doesn't back down from Vincent, her childhood friend who seemed to think his declaration of courtship meant he owned her. Grrr. Did not like him. The way things ended with Lute and Rhen---wow. I absolutely loved how everything turned out and the direction it was going, the support and assurance that poured from him. Read it, you'll see. :)  I know this is a stand-alone, but I would absolutely love more of Rhen and Lute and Seleni and goofy Beryll.  Another absolutely stunning story from Mary Weber that just leaves you wondering in awe at what she will come up with next. ♥

{About The Author}

Mary Weber is the bestselling HarperCollins author of six books, including the Storm Siren TrilogyThe Evaporation of Sofi Snow series, and this year’s highly-acclaimed To Best the Boys. When not writing, Mary sings 80’s hairband songs to her three muggle children, and ogles her husband who looks strikingly like Wolverine. They live in California which is perfect for stalking aging superstars while wearing sweatpants and fannypacks.

Purchase the book:  Indiebound  •  BookDepository  •  Amazon

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source: book provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Deepest Blue book birthday! Interview with Sarah Beth Durst

Let's all venture back to Sarah Beth Durst's beautiful and dangerous
world of Renthia, visit another of it's stunning lands, and say

Life is precious and precarious on the islands of Belene. Besieged by a capricious ocean full of malicious spirits, the people of the islands seek joy where they can. Mayara, one of the island’s fearless oyster divers, has found happiness in love. But on the day of her wedding to the artist Kelo, a spirit-driven storm hits the island with deadly force.

To save her loved ones, Mayara reveals a dangerous secret: she has the power to control the spirits. When the storm ends, she is taken into custody by the queen’s soldiers and imprisoned with other women like her.

They vary in age and social status, but to many they are heroes who will aide the country or witches that will sacrifice themselves trying. No matter who they are, the women are sent to a terrifying place—an island filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits, and left without food, water, shelter, or any tools except their own instincts and magic. Whoever survives the Island of Testing will be declared heirs to the queen. But no matter if she wins or loses, Mayara knows that the life she dreamed of is gone.

 In the final book of The Queen of Renthia trilogy, I was made so curious by the short glimpse we had of the ocean-side land of Belene. I was so excited when I learned that we'd get to explore it so much more in this newest book!! Today I have the honor of interviewing Sarah so she can tell us a bit more about herself and what awaits us in The Deepest Blue!!
*     *     *     *     *     *
• Tell us a little about The Deepest Blue and how it relates to The Queens of Renthia series?
I loved writing this book!  So many sea monsters!
THE DEEPEST BLUE is a standalone epic fantasy set in Belene, a string of islands besieged by an ocean full of malicious spirits.  Mayara, one of Belene's fearless oyster divers, is about to marry the love of her life when an unnatural storm hits her island, and wild spirits from the sea ravage her village.
To save her loved ones, Mayara reveals a dangerous secret: she has the power to control the spirits.  When the storm ends, she is taken into custody by the queen's soldiers and imprisoned with other women like her.  They are sent to an island filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits, and left without food, water, shelter, or any tools except their own instincts and magic.  Whoever survives the Island of Testing will be declared heirs to the queen.  But no matter if she wins or loses, Mayara knows that the life she dreamed of is gone.
THE DEEPEST BLUE is set in the same world as my Queens of Renthia trilogy, but you don't have to have read the trilogy first -- it's a new story with new characters.  (If you have read the trilogy, though, there will be one familiar face.....)
• What character in The Deepest Blue are you most excited for readers to meet and why?
I always fall in love with all my characters.  For me, that's an essential step to bringing the characters to life.  Once they feel real to me, I know I can write them. 
With THE DEEPEST BLUE, I fell in love with the main character, Mayara, when I wrote the very first sentence of the book:
"On the dawn of her wedding day, Mayara knotted her diving belt around her waist and climbed the skull of a long-dead sea monster."
After I wrote that sentence, I knew her voice, her dreams, and her determination.

One of the things that I've been exploring in my writing lately is different ways for people, especially girls and women, to be strong.  Mayara is strong because of the love in her life -- her family, her friends, her husband.  All her choices are fueled by that.
I can't wait for readers to meet her!
• You've written 18 amazing books for readers of all ages. Do you have an age group that you enjoy writing for the most?
There's something wonderful about each age group.  When you write for kids, for instance, you're writing about firsts -- first adventure, first friendship, first taste of independence -- and I love that first brush with wonder.  When you write for older readers, you get to build on the rich, wonderful history of the genre.  More experienced readers bring a wealth of expectations with them, and it's so much fun to play with that -- either by fulfilling expectations or subverting them.
THE DEEPEST BLUE is my 18th book.  I write for kids, teens, and adults, and the common thread in all of them is fantasy.
I spent my childhood in the woods behind my house, searching for a dragon's egg.  Every night before bed, I'd check the back of my closet for a way in to Narnia.  And every morning, I'd memorize where I left my stuffed animals so I'd know if they came to life and moved around while I was at school.  So it was kind of inevitable that I'd grow up to write about magic and adventure and deadly sea monsters.
Some stories lend themselves better to a young protagonist; some work better with older characters.  I let the story dictate what kind of book it will be.  So long as it has some element of the impossible, I'm happy.

• Where is your favorite writing spot? Coffee shop?  Kitchen table? In the park surrounded by people?
I own a laptop because I cling to the image of a writer on the top of a mountain, on the beach, in a cafe, in a beautiful library...  But the truth is that I write best just at my desk, in easy reach of my stash of chocolate.  This laptop rarely ever moves.
• With so much experience under your author belt, what is one thing you wish you could tell every writer who is just starting out?
Be kind to yourself.
A writer's greatest enemy is self-doubt, and a writer's greatest strength is perseverance.  You need to quite that little voice inside you that is always criticizing everything and instead give your story a chance to grow.  Trust your instinct.  Trust your sense of story.  And just keep writing!
Thanks so much for interviewing me!

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{About The Author}

Sarah Beth Durst is the award-winning author of seventeen fantasy books for adults, teens, and kids, including The Queens of Renthia series, Drink Slay Love, and The Girl Who Could Not Dream. She won an ALA Alex Award and a Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and has been a finalist for SFWA's Andre Norton Award three times. She is a graduate of Princeton University, where she spent four years studying English, writing about dragons, and wondering what the campus gargoyles would say if they could talk. Sarah lives in Stony Brook, New York, with her husband, her children, and her ill-mannered cat.