A Brand New Look!

You may have noticed that there’s a new banner, a new icon, a new look to The Hermit Librarian!

 

FINAL Vicky's header

 

Vicky from Vicky Who Reads has done an amazing job creating a host of new graphics for me to use around the blog, which I plan to incorporate into my posts in the near future.

 

FINAL square transpo Vicky

 

I couldn’t be happier with the cute, vibrant look she’s brought to The Hermit Librarian. I hope y’all will enjoy seeing everything she’s created as much as I have. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

 

 

I Danced With Sorrow – A Review

Poetry is a genre of writing that is intensely personal. The subject matter is often something that is coming from the depths of the author’s being and I respect that, the strength that it takes to bring those feelings and thoughts to the surface and translate them to the page.

That being said, not every volume of poetry is going to conveyed in a manner that is palatable to every reader. I Danced With Sorrow is once such book that I failed to connect with early and hard.

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Amazon | Goodreads

Published: 18 September 2016

Publisher: Self-published

Genre(s): Poetry

I Danced with Sorrow is a collection of short verse poetry detailing the journey of one girl as she struggles to come to terms with what she has endured. It is split into five sections. Each is centred on a different aspect of her life, tackling various topics such as heartbreak, abuse, and finding liberation through creativity. Some of the main themes included are, love, life, death, hope, loss, and the rebuilding of self.

I Danced with Sorrow encourages the reader to explore the darker aspects of life, and reminds them that even after the chaos, there is still light.

Rating: DNF @ 42%

TW (from the author): abuse, death, low self-esteem, body negativity, sexual imagery, poor mental health.

The stylistic choices through formatting felt familiar, which was something because it initially gave me some hope that I’d be able to get into the text.

The beginning poems felt a bit abrupt, though as things progressed they fleshed out more so I don’t hold that against the book. The objects chosen as metaphors by and large seemed particularly random & confused the heck out of me (see above quote). The first third of the book was particularly heavy with them, making it especially difficult to find the wherewithal to continue reading.

While reading, I had the impression that the author was trying to tell me one thing, but was doing it in such a way, an attempt at such an elevated manner of speaking, that whatever message was meant to an conveyed was lost.

I tried to continue reading, but the further I got the worse/weirder the writing & metaphors got until it was practically unreadable. At 42% I realized that the combination of the above problems made for such an unenjoyable experience that I dreaded picking this book up, plus I couldn’t understand it well enough to even want to go back and try again. It was just too painful and I decided to write this one off as not for me.

 

 

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

 

CB Lee’s SIDEKICK SQUAD Blog Tour

In C.B. Lee’s latest installment of the Sidekick Squad series, Not Your Backup centers Emma Robledo. Does she have the super ability to sense direction? No. To change her shape at will? Also no. Is that going to stop her from leading the Resistance against a corrupt government organization with everything she does have? Not a chance.

With returning characters that fans of the series have grown to love, this inclusive series has a new chapter unfolding that will be sure to offer even more of what they’ve come to love: representation, quippy characters, and strong people that, powered or not, are going to fight to make sure they’re not kept down.

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Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Goodreads | Indiebound | Interlude Press | Mysterious Galaxy
Published: 1 June 2019
Publisher: Duet Books (YA Imprint of Interlude Press)
Genre(s): Young Adult/LGBT+/Superheroes

Emma Robledo has a few more responsibilities that the usual high school senior, but then again, she and her friends have left school to lead a fractured Resistance movement against a corrupt Heroes League of Heroes. Emma is the only member of a supercharged team without powers, and she isn’t always taken seriously. A natural leader, Emma is determined to win this battle, and when that’s done, get back to school. As the Resistance moves to challenge the League, Emma realizes where her place is in this fight: at the front.

Lambda Literary Award finalist C.B. Lee returns with the third book in her bestselling Sidekick Squad series, which has garnered both critical acclaim and fans for its joyous tone and inclusivity.

Rating: 4 Stars

CW: internal shame though asexual and aromantic questioning, sci-fi violence

Rep: aro/ace questioning (examined in-depth w. MC), diverse cast, main & secondary (including Latina MC in a relationship with a Black trans boy; non-binary/gay/lesbian)

Not Your Backup starts off with a high stakes mission for a group of metahumans, lead by our main character Emma, the mastermind behind the operation and not, herself, possessed of meta-abilities. That doesn’t stop her from throwing herself into the fight for justice against the Heroes League of Heroes. From the off we see her merits at work, the planning, the concern for her friends, the angles her brain & heart work at to make sure everyone, those who know the truth about the “heroes” and those who don’t, will be alright.

Part of what I like about Emma is that, in a world where there are metahumans, particularly where the antagonists are people with a terrifying skill set and Emma is not a powered person, she doesn’t let this immediately cower her. Despite what some may see as a drawback, and while some of the metahumans, like the adults in the Resistance, don’t want to directly challenge the Heroes League of Heroes, Emma is stepping up to do what is right with what she has: her determination, her courage, her brains. Those are her abilities, her “powers”.

She does have some difficulty when trying to fight, whether it be within the Resistance itself and some who might see her as ineffectual because of her normality (there’s one character in particular that I dearly wanted to slug) or because of her own anxiety and self-doubt. Emma’s desire to help, to think out her plans to each eventuality and perfect them, is tricky and very familiar. It made her so relatable because I got that: wanting to be able to plan all the strings of a plan, where every branch of something might fork off. It’s so hard, not being able to know. That anxiety is intense and you could feel it in this story.

CB’s books are multi-faceted masterpieces. They’re not just about superheroes or people without powers doing what they can in a society built around metahumans. Not Your Sidekick, wherein Jessica was the MC, spoke about biracial identity. In Not Your Backup, when Emma is visiting one of Bells’s family farms, they talk about how it’s necessary to farm fresh fruits & vegetables secretly because their main farms are forced to sell directly to the Collective (i.e. the government) which jacks the prices up so most people cannot afford to eat anything other than highly processed foods. This was a haunting moment because that’s a very familiar scenario in parts of the world and given what the world is like these days, who knows how much worse it could get?

There was also Emma’s ace/aro questioning. There were some serious internal dialogue that was particularly poignant and I liked these moments because, while some of them were tough to read (mostly because I remembered going through similar moments myself) I appreciated that they were on the page to begin with. I don’t recall many ace and/or aro questioning characters on the page, so getting the opportunity to read about Emma in a series that I already enjoy was quite awesome. 🙂

Not Your Backup is a fun sequel to the previous entries in the Sidekick Squad series and will welcome y’all back with open arms. Are you ready to join the Resistance? There’s room for us all (and next year, who knows, book 4? 👀) ❤

 

Who Would I Be In the World of SIDEKICK SQUAD?

 

I originally thought this question would be easy because I have pondered the “what superpower would you have” topic before. After all, I do love stories with superheroes and movies like the X-men. However, after having read the current Sidekick Squad books, I realized that my answer kept changing. There are a whole host of potential possibilities and I think the answer depends on who I am on any given day.

If I were to pick an established character who I’d want to be/whose power I’d want to have, it would have to be Bells. His chameleon abilities get stronger from Not Your Sidekick, where we barely know anything about them, through Not Your Villain, where we really got inside his story because he was the main character. In Not Your Backup, there are some instances where the extent of his abilities, such as shifting into an actual train track, just boggles the mind.

I find the power of transformation particularly appealing because there are a great many things about my body that I’d use Bells’s chameleon abilities to adjust. As Bells demonstrates, he is able to take on the shape of any person he chooses and, as a trans man, is able to use his abilities so that he doesn’t have to use a binder 24/7 (something which isn’t healthy anyway). That sounds like it would be such a relief for me. As a plus size trans non-binary person who can’t use a binder, having a superpower that would allow me to change my shape would be, just, amazing. Bells can also utilize this power to try different hair colors & styles without worrying about dye drips, which I can tell would be also be really great. lol

If I were to choose a Sidekick Squad based persona not explicitly based on an existing member, I think I’d choose something that was water based. I’m not sure how much help that would be to the Jess, Bells, Emma, and the rest of the group, considering the story is primary set in the desert, but I love swimming more than anything and I live on the East Coast so we’ll pretend that I’m a member of the East Coast Resistance or something. 😀 Maybe I’d have gills that would appear and disappear when I needed them so I could breathe underwater. Or perhaps my power would allow my body to compress/decompress in depths that ordinary humans wouldn’t be able to achieve without special suits.

Side Note: After writing that last part, I watched Aquaman and issues that I had with the film aside, I realized I would basically want to be the meta-human equivalent of an Atlantean. ^^;

 

Favorite Quotes

 

A cautious, responsible driver and citizen educated by the Manual Driving Authority of the North American Collective would have never risked it.

Emma Robledo is neither cautious nor responsible.

 

Next to her, Bells and Abby are hugging too. Emma laughs and hugs Abby as well. Bells pulls Jess in, and it’s everything Emma’s been missing.

 

Chloe claps enthusiastically. In front of her, a vase of shoots and buds blossoms into full, colorful flowers, complementing Chloe’s elegant aesthetic.

 

About the Author

 

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CB Lee is a Lambda Literary Award nominated writer of young adult science fiction and fantasy. Her works include the Sidekick Squad series (Duet Books), Ben 10 (Boom!), and All Out Now (HarperTeen). CB loves to write about queer teens, magic, superheroes, and the power of friendship.

Lee’s work has been featured in Teen Vogue, Wired Magazine, and Hypable. Lee’s first novel in the Sidekick Squad series, Not Your Sidekick was a 2017 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist in YA/Children’s Fiction and a 2017 Bisexual Book Awards Finalist in Speculative Fiction. Seven Tears at High Tide was the recipient of a Rainbow Award for Best Bisexual Fantasy Romance and also a finalist for the 2016 Bisexual Book Awards in the YA and Speculative Fiction categories.

 

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SIDEKICK SQUAD Tour Schedule

 

27th May

CW @ The Quiet Pond (Introduction)

Harker @ The Hermit Librarian (NYB Review + Quotes/Who Would I Be in CB’s World?)

 

28th May

Shari @ Colour Me Read (NYS Review + Illustration)

 

29th May

Fadwa @ Word Wonders (NYB Review + Aesthetic)

 

30th May

Ceillie @ Let’s Fox About It (NYB Review + Character Interview)

 

31st May

Avery @ The Book Deviant (NYB Review + Quiz)

 

1st June [NYB RELEASE DAY]

Rita @ Bookish Rita (NYB Review + Quiz/Aesthetic)

 

2nd June

Laura @ Green Tea & Paperbacks (NYB Review + Creative Post)

 

3rd June

Lili @ Utopia State of Mind (NYB Review)

 

4th June

Nicky @ Small Queer, Big Opinions (Trilogy Review)

 

5th June

Kait @ Kaitlyn Gosiaco (NYB Review + Author Interview/Aesthetic)

 

6th June

Shenwei @ READING (AS)(I)AN AMERICA (NYB Review)

 

7th June

Janani @ The Shrinkette (Trilogy Review)

 

 

 

 

 

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

Xpresso Book Tours Presents the Cover Reveal: Summer Bucket List by T.K. Rapp

 

Summer’s the time to be carefree, right? Especially that heady last summer before college. But what happens when your expectations change and love enters the picture? Suddenly, with a list of things they want to do before summer ends, Holland and Milo will have to figure out what their summer will be like, what to check off their bucket lists, and what happens when summer ends.

Thank you to Giselle from Xpresso Book Tours for including me on this book tour.

 

Summer Bucket List by T.K. Rapp

Amazon | Barnes & NobleGoodreads

Published: 15 July 2019

Genre(s): Contemporary/Romance/Young Adult

Recently graduated from high school, Holland Monroe had no expectations for her last summer before heading off to college to be anything but ordinary.

Until she got a job as a waitress at the local country club to make extra money for school.

Milo Davis was smart, cute, and absolutely not interested in Holland. At least that was what she believed. But the day she started working at the restaurant, everything changed.

Finally together, they were left with only three months to spend time together before she moved away.

Good thing they decided to make their time as memorable as possible.

But will they remain friends? Or will checking off items on their summer bucket list lead them to something they didn’t expect — Falling in love.

 

 

About the Author

 

T.K. Rapp is a Texas girl born and raised. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from Texas A&M and it was there that she met the love of her life. He had a contract with the U.S. Navy that would take them across both coasts, and ultimately land them back home in Texas.

Upon finally settling in Texas, T.K. worked as a graphic designer and photographer for the family business that her mom started years earlier. She was able to infuse her creativity and passion, into something she enjoyed, but something was still missing. There was a voice in the back of her head that told her to write, so write, she did. And, somewhere on an external hard drive, are several stories she started and never finished.

Now at home, raising her two daughters, T.K. has more time to do the things she loves, which includes photography and writing. When she’s not doing one of those, she can be found with her family, which keeps her busy, hanging with family and friends, and mostly relaxing. She is a lover of raunchy humor, gossip blogs and a good books.

 

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

 

 

 

 

 

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All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

 

Waiting On Wednesday: Crier’s War by Nina Varela

Waiting on Wednesday

 

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event created by Breaking the Spine in which an anticipated title is highlighted. You can find their website here.

 

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Amazon | Audible | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Goodreads | Indiebound | Libro.fm

Published: 1 October 2019

Publisher: HarperTeen

Category: Fantasy/Young Adult/LGBT+

From debut author Nina Varela comes the first book in an Own Voices, richly imagined epic fantasy duology about an impossible love between two girls—one human, one Made—whose romance could be the beginning of a revolution.

Perfect for fans of Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse as well as Game of Thrones and Westworld.

After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.

Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

 

I’ve seen a lot of talk about Crier’s War on Twitter and I got interested in it. Looking at the description, it certainly has a lot that attracts me. A F/F romance that looks to be hate-to-love, a main character who is an Automae (a cyborg of sorts?), another main character who wants to lead a revolution to save her people. These are just three things that set off good alarms in my brain.

I’ve got so many questions I want to answer by reading this book. What does it mean to be Automae? What, exactly, happened during and after the War of the Kinds?  How is Ayla planning on avenging her family and making it out alive? What about the rest of humankind? Are they going to use Ayla as a kind of spy/figurehead?

I keep thinking of more questions as I type and it’s so hard to stop. lol Luckily I got an ARC so I’ll be able to figure things out sooner rather than later. Woo hoo!

Is Crier’s War on your TBR? What kind of questions do you have about the plot? Let me know in the comment section below. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

All media (pictures, quotes, etc.) belong to the respective owners and are used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small – A Review

The world that Marine and Kate inhabit along with the other students at their ballet academy, Nanterre, is a juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness, darkness and light. With intense devotion to their craft, it will take everything they have to become peak performers, but does everyone have it or will the friendship that Marine and Kate have shared since their earliest student days fracture under the pressure?

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Amazon | Audible | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Goodreads | Indiebound

Published: 21 May 2019

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Genre(s): Young Adult/Contemporary

Best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders have trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School since childhood, where they’ve formed an inseparable bond forged by respective family tragedies and a fierce love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves what they would do to win the ultimate prize: to be the one girl selected to join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they die? Cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic would make them shine, too? Neither girl is sure.

But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. And as selection day draws near, the competition—for the prize, for the Demigod—becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other.

Rating: 4 Stars

CW: disordered eating, body dysmorphia, self harm, parental abandonment, drug use, drinking, suicide/suicide attempt, abortion & complex emotions afterwards

Bright Burning Stars was a gripping story that engulfed my weekend. From watching Marine & Kate’s friendship undergo trials to their experience at a hyper competitive ballet academy, it was a whirlwind to read.

Kate felt overwhelmingly naive at times. Her flaw was that she was too easily influenced by others. She was continually being swayed by people (their standings if they were fellow girls), their whims (Cyrille/Benjamin) so very easily. This was at odds with her intense passion & drive for her craft, which leads to some particularly intense plots moments for her.

Marine also had a conflicting time. Her personality was different from Kate’s and it affected their experiences in the school (the pressures, the tests, etc.). There was a heavier feeling for much of her point of view. I enjoyed the moments she found with Luc and Little Alice because it seemed that they were moments of peace in the otherwise fraught environment of the school.

The precedent set for how the students treated one another was saddening & a bit frightening because of the pressure within themselves & the rules instituted by the school. Something as simple as a kiss on the cheek for the youngest students, eleven years of age, according to the rules would show favoritism and undue emotion. I understand that of course there would be pressure from only so many being able to rise, but at the expense of showing empathy? compassion? What does this make the dancers into?

Some of the darker moments concern body dysmorphia, eating disorder descriptions, and grieving scenes post-abortion.  While the portrayal of an abortion (access, consent, etc) was good as far as I could tell, the person in question does have some intense emotions thereafter. Those moments, as well as the aforementioned darker moments, may be triggering to some readers, hence the CWs at the beginning of the review. Having said that, I think that for me, the instances the author chose to talk about regarding one character’s E.D., specifically food restricting, highlighting one’s body, etc., were a little more explicit than I was comfortable with.

A.K. Small demonstrated an elegance in the motions of her characters through the use of technical ballet terms and beautiful scenes that encapsulate them. Some of the terms were more familiar than others & looking the others up rounded out these scenes beautifully in my mind. Bright Burning Stars pulls threads from many emotional parts of the brain & heart to weave a story that is beautiful & terrible & written in a manner that will pull you along to the music of the tale because you will want to know what happens to the entire company before the final curtain call.

 

About the Author

 

Angela Small credit _Becky Thurner Braddock

As a young ballerina in Paris, young adult novelist A. K. Small studied at the famous Académie Chaptal and later danced with companies across the US. Inspired by the dancers from her childhood, Small weaves a vivid story of a fiercely competitive female friendship in her dazzling debut, Bright Burning Stars (Publication Date: May 21, 2019; $17.95). Following two teens fighting for center stage and a spot in the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet, this page-turning novel explores the lengths it takes to turn talent into a career. A gifted new writer, Small brings the reader into the passionate world of ballet all while telling an engrossing story of female friendship.

 

 

Excerpt from Bright Burning Stars

 

1.

Marine

We stood outside the circular studio in the apex of the dance annex. Some of us obsessively rose up and down in first position to break the soles of our shoes, while others, like the boys, tucked their t-shirts into their tights and cracked their necks for luck. I didn’t do anything but clutch Kate’s hand. Kate and I always held hands before the weekly générales. But before I could ask her what she thought the new ratings would be, who would outshine whom on The Boards after only a week and four days of ballet classes and rehearsals in our final year at Nanterre, my name was called first. A bad omen: in six years of dancing here, the faculty had never switched us out of alphabetical order before. Isabelle The Brooder always started. I danced third.

“Break a leg,” Kate said in English before I stepped into the studio, which made me smile because saying things in her mother tongue was Kate’s way of showing love.

Inside the vast round room, three judges—judging deities really—sat erect behind a long folding table. Valentine Louvet, the director, was on the left, her dark hair twisted into a loose knot and rings adorning her fingers. She would sometimes look up at the giant skylight and I would swear that her lips moved, that she discussed students with Nijinsky’s ghost through the thick glass. Francis Chevalier, the ballet master, an older man with sweat stains radiating from under his arms, was on the right. While you danced, he rhythmically jabbed the tip of his cane into the floor. In the middle sat The Witch, aka Madame Brunelle, in glasses and a tight bun. When she disliked a student’s movement, which was almost always, we all whispered that worm-like silver smoke seeped from her nostrils and her ears.

I didn’t look them in the eyes for fear of turning to salt. Instead, I hurried to the yellow X that demarked center, taking note of all the mirrors that wrapped around me like gauze. I tried not to criticize my reflection, how I was one kilogram fatter than when I’d last performed in May. I’d found out earlier this morning, courtesy of Mademoiselle Fabienne, the school nutritionist. Weigh-ins here were like random drug tests. You were called and asked to step onto the beastly scale whenever faculty felt like it. Now, all I could do was suck my stomach in and pray it didn’t affect my score. I placed my right foot on the tape, my left in tendu behind, then waited for the pianist’s introduction.

As I offered the judges my most heartfelt port de bras, I concentrated on the ivory of my leotard, an atrocious color on me, yet a coveted symbol of my new elite rank. Seven other sixteen year-old rat-girls and I had risen to First Division. The variation we were to perform today was obscure, from The Three Musketeers, but I didn’t mind. Actually, I preferred low profile dances. The pressure somehow felt less. I also liked the three-count waltz, the way the notes filled up inside me, the rush of the C major melody, all making me zigzag across the studio. Music was why I kept going, my ticking heart. As the piano filled the air, my arms felt fluid, my balances sharp, and my leaps explosive. Even my hunger diminished. I steered myself from left to right then from front to back. My spirits lifted and my nerves calmed. Vas-y. I can do this, I thought. And then I remembered to give the judges my stage smile. Maybe I’ll rise from Number 3 to Number 2. During a slow triple pirouette, I held my foot above my knee, balanced, and stuck my landing in perfect fourth position, the number 2 floating like an angel’s halo above my head.

But then I forgot to anticipate the piano’s shift in keys, the sudden acceleration. Realizing I was an eighth of a note off, I skipped a glissade to catch up to my saut de chat. Ne t’en fais pas, I told myself. Adjust. Yet, at once, The Witch stood up and snapped her fingers, silencing the music.

“I thought you were here because of your auditory gift, Duval,” Madame Brunelle said. “Don’t students call you The Pulse?”

I looked down at my feet. I hadn’t gone through three fourths of the variation.

“They must be wrong. Would you like to have someone else come in and demonstrate? Teach you whole notes from half notes?”

“No,” I whispered.

“Miss Sanders,” Madame Brunelle yelled.

Kate poked her head inside the studio. A joke, I thought. Kate was a dynamic ballet dancer but well known for her lack of rhythm.

“Mademoiselle Duval needs help with her waltz tempo. Would you run the variation through for her?”

What?

Kate nodded. She tiptoed into the studio, setting herself on the X the way I had done earlier.

“Shadow her, Duval,” Madame Brunelle ordered.

She snapped her fingers and the pianist began again.

I danced behind Kate. We moved in unison, gliding into long pas de basques, arms extended. Kate seemed weightless, her heels barely touching the ground. A genuine smile fluttered on her lips. Her ivory leotard fitted her long narrow frame like skin. Blue crystal teardrops dangled from her ears as she spun. They glittered like fireflies. All of Kate glittered. The afternoon sun poured in from the skylight, lighting her up like a flame. The variation lasted a million years. At every step, my face grew hotter. The studio door had been left wide open, so I saw in the mirror’s reflection that other First Division dancers were peering inside and watching our odd duo. A wave of humiliation nearly toppled me. Madame Brunelle did not stop the music this time. She waited for Kate and me to finish with our révérence, then she dismissed us with a flick of the finger.

I ducked out of the studio into the stairwell and didn’t wait for Kate. I could have sought refuge in the First Division dressing rooms but that was too obvious a hiding place so I rushed down three flights of stairs and into the courtyard. A mild September breeze blew. I fought back tears. It would have been easier, I thought, if The Witch had picked someone else. Anyone else. But Kate? Pitting me against my best friend? I wished I could keep walking past the trees, alongside the fence, out of the gates, down L’Allée de La Danse, to the metro, all the way home to the center of Paris and my mother’s boulangerie. There, inside with the warmth and the sugary smells, I would find a tight hug, an, “It’s okay, Chérie. You don’t have to do this unless you want to.” But I knew I wouldn’t. I’d have to go back to the dorms to change into street clothes or at least take off my pointe shoes and then I’d see Oli’s battered demi pointes on my bed. Plus, I’d come this far. Hadn’t I? Only 274 days until the final Grand Défilé. Judgment Day: when everyone, except for two strikingly gifted students—one female, one male—got fired in the top division. I plopped down into the middle of the courtyard and found the sky. How could I have messed up on tempo? I closed my eyes and inhaled.

“Hey!” Kate yelled a minute later.

I started.

She stood at the entrance of the courtyard, breathing hard. “Do you think you could have gone a little faster?” she said, crossing her arms. She was still in her leotard, tights, and pointe shoes. Her neck flushed bright red from running. Wisps of blond hair framed her face. “You hurtled down the stairs like a bat out of hell, M. I thought you were going to tumble and fall.”

Bat out of hell? I nearly corrected her and said that here we used comme un bolide—like a rocket—but instead I replied, voice sharp, “Too bad I didn’t.”

“You don’t mean it,” she said. “Mistakes happen. You’re only human.”

Kate sat down beside me. She smelled woodsy, even after she danced. We watched as pigeons flittered around the bright white buildings. On our left were the dorms with their common rooms at the bottom. In front, the dance annex loomed. It was known for its grand staircase, bay windows, cafeteria, and Board Room where all big decisions were made. On the right was the academic wing with classrooms and faculty offices. Little pathways led from one building to the others with awnings in case of rain. If I turned around, I could peek at the high concrete wall hidden between oak trees. Sometimes I wondered if the barrier was there to keep rats from fleeing or strangers from trespassing.

Kate squeezed my ankle then flashed me her best smile. “The Witch is an asshole. Seriously. Don’t sweat it.”

At her touch, my eyes filled. The tempo mix up hadn’t been Kate’s fault. Only mine. I quickly wiped the tears with the back of my hand.

“Have I told you that I dig wearing ivory?” Kate said. “Last night, I called my dad and tried to explain it to him. How good it felt to parade around in this sublime color. I said it was like receiving the freaking Medal of Honor but he didn’t get it.”

“Of course not.” I shook my head.

And just like that, the weird moment between us, the resentment I’d felt at having to dance behind her, passed.

I was about to tell her that after what had happened in the circular studio I would probably never wear ivory again, when younger rats came out into the courtyard, disturbing our privacy. Everyone always whispered about everyone else while waiting for ratings. Within the hour, the Board Room would open. Rankings would be posted on the wall. Rats who were rated below fifth place might be sent home. Now and again, I’d see a parent waiting by the school entrance and the wretched sight would make me flinch. But Kate, who was always at my side, would loop an arm around me and say, “Face it, M. Not everyone is cut out for this.” Her thick skin soothed me today.

“God, I can’t stand the sitting around,” Kate said. “Let’s play Would You.”

“I thought you and I banned that game,” I replied.

Kate laughed. “Things don’t go away just because you want them to, Miss Goody Two-Shoes. Or because the stupid rules say so.”

I slapped her shoulder.

“Ouch. Loosen up. I go first,” she said. “Would you die for The Prize?”

The Prize. What every rat girl and boy was after: the large envelope with a red wax stamp on the back, a single invitation to become part of the Paris Opera’s corps de ballet. The thought of seeing that envelope made me dizzy with possibility. I almost said yes but she cut me off.

“If I close my eyes,” Kate said. “I feel the envelope’s weight in my hands, the warm wax beneath my thumbs. It’s damn near euphoric.”

I looked away. Kate’s hunger for success, for being the Chosen One was sometimes so acute that it frightened me. “Are you asking because of Yaëlle?”

The Number 3 rat from last year, a sweet girl from Brittany, once our roommate, had been found in her tiny single, lying atop her twin bed, in her ballet clothes, bones protruding at strange angles, eyes sunk deep in their sockets, dead a few days before Le Grand Défilé last May. She’d starved herself in the name of The Prize. Ever since, we’d all been on edge. Summer hadn’t changed the mood. If anything, getting back together after a few months away had heightened the sense of dread.

“You’re not answering my question.”

“No,” I decided. “I wouldn’t die for The Prize. Would you?”

“Yes,” Kate said. “Absolutely.”

There was no hesitation in her voice.

“I’ve got another,” she said. “Would you hurt The Ruler for The Prize?”

Gia Delmar, the Ruler. Always Number 1 on the boards, she was our biggest rival but this wasn’t the time to think about her. Not before rankings. “I wouldn’t hurt anyone,” I said, then I added, “Would you rehearse night and day?”

“Yes. But would you do drugs?”

“Would you?”

“Rehearse night and day, sure. Drugs? Maybe.”

“Kate!” I said.

“Would you try to suck up to Monsieur Chevalier?”

“No. But maybe Louvet.”

Kate laughed. “I know. Would you sleep with The Demigod?”

The Demigod? I shivered. Like The Ruler, The Demigod was off limits. As a rare conservatory transfer, he’d magically appeared in Second Division one sunny day last February and had outdone everyone. I didn’t want to think about the leaders, the rats most likely to succeed, even if they were supremely sexy. “No,” I answered. “Of course not. Would you?”

“Maybe.”

“That’s sick,” I said. “Sleeping with someone to climb the ladder?”

Kate lowered her voice. “The Demigod is different, M. You know. Everybody knows. Even faculty. Look how they gawk at him. His talent is greater than the sun and the stars combined. Proximity to him is—” she paused, searching for her words. “The key to everything. Think of it as Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock’s lover, collaborating with him on a canvas. Except that our canvas is four dimensional, made up of flesh, of bodies. Lee’s paint strokes had to intensify, right? The Demigod’s balletic gift, his glow, rubs off like glitter on his partners. Haven’t you noticed? Anyone who spends time with him in and out of the studio shoots up on The Boards. M, he is The King. You know what dance is? The art of the sensual. Electricity, entanglement, ease. You partner with him and you will blow the roof off this effing place. Plus,” she sucked in her breath, kept me in suspense. “He’s got the hottest quads in the universe.”

I imagined Cyrille flying into splits, his thighs stiffening under silver tights, what his hands might feel like clasping mine if I was ever asked to partner with him. My whole body warmed. Kate was right. The Demigod was like food, like one of my mother’s pastries. You knew that eating it was bad for you, but you just couldn’t help yourself. I was about to warn Kate that the Greek demigods, as attractive as they were, ate their young and their lovers when Monsieur Arnaud, the groundkeeper, walked over to the old fashioned bell and rang it. The wooden doors creaked open and all the dancers scurried inside the Board Room. I still sat outside, frozen. What if I was ranked fifth or lower and got sent home? I thought of Oli. My promise to dance for him no matter what. Failing was not an option. Kate snagged my hand and pulled me up.

“Come on, sweetie,” she said.

I reluctantly followed her in.

 

 

 

 

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

 

Xpresso Book Tours Presents the Cover Reveal: Kingdom of Mirrors & Roses – A Limited Edition of Beauty and the Beast Retellings

 

Retellings are among my favorite kinds of stories. Therefore, it pleases me to be able to share the cover reveal for Kingdom of Mirror & Roses: A Limited Edition of Beauty and the Beast Retellings.

 

Kingdom of Mirrors & Roses: A Limited Edition of Beauty and the Beast Retellings

Published: 1 August 2019

Publisher: The Enchanted Quill Press

Genre(s): Fairy Tales, Fantasy, New Adult

Amazon | Goodreads

Beauty and the Beast, but not how you remember it.

Deep in the forest, a castle hides. No one knows who lives there, but rumors of a beast keep people away.

Cloaked in shadows, hidden from view, a prince destroyed by a curse shuts himself away from the world, ashamed of the beast he’s become.

And in the village, a beautiful girl with her nose in a book, yearns for something more.

True love is the only thing that can break his curse. True love is the one thing she’s looking for, but how can they find true love when neither knows the other exists?

Find out if love really can defy all odds in this set of thirteen captivating retellings of the classic fairytale, filled with love, hope and the strength of two people willing to do whatever it takes…

One click now for your happily ever after.

Other books in the Kingdom of series…

Kingdom of Glass and Ashes (Cinderella retellings)

Kingdom of Salt and Sirens (Little Mermaid retellings)

Kingdom of Sand and Wishes (Aladdin retellings)

Kingdom of Mirrors and Roses (Beauty and the Beast retellings)

Kingdom of Thorns and Dreams (Sleeping Beauty retellings) coming soon

 

 

 

 

 

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All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.