Category Archives: Excerpt

Exclusive Excerpt Reveal: Fire on the Island by Timothy Jay Smith

Today on the site, we’re thrilled to welcome Timothy Jay Smith, whose new thriller, Fire on the Island, releases tomorrow! Timothy, whose The Fourth Courier was a finalist for Best Gay Mystery in the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards was kind enough to provide us with an exclusive excerpt, so check out the blurb and then dig in!

Fire on the Island by Timothy Jay Smith

Fire on the Island is a playful, romantic thriller set in contemporary Greece, with a gay Greek-American FBI agent, who is undercover on the island to investigate a series of mysterious fires. Set against the very real refugee crisis on the beautiful, sun-drenched Greek islands, this novel paints a loving portrait of a community in crisis. As the island residents grapple with declining tourism, poverty, refugees, family feuds, and a crumbling church, an arsonist invades their midst.

Nick Damigos, the FBI agent, arrives on the island just in time to witness the latest fire and save the dog of Lydia, a local cafe owner. Immediately enveloped by the community, Nick finds himself drawn to Takis, a young man who becomes his primary suspect, which is a problem because they’re having an affair. Theirs is not the only complicated romance in the community and Takis isn’t the only suspicious character on the island. The priest is an art forger, the young Albanian in love with Lydia’s daughter harbors a secret, the captain of the coast guard station seems to have his own agenda, and Takis’s sister, who owns a local bar, has a vendetta against the whole village. Nick has to unravel the truth in time to prevent catastrophe, as he comes to terms with his own past trauma. In saving the village, he will go a long way toward saving himself.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

And here’s the excerpt!

Vassoula woke up in a lonely bed. It had been lonely since Omar disappeared. She couldn’t bring herself to say died or killed himself because she hoped that, despite how gruesomely the skinheads had cut him, he would miraculously come back to her whole again. In that fantasy she envisioned handsome and dancing the syrtaki better than any Greek, a black stubble generously shadowing his cheeks—his cheeks that went missing.

Omar. He had given her a life when he came into hers. Unless she married, she was destined to remain her wretched mother’s handmaiden; and Vassoula would have nothing to do with the local boys, certainly not enough to marry one. She was darker complected than the Vourvouliani, and the boys, starting in their teens, called her Gypsy bitch for not putting out. She was adopted, so they freely assigned to her any origin that they wanted, but Vassoula knew she wasn’t Gypsy. She was Turkish. A nun at the orphanage disliked her for it, and wanted to be rid of her enough not to mention it to prospective parents. Secretly, Vassoula reveled in her Turkishness. She nurtured it because it nurtured her to know she was different from the people who treated her so harshly, abusing her verbally—and otherwise, as some did eventually, before she was liberated from the orphanage’s form of incarceration to become a servant in another.

Ten years of mopping floors later, Omar arrived in Vourvoulos. Movie star handsome with dark moody eyes, clever and Turkish; she had conjured him many times, dreaming only of men like him when she gave pleasure to herself. Beyond that pleasure, she dreamt of a man to free her from servitude, not trade one enslaved situation for another. Instinctively, Omar understood that. His family, too, had suffered from discrimination for being Turkish, or certainly the consequences of it. Only after she moved in with him did he confess that his family had once lived on the island; an extended family, and prosperous when you added up all their land; land too rocky and scrubby for the Greeks to bother with, though their ancient ancestors had been the first to terrace it. It was those stony plots—sometimes no bigger than four strides long and two deep—that Omar’s peasant ancestors had worked, finding them sufficiently fecund to sustain their families.

All that ended with the Exchange, when the diaspora Turks and Greeks were forced to trade places, overnight becoming refugees in their own countries. Omar’s great grandparents left Vourvoulos with little more than their crying fifteen-year-old son—his grandfather—unable to understand why he had to lose all his friends, Greek and Turkish. Once back in Turkey, they’d never recreate their village no matter how much they would miss it, but instead would flee to relatives if they knew their whereabouts, or be shuffled off to temporary camps—as was Omar’s family—while a useless bureaucracy scrambled to do what little it could for the many tens of thousands like them. Omar’s grandfather, having just wished his boyhood Greek friends a forever farewell, had to do the same to his Turkish mates only a few hours later when their boat made its landing in what still stood of Smyrna.

Though the fires that destroyed the legendary city had been put out, a charred smell hung heavily in the air. On the docks, hucksters and shysters descended on the refugees even as government agents shunted them into buses to take them to a camp—equally rife with hucksters and shysters. Thus began decades of poverty inflicted on Omar’s family starting before he was born. All his growing-up years, he heard reminisces of their lost island: its fresh air, azure sea, and wild lavender roses—a sharp contrast to their stuffy apartment in a shanty neighborhood of sprawling Istanbul.

Omar had simply appeared in Vourvoulos one day, not ten Greek words in his head, and soon became the curiosity of the village. Turks rarely visited the tiny village, and still fewer stayed for more than a night or two, but Omar rented a room for a month, letting his landlady know that he would likely keep it longer. He only did the usual things tourists do—hike in the hills, swim in the sea, learn the four-syllable Greek word for thanks—but that didn’t stop rumors from spreading that he was trafficking drugs or might be a white slaver. Certainly, he was up to no good; no Turk ever had been. Omar, though, was undaunted. At once, he was enamored with the mythical lost island of his storied childhood, and equally glad to escape the grinding conditions back home. He had no intention of leaving.

Omar kept it a secret that his family had lived there for generations. If it were known, he worried it would only stir up fears that he had returned to reclaim property or seek revenge, when he wanted neither. He wanted the idyllic life described from afar, not hardscrabble Istanbul, which was becoming more unbearable under the growing power of intolerant imams. By age twenty-five, he’d made the decision not to spend the rest of his life kowtowing to men who dressed their women in sacks, forbade everyone simple pleasures, and governed through fear. Fending off his mother’s relentless efforts to get him married, he waited tables in two restaurants, earning excellent tips because of his extraordinary good looks. By the time he was thirty, he had saved enough money that he wouldn’t arrive in Greece a penniless refugee, but an immigrant able to sustain himself until he found a way to make a living. He’d gambled and he won.

The risks Omar could not have anticipated were the threats posed by Greece’s internal turmoil, especially its Depression-era economy giving rise to a fascist insurgency. Or so Vassoula was mulling over that morning, after rousing herself from her lonely bed to sip coffee on the terrace, perched high over the village with a clear shot of the long beach stretching into the distance until it melded with the coastline. That view had once brought her such joy, not only for its beauty, but for what it represented: her second escape, and the first into an unexpected freedom. Her first escape had been from the orphanage, the second from her adoptive servitude. She had escaped into Omar’s liberating arms, holding her on that terrace through long talks she had never imagined possible; and when they felt like making love outdoors, they did.

She could almost see him again, walking down that long beach, becoming a speck before turning back. He worked hard, he partied hard, he loved hard—and he needed time alone. He needed a time not to talk to anybody, though he talked to himself, gesticulating and working out whatever needed working out. He did that most mornings while other village men gathered in the kafeneios for their first coffee. Initially Vassoula was suspicious of Omar’s need to be alone, and spied on him through the binoculars, watching him approach Poustis Point because it was there that her father loitered; and sometimes it was there where Omar turned back, but not always, not if he was having a particularly troubling conversation with himself. But never once did he disappear out of sight too long to be accused of her father’s sort of sordid absence.

The morning when it happened, their lovemaking had been especially tender. Only the night before, they had decided to have a baby, and made love then, too. When Omar left for his walk, she felt a special longing—a worried hollowness—and took the binoculars from the cupboard. She knew his body language better than her own and easily spotted him.

Omar, distracted by the conversation with himself, approached Poustis Point. She saw the skinheads before he did. Three of them hovering in the rocks, conferring and planning their attack. Turn back! she wanted to shout. Stop talking to yourself and look up! But her voice would never carry that far.

She saw everything that happened.

She even knew what was said because Omar survived to repeat it.

“Do you have a cigarette?” a skinhead asked.

“I am sorry. I do not smoke.”

“Maybe the problem is, your cigarettes are wet.”

Vassoula saw Omar tip his head questioningly.

“I am sorry. I do not understand.”

“Maybe you help your friends swim across.”

“I do not swim here. I walk here.”

“Did you hear that, guys? He walked here.”

“Then he must’ve walked on water,” a second skinhead scoffed. “With his accent, he wasn’t born here.”

The third added, “He’s probably a Turkish cocksucker.”

“Is that why you’re out here? Hoping to get your cock sucked?”

“Probably by a refugee.”

“Or do you suck theirs?”

The skinheads laughed.

Omar sensed he was in trouble. “I don’t understand.”

“Hear that guys? He doesn’t understand. What can we do to make him understand?”

“I go home,” he said, and pointed to the village. “My wife waits for me.”

Vassoula saw him point. Come back! she was screaming inside.

“You should never have left home,” sneered the first skinhead. “None of your filth should’ve.”

“I go back now.”

Omar turned and took a couple of steps.

“Not so fast,” the first skinhead said. When Omar didn’t stop, he barked, “Hey!”

Omar paused.

Just keep walking! Vassoula begged.

“I’m not finished with you.”

Omar faced the skinhead. “My wife waits for me.”

He turned away again.

The skinhead signaled, and his two pals ran up and grabbed him. Omar struggled to defend himself, but together they managed to wrench his arms behind him.

The first skinhead approached him, menacing him with a knife.

Vassoula, seeing it flash in the morning sun, was going mad. Please God, no! No!

He kicked at the skinhead, who laughed, and stepped around him and put the blade to his throat. “Please don’t,” Omar begged.

“Fucking. Faggot. Filth. Feeding the refugees then fucking them. There’s probably some Arab greasing up his asshole waiting for you behind the rocks.”

“My wife is waiting for me.”

“Fucking bitch is going to wish you never came home.”

Vassoula, through the binoculars, couldn’t make out what happened next. She saw the skinhead flick his knife twice, each time tossing something to the seagulls on the beach. Then they released Omar and his hands instinctively covered his face. For a moment, she thought they had cut out his eyes; and later remembering that first thought, she would wonder if it might not have been more merciful than letting him see his own ruined face.

At that moment, though, she wasn’t thinking of anything except saving Omar, and flew out of the house. “HELP! HELP! Omar’s been stabbed! Help!” she never stopped crying as she flung herself down the village path. A dozen people trailed after her, looking past her wild hair to Omar stumbling toward them. For Vassoula, the blood seeping through his fingers glistened so bright red that the rest of the world turned gray.

They stopped, only feet apart. Vassoula could see they hadn’t cut out his eyes, but what the skinheads had done would forever haunt them. Omar would never see anything the same again. He certainly would never be looked at in the same admiring way.

His eyes pleaded for help as he lowered his hands.

Hers expressed horror when he did.

His knees buckled and he collapsed.

Four men ran up and grabbed his arms and legs to haul him cumbersomely back to the village. Another two trotted alongside, stripped of their shirts that they pressed to his slain cheeks to stem the blood. Vassoula stumbled after them, too shocked by what she had seen to believe it possible; and yet there was Omar, being toted in front of her, the tagalong women ululating their distress as if he had already died. He wouldn’t, not then. He would survive to live a freak’s hell.

That morning, longing for Omar, anguish overwhelmed her. Only thirty years old and doomed to be in mourning for the rest of her life. She couldn’t imagine anyone after Omar. When the skinheads cut away his cheeks, they cut out her heart, and when Omar committed suicide, he killed her, too. She sobbed, wanting the life that had been stolen from them, preferring to join him in death than endure a life without him.

The cats, risking her swift kicks, rubbed against Vassoula’s legs to remind her that they wanted to be fed. She stomped her foot to scatter them and went back inside. Opening the kibble bag sent them into a zigzagging frenzy between her feet, and that time she did kick at them. “Go away!” she cried, and hurled kibble at them, which they dodged before darting around to scarf it down. “I hate you! God I hate you!” she screamed while throwing more handfuls at them. Her laughter was seeded with madness as the animals cowered under the furniture to eat the pellets that rolled there.

Takis walked in and saw the kibble on the floor. “I see you fed the cats.”

“They were hungry.”

“They’re always hungry in the morning.”

“What did you eat for breakfast? Cock?”

“Don’t start.”

“You should never have gone to Australia. Look what it turned you into.”

“I was always like this.”

“You’re going to end up just like father, hiding behind rocks to have sex.”

“No I’m not. I’m going back to Australia where I don’t have to hide behind rocks to have sex. Why did you hate him so much? Didn’t you feel sorry for him at all?”

“He was pathetic. He settled for Zeeta because he’d been caught doing something with another man one time. He didn’t try to explain it away as a youthful experiment or some drunken mistake. Or that he’d been seduced against his will. Over one incident, he settled for her, for a nothing life. What kind of man is that?”

“A gay man in Greece,” Takis answered. “Most of them end up unhappily married. Sometimes you forget that he rescued us from the orphanage. They both did.”

“I don’t forget. I only wish they had been different parents.”

He poured kibble into a bowl, which brought the cats running. “They were who they were.”

“Neither one of them had a life, especially him, because of your kind of love.”

“You’re as bad as the rest,” Takis said. “What kind of life could he have had? He was never going to have a relationship with a man. Not a real one.”

“Is Nick the right man for you?”

“Yeah, only he doesn’t live in Melbourne.”

“I didn’t know there were types, only faggots.”

“Okay, he is a faggot, if that’s the word you want to use. He’s also an FBI agent,” Takis boasted.

“FBI?”

“The American police.”

“I know what FBI is.”

“So he’s not a faggot in the way you think.”

“He must be investigating the fires,” Vassoula suggested. “Why else would he be here?”

“He says he’s writing a book.”

“Be careful what you say to him.”

“What are you talking about?”

“He might try to make a connection to you. In fact, he might have come looking for you.”

“Why?”

“Why do you think?”

***

Tim on SantoriniRaised crisscrossing America pulling a small green trailer behind the family car, Timothy Jay Smith developed a ceaseless wanderlust that has taken him around the world many times. En route, he’s found the characters that people his work. Polish cops and Greek fishermen, mercenaries and arms dealers, child prostitutes and wannabe terrorists, Indian Chiefs and Indian tailors: he’s hung with them all in an unparalleled international career that saw him smuggle banned plays from behind the Iron Curtain, maneuver through Occupied Territories, represent the U.S. at the highest levels of foreign governments, and stowaway aboard a ‘devil’s barge’ for a three-day crossing from Cape Verde that landed him in an African jail.

Tim brings the same energy to his writing that he brought to a distinguished career, and as a result, he has won top honors for his novels, screenplays and stage plays in numerous prestigious competitions.  Fire on the Island won the Gold Medal in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Competition for the Novel, and his screenplay adaptation of it was named Best Indie Script by WriteMovies. His recent novel,  The Fourth Courier, set in Poland, published in 2019 by Arcade Publishing, was critically acclaimed. Previously, he won the Paris Prize for Fiction (now the Paris Literary Prize) for his novel,  A Vision of AngelsKirkus Reviews called  Cooper’s Promise “literary dynamite” and selected it as one of the Best Books of 2012.

Tim was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. His stage play,  How High the Moon, won the prestigious Stanley Drama Award, and his screenplays have won competitions sponsored by the American Screenwriters Association, WriteMovies, Houston WorldFest, Rhode Island International Film Festival, Fresh Voices, StoryPros, and the Hollywood Screenwriting Institute. He is the founder of the Smith Prize for Political Theater.

Exclusive Cover + Excerpt Reveal: A Curse of Roses by Diana Pinguicha

You know when you’re already so excited for a book, and then you see the cover and you just gasp with joy at both its beauty and the fact that the premise has externally been done justice? If you love that feeling as much as I do, you’re definitely going to want to keep reading to learn more about A Curse of Roses by Diana Pinguicha, a debut f/f YA Fantasy Romance coming December 1, 2020 from Entangled Teen. Here’s the pitch:

With just one touch, bread turns into roses. With just one bite, cheese turns into lilies.

There’s a famine plaguing the land, and Princess Yzabel is wasting food simply by trying to eat. Before she can even swallow, her magic—her curse—has turned her meal into a bouquet. She’s on the verge of starving, which only reminds her that the people of Portugal have been enduring the same pain.

If only it were possible to reverse her magic. Then she could turn flowers…into food.

Fatyan, a beautiful Enchanted Moura, is the only one who can help. But she is trapped by magical binds. She can teach Yzabel how to control her curse—if Yzabel sets her free with a kiss.

As the King of Portugal’s betrothed, Yzabel would be committing treason, but what good is a king if his country has starved to death?

With just one kiss, Fatyan is set free. And with just one kiss, Yzabel is yearning for more.

She’d sought out Fatyan to help her save the people. Now, loving her could mean Yzabel’s destruction.

Based on Portuguese legend, this #OwnVoices historical fantasy is an epic tale of mystery, magic, and making the impossible choice between love and duty…

And here’s the spectacular cover, designed by Entangled’s Art Director, Bree Archer!

But wait, there’s also a heartbreakingly romantic excerpt!

Hearing her name in Fatyan’s lips heated her cheeks further, and her closeness breathed wonder into her lungs. No stranger had come so near her, and she almost stepped away—but then her eyes found Fatyan’s and the tender curiosity reflected upon them, and the enchantment of it all rooted her in place.

“I need your help,” Yzabel said.

“I know. I need yours, too.” A slight tilt of her head. “What would you ask of me?”

Yzabel tensed, her fingers matching the white of her dress as she clutched it. “You have to promise not to tell anyone. Even after we leave this place.”

“Is it the sahar?”

“Sahar?”

“Magic.” She motioned toward Yzabel’s left hand still glowing as though someone had spread embers under the skin. “It’s what woke me up, even though you were far away.”

The curse had been reacting to Fatyan’s. Yzabel’s lips fell open. “Can you tell me why it turns all the food I touch into flowers?”

Intrigue drew Fatyan’s lips into a pout and her fingers to her chin. “You’ve been cursed?”

“Yes. That’s why I came to find you.” Yzabel looked at Fatyan from under her brown eyelashes, and her tongue darted to wet her mouth. “I need it gone.”

Pensive eyes studied her. “I need to feel your sahar better.” Fatyan caught her hand before it touched Yzabel’s skin, left it to hover above her jaw. “May I?”

An answering nod came without Yzabel’s command, and she stepped forward so Fatyan’s fingers brushed her cheek. The moura closed her eyes as she fully cupped the side of Yzabel’s face, and she wasn’t certain what spell had her enthralled so completely, if it was the stone’s or the moura’s, but her heart was racing, and an odd feeling forming in her stomach, so much like hunger and yet not.

The magic inside her surged, and heat spread from where their skin touched. Yzabel’s heart tried to climb up her throat. When she swallowed it back down, the throb rose to her ears, deafening her to anything that wasn’t Fatyan.

A crease appeared between the moura’s brows as she opened her eyes, and her hand moved across Yzabel’s jaw, down the slope of her neck, mesmerized as they trailed her own gesture. Yzabel looked down when the moura stopped at her shoulder and gasped at the sight before her.

Under Fatyan’s touch, Yzabel’s skin came alight, as though she had candles underneath her flesh and Fatyan’s fingers were the flame that lit their wick.

“This is no curse,” Fatyan said under her breath. She trailed her hand down the inside of Yzabel’s arm, and it was like watching a storm cross her skin.

Preorder: Bookshop | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

(c) Catarina Dagmar Leal

Born in the sunny lands of Portugal, Diana grew up in Estremoz, and now lives in Lisbon with two extremely fluffy cats and one amazing bearded dragon. A Computer Engineer graduate from Instituto Superior Técnico, she has worked in award-winning educational video games, but writing is where her heart always belonged. When she’s not working on her books, she can be found painting, immersed in books or video games, or walking around with her dragon.

Excerpt Reveal: Prelude & Other Stories by Grace Kwan

Today on the site, we’re thrilled to welcome Grace Kwan, whose debut short story collection, Prelude & Other Stories, which was published by Life Rattle Press on June 1st and contains short stories short stories based on the author’s own life and coming of age as a bisexual Chinese-Malaysian-Canadian immigrant. Grace has provided us with an excerpt, so check out the cover and blurb below, then dig in!

Prelude & Other Stories by Grace Kwan

This collection of short stories transports the reader to the sizzling heat of Kuala Lumpur’s streets, to crimson sunsets at Vancouver’s bayside, and to the drizzly shores at Bible camp. The narrator, a young Chinese-Malaysian-Canadian girl, grapples with a simultaneously claustrophobic and distant relationship with her mother as she navigates her own teenage obstinacy, queer identity in the face of religion, and the universal pursuit of fitting in.

Buy it: Amazon | Kobo | Direct from Author (personalized!)

And here’s the excerpt!

People love to tell me about how young and beautiful my mom looks for her age, with her dyed brown hair and dark chocolate eyes—and of course, her dancer’s physique.

“Are you sure you’re not sisters?” they’d ask.

I’ve never paid much attention to the comments, until now. My mother’s beauty strikes me like an epiphany—the way she carries her slender frame across a room, the way she disciplines her thick hair into a ponytail at the nape of her neck every morning, the way her cheekbones sit high and proud on her face.

Once, in the car with a handful of my classmates on our way back from a field trip in grade eight, my friend Bailey and I con­templated life after high school. I couldn’t see myself marrying or having children at all, but Bailey liked the idea of settling down. Jeremiah Crane, sitting beside me, pushed his wire-rimmed glasses up his pimpled nose, ran a bony hand through his orange curls, and announced, “If I were to marry, I’d get an Asian wife.”

“…Why?” I demanded after a long and scandalized silence.

“I don’t know, I just can’t picture anything else. I think their culture just makes them more…gentle, submissive…”

I could see the East Asian woman Jeremiah conjured with his words: demure and fine-boned, with alabaster skin and creases in her eyelids. Bailey, who was Filipino, huffed in disbelief. I stared out the window at the blur of grey asphalt. If I looked at Jeremiah then, I thought I might burst a blood vessel—his or mine, I didn’t know.

I see the two men examining a bouquet of white roses nearby. I want Mom out of their line of sight.

“Are you ready to go?” Mom asks, eyeing the toy Anne hugs to her chest.

“Yeah, yeah,” I mumble, taking the bunny from Anne and shov­ing it back on one of the shelves. “Let’s go.”

* * *

Grace Kwan is a Sociology MA student at Simon Fraser University. Her articles and personal essays on race, media, and culture can be read on Necessary Fiction, Plenitude Magazine, and other online publications. She’s also a regular contributor for Camp Thirlby.

Exclusive Excerpt Reveal: Rainbow Revolutionaries by Sarah Prager

Sarah Prager is no stranger to LGBTQIAP+ history books; her first, Queer, There, and Everywhere, received numerous accolades and was named a New York Public Library Best Book of 2017. I’m thrilled to have her on the site today to reveal an exclusive excerpt from her upcoming middle grade follow-up, Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ People Who Made History, which is illustrated by Sarah Papworth and releasing from HarperCollins on May 26th! (And pssst: Sarah’s holding an online launch party the same day! See details here.) Here’s the blurb:

Cover art by Sarah Papworth, cover design by Alison Klapthor

Take a journey through the lives of fifty revolutionary queer figures who made history in this groundbreaking illustrated biography collection from the author of Queer, There, and Everywhere. Did you ever wonder who invented the computer? Or who advised Martin Luther King Jr. on his nonviolent activism? Author Sarah Prager and illustrator Sarah Papworth bring to life the vibrant histories of fifty pioneering LGBTQ+ people our history books forgot to mention. Delve into the lives of Wen of Han, a Chinese emperor who loved his boyfriend as much as his people; Martine Rothblatt, a trans woman who’s helping engineer the robots of tomorrow, and so many more! From athletes (Billie Jean King) to doctors (Magnus Hirschfeld) and activists (Marsha P. Johnson) to painters (Frida Kahlo), LGBTQ+ people have made their mark on every century of human existence. This book is a celebration of the many ways these hidden heroes have made a difference and will inspire young readers to make a difference, too.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Bookshop | All She Wrote Books (signed)

And here’s the excerpt, with gorgeous illustrations from Sarah Papworth!

Frieda Belinfante

Copyright Sarah Papworth 2020

Frieda came from a musical family in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and started playing cello when she was ten. Her sister says that because Frieda had small hands, she had to wrestle to handle the large instrument. Frieda conquered the cello just like she took on other difficulties in life.

Frieda, who was a lesbian, got the chance to try her hand at something else musical besides the cello—conducting. There she found her true passion. She was so talented at conducting student musicians that she got the opportunity to conduct a professional orchestra. Her friends were skeptical that she could pull it off—no woman had ever conducted a professional orchestra before in Europe! In 1937 Frieda tried . . . and succeeded.

But Frieda had to disband her orchestra in 1940 because of World War II. Frieda put her steady hands to work by forging fake identity documents for Jews. At that time in the Netherlands, the Nazis were trying to find all the Jewish people. Everyone was required to carry identification, so Frieda made documents for Jewish people to carry that said they weren’t Jewish, so they could escape. It was dangerous work, but Frieda knew it was the right thing to do.

She even helped plan a bombing of Amsterdam’s city hall so that all the original IDs were destroyed and Jewish people would be protected. After the bombing, in 1943, Frieda had to go into hiding. The Nazis captured many of the activists she had worked with on the attack, but Frieda disguised herself as a man and was able to go undetected for weeks. Her male look was so convincing that her own mother didn’t recognize her when she passed her on the street. Then Frieda escaped to Switzerland, crossing snowy mountains and fording icy rivers (even though she couldn’t swim) to get to a place where she could survive.

After the war, Frieda wanted a new life, so she moved to Southern California— somewhere to warm her heart after all the horrors she had seen. Years after her orchestra had been ended by the war, she got the chance to be a conductor again, this time with the Orange County Philharmonic until 1962. She spent her life breaking barriers in music and heroically helping people in need.

Tshepo Ricki Kgositau 

Copyright Sarah Papworth 2020

Ricki didn’t just change her own life on December 12, 2017—she changed the lives of many more. On that day, a high court in her country of Botswana ruled in her favor in a historic case. But we’ll hear more about that later.

Before she was making history, Ricki was an energetic fashion-loving child playing house in rural southern Botswana, playing the part of the mommy (raising the curiosity of those around her because she had been assigned male at birth). She loved to steal her grandma’s food to pretend to cook, and play with makeup and high heels. When she moved to the capital, Gabarone, her kindergarten teachers called her parents in for a meeting to tell them there was something wrong with their “son,” who kept asking to be called a girl.

It took until middle school for Ricki’s transition to be respected. Her family got on board, and a supportive teacher encouraged her. In high school, Ricki still had to wear the boys’ uniform, but she dressed it up with bangles and wore makeup. It wasn’t until she saw Oprah’s special on Jazz Jennings on TV that she realized there was a word for who she was: trans.

One day in 2010, Ricki lost her Botswana national ID card. For someone else, getting it replaced would have been a routine inconvenience. However, when Ricki went to get it replaced, she was told that because the lost ID said she was male and she presented as female, they couldn’t give her a new one. This inconsistency around her sex on this little piece of laminated paper would turn into a years-long legal battle.

Ricki just wanted her new ID—she needed it for important things like getting a job. But to get it she needed to hire a lawyer and take on the entire government of Botswana! The case became about much more than Ricki’s ID—it would go on to affect trans rights in all of Africa. If Ricki won, it would mean no trans person in Botswana would have to go through this ordeal again. And in 2017, she won!

There was one thing left to do that her new female ID opened the door to—get married. Ricki happily wedded her love, Beltony Kanza, in 2018 in Botswana. (Always the fashionista, she designed her wedding dress herself.) This is just the beginning of her life story—and of the struggle for trans rights across her continent.

* * *
Sarah Prager is an advocate for queer history education particularly for youth. HarperCollins published her first book, Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World, on May 23, 2017. The book received three starred reviews, was named an official selection of the Junior Library Guild, received five award nominations, and was named a Best Book for Teens 2017 by New York Public Library and Chicago Public Library. Her second book, Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ People Who Made History, will be published by HarperCollins Children’s on May 26, 2020 and is currently available for pre-order. It has already been named a Junior Library Guild selection. Sarah’s writing has been published in The Atlantic, The Advocate, HuffPost, QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking, Bustle, JSTOR Daily, them, Xtra, GO Magazine, Tagg Magazine, and various other outlets. Sarah has presented on LGBTQIA+ history to over 140 groups across five countries, including the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, Harvard Business School, and Microsoft HQ in Times Square. She lives with her wife, two children, and three cats in central Massachusetts. www.sarahprager.com.

Exclusive Excerpt Reveal: Heartstopper by Alice Oseman

Today on the site, I’m so thrilled to have Alice Oseman, whose YA graphic novel, Heartstopper, releases May 5th from Scholastic! We’re lucky enough to have an exclusive excerpt from the book, so check out the blurb and then enjoy a sneak peek!

Shy and softhearted Charlie Spring sits next to rugby player Nick Nelson in class one morning. A warm and intimate friendship follows, and that soon develops into something more for Charlie, who doesn’t think he has a chance. But Nick is struggling with feelings of his own, and as the two grow closer and take on the ups and downs of high school, they come to understand the surprising and delightful ways in which love works.

Preorder: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | Target

And here’s the excerpt!

* * *

Alice Oseman was born in 1994 in Kent, England. She graduated from Durham University and is the author of YA contemporaries SolitaireRadio Silence, and I Was Born for This. Learn more about Alice at aliceoseman.com.

Exclusive Cover and Excerpt Reveal: The Shadow War by Lindsay Smith

You may remember Lindsay Smith from one of my favorite bi YA thrillers, A Darkly Beating Heart or her excellent queer historical story in A Tyranny of Petticoats. Well, now she’s back with something entirely different but still wildly queer, and we get to reveal the cover! The Shadow War is a new YA fantasy releasing on October 13th from Philomel/Penguin, and it’s pitched as Inglorious Basterds meets Stranger Things, which !!! Here’s the official blurb: 

World War II is raging, and five teens are looking to make a mark. Daniel and Rebeka seek revenge against the Nazis who slaughtered their family; Simone is determined to fight back against the oppressors who ruined her life and corrupted her girlfriend; Phillip aims to prove that he’s better than his worst mistakes; and Liam is searching for a way to control the portal to the shadow world he’s uncovered, and the monsters that live within it–before the Nazi regime can do the same. When the five meet, and begrudgingly team up, in the forests of Germany, none of them knows what their future might hold.

As they race against time, war, and enemies from both this world and another, Liam, Daniel, Rebeka, Phillip, and Simone know that all they can count on is their own determination and will to survive. With their world turned upside down, and the shadow realm looming ominously large–and threateningly close–the course of history and the very fate of humanity rest in their hands. Still, the most important question remains: Will they be able to save it?

And here’s the electrifying cover, designed by Kristie Radwilowicz!

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | Book Depository

But wait, there’s more! Here’s an excerpt!

A world on fire…

Fires raged, purple and blue and savage, flowing like liquid through the trees. The sky glowed with unnatural light against a swallowing gulp of darkness. And in the distance, a column of flaming stones soared skyward—a pillar. Shadows circled it like giant bats, impossibly long wings scraping against one another in their jagged dance.

Daniel shrank back, pulse racing. What had happened to his world, his life? The wings beat louder, threatening to drown out his thoughts. “What have you done to me?”

“To you? Not a damn thing. In fact, I think we might be able to help each other.”

Daniel turned toward him. Liam smiled so easily, as if his earlier black rage had never happened. He’d said the rules were different here, without explaining, yet, where here was.

Liam appeared to be in total control. He was confident—calm, even—despite the strangeness surrounding them. He was just an ordinary college student, a little disheveled, though nothing that couldn’t be fixed by a hot bath. His tweed jacket, his satchel, his tidy leather loafers—nothing about him hinted he could unleash hell from his palm.

But Daniel was used to monsters that wore the plainest faces.

In the distance, something howled, slavering and cruel.

“What is this place?” Daniel asked again, though he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to know the answer.

“This,” Liam said, “is how we’re going to win the war.”

***

Lindsay Smith is the author of Sekret and other novels for young adults. She writes for Serial Box’s Marvel’s Black Widow: Bad BloodOrphan Black: The Next Chapter, and The Witch Who Came In From the Cold. She has also written for comics, RPGs, and more. She lives in Washington, DC, where she works in international cybersecurity.

Exclusive Cover and Excerpt Reveal: The Camino Club by Kevin Craig

I’m so thrilled to have Kevin Craig on the site today to reveal the cover of his sophomore novel (and first with Duet Books), The Camino Club, which releases on October 6th! Here’s the story:

After getting in trouble with the law, a group of wayward teens from diverse backgrounds are given an ultimatum: serve time in juvenile detention for their crimes, or walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across Spain over the summer holidays with a pair of court-appointed counselor guides. Although unlikely friends, they all try to make the best of their situation. The pilgrims grow closer on their journey, but when and if they reach the Cathedral in Santiago, will they each find what they’re looking for and come out of the walk ready to conquer the shattered worlds they left behind?

And here’s the beautiful cover designed by C.B. Messer!

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Interlude | IndieBound

But wait, there’s more! Here’s an excerpt!

We’ve been lost for over an hour. The way Claire is so chill about it, I’m beginning to think she doesn’t much care. She might have had something to do with us taking the wrong turns in the first place.

We were only a city block or so ahead of Meagan. Every once in a while I would slow our pace down so she was always able to catch glimpses of us. And Manny and Greg walked just slightly ahead of us. They sped up, and as soon as we lost sight of them, bam. Everything fell apart.

The rain didn’t help. We’re soaked through. At least it’s stopped. Hopefully it stays this way. I need to either dry off or find my way back to the path before I go mad. I can’t be wet and lost.

But here we are, drenched, on this quiet street with no peregrinos anywhere in sight. We have lost our way. And I kept letting Claire lead me in the wrong direction, because I had assumed she was trying to find her way back to the yellow arrows.

Clearly, not a good idea. Not an arrow in sight. I should have just kept walking with Manny and Greg. Even Gil disappeared back at the albergue after he realized Claire finally had a new walking partner.

I think last night may have been a one off, though. She seemed nice enough at the time, but I think today’s Claire may have gone rogue. I’m almost positive. Maybe she’s possessed by Cacabelos Jesus.

“I give up,” I say, stopping in front of a small grocery. “I’m asking for directions.”

“No, don’t. It’s more fun this way. Can’t we just wander around and figure things out for ourselves. Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“You know what I think,” I say before heading inside. “I think you want to be lost. I think you did this to us on purpose. I don’t want to be drawn into any of your plans to screw this up. You’re sabotaging me.”

I turn and walk into the small grocery. I let the door close on Claire, shutting down her ability to respond. I hope they can point me in the right direction. I don’t care if she follows me or not. I’d rather she didn’t.

I have my phone out, getting directions from the lady behind the counter, when Claire finally enters the store. We’re struggling through the language barrier, but the woman understands Camino and is able to show me on Google Maps where it is I have to go to get back on the path. Claire stands behind me, skulking noisily. After I have the directions, I buy a couple apples that happen to sit in a basket on the counter.

I turn to Claire and give her a dirty look as I put one of the apples into a side pocket in my backpack. I bite into the other and say, “Come on. Let’s go.” I hold up my phone to show her I know where I’m going.

“Nah,” she says. She pops a handful of Skittles. It was cute at first, but those little candies are beginning to annoy me. “I think I’ll sit this one out.”

“What does that even mean?”

Claire heads for the door without saying another word. I thank the woman behind the counter again before I leave. She says Buen Camino and I wave as I leave her store.

“What is your problem?” I ask Claire as I catch up to her. She just shrugs and keeps walking, in the opposite direction we need to go in order to get back to the yellow arrows. “Come on, Claire. You’re going the wrong way. You can’t just get lost in Spain. Are you nuts, girl? What is wrong with you? I thought we bonded last night. I thought—”

“Oh, what?” She pivots, cutting me off mid-sentence. “You think because we spent half an hour together we’re best friends now? What about the day before that? Or on the plane? You know, when you didn’t say two words to me?”

“I just want to get back to the Camino, Claire. I don’t want to fight with you.”

“What are you even in for, anyway?” she says. She walks over to where I stand waiting for her.

“You don’t want to know.”

***

Kevin Craig is a playwright, poet, and short story writer who lives in Toronto with their husband, Michael. An author of six published novels, Kevin’s books include Pride Must Be a Place (MuseItUp Publishing, 2018) and Burn Baby Burn Baby (independently published, 2014). Kevin was a founding member of the Ontario Writers’ Conference Board of Directors, and sat on the Writers’ Community of Durham Region’s (WCDR) Board of Directors as Membership Coordinator. Website: https://ktcraig.com/

The Summer of Impossibilities by Rachael Allen: Excerpt Reveal and Giveaway!

Today on the site, I’m thrilled to have Rachael Allen, whose upcoming young adult contemporary, The Summer of Impossibilities, releases May 12 from Abrams! We’ve got an exclusive excerpt from the story, so check out the blurb and dig in! (And pssst: keep scrolling for your chance to win an advanced copy!)

Cover artist: Emily Mahon

Skyler, Ellie, Scarlett and Amelia Grace are forced to spend the summer at the lake house where their moms became best friends.

One can’t wait.

One would rather gnaw off her own arm than hang out with a bunch of strangers just so their moms can drink too much wine and sing Journey two o’clock in the morning.

Two are sisters.

Three are currently feuding with their mothers.

One almost sets her crush on fire with a flaming marshmallow.

Two steal the boat for a midnight joyride that goes horribly, awkwardly wrong.

One of them is hiding how bad her joint pain has gotten.

All of them are hiding something.

One falls in love with a boy she thought she despised.

Two fall in love with each other.

None of them are the same at the end of the summer.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

And here’s the excerpt!

Amelia Grace

I WAS HOPING SHE WOULD BE THE FIRST PERSON I saw. Only, now that I’m here, I have no idea what to do. I know what she was thinking about doing with that knife—it’s why I stopped dead in the doorway, so she’d have a chance to put it down and paste a smile on her face before my mom could see around my body. But maybe I would have stopped dead no matter what. There’s something about seeing her in person after so many emails that makes me forget how to breathe.

“Scarlett, hi.” Mom gives her a hug. “You’ve gotten so tall.”

She’s definitely taller than I imagined she would be, but I’m only five foot four, so everyone is tall. She’s even more beautiful than in her pictures, all long red hair and curves and freckles. But somehow different. Edgier or sexier.

I stay on the other side of the room. If I get too close to her, will she know? I feel like my mom would know.

“Is Adeline around?” Mom asks, brows furrowed with concern.

“She’s upstairs.” Scarlett bites her lip, and I have to look out the window. “I think she’s not doing so well. Can you check on her?”

“Of course.” Mom squeezes her shoulder and leaves immediately. There’s something about the way she walks out of the room—her steps are so purposeful. I almost don’t recognize her for a second.

Skyler bounds in just as Mom is leaving. She grins at me, but her eyes are red.

“Amelia Grace!” she squeals, giving me a big, bouncy hug. “I haven’t seen you in forever! You look just like your pictures on Insta!”

And then it feels like it would be weird for Scarlett and me not to hug after I’ve just hugged her sister, and she must be feeling the same way because she takes a couple steps toward me too. Her shirt is wet in patches, and so is her hair.

“Are you okay?” I ask. It’s a general are you okay, but buried underneath is a very specific are you okay? Because back when things were really bad, with the girls at school and the cutting, she used to email me every day. But that was three years ago, before our emails trickled to every few weeks and then every few months. A part of me wants to pick back up right where we left off, but—

“I’m fine,” she says.

She hugs me, and it isn’t a big or bouncy one like Skyler’s, and it’s over too quickly, and it doesn’t answer any of my questions. I guess I thought we meant more to each other than that.

There’s the sound of another car pulling up outside, and Skyler runs out of the room to meet them, her chestnut ponytail swinging behind her. Scarlett takes exactly one step closer. She lowers her voice and says in a whisper that’s just for me, “I’m really glad you’re here.”

My heart squeezes in my chest, and I almost choke on my own spit. “Me too.”

The kitchen gets really quiet. I can hear Skyler outside, greeting the new arrivals with some unintelligible bubbliness. A trickle of water from the faucet goes drip- drip- dripping down the sink.

“I should, um, go upstairs and change.” She gestures to her shirt.

“Right. See you.” See you? Of course, I’ll see her. We are living in the same dang house for the summer.

Her footsteps echo up the stairs, and I feel like I’m on the cusp of realizing some great truth. Then my phone dings in my pocket. Carrie? I type in my password. Nah, just a bunch of social media updates. Including one from Carrie. It’s a photo of a book she’s reading—she posts those a lot—with a tiny caption.

weekend plans

So, she does have her phone. Well, maybe she doesn’t know what to say or maybe she’s feeling really bad about things or maybe she wishes it never happened and she never wants to see me again but she’s too sweet to tell me.

What if you just promised you wouldn’t kiss any more girls or go on dates or anything?

Maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal to promise that after all. If Carrie doesn’t want to talk to me, I mean, I don’t know anyone else in Ranburne who might be interested. And Scarlett, well. She’s in a relationship. I know this. She has emailed me about this. I have pretended to be happy for her on multiple occasions.

I could email Pastor Chris—he’s our youth minister, the one I was going to be serving with. See about being a junior youth minister when I come back in the fall, maybe sooner. I could promise him, like Abby said. I only have one more year of high school anyway. And it wouldn’t be changing who I am so much as it would just be . . . waiting.

Sometimes I imagine what life will be like on the other side and all the shapes my life could take, but mostly I’m scared to even think about it. Because if I do, all the possible futures start to shift like a kaleidoscope, each one falling into place, forming a single dream. I want to marry a sweet girl who I’m in love with. And I want us to have kids; I don’t even know how many. Two? Three? Seven plus a menagerie of pets? I don’t even know how the baby- having part would work exactly, but who cares as long as they’re ours? And she and I will walk down the street holding hands and we’ll sit together in church on Sundays, each holding up one half of the same hymnal.

That’s about where the future starts to fall apart. Because I already know I’ll never be able to have all those things at the same time.

I realize I’m still staring at the stairs, so I go outside, because I don’t want to seem like I’m creeping around Scarlett’s kitchen waiting for her. Skyler is dancing circles around a woman I recognize as my aunt Seema, and her daughter, Ellie. I remember playing with her brother, Zakir, when I was little. I haven’t seen them since Mom married Jay and moved to Tennessee. We stopped seeing all the aunts after that.

I walk up to the group of them, everyone talking at once. I say hi to Ellie, who is impossibly gorgeous and who gives me a hesitant side- hug like she isn’t sure what else to do.

Seema beams at me. “Amelia Grace, love, you look beautiful.”

I smile and allow myself to be scrunched into a hug. I remember that about her from when I was little—she gives the best hugs.

A tan SUV pulls up next to us. There’s not exactly a driveway, more just a dirt road that makes a circle in front of the house. A tall, Latinx woman with golden brown skin and glossy hair gets out. She has a piercing through one eyebrow and a flower tucked behind one ear. Definitely Val.

“I’m here, and I have everything we need!” she hollers. She pulls out a cardboard box from the passenger seat. “My ‘fasten seatbelt’ alarm has been going off since the liquor store. You know it’s a good day when you have enough alcohol in your seat that your car thinks it’s a person.”

She sets down the box so she can give Seema a hug. It’s like watching family members get reunited at the airport.

“How are you, Seema?”

“Good.” Seema smiles slyly. “I’m good. Because I have everything we need.”

“Wh—? Excuse me? I have wine, whiskey, bourbon, and tequila. I’m not sure there’s anything else a person could need.”

Seema swings a wrinkled brown paper bag. If she has weed in there, just, I don’t know, shoot me dead. I am so not prepared for this.

“Every kind of Cadbury you can imagine from when I visited my mother in Canada.”

Val clutches her heart. “You brought Cadbury? Did you bring—”

“Coconut cashew? Yes, five bars of it, one of which I instructed Ellie to write your name on in Sharpie.”

“God bless you.”

I used to think Cadbury was just those eggs you get at Easter, but it turns out Canada has a whole new level of chocolate going on. I remember I would totally freak out every time a care package from Aunt Seema came in the mail.

“Is that whole bag really filled with chocolate?” I ask.

Seema smiles. “About three kilograms.”

“I love it when you talk metric to me,” says Val, and Seema cackles.

And then it’s like they both remember why they’re here at exactly the same time.

“I am going to kill Jimmy Gable,” says Aunt Val.

“You’ll have to arm wrestle me for it, jaan, because I’m going to kill him first.”

I stare up at the blue house with the white wraparound porch, where my mom is no doubt holding my aunt Adeline like she’s trying to put her back together. Scarlett stands in the second window from the left, looking down at the lawn. The way the light hits her makes her look like a ghost. She’s never even talked about liking a girl, so I know she’ll probably never feel the same way, but the things I’m feeling, they’re so big, it doesn’t even matter. I look at her, and I feel lucky just to feel this way.

The great truth finally takes shape inside my head: If I was ever thinking about doing what they want, of going back to the way I was before and locking away the part of me that likes girls and hiding the key until college—seeing her makes me realize that is no longer an option.

* * *

And here’s more from Rachael!

In addition to giving away ARC’s of THE SUMMER OF IMPOSSIBILITIES, I thought it would be fun to do a giveaway where each of the girls in the book gives away her favorite YA book, and next up is an Amelia Grace giveaway and exclusive excerpt with LGBTQ Reads!

About Amelia Grace

Amelia Grace (Nickname: Ames)

Loves: interior design, kindness, being a junior youth minister, friends that feel like family

Favorite YA book: HOW TO BE REMY CAMERON by Julian Winters

Why: Remy is earnest and kind, and he’s confused about how to define himself because he’s a lot of different things – adopted, black, gay, a brother, a best friend. For Amelia Grace, being inside Remy’s head feels like talking to an old friend. It feels like everything. Especially because it’s really rare to find a book that talks about being LGBTQ+ and about religion. Also, Julian Winters is the absolute best at turning high school stereotypes upside down and he’s funny as hell. Like, catch-you-off-guard sly and witty. Please go read this book immediately.

Giveaway includes (open internationally!):

1 signed ARC of The Summer of Impossibilities

1 signed copy of HOW TO BE REMY CAMERON by Julian Winters

Click here to enter the giveaway!

Giveaway note: As a rule, LGBTQ Reads doesn’t host giveaways because they are kind of a lot to deal with. Please note that this giveaway is 100% my (Rachael’s) responsibility, and if you have any questions or concerns, please take them up with me and not LGBTQ Reads. Thanks for being awesome!

* * *

Lauren Wright Photography

Rachael Allen is a scientist by day and kidlit author by night. She is the winner of the 2019 Georgia Young Adult Author of the Year award, and her books include 17 First KissesThe Revenge Playbook, and A Taxonomy of Love, which was a Junior Library Guild selection and a 2018 Books All Young Georgians Should Read. Her next novel, The Summer of Impossibilities, is out May 12, 2020 (Abrams/Amulet). Rachael lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband, two children, and two dire wolves.

Rachael’s books have been published internationally in German, Spanish, French, and Polish. She is represented by Susan Hawk of Upstart Crow Literary.

Visit Rachael on Twitter: @rachael_allen and Instagram: @rachael.stewartallen

Exclusive Excerpt and Character Portrait Reveal for Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen!

Today on the site, we’ve got some extra fun in the form of character portrait and excerpt reveals from one of my absolute favorite upcoming releases, Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen! The book releases on April 21 from Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan, but you can get to know its stars now! (And, a fun note: you can also come see me and Kelly talking about said book at Books of Wonder this summer in NYC on Thursday, June 18th at 6:00 p.m., so save the date!)

Here’s a little more info on Late to the Party:

Seventeen is nothing like Codi Teller imagined.

She’s never crashed a party, never stayed out too late. She’s never even been kissed. And it’s not just because she’s gay. It’s because she and her two best friends, Maritza and JaKory, spend more time in her basement watching Netflix than engaging with the outside world.

So when Maritza and JaKory suggest crashing a party, Codi is highly skeptical. Those parties aren’t for kids like them. They’re for cool kids. Straight kids.

But then Codi stumbles upon one of those cool kids, Ricky, kissing another boy in the dark, and an unexpected friendship is formed. In return for never talking about that kiss, Ricky takes Codi under his wing and draws her into a wild summer filled with late nights, new experiences, and one really cute girl named Lydia.

The only problem? Codi never tells Maritza or JaKory about any of it.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon | IndieBound

And here are the portraits and excerpts! All portraits in this post have been done by Rima Salloum, a good friend of the author’s. 

Codi Teller – the protagonist and narrator, a quiet artist who is questioning her wallflower status

You know how adults are always talking about teenagers? When I was in fourth grade, my family drove past a house that had been rolled with toilet paper, and my dad shook his head and chuckled Teenagers under his breath. My mom griped about Teenagers every June, when dark figures hung over the monkey bars of the clubhouse playground long after closing hours, but she never actually seemed mad; she seemed wistful. And then there’s all those shows and movies, the ones where thirty-year-old actors pretend to be high schoolers, and they go on dates and drive their fast cars and dance at crazy house parties where their fellow Teenagers swing from chandeliers and barf into synthetic tree stands. You grow up with these ideas about Teenagers, about their wild, vibrant, dramatic lives of breaking rules and making out and Being Alive, and you know that it’s your destiny to become one of them someday, but suddenly you’re seventeen and you’re watching people cannonball into a swimming pool in the pouring rain, and you realize you still haven’t become a real Teenager, and maybe you never will.

Maritza Vargas – Codi’s best friend, a headstrong dancer who is determined to expand her social world

Maritza leaned forward, an urgent energy about her. “Listen to me,” she said. “Last night we picked up your little brother from a date, something none of us have ever experienced, and we watched him almost kiss a girl for the first time, something I’ve been wanting to do for ages. Didn’t that feel as shitty for you as it did for me? I’m tired of feeling like I’m missing out. We keep hanging out just the three of us, doing the same shit we always do, watching bad movies we’ve already seen . . .” She clasped her hands in front of her and steeled herself. “We need to try something different, meet people who are different. It’s like Einstein said: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result.”

JaKory Green – Codi’s other best friend, a hopeless idealist trying to push beyond his anxiety

“Did you feel horrible yesterday, too?” JaKory asked.

I looked up from the colors I was mixing. “The worst I’ve felt in a long time.”

JaKory was silent. Then he screwed up his mouth and said, “I went home and wrote a poem about it.”

I smiled wryly. “’Course you did.”

“There was one line I really liked. ‘My youth is infinite but my fears are intimate.’”

I mixed my orange and yellow paints. Such bursts of color, such vibrant promises, like the infinite youth JaKory spoke of. And yet those intimate fears loomed larger.

“I’m scared, too,” I admitted. “Scared of . . . I don’t even know what.”

“I’m so pissed at myself,” JaKory whispered. “I always knew I was different . . . black, nerdy, queer… but that’s not why I’m missing out. It’s because I’m standing in my own way.”

Ricky Flint – the closeted football player who takes Codi under his wing and introduces her to a new social group

After a while, we ended up along the river. Ricky parked with his truck facing the water, and we kicked our feet up on the dash, slurping the last of the ice cream from the bottoms of our cups.

“So what do you and Maritza and JaKory do when you hang out?” Ricky asked. “Is it anything like this?”

I told him. I kept checking his expression the whole time, worrying that I was boring him, but he had this open look on his face that made me feel like he cared what I had to say. When I’d said enough, I asked him, “What about your friends? What’s your favorite thing about them?”

He looked out over the river. A whole minute must have passed, but he didn’t seem pressed to come up with the answer right away. Finally, he started nodding to himself and said, “That I feel like I could have met them in kindergarten.”

“What do you mean?”

“I didn’t meet most of my friends until high school, but every single one of them is someone I could have met on the kindergarten playground—it’s natural and easy, nothing held against each other. Remember how easy it was to make friends at that age?”

Lydia Kaufman – Codi’s crush who is trying to be brave during her last summer before college

She bit her lip, a secret grin on her face. “What’s your favorite color?”

I laughed unexpectedly. “That’s what you want to follow up with?”

“Yes.”

I smiled, my hands in my lap now, all thought of the painting abandoned. “It changes all the time. Right now it’s violet.”

“I love that.”

“What’s yours?”

“Green,” she said right away.

I nodded, unsurprised. “Like your eyes.”

She laughed. “Not for that reason.”

“Why?”

“The first house my family lived in was green. Like a pastel shade, you know? And anytime a friend’s mom would drop me off, we’d turn on my street and I’d say, ‘My house is the green one.’ I didn’t know how to count the mailbox numbers but I knew my house was green, and I loved it.”

My heart expanded inside me. In that moment I felt like it was okay to be exactly who I was, because she was being exactly who she was, and that must have meant something. I absorbed it all: her eyes, her secrets, her space in the world.

The only thing I managed to say was, “I like knowing that.”

“I like knowing that you know it.”

***

Kelly Quindlen is the author of the young adult novels Late to the Party and Her Name in the Sky. A graduate of Vanderbilt University and a former teacher, Kelly has had the joy of speaking to PFLAG groups and high school GSAs. She currently serves on the leadership board of a non-profit for Catholic parents with LGBT children. She lives in Atlanta. Follow her on Twitter @kellyquindlen.

Exclusive Excerpt Reveal: Moontangled by Stephanie Burgis

Today on the site, I’m thrilled to have Stephanie Burgis, whose upcoming f/f fantasy romance novella, Moontangled, releases February 3rd from Five Fathoms Press and is set in her Harwood Spellbook series! We’ve got an exclusive excerpt from the story, so come see what it’s all about and then enjoy a sneak peek!

Take one ambitious politician and one determined magician with wildly different aims for their next meeting.

Add a secret betrothal, a family scandal, and a heaping of dangerous fey magic in an enchanted wood…and watch the sparks fly!

For just one moonlit, memorable night, Thornfell College of Magic has flung open its doors, inviting guests from around the nation to an outdoor ball intended to introduce the first-ever class of women magicians to society…but one magician and one invited guest have far more pressing goals of their own for the night.

Quietly brilliant Juliana Banks is determined to win back the affections of her secret fiancée, rising politician Caroline Fennell, who has become inexplicably distant. If Juliana needs to use magic to get her stubborn fiancée to pay her attention…well, then, as the top student in her class, she is more than ready to take on that challenge!

Unbeknownst to Juliana, though, Caroline plans to nobly sacrifice their betrothal for Juliana’s own sake – and no one has ever accused iron-willed Caroline Fennell of being easy to deter from any goal.

Their path to mutual happiness may seem tangled beyond repair…but when they enter the fey-ruled woods that border Thornfell College, these two determined women will find all of their plans upended in a night of unexpected and magical possibilities.

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And here’s the excerpt!

Golden lights glimmered across the grass, lighting a sparkling path through the moonlight. Juliana, waiting with the others in the enspelled blackness of the garden beyond, held her breath as she watched Thornfell’s great doors open wide. Light streamed out from the foyer, and guests streamed out with it in a chattering, glittering crowd.

Of course she’d never glimpse Caroline among so many others and from this distance—

There.

She’d know that haughty head-tilt anywhere—and oh, that easy, confident glide, like a panther prowling across the grass. There was only one thing missing: the usual laughing, vibrant circle of friends and admirers that followed Caroline Fennell to every social event of note.

Her breath escaped in a sigh of pure relief. It would be so much easier to tempt her fiancée discreetly into the shadows without any close observers keeping watch on them. Was that—could that be why Caroline had come alone to a party, for once? If she, too, was hoping for convenient privacy…

Warmth blossomed in Juliana’s chest.

Behind her, Sujana whispered, “Ready…and…now!”

Magical fireworks showered above the grass beyond as the garden blazed into triumphant, golden life at the end of their path, a brightly-lit stage before the vast, dark woods that hulked beyond. An invisible symphony of strings, flutes, and drums filled the warm air, while victorious scenes from the nation’s past stretched across the night sky, flashing from one famous triumph to another in dazzling succession.

The crowd came to a gasping, breathless halt, every head tipping back to take in each glittering, vivid detail…

Every head except for one.

Caroline’s gaze fixed on Juliana across all the space between them—and held, as if no one and nothing else existed.

It was exactly the way she had looked at her that very first evening years ago, when the famous Miss Fennell had arrived as an invited guest to one of Juliana’s aunt’s crowded Winter Solstice house parties…and had looked straight through all the rising politicians and hopeful gentleman mages to where Juliana had stood in the shadows, hiding every passionate truth about herself for her own safety.

Caroline had seen her from the very beginning…and when Caroline looked at her like that, Juliana could almost believe that she really was as strong and as beautiful as Caroline claimed, no matter what her own aunt and father had always told her to the contrary.

She had vowed never to think about them again. She was free now, she was surrounded by friends, and Caroline still wanted her after all. The joy and relief of that was inexpressible.

She barely held herself back as the fireworks ended and Miss Harwood stepped into place between the visitors and the brightly-lit garden.

“Welcome to Thornfell College of Magic,” said their headmistress. “You are all invited to walk the garden paths—and, of course, join the dance!”

The lighted path across the grass shot outward at her words, until it formed a massive, golden dancefloor. Glasses of elven wine floated in mid-air at the sidelines, waiting.

The music shifted into a jaunty new tune. Miss Harwood reached for her tall, lean husband to lead the dance. Juliana’s fellow students surged forwards to join them—

And Juliana held Caroline’s gaze as she shifted, deliberately, out from among all of her friends to slip into the shadows.

She didn’t have to wait for long.

“Is it safe to steal a moment in private?” Caroline’s words ghosted through the darkness, sending shivers down the back of Juliana’s neck.

“This way,” Juliana whispered, and led Caroline into the woods.

***

Version 3
J. Samphire

Stephanie Burgis grew up in Michigan but now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffeeshops. She writes wildly romantic historical fantasy for adults and fun adventure fantasy novels for kids, including Snowspelled and Thornbound (also in the Harwood Spellbook series) and The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. You can find out more and read excerpts from all of her books on her website.