Tag Archives: Briar Girls

Authors in Conversation: Rebecca Kim Wells and Rebecca Podos

Today on the site, I’m thrilled to help celebrate the release of Briar Girls by Rebecca Kim Wells, a Sapphic YA reimagining of The Sleeping Beauty yours truly called “a tantalizingly dark and majestic fairy tale filled with love, betrayal, and the ways the two inevitably intersect.” The book releases today, and Rebecca’s here to talk about it with another of our favorite queer YA author Rebeccas, Rebecca Podos (From Dust, a Flame), who also happens to be her agent! But before we get to that, here’s a little more about Briar Girls:

Lena has a secret: the touch of her skin can kill. Cursed by a witch before she was born, Lena has always lived in fear and isolation. But after a devastating mistake, she and her father are forced to flee to a village near the Silence, a mysterious forest with a reputation for luring people into the trees, never to be seen again…​

Until the night an enigmatic girl stumbles out of the Silence and into Lena’s sheltered world. Miranda comes from the Gather, a city in the forest brimming with magic. She is on a quest to wake a sleeping princess believed to hold the key to liberating the Gather from its tyrannical ruler—and she offers Lena a bargain. If Lena assists her on her journey, Miranda will help her break the curse.

Mesmerized by Miranda and her promise of a new life, Lena jumps at the chance. But the deeper into the Silence she goes, the more she suspects she’s been lied to—about her family’s history, her curse, and her future. As the shadows close in, Lena must choose who to trust and decide whether it’s more important to have freedom…or power.

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

And now, I’m thrilled to welcome Rebecca Kim Wells and Rebecca Podos!

RKW: We’ve been working together for several years—since 2015! Back then the publishing landscape was very different, especially around diverse and queer stories. What was your agenting outlook at the time? And what drew you to pick Briar Girls out of your inbox?

RP: It was definitely a different landscape! On the one hand, the decade before 2015 was game-changing for queer representation in kidlit. We saw debut books published by authors who went on to change the conversation about was possible for queer YA, a genre that had previously been considered pretty niche. This industry can be truly frustrating in that it often demands “successful” (aka profitable) books within a certain subgenre or representing a certain group before justifying the purchase of future books which might have been the breakout successes. Still, publishing was slow to expand queer kidlit beyond L and G stories, and beyond white and able main characters. We’re still working on that! And as often happens when we talk about representation, the very first books on the shelf were stories of queer pain and trauma, usually as a direct consequence of a character discovering their own identity or coming out. Which does not mean that authors shouldn’t explore trauma and identity in their fiction, or that every queer story should be fluffy and joyful; we need books at both ends of the spectrum. We need to build a bigger bookshelf, rather than dictating which handful of books are allowed at any given moment.

Anyway, this is where the genre was in 2015: slowly moving beyond contemporary stories within a limited spectrum of queer identities. I had been signing authors of my own since 2012, looking for queer stories from the start. Some, I was able to sell! (And some of the authors I signed in the early days have gone on to write many fantastic queer stories after a non-queer themed debut novel). When I started reading your submission—the story that would become Briar Girls —on my subway ride to work, it was this smart, dark, lush, meta fairytale with a bisexual MC that made me miss my stop. I very distinctly remember having to get off at North Station and circle back. I was late to the office, and I still blame you. But that was how I knew I was about to fall in love with the book, and so I did.

It turns out that 2015 wasn’t quite ready for the story. As I told you much later, after your next amazing queer fantasy had sold, we did get pushback, including rejections along the lines of “we’re not sure the market exists for a fantasy with queer themes,” never mind that the brilliant Malinda Lo had been publishing for years. But I have rarely been more thrilled with my job than the moment we found out that Briar Girls was finally going to make its way onto shelves.

So, that’s my agent-y perspective. What had your experience been with queer books in 2015 as a writer and a reader, and what compelled you to tell your own?

RKW: As a teen reader, most of my experience with queer books had been with contemporary stories focused on coming out, like Geography Club or Rainbow Boys. Back then it wasn’t as easy even to search for queer books as it is now, so a lot of my reading came just from browsing at my local library or bookstore. I did manage to find a few queer fantasies—I still have vivid memories of Kissing the Witch (I just looked up a review from 1999 that said the lesbian endings “promise controversy,” yikes!) and reading Ash for the first time—but they certainly weren’t being published or promoted nearly as much as they are today.

I started writing Briar Girls in 2013. I’ve always been into fairy tale reimaginings, and I loved writing a big mashup of my own. That was the first kernel of the book. Then—this feels so weird to think about now—but in the first iteration, the main characters were actually straight. And at some point along the way, I just had the thought that well, it’s obvious that they should be queer. I don’t know why (certainly the market wasn’t particularly encouraging, especially in 2013), but I made the change and never second-guessed that decision. It was so clear to me that was what the book should be, and I didn’t even think about whether that would make it more difficult to publish. And that belief turned out to be so validated by your enthusiasm for the book. It buoyed me through the submission process, even though Briar Girls didn’t sell at the time.

I’m very glad that you didn’t tell me about those rejections in 2015, because I might have gotten nervous about writing queer characters (which would have been terrible!). Instead I got to lick my wounds and move on to the next project, which turned into Shatter the Sky. We sent that on submission in December 2017 and I think we got the offer from Simon & Schuster around the end of January 2018? It was a very different submission experience, both because it sold (yay!) and because it sold so quickly. Obviously part of the reason it sold is that I had grown as a writer, but I also think that the market around queer books for teens had really started to change in those few years.

While this wasn’t my experience, you mentioned that a few of your other authors wrote non-queer debuts and then went on to write queer books. This is also true of your work as an author—a non-queer debut followed by some incredible queer books. What was your experience like as an author making that transition? How did you decide to write your first queer book?

RP: Ah, the days before sites like LGBTQ Reads and Lambda Literary and the Rainbow Book List made finding queer books one million times easier. And yes, the path to publication for Shatter the Sky was so much smoother! I do think the market had evolved, even in the year or two between projects.

In part, my choice to write my first queer book was inspired by you, and my clients writing extraordinary queer stories at that time. As LGBTQ+ YA became more prominent on shelves, and seemed more possible to publish, I was seeing more of it in my query inbox, and reading more of it myself. Eventually I just decided, why not? So I began Like Water in 2015. And some of the choices I made in drafting that book, I made for my younger self. Like the fact that my main character’s discovery and acceptance of her own bisexuality was pretty painless. Her realization expanded her understanding of herself, and the world around her. She doesn’t spend a lot of time in the story coming out to the people around her; I just wasn’t that interested in her coming out as a huge plot point, despite the fact that the question of how and when to come out preoccupied a lot of my youth. Because, again, why not?

By the way, I had no idea that Briar Girls ever existed in a non-queer form! One of the many things I love about your stories is how queerness is baked into the fabric of your fantasy worlds. What do you love about writing and reading queer genre fiction, and how do you approach building these worlds that, while full of conflict and statements on class and colonization and gender roles, still feel so thoroughly inclusive?

RKW: Yes! The first person to stumble mysteriously out of the Gather was a boy named Colin. Then around July 2014 (per Scrivener metadata) it became obvious to me that the mysterious stranger was meant to be Miranda, and the rest is history!

Oh wow, I love everything about writing and reading queer genre fiction! But in the context of this question, I think what I love most about it is the sense of possibility—that the only constraint on what you can do as an author is the bound of your own imagination. If you don’t like a dynamic from the real world, change it! Interrogate it! Throw it out entirely! In the real world, I find homophobia cruel and horrifying—and also very boring. To me it’s the least interesting societal problem because it has the easiest, most obvious solution—just don’t be a homophobe! Mind your own business! Love your fellow humans! Let people live! So I don’t replicate it in my work. I’m proud of the queerness in my books, and I hope to continue writing queerness in all its complexity into my imagined worlds for many books to come.

I totally relate to the way you describe writing Like Water (and am so honored to be a tangential source of inspiration!)—though I certainly thought about coming out as a teen, it’s not something that I’m very interested in exploring in my own fiction at this time. In many ways, I’m writing toward a more inclusive world that I hope to see, rather than the one I grew up with and that exists today.

In addition to introducing queerness into your work, you’ve also genre-hopped from contemporary toward fantasy and now into historical fiction. But your prose is always so precise—sometimes delicate, sometimes cutting, always perfect—and your characters are always preoccupied by the weight of family—family histories, family bonds, family lore. To me, those are a few marks of a Rebecca Podos book. What do you feel are the common threads between your different books? What themes do you keep returning to as an author?

RP: This is such a lovely appraisal, you’ve made my night! And you pretty much nailed it with family being a common thread. In general, I think all of my books explore themes of inheritance—the things passed down to you or put on your shoulders, for good or for ill, and how you navigate that while trying to figure out who you are, and who you want to become. In Mystery of Hollow Places, it was a girl reckoning with the history of mental illness in her family, and how that shaped her as a person, as well as her relationships. In Like Water, it was a genetic illness the main character is scared to inherit from her father, while she struggles to be grateful for all of the wonderful things he’s instilled in her. In Wise and the Wicked, it’s an actual curse, passed down through generations, but it’s also about what we lose when we don’t speak the same language as our ancestors, when their stories slip away from us. And in From Dust, A Flame, which is up next, a girl discovers and engages with her Jewish identity for the first time, and what that means to her… plus golems and shedim and iburrim, and all of these aspects of Jewish myth and magic that I just really wanted to play with. Also, you know, everybody’s pretty gay.

When I think of a Rebecca Kim Wells book, I think of lush and precise worldbuilding, fascinating magical systems, smartly subverted tropes—like the chosen one trope of Shatter the Sky and Storm the Earth or the cursed princess trope of Briar Girls, but reexamined and completely flipped on their heads—and as you say, queerness without cost. What sort of stories do you feel most drawn to telling, and what experience do you hope readers will come away with from Briar Girls?

RKW: First, From Dust, A Flame sounds So! Good! I can’t wait to read it. And I’m sitting here feeling like I have been swaddled in a warm blanket of your compliments, thank you! You too have hit the nail on the head about so much of what I try to accomplish in my work.

I still remember how enthralled I was by the fantasy books I read as a child and teen. A lot of what I do as an author absolutely involves trying to recapture the feel of that classic fantasy while simultaneously interrogating, updating, flipping, and subverting common threads and tropes. I love complications and shades of gray! I want readers to feel both a happy familiarity and an unexpected, exciting destabilization every time they pick up one of my books. I delight in making the familiar strange.

And then the yearning—not always the romantic kind! My characters tend to be profoundly affected by family legacy (another thing we have in common!), they’ve all got wounds, and they all yearn, deeply. I love yearning. I want my books to make your chest hurt as you read them.

As far as Briar Girls goes…I hope readers finish this book feeling like they have been stabbed in the heart—but that they loved it. Lena’s journey still stabs me in the heart, and I’ve been living with it for eight years! Now I’m thrilled to share it with all of you.

***

Hannah’s whole life has been spent in motion. Her mother has kept her and her brother, Gabe, on the road for as long as she can remember, leaving a trail of rental homes and faded relationships behind them. No roots, no family but one another, and no explanations.

All of that changes on Hannah’s seventeenth birthday when she wakes up transformed, a pair of golden eyes with knife-slit pupils blinking back at her from the mirror—the first of many such impossible mutations. Promising that she knows someone who can help, her mother leaves Hannah and Gabe behind to find a cure. But as the days turn to weeks and their mother doesn’t return, they realize it’s up to them to find the truth.

What they discover is a family they never knew, and a history more tragic and fantastical than Hannah could have dreamed—one that stretches back to her grandmother’s childhood in Prague under the Nazi occupation, and beyond, into the realm of Jewish mysticism and legend. As the past comes crashing into the present, Hannah must hurry to unearth their family’s secrets—and confront her own hidden legacy in order to break the curse and save the people she loves most, as well as herself.

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Rebecca Kim Wells writes books full of magic and fury (and often dragons). Her debut novel Shatter the Sky was a New England Book Award Finalist, an ALA Rainbow Book List selection, an Indies Introduce selection, and a Kids’ Indie Next Pick. She is also the author of Storm the Earth and Briar Girls.                                                                  

Rebecca Podos’ debut novel, The Mystery of Hollow Places, was a Junior Library Guild Selection and a B&N Best YA Book of 2016. Her second book, Like Water, won the 2018 Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Children’s and Young Adult. The Wise and the Wicked, her third novel, was recently released. Her forthcoming books include Fools in Love (Running Press Kids, 2021) a co-edited YA anthology with author Ashley Herring Blake, and From Dust, a Flame (Balzer + Bray, 2022). A graduate of the Writing, Literature and Publishing Program at Emerson College, she’s an agent at the Rees Literary Agency in Boston by day.                                                                                        

New Releases: November 2021

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske (2nd)

Red White & Royal Blue meets Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in debut author Freya Marske’s A Marvellous Light, featuring an Edwardian England full of magic, contracts, and conspiracies.

Robin Blyth has more than enough bother in his life. He’s struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employer, and the harried baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents’ excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what’s been operating beneath the unextraordinary reality he’s always known.

Now Robin must contend with the beauty and danger of magic, an excruciating deadly curse, and the alarming visions of the future that come with it—not to mention Edwin Courcey, his cold and prickly counterpart in the magical bureaucracy, who clearly wishes Robin were anyone and anywhere else.

Robin’s predecessor has disappeared, and the mystery of what happened to him reveals unsettling truths about the very oldest stories they’ve been told about the land they live on and what binds it. Thrown together and facing unexpected dangers, Robin and Edwin discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles—and a secret that more than one person has already died to keep.

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Unexpected Goals by Kelly Farmer (2nd)

If you can’t play nice, play hockey

Canadian goalie Maisy Goode is wary of American Jen Donato and her dirty playing. She’s been on the receiving end of Jen’s aggressive style and doesn’t like it one bit. Now that they’re on the same women’s pro team, keeping her eyes off Jen is a struggle.

Jen signed up to win it all with the Boston Ice. Her very public clashes with their hot goalie aren’t going to derail her championship plans. Jen’s a professional. But there’s just something about Maisy that gets under her skin.

The media loves the tension, but the more time Maisy and Jen are forced to spend together, the more they discover what’s between them isn’t entirely hostile.

At all.

Banter turns into flirting, and flirting turns into more. The closer they get to the playoffs, the more pressure weighs on the team—and the couple. Maisy needs Jen’s support. Jen needs to know Maisy’s all in. And it all needs to get sorted out before the season—and their relationship—closes out.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Apple Books | Google Play | BookBub

A-Okay by Jarad Greene (2nd)

When Jay starts eighth grade with a few pimples he doesn’t think much of it at first…except to wonder if the embarrassing acne will disappear as quickly as it arrived. But when his acne goes from bad to worse, Jay’s prescribed a powerful medication that comes with some serious side effects. Regardless, he’s convinced it’ll all be worth it if clear skin is on the horizon!

Meanwhile, school isn’t going exactly as planned. All of Jay’s friends are in different classes; he has no one to sit with at lunch; his best friend, Brace, is avoiding him; and–to top it off–Jay doesn’t understand why he doesn’t share the same feelings two of his fellow classmates, a boy named Mark and a girl named Amy, have for him.

Eighth grade can be tough, but Jay has to believe everything’s going to be a-okay…right?

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The God of Lost Words by A.J. Hackwith (2nd)

This is the third book in the Hell’s Library series

56982188To save the Library of the Unwritten in Hell, former librarian Claire and her allies may have to destroy it first.

Claire, rakish Hero, angel Rami, and muse-turned-librarian Brevity have accomplished the impossible by discovering the true nature of unwritten books. But now that the secret is out, in its quest for power Hell will be coming for every wing of the Library.

To protect the Unwritten Wing and stave off the insidious reach of Malphas, one of Hell’s most bloodthirsty generals, Claire and her friends will have to decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice to keep their vulnerable corner of the afterlife. Succeeding would mean rewriting the nature of the Library, but losing would mean obliteration. Their only chance at survival lies in outwitting Hell and writing a new chapter for the Library. Luckily, Claire and her friends know how the right story, told well, can start a revolution.

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Faith: Greater Heights by Julie Murphy (2nd)

This is the sequel to Faith: Taking Flight

55742901. sy475 Faith Herbert can finally admit that she’s not a regular teen. Thankfully, her two best friends, Matt and Ches, are now in on her superhero secret. But after the chaos of her first semester, Faith just wants to end her senior year on a normal note—enjoying all the hallmarks of graduating high school—like prom! And, possibly, getting to attend college in the fall.

A new teacher has taken over journalism class, and Faith is only occasionally reminded of the empty spot left by Colleen Bristow, the quiet nerd-turned-supervillain. That is, until Faith hears from Peter that other psiots have been going missing, and he suspects that her old classmate is somehow involved. Faith decides the only way to get to the bottom of it is to find Colleen—before enemies can get to her first.

As her search starts to collide with the memorable senior year she’s been hoping for, Faith learns that you gotta have faith…that sometimes fate will point you in the right direction.

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Borealis by Aisha Sabatini Sloan (2nd)

In Borealis, Aisha Sabatini Sloan observes shorelines, mountains, bald eagles, and Black fellow travelers while feeling menaced by the specter of nature writing. She considers the meaning of open spaces versus enclosed ones and maps out the web of queer relationships that connect her to this quaint Alaskan town. Triangulating the landscapes she moves through with glacial backdrops in the work of Black conceptual artists and writers, Sabatini Sloan complicates tropes of Alaska to suggest that the excitement, exploration, and possibility of myth-making can also be twinned by isolation, anxiety, and boredom.

Borealis is the first book commissioned for the Spatial Species series, edited by Youmna Chlala and Ken Chen. The series investigates the ways we activate space through language. In the tradition of Georges Perec’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, Spatial Species titles are pocket-sized editions, each keenly focused on place. Instead of tourist spots and public squares, we encounter unmarked, noncanonical spaces: edges, alleyways, diasporic traces. Such intimate journeying requires experiments in language and genre, moving travelogue, fiction, or memoir into something closer to eating, drinking, and dreaming.

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The Demon Equilibrium by Cathy Pegau (2nd)

Grace Carter, a “source” of magic, has spent the last nine months searching for Maggie Mulvaney, her “catalyst.” The joy of reuniting with her partner—and her lover—is thwarted by her worst fear: Maggie doesn’t remember Grace or their life together. Grace blames the Order of Saint Teresa, the centuries-old organization that trained them to be the strongest demon-hunting duo in generations. But why has the Order done this?

As Maggie and Grace begin to piece their lives back together, they discover that their memories have been masked by someone within the Order, a demon who has been running their realm since Saint Teresa defeated the demon lord Ammemnion. Should the demon succeed in reviving Ammemnion, those in the Order who have committed their lives to slay worldly demons will be relegated to little more than minions as he enslaves humans completely.

Now, Grace and Maggie must sacrifice everything, possibly even their lives, as they take on the demon lord in an all-out battle to save humanity.

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Going Viral: a Socially Distant Love Story by Katie Cicatelli-Kuc (2nd)

When Claire Draper’s fictional love story goes viral in the wake of a pandemic, the line between reality and fiction is blurred. But will she be able to tell the difference?

Claire is a junior in high school when a worldwide pandemic strikes, and she’s in the epicenter of it all in New York City. Suddenly, Claire is forced to isolate with her family indefinitely, which means she won’t be able to see her friends or even her girlfriend, Vanessa, in person for a long time.

At first it’s not so bad, but the longer the pandemic lasts, the more Claire feels her priorities changing. That’s when she looks outside her bedroom window and notices something new: A girl who lives in the building across the street sitting on her fire escape.

So Claire starts writing a story online about a girl who falls for the girl across the street. To Claire’s surprise, the story goes viral-and it seems people think it’s true. But how true is true? And what if Vanessa finds out? Will Claire be able to manage her newfound internet fame before everything spirals out of control?

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Eating Lightbulbs and Other Essays by Steve Fellner (4th)

Book CoverIn Eating Lightbulbs and Other Essays, Steve Fellner traces the seriocomic absurdities of his own mind, obsessed with family, mental illness, film, poetry, and gay sex. He’s in search of love wherever he can find it: An imaginary 1970s Cineplex movie theatre. Amoebas. A letter penned to the ghost of an environmental activist who killed himself. PrEP.  Lava lamps. A famous queer poet who didn’t know he existed. The AIDS quilt. A book he wrote for his mother who was never able to read it. A co-ed sexual abuse support group.  A baby shower. Fellner is always ready to subvert victim narratives even if he has to commit a few (or more than a few) acts of betrayal along the way. With both laugh out loud funny moments and refreshingly honest glimpses into the moments in life most of us would rather forget, Eating Lightbulbs appeals to our sense of self-preservation and the inherently flawed way we live and love.

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The Reckless Kind by Carly Heath (9th)

It’s 1904 on an island just west of Norway, and Asta Hedstrom doesn’t want to marry her odious betrothed, Nils. But her mother believes she should be grateful for the possibility of any domestic future, given her single-sided deafness, unconventional appearance, and even stranger notions. Asta would rather spend her life performing in the village theater with her fellow outcasts: her best friend Gunnar Fuglestad and his secret boyfriend, wealthy Erlend Fournier.

But the situation takes a dire turn when Nils lashes out in jealousy—gravely injuring Gunnar. Shunning marriage for good, Asta moves with Gunnar and Erlend to their secluded cabin above town. With few ties left to their families, they have one shot at gaining enough kroner to secure their way of life: win the village’s annual horse race.

Despite Gunnar’s increasing misgivings, Asta and Erlend intend to prove this unheard-of arrangement will succeed. Asta trains as a blacksmith; Erlend cares for recovering Gunnar. But as race day approaches, the villagers’ hateful ignorance only grows stronger. With this year’s competition proving dangerous for the trio, Asta and Erlend soon find they face another equally deadly peril: the possibility of losing Gunnar, and their found family, forever.

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Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park (9th)

Love in the Big City is the English-language debut of Sang Young Park, one of Korea’s most exciting young writers. A runaway bestseller, the novel hit the top five lists of all the major bookstores and went into nine printings. Both award-winning for its unique literary voice and perspective, and particularly resonant with young readers, it has been a phenomenon in Korea and is poised to capture a worldwide readership.

Told in four parts that recall the structure of Han Kang’s The VegetarianLove in the Big City is an energetic, joyful, and moving novel that depicts both the glittering nighttime world of Seoul and the bleary-eyed morning-after. Young is a cynical yet fun-loving Korean student who pinballs from home to class to the beds of recent Tinder matches. He and Jaehee, his female best friend and roommate, frequent nearby bars where they push away their anxieties about their love lives, families, and money with rounds of soju and ice-cold Marlboro Reds that they keep in their freezer. Yet over time, even Jaehee leaves Young to settle down, leaving him alone to care for his ailing mother and to find companionship in his relationships with a series of men, including one whose handsomeness is matched by his coldness, and another who might end up being the great love of his life.

A brilliantly written novel filled with powerful sensory descriptions and both humor and emotion, Love in the Big City is an exploration of millennial loneliness as well as the joys of queer life, that should appeal to readers of Sayaka Murata, Tao Lin, and Cho Nam-Joo.

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All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman (9th)

55337041. sy475 After the publication of a salacious tell-all book, the remote city of Ilvernath is thrust into worldwide spotlight. Tourists, protesters, and reporters flock to its spellshops and ruins to witness an ancient curse unfold: every generation, seven families name a champion among them to compete in a tournament to the death. The winner awards their family exclusive control over the city’s high magick supply, the most powerful resource in the world.

In the past, the villainous Lowes have won nearly every tournament, and their champion is prepared to continue his family’s reign. But this year, thanks to the influence of their newfound notoriety, each of the champions has a means to win. Or better yet–a chance to rewrite their story.

But this is a story that must be penned in blood.

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Calvin by JR and Vanessa Ford, ill. by Kayla Harren (9th)

Calvin has always been a boy, even if the world sees him as a girl. He knows who he is in his heart and in his mind but he hasn’t yet told his family. Finally, he can wait no longer: I’m not a girl, he tells his family. I’m a boy–a boy in my heart and in my brain. Quick to support him, his loving family takes Calvin shopping for the swim trunks he’s always wanted and back-to-school clothes and a new haircut that helps him look and feel like the boy he’s always known himself to be. As the first day of school approaches, he’s nervous and the what-ifs gather up inside him. But as his friends and teachers rally around him and he tells them his name, all his what-ifs begin to melt away.

Inspired by the authors’ own transgender child and accompanied by warm and triumphant illustrations, this authentic and personal text promotes kindness and empathy, offering a poignant and inclusive back-to-school message: all should feel safe, respected, and welcomed.

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Murder Most Actual by Alexis Hall (9th)

Murder Most Actual ebook by Alexis HallWhen up-and-coming true crime podcaster Liza and her corporate financier wife Hanna head to a luxurious hotel in the Scottish Highlands, they’re hoping for a chance to rekindle their marriage – not to find themselves trapped in the middle of an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery with no way home. But who better to take on the case than someone whose entire profession relies on an obsession with all things mysterious and macabre? Though some of her fellow guests may consider her an interfering new media hack, Liza knows a thing or two about crime and – despite Hanna’s preference for waiting out the chaos behind a locked door – might be the only one capable of discovering the killer. As the bodies rack up and the stakes rise, can they save their marriage — and their lives?

Buy it: Kobo

Candidly Cline by Kathryn Ormsbee (9th)

Born in Paris, Kentucky, and raised on her gram’s favorite country music, Cline Alden is a girl with big dreams and a heart full of song. When she finds out about a young musicians’ workshop a few towns over, Cline sweet-talks, saves, and maybe fibs her way into her first step toward musical stardom.

But her big dreams never prepared her for the butterflies she feels surrounded by so many other talented kids—especially Sylvie, who gives Cline the type of butterflies she’s only ever heard about in love songs.

As she learns to make music of her own, Cline begins to realize how much of herself she’s been holding back. But now, there’s a new song taking shape in her heart—if only she can find her voice and sing it.

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Briar Girls by Rebecca Kim Wells (16th)

56980485Lena has a secret: the touch of her skin can kill. Cursed by a witch before she was born, Lena has always lived in fear and isolation. But after a devastating mistake, she and her father are forced to flee to a village near the Silence, a mysterious forest with a reputation for luring people into the trees, never to be seen again…​

Until the night an enigmatic girl stumbles out of the Silence and into Lena’s sheltered world. Miranda comes from the Gather, a city in the forest brimming with magic. She is on a quest to wake a sleeping princess believed to hold the key to liberating the Gather from its tyrannical ruler—and she offers Lena a bargain. If Lena assists her on her journey, Miranda will help her break the curse.

Mesmerized by Miranda and her promise of a new life, Lena jumps at the chance. But the deeper into the Silence she goes, the more she suspects she’s been lied to—about her family’s history, her curse, and her future. As the shadows close in, Lena must choose who to trust and decide whether it’s more important to have freedom…or power.

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Marry Me by Melissa Brayden (16th)

Marry Me by [Melisssa Brayden]Allison Hale had always played second fiddle. She didn’t win the science fair, have a million friends, or become the world’s best mom. That was her sister, Betsy. However, Ally’s managed to do something her sister couldn’t, connect her family’s failing business to the wealthy Carmichaels through her engagement to their son, Brent. All she has to do is plan the wedding of the century with the hottest wedding planner in town, Megan Kinkaid. How could she have ever guessed that Megan and her zest for life would threaten everything she’d carefully planned?

Megan Kinkaid knows how to produce a wedding for the history books and she’s not about to miss out on the chance to tackle high-profile Brent Carmichael’s. His fiancée, however, is not who Megan imagined for shiny Brent. Ally Hale is beautiful, earnest, selfless, and fun. She’s also everything Megan ever wanted for herself, and their chemistry hovers in the stratosphere. But can she make Ally see that there’s more to life than making others happy before it’s too late?

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A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger (23rd)

Nina is a Lipan girl in our world. She’s always felt there was something more out there. She still believes in the old stories.

Oli is a cottonmouth kid, from the land of spirits and monsters. Like all cottonmouths, he’s been cast from home. He’s found a new one on the banks of the bottomless lake.

Nina and Oli have no idea the other exists. But a catastrophic event on Earth, and a strange sickness that befalls Oli’s best friend, will drive their worlds together in ways they haven’t been in centuries.

And there are some who will kill to keep them apart.

Darcie Little Badger introduced herself to the world with Elatsoe. In A Snake Falls to Earth, she draws on traditional Lipan Apache storytelling structure to weave another unforgettable tale of monsters, magic, and family. It is not to be missed.

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The Ballad of Dinah Caldwell by Kate Brauning (23rd)

55878024. sy475 Seventeen-year-old Dinah runs her family’s farm in the Ozarks. When she finds her grief-stricken mother dead in the living room with wealthy rancher Gabriel Gates standing over her, Dinah’s life narrows to a single point: kill Gabriel Gates.

But Gates has built his wealth giving out bad loans and surrounds himself with bodyguards. Dinah’s mountains are now one giant foreclosure, including her own farm. It all belongs to him. Once he puts a ten-thousand-dollar reward on Dinah’s head, everyone in the starving county wants a piece of her.

Homeless and alone in the woods, all she has is Johnny, the moonshining bootlegger at home in the caves. He begs her to leave the mountains, to start over with a new life. But Dinah is hell-bent on sparking a county revolution. She’ll lose her life to see this killer dead.

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The Golden Hour by Niki Smith (23rd)

The Golden HourStruggling with anxiety after witnessing a harrowing instance of gun violence, Manuel Soto copes through photography, using his cell-phone camera to find anchors that keep him grounded. His days are a lonely, latchkey monotony until he’s teamed with his classmates, Sebastian and Caysha, for a group project.

Sebastian lives on a grass-fed cattle farm outside of town, and Manuel finds solace in the open fields and in the antics of the newborn calf Sebastian is hand-raising. As Manuel aides his new friends in their preparations for the local county fair, he learns to open up, confronts his deepest fears, and even finds first love.

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The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart (23rd)

This is the sequel to The Bone Shard Daughter.

The Emperor is Dead. Long live the Emperor.

Lin Sukai finally sits on the throne she won at so much cost, but her struggles are only just beginning. Her people don’t trust her. Her political alliances are weak. And in the northeast of the Empire, a rebel army of constructs is gathering, its leader determined to take the throne by force.

Yet an even greater threat is on the horizon, for the Alanga – the powerful magicians of legend – have returned to the Empire. They claim they come in peace, and Lin needs their help to defeat the rebels and restore order.

But can she trust them?

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Girls of Fate and Fury by Natasha Ngan (30th)

This is the third and final book in the Girls of Paper and Fire trilogy.

57355864The final pages of Girls of Storm and Shadow brought a jaw-dropping conclusion that had the fates of Lei and Wren hanging in uncertainty. But one thing was certain – the Hidden Palace was the last place that Lei would ever consider home. The trauma and tragedy she suffered behind those opulent walls would plague her forever. She could not be trapped there with the sadistic king again, especially without Wren.

The last Lei saw of the girl she loved, Wren was fighting an army of soldiers in a furious battle to the death. With the two girls torn apart and each in terrorizing peril, will they find each other again or have their destinies diverged forever?

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The Life Revamp by Kris Ripper (30th)

The Life RevampAll Mason wants to do is fall in love, get married and live happily ever after.

The hunt is beginning to wear him down…until he meets (slightly) famous fashion designer Diego. Everything sparks between them—the banter, the sex, the fiery eye contact across a crowded room.

There’s just one thing: Diego is already married and living his happily-ever-after, which luckily (or not) for Mason includes outside courtships.

But not quite in the way he’d always imagined.

Mason thought he knew what would make him happy, but it turns out the traditional life he’d expected has some surprises in store.

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