Tag Archives: Contemporary

Fave Five: YA Murder Mysteries

Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta

Far From You by Tess Sharpe

White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig

People Like Us by Dana Mele

A Good Idea by Cristina Moracho

Bonus: Coming up in May, Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan!

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Backlist Book of the Month: P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy

Last year was a banner year for Middle Grade starring queer girls, and Jen Petro-Roy’s debut was a truly special one and beautiful one, about a girl who becomes unmoored when her pregnant sister is sent away by her Catholic parents, just when Evie needs her most.

29735642In this epistolary middle-grade debut novel, a girl who’s questioning her sexual orientation writes letters to her sister, who was sent away from their strict Catholic home after becoming pregnant.

Eleven-year-old Evie is heartbroken when her strict Catholic parents send her pregnant sister away to stay with a distant great-aunt. All Evie wants is for her older sister to come back. But when her parents forbid her to even speak to Cilla, she starts sending letters. Evie writes letters about her family, torn apart and hurting. She writes about her life, empty without Cilla. And she writes about the new girl in school, June, who becomes her friend, and then maybe more than a friend.

As she becomes better friends with June, Evie begins to question her sexual orientation. She can only imagine what might happen if her parents found out who she really is. She could really use some advice from Cilla. But Cilla isn’t writing back.

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

New Release Spotlight: Sugar Run by Mesha Maren

Your first incredibly memorable read of the year releases today and introduces readers to the talent of Mesha Maren, whose Sugar Run had me literally dreaming in this tense, dusty, green, and wild Appalachian scenery as I read. It’s a novel about building a new life while unsure how to escape the old one, about rehabilitation real and imagined, about home and family and love and jealousy, about crimes of passion and crimes of necessity, and, yes, about being a queer woman through it all. 

In 1989, Jodi McCarty is seventeen years old when she’s sentenced to life in prison for manslaughter. She’s released eighteen years later and finds herself at a Greyhound bus stop, reeling from the shock of unexpected freedom. Not yet able to return to her lost home in the Appalachian mountains, she goes searching for someone she left behind, but on the way, she meets and falls in love with Miranda, a troubled young mother. Together, they try to make a fresh start, but is that even possible in a town that refuses to change? Set within the charged insularity of rural West Virginia, Sugar Run is a searing and gritty debut about making a run for another life.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N

New Releases: January 2019

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole (8th)

While her boss the prince was busy wooing his betrothed, Likotsi had her own love affair after swiping right on a dating app. But her romance had ended in heartbreak, and now, back in NYC again, she’s determined to rediscover her joy—so of course she runs into the woman who broke her heart.

When Likotsi and Fabiola meet again on a stalled subway train months later, Fab asks for just one cup of tea. Likotsi, hoping to know why she was unceremoniously dumped, agrees. Tea and food soon leads to them exploring the city together, and their past, with Fab slowly revealing why she let Likotsi go, and both of them wondering if they can turn this second chance into a happily ever after.

Buy it: Amazon | iBooks

Sugar Run by Mesha Maren (8th)

In 1989, Jodi McCarty is seventeen years old when she’s sentenced to life in prison for manslaughter. She’s released eighteen years later and finds herself at a Greyhound bus stop, reeling from the shock of unexpected freedom. Not yet able to return to her lost home in the Appalachian mountains, she goes searching for someone she left behind, but on the way, she meets and falls in love with Miranda, a troubled young mother. Together, they try to make a fresh start, but is that even possible in a town that refuses to change? Set within the charged insularity of rural West Virginia, Sugar Run is a searing and gritty debut about making a run for another life.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N

The Whispers by Greg Howard (15th)

The WhispersEleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home. She disappeared a few months ago, and Riley is determined to crack the case. He even meets with a detective, Frank, to go over his witness statement time and time again.

Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes on a camping trip with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask them to bring his mom back home. But Riley doesn’t realize the trip will shake the foundation of everything that he believes in forever.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

Last Night in Nuuk by Niviaq Korneliussen (15th)

A witty and fearless debut from a stunning new voice, Last Night in Nuuk is a work of daring invention about young life in Greenland. Through monologues, emails, and text exchanges, she brilliantly weaves together the coming of age of five distinct characters: a woman who’s “gone off sausage” (men); her brother, in a secret affair with a powerful married man; a lesbian couple confronting an important transition; and the troubled young woman who forces them all to face their fears. With vibrant imagery and daring prose, Korneliussen writes honestly about finding yourself and growing into the person you were meant to be. Praised for creating “its own genre” (Politiken, Denmark), Last Night in Nuuk is a brave entrance onto the literary scene and establishes her as a voice that cannot be ignored.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N

Our Year of Maybe by Rachel Lynn Solomon (15th)

Our Year of MaybeFrom the author of You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone comes a stunning contemporary novel that examines the complicated aftermath of a kidney transplant between best friends.

Aspiring choreographer Sophie Orenstein would do anything for Peter Rosenthal-Porter, who’s been on the kidney transplant list as long as she’s known him. Peter, a gifted pianist, is everything to Sophie: best friend, musical collaborator, secret crush. When she learns she’s a match, donating a kidney is an easy, obvious choice. She can’t help wondering if after the transplant, he’ll love her back the way she’s always wanted.

But Peter’s life post-transplant isn’t what either of them expected. Though he once had feelings for Sophie too, he’s now drawn to Chase, the guitarist in a band that happens to be looking for a keyboardist. And while neglected parts of Sophie’s world are calling to her—dance opportunities, new friends, a sister and niece she barely knows—she longs for a now-distant Peter more than ever, growing increasingly bitter he doesn’t seem to feel the same connection.

Peter fears he’ll forever be indebted to her. Sophie isn’t sure who she is without him. Then one blurry, heartbreaking night twists their relationship into something neither of them recognizes, leading them to question their past, their future, and whether their friendship is even worth fighting for.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

Firestarter by Tara Sim (15th)

This is the third and final book in the Timekeeper series

The crew of the Prometheus is intent on taking down the world’s clock towers so that time can run freely. Now captives, Colton, Daphne, and the others have a stark choice: join the Prometheus’s cause, or fight back in any small way they can and face the consequences. But Zavier, leader of the terrorists, has a bigger plan—to bring back the lost god of time.

As new threats emerge, loyalties must shift. No matter where the Prometheus goes—Prague, Austria, India—nowhere is safe, and every second ticks closer toward the eleventh hour. Walking the line between villainy and heroism, each will have to choose what’s most important: saving those you love at the expense of the many, or making impossible sacrifices for the sake of a better world.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N

Song of the Dead by Sarah Glenn Marsh (22nd)

This is the second book in the Reign of the Fallen series

Karthia is nothing like it used to be. The kingdom’s borders are open for the first time in nearly three hundred years, and raising the dead has been outlawed. Odessa is determined to explore the world beyond Karthia’s waters, hoping to heal a heart broken in more ways than she can count. But with Meredy joining the ocean voyage, vanquishing her sorrow will be a difficult task.

Despite the daily reminder of the history they share, Odessa and Meredy are fascinated when their journey takes them to a land where the Dead rule the night and dragons roam the streets. Odessa can’t help being mesmerized by the new magic–and by the girl at her side. But just as she and Meredy are beginning to explore the new world, a terrifying development in Karthia summons them home at once.

Growing political unrest on top of threats from foreign invaders means Odessa and Meredy are thrust back into the lives they tried to leave behind while specters from their past haunt their tenuous relationship. Gathering a force big enough to ward off enemies seems impossible, until one of Queen Valoria’s mages creates a weapon that could make them invincible. As danger continues to mount inside the palace, Odessa fears that without the Dead, even the greatest invention won’t be enough to save their fates.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N

The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan (29th)

The Love & Lies of Rukhsana AliSeventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.

But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart. Her parents are devastated; being gay may as well be a death sentence in the Bengali community. They immediately whisk Rukhsana off to Bangladesh, where she is thrown headfirst into a world of arranged marriages and tradition. Only through reading her grandmother’s old diary is Rukhsana able to gain some much needed perspective.

Rukhsana realizes she must find the courage to fight for her love, but can she do so without losing everyone and everything in her life?

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

Bloom by Kevin Panetta/Savannah Ganucheau (29th)

Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band―if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

Writer Kevin Panetta and artist Savanna Ganucheau concoct a delicious recipe of intricately illustrated baking scenes and blushing young love, in which the choices we make can have terrible consequences, but the people who love us can help us grow.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Powell’s

Death Prefers Blondes by Caleb Roehrig (29th)

Death Prefers BlondesTeenage socialite Margo Manning leads a dangerous double life. By day, she dodges the paparazzi while soaking up California sunshine. By night, however, she dodges security cameras and armed guards, pulling off high-stakes cat burglaries with a team of flamboyant young men. In and out of disguise, she’s in all the headlines.

But then Margo’s personal life takes a sudden, dark turn, and a job to end all jobs lands her crew in deadly peril. Overnight, everything she’s ever counted on is put at risk. Backs against the wall, the resourceful thieves must draw on their special skills to survive. But can one rebel heiress and four kickboxing drag queens withstand the slings and arrows of truly outrageous fortune? Or will a mounting sea of troubles end them — for good?

Buy it: B&NAmazon

The Cerulean by Amy Ewing (29th)

The Cerulean (Untitled Duology #1)Sera has always felt as if she didn’t belong among her people, the Cerulean. She is curious about everything and can’t stop questioning her three mothers, her best friend, Leela, and even the High Priestess. Sera has longed for the day when the tether that connects her City Above the Sky to the earthly world below finally severs and sends the Cerulean to a new planet.

But when Sera is chosen as the sacrifice to break the tether, she doesn’t know what to feel. To save her City, Sera must throw herself from its edge and end her own life. But something goes wrong and she survives the fall, landing in a place called Kaolin. She has heard tales about the humans there, and soon learns that the dangers her mothers warned her of are real. If Sera has any hope to return to her City, she’ll have to find the magic within herself to survive.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

Any Old Diamonds by KJ Charles (30th)

Lord Alexander Pyne-ffoulkes is the younger son of the Duke of Ilvar, with a bitter grudge against his wealthy father. The Duke intends to give his Duchess a priceless diamond parure on their wedding anniversary—so Alec hires a pair of jewel thieves to steal it.

The Duke’s remote castle is a difficult target, and Alec needs a way to get the thieves in. Soldier-turned-criminal Jerry Crozier has the answer: he’ll pose as a Society gentleman and become Alec’s new best friend.

But Jerry is a dangerous man: controlling, remote, and devastating. He effortlessly teases out the lonely young nobleman’s most secret desires, and soon he’s got Alec in his bed—and the palm of his hand.

Or maybe not. Because as the plot thickens, betrayals, secrets, new loves, and old evils come to light. Now the jewel thief and the aristocrat must keep up the pretence, find their way through a maze of privilege and deceit, and confront the truth of what’s between them…all without getting caught.

Backlist Book of the Month: Vow of Celibacy by Erin Judge

Finding queer New Adult fiction that’s contemporary but isn’t a Romance is like hunting for a needle in a nopestack, so Erin Judge’s Vow of Celibacy is a wildly exciting find, centered around a plus-size bisexual fashion producer-turning-model who’s currently taking a vow of celibacy as she reflects on her past relationships and everything that went wrong in them. It’s complicated, reflective, sexy, funny, and definitely unde-rread, so come check it out!

Natalie has made a promise: a vow of celibacy, signed and witnessed by her best friend. After a string of sexual conquests, she is determined to figure out why the intense romantic connections she’s spent her life chasing have left her emotionally high and dry. As Natalie sifts through her past and her present, she confronts her complicated feelings about her plus-sized figure, her bisexuality, and her thwarted career in fashion design.

Piecing together toxic relationship patterns from her past, Natalie finds herself strutting down fashion runways and rekindling her passion for clothing design in the present. All the while, her best friend, Anastaze, struggles with her own secret—whether or not to reveal her true identity to the thousands of fans of her popular blog and her potential first sexual partner.

Buy it!

TBRainbow Alert: Heists, Thrillers, and Mysteries

Death Prefers Blondes by Caleb Roehrig (January 29th)

Teenage socialite Margo Manning leads a dangerous double life. By day, she dodges the paparazzi while soaking up California sunshine. By night, however, she dodges security cameras and armed guards, pulling off high-stakes cat burglaries with a team of flamboyant young men. In and out of disguise, she’s in all the headlines.

But then Margo’s personal life takes a sudden, dark turn, and a job to end all jobs lands her crew in deadly peril. Overnight, everything she’s ever counted on is put at risk. Backs against the wall, the resourceful thieves must draw on their special skills to survive. But can one rebel heiress and four kickboxing drag queens withstand the slings and arrows of truly outrageous fortune? Or will a mounting sea of troubles end them—for good?

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

Immoral Code by Lillian Clark (February 19th)

For Nari, aka Narioka Diane, aka hacker digital alter ego “d0l0s,” it’s college and then a career at “one of the big ones,” like Google or Apple. Keagan, her sweet, sensitive boyfriend, is happy to follow her wherever she may lead. Reese is an ace/aro visual artist with plans to travel the world. Santiago is off to Stanford on a diving scholarship, with very real Olympic hopes. And Bellamy? Physics genius Bellamy is admitted to MIT—but the student loan she’d been counting on is denied when it turns out her estranged father—one Robert Foster—is loaded.

Nari isn’t about to let her friend’s dreams be squashed by a deadbeat billionaire, so she hatches a plan to steal just enough from Foster to allow Bellamy to achieve her goals.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N

After the Eclipse by Fran Dorricott (March 5th)

Two solar eclipses. Two missing girls.

Sixteen years ago a little girl was abducted during the darkness of a solar eclipse while her older sister Cassie was supposed to be watching her. She was never seen again. When a local girl goes missing just before the next big eclipse, Cassie – who has returned to her home town to care for her ailing grandmother – suspects the disappearance is connected to her sister: that whoever took Olive is still out there. But she needs to find a way to prove it, and time is running out

Buy it: IndieBound | B&N | Amazon UK | Amazon US
Book Depository | Chapters Indigo

The Truth About Keeping Secrets by Savannah Brown (March 7th)

Sydney’s dad is the only psychiatrist for miles around their small Ohio town.

He is also unexpectedly dead.

Is Sydney crazy, or is it kind of weird that her dad-a guy whose entire job revolved around other peoples’ secrets-crashed alone, with no explanation?

And why is June Copeland, homecoming queen and the town’s golden child, at his funeral?

As the two girls grow closer in the wake of the accident, it’s clear that not everyone is happy about their new friendship.

But what is picture perfect June still hiding? And does Sydney even want to know?

Buy it: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Waterstones | Book Depository

A Place For Wolves by Kosoko Jackson (April 2nd)


James Mills isn’t sure he can forgive his parents for dragging him away from his life, not to mention his best friend and sister, Anna. He’s never felt so alone.

Enter Tomas. Falling for Tomas is unexpected, but sometimes the best things in life are.

Then their world splits apart. A war that has been brewing finally bursts forward, filled with violence, pain, and cruelty. James and Tomas can only rely on each other as they decide how far they are willing to go―and who they are willing to become―in order to make it back to their families.

Buy it: East City Books | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan (May 7th)

It’s been a year since the Catalog Killer terrorized the sleepy seaside town of Camera Cove, killing four people before disappearing without a trace. Like everyone else in town, eighteen-year-old Mac Bell is trying to put that horrible summer behind him—easier said than done since Mac’s best friend Connor was the murderer’s final victim. But when he finds a cryptic message from Connor, he’s drawn back into the search for the killer—who might not have been a random drifter after all. Now nobody—friends, neighbors, or even the sexy stranger with his own connection to the case—is beyond suspicion. Sensing that someone is following his every move, Mac struggles to come to terms with his true feelings towards Connor while scrambling to uncover the truth.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N

Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist (May 21st)

40221949With a touch, Lexi can sense how and when someone will die. Some say it’s a gift. But to Lexi it’s a curse—one that keeps her friendless and alone. All that changes when Lexi foresees the violent death of a young woman, Jane, outside a club. But Jane doesn’t go to the afterlife quietly. Her ghost remains behind, determined to hunt down her murderer, and she needs Lexi’s help. In life, Jane was everything Lexi is not—outgoing, happy, popular. But in death, all Jane wants is revenge. Lexi will do anything to help Jane, to make up for the fact that she didn’t—couldn’t—save Jane’s life, and to keep this beautiful ghost of a girl by her side for as long as possible.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

All Eyes on Us by Kit Frick (June 4th)

PRIVATE NUMBER: Wouldn’t you look better without a cheater on your arm?
AMANDA: Who is this?

The daughter of small town social climbers, Amanda Kelly is deeply invested in her boyfriend, real estate heir Carter Shaw. He’s kind, ambitious, the town golden boy—but he’s far from perfect. Because behind Amanda’s back, Carter is also dating Rosalie.

PRIVATE NUMBER: I’m watching you, Sweetheart.
ROSALIE: Who IS this?

Rosalie Bell is fighting to remain true to herself and her girlfriend—while concealing her identity from her Christian fundamentalist parents. After years spent in and out of conversion “therapy,” her own safety is her top priority. But maintaining a fake, straight relationship is killing her from the inside.

When an anonymous texter ropes Amanda and Rosalie into a bid to take Carter down, the girls become collateral damage—and unlikely allies in a fight to unmask their stalker before Private uproots their lives.

PRIVATE NUMBER: You shouldn’t have ignored me. Now look what you made me do…

Buy it: B&N | Amazon | IndieBound

Wilder Girls by Rory Power (July 9th)

It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N

Swipe Right for Murder by Derek Milman (August 6th)

On the run from the FBI.
Targeted by a murderous cult.
Labeled a cyber-terrorist by the media.
Irritated texts from his best friend.
Eye contact with a nice-looking guy on the train.
Aidan has a lot to deal with, and he’s not quite sure which takes top priority.

Finding himself alone in a posh New York City hotel room for the night, Aidan does what any red-blooded seventeen-year-old would do—he tries to hook up with someone new. But that lapse in judgement leads to him waking up next to a dead guy, which sparks an epic case of mistaken identity that puts Aidan on the run from everyone—faceless federal agents, his eccentric family, and, naturally, a cyber-terrorist group who will stop at nothing to find him.

He soon realizes the only way to stop the chase is to deliver the object everyone wants, before he gets caught or killed. But for Aidan, the hardest part is knowing who he can trust not to betray him—including himself.

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TBRainbow Alert: 2019 Paperback Redesigns

Switching up how this feature works a bit, I wanted to do these posts on upcoming books with more cohesion between the titles. So of course, I’m kicking that off with something entirely random: books getting new paperback designs for 2019. Whatever, deal with it.

The Necessary Hunger by Nina Revoyr (originally published in 1997; rereleasing March 5, 2019)

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The Necessary Hunger follows two basketball stars–Japanese American Nancy Takahiro and African American Raina Webber–and several of their friends through their last year of high school. For some of them, their senior year will be full of glory, and the anticipation of college. For others, however, stranded in an inner-city Los Angeles neighborhood that promises little in the way of opportunity, it will mark not only the end of their time in school but also the end of their hope.

As Nancy and Raina both prepare to leave the urban neighborhood that has nurtured them, they find themselves looking toward a future that is no longer easily defined. The Necessary Hunger is about families, friendship, racial identity, and young people who are nearing adulthood in a dangerous and challenging world. It is about sports as a means of salvation, about the nature of competition, and ultimately about the various kinds of love.

Our reissue of The Necessary Hunger includes a new introduction by Lynell George, and a new afterword by Nina Revoyr.

Preorder: Amazon

All We Can Do is Wait by Richard Lawson (originally released in 2018; rereleasing February 6, 2019)

41oitx8ccxl-_sx331_bo1204203200_In the hours after a bridge collapse rocks their city, a group of Boston teenagers meet in the waiting room of Massachusetts General Hospital:

Siblings Jason and Alexa have already experienced enough grief for a lifetime, so in this moment of confusion and despair, Alexa hopes that she can look to her brother for support. But a secret Jason has been keeping from his sister threatens to tear the siblings apart…right when they need each other most.

Scott is waiting to hear about his girlfriend, Aimee, who was on a bus with her theater group when the bridge went down. Their relationship has been rocky, but Scott knows that if he can just see Aimee one more time, if she can just make it through this ordeal and he can tell her he loves her, everything will be all right.

And then there’s Skyler, whose sister Kate—the sister who is more like a mother, the sister who is basically Skyler’s everything—was crossing the bridge when it collapsed. As the minutes tick by without a word from the hospital staff, Skyler is left to wonder how she can possibly move through life without the one person who makes her feel strong when she’s at her weakest.

In his riveting, achingly beautiful debut, Richard Lawson guides readers through an emotional and life-changing night as these teens are forced to face the reality of their pasts…and the prospect of very different futures.

Preorder: AmazonB&N | IndieBound

The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk (originally published in 2018; rereleasing March 12, 2019)

51iua8kj-al-_sx331_bo1204203200_We’ve lost everything…and found ourselves.

Loss pulled Autumn, Shay, and Logan apart. Will music bring them back together?

Autumn always knew exactly who she was: a talented artist and a loyal friend. Shay was defined by two things: her bond with her twin sister, Sasha, and her love of music. And Logan has always turned to writing love songs when his real love life was a little less than perfect.

But when tragedy strikes each of them, somehow music is no longer enough. Now Logan is a guy who can’t stop watching vlogs of his dead ex-boyfriend. Shay is a music blogger who’s struggling to keep it together. And Autumn sends messages that she knows can never be answered.

Despite the odds, one band’s music will reunite them and prove that after grief, beauty thrives in the people left behind.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig (originally published in 2018; rereleasing January 28, 2019)

Rufus Holt is having the worst night of his life. It begins with the reappearance of his ex-boyfriend, Sebastian—the guy who stomped his heart out like a spent cigarette. Just as Rufus is getting ready to move on, Sebastian turns up out of the blue, saying they need to “talk.” Things couldn’t get much worse, right?

But then Rufus gets a call from his sister April, begging for help. And then he and Sebastian find her, drenched in blood and holding a knife, beside the dead body of her boyfriend, Fox Whitney.

April swears she didn’t kill Fox—but Rufus knows her too well to believe she’s telling him the whole truth. April has something he needs, though, and her price is his help. Now, with no one to trust but the boy he wants to hate yet can’t stop loving, Rufus has one night to prove his sister’s innocence…or die trying.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

New Releases: November 2018

The Best Bad Things by Katrina Carrasco (6th)

Alma Rosales is on the hunt for stolen opium. Trained in espionage by the Pinkerton’s Detective Agency—but dismissed for bad behavior and a penchant for going undercover as a man—Alma now works for Delphine Beaumond, her former lover and the seductive mastermind of a West Coast smuggling ring.

When product goes missing at their Washington Territory outpost, Alma is offered a promotion if she can track the thief and recover the drugs. In disguise as the scrappy dockworker Jack Camp, this should be easy—once she muscles her way into the organization and wins the trust of the local boss and his boys, all while keeping them from uncovering her secrets. Her identity is not all she’s hiding: At the same time she’s searching for the missing opium, Alma is sending coded dispatches to the Pinkerton’s agents detailing the smuggling ring’s operations.

As the sailors tell it, Port Townsend is just five miles from hell. Which suits Alma fine. It’s the perfect setting for her game of aliases and double-crosses. But it’s getting harder and harder to keep her cover stories straight. And to know who to trust. One wrong move and she could be unmasked: as a woman, as a traitor, or as a spy.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

This is What it Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow (6th)

It doesn’t matter what the prize for the Sun City Originals contest is this year.

Who cares that’s it’s fifteen grand? Who cares about a gig opening for one of the greatest bands to ever play this town?

Not Dia, that’s for sure. Because Dia knows that without a band, she hasn’t got a shot at winning Sun City. Because ever since Hanna’s drinking took over her life, Dia and Jules haven’t been in it. And ever since Hanna left — well, there hasn’t been a band.

It used to be the three of them, Dia, Jules, and Hanna, messing around and making music and planning for the future. But that was then, and this is now — and now means a baby, a failed relationship, a stint in rehab, all kinds of off beats that have interrupted the rhythm of their friendship. No contest can change that. Right?

But like the lyrics of a song you used to play on repeat, there’s no forgetting a best friend. And for Dia, Jules, and Hanna, this impossible challenge — to ignore the past, in order to jumpstart the future — will only become possible if they finally make peace with the girls they once were, and the girls they are finally letting themselves be.

Rebecca Barrow’s tender story of friendship, music, and ferocious love asks — what will you fight for, if not yourself?

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan (6th)

34433755Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.

But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

TW: violence and sexual abuse.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

Illusions by Madeline J. Reynolds (6th)

IllusionsDear Thomas,
I know you’re angry. It’s true, I was sent to expose your mentor as a fraud illusionist, and instead I have put your secret in jeopardy. I fear I have even put your life in jeopardy. For that I can only beg your forgiveness. I’ve fallen for you. You know I have. And I never wanted to create a rift between us, but if it means protecting you from those who wish you dead―I’ll do it. I’ll do anything to keep you safe, whatever the sacrifice. Please forgive me for all I’ve done and what I’m about to do next. I promise, it’s one magic trick no one will ever see coming.
Love, Saverio

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The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion by Lynn O’Connacht (6th)

The Ice Princess's Fair IllusionAll Marian wants is for society to accept that she’s just not interested in… whatever society thinks she ought to be interested in. A princess with a reputation for insults and snide remarks, she’s afraid to show anyone who she would be if people would let her. In a fit of temper at her refusal to marry, her father creates her worst nightmare: she is to be wed to the first beggar who arrives at the gates.

Edel was visiting purely for diplomatic reasons, aiming to ensure her daughter inherits a strong and peaceful kingdom. She sees something in Marian that is achingly familiar and when Edel hears the king’s proclamation, only one thing is on her mind: to protect Marian from the fate that had befallen Edel herself.

Their lives threaded together by magic, Edel and Marian will have to find their way in the world in this queerplatonic, sapphic verse novel retelling of King Thrushbeard.

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Jilted by Lilah Suzanne (8th)

Carter’s fiancé is in love with someone else. Link has just been left at the altar. After bonding over mutual heartbreak at the would-be reception’s open bar, Link and Carter pass out in the honeymoon suite—and are mistaken for the happy newlywed couple the next morning. Reluctant to deal with the fallout from their breakups, they embark on an exciting week of fake honeymooning, during which Carter starts to have real feelings for Link. A genderqueer artist who lives life by their own rules, Link inspires Carter to build a new future. Against the eclectic and electric backdrop of New Orleans, Carter and Link have to decide if a second chance at love is in the cards, or if they’re only meant to be sidelined in someone else’s story.

Buy It: Amazon * Interlude Press

Sugar & Ice by Brooklyn Wallace (11th)

One ice queen, one sweetheart, one last chance at happily ever after.

Gwendolyn Crawford is Superwoman personified. She runs her ex’s senatorial campaign while battling gossip rags, sleazy opponents, and her self-righteous former father-in-law. She does the job well, and as far as she’s concerned, that’s all she needs. Besides, there’s no time for romance. Not even when a pair of bright eyes catch hers at the highly exclusive Rose club.

Jacklyn Dunn is stuck in a rut. After a devastating stress fracture ended her WNBA career, she’s mostly been dodging her agent and binging TV. Then she meets Gwen and starts to wonder if there’s more to life than wishes and regrets.

There’s no denying the sparks between them. Jackie thrills in melting Gwen’s ice queen heart, and Gwen is instantly hooked on Jackie’s sweetness. But romance isn’t easy for two women in the spotlight. Stress, tabloids, and their own fears threaten to shake the foundation of their budding relationship. After years of building up walls, the two must open themselves up to love—and to getting hurt—to find what truly makes them happy.

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Pulp by Robin Talley (13th)

32970644In 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend Marie a secret. It’s not easy being gay in Washington, DC, in the age of McCarthyism, but when she discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women, it awakens something in Janet. As she juggles a romance she must keep hidden and a newfound ambition to write and publish her own story, she risks exposing herself—and Marie—to a danger all too real.

Sixty-two years later, Abby Zimet can’t stop thinking about her senior project and its subject—classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. Between the pages of her favorite book, the stresses of Abby’s own life are lost to the fictional hopes, desires and tragedies of the characters she’s reading about. She feels especially connected to one author, a woman who wrote under the pseudonym “Marian Love,” and becomes determined to track her down and discover her true identity.

In this novel told in dual narratives, New York Times-bestselling author Robin Talley weaves together the lives of two young women connected across generations through the power of words. A stunning story of bravery, love, how far we’ve come and how much farther we have to go.

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Lana and Lilly Wachowski by Cáel M. Keegan (15th)

Lana and Lilly Wachowski have redefined the technically and topically possible while joyfully defying audience expectations. Visionary films like The Matrix trilogy and Cloud Atlas have made them the world’s most influential transgender media producers, and their coming out retroactively put trans* aesthetics at the very center of popular American culture.

Cáel M. Keegan views the Wachowskis’ films as an approach to trans* experience that maps a transgender journey and the promise we might learn “to sense beyond the limits of the given world.” Keegan reveals how the filmmakers take up the relationship between identity and coding (be it computers or genes), inheritance and belonging, and how transgender becoming connects to a utopian vision of a post-racial order. Along the way, he theorizes a trans* aesthetic that explores the plasticity of cinema to create new social worlds, new temporalities, and new sensory inputs and outputs. Film comes to disrupt, rearrange, and evolve the cinematic exchange with the senses in the same manner that trans* disrupts, rearranges, and evolves discrete genders and sexes.

Buy it: Amazon * UI Press

Gunsmoke and Glamour by Hillary Monahan (20th)

Marshall Clayton Jensen’s job is to fix things for the people too weird for the government to touch—witches, fairies, monsters. When Clay finds himself on the receiving end of a witch’s curse following a breakup from the love of his life, a fairy named Cora, Clay enlists the help of his best friend Doc Irene and his ex-girlfriend’s promiscuous sister Adelaide to search for a cure before time runs out

Buy it: Amazon | B&N

Runebreaker by Alex R. Kahler (27th)

37486950This is the second book in the Runebinder Chronicles

Magic is sin.

Aidan desires only one thing: to rule. Arrogant, headstrong and driven by the element of Fire, he will stop at nothing to bring the evil Howls that destroyed Scotland to their knees. But Fire is a treacherous element, and the very magic that brought him to power could burn his world to ash.

Especially with the blood of his fellow Hunters on his hands.

Driven by a bloodlust he can’t control and dark whispers that may not be entirely in his head, he and his magic-eschewing friend Kianna will do whatever it takes to liberate their broken world. Even at the risk of confronting the Church. Even at the risk of losing his humanity.

But power isn’t the only thing on Aidan’s mind. He’s falling for the intoxicating Tomas, an Incubus who offers everything Aidan desires. For a price.

And if that price burns the world down, well… Aidan is used to playing with Fire

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Outrun the Wind by Elizabeth Tammi (27th)

The Huntresses of Artemis must obey two rules: never disobey the goddess, and never fall in love. After being rescued from a harrowing life as an Oracle of Delphi, Kahina is glad to be a part of the Hunt; living among a group of female warriors gives her a chance to reclaim her strength, even while her prophetic powers linger. But when a routine mission goes awry, Kahina breaks the first rule in order to save the legendary huntress Atalanta.

To earn back Artemis’s favor, Kahina must complete a dangerous task in the kingdom of Arkadia— where the king’s daughter is revealed to be none other than Atalanta. Still reeling from her disastrous quest and her father’s insistence on marriage, Atalanta isn’t sure what to make of Kahina. As her connection to Atalanta deepens, Kahina finds herself in danger of breaking Artemis’ second rule.

She helps Atalanta devise a dangerous game to avoid marriage, and word spreads throughout Greece, attracting suitors willing to tempt fate to go up against Atalanta in a race for her hand. But when the men responsible for both the girls’ dark pasts arrive, the game turns deadly.

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Better Know an Author: Rebecca Barrow

New month, new author to fall for! If you’re not already familiar with Rebecca Barrow, please allow me to help you fix your life. She’s a contemporary YA author whose sophomore novel, This is What it Feels Like, releases on November 6, and if you’re a fan of authors like Emery Lord, Nina LaCour, and Katie Cotugno, I guarantee you wanna check her books out!

Let’s jump right in to your new release, which you already know I’m obsessed with. What’s This is What it Feels Like all about, and can you particularly tell us about Jules and her romance?

So This is What it Feels Like is about three former friends-and-bandmates who get back together to try to win fifteen grand and have to work through the past that tore them apart in order to succeed. Jules’ story is really about what happens when she meets a sweet, fun new girl and has to deal with the relationship Expectations vs Reality thing she has going on. She’s a super romantic and her last (first) relationship didn’t really work out well. And a big part of her character is this quiet fear she has that she won’t ever get to be in a happy, ideal relationship with another girl. I originally wrote her getting back with the ex and dealing with all the drama of their relationship again, but there came a point when I thought—why am I giving her this unhappiness? Why can’t she meet someone who gets her and write her getting to explore happiness and her shifting perception of that notion? So, I did.

We see a lot of the “gay best friend” in YA, but I think Rose in You Don’t Know Me But I Know You might’ve been the first bi best friend I’ve seen in YA, though it’s definitely been a growing trend since. She’s such a great character, too; what about her really spoke to you?

First of all, thank you because I know some people really don’t like her but I love her, mess and all! I didn’t set out to write The Bi Best Friend; when I first started writing Rose, the book was dual POV and she had her own thing going on. So really she got shifted into that role as I found the heart of the story and stripped back to just Audrey’s POV. But writing Rose was one of those moments that I know plenty of authors have had, where you write a queer character because you’re just SUCH a good ally! and then you stop and realise that ohhhh wait no okay it’s all clear now. So I guess what spoke to me about her was…myself?! I wrote her bisexuality not realising that it was also my bisexuality. And she’s similar to Jules in that she’s very certain of her sexuality and also very afraid that any relationship she gets into is going to go terribly. I guess..am I just writing my own fears again?! Possibly! It was definitely enjoyable to write a girl who’s so sharp and spiky but not a stereotype.

You’re a very interesting case of being a British author who publishes in the US, despite there being a reasonably thriving UK YA scene, and sort of a queer UK YA subscene. How did you come to the choice to publish this way, and what differences do you notice in the different publishing communities?

I didn’t intentionally set out to publish in the US; it was just a kind of unfolding of events that now I think works in my favour. I do write books set in the US, because I was raised on US media and I loved USYA and it was just what I started out writing. Then as I became more knowledgeable about publishing, and as the push for increased diversity has happened—well, as much as the US still has far to go, the UK has even farther. Specifically for the books I write, with black and sometimes queer girls whose stories don’t revolve around black pain and who are somewhat outside the stereotypical/publishing-approved narrative, it can be hard to find a place for them, especially in the UK. So while in the beginning it wasn’t a move I made specifically because of what I write, it is now something I definitely think is in my best interests and that I wouldn’t take back.

The UK scene is complex because while there are marginalised authors putting out great UKYA books and a very enthusiastic community of people supporting them, it also feelsto me, at leastoverall still quite stuck in the past. So a lot of the books that are really successful here have that old school children’s lit feel of magic and mysteries, and younger protagonists, and some of the older and more diverse books don’t reach the heights they really should. Then there’s another odd thing in that in the UK, in the past, we didn’t have YA as suchit was more of a children’s/teenage divide. So if you were to pick up a book in the teenage section, it could be something dark and gritty with an 18yo MC, or it could just as easily be a fun adventure story with a 13yo MC. And as YA has exploded, what’s really happened is that successful USYA is being brought over here and kind of flooding the space. In terms of diverse fiction, then, what often happens is people will point to the success of a USYA title in the UK, but not really register that we’re still not supporting diverse UK talent enough. Which kind of comes back to the question of why I publish in the US—it’s all a bit of a self-perpetuating cycle: USYA gets brought over, UKYA isn’t bought, UK authors seek to publish in the US, their US-published books get brought over, support still isn’t there…and rinse and repeat. It’s very complicated and as far as I can see, the answer really is for UK publishing to step up and buy/nurture/support works by marginalised UK authors. Until that happens, this cycle will continue.

But I do want to shout out a few people doing great work—Stripes puts out great diverse books and brings in unknown talents to write in their anthologies, several of whom now have solo deals. Knights Of is a new publisher focused on diverse lit—they just put out Jason Reynolds’ For Every One. And there are so many individuals working hard—we just really need the machine of publishing and a lot of the book-buying public to step up, too.

In the future I would love love LOVE to be published in the UK as well as the US, and hopefully find a space for my books.

Black girls barely get their due in YA as a whole, let alone in queer YA, but you’ve now had two beautiful books—one queer, one not—with Black leads and gorgeous covers that feature them. What has that experience been like, and do you have any tips for authors who’d like to follow in your lead but feel shut out by the publishing industry?

I can honestly say that I’d never considered my own identity so much as I did once I got my deal. It felt like all of a sudden it MEANT so much more and there were so many questions to answer and things people wanted justified and realising how much my identity was truly going to play into this career I was just starting out on…it was overwhelming. What’s kind of funny and kind of embarrassing is that in the beginning of my writing journey, I didn’t think too much about writing black characters. Like many POC authors I defaulted to writing white characters, and then by the time I wrote what became my debut and wrote my first black lead, it wasn’t a calculated move on my part—I hadn’t had some awakening and realised what I wanted to write. I just thought—hey, what if this girl was black? And it was only once I had sold that I really began to understand how lucky I was to have sold a black girl book and what I was up against. Now I write my black girls—more often than not queer, now, too—as a kind of defiance, and honestly, I’d encourage anyone wanting to take a similar path as me to do the same. Writing marginalised characters means dealing with aggressions both micro and macro from people across the industry, and facing an even steeper climb to success. In hindsight, I’m glad I wasn’t fully aware of how hard it would be because maybe I wouldn’t have gotten this far—but I want anyone reading who dreams of selling characters with black, queer leads to know it is possible and it feels amazing and my rage only serves to fuel my writing nowadays. So let your anger fuel you, too.

And since you mentioned my gorgeous covers (the first by Sarah Creech and and the second by Michelle Taormina) which are such a positive in the whole experience, I should say something else positive too—because it’s not all terrible, of course not. There is no better feeling than someone saying “that girl looks like me”, someone reading and saying “this character is black the same way I am”, knowing that at least one person out there is going to see themselves in your words. And selfishly, for myself—these are the books I wish I had read as a teenager: complex black girls, queer girls, living their lives.

You might have the most similar taste in contemporary YA to me of anyone else in bookworld, so of course, I have to mine your brain for some recs here. What are your favorite queer books (YA or not) that you’d love to see find more readers?

I absolutely love The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz, perfect for anyone struggling with love of creating and love of someone close to you. I know she’s not exactly underrated but it’s my opinion that Nina LaCour is not nearly as widely read as she should be so Everything Leads to You and We Are Okay for sure. How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake spoke to me so much, Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta is the queer theatre mystery of my dreams, Like Water by Rebecca Podos is so magical. And to round it out, a book I read on your rec!  A Good Idea by Cristina Moracho. (Blogger’s Note: I love every single one of these books, to the shock of no one.)

What’s the first LGBTQIAP+ experience you saw onscreen or in a book that really resonated with you?

You know, I’ve only really started to find queer media I connect to in the last couple of years, even though I’ve seen a decent amount over the years (I mean hello I’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy for the past century). So really the first was Emi in Everything Leads to You, as a queer, artistic, mixed race black girl.

I know you’re a tattoo person, which is something I always find immensely fascinating. Have you gotten tattoos for your books, and if not, what would you get if you did?

Right now I have one book tattoo, for You Don’t Know Me But I Know You. It’s not really specific to the book but one of my favourite artists does these heart-and-hairgrip tattoos and I thought it would be a perfect representation of Audrey and Rose. I’m still thinking about what to get for This is What it Feels Like…I feel music-based is a touch too on the nose, so maybe something baked goods-themed? I’m open to suggestions!

What’s up next for you?

Nothing official yet but I hope to be bringing you more queer girls of colour soon, perhaps dusted with a little more darkness this time.

***

Rebecca Barrow writes stories about girls and all the wonders they can be. A lipstick obsessive with the ability to quote the entirety of Mean Girls, she lives in England, where it rains a considerable amount more than in the fictional worlds of her characters. She collects tattoos, cats, and more books than she could ever possibly read.

Cover and Excerpt Reveal: The Confusion of Laurel Graham by Adrienne Kisner!

Hey, remember how this past year there was a debut that was actually freaking called Dear Rachel Maddow, and how ridiculously cool that was? Well, excellent news! That very same author is back with her sophomore novel, and it also stars a queer girl…and happens to have an utterly stunning cover, which you can see today! Ta da! But first, here are the details on The Confusion of Laurel Graham by Adrienne Kisner, a contemporary f/f YA releasing on June 4, 2019 from Feiwel & Friends!

Laurel Graham has loved bird watching as long as she can remember, just like her beloved grandmother, who also happens to be a steadying force in her life. One evening Gran drags Laurel out on a birding expedition where the pair hear a mysterious call that even Gran can’t identify. The pair vow to find out what it is as Laurel pursues nature photography dominance over her rival–fellow nature reserve volunteer, Risa.  But soon after, Gran is involved in a horrible car accident and the town threatens to seize the nature reserve land.  Laurel must then decide to fight for what’s most important to her, if she can figure out what that is.

And here’s the stunning cover!

Buy it: B&N | Amazon | IndieBound

But wait, there’s more! We’ve also got an exclusive excerpt, so come check it out and meet Laurel Graham!

***

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

“We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.

—Oliver Herford

Field Journal Entry
April 29
Notable Location: Sarig Pond
Life list entry 3,284: white-winged tern

Never let them see you sweat.

That’s not the Birdscout motto. But it fucking well should be.

“Who can tell me three of the feathered friends we might find on our walk today?” I said.

Sixteen pairs of eyes stared back at me, wide and unblinking.

Homeschoolers. Unschoolers. Some kind of schoolers that meant they weren’t in the overcrowded gray-and-red brick elementary building seven blocks away and were instead standing at the entrance of the Sarig Pond Nature Sanctuary with me. I thought home-non-unschooling would make them wild, free nature lovers . . . but no. Most of them were looking at their smartwatches, secretly texting one another.

“Okay, who can tell me one creature we might find today?” I tried again.

“Um,” a tiny girl with cat-eye glasses said. “A squirrel?”

I sighed. Unfortunately she was right. Squirrels were the bane of birders everywhere. (Well. Except maybe in places where there were no squirrels, which were sadly limited.)

“Good guess!” I said.

She grinned. It’s best to encourage the little ones. They were prone to unpredictable sudden movements that could veer off the path and ruin your day. Best to keep them on your side. “Can anyone guess a creature with wings?”

“Robins?” another boy tried in a bored voice.

“Yes!” My fist shot into the air. “Sweetest of songbirds! Harbingers of spring! Portents of luck and fortune!” Those last two were debatable at best, but sometimes you needed to finesse bird symbolism in order to win a tough audience. A few heads swiveled my way at that, so I felt I’d made the right choice for the greater good.

“Really?” the bored boy asked.

“You bet. Birds bring messages of all sorts to humans. But there are way more interesting things about them than that. They have their own language to communicate. They can fly hundreds of miles and never get lost. They fight for what’s theirs. They are warriors.”

“Cool,” the boy said. “Do you think we’ll see some of those smart ones?”

I smiled to myself. It only takes one to turn a crowd. “Why, yes,” I said, peering at the nametag slapped on his fuzzy lapel, “Isaac. I do. Follow me.”

Six cardinals (two female, four males), two nuthatches, sixteen (give or take) common grackles, three red-bellied woodpeckers, and one red-tailed hawk later, I delivered the kids back to their adults.

“Feel free to take some pamphlets on your way out,” I called. “Nature story time starts May 30!”

I retreated into the tiny, cramped office of the Birdscout Nature Center and sunk into a chair. Birding with the unenthusiastic could fucking wipe a girl out.

“Oh. Hey,” said a voice. I looked up to see a familiar shock of dyed hair shaved into a crest peeking through the door. “If it isn’t the Birdscout-in-chief. Is Jerry in?”

“Out sick today,” I said. “Risa. Your hair . . . ,” I started.

“What about it?” she said. I could hear a warning in her voice.

“It reminds me of a wire-crested thorntail.”

Risa’s face broke into a grin. “You got it! Of course you are the only one who noticed. I love them.”

“They are exquisite,” I agreed.

Risa and I looked at each other for a moment. It was odd that we were having this conversation, since it wouldn’t be precisely accurate to call us friends. We were more . . . what?

Enemies.

Ah. Yes.

We were one hundred percent enemies.

But sometimes, even enemies had great hair.

I watched as Risa’s face changed as she seemingly remembered our actual affiliation at the same time I did. “Okay, well, if you see him sometime soon, tell him I need him to sign my co-op hours sheet.”

“Will do.”

She paused, like she almost wasn’t going to speak but then changed her mind. “Have you finalized your entry yet? For the photo contest?”

“No. You?” I said.

“No. I tried to get a picture of the heron but then I tripped on a root,” she said.

“That sucks.”

“Right? Such a rookie mistake. But I bet everyone around here is going to turn in a fucking heron anyway. Or, god help us all, warblers.”

Heat crept up my back. I had no fewer than twenty-three shots of our four resident herons (male and female) that I was considering entering into Fauna magazine’s annual Junior Nature Photographer competition. Not to mention several dozen shots of a Cape May and one of a male Swainson. That last one turned out blurry, fuck me, because of course the Swainson flitted out of the frame. This was my last shot to win the Fauna competition (since I’d be too old next year), and I wanted to conquer first place so badly I could practically taste it. The money would be nice, and my grandma (a former winner herself) would love the free lifetime subscription (added to the prize since her time).

But because Fauna was the biggest and best birding magazine in the US (possibly the world, save maybe Le Bec in France), the bragging rights alone were worth it.

Particularly if it meant I’d beaten Risa, who I was pretty certain sabotaged my entry last year.

“Yeah. Probably. But the summer birds will be here before you know it. And there are some impressive blooms in Jenkins Wood. There is already a patch of Monotropa uniflora at the base of Elder Oak. It looks like a proper fungus graveyard. Bet it’d be epic in moonlight at the right angle,” I said.

“Are you going for that shot?”

“I tried. It just looks stupid. The flash washes it out and using moonlight through branches isn’t exactly my forte.”

Risa snorted. “I hear you. Okay. Well. Good luck.”

She almost sounded like she meant it. I stared at her absolutely rockin’ hair as she left.

I tidied the desk and took a bunch of Ranger Jerry’s old newspapers to the upcycling bin. The weekend craft people would have a field day Mod Podging on Saturday. I surveyed my work with satisfaction. I was once again reminded how grateful I was for my co-op assignment (even if Risa was there, too). I had always envied the juniors, who were allowed to avoid going to school for all but a few hours on Thursdays during spring term because of their work/volunteer co-ops in years past, but now it was my turn. It had been the best development of my life thus far. Most of my friends were out at the local newspaper or lawyer’s or doctor’s offices and made more money than me. Because my life goal was to be the world’s best nature photographer and take my place aside my hero, master birder Brian Michael Warbley, spending April till August leading nature walks and birding tours was way more my speed. Even if the pay was technically shit.

Like, literally. Jerry gave me a bag of fertilizer for Gran’s garden to compensate me. But it was the best stuff we’d seen and we needed it for her bird-attracting flowers, so I wasn’t too salty about it.

I rounded the pond on trash removal detail, but my phone buzzed in my pocket. Elder Oak. Sixty paces due east! Now! the text from Gran read. I was still technically on the clock, but Jenkins Wood was part of my work space and I could always pick up garbage along the trail to make seeing Gran official business if needed.

Be right there. Don’t leave! I texted back.

You know I’ll always wait for you, Laurel.

I grabbed my camera, locked the Birdscout Center door, and jogged as lightly as I could around the wooden decks surrounding the pond to the woodland paths. I nodded to Elder Oak, oldest tree and guardian of the entrance to Jenkins Wood, and tried to make my way as quietly as possible sixty paces east through a rough path covered in dew-wet leaves. I picked up a few discarded wrappers along the way, darkly noting that they probably came from the awful Birdie Bros (a group of dude birders who had terrible nature manners matched only by their preternatural ability to get rare warbler shots).

I finally found Gran half-hidden in fern fronds about halfway up a hill. I crouched in the grass, rocks crackling underneath my boots.

“Shhh,” whispered Gran.

“I didn’t even say anything,” I whispered back.

Gran glared at me as something rustled in a shrub a few feet away. A beak poked out of glistening leaves, then a head, then downy feathers on spindly legs. Gran gave a tiny yawp, and pointed her high-powered binoculars in the bird’s direction. I pulled out my camera and my shutter clicked like an automatic weapon.

“Did you get it?” said Gran without looking at me. She stared at the bird, and the bird stared back at her. I stared at both of them, wondering at how quickly the feeling had left my crouching legs.

Note: Do more crunches. Strengthen core and calves. A girl does not become Brian Michael Warbley, the King of Birders, with numb appendages.

Then something even worse happened.

I sneezed.

This spooked Gran’s avian friend and he took flight into the trees.

“Seriously, Laurel?” Gran said.

“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry. Fucking pollen. You know that. I couldn’t help it.”

“Language,” Gran said. “Do you know what that was? That was a white-winged tern. A new addition to our life list. I never expected to see one out here, on a random day of all things. But there it was. You’d think I’d have learned by now—birds always surprise you.” She leaned back and looked at her camera. “I heard a rumor there was one around here yesterday, but to actually see it . . .” She trailed off as she pulled out her phone to alert her other bird people.

“His black-and-white head.” I marveled at it. “It was gorgeous.” I tipped toward Gran and stretched out my legs. I held my tiny digital screen out to her. “See him, I got a pretty clear shot. Most of them are blurry from him getting spooked by my seasonal curse. But a few are good.”

None were really good enough to help me be crowned Fauna’s Junior Nature Photographer national champion, fuck it all. But, even so. A new bird for the life list was something. As Brian Michael Warbley says, “A bird that you’ve seen is worth ten in a book.”

“He is stunning.” She slipped her phone back into the pocket of her vest and reached over and gave me a shove. “I’m glad I got to see him with you. I gotta say, he is in the top ten on my life list with the snowy owl and king eider I saw in Greenland. Sisimiut also had the northern lights! Superb. One day, kid. Just you wait. We’ll go and the aurora will knock your socks off. No winter allergies in Greenland.” She grinned. “Want to go to Eat N’ Park?” she said.

“I’m at work.”

“But Jerry isn’t here.” Gran grinned.

“How do you know that?” I said.

“I have my ways. Come on. You know you do way more hours here than you are required anyway. What’s thirty mere minutes with your old grandma?”

“I guess I could go for a cinnamon bun.”

“That’s my girl,” Gran said.

Gran’s house sat conveniently at the edge of Jenkins Wood. We slipped into Gran’s tiny hybrid and she drove us to the diner. Since we’d spotted a new life list bird, Gran talked me into fancy chocolate waffles with fruit and let me have bacon to celebrate. Gran was a vegetarian verging on vegan, but she was weak in the face of breakfast.

“How goes school?” she asked.

“Fine,” I said. “I’m hardly there this semester. Academic classes were stacked in the fall and winter, so these last few weeks I’m mostly Birdscouting for co-op.”

“Get any good shots for the contest?” she said.

“Yeah, I guess.” I shifted in my seat. “I had some herons, but . . .” I trailed off.

“Herons are good luck. Messenger birds. They bring good omens.”

“You say that about all birds.”

“Not cormorants. They work for the devil.”

“Stop it.” I laughed.

Gran shrugged. “Tradition. What can I say?”

“Everyone is going to submit herons,” I said, thinking of Risa. “I need something different. Something extraordinary.”

“All birds are extraordinary. Like people. You know that.”

I grunted. I had several memory cards and two extra hard drives full of photographic evidence that some birds were pretty fucking boring. At least when I tried to capture their image.

Gran paid our bill and drove me back to co-op. She dropped me off with barely a goodbye, because her birder friends had caught wind of her find, and they were meeting up again to try to see the elusive white-winged tern.

“Good luck,” I said. “Remember what Warbley says. ‘Birds come not just to those who watch, but those who wait.’”

“Yes, yes. I think I’ve heard you quote him a time or forty. Make great art. You have a Fauna family legacy to protect,” Gran said, holding my camera out of the window of her car. “And text me if you see the tern again.” She sped off, practically leaving me in the dust.

I grinned to myself, looking at my pictures. None were entry-worthy, but the appearance of something rare made me feel that the perfect shot was just around the corner.

***

Adrienne Kisner has master’s and doctorate degrees in theology from Boston University and was inspired by her work with high school and college students to write Dear Rachel Maddow. She is also a graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts with an MFA in writing for children and young adults. Dear Rachel Maddow is her debut.