*Thank you so much to MTMC Tours for having me on the tour!
Here is my aesthetic I made for the book!
This book surprised me for some reason. I mean, it sounded interesting, and I thought I was going to like it, I just didn’t realize how much! Like, I actually stayed up late reading this and couldn’t put it down! I also figured something out, I really like the whole chosen bride competition thing. I don’t even know what to call that, but I like it.
I normally don’t like insta-love type thing but Forbes actually did it really well. I think Mayana and Prince Ahkin had to fall in love quickly because, you know, the whole death thing. And they were on a bit of a time crunch. It fit and made sense with the book. And they clicked really well and had great chemistry!
I loved the descriptions of the lush landscape that was their home. It sounded so incredibly beautiful mixed with their magic. It was so earthy and I definitely wanted to visit that book world! Forbes has beautiful writing! She’s also quite funny. There were quite a few times where I laughed out loud.
I really clicked with Mayana. She was relatable. She had sincere compassion but that didn’t make her weak. It made her stronger. She still stood up for what she believed in but in a respectful way. I liked that. I felt for her when she had to put up with the other girls (Zorrah) crazy antics, and when she made friends with a couple of the others that were doomed to die. She still tried to find a way to save them all, even thought they wouldn’t have done the same.
Prince Ahkin was a strong male lead. He was a great warrior, smart, and gentle when it came to Mayana or his sister. He and Mayana complimented each other. He thought with his head while she with her heart. He always suspected something was off about their crazy rituals, but it took Mayana to help him see that I think.
The ending! Oh my gosh! Don’t worry, no spoilers, but I was super worried and then it got better and then I was worried again. But hopeful. Man, that’s hard without spoilers!
I can’t wait for the second book!
Lani Forbes is the daughter of a librarian and an ex-drug smuggling surfer, which explains her passionate love of the ocean and books. A California native whose parents live in Mexico, she now resides in the Pacific Northwest where she stubbornly wears flip flops no matter how cold it gets. She teaches middle school math and science and proudly calls herself a nerd and Gryffindor. She is also an award-winning member of Romance Writers of America and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
*Thank you so much to Imprint for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review, and having me on the blog tour!*
Oh dang that was a good read! Very adventurous. Pirates, mermaids/ sirens, magic, adventure, a runaway princess, monster fights, action. Everything I love in a book. It did remind me ever so slightly of Caraval BUT only in the descriptions of things. Not plot. And along the lines of Velaris in description.
Let’s talk characters! Amora was great fun to read from her POV. She was sassy, flawed, and strong. She loves her people and would do anything to save them. She is battling her magic as well as others who want to destroy her kingdom. Loved her. Okay, BASTIAN. I really could not help but picture him as Killian Jones from Once Upon a Time. Minus the hook. But with plenty of secrets. The side characters were also great fun. Vataea and Ferrick hold their own. (Side note: Sorry not sorry, I totally ship them.) Ahem, moving on. Vataea is a beast. I want more of her story! And Ferrick is the cinnamon roll character. So sweet!
This book had GRAND adventure! They sail across the sea to find a way to help Amora save her kingdom. There is an epic beast fight, a daring rescue, and a bit of a cliff hanger that makes me need the next book, like, yesterday. I love seeing the different magics played out. Although there are many different kinds of magic, I couldn’t help but think a tiny bit of Avatar: The Last Airbender type of thing going on. Which I was all about. I need this to be a movie. It would be epic.
I loved the writing. It was so beautifully descriptive. Adalyn Grace and this series are definitely ones to watch out for. I can see this becoming a big hit series.
Some favorite quotes:
“The world doesn’t work with only your eyes, Princess. There’s truth in more than what you can see.”
“Fear is part of life; all that matters is what we do with it.”
Let’s talk! Tell me your favorite pirate/ sea adventure movies, shows, books!
*Thank you so much to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review, and for having me on the tour!*
Coming at you with another mood board! I have found I tend to do mine based on what is in the book, rather than try to color match all the photos. Hope you like!
I really enjoyed this book! It was slow but a good slow. A good cozy slow, if that makes sense. It is a perfect winter read. I definitely want to visit this place! Everything seemed so magical!
Sophie is an extremely likable character. She is nice, helpful, but when it really comes down to it she will stick up for herself. She is quite funny. She asks herself “What would Jesus do?” but then decides that no one is as perfect as Jesus, so she asks herself “What would Gandhi do?” I thought that was pretty funny. She also finds trouble always on accident. The situations she gets herself into… Like when she meets Ben. She rolls out into the street chasing kids and he almost hits her with his car. Or when she meets Tristan. She is hiding in a closet (avoiding the horrible owner) and thinks the coast is clear and bumps into Tristan instead. I like her conversations with him and with Ben! She’s witty!
Like I said, the plot was a bit slow, but in a good way! It started out being about Sophie’s time at this fancy old timey hotel. But it ends up having quite the twist and turns into a few different mysteries! I would love to solve a mystery in a hotel, in Europe, in the mountains. How cozy is that?!
The writing is beautiful without going overboard. I loved the descriptions of the hotel. It really seems like somewhere I would want to go. And they have a New Years Eve Ball! That would be so much fun! The mystery happened really quickly, within the last 50-100 pages. But I still loved it! It was a very cute book!
I am so excited to feature A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen today on my blog! Plus a few extras to go along with it! Check out an excerpt and a Q&A with the author below! Thank you to Harper Collins for having me on the tour!
Q: Parent characters are a large part of A Beginning at the End. Did you know your character’s family backgrounds before you began? How do the characters take form in your writing process?
A: Somewhat. Usually the core problem comes first in my drafting process. I tend to write in layers and my initial drafts are always very light — initial scenes may only be about ¼ of their final length because I don’t know the characters too well yet. At that stage, I’m trying to find the main conflict of the scene and the voice for their characters. I typically need 5-7 passes through a book to turn it from a 45k-50k word skeleton to a reasonably polished 90-100k word draft. During that time, the characters start to form.
As an example, my current work in progress (which will be released after 2021’s upcoming WE COULD BE HEROES), I’m on my third pass through for the first act and only now am I beginning to understand each character’s unique voice as well as their physical appearances. Core conflicts (such as character X has trouble with character Y) are established during the initial outline phase as part of the initial concept, but the how and why those conflicts happen (Is it family history? Is it a traumatic event? Is it sibling rivalry?), that takes a little longer to establish.
For the characters in A BEGINNING AT THE END, I started out immediately knowing what drove Krista and Rob. Moira didn’t really become fully three-dimensional until much later, and in fact in early revisions, she was just a minor supporting character. My agent noted that she was far too interesting to push to the side, so the book was rebuilt around her to hold equal footing to Rob and Krista.
Q: Where did you take inspiration for this pandemic? Do you have any other book or film recommendations?
A: Though it wasn’t a direct inspiration for this book, there’s a scene in the second season of The Walking Dead that began the train of thought for A BEGINNING AT THE END. It was the season on Hershel’s farm, and there’s a scene where Lori is trying to go over homework with her son Carl. A lot of viewers mocked the scene at the time with comments like “Why would you do math in the zombie apocalypse?” but I thought that was a smart bit of human grounding against a fantastical backdrop. Because those characters didn’t know if and when the apocalypse would end, and I think it makes sense that 1) a mom would try to keep some form of normalcy for her son 2) they wouldn’t just assume the world was completely over.
Because a lot of apocalyptic fiction focuses on either the event itself or a grimdark survival world, that scene sparked a lot of ideas for me — what if society did crawl back from the brink, and instead of a true “end of the world” it was more like a big pause button? Then all these people would move past day-to-day survival and suddenly have a lot of trauma to unpack, and i hadn’t really seen that covered much at the time. That seemed really interesting to me, much more so than the idea of tribal factions attacking each other to survive.
Q: Which main character is your favorite? And which was the hardest to write?
A: It’s been interesting seeing early reader feedback because the “favorite character” opinion has been pretty evenly split. I think that’s a good sign that things are pretty balanced. For me personally, I always viewed Krista as the main character in this book and it was originally written with her to be the main focus (the original draft of this from 2011ish only had her POV and Rob’s POV). She has such a snappy voice that it’s just fun to write her responses and reactions to stuff, and a big challenge came from cutting out unnecessary dialogue that made it in there simply because she was so fun to write.
The hardest character to write was definitely Sunny. Simply because I needed to get into the head of a seven-year-old. Her POV was one of the last major structural changes my agent recommended before we sold this to my publisher and it was tricky my daughter was still very young at that point (she’s still only five). I ran those chapters by my friends who had survived parenting those years for accuracy: complexity of thought, vocabulary, rhythm, etc.
Q: Your characters struggle with confronting their past while their future is so uncertain. What are some important lessons you’ve learned as a writer that you previously struggled with?
A: I think the keys to success as a writer are also keys to a happy and fulfilled life: don’t give up and keep an open mind. Every writer I know that started around my time eventually broke through and got an agent by improving their craft through feedback and simply chipping away. If one book wasn’t good enough, then it got shelved as a stepping stone and they marched forward. Doing that requires a certain amount of humility because it recognizes that you’ve got room to improve, and that improvement is going to come from listening to others rather than being defensive. Those are hard lessons to learn so I try to tell new writers that right away, so they understand the value of harsh-but-true constructive criticism from critique partners — you’ll never make it without that.
Q: What is a genre you don’t think you’d ever write? A Beginning at the End and Here and Now and Then are both SF, do you think you would ever write something that’s vastly different? What draws you to SF?
A: Writing character-driven stories in sci-fi settings comes pretty naturally to me, as it takes my favorite type of story (slice of life) and my favorite genre and brings them together. I’m fortunate that the market has turned around on that now to support books like mine. If I wrote something different, I imagine it would lean further in one direction or another — either a contemporary drama or space opera. I am also a big fan of gothic horror, and I would love to try a haunted house story at some point.
As for what draws me to sci-fi, I can’t put my finger on it but it’s been really important to me my entire life. I grew up on Star Wars and Robotech as cornerstones of my media influences. At the same time, I’ve never really been too into fantasy despite them often being opposite sides of the same coin. My wife loves both sci-fi and fantasy, and there are things she loves that I just can’t get into like The Elder Scrolls.
Q: What are some of your writing goals for the future?
A: Keep writing and not run out of ideas! In a perfect world, I’d love to be able to be a full-time author — which is basically 50% writing and 50% the business of being an author. I don’t think that’s feasible since I live in Silicon Valley and need health insurance for a family situation, so I will likely always have one foot in corporate life unless the political landscape changes regarding medical care.
An obvious dream would be to have one of my books be adapted to a movie or TV series — I’m of the mindset that HERE AND NOW AND THEM would work as a movie while A BEGINNING AT THE END has a deep enough world that it would work well as a TV series. I really want to try writing a video game, something like Telltale’s games. And I would love to write for my favorite franchises: Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. I’ve been pretty vocal about Clone Wars-era story ideas, and I’m friends with several authors on the Lucasfilm roster, so fingers crossed.
Q: If there was a global disaster in the future, what would your plan of action be?
A: Well, I have a bunch of animals and family health issues, so I’d say we’d be pretty screwed. I’m pretty organized and have a diplomatic approach, so hopefully that would earn me an in with some survivalists until society stabilizes.
Q: Both of your books, Here and Now and Then & A Beginning at the End, have a strong emotional foundation. Why did you choose that route?
A: It goes back to my favorite types of stories. To me, the emotional core is always the most important part of any story; it turns it from being surface level entertainment to something that resonates deeper.
Q: How has the success of your first novel affected your writing process for your second novel? Is there anything the first time around you did, that you didn’t do the second time?
A: I am lucky that A BEGINNING AT THE END was mostly finished when we sold it because it had been a project I’d shelved years ago but revised with my agent. I had a complete and fairly polished manuscript, and my editors revisions didn’t affect much of the structure, they were mostly about tightening and adding more flashbacks, more world-building. So in that regard, that process was very similar to HERE AND NOW AND THEN.
However, having now experienced deadlines and commitments on top of a day job and parenting, the biggest change is that I draft by acts rather than the whole thing. For books 3 (WE COULD BE HEROES) and 4 (in WIP stages), I drafted a first act to get a sense of characters and world, then sent that to a few critique partners for their input before investing further energy into it. There’s just no time. Also, I have to limit myself on reading for fun or video games because that time has to be used for writing and editing. Being published is a great privilege but its time demands do create numerous sacrifices.
Q: How do you balance being a reader and being a writer?
A: I use my phone a lot! I’ve discovered audiobooks, though my preferred method right now is ebooks through Google Play. Their app has a text-to-speech feature which, while nowhere near the quality of real audiobooks, allow me to listen while I’m commuting or doing dishes or whatever, but then also allow me to switch back to reading in the app when I want to. It’s funny, I just don’t read physical books that much now because my time is so compartmentalized that having it available on my phone is the best way to go.
The great irony about this is that as I’ve gotten to know more authors, agents, and editors, I’m often offered advance review copies by authors I really love and I simply have no time for them.
Q: What does literary success look like to you and with that definition in mind, are you successful?
A: This is tricky because I think all authors at all stages are looking up at someone and mentally comparing sales and awards. I know I’m doing better than some of my peers and worse than others, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the past year is that it is totally okay to be happy for someone while also jealous of their success. In fact, that is 100% normal.
With that in mind, I think success means that I’m selling enough copies to get the next contract and a chance to audition for licensed franchise work. Aspiring for bestseller status or awards is kind of silly because so many other factors go into that, many of which (marketing budgets, publicity selections) are simply out of your control. But if you keep producing at a high level of quality, I think you’ll be able to gradually grow your readership with each book, and that’s good enough for me.
Also, it’s really cool to hear your book has touched a reader. That level of engagement is always a good measure of success.
Q: Finally, for you, what makes a book a good book?
A: I think the things that I always look for are interesting characters, emotional conflicts, and good prose. While I appreciate great action scenes or immense worldbuilding, I can often overlook those things if characters, emotions, and prose are all clicking. On the other hand, if I lose any of those main three, I’ll often have to drop a book, even if, say, the worldbuilding is amazing.
Shameless shoutout to some friends: if you want impeccable examples of ALL of those (characters, emotions, prose, action, and worldbuilding), I suggest Fonda Lee’s JADE CITY / JADE WAR and Kat Howard’s AN UNKINDNESS OF MAGICIANS.
People were too scared for music tonight. Not that MoJo cared.
Her handlers had broken the news about the low attendance nearly an hour ago with some explanation about how the recent flu epidemic and subsequent rioting and looting kept people at home. They’d served the news with high-end vodka, the good shit imported from Russia, conveniently hidden in a water bottle which she carried from the greenroom to the stage.
“The show must go on,” her father proclaimed, like she was doing humanity a service by performing. She suspected his bravado actually stemmed from the fact that her sophomore album’s second single had stalled at number thirteen—a far cry from the lead single’s number-one debut or her four straight top-five hits off her first album. Either way, the audience, filled with beaming girls a few years younger than herself and their mothers, seemed to agree. Flu or no flu, some people still wanted their songs—or maybe they just wanted normalcy—so MoJo delivered, perfect note after perfect note, each in time to choreographed dance routines. She even gave her trademark smile.
The crowd screamed and sang along, waving their arms to the beat. Halfway through the second song, a peculiar vibe grabbed the audience. Usually, a handful of parents disappeared into their phones, especially as the flu scare had heightened over the past week. This time nearly every adult in the arena was looking at their phone. In the front row, MoJo saw lines of concern on each face.
Before the song even finished, some parents grabbed their children and left, pushing through the arena’s floor seats and funneling to the exit door.
MoJo pushed on, just like she’d always promised her dad. She practically heard his voice over the backup music blasting in her in-ear monitors. There is no sophomore slump. Smile! Between the second and third songs, she gave her customary “Thank you!” and fake talk about how great it was to be wherever they were. New York City, this time, at Madison Square Garden. A girl of nineteen embarking on a tour bigger, more ambitious than she could have ever dreamed and taking the pop world by storm, and yet, she knew nothing real about New York City. She’d never left her hotel room without chaperones and handlers. Not under her dad’s watch.
One long swig of vodka later, and a warmth rushed to her face, so much so that she wondered if it melted her face paint off. She looked off at the side stage, past the elaborate video set and cadre of backup dancers. But where was the gaffer? Why wasn’t anyone at the sound board? The fourth song had a violin section, yet the contracted violinist wasn’t in her spot.
Panic raced through MoJo’s veins, mental checklists of her marks, all trailed by echoes from her dad’s lectures about accountability. Her feet were planted exactly where they should be. Her poise, straight and high. Her last few notes, on key, and her words to the audience, cheerful. It couldn’t have been something she’d done, could it?
No. Not her fault this time. Someone else is facing Dad’s wrath tonight, she thought.
The next song’s opening electronic beats kicked in. Eyes closed, head tilted back, and arms up, her voice pushed out the song’s highest note, despite the fuzziness of the vodka making the vibrato a little harder to sustain. For a few seconds, nothing existed except the sound of her voice and the music behind it— no handlers, no tour, no audience, no record company, no father telling her the next way she’d earn the family fortune—and it almost made the whole thing worth it.
Her eyes opened, body coiled for the middle-eight’s dance routine, but the brightness of the house lights threw her off the beat. The drummer and keyboard player stopped, though the prerecorded backing track continued for a few more seconds before leaving an echo chamber.
No applause. No eyes looked MoJo’s way. Only random yelling and an undecipherable buzz saw of backstage clamor from her in-ear monitors. She stood, frozen, unable to tell if this was from laced vodka or if it was actually unfolding: people—adults and children, parents and daughters— scrambling to the exits, climbing over chairs and tripping on stairs, ushers pushing back at the masses before some turned and ran as well.
Someone grabbed her shoulder and jerked back hard. “We have to go,” said the voice behind her.
“What’s going on?” she asked, allowing the hands to push her toward the stage exit. Steven, her huge forty-something bodyguard, took her by the arm and helped her down the short staircase to the backstage area.
“The flu’s spread,” he said. “A government quarantine. There’s some sort of lockdown on travel. The busing starts tonight. First come, first serve. I think everyone’s trying to get home or get there. I can’t reach your father. Cell phones are jammed up.”
They worked their way through the concrete hallways and industrial lighting of the backstage area, people crossing in a mad scramble left and right. MoJo clutched onto her bottle of vodka, both hands to her chest as Steven ushered her onward. People collapsed in front of her, crying, tripping on their own anxieties, and Steven shoved her around them, apologizing all the way. Something draped over her shoulders, and it took her a moment to realize that he’d put a thick parka around her. She chuckled at the thought of her sparkly halter top and leather pants wrapped in a down parka that smelled like BO, but Steven kept pushing her forward, forward, forward until they hit a set of double doors.
The doors flew open, but rather than the arena’s quiet loading area from a few hours ago, MoJo saw a thick wall of people: all ages and all colors in a current of movement, pushing back and forth. “I’ve got your dad on the line,” Steven yelled over the din, “His car is that way. He wants to get to the airport now. Same thing’s happening back home.” His arm stretched out over her head. “That way! Go!”
They moved as a pair, Steven yelling “excuse me” over and over until the crowd became too dense to overcome. In front of her, a woman with wisps of gray woven into black hair trembled on her knees. Even with the racket around them, MoJo heard her cry. “This is the end. This is the end.”
People had been making cracks about the End of the World since the flu changed from online rumors to this big thing that everyone talked about all the time. But she’d always figured the “end” meant a giant pit opening, Satan ushering everyone down a staircase to Hell. Not stuck outside Madison Square Garden.
“Hey,” Steven yelled, arms spread out to clear a path through the traffic jam of bodies. “This way!”
MoJo looked at the sobbing woman in front of her, then at Steven. Somewhere further down the road, her father sat in a car and waited. She could feel his pull, an invisible tether that never let her get too far away.
“The end, the end,” the sobbing woman repeated, pausing MoJo in her tracks. But where to go? Every direction just pointed at more chaos, people scrambling with a panic that had overtaken everyone in the loading dock, possibly the neighborhood, possibly all New York City, possibly even the world. And it wasn’t just about a flu.
It was everything.
But… maybe that was good?
No more tours. No more studio sessions. No more threats about financial security, no more lawyer meetings, no more searches through her luggage. No more worrying about hitting every mark. In the studio. Onstage.
All of that was done.
The very thought caused MoJo to smirk.
If this was the end, then she was going out on her own terms.
“Steven!” she yelled. He turned and met her gaze.
She twisted the cap off the water-turned-vodka bottle, then took most of it down in one long gulp. She poured the remainder on her face paint, a star around her left eye, then wiped it off with her sleeve. The empty bottle flew through the air, probably hitting some poor bloke in the head.
“Tell my dad,” she said, trying extra hard to pronounce the words with the clear British diction she was raised with, “to go fuck himself.”
For an instant, she caught Steven’s widemouthed look, a mix of fear and confusion and disappointment on his face, as though her words crushed his worldview more than the madness around them. But MoJo wouldn’t let herself revel in her first, possibly only victory over her father; she ducked and turned quickly, parka pulled over her head, crushing the product-molded spikes in her hair.
Each step pushing forward, shoulders and arms bumping into her as her eyes locked onto the ground, one step at a time. Left, right, left, then right, all as fast as she could go, screams and car horns and smashing glass building in a wave of desperation around her.
Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter
Thank you so much to NetGalley for the e-arc and to Inkyard Press for having me on the tour!
This book surprised me with how much I loved it. I honestly thought it was going to be a cute, fun read, which it was BUT there was a lot more depth than I was expecting. And some really good quotes! I have a lot to say about this book so hang on to your horses.
Grandison covered a lot of issues. Race, feminism, community, stereotypes to name a few. I actually thought she did a really good job of it. The way she didn’t go super into each topic but enough to get young readers interested in the seriousness of what is going on.
Tyson, that sweet boy, is amazing. He comes from a neighborhood and home life that wasn’t good. He made the choice to not become a product of his environment. It’s a HARD choice. My husband comes from a similar home life as Tyson (minus the good mom and minus the shooting), so I know it is hard to leave everything you know and were raised to be, to be a better person. The courage Trice had to walk a better path is something to be commended.
Another issue Grandison brought up was how boys are not taught emotions growing up, resulting in them acting out in inappropriate ways. And them thinking they don’t need help/ therapy. This is a HUGE problem with our society.
Nandy was a bit stand offish in the beginning but I liked her character development. She judged Trice (Tyson) to be someone bad, just because where he came from. And she quickly found out she was wrong about him. She then turned quite likable and a great character to read about. I loved how she saw the good in everyone.
And lastly, the lerrrrve. Okay, it was cute. They met and were friends as kids then reconnected as teens. It sort of reminded me of Sweet Home Alabama in that sense. Absolutely adorable. And they went from friends, to enemies, to lovers. It’s my favorite trope.
I honestly could write a lot more about this book but I don’t want to give away spoilers and what the characters have to go through! And I don’t want this to take a million years to read.
1 | TRICE
Getting shot isn’t the worst part. It’s the aftermath that really fucks you up.
Six months ago, on a dark December night, I was lying in a pool of my own blood on the living room floor. Six months later, I was sitting in a car on the way to a new town to start fresh. In some ways, yeah, the wound had healed. In others, it never would. I didn’t care, though. The last thing I’d cared about got me where I was.
“You’ll like it there, Tyson. The Smiths have prepared a new home for you,” Misty from social services was saying as she drove the long stretch of highway toward Pacific Hills. It was only an hour away from where I used to live in Lindenwood, California.
I didn’t respond. Home was a meaningless word to me now.
Misty peeked at me. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”
“I can leave as soon as I turn eighteen, right?” That was all that mattered. Fuck the rest. Five months, aka one hundred and sixty days, to go. On November twelfth, I’d be free.
Misty sighed. “Look, I know what you’re going through—”
“Word? You’ve been shot too and all’at?” I glanced her way. This lady was going home to a million-thread-count sheet-and-pillowcase set, resting easy once I was off her hands.
Fuck outta here.
“Well, no, but—”
“Then shut up.” I faced the road ahead, done talking.
Misty let out a breath, her light tan skin no doubt holding a blush upon her cheeks. “Do you kiss your—” She caught herself, as if realizing where she was about to go. “I—I’m sorry. You just shouldn’t speak that way.”
I felt an ache in my chest, but I let it go.
I didn’t care.
Half a beat later Misty was rambling on about food. “Do you wanna stop and get something to eat, you must be starving.”
“I told you I wasn’t hungry.”
“Oh, well, are you nervous?”
I hadn’t thought about being nervous or the fact that I would never return home again and lead a normal life. Not like I’d ever led one to begin with.
“Well, good. Think of it as going to a sleepover at an old friend’s house.”
One thing was true, the Smiths were old friends, but this setup was for the next five months.
“It’s been ten years since I last saw them,” I spoke up. “This ain’t no damn sleepover, and it’s not about to be all kumbaya, neither.”
At least they were black. Moving into the uppity setting of Pacific Hills was sure to be hell, but at least I would be with a black family. Even if I wouldn’t exactly fit in.
I didn’t look the same. I didn’t act the same. I wasn’t the same. And I didn’t care.
“It’s Trice.” I had asked her to call me that from jump street. No one called me Tyson.
I didn’t want to think about that. I didn’t want to think about anything. I didn’t care.
“Trice, please, try? I know it’s been rough these past few months, but you have a chance at something fresh. The Smiths are good people, and Pacific Hills is a lovely town. I’m sure soon you’ll be close to your old self.”
Misty had no clue what she was talking about. My old self? She obviously hadn’t paid attention to my file, or she would’ve been smart enough to leave it at fresh and not bring up my past.
Tyson Trice was dead.
He died on the f loor in the living room that day, and he was never coming back.
When I didn’t respond, Misty let up, probably getting that I didn’t give a shit either way.
I didn’t care.
2 | Nandy
I told myself I didn’t care about the juvenile delinquent my parents were moving into our home. I told myself it was no big deal an ex-con would be sleeping right next door to me. I told myself that my parents hadn’t made the worst decision in everdom.
It was just an everyday occurrence in the Smith household.
Still, it wasn’t fair.
As I paced around the pool in my backyard and complained to my best friend, Erica Yee, over the phone, I expected her to be on my side and console me.
“This was supposed to be a great summer and they pull this?” I whined.
“You can still have a good summer,” Erica responded. “This doesn’t have to be the end.”
But it was the end. My parents hadn’t gone into detail about the boy’s situation, just that he was in a “rough spot” and would be living with us for now. And that he was from Lindenwood, otherwise known as the ghetto.
I’d never gone there, but I’d heard enough stories to know to be cautious. When my parents watched the news, there was always a segment on some tragedy that had happened in Lindenwood. Some high-speed chase, or little kids killed during a drive-by, or a robbery gone wrong among the usual clutter of crime that kept the LPD busy. Lindenwood was notorious for its drugs, thefts, assaults, and murders.
It probably hadn’t been the best idea to stay up lurking on the local news feeds right before the delinquent moved in.
Everything would be ruined.
“It is the end,” I insisted. “I mean, they spent all this time whispering and having these hushed conversations behind closed doors, and they barely revealed last night that he’s from Lindenwood!”
Maybe I was acting childishly, but I felt like a kid with the way my parents had shut me out on the biggest detail of all when it came to the boy coming to stay with us out of nowhere. For two weeks, they’d been scarce on the topic and evaded any and all questions. Now it felt like they’d dropped a bomb on me.
For all I knew, this kid was a total ex-gangbanger and my parents were intent on opening our home to wayward souls.
Precautions? I was definitely taking them.
“Right now, you’re probably pacing around your pool in a Gucci bikini while your happily-in-love parents are inside preparing dinner together. God, Nan, your life is incredibly boring. You could use this delinquent to spice things up.”
Well, it was a Sunday evening, and the sun was beginning to set. My parents always made dinner together on Sundays, because they were both off work and able to do so.
I stopped pacing and glanced down at my white Gucci bikini. “Yee, you try new hobbies to spice things up, not invite ex-cons to move in with you. Look, whatever, let’s just get away for a few hours. The longer I put a halt on this, the better.”
“When is he supposed to show up?”
“Sometime today. I just wanna blow it off. Maybe you, me, and Chad could grab a bite at the club or something.”
My boyfriend’s family had a reserved table at the local country club. Anything would be better than dinner with the delinquent. I wasn’t 100 percent sure he was a criminal, but I wasn’t taking any chances. When it came to Lindenwood, you couldn’t be too sure.
“You in?” I asked.
“If we must.” Erica pretended to sound exasperated. “Call me with the details in twenty, okay?”
“Deal.” I hung up and sighed, tilting my head back toward the darkening sky and questioning what I had done to deserve this.
It was the first week of June, and school had ended last week. I intended to spend this summer before senior year going to beach bonfires and parties with my friends, lounging around, preparing for cotillion, and just staying as far away from home as possible.
With a plan in motion, I went around my pool and stepped into our family room through the patio doors.
“Shit!” I jumped back, dropping my phone and barely registering the sound of its rough slap against the hardwood floor.
My parents were standing in the room with an Asian woman who was dressed in a violet-red pantsuit. But it was the boy beside her that startled me. He towered over my father, with broad shoulders and a wide chest, and arms that let me know he worked out, even though he seemed drenched in black with his long-sleeved shirt and matching pants. He had deep, dark brown skin with a clean complexion. But what really stood out was his hair. The boy had cornrows braided to the back of his head—well-aged cornrows.
Ugh, he looked so unpolished.
Suddenly I remembered my fallen phone and looked down to discover the screen was cracked. Because things aren’t messed up enough already.
“And you remember our daughter, Nandy.” My mother played it cool, gesturing toward where I’d frozen near the patio doors.
Everyone faced me, looking just as uncomfortable as I felt.
Great, I was making my first impression completely inappropriate in a bikini.
Awkwardly, I waved and forced a smile onto my face, showing off the result of two years of braces.
“Nandy, this may be a little bit of a surprise, but you remember Tyson Trice, don’t you?” my father asked, looking between the two of us.
At first, the name vaguely rang a bell, but then it hit me. Tyson, the boy I’d played with when I was younger. He used to come by in the summers when his grandfather would do lawn work around our subdivision. There’d been a few times during the school year when he’d come by too, but it was mostly a summer thing. Until he stopped coming altogether.
The revelation brought a sense of relief followed quickly by a foreign anger that I couldn’t explain.
That was then; this is now.
Now Tyson Trice had hit a mega growth spurt and stood before me nearly a man, appearing not at all like the seventeen years young that we both were.
“Right.” I nodded my head. “Tyson, hey.”
Tyson didn’t shift focus to my body. He stared straight into my eyes and bore no friendly expression or a tell of what he was thinking. He was far across the room, but I didn’t need to be right up on him to know that he had the angriest eyes I’d ever seen. Dark, soulless abysses stared at me, making me shiver.
Right on, Dad. Thanks for inviting a possible murderer into our home.
“And this is our son, Jordy.” My mother didn’t miss a beat as she went on, downplaying how awkward everything was.
Jordy, my eleven-year-old little brother, was sitting against the ottoman, playing a video game on his handheld.
Tyson glanced at Jordy, and I felt protective, seeing curiosity briefly cross his face as he laid eyes on my Thai brother.
Jordy looked up from his game. “Hey.”
Tyson lifted a brow and turned to face my parents in that familiar way most outsiders looked at my family once they realized a black family was raising a Thai son.
Jordy smirked, shaking his head. “They wish they could’ve spawned a kid as good-looking as me.”
My father chuckled. “We spoke about adopting for years after having Nandy, and right around the time she was eight, we got approved and Jordy came into our lives.”
“He was just two years old,” my mother gushed. “He was so adorable, we fell in love with him instantly.”
I came more into the room, wanting to shield my brother from Tyson. Someone had to think of the kids.
“Nandy, why don’t you go put some clothes on.” It wasn’t a question. My mother was ordering me to cover up and look more presentable for our guests.
“I was actually on my way out to meet up with Erica, we’ve got this—”
“Right now?” she asked. “We’ve got company.”
I glanced at Tyson, hating him again for spoiling my summer. I’d seen him, and I’d spoken to him. What more did she want?
“Yeah, but Erica and I had plans to go to the country club and talk about cotillion.”
My mother pursed her lips. “Nandy—”
“You know what,” my father stepped in, “that’s a great idea. Nandy could take Tyson and the two could get reacquainted, and that’ll give us time to talk to Ms. Tran here.”
My eyes practically shot out of their sockets. There was no way in hell I’d share a car with Tyson.
After thinking it over, my mother seemed to agree. “That is a great idea. We can all sit down together later.”
My jaw hit the ground.
I shook my head. “You know, never mind, suddenly I’m not as hungry as I thought. In fact, I feel sick to my stomach. I think I’ll go lie down.”
By the way my mother narrowed her eyes, I knew she’d be giving me hell later about my behavior. I didn’t care. It wasn’t fair to me to force some scary-looking guy into my hands to be babysat.
With one final look at the newest arrival to the Smith household, I picked up my phone from the floor and made my way up to my room.
Long after Ms. Tran had left and my mother had scolded me in our family office, I sat in my room, maneuvering with a broken phone as I texted my boyfriend. Going on a hunger strike didn’t last long for me. After having refused to go down for dinner, I was starving.
My cell phone chirped as Chad texted me back.
Me: Thank God
My parents were probably still up, no doubt discussing either my punishment or how we were going to work Tyson into the family.
With their bedroom being in a different wing of our house, sneaking out was always an easy feat. Still, I made sure to keep extra quiet as I crept out of my room and slipped down the staircase.
Chad was waiting for me out front. He’d been pacing back and forth in front of our walk as he waited, and as I stepped outside I was elated to see him.
“I’m thinking sushi, you in?” I asked as I walked past him, heading for his car.
“Yeah, sure. What’s going on?” Chad asked as he caught up to me and fell into step.
I peered up into his blue eyes. “You don’t want to know.”
Chad ran a hand through his auburn hair, appearing confused but conceding. “O-kay, let’s go get some sushi.”
At the feeling of being watched, I glanced back at my house. On the second floor, through one of the large bay windows, I caught sight of a silhouetted figure.
It was him.
I turned back to Chad and reached out and caught his hand. “Yeah, let’s get out of here.”
This was my summer, and no one was getting in the way of that.
Whitney D. Grandison was born and raised in Akron, Ohio, where she currently resides. A lover of stories since she first picked up a book, it’s no surprise she’s taken to writing her own. Some of her works can be found on Wattpad, one of the largest online story sharing platforms, where she has acquired over 30,000 followers and an audience of over fifteen million dedicated readers.
*I received this book from the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review!*
I don’t know what it is about the end of the year but I always read a historical mystery around this time. This one did not disappoint! It was a bit slow paced in some areas but not in a bad way. It felt more relaxed rather than boring if that makes sense.
Annabel was a likable heroine who fought to find her brother’s killer. She had a quit wit and used her art intelligence to figure out clues to help the police. Matthew seemed really sweet and genuinely wanted to help people through his police work. They made a great pair.
I really liked the art references. I am a person who only sees a piece and wants it because it’s pretty. Because, clearly, I am uncultured when it comes to art, I enjoyed learning a bit about the art world. This is one instance where I really did learn something from reading a fiction book. I love when that happens. I love how the author wove the crazy art world into her mystery.
The ending wasn’t too big of a surprise BUT one of the secrets Edwin held onto was. I hurt so badly for him.
I don’t know how else to say how this book made me feel other than relaxed and cozy. It was a perfect Winter read for me! I definitely want to read the first book, which is about Matthew’s sister and piano playing (of which I have much more experience with)!
I’m always on the lookout for more Historical Mysteries! Tell me some of your favorites!
First of all, thank you to the publisher and MTMC Tours for the free book to review!
FIVE FREAKING STARS. Okay? I flipping loved this book. It’s been a long time since I’ve obsessed over a book like this. This was one of my most anticipated reads of this year and it did not disappoint. I don’t have any dislikes so I’ll just dive right in!
Lara is a perfect, slightly flawed heroine. Yes, those two things can go together. She has been trained since she was 5 years old (for 15 years!) to be an assassin. And the book starts her out with a bang. My gosh. Her skill set is enviable. She wasn’t the best assassin out of all her sisters but she was the most clever and that gets her a long way! Even with Aren! Aren is a swoon worthy love interest. He is passionate, strong, good looking, and his people respect and love him. I shipped him and Lara right off the bat. Their chemistry was off the charts! Jensen matched them perfectly.
Let’s talk about the plot. Now, it’s not a unique plot to have a girl assassin trained for most of her life for a purpose, HOWEVER, who cares because I really like that trope. Plus pair it with a unique world and setting and it becomes fresh. I liked how it wasn’t insta love between the characters. The author did a REALLY good job of them knowing the difference between instant LUST and LOVE. And I actually appreciated their ability to not act on that lust (until it became love). It was unique. And can we talk about the cool bridge?! What a cool concept! It is a different piece to add in the book that I loved. It is a trade route, defense, and a few other things to the people of Aren’s kingdom. And it is the central piece of taking his kingdom down.
Everyone who loves fantasy romance, this is a must read. The writing is beautiful, the characters have growth, the world is lush and one I want to visit, some cool battle scenes, and there is a HEARTBREAKING CLIFF HANGER ending. I want the next book so, so bad.
What was the last book that you were obsessed with?