Desert Island Children’s Books: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

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My choice of children’s classic to take to my desert island in October was one beloved by many, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

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Alice in Wonderland is an 1865 novel by English author Lewis Carroll. It tells of a young girl named Alice, who falls through a rabbit hole into a subterranean fantasy world populated by peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures. It is considered to be one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre. The tale plays with logic, giving the story lasting popularity with adults as well as with children.

I’m so behind with these posts, but better late than never!

I actually listened to Alice in Wonderland on audiobook in October and I really enjoyed this way of consuming it, it reminded me of when I read the book to my daughters before they were old enough to read it for themselves, so it was a double jaunt down memory lane. Is there a generation that hasn’t fallen in love with the eccentric story of Alice who goes on a fantastical journey through a world down the rabbit hole?

Every time I go back to Alice, I rediscover parts of the story that I have forgotten, and characters that I have loved which don’t make it into the Disney film. Many people’s main memories of Alice are from the movie, but if you read the actual text, there are loads of fun details that didn’t make it into the film. My favourite is still Alice being stuck in the cottage when she has grown huge and hearing a conversation about ‘Little Bill’ coming down the chimney, who she then proceeds to kick into the air without actually knowing what kind of creature Little Bill is (he is a poor lizard, it turns out.)

This is a book that it is possible to enjoy as much, if not more, as an adult than a child, because you can appreciate the absurdity and the sly humour of the writing much better. I am always in awe of Lewis Carroll’s imagination when I read this book, he has created a world that has delighted children for more than 150 years and continues to remain delightful to this day. What an achievement, to write a book that is so timelessly enchanting that people are still reading and enjoying it more than a century later, and whose characters are instantly recognisable around the world.

This will remain one of my favourite books of all time as long as I can pick up a novel, and it is one I will return to often when I need reminding of the innocence and joys of childhood and all that is fanciful and ridiculous. It is a huge gift to be able to revisit and embrace that child-like wonder in a world that can feel darker and more cynical by the day.

You can buy a copy of Alice in Wonderland here.

About the Author

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Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (27 January 1832 – 14 January 1898), better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, was an English writer of children’s fiction, notably Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass. He was noted for his facility with word play, logic, and fantasy. The poems “Jabberwocky” and The Hunting of the Snark are classified in the genre of literary nonsense. He was also a mathematician, photographer, inventor, and Anglican deacon.

Carroll came from a family of high-church Anglicans, and developed a long relationship with Christ Church, Oxford, where he lived for most of his life as a scholar and teacher. Alice Liddell, daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, Henry Liddell, is widely identified as the original for Alice in Wonderland, though Carroll always denied this. Scholars are divided about whether his relationship with children included an erotic component.

In 1982, a memorial stone to Carroll was unveiled in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey. There are Lewis Carroll societies in many parts of the world dedicated to the enjoyment and promotion of his works.

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Book Review: The Haunting of Lindy Pennyworth #BookReview

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Nobody believes Lindy when she says she doesn’t pull her hair out on purpose.

Nobody believes Lindy when she says she hears voices in the night.

Nobody believes Lindy when she says her dead ancestors are haunting her dreams.

Nobody believes Lindy …

After the death of her father, Lindy falls headlong into a state of grief and no longer understands her place in the world. Through paranormal rituals, Ouija boards and spiritualist churches, Lindy attempts to speak to her father beyond the grave – but to no avail. That is until she receives a ‘visit’ from Esme, her Victorian ancestor, who reveals that her family is under a curse that separates them in the afterlife.

Determined to break it, Lindy sacrifices her grip on reality. Not everyone wants her to succeed and there are secrets that fight to remain buried alongside the dead that she seeks . . .

I was provided with a copy of this book for the purposes of review by Graeme Williams of Graeme Williams Marketing, who has my grateful thanks. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

We first meet Lindy when she is residing in a psychiatric ward, writing down her story so she doesn’t forget it while others try and convince her it is all a figment of her imagination so, from the very beginning, we are unsure whether Lindy is a reliable narrator or not and this sets the tone for the whole book. No one believes Lindy’s story, but are they right not to?

This is a YA book and it is part ghost story, part psychological thriller and had me on the edge of my seat throughout. Lindy has suffered a terrible loss and she is trying to make sense of things. Her mother isn’t a lot of help as she is dealing with the loss herself in ways that don’t make sense to Lindy. She doesn’t have many friends, and behind to indulge in some unhealthy behaviours which make people suspicious of her stability from the beginning. When she begins to try and explore the path of spiritualism, she puts herself on a slippery path, and is opening some dangerous doors.

The book is spooky, but not terrifying, so would be good for someone who likes to feel the frisson of fright but doesn’t like full-blown horror, or is in a slightly younger audience. That being said, it is definitely chilling, and some of the things that happen to Lindy are terrifying, if you put yourself in her shoes. As a fan of the show, Supernatural, this book was right up my street.

Lindy is a character easy to identify to, lost and confused as she is by her loss and still on that childhood/adulthood cusp where her mind is quite open. However, I also related quite a lot to Lindy’s mother, Caroline, who is struggling with both the loss of her husband and her daughter’s bizarre behaviour that she has no idea how to resolve. I can imagine how worrying the whole thing must be from her, and it would have been fascinating to see the story from her perspective too. I loved all the slow revelations that came out throughout the book about Lindy’s father and their relationship which move the story along.

This is a very satisfying read, and perfect for this time of year, which will appeal to both adults and older teenagers. I thought the story moved along at a satisfying pace, with plenty of action, intrigue and revelation to hold the readers interest, and an intriguing ending. I would have no hesitation in recommending this book to readers who enjoy a bit of a scary read during the autumn months.

The Haunting of Lindy Pennyworth is out now as an ebook and in paperback and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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S. M. Pope is a writer, editor, teacher and librarian based in Oxford, though she’s also lived in Canada (where she was born) and Spain. The Haunting of Lindy Pennyworth is her debut novel but she has had supernatural / horror short stories published before with Otranto House (Tales of the Supernatural), and one story, ‘La Tricoteuse’, won best ‘tale’ as part of a touring theatre production of A Tale of Two Cities. A more normal (ie not scary) story of hers was shortlisted by Trapeze Books and the single-parent-charity Gingerbread as part of their campaign to find a writer and story to represent single families. She enjoys spending time with her family, singing to her cats (should I admit that?), and laughing.

Connect with Sam:

Twitter: @childtastic

Instagram: @sampopewriter

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Desert Island Children’s Books: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

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I am very late posting my Desert Island Children’s Book choice for September, but it was a choice that is worth waiting for. September’s choice is a favourite of many, it’s Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, and it is the perfect children’s classic to pick up for an autumn read.

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‘Oh, it seems so wonderful that I’m going to live with you and belong to you. I’ve never belonged to anybody – not really’

When a scrawny, freckled girl with bright red hair arrives on Prince Edward Island, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert are taken by surprise; they’d asked the orphanage for a quiet boy to help with the farmwork at Green Gables. But how can you reject a child like an unwanted parcel, especially when she tells you her life so far has been a ‘perfect graveyard of unburied hopes’?

So the beguiling chatterbox stays. Full of imagination, spark and spirit, it is not long before Anne Shirley wins their hearts.

Anne Shirley is one of my favourite characters is all of children’s literature. So fond am I of the Anne who has lived in my head since I first read Anne of Green Gables *cough* years ago, I have never been able to watch any of the adaptations of the Anne books that have been made (despite the fact that everyone tells me how excellent they are) because I really don’t want my version supplanted by someone else’s.

Why do I love Anne so much? The main reason I think is the same reason I love Jo March from Little Women, because she is someone I immediately related to. Not the fact that she is an orphan, I have two loving parents still, or that she lives on a farm on Prince Edward Island in Canada. But Anne is bookish, and a day dreamer and has a vivid imagination and all of these things made her my fictional kindred spirit.

Having reread Anne of Green Gables again, I still love Anne as much as ever, and relish the tenderness of the story of the wild, red-headed orphan who comes by mistake to the Cuthbert farm, but proceeds to melt the hearts of the shy Matthew and prim, gruff Marilla until they cannot imagine what they did before she arrived to light up their lives. She gets into lots of fun scrapes, and maintains a rivalry with Gilbert Blythe throughout the book, until he does something that melts even Anne’s stony heart at the end of the book – you’ll have to read the other six books in the Anne series to find out what happens between them in the future.

The writing in these books is delightful. L. M. Montgomery really brings the community of Avonlea to life, and peoples it with all manner of amusing characters for Anne to interact with. The setting is perfect, and we experience falling in love with the beauty of Prince Edward Island along with Anne, to the extent that it has long been a destination high on my bucket list, and I know I am not the only person who feels this way about the books. My cousin Michelle cites Anne of Green Gables as her motivation for travelling to PEI.

The relationship between Anne and the Cuthberts is beautiful and tender and moving, and I defy anyone not to be moved by it. Following Anne through her subsequent years in the rest of the series is equally enchanting, and I can highly recommend the whole series. Definitely one to have on a desert island for repeated consumption.

You can get your copy of Anne of Green Gables here.

About the Author

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Lucy Maude Montgomery (1874-1942) was born on Prince Edward Island, Canada, the setting for Anne of Green Gables. She left to attend college, but returned to Prince Edward Island to teach. In 1911, she married the Reverend Ewan MacDonald. Anne of Green Gables, the first in a series of “Anne” books by Montgomery, was published in 1908 to immediate success and continues to be a perennial favourite.

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Desert Island Children’s Books: Flambards by K. M. Peyton

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I guess this month’s book is more of a teen/YA read, than a children’s book and it is the first book in a literary quartet that was probably my first introduction into the idea of romance. It is Flambards by K. M. Peyton.

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Christina is sent to live with her uncle in his country house, Flambards, and knows from the moment she arrives that she’ll never fit in.

Her uncle is fierce and domineering and her cousin, Mark, is selfish-but despite all this, Christina discovers a passion for horse-riding and finds a true friend in Will. What Christina has yet to realize, though, is the important part she has to play in the future of this strange household . . .

What a fabulous series of books the Flambards quartet was as a bridge for teen girls between the childhood world of innocence and ponies and the adult world of war, duty, class,  money and romance. I absolutely loved this book because I found it when I was at the same juncture in my life as Christina is during the story and through her eyes I explored the more adult world she is thrust in to when she arrives at Flambards.

Flambards is a great book for pony-mad girls because of the life at the house revolving around horses, and I think this is why I first picked it up, but there is so much more going on in the story, some of which I don’t think I ever really understood properly until I came back to it as an adult. The issues of class with which Christina is confronted in her relationship with Dick, the stablehand, and the treatment by the Russells of his entire family, is certainly not something I think I really understood when I read it the first few times in my early teens.

The book is set in the early years of the twentieth century, at a time of great change on many fronts. The world is on the brink of war, mechanical inventions such as cars and aeroplanes are starting to encroach on a way of life that has existed for centuries and is resistant to the threat. And attitudes are changing, with people becoming more aware of social injustice. This ripple of change is what informs the story, and impacts Christina’s life as she is torn between her love for Dick and the impossibility of that relationship, her joy in the horses and life at Flambards but her horror of the brutality and callousness of her uncle Russell, and her attraction to Will, who represents a dream of the future. It perfectly mirrors the turmoil that girls feel in that period of immense physical and emotional change.

The writing in the novel is beautiful, and the author really captures the contrast between the decaying and dying life at Flambards, and the shiny, bright future envisaged by Will and his machines. It is a snapshot of a period in time that none of us have experienced firsthand but can live through the pages of this book and it reminds my sharply and fondly of my own teenage years. I was drawn back in to the romances of Christina’s life, and how much the author makes us care for her, and for Flambards itself. Have re-read it, I now want to go on to read the rest of the series again. Book two, The Edge of the Cloudis even better from what I remember.

Flambards is available to buy here.

About the Author

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Kathleen Peyton grew up in the London suburbs and always longed to live in the country and have a horse. Although she enjoyed writing stories she wanted to be a painter, and when she left school she went on to study art. At Manchester Art School she met her husband, Michael, and they now live in Essex and have two daughters. Following the success of Flambards, Kathleen went on to write three more books in the sequence, the second of which, The Edge of the Cloud, was the winner of the prestigious Carnegie Medal. And since she has made some money from publishing her books, Kathleen has always had a horse, or several!

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Blog Tour: Before Pittsburgh by Kasie Whitener #BookReview

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Tony is dead and Brian’s world has unraveled. Still grappling with the harsh reality that his best friend’s suicide was not a nightmare that he just hasn’t awakened from, Brian plummets into a dark period of drinking and desperate actions.

Seeking healing and redemption for his ingrained belief that it should have been him, not Tony, that’s dead, Brian travels across the U.S. and Spain for answers. He starts counting the days in Barcelona: bar fights and threesomes. The months in San Francisco: short stories and a new romance. The seasons in Tucson, Nashville, Manila, and Seattle: The Crew growing up and apart. Three years unfold between before-Tony-died and after. Brian thinks he has finally left Virginia and its ghosts behind.

A near miss on September 11th brings time to a standstill and Brian faces a new devastation.

With so much work to be done Before Pittsburgh, Brian’s world expands in unexpected ways but contracts in the same old patterns of loss, redemption, and mourning. Can he earn his place in the lives of the people he loves? Or will he remain disconnected, unforgiven, and alone?

I’m delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for Before Pittsburgh by Kasie Whitener. My thanks to Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group Tours for inviting me to take part, and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This book is very different to my normal reading choices for a number of reasons. One of the reasons I love blogging is that it pushes my reading out of its comfort zone and makes me pick up books I would not normally come across. You never know when you are going to discover a gem, or a new genre that you might normally have overlooked. of course, you are never going to love everything you read, but you won’t know unless you try!

This is the second book in a series. However, I didn’t know this going in and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book at all, it works perfectly well as a standalone. The main protagonist is Brian, a man in his early twenties who is struggling in the aftermath of his best friend’s suicide. This is the first thing that is very different to the books I normally read, most emotional fiction I read is written from a female perspective, so this was an interesting departure. The author, despite being female, has done an amazing job of getting under the skin of the protagonist and I was totally immersed in Brian’s pain and struggle. The writing of his distress and self-destructive behaviour is very visceral, which makes for a powerful but difficult read at times.

The book is written mainly in first person from Brian’s perspective, but there are also a series of emails between Brian and various other characters in the story, which breaks up the narrative and provides a clever and insightful glimpse into their personalities. The book takes place across a number of years and disparate locations and, whilst these are detailed at the beginning of each chapter, I did find it tricky to keep up with where in time and space we were at times which broke my concentration a little.

This book is powerful and truthful insight into dealing with the death of a person you love so deeply that you don’t know who you are without them in your life and I really believed in Brian’s reaction to the events in the book. However, the problem I had with it was that I didn’t really like him enough to make enough allowance for his behaviour in response to his pain. Maybe if I had read the previous book, I would be more invested and have more empathy for Brian and be able to cut him more slack in relation to his behaviour. As it was, from the beginning Brian behaves badly and I couldn’t find my sympathy for him. However, I do realise that this is probably largely down to my age. At approaching 50 with teenage daughters, I think my sympathy for the callous attitudes of twenty-something ‘boys’ has long since waned, I’ve become less tolerant of it over the years as I’ve gained maturity and understanding. I don’t think I am particularly the target audience for this novel and someone closer to the age and experiences of the protagonist will be more forgiving, so don’t let the my jaded perspective put you off.

The book was a little slow for me in parts, but again I think it may be because the developing (or not) love lives of young adults hold less appeal to me as I get older and other people will react differently. What I can say is that this is a brave and bold book with important things to say and it says them in a confident voice, coupled with exquisite writing. Despite my lack of empathy with them, there is no doubt the characters are well written and alive on the page and feel like honest portrayals of real people. The story is very moving, the author is skilled at drawing genuine emotion from the reader. It feels like a great accomplishment of a book, if not one that pushed my particular buttons. I would not hesitate to recommend it to the audience it was written for, which I don’t think is 49-year-old mothers from rural Yorkshire.

Before Pittsburgh is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please do visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour as detailed below:

Before Pittsburgh

About the Author

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Connect with Kasie:

Website: https://kasiewhitener.com/

Facebook: Kasie Whitener

Twitter: @KasieWhitener

Instagram: @kasiewhitener

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Desert Island Books with… Marjorie Mallon

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This week’s victim guest on my beautiful desert island, left in peace to read five hand-picked books for as long as they like, is author… Marjorie Mallon. To be honest, that sounds like bliss to me, and will be the only kind of foreign holiday we get this year. Let’s see which five books she has picked.

Book One- The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak

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HERE IS A SMALL FACT – YOU ARE GOING TO DIE

1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.
Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.

SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION – THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH

I loved The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak, a WWII historical fiction set in Nazi Germany. It is such a fantastic book, cleverly done, narrated by death, such an emotional read. I don’t read historical fiction often but The Book Thief is amazing. The story stays with you long after you have finished reading it. I love books that stir the deepest emotions, that make you cry, reflect and consider. For me, that’s the ultimate testament to a wonderful book. I read The Book Thief a long time ago (before I began reviewing books,) so it would be awesome to re-read this masterpiece on a desert island!

Book Two – The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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The circus arrives without warning. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Against the grey sky the towering tents are striped black and white. A sign hanging upon iron gates reads:

Opens at Nightfall
Closes at Dawn

As dusk shifts to twilight, tiny lights begin to flicker all over the tents, as though the whole circus is covered in fireflies. When the tents are aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign lights up:

Le Cirque des Rêves
The Circus of Dreams

The gates shudder and unlock, seemingly by their own volition.
They swing outward, inviting the crowd inside.

Now the circus is open.
Now you may enter.

Another favourite of mine is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. It would be such a delight to be transported to a fantastical setting where the wonders, sounds, surprises and twists and turns of magic and illusion would enthrall me. I read The Night Circus too long ago and it would be awesome to revisit this captivating book too. 

(NB. The Night Circus is also one of my Desert Island Books. You can see why I included it in my list here.)

Book Three – Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

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Mia Corvere is only ten years old when she is given her first lesson in death.

Destined to destroy empires, the child raised in shadows made a promise on the day she lost everything: to avenge herself on those that shattered her world.

But the chance to strike against such powerful enemies will be fleeting, and Mia must become a weapon without equal. Before she seeks vengeance, she must seek training among the infamous assassins of the Red Church of Itreya.

Inside the Church’s halls, Mia must prove herself against the deadliest of opponents and survive the tutelage of murderers, liars and daemons at the heart of a murder cult.

The Church is no ordinary school. But Mia is no ordinary student.

Top of my list would also be Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight. I adore his writing, and I’d bring Nevernight to make my heart beat faster with excitement. Mia’s blood lust would definitely stop me from getting bored! 

Book Four – Northern Lights (His Dark Materials Book 1) by Philip Pullman

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“Without this child, we shall all die.”

Lyra Belacqua and her animal daemon live half-wild and carefree among scholars of Jordan College, Oxford.

The destiny that awaits her will take her to the frozen lands of the Arctic, where witch-clans reign and ice-bears fight.

Her extraordinary journey will have immeasurable consequences far beyond her own world…

And I couldn’t leave behind Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, His Dark Materials #1, which I loved so much! It ticks all the boxes for me, being a fight between good and evil, light and dark, which is very me! 

Book Five – The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

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‘I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.’

Los Angeles Private Investigator Philip Marlowe is hired by wheelchair-bound General Sternwood to discover who is blackmailing him. A broken, weary old man, Sternwood just wants Marlowe to make the problem go away. However, with Sternwood’s two wild, devil-may-care daughters prowling LA’s seedy backstreets, Marlowe’s got his work cut out. And that’s before he stumbles over the first corpse.

I’d also have fun revisiting some books I loved as a youngster, crime and detective novels, which I still enjoy now. So, I’d bring Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep to keep me company and rekindle those memories!

My luxury item

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A good quality yoga mat so I could practice moves and get fit and supple. It would also double up as a mat to lie on too, so dual purpose!

About the Author

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M J Mallon was born in Lion city Singapore, a passionate Scorpio with the Chinese Zodiac sign of a lucky rabbit. She spent her early childhood in Hong Kong. During her teen years, she returned to her father’s childhood home, Edinburgh where she spent many happy years, entertained and enthralled by her parents’ vivid stories of living and working abroad. Perhaps it was during these formative years that her love of storytelling began bolstered by these vivid raconteurs. She counts herself lucky to have travelled to many far-flung destinations and this early early wanderlust has fuelled her present desire to emigrate abroad. Until that wondrous moment, it’s rumoured that she lives in the UK, in the Venice of Cambridge with her six-foot hunk of a rock god husband. Her two enchanting daughters have flown the nest but often return with a cheery smile.

Her motto is to always do what you love, stay true to your heart’s desires, and inspire others to do so too, even it if appears that the odds are stacked against you like black hearted shadows.

Favourite genres to write: Fantasy/magical realism because life should be sprinkled with a liberal dash of extraordinarily imaginative magic!

Her writing credits also include a multi-genre approach: paranormal, best-selling horror, supernatural short stories, flash fiction, and poetry.

She’s been blogging for many moons at her blog home Kyrosmagica, (which means Crystal Magic.) where she continues to celebrate the spiritual realm, her love of nature, crystals and all things magical, mystical, and mysterious.

Her eclectic blog shares details and information about her new releases, author interviews, character profiles and her love of reading, reviewing, writing, and photography.

Marjorie’s has recently worked with some amazing authors and bloggers compiling an anthology/compilation set during the early stages of COVID-19 entitled This Is Lockdown, which you can purchase here, and has also written a spin off poetry collection entitled Lockdown Innit, which you can buy here.

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This anthology and compilation is for everyone, wherever you live in the world. We are all experiencing the impact of COVID19 and lockdown. As writers, bloggers and creatives we express our thoughts and opinions in writing: in heartfelt poetry, pieces on isolation and the impact of COVID19 and the ‘new normal.’

There are twenty eight talented contributors, including the creative NHS Mask Making Fundraising Team of Jane Horwood and Melissa Santiago Val. The contributors come from as far afield as Australia, Canada, USA and Zimbabwe, or closer to my current home in England – in Ireland, Scotland and Italy.

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Lockdown Innit is a poetry collection of eighteen poems about life’s absurdities and frustrations during lockdown. Wherever you live in this world, this is for you. Expect humour, a dollop of banter and ridiculous rants here and there.

Amongst other delights, witness the strange antics of a swan posing by a bin and two statuesque horses appearing like arc deco pieces in a field. Check out the violin player on a tightrope, or the cheeky unmentionables wafting in the lockdown breeze!

The first book in Marjorie’s new YA Fantasy series, Bloodstone, has just been published by Next Chapter Publishing, and you can buy a copy here.

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Fifteen-year-old Amelina Scott lives in Cambridge with her dysfunctional family, a mysterious black cat, and an unusual girl who is imprisoned within the mirrors located in her house.

When an unexpected message arrives inviting her to visit the Crystal Cottage, she sets off on a forbidden path where she encounters Ryder: a charismatic, perplexing stranger.

With the help of a magical paint set and some crystal wizard stones, can Amelina discover the truth about her family?

Connect with Marjorie:

Website: https://mjmallon.com/

Twitter: @Marjorie_Mallon

Instagram: @mjmallonauthor

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely #BookReview

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Two teens–one black, one white–grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.

A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galluzzo, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?

There were witnesses: Quinn Collins–a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan–and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team–half of whom are Rashad’s best friends–start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.

It’s category five in the Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge, ‘Read a book by two authors.’ For this category I have chosen the award-winning YA novel, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.

Dealing with a subject matter that has been at the forefront of media attention over the last twelve months due to the killing of George Floyd, this would be a great book to give a teen who wanted to read something that grapples with issues that they see in the news in a way that is approachable but also makes them think and try and understand the tensions that arise after such incidents.

The book is told from the dual viewpoints of Rashad, the victim of the violent act, and Quinn, his classmate and friend of the brother of the policeman involved in the arrest. Quinn is very torn between loyalty, and the tensions that arise in his school as everyone begins to take sides. It is a very effective way to present the different perspectives on the events of the book and to see how people are pressured to taking a stand for one side or another, and how the tension spreads quickly through a community. The subject is dealt with very sensitively, and it really brought the reality of the fallout from these events home in a way that we can all relate to.

The book is emotional and difficult to read in parts, but these are issues that need to be brought into the open and discussed in the light, even if that makes us uncomfortable, so I would highly recommend this as a book you can give to young people in your life as a way of introducing them to the topic and giving you a jumping off point for discussion. I am certainly going to be encouraging my teenage daughters to read it as another step in the conversations I have already had with them following the events of the last twelve months.

The writing between the two authors is seamless, you wouldn’t know it was co-authored if you hadn’t been told, but I am sure the input of both made this book the balanced and considered telling of the story that it is. A great and important read, especially for the young adults it is aimed at.

All American Boys is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Authors

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Jason Reynolds is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, a Newbery Award Honoree, a Printz Award Honoree, a two-time National Book Award finalist, a Kirkus Award winner, a two-time Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award Winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors. He’s also the 2020-2021 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. His many books include StampedWhen I Was the GreatestThe Boy in the Black SuitAll American Boys (cowritten with Brendan Kiely), As Brave as YouFor Every One, the Track series (GhostPatinaSunny, and Lu), Look Both Ways, and Long Way Down, which received a Newbery Honor, a Printz Honor, and a Coretta Scott King Honor. He lives in Washington, DC.

Website: https://www.jasonwritesbooks.com/

Facebook: Jason Reynolds

Twitter: @JasonReynolds83

Instagram: @jasonreynolds83

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Brendan Kiely is the New York Times bestselling author of All American Boys (with Jason Reynolds), The Last True Love StoryThe Gospel of WinterTradition, and The Other Talk. His work has been published in ten languages; received a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award, the Walter Dean Myers Award, and the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award; has twice been awarded Best Fiction for Young Adults by the American Library Association; and has been a Kirkus Reviews Best Book. Originally from the Boston area, he now lives in New York City.

Connect with Brendan:

Website: https://www.brendankiely.com/

Twitter: @KielyBrendan

Instagram: @brendankiely

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Extract: Born of Wind (Of The Elements Book 1) by J. B. Lesel

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When the elements collide, the truth ignites

Meleena never quite fitted in among her fellow aquatic Meruyans, always skipping school to hide out and marvel at the natural world around her. So when she wins a place on the coveted Council Apprenticeship team, no one is more surprised than her.

As she embarks on a tour of the nations, Meleena’s curiosity catches the attention of the Warix, a race born with the power to control wind. But she is unprepared for the secrets she uncovers as she explores this new land. The Warix are locked in a deadly civil war, and her own people are being oppressed and exploited with no way out.

Desperate to resolve this tangled conflict, Meleena sets out to locate an ancient weapon sought by both sides. Can she unite these warring peoples in time to save her own?

The debut novel from J.B. Lesel throws you headlong into a diverse world where the elements take physical form to shape the lives of all. Perfect for fans of James Cameron’s Avatar, and The Last Airbender.

Born of Wind is the first in Lesel’s Of the Elements series which follows Meleena as she journeys out of her home village and into a world she has long been sheltered from. But the outside world is more complicated than she could ever have imagined, with a civil war looming and a mysterious missing pendant. It’s a fun, coming-of-age adventure with a fantasy twist that is sure to capture the imagination of all ages. The book was published yesterday and, to celebrate its release, I am delighted to be able to share an extract with you today. My thanks to Sarah Hembrow at Vulpine Press for providing me with the extract for reproduction here.

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As they walked to school, Meleena recounted to her brother the lively dinner discussion of last night. They passed the wood- and onion-shaped cottages of the town, enclosed by sapling trees forming fence posts, entangled with strings of kitten’s ear ivy. She made a mental note to draw that later, when she’d gotten her journal back.

“Well, it sounds like you really should go visit Kelrick in Dlawn’Edo. I know he can be… difficult, but there’s more to the Council than just him.”

She made a face. “Why didn’t you follow Dad and Kelrick’s footsteps and join the Meruyan government?”

“I’ve seen their world, but I’m happy right here. Plus, I have a wife and daughter of my own whose future I must protect, but if adventure interests you, I wouldn’t write off the Council so quickly.” He adjusted his glasses.

They passed the main square, where the day’s bustle had already begun, with Meruyan holding baskets to collect fresh foods from the marketplace; sea-beast drawn wooden carts traversed the streets, led by farmers bringing fruit from farm to shops.

They rounded a corner leading down the lane to the old schoolhouse, built like a conjoined ring of wooden onions—an onion-cake, frosted with moss from years of exposure to the moist coastal air. Other teens were visible from all directions down the stony lanes.

They approached the doors and Tomiyan opened them to let her in. “Just ask Dad for a tour of his study tonight,” he said and left it at that.

School went as expected. Talla, the only overachiever of the class, shot her hand up and answered every question with ease, while Meleena and the rest of the students sighed, groaned, threw paper birds, sometimes at Talla’s head, and did everything else bored students do. Everyone except Joru, Talla’s twin brother. He sat beside Meleena, always looking at her.

A gill breather. What a hokey place this was. Meleena tried to ignore him, leaning on her elbow and facing away from his batting eyes.

He was shy, but his intentions were clear. She had already told him it would never happen. For this, Talla especially despised Meleena. “You broke his heart, you flirt!” she would howl at any occasion.

But Meleena couldn’t make herself love the guy, or blame herself for existing. And that was that. Whatever. Just one more year putting up with this and she’d be free, but free to do what? Her family was right, there were no options anyway.

 

After school, she slunk home, hands in pockets with nothing to draw and no ideas for an apprenticeship. In her room, she dropped her backpack on the floor, flopped onto the bed, heart sinking. No journal to scribble her thoughts, or her way through problems.

A knock startled her and she uttered a noise muffled by a face-full of bedsheets.

Her father spoke through the door, “Meleena, I wanted to show you something. I spoke to Tomiyan, he said you seemed down.”

She sat up. “I’m fine.”

“Well, he suggested I show you my study.”

“I’ve seen it.”

“I just thought…” His voice trailed off. “I could help you pick an apprenticeship.”

The wooden floor creaked as he stood outside the door. Her heart sank further at the thought of his judgment.

“—Maybe I can convince your mother to give your journal back sooner…”

Meleena opened the door. Shadows danced on his face from the luminous worm-shell candles that lit the hallway at night.

“Sounds like a deal.”

She followed her father to the room she scarcely visited. Books lined the walls from floor to ceiling, and glass cases pillared the middle. He lit the worm-shell candles and led her to one particularly large case to the left of his desk.

“This is where I keep the most precious artifacts.”

Meleena lifted her glasses and inspected rolls of parchment, metal-plated shells, dusty leather-bound books, broken copper gadgetry, and inscribed parcels.

Her father opened a dusty book titled Gifts of the Warix: The End of the Wet Ages. “This book contains everything the Meruyan have learned from the Warix about how to live on land. Everything wooden, from homes to paper, land-farming, fire for heating and cooking. Wouldn’t you like to meet a Warix someday?”

Meleena ignored him. He was trying to get her to apprentice for the Council, but it wasn’t going to work. But she was running out of time and ideas.

“There’s more to the council than you think…” Her father handed her a scroll to read:

Legend of Peoples.

1–Meruyan: Aquatic people of the Water Spirit. Government: Meruyan Nation, Run by the Council. Capital: Dlawn’Edo

2–Warix: Forest people of the Earth Spirit. Government: Two Enemy Nations.

Sen’Drorn Warix: Name meaning “loyal to the state.” Centuries old, run by Emperor Ryogrim and advisors. Capital: Sen’Drorn City.

Sen’Prin Warix: Name meaning “loyal to the people.” Small, split-off nation, run by Governess Arenay. Capital: Sen’Prin City.

3–Hyish: Reptilian people of the Fire Spirit. Government: many clans, trading-based hierarchy, Mayfee clan most prominent. Capital: none, nomadic.

“What is this?” Meleena ran her fingers over the waxy scroll. It appeared there was more going on outside her village than she realized. “A Hyish?” She’d never even heard of that.

“Yes—reptilian people who live in tribes all over the world—be it forest, grasslands, or desert. They invented glass, you know, like those in your glasses.”

The thought of sketching and documenting their culture piqued Meleena’s interest. She’d love to meet a reptilian person one day. Outwardly, she merely shrugged and returned the scroll.

Maybe the council idea wasn’t so bad, after all. Not like she had any better ideas.

“What else is here?”

Her father handed her a horn. Turning it over, she ran her finger over the etched markings running along its surface. “I’ve never seen a horn like this… it’s like the farmers brand on pon-urchin spines, but this seems… daintier?”

“A Warix horn. Far away in the Arctic City, where both Warix and Meruyans live, it has become trendy to brandish Meruyan symbols. You could visit if you joined the council’s apprenticeship. There is a reason your mother and I raised you here, it’s safe. But there is more to the Meruyan nation than fishing villages. I promise it.”

As Meleena took the horn into her hands, a tangible part of a creature from a distant land, the world outside the village felt real for the first time. She wasn’t excited about the idea of working for the council, but it was starting to look like the best option at least as an apprenticeship. A chance to leave the town, at least she could sketch wildlife, and quit later, maybe run away to live in the forest… yes, great ideas were forming.

“Fine, I’ll sign up the council apprenticeship.”

She helped herself to an object. A small box with a golden frame caught her eye. She held it flat in her palm, opening it to find… a wooden bauble, shaped like a droplet.

“Well, you can’t simply join. The council is the hardest apprenticeship. You will need recommendations and diligence in your final year of school.”

He almost had her there.

“Maybe it’s not worth it then; I’ll just clean out pon-urchin carcasses. Why was this junk in here?” Meleena turned over the trinket. It was crudely whittled into the shape of a ram’s head, with gleaming white eye holes. The light seemed to be emanating, curiously, from within.

Before her father could answer, a deep rumbling began. Rolling thunder. They looked up, startled. A baby cried somewhere in the distance.

Hurried footsteps pounded, getting louder—Vivia and Tomiyan appeared in the doorway. Vivia gripped the doorposts, panting. “A flash storm has broken out!”

“There’s an evacuation to the underwater community already underway,” said Tomiyan through bated breath from the hall. “My family is waiting in the kitchen. We have to go, now!”

The rumbling continued.

Loroh furrowed his brow. “That’s strange, it seemed so clear earlier this evening.”

“Does that matter?” Tomiyan said. “A tornado has sprung up and has already smashed some cottages at the edge of town!”

Meleena’s heart pounded as she ran behind her parents and Tomiyan down the hall. She had forgotten to return the carving and had absent-mindedly shoved it into her pocket. I guess I’ll return this when the storm passes. Can’t exactly go back now.

Tomiyan’s wife held a restless infant and stood as they entered the kitchen. Something crashed on the roof.

Meleena and her family ran through the village towards the beach, their straw shoes slapping the stone pavement. The wind pushed them, though there weren’t any storm clouds above. Stars winked at her against the boundless darkness.

As they reached the beach, they saw other Meruyans wading into the ocean. As the waves lapped at their bodies, fins sprouted on forearms and calves. Some plunged in headfirst, arms extended. Meleena had experience with this: a steep drop not far offshore.

Still, there hadn’t been a night evacuation in years. She barely remembered the last time. Storms this bad didn’t come along every season. Meleena spotted their village elders who ran the community. She spotted Talla and Joru. Joru blushed, then faced away from her, and Talla scowled in her direction.

Meleena shivered in the cold night air. More Meruyans dove straight into the crashing waves and out of sight. Meleena, like most, stashed her glasses in a pocket: she wouldn’t need them again until life on land resumed.

Trembling under the weight of her world falling apart, Meleena stole a blurry glance toward her village being torn asunder. At least this bought her some time to decide on apprenticeships. Then she, alongside her family, dove into the dark waves.

If that small segment has whetted your appetite for the book, Born of Wind is out now in paperback and ebook formats, and is currently free to read if you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. You can buy a copy here.

About the Author

J.B. Lesel is a fantasy writer living in California and sometimes in the forests of Germany. When she’s not writing or lounging like a cat, she has an unusual hobby of volunteering abroad with strange wildlife. She has a Master of Science in Psychology, working in content writing and data analytics. BORN OF WIND is her debut novel.

Connect with J. B:

Website: https://jblesel.com/

Facebook: J. B. Lesel

Twitter: @JB_Lesel

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Book Review: My Dear Ellie by Aisha Urooj

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What will you do for your Best friend? Cassandra Grace will live through heartbreaks over a thousand lifetimes.

Ellie (Eleanor James) wants to be a superstar. She has natural beauty and talent, but is super impatient in achieving her goals. She drops out of High School to pursue acting. She achieves greater success, but it comes at a cost. She dwells deeper into darkness as fame becomes a dangerous drug to her.

Cassie (Cassandra Grace) is sweet and loving. She is terribly indecisive about what she wants to do in life, but will follow Ellie anywhere, including dropping out of High School. After a few years, she decides to go back to University and discovers her love for English literature. As her life gains purpose, she doesn’t realise how much her friend Ellie is drifting into despair. Can she save her? She vows to be there for Ellie and to get her the life she deserves to have, even if it means challenging Fate… and losing everything she loves to save her.

Today we have a first on A Little Book Problem, I have a guest reviewer providing the review for today’s book. So a huge thank you to Emma Wilson, who has read and reviewed My Dear Ellie by Aisha Urooj. A digital copy of the book was provided by the author for this purpose, and the book has been reviewed honestly and impartially.

We all remember our firsts, don’t we? Our first love, our first heartbreak, our first school, even our first home… but few firsts rival our first heartbreak in our memories quite like finding our first best friend.

Many of us make those first best friends at primary school but for some it can take a little longer to find that soul mate that can help you through the trials and tribulations of growing up; but you would be hard pressed to find someone reading this book that couldn’t relate to the emotions of truly loving (in the purest sense) a friend so deeply that you would want them in your lives forever.

If you could go back now, to the day you first met that first best friend, could you remember all the details? Would you change a single thing you had gone through together? What would you give up, or put on the line, for that friend that you promised to spend the rest of your life with?

My Dear Ellie by Aisha Urooj is a book that explores the depths of friendship and how mere moments can shape your life.

My Dear Ellie isn’t a book that I would normally rave about, it’s the kind of book that I would quietly consider. It’s quite a slow burn and at times feels more like a collection of diary entries of a young girls trying to make sense of the world. There are moments when I questioned if this was a work of fiction, or if indeed the author herself had tried to reimagine a friendship that meant so much to her as a child.

It feels real, as if you are reading the inner most thoughts of a child growing into herself as we follow Cassandra and her analysis of a friendship that is shaping her life in more ways than one.

If you are a fan of The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom, this book might tweak your interest. Although the story itself is a slow burn (and seems to end exactly where I hoped it would begin) it is a book that makes you look into your own world and think about the friendships that shaped you and why.

My Dear Ellie is the first part of a trilogy, at first I had no idea how the author would pull out this story into three parts, but the ending of book one makes it clear why this is not even close to being the end of the story for Ellie and Cassie.

The characters are drawn with heart, emotion and empathy. The sentences are wrapped in delicate cloaks of nostalgia and at only 166 pages, it is a quick read that leaves you waiting eagerly for more. A fabulous YA coming of age story that I look forward to reading more of.

My Dear Ellie is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi; Narrated by Bahni Turpin #AudiobookReview

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They killed my mother.They took our magic.They tried to bury us. Now we rise.

Zélie remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. When different clans ruled – Burners igniting flames, Tiders beckoning waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoning forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, anyone with powers was targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope. Only a few people remain with the power to use magic, and they must remain hidden. 

Zélie is one such person. Now she has a chance to bring back magic to her people and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must learn to harness her powers and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. 

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where strange creatures prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to come to terms with the strength of her magic – and her growing feelings for an enemy.

I don’t often review young adult or fantasy novels on this blog, but sometimes a book comes along with such a buzz that it can’t be ignored. Children of Blood and Bone is one such book and, given the events that have occurred over the past few months, there has never been a better or more important time to read it.

Children of Blood and Bone is a young adult fantasy novel, the likes of which you won’t have read before. Quite a startling and ambitious novel in terms of breadth, scope, world-building and social commentary, it is a book that impresses  and informs on so many levels. Adeyemi has taken traditions from West African folklore and woven them into a fantasy world that is beautiful, detailed and all-enveloping, under-scored with a palpable anger that the author freely admits is what powered her desire to write the book.

The novel is set in the imaginary world of Orisha, which has its foundations clearly in Nigeria, where the maji people once possessed powerful magic, until that was taken from them and their leaders were brutally slaughtered by the king, the remnants of the race now living under oppression in a land where the colour of your skin determines your social standing. The story is told from the perspectives of three protagonists; Zelie, the daughter of a powerful maji leader who finds a way to tap into the remnants of her magic and the opportunity to bring it back to all he maji in the land; Amari, the daughter of the brutal king who has suffered her own form of oppression; and Inan, the son and heir of the kind who pursues Zelie in an attempt to apprehend her, whilst hiding his own dark secret. Each of these voices is clear and well-developed, and brings a different perspective to the story that helps the reader understand this world, its tensions and difficulties from all angles. It is a masterful technique.

The world that the author has built here is beautiful and evocative and detailed and fascinating, but also with recognisable parallels to our society and the fundamental inequalities that exist in it and have so recently resulted in uprising. Adeyemi explores all aspects of oppression and inequality through the story of Orisha, including addressing some of the misconceptions that arise on all sides and, interestingly, how inequalities of race, power, economic standing and gender intersect. Whilst this book is sold as a young adult fantasy novel, the book has so much to say to people of all ages and interests, I would urge anyone to read it, even if you think this genre is not usually for you. In addition to the social messaging, the book also involves a tender, enemies to lovers romance, which is developed beautifully and convincingly, in a way that enhances, rather than detracts from, the quest storyline.

The novel garnered a six-figure advance and has already been placed in production as a movie. It is the first book in a planned trilogy, with book two already in print, and which I cannot wait to read. I can completely understand why the book has merited all of this buzz, it is totally deserved. It is impressive, pacy and entertaining, but at the same time goes much deeper and rewards the reader with a complex reading experience. For anyone looking for a fiction book that explores the issues raised by the BLM movement, you can do no better than this.

The book is long, but does not lack in action at any point. I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator was absolutely wonderful, she really brought each of the voices to life in an authentic way and I can highly recommend the audio version as a great value for money use of an Audible credit.

Children of Blood and Bone is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here. The sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance is also available now in all formats.

About the Author

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Tomi Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American writer and creative writing coach based in San Diego, California. After graduating Harvard University with an honours degree in English literature, she studied West African mythology and culture in Salvador, Brazil. When not writing novels or watching Scandal, Tomi teaches and blogs about creative writing on her website, named one of the 101 best websites for writers by Writer’s Digest. Children of Blood and Bone is her debut novel.

Connect with Tomi:

Website: https://www.tomiadeyemi.com

Facebook: Tomi Adeyemi

Twitter: @tomi_adeyemi

Instagram: @tomiadeyemi