Reading Rec: Blanca & Roja

Since June is LGBT+ Pride Month, I decided that I would read and review books written by and about LGBT+ people. I finished several books over the past week while the house was being torn apart (and still is), so expect a few more reviews to come your way this week.

Today’s review is of Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore, which won’t be out until October. I received this book as an ARC at Bookcon (you can read more about Bookcon on my Patreon), but I couldn’t help but read it as soon as I got home.

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Blanca & Roja follows the tale of two sisters at the mercy of a family legacy where one of each pair of del Cisnes girls are taken by the swans. Blanca is fair and sweet while Roja is headstrong with hair so red it’s nearly black. Blanca and Roja do their best to trick the swans into giving them more time by trying to act the same to make it harder for the swans to pick which sister to take. Intertwined with their story is the tale of two friends who give themselves to the forest to escape their lives. Blanca & Roja is a riff on Swan Lake as well as Snow White & Rose Red.

What I loved about Blanca & Roja was how the story was aware that they were repeating history through the archetypal tales mentioned above. The fact that the characters are aware makes the story a little more interesting than most retellings. The style of the story is less fantasy and more magical realism. I feel the need to point this out because it begins more like a fairy tale and then suddenly there are cars and school. My rule of thumb for magical realism is to just roll with the weirdness. Swans steal girls in this world and turn them into swans. Take that as fact and move on. Stylistically, McLemore’s work is similar to Louise Erdrich and Maggie Stiefvater but with a queer, Latinx flare.

Her characters are archetypal yet realistic, and her worlds are full of lush texture and greenery. McLemore is a master of magical realism, making it easy to suspend disbelief long enough to sink into the world of her characters. Within that world, the characters are diverse and complex. Being a self-described queer Latinx, she makes certain to include characters of varying sexual and gender identity. These identities flow seamlessly into the work and are taken in stride by the characters without making a big to-do about it.

My only issue with Blanca & Roja has more to do with the back blurb’s representation of the characters versus how they are in the story. The blurb feels too simplistic and polarizing and does a disservice to the characters, especially Roja.

If you’re looking for a rich magical world hidden within our own with characters who are diverse and complex, you should pre-order Blanca & Roja before it comes out October 9th.

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Reading Rec: My Solo Diary Exchange Vol. 1

Since June is LGBT+ Pride Month, I decided that I would review books by and about LGBT+ people. Today’s recommendation will be another graphic novel, but unlike The Prince and the Dressmaker, My Solo Diary Exchange Vol. 1 by Nagata Kabi is autobiographical.

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If you follow me on Goodreads, you may have seen my review on the preceding volume, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness. My Solo Diary Exchange picks up pretty much where that book left off. We find Nagata Kabi struggling to become a functional adult– at least to society’s standards. Despite the seemingly sexual/sensual nature of the cover, this volume focuses less on the queer aspect of her life and more with the vulnerabilities and trials she faces in owning her mistakes and growing from them.

What I love about Nagata Kabi’s work is how she never shies away from painful or messy topics. Numerous shades of depression and anxiety are explored in her work, and we get to see the progress she has made since her first book. Unlike many other mental illness-focused autobiographies, we aren’t presented with a nice tidy life by the end of the book. Nagata Kabi draws herself as disheveled, tired, depressed, and frankly, a hot mess. She is unforgiving in her characterization. That styles carries through into her art style, which mimics the mental chaos with fast, scratchy strokes that obscure her sparse forms. Counterbalancing the darkness are flashes of pink, which lighten the tone and remind the reader that she is a woman and this work centers around a woman who loves women.

Her work is poignant and incredibly relatable (especially to many Millenials, myself included) as she struggles to assert her independence from her parents while working through something akin to separation anxiety, depression, and coming to terms with the fact that love isn’t always unconditional or reciprocated.

If this review piqued your interest, grab a copy on Amazon.

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Reading Rec: The Prince and the Dressmaker

It’s June, which means it’s LGBT+ Pride Month. I decided that my June reviews will focus on LGBT+ fiction I’ve read lately. This really isn’t a stretch for me since 75% of what I read has queer characters and was probably written by a queer author.

My first recommendation is a wonderful graphic novel I picked up at Bookcon last Sunday called The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang.

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The story centers around Frances, a young dressmaker hoping to one day become an independent designer, and Sebastian, the prince of Belgium who is harboring a secret: he likes to wear dresses. After Frances creates a daring ensemble for a noblewoman’s daughter (much to the chagrin of society), Sebastian sends his valet to hire Frances to be his personal designer. Unfortunately, Sebastian isn’t quite out about his penchant for dresses because he fears his family (and his country’s) disapproval. Instead, he dons his new wardrobe and goes out on the town as Lady Crystallia, who soon turns into a fashion icon.

This book is absolutely adorable. Frances and Sebastian are warm and sweet and fragile. They remind the reader of that time when many of us weren’t sure where we fit into the grand spectrum of life and gender/sexuality. It’s written in such a way that the story and themes are easy enough for middle grade readers to understand without being patronizing or dull for adult readers. Honestly, I gobbled this book up in about two hours and couldn’t put it down even though I should have turned in for the night. This was due to the sensitivity with which this story was written while at the same time crushing the characters with doses of reality.

What really sells the book though is the artwork. Every page is beautifully rendered in detail and full color. The clothing is lush and textured and the backdrops scream of a Moulin Rouge era Paris. The art style is somewhat akin to what’s seen on Steven Universe but more realistic. The story itself is purposely anachronistic yet retains the historical charms of the early twentieth century.

If you like the daring costumes of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Lady Gaga, queer historical-fantasy, and beautifully rendered graphic novels, then The Prince and the Dressmaker is for you.

Grab a copy on Amazon on your way out.

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Patrons of the Arts

You may have noticed a new button on the right sidebar of my website that looks a bit like this:

patreon

I have decided (after much deliberation) to make a Patreon and actually use it. I made a Patreon account several months ago but didn’t do anything with it. Last week, I decided to bite the bullet and actually create the account.

“What is Patreon? And how does it work?” you may ask.

Patreon is a website that allows you to help crowd-fund authors and creators by becoming their patrons. Much like how the Medici family was the patron for numerous Renaissance artists,  you can be a patron for writers, artists, and creators you love. In return, you get exclusive content and perks for supporting them.

You find an artist whose work you enjoy and pick a tier of support. Each month, you give the artist that amount (like a small stipend), and in return, you get rewards. I decided to make reward tiers at $1, $5, $7, $10, and $20 per month. Each tier is Victorian themed.

  • Pennylicks- $1 per month. You receive Patreon exclusive blogs, recordings, and various other posts.
  • Gentlefolk- $5 per month. You will receive all of the above along with some delectable bits from my current projects, including snippets, sneak peeks, and blurbs ahead of everyone else.
  • Natural Philosophers- $7 per month. In addition to everything from the previous tiers, you will receive a short essay each month on a historical or scientific topic I have delved into during my current project. This can range from the plague to Victorian footwear. You never know what you’re going to get.
  • Well-to-do Relations- $10 per month. In addition to all previous rewards, you will receive MOBI (Kindle) or PDF versions of every short story, novella, and novel that I publish. The best part is that you will receive them a few weeks before their official release date.
  • The Gentry- $20 per month. Besides receiving all the previous rewards, you will also receive a signed paperback copy of every novel I publish. These will be sent as soon as I am able to gather copies, and I will open this to international shipping as well (as long as you can receive packages from the US).

I hope to be able to add more goodies down the line, but for now, I’m hoping to fund my writing enough to not have to take editing jobs or random side-gigs in order to make ends meet. Instead, I can focus on writing faster and publishing more often. Also, everyone who is a patron will receive a thank you at the end of my forthcoming works.

For most of us, writing is not our full-time job, and for some of us, writing is one job of many. Over time, art has become devalued and seen as something that should be given away (if you don’t believe me, check out Maggie Stiefvater’s post about her books and the effects of piracy). Artists and creators are now moving back to a system that puts a monetary value on their work, and I think that is incredibly important. The work of a creator should be just as important as a STEM career. You wouldn’t ask a scientist or businessman to work for free, so why should a writer or graphic artist?

I will still be posting occasional updates about my writing on my blog and social media, but I will be moving the majority of my previews and book extras to my Patreon. If you would like to contribute to funding my art, please join me on Patreon. Posts will be added regularly, and if I’m able to hit a substantial number, I will up my rewards and the amount of content I post there.

My future goals regarding Patreon are to a) write and publish more b) create a podcast/recordings c) write a Patreon exclusive serial story (to be published to the general public after my patrons have receive it in its entirety).

But to do those things, I need your support. If you would like to contribute and become a patron, click on the icon below. I look forward to seeing you there.

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Indie Author Appreciation: Part Deux!

If you’re looking for some summer readers, here are some indie suggestions (including my own books).

Mythos

Hello again, everyone!

(I know, I know—I said I’d post next week, but given I put it together faster than anticipated, I figured, “Why wait?”).

As promised, I’ve put together Part Two of my Indie Author Appreciation blog entry, with another five indie authors to spotlight. So, let’s get to this, shall we?
As you may recall from my last entry, the purpose behind this is to show support for some of those lesser-known talents in the indie publishing industry. Authors that I feel are too incredible—each in their own ways—to not be given the attention they deserve. Writers that have put in the time and effort to create stories that tickle our funny bones or warm our hearts; writers that open our eyes to new perspectives, or grant us comfort through characters we can relate with; writers, in short, who have put their blood, sweat, tears, and precious time…

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Reading Rec: The Henchmen of Zenda

FYI: I received an ARC of The Henchmen of Zenda by K. J. Charles in exchange for an honest review.

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I absolutely loved The Henchmen of Zenda by K. J. Charles. If you’re into 1940s swashbuckling films or Victorian pulp fiction, this is for you.

If the title sounds familiar, you may have heard of Anthony Hope’s Victorian novel The Prisoner of Zenda. K. J. Charles originally wrote this story as part of Riptide’s Classics Queered series before Riptide’s ugly racist/prejudiced underbelly was revealed. Now, it is being independently published.

Before I talk more about the story, I need to say that I have never read The Prisoner of Zenda, and I purpose didn’t read it before reading The Henchmen of Zenda. I wanted the book to stand on its own without having my opinion (or mind) polluted by the original. It isn’t necessary to read Hope’s novel in order to understand the story line as Charles masterfully fills in any gaps while poking fun at the original narrator.

What I loved about The Henchmen of Zenda was our narrator, Jasper Detchard, swordsman for hire, Englishman, and a minor villain in the original tale. He tells the tale of how he ends up being roped into Michael’s (the Duke and brother of the legitimate heir) service and became entangled in a power struggle between Michael, Randolph, and Flavia (the princess and cousin of the two brothers). Detchard is utterly unflappable, in control, and sardonic. He’s basically Basil Rathbone in every swashbuckling movie he ever filmed, and he adds a grounding force when set against his foil, Rupert Hentzau.

Ah, Rupert. A young noble looking for adventure, a rogue with a good heart (who would most certainly be played by Errol Flynn), and a thorn in Detchard’s side who eventually grows on him to become something more. Their chemistry grows from sword fighting to sword fighting (*eyebrow waggle*). He’s witty, lively, and more complex than he is given credit for. Together with their ally, Toni (a courtesan turned mistress turned spy turned bad ass), they manage to turn the tides of battle and have a happier ending than would have been possible in a Victorian pulp tale.

The best part of The Henchmen of Zenda is how K. J. Charles was able to turn the original story on its head by turning heroes into villains, villains into heroes, weak women into the power behind the thrown, and yet, it all makes sense! I give her kudos for her ability to engineer a completely new (and better) version of a century old tale. Her take adds a new level of complexity to a pretty problematic story (by modern standards) and giving it a queer and feminist spin.

The Henchmen of Zenda will be out May 15th, so if this review piqued your interest, you can grab a copy here.

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Shifting Focus

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You may have noticed that recently I have written more about reading or the book community rather than writing, and while that wasn’t on purpose, I have found that I have had an easier time writing those blog posts and enjoyed doing so. Because of that, I have decided that the focus of this blog will shift more to reading than writing. Obviously, there will still be posts about my books (it is my author website and I do have to do promo) and the occasional post where I talk about anxiety or whatever is on my mind. What I won’t be doing more than likely is discussing how one should write, writing techniques, or writing in certain genres.

That might seem odd considering I’m a writer and an adjunct professor who mainly teaches writing classes (academic and creative). But I think that is part of the reason why. I spend my days teaching my students how to write more effectively, so when I come home and settled down at my keyboard, I don’t want to talk about writing techniques. What I found each time I set out to write about writing was that I felt someone else could have written the post.

It’s strange. In my classroom, working one on one with my students during workshop, I feel like we can work out nearly any issue and figure out how to make a scene better. I can teach them techniques, speak for two hours on fight scenes and blood loss and how to create emotional impact, but online the things I love talking about in the classroom lose their appeal. Perhaps it’s because I can’t speak to you or ask you probing questions and actually receive answers. Or maybe it’s because I can’t pack these posts full of visuals like I do with my lessons or because a two hour lecture would be torturous to read online and brevity has never been my strong suit.

As a writer, I felt pressured to write about writing, and I ended up walking away from my blog for a while except to post book promo and the occasional Kara-is-having-a-meltdown-and-hates-feeling-human post. Then, I wrote a few posts about reading and the words seemed to flow more freely than they had in months. It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. Reading is one of my favorite activities, and in real life, I don’t have a consistent outlet for discussing what I read. It makes sense that my blog could serve as that outlet, especially since people who read might read my books and vice versa.

So in the future, expect to see more posts about reading, books of nearly every genre, perhaps something about whatever drama is rocking the publishing industry (like the shit show that just went down at Riptide), and a monthly wrap-up of what I’ve read each month. I don’t like to write reviews as I hate the trend of panning books for attention, so instead, these posts will act as recommendations or commentaries rather than good/bad reviews.

In the future, I might compose more posts about writing now that I’m giving myself the space to not write about it. I hope that makes sense.

So for now, I will follow my fancy and write about reading.

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Mindful Book Consumption

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I am continually fascinating by the way ancient or no longer spoken languages affect modern English. If you follow me on social media, you know how much I love to pick apart Chaucer’s Middle English for words we no longer use, like grutch (which really needs to come back because I, for one, grutch on a regular basis) or talk about how there was no word for the color orange, so Chaucer used yellow-red to describe foxes.

Today, we will be going further back than Chaucer to Old English. I can already hear my students gasp and say, “You mean Chaucer isn’t Old English.” No! It gets even harder to read. Think Beowulf or runes and you’re close to where I want you to be. In Old English, the word for library is “bochard” or literally “book hoard.” It conjures up images of monasteries with books chained to the shelves because they are so valuable or a dragon sitting atop a pile of books.

If you’re an avid reader, you may feel a little twinge of shame or guilt. Are there piles of books stacked in your room? Do you have a to-be-read list that will take you several decades to get through? Do you take out stacks of books from the library that require a hand-cart to move? Do you buy books faster than you read them? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you may be a book hoarder.

Book hoarders often go hand-in-hand with my previous post about mindless book consumption. In this case, that consumption is usually based around acquiring books, especially more than you can read in a given time frame. If you’re a book hoarder and trying to slow down your buying or at least pair it down to more meaningful purchases, this post will talk about what I did to break the cycle of excessive book buying.

Book buying was a major problem I had during grad school. At the time, I was reading and writing a lot for class and not doing much outside of my schoolwork. I was also stressed out fro my course load and other duties. This led to me buying A LOT of books in a 2.5 year period. Books are fairly inexpensive, especially if you’re willing to buy used books or look for sales, and I was willing to do what I could to score a deal for a book I wanted. Less money spent = less guilt = more books. You can see how this became a problem. When I entered my last semester of grad school, I only had three classes, one of which I completed the work for by the middle of the semester, and I finally had time to read for myself. I looked around my room and panicked. When the hell had I bought so many books?!

To read them all felt like a monumental task, but last year, I decided to start tackling my to-be-read pile in earnest. By the end of 2017, I had read 120 works (including novels, graphic novels, and a few short stories), and I attribute my success in knocking a hunk out of my to-be-read pile to a habit I got into in 2016: using a bullet journal. A bullet journal is basically a DIY planner where you can keep track of your to-do lists and whatever other charts you need. Staring at my massive to-be-read pile, I decided something had to be done, so I created a to-be-read spread in my bullet journal to help keep track of what I had along with what I read and when. You can see my 2018 to-be-read spread below.

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This spread encompasses several pages (5 to be exact with a blank page that isn’t pictured just in case I need more room). What I did was break my book pile into several groups. The first page consists of graphic novel series I’m reading, nonfiction works, and standalones. The last two tend to be smaller categories for me, so it made sense to put them together. The other three pages are series and authors with more than one book that I’m hoping to get to read. I group series together as much as possible. You may have noticed some blank spaces. Those are for books that I’m aware are coming out from an author I like but don’t have a title yet. Not every book in my massive list is actually available or in my collection. Many are coming out next year or are on pre-order, so I include them as a place holder for next year’s journal. Next to certain books, you’ll notice color blocks. Those indicate what month the book was read. Yellow is January, pink if February, and green is March. I fill them in after I finish reading them.

This system helps me stay focused on knocking out what I already have. I like ticking off boxes on my to-do list, and my to-be-read list is like a massive, year-long to-do list. If you’re the kind of person who feels at least some fulfillment from crossing things off a list, then this may work for you. It also acts as an inventory of my library, so I can keep track of what series are on-going versus done and what books I didn’t love and might want to donate later.

As I get new books, I add them to my list to keep it current, but this system alone probably won’t stop you from acquiring new books. I certainly haven’t stopped, but seeing how many I have has helped me to step back and ask some important questions. Do I need it now? Can I wait to buy it? Why do I want it? When will I get to it?

What I’ve also implemented is a self-imposed rule that I can only buy half as many books as I read the previous month. Last year, I told myself as many as I read, which was a mistake because I read twelve in January and there was no way I was giving myself license to buy twelve books. I consider it to be a rolling total of how many books I can buy. This doesn’t include freebies I find online or books borrowed from others.

I know I will never stop buying books, but it’s clear that I had to be more aware of how many of those books I was actually reading. To recap, here are some ways to tackle your to-be-read pile:

  1. Inventory your library to determine what books you have yet to read.
  2. Donate unwanted books or books you didn’t really like (especially ones you know you’ll never go back to) to keep them from piling up.
  3. Make a list of books you have to read and make a point to read from that list rather than just buying new books.
  4. Before you buy a book, ask yourself why you’re buying it. If it’s an impulse buy, you may want to put it back for now (I use the Goodreads phone app to catalog books I might buy in the future or you can just take a picture of it).

I hope these tips help you wrangle your to-be-read pile into shape!

Let me know what you think below or how you keep your to-be-read pile in check.

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Mindless Book Consumption

There is a trend on Goodreads and other sites for book lovers that I’ve noticed lately and bothers me as a reader, an author, and an English professor: mindless book consumption.

What the hell are you talking about? you might ask. To me, mindless book consumption is reading hundreds of books a year (or a month– yeah, I saw someone supposedly read 120 books in February), but the books you’re reading a) aren’t given time to be digested or be enjoyed b) chosen for the most part just because they’re easily accessible c) many of those books are not actually finished but are considered “read” and rated on sites like Goodreads.

I have LOTS of problems with this gluttonous treatment of reading material. First off, let me say that I am all for reading tons of books. Last year, I read 120 books, and I totally get how people can read 300 books in year. I wish I could read that fast, but I know, I’m a comparatively slow reader. If you’re a voracious reader who likes romances, I can understand how someone could consume that many books in a year. Many romances are short and fairly straightforward, so if you enjoy them, it’s easy to burn through book after book in a genre you like.

On the other hand, what I’ve witnessed on Goodreads is very different. Goodreads attracts a lot of reviewers or those who are famous on Booktube or Bookstagram, and often that fame is tied to how many books they read in a year. If you’re a reviewer, the more books you read, the more posts you have, the more people read your posts, and the more followers you have. It makes sense from a marketing standpoint, but what has happened on this site is the idolization of gluttonous readers, especially those who pan books. I would like to challenge this ideal because what I’ve seen has been nothing more than binging books with little regard for enjoyment or synthesis of the products consumed.

My concern is the mentality of quantity over quality in the book community. What is the point of reading 300 books if you can’t discern one book from another or you DNF (did not finish) more books than you finished? DNF-ing in and of itself is problematic in the context of the mindless consumption mentality because many readers count them as “read” on Goodreads and rate them despite not reading the entirety of the work. From an author’s standpoint, I wouldn’t want someone to read half of my book and pass judgment without receiving the complete picture, especially if a perceived flaw in the narrative turns out to later play a part in the plot. As a reader, there are plenty of books I didn’t love at page thirty that I adored by the end. Perhaps my stick-to-it-ness comes from being an English major and being forced early on to read outside my comfort zone. By being made to read books I didn’t think I’d like, I ended up branching out to new genres, and I know that if I had given up on Jane Eyre or The Canterbury Tales early on, I would have missed out on stories I now love.

Besides missing out on some great books by DNF-ing, there is the matter of ethics. Is it ethical to mark a book you didn’t read in its entirety as “read”? Even worse in my mind, is it ethical to rate a book you didn’t finish?

The former issue is at the heart of the problem. It’s very easy to inflate the amount of books you’ve read if you didn’t actually read the entirety of the book. Of course, people stopping by your profile on Goodreads wouldn’t know that unless they looked more closely at your reviews and reading history. Others see the inflated number, they feel the need to compete with it, and they might attempt to fudge their numbers and perpetuate the cycle.

The greater problem is how society seems to adore cynical, jaded reviewers. This is a centuries old issue that spans every artistic medium imaginable, but with the internet and social media, you no longer have to be a reviewer for the New York Times to disseminate your views to a large audience. Unfortunately, good reviews garner little attention. Bad reviews, especially those of popular media, stick out. It’s one thing to genuinely not enjoy a work, but in a time where social media users regularly try to gain likes and followers, I have to wonder if some people are more likely to read in order to find fault with a book rather than read to enjoy it. If you combine the fact that people feel special when they go against the grain with the need to meet a very high reading quota, you end up with reviewers on Goodreads and Amazon who specialize in panning and DNF-ing books, which of course they stopped reading because they didn’t enjoy them and then rate them poorly.

The question is, how do we combat this and should we combat it? Of course it is within your right to not finish any book you start and then rate them, but you don’t have to read those reviews or follow accounts that exhibit suspect behavior. Much like avoiding brands that have questionable policies or practices, we can abstain from giving those bloggers attention whether it’s liking their posts, following their accounts, or leaving disparaging comments.

Conversely, if you’re a reader, perhaps seeing this behavior will make you more mindful of how you consume books. Being mindful has become a buzzword lately, but when it comes to consumption, I think it’s necessary to reflect on why you do what you do. If you’re reading to fill a vacuum or to meet a numerical goal, it may be worth wondering why you feel the need to do so. Are you reading because you want to be entertained or learn something or is it because you are in competition with someone or to live up to a perceived standard?


Stay tuned for another post about mindfulness and reading soon.

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Cover Reveal: The Wolf Witch (IMD #6)

Can I get a drum roll, please? May I present the cover of book six of the Ingenious Mechanical Devices, The Wolf Witch.

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After three months abroad, Emmeline Jardine has returned to England ready to start her life anew as a free woman. That is, until a suitor from her mother’s past arrives looking for her help, but the gentleman is more than he seems. He’s Emmeline’s father.

There’s one person Emmeline can turn to: Nadir Talbot. A writer, unrepentant decadent, and all around busybody, Nadir is everything Emmeline has been taught to avoid. But when she needs to escape her family’s past, she convinces Nadir to follow her to an estate deep in the wild of the woods.

When guests go missing and turn up savagely murdered, Emmeline, her new found family, and Nadir must join forces to stop an awakening evil with not only the power to destroy their lives but bring the empire to its knees.

I can’t wait to share this book with you. Emmeline is a… unique individual, and in The Wolf Witch, we come to know a different side of her as she discovers has family’s past and moved toward finding who she is. The question is how does Nadir Talbot factor into this? Why are they on their way to an estate in the woods? What does Emmeline’s father want? And of course, who is he?

The current estimate for The Wolf Witch’s release date is May if all goes well. I will keep you updated, and stay tuned for more tidbits and teasers in the coming months.

If you would like to add The Wolf Witch to your Goodreads to-read list, you can find it here.

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