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Sunday, January 31, 2021

Young Adult Author Rose Szabo: WIP it Real Good + giveaway

These are the opening lines from The God of Love, a book that probably won’t be out for a long time, since I owe my publisher a dark contemporary fantasy duology first. But this is what I’m scribbling on in my free time. It’s about a young trans person who disguises himself as his brother after his brother’s death, to protect the family name and lineage. This is working fine enough until he has to travel to the nearby expansionist empire on a diplomatic mission. There, he meets the beautiful second son of the emperor and his dashing fiancee, gets given a magical sword and an ambiguous mission, and learns that he is one-third god on his mother’s side. It’s complicated.

“Let me tell you the story of Adan Hafvel, called by his most tasteless and ugly detractors the Girl Prince, the Mad Prince, and names repugnant enough that I will not say them. To me, he was not mad. Those who actually knew him saw a steady and practical man, not at all unreasonable. If he was mad, it was only in that he was braver than most men, quick to action. If he was mad, it was only in that he was better than most men, more generous of spirit.

He made me swear to him that I would not write of him while he was alive, and of course, now that he is gone I am sad, as of course I must be. But in a way I am not. In a way, I am excited. Because Adan never feared death, and because he said that after he was gone I should tell this story, and it is a task that brings me nothing but joy.

I will keep his early life here in prologue. But what you must know of that is that he was born in the kingdom of Dower in the high mountains. His parents, King Haman and the Queen Consort Lissandra, knowing nothing of the condition of his soul, gave him the traditional Dower name of Agata.”

I came out as nonbinary in about 2013, but my writing has almost always been about young women or feminine people. This is a book that’s exclusively about being transmasculine and gay, set in a fantasy world with lots of political intrigue and romance. It’s the project I’ve come back to over and over during quarantine, because whereas my usual vein is dark and moody, this is a book about falling in love and triumphing over evil.

What Big Teeth
by Rose Szabo
February 2nd 2021
Published by: Farrar Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Genres: Fantasy, Gothic, Young Adult
394 pages
Rose Szabo’s thrilling debut What Big Teeth is a dark, gothic fantasy YA novel about a teen girl who returns home to her strange, wild family after years of estrangement, perfect for fans of Wilder Girls.

Eleanor Zarrin has been estranged from her wild family for years. When she flees boarding school after a horrifying incident, she goes to the only place she thinks is safe: the home she left behind. But when she gets there, she struggles to fit in with her monstrous relatives, who prowl the woods around the family estate and read fortunes in the guts of birds.

Eleanor finds herself desperately trying to hold the family together. In order to save them all Eleanor must learn to embrace her family of monsters and tame the darkness inside her.

Exquisitely terrifying, beautiful, and strange, this fierce paranormal fantasy will sink its teeth into you and never let go.

Eleanor Zarrin has been estranged from her wild family for years. When she flees boarding school after a horrifying incident, she goes to the only place she thinks is safe: the home she left behind. But when she gets there, she struggles to fit in with her monstrous relatives, who prowl the woods around the family estate and read fortunes in the guts of birds.

Eleanor finds herself desperately trying to hold the family together—in order to save them all, Eleanor must learn to embrace her family of monsters and tame the darkness inside her.

I opened my eyes, and I was on the train.

I was the only passenger left. How long had I been asleep? I looked down to make sure I still had my things: my straw hat, my suitcase stamped with the letter Z. I’d hung on to them this whole way, through sleeping on a bench in Penn Station and sprinting to catch a train in Boston, ever since I’d left Saint Brigid’s School for Young Ladies this time yesterday. Thinking about it, I ran my tongue over my teeth again. No matter how many times I did it, I could still taste copper.

The door at the far end of the car clattered open, and I jumped. Just the conductor, coming down the aisle to check on me. He looked nervously down at me, and I felt guilty, wondering if he could tell I was on the run.

“You the stop in Winterport?” he said. I nodded. His eyes had wandered down to my suitcase.

“You got people there?” he asked. “I’m kin of the Hannafins, myself.”

People up here were like this, I remembered suddenly. Always wanting to know about your family. “The Zarrins,” I offered.

He twitched like a rabbit before settling himself back down. “I thought you might be,” he said. “They don’t leave Winterport much, do they?”

“I did,” I said. “I haven’t been back in eight years.”

Once I said it I froze, terrified he’d ask me why I was coming back now. I rummaged frantically in my mind for a convincing lie. But he just smiled at me tightly and touched his hat.

“We’ll just be slowing down, not a full stop,” he said. “Don’t worry, people do it all the time. When the whistle blows the first time, get ready.”

He disappeared, and I stared out the window and watched the landscape for a while. It had been almost summer in Maryland, but as we rumbled across the bridge that divides New Hampshire from Maine, I saw a few stubborn patches of snow clinging on beneath the pine trees. I’d been angry when I’d gotten on the train, and that had kept me in motion. But the weather chilled my anger and crystallized it into fear. Maybe there were good reasons I wasn’t supposed to be at home. I had a vague, half-remembered feeling that it wasn’t exactly safe. It all felt faded and vaguely ridiculous. None of it seemed plausible when I held it up to the light. But if it was true, if I was right, then I needed to be home again.

After all, there was no other place for me in the world. Not after what I’d done.

Lucy Spencer flashed in my mind for a moment then. Her red hair coming out of its braid, her face twisted in that expression people make right before they start screaming—

And then the whistle was blowing. Get ready, he’d said. I hefted my suitcase, clapped my hat on my head. Time to go visit my family.

The conductor came back to open the door for me as the train slowed. He couldn’t even look me in the eye. He mumbled something that sounded like “Be careful,” and then we were rumbling slowly past a platform, and I was stepping out into the air.

I felt a jarring, sickening sensation of the world rising up to meet me. I staggered, let go of the suitcase, and hit one knee on the wood of the platform, the train still trundling behind me. I crawled away from it, feeling like I’d been in an accident. It was moving faster than I’d thought, when I was on it.

I told myself not to be weak. I made sure I hadn’t scraped my knee; I didn’t want anyone around here to see my blood. I got to my feet, checked to make sure my suitcase hadn’t popped open in the fall, and took a moment to get my bearings.

The platform was deserted. Beyond it the single cobbled street of the town bent like an elbow out into the ocean, with houses lining the crook. Along the water were docks where fishing boats bobbed up and down at their moorings. The sun was going down behind the tree-covered hills, bathing the town in alternating stripes of red light and shadow. Three young boys knelt in the street, their hand-me-down coats straining threadbare over their backs.

I found myself watching them closely, my eyes locked on them. They were using a stick to try to loosen one of the cobblestones. One of them looked up and saw me, and froze. I watched him reach down as though he thought if he moved slowly enough I wouldn’t see him. His dirty fingers scrabbled at the edges of the stone until he held it in his hand. I saw his fingers clamp shut around it, and I saw the muscles in his shoulder begin to tense. I tensed, too, sinking down lower, ready to duck or run forward. It was like he knew me. Like he knew what I’d done.

“You there!”

An old man hobbled out of a store, waving a walking stick.

The boys scattered, tearing off across the cobbles.

I shuddered like someone being woken up from a dream. The man brandished the stick halfheartedly after the boys, but it seemed like he’d already forgotten them as he turned to look at me up on the platform, shielding his eyes to see me more clearly. I clambered down to meet him. He was bent at the shoulder, his blue eyes cloudy with age, and he wore a clerical collar.

“Ah, young Eleanor,” he said.

“I… I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t think I know you.”

“Father Thomas,” he said. “Your grandmother didn’t want to introduce you to me until you were older.” He had the same sharp, staccato accent as the man on the train. “But I know about all of you.” He winked. I blushed, not quite knowing why, wondering what it was exactly that he knew.

“Well, thank you for… chasing them off.”

“My job. Pastor of Saint Anthony in Winterport. Here to help the lost.” He chuckled a little to himself. “Do you need directions up to the house?”

“I think I remember. Who were they?”

“Oh, them? Kids from town,” he said. “They don’t understand that you’re safe enough. I suspect there’s something instinctual that makes ’em want to throw rocks at Zarrins.”

His matter-of-factness chilled me. But I’d known my family was dangerous, so why was I surprised that other people knew it, too?

“I don’t think they’re expecting me,” I said. “Will that be a problem?”

“The Zarrins have never much liked unexpected company,” he said. “But they are expecting you. Your grandma sent Margaret down this morning with a note, asked me to greet you.”

I hadn’t seen that coming.

“I’ll walk you as far as the church,” he said.

He offered to take my suitcase, but I said I’d manage. He hitched along beside me, leaning on his cane. The whole way I thought I spotted people watching us—a twitch of lace curtains at a window, a rustle as though someone had just ducked behind a hedge. It was almost funny. But then when we got to the weathered clapboard church, and he went away up the path and in through the door, nothing about it seemed funny anymore. I was alone.

At the edge of town, the road went nearly straight up a steep incline into a copse of silver birch. The climb was hard; my suitcase banged against my already bruised leg, and I started carrying it in my arms. The wind curled through the trees, blowing through my uniform until I couldn’t stop shivering.

A car crawled along behind me for a while, and then passed me at a crest when the road widened. At school, cars would honk at us as we walked in groups; boys would lean out and ask us if we wanted a ride and the nuns would yell at them to leave us alone. Not here. I wondered if the driver recognized me, or just the direction I was walking.

I came to the place where the road forked. To the right, it became a bridge that spanned a narrow sound and traveled onward up the coast. To the left, a dirt road that darted directly up the steep slope into the deep woods. Trees made a tunnel overhead. It was beautiful up there, in the darkening forest, but I sensed that it was not a place to be caught alone at night. I bent my knees and adjusted my gait to move silently, then crept forward.

Birds sang here, and wild creatures rustled in the bushes. My ears pricked at the small sounds. The geography settled into place around me. To my right down the tree-lined slope: a streambed that carried a torrent of meltwater every spring, eventually pouring off a cliff into the sea. A little to one side of that, there was a line in the woods where it transitioned from birch to aspen. And a little farther up the path, visible in glimpses as I climbed steadily, was the front lawn. I rounded a bend, and the trees fell away, and all that remained was the house.

It loomed over the landscape. Towers and porches and balconies and bay windows. Story after story of decorative gingerbreading, crown molding, sunburst emblems, recessed niches, and high gables, and all of it covered in gray scalloped shingles, like scales, and at the very top of the highest tower, the creaking weathervane in the shape of a running rabbit. It was hard to look at: not all of it fit in my view at once, even after I took a few steps back. I realized that now, it scared me. It was too much. It felt oppressive, a giant squatting at the top of the world.

I stared the house down, willing it to blink its windows first. And then I took a few quick steps across the narrow band of lawn, planted my foot deliberately on the first step, and launched myself up to the door.

It was black. Not painted: black wood, with twisted carvings and a brass horsehead with a ring clenched in its teeth. I lifted the ring and let it fall.

No answer for a long moment. Behind me the wind ran up my spine and made me shiver. I reached for the knob and threw the door open.

A moan filled the air, a window open somewhere that pulled the air from the door through the house, turning the front hall into a throat. As soon as I stepped forward into the house, suction yanked the door shut behind me and the sound of the ocean sloughing against the cliffs on the far side of the house faded to a whisper. Other than that, there was no sound, except for somewhere down the hall, a heavy clock ticking.

I looked around with heart pumping, my hands locked around my suitcase. The entry hall soared two and a half stories, the ceiling lost in darkness somewhere overhead, the rails of the second floor lined with unlit post lamps. The central staircase snaked down in two streams from the upper floors, joining in the middle and unfurling into the front hall, covered in carpet the faded red of a tongue. The walnut wainscoting gleamed, but the baseboards were scratched and scarred, and the wallpaper, printed with scenes of men hunting stags, lay tattered in places. An age-spotted mirror stood propped on a narrow hall table that also held a cut glass dish of desiccated peppermints. The walls were lined with portraits of dim figures, paintings of sprawling landscapes, lovingly rendered still lifes of animal haunches and goblets overflowing with wine. Things I remembered but didn’t recognize, as though I’d seen them in a movie, or a dream.

I felt suddenly dizzy. I wanted to sit down, but what should I sit on—the chair carved in the shape of a grinning devil? A long bench lined with a dozen briefcases with deep gouges in the leather? A pile of twine-tied packages all stamped with fragile and a picture of a skull? Maybe I should just keep moving forward. There were the stairs. Somewhere, two stories up, was my childhood bedroom, and maybe if I could make it in there, shut the door, I would be transformed back into someone who belonged here. But that seemed like a long way to go on legs that were longing to carry me down—to the floor, or ideally back to town, to the train, to safety. But there was no train.

I couldn’t leave now, I told myself. Where would I even go? The front hall was lined with portraits. I got close to them and studied them in turn, trying to see who I could remember. The largest was an oil painting of a squat, grinning young man with impressive sideburns, holding a team of white horses by their reins while they reared and foamed and rolled their eyes. My grandfather, I thought, but not the doting, laughing man I remembered—he looked fiendish. Next to him, an array of men who looked like him but with varying expressions: a skittish man in a red sweater who must have been my father. A sleek boy with a jagged smile in the same sweater as my father’s picture, but faded and frayed. And there were women here, too, all with sharp cheekbones, olive skin, dark eyes, nothing like my flat, wide-mouthed face. I scanned the whole room and could not find a single photograph of me.

I closed my eyes and steadied myself on the newel post at the base of the stairs. And then from farther back into the house, I heard a voice call out, “Eleanor! Is that you?”

I’d know that voice anywhere: it was clear and gentle, like the bell on a buoy. It cut through my fear and touched me. Mother. She used to sing to me, when I was little. And she was here.

“Where are you?” I called.

“The back garden, dear.” She sounded happy. “Come through the kitchen, it’s fastest!”

Mother. She had soft hands and she’d let me braid her long hair when I was a child. Suddenly my reservations left me, and all I wanted to do was see her again.

I quickly followed the hallway to the door that led to the kitchen. I was about to be back with my mother, and then everything would be alright. I opened the door, and as it swung open, I realized someone was standing there, waiting for me to open it.

I’d forgotten about Aunt Margaret.

She stared straight at me from under her ragged tangle of hair. She looked like the women in the portraits, but wilder: sallow skin, bags under her eyes, her clothes covered in grease stains. She frowned at me and muttered something I couldn’t make out. She didn’t like to be stared at, I remembered, and she didn’t like to be spoken to. I could work around this. I averted my eyes and held very still. Slowly, she shuffled back a few paces from the door. “Mother?” I called out again, more tentatively.

“Just follow my voice, dear!”

I edged around Margaret. In my childhood memories she was somehow lovable, always humming a tune. She muttered to herself as I skirted around her through the dark kitchen, across its brick floor and past the big stone oven blackened with years of soot, to the old farmhouse-style back door. The top half was already propped open. I slipped out through the bottom half and shut it behind me, penning Margaret in the kitchen.

My eyes had adjusted to the darkness of the house, so I was blinded at first when I stepped out into the sun. Mother gasped, then said, “My little girl!”

As my eyes adjusted, I saw the shapes in the back garden more clearly. A tall, narrow old woman in a faded black dress, a man in a suit, a woman sitting in what looked like a large iron washtub. And behind them, a table set with plates and glassware and trimmed with faded bunting. A party?

“Hullo, Eleanor,” said the man. He was older than in his portrait, but I knew he must be my father. I stepped closer, but he didn’t reach out to hug me, just looked at me curiously for a long while. Finally, I put out a hand, and he shook it dazedly. “Eleanor,” Grandma Persephone said. I was already looking past her, looking for the voice that had called to me earlier. But when I really saw my mother, I gasped.

She was wearing a thin robe, drenched with water. Half of her face was just like mine. I recognized my high forehead, my profile. But as she turned to look at me I saw her other side: an eyeless, earless mass of red polyps that ran all the way down her body until they disappeared into the water of the tub. All of them were straining toward me, as though they could see me, as though they wanted to reach out and grasp me and suck me into the mass. I stumbled back and caught myself on the porch railing. Her one eyebrow shot up, her half of a mouth opening in dismay. I forced myself to smile, but she reached out her good hand and took a damp towel from the edge of the tub and smoothed it protectively over the inhuman side of her face.

I knew I should go and hug her. I knew that I used to. That when I was little, I’d loved her. But now all I could think about was the feeling of those things squirming across my face.

“Hello, Mother,” I said, trying to sound breezy, like the girls at school. But they always said mummy, or mama. I couldn’t imagine what that would sound like in my mouth.

“I told them we should throw you a little party,” Mother said. “It’s been so long.”

“How did you know I was coming?”

“I saw you,” said Grandma Persephone. And when she spoke, I realized that my eye had been avoiding her in the way that it was still avoiding Mother. I forced myself to turn and take in the woman who had sent me away from home all those years ago.

Her hair was milk-white, like mine, and had been since she was young—a family trait. She towered over me, taller than a woman ought to be by her age. Hers was the original face that had spawned all the women in the portraits: her features bonier, crueler, her nose more hooked, her eyes more sunken. I swallowed hard.

“Grandmother,” I said. In my mind it sounded dignified.

But it came out softer than I’d expected. Like a question. “You made it here, I see.”

I wondered if she was angry at me. She’d told me, in letter after letter over the years, to stay put, and I hadn’t. Well, I’d better get this over with. I cleared my throat.

“I need to talk to you,” I said. “Something happened.”

Her eyebrows shot up, and she looked angry for a moment. “Not now.” She glanced out across the fields. “The others are coming. They want to say hello to you.”

As if in answer, from the woods came a long howl. “That will be your grandfather,” she said.

But it wasn’t just him—it was three voices, mingling on the breeze. I was surprised to realize I recognized them. The long vowels of Grandpa Miklos, the sharp yips of Luma, Rhys’s guttural bark. But a part of them felt different now. I used to hear that sound and run to the door. Now I stood frozen in place like a rabbit, my eyes scanning the tree line, dreading what might come out.

“Quite alright?” Grandma Persephone asked. My throat was too dry to speak.

It was spring dusk. They were nothing more than smears of light and shadow among the trees. If they came for my throat there would be no way I could stop them. The sound of their voices made my chest ache with longing, but my legs wanted to run. A dangerous combination, to want something so badly and also be so afraid. I felt that hunger open up inside me again, the same one I’d felt gripping Lucy Spencer by the hair—

I realized I’d shut my eyes, and when I forced them open again, three shapes had broken free of the tree line, ambling along upright, laughing and joking and straightening clothing. One of the shapes, a young man tugging on a red sweater, saw me and started into a run across the lawn. He vaulted the low stone wall, rushed me, grabbed me, and heaved me high into the air. Against my will my body went limp, preparing for death.


He caught me up and held me out to look at me. My feet dangled in empty air. I still couldn’t draw breath.

“Rhys, put her down.” Grandma Persephone’s lips were pursed, but I could see the smile twitching around the edges. She thought this was funny. I couldn’t believe it.

“She likes it,” Rhys said. “Don’t you?” “Please put me down.”

He looked wounded, but he lowered me to the ground. As soon as my feet touched down I backed away. My ribs ached where he’d held me.

“Eleanor,” Grandma Persephone said, “this is your cousin Rhys. A college man, when he bothers to show up to his classes. Popular with the ladies, or so I’ve heard.” Rhys’s chest puffed up. “And clearly, as you can see, a brute with no manners.” She said it affectionately, but I didn’t think it was funny at all.

“She knows me.” He grinned at me. “Don’t you, Ellie?” “Of course.” I tried to infuse my voice with warmth. He felt dangerous.

“I knew it!” He moved forward as though he wanted to scoop me up again, but stopped himself short. “Every time I’m home I ask Where’s Ellie, and Grandma says—”

“She’s been at boarding school,” Grandma Persephone said. “I know that, Grandma. Where’s she been at Christmas?” “Rhys, who’s got the meat?” she asked.


“Why don’t you go help him with that?”

Rhys nodded, then sprinted back toward the other two figures making their way across the lawn. One was an old man who tottered slowly, the other a blond girl who kept pace.

“If he’s my cousin,” I said, “who’s his mother?”

“Margaret. And that’s your sister there, and your Grandpa Miklos,” Grandma Persephone said, behind me. She said it quietly, like a stage manager feeding me my lines.

“I know that,” I said. I watched Rhys catch up to them. He took the sack from the old man, leaped back over the wall, and opened the gate for him. The sack dropped to the ground with a leaden thud. As she stepped through the gate, the girl glanced up, and although I knew it was her, I recognized my sister for the first time. And she was the first thing I saw that didn’t frighten me. She’d grown up, but she still looked like a movie actress, with her wide, bright eyes, cherubic face, and soft hair the color of a star. She ran toward me and wrapped her arms around me, and from her clothes came the familiar smell of pine forest and mail-ordered perfume. Luma. My sister, my best friend. I’d written her probably a hundred letters and she’d never written me back, but now I was here, and she had me.

“Eleanor!” she said into my cheek. I let her hug me, and for a moment, things felt normal. Then she pulled back and grinned cheerily at me with her mouthful of sharp teeth. Strands of bloody flesh still clung between them, and her breath smelled gamey. I kept my smile fixed as she stroked my cheek with a fingernail caked in blood.

“Luma,” I said. “I’ve missed you.” “And you!”

“I have so much to tell you,” I said. “I—”

“Mother,” Luma said, “what’s in your bath? It smells incredible.”


“Heaven.” Luma sat down on the edge of Mother’s tub with a sigh, stroked the water, and splashed some of it across her face. I couldn’t quite believe that after eight years away, she hadn’t even let me finish my sentence.

All around me were little domestic scenes: Luma sitting on the edge of the garden tub, Father listening sheepishly while Rhys talked about the hunting they’d done, Grandma Persephone tapping Grandpa Miklos on the chest with one bony finger. “You forgot your cane,” she said.

“I don’t need it on four legs.” “You need it coming back.”

“Ehhhh…” He waved a hand. “I don’t like it. It makes me feel old.”

“You are old.”

He slung an arm around her shoulders, and she bent her knees to take his weight. As she moved to his side I got a look at his face. It was the face I remembered most vividly from childhood: those kind, dark eyes, those soft lines in his skin, his bushy eyebrows, his broad nose. But I didn’t feel the way I used to when I looked at him. I was afraid.

“Miklos,” Grandma Persephone said. “Don’t you want to say hello to Eleanor? She’s home.”

He grinned as he turned toward me. But then he sniffed the air, his grin faded, and his head snapped up to lock onto his target. His eyes focused on mine, and as they did, his shoulders dropped down, relaxing but also… preparing.

I felt suddenly cold. Grandpa wasn’t like Rhys or Luma or Father. He was older and came from somewhere less civilized. He wasn’t seeing Eleanor, his granddaughter. He was seeing a young woman named Eleanor who had suddenly found herself at an isolated manor house. Someone no one would miss if she disappeared on a spring evening.

He took a step toward me. I took half a step back, praying my foot wouldn’t catch on a stone, praying I wouldn’t falter or fall.

Grandma Persephone saw it, too. She snapped her fingers under his nose. “Miklos. Miklos!”

He shook his head and looked a little dreamy.

“It is good to see you, my… darling,” he said. “It has been too long.”

I nodded, waiting for my heart to stop racing.

Grandma Persephone had him by one arm. I could see her fingernails digging into his jacket. “Let’s toast,” she said.

They all turned toward the table and took up flutes of champagne. Someone put one into my hand.

“To our Eleanor,” Grandma Persephone said, and they clinked glasses and drank. I sipped.

I’d pictured a time like this every night for years, until the image got threadbare and worn. My family, welcoming me back, thrilled to see me, as though I had never left. And now that I had it, it was wrong. Or I was wrong.

The rest of them quickly fell to chatting, and I let myself sidle out of the way. At school, the easiest way to get out of things was just to stop existing. I watched them for a while, and then Grandma Persephone detached herself and drifted back to stand near me.

“You’ll want to apologize to your mother once you’ve settled in,” she said. “You were a little rude, but I’m sure she’ll understand that you’re just nervous. Which, by the way, is not something you should show your grandfather, either. If something runs, he has to chase.”

“I wouldn’t have been afraid if you hadn’t sent me away.”

It was out of my mouth before I could stop it, and after I said it, I glowed hot with indignation. She studied me, and I studied her back, looking all over her face for any trace of remorse for what she’d done to me, for sending me away, for letting me be afraid. Nothing. I realized she was curious about me, that she might have known I’d come back, but now that I was here, she didn’t know exactly what I’d do next.

“I felt like that, once,” she said at last. “I’m sorry?”

“After my son died,” she said. “The first Rhys. I looked at your grandfather, and I forgot everything that made him my family. I just saw a monster.”

I looked around at the gathering. How could she see anything else?

“Give yourself time,” she said, “to let your eyes adjust.”

I glanced around at my family. They’d clumped together, laughing, drinking champagne. Aside from a few glances at me, they looked like they’d already forgotten I was here, that I was the reason for the party. Evening fell across the lawn as my sister still perched on the edge of the tub. Her long, sharp teeth, the ones that couldn’t retract like everyone else’s, glinted in the light of the rising moon. Father and Grandpa Miklos were looking conspiratorially at the bag on the ground.

“What’s for dinner?” Father asked Rhys. “Show me what you caught.”

Rhys grabbed the sack and pulled out a brace of young rabbits by the ears. Their bodies swung limply from their broken necks. Their white throats were pink with blood.

Maybe my eyes were adjusting, I thought, since everything seemed to be getting darker around me. And then I fainted.

Excerpted from What Big Teeth, copyright © 2020 by Rose Szabo.

About the Author:
Rose Szabo is a nonbinary writer from Richmond, VA, where they live with an assortment of people and animals and teach writing at VCU. They have an MA in English from the University of Maine and an MFA in creative writing from VCU. Their work has been published in See the Elephant and Quaint magazines. What Big Teeth is their first novel.

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Book Review: The Bright and Breaking Sea (Captain Kit Brightling #1) by Chloe Neill

The Bright and Breaking Sea (Captain Kit Brightling #1)
by Chloe Neill
November 17, 2020
Publisher: Berkley
377 pages
Genre: historical fantasy, Greek & Roman myths
Chloe Neill brings her trademark wit and wild sense of adventure to a stunning seafaring fantasy starring a dauntless heroine in a world of magic and treachery.

Kit Brightling, rescued as a foundling and raised in a home for talented girls, has worked hard to rise through the ranks of the Isles’ Crown Command and become one of the few female captains in Queen Charlotte's fleet. Her ship is small, but she's fast—in part because of Kit’s magical affinity to the sea. But the waters become perilous when the queen sends Kit on a special mission with a partner she never asked for.

Rian Grant, Viscount Queenscliffe, may be a veteran of the Continental war, but Kit doesn’t know him or his motives—and she’s dealt with one too many members of the Beau Monde. But Kit has her orders, and the queen has commanded they journey to a dangerous pirate quay and rescue a spy who's been gathering intelligence on the exiled emperor of Gallia.

Kit can lead her ship and clever crew on her own, but with the fate of queen and country at stake, Kit and Rian must learn to trust each other, or else the Isles will fall....

Listen to Chloe read chapter 1: LINK

Captain Kit Brightling has been forging a promising career as a member of the Isles’ Crown Command. Her supernatural command of the sea, combined with undaunting determination, has made her a rising young star in the field. She’s young, energetic, and determined to prove her worth in the male-dominated sphere. Nothing has come easily to Kit, raised as an orphan by her adventurous benefactor Hetta and Kit’s resentment of the “Beau Monde”, the realm’s privileged class is clear: “its members born into extraordinary wealth and primarily concerned, at least in Kit’s experience, with their own comfort and ease.” When Queen Charlotte commands Kit to team with Colonel Rian Grant, Viscount Queenscliffe, a member of the Beau Monde, resentment simmers.

The Bright and Breaking Sea is a wholly entertaining fantasy adventure, marking the start of a very special series. Kit and Rian make a remarkable team evolving from frosty colleagues to reluctant partners, to something more. Neill builds a rich fantasy realm while commenting on contemporary concerns such as gender and class equality. Her characters are rich and varied. The action, adventure, and slow-burn romance are set against building political tension sure to propel the action of this series for installments to come.

Kit is a fresh, forthright female main determined to maintain her independence: “I’ve a negative view of the requirements that women play at being helpless to attract a wealthy man, and exchange meaningful activity to become accessories, like a soft ug or charming vase once married.” She is eventually forced to confront her own judgements against Grant and his birthright when he proves to be as focussed and determined as she.

I had a legitimate book hangover after concluding The Bright and Breaking Sea. I anxiously anticipate future installments. Fans of fantasy adventure will appreciate this thoughtful, entertaining read. I look forward to the unfolding of political espionage of the Isles and beyond. I am hopeful the other girls of Brightling house, as well as their intriguing sponsor Hetta, will feature in coming installments.

Five Sheep

Bianca Greenwood

Photo by Dana Damewood.
About the Author:
Chloe Neill is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Captain Kit Brightling, Heirs of Chicagoland, Chicagoland Vampires, Devil’s Isle, and Dark Elite novels. She was born and raised in the South, but now makes her home in the Midwest, where she lives with her gamer husband and their bosses/dogs, Baxter and Scout.  Chloe is a voracious reader and obsessive Maker of Things; the crafting rotation currently involves baking and quilting. She believes she is exceedingly witty; her husband has been known to disagree.  

Chloe is represented by Lucienne Diver of The Knight Agency and is a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

TV Show Review: Alice in Borderland (Netflix)

Alice in Borderland: Season 1 (2020)
Dec 10, 2020
Exec. Producer: Kaata Sakamoto
Written by Yoshiki Watabe, Yasuko Kuramitsu, Shinsuke Sato
Starring: Kento Yamazaki, Tao Tsuchiya, Nijiro Murakami
Genre: Mystery & Suspense
Network: Netflix
No. of seasons 1
No. of episodes 8
Rating: TV-MA
Based on The original graphic novel "Alice in Borderland"
by Haro Aso published by Shogakukan Inc.
An aimless gamer and his two friends find themselves in a parallel Tokyo, where they're forced to compete in a series of sadistic games to survive.

It’s been a bit of time, eh? Like everyone else, I’ve been dealing with the world, and that’s led me to some interesting finds in an attempt to not overthink about absolutely everything. Somehow, this led me to Alice in Borderland on Netflix.

Yeah, I know. The fact that I’m escaping from reality with a series about death games probably says something about me. It’s a deceptively simple premise that spirals into crazytown and keeps spiraling the further you go. Arisu, an aimless gamer (likely modeled after the NEET caricature), and his two friends, Chota and Karube, hang out in the first episode as their own lives are falling apart. After accidentally causing a ruckus in the middle of the street, they hide from the police in a public restroom. After a power outage, they leave and find that all of Tokyo is now deserted. After some brief theorizing about what’s going on, they find out that they, along with the few others who are there, have to play games of survival to extend their ‘visas’ for sets amount of time. If their visa runs out, they die. Death plays a big part of the games, which are divided into categories and difficulty via playing cards: clubs are team, spades are physical, diamonds are intelligence, hearts are feelings/betrayal.

Overall, this plays out like a longer, more nuanced Battle Royale. The violence is there, mostly in the form of shootings and explosions (people wear collars for different roles, and if you don’t win the game, the explosives are activated). Lasers at the border areas or edges of the games take people down if they try to escape, have their visas expire, or give away sensitive information. Whereas Battle Royale kind of felt a little bit more violence for violence’s sake, eight episodes means we have time to explore some of the characters and delve more into the inner workings of this world, even if we’re still kept mostly in the dark. The last episode really leans into where things might go. There’s a nice reveal about who might actually be putting this together – which ends up being another pivot again.

The good: I’m honestly really impressed with this. I haven’t read the manga, but I honestly don’t feel the need to after seeing this. It comes across as a good, distilled version of the story. The pacing is really strong, so things are continuously moving along. New characters are presented strongly, and you’re always kept wondering about what’s actually going on. A little bit more is exposed with each episode, and just when you think you have a firm idea of things, they shift. The concept of The Beach is a great pivot after a few episodes that focus on the games and give you a chance to really look at the types of dynamics that happen between everyone left in this world. The characters are pretty likable (yeah, have fun getting attached to people). While Arisu is definitely the lead, they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. They aren’t necessarily presented as better than anyone else. Different people have their moments because the games are always different. I also really like Usagi – she’s an interesting character presented as someone willing to do anything to survive but isn’t ruthless like others are. She’s also got skills as a mountain climber, which blend well into her having an edge on the physical games vs. Arisu having more of an edge on things that involve puzzles or problem-solving. Empathy is also presented as unique and important, which is a fascinating counterbalance to how dark this thing gets. It uses its runtime wisely for the most part. It so far shows just enough to get you wondering what’s going on while also taking time to build up how the games work and how characters survive outside of game time. It’s also really good about showing that even those we might see as ‘enemies’ have their own reasons and stories and are also pretty much normal people forced into a terrible situation to survive. For me, standout scenes were the ‘tag’ game in the apartment building, the wolf and sheep game between Arisu, his friends, and a girl they first meet, and the absolute mind twist that the episodes featuring the witch game involving every member of The Beach.

My plan was to watch this over a week or so, and I ended up mowing through it in two days because I just had to know what came next.

The bad: In terms of straight-out bad, nothing that leapt out at me. The pacing got a little weird at times, and sometimes focus on Arisu gets just a little bit indulgent, but that’s mostly how manga and the related films are, so it really didn’t bother me. You won’t get definite answers offseason one, but then again, you’re not supposed to.

Keep in mind: If you’re not about violence, this isn’t for you. This isn’t nearly as bad as torture porn or things like Saw or Hostel, but it doesn’t cut away from the violence and death, either. It definitely gets intense, and emotions run high. There’s a near-assault scene. Although it’s not graphic, the way it’s choreographed is extremely uncomfortable.

If you’re also used to western films, you may also feel a little jostled by some choices. This isn’t a bad thing, but you need to keep in mind Occasionally, there will be moments where in the middle of an action scene, a character will pause for a lot of dialogue trying to encourage people or get them to change their minds, but that’s honestly pretty much a part of Japanese writing. There’s also a habit of exploring the backstory of characters in the middle of fight scenes or big emotional scenes – I don’t really consider it bad because I’ve watched a lot of similar things to this. I’m used to it, but you may find it a little jarring or new if this is a first for you. I think it works, but I think if you’re not used to it, you might feel it drags the pacing down a bit.

Keep in mind this is in Japanese with subtitles (or at least that’s how I watched. There may be an English dub option, but that’s not really the way I prefer to watch things like this).

Overall, I’m really excited about where the plot may go. I could empathize with the characters but still appreciate just how much worldbuilding went into the world's actual structure and the games. The violence was used well – some scenes got to me, but they definitely made me think about what people are really capable of—all in all, a fantastic show and a really strong first season.

Five out of five sheep

About the Author:
Selah Janel is a writer who is trying to start doing that again instead of reading manga all the time.

Except: Let There be Dragons by Janet Post

by Janet Post
October 2020
Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Tell-Tale Publishing
In a post-apocalyptic world, dragons, elves, vampires and demons war for control of Earth. A girl with powerful Gifts is the only hope the world has to destroy Slygon, a demon from the Pit come to rule all.

With the aid of a half-orc, his friends and a fairy, Annabelle tames dragons and rides to fight Slygon on his home territory. On a mission to rescue her sister from Slygon’s power, Annabelle will stop at nothing. When everyone around her is saying it’s time to quit, Annabelle is just getting started.

Chapter Three
“We be getting mighty close the city, Jackal,” Slag said.

I glanced at my green friend sitting astride the Belgium draft mare he’d named Bunny even though she was mean as a snake. Slag was three-quarters orc. Slag’s mother had been a halfling, his father an orc who raped her when she was hunting. Slag had been given to the same wet nurse taking care of me. We were raised together along with Chub, our third companion, another half-orc.

Slag’s frown emphasized the pointed ivory tusks that rose at the corner of his mouth from his bottom jaw to above his upper lip and nearly to his flat nose. At seven feet of solid muscle Slag weighed in at three-hundred pounds, and was two inches taller than me, and twenty-five pounds heavier. When I noticed the sun shining off the top of Slag’s head I grinned. Slag kept his head shaved to show off what he thought were his best features, a broad forehead and small, slightly pointed ears, each pierced with three golden rings.

“Aye, the city be close” I said as I glanced around us. “The big lake be over that hill. The walls of New Orleans be about a league to the south of us.”

“This be dangerous ground,” Chub said. “It’s getting’ late and I’m terrible hungry. Let’s stop and cook up some of that shoat we bagged this morning.”

I laughed. Chub was always hungry, a huge halfling who besides food, loved me, Slag and no other being in the universe, except perhaps the draft mule he rode. The mule was always hungry too. Chub shared other qualities with his mount, such as strength, tirelessness, and a foul temper. A dangerous combination. But then all of us are dangerous.

“I’m good with that,” I said. “You two set up camp. I’m gonna ride up to the top of that hill and get a look see.”

I spurred Thor, a black Friesian with feathered feet and too much mane. The big horse was a gift from my mother, the elf queen, Ashera. It was the only thing besides my light skin, pointed ears, and thick brown hair she’d ever given me. That, and she’d carried me to term and not killed me at birth, which was the custom, because I was the result of an orc rape. Instead of killing me, she sent me to the village of Wildwhisper. She’d never raise a half-orc babe herself. Elves were all racists. They believed in the purity of the elf race and any mixing of blood was considered an abomination. I was glad she’d sent me to Wildwhisper. Life in the village suited me down to the ground. I’d learned to forge and use the weapons I made.

My two warrior friends and I were raised in the same small village outside the elves’ mountain fortress in what used to be Arkansas. It was also near Edenvale, a hidden sanctuary populated with humans who didn’t care to be serfs to the Magics or live within walls. The people of Wildwhisper maintained themselves by hunting in the forest, tanning hides, and forging weapons. They mined ore and coal in the mountains and found old steel and metal in abandoned cities to melt in forges fueled by the coal. Their swords were highly-valued, the metal folded and then sharpened to perfection and modeled after the Japanese blade, the katana. They also forged enormous axes to be used as weapons and smaller ones for cutting down trees. If it could be made of metal, it was forged in Wildwhisper. I always carried a satchel full of weapons to use in trade if we needed food or lodging, and sometimes I sold them for the most common form of money, silver coins.

As I galloped Thor to the top of the hill, reveling in the strength and immense power of the horse beneath me, I surveyed the landscape. Below stretched the big lake and the wall built around the city of New Orleans. The city center was too far to see clearly, just the spire of a great church, and the remains of tall buildings now crumbling ruins. Inside the wall, small farms were green with summer’s bounty.

I squeezed Thor’s sides sending him charging into a valley and up another hill. At the top, I spotted a group of orcs camped in the bottom of the next valley inside a copse of oak saplings. Smoke from their cook fire rose between the leafy boughs. I couldn’t see all of them, but the usual orc raiding party was ten or twelve. Seven were visible, tending to the huge boars they rode. The hogs grunted and snorted from their position tied to trot lines. I was close enough hear the restless animals.

This was good news to me. Finding a raiding party before it found you was always good news. Then I spotted the girl. She looked about ten and was tied face down across the back of a hog. One of the orcs dragged her off the massive pig and tossed her to his fellow who laughed and ripped off her clothes.

I felt my animal nature rising. Anger at the terrible treatment of the child, for the girl was no more than that, warred with my inner voice cautioning me to take care. I wanted nothing more than to tear down the hill and fight all of them.

I whirled Thor around on his hind feet and galloped back to camp. It was almost dark. Slag and Chub would appreciate the chance to kill some orcs.

I pulled the big Friesian to a sliding stop at the edge of the camp. Slag grabbed my reins. “I see that light in yer eye.” Slag grinned. “Ye found us a bit of work, didn’t ye?”

“Orcs have a girl. We gotta go now. Setting up camp can wait. Mount [JP1] up and let’s ride.”

Slag and Chub leapt on their mounts[JP2] . Chub still had his long bow slung over his shoulder, a quiver full of arrows and his axe in a holster attached to his leather body armor. Slag favored a broad sword, a crossbow with bolts tipped with rattlesnake venom, and a spear. I still had my katana and sheath hooked to the back of my armor. Armed to the teeth, we thundered down the trail, knowing the girl might soon be dead, or worse. A ten-year old was a woman to orcs.

We stopped at the top of the hill overlooking the orc encampment. The sun had set, and a huge moon slowly rose over the trees behind them. The ghostly-blue light illuminated the troop of orcs gathered in a raiding party. We sat still and silent, impatient as we watched the orcs move out. When the orcs crested the far hill and headed toward the city, I dismounted, left Thor ground-tied, and slunk down the hill staying in the cover of shrubs and underbrush. Chub stayed with the horses, but Slag followed.

The fire I’d seen earlier was extinguished, but the orcs obviously planned to return to this camp. Two huge, ugly, green monsters squatted close to the girl. They weren’t touching her, just sitting there watching. Two hogs wandered around behind them, saddled and ready to go, but eating acorns and snuffling in the leaves beneath the trees.

I waved, sending Slag off to the left, while I went right. The hogs scented us and squealed an alarm. The two orcs jumped to their feet. One held a massive hammer, the other a multi-bladed mace, crude but effective. A brace of spears leaned against one of the trees. The hogs came close to inspect me and I shooed them away. One charged, its tusks gleaming blue in the moonlight. I held my katana high over my head in a two-handed grip as I waited for the hog, then I stepped aside and sliced its head off with my razor-sharp blade. The head rolled, foam dripping from its gaping maw as blood gushed from the body. The other hog squealed and ran away.

Alerted, the two orcs raced around in circles searching for us. Slag stepped up behind them and put two poison bolts into the biggest one while I slashed the other diagonally across its body from neck to thigh, opening its belly. Guts and blood poured onto the ground as the stunned orc took a minute to figure out, he was dead, then toppled over.

Smiling, I do love a good fight, I wiped my blade on the grass to clean it. “Get the girl.”

Slag moaned. “Really? Like we ain’t got enough problems?”

“If we leave her here, the orcs will find her and their two dead friends and come looking for us after they kill her.”

“Happen, they’ll come for us, no matter.”

“Not if we catch them first.”

Slag lifted one bushy eyebrow.

“We have to go after them. They’re headed for the city.”

“When did you become a lover of the Magics?”

“It’s not the Magics I care about. The regular folk die too, and they don’t deserve it.”

Slag sighed. “Let’s be off then. Chub’s missing his dinner and that will put him in a right bad mood.”

We found the girl curled into a ball under a rough blanket made of sacking. I pulled the sacking off her face. She was red headed, with pale skin and bright blue eyes. She pounced on me, clawing at my eyes. “Whoa, there filly.” I pulled her off my head. “I ain’t an orc.”

“You are!” she screamed. “You might not be green, but you look just like them.”

“I know I ain’t pretty, but it’s not kind of you to remind me. I might be half orc, but I always thought I was better looking than orcs.” I held her out in front of me and noticed she was younger than I’d thought, and feistier. “We just killed your captors and we plan to get the rest.” She kicked and scratched at my leather wrist guards, tried to bite me, and shrieked bloody murder.

“I can always give you back, if you’d druther.”

She stopped shrieking. “Put me down.”

“Are you gonna run?”


“Where to?”

“Away from you, that’s for certain.”

Slag stepped forward in all his hugeness and laughed. “Jackal be your onliest chance of surviving, missy. I’d stick with him if I was you, for a kinder heart in a bigger ass you’ll never find.”

About The Author
Promo Link
Janet Post is a self-described military brat from Hawaii. She worked as a reporter for years before retiring to write books. Horses and dogs are her passion along with writing adventure and fantasy for young adults. She currently lives in the swamplands of Florida.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Excerpt: Capturing Fate (Fatal Truth #2) by Abbie Roads + giveaways

Capturing Fate 
(Fatal Truth #2)
by Abbie Roads
January 28th 2021
Genres: Adult, Paranormal, Romance, Suspense, Thriller
Can love untangle a web of lies and expose the truth?

A loner with a mysterious childhood…

FBI agent Dolan Watts is no stranger to pain. From his childhood spent in foster care to his daily grind of hunting down hardened criminals, it’s been the one constant through the years. Pain carved out gut feelings he can trust and instincts able to solve cases in record time. Until now. Confronted by a malicious new enemy who revels in mind games, Dolan begins to doubt his own perceptions. Fearing he’s spiraling into insanity, he seeks help from the one woman who can shine light into the darkness consuming him.

A woman haunted by a secret…

Psychologist Daughter Dawson sabotaged her own safety the moment she accepted Dolan as a client. Still, she felt compelled to help him. Dolan’s past mirrored many of the questions about her own, making his torment achingly familiar. Despite their growing attraction, her career demands she keep an ethical distance. Yet when she makes the mistake of confiding in him, both their lives are thrust into unimaginable danger.

Nightmares come to life…

When gruesome tragedy uncovers a serial killer’s twisted agenda, Daughter and Dolan must cling to each other if they hope to survive. Can they stop the body count from rising? Or will they find their only purpose from the start was to be pawns in a reign of evil?

Book 1

Through the shifting snow, a mass moved toward her from the edge of the water, growing more solid until she recognized the shape of a man. Somehow, someone with a boat was here to save her.

The man stalked through the snow, his vibrant green eyes locked on her.


The world around them slipped away until it was only him and her and the snow between them.

The flakes seemed to slow, hanging suspended as time halted.


She stared, unable to move, unable to believe the message her eyes were sending her brain.


Time turned back on, and he came to her, stopping only inches from her. His eyes carried a pain in their depths that only love could tame. He’d been through so much.


Slowly, as if worried he would frighten her, he reached out with a bare hand and cupped her cheek. His touch warm and magnetic and soothing, and she couldn’t help herself, she reached up and pressed his hand harder to her face, trying to absorb him. She closed her eyes, savoring the moment. She wasn’t certain she wasn’t dreaming. If she was dreaming, she’d make the most of it.

She turned her face and kissed his palm before settling it against her skin again.

“Daught?” Her name came out in a choked whisper.

She opened her eyes. He still stood there, staring down at her with such love and longing in his eyes, her heart swelled and threatened to erupt. “You’re here? You’re really here?”

The corner of his mouth tipped up. “I’m here.”

And then it was like reality and her mind finally melded together. Her arms were around him and his mouth was on hers. They talked into the kiss, his words, her words blending together.

“It’s you.”

“Are you okay?”

“I missed you.”

“I missed you.”

She tasted him on her tongue, smelled the warm masculine scent of him, and stared into eyes the color of summer leaves. He was oxygen, and she hadn’t had a breath in months.

About the Author
Seven Things about Abbie Roads:
1. She loves Snicker Parfaits. Gotta start with what's most important, right?
2. She writes dark emotional books featuring damaged characters, but always gives her hero and heroine a happy ending... after torturing them for three hundred pages.
3. By day she's a mental health counselor known for her blunt, honest style of therapy. At night she burns up the keyboard. Well... Burn might be too strong a word. She at least sits with her hands poised over the keyboard, waiting for inspiration to strike. And when it does--the keyboard might get a little warm.
4. She can't stand it when people drive slowly in the passing lane. Just saying. That's major annoying. Right?
5. She loves taking pictures of things she thinks are pretty.
6. She lives in Marion, Ohio with her favorite fellow and two fur babies.
7. Being a published author is a dream come true for her.

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