Sometimes Change isn’t Bad. Sometimes it’s Beautiful.

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I know things have been quiet around here for the last month, but changes are coming and I’m hoping they’ll be done soon. And, as everyone knows, that first step is always the hardest.

Even though I write adult and YA romantic suspense (fiction!), my goal has always been to make this blog a place of truth and beauty.

With heartfelt photo essays, interviews with my favorite authors, and random musings scratched out in the dark, I’ve tried to offer you all photos and words that are worth your time. Hopefully I’ve succeeded.

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This is why the first thing on my change agenda is that I’m moving this website to a new host. The domain will stay the same but the site will be more photo-friendly. I’m excited about the design and am doing all the customization myself.

It should be a seamless transition with no glitches. (Right? I’m laughing too.)

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Next item on my change agenda is my semi-annual Middle Grade & Young Adult reading list. Aside from my photo essays, it’s the most popular download from this blog.

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As many of you know, I rely on my Reading Army to help me with this growing venture. Unfortunately a number of my recruits are Juniors in high school this year. Not only does the passing of time make me want to cry, the demands of Junior Year are so intense (ACTs, SATs, SOLs, final exams, college tours, learning to drive, and endless essay writing classes. And, of course, Junior/Senior Prom) that they haven’t been able to read as much as they’d like.

So, for the first time, I’m asking for recommendations from my readers. You can leave your recs in the comments below or use my direct email link. My only request is that you’ve read the books and can give an honest rec. No promos please. Teens and middle-schoolers can spot shameless promo and will react accordingly.

Mild mocking, hiding behind closed doors, random sighs, and exasperated eye rolls make for a really long summer.:)

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As for blogging, I have a number of posts I’m working on and plan to debut on my new site. Besides the annual MG/YA reading list that I should have up by the end of June (school doesn’t end until June 23!), I’m hosting the annual Kiss and Thrill blog interview with the current Golden Heart Romantic Suspense finalists. Two of this year’s finalists are not only friends, they’ve both won the category before so I’m excited about this post.

I’m also continuing with my 2012 Golden Heart class’s Writer Wednesday blog series which has been so much fun.

And since many of you have asked, I’m announcing that my Sisters of Suspense blog is getting a new name. Due to domain issues, we had to make a change and as of June 2016 will now be the Sisterhood of Suspense blog. We’ll have a new site as well and we’re all very excited. Once it’s up, I’ll post the new web address on this blog.

I’m lining up a number of interviews with debut RS and YA authors for this summer and into the fall and will let you know when the details are finalized.

I’m also hoping to welcome back Suzanne and Melanie Brockmann for another K&T mother/daughter interview for their second YA paranormal romance book Wild Sky. My daughter and I adored it and are looking forward to hosting Suz and Melanie again.

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I’m not good with shameless promo, but since I’ve been asked I’ll confess there’s been a bit of news on the contest front.

I recently won the Marlene Award for best Romantic Suspense for my manuscript Let the Heavens Fall. This contests was sponsored by my local Washington, DC RWA chapter which made the win even more special.

Also, my Young Adult story Wicker Hollows (Speculative Fiction for my purist readers) just finaled in the Daphne du Maurier Contest sponsored by RWA’s Kiss of Death mystery and suspense chapter. The best part about this final is attending the annual Death by Chocolate party at the RWA National Convention in San Diego.

Anything that names itself Death by Chocolate cannot be missed!

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I’d also like to congratulate many of my Golden Heart sisters, Blog sisters, and Critique Partners for all of their success on the contest circuit. Between the Rita, Golden Heart, Daphne du Maurier, RWA Pro Mentor of the Year, and the Booksellers’s Best Award, I know more than twenty authors who’ve finaled/been selected for these awards. I’m blessed to be surrounded by so much talent and proud to call these women friends.

(Note to my GH sisters: I’m not naming you all because I’m terrified I’m going to miss someone and then you’ll all go out to dinner without me in San Diego!)

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Time is passing, changes are being made, and things are moving forward. Since I’m not great at stepping out into the great, dark unknown, these three things are usually sources of stress for me.

But today I’m optimistic.

I’m reminding myself that time is a gift we don’t deserve. Changes can be a blessing. And forward momentum can bring new friends and opportunities.

My new blog should be up and running in a few weeks and I can’t wait to see you all on the other side!

Happy Writing!

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All photographs courtesy of Sharon Wray

(And a special thank you to the members of my reading army for allowing me to use prom photos!)

Embarrassing Stories: Not for the Faint-Hearted

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Today’s Writer Wednesday’s post is about our most embarrassing moments. My problem is there are so many, it’s hard to choose. I’m not coordinated so there are instances of me falling, tripping, and dropping things at the worst times. I’ve spilled drinks on other people (like at the GH/Rita reception last year in NYC), broken jars in grocery stores that required Hazmat Aisle 9 clean up crews, and tripped getting out of a limo in a long gown (I fell on my face!).

So when this topic was chosen, I thought this would be easy.

I have a lifetime’s worth of ridiculous moments to pull from that I’d rather forget. Even if I couldn’t remember, I knew my kids and DH and even the dog would help me out.

They’re good that way.

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But as I sat down to write, I thought about what it meant to be embarrassed. Or humiliated. Or shamed.

And I realized while I have a lot of ridiculously funny (now!) embarrassment stories, I have some memories that still bleed. There’s a black side to being embarrassed. And while the silly stories are the ones I re-tell, often enhanced with hyperboles, there are others that make me curl up in a blanket of humiliation and remorse.

Like the time I sent a not-so-nice email to a loop instead of a friend.

Or when I got caught in high school gossiping about another girl (it did not end well).

Guilt defines those moments.

But I’m a grown-up and try to stamp down my pride and take responsibility for my actions.

Guilt, mea culpas, and I are old friends.

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If embarrassment is the lighter side of the house, and humiliation is the darker side, they both cover the dank basement of undeserved shame. While embarrassment and humiliation are always completely my fault, the third is often undeserved. Or, if I’m not completely inculpable, the level of censure far outweighs the crime.

Undeserved shame and degradation cause wounds that take a long time to heal. They can’t be turned into cocktail hour hilarity and often stay deep inside where they fester and burn.

And that’s the short story I’d like to share. The day I was asked to leave a Warehouse Store. The day I was shamed.

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Many of us have been to those big Costco-type stores. Huge warehouses filled with enormous tubs of baking powder and nutmeg. Concrete floors, fluorescent lights, and free food samples. And everyone walks around ignoring the fact the entire place smells like feet.

One day, when my twins were newborns, my husband had to go on a business trip. I was within the six week postpartum driving restriction so I made sure I had everything in the house I’d need for a week. But then my son got sick. It turns out he required a special formula to keep his stomach settled and the only place to get it was at the nearby Warehouse Store (this is before Amazon Prime!).

Despite the fact I shouldn’t have been driving and was sleep deprived, I packed us up in the car with the double stroller and a fully loaded baby bag that weighed more than the two babies combined. All went well on the trip and I got everyone settled in the stroller and headed into the store.

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I don’t know what happened next–maybe it was the fluorescent lights or the loud rock music blaring–but the kids started to fuss. A rush of adrenaline hit my system like a jolt of three espressos, and I picked up the pace.

I reached the pharmacy and asked for what I needed only to hear that I had to have a prescription, a different insurance, a few hundred dollars — blah, blah, blah. I asked for a manager, but she was at lunch. As I was dealing with this, my kids got crankier and crankier.

Then they started to cry. And newborns have a very distinct (re: annoying) cry. Then my son started to gag because his stomach was upset. The employees gave me evil stares, other patrons shook their heads and walked away.

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Meanwhile, I was waiting for the manager so I could get the prescription and leave. My kids were screaming and my heart was cracking. I still remember how my legs and arms shook. I prayed I wouldn’t have a panic attack.

Finally the manager showed up without my prescription. She told me, in front of six or so employees and a ton of customers, that since I couldn’t control my kids (newborns!) that I wouldn’t be served. Then a security guard appeared. The manager and the guard threw me out without my medicine.

When we got outside, they both berated me in front of other customers coming in and told me that I was a horrible mother and never to come in again. They even took my membership card. I was banned.

It was one of the most awful experiences of my life. And while I get angry now, at the time I was too exhausted and stressed to fight back. They attacked me while I was vulnerable.

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After they left, I sat on the curb. My legs hurt because they’d been holding up my trembling body. A massive headache hovered, and I was too exhausted to move. The kids were still screaming and I could barely see through the tears. That’s when I heard a voice.

An older woman knelt in front of me and asked me what was wrong. In between sobs, I told her the story. She stood and told me to stay where I was and not to worry. She peeked into the double stroller and I have no idea what she said, but the kids calmed down, their cries turning to light whimpers. Then she went inside.

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A few minutes later she returned with my formula. Apparently, it wasn’t a prescription product but they kept it behind the pharmacy counter because it was so expensive. When I tried to pay her for it, she refused. She walked me to my car and helped me buckle the kids into their carseats (before carseats popped out and clicked into strollers) and put the stroller in the trunk. When I turned around to thank her again, determined to pay her back, she’d disappeared.

Poof! Just like that she was gone. I drove around the parking lot looking for her, but I never found her. To this day I have no idea who she was, but the kids are convinced she was an angel.

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Yesterday, when I started this blog, I asked (again!) my now sixteen-year old twins why they thought she was an angel.

They just shook their shoulders in unison and said, “Because when we were in the stroller, she told us so.”

I’d heard this answer below, many times, but it’s taken me years to believe it. At least I know someone is watching out for us when the embarrassment is undeserved.

While I wish that incident had never happened, in some ways it’s been a blessing. It reminded me that in spite of the “meanies” in the world, there are those who care. There are people who will laugh with you, not at you. And there are people who will stand up for you when you are unable. And sometimes you’ll be the one standing for others.

In the meantime, I probably shouldn’t be allowed to grocery shop, step out of limos, or wear high heels.

Now I have to break that to my family.

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Do you have any embarrassing moments you’d like to share? I’d love to know I’m not alone.

Thank your for spending the day with us. Below is a link of my Golden Heart sisters who are participating in today’s blog party. Hope to see you next month!

Contemporary romance writers Tamra Baumann – Priscilla Oliveras – Shelly Alexander |Romantic suspense writers Carol Post  | Historical writers Natalie Meg Evans

All photographs courtesy of Sharon Wray.

For Reading and Writing, There’s No Place Like Home

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This month’s Writer Wednesdays post is about our favorite places to read and write. Since I love to to do both, I have lots of corners to work in depending on what the family is doing and whether or not I need to hide. For my writing, I have four places:

A narrow desk in my kitchen that’s also the center of the household.

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My dining room table. (Yes, I’m a messy writer!)

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A tiny bedroom we now use as an upstairs study/sitting room.

(We call it the “escape from the teenagers” room!)

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And my absolute favorite (super tiny) local cafe!

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I often end up reading in my car while waiting for kids. But when I can get away alone, here are few of my favorite places to read:

My desk in the kitchen.

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My garden swing (also a favorite with the kids and dog!)

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Joe and Donut

The beach. Always so beautiful!

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My comfy chair and ottoman in my tiny sitting room.

(Encouragement pillow courtesy of the amazing Lisa Dyson!)

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My favorite cafe. Again.

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My fire pit on the back deck.

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And when there’s no other place to hide, there’s always the floor!

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Now I’d love to know your favorite places to read and/or write!

Thank your for spending the day with us. Below is a link of my Golden Heart sisters who are participating in today’s blog party. Hope to see you next month!

Contemporary romance writers Tamra Baumann – Priscilla Oliveras – Shelly Alexander |Romantic suspense writers Carol Post  | Novels with romantic elements Jean Willett | Faith-based and sweet romance writers Kristen Ethridge 

_Writer Wednesday Date List

All photographs courtesy of Sharon Wray. Copyright 2016.

2016 Mid-Winter MG/YA Reading List

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Did you know I have my own army?

Unlike most armies of the world, mine consists of a group of young people aged 8-17 who love to read. And over the past few years, they’ve been an invaluable asset in helping me build my reading lists for kids stuck in middle school and teens just trying to survive high school.

They are my reading army.

Every year, toward the end of the school year, my reading army helps me compile my Middle Grade/Young Adult summer reading list. But since I’m getting more and more requests for updates, I’ve decided to put out a second mid-year list.

So with the help of my army, here is the Mid-Winter 2016 MG/YA list. Perfect for those winter school breaks and unexpected snow days.

Below are a few highlights, but for the entire printable list, click here for the Mid-Winter 2016 MG/YA list.

This list is not all-inclusive. And two of these books will be released next month. But what makes this list special is that every book, except for two to be released in March, has been read by myself and at least two members of my army.

(So each book has been vetted for coolness!)

For the Middle Graders, here are a few newer releases.

First up, the newest Rick Riordan book: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard.

611CmvkLO4L._UY250_(Amazon Blurb): Magnus Chase has always been a troubled kid. Since his mother’s mysterious death, he’s lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, keeping one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.

One day, he’s tracked down by an uncle he barely knows-a man his mother claimed was dangerous. Uncle Randolph tells him an impossible secret: Magnus is the son of a Norse god.

The Viking myths are true. The gods of Asgard are preparing for war. Trolls, giants and worse monsters are stirring for doomsday. To prevent Ragnarok, Magnus must search the Nine Worlds for a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

When an attack by fire giants forces him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents, Magnus makes a fatal decision.

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die . . .

 ~ * ~

The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford (author) and Kelly Murphy (illustrator)

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(Amazon Blurb): Jordan Stratford imagines an alternate 1826, where Ada Lovelace (the world’s first computer programmer) and Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) meet as girls and form a secret detective agency!
 
Lady Ada Byron, age eleven, is a genius. Isolated, awkward and a bit rude—but a genius. Mary Godwin, age fourteen, is a romantic. Adventurous, astute, and kind, Mary is to become Ada’s first true friend. And together, the girls conspire to form the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency—a secret constabulary for the apprehension of clever criminals. Their first case involves a stolen heirloom, a false confession, and an array of fishy suspects. But it’s no match for the deductive powers and bold hearts of Ada and Mary.

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From two of my favorite YA authors, here’s a wonderful new MG fantasy series: The Magisterium Series by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black.

51S6uSCqzwL._UY250_(Amazon Blurb): Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial.  Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail.

All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him.

So he tries his best to do his worst — and fails at failing.

Now the Magisterium awaits him. It’s a place that’s both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.

The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come . . .

And the second book in the series, The Copper Gauntlet.
(Amazon Blurb): 61Yj9ZEnPyL._UY250_ Callum Hunt’s summer break isn’t like other kids’. His closest companion is a Chaos-ridden wolf, Havoc. His father suspects him of being secretly evil. And, of course, most kids aren’t heading back to the magical world of the Magisterium in the fall.

It’s not easy for Call . . . and it gets even harder after he checks out his basement and discovers that his dad might be trying to destroy both him and Havoc.

Call escapes to the Magisterium — but things only intensify there. The Alkahest — a copper gauntlet capable of separating certain magicians from their magic — has been stolen. And in their search to discover the culprit, Call and his friends Aaron and Tamara awaken the attention of some very dangerous foes — and get closer to an even more dangerous truth.

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For the Young Adults, here are a few long-awaited titles. A series ender, a series beginner, and all things in between!

My daughter read Winter, this yearned-for book which ends the Lunar Chronicles series, in one day. Not too surprising for her except the book has 832 pages!

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(Amazon Blurb): Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend–the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters? Fans will not want to miss this thrilling conclusion to Marissa Meyer’s national bestselling Lunar Chronicles series.

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The movie based on the first book in this next series, The Fifth Wave, is in theaters now. And the third book in this thrilling Sci-Fi series comes out soon. In the meantime, dive into The Infinite Sea, the second book in the series. It’s not to be missed!

51cmGbmqclL._UY250_(Amazon Blurb): How do you rid the Earth of seven billion humans? Rid the humans of their humanity.

Surviving the first four waves was nearly impossible. Now Cassie Sullivan finds herself in a new world, a world in which the fundamental trust that binds us together is gone. As the 5th Wave rolls across the landscape, Cassie, Ben, and Ringer are forced to confront the Others’ ultimate goal: the extermination of the human race.

Cassie and her friends haven’t seen the depths to which the Others will sink, nor have the Others seen the heights to which humanity will rise, in the ultimate battle between life and death, hope and despair, love and hate.

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The next book is the first in a new series from mega-author Alexandra Bracken. While her first series The Darkest Minds was dystopian (speculative fiction for you purists!), her newest release Passenger is all about time travel.

51NFZbK5TrL._UY250_(Amazon Blurb): In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles, but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.

Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods-a powerful family in the Colonies-and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, his passenger, can find. In order to protect her, Nick must ensure she brings it back to them-whether she wants to or not.
Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are playing, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home forever.

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For fans of the Selection Series, Kiera Cass’s newest title (a revised version of her originally self-pubbed book), The Siren, will be a huge hit!

51VxIaxp+8L._UY250_ (Amazon Blurb): From Kiera Cass, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Selection series, comes a captivating stand-alone fantasy romance.

Kahlen is a Siren, bound to serve the Ocean by luring humans to watery graves with her voice, which is deadly to any human who hears it. Akinli is human—a kind, handsome boy who’s everything Kahlen ever dreamed of. Falling in love puts them both in danger . . . but Kahlen can’t bear to stay away. Will she risk everything to follow her heart?

The Siren was previously self-published; this brand-new edition has been completely rewritten and redesigned.

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For fans of the Shadow Hunter series, here is the newest book in the series, Lady Midnight. (It won’t release until March 8, 2016. And although we haven’t read it yet, my army has fully endorsed it! Anything by Cassandra Clare is an auto-read!!)

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(Amazon Blurb): It’s been five years since the events of City of Heavenly Fire that brought the Shadowhunters to the brink of oblivion. Emma Carstairs is no longer a child in mourning, but a young woman bent on discovering what killed her parents and avenging her losses.

Together with her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, Emma must learn to trust her head and her heart as she investigates a demonic plot that stretches across Los Angeles, from the Sunset Strip to the enchanted sea that pounds the beaches of Santa Monica. If only her heart didn’t lead her in treacherous directions…

Making things even more complicated, Julian’s brother Mark—who was captured by the faeries five years ago—has been returned as a bargaining chip. The faeries are desperate to find out who is murdering their kind—and they need the Shadowhunters’ help to do it. But time works differently in faerie, so Mark has barely aged and doesn’t recognize his family. Can he ever truly return to them? Will the faeries really allow it?

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Veronica Rossi wrote one of our favorite Sci-Fi/Dystopian series — the Under the Never Sky Trilogy. And Riders is her newest fantasy adventure release.

51whXQrEj2L._UY250_ (Amazon Blurb): For eighteen-year-old Gideon Blake, nothing but death can keep him from achieving his goal of becoming a U.S. Army Ranger. As it turns out, it does.

Recovering from the accident that most definitely killed him, Gideon finds himself with strange new powers and a bizarre cuff he can’t remove. His death has brought to life his real destiny. He has become War, one of the legendary four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Over the coming weeks, he and the other horsemen–Conquest, Famine, and Death–are brought together by a beautiful but frustratingly secretive girl to help save humanity from an ancient evil on the emergence.

They fail.

Now–bound, bloodied, and drugged–Gideon is interrogated by the authorities about his role in a battle that has become an international incident. If he stands any chance of saving his friends and the girl he’s fallen for–not to mention all of humankind–he needs to convince the skeptical government officials the world is in imminent danger.

But will anyone believe him?

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51iLk-Vq53L._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_This February 2016 release by C.J. Redwine felt like it was on pre-order forever. Since the teens loved her Defiance series, they couldn’t wait for her newest book. The Shadow Queen is a dark, fantasy re-telling of Snow White, and it was well worth the wait!

(Amazon Blurb): Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic of his own—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman—and bring her Lorelai’s heart.

But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.

 

 ~ * ~

71WosYU7Q8LWe have waited AGES for The Raven King, the fourth book in the The Raven Cycle series. If you’re not familiar with this series, start at the beginning. You’ll be so glad you did!

Although we haven’t read this book yet (it comes out March 29, 2016), we’ve read the other three in the series and can recommend this book based on the quality and success for the first three.
(Amazon Blurb): All her life, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love’s death. She doesn’t believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem, but as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

 

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And since the teens love novellas, here are a few from their favorite series that made the Mid-Winter 2016 MG/YA list:

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Do you have any titles you’d like to add to the Summer 2016 list? If so, we’d love to know!

All covers and blurbs courtesy of Amazon.

All photographs courtesy of Sharon Wray. Copyright 2016