Archive | Adult Fiction

The First True Lie and Other Books Under 150 Pages

I like big books and I can not lie The image speaks the truth: I like big books. Most of the time. Not all of the time. Not when I have one class and a master’s thesis topping my to-do list.

My friend told me that she and her book club are reading Bleak House by Charles Dickens. I love Dickens. Great Expectations is a personal favorite. But at just over a thousand pages, this Penguin Classics paperback edition of Bleak House faces the grim prospect of gathering dust on my bookshelf. At least it will be in good company alongside Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Goldfinch. At close to 800 pages, The Goldfinch reminds me that I should probably be opening a textbook of literary criticism for school.

The First True Lie by Marina ManderWhile the bingeworthy stuff takes a backseat to other priorities, I’ve been enjoying some shorter reads this season. In the last week, I read Marina Mander’s The First True Lie. Narrated by a boy named Luca, The First True Lie takes you inside the mind of a child who is lying about the sudden death of his single mother because he does not want to go into foster care. Luca refers to himself as a “half-orphan” when the story begins because he has never known his father. After discovering his mother’s body in her bedroom, Luca tries to keep up appearances, caring for himself and his only companion, a kitten named Blue. Those who liked Emma Donoghue’s Room will probably enjoy The First True Lie, and at less than 150 pages, it’s a brisk read.

I was also delighted to find this list of “The 10 Best Books Shorter Than 150 Pages” that author Sarah Gerard curated for Publishers Weekly. I may try one of her recommendations in the coming weeks. Until then, I find myself savoring one essay at a time from Roxane Gay’s Bad Feministalthough my professors might cringe to know that this collection is ranked #1 on Amazon for feminist theory. Bad Feminist is comprised of Gay’s keen and wry observations on being a 21st century feminist. It’s not feminist literary theory.

Do you have any books under 150 pages that you would recommend here?

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How to Live When You Are Dying: Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

Before I Go by Colleen Oakley. Image courtesy of Gallery Books.

Image courtesy of Gallery Books

At last week’s national book launch party for Colleen Oakley’s Before I Go, more than one person issued the warning that I should keep a box of tissues nearby when reading the book. You only have to read the dust jacket to understand that advice. Protagonist Daisy Richmond, a 27-year-old graduate student and wife to a veterinarian-in-training, finds out that she has terminal cancer. In the four months that doctors say she has left to live, Daisy determines to find a new wife for her soon-to-be-widowed husband Jack.

Still, Before I Go is not bleak because it’s as much about living as it is about dying. After Oakley’s launch party, I went home and quickly read the first third of the book. At its core, Before I Go is a love story told from the point of view of a young woman who should have her whole life ahead of her, but doesn’t. Even when dying, Daisy ignores her own feelings and plays caretaker and matchmaker when she should be making the most of the time she has left.

We all like to think that we’d quit our jobs, travel the world and perform amazing feats of daring-do if we received a death sentence like terminal cancer. Before I Go challenges that notion. For the past month, it feels like cancer and illness have overtaken my news streams. I’ve been following updates on Facebook from friends who are undergoing radiation or chemotherapy treatments. I’ve sent condolences to those who have lost loved ones to cancer. The disease devastates in so many ways.

I’m not a sports fan, but I recognized Stuart Scott as an ESPN anchor and hated to learn of his death on January 4th. Subsequently, I watched Scott’s acceptance speech at the 2014 ESPY awards. He had been fighting cancer for seven years at that point, and had this amazing advice to share: “When you die, that does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live. So live, live. Fight like hell. And when you get too tired to fight, then lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you.”

Colleen Oakley and Rhiannon Johnson

Colleen Oakley, author of Before I Go, poses with Rhiannon Johnson, freelance writer and editor of Ivory Owl Reviews

I think Before I Go echoes that advice in a different way. I really enjoyed the book and meeting Colleen Oakley, who lives in Atlanta. She is on book tour right now, so visit the events page of her author website to find out when and where you can see her. I know it’s hard to tell from the photos here, but Colleen is pregnant with twins! Follow her @oakleycolleen on Twitter and congratulate her on all her 2015 debuts.


Colleen Oakley signs copies of her debut novel, Before I Go, on January 6, 2015.

Colleen Oakley signs copies of her debut novel, Before I Go, on January 6, 2015.

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Still Savoring this Summer Read: Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

In the Deep South, fall does not announce itself with a dramatic temperature shift; summertime heat may linger well into autumn, which explains why I got sunburn on my late October wedding day. For me, fall begins with a certain melancholy as teachers and students return to school in short sleeves. Then the acorns start their angry rain on my metal sunroom roof and my husband’s NFL and fantasy football obsession rolls from simmer to boil. Still, I can’t slip quietly into fall without sharing one of my favorite books from this past summer: Cop Town by Karin Slaughter.

It’s Atlanta, 1974, and the city’s first female police officers are receiving a less than warm welcome as they join the force. Newbies like Kate Murphy are issued uniforms and shoes three sizes too big. Even Maggie Lawson, who followed her brother and uncle into the line of duty, is the focus of hazing and harassment from her male counterparts. Still, the department has bigger problems–a serial killer who’s targeting cops.

“Summer is here and murder is back, just the way we like it. Chief among the perpetrators: Karin Slaughter and Amanda Kyle Williams, two Atlanta crime writers with strong female protagonists who make the city and its countryside their beat.” – Atlanta Journal-Constitution (June 27, 2014).

Karin Slaughter interviewed a number of Atlanta’s first female police officers when researching Cop Town. She regaled us with some of their stories at a July fundraiser for the Gwinnett County Public Library. Receiving daily threats, which were sometimes accompanied by feces or lewd graffiti on a work locker, these women carried out their duties under incredible circumstances. And that was just at police headquarters. Although Cop Town has been billed as Slaughter’s first standalone thriller, the book is begging for a series with all the rich material she has mined from her research into the integration of the Atlanta Police Department.

I’ve been a fan of Slaughter’s work since reading her Grant County Series. Her books feature authentic law enforcement characters and the crimes depicted usually contain some disturbing seed of truth. Slaughter said at the July reading that her editor once commented that a storyline was too far-fetched. The author replied with a newspaper clipping on which the outrageous storyline had been based. It is this element of truth that simultaneously makes you want to cower under the covers and read more about the courageous first women police officers who endured much to be a part of Cop Town.

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Q&A with Amanda Kyle Williams, Author of Don’t Talk to Strangers, on She Reads

Amanda Kyle Williams, author of Don't Talk to Strangers

Photo credit: Kaylinn Gilstrap

I recently jumped at the opportunity to interview one of my favorite writers, Amanda Kyle Williams, for She Reads.

I’ve admired Amanda’s work since reading her first book in the Keye Street series, The Stranger You Seek. In 2012, Amanda and I spent a great morning exploring the Georgian Terrace Hotel, also known as Keye Street’s upscale Atlanta address. Amanda was one of the first authors to agree to an interview here on Southern Spines. We had a great time eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts (one of Keye’s favorite vices) and talking about the second Keye Street novel, Stranger in the Room. You can read that interview here.

Book Three, Don’t Talk to Strangers, came out earlier this month and it might be my favorite Amanda Kyle Williams book to date. I wolfed it down faster than one of those hot, fresh glazed doughnuts. Like any good series writer, Amanda introduces some new characters, new eerie twists and turns, then leaves us clamoring for the next installment. In the She Reads interview, I asked Amanda about the rural setting of Don’t Talk to Strangers, balancing the creepy with the funny in her storytelling and plotting what’s next for Keye Street. Rush right over to read her answers AND for your chance to win all three of the books in the Keye Street series.

Amanda Kyle Williams Interview and Giveaway on She Reads

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Quick! Read This: It Comes in Waves by Erika Marks

It Comes in Waves by Erika Marks If she ever tires of writing women’s fiction, Erika Marks could easily nab a job working for one of those “Best Beaches” surveys. Or at the very least, she could become an ambassador for the Folly Beach Visitors and Convention Bureau. I defy anyone to read Erika’s latest novel It Comes in Waves and not want to travel to the book’s setting of Folly Beach, South Carolina.

I was first introduced to Erika’s work a couple of years ago when she wrote about another coastal town, Cradle Harbor, Maine, in The Mermaid Collector. The author graciously answered my questions about The Mermaid Collector in this Southern Spines post. Erika’s books are manna for land-locked book lovers who yearn to live as a lighthouse keeper on the coast of Maine or carve waves with strapping surfers in South Carolina (or at least gaze at them while planted under a large umbrella with a fruity drink and plenty of SPF50).

Having met and spent time with Erika a few times now–most recently when she visited the Book Exchange in Marietta, Georgia–I can tell you she’s as lovely as she is talented. Her books just keep getting better. Book Exchange owner Cat Blanco tells me she still has a few signed copies left of It Comes in Waves, but you need to call soon because she’s hand-selling this book like crazy. Call 770-427-4848 and Book Exchange will ship a signed copy direct to your door. A signed copy of the book goes in the mail today to devoted Southern Spines reader Rachel C. in Lexington, South Carolina.

To learn more about Erika Marks, visit her author website at and follow @erikamarksauthr on Twitter.

Publisher's Description of It Comes in Waves by Erika Marks
For competitive surfer Claire “Pepper” Patton, the waves of South Carolina’s Folly Beach once held the promise of a loving future and a bright career—until her fiance, Foster, broke the news that he and Claire’s best friend, Jill, were in love. Eighteen years later, now forty-two and a struggling single parent to a rebellious teenage daughter, Claire has put miles between that betrayal and that coast. But when ESPN invites her back to Folly Beach for a documentary on women in surfing, Claire decides it might be the chance she needs to regain control of her life and reacquaint herself with the unsinkable young woman she once was. But not everything in Folly Beach is as Claire remembers it, most especially her ex-best friend, Jill, who is now widowed and raising her and Foster’s teenage son. An unexpected reunion with Claire will uncover a guilt that Jill has worked hard to bury—and bring to the surface years of unspoken blame. When Claire crosses paths with a sexy pro-surfer who is as determined to get Claire back on a board as he is to get her in his bed, a chance for healing might not be far behind—or is it too late for two estranged friends to find forgiveness in the place that was once their coastal paradise, where life was spent barefoot and love was as dizzying as the perfect wave…
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Nerd Fiction for Everyone: Lydia Netzer’s How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky

How To Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia NetzerWARNING: I’m about to lay some propaganda on you good people. Because I know and love the author I’m about to recommend to you. I also recently had the privilege of working with her as she prepared for the publication of not one, but two new summer releases. Still, I promise you this post is more public service than public relations because you’re going to want to own and read and re-read How to Tell Toledo from the Night SkyAnd because I had the chance to work with the fabulous Lydia Netzer and her amazing team at St. Martin’s Press, I have an opportunity for you to download a complimentary copy of Lydia’s ebook original Everybody’s Baby on iTunes.

Lydia’s first novel Shine Shine Shine was a New York Times Notable Book for 2012, an Amazon Spotlight Book of the Month, a Target Book Club Pick and was shortlisted for the LA Times Book Prize in Fiction. This year she followed up that impressive debut with the publication of ebook novella Everybody’s Baby in June and today’s new release, How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky.

In the words of the wise philosopher Huey Lewis, “It’s hip to be square” in Lydia’s books, which all emit geeky goodness. Shine Shine Shine tells the story of Maxon, a robotics expert on a space mission while his wife Sonny is on Earth throwing her suburbanite facade out the car window with her wig. In Everybody’s Baby, an app developer named Billy uses Kickstarter to fund his wife’s in vitro fertilization, which causes problems when Jenna becomes pregnant and strangers line up to claim their crowdfunding perks. And How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky centers on two astronomers, George and Irene, who meet at the Toledo Institute of Astronomy and instantly connect. Are they being sucked into one of Irene’s black holes or is their romance a result of their mothers’ astrological plotting?

I had to admit to Lydia at one point, “You know I don’t like math and science, right?” I dislike most books and movies about space exploration and absolutely refuse to watch the movie Gravity because I can imagine no worse fate than being plunged into space. Still, I love Lydia’s books because they offer something for everyone. If you want to get your nerd on, you can practice your lucid dreaming with Bernice, get lost in one of Belion’s gamer fantasies or manufacture black holes with Irene. Literary fiction fans will appreciate the many allusions to classical literature and the gods who appear to George in Toledo. But if you really just want to read a funny, sexy, smart love story that questions whether or not relationships can be created in the stars, you’ll enjoy How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky. If you’re an audiophile, pick up the audiobook version of Toledo, which is narrated by Lydia’s friend and fellow author Joshilyn Jackson.

Other Books by Lydia Netzer

If you’d like to read Lydia Netzer‘s e-novella Everybody’s Baby, here’s your chance. Enter the Rafflecopter contest below to win one of five copies of the book. You will have to use iTunes to download the book to your e-reader–don’t worry, it’s really easy. Everybody’s Baby is an e-original, so no print copies are available. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Quick! Read This: The Never Never Sisters by L. Alison Heller

The Never Never Sisters by L. Alison HellerSometimes you want…you need…to escape your own mundane life and get caught up in someone else’s family drama. This has to be true otherwise reality television shows wouldn’t exist. Today, my husband has escaped into his Man Cave to watch the World Cup matches and my e-reader has teleported me to New York’s Upper East, the setting of L. Alison Heller’s The Never Never Sisters.

In The Never Never Sisters, protagonist Paige Reinhardt is feeling smug and secure in her life. She’s rented a summer cottage in the Hamptons, has a close relationship with her wealthy parents and makes a decent living helping couples save their marriages. Paige’s plans for a relaxing summer start to unravel when her husband, a successful corporate law partner, shows up at home and says he’s been suspended from his job pending an investigation. While her husband holes up in his home office, Paige learns that her estranged older sister is planning a visit to New York City. Sloane’s timing and motives are questionable; she has a long history of drug addiction and hasn’t been part of the family in at least twenty years. Unsure whom she can trust, Paige begins investigating her family’s past and her husband’s present business dealings.

Author L. Alison Heller grew up in Connecticut and earned her law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She practices family law in New York, which means she knows a lot about the lawyers and marriage counseling she writes of in the book. USA Today recently declared The Never Never Sisters a “must-read romance.” To learn more about the book and its author, visit Alison Heller’s website or follow @LAlisonHeller on Twitter.

Publisher's Description of The Never Never Sisters by L. Alison Heller
Marriage counselor Paige Reinhardt is counting down the days to summer, eager to reconnect with her workaholic husband at their cozy rental cottage in the Hamptons. But soon a mysterious crisis at Dave’s work ruins their getaway plans. Paige is still figuring out how to handle the unexplained chill in her marriage when her troubled sister suddenly returns after a two-decade silence. Now, instead of enjoying the lazy summer days along the ocean, Paige is navigating the rocky waters of a forgotten bond with her sister in the sweltering city heat. As she attempts to dig deeper into Dave’s work troubles and some long-held family secrets, Paige is shocked to discover how little she knows about the people closest to her. This summer, the self-proclaimed relationship expert will grapple with her biggest challenge yet: Is it worth risking your most precious relationships in order to find yourself?
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Quick! Read This: The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman

icecreamqueenorchardstreetI met my first bubbie when in my early 20s and living in a predominantly Jewish suburb of Baltimore. My boss’s wife invited me to a family gathering and explained that “bubbie” was the Jewish term for grandmother. Her bubbie, a bored matriarch in a beige sweater set, advised me that I needed to get married if I was going to continue working for her granddaughter’s husband. Only grandmothers and mobsters can deliver such straightforward counsel–half compliment and half threat–without raising eyebrows. I pictured that wise and direct bubbie when reading the first-person account of Lillian Dunkle, better known as The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street.

Dunkle is the sweet, chilly concoction of author Susan Jane GilmanThe Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street is Gilman’s first novel. Lillian Dunkle begins by telling us that she is in legal trouble and wants to set the record straight. She then proceeds to tell her epic life story–from poor Russian immigrant living in a tenement house on Orchard Street to ice cream and media empress dubbed the “Ice Cream Queen of America” by President Eisenhower. Lillian interrupts her reveries only to update her “darlings” on current events or to call famous people or detractors names in Yiddish.

This is a funny book with serious heart. Gilman is a journalist and humorist whose three previous books are nonfiction. She dedicates The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street to Frank McCourt, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning immigrant memoir Angela’s Ashes. McCourt was Gilman’s English teacher and mentor at Stuyvesant High School in New York. You can learn more about Gilman at her author website,

Publisher's Description of The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman
In 1913, little Malka Treynovsky flees Russia with her family. Bedazzled by tales of gold and movie stardom, she tricks them into buying tickets for America. Yet no sooner do they land on the squalid Lower East Side of Manhattan, than Malka is crippled and abandoned in the street. Taken in by a tough-loving Italian ices peddler, she manages to survive through cunning and inventiveness. As she learns the secrets of his trade, she begins to shape her own destiny. She falls in love with a gorgeous, illiterate radical named Albert, and they set off across America in an ice cream truck. Slowly, she transforms herself into Lillian Dunkle, “The Ice Cream Queen” — doyenne of an empire of ice cream franchises and a celebrated television personality. Lillian’s rise to fame and fortune spans seventy years and is inextricably linked to the course of American history itself, from Prohibition to the disco days of Studio 54. Yet Lillian Dunkle is nothing like the whimsical motherly persona she crafts for herself in the media. Conniving, profane, and irreverent, she is a supremely complex woman who prefers a good stiff drink to an ice cream cone. And when her past begins to catch up with her, everything she has spent her life building is at stake.
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Quick! Read This: The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman

Books by Tom Rachman

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers is the latest novel from author Tom Rachman. His first novel was The Imperfectionists. Learn more about the author at

School has disappeared me again. I’m studying how to teach Chaucer to grade school and college students this term. Did you know that Terry Jones, one of the members of Monty Python, is a Chaucer scholar? After learning that factoid, I attempted again to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail on DVD. I’ve seen chunks of Monty Python films and TV episodes before, but I just don’t “get” their brand of humor. My husband is a fan and we both enjoyed seeing the musical Spamalot when it came to Atlanta’s. However, my newly-acquired Chaucer knowledge didn’t loosen up my funny bone during the Holy Grail viewing. I am finding Jones’s book Chaucer’s Knight a most useful text for school.

I believe that author Tom Rachman would understand the above literary rambling. When I arrived at pages 162-163 of the advanced reader copy of Rachman’s second novel, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, I cried with laughter because I recognized myself and some of the literary scholars and students I’ve encountered in grad school. Rachman satirically fillets a literary studies student–a character named Emerson no less–on these two pages. But Emerson is only one of the many robust and intricate characters found in The Rise and Fall of Great Powers. Since this is a “Quick! Read This” post, I’ll share a better description of the book from Random House:

Publisher's Description of The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman
Tooly Zylberberg, the American owner of an isolated bookshop in the Welsh countryside, conducts a life full of reading, but with few human beings. Books are safer than people, who might ask awkward questions about her life. She prefers never to mention the strange events of her youth, which mystify and worry her still. Taken from home as a girl, Tooly found herself spirited away by a group of seductive outsiders, implicated in capers from Asia to Europe to the United States. But who were her abductors? Why did they take her? What did they really want? There was Humphrey, the curmudgeonly Russian with a passion for reading; there was the charming but tempestuous Sarah, who sowed chaos in her wake; and there was Venn, the charismatic leader whose worldview transformed Tooly forever. Until, quite suddenly, he disappeared. Years later, Tooly believes she will never understand the true story of her own life. Then startling news arrives from a long-lost boyfriend in New York, raising old mysteries and propelling her on a quest around the world in search of answers. Tom Rachman—an author celebrated for humanity, humor, and wonderful characters—has produced a stunning novel that reveals the tale not just of one woman but of the past quarter-century as well, from the end of the Cold War to the dominance of American empire to the digital revolution of today. Leaping between decades, and from Bangkok to Brooklyn, this is a breathtaking novel about long-buried secrets and how we must choose to make our own place in the world. It will confirm Rachman’s reputation as one of the most exciting young writers we have.

A big fan of Rachman’s first novel, The Imperfectionists, I thoroughly enjoyed this follow-up. Rachman may one day find himself the focus of the literary scholarship he pokes fun at in The Rise and Fall of Great Powers. To learn more about the author, visit his website at

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Two Wildly Different Books About Sisters: The Moon Sisters and The Lost Sisterhood

While behind in my blogging here at Southern Spines, I’m surpassing my goal of finishing at least one book a week for my Goodreads 2014 Reading Challenge. I like the site because it’s a way to track what I’ve been reading, bookmark what I’d like to read and discover new information about books from other users. Do you use Goodreads? If so, let’s be friends.

The Moon Sisters by Therese WalshIn March, I enjoyed two new releases dealing with the complex relationship between sisters. The Moon Sisters is the second novel from Therese Walsh, co-founder of one of my favorite websites about writing, Writer Unboxed.

The Moon Sisters are Jazz and Olivia, who take turns narrating the book. Each has unanswered questions about the sudden death of their mother and takes a different approach to grieving her loss. Jazz, the quintessential older sister, resents always having to care for her family and plans her escape from home by taking a new job. Olivia has a rare neurological condition called synesthesia, which causes more than one sense to be stimulated at the same time; she smells sights or tastes words. For example, Olivia associates the smell of sunshine with her mother and eventually blinds herself after staring into the sun for too long in a vain attempt to reconnect.

Readers learn more about the mother’s life through a series of her unsent letters, which are interspersed among the book’s chapters. Beth Moon shared details of her life with the father who disowned her for getting pregnant with Jazz at an early age. Beth also spent most of her life writing a fairy tale about the bogs and ghost lights of the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, but she never completed the book nor saw the ghost lights. Olivia sets out to finish her mother’s story at Monongahela, obliging Jazz to “be led around by the nose through the forest over bat-crazy bullshittery.” Walsh’s bittersweet and honest depiction of sisterhood will stay with you long after the ghost lights flicker and fade. Learn more about Therese Walsh at her website:

The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier

Sisterhood has a few different definitions in Anne Fortier’s The Lost Sisterhood. At the heart of the story is one woman’s quest to prove that the Amazons of ancient folklore really existed and that their sisterhood survives to this day. Diana Morgan, a philologist (written records and language expert), became obsessed with the Amazons as a child when her grandmother claimed to be one. Before disappearing, Diana’s grandmother left behind clues to the Amazons’ existence, including a notebook containing their language. When the letters appear in an excavated temple in North Africa, Diana sees an opportunity to prove her theories by deciphering the inscription. A scholarly excursion quickly turns into a multinational expedition and womanhunt, as Diana becomes entangled with wealthy and powerful entities that are equally invested in exposing or hiding the Amazons.

The contemporary adventure alternates with the ancient backstory of Myrina, the first queen of the Amazons. Myrina crosses the Mediterranean to rescue her biological sister Lilli and their Amazonian sisters, who were captured by Greek marauders. Along the way, Myrina meets the heir to the Trojan throne and her mission intersects with the long-simmering feud between Greece and Troy. Fortier does an excellent job of weaving Myrina’s story into the ancient legend of the Trojan War. If you enjoy international adventure narratives, mysteries replete with myriad historical details and strong female characters, you’ll appreciate this repurposing of the Amazon myth. Anne Fortier’s author website is


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