Review: Alice in Murderland (Magical Bookshop Mystery #1) by Samantha Silver

When Alice Calliope takes over her recently deceased aunt’s bookshop in Sapphire Village, Oregon, she’s not expecting her world to be flipped upside down, but that’s exactly what happens when her cousin Cat reveals to Alice that she’s actually a witch. Add in the fact that the two of them stumble upon a dead body, and Alice’s first day in town ends up being a lot more eventful than she could have possibly imagined!

What was supposed to be a simple cross-country move winds up with Alice having to learn how to navigate a whole new magical world while at the same time trying to clear Cat’s name as she emerges as the main suspect in the murder. Add in the eccentric Grandma Cee, witchcraft lessons, a whiny old ghost and the laziest cat ever, and Alice definitely has her hands full.

With pressure mounting for the super-hot local sheriff to arrest her cousin, will Alice be able to hunt down the real killer before it’s too late?

Let me begin by saying the general story here is pretty good and the characters quirky and easy to relate to. That said, I feel like this book skipped a step in its path to publication. There are some rather large distractions from the story that, though I pushed past them to finish the story, would have normally had me closing the book after the first few chapters.

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The writing is a lot of telling, something that I can overlook if the plot has substance, but this too was lacking in many parts; I felt like there could be so much more to this story.

The main character is in her late twenties, speaks like a teenager and even after finding a dead body feels no need to call and speak to her mother, the woman who raised her. In no part of this story does she even contemplate calling her.

The ‘pressure’ implied is being put on the Sheriff to arrest her cousin, is no more than one person accusing her cousin of the murder shortly after the body is found. There is no other times that it is mentioned about her being a suspect, except by the main character herself and this is assumptions based off the initial rant of the dead woman’s best friend, not off actual interaction with or pressure from the Sheriff.

There are many contradictions that I found extremely frustrating, more so, because I know that they could have easily been picked up by a good beta reader. The witchcraft lessons with Grandma Cee consisted of one afternoon and only three different spells, that are not even spells, but simply thinking about what she wants to happen then pointing. How does someone need lessons in this?

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Also, if this is all that is needed and Alice is so good at it, why hobble up the stairs on her crutches, why not float herself up, why not just think about her sprained ankle and make it better? The idea behind how they use magic is somewhat different to what is already out there, but leaves wondering about the rules.

The Others were introduced by implicating them in her aunt’s death, and used as the basis for calling Alice to the town, but that was all. Why tell us about the Big Bad and then give us nothing? I felt like this part of the story might be setting up for future books, but I don’t think I will be reading them.

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I wanted to review something this month that was fun and easy to read. Alice in Murderland was somewhat fun, but was not easy to read. The inconsistencies in writing style, no real feel for time, contradictions and even character name changes made it a struggle.

A solid 3 star read with a cute cover. Alice in Murderland will suit younger readers that will potentially miss the flaws that perturbed me throughout.

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Does romance need a HEA?

This month on the blog, we’re talking all things lovey-dovey. Here, Lauren K. McKellar discusses the ending of a romance novel–does it have to follow a formula?

For many people, romance novels are a great source of escapism, providing an emotionally packed story that transports the reader away from the humdrum of everyday life. Perhaps that’s why when a romance novel doesn’t end with a HEA (happily ever after) it inspires such controversy. If a romance novel doesn’t have a HEA, is it truly a romance at all?

Let’s consider the alternative. If a romance novel doesn’t have a HEA, it usually has a HFN (happy for now). This means that while the hero and the heroine aren’t perhaps together, the immediate threat has passed and the characters are happy for now. Their future isn’t clear, though–we don’t know for certain whether they’ll end up together or not, and in some cases, when one character passes away, it’s not even possible.

In recent times, however, many readers are questioning whether a romance novel needs a happy ending to truly be part of this category. Here’s why.

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Photo: stock.adobe.com

Many people read romance looking for the feeling that comes with a HEA. They’ve found the book in the romance category and while they’re ready to go on an emotional journey, to watch two characters go through hell to be together, they expect them to be holding hands at the end of the story (or making love, depending on the heat level of your novel). They want that sense of emotional fulfilment–they want to close the book and have the “ah” moment that comes when two people get together and everything is set for the perfect future.

In a book with a HFN, you don’t get that. I mean, sure, we could put a warning in the blurb (“at the end, I’m going to kill the hero, so don’t read this one if you’re after a wedding and a baby”), but obviously, most authors don’t want to do that, and I’d argue that most readers don’t want to know that sort of detail before they start a book, either.

That then begs the question: does all romance need a HEA, and if an author doesn’t offer one, are they breaking the reader’s trust?

The Romance Writers of America defines romance novels as having:

An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.”

To me, this implies that a HEA is required to fall into the category.

What do you think? Do you need your romance to have a HEA?

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Lauren K. McKellar is the author of several romance reads, and some not so romantic ones. She loves torturing her characters and playing Russian roulette with their lives. You can read more about her books on her website, or come say hi to her on Facebook.

The badder the better, and this guy’s the worst.

This month on Aussie Owned and Read we’re talking Villains. Those guys who exist to make things rough for the hero by hopefully having waring goals.

What better way to wind up the month than doing a spotlight on the biggest of the Big Bad?

For us, the worst kind of villain is one who masquerades as a hero. Who genuinely believes in their misguided attempts at goodness. One name in particular springs to mind.

Can you guess who?

The actual puppet master himself: Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

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“I’m the boss, bitch!”

“But he’s SAH GOOD!” I hear you scream. Don’t worry, I was fooled for years too. So let’s take a closer looker look at his various misdeeds.

 

Headmaster Duties – because what even is Duty of Care?

Segregates children based on 11-year-old personalities and encourages the belief this somehow defines them for the rest of their lives.

Casually sends kids into a dangerous forrest, allows peeps to keep illegal creatures, and abuses ministry time turners ~

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 “Hey Miss Granger” *winks suggestively* “Wanna help me break the law?”

Knowingly! Hires! a Werewolf! (who cares if a kid gets hurt and poor Lupin ends up riddled with guilt for evs?)

Dark Wizard on the loose and can’t hire a decent Dark Arts Teacher EVER in like 7 years!!!! ~ *looks at Dark Arts like geometry* “Eh. Not like they’re ever use this…*

No Triwizard investigation ~ Moody: “Only a powerful wizard could have hoodwinked it[the cup]!” Dumbledore: “I see no cause for alarm, bruh.”

Lets students battle with freaking dragons!%$#

Encourages Quidditch: a dangerous game that encourages belting giant balls at each other to send them falling to their possible deaths ~ “BUT WE HAVE MADAME POMFREY”

Obviously favours Gryffindors and robs Slytherin of the house cup ON PURPOSE ~ “Slytherin win the house cup!” Dumbledore: *sniggers* “Hold my Butterbeer”

(Which leads us to) Rewards students for their stupidity ~

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“Thanks for taking on ol’ Voldy. I had a prior engagement”

Turns a blind eye when students are in danger

Has a three headed dog, a basilisk, Lord Voldemort, a troll, a giant spider, and death eaters all enter the castle under his watch ~ “BUT I’M THE BEST HEADMASTA EVA! LOLZ!”

‘Guidance’ of Harry

Leaves him on a doorstop as a baby in the middle of the night and does nothing to help him through a decade of mistreatment by his so called family ~ “It’s just domestic abuse, kid, toughen up!”

Raised Harry like a pig being raised for slaughter ~

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“Long live the Chosen One! Lol jks”

General Crumminess

Mistreats an obviously neglected traumatised child leading him to become a villainous asshat all of his own ~ “Tom has problems, you say? Ehh. I have other shit to deal with, he don’t need me”

Withholds important information, like always!

Beffles with Grindelwald–where is this dude’s judge of character?

Totes cool with the rumours circulating about Aberforth and does zero to stop it ~ “But he was mean to me that one time”

Hero finally does what he’s planned him to do and he’s still being cryptic ~ “Thanks for killing yaself, kid. Ima talk in scribbles some more”

Pure Evil

Manipulates a loyal follower into murdering him and taking the blame and being hated and hunted by everyone ever

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Treatment of Snape! ~ “Ima keep reminding you of how you killed that girl you loved that one time so you have to do as I say always ROFL”

Possibly and most probably killed his own sister. For the greater good, of course.

Totally his fault James and Lily are dead ~ “Look, ol’ Voldy is looking for you guys, but ima really need that cloak. No probs right?”

Leaves Sirius in a house where he was emotionally abused for years “Totes won’t do anything drastic”

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We’re sure there are a tonne more examples, because Dumbledore is the gift that keeps on giving.

In all seriousness though, J.K. Rowling is a master of creating deep, complex characters. I mean, she fooled you, didn’t she?

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What other examples can you think of?

 

Villains Are Heroes of Their Own Story

Writing a good villain can be hard. Cookie cutter bad guys with no real good reason to behave that way other than ‘they’re evil’ is ripping the reader off.

I once heard that ‘Villains are the heroes of their own story’ and I definitely believe that’s a good rule to live by as a writer. Think about antagonists, whether one in a popular story or one in a story you’ve written. Can you write out a character arc for them from their perspective? As they are inevitably beaten by their ‘villain’ it would need to be a tragedy, but you should be able to see it.

So let’s have a look at Lord Voldemort. His story starts like many others, in fact, there are parallel’s to Harry Potter’s origin story.

Tom Riddle is in an orphanage when Dumbledore comes to tell him that he’s actually a wizard and invites him to Hogwarts. Tom knew he was special because he could seemingly ‘do things.’

Death becomes the problem he needs to solve, and he decides Hogwarts is the place where he can solve this. But he is thwarted by someone he thought would be his ally, Dumbledore.

So he finds the solution on his own. Horcruxes. And as everything is going right for him, a new problem develops. A prophecy of a child who will be his downfall. So he decides no more fun and games, he must take action and cut off the threat by eliminating his enemy. But when he tries, the spell backfires and leaves him as a shell of a man.

Abandoned by his once ‘friends’, he desperately survives anyway he can until finally one of his ‘friends’ returns and helps him intact his plan to be restored.

But every step of the way Harry Potter is there to thwart him. Even after he finally manages to defeat his original enemy, Dumbledore. And ultimately in the end he unable to over come his young enemy and is killed.

 

Of course there can be an element of creepiness because they are really a villain after all. But we should be able to see how they are a hero in their own mind.

Sharon is a YA and NA author from sunny Queensland. Her Open Heart Series is out now with City Owl Press. 

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Psychology of the Villain

Villains. We love to hate them, and at times hate to find we love them. Last Tuesday’s Aussie Writers post looked at the possible motivations behind a villain’s actions, but what in their psyche allows them to make the choices that lead to these villainous deeds? To help me answer this question, I thought I better enlist an expert, so I teamed up with PsychWriter author, Tamar Sloan, to explore a villain’s psychology.

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A complex villain in most books isn’t your run of the mill sociopath with fifteen bodies in their basement. Yes, these individuals exist. We’ve seen the documentaries and read the books about them, but the broken characters we love to hate have greater depth than that. The villain of our masterpiece is usually a wounded human with the capacity for empathy, guilt and remorse. A human who makes choices that violate ethical, legal and moral boundaries.

What ultimately makes them a villain is that they reach a point where they’re okay with their choice, maybe even delight in it, and it’s the progression to this point that is valuable to tease out as a writer. Either in the planning or in the aftermath, your villain moves through a series of psychological steps that allows them to live with their choices and sleep the sleep of the guilt-free (or mostly guilt-free). Capture this process in your book and you’ve got a realistic, authentic villain your readers are going to be fascinated by, and possibly even understand on some primal, psychological level.

So what is this psychological, possibly subconscious, process your villain goes through before or after their villainous deeds?

The starting point is often a discrepancy between your villain’s beliefs and their behaviour. We each hold many beliefs and thoughts about the world and ourselves. Most of the time these beliefs, and the choices we make, coexist happily in the folds of our grey matter. Sometimes though, discrepancies arise. Like when we eat chocolate cake even though we know we should be dieting. Like saying family comes first, but then having an affair. Or like saying we value humanity, and then sacrificing thousands in the name of a cause.

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Image credit: Ryan McGuire http://www.gratisography.com

When our beliefs and behaviour clash we become uncomfortable. Nervous. Distressed. And if there’s one thing our brain doesn’t like, and has evolved to avoid, it’s discomfort. So it will do what it needs to do to achieve harmony and balance. Since the behaviour has usually already happened, or is committed to happening, the brain needs to do some cognitive gymnastics, and your villain will probably do one or more of the following:

  1. Change their belief: The ‘I don’t really need to be on a diet’ reasoning.

Saruman in the classic Lord of the Rings uses such reasoning. Originally a powerful Istari entrusted with guarding Middle Earth like Gandalf, Saruman’s belief—and allegiance—changes when he comes to believe that Sauron’s victory can’t be avoided. His love of power drives him to abandon his order and convinces him that he’s better off on the side of evil.

  1. Minimise their behaviour and how they perceive it: The ‘I hardly ate any chocolate cake at all’ reasoning.

From Middle Earth to Creekwood High and Martin Addison in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. It’s not often the class clown is written as the villain, but when Martin stumbles on a personal email of Simon’s, he threatens to out him unless he helps Martin get close to Simon’s friend, Abby. When Simon asks if Martin is actually going to make him do this, Martin deftly minimises his behaviour:

‘Make you? Come on. It’s not like that … It’s not like anything … I was just thinking you would want to help me here.’

  1. Rationalise their behaviour: the ‘Chocolate cake is a good source of calcium’ reasoning.

The Hunger Games series offers us a slow-boil villain in President Alma Coin. She is all about freeing Panem and making it a better place, but her desire to take President Snow’s place as ruler at any cost, including killing Katniss’ sister, Prim, reveals her for the power hungry sociopath that she really is. Whether an act or her true belief, Alma Coin’s ‘for the greater good’ reasoning continues to the very end:

‘Today, the greatest friend to revolution will fire the shot to end all wars. May her arrow signify the end of tyranny and the beginning of a new era.’

  1. Reduce perceived choice: the ‘I didn’t have a choice. It would have been rude not to eat it …’ reasoning.

Twilight’s Aro is a villain with very clear cut, black and white principles. His primary objective as head of the Volturi coven is to keep the existence of their kind hidden. When it’s rumoured that Bella and Edward have created an immortal child, Aro argues he ‘has no choice’ but to destroy the infant who poses a threat of exposure for the vampires. Only when Aro sees a vision of his own death as a result of him trying to kill the child does he back down and let her live. Even a vampire sleeps easier at night when he’s convinced himself he had no choice.

Disclaimer: no chocolate cake was harmed in the writing of this article! Well, not a lot of it anyway, and our hands were tied. We had to eat it … for research purposes.

About the author:

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Tamar really struggled writing this bio because she hasn’t decided whether she’s primarily a psychologist who loves writing, or a writer with a lifelong fascination for psychology. Somehow she got lucky enough to do both. Tamar is the author of the PsychWriter blog – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers.

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Tamar is also a passionate writer of young adult stories of finding love and life beyond your comfort zone. You can find out more about Tamar’s books at www.tamarsloan.com

 

 

 


Kat Colmer Author

Kat Colmer is a Young and New Adult author and high-school teacher librarian who writes coming-of-age stories with humour and heart. She lives with her husband and two children in Sydney, Australia. Her debut YA The Third Kiss is due out with ENTANGLED TEEN in August 2017. Learn more on her website, or come say hi on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Tell Me Why? Villainous Motivations

As readers we are eternally curious about the characters who populate stories. But it’s not the surface stuff that intrigues us, is it? It’s the stuff underneath that has moulded them, formed their perspectives – the stuff that drives them. These deeply buried things are what makes a character intriguing.

Villains by definition often top that ‘intriguing character’ list.

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Villains do bad things and sure, we want to know ‘who?’ and ‘how?’ but that fades to insignificance beside the question ‘why?’. Why did he poison the cat? Why did she try to destroy Anya’s reputation? Why is he determined to terrify her to the point that she believes she’s insane? The answers to those questions are what will allow us readers to sleep well after closing the last page. We will be sated, satisfied, content.

So, is it ever enough for an author to brush that question away with a cavalier: ‘He/she is just a bad person’?

Short answer? No. Long answer? Never, nil, nada. Hardly ever. 🙂 

Why? (See? You wanted to know ‘why?’ 😉 ). Short answer: Readers want more. They’ll feel cheated. And, just quietly, be really, really ticked off with the author.

villain 3Long answer: True psychopaths are the scariest people ever. And yes, successful books have been written featuring them. But, at the risk of lighting a fuse under any psychopaths reading this, in the literary sense they’re kind of boring. Kill or torture for the sake of killing or torturing? Not going to hold my attention for long. If I’m not wondering ‘why’ then I’m out. You see, very few people are born bad, so the whole psychopath thing can often be a bit unrealistic and harder for the reader to relate. In fact studies back from the 1980s to the present all agree that a fair equation is that around 1% of western world people are true psychopaths – people who act without empathy or conscience.

Okay, so a more favourable equation would be nil%, but I’ll still take 1% over anything higher. Relatively speaking, it’s a low number. (Actually it’s terrifying if I say it in numbers – but it IS low really. Like 13 million psychopaths in 1.3 billion people. Whaaat!!! No, wait. Honestly, rest assured, despite that scary figure you’re unlikely to meet one walking down the street today. Or maybe not. Feeling lucky? Um, excuse me while I just nip out & lock my doors.)

So, what about all the other people – let’s call them villains –  who continue to star in our villain 2news reports or populate our gaols?  The non psychopaths. These people weren’t born bad. For the vast majority, things happened in their lives that affected their perspective and culminated in poorly made decisions to cause havoc and break laws (sociopaths). Or regular people who’ve got some kind of issue that burns them or has turned them.  These ‘things’ are called motivations. I.e,  a motive or reason for their decisions or behaviour.

Like everything else in life, villains come in all shapes and sizes. Moreover, they come in all manner of villainy from the sneaky troublemaker to the morally bankrupt multi murderer/serial killer. Some are charming (in their own evil way). Some slip into the shadowy background and exist in that disregarded no man’s land ‘under the radar’. And some will make our skin crawl. As authors and readers, we’ve met them all because fiction has an unfathomably higher percentage of villains of all kinds than real life. Thank goodness, yeah?

To recap that: In real life, ordinary people will do bad things. Just as in fiction, ordinary people will do bad things. The one thing these non psychopathic villains have in common is motivation; the reason that drives their actions.

Let’s look at some. Caveat: The list below is not comprehensive and there are heaps of lists on the net. However these are all motivations – and all open to your own twists and interpretation –  that I have either used or read, where used successfully, in YA novels.

  • Romance/jealousy.
  • Revenge for a perceived injustice
  • Repayment of past treatment.
  • Desperation
  • Peer acceptance
  • Peer domination
  • Need for Power (based on villains own suppressed power by others in his life)
  • Rivalry
  • Grief/Loss
  • Fear of Discovery
  • Fear
  • Pride
  • Greed

Don’t forget your villain can also have noble motivations – or motivations that began as noble. Most superhero villains were once good guys with noble motivations who somehow got off track. A villain with a noble/likeable side is most intriguing.

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Mix up your villains motivations to add more interest. Maybe your villain can’t help being a villain because he’s trapped?

Motivations are one of the major keystones to your story. They:

  • Reveal & distinguish character
  • Drive plot
  • Build drama
  • Give your story authenticity
  • Provide the impetus for character growth arc.

Motivations apply to every character, not just the villain. They drive the story. Dare I say they are the story. Every action and every reaction of your characters will be the result of their reasoning. And all reasoning is tempered by motivation.

Good Luck and Happy villaining!

kaz-profiles-022Multi award winning author Kaz Delaney has published 72 novels for kids, teens & adults over a 20 year period, many of them  published in several languages. Thirteen are YA novels and every one features a romance. Her latest is The Reluctant Jillaroo, Allen & Unwin, 2016 .  She is repped by JDM Management.

Review: Geekerella by Ashley Poston

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Anything can happen once upon a con…

When geek girl Elle Wittimer sees a cosplay contest sponsored by the producers of Starfield, she has to enter. First prize is an invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. Elle’s been scraping together tips from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck behind her stepmother’s back, and winning this contest could be her ticket out once and for all—not to mention a fangirl’s dream come true.

Teen actor Darien Freeman is less than thrilled about this year’s ExcelsiCon. He used to live for conventions, but now they’re nothing but jaw-aching photo sessions and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Federation Prince Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but the diehard Starfield fandom has already dismissed him as just another heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, closet nerd Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.

Let me first start out by saying, Disney’s Cinderella isn’t my favourite. I enjoyed it, but it was no Beauty and the Beast, or Aladdin.

That said, for some reason Cinderella retellings are my weak spot. A Cinderella Story with Hilary Duff—yes please! Ever After with Drew Barrymore—LOVE! Cinder by Marissa Meyer—absolute favourite! Cinderella Live Action with Lily James—be still my beating heart!

So, yeah. I was kind of excited for Geekerella.

And I got through it in around 24 hours. With two little ones to look after that’s no easy thing.

Ashley Poston writing really draws you in. Told from alternating the POVs of Elle and Darien, the story unfolds to a deliciously addictive romance. Both characters are so full and imagined it was easy to work out who was who even without the chapter headings, and I fell for them both instantly.

This story uses the ‘anonymous text’ storyline where the downtrodden girl doesn’t realise she’s actually texting a heartthrob movie star. It may be an overused plot device but I still seriously love it. And when it’s as well-executed as in Geekerella, it helps to propel the story forward.

The chemistry was all there. The giddy kind that pulls a smile onto your face and makes you feel what the characters are feeling. And while Elle and Darien totally stole my heart, this book wouldn’t be what it is without the subplots and side characters.

Firstly, Sage. I heart her so much. Literally every scene with her in it was a joy to read—she was one hell of a fairy godmother. Jess, Darien’s co-star was fantastic, and the Frank the dog was described so perfectly I could have reached through the pages and scratched that chubby puppy’s head.

Then there was Starfield. I love books about fandoms because they throw me back to my teen years, scouring the Harry Potter forums and writing (bad) fanfiction. I felt all that and more through Elle’s passionate love for the cult series, and how it united her with her father, and later, with her fellow cosplayers at ExcelsiCon.

And, while a separate note to the writing, the quality of this paperback was off the charts. Thick paper, and a gorgeous cover. When you pick up a thin book with a bit of heft to it, you know the book is worth the money.

I would rec this book to anyone in an instant. You like a bit of cute romance? Geekerella. You like Cinderella? Geekerella. You like quirky characters? Geekerella. Books with fandoms? GEEKERELLA.

Do yourself a favour.

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Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Empire Literary