Book Tour, Reviews

All Your Twisted Secrets

This thrilling debut, reminiscent of new fan favorites like One of Us Is Lying and the beloved classics by Agatha Christie, will leave readers guessing until the explosive ending.

Welcome to dinner, and again, congratulations on being selected. Now you must do the selecting.

What do the queen bee, star athlete, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek all have in common? They were all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it’s a trap. Someone has locked them into a room with a bomb, a syringe filled with poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill … or else everyone dies.

Amber Prescott is determined to get her classmates and herself out of the room alive, but that might be easier said than done. No one knows how they’re all connected or who would want them dead. As they retrace the events over the past year that might have triggered their captor’s ultimatum, it becomes clear that everyone is hiding something. And with the clock ticking down, confusion turns into fear, and fear morphs into panic as they race to answer the biggest question: Who will they choose to die?

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Daaaaaaaamn. These YA contemporary thrillers keep getting more and more wild. Fictional teenagers just get crazier and crazier. But I also had a ton of fun reading about it and I think you will too.

All Your Twisted Secrets is the next in a new trend of teen-oriented murder mysteries in YA fiction. Recent successful titles in this genre have been One of Us is Lying and A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder and, let me be the first to tell you, if you liked either of those titles then this one is going to be right up your alley. This book is readable, quick, full of fun-to-follow characters, and just as twisted as the title suggests.

The one thing I liked about this book that others might complain of is the characters. They were so…young. And I loved them for it. A lot of times in novels like this, the author tries to portray them as much older than they are, whether that be in their logic or decision-making, it always feels a little stilted. One of the highlights, in my opinion, of these characters is just how…teenage they are. They’re dumb and impulsive, they care about things that shouldn’t be prioritized, and they are campy as hell: but they were fun to read about. They made me think about being a teen again too and all of the dumb things I thought and did then. Only…without the murder, thankfully.

I don’t know how to talk about the story too much without giving anything away. I guessed the ending but I think only because I’ve read so many of these YA mysteries lately, and still I got details wrong. I generally don’t like guessing an ending, but this time I didn’t mind it so much. The devil was in the details and I think the author did a good job of wrapping things up satisfactorily and having enough twists and turns along the way.

Ultimately, if this is your type of book: go for it. You will love it and you won’t be able to put it down. If not? That’s okay. But All Your Twisted Secrets is a solid new entry into the world of teen murder and I enjoyed the hell out of it.


I’m Diana Urban, and I write dark, twisty thrillers for teens including All Your Twisted Secrets (HarperTeen, March 17th 2020). When I’m not torturing fictional characters, I’m a marketing manager at BookBub, a leading book discovery platform. Outside the bookish world, I live with my husband and cat in Boston, and enjoy reading, video games, fawning over cute animals, and looking at the beach from a safe distance.

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Book Tour, Reviews

Witches of Ash and Ruin

Modern witchcraft blends with ancient Celtic mythology in an epic clash of witches and gods, perfect for fans of V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy and A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES.

Seventeen-year-old Dayna Walsh is struggling to cope with her somatic OCD; the aftermath of being outed as bisexual in her conservative Irish town; and the return of her long-absent mother, who barely seems like a parent. But all that really matters to her is ascending and finally, finally becoming a full witch-plans that are complicated when another coven, rumored to have a sordid history with black magic, arrives in town with premonitions of death. Dayna immediately finds herself at odds with the bewitchingly frustrating Meiner King, the granddaughter of their coven leader.

And then a witch turns up murdered at a local sacred site, along with the blood symbol of the Butcher of Manchester-an infamous serial killer whose trail has long gone cold. The killer’s motives are enmeshed in a complex web of witches and gods, and Dayna and Meiner soon find themselves at the center of it all. If they don’t stop the Butcher, one of them will be next.

With razor-sharp prose and achingly real characters, E. Latimer crafts a sweeping, mesmerizing story of dark magic and brutal mythology set against a backdrop of contemporary Ireland that’s impossible to put down.

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So let’s start off simple: I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Old Irish magic, Queer and witchy characters, serial killers, dark turns and twists: Witches of Ash and Ruin had so much to offer and did not disappoint. If YA and dark fantasy are up your alley, then you will not want to miss this new debut.

The first thing I noticed and loved about this book was the irreverent and witchy vibe of the story. Even in the writing, Latimer does a spectacular job of infusing that dark, eerie, and still somehow sarcastic feeling into every sentence and atmosphere. She uses the backdrop of Ireland, with all of its ancient myths and history, to great effect that I thought highlighted some of the most interesting aspects of Irish folklore. The world she built isn’t campy or flashy, it is subtle and shifting and magical and full of hidden secrets and clues. The atmosphere, the writing, and the setting work together in a beautiful triad to support this twisted story.

All of that would be nothing, however, if the characters weren’t just as nuanced, interesting, and relatable. I love, love, love seeing more and more Queer, female stories in fiction, especially YA, but these girls were also just– fun to get to know. They’re sarcastic and snarky, smart and crafty, and so much more than “pretty young girls.” These girls are powerful, and it felt so good to read about young girls who stood so well in their power. They were also relatable as hell and reminded me of myself as a teen girl, albeit with a little more agency. And magic.

What I also enjoyed about this book was the delicate balance it was able to find between dark topics of magic and murder and a lighter, softer side of its central story. It’s almost part coming-of-age story, in that the character’s lives are given just as much significance and page-time as the mystery. I liked getting to know the main character’s insecurities, her struggles with OCD, her questions and difficulties with sexuality. Their families and friends weren’t absent, like in many lazier stories, and instead they had– lives. It was nice. In the midst of a dark and gritty murder mystery, these scenes balanced out the weight and tone of the book nicely.

Overall, I highly recommend Witches of Ash and Ruin to anyone looking for an awesome new YA fantasy. It’s great mental health and LGBTQ+ representation, plus a whole lot of magic, murder, and fun! The story was readable and I loved the twists along the way. Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think!


E. Latimer is a fantasy writer from Victoria, BC. Her middle grade novel, The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray was published by Tundra Books, and was recently nominated for the Red Maple Fiction Award.

In her spare time, she writes books, makes silly vlogs with the Word Nerds about writing, and reads excessively.

Her latest novel, Witches of Ash and Ruin, will be released Spring/Summer 2020 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

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Reviews

Saint X

Claire is only seven years old when her college-age sister, Alison, disappears on the last night of their family vacation at a resort on the Caribbean island of Saint X. Several days later, Alison’s body is found in a remote spot on a nearby cay, and two local men – employees at the resort – are arrested. But the evidence is slim, the timeline against it, and the men are soon released. The story turns into national tabloid news, a lurid mystery that will go unsolved. For Claire and her parents, there is only the return home to broken lives.

Years later, Claire is living and working in New York City when a brief but fateful encounter brings her together with Clive Richardson, one of the men originally suspected of murdering her sister. It is a moment that sets Claire on an obsessive pursuit of the truth – not only to find out what happened the night of Alison’s death but also to answer the elusive question: Who exactly was her sister? At seven, Claire had been barely old enough to know her: a beautiful, changeable, provocative girl of eighteen at a turbulent moment of identity formation.

As Claire doggedly shadows Clive, hoping to gain his trust, waiting for the slip that will reveal the truth, an unlikely attachment develops between them, two people whose lives were forever marked by the same tragedy.


Saint X is the debut novel of American author Alexis Schaitkin. Despite this being her first long-form work, she weaves an intricate story like a seasoned pro.  The story opens in 1995, setting up the murder of Alison Thomas on the tropical island of Saint X in the Carribean. 

Alison’s death is left as a mystery before the story re-starts 20 years later on the island of Manhattan. It is there we are reintroduced to Alison’s younger sister, only seven at the time of the fateful Saint X vacation.  Claire, who now goes by Emily, has moved forward with her life and finds herself as a drastically different person than her sister ever knew. She is happy and successful, living her best life until one fateful day when she steps into the cab of a man named Clive Richardson.  Although she does not recognize him immediately, she is soon blindsided by the realization that this seemingly innocuous cabby is the same man who was once the prime suspect in Alison’s death. This sends Emily spiraling down a path where, for the first time in her adult life, she is forced to confront the mystery of what happened to her sister.

The way the tale unravels from there kept me hooked.  Although early in her career, Schaitkin is a master at the craft of storytelling. We are treated to two very different perspectives: Emily and Clive. The novel primarily stays in the present as Emily finds herself obsessed with finding out the truth about her sister while Clive remains held captive by his secrets only a few miles away.  Both characters are haunted by the fateful night that led to the death of young Alison, and twenty years later both are trying to find the way to live with what they know – and don’t know.  

What I really enjoyed about the story was that we didn’t only hear from these two characters.  Throughout the novel we take quick detours to the past, both on Saint X and elsewhere, to learn more about the characters and the mysteries that surround them.  We are also treated to brief interludes from other characters, some who tell us about Alison, some who tell us about the case, and some who teach us more about our other main characters.  These come from minor characters who otherwise might be more or less inconsequential to the plot, but nevertheless provide us with important insight that might lead to the truth of what happened.

Overall, Saint X is captivating and gorgeously written.  The author has a knack for description that had me seeing every detail as plain as day. And I found that the further into the story I was, the more difficult it was for me to take my eyes off the page. It’s a slow burn of a novel to be sure, leading to a deep investment in our characters, their secrets, and their pain.  While it looks like a mystery novel on the surface, Saint X is so much more than that.  It’s a story of danger, obsession, class, race, and the bonds that hold us together that will keep you up well into the night, desperate to see how it all ends.

Hope you’re all staying safe and healthy this week! x

Book Tour, Reviews

The Deep

Someone, or something, is haunting the Titanic.

This is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the passengers of the ship from the moment they set sail: mysterious disappearances, sudden deaths. Now suspended in an eerie, unsettling twilight zone during the four days of the liner’s illustrious maiden voyage, a number of the passengers – including millionaires Madeleine Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim, the maid Annie Hebbley and Mark Fletcher – are convinced that something sinister is going on . . . And then, as the world knows, disaster strikes.

Years later and the world is at war. And a survivor of that fateful night, Annie, is working as a nurse on the sixth voyage of the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic, now refitted as a hospital ship. Plagued by the demons of her doomed first and near fatal journey across the Atlantic, Annie comes across an unconscious soldier she recognises while doing her rounds. It is the young man Mark. And she is convinced that he did not – could not – have survived the sinking of the Titanic . . .

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So, full disclosure, I wanted to be on this book tour so badly. I’m a big fan of Alma Katsu. If you’ve hung around here long enough, you’ve probably seen me mention her writing once or twice, but if not then I am excited to introduce the two of you. Readers, meet Alma Katsu: the absolute master of historical horror fiction.

I read The Hunger, my debut into Katsu’s work, a couple of years ago and have been a fan ever since. The Hunger follows The Donner Party on their doomed journey, while adding an entirely new facet to the mystery along the way. I was riveted throughout the whole thing. This being said, I had a lot of high hopes for The Deep once I got my hands on it.

The Deep may follow a different time and story than her first novel, but they share so many of Katsu’s strengths: research, creativity, and the spookiest atmosphere. The Deep re-examines the story of the Titanic and Britannic and Katsu does what she does best from page one: uses history to infuse life, color, and delicious fear into her incredible stories. I never know how she is going to twist a story or tease out its secrets, but the way she writes about these historical moments always surprises and delights me.

This book is also told in two parallel storylines, and in this case I enjoyed that a lot. Watching and waiting for things to happen in one story, only to know that they were going to rear their ugly head again years later in the other, created a sense of tension that I think a lot of writers yearn for. The Deep isn’t “scary,” per se, but what Katsu does here is to create a cold, foggy, unsettling atmosphere that both the characters and the reader must traverse with only faith to guide them.

Another thing that I always appreciate about Alma Katsu is that, despite writing in time periods where diversity was even more of a challenge than now, she manages to make room for it in her novels all the same. Whether its diversity of color, class, or faith, Katsu’s characters range between them and I appreciate the spectrum of views that are provided in her stories. I like reading a historical piece that doesn’t ignore that humanity is not a monolith. She does this so well and I think it bears special mention, because that can’t be easy.

The Deep is a great read and I highly recommend it to all of you. It was an eerie, slow-burn of a novel, and also a fascinating and creative new take on a story that we’ve all heard before. I will continue to check out Katsu’s work as she writes more, and I recommend you keep an eye on her too. Her work is only getting better.

“A ship so massive, and here we are, trapped on it, nowhere to run.” She shivered “One is always trapped within oneself though.”

”I know firsthand how easy it is for this kind of thing to happen in a confined space with few distractions. Someone gives voice to a concern and before long, it’s on everyone’s lips. Paranoia is itself a kind of contagion.”

“But these are no guests, only survivors, each with a story tucked inside their bandages—wounds, pains, visions of shrapnel, explosions, and terrors she can’t fathom.”

For all that was said about the Titanic, how superior it was, how well designed, how glorious and noble – as though it were a person, with a person’s traits – it would do nothing to save them. The Titanic was indifferent to the humans crawling on its decks and would willingly sacrifice them to the sea.”


Alma Katsu is the author of The Hunger, a reimagining of the story of the Donner Party with a horror twist. The Hunger made NPR’s list of the 100 Best Horror Stories, was named one of the best novels of 2018 by the Observer, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books (and more), and was nominated for a Stoker and Locus Award for best horror novel.

The Taker, her debut novel, has been compared to the early works of Anne Rice and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander for combining historical, the supernatural, and fantasy into one story. The Taker was named a Top Ten Debut Novel of 2011 by Booklist, was nominated for a Goodreads Readers Choice award, and has been published in over 10 languages. It is the first in an award-winning trilogy that includes The Reckoning and The Descent.

Ms. Katsu lives outside of Washington DC with her husband, musician Bruce Katsu. In addition to her novels, she has been a signature reviewer for Publishers Weekly, and a contributor to the Huffington Post. She is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Program and Brandeis University, where she studied with novelist John Irving. She also is an alumni of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

Prior to publication of her first novel, Ms. Katsu had a long career in intelligence, working for several US agencies and a think tank. She currently is a consultant on emerging technologies. Additional information can be found on Wikipedia and in this interview with Ozy.com.

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Book Tour, Reviews

The Degenerates

In the tradition of Girl, Interrupted, this fiery historical novel follows four young women in the early 20th century whose lives intersect when they are locked up by a world that took the poor, the disabled, the marginalized—and institutionalized them for life.

The Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded is not a happy place. The young women who are already there certainly don’t think so. Not Maxine, who is doing everything she can to protect her younger sister Rose in an institution where vicious attendants and bullying older girls treat them as the morons, imbeciles, and idiots the doctors have deemed them to be. Not Alice, either, who was left there when her brother couldn’t bring himself to support a sister with a club foot. And not London, who has just been dragged there from the best foster situation she’s ever had, thanks to one unexpected, life altering moment. Each girl is determined to change her fate, no matter what it takes.

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When I read the synopsis of The Degenerates by J. Albert Mann, I knew that I had to read it. I have always been fascinated by the periods in our nation’s history when people were shunted and hidden away like this. Especially for it to be children. Given I tend to dive into dark topics anyway, this seemed right up my alley. And I’m happy to report that I was exceedingly pleased with the journey.

The Degenerates is a great story with both heartbreaking and beautiful moments. The topics themselves can be dark: mental illness, disfiguration, society and the burden of shame in the 1900s. But what Mann does so well is give each one of these issues a face and a name. These four girls, and points of view, are varied in their “illnesses,” and each holds their own voices and secrets. But throughout the book, they each also hold a lesson for us: that every one of us is human, no matter how different.

My favorite thing about this book is simple: Mann’s writing is immersive, emotional, and easy to read, all at once. Her writing infuses life into the history and people she writes about in such a personal way that I felt like I was in the story myself, living alongside, and sometimes within, these four, lost, young girls.

Overall, The Degenerates was a moving, intelligent, emotional, and powerful read. I enjoyed every page of it and I felt like it moved along at a pace that was both fun and dwelt just long enough in the hard places. Mann does a terrific job of bringing a period and place to life that I don’t see much of in literature, especially YA, and I commend her for that. I’ll be looking for her next work in the future.


J. Albert Mann is the author of six novels for children, with S&S Atheneum Books for Young Readers set to publish her next work of historical fiction about the Eugenics Movement and the rise of institutionalism in the United States. She is also the author of short stories and poems for children featured in Highlights for Children, where she won the Highlights Fiction Award, as well as the Highlights Editors’ Choice Award. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and is the Director of the WNDB Internship Grant Committee. 

Jennifer is represented by Kerry Sparks at Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency.

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Book Tour, Reviews

The Seventh Sun

The sun of the Chicome people has been destroyed six times. First by water, then by storm, fire, famine, sickness, and beasts. After each apocalypse, the creator goddess allowed one of her divine children to sacrifice themselves to save civilization. The gods paid their blood as the price for the lives of the people, and the people owed them blood in return.

Mayana is a noble descendant of the water goddess and can control water whenever her blood is spilled. She has always despised the brutal rituals of her people — especially sacrifices. She can’t even make it through a routine animal sacrifice without embarrassing her family. Prince Ahkin has always known he would be emperor, but he didn’t expect his father to die so suddenly. Now he must raise the sun in the sky each day and read the signs in the stars. But the stars now hint at impending chaos and the sun has begun setting earlier each evening. Ahkin fears he might not be strong enough to save his people from another apocalypse. And to add to his list of worries, he can’t truly become emperor until he selects a wife.

Mayana and six other noble daughters are sent to the palace to compete for Ahkin’s hand. She must prove she is a true daughter of water and face the others who have their own magical gifts from wielding the elements to the control of animals, plants and healing. And in a society centered on rigid rituals, Mayana must conceal her traitorous beliefs because if she doesn’t make Ahkin love her, she will become a ceremonial sacrifice to bless his marriage. But darker forces are at play and it won’t matter if Mayana loses if the world ends first…

Rich in imagination and romance, and based on the legends and history of the Aztec and Mayan people, The Seventh Sun brings to vivid life a world on the edge of apocalyptic disaster.

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The Seventh Sun by Lani Forbes is a rich, fictional exploration of a culture I don’t see written about often enough. It was descriptive, magical, and kept me reading the whole night through.

This story has so many things going for it: a solid plot, detail-oriented world building, and a religious and magical system that kept me fascinated. In fact, that was my favorite part: the descriptions. Forbes does such a masterful job of painting detailed picture after picture for her readers. Especially in an environment as lush and rich as this, her style pays off in spades.

The main character Mayana is an interesting one to tell her story. In a sometimes brutal and intense world, she is known as someone who is— well, innocent. She is kind and sympathetic and throughout her journey that both helps her and hinders her equally. While I didn’t always relate to her choices, I always understood where they came from and was persistently interested in what she would do next. In particular, her resolve to and kind heart kept me rooting for her until the very end.

The only spot that I wish would have been more fleshed out was the side characters. While still intriguing and interesting, there was so much more that I wanted to know about them. I feel as if I was told who they were more than I was shown who they were. Especially Mayana’s friend Yoli, someone who came off as this badass female warrior, but- lacked the moments in which I wanted to see her assert that personality.

The only exception here is Ahkin, the Prince. His personality is relatively prince-like in what you’d expect, but what I loved about how this character was written is that he was also written with doubt. Doubt that he can rule well, doubt that he’s doing the right thing, doubt that he is enough. This made him feel relatable and real and I enjoyed that the author brought that aspect to a character who could have been very two-dimensional.

The Seventh Sun by Lani Forbes was dark, fast-paced, and thoroughly entertaining. If you’re looking for something action-oriented, plot-driven, and flush with rich, descriptive details of a beautiful world, culture, and society, this is the book for you. Check this title out when it hits shelves soon!


Lani Forbes is the daughter of a librarian and an ex-drug smuggling surfer, which explains her passionate love of the ocean and books. A California native whose parents live in Mexico, she now resides in the Pacific Northwest where she stubbornly wears flip flops no matter how cold it gets. She teaches middle school math and science and proudly calls herself a nerd and Gryffindor. She is also an award-winning member of Romance Writers of America and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

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