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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Book Tour, Reviews

Ink in the Blood

A lush, dark YA fantasy debut that weaves together tattoo magic, faith, and eccentric theater in a world where lies are currency and ink is a weapon, perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Kendare Blake.

Celia Sand and her best friend, Anya Burtoni, are inklings for the esteemed religion of Profeta. Using magic, they tattoo followers with beautiful images that represent the Divine’s will and guide the actions of the recipients. It’s considered a noble calling, but ten years into their servitude Celia and Anya know the truth: Profeta is built on lies, the tattooed orders strip away freedom, and the revered temple is actually a brutal, torturous prison.

Their opportunity to escape arrives with the Rabble Mob, a traveling theater troupe. Using their inkling abilities for performance instead of propaganda, Celia and Anya are content for the first time . . . until they realize who followed them. The Divine they never believed in is very real, very angry, and determined to use Celia, Anya, and the Rabble Mob’s now-infamous stage to spread her deceitful influence even further.

To protect their new family from the wrath of a malicious deity and the zealots who work in her name, Celia and Anya must unmask the biggest lie of all—Profeta itself.

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I could not wait to pick up this new YA debut. Dark fantasy? Check. Original magic system? Double check. Character driven? Check again. Blending magic and religion and tattoos into one magical concept? Well..yeah, that too. I knew when I read the synopsis of Ink in the Blood by Kim Smejkal that I wanted to be one of the readers on her book tour.

Even better than all of that? I really liked this book.

Ink in the Blood is not your usual YA fantasy story. Not only is the prose dark and beautiful in a way that’s almost poetic, but the concepts are deep and vast and truly ask the reader to think about these things for themselves. I love dark fantasy, and when darker topics are threaded into a magical world, and this book showed off that strength in spades. Smejkal does an incredible job of still keeping the book light and quick, while also exploring some of the dark corners of our minds and our capabilities as human beings.

One of my favorite things about this book has to be the magic system. I was fascinated by this link between tattoos and religion and magic from the beginning, but Smejkal does not her readers down when it came to the meat of that concert. The magic system in this book is creative, original, fresh, and you can tell that the author thought a lot about how it worked and how she wanted it these powers to further the story. I thought it was masterful.

Another of the joys inside Ink in the Blood is the relationship between Celia and Anya. I love seeing more and more LGBTQ+ representation in YA, and especially in fantasy. I love reading stories that are queer stories, but that aren’t about the characters queerness, and this was a great one. Their relationship, and deep friendship, is fierce and relatable, not to mention a great example for all of the strong, young women today.

I’m not personally a huge fan of the circus/performer setting that’s big right now and also is used in this novel, but I will say this: it didn’t stop me from enjoying this book to its fullest. While it does take some time to ramp up into an un-put-down-able story, it does eventually get there and then you’re stuck. By the end of the story, I wanted more.

Ink in the Blood was dark, fresh, original, and full of magic and love and fierce women. If any of these things appeal to you, this book is right up your alley. And if they don’t, maybe try it out anyway. YA is continuing to go in more and more interesting directions and I look forward to seeing what else Smejkal writes for us in the future.


Kim Smejkal lives with her family on muse-satiating Vancouver Island, which means she’s often lost in the woods or wandering a beach. She writes dark fantasy for young adults and not-so-young adults, always with a touch of magic. Her debut novel, INK IN THE BLOOD, will release from HMH in early 2020, with a sequel to follow in 2021. She is represented by Daniel Lazar of Writers House.

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Book Tour, Reviews

Jane Anonymous

Bestselling author Laurie Faria Stolarz returns with Jane Anonymous, a gripping tale of a seventeen-year-old girl’s kidnapping and her struggle to fit back into her life after she escapes.

Then, “Jane” was just your typical 17-year-old in a typical New England suburb getting ready to start her senior year. She had a part-time job she enjoyed, an awesome best friend, overbearing but loving parents, and a crush on a boy who was taking her to see her favorite band. She never would’ve imagined that in her town where nothing ever happens, a series of small coincidences would lead to a devastating turn of events that would forever change her life.

Now, it’s been three months since “Jane” escaped captivity and returned home. Three months of being that girl who was kidnapped, the girl who was held by a “monster.” Three months of writing down everything she remembered from those seven months locked up in that stark white room. But, what if everything you thought you knew―everything you thought you experienced―turned out to be a lie?

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I was immediately intrigued when I read the synopsis of this story: a kidnapping, a girl trying to reintegrate into her life, how nuanced and difficult that must be psychologically. I had to read it. Here’s the good news: I also loved it.

Jane Anonymous has made one of the biggest emotional impacts on me that I’ve felt from a book in a long time. In fact, my favorite thing about this book is the skill, honesty, and care that the author so clearly put into the emotional backbone of this story. Jane’s terrifying journey, her confusion, her desire to feel happy again while simultaneously not understanding why she can’t- so many of us can relate to these feelings. And even more so when an author writes them with such nuance and raw empathy.

Second, I found the balance between the two storylines, one emotional and one more immediately pressing, to be a perfect fit when it came to pacing. I was stuck on the edge of my seat trying to figure out who had taken her and why, reading that story and her story of escape. And then I was stuck in my chair feeling when Jane, free at last, chooses to isolate herself from her family, confused and not sure how to go on. I wanted to reach into the book and hug this character, all of these characters, and tell them they would get through this.

Last, but definitely not least— I hesitate to say much else, so as not to spoil it, but…oh man. That twist at the end. I did not see it coming and it hit me like a sucker punch. Such a surprise and just another thing I can add to my list of reasons why you should pick up this book and check it out.

Ultimately, Jane Anonymous is an empathetic, intelligent, nuanced and important story about a young girl who is just trying to survive in this world. Her circumstances are extreme, her situation dire, but everyone can find something to relate to in this entirely too human story. Such a fun read.


Laurie Faria Stolarz grew up in Salem, MA, attended Merrimack College, and received an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College in Boston.

Laurie Faria Stolarz is an American author of young adult fiction novels, best known for her Blue is for Nightmares series. Her works, which feature teenage protagonists, blend elements found in mystery and romance novels.

Stolarz found sales success with her first novel, Blue is for Nightmares, and followed it up with three more titles in the series, White is for Magic, Silver is for Secrets, and Red is for Remembrance, as well as a companion graphic novel, Black is for Beginnings. Stolarz is also the author of the Touch series (Deadly Little Secret, Deadly Little Lies, Deadly Little Games, Deadly Little Voices, and Deadly Little Lessons), as well as Bleed and Project 17. With more than two million books sold worldwide, Stolarz’s titles have been named on various awards list.

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