Book Review: Song for a Whale

Lynne Kelly’s newest release is a masterpiece that offers a glimpse of the world from a perspective we hope to see more of in kid lit!

 
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Here’s the publisher’s summary:

From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she’s the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. If you’ve ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.

When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Then she has an idea: she should invent a way to “sing” to him! But he’s three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him?

Adventure, loneliness, discovery, friendship: Song for a Whale holds so much between its pages.

Iris is an amazing protagonist. I love seeing the world through her eyes and seeing how she solves the problems she faces in ways that would never occur to me as a hearing person. The way that Iris’ empathy for Blue 55 moves her to action is an excellent display of her ingenuity. Sound is something many of us hear, but for Iris, it’s something she feels. She shows the reader how we, too, can feel sound, and all that is communicated through it, on a whole new level.

Her experiences of being deaf at a hearing school open the reader to a different perspective. How do we show respect to those we communicate with? Kelly shows the difficulties in communication barriers though conflicts with Nina, who is sure she has mastered sign language, and with one of Iris’ teachers, who refuses to see past Iris’ difference. How often do we think we’ve mastered a complex topic, like a language and a culture, from reading a single book instead of learning from those embedded in them, as Nina does? Or how often do we limit our view of another and belittle their abilities, like Iris’ teacher?

Iris’ family dynamics are another intriguing element. Kelly links Iris’ relationship with her grandparents to poetry. The sign poems, poems rhyming not with words but with sign shapes, that Iris and her grandfather create are beautiful and a realm of poetry that I’d not experienced before. And the shared but distancing gulf of grief between her and her grandmother after the death of her grandfather draws the reader into the narrative in relatable ways.

Song for a Whale is excellent for those who love fixing things, for those who love adventure, for those who feel they are often misunderstood, for those who long for that special connection between kindred spirits.

Book Review: Small Spaces

Katherine Arden takes readers on an eerie journey full of chills and cheers -

and your garden-variety scarecrow army.

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Publisher’s Summary

After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie only finds solace in books. So when she happens upon a crazed woman at the river threatening to throw a book into the water, Ollie doesn't think--she just acts, stealing the book and running away. As she begins to read the slender volume, Ollie discovers a chilling story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who both loved her, and a peculiar deal made with "the smiling man," a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price. 

Ollie is captivated by the tale until her school trip the next day to Smoke Hollow, a local farm with a haunting history all its own. There she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she's been reading about. Could it be the story about the smiling man is true? Ollie doesn't have too long to think about the answer to that. On the way home, the school bus breaks down, sending their teacher back to the farm for help. But the strange bus driver has some advice for the kids left behind in his care: "Best get moving. At nightfall they'll come for the rest of you." Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie's previously broken digital wristwatch, a keepsake reminder of better times, begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN. 

Only Ollie and two of her classmates heed the bus driver's warning. As the trio head out into the woods--bordered by a field of scarecrows that seem to be watching them--the bus driver has just one final piece of advice for Ollie and her friends: "Avoid large places. Keep to small." 

And with that, a deliciously creepy and hair-raising adventure begins.

Review

Small Spaces is fantastically creepy. This, in part, is due to the book’s vivid atmosphere. It was 90+ degrees outside while I was reading it, and every sentence surrounded me with the chill of mid-autumn. I frequently found myself stumbling outside into the Georgia sun, only to wonder where all the Halloween costumes and apple cider were.

In addition to being transportive, the book features a cast of likable and interesting characters. Too often, stories that begin in a school setting lean too far into social tropes. (Don’t get me wrong - this is not exclusively a middle-grades problem.) While this can provide writers of fantastical books room to move quickly through more “mundane” bits of plot, it can also unnecessarily flatten characters.

Arden doesn’t do this. From the very beginning, her characters defy the tropes I expected them to fit. Fierce Ollie stands up for new girl Coco, who has an eccentric and dainty reputation. Brian, the handsome athlete who accompanies Ollie and Coco into the woods, is kind and helpful throughout the journey. We see three kids who run in very different circles develop a deep understanding for one another.

And this is just the main trio. There are many exciting twists regarding good guys and bad guys. Some characters, perhaps more interestingly, turn out to be neutral.

The world Arden builds around this story is high-stakes and eerie, just unexplored enough to keep a grasp on readers’ interests. Spooky cornfields, old farms, and journals of those long dead all pitch in to create Arden’s masterpiece of an atmosphere.

Naturally, scarecrow armies come next.

The brilliance of the scarecrows is that they’re not just spooky space-fillers. Small Spaces deals with pretty heavy ideas like death, grief, and family, ideas that call into question what it means to be a human interacting with other humans, ideas that might seem scary and monstrous to kids (and really, everyone). When themes like this are set against strange, humanoid, inanimate-but-animate monsters, well . . . no spoilers, but it goes to interesting places.

And ultimately, those places are optimistic. Small Spaces is about adventure and fantasy and creepy autumn ambiance, but it’s also about the role we can play in our own grief. We don’t have to remain imprisoned by our emotions, so long as we are determined to love, in the same way that our diverse protagonists insist on loving each other. Love can bring us out of grief, and maybe - just maybe - save us from armies of super-spooky, semi-sentient scarecrows.

Get your copy from our online store here:

Happy reading!

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Book Review: The Green Ember

My place beside you
My blood for yours
Till the Green Ember rises
or the end of the world

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Where are the all books about heroic acts and brave deeds? Why have we stopped feeding our children stories of brave knights and daring princesses? Few tales have been produced since the days of Tolkien, Lewis, & MacDonald that reveal the endurance of the human (or rabbit) spirit, tales that demonstrate the strength that always arises from a fallen people and a broken nation.

In S.D. Smith’s The Green Ember, I am shown a world that is broken and in need of mending. A world where many are fighting for a freedom which only their parents once knew. The book opens with brother and sister, Heather and Picket, playing a sweet game in the meadow, but events quickly unfold, and Heather and Picket are entangled in a fight for a world - a warren - that they barely knew existed. Their bravery is tested and their loyalties questioned.

Author S.D. Smith takes Watership Down and The Lord of the Rings, two enthralling tales of bravery and triumph, and weaves them into a single masterpiece that is an entity all its own. Smith has given us a tale that will make us cry, cheer, and fist pump when events turn and battles are won. The Green Ember is such a refreshing story where the outcome is not straightforward. The story constantly tugs between good and evil and who will triumph. Your heart will soar one moment and shatter the next. Though there are times when darkness seems to envelop the world, no matter how much light is snuffed out, there is always a faint ember glowing in the depths.

For those who have not yet ventured into the marvelous world of S.D. Smith, you are missing a tale, a community, and a practice that isn’t appreciated anymore in this world . . . chivalry, bravery, acts of mercy and of love.

Read, marvel, and most importantly . . . hope.

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S.D. Smith at The Story Shop

S.D. Smith, author of The Green Ember series, will be at The Story Shop on Tuesday, October 2. Keep reading for more details!

S. D. Smith lives with his wife and four kids in West Virginia, because it would be weird to live with someone else’s wife and four kids in West Virginia (or anywhere else, right?).

S. D. Smith lives with his wife and four kids in West Virginia, because it would be weird to live with someone else’s wife and four kids in West Virginia (or anywhere else, right?).

Summary from the publisher: 

The Green Ember is a new adventure with an old soul. #RABBITSWITHSWORDS

"A captivating story with sword-bearing rabbits, daring quests, and moments of poignant beauty, The Green Ember is a tale that will delight and inspire young readers to courage and creativity and would make a perfect book for a family to read aloud."

- Sarah Clarkson, author of Read for the Heart and Caught Up in a Story

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About The Green Ember

Heather and Picket are extraordinary rabbits with ordinary lives until calamitous events overtake them, spilling them into a cauldron of misadventures. They discover that their own story is bound up in the tumult threatening to overwhelm the wider world. 

Kings fall and kingdoms totter. Tyrants ascend and terrors threaten. Betrayal beckons, and loyalty is a broken road with peril around every bend. 

Where will Heather and Picket land? How will they make their stand?

 

We will have two separate ticketed events:

1. An intimate presentation, followed by a Q&A and book signing

2. A public book signing.

Click the descriptions below to register!

We can't wait to see you there! 

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Get Ready for Summer: Most Anticipated Releases

Ring In the summer with these new books!

May Releases

Alberto lives alone in the town of Allora, where fish fly out of the sea and the houses shine like jewels. He is a coffin maker and widower, spending his quiet days creating the final resting places of Allora’s people.  Then one afternoon a magical bird flutters into his garden, and Alberto, lonely inside, welcomes it into his home. And when a kindhearted boy named Tito follows the bird into Alberto’s kitchen, a door in the old man’s heart cracks open. Tito is lonely too–but he’s also scared and searching for a place to hide. Fleeing from danger, he just wants to feel safe for once in his life. Can the boy and the old man learn the power of friendship and escape the shadows of their pasts?  With a tender bond that calls to mind  The Girl Who Drank the Moon , charming characters reminiscent of  The Penderwicks , and the whimsy of  A Snicker of Magic , this is a novel to curl up with, an extraordinary work of magical realism that makes the world feel like a warmer and happier place. Complete with dazzling interior illustrations, a gem from start to finish.  Released May 15

Alberto lives alone in the town of Allora, where fish fly out of the sea and the houses shine like jewels. He is a coffin maker and widower, spending his quiet days creating the final resting places of Allora’s people.

Then one afternoon a magical bird flutters into his garden, and Alberto, lonely inside, welcomes it into his home. And when a kindhearted boy named Tito follows the bird into Alberto’s kitchen, a door in the old man’s heart cracks open. Tito is lonely too–but he’s also scared and searching for a place to hide. Fleeing from danger, he just wants to feel safe for once in his life. Can the boy and the old man learn the power of friendship and escape the shadows of their pasts?

With a tender bond that calls to mind The Girl Who Drank the Moon, charming characters reminiscent of The Penderwicks, and the whimsy of A Snicker of Magic, this is a novel to curl up with, an extraordinary work of magical realism that makes the world feel like a warmer and happier place. Complete with dazzling interior illustrations, a gem from start to finish.

Released May 15

When a small, friendless boy goes to bed at his boarding school, an adventure is about to begin! First he finds an invitation in his turtle's bowl. Next he makes an escape--out the window, through the woods, across a river, and onto an island. And then he joins a grand celebration, with larger-than-life animals serving tea and dancing late into the night. And finally? After the journey back, he has a fantastic story to tell--the perfect way to make a friend.  A simple text and glorious illustrations combine to make a deceptively powerful and touching picture book, cementing Daniel Miyares's reputation as one of the most exciting children's book author-illustrators working today.  Released May 8

When a small, friendless boy goes to bed at his boarding school, an adventure is about to begin! First he finds an invitation in his turtle's bowl. Next he makes an escape--out the window, through the woods, across a river, and onto an island. And then he joins a grand celebration, with larger-than-life animals serving tea and dancing late into the night. And finally? After the journey back, he has a fantastic story to tell--the perfect way to make a friend.

A simple text and glorious illustrations combine to make a deceptively powerful and touching picture book, cementing Daniel Miyares's reputation as one of the most exciting children's book author-illustrators working today.

Released May 8

A coming-of-age middle-grade graphic novel about summer and friendships, written and illustrated by the Eisner Award–winning and  New York Times –bestselling Hope Larson.  Thirteen-year-old Bina has a long summer ahead of her. She and her best friend, Austin, usually do everything together, but he's off to soccer camp for a month, and he's been acting kind of weird lately anyway. So it's up to Bina to see how much fun she can have on her own. At first it's a lot of guitar playing, boredom, and bad TV, but things look up when she finds an unlikely companion in Austin's older sister, who enjoys music just as much as Bina. But then Austin comes home from camp, and he's acting even weirder than when he left. How Bina and Austin rise above their growing pains and reestablish their friendship and respect for their differences makes for a touching and funny coming-of-age story.  Released May 1

A coming-of-age middle-grade graphic novel about summer and friendships, written and illustrated by the Eisner Award–winning and New York Times–bestselling Hope Larson.

Thirteen-year-old Bina has a long summer ahead of her. She and her best friend, Austin, usually do everything together, but he's off to soccer camp for a month, and he's been acting kind of weird lately anyway. So it's up to Bina to see how much fun she can have on her own. At first it's a lot of guitar playing, boredom, and bad TV, but things look up when she finds an unlikely companion in Austin's older sister, who enjoys music just as much as Bina. But then Austin comes home from camp, and he's acting even weirder than when he left. How Bina and Austin rise above their growing pains and reestablish their friendship and respect for their differences makes for a touching and funny coming-of-age story.

Released May 1

 

June releases

 

Only Fallow was just six harvests old when she realized that not everyone sees lies. For Only, seeing lies is as beautiful as looking through a kaleidoscope, but telling them is as painful as gnawing on cut glass. Only’s family warns her to keep her cunning hidden, but secrets are seldom content to stay secret.  When word of Only’s ability makes its way to the King, she’s plucked from her home at the orchard and brought to the castle at Bellskeep. There she learns that the kingdom is plagued by traitors, and that her task is to help the King distinguish between friend and foe. But being able to see lies doesn’t necessarily mean that others aren’t able to disguise their dishonesty with cunnings of their own.  In the duplicitous, power-hungry court, the truth is Only’s greatest weapon . . . and her greatest weakness.  Releases June 5

Only Fallow was just six harvests old when she realized that not everyone sees lies. For Only, seeing lies is as beautiful as looking through a kaleidoscope, but telling them is as painful as gnawing on cut glass. Only’s family warns her to keep her cunning hidden, but secrets are seldom content to stay secret.

When word of Only’s ability makes its way to the King, she’s plucked from her home at the orchard and brought to the castle at Bellskeep. There she learns that the kingdom is plagued by traitors, and that her task is to help the King distinguish between friend and foe. But being able to see lies doesn’t necessarily mean that others aren’t able to disguise their dishonesty with cunnings of their own.

In the duplicitous, power-hungry court, the truth is Only’s greatest weapon . . . and her greatest weakness.

Releases June 5

Risk-averse Greg Belmont is content with being ordinary. He's got a friend--that's right, just one--at his fancy prep school, and a pretty cool dad (even if he is obsessed with organic soaps that smell like a mix of salted pork and Icelandic bog). The problem is, Greg isn't ordinary . . . he's actually an honest-to-goodness, fantastical Dwarf!   He discovers the truth the day his dad brings home a gross new tea--one that awakens bizarre abilities in Greg. Then a murderous Bro-Troll kidnaps his dad and Greg is whisked away to the Underground, where Dwarves have lived for centuries right beneath the streets of Chicago.  With the help of some awesome new friends and a talking ax, Greg learns all about the history of the Dwarves, which has been marked with tales of epic failure since the dawn of time. However, the return of the magic they once wielded means big changes are afoot, escalating tensions with the Dwarves' sworn enemy: the Elves.   Brimming with humor and action, Chris Rylander's  The Legend of Greg turns dwarf lore on its head, delivering an adventure readers won't be able to resist.  Releases June 12

Risk-averse Greg Belmont is content with being ordinary. He's got a friend--that's right, just one--at his fancy prep school, and a pretty cool dad (even if he is obsessed with organic soaps that smell like a mix of salted pork and Icelandic bog). The problem is, Greg isn't ordinary . . . he's actually an honest-to-goodness, fantastical Dwarf! 

He discovers the truth the day his dad brings home a gross new tea--one that awakens bizarre abilities in Greg. Then a murderous Bro-Troll kidnaps his dad and Greg is whisked away to the Underground, where Dwarves have lived for centuries right beneath the streets of Chicago.

With the help of some awesome new friends and a talking ax, Greg learns all about the history of the Dwarves, which has been marked with tales of epic failure since the dawn of time. However, the return of the magic they once wielded means big changes are afoot, escalating tensions with the Dwarves' sworn enemy: the Elves. 

Brimming with humor and action, Chris Rylander's The Legend of Gregturns dwarf lore on its head, delivering an adventure readers won't be able to resist.

Releases June 12

 
"Hey, you! Sky's blue!" a girl shouts as she runs by the window of a boy bent over his digital device. Intrigued, the boy runs out after her, leaving his shoes (and phone) behind, and into a world of sunshine, dewey grass, and warm sand. Filled with the pleasures of being alive in the natural world,  Run Wild  is an exquisite and kid-friendly reminder of how wonderful life can be beyond doors and screens.  Releases June 5

"Hey, you! Sky's blue!" a girl shouts as she runs by the window of a boy bent over his digital device. Intrigued, the boy runs out after her, leaving his shoes (and phone) behind, and into a world of sunshine, dewey grass, and warm sand. Filled with the pleasures of being alive in the natural world, Run Wild is an exquisite and kid-friendly reminder of how wonderful life can be beyond doors and screens.

Releases June 5

Guinevere St. Clair is going to be a lawyer. She was the fastest girl in New York City. She knows everything there is to know about the brain. And now that she’s living in Crow, Iowa, she wants to ride into her first day of school on a cow named Willowdale Princess Deon Dawn.  But Gwyn isn’t in Crow, Iowa, just for royal cows. Her family has moved there, where her parents grew up, in the hopes of jogging her mother Vienna’s memory. Vienna has been suffering from memory loss since Gwyn was four. She can no longer remember anything past the age of thirteen, not even that she has two young daughters. Gwyn’s father is obsessed with finding out everything he can to help his wife, but Gwyn’s focused on problems that seem a little more within her reach. Like proving that the very strange Gaysie Cutter who lives next door is behind the disappearance of her only friend, Wilbur Truesdale.  Gwyn is sure she can crack the case, but when she does she finds that not all of her investigations lead her to the places she would have expected. In fact they might just lead her to learn about the mother she’s been doing her best to forget.  Releases June 12

Guinevere St. Clair is going to be a lawyer. She was the fastest girl in New York City. She knows everything there is to know about the brain. And now that she’s living in Crow, Iowa, she wants to ride into her first day of school on a cow named Willowdale Princess Deon Dawn.

But Gwyn isn’t in Crow, Iowa, just for royal cows. Her family has moved there, where her parents grew up, in the hopes of jogging her mother Vienna’s memory. Vienna has been suffering from memory loss since Gwyn was four. She can no longer remember anything past the age of thirteen, not even that she has two young daughters. Gwyn’s father is obsessed with finding out everything he can to help his wife, but Gwyn’s focused on problems that seem a little more within her reach. Like proving that the very strange Gaysie Cutter who lives next door is behind the disappearance of her only friend, Wilbur Truesdale.

Gwyn is sure she can crack the case, but when she does she finds that not all of her investigations lead her to the places she would have expected. In fact they might just lead her to learn about the mother she’s been doing her best to forget.

Releases June 12

 
Bear is hungry. Gertie wants to help. But finding the perfect snack is harder than it looks. Will Gertie and Bear silence Bear's tummy grumbles before hunger gets the best of them?  Expressive characters and funny dialogue lead the way in this pitch-perfect story about patience and teamwork, by nationally-syndicated cartoonist Drew Sheneman.  Releases June 12

Bear is hungry. Gertie wants to help. But finding the perfect snack is harder than it looks. Will Gertie and Bear silence Bear's tummy grumbles before hunger gets the best of them?

Expressive characters and funny dialogue lead the way in this pitch-perfect story about patience and teamwork, by nationally-syndicated cartoonist Drew Sheneman.

Releases June 12

 

July Releases

lice is angry at having to move to Rainbow, Georgia—a too small, too hot, dried-up place she’s sure will never feel like home. Then she gets put in charge of walking her elderly neighbor’s dog. But Clarence won’t budge without Miss Millie, so Alice and Miss Millie walk him together.  Strolling with Clarence and Miss Millie quickly becomes the highlight of Alice's day and opens her eyes to all sorts of new things to marvel over. During their walks, they meet a mix of people, and Alice sees that although there are some bullies and phonies, there are plenty of kind folks, too. Miss Millie shares her family’s story with Alice, showing her the painful impact segregation has had on their town. And with Miss Millie, Alice is finally able to express her own heartache over why her family had to move there in the first place.  Tamara Bundy’s beautifully written debut celebrates the wonder and power of friendship: how it can be found when we least expect it and make any place a home.  Releases July 3

lice is angry at having to move to Rainbow, Georgia—a too small, too hot, dried-up place she’s sure will never feel like home. Then she gets put in charge of walking her elderly neighbor’s dog. But Clarence won’t budge without Miss Millie, so Alice and Miss Millie walk him together.

Strolling with Clarence and Miss Millie quickly becomes the highlight of Alice's day and opens her eyes to all sorts of new things to marvel over. During their walks, they meet a mix of people, and Alice sees that although there are some bullies and phonies, there are plenty of kind folks, too. Miss Millie shares her family’s story with Alice, showing her the painful impact segregation has had on their town. And with Miss Millie, Alice is finally able to express her own heartache over why her family had to move there in the first place.

Tamara Bundy’s beautifully written debut celebrates the wonder and power of friendship: how it can be found when we least expect it and make any place a home.

Releases July 3

Elliot and Uchenna—and Jersey!—have barely recovered from their first adventure with Professor Fauna when he approaches them with an all-new quest. Except this time they're going to have to cross an ocean. In the mountains of the Basque Country, the Unicorn Rescue Society must track down a missing dragon. But how could someone even kidnap a dragon? And for what evil purpose? And is their newest, fire-breathing rescue more than they can handle?   New challenges await in this second book in the Unicorn Rescue Society series, a brand-new fantasy-adventure from Adam Gidwitz. Illustrated throughout, it’s the perfect fit for newly independent readers looking for a story full of adventure, fun, and friendship.  Releases July 10

Elliot and Uchenna—and Jersey!—have barely recovered from their first adventure with Professor Fauna when he approaches them with an all-new quest. Except this time they're going to have to cross an ocean. In the mountains of the Basque Country, the Unicorn Rescue Society must track down a missing dragon. But how could someone even kidnap a dragon? And for what evil purpose? And is their newest, fire-breathing rescue more than they can handle? 

New challenges await in this second book in the Unicorn Rescue Society series, a brand-new fantasy-adventure from Adam Gidwitz. Illustrated throughout, it’s the perfect fit for newly independent readers looking for a story full of adventure, fun, and friendship.

Releases July 10

From #1  New York Times  best-selling author Robert Beatty comes a thrilling new series set in the magical world of Serafina.    Move without a sound. Steal without a trace.    Willa, a young night-spirit of the Great Smoky Mountains, is her clan’s best thief. She creeps into the homes of day-folk under cover of darkness and takes what they won’t miss. It’s dangerous work-the day-folk kill whatever they do not understand–but Willa will do anything to win the approval of the padaran, the charismatic leader of the Faeran people.  When Willa’s curiosity leaves her hurt and stranded in the day world, she calls upon an ancient, unbreakable bond to escape. Only then does she discover the truth: not all day-folk are the same, and the foundations that have guarded the Faeran for eons are under attack.  As forces of unfathomable destruction encroach on her home, Willa must decide who she truly is. To save the day-folk family that has become her own–and lift the curse that has robbed her people of their truth–Willa will meet deadly force with trusted alliance, violence with shelter, and an ever-changing world with a steady heartbeat of courage.  Releases July 10  0 Likes

From #1 New York Times best-selling author Robert Beatty comes a thrilling new series set in the magical world of Serafina. 

Move without a sound. Steal without a trace. 

Willa, a young night-spirit of the Great Smoky Mountains, is her clan’s best thief. She creeps into the homes of day-folk under cover of darkness and takes what they won’t miss. It’s dangerous work-the day-folk kill whatever they do not understand–but Willa will do anything to win the approval of the padaran, the charismatic leader of the Faeran people.

When Willa’s curiosity leaves her hurt and stranded in the day world, she calls upon an ancient, unbreakable bond to escape. Only then does she discover the truth: not all day-folk are the same, and the foundations that have guarded the Faeran for eons are under attack.

As forces of unfathomable destruction encroach on her home, Willa must decide who she truly is. To save the day-folk family that has become her own–and lift the curse that has robbed her people of their truth–Willa will meet deadly force with trusted alliance, violence with shelter, and an ever-changing world with a steady heartbeat of courage.

Releases July 10

0 Likes

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