YVO’S SHORTIES #154 – Love And Other Words & The Storied Life Of A.J. Fikry

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two contemporary reads I’ve been meaning to read for a while… And both Love And Other Words and The Storied Life Of A.J. Fikry turned out to be excellent reads.


Title: Love And Other Words
Author: Christina Lauren

Genre: Contemporary, Romance
First published: April 10th 2018
Publisher: Gallery Books
Finished reading: March 16th 2020
Pages: 433

“It never occurred to me that love could be anything other than all-consuming. Even as a child, I knew I never wanted anything less.”


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I think most of you will probably know by now that contemporary romance and me don’t really tend to get along, but there are a select few authors that can make me enjoy the genre. I guess I can now add the Christina Lauren duo to that list too! My first experience with their work back in January, The Unhoneymooners, was a success and I had the exact same result with Love And Other Words. Despite the sexy scenes definitely not being for me, I fell in love with the characters and their story… The writing style made it really easy to keep turning those pages, and I like how the story switches back and forward between then and now, slowly letting you get to know the current and past Macey and Elliot. The question of what happened between them to cause such a rupture all those years ago added a level of intrigue to the story, and while the final reveal was a bit of an anticlimax for me mostly, I think the development of the plot and characters in general was well handled. I loved both characters as well as the bookish elements in the story… Sexy scenes and love triangle aside, I think this might be a new favorite Christina Lauren, and that is 100% thanks to both the characters and the writing in general. Fans of the genre will without doubt adore this book!


Title: The Storied Life Of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
First published: April 1st 2014
Publisher:  Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Finished reading: March 23rd 2020
Pages: 320

“We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone.”


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I’ve had The Storied Life Of A.J. Fikry on my radar for a long time now, and I even bought a physical copy last year in the hope I would actually pick it up sooner. I guess that didn’t happen, and I’m definitely kicking myself now because I have found myself a new favorite nowI love bookish books and this story is without doubt filled to the brim with most wonderful bookish references. And that is not the only bookish thing about this book: most of the story takes place in a bookstore and we have a bookstore owner and publisher sales rep in the spotlight as two of the important characters. Talk about heaven if you love bookish books! The writing is wonderful and I really liked the plot and plot development as well. The main focus is on bookstore owner A.J. Fikry of course, and it is his quirky and grumpy personality as well as his personal development that really make this story special for me. The characters in general are so easy to like and my heart ached for them as the story continued… Sad moments are combined with more happy ones, and The Storied Life Of A.J. Fikry will most definitely play with your emotions. It’s a story that will stay with me for quite some time, and I already know I will want to reread it in the future!


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YVO’S SHORTIES #142 – The Unhoneymooners & Nothing To Lose

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two completely different genres, but both books I ended up enjoying a lot and I literally flew through them. The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren has once again proven to me I can really enjoy the romance genre if it’s done right and I’m in the right mood for me. Nothing To Lose by Victoria Selman is an entertaining sequel, although book three is still my favorite of the series so far…


Title: The Unhoneymooners
Author: Christina Lauren

Genre: Contemporary, Romance
First published: May 14th 2019
Publisher: Gallery Books
Finished reading: January 2nd 2020
Pages: 416

“Warily, I leave this deceptively upbeat version of Satan in the living room to go get my suit on and pack a bag.”


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Huh, a romance title on It’s All About Books? I know, I know, it’s not exactly a genre I tend to read a lot, especially if there are sexy scenes involved, but there was just something about The Unhoneymooners that made me want to read it. And guess what? This book came exactly at the right time for me and I ended up having so much fun reading it! Nothing better than a proper and funny contemporary romance to help taking a little break from all those thriller reads… This was definitely a winner for me. The Unhoneymooners gave off pretty strong The Hating Game vibes, with the ‘enemy to lover’ trope and just the right amount of snarkiness and humor… And as I loved that story last year, I was more than happy with this comparison! From the setting in Maui to the writing, plot, characters and humor; everything worked perfectly together and I had a great time following Olive and Ethan during and after their time in Maui. While a certain character was absolutely despicable (you know who if you have read the story already), it was really easy to like both Olive and Ethan and their snarkiness and awkward moments made for a very entertaining read. And yes, I didn’t even mind the sexy scenes, which is a miracle on its own haha. I can understand why fans of the genre would absolutely adore The Unhoneymooners and I definitely want to read more of this author duo now. Yay for having more romance authors to turn to for when I’m in need of a change of genre!


Title: Nothing To Lose
(Ziba MacKenzie #2)
Author: Victoria Selman

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: March 26th 2019
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Finished reading: January 3rd 2020
Pages: 356

“Serial murderers always make the headlines. It’s the rubbernecker phenomenon: evil fascinates us. But when it’s on our doorstep all that changes.”


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I decided to pick up the Ziba Mackenzie sequel almost immediately after finishing the first book so I’d have one less series to catch up with in 2020. While I thought the first book wasn’t nearly as strong as the third, I was really curious to see how book two would connect the two and how certain character developments and events were explained. And I have to admit that while book three is still my favorite of the series, I had a great time reading Nothing To Lose and managed to finish it in less than a day. If you like your thrillers fast, action-packed and filled with suspenseful moments, this series is definitely for you! That said, Ziba did once again bother me considerably in this sequel. Her arrogance and constant need to prove and repeat just how tough and badass she is really started to get on my nerves. It made her character a lot harder to like and also distracted from the plot… Although I’m happy that I at least didn’t have the same feeling when I read the third book last month. The plot of Nothing To Lose is without doubt an exciting one, and even evolves around two completely different cases: the active murder investigation of a new serial killer Ziba is assigned to and the mystery around the death of her husband Duncan two years ago. It might have been a bit much to handle, but there is also no doubt that as a consequence you won’t find a boring minute in Nothing To Lose and the suspense is high. This is definitely one of those series that keeps improving its quality with each book! I was surprised not to find any mention of one of the prominent characters (Dr Vernon Sange) of book three in this sequel though…


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YVO’S SHORTIES #140 – Palm Beach Finland & Black Summer

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two titles I’ve been really excited to read; both for the Magical Readathon Winter 2019 challenge. The first is Palm Beach Finland by Antti Tuomainen, which not only has a gorgeous cover but also is a fascinating mix of dark humor and nordic noir. Then we have sequel Black Summer by M.W. Craven, which has proven to me Tilly and Poe deserve their spot as one of my favorite character duos. What a read!


Title: Palm Beach Finland
Author: Antti Tuomainen

Genre: Nordic Noir, Humor
First published: September 2017
Publisher: Orenda Books
Finished reading: December 23rd 2019
Pages: 300
(Originally written in Finnish with the same title)

“The older you are when you wake up to your dreams, she thought, the more vigorous you pursue them. The more desperately. Because with every passing day there’s simply less to lose.”


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I admit that when I bought my copy of Palm Beach Finland I was both lured in by that stunning cover and the promise of a combination of black comedy and a page-turning thriller. I was planning to make this story my first encounter with this Finnish mastermind of black humor and Nordic noir, but fate had other plans in store and I ended up reading Little Siberia first a while back. This first encounter was without doubt a success and I have been looking forward to pick up my pink and fabulous copy of Palm Beach Finland ever since. Now I’ve had the chance to read it, I can confirm it’s another excellent read. It’s the combination of the dark humor and the Nordic noir elements that makes this story so unique… While it might not be for everyone, if you are able connect to the humor and writing you will find yourself to be very entertained by what is going on in the coldest beach resort on earth! Palm Beach Finland has an colorful cast of characters to say the least, each flawed and adding its own problems, views and intentions to the plot. Multiple POVs are used to give us a multidimentional view of what is going on in the small beach town, black humor spicing up the plot in between the other elements. If you are looking for a little something different and don’t mind the plot heating up as well as having unconventional characters, Palm Beach Finland will without doubt peak your interest! A round of applause to the translator David Hackston for enabling us to enjoy this unique and quirky mix of genres. Blacker than black humor and Nordic noir without doubt make for a tasty thriller cocktail!


Title: Black Summer
(Washington Poe #2)
Author: M.W. Craven

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: June 20th 2019
Publisher: Constable
Finished reading: December 25th 2019
Pages: 352

“Poe, we have a problem.”


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I finally had the chance to meet Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw a few months back when I picked up my copy of The Puppet Show, and they are hands down one of my new favorite character duos. I’ve been waiting impatiently to meet up with them again in Black Summer after the first book completely blew me away… And I ended up turning it into a little Christmas gift to myself by freeing my schedule to spend all day with Tilly and Poe. Best decision ever! The gloomy Christmas Day weather seemed to set the perfect atmosphere for this sequel set in Cumbria, and I was of course hooked from the very first chapter. While I do think I loved the first book a tiny bit more (please don’t hit me!), Black Summer was without doubt a brilliant sequel and as soon as Tilly made her entrance there was no way on earth I was putting down my copy. Thankfully I was able to spend most of Christmas Day in the company of my kindle, lots of tea, a sleeping cat closeby and a pile of leftover chocolate, so my wish came true and I was able to reach that final page almost in one sitting. And what a read! The plot, the characters, the twists, the writing, the setting… There is just so much to love in Black Summer and I’m more than addicted to Tilly and Poe’s adventures. This sequel only made me love their characters even more and they definitely deserve their spot on my favorites list. I literally can’t wait to find out what The Curator has in store next, and I can highly recommend this series to any thriller fan. Trust me, you are missing out if you haven’t met Tilly and Poe yet!!


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YVO’S SHORTIES #134 – The Deep & Red, White And Royal Blue

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around once again two Goodreads Choice Awards nominees… The Deep sadly wasn’t for me, but I definitely understand the love for Red, White & Royal Blue now and I really enjoyed it despite the overdose of steamy scenes.


Title: The Deep
Author: Rivers Solomon

Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
First published: November 5th 2019
Publisher: Gallery
Finished reading: November 15th 2019
Pages: 176

“When not properly fortified, a legacy is no more enduring than a wisp of plankton.”


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I know I don’t read a lot of science fiction to begin with, but I was really intrigued by the blurb of The Deep and the promise of a mermaid story with a twist. I confess I haven’t heard the song (then again I never listen to rap), but I like that this novella was inspired by a song. I also still like the premise of this story as well as the worldbuilding itself and the ‘memories’ of Yetu’s people. That said, I really struggled with the execution. I’m not sure if it was the writing style, the structure of the plot or the pace, but something definitely wasn’t working for me and it took me a lot longer than anticipated to finally reach the final page. There are a lot of different characters in play, both in past in present, and at times it was hard to figure out the who, what and when as memories are being dropped on you without a warning. Some chapters are suddenly entirely set in the past without apparent connection to the present storyline, leaving you untethered and wondering what on earth is going on. Between the slow pace and the confusing plot, the original charm of the premise was lost to me and I came really close to just DNFing this story… Even though I did really appreciate the symbolism in The Deep. I seem to be in the minority though, so my experience might just be due to the fact that this story simply isn’t for me.


Title: Red, White & Royal Blue
Author: Casey McQuiston

Genre: Contemporary, Romance
First published: May 14th 2019
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Finished reading: November 17th 2019
Pages: 425

“Thinking about history makes me wonder how I’ll fit into it one day, I guess. And you too. I kinda wish people still wrote like that. History, huh? Bet we could make some.”


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When I recently asked which 2019 romance title I should read first, a lot of people voted for Red, White & Royal Blue. There has been so much hype around this book in general this year and to be honest I’ve been afraid to pick it up myself… But now I’ve read it, I can definitely understand the love for this title. While I do have to confess that the steamy sexy scenes most definitely weren’t for me, I did have a lot of fun reading this story despite them. I think a lot of this has to do with a sublime character development and a snarky humor that sets exactly the right tone. The writing itself is easy on the eye and really made me fly through those pages… And while I’m normally not a fan of politics in my books, somehow that didn’t bother me at all in Red, White & Royal Blue. Like I said before, the real power of this excellent debut is in its main characters. Not only Alex and Henry, but their siblings, friends and those close to them really help taking this story to the next level. Quirky, well developed, easy to like and to root for: it’s hard picking just one favorite as they all have that je ne sais quoi that makes you want to wrap them up and store them in your heart. I loved how things started to develop between Alex and Henry and those emails and messages incorporated into the text were a nice touch. If you are a romance fan and haven’t read Red, White & Royal Blue yet, you are most definitely missing out!


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YVO’S SHORTIES #127 – The Bride Test & The Twisted Tree

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two completely different genres, but both books that turned out to be great. I wasn’t sure whether to read The Bride Test after my reaction to the first book, but I ended up enjoying the second book better than The Kiss Quotient… I’m glad I took a chance and decided to read it. And The Twisted Tree turned out to be another perfect Halloween read!


Title: The Bride Test
(The Kiss Quotient #2)
Author: Helen Hoang

Genre: Contemporary, Romance
First published: May 7th 2019
Publisher: Berkley
Finished reading: October 5th 2019
Pages: 320

“His heart wasn’t made of stone, after all. It just wasn’t like everyone else’s.”


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I admit I took a chance when I decided to get a copy and read The Bride Test. I’m very much allergic to sexy scenes in contemporary romance reads, and after a less than favorable reaction to The Kiss Quotient I thought it would be better to just stay away. But there is no denying that Helen Hoang can write and I love how she develops her characters, so I just couldn’t resist giving this story a try in the end. I’m so glad I did, because while I found the many many sexy scenes to be cringeworthy, I somehow enjoyed the actual story a lot better than the first book. A lot of this has to do with both Esme and Khai, who are both fascinating characters and the reason this story ended up working for me. The background of Esme, a mixed-race girl growing up in the slumps in Vietnam, adds a lot of dept to the story and it was interesting to see her life being turned upside down after she is offered an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Both her personality, endurance and the big contrast with Khai’s character made for some really interesting reading. The autism rep in Khai feels realistic and thorough, and really adds to the story as well. Sure, the many many steamy scenes definitely weren’t for me (I confess I only skimread them), but overall Esme and Khai’s story was both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. I loved the ending as well!


Title: The Twisted Tree
Author: Rachel Burge

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Horror
First published: September 27th 2018
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Finished reading: October 6th 2019
Pages: 180

“Knowing someone’s secrets doesn’t make you feel closer to them – it pushes you away. There are some thing you don’t want to know, trust me.”


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I actually ment to read The Twisted Tree last October, but I wasn’t able to get to it in time and decided to save it for this year’s Halloween month. I had that feeling that it would be a perfect read for the time of the year, and both my instincts and the reviews I read in the past were absolutely right. If you are looking for a little something to get you in the right mood for Halloween, The Twisted Tree is a fantastic choice. Norse mythology, horror and paranormal elements are mixed together with a YA contemporary story in the most successful way… Both the Norse mythology elements and the actual setting on a small island in the middle of nowhere Norway really took this creepy story to the next level. The references to Odin, his ravens and other Norse mythology elements were thorough and formed an important part of the plot. Martha’s family turns out to have a very interesting history, one you only learn about as the main character starts discovering things herself… The spooky is mixed with a healthy dose of thriller elements as well as a few nailbiting moments that will manage to creep you out. I like how the little hint of romance balances out the creepy part of The Twisted Tree, and I myself had a fantastic time reading this story. More than recommended!


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YVO’S SHORTIES #105 – We Are Never Meeting In Real Life (DNF) & The Confectioner’s Guild

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around I was less lucky with my reading choices… The first, We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby, ended up being a DNF for me as we definitely didn’t get along. The second, The Confectioner’s Guild by Claire Luana, started out good enough, but things soon fizzled out and the story failed to impress me in the end.


Title: We Are Never Meeting In Real Life
Author: Samantha Irby

Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir
First published: May 30th 2017
Publisher: Vintage
Finished reading: June 4th 2019
Pages: 272
DNF at 42% (114 pages)

“And if that doesn’t work, I’ll just tell some more stupid jokes. Good thing I’m hilarious.”


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Give me a cat on a cover and I’m immediately intrigued, and give me a promise of a potentially funny memoir and consider me signed up for the challenge. I’ve been looking forward to pick up We Are Never Meeting In Real Life despite the mixed reviews and despite the fact I hadn’t heard of the author before. Maybe I should have checked out her blog to see if her writing style would be for me, because there is one thing for sure: her writing and me definitely didn’t get along. I love my snarky humor, but we are most definitely NOT going to be meeting in real life or getting along for that matter… I’m going to be honest here and say I just felt the author was too full of herself (see quote above) and trying way too hard to be funny and it had the complete opposite effect on me. Add an overdose of sex references to the whole self-centeredness and I had no other option than to simply throw in the towel at 42%. I never like making the decision to DNF a story, but sadly the writing style and content was such a struggle for me that I just couldn’t force myself to read the other 58% of the essays. Hereby I declare We Are Never Meeting In Real Life officially my fourth DNF of the year and it’s easy to say it wasn’t the reading experience I was hoping for. Note to self: next time, don’t get distracted by a cute cat on the cover and investigate first before deciding to read another ‘funny’ memoir. If you are able to connect to her humor and don’t mind a lot of sex-centered comments, you will probably have a better time reading We Are Never Meeting In Real Life though.


Title: The Confectioner’s Guild
(The Confectioner’s Chronicles #1)
Author: Claire Luana

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Magic
First published: October 23rd 2018
Publisher: Live Edge Publishing
Finished reading: June 5th 2019
Pages: 327

“Small things change the course of history.”

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I stumbled upon this series while browsing for books with a food element for a challenge, and both cover and blurb sounded positively delicious. I’ve been looking forward to bite into The Confectioner’s Guild ever since (did I mention before I love baking?), and when I started reading I really liked what I was tasting. The fantasy world, the many many baking references, the mystery around Kasper’s death and Wren’s past, the existence of the Gifted… Oh yes, there were a lot of interesting ingredients in play. The Confectioner’s Guild reads quite fast at first and part of this has to do with the writing, which starts out engaging and interactive. It’s true though that things start slowing down a bit after a while and the initial flame peeters out mostly… I think a lot of it has to do with the introduction of sappy romance in the plot, which distracts from the murder conspiracy and delicious baking elements. It also had to do with Wren, who started to get on my nerves with the whole ‘I can’t trust anyone’ and then ‘I’m trusting them anyway’ repeating over and over again. The romance itself mostly felt forced and unnatural for me, but at least we don’t have a love triangle (or at least for now). I ended up having mixed thoughts about The Confectioner’s Guild, because while I loved certain elements, there were others that failed to convince me including the ending. But there is one thing for sure: you will crave lots of baked goods before you reach the final page! I’m really tempted to make another batch of these rose buttercream cupcakes I prepared two weeks ago for a birthday party just because they match the cupcake that changed Wren’s fate so well. 😉


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small #blogtour

Hello and welcome to my little stop of the Bright Burning Stars blog tour! A huge thanks to Brittani Hilles for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. There was just something about the blurb of this story that caught my attention right away and I have been excited to read it. And while it turned out to be not entirely my cup of tea, I’m having a feeling the right reader will fall in love with it. Please join me while I share my thoughts on Bright Burning Stars!

Title: Bright Burning Stars
Author: A.K. Small
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
First published: May 21st 2019
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Finished reading: May 10th 2019
Pages: 304

“Marine, notre monde, this world of ours – the stage and studios and barres – is intense and lonely. There is no space for friendship, love, or even an old and perhaps sacred bond between twins. Nothing shadows the art of dance. It’s a union of body, mind, and music. Classical dance is known for being ruthless.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Algonquin Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Like I said before, there was just something about the blurb of Bright Burning Stars that caught my attention right away and I have been excited to finally read it. It’s true that it turned out to be not entirely my cup of tea, but I do believe the right reader will enjoy this story immensely. Fans of more gritty and slow-paced YA contemporary romance will be in a treat with this ballet-inspired story mainly set within the Paris Opera Ballet School.

Why wasn’t Bright Burning Stars a good fit for me personally? It’s hard to put my finger exactly on the why, but I think part of the reason has to do with the sheer amount of cliche drama relating to both competition, jealousy, romance and friendship. All this drama made it hard for me to stay focused and I confess it took me longer than expected to actually reach the final page. On top of this we have what you can call multiple love triangles and more jealousy and drama resulting from that… And you all know by now how I feel about those pesky love triangles in the first place. I’m sure romance fans who don’t mind a cliche or two will react different to this part of the story though. Another thing I didn’t like was the fact how they skimmed over abortion and basically make it seem like you can just go to the pharmacy, get a little something as if you were buying a cure for a headache and solve your problems that way. I’m not going into the whole abortion discussion, but I do feel this gives the wrong message to teenagers about safe sex and having to face the consequences of your actions and mistakes. Trigger warnings are also in place for other sensitive themes including eating disorders, suicide and drugs. I understand the ballet world is brutal and unrealistic (and basically unhealthy) demands are made of the bodies of the dancers, and I do think this is well portrayed in Bright Burning Stars, but it can potentially trigger more sensitive readers so you’ve been warned.

The story is told with the help of a dual POV, where we get to know Marine and Kate and learn more about how the constant competition has changed their relationship and how their final year once again puts a lot of pressure on both their bodies and their minds. I’m not sure I actually liked them, especially since their is a lot of teenage drama, boy stuff and jealousy involved, but they do help address various issues related to the ballet world. Bright Burning Stars is mostly a character-driven story where we follow the development of Marine and Kate. The pace is considerably slow at times, but shouldn’t be problem for those who enjoy this kind of story. I did wonder about the use of random French words in the text, as they didn’t seem to add anything substantial to the story… And with a Paris setting aren’t they speaking French all the time anyway in the first place? Instead of the French words, I think I would have liked to see more dancing and more descriptions of Paris and the school. But that could have been just me. Overall this was still a solid read, and while not my cup of tea, I can see how others could fall in love with Bright Burning Stars.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A.K. Small was born in Paris. At five years old, she began studying classical dance with the legendary Max Bozzoni, then later with Daniel Franck and Monique Arabian at the famous Académie Chaptal. At thirteen, she moved to the United States where she danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for one summer in Seattle and with the Richmond Ballet Student Company for several years. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and has an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband, her puppy, and her three daughters, and practices yoga. Bright Burning Stars is her first novel.

SOCIAL LINKS

aksmallwords.com
Twitter: @aksmallwords 
Instagram: @aksmallwords 


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