Book Review: The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

The Grace Year is another of those rare books that has left me speechless. This is what I knew about this book going in…

“Survive the year.

No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.

In Garner County, girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.

Sixteen-year-old Tierney James dreams of a better life—a society that doesn’t pit friend against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting for a chance to grab one of the girls in order to make a fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.

With sharp prose and gritty realism, The Grace Year examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between.”

I was immediately lured into this world that was at once so bizarre and so familiar in theme. It has all the feels of The Handmaid’s Tale (a dystopian patriarchal society). The Hunger Games (sending away teens who may, or may not, return) and Lord of the Flies (the psychology of people existing under duress and away from the confines of society).

Tierney has just been sent to a remote location for her grace year, and survival against the elements isn’t the only thing she’ll have to endure. Almost immediately the power structure among the thirty-three girls is established and the cruelty of some of them becomes evident, with simmering grudges boiling over into vengeance. Danger also lurks outside the compound as poachers are waiting for the opportunity to kill the grace girls in order to sell their body parts to people looking to capture some of their magic.

From the start to the end my heart was pounding and my mind reeling at every turn of the storyline. Kim Liggett has done an amazing job of building this shocking world and weaving tension and hope amid world that seems so bleak. The Grace Year is available October 8, 2019 and I highly recommend it.  

*I received a copy of The Grace Year from NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review

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Book Review: The Hollow Queen by Sherry D. Ficklin

Sherry Ficklin continues to thrust us directly into the turbulent machinations of the life in the Romanov Court.

The Hollow Queen is the latest novel in the Stolen Empire series and it does not disappoint. We were introduced to Elizabeth in the novella Winter Queen (link to Winter Queen review) and now, we join Elizabeth as she travels deep into the perilous world of Russian royalty.

With her fiancé and mother both dead, Elizabeth—daughter of Peter the Great—is returned to court in St. Petersburg where she’s been stripped of her title, lands and jewels—all of which now belong to her nephew, Peter the second. Elizabeth understands the peril she faces, her mother has just been assassinated, there is no Romanov heir after her nephew, and there are many—including Prince Menshikov—who would prefer to use the crown of Russia toward their own benefit.

Elizabeth vows to support the reign of Peter, and thereby the Romanov line. But although he’s entitled to the throne by blood, it’s Elizabeth who truly understands how to rule. As her affections for the new Tzar grow, so does the danger to them both. Will Elizabeth be able to overcome the threats from both within and without her country? And will she continuously have to sacrifice her own desires and happiness for the sake of her family’s rule?

Once again the story is steeped so deep in political intrigue, danger and desire that I just couldn’t set the book aside. This is truly one of my favorite series to get lost in and can’t wait for more.

The Hollow Queen is available September 28, 2019 preorder now on Amazon or Barnes & Noble

**I received a complimentary copy of The Hollow Queen from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Query Strategies

I recently jumped back into the query pool. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve actively queried a new project and I have to say, it’s as rough as I remember–maybe more so. The querying process will wear an author down on on several levels.

Level 1

First, and the one we all know too well, is the emotional toll that comes from rejection. This level has sub-levels that are directly related to the differing means we have of arriving at this level.

Sub-Level 1A: Straight forward rejection as in “I’m afraid I just didn’t connect with your writing”.

Sub-level 1B: Rejection by lack of other evidence. This is when you can assume that no response is a rejection.

Sub-level 1C: The high of a partial or full request, followed by a rejection.

Level 2

Second, researching agents and publishers is a time-intensive process. You research agents/publishers and their agencies/houses to find out what they represent, their manuscript wish lists, who their current clients/books are, how they interact with the writing community/world on social media, and what their submission guidelines are. It takes a lot of time.

Level 3

Preparing to query is also a time-intensive process. You have to craft the best query letter possible, one that highlights your story, captures attention, and compels the agent or publisher to request more. And you have to do it in about 250 words or less. But you also need to have a synopsis ready, and any writer who’s ever tackled this knows the special room in hell that houses synopsis writing. Is there really a way to effectively condense a 100,000 word novel into a one-page synopsis? (No, really! I’d like to know. If you have the answer, please email me!)

Level 4

This is the actual sending out of the query to your chosen agents/publishers. This step seems like a quick and easy one, until you get started. For each query you have to check, double-check, and even triple-check (at a minimum) that you’ve followed all of the submission guidelines, properly spelled everything (especially the name of the agent/publisher!), correctly entered the email address, included only what is requested by that agent. And then you do it again for the next agent, and the next, and the next….

Level 5

You realize you’ve made a spelling error, formatting error, forgot to include your sample pages, forgot the actual query letter, accidentally pasted the letter you wrote for another agent, just re-read your sample pages and realize you should make more edits…It’s bound to happen. Everyone has experienced that horrifying moment when you realize you shouldn’t have hit Send quite so soon.

Survival Tips for the Querying Author

So what can you do to make the querying process a little more tolerable?

First, always keep in mind that even with the best manuscript it really does come down to that novel arriving in the right hands at the right moment in time. Rejection isn’t personal, it isn’t you that’s being rejected. Your manuscript really just isn’t the right fit for this person, and you don’t want someone to accept it with a “well, I don’t love it, but I could probably sell it” view. Ultimately you want someone who will love your manuscript, who will be passionate about it and pursue publication because they believe in it, and you. So keep in mind that each rejection puts you closer to the right hands.

Second, be sure you are researching agents and publishers to find the ones who you want to work with. Don’t go into querying with an anybody-will-do approach. Be sure you’re targeting submissions to people who represent the genre you write in, agents who will meet your long-term career plans (for example, if an agent only represents YA, and you plan to write in the adult market as well, you’ll need to consider that). You should be able to tell an agent or publisher why you submitted to them. Do they represent an author you admire, did you hear them speak at a conference or on a podcast, did you read an interview with them? What specific reason can you offer for thinking this agent/publisher is for you beyond the fact that they are open to submission?

Third, and this goes without saying, but will probably continue to cause all of us ongoing issues: read your submission 3-4 times before sending it! Pay attention to the spelling of the agent/editors name–as well as your own!

Fourth, learn to be patient, or come up with ways to distract yourself from the wait. On average you can expect to wait 4-8 weeks for a response (or lack of response!). I know, from the minute we hit Send on that query we begin the constant checking and refreshing of our emails. We can’t seem to get away from it, but what else can we do to busy our minds and make the wait go by faster? A common suggestion is to get busy on your next project. Writing definitely makes the time pass and keeps you occupied.

One trick I’ve adopted is to plot my submissions so that every week I should have something going out or a resolution on an outstanding submission. Part of my research involves making a note of expected response times. I then send out submissions, in part with an idea of response times (long, medium and short waits). I mix my submissions with an even number of 8-12 week responders, 4-6 week responders, and 2-4 week responders. That way every few weeks I’m either closing out submissions and sending new ones or researching more. But in my mind I’m making some sort of progress every few weeks.

When you do start feeling the sting of waiting and/or rejection reach out and talk to someone. If you don’t have a local writing community, the internet has so many opportunities for reaching out. On Twitter the #WritingCommunity threads are very supportive, and there are smaller, genre-specific groups as well. One thing you should never do though, is use social media to slam an agent/publisher who has rejected your work. Sadly, it is something that still happens, and it will not help you achieve publication–nor should it.

Well friends, that’s it, that’s all I have to offer. Above all, I encourage you to keep writing, keep submitting, and keep dreaming! (and drop me a comment when you achieve your dream–or any time)

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Dual Book Review: Keeper by Kim Chance & Seeker by Kim Chance

Keeper (Keeper #1) by Kim Chance

Lainey is a typical teenage girl, she’s trying to find her place in high school…oh, and she just found out her mother is a Keeper. Not only was her mother a Keeper—a witch the ability to open and use the grimoire—but Lainey finds out she’s a Keeper as well.

But the grimoire has gone missing along with the most powerful spell known. Of all the people who are looking for it, the Master is the one person who is the most dangerous. If the Master were to find the grimoire he’d be able to absorb all the magic in the world for his own use.

Along with her feisty superhero-loving friend Lainey has to try and find the grimoire while navigating the dangers of the magic world and people who may not be who they pretend to be.

Keeper is an exciting, fun adventure with an explosive ending that left me ready to immediately open book 2!

Seeker (Keeper #2) by Kim Chance

In the wake of the explosive finale in Keeper, Lainey and Maggie have been spirited out of the Master’s reach by a group of paranormal renegades. Lainey is dealing with the loss of her uncle, Ty’s betrayal, and the ever-present threat that the Master will find her as well as the pressure of having to conceal where the grimoire really is.

Seeker is a solid follow up to Keeper. The pacing remains solid, the characters and storyline develop at a satisfying pace. There was a bit of a lull until the mid-point, but it picked up again and I was left just as satisfied with this book as I was with the first.

Maggie and Ty are so well-developed here, I couldn’t help but be more focused on their progression than Lianey’s, though hers was just as intriguing.

Kim Chance has done a great job of building this world that exists right in the midst of our own and oh, how I want this secret world to be real!

*I received a copy of Seeker from NetGalley and Flux in exchange for an honest review

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Book Review: Pretty Guilty Women by Gina Lamanna

At the rehearsal for a wedding at a fabulous Californian resort a man is dead and four different women insist that they alone are responsible.  

Each woman’s story is alternated with a police interrogation in which Detective Ramone tries to sort through the confusing and contradictory accounts that each woman claim’s is the truth.

I was hooked on Pretty Guilty Women from the opening chapter, it was suspenseful and creepy. That feeling lessened a bit as I waited for the story to progress, but the pacing was good, and it held my interest throughout. I wasn’t completely surprised at the revelation of “who dunnit”, but it didn’t lessen the enjoyment of the book for me.

*I received a copy of Pretty Guilty Women from NetGalley and Sourcebooks in exchange for an honest review

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Book Review: Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon

Kammani is a healer, a skill she learned from her father who was banished into a life of poverty after failing to save the son of a ruler. Now the ruler is dying and, according to tradition, the three most beautiful girls have been chosen for the ultimate honor of accompanying him in the tomb—and the afterlife. One of the girls is Kammani’s sister.

Now Kammani will be challenged at every turn as she desperately tries to challenge tradition and her own skills to save her sister.

Gravemaidens is a dark, intense, pulse-pounding story. The supporting characters are well-developed, the setting is vibrant and rich. There were a few plot developments that I found to be a bit convenient, but it didn’t really distract me from the pace and enjoyment of the story. I’m looking forward to the next book!

*I received a copy of Gravemaidens from NetGalley and Random House Children’s in exchange for an honest review

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Book Review: A Life Without Living (The Strega Series #1) by S.C. Alban

Kate is married to a man who is handsome and sexy, though he’s also a bit controlling. She also has very vivid dreams that she’s trying to get to—and help—the man she loves, but that man isn’t her husband, and her husband may not even be who she thinks he is.

Giovanni (Gio) has been cursed with immortality. He uses every day of his life to find and save a woman he’s watched die numerous times, the woman he loves. But now there’s a timeline, it’s his last chance to save her, if only he can find her in time.

As the two plot lines converge, Kate and Gio are drawn together by factors that have been in play for generations and may drive them apart forever.

A Life Without Living is definitely outside of my usual reading habits, but I found the writing engaging and the storyline interesting and intriguing. I can’t wait for book 2!

*I received a copy of A Life Without Living from NetGalley and Foster Embry Publishing in exchange for an honest review

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Book Review: All Boy by Mia Kerick

Callie is attending Beaufort Hills Academy in an effort to put a humiliating high school experience behind her. But, as much as she wants to be her own person, she can’t get past her desire to fit in.

Jayden is also looking for a new start at Beaufort Hills Academy, one that involves living—for the first time—as a boy. With his strict religious upbringing, Jayden has never had the freedom to live the life he feels is true to his inner self.

Callie and Jayden are drawn to each other, and soon discover that keeping secrets isn’t so easy. But love is love–right?

All Boy is an achingly raw story about two teenagers who are looking for the freedom to live their lives, and to be accepted for who they are in a world that isn’t always receptive to the unique spirit of individuals. Mia Kerick has done a flawless job in presenting the pain and isolation of these two characters. The emotions are palpable, the writing is smooth and the story completely compelling.

**I received a copy of All Boy in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets by Molly Fader

The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets is a novel about the beautiful, imperfect ties that bind families together.

Delia is struggling. She’s trying to maintain it all with a rebellious teenage daughter and a demanding infant. If that weren’t enough to deal with, she is feeling increasingly isolated from her husband, dealing with the stress of her family’s charter business, and her elderly mother is ailing and in need of more care.

Delia’s sister Lindy, on the other hand, left town seventeen years ago to live her life in the city and has never looked back…until now. When she gets a call about their mother, Lindy returns for her first look at the people her mother and sister have become.

The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets opens with a heavy sense of the isolation Delia has lived with. A traumatic event seventeen years ago—that drove Lindy away and strained the family relationships—is slowly revealed throughout the book. Molly Fader has done an amazing job with capturing the dynamics of siblings who love each other, but are still dealing with the hurt of the past.

This is a deep and heart wrenching book, but also a lovely tale of sisters and the strength and love that bind a family together.

*I received a copy of The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets from NetGalley and Graydon House in exchange for an honest review

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Author Interview: Emily Shore

Name: Emily Shore
Author of: The Uncaged Series (The Aviary, The Garden, The Temple, The Temple Twins, The Aquarium) and The Ruby Trilogy (Ruby in the Rough, Ruby in the Ruins).

Excerpt from the Uncaged series:

My cage used to be the hotels where I grew up. There, I knew what to do and how to act. Now, I would choose to spend an eternity inside those walls, just being Serenity instead of a caged bird. At least in the hotel, I always had one constant. Sky. Who will I become here? Girls have adopted their feathers, seemingly as easy as zipping up a jacket. But I wear my lightning on my sleeve, and I always will. After Dove departs, I thumb my silver tattoo. Like flames and frost, it taunts my skin. Somehow, I must keep the Aviary from conquering me.


From: Rochester, NY

Can you tell me about the first piece you remember writing? Honestly, I can’t. I was an extremely early budding author and began writing stories from the time I knew how to string sentences together. But my earliest memories were writing fairy tales from classic books I was raised on like Chronicles of Narnia, Arabian Nights, Hans Christian Anderson and of course…Disney.

When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as a profession? From a young age, it was always acting or writing. Dolphin therapy, for a time but I couldn’t hack the science. And since I never got into any high school or community college plays but still loved to write with straight A-s…

Is there anyone who went out of their way to help or advise you during your journey to become a published author? You mean other than fictional characters who doubled as my friends in a lonely childhood? No. I faced a lot of challenges and pressure to NOT write. As I was pursuing my creative writing degree, my fiancé now husband, was my only encourager.

Do you exclusively write young adult? Which genres do you prefer to write? I have exclusively written YA but in the fall, I would love to tackle my first NA novel and turn one of my old YA longer works into a NA short series. Someday, I will write a children’s book but not quite there.

What is your schedule like when you’re writing a book? Is it difficult to achieve a work, life, write balance? Let’s see…mommy of two little girls + international adoption + home buying/selling + anti trafficking presentations + babysitting a single moms kids during the week + promoting my recently published Uncaged Series = I cant wait till the fall (school for both my girls!)

How long does it generally take you to write a first draft? How long do you spend on revisions? Pre-children=1-4 months. Post-children=3-6 months with three self line edits.

Can you describe the preparation/research you do for each book? Depends on the book. With my Uncaged Series, I spent upwards of ten years researching as I wrote and I still learn more about trafficking every day. I love my paranormal books because I don’t research too much. But when I do…vampire species and wolf behavior and everything undead oh my!

Do you have any quirky writing habits (the things you’d never want anyone to know)? Not really. I’m pretty much one of those stereotypical authors with her cats and her headphones clicking away on my laptop while wearing pajamas and drinking tea…and occasionally some vodka!

Have you ever done a literary pilgrimage—or any interesting research—for your novels? If not, do you have a research destination bucket list? I’ve loved traveling in the past pre-children and it was a thrill to take in as much as I could so I could use it for world building and location fodder. Germany is in my paranormal series releasing this fall! #1 on my bucket list is Paris.

Inspiration comes in many forms. Can you recall the exact moment of inspiration for each of your projects? Every book is different! For one, it was a dream. For another, it was literally one photo. For The Uncaged Series, it happened when I went to Germany and overheard a conversation in an underground pub about the Red Light District. More inspiration came from Taken starting Liam Nelson – not the norm for sex trafficking – but I’ve written about that whole journey in a couple blog posts on my site.

Do you have a specific genre you prefer to read? YA any genre, but I am selective regarding the books in whichever particular genre. What are your favorites? A Clean Teen Publishing Classic: Lauren Nicolle Taylor. I love every single book she’s written and it’s very difficult for me to choose a favorite. Laini Taylor is the Queen of Paranormal fantasy and I could read all of her books on repeat. Yes, I’m aware they share similar names. Coincidence? You decide.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find or know the real inspiration for? Little hints in my books parallel to modern day issues that someone with more awareness might recognize. But that’s why I also have discussion questions. More humor hints and a prominent theme will be in my paranormal series this fall.

Are your characters inspired—in part or whole—by people in your real life? Absolutely! Yes, I’ve also tried very hard to model some of my characters opposite of people in my life and real life, too.

Name one book you think is entirely underappreciated. My over-appreciated list is longer. Ballad by Maggie Stievfater. Dark urban fantasy. The MC makes me laugh every time. A Northern Light, ya historical, is another

Name one book that was a guilty pleasure. The Thousandth Floor. It’s cheesy, its soap opera-y, it’s easy reading, colorful cast of characters, and high tech I drool over.

Be honest: Do you Google yourself? Once or twice. My husband googles me more.

As a writer, which animal would you choose as your mascot/avatar/patronus? You think me a damsel in distress? No, I am the DRAGON and I will swallow you whole!

Is there one thing you think you, as a writer, should be better at, but secretly struggle with? Characterization. Perhaps this is me speaking from a place of having written 25 books in ten years. Hopefully, in another ten years, I’ll have more to offer with growth.

What is one word of advice you’d give to an aspiring writer? For potential self publishing or small press authors: #1. You might not like to hear this, but work full time at a good paying job for awhile, accumulate a Publishing fund, and hire a professional, accredited editor. They are worth their weight in gold. Listen to them. Don’t listen to your professor. They know craft. Not necessarily publishing. #2 I don’t have to tell you not to give up. If you’re a real writer, you won’t.

What is one word of advice you’d give to a newly published author? Depends. Are they Big Five or small press or self published? If they’re Big Five: fangirling followed by begging them to read my book, small press: twinsies!, self published: successful? Loudly congratulating you outside and silently jealous inside, especially if you are a mom but self published when your kids were in grade school or older.

In what ways do you “pay it forward” to help other aspiring writers? I’m a social media and word of mouth praiser and excellent reviewer. For the authors I love, I can’t sing their praises enough!

Where can people find more about you?
• Website: Www.emilybethshore.com
• Facebook: Facebook.com/authoremilyshore
• Twitter: @emilybethshore
• Instagram: @emilybshore

The Uncaged Series:

The Aviary

“Gentlemen, we have a special treat for you today. Feast your eyes on this pure-blooded beauty!”

Sixteen-year-old Serenity has spent her entire life in hiding to protect her from this exact moment. In a world where beauty is bought and sold on the streets like a corporate commodity, Serenity’s natural assets are more like liabilities. Despite her parents’ best efforts, she’s been taken―ripped from her home and the only life she’s ever known―to find herself on sale to the highest bidder. And that bidder? Enigmatic and dangerous, Luc is the director of The Aviary―an elite museum where girls are displayed as living art by day…and cater to the lascivious whims of the highest bidder by night. In this elaborate and competitive world, girls go by names like Raven and Nightingale, and will stop at nothing to become top Bird.

Luc comes to idolize Serenity’s purity and aims to turn her into his grandest exhibit of all time―The Swan. In no time, she becomes one of the most coveted exhibits in Aviary history. When she discovers Luc holds the key to finding her parents, she must learn to play The Swan to perfection…to win his heart and earn his trust. But she doesn’t anticipate falling for him in the process. Now she faces an impossible choice: escape The Aviary and lose her only chance at finding her parents―or become Luc’s Swan for good and lose her identity forever.

The Garden

Serenity is willing to do anything to find her sister, the twin Force has raised in the Temple since birth. But when Sky refuses to help, Serenity has no choice but to go to Luc—whose plan is to use Serenity as bait. Together, they embark to Force’s island vacation spot—the Garden, an exotic Museum that displays girls as Flowers. When their plan takes a turn for the worse, Jade, the Garden Director, captures Luc and Serenity. With both their lives in the balance, Serenity has no choice but to bow to Jade, who may be even more ruthless and determined than Luc. Serenity will become the Skeleton Flower.

The Ruby Series:

Ruby in the Rough

For four years, Ruby has escaped the gangs and sweepers hunting her. Until now…
For the past four years, Ruby has lived in what was once a sprawling city of business and commerce. Now, it is the Ghetto; its main commerce exists in the form of females. Whether breeders, laborers, gang girls, or sex slaves, the Ghetto features any and every service with the Hotel as its central area of business. Thanks to her roof-topping skills and street smarts, which have made her impossible to catch, Ruby has made the Ghetto’s most-wanted list. Fortunately, she has one ally: a young man named Ink, the one man determined not to sell her. Unlike Ruby, Ink has no desire to leave the Ghetto, but she owes him a life debt and is trapped as much by her honor as by the soldiers patrolling the only exits out of the city.
Whether scavenging for food or holing up in an abandoned clock tower, Ruby and Ink remain unlikely partners until their home in an abandoned train yard is discovered. While Ink escapes, Ruby is captured by the roughest gang in the Ghetto. All too soon, Ruby learns she is bound for the Hotel where she will be used up piece by piece until there is nothing left. Unless she can escape and get the target off her back once and for all.

Ruby in the Ruins

“Ruby!” I hear my father calling out to me, and I try to contain my giggles, keep them hiding behind the thick bush that is my hiding spot. My giggles poke through the leaves but not enough for him to hear.

Or so I thought.

“Aww, you found me!” I protest, puckering my lower lip into a pout when my father sweeps away some of the branches. “I was really trying to be quiet.”

“You did very well,” my father assures me and scoops me into his arms.

“I’m nine years old now. I’m getting better at hiding,” I tell him proudly while winding my arms around his neck.

“That you are.” He beams and swings me around before setting me on the ground.

“So how did you find me?” I follow him back to the barn, eager to see the new goat kid that was born yesterday. Playing hide-and-seek was the only thing that could keep me distracted until Daddy was ready to let me in.

Daddy rubs my head, playing with some of my hair. “This right here.” He tugs on a cluster. “Could see your red hair through the brush. If you ever need to really hide, you’ll have to make sure you cover it up.”

“Or I could just cut it like Mal’s.”

Sighing, my father squats down next to me, his big palm cupping the side of my face, strong blue eyes insistent as an oncoming wave. “Never cut your hair, Ruby. Don’t ever change anything. Don’t let this world dictate how you look or even how you survive. Just survive. On your terms.”

And it has been on my terms all these years. Until now.

Ink

The worst of it isn’t the jump from the train.

The worst is the landing.

It’s the second time I’ve been tossed from a moving vehicle in less than twenty-four hours. Except this time, it was voluntary. As soon as I heard the gunshots and saw Ruby fall off the back of the train through the window, it didn’t take me long to follow.

Only now I’m regretting it because I won’t be any help to Ruby if I’m dead.

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