Today I am very excited to reveal the cover for The Assassin’s Curse, a new young adult fantasy book coming in October! Plus I am giving away one ARC to a lucky person who will get to read the book long before its release date!

The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Isn’t that gorgeous?! It’s one of those covers that makes me really want to read the book within. It sounds wonderful as well, and I’m very much looking forward to this book!

About The Assassin’s Curse:

Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an allying pirate clan. But that only prompts the scorned clan to send an assassin after her. And when Ananna faces him down one night, armed with magic she doesn’t really know how to use, she accidentally activates a curse binding them together. To break the curse, Ananna and the assassin must complete three impossible tasks—all while grappling with evil wizards, floating islands, haughty manticores, runaway nobility, strange magic, and the growing romantic tension between them.

About the Author:

Cassandra Rose Clarke

Cassandra Clarke is a speculative fiction writer and occasional teacher living amongst the beige stucco of Houston, Texas. She graduated in 2006 from The University of St. Thomas with a bachelor’s degree in English, and in 2008 she completed her master’s degree in creative writing from The University of Texas at Austin. Both of these degrees have served her surprisingly well.

During the summer of 2010, she attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle, where she enjoyed sixty-degree summer days. Having been born and raised in Texas, this was something of a big deal. She was also a recipient of the 2010 Susan C. Petrey Clarion Scholarship Fund.


Courtesy of Strange Chemistry, I have one ARC of The Assassin’s Curse to give away! The finished book won’t be available until October, but the winner’s ARC will be sent out in the next couple of weeks.

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below. One entry per person and the winner will be randomly selected. This giveaway is only open to US residents. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Wednesday, May 9. The winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winners. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Good luck!

Update: Now that the giveaway is over, the form has been removed.

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Today’s guests are Ana and Thea from The Book Smugglers! These two probably need no introduction from me, but I’ll give you three reasons why you should read their wonderful blog anyway:

  1. They post at least once a day so there is always something new and interesting to read on their site.
  2. Not only do they have a great quantity of posts, but they maintain great quality with their intelligent, funny reviews and articles.
  3. They have excellent taste in books and have introduced me to a great number of authors and books that I now love (including several of the ones they are talking about today).

I really respect and admire both Ana and Thea, and I am thrilled they took the time to be here today. I’m also happy they chose both to discuss the issue of female agency in SFF and recommend SFF books containing female characters with agency. Please welcome Ana and Thea!

The Book Smugglers Header

We’ve been thinking a lot about agency lately. Although this is a topic that has always been important to us as readers and reviewers, the subject has become increasingly present in our reviews as we read more Historical Fiction and YA (please bear with us, we will segue into SFF in a moment). The former, because more often than not, female characters are written to fit certain prescribed historical molds; the latter, because much of the YA we read is of the dystopian variety and character agency is hugely important in these types of worlds.

Perhaps we should rewind and start with a basic question: what is “agency”? How do we prescribe agency to characters in fiction? Basically, for a character to have agency, he or she must have the ability to act. Mind you: acting doesn’t necessarily mean doing huge, larger-than-life deeds. Merely being able to think is a form of action. And, needless to say, the concept of “choice” is intrinsically connected with agency, too.

In recent articles and discussion, we’ve noticed that many people appear to be under the impression that a character’s agency is inherently connected with their strength. This is usually based on a certain idea of “strength” that is connected with power and physical abilities – or more to the point, much of the time, a strong character is immediately thought to be “kick-ass”.

This is a fallacy. There are many different kinds of strength (Ana is particularly fond of the quiet type of strength), and a character’s strength is not necessarily tied to physical prowess. Rather, strength of a character is integrally tied to how well a character is written by his or her creator.

For a character to be written well, he or she has to have some form of agency.

Which brings us to the point of this post.

Female agency in SFF, or the lack of it, is a huge deal, and it has been so for years. Very recently – and prompted by this very celebratory month – blogger Justin at Staffer’s Musings has started a series of posts about character agency. Justin has invited authors from across the SF/F world to chime in, answer questions, and write posts on this very provocative topic.

The posts have been both fascinating and illuminating – particularly this post from author Michael Sullivan, who writes epic fantasy in a world that resembles Medieval Europe. In this post, Sullivan explains that in order to keep a sense of authenticity he has followed the social conventions of that age. He goes on to say:

In that context, women do indeed have fewer opportunities than men. Does this mean that I think women shouldn’t have agency? Not at all, and in fact I have a six book series where women break the bonds of convention and become as strong and independent as any of their male counterparts. It’s true that early in the series some women are portrayed as locked in established roles, but I did so to provide a contrast to what they develop into.

We don’t mean to pick on Mr Sullivan but his words are unfortunately representative of the frame of mind that usually accompanies female characters without agency in SFF, based on a dual fallacy. The first refers to the issue of authenticity in SFF and the other to the very notion of what exactly defines a true-to-life representation of said authenticity.

In our opinion, to call for authenticity in SFF when it comes to female character agency is completely bogus. If you have a made-up Fantasy world with dragons, with magic, and other fantastical elements, why in the world the ONLY thing that needs to be “authentic” is the lack of agency of women?

Not to mention, we completely disagree with the assumption that in lands like Medieval Europe women were not able to exert any kind of agency or power because of their restrictive environment. To assume this is to ignore the very human capacity for adaptability and strategy – not to mention the factual evidence that while medieval women certainly were far less empowered than modern women, these females were active, even leaders, in the commercial and political spheres. Author Kate Elliot wrote a post about this very topic a few days ago, and this excerpt below part is of particular interest:

Even in patriarchal societies of the past (and present!), women who might otherwise have been banned by custom or law from partaking in the public life of politics, power, learning, work and so on still had personalities. I can’t emphasize this enough. People–even women!–have personalities regardless of how much or how little political power they have. People can live a quiet life of daily work out of the public eye, and still have personalities. Really! They can still matter to those around them, they can matter to themselves, and they can influence events in orthogonal ways that any self respecting writer can easily dream up.

SO! All of this said, where can you turn for science fiction and fantasy that features female characters with agency? We call your attention to the following list as a starting point:

Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy/Naamah’s Blessing Series

Jacqueline Carey writes female characters that are chock full of agency, that embody different kinds of power, that embrace different roles and explore issues of gender, sexuality, and politics. These books are AMAZING.

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters Series

If you haven’t read Juliet Marillier yet, please, please rectify this huge gaping hole in your SFF reading. Marillier’s heroines are all so very different – some are curious and brash with power, some are quieter, subversive characters. They all, however, are brilliant.

Feed by Mira Grant

Mira Grant’s Feed

This first book, starring the cutting, exposition-laden (in a good way!) narration of a female character named George (for George A. Romero) is an unexpected mix of medical procedural, political thriller, and zombie awesomeness.

The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente

The Incredible Assorted Works of Catherynne M. Valente (see: The Orphan’s Tales duology, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, A Dirge for Prester John)

No one can write effortless, lyrical tone as well as Cat Valente – add to this her beautifully complex, matryoshka-style of stories within stories within stories, and you have one of the best fantasy writers of our generation.

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson & Alpha & Omega series

Patty Briggs writes two very different types of heroines in these spinoff Urban Fantasy series’ – Mercy is capable, independent, no nonsense, and a refreshingly under-powered character in a sea of UF stereotypes that tend towards wearing black leather, trash talking and are immensely over-powered. Conversely, heroine Anna (of the A&O books) has lived through some terrible things and derives her power not from brute strength or badass attitude, but from her ability to calm those around her.

Cold Magic by Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott’s Spirit Walker Trilogy

We love Kate Elliott’s heroines, Cat and Bea, and admire how different these characters are while still maintaining their own separate power. A fantastic fantasy series that we highly recommend.

Cordelia's Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honor and Barrayar collected together now in one ominbus called Cordelia’s Honor

While Miles Vorkosigan may be the star of her Vorkosigan saga, the books all began with one very memorable heroine in Cordelia. (And plenty of empowered female characters abound in this series, too.)

Thanks Kristen, for allowing us to blab about such a fascinating topic!

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Today’s guest is A. M. Dellamonica! A. M. Dellamonica has written a variety of short stories and two novels, Indigo Springs and its sequel Blue Magic. She’s talking about a common theme in her stories today – women and the law.

As I’ve mentioned before this month, I did invite a few authors to participate whose books I want to read but have not yet read. Sometimes it seems like I talk about the same authors all the time, so I wanted some variety this month! A. M. Dellamonica is one author whose books I have not read yet but really want to. They sound like my type of books since I saw they are supposed to be dark on the author’s blog, and according to the back cover of Blue Magic, Library Journal said Indigo Springs is “a powerful story of good intentions gone terribly wrong.” This intrigues me quite a lot!

Alyx Dellamonica

Woman and the Fantasy of Justice

I had a question at my Blue Magic launch in Vancouver recently, from a lawyer, which boiled down to this: why do many of my fantasies also have, sandwiched in with everything else in the story, a bit of courtroom drama? “The Cage,” for example, centers around the criminal trial of a man who’s executed a female werewolf. In Blue Magic, a cult leader and self-styled goddess calling herself The Earth is on trial in U.S. Federal Court for treason. It’s a big televised show trial, meant to show that the government is in control of a spiraling outbreak of magic. (Or, looked at another way, they’re making a public example of a politically troublesome woman.)

Urban fantasy tends to deal more in rough justice than the machinations of the legal system. We’ve all read books where the villains arise and–whether they’re vampires, demons, or evil mages–their murderous sprees end when the hero or heroine kills them. It’s usually justifiable homicide–the necessary execution of someone who’s about to do major harm to others. Sometimes the hero even feels really bad about it.

But this sense that monsters fall outside the law is presented as a tidy solution to a completely human problem, because our allegedly mundane world is full of evil people making evil choices. That’s something we have here and now, without any magic at all. Though the death of a villain often makes for satisfying stories, it’s not how I imagine things playing out in our world if magic spilled into our reality.

In the real world, many of our problems seep into our courts and legal system, and I have always been interested in the ways the system can tend to discriminate against women. Consider the recent case of Raquel Nelson, for example, a Georgia mother who was convicted of vehicular homicide when a drunk driver struck her family with his car. Her crime? Jaywalking. The peculiar cruelty of this case cannot but seem like institutionalized misogyny, at least to me. It’s hard to imagine it playing out in the same way, had Raquel been male.

My interest in the courts also stems back to a period in my life when I was working at a local rape crisis center. It was an eye-opening experience. Volunteers supported women who called our crisis line and, when callers opted to call the authorities at all–because often they don’t–we worked to be with them through every stage of the process. Reporting a rape is something of an obstacle course: there’s the trip to the hospital, the initial statement made to the police, follow-up and still more follow-up, and finally–in a precious few cases where everything went ‘well’ enough that an attacker got caught and a prosecutor thought the case might be a winner–attending criminal trials.

I got to see the machinery of the law grind along in some slow ways, some ineffective ways. Sometimes it worked very well indeed. Other times it was unjust on a scale that was almost darkly comic. Obviously, it all made an impression.

And these days, one of my close friends is a Crown Attorney, so I get to hear about the system from the other side.

So in my book, the woman who spearheaded a magical assault on an aircraft carrier doesn’t just conveniently die by the hand or gun of some heroic type. She gets arrested and put on trial and the trial is put on television. The process of trying her gets all bound up in media coverage and politics and the needs of a government trying desperately to show that it has control over the magical outbreak.

This idea isn’t unique to me, obviously. D D Barant’s THE BLOODHOUND FILES novels has tons of legal material–their main character is an FBI profiler on a world where humans are, believe it or not, a federally protected endangered species.

The idea of magic being outside the law, a wild and unenforceable element that can only be brought to heel through vigilantism, strikes me as something an author ought to have to sell. Because, human nature being what it is, if magic exists then legislators are going to at least try to impose some sort of structure on it. Cops and armies are going to have magic or try to get it. Any given population of people contains enough control freaks that someone’s going to make big rules about enchanters are allowed and not allowed to do.

And this is handy, from my point of view. The law is another thing a writer can use to put limits on their magic system. (It’s generally understood that magic in fantasy has to have some limitations, because if the characters can do anything, there’s really no conflict to be had. It’s basically, “And then she became a deity, the end.”) In some of my worlds, it’s less that magic is limited than that society draws lines on how it can be used.

The simplest answer to that reader’s question, of course, is that a little courtroom drama turns my crank: I like it. It makes for interesting story. And so my next trilogy will have a big legal component too. (This is the series that ties in to my story, “Among the Silvering Herd.”) It has a complex and almost Victorian legal system, all adjudicated through a seagoing Age of Sail-type Fleet, where the lawsuits are numerous and the only out-of-court settlement option is to challenge your plaintiff or defendant to a duel and instead of a Lord High Executioner they have a Duelist-Adjudicator’s office full of fighting judges. It’s going to be incredibly fun.

About A. M. Dellamonica:
A.M. Dellamonica’s first novel, urban fantasy INDIGO SPRINGS, won the 2010 Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic; a sequel, BLUE MAGIC, was released by Tor in 2012. She has published short fiction in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction MagazineStrange HorizonsTOR.COM and over thirty other magazines and anthologies. (Her most recent short is “Among the Silvering Herd.”) A resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, Dellamonica teaches writing through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Read the first chapter of Indigo Springs
Read the first chapter of Blue Magic

Indigo Springs  by A.M. Dellamonica Blue Magic by A.M. Dellamonica

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Today’s guest is Kenda from Lurv a la Mode! Kenda reads fantasy, science fiction, and romance, and this year she is hosting a reading challenge fantasy fans may want to participate in, Year of the Fantasy Classic.

Kenda is one of my favorite bloggers because of both her thoughtful reviews and her sense of humor. She’s not afraid to say what she thinks about a book even if it’s less than glowing, and I appreciate how she gives her opinion and tells it how she sees it. Kenda is just an all-around fantastic blogger (and she runs a great food blog too!). I was very glad to see the topic she chose today – how an author made her more willing to try books featuring a certain common fantasy theme she used to avoid. Please give a warm welcome to Kenda!

Lurv a la Mode Header

Finding Enjoyment in Faerie

I want to thank Kristen for asking me to do a guest post for her Women in SF&F Month. I love it when I get ask to guest on a great blog, but then I always struggle to figure out what to say. Then it just hits me. So thanks for asking me here today, Kristen! I appreciate to opportunity to reflect on what women in one of my favorite genres means to me.

So as you may have guessed, I’m going to talk a little today about Faerie, aka, the Fae or Faery or any other other various ways of spelling the concept. It really wasn’t much of a fave of mine back in the day. If fact, it was like my dreaded angel trope these days. I’d figuratively run the other way if Faerie was mentioned in any way. I think in part it’s because that was the big deal then. It seemed like everywhere you turned it was fae this and fairy that, and the ones I’d tried didn’t gel with me. I don’t tend to stick too much to overly zealous publishing trends (I’m sure there’s an exception or two, but the repetitive nature of trends can be a turn off).

I’ll never forget the day I got a certain ARC in the mail, unsolicited. Instead of the book’s blurb on the back cover, there was a small letter from the head of DAW publishing (Or maybe their senior editor? OK, so maybe that day is slightly fuzzy now.). A little unprecedented, yes? I thought so. It was an incredibly laudatory letter on the book in question and I wasn’t buying it. I’m not one for author quotes on books either, so I naturally wasn’t going to pay a publishing professional’s much more notice. We’re all too different; I won’t enjoy it just because this person, nice as they may have seemed, liked it so much. I started to read the book after that, because it had been one I was looking forward to.

That magical book was Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire. (Aha! We get to the female side of this discussion, finally.) It is all up in that fae business that I thought would never be for me. This one was different, though, and as I read it and was sucked in, I supposed that maybe I could agree with a certain DAW employee that it was something special. By the end I knew it was. It’s one of my most favorite series now and I can’t ever get enough.

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire

Since I’ve reviewed all the books in the series so far, I’ve thought a lot already about what it is I like so much about Toby, and at the heart of it is her unflagging ability to be a hero. It’s been mentioned more than once in the series that, something along the lines of “Faerie has no more heroes”. It means that the legends of old that were the known and beloved heroes were swiftly dwindling. But I see Toby as a return to those heroic roots of Faerie. She is loyalty personified, even at times when those she serves aren’t as loyal to her. When everyone else is ready to turn a back or blind eye with their apathy, there’s always Toby to pick up the reins. As a result she is hurt, both physically and mentally, beaten and punished in ways that are unthinkable. But it doesn’t break her. She never stops. And thankfully somewhere along the way she gains new friends and alliances. She is not alone. As a result, each book in the series has felt so triumphant for me.

I wouldn’t feel this way if McGuire didn’t drive Toby so darn hard. It’s almost physically painful to me how hurt Toby can get. I feel what the book is trying to do that much and I love that it can get to me that way. It means that I also find complete happiness when the situation warrants it. In a way this post is a confession of my crush on Toby as a phenomenal character and it’s my undeniable letter of a total fangirl to an author. It’s a thank you for helping me along in my heel digging to avoid fae fantasy fiction. It’s totally thanks to McGuire that I’ll give fae-themed fantasy a try now – and amazingly enough not the Lord of the Rings movies that even now hubby and I are watching for the proverbial one millionth time as I type this up. But you go, Arwen, you tell that meddling father of yours.

Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuire One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire

Anyway, the point to this long-winded bit of fangirl fluttering is to ask you, fellow fantasy and science fiction fans, what female authors have especially inspired your reading? Do you have any particular themes/tropes that you’ve vowed never to read? Have any female authors managed to get you to change your mind?

Thanks again for having me here today, Kristen!

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Women in SF&F Month is almost at an end, although it is going to continue into the first week of May. The final guests will end on May 2nd and there were a few more things I wanted to cover before declaring the event officially over as well.

Once again, I just wanted to link to what happened last week, any related links I noticed, and announce the final guests!

Week In Review

Here’s what last week’s guests talked about:

Thank you to all of this week’s guests for taking the time to share their thoughts and recommendations!

This week there is also another giveaway in addition to Kate Elliott’s books mentioned above. There is a chance to win the entire Newsflesh trilogy (Feed, Deadline, Blackout) by Mira Grant. Be sure to check out the other sites listed in the giveaway post for more chances to win these books!

I also wanted to point out a list of non-European based fantasy books written by women that Martha Wells has started. There are so many of these I want to check out!

Final Guests

The final guests are:

Ana and Thea from The Book Smugglers
Catherine Asaro (Saga of the Skolian Empire series, Lost Continent series, The Spacetime Pool, Alpha)
A. M. Dellamonica (Indigo Springs, Blue Magic)
Kenda from Lurv a la Mode

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Today’s guest is Pamela from The Discriminating Fangirl! Pamela is the founder, editor, and head writer of the site, and there are other contributors who regularly post on the site as well.

I love The Discriminating Fangirl because it is my type of place – dedicated to all things geek-oriented. This includes speculative fiction book reviews, but it also extends to television and movies (especially superhero movies), comic books, and video games. They also have a few podcasts that cover everything from banned books to some of the latest movies in the Marvel universe. It is the perfect place to hang out if you’re into the usual geeky things in addition to reading science fiction and fantasy.

Pamela is telling us about two of her favorite authors today. They’re both authors I’ve read, and I have to say, I give a big thumbs up to both the authors she’s selected and her reasons for choosing them!

The Discriminating Fangirl Logo

First, huge thanks to Kristen for inviting me to be part of her Women in SF/F month! I went back and forth on what to write today, and I decided that since I love giving my opinion, I’m going to talk about two authors who write in my favorite SF/F subgenre: urban fantasy.

I love pretty much any subgenre of speculative fiction. I cut my reading teeth on science fiction and fantasy and was attacking hard SF and high fantasy by the time I was ten. When urban fantasy started to surface in bookstores, I found myself immediately drawn to it. I love the idea of the fantastic hiding in plain sight in a contemporary setting. And I quickly realized that the vast majority of the UF that I was reading was written by women, which was a major plus to me. I’m all about promoting women’s participation in geekdom, and I’m proud to read female authors in the geeky realm.

So! Who are my two favorite female urban fantasy authors? Actually, I shouldn’t even qualify that with “female.” These are my two favorite UF authors, period, and they’re two of my favorite authors in any genre. Let’s go!

Books by Ann Aguirre

Ann Aguirre

Ms. Aguirre first came on my radar with the first novel in her Sirantha Jax series, Grimspace, and boy, do I love that series. I love character-driven science fiction, and Grimspace is right up my alley, led by a tough female lead who grows and changes over the course of the series. LOVE IT.

So when I saw that Ms. Aguirre was coming out with an urban fantasy series, I jumped aboard as fast as I could. The Corinne Solomon series has quickly turned into one of my favorites, and Ms. Aguirre is proving herself an expert at creating the kind of character that I love. Corinne, like Sirantha Jax, is tough and intelligent, but she is ultimately a flawed human being, and that’s what makes her so fascinating. She does the wrong thing while trying to do the right thing, and she tries desperately to learn from those missteps, and really, I can’t ask for better character development than that. At the end of the third book in the series, Shady Lady, I actually cried for Corinne. I may be a sap, but I don’t often cry over books (Harry Potter is the exception here), so this is high praise from me.

The fourth Corinne Solomon book, Devil’s Punch, came out April 3, and it’s sitting in iBooks waiting for me to crack its metaphorical spine. If you haven’t checked out Ms. Aguirre’s series (she also has a dystopian young adult series, Razorland, which I also love), you should definitely pick one up.

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire

If there’s an author that will make me jump off of my butt and run to buy a book the second it comes out, it’s Seanan McGuire. Her October Daye series is hands-down my favorite urban fantasy. It just encapsulates everything I love about the genre, from magic hiding in plain sight to a snarky, self-aware main character to absolutely gorgeous incorporation of mythology and folklore into the “real” world. I love good world-building, and Ms. McGuire builds one seriously amazing world.

Much like my love of Ms. Aguirre’s characters, the thing that keeps me hooked on the October Daye series is the amazing cast of characters. October herself is near the top of my list of favorite fictional characters. She’s flawed–oh my goodness, does she have issues–but she ultimately tries to do what’s good and right. She feels a sense of duty, but she also has a well-developed idea of her own personal ethics, and while those ethics may adapt to situations, I never feel like she’s acting out of character. Toby is never stagnant as a character, and with each new book in the series, I feel like she grows and adapts and becomes even better.

To put it succinctly, I freaking love Toby.

But Toby isn’t the only amazing character in the series. I’ve seen so many series get weighed down under an enormous cast of characters, and the problem with that stems from not fleshing out those characters enough. I don’t want to read about cardboard cutouts who interact with the main character but don’t really have personalities beyond “handsome love interest” or “sassy best friend.”

The October Daye series boasts the best cast of supporting characters I’ve seen. I love them all, even the ones I hate. No one is just tossed in there to fill a role, and I’ve even fallen head over heels for a few of them (Tybalt, Luideag, Quentin, I’m looking at you). I cried like a baby when a supporting character died in the fifth book, One Salt Sea.

I could ramble on forever about how much I love this series, but I should probably cut myself off here. Ms. McGuire has managed to write an addictive series that’s alternately serious, funny, and heartbreaking, and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the next book to come out.

She also writes the InCryptid series, another urban fantasy, which I actually haven’t read yet. I just bought the first ebook, Discount Armageddon, so I’ll be reading it soon. Under the name Mira Grant, she’s also written the Newsflesh series, which is actually the first zombie horror books I’ve read. I’m not into zombies, guys, so it’s a sign of how awesome those books are that I absolutely loved the first two and can’t wait for the third, which comes out in May.