Book Review: Toxic by Lydia Kang

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Title: Toxic
Author: Lydia Kang
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication date: November 6, 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

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Indiebound // Entangled Pubishing

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Toxic
Lydia Kang
Entangled Teen, November 2018
ISBN 978-1-64063-424-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Cyclo, the first and largest biological ship of its kind, is dying. A small crew of mercenaries have handed over the rights to their life to document the death of the ship, but the abandoned ship is anything but abandoned—one girl has been left behind.

Hana has known nothing but the isolation of a single room and the secret that has kept her there for seventeen years. When she meets Fennec, the boy assigned to watch her, she realizes that there is a world she has yet to experience but she is doomed to never meet.

When crew members begin mysteriously dying, Hana and Fenn realize that they are racing against the death of the ship to find a way to survive—unless someone kills them even before Hana’s truly had a chance to live.

I couldn’t help thinking of Kass Morgan’s The 100 when I first saw the description of this book. That’s not a bad thing as I’m a big fan of both the book series and the TV adaptation although they bear only a moderate resemblance to each other, as you might expect. At any rate, thinking of that series definitely made me want to try this and I’m very glad it did.

Imagine spending the entire nearly 17 years of your life secreted away in a 10-foot wide room from everyone except your mother on board a bioship in outer space . Logistically, that’s not as impossible as it might seem because we’re not talking about what we envision as a space vessel today; Cyclo is three kilometers wide so there’s plenty of room for hiding. Hana spends 48 to 72 hours at a time in a sleeping state so, when she wakes up one day to discover that it’s been a week since she last saw her scientist mother, she’s naturally upset and full of questions. Cyclo, usually quite willing to converse in her own way, offers no explanation other than, “Your mother is not here” and is clearly reluctant to open the door for Hana but she finally does so. Very quickly, panic begins to set in as Hana realizes Cyclo is not verbalizing as she usually does…and there are no people anywhere on board the ship. What Cyclo tells her then is the most frightening thing Hana can imagine, that her mother has abandoned her.

When Hana sees the light of a ship in the distance, approaching Cyclo, she’s sure her mother is coming back but, in fact, the ship is bringing a small crew on a suicide mission to gather data from the dying ship. The moment Hana and Fenn spot each other, not precisely a friendly meeting, everything changes for both of them.

Ms. Kang has done a wonderful job with her setting, particularly in making Cyclo seem so very real and truly vivid with her emotional colors and her ability to use her ectoplasm in so many ways. In fact, I’d have to say that Cyclo is a character just as central to the story as are Kana and Fenn. I also like that Hana is of Korean descent and that the mercenaries are all quite diverse, too. Hana’s rampant insecurities and Fenn’s roguish personality mesh well together and the author makes them, and their story, exciting and compelling. When all is said and done, this book is high on my list of favorite books read in 2018.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.

About the Author

Lydia Kang is an author of young adult fiction, poetry, and narrative non-fiction. She graduated from Columbia University and New York University School of Medicine, completing her residency and chief residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. She is a practicing physician who has gained a reputation for helping fellow writers achieve medical accuracy in fiction. Her poetry and non-fiction have been published in JAMA, The Annals of Internal Medicine, Canadian Medical Association Journal, Journal of General Internal Medicine, and Great Weather for Media. She believes in science and knocking on wood, and currently lives in Omaha with her husband and three children.

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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Book Review: Rival by Arwen Paris

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Title: Rival
Series: Fate of the Stars #2
Author: Arwen Paris
Publication Date: November 1, 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Dark Fantasy, Young Adult

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Rival
Fate of the Stars #2
Arwen Paris
Legendary Prose, November 2018
ISBN 978-1-947334-04-5
Trade Paperback

From the author—

It’s a role she didn’t want…

One deadly week has passed since seventeen year old Allison Delaney realized she must save Earth from the parasitic race of Ma’tiok. But the task is even more complicated than Allison feared, and she’s being set up to fail. Blamed for a fatal blow to the Alliance fleet that killed dozens of soldiers, Allison must face judgment for their deaths. The High Priestess Kiobaan is Allison’s only hope. Kiobaan sees the warrior spirit in Allison, along with her potential both politically and physically and agrees to train her.

And a game she can’t afford to lose.

Meanwhile, though Allison is the human host of Eenoki, protector of life, she’s not yet ready to harness their combined energy. Their bond is unpredictable at best—volatile at worst. Time is running out for Eenoki and Allison to trust each other—all or nothing—or she’ll never gain the power she needs to defeat the Ma’tiok and save Earth. When Allison is marked for death by an unknown enemy, the High Priestess Kiobaan must step-up and fight. But in return Kiobaan extracts a pledge from Allison, one that will compromise her new status and make her a target.

Just one week after the alien invasions started, there’s little left of the California beach town that was Allison’s home and her life has literally changed dramatically. Now host to an alien, she communicates through thought with Eenoki and has become the link between races, potentially the only possible salvation for Earth.

In a tone that’s reminiscent of the cultural and racial divides we’re surrounded by these days, the distrust and hostility between humans and aliens is palpable, even when they share common goals. The humans need the “good” aliens if there’s to be any hope of defending Earth from the Ma’tiok but, as you might expect, these same humans are resistant to being led by any of the invaders.

Allison and, within her, Eenoki are meant to be the liaison between the races but they face a few difficulties. First, Allison is a 17-year-old and, second, she doesn’t look quite human anymore. Getting the humans and two races of alien warriors to accept that they all need to work together is a very tall order.

Once again, Ms. Paris has given us a story full of action as well as a thought-provoking look at the suspicions and resentment that can endanger a society past hope. Well done, Ms. Paris!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.

About the Author

Arwen Paris is the author of young adult fiction. Her debut YA Sci-fi Urban Fantasy novel FATE OF THE STARS released September 1, 2017. The actions packed pages of her novels are filled with characters that are forced to face fears they never expected. When she’s not writing, you can see posts of her (too many) vacations that keep her sane. Arwen lives in Washington, has a big crazy family & after the day job, she writes Fiction For the Fearless – #F3Fanatic

Author links:
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Book Review: Damselfly by Chandra Prasad

Damselfly
Chandra Prasad
Scholastic Press, April 2018
ISBN 978-0-545-90792-7
Hardcover

This book wastes no time pulling readers into the plot. Samantha, a scholarship student at a fancy private school comes to in pain and disoriented. The last thing she remembers is an unexpected landing of the private jet she and the other members of the school fencing team made on their way to Japan for a tournament. More details come to her as she begins searching for her best friend, Mel and finding the body of another male team member begins what becomes a twisting tale of survival and suspense on what they eventually realize is an isolated tropical island and that there’s nothing usable remaining from the jet after it crashed. As the two best friends encounter other team members, Mel, with Samantha’s help, tries to bring order to the group by assigning chores, educating the others about the importance of maintaining their water supply without contaminating it, what plants are edible and the need to keep a signal fire lit at all times.

It’s not long before ugliness sets in, some due to teen hormones and the social structure back at the school, but more from racial issues, in this instance, reverse racism. Add in issues of ecology, a strange creature stalking the teens, selfishness plus mental illness and you have a virtual stew pot of impending disaster. The story will remind many readers of a modern day version of Lord of the Flies. As things go further and further south, the division among the teens widens, then fractures. After a couple tragedies, Sam and Mel finally realize that saving the group is beyond their power and they must come up with an alternative that will save themselves. Read the book to see how they accomplish it.

It’s an overall good story. I have a couple very minor quibbles. I would have liked more exploration of the relationship between siblings Rittika and Rish, as well as whether Sam and Mel’s friendship had hidden layers.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2018.

Book Review: Carols and Chaos by Cindy Anstey

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Title: Carols and Chaos
Author: Cindy Anstey
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: October 9, 2018
Genres: Historical, Romance, Young Adult

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Carols and Chaos
Cindy Anstey
Swoon Reads, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-17487-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A lady’s maid and a valet become entangled in a yuletide counterfeiting scheme in this romantic Christmas YA adventure.

1817. The happy chaos of the Yuletide season has descended upon the country estate of Shackleford Park in full force, but lady’s maid Kate Darby barely has the time to notice. Between her household duties, caring for her ailing mother, and saving up money to someday own a dress shop, her hands are quite full. Matt Harlow is also rather busy. He’s performing double-duty, acting as valet for both of the Steeple brothers, two of the estate’s holiday guests.

Falling in love would be a disaster for either of them. But staving off their feelings for each other becomes the least of their problems when a devious counterfeiting scheme reaches the gates of Shackleford Park, and Kate and Matt are unwittingly swept up in the intrigue. Full of sweetness, charm, and holiday shenanigans, Carols and Chaos is perfect for fans of Jane Austen and Downton Abbey.

I don’t usually start reading Christmas-y books before we’ve even gotten to Halloween and I also don’t usually read romances but something about this one caught my attention and drew me in. Partly, it’s the really appealing cover but perhaps I also had a yen to go back to the Regency era, at one time a favorite period for me. At any rate, I threw caution to the wind and I’m glad I did.

Kate Darby is a nice young woman, not a lady precisely, according to the class distinctions of her time, but she works hard, cares for her mother, and is clever and genuinely friendly. Matt Harlow is hardworking, too, and has a certain kind of loyalty to his position and the family he works for. He and Kate have eyes for each other but, really, they don’t have time right now for such goings-on, especially after it comes to light that some nefarious activity is going on at the manor.

Drama ensues, along with holiday frivolity and the expected dynamics between upstairs and downstairs. I especially appreciated having servants as the main characters rather than the high society folks we generally get and the mystery of the missing footman and perhaps related skulduggery brings Kate and Matt together as quite capable sleuths.

Apparently, Carols and Chaos is a companion or spin-off to another of the author’s books which I haven’t read but I never felt that anything was lacking because of that. More dialogue would be nice, especially between Kate and Matt, but this is a charming lighthearted entry to the holiday season and I recommend it for those who enjoy the Regency era, a bit of romance and a good mystery to solve.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2018.

About the Author

Whenever she is not sitting at the computer, throwing a ball in the backyard, gardening or reading, Cindy can be found–actually, not found–adventuring around the world with her hubby.

She has lived on three continents, had a monkey in her yard and a scorpion under her sink, dwelt among castles and canals, enjoyed the jazz of Beale St and attempted to speak French.

Cindy loves history, mystery and… a chocolate Labrador called Chester.

Author links:
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Book Review: Death by the River by Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor

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Title: Death by the River
Authors: Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor
Publisher: Vesuvian Books
Publication Date: October 2, 2018
Genres: Psychological Thriller, Young Adult

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Death by the River
Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor
Vesuvian Books, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-944109-14-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

SOME TRUTHS ARE BETTER KEPT SECRET.
SOME SECRETS ARE BETTER OFF DEAD.

Along the banks of the Bogue Falaya River, sits the abandoned St. Francis Seminary. Beneath a canopy of oaks, blocked from prying eyes, the teens of St. Benedict High gather here on Fridays. The rest of the week belongs to school and family—but weekends belong to the river.

And the river belongs to Beau Devereaux.

The only child of a powerful family, Beau can do no wrong. Handsome. Charming. Intelligent. The star quarterback of the football team. The “prince” of St. Benedict is the ultimate catch.

He is also a psychopath.

A dirty family secret buried for years, Beau’s evil grows unchecked. In the shadows of the ruined St. Francis Abbey, he commits unspeakable acts on his victims and ensures their silence with threats and intimidation. Senior year, Beau sets his sights on his girlfriend’s headstrong twin sister, Leslie, who hates him. Everything he wants but cannot have, she will be his ultimate prize.

As the victim toll mounts, it becomes crystal clear that someone has to stop Beau Devereaux.

And that someone will pay with their life.

Years ago, I read a book by Iain Banks called The Wasp Factory that I’ve never forgotten and I don’t mean that in a good way. The story of an extremely disturbed teenager, it’s filled with violence and perversity and it literally kept me up at night, hoping to find at least one redeeming factor in this boy or even a reason for the story itself. I suppose I have to say it’s a good book because it made a huge impression on me but I can think of better ways to get my attention. When I read the description of Death by the River, I really hoped this psychopath would be more tolerable than the one in that book.

Fortunately, as psychopaths go, Beau is a lot less horrific than Frank was but that’s not to say he’s a pleasant guy to be around. He reminded me in a way of Ted Bundy with his charisma but, in Beau’s case, he has the rich, privileged background—and protection from others—that allows him to intimidate and bully his victims, feeding his narcissism. Beau has turned manipulation into a fine art and each episode of depravity just makes him want more. He’s a fascinating young man.

Leslie and Dawn are not quite as vivid (because they’re normal teens) but I liked both for different reasons. Dawn, who seems to be kind of forgettable as the stereotypical high school cheerleader, turns out to have a lot more going for her than you might think and Leslie stands out as a girl who can’t be charmed by a handsome face.

I did think the pacing of the story was a bit uneven but all was forgiven by an ending I definitely did not see coming. All in all, I’m glad I had the opportunity to read Death by the River and will be interested to read more by these authors.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2018.

An Excerpt from Death by the River

Crickets chirped and mist curled around him as Beau eased out of the crack in the wall to the cells. The chill in the air teased his sweaty skin, but the surge of power pounding through his blood was like liquid fire.

The rush consumed him. He knew in that instant he would find another victim, but his rational mind begged him to be careful.

Don’t get caught.

He chuckled. Besides the money, his father still had hefty political clout in Baton Rouge, thanks to his notorious grandfather and years of murky business dealings. The family name had spared him in the past from legal proceedings and institutions. It would again.

Heading toward the fountain across the grassy field, Beau considered his next night of fun. Before he reached the forgotten angel, a flash in the corner of his eye made him turn.

Amid the trees, crowding the edge of the property, something darted in and out. He could just make out a long, white hooded cloak, fluttering and billowing at the edge of the woods. Then it disappeared.

His heart rocketed to his throat. It can’t be!

All the stories he’d heard of the lady in white of The Abbey came rushing back at once, intensifying his panic.

Then he calmed. Someone had to be messing with him. It wasn’t the girl. Kelly had taken off, a bawling mess, across the field several minutes before and he’d heard the slam of the iron gate. He was alone. Unless … the guys had pulled a fast one on him.

But the guys don’t know about your room in the cells.

Beau cut across the grass, anxious to get to the iron gate and back to the party. Almost to the path, he glanced back over his shoulder to the patch of trees where he had seen the ghostly presence. Nothing was there.

It was just your imagination. Or was it?

He made it to the party at the beach, relieved to be back among people, but the incident with the ghost had eradicated his high.

He hungered for it to return but would have to wait.

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About the Authors

Alexandrea Weis
Alexandrea Weis, RN-CS, CRRN, ONC, PhD, is a multi award-winning author of twenty-five novels, a screenwriter, ICU Nurse, and historian who was born and raised in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Having grown up in the motion picture industry as the daughter of a director, she learned to tell stories from a different perspective and began writing at the age of eight.

Infusing the rich tapestry of her hometown into her novels, she believes that creating vivid characters makes a story moving and memorable.

A permitted/certified wildlife rehabber with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, Weis rescues orphaned and injured animals. She lives with her husband and pets in New Orleans. Weis writes paranormal, suspense, thrillers, horror, crime fiction, and romance.

Website, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

Lucas Astor
Lucas Astor is from New York, has resided in Central America and the Middle East, and traveled through Europe. He lives a very private, virtually reclusive lifestyle, preferring to spend time with a close-knit group of friends than be in the spotlight.

He is an author and poet with a penchant for telling stories that delve into the dark side of the human psyche. He likes to explore the evil that exists, not just in the world, but right next door behind a smiling face.

Photography, making wine, and helping endangered species are just some of his interests. Lucas is an expert archer and enjoys jazz, blues, and classical music.

One of his favorite quotes is: “It’s better to be silent than be a fool.” ~Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird)

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Book Review: Star-Crossed by Pintip Dunn

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Title: Star-Crossed
Author: Pintip Dunn
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication date: October 2, 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

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Star-Crossed
Pintip Dunn
Entangled Teen, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-63375-241-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In a world where nutrition can be transferred via a pill, and society is split into Eaters and Non-Eaters, seventeen-year-old Princess Vela has a grave dilemma. Her father, the king, is dying, and only a transplant of organs from a healthy Non-Eater boy will save him.

Vela is tasked with choosing a boy fit to die for the king, which is impossible enough. But then Carr, the boy she’s loved all her life, emerges as the best candidate in the Bittersweet Trials. And he’s determined to win, because by doing so, he can save the life of his Non-Eater sister.

Refusing to accept losing the boy she loves, Vela bends the rules and cheats. But when someone begins to sabotage the Trials, Vela must reevaluate her own integrity—and learn the true sacrifice of becoming a ruler.

Although Star-Crossed is reminiscent of The Hunger Games with its trials, Ms. Dunn has added a dollop of freshness with the concept of people being divided into Eaters and Non-Eaters. Woe to the Non-Eater who loses a trial because the consequences are dire but the truth is no one has a comfortable position in this world that’s focused on fighting off starvation. One facet of the society’s attention to food made me think of how certain “improvements” in our own food supply has led to our acceptance of a loss of taste in some instances. For example, the food gods apparently decided that watermelons need to be seedless but have you really compared the taste of seedless (which is not truly seedless) to seeded, the kind with those big black seeds that are great for spitting? I have to say I have very little interest in the seedless variety because they just don’t have any flavor, a perfect example of improvement gone awry.

At any rate, Vela and the rest of her people are colonists on a distant planet and their original supplies were destroyed, making food the most critical need. In an odd scientific endeavor, they developed a genetic change that enabled some people to consume copious quantities of food and process it to share with others in the form of pills. Now, a new problem has arisen in that the king, Vela’s father, may die and the succession is in question. Vela has to find a way to save the boy she cares for from the ultimate sacrifice while at the same time securing her place and future and her compassionate nature makes her choices even more difficult.

The real question is, when is sacrifice taken too far with the cost being so high that the intended benefit is no longer enough? The young princess is faced with dilemmas that are nearly impossible to resolve without possibly losing a piece of her soul and I empathized with her completely. I simply can’t imagine having to pit the survival of my father against that of the boy I loved but becoming a true queen worthy of the title does require a surrender of personal wants and needs.

I’ve enjoyed Ms. Dunn’s work before and this is no exception; as a standalone, there won’t be any sequel but I’ll eagerly await her next book, whatever it may be.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2018.

 

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About the Author

Pintip Dunn is a New York Times bestselling author of young adult fiction. She graduated from Harvard University, magna cum laude, with an A.B., and received her J.D. at Yale Law School.

Pintip’s novel FORGET TOMORROW won the 2016 RWA RITA® for Best First Book, and SEIZE TODAY won the 2018 RITA for Best Young Adult Romance. Her books have been translated into four languages, and they have been nominated for the following awards: the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire; the Japanese Sakura Medal; the MASL Truman Award; the Tome Society It list; and the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her other titles include REMEMBER YESTERDAY, THE DARKEST LIE, GIRL ON THE VERGE, STAR-CROSSED and the upcoming MALICE.

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Book Review: Beneath by Maureen A. Miller

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Title: Beneath
Series: Beneath, Book 1
Author: Maureen A. Miller
Narrator: Brandy Skelly
Publisher: Maureen A. Miller
Publication Date: August 17, 2018

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Beneath
Beneath, Book 1
Maureen A. Miller
Narrated by Brandy Skelly
Maureen A. Miller, August 2018
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

It was Stella Gullaksen’s final break before starting her freshman year at college. Joining her best friend Jill and Jill’s family aboard the Starkissed, Stella wakes up to a violent storm that capsizes the boat over a hundred miles off the New Jersey shore.

As the waves pull her under, Stella knows that she is going to die. Instead, an unusual current drags her deep into the underwater canyons of the Atlantic Ocean. Powerless against the raging waters, she is suddenly sucked into a ventilated cave. One by one, Jill and her family also emerge in the sunken cavern. With only a faulty diving flashlight to keep oblivion at bay, Stella and her best friend’s brother Colin search the cave in hope of finding a way back to the surface. What they discover, however, is that they are not alone. There are other survivors in this subterranean grotto – survivors spanning decades of maritime disasters.

Will this discovery prove salvation, or have they all been condemned to the same fate? A grim finale at the bottom of the sea? On an alliance forged by friendship and attraction, Stella and Colin battle to escape the danger that lies beneath.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Bermuda Triangle; is the phenomenon pure fantasy or science fiction or perhaps even real? No one has the definitive answer but there is no question that a lot of boats and planes have been found on the bottom of the Atlantic and disappearances continue to happen. The premise that Ms. Miller suggests in Beneath is not all that bizarre considering the oddities of the Triangle, is it?

Now, just suppose such a thing happened to you and you found yourself in a vast undersea cave system with other people who had been “saved” over a period of many years. You’d be filled with questions as are Stella and Jill’s brother, Colin, and no one would be surprised when they act on their curiosity, going in search of answers. They find some of those answers, leading to even more, but perhaps the biggest is, are they condemned to remain here until…

Stella is a likeable character—as is Colin but he’s less vibrant—and I had no trouble believing in her personality, her attitudes and her determination to brave the unknown. I’m glad, actually, that her story isn’t over yet and that a sequel is coming.

Brandy Skelly brought Stella to life for me even though there were moments when her narration wasn’t entirely successful. Between Ms. Miller’s intriguing story and Ms. Skelly’s telling of that story, Beneath is a tale worth hearing.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2018.

 

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About the Author

USA TODAY bestselling author, Maureen A. Miller worked in the software industry for fifteen years. She crawled around plant floors in a hard hat and safety glasses hooking up computers to behemoth manufacturing machines. The job required extensive travel. The best form of escapism during those lengthy airport layovers became writing.

Maureen’s first novel, WIDOW’S TALE, earned her a Golden Heart nomination in Romantic Suspense. After that she became hooked to the genre. In fact, she was so hooked she is the founder of the JUST ROMANTIC SUSPENSE website.

Recently, Maureen branched out into the Young Adult Science Fiction market with the popular BEYOND Series. To her it was still Romantic Suspense…just on another planet!

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About the Narrator

Brandy Skelly studied theatre in college, and even participated in storytelling festivals when she was growing up. She’s a practicing attorney, and loves to participate in ACX projects to keep her creative side happy and fulfilled. She can perform fiction and non-fiction, in neutral-American or Southern-American accents.

Brandy lives in North Carolina with her husband, toddler, and pound puppy. She has a soft spot for romance and she loves a good laugh!

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