Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thursday #Review - Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones #YALit #Fantasy

Series: Wintersong # 1
Format: Hardcover, 448 pages
Release Date: February 7, 2017
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Fairy Tales & Folklore

Dark, romantic and unforgettable, a fantastical coming-of-age story for fans of Labyrinth and The Darkest Part of the Forest. 

The last night of the year. Now the days of winter begin and the Goblin King rides abroad, searching for his bride…

All her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her mind, her spirit, and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen and helping to run her family’s inn, Liesl can’t help but feel that her musical dreams and childhood fantasies are slipping away.

But when her own sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl has no choice but to journey to the Underground to save her. Drawn to the strange, captivating world she finds—and the mysterious man who rules it—she soon faces an impossible decision. And with time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.

Dark, romantic, and powerful, Wintersong will sweep you away into a world you won’t soon forget.

Wintersong is the first installment in author S. Jae-Jones' 
Wintersong series. Wintersong is apparently a retelling of Labyrinth with hints of Beauty and the Beast as well. The protagonist of this story is 18-year old Elizabeth Vogler, aka Liesl. The villain of the story is the Goblin King, aka the Deceiver, The Lord of Mischief, Ruler of the Underground. Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved to go into the woods and play music for her friend who lived in the woods. 

But, Liesl forgot about the boy, but the boy never forgot about her. Meanwhile, she composed music not only for herself, but for her younger brother as well. While her younger brother was getting all the attention, Liesl was told she wasn't as talented as Josef. As we open the book, the boy who is now a man has set up plans for Liesl which means kidnapping her sister and forcing Liesl into playing a game that she can't win. One could say the first part of this story was the sibling rivalry between sisters, and ends with a twisted romance between a young woman with so much to offer musically being lured into a world that sees her as weak. 

Liesl is the oldest and more responsible one who has guided her brother, while Katharina, the middle sister, is described as wanton fruit begging to be plucked by the Goblin King. After her sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl finds herself playing a game with him. If she wins, Kathe goes free. If she loses, Kathe becomes the Goblin Kings next wife and Queen of the Underground. The most curious aspect of this story is that the writer makes it known that Liesl isn't the beautiful maid ready and willing to be taken away by the first handsome man that comes along.

No. In fact, I dare say that she is described as normal, short in stature, and plain as they come. It has been a very long time since I watched Labyrinth. But, I do remember David Bowie was Jareth the Goblin King, the ruler of the Goblins. Jennifer Connelly was Sarah Williams, a 15-year-old girl who journeys through the Labyrinth to find her baby brother. The obvious difference is that Liesl is closer to 19, and it is her sister Kathe she is trying to save from a very short life living in the Underground.

This is really two story's within a story. The first part is a fast paced, lyrical ride through Liesl and The Goblin King playing a game of keeps. A game that was set in motion thanks to Elizabeth forgetting about the boy who lived in the woods and who waited for her for years. By kidnapping the girls sister, the Goblin King forced Elisabeth to not only play a game of life and death with him, but to also remember the days when they were truly friends.  

The second part becomes something of a let down, but we do get to learn more about Liesl and how musically talented she really is. The first part is definitely more about Liesl's family and the upcoming journey that her younger brother is apparently going on without her. Then it becomes more of a romance novel which really dragged my review down a notch. I have much respect for the way that the author manages the Goblin King. He is an immortal figure bound by a fateful choice he made years and years ago. He is a bit of a villain and a hero. A sinner and a man who deserves better things that to be stuck in the Underground. A boy who loved a young girl, and a man who finds himself conflicted in keeping the woman in the Underground as his wife and Queen while she wastes away and loses her magical talents. 

I was given the sequel to this story recently and do plan on seeing how Jones resolves some issues that she has left hanging like chads during the 2000 election. I also want to see if there will be some further character growth when it comes to Liesl and her relationship with her family. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wednesday #Review - Pretty Dead Girls by Monica Murphy #YALit #Mystery

Series: Standalone
Format: E-Book, 336 pages
Release Date: January 2, 2018
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult Fiction / Thrillers & Suspense

From New York Times bestselling author Monica Muprhy comes a chilling, intricate mystery perfect for fans of We Were Liars or the Pretty Little Liars series.

Beautiful. Perfect. Dead.

They're arranged in a particular way. Their faces turned at the most flattering angles, their designer clothes immaculate, as immaculate as their carefully made-up faces. Only the slash of blood across their necks mars the perfect surface. Only the vacant stare in their eyes indicates they're dead.

The most popular students in school are going down, and queen bee Penelope Malone is terrified she's next. So what's a girl to do? Conduct a little serial killer research, of course. Thanks to the help of the nerdy yet cute boy from English class who volunteers to help her, she becomes obsessed with all things related to murder. All while she’s trying to stay one step ahead of the brutal serial killer on the loose.

But this killer won't be satisfied until every beautiful, popular girl in the senior class is dead—especially Penelope. And the killer is closer than she thinks...

Author Monica Murphy's Pretty Dead Girls is a mixture of Scream Girls, Pretty Little Liars, and We Were Liars. Protagonist Penelope Malone is in her senior year at Cape Bonita Prep, a quiet community on the Northern California coast where nothing really happens. She's a member and President of a group called Larks who are at the top of their classes in all areas including athletics and academia. The group is made up of 5 seniors and 5 juniors per school year. 

It is a group that consists of the most popular girls at the school with Penelope striving to be the school's Queen Bee just like her older sister Peyton was. But, after one of their members is found dead at a local church, things start to take a dark twist. Then a second girl is found dead at the school. What do the girls have in common? They were both Larks. They were both Seniors. They were also mean girls who thought nothing of bullying other students. They are also characters readers don't really get a chance to get to know because of their abrupt departure from the story.

After losing her best friend, puzzled and on the brink of losing the Larks, Penelope becomes allied with a boy from her psychic's class, Cass Vincenti, who has a very interesting past which I will not spoil. I will say that Cass isn't like other boy lead characters whom I've read in this particular genre in the past. One could legitimately argue that none of these characters have any morality when it comes to striving to be the best, while walking over everyone else in order to get what they want. One could also say that every single one of these characters is morally bankrupt until Penelope finally understands what is happening and attempts to change her persona. 

Could her own actions be leading to the Larks being systematically killed off? Can Penelope actually trust the secretive Cass, or is he just trying to get close to her in order to lure her to her death? Murphy does something that I actually liked. There were chapters with the Killers POV. The author gets inside the killer and we, as readers, get a chance to understand how much of a sociopath this person really is. 
At no time was the killer's identity revealed to the reader. It wasn't until the final bell is about to be tolled that Murphy finally let's readers in on her secret. 

I was absolutely and totally wrong with my guess as to the killers identity and that's totally fine. Let me say this, I am a bit disappointed by the an editing error that happens later in the book. One of the characters actually thinks, OMG character ABC is the killer! The very next page, the same character is saying Holy Freaking Crap, it's not character ABC who's the killer but XYZ! So, let's call this a Young Adult Murder-Mystery with bad girls with pretty faces who you have to really dig to find things to like about each of them. 

This is my first attempt at reading and reviewing Monica Murphy's writing. One could say that the story is predictable, you can also say that there are more than enough similarities to the books I've mentioned above. Pretty Dead Girls is a fairly fast paced story with plenty of suspense and tension that you can cut with a knife. The relationship between Penelope and Cass is one that could be called a roller coaster ride from hell. There are so many moments that I wanted to slap both of them in the heads and tell them to calm down and stop treating each other as adversaries.

If you love stories that feature bad girls and boys, then this story is definitely for you.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tuesday #Review - Night of the Victorian Dead by Amber Michelle Cook #SyFy #Gothic

Series: Night of the Victorian Dead # 1
Format: E-Book, 272 pages
Release Date: March 18th 2018
Publisher: Asset Creative House 
Source: Publisher
Genre: Science Fiction / Fantasy

The unwitting attendees of a country ball are all too busy striving to hide secrets and make matches to see what’s going on around them until it’s almost too late!

Among the green and rolling hills of Old England, the fields lie ripe for reaping under a blighted Harvest Moon.  While tenants and servants fear the eerie light, Mr. Dorchester invites several families of his acquaintance to his estate—for a visit culminating in a ball to celebrate his ward’s engagement to a most eligible neighbor.  Amid all the usual hopes and anticipation such an event inevitably excites. 

All the while, signs of the dead rising are increasing until the entire household wakes in the middle of the night to a gut-wrenching scream inside the house.

It's the first novel of a trilogy, in which Downton Abbey meets the undead.

Where imagination and suspense reign over splatter-gore, and the knowing modern reader can enjoy accompanying unsuspecting characters down the road to the inevitable, while themselves encountering mysteries and unexpected twists along the way.

Welcome to Romero Park, by author Amber Michelle Cook, is the first installment in what is being called Night of the Victorian Dead series. This story, set in 19th century England, is being marketed as Downton Abbey meets Night of the Living Dead. It is a tale of secrets, romance, and suspense delicately laced with sly humor. The author was inspired by works of literature from Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, and in tribute to the delightful terror of first encountering classic undead creatures in Night of the Living Dead. 

Cook tells her story through an assortment of characters:

-Edward Dorchester, the disillusioned owner of Romero Park, and possible suitor for Rosemary Helgram, who through machinations that the reader will slowly come to discover, has gathered a group of friends together for what is sure to be a monstrous occasion. Not only does he plan to have a ball for his ward, but perhaps a bit of revenge as well. 

-17-year old Sophie Dorchester, ward of Edward. Brought up in France, moved to England to become the so called Blushing English Rose along with her governess Anne Sommerset. Sophie is soon to be engaged to Blake Helgram, but there are things that could waylay that engagement if Edward has any say in the matter. The most reserved of all the characters. She doesn't want to upset the apple cart, or make her ward angry with her. So, stands in the background and watches as the rest of the cast foreshadows what is apparently coming in the next installment.

-Anne Sommerset, Sophie's governess who perhaps pins for her employer and seeks to free him from his misguided plans for those who have been invited to the ball of the year. Anne is perhaps the most fascinating character in this book outside of one who I will summarize shortly. She seems to know that there is something dark happening right under the surface. Yet, she doesn't try to make a scene to anyone, including Sophie. She tries hard to keep Sophie in check while also letting her express her desires.  

-William Poole, the reclusive apothecary, working at Romero Park under false pretenses. He is hiding so many secrets, it is hard to understand just who this man is, and what he and Edward are up to. Called out by Rosemary Helgram, Poole and his assistant are up to something very dark and nefarious. Poole is definitely up to no good, and one could say that he is Edward's partner in his machinations. 

-Rosemary Helgram, a local beauty raised to marry. Her hope is to marry Edward Dorchester, but she is also hiding some secrets. She also suspects that there is much more than meets the eyes when it comes to Mr. Poole, and what he is doing at Romero Park. Rosemary finds herself trying to protect Sophie knowing the girl has zero chance at making it on her own. She has one of the few encounters with an actual undead in this book. 

-George Bottlesworth, a young man who is Edward's man servant. He is finding great satisfaction at playing the indispensable manservant. But, as well learn later in the story, George is also hiding a secret that the author has gone through great pains to hide from readers until perhaps the sequel. George may be the only other character who actually peaked my curiosity wondering what will happen to him next. 

This is a story that really took me a long time to warm up to. It starts out slow, intersperses hints that something of the undead nature is making an appearance, while also tossing in a bit of intrigue, and twists. The romance really isn't heavily involved in this installment. One could say that the characters named above all have some sort of twist when it comes to whom they will actually end up with. I dare say that part three of this story is perhaps the most entertaining since some very interesting surprises wait the reader.

Meanwhile, we know that something hideous is happening. We know this because several of the characters are either attacked or encounter things that just urges the reader to continue further into the story. I recently watched the movie Pride, Prejudice and Zombies. It is a mashup combining Jane Austen's classic novel Pride and Prejudice (1813) with elements of modern zombie fiction, crediting Austen as co-author. Welcome to Romero Park tries hard to emulate that move but so far lacks the zombies and action. 

**I received this book from publisher in lieu of a review.**

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Monday #Review - McCall Company: Emboozlement by Rich Leder #Mystery #Comedy

Series: McCall & Company # 3
Format: E-Book, 394 pages
Release Date: September 8, 2017
Publisher: Laugh Riot Press
Source: Publisher
Genre: Humor / Mystery

PI Kate McCall was warned to stay home, stay put, and stay out of NYPD business. But someone is killing Lowry Lowe lawyers, and Kate is sure her father’s murderer is pulling the trigger. At the same time, former Major League relief pitcher Steve “Blue” Stark wants her to catch the crook embezzling big bucks from his West Side sports bar. 
Kate can’t help but get in the game.
The problem is the killer is cluing her in before murdering each lawyer and she’s falling for Blue as fast as he’s becoming her prime suspect. 
Can Kate and her crackpot crew catch her father’s killer before all the lawyers are dead? And will she find real love with dreamboat Blue? Or will she have to lock him up for stealing his own money?
If she comes through the kidnappings, she might beat the odds.

Emboozlement, by author Rich Leder, is the third installment in the author's McCall & Company series. As with the previous two installments, this book picks up right where the previous one left off. 45-year old Kate McCall is on a mission. 10 weeks ago, her father, Jimmy McCall, was brutally murdered by a corporate assassin, and she wants payback. Kate inherited Jimmy's business called McCall & Company Private Investigations which has come with some strange and bizarre cases; including a chain smoking lawyer named Mel Shovelson who appears literally out of nowhere every time Kate gets into trouble; which is to say a lot.

In typical Leder fashion, Kate has more than her hands full in this installment. She agrees to help former Major League Baseball player Steve "Blue" Stark find out who has been embezzling money from his sports bar called Blue's Sports Bar. Going undercover as a management specialist, Kate is up against the wall since anyone and everyone could be guilty, especially Blue. The former player has stirred up something in Kate, but when all is said and done, can they still maintain the fire and passion, or will it all go down in flames like Kate's previous lovers after she discovers the truth? 

If that weren't enough, she has also found herself in contact with the assassin who killed her father and a group of others. Kate has antagonized the assassin with text messages, and now he wants Kate to play a game with him. He is the cat, she the mouse. He has a job. A job that will eliminate Lowry Lowe lawyers one at a time unless Kate can figure out a way to get to the killer first. But, with NYPD Homicide Detective Lew Logan chomping at her ass trying to get Kate to say the hell away from his investigation, and her son Matthew, who just happens to be an Assistant District Attorney, belittling and scorning her every move, Kate will once again be forced to use the most comedic resources you can imagine. 

Kate assembles the eccentric tenants of her brownstone that she manages known as the House of Eccentric Ticks, and her histrionic acting troupe from the D-Cup Musicals to help her crack the cases. Meaning things get strange, and down right hysterical. Kate and Fu Chen are like the Abbott and Costello of this series. If you have no clue who Abbott and Costello are, please Google them. Fu has saved Kate's ass 4 or 5 times. He has been with her at the most dangerous points in this series. He is a badass who just happens to be Kate's maintenance man and co-star. Oh, yes, Kate and her Ticks are making a move this time out. You just have to imagine what a group of the most eccentric group of characters ever written is up to and go from there. 

Now the sad part of this review. Apparently, this is the final novel in the series. I am not at all happy with that. I am not happy because there is a HUGE plot hole that hasn't been resolved. I am not happy because the author leaves readers with hopes of yet another Kate and crew case when she accepts an even more curiouser case. However, as sad as I am regarding my negatives, I will encourage you to pick up this series and read it. Leder is an amazingly entertaining writer who has created the most creative, the most zany, the most interesting cast of characters in a long while. Kate is the most ambitious character I have read about. Not only does she manage a brownstone, but she boxes regularly, she acts in way off Broadway plays, and she does it all without bitching and moaning that she has no time for herself.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

#Stacking the Shelves #266 - Week ending 12/09/2017

Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course ebooks!

Thanks for Shopping by!
This haul blew my mind. This is December! It's supposed to be slow! LOL
So happy that you stopped by! I hope you find something new to you!
Have a great weekend

This Weeks Reviews: 

Monday - UNSUB by Meg Gardiner (Thriller)

Tuesday - Thief's Cunning by Sarah Ahiers (YA, Fantasy)

Wednesday - Silent Creed by Alex Kava (Thriller)

Saturday - Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne (YA, Fantasy)

*REC'D VIA Publisher, Library NETGALLEY *

Friday, December 8, 2017

Saturday #Review - Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne #YALit #Fantasy

Series: Midnight Thief # 1
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Release Date: July 8, 2014
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

Growing up on Forge's streets has taught Kyra how to stretch a coin. And when that's not enough, her uncanny ability to scale walls and bypass guards helps her take what she needs.

But when the leader of the Assassins Guild offers Kyra a lucrative job, she hesitates. She knows how to get by on her own, and she's not sure she wants to play by his rules. But he is persistent-and darkly attractive-and Kyra can't quite resist his pull.

Tristam of Brancel is a young Palace knight on a mission. After his best friend is brutally murdered by the Demon Riders, a clan of vicious warriors who ride bloodthirsty wildcats, Tristam vows to take them down. But as his investigation deepens, he finds his efforts thwarted by a talented thief, one who sneaks past Palace defenses with uncanny ease.

When a fateful raid throws Kyra and Tristam together, the two enemies realize that their best chance at survival-and vengeance-might be to join forces. And as their loyalties are tested to the breaking point, they learn a startling secret about Kyra's past that threatens to reshape both their lives.

In her arresting debut novel, Livia Blackburne creates a captivating world where intrigue prowls around every corner-and danger is a way of life.

Midnight Thief, by author Livia Blackburne, is the first installment in the authors Midnight Thief  series. 17-year old Kyra has spent a lifetime living on the streets struggling to eke out a living. She has the uncanny ability of scaling walls and getting into places that other thief's wouldn't dare to tread. After being sought out by a man name James, who just happens to be the leader of the Assassin's Guild, Kyra finds an entirely different calling. She's told that she will never again have to struggle to find food, or lodging, or lack anything ever again.

Even though the Guild is filled with Assassins, Kyra finds herself mapping and breaking into the palace which allows the Guild to enter and steal items without worrying about being caught. But, things aren't as straight as one might think. James is using Kyra for nefarious reasons, and it isn't until after she accidentally kills someone, that her hopes of finding a true calling among the Guild are dashed. Inevitably, Tristam of Brancel and Kyra's worlds collide, and both are forced to re-examine their alliances.

It is a journey ripe with danger, intrigue, and hidden history. After she's captured by the Palace Guard, she soon realizes that her actions have helped the Guild's alliance with the Demon Riders, a group of rebel barbarians responsible for brutal attacks in the countryside. An uneasy alliance forms between Kyra and Tristam. One that will lead them to uncover some very revealing and shocking secrets. Secrets that will lead Kyra to an entirely different sort of character who really never knew who she really was, or what she is capable of being. 

For me, Kyra is an appealing heroine. She's confident in her physical prowess, but insecure in her identity. She helps care for Lettie and Idalee, sisters who attempt to eke out a living even further down Forge's economic strata. The romance between Kyra and Tristam unfolds like an aged wine. Slowly. When Kyra meets the Demon Riders-magical beings that enjoy the strength and protection of fierce, enormous cats-impels-her whole world turns into a desire to learn what she is capable of and a journey of self-discovery. 

Blackburne became known to me after reading Rosemarked earlier this year. I chose to request this book from my local library to see how the author's writing has evolved from this series to Rosemarked. Much of Blackburne's story is not new; however, it is well executed. Kyra and Tristam, as well as most of the essential secondary characters, are effectively drawn, if not terribly original. Blackburne's strong suit is her plotting, which moves along quickly. The book offers the clever wit, action, and true social awareness, but with a totally new premise, and an ending you won't see coming.

Twists and turns kept me satisfied. The plot is as conniving as the book's villain, James, the head of the Assassins' Guild. Relatable, kick-ass heroine with foibles and feats to her name will have readers falling in love with her empathy and in awe of her grace and skill. The story contains dual POV's between Kyra, and Tristam, a knight who keeps the intrigue and tensions high. I am pondering continuing this series as long as the next book is available via my library.

Friday #Review - The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda #Mystery

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Release Date: April 11, 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Source: Edelweiss

In the masterful follow-up to the New York Times bestseller All the Missing Girls—“think: Luckiest Girl AliveThe Girl on the TrainGone Girl” (TheSkimm)—a journalist sets out to find a missing friend, a friend who may never have existed at all.
Confronted by a restraining order and the threat of a lawsuit, failed journalist Leah Stevens needs to get out of Boston when she runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who has just left a troubled relationship. Emmy proposes they move to rural Pennsylvania, where Leah can get a teaching position and both women can start again. But their new start is threatened when a woman with an eerie resemblance to Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears days later.
Determined to find Emmy, Leah cooperates with Kyle Donovan, a handsome young police officer on the case. As they investigate her friend’s life for clues, Leah begins to wonder: did she ever really know Emmy at all? With no friends, family, or a digital footprint, the police begin to suspect that there is no Emmy Grey. Soon Leah’s credibility is at stake, and she is forced to revisit her past: the article that ruined her career. To save herself, Leah must uncover the truth about Emmy Grey—and along the way, confront her old demons, find out who she can really trust, and clear her own name.
Everyone in this rural Pennsylvanian town has something to hide—including Leah herself. How do you uncover the truth when you are busy hiding your own?

The Perfect Stranger, by author Megan Miranda, is the follow up to All the Missing Girls. To be honest and fair, although I read All the Missing Girls earlier this year, I can't for the life of me remember Leah Stevens. So, here's what I do know thanks to the author putting a few things together for us readers. Leah is a former reporter whose name is tied to a series of events that she's ready to leave behind and start over. She has a restraining order against her from her former best friend Paige. She was under a threat of a lawsuit which led to her losing her job and moving from Boston to Pennsylvania where she is now a teacher on probation.

Leah's roommate is Emmy Grey who was her friend about 8 years ago. We know nothing about her except for Leah's flashbacks to the time when they were roommates. Let's start with a young woman named Bethany Jarvitz who is found close to where Leah's lives. Someone apparently hit her and left her near a lake. Police start by investigating an anonymous source who claims that one of Leah's co-workers might have been involved with Bethany, which leads to the arrival of Detective Kyle Donovan in Leah's life. 

Leah discovers that the victim could be her doppelganger. 
Then, Emmy disappears without a trace which opens a whole new box of worms and troubles for Leah since she is the only person who has seen Emmy around. Leah and Kyle attempt to put together what they know not only about Emmy, but her possible connection to the events that have landed Leah in the spotlight. One could say that Leah is a weak character who finds her strength and her courage to put one foot in front of the other. The more that Leah digs, the more that things just don't make sense. 

Who is Emmy really? Where did she go? What's really puzzling for Leah is how quickly trouble seems to find her no matter if she was actually involved, or whether someone is attempting to pull a quick one over her, or if she is trying to help a friend discover something horrible about a loved one. What if Emmy had something to do with the attempted murder? What if Emmy has been stringing Leah along all this time? What if Emmy has found herself in more trouble than she could handle and fled to avoid being discovered?

Without going too far into detail about the book itself, which I have a tendency of doing, there is so much happening that you really must pay attention to even the smallest details. You know that there are going to be twists, and shocking revelations, and even more stunning circumstances that put our protagonist back on her feet struggling to understand all that is happening to, and around her. But, the one good thing that comes out of all of this is perhaps Kyle. I appreciated that the author wrapped up things pretty nicely and doesn't leave the reader standing one foot on, and off a ledge ready to jump off if she doesn't tell you what really happened and why.


Character, Emmy called it, the quirks that came with the house: the nonexistent water pressure in the shower; the illogical layout. From the front porch, our house had large sliding glass doors that led directly to the living room and kitchen, a hallway beyond with two bedrooms and a bathroom to share. The main door was at the other end of the hall and faced the woods, like the house had been laid down with the right dimensions but the wrong orientation.

Probably the nicest thing I can say about the house was that it’s mine. But even that’s not exactly true. It’s my name on the lease, my food in the refrigerator, my glass cleanser that wipes the pollen residue from the sliding glass doors.

The house still belongs to someone else, though. The furniture, too. I didn’t bring much with me when I left my last place. Wasn’t much, once I got down to it, that was mine to take from the one-bedroom in the Prudential Center of Boston. Bar stools that wouldn’t fit under a standard table. Two dressers, a couch, and a bed, which would cost more to move than to replace.

Sometimes I wondered if it was just my mother’s words in my head, making me see this place, and my choice to be here, as something less than.

Before leaving Boston, I’d tried to spin the story for my mother, slanting this major life change as an active decision, opting to appeal to her sense of charity and decency—both for my benefit and for hers. I once heard her introduce me and my sister to her friends: “Rebecca helps the ones who can be saved, and Leah gives a voice to those who cannot.” So I imagined how she might frame this for her friends: My daughter is taking a sabbatical. To help children in need. If anyone could sell it, she could.

I made it seem like my idea to begin with, not that I had latched myself on to someone else’s plan because I had nowhere else to go. Not because the longer I stood still, the more I felt the net closing in.

Emmy and I had already sent in our deposit, and I’d been floating through the weeks, imagining this new version of the world waiting for me. But even then, I’d steeled myself for the call. Timed it so I knew my mother would be on her way to her standing coffee date with The Girls. Practiced my narrative, preemptively preparing counterpoints: I quit my job, and I’m leaving Boston. I’m going to teach high school, already have a position lined up. Western Pennsylvania. You know there are whole areas of the country right here in America that are in need, right? No, I won’t be alone. Remember Emmy? My roommate while I was interning after college? She’s coming with me.

The first thing my mother said was: “I don’t remember any Emmy.” As if this were the most important fact. But that was how she worked, picking at the details until the foundation finally gave, from nowhere. And yet her method of inquiry was also how we knew we had a secure base, that we weren’t basing our plans on a dream that would inevitably crumble under pressure.

I moved the phone to my other shoulder. “I lived with her after college.”

A pause, but I could hear her thoughts in the silence: You mean after you didn’t get the job you thought you’d have after graduation, took an unpaid internship instead, and had no place to live?

“I thought you were staying with . . . what was her name again? The girl with the red hair? Your roommate from college?”

“Paige,” I said, picturing not only her but Aaron, as I always did. “And that was just for a little while.”

“I see,” she said slowly.

“I’m not asking for your permission, Ma.”

Except I kind of was. She knew it. I knew it.

“Come home, Leah. Come home and let’s talk about it.”

Her guidance had kept my sister and me on a high-achieving track since middle school. She had used her own missteps in life to protect us. She had raised two independently successful daughters. A status I now seemed to be putting in jeopardy.

“So, what,” she said, changing the angle of approach, “you just walked in one day and quit?”

“Yes,” I said.

“And you’re doing this why?”

I closed my eyes and imagined for a moment that we were different people who could say things like Because I’m in trouble, so much trouble, before straightening my spine and giving her my speech. “Because I want to make a difference. Not just take facts and report them. I’m not doing anything at the paper but stroking my own ego. There’s a shortage of teachers, Mom. I could really make an impact.”

“Yes, but in western Pennsylvania?”

The way she said it told me everything I needed to know. When Emmy suggested it, western Pennsylvania seemed like a different version of the world I knew, with a different version of myself—which, at the time, was exactly what I needed. But my mother’s world was in the shape of a horseshoe. It stretched from New York City to Boston, swooping up all of Massachusetts inside the arch (but bypassing Connecticut entirely). She was the epicenter in western Massachusetts, and she’d successfully sent a daughter to the edge of each arch, and the world was right and complete. Any place else, in contrast, would be seen as a varying degree of failure.

My family was really only one generation out from a life that looked like this: a rental house with shitty plumbing, a roommate out of necessity, a town with a forgettable name, a job but no career. When my father left us, I wasn’t really old enough to appreciate the impact. But I knew there existed a time when we were unprepared and at the whim of the generosity of those around us. Those were the limbo years—the ones she never talked about, a time she now pretends never existed.

To her, this probably sounded a lot like sliding backward.

“Great teachers are needed everywhere,” I said.

She paused, then seemed to concede with a slow and drawn-out “Yes.”

I hung up, vindicated, then felt the twinge. She was not conceding. Great teachers are needed everywhere, yes, but you are not that.

She didn’t mean it as an insult, exactly. My sister and I were both valedictorians, both National Merit Scholars, both early admissions to the college of our respective choice. It wasn’t unreasonable that she would question this decision—especially coming out of thin air.

I quit, I had told her. This was not a lie, but a technicality—the truth being that it was the safest option, for both the paper and me. The truth was, I had no job in the only thing I’d trained in, no foreseeable one, and no chance of one. The truth was I was glad she had given me the blandest name, the type of name I’d hated growing up. A girl who could blend in and never stand out. A name in a roster anywhere.

EMMY’S CAR STILL WASN’T back when I was ready to leave for school. This was not too unusual. She worked the night shift, and she’d been seeing some guy named Jim—who sounded, on the phone, like he had smoke perpetually coating his lungs. I thought he wasn’t nearly good enough for Emmy; that she was sliding backward in some intangible way, like me. But I cut her some slack because I understood how it could be out here, how the calm could instead feel like an absence—and that sometimes you just wanted someone to see you.

Other than weekends, we could miss each other for days at a time. But it was Thursday, and I needed to pay the rent. She usually left me money on the table, underneath the painted stone garden gnome that she’d found and used as a centerpiece. I lifted the gnome by his red hat just to double-check, revealing nothing but a few stray crumbs.

Her lateness on the rent was also not too unusual.

I left her a sticky note beside the corded phone, our designated spot. I wrote RENT DUE in large print, stuck it on the wood-paneled wall. She’d taken all the other notes from earlier in the week—the SEE ELECTRIC BILL, the MICROWAVE BROKEN, the MICROWAVE FIXED.

I opened the sliding doors, hit the lights at the entrance, rummaged in my bag for my car keys—and realized I’d forgotten my cell. A gust of wind came in through the door as I turned around, and I watched the yellow slip of paper—RENT DUE—flutter down and slip behind the wood stand where we stacked the mail.

I crouched down and saw the accumulated mess underneath. A pile of sticky notes. CALL JIM right side up but half covered by another square. A few others, facedown. Not taken by Emmy after all but lost between the wall and the furniture during the passing weeks.

Emmy didn’t have a cell because her old one was still with her ex, on his phone plan, and she didn’t want an easy way for him to trace her. The idea of not owning a cell phone left me feeling almost naked, but she said it was nice not to be at anyone’s beck and call. It had seemed so Emmy at the time—quirky and endearing—but now seemed both irrational and selfish.

I left the notes on the kitchen table instead. Propped them up against the garden gnome. Tried to think of how many days it had been since I’d last seen her.

I added another note: CALL ME.

Decided to throw out the rest, so it wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle.