Spellbinder

If you’re not caught up on C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls and Shadow Falls After Dark series, you might want to take care of that before reading this post or Spellbinder, the upcoming novella set in this magical world. The books in these series thus far are:

And now we have Spellbinder, a story that takes place after the events of Eternal, the second Shadow Falls After Dark novel. This novella will be released in eBook format on June 30th, and it centers around Miranda, a young witch who is trying to live up to the expectations of those around her…even when it could put her very life at risk.

Miranda Kane has always been something of a klutz when it comes to managing her magic. She can never seem to please her exacting mother, who wants nothing more than for Miranda to be a Wiccan high priestess. Miranda never gets her spells quite right, and she’s sure that’s not going to change in the latest spell-casting competition her mother’s dragged her into, especially when Tabitha, Miranda’s nemesis, is also competing.

Almost immediately, things get off to a rocky start for Miranda, and she can’t seem to shake the feeling of foreboding that surrounds her. Something is off about this competition, and Miranda’s not the only one that senses it. She shares her concerns with her best friends, Kylie and Della, and all of them eventually realize that someone–or something–is targeting the witches in this competition. Why? Who would care so much about a spell-casting competition for teenage witches?

As the competition leads Miranda and company to Paris, the threat intensifies, as does Miranda’s confusion about the turmoil that is her life. Why does Tabitha seem to hate her so much? Why are her parents keeping secrets? What’s going on with her ex-boyfriend, a shapeshifter currently living in Paris, and why does she even care?

Miranda Kane is about to get the answers she needs, but she may not be ready for what those answers might mean. How will they change her life and what she’s always believed about herself? And how will they impact her future?

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I know we’ll see more of Miranda in the third Shadow Falls After Dark novel, Unspoken, but Spellbinder has really whet my appetite for a meatier story centering on Miranda. Given what happened in this novella, I’m certain she’ll get another story, but I don’t know at this point if it will be a full-length novel. I hope it is.

Remember that this story will be released to the masses on June 30th. (Thank you, NetGalley, for allowing me to read it early!) If you’re new to the world of Shadow Falls, you’ve got a bit of time to catch up before then. If you’re all caught up, I think you’ll be as pleased with Spellbinder–and its connections to the other books–as I was.

For those who’d like to learn a bit more about the Shadow Falls books and C.C. Hunter, you can connect with the author on her website, Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook. Enjoy!

Die Once More

Caution! If you haven’t read every story in Amy Plum’s Revenants series–Die for Me, Until I Die, Die for Her (an ebook novella), and If I Should Dieturn back now! I’d hate to ruin this magnificent series for you…but I will.

If you’re still with me, I assume you’re caught up on all things Revenant. Today, I’ll be taking a quick look at the second novella in this series, Die Once More. This story, like Die For Her, is told from Jules’ perspective. It takes place just after the events of If I Should Die, which essentially wrapped up what was happening with the Revenants in Paris.

*For those of you who failed to heed my warning above and are still reading this, Revenants are less creepy versions of zombies. Good Revenants, or bardia, originally died saving another’s life and are reborn to continue that cycle for eternity. Bad Revenants, or numa, gain power through killing others or convincing others to kill themselves. There’s a bit more to it than this simplistic explanation, but this will have to do for now.*

Jules Marchenoir has left everything he loves behind. His country. His best friend, Vincent. And Kate, new Champion of the bardia, his best friend’s girlfriend…and the girl who stole Jules’ heart. It’s just too painful to be in the same city as Kate and Vincent, so Jules crosses the Atlantic and joins up with the Revenants in New York.

Almost immediately, Jules is struck by how the bardia of New York compare to those in Paris. Thought there are many more Revenants here than there were in France, things seem to be very efficient here. That’s thanks largely to Ava Whitefoot, a striking woman who seems to loathe Jules on sight.

Jules knows he’s never met Ava in his many years as a bardia, so he doesn’t understand why she dislikes him so much. Soon, however, both people will have to put any animosity aside as they work to take down the building numa threat in New York. The numa in France may have been defeated, but those in New York are gaining strength every day.

In a story that takes us from the streets of Brooklyn to the boulevards of Paris, Jules and Ava will learn much about what makes each other tick, and they’ll discover that first impressions may just be deceiving.

Will Ava be able to look past Jules’ womanizing reputation and see the man he is trying to become? Will Jules be able to support Ava when she needs it the most? Can these two bardia find a way to become friends–or more–with the numa threat and a new challenge facing them? Read Die Once More to find out!

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I know Die Once More is focused on Jules and his developing relationship with Ava, but I must admit that I would have liked to see a little more action at the end. We’re told that there’s this big battle with the numa, but we don’t see the actual battle. That was kind of disappointing.

Other than that one complaint, I did enjoy this quick read. I liked Jules immensely in the previous stories, so (SPOILERS!) I enjoyed seeing him begin to get over Kate, reunite with his brethren, and find a partner of his own. I also appreciated seeing familiar, loved characters from the original trilogy and how they were faring post-battle. Hopefully, we haven’t seen the last of the bardia (in either Paris or New York).

If you’d like to learn a bit more about this series as a whole, I encourage you to check out my reviews linked above. You may also want to visit Amy Plum’s website.

Au revoir!

Isla and the Happily Ever After

For the past couple of years, I’ve been impatiently waiting to read Stephanie Perkins’ latest, Isla and the Happily Ever After. Finally–FINALLY–I got my chance this week. My signed copy of the book (along with some lovely swag) arrived last weekend, and I read it during my limited spare time this week. (School resumed for teachers in my district this week, so “limited” is the perfect way to describe my time of late.)

Just like Perkins’ previous books, Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door, Isla and the Happily Ever After was outstanding. I loved the characters, how they interacted with each other, how they grew throughout the story, and how they connected with characters in the preceding books. I cannot say enough good things about this book. It was so worth the wait, and part of me wants to find Stephanie Perkins and give her a hug for creating such memorable and lovable characters. (A bigger part of me, though, shies away from human contact, so Ms. Perkins has no worries about random embraces from strangers. At least none from me.)

Isla Martin has been in love with Josh Wasserstein since the start of their freshman year at the School of America in Paris. Fast forward to senior year, and it seems that Isla may finally have a chance at being with the guy who’s always seemed out of her reach.

After a rather odd encounter in Manhattan over the summer, the two finally reunite at school, but Isla can’t get over her nervousness around Josh, and it looks like Josh is trying to keep his distance. Trying…but not succeeding. Isla and Josh are growing closer, and when Isla clears up a misunderstanding that was keeping Josh away, they’re finally able to start the relationship that both of them so desperately want.

Isla and Josh become nearly inseparable, and they want to spend every spare minute together. Sometimes it’s as simple as being in the same room–Josh sketching or working on his graphic novel, Isla studying or reading–but being together is what’s important. They explore their favorite spots in Paris. They learn all the important little things about each other. And during one memorable, romantic weekend, Isla and Josh break all the rules and journey to Barcelona to take in a few sites. It’s this weekend, though, that ultimately tests how strong their love really is.

When Isla and Josh return to Paris, they realize that their impulsive actions have devastating consequences. Josh is taken away from school and Isla, and this heart-breaking separation takes its toll on the couple’s burgeoning relationship.

The more time they spend apart, the more Isla begins to doubt if Josh’s feelings for her are real. She knows she loves him, but what does he really see in her? Why would he want to be with someone who doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life? Is she just a placeholder for his ex-girlfriend and all of his friends that have moved on? Isla just doesn’t know, and her doubts soon lead to an epic confrontation that may destroy any hope of a future with Josh.

Can Isla wade through her doubts and finally learn to trust in Josh’s love? Does Josh even want to be with her after everything they’ve been through and said to each other? Is there any hope of a happily ever after for Isla and Josh? Only one way to find out…

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I love this book so hard. I have zero complaints, and people who know me realize how rare that is. I think every girl (or guy) who reads this will absolutely fall in love with Josh. Many readers will likely identify with Isla and her deep-seated–and often unfounded–insecurities. Everyone will root for Isla and Josh to make it. Adult readers will probably want to go back and relive their teen years in the hopes of finding–or reliving–a love like the one we see between Isla and Josh.

After reading Anna, Lola, and Isla, I have to say that I will read anything that Stephanie Perkins cares to write. (I already follow her blog and Twitter, so I think I’m good to go there.) This lady is a master of YA romance, and I recommend her to every teen and adult reader who likes a good love story. I am eagerly anticipating her next book, and I can’t wait to see what she contributes to the upcoming anthology, My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories.

If you’d like to learn more about the fabulous Stephanie Perkins and her equally fabulous books, check out her website, Twitter, or Tumblr.

*Note: As much as I adore Isla and the Happily Ever After, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a small warning to librarians, teachers, and parents. This is a book for teen and adult readers. Isla and Josh are characters in a serious relationship, and their relationship follows a fairly natural progression. There are a couple of sexual situations, but they are not terribly gratuitous. Even so, I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending this book to middle grade readers.*

Just One Day

Last night, when I should have been packing for a conference, I was instead devouring Just One Day by the fabulous Gayle Forman. This book had been on my to-read list for quite a while, but I didn’t make time for it until this weekend. Oh, how I wish I had read it sooner!

Like If I Stay and Where She Went, Just One Day shows that Gayle Forman is a master at writing love stories that pack an emotional punch. Even more important, in my opinion, she’s excellent at giving readers examples of young women who, while navigating the perilous waters of relationships, also work to discover their own inner strength.

Allyson is nearing the end of a whirlwind tour of Europe, and, to be honest, the trip has been something of a disappointment. Yes, she’s oohed and aahed at all the appropriate moments, she’s seen some impressive sights with her best friend Melanie, and she’s even gotten a haircut to mark what should have been the start of the greatest vacation ever. But Allyson feels like she’s just going through the motions. She should be excited about this extravagant graduation gift, but something just doesn’t feel quite right.

Everything changes, though, when Allyson and Melanie deviate from their rigid plans and are persuaded to take in a performance of Twelfth Night in a Stratford-upon-Avon park. It is here that Allyson’s life changes forever. She meets Willem, a Dutch actor in the play, and she’s immediately drawn to him. There’s something about him that makes Allyson want to break free of limits and responsibilities. Maybe it’s because Willem doesn’t really know her. He doesn’t even know her name. He calls her Lulu because she reminds him of Louise Brooks, the silent film star. Maybe it’s that little bit of anonymity that gives Allyson the freedom to do something that’s so out of character. The freedom to eschew her plans to spend just one day with Willem in Paris.

One day in Paris. One day to see the sights and experience all that the City of Light has to offer. One day to fall in love with Willem, a young man who is so different from the Allyson she’s always been. Here she’s Lulu, a girl who takes things in stride, who has the attention of someone who could be–and probably has been–with dozens of other girls. It’s not easy to leave her good girl image behind, but Allyson wants to be someone different with Willem, and she’s coming to think she can be different when she returns to her real life.

All of that changes, though, when Allyson’s one day in Paris comes to a shattering end. After waking to find Willem gone, Allyson’s entire world seems to explode, and she doesn’t really know how to put the pieces back together. Nothing seems to fit anymore, and Allyson is struggling. It’s hard to admit that one day, one boy could have such a huge impact on her life, but Allyson will have to face what happened and the still unanswered questions if she has any hope of moving on with her life.

In the year after her day in Paris, Allyson must come to grips with how all of this has changed her. She has to deal with going back to being the “good girl” everyone expects and all of the pressure that entails. She faces the undeniable truth that she’s not the person she once was, and she’s no longer content living out someone else’s dreams. She must do what feels right to her…even if that means standing up to her parents, becoming more independent…and returning to the “scene of the crime” and discovering just what happened to make Willem walk away from her.

As Allyson attempts to make sense of everything that has happened in the past year, she’ll also discover that she’s stronger and more capable than she thought. Even if she never discovers why Willem left her, her quest for answers may just leave her with the peace and determination to become exactly who she was meant to be.

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I think you can safely assume that I adored this book. If I weren’t so held back by my own fears–much like the Allyson we see early in this book–I would take off right now on a Parisian vacation, hoping to find my own sense of peace. Unfortunately, I am a big chicken, and that just won’t happen. (Not to mention the matter of not having the money and having to attend a conference for most of this week.)

I’d love to have a journey of self-discovery like Allyson experienced. I imagine that many readers will feel a similar longing. Even with the lows that Allyson dealt with after her day in Paris, she learned so much about herself. She learned that she had to let go of some things, even friendships, her parents’ expectations, and her own need to please those around her. I’m thirty-five years old, and I wish I could do that. Maybe one day.

While I’m envious of Allyson breaking free of her own boundaries, I’m also insanely jealous of her travels through Europe. The only time I’ve been out of the U.S. was when I went on a cruise to the Bahamas. I’ve wanted to travel to Europe, particularly Great Britain, for as long as I can remember, but finances, health issues, and a hefty dose of fear have always held me back. Allyson has inspired me, though. I’m somehow finding a renewed determination to make my dreams a reality. I’ve now got the beginnings of a plan in my head–a plan to save some money, lose some weight, and finally turn my desire for travel into a reality. How long with it take to put this plan into motion? I have no clue, but at least I’m getting started. Thank you for that, Allyson and Gayle Forman!

So, I finished Just One Day late last night, and I fully intend to start reading Just One Year, the companion novel from Willem’s perspective, within the next hour or so. (I have a two-hour ride to Atlanta ahead of me, so I should be able to make quite a dent in the book.) After that, I will read Just One Night, an ebook novella and the final chapter in the captivating story of Allyson and Willem. I can hardly wait to get started!

If you’d like more information on Just One Day or the other amazing books by the brilliant Gayle Forman, check out her website (which has quite a bit of info on the upcoming movie adaptation of If I Stay), Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. You may also want to take a quick look at the Just One Day book trailer below. I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I have!

Manhunt

Warning: Read Kate Messner’s Capture the Flag and Hide and Seek before proceeding.

Thanks to NetGalley and Scholastic, I was fortunate enough to read Manhunt, the third installment in Kate Messner’s mystery series for young readers, just a little early. The book won’t officially come out until June 24th, but I was too eager to wait that long, especially since the first book in the series, Capture the Flag, is nominated for the South Carolina Children’s Book Award this year. (My hope is to promote the entire series when I encourage my students to pick up the first book.) I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books, and I suspected that the third would be no different. How right I was!

In Manhunt, Henry, Anna, and Jose are once again embroiled in the business of the Silver Jaguar Society, the secret agency tasked with protecting the world’s most valuable art and artifacts. This time, the adventure begins in Boston after it’s discovered that the Serpentine Princes, the bitter enemies of the Silver Jaguar Society, have somehow managed to steal priceless art from museums around the world. How did they manage to pull this off without alerting anyone? And what could be their next target?

Soon enough, the quest for answers takes our trio and their guardians to Paris…and that’s where things really get complicated. It seems that someone within the Silver Jaguar Society is passing information on to the Serpentine Princes, so no one really knows who can be trusted.

One thing is clear, though. Something big is happening in Paris. We’re talking huge here. The bad guys, led by the horrible Vincent Goosen, are trying to get their hands on the Mona Lisa, arguably the most famous painting in the world. While the adult members of the Silver Jaguar Society go off to figure out what to do, they leave Henry, Anna, and Jose in a Parisian bookstore with an enigmatic young man named Hem.

Now, Henry doesn’t quite trust Hem, but he can’t deny that this kid definitely knows his way around Paris…and when the adults mysteriously disappear, Henry and his friends will need Hem’s knowledge to solve their biggest mystery yet. Where is the Mona Lisa, and, more importantly, where are the senior members of the Silver Jaguar Society?

This epic adventure takes these young people all over–and under–the bustling city of Paris, and danger lurks around every corner. These kids will have to evade enemies, decipher clues–written in French–navigate an unfamiliar city, and face their fears to make sense of what’s going on. But what happens when they are betrayed by a supposed ally? When they are separated, and the success of this operation depends on just one kid, one who makes it clear that he just wants to go home?

Can the junior members of the Silver Jaguar Society solve one more mystery? Can they battle treachery, terror, and nearly crippling self-doubt and emerge victorious? Will the Mona Lisa be restored to its rightful place and the Serpentine Princes vanquished? For these answers and more, join Henry, Anna, and Jose on a manhunt like no other!

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Any reader who enjoyed the first two books in this series will find another winner in Manhunt. And, while the previous book cured any desire I ever had to visit Costa Rica, this one definitely made me want to spend some time in Paris. (It doesn’t hurt that the other book I’m currently reading, Just One Day, also takes place in the City of Light.) I hope to make it across the pond eventually, but I hope I don’t have quite the adventure that Henry, Anna, and Jose did!

In a stroke of serendipity, I will be attending an IB conference next week, and I have been asked to bring with me a book that illustrates the IB learner profile and/or elements of international mindedness. I fully intend to share this entire series with my fellow librarians. This series has already taken us to several destinations in the U.S., as well as Costa Rica and France. People from all over the world work together to protect art and artifacts, and, if that doesn’t illustrate international mindedness, I don’t know what does. Hopefully, my colleagues will agree.

Manhunt, like Capture the Flag and Hide and Seek, is a highly recommended purchase for any elementary or middle school library. I hope that we’ll see more of the Silver Jaguar Society in future books. In my opinion, these books illustrate just how much a group of kids can accomplish when they use their wits and work together. This latest book may even inspire readers–no matter their ages–to face their fears and do something great.

For more information on Manhunt and other books by the brilliant Kate Messner, visit her website at http://www.katemessner.com/.

If I Should Die

Warning! This post will focus on If I Should Die, the final book in Amy Plum’s Revenants series, so I suggest you turn back now if you aren’t caught up. Before proceeding, you need to have read Die for Me, Until I Die, and Die for Her, the ebook novella from Jules’ point of view!

If you’re still reading this, I will assume that you’ve read, at the very least, the first two books in this series. Just minutes ago, I finished the third and final book in Amy Plum’s Revenants series, If I Should Die. After the epic cliffhanger in Until I Die and what happened in Die for Her, I dove right into this final installment. (If I had actually read Until I Die when it first came out, I suspect I would have expired from a bad case of the feels. That ending nearly did me in…and reading Die for Her on top of that felt like someone ripped out my heart and stomped all over it.)

After my initial shock concerning the end of the previous book and the beginning of this one, I paused for a bit and gave this book the time it deserved. (I spent nearly a week with it.) Even though I suspected some of the events that transpired in If I Should Die, I was pleasantly surprised by how those events actually came about. The main character in this series, Kate, morphed from a girl crippled by grief into a true hero and, in my opinion, entered the pantheon of strong, take-no-prisoners, female characters in YA literature. Of course, what can you expect from a girl who’s read The Princess Bride almost as many times as I have?! (That little tidbit was probably one of my favorite parts of this book.)

Kate is overcome with grief.  Violette, a Revenant once considered a friend, has betrayed everyone in her quest for power. Violette, the new leader of the numa of Paris, has kidnapped Kate’s beloved Vincent–thought to be the Champion–destroyed his body, and bonded his volant spirit to her own. At first, Kate is sure there is nothing that she can do, but she soon realizes that there may be a small shred of hope. Vincent’s spirit is still out there somewhere. She just has to find a way to make him completely whole again.

Kate will have to tap resources she didn’t know even existed in order to bring Vincent back, and, along the way, she’ll learn more than she ever dreamed possible about the Revenants–both bardia (good) and numa (bad)–and their history, ancient rituals, and even what her own fate might be.

Reuniting with Vincent is only one part of this epic battle against the traitorous Violette. It seems that Kate has a much bigger role to play than almost anyone–even herself–suspected. What will she have to do–or become–to really set things in motion for a final showdown with Violette and her numa army? Is Kate prepared for what’s coming and what it could mean for her future with Vincent? Is a future even possible when the fate of nearly all Revenants rests on Kate’s shoulders? No matter what, Kate must get ready to fight for everyone and everything she loves. Is she strong enough to triumph? I guess there’s only one way to find out…

I tried my best not to give too much away here, and I’m not sure I’ve been entirely successful. Some of what happened in this book was rather blatantly foreshadowed, in my opinion, but how it played out wasn’t. There were a few surprises in this book, a couple of which actually made me want to toss the book across the room. Always a good sign!

In posts on the previous books in this series, I’ve compared the characters and plot to those in the Twilight series. Well, some of those comparisons continue in this book, but, thankfully, the final epic battle is not one of them. There actually IS a fight! (Not like that huge disappointment at the end of Breaking Dawn. My apologies to all the Twi-hards out there, but you have to admit that was a rather large letdown.) I wanted a battle, and I got one. Some of the characters I liked didn’t make it, but that’s kind of what’s supposed to happen in a battle.

All in all, I would highly recommend the entire Revenants series to any reader who enjoys complicated love stories, action, lush settings, and strong female characters. While some would argue that this series is one long supernatural love story, I think it’s more than that. To me, it’s one girl’s quest to be the person she was always meant to be. Yes, finding the love of her life factored into her journey, but I honestly think she would have been just as strong on her own. Just my two cents.

If you’re not already a fan of this series, I urge you to check it out. You may also be interested in the author’s website, her Twitter feed, her Goodreads page, her Facebook page, and Revenants Central on YouTube.

Until I Die

Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read Amy Plum’s Die for Me, the first book in her Revenants series, do that now. (If you’re a South Carolinian, you may want to read Die for Me anyway. It’s a nominee for this year’s SC Young Adult Book Award.)

So, I read Die for Me in February, shortly after it was announced as a nominee for the 13-14 SCYABA. Now, four months later, I’ve finally found time to read the second book in the series, Until I Die. (Hopefully, I’ll finish the rest of the series before next weekend.) Until I Die picks up right where Die for Me left off, and it is absolutely essential that you read the first book before continuing with the second.

Kate Mercier, an American living in Paris after the tragic deaths of her parents, is in love with the enigmatic Vincent, a Revenant. What are Revenants, you ask? Well, it’s kind of complicated. They’re sort of less creepy versions of zombies. Yes, they’re undead/immortal, but Revenants became immortal by dying to save another’s life. They keep immortality by sacrificing their “lives” to save others. Their enemies, the numa, are kind of the opposite. They became immortal by killing others, and they retain their undead status by continuing to kill or convincing others to kill themselves. (Like I said…complicated. I’ve read two of these books so far, and I’m still not sure of what it really means to be a Revenant or numa.) Kate is learning more and more about this world she’s now a part of, and what she’s learning is both fascinating and disturbing.

Kate isn’t sure she can handle Vincent constantly facing death to stay forever young, and Vincent doesn’t want to put Kate through the trauma, so he becomes determined to find a way to suppress his urge to sacrifice himself to save others. With the help of a newcomer to the Revenants’ Paris home, Vincent thinks he’s found a possible solution, but it’s painful, and Kate can’t stand seeing him so weak. What’s a girl to do? Well, she goes on the hunt for a different “cure.” Her search, however, leads to some dangerous paths and possible prophecies, and it seems that others–possibly the evil numa–are just as eager to find this information as Kate is.

Once again, Kate, Vincent, and everyone around them are in peril, and it’s not always clear where the menace is coming from. They know the numa are always a danger, but what if the danger is closer to them? What if an enemy is hiding in plain sight? Can they trust anyone? And can Kate and Vincent find out what’s really going on before death separates them forever? Discover the horrifying truth when you read Until I Die, the second book in Amy Plum’s Revenants series.

Like many second books in a series, Until I Die, in my opinion, served as a “bridge” book between the first and third books in the series. I’ll go ahead and tell you that it did not exactly have a happy ending. That’s a good thing. If it had ended nicely and neatly, I wouldn’t have been so eager to read the next book. As it stands right now, I have no clue where things will go in the final book, but my imagination is going haywire. Luckily, I don’t have to wait to find out what happens. Tonight, I’m planning on reading Die for Her, an ebook novella from Jules’ point of view (Vincent’s best friend), and sometime tomorrow I’ll begin reading book three, If I Should Die. (I’ll probably also read something a little less intense at the same time.)

If you’re a school library or in the business of recommending books to others, market this series to Twilight fans. There are some pretty obvious parallels, but I have to say that Kate, in many ways, is a much stronger character than Bella Swan. (At the very least, she didn’t want me to go on as many feminist rants.)

For more information about Amy Plum, Until I Die, or the entire Revenants series, visit the author’s website, her Twitter feed, her Goodreads page, her Facebook page, and Revenants Central on YouTube.