Book Talk: Interview with Julia Ember, author of The Seafarer’s Kiss

A quote from a recent article in Vice magazine came back to me vividly as I sat down to read The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember. Queer retellings of stories are a reminder, Vice asserted, that the classics don’t just belong to straight white guys—they belong to the LGBTQ community, too.

Yes, this. Always and forever this. Far too often the classic stories of our childhoods display a very one sided and narrow view of the world, reflecting back the conventions of the time in a pretty package. The original Little Mermaid tale of 1837 is just that–a reflection of what society expected from women at the time. The story follows a mermaid who is willing to give her all–her family, her history, her very identity–in order to marry a man, who in the end refuses to acknowledge her sacrifices, and she dies. No true page time is given to her thoughts or wants. She exists to love a man and when he can’t love her back, she has no more reason to exist.  

Enter Julia Ember and The Seafarer’s Kiss. This gorgeous young adult novel subverts the original, asking readers to view the Little Mermaid in a wholly different light. Mermaid Ersel is a strong, independent female with a layer of protective blubber that keeps her warm in the ice shelves of the northern sea. When she meets Ragna, the sole survivor of a shipwreck and befriends her, feelings blossom between the two. Ersel’s would be suitor catches them and issues an ultimatum: give up this budding relationship or be stuck under the thumb of the Mer-King making babies for the rest of her life. So what does Ersel do? Creates a third choice and takes her own destiny in hand.

Everything about this book is magic — the imagery of the frozen waters of the north is glorious and so real; the sweet new feelings between Ersel and Ragna are confusing and fragile; the questioning of Ersel’s choices and the effects they’ll have on her future underscore what all teens (and adults) feel. And while the themes and threads of the original are still there, this reimagined Little Mermaid is a fierce presence who waits for no man to make choices for her. Plus it incorporates a great deal of Norse Mythology including several killer appearances by the God of Lies themselves, Loki.

Luckily I was able to catch up with Julia Ember before the release of her book to talk The Seafarer’s Kiss, Norse Mythology, homosexuality among the Vikings, and what she ultimately wants to see more of in books.

Judith for Binge on Books: Julia, welcome! I can’t fully do justice to how much I loved the book and its haunting take on the Little Mermaid myth. What was the evolution to writing this? Did you wake up one day and decide that you needed to redo a classic story? Was there a spark or something specific that forced your hand in writing this particular idea?

Julia Ember: I’m so glad you loved the story!

Before deciding that academia wasn’t for me, I spent two years doing a postgraduate degree in Mediaeval Literature. As part of my course, I studied both Anglo-Saxon and Norse poems, as well as their mythology and history. I’ve always been truly fascinated by the pre-Christian Vikings, their legends, their gods and in the cultural shift that happened after they started living among Anglo-Saxons. In a way, it’s a myth that the Vikings conquered the Anglo-Saxons. They did invade their land, but in the end, Anglo-Saxon culture, which was part of the Latin Christian Empire already, lured many of the Vikings away from their historic way of life. There is an Anglo-Saxon poem called The Seafarer which follows an exiled sailor as he laments his loneliness on the high seas. It is a hauntingly beautiful poem. A lot of my inspiration for the character of Ragna came from thinking about that cultural war, and the clash of cultures that plays out in the Seafarer poem.

The Little Mermaid has always been my favourite fairy tale! I always knew that if I was going to write retellings, it would be the first story I would explore. The book itself started out as a short story/novelette. I actually went out on submission with that, had a few requests, but it didn’t sell.

Judith: Since you draw so heavily on Norse Myth to infuse this book, is it safe to assume that there is a Little Mermaid story in that cannon? If so, how do The Seafarer’s Kiss and that myth differ?

Julia: Sadly, there is no Little Mermaid story in Norse Myth! As a category, Norse Myths don’t tend to be particularly romance driven tales nor do they tend to be very character focused. Norse literature and myth is heavily focused on achievements and heroism – conquering monsters, far off lands. The Norse elements in Seafarer’s Kiss are incorporated into the world-building and the characters of Ragna and Loki. Ragna is a gender-swapped, very lose interpretation of Ragnar Lodbrok, a Viking leader who started the process of taking over Anglo-Saxon England. Ragnar may or may not have been a real person, but his legend is pervasive. My version of Loki is much closer to the sinister Norse God than the playful Marvel counterpart.

Judith: So if there’s no Little Mermaid, did you find evidence of queer narratives in any Norse Mythology you used as research?

Julia: Norse mythology is sadly pretty heteronormative, although a few pre-Christian Viking historical sources do indicate that Vikings thought homosexuality was a normal part of getting older. Kind of an odd cultural phenomenon there. The Vikings were a lot like the Romans or the Greeks, in that homosexuality wasn’t illegal or expressly frowned upon, but people did think that in a gay relationship being the passive partner undermined a person’s masculinity.

The god Loki, however, is an interesting one. They are often described as a man, but some legends show them as a woman. There is a well-known Norse myth where Odin punishes Loki by forcing them to give birth to monsters. In that legend, Loki’s gender is very obscure. They become pregnant and give birth, but retain many masculine qualities. The legend does, however, use feminisation as a form of punishment, where other legends simply present Loki as androgynous or female. In my version of Loki, I wanted their fluidity to be something they embraced. I also wanted them in full control of their own identity and self-presentation.

Judith: Even though this is a fairytale retelling, did any of your own experiences influence the writing?

Julia: Seafarer’s Kiss is an #ownvoices bisexual book, and so I wrote that aspect of Ersel and Ragna from my own life experience. I think, like Ersel with Havamal, I also have a bad habit of hanging onto people for a long time, hoping that they will change.

Judith: With that in mind, what do you want to see more of in books? Particularly in YA and NA?

Julia: I definitely want to see more diverse fantasy! I think contemporary has been charging ahead in terms of number of books published with characters across the LGBTQIA spectrum and POC. In fantasy, we’ve had a number of very high profile books that have had terrible representation when that shouldn’t be the case. I think speculative fiction offers such a perfect opportunity for writers to develop worlds that aren’t predominantly white or cishet. It’s disheartening how many books fall into that specification considering the writers are creating new worlds, where nothing else is the same as ours. Prejudice shouldn’t be the common factor between our world and fantasy kingdoms.

Judith: What is one question you would want a reader to ask about this book but they never do?

Julia: It’s not really a specific question, but I wish readers would ask more questions about Ragna and her past! She’s a really fierce, independent character, but I think Ersel and Loki steal most of the limelight from her.

***

Originally from Chicago, Julia Ember now resides in Edinburgh, Scotland. She spends her days working in the book trade and her nights writing teen fantasy novels. Her hobbies include riding horses, starting far too many craft projects, PokemonGo and looking after her city-based menagerie of pets with names from Harry Potter. Luna Lovegood and Sirius Black the cats currently run her life.

Julia is a polyamorous, bisexual writer. She regularly takes part in events for queer teens, including those organised by the Scottish Booktrust and LGBT Youth Scotland. A world traveler since childhood, she has now visited more than sixty countries. Her travels inspire the fantasy worlds she creates, though she populates them with magic and monsters.

Julia began her writing career at the age of nine, when her short story about two princesses and their horses won a contest in Touch magazine. In 2016, she published her first novel, Unicorn Tracks, which also focused on two girls and their equines, albeit those with horns. Her second novel, The Seafarer’s Kiss will be released by Interlude Press in May 2017. The book was heavily influenced by Julia’s postgraduate work in Medieval Literature at The University of St. Andrews. It is now responsible for her total obsession with beluga whales.

In August 2017, her third novel and the start of her first series, Tiger’s Watch, will come out with Harmony Ink Press. In writing Tiger’s Watch, Julia has taken her love of cats to a new level.

Learn more on her site.

The Seafarer’s Kiss is out now from Interlude Press.

***

Judith is the owner of Binge on Books, as well as the boutique press, Open Ink, and the literary PR company, A Novel Take PR. You can also find Judith on HEA USA Today and  Teen Vogue talking queer fiction.


 

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YA Graphic Novel Review: My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame

My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame

Published by: Pantheon (May 2nd)

Format: Softcover

Genre: YA/LGBT+

Order at: Publisher  |  Amazon  |  B&N

Reviewed by: Alex

What to Expect: A beautifully crafted graphic novel of a straight, divorced, single father Yaichi, who is confronted by the life and loss of his twin brother, Ryoji, after Ryoji’s mourning widower Mike stays with them at Yaichi’s young daughter’s unexpected invitation.  Read More

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YA Review: History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Published by: SOHO Teen

Format: mobi

Genre: YA/LGBT+

Order at: Amazon | B&N | Publisher

Reviewed by: Alex

What to Expect: Adam Silvera has injected both speed and steroids into his craft since writing More Happy Than Not and poured it into this sophomore effort. This book was made to break your heart. Read More

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Contemporary YA Review: Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

girl-mans-upGirl Mans Up by M-E Girard

Published by: Harper TEEN

Format: Hardcover

Genre: YA/LGBT+

Order at: Amazon

Reviewed by: Alex

What to Expect: A superb tale of a teen coming into her own.

Read More

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Countdown to Halloween: 13 Songs & Films that Get Me Stoked for Halloween by J.C. Lillis

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So I said I would do this list and then I realized I don’t read scary books, listen to scary songs, or watch scary movies as a general rule. I love Halloween but I mainly associate it with frantic yet meticulous construction of whatever costume the kid’s dreamed up, followed by a week of sneaking PB cups and fun-size Mounds from her candy stash. But writers are known for their Olympic-level talent for fudging it, so here goes.

Songs:

“Spooky” / Classics IV. I actually hate this song but I have a Pavlovian reaction to it: I hear the first chords and instantly think Halloween. I don’t know if it deserves its status as a Halloween classic, since the girl in the song is not particularly spooky, just sort of a flake. It kills me that the guy spends the whole song yammering about how she winks at other dudes and plays games with his heart, and yet he’s planning a Halloween proposal, like that’ll solve all their problems. Honestly I just ride out the song to hear the little “whooo!” ghostie sounds in the verses.

“Monster” / Lady Gaga. When the Fame Monster EP came out, everyone was creaming themselves over “Bad Romance” and “Dance in the Dark” and this song never got its due, despite being danceable and hilarious and awesome. If I had a Halloween party, which I won’t because that would involve cleaning and decorating, this would be #1 on my playlist.

“Time of the Season” / The Zombies. This is not technically a Halloween song but for some reason I always associate it with summer’s slow slide into fall. Plus one time my mom told me she used to think the lyrics were “it’s the time of the season for zombieeeeees,” like the Zombies were pulling a Wang Chung and name-dropping themselves in the song, so every time I hear that line I picture zombies doing jazz hands.

“Burn-Up” / Siouxsie & the Banshees. The entire Peepshow album is supremely freaky and makes an excellent Halloween soundtrack. I picked this one because it’s like a haunted hayride in song form.

“Monster Mash” / Bobby Pickett. This used to be a “dragged to the seventh-grade Halloween dance against your will” song, and then I used it in “Memory Hill” for the Lead Me into Darkness antho, and now it’s a “jaded ghost mourning unrequited love” song. It’s much nicer now.

“Red Right Hand” / Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. Like, I should’ve just said “Nick Cave” in general, because Nick Cave could turn “Walking on Sunshine” into a murder ballad, but this song is pretty much the pinnacle of Nick Cave creepiness. It’s about this evil rich power-mad dude who gains followers by preying on fear and making false promises but actually thinks of people as “microscopic cogs in his catastrophic plan,” not that someone like that could actually rise to power today.

 

 

Movies:

What We Do in the Shadows. Definitely in the top three funniest vampire mockumentaries set in New Zealand.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula. After you watch WWDitS, you might as well watch this one, because the number of laughs per minute is roughly the same. (More in scenes where Gary Oldman turns into a hundred rats or Keanu Reeves has to act British.)

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. When I was a little Catholic schoolgirl I used to want to spend Halloween with Linus in his most-sincere pumpkin patch, waiting for the elusive deity to show his giant orange face. I hope Linus is now a comfortable Great Pumpkin agnostic who counsels other young believers through crises of faith.

The Addams Family. This is the film that launched my epic, invincible crush on Anjelica Huston. We rewatched it recently and it still holds up pretty well. I think we base like 60% of our parenting choices on “what would Gomez and Mortitica do?”

The Others. This is the only scary movie I ever bought on DVD. I like how old-fashioned it is, how it relies on psychology and the power of suggestion instead of gore and special effects. It’s so well made I don’t even mind the “they’ve been dead all alonnnnnng!” ending. (No spoiler warning for movies more than 15 years old.)

Return of the Living Dead. I can take or leave most things zombie, but how can you not love a film with 1) character names like Scuz, Trash, and Spider, 2) dialogue that contains multiple references to “rabid weasels,” and 3) a scene where the zombies eat the paramedics and then radio to “send more paramedics”? (I just found out there’s this band from Leeds called Send More Paramedics, which is the best thing I’ve heard in at least two days.)

Shaun of the Dead. The other exception to my anti-zombie rule. That scene where they’re arguing over which records to throw at the zombies—I can see someone being exactly that nerdy, and that someone is me.


J.C. Lillis is the author of contemporary YA novels HOW TO REPAIR A MECHANICAL HEART, WE WON’T FEEL A THING, and the upcoming A&B, plus various other stories about fandom, friendship, love, and art. She lives in Baltimore with her patient family, a possibly haunted dollhouse, and a cat who intends to eat her someday.

More about J.C. and her AWESOME books:

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart: amzn.to/1rM486A

We Won’t Feel a Thing: http://amzn.to/1mndD6m

A&B: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32296251-a-b?from_search=true

website: jclillis.com

twitter: twitter.com/jclillis

instagram: instagram.com/jclillis

facebook: facebook.com/jclillisbooks

pinterest: pinterest.com/jclillis


 

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Countdown to Halloween: Loving Halloween with Stacey O’Neale + Giveaway


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Loving Halloween with Stacey O’Neale

I love Halloween. It’s my second favorite holiday.

Since I was a kid, I’ve always been intrigued by the history of Halloween in this country and beyond. Because of this fascination, I spend a lot of time watching the History channel during the month of October. They always show different specials about the history of the day, and other fun things like witches, pumpkins, and costumes. I guess you could say it’s become a tradition.

Another is that I watch Hocus Pocus every year. It’s my all-time favorite Halloween movie. I’ve been known to quote the movie from time to time. Bette Midler has so many quotable lines, and I think it’s one of her best performances. The other two witches are great, but she really steals the show. It’s fantastic. I never get tired of it. And now that my daughter is nine, she watches it with me.

I also enjoy decorating. My house is cluttered with orange and black of everything. I have spiders, pumpkins, witches, monsters, vampires, and candy everywhere. We even have a blow-up black cat that sits in the driveway. And regardless of how much I own, I buy more every year. I can’t help myself. It’s so much fun. I swear, I’d keep those decorations up all year if my family would let me.

I’m not much into costumes. I used to do it every year, but it became a hassle now that my daughter is into it. She loves dressing up and usually creates a matching costume with my husband. Last year, they were Star Wars characters. She was Darth Vader and he was a Storm Trooper. She doesn’t care much for the girlie princess stuff. She usually dresses up in whatever character she’s into at the moment.

It’s difficult to point out which Halloween-type books I like to read because fantasy is my favorite genre. Instead, I’ll just name a few YA fantasy series that I really enjoyed. Vampire Academy, Hex Hall, Starcrossed, Splintered, and The Mortal Instruments are all completed series I loved from beginning to end. There are many individual books I liked, but there’s not enough space to name them all.

fragile-reign-amazonEach year, I also tinker with the idea of writing a witch series. I’ve done a truckload of research on the subject. Actually, I did an entire presentation on witchcraft in college. Unfortunately, I haven’t come up with something that I’m just dying to write. I have one idea about five witch families in a small town. Sort of a mish-mash of the Covenant and Secret Circle. But I haven’t fleshed it out yet. Maybe someday.

Big thanks to Judith at Binge On Books for giving me the opportunity to talk about such a fun subject. If you’re interested in reading something in YA Fantasy, my book, The Shadow Prince, is available for free on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It’s about an exiled fire elemental prince that has to decide if he’s willing to kill an air elemental princess he has never met to save his court. Sound interesting? I hope so. 😀

Happy Halloween!


a Rafflecopter giveaway


author-photoAward-winning author, Stacey O’Neale, lives in Annapolis, Maryland. When she’s not writing, she spends her time fangirling over books, blogging, watching fantasy television shows, cheering for the Baltimore Ravens, and hanging out with her husband and daughter.

Her career in publishing started as a blogger-turned-publicist for two successful small publishers. Stacey writes young adult fantasy and adult science fiction romance. Her books always include swoon-worthy heroes, snarky heroines, and lots of kissing.

the-shadow-prince-amazonStacey loves hearing from readers. Follow her on Twitter @StaceyONeale, look for her on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Goodreads. You can also visit her blog at staceyoneale.com/.

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Author Chat with Binge on Books: Sarah J. Maas, Part 2

author chat 2Hello and welcome to Author Chat, an intimate and light-hearted books inspired podcast with Judith from Binge on Books interviewing your favorite authors!

Who’s up today, you ask? That’s right! You guessed it! It’s Sarah J. Maas in Part 2 of our 2-part podcast!

Sarah stopped by Binge on Books to talk favorite books, her writing, upcoming projects, who she’d most love to write a book with, what’s going on with the next ACOTAR book (yes!) and so much more! It was so much in fact, Author Chat with Sarah J. Maas will be a 2-part series. Part 1 features Sarah talking her publishing journey and giving us some hilarious answers to a down and dirty lightning round Q&A. Take a listen to it here. Part 2 features more in depth reader questions and runs the gamut of what’s going on in her world (and yes, she talks Catwoman, ACOTAR, what historical novels you need to read, and so much more!).

So sit back, relax, and get ready for: Author Chat with Binge on Books featuring Sarah J. Maas, Part 2!


 


 

No time to listen but want to read what Sarah’s reading? Here are some highlights of things we discussed:

Top 3 Authors

Sharon Shinn

Melina Marchetta

Tamora Pierce

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Books She Loves:

Karen Marie Moning’s Fever Series

C.S. Pacat’s Captive Prince Series

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Books/Writers We Convinced Each Other to Buy:

Historical romance writer, Sarah MacLean – her Scotsmen are to die for!

Historical romance writer, Meredith Duran – Duke of Shadows is a must!

Romance writer, Sherry Thomas – Lady Sherlock Holmes series. No need to say more!

…AND SO MANY MORE! Listen in for all the great reads!

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sjm2Sarah J. Maas is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series and A Court of Thorns and Roses series, as well as a USA Today and international bestselling author. Sarah wrote the first incarnation of the Throne of Glass series when she was just sixteen, and it has now sold in thirty-five languages. A New York native, Sarah currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and dog. Empire of Storms, the fifth Throne of Glass novel, will release on September 6th, 2016.

She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Hamilton College in 2008 with a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Religious Studies.

Get in touch with Sarah via Twitter or her website!

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Judith is the curator of Binge on Books as well as an upcoming contributor to USA Today and past Publicity Manager for Queer Romance Month. You can hear more of her in Author Chat  andWhat’s On My Kindle? as well as her reviews on the site.

Get in touch with her on Twitter or send her an email (she loves email!) at judith@bingeonbooks.com.

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Author Chat with Binge on Books: Sarah J. Maas, Part 1

author chat 2

Hello and welcome to Author Chat, a quirky, fun books inspired podcast with Judith from Binge on Books interviewing your favorite authors!

Who’s up today, you ask? I’ll give you a hint: Sarah J. Maas! (I’m the worst hinter, admittedly)

Sarah stopped by Binge on Books to talk favorite books, her writing, upcoming projects, who she’d most love to write a book with, what’s going on with the next ACOTAR book (yes!) and so much more! It was so much in fact, Author Chat with Sarah J. Maas will be a 2-part series. Part 1 features Sarah talking her publishing journey and giving us some hilarious answers to a down and dirty lightning round Q&A. Part 2 features more in depth reader questions and runs the gamut of what’s going on in her world (and yes, she talks Catwoman, ACOTAR, what historical novels you need to read, and so much more!).

So sit back, relax, and get ready for: Author Chat with Binge on Books featuring the talented and oh so funny Sarah J. Maas!

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sjm2

Sarah J. Maas is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series and A Court of Thorns and Roses series, as well as a USA Today and international bestselling author. Sarah wrote the first incarnation of the Throne of Glass series when she was just sixteen, and it has now sold in thirty-five languages. A New York native, Sarah currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and dog. Empire of Storms, the fifth Throne of Glass novel, will release on September 6th, 2016.

She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Hamilton College in 2008 with a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Religious Studies.

Get in touch with Sarah via Twitter or her website!

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Judith is the curator of Binge on Books as well as an upcoming contributor to USA Today and past Publicity Manager for Queer Romance Month. You can hear more of her in Author Chat  and What’s On My Kindle? as well as her reviews on the site.

Get in touch with her on Twitter or send her an email (she loves email!) at judith@bingeonbooks.com.

 

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Binge Worthy Books Review: Seven Tears at High Tide by C.B. Lee

25837167Title and Author: Seven Tears at High Tide by C.B. Lee

Published by: Duet, a YA imprint of Interlude Press  

Format: Kindle, Paperback, eBook

Genre: YA, Urban Fantasy, Romance, LGBTQA+

Order at: Amazon

Reviewed by: Sara Beth

What to Expect: A charming twist on the selkie legend, one that will keep you laughing and rooting hard for the love of two boys against a tradition that might have them pegged as doomed from the start.

Read More

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Most Anticipated Books for 2016: A Podcast Four Way!

Hey everybody! It’s Judith from Binge on Books and today you better get your one-click finger ready as you listen to this very special and BONUS edition of my monthly podcast!

3 Bloggers

Joining me are three amazing book bloggers from all different corners of the book world: Vilma from Vilma’s Book Blog, Abby from Crime by the Book, and Elisabeth Lane from Cooking Up Romance! Each of us talks our three most anticipated reads of 2016 and believe me, there is a little something for everybody, from fantasy fairy-tale retellings to grisly Swedish crime fiction, from sexy magical wedding stories to campy queer mystery. A word of caution: you may have to wait more than a few months for some but only a few days for others (and at least 3 are already out! YES!). So sit back and listen in as we chat about all the gorgeous new reads that we’re dying to get out hands on!

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No time to listen but still want to stock up on great reads? Check out each blogger’s picks here:

Vilma from Vilma’s Book Blog, a site focused on Fantasy, NA, Contemporary, Suspense

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Judith from Binge on Books, a site focused on Romance, Fantasy, YA, NA
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Despite Everything (tentative title) by Roan Parrish
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Want to hear more podcasts like this? Check out Binge on Books’ Author Chat, a monthly segment where Judith sits down with some of her favorite authors and talks about anything and everything!
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