Happy Thursday, everyone!  Before we get to the details about these two books, let me say, I’ve read both of them and LOVED them!!  I mean, LOOOOVVVED them!!  You can read my review of THE ARTISANS here and my review of THE PERILOUS JOURNEY OF THE NOT SO INNOCUOUS GIRL here.  I really hope you get a copy of these two books because they will blow you away.  Fan-freaking-tastic!!


Welcome to this week’s Two for Thursday! #T4T
presented by Month9books/Tantrum Books!
Today, we will be showcasing two titles that will tickle your fancy,
and we’ll share what readers have to say about these titles!
You just might find your next read!


This week, #T4T presents to you:


Author: Julie Reece
Pub. Date: May 12, 2015
Publisher: Month9Books
Pages: 300
They say death can be beautiful. But after the death of her mother, seventeen-year-old Raven Weathersby gives up her dream of becoming a fashion designer, barely surviving life in the South Carolina lowlands.
To make ends meet, Raven works after school as a seamstress creating stunning works of fashion that often rival the great names of the day.
Instead of making things easier on the high school senior, her stepdad’s drinking leads to a run in with the highly reclusive heir to the Maddox family fortune, Gideon Maddox.
But Raven’s stepdad’s drying out and in no condition to attend the meeting with Maddox. So Raven volunteers to take his place and offers to repay the debt in order to keep the only father she’s ever known out of jail, or worse.
Gideon Maddox agrees, outlining an outrageous demand: Raven must live in his home for a year while she designs for Maddox Industries’ clothing line, signing over her creative rights.
Her handsome young captor is arrogant and infuriating to the nth degree, and Raven can’t imagine working for him, let alone sharing the same space for more than five minutes.
But nothing is ever as it seems. Is Gideon Maddox the monster the world believes him to be? And can he stand to let the young seamstress see him as he really is?
Praise for THE ARTISANS:
“The Artisans has all the elements I love – spooky intrigue, strong friendships, and a romantic tension to be savored.”  ~ Wendy Higgins, New York Times bestselling author of the Sweet Evil Trilogy.
“Read The Artisans in the middle of the night with a flashlight if you dare. The perfect blend of romance and horror with a strong female lead kept me reading through the night.”~ L.S. Murphy author of PIXELATED Bloomsbury Spark and REAPER – J. Taylor Publishing
“Wowza!!!! That book was so freakin’ good! Intense, insane, freaky at parts and sooooo good! I haven’t had emotions like this about a book in a long time!”~ Mindy Blogger @ Magical Urban Fantasy Reads
“The first thing I thought when I finished this book was ‘dang, I would love to see this as a movie’. The Artisans has such an awesome and haunting concept to it plus I just adore all of the characters.”~Jena Blogger @ Shortie Says
“The Artisans was a unique modern day retelling of Beauty and the Beast filled with mystery, romance and wonderful characters. From the first page I was completely lost in the wonderful setting that Reece created.”~Bridget Blogger @ Dark Faerie Tales


Born in Ohio, I lived next to my grandfather’s horse farm until the fourth grade. Summers were about riding, fishing and make-believe, while winter brought sledding and ice-skating on frozen ponds. Most of life was magical, but not all.
I struggled with multiple learning disabilities, did not excel in school. I spent much of my time looking out windows and daydreaming. In the fourth grade (with the help of one very nice teacher) I fought dyslexia for my right to read, like a prince fights a dragon in order to free the princess locked in a tower, and I won.
Afterwards, I read like a fiend. I invented stories where I could be the princess… or a gifted heroine from another world who kicked bad guy butt to win the heart of a charismatic hero. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? Later, I moved to Florida where I continued to fantasize about superpowers and monsters, fabricating stories (my mother called it lying) and sharing them with my friends.
Then I thought I’d write one down…
Hooked, I’ve been writing ever since. I write historical, contemporary, urban fantasy, adventure, and young adult romances.
I love strong heroines, sweeping tales of mystery and epic adventure… which must include a really hot guy. My writing is proof you can work hard to overcome any obstacle. Don’t give up. I say, if you write, write on!
Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads


Author: Leigh Statham
Pub. Date: March 17, 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Pages: 297
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Lady Marguerite lives a life most 17th century French girls can only dream of: money, designer dresses, suitors and a secure future. Except she suspects she may be falling for her best friend Claude, a common smithie in the family’s steam forge.
When Claude leaves for New France in search of a better life, Marguerite decides to follow him and test her suspicions of love. But the trip proves more harrowing than she had anticipated, revealing secrets and testing her strength as well as her heart. Love, adventure and restitution await her in Canada, but only if she can survive the voyage.
“The writing is solid and the world-building – that clever combination of historical detail and Ms. Statham’s imagination – is excellent.”~ The Australia Times Books
“I’d give more than five stars if I could. I’d recommend this to anyone who is a fan of young adult steampunk, girls who aren’t afraid to wield guns and wear pants in an age of dresses, adventure, and a dash of romance.” ~Bitches n Prose
“ I ADORED this story, and these characters, and I don’t want to give too much away. It is all worth stumbling across on your own! With a cover to drool over, fantastic characters, a simmering romance, awesome historical settings, and majorly cool steampunk elements, The Perilous Journey of the Not-So-Innocuous Girl (awesome title) easily captivated me, and now that it is over I want MORE!” ~ The Best Books Ever

“I’ve only recently discovered Steampunk, and every story that I read in this genre makes me love it even more. The Perilous Journey of the Not-So-Innocuous Girl was such an adventure! This book is rich in so many things and lacking absolutely nothing.”~ Pretty Little Pages


Leigh Statham was raised in the wilds of rural Idaho, but found her heart in New York City. She worked as a waitress, maid, artist, math teacher, nurse, web designer, art director, thirty-foot inflatable pig and mule wrangler before she settled down in the semi-quiet role of wife, mother and writer. She resides in North Carolina with her husband, four children, five chickens and two suspected serial killer cats. If the air is cool and the sun is just coming up over the horizon, you can find her running the streets of her small town, plotting her next novel with the sort of intensity that will one day get her hit by a car.
Connect with the Author: Website |Twitter Facebook | Goodreads



Complete the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win!
 Giveaway Details:
3 winners will receive an eBook of THE ARTISANS & THE

My Top 10 Pet Peeves about YA Books

I love YA. It is my favorite genre with multiple sub-genres. Yesterday, I wrote about why I love it so much, but even I know nothing is perfect. YA has its flaws. What follows are just a few of my pet peeves about YA.

Instant love

It is so corny, so overused. I mean, I get it, the insta-crush thingy, but that’s not love. I want my main characters to be a little bit more meaty, especially if they are 16 or 17 years old.  There are a few novels where it worked. FIRE IN THE WOODS, by Jennifer M. Eaton, is one of them. I liked this one because the heroine, Jess, had a crush on the hero, David, long before she met him. In fact, her crush was so intense, she couldn’t see the ‘real’ David for the longest time, (which might have something to do with the fact he’s an … oops, no, can’t tell you.  You’ll have to read it yourself. No spoilers from these fingertips.) 🙂 But for the most part, I really can’t stand the giggly, giddy girls who fall for the cute guy and call it love.  Yuck.

The guy always gets the girl or vice versa.

Please. That’s not reality.  Talk to the bevy of teens out there who are crying to their friends because “the one” dumped them for another. Yes,  I suppose readers want a happy ever after (HEA), but it’s not reality.

Da da da … the Love Triangle

Why? Why are there always 2 guys fighting over the girl or two girls fighting over the guy?  I admit, when I was in high school, there were a couple of really pretty girls that the guys were tripping over, but for the most of us, that’s not reality, either. Most of us were lucky to get one person to look at us, much less have two or more vying for our attention.  Again, I think it’s an attempt by authors to give that fantasy, that HEA, to the readers, but it’s such an overused theme in YA that I’ve grown tired of it.  Where I think the love triangle worked really well is also in the Hunger Games series. I think it works because the guys aren’t ‘love struck’ over Katniss. They see her for what she is, for her strengths and weaknesses. They don’t swoon and they don’t get jealous over each other, not like Edward and Jake in the Twilight series did. And Katniss didn’t want any part of the affection game. There wasn’t time to think about it. She loved Peeta and Gale but they weren’t the focus of her life.  I liked that we knew how everyone felt, but it wasn’t the focus of the story.

The flooding of the market with similar stories

Why? What is it when one book comes out and makes millions do others of the same genre all of a sudden swarm and land on the shelves? Remember when Twilight was big, the whole world was suddenly inundated with vampire and werewolf stories. It was as if the publishing gurus opened up the floodgates and unleashed the madness, hoping that one of their authors would find the same niche that Stephenie Meyer did. Vampire Diaries. Vampire Academy. Marked (which had its own issues).  There were so many. It’s almost like it was planned. Give me something different.

Authors trying to talk the teen talk

I hate this. Authors trying to write like they think teen characters talk. Tahereh Mafi did it well in her SHATTER ME series. Cast & Cast, the authors of MARKED, did not. Then again, that’s my opinion. I know MARKED was really popular so maybe I’m missing something, but seriously, what teen uses the word ‘poopie’?

Inconsistent plot lines

This happens in all writing, but it seems to be really prevalent in YA. I hate it when it’s summer in Chapter 3, but winter in Chapter 4, and apparently we are supposed to understand that 6 months passed somewhere. As an author, I understand how hard it is to keep up with the whens and wheres and hows, but as authors, we need to make sure we nip these things in the bud, because readers, especially YA readers, pick up on them and they don’t like inconsistencies.

The “I” factor

I used to hate books written in 1st person. I mean, it really drove me nuts. I used to think it was so self-centered. I liked this. I like him. I had this for dinner. I don’t like that girl. I’m so unloved. I, I  I. Me, me, me. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that teens are very self-oriented, but come on.  Even the brightest teen knows the world doesn’t revolve around him or her, right?   Right?

Over-explanation in series books

Have you ever read a second book in a series and it recaps everything from book 1? Ugh. Stop it. I get there might be a year or more between books, but hey, if you’re waiting on the edge of your seat for book 2, then re-read book one before book 2 comes out. The author shouldn’t have to recap the storyline for the reader, and yet so many do.  Harry Potter books transitioned beautifully.  The Divergent series could have had a few lines in the beginning to transition between stories, but the jolt of hitting the ground running in books 2 and 3 actually worked well with story.  The Lunar Chronicles is another one that had amazing transitions between stories.

The lack of parents or adults

What is this all about? I understand that the teens in YA are the center focus. They have a challenge they need to overcome, but does that mean parents or adults can’t help them? So many times, I’ve read books where the adult figures are absent or don’t have significant roles in the teen’s life. That’s simply not true, and I think it’s why Harry Potter resonated so much with young people. Harry may have lost his parents, but he was surrounded by adults who cared about him, and helped him grow and achieve his end.

Cliched characters

Why are girl protags in contemporary fiction always petite, brunette, giddy,  white, who think they’re ugly or have low self-esteem?  Good grief. What was that old 80s saying? Gag me with a spoon. You want a story about someone with low self-esteem? Pick up a book about the heavy girl who never gets picked for basketball, or the buck-toothed nerdy boy with a heart of gold but no one can get past his looks.  Maybe these books are out there, but they are few and far between. We need to have a lot more diversity in YA. We need the HEA for the over-weight girl with the funny personality who winds up with the jock football player.  We need more characters who are normal find their happy endings. I think that’s one reason I like fantasy, because the characters are unique and different, and they don’t fit into a certain mold. The characters have to look past appearances and focus on the character.  I am glad to see more diversity showing up in YA, but there needs to be more.  Any authors out there up for the challenge?

I hope you’ve enjoyed my likes and dislikes about YA, and instead of nominating only 10 bloggers, I’m going to throw it up for grabs to anyone who wants to participate in the love-hate challenge. All I ask is that you link back to my blog so I can read your posts.

10 Things I love about YA

About two months ago, fellow blogger/author, C.B. Wentworth, tagged me in the Love-Hate Challenge.  The rules of the Love-Hate Challenge are simple:

  • Make a list of 10 things you love
  • Make a list of 10 things you hate
  • Nominate ten bloggers

As a YA author and avid YA reader, I thought I’d tailor this challenge to what I love and hate about YA lit.  Well, maybe ‘hate’ is too strong a word. Let’s go with ‘not too fond of’. Yeah. That sounds better.

Ok, so here we go. Ten things I love about Y.A. lit.:

  1. I know it sounds weird, but there’s a part of me that loves reliving those teen years, when every emotion is dangling on some sort of precipice, where every turn in life beckons you to walk through an open door filled with immeasurable opportunities. I love reading about characters who are trying to figure out who they are and where they belong while battling life and conquering the struggles and adversities thrown at them. Some of them are absolutely heartbreaking. I love seeing young characters fight for their beliefs, to prove to others they can think for themselves while displaying amazing resilience and courage.
  1. YA touches upon timeless, universal issues that teens around the world go through. First love, first crush, heartache, family issues, challenging authority. It’s a way for all young readers to ‘connect’ on an emotional level. The themes resonate among young and old alike.
  1. When we are seventeen, we are invincible. There seems to always be hope, a way out; a way in. The characters always find a way to resolve whatever problem gets in their path. Teens love being able to read about people like them, facing unbelievable odds, kick some serious butt and win without the over-protectiveness of an adult. They like believing they can think for themselves, do for themselves. They find an emotional freedom they may not have in ‘real life’.

  1. Teens feel inspired by YA. Who didn’t love Augustus Waters in The Fault in Our Stars, and who didn’t weep with joy and sadness as we took his journey? He was an amazing book boyfriend, the kind of guy a lot of girls would love to have: witty, charming, loving, and above all, sacrificing.

  1. YA engages teen readers. I’ve known lots of adults who have given their kids books to read like Of Mice and Men (which is an awesome book), or The Great Gatsby, but they don’t resonate with teens. Give them some HUNGER GAMES, or ALL THE RIGHT PLACES, or MOSQUITOLAND, and they’re hooked. These stories are about them, their lives, their friends. It’s a private world where grown-ups aren’t allowed, a place only teens can understand. A place where they are not judged for who they are.
  1. YA is diverse. It can span every genre you can think of. You want fantasy, you’ve got it. LGBT? It’s starting to hit the shelves. Contemporary, dystopian, political … there is no one right book to read, and they have huge followings, so you can easily connect with other fans via social media to talk up your fave book.
  1. As a YA author, I love finding that teen in me that wanted to do so much but didn’t because I grew up in a military family and I was always terrified to buck the horse. This way, I can break the rules. Have fun. Be crazy. The world is mine in YA world, and I am only limited by my imagination as to what my characters can and will do. It’s pretty liberating.

meme - a great book

  1. Good YA spurs passion, excitement. Remember when Harry Potter first hit the scene? Word of mouth was nuts. Now they are classics in every sense of the word, and the staying power is phenomenal. Readers, old and young, adored these books. They talked about them, dressed like the characters. They had Harry Potter parties. They stood in line for hours to get the books, and are still spending money like crazy at the Orlando theme park, as if somehow going there is the same as going to the real Hogwarts or Diagon Alley. J.K. Rowling hit every level of every author’s dream. I can only imagine how it would feel to have this incredibly, loyal fan base.
  1. Good YA books spawn movies. This can be a great thing, like in the Harry Potter franchise or Hunger Games, Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, etc. It can be a bad thing, too, such as Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones. There is so much detail and world-building in her Mortal Instrument series that the movie didn’t do it justice, in my opinion. A multi-season tv show would have been better. Nonetheless, movies bring YA books to life, and allow those who don’t read the opportunity to experience the YA world. I know my husband was totally pissed over the storyline in the Hunger Games. All I could say was the books were so much better.

  1. YA lit is teen ‘glue’. It doesn’t matter what background teens are from, with YA lit, the stories bond teens from all over the world. They all can live safely in the same stories without fear. Who didn’t know where Number 4 Privet Drive was? Readers from around the world all wanted to step onto Platform 9 and ¾ and take that train to Hogwarts. It didn’t matter if the reader lived in rural America, the wilds in Africa, or a home of the rich and famous. Every teen, every YA fan, took those journeys with Harry and his friends. We found a commonality despite our political beliefs, our personal persuasions, or sometimes radical differences. Good YA doesn’t care if its readers are rich or poor, black or white, young or old. It does remind us, however, that we are all the same underneath. We are all human, with the same emotions, the same fears, the same struggles, and our community is vast. Through YA lit, teens realize they are not alone, no matter how much they may feel they are. Oh, and parents? Reading YA can also be a great way for kids and parents to open dialog. Parents, find out what your kids are reading and read it, too. Start a conversation that doesn’t revolve around homework, messy bedrooms, and curfews. Experience YA. Discover your child. Get involved. Bond.

Tomorrow I’ll let you in on what I don’t care for in YA.  I hope you tune in.

The best book boyfriend ever, according to Charlotte Stine.

Hi, hi. What’s up? My name is Charlotte Stine from the novel, IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING, and I’m guest hosting J. (Jenny) Keller Ford’s blog for the next month or so along with my bestie, David (you met him yesterday.) There is so much I could talk about, but David said I should do what he did, and start off by telling you a little bit about myself first, so here goes.

I was born in Havendale General Hospital on April 1 sixteen years ago. I am an April Fools Day baby, and the joke is no longer funny (yeah, Cory, you heard me).  My dad is a retired Air Force Colonel which means I won’t date for the next 30 years. My mom bakes the best chocolate chip cookies in the entire world, and my brother, Dan, was a 1st Lieutenant in the Air Force before he went to Afghanistan. I won’t say anything more on the subject except this: I hate war and what it does to people. The whole idea of it sucks, and I think we, as the most intelligent species (that’s a highly debatable title in my opinion) on the planet needs to find a better way to get along. I mean, seriously. All this hate will put the world in a flame. Sheesh.

Anywho, I have a beagoodle (a poodle-beagle mutt) named Dixie, and this insane orange cat named Oscar. As for me, I’m just shy of 5’7″ and I have long brown hair that David says reminds him of melted milk chocolate, which is cool, as long as he doesn’t try to eat it. 🙂 I am a rhythmic gymnast and have won a few competitions, but I don’t do it for the trophies. I just love the sport. Hmm, what else. Oh, I’m a HUGE Taylor Swift and Adele fan, and Daemon is the best book boyfriend ever! Nom nom.

What do I want to be when I grow up? I don’t know. I used to think I wanted to be an attorney, but after everything David and I have been through, I’d be happy just being mommy and daddy’s little girl for a while longer. I can’t describe how much I miss them. I mean, as much as I hate my dad’s bark, I’d give anything to hear it right now. This place where David and I are right now is so messed up on so many levels. The food is awful, and the clothes are gross. I never thought I’d ever miss a pair of jeans and sneakers the way I do, so a word to all you complainers out there. Be thankful for what you’ve got, because the alternative is not always what you think it will be.

Now that I’ve told you a little about me, why not tell me a little about you? Do you have any questions, anything you want to know? Go ahead and ask because David and I don’t have a clue what you’re thinking, and it would be kind of dumb to guess.

So, until we meet again … Bye. *blows kisses*

The Perilous Journey of the Not-So-Innocuous Girl = Steampunk Awesome Birthday!



OMGosh, I finished this book last night and it is soooo good. I’m not going to say much more because my official review comes out on March 22, but if you love steampunk, and YA historical fiction with a twisty-twist, you’re going to love this one! I mean, look at that cover!  *Sigh*

Innoculous Girl



Publication date: March 17, 2015

Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.

Author: Leigh Statham

Lady Marguerite lives a life most 17th century French girls can only dream of: Money, designer dresses, suitors and a secure future. Except, she suspects her heart may be falling for her best friend Claude, a common smithie in the family’s steam forge. When Claude leaves for New France in search of a better life, Marguerite decides to follow him and test her suspicions of love. Only the trip proves to be more harrowing than she anticipated. Love, adventure and restitution await her, if she can survive the voyage.


There are quite a few peeps out there talking up this ever-so-awesome novel, so if you are so inclined, you can keep up with all of them here.


So, there’s not enough here to entice you to go out and grab a copy of this book? Check it out on Goodreads and see what people are saying.  As for me? I can’t say enough good stuff about this book. Leigh Statham is an author to watch.

Oh wait, who is Leigh Statham? *smacks forehead*.  Yes, well, I suppose it would be polite to introduce you to the author, duh.


Leigh Statham was raised in the wilds of rural Idaho, but found her heart in New York City. She worked as a waitress, maid, artist, math teacher, nurse, web designer, art director, thirty-foot inflatable pig and mule wrangler before she settled down in the semi-quiet role of wife, mother and writer. She resides in North Carolina with her husband, four children, five chickens and two suspected serial killer cats. If the air is cool and the sun is just coming up over the horizon, you can find her running the streets of her small town, plotting her next novel with the sort of intensity that will one day get her hit by a car.

Connect with the Author: Website |Twitter Facebook | Goodreads

Giveaway Information!!!

Oh, and I forgot to tell you! There’s a Giveaway involved in all this birthday celebration.  Yes, you have the chance to win your very own copy of this awesome book.

Winner will be drawn April 13, 2015

·        Three (3) winners will receive a physical copy of The Perilous Journey of the Not-So-Innocuous Girl by Leigh Statham (INT)

·        Three (3) winners will receive a digital copy of The Perilous Journey of the Not-So-Innocuous Girl by Leigh Statham (INT)

How do you enter?  Just follow the Rafflecopter Link

Of course, if you can’t wait and you have to have your copy now, that’s okay, too.  There are all kinds of Purchase Links:

Chapters Indigo | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | TBD |

Last but not least, head over to Leigh’s social media site and wish her and her novel a happy book birthday. She’d love to hear from you, and please, after reading her book, leave a review. It can be anonymous if you’re worried about seeing your name out there, but reviews help to spread the word and get other people to love the book as much as you did/do.  Show your author and book love with a review.

M9B Friday Reveal: Prologue for Nobody’s Goddess by Amy McNulty and Giveaway #M9BFridayReveals

My publisher, Month9Books has done it again!!  You’ve got to read this one!!


Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!

This week, we will be unveiling the prologue for

Nobody’s Goddess (The Never Veil #1) by Amy McNulty

presented by Month9Books!

Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

Nobody's Goddess

In a village of masked men, each loves only one woman and must follow the commands of his “goddess” without question. A woman may reject the only man who will love her if she pleases, but she will be alone forever. And a man must stay masked until his goddess returns his love—and if she can’t or won’t, he remains masked forever.

Where the rest of her village celebrates this mystery that binds men and women together, seventeen year old Noll is just done with it. She’s lost all her childhood friends as they’ve paired off, but the worst blow was when her closest companion, Jurij, finds his goddess in Noll’s own sister. Desperate to find a way to break this ancient spell, Noll instead discovers why no man has ever loved her: she is in fact the goddess of the mysterious lord of the village, a Byronic man who refuses to let Noll have her right as a woman to spurn him and who has the power to fight the curse. Thus begins a dangerous game between the two: the choice of woman versus the magic of man. And the stakes are no less than freedom and happiness, life and death—and neither Noll nor the veiled man is willing to lose.

add to goodreads

Title: Nobody’s Goddess (The Never Veil #1)
Publication date: April 21, 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Amy McNulty



When I had real friends, I was the long-lost queen of the elves.
A warrior queen who hitched up her skirt and wielded a blade. Who held her retainers in thrall. Until they left me for their goddesses.
Love. A curse that snatches friends away.
One day, when only two of my retainers remained, the old crone who lived on the northern outskirts of the village was our prey. It was twenty points if you spotted her. Fifty points if you got her to look at you. A hundred points if she started screaming at you.
You won for life if you got close enough to touch her.
“Noll, please don’t do this,” whispered Jurij from behind the wooden kitten mask covering his face. Really, his mother still put him in kitten masks, even though eleven was too old for a boy to be wearing kittens and bunnies. Especially ones that looked likely to get eaten for breakfast by as much as a weasel.
“Shut up, I want to see this!” cried Darwyn. Never a kitten, Darwyn always wore a wolf mask. Yet behind the nasty tooth-bearing wolf grin—one of my father’s better masks—he was very much a fraidycat.
Darwyn shoved Jurij aside so he could crouch behind the bush that was our threadbare cover. Jurij nearly toppled over, but I caught him and set him gently upright. Sometimes I didn’t know if Jurij realized who was supposed to be serving whom. Queens shouldn’t have to keep retainers from falling.
“Quiet, both of you.” I scanned the horizon. Nothing. All was still against the northern mountains save for the old crone’s musty shack with its weakly smoking chimney. The edges of my skirt had grazed the dusty road behind us, and I hitched it up some more so my mother wouldn’t notice later. If she didn’t want me to get the blasted thing dirty, she should have let me wear Jurij’s trousers, like I had been that morning. That got me a rap on the back of the head with a wooden spoon, a common occurrence when I was queen. It made me look too much like a boy, she scolded, and that would cause a panic.
“Are you going or not?” Darwyn was not one for patience.
“If you’re so eager, why don’t you go?” I snapped back.
Darwyn shook his wolf-head. “Oh, no, not me.”
I grinned. “That’s because you’re scared.”
Darwyn’s muffled voice grew louder. He stood beside me and puffed out his chest. “I am not! I’ve been in the commune.”
I poked toward his chest with Elgar, my trusty elf-blade. “Liar! You have not.”
Darwyn jumped back, evading my blow. “I have too! My uncle lives there!” He swatted his hand at Elgar. “Get that stick away from me.”
“It’s not a stick!” Darwyn never believed me when I said that Elgar was the blade of a warrior. It just happened to resemble a tree branch.
Jurij’s quiet voice entered the fray. “Your uncle lives there? That’s awful.” I was afraid he might cry and the tears would get caught up in the black material that covered his eyes. I didn’t want him to drown behind the wooden kitty face. He’d vanish into thin air like everyone else did when they died, and then we’d be staring down at Jurij’s clothes and the little kitten mask on the ground, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from giggling. Some death for a warrior.
Darwyn shrugged and ran a hand over his elbow. “He moved in there before I was born. I think a weaver lady was his goddess. It’s not so strange. Didn’t your aunt send her man there, Jurij?”
Jurij was sniffling. Sniffling. He tried to rub at his nose, but every time he moved the back of his hand up to his face, it just clunked against the button that represented the kitten’s nose.
I sighed and patted Jurij on the back. “A queen’s retainer must never cry, Jurij.”
Darwyn laughed. “Are you still playing that? You’re no queen, Noll!”
I stopped patting Jurij and balled my hands into fists. “Be quiet, Darwyn! You used to play it, too!”
Darwyn put two fingers over his wolf-mask mouth, a gesture we had long ago decided would stand for the boys sticking out their tongues. Although Darwyn was the only one who ever did it as of late. “Like I’d want to do what some girl tells me! Girls aren’t even blessed by love!”
“Of course they are!” It was my turn to put the two fingers over my mouth. I had a tongue, but a traitorous retainer like Darwyn wasn’t worthy of the effort it took to stick it out. “Just wait until you find your goddess, and then we’ll see! If she turns out to be me, I’ll make sure you rot away in the commune with the rest of the unloved men.”
Darwyn lunged forward and tackled me. My head dragged against the bush before it hit the ground, but it still hurt; I could feel the swelling underneath the tangled knots in my hair. Elgar snapped as I tried to get a grip on my attacker. I kicked and shoved him, and for a moment, I won the upper hand and rolled on top of him, almost punching him in the face. Remembering the mask, I settled for giving him a good smack in the side, but then he kicked upward and caught me in the chest, sending me backward.
“Stop!” pleaded Jurij. He was standing between us now, the little timid kitten watching first one friend and then the other, like we were a dangling string in motion.
“Stay out of this!” Darwyn jumped to his feet and pointed at me. “She thinks she’s so high and mighty, and she’s not even someone’s goddess yet!”
“I’m only twelve, idiot! How many goddesses are younger than thirteen?” A few, but not many. I scrambled to my feet and sent my tongue out at him. It felt good knowing he couldn’t do the same to me, after all. My head ached. I didn’t want him to see the tears forming in my eyes, though, so I ground my teeth once I drew my tongue inward.
“Yeah, well, it’ll be horrible for whoever finds the goddess in you!” Darwyn made to lunge at me again, but this time Jurij shoved both his hands at Darwyn’s chest to stop him.
“Just stop,” commanded Jurij. Finally. That was a good retainer.
My eyes wandered to the old crone’s cottage. No sign of her. How could she fail to hear the epic struggle outside her door? Maybe she wasn’t real. Maybe just seeing her was worth twenty points after all.
“Get out of my way, you baby!” shouted Darwyn. “So what happens if I pull off your mask when your queen is looking, huh? Will you die?”
His greedy fingers reached toward Jurij’s wooden animal face. Even from behind, I could see the mask tip dangerously to one side, the strap holding it tightly against Jurij’s dark curls shifting. The strap broke free, flying up over his head.
My mouth opened to scream. My hands reached up to cover my eyes. My eyelids strained to close, but it felt as if the moment had slowed and I could never save him in time. Such simple things. Close your eyes. Cover your eyes. Scream.
A dark, dirty shawl went flying onto the bush that we had ruined during our fight.
I came back to life. My head and Darwyn’s wolf mask spun toward the source of the sound. As my head turned, I saw—even though I knew better than to look—Jurij crumple to the ground, clinging both arms across his face desperately because his life depended on it.
“Your eyes better be closed, girl!” The old crone bellowed. Her own eyes were squeezed together.
I jumped and shut my eyes tightly.
“Hold that shawl tightly over your face, boy, until you can wear your mask properly!” screamed the old crone. “Off with you both, boys! Now! Off with you!”
I heard Jurij and Darwyn scrambling, the rustle of the bush and the stomps of their boots as they fled, panting. I thought I heard a scream—not from Jurij, but from Darwyn. He was the real fraidycat. An old crone was no match for the elf queen’s retainers. But the queen herself was far braver. So I told myself over and over in my head.
When the last of their footsteps faded away, and I was sure that Jurij was safe from my stare, I looked.
Eyes. Huge, bulbous, dark brown eyes. Staring directly into mine.
The crone’s face was so close I could smell the shriveled decay from her mouth. She grabbed me by the shoulders, shaking me. “What were you thinking? You held that boy’s life in your hands! Yet you stood there like a fool, just starin’ as his mask came off.”
My heart beat faster, and I gasped for more air, but I wanted to avoid inhaling her stench. “I’m sorry, Ingrith,” I mumbled. I thought if I used her real name, if I let her lecture me like all the other adults, it would help me break free from her grasp. I twisted and pulled, but I couldn’t bring myself to touch her. I had this notion that if I touched her, my fingers would decay.
“Sorry is just a word. Sorry changes nothing.”
“Let me go.” I could still feel her dirty nails on my skin.
“You watch yourself, girl.”
“Let me go!”
The crone’s lips grew tight and puckered. Her fingers relaxed ever so slightly. “You children don’t realize. The lord is watching. Always watching—”
I knew what she was going to say, the words so familiar to me that I knew them as well as if they were my own. “And he will not abide villagers who forget the first goddess’s teachings.” The sentence seemed to loosen the crone’s fingers. She opened her mouth to speak, but I broke free and ran.
My eyes fell to the grass below my feet as I cut across the fields to get away from the monster. On the borders of the eastern woods was a lone cottage, home of Gideon the woodcarver, a warm and comfortable place so much fuller of life than the shack I left behind me. When I was near the woods, I could look up freely since the trees blocked the eastern mountains from view. But until I got closer …
“Noll! Wait up!”
My eyes snapped upward on instinct. I saw the upper boughs of the trees and almost screamed, my gaze falling back to the grass beneath my feet. I stopped running and let the gentle rustlings of footsteps behind me catch up.
“Jurij, please.” I sighed and turned around to face him, my eyes still on the grass and the pair of small dark boots that covered his feet. Somehow he managed to step delicately through the grass, not disturbing a single one of the lilies that covered the hilltops. “Don’t scare me like that. I almost looked at the castle.”
The toe of Jurij’s boot dug a little into the dirt. “Oh. Sorry.”
“Is your mask on?”
The boot stopped moving, and the tip of a black shawl dropped into my view. “Oh. Yeah.”
I shook my head and raised my eyes. There was no need to fear looking up to the west. In the distance, the mountains that encircled our village soared far beyond the western fields of crops. I liked the mountains. From the north, the south, and the west, they embraced our village with their jagged peaks. In the south, they watched over our fields of livestock. In the north, they towered above a quarry for copper and stone. And in the east, they led home and to the woods. But no girl or woman could ever look up when facing the east. Like the faces of men and boys before their Returnings, just a glance at the castle that lay beyond the woods against the eastern mountains spelled doom. The earth would shake and threaten to consume whoever broke the commandment not to look.
It made walking home a bit of a pain, to say the least.
“Tell me something important like that before you sneak up on me.”
Jurij’s kitten mask was once again tight against his face, if askew. The strap was a bit tangled in his dark curls and the pointed tip of one of his ears. “Right. Sorry.”
He held out the broken pieces of Elgar wrapped in the dirty black shawl. He seemed very retainer-like. I liked that. “I went to give this back to the—the lady. She wasn’t there, but you left Elgar.”
I snatched the pieces from Jurij’s hands. “You went back to the shack? What were you going to say? ‘Sorry we were spying on you pretending you were a monster, thanks for the dirty old rag?’”
“No.” Jurij crumpled up the shawl and tucked it under his belt. A long trail of black cloth tumbled out immediately, making Jurij look like he had on half a skirt.
I laughed. “Where’s Darwyn?”
Of course. I found out later that Darwyn had whined straight to his mother that “nasty old Noll” almost knocked his mask off. It was a great way to get noticed when you had countless brothers and a smitten mother and father standing between you and any form of attention. But it didn’t have the intended effect on me. I was used to lectures, and besides, there was something more important bothering me by then.
I picked up my feet to carry me back home.
Jurij skipped forward to join me. One of his boots stumbled as we left the grasses behind and hit the dirt path. “What happened with you and the crone?”
I gripped the pieces of Elgar tighter in my fist. “Nothing.” I stopped, relieved that we’d finally gotten close enough to the woods that I could face forward. I put an arm on Jurij’s shoulder to stop him. “But I touched her.” Or she touched me. “That means I win forever.”
The kitten face cocked a little sideways. “You always win.”
“Of course. I’m the queen.” I tucked the broken pieces of Elgar into my apron sash. Elgar was more of a title, bestowed on an endless number of worthy sticks, but in those days I wouldn’t have admitted that to Jurij. “Come on. I’ll give you a head start. Race you to the cavern!”
“The cavern? But it’s—”
“Too late! Your head start’s over!” I kicked my feet up and ran as if that was all my legs knew how to do. The cool breeze slapping across my face felt lovely as it flew inside my nostrils and mouth. I rushed past my home, not bothering to look inside the open door.
“Stop! Stop! Noll, you stop this instant!”
The words were something that could easily come out of a mother’s mouth, but Mother had a little more patience than that. And her voice didn’t sound like a fragile little bird chirping at the sun’s rising. “Noll!”
I was just an arm’s length from the start of the trees, but I stopped, clutching the sharp pain that kicked me in the side.
“Oh dear!” Elfriede walked out of our house, the needle and thread she was no doubt using to embroider some useless pattern on one of the aprons still pinched between two fingers. My sister was a little less than a year older than me, but to my parents’ delight (and disappointment with me), she was a hundred times more responsible.
“Boy, your mask!” Elfriede never did learn any of my friends’ names. Not that I could tell her Roslyn from her Marden, either. One giggling, delicate bird was much like another.
She walked up to Jurij, who had just caught up behind me. She covered her eyes with her needle-less hand, but I could see her peeking between her fingers. I didn’t think that would actually protect him if the situation were as dire as she seemed to think.
“It’s crooked.” Elfriede’s voice was hoarse, almost trembling. I rolled my eyes.
Jurij patted his head with both hands until he found the bit of the strap stuck on one of his ears. He pulled it down and twisted the mask until it lined up evenly.
I could hear Elfriede’s sigh of relief from where I was standing. She let her fingers fall from her face. “Thank the goddess.” She considered Jurij for a moment. “There’s a little tear in your strap.”
Without asking, she closed the distance between them and began sewing the small tear even as the mask sat on his head. From how tall she stood above him, she might have been ten years older instead of only two.
I walked back toward them, letting my hands fall. “Don’t you think that’s a little stupid? What if the mask slips while you’re doing that?”
Elfriede’s cheeks darkened and she yanked the needle up, pulling her instrument free of the thread and tucking the extra bit into the mask strap. She stood back and glared at me. “Don’t you talk to me about being stupid, Noll. All that running isn’t safe when you’re with boys. Look how his mask was moving.”
His mask had moved for even more dangerous reasons than a little run, but I knew better than to tell tattletale Elfriede that. “How would you know what’s safe when you’re with boys? You’re already thirteen, and no one has found the goddess in you!” Darwyn’s taunt was worth reusing, especially since I knew my sister would be more upset about it than I ever was.
Elfriede bit her lip. “Go ahead and kill your friends, then, for all I care!” The bird wasn’t so beautiful and fragile where I was concerned.
She retreated into the house and slammed the door behind her. I wrapped my hand around Jurij’s arm, pulling him eastward. “Come on. Let’s go. There’re bound to be more monsters in the cavern.”
Jurij didn’t give beneath my pull. He wouldn’t move.
I knew right then, somewhere in my mind, what had happened. But I was twelve. And Jurij was my last real friend. I knew he’d leave me one day like the others, but on some level, I didn’t really believe it yet.
Jurij stood stock still, even as I wrenched my arm harder and harder to get him to move.
“Oh for—Jurij!” I yelled, dropping my hands from his arm in frustration. “Ugh. I wish I was your goddess just so I could get you to obey me. Even if that means I’d have to put up with all that—yuck—smooching.” I shivered at the thought.
At last Jurij moved, if only to lift his other arm, to run his fingers across the strap that Elfriede had mended. She was gone from my sight, but Jurij would never see another.
It struck them all. Sometime around Jurij’s age, the boys’ voices cracked, shifting from high to deep and back again in a matter of a few words. They went from little wooden-faced animals always shorter than you to young men on their way to towering over you. And one day, at one moment, at some age, earlier for some and later for others, they looked at a girl they’d probably seen thousands of times before and simply ceased to be. At least, they weren’t who I knew them to be ever again.
And as with so many of my friends before Jurij, in that moment all other girls ceased to matter. I was nothing to him now, an afterthought, a shadow, a memory.
Not him.
My dearest, my most special friend of all, now doomed to live or die by the choice of the fragile little bird who’d stopped to mend his strap.



Amy McNulty

Amy McNulty is a freelance writer and editor from Wisconsin with an honors degree in English. She was first published in a national scholarly journal (The Concord Review) while in high school and currently spends her days alternatively writing on business and marketing topics and primarily crafting stories with dastardly villains and antiheroes set in fantastical medieval settings.

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