quotes Elisquared likes


"Saying 'I notice you're a nerd' is like saying, 'Hey, I notice that you'd rather be intelligent than be stupid, that you'd rather be thoughtful than be vapid, that you believe that there are things that matter more than the arrest record of Lindsay Lohan. Why is that?' In fact, it seems to me that most contemporary insults are pretty lame. Even 'lame' is kind of lame. Saying 'You're lame' is like saying 'You walk with a limp.' Yeah, whatever, so does 50 Cent, and he's done all right for himself."— John Green

1.13.2020

BLOG TOUR --- Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez [Review + Giveaway]




Title: Woven in Moonlight
Authors(s): Isabel Ibañez
Publication Date: January 7, 2020
Edition: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook; 384 pgs
Publisher: Page Street Kids
Source: Rockstar Book Tours
Buy: Amazon - Kindle - AudibleBarnes & Noble  - iBooks - Kobo The Book Depository 
Disclaimer: I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts and opinions are my own.






Tour Schedule




Week One

1/6/2020 - BookHounds YA - Excerpt 
1/6/2020 - Nay's Pink Bookshelf - Review 
1/7/2020 - Do You Dog-ear? - Review 
1/7/2020 - Ramblings of a Book Nerd - Review 
1/8/2020 - Kait Plus Books - Excerpt 
1/8/2020 - Cuz I’m a Nerd - Review 
1/9/2020 - Life Within The Pages - Review 
1/9/2020 - Smada's Book Smack - Review 
1/10/2020 - Fictitiouswonderland - Review 
1/10/2020 - fictitious.fox - Review 

Week Two
1/13/2020 - Eli to the nth - Review 
1/13/2020 - Lifestyle of Me - Review 
1/14/2020 - Here's to Happy Endings - Review 
1/14/2020 - Not In Jersey - Review 
1/15/2020 - Fire and Ice - Review 
1/15/2020 - Popthebutterfly Reads - Review 
1/16/2020 - Portrait of a Book - Review 
1/16/2020 - History from a Woman’s Perspective - Review 
1/17/2020 - Two Points of Interest - Review 
1/17/2020 - dwantstoread - Review 


The Summary



A lush tapestry of magic, romance, and revolución, drawing inspiration from Bolivian politics and history.

Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.

When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.

She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princess, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge—and her Condesa.

PRAISE FOR WOVEN IN MOONLIGHT
“Isabel Ibanez brings a modern story to an ancient world in her debut novel, Woven in Moonlight. With immersive prose, original magic, and characters as rich as the Bolivian culture that constructs the story, Ibanez delivers a wholly unique book for the YA shelf.”
— Adrienne Young, NYT Bestselling author of Sky in the Deep and The Girl the Sea Gave Back

Woven in Moonlight captured me on the first page. Ximena is a fierce and brave heroine—one I have deeply come to love—and the world of Inkasisa is so beautifully rendered I never wanted to leave it. Plot twists abound, the magic is uniquely drawn, and intrigue illuminates the pages. Isabel Ibanez weaves together a spellbinding, vivid debut.”
— Rebecca Ross, author of The Queen's Rising and The Queen's Resistance

“A story that glitters as bright as Ximena’s moondust, set in a wholly immersive world that’s both whimsical and deadly. With its slow burn romance and simmering intrigue, Woven In Moonlight kept me reading long into the night. Isabel Ibañez writes pure magic.”
— Shelby Mahurin, NYT Bestselling author of Serpent & Dove

Woven in Starlight is a lush, vibrant feast of a book, set in a world as colorful and inventive as the fierce heroine’s magical tapestries. I could have remained lost in its pages forever.”
— Margaret Rogerson, NYT Bestselling author of An Enchantment of Ravens and Sorcery of Thorns

“A page-turning tale of revolution and love, helmed by a brave heroine with a big heart and set against a vibrant tapestry of Bolivian culture. Isabel Ibañez weaves magic in her debut novel.”
— Amélie Wen Zhao, author of Blood Heir
My Review

A spell-binding tale of revenge and political subterfuge, Woven in Moonlight isn't all the it seems to be at first glance.  With a delicate, and sometimes brutal hand, Isabel Ibañez creates a complicated tale of love, community, and magic.

Based on the history and culture of Bolivia, the country of Ibañez's family, Woven in Moonlight sings with the art and food, oh man the food, of the Bolivian people, all set in the rich fantasy land of Inkasisa.  This immersion into the world of Inkasisa was what hooked me.  Fantastical in the familiar, as I have no point of reference of Bolivian history and heritage, learning about the food, the art, and the language through a fantasy world made me more interested in learning about the real world experiences.

As I mentioned above, the food...oh the food.  This was a love story to food, particularly Bolivian food.  It was such a great vehicle to show the love of a culture, and mouth-watering to boot.  I'm talking pasankallas,  marraquetas, salteñas, and so much more.  There is a glossary page dedicated to just the food in the book, that's how important the food is within the story. 

Creating an atmosphere to the world paints a picture of what the two groups in the story find worth fighting over.  Ibañez writes so lyrically that you can see the setting and the characters painted on the inside of your eyelids.  With the beautiful setting comes organic, layered, fascinating characters; none more so than the main character Ximena.  Our narrator for this tale, we follow Ximena's journey from street orphan to decoy Condesa.  Fiercely loyal to her family, made of the last surviving Illustrian royal, and her people, Ximena has everything laid on her shoulders.  And she finds out that not everything is as black and white as she was raised to believe.

A love story to Bolivia and an amazing fantasy in its own right, Woven in Moonlight will cast a spell and keep you within it's rays until the very end.

Final Rating


Excerpt

Chapter One


My banged-up spoon scrapes the bottom of a barrel that should’ve held enough dried beans to last for three more months.
No, no, no.
There has to be more.
Sickness churns my stomach, and my knuckles brush against bare wood as I coax a handful of shriveled beans into a half-empty bag. I wipe dirty hands against my white trousers and ignore the sweat dripping down my neck. The kingdom of Inkasisa is in the middle of her stifling wet season. Even though it’s night, there’s no escaping the muggy heat.
“Something wrong, Condesa?” asks the next person in line waiting for their ration.
Yes, in fact. We’re all going to starve. Not that I can say this out loud. It goes against everything I know to do as their leader: A condesa should never show fear.
I school my features into what I hope is a pleasant expression, then turn to face the long line of Illustrians waiting for their evening portions. Drawn faces stare back at me. White clothes hang off gaunt frames, loose and big like the tents the Illustrians sleep in next to the keep.
My whole life, I’ve trained for situations like this: manage expectations, soothe people’s worries, feed them. It’s the condesa’s job.
We’re standing in the round storage building with the door propped open, allowing for people to crowd around as I sort through the provisions. Luna’s light casts rectangular patterns on the dozens of empty barrels piled on their sides, while a rickety wooden staircase leads up to the armory housing swords, shields, and bundled arrows. All we could carry when we fled for our lives the day La Ciudad Blanca fell.
What would Ana, our general, want me to say? Manage them. You’re in charge. Don’t forget what’s at stake. We need to survive until we can take back the throne.
I glance at the door, half expecting to find Ana’s broad shoulders leaning against the frame, moonlight reflecting off the silver wisps in her hair. But she’s not there. Ana left four days ago on a mission to chase a rumor about Atoc, the false Llacsan king—a rumor that, if true, guarantees our victory.
She promised to be back by yesterday.
An arm brushes against mine. Catalina, silently reminding me of her presence. The knot in my chest unwinds slightly. I forgot she was standing behind me, ever helpful.
“Bring me the wheat, por favor.” I gesture toward the wall the barrels of rations are lined against. “And the cloth bags over on that shelf.”
She obeys, grabbing the supplies off the shelf first and handing them to me, her dark eyes lowered. Then she darts toward the barrel.
“Condesa?” a woman asks. “Is this all that’s left?”
I hesitate; the lie waiting on the tip of my tongue tastes sour and wrong. My gaze returns to the dwindling piles of food at my feet: husked corn, a half-filled bag of rice, and an almost empty basket of bread. Not nearly enough.
A lie won’t feed all these people.
“We’re short on some supplies,” I say with a tight smile. “No beans, I’m afraid, but—”
Next to me Catalina stiffens, pausing in her attempt to drag the wheat barrel to my side. Normally it takes the effort of two people, but somehow she manages by herself. Which means this barrel isn’t full either.
The woman’s mouth drops open. “No beans? ¿No hay comida?”
“That’s not what I said.” I force my smile to remain in place as I come to a split-second decision—our best and only option. “We have to be careful with what we have. So here’s what’s going to happen: Starting immediately, everyone will receive less than half their usual ration, per family. I know it’s not ideal, but it’s either that or we starve,” I say bluntly. “Your pick.”
Voices rise up.
“Less than half?”
“Not ideal?”
Another woman shouts, “How can there be no food left?”
A headache presses against my temple. “We do have some food—”
But the woman’s words travel down the line, catching fire in the dark, until fifty people clamor for attention, wanting answers, wanting their rations. They wave their empty baskets in the air. Their loud cries boom like thunder in my ears. I want to duck for cover. But if I don’t do something, I’m going to have a full-blown riot on my hands.
“Reassure them,” Catalina hisses.
“I can’t offer what we don’t have,” I whisper. Catalina shoots me a meaningful look. A condesa should know how to maintain control of any situation. “I’m doing my job. You do yours.”
“Your job is my job,” she snaps.
The people’s cries swell, bouncing off the walls and threatening to strike me down. “¡Comida! ¡Comida!” The crowd stomps their feet and pushes in, hot breath brushing against my face like heavy smoke. I fight the impulse to step back.
Someone in the crowd yells for El Lobo, and I tense, hoping no one else sings that stupid vigilante’s praises. Every time something goes wrong, someone inevitably brings up the man in the mask. The trickster.
“El Lobo can help us—”
“He steals from Atoc’s coffers all the time—”
“He’s the hero of Inkasisa—”
Oh, for goodness sake. He’s a man in a ridiculous mask. Even my niñera could prank that puffed-up idiotic pretend king. And she was eighty the last time I saw her.
“We want El Lobo!” someone shouts.
“Lobo! Lobo!”
“That’s enough!” My voice rings out, sharp as the edge of a blade. “No one speaks his name in my presence, understood? He’s a scoundrel who plays pranks on the false king. That kind of reckless behavior could get us killed. The vigilante is dangerous and not one of us.”
Someone throws a rock at a window. Glass shatters, and moonlight-touched shards fly everywhere. Faces blur as my vision darkens and I can only make out hints of mottled cheeks and flailing arms as the crowd bellows for the vigilante. They press forward until Catalina and I are almost backed against the wall.
“Condesa,” Catalina says, her eyes wide and frantic.
My mouth goes dry. The words don’t come. I glance at the empty doorway, willing Ana to appear. But more people push into the building.
“I need . . . ” I begin.
¿Qué? ¡Más fuerte!”
“I need you all to remain calm,” I say louder. “Shouting or throwing rocks won’t fix the—”
Their protests grow louder and louder until I can’t distinguish what they’re saying. My legs wobble, and it takes every ounce of will left in me just to remain upright. It’s not supposed to be like this. Ten years ago my people were the aristócratas of Inkasisa. But our way of life, our culture, is gone, like pages torn from a book. No more visits to the plaza to hear live music while strolling with friends in our long skirts and fancy leather shoes. Or walking Cala Cala, the prettiest path overlooking La Ciudad, where you can pick figs and peaches while enjoying the vista. Birthday fiestas are a thing of the past, existing only in my memory, but sometimes I can still taste my abuela’s torta de nuez, a rich walnut cake smothered in creamed coffee and dulce de leche.
Another rock sails toward a window, jarring me from my thoughts. Shards of splintering glass ring in my ear. My nerves threaten to eat me from the inside out. An empty feeling in the pit of my stomach makes my head spin.
Catalina touches my arm and steps in front of me. “What the condesa means is that we have a plan to get more food underway. For now we have plenty. Everyone will receive the usual amount.”
I cut her a warning look, but Catalina ignores me. So does everyone else. Her words work like a balm over a blistering wound. The crowd quiets and holds out their baskets, mollified, shuffling around her like chickens clucking for feed.
“Why don’t you all step back in line and I’ll sort out the food? Have you on your way so that you can put your children to bed, and have something to cook for your families tomorrow, all right?”
They file into a straight line like obedient schoolchildren. I step away from Catalina, my shoulders slumping. They don’t want me or the bad news I carry. I can’t give them what they need, so I give them what they want instead—Catalina. Their friend.
Something I can’t be as their supposed queen.
She knocks the lid off the barrel at my elbow and scoops up a handful of wheat. “Who’s first?”
Catalina distributes heaping portions of wheat and bundles of husked corn until only a smattering of provisions remain. Then she reaches for the barrels that contain the last of our supplies—for emergencies only.
I stand off to the side, my fists clenched and my mouth shut. I can’t manage a polite smile even if I try. Ana normally leads undercover raids to La Ciudad to steal food, but since she’s not back, who knows how long it’ll be before we get more supplies? At the rate Catalina’s giving out rations, we have mere days left. And just who does she think they’ll come after when everyone discovers how close to starving we are?
Certainly not to their friend.
Catalina spares me a brief glance, then she picks up a small bowl by her feet filled with a handful of dried beans, ground wheat, and an ear of corn. Her own ration she set aside earlier. She hands it to the next person in line.
“I need air,” I say curtly. Without looking at her, I head toward the door. The remaining crowd parts so I can pass. Glass crunches underneath the soles of my leather boots. I avert my gaze from their watchful eyes, but I feel their disappointment anyway.
      
The condesa has let them down
.
Copyright © 2020 by Isabel Ibañez

About the Author

Isabel Ibañez was born in Boca Raton, Florida, and is the proud daughter of two Bolivian immigrants. A true word nerd, she received her degree in creative writing and has been a Pitch Wars mentor for three years. Isabel is an avid movie goer and loves hosting family and friends around the dinner table. She currently lives in Winter Park, Florida, with her husband, their adorable dog, and a serious collection of books. Say hi on social media at @IsabelWriter09




Giveaway
3 winners will win a finished copy of WOVEN IN MOONLIGHT, US Only.



1.10.2020

BLOG TOUR --- Lucky Caller by Emma Mills [Review + Giveaway]




Title: Lucky Caller
Authors(s): Emma Mills
Publication Date: January 14, 2020
Edition: Hardcover, ebook; 336 pgs
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Source: Rockstar Book Tours
Buy: Amazon - Kindle - Barnes & Noble  - iBooks - Kobo The Book Depository 
Disclaimer: I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts and opinions are my own.





Tour Schedule


Week One:
1/6/2020 - Mary Had a Little Book Blog - Review 
1/6/2020 - onemused - Review 
1/7/2020 - Do You Dog-ear? - Review 
1/7/2020 - BookHounds YA - Interview 
1/8/2020 - Kait Plus Books - Review 
1/8/2020 - Nerdophiless - Review 
1/9/2020 - Not In Jersey - Review 
1/9/2020 - She Just Loves Books - Review 
1/10/2020 - Lifestyle of Me - Review 
1/10/2020 - Eli to the nth - Review 

Week Two:
1/13/2020 - Smada's Book Smack - Review 
1/13/2020 - Wonder Struck - Review 
1/14/2020 - Fictitiouswonderland - Review 
1/14/2020 - A Dream Within A Dream - Guest Post 
1/15/2020 - The Heart of a Book Blogger - Review 
1/15/2020 - Fire and Ice - Review 
1/16/2020 - DJREADSBOOKS - Review 
1/16/2020 - A Bookish Dream - Review 
1/17/2020 - Rants and Raves of a Bibliophile - Review 
1/17/2020 - Two Chicks on Books - Interview


The Summary


With the warmth, wit, intimate friendships, and heart-melting romance she brings to all her books, Emma Mills crafts a story about believing in yourself, owning your mistakes, and trusting in human connection in Lucky Caller.

When Nina decides to take a radio broadcasting class her senior year, she expects it to be a walk in the park. Instead, it’s a complete disaster.


The members of Nina's haphazardly formed radio team have approximately nothing in common. And to maximize the awkwardness her group includes Jamie, a childhood friend she'd hoped to basically avoid for the rest of her life.


The show is a mess, internet rumors threaten to bring the wrath of two fandoms down on their heads, and to top it all off Nina's family is on the brink of some major upheaval.


Everything feels like it's spiraling out of control―but maybe control is overrated?


PRAISE FOR LUCKY CALLER


"A well-crafted, bittersweet comedy of errors filled with realistically flawed characters and taut, witty dialogue." - Publishers Weekly Starred Review

My Review

Another adorable tale crafted by one of the fast becoming, quintessential YA contemporary authors, Emma Mills hits it out of the park with her love story full of broadcast radio, make believe games, and the journey to find out where you fit.

This book, like all of Mills' books, was perfectly engrossing.  Mills' witty dialogue, both internal and external, suck you into the story immediately (check out the excerpt below).  The writing feels like it's being utter by actual teenagers, rather than ones you find on tv.  The exchanges are quick or measured, as needed, the pace found when you're relaxing with your best friend or in the most-awkward-kill-me-now situations.  I love when I can hear the characters in my head while reading, coming alive as I follow along.

Each of Mills' characters stood on their own, and were all different enough to be memorable within a larger cast.  Nina and Jaime were adorable, and a little hopeless/hapless, but fully real.  Frustrating misunderstandings and delightful acts of bravery make this dynamic one you are immediately invested in.  Jaime is one of those male characters that is so sweet it makes you say "Oh book boyfriend!", and Nina is for sure bestie material with her sly comments and relatable human garbage aura (paraphrasing here --- Nina is too hard on herself).

I always love my contemporary with a side of family, and Nina's family delivers that wonderfully.  While not the main focus, they are all there to shape and support Nina as she journey's through some interesting times in the last semester of her senior year.  Her oldest sister, Rose, is in the midst of her first year of college, while the youngest sister, Sidney, is breaking through into 8th grade stardom.  Each sister is on her own path to "self-discovery", which may sound hokey, but that's why the young adult years are deemed a coming of age period; pivotal life events happen, from something tiny to something huge.  

The setting for the book is actually really interesting, and something I didn't think would work.  Nina is taking a broadcast radio elective as something easy and fun for her last semester.  Radio isn't something that's highly talked about in present society; most people listen to Spotify or podcasts nowadays, so you rarely hear about radio stations.  But I didn't feel like the setting was dated.  The class instructor does mention that the skills could be utilized for a podcast, but I think what really clinched it not feeling out of place was the sense of community the radio class brought.  The school has it's own radio station, so these are fellow students broadcasting out into the world and tuning in for the shows.  This format also gives Mills the opportunity to show personality to her characters without it being a list of "facts about me".  It also sets up a comedy of errors that you have to read to believe.  It's hilarious, and the culmination is just so satisfying.

I've only touch on some of the things I loved about this book, but I think this quote really sums up my feelings on it: "We were an ongoing moment---one I hoped I would never see the end of."  Life is a series of ongoing moments, some people come in and others go out, but you keep moving forward.  And that is what makes Nina's story your story.


Final Rating



Excerpt



IT WAS CHRISTMAS, AND DAN was in the middle of proposing to my mom when there was a knock at the door.

All five of us looked that way—me, Mom, Dan, my sisters Rose and Sidney, all of our heads swiveled en masse like something from one of those Golden Age musicals that Sid made us watch sometimes. Like we were a “five six seven eight” away from breaking into a tap number.

“Is this…?” Mom looked a little confused when I glanced back her way. Confused but happy—she still looked really happy.

“No.” Dan frowned from where he was standing in the middle of our apartment’s living room/dining room combo. My mom was in one of the chairs by the window, which we had pushed to the side to accommodate our little artificial tree. “Not … part of it.”

Mom let out a laugh, her hand flying up to her face. “Uh-oh.”

The knock sounded again, gentle but insistent.

“Should I—” Rose went to stand.

“Nina’s closer,” Sidney pointed out.

“Yes, Nina, please.” Mom grinned at Dan. He looked flustered but grinned back anyway.

I stood and went to the door.

Until this moment, nothing about the engagement had come as a surprise. The truth was, Dan had—albeit awkwardly—asked for “permission” from Rose, Sidney, and me a few days prior. It was oddly endearing, putting aside the notion of my mom somehow belonging to us and needing our approval to remarry.

Though Mom, too, had asked for our permission in a way, without formally asking for it, even before Dan had. She had taken us to Lincoln Square, the breakfast place near our apartment building, to celebrate the start of Christmas vacation and had cut her pancakes into increasingly small pieces, fiddled around with her napkin for a while, and eventually said, apropos of nothing:

“Dan and I are thinking.”

“Wow, I had no idea you guys had achieved telepathic communication,” Rose had replied, because Dan wasn’t out with us at the time, and also because, despite it being exactly the kind of thing that any one of us would say, as the oldest, Rose often got there first.

“Dan and I are thinking—” Mom repeated, really hitting the word to imply that the rest of the thought would be coming momentarily, “—about our future together. About all of our futures together. And we were thinking—we’ve been talking—about…” Historically, Mom would get more and more measured the more uncertain she was of how to approach something. By this point, each word was treated to its own sentence: “The. Idea. Of. Us. Getting. Married.”

Sidney looked up from her southwest scramble. “Married?”

“Yes.”

“Like, in a church?”

“Probably not.”

“Like, white dress, something borrowed, the Dantist is our stepdad now?”

“You know how I feel about that nickname.”

“There’s nothing mean about it,” Rose said. “It’s a portmanteau. His name is Dan, and he’s a dentist. If anything, it’s efficient.”

“Why does Dan have to be defined by his career?”

“Why does his career have to fit so seamlessly with his name?” was my contribution.

“Nina.”

“Mom.”

She sighed. Picked up her fork and speared one of the minuscule pancake pieces. Rose’s phone was on the table, and it vibrated once, and then again, in the silence. A freshman in college, Rose’s semester had ended a week earlier than mine and Sidney’s, and she had gotten a flurry of texts from high school friends over the last few days, people coming back into town for break. She looked like she wanted to reach for the phone, but she didn’t. Mom had a forks up, phones down policy. The fact that it was even on the table was a direct violation, but I think Mom must’ve been too distracted to really care. Now I knew why.

“How do we feel?” she said eventually.

“Sleepy,” Sidney replied.

Mom looked toward the ceiling. “How do we feel about Dan and me?”

“Oh, that,” Sidney said, and then grinned at me. At thirteen, she was the baby of the family. We let her get away with too much.

“We feel…” Rose paused. She could be measured like Mom sometimes. “Okay. Right?” She looked from me to Sidney. “We feel okay? About Mom and the”—Mom opened her mouth to speak—“Dan making it official?”

The Dantist, or Dr. Dan Hubler, DDS, was twelve years older than Mom. He always wore khakis. He made his own almond milk. He and my mom had met online just over a year ago.

It wasn’t the first time she’d dated since our parents split up—it had been almost ten years since they divorced. But it was the first time that it seemed like … something substantial, I guess. It was the first time that she seemed settled, and not in a bad way. Just in a way where she never acted any different around Dan than she did around us. She still seemed completely herself with him—still laughed as loud, still got just as exasperated sometimes.

Rose looked pointedly at me and Sidney when we didn’t answer, and Sidney bobbed her head and said, “Sure, I guess,” around a mouthful of eggs and bell peppers. I didn’t respond. Just divided a piece of pancake in half with my fork and then halved it again. I guess I came by it naturally.

Truthfully, I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt. I knew that Mom would be happy. I knew that I liked Dan well enough. But it had seemed abstract there in the booth at Lincoln Square, and even still when Dan had asked us afterward. Like something hypothetical.

But now here we were, in the middle of the afternoon on Christmas. Mom had found the box that “Santa” snuck under the tree after lunch, and it was right in the middle of happening—of becoming something entirely … thetical—when I swung open our front door to see who had unknowingly interrupted the start of this very real engagement.

It turned out to be Mrs. Russell, an older lady who lived a couple floors down. She used to babysit us after school when we were younger. Her grandson, Jamie, was in my class at school, and he lived with her and Mr. Russell.

She was holding a loaf of something wrapped in red cellophane with a silver bow stuck on top, and she smiled at me, eyes crinkling at the edges behind plastic lilac-colored frames.

“Hello, Nina! Merry Christmas!”

“Hi…” Saying Mrs. Russell out loud felt weird. We used to call her Gram like Jamie did when we were kids, Grammy when we were even younger. “Merry Christmas.”

“Our mom’s getting engaged!” Sidney called.

“Oh my!” Mrs. Russell said. “Congratulations!”

“Technically, it’s still in progress,” Sidney added.

“I’m sorry?”

Mom jumped up and joined us at the door just as Mr. Russell appeared next to Gram in the hallway, leaning on Jamie’s arm.

My heart rate ratcheted up a little.

“Eleanor, Paul, Jamie, hi. Merry Christmas!” Mom said, and Mrs. Russell’s eyes widened, clocking the box in Mom’s hand.

“We are so sorry to interrupt—” she began, but Mom shook her head, and behind her, Dan said:

“Please, join us. This is the kind of thing that’s even better among friends,” though I wasn’t sure if he had ever even met the Russells before.

“We couldn’t intrude—” Mrs. Russell said, and there was a fair bit of back-and-forth before we all cleared out of the doorway and the Russells finally entered, Gram still looking apologetic, Mr. Russell (Papa, I thought absently) and Jamie shuffling in behind. Dan greeted Mrs. Russell, clasped hands with Mr. Russell and Jamie, and ushered everyone to sit, offering coffee or cider or hot chocolate or champagne.

“We don’t have—” Mom started to say, but Dan winked, and when everyone was situated, he turned to my mom and said, “Michelle.”

Mom’s eyes shone. “Daniel.”

“About … what I was saying before…”

“Yes,” Mom said. “Yes. Obviously.”

Mrs. Russell burst into applause, and we all joined in while Mom moved in to kiss Dan.

“Jamie, take a picture,” Mrs. Russell said, and Jamie pulled a phone out of his back pocket. “In front of the tree!” she added, and I recalled all at once her gentle forcefulness. Camouflaged in a cheerful demeanor was Gram’s iron will. “Arms around each other!”

Jamie took some pictures of Dan and Mom posing in front of the tree while the rest of us looked on like we were the crew of a Christmas catalog shoot. Afterward, Mom went to cut up the zucchini bread that Mrs. Russell had brought, and make a platter with some Christmas cookies. Dan and Mr. Russell started talking, which left Rose and me on the couch, Sidney on the floor looking through a new book, and Jamie hovering awkwardly nearby, still holding his phone.

I could see part of his screen from where I sat. He was thumbing back through the pictures he had just taken, my mom and Dan in nearly identical shots, faces pressed close, smiling wide. Past those pictures were a few of what must have been Jamie’s Christmas morning with Gram and Papa. He paused on one of Papa with an array of shiny plastic bows stuck to the front of his sweater.

Rose cleared her throat in a way that wouldn’t draw Jamie’s attention but that I knew from seventeen years as Rose’s sister was meant specifically for me. In confirmation, she looked from Jamie to me and back again, widening her eyes as if to make a point.

I blinked at her like I didn’t understand. She blinked back like she knew exactly what I was doing. I turned away from her exasperated face, glancing in Jamie’s direction again.

He had always been cute in a goofy sort of way, with brown eyes that could be by turns serious enough to make you feel guilty about whatever ridiculous childhood scheme you had tried to rope him into, or mischievous enough to get you into the scheme in the first place. His face had always communicated his feelings all too plainly—we used to call it the Jamietron, like a Jumbotron at a basketball game or something.

It was hard to read him now. He looked taller than the last time I had seen him, though the red-and-white-striped sweater he was currently wearing was approximately three sizes too big. The sleeves trailed way past his fingers. It still had the tag on the collar.

“New sweater, James?” Rose asked eventually. I guess she had given up on me.

Jamie looked up from his phone with something like surprise. “Oh. Yeah. How’d you know?”

“You got, uh—” Rose gestured to the back of her neck.

Jamie reached up and felt the tag, chagrin flashing across his face—there was the Jamietron of old. He gave the tag a yank, crumpling it and shoving it in his pocket. “Gram got it for me. I’m … supposed to grow into it.”

“Did she also give you a vat of radioactive waste? ’Cause that might help things along,” Sidney said. I nudged her with my foot, but Jamie just huffed a laugh, and then it was quiet again among the four of us.

“How’s … stuff?” he said eventually, looking at Rose. She was always the default.

“Stuff is good,” Rose replied.

He shifted a bit closer to where we were sitting. He really did seem taller. And broader, maybe? I would go down to the gym with Rose to use the ellipticals sometimes, but I never saw him down there.

“Still working at Bagels?” Rose said with a smile.

Bagels was a shop in the big strip mall by the Target uptown, sandwiched between a UPS store and a kids’ clothing store. It technically had a real name—The Bagel Company or something like that—but the sign hanging above the place simply said BAGELS in bright red letters. So we just called it Bagels and left it at that. You had to say it like there was an exclamation point after it, though, like jazz hands were implied: BAGELS!

“I am,” Jamie said.

Sidney looked up from her book. “Can you get us free bagels?”

“They usually sell out, but I could bring you a bag of leftovers sometime if they have any. It helps if you like pumpernickel or jalapeño though because those are usually the only kinds left.”

Sidney wrinkled her nose.

Jamie looked back at Rose. “So … Do you like college so far?”

She shrugged noncommittally.

“How about eighth grade?” he asked Sidney.

“No one likes eighth grade,” Sidney replied.

One corner of Jamie’s mouth ticked up. “That’s fair.”

“How about you?” Rose said. “One more semester, and then you guys are done. Got big plans? Anything fun coming up?”

“Not really.” He shifted from one foot to the other for a moment, and then: “Oh—I’m, uh, taking that radio class.”

“Oh! So is Nina.”

He glanced at me. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” I said. Meridian North High School’s radio broadcasting class was open only to seniors and was reportedly one of the most fun electives you could take.

“Cool.” A pause. “Hey, you’ll probably be great at it. You know, because of your dad and stuff.”

My dad hosted a breakfast radio show in San Diego—Conrad and Co., KPMR 100.2, mornings from six to ten thirty.

“I mean, I don’t think it’s … genetic or anything,” I said.

Jamie bobbed his head, smiled tightly. “True.”

Silence.

Mom crossed into the living room with the cookie platter, and Rose hopped up to join her as she placed it on the dining room table.

“Sorry,” Jamie said after a moment. “For just showing up in the middle of … an important thing.” He grimaced a little. “I told Gram we shouldn’t bother you guys, but…” He trailed off.

“It’s not like it was a surprise,” I said. “I mean. You were a surprise. You guys. Coming here. But we basically knew already about…” I waved a hand.

“Good.” He nodded. “That’s good.”

It would never not be awkward around Jamie. The trick was to spend as little time with him as possible. So when Rose came back with cookies, I got up to get some too. He didn’t follow.
Copyright © 2020 by Emma Mills

About the Author

Emma Mills is the author of First & Then, This Adventure Ends, Foolish Hearts, Famous in a Small Town, and Lucky Caller. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and has recently completed a PhD in cell biology.








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