Interview with Khalil Barnett

An Interview with Khalil Barnett, author of KOJIRO

An alumni of the University of Central Florida, Khalil is a prose writer, screenwriter, English teacher, and martial artist living and working in Orlando, Florida. He published his first novel, Guerillas, in 2001, and his second novel, The Cynosure of All Eyes, in 2020. Kojiro is his third novel.

What is your favourite dragon in literature?

My favorite dragon in literature is easily Falkor from Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story. And the reasons are multifaceted. For starters, in the book Falkor’s name is written as “Fuchur”, which is derivative of the Japanese word fukuryū -meaning happiness or luck, which of course is his description in the story as ‘Falkor the Luck Dragon’. His archetypical function in the piece is transcendent, even Jungian and correspondent to Joseph Campbell’s observations of universal literary symbology in his seminal work “Hero With A Thousand Faces”. We all pass through what Campbell referred to as the ‘field of bliss’ on the path to self-actualization, and the hero’s journey reflected in most stories is a dramatization of this struggle that we all face. Falkor, and I noticed this even as a little deaf kid back in the 80s, is an expression of the importance not merely of “Luck”, but, more pointedly, “Hope” and “Belief”. Humans do not persevere without hope, we do not survive as a species without some form of belief in ourselves, in purpose, in meaning. We would all, instantly, or at least inexorably, succumb to the Nothing! Falkor is all of this, precisely. I can see his smile and wink right now as I say it.

I’m not going to be reviewing your newest novel, but from your other published novels, is there one that is your own personal favourite?

I’ve formally published three novels so far. The first, ‘Guerrillas’, was an examination of the stuff that makes a tyrant and the ways they indoctrinate otherwise good but desperate people to their destructive causes. My last book, ‘The Cynosure of All Eyes’, was an experiment in philosophical erotica but also a very intimate deep dive into the challenges of living with, and overcoming, debilitating clinical depression. But my latest novel, Kojiro, is by far my most personal project to date -because of its history. The idea was dreamt up during a car ride in 2001 through the streets of LA with my best friend Kesler Casimir, who regrettably passed right before Christmas in 2008. It started as an idea for a high concept horror script but went through several permutations from there, eventually evolving into a full-blown heroic mythology better suited for long form prose. What it’s become in its now published form is an amalgamation of so many heady ideas I’ve started and stopped over the years, cataloging in a idea database that has reached the point of bursting. Kesler always believed in every version of Kojiro, so this piece is for him, as are those that will follow in the expanding world.

Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?

I think there are shades of my first fully written though unpublished piece prevalent in all the three books I’ve published so far, enduring like an influential ghost of the past ever guiding my hand in the present and beyond. It was the story of a convict who breaks free of his mental and emotional shackles long after being released from the physical ones that shaped the bondage of his personality. In retrospect, it was very much a metaphorical therapeutic exercise in working through the baggage of my own experience in the world as a deaf person. Ever since I was a kid, I felt alienated from every peer group -from even my friends and classmates, from even other young black boys growing up in the south. Any cursory examination of deaf culture, which I wasn’t exposed to during my formative years, you’ll find expressions of this kind of isolated experience. Will I return to that old piece from my budding days as a writer and resurrect it anew? Very likely. That voice wouldn’t keep coming back to me if it weren’t still a story that demands to be told, like the child alive and well that is buried under wreckage of any adult’s memory.

Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?

The one thing I would say that has improved most about my writing is focus and readability. All the many unpublished tomes, they’re all good ideas lost in wildernesses of unsolved puzzles. All very much free association in nature as I struggled to find a voice. Now, there’s confidence and vision to damn the deluge of inspiration.

Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?

The first author, my favorite, who comes to mind when I consider this question is Walter Mosley. He is so incredibly prolific and yet never seems to run out of ideas. The second author that comes to mind is George R.R. Martin, who famously takes many years between books. If I had to classify myself, I’d say that I am somewhere in between in regard to the developmental process of bringing a story from idea to fruition. The incubation stage for me is like a chaotic, unpredictable chrysalis. Maybe I’ll spit something in a short series of months, or maybe a project, like Kojiro, will take many years to see print. I’m already at work on the follow up, so Kojiro 2 will not take nearly as long as the first one did.

I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?

I recently discovered that a thing I have in common with Toni Morrison is that I do my best writing early in the morning, while it’s still dark and the rest of the surrounding world is still sleeping. I like to imagine myself a conduit of dreams in these hours, not just my own, but those of the collective unconscious. I don’t remember who it was that said it, but I agree that every writer, inevitably, is part philosopher and part social scientist. We all have our finger on the pulse of society in some way or another, it’s maybe at once a gift and consequence of the neurosis that drives creativity. You don’t just research your topic, you research yourself and the many influences that characterize your thinking. Doesn’t matter where I’m doing the writing to facilitate that process, really. It’s more a matter of when. I make notes usually on paper, but the writing writing I do strictly digital. The keyboard is my guitar.

I am lucky enough to have very literate and brutally honest people in my sphere who proofread my material before I unleash it on the world.

I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?

Physical media is where it’s at! There’s nothing like the smell of a freshly printed book! I’m the cartoon character being drawn to it by tendrils of animated fragrance that forms a hand hypnotically beckoning me to ‘Come on!’ E-readers are incomparable to that. Audiobooks, forget it.

I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?

If I had to choose a favorite genre, it would be gumshoe fiction. Because that’s what life is for me, an ongoing high stakes investigation. I used to joke in fact about how being deaf or severely hearing impaired, in every conversation I’m like a detective working to crack a case. Studying clues in voice inflection, random words that I hear clearly in a bombardment of verbal hyroglyphics, context, etc… This is especially true in my work as a 5th grade English teacher when talking to students… But I love literary fiction, contemporary fiction, and, obviously, fantasy and sci fi. I’m drawn to sci fi for its inherent optimism for the future. There’s optimism even in distopian sci fi, because, ultimately, those stories are still about the heroic journey of overcoming. What’s more optimistic than self-actualization in the mist of tyranny and utter despair? I love fantasy, mythology, for its unapologetic expressions of archetypical pantheons, and for an undercurrent of, again, hope requisite to the very imaging of fantastical worlds, quests, and larger than life beings.

Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?

I agree that social media is a hassle. More than that, it brings out there very worst in some people. The paradox being that it is antisocial, a breeding ground for toxic behavior, unchecked prejudices, and all around ugliness. Indeed, poor character and anti-intellectual fringe thinking is celebrated in the dark corners of so-called social media. But at the same time, when used effectively, it can be a great tool for connection, for networking and, again ironically and in spite of its nature, building real friendships that last forever. That said, I manage my own social media pages. I can’t imagine that changing sometime in the future, but I guess we’ll see.

Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next? 

In answering interview questions, I try not to ever lose the conversational aspect, the human connection at the foundation of it. It’s the point, I think, to interviews anyway; connection. So no, I don’t ever consciously recycle answers. If I’m asked a similar question, I may give a similar answer. But it’s never a copy and paste sort of thing. That’s not how conversations work. Indeed, it’s not how honesty works. If we’re talking, we’re talking. Answers, responses, comments, they’re influenced by the moment. And sometimes, caffeine.

Novel Synosis

Springing from a restless imagination, tulpas–otherwise known as “thought-forms”—can go on to live lives independent of their creators. This can have dark, troubling—even violent—consequences. No one knows this better than Coletrane Marx.

The only son of an eccentric billionaire archeologist, Coletrane one night unwittingly creates a tulpa—one that, to his horror, visits him in demonic form and murders his parents with a samurai sword.

Forever changed by this trauma, Coletrane soon discovers that his fevered childhood imagination has created a mysterious, cursed samurai warrior named Kojiro. But not just Kojiro: It has also created an alternate feudal history in which Kojiro lives his own prophetic story, in a world full of mythic creatures, powerful humanoid animal Lords, living deities, and evil Tricksters. A world—Coletrane soon learns—that could overlap with his own in catastrophic ways. Can Coletrane and Kojiro reconcile their dark, shared past? Can they join forces to defeat cataclysmic destruction?

Purchase KOJIRO here!

Interview with Gini Grossenbacher

author headshotAn Interview with Gini Grossenbacher

Gini is the author of Madam in Lace which illuminates the life of a real 1850s madam who came from her native France to live and work in San Francisco. This is part of her American Madams series, a unique look at history through the eyes of women who were doing mostly what they needed to do in order to survive.

What is your favourite dragon in literature?

Maleficent. I appreciate that the wicked fairy transforms into a reptilian creature, the embodiment of evil. I saw the Disney film as a child in the 1950s, and the dragon image stayed with me all my life. I think I have a love-hate relationship with that dragon. She is larger-than-life, powerful, and gorgeous.

I’m not going to be reviewing your newest novel, but from your other published novels, is there one that is your own personal favourite?

Madam in Silk has a special place for me, since I not only did extensive research into the heroine Ah Toy’s history in San Francisco, but I had to do lots of reading about Guangzhou, the Pearl River, and the porcelain trade where her fictional father gained his wealth. I immersed myself in Chinese ancient cultural practices, familial relationships, and the class system.

Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?

Luckily, I hired an excellent editor to shepherd me through the revisions of Madam of My Heart, my first novel. I do have an “in the drawer” World War II novel that has been through tons of revision and editing, but I have never gone back and published it. My readers wanted me to continue the “American Madams” trilogy, so continuing to write those novels seemed more important at the time. My next trilogy is called “Artistic Women.” After I finish those books, perhaps I’ll return to the war story.

Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?

I am a two-to-three-year percolator. I do extensive research for each of my novels, multiple revisions, and work with beta readers and critique groups.

I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down, and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?

I write on my laptop in the morning hours or late afternoon. I have a spacious office with artwork on the walls, candles burning, and my little terrier Murphy in her bed. That keeps me happy.

Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers and choose an editor?

I have a trusted group of fellow novelists who critique my story, then I have two or three well-read friends who read and provide opinions. My patient husband helps me when I encounter a plot wrinkle.

I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?

My favorite bookshop is the Avid Reader in downtown Sacramento. They always have the latest bestsellers available, in addition to a wonderful children’s literature section where I tend to get lost. They’re also quite willing to host my book launches and sell my novels and poetry.

I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?

As an English teacher, I taught the classics of course, along with works by diverse authors of color. I read widely in fiction and non-fiction, yet I always return to historical fiction, my genre, in order to see the latest trends.

Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?

I did hire a social media manager a few years ago. She helped me set up my platform, website, and initial presence on Facebook and Twitter. When she eventually moved away, I handled the platform myself, yet it is a big job, and I find myself always feeling guilty for not posting enough. I have a publicist, Cristina Deptula, from Authors Large and Small, and she has been a great help to me in gaining contacts and reviews over the years.

I like Facebook because the brief posts seem to fit my time and genre. I also belong to FB reader/writer groups, and I enjoy reading the posts of other authors and readers who love their books as well as my own.

I supplement social media with selling my books at bookstores, fairs and festivals, especially at those events with a vintage theme since they complement my historical fiction genre. I will wear a fascinator or frilly skirt, decorate my booth with lace and flowers, and set out my books. I make many sales that way, and people love to see an author’s booth next to the painted rock table.

Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?

Not really. My career keeps evolving with the times, so my answers are relevant today. Tomorrow’s interview could be completely different since I’ll have a new novel out or a fresh book of poetry!

Purchase Madam of Silk here

Review: Kirstin Ferguson – Head and Heart (S)

Head and Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership
Kirstin Ferguson

“Leadership is simply a series of moments and every moment gives you the opportunity to leave a positive legacy for those you lead. In this ground-breaking book, award-winning leadership expert and business leader Kirstin Ferguson has written a much needed practical guide for every modern leader. Whether you are the head of one of the largest companies in the world, supervising a small team or guiding your family, it will be your ability to integrate your head and heart that will influence your success in leading others and navigating our complex world.”

This book is very slow. It spends a good chunk of the start of the book “rethinking leadership” in a modern way. Although I agree that some leaders do need to rethink how they lead, the people that have picked up this book would already agree with the title and modern leadership and do not need to be convinced.

The author’s writing of convincing the reader of modern leadership isn’t really convincing. It makes references to all people who can be leaders even in small ways or as parents. I don’t disagree with this, but I don’t think that it needs to be repeated throughout the book. Each of the eight trait chapters doesn’t explain anything tangible a leader could do to improve that area of themselves.

The examples provided have no depth. They are generic and basically say this person uses their head or heart, with no depth of exactly what they did and how they did it. I also did the test and did not find it helpful at all. It is hard enough to judge yourself but it’s particularly hard when the questions are direct and not in any context such as “Am I very aware of my limitations”. I also feel that the trait “perspective” should be a heart trait as it relates to empathy, but the author has it as a head trait.

Overall, don’t waste your time on this book. It should be titled “anyone can be a leader” as that’s the only point the author has and doesn’t get further than that.The test is like reading a horoscope. You can read whatever you want out of it. I finished it out of duty, but this is only one star from me.

Penguin | 31st January 2023 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Mary Walton – The Deming Management Method (S)

The Deming Management Method
Mary Walton

“Whether you are the owner of your own small business, a middle manager in a mid-sized company, or the CEO of a multinational, this book aims to show you how to improve your profits and productivity, following the principles of the Deming management method.”

This book is an interesting read, but not for everyone. It is clearly an older book that is written in an older manner, but it is still applicable and not completely outdated. It’s a little dense and takes a while to get into it. I felt that the long introduction / background on Dr Deming was very interesting.

It does go through The 14 Management Methods and 7 Deadly Diseases. However the points are very brief and don’t go into much detail. I thought it was interesting reading about the history and the key takeaway is to focus on quality.Unfortunately it doesn’t explain this in a lot of detail. Along with most other business books, their examples are always product based. I would love to see some service industry examples.

The methods all really common sense and I can’t believe there are still companies out there that do not run like this today. They need this book and the right attitude. Overall a nice story, but not enough depth. 3.5 stars.

Review: Patrick Lencioni – The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive (S)

The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive:
The Four Disciplines at the Heart of Making Any Organization World Class
Patrick Lencioni

“In this stunning follow-up to his best-selling book, The Five Temptations of a CEO, Patrick Lencioni offers up another leadership fable that’s every bit as compelling and illuminating as its predecessor. This time, Lencioni’s focus is on a leader’s crucial role in building a healthy organization–an often overlooked but essential element of business life that is the linchpin of sustained success. Readers are treated to a story of corporate intrigue as the frustrated head of one consulting firm faces a leadership challenge so great that it threatens to topple his company, his career, and everything he holds true about leadership itself. In the story’s telling, Lencioni helps his readers understand the disarming simplicity and power of creating organizational health, and reveals four key disciplines that they can follow to achieve it.”

This is a pretty good book but not as riveting as his others. Like Lencioni’s other books, the majority of the book is told as a fable. You get invested in the characters and it’s realistic and relatable. For this particular book we see two CEOs at competing firms. You can’t help but feel sorry for them both and want them both to succeed despite them being direct competitors.

The author also explains the 4 disciples (the theory) in a short, succinct chapter at the end. The fable makes you remember and relate to the theory and having the direct theory chapter is helpful if you want to refer to it later.

I personally didn’t gain heaps from this book, as I think I’m applying a lot of this already. It also touched on some points which are in his other books, so it was a little repetitive in that respect. I recommend this book for anyone who is a leader in some way – it’s not just for CEOs. 4 stars

Review: Non Pratt – Every Little Piece of my Heart

Every Little Piece of my Heart
Non Pratt

Sophie has been abandoned by her bestie, Freya. Sophie’s trying to deal with her chronic illness, having no friends at school and just generally feeling abandoned. When she receives a parcel with her name on it, she can’t wait to open it. But the parcel isn’t even for her, she needs to pass it on to someone she barely knows…

It’s nice to have a character with a chronic illness that makes it difficult for her to be a main character! It’s very unfair and biased that many heroes are strong or even just plain healthy when the reality is that many people live with unseen conditions. Spoons! So in a way that almost made this book redeemable, but not quite.

This book also suffered from multiple perspectives. I say suffered because I didn’t feel like it was done particularly well. Despite flipping through the four view points, each doesn’t add anything particularly new in my opinion. Ok ok, we see four different people but I don’t think that there’s enough depth that each seemed unique. Maybe it passes for teen fiction, but not YA fiction.

Average. So, so average. And the ending was terrible – was it left open for a sequel where there’s a big happy reunion? I mean, I finished it, but only because I was hopeful that the end would answer some big questions I had. It didn’t. If you love books with open endings, you’ll love this one. I’m giving it 3 stars, which is extremely generous of me.

Review: Jenna Miller – Out of Character

Out of Character
Jenna Miller

Cass is a fat lesbian who knows who she is and who she likes. When her mom up and leaves (for an internet guy no less) she is left a little lost and dressless (literally and figuratively). Cass has her online roleplay friends to fall back on, but she also still needs to exist in the real world. She’s finally dating her crush, but is it actually the happily ever after she was looking for?

Aw, how cute! I liked this novel because the main character was fat, and didn’t care, and was a lesbian, and didn’t care. She even had the freedom to do that! But she definitely fell into the category that she still wanted to hide some of her identity. The author didn’t harp on about her being queer or anything, which was quite refreshing. I did however feel frustrated with how stupid Cass was sometimes. I’m really not sure how you can get from being a B student to a D in the space of a term without twigging that there’s something wrong…

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I participated in some role-play forums. It sounds like it has moved on so far from that now though! Discord is the way of the future. I still wasn’t 100% sure how the logistics of the server worked or how many people were actually involved. The most similar book I can think of at the moment is Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl – go on, go and read both!

It’s truly delightful how many queer YA and teenage novels there are at the moment. Previously I might have kept reading a poor quality queer novel because I had nothing else inthe genre to read. Now I can afford to be choosy! This novel isn’t groundbreaking, but it is still comforting fiction.

Guest Post by Michelle Corbier on ‘Vampire Profiling’

Vampire Profiling
a Guest Post by Michelle Corbier, author of ‘Dark Blood Awakens’

Last Sunday I posted a TikTok video regarding Stephen King’s short story “Rat.” In the post, I mentioned that his novel, “Salem’s Lot”, remains my all-time favorite vampire story. Why? Because the vampire is a monster—not sexy or contemplative. A simple creature feeding on blood and willing to kill for survival.

Similar to the protagonist in “Rat”, Drew Larson, my writing ideas originate from real-world flashpoints. The premise for my urban fantasy manuscript germinated from a dream. Once I awoke, only tidbits of the story remained. Enamored with the idea, I based my novel around that premise. However, I forgot the vampire’s origin story—or maybe that wasn’t part of the dream. Either way, I needed to create a vampire persona.

On a friend’s suggestion, I watched “What We Do In the Shadows”, a Hulu streaming show. If you’re unfamiliar with the program, it’s a hilarious tale of three vampires living together outside New York City. The show is original and irreverent. Though I enjoy the program, I didn’t want my vampire to be a comic.

Anne Rice gave readers ancient, cultured bloodsuckers in “Interview with the Vampire”, which provided some inspiration. In my dream, the vampire had been a physician—presupposing an education. Deciding to draw upon the African diaspora, my vampire would come from Mali, east Africa.

A friend recommended I incorporate Haitian culture—my ex-husband is Haitian—into the novel. With his help, I created a language, Baoumali, derived from east African dialects and Haitian Creole.

But what about my vampire? Recently, I listened to “Dracula” by Bram Stoker, read by Steven Red Fox Garnett—a talented vocal artist. Stoker’s vampire was treacherous and evil—not to mention his lady vampire companions.

The vampire I created for “Dark Blood Awakens” embodies different aspects of the many monster tales I’ve read, viewed, or heard. Korlemo Ibori craves power, wealth, and revenge. People are tools for manipulation or nourishment for consumption.

In a creative space, an artist’s only limitation is imagination. Fantasy provides a platform to craft new worlds, languages, and creatures. It was my pleasure to design a new world within our own—the beauty of urban fantasy.

Preorder your copy of “Dark Blood Awakens” here

About the author

Michelle attended the University of California Santa Cruz before completing a pediatric residency program at Michigan State University. After over twenty years in clinical medicine, Michelle now works as a medical consultant. As a member of Crime Writers of Color, Sisters in Crime and Capitol Crimes, her writing interests cover many genres—mystery, paranormal, and thrillers. If not writing, you can find her outside gardening or bicycling.

About Dark Blood Awakens

Dark Blood Awakens is a paranormal urban fantasy incorporating Black girl magic with myths from the African diaspora.

As a child, Makeda’s mom forced her to abandon sorcery. Instead, she pursued a career in nursing while killing monsters with her family of mwindaji. For over a millennium, the mwindaji have hunted Korlemo, a 1000-year-old vampire.

While working in Haiti, Makeda’s desire to recapture her sorcery skills increases. When a lead takes her to a Kentucky rural hospital searching for Korlemo, she uses Baoumali, the language of sorceresses, to reclaim her heritage. During her investigation, Makeda develops a steamy romance with the local sheriff and uncovers a macabre secret the hospital administration will kill to keep silent.

With time running out, Makeda must recapture her sorcery and choose where her alliances lie. If the mwindaji cannot destroy the monsters haunting the hospital, people will die—starting with her boyfriend.

Preorder your copy of “Dark Blood Awakens” here

Review: Chris Colfer – A Tale of Magic

A Tale of Magic
Chris Colfer

Brystal Evergreen dreams of a world where she gets to do something other than clean houses and marry a man. She desperately wants to be specific – and she desperately tries to read every book that passes her by. Unfortunately she’s not going to fly under the radar for much longer.

This is a kiddie book! Everything is explicitly spelt (haha) out, there is no independent thought involved. The reader is told how to react to each ‘revelation’ and everything is foreshadowed so much that you can see the ending coming from a mile away! Everything every character does contains why they did it, how everyone reacts, and how the reader should react. The big secret isn’t really a secret.

The main character is of course lovely and kind and compassionate, and magic is something you pick between being a fairy and a witch (which doesn’t work, everyone knows that fairies are another species and witches are just evil humans). Also, anyone else feel a bit odd about the fact that all of the magic-users were females… except one boy who liked to play with dolls? I’ve revisited how I feel about that, and I still don’t know. I read the preview into the next book in the series, which continues to go along with the toxic masculinity vibe. Oh well, the typical, intended audience isn’t going to care.

This book was very happily gobbled up by a 11 year old girl who pronounced it ‘very good’. That’s probably the upper limit of the age for this book, as I found it too easy to read. So many words! 3 stars.

Review: Tess Sharpe – Six Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did)

Six Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did)
Tess Sharpe

Tate and Penny’s moms are best friends. When Penny is in an accident, Tate’s mom looks after Penny’s mom. When Tate’s mom is sick, Penny’s mom looks after her. But who looks after Penny? Tate does, but what is the feeling between them? (it’s love, of course!)

Is the title long enough? The timeline in this and the in-brackets asides made this novel not really work for me. I had trouble keeping track of whose perspective I was reading, and so I didn’t really follow who didn’t like who or not? This, combined with essentially flashbacks, made it very tricky for me to follow. Ultimately it didn’t really matter though, because it’s pretty obvious how this novel is going to end. It wouldn’t be YA if it didn’t have a happy ending!

I knocked this easy novel over in a couple of hours. I was feeling uninspired to read and I wanted something simple. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this novel, but there is nothing outstanding either. It briefly covers dealing with trauma (or rather, not dealing with it) and the implications of a long-term illness. However, it lacks details and backstory that would have helped me connect better to the characters. I sympathised with both girls, but I was never really sure why the kiss hadn’t happened the first six times?

If it’s on your library shelf, sure, read it. But I wouldn’t rush out to buy it. You know what the ending will be from the blurb, and there wasn’t enough depth for me to want to reread this. I think it had potential, but failed at producing vibrantly different characters. I am going to seek out another novel from this author because I think something from a single perspective might be perfect. 3 stars from me.

Hachette | 14 February 2023 | AU$19.99 | paperback