Sunday 30 October 2022



Silver in the Mist by Emily Victoria is a YA fantasy featuring asexual representation that follows a palace spy sent to infiltrate a neighboring kingdom in hopes of returning magic to her dying land.

Title: Silver In The Mist
Author: Emily Victoria
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Release Date: 1st November 2022

BLURB supplied by Harlequin Trade Publishing
Eight years ago, everything changed for Devlin: Her country was attacked. Her father was killed. And her mother became the Whisperer of Aris, the head of the spies, retreating into her position away from everyone… even her daughter.

Joining the spy ranks herself, Dev sees her mother only when receiving assignments. She wants more, but she understands the peril their country, Aris, is in. The malevolent magic force of The Mists is swallowing Aris’s edges, their country is vulnerable to another attack from their wealthier neighbor, and the magic casters who protect them from both are burning out.

Dev has known strength and survival her whole life, but with a dangerous new assignment of infiltrating the royal court of their neighbor country Cerena to steal the magic they need, she learns that not all that glitters is weak. And not all stories are true.



Chapter One

The camp around me is shadowy and asleep—vulnerable—just the way I like it. At my back, metal poles hold lanterns that let out an erratic flicker of a glow. But it doesn’t reach as far in as I am, and even the patrolling soldiers barely stray from their circles of firelight. It’s sloppy, this whole camp.

I feel, rather than see, someone slip into the shadow of the tent behind me.


Lochlan’s jesting voice is that low tone that barely carries as far as my ears. I shift closer to the canvas of the tent so they can crouch beside me. “Fancy seeing you here,” they say.

Even though this is serious, my own lips twitch in response. Like me, Lochlan is dressed in tight-fitting clothes with their hood up, dark and practical and perfect for getting up to no good. They tug the strip of cloth covering their face down as they let out a huff. “This thing gets so itchy.”

I raise a brow. “That’s not regulation.”

They give me a look, but it’s edged with that sharp ex­citement neither of us can hide in the field. It tingles in my own fingertips. I want to get on with it, but as always, the Whisperer’s voice echoes in my head, tempering the impulse.

Take the time to observe. Know the lay of the land.

No matter how many missions I do, how much experience I think I’ve gained, it’s always my mother’s voice that sounds in my head out here in the field.

I scan the tents in front of us. There are three of them in the inner circle, five in the outer. If this camp has the usual layout, then the barracks, the mess, and the supplies will be in the outer tents. The scribes and those in command—in other words, everyone important—will be in this inner ring.

The tent on the far left is larger than the two beside it. All are in that deep navy color that is dyed even darker by the night, which only serves to offset the fabric’s silver lining. The canvas is thick enough that even if there was light inside the tents, we wouldn’t be able to see any silhouettes. It doesn’t give us much to go on, but at least it means once we’re inside, no one will be able to see us either.

“What did you find out?” I ask.

“Captain’s quarters are in the middle. The large one on the left is for the scribes. The last one houses the captain’s two pages.”

“So are the captain’s office and his sleeping quarters the same?”


I stifle my sigh. That will be a pain to deal with, but it’s not like we haven’t done it before. Multiple times. “The scribes?”

“They sleep with the soldiers as far as I can tell.”

That’s promising. I scan the area. The captain’s tent is the only one with a guard. The man is bored, idly fiddling with his sword’s sheath. He wears a tunic of soft blue lined with white, so neat it looks as if it’d get dirty if the guard glanced at the ground wrong.

“We can take him,” Lochlan says.

I elbow them. “No evidence outside of the theft, remem­ber?” The scribes’ tent isn’t guarded, and there’s barely a foot of space between it and the captain’s tent beside it. That’s our best chance. “This way.”

We track down the row we’re sheltered by, moving from shadow to shadow, aware of the guards and the torchlight hovering just around the corners. At the end of the lane, I wait for the guard’s attention to shift and then we’re just two shadows slipping over the grassy gap. The canvas of the scribes’ tent is secured with thick ties, and I undo the row to let us in.

The space is shadowy in the dark and I take a moment to let my eyes adjust. Rows of portable desks fill the tent so tightly I have to step carefully as I ghost between them, Lochlan behind me.

The desks are littered with papers and worn writing im­plements, and among them lie pieces of filigree. The deli­cate swirls of the silvery patterns shine in the darkness, like fallen pieces of moonglow. My fingers hover over them. We aren’t supposed to leave any evidence, but I can’t resist swip­ing a couple of the shards into my pocket. This is a Cerenian camp. They won’t notice one or two missing pieces of fili­gree, while we need all the stolen magic we can get.

Behind me, Lochlan pauses as they look at the filigree.

Even though I can’t make out the expression on their face from this angle, I know what will be there. Loss.

I nudge them. “Bet you a week’s worth of chores I can find what we need first.”

Lochlan’s eyes glint in the dark as they grin. “You’re going to regret that.”

“You wish.”

A couple more ties get us out the far wall, and I give a quick glance to make sure the guard can’t see us before slip­ping into the captain’s tent.

He’s a snorer. That much is obvious as we step in and a grinding noise like rocks being smashed together echoes over to us. Lochlan’s face contorts in laughter and I grab their face cloth and yank it back over their mouth.

There’s not much in here. Besides the bed, the only things are a camp desk and a chest. Well, that and the clothes scat­tered all over the place. There’s even a discarded sword not a foot away from where I stand. He’s not a strict captain then. I’m betting he’s the type to leave his papers lying out rather than filing them away at the end of the day.

I take the desk and sure enough, it’s cluttered with writ­ing instruments and parchment. The Whisperer ordered us to bring back the original orders from the Cerenian monarch that sent these soldiers here. I don’t know exactly what they will say, but I can guess. There are a number of patrolling camps that work their way up and down the Cerenian bor­der, making sure it’s secure. Normally they follow the exact same route. This camp, though, is well into the neutral ter­ritory of the Peaks.

The last true attack from Cerena was decades ago, long before I was born, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t planning another. I can’t see why else they would have strayed so far into the Peaks, when it’s such difficult territory to cover. We can’t face the Mists and an army.

My fingers shift through the papers, careful to disturb them as little as possible. Then in the dark, I catch the image of a songbird sitting on a branch: Cerena’s royal seal. The orders themselves are written in code but that seal means this is what we’ve come for.

I lift the paper high, so Lochlan can see it.

I win.

The snoring cuts off. I drop to a crouch behind the desk. As I peer around its edge I see the captain blinking sleepy eyes open.

I look at where Lochlan is hiding behind the chest. They’re closer to where we entered than I am. They should be able to get out if they move right now, before the captain is fully awake.

I wave my hand at them. They hesitate, but I give them a glare. Moving as silent as a shadow, they’re gone.

There’s a creak from the bed as the captain gets up, mut­tering beneath his breath. His footsteps come closer, padding over the canvas floor. My hand finds the knife at my hip. As soon as he’s close enough, I’ll jab the knife in his leg. Then I’ll run.


His feet come into view and I’m tensing to move when there’s a panicked shout from outside. It’s taken up, the sound multiplying.

What did Lochlan do?

The captain grabs his boots and races outside. As soon as he’s gone, I slip out the side of the tent. I smell the smoke the moment I’m free, the ring of light at the eastern outskirts of the camp now shining decidedly angrier.

“A lantern has fallen!” someone shouts. “Bring water!”

The camp is a flurry of activity. All of the soldiers, most only half-dressed and with mussed hair, are heading one way. I catch a clear moment and dash in the opposite direction.

I dart between the tents, breaking out of the last line and plunging into the forest at the base of the mountain. It’s darker beneath the trees, the branches scratching at my clothes, and even though I’m risking a broken ankle, I don’t slow. Better a broken ankle than an arrow in my back.

The ground beneath my feet turns from moss to dirt to stone, and the forest fades as I track up the path.

I turn the corner, and there it is.

A wall of white clings to the mountain like a shroud. It’s so thick I can’t even make out the rocks in it. All I can see are the flashes of lightning deep in its depths, bright and fierce.

The Mists.

Lochlan sits on a rock just outside the border of white, idly swinging one of their legs. Their hood is already down, showing their auburn hair with the single streak of gray, cur­rently tied back into a ponytail. The filigree lantern we’d hid­den on our way down shines at their feet, sparking off their bright green eyes.

I tug the cloth away from my face. “What did you set on fire?”

They grin at me. “You’re welcome.”

There’s a shout behind us from the direction of the camp and we plunge into the Mists.

Excerpted from Silver in the Mist. Copyright © 2022 by Emily Victoria. Published by Inkyard Press.

Emily Victoria is a Canadian prairie girl who writes young adult science fiction and fantasy. When not wordsmithing, she likes walking her overexcitable dog, drinking far too much tea, and crocheting things she no longer has the space to store. Her librarian degree has allowed her to work at a library and take home far too many books.

Author Website:
Twitter: @avictoriantale
Instagram: @avictoriantale






Wednesday 26 October 2022


As soon as I saw that this book was based on Hannie Schaft's story I knew I had to add it to my Wishlist Wednesday list & post about it.
I read a lot of Historical Fiction & Non Fiction set in this era so I have already heard and know a little about Hannie and her story.


Title: To Die Beautiful
Author: Buzzy Jackson
Publisher: Dutton, Penguin Group
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: 2nd May 2023

BLURB from Goodreads
A gripping and timely debut novel by award-winning writer Buzzy Jackson, based on the true story of Hannie Schaft: a heroic young Dutch woman who joined the Resistance in Holland during World War II and became one of the Nazis' most wanted women

Hannie Schaft, a shy law student living in Nazi-occupied Holland, never dreamed of being a fighter. But when the lives of Hannie's two Jewish best friends are threatened in new and terrifying ways, she realizes she can no longer ignore the insidious rise of fascism in her country. Driven by moral outrage, Hannie becomes an armed member of the Dutch Resistance movement.

Hannie discovers her own untapped ferocity--wearing lipstick and heels to lure powerful Nazis close and assassinate them at point-blank range, bombing munitions factories, and becoming such a threat that Adolf Hitler himself dubs her the Girl with Red Hair. While humanity collapses around her, Hannie finds a chosen family of friends within the Resistance and falls in love with a dashing fellow resistor at a tremendous cost. Her greatest weapon is her determination to stay human (blijf altijd menselijk) . . . a promise increasingly difficult to keep.

To Die Beautiful is an unputdownable novel of love, loyalty, and the limits we confront when our deepest values are tested, told with the emotional resonance of meticulously researched history. 

Goodreads Link



Friday 21 October 2022



Title: The War Girls
Author: V. S. Alexander
Publisher: Kensington Books
Genre: General Fiction, Historical Fiction
Release Date: 26th July 2022

BLURB from Goodreads
It’s not just a thousand miles that separates Hanna Majewski from her younger sister, Stefa. There is another gulf—between the traditional Jewish ways that Hanna chose to leave behind in Warsaw, and her new, independent life in London. But as autumn of 1940 draws near, Germany begins a savage aerial bombing campaign in England, killing and displacing tens of thousands. Hanna, who narrowly escapes death, is recruited as a spy in an undercover operation that sends her back to her war-torn homeland.

In Hanna’s absence, her parents, sister, and brother have been driven from their comfortable apartment into the Warsaw Ghetto. Sealed off from the rest of the city, the Ghetto becomes a prison for nearly half a million Jews, struggling to survive amid starvation, disease, and the constant threat of deportation to Treblinka. Once a pretty and level-headed teenager, Stefa is now committed to the Jewish resistance. Together, she, Hanna, and Janka, a family friend living on the Aryan side of the city, form a trio called The War Girls. Against overwhelming odds and through heartbreak they will fight to rescue their loved ones, finding courage through sisterhood to keep hope alive . . .

Goodreads Link

Amazon US
Amazon UK

Wow, what an emotive book telling the stories that those that perished in the Ghetto who took great risks to make sure what happened was written down, to be told and never forgotten.

Amazing, believable characters. Well written, really makes you think which character would you have been most like...Hanna/Greta-SOE Stefa-Ghetto resistance fighter, Perla- matriarch of the family seeing everything crumble around her or Janka, a Catholic woman, married to a drunken, increasingly abusive man, who refuses to turn her head away from the plight of the Jews, particularly the Majewski family, despite the dangers to herself from her own husband and the Nazis should she be found helping them in anyway.
Then there's the male characters Izreal-patriarch of the family, a holy man, who fades before his families eyes, Daniel-the boyfriend of Stefa, becoming a policeman in the hope that will give those he loves some protection, then resistance fighter, Aaron-a young boy who grows into a man under the Nazi oppression, determined to fight back one day and in the meantime commits as many small acts of defance as he can get away with, Zeev-best friend of Aaron who though he ends up on the outside of the Ghetto Walls still suffers terrible hardship and danger whilst trying to help others, & Eryck helps house a, SOE yet trapped between wanting, & needing to do something, to fight back, yet keep his safe at the same time.

Wednesday 19 October 2022



Title: Landscape of Shadows
Author: Kevin Doherty
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers
Release Date: 13th December 2022

The Choice: One Killer? Or Ten Innocents?

France, 1941. The small town of Dinon is under German occupation. Max Duval, its mayor, appears to have accepted the German presence and encourages his citizens to do the same. He owns the Hotel Picardie, whose most important resident is Major Egon Wolff—German commandant.
Then, a Resistance team kills two German troopers, and the uneasy calm of Dinon is shattered. One of the assassins, the headstrong and beautiful Sophie Carriere, takes refuge in the Hotel Picardie. Despite his disapproval of the assassinations, Max keeps her safe. Sophie accuses Max of conspiring the attacks, but Max is no collaborator—he has his own secret methods of resistance, which Sophie has now jeopardized.
Danger escalates when Sophie discovers the truth about Max’s resistance work, and she and Max are drawn to one another. Egon Wolff decrees that ten citizens will be executed unless the missing assassin is surrendered. Max faces a terrible choice: sacrifice Sophie and betray the cause of freedom for which they are both working—or let innocent citizens go to their deaths.

Goodreads Link

Amazon US
Amazon UK


Friday 14 October 2022



Title: A Hint Of Delirium
Series: Fated Fae Elementals
Author: Karina Espinosa
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Paranormal Romance, Fae
Release Date: 12th August 2022

BLURB from Goodreads
How does one certifiable human survive the Fae?
One dose at a time.

My name is Violet, and I am crazy.

Schizophrenic, to be exact. I see creatures no one else does. Even with medication, there’s no escaping the insanity, so I lie and say I don’t see them.
Until one night, my hot-as-sin customer is one of these said creatures and tries to skip on the bill. Instead of being a hero for stopping a crime, I get fired.
I should’ve kept my mouth shut because now my customer is stalking me. I should’ve called the cops, except he tells me the one thing I’m desperate to hear—you’re not crazy.
Ansel, a Seelie High Fae, says I can see the world no other human can. The more I learn about the Fae, the more questions pile up. Even more troubling is when I catch the attention of the Unseelie, the vicious and ruthless court, and they want me.

Trapped, desperate, and scared, if I am to survive this world, I’ll need to find out the truth about myself, and gather allies in the least likely of places.

The question is: can I trust any of this, or is this another hint of delirium?

Goodreads Link

Amazon US
Amazon UK

I'll be totally honest, I don't usually read and enjoy the fae genre but having read and adored other books by Karina Espinosa I knew I had to give this new series a go. It started fairly slow and built up the suspense a little at a time. This first book in the introduced some interesting main characters, as well as setting the scene for the future of the series.

This first book in the Fated Fae Elementals didn't disappoint. Its a really great start to another potentially amazing series by Karina Espinosa. It's not just fae there is also the elemental twist, with some added romance with whats shaping up to be an amazing love triangle in the making.

Well, I already adore Violet, and seelie brothers Ansel & Alec. The 'good' seelie being Ansel, serving the Seelie Queen......Alec the 'bad' unseelie brother serving the Unseelie King.

I really love the world building & thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, definitely had me groaning at the cliff hanger ending though! Certainly eagerly awaiting more!!! So much potential as to what could happen, & we haven't heard the 'love story' that occurred between Vi's mum & dad yet, which I am "on the edge of my seat" waiting for it to be revealed. I already adore the relationship between the three ain characters and am sure there are going to be a big debates on who Violet should ultimately choose to be with. There is certainly two fantastic male characters that fit the "book boyfriend" labelling well. Which would I choose for Violet? Which would I choose for myself? Well, I really just couldn't say right now! I need to read more. I already love both male characters, fairly equally right now.

I am also enjoying the sections on the different Fae and learning who is Seelie & Unseelie, Who is light/good & who is dark/bad? I think the lines of good & bad are already blurred everything is hanging in the balance surrounded by shades of grey. I am eagerly waiting to see how Violet will ultimately use her powers, shes a strong female lead character and I can't imagine her allowing herself to be used by anyone be they "good" or "evil." Violet has a mind of her own and I don't think she is afraid of standing up for herself and putting her own point across either. Let the fireworks commence!


Wednesday 12 October 2022


Being described as being set In a dazzling new fantasy world full of whispered secrets and political intrigue, the magic of women is outlawed but four girls with unusual powers have the ability to change it all. I've read an excerpt from this one in a sampler and its firmly on my want to read Wish list 2023!

I'll be honest I can be a bit superstitious about birds (been a superstition handed down through my family for years) but I do really love this book cover. The blurb immediately made me think of The Belles series by Dhonielle Clayton (which I love). I really like the sound of the fantasy aspects and the possible female oppression that seems like it is about to change. I honestly really loved the sample I read. This book could be the start of another amazing series. So, I'm not in the age bracket for this book but personally, I think all ages can enjoy Teens & YA books! I also won't forget the release day as it's my daughters 27th birthday, so yeah I am most definitely not in the Teens & YA age bracket myself!

Title: Nightbirds
Series: Nightbirds
Author: Kate J Armstrong
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Books
Genre: Teens & YA
Release Date: 28th February 2023

BLURB from Goodreads
The Nightbirds are Simta’s best kept secret. Teenage girls from the Great Houses with magic coursing through their veins, the Nightbirds have the unique ability to gift their magic to others with a kiss. Magic—especially the magic of women—is outlawed and the city’s religious sects would see them burned if discovered. But protected by the Great Houses, the Nightbirds are safe well-guarded treasures.

As this Season’s Nightbirds, Matilde, Aesa, and Sayer spend their nights bestowing their unique brands of magic to well-paying clients. Once their Season is through, they're each meant to marry a Great House lord and become mothers to the next generation of Nightbirds before their powers fade away. But Matilde, Aesa, and Sayer have other plans. They know their lives as Nightbirds aren't just temporary, but a complete lie and yearn for something more.

When they discover that there are other girls like them and that their magic is more than they were ever told, they see the carefully crafted Nightbird system for what it is: a way to keep them in their place, first as daughters and then as wives. Now they must make a choice—to stay in their gilded cage or to remake the city that put them there in the first place. 

Goodreads Link 




Monday 10 October 2022



Title: The Dark We Seek
Series: The Lost Light Trilogy
Author: Kyla Stone
Publisher: Paper Moon Press
Genre: Post Apocalyptic, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Suspense, Mystery
Release Date: 16th September 2022

BLURB from Goodreads
Darkness spreads across the globe...

After explosive solar flares strike Earth, half the planet goes dark. Store shelves gather dust, pharmacies run out of life-saving medications, and banks and gas stations shut their doors.

As tens of millions of people grapple with a new reality without power, a serial killer hunts in the chaos. Alger County Undersheriff Jackson Cross is determined to stop him, no matter the cost.

Torn between vengeance and a chance at redemption, ex-convict Eli Pope faces his greatest test, while Lena and Shiloh Easton struggle to survive in a world that grows deadlier by the day.

But nothing can prepare them for what comes next…

Set in the rural wilderness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, The Dark We Seek is the riveting second installment in the CME/EMP survival series by USA bestselling author Kyla Stone. 

Goodreads Link

Amazon US
Amazon UK

Wow! What a journey this book takes you on! Just when you think you have every detail worked out and it's over, it isn't!!

Really sad start when Cody's body is found both something Lena wanted yet dreaded finding at the same time. Then as Lena & Shiloh settle into their new home at the lighthouse they have violent intruders to deal with alone as Eli is off on his own part of what ends up being the joint mission of finding the serial killer that partnered with Walter Boone.

I have to highlight that i adored the "power struggle triangle" experienced within a certain scene in this book between, Eli, Jackson & Sawyer.
Each man attractive, strong & principled in their own way. Each choosing to live/survive this post Apocalyptic world. All 3 still having that achilles heel within the Easton family, whether its was Lily or Cody or is Lena or Shiloh.
It seems Lily really did love the authoritarian strong bad boy image, Sawyer, Eli, Jackson.

I must admit I loved the little twist, the little 'spanner in the works' that means Walter Boone's partner didn't actually murder Lily by his own hands, it seems theres is yet another accomplice, or copycat that knew the quirks & calling cards left by Boone & his partner. Its certainly a fantastic cliff hanger!! One minute you're thinking all solved, all loose ends tied up......and then just one thing out of place to unravel things again.

I have my suspicions and I sadly think it's going to be a highway to heartbreak and hellish choices for Jackson. Will he be capable of delivering justice, and/or preventing Eli, Sawyer or others delivering their new form of immediately actionable consequences.

I have so many scenarios and theories around
the 'messier killing' of Lily Easton. Could it have been done by a female, or third accomplice in attendance? Was Lily murdered by this third individual in a fit of jealous rage because of all the attention Lily got from the local men including her own boyfriend? Or was this third person interested in Lily and she refused them? There's so much more to come in book 3. Will Jackson keep his new found information to himself or share it with Eli, Lena & Shiloh.

On what else could happen next I am hoping for a happy family unit consisting of Eli, Lena & Shiloh, and maybe a little love & romance for Jackson & Devon. However, with Sawyer wanting to rule over the area and the fact he still has an army at his disposal it's only a matter of time until he comes up against the principled Jackson & Eli.

Really can't wait to read more!




Sunday 9 October 2022



In a YA debut that’s Gossip Girl with a speculative twist, a Chinese American girl monetizes her strange new invisibility powers by discovering and selling her wealthy classmates’ most scandalous secrets.

Title: If You Could See The Sun
Author: Ann Liang
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Fantasy
Release Date: 11th October 2022

BLURB supplied by Harlequin Trade Publishing
Alice Sun has always felt invisible at her elite Beijing international boarding school, where she’s the only scholarship student among China’s most rich and influential teens. But then she starts uncontrollably turning invisible—actually invisible.

When her parents drop the news that they can no longer afford her tuition, even with the scholarship, Alice hatches a plan to monetize her strange new power—she’ll discover the scandalous secrets her classmates want to know, for a price.

But as the tasks escalate from petty scandals to actual crimes, Alice must decide if it’s worth losing her conscience—or even her life.



My parents only ever invite me out to eat for one of three reasons. One, someone’s dead (which, given the ninety-something members in our family WeChat group alone, happens more often than you’d think). Two, it’s someone’s birthday. Or three, they have a life-changing announcement to make.

Sometimes it’s a combination of all the above, like when my great-grandaunt passed away on the morning of my twelfth birthday, and my parents decided to inform me over a bowl of fried sauce noodles that they’d be sending me off to Air­ington International Boarding School.

But it’s August now, the sweltering summer heat palpable even in the air-conditioned confines of the restaurant, and no one in my immediate family has a birthday this month. Which, of course, leaves only two other possibilities…

The anxious knot in my stomach tightens. It’s all I can do not to run right back out through the glass double doors. Call me weak or whatever, but I’m in no state to handle bad news of any kind.

Especially not today.

“Alice, what you look so nervous for ya?” Mama asks as an unsmiling, qipao-clad waitress leads us over to our table in the back corner.

We squeeze past a crowded table of elderly people sharing a giant pink-tinted cream cake shaped like a peach, and what appears to be a company lunch, with men sweating in their stuffy collared shirts and women dabbing white powder onto their cheeks. A few of them twist around and stare when they notice my uniform. I can’t tell if it’s because they recognize the tiger crest emblazoned on my blazer pocket, or because of how grossly pretentious the design looks compared to the local schools’ tracksuits.

“I’m not nervous,” I say, taking the seat between her and Baba. “My face just always looks like this.” This isn’t exactly a lie. My aunt once joked that if I were ever found at a crime scene, I’d be the first one arrested based solely on my expres­sion and body language. Never seen anyone as jumpy as you, she’d said. Must’ve been a mouse in your past life.

I resented the comparison then, but I can’t help feeling like a mouse now—one that’s about to walk straight into a trap.

Mama moves to pass me the laminated menu. As she does, light spills onto her bony hands from the nearby window, throwing the ropey white scar running down her palm into sharp relief. A pang of all-too-familiar guilt flares up inside me like an open flame.

“Haizi,” Mama calls me. “What do you want to eat?”

“Oh. Uh, anything’s fine,” I reply, quickly averting my gaze.

Baba breaks apart his disposable wooden chopsticks with a loud snap. “Kids these days don’t know how lucky they are,” he says, rubbing the chopsticks together to remove any splin­ters before helping me do the same. “All grow up in honey jar. You know what I eat at your age? Sweet potato. Every day, sweet potato.”

As he launches into a more detailed description of daily life in the rural villages of Henan, Mama waves the waitress over and lists off what sounds like enough dishes to feed the entire restaurant.

“Ma,” I protest, dragging the word out in Mandarin. “We don’t need—”

“Yes, you do,” she says firmly. “You always starve when­ever school starts. Very bad for your body.”

Despite myself, I suppress the urge to roll my eyes. Less than ten minutes ago, she’d been commenting on how my cheeks had grown rounder over the summer holidays; only by her logic is it possible to be too chubby and dangerously undernourished at the same time.

When Mama finally finishes ordering, she and Baba ex­change a look, then turn to me with expressions so solemn I blurt out the first thing that comes to mind: “Is—is my grandpa okay?”

Mama’s thin brows furrow, accentuating the stern features of her face. “Of course. Why you ask?”

“N-nothing. Never mind.” I allow myself a small sigh of relief, but my muscles remain tensed, as if bracing for a blow. “Look, whatever the bad news is, can we just—can we get it over with quickly? The awards ceremony is in an hour and if I’m going to have a mental breakdown, I need at least twenty minutes to recover before I get on stage.”

Baba blinks. “Awards ceremony? What ceremony?”

My concern temporarily gives way to exasperation. “The awards ceremony for the highest achievers in each year level.”

He continues to stare at me blankly.

“Come on, Ba. I’ve mentioned it at least fifty times this summer.”

I’m only exaggerating a little. Sad as it sounds, those fleet­ing moments of glory under the bright auditorium spotlight are all I’ve been looking forward to the past couple of months.

Even if I have to share them with Henry Li.

As always, the name fills my mouth with something sharp and bitter like poison. God, I hate him. I hate him and his flawless, porcelain skin and immaculate uniform and his com­posure, as untouchable and unfailing as his ever-growing list of achievements. I hate the way people look at him and see him, even if he’s completely silent, head down and working at his desk.

I’ve hated him ever since he sauntered into school four years ago, brand-new and practically glowing. By the end of his first day, he’d beat me in our history unit test by a whole two-point-five marks, and everyone knew his name.

Just thinking about it now makes my fingers itch.

Baba frowns. Looks to Mama for confirmation. “Are we meant to go to this—this ceremony thing?”

“It’s students only,” I remind him, even though it wasn’t always this way. The school decided to make it a more pri­vate event after my classmate’s very famous mother, Krystal Lam, showed up to the ceremony and accidentally brought the paparazzi in with her. There were photos of our audi­torium floating around all over Weibo for days afterward.

“Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that they’re hand­ing out awards and—”

“Yes, yes, all you talk about is award,” Mama interrupts, impatient. “Where your priorities, hmm? Does that school of yours not teach you right values? It should go family first, then health, then saving for retirement, then—are you even listening?”

I’m spared from having to lie when our food arrives.

In the fancier Peking duck restaurants like Quanjude, the kind of restaurants my classmates go to frequently without someone having to die first, the chefs always wheel out the roast duck on a tray and carve it up beside your table. It’s al­most an elaborate performance; the crispy, glazed skin com­ing apart with every flash of the blade to reveal the tender white meat and sizzling oil underneath.

But here the waitress simply presents us with a whole duck chopped into large chunks, the head still attached and every­thing.

Mama must catch the look on my face because she sighs and turns the duck head away from me, muttering something about my Western sensibilities.

More dishes come, one by one: fresh cucumbers drizzled with vinegar and mixed with chopped garlic, thin-layered scallion pancakes baked to a perfect crisp, soft tofu swimming in a golden-brown sauce and sticky rice cakes dusted with a fine coat of sugar. I can already see Mama measuring out the food with her shrewd brown eyes, most likely calculating how many extra meals she and Baba can make from the leftovers.

I force myself to wait until both Mama and Baba have taken few bites of their food to venture, “Um. I’m pretty sure you guys were going to tell me something important…?”

In response, Baba takes a long swig from his still-steaming cup of jasmine tea and swishes the liquid around in his mouth as if he’s got all the time in the world. Mama sometimes jokes that I take after Baba in every way—from his square jaw, straight brows and tan skin to his stubborn perfection­ist streak. But I clearly haven’t inherited any of his patience.

“Baba,” I prompt, trying my best to keep my tone respect­ful.

He holds up a hand and drains the rest of his tea before at last opening his mouth to speak. “Ah. Yes. Well, your Mama and I were thinking… How you feel about going to differ­ent school?”

“Wait. What?” My voice comes out too loud and too shrill, cutting through the restaurant chatter and cracking at the end like some prepubescent boy’s. The company workers from the table nearby stop midtoast to shoot me disapproving looks. “What?” I repeat in a whisper this time, my cheeks heating.

“Maybe you go to local school like your cousins,” Mama says, placing a piece of perfectly wrapped Peking duck down on my plate with a smile. It’s a smile that makes alarm bells go off in my head. The kind of smile dentists give you right before yanking your teeth out. “Or we let you go back to America. You know my friend, Auntie Shen? The one with the nice son—the doctor?”

I nod slowly, as if two-thirds of her friends’ children aren’t either working or aspiring doctors.

“She says there’s very nice public school in Maine near her house. Maybe if you help work for her restaurant, she let you stay—”

“I don’t get it,” I interrupt, unable to help myself. There’s a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, like that time I ran too hard in the school Sports Carnival just to beat Henry and nearly threw up all over the courtyard. “I just… What’s wrong with Airington?”

Baba looks a little taken aback by my response. “I thought you hated Airington,” he says, switching to Mandarin.

“I never said I hated—”

“You once printed out a picture of the school logo and spent an entire afternoon stabbing it with your pen.”

“So, I wasn’t the biggest fan in the beginning,” I say, set­ting my chopsticks down on the plastic tablecloth. My fingers tremble slightly. “But that was five years ago. People know who I am now. I have a reputation—a good one. And the teachers like me, like really like me, and most of my classmates think I’m smart and—and they actually care what I have to say…” But with every word that tumbles out of my mouth, my parents’ expressions grow grimmer, and the sick feeling sharpens into ice-cold dread. Still, I plow on, desperate. “And I have my scholarship, remember? The only one in the entire school. Wouldn’t it be a waste if I just left—”

“You have half scholarship,” Mama corrects.

“Well, that’s the most they’re willing to offer…” Then it hits me. It’s so obvious I’m stunned by own ignorance; why else would my parents all of a sudden suggest taking me out of the school they spent years working tirelessly to get me into?

“Is this… Is this about the school fees?” I ask, keeping my voice low so no one around us can overhear.

Mama says nothing at first, just fiddles with the loose but­ton on her dull flower-patterned blouse. It’s another cheap supermarket purchase; her new favorite place to find clothes after Yaxiu Market was converted into a lifeless mall for over­priced knockoff brands.

“That’s not for you to worry,” she finally replies.

Which means yes.

I slump back in my seat, trying hard to collect my thoughts. It’s not as if I didn’t know that we’re struggling, that we’ve been struggling for some time now, ever since Baba’s old printing company shut down and Mama’s late shifts at Xiehe Hospital were cut short. But Mama and Baba have always been good at hiding the extent of it, waving away any of my concerns with a simple “just focus on your studies” or “silly child, does it look like we’d let you starve?”

I look across the table at them now, really look at them, and what I see is the scattering of white hairs near Baba’s tem­ples, the tired creases starting to show under Mama’s eyes, the long days of labor taking their toll while I stay sheltered in my little Airington bubble. Shame roils in my gut. How much easier would their lives be if they didn’t have to pay that extra 165,000 RMB every year?

“What, um, were the choices again?” I hear myself say. “Local Beijing school or public school in Maine?”

Evident relief washes over Mama’s face. She dips another piece of Peking duck in a platter of thick black sauce, wraps it tight in a sheet of paper-thin pancake with two slices of cucumber—no onions, just the way I like it—and lays it down on my plate. “Yes, yes. Either is good.”

I gnaw on my lower lip. Actually, neither option is good.

Going to any local school in China means I’ll have to take the gaokao, which is meant to be one of the hardest college entrance exams as it is without my primary school–level Chi­nese skills getting in the way. And as for Maine—all I know is that it’s the least diverse state in America, my understanding of the SATs is pretty much limited to the high school dramas I’ve watched on Netflix, and the chances of a public school there letting me continue my IB coursework are very low.

“We don’t have to decide right now,” Mama adds quickly. “Your Baba and I already pay for your first semester at Air­ington. You can ask teachers, your friends, think about it a bit, and then we discuss again. Okay?”

“Yeah,” I say, even though I feel anything but okay. “Sounds great.”

Baba taps his knuckles on the table, making both of us start. “Aiya, too much talking during eating time.” He jabs his chopsticks at the plates between us. “The dishes already going cold.”

As I pick up my own chopsticks again, the elderly peo­ple at the table beside us start singing the Chinese version of “Happy Birthday,” loud and off-key. “Zhuni shengri kuaile… Zhuni shengri kuaile…” The old nainai sitting in the mid­dle nods and claps her hands together to the beat, smiling a wide, toothless grin.

At least someone’s leaving this restaurant in higher spirits than when they came in.

Sweat beads and trickles from my brow almost the instant I step outside. The kids back in California always complained about the heat, but the summers in Beijing are stifling, mer­ciless, with the dappled shade of wutong trees planted up and down the streets often serving as the sole source of relief.

Right now it’s so hot I can barely breathe. Or maybe that’s just the panic kicking in.

“Haizi, we’re going,” Mama calls to me. Little plastic take-out bags swing from her elbow, stuffed full with everything—and I mean everything—left over from today’s lunch. She’s even packed the duck bones.

I wave at her. Exhale. Manage to nod and smile as Mama lingers to offer me her usual parting words of advice: Don’t sleep later than eleven or you die, don’t drink cold water or you die, watch out for child molesters on your way to school, eat ginger, lot of ginger, remember check air quality index every day…

Then she and Baba are off to the nearest subway station, her petite figure and Baba’s tall, angular frame quickly swal­lowed up by the crowds, and I’m left standing all alone.

A terrible pressure starts to build at the back of my throat.

No. I can’t cry. Not here, not now. Not when I still have an awards ceremony to attend—maybe the last awards cer­emony I’ll ever go to.

I force myself to move, to focus on my surroundings, any­thing to pull my thoughts from the black hole of worry swirl­ing inside my head.

An array of skyscrapers rises up in the distance, all glass and steel and unabashed luxury, their tapered tips scraping the watery-blue sky. If I squint, I can even make out the famous silhouette of the CCTV headquarters. Everyone calls it The Giant Underpants because of its shape, though Mina Huang— whose dad is apparently the one who designed it—has been trying and failing for the past five years to make people stop.

My phone buzzes in my skirt pocket, and I know with­out looking that it’s not a text (it never is) but an alarm: only twenty minutes left until assembly begins. I make myself walk faster, past the winding alleys clogged with rickshaws and vendors and little yellow bikes, the clusters of convenience stores and noodle shops and calligraphed Chinese characters blinking across neon signs all blurring by.

The traffic and crowds thicken as I get closer toward the Third Ring Road. There are all kinds of people everywhere: balding uncles cooling themselves with straw fans, cigarettes dangling out of mouths, shirts yanked halfway up to expose their sunburned bellies, the perfect picture of I-don’t-give-a-shit; old aunties strutting down the sidewalks with purpose, drag­ging their floral shopping trolleys behind them as they head for the open markets; a group of local school students sharing large cups of bubble tea and roasted sweet potatoes outside a mini snack stall, stacks of homework booklets spread out on a stool between them, gridded pages fluttering in the breeze.

As I stride past, I hear one of the students ask in a dramatic whisper, their words swollen with a thick Beijing accent, “Dude, did you see that?”

“See what?” a girl replies.

I keep walking, face forward, doing my best to act like I can’t hear what they’re saying. Then again, they probably as­sume I don’t understand Chinese anyway; I’ve been told time and time again by locals that I have a foreigner’s air, or qizhi, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.

“She goes to that school. That’s where that Hong Kong singer—what’s her name again? Krystal Lam?—sends her daughter, and the CEO of SYS as well… Wait, let me just Baidu it to check…”

“Wokao!” the girl swears a few seconds later. I can practi­cally feel her gaping at the back of my head. My face burns. “330,000 RMB for just one year? What are they teaching, how to seduce royalty?” Then she pauses. “But isn’t it an interna­tional school? I thought those were only for white people.”

“What do you know?” the first student scoffs. “Most inter­national students just have foreign passports. It’s easy if you’re rich enough to be born overseas.”

This isn’t true at all: I was born right here in Beijing and didn’t move to California with my parents until I was seven. And as for being rich… No. Whatever. It’s not like I’m going to turn back and correct him. Besides, I’ve had to recount my entire life story to strangers enough times to know that sometimes it’s easier to just let them assume what they want.

Without waiting for the traffic lights to turn—no one here really follows them anyway—I cross the road, glad to put some distance between me and the rest of their conversation. Then I make a quick to-do list in my head.

It’s what works best whenever I’m overwhelmed or frus­trated. Short-term goals. Small hurdles. Things within my control. Like:

One, make it through entire awards ceremony without pushing Henry Li off the stage.

Two, turn in Chinese essay early (last chance to get in Wei Laoshi’s good graces).

Three, read history course syllabus before lunch.

Four, research Maine and closest public schools in Beijing and figure out which place offers highest probability of fu­ture success—if any—without breaking down and/or hit­ting something.

See? All completely doable.

Excerpted from If You Could See the Sun by Ann Liang, Copyright © 2022 by Ann Liang. Published by Inkyard Press.


Ann Liang is an undergraduate at the University of Melbourne. Born in Beijing, she grew up travelling back and forth between China and Australia, but somehow ended up with an American accent. When she isn’t stressing out over her college assignments or writing, she can be found making over-ambitious to-do lists, binge-watching dramas, and having profound conversations with her pet labradoodle about who’s a good dog. This is her debut novel.