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Dread Nation : Book Review

☽ Synopsis ☽ 

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

☽ Review ☽

Plot 

Ireland is not afraid to merge the dark story of slavery with the fast paced action that came with constant zombie attacks. I thought she juggled all of the side plots quite well without it becoming confusing. Despite the historical setting, the plot gives Dread Nation a modern feel. Ireland is not one to sugarcoat; this book gives deep insight to the emotional and physical abuse dealt to slaves. I appreciated it. I’ve read so many books that try to deal with too many issues and end up missing the mark entirely. Dread Nation hits the bullseye. 

And side note there are chapter names?! I love the chapter names. Few books have them so to see them again made me happy. There’s also epigraphs in the form of letters from the main character Jane and her mother. 

Worldbuilding

I’ll admit, I’m not typically one who likes historical fiction. This book would be an exception. The combination of zombie apocalypse and the 1800s felt like a breath of fresh air. Props to Ireland for finding a name for Zombies that I hadn’t heard of and sounded cool (I mean Shamblers sounds menacing). The worldbuilding itself is not hard to understand considering it’s based in 1800s America with zombies. I have to say I enjoyed reading about women in corsets shooting Shamblers with rifles or fighting them off with sickles. 

Characters 

I love the female power in this book, especially the friendship between Katherine and Jane. I thought both characters as well as the female side characters were well developed and likeable. I like that we could even see glimpses of some decency into people like the sheriff without compromising the message that his actions were not okay. As for the other male characters, I felt they were a little one dimensional which was fine for all of the evil men of Summerland. My only gripe was that Jackson felt a little one sided, particularly because he took a backseat for most of the book. That said, there is a second book so maybe he has a little more of a character arc there.

Writing During College Application Season

Senior year has arrived! If your upbringing was anything like mine, you’ve been hearing about this year for most of your life. Senior year of highschool is the center of thousands of teen movies and family conversations. It’s such a pivotal point in our lives that senior year manages to eclipse our entire school experience. And why is it such a pivotal event? Not because of prom like many Disney movies will have you believe but because of college applications. This is the year that will decide our future. No pressure at all right? 

I’m on week three of school and already I’ve had to begin drafting what will total to over twenty essays. Naturally, most of my writing time and creativity is spent on applications. It’s exhausting. Most days, I can only dedicate a sentence or two to my creative projects before my brain short circuits. Progress is a lot slower than I would like because of it. 

Luckily for me, I’m used to working under burn out. I know many can’t say the same, so here’s what I’ve learned so far. 

Set Deadlines. By this I don’t mean the deadline for the entire application. I mean setting deadlines a couple of days out and then sticking to them. It will feel painful, especially if you wait until the last minute but at least you’ll have words to work with. The closer together you set these deadlines, the faster you’ll be done with college applications and can return to creative writing. 

Avoid guilt. There are times I’ve gone days without working on my novel because college essays sucked up all of my creativity. On those days, it’s easy to feel guilty, especially if the problem is lack of brainpower and not lack of time. I try to avoid this by reminding myself of the progress I’ve made in college applications. 

Find the parts of the day where you have the most energy. For me, these times are mornings and evenings. Once you find those times, use them as much as you can and find something relaxing for when your energy is depleted. Trust me when I say you’ll get a lot more done. 

Take Breaks. Whenever I don’t force myself to take breaks my exhaustion shows. The words become more forced and stilted which will lead to an inevitable rewrite, giving me more work than if I had just taken the break. If you have an idea for something that just can’t wait, jot it down and then quit thinking about it. I always have a pen and paper with me or my phone just in case this happens. 

That’s it! It seems like common sense but following through is easier said than done. Hopefully you’ll be able to put at least one of these ideas into practice and knock out some fantastic essays and stories!

The Traitor Spy : Book Review

☽ Synopsis ☽ 

Blackmail always seems like a good idea… until you are cornered by an elven prince.

The elven Court of Stone has many spies, and Kenna is one of its most prized ones. Being a half-elf, she is skilled, dangerous, and beautiful. She’s also a traitor. Desperately yearning for freedom, she blackmails people for ransom behind the back of the elven prince who holds her leash. But one day, she takes it too far. When she accidentally goes after someone from a neighboring court, she is cornered by its prince. The feared Prince of Shadows gives her an ultimatum: spy for him on her own court or her master will learn of her illegal activities.

At the same time, a legendary weapon resurfaces that Kenna has to find for the Prince of Stone. But when things don’t go according to plan, he discovers that there is a traitor in their midst and calls in his most trusted spy to root out the hidden enemy. Kenna now has to maneuver between two lethal elven princes, a ruthless spy turned traitor hunter, and a mission to seduce an unwitting member of a third court before a magical dagger is used to kill the King of Elves. All while still trying to blackmail her way to freedom.

Death awaits her on all sides should she fail. Will she survive this dangerous game? Or will her head–and her heart–lead her straight to ruination?

☽ Review ☽

Plot 

If you want a book filled with action, this is the perfect one for you. I never felt like the story was lacking and all of the plot twists and betrayals only added to the book’s fast paced experience. For a fantasy, the Blackwood does a great job blending fighting scenes, politics, and romance together while also managing to highlight the main plotline of Kenna trying to earn back her freedom from the Prince of Stone. 

I think my only complaint with the plot was the addition of her family and their constant need for money. I was hoping they would tie into the main plot in a bigger way than they actually were. The plot was hinting at a lot of untold emotional abuses that I had hoped would be explored more. Of course, there’s always the next book in the series so maybe it’ll be mentioned then? 

Worldbuilding 

I appreciated the simplicity of the world and the many descriptions but most attempts at explaining the magic or the culture of the courts felt a little clumsy. Being one book, we were only able to get a close look at the Court of Trees and the Court of Stone. I know how hard it is to give world information without info dumping so I won’t be too critical of the details here but I do wish we got a little more info on the other courts and how exactly magic works for everyone. 

Again, this is only the first book so I expect that more courts and their customs will be incorporated into the plotline as well as more about the magic system and how everyone uses their powers. 

Characters 

I liked Kenna a lot. She clearly wasn’t perfect – she had an inability to see past her need to belong particularly with her family – and the book was able to deliver on some badass fighting scenes while managing her insecurities and anxieties as a character. I also liked Evander. I like that he in a way represents and highlights those anxieties in a way that also shows her strengths. I even liked the Void and Mordren. 

As for the other characters, their personalities were lacking. I’m not that mad about it though because I think their presence was important to Kenna growing as a person and assassin.

Boyfriend Material : Book Review

Trigger Warning : Cancer / Disordered eating / Homophobia / Parental Abuse

☽ Synopsis ☽ 

Wanted:

One (fake) boyfriend

Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.

☽ Review ☽

Plot

I thought the romance was incredibly well written. Luc and Oliver’s relationship is by no means perfect, but they both put in effort to make it work. Anyone who knows me knows I love a good fake dating plot and this book delivered. The two of them have a lot of chemistry which made the slow burn even better. I will say though, their fake dating got off to a rocky start which made sense for the characters but was cringy for me to read. The beginning, I think, was the reason this book is four and not five stars. 

Along with the romance, there are a few side plots mostly to do with Luc’s relationship to his parents, specifically his non-existent one with his rock star father who left him when he was three. I didn’t mind this side plot. I thought it did a nice job showing how Luc changes throughout the book. I wasn’t the biggest fan of how it turned out, but it made sense. There’s also a side plot with Oliver and his parents but it doesn’t reveal itself until near the end. In the end, that side plot felt random and I wish that it was incorporated more into the story. 

Characters

I liked all the characters. I liked seeing Luc and Oliver grow together and I liked that neither of them were perfect by the end of the book. In fact, I think I preferred Luc at the end (for reasons I can’t go into because spoilers) than at the beginning purely because I can’t handle self-destructive personalities. As for the other characters…well they had enjoyable personalities but it seemed they only existed to further Luc along in the plot. I think Priya even jokes about it. Overall, they could’ve used the character arcs themselves but I get the author thought that might’ve distracted from the main character arcs.

Writing Goals : Aug-Oct

In attempts to hold myself accountable, I am creating some writing goals for August – October. They are ambitious considering how busy I’m going to be once school starts but maybe I’ll end up surprising myself! I have 10 goals total. I’ll consider this quarter a success if I can complete 7/10. 

Without further ado, here are my goals for August through October! 

  1. Outline fantasy novel draft : I’ve been thinking about this outline for weeks now. Everytime I have gone to draft so far, the perfectionist in me has pointed out some obscure worldbuilding that I need to figure out or I go down a rabbit hole of types of outlines to use. If I am to succeed, I have to quit thinking about details and simply come up with the events that I want to happen in my draft. 
  2. Write and submit Heroes retelling to anthology : I probably shouldn’t be working on this….I’m going to be busy enough as it is but as soon as I saw the posting I couldn’t stop thinking about what I would write and well….I’m sure you can guess the rest. I have about two weeks until school starts. If I am to succeed, I’ll need to create a polished-ish draft of my story by that time. 
  3. Finish dream short story : So far I’m still on rough drafts for this one. I have a fairly solid idea of where I want to go with it and the scenes have been fun to write so far! By finishing I mean a story with clear characters and plot that could be submitted to a magazine with some edits. 
  4. Blog once a week :  I think this one is pretty self explanatory 
  5. Write reviews for ARCs : Earlier this summer, I went a little too trigger happy with the “request ARC” button on Netgalley. Now, I need to review those books. 
  6. Draft two new short stories : I came up with this one because I have so many story ideas that haven’t been written. Who knows, maybe once I write them I’ll be able to post them on my website!
  7. 5K words into fantasy novel : This adds more motivation to finally outline my fantasy novel! Since I’m starting out with this draft, I need to just get the words out and that is exactly what I hope to do (hence why it’s a goal.)
  8. Come up with a title for fantasy novel : Unfortunately I can’t just keep calling it ‘fantasy novel’ especially since I plan on writing more fantasy novels in the future. That would be nice though. 
  9. Watch Brandon Sanderson’s Youtube lectures : Along with writing, I have been trying to learn more about the craft and who better to learn about fantasy than Brandon Sanderson? 
  10. Write script for podcast episode 4 & 5 : The earlier I do this, the less stressed I’ll feel about my podcast so here it is on my list of goals! 
  11. Bonus – College essays : I’m starting senior year of highschool which means it’s time to apply to colleges. This is less of a goal and more of a “have to do because my future depends on it” sort of thing. Because I can’t stop thinking about it (and neither can the rest of my family) it’s going on as a bonus. Besides, if I don’t complete any of my ten goals, at least I’ll know this one will be accomplished. 

That’s it for my goals! If you have any goals for this quarter comment below! I love hearing what other writers are working on.

Childish Spirits : Review

☽ Synopsis ☽ 

When Ellie and her family move into Inchwood Manor, Ellie quickly discovers strange things are happening. Who is the mysterious boy at the window? What secrets lie within the abandoned nursery? Who is the woman who haunts Ellie’s dreams and why has she returned to the Manor, after more than a century? 

Ellie finds herself entangled in a Victorian mystery of ghosts and tunnels and secret documents and discovers that life all those years ago isn’t so different from the world she knows today…

☽ Review ☽

Disclaimer : I was given an advanced reader’s copy of Childish Spirits in exchange for my honest review. Thank you to Rob Keeley for providing my copy! I would also like to note that I am above the target age range for this series, something I will be keeping in perspective as I write this.

Plot 

Again, keeping in mind the age range, I think the plot is perfectly paced. The story is short but fast paced which is great for younger readers who don’t quite have the attention span yet for longer books. I honestly think my little sister would enjoy this story a lot because all of the twists and adventures would continue to engage her. This book definitely entertained me. I was able to guess a lot of the major plot twists but I could see shocking readers. 

Overall, it’s a fun, easy to follow story that has mystery, adventure, funny banter, and of course ghosts. Every single chapter will leave you questioning what will happen next. 

Characters 

I liked the characters. We follow Ellie, who has just moved in and Edward, a mischievous ghost who just wants the house to himself. I think a lot of children will find it easy to relate to both of them and their friendship as it evolves throughout the book.

Camp Nanowrimo Midmonth Update

I can’t believe we’re already about halfway through Camp Nanowrimo! This time, I made the goal of writing every single day and managed to write a short piece 10/13 days! As I anticipated, writing consistently was difficult, particularly when my family came to visit. Along with the goal of writing consistently, I had plans to post a quote from my writing each day for accountability. Unfortunately in posting a quote I put so much pressure on myself to write the perfect line I ended up killing my motivation. It turns out I’m not one of those writers who can use social media for accountability. 

Projects so far : I bounced a couple of ideas around in my notebook mostly taken from one word prompts on a discord server. My favorite stories so far are one where the main character thinks they’re dreaming when they’re not and one that follows a Youtube vlogger who is being followed on vacation. They are both very much in the draft zero phases but I have high hopes that I’ll have them polished enough to post quotes at some point. 

Projects in the future :  While I’m going to continue to bounce around ideas, I would also like to plan my fantasy novel. Earlier today, I procrastinated by creating Picrew versions of my main characters. Maybe the visuals will inspire me to give my characters some depth so I can start reworking the plot. 


Lessons learned :  I need to put writing goals in my planner. If I don’t see a checkbox for it, I’ll never get it done. Even then, writing takes a lot of motivation after a long day of lectures and work. People who do this while juggling a full time job / school will never cease to amaze me.

The Boy Who Lived in the Ceiling : Review

 ☽ Synopsis ☽ 

Heartbreaking yet heartwarming – a coming-of-age story filled with love, loss, and blossoming friendships.

Freddie’s life isn’t like it used to be – he’s alone, homeless, and carrying a secret that threatens to swallow him up. Every day is a struggle, until he meets Violet Johnson.

Violet’s life is going down-hill. Her parents argue, her little brother’s stopped speaking, and she’s about to move schools. She used to be popular, she used to be happy, but now she feels as though that is all slipping away.

Having to grow up quickly and find their way in the world, Freddie and Violet grow closer despite their differences.

Focusing on everyday issues faced by teens and young adults, The Boy Who Lived in The Ceiling will leave you asking: Are some people invisible to us?

☽ Review ☽

Disclaimer : I was given an advanced reader’s copy of The Boy Who Lived in the Ceiling in exchange for my honest opinions. Thank you to Wise Wolf Books for providing my copy!

Plot

The pacing of the main plot does take some time to speed up. Once it did, I found the book easier and more engaging to read. I thought the overall plot arc that focused on Violet and Freddie’s relationship and his struggle with homelessness was well done and thoughtful. Thurlbourn takes a difficult topic and handles it so well. There is also a focus on grief in this book which I also thought was done in a careful way that still accurately depicted different forms of grief. 

That being said, I felt like there were many side plotlines that were started but never finished (or wrapped up in a non satisfactory way). A couple of the plotlines I was hoping would be integrated more into the story such as Freddie and trade school. Other plotlines, I think only watered down the main plotline – the focus on Freddie and Violet becoming more open and understanding of each other. I thought the Aisla and Violet clashing only distracted from this main plotline. It wasn’t relevant at all in the last hundred pages of the book, much like Violet and Jeanette’s friendship. Honestly, the book would have been more effective without either of those side plots. 

Characters

I liked Freddie. I could empathize with his inner and outer struggles dealing with grief and homelessness and his growing friendship with Violet. I liked Violet as the book progressed. In the beginning, her character arc for the most part was the cliche “will I make friends at my new public high school?” I started liking her after the “will I make friends” plotline was out of the way and in the background. 

As for the other characters, I didn’t feel they were developed enough to give an opinion on other than Violet’s brother, who spent the book trying to gain a handle on his grief in a way not totally dissimilar from Freddie. I liked what I saw of Jeanette but she felt more like a plot point than a person. Aisla had more of a character arc but the end of her character arc felt completely out of character from what I saw of her before and sudden.

10 Things I Learned From Margaret Atwood’s Masterclass

I think it’s safe to say I’m not the only writer who has been creating stories in their head and on paper since they were a little kid. Even before I knew how to use words I was drawing picture books for my family. When I was twelve, I thought I could write a bestseller with nothing more than my brain and my school issued a Chromebook (spoiler alert it was not a bestseller although my friend and I did get copies printed to hand out to our friends). Now, in high school, I’ve realized I’m going to need a lot more guidance if I am to fulfill my dream of publishing a novel. 

That’s how I found Masterclass. There’s no great reason I chose to start with Margaret Atwood other than the fact that I had read her book The Handmaid’s Tale for English 10 the prior year. In this post, I’ll be summarizing the ten tips that stood out to me from her Masterclass. 

The Beginning is Crucial to Success : Atwood says that the first page is the entryway to your story. The reader has to like what they read to feel compelled to read more and hopefully buy the book. Once they get past the first page, something has to happen to convince them to convince them to buy your book. If nothing happens by page ten, you’re in trouble. 

People Are Not Perfect : Everyone has a flaw and so, characters should have some flaws too. Your character doesn’t even have to be likable nor the villain has to be redeemed because not every person is likable. The goal is to find a balance in flaws and talents in characters to keep your readers engaged. 

Actions Reveal a Character : If you want the reader to make a certain conclusion about a character, you have to show that quality through the character’s actions. What they do or don’t do says a lot about their moral compass and personality. 

Make Writing a Habit : This should be an obvious tip but so many people (myself included) don’t end up following through. You have to write everyday no matter what even if you don’t have any idea what to write. She doesn’t say you specifically need to always be working on your next project. You just need to write something. And hey- maybe you’ll get a new idea for later down the road!

Pay Attention to the World Around You : Atwood believes that you must observe the world using the five senses and practice honing your sensory perceptions to aid your descriptions. Using the senses in your novel adds another level to the story so you need to know what kind of sights or sounds a character might notice. 

Time is Always Relevant : Using time grounds readers and so it is always helpful to create and note a timeline in your stories. Atwood says that such timelines can either be circular and linear and that there’s no wrong or right side of history. 

Be Open to Changes : Maybe that really cool face off you were thinking of writing didn’t fit with the rest of the story or a romantic tension that you didn’t intend to cause bloomed between two characters. Atwood says that’s okay. The whole point of revision is to decide how you want to proceed once you find these obstacles. 

Have Someone Look Over Your Writing : At some point, you are going to have looked over your work so much, you can’t catch the flaws anymore. That’s what beta readers and critique partners are for. Atwood advises you don’t pick someone really close to you because you want someone who feels comfortable being critical of your work. 

Detail is Crucial : Someone will notice if you say a traveler has four protein bars but eats six. Having someone to point out inconsistencies in detail and fixing them overall makes a novel cleaner.
 
No Surefire Way to Find Success : There are a lot of successful and unsuccessful writers in both self publishing and traditional. You want to go the route that seems the best for you and your book.

Malice : Book Review

 ☽ Synopsis ☽

Once upon a time, there was a wicked fairy who, in an act of vengeance, cursed a line of princesses to die. A curse that could only be broken by true love’s kiss.

You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? The handsome prince. The happily-ever-after.

Utter nonsense.

Let me tell you, no one in Briar actually cares about what happens to its princesses. Not the way they care about their jewels and elaborate parties and charm-granting elixirs. I thought I didn’t care, either.

Until I met her.

Princess Aurora. The last heir to Briar’s throne. Kind. Gracious. The future queen her realm needs. One who isn’t bothered that I am Alyce, the Dark Grace, abhorred and feared for the mysterious dark magic that runs in my veins. Humiliated and shamed by the same nobles who pay me to bottle hexes and then brand me a monster. Aurora says I should be proud of my gifts. That she . . . cares for me. Even though it was a power like mine that was responsible for her curse.

But with less than a year until that curse will kill her, any future I might see with Aurora is swiftly disintegrating—and she can’t stand to kiss yet another insipid prince. I want to help her. If my power began her curse, perhaps it’s what can lift it. Perhaps, together, we could forge a new world.

Nonsense again.

Because we all know how this story ends, don’t we? Aurora is the beautiful princess. And I—

I am the villain.

☽ Review With Spoilers ☽

Plot 

Once I got past the standard fantasy introduction to the world, the pacing was great. The ways that Walter incorporated elements of the Disney fairytale we all know and love was clever yet subtle. The romantic plotline between Alyce and Aurora felt natural and honestly the angst and the chemistry between them is perfect. 

I was able to predict some of the major plot points. I figured Kal might betray Alyce in some fashion but I can’t say I hate him for it either because he helped Alyce understand her powers and her heritage. I also wasn’t surprised when Alyce found out it was Laurel who took all of her money so that she would stay indebted to the king. Still, that didn’t make me enjoy the book any less. In fact, the entire book was quite entertaining, enough so that I decided to give it five stars. 

I think if I wanted to, I could just end on book one because the ending, although it set up an interesting premise for book two, didn’t seem like much of a cliffhanger to me. I think I’m going to keep reading because I want to know how Alyce will win Aurora back but of course the second book most likely won’t come out until I’m in college at which point I might be too busy to read it. 

Of course I can’t post this review without mentioning my favorite part : the villain origin story. I love a good villain origin story. It was fascinating to see Alyce act on her fury and realize the true potential of her powers. I hope she gets all the revenge she wants because she deserves it after being so cruelly treated by practically everyone in Briar. 

Worldbuilding 

The story is set in the kingdom of Briar, which is run by the King and Queen and known for its Grace Houses. The Graces are females gifted by the Fae with the powers to alter appearance or give knowledge or other light magic gifts. It sounds great, but in reality they are practically enslaved, forced to use their blood to aid any patron who is willing to pay money for their services. Alyce works in one of these houses although her powers are the opposite of what the other Graces can do because she is part Vila. This world setting is cool and as I mentioned before, has many subtle references to the fairytale Sleeping Beauty. The Graces are much like the three fairies who originally gifted Aurora in the movie. Briar is a reference to Sleeping Beauty’s other name – Briar Rose. Just as there are references to the fairytale, much of the world’s details and history is different. The royals can only have female children because the first queen was blessed that way by the Fae. There is the Vila, which is a dark magic race. I found myself fascinated by the kingdom and its inner politics. I’m excited to see what new kingdoms will be potentially visited in the next book. 

Characters

I don’t have anything bad to say about Aurora or Alyce. I think Alyce’s inner struggle with herself was pretty relatable. She has many reasons to be angry yet doesn’t choose to act on her anger until Aurora is harmed. I hope things end well for her and Aurora. Aurora, unlike her cruel father, wants a better life for the peasants and the Graces. She’s kind and smart. 

I think Kal and Alyce are fairly similar in that they both have been scorned by the Fae and Briar which I thought was an interesting parallel. I can’t find it in myself to hate him because much like Alyce, he simply wanted to live a nice life with his lover and when he was denied that, wanted revenge. 

I can find it in myself to hate Rose, one of the Graces. I know a lot of her cruel actions are a product of the cutthroat competition between Graces and the pressures on her but still. She is such a bitch. I can’t blame Alyce for sabotaging her. 

There are other characters that have a role in the plot but I don’t have much to say about them. I feel indifferent towards Laurel although I liked her a little in the beginning. Hilde is funny. She’s mentioned enough that I think she’ll play a role in book two as well.