The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Release Date: September 22, 2015
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Series: Prisoners of Peace, Book 1
Rated: YA 14+
Format: ARC
Source: Pansing
Buy: Available at all good bookstores!

The world is at peace, said the Utterances. And really, if the odd princess has a hard day, is that too much to ask?

Greta is a duchess and crown princess—and a hostage to peace. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Go to war and your hostage dies.

Greta will be free if she can survive until her eighteenth birthday. Until then she lives in the Precepture school with the daughters and sons of the world’s leaders. Like them, she is taught to obey the machines that control their lives. Like them, she is prepared to die with dignity, if she must. But everything changes when a new hostage arrives. Elián is a boy who refuses to play by the rules, a boy who defies everything Greta has ever been taught. And he opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the system they live under—and to her own power.

As Greta and Elián watch their nations tip closer to war, Greta becomes a target in a new kind of game. A game that will end up killing them both—unless she can find a way to break all the rules.

I knew even before I picked up this book that it was going to be unlike anything I’ve read before. It’s such an interesting concept: what role the UN has in the future, how children are hostages to the UN and killed when war is waged...there’s no wonder why I wanted this book so badly. After reading it, I only then saw that there was kind of a connection to Neuromancer by William Gibson, especially concerning the AI’s and the presence of multiple nationalities–the idea of a global society. There was so much that happened in this book and it was a journey like no other.

Some people have said that this book could have worked as a standalone, and after finishing it, I can see why. However, I’m just glad there’s another book coming because this world that Bow has introduced us to is absolutely amazing and I just want to keep uncovering more. Like I mentioned, a lot happens in this book and I kept thinking that the story was going to end only to see that there was half a book more to finish, and so much more happens.

However, while I did like the world we were placed in, I had a few problems with this novel and Greta’s character was one of them. It’s not that our protagonist wasn’t a great character, it’s just that I feel like after reading this one I look back and try to think about what makes her stand out and I come up with nothing–she’s kind of lacking a voice. Her character does go through a great ordeal, but nothing sets her apart from everyone else and other than some of the “dream” sequences and changes she goes through, there’s nothing of real significance to hold on to. Xie, on the other hand, is a SUPER interesting character. Even Elián was a cool character and was really funny. Talis was probably the best thing in this book–super witty and sarcastic with one liners that made me wanna yell OH SNAP. But Greta? I’m left feeling neutral concerning her because while I didn’t hate her, she didn’t come off as someone who stands out from the rest.

The blurb is definitely a little misleading when it conveys the possibility of romance in this book. There is a *love triangle* but it’s not really love-triangle-y in the usual sense. I can’t really say much about it, but it’s not as prominent as it is in other books. It’s definitely interesting, I will say that much.

While there isn’t a lack of diversity in this book (which is a good thing!), I’m just slightly disappointed in the fact that The Scorpion Rules wasn’t as diverse as it could have been. I mean, come on–this book is basically the epitome of a book that should have a global cast. And it does... it’s juts that Elián and Greta are basically the main characters, both white, from North America (at least that’s what I garnered). I mean, this book has a cast from all around the world. Xie is a pretty big character and she’s ruler of Asia, but otherwise the other characters of colour are just ones that pop up from time to time. What I’m trying to say all in all is that there definitely should have been a larger role for those other Children of Peace from other parts of the world.

I have to also admit this: I did get a bit lost in the middle. It might have been the fact that I started and finished this book in two or three sittings within one day, but I definitely couldn’t follow some parts because they were kind of all over the place. At some point I later come to understand everything that had transpired but otherwise it was a complete mess for me trying to visualise the situation.

All in all though, this book was quite the experience. A unique concept paired with complex and rich world-building and a story that reels you in from the first words, The Scorpion Rules is a worthwhile read. I’m glad the story will continue in one way or another because Erin Bow sure can craft an amazing story.

▪ ▪ ▪ Thank you so much to Sasha at Pansing for sending me a copy for review! ▪ ▪ 

If you like this, try...

Waiting on Wednesday – Week 157

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. It’s to spotlight upcoming releases I’m DYING to get my hands on!

This week’s WoW is:
How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather

For fans of Conversion and Mean Girls, comes a debut novel where the trials of high school start to feel like a modern day witch hunt for a teen with all the wrong connections to Salem’s past.

Salem, Massachusetts is the site of the infamous witch trials and the new home of Samantha Mather. Recently transplanted from New York City, Sam and her stepmother are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Sam is the descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for those trials and almost immediately, she becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves The Descendants. And guess who their ancestors were?

If dealing with that weren't enough, Sam also comes face to face with a real live (well technically dead) ghost. A handsome, angry ghost who wants Sam to stop touching his stuff. But soon Sam discovers she is at the center of a centuries old curse affecting anyone with ties to the trials. Sam must come to terms with the ghost and find a way to work with the Descendants to stop a deadly cycle that has been going on since the first accused witch was hanged. If any town should have learned its lesson, it's Salem. But history may be about to repeat itself.

July 26, 2016 ● Goodreads

I’ve never been to Salem despite studying in Boston, but I know people who go every year for Halloween. I seriously need to go there one day...anyway, back to the point. I can’t wait for this one! It sounds like a really cool paranormal contemporary meets historical young adult fiction type of story. Even more of a reason to go to Salem, hehe.

What are you waiting on?

Spotlight & Giveaway: Did I Mention I Love You?

Hey guys! Today, I’m super excited to share with you a book that came out earlier this month, Did I Mention I Love You? by Estelle Maskame, the first book in a trilogy.
Release Date: December 1, 2015
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Love is everything but expected.

Eden Munro came to California for a summer of sun, sand, and celebrities- what better way to forget about the drama back home? Until she meets her new family of strangers; a dad she hasn’t seen in three years, a stepmonster, and three stepbrothers.

Eden gets her own room in her dad’s fancy house in Santa Monica. A room right next door to her oldest stepbrother. Tyler Bruce. Whom she cannot stand. He has angry blue eyes and an ego bigger than a Beverly Hills mansion. She’s never felt such intense dislike for someone. But the two are constantly thrown together as his group of friends pulls her into their world of rule-breaking, partying, and pier-hanging

And the more she tries to understand what makes Tyler burn hotter than the California sun, the more Eden finds herself falling for the one person she shouldn’t…

Did I Mention I Love You? is the addictive first book in Wattpad sensation Estelle Maskame’s DIMIY trilogy: three unforgettable summers of secrets, heartbreak, and forbidden romance.

Amazon Apple B&N BooksAMillion !ndigo IndieBound

Praise for Did I Mention I Love You?

“Readers will root for them, like they would with Edward and Bella—the mutual attraction and need for one another is palpable. It rings of passion, excitement, and first love.” –VOYA Magazine

“An edgy young adult romance with dark layers” –The Examiner

“A believable coming-of-age story and an unconventional romance, set against a present-day California summer... . The fallout of divorce, the insidiousness of substance abuse and family secrets, and especially the pangs of first love drive this emotionally resonant tale.” – Publishers Weekly

“Written in first person, Maskame’s trilogy opener is an excellent portrayal of a teenage girl’s life in the 21st century. Eden has to adjust to her blended family, try to feel pretty, be body conscious, and make friends, all while falling in love for the first time. She is someone all young people can relate to...Romance fans will be captivated by Eden and her journey to finding herself and true love.” –School Library Journal


Estelle Maskame started writing at the age of thirteen and completed the Did I Mention I Love You? trilogy when she was sixteen. She has built an extensive fan-base for her writing by serializing her work on Wattpad. Fitting book writing between work, Estelle has amassed followers from all over the world. She lives in Scotland. For more visit

Sourcebooks Twitter

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I can almost see the road through the gaps in the fence by the side of the house, and I squint through. There’s music playing. More like blaring. I can hear it over the crappy music that’s already bouncing around the back yard, and as a sleek white car speeds up to the edge of the sidewalk and skids against the curb, I grimace in disgust. The music cuts off the second the engine is killed.

“What are you looking at?” Rachael asks, but I’m too busy staring to even attempt to answer.
The car door swings open roughly, and I’m surprised it doesn’t fall straight off its hinges. It’s difficult to see clearly through the fence, but a tall guy gets out and slams the door shut just as aggressively as he opened it. He hesitates for a moment, stares at the house, and then runs a hand through his hair. Whoever he is, he looks su-per depressed. Like he’s just lost all his life savings or his dog just died. And then he heads straight for the gate.

“Who the hell is this jackass?” I mutter to Rachael as the figure nears us.

But before either of us can say anything more, Jackass decides to hit the gate open with a fist, drawing the at-tention of everyone around us. It’s like he wants everyone to hate him. I figure he’s probably that one neighbor that everyone despises, and he’s only here in a fit of rage because he wasn’t invited to the lamest barbecue get-together that’s ever been hosted.

“Sorry I’m late,” Jackass comments sarcastically. And loudly too, with a smirk on his lips. His eyes flash green as emeralds. “Did I miss anything besides the slaughtering of animals?” He throws up the infamous mid-dle finger to, from what I can see, the barbecue. “I hope you guys enjoyed the cow you just ate.” And then he laughs. He laughs as though everyone’s expressions of disgust are the most entertaining thing he’s seen all year.

“More beer?” I hear my dad call out to the silent crowd, and as they chuckle and return to their conversations, Jackass heads through the patio doors. He slams them shut so hard I can almost see the glass tremble.

I’m stunned. I have no idea what just happened or who that was or why he’s just entered the house. When I realize I’m slightly slack-jawed, I close my mouth and turn to Rachael.

She bites her lip and pushes her sunglasses down over her eyes. “I’m guessing you haven’t met your step-brother yet.”

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Wait, there’s more!

Enter to win...

A copy of Did I Mention I Love You? + an ADVANCED copy of Did I Mention I Need You?

Giveaway open until December 30

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Coming soon!

Did I Mention I Need You?

Release Date: March 1, 2016

Eden and Tyler have desperately tried to ignore their love for each other for the sake of their family. But they can’t seem to stay apart for long, especially once Tyler invites Eden to spend the summer with him in New York.

Away from their life in California and caught up in the excitement of the city, their summer fling turns into something much more serious. Unable to deny their feelings, Tyler and Eden must face reality. But how will their family react when they confess their romance? And is their relationship strong enough to survive the fallout?

Pre-Order Links:
Amazon Apple B&N BooksAMillion !ndigo IndieBound

Did I Mention I Miss You?
Release Date: June 7, 2016

Eden’s on her way back to Santa Monica for the summer, and she hasn’t seen Tyler since the devastating fallout of their forbidden relationship. Eden claims to have moved on—but Tyler wants to rekindle the flame.

He convinces Eden to visit his new home in Portland, Oregon, where he has set up a center for troubled teens. Eden’s proud of what he’s built, but the last time they were together, it nearly destroyed Eden and their family. Then a tragedy draws them together, and Eden must search her heart and decide if Tyler is worth the risk once and for all.

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Thank you so much to Kathryn Lynch at Sourcebooks!

Trollhunters by Guillermo del Toro & Daniel Kraus

Trollhunters by Guillermo del Toro & Daniel Kraus

Release Date: June 30, 2015
Illustrated by: Sean Murray
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Series: Trollhunters, Book 1
Rated: YA/MG 13+
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing
Buy: Available at all good bookstores!
Goodreads Website (GdT) Website (DK)

You are food. 

Those muscles you flex to walk, lift, and talk? They're patties of meat topped with chewy tendon. 

That skin you've paid so much attention to in mirrors? It's delicious to the right tongues, a casserole of succulent tissue. 

And those bones that give you the strength to make your way in the world? They rattle between teeth as the marrow is sucked down slobbering throats.

There are monsters out there, you see – with monstrous appetites.

In San Bernardino, California, children are going missing. 

The townspeople don't believe the rumours of trolls, but fifteen-year-old Jim Jnr knows that they're a very real threat. At night, is anyone safe? 

TROLLHUNTERS is a funny, gruesome and undeniably del Toro-esque adventure perfect for teen readers and fans of Pan's Labyrinth.

It is unfortunate that I haven’t seen anything by Guillermo del Toro (yet). When I got the opportunity to read Trollhunters, co-authored by the famous filmmaker, I immediately took the chance. I’ve seen bits and pieces of Pan’s Labyrinth and have endlessly drooled over the cinematography and set for Crimson Peak but this really sets what I can expect from his films: dark and magical stories. All, of course, with a touch of creepy.

This series reminds me so much of the fantasy series I devoured in middle school–Fablehaven, Percy Jackson...a young hero discovers a magical world and nothing is the same. I actually haven’t ever read a book about trolls–well, I’m not going to include Amanda Hocking’s series because they aren’t portrayed as the traditional “trolls” in epic fantasy–so this was a great first. I’m just hoping that since this book was written by two filmmakers, they’ll maybe make it into a film one day. MY FINGERS ARE CROSSED.

I loved the dynamic that developed between the characters. Jim’s character was great–truly fit the role of the awkward teen male hero who at first has no idea what to do. Tub, his friend, was also perfect for the comical sidekick. They both were a brilliant duo who face the challenges ahead, all with the hilarity of a middle-grade-meets-young-adult series. Things truly aren’t what they seem and from a quarter into the book it’s made clear. I won’t give too much away, but there are quite a few twists here and there.

I’m glad that this one is a series, as even though it could have been a standalone, I’m super eager to see what comes next. Paired with absolutely gorgeous illustrations that capture the brilliant world that del Toro and Kraus have created, Trollhunters is the perfect story for fantasy readers of all ages. As I’ve said, I’m very excited to see where these two creative minds take us next.

▪ ▪ ▪ Thank you so much to Sasha at Pansing for sending me a copy for review! ▪ ▪ 

If you like this, try...

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Release Date: May 13, 2014
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Rated: YA 14+
Format: eGalley
Source: NetGalley
Buy: AmazonThe Book Depository
Goodreads ● Website (Author) ● Website (Book)

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. 

Read it.

And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

Ive had so many people tell me that I should read this book that I finally gave in and picked up We Were Liars. It definitely did not disappoint! I love mysterious contemporaries and this one has a pretty big twist. I think though, that because so many people were reeling from and constantly mentioning that there was a huge twist in the story that I saw it coming JUST before it was announced in the book. Nonetheless, I still really enjoyed the story and this book just makes me want to read more from E. Lockhart, an author I’d never picked up before.

I enjoyed Cady’s narrative voice, particularly her determination to find out what happened that one summer. The relationship with Gat was really interesting, but I just wish we learned more about Mirren and Johnny–the story is about the Liars after all! But everything does make sense after the twist–speaking of twisted, I also really liked the fairytales that were between chapters–they were really dark...I kind of want E. Lockhart to write a whole book filled with her take on popular fairytales.

We Were Liars was a really quick read, but one that kept me thinking about it long after Id finished. Eerie and spine-tingling, E. Lockhart’s wonderful prose will keep you at the edge of your seat from start to finish–this is a summer you won’t forget.

If you like this, try...

Half in Love with Death by Emily Ross

Half in Love with Death by Emily Ross

Release Date: December 16, 2015
Publisher: Merit Press
Rated: YA 14+
Format: ARC
Source: BookSavvy PR
Buy: AmazonThe Book Depository
Goodreads Website

It's the era of peace and love in the 1960s, but nothing is peaceful in Caroline's life. Since her beautiful older sister disappeared, fifteen-year-old Caroline might as well have disappeared too. She's invisible to her parents, who can't stop blaming each other. The police keep following up on leads even Caroline knows are foolish. The only one who seems to care about her is Tony, her sister's older boyfriend, who soothes Caroline's desperate heart every time he turns his magical blue eyes on her. 

Tony is convinced that the answer to Jess's disappearance is in California, the land of endless summer, among the runaways and flower children. Come with me, Tony says to Caroline, and we'll find her together. Tony is so loving, and all he cares about is bringing Jess home. And so Caroline follows, and closes a door behind her that may never open again.

Inspired by the disturbing case of Charles Schmid, ‘the Pied Piper of Tucson’, Half in Love with Death is a heartfelt thriller that never lets up.

I’d seen Half in Love with Death around the book blogosphere quite a bit and when I got the opportunity to review Emily Ross’s debut, I jumped at the chance. However, when I got the book I didn’t read too closely and thought it was a retelling of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” It was only after I finished the book that I realised that it was actually inspired by ‘the Pied Piper of Tucson.’ To those of you, like me, who have never heard of Charles Schmid, I would totally recommend holding off searching him up until you finish reading this book. Emily Ross’s book was thrilling, and after reading up on the inspiration, the story follows quite closely to the real-life events that transpired.

I don’t know how to feel about our protagonist. On one hand, Caroline is quite an interesting voice and has a great role in this novel. On the other hand, though, she can be quite naive at times, and hangs out with the wrong people who treat her badly. I’m definitely leaning to more of the “Caroline is a good main character” thought though because she does have the innocence and flaws of someone at 15. It’s often when I would get mad at characters for not knowing better, but it’s easy to say things compared to actually doing them. The range of characters in this story was really interesting... I just wish that we actually got to learn more about Jess’s character. We only see her at the start of the novel and otherwise we don’t see any major flashbacks or memories of her, other than what happened that night and the accounts of those who knew her. Tony’s character was definitely a wild card, and learning more about him as the book progressed was quite transfixing because there’s a do-I-trust-him-do-I-not vibe that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

The only real problem I had with this book was where the plot would take us sometimes. Instead of focusing on the situation at times, the story would go off a tangent that seemed slightly unnecessary. However, I will say this: sometimes these tangents lead to interesting bits of plot line. After reading the case of Charles Schmid and looking back at the book, I could totally see why parts of those tangents were pretty interesting. Otherwise though, I felt that the book could have progressed much faster if not for some parts of the novel.

The story of a gripping case set in the ‘60s, Half in Love with Death is a book I would call a slow thriller: the kind that slowly builds up and then closes with a hair-raising ending. Absolutely riveting, Emily Ross’s YA debut is one not to miss.

▪ ▪ ▪ Thank you so much to Emily Adams at BookSavvy PR for sending me a copy for review! ▪ ▪ 

If you like this, try...

Waiting on Wednesday – Week 156

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. It’s to spotlight on upcoming releases that I’m DYING to get my hands on!

This week’s WoW is:
The Lifeboat Clique by Kathy Parks

Some people might say that Denver had a death wish. Why else would she have dared to sneak into a Malibu beach party where she’d be surrounded by enemies, namely including her ex-BFF Abigail?

Oh yeah. Croix. Denver never thought in a million years he’d ask her out, but who was she to question this miracle of fate? Well, that wasn’t the only surprise fate had in store.

During the party a tsunami hit the coast of California, wiping out everything in its path. Denver and a handful of others escaped death by holding onto the roof of the house and were swept out to sea. Of course, one of her fellow castaways was none other than Abigail, who could barely stand the sight of her.

Now that she’s floating in the ocean, stuck on a small boat with the most popular kids in school and waiting to be rescued, Denver wonders what might kill her first-dehydration, sunstroke, or the girl she used to think of as a sister?

A hilariously dark and twisted story that sparkles with a remarkably fresh voice, The Lifeboat Clique is Kathy Park’s irreverent yet insightful novel about how to survive in the most unthinkable circumstances.

March 1, 2016 ● Goodreads

The super cute cover and the super original (and super unlikely) scenario have got me hooked. I can’t wait to start The Lifeboat Clique! Thankfully, Edelweiss has this one for review and I was able to download an eGalley. I seriously can’t wait to start it–the author described it as Mean Girls meets Life of Pi...WHATMOREDOYOUNEED?!?!?!

What are you waiting on?

The Anatomical Shape of a Heart Blog Tour: Review + Giveaway

The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett

Release Date: November 3, 2015

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Rated: YA 14+
Format: eGalley
Source: NetGalley
Buy: AmazonThe Book DepositoryB&N ● iTunes ● Kobo
Goodreads ● Website

Artist Beatrix Adams knows exactly how she's spending the summer before her senior year. Determined to follow in Leonardo da Vinci’s footsteps, she's ready to tackle the one thing that will give her an advantage in a museum-sponsored scholarship contest: drawing actual cadavers. But when she tries to sneak her way into the hospital’s Willed Body program and misses the last metro train home, she meets a boy who turns her summer plans upside down.

Jack is charming, wildly attractive . . . and possibly one of San Francisco’s most notorious graffiti artists. On midnight buses and city rooftops, Beatrix begins to see who Jack really is—and tries to uncover what he’s hiding that leaves him so wounded. But will these secrets come back to haunt him? Or will the skeletons in Beatrix’s own family’s closet tear them apart?

It’s been a while since I’ve read a cute young adult contemporary romance, and The Anatomical Shape of a Heart hit the spot. There have been a few recent books here and there that portray their lead heroines as ones undeterred by death, bodies, etc. but this is the first one I’ve ever seen about a girl interested in anatomical art. Jenn Bennett artfully (pun intended) explores anatomy, graffiti and love in her first YA novel.

We need more strong heroines like Bex. The young adult category of books is filled with wonderful and fantastic young women, for sure, but something about Bex’s character made her stand out. It was probably the fact that she tells it like it is, or that she’s comfortable in her own skin, or, and this is like the first time I’ve ever seen it in YA, she’s actually more experiences in some *areas* than Jack. Speaking of...major swoon-worthy feels throughout the book. Bennett has created yet another beautiful on the inside-and-outside male character that has eternally ruined real guys for me. The chemistry between these two characters was super intense in the best way possible, from the super-smooth flirtations at the start to the amazing relationship that develops later in the story.

Generally with contemporary novels something happens out of the blue that either adds a rich subplot to the story, or just feels like filler-material that doesn’t work and seems to drag on. Thankfully with this book it was the former rather than the latter. There’s quite a few underlying details that surface halfway through the book that makes things a lot more interesting. However, what I feel could have been worked on better were the secondary characters. We do get to know more about Heath and Bex’s mom, but what about Jack’s friends, for example? They barely have a role in this story and it would have been definitely a lot more interesting to find out more about them.

All in all, The Anatomical Shape of a Heart was a fun and sweet contemporary that featured interesting expressions of art. Jenn Bennett is a fabulous writer, and from the quick quips that had me smiling to the more serious tones in the novel, this book was a success from start to finish. I hope she does write more for a young adult audience–she’s clearly excelling at it!

If you like this, try...

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Jenn Bennett is an artist and RITA-nominated author of the Arcadia Bell urban fantasy series (Kindling the Moon) and the Roaring Twenties romance series, including Bitter Spirits, which was chosen as one of Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2014 and winner of RT Book Reviews Paranormal Romance Book of the Year, and Grave Phantoms—which was awarded RT's May Seal of Excellence for 2015. The Anatomical Shape of a Heart, (aka Night Owls in the U.K.) is her first YA contemporary romance. She lives near Atlanta with one husband and two evil pugs. Visit her at

Website ● Facebook ● Twitter ● Goodreads ● Tumblr ● Instagram ● Pinterest

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The last train wasn’t coming. It was almost midnight, and for the better part of an hour I’d been clutching my art portfolio and what was left of my pride at the university hospital Muni stop alongside a handful of premed students, an elderly Chinese woman wielding an umbrella like a weapon, a chatty panhandler named Will (who lived in the hospital parking garage), and an enthusiastic drunk street preacher who either wanted to warn us about a fiery apocalypse or sell us ringside tickets—maybe both. “A two-car N-Judah train broke down in Sunset Tunnel,” one of the medical students read off his phone. “Looks like we’re stuck riding an Owl.” A collective groan passed through the group. The dreaded all-nighter Owl bus. After hours, when light-rail train service ends in San Francisco and most of the city is sleeping, Owl buses take over the surface routes. I’d ridden an Owl only once, right before summer break started. My older brother, Heath, had mistakenly tried to cheer me up with tickets to a sing-along of The Little Mermaid (glow sticks, shell bras) at the Castro Theatre, and after a midnight dinner at a greasy spoon, we’d missed our regular train. Owl buses are slower, dirtier, and filled with people leaving parties, clubs, and closed bars—automatically upping the chance of encountering fistfights and projectile vomit. Riding an Owl when Heath was with me was one thing; risking it alone was another, especially when no one knew where I was. Yeah, I know. Not the brightest idea in the world, but I didn’t have cab money on me. I chewed a hangnail and stared up at the fog clinging to the streetlight, hoping I didn’t look as anxious as I felt. Just for the record, I’m not supposed to take mass transit after 10:00 p.m. That’s my mom’s scientific cutoff for avoiding violent crime. It’s not arbitrary. She’s an RN and works graveyard at the ER right across the street three or four times a week (where she was at that very moment), so she knows exactly when the gunshot victims start wheeling in. And even though Heath has the same curfew, I’m plenty aware that my Victim Odds are higher because I’m small and female and not quite eighteen. So, sure, I might be a statistical easy target, but I don’t usually prowl the city after midnight, giving my precious teenage life the middle finger. I mean, it’s not like I was taking that big of a risk. It wasn’t a bad part of town, and I’d been riding Muni since I was a kid. I also had pepper spray and an itchy trigger finger. Besides, I was sneaking around for a good reason: to show my illustrations to the professor who runs the anatomy department and convince her to give me access to the Willed Body Program. At least, that was the original plan. But after waiting hours for someone who never showed, the whole thing was looking more like a stupid waste of time. As the med students bet on the arrival time of the Owl bus, Panhandler Will gave me a little wave and made his way over. Fine by me. I’d feel safer with a familiar face between the drunken preacher and me; he was making me nervous when he breathed fire in my direction. “Hey, man,” Will said as he approached. Man? Before I could answer, he’d shuffled on by as if he hadn’t even seen me. Wow. Snubbed by a homeless guy. My night was getting better and better. “What up, Willy?” a male voice answered cheerfully. “Pretty late for you to be working.” “Hospital rent-a-cops are making the rounds. Just waiting for them to clear out.” Curiosity got the better of me, so I turned around to see who’d snagged Will’s attention—some shadowy guy leaning against a telephone pole. Will was blocking my view, so I couldn’t make him out all that well, but the two of them chatted for a moment before Will even noticed me. “Sad Girl,” he said with a toothy grin. That’s what he calls me, because he thinks I’m depressed. I’m not, by the way. I’m just pleasantly dour and serious, but it’s hard to explain the difference to someone who sleeps in a cardboard lean-to. “How’s it going?” “Not that great,” I said. “I don’t have anything tonight.” Sometimes I give him my change, but if I had any cash, I’d be in a taxi headed home by now. “No worries. Your old lady treated me to dinner on her way in to work earlier.” That didn’t surprise me. Maybe it was the nurse in her, but Mom had a thing about feeding everyone in her line of sight and was practically obsessed with leftovers; if it was larger than a grain of rice, it was either stored in the fridge, packed as part of someone’s lunch, or distributed to neighbors, coworkers—and now, apparently, the ever-popular Panhandler Will, who had spotted someone else he knew and was already heading over to greet them, leaving me stranded with his shadowy friend. Anyone had to be better than the street preacher. But it wasn’t just anyone. It was a boy. A boy about my age. A really hot boy about my age. Loose-limbed and slim, he slouched against the telephone pole, pushing away an unruly slash of dark hair that fell over one eye. He was dressed from head to toe in black, as if he’d landed a starring role in some Italian caper movie and was ready to break into a bank: jeans, snug jacket, knit hat pulled low. Tight black gloves covered his hands, and a scuffed backpack (probably filled with explosive devices for the bank safe) sat on the sidewalk against his leg. It wasn’t until the preacher started up again that I realized I’d been staring. Together, along with the umbrella-wielding woman, we listened to the preacher’s mumbled lines about salvation and light and something I couldn’t hear and WHORES AND BEASTS AND FLAMES. Holy fire and brimstone, dude. My eardrums! I gripped my portfolio tighter, but a second later his tirade died down and he leaned against the back of the bus stop as if he might fall asleep. “Doesn’t look like much of a runner,” the boy noted in a conspiratorial tone. Had he moved closer? Because, wow, he was tall. Most people were, from my petite, low-slung vantage point, but he must’ve had a good foot on me. “I think you can take him if he tries to swipe your case. Artwork?” I glanced down at my portfolio as if I’d never seen it before. “Artwork, yes.” He didn’t ask me why I was carrying artwork around a medical campus. He just squinted thoughtfully and said, “Hold on, let me guess. No still life or landscape. Your skeptical eyes say postmodern, but your boots say”—his gaze swept down my black skirt and the knee-high gray leather covering my calves—“savvy logo design.” “My boots say ‘stood up for a meeting with the director of the anatomy lab.’ Dr. Sheridan was supposed to meet me after her last lecture.” It ran from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m., and after it was over, I’d waited and waited, watching a dwindling number of grad students exit the building. And even when she finally called to apologize at eleven and claimed she’d had a family emergency, I got the distinct feeling she was too proud to admit she’d forgotten. “And my artwork isn’t postmodern,” I added. “I draw bodies.” “Bodies?” “Anatomy.” That’s my thing. I’m not one of those cool, creative kids in my art class who make skirts out of trash bags and paint in crazy colors. Not anymore, at least. For the past couple of years, I’ve limited myself to pencil and black ink, and I only draw bodies—old or young, male or female, it makes no difference to me. I like the way bones and skin move, and I like seeing how all the chambers in a heart fit together. And right now, my anatomy-obsessed mind was appreciating the way my new acquaintance fit together, too. He was a walking figure study in beautiful lines and lean muscle, with miles of dark lashes, and cheekbones that looked strong enough to hold up his entire body. “I’m the person who actually enjoyed dissecting the frog in ninth-grade biology,” I clarified. Not to sound tragic, but that particular piece of trivia had never won me crowds of friends, so I’m not sure why I was tossing it on the table. I think I was just juiced up on a fizzy boy-candy rush. He made a low whistling noise. “We had fetal pigs, but I got to opt out and do mine on the computer. Philosophical reasons.” He said this like he wanted me to ask what those reasons were, and I took the bait. “Let’s see, squeamish about dead frogs—” “Philosophically opposed,” he corrected. “Vegetarian,” I guessed. “A really bad one, but yes.” He pointed to his coat collar. Pinned there was a small button that read BE HERE NOW. I shook my head, confused. “It’s my philosophical excuse. Zen.” “You’re a Buddhist?” “A really bad one,” he repeated. The corners of his mouth curled into an almost-smile. “By the way, how long ago was it that you dissected this frog? Four years? Two years…?” “Are you trying to guess my age?” He smiled all the way this time, and one attractive dimple deepened in the hollow of his left cheek. “Hey, if you’re in college, I’m totally fine with that. I dig older girls.” Me? College? I let out a high-pitched, neurotic laugh. What the hell was the matter with me? Thankfully, the bad muffler on a van turning the corner muted my hyena cackle. After it passed, I gestured toward him with the pepper spray canister attached to my keychain. “Why is a vegetarian Buddhist dressed like a jewel thief?” “Jewel thief?” He peered down at himself. “Too much black?” “Not if you’re planning a heist. Then it’s the perfect amount, especially if you have a Hamburglar mask in your pocket.” “Damn,” he said, patting his jacket. “Knew I forgot something.” The sidewalk rumbled beneath my boot heels. I glanced up to see the digital N-OWL sign on the windshield of the bus that was pulling over to our stop. Cool white light glowed from the windows. “Miracles of miracles,” the boy murmured. “The Owl actually arrived.” I stood on tiptoes to see what I’d be dealing with. Looked like some seats were filled, but it wasn’t sardine-packed. Yet. A line was already forming at the curb, so I rushed to outpace the medical students and the drunken preacher. Was the boy getting on, too? Not wanting to appear obvious, I resisted the urge to turn around and, instead, dug out my monthly pass. One swipe over the reader at the door and I was inside, hoping I wasn’t alone. 

Copyright © 2015 by Jenn Bennett

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