Book Review: Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Header Format of The Royal Polar Bear Reads

Mike took it all in: the kitchen, the laughter, the smell of chocolate cake that had been made for trying.

He closed his eyes, hoping to capture this moment so he’d always remember when and where he had once belonged.

I would like to give my huge gratitude to Author Kelly Bingham because if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t discover Echo and I am thanking her because she gifted this book asking nothing in return. Such a good soul!

I received this book way back on January, I was surprised when I have this book as my gift! It was huge and it was on hardcover — and I love it! After reading a lot of books, I pretty ended up with Echo. I didn’t know how I choose or even started reading this book. I think I just woke up and then I decided to pick the book.

For starters, I’m usually intimidated with the size of the book but this one — the 592 pages novel took me 2 days to read it. And it feels like I just inhale the book and then the other day digest it. It was — it is really good. I like how the author wrote the book. It feels like I’m on the head of children. Full of questions and thoughts. I could feel they desperate longing for love and warm. I could sense their deepest emotions and their passion for music.

It’s amazing. Really. Aside from The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom that I’ve been hooked and loved. This one made me fall in love all over again with music and it gave me the feeling that, ‘I wish I haven’t read this book because I would love to read it for the first time — all over again.’, that’s how I felt, that’s how this book good is.

Echo is composed of three stories — the combination of discrimination, pain, sacrifice, believing, love, longing, suffering, acceptance and talent. It’s about three aspiring musicians who wanted to pursue their love for music, musicians who wanted to share their hearts and to make the world a lighter place even darkness is lurking.

The author’s writing style and her way of building each character’s personalities are pure brilliance. She captures the heart of the child and she wrote a well thought of a child. You’ll instantly feel sympathy for them, wishing that you could have done something for them. Echo is a realistic book — the factors and edges are so real. I felt so many emotions on this book that there are parts that I wanted to cry or just lie down or look up because it’s painful.

Echo feels like I’m merging myself into the beautiful depths of music that waits for me to induce myself with its magical beats that form the rhythm of love and the existence of happiness. It made me feel that there’s hope everywhere, that giving up is not an option and believe on yourself because there’s so much in life than you have.

It teaches me to look back and to appreciate life. The challenges faced by oneself is also your battle. Echo’s set of stories are mentally tragic and emotionally exhausting but you’ll appreciate the ending when you go that far because it is the definition of euphoria that you will love the turn of events and how the author polishes and plot her concepts into one of the best ending I’ve ever read.

My ratings: 5 musical stars!

“Ever heard someone say they’re feeling blue?” asked Mr. Potter. “Means sad or they got the melancholies about life. So blues music is about all the trials and tribulations people got in their hearts from living. It’s about folks want but don’t have. Blues is a song begging for its life.


Book Review: The Wrath and The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

The Wrath and The Dawn

“…In my life, the one thing I have learned above all is that no individual can reach the height of their potential without the love of others. We are not meant to be alone, Shahrzad. The more a person pushes others away, the clearer it becomes he is in need of love the most.”

After reading Calamity by Brandon Sanderson, I don’t have any idea what to read next. I decided to find some matching colors with the cover and I found The Wrath & The Dawn, one of my birthday book haul, and wished to read, to be the book that I was going to read next. I am not fond of reading the synopsis of the book, I usually eyed them and figured out why was the cover design looks like something elegant and exquisite. And so, the reading started.

The Wrath and The Dawn is a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights. Honestly? I don’t have any idea what was the story or the tale of One Thousand and One Nights is all about. I am familiar with the name but there was never a time in which I stumbled upon the story to read or watched it until The Wrath and The Dawn. And I am definitely happy that I this kind of novel is existing.

I don’t know what to feel about the story of One Thousand and One Nights in which retold on The Wrath and The Dawn. I could feel the pain, the misery, the longing, the regret, the sadness and above all – the sorrow in which laid upon to Khalid, the Caliph, the Kings of the King. I was not aware of the storyline so you could imagine how utterly shocked I was when I was on the part where they revealed why women die when the dawn reaches another sunlight.

I admit this, I get bored on the first few pages of the book. I was not hooked, it does not piqued my interest however I think anyone can understand it because, maybe, I was not yet moved on from the third book of Reckoners Trilogy, Calamity, in which for everyone knows gave me a lot of twisted plot and undesirable emotions that led me back into feels trip. But as I was typing this, I promised you, I learn to love the story, I dissolved in their emotions, I have conflicted with their decisions, I was intoxicated by their actions. The characters are well made and it feels like they are real.

“Prove that a real man doesn’t make a show of what’s his. It just is.”

“Is it? Are you mine?” Khalid asked with quiet solemnity.

Her conviction wavered further. “I told you; don’t try to own me.”

“I don’t want to own you.”

She swiveled her neck to meet his gaze. “Then never speak of sending me away again. I am not yours to with as you will.”

Khalid’s features smoothed knowingly.”How right you are. You are not mine.” He dropped his palm from the door. 

“I am yours.”

It was probably a bit hard at the start of the story because there are a lot of foreign names that you don’t know of and it was not the usual names that I’ve been reading. It made me confuse, I think that was the dragging part of the first few chapters of the book but as the reading went on, I learn to like their names. I became so fond of it and find it amusing to have that kind of name and made me think, what could be the meaning or the reason why a name like that exist or such a lovely name blessed to the character.

I remembered when I was on page 67 when I started to love the book. I don’t know why but I think this book is refreshing on my part. It was written in third person’s perspective that gave me a new feeling on reading. I think the books that I’ve been choosing for this year was always written on the first point of view. It made sense and the writing style of Renee Ahdieh is captivating. I never across such a magnificent author who can manipulate and collide words with such beauty, passion and admiration.

Do you know what I love about this book? THAT BEAUTIFULLY CRAFTED ENDING. It was broken and yet satisfying. Longed-full and yet painful. Disastrous and yet historical. I wanted to scream everything out when I read that ending. I never expected nor across it with my brain to have that kind of ending. I couldn’t grasp the conviction and I couldn’t get a glimpse of hatred – I could feel that everything is out of pure love. And that’s pretty amazing and dangerous.

My heart aches for her characters – for I feel their emotions inside me, I could feel that Khalid is facing an extreme attraction that cannot be fulfilled, that Shahrzad is battling out the struggles of her heart to the power of need and love, that Despina is inflicted by the hollow love and the intimidating hierarchy that made her feel she doesn’t anything deserving on her terms, and Jalal who smiles and flirts around intentionally or not with his playful knowledge and brilliant vocabulary lies a lonely man, who is longing for true love.

This fast-paced literature will bring you the thrilling and despiteful experience of love and the consequences that you need to fight with the unwanted sacrifices that have to be made. You will love this amazing book for what is it and definitely, you will yearn for more of their stories, for what will happen next. And I am thankful that I read The Wrath and The Dawn with so much attention and passion. I am thankful that I didn’t drop it halfway and I continue to seek for the ending. I am thankful that I read such a marvelous book that will hold dear to my heart.

Thank you Renee Ahdieh for writing a novel that will engrave to my heart.

My ratings: 5 stars!!

“What are you doing to me, you plague of a girl?” He whispered.

“If I’m a plague, then you should keep your distance, unless you plan on being destroyed.” The weapons still in her grasp, she shoved against his chest.

“No.” His hands dropped to her waist. “Destroy me.”

Interview with Kristen Hunt!

Kristen Hunt

  1. What inspires you to write Blonde Eskimo? I’m assuming that it was an influence of your grandmother but what pushes you to publish your book?

I wanted to share the stories I learned from my grandmother and adventures I had in Alaska. I was enamored with the culture and beauty of Alaska, and I was proud of my heritage. I wanted to share the stories of the Ishegocks, the power of the spirit animals, and the journey of growing up but add a twist of fantasy to it.

  1. What it feels like publishing a novel? Being a writer has been my dream job but I know that I don’t have what it takes to be one, yet.

Publishing a novel is scary and exciting at the same time! For me, writing is my hobby. I want to give readers new stories and take them to extraordinary places.

I didn’t publish Blonde Eskimo for money, I did it for the readers.

  1. I love Neiva and her grandmother’s relationship. Their relationship is like my relationship with my grandmother, I learned a lot from my grandmother, from cooking to baking to read books, mostly everything. My question is: If there’s one lesson that your grandmother wants you to share to the whole world, what will it be?

My grandmother taught me that life is a gift and to respect nature. Many people take life for granted but we are only here for a short time. Enjoy life’s journey and learn from the past as you walk into the future.

  1. As I’ve mentioned your and my grandmother before, what kind of relationship do you have with her? If telling a childhood memory or a beautiful memory will satisfy my curiosity, what will it be?

 My grandmother was a wonderful woman and I miss her every day. When I was in grade school, my twin sister and I would spend the night at her house every Saturday. She would let us watch movies, give us M&Ms, and let us stay up late. We thought it was the coolest! But I would say she was a trickster too. Hanging on her wall was an Eskimo mask made out of stone with long, ivory teeth jetting out of its mouth. It was the scariest thing I have ever seen, like something out of a horror movie. She would tell us stories of how one of our ancestor’s soul was a trap in the mask, and it must be passed down from generation to generation. We were the guardians of his spirit. Well, unbeknownst to us, my grandmother would move the mask around when we were sleeping. So, when we woke up it would be in a different place making us believe it was alive and our ancestor’s spirit escaped at night. Eventually, we were so scared of it that she had to put it away when we came to visit. I don’t know where the mask is today and frankly, I don’t want to know!!! lol

  1. How did you come up with your character’s name? Neiva is a pretty unique name.

My cousin, who lives in Nome, Alaska, named her daughter Neiva. I fell in love with the name right away and I thought it would be the perfect name for my main character. Neiva is the name of a river outside of the town of Nome, Alaska.

  1. Name 5 favorite foods!

MEXICAN food….That is my all-time favorite. 

  1. If you are going to cast your characters, who are the Hollywood stars you will choose for them?

Oh, man…this is a hard one.  Can I say any of the cast members from MTV’s Teen Wolf? I’m a huge fan of the show and all the actors/actresses are amazing!   But I have always envisioned an Asian actor to play Darius.

  1. Tell us something about yourself, what are the things that you love doing or what is your dream luxury of spending a vacation?

I love to hike and workout. I’m a big movie and TV series nerd. I have a long list of shows I love to watch (Arrow.. cough.. cough). Several of my friends are talented cosplayers. Sometimes I like to dress up and go to comic conventions with them.  

**My dream vacation would be to go diving with Great Whites, but in a cage of course! I’ve been fascinated with great whites since my parents let me what Jaws when I was younger. Let’s just say shark week is like a holiday for me!***

  1. Recommend 5 books that influence you being as a writer and as a reader.
  • My number one pick would be LJ Smith the Night World series. This series inspired me to start writing and creating different worlds full of fantasy and magic.
  • I grew up on RL Stine’s Goosebumps series. I was glued to the pages, and every month I would make my mom take me to the bookstore to buy the next adventure in the series. His writing style inspired me to add a little darkness to my writing.
  • Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always is my favorite book of all time. It had all the elements of magic, darkness, mythical creatures, and the element of surprise. Barker’s descriptions are rich in detail but he always kept the story flowing. He taught me not to get stuck on all the little details.
  • The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories was the first series to peak my interest in reading and ignite my love for books. When we were little my mom would read to my twin sister and I every night. She would pull out her Nancy Drew books and the Hardy Boys books.
  • James Rollins Sigma Force- His writing style adds history and science into the story. They have an Indiana Jones feel to them but it’s really fascinating how much of his stories are based on true events. He dives into tons of research for his stories which inspired me to include some historical events or heritage into my writing, but my story is a fantasy story and loosely based on historical events/info.
  1. How many books will there be? I want a book 2!

 There will be 3 books for Blonde Eskimo (BE). BE is the first book in the Spirit World series – a collection of stories about different legends and tales told throughout different cultures.  Currently, I am working on the second book in the Spirit World series (a Viking novel about my Swedish Viking heritage), along with the third book (a story about four spirit animals that are punished for their trickster ways and must attend high school to learn about humanity and friendship). The sequel to BE is also in the works.

  1. What do you do on your free days? Wait, do you have free days?

Free days? What’s that? Haha. I work fulltime and my days consist of 10-hour shifts on the computer, which makes it really hard to write at home. I try to get some writing or reading done on my free days, but mainly I love to go on motorcycle rides, hike, hang out with my friends, catch up on my sleep, draw, movies, or play with my cats (Odin and Thor). In the summer, it will get as high as 120 degrees in Phoenix, Arizona. During this time, I like to swim or stay indoors watching movies or craft.

  1. From the beginning of the story, Neiva sees her grandfather as a ghost, Darius and Gabriel, two kings who hold the Dark and Light realm made an appearance, her grandmother is old, Will we know what are the past stories of Neiva’s grandparents and the life story of Gabriel and Darius when they rule the realms before Neiva even came into the picture?

 Yes, book 2 will dive into the past and the readers will start seeing the connection between the characters. The Viking will have some info regarding BE, such as Neiva’s grandparents and the different branches of the Spirit World, but I don’t want to reveal too much!  

  1. You really understand your male characters, how did you dive into their perspective and set the mood with their feelings? I really think that you are good at understanding one’s feeling. It shows how you write their lines on your book.

Thank you for the compliment!  I was a tomboy when I was younger. I played video games, loved getting dirty, and hated anything girlie. I had many male friends. I felt more comfortable around them.  This followed me well into high school and college. When I started writing BE, I used all the experiences and knowledge I learned from my guy friends and poured it into my male characters.

  1. What was the hardest part of writing Blonde Eskimo? The hardest part? Or was it the process of publishing the story?

There are several different aspects I can pick. The main one would be editing. I went through several editors and it was tough. You have to learn to be open to change and to not look at the red marks as a failure. You have to learn to let go.

  1. Share your one favorite quote from your book, Blonde Eskimo. I’ve been asking every author this because I love knowing what was their favorite lines, I have a few of selection but sometimes, authors surprise me, since the quote that they chose sometimes not the quote that I am expecting.

Oh, that’s easy! My favorite quote is at the beginning of the book!

“You never really know your friends from your enemies until the ice breaks” 

This quote is a perfect for  Blonde Eskimo because this story is about friendship and how you can get though the toughest battle with your friends by your side. 


Interview with Sarah Ahiers!

Sarah Ahiers

I had the honor to have asked some questions to the author of Assassin’s Heart, Sarah Ahiers! Thank you so much, Ms. Sarah, for agreeing and taking up some time to answer my questions! I am anticipating the second installment! Thank you! THANK YOU!

  1. Who or What was your inspiration for writing your novel, Assassin’s Heart?

It was a combination of 2 things, really. I’d been reading some YA where the main character has like a single person that is super important to them. Like their whole world. And then that person would die, but the main character wouldn’t overly grieve (usually because there was a new love interest in their life) and it just didn’t ring true for me. And I love to write and read about grief so I wanted to write a story where a character’s grief follows her through the whole book, and irrevocably changes her.

And then I was also thinking about what a world would be like if murder was not only common place and accepted, but also welcomed. Mash those two ideas together and here we are!

  1. Where did you get the idea of a Family like a guild of sort-of, is worshipping and honoring a God? It is delightful and refreshing at the same time, knowing that there’s new and amazing concept in the Fantasy Genre.

Well, I’m a big fan of mafia families, and the idea that you can belong to a group that’s both related to you by blood but also by action and creed. And I think religion can be a strong influence on people’s lives, so it seemed logical that these Families would be formed in service of a god

  1. I just need to ask this. How did you came up with their names? Oleander, Alessio, Rafeo, Valentino, Dante, Marcello –those names are manually crafted and it looks like it taken up some time to think of their names.

Some of them I made up, some of them are Italian names or Italian names that maybe I just tweaked a little. Oleander is a flower that can be poisonous but I am a big fan and true believer of nicknames so I knew it would be shortened to Lea. Usually though, I just know what kind of sound I need for a name and I search or run through options until something just sticks. I love naming main characters. But sometimes naming side characters can get tedious after a while.

  1. How did you come up with the title, Assassin’s Heart? It’s pretty unique, interesting and fascinating. I don’t trust when the two words like “Assassin” and “Heart” is in the same phrase as much as the title but it is really good!

I actually didn’t! The original title was changed because it could have represented any sort of book and we wanted something that would definitely make it clear that it was a fantasy novel. I think Assassin’s Heart definitely does that!

  1. I like the idea of having nine Families in a kingdom — which is in the Lovero, will we be seeing more of the Families of the future? I want to discover and to seek for other Families too. I wanted to know them and to see what’s unique about them comparing to Da Vias and to Saldanas.

Yes! There will definitely be more Family drama in the future. I wish I had time to write novels for each of the Families. The lesser Families especially I think could be interesting.

  1. While reading Assassin’s Heart, I could feel that there’s a vibe of a European culture or somewhat near from there – what or who influences you to write Assassin’s Heart like the way you wrote it? I loved it. It feels like I’m on a medieval period. Like, I stumbled upon and teleported in a different era.

It definitely has a pseudo-renaissance Italy feel to it, which was what I was going for. I was lucky enough to visit Italy when I was in high school so I drew on a lot of my memories for the setting

  1. As we all know, I don’t know but maybe?, that we are lacking male protagonist, so, why write on the perspective of a female protagonist and why a female protagonist aside from being a female author?

I actually more often write male protagonists. But this story just seemed that it belonged to a girl, to Lea. I wanted to write a girl who was strong, but who also was feminine. She could like pretty things and still be a badass.

  1. How many books should I anticipate with Assassin’s Heart? Will it be a duology? A trilogy? Or more? I definitely want this book at least for more than four books.

Well, another one for sure! After that we’ll see 😉

  1. The cover of the Assassin’s Heart, I assume, was the symbol of the Saldanas, will your readers seeing the symbols of the other eight families on your next book? And a map! A map of the Kingdom of Lovero would be great as a book end of the second book, will there be?

There will be a map, actually! It’s being finalized right now and it looks really cool. I haven’t seen the cover of the second book yet, so I guess we’ll see what happens

  1. You wrote a strong female protagonist which is good and I am quite fond of Oleander since, she was not the typical protagonist I usually encounter. I like her guts and fragility. I usually hate female protagonist because they seem choose the wrong decisions or the worst ones but Lea is good with herself and confident. How did you mold her personality between her journeys?

There were a couple things I had to keep in mind when writing and revising. I needed Lea to go through the process of grief and mourning, which I paid especially close attention to in my revision. I also wanted her to be strong, but not infallible. People make mistakes all the time and there are consequences and I wanted Lea’s mistakes to have consequences as well. But mistakes is how people, and characters, grow.

  1. I search the two main Gods that I believe had an important role on your book which are Safraella and Daedara – I don’t get any results or I don’t have the researcher skills to look upon them deeply on the web. So, how did you came up with their names and with their respective powers? What are your influences on including the Gods on your book? Will we be seeing them on your next book? Will there be more Gods to anticipate with?

The gods are completely made up. I wanted the gods to be literal, that is something that is real and actually can change things in the world. I’m also a huge fan of non-human or monstrous gods. I think it’s easy to worship a god when they’re a beautiful human living in the sky, but it becomes  a much different game when your god maybe isn’t beautiful. Or human. And asks dark things of you in return for real, actual rewards. All of that is interesting to me, and so it tends to crop up in my writing.

Safraella definitely plays a part in the next book. And there are more gods as well, with a lot of focus on the travelers and their three gods.

  1. I see that you focus an important subject of your book and that is family. Why is that?

Almost every novel I’ve written has had themes of family in them. This one is more overt than many of the others, but I suspect it is an eternal theme for me, something that I’ll always return to. I’m really close with my family. And I think really, in the end, what really matters in our lives is how we relate to other people and who take with us along the way.

  1. There are a lot of genres, so why did you choose to write a Young Adult, Fantasy Novel?

I’ve always written genre fiction when I’ve had the choice, whether it’s fantasy, horror or something else. I think it’s because I live in the real world and so I don’t particularly want to write about it. But I suppose some day that could change.

And I loved being a teenager and a kid. I think writing about teens is a lot of fun. It comes with a lot of challenges but also a lot of fantastic conflicts. And mostly I just write the books that I would like to read.

  1. I always asked this question, then, Name your top 5 favorite foods!

I love food, so picking only 5 will be hard but let’s go with:

Ribeye steak

Sushi – specifically maki or rolls

A really good baked potato

Pecan pie

Fried rice

  1. Can you reveal to me the title of the second installment? Pretty please?

It’s still in the works, unfortunately. But once I know, I’ll announce it for sure!

  1. And for the last question, what is your favorite quote from your book, Assassin’s Heart?

I have a few, actually, but one of my favorites is:

I showed him my conviction in my eyes, so he’d understand I could murder him with no more than a flick of my wrist. That his blood across my face would be like the spray of the sea to me, wet and warm and nothing more.

Book Review: Calamity by Brandon Sanderson


“Failure is refusing to fight. Failure is remaining quiet and hoping someone else will fix the problem.”

Brandon Sanderson has made it again. He never fails to seize writing a masterpiece as much as giving us an amazing book under the fantasy genre. He gave us another book that eventually we would love to read all over again. Calamity is a book where you don’t need to expect, to predict, or to find answers — everything on that book, everything Brandon Sanderson writes will never meet halfway through your theories.

The hypothesis of your understanding is not enough. Expectations on the last Reckoner Book was already set too high. And for the love of God, he didn’t just met our expectations — my expectations, he exceeded on writing Calamity. This book, it is terrifying, thrilling, and exhausting all in one. You wouldn’t get the ordinary action-packed novel with him.

You will devour the novel as its the reverse definition of superheroes. Where supposedly people who have powers are the ones who saved lives — but not. The impressive writing of Sanderson will bring you hooked with its fast-paced style.With the never-ending awesomeness of the Reckoners Trilogy, I gave Brandon Sanderson my full respect with all of my heart.

From the first book Steelheart that I made me hooked that I never knew that I will love to Firefight that everything the readers read is not it seems the way it is and to the last and final book, Calamity, which gave us a glimpse of another dimension, another adventure, another journey and another hope. I thank Brandon Sanderson for writing such a literature that will mark in the history.

Calamity is a book where things started in plotting to gather weapons and ammo for the Reckoners new plans of infiltration — or somehow, for saving someone from the darkness. It went well with Knighthawk, a friend of Prof, who established and designed and manipulated the Epic cells and turn them into weapons. David, our protagonist, wise and devoted seems became the head of the group because he has no choices just to take it up and move forward.

With the help of the members — Cody, Mizzy, Abraham, and Megan they went and strategize for their next move to go to Ildithia for that was the location of their targeted high epic. Being in that area, feelings of struggling of finding the way out and going completely one on one with one of the High Epics might be the irrational decision that they are going to do and the most logical one out there — and the only option they have.

On the hopes of everyone, in the middle of the book, you would question how can these people fight for the world when they are only five left and nothing much to do when they win? Why don’t they stop and have a life and adapt and adjust to the changes by surrounded by powers? What motivates them to move forward? What kind of determination has they to go all out with their life on the line?

Brandon Sanderson taught me that there are different kinds of people, there are good and evil, there are people who are kind to protect your back and be by your side when you needed them. And then there are people who have principles in life — they do what they needed to do for they know what are their goal in life. Calamity is full of lessons, twists and unexpected turns of events. You want to grasp everything he wrote!

Discovery of another realm, questions lingering around — life to look forward. The author never fails to amaze me that he can pull off that kind of emotion, that kind of feeling, and that kind of work. He’s so good that even some foreshadowing on the book, that I was aware of didn’t spark on my brain to think that something might occur. He knows how to write and what to write. They felt like real — the dimensions, the characters and the story, it feels like they are part of the readers, that we were there, having on the same scene, being in the same fight.

He has a magnificent mind with a brilliant concept. Calamity is a book where you already gave up and accepted the things that happened in the past two books then eventually will give you all the feels and the comeback on the third one as if you’ll feel all the shocked and the overwhelming thoughts. Brandon Sanderson is really really good, I tell you.

I didn’t expect that I would love Calamity as much as I love Steelheart and Firefight. I took my time finishing and reading this book. I already have this book on its release day but as a reader I am, I don’t want good books to come to an end. They are the kind of books that you want to trade a time of your past for you to read the whole series for the first time.

Damn. This book is so great. You will love the characters as you love the story. You’ll love them and eventually you will love the author for writing such an incredible, funny, and amazing series! I tell you — YOU WILL NEVER GO WRONG WITH BRANDON SANDERSON

My ratings: 5 stars! Damn, this book is worth a hundred stars.

The Darkest Lie by Pintip Dunn Excerpt Blitz




It’s time to view the body. Family first.

Well, technically, me first. There was always only three of us in the nuclear unit, and Dad’s been locked in the den for the past seventy-two hours. I’ve only seen him once, when he shuffled upstairs like a pajama-clad zombie and asked me if I’d eaten.

That was it: Did you eat?

Not: I prefer the cherry wood casket. Or: Let me make your grandma’s travel arrangements. Or even: I know this was Mom’s favorite dress, but isn’t the neckline a little…low?

Did I eat?

Yes, Dad. I had soup from the can and microwaved pizza rolls and a bowl of cereal. The food sloshes in my stomach now as I walk down the runner to the casket I picked out because of its mauve tint.

Calla lilies pile in urns around the viewing room, and the air-conditioning wars with the sweat along my hairline. My mom smiles at me from a portrait erected behind the casket. Her eyes are hesitant and a little wary, as if she knew, somehow, some way, she would wind up here. Lifeless. Pumped full of formaldehyde. About to be gawked at by a town full of gossips.

This was only going to end one of two ways—with Tabitha Brooks dead or in jail. I never thought I’d say this, but I’d give anything to see my mother behind bars.

I wade through the dense, chilly air and stop a few feet from the body. Behind me, my grandmother and aunt sit, a box of tissues between them, blowing their noses like it’s a sport.

“Look at our Cecilia,” Gram sniffs. “So brave. Not a single tear shed.”

If she only knew. I’m not brave. Fifteen minutes ago, I was retching into the toilet bowl. Five minutes from now, when the doors open for the visitation, I’ll be long gone, leaving Gram to shake people’s hands and deal with the bit lips, the knowing eyebrows, that inevitable speaking-in-a-funeral-parlor whisper. I can hear the titters: “Is it true? Tabitha’s heart stopped while she was boffing the high school quarterback? Why, she must’ve been twenty years his senior!”

Twenty-three years, to be exact, and a high school English teacher to boot. But she didn’t actually die during sex. Instead, a few days after Tommy Farrow came forward with their affair, my mother took her own life.

What could be a clearer admission of guilt? She might as well have been caught in the act. The investigation was shut down before it even began.

I take a shuddering breath. Two more minutes. A hundred and twenty seconds and then I can leave. I steel my shoulders and walk the final steps to my mother’s body.

Oh god. It’s even worse than I thought.

The room whirls around me, and nausea sprints up my throat. My hands shoot out to grab the casket, stopping short of actually touching the corpse.

This . . . this thing . . . can’t be my mother. She never smiled like that, all serene and peaceful-like. She never wore this much makeup; her red hair was never chopped so closely to her head. My mother was chaos and passion, devastation and joy. Dad used to say you could reach deep into her eyes and pull out a song.

Well, her eyes are closed now, and I’m not sure there’ll be any music in my life, ever again.