Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Pink Bonnet

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About the Book

The Pink Bonnet Cover
Book: The Pink Bonnet  
Author: Liz Tolsma  
Genre: Christian Historical, Suspense  
Release date: June, 2019  

A Desperate Mother Searches for Her Child  

Step into True Colors—a new series of Historical Stories of Romance and American Crime Widowed in Memphis during 1932, Cecile Dowd is struggling to provide for her three-year-old daughter. Unwittingly trusting a neighbor puts little Millie Mae into the clutches of Georgia Tann, corrupt Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society director suspected of the disappearance of hundreds of children. With the help of a sympathetic lawyer, the search for Millie uncovers a deep level of corruption that threatens their very lives. How far will a mother go to find out what happened to her child?

My Thoughts:
Oh my word the broken heart and tugging on the heartstrings that this book brought about. The author did a wonderful job showing the atrocities that occurred. I hadn't realized this was based on a true story when I started it and when I realized that, it was sickening.
I got pulled in at the very beginning and was completely invested in the book. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough to see what would happen to Cecile and her daughter. I truly felt her heartbreak, anger, frustration, and more throughout. It isn't a book I would recommend for everyone, it's really dark but it is also a story that needs to be shared. The author did a really good job with it.
It was a 4/5 for me.  Heartbreaking.

Thank you to the author/publisher for the review copy of this book via CelebrateLit. I received this book in exchange for an honest review and the opinions stated above are 100% mine.
Click here to purchase your copy.

About the Author

Liz Tolsma 

Liz Tolsma is a popular speaker and an editor and the owner of the Write Direction Editing. An almost-native Wisconsinite, she resides in a quiet corner of the state with her husband and is the mother of three. Her son proudly serves as a U.S. Marine. They adopted all of their children internationally, and one has special needs. When she gets a few spare minutes, she enjoys reading, relaxing on the front porch, walking, working in her large perennial garden, and camping with her family.

More from Liz

A Desperate Mother Searches for Her Child

True, riveting stories of American criminal activity are explored through 6 unique stories of historical romantic suspense in the exciting new True Colors series. In book two, The Pink Bonnet, Widowed in Memphis during 1932, Cecile Dowd is struggling to provide for her three-year-old daughter. Unwittingly trusting a neighbor puts little Millie Mae into the clutches of Georgia Tann, corrupt Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society director suspected of the disappearance of hundreds of children. With the help of a sympathetic lawyer, the search for Millie uncovers a deep level of corruption that threatens their very lives. How far will a mother go to find out what happened to her child? Find out in The Pink Bonnet by Liz Tolsma. The True Crime Behind the Story Georgia Tann was a woman who ran an adoption agency in Memphis, Tennessee, from 1924 until 1950. It is estimated that, in that time, she kidnapped over five thousand children and sold them to the highest bidder. She even advertised the children in the newspaper, especially around the holidays. Some of the nation’s biggest celebrities adopted through Miss Tann, including Joan Crawford, Dick Powell, and June Allyson. Learn more about Georgia Tann HERE and visit for more exclusive content.

Blog Stops

The Becca Files, June 20
Livin’ Lit, June 20
Mary Hake, June 23
Moments, June 24
Remembrancy, June 26
Emily Yager, June 26
Genesis 5020, June 27
Changed by Him, June 28
Bigreadersite, June 28
Pause for Tales, June 29
Hallie Reads, June 30
By The Book, July 2
amandainpa, July 3


To celebrate her tour, Liz is giving away a grand prize that includes a $25 Amazon gift card and a copy of The Pink Bonnet!! Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Cabin by Erin Unger Promo!

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About the Book

Book: The Cabin
Author: Erin Unger
Genre: Romantic suspense
Release date: June 14, 2019
The Cabin
Leah Kettridge’s writing career is over before the first book lands on the shelf, when a famous author has claimed she’s stolen his work. If it wasn’t for a story brainstorming luncheon with her sister, he’d have never overheard her conversation about the novel she was writing. Who will she ever trust again if not her most favorite writer? And what about the one fabulous date they had before she knew what a traitor he was?
Keenan Brinner has it all. He’s a best-selling author who’s only headed toward more greatness. And he must be the most gorgeous guy Leah’s ever seen. But he’s also a liar and a cheat.
When they end up at the same cabin to write, emotions explode. But an unexpected snowstorm traps them deep in the mountains. Is he bent on destroying her in more ways than one? How will love find them amidst all their anger and distrust?
About the Author
Ering Unger
Erin Unger was raised in the hills of Virginia, exploring abandoned houses and reading the scariest books she could find. After marrying so young it would make a great romance novel, she has enjoyed an exciting life with her hubby. But her fast-paced life sometimes rivals the suspense in her books thanks to all her mostly grown children and a couple grandkids. Her next novel, Fateful Fall, releases August 9, 2019.

More from Erin

Glittery snow. The perfect cabin in the mountains. And sworn enemies trapped together. How could anything go wrong?
Welcome to the cabin where writers like to go to get away from the noise and bother of life to write. I hope you don’t mind the two guests already here. They’re stuck together after one stole the other’s novel. But the famous one has firsts rights to the work. Who’d dare believe he’d be the perpetrator of the crime? Or is it the newbie writer who longed to be known for more than her graphic designs who plagiarized?
Stay and enjoy a mug of instant coffee and some potted meat. And make sure to bring in your warmest blanket, since this eclectic home has lost power in the storm.
You’ll also find a complementary cordless phone with no connection for your accommodations.
Enjoy your stay! And take a moment to check out our amenities folder laden with an expert below.

Read an excerpt from The Cabin

Betrayal is such a benign looking word on paper. In real life it could kill a person. Like me. I was dying on the inside as I flipped from one page to the next of the bestselling novel in my hands. And all because of Keenan Brennan—the hottest bestselling author I knew and dated some time ago. Yet some part of me kept praying it wasn’t true as I pressed into the sofa cushion and continued to read.
It just couldn’t be.
But the book with the startlingly dark cover said it all.
“No, no, no.”
Hot tears stung my cheeks as I ripped the well-designed cover off the book and then launched it across the living room. It smashed against the refurbished brick wall and landed with its pages bent. Good. It deserved a worse fate than just bent pages.
How? When had he stolen my book idea?
I face-planted my palm against my forehead. “At the restaurant.”
Why didn’t I keep my big fat mouth shut and tell my sister Aeris the storyline in the privacy of my home? Tears stung my eyes. Who’d have guessed my lowdown almost boyfriend would stoop so low. He didn’t need my work.
I stared across the room, not focusing on the heap of a good—terrible—book. Well it was on the NYT bestselling list. Not bad for a nobody writer like myself. And since it was my story—not his—then I allowed myself a moment of self-satisfaction.
My gaze dropped to the torn book. I had to take another look. Couldn’t it be a coincidence? Maybe the rest of it was different. In a scramble, I grabbed it up and found the page I last read.
By chapter forty there was no doubt.

Blog Stops

Carpe Diem, June 29
Remembrancy, July 7
Moments, July 10


To celebrate her tour, Erin is giving away a themed basket that includes a copy of The Cabin!!
Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Hidden Kingdom by Tui T.Sutherland and narrated by Shannon McManus

The Hidden Kingdom audiobook cover artBook Description:
The WINGS OF FIRE saga continues!

Deep in the rain forest, danger awaits...

Glory knows the dragon world is wrong about her tribe. After all, she isn't "as lazy as a RainWing" -- she isn't lazy at all! Maybe she wasn't meant to be one of the dragonets of destiny, as the older dragons constantly remind her, but Glory is sharp and her venom is deadly... except, of course, no one knows it.

When the dragonets seek shelter in the rain forest, Glory is devastated to find that the treetops are full of RainWings that no dragon could ever call dangerous. They nap all day and know nothing of the rest of Pyrrhia. Worst of all, they don't realize -- or care -- that RainWings are going missing from their beautiful forest. But Glory and the dragonets are determined to find the missing dragons, even if it drags the peaceful RainWing kingdom where they never wanted to be -- in the middle of the war.

My Thoughts:
This series just keeps getting better and better. This story focuses on Glory. Otherwise known as the 'useless RainWing' by their protectors growing up. The kids and I couldn't listen to this story enough. Glory was a favorite from the start as the bad treatment of her and the threat to her life is what started the whole thing.
The way she had such a heart for her tribe, along with her friends, was heartwarming. She wanted what was best for her tribe and not just the blah they had gotten used to. The strange findings they discover and danger that is lurking in the beautiful rain forest will test all of the friends in ways they don't expect.
It was a 5/5 for us again.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Delayed Admission by Heather Renee

Delayed Admission (Shadow Veil Academy Book 1)Book Desctiption:
She's being hunted and the only way to survive is to become the hunter.

To Raegan Keyes, she's the only one of her kind but has no idea what she is. Until one night, when she finds out her unexplainable abilities aren't the only thing she needs to worry about, and her world becomes much bigger than she ever could have dreamed.

When a mysterious man named Enzo arrives, too striking to be human, Raegan learns she's not as alone as she believed. As more secrets are revealed, she's swept off to an academy for others like her thousands of miles away from home by a complete stranger whom she'd rather stab than travel with.

As tension builds between Raegan and Enzo, she begins to find her purpose as she settles into her new existence. With a group of new friends, she's finally feeling alive again. That is until something sinister comes along, once more throwing her life into mayhem.

My Thoughts:
Oh, this book.  Where to start? Heather's writing is amazing and she pulled me in from the first page. Raegan is a wonderful character. She has these strange things happening to her but doesn't want to bother her aunt with it all. That is until reality changes for her and she has to tell her and realize the world isn't what she thought it was.
Raegan's past is heartbreaking and makes you want to root for her to succeed. Enzo is a complex character that I wasn't certain if I was going to like or not (still not certain if I'm honest) but her aunt and best friend are absolutely fabulous and I LOVE them. The author threw me for a loop a couple times, especially at the end. 
5/5 for me and I need the second book already!

Thank you to the author for the review copy of this book. I received this book in exchange for an honest review and the opinions stated above are 100% mine.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall

KNIGHTMARE ARCANIST by Shami Stovall, YA Fantasy

Author: Shami Stovall
Publisher: Capital Station Books
Pages: 360
Genre: YA Fantasy

In a world populated by mythical creatures, those who bond with them are known as arcanists—their magic stemming from the connection they forged. Phoenix arcanists gain flames and healing, unicorn arcanists speak with horses and manipulate poison, or even basilisk arcanists who control flesh and stone.

But those wishing to bond must first prove themselves.

Gravedigger Volke Savan, desperate to leave his tiny home island and impress the most beautiful girl he’s ever known, breaks every tradition of the bonding ceremony just to become an arcanist. But when the only creature who will bond with him has a sinister requirement, Volke is put to the ultimate test of worth.

A fast-paced flintlock fantasy for those who enjoy How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell, Unsouled (Cradle Series) by Will Wight, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan.

My Thoughts:
This author may be a new favorite of mine.  I was drawn in from the start and the author didn't really slow at all. The world building and set up are done expertly. I absolutely loved all the creatures. Some I already knew about but there were some amazing new ones that you will love to get to know. The bonding and how the magic manifests is fascinating and I couldn't read the pages fast enough.
The characters, oh the characters! Volke is determined to be an arcanist and is bullheaded enough to make it! There are plenty of ups and downs and twists and turns for the characters to take. I really didn't think I was going to like one particular character but now he may be a favorite. Overall, it was an excellent start to a series that I cannot wait to continue.
A 5/5 for me and I cannot wait for more.

Thank you to the author for the review copy of this book via PumpUpYourBook. I received this book in exchange for an honest review and the opinions stated above are 100% mine.




            I outlined a fresh grave for the cemetery as bells rang from the isle’s tower, signifying the start of the celebrations. The soil reeked of ammonia and rot, but the crisp morning breeze washed the scent away, dispersing it over the ocean. I removed my shirt, allowing the wind to cool me while I worked.
            Every ten years, the people on the Isle of Ruma gathered to watch the fledgling phoenixes bond with a few chosen mortals. Lamplighters did their duty despite the glorious sunshine, each lamp’s fire representing the flames of phoenixes. Merchants cleared their horses and carts from the main road in anticipation of the crowds.
This was my second Day of Phoenixes. A decade ago, on my fifth birthday, I missed the bonding ceremony to attend my father’s trial. He was convicted of murder, but because he hadn’t been born on the island, he was taken to the mainland for final judgement. That was the last time I saw him.
            Although the last Day of Phoenixes had been inauspicious, I intended to change that. Once I had finished digging a shallow grave, I would make my way into town.
I slammed the shovel’s head into the dirt and scooped deep. The cemetery sat near the edge of the island, far from those gathering to observe the hopeful students trying to win the favor of the phoenixes.
            Tradition stated that anyone who handled sewage, waste, and dead bodies wasn’t allowed to attend the bonding ceremony, which was just my luck. After my father was sent away, I could’ve been given to any profession for apprenticeship. I could’ve gone to the carpenter and learned the craft of woodworking, or I could’ve gone to the silversmith and learned the art of fine metal work, but misfortune hounded me like a shadow. I was given to the gravekeeper, slated to dig corpse-holes until the end of time, forever exiled from the festivities.
            I still intended to go. Even if it meant ignoring the traditions of the isle—something unheard of on our tiny spit of land—no one could stop me from proving myself to a phoenix. No one.
I scooped another mound of dirt and tossed it to the side.
            “You look deep in thought, Volke,” my fellow corpse-hole apprentice, Illia, said. “What’re you planning?”
            “I’m waiting for the trials to begin.”
            “And then what?”
            “You’ll see.”
            Illia sat in the shade of a cypress tree, her legs crossed and her chin in both hands. Most people hated the thought of sitting on graves, since it was supposed to bring bad luck, but Illia wasn’t like most people. She leaned back on a headstone and exhaled as the ocean wind rushed by, catching her wavy brown hair and revealing the scars on the side of her face.
            She held a hand over the marks, like she always did. The moment the wind died down, she pulled some of her hair around to cover her scars, hiding the old knife wounds that had taken her right eye.
            I finished one half of the grave and huffed.
            Illia and I lived in a tiny cottage on the edge of the cemetery, apprenticed to Ruma’s sole gravekeeper. We both held the glorious title of gravedigger. Like me, she had no family. Well, we had each other, and Gravekeeper William, but he hardly counted.
            For ten years, Illia and I had considered ourselves brother and sister, and siblings always know each other’s mood. Illia displayed all the telltale signs of irritation—narrowed eye, rarely blinking, her mouth turned down in a slight frown. She hated the fact I was keeping secrets from her. If I didn’t explain myself quick, she’d exact her revenge.
            “I don’t want to become the next gravekeeper,” I said as I threw a mound of dirt off to the side.
            With an eyebrow sarcastically raised, Illia asked, “So you’re going to impress a phoenix and leave this place, is that it?”
            “That’s right.”
            “Only two phoenixes were born this year,” she said, wagging her finger. “And the schoolmaster has already picked his two favored disciples to win the right to bond. No one wants you to take a phoenix from either of those try-hards.”
            “I don’t care.” I scooped out another clump of dirt, my grip on the shovel so tight it hurt. “Bonding with a phoenix is too important. Besides, no one on this isle likes me anyway. Why should I start caring about their opinions now?”
            “Hmph. I should’ve known you’d say that.”
            Of course. Anyone who bonded with a mystical creature, like a phoenix, became an arcanist—a powerful wielder of sorcery, capable of great magic based on the creature they bonded to.
            Arcanists were the pinnacle of society, the most influential people, and revered by everyone. Some arcanists could control the weather, or devastate armies, or make the land fertile. Even the weakest and laziest of arcanists were well-thought-of and important members of powerful guilds, shepherding humanity to greatness with a mere flick of their wrists.
            What I wouldn’t give to become an arcanist. They were things of legend.
            More significant than a gravedigger, anyway.
            “You’re not the only one with plans today,” Illia said. She waited a minute before adding, “Aren’t you going to ask me what I’ll be doing during the bonding ceremony?”
            I shoveled another chunk of dirt, taking some weeds with it. “All right. Tell me. What will you be doing?”
            “It’s a secret.”
            She stood and brushed herself off with a few gentle pats to her dress. Then she crossed her arms and stared at me, no doubt waiting for me to pester her about the secret just so she could say, see how annoying it is when you do it?
            “I’m sure you’ll have fun doing whatever it is you have planned,” I said with a shrug.
            “You’re not the only one who wants to become an arcanist, Volke,” she replied, saying my name as though it were venom. “But there might be easier ways than embarrassing yourself in front of everyone.”
            I finished carving the outline of the grave, determined not to be sucked into asking her what she meant. I had too many things on my mind to get into an argument. Besides, I knew she was right. It was irksome being excluded from secrets, especially by family. But I didn’t want to run the risk of her trying to dissuade me.
            Another round of bells sounded in the distance. I threw my shovel to the side and turned toward the cemetery cottage. “I have to go. Whatever you do, don’t get into trouble.”
            Illia replied with a smile. “Never.”
            Something about her sarcastic tone told me she had trouble planned, but there wasn’t any time to go into it. I jogged into the cottage, ran up the rickety stairs, and then dashed straight into my room. It was technically a storage closet that Gravekeeper William had converted into a sleeping space so that Illia and I wouldn’t have to share the second bedroom.
            The cramped room fit my cot, a chair, and a trunk for my clothes. That was it.
            I squeezed myself in, ripped off my dirty trousers, and then dressed in a clean white shirt and black pants. Although I owned nothing fancy—everything in my trunk had been Gravekeeper William’s at some point—I still wanted to make an effort. The phoenixes bonded with individuals they liked the most after the Trials of Worth were over. I needed to impress them, and I couldn’t do that with grave dirt on my clothes.
            Once dressed, I combed my disheveled hair, even though it never cooperated. For some reason, it always puffed out and tangled at the ends, defying gravity just to make me look foolish. And the blackness of it—an inky hue taken straight from the midnight hour—wasn’t common on the isles. Everyone else had red or blond hair, so other kids made fun of me.
            Coal head. Ink brush. They weren’t clever kids—any dumber and you’d have to water them twice a week—they were just mean. No one harassed me after I grew tall, however. Six feet meant I stood out in the group, and not in a wimpy way.
            When I finished the last of my brushing, my hair puffed back out.
            Satisfied I had made myself halfway presentable, I laced up my boots and headed downstairs to the kitchen. I grabbed a small canteen of water and the cleanest rag we owned before rushing out the front door.
            The vast ocean sparkled in the distance, so blue it put the sky to shame. The winds brought waves, but nothing strong enough to reach far inland—just the melody of water lapping across the white sand beaches.
            With the breeze in my face, I ran down the dirt road until I came to the cobblestone streets of the city. I pushed my way through the crowds of people swarming toward the town square.
            Our small island didn’t have much flatland, so the one city—creatively named Ruma, like the island—was the only place to live. The two-story houses were smooshed together, most with stores downstairs and homes above. Despite the congested living arrangements, people went out of their way to keep the place lively. Potted flowers, colored cobblestone for the roads, wrought-iron fences in the shape of fish for the balconies—Ruma had a special beauty waiting in every nook and cranny.
            The crowds made their way to the Pillar to watch the bonding trials begin.
            The Pillar—nothing more than a sheer column of pointed rock jutting straight up into the sky—was well over one hundred and twenty feet tall. It could be seen from anywhere on the island, the reddish stone shimmering in the sunlight. A single tree grew at the top, its branches forever swaying in the ocean winds, its roots laced over the rock, its fruit rare and delicious.
            That sole charberry tree was what had attracted the first phoenixes to our island centuries ago. The spicy fruit tasted like a chili pepper, but sweeter and juicier. Phoenixes loved them.
            The base of the Pillar was the starting location for the Trials of Worth—the tasks given to the wide-eyed hopefuls wanting to prove their value to the phoenixes. I continued through the crowd, my head tilted back, my gaze locked on the Pillar. A staircase wrapped around the column of rock, all the way to the top.
            “Hey,” someone yelled as I shoved my way deeper into the excited masses. “Isn’t that one of the gravedigger kids?”
            I ignored the remark, sidestepped the slow-moving families, and nimbly maneuvered through a group of schoolchildren. If I bonded with a phoenix, I wouldn’t have to stay here anymore and listen to their whispers. All new arcanists traveled to the mainland to join a guild for training.
            A third round of bells chimed, and my pulse quickened with each step. I didn’t want to be late for the trials.
            The whole population of Ruma packed the streets, shoulder to shoulder. No one missed the Day of Phoenixes unless they were specifically excluded, like the garbage men. Everyone wore their best attire, children tossed red flower petals, and the theater troupe wore costumes made of bird feathers while they pranced around pretending to be phoenixes. It took all of my willpower not to crane my head to get a better look as I ran by.
            “—and today is a day of glory,” the schoolmaster’s voice boomed across the town square.
            Schoolmaster Tyms was a naturally loud individual—Gravekeeper William described him as a regular blowhard in love with his own voice.
            I slipped between two elderly men and stayed off to the side, making sure to remain in the shadows cast by the morning sun. Hundreds of people crowded the center of town, but their gazes never turned in my direction. They all kept their attention on a wooden stage near the Pillar—a platform only a few feet off the ground—where Schoolmaster Tyms stood squarely in the middle, his arms raised.
            Whenever he glanced in my direction, I ducked. Schoolmaster Tyms didn’t care for anyone except those who attended his lectures, and he especially hated those with “unsavory” professions.
            “I’ve mentored two extraordinary people,” Tyms said. “Both are talented beyond their years and worthy of a phoenix.”
He walked to the edge of the stage, lifting his arms even higher, his wrinkled face pulled back in an unnatural smile. I had seen corpses do a better job at conveying emotion.
But I didn’t stare at him for long because on either side of him, perched on ornate bird stands, were two phoenixes.
            I stood transfixed, taking in their lustrous scarlet feathers and golden eyes. They had the build of herons, delicate and sleek, but every time they moved, soot fell from them and drifted to the ground. Fire flashed underneath their wings as though their whole bodies were made of flame. Their tails hung down two feet and twisted a bit at the end, like a peacock.
            They were young, not even a year old, but that was old enough for them to leave the island. Mystical creatures didn’t reach maturity unless they were bonded to a person—I was certain they were giddy for the ceremony as well.
            “We’re honored to be here today,” one phoenix said, her voice sing-song and brilliant.
            The other added, “We can’t wait to see our potential partners.” He lifted his head as he spoke, his voice soft but distinct.
            I wanted to hold one in my arms and feel the warmth of their magic coursing through my body, but touching a phoenix was forbidden. Only once they bonded with a person were they allowed to be handled.
            The phoenixes tilted their heads as two individuals walked forward. The two were around my age, fifteen, the age of adulthood. They wore robes of glistening white, tied at the waist with silver ropes made of silk. Fancy outfits made on the mainland, betraying their wealth.
            Tyms motioned to the rich newcomers. “On this Day of the Phoenixes I’ve selected Zaxis Ren and Atty Trixibelle to take part in the trials.”
            Of course they would be picked. Ever since we were kids, they were always favored by the schoolmaster.
            I cursed under my breath as Zaxis walked to the base of the Pillar.
            He stopped under the metal archway, a century-old artifact which had been shaped into a phoenix and gilded. The arch signified the start of the trial. Anyone who passed beneath it would become a participant.
            Zaxis smiled at the crowd with the smuggest expression a human could muster. His red hair shimmered in the sunlight and fluttered about with the wind. It wasn’t long enough to tie back, and I took a small amount of pleasure in watching him clumsily pat it down every few seconds, only for a stray hair to poke him in the eye again.
            Zaxis’s family, the Ren House, stood at the front of the crowd, their personal soldiers keeping the “riffraff” a couple feet back. They cheered for Zaxis and threw flower petals. I had never been cheered for anything, yet all he did was show up. Life wasn’t fair sometimes.
            “Thank you,” Zaxis said as he flashed a toothy smile. “Thank you. Once I’m bonded with a phoenix, I’ll make all of Ruma proud with my many accomplishments. I’ll become the world’s most renowned arcanist, loved by all.”
            I balled my hands into fists and gritted my teeth. He already assumed a phoenix would choose him and that he would make one of the world’s greatest arcanists? Of course he did—he wasn’t expecting any competition.
            Then Atty stepped forward, and the crowds hushed.
            Unlike Zaxis, whose insufferable attitude knew no bounds, Atty held herself with regal sophistication. Her long blonde hair, tied in a neat braid, didn’t twirl in the winds. She held her head high, her slender neck adorned with a silver necklace depicting a charberry tree. I had always admired her poise and grace, like a pauper admires a member of royalty, even when I was young.
            If things had been different—if I wasn’t a gravedigger—maybe I could’ve courted Atty. No doubt she would be disgusted to have someone like me approach her now. But once I bonded with a phoenix, perhaps I’d have the courage.
            “Thank you, Schoolmaster Tyms,” Atty said, her voice a sweet relief after a long day’s work. “It’s a privilege to prove myself worthy of a phoenix. If I become an arcanist, I swear to dedicate myself to becoming a helpful ruler, one all of Ruma can be proud of.”
            Atty’s family, the Trixibelle House, owned most of the buildings on the island. They sat on nearby balconies, each of them poised on chairs and cushions, cheering for Atty, along with everyone else on the island.
            Although I wanted a phoenix for myself, I almost joined in on the clapping. Her answer was perfect, and when the phoenixes exchanged glances, I knew they thought the same.
            No one else stepped forward.
            While other people could offer themselves to the phoenixes, it was frowned upon. The schoolmaster knew best, or so they said—for centuries the keepers of knowledge were deemed the wisest and most capable of determining who would become the best arcanists. It was tradition. And for the last few decades, the schoolmaster hadn’t even made it a competition. He simply chose the exact number of students equal to phoenixes, ensuring his recommendation carried more weight than gold.
            And the Isle of Ruma knew the importance of picking the right people to become arcanists. If the competition was open to everyone, someone with ill intents could gain vast magical power. The schoolmaster was supposed to weed them out and put forward only the best, most deserving people. That was why no one else entered the competitions. Following traditions is the way of the isles! Our island’s motto.
            But even if I was noble of spirit, Atty and Zaxis studied and trained eight hours a day under the care of Schoolmaster Tyms. Everyone else, myself included, had work and chores. Atty and Zaxis were lucky. I wasn’t. How could I ever hope to match their knowledge and skills?
            That didn’t matter, though. I wouldn’t make excuses. The phoenixes could, in theory, bond with anyone they found worthy. And I would show them just how worthy I was by passing each of the three trials.
            “Once our hopefuls walk through the archway,” Tyms said, gesturing to the gold phoenix arch, “they will officially become participants in the trials. For the first task, each hopeful must walk up all one hundred and twelve steps of the Pillar to the charberry tree. Then they will pick a fruit to present to the phoenixes and return down the stairs.”
            Every Day of Phoenixes had the same three trials. The charberry tree was the first. Only one stairway led to the tree—the spiral stairway made of stone steps that wrapped around the Pillar. The steps were hundreds of years old and worn smooth from use. Oh, and no railing, which was why I never felt safe standing on them, as falling from anything past the tenth step meant serious injury, possibly death.
            “And with that, you may begin,” Tyms shouted.
            Both Atty and Zaxis bowed to the crowd before turning and walking through the archway.
            This was it.
            My moment.
            I ran through the crowd, pushing people out of the way when I needed to, even knocking over a few men of the Ren Family as I dashed toward the arch. My heart beat so hard I almost didn’t hear people screaming for me to stop.
            “Hey!” a woman barked.
            “What’s he doing?” someone else shouted.
            “Stop him!”
            But before anyone could grab me, I raced through the archway, dashing past Atty and Zaxis.
            “What do you think you’re doing, Volke?” Zaxis growled. “Good-for-nothing gravediggers can’t enter the trials!”
            I had my foot on the first step of the Pillar when I glanced over my shoulder. “I already passed under the archway. That makes me a participant.”
            “What? That’s not allowed!” Zaxis glanced over his shoulder. “Right, Master Tyms?”
            Tyms blubbered and flailed his arms. “How dare you, Volke! You walk back through that archway this instant. You’re disgracing all of Ruma with your disrespect!”
            I ran up the steps, taking them two at a time despite the lack of railing.
            Today I would prove myself to a phoenix. I would prove myself to all of Ruma.
            I was more than just a gravedigger.
I wouldn’t stop. Not now, not ever.


Shami Stovall relies on her BA in History and Juris Doctorate to make her living as an author and history professor in the central valley of California. She writes in a wide range of fiction, from crime thrillers to fantasy to science-fiction. Stovall loves reading, playing video games, entertaining others with stories, and writing about herself in the third person.