Reading Goals, Winter 2020

In January, I explained that one of my reading goals for the year is that at least 50% of my reading for the year will be by authors who are diverse in some way. 

Of the 21 books I’ve read so far, 11 are by diverse authors, and they are all fantastic. So I’m listing them in the order I read them. 

I know, I know: some of the romance titles are pretty bad. And maybe the covers are making your cringe. But all the books are amazing. Courtney Milan and Beverly Jenkins are two of my favorite writers, and it’s been a delight to read so many of their books in a run like this. Every one of their main characters are incredibly driven women, and their books and stories feel real, not contrived, in a way that’s really hard for a writer to consistently pull off. The conflict in Courtney Milan’s books usually revolve around a secret the main character is keeping for a good reason, as opposed to the frustrating misunderstandings that so often spark the tension in romances.

Beverly Jenkins’ main characters tend to be based on interesting black people in the Old West or New Orleans who she’s found amongst her extensive research. For example, in Breathless, the heroine’s family owns an early version of a dude ranch-themed resort that’s visited by European royalty as well as the wealthy from San Francisco, Boston, and Chicago. This resort is based on a real hotel owned by a real family in Arizona.

I just finished With Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo on audiobook (expertly read by the author), and it is incredible in every way. How Acevedo describes food—tastes and smells—made me hungry and also feel strangely competent about cooking, which I am not. Also, Acevedo so perfectly and vividly builds the Philly neighborhood in which the book is set that I wanted to sit down with a hard copy and comb through the sentences so I could figure out exactly how she did it. I adore the main character Emoni, who wants to be a chef, and her love for her Baby Girl and Abuela. Even now that the book is over, I’m rooting so hard for them all.

Minuet, Goodbye

I lost someone. I lost something significant. For a lot of complicated reasons, I’ve given up on the book I spent the 8 years, 1 month, and 1 day writing. And rewriting. And rewriting again. I couldn’t ever seem to make it work. And just recently, a news event changed the context in which my book would have been read. And because of that, my book, my idea, my characters’ journeys, don’t have a place in the world anymore. A real story has supplanted it, changed the landscape for the type of story I was telling. So I’m bowing out and laying my story down.

I’m not going to explain further. I’m not going to change my mind. I don’t want anyone to try to talk me out of it or to tell me that I learned a lot. I know the time wasn’t wasted, though I have felt that at times. I know I grew tremendously. I know how much joy writing and rewriting this book brought me. And it still sucks.

I’ve felt this was coming for a while. I tried to work around it. I consulted my best friend and long-time writing partner, the only person I’ve shared this story and these characters with. She gave me the writing prompt from which it all came to start with. And after I laid it all out, she reluctantly agreed with me.

Thinking about my characters, imagining their scenes and stories and voices, is habitual for me now. My playlists and Pinterest boards are full of references to them. I’ll miss them. And I’ll miss what they represented. I thought they’d be the start of my professional writing career. Something my parents could read and understand me better, somehow. I believed in my idea so much, for over eight years. It was my safe place. And now…

Now, putting them away leaves my writing life wide open. And uncertain. For years, I’ve kept a bright pink post-it on my desk at work, saying simply: “I am a writer. I write books.” Monday morning, after Kayla and I agreed that I need to put this book to rest, I took that post-it note down and threw it away. 

I do still consider myself a writer. I do still want to write books. But I’m not writing now. I’m letting go of a dream, and all these beloved characters and their story. I’m saying goodbye. I have other books partially drafted, but it doesn’t feel right to try to jump back into any of them. I’m not excited about any of them. 

This book is over. It didn’t end the way I would have wished. 

It’s strange, and somewhat gratifying, to have seen my story become real for real people, and to have watched so many in the world rejoice at it. Part of me feels as though my idea moved beyond me, grew legs when I wasn’t paying attention, and bolted at full gallop into the world. It seems to have manifested as real in the world. Velveteen Rabbit-real. I don’t believe that I had anything to do with the news story, with those people’s real lives, but I am aware that this idea, this plot, these characters were a creature I purposefully fed and nurtured for most of the last decade. My pet project. And now it’s in the world with no help or connection to me at all.

The world has changed and it can’t be born into this world and be seen as anything other than a poor retelling of reality. Nevermind that I imagined my story first.

The only people who know, who really know, about my story and what it was before this extraordinary news broke, are me and my best friend. This huge part of my life, that I expected my family to read and my new husband to read, is going in a drawer. It’s quite the mental shift. And I am quite sad about it. 

I’m also aware that all this yawning nothingness before me is full of possibilities. And that should be celebrated. So should my past 8 years of work, really. I did something I didn’t think I could do, and then I did it again. And it never quite worked out the way I hoped, but I did write a 300-page book. And I revised it many times. I called it Minuet, after my protagonist. And I am proud of it. And of her. And of the real-life person who has supplanted her.

I imagine I’ll sneak the names of my characters into whatever I write after this. Just in passing. They’ll be hidden in a world between worlds.

That feels like a good reason to write, in and of itself. Something fun. But not yet.

Right now, I just want to say her name one more time.

Minuet, I love you.
Minuet, goodbye.

A Secret

The first book I finished in 2020 was Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn, and I adored it. A man finds a secret code hidden in his hand-lettered wedding program, and goes back to the artist a year later to demand how she knew his marriage would fail. The book builds a relationship between the man and the artist through tiny moments of small but significant contact. In Romancelandia (the online space occupied by writers and readers of romance), we call these as Darcy-hand-flex moments, in reference to the scene in Pride & Prejudice (2005) when Darcy and Elizabeth touch bare hands for the first time. 

Up to this point in the film, Lizzie and Darcy have had a contemptuous relationship, but both are so moved by their first tiny skin-to-skin contact that she stares at him open-mouthed, and he, as he turns and walks briskly away, flexes the hand that touched hers. It is a brilliant acting choice and beautifully captured, giving the audience unique insight into Darcy’s feelings, the first indication that he is truly and deeply affected by Lizzie. It’s a secret between Darcy and the audience. His body hides his hand flex from everyone else in the scene. But we see it. We won’t be shocked by his proposal and admission of love thirty minutes later the way Elizabeth will be. That hand flex speaks quiet, aching volumes. And it’s become an accepted code amongst romance writers and readers for small moments of seemingly insignificant contact or connection that deeply resonates.

Love Lettering masterfully builds such moments into first a friendship, then a relationship. Because the book is told from the perspective of the main character, Meg, we see only what she notices. So she does notice Reid’s proverbial hand flexes, and what’s hidden from everyone but the reader are her reactions and feelings to them. Meg doesn’t want Reid to know how affected she is by his hand on her elbow or his simple, straight-forward statements, like “I am” and “Especially me.” Meg feels in those moments like she lives for the swoop of his almost smile, and the first time she makes him laugh she wants to find ways to make him laugh again and again all day. 

Reading Meg’s secret reminds me that I once had such a secret. And it’s been a secret ever since. 

His name was Ben and he was a poet. 

He was quiet, serious, and beautiful. Blue eyes, pale skin with acne (how human of him), a ruddy complexion, and a short crop of unfussy blonde hair. He spoke sparingly but with gravity. An introvert with shades of sadness. I’m also an introvert, so I related, but I was friendly and social in a way he didn’t seem to be. He’d glower around the room without malice. And I’d want to see him smile.  

I played a very long game of getting to know him. In our first writing class together, I noticed his gravitas and respected his thoughtful comments. He seemed to like my work, and his positive comments made me feel accomplished in a way others’ comments didn’t. As the semester went on, I’d occasionally, strategically linger enough to end up walking out the door with him, and I’d make a comment about his poem or someone else’s imagery. I tried very hard not to catch my breath when I found his full attention fixed on me. I tried very hard not to wonder what his skin felt like. I tried not to notice his back muscles through his fitted t-shirts.

I had a crush on him, but I felt this felt was immensely embarrassing and should be kept secret at all costs, most especially from him. I confided in no one. I didn’t write about it, even in a journal. And I made absolutely sure not to expect anything of him. I set myself up as a safe and familiar space, nothing more. I told myself it couldn’t be a crush—I barely knew him. I avoided eye contact. I avoided looking for him at readings and department events and in restaurants on campus. No strings. No vying for his number or a coffee date. I just wanted to break the ice. And, very gradually, I did.

The next semester, we ended up in 3 classes together, 2 of them back-to-back. We sat near each other in the first class, and when we both walked into the classroom next-door and found ourselves the first ones there, by unspoken maneuvering of “let’s not make this awkward,” we sat a friendly distance apart. The next day, I was already sitting in advanced poetry with a friend when he sat down on my other side. As we left that day, I stayed behind to tell my professor how much I’d been looking to taking his class, and my friend accused me—in front of said professor—of trying to suck up. She wasn’t exactly dead to be after that, but the next class, I turned away from her, toward Ben, and never turned back. She soon moved toward the girl on her other side, which I suspect was some version of what she’d wanted all along.

These 3 classes rapidly accelerated Ben’s and my slightly warm familiarity. And, naturally, my crush got worse. Lord, I lived to make that boy smile, and I got pretty good at it. But I locked down any resemblance of affection. I didn’t neglect getting to know my other classmates better. And when he asked for my number, the reason was so mundane and practical that I didn’t even let myself do a victory dance. I was still in a long game, careful neither to spook him nor to tip my (mortifying) hand.

In getting to know Ben, I eventually learned that he had a girlfriend. (I still remember chanting to myself as my heart dropped, “Do not react. Do not react. Do not react.”) A poem a few months later about him having sex with her was tense with passion and beauty and it absolutely slayed me. In part because of how much he clearly missed her (she was in culinary school in Kentucky) and in part because sex was not an aspect of my relationships, nor would it be until after I got married for religious reasons. So even though I still found him beautiful and kind and a gorgeous writer, we weren’t on the same page.

I didn’t ever wish he and his girlfriend would break up. That would have been deeply unkind, and I was trying to build a friendship here. Also, I knew that, even if they did break up, what he expected and wanted from his relationships was different from what I expected and wanted from mine. This fact was immutable. So I could live on a smile I’d caused for days, but I couldn’t ever forget what we were and weren’t to each other. I asked him a question or two about her when she came up. I made myself care about her and their relationship because we were friends and I was staying in the friendship lane. Even if my knuckles were white with the effort. I worked very hard to keep things friendly. Not light. Not vapid. But platonic. We were linked by our respect for the other’s work, and by the friendship we were building. 

When you’re in a writing program with a lot of workshop classes, in which you share your writing and your classmates give you feedback, you figure out over time whose comments are most valuable to you, the most helpful or accurate. And some people’s feedback, you know you’ll be able to more-or-less dismiss. I treasured Ben’s comments. And I gave him the same serious, at times blistering feedback I was becoming known for in the department. Not that I wanted to be harsh. I wanted to become a better writer, and I wanted others to be able to do the same.

Critiques, even largely positive ones, get at your tenderest parts. Knowing this, and feeling their effects myself, I made sure to open and close with positives and focus only on what was on the page, not on the person. If my classmates had largely ripped the piece we were discussing, I’d try to provide some balance by focusing more on the positives. Still, I learned that I was earning a reputation for harshness, so I made an extra effort to remain friendly and caring outside of those feedback sessions and to always be honest but never cruel. 

Still, at times I felt the distance and coolness of personal affront from people who’s work I’d critiqued that day. I respected that their feelings were tender, so I’d let them not look at me, not speak to me, and I’d quietly slip from the room. One day when I’d shared a deeply unpopular opinion about a classmate’s work, I felt like Public Enemy #1. As I rose to made my escape at the end of class, Ben came to stand behind my chair. When I started for the door, he fell into step beside me. His presence and solidarity in that moment meant the world. I had already chosen him to be my friend, but in that moment I felt chosen as his friend. And I felt understood.

Ben got me as a writer, not always in the specifics but in nature. And from then on, even if one of us was in a hurry, we’d walk out the door together from our two workshop classes. When I or he felt embarrassed because our work had flopped or, in my case, when someone had stabbed at me (not my work) in a critique session, that walk was a tangible solace. Even when we’d critiqued each other’s work that day, and our tender feelings stemmed in part from each other’s words, we left as a unit. Solid. Friends. Respected colleagues. Often, all we’d say on these walks were a simple “bye” or “see you tomorrow” at the end of the hall. Sometimes it was a pained half-smile on my part or a solemn nod on his. All Darcy-hand-flex moments. 

I didn’t ever wish for his relationship to fail or for him to develop a faith like mine. Once I understood him better, and especially when he and his girlfriend briefly broke up, I prayed he wouldn’t express interest in me. I didn’t want them temptation of what I knew wouldn’t be a good romantic relationship. We never got dinner or coffee after class. We didn’t linger on the steps for hours talking.

Still, in a small and distant way, I think my long-ago crush on Ben is one of the reasons I enjoyed Love Lettering so thoroughly. Reading a book where the entire relationship, from strangers to friends to lovers, is built through Darcy-hand-flex moments reminds me of those moments with Ben. How my heart seemed to stutter at his eye contact. The times I watched his thumbs rub together over his clasped hands. How making him laugh made me feel victorious. How understood I felt as a writer when he championed a poem everyone else in our class seemed to misunderstand. His silent support on hard days as we walked to the end of the hall. I was so proud of having built a friendship with him. And I remain, more than 10 years later, grateful for it.

12 Books of 2019

Last week I reported that I read 130 books in 2019, including 31 audiobooks. 

Here are 12 of my favorites, listed in the order I read them.

1. Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn

2. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

3. The Illuminae Files by Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff 

4. Westcott series by Mary Balogh

5. Ravenswood series by Talia Hibbert

6. From Scratch by Tembi Locke

7. The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey 

8. The End of Ice by Dahr Jamai

9. Wally Roux, Quantum Mechanic by Nick Carr

10. The Bride Test by Helen Huong

11. The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller

12. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb 

NaNoWriMo 2019

When I was a ministry intern, I would walk into my apartment after an emotionally draining day or full evening and all my energy would whoosh out of me at once, usually the moment I turned the lock on my door and my day. I’d step out of my heels in the dark—feet suddenly aching, shoulders suddenly slumping, suddenly away of my dry throat and sore, watery eyes—and drag myself toward the short list of necessities I had to accomplish before I could tuck myself into bed.

One day last week, my energy left me in much the same way it used to. I’d had a long, full afternoon. I’d spent it with people I love, and I’d enjoyed it. But I hadn’t intended to be out so long or to interact with so many people on my day off, the day after returning from a trip with Tyler over the long weekend. I felt the crash coming as I drove home, and held out until I could turn the lock behind me. 

I took off my shoes, set down my purse, changed into sweatpants, and lay down on the couch. And because I have a capable and sensitive husband, I didn’t have to do much else. When he got home a few minutes after I did, he fed and played with Tara. He checked the porch for packages and made sure I had a glass of water. He cooked. I didn’t put in a load of towels, as I’d intended. I didn’t write, as I’d hoped. I didn’t even read. I merely lay on the sofa under my favorite blanket and recharged for four hours, then went to bed. 

As I look ahead to November and the writing I hope to accomplish during it (50K words as part of National Novel Writing Month: NaNoWriMo, or NaNo), I’m looking at ways I can try to avoid becoming emotionally and physically overtaxed. 

First, I’m taking an honest look at my calendar. I have multiple trips already planned, including a work trip I’m trying hard not to dread, and Thanksgiving, for which neither of our families have finalized plans. I’m considering how I can write on weekdays and my few free weekends to help make up for the days when I’ll be traveling. I’d like to believe I’ll at least get a sentence written even on those days, and I might, but I’m not going to saddle myself with unreasonable expectations or set myself up for failure. I also don’t want to burn out because of the combination of life events, work requirements, and my writing. Holidays can be overtaxing in and of themselves. So can writing 50K words in a month. So I need to be honest about when and how much I can hope to write. Thankfully, I have participated in, and written about, NaNo before.

Two, I’m outlining. In drafts past, I’ve written a bunch of scenes, then strung them together and decided what I needed to write to fill the gaps. To some degree, I’m doing that again. I’m rewriting a manuscript I “finished” years ago but that wasn’t working. I’ve selected a few scenes from that draft that work with the new characterization and pacing, and written a lot of others to mark the changes in plot and the addition of a second point of view. But the main thing I want to avoid with this project is overwriting. I don’t what to write a bunch of scenes I don’t need. I don’t want to waste the time or the energy. 

Throughout October, I’ve been spending my lunch breaks researching various outlining methods, and working on a detailed outline for myself. I’m sure I’ll deviate from it, and I’m not sure how effective it’ll be, since I haven’t written from one before. But I have found it helpful so far. I think it’s also helpful to announce my intentions, thus this late-October treatise:

I’ll be attempting to write 50k words in November. I may not get back to you. I may not be able to hang out. I may not sound particularly with it when we talk. I’m sorry in advance if I sound rude or distant. I’m building worlds with words and it’s taking up a lot of my brainpower. I’m trying hard not to overdo it, and I’m grateful that you understand. 

Summer Reading, 2019 – Romance

Within the last month, both of my best friends at work (who are also very good friends outside of work) took other jobs and moved away. Several other coworkers, all on whom I get along with and have worked with for years, have also left the company this summer. In no small part because of this upheaval, I’ve found myself voraciously reading my comfort genre of romance. 

Here’s a list of some of my favorite romance reads from the summer.

Upcoming romances I’m excited about:

A Good Book on a Bad Day

I had both a very good weekend and a very tough one. Saturday was wonderful. Sunday was hard

Saturday I met a friend at B&N and spent hours shopping and chatting with her. That night, she and another friend came over and we all had pizza and hung out with Tara (the cat) during a thunderstorm and watched some baseball. Sunday, I slept poorly and felt drained. When I got up, I did so out of obligation to Tara, who doesn’t know when it’s the weekend and who I knew would be hungry. Very quickly, my beloved cat got overexcited and scratched me. I went inside for a few minutes to clean the scratch and eat something and reset my attitude, then went back out with her for over an hour. I didn’t want to. I felt so weighed down already, but it wasn’t her fault and I needed to play with her very intentionally. About an hour later, while she tried to keep me from going back inside, she hurt me again. This time I was done. I felt the house of cards in my brain collapse and I chose to collapse with it.

I changed clothes and got back in bed, where Tyler was just waking up. I started crying, and he stayed with me and talked with me, but I was done with the entire day. I stayed in bed or in our big armchair the rest of the day. I didn’t go anywhere I’d intended. I didn’t do anything I’d intended. Living inside my own head felt awful. So I wrapped up in blankets and read, and let my brain and body recover. My phone was upsetting me, so I left it in the bedroom and didn’t look at it from noon until 8:30. Any emergencies could come through Tyler. I let Tyler feed me whatever he came up with and I let him handle all the necessary chores and entertaining Tara. I didn’t avoid her, and I knew she didn’t mean to hurt me—she’s learning. I fed her both of her remaining meals and spent some time with her in the evening when I was feeling better. It was just a bad mental health day. Made even worse because the day before had been so good.

Looking back at my calendar, I see the warning signs. I haven’t had a weekend “off” like this one since June, and I spent it packing for a work trip and packing our apartment. I haven’t truly had a day at home to just stay in and rest since May. A good friend said some hurtful things that took some of the joy out of getting Tara. One of my very good friends is moving away, and Friday was her last day at work. Tyler had to go on a work trip at the beginning of the week, requiring me to single parent the kitten. I’m also living in a new house, with unpacked boxes in every room. My office and desk are still a dumping ground for misc items that don’t have a home yet. 

But let me tell you about the book I read Sunday. Evvie Drake Starts Over is about two people putting their lives back together after all their plans and hopes disintegrated. It’s so soothing, with a steady but lingering pace, and a slow burn romance set behind the main action. It was absolutely the perfect book for me to read on a cloudy mental health day, and it’s the perfect book for a cloudy day spent inside. I’ve already passed it on to a friend.

Yesterday was much better. I had lunch with some friends and someone in my life got really great news. The overcast days make me dream of fall and pies and Tyler’s and my first anniversary. I really needed a day of utter rest, and now that my brain is better, I’m glad I had it. 

Summer Reading, 2019 – Audiobooks

We have a house! And a new kitten! Let’s look at the kitten.

This is Tara. She’s a rescue from Animal Welfare, and she’s precious and spunky and we adore her. 

Between her and the house and moving and travel for work and my brother’s wedding, we’ve had a busy couple of months. While packing, unpacking, cleaning, and traveling, audiobooks have grown even more important to me. They’re the main way I’ve consumed books since June, and they make my now longer commute far more enjoyable. I’ve also recently discovered Audible’s collection of original content, including one-person plays. Here are my top reads of summer/moving season:

The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption by Dahr Jamail

A former war correspondent and seasoned traveler, Dahr Jamail brings us around the world with him to witness the ways human-caused climate disruption is changing our world forever. He climbs mountains, snorkels reefs, hikes the woods outside his own home. He interviews elders in Alaskan fishing villages, the city planner of Miami Beach, Denali park rangers, and scientists all over the world, focusing on how our planet is already too warm for ice—our glaciers, ice caps, and ice flows—to survive. It’s just taking a few decades to melt. And once it does, what will our world look like? How high will the ocean be? How will the rivers and forests be affected? What coral and fish and trees will survive? This is a bleak but realistic look at the unfolding crisis, inspiring me to do all I can to engage with nature, push my elected officials for more stringent environmental protections, and visit these iced places before their ice is gone for good. 

Wally Roux, Quantum Mechanic by Nick Carr (read by William Jackson Harper, aka Chidi from “The Good Place”)

After The End of Ice, I needed something lighter, and quick. I was interested in this Audible original, but when I saw the narrator, I was sold. And I’m so glad my love of Chidi led me here, because Wally Roux was delightful, exhibiting excellence in Sci-Fi, excellence in coming-of-age stories, and, of course, excellence in narration. I wanted to hand this wonderfully charming, realistically yearning book to all my coworkers, but of course it’s hard to do that with audiobooks. So if you have Audible, treat yourself to this delight, just under 4 hours long.

A Grown-Up Guide to Dinosaurs by Ben Garrod

I loved dinosaurs as a kid. I still enjoy seeing new reports and news articles about dinosaurs and other ancient animals. So I thoroughly enjoyed the 3-hour Audible original about what we know, think we know, and get wrong about dinosaurs. (Spoiler alert: Jurassic Park lied to us.)

Other books I read and adored this summer:

Spring Reading, 2019

Last week, I mentioned that I’ve read 54 books so far this year. Since today is Tuesday (release day among the Big Four publishers) and there is an especially high number of books I’m excited about coming out today, I thought I’d share some book love. 

Here’s a list of excellent books I’ve read this spring:

And here are books I’m excited about but haven’t read yet, including four* being release today and one^ being released next week:

Winter Reading, 2019

I used to give a book 100 pages to win me over. Then 50. Now, if I’m not enjoying it after 30 pages, I put it down and leave it behind. I let myself quit reading when I’m not longer enjoying a story, either, even if the book or series is well underway. Last summer, I was in the middle of well-touted book beloved by several of my friends. I had been listening to it on Audiobook and I’d invested 5 hours in it. But I had 9 left to go and I wasn’t willing to give that time to that story. So I took it off my phone, bought another audiobook, and started listening to it instead.

Here are the books I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this winter:

The Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn
A Curious Beginning
A Perilous Undertaking
Mystery, romance, young adult; so much fun!

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
Memoir; adoptee searches for birth parents while she’s pregnant with her first child

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Creative living/writing guide

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
Romance; sequel/companion to The Wedding Date

A Quiet Life in the Country by T. E. Kinsey
Cozy mystery, historical, 2 middle-age spinster protagonists; fun romp!

***

And here are the books I’m looking forward to reading this spring when they are released:

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
Fantasy, young adult; centers on my favorite character from the Shadow and Bone trilogy (which, with the Six of Crows series, is going to be a Netflix series!!!)

The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf
Historical, young adult; Beatles-loving protagonist with OCD tries to cross Kuala Lumpur during the 1969 race riots to find her mother

Queen’s Shadow by E. K. Johnston
Fantasy, young adult; the same author who wrote the Star Wars book I pined for and dreamed of as a kid: Ahsoka; George Lucas did Padmé so wrong

The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey
Mystery, historical; sequel to one of my favorite books of last year: The Widows of Malabar Hill

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal
Fantasy, romance, young adult; opening line: “People lived because she killed. People died because he lived.”

A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn
The fourth book in the Veronica Speedwell series.