[A Twist in the Tail] {Excerpt/Review/Giveaway} OTHERWORLDLY by F.T. Lukens

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Love fairy tales and mythology?
Fans of mermaids, dragons, unicorns, and other mythical creatures?
Enjoy when a beloved classic tale is retold?
A Twist in the Tail Thursdays features all this and more!


O P E N I N G   H O O K:




  
 IN THE MIDDLE OF a collection of cornfields, in the middle of the country, in the middle of nowhere, a weathered wooden post marked the intersection of two roads.

   The main road was a stretch of brown peal gravel rolled into a layer of asphalt that connected two nearby small towns. The other linked a row of family-owned farms. Few people besides the locals traveled them, as there was nothing for tourists to see except cornstalks in the summer and flat fields in the winter.

   Atop the post sat two crooked, battered planks. The lettering that denoted the route numbers had faded with age, the paint blanched with time and rain and sun. Below them, a piece of plyboard nailed to tHe post held a single cautionary phrase, scrawled in dripping red:

BEWARE OF BARGAINS MADE HERE.


(Page 1, US hardcover edition)


“You're defending me from a god like I'm some kind of damsel in distress and not a magical being myself.

~OTHERWORLDLY


If you, like me, are a fan of books that feel like they could have stepped out of a fairy tale or myth while still being an original tale (perhaps with a little nudge and wink here and there to enrich the world even more), then hopefully you already have author F.T. Lukens on your radar! This is their fourth book now, and they all have that enchanting blend to them. From winks at mermaids and fairy tales and now to myths, these books are always such a delight to read!




OTHERWORLDLY begins, as all proper tales should, with the most dire of warnings:

“BEWARE OF BARGAINS MADE HERE.

~OTHERWORLDLY

After a bargain gone horribly wrong, our story takes off with a bang. Our main character Ellery lives in a world where nothing is as it seems. They moved away from their life on the farm because the region has been stuck in winter for half a decade and the farm is faltering. The family needs money, so Ellery was lucky enough to move in with their cousin Charley and her girlfriend Zada. Their mother continues to pray to the goddess who has foresworn them, the goddess that Ellery is certain doesn't exist.

...but what if Ellery is wrong?

Enter our other protagonist, Knox. Knox is a Familiar that is sent from his Queen's Other World to the human world when a human strikes a bargain with the Shades at the Crossroads between worlds. When the bargain ends abruptly and dangerously, Knox uncovers a sinister side to the Shades and escapes with something precious in the hopes to live a little longer amongst the humans.

Knox must now convince that cute dishwasher Ellery that the Other World exists and get them to strike a new bargain so that he can remain protected from the Shades a little longer. Ellery also has much to gain from such a deal if Knox can help them solve the mystery of why the region has fallen into eternal winter. 

But the deal is darker and more dangerous than either could have ever envisioned...

OTHERWORLDLY is a novel full of quests and adventure. It explores the nuances of found family and finding one's place in the world. It takes a lot of bravery to give up the lifestyle you were born into and forge your own future. Both Ellery and Knox are creating paths they would have never forged should they have never encountered one another, but their lives have entangled and their futures are much stronger for the encounter. I loved how supportive Charley and Zada are of Ellery and how willing they are to pick up Knox, essentially a stranger in need, and give them both a safe environment. I loved that we got so much page time with this couple as well and that they weren't just throwaway characters, but integral parts of the story. And again, just great, supportive role models!

The majority of the novel takes place in our world and revolves around figuring out why the region has been a winter wonderland for the last five years while giving Knox time to experience all the human experiences he's previously only seen on movies and TV shows.  The second half, however, takes readers to the Other World, which is reminiscent of Hades' underworld, and even has a major plot point that gives a nod to one of my all-time favorite Greek myths (but spoilers, so I won't mention it here ^.~)

I also really loved the fact that this book, labeled Young Adult, is completely and utterly age appropriate. In a market where so many of the books lately have been geared to a much older audience and made it harder for younger teens to find books that aren't too mature for them at this stage of life, OTHERWORLD is a fantastic win. It has action! Adventure! Romance! But it doesn't go too far and can be enjoyed by all ages, which I really appreciate as someone who works with teen readers daily.

OTHERWORLDLY is a great addition to your shelves, whether you're a fan of books with lore in their bones, like solving a good puzzle alongside the main character, or want a great adventure where characters need to survive amongst the greatest of odds stacked against them. This is especially a good one to curl up with on a cold day beneath your blankets with something warm to drink to help thaw you out after reading it!

 ~*~

EXCERPT



Excerpt from 
OTHERWORLDLY
by F.T. Lukens

 

Excerpt for Rockstar Book Tours

 


 



Ellery closed their eyes. “And what is on the agenda for today?” 

“A sleepover.” 

Ellery glanced at the window. “It’s, like, ten in the morning.” 

Knox shrugged. “Yes. Yes, I know. But it’s freezing out, and I have noticed that you are not a fan of being outside in the cold. Or anywhere really that’s not the apartment.” 

“You’re not wrong.” 

“Besides, it sounds fun. Staying in for the day. With you.” A blush swept across his cheekbones. 

Ellery’s stomach fluttered. Their whole body went hot. “Okay. That’s fine. How do you envision your sleepover?” 

Knox grinned. “Movies. Pizza. Ice cream. Doing each other’s makeup? Gossiping? A pillow fight?” 

Ellery raised a finger. “Movies, pizza, and ice cream are fair game. I’m horrible at makeup; we’d need Zada for that. I have no gossip, as you and Zada and Charley are the only people I know. And you literally had a concussion last night, so a pillow fight is also out. But we can still make it fun.” 

“Sounds great,” Knox said, making jazz hands. 

Ellery shook their head and heaved a playful put-upon sigh. They crossed to the kitchen for a glass of water. “I can’t believe I get stuck with the familiar who wants to live out every teen drama fantasy,” they said as they filled their glass from the tap. 

Knox laughed, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “What? I’m technically a teenager.” 

“You’re immortal.” 

“So? I’m totally a teenager. I even have the weird adolescent impulses.” 

Ellery choked on their drink, wheezing as the water went down the wrong pipe. They plunked their glass on the counter, coughing, eyes watering. “What?” they managed after a few seconds.

Knox’s brow furrowed. “I literally ran away from home. Are you okay? What did you think I meant?” 

“Nothing!” Ellery said quickly, mopping up the spilled water. “How about you pick a movie or TV show and we get this party started?” 

Ellery disappeared into the hallway and pressed a hand to their thundering heart, mouth open and cheeks flushed. They weren’t going to survive this day if Knox kept saying things like that and acting innocent on top of it. 

Zada wasn’t kidding about this crush business. Ellery’s emotions were out of control, but in the wildest, most exhilarating way. A small voice that sounded a lot like Charley reminded Ellery to be careful, that it was called a “crush” for a reason. And, to be fair to the voice, Knox had said something about having a secret last night. But he’d also told Ellery he liked them. And, for once, Ellery wanted to follow Charley’s advice to not make other people’s problems their own. Whatever the secret Knox had, it wasn’t their issue. And instead of worrying about the money they were losing by not working today, Ellery decided they’d enjoy the fact that they had a cute boy who liked them and a rare day off to spend with him. Ellery wanted to bask in the crush. They wanted it so badly. 

After Ellery freshened up and changed out of their outfit from the night before into a pair of pajamas—because what else did you wear at a sleepover?—they placed a grocery order that included popcorn and ice cream and all sorts of toppings to go with it. Ellery knew they would be judged for ordering ice cream in the middle of a snow flurry, but well, it’d been snowing for years; there was no way that everyone gave up ice cream just because it was winter. 

They went back into the living room and settled by Knox on the couch, feet up on the coffee table. Knox draped a blanket over both of their legs. 

“What did you choose?” Ellery asked, hoping their voice came out even and not at all affected by Knox’s proximity. 

“This scary television show about teen witches, werewolves, and wyverns,” Knox said, gesturing toward the screen. “Have you seen it?” 

“No, I haven’t. But I heard it’s good.” 

Knox grinned as he tapped the play button. “Let’s see if they get any of the lore correct.” 

The groceries arrived during the second episode, and they paused the show to each make massive ice cream sundaes. After the fourth, Ellery ordered their pizza and made a face when Knox advocated for pineapple, but added it to half anyway. 

During the fifth episode, with Knox leaning into their side, Ellery had seen enough. They threw up their hands. “Oh my goddess, don’t trust that guy!” they yelled at the screen. “He’s trying to lure you into the trap. Why are you believing him?” 

Knox huffed in amusement. “You really think he’s the bad guy?” 

“Of course! All signs point to that dude. He’s totally shady.” 

“But he’s been nothing but nice. He’s given her no reason not to trust him.” 

Ellery crossed their arms. “No, but she’s na├»ve to think he doesn’t have an ulterior motive. Blind belief only causes problems. And she’s just setting herself up to be hurt.” 

Knox raised his eyebrows. Ellery dropped their hands and scrunched down in the blanket, blushing under Knox’s intense attention. 

“I mean, maybe.” 

A character screamed onscreen, but Knox didn’t look away from Ellery. “You said your family prays to the goddess, but you didn’t believe me when we first met.” 

Ellery debated pulling the blanket completely over their head. “Belief is difficult for me,” they said. 

“Why?” 

“Because my parents believed, and look where it got them. They prayed and prayed, and their prayers went unanswered. Instead of taking matters into their own hands, they waited for some mystical solution. One that never came. I grew up believing that they knew best because they were the adults, and it hurt when I realized that they didn’t. That I had to be the pragmatic one.” 

Knox’s jaw clenched. “I’m sorry.” 

“It’s not your fault. You said you ran away. I basically did too. I came here to earn money for my family, but that wasn’t the only reason I left. I couldn’t handle it all anymore.” 

“Do you think you’ll go back?” 

“I don’t know. Maybe? Maybe not. It’s hard to trust them. It’s something that’s bled into my other relationships as well.” “With Charley and Zada.” 

Ellery nodded. “I love them both. And I want to trust them when they tell me that they love me too, and that they want me here, or that it doesn’t bother them that I invaded their space. But like I said, it’s difficult.” 

“I understand,” Knox said, though he sounded pained. “I know you don’t trust me.” 

Oh. “I believe that you are what you say. And I trust that you’ll hold to our bargain.” 

Knox frowned. “It’s signed in blood. I have to follow it.” 

“I’m sorry,” Ellery hastened to add. “It’s a me thing. It’s not you. I promise. And for the record, I really—” 

A knock at the door cut Ellery off, which was fortuitous because Ellery didn’t know how to navigate whatever situation would arise from blurting out their feelings. Especially if what Knox had said in his concussed haze the night prior was true—that he liked Ellery in return. 

Ellery scrambled off the couch and opened the door to accept the pizza. They brought it over to the table and handed Knox one of the paper plates stacked on top. 

“It’s fine,” Knox said, helping himself to a slice of pineapple pizza. “I understand.” 

“Do you?” 

“You’ve been hurt by people you loved. It’s made you wary. That’s nothing to apologize for.” He gestured toward the TV. “Just like August refuses to let Manny into the circle yet, because of her cheating ex-boyfriend.” 

Ellery huffed in amusement. “Yeah. Something like that.” 

Knox smiled. “Hopefully, though, once you get to know someone, you’ll be able to trust them.” 

 

Ellery ducked their head. “I’m trying.” 

“Now,” Knox said, settling back onto the couch, “let’s see if this other character is really the bad guy as you say.” 

Within the next few episodes, Ellery was proven wrong: the character was not the bad guy, but he did wind up dead, and then undead. Sometime during the last few episodes of season one, Zada waltzed into the apartment and stopped short. 

“Well, this is a mess,” she said, eyeing the pizza box, drink glasses, and empty bowls containing remnants of ice cream, pretzels, and popcorn. “Oh,” she said, pointing to the television, “is this that werewolves, witches, and wyverns show? I only made it to episode nine. Which one is this?” 

“Eleven, but episode ten was filler,” Ellery said. 

“Budge over,” she said, dropping onto the couch, effectively squishing Ellery closer into Knox’s side. Knox was forced to drape his arm over the back of the couch, so Ellery was snug against him. “I can’t believe that one guy wasn’t the evil one,” Zada said, eyes glued to the screen. “Too bad the writers killed him off.” 

“He’s an undead now,” Knox offered helpfully. “Episode ten wasn’t completely filler.” 

“Oh, awesome.” She jutted her chin at the pizza box. “Do I smell pineapple?” 

“Yes.” 

“Excellent,” she said, stealing a slice. The episode opened with the characters at a loud house party dancing and drinking from red plastic cups, flashing lights bathing them in different colors, fast music overwhelming the speakers. 

“That looks fun,” Knox said. Ellery didn’t miss his wistful tone, and apparently neither did Zada. 

“A party?” 

“Yes. I don’t think I’ve ever participated in something like that. With humans,” he clarified. 

Zada hummed in acknowledgment. 

That’s how Charley found them hours later, the three of them huddled together on the couch, Ellery half asleep on Knox’s chest, Zada curled into Ellery’s other side, and Knox with wide eyes watching the final episode of the season. 

“What’s this?” she asked. 

Zada waved her hand and shushed her. “Almost over, babe.” 

“Is this that dragons show?” she asked, squeezing into the tiny space left on the couch. Ellery grunted as Zada knocked in their side, which forced them to squeeze closer into Knox, which was not such a hardship. 

“Wyverns,” Knox corrected. 

“Oh, I wanted to watch this,” she said, settling in. 

“Spoilers, babe. This is the last episode.” 

Charley shrugged. “No worries. I’ll watch from the beginning later.” 

Ellery lifted their head. “You are literally chaos in human form, aren’t you?” 

Charley beamed. “You’re just now realizing?” 

Knox and Zada shushed them both as the episode reached its climax. Five minutes later, they all stared at the screen. Knox’s mouth hung open. 

“That’s it?” 

“They didn’t reveal the killer,” Zada said in disbelief. She gestured at the screen. “And they left Grant stuck in the cave with Manny, and it’s about to be a full moon!” 

“And Pala doesn’t know their magic won’t work against the wyverns and is walking straight into a nest,” Knox said. “Ugh.” He jabbed the off button on the remote. “Cliffhangers are so disappointing.” 

“Well,” Charley said gently. “I heard it was renewed for a season two. That’s good news, right?” 

“Unless it’s filming right now, it won’t air anytime soon,” Zada said, bottom lip in a pout, arms crossed over her chest. “And Knox . . .” She trailed off. 

Knox’s body went taut under Ellery. Ellery peeled themself from where they’d been draped over him. 

“Oh,” Zada said, hand over her mouth. “I didn’t—” 

“It’s okay,” he said with a forced smile. “Anyway, at least the show has given me an idea,” he added, rubbing his hands together, “for my next human experience.” 

Ellery’s heart sank, because they already knew. “A party?” they hazarded. 

Knox grinned. “A party.”






Excerpt from OTHERWORLDLY by F.T. Lukens

reprinted with permission from Margaret K. McElderry Books.


All rights reserved.


    ~*~

C O N T E N T R A T I N G S

Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: PG  ( Kissing )
Language: PG13  ( Several f-bombs. A couple of craps and shits, and one character called a foul name. )
Violence: PG  ( The main characters are bystanders to a fight at a hockey game. There is an encounter with a paranormal being that involves non-graphic gore and tense moments.)
Other:  G  ( There are a couple of moments of slight innuendo that would go over most readers' heads, such as a character telling the MC to "be responsible"and the response being, "Why are you saying 'responsible' like that?...Oh, now I get it."  And even though there is a party scene, alcohol is NEVER mentioned and the one character who gets something to drink gets soda. All they came to do was dance. ^_^.)
~*~
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

In person, this book is soooooooo pretty. A computer can't do it justice!
There is shimmery foil to really sell the winter wonderland vibes and it creates gorgeous warm and cool tones across the image and background of the cover. It's really beautiful! 

The cover even continues onto the back and we get to see some of the secondary main characters, which was such a fun surprise!

I also really like the titletreatment and angle of the wording. It blends into the scene just right!
~*~

O F F I C I A    I N F O:

Title:  OTHERWORLDLY
Author: F.T. Lukens
Release Date: April 2, 2024
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books / Simon & Schuster
Received: For Review
 
SUMMARY:
 

A skeptic and a supernatural being make a crossroads deal to achieve their own ends only to get more than they bargained for in this lively young adult romantic adventure from the New York Times bestselling author of Spell Bound and So This Is Ever After.

Seventeen-year-old Ellery is a non-believer in a region where people swear the supernatural is real. Sure, they’ve been stuck in a five-year winter, but there’s got to be a scientific explanation. If goddesses were real, they wouldn’t abandon their charges like this, leaving farmers like Ellery’s family to scrape by.

Knox is a familiar from the Other World, a magical assistant sent to help humans who have made crossroads bargains. But it’s been years since he heard from his queen, and Knox is getting nervous about what he might find once he returns home. When the crossroads demons come to collect Knox, he panics and runs. A chance encounter down an alley finds Ellery coming to Knox’s rescue, successfully fending off his would-be abductors.

Ellery can’t quite believe what they’ve seen. And they definitely don’t believe the nonsense this unnervingly attractive guy spews about his paranormal origins. But Knox needs to make a deal with a human who can tether him to this realm, and Ellery needs to figure out how to stop this winter to help their family. Once their bargain is struck, there’s no backing out, and the growing connection between the two might just change everything.

REVIEWS:

“Hints of both Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the CW television show Supernatural flavor this tale in Lukens’ hallmark fashion. Notably, in a genre that has recently favored older readers, this story is accessible to teens of all ages. Its broad appeal, engaging pacing, and quest-like plot structure (which features cameos from deities inspired by Greek mythology) create a transition point for younger teens comfortable with Rick Riordan Presents … This beautifully struck balance couples with a unique perspective on genre canon to create a light but nuanced story that will be a joy for teens.”– Booklist, starred review  

“Lukens impresses with this romantic adventure starring a skeptic and an excitable liminal being … Lukens’s signature blend of complex yet accessible mythology, queer-normative worldbuilding, and high emotional stakes makes for a compulsively readable tale.”– Publishers Weekly



“An irresistible elixir of romance and suspense.”– Kirkus Reviews  

“A nice touch of Midwestern spookiness underlines a tale of classic crossroads bargains, first (and maybe lasting) love, thinly veiled climate anxiety, and chosen family. The mythic and the realistic are well balanced, and the relationships between characters will win over even the most grudging of romantics. Prickly Ellery and fun-loving Knox are an adorable grumpy-sunshine pair, and Ellery’s chaotic cousin and her girlfriend, plus some supernatural figures, round out the background to their world-bridging romance. Largely angst-free, wryly funny, and emotionally satisfying, this novel is tailor-made for a Netflix adaptation.”– BCCB


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR



F.T. Lukens (they/them) is a New York Times bestselling author of YA speculative fiction including the novels Spell Bound, So This Is Ever After and In Deeper Waters (2022 ALA Rainbow Booklist; Junior Library Guild Selection) as well as other science fiction and fantasy works. Their contemporary fantasy novel The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic was a 2017 Cybils Award finalist in YA Speculative Fiction and the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Gold Winner for YA fiction and won the Bisexual Book Award for Speculative Fiction. F.T. resides in North Carolina with their spouse, three kids, three dogs, and three cats.  


  
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