Editor's Picks Book Club Books

“The Lady Or The Lion” by Aamna Qureshi is The Tempest Book Club’s July Pick. Here’s the first chapter.

We’re so excited to announce Aamna Qureshi’s novel The Lady Or The Lion (out July 20, 2021) as The Tempest Book Club July read. 

Read the Prologue below.

As always, we’re collaborating with CamCat Publishing to give away three copies. Enter here!

The appointed hour arrived.

From across the mountain, the people gathered into the galleries of the arena. Though considered a barbaric custom in the nineteenth century, the trial by tribunal was tradition. It was with sick fascination that the villagers filled the seats; the overflowing crowds amassing themselves outside the amphitheater walls.

The sky was a murky gray above them; summer was over. A breeze traveled through the air, and the villagers shivered, clutching their shawls and their children close.

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The chatter and clamor ebbed to hushed whispers as the Badshah entered the arena at its height, where his ornate throne awaited him. His bearded face was stoic and severe, his lips pressed into a thin line, his eyes sharp.

The onlookers lowered their heads in respect as he took his seat. His wife, the Wali, sat beside him. A low murmur pulsed through the crowd as one more took her seat beside the Badshah. It was the Shehzadi.

The low chum-chum of her chudiyan echoed through the arena as she moved toward her throne, her blood red gharara trailing behind her. Her golden crown glistened, bright and shining as her blue-green eyes. She held her chin high, proud as ever, as she took her seat. The villagers had not expected her to come. How she could stomach such an affair was beyond them! To see one’s lover torn to shreds or thrust to another was no easy sight.

Yet, there she sat, beside her grandfather. They sat directly opposite the two doors; those fateful portals, so hideous in their sameness. All was ready. The signal was given.

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At the base of the arena, a door opened to reveal the lover of the Shehzadi. Tall, beautiful, strong: His appearance elicited a low hum of admiration and anxiety from the audience. The young man advanced into the arena, his back straight. As he approached the doors, the crowds silenced. A crow cried in the distance, and the lover turned.

He bowed to the king, as was custom, but his gaze was fixed entirely upon the Shehzadi. The sight of him seared through her. He reached for her, she reached for him, but their hands did not touch; they were tangled in the stars between them, destiny keeping them apart.

From the instant the decree had gone forth to seize her lover to trial, she hadn’t spent a second thinking of anything else. And thus, she had done what no other had done—she had possessed herself of the secret of the doors.

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Now, the decision was hers to make.

Should she send him to the lady? So that he may live his days with another, leaving the Shehzadi to her envy and her grief? Or should he be sent to the lion? Who would surely tear him to shreds before she had a moment to regret her decision?

Either way, they could never be together.

Then, his quick glance asked the question: “Which?”

There was not an instant to be lost. The question was asked in a flash; it had to be answered in another.

It was time to seal both his fate and hers.

Excerpted with the permission of CamCat Publishing.

Want to continue reading? Here are the first three chapters, courtesy of The Tempest. And if you join our Book Club, the first 20 people to sign up for this title will receive a free copy of the book. What are you waiting for?

Book Reviews Book Club Pop Culture Interviews

Witches are at the forefront of the Suffragette movement in Alix E. Harrow’s “The Once and Future Witches”

Why have regular activists when you can have activist witches? I found the perfect combination of the two in Alix E. Harrow’s new novel The Once and Future Witches.

We’ve all heard the witch tales told to us as little girls – the Wicked Witch of the West was a popular one in my childhood. She is so widely hated by people because of the inconvenience she causes Dorothy, but I secretly liked her better. She made the story. Why are we taught that the witches are always the villains of the story?

Author Alix E. Harrow recalls tales told in her childhood, “There are witches in so many of our stories,” she says in an exclusive interview with The Tempest, “creeping along the margins, waiting at crossroads and hexing babies; I guess it was only a matter of time before we started dragging them out into the light.” And drag to the light she did.

The Once and Future Witches is a novel that centers around injustices that, sadly, are still all too familiar to modern-day society, legal, economic, social and racial. The story is set in 1893, during the time of the suffragette movement, and did I mention that the main characters are activist witches?

Harrow admits that the idea wasn’t entirely hers: “I wish I could say it came to me in a dream, but the honest truth is that I was trying really hard to come up with a new novel idea, and my husband said, ‘you should do witches, but like, activists.'” And from there, The Once and Future Witches was born; a story combining the modern understanding of witchery with the age-old movement of the Suffragettes.

The protagonists of the book, the three Eastwood sisters, display a sense of morality that isn’t heard of from witches in the tales stemming from centuries ago; they are activists fighting for their rights as women. But can they balance witchery and activism? 

There are so many characters that you come to love in this book; my favorite happens to be James Juniper, the youngest of all the Eastwood sisters, on a journey to leave her traumatic past behind. She also happens to be the most dedicated to her roots and a proud witch – something that is consistently frowned upon within the pages of this book and is a trait that makes her incredibly appealing in the new age of activism.

Juniper is the first to become involved with the women’s suffrage movement, later involving her sisters. However, the movement itself is not just for the rights of women, it also serves as a coverup for the Eastwood sisters’ own growing power throughout the city of New Salem; a force that reconciled the sisterhood of these three and brought forward a new sisterhood between the women of New Salem.

Agnes Amaranth is the middle sister and a solitary individual, and Alix Harrow’s favorite: “I had a newborn and a two-year-old while I was writing this book, and the idea of a character who found strength in motherhood, rather than sentimentality or weakness or softness is one that mattered a great deal to me.” 

Last but certainly not least, we have Beatrice Belladonna, the eldest of the sisters and the insatiable bookworm of the trio. Beatrice is bursting at the seams for knowledge of her ancestors and finds herself digging deeper and deeper into her emotions and knowledge about witchcraft with the aid of her new friend. Beatrice’s love of books resonates with many readers and although on the surface Beatrice has less going on in her life than her sisters, it is truly a wonderful experience to watch such an introverted character bloom into a powerful presence. 

My favorite thing about The Once and Future Witches happens to be how starkly different each of the Eastwood sisters are: there’s a part of everyone in each of these sisters, making them relatable to any reader. It is also quite refreshing to see the characters find pride in being women in a time where it was shunned.

But, throughout History, where there are women, there are injustices and at its very core, The Once and Future Witches is a story about all of these struggles whilst being a disliked member of society. As Harrow so wonderfully puts it,  “All of us grew up on stories of wicked witches. The villages they cursed, the plagues they brewed. We need to show people what else we have to offer, give them better stories.”

Witchery is an essential part of history and literature. From the tales in the literary canon and children’s books to the ones in crime history and newspapers, it’s fair to say that witches haven’t always been depicted as the most just beings. The author of The Once and Future Witches dives deep into the set of fears surrounding the inversions of the natural order. Witches are often portrayed as promiscuous rather than chaste housewives; they prey on children rather than bear them and they curse houses rather than keep them. The nineteenth-century nailed in the gender roles of our society with witches being the feminine form of evil – but not the protagonists of this book. 

The Eastwood sisters alongside many of the other characters find themselves facing an age-old battle that women appear to be destined to fight for the longevity of their time. “I wouldn’t necessarily want to declare that it’s some sort of grand allegory for the #MeToo movement, which involves real women in the real world.” Harrows says, “But all the injustices my characters deal with – legal, economic, social, racial, are absolutely still with us.”

Whether it’s an issue of classism or the economical stance of women in society, Harrow taps into our innermost subconscious, allowing us to see an age-old story with modern eyes in the best way; through the lives of witches. “I think the thing that fantasy can do better than any other genre is literalize experiences that are metaphorical – it can make the invisible suddenly visible. Women’s sociopolitical power is an invisible, uncertain quantity that shifts according to class, race, sexuality, ability, and identity. But with witchcraft–I could make it visible.”

The Once and Future Witches was a great read for me personally: though I’ve never villainized the witches, I’ve never thought to put them in the position of the heroes either. I was surprised just how much I connected with the main character James Juniper – her wit and charm as well as her pride had me rooting for her the entire way through. And although witches have never been traditionally written as humane, this was the most human I’ve read them to be and definitely the most I’ve connected with them.

This book is eloquently crafted and depicts the long-lasting journey that women have been on since the beginning of time and fills you with a sense of righteousness. Remnants of beautiful yet powerful messages are hidden in the charming words you’d come to expect from an Alix E. Harrow’s story. “With my first book (the take away) was a sense of wonder and nostalgia. With this one, it’s righteous anger, and the thing underneath righteous anger, which is almost always hope.”

We are hosting a giveaway of the book on our Instagram, stay tuned! Or, if you absolutely can’t wait to read “The Once and Future Witches”, get it now on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores here or on Amazon here.

Books Pop Culture Interviews

Young author Miracle Olatunji talks purpose and how to live a life of impact

Although she is only 19-years-old, Miracle Olatunji is already making a significant difference in society. Olatunji is an entrepreneur, professional speaker and author of Purpose: How To Live and Lead With Impact

As a high school student, she founded OpportuniMe, an award-winning education organization that connected high school students to summer learning opportunities to help them develop their life and leadership skills. Now as a sophomore at Northeastern University, Olatunji is the Vice President of Access & Opportunity for the Women In Finance Initiative and continues to work towards empowering youth.

Olatunji credits her spirit and leadership to the Diamond Challenge, a youth entrepreneurship program she participated in during her high school career. The program helped her develop not only an entrepreneurial mindset but provided her with the amazing opportunity to make friends globally. 

In a recent interview with The Tempest, Olatunji spoke about the inspiration behind her book, Purpose: How To Live and Lead With Impact, and what the term purpose means to her. She also told us of her passion to positively impact others and how she hopes her book inspires readers to do the same.

Photo of Miracle Olatunji’s book Purpose: How To Live and Lead With Impact.
[Image description: Photo of Miracle Olatunji’s book Purpose: How To Live and Lead With Impact.] Via Miracle Olatunji
For me, my birth and story behind my name story have always made me curious about the concept of purpose and how that related to my existence, and for the existence of everyone on the planet,” Olatunji said.

“I believe my purpose involves helping others empower themselves through connection to opportunities, for personal and professional growth, and to realize their potential. Essentially, part of my own purpose is to help others uncover their purpose and lead with it. If we really want to make an impact, we have to think beyond ourselves. It’s not just about a ‘me’ mentality, it’s about an ‘us’ mentality. Who are you trying to help, empower, or create value for? What are their needs?”

According to Olatunji, everyone has a purpose and that purpose is the central motivation of our life. She believes that one’s purpose keeps them grounded and allows them to “keep going” when they face inevitable challenges.

“You can leverage the power of an inner sense of purpose to guide your life decisions and goals, build impactful organizations, movements and create change.”

Inspired by Mark Twain’s words, “the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why,” Olatunji wrote her book earlier this year. She shared with us that she believes the ‘why’ in his quote refers to one’s person or reason for existence. 

“Although there are billions of people on this planet, every single one of us has a purpose. This leads to one of the greatest dilemmas of all time: the search for that sense of purpose in our lives. For me, the day I was born has a peculiar back story. It has led me to search and try to find out why I was born. What is my purpose? How can I live and lead with impact?” she added.

Author of Purpose: How To Live and Lead With Impact Miracle Olatunji speaking at Northeastern University’s Center for Financial Independence (Thrive) event.
[Image description: Miracle Olatunji speaking at Northeastern University’s Center for Financial Independence (Thrive) event.] Via Miracle Olatunji
Throughout her years as an entrepreneur, Olatunji has spoken to various audiences about financial literacy, their career, purpose in life, and education. She also has experience speaking about innovation, diversity and inclusion. Similar to how her talks are relatable for audiences of all ages, she hopes her book reaches a wide variety of readers who feel inspired and motivated for change.

“My book, Purpose: How To Live and Lead With Impact, is for anyone and everyone who wants to make a difference in not only their lives but in the lives of others, their communities, companies, organizations and the world,” Olatunji said.

“It’s full of inspiring stories and actionable insights for readers of all ages. My hope is that the book will inspire fellow young women especially to realize that, as Michelle Obama said, there is no limit to what we as women can accomplish,” she added.

When asked what advice she would give to someone who is interested in following in her footsteps of becoming an author, Olantunji emphasized the importance of writing or typing out the story and message you’d like to share with others.

“Do a first draft and don’t be too harsh on yourself,” she said.  “Just focus on getting the words out, the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect.”

She spoke of the consistency and having work reviewed by family, friends and other professionals you can share your writing with. The first step, which is getting started, Olatunji said, is the toughest. “Afterward, discipline and creating the time to write and revise is key.”

To Olantunji the most rewarding aspect of her work is being told she inspires people to make a difference and having the ability to create positive solutions for others. Feedback from her audiences and those who consume her work not only encourages her but reminds her of her purpose and the reason why she does the work she does, Olantunji told us.

When asked what the best career advice she’d been given was, Olatunji shared the importance of creating a support group for oneself.

“Create your own personal life and career “board of advisors” which consists of people who support and push you to be the best possible version of yourself. This may include family, friends, mentors, sponsors, coaches, and more.”

This interview was edited for length and clarity. 

You can get Purpose: How To Live and Lead With Impact here for $14.99! Keep an eye out for a giveaway of the book on our Instagram!