Wednesday, February 22, 2017

THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE by Stacey Lee

I met Stacey Lee at a recent conference because I was unable to make the release of THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE, which I was bummed about because I love her books. Her stories are authentic and gorgeous; they grab readers and don't let go.

Sometimes love is right under your nose. As one of only two aromateurs left on the planet, sixteen-year-old Mimosa knows what her future holds: a lifetime of weeding, mixing love elixirs, and matchmaking—all while remaining incurably alone. For Mim, the rules are clear: falling in love would render her nose useless, taking away her one great talent. Still, Mimosa doesn’t want to spend her life elbow-deep in soil and begonias. She dreams of a normal high school experience with friends, sports practices, debate club, and even a boyfriend. But when she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong woman and has to rely on the lovesick woman’s son, the school soccer star, to help fix the situation, Mim quickly begins to realize that falling in love isn’t always a choice you can make.


In addition to writing, you also play classical piano. What do you love most about each activity and why?

My favorite thing about writing is that it gives me a chance to make people feel something. I love writing a scene that the reader feels so invested in, they can't wait to move onto the next scene. And funny enough, that's also what I love about playing the piano. Keeping the listener rapt. We all live for those moments of intense absorption and focus.

I'm completely rapt, and I'm very intrigued by the dilemma that Mimosa faces in THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE. How did this story come to you, and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished with it?

I started with a very universal emotion—the fear of disappointing one's parents. And I went from there, using the framework of a girl who has inherited an extraordinary nose that her ancestors have built a livelihood around, making love potions out of flowers for the general good. What would happen if she lost her special talent? I gave her a very strict mother just to keep things interesting for her. I think I would love for readers to understand that 1) we are lovable with and in spite of our flaws, and 2) we are stronger than we think.

A beautiful and necessary message, for teens and adults alike. I also love the beginning of UNDER A PAINTED SKY, especially the suspense. What do you like most about writing beginnings?

Thank you. I favor the 'grab them by the collar and dunk them in the cider barrel' approach to first chapters. I remember specifically wanting to give readers a one-two punch in UAPS, given that it's a western. Those who've read it will know what I mean. :)

I definitely do, and hope to do the same in my own writing. What are some of your current projects?

I am working on my third historical. Dear Miss Sweetie focuses on a Chinese teenager in 1890s Atlanta who moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a wildly popular newspaper advice column. When a black man is accused of assaulting a white woman, "Miss Sweetie" uses the power of her pen in an attempt to change the outcome of the trial.

I have a humongous map of historic Atlanta that I've been using to 'get around' in my story. It takes up half the floor space in my office, and I'm always tripping over it. Fun times!


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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

ADDIE BELL'S SHORTCUT TO GROWING UP by Jessica Brody

I've met Jessica Brody at a couple recent conferences, and I loved her Unremembered series. Her first tween book, ADDIE BELL'S SHORTCUT TO GROWING UP, debuted yesterday, February 14, and I can't wait to read it:

Everyone makes wishes. Addie's wish just happens to come true. 

Seventh grader Addie Bell can’t wait to grow up. Her parents won’t let her have her own phone, she doesn’t have any curves, and her best friend Grace isn’t at all interested in make-up or boys. Then, on the night of her twelfth birthday, Addie makes a wish on a magic jewelry box to be sixteen…and wakes up to find her entire life has been fast-forwarded four years! Suddenly she has everything she’s always wanted (including a driver’s license and a closet full of cool clothes)! But Addie soon discovers that a lot more has changed than she expected—including her friendship with Grace. Can Addie turn back time and take back her wish…or has she lost the chance to experience what could have been the best years of her life?

According to your website bio, in 2005, you quit your job to follow your dream of becoming a published author.. How did you know this was the right move for you, and what advice, if any, do you have for people looking to make writing a full-time career? 

I knew in my heart that writing was what I wanted to do. I could have easily stayed on with my current job and wrote on the side, but I wanted to focus on it 100%. I wanted to prove to myself (and the universe) that I was serious about it. And I knew for me that meant all or nothing. It did require me to take on a lot of odd jobs here and there to keep the bills paid, but my criteria was always that the job had to have flexible hours—something I could do in my own time—so that I could prioritize writing every day.

My best advice to anyone wanting to make a career as a full time author is to write first. Put it first. Above everything else. Even if you have school or another full-time job, wake up early and get your writing done before you do anything else. Including checking email, Facebook, the news etc.  Tell the universe that this is your priority and the universe will respond to that.

The universe has definitely responded! I love Addie's voice--especially her sarcasm. Did she come to you fully formed or did she develop as you wrote her?

I think all of my characters end up with a healthy dose of sarcasm. Where on earth do they get that from? I have no idea!

But seriously, I’m a pretty sarcastic person, so like a parent to a child, I tend to pass off that sarcasm like DNA.

Sarcasm should definitely have its own DNA strain. I also love the concept of your book, A WEEK OF MONDAYS. What do you hope readers gain from Ellie's story?

Thank you! I have a special place in my heart for Ellie’s story. I mean, first and foremost I write to entertain. If you laugh or cry or are able to escape from your daily life by reading one of my stories then mission accomplished. If the book gives you something to think about on top of that, that’s icing on the cake. For Ellie’s story, I wanted to convey the idea that we really only get today. That’s all that’s promised to us. So make the most of it. Live it for you. Not for anyone else.

Wise words. What are some of your current projects?

Oh my gosh, where do I start??? I’m always juggling a million projects at once! Okay, so I just turned in revisions for a YA contemporary that will be out in November called THE CHAOS OF STANDING STILL about two teens who get stuck in the Denver airport during a record-breaking snow storm and end up having this crazy, all-night, life changing adventure together. I’m really excited about this one. It’s different from any of my other books as it deals with a topic I’ve never tackled before: Grief.

On top of that, I’m currently drafting my next middle grade which is called BETTER YOU THAN ME. That was is a Freaky-Friday-esque story about two twelve-year-old girls—one a famous TV star and the other her obsessive fan—who magically swap bodies!

And I have a big announcement coming soon for another project, so keep your eyes peeled for that!


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Looking for Jessica Brody's other U.S. book releases? Find them here. 

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Frostblood Saga by Elly Blake

I stumbled across Elly Blake's Frostblood Saga though a Twitter post by Chelsea Sedoti, and I was immediately intrigued by it. FROSTBLOOD is already out, and FIREBLOOD is due in September. Have a look:

The frost king will burn.

Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a Fireblood who has concealed her powers of heat and flame from the cruel Frostblood ruling class her entire life. But when her mother is killed trying to protect her, and rebel Frostbloods demand her help to overthrow their bloodthirsty king, she agrees to come out of hiding, desperate to have her revenge.

Despite her unpredictable abilities, Ruby trains with the rebels and the infuriating—yet irresistible—Arcus, who seems to think of her as nothing more than a weapon. But before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to compete in the king’s tournaments that pit Fireblood prisoners against Frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her—and from the icy young man she has come to love.


In this action-packed sequel to Frostblood, the future of Ruby's world and a court ruled by the love of her life depends on the uncovered secrets of her past...

Against all odds, Ruby has defeated the villainous Frost King and melted his throne of ice. But the bloodthirsty Minax that was trapped inside is now haunting her kingdom and everyone she loves. The answers to its demise may lie to the south in Sudesia, the land of the Firebloods, and a country that holds the secrets to Ruby's powers and past....

Despite warnings from her beloved Arcus, Ruby accompanies a roguish Fireblood named Kai to Sudesia, where she must master her control of fire in a series of trials to gain the trust of the suspicious Fireblood queen. Only then can she hope to access the knowledge that could defeat the rampaging Minax--which grows closer every moment. But as sparks fly in her moments alone with Kai, how can Ruby decide whom to trust? The fate of both kingdoms is now in her hands.

According to your website bio, you are represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary. How did you know that Suzie was the right agent for you? 

 It would be hard to describe the sheer joy of my offer phone call with Suzie. (Jackie and Jaida, who were assistants at the time, were also in on the phone call.) I think I was fairly quiet because I was stunned at her enthusiasm for the book, and most of what I did say was probably semi-incoherent. After the call, when my head had stopped spinning, I sent her a list of questions that a published author friend told me I MUST ASK. It was a very long list. Suzie answered them all thoroughly. I was (and still am) so impressed by New Leaf’s team structure, experience with books adapted into movies, and their commitment to caring for authors long past the book deal. And as an author of Young Adult lit, it would have been pretty wacky to turn down New Leaf.

I keep hearing more wonderful things about New Leaf and its agents! The back-cover blurb for FROSTBLOOD is extremely well written. What, in your opinion, is most challenging part of composing a blurb (or a synopsis)?

I have to confess that I didn’t write the back-cover blurb for FROSTBLOOD. There are talented people at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (or Hodder & Stoughton in the UK) who took care of that. I’m very grateful I didn’t have to do that! Writing a blurb is a special skill and I’m in awe when I see how they take the story and distill it down to its essence. I think the most challenging part is revealing enough about the characters, story, and conflict to get the reader interested, but not enough to spoil the surprises.

Definitely. And I love that you include fan art on your website. What do you love most about seeing art from readers?

 Oh, I am SO EXCITED to have a couple of pieces of fan art! That’s definitely a dream come true. I enjoy seeing interpretations of the same character, and how each drawing style gives the character different nuances. Each artist sees the character through a different lens. I love looking at fan art, and I love when authors share it! Kudos to the visual artists of the world.

And hooray for a variety of lenses! FIREBLOOD, the second in the FROSTBLOOD saga, comes out in September. Is there anything you can tell us about it yet? 

In FIREBLOOD, you’ll find out more about Firebloods and their homeland, as well as some revelations about Ruby’s past. She continues to gain mastery over her powers, while facing new and bigger challenges. Arcus is an important character, of course, and several new characters are introduced. And once again, there’s action and danger and fighting and kissing and tough choices. I hope you like it!


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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

BLOOD ROSE REBELLION by Rosalyn Eves

When I heard that Rosalyn Eves' BLOOD ROSE REBELLION takes place in an alternate Victorian historical landscape, I knew I had to feature it. School Library Journal also called it, "An enjoyable, fast-paced read with a likable protagonist with whom teens will identify."

Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.

Her life might well be over.

In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome Romani Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.

As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and Romanies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever.


And here is the animated cover (credit to Agent Bob, as the artist, and Ray Shappell, as the designer):

video

According to your website bio, you grew up in the Rocky Mountains and like to hike. What is your favorite thing about the outdoors?

The mountains are home to me. I lived in Pennsylvania for six years while I was in graduate school, and while the rolling hills and woods have their own kind of beauty, I don't feel quite as safe without the barrier of mountains on at least one side of me. I love being able to get up and away from my everyday life and get perspective (both literal and figurative). Where we live now, we're within a couple of hours of some spectacular National Parks--Zion and Bryce Canyon--and somehow the sight of the red rock makes me feel like whatever problems I'm facing aren't quite as insurmountable as they may feel in the midst of them.

I feel the same way--I went to camp near the Colorado Rockies, and the mountains have held a sense of home for me ever since. Speaking of majestic settings, THE BLOOD ROSE REBELLION takes place in an alternate Victorian England. What is your favorite part of the world you built?

Anna only spends a few chapters in Victorian England before being sent to Hungary with her grandmother--and Hungary has a very special place in my heart, as I lived there for nearly a year and a half. I love the people, the culture, and the (difficult) language. But really, my favorite part of these Victorian worlds are the balls--all the glitter and glamour and dancing! One of these days I'm going to make it to an authentic Victorian ball where I get to put on a dress with poofy skirts and practice my rusty waltz.

That's definitely on my to-do list as well. I love that your book has an animated cover! What do you love most about the cover and why?

I love almost everything about the cover--I love the striking color contrast (the red on white) and I love the way the rose is breaking out of stone. It's symbolic of the heart of the story, and it also represents something that was important to me--that while Anna is a strong character, she's also conventionally feminine in terms of her world (that is, strength doesn't always have to be physical strength). The roses breaking stone are a great way of signifying that strength.

My thoughts exactly. What are some of your current projects? Can you tell us anything about the sequel to THE BLOOD ROSE REBELLION?

I'm currently working on book 3 (still working out some plot stuff) and working on edits on book two. I can say that book two finds Anna back in Europe--in Vienna this time, rather than Hungary--trying to deal with the aftermath of book one. :) I have a couple other projects in mind, but won't have time to work on them until the trilogy is mostly complete, so those are just simmering for now. One's another historical fantasy, the other is a third world fantasy. We'll see which one holds my attention when I get to that stage!


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Monday, January 30, 2017

Monday Feature: CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber

I first heard about Stephanie Garber's CARAVAL at last year's SCBWI Spring Spirit conference. Not only did Stephanie have a great workshop on building a cast of characters, but CARAVAL promises an interesting world, too. It debuts tomorrow, January 31, and I just got my copy in the mail!


Welcome to Caraval, where nothing is quite what it seems.

Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show.

Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father.

When the sisters' long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show's mastermind organiser, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. And real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.


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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Zodiac Series by Romina Russell

When I first saw the cover of BLACK MOON, the latest in Romina Russell's Zodiac series, I had to feature it. BLACK MOON debuted in December, and the fourth book, THIRTEEN RISING, comes out this August. The series has a great premise; I even recommended it to fellow readers when I saw it on the shelf at a Barnes and Noble. I mean, look at all the pretty covers:

Rhoma Grace is a 16-year-old student from House Cancer with an unusual way of reading the stars. While her classmates use measurements to make accurate astrological predictions, Rho can’t solve for ‘x’ to save her life—so instead, she looks up at the night sky and makes up stories.

When a violent blast strikes the moons of Cancer, sending its ocean planet off-kilter and killing thousands of citizens—including its beloved Guardian—Rho is more surprised than anyone when she is named the House’s new leader. But, a true Cancerian who loves her home fiercely and will protect her people no matter what, Rho accepts.

Then, when more Houses fall victim to freak weather catastrophes, Rho starts seeing a pattern in the stars. She suspects Ophiuchus—the exiled 13th Guardian of Zodiac legend—has returned to exact his revenge across the Galaxy. Now Rho—along with Hysan Dax, a young envoy from House Libra, and Mathias, her guide and a member of her Royal Guard—must travel through the Zodiac to warn the other Guardians.

But who will believe anything this young novice says? Whom can Rho trust in a universe defined by differences? And how can she convince twelve worlds to unite as one Zodiac?


Orphaned, disgraced, and stripped of her title, Rho is ready to live life quietly, as an aid worker in the Cancrian refugee camp on House Capricorn.

But news has spread that the Marad--an unbalanced terrorist group determined to overturn harmony in the Galaxy--could strike any House at any moment.

Then, unwelcome nightmare that he is, Ochus appears to Rho, bearing a cryptic message that leaves her with no choice but to fight.

Now Rho must embark on a high-stakes journey through an all-new set of Houses, where she discovers that there's much more to her Galaxy--and to herself--than she could have ever imagined.



One final secret stands between Rho and the enemy. But will the devastating truth be enough to destroy her first?

Rho, the courageous visionary from House Cancer, lost nearly everything when she exposed and fought against the Marad, a mysterious terrorist group bent on destroying balance in the Zodiac Galaxy. Now, the Marad has disappeared without a trace, and an uneasy peace has been declared.

But Rho is suspicious. She believes the Master is still out there in some other form. And looming over all are the eerie visions of her mother, who died many years ago, but is now appearing to Rho in the stars.

When news of a stylish new political party supported by her best friend, Nishi, sends Rho on another journey across the galaxy, she uses it as an opportunity to hunt the hidden master and seek out information about her mother. And what she uncovers sheds light on the truth–but casts darkness upon the entire Zodiac world.



THIRTEEN RISING: Debuts on August 29, 2017

The master has been unmasked. Rho’s world has been turned upside down. With her loved ones in peril and all the stars set against her, can the young Guardian from House Cancer muster the strength to keep fighting? Or has she finally found her match in a master whose ambition to rule knows no limits?








According to your website bio, your first writing gig was a weekly column for the Miami Herald. What inspired this column, and how did it shape your writing journey?

I was interning at the Miami Herald when I was 17, the summer before heading off to college, and it was right around the time when newspapers were realizing that young people weren't subscribing to their local papers, and they feared the whole industry would die out with the Baby Boomers. So I went into the then-Executive Editor's office and told him that maybe they would attract younger readers if they had a younger voice that addressed them directly. I pitched the idea that eventually became "College She Wrote"--a weekly Sunday column I penned from Harvard about my college adventures that was nationally syndicated after its first year.

I can't say enough good things about that experience. It helped me shape my voice and discover my audience--once I started writing for teens, I knew I would never stop.

I'm so glad you haven't! I love the universe where the Zodiac series takes place. What do you enjoy most about building different worlds, and what tips, if any, do you have for authors looking to improve their worldbuilding skills?

Thank you so much! I love building worlds because I'm such a controlling and detail-oriented person--which is part of my Virgoness--so the more I can create, the more something feels fully mine.

When writing, I tend to follow this general formula: #1: Build the Setting, #2: Birth the Characters from that specific world's soil, #3: Let the Plot unfold from Characters' choices.

In the case of ZODIAC, the first thing I did was create a "galaxy guidebook" of sorts that outlined every detail about all 12 (ahem, 13?) Houses; info like the planets' compositions, the physical and personality traits of each population, every House's government, culture, religion, technology, transportation, entertainment, food, and so on. I like to begin my books with Setting because of something Alan Watts once said: we're not born into this world, we're born from it.

In other words, the world must exist before the character can be born.

After I have my world(s) figured out, I flesh out my characters with an eye toward trying to ensure they're true representations of their unique upbringings (and not my own). Once I feel like I fully know my cast, I begin outlining the story, and I try to let the dance between the protagonist and the antagonist chart the trajectory of the plot. Each character's greatest strength and weakness will determine their decisions and reactions, and that choreography becomes the backbone of my novels.

The better you brainstorm your universe, the better you'll understand it, and that kind of confidence will usually shine through in the writing.

Such wonderful (and needed!) step-by-step advice regarding both world and character building. And I love the cover for BLACK MOON, especially how it represents Rho's next adventure.  What are you hoping readers will take away from this newest installment?

Thank you so much! I think Rho's greatest conflict in BLACK MOON is herself. This is the book when she finally faces her heart and her past, and I hope readers will enjoy the new worlds that are introduced and consider the messages of diversity and unity that pervade every page of this installment.

I'm sure everyone will! The next book in the Zodiac series, THIRTEEN RISING, comes out later this year. Is there anything you can tell us about it yet?

It comes out August 29th! The publisher moved up the release date, which is good for readers but proved problematic for me, LOL! I had to originally turn it in the first week of December, which was right around BLACK MOON's release date, and it was just too much--so I wound up taking an extra month with it, and I'm so glad I did, because it's absolutely my FAVORITE of the four books. I love it, and I honestly have no way to prepare any of you for what's coming! Hahahahaha. <3


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Buy: BookPassage ~ Amazon.com Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound





Buy: BookPassage ~ Amazon.com Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound





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Monday, January 23, 2017

Book Review: FIVE GUNS BLAZING: A PIRATE NOVEL by Emma Rose Millar and Kevin Allen

This week, my review of the book Five Guns Blazing appeared on the Chanticleer website.
Click here to have a look!

FIVE GUNS BLAZING: A PIRATE NOVEL

Convict’s daughter, Laetitia Beedham, is set on an epic journey from the back streets of London, through transportation to Barbados and gruelling plantation life, into the clutches of notorious pirates John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham, Mary Read and the treacherous Anne Bonny.

In a world of villainy and deceit, where black men are kept in chains and a woman will sell her daughter for a few gold coins, Laetitia can find no one in whom to place her trust.

As the King’s men close in on the pirates and the noose begins to tighten around their necks, who will win her loyalty and her heart?

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