Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Review of THE HAZEL WOOD by Melissa Albert

When I first met Melissa Albert at a conference, in line for a food truck, little did I know that her book, THE HAZEL WOOD, would be a fantasy story that would knock my world right open. (It's set to debut on January 30, and I just finished reading the ARC.) The book is so deliciously complex, that I'm sure many readers will want dig into it again and again.

From Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.


What makes this story especially fascinating is that doesn't begin with the protagonist--instead, it starts with an article about the Alice's mother Ella, and how the latter was "raised on fairy tales" by Alice's grandmother, Althea Prosperine, author of Tales from the Hinterland. This approach offers a different, more realistic angle of how fairy tales might actually affect real people in their various, fractured ways. Alice, in her own way, has led a very fractured life, never staying in one place for too long, and unable to make real connections with anyone else besides Ella. This is why it's so viscerally painful when Ella goes missing--Alice needs to find the one person she has a connection with. In the process, she gets mixed up with Ellery Finch, an admitted "fan boy" of Althea's; he even has his own copy of Tales from the Hinterland. Finch is Alice's key in finding a past that her mother is now engulfed in--a past that ultimately affects Alice's future. Overall, the characters are extremely well fleshed out, and the descriptions are palpable enough taste how bitter Alice's life is. And while the plot is a bit slow-going at first, it also unfolds in a realistic way, interspersed with a few of Hinterland's tales, a few of which are so gritty and terrifying that they edge more toward horror than fantasy. And the twist at the end, which I won't give away here, is so intriguing that I am determined to re-read the book again to see if there were any pieces I missed. This book seems to be getting a lot of buzz, and rightly so; not only is it pushing the envelope of fantasy writing, it's a story that grabs a reader from the beginning and doesn't let go. I can't wait to see the next in the series, as well as other stories Melissa Albert comes up with.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018


I've been a fan of Donna Everhart since I first saw her writing in Janet Reid's flash fiction contests. Since then, she's published two amazing books: THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE and THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET, the latter of which released only yesterday. Donna's books are great for anyone, especially those inclined toward Southern historical fiction.

For fourteen-year-old Wallis Ann Stamper and her family, life in the Appalachian Mountains is simple and satisfying, though not for the tenderhearted. While her older sister, Laci—a mute, musically gifted savant—is constantly watched over and protected, Wallis Ann is as practical and sturdy as her name. When the Tuckasegee River bursts its banks, forcing them to flee in the middle of the night, those qualities save her life. But though her family is eventually reunited, the tragedy opens Wallis Ann’s eyes to a world beyond the creek that’s borne their name for generations.

Carrying what’s left of their possessions, the Stampers begin another perilous journey from their ruined home to the hill country of South Carolina. Wallis Ann’s blossoming friendship with Clayton, a high diving performer for a traveling show, sparks a new opportunity, and the family joins as a singing group. But Clayton’s attention to Laci drives a wedge between the two sisters. As jealousy and betrayal threaten to accomplish what hardship never could—divide the family for good—Wallis Ann makes a decision that will transform them all in unforeseeable ways…

According to your website, you write "Gritty Southern Fiction with a Down-home Style." Which authors have most influenced you and why? 

Kaye Gibbons and the book ELLEN FOSTER

This was the first southern fiction book I’d ever read and the catalyst, the impetus for pursuing my writing with some sense of determination.  Published in 1987, I didn’t know about Kaye Gibbons or her books until the early 90s.  She seemed to come out of nowhere, and her character, Ellen Foster, showed me what “voice” meant.  This is Kaye Gibbons’ unique talent, through and through, with all of her work.

Robert Morgan and the book, GAP CREEK

Reading Robert Morgan is like reading poetry, and since I’m not a big poetry fan, it’s as close as I can get.  For me, this book was about the rhythm of sentences and the cadence of word choices.  It was a bonus it was such a great story to boot.

Dorothy Allison and the book, BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA

In my opinion, her writing, among others, launched the whole grit lit, rough south genre.  The book was like peeking in the window at some of my relatives.  I could relate to this story so much, and what I learned from Dorothy Allison was to write without fear.  Write about what we would prefer not to know, what makes us look the other way, what makes us uncomfortable.

Indeed. THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET is set in the Carolinas during the 1940s. What about this story landscape was the most fascinating to work with?   

 There is so much.  First of all, even to this day, there are pockets of people who live much like they did in the 40s.  They are likely hard to find (perhaps intentional), and they simply don’t care to change their way of living.  That’s just for interest, but using this part of my home state to write about gives me, as a writer, so much material.  You’ve got absolutely stunning, beautiful but very rugged and harsh terrain.  You’ve got weather that’s fickle.  You’ve got people set in their ways, hard-working, tenacious, and thrifty.  They sometimes don’t take kindly to outsiders.  In those days -  maybe even today – they call them “foreigners.”  I also love writing about times when it was simpler (or let’s be real – harder!), when there was no running water, no electricity, nothing but what a person could provide for themselves.  Then I like to imagine…what was that like?  If you’re used to it, as my characters were, it’s not such a big deal, but it makes for fascinating research, and then writing about how they did it hopefully makes for fascinating reading.

It certainly does! I like how you've featured a "First Sentence Friday" to preview your upcoming books on your blog. How did this come about, and what has been the most rewarding about it? 

 It’s sort of funny because I came up with it like I do my stories – something sparked the idea from what I read or saw at some point.  Either way, I was trying to think of ways to do something long term, and I wanted it to be engaging.  I had this sort of epiphany, what about first sentences?  What if I share them out?  I liked that idea but then I had to think about when/how often, and I thought “aha!”  Friday.  First sentence Fridays!  That makes it once a week – so it’s not too much, (i.e. daily).  It worked great because so far I’ve written two books that have twenty-eight chapters, meaning twenty-eight weeks of first sentences.  By then, I figure people have me and my book cover tattooed on their brains.

Close to it, anyway. :) What are some of your current projects?

I’ve finished my third book, called THE FORGIVING KIND.  I’m very, very excited about it.  My agent was thrilled with the story as was my editor.  It features a twelve year old girl named Sonny Creech, and her best friend Daniel Lassiter and is set in 1955 on a cotton farm, where after a tragic accident befalls the Creech family, they find themselves financially and emotionally caught up with a reclusive neighbor.  I’m currently working on the revisions and editing of it.  I’ve also started outlining and writing the first three chapters of my fourth book, no working title just yet.  Meanwhile, all I can do is think about how it needs to be as good as FORGIVING – or better if possible.  No pressure.  Not at all.   From here on out, I’ll be promoting THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET, starting January 9th with my book launch at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC and in between all the events planned, I’m head down, working to hit deadlines.


Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound


Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Release feature: AS YOU WISH by Chelsea Sedoti

Happy release day to AS YOU WISH, by Chelsea Sedoti! I featured this book back in November, and I just bought myself a copy.

In the sandy Mojave Desert, Madison is a small town on the road between nothing and nowhere. But Eldon wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, because in Madison, everyone gets one wish—and that wish always comes true.

Some people wish for money, some people wish for love, but Eldon has seen how wishes have broken the people around him. And with the lives of his family and friends in chaos, he’s left with more questions than answers. Can he make their lives better? How can he be happy if the people around him aren’t? And what hope is there for any of them if happiness isn’t an achievable dream? Doubts build, leading Eldon to a more outlandish and scary thought: maybe you can’t wish for happiness…maybe, just maybe, you have to make it for yourself.

Get Yours Now: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


I've been a fan of Jessica Brody for a long time, and I was happy to feature her earlier this year. Besides having a delightfully ambiguous title, THE CHAOS OF STANDING STILL offers a unique take on the grief process:

Ryn has one unread text message on her phone. And it’s been there for almost a year.

She hasn’t tried to read it. She can’t. She won’t. Because that one message is the last thing her best friend ever said to her before she died.

But as Ryn finds herself trapped in the Denver International Airport on New Year’s Eve thanks to a never-ending blizzard on the one-year anniversary of her best friend’s death, fate literally runs into her.

And his name is Xander.

When the two accidentally swap phones, Ryn and Xander are thrust into the chaos of an unforgettable all-night adventure, filled with charming and mysterious strangers, a secret New Year’s Eve bash, and a possible Illuminati conspiracy hidden within the Denver airport. But as the bizarre night continues, all Ryn can think about is that one unread text message. It follows her wherever she goes, because Ryn can’t get her brialliantly wild and free-spirited best friend out of her head.

Ryn can’t move on.

But tonight, for the first time ever, she’s trying. And maybe that’s a start.

In our last interview, you said, "I’m always juggling a million projects at once." Is this still true, and in what ways, if any, do you find creative balance?

Haha, well, given that these interview questions were two weeks late to you, I’d say, I’m NOT finding balance right now. LOL. Yes, I’ve been juggling a lot lately. Right now, I’m finishing a first draft of my next sci-fi novel, the first in a new series, called A SKY WITHOUT STARS. I’ve just turned in the revised draft of my next contemporary (title to be announced soon!)  and I’m currently revising my first non-fiction book, SAVE THE CAT! WRITES A NOVEL, all about plotting novels. This has been an unusually busy year, but basically my strategy has been dividing my day into slots or sections. Like I have a drafting slot (always in the morning when I’m freshest) for first drafts of books. Then I have an afternoon slot that is dedicated to revising. And I try to insert promotion and marketing slots between those. This way I can always stay focused on the task at hand and not get distracted.

Sounds like a great process--and I'd love to read SAVE THE CAT! WRITES A NOVEL. Speaking of plot, I love how THE CHAOS OF STANDING STILL deals with grief. Was this theme always a part of the story or was in woven in gradually? Or both?

Actually the grief was never part of the original outline!

 Originally, I just wanted to challenge myself as a writer, to see if I could write a rom com set in an enclosed setting and have the two characters believably fall in love in only 24 hours. So I set out to write a book about two teens who meet while trapped in the Denver airport during a snow storm. And although all of that is still in there, something interesting happened as I starting writing.

 Suddenly, out of nowhere, a new character appeared. Her name was Lottie. She was unlike any character I’d ever written. She was vivacious. She was bubbly. She spoke her mind. She was funny. And she was very, very dead.

 I had no idea what to do with that. Dead Lottie was definitely not in my original rom com outline. But once Lottie was unleashed into the story, everything changed. It was no longer a cute, fun rom-com about a girl getting trapped in the Denver airport and falling in love. It soon became so much more than that. It became a story about a girl who lost her best friend and has been unable to let her go. Literally. Lottie is trapped inside Ryn’s head, still talking to her, still guiding her in death, just like she did in life.

 So the story quickly morphed from a carefree, cute rom com to a rom com with this extra layer to it. A layer of unresolved grief. A topic I’d never touched before in my career.

I love when characters appear out of nowhere like that--and how they inevitably change a story. Stories can change in all kinds of ways--for example, your books also have foreign editions. What has been the most challenging about this process, and what's been most rewarding?

 The most rewarding part is ALWAYS seeing my book with all of these cool different covers! But on the flip side, you have very little control over the foreign publication process. That’s sort of a challenge. Most of the time I don’t even know what the book will look like until it’s out. Some publishers have actually run cover ideas by me before proceeding but I’ve found that doesn’t happen all the time. So you sort of need to learn how to let go of control when it comes to foreign editions.

Letting go of control can be difficult, but it's often a necessary process. If you could tell you younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why?

I think I would tell teen Jessica Brody that no matter what she chooses to do with her life, she can always change. I was a financial analyst for many years before I got laid off and decided to write a book. I think teens get very stressed out about making huge life decisions at such a young age. But hey, nothing is set in stone. You can always change careers. I did and it turned out pretty great!

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

SKY IN THE DEEP by Adrienne Young

SKY IN THE DEEP doesn't debut until next year, but I'm so excited about the premise and story that I couldn't wait to feature it. In addition, Bustle just featured SKY IN THE DEEP as one of its 27 most anticipated YA Fantasy Books hitting shelves in 2018.

Seventeen-year-old Eelyn’s world is war. Raised to fight alongside her Aska clansmen in a generations-old blood feud against the Riki, her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield—her brother, fighting with the enemy—the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother's betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki if she wants to make it back to the fjord after the thaw. But when she begins to see herself in the people she's been taught to hate, the world Eelyn once knew begins to crumble. And after the village is raided by a ruthless clan many believe to be a myth, Eelyn is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend who has tried more than once to kill her. Together, they must end the blood feud between their clans or watch their people be slaughtered.

A lush, Viking-age inspired fantasy about loyalty, forgiveness, and the definition of family.

On to the FAQ page on your website, you said, "I didn’t pursue publication until I was 26 and it took several books and many, many rejections before I sold SKY IN THE DEEP." What kept you going through those many rejections, and how did you prioritize which projects to focus on? 

Honestly, I had to learn to let go of the first project that never sold. It was really hard because I'd put so much of myself into it and I'd learned how to write a book through that experience. I was really attached to it and it took a while to finally admit to myself that it was time to move on. I studied the market a lot more and made my best guess about what would work and which idea inspired me the most and that's how I decided where to go next. As far as perseverance in rejection, I'm fortunate enough to have people in my life that didn't let me lose sight of my dream. It's really easy to give up when you're facing so many obstacles, and I needed those voices around me pointing me in the right direction when it was most difficult.

Those voices are necessary--and I'm glad they were there. THE SKY IN THE DEEP is Viking-age inspired fantasy. What about the Viking age do you find most compelling, and in what ways does Eelyn find her place within that world? 

So, I'm a huge fan of history in general. There really isn't a culture or time period that doesn't interest me, but I do love the Viking culture for many reasons. I think they were culturally very rich and one of the things that are most compelling to me is the role of women in that society. I wouldn't say that women had equal rights, but they definitely had more than most of the women during that time in that region of the world. I find it fascinating. Eelyn finds a place in that world as a warrior, fighting right alongside the men of her clan. We also see female spiritual, community, and political leaders in this story and I love that.

Me too. And I love your monthly newsletter! How do you determine the kind of content that is included each month, and what do you recommend to writers wanting to start a mailing list? 

I am not really a fan of newsletters myself, so when I was developing the format, I tried to only include things that I would want to read. And I also try to keep things short and sweet! No need to ramble. If you're wanting to start your own, I say just be authentic. Be yourself and let it come through in your newsletter, but be sure to edit. Less is always more.

Indeed. What are some of your current projects?

Right now I am working on a companion novel to Sky in the Deep that I am really excited about! After that, there are a lot of ideas I want to get cracking on but they are all under wraps for now.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

ROYAL BASTARDS by Andrew Shvarts

Andrew Shvarts is an absolute delight. I met him at a recent author event, and when I found out that his book, ROYAL BASTARDS, was "The Breakfast Club meets Game of Thrones," I knew I had to snatch a copy immediately.

Being a bastard blows. Tilla would know. Her father, Lord Kent of the Western Province, loved her as a child, but cast her aside as soon as he had trueborn children.

At sixteen, Tilla spends her days exploring long-forgotten tunnels beneath the castle with her stablehand half brother, Jax, and her nights drinking with the servants, passing out on Jax’s floor while her castle bedroom collects dust. Tilla secretly longs to sit by her father’s side, resplendent in a sparkling gown, enjoying feasts with the rest of the family. Instead, she sits with the other bastards, like Miles of House Hampstedt, an awkward scholar who’s been in love with Tilla since they were children.

Then, at a feast honoring the visiting princess Lyriana, the royal shocks everyone by choosing to sit at the Bastards’ Table. Before she knows it, Tilla is leading the sheltered princess on a late-night escapade. Along with Jax, Miles, and fellow bastard Zell, a Zitochi warrior from the north, they stumble upon a crime they were never meant to witness.

Rebellion is brewing in the west, and a brutal coup leaves Lyriana’s uncle, the Royal Archmagus, dead—with Lyriana next on the list. The group flees for their lives, relentlessly pursued by murderous mercenaries; their own parents have put a price on their heads to prevent the king and his powerful Royal Mages from discovering their treachery.

The bastards band together, realizing they alone have the power to prevent a civil war that will tear their kingdom apart—if they can warn the king in time. And if they can survive the journey . . .

According to your website bio, you were born in the Soviet Union, but immigrated to the US when you were four years old. In what ways, if any, has this shaped your experience, and can you tell us about your journey toward becoming a published author? 

Interesting question! I think there certain elements of the immigrant experience that leave an indelible impression on your perspective, and that comes out in all my writing. I think there are certain themes I come back to a lot, like the illusory nature of home, the limits of ideologies, and ambiguity of the notion of nations and Kingdoms, that comes directly from that experience.

As for my journey, I always knew I wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a kid. When I graduated college, I was sure I'd be the next Stephen King, so I wrote a bunch of horror and scifi... none of which sold. My lucky break was when I got a job writing for a mobile videogame, Surviving High School. It was middle-grade comedy, so the opposite of what I used to, but I discovered I really liked it. That's how I got into writing YA, and a few years on the job, I gave fiction writing a try. After the usual struggles of publishing (one novel that went nowhere, another that died in submission), I got my big break with Royal Bastards!

I like how you said, "The usual struggles of publishing." It really helps those of us still on the journey. ROYAL BASTARDS has been described as Game of Thrones meets The Breakfast Club. How did the story come to you, and what do you hope readers will take away from it? 

ROYAL BASTARDS began as the combination of two different ideas that I was trying to get going. The first was a contemporary story about a group of very different teens who get framed for a murder and have to go on the run. The second was an attempt to do a truly YA version of Game of Thrones, with that series world-building and feuding Houses and backstabbing intrigue. The breakthrough came when I realized these were actually the same idea!

In terms of read takeaway, that's an interesting question. I hope readers have a great time and love the action and the humor (and maybe cry a little). More broadly, in terms of themes, I think ROYAL BASTARDS is about the moment in adolescence where you realize that your parents are not the perfect models you thought they were, that the values and beliefs you were brought up in might be flawed or even harmful. It's about challenging your upbringing and finding yourself as an individual.

Well said--and that's a journey that many of us, myself included, definitely identify with. And, I love the stories you tell. What is one of your favorite anecdotes?

Ha, thank you! I recently remembered a pretty good story about my favorite celebrity encounter. It was back in college, during a play. A buddy of mine went to the bathroom during intermission, and after using the toilet, he flushed it... and it started backing up, overflowing, the whole mess. My buddy decides, not his problem, and starts to leave the stall... only to run into none other than Tom Hanks walking in. Turns out he was on campus to give a talk and decided to catch a play. So my friend is just standing there, stunned, and Tom Hanks looks in and sees the overflowing toilet and says, "Were you really going to just leave that for the next person who came in?" And my friend sheepishly nods. So Tom Hanks goes in, gets the plunger, and plunges the toilet, all to my friend's deep shame. And as my friend is walking out, Tom yells, "You tell everyone! You tell them that Tom Hanks cleaned up your mess!"

Ha! That's awesome! And a good moral for us all. :) CITY OF BASTARDS, the sequel to ROYAL BASTARDS, will debut in 2018. Is there anything you can tell us about it yet? 

Ooooo, let's see. It's set in the city of Lightspire, the capital of the Kingdom, and is structurally almost more of a murder mystery. You'll get to see the heart of the Kingdom, and encounter shadowy cults, charming revolutionaries, and the creme de la creme of the nobility. Also, there's a masquerade and maybe the secret nature of magic. Maybe.

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