Wednesday, December 28, 2016


I first saw Zohreh Ghahremani on a panel that discussed libraries collaborating with local authors, and I really liked what she had to say. I even quoted her in this article. Once I found out more about her books, I knew I had to interview her.

Sky of Red Poppies begins with an unusual friendship between two young women coming of age in a politically divided 1960’s Iran under rule of the Shah. As the story unfolds, the history and culture of their homeland takes on a life of its own.

Rana is certain that her third child will be a boy. She has two daughters, yet a husband who demands a son. When she gives birth to another girl, Yalda, the impact on her marriage is immediate. In 1970s Iran, living within a culture where marital rights and gender roles are maintained with tradition and fervor, Rana is pushed to make the hardest decision of her life, and begins to set in motion a chain of events that will ripple through the next generation. A family saga, The Moon Daughter explores the universal dynamics of mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, and the struggles that define us.

Your book, SKY OF RED POPPIES, was selected as the winner of KPBS's One Book, One San Diego in 2012. In what ways has this book reached readers in ways you didn't expect?

I wrote this book with the intention of answering some of my own children’s questions while familiarizing them with their parent’s background and culture. Born and raised Americans, they can’t read Persian, have never been to Iran, and most of the English sources available to them are either too personal, or biased. What I did not expect was for my story to find its way to the hearts of thousands of other readers. To this day, readers tell me how universal the story is, and how easy it has been for them to identify with some of the characters. This will never cease to amaze me!

I love how universal your stories are too. For example, THE MOON DAUGHTER provides a lens into how people's relationships are affected by their different journeys. In what ways does the moon play a thematic role, and how did the story unfold as a result?

Here again I used two women and their diverse destinies to touch on the universal theme of family dynamics. It is about women, mothers and daughters, and how a man’s choices – not to mention power – can affect their destiny. It shows women’s strength despite the unfairness of law, and how similar our stories are. The moon itself is used in reference to a Persian rhyme, comparing a woman’s beauty to that of the moon.

Fascinating! You also write short stories and articles. What do you enjoy most about writing shorter pieces?

Books can take years, while blogs, short stories and essays provide a writer with instant gratification. Sometimes, I wake up in the dead of night and a fresh idea is screaming to come out. Some of these works make it to publication, the rest I file away. While writing a novel, sometimes I delve into this secret stash and pull out a passage that can be incorporated into the ongoing project.

I love when inspiration comes from unexpected places. If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be and why?

I would say, “Don’t be so sad, Zoe. Just because they made a dentist out of you, it doesn’t make you any less of a writer. Writing is what you were born to do. Keep at it because your time will come.” And I think the answer to “why” I would say this is clear enough!

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Monday, December 26, 2016

Book Review: WE KNOW IT WAS YOU by Maggie Thrash

I first got to know Maggie Thrash's writing when her graphic memoir, Honor Girl, passed by my desk. It was a beautiful book in an of itself, but what I remember most about it was how hard it was to categorize. Did it go with biographies? Graphic novels? The important lesson here, of course, is that Maggie Thrash defies labels. And her new novel, WE KNOW IT WAS YOU is a prime example of this.

It’s better to know the truth. At least sometimes.

Halfway through Friday night’s football game, beautiful cheerleader Brittany Montague—dressed as the giant Winship Wildcat mascot—hurls herself off a bridge into Atlanta’s surging Chattahoochee River.

Just like that, she’s gone.

Eight days later, Benny Flax and Virginia Leeds will be the only ones who know why.

Book Review: This book drew me in immediately, and its unique narrative expounded the twists and turns of the fantastically disturbing mindsets of its characters. For example, the very first part takes place in the head of the perpetrator, and even though I didn't yet know who this person was, I felt like I knew what kind of world they had defined themselves within. This is usually a very difficult thing to pull off, and this author did it beautifully. I also especially admire her ability to bring such a diverse set of palpable voices to the story. Even though the main characters Benny Flax and Virginia Leeds form an odd pair in their Mystery Club, they are able to complement each other in unexpected ways, whether Virginia is honest with Benny about how unforgiving he is, or whether Benny is showing Virginia ways to be a bit more subtle in her investigations. And even though they know who the perpetrator is well before the story is done, it doesn't take away from the suspense, because there are so many interesting moving parts to follow. And while most of these pieces are resolved in some way, there were a few that aren't (like Benny's relationship with his father and what Virginia's life was like before she went to Winship Academy). These aspects will likely expand in further novels within the series, which is a great one for teens (and adults) looking for a mystery with a slightly sadistic twist.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


Every time I read one of A.S. King's novels, I think she can't possibly top it. Especially with the brilliant ways she's been able to answer interview questions here on three different occasions: specifically here, here, and here. She is the epitome of what makes every wonderful writer--she keeps getting better.

This is definitely apparent in her newest novel, STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO. It was also one of my picks from this year's NCIBA conference.

“I am sixteen years old. I am a human being.”

Actually Sarah is several human beings. At once. And only one of them is sixteen. Her parents insist she’s a gifted artist with a bright future, but now she can’t draw a thing, not even her own hand. Meanwhile, there’s a ten-year-old Sarah with a filthy mouth, a bad sunburn, and a clear memory of the family vacation in Mexico that ruined everything. She’s a ray of sunshine compared to twenty-three-year-old Sarah, who has snazzy highlights and a bad attitude. And then there’s forty-year-old Sarah (makes good queso dip, doesn’t wear a bra, really wants sixteen-year-old Sarah to tell the truth about her art teacher). They’re all wandering Philadelphia—along with a homeless artist allegedly named Earl—and they’re all worried about Sarah’s future.

But Sarah’s future isn’t the problem. The present is where she might be having an existential crisis. Or maybe all those other Sarahs are trying to wake her up before she’s lost forever in the tornado of violence and denial that is her parents’ marriage.

“I am a human being. I am sixteen years old. That should be enough.”

In our last interview, you said, "I meet many students who ask me what the answers are to my books—as if there are clear answers to any piece of fiction. They need the answers. It’s for the test. This is a great way to learn about many things. As a math nerd, I fully support trying to find the right answers. But in fiction, which is art, “right” answers are often fleeting, varied, or just not there." In what ways, if any, does STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO explore uncertainty within a world without clear answers? 

Wow. Great question. In Still Life with Tornado we meet Sarah, who is the picture of uncertainty. She’s stopped going to school, stopped making art, stopped caring about pretty much everything except the idea of originality. So in her day-to-day life, she is exploring uncertainty constantly. But underneath her life lies even more uncertainty. The book is about domestic violence and how it creeps into families who often don’t notice it after a while because the abuse becomes normal. So Sarah has also come to a place in her life where she is remembering things that she blocked out in order to survive. More uncertainty. Luckily Sarah has her past and future selves to rely on for information, strength, balance, and sanity…although walking around Philadelphia with your ten-year-old self can in its own way feel uncertain. In her search for an original idea, Sarah remembers what her family is really like and realizes that she’s not entirely certain what that means and in turn, defines it herself. Or so we hope. I don’t think life is ever meant to be certain. Too many bumps in the road, you know?

Certainty is definitely an illusion, and it also takes away the humanity you've so beautifully portrayed in Sarah's story. One of my favorite lines in STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO is "He didn't hear the spaces between words." How do you feel about the spaces between words, and when do you feel they are widest?

The spaces between words are very important. Some people don’t hear them. Some people do. But usually, in a speaker’s tone, one can hear the spaces. In the case of that line, Sarah’s father was telling her to do something productive with her days—and in the spaces between those words is the assumption that Sarah isn’t doing anything productive with her days, that her father doesn’t accept her way of life…which can lead to Sarah simply thinking her father doesn’t like her at all.

I think spaces between words are the widest when they are not meant to be there. In her father’s case with the line you quote for example, he was just saying that. He probably didn’t mean to make her feel anything bad at all. Except her father wants everyone to feel rotten most of the time and is in a constant state of control and anger so whether he wants it to or not, it comes out. There’s a saying: A drunk man says what a sober man thinks. I think the spaces between words are widest when a person is lying—to themselves or to the listener. I hear those spaces more than I’d like in life.

Me too--and they're often filled with the weight of perception, like you've said. You've written so many great books, with such unique creative twists. What is something you haven't tried yet that you'd like to experiment with?

I’ve been writing in script form for about a year and I’d love to experiment with a novel told that way. I’d also love to go back to one of my first loves—science fiction. Oh. And a graphic memoir I have started on my computer but haven’t finished. The book I’m working on now is turning out to be pretty creative as well but I don’t know what it is quite yet.

Sounds like we can look forward to plenty of wonderful surprises from you! In what ways do your readers continue to surprise you? 

My readers surprise me when they write me letters. I know that sounds weird—I get letters a lot. But I’m still always surprised that someone has taken the time to write and tell me that they liked a book or what they liked about it.

I’m also surprised and pretty excited when my adult readers write to me. Yesterday I got a letter from a 72 year old guy who loves my books and thinks they should be in the adult section of the library because he wouldn’t have found them in the YA section. It doesn’t surprise me that he likes the books—I write them for everyone over the age of 14. But it’s great to hear from my adult readers because it means I’m still reaching all the people I want to reach. (I told him he was intrepid for venturing into the YA section for me!)

Most of all, my readers surprise me by trying new things. I mean, look at last year. I released I Crawl Through It and while most critics liked the book, I got some flak (from adult readers mostly) for the book being a Surrealist book—too weird or too hard to follow. But my core teenage readers ate that book up, followed it just fine, and loved that it was weird. Many adult readers felt the same way—and that book was hardcore Surrealism. That’s a heck of a jump to take for an author and I appreciate it. This year, the jump isn’t as insane, but it’s still mind-bending for a reader who, say, likes things a bit more straightforward. What amazes me is the trust my readers have in me. It’s mutual, this trust. It allows me to write the books I do and for that I’m grateful.


Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound


Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound


Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound


Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

For A.S. King's other books, you can visit her website

Monday, December 19, 2016

Movie Review: ROGUE ONE and Unsung Heroes

Earlier this year, I talked about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and what it taught me as a writer. While that movie fell a bit short of my expectations (A bigger Death Star? Really?), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story did not. And, I learned even more about what makes good story and character development.

Lesson #1: Heroes and Humanity

Some reviewers complained that there was more Death Star in the Rogue One movie, but at least here, it made sense in the script. We already knew that the Rebellion had gotten the plans for the Death Star somehow. So being mad about that is like being mad that Aaron Burr says, "And I'm the damned fool that shot him," at the beginning of Hamilton.

What really makes the story in Rogue One important is the sacrifices the people made to get those plans--most of whom weren't recognized and/or acknowledged. Of course there are obvious reasons why this is (due to the copyright date of Star Wars: A New Hope) but it also shows that real heroes don't go in expecting recognition. This very subtle nuance breathed the kind of life into Rogue One that The Force Awakens lacked by revealing the true nature of humanity and how war really changes and affects people.

Questions for writers: What would your hero do if he/she didn't think anyone was watching? Is this different from when your hero is in front of an audience?  Why/why not?

Lesson #2: The When and Why of Things

The other take-away I got from Rogue One was the unwillingness of some of its heroes, particularly Cassian Andor, a Rebel Alliance Intelligence officer played by the brilliant Diego Luna. A lot of people who saw this movie with me didn't like his character, and normally I'd agree. He's the naysayer put in to act as a mere foil for the main character, and, if not fleshed out, you pretty much hope this guy just stops talking so we can get on with the plot already. At least, that's how I often feel.

But with Diego Luna's Cassian, I bought it, and here's why. He demonstrated that people don't often act unless circumstances force them to do so. Cassian is extremely devoted to the Rebellion, and the script reveals why it's hard to break him of that. He needs a really good reason to change tactics, and finally finds one (though I won't tell you what it is).

Questions for writers: What motivates your characters to fight (or not fight)? Do they go along willingly, or are they stubborn within their journey?

Hope this helps. May the force be with you all. And here's some Teddy Roosevelt in homage to my other post.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

THE TUNDRA TRIALS, the newest in the Bounders Series by Monica Tesler

Earlier this year, I featured the Bounders series by Monica Tesler. The newest book in the series, THE TUNDRA TRIALS, debuted yesterday. And, the first book in the series was also renamed with a new, episodic title. Have a look:

Thirteen years ago, Earth Force—a space-military agency—discovered a connection between brain structure and space travel. Now they’ve brought together the first team of cadets, called Bounders, to be trained as high-level astronauts.

Twelve-year-old Jasper is part of this team being sent out into space. After being bullied back on Earth, Jasper is thrilled to have something new and different to do with other kids who are more like him. While learning all about the new technologies and taking classes in mobility—otherwise known as flying with jetpacks—Jasper befriends the four other students in his pod and finally feels like he has found his place in the world.

But then Jasper and his new friends learn that they haven’t been told everything about Earth Force. They weren’t brought to space for astronaut training, but to learn a new, highly classified brain-sync technology that allows them to manipulate matter and quantum bound, or teleport. And it isn’t long before they find out this new technology was actually stolen from an alien society.

When Jasper and his friends discover the truth about why Earth Force needs them, they are faced with a choice: rebel against the academy that brought them together, or fulfill their duty and protect the planet at all costs.

After a shocking secret was exposed during his first tour with EarthBound Academy, when he and his friends learned that Earth Force needed their help in a secret intergalactic war, Jasper is just about ready to get back into space and learn more about being an aeronaut, and a Bounder.

This time, Earth Force has brought them to the remote planet of Gulaga, where the cadets learn that they will be participating in the Tundra Trials: a special, team-based scavenger hunt that will have Jasper and his friends journeying across Gulaga’s frigid landscape to find enough cache boxes to win the competition.

But the Trials are the last thing on Jasper’s mind when he and Mira are chosen to take part in the next step of Earth Force’s plans, fusing with a new tech that will take their Bounder abilities to the next level. The worst part? Jasper is expected to keep the truth from his new friends.

When an Earth Force plan goes wrong, and suddenly they are under attack, Jasper, Mira, and the others are asked once again to do what they can to assist Earth Force in their goals. But with the events from the last tour fresh on his mind, and the new information he’s learned, Jasper doesn’t know that helping Earth Force is the best idea…or what will happen if he doesn’t.

In our last interview, when talking about THE TUNDRA TRIALS, you said, "A large part of the story takes place on another planet—one not visited by the characters in the first book." Can you tell us more about this mystery planet?

Yes! Most of The Tundra Trials takes place on Gulaga, the Tunneler planet. The Tunnelers are an alien species introduced in the first book. Their home planet is very cold, so most of their civilization is underground. Their main city is the subterranean metropolis of Gulagaven. In order to reach Gulaga, visitors have to dock their ship and take a space elevator to the planet’s surface.

The Bounders have quite an adventure on Gulaga. In addition to exploring the tunnels, they compete in the Tundra Trials, a pod against pod scavenger race across the frozen surface of the planet.

Sounds exciting! In writing more books, do you find that writing energizes you? Exhausts you? How do you balance writing and editing more than one project at a time?

The past year has definitely been a balancing act. I was promoting Bounders, editing The Tundra Trials, and drafting the third book in the series. I’m most productive when I’m able to focus on something intensely for a short period of time—say a few weeks—and then shift to something else. In that way, I’m comfortable moving back and forth between projects. But there were certainly times when I was exhausted!

I’m most energized when I hit my stride in drafting a new book, when my characters settle in and finally decide to let me know what’s going to happen in their story. Now that The Tundra Trials is published and I’ve turned the third Bounders book into my editor, I’m excited to start working on something new.

Can't wait to hear what that might be. Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

Not reading reviews is great advice that I don’t follow. Early on, reviews definitely got under my skin, even though the majority of my reviews have been quite positive. They don’t knock me off balance nearly as much anymore. I know how subjective the reading experience is because I’m a reader. There are lots of books I haven’t cared for that others rave about and vice versa.

One of the highlights of the past year has been receiving letters and emails from young readers who enjoyed my book. Those are the reviews that matter the most to me!

I can see why! Can you tell us anything about the next book in the Bounders series? 

I’m looking forward to the third book because Addy, Jasper’s younger sister, finally gets to go to the EarthBound Academy! Addy has a strong personality, and it was fun writing about her interactions with Jasper’s pod mates and the other Bounders.

Much of the third book takes place on a new alien planet, and the kids have some fun with virtual reality technology. There’s lots of action, and the overall series plot is starting to take shape, but you’ll have to wait to find out more!

Buy:  Bookpassage ~ ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Monica Tesler is the author of the Bounders series, a five book science fiction adventure series from Simon & Schuster. The second title in the series, The Tundra Trials, released on December 13, 2016. The first book in the series was released in paperback with the episodic title Earth Force Rising on the same date. Monica lives outside of Boston with her husband and their two boys.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Book Review: KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES by Shannon Messenger

Last year, I featured Shannon Messenger and her Keeper of the Lost Cities series, and even though I hadn't read her books yet, I was intrigued by them.

Well. After having read the first one (twice), I can say that this series is so wonderfully addictive that I can't wait to read more of it. The newest in the series, LODESTAR, just came out, and when I saw Shannon Messenger at one of her recent book signings, I found out that the series might go on for awhile longer, which makes me super excited.

Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster has a secret. She’s a Telepath—someone who hears the thoughts of everyone around her. It’s a talent she’s never known how to explain.

Everything changes the day she meets Fitz, a mysterious boy who appears out of nowhere and also reads minds. She discovers there’s a place she does belong, and that staying with her family will place her in grave danger. In the blink of an eye, Sophie is forced to leave behind everything and start a new life in a place that is vastly different from anything she has ever known.

Sophie has new rules to learn and new skills to master, and not everyone is thrilled that she has come “home.”

There are secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memory—secrets about who she really is and why she was hidden among humans—that other people desperately want. Would even kill for.

Review: This book ensnared me from the very first pages. I immediately cared about Sophie and what happened to her, and I was right there with her, experiencing all her sights, smells, and emotions. I especially felt how potent her Telepathy was, and how she was affected by it. But while there were a lot of elements introduced at once, I never felt overwhelmed as a reader. Each new detail added a new richness to Sophie's experience, especially when she went to Everglen. There were even new tastes, like Mallowmelt. The book's middle didn't sag at all--there was always a new adventure, and a new challenge for Sophie to face. And when her abilities made her a liability, the story picked up even further--I literally couldn't put it down until I'd finished it. The settings are fantastical, but the relationships are real and engaging to read. And the worldbuilding is spectactular. This book would not only make a great holiday gift for middle graders, but for their parents too. It's definitely a series that has potential staying power.

Shannon Messenger graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts where she learned--among other things--that she liked watching movies much better than making them. She's studied art, screenwriting, and film production, but realized her real passion was writing stories for children. She's the bestselling author of the middle grade series, KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES, and the SKY FALL series for young adults. Her books have been published in numerous countries and translated into ten different languages. She lives in Southern California with her husband and an embarrassing number of cats. Find her online at

To get a hold of the books in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, click the links below:


Buy: Bookpassage ~ ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound


Buy:  Bookpassage ~ ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound


Buy:  Bookpassage ~ ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound


Buy: Bookpassage ~ ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound


Buy: Bookpassage ~ ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


HOLDING COURT is just the kind of book I love to read. Not just for the setting (a castle-turned-dinner theater) or the comedy. It's the unique voice that really makes this book sing, starting with the very first line: "I'm standing behind the counter of my mom's antique shop, thinking about Grayson Chandler's abs, when the bell over the door jingles and in walks Henry VIII."

Sixteen-year-old Jules Verity knows exactly what's in store at her new job at castle-turned-dinner-theater Tudor Times. Some extra cash, wearing a fancy-pants dress, and plenty of time to secretly drool over the ever-so-tasty--and completely unavailable--Grayson Chandler. Except that it's not quite what she imagined.

For one, the costume Jules has to wear is awful. Then there's the dead body she finds that just kind of...well, disappears. Oh, and there's the small issue of Jules and her episodes of what her best friend calls "Psychic Tourette's Syndrome"--spontaneous and uncontrollable outbursts of seemingly absurd prophecies.

The only bright side? This whole dead body thing seems to have gotten Grayson's attention. Except that the more Jules investigates, the more she discovers that Grayson's interest might not be as courtly as she thought. In fact, it's starting to look suspicious...

In addition to writing books, you also have an MFA in costume design. What do you love about each (writing and costuming), and what do you like to do for creative inspiration?  

I love the creation aspect of both! With one I’m using words to tell a story, with the other I’m using fabric. Writing a novel tends to be fairly autonomous while costume design is much more collaborative, and there’s something to be said for both. These days I usually find myself creating things out of fabric when I’m having trouble getting the words right. Something about the straightforward nature of putting together the pieces of a pattern untangles the knots in my brain. And it’s very satisfying to have something tangible at the end of the process. I’m not designing shows right now so I usually make stuff for my kids who like to challenge me by coming up with things I can’t find a pattern for, like a stuffed goblin, or an obscure superhero costume.

Fun! I love the opening lines to HOLDING COURT. Did Jules's voice come to you instantly or did it develop over time?

When I initially wrote the opening lines for the novel that would become HOLDING COURT, Jules was in her mid-twenties and my goal was to write a traditional mystery along the lines of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. I wrote the first scene and then stalled out. It wasn’t until my critique partners suggested I try turning it into a YA mystery that Jules’s story finally came together for me. I still think adult Jules would be pretty fun to write too!

I'd love to read her too! How do you balance your time between drafting and editing? Is there a process that you've found works for you?

I write on a treadmill desk and tend to work in one or two hour chunks, with a stretching break in between. So, depending on what I need to get done I’ll allocate chunks accordingly. But I have to admit that I tend to lose track of time when I’m drafting, so if I have editing to do I’ll set a timer on my phone to let me know when it’s time to change gears.

Sounds like a great system. *Adds treadmill desk to Christmas list.* What are some of your current projects?

I recently completed a contemporary middle grade mystery/ghost story and am just back from a writing retreat where I played with a bunch of different ideas that I’m super excited about!

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Monday, December 5, 2016

Authors, Libraries, and Book Promotion

Last week, my post about book promotion in libraries went live on The Write Life. Feel free to have a look. I hope that both librarians and authors find it helpful.

Stay tuned for Wednesday, where I'll be interviewing the amazing K.C. Held.

And while you're waiting, here's a meme that I couldn't help guffawing at this week.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Cover Reveal: RELEASE, by SF Benson


Title: Release: the Alliance Chronicles
Author: SF Benson
Genre: New Adult Dystopian
Cover Designer: Regina Wamba, Mae I Design
Expected Publication Date: January 12, 2017


Blurb: Years before the United States collapses and the New Order takes over, Asher Jones is a teenager living in Taylor, Michigan. Turmoil rocks the country. Citizens are dismayed. But for Asher, his only concern is the girl next door. His world is perfect until the night his family is brutally killed. Asher struggles to make sense of his life. Drugs and alcohol become his constant companions and land him in jail. Now he’s at a crossroad—clean up his act or continue down the path of self-destruction. Every choice, however, comes with a consequence. When a kid from the right side of the tracks veers left, how does he find his way back? Tag Line: “Out of pain comes growth.”

Add to Goodreads:


One of our favorite places to hang out was the Taylor Twist ice cream parlor on Eureka Road. It was a family-friendly place with the best sundaes in town. Cindy ordered her usual brownie sundae with a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream and extra whipped cream. I was happy with a double scoop of Superman—blue, red, and yellow ice cream. Taylor Twist’s version came in blueberry, cherry, and banana flavors. We took our orders to one of the plain brown tables in a corner. My multi-colored ice cream melted over my fingers watching Cindy. Her tongue swirled around the spoon licking off the ice cream and whipped cream. She plunged the spoon back into the bowl. This time she stuck the whole thing in her mouth and sucked it off slowly. I gulped, wanting to trade places with the spoon. Cindy’s pretty lips lifted into a smile. “If you planned on watching me eat, why’d you order anything?” Her words brought me back to reality. I grabbed a stack of napkins and cleaned up the mess I made. “Yeah. Looks like you’re enjoying your ice cream.” “Nope.” “No?” I was confused. “I’m enjoying the expression on your face. Want some?” Cindy held the spoon out for me. Hell, yeah. But what I wanted didn’t come on a spoon. So I lied and tried not to notice the boner her little display gave me. “Naw. I’m good.” “I bet you are,” she teased. Cindy closed her eyes, putting a scoop of ice cream on her tongue. Her lips opened and closed around the spoon. She gave a little moan. I didn’t know if she was doing it on purpose, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away. As her sundae disappeared, so did my resolve. If I got this wrong, I was going to die.


About the Author
author pic
SF Benson, a native of Michigan, resides in Georgia with her husband, a human daughter, and a couple of miniature fur kids (two female short-haired guinea pigs). At one time she wrangled a household which included three Samoyeds, saltwater fish, a hamster, and three guinea pigs. When she’s not busy playing Doctor Doolittle, she enjoys answering the question “what if” by writing mostly Dystopian/science fiction and paranormal stories for young adults and new adults. And if a spare moment happens, she morphs into a bookworm and devours a few books simultaneously.

Find her online at:
Amazon Author Page:
Instagram: @authorsfbenson Email:

The Alliance Chronicles Series Buy Links

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


I met Chelsea at this year's NCIBA Fall Discovery Show, and I was immediately intrigued by the book cover and premise of THE HUNDRED LIES OF LIZZIE LOVETT. The book doesn't come out until January, but here's a sneak peek:

A teenage misfit named Hawthorn Creely inserts herself in the investigation of missing person Lizzie Lovett, who disappeared mysteriously while camping with her boyfriend. Hawthorn doesn't mean to interfere, but she has a pretty crazy theory about what happened to Lizzie. In order to prove it, she decides to immerse herself in Lizzie's life. That includes taking her job... and her boyfriend. It's a huge risk — but it's just what Hawthorn needs to find her own place in the world.

In your website bio, you said, "I rock climb, even though I’m afraid of heights." In what ways do you overcome your fear to climb?

I should probably start by admitting I boulder, and don’t do vertical climbing. With bouldering you don’t use a rope or harness… but you also never get more than six feet off the ground.

But, but, for someone who’s afraid of heights, that’s still plenty daunting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reached the top of a route and had a meltdown. And when you’re hanging upside down in the air, you really don’t want to get shaky. I wouldn’t die if I fell, but it wouldn’t be pleasant either.

The thing is, I love climbing. It’s ridiculously fun. I can’t change my fear of heights, but I don’t want it to keep me from doing something I enjoy.

The same goes for other things in my life. (Sometimes I think I have an excessive number of fears.) I’m terrified of airplanes, but I don’t want that to prevent me from traveling. I get nervous in large crowds, but I don’t want that to prevent me from having new experiences.

I’m envious of fearless, daredevil types. I wish I was braver. But I have a friend who once pointed out that being brave doesn’t mean you’re never afraid. Bravery is being afraid of something and doing it anyway.

That’s how I try to live my life. It’s okay to be a huge baby sometimes. It’s okay to get scared of silly things that no one else seems bothered by. But if I can push through that fear, and not let it control me, I think I’m doing pretty alright.

Indeed you are--and finding ways to be comfortable within uncertainty is something we can all strive for. Speaking of uncertainty, I love Hawthorn's voice--especially its stream-of-consciousness nature. In what ways did she speak to you while you wrote her story, and were there moments where she surprised you?

First of all, thank you for the compliment! Writing Hawthorn was a blast—and in a way, everything about her surprised me.

When I sat down to begin The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett, I knew Hawthorn’s story, but I didn’t really know her. Then I wrote the first line:

The first thing that happened was Lizzie Lovett disappeared and everyone was all, “How can someone like Lizzie be missing?” and I was like, “Who cares?”

And that line set the tone for the rest of the book. Before I knew it, I had an entire chapter of Hawthorn’s off-the-wall, wandery, musings. Then another chapter, then another.

I never intended for Hawthorn to be quite so odd. Or funny, for that matter. In a way, she told me who she was supposed to be, not the other way around. And it was thrilling to uncover her personality along the way.

It's wonderful when characters speak on their own--and I love Hawthorn the way she is. I also love the layout of your website! What were some of your main priorities in building an online platform?

Ah, the online platform. So necessary today, yet to mysterious. (To me, anyway.)

As someone who’s very shy, connecting with people in general is hard for me. I know other people with social anxiety, and a lot of them prefer online interactions to in-person. It makes sense that it should be easier to be outgoing online. Yet, for me, it’s just as difficult.

Example: I’ll be about to press “publish” on a blog post and have a rush of fear about how terribly written it is, or how anyone who reads it will think I’m strange, or how I have no interesting things to say. Has anyone ever actually made me feel that way? No. Yet, I can’t prevent those thoughts from running through my mind.

As you can imagine, this makes building an online platform a little complicated.

My main priority has been putting myself out there. Pushing through the fear, like I mentioned earlier. I try to make myself accessible through my website or on social media, and always get excited when someone starts a conversation with me. And even though blogging or Tweeting or posting to Instagram might make me nervous, I try to suck it up and do it anyway.

Does this mean I have the greatest online platform? Of course not. There are so many authors who do it better than me. But I’m trying, and I’ll continue to.

So, I guess my biggest priority, is simply to be present.

Definitely a priority for us all. What are some of your current projects?

I’m currently revising my second book. I don’t want to give too much away yet. But briefly: It’s about a strange town in the Nevada desert, a very broken boy who lives there, and… wishes. A lot of wishes.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Monday, November 28, 2016

Book/Movie Review: FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (Warning! Spoilers Ahead!)

I'll admit, I've been a little more than excited about seeing Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, and while I left the movie relatively satisfied, I definitely have some minor critiques, especially now that I've also read the screenplay.

When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt's fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone…

Review: I was very intrigued by the American side of the Wizarding World, and I thought most of the developments made sense. For example, it's quite plausible that wizards in America would have much stricter regulations, especially after what happened in Salem. I also enjoyed the tie-ins to the British Wizarding World, particularly the banter regarding whether Ilvermorny, the American Wizarding School, was better than Hogwarts. The Niffler, also alluded to in the Harry Potter universe, was portrayed well, and was endearing despite its kleptomaniac tendencies. Two of the characters that I was wholly unfamiliar with, Jacob Kowalski, the American No-Maj (Muggle), and Queenie, a sweet and unassuming Legilimens, were perhaps the most engaging. If anything, they seemed more fleshed out than the main characters (Newt Schmander, and Auror Tina Goldstein). Granted, Newt was very charming when it came to his pets, and I loved that his manuscript, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, eventually made it into the Hogwarts textbook canon. But I definitely think Tina's motivations could have been fleshed out a lot more, and that her interactions with Percival Graves could have used more depth and explaining. Perhaps the character that was my least favorite was Seraphina Picquery, the President of MACUSA, the American equivalent of the Ministry of Magic. Not only was she terribly one-dimensional, she seemed to forget events that had transpired the previous day. For example, when she accused Tina of knowing about an outbreak of beasts in New York for 24 hours and not telling her, she'd completely forgotten that Tina had tried to tell her the day before--only to get kicked out of the exclusive Auror meeting. There were also a few places that I felt were a bit "deus ex machina," such as the real villain's reveal and Newt's suitcase (why did some of the beasts need to leave when their habitats were both enormous and enchanting?). Overall, though, the story was extremely compelling to watch, and to read--this is a solid effort for J.K. Rowling's first screenplay. I especially like the concept of the Obscurus, and hope to see it in later films.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

THE BOY WITH 17 SENSES, by Sheila Grau

I had the pleasure of meeting Sheila Grau at this year's NCIBA Fall Discovery Show. Her book is not only intriguing because it takes place on a very interesting planet, but it also reflects a very real condition--synesthesia, which I first learned about when I was helping a Linguistics graduate student with her dissertation research. The book also got a great review from School Library Journal: "Cleverly told, this original take on a classic tale uses an unconventional setting to explore universal emotions. Hand this to fans of whimsical retellings."

Every resident of the planet Yipsmix has synesthesia—they don’t just hear sounds; they see and taste them, too. On this unusual planet, poor Jaq Rollop must save his family’s farm. To do so, Jaq is forced to sell his beloved pet and only friend. Trusting and, Jaq gets swindled into trading his pet for a seemingly worthless key. But then something very strange happens. The key leads Jaq through a wormhole to a terrifying and magical land full of riches, overwhelming sensations, and giants. The name of this frightening land? Earth.

According to your website bio, you grew up in an old house that had a secret closet nestled behind bookshelves. Who were some of the authors that you enjoyed reading, and could you tell us more about your journey toward publication?

I remember sitting in that closet with an illustrated copy of The Jungle Book. The idea that a kid could grow up in the jungle, raised by wolves, and have friends like a black panther and a bear, just enthralled me. I loved the fantasy and adventure of that story.

But the truth is, I wasn’t much of a reader as a child. I thought reading was a chore. Sadly, I wasn’t cured of this disability until high school, when we were assigned to read Jack London’s The Sea Wolf. It was such a new experience for me, to actually enjoy a reading assignment.

As a result of this unfortunate upbringing, I missed out on a LOT of fantastic middle grade books. It took having kids of my own to discover them. As a parent, I knew how important it is to encourage a love of reading in children. Not just so they could do better in school, but because it helps kids grow into imaginative, creative, curious and empathetic people. Reading is the key to everything. It opens minds, and doors.

So I read to my kids all the time, and I fell in love with middle grade books. I followed children’s literature blogs for book recommendations, and discovered hundreds of fabulous books. Eventually I decided to try and write one myself. I had no ambitions of publication. My goal was simply to see if I could write a complete story, one with a beginning, middle and end. I did, and it gave me a great feeling of accomplishment, which lasted a few seconds before a new thought crept in: I could do better. So I wrote another one. And another. I read every writing book I could get my hands on. I joined a critique group.

Eventually I worked up the courage to query some agents with one of my stories. And then, a mere 15,000 rejections later (it felt like), I hit the jackpot. Persistence is everything in the publishing game.

Indeed it is! Even though THE BOY WITH 17 SENSES takes place on planet Yipsmix, the planet's inhabitants experience synesthesia, which is a very real condition. What do you want your readers to know about synesthesia, and in what ways, if any, did it shape Jaq's story?

Synesthesia, for those who are unfamiliar, is a neurological condition where people experience more than one sense at a time. While I just hear music, someone with synesthesia might also see music as swishes of color, or taste it, or even feel it as a physical sensation.

I was initially drawn to the creative aspect of synesthesia. I found myself fascinated by the idea that words could have flavor, or that numbers could have personalities. After all, combining unrelated things is what gives us metaphors. Some synesthetic metaphors are so memorable that they’ve become clich├ęs – like when people describe a “loud shirt” – which combines the senses of hearing and sight. Or when Shakespeare described that “bitter cold.”

As for Jaq’s story, I wanted his synesthesia to be a super-power, not a handicap. Since I write for young kids, I thought synesthesia might be a fun way to introduce the concept of neurodiversity, the idea that our brains sometimes work differently from each other. Synesthesia is a neurological condition, but it’s not a disability for most, so there’s no stigma surrounding it. If a brain with synesthesia can exist without the stigma of mental illness, then why not other brain differences, like dyslexia, OCD, anxiety, etc?

Definitely a question worth exploring. Your other series, Dr. Critchlore's School for Minions, was described in School Library Journal as, "...a contemporary fantasy that is a perfect blend of Hogwarts and Monsters University." What was the most fun about writing this series?

So many things! The School for Minions series follows a somewhat gullible kid who goes to a school filled with monsters. The school is in near constant peril, mostly from a rival school, and it’s often up to my main character to save it. There are elements of mystery, humor, and fantasy, which are all things I love. And monsters!

If I had to pick out the most fun thing . . . hmm . . . it’s probably writing the headings for each chapter. I had a lot of fun taking familiar quotations and adapting them to my minion world:

“Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Give a man a minion, and the minion will fish for him.”

Or sometimes I use them to expand on the world-building:

“It’s always darkest before the dawn, or if you’re in Fraze Coldheart’s dungeon.”

I love to think of things from a monster’s perspective. For instance, “I left my heart in San Francisco” is a song that might take on a more literal meaning if sung by a skeleton.

Yes, and it would have a great set of lyrics too! What are some of your current projects?

My main focus now is on writing the next book in the School for Minions series. I’m also working on a speculative fiction story with a sibling rivalry component. I like to have more than one work in progress at a time, so if I get stuck on one, I can switch my focus for a bit and then return to the stuck project with a fresh perspective.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Monday, November 21, 2016

Book Review: SNOWBIRDS by Crissa-Jean Chappell

A few years back, I interviewed Crissa-Jean Chappell about her groundbreaking book NARC. She has a new book out called SNOWBIRDS, a great innocence to experience story about a Mennonite girl trying to find her place in the world. Have a look:

Every year, Lucy waits eagerly for the arrival of the “snowbirds,” the Old Order Amish who come trundling into Florida on buses from the north, bringing Lucy’s best friend Alice, with whom she’s spent every winter she can remember. This winter is different. At sixteen, Alice is in the middle of “Rumspringa,” a season in which Amish teens try out forbidden temptations, in order to get them out of their system. Lucy is part of a different sect, in which teens aren’t allowed such bold experimentation, and she’s fighting to keep up as Alice races from one wild party to the next. Then, one night after just such a party, Alice vanishes. Wracked by guilt, Lucy knows that she should have been watching out for Alice, but instead, she was kissing Faron, an Older Order boy shunned by his society. Now, Lucy plunges into a search for her best friend—while also hiding her own secret, which could put her in even more danger.

Review: SNOWBIRDS is filled with layers of description that breathe life into Lucy's story. "I can't listen to Alice anymore. Her head is full of dreams. I've got big dreams too. I want to go to college and learn about the ocean. Swim with dolphins and sharks. Watch loggerhead turtles lay eggs under the full moon. The world is a living thing that changes and grows. Try explaining that to Dad" (26). This and other sections really gave an intimate view into Lucy's aspirations and experience, and helped me follow her journey to find Alice throughout the novel. Her relationship with Old Order outcast Faron also had wonderful details, and I found him both endearing and sympathetic. There were a few characters who came and went suddenly, and a few story spots that could have been fleshed out, but the ending was very satisfying and unexpected, and I left with a fulfilled sense of what Lucy's next steps would be after the ending pages. Overall, this was a very engaging story, and a great selection for teen readers looking to understand the importance of defining themselves on their terms.

Buy: BookPassage ~ ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Thursday, November 17, 2016

SOUND OF SIRENS by Jennifer Malone Wright

Title: Sound of Sirens
Author: Jennifer Malone Wright
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Hosted by: Lady Amber’s PR
Who can resist the sound of Sirens?
The Hunters are still in Greece, continuing their pursuit of the original vampire, Pavlos.
The goddess Sostrate has warned them that they will encounter creatures they have never fought before … creatures they did not even know existed.
While the search has come to a standstill and they are only left with research, Oscar finally meets his family. The Sirens have been watching the Hunters and waiting to show themselves. The group, especially Oscar, have mixed feelings about trusting the Siren Clan.
But not only do the Sirens have information about Pavlos and what they might be up against, they also hold the secrets of Oscar’s past that his mother never told him about.
Jennifer Malone Wright is best known for her short story series, The Vampire Hunter's Daughter. Other works include the follow up to The Vampire Hunter's Daughter series called The Arcadia Falls Chronicles, The Graveyard Guardians series, and her vampire novel called Savior. Jennifer also co-authors a series called Once Upon A Zombie Apocalypse as well the Beary Tales series. She resides in the beautiful mountains of northern Idaho with her husband and five children where she practices preparing for the zombie apocalypse. Just kidding! But seriously, between the craziness of taking care of her children, Jennifer has little time left for herself. The time she does have left, usually leading far into the night, is spent working on her beloved fiction or chatting with her equally crazy friends. Jennifer also loves coffee, has a passionate affair with red bull, wishes the sushi were better where she lives and dances while she cleans.
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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Love on the Edge series by Molly E. Lee

I met Molly at Utopiacon this year, and her books immediately caught my eye. Her descriptions are off the charts, and her characters jump right off the page, especially in her Love on the Edge series. Have a look:

Blake Caster has been in an emotionally abusive relationship with Justin for so long, she can’t tell what is normal anymore, and so she clings to the one thing that is solidly hers—her passion for extreme weather.

Three years into her Meteorology degree, Blake meets professional storm chaser, Dash Lexington, who is as gorgeous as he is daring. Instantly recognizing her passion and skills in analyzing weather data, he makes a spot for her on his tight-knit storm chasing team. Dash and Blake form a fast friendship and it forces her to realize just how toxic her relationship with Justin is. She can’t deny the lightning-worthy chemistry she has with Dash or how her heart stalls every time he gets too close to a tornado.

With each chase and the cherished moments with Dash, Blake discovers her own self-worth and gains the strength to end things with Justin for good. But he won’t go easily. As Blake tries to sever ties with one man, she fears she’ll lose the other to his dangerous obsession—and she doesn't know if she’ll be enough to save him from the impending storm that could end them all.

Easton Wells has spent years burying his guilt by digging up some of the world’s most renowned treasures while surviving the dangerous terrains in which they’re located—all captured for television. When his producers threaten to axe the show, he has no choice but to turn to the last person he still trusts—the girl he left behind.

Rain Walker has made a name for herself documenting wild and endangered animals, and the last voice she expects to hear while shooting in South Africa is Easton’s. He’s more gorgeous than she remembers, but the pain in her heart is as fresh as ever. They’d once planned on spending the rest of their lives together, but after her father’s tragic death while on expedition in Israel with him, Easton bailed on their future together without an explanation. It’s been nine years, and yet the intense love they shared seems only a moment ago.

When he asks her to film his latest treasure hunt, Rain wants to turn him down instantly. But when he explains it’s to the same cave that swallowed her father, she can’t say no. She wants to experience the last place her father was alive, and she’s beyond curious about what happened to the boy she used to love.

They’ve got two weeks to locate a treasure that’s been lost for centuries, or Easton will lose the one thing in his life he’s come to depend on. As their old passion is reignited—and dark secrets uncovered—they face the extreme terrain of the mountain range that threatens them at every turn. As more than the wildlife and sharp drop-offs tries to kill them, Rain starts to question if the legendary treasure they seek—the same one her father had died trying to unearth—is truly meant to be found, or if some things, including their feelings for each other, are better left buried.

According to your website bio, you write both New Adult Contemporary and Young Adult Urban Fantasy novels. What do you like most about each genre and why?

 There are many aspects that appeal to me about both genres. With NA Contemporary there is more freedom to push the boundaries with the romance and emotional content because the characters are adults but they are still trying to figure themselves out. And with YA Urban Fantasy I love the endless possibilities with world building and stakes. With young adults, the stakes are always different than they would be for an adult novel, and it’s wonderful to be able to explore all the “firsts” you get with teenage characters.

In EAST OF REDEMPTION, Easton Wells and Rain Walker are definitely trying to figure themselves out--and I love them both because of it. Did they come to you fully fleshed or did they develop as you wrote them? Did they surprise you in any way?

 Thanks so much! I’m so glad you liked them!

Easton is one of my favorite characters and he came to me almost completely as you see him in East of Redemption! I loved writing him because he was a complex man carrying around such a heavy pain inside of him and yet he held on to it because he didn’t see any other way to live. Rain surprised me throughout the book with how forgiving she was of Easton’s faults…something that would be hard to do but it came naturally for her and I really enjoyed that characteristic. She was a strong woman who was confident in who she was and that made forgiving Easton as often as she did easier.

It's great when characters redeem one another. Your other book, EDGE OF CHAOS, deals with emotionally abusive relationships. What would you like readers to take away after reading Blake Caster's experience?

This is a popular question for those that have read Edge of Chaos. And when I sat down to write the novel, I didn’t have an agenda in mind…it was just how Blake’s story unfolded. The emotional abuse that takes place in the novel is very real and if I wanted anything out of it it was to show women or men in similar situations that they are not alone. There are so many people (unfortunately) that are experiencing this lesser known form of abuse and it can be very isolating. Often it can feel like no one will ever understand the situation because it’s hard to explain the type of abuse that doesn’t leave physical scars…so I hoped that people reading this book would be able to connect and hopefully find the strength they needed to get help. It’s been a wonderful experience to hear from readers who found strength from the book and shared their own stories with me and it means more to me than anyone will ever know.

I'm glad your stories have reached the people who need them! What are some of your current projects?

Currently I’m working on the continuation of Blake and Dash’s story! I had to give them another book because their relationship started so late in Edge of Chaos and their story just wasn’t finished yet. So, I’m in edits on that novel and will hope to have a release date to announce soon!

Buy: BookPassage  ~ IndieBound