Wednesday, August 16, 2017


I first met Mackenzi at the launch of A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE when she spoke with author Anna-Marie McLemore. I was Anna-Marie's ride, and my car battery decided to die right before I was supposed to leave. If not for a kind city sidewalk paver and his knowledge of cars, I might not have gotten Anna-Marie there in time. There were even wildfires on the freeway on our way there, and the journey started to feel very Illiad-ish. Thankfully, we arrived on time, and intact.

And I'm so glad I went. Not only is Mackenzi a great author, but she's an engaging speaker and brilliant historian. I hope to read her other books, including THIS MONSTROUS THING.

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

I love that you feature #bygonebadassbroads on Twitter. How did this series come about, and what do you love most about writing it?

It came from a lot of the same place as The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue – my frustration that the stories of anyone other than white, straight, cis men in history is considered niche and not mainstream. Sexism has always existed, but so have incredible women who have fought back and beat the odds and persisted in spite of it. Their stories are often overlooked so the twitter series was my small attempt to share something I’m passionate about in away that felt fun and accessible. I never knew it was going to take off the way it has, and it’s been such an incredible passion project. Hearing the response from readers and what the series has inspired has been the best part.

It's truly been an inspiration to us all. And the opening to THE GENTLEMEN'S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE is one of the best I've ever read. What, in your opinion, is necessary for a good novel opening?

Thank you! The whole books sort of came from the first two lines of the book—when I looked back at my first draft right before the book was published, I realized they hadn’t changed at all (the rest of the book changed A LOT). I think the most important thing in a first line is that it sparks a question in the reader. It makes you want to know more, and propels you into the story.

Indeed it does. THE GENTLEMEN'S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE also reached the New York Times Bestseller list! Congratulations! Where were you when you heard the news?

I was in a hotel room in California, about to jump in the car to drive to my event at Kepler’s with Anna-Marie McLemore. I got a text from a friend who works in publishing that just said CONGRATULATIONS!!! And I had no idea what she was talking about. But my editor called a few minutes later and it all made sense.

Wonderful. What are some of your current projects?

I have a book of short essays based on my twitter series about amazing forgotten women in history, Bygone Badass Broads, coming out next March from Abrams, and illustrated by Petra Eriksson, and incredible graphic artist. There’s also going to be a sequel to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, which is called The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, and follows Felicity’s continuing adventures.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

THIRTEEN RISING, the last in the ZODIAC series, by Romina Russell

I've been a fan of Romina Russell's ever since I featured her here. In reading the Zodiac series, I'm in awe of Romina's intricate worldbuilding, unique characters, and poetic writing. Here are some quotes from ZODIAC that I've permanently highlighted:

"Home is within me, no matter where I go, no matter what happens to our planet or our people."

"Most of us don't intentionally try to misrepresent anything--but the lies we tell ourselves, the truths we repress, the things we conceal in the physical realm...they inform reality..."

"People with tormented souls can barely see beyond their own torment. Your sight is clear because you are honest."

The Zodiac series draws to a close with THIRTEEN RISING, which debuts at the end of this month. Have a look:

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?

In our last interview, you said, "The world must exist before the character can be born." Is this true for all the stories you write, and in what ways do your characters continue to surprise you? 

Yes--I always lead with worldbuilding whenever I brainstorm a new project, and because of that my characters are constantly surprising me. If you birth characters in worlds distinctly different from your own, you'll find that their thoughts and actions and dialogue are always foreign and fresh because they're unique to them. For example, Rho was born on House Cancer, which is a matriarchy--so she felt empowered in many situations where I would have felt self conscious and uncertain. I think of all the characters in Z, Hysan was the most surprising and unexpected because he was raised by a pair of androids--something I could never relate to! So breaking into his mind was almost like hacking into a super advanced software and trying to anticipate how that sort of operating system would function. Which, for me, was extremely hard!

Yes, but Hysan is also one of the most interesting (and disconcerting) characters. As a Libra, I wasn't sure of him at first, but I warmed to him a bit more over time. You've also said that THIRTEEN RISING is your favorite in the series. What about it was the most fun to write?

I always change my mind about which one is my favorite! Usually it's the one I've just finished writing. I think THIRTEEN RISING was tonally very different from the previous tomes because by now Rho has endured so much that she's shifted into a new woman. I think we've seen hints of that woman from time to time in the earlier books, but by now she's fully embraced her new self, and it's very shocking to see her shed her old skin--a little sad, a little exciting, and (for me) very fulfilling. I also loved diving into the villain's mind and finally pulling back the curtain on what's happening in the Zodiac. To me, it just felt like a very complete book, filled with answers and action and heartbreak. And I especially loved writing the big battle scene!

That makes me want to read it even more, and it goes to show why you've penned so many great books! Is there pressure to make the next books better than the previous ones? What ways do you renew your creativity when the well runs dry? 

Thank you! And yes, SO much pressure--mostly from myself. I think I've been in a bit of a postpartum depression since completing the final book, and I'm only now starting to crawl out of my cave. The thing that has been instrumental in igniting my desire to write again has been traveling and meeting readers on tour. Talking with you guys at events has reminded me of how much I love creating new worlds and telling new stories, and it's made me eager to get back to work for you!

Hooray! What are some of your current projects? 

I've outlined a few different ideas, but they're all in too early stages to say much. One of them is calling to me louder than the others, and it's a YA fantasy based on ancient Argentine lore that I researched while I was there presenting the third book in May. I'm originally from Buenos Aires, and I hear my home calling, tugging me back, urging me to explore the life I left behind so long ago.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Pre-order/Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

FIRST WE WERE IV by Alexandra Sirowy

I've been a fan of Alexandra Sirowy ever since I first saw an ARC of her novel, THE CREEPING. Her newest book, FIRST WE WERE IV, just debuted, and it's amazing. (Author Jessica Taylor thinks so too.) 

It started for pranks, fun, and forever memories.
A secret society – for the four of us.
The rules: Never lie. Never tell. Love each other.
We made the pledge and danced under the blood moon on the meteorite in the orchard. In the spot we found the dead girl five years earlier. And discovered the ancient drawings way before that.
Nothing could break the four of us apart – I thought.
But then, others wanted in. Our seaside town had secrets. History.
We wanted revenge.
We broke the rules. We lied. We told. We loved each other too much, not enough, and in ways we weren’t supposed to.
Our invention ratcheted out of control.
What started as a secret society, ended as justice. Revenge. Death. Rebellion.

According to your website bio, you've "been writing short stories and inventing characters since fifth grade camp in the redwoods." What first inspired you to put words on paper?

We moved a lot as a family. We moved from California to Rhode Island and back again before I was six, then we moved three more times before I was twelve. In Rhode Island we lived next door to the children's author and illustrator Christopher Van Allsburg (Jumanji, The Polar Express, etc.). There was always a lot of talk of books in our home and seeing a bonafide children's author walking his dog around the block made writing feel accessible and possible. I started writing short stories as a way to cope with saying goodbye to friends when we moved. At first these were usually ghost stories, though, not the scary kind. My stories always featured a ghost child and a living child who'd meet, become friends, and live happily ever after. By the time I got to fifth grade camp in the redwoods, I was starting to get a little more creative, including animals and haunted forests in the plot-lines.

What a beautiful way to find solace within unpleasant transitions. And, I love that the opening scene in FIRST WE WERE IV starts after something bad has already happened. How do you think about time in relation to plot? 

Time has an important role in all three of my books - something I really hadn't considered until you asked this question!  In THE CREEPING, the protagonist doesn't remember a mysterious and traumatic event from her childhood; recovering those memories and trying to solve the mystery drive the plot. In THE TELLING, the plot is divided between before and after the attack of the protagonist's step-brother. I use scenes from the past as breadcrumbs for the reader to follow and figure out who the killer is in their seemingly idyllic island-home. And in FIRST WE WERE IV, I start the book with the tragic end, when the secret society the protagonists have invented has become irrevocably out of their control.

Time is as important to my plots as character development, tension, and pacing of the story itself. Time isn't forgiving - it's the perfect antagonistic force in thrillers.

Indeed it is. Your novel THE CREEPING takes place in a place similar to where you grew up. In what ways,  if any, did this influence how the setting developed?

All three of my YA thrillers have been set in seemingly perfect, small towns. And yes, I grew up in a similarly privileged, tight-knit community in Northern California. Small towns fascinate me because of the intimacy inhabitants have with each other. You know of people. You think you know them well. But do you really know your neighbors? Imagining crimes and mysterious tragedies in small towns always seems so much more chilling than using a big city. Small towns are supposed to be safe places where nothing bad ever happens. Monsters aren't supposed to look like me and you.

And yet they do--and sometimes those monsters are the scariest. What are some of your current projects?

I have a few books I'm writing: a YA fantasy that's murder-y, revenge-y, and so much fun to write; a fourth YA thriller; and an adult suspense novel. I'm so excited that FIRST WE WERE IV was released on July 25th!


Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound


Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound


Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here

Monday, July 31, 2017

Book Review: THE LOVELY RECKLESS by Kami Garcia

I've been a fan of Kami Garcia ever since the first Beautiful Creatures book came out. Her newest book, THE LOVELY RECKLESS, is more than just a head-over-heels romance. It shows how we can thread together our lives anew, even when we're forced to start over.

I’ve become an expert at avoiding things that could hurt me—which means I will figure out how to stay away from Marco Leone.

Seventeen-year-old Frankie Devereux would do anything to forget the past. Haunted by the memory of her boyfriend’s death, she lives her life by one dangerous rule: Nothing matters. At least, that’s what Frankie tells herself after a reckless mistake forces her to leave her privileged life in the Heights to move in with her dad—an undercover cop. She transfers to a public high school in the Downs, where fistfights don’t faze anyone and illegal street racing is more popular than football.

Marco Leone is the fastest street racer in the Downs. Tough, sexy, and hypnotic, he makes it impossible for Frankie to ignore him—and how he makes her feel. But the risks Marco takes for his family could have devastating consequences for them both. When Frankie discovers his secret, she has to make a choice. Will she let the pain of the past determine her future? Or will she risk what little she has left to follow her heart?

Book Review:  Frankie Devereaux is forced to face a new normal after she witnesses her boyfriend's death. In redefining her sense of self, she goes on a destructive spiral--until a DWI lands her with community service, a new school in the Downs, and a stint living with her dad. While she's glad to be outside her mother's all too insistent pushes toward ivy league colleges, something the old Frankie would have embraced, she now has to answer to her undercover cop Dad, who seems to scrutinize her every move to make sure her bout into destruction isn't permanent. But when she gets to know the equally troubled Marco Leone, she discovers that being a bit broken doesn't mean you have to break, and that it's possible to redefine yourself into new and unexpected shapes. She's finally able to explore what she truly wants without her parents telling her what she needs to be--especially when she gets a chance to help those she cares about--even if it means taking a few more risks. While this is praised for being a romance novel, and the palpable tension between Frankie and Marco captures what the genre requires, this story explicates so much more than a physical attraction between two teenagers. Even the title is symbolic--a warning about the dangers of letting the scars of your past define the future, and finding ways to turn wrong into right. I'm really glad they updated the cover too--it does a better job of reflecting the poignancy of the story within. This is a great selection for teens 16 and up, especially those experiencing bereavement.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


I've been excited about A MAP FOR WRECKED GIRLS ever since I posted about it here. It debuts in August, but I've already read the Advanced Reader Copy. This story is rich with compelling characters, plot twists, and an ending that is so satisfying I had to read it twice. Have a look:

We sat at the edge of the ocean—my sister Henri and I—inches apart but not touching at all. We'd been so sure someone would find us by now.

Emma had always orbited Henri, her fierce, magnetic queen bee of an older sister, and the two had always been best friends. Until something happened that wrecked them.

I'd trusted Henri more than I'd trusted myself. Wherever she told me to go, I'd follow.

Then the unthinkable occurs—a watery nightmare off the dazzling coast. The girls wash up on shore, stranded. Their only companion is Alex, a troubled boy agonizing over his own secrets. Trapped in this gorgeous hell, Emma and Alex fall together as Emma and Henri fall catastrophically apart.

For the first time, I was afraid we'd die on this shore.

To find their way home, the sisters must find their way back to each other. But there’s no map for this—or anything. Can they survive the unearthing of the past and the upheaval of the present?

Jessica also has some recommendations for similar books to keep an eye out for this year. Take it away, Jessica!

Hi everyone! I was honored when Karen asked me to share five books for readers of A Map for Wrecked Girls. I’ve read so many fantastic YA thrillers and stories about female relationships lately—it’s a wonderful time to be YA reader. Here are five books that I recommend not only for fans of A Map for Wrecked Girls but for all YA readers.

First We Were IV by Alexandra Sirowy

Alexandra Sirowy’s First We Were IV is one of the most compelling YA thrillers I’ve read this year. I’ve always been interested in friendships that have obsessive and even unhealthy dynamics. That’s exactly what we encounter in this thrilling read - Izzie and her friends, Harry, Vivian, and Graham form a codependency that first becomes a coping mechanism for existing outside their high school’s social scene and later twists into something much darker. First We Were IV is finally out this week, and I can’t wait to celebrate at her launch this Saturday at A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland.

When I Am Through With You by Stephanie Kuehn

Stephanie Kuehn has been one of my automatic-buy authors since I read her debut Morris-award-winning novel Charm & Strange. Kuehn has once again written a brilliant and wildly entertaining story with When I Am Through With You. Ben is a high school senior on trial for the murder of his girlfriend Rose. Kuehn takes you back through Ben’s relationship with his girlfriend and a fateful school hiking trip in the mountains that ends with Rose dead. “Unputdownable” is a word we throw around casually in YA, but I can’t say I’ve ever read a book more deserving of that description.

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Unflinching, gritty, and heart wrenching, Tiffany Jackson’s Allegedly is a debut novel I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. Mary, an African American teen, was convicted of murdering a white baby when she was only a child herself. Now, years later and living in a group home, Mary finds herself pregnant and desperate to clear her name and hold on to her own unborn child. This timely read examines our flawed and racist criminal justice system and should be required reading for all.

The Wonder of Us by Kim Culbertson

My favorite stories involve two characters fighting to put a broken relationship back together and that’s exactly what’s happening between estranged best friends Riya and Abby. Culbertson takes them – and you! – on a vivid tour of Europe as they work to mend what the last year has broken. Not only is this book a gorgeous tribute to six different countries, at the heart of the story is an emotional journey that examines what it’s like to grow up female and establish an identity of one’s own. The Wonder of Us is unexpected and witty – everything I love about Kim Culbertson’s books!

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

One of Us is Lying is one of the most-talked up books in YA lately and rightfully so. Five teens walk into detention at Bayview High and only one walks out. Like in A Map for Wrecked Girls, everyone has a secret. The core mystery in One of Us is Lying is trying to figure out who killed Simon. What captivated me the most was uncovering each of those secrets—an experience that makes for a page-turning read you’ll devour.

Jessica Taylor adores atmospheric settings, dangerous girls, and characters who sneak out late at night. She lives in Northern California, not far from San Francisco, with a law degree she isn’t using, one dog, and many teetering towers of books. A Map for Wrecked Girls, her first young adult contemporary thriller, will be published August 15, 2017 by Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin.

Here are links to get your hands on A MAP FOR WRECKED GIRLS:

Pre-order/Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

And here are the other books Jessica recommended (I'll be featuring FIRST WE WERE IV in more detail next week):


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

This post can also be viewed here

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Queens of Renthia series by Sarah Beth Durst

I first featured Sarah Beth Durst here, and her new book, THE RELUCTANT QUEEN, the second in the Queens of Renthia series, came out this month. It's a beautiful story about confronting hard choices. The main character, Daleina, has had her share of trials and tribulations:

An idealistic young student and a banished warrior become allies in a battle to save their realm in this first book of a mesmerizing epic fantasy series, filled with political intrigue, violent magic, malevolent spirits, and thrilling adventure

Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .

But the spirits that reside within this land want to rid it of all humans. One woman stands between these malevolent spirits and the end of humankind: the queen. She alone has the magical power to prevent the spirits from destroying every man, woman, and child. But queens are still just human, and no matter how strong or good, the threat of danger always looms.

With the position so precarious, young women are chosen to train as heirs. Daleina, a seemingly quiet academy student, is under no illusions as to her claim to the throne, but simply wants to right the wrongs that have befallen the land. Ven, a disgraced champion, has spent his exile secretly fighting against the growing number of spirit attacks. Joining forces, these daring partners embark on a treacherous quest to find the source of the spirits’ restlessness—a journey that will test their courage and trust, and force them to stand against both enemies and friends to save their land . . . before it’s bathed in blood.

Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . . 
And those spirits want to kill you.
It’s the first lesson that every Renthian learns. 

Not long ago, Daleina used her strength and skill to survive those spirits and assume the royal throne. Since then, the new queen has kept the peace and protected the humans of her land. But now for all her power, she is hiding a terrible secret: she is dying. And if she leaves the world before a new heir is ready, the spirits that inhabit her beloved realm will run wild, destroying her cities and slaughtering her people.

Naelin is one such person, and she couldn’t be further removed from the Queen—and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her world is her two children, her husband, and the remote village tucked deep in the forest that is her home, and that’s all she needs. But when Ven, the Queens champion, passes through the village, Naelin’s ambitious husband proudly tells him of his wife’s ability to control spirits—magic that Naelin fervently denies. She knows that if the truth of her abilities is known, it will bring only death and separation from those she loves.

But Ven has a single task: to find the best possible candidate to protect the people of Aratay. He did it once when he discovered Daleina, and he’s certain he’s done it again. Yet for all his appeals to duty, Naelin is a mother, and she knows her duty is to her children first and foremost. Only as the Queen’s power begins to wane and the spirits become emboldened—even as ominous rumors trickle down from the north—does she realize that the best way to keep her son and daughter safe is to risk everything.

In our last interview, you said, "Write the kind of book that you want to read, the kind that gets you excited to read, the kind that carries you away into its world, the kind that makes you laugh and cry and think and feel." In what ways have your books done this for you, and which of your books is your favorite?

Every time I start a new novel, I ask myself, "If I were to walk into a library or a bookstore right now, what would I want to find?" and then I try to write that book.  I firmly believe that the old adage "write what you know" should really be "write what you love."

My favorite is usually whatever book I'm currently writing.  :)  Right now, I'm working on THE QUEEN OF SORROW, Book Three of The Queens of Renthia.

These books have been such a joy to write!  It's been a truly immersive experience -- every day when I sit down at my laptop, it feels like walking through a portal.

And I do laugh and cry while I write (which is part of why I don't write in cafes – it's a wee bit embarrassing when you find yourself acting out a fight scene or weeping over a conversation in your head between two imaginary people).  I always fall in love with my characters, whether I intend to or not, and I end up feeling what they're feeling.

And so do we! In what ways do you explore nature in THE RELUCTANT QUEEN, and what kinds of internal conflicts will Daleina be facing?  

Renthia is a world filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits.  So nature... it's rather a big deal in these books because it's constantly trying to kill you in a very direct way.

In book two, Daleina is coping with the challenges of being queen when she begins experiencing these terrible blackouts that cause her to lose control of the spirits.  She has to face the fear of her own mortality, as she scrambles to secure her country's future.

I also introduce a new character, Naelin, who is a middle-age mother of two small children.  Naelin has immense power, but she's unwilling to use it, because if she does, she runs the (very, very real risk) of leaving her children motherless.

At their heart, these books are about power: who has it, who wants it, what you do with it, and what it does to you.

Power is indeed a corruptible force. What keeps you writing? Are there days when your creative well runs dry, and if so, what are some strategies you've used to help get the juices flowing again? 

Chocolate always helps.

And music.

I also take walks.  I give myself pep talks.  My husband gives me pep talks.  I cuddle my cat.  (She doesn't give me pep talks, unless you count the occasional bite.)

But I have found that, for me, the solution to all writing problems is to write more.  Even if you don't end up keeping any of the words you write, often the key to unblocking yourself will show up -- even if it's just a single phrase or a word or a fragment of an idea -- while you're in the middle of the act of stringing words into sentences.

(Note: this doesn't work for everyone.  As with all writing advice, your mileage may vary.)

My cat gives me the same kind of pep talks. What are some of your current projects?

I am currently working on THE QUEEN OF SORROW, Book Three of The Queens of Renthia, for Harper Voyager.  It will be followed by a standalone novel also set in Renthia (in the islands of Belene).  Very happy to be returning to Renthia!

And I am working on my next middle-grade book, THE STONE GIRL'S STORY.  It's about a girl made of stone, forever twelve years old, who has outlasted the father who carved her and gave her life.  But now the magical marks that animate her are fading, and she must leave home and find help, if she wants her story to continue.  It will be out in spring 2018 from HMH/Clarion Books. I'm so excited about it!

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

THE WONDER OF US by Kim Culbertson

I met Kim Culbertson last year and interviewed her here. I not only learned a ton from her workshops and panels, I've completely fallen in love with her books. Her newest, THE WONDER OF US, has an incredible voice:

Riya and Abby are: Best friends. Complete opposites. Living on different continents. Currently mad at each other. About to travel around Europe.

Riya moved to Berlin, Germany, with her family for junior year, while Abby stayed behind in their small California town. They thought it would be easy to keep up their friendship—it’s only a year and they’ve been best friends since preschool. But instead, they ended up fighting and not being there for the other. So Riya proposes an epic adventure to fix their friendship. Two weeks, six countries, unimaginable fun. But two small catches:

They haven’t talked in weeks.

They’ve both been keeping secrets.

Can Riya and Abby find their way back to each other among lush countrysides and dazzling cities, or does growing up mean growing apart?

In our last interview, you said your titles change a great deal over the course of writing a novel. Is this still true, and in what ways do the titles tend to adapt?

This has been true for all but one of my novels. Songs for a Teenage Nomad kept its title the whole way through – it was so deeply linked to the structure and heart of that novel that I can’t imagine it with a different title. With my other novels, different considerations went into the title decisions. As I wrote, each book changed shape on me. I discovered things about it, about its characters and tone and overall mood and these shifts changed the titles. Of course, then other important people chimed in: my agent, the editor, the publisher. It’s key that each book ends up with a title that feels like the best fit for the book that’s going out into the world.

Indeed it is. You also mentioned that THE WONDER OF US has multiple points-of-view. What was the most challenging part of weaving different narratives into the same timeline? 

With this novel, my editor and I knew from the start that this book needed both Riya’s and Abby’s perspectives. This is the story of how a life-long friendship started to fall apart and why. It proved more powerful told from both perspectives since the truth rests somewhere in between these two girls and their perceptions of things. Much of this novel explores how our distinct personalities and dreams impact our friendships. It’s obvious, but anytime there are multiple people involved, there can never be only one lens. It’s my favorite part about fiction – all these different world-views chiming in to tell a story. It’s also the biggest challenge as an author because it’s easy to let our own preferences and personalities slip in; you have to be vigilant about remaining true to your characters.

You definitely are--and Abby and Riya have unique, distinct voices. I also love how the WONDER OF US explores rebuilding what's been lost. If there was anything you could rebuild, real or imagined, what would it be and why?

When I allow myself to think about regret, it’s mostly things I haven’t said (although, sure, there are things that have been said that are regrettable, of course. Anyone who knows me well knows my filter misfires sometimes). But mostly, I wish I had said certain things to certain people who mattered to me, who impacted me powerfully in some way. Sometimes we don’t know things have shifted or changed until we deem it too late. That’s tough, because you might not even have an opportunity to remedy something. I think, though, that rebuilding something takes honesty and self-awareness and time –things that aren’t always in wide supply.

Very true. If you were stuck on a desert island with only four books, what would they be and why?

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (is that cheating?), a Richard Russo novel (probably Bridge of Sighs), The Humans by Matt Haig, and some sort of survival manual, preferably with a title like How to Survive on a Desert Island with only Four Books.

Ha, I love it! And Shakespeare definitely isn't cheating.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


I met Lisa Maxwell at the Bay Area Book Festival, where I found out about her novel, THE LAST MAGICIAN. It debuts July 18, and the premise is knock-your-socks-off amazing:

Stop the Magician.
Steal the book.
Save the future.

In modern day New York, magic is all but extinct. The remaining few who have an affinity for magic—the Mageus—live in the shadows, hiding who they are. Any Mageus who enters Manhattan becomes trapped by the Brink, a dark energy barrier that confines them to the island. Crossing it means losing their power—and often their lives.

Esta is a talented thief, and she's been raised to steal magical artifacts from the sinister Order that created the Brink. With her innate ability to manipulate time, Esta can pilfer from the past, collecting these artifacts before the Order even realizes she’s there. And all of Esta's training has been for one final job: traveling back to 1902 to steal an ancient book containing the secrets of the Order—and the Brink—before the Magician can destroy it and doom the Mageus to a hopeless future.

But Old New York is a dangerous world ruled by ruthless gangs and secret societies, a world where the very air crackles with magic. Nothing is as it seems, including the Magician himself. And for Esta to save her future, she may have to betray everyone in the past.

According to your website bio, you are represented by Kathleen Rushall at the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. How did you know Kathleen was the right agent for you?

I knew that Kathleen was the right agent because I’d already had two other wrong ones. Kathleen is actually my third agent. I’d been represented by someone else for SWEET UNREST and then left him to find a new agent for UNHOOKED. Kathleen had offered for UNHOOKED, and when I talked to her about it, I had this gut feeling that she would be an amazing agent…and I picked someone else instead. At the time, she was still a newer agent and the other agent who offered was an agent known for making really big sales. I went with business instead of my gut instinct and I was so, so wrong. The other agent was great, but she ultimately decided not to take UNHOOKED on submission, even after multiple rounds of edits. So I left her and emailed Kathleen…hoping that she would still love the book.

Looking back, I should have gone with my gut instinct the first time around. When I talked with Kathleen on the phone for the first time those many years ago, it just felt right. She was completely professional, but she also felt like someone I could talk to and work with easily. More importantly, she loved my writing…not just the single story, but my writing as a whole. I remember her saying that from reading the first 50 pages of UNHOOKED, she knew I could write anything I wanted. And she knew she could sell it.

Kathleen is the best combination of completely supportive and optimistic, and a tough business woman who knows how to get me the best deal for my books. I wouldn’t want anyone else in my corner.

I'm glad you followed your gut! It offers a great reminder to the rest of us to do the same. THE LAST MAGICIAN weaves a beautiful story within a complex world. In what ways did it surprise you as you wrote it?

The thing that surprised me the most was how difficult it was to write. I know…from your question, anyone can tell this is an ambitious and complex story. But I’d been planning it for ages, I had written a 10 page, detailed synopsis of everything that would happen, and I’d done enough research so that I *knew* what Old New York was like. I knew the world, I knew my characters…I should have been able to just sit down and write it. But it didn’t work that way.

This book ate time. I would sit down to fix three pages and five hours later, I was still on the first page. There was something about it that was really difficult to nail down, right up until nearly the final draft. I’d never really had that experience writing a book. My first three (and another one I have shelved) wrote themselves pretty easily once I knew where I was going. This one? Not so much.

Some books take longer to get into the light from the darkness, and that often makes me want to read them even more. 
All your books have such great covers. What, in your opinion, are necessary elements a cover should have?

Oh wow. That’s a really hard question, and it makes me *really* glad that I’m not the one in charge of designing the covers for my own books :)

I think covers have to be visually striking in some way. I think they have to be something that people would want to pick up and then place on their shelves. I’m not sure I have any idea what components make that work—good colors or awesome images? I know that when I saw the cover for THE LAST MAGICIAN, I literally screamed. It felt so alive. I think that’s a big part of what makes a good cover—it intrigues the reader and makes them want to know more about what’s between the pages.

Definitely. What are some of your current projects?

I am hard at work on the sequel to THE LAST MAGICIAN. It has a name and a cover (!!!) that I cannot wait to share, because I think it’s even better than the one for TLM.

I’m also tinkering with a MG fantasy. I need to revise the beginning a bit so we can take it out on another round of submissions.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017


I first learned about WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI when I saw Sandhya Menon on a panel at a recent conference. This is a beautiful book that many teens (and others) can relate to--especially in regard to finding one's own identity amid familial expectations.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

According to your website bio, you now live in Colorado. What is your favorite thing about the mountains?

I'd have to say the sheer vastness of the Rocky Mountains! It absolutely humbles you. I also love that every time I drive somewhere or step outside, I feel like I'm on a movie set. :)

Wonderful! I love Dimple's voice. What about her experience do you hope resonates most with readers? 

The feeling of being misunderstood by her parents, for one. I think that's such a universal experience that starts in adolescence, and for some, continues on into adulthood. It can be frustrating, isolating, and heartbreaking, and it helps so much to know that there are other people out there in the same boat as you.

Another thing I hope women especially can identify with is Dimple's struggle to find respect in a world completely dominated by men. She's a STEM girl, and she's constantly reminded that she doesn't belong and that she's occupying space that is generally reserved for men. I wanted to acknowledge that struggle and show a young woman triumphing there.

A much needed narrative for many! WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI made the NYT Bestseller list--congratulations! Where were you when you heard the news?

Thank you so much! It all still feels a little surreal. :) I was driving home from the last leg of my book tour when I got the call. It was such a surprise that I actually had trouble understanding what my publishing team was trying to tell me, haha! They, of course, said they weren't surprised at all, but I was totally floored.

(I'm not surprised either.) Your next book, FROM TWINKLE, WITH LOVE, is told in epistolary format. What inspired you to write a narrative involving letters and correspondence?

I've always been a huge fan of epistolary format. Flowers for Algernon continues to be one of my favorite books! Writing one was sort of a bucket list thing that I had in my "ideas" folder forever, so I decided to jump in with both feet with From Twinkle, With Love. I'm so excited to see what people think!

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

THE READER: Book One of The Sea of Ink and Gold, by Traci Chee

I've wanted to feature Traci Chee ever since I first saw the cover for THE READER. This kind of fiction is my favorite, because its imagination knows no bounds. This series also demonstrates the importance of story, and how it can shape destinies. The second book in the series, THE SPEAKER, comes out this November.

Once there was, and one day there will be. This is the beginning of every story.

Sefia lives her life on the run. After her father is viciously murdered, she flees to the forest with her aunt Nin, the only person left she can trust. They survive in the wilderness together, hunting and stealing what they need, forever looking over their shoulders for new threats. But when Nin is kidnapped, Sefia is suddenly on her own, with no way to know who’s taken Nin or where she is. Her only clue is a strange rectangular object that once belonged to her father left behind, something she comes to realize is a book.

Though reading is unheard of in Sefia’s world, she slowly learns, unearthing the book’s closely guarded secrets, which may be the key to Nin’s disappearance and discovering what really happened the day her father was killed. With no time to lose, and the unexpected help of swashbuckling pirates and an enigmatic stranger, Sefia sets out on a dangerous journey to rescue her aunt, using the book as her guide. In the end, she discovers what the book had been trying to tell her all along: Nothing is as it seems, and the end of her story is only the beginning.

Having barely escaped the clutches of the Guard, Sefia and Archer are back on the run, slipping into the safety of the forest to tend to their wounds and plan their next move. Haunted by painful memories, Archer struggles to overcome the trauma of his past with the impressors, whose cruelty plagues him whenever he closes his eyes. But when Sefia and Archer happen upon a crew of impressors in the wilderness, Archer finally finds a way to combat his nightmares: by hunting impressors and freeing the boys they hold captive.

With Sefia’s help, Archer travels across the kingdom of Deliene rescuing boys while she continues to investigate the mysterious Book and secrets it contains. But the more battles they fight, the more fights Archer craves, until his thirst for violence threatens to transform him from the gentle boy Sefia knows to a grim warrior with a cruel destiny. As Sefia begins to unravel the threads that connect Archer’s fate to her parents’ betrayal of the Guard so long ago, she and Archer must figure out a way to subvert the Guard’s plans before they are ensnared in a war that will pit kingdom against kingdom, leaving their future and the safety of the entire world hanging in the balance

According to your website bio, you feel most at home in the mountains. What about the outdoors resonates with you most?

There’s a lot I love about the outdoors--the smell of the trees, the feeling of looking out over vast spaces, the challenge of “I bet I can climb that”--but my favorite by far is the feeling of discovery, walking paths you haven’t yet walked, seeing vistas you haven’t yet seen. I love guessing what’s beyond the next bend in the trail and finding hidden pockets of beauty in unexpected places. The outdoors are full of wonders, and I love happening upon them.

That feeling of discovery is something everyone, including writers, can appreciate. And I love how THE READER explores layers of story and how books can reveal different mysteries. What is your favorite part of the world you've built?

Thank you! I’m really fond of the outlaws, the cowboy-pirates for whom the seas are the wild frontier, and I do love the characters, Sefia, Archer, Reed, even Tanin and beautiful, empty-headed Haldon Lac, but I think my favorite part of the world are the legendary objects secreted here and there. We’ve got Sefia’s book, of course, but there are also swords that drink blood, cursed guns, a gong that summons storms, a diamond necklace that takes as much as it gives… Part of what I love about THE READER is that the legendary and the magical are all sort of woven into the everyday fabric of the world, so you might find them anywhere.

The sprinkling of unexpected detail is something I love too. Plus, THE READER's cover is amazing, and I'm sure you've received many compliments on it. What, in your opinion, are the necessary elements of a book cover?

I’m also in love with the cover of THE READER, the glory of which is due entirely to the talents of designer Kristin Smith and illustrator Yohey Horishita. I couldn’t tell you what makes a good book cover, but in the case of THE READER, one of the things I love about it is that it feels like the book: The illustrations have this sweeping, almost overwhelming sense of magic to them, and you can tell from the way each of the settings all unfold from these gold pages that it’s an involved, multi-layered story. Then, of course, there’s the girl, who sometimes looks sorrowful, sometimes determined, sometimes “I’m out for revenge and death to anyone who gets in my way.”

Breathtaking. The sequel to THE READER, entitled THE SPEAKER, comes out this November. What are you able to tell us about it so far, if anything?

Without spoiling anything, I can say that the end of THE READER creates some deep fissures in what Sefia thought she knew about her world, and THE SPEAKER is all about cracking those fissures open and delving deeper into the mysteries about the book, the secret society that wants it, and Sefia’s connections to both of them. We also get an intense look at Archer--who he was and who he’s becoming--as he and Sefia try to figure out who they are to each other now that the truth is out. THE READER was essentially a small story about the two of them, and in THE SPEAKER their world is opening up… and not without some dire consequences. We learn more about Captain Reed’s quest for treasure and immortality, meet new characters (like a king and the best friend/love interest who is duty-bound to betray him), and watch as Sefia and Archer blunder toward destiny even as they try desperately to avoid it.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017


I first met Evelyn Skye at the Bay Area Book Festival last year, and I've been a fan of hers ever since. Her first book, THE CROWN'S GAME, involves magical duels in an alternate imperial Russia, and the sequel, THE CROWN'S FATE, debuted this past May. For those who enjoy Sabaa Tahir, Victoria Aveyard, and Stephanie Garber, this unique fantasy series is a must.

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip-smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love…or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear—the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

Russia is on the brink of great change. Pasha’s coronation approaches, and Vika is now the Imperial Enchanter, but the role she once coveted may be more difficult—and dangerous—than she ever expected.

Pasha is grappling with his own problems—his legitimacy is in doubt, the girl he loves loathes him, and he believes his best friend is dead. When a challenger to the throne emerges—and with the magic in Russia growing rapidly—Pasha must do whatever it takes to keep his position and protect his kingdom.

For Nikolai, the ending of the Crown’s Game stung deeply. Although he just managed to escape death, Nikolai remains alone, a shadow hidden in a not-quite-real world of his own creation. But when he’s given a second chance at life—tied to a dark price—Nikolai must decide just how far he’s willing to go to return to the world.

With revolution on the rise, dangerous new magic rearing up, and a tsardom up for the taking, Vika, Nikolai, and Pasha must fight—or face the destruction of not only their world but also themselves.

If you could only choose one, would you pick pizza or cookies? 

Oh my God, why are you so mean to me? Um.... pizookie!

Ooh, get me one of those! THE CROWN'S FATE builds on the intricate world you created in THE CROWN'S GAME. In what ways has Vika's journey changed her, and has she surprised you at all? 

I always knew that Vika would be a badass heroine who could save herself, but as I wrote her, her compassion kept growing and revealing more of itself. It's not that I didn't know she was kind. I just didn't understand the depth of it and how much it would drive her. I think part of that is that the Crown's Game itself changed her. So much happened to Vika during the course of Book 1 that forced her to become more than just a fierce girl who wanted to become Imperial Enchanter.

And it definitely adds depth to her character! I love your website--especially the home page. What have you found most helpful in building an online presence?

Thank you! Hafsah Faizal at Icey Designs is the talent behind the website layout and design. In terms of building on online presence, it's really about being genuine. I became friends with a lot of writers before I was ever published, and we all try to help each other out, promoting each other's books, giving advice, mentoring up-and-coming authors, that sort of thing. I think that if you put a piece of yourself out there and it's real, people will recognize that and want to be real with you, too.

Definitely. What are some of your current projects?

I am currently working on a secret new project, which is also a YA fantasy. Different world, different characters, different everything. I'm not allowed to say anything more at this point, but hopefully I'll be able to announce more details later this summer or in the fall!

As always, the Tsar's Guard (my fan club) will be the first to know. (If you haven't signed up yet, join us! It's super easy:

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017


I first fell in love with PK's Hrezo time travel series when I featured her here. I'm excited to announce that her new book, RADICAL NEW ME, is now out, and the premise looks amazing.

 Title: Radical New Me Author: PK Hrezo Release Date: May 10th, 2017 Tour Dates: June 6th – 10th, 2017 Genre: Women’s Fiction

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Callie Cow: Where is She Now? That's what Calliope Crown's old high school classmates want to know. Now it's five years later and Calliope's gone from fat to fit in a year-long transformation with a world-renowned self-help guru. When funds she's always counted on fall through, she moves to ritzy Boca Raton to work for her snobby aunt's beachside bakery and face the same temptation that put her in the body she so desperately wants to forget. Calliope may be armed with a new identity, but old self-images don't die fast, and true self-esteem isn't something you can buy online with a credit card, even though her guru would suggest otherwise with the prices of his webinar course and weekly regimen. Enter one cute and dedicated handyman and Calliope begins to see the world in a new light. Connecting with him, as well as new friends and Internet followers may just prove that life's detours can sometimes reveal our truest identities in the most unexpected of ways.
  AmazonUS | AmazonUK | AmazonAU | AmazonCA

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


When I found out that TRUE STORIES AT THE SMOKY VIEW was about a librarian, by a librarian, I had to feature it. It also earned a Gold Medal from the Independent Publisher Book Awards this year. Have a look:

Although Vrai (short for Vraiment), an art history librarian in Baltimore, has not spoken to her friend Skip for over a year, after his sudden death she dutifully takes his ashes and his dog home to his mother in Knoxville, Tennessee. Vrai has no idea why Skip stepped into traffic in Baltimore with his hands over his eyes, or why he so abruptly ended their longtime friendship.

After Skip’s funeral, Vrai rescues ten-year-old Jonathan, who has been abandoned in the funeral home parking lot. The Blizzard of 1993 soon strands this unlikely duo at the Smoky View Motel, where Jonathan, whose parents were assassinated by Pinochet’s henchmen, comes across short stories (fiction) hinting at the truth about Skip’s death.

By the end of this story of mutual rescue, the lives of Vrai and Jonathan have been changed forever.

While a librarian at Johns Hopkins University, you earned an MFA in Fiction from Warren Wilson College. What led you to pursue writing, and what do you love most about it?

I have always wanted to write, and when I was considering going to graduate school, I was torn between a graduate degree in psychology (my undergraduate major) and an MFA in fiction. I discovered that the MLS program at the University of Maryland would allow me, on a small scale, to do both. I could apply credits earned in other university departments toward a very practical degree in library science. Feeling as though I’d won the jackpot, I received an MLS which included two creative writing classes and three graduate psychology courses.

During my thirteen years at Johns Hopkins, which was my third library job after receiving my MLS, I served as library liaison for the Psychology Department and also for The Writing Seminars. I kept writing fiction, which is, for me, a way to try to make sense of this crazy world we inhabit. Encouraged by some of The Writing Seminars faculty, I applied to Warren Wilson’s low-residency MFA Program, which would allow me to continue working full-time.

Writing is definitely a great way to make sense of our crazy world. TRUE STORIES AT THE SMOKY VIEW has been praised for its great characters and storytelling. What about the book are you most proud of and why?

I began writing the novel when my life was in turmoil. This is not an approach I would recommend. I had almost all my characters from the very beginning, but it took me a while – years, in fact – to discover what their story was. At one point I put the novel aside and wrote another one, which I took to a workshop taught by John Dufresne at the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference. Feedback I received there and elsewhere was invaluable when I finally returned to the first novel. So I suppose I’m proudest of having learned to be a little more patient in my writing. Turmoil can be a good source of ideas, but it’s best to wait till the dust has settled before forging ahead.

I’m also proud of, and a little amazed by, the way some of the characters in the novel developed. Rupert Brill, chair of the Art History department at the university where my protagonist Vrai (short for Vraiment) is the art history librarian, was at first nothing more than a seemingly apt name for an arrogant professor. But Dr. Brill surprised me by emerging as a complex human being with good moral instincts, and he played a crucial role in a climactic scene toward the end. What would I ever have done without him?

Jonathan Santiago, the young boy whose parents were assassinated by Pinochet’s henchmen, also came to life in surprising ways. Friends have asked me if Jonathan is based on my son. He is not. When I think of Jonathan, I see someone very different; he’s completely fictional but also very real to me.

The best characters are. You are currently published with She Writes Press. How did you know this was the right publisher for you?

Having joined She Writes, a huge online community of women writers, I began keeping an eye on its publishing arm, She Writes Press. Soon after Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly agreed to begin publishing reviews of She Writes Press books, the press and She Writes merged with SparkPoint Studio. This was around the time I finished revising True Stories at the Smoky View and began looking for a publisher. As a former librarian, I knew I wanted the opportunity to have my book in libraries nationwide. So I submitted my novel to She Writes Press, and here I am with reviews in both Library Journal and Booklist and, as of May 30, a Gold Medal from the Independent Publisher Book Awards.

Wonderful! What are some of your current projects?

I’m working on a “novel in stories” about an interracial friendship which begins in the segregated South and continues for over fifty years. Although the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference recently ceased to exist, John Dufresne, bless his heart, is holding his workshop in Taos this summer as usual. So I’ll receive feedback on my manuscript from him and from the five other workshop participants, three of whom were also in the workshop at which True Stories at the Smoky View was discussed.

A week or so ago, I surprised myself by starting work on something brand new. I already have a brief outline and possibly even a title. It’s too soon to know whether or not this will turn into a full-length novel. I’m reminding myself not to rush – to allow the story to develop on its own. Here’s hoping I can take my own advice.

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