Wednesday, July 25, 2018

ASH PRINCESS by Laura Sebastian

I first saw Laura Sebastian on a panel at the Bay Area Book Festival, and once I saw the cover for ASH PRINCESS, and heard her talk about the premise, I had to feature it:

Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. On that day, the Kaiser took Theodosia's family, her land, and her name. Theo was crowned Ash Princess--a title of shame to bear in her new life as a prisoner.

For ten years Theo has been a captive in her own palace. She's endured the relentless abuse and ridicule of the Kaiser and his court. She is powerless, surviving in her new world only by burying the girl she was deep inside.

Then, one night, the Kaiser forces her to do the unthinkable. With blood on her hands and all hope of reclaiming her throne lost, she realizes that surviving is no longer enough. But she does have a weapon: her mind is sharper than any sword.

And power isn't always won on the battlefield.

For ten years, the Ash Princess has seen her land pillaged and her people enslaved. That all ends here.

According to your website bio, you initially moved to New York City with the idea of settling elsewhere. What inspired you to stay, and what do you love most about the city? 

 Growing up in a small town in the south, the idea of living in New York City was terrifying to me—it was the polar opposite of everything I knew. At the same time, it also had an allure because it was so different. I thought I would stay for a year to see what it was like and get it out of my system, then end up somewhere in between the two extremes. But somehow, NYC just became home to me. The high-energy bustle that I thought would overwhelm me became exactly the environment I function best in.

High energy environments are the best! ASH PRINCESS has one of the best prologues I've ever read. How did you know this story needed a prologue, and in what ways, if any, did the story's beginning shape itself over time?

I think prologues get a bad rep because a lot of times they just aren’t necessary. They provide too much backstory, usually featuring characters the reader doesn’t know or care about. It was important to me that if I was going to have a prologue, I had to keep it short and impactful, to introduce readers to the brutality of the world they were entering and put them in Theo’s head from the first page, showing exactly what had built her.

It's beautifully crafted, and it's no surprise that ASH PRINCESS also became a NYT Bestseller. Where were you when you heard the news, and what was your initial reaction?

 I was out in LA, on the tail end of some events, relaxing and visiting friends. Some other NYC friends happened to be around too (Kidlit Wondertwins Jeffrey and Jeremy West), so we were hanging out, grabbing coffee. I was honestly not expecting it so when my editor called I was totally shellshocked. After that, it’s a blur of celebratory phone calls and champagne!

Sounds perfect! What are some of your current projects?

 I’m finishing up the ASH PRINCESS series! The sequel, LADY SMOKE, is out on April 2nd, and the last book will be out about a year after that. I’m also horrible at sitting still so I’ve got a handful of other projects in the works that I can’t talk too much about yet, but hopefully I’ll get to share some more details soon.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018


I found the cover of HERETICS ANONYMOUS on Twitter. This is an excellent book with an amazing premise, releasing on August 7:

Michael is an atheist. So as he walks through the doors at St. Clare’s—a strict Catholic school—sporting a plaid tie, things can’t get much worse. His dad has just made the family move again, and Michael needs a friend. When a girl challenges their teacher in class, Michael thinks he might have found one, and a fellow nonbeliever at that. Only this girl, Lucy, is not just Catholic . . . she wants to be a priest.

But Lucy introduces Michael to other St. Clare’s outcasts, and he officially joins Heretics Anonymous, where he can be an atheist, Lucy can be an outspoken feminist, Avi can be Jewish and gay, Max can wear whatever he wants, and Eden can practice paganism. After an incident in theology class, Michael encourages the Heretics to go from secret society to rebels intent on exposing the school’s hypocrisies. When Michael takes one mission too far—putting the other Heretics at risk—he must decide whether to fight for his own freedom, or rely on faith, whatever that means, in God, his friends, or himself.

Though you spent your teen years in Northern California, you decided to stay on the east coast after college. What do you love most about where you currently live?

I've lived on the island of Manhattan for the last ten years, with a brief stint in Dublin, Ireland halfway through. I had just turned eighteen when I moved here, so this has been my home for my entire adult life. What I love most about New York City is the sheer breadth of opportunities in such a small geographic area. And not just the big things, like Broadway and the Met, but wonderful hole-in-the-wall restaurants and book readings in tiny bookstore basements. You have access to just about anything you could possibly want. Except personal space. And good avocados.

As a Californian, I'm not sure how I would deal with the avocado situation. And personal space is definitely necessary! HERETICS ANONYMOUS offers a humorous take on unlikely rebels. How did you know this needed to be a lighthearted story?

I've always written comedies. It started out as a tactical move, when I was writing plays. When you're sitting in a dark theater, the only cues you have about whether an audience is enjoying themselves is laughter or audible sobbing. I went with laughter, and that's the tone I'm most comfortable with now. Also, stories about religion tend to be very heavy. That makes sense, of course--faith (and lack of faith) is deeply meaningful to people, and it's easy to hurt someone's feelings. But I wanted to write a story where faith was funny, but no one was being made fun of. I hope I succeeded.

I'm always glad for a humorous tone--especially in what I read. You also write plays. How is this different from writing novels, and what do you like most about each medium?

I love how many people are involved in the creation of a play. And of course, many people are involved in the creation of a book, too, but theater has an extra focus on creative collaboration. There are so many times while writing a book where I come to a setting description or a detail about someone's clothes, and I think, "Oh, whatever, the set designer or costumer will deal with that." But oh wait, no, they won't, because this is fiction and all those things are my job now. The very first drafts of my books are about 90% characters talking to each other, 8% interior monologue, and 2% description. It's a struggle.

In plays, everything about your characters has to be expressed through dialogue. If you need the audience to know something, it has to be spoken out loud or conveyed through subtext. One important thing I learned while getting my playwriting degree is that no one ever tells the whole truth, not even fictional people. I love writing dialogue and I love figuring out how to tell the audience what they need to know, even if the character doesn't know it. But something I love about fiction is that you're expected to give your protagonist an internal monologue. You can show what's happening in someone's head and dig deep into their thought process. It adds a layer of depth to a character you might not get in theater, simply because that's how the medium works.

I love that! What are some of your current projects?

My second YA book (another contemporary stand-alone) is releasing from HarperCollins in Summer 2019. I can't say much about it yet, but I can tell you I've been working on it like there's tomorrow.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Release Feature: HULLMETAL GIRLS by Emily Skrutskie

Back in May, I featured Emily Skrutskie, and she talked about HULLMETAL GIRLS, which just released today into the world!

Aisha Un-Haad would do anything for her family. When her brother contracts a plague, she knows her janitor's salary isn't enough to fund his treatment. So she volunteers to become a Scela, a mechanically enhanced soldier sworn to protect and serve the governing body of the Fleet, the collective of starships they call home. If Aisha can survive the harrowing modifications and earn an elite place in the Scela ranks, she may be able to save her brother.

Key Tanaka awakens in a Scela body with only hazy memories of her life before. She knows she's from the privileged end of the Fleet, but she has no recollection of why she chose to give up a life of luxury to become a hulking cyborg soldier. If she can make it through the training, she might have a shot at recovering her missing past.

In a unit of new recruits vying for top placement, Aisha's and Key's paths collide, and the two must learn to work together--a tall order for girls from opposite ends of the Fleet. But a rebellion is stirring, pitting those who yearn for independence from the Fleet against a government struggling to maintain unity.

With violence brewing and dark secrets surfacing, Aisha and Key find themselves questioning their loyalties. They will have to put aside their differences, though, if they want to keep humanity from tearing itself apart.

Buy: BookPassage ~ ~ Barnes & Noble ~ IndieBound

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

CITY OF LIES by Sam Hawke

I first got acquainted with Sam Hawke through Janet Reid's blog on publishing, often referred to as "the reef." And when I first heard the premise for Sam's book, CITY OF LIES, I knew a feature was in order:

I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me... 

Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he's a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state.

But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising...and angry.

According to your bio, you have a deep fear and distrust of ducks. What is the worst duck encounter you've had?

Oh boy. This hatred and distrust runs deep. As a teenager I used to house/dogsit for a school friend’s parents in the holidays. One year they built a massive duck enclosure in their garden too. I’d had chickens most of my life, mostly little silkies, so I wasn’t bothered and assumed it would be a similar experience. Boy. Boy was I wrong.

Chickens are affectionate little things. They come running when they hear you, they’ll sit on your lap for stroking. Ducks ... ducks are not your friends. Those things are little feathered psychopaths. And when I say little I actually mean ‘substantially bigger than you previously realised’ and by ‘feathered’ I mean ‘except for the one they’ve torn all the feathers off and pecked into a bleeding husk of a bird’. And look maybe they just walked into the shelter at dusk when my friend’s Mum clapped at them like she claimed, but they sure as hell didn’t do it for me. Their house was basically a box in the middle of the back third of the enclosure, with sharp scratchy bushes behind and on either side of it but - critically - a big enough gap both ways that ducks could easily divert from the ramp at the last second and dart left or right to run around behind instead of going in. There was no way to block off those exits, as I learned only too well while chasing aggressive belligerent feathered demons around in the increasing dark, getting scratched and filthy and filthy, swearing and crying with frustration. Even with three people (eventually I admitted defeat and begged help from my family) it was a complex and stressful military campaign to get them in every night. I looked after those ducks for many years but I never stopped hating them.

I don't blame you! Not sure I can look at ducks in the same way either. And speaking of prickly things, in CITY OF LIES, you dabble with different kinds of poisons. What about this was the most fun to write? 

Early on in my world building I decided I wanted it to play in a proper secondary world, with only minor crossovers in plant/animal life with things we would recognise. Which meant not relying on existing poisons but largely making up my own based on the flora, fauna, climate, and sociological history of the region. Possibly I’ve always had a weird interest in ‘things in nature that can kill you’ so I really enjoyed doing it. When I was about eight we got this Readers Digest book called ‘Australia’s Dangerous Creatures’ and I was weirdly, inexplicably obsessed with it, read it cover to cover hundreds of times, so my subconscious is full of deadly plants and venomous and poisonous animals that probably heavily influenced my world building!

That sounds scarier than ducks, even! You still blog on a somewhat regular basis on What do you think the future of blogs might be, and what do you enjoy most about maintaining your blog? 

Blogs are dead, I’m told? Honestly, I don’t know. I still like reading them, but I have a lot less time than I used to. There are some blogs I think are an invaluable resource for emerging writers - for example, I read Janet Reid’s blog at and Chuck Wendig’s religiously. But I guess more broadly people are communicating in different ways now.

My blogging has never been what you’d call regular, partly for time reasons and partly self consciousness - I still find it hard to feel confident that my rambling thoughts about something are worth an entire blog post.

Not sure I agree with you--I'll bet you have a lot of great things to say. What are some of your current projects?

I’m working hard trying to get the sequel to City of Lies done. Then there will be at least a few months of editing, and I’m hoping to squeeze in an in-world story for an anthology but that’s dependent on me coming up with a workable idea (I tend to think in novel length!). After that, we’ll have to see how City of Lies does and whether there’s any appetite for the Poison Wars novels to continue!

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

Photo courtesy of
Stay tuned next week for an interview with Sam Hawke, author of CITY OF LIES!

Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he's a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state.

But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising...and angry.

Buy: Bookpassage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Indiebound

Monday, July 2, 2018

Release Feature and Review: CINDERELLA BOY by Kristina Meister

I was lucky enough to snag an ARC of CINDERELLA BOY, and I'm so glad I did. This book releases today; it's a sweet love story that pulled me in from the first page:

Sixteen-year-old Declan is the perfect son . . . except for one tiny issue. When his sister Delia comes home to find him trying on her clothes, he fears her judgment, but she only fears his fashion choices. One quick makeover later, Declan is transformed into Delia’s mysterious cousin Layla and dragged to the party of the year, hosted by Carter, the most popular boy in school.

When Carter meets Layla, he fumbles to charm her. He adores her sense of humor and her poise. But when she vanishes in the middle of the night, he’s left confused and determined to solve the mystery of who she is.

As their school year begins, their high school embraces a policy of intolerance, and both Declan and Carter know they must stand up. Carter is tired of being a coward and wants to prove he can be a knight in shining armor. Declan is sick of being bullied and wants desperately to be himself. If they team up, it could be a fairy-tale ending, or a very unhappy ever after.


Declan lives for trying on his sister's clothes--until she catches him at it one day. Delia doesn't judge him--if anything she offers the kind of support most would wish in a sister--including introducing Declan to his crush, Carter, as the ever-mysterious "Layla." Carter, meanwhile, finds something in Layla he hasn't found with other girls--an intellect that can match his, and someone willing to see the side of himself that he hides from his other, more popular, friends. Declan, however, gets a conscience about his deceit, and starts to care enough for Carter to let him go. But Carter has some ideas of his own--ones that Declan can't even dream of--especially when Carter fights for something worth believing in. Where Kristina Meister really stands out as an author is with her distinctive voice--separate enough from her characters for them to be autonomous, but consistent enough throughout to keep readers engaged. The characters, in and of themselves, are very deep thinkers, and their conversations are fascinating. Even better, the budding romance is deftly supported with a really meaty plot--with battles against intolerance that teens are still currently fighting. Overall, this book has a beautiful message about self-confidence, and the importance of being yourself, and readers who struggle with self-esteem--even the adults among us--can find ways to gain comfort in their own skin within these pages. This book is definitely a must for high schoolers who are trying to find themselves amid the pressures from parents and community--and for those of us who need ways to bring our own unique individuality to the world.

Buy: Bookpassage ~ ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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