Wednesday, January 30, 2019

THIS MORTAL COIL, a series by Emily Suvada

I met Emily Suvada at last year's Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Conference (NCIBA) and as soon as I heard the premise for THIS MORTAL COIL, and its follow-up, THIS CRUEL DESIGN, I had to read it:

Catarina Agatta is a hacker. She can cripple mainframes and crash through firewalls, but that’s not what makes her special. In Cat’s world, people are implanted with technology to recode their DNA, allowing them to change their bodies in any way they want. And Cat happens to be a gene-hacking genius.

That’s no surprise, since Cat’s father is Dr. Lachlan Agatta, a legendary geneticist who may be the last hope for defeating a plague that has brought humanity to the brink of extinction. But during the outbreak, Lachlan was kidnapped by a shadowy organization called Cartaxus, leaving Cat to survive the last two years on her own.

When a Cartaxus soldier, Cole, arrives with news that her father has been killed, Cat’s instincts tell her it’s just another Cartaxus lie. But Cole also brings a message: before Lachlan died, he managed to create a vaccine, and Cole needs Cat’s help to release it and save the human race.

Now Cat must decide who she can trust: The soldier with secrets of his own? The father who made her promise to hide from Cartaxus at all costs? In a world where nature itself can be rewritten, how much can she even trust herself?

The nightmare of the outbreak is finally over, but Cat’s fight has only just begun.

Exhausted, wounded, and reeling from revelations that have shaken her to her core, Cat is at a breaking point. Camped in the woods with Cole and Leoben, she’s working day and night, desperate to find a way to stop Lachlan’s plan to reprogram humanity. But she’s failing—Cat can’t even control her newly regrown panel, and try as she might to ignore them, she keeps seeing glitching visions from her past everywhere she turns.

When news arrives that the Hydra virus might not be as dead as they’d thought, the group is pushed into an uneasy alliance with Cartaxus to hunt down Lachlan and fix the vaccine. Their search takes them to Entropia, a city of genehackers hidden deep in the desert that could also hold the answers about Cat’s past that she’s been searching for.

But when confronted with lies and betrayals, Cat is forced to question everything she knows and everyone she trusts. And while Lachlan is always two steps ahead, the biggest threat to Cat may be the secrets buried in her own mind.

According to your website bio, you spent your childhood in Australia. In what ways, if any, did this influence your writing and storytelling? 

There are some amazing Australian science fiction books which influenced me as a child - Galax-Arena by Gillian Rubenstein comes to mind specifically. Australians are strongly into sci-fi in general, especially post-apocalyptic and "punk" scifi worlds. If you think about Mad Max, or Tank Girl, you can see a strong sci-fi aesthetic that's wholeheartedly Australian, and that's an aesthetic you can find in my work, too. I think it helps that most of the country is a landscape which will literally kill you if you're not prepared to go out in it. There are dangers everywhere, but we still love to get outdoors and go hiking in the wilderness as much as any other country. Writing about a world where the air can kill you in a pretty devastating way seemed fairly natural for this Australian author! Also, Aussies don't often get a shot to put their work out on a global stage, which gives us a bit of an underdog, ambitious, hungry culture and I think inspired me to work really, really hard to try to get my work onto global shelves as well as those at home in Australia.

Maybe that's why I love the worldbuilding in THIS MORTAL COIL so much. What inspired the idea of gene-hacking, and how did it develop as you wrote? 

The idea of genehacking came about through reading about the genetic editing work that people are currently doing! There are people in their homes right now, injecting themselves with amateur-created proteins to edit their own DNA. You can buy the equipment to do it on the internet! I looked at the history of genetic science, which has been developing at an incredible rate, and imagined what would happen if we could sequence DNA faster, if we could understand it better, and if we could alter or affect it just as quickly. Computers used to be the size of a room and they could only perform simple tasks - now we hold them in our hands and they can talk to us. I tried to imagine a future where genetic engineering had evolved to the point computers are now, and instantly knew we'd be looking at inbuilt, on-the-fly editing which would have to be based on a serious amount of algorithms and coding to work. And thus, the gentech in my world was born!

Fantastic. In THIS CRUEL DESIGN, Cat faces some new obstacles. In what ways do her new challenges shape her as a person?

Poor Cat. All she faces is obstacles! I think in THIS CRUEL DESIGN, she's not able to do as much developing and growing as she would like, because the world is ending, and it's ending fast. She learns a lot about herself and the people around her, but she just doesn't have time to take it in and has to respond instinctively instead. In This Cruel Design we really see her taking matters into her own hands a little more - her determination grows throughout the book - she's learning that she doesn't want to be a pawn, and she doesn't want to be controlled or lied to - that instead she wants to make her own decisions and lead her own story.

Something the best protagonists do. What are some of your current projects?

I'm currently working hard on the third and final book! I can't wait to share more details about it with you soon! Other than that, I have a lot of ideas I'm excited to pursue, but I'm focusing my efforts on closing out this trilogy before I let myself play in any shiny new worlds :D

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019


After THE CROWN'S GAME and THE CROWN'S FATE duology, I couldn't wait to see what Evelyn Skye wrote next. Luckily for everyone, CIRCLE OF SHADOWS debuted yesterday, January 22, 2019:

Sora can move as silently as a ghost and hurl throwing stars with lethal accuracy. Her gemina, Daemon, can win any physical fight blindfolded and with an arm tied behind his back. They are apprentice warriors of the Society of Taigas—marked by the gods to be trained in magic and the fighting arts to protect the kingdom of Kichona.

As their graduation approaches, Sora and Daemon look forward to proving themselves worthy of belonging to the elite group—but in a kingdom free of violence since the Blood Rift Rebellion many years ago, it’s been difficult to make their mark. So when Sora and Daemon encounter a strange camp of mysterious soldiers while on a standard scouting mission, they decide the only thing to do to help their kingdom is to infiltrate the group.Taking this risk will change Sora’s life forever—and lead her on a mission of deception that may fool everyone she’s ever loved.

In our last interview, you said you were working on a YA Fantasy. Is that the book that became CIRCLE OF SHADOWS?

It is! I tend not to talk about my works-in-progress when they are book babies, just because the ideas are fragile and not fully developed yet, but now you have it-- that YA fantasy I was working on was CIRCLE OF SHADOWS. It's a different kind of book than THE CROWN'S GAME series, in that it's a totally made-up world and lots of characters have magic (compared to The Crown's Game, which was set in a real, historical place, and only a few characters had magic). But it's still got deep friendships and complicated family ties, as well as big, bad fight scenes. I hope my readers enjoy it!

I'm sure we will! I love how the tensions between Sora and Daemon heighten as the plot unravels. Did both characters come to you fully formed, or did they develop as you wrote them?

Oh, gosh, no, Sora and Daemon (and every single character in CIRCLE OF SHADOWS) started out as totally different people than they eventually became. This book was actually a hard one for me to write, because I struggled a lot on what the core plot was going to be. Luckily, I have an amazing editor (Kristin Rens at HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray) who was very patient and who knows me very well, so she helped me find the true story that was buried in the mess of my early drafts. Once I figured out the plot, the characters developed differently than how I'd originally imagined. And because of the challenge that writing this book presented, I'm really really proud of how it eventually turned out.

That's wonderful! What do you think are necessary elements of a good story? 

First and foremost, you have to create memorable characters. If you don't have heroes that your readers care about, no one will bother finishing the book, even if it has a very interesting plot. In my opinion, it's crucial to write a cast of characters who have varying personalities and different desires, and to make sure there are both positive and negative feelings among them--love and hate, admiration and jealousy, trust and doubt. That contributes as much to the tensions in the story as the plot does.

I also think an interesting setting adds to the book. It's not necessary, per se, but it certainly adds to the unique feel of your story. Readers should be able to see and feel the atmosphere of the place where the story is set.

And then, of course, you need a riveting plot, one that keeps readers turning pages. This doesn't mean you need a relentless pace, but it does mean that your audience wants to know what's going to happen. They might have to put the book down to go to school or to sleep, but they should be thinking about your characters and your story even while they're away from the book. That's when you know you've succeeded in writing a good story.

Indeed. You've managed to keep publishing throughout your writing career. What has kept you going when things get tough?

I love writing more than anything else I've ever done. I get to make stuff up for a living! I get to provide people with an escape from the real world when they're immersed in the pages of my books. And I get to bring joy into their lives. Remembering this keeps me going when I'm having trouble writing. I have one of the best jobs in the world, and I wouldn't trade it for anything else. I wish for everyone out there this same kind of happiness in their work, whether it's writing or programming software or fighting forest fires or building satellites.

Before I go, I just wanted to thank everyone in the book community. Thank you for reading books. Thank you for blogging, bookstagramming, booktubing, selling books, telling friends and family about the stories you love, and loving our characters and made-up tales. You are magic, and I adore you all.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

ONCE A KING, Book Three in A Clash of Kingdoms, by Erin Summerill

If you ever have a chance to see Erin Summerill at an author event or a panel, definitely do so! She is an extremely engaging speaker. I've been excited about her books for quite a few years, especially this latest book in A Clash of Kingdoms:

Aodren: A lonely, young king, searching for a way to dismantle his father’s dark legacy.

Lirra: A girl with the power to control the wind, torn between duty and following her dreams

For twenty years, Channelers—women with a magical ability—have been persecuted in Malam by those without magic. Now King Aodren wants to end the bloody divide and unite his kingdom. But decades of hatred can’t be overcome by issuing decrees, and rumors of a deadly Channeler-made substance are only fueling people’s fears. Lirra has every reason to distrust Aodren. Yet when he asks for help to discover the truth behind the rumors, she can’t say no. With Lirra by his side, Aodren sees a way forward for his people. But can he rewrite the mistakes of the past before his enemies destroy the world he’s working so hard to rebuild?

Ever the Divided. Ever the Feared. Ever the Brave.

After saving King Aodren with her newfound Channeler powers, Britta only wants to live a peaceful life in her childhood home. Unfortunately, saving the King has created a tether between them she cannot sever, no matter how much she'd like to, and now he's insisting on making her a noble lady. And there are those who want to use Britta’s power for evil designs. If Britta cannot find a way to harness her new magical ability, her life—as well as her country—may be lost.

The stakes are higher than ever in the sequel to Ever the Hunted, as Britta struggles to protect her kingdom and her heart.

Seventeen year-old Britta Flannery is at ease only in the woods with her dagger and bow. She spends her days tracking criminals alongside her father, the legendary bounty hunter for the King of Malam—that is, until her father is murdered. Now outcast and alone and having no rights to her father’s land or inheritance, she seeks refuge where she feels most safe: the Ever Woods. When Britta is caught poaching by the royal guard, instead of facing the noose she is offered a deal: her freedom in exchange for her father’s killer.

However, it’s not so simple.

The alleged killer is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice. The only friend she’s ever known. The boy she once loved who broke her heart. She must go on a dangerous quest in a world of warring kingdoms, mad kings, and dark magic to find the real killer. But Britta wields more power than she knows. And soon she will learn what has always made her different will make her a daunting and dangerous force.

Your focus talk on "How to Do Hard Things" empowers middle grade and high school students to face their fears and achieve their goals. What originally inspired this talk, and how do you hope it might help people? 

The presentation was inspired by my own learning challenges. Growing up, I struggled in school because I’m dyslexic. It was difficult to read and difficult to write. I learned coping skills to help me get by, but it wasn’t until I had a helpful teacher give me guidance on how to stay goal focused that I was able to find success at school.

Such teachers are so needed, and I'm glad you found that kind of support! ONCE A KING is the third installment in the A Clash of Kingdoms series. What about Aodren's story did you feel most needed to be told?

I was drawn to tell a story about the challenges a leader of a country must face, and yet in those challenges they must choose the better good over fear. Aodren learns that leading with hate and prejudice will only decide a kingdom. My inspiration came from watching the election.

Sounds like there are some significant parallels! What do you think are the necessary elements of a good story?

The character is key for me. I need to understand what the character wants and needs and fears. I need to see the character as another human being. And once I’m invested, I’ll go on any journey with that character.

I know exactly what you mean! What are some of your current projects?

I decided to slow down just a little to go back to school. Writing is a lifelong process of learning. I was accepted to Vermont College Of Fine Arts for the Writing For Children and Young Adults program. I’m currently attending school, which tends to take a lot of my writing time. But I’m happy to say that I’m working on a YA fantasy inspired by my upbringing and a picture book.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

FIRESTARTER, Book Three in the Timekeeper Trilogy, by Tara Sim

The Timekeeper Trilogy by Tara Sim offers a fascinating perspective into how time affects destiny. I'm sorry to see the series end, but FIRESTARTER promises to be a intriguing story that shows the liminal path between good and evil. The book will debut on January 15.

The crew of the Prometheus is intent on taking down the world’s clock towers so that time can run freely. Now captives, Colton, Daphne, and the others have a stark choice: join the Prometheus’s cause, or fight back in any small way they can and face the consequences. But Zavier, leader of the terrorists, has a bigger plan—to bring back the lost god of time.

As new threats emerge, loyalties must shift. No matter where the Prometheus goes—Prague, Austria, India—nowhere is safe, and every second ticks closer toward the eleventh hour. Walking the line between villainy and heroism, each will have to choose what's most important: saving those you love at the expense of the many, or making impossible sacrifices for the sake of a better world.

Clock mechanic Danny Hart knows he's being watched. But by whom, or what, remains a mystery. To make matters worse, clock towers have begun falling in India, though time hasn't Stopped yet. He'd hoped after reuniting with his father and exploring his relationship with Colton, he'd have some time to settle into his new life. Instead, he's asked to investigate the attacks.

After inspecting some of the fallen Indian towers, he realizes the British occupation may be sparking more than just attacks. And as Danny and Colton unravel more secrets about their past, they find themselves on a dark and dangerous path--one from which they may never return.

Two o’clock was missing.

In an alternate Victorian world controlled by clock towers, a damaged clock can fracture time—and a destroyed one can stop it completely.

It’s a truth that seventeen-year-old clock mechanic Danny Hart knows all too well; his father has been trapped in a Stopped town east of London for three years. Though Danny is a prodigy who can repair not only clockwork, but the very fabric of time, his fixation with staging a rescue is quickly becoming a concern to his superiors.

And so they assign him to Enfield, a town where the tower seems to be forever plagued with problems. Danny’s new apprentice both annoys and intrigues him, and though the boy is eager to work, he maintains a secretive distance. Danny soon discovers why: he is the tower’s clock spirit, a mythical being that oversees Enfield’s time. Though the boys are drawn together by their loneliness, Danny knows falling in love with a clock spirit is forbidden, and means risking everything he’s fought to achieve.

But when a series of bombings at nearby towers threaten to Stop more cities, Danny must race to prevent Enfield from becoming the next target or he’ll not only lose his father, but the boy he loves, forever.

If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why?

I would probably give her some tough love and say that she'll need to be patient and forgiving with herself in the years to come. Publishing is a tough industry, and when I was younger I definitely had grand aspirations. I think telling myself to learn patience would probably go unheeded, but at least I would try.

Patience is a tough virtue to learn, but you're right; it's absolutely necessary. In our last interview, when talking about CHAINBREAKER, you said, "I think this book helped me learn even more about how to bridge books 1 and 3 of a trilogy, about letting the book have its own arc while continuing the overall trilogy arc." What did you learn while writing FIRESTARTER, the last in the series?

In writing FIRESTARTER, it helped me learn more about resolution and how to end a character's arc. The characters go through a lot in this series, and their growth helped inform exactly how the book should end. Specifically, what they learned over the course of the story and how would they implement it in the climax.

And it offers good example of how plot and character are inevitably intertwined! What do you feel is the most important element of a good story?

Characters! I've forgiven some questionable plots because of how much I've loved the characters. If you have a cast that works well together and apart, and characters that the reader will root for/cry with/yell at, you're golden.

Indeed. You also have a forthcoming series from Disney Hyperion. Is there anything you can tell us about it yet?

SCAVENGE THE STARS is a YA fantasy reimagining of The Count of Monte Cristo, full of POC and queer characters. There's revenge, betrayal, forbidden romance...oh, and lots of gambling.


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