Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The MRS. SMITH'S SPY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS series by Beth McMullen

I had the pleasure of meeting Beth McMullen at Kepler's Bookstore last fall for their "Mighty Middle Grade" event. I love stories that take place in boarding schools, and the voice in this story is extremely engaging. I was sucked right in!

After a botched escape plan from her boarding school, Abigail is stunned to discover the school is actually a cover for an elite spy ring called The Center, along with being training grounds for future spies. Even more shocking? Abigail’s mother is a top agent for The Center and she has gone MIA, with valuable information that many people would like to have—at any cost. Along with a former nemesis and charming boy from her grade, Abigail goes through a crash course in Spy Training 101, often with hilarious—and sometimes painful—results. But Abigail realizes she might be a better spy-in-training than she thought—and the answers to her mother’s whereabouts are a lot closer than she thinks…

Abby and the rest of her friends go international as they embark on their first “official” Center mission in this second book in the Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls series.

After discovering the truth about her spy school/boarding school—and her super-spy mom—Abby Hunter is ready for her next adventure, but what’s about to happen is something she never would have guessed…

Everyone at The Smith School is obsessed with Monster Mayhem, the latest reality video game craze. But when Drexel Caine, the mastermind behind the game is suddenly kidnapped, it becomes clear that the kidnappers are playing for more than just special badges.

After Drexel’s son—who is Abby’s friend, Toby—receives a cryptic message, Abby and her friends discover the kidnapping is part of a bigger scheme that could take down The Center for good.

With the help of Abby’s frenemy (and reluctant mentor), Veronica Brooks, the group tackles their first official Center Mission. They tangle with the world’s most notorious hacker, get in trouble for the possible theft of the Mona Lisa, and prepare for the ultimate showdown in London. But not before they have to contend with one more hurdle: the agonizing Smith School Spring Formal. Along the way, they discover they are much stronger as a team they can ever be alone.

And with a little luck, they might just save the world.

Coming August 6, 2019!

Abby and her classmates have all been invited to Briar Academy to participate in The Challenge, a prep school competition where teams compete for prizes and the glory of being the best of the best. While there, they figure out their nemesis, The Ghost, is using Briar as headquarters to plan a devastating attack on his enemies (a.k.a.: pretty much everyone) using a brand-new invention Toby developed. And this time, The Center and Mrs. Smith will be of no help as Abby suspects there is someone working for The Ghost on the inside—and they can trust no one.

You have a parakeet named Zeus. (What a great name for a bird!). How did you end up with a parakeet for a pet? 

We had just lost our 20 year old cat and everyone was really missing her. My son had seen the parakeets in PetCo as a little kid and always wanted one. We were pet free so I figured why not? My son’s best friend had Poseidon so naturally…Zeus. Zeus is the loudest 2 ounce creature on the planet. He hates action movies so much we have to cover his cage in order to hear. About six months after we got Zeus, we somehow ended up with 2 kittens. Cats and birds living together. Yes, it’s exactly as it sounds.

Ha! Somehow I'm reminded of that Bill Murray line from Ghostbusters. In MRS. SMITH'S SPY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, Abigail is faced with some difficult choices. Did her story come to you right away, or did it gradually shape itself? 

I went to boarding school as a kid and I always loved the idea of using that setting in a book but I couldn’t figure out how. I tried with an adult thriller but it was awful and I ditched it. Later, I made another pass with something more YA but that too was missing something. It wasn’t until I brought the age of the main character way down to twelve, which was completely new terrain for me, that the story started to work. I wrote a draft of that and let it sit for more than a year because I wasn’t sure what I was doing writing middle grade fiction. When I eventually came back to it, I was surprised that it wasn’t terrible. A few drafts later and I managed to sell it as a series.

That makes sense. I've also heard that it's tough to get an authentic voice in Middle Grade. In what ways did Abigail's voice feel right to you?  

I like to describe Abby as the kid I wish I had been. She is bold, fearless, a little reckless, loyal and smart. She will run straight at trouble and figure how how to manage it when she gets there. I think the key to writing authentic middle grade characters is not to dumb them down or try to force them to sound young. Abby and her friends sound not unlike adults but the subject matter and the situations are different. It’s also important to find a way to listen to actual kids. When my teenaged kids have friends over, I blatantly eavesdrop, just to pick up the cadence of their speech and what topics have got their attention!

Sounds like a great method, as long as your kids don't mind! What are some of your current projects?  

Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls wraps up this summer, when DOUBLE CROSS comes out on August 6th. I’m also working on How to Find Lost Things, a new Middle Grade series from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin, coming summer 2020. In it, twelve year old Lola Benko is desperate to find her missing father, a famous archaeologist who was last seen in hot pursuit of the magical Stone of Istenanya, which is not supposed to exist. But Lola quickly discovers finding a missing person is no easy thing. She will have to go to extraordinary lengths if she ever wants to see her father again and accept things she never thought possible. Like Mrs. Smith’s, this series has action, adventure, friendship and humor.

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

This post can also be viewed here

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Release Feature: IRON CIRCLE by Justin Joschko

Happy release day to IRON CIRCLE, by Justin Joschko. The book was also featured here.

The path west is long, but despite Selena’s progress, New Canaan is never far enough behind her. It was there that her parents were killed, forcing her and her little brother Simon to flee the tyrannical state. Now, New Canaan wants control over every last inch of America-That-Was. Only the Republic of California can stand against it—but not without the data stick in Selena’s pocket, rumored to contain vital information about New Canaan’s deadly new weapon.

As winter closes in, Selena races south in search of an open passage to the coast. She must pass through Nuevo Juarez, where a ruthless leader named Thorin has seized power. Selena runs afoul of Thorin’s men and is separated from her brother, captured, and auctioned off at the city’s thriving slave market.

Her only way out is through the Iron Circle, a fighting ring where the city’s most fearsome warriors pit their skills against one another. As the populace and Thorin watch Selena rise through the ranks, Selena earns a reputation she doesn’t want and the attention of man with the power to destroy her and what’s left of America-That-Was.

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

IMMERSE, the final book in the Mer Chronicles series, by Tobie Easton

I was delighted to feature the first and second books of the Mer Chronicles series, EMERGE and SUBMERGE here. The third installment, IMMERSE, debuted yesterday. Check out the cover:

Lia can’t wait for her parents’ coronation. Now living in the sparkling palace beneath the waves, she sneaks off to Malibu whenever possible to see Clay. Tucked away in an abandoned seaside mansion, Lia and Clay devise a plan to ensure they can stay together forever.

But when an old enemy resurfaces and Lia is restricted to the palace for the safety of all Merkind, she and Clay are ripped apart once more.

She fears not only for Clay, but for her best friend Caspian, who seems to be swimming down a dangerous path. He has invited the conniving Melusine to the coronation ball, convinced she’s capable of change. And no matter how hard Lia fights it, showing up on Caspian’s arm is just the start of Melusine’s insidious return to her life.

With threats Below growing more ominous by the day and a powerful ancient ritual looming, soon the two girls can’t escape each other. As their fates grow increasingly intertwined, Melusine might be the only one who can help Lia find the answers she desperately needs to save everyone she loves and to achieve her happily ever after. But can Lia trust her?

Now that Lia and Clay’s love has broken the Little Mermaid’s curse, everything has changed. Will Lia’s family remain on land, leading the only life she and her sisters have ever known, or will they move below the waves, to the sparkling new capital city? Lia is adamant about staying on land with Clay for her senior year. But at Melusine and her father’s trial, new revelations threaten what Lia holds most dear.

The verdict will shake Lia’s whole world, calling into question her future with Clay, her feelings for Caspian, and the fate of all Merkind. As she wonders who to trust, Lia sets out on a treacherous path that will lead her away from her sheltered Malibu home to a remote and mysterious school for Mermaids—Mermaids who may hold the secret to ancient magic Lia can use to either get back all she’s lost or to embark on a thrilling and dangerous journey.

Lia Nautilus may be a Mermaid but she’s never lived in the ocean. Ever since the infamous Little Mermaid unleashed a curse that stripped Mer of their immortality, war has ravaged the Seven Seas. Now Lia lives in a secret community of land-dwelling Mer hidden among Malibu’s seaside mansions and attends high school with humans. To protect everyone around her, she must limit her contact with non-Mer. No exceptions. But when the new girl sets her sights on Lia's crush, she will risk exposing her deadly secret to stop Clay from falling in love with the wrong girl.

Recently, you posted on Instagram about a recent writing retreat you went to. What do you love most about writing retreats, and in what ways, if any, do they help your writing process? 

 I’ve gone on two writing retreats this year, and I’ve really loved both of them.  Any change of environment can really help spark new ideas for me, but when you pair that with being in the company of other writers, the experience becomes even more valuable.  Writing is usually so solitary, but on a writing retreat, you’re surrounded by people who understand the process and who are all choosing to take time away from their day-to-day lives with the specific goal in mind of fostering creativity.  That creates a really amazing dynamic!  We all worked during the days (it’s really motivating to be in a room with everyone working away on books all around you!), then spent the evenings eating dinner together and socializing.  My favorite night was when we all bundled up (it was winter) and made a fire outside.  We sat around it eating s’mores and each reading a chapter from our current work in progress, then discussing it.  It was so immensely helpful and fun—and so different from sitting at home by myself on any given day, wondering how people will respond to what I’m writing.  I feel really lucky to have shared that experience with other writers.

What a great experience! And it's true; being around other writers is one of the best forms of inspiration. In our last interview, when talking about IMMERSE, you said, "The series was always meant to be a trilogy; it’s exciting to finally get to write storylines I’ve been planning for these characters for several years." Now that IMMERSE is out, what will you miss most about writing this series? 

Spending time with the characters!  I already do.  It’s strange, but I miss them as if they were real people who I’d spent nearly every day with for years and now don’t get to see anymore.  When I first started my new book with a whole new cast of characters, every time I’d get in the mindset to start writing, I’d start picking up conversations from my Mer Chronicles characters instead—almost like I was tuned into the wrong radio frequency.  Slowly but surely, I’ve transitioned to hearing my new characters, but I definitely miss Lia, Clay, Melusine, and Caspian.  Sometimes, I still find myself writing scenes for them in my head as I’m falling asleep at night.  I’m so excited for readers to see where these characters’ stories go in Immerse—I hope they stay with you after you’re done reading, too!

I'm sure they will! What do you think are the necessary elements of a good story?

There are so many!  As a writer, details are really important to me.  My favorite fictional worlds are the ones in which every detail is thought through, and some that seem insignificant end up mattering in unexpected ways.  Vivid worldbuilding goes hand-in-hand with that because it’s the details that make a world feel real.  I also find character arcs essential (and fascinating) because a story only matters if living through it has had an impact on the characters we care about.

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

That’s a cool question!  I’d say, “Go for it!”  Writing and the road to publication can be full of self-doubt, but if you don’t go for it, you’ll never get to experience anything that comes next.  You know, I should still tell myself this every day.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here

Wednesday, March 13, 2019


I first saw Kayla Olson at an author event; she is a great speaker, and I learned a ton. If you get a chance to see her speak, definitely take it! Her book, THIS SPLINTERED SILENCE, is a must-read for anyone who loves deep space suspense, and it has one of the best beginnings I've seen.

Lindley Hamilton has been the leader of the space station Lusca since every first-generation crew member on board, including her mother, the commander, were killed by a deadly virus.

Lindley always assumed she’d captain the Lusca one day, but she never thought that day would come so soon. And she never thought it would be like this—struggling to survive every day, learning how to keep the Lusca running, figuring out how to communicate with Earth, making sure they don’t run out of food.

When a member of the surviving second generation dies from symptoms that look just like the deadly virus, though, Lindley feels her world shrinking even smaller. The disease was supposed to be over; the second generation was supposed to be immune. But as more people die, Lindley must face the terrifying reality that either the virus has mutated or something worse is happening: one of their own is a killer.

Your parents met while working at NASA. In what ways, if any, did this influence your love of space and/or science fiction? 

It absolutely encouraged a love of space from a very young age! Not only did my parents meet while working at NASA, my grandfather helped set up the original computers for NASA down in Houston, and my mother grew up in the same neighborhood as Neil Armstrong and a lot of the other astronauts, so I've always felt a pretty personal connection with the space program. I would never want to actually be an astronaut myself, but I am fascinated with the beauty and the science of it all.

It certainly is fascinating! THIS SPLINTERED SILENCE confronts what it's like to be isolated within the vastness of space. How might Lindley's experience resonate with readers? 

For Lindley, the space station is all she's ever known—it's home. What suddenly makes her feel isolated from the rest of the world is the death of her mother, along with the entire first generation of experts who keep their station/mission running smoothly, and the technological malfunctions that prevent her from contacting her support base outside of the station. Even though Lindley's specific situation takes place in the depths of space, I think the feelings she goes through—grief, loneliness, shifting friendship dynamics, pressure to do the right thing all the time—are relatable to so many of us down on earth, too.

Indeed they are. At an author event, you said, "Create because you love it." In your opinion, what makes this an important thing to remember? 

YES, this is the piece of advice I give more than anything else, because I feel like it's so crucial to anyone who's trying to put their creative work out into the world! You cannot control anything other than your own process—you can't control if people will love it or hate it or be lukewarm, or if they'll give you the yes or no you need to put it out there. The full piece of advice I always give is "write because you love it, not because you want someone to love you for it"—there will always be someone who doesn't, or road blocks along the way that trip you up. If you only create because you want to please other people, that is the sort of flimsy validation that will cause you to question everything when (not if) times get tough. If you create because you love it, that love will sustain you through the inevitable hard times, help you to be able to look at them with gratitude, and find the strength and motivation and joy to pick up and keep going. Creating out of love for the process helps take the pressure off of "being successful" at it in a real, measurable way, and will often lead to a more peaceful work mentality (and, I believe, stronger work, because you're writing what resonates strongly with YOU, not just something you think other people want!)!

So true! What are some of your current projects? 

I'm about to dive in to a revision on the first draft I finished recently—I'm keeping pretty quiet about that one at the moment, but I hope to be able to share more about it in the months to come!

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

This post can also be viewed here

Wednesday, March 6, 2019


Hayley Stone is an amazing writer, and one of the smartest that I've met. Don't believe me? Look at this amazing guest post she did on Chuck Wendig's Terribleminds. Her sci-fi novel, MACHINATIONS, was chosen as one of Amazon's Best Sci-fi Fantasy books in 2016, and her fantasy western, MAKE ME NO GRAVE will appeal to readers who want to follow the journey of a bad-ass female outlaw.

The machines have risen, but not out of malice. They were simply following a command: to stop the endless wars that have plagued the world throughout history. Their solution was perfectly logical. To end the fighting, they decided to end the human race.

A potent symbol of the resistance, Rhona Long has served on the front lines of the conflict since the first Machinations began—until she is killed during a rescue mission gone wrong. Now Rhona awakens to find herself transported to a new body, complete with her DNA, her personality, even her memories. She is a clone . . . of herself.

Trapped in the shadow of the life she once knew, the reincarnated Rhona must find her place among old friends and newfound enemies—and quickly. For the machines are inching closer to exterminating humans for good. And only Rhona, whoever she is now, can save them.

Almena Guillory, better known as the Grizzly Queen of the West, has done plenty to warrant the noose, but U.S. Marshal Apostle Richardson enforces the law, he doesn’t decide it. When a posse tries to lynch Almena ahead of her trial, Apostle refuses their form of expedited justice—and receives a bullet for his trouble. Almena spares him through the use of dangerous flesh magic but escapes soon after saving him.

Weeks later, Apostle fears the outlaw queen has returned to her old ways when she’s spotted terrorizing Kansas with a new gang in tow. When cornered, however, Almena makes a convincing case for her innocence and proposes a plan to take the real bandits down.

Working with a known killer opens Apostle up to all sorts of trouble, not the least being his own growing attraction toward the roguish woman. Turning Almena away from vengeance may be out of the question, but if he doesn’t try, she’ll wind up right where the law wants her: at the end of a rope.

And if Apostle isn’t careful, he’ll end up joining her.

According to your website bio, you believe history "offers a wealth of story inspiration as well as a powerful look into what makes us human." Can you elaborate? Do you have a favorite time period in history that you'd like to visit? 

I came to love history through the medium of historical fiction and period dramas, so there has always been a sense of storytelling potential present for me regarding the past. When I study history, I’m often curious about how those involved felt at the time; they must have experienced the same wonder and trepidation, passion and reluctance, etc.—basically, all of the same emotions that you and I feel today. It’s easy to disconnect from these strangers, but I find it far more compelling to engage with their stories on a personal level; it is in that space of trying to understand why something happened or why person A chose to do this or that, where I discover some of the meatiest story possibilities.

As for a favorite time period, I have many! But if I had to choose only one, I’d probably want to visit the court of Henry VIII when Anne Boleyn was queen. Anne is my all-time favorite historical figure, and her story is what first drew me into history as a subject.

Seeing Anne Boleyn would be great (but would we be able to warn her about the beheading?). Your sci-fi novel MACHINATIONS was chosen as one of Amazon's Best Sci-fi Fantasy books in 2016. What about the story do you feel connects most with people? 

Good question!

I think it’s Rhona’s vulnerability, combined with her never-say-die attitude. She’s tossed into a situation she is completely ill-equipped to deal with—a feeling we’re all familiar with—yet even at her most overwhelmed, she seeks out the humor of the moment.

Rhona Long is truly the heart of Machinations: utterly human, utterly fallible, but determined to try, regardless of the odds. It’s fittingly ironic that a story about cold, merciless machines is carried by a woman who is openly warm and emotional, who loves and grieves and jokes despite the literal ending of the world.

Also, the robots. Everybody loves killer robots! (No? Just me?)

No way! I love killer robots, as do many others! You've also published poetry and short stories. What do you enjoy most about writing stories within a smaller space? 

As a novelist, there’s something delicious about being able to start and finish a piece of work in a matter of days versus a year (or longer). Plus, different stories are better suited to different mediums, and short fiction—as well as poetry—allows me to explore ideas that have been knocking around in my head without having to commit a huge amount of time.

Not to mention there’s a lot you can learn with short fiction. For example, having a word limit really makes you look at your prose with a critical eye. You learn word economy quickly, and that usually carries over to other work, tightening your writing as a whole.

Excellent. What are some of your current projects? 

Currently, I’m working on a proposal for an epic fantasy inspired by the culture and mythology of the Ancient Near East. It’s easily the most ambitious novel I’ve ever attempted, and has been quite the learning process! At the same time, I’ve been working on the sequel to Make Me No Grave, currently titled Render Up the Ghost, which I hope to have finished by the end of the year. It’s always a joy returning to old characters!

Buy: Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

This post can also be viewed here

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Release Feature: THE QUEEN'S RESISTANCE by Rebecca Ross

Happy release day to THE QUEEN'S RESISTANCE, by Rebecca Ross. This book was also featured here.

Finally, Brienna is a mistress of knowledge and is settling into her role as the daughter of Davin MacQuinn, a disgraced lord who returned to Maevana to reclaim his house. Though she’d just survived a revolution, one that will finally return a queen to the throne, she faces another difficult challenge. She must prove herself trustworthy to the MacQuinns. But as Queen Isolde Kavanagh’s closest confidant, she’ll have to balance serving her father’s house as well as her country. And then there’s Cartier, a wholly separate but desirable factor in her new life.

Aodhan Morgane, formerly known as Cartier √Čvariste, is adjusting to the stark contrast between his pre-rebellion life in Valenia as a master of knowledge and his current one as the lord of a fallen house. During his castle’s restoration, he discovers a ten-year-old boy named Tomas, whose past and parentage are a complete mystery. So when Cartier’s former pupil Brienna is as taken with Tomas as he is, he lets his mind wander—what if he doesn’t have to raise him or his house alone?

As the Lannon trial rapidly approaches, Brienna and Cartier must put their feelings aside to concentrate on forging alliances, executing justice, and ensuring that no one interferes with the queen’s coronation. But resistance is rumbling among the old regime’s supporters, who are desperate to find a weakness in the rebels’ forces. And nothing makes a person more vulnerable than deep-seated love.

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound