Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Teen Review: KICK by Walter Dean Myers and Ross Workman

YA Contemporary
208 pages
Available now (Feb. 2011)
Review copy from library

For the very first time in his decades-long career writing for teens, acclaimed and beloved author Walter Dean Myers writes with a teen, Ross Workman. 

Kevin Johnson is thirteen years old. And heading for juvie. He's a good kid, a great friend, and a star striker for his Highland, New Jersey, soccer team. His team is competing for the State Cup, and he wants to prove he has more than just star-player potential. Kevin's never been in any serious trouble . . . until the night he ends up in jail. Enter Sergeant Brown, a cop assigned to be Kevin's mentor. If Kevin and Brown can learn to trust each other, they might be able to turn things around before it's too late. 

Trevor's Thoughts: This was a great book. My favorite character was Kevin, the soccer player. He was the 13-year-old boy who was arrested for driving a car. I liked Kevin because he showed true friendship to Christy by not telling the cops the whole story. Kevin took the fall and went to juvie hall without saying anything. However, I was really happy later when Kevin came out and told the truth.

My least favorite character was the guy on the other soccer team. He was so mean. He tackled Kevin all the time and then started a fight with one of his teammates. I didn't like this guy because, on the field, he showed poor sportsmanship and had no respect for the other players or people watching the game.

My favorite part of the book was when Kevin told Sergeant Brown about what really happened. Sergeant Brown said that if he was in that position, he would have done the same thing as Kevin did. I think Kevin made the right decision because it was either drive Christy home or let Christy's mother possibly commit suicide. I also liked where Kevin and Christy walked out of the mall together. Kevin showed great care for Christy because, when she started to cry, he left his friends and walked her home.

It really sucked when Kevin got sent to juvie hall. It was unfair and awful because I knew he was just trying to help a friend who was going through hard times.

You should definitely read this book. It's a quick read and absolutely amazing. I don't always like to read but this book made me not want to put it down until the end.

Today's Teen Reviewer, Trevor, is a freshman in high school and loves sports, especially tennis. His favorite subject is science, particularly when you get to do experiments. When not at school or on the court, Trevor can be found at the local mall, hanging with his friends.

Monday, August 29, 2011

ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD by Kendare Blake


YA Paranormal (Ghost Story)
320 pages
Available tomorrow! (Aug. 30, 2011)
Review copy provided by publisher for honest review

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father's mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn't expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he's never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas's life.

Positive: Cas, his mother, and his whole Scooby gang. Until moving to Thunder Bay (a Canadian location!), Cas never really settled in long enough to make friends with anyone. But, as he investigates Anna and her story, he starts to gather an unusual group around him, people who eventually help him with his Anna dilemma. I particularly like Thomas, who can read minds (sometimes) and Thomas's eccentric grandfather. 

Positive: The ghosts. Anna, of course, is the scene-stealer. I mean, who can resist a story about a murdered girl who floats around in a blood-soaked, white dress, killing anyone who intrudes upon her solitude? It's the perfect scary campfire story. As for the other ghosts, I liked the urban legend flavor to them (I've always been a sucker for urban legends.). 

Positive: The story itself. While a lot of times, I focus on favorite bits, with this book, I love the whole thing. Great characters, an interesting world filled with spirits and magic, an action-filled plot, a nontraditional love story (as in it doesn't involve the main character), and awesome world-building -- yep, the whole kit-and-caboodle really drew me in.

Wish: That there were more spooky ghost stories out there like ANNA. It's not too horror-filled (I get a little freaked out when it's too scary) but also not cheesy. Anna's very creepy but I also really felt for her (you'll understand, if you read the book).

Overall: Oh, holy cow. I love this book. Love-love-love! More like this one, please. This book hits all the right notes, playing on our fear of things that go bump in the night. ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD is now shelved under "2011 Faves" and I'll definitely be buying an extra copy or two to share with my students.

Available on Amazon | IndieBound

Sunday, August 28, 2011

ELEMENTAL REALITY by Ceysa MaRae Cuono

Paranormal
251 pages
Available now (Aug. 2011)
Review copy provided by publisher

When Callie Pierce was ten, her mother disappeared without a trace. On the eve of her disappearance twelve years later, the earth seemingly comes alive. The elements speak to Callie, and that's only the beginning. Everything she has ever known was a twisted fabrication to protect her. Now the truth is set free. Callie and her sister are more powerful than any Faerie ever born. Now they have to use their powers to save their mother and family from the evil hands of fate that threaten to tear them apart. Welcome to her elemental reality.

Positive: A slightly older protagonist. I guess the term that I've heard bandied about is "new adult". While I'm not a huge fan of the term, it does suit the purpose of distinguishing between those on cusp of adulthood (YA) and those who've just entered it (people in their very early 20's).

Positive: The banter. There's a lot of banter back and forth, which keeps much of the tone of the book light, even through dark times. Sometimes, there's a bit too much and, really, I just wanted the action to move forward but I did appreciate the humor.

Wish: Save me from insta-love. Instant lust? Sure. An instant connection? Right there with you. But an instant, deep, abiding, soul connection? Um, no. Rather than taking the time to have the characters get to know one another, insta-love is an easy way out, in my mind.

Wish: And spare me from ever reading another book where a boy calls his girl "kitten". Incessantly. Or girls (the two sisters) who hunt for "man meat" and try to get each other laid (yes, it says that). Really? Uhg.

Overall: A quick read, ELEMENTAL REALITY presents a creative take on faeries and provides readers with an action-packed story.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Guest Post: If I Had Supernatural Powers by Cesyna MaRae Cuono


The Book Swarm is pleased to welcome Cesya MaRae Cuono! She's the author of the amazing book, ELEMENTAL REALITY (which has one of the most awesome covers, I might add).

Cesya MaRae Cuono hails from a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of Alvernia University where she majored in Business Administration and also received her certificate of Multi-Media & Production makeup from Cosmix School of Makeup Artistry. You can find any updates from Cesya on her website at www.cesyacuonobooks.blogspot.com.



If I Had Supernatural Powers

Is it weird I used to think about this a lot when I was younger? Okay, not that much younger but it was around the time when X-men: The Last Stand came out. I was seriously in love with John Allerdyce/Pyro. I watched that movie all the time and thought about what kind of power I’d love to have. What power would have been awesome when joined with Pyro? And I didn’t stop there. I watched the cartoon every night even if it was a repeat. I was obsessed with them. 

So what was my power? Electricity of course! Since I had my power down I needed and awesome name to go along with it. First I wanted to be Elektra but I’m pretty sure that name was already used at the time. Then I came up with Shocker. Yeah lame but hey, I was only 19. My creative side was very lackluster. Here’s an embarrassing story I’ll share with everyone and then probably regret later. I had this little scenario imagined up in my head if I did have these so-called powers.

Imagine: it’s late at night. A young girl (me) is walking down the street. Alone. Defenseless—or so I think. I hear a noise behind me, tense, but keep moving. I’m on high alert now and straining my ears to pick up on any unnecessary sounds behind me. A shoe scuffed against the sidewalk. My heart slammed against my ribcage. Whoever was behind me was getting closer. They were right behind me now. 

I whipped my body around, jutted my hand out, and released the electricity onto my assailant. It wrapped around him like chains. Binding him to his spot. It should have freaked me out right? Wrong! I loved my power. I felt strong. The assailant writhed in pain a little longer before I cut off the flow of electricity and he fell to the ground in a lump. 

Pyro emerged from the shadows clapping (yes he was in Magneto’s clan in my imagination). He asked me to join him. He told me there was a place for me to learn how to improve upon my abilities. I fell in love. I was a sucker for a badass. Still am. I improved upon my abilities. Awesome times. Pyro and I became a couple and were in love. And everyone lived happily ever after. THE END. 

Wow, I’m so lame in a cool kind of way. I’m going into hiding now until people forget about this little story lol.


Paranormal
260 pages
Available now

When Callie Pierce was ten, her mother disappeared without a trace. On the eve of her disappearance twelve years later, the earth seemingly comes alive. The elements speak to Callie, and that's only the beginning. Everything she has ever known was a twisted fabrication to protect her. Now the truth is set free. Callie and her sister are more powerful than any Faerie ever born. Now they have to use their powers to save their mother and family from the evil hands of fate that threaten to tear them apart. Welcome to her elemental reality.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

ALL THESE THINGS I'VE DONE by Gabrielle Zevin

YA Dystopia (Though I don't think it's truly a dystopian because this wasn't ever a "perfect" or perfectly conceived society, merely the degrading of our present society, giving way to scarce resources and the rise of crime and crime families.)
368 pages
Available Sept. 6, 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

In 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty. And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the city's most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant D.A.'s son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is until her ex is accidentally poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she's to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight--at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family. 

Positive: The family: Anya, her siblings, and her Nana. They're a tight-knit family unit that holds together and supports each other despite murders, terrible accidents, lingering sickness, and mafia connections that do more harm than good. There's an awful lot going on with this family and forces moving against them but still they hold strong.
Positive: The Family. I love the mafia element in this book and wish there was more of the Family! Not that they were good people but the mafia and Anya's Family connections really lend to the overall atmosphere of the story's setting and are crucial to the conflicts.

Positive: Anya. She's such an incredibly strong character who, despite that strength, has some weaknesses. She does her best to hold her nuclear family together though she's forced to make some difficult choices to do so. Because she's been pretty much the whole family's caregiver and leader since she was nine, she's so much more mature than her physical age.

Wish: Stop speaking directly to the reader. While it works for Charles Dickens, dear Reader, it merely serves to pull me completely out of the story. (That and the asides. I know I do that here but it gets annoying in the novel. Show, don't tell, please.) I'm sure some like it but it just distracted me.

Wish: More explanations about Anya's world. Why was chocolate banned in the US but legal in other countries? Why did they have to go to a local speakeasy to drink coffee or anything with caffeine but anyone/any age could drink alcohol? Why was paper in short supply? What happened to everyone using cell phones and computers? Why were the flowers such a big deal? What happened to the Statue of Liberty? What happened that the US fell into such disrepair? While I like the world I was plunged into, I still want to know the answers to all those questions.

Overall: Despite my two wishes, I ended up really enjoying this book and Anya. GoodReads lists this as Birthright #1, so I'm assuming we'll be reading more of Anya, her Family, and her star-crossed love, Will, in the future.

Available from Amazon | IndieBound

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Waiting on...WINGS OF THE WICKED by Courtney Allison Moulton

YA Urban Fantasy
516 pages (woot!
Expected publication: February 2012 by HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books.

ANGELFIRE was so awesome -- a true YA urban fantasy, not a softer paranormal/paranormal romance playing dress-up and wearing mom's too-big shoes (Okay, was that a terrible metaphor or what? Sorry. Long day.). Anyway, I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens next for Ellie and what's in store for both her and Will.

Life as the Preliator is harder than Ellie ever imagined.
Balancing real life with the responsibility of being Heaven’s warrior is a challenge for Ellie. Her relationship with Will has become all business, though they both long for each other. And now that the secret of who she really is has come out, so have Hell’s strongest reapers. Grown bold and more vicious, the demonic threaten her in the light of day and stalk her in the night.

She’s been warned.
Cadan, a demonic reaper, comes to her with information about Bastian’s new plan to destroy Ellie’s soul and use an ancient relic to wake all the souls of the damned and unleash them upon humanity. As she fights to stay ahead of Bastian’s schemes , the revelations about those closest to her awaken a dark power within Ellie that threatens to destroy everything—including herself.

She’ll be betrayed.
Treachery comes even from those whom she loves, and Ellie is broken by the deaths of those who stood beside her in this Heavenly war. Still, she must find a way to save the world, herself, and her love for Will. If she fails, there will be hell to pay.

Ooh, hell to pay, huh? Go on with your bad self, Ellie. Kick some demon booty! 

So, what are you waiting on? (Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

SWEETLY by Jackson Pearce

YA Paranormal (Modernized Fairy Tale)
312 pages
Available now (August 2011)
Review copy purchased

Twelve years ago, Gretchen, her twin sister, and her brother went looking for a witch in the forest. They found something. Maybe it was a witch, maybe a monster, they aren’t sure—they were running too fast to tell. Either way, Gretchen’s twin sister was never seen again.

Years later, after being thrown out of their house, Gretchen and Ansel find themselves in Live Oak, South Carolina, a place on the verge of becoming a ghost town. They move in with Sophia Kelly, a young and beautiful chocolatier owner who opens not only her home, but her heart to Gretchen and Ansel.

Yet the witch isn’t gone—it’s here, lurking in the forests of Live Oak, preying on Live Oak girls every year after Sophia Kelly’s infamous chocolate festival. But Gretchen is determined to stop running from witches in the forest, and start fighting back. Alongside Samuel Reynolds, a boy as quick with a gun as he is a sarcastic remark, Gretchen digs deeper into the mystery of not only what the witch is, but how it chooses its victims. Yet the further she investigates, the more she finds herself wondering who the real monster is, and if love can be as deadly as it is beautiful.

Positive: Slowly, deeply haunting. There are so many secrets. Layers upon layers of secrets. Everyone's rotten with them, despite the pretty, sugary coating. Gretchen and Ansel are tied together with the loss of their sister and the secret behind it (Was it really a witch who took their sister? Or something far worse?). Sophia's quite a puzzle and, for quite a long time, I wasn't sure if she was good or bad or what. Hoping for the best as I read, I enjoyed delving into her character as much as Gretchen's. Even the slowly-dying town of Live Oak has its own haunting secrets, just waiting to be uncovered.
Positive: Sugar rush. Oh my gosh--I had such a craving for sweeties while I was reading this book! I wanted Sophia's truffles, chocolate gingerbread men, candied oranges...yum.

Positive: The connection to SISTERS RED. It wasn't obvious at first but, as we progressed and delved deeper and deeper into the forest, the connection wiggles its way into the forefront and even sets up Pearce's next book, FATHOMLESS.

Wish: A bit more action. There was an amazing ending (which, of course, I'm not going to tell you about!) but I think I was spoiled with the action and hunting in SISTERS RED.

Overall: A creative twist on a classic fairy tale, SWEETLY leads its readers into a deep, dark forest filled with monsters and deception-filled treats and no promises of an easy path home.

Available from Amazon | IndieBound

Monday, August 22, 2011

A World Without Books...

Last Monday, school started. The halls filled up with smiling faces (okay, there were some very pouty ones, too), kids happy to be back among their friends and back to the routine of school. I started the week with basic introductions, a tour of my classroom, and rules. Always with the rules. 


I'm in a 1:1 classroom (I have 30 laptops in my classroom, one for each kid to use while in class), which means I get to do a lot of fun things with my students. We're going to do NaNoWriMo again this year (this'll be my third with my students), chatting with other classrooms around the world about writing and stories and character development. NaNo has a fantastic Young Writer's Program that we love and it really helps inspire the kids. 


This week, I also had the students sign up for GoodReads. I'm particularly excited about this because it's a great way for kids to connect with books and authors and to share recommendations. I also get to know my kids' reading tastes and it helps me aim for my goal of finding at least one awesome book for each and every student (gah--some of those kids take great pleasure in NOT liking what I recommend, even though I KNOW they like it. Ah, middle school. Age of reason. Obstinate to no end.).


But, on top of a pretty darned good first week, we had some terrible news. There's no money in the budget for the library. For any library in the district, as a matter of fact. No new books this year. None. Zip. Zero.


I mean, I'm all for technology -- I love it and I love how it enhances my teaching, catching and holding my students' interest and allowing them to explore new worlds. But how can we justify spending millions on new computers and not one red cent on new books for our libraries? Computers are all flash and bang if our students can't read.


It's not like we're a rich district, even less so in this economic climate. And South Carolina is a poor state, comparatively. I know we have to make choices but without supporting the fundamentals and nurturing a love of reading in as many students as possible, what are we saying about the importance of reading? I just don't understand. I can't imagine a world without books, be they ebooks or physical copies (Yes, I know I'm being a bit dramatic here but NO money in the budget for the library? Really?).


So, to all of you with a healthy library or with an overabundance of ARCs, please consider donating any extras you might have to school or classroom libraries. Public libraries can't shelve ARCs but teachers can. There are a couple of ways you can do this. You can email or call your local middle or high school, find an English teacher and ask if you can donate some books to them. Most likely, they'll be ecstatic (I know I would!). Or, you can go to ARCs FLOAT ON, which is a grassroots effort by Reach A Reader Advisory Board member Sarah Mulhern Gross (The Reading Zone) to get ARCs into classroom libraries by matching willing donors with needy teachers.


Pass your love of reading on, my honey bees! Be all a-buzz about reading and awesome books!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Waiting on...SEIZURE by Kathy Reichs

I'm looking forward to this second YA book from Kathy Reichs. The first book in this series, VIRALS, was an interesting take on the whole paranormal genre, using science to mutate the kids versus inherited powers. Though it took me a bit to really get into VIRALS, I enjoyed it and want to know what's going to happen to Tory Brennan (yep, related to Temperance Brennan from the book and TV series) and her "pack". Plus, it takes place just outside of Charleston, South Carolina, one of my very favorite cities.

SEIZURE comes out August 23, 2011 (yay--coming out soon!) from Razorbill. EDIT: Did I get the release date wrong? Amazon says the release date for this is October 2011. Boo! I'd like it this month, thank you.

Ever since Tory Brennan and her friends rescued Cooper, a kidnapped wolf pup with a rare strain of canine parvovirus, they've turned from regular kids into a crime-solving pack. But now the very place that brought them together - the Loggerhead Island Research Institute - is out of funding and will have to shut down. That is, unless the Virals can figure out a way to save it.

So when Tory learns of an old Charleston legend about a famous she-pirate, Anne Bonney, whose fortune was never found, she can't believe her luck - buried treasure is exactly what she needs to save the Institute on Loggerhead! Trouble is, she and her friends aren't the only ones looking for it. And this time, the Virals' special powers may not be enough to dig them out of trouble . . .

So, what are you waiting on?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

BLOODSPELL Winner!

And the winner of 
BLOODSPELL by Amalie Howard is... 
Congratulations!  
(I've emailed you.)

In other news, I'm taking a little break this week in both blogging and commenting. My students are coming back tomorrow, and I'm swamped with lesson plans and a zillion other things on my to-do list (We have a new principal, new head of guidance, new assistant principal, and a pile of new-to-our-school and new-to-the-profession teachers this year. Oh, plus a new schedule and a new superintendent with a new "vision" for our district. Yeah, I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for the best!). 

But never fear -- I'll be back next week with reviews of some great books. Happy reading!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Author Interview with Amalie Howard


Amalie Howard, author of BLOODSPELL, -- which I've reviewed and am giving away HERE (for an extra entry, leave a comment on this post for Amalie!)--  joins us today on The Book Swarm.

AMALIE HOWARD grew up on a small Caribbean island where she spent most of her childhood with her nose buried in a book or being a tomboy running around barefoot, shimmying up mango trees and dreaming of adventure.

An aspiring writer from a young age, Amalie Howard's poem “The Candle,” written at age thirteen, was published in a University of Warwick journal. She was also a recipient of a Royal Commonwealth Society essay award (a global youth writing competition). A Colby College graduate, she completed simultaneous Honors Theses in both French and International Studies, and graduated Summa Cum Laude/Phi Beta Kappa. At Colby, she was cited for research and criticism in Raffael Scheck’s article, “German Conservatism and Female Political Activism in the Early Weimar Republic,” and his subsequent book, “Mothers of the nation: right-wing women in Weimar Germany.” She also received a distinction in English Literature from the University of Cambridge, A-level Examinations as well as a certificate in French Literature from the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France. She is a member of SCBWI. (Author bio and picture from GoodReads.com)

Hi, Amalie, and welcome to The Book Swarm! Thank you so much for stopping by and answering a few questions. First, we'll start with a couple about your debut novel, BLOODSPELL. Besides the supernatural, BLOODSPELL incorporates travel, love, and even a dash of the 1800's. What inspired you to put all those elements into your novel?


Notwithstanding the paranormal elements, I wanted to write a story that would transport readers to different cities, and introduce them to a completely unique world. Being able to leverage my unique background and my travel experience really allowed me to bring that little something extra to the table. The locations in Bloodspell—Maine to New York to the UK to France—all seemed to come together really well, adding to the overall breadth and depth of the story. I wouldn’t have been able to write about any of these cities with such confidence if I hadn’t lived in those places myself.

On top of that, I’ve always loved historical fiction, and I really wanted to incorporate some of that via the journal in Bloodspell. I felt that it gave some authenticity to the history of Victoria’s curse. The snippets in the journal as well as some of Christian’s flashbacks offer some added complexity to the world building in Bloodspell. In terms of actual factual data, many of the facts in this novel are indeed true—for example, there actually was an attempted assassination attempt against King Louis-Philippe in the summer of 1835 in France. I used the people who planned the attempt as the fictitious characters who left Christian and Lucian for dead before they were found by the vampires. But that assassination attempt on the king did happen in 1835. 

Another example is the Tour Areva that I refer to the Vampire Council headquarters in La Défense, which is actually a very real building in Paris, and I’ve actually been to the bar, L’Echiquier, where Christian meets Enhard. A lot of my knowledge of Paris in the novel, including the scenes with Christian walking the Champs-Elysées and the Jardin des Tuileries, is based on my own actual experience living in Paris.

On the love front, what can I say … who doesn’t appreciate a heart-pounding romance? I unequivocally believe in true love. To me, love is the thread that binds everything together in life. It is this intangible force that can bring us together and drive us apart. Love can push us to be the worst that we can be and the best that we can be. And even in our darkest moments, we’re always going to be worthy of love and forgiveness. That’s the human condition, what we strive for … to love and be loved. I really enjoyed being able to explore that in Bloodspell.

I'm always up for a heart-pounding romance! *fans self* Oh, and travel--most definitely travel. So, about your two main characters. What character traits do you share with your main character, Tori (or Christian, for that matter)?

Victoria is most like me in that she pretends to have this armor-like bravado but she’s really just fragile inside. She wants to fit in and be happy, and even though she has this huge curse to contend with and a vampire boyfriend who has his own problems, I like that she’s a fighter. She really comes into herself and gains insane confidence by the end of this book. I personally like strong female characters, or characters who show growth over the course of a story. Heroines in books especially for teens become role models, whether we want them to be or not, and I think writers have some responsibility to be conscious of that. I'm a pretty avid reader of books, young adult books especially, and I wanted her character to be strong but relatable, because her growth in the novel has to be believable. As a reader, you have to connect with her and be willing to be a part of her journey. It has to be something that any reader/teen can accomplish themselves, even if they're not the most powerful witch in the world. 

Even though there are undoubtedly parts of me in her, I refer to Victoria as every-girl and no-girl at the same time—we can all find some part of ourselves in her, some little thing to identify with. She's likeable, she's funny, she's smart, she has a lot of empathy, but she also makes mistakes and does stupid things sometimes. She's a normal person who evolves into someone extraordinary, and that’s what makes her strong … it’s the same strength that’s in every girl, the same strength that will inspire all of us women, young and old, to be unique, fierce, and fearless.


With Christian, I’d probably say that we share a love of French and France, and a deep passion for traveling. I’m also as smart as he is. Just kidding!

Oh, I completely agree -- I love books with smart, strong, and fearless characters like Tori. Since being published, what's the coolest thing that's happened to you?

I was recently on the front page of a local Westchester newspaper so being recognized in the grocery store or at the Post Office (“hey, you’re that author!”) is totally surreal, and my ears still go flaming hot whenever that happens. The other cool thing was the Seventeen Magazine nod. I mean I’ve read that magazine my whole life so it was a real honor for me to even be recognized in there. (Read about it HERE -- SO COOL!! I was a Seventeen girl myself.)

Any advice for teen writers? My students participate in NaNoWriMo’s Young Writer’s Program every November, and they’re a bit intimidated by the prospect. Any advice for them and other young writers would be fabulous!

I love NaNoWriMo! It’s goal-focused and yet so community-oriented that it’s like a fun group-writing project. I’ve actually done it twice myself, although I barely made it to half of the 50k word limit the second time. But both were terrific experiences. The beauty of NaNoWriMo is that it sets an achievable goal that you can break up into manageable writing segments—doing a little bit each day—so it’s a great process for any easily distracted or newbie writer.  

Overall, for any aspiring young writer, I would definitely encourage reading as many books as you can get your hands on—the more you read, the more you’ll understand all the elements required to pen a great book. Develop and experiment with your own unique writing voice, and find what moves you. Which writing genres and themes are you passionate about? What drives you? Do you like stories, poetry or journalistic writing? Find your niche—people are usually better at writing about what they love or what inspires them because it comes from somewhere real. 

I would also advise young writers to get writing experience early, even if it’s something as simple with working on your school newspaper or starting a blog or getting a local internship. A good rule of thumb is that any experience is valuable experience, and if I’ve learned anything at all, it’s that this industry values credentials. Get yourself out there and write regularly—hone your craft. 

Lastly, the most heartfelt advice I can pass on to other writers is to never give up. Carve your own path. And don't let rejection hammer you—it's all part of the process. Take in the constructive and make your work the best it can be. And keep going no matter what. Believe in yourself and you can't fail. Sounds a little preachy, but it's true.

Not at all preachy and, from my own experiences, completely true. Thanks for the great advice! So, where do you do the majority of your writing?

So here’s a photo of my lovely office desk. I have everything I could possibly need at my disposal: laptop, printer, pens, paper, chair with lumbar support, resource library, music and lots of quiet.

As perfect as that all sounds and as much as I’d like to say that this is where the book-making magic happens, the truth is a lot of my work gets done on the couch in the living room with my kids running around and my laptop burning a hole on my knees. With three very active children six and under, finding time to write or unwind takes foresight, and sometimes, fortitude. I do write occasionally in my office but it’s not the norm. I’m far more comfortable writing on the couch with my iPod on. 

I’ve always been a multi-tasker so being able to manage multiple things is a particular skill of mine, which means that I’m totally capable of writing in a house full of screaming children! When I’m on a roll, I just go. I don’t stop, and I’ll admit that my kids don’t get bathed on time (thank you to my wonderful husband for picking up the slack!) If I really need to focus without any distractions, for example when it comes to edits or rewrites, then office desk it is.

Wow, that's some serious focus and dedication you've got there! Every creative person needs to recharge somehow. What's your favorite fuel for writing?

Mmmm. Snacks. I love them, but they’re such a black hole for me because I could easily inhale a six-pack of cupcakes in one sitting and call it “inspiration.” So suffice it to say that my favorite fuel is the non-caloric kind … music. The right piece of music can make a scene flow magically, whether it’s a romantic scene or an action sequence. 

Sometimes, I’ll have a certain song on repeat depending on the scene I’m writing. I played Bleeding Love by Leona Lewis over two hundred times while writing Bloodspell! It really embodies the relationship in the beginning between Tori and Christian. On the flip side, when I was writing the scene with the relationship between the two brothers, I needed something hardcore and raw so I went with The Hand That Feeds by Nine Inch Nails. There’s so much tense emotion between them as siblings, or even worse, as twins, that it’s a very volatile dynamic. Take that relationship to the vampire level and you have something incredibly unpredictable. This piece of music and the words in the song are so perfect because there’s such an explosive combination of hate and love between them. Another great example is Always by Saliva, which is Gabriel’s song for Victoria. The emotion in this track is heavy, and is full of a gritty combination of sadness and rage that just personifies Gabriel. Check out my full playlist in the back of the book, which is lined up with corresponding chapters/scenes/characters, for more. (You can go to Amalie's website HERE to check out the playlist -- and a lot more!) Don't you just love when an author provides a playlist? It gives such insight into an author's processes, which I love. Plus, I think it adds depth to the story. 

Thank you so much for such a fantastic interview, Amalie! I really appreciate it and wish you the best of luck in your writing career. 

The second book in the Bloodspell series (as yet untitled) is expected to publish in 2012.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pre-Order This: WANDERLOVE by Kirsten Hubbard

Okay, so this book doesn't come out until March 2012 but I got my hands on an eARC from NetGalley and couldn't resist. I read it in one sitting, getting up only for another Diet Coke. Sooooo good -- and I'm not talking about the Diet Coke. Yes, I'm being a book tease.

It all begins with a stupid question: Are you a Global Vagabond? 

No, but 18-year-old Bria Sandoval wants to be. In a quest for independence, her neglected art, and no-strings-attached hookups, she signs up for a guided tour of Central America—the wrong one. Middle-aged tourists with fanny packs are hardly the key to self-rediscovery. When Bria meets Rowan, devoted backpacker and dive instructor, and his outspokenly humanitarian sister Starling, she seizes the chance to ditch her group and join them off the beaten path.

Bria's a good girl trying to go bad. Rowan's a bad boy trying to stay good. As they travel across a panorama of Mayan villages, remote Belizean islands, and hostels plagued with jungle beasties, they discover what they've got in common: both seek to leave behind the old versions of themselves. And the secret to escaping the past, Rowan’s found, is to keep moving forward.  But Bria comes to realize she can't run forever, no matter what Rowan says. If she ever wants the courage to fall for someone worthwhile, she has to start looking back.

I love travel stories. If I'd had the guts as a teen or twenty-something, I totally could have been one of those semi-dirty but completely happy backpackers, trekking through Thailand or Costa Rica for a month or more at a time. WANDERLOVE both satisfied and sparked my own travel lust. An intrepid traveler, Kirsten White incorporates both her knowledge and her own deep love of travel into this fabulous story. 

Though I was lucky enough to read an e-ARC early, I'm dying to read a physical copy because there are these cool illustrations that Kirsten did herself and my Kindle didn't do them justice. This is one I highly suggest to all you who love a beautifully written story, a sweet love story (no insta-love!), and an adventurous travel story. Pre-order it on AMAZON, mark it To-Read on GOODREADS, or pre-order it from INDIEBOUND. You'll still have to wait until March but I guarantee it's worth the wait!

I want more travel stories like this!!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

BLOODSPELL by Amalie Howard (plus a Giveaway!)

Win a copy of your own! 
Just fill out the form at the bottom of the review! Good Luck!
(Open to US residents only; Giveaway ends August 13th)

YA Paranormal Romance
394 pages
Available now (June 2011)
Review copy provided by publisher/PR for honest review

The spell was simple... Cruentus Protectum (Defend the Blood). But what do you do if your blood is your enemy?

Victoria Warrick has always known she was different. An outcast at school, she is no stranger to adversity. But when she receives an old journal for her seventeenth birthday, nothing prepares her for the dark secrets it holds -- much less one that reveals she's a witch with unimaginable power.

What's more, when she meets the dazzling but enigmatic Christian Devereux, she has no idea how much her life is about to change. Enemies will hunt her. Friends will turn on her. The terrible curse that makes her blood run black will stop at nothing to control her. And Christian has a sinister secret of his own... Without knowing whom to trust, can Victoria survive her blood's deadly desires? Or will she lose everything, including herself?

Positive: The writing. I was drawn into Tori's struggle to deny then accept her heritage and her powers, Christian's own battles, the interesting secondary characters, and the descriptive settings. It's strong, detailed, beautiful writing, which is always welcome.
Positive: No insta-love. There's instant attraction between Tori and Christian, sure. Senses stimulated, the quick intake of breath when one sees the other, the almost uncontrollable desire to touch...pure, hot lust but not love. Not at first. The love builds throughout the story, as Christian and Tori work through their conflicts and all the other very high hurdles they have to overcome to be together.

Positive: The darkness. This is not a light, happy-go-lucky story. Both Tori and Christian struggle with the dark sides of their characters and their "gifts". They don't always win the battle, sometimes losing control to the dark with very bloody consequences.

Wish: That Christian wasn't a vampire. I'll admit, my lip curled a bit when he revealed this aspect of himself. When he first entered the picture, I wondered why he sounded like he was a lord from a historical romance instead of a teenager -- well, because he's a hundred-plus-year-old vamp, that's why. Sadly, I'm over vamps, except in series I'm already invested in. Still, I will admit that the whole vampires versus witches battle worked well here.

Overall: While not totally up my alley (I had to work through my vampire prejudices), BLOODSPELL certainly deserves its pick as a "Seventeen Magazine Summer Beach Read". When I book talk this one to my classes, I know I'll have a pile of girls clamoring to read it.

Available on Amazon | IndieBound

Interested? Enter to win a copy of your own! 
(Open to US residents only; Giveaway ends August 13th)

Friday, August 5, 2011

WORKING STIFF by Rachel Caine

Urban Fantasy
306 pages
Available now (August 2011)
Review copy purchased

Bryn Davis knows working at Fairview Mortuary isn't the most glamorous career choice, but at least it offers stable employment -- until she discovers her bosses using a drug that resurrects the clientele...as part of an extortion racket. Now Bryn faces being being terminated (literally) with extreme prejudice.

With the assistant of corporate double agent Patrick McCallister, Bryn has a chance to take down the bigger problem -- pharmaceutical company Pharmadene program. She'd better do it fast before she becomes a zombie slave -- a real working stiff.

She'd be better off dead...

Personally, anything by Rachel Caine is an auto-buy. So, when I saw she was starting up a new series, I pre-ordered it. This woman is an urban fantasy goddess: vampires (and not the crappy kind, either), people that control the weather, and banished djinn. Next up...ZOMBIES! 

WORKING STIFF (tell me that isn't the best title for a book about someone who's been reanimated) is the first book in the new Revivalist series and stars Bryn Davis. After a four-year tour in Iraq, Bryn just wants a steady job with a solid paycheck and a comfortable place to lay her head each night, and she thinks she's found it as the funeral director at Fairview Mortuary. Unfortunately, things don't quite work out as she hoped -- not even close.

Though the first ten or so pages was a bit slow with a little too much funeral home knowledge for me, things picked up quickly when Bryn meets Fast Freddie, the mortuary's downstairs man, and she discovers the horrible secret behind Fairview's success. The plot's very twisty-turny and zig-zags too much in some places (she's alive, she's dead, she's alive; she works for Fairview, she's now working for the pharmaceutical company, wait--not really). Still, it's a ride I enjoyed, despite the bumps, and I can see it evening out as the series proceeds. I felt the same way when I started the Outcast Season series, too, and that's a series I love.

In true Rachel Caine style, the characters are awesome. She's a master at getting readers to really care about the characters. Bryn's both strong and vulnerable, Fast Freddie and his bosses are excellent slime balls, the guys Bryn works with are completely intriguing, and even Mr. French, Bryn's bulldog, has a great personality (Mini-spoiler: But, um, what happened to him in the end? I'm sure he's not dead but he just kind of disappeared in the last third of the book when bad things were happening to Bryn, and I never found out where he ended up! See, I love dogs but I always dread seeing them in books. It never ends well for the dog. /end mini-spoiler)

I love that Bryn is ex-military and that her experiences and training don't just fade into the background. They're a very real part of her life including some PTSD and both good and bad memories of her experiences in Iraq. It's not something I've seen in many novels, and I liked the way Bryn's military life is seamlessly integrated into both her personality and ties in with the novel's events.

A great and rather unusual addition to the adult urban fantasy genre, WORKING STIFF (holy cow, that title just cracks me up) sends readers on a fast-paced and butt-kicking adventure.

Available on Amazon

Thursday, August 4, 2011

DARK PARTIES by Sara Grant

YA Dystopia
320 pages
Available now (Aug. 2011)
Review copy provided by publisher

Sixteen-year-old Neva has been trapped since birth. She was born and raised under the Protectosphere, in an isolated nation ruled by fear, lies, and xenophobia. A shield "protects" them from the outside world, but also locks the citizens inside. But there's nothing left on the outside, ever since the world collapsed from violent warfare. Or so the government says...
Neva and her best friend Sanna believe the government is lying and stage a "dark party" to recruit members for their underground rebellion. But as Neva begins to uncover the truth, she realizes she must question everything she's ever known, including the people she loves the most.

Positive: The worldbuilding. Neva and her people live in the Homeland, a gigantic dome built over a large tract of land (I pictured Rhode Island-sized dome, considering how much driving they do, but it could be smaller or bigger.). Built to keep out undesirables, disease and to protect the people from war, the dome now serves more as a prison, since no one gets out. Because these people have lived within the dome so long, there's interbreeding to the point that everyone pretty much looks the same (the teens give themselves "marks" to stand out a bit -- Neva's mark is a snowflake) and everything gets recycled until it can't be used anymore.

Positive: The rebellion. I liked how the rebellion wasn't overt. At the "Dark Party" (a party that's literally in the dark), after the kissing part, the teens talk about rebellion and what they can do to change things in the Homeland (their domed country). There's a silent protest in the town square, they pass out flyers--all pretty simple and rather typical types of "rebellion". It escalates eventually but it starts out simple.

Positive: The government. Ooh, the Big Bad! They keep the people down, oppress them, don't allow them to be individuals, and all the things a dictatorship does so well. Except the government is really trying to do its best for the citizens of Homeland. Of course, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Wish: That I'd connected with the secondary characters a bit more. Sanna, Neva's BFF, was too much of a cardboard cutout and her catch phrase, "a-maz-ing", was used too often and more annoying than cute (I think it was supposed to be teen speak-y but it was a device that didn't work). Braydon, the boy in the story, just didn't make much sense to me. His motivations seemed contrived, and his actions had me wanting Neva to ditch him as soon as possible.

Wish: Yeah, there's another wish with this one. I wish it weren't set up for a sequel. At 320 pages, it's a good-sized YA but I think it would have made an excellent stand-alone, maybe as a two-parter. This way, there could have been more depth to the story and all the loose ends tied up.

Overall: A good story with an interesting premise, DARK PARTIES is a nice addition to my dystopian shelf.