Sunday, December 30, 2012

Jillian Dodd Has Got It Goin' On!

I first heard of and came to know Jillian Dodd in an on-line book club. She seemed so genuine, fresh, energetic and down to earth that I very quickly became enamored of her, as do most people who've had the pleasure of meeting her. (Although now that you've seen that picture of me with Jillian you can tell both that I'm totally smitten with her, and why!) And then I started reading her books!

The first one I read, That Boy, was so charming and cleverly written (love how the narrator's voice and perspective change as she grows up!), that I was immediately hooked, and from then on couldn't get enough.

But her awesome books (and gorgeous looks!) aren't the only reason I became and remain infatuated with Jillian, or the only thing about her that I want to talk about. Because another cool thing (cool almost to the point of intimidating!) is her energy, and her generosity of spirit (okay, that's two things, sue me!). For example, earlier this month (December 21st, right in the middle of Christmas preparation, which is no small undertaking in the Dodd household) Jillian launched a major marketing initiative - 99 authors, 99 EBooks for 99 cents - an idea she hatched while chatting to other writers about the best way to bring their books to the attention of the reading public.

Remember that General Waverly guy, from White Christmas?

Just like him, Jill assembled the troops, issued clear step-by-step instructions on what they needed to do, and how and when to do it. And just like in the movie, she was indefatigable in her support and her relentlessness: "We ate, and then she ate. We slept, then she slept. And when she woke up nobody slept for forty-eight hours!" (Okay, paraphrasing for rhetorical effect, but wow, she rocked - hard!) And the beautiful thing (from both an author and a reader point of view?) It worked! At the end of the 21st December, ten of the authors were in the top 100 in the Kindle store. (By this time Amazon had leapt aboard to assist in the 24hr price drop, and helped out with the Kindle Daily Deal). The majority of the authors saw their rankings soar. Many sold hundreds of books. Many were in the top five of their specific category genres! Readers were ecstatic, authors were excited and Jillian stayed up with virtually no sleep for forty-eight hours (Remember that General Waverly guy? That part I wasn't kidding about!) to make sure the whole thing went smoothly and to keep a cute and steady eye on the numbers.

So this post is partly in recognition and celebration of that event, and Jillian's amazing contribution to it.

But it's also about letting you in on Jillian's new series, The Keatyn Chronicles, an awesome reading experience I just don't want you to miss out on! What's up with that, you say?

Well, remember that first season of Gossip Girl, back when it was fun? Or Beverly Hills 90210, again in those glorious early days?

Well, if you got a kick out of those, you’re going to love the steamy Keatyn Chronicles. Readers have gone wild for Keatyn and her complicated life, never mind her even more complex love life.

Jillian’s ability to write such a fabulously drawn character has readers coming back for more again and again. Keatyn is rich, smexy and an awesome dresser and shoe-holic, who may look as if she has it all. But she's got her share of issues, too, one of which is a big ole scary stalker who haunts our girl thoughout Book One of the series, Stalk Me! It’s the sign of a great author when he/she deals honestly with a protagonist’s flaws, but still leaves us loving her. And while Keatyn has probs aplenty, she also has smarts, sex appeal (did I mention that?) and the ability to make a reader laugh out loud at times, and bring a lump to your throat, as well.

The secondary characters too, are beautifully and vividly brought to life, especially the guys. I'm lucky enough to be in a group where girls find these guys so droolworthy, that they're posting and rabidly commenting on pics of who they'd cast as these competitors for Keatyn's heart (and panties!) But don't take my word alone, Stalk Me has garnered over 138 five star reviews. That is a crapload of amazeballs right there, my friends!

Curious now? Here’s the blurb for Stalk Me:

Gossip Girl meets Hollywood in this steamy new series by That Boy author, Jillian Dodd.

Keatyn has everything she ever dreamed. Her life is following the script she wrote for the perfect high school experience. She's popular, goes to the best parties, dates the hottest guy, and sits at the most-coveted lunch table.

She's just not sure she wants it anymore.

Because, really, things aren't all that perfect.
Her best friend is threatening to tell everyone her perfect relationship is a scam.
Her perfect boyfriend gets drunk at every party they go to.
It's exhausting always trying to look and act perfect.
And, deep down, she isn't sure if she has any true friends.

To add to the drama, her movie star mom has a creepy stalker.
A hot, older man flirts with her and tells her they should make a movie together.
And she's crushing on an adorable surfer. Dating him would mean committing social suicide.

So she writes a new script. One where all the pieces of her life will come together in perfect harmony.
But little does she know, there's someone who will do anything to make sure that doesn't happen.

Book two of The Keatyn Chronicles is titled Kiss Me. Since it’s release on the 26th of November, it has 157 five star reviews. And look at that cover model! If I ever get the chance, it will be super hard not to take her up on the invitation of this title, right? Who could blame me!

Here’s its blurb:

I’ve always written scripts for my perfect life.
But no way could I have ever scripted this.
My life is so far from perfect, it’s not even funny.
All because of a stalker.

I’m at a boarding school, where I have to lie about who I am.
I can’t see my family.
I’m tutoring a hottie god that tortures me with his smile.
The most popular girl already hates me.
But there’s this boy.
This hot, sweet, sexy boy.
So I’m going to stop trying to script my life and just live it.
Because who knows how long I have left.

Thanks to awesome author CC MacKenzie, for helping me with this post (although any errors are certainly mine!) And a further mega-tip of the old chapeau to extraordinary author and friend Charles Sheehan-Miles, who came with the idea for this burst of blog-thusiasm for Jillian!

Check out Jillian's wonderful books at these links!

Kiss Me

Stalk Me

Jillian Dodd's Author Website

Jillian Dodd facebook page

Jillian Dodd Goodreads page

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Of Romance and Laughter -- Author Molly Ringle Interview and Giveaway!

Molly Ringle is an author I love, and I’m delighted to welcome her to the interview chair here at the Still Seeking Allies clubhouse. Her books are both thoughtful and irrepressibly funny, literate and sweetly silly, sexy and emotional, and all around full of awesome. Molly’s been writing fiction for over twenty years (yes, she started young!), and in addition to her charming novels, she’s written several hilarious parodies (available at her website) including send ups of many YA and Romance favorites. Similarly reflecting her intense devotion to wry and witty humor, she won the grand prize(!) in the 2010 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest with one (intentionally) terrible sentence, which you can read at the BLFC homepage. Her current project is a contemp take on the Persephone/Hades situation, which seems fraught with dramatic and smexy potential. Molly lives in Seattle with her husband and two charming kids, where she is a devotee of fragrances and chocolate.

You have written some very clever and terribly funny parodies – of Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings and more recently The Hunger Games and Les Mis. Your web site gives them equal billing, by identifying you as “a writer of novels and parodies.” How do you feel the two relate to each other? Does that sense of humor which reigns rampant in the parodies infuse your novels, too?

The parodies (and perhaps also the Bulwer-Lytton sentence) were where I made my biggest splash on the Internet. Some of them went viral and have still gotten way more attention than my original fiction has. (Of course, the parodies are free, which does lend to a larger readership! We all love free funny stuff.) So I figure maybe half the people who land on my website are looking for the parodies rather than my other writing, and I try to make it easy for them to find what they're after. But the success of the parodies did give me a major hint that maybe humor is something I'm good at, and it would therefore be stupid *not* to use it in my novels. I generally do include a lot of humor, which can be ridiculous or wry or subtle, depending on the scene.

Do you have to hold back sometimes in a serious part and say, whoa, this isn’t the time to be punny or playful?

Certainly, making an irreverent remark or laughing at the "wrong" time has been a problem with me both in writing and in real life--just ask my mom, who failed to prevent me from giggle attacks in church when I was a kid. And those wrong-footed moments do occur in my rough drafts too, but luckily I'm able to rein myself in and edit them out before the final galley.

Do web searches for the parodies or your awesome Bulwer-Lytton award winning entry bring new readers to your site, and hopefully to your novels? Have you had any particularly memorable responses to your water bottle/kissing analogy? Have you ever been asked about “the rest of the story?” Any offended gerbil lovers, Ricardo’s or Felicity’s who felt ill-treated?

I have no proof that the Bulwer-Lytton win actually increased my book sales, but it did make people laugh, which was the important thing. My favorite responses have been the people who say I captured their early kissing experiences perfectly with that disgusting description. (Hah! Yeah, most of us have had such unfortunate encounters...) One or two of the journalists did ask what happened to the couple, and I admit I haven't really planned it out; but I can't help feeling their affair is somewhat doomed. So far no gerbil owners, Ricardos, or Felicitys have complained personally to me, but I do feel bad for surely causing some teasing for those with such names (or pets).

Have you ever chatted with any other BLFC winners? Kind of a select and exalted company, right? You guys should get together for one of those “Dark and Stormy Night,” cocktails!

As soon as I won that contest, I started getting emails from previous winners, and in the subsequent years I've emailed the grand prize winners to congratulate them too. So far everyone is wonderfully nice, and droll, and modest, as you'd have to be to write an intentionally horrible, awkward sentence and then endure headlines like "World's Worst Writer" for a month or so afterward. (Um, no, headline writers, that isn't quite what the contest means.) And Scott Rice, the organizer of the contest, must be one of the kindest and most patient people out there. He's run the contest almost singlehandedly for over twenty years, getting terrible sentences in his inbox every day, and still comes across as good-humored and thoughtful in his messages.

Part of the premise of your sexy and sweet Adult Romance "Summer Term" is that protagonist Paige is a doctoral candidate in linguistics. Your knowledge of and background in linguistics make that element of the story feel believable and unforced. Same with your experiences in Edinburgh in "What Scotland Taught Me," and the city of Seattle in "The Ghost Downstairs." Have you had experiences that make your ghost-agonists (in TGD and "Of Ghosts and Geeks") more real and relatable to you? Does your world view have room for real life ghosts, or is that just a literary device?

I have no personal history with ghosts, but some of my trusted friends and relatives swear they've had ghostly experiences, so I like to think it's possible. I might just lack the sixth sense, or maybe ghosts aren't interested in showing off for me. Mostly I lean toward ghosts for my paranormal devices because I think they're the scariest of the supernatural beings, and therefore the most interesting. They also have the capacity for a deeply sad story, or a surprisingly funny one if you twist things.

Your followers on Facebook and readers of your blog know that you love the rain, which seems like a good thing for a Seattle-ite. How about elaborating on that for us Midwesterners who see that more as a bug than a feature? I know it ties in to your sensitive and sophisticated sniffer, is that right?

It's true that the air usually smells good in the rain. And around here the rain tends to smell somewhat like the ocean, which is beautiful. But I also like that the rain waters my garden so I don't have to, and that it makes the world quieter and cozier. Plus you don't have to wear sunscreen, a substance I find greasy and itchy. Incidentally, little-known fact about Seattle: it doesn't rain as much as people think (it drizzles often, but pours rarely), and hardly rains in the summer at all. While the Midwest and South and East Coast are getting their humid summer downpours, we're drying out on the West Coast. A summer drought is the norm here. Our grass usually turns brown by mid-August. So the return of the rain at the end of summer is especially a treat for me, because I've missed it!

Is music a big part of your writing life? I know you were at one time a lover of Robert Smith and The Cure, Nick Drake (right?) and other lovely, angsty Ur-emo. Still like that kind of thing? I’ve seen you liking The Lumineers lately, what else fills out your playlist these days? Do you listen to or imagine music in your head while you are writing?

I rarely have music in my head, or even playing, while actually writing. My focus is on the story then. But I definitely form attachments to certain songs that have the right mood for a particular story, and I listen to them while daydreaming about the characters. I have a playlist right now for my work-in-progress, including The Lumineers and some other hipster groups like Of Monsters and Men, and Florence and the Machine. I do still love my Goth-ish New Wave stuff (Cure, Pet Shop Boys, New Order...), and also atmospheric, beautiful, sometimes eerie music like Dead Can Dance and Loreena McKennitt.

"Summer Term" and "Of Ghosts and Geeks" were quite a bit sexier than most of your other stories. Was it awkward or fun writing “those parts?” I like that they are sweet and tender as well as toe-curling, was it hard to achieve that tone?

Thank you! Those can be difficult to write, because it's easier for readers to find fault with love scenes than with other types of scenes--we all delight in heckling such things. It's more important than ever not to use clich├ęs or over-sappy dialogue, or weird inventive metaphors that'll yank the readers out of the moment and make them snicker. On the other hand, love (or at least romantic attraction) is one of the two main pillars of my writing (the other being humor), so I'm always happy to get to those scenes and decide how best to tackle them. I think a bit of human awkwardness makes them more realistic, and therefore more endearing.

Many authors draw people to their Facebook page by offering to publish teasers, swag, cover reveals or other prizes when a threshold number is achieved. Any chance of us seeing you in that Princess Leia costume when your fb page hits 1,000 likes? (Okay, just threw this one in to make you laugh, but think about it!)

Haha! I doubt there's a lot of demand for such a photo, and in any case I'd have to acquire the costume. I don't actually own one. But 1,000 likes would be awesome, and will surely require some kind of celebration. I'll consider all suggestions!
[Ed. Note - Amazon carries them, just sayin]

Last I heard the Persephone story was really kicking into gear, and you were thinking about making it a series, or at least a two parter. Is that still an option? This is a genre that has seen a lot of activity in the last couple of years. Your fans know you will make it fresh, funny, and emotional; can you share anything with us about the project and how it’s seen through the prism of Molly-o-vision?

At this point it looks like it'll have to be at least two volumes. Turns out I have a lot of adventures to relate. Additional books are quite possible, whether in the series or more like companion books or spin-offs. Basing a YA romance on the Persephone/Hades myth has been done lots of times in the last decade alone, but that means it's a myth a lot of us love. I did a fair amount of world-building to explain how the Underworld works and what the gods can and can't do, and plenty of that is my own creation. The current novel is about a present-day girl learning she's the reincarnation of Persephone, and becoming attracted to the modern reincarnation of Hades. I go back and forth between prehistoric Greece and modern day to piece it all together. Having two storylines is probably why I'm going to require two volumes (or more).

But I use the original mythology as inspiration: Underworld pomegranates with magical properties, strange otherworldly animals (beasts are everywhere in the myths), Demeter and Persephone being plant experts, Hades driving a chariot drawn by supernaturally fast horses. However, in my modern-day section, it's now an old bus that he's harnessed to the horses. No chariots left over from the old days, you know. Also, I did include a human sacrifice, which I'm pretty sure is a first for me. (Don't worry, it's not too graphic.) In any case, I'm hoping to be ready to share that book with the world sometime next year!

(I kinda love this picture of Molly relaxing in the wild, near Puget Sound, not gonna lie!)

The Molly-verse, a go to guide!
Goodreads Author Page (Molly has posted the first chapter of all her books on their Goodreads’ pages, check them in depth!)
Facebook page
Twitter (@MollyRingle)

Gigantic Free Giveaway!!!
Now that you've heard a bit about and from Molly, here's a chance to win a copy of one her her wonderful books! With none of that silly Rafflecopter nonsense to deal with, either (more for my benefit than yours, lol)! Just leave a comment on this post (be sure to include an email where I can contact you). One commenter will be chosen at random, and the giveaway will take place a week from today, Saturday December 8th at 9:00am-ish CST, and I'll notify the lucky winner by e-mail at or around that time!

What’s the prize? Well none other than one of Molly Ringle’s great novels. Courtesy of Molly's awesome small press indie publisher Central Avenue Publishing, the winner will choose between an e-book of Molly's clever and twisty contemp NA "Relatively Honest" and or an e-book of "What Scotland Taught Me." Man, these are both so sweet! Hard to choose between them! Fortunately, you can't go wrong with either!
Here's my review of Relatively Honest on Goodreads!
And my review of What Scotland Taught Me, as well!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Miss Me Not by Tiffany King - Release Party!

RELEASE DAY PARTY TONIGHT, NOVEMBER 23, 2012! The release party for this lovely and tender read is going on right now at Facebook! Lots of fun and giveaways, check it out!

Okay, it's prob not a secret that I have a major author crush on Tiffany King. I love her style, her amazing narrative power, her gift for a clever turn of phrase, her ability to bring to life real feeling, relatable teens in believable situations.

But it's not just me who thinks so, check out these reviews of Miss Me Not from Goodreads:

"MMN was a fantastic read and is so beautifully written that I cried more than once, if not all the way through. MMN is raw and it cuts you right down to your core." Andrea Gage

"This book will break your heart, make you open your eyes and leave you breathless.Tiffany has done it again." Vanessa Proehl

"I would recommend this book to EVERYONE!!!!! If I could give it more than 5 stars I would. This is a MUST READ!!!! Definitely one for my favs shelf:)" Jennifer L.H.

"It grabs ahold of your heart and doesnt let go until the will laugh and well I dont know how to tell you WILL cry...unless you are a emotionless droid! I ramble but PLEASE trust me that is a MUST MUST MUST read!" Tressa Sager

"The book is intense and emotional. I had to put it down a few times to take a break. It made me laugh and cry. LOVE this book. Read it!!!" Jamie S.H.

As it happens, I know most of those reviewers, and I know that while they aren't stingy, they are def straight shooters, and when they rave about a book like this, it is worth running down.

So, check out Miss Me Not, and find out what all the shouting, the laughing, the crying and the not-put-it-downing is about! And also you can figure out what the whole "whore cat" thing is about!

Here's a taste of the tone, tenor and tale of Miss Me Not:

They had a pact.
Leave the world behind much as they had lived it.
No one would miss them. No harm, no foul.
Their personal demons would be left behind once and for all.
It was the only thing they could count on.

It was all she had.

Madison Hanson has spent the last four years being a "shadow." Her parents ignore her. The students at her school stopped talking to her years ago, and the majority of her teachers forget she's even there. In her desperate yearning to leave her invisible life behind, Madison makes a pact with her only friend, James Garrison, to end their lives as inconspicuously as they live them. No fuss, no muss. No one would miss her and she would miss no one. Their plan is set, and it's all she can count on. That is, until fellow student, Mitch Peterson, beats them to the punch. Everything Madison believed in is shaken to the core when she watches the aftermath of Mitch's death unfold. By taking his own life, Mitch unwittingly saves hers. What a selfish prick.

She is now left with the daunting task of living. Trying to bury her demons once and for all, and finally trusting someone with her fragile existence.

Living is hell.
Death would have been so much easier.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Don't Panic, by Lindsay Paige - Cover Reveal!

Regular visitors to my little bloggy slice 'o heaven know that I am pretty fond of the work of teenage author Lindsay Paige. Lindsay's Bold As Love series is one of my favorites, I love Lindsay's sweet and lyrical style, as well as her intense and drama filled story lines and characters. Lindsay's new book, Don't Panic, is now making its way towards us, and is scheduled to drop shortly after the new year. Here's a peek!

Samantha Branson is having severe anxiety attacks. Her heart beats unusually fast, her breath quickens and her hands sweat. Every detail screams in her head that she is the center of unwanted attention. Everyone can hear her thoughts, her heart and her breathing. The silence of the classroom is so loud that focus is impossible.

After an attack lands her in the wrong bathroom, Sam meets Eli who offers to provide help. Faced with the return of her possessive ex-boyfriend and the blossoming of a new romance, Sam must find the strength inside herself to face her anxieties head on.

And here's the cover. I can't help but think "We're gonna need a bigger boat," when I look at that wave, about to metaphorically manhandle sweet Samantha there on the beach. Stay strong girl, Eli's comin'! Check out Lindsay's Goodreads page to read more about Sam, Eli and the much anticipated Don't Panic!

I think Lindsay's Eli is a pretty cool guy, but this is such an awesome song, that I'd thought I'd share it with y'all. (Since I'm so late to the cover reveal party, I'd better try to add some value!) Laura Nyro, another amazing teenage artist, wrote and recorded her amazing song "Eli's Coming" in 1968, when she was 21. Don't panic if you've never heard of Laura, just take this opportunity to check out her soulful and intense style.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Unlikely Allies, by Tiffany King

Unlikely AlliesUnlikely Allies by Tiffany King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Unlikely Allies was a fun, fast read with a lot of great elements: it's a family drama, an adventure/survival story (think Hatchet, but with kissing), a coming of age story, and a sweet romance.

MC Kimberly (don't you dare call her Kimmie, buster!) is pretty stunned, angry, hurt and, yes, curious when her mom tells her shortly after her 18th b-day that, by the way she does have a Dad after all. Her mom's kept Kimberly's existence secret from her long ago lover Dad, and vice versa, for reasons that don't seem very good in retrospect. So now Kimberly is spending the summer at her Dad's place, which she finds out on her arrival (she and mom don't talk much after the big reveal), is a summer camp for foster kids, high in the Colorado mountains. Quite a change up for the artist chick from a beach town who doesn't especially like kids. And then there's that jerk, Mason, the arrogant quasi-son her Dad seems to have taken under his wing. Why does he seem so determined to drive Kimberly away, just when she's making friends and getting along so well with Dad and the campers? And the most irritating thing about him? She can't stop those tingly-tangly feelings of attraction that make his hostility all the more hurtful. But the ground literally falls out from under her feet when she and Mason are sent into a storm to find a missing camper, and things go downhill fast. Can she find the inner strength to survive and overcome the physical and emotional challenges their new situation presents?

Kimberly is a great character, resourceful and strong, with a good sense of who she is. But it's when she is thrown into some tough and challenging situations that her true colors are revealed and she steps up and grows up, in touching and real feeling ways. She's not a perfect kid, by any means - her relationships tend to suffer from her unfiltered mouth and super snark. But that is part of her considerable charm. Mason, the hottie you love to hate, also reveals his depths as the action develops, and there are some sa-woon-o-rama moments for sure. But the course of true love never did run smooth, and there are obstacles and hurdles in their way, some extrinsic, some the product of pride or pique. How they overcome them, with the help of some really well developed and charming side characters, makes for a touching and tender conclusion to this lovely YA read.

View all my reviews

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Sea of Tranquility, by Katja Millay

The Sea of TranquilityThe Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this beautiful and emotional contemporary romantic drama. I felt caught up in, and utterly swept away by its power, like a small boat being slowly but inexorably driven by the wind into a storm, an emotional storm that left me washed up and wrung out, but somehow richer as a person for having experienced it. It's beautifully and poetically crafted - every element, every character, all combine and contribute to the artful and emotionally intense world author Millay creates.

So what's up with that "Sea of Tranquility," referenced in the title? "It sounded like this beautiful, peaceful place," MC Nastya (it's a Russian name, "NAH-stee-ya") reflects. "Like where you'd want to go when you die. Quiet and water everywhere. A place that would swallow you up and accept you no matter what." But like so many things in this book, the Sea of Tranquility isn't what it seems. It's only an illusion, concealing the truth that "[i]t's not a sea at all. It's just a big dark shadow on the moon. The whole name is a lie." Sadly, Nastya is as bitter, sullen and sometimes snarky as her analysis of the lunar landscape might suggest. Her caked on makeup, her four-and-a-half-inches-of-insanity stilettos, her so smexy its barely there black attire? Maybe all that is an illusion too, concealing that Nastya's got more issues than the National Geographic, as she so succintly summarizes it. When we meet her, it's just three days before she's to start her senior year at a new school, and her Aunt Margot, with whom she's now living, is explaining Nastya's "unique circumstances" to the principal. It's not clear what those "circumstances" are at this point (read the blurb for clues), and since figuring them out is an enormous part of the emotionally satisfying process of reading The Sea of Tranquility, I won't take that away from you. But what is clear is that Nastya's painstakingly contructed facade of unsubtle "stay away" intimidation is covering a fractured and fragile host of emotional detritus, fear foremost, with deep, deep anger running a close second. Maybe that's why she's willing to let Drew Leighton, a Ken doll clone who's "the kind of good-looking that transforms once self-respecting females into puddles of dumbass," attach himself to her, for social cover. And it's definitely why, she tells herself, she's drawn to Josh Bennett, a boy who is so alone on his regular lunch-time courtyard bench that she wonders if he's a ghost, and that no one goes near him because the bench is haunted. She'd love to be rocking a bubble like he's got, to keep everyone away from her, too. (Kinda weird though that she keep ending up in his space, if she's so damn intent on being alone?)

And so our dramatis personae take the stage. It is hard to share too much of their story, of what happened to Nastya to make her who she has been or will become, because that is the story, and in some ways it is a mystery story, even a crime story, so "le spoilerisme," as we french people call it, would be even worse than usual. But I can share that Nastya is an amazing, complex and real feeling character, with a unique voice of broken bravado. Yes, maybe her persona and her carefully constructed facade are illusions. But unlike the titular celestial sea, she is possessed of depths where silent storms continually rage beneath the surface.

And I can also share that the world Nastya inhabits is a vividly imagined and poetically described one. Yes, it's familiar high school terrain to we YA-ficianados, but it's more nuanced, more chiaroscuro than is typically the case. Those mean girls? Maybe they were nice once, and maybe they can be again, if somebody calls them on it. Those douchey bros? Maybe one will have the grace to regret some of the crap he's pulled. Those throbbing crazy alcohol fueled parties where bad things can happen fast? Uh oh, yep, bad things can still happen fast.

I also loved how this book has major themes, one of which is the power and fragility of the creative impulse and process - how vital and irrepressible it is, and how devastating its loss can be. It's expressed in many contexts, images and examples, and it makes Nastya's loss and devastation all the more poignant for being so continually up in her face. Another major theme is the idea of salvation, of rescue - but it's subtle, never cheesy or obvious, and it's never really clear who is being saved and who is doing the saving. I also want to mention that for me one hallmark of a good book is that you fall in love with at least one of the characters. Here, you can't help but fall in love with so many of them that you feel like Jude Law at a nanny convention. Each of them, obviously Nastya and Josh (I'm gonna be disappointed if I don't see some swoonworthy casting boards about this guy), but also Drew and Tierney, various parents, grandparents, aunts, brothers, sisters, holy crap there are a lot of them! And they are all richly dimensional and again, real feeling.

This is a compelling and satisfying read that will draw you into its world fast, and make you want to stay there for a long time (and fortunately it's substantial enough that you can!) I not only couldn't put it down, towards the end something happened that was so intense that it made me stand up, and I realized when I finished, as the tears began to flow, that I was still on my feet, in a kind of weird unconcious standing ovation for this superb bravura performance by an author so polished and artistically skillful that I really can't believe this is her first book. Thankfully I also really can't believe it will be her last, so there's that to look forward to. Speaking of which, yes, this is a standalone, and I appreciate that. But like I said, there are some awesome side characters (and couples) whose stories are worth imagining. Just in case you don't have anything else to think about, dear Katja!

View all my reviews

Friday, August 17, 2012

"Intense and warm and depressing all at the same time."

The OpportunistThe Opportunist by Tarryn Fisher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was scared to read this book, honestly, after various reactions I'd read. And so I kept putting off picking it up, even as its hauntingly seductive cover peered up at me enticingly from the table where I'd proudly, if skittishly, placed my copy. Sheesh, the way people talked about the ending, I was afraid that it would put a permanent crack in my soul or something. For the life of me, I don't know why I was so focused on that, rather than everyone pointing out what an awesome read it is. Because this is, truly, madly, deeply, a rich, immersive, unputdownable and wonderful book, one to be savored, not endured, as I had somehow come to fear. This will henceforth be my go-to example of how having preconceptions can hold you back from experiencing something wonderful, because I really expected Olivia, and her story, to be unloveable and reprehensible to the core, beyond the pale of understanding, let alone empathy. And, yeah, not gonna sugarcoat it (sort of silly at this point, right?), she does some kind of stomach-turningly unpalatable, cruel and self-destructive things (not really persuading you to read it yet, am I, sorry! keep reading, please!) But Tarryn's gift is to make these things, and Olivia, emotionally accessible even as they, and she, remain essentially unforgiveable. So, kindof a crap job on the summary and all that, but since there are over 3,000 community reviews, and 59 (!) Friend Reviews, that would be a little redundant anyway. I guess you've gotten the idea, or at least I hope so, that I find the character of Olivia the central and fascinating facet of this story. I love her voice, it's so honest, ironically, as she embarks on her amazing career of lies. I also love how she seems propelled to almost always do the wrong thing, even as she realizes the folly and the awfulness, but is unable to help herself. It's like she almost astonishes herself with how low she is willing to stoop. Side note - wouldn't it be kind of awesome to be loved the way she loves Caleb? Probably creepy irl, but to have someone so obsessed with you? And how about that Caleb? He's got a few tricks up his sleeve, too. I would say this story has more twists than a corkscrew, but that seriously understates the twisty-ness (and twistedness)of the plot. It would have to be a corkscrew for one of those Jereboam sized bottles to do it justice.

In addition to the intensity of the story and characters, The Opportunist is beautifully and poetically written. The image of the tree where Olivia and Caleb meet is hauntingly pervasive. I like the way Tarryn uses names, too. In the Biblical story, Noah sent out a dove (ava), who returned ultimately, after the floods of tears and tumults, with an Olive branch. Yes, everything had been destroyed, but hope remains, and those images resonate with the story for me. I also thought it was cool the way Tarryn referenced Caleb's habit of backwards names - it emphasized that almost everyone in the book (except Cammie, a great side character, btw!), seems to have both a public and a hidden identity or agenda. Which I guess is a nice way of saying they are all two-faced liars with something to hide. And Leah, namesake of one of the greatest deceptions in the Bible, fits right in.

And as for the ending? Ok, yes I cried, it was one of those chest clenchy cries that sneaks up on you, and wrings the tears out, even as you feel relief and sadness intermingled. But no, my soul isn't cracked. In fact it feels fuller, richer, more humane, somehow, for having shared Olivia's journey. Do yourself the favor of experiencing it yourself, don't be scared!

BTW, the title of this review is from Olivia's description of the coffee shop where she and Caleb go to reconnect. I thought it was a good description of the book, too, although honestly, I didn't find it depressing, just sad.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Don't Panic, by Lindsay Paige

Lindsay Paige is the popular author of the "Bold as Love," series of contemporary young adult novels that I, for one, am extremely enthusiastic about. They combine sweet lyricism with gritty family and romantic drama. Now, in her most personal book yet, Lindsay is taking it to the next level with "Don't Panic," her new contemporary novel. "Don't Panic" is slated to appear on October 8, 2012 (my birthday, btw - coincidence? I think not!), and here's Lindsay's new blurb, to put you in the scene:

Samantha Branson is having severe anxiety attacks. Her heart beats unusually fast, her breath quickens and her hands sweat. Every detail screams in her head that she is the center of unwanted attention. Everyone can hear her thoughts, her heart and her breathing. The silence of the classroom is so loud that focus is impossible.
After an attack lands her in the wrong bathroom, Sam meets Eli who offers to provide help. Faced with the return of her possessive ex-boyfriend and the blossoming of a new romance, Sam must find the strength inside herself to face her anxieties head on.

Head on over to the Goodreads page for "Don't Panic," and add it to your tbr, asap, you won't want to miss this one, I promise!

Control Freak, by Copeland, a band I loved that sadly is no longer together, always gives me that same sense of creepy, clammy, claustrophobic anxiety. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Farewell Season, by Ann Herrick

The Farewell SeasonThe Farewell Season by Ann Herrick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eric Nielsen has been kind of a dick since his dad died unexpectedly a few months ago. He seems to have gotten stuck somewhere between the denial and anger stages of grief, and it's made him stand-offish and surly, even to his beloved cat! But his grouchiest grumblings are reserved for his Mom, and younger sister. It doesn't seem to occur to him that they might be hurting too, or that his attitude is making things even harder for them. Despite all that, it's difficult not to like Eric. He really doesn't know how to deal with his loss any other way, and he's hurting himself just as badly as he's hurting those around him. And now, with football season about to begin, the fact that everything has changed since last year at this time really can't be avoided any longer. And what's up with that new girl, Glynnie? If she's so determined to be dowdy, why can't Eric stop thinking about her, to the point of spending enough time with her to realize that he's not the only one with father problems.

This is really a lovely book, with a sweet tone and story that pulls you into its world subtly but deeply, until you begin to care deeply about the characters and the way they are all dealing with change, loss, grief, old pain and new beginnings. It's not a book about big events - it's a small scale story of one boy in a small town, but the emotional impact is still big. MC Eric, of course, is the focal point, but all of the characters are fully fleshed out, with real feeling personalities and voices. Not to slight the other side characters, but Glynnie is especially loveable. It's pretty cool for a YA family drama/romance to be written from a boy POV, but then to have the female character be the kind of quirky off-beat independent type we ususally see portrayed as a guy (like a Sarah Dessen boy, only she's a girl), is really quite amazing, and Eric is certainly lucky to have found her (and to have figured that out!) The vibe and flavor of the little town of Crystal Lake is beautifully portrayed, especially through all of the mouth-watering Scandinavian foods so lovingly and temptingly described. I'm not really a huge sports fan, and there's a lot of football in this book. But like Lance Armstrong so aptly said, it's not about the bike. It's about the emotional impact of Eric's commitment, about what football meant between him and his Dad, it's about how change comes to everything, in ways that we are going to have to deal with even if it's not fair, that make the football element relatable even for nerds.

This is a quietly emotional read that will sneak up on your heart (and tear ducts) if you let yourself sink into its world. I very much appreciate that author Ann Herrick provided me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Breathe by Abbi Glines - New Cover Reveal, Playlist and Other Awesome Memorabilia

A little less than a year ago, the gorgeous and charming YA author Abbi Glines (yep, that's her to your left, see what I mean?) e-pubbed the first book in her Sea Breeze series, Breathe. It was (and remains), a sweet Cinderella story of a girl and a talented pop star (kind of a Bieber guy, but with a more down to earth, less douchey personality). Abbi's had an amazing career since then, garnering a huge following for not only her Sea Breeze series of contemporary romances, but also for her awesome PNR Existence Trilogy, which began (coincidentally enough) with Existence, and her somewhat spicier YA contemp series The Vincent Boys. Wow, quite a year, Abbi, way to go!

So, just like a lot of us like to get new clothes for our birthdays, it's time for Breathe to get a new look too. I honestly kind of liked the old cover, it was cute and conveyed the innocence and sweetness of the story, but it didn't exactly capture the story's wistfulness and dreamy feel. But the new one is even more lovely, and definitely gives a clearer image of what you are in for. And this girl looks a lot more like my image of Sadie, too. So without further ado, here it is, the new cover of Abbi's beautiful novel, Breathe:

So, is that breathtaking or what?

Abbi's also given us a few more things to think about vis-a-vis Breathe. One of them is a cool playlist of songs. Honestly, I'm not sure if these are songs Abbi listened to while writing it, or that just kind of create the proper vibe for us to listen while reading, which they definitely do. One of the themes of the book is that Sadie is Jax's "air," that he needs her to live (hey, now I get the title!), and the songs all definitely relate to that idea. Here's a list of them, and a link to Playlist, where you can create free account and listen to them (honestly Abs, you had me at tswift, but that's prob just me):

Can’t Take My Eyes Off You by Muse
Don’t Ever Let it End by Nickelback
Breathe by Taylor Swift
Holding on to Heaven by Nickelback
No Air by Jordan Sparks and Chris Brown
Here Without You by Three Doors Down
Lullaby by The Spill Canvas
Take My Breath Away by Jessica Simpson

Did I mention that Jax himself is a singer-songwriter? He's inspired (totally getting with the breathing theme, here!) to write a song for Sadie, which honestly is about all she has left of him at one point, and I'm not sure if that was good or bad. Since it's Fathers Day as I'm writing this, I'd be happy to volunteer some advice to Jax on a more effective strategy for not making a girl cry, but hopefully by the end of the book he's learned his lesson. Nonetheless, here is an awesome recording of that song "Don't Cry," the lyrics to which appear in the book, and will hit you hard when you get to that part:

So, there's this thing now where people put up dreams casts of who they'd like to see playing people from books they love. I personally pictured Jax kind of like this: Ok, haha, that's my son, who will prob kill me when/if he sees this (as no doubt will Abbi, sorry girl!). Here's a more realistic bunch of eye candy to populate your pictorial portrayal of the Breathe bunch.

As the lovely Sadie White - Sasha Pieterse. She def captures Sadie's sweetness and beauty, imho.

Jax Stone?

How 'bout this guy? Max Irons? Jeez, good looks run in that family or what? Ok, he's no Jack LeBaron, but he's handsome, I'll give him that. Hope he's worthy of my sweet Sadie, or there will be some Fathers Day ass-kicking going on, just sayin'!

Finally, to round out our little crew, how about a young Chris Hemsworth to portray the beloved by some, mistrusted by me Mr. Marcus Hardy? He's got the look, but Chris, haven't you been in enough movies lately? It kinda gripes my cheese that he's kissing K-Stew, Natalie Portman, and most of my other fantasy flings. But fine, go ahead and be Marcus, too, you've got the look, just use your acting skilz more than your lips, that's all I ask!

Ok, y'all, that is the skinny on the new updated cover of Breathe and associated goings on. If you're interested, my review of Breathe is here, on Goodreads. This book really grew on me over the course of the past year, and I'm happy to help get the word out on an awesome author and her cute, dreamy sweet first book! Thanks Abbi, for including me in this blog-burst! I look forward to a long and happy careet for one of indie YA's most talented and nicest authors!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Printers Row Lit Fest 2012 and "I Hunt Killers" Giveaway

I must say I had an awesome time at Printers Row Lit Fest 2012, in downtown Chicago, just south of the Loop. Here's a bit of an impressionistic recollection of the event, from my admittedly skewed POV (especially off-kilter for a few minutes after that yummy frozen margarita from Flaco's Tacos!)

We set out, an intrepid four, from Downers Grove, some 25 miles or so west of Chicago, around 10 am. We might have gone earlier, but my son Jack qualified for the national speech tournament, being held in Indianapolis this year. We neeeded to get him packed, organized and out the door before we could leave. We hit the road with Mrs. Fred at the wheel, and my charming youngest daughter Eve riding shotgun. Here's a photo of her, I'm not quite sure why she was wearing a bowler hat and a Slytherin t-shirt, but to this old dad she looked pretty darn cute.

We arrived downtown and hit the Grant Park South parking garage around 10:45 or so. My "fire up your enthusiasm" pre-gaming involved the consumption of multiple cups of coffee, so finding a bathroom was a priority. We hit a Dunkin' Donuts on Michigan Avenue in hopes of scoring some quick relief, but no luck. So of course, I had to have more coffee, and in a tribute to the awesome Jessica Park and Flat-Out Love, I got a large Coolatta. Here I am, looking cheerful despite the desperation now seizing my bladder ever more intensely. .

Anyhoo, we made it to the fair, and the blessed precints of St. Pipi rather quickly. We browsed around for a bit at North End of the fair, where there were several event stages. I was not honestly that intent on purchasing additional books for the Bibliotheque LeBaron. That is Liz's obsessive quest. Instead, I was quite intent on seeing three authors: Barry Lyga, author of the amazeballs Boy Toy, which I have reviewed over at Goodreads; Lisa Wooten, author of Unforgivable (rats, we never did make a connection, I found out too late where she was :/; and Michelle Warren, author of Wanderdust, with whom I also failed to connect (hey, it was a big event with lots of authors, vendors and what-not).

Well, one out of three ain't bad, especially since Barry Lyga was so awesome! Here's a picture of the two of us, I felt totally cool hanging with Barry, he had a vibe sort of like Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are Alright, bohemian but down to earth, funny and warm. Barry was also one of the authors on a panel that Eve and I attended. He had some interesting insights into writing, the editing process and the future of YA and reading. I didn't really try to take notes (it was super hot in there!) but he mentioned a few memorable things. First, before the event I went up and swimfanned him about Boy Toy, which he called "the book that almost killed my career," telling me that sales back when it came out weren't that great, and that it wasn't considered a success by any measure. He said he's mildly puzzled by why it's taking off in popularity now. Since I was tongue-tied, as I usually am when speaking with an author I greatly admire, I didn't observe that it's a great book, word of mouth sometimes takes awhile (it was recommended to me by the awesome Jolene B. Perry, btw, thanks Jolene!), and that I Hunt Killers, his current book, is getting a lot of attention. He talked about the writing process, and mentioned that when he started Boy Toy (can you tell I liked this book!), he had a specific idea of where he wanted the story to go, but as he got into it, it veered in a different direction. He pondered whether to force it back to the original or go with the way it was developing and opted for the latter, which turned out vastly superior, in his view. He likened writing to riding a horse - you can guide it, but if it decides to go somewhere else, it doggone well will! Here's Barry making his points on the panel.

I had Barry sign a copy of I Hunt Killers, and he was also kind enough to give us t-shirts promoting it. I'm not gonna lie, I'm queasy about reading I Hunt Killers. I don't like Dexter, it's too gory. C.S.I. makes me I.L.L. and Bones makes mine ache. So I have a deal for y'all and an awesome giveaway via Rafflecopter, below. I'm giving away the autographed copy of I Hunt Killers, and the I Had a Killer Time with Barry Lyga t-shirt. There's an extended preview of IHK if you want to do a gut-check before entering, also over at Goodreads, so take a look, and only enter if you can hack it. I do have some contest limitations, so see the note by the entry form.

By now it was getting to be lunch time, and there was some drama. My beloved oldest daughter Ann insisted that we go inside to eat (did I mention it was hot?), and suggested Connie's Pizza. With all due respect to Connie's, that idea kinda turned my stomach, and we ended up at Flaco's Tacos, a fun Mexican place with several Chicago locations in hipster spots. Because it is a hipster spot - I even saw a guy sporting a hipster handlebar and matching muttonchops! We had an awesome lunch with the aforementioned Margarita, and fought our way to a table. After enjoying our lunch and time together we headed out. The girls were intent on making purchases, but me, I just wanted to soak up the vibe. As luck would have it, there was a vibe-storm heading my way. On exiting the restaurant, as the girls headed South, I heard a haunting, beautiful voice, singing in French. It sounded like "Les Feuilles Mortes," but was too far to tell, exactly. I made my way through the crowd to the source of the sounds, only to see this amazing gentleman, Michelet Innocent.

Now, I've mentioned before that I am a bit of a Francophile, but I don't think I've dwelt on the music that drew me into my love of the French language, especially the songs of Jacques Brel and Serge Reggiani. Ok, ok, I'll save that for another post then, I can see your eyes glazing over. But in any event, Michelet's voice and guitar playing transported me to the time in spent in Paris in the 70's and to my days in the French House at the University of Michigan, where we spent so many nights drinking red wine, and listening to these enormously poetic songs. When he sang "Ne Me Quitte Pas," I was gone, and I ain't back yet. Here's a video of Michelet singing at another street fair, in Florida, that gives an idea of his soulful and tender renditions of these classic songs.

But then it was getting to be time to head home, graduation parties to go to, anniversary dinners to enjoy (congratulations Ann and Harold!), and an overheated hamster to attend to (hope Nuchacho is ok, Eve!). As we made our way back to the car, we passed beneath the el tracks, where I couldn't help but remember the words of Howl, by Allen Ginsberg: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness ...who bared their brains to Heaven under the El," Whew, I thought to myself, lighten up Allen. Things are cool here now, under the El. Teenage poets at Polyphony H.S., hundreds of awesome authors and zillions of books, all being appreciated by those who love them!

OK, As promised, awesome "I Hunt Killers," by Barry Lyga giveaway here!I'm sorry, but in light of postal costs, entries are limited to the U.S. only, and the only t-shirt I have to give away is a men's large. Please enter below, and I'll notify you if you've won when the contest is over! Thanks for playing!

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Whatever It Takes, by Lindsay Paige, Pre-Release Party and Giveaway

I'm delighted to be able to continue being a part of the pre-release party for Lindsay's awesome new book, Whatever It Takes. WIT is the third volume in Lindsay's Bold As Love series that began with Sweetness and continued with I'm Yours. Today Lindsay herself will be joining us for a wide-ranging interview, covering her covers (!), some musical thoughts, and insights into Lindsay's tv, book and movie habits. We also touch a little bit on some deeper issues relating to Lindsay's life and emotions. So take a look! Lindsay is always open, direct and thoughtful, and this q and a is no exception. And at the bottom of the page, you'll find an awesome, easy to enter giveaway, too!

Can you tell us a little bit about the covers on Sweetness and I’m Yours? Is that you on the swing? And who’s that with you on I’m Yours? Who took the pictures? How does the cover of Whatever It Takes relate to the story? You have some cool photos on your fb page, did you take those for a class, or just for fun? Is photography a hobby of yours?

Sure! I love talking about covers. That is me on the covers. On I'm Yours, I'm with my brother, Ethan. On Whatever It Takes, I'm with my brother, Brian.

My mom took the pictures for the first two covers and Brian's girlfriend took the picture for the third book. Whatever It Takes cover is set on a local community college campus. The cover relates to the story because it shows that they are united. Brian's arm is securely around my waist, showing that Jake isn't letting Emily go anyway. As you can see, my arm isn't as secure around his waist, but I am turned in towards him just a bit, which shows that Emily will be leaning on Jake quite a bit.

I did take those for a class. I'm taking digital photography and those pictures are the results. :) Photography is a hobby of mine as well.

There’s a lot of music in your books, including the title of I’m Yours. Tell us about some of your favorite artists. Is the title of Whatever It Takes related to a song, or what made you think of it as the title?

I'm Yours is related to Jason Mraz's song titled the same and it has to do with Emily telling Jake that she is indeed his. Whatever It Takes is related to Lifehouse's song titled the same and with what Jake says he'll do for Emily. I really think it's cool when the title of a book is something that is said in the book and that's what I did, in addition to the songs.

I notice that you have a lot of country in the mix, but you like pop and rock, too. Up north here, kids tend to like country or rock, not both. Is it more typical to like both where you live?

I’m not sure I would classify it as "typical", but I will say that it's common.

What artists have you seen live and what did you think about that experience.

I have seen tons of artists live! I've seen Kenny Chesney, Sugarland, Nickelback (twice!), Puddle of Mudd, Rascal Flatts, Finger Eleven, Taylor Swift, and Brad Paisley to name a few.

How did you ever get to be a Penguins fan, living where you do? Is this a Crosby thing? Which came first, the Penguins or the Crosby?

I do love the Pens! I always go see them play when they play the Carolina Hurricanes. I love your last question. Penguins came first, because I'm a huge fan of the animal, and then Crosby came.

From some of your blog posts and status updates, I've noticed that you seem to be a big TVD fan, what other shows do you regularly watch? Any impact on your stories?

The Good Wife and Bones. The rest of my favorite shows, I don't watch as much as these. Not really an impact on my stories.

If you feel like talking about it, how’s your relationship with your dad now? Do you think his drinking problems contributed to your anxiety issues and panic attacks? Lots of kids with alcoholic parents (my wife’s dad was one, too), struggle a lot with issues from that. Has your therapy helped you with that? Do you think your therapy has helped with your writing? You seem very reflective and self-aware, which seems like a good therapy outcome, and also would help with writing, no?

The only relationship I have with my father is custody over my dog, Bartley. I think his drinking problems have an impact on my anxiety. My therapy has been extremely helpful with dealing with the anger and other emotions. My therapy has helped with my writing as well, especially in Don't Panic. That is true. I have to be reflective and self-aware in order to better control my anxiety.

Finally, any movies that you would consider your favorites? You mentioned Cars II in Sweetness, but how about some that have brought your dreams and fantasies to life?

A Walk to Remember for one. Fast and Furious are another favorite. I don't think I've watched any movies that have "brought my dreams and fantasies to life" as you say as much as books have.

OK, Here's that awesome giveaway I was telling you about! Enter below for lots of chances to win all three of Lindsay's awesome books, plus your choice of a B&N or Amazon $25 gift card!

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Any Other Night, by Anne Pfeffer - Interview, Update and FREE!

A couple of months ago I read and reviewed a lovely book, then titled “Loving Emily,” by Anne Pfeffer. I saw the other day that Anne has re-titled her book, and provided it with a new cover. It’s now known as “Any Other Night,” and this is the new cover photo. Changing your title and cover isn’t something you see every day, and I thought it would be interesting to get Anne’s perspective on the change. Here's my q and a with Anne!

So, Anne, what’s up with the new title and cover?

“I'm really happy with the change. I've felt for a long time that the old title and cover emphasized the romance part of the book too strongly, when in fact it's a coming of age story about the sixteen year old protagonist, Ryan. I love the new title – Any Other Night – because it evokes that weird element of chance in life, how one little decision can change everything. And it implies regret, that feeling of 'coulda, shoulda, woulda' that Ryan was living with during the story. And it's also the first three words of the book.”

That makes sense, and I agree with you about the novel’s true focus being on Ryan’s journey. Not gonna lie, though, I thought this had some sweet, sweet romance going, and by the end, I was loving Emily too.

So I hear a rumor that you are doing a free offer of "Any Other Night" on Kindle Select, through Tuesday? Where can people go to get in on that (Ed. Note – this is an awesome offer of a really good book, go get it and spread the word!)

Thanks, Fred, for loving Emily! She's a controversial character, which is fine, but I thought it made the title a little ironic. Any Other Night is available through and will be free until midnight May 22. The content of the book Loving Emily is unchanged; just the title and cover are new. Here's a link to the Amazon page

Can you tell us about your next project, which I understand is titled, The Wedding Cake Girl? I am intrigued by the title – does she make them or eat them?

"She makes them—against her will! The Wedding Cake Girl is a contemporary Cinderella story complete with a colorful, quirky island setting, dangerous deep sea diving adventures, a family of billionaires, and lots and lots of butter cream. I'm polishing the final version right now. I was planning to self-publish immediately, but an agent wanted to see the manuscript. So I may send it to him, which will delay things a bit."

Does this mean you are thinking about not doing the indie thing any more? It’s been a while since Any Other Night came out. Are you happy with the process?

"It's been seven months since Any Other Night was published – I guess that's a long time in the indie world! I loved self-publishing my first book and was looking forward to doing the same with The Wedding Cake Girl. But I went to a writer's conference where an agent saw the beginning of my manuscript. He wanted to read the full, so I've decided to send it to him. But that's a long way from getting an offer of representation! We'll see what happens."

Here’s my original review of the novel now known as “Any Other Night.” Please, do yourself a favor , and if it’s no longer available for free on Kindle Select by the time you read this, trust me, it’s worth it!

This book was a pleasure to read and experience. The story starts with MC Ryan so smitten with his lovely classmate Emily that he tells his life long friend Michael (boys don't do bff's, sorry) he'll have to drive himself to Emily's sweet sixteen party. That's because Ryan is intent on arriving early, to maybe have a chance at conversing with Emily before she gets swept up in the festivities. When Michael does finally arrive, trashed with his scuzzball new friend Chase, Ryan tries to help his friend out, despite his egregious party manners, but things don't work out and Michael drives off alone. Cue the music for uh-oh, some bad stuff is about to happen. When it does, Ryan blames himself, especially his desire to be with Emily, for Michael's death. Ryan has some other issues to deal with too. His parents are emotionally and physically absent, leaving Michael and his charming twin second grade sisters alone most of the time with their surrogate parent, Rosaria, the housekeeper of their Hollywood mega mansion (I hope she has help, this sounds like one of those places where dusting is a full time job!) Academically, he's in a bit of a slump, and he gave up on tennis after Michael's earlier overdose drove an even deeper wedge between Ryan and the fam. Speaking of tennis, Michael's brief encounter with Chrissie, the cute aspiring actress who works in the club pro shop, has left some complications. Ryan sees helping Chrissie as a way to redeem himself for failing his friend, but things get complicated. As his reluctant relationship with Emily deepens (he doesn't deserve to be happy, when M is dead!), the conflicting commitments he's made pull him in different and demanding directions.

Not that many YA books like this (a family drama, coming of age with romantic overtones) feature a male protagonist, so that is a refreshing change. It's always great, to me, to know what the guy is thinking, they are usually so opaque, and to be left wondering what is on the girl's mind. Ryan is a great character, he initially comes across as a little too good to be true, but as you come to know him you begin to understand where his maturity and seriousness have come from. The way the romance develops with Emily is sweet and tender, and yes, very intense. The supporting characters are interesting, well developed and real feeling (Emily's father, especially is quite the piece of work), and contribute to the rich immersive world the author creates. Seeing Ryan find his way as he tries to do the right thing (and it's not easy sometimes to figure out what that is!), is touching and draws you deeply into the world of the story. This is really a wonderful book, and I urge you to give yourself over to the pleasure of enjoying it!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Love Evolution, by Michell Mankin

Love Evolution Love Evolution by Michelle Mankin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fun fast read, with a really cool female MC who will have you rooting for and rocking with her all the way. When MC Avery's twin brother Justin is disappeared by the evil mob boss who's girlfriend he's fatuously fooled around with, her world falls apart. She's a super talented guitarist/vocalist, and she and Justin were on the cusp of a big career breakthrough when his disappearance derailed their dreams. Her agent tries to pull her out of her downward spiral by hooking her up with Brutal Strength, the angsty band trying to bounce back after their guitarist has quit, driven off by moody Marcus, their front man, fresh out of rehab. Wrinkle alert - Marcus's heart is in rehab too, after some smexy stillettos stomped all over it, and he's not about to allow some chick into his boy's club. Avery's kind of desperate though -desperate enough to duct-tape those tempting ta-ta's (not literally, she actually uses an Ace bandage), to try to pass as a dude. And, mirabile dictu,her plan actually works! But is successfully deceiving Marcus and the guys really where she wanted to end up, after she clicks so well with the band ... and with Marcus?

Michelle does a great job of creating an appeallingly vulnerable but tough character in Avery. She's fragile but game, and her talent and drive keep her going through some sticky situations. Equally well drawn is Marcus, who could easily strike you as kind of a dick, what with all his misguided, misogynistic malaise, but instead comes across as relatable, if a bit clueless (an essential element in a girl dresssed as a guy story!). I pictured him as kind of a Kurt Novoselic type guy, brooding and ursine. Michelle also creates a cool Vancouver vibe, all misty and markety, that makes the story more concrete and pulls you into its magic. The side characters, especially Marcus' brother Dwight, and the vampish vixen Veronica, are dimensional enough (although V. is a bit Cruella DeVil-esque) to add drama, spice, and some humor, as well as provide expos and conflict. Another really great element are the lyrics that Avery and Marcus collaborate on as BS finds it feet again. They create a vibe, move the emotional aspect of their relationship forward, and sound like awesome songs just on their own. I love how this worked to draw you into the world of the story, I really felt it! When all the deceptions and disguises and disorder start to blow up towards the fun finale, there are some satsifying moments of aha!, thank goodness, and what the hell just happened, that combine to make the HEAdlong rush to a dramatic conclusion feel fresh and fun, even though there's a Twelfth-Nighty subtext that suggests maybe this isn't all as novel as it nonetheless manages to feel. This is a cute, believable and readable romp, with some real emotion, that will make you glad you came!

Michelle provided me with a copy of Love Evolution in exchange for an honest review, which this totally is. Thanks Michelle!

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Chance Encounters by J. Sterling

Chance EncountersChance Encounters by J. Sterling

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Super sigh of sweet satisfaction!

Remember this song, by Bryan Adams?

"When you love someone, you'll sacrifice
You'll give everything you got, and you won't think twice
You'll risk it all, no matter what may come
When you love someone.
You'll shoot the moon, put out the sun
When you love someone"

Those words sound so vanilla, just sitting there on the page, but with the smoky, smouldering intensity of Bryan Adams' voice and the moody dreamlike piano and flute accompaniment, they convey a powerful sense of an almost desperate yearning to be with the object of your desire. So, it's kind of awkward, to say the least, when that kind of powerful emotion hits you when you've already committed to be with someone else. And that's what happens to MC Caroline as our story opens. She's in a lovely, settled relationship with her lawyer boyfriend Clay when she gets word of the death of a friend. On her return from the funeral, she's seated, by chance, next to Jackson Parks. Maybe we should move the "s" to the front of his last name, because whoa! crazy sparks fly, and they set Caroline and Jackson's lives on fire. Like Bryan's song suggests, a love so intense and consuming has risks, and requires everything you've got. But can careful Care, the sensible girl with a plan, take a chance based on just that kind of random encounter? Especially when it's more than just her own heart at stake.

This is an emotional rollercoaster of a ride. It's not enough that Caroline and Jackson have to contend with their overwhelming mutual attraction (hey, it could be worse, I guess, if it were one sided) while stuck at absolute opposite ends of the U.S., the disapproval of their well-meaning friends, and other peoples' claims to their hearts. Events won't stand still either, and require a leap of faith that might well end in disaster for one or both of them.

Personally I couldn't help but fall in love with Caroline. I know that cheating is kind of a gray area at best in romance novels, and it's not clear if what Caroline does would be considered that (this is kind of a chaste romance, btw, by today's standards, although emotionally flagrant). But she's so torn between what's expected of her and what her heart can't resist that her struggles will def tug at your heartstrings. She doesn't want to be the kind of person she'd hate, who can argue with that? Fortunately she has an awesome lifeline friend, Bailey, to provide perspective, help the plot along and just generally be funny and charming. There really aren't any good guys or bad guys (although some of them pull some extremely maddening stunts), just a crew of realistically drawn characters with the flaws, foibles and occasional strengths that real folk would display.

This is a charming, poignant, tender and exhilarating read. I love the way the author conveys that giddy sense of besotted, bewilderingly
beautiful emotional attraction that is one of life's greatest gifts. Don't hesitate to give that gift to yourself, by reading this sweet and affecting novel asap!

When You Love Someone Bryan isn't so generous about sharing his videos. But I thought this cover was charming, she's so sweet and YA, and also has just a little bit of a French accent, I thought she did a lovely job of conveying the vibe of the song and, a little bit, of the book.
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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

There's A Place - Continuing the "Whatever It Takes," by Lindsay Paige Pre- Release Party!

I'm delighted to be able to continue being a part of the pre-release party for Lindsay's awesome new book, Whatever It Takes. WIT is the third volume in Lindsay's Bold As Love series that began with Sweetness and continued with I'm Yours. Today Lindsay herself will be joining us for a guest post, offering a guided magical mystery tour of some of the spots where the action of the Bold As Love series takes place. Just like Liverpool was the touchstone and wellspring for the Beatles' awesome burst of sixties era creativity,

so Lindsay's books are infused with the idioms, locations and vibe of eastern North Carolina. Let's let her tell us a little bit about it!

Going to Carolina in My Mind, by Lindsay Paige

North Carolina has influenced my writing, to say the least. If you have read my books, you know that there are quite a few "y’alls" and other sayings included. These are things I’ve heard all my life from those around me. I love including old sayings that I hear my grandma say because, honestly, it cracks me up to hear them.

You may wonder whether the memories I have from growing up are also a part of Emily and Jake’s life. In Sweetness, there are some life events that Jake deals with that I, myself, have experienced as well.

For my entire life, I have been dealing with an alcoholic who becomes sober and then about six months to a year later, starts drinking again. Mr. Benson, Jake's Dad, starts heavily drinking due to the tragic loss of his wife. To this day, I still don’t understand why my dad started drinking.

Honestly, I don’t care anymore. But enough about that.

Another thing that my characters like is ice cream. So do I. Ed. note: Me too! My characters love to visit Cold Stone’s and Dairy Queen. Emily also loves Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream.

As you know, the series is set in my home state of North Carolina. Today, I thought it would be fun to share with you some sights of a few places mentioned in the books. Hopefully this will allow you to explore eastern NC without leaving the comfort of your home. (Although, it's a great place to visit!)

Wilmington, NC

Many of the places mentioned in the Bold as Love series are in the city of Wilmington. There's the Chick-Fil-A on Market St., Cold Stone Creamery at Mayfaire Town Center (the upscale and elegant Wilmington mall!), the Mayfaire Cinema 16, etc. Below are some pictures of these places in Wilmington, which is also where One Tree Hill is filmed! Ed. note: little known fact alert (at least to me!)

This location isn't actually in the books, but I thought it was a cool picture, and gives a good feel for what Wilmington looks like from above.

Below is a picture of The Mayfaire Town Center. In the back on the right side, you can see the cinema.

Here's a better look at the cinema, by night and by day. This is where Emily took Drake to see "Cars II," in Sweetness.It really is very nice.

This is the Chick-Fil-A on Market St. Sorry this one's a bit blurry. It's the best I could find.

This is a Cold Stone's. Yummy! (I couldn't find the one at Mayfaire online. Next time I go, I'll grab a picture and share.)

Topsail Island/Surf City, NC and Topsail Beach
Anytime I mention the beach in the series, Topsail is what I'm thinking of.

There you have it. I hope you enjoyed going to Carolina in your mind!

Freditor's Note:

I honestly don't know why I got on a Beatles kick with this post, except that their music, in the early days especially, was so steeped in and infused with that special sense of time, place and vibe of the early 60's. Srsly, looking at the picture, I can just feel the damp corduroys and scratchy duffel coats, smell the ever-present fragrance(stench?)of cigarette smoke, and see the cool girls hanging out in their opaque tights and mini-skirts. When getting Beatle-stalgic, it seems almost obligatory to post "In My Life," but I'm gonna go with a slightly more obscure song that's always been one of my favourites (throwing a little English orthography at ya there!). I especially love the images from those early innocent days that are included with it.

"Whatever It Takes," by Lindsay Paige, will release on June 13, 2012. I'll be hosting some more events here later this month, including a giveaway, so please check back, and follow to stay part of things!