Tag Archives: YA

Interview with Shelli Johannes, author of UNTRACEABLE + GIVEAWAY!

30 Nov

by Susan Dennard

You might have seen my book review for Untraceable on Sunday. If not, read it. This book is impressive–and its author, Shelli Johannes, is quite possibly even more impressive.

Why do I have such glowing praise for Shelli? Because she’s done something a lot of us are too scared to do: she has indie-published her debut novel.

But more importantly than that, Shelli has indie-published it right. She has approached it as a professional author who knows the industry, knows what readers want, and knows how to tell a damn good story.

If you want to hear more about her amazing and empowering journey, I suggest reading her blog series on it (which begins here). I was lucky enough to get an interview with Shelli about her publication process, and all I can say is: WOW. She is an inspiration to us all.

When you started writing Untraceable, what was the inspiration behind it?  A dream? A musical clip? Plain, old-fashioned brainstorming?

My husband came home one day from being in the remote woods for the weekend and said, “I was so far out–a terrorist camp could set up there and no one would ever know.”

The story started out called Grace Under Fire. And it was about terrorist cells in the wilderness (hides face from embarrassment). Years later, I got rid of the terrorist camp but kept Grace and the wilderness.

It actually came in the quarterfinals in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award of 2009. 1 of only 7 thrillers to make the list.

Wow–I did not know that about the Breakthrough Award! (Can’t say I’m surprised either ;)) And what a COOL way for a story to start…mine are always lame dreams, so I’m totally jealous.

What was the biggest challenge for you while writing UNTRACEABLE? 

Editing it. Back in 09, I remember agents HATING the terrorist angle but loving Grace and the overall setting (go figure :)) so I had to go back to the drawing board and rewrite the entire plot from scratch. I did that more than once. But that time was the hardest.

You’re taking a different, unique path for getting your book out there, and you’re really showing other writers how self-publish in a professional, and reader-focused manner. It’s obvious you care about your readers more than making some quick cash. When and why did you decide to indie-publish?

For a few reasons:

  1. I was tired of people telling me a contemporary thriller would not sell well to teens.
  2. I wanted to see if I could do it on my own and learn more about publishing process in general.
  3. I thought it would be fun to create my own thing my own way.

Because I was scared everyone would think I suck, I decided to blog about the process openly – the ups and the downs to see if I could help others decide if indie pubbing was right for them.

I also hear so much about the stigma of indie/self pubbing. I wanted to break through that barrier and create a high quality product I was proud of and show people that you can do it the right way.

Yeah, I think that stigma is starting to fade as more and more writers with high-quality stories take that route. All I can say is: GOOD FOR YOU! For having the courage and the determination to do this the “right way”.

Is there anything that, in hindsight, you wish you had done differently with UNTRACEABLE–either in the writing or publication process?

I’m having so much fun I wish I had done this a long time ago. I wish I had skipped all the unnecessary anxiety. But I believe everything happens for a reason and I am where I am supposed to be.

Too true–I’m a firm believer of that as well. What’s your next writing project? And do you think you’ll continue on the self-publication path with it?

I have a special edition of Untraceable coming out in Jan/Feb with a different ending. And I am putting out Grace 2 – called Uncontrollable early next summer.

Beyond that – I’m not sure. I have manuscripts that have almost been bought on my shelf. Who knows maybe I’ll pull another one out.

But I am writing a WIP that I would like to get an agent for down the road. I love the traditional pubbing process so I hope to do both someday when I am ready to jump back in the pit.

I think it’s so awesome that you’re interested in both approaches and that you want to try to tackle both. I would love to as well…one day…when I’m not so lazy.;) Honestly, though, writing all these books and self-promoting–it must take a lot of perseverance and hard work. What’s a typical writing day for you? 

I drop off my daughter at school around 8 and then hang with my son until I drop him off at preschool at 9. I spend about an hour on the Internet with emails, twitter, Facebook, catching up on blogs etc. I usually write from about 10-12ish. Then I catch up on emails again before I get my son at 1.

But this is not how it is all the time. Especially not right now.

Right now, I imagine your life is wrapped up in UNTRACEABLE promotion. In your spare time, though, what are you reading?

Just finished The Pledge by Kimberly Derting and Fracture by Megan Miranda.

And any final words of advice or inspiration? 

Don’t give up. Let go of you ego. And follow your heart.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win not only an ebook of Untraceable, but also a copy of Escape Velocity and an ARC of Promise the Night.

It’s open internationally, and we’ll announce our giveaway winner on FRIDAY! ALONG WITH OUR BIG NEWS!

And Monday’s giveaway winner (for a copy of PRETTY BONES) is

Nicole Steinhaus!

Email us at letthewordsflowblog (at) gmail (d0t) com with your mailing address!

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Giveaway! Win a copy of THE FAERIE RING!

30 Sep

To prepare for an upcoming interview with author Kiki Hamilton, we’re giving away a copy of her debut YA fantasy, THE FAERIE RING!

Debut novelist Kiki Hamilton takes readers from the gritty slums and glittering ballrooms of Victorian London to the beguiling but menacing Otherworld of the Fey in this spellbinding tale of romance, suspense, and danger. 

The year is 1871, and Tiki has been making a home for herself and her family of orphans in a deserted hideaway adjoining Charing Cross Station in central London. Their only means of survival is by picking pockets. One December night, Tiki steals a ring, and sets off a chain of events that could lead to all-out war with the Fey. For the ring belongs to Queen Victoria, and it binds the rulers of England and the realm of Faerie to peace. With the ring missing, a rebel group of faeries hopes to break the treaty with dark magic and blood—Tiki’s blood.

Unbeknownst to Tiki, she is being watched—and protected—by Rieker, a fellow thief who suspects she is involved in the disappearance of the ring. Rieker has secrets of his own, and Tiki is not all that she appears to be. Her very existence haunts Prince Leopold, the Queen’s son, who is driven to know more about the mysterious mark that encircles her wrist.

Prince, pauper, and thief—all must work together to secure the treaty…

I (Sooz) have read it, and let me tell you guys: it’s awesome. I’ll have a full review coming on Sunday on my personal blog, but the general lowdown is this:

This is one of those books you want to read curled up in your bed while the blustery wind blows outside.

It’s just got that atmosphere–you know the one I mean. That feel of cold and magic and high stakes and romance. It’s a definite must-read for fantasy lovers everywhere.

So if you’re interested in winning a copy, leave a comment below! The giveaway is open internationally, and we’ll announce our winner on Monday after the Kiki Hamilton interview.

Writing the 2nd Book in a Trilogy

18 Jul

by Kat Zhang

So, I’m almost done with the first draft of my outline for Book #2. Considering I just turned in my edits for WHAT’S LEFT OF ME (eee! New title still makes me all tingly, lol), it may or may not be a little early to be working on the outline, but somehow, I suspect not. Either way, considering I go just a little bit crazy when I don’t have something writerly to be working on (especially when school isn’t in session and ready to distract me with physics and spanish and american politics), I don’t really have much choice in the matter.

The outline will need to be cured of about two or three good-sized plot holes before it’s in a state to be shown anyone. Not to mention the line “I will think of something appropriately sweet and non-cliche eventually, haha” is probably going to be replaced at some point. Yeah.

But overall, I’m pretty darn satisfied with the whole thing, and so very relieved that I am. Of course, we’ll have to see if my agent and editor and the rest of the team at HarperTeen are satisfied before it’s full sails ahead for my starting to write the actual book, but I personally can’t write a book unless I feel a certain soul in it, and I think I’ve found the right one for Book #2 of the Hybrid Trilogy.

To be honest, I’ve never written a trilogy before. So this whole process has been very much a learning experience as I try to figure out what constitutes a good sequel, especially when it also has to serve as the bridge between books 1 and 3.

I decided early on that I wanted to steer away from a common complaint people have about second books in a trilogy—that they’re the weakest ones. The ones with the least excitement. That they often only serve to put things in place for book 3. I hope that this book 2 comes to stand on its own as a story in and of itself—of course strongly connected to the other books, but no lesser than its fellows in terms of plot or characterization or excitement.

This is probably all way early to talk about considering WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is still a good year away from publication, but I’d like to keep a record as I go on writing and editing and outlining this series—both for myself and for whomever else is actually interested. So as of today, the first draft for the outline for Book #2 is just about done. I’ll let you guys know when I actually start the first true words of the manuscript.

I’ll die of excitement. I swear 😉

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and her book WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is about a 15-year-old girl fighting for her right to survive in a world where two souls are born to each body and one is doomed to disappear. It recently sold in a three-book deal to HarperTeen. You can read more about her writing process, travels, and books at her blog.

Preaching in YA

9 Jun

When you write YA, and you’re at all connected to the online community, you often see people who are new to the genre asking questions like, “Can my main character hold a gun?” “Can my characters have sex?” “Can they drink?” “Can they have drugs?” and “Can my main character swear?”

The more experienced writers cry, “Jesus. Freaking (perhaps something less polite, if they happen to write ‘edgy’ YA ;)). Christ. Have you read any YA? Ever?”

It’s an understandable reaction (I know I react like this sometimes), but I think the people with those questions are less naive/time-wasting than we often think they are. In light of the recent WSJ article (which is horrible, so I’m not even linking to it, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, resist your google fu. It’s not worth the time. And no, this is not another blogpost about the article), it’s clear that a lot of people believe that the purpose of YA is to teach. To illuminate the right path for the youth of today.

And my question to you guys is, should YA be didactic?

The knee-jerk answer is, of course, NO. We always hear agents and editors and everyone else in the world saying, “No messages. No morals. Don’t preach, tell a good story first and foremost”. But I’ve always taken that to mean, don’t overtly preach. Theme, to me (subtly explored theme, anyway) is a huge part of what makes a book transcendental. REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly (which is awesome. You should read it if you haven’t) wouldn’t have the same flavour without the theme at the heart of it: brutality rules the world, but not necessarily us as individuals.

Beyond this, beyond me thinking that a theme is a truly important thing to have and subtly explore (it’s not like Donnelly is like, “HERE IS MY THEME, TAKE THAT READER,” every two pages), I think that there are contradictory messages even within the writing community on whether or not messages are important. I mean, there are a lot of people who want to see CONSEQUENCES to every. single. action.

They want to see the girl who drinks occasionally have something bad happen to her as a result of that drinking. If the kids have sex, even just once, there MUST be a baby. Or an STI.

If someone takes drugs, it must be made clear, clear, clear that DRUGS ARE BAD. BAD. BAD I TELL YOU. Maybe the character can become an addict and wind up in the gutter and then work their way back to being a ‘normal’ person. If a character speeds, they’re obviously going to be involved in a car crash.

I’ve seen a lot of people, within the community, argue essentially that if we DON’T show these consequences, we’re neglecting our responsibility to our audience. That we’re teaching them bad things, and they’re impressionable, and we shouldn’t do that. And that kind of attitude betrays us, because it shows that no matter what we say, a lot of us think that YA has a didactic purpose.

I disagree (you guessed it, didn’t you? It was like an overly foreshadowed plot point that you could see from chapter one) with this attitude, completely, however. Firstly because, you know, I am a teenager in real life (I know, another shoddily foreshadowed plot point. It’s in my bio and all). And I know other teenagers.

And guess what? Sometimes, we’re irresponsible. Does the kid who speeds always wind up in an accident, or get a ticket, or lose their license? No. Does the kid who drinks always wind up an alcoholic, totally alienating everyone around them, losing everyone’s respect? No. Does the kid who takes drugs wind up an addict, or have a really horrible come down, or something else terrible? No. Does sex (unprotected) always lead to a pregnancy? No.

You know, when people take risks like this? There are rarely BIG EXPLOSIVE consequences. In my opinion, it is not irresponsible to not have consequences for these actions. It’s just being honest. And as a reader, I find it refreshing when the characters can smoke and drink and have nothing too bad come of it the vast majority of the time (Looking For Alaska, The Absolute Value of -1).

I think we need a diverse range of representations of these things. We don’t always have to hammer our readers over the head with the DRUGS ARE BAD message, or the SEX IS BAD message, or the ALCOHOL IS BAD message. We can sometimes, and in certain stories (and I think these stories are so valuable, and have a place, for sure. I write them, sometimes), but it doesn’t pay for this to always be the case, because we just wind up with shelves full of didactic stories that are not true to life.

And we set off bullshit detectors.

And okay, since I’m making a habit of being more confessional in my blogging lately, I’ll admit the other reason I worry about didactic narratives: I don’t know anything. I mean, that’s not true. I know a lot of things about maths (okay, not really…) and literature and art and the way people talk to other people, and what all those facial expressions mean.

But I haven’t figured out the world, and I don’t think I ever will figure out the world — not now, not when I’m a hundred. Oscar Wilde once said, “I am not young enough to know everything” and seriously, when I’m a hundred, I think I will be truly old enough to say that I know shit all.

I don’t write from a place of moral absolutes. I don’t write from a place of knowing and wisdom. I write from a place of uncertainty. I try to write as honestly as I can, and I avoid didactic narratives, because I have nothing to be didactic about. And I give my readers what I can. Instead of offering all the right answers, I offer, I hope, all the right questions.

And isn’t that better? Even for those of us who do know things? Isn’t it better to give our audience questions, and let them think on those questions, rather than to force the answers down their throats? To let them think on those questions, and reach their own conclusions, no matter how vastly different than ours they are?

So those are my thoughts on being didactic in YA. What do you guys think?

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney Australia. Her currently untitled debut novel, en edgy psychological thriller, will be released by Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can read more about Vahini on her blog.

Writing YA Versus Adult Fiction: what’s the difference?

1 Jun

This is something I get asked a lot: what’s the difference between YA and adult fiction? So rather than continuing to reinvent this wheel, I’ll just write a blog and direct people to it from now on. Sneaky, eh?

To begin with it is important to have a protagonist firmly within the standard age–typically younger than 18, but simply making your protagonist 17 isn’t sufficient. Many adult books feature younger characters, but the way the story is told varies.

And, keep in mind, a story’s content will vary between YA and adult. Lots of graphic sex might fly in an adult book, but will usually be considered too much for YA. However, you can include a lot of mature situations in YA as long as you handle it well.

So that said, I think the biggest differences between YA and adult boil down to:

  1. the voice
  2. the length (though that is changing these days)
  3. how the MC views him/herself in the world and reacts to his/her surroundings
  4. the depth of the POV

First of all, voice is critical. My editor and agents both say the number one reason for rejecting YA is that the voice feels inauthentic. You aren’t talking down to teenagers, and you aren’t trying to imitate a teenager. You are simply telling your story as if you were a teenager. That said:

  • Don’t try to learn slang (it’ll be out of date by the time your book comes out anyway)
  • Don’t use “lower-grade” vocabulary
  • Just imagine you’re 16, and tell your story that way (see #3 for more explanation)

Secondly, the word count matters, especially if this is your debut novel. While “times are changing” and YA books are certainly getting longer, the standard rule is 50-90K. 50K would be a short contemporary, 90K would be a standard paranormal/fantasy. Something Strange and Deadly was originally 93K when I sold it, but I had to cut it down to 87K. Then again, the fabulous Sarah J. Maas has a YA fantasy (Queen of Glass, Bloomsbury 2012) that is >120K–but she is the exception, not the rule.

“Word count” is more than just the number of words, though. It’s the scope and complexity of the story. You simply cannot tell a story with twelve POVs and twenty interwoven subplots in a YA novel–at least not in a single book (note: you could pull it off in a series!). Basically, you can’t make George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones into a YA novel. However, in theory, you could expand and complicate a YA novel to transform it into an adult book.

Thirdly, think of how you viewed your life when you were a teen. Teenagers (and adults!) are uncertain, they’re starting to find their places in the world, and they are very wrapped up in their emotions (aren’t we all, though?). As such, YA often moves from a point of self-doubt to surety/autonomy, a point of selfish emotional concern to more selfless.

I’m not saying you need a character who cowers and “doesn’t fit in”, but someone who questions if he/she made the right choice and who sometimes hesitates before decisions. I can’t emphasize enough how a single line of self-doubt can really hype up the YA feel to your novel.

Also, I don’t think every emotion the MC feels should be a Big Deal, but little things ultimately matter more when you’re young. Heck, when I was 15, simply making eye contact with my crush was enough to induce a cyclone inside my chest. Romance matters when you’re a teen, and it is (whether or not you agree) an important part of modern YA storytelling.

These days, a lot of YA is considered “cross-over”, meaning it sells to adults as well. Thanks to Twilight and Harry Potter, a huge number of adults are into teen books. Maybe because, despite being older, we’re still uncertain and emotionally dramatic at heart? I think it actually has a lot to do with the POV, which leads me to the final YA requirement: the average modern YA novel will have a very close first or third person.

We live the story as if we’re in the MC’s head, so filter words are limited and introspection is tightly woven into the action. This is very different from the YA I grew up with (Tamora Pierce, Lloyd Alexander, Anne McCaffrey, Lois Duncan, Jane Yolen, etc.) which featured more omniscient POVs and distant thirds.

You certainly can write more distant POV, and it’s certainly around (an example that springs to mind is Lauren DeStefano’s Wither which is first person present, but very distant). Again: the usual YA will have a tight POV.

If you want to really get a handle on YA versus adult, grab some from the same genre–like take a popular YA fantasy and compare it to a popular adult fantasy. For example, compare Graceling by Kristen Cashore to Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. Both feature strong female protagonists pitted against a world of political intrigue and danger, but both one is without-a-doubt YA and the other is without-a-doubt adult. Or take Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries and compare it to her Queen of Babble–same thing! (See my awesome Venn diagram.)

What have I missed–what else do you think defines a novel as YA? Do you agree or disagree with my own points?

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

HYBRID has sold in a 3-book deal to HarperCollins!!

8 Apr

Omg. Wow, of all the days to wake up late! Excuse me if I blabber like a fool a bit. I honestly didn’t expect the PM announcement to go up so soon (awesome agent, much?), and when I woke up to an inbox of people emailing me to say congratulations, my just-woke-up-no-coffee-yet brain wondered what was going on for a moment!

But luckily for all involved, I’m more or less thinking straight now. So yes! HYBRID was sold in a 3-book deal to Harper Children’s!!

If I let myself keeping going, I’m just going to keep going and going and going, so for everyone’s sakes, I’m just going to direct you to my private blog for the details.

I do want to say here, though, that I’m SO SO GRATEFUL for my fellow LTWF girls, who have been SO supportive and SUCH GREAT CPs and JUST AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING x 100000 I couldn’t have done it without you girls. I mean it 🙂

And THANK YOU to all of you, as well! I’ve loved chatting with you all and laughing at stupid jokes and talking about the finer points of writing. Thank you for caring about the advice a 19-year-old nobody gives about writing 🙂

❤ you all!

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and her book HYBRID–about a girl with two souls–recently sold to Harper Children’s. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

You Know You Live in a YA World When…

5 Apr

by Kat Zhang

~~~

I posted this over on my personal blog a little while back, but the general consensus was that the list really should be longer. Unfortunately, I’ve run out of fun ideas, so I’m asking all of you to help me out! Read MY idea of what living in a YA fic world is like, then give me yours! 🙂

~~~

Have you ever caught yourself wondering if maybe your life isn’t real? That out there, somewhere, someone is writing your story and…OMG, it’s a YA novel? Never fear! Just ask yourself if the following statements are true. Then you, too, can know for sure if you’re living in a YA novel world!

1. You have never, in your life, done a group/partner project that didn’t end in drama of some kind.

2. When you’re stranded somewhere, your crush just happens to show up and ask you if you need a ride. Bonus points if his car is something old that he fixed up himself, or something that he got handed down from his father/older brother/uncle that he apologizes for but that you find rather vintage and cute. Super bonus points if he sticks in a CD that you just happen to LOVE and you shout, “Oh, I thought I was the only one in the world who liked ____!” and the two of you Bond.

3. The waitress checks out your crush on your first date. Bonus points if she tries to leave him her number.

4. Your worst enemy likes the same guy. Bonus points if your worst enemy used to be your best friend years and years ago, before you two hit puberty and she went off to be a cheerleader.

5. Your mood swings change the weather. You don’t remember the last time you cried when it wasn’t raining outside.

6. Your parents always seem to ignore whatever you do until it’s convenient to the plot to ground you—I mean, until you’re ABSOLUTELY needed somewhere for something VERY important. (but then, isn’t that real life, too?)

7. If your best friend’s a guy, you’re either together by the end of the book (I mean, um…the end of…um…well, you know what I mean) or he’s gay. If your best friend’s a girl, she’s prettier than you are. Bonus points if she’s smarter/more athletic/both, as well.

8. Your grandparents are awesome. And quirky. And probably less conservative than your parents.

9. And finally, you know you live in a YA novel when your life is a constant stream of ups and downs, ups and downs, but you can afford to be completely chill because hey, you know you’ve got a 99.9% chance of everything working out more or less perfectly in the end 🙂

Do YOU live in a YA novel world?

(PS, please nobody be offended by this, ‘mmkay? I’m not pointing these things out to make malicious fun, and having these things in your story does not automatically make it stereotypical or cliche. And yes, I’ve used these things in my own stories, as well! 😛 )

~~~

Now it’s your turn! What else should be on this list? 😀

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and her book HYBRID–about a girl with two souls–is currently on submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

Book Recommendation: Finnikin of the Rock

13 Mar

by Vanessa Di Gregorio
~~~

“A long time ago, in the spring before the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin of the Rock dreamed that he was to sacrifice a pound of flesh to save the royal house of Lumatere.”

Before I begin, let me preface this by saying that I’m about to gush. A lot.

Melina Marchetta is a writing goddess; that is what I think now that I’ve finished this book. Her first foray into fantasy is not a light one; it is deep, and dark, and hauntingly beautiful. And I honestly think that the book I’ve just put down is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

You won’t often hear me saying that. The majority of books I read (and I tend to read one book a week) leave me feeling disappointed; they were either too light and airy and fluffy, or had characters I couldn’t connect with, or had a plot with too many inconsistencies, or was too predictable – really, the list goes on and on. And then I tend to find a book that surpasses my expectations, or completely surprises me – and I jump at the chance to let everyone know how much I loved it. But Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock has made even some of the books I love pale in comparison.

Simply put, it was pure brilliance.

I don’t even know where to start – but I guess the best place is with a summary from Goodreads:

At the age of nine, Finnikin is warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh in order to save the royal house of his homeland, Lumatere.

And so he stands on the rock of three wonders with his childhood friend Prince Balthazar and the prince’s cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood. And Lumatere is safe.

Until the ‘five days of the unspeakable’, when the King and Queen and their children are slaughtered in the palace. And an imposter king takes the throne.

And a curse is put on Lumatere, which traps those caught inside and forces thousands of others to roam the land as exiles, dying of fever and persecution in foreign camps.

But ten years later Finnikin is led to another rock to meet the young novice, Evanjalin. A girl plagued by dark dreams, who holds the key to their return to the Land of light…

~

This is a story about one young man’s quest to save his homeland; the story about a people – a country torn apart – coming together to unite once again; a love-story so dark and intense and confusing that it will, at times, leave you with an aching heart. Finnikin’s quest leads him on a road that will eventually take him back to the place he belongs in; the place taken away by invasion and dark magic. But his path isn’t easy – it is grim and dire, and yet he is able to find hope through Evanjalin – hope in the belief that Prince Balthazar is alive and that they will be able to return home. What is so brilliant about this novel is how it looks at humanity and suffering, and how Finnikin comes across people who have faced oppression and cruelty. Some of these people are broken already; but others still have hope, even though their world is crumbling at their feet. There is the belief that they will be led back to the place that belongs to them; that they will once again have a home, and be among those they unwillingly left behind. There is the belief that the false king will be dethroned, and that the true King of Lumatere will be crowned once again; that the curse will be lifted. But nothing is quite as it seems, and Evanjalin will test and manipulate Finnikin. And Finnikin, in return, will end up finding himself struggling to accept his destiny.

For an author who has never written in the fantasy genre before, she is great at it. Her world-building is fantastic – it is full of depth and history and culture and religion and political intrigue. And magic! This is a world with substance – a place that feels so extraordinarily real in its fantastical way. Coupled with her beautiful prose, you’ll find yourself relishing her every sentence.

But Marchetta’s greatest strength lies in her characters. This is a writer who understands the complexities of human nature and relationships; of heartache and doubt and uncertainty. She is able to make her characters live and breathe. Her characters are not easy to understand; and they are not always likable. There are times when they are so infuriating, when you find them lying and harming one another to the point of disgust; and yet somehow, their realness will creep into your hearts. They are some of the most compelling characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting to know. These are characters willing to risk everything for what they believe in, even if their beliefs are not always the same. And you will want to root for them; you will genuinely want them to prevail, to find happiness. And Evanjalin? She is brilliance. If there ever was a character whose motivations and actions are dubious, and whose thoughts are complex and confusing, she is it. She, like Finnikin, is not weak. While they both have moments of weakness and unease, they are not by any means powerless. She is strong-willed and capable, resourceful and manipulative, and very much determined; moreso than any other character. And it is her determination, and her strength, that propels everyone forward towards their destinies. She is the key to Prince Balthazar; the catalyst to Finnikin and the role he plays in bringing their people together.

There may not be huge epic battles or constant sword-fighting occurring throughout, but that isn’t to say that there aren’t any great fight scenes: there are. And when they happen, they are satisfying. But the book focuses more on the internal battles the characters face, and the obstacles they find in their lack of trust in one another.

As for the romance, I adored every minute of it. The connection was real, as was their chemistry. But if you’re looking for a romance with lots kissing and love triangles and fluffy sweetness, you won’t find it here. This is a romance of the epic kind – a romance between two people meant to be together, and who struggle not only with themselves, but with each other.

So yes, I loved this book. There is so much more I could say, but I’m not sure it would actually be helpful, as it would only involve me gushing adoringly over all the other characters and plot twists in this book. But I do hope you decide to pick this up. In fact, I think you should definitely pick it up. Is this the type of book for someone who isn’t into dark fantasy? Maybe not. But if you like fantasy, this is a must-read. If you love beautiful prose, this is a must-read. If you love dark, complicated stories, this is a must-read. If you like characters who are the most complex, infuriating, flawed, brave, and interesting, then this book is a must-read. If you are looking for a love story full of passionate embraces and constant physical contact, you will not find that here; but what you will find is a romance that blossoms from more than just the physical; a romance that is deep and satisfying and true. If you are looking for an epic story that is thought-provoking, this is it. Marchetta’s book is up there for me with the works of Philip Pullman, Garth Nix, Tamora Pierce, Margaret Atwood, and William Nicholson – all favourite authors of mine.

So if you listen to me and decide to only pick up one book I recommended, this is the one. You will not be disappointed.

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Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She also has a book publishing certificate under her belt. Currently, Vanessa is working on RIFT, a YA fantasy novel, and a Children’s non-fiction series. She also geeks out over at Something Geeky.

Book Recommendation: StarCrossed

24 Feb

by Vanessa Di Gregorio
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“I couldn’t think. My chest hurt from running, and I wasn’t even sure I was in the right place.”

Thieves are awesome. If you’ve read Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief (which you really should read), or loved Aladdin, or adored “Flynn Rider” from Disney’s Tangled (which you really should watch), or are charmed by the prince in The Prince of Persia games (which you really should play) or enjoyed books by Tamora Pierce (there are a few thieves in her worlds, like George Cooper from the Alanna series), then you probably know what I’m talking about.

I love thieves. Somehow, when they end up in a story (be it in a book, or a movie, or a video game), they end up stealing my heart (ahaha, sorry… I couldn’t help myself).

Elizabeth C. Bunce’s new YA novel, StarCrossed, doesn’t have a title that sounds like a story centered around a thief; it sounds more like a Romeo & Juliet type of story, with star-crossed lovers and tragic endings. But Bunce’s novel is full of courtly politics, intrigue, deception, rebellion, forbidden magic, and quite a bit of stealing and sneaking.

Want to know more? (Of course you want to know more!) Here’s the summary I swiped from Goodreads:

Digger thrives as a spy and sneak-thief among the feuding religious factions of Gerse, dodging the Greenmen who have banned all magic. But when a routine job goes horribly wrong and her partner and lover Tegen is killed, she has to get out of the city, fast, and hides herself in a merry group of nobles to do so. Accepted as a lady’s maid to shy young Merista Nemair, Digger finds new peace and friendship at the Nemair stronghold–as well as plenty of jewels for the taking. But after the devious Lord Daul catches her in the act of thievery, he blackmails her into becoming his personal spy in the castle, and Digger soon realizes that her noble hosts aren’t as apolitical as she thought… that indeed, she may be at the heart of a magical rebellion.

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See? Rebellion! Spys! Dead lovers! How can you not want to read that? But as exciting as that is, there is so much more to this novel.

First, the world-building is phenomenal. Set in a land full of political intrigue and danger, Digger’s world is rife with numerous gods, multiple moons, religious wars, a frighteningly powerful Inquisition, and castles with secret passageways. And the magic! It adds to the secrecy surrounding Digger and the others.

Unfortunately, the story begins with a few too many characters (some of whom never make another appearance, though I imagine they might play a larger role in the sequel) and a few too many coincidences that just don’t feel right. The way Digger is able to escape the city with a group of nobs (nobles), or the way she easily becomes a lady’s maid – even though the nobles around her know nothing about her – comes off a bit heavy handed. But if you can look past the awkwardly contrived beginning, the story really fills out into an epic adventure with compelling characters. I, for one, am incredibly glad I was able to look past it and just get swept up in the rest of the story.

Bunce is wonderfully talented at creating multi-dimensional characters- and Digger is a wonderful protagonist. Though truth be told, there were times where I felt her character fell flat in comparison to other characters, but midway through the novel, Digger really starts to shine.  What I really enjoyed was how unreliable a narrator she is – how she keeps things from even us, the reader. It makes for some great twists and delightful surprises. She is talented, resourceful, and wonderfully independent. Her curiosity gets the better of her, as does her greed – which makes her a wonderfully flawed character. Digger is definitely not perfect. And though at times I felt frustrated and a bit confused by her wavering loyalties, by the end I was completely endeared to her. And her lack of loyalty is justified – being a thief, she knows firsthand just how devious people can be.

Merista is another well-written character. The daughter of the wealthy noble family who has taken Digger in at Bryn Shaer has one of the most gratifying coming-of-age arcs. Beginning as a girl who doesn’t even seem comfortable around herself let alone around her estranged (but loving) parents, Merista blossoms into a strong women capable of taking things into her own hands. From a meek little girl she becomes a proud young woman.

I could probably go on about all of Bunce’s characters. One of my favourites appears halfway through the novel – but to avoid spoilers, I won’t start naming names! Suffice it to say, he’s a character worth the wait. And he brings out a side of Digger that makes her even more compelling.

The plot is intricate and full of twists and turns. And while the first half of the book doesn’t have much action (and instead focuses on building the tension and suspense, and developing the characters), the second half truly delivers all the action you could want. The buildup is definitely worth the wait.

The first in a trilogy, StarCrossed is a wonderful read. From the wonderfully detailed settings and lush descriptions, to the bright characters and suspenseful plot, it is definitely a must-read. I can’t wait to read the sequel, Liar’s Moon! Fans of Tamora Pierce and Megan Whalen Turner won’t be able to put this magical book down.

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Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She also has a book publishing certificate under her belt. Currently, Vanessa is working on RIFT, a YA fantasy novel, and a Children’s non-fiction series. She also blogs about all things geeky at Something Geeky.

Book Recommendation: The Wee Free Men

2 Jan

by Jenn Fitzgerald

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I’m already a big Terry Pratchett fan, so I was excited to read his YA work, though this book is pretty much Middle Grade. It’s got a couple of large vocabulary words that might throw young readers, but they’re usually explained right there in the text. I don’t know many books that can use susurrus effectively, but this is one of them. The writing is engaging, as Pratchett normally is, and because it’s aimed at a younger audience than most of his Discworld books, it doesn’t have the same references to new technology and politics. I found it to be a nice change that helped set more of a fairy-tale feel for the book.

The summary from Goodreads should be enough to convince you to pick up a copy:

“Another world is colliding with this one,” said the toad. “All the monsters are coming back.

“Why?” said Tiffany.

“There’s no one to stop them.”

There was silence for a moment.

Then Tiffany said, “There’s me.”

Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnaped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk’s local Nac Mac Feegle — aka the Wee Free Men — a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds — black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors — before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone….

Tiffany hits monsters in the face with a frying pan. I approve. She’s also a strong character, with flaws and weaknesses that she has to face before she can confront the Queen. Reading this I empathized with Tiffany, I remembered being eleven and how annoying it was having to help with my little sister and loved how dead-on this little know-it-all was written.

I really enjoyed the characters in general. The Feegles are hilarious and inappropriate. It was fun to have cameos of Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, to tie the story into the rest of Discworld, and they managed not to steal the show. The monsters were great too and I loved the way the fairyworld was described as a parasite latching onto and bleeding through to the real world.

One thing that might annoy some readers is the way flashbacks are woven into the narrative. I’m generally not a big fan of flashbacks, especially when they appear as big chunks of italicized text, but I thought they worked well in this book.

The Wee Free Men is a fun read and I’d recommended to anyone, but especially Discworld fans and those who still enjoy kids’ stories.

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Jennifer Fitzgerald is the author of a middle grade fantasy novel, PRISCILLA THE EVIL, which she is currently querying. She is also is a Ph.D student in archaeology, focusing on East Asia. You can visit her blog here or follow her on Twitter.