Author Interview & Book Launch: Renée Ahdieh

meandrenee

Jess and Renée

Thanks to Penguin Teen, I was given the opportunity to interview the author of one of the most anticipated novels of this Summer.  Renée Ahdieh has become a pretty well known in the young adult community thanks to fellow authors giving her debut novel, The Wrath and the Dawn some serious promotion.  Not only were all of the promotions by Lauren DeStefano, Carrie Ryan, and many others completely spot on, but you can also check out my 5 Bard review of Ahdieh’s novel here.

Plus, Ahdieh is local to the Charlotte, North Carolina area, which is where most of us reviewers for Midsummer live!  So myself (Jess), Christine, and Maedchen hopped in the car and drove down to the Barnes & Noble for Ahdieh’s book launch and had a nice sit down in the Starbucks.  Side note: can you look at her? She’s gorgeous. Beautiful and talented to boot, can we all be her?

Note: This interview was transcribed by hand.

A Midsummer Night’s Read (MR): I am really excited about your book, which I have unfortunately not had a chance to read yet. So I’m going to start off with some generic questions and then I’m going to poke you for details.

Renée Ahdieh (RA): Okay!

MR: The first question: is it super nerve-racking to have your debut novel out in the world in such a big genre? And everyone is so excited about it! Twitter blew up today.

RA: I am a little bit nervous, but I think I’m mostly overwhelmed by all of the support that I’m getting from the YA Community, from bloggers, and everyone has just been so wonderful. So I’m just in that place of being overwhelmed and I don’t want to cry.

MR: Is it kind of like putting your baby out there?

RA: You know, I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to talk to others who’ve already had books come out. Some debut authors and some more established authors so they kind of prepped me and they were like, “You need to be okay prior to and letting it no longer be just yours.” So I’ve been kind of ready for that.  Right now I just hope everyone loves it as much as I’ve loved writing it.

MR: Well, I was on Twitter today and there was just so much love for your book all day, and I was just like, “This is awesome! And I get to go talk to her later!” So my other question is why 1001 nights? And while I was writing that question, it reminded me that it is sometimes called Arabian Nights and has anyone sang that Aladdin song to you?

RA: Oh yeah. A lot. In all fairness I’ve sung it so it’s okay! I mean I think there are a couple of blogs that I even wrote where I did the Whole New World like Aladdin with Jasmine on the magic carpet flying up into the sky. I love that movie. So I can go off on a Disney tangent, so I’m sorry what was your question?

MR: Why 1001 Nights? It’s okay, I kind of went off on a tangent there too. Because I thought to myself, “If no one has sang it to her, I’m going to sing it to her.”

RA: You can sing it!  Go ahead and I’ll join in!

Jess, Renée, Maedchen, Christine

Jess, Renée, Maedchen, Christine

MR: But yeah, why 1001 Nights?

RA: You know it’s kind of two-fold, the reasons behind it. The first one is that I’m a child of mixed nationalities and when I was growing up I didn’t have or see a lot of books for kids from diverse backgrounds. It was really important to me that if I was writing a book I wanted to do it from a different perspective because I’m fascinated by that.  Secondly, my husband is Persian, and the narrative of Scheherazade is actually the frame story surrounding 1001 night and it is a Persian story.  So I decided when I was going through deciding what it was I wanted to write that it would be kind of cool and that I could make it a YA narrative. So that was kind of my rationalization.

MR: Well, no one else has done it and I think that’s great. I’m so excited about it.  Is there anything specific that you want readers to take away from The Wrath and the Dawn? Like a theme?

RA: I don’t know about a theme so much.  I wanted the story to be about, and one of my friends Lauren DeStefano said that this book is about bad decisions, and I love that because it is.

MR: I read her review about it and she said something about how Dr. Phil would quit.

RA: I love her review, I laughed so hard when I saw it. I thought it was fantastic. And that is really what the book is about, it is about choice and consequence. And I think that it is definitely what I want people to take away and I hope that everyone is transported to another world.

MR: That’s really cool. I’ve also heard that it is a pretty epic romance. So did you take anything from your relationship with your husband and make it more epic to influence Khalid and Shazi?

RA: I think that… I love my husband very much, and I think it is difficult to say that you take anything from your own life, because I feel that I wanted people to fall in love with the characters and falling in love as Shazi and Khalid fell in love. Romance is really important to me because I’m a huge fan of romance, and I wanted it to be a huge deal in the book. I wanted it to not be kind of “insta-lovey,” but have it be a slow burn and I hope I achieved that.

MR: Can you tell me one of your favorite romances you’ve read recently?

RA: Oh my gosh, I’m a big fan of Marie Rutowski’s The Winners Curse and The Winner’s Crime.  I also love Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes. I also really like to read historical romances. I mean I think there are a lot of really good romances, I’m a fan of Stephanie Perkins, Libba Bray, so I just love YA Romance and I think it’s wonderful.

MR: Me too.  There’s such a wealth of books out there in YA romance.  And I’ve not read one that is completely boring or terrible, because they are all different and it’s great, which is another reason I’m excited to read yours.

RA: Aww.

MR: So what can readers expect from book 2, without giving away too many spoilers?

RA: Lots of sword fighting and lots of swooning and possibly a tear or two.

reneereading

Author Q & A

MR: Is it going to be influenced by another classic work? Or is it still going to be on the theme of 1001 Nights?

RA: It’s very similar to The Wrath and the Dawn.  It is tentatively titled The Rose and the Dagger, and I’m working on edits for that right now.

MR: I’ve heard they (edits) can be a pain.

RA: I keep telling myself that it is going to be worth it and that it’s going to be a better book.

MR: I just always see on Twitter that authors are always editing.

RA: Especially for book 2! And I didn’t believe that until I started writing it, and I was like, “Oh, this is tough!”

MR: Well, I’ve been following, ever since BEA last year, the We Need Diverse books initiative and I’ve read some of the articles you’ve posted on your website.  Do you have any events or panels about these soon?

RA: There are definitely some panels coming up. I think I’m supposed to be on one soon, but I don’t have my schedule in front of me! I know at BEA Book Con there is a big signing happening that will have a lot of the We Need Diverse books authors.  I think it’s on Friday?

It was at this point in the interview where we started discussing travel and how much Renée has traveled around the world.  We invited her to join us for dinner, and she invited us to her after party (which we couldn’t attend, so sad about that!)

 

Not only is Ahdieh’s novel worth my 5 Bard review, but having her here in Charlotte means that we might run into her again!

Renée Signing

Renée Signing

Thank you so much to Penguin Teen and Renée Ahdieh for allowing us to interview you.

You can catch Renée at Book Expo America this week in New York City, and if you are a Charlotte Local then you can see her at ImaginOn with fellow YA authors Brendan Reichs and Carrie Ryan on June 16, 2015.

 

Book Review: Dead to Me by Mary McCoy

“Don’t believe anything they say.”

Those were the last words that Annie spoke to Alice before turning her back on their family and vanishing without a trace. Alice spent four years waiting and wondering when the impossibly glamorous sister she idolized would return to her–and what their Hollywood-insider parents had done to drive her away.

When Annie does turn up, the blond, broken stranger lying in a coma has no answers for her. But Alice isn’t a kid anymore, and this time she won’t let anything stand between her and the truth, no matter how ugly. The search for those who beat Annie and left her for dead leads Alice into a treacherous world of tough-talking private eyes, psychopathic movie stars, and troubled starlets–and onto the trail of a young runaway who is the sole witness to an unspeakable crime. What this girl knows could shut down a criminal syndicate and put Annie’s attacker behind bars–if Alice can find her first. And she isn’t the only one looking.

Release Date: March 3, 2015

The most I really know about post World War II hollywood can really be summed up in a few movie titles and one famous murder, The Black Dahlia. McCoy was definitely influenced by the Noir era heavily, and this novel has almost every aspect of a film noir.  McCoy’s novel actually mentions the Black Dahlia murder and references it as “a few years go,” which means that Dead to Me should be set somewhere in 1949 – 1950.

The man character, Alice, is the quintessential younger sister character that idolizes her talented, beautiful, and intelligent older sister for all that she does and everything that Alice believes she is capable of.  Much like Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, Annie has a bit of a wild streak and would be caught drinking and sneaking out during her teen year flashbacks in the narrative.  I really enjoyed that the novel was interspersed with flashbacks to Annie and Alice’s childhood and their friendship in their younger years, because it really juxtaposed how violently their later years are and the circumstances that bring them back together.

There is something to be said about the end of the 40s and the early 50s, and how glamorous it all seems from our point of view now.  The fashion was somewhat seductive but still conservative, the women coy, gentle, but sassy, and the men were supposed to be dashing, passionate, and respectful.  Dead to Me kind of breaks down a lot of those ideals.  All but one of the men are pretty nefarious characters that are self serving, womanizing, and untrustworthy.  I can argue that the one character that I exempted from that description is still somewhat dubious and the main character waffles a bit on weather or not to trust him.  Hollywood itself is described as a pretty trashy town during that time, and the description of the derelict Hollywoodland sign that McCoy gives really sets the tone.

grace kellyEven the women go against type in this book, with most of them still being sassy, but gentle is not a word that describes most of them.  I would argue that Alice is about the gentlest female in the novel, and the rest are pretty wrapped up in some dangerous activities.  I really enjoyed McCoy breaking down these ideals, because it just made the book more fun and believeable for me.  The fashion still sounded pretty fabulous, but it was just details given in passing, nothing too extravagant.

But, just for kicks, here’s a gorgeous picture of Grace Kelly.

There are some pretty overt references to rape in this novel, and I think that the secrecy surrounding the topic really mirror how some survivors feel when they try to tell the truth in today’s society as well.

 

I really enjoyed this, and I think you should pick up a copy!

4 Bards

fourbards

Book Review: Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick

Sometimes danger is hard to see… until it’s too late.

Britt Pfeiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range, but she isn’t prepared when her ex-boyfriend, who still haunts her every thought, wants to join her. Before Britt can explore her feelings for Calvin, an unexpected blizzard forces her to seek shelter in a remote cabin, accepting the hospitality of its two very handsome occupants—but these men are fugitives, and they take her hostage.

In exchange for her life, Britt agrees to guide the men off the mountain. As they set off, Britt knows she must stay alive long enough for Calvin to find her. The task is made even more complicated when Britt finds chilling evidence of a series of murders that have taken place there… and in uncovering this, she may become the killer’s next target.

But nothing is as it seems in the mountains, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason, one of her kidnappers. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally?

Release Date: October 7, 2014

In all aspects of Fitzpatrick’s wildly popular Hush, Hush series, I just was not happy. I didn’t care much for the story or the characters.  So when I found out she had a new book coming out that wasn’t paranormal or anything, then I got excited.  Because it wasn’t her writing ability, I just didn’t like the story. So, of course I stalked this book at Book Expo America and managed to get my hands on a copy.

When I read the synopsis, I knew that this book would be much more enjoyable for me.  I’m a big fan of thrillers and fast-paced novels that involve crime or suspense.  I will say that at the beginning I immediately was put off by how much the main character dwelled on her ex-boyfriend, but I remember what it is like to have your heart broken, so I guess I understand where she is coming from.  However, I don’t really think it was healthy for her to be as obsessive as she seemed.

Anyway, I really appreciated Britt’s blind determination to do this after months of training.  I’m almost positive that for the most part it was for the benefit of showing herself that she could do something hard on her own.  I can definitely get behind a character who challenges herself like that, no matter how naive she was when it came to actual survival.

The story has a twist, which might sneak up on some other readers, but Fitzpatrick does an excellent job of planting the seeds of doubt throughout the whole narrative.  So if you are like me, you will probably pick up on these, but it still didn’t take away from the reveal.

The whole love story thing was a little off putting in places, just because it did feel so much like Stockholm Syndrome, but the character herself acknowledged that it could be that but she wasn’t sure in her narration.  So overall it made her seem very self aware.

I really enjoyed this book and read it in around 8 hours.

4.5 Bards

four.fivebards

Book Review: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

If life were fair, Jam Gallahue would still be  at home in New Jersey with her sweet British  boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield. She’d be watching  old comedy sketches with him. She’d be kissing  him in the library stacks.

She certainly wouldn’t be at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rural Vermont, living with a weird roommate, and signed up for an exclusive, mysterious class called Special Topics in English.

But life isn’t fair, and Reeve Maxfield is dead.

Until a journal-writing assignment leads Jam to Belzhar, where the untainted past is restored, and Jam can feel Reeve’s arms around her once again. But there are hidden truths on Jam’s path to reclaim her loss.

Release Date: September 30, 2014

This book was one of the top two books I knew I had to get my hands on when I went to Book Expo America this year, and I’m so glad I managed to get a copy.  I put off reading it for a long time, because my anticipation was so high that I was trying to calm myself so I wouldn’t be in danger of having my hopes set too high! Because sometimes that happens, and if you are a regular book nerd like me then you know what it is like.

It might come as a surprise that I was this excited about Belzhar when I haven’t even read Plath’s The Bell Jar, which is a huge influence on the characters in this novel.  I have, however, read Gracefully Insane, which is the story about the mental hospital that Plath was sent to for treatment in her early twenties after a suicide attempt (this is vaguely referenced in Belzhar).

I can understand why some teens might not totally understand or feel connected to these characters, but I think a lot of that megwoliztercomes with the common stigma that mental illnesses like depression, eating disorders, anxiety, etc are something to be feared or ashamed of.  I want this book to become the barrier breaker.  The book that students can read that is set in current day that can show how many different things can lead to “mental fragility,” (a term, much like Mrs. Q, I don’t like) and treatment in teens.  Hell, I think this book would be excellent to teach alongside any of Plath’s works (I have read her poetry).

The story is well constructed and the journey that Jam goes through at the Wooden Barn is similar to what some treatment plans would follow, the idea of immersing yourself in that entire experience and then learning to accept it and move on.  I really enjoyed Wolitzer’s use of other characters to really exemplify how many different things, big and small, can affect a person’s outlook and perception of reality.

Kudos to Wolitzer, for making a wonderful book that I really hope will help peel back the layers of social stigma around mental illness, and hopefully give those that might be suffering the courage to accept help and understand that they are not alone.

4.5 Bards.

four.fivebards

Book Review: The Young World by Chris Weitz

After a mysterious Sickness wipes out the rest of the population, the young survivors assemble into tightly run tribes. Jefferson, the reluctant leader of the Washington Square tribe, and Donna, the girl he’s secretly in love with, have carved out a precarious existence among the chaos. But when another tribe member discovers a clue that may hold the cure to the Sickness, five teens set out on a life-altering road trip to save humankind.

The tribe exchanges gunfire with enemy gangs, escapes cults and militias, braves the wilds of the subway and Central Park…and discovers truths they could never have imagined.

Release Date: July 29, 2014

I actually had no prior knowledge of this novel before I went to Book Expo America and was just desperate to get a copy of Ryan Graudin’s The Walled City.  However, it turned out that Little, Brown Books for Young Readers was actually dropped The Young World with The Walled City, and I quickly decided that this was a book I had to read ASAP!

First thing you should know about this novel is that it is told in a dual point of view between a male and female character.  Now, I know what you are thinking, the voices have to be super distinct in order for this to work, and Weitz did this extremely well.  Jefferson’s voice was extremely straight forward and honest, just like his personality. He does have a tendency to go off on small tangents, but not nearly as much as his co-narrator, Donna.  Jeez, Donna’s voice is ridiculously annoying at times.  She overuses the word “like,” uses an extensive amount of pop culture references, and has a sarcastic cadence that really can get a bit much.  However, it is all of these things that made me adore her voice. See, Donna talks just like any teenager I know.  Plus, the pop culture references (which I normally don’t care for) helps a lot in this book to help show when the sickness began and what things these kids remember from Before.

Another thing I really liked was Weitz’s decision to capitalize certain words in order to emphasize their importance to the vernacular of the kids still alive. Examples: Before, Adults, etc

The plot moves at a decent pace, utilizing the “journey” trope, and then miraculously speeds up towards the end, which kind of took the winds out of my sails as a reader. But, I suppose Weitz set it up so there could be more than one novel.  I can’t say that I loved this book, but I definitely didn’t hate it, and look forward to the next installment.

3.5 Bards

3.5bards

 

Vlog 2: BEA Wrap Up!

Sure, it’s a month later, but we still wanted to share our stories!

Top Ten Tuesday

toptentuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted for us book blogger types by the Broke and the Bookish. They provide a topic, and all of us participants post our answers on our blogs and we hop around checking out one another’s answers! This week’s topic is  a Top Ten Tuesday Freebie, so I chose to do:

My Top Ten Things I’m Looking Forward to in NYC for BEA

1. Blogger Con
How many things should I list that I’m excited for during Blogger Con? Well, number one I really love meeting all of the fellow bloggers, the sessions where we get to learn from successful bloggers, the keynote by Maureen Johnson, AND we get to see Tiger Beat perform? Yes. Please.

2. Sardi’s
The famous Broadway jewel restaurant that has been used as a film location for The Muppets Take Manhattan, The Producers, Mad Men, and Glee! Plus, the food sounds amazing and I plan on indulging.

3. RAINBOW ROWELL, ya’ll!
My prize book I got last year at BEA was Rowell’s FANGIRL, which was personalized to me, and I’m looking forward to getting a personalized copy of her upcoming novel, LANDLINE.

4. Harlequin Teen Power Hour
Last year I was like 6th in line to this, but Harlequin always hosts a number of their authors all together for one massive signing line! This year, I will definitely be there waiting again.

5. Random House BEA Blogger Happy Hour
(invite only) Super excited to meet and greet with all of the lovely people!

6. Children’s Author Book Breakfast
Last year I got to be in the same room as Rick Riordan, Veronica Roth, and Octavia Spencer.  This year I get to see Jason Segel and Carl Hiassen!

7. BELZHAR
I’ve been stalking this book for a long time, and the chance to get a personalized copy is making me super excited.

8. Heathers the Musical
Missy and myself have FRONT ROW SEATS to see the new hit musical based off of one of my favorite movies. It will be pretty amazing!

9. Cary Elwes
The Princess Bride star wrote a book about his experience filming it? Yes, please. Plus, I’ve always had a giant crush on him. Loved him on PSYCH too.

10. Saturday Night Shenanigans
Not sure what Missy and I will get up to, but since we don’t fly home until 2 PM on Sunday, we should be able to get into some pretty awesome things!

Top Ten Tuesday

toptentuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted for us book blogger types by the Broke and the Bookish. They provide a topic, and all of us participants post our answers on our blogs and we hop around checking out one another’s answers! This week’s topic is:

Top Ten Reasons I Love Being A Blogger/Reader

1. Getting to read all I want
Seriously, it’s like I have a free pass to always have my nose stuck in a book without seeming rude to people around me.  I just tell them I have a deadline.  They don’t know that I impose these deadlines on myself!

2. Fellow Bloggers
After getting to attend BEA and being able to meet some of my fellow bloggers in the literary world, I cannot imagine being surrounded by a better group of people.  Not only are we all supportive of one another, but we have cultivated friendships as well.

3. Talking to Authors
It never ceases to amaze me how much authors really appreciate what we book bloggers do.  When I first started doing this I was really focused on doing it so I could put to use my two degrees (more on that later) and getting the chance to encourage more people to read.  However, after interviewing and meeting with a number of authors, it is clear that our community of book lovers really helps spread the word about new releases and the hottest books out. I love that I can help get the word out!

4. Interacting with Readers
This is something that I don’t get to do as much as I would like to, but I am extremely excited when I get a chance to talk to any readers of any age and genre.  It is so much fun to try and find common literary ground!

5. Exposure to YA and NA books of all genres
I’m not going to  lie, there are some books that I probably wouldn’t pick up of my own volition for fear of it really hitting some emotional note or the synopsis not completely grabbing my attention.  But I’ve learned many times over that subject matter and synopsis really can’t give a clear picture of what I will love and what I won’t.  So blessed that this gig lets me read things I otherwise wouldn’t.

6. Bookish Items
E-readers, cute book bags, book related jewelry, book related furniture, book related art, etc.

7. Seemingly Endless Books
I swear it seems like there is always a sea of books floating around my house.  Not because I get them for free or anything, but because I have a serious book buying addiction and loads of books from Book Expo America that I still haven’t had a chance to read! The thing with books is that there are always more coming out that I want to read!

8. BEA
I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I’d get to attend such a literary circus.  I mean, not only was I able to meet a ton of authors and fellow bloggers, but I was able to discover a ton of new books! So much fun, and I cannot wait until BEA 2014!

9. Learning the Industry
For those of us who have always dreamed of being a published author, being a book blogger can really give you an interesting look innto the process of publication and the publicity that comes with it.

10. Putting to use my degrees
This one is really just to make my parents feel good about the fact that I have a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in English Literature, and since I work in higher education administration, I don’t get to put them to use as much as my family thinks I should.  So at least as a book blogger I get to absolve their fear that my degrees are useless!

 

Are you a book blogger/reader?  What are some of your favorite perks?

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