Author & Event Spotlight

The Event: Nemesis Book Launch

Where: Barnes and Noble at the Arboretum, Charlotte NC
When: Tuesday, March 21
Who: Brendan Reichs and Renée Ahdieh

This was by far one of the most original panel discussions I’ve ever attended for a book launch, and it might be one of my favorites!  Brendan came prepared with a list of random questions for him and Renée to start off the event.  Those in attendance were treated to a lively conversation where we learned that Brendan’s least favorite word is Pamphlet and Renée’s is one that rhymes with “oist,” although I think everyone dislikes that word (not just you, Brad!).  Both authors told about their Hogwarts houses, Brendan apparently tried to rig the quiz to get Gryffindor, but still ended up a Ravenclaw (Yaaaaas!) with an Eagle Owl patronus (#Same).  Renée is a proud Slytherin, who used to lie about being a Gryffindor, apparently a very Slytherin thing to do and the patronus of a rat, which she is fine with because Ratatouille.

My favorite part of this part was that after asking the audience to choose a number between 1 and 50, they took turns reading a small snippet from each other’s newest releases to the crowd. Someone hollered out 23, so I got this part on video for everyone! They then followed up with a brief summary of their inspiration for these books and what they are about. You can definitely tell these two are good friends and are hilarious together.

After asking each other a few rounds of questions about their books, Brendan was equipped with a Polar Express Conductors hat full of random rapid fire questions for himself and Renée, and coincidentally, those of us in the front row. Some of these conductor questions included Magic Wand or Light Saber, Hogwarts Headmaster or Starfleet Captian, Ghost or Ghostbuster, Prehistoric Times or the year 3010, and on and on.  It was pretty fun and I think it allowed the audience to feel more engaged, although I’m a bit partial since I was able to do the participating.

Brendan and Renée then signed books for the crowd (and there was an impressive one!).  Check out more photos below sprinkled between my interview with the star of the evening, Brendan Reichs!

Midsummer Reads (MSNR): Thanks so much for sitting down with me, are you excited?

Brendan Reichs (BR): I’ve very excited, tonight is the first night I’ve ever done a book event for Nemesis, so it’s a big deal.

MSNR: Yes! And it’s in your hometown.

BR: It is, it’s fun to do it at home. It’s actually a little nerve wracking to do it at home just because you know a lot of people in the audience, so it’s not like having that distance you have with a normal crowd, but it’ll be great.

MSNR: Are a lot of people you know coming?

BR: Uh, they better.

MSNR: That’s how I would be; Uh, I’d better see you or someone’s going to get hurt.

BR: I’m taking names.

MSNR: So this book is super complex.

BR: It is.

MSNR: I was reading it and I was like, SO MANY THINGS HAPPENING. Could you describe it in one sentence to a reader?

BR: I actually try. That’s why it was so hard to actually sell the idea because trying to describe it was too crazy to get it into one sentence. Basically…

MSNR (interrupting because I’m rude): You can describe it in a run-on sentence

BR: I would describe Nemesis as Min is a girl at 16 years old and every two years on her birthday she is murdered by the same person except she doesnt die like a normal person, instead she wakes up about a half a mile away without a scratch on her every single time. So on her 16th birthday after she’s been murdered for the 5th time she’s finally had enough and decides she needs to figure this out.  No one is really paying attention to her because there’s this world wide calamity going on where there’s an asteroid heading towards the planet and no one knows when it’s going to hit. And there’s this bit national/international human existence story going on. So there’s very little attention being paid to the trials of a teenager in Idaho.

MSNR (Interrupting, again, because I’m the worst): Right, because no one pays attention to teenagers.

BR: Right, exactly. And there’s another character, and this book has been fun because it’s the first time I’ve written a male point of view in my career, so Noah is having the same things happen to him except that he’s a little bit less stable than Min.  He’s a – kind of one of those guys that on the outside he – he’s a rich kid and she’s a poor kid – he’s trying to keep everything together but really he is a mess. Because he’s been having the same thing happen to him but he doesn’t trust himself to know that it’s even real. So these two things are happening and they eventually decide and they start to investigate that everyone around them starts to be suddenly implicated and you can’t trust anyone. And they find out that they might be at the center of a vast government conspiracy that may implicate all life on Earth.

MSNR: That is a big run on sentence. I’m okay with it.

BR: Yes, it is.

MSNR: So when I was reading it, I found it to be kind of a commentary on human emotion and the way that human nature really plays into the certain aspects of the two characters, specifically, and how they react to this outside force that’s coming onto them.  Very much like Lord of the Flies, like, they are put in this situation, how are they going to react?

BR: That is an essential influence, and I think the publisher likes to use the tagline of “Orphan Black meets Lord of the Flies,” which is an interesting combination, but there’s no good parallel anyway. But that’s what you want and I appreciate that you say that, because you want the story to be about the characters. Ultimately there’s a lot of plot going on in this book and if you stick with it it will all unwind itself, but it winds up pretty heavily at the beginning where you’re not really supposed to know what the hell is going on for a large portion of the book, and then it’s really good that it’s supposed to be centered on the characters because ultimately that’s where every story either fails or survives is on how good the characters are, because the best plot in the world doesn’t survive if you don’t care what happens. So I spent a lot of time trying to put the characters together, I hate the term strong female protagonist because that implies that your female antagonist has to be masculine or different in a way, you know, I just like to think of her as a strong person, and it shouldn’t be noteworthy that she is female, and it was interesting to get to write a male character’s perspective, although I’ve not read the entire breadth of YA, but I’d never read a YA where the male lead was basically kind of a mess.

(Literally this whole time I’m nodding my head and agreeing, because Brendan has taken over the interview **in a good way**) 

BR (continued): So i thought that would be fun because that’s normally assigned to a female character, so you get to overcome their internal difficulties, which can be boring, but what if this is a 15 to 16 year old boy who is putting the good face out there but doesn’t really have an idea of what he is doing with his life. I mean what is happening to him and stuff. So that was the motivation for that. If you like the characters then that’s exactly what I’m about.

MSNR: I actually assigned them songs: Um, I put Min as being very much like Titanium by David Guetta and Sia.

BR: That’s very good.

MSNR: And then I put Noah as more of the Bleachers, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, um, Jack Antonoff, and it’s called I Wanna Get Better. It’s about mental health and screaming at himself “I wanna get better,” I want to be better than this, and that’s kind of exactly how I see Noah.

BR: Somewhere in the blogosphere (*waves* hey everyone!) there’s a, and I believe it’s for YA Highway, I’d have to look it up, but I did make two playlists. On the Min Playlist, the first song is a Halsey song, because when I listened to her album that just clicked to me, I was like, this is that kind of angry but not a pushover type vibe that I was getting. Like she was pissed off and isolated, but she’s also not asking for favors.

MSNR: Which I really like. Because sometimes girls are perceived as being, you know, weak and asking for help a lot. At least in the South, which is what I grew up with.

BR: And there’s some great YA being written right now with female lead characters, so this is in no way sort of any genre defining effort, just that in the beginning the came fully formed to me, and that she would be isolated and damaged by what had happened to her, but NEVER broken by it. Just that she’s a fighter and she stays that way even though it does have it’s affects. YOu know she acts like she has no friends..

MSNR: Awe, but I like Tack though. Even though he never knows when to shut up.

BR: No, he doesn’t And Tack is sort of my character, and every one of my books that I write, there’s basically one character that’s sort of me talking through the book, you know what I would say in each situation, because I’m kind of a smart ass that doesn’t know when to be quiet either, and that’s sort of Tack in this book.  He’s basically saying the things that I would be saying when I shouldn’t be, you know, running my mouth.

MSNR: Honestly there’s a little bit of all of us in Tack, probably, especially when we were teenagers and never knowing quite when to be quiet.

THIS IS THE SPOT WHERE WE TALK ABOUT SPOILERY THINGS. 

PROMISED BRENDAN IT WOULD BE OFF THE RECORD *SINGS* LALALALALALA

BR: This was the last piece that fell into place for the book. I’m a big planner and when you write books like this that are so plot oriented they have to make sense and you have to keep track of what’s happening.

Matchy-matchy!

MSNR: So let’s just refer to it as “The Twist,” so where you plotting the book and then “the twist,” fell in or you were influenced by outside research?

BR: Most of the time the best ideas that come to me when I’m writing come to me about 2/3rds of the way through the first draft. This is when I’ve been living with the idea for about two months, and I’ll wake up one day, and typically in the shower, it will come to me and will have connected overnight. And this was one of the last pieces to come in and it was really three book ideas that all really came together in this crazy boo, which is why it’s so overbaked in terms of that there’s so much in it and because I had all this stuff and I managed to slot it all in together.

MSNR: I know, but I like that it has so much in it because it keeps you on your toes. I literally had to put it down to go to sleep, and I was so concerned about trying to figure out what was happening!

BR: And this is the stuff that I like to read…

Renée Ahdieh (RA)  shows up being adorable: Totally crashing!

MSNR: Hi, how are you!

RA: Good, how are you?

MSNR: Good!

RA (to BR): What’s up, how are you feeling?

BR: Good, good.

MSNR: This is weird, but you smell really good. (I still think this is weird but I had to keep this in haha)

BR: She always smells good, it’s a signature.

RA (wanders away, being fabulous): *laughing at us* I do like that.

MSNR: So, I’m not going to lie. The guy in the black suit? I totally pictured him as Agent Smith from the Matrix the whole time, and maybe that’s because I grew up with the Matrix, but yeah.

BR: No, that’s fair. And for our generation it would be an Agent Smith type- I mean- for me he looks a little different. Although for me, and this is probably not something I should admit to an audience, but I find the way the character looks, and in the book I’m consistent in the way the character looks but in my head that’s never how the character looks.  it’s just a weird dissonance that no one’s ever called out before because no one knows what things look like in my head.

MSNR: In my head he looked like Agent Smith.

BR: Right, for me he’s more of a Guy Pierce, but yeah you know it’s like a flat hair, flat face individual. And I just finished drafting the second draft of the sequel…

MSNR: So we are going to learn more about the project?

BR: It gets darker and deeper and a lot of the Lord of the Flies aspects are really going to come to the fore, because one of the questions I was dealing with was, the main premise, which was that I wanted to fight the finality of death, and what if death was not final; but not in like a zombie way or a ghost way or a resurrection way, but legitimately if it just didn’t work. Like, you died but you didn’t.

MSNR: As long as Tack isn’t Piggy the whole time.

BR: Right. Well, there’s a lot of, and you know I read Lord of the Flies, and you realize only two people die in that.

MSNR: Yes, but you get it.

BR: But they played it and it’s so beautifully written and you get their dissent. And with my book, I’m hoping to get that same thing, but also that a lot of people die. Because you know with Min’s experience in this book, death has not been permanent and that is such a central question. How would you deal with that? How do you deal with the idea that something that you know should be the end of something isnt? And you can’t really control it?

MSNR: I think the last question I have for you, because I don’t want to keep you too long, is that why you decided to do it on their birthdays, and you know not on…

BR: That is a question that will be revealed, and there’s a lot of little detail strings that are still out there and that’s because you don’t really know at the end of Nemesis, what is next. This book leads you to a point, but it doesn’t take you past that.  And a careful reader would ask themselves, “wait, why was this happening,” but I haven’t gotten to that yet.  That’s a great answer. You know if I didn’t answer it, “Oh, it’s in book 2!” And then I’m like, will you write that down and send it to me? Just in case I made a mistake.

MSNR: When can we expect book two?

BR: Uh, it should be a year. I mean I’m putting in the drafts now so I expect roughly the same time next year.  You know, we don’t have much say. I really like Spring releases, which you never know, but I assume it would be next spring.

MSNR: Well, thank you so much for talking with me!

BR: No, thank you so much.

MSNR: It was so good to meet you in person!

BR: Good to meet you too, and I’ll see you..

MSNR: Yep, you’ll see me in a few minutes!

 

A huge and special thanks to Brendan Reichs, Penguin Teen, and Renée Ahdieh for the event on March 21.

Nemesis is available NOW! Go pick up a copy.

 

 

Penguin Teen On Tour

 

Where: Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC
When: Monday, March 13
Who: Renee Ahdieh, Natalie C. Anderson, Alwyn Hamilton, Lesley Livingston

Thanks so much to Penguin Teen for allowing me to feature the fabulous ladies on the Spring 2017 Penguin Teen tour, or #Slaydies as they like to be referred to!

This event was definitely a highlight for me on a rainy and dreary North Carolina Monday.  It’s been about two years since I last visited Quail Ridge Books, and the last time I was there it was a much smaller place, and their new (to me) location is absolutely gorgeous with it’s red walls and spacious floor plan.  Also, I totally loved walking around prior to the arrival of the #Slaydies and discovering the goodies they have on their shelves. I totally found an original vinyl of LET IT BLEED by the Rolling Stones!  Seriously, if you are going to visit Raleigh, you need to make the North Hills Shopping Center and Quail Ridge Books one of your first stops.

Apparently this was the first official panel at Quail Ridge, according to Nancy, who was hosting!  So that made this even more special.  The floor was packed with the members of the Quail Ridge Teen Board, the lovely and large family of Natalie C. Anderson (who is a fellow NC Lady!), some fellow long distance drivers (*waves to Zoey!*), and some local readers.

Nancy started the event off with forty-five minutes of panel discussion with Alwyn, Renee, Natalie, and Lesley.  I think my favorite question of these was definitely how the main characters from their novels would get along and how they’d pull off a heist Ocean’s Eleven style.  Amani and Shazi, per Alwyn and Renee, respectively, would rush in guns blazing, as it were without a proper plan, whereas Tina would be judging them for not creating a proper plan, and Fallon would just be wanting to figure out when the fighting would take place.  I’d seriously watch this movie…maybe a crossover would be a fabulous idea?! *wishes*

After this the crowd was able to ask some questions and they were excellent!  First we had the “what kind of plate would you be” question, which, I think everyone would want to be a giant plate for ALL of the food, although I have to agree with Alwyn and say that I’d want to have one of those plates that are shaped like a book.  (They are REAL!)

I think everyone agreed on which character of theirs would survive the Hunger Games, most definitely the Celtic Gladiatrix, Fallon.

My personal favorite question was my own (I mean, Duh), which was: Since all four novels feature such fierce female characters, what would each be doing in light of the women’s movement today? See Video for all four answers!

The next question was what kind of advice they would give to aspiring authors and what they learned from the process.
Things we learned here:

-Alwyn wrote 6 full novels before even querying Rebel of the Sands
-Renee has almost 200 rejections to her name
-Natalie was given an office that looked like Hogwarts (so fancy)
-Lesley insisted to “not let the bastards get you down.”
-Three of the Four #Slaydies were published off of cold querying, so don’t give up!

After this we were able to get all of our books signed by the Slaydies and chances to chat with them all individually. If you haven’t picked up a copy of any of these ladies’ books, go grab copies now!

Thank you so much to Alwyn, Renee, Natalie, and Lesley for such a fabulous evening and to Penguin Teen for having me cover the event! Keep an eye out for my interview with Lesley Livingston about The Valiant and my 5 Bard review of the book as well!

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: May 2, 2017

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.

 

Midsummer Meets Maas

It’s no secret that the Midsummer Team are big fans of Maas’ Throne of Glass series and her A Court of Thorns and Roses books (although we both weren’t 100% on board until A Court of Mist and Fury).  So what was it like when we finally were able to meet the woman behind these outrageously popular books?

Well, Lyv (who hates me and moved all the way to Texas) was able to meet Maas the day after the release of Empire of Storms at Book People in Austin, TX!

olyvia-and-maas

Lyv and Sarah J. Maas

What did Lyv learn?

Lyv was there when Maas made the announcement of Hulu officially moving the television adaptation of the Throne of Glass books into production! Side note: it will be called Queen of Shadows, but they will be starting with book 1.

The best part of meeting Maas is that she takes time to talk to everyone, because she is a sweet snowflake with an ergonomic pen, and Lyv was able to talk to her about the 100 (this is relevant because one of the writers from the 100 is going to be working on the pilot script of Queen of Shadows) and their shared disappointment in Bellamy Blake and also their shared love of Ricky Whittle and shirtless hunks.

Lyv was also able to sign Sarah’s first edition Throne of Glass book that she normally has with her for fans to sign (Alas, we didn’t get the chance to do this at the Festival of Books and Authors in Winston a few days later).

Now, the difference between Lyv’s experience and Mine is that Lyv was able to purchase a signing ticket prior to the event, whereas I had to get up at the ass crack of dawn to drive the hour to Winston-Salem, NC to stand in line to wait for a ticket for the signing.  This was fine, as it’s getting me back in the habit before Lyv and I take on the Texas Teen Book Festival in October and then head back to Book Expo America in May, but I definitely should have taken my back pack instead of my shoulder bag (ALWAYS TAKE A BACKPACK!).  maas-ticket

So I picked up Midsummer supporter, Marissa, and headed up to Winston. There were only about 50 people in line ahead of us when we arrived around 7:30 (they were going to hand out tickets around 8:30) so we stood in line and caught up and chatted to some lovely people around us.

The festival was pretty awesome, but in all honesty, we were mostly there to meet Sarah J. Maas, so we went and sat through two other authors’ talks just so we would have a guaranteed spot for the Renee Ahdieh (who is equally amazing, you can check out my interview with her and the reviews of her two novels here on Midsummer) led discussion with Maas.

empire-cover-snap

Marissa, Shauna, & Jess

We met up with Shauna of B00kstorebabe, who is a good friend of mine, and we listened to John Hart, a North Carolina native and a NYT Best selling author, speak…in which he kept talking to us about how he was a NYT Best Selling author.

Then the enigmatic and hilarious Terry McMillan took the stage.  She read us a chapter from her newest novel, I Almost Forgot About You, and it was so funny and sarcastic. I don’t normally get the chance to read a lot of adult fiction, but I might take time out of my young adult reading schedule just for that book.

So, finally, at 12:45 two queens of Young Adult Literature took the stage.  At this point myself, Shauna, and Marissa had found seats in the very front row (excellent) and had so much fun listening to these two women talk about anything and everything.

renee-and-maas

Renee and Sarah

Sarah and Renee told us all about their experience in a fancy restaurant during Comic Con, where they were sitting directly behind Norman Reedus (Darryl from The Walking Dead) and then Renee told us about her time on set as a zombie extra.  Surprisingly, the zombie make up is pretty heat resistant in the Atlanta, Georgia heat.

Not only did they get to spy on Reedus, but the entire Vampire Diaries cast came into the restaurant.  Sarah was on door watch duty and they both freaked out a bit when Ian Somerhalder entered the restaurant.

They jumped around topics, just like true friends do, and discussed their individual experiences traveling in Egypt.  Sarah encouraged everyone in the audience to travel as much as possible, even if it’s just to a town over, to get as many experiences in different places as you can.

Once we got on the topic of Smut, however, it was a pretty awesome conversation.  Sarah says that sometimes she has to get up and walk around when the book is getting too emotional for her, and when she is writing smut, in order to feel less awkward, she drinks a glass of wine while doing it.

maas-talkApparently, Sarah’s grandmother is all about some smut, because she told the audience that when she finished ACOTAR 3, she warned her gran that there would be lots of smut, and her gran replied, “Sounds like my kind of book.”

Also, Sarah said that if she could be any of the characters from the Throne of Glass books, she would want to be Lysandra, because shape-shifting is pretty awesome. (I couldn’t agree more.)

After the panel discussion, it was a mad rush to get in line for her signing.  At this point it was 1:30 in the afternoon in September in North Carolina.  IT WAS SO HOT.  So when we waited in the sun for an hour, and we finally made it up to meet Sarah “Sweet Snowflake” Maas, we were all a little bit sweaty.  Sarah agreed about how hot it was and told us she was glad she was sitting down because her shirt was drenched in sweat.  She’s so relatable and friendly to all fans.

Shauna gave her the book of nice things that she was collecting from Tumblr and from fans in line (Marissa and I were able to write short notes to Sarah) and then it was my turn.

me-and-maas

Sarah and Jess

It is absolutely amazing to see a woman who is just a year older than me being so successful and still so humble and friendly to everyone.  She was so sweet, she pointed out my Midsummer shirt, and said she loved it and asked where it was from.  So I told her about Midsummer and gave her one of our bookmarks.  If you ever visit our page, Sarah, we love you! Then we talked a little bit about my time lapse video that I did and she thought it was an awesome idea.  Overall, she was just so nice and kind.  The line was still outrageously long for her once we were finished, and I’m fairly sure Sarah spent 3 or 4 hours signing books and talking to every individual fan.  So wonderful.

It was a pretty long and exhausting day, but 100% worth the experience and getting to meet one of my favorite authors.  I know Lyv was exhausted after her day of work then the Maas signing, too, but we were both so amped to finally meet her and chat with her even for a few moments.

Did you get to see Sarah J. Maas on her book tour for Empire of Storms?

Share your experiences in the comments!

#TeamTerrasen and #TeamNightCourt

 

 

 

Book Review: The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

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‘I am surrounded on all sides by a desert. A guest, in a prison of sand and sun. My family is here. And I do not know whom I can trust.’

In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad has been torn from the love of her husband Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once believed him a monster, but his secrets revealed a man tormented by guilt and a powerful curse—one that might keep them apart forever. Reunited with her family, who have taken refuge with enemies of Khalid, and Tariq, her childhood sweetheart, she should be happy. But Tariq now commands forces set on destroying Khalid’s empire. Shahrzad is almost a prisoner caught between loyalties to people she loves. But she refuses to be a pawn and devises a plan.

While her father, Jahandar, continues to play with magical forces he doesn’t yet understand, Shahrzad tries to uncover powers that may lie dormant within her. With the help of a tattered old carpet and a tempestuous but sage young man, Shahrzad will attempt to break the curse and reunite with her one true love.

Wow. I quite literally could not put this down and I read it in one day. I spent the first half of the book just waiting for Shazi and Khalid to be reunited and when they finally were, I was not disappointed. Ahdieh does an amazing job of building up and continuing their relationship, while also adding some depth to Shazi’s other relationships, with her sister and Tariq.

I really enjoyed the extra magical aspect, especially Shazi coming in to her own powers and learning how they work. My favorite thing about Shahrzad is that she never lets other people and their actions decide her fate. She takes her life into her own hands and she will do anything to protect the people that she loves.

I do wish there was more, however. I think the book does wrap up nicely, but there were so many things and characters that were introduced and I wish we had gotten a better glimpse of them. Specifically, Artan and his aunt. Of all the new characters, Artan was my favorite and I just wish there was more of him and Shazi together, and him teaching her how to use and control her magic. I also wish there was more Despina in this book. One of the things I loved the most about The Wrath and the Dawn was her and Shazi’s friendship. I think it highlighted the importance of female friendship, and I wish that would have continued in this book. Because even though Shazi was reunited with her sister, it wasn’t the same dynamic as she felt like she had to keep secrets and sneak away rather than confiding in her.

Overall, I loved the nonstop, fast pace of everything that was going on. It made the book more intense and the surprisingly few scenes between Shazi and Khalid that much more powerful. I wish we had another book coming, but overall, 4.5 bards.

four.fivebards

 

 

 

 

My Top 5 Female Characters, and Why I Chose Them

Favorite MaleFemale Characters

Midsummer is currently participating in the Swoony Boys March Photo Challenge on Instagram, and two of the days concerned favorite female and male characters, respectively.

Instead of just leaving it at a photo, because I am ridiculously excited to share my reasonings for the characters chosen, I decided to do an entire feature post on each.

I chose to do my favorite female characters first, because haven’t men come in first place long enough?

Yetta, Bella, and Jane from Uprising by Margaret Haddix

Fun fact about me: I am a whore for Historical Fiction, especially when it includes powerful women.  In another lifetime I wanted to be a history teacher, but then literature took a hold of me and never let go.  So I feed my history need (by the way, rhyming is fun!) by reading historical fiction.  Uprising is about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and the implications that the tragedy had on worker’s rights and the women’s suffrage movement.

I couldn’t decide which of them I love more because they are all so different, but I knew I had to include them. Yetta and Bella, are so well done as individual characters.  Bella’s voice is a bit weak and timid at the beginning, definitely befitting her character, but then grows continuously throughout the story into a character that is shown to really embrace her new life in America, no matter the hardships she has to endure.  Yetta is fierce, independent, and extremely stubborn.  Her narrative voice is so strong that it almost overshadows the other two characters for the majority of the novel, but I think that this was intentional and demonstrative on how fervent these women worked to establish a union and acceptable working conditions.  Both Bella and Yetta worked so hard for so little just so they could support themselves and their families, and it is inspiring to read about their determination.  The third narrator, Jane, I wasn’t expecting to like, because let’s face it, she seemed like a rich girl just looking to circumvent her father and get a little bit of attention, but she became much, much more than that.  She stood up for what she believed in and eventually lost the support of her family because she became involved in the Suffragette organization.  Haddix does such an eloquent job at making these characters so realistic that I felt like I lost three friends when the story ended.

Celaena Sardothien/Aelin Galathynius from the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

Celaena is a stubborn, somewhat obnoxious brat who is a bit full of herself and her abilities as an assassin.  I love her.  She is so fully realized as a well-rounded character with obvious flaws and negative personality traits, it sometimes seems that Maas created her out of someone I might meet on the street rather than a powerful fae royal from a novel.  Whoops, I should have prefaced that with a *spoiler alert* for those who might not have read the Throne of Glass series yet, but come on, if you go anywhere and read the synopsis for the novels, it will give this plot point away.

Here’s a quote from my first review of Throne of Glass, which shows my first impressions of Celaena: “First, Celaena herself has endured a lot of hardship in her life, but she does manage to find time to read and enjoy frivolous novels (even though she does read more serious literature), admire fashions, and play the coy game of “back and forth” with those around her. Hell, she is even somewhat vindictive to other girls that encroach on what Celaena would consider “her turf.”  What high school aged girl DOESN’T think of these things?  Not only does this make Celaena more relatable, but she seems more realistic. ”

Favorite Female CharactersShe might have some annoyingly realistic character traits, but she is fierce, intelligent, determined – not to be confused with her stubborn aspects, athletic, and is unapologetically sexual.  Once she fully embraced her former self, Aelin, she cemented herself into one of my top female characters of all time.  I can only hope that Empire of Storms continues her growth.

Young Catherine Linton from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I love Wuthering Heights as a whole, even though the majority of people either, A. don’t understand the idea of an unreliable narrator, B. are confused by the fact that the main character dies halfway through the narrative, and C. are too focused on the emotionally taxing relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff to notice/see the second purpose of the novel.  For me, Wuthering Heights was always about these two families who were so intertwined by emotionally abusive relationships in one generation that was healed, albeit slowly, in the second generation.  So notice I said Young Catherine, instead of Catherine.  While Young Catherine is the daughter of the emotionally unstable Catherine from the first half of the novel, she embodies all of the things her mother was not: adaptable, understanding, accepting, and she shows a genuine desire to help her cousin and family.  It’s possible that I love Young Catherine for everything she isn’t – her mother – but I love her none the less.

Shahrzad from The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

If I’m quoting myself, I’d say “I felt an immediate connection to this stubborn strong-willed, clever, beautiful girl,” and it’s still true.  While I await the sequel to release at the end of April (it was moved up!) I couldn’t leave Shazi off of this list.  She is a product of her environment, a woman with little power, but she takes what agency she can and seeks revenge for the seemingly needless death of her best friend. I think that is why she is one of my favorite female characters.  Shazi wasn’t happy falling in line and did her best to fight against the patriarchal and abusive society she lives in.  Sure, she ends up falling in love with the guy who everyone is scared of and hates, but she sure does fight him and best him over and over again.  Gumption, thy name is Shazi. A quote to exemplify:

“So you would have me throw Shazi to the wolves?”
“Shazi?” Jalal’s grin widened. “Honestly, I pity the wolves.”

Blue Sargent from The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater 

Blue is a recent addition to my favorite female characters, and she beat out characters like Remy from This Lullaby, Cleo from the Falling Kingdoms Series, Alyssa from the Splintered trilogy, and a number of others for the last spot.  (That really makes it seem like I’m some kind of Academy Awards for fictional female characters, but I’m not) She is an unapologetic feminist in a group of friends made of boys, from a household of psychic women – of which she is not, in a small backwards Southern town and somehow she thrives.  There are a ton of obstacles that she faces, but most importantly for me is that she holds her own as a narrator.  She shares the narrative duties with three male point of views and could easily be overshadowed by Ronan’s ability to take things from dreams, Adam’s connection with Cabeswater, and Gansey’s search for a long lost king.  But she doesn’t.  She holds her own and at some points renews my interest in the narrative because while she is in the middle of the story, she is still an outsider in so many ways.  I love her and I can’t wait for the last book in the series.

 

Do you agree with some of my choices?  Who would you choose?

 

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: May 3, 2016

In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad has been torn from the love of her husband Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once believed him a monster, but his secrets revealed a man tormented by guilt and a powerful curse—one that might keep them apart forever. Reunited with her family, who have taken refuge with enemies of Khalid, and Tariq, her childhood sweetheart, she should be happy. But Tariq now commands forces set on destroying Khalid’s empire. Shahrzad is almost a prisoner caught between loyalties to people she loves. But she refuses to be a pawn and devises a plan.

While her father, Jahandar, continues to play with magical forces he doesn’t yet understand, Shahrzad tries to uncover powers that may lie dormant within her. With the help of a tattered old carpet and a tempestuous but sage young man, Shahrzad will attempt to break the curse and reunite with her one true love.

Purchase The Rose and the Dagger

Author Interview & Book Launch: Renée Ahdieh

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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: The Wrath & The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

A sumptuous and epically told love story inspired by A Thousand and One Nights

Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

For the love of young adult fairy tale re-tellings, this novel was everything I could have wanted it to be. Fast paced, dripping with what I like to call “quote-ables,” AND a unlikely love story between two very different people, The Wrath and the Dawn is impeccable.

Ahdieh wastes no time setting up the narrative and immediately places the reader in the palace with Shahrzad the first night (of 1001, presumably).  I felt an immediate connection to this stubborn strong-willed, clever, beautiful girl. Shahrzad’s (a.k.a. Shazi) goal is to kill the handsome Caliph in revenge for the murder of her best friend.  I don’t know about you, but a 17-year-old that goes into a situation like this knowing the likely outcome and does it anyway has earned my respect.  Was it the best decision? Definitely not. But it wouldn’t be a good narrative if there weren’t a few bad decisions peppered in.  The first night passes and Shazi is somehow complacent and determined to continue with her plan.

persianfashion

Probably not accurate at all, but the details are brilliant.

The narrative does jump around in third person omniscient between Shazi, her father, her ex-boyfriend, and Khalid, but instead of this causing confusion as in some other novels, I really feel that it just strengthened the narrative arc by providing an entire world view of the story rather than just a focused glimpse into one part of the whole.  Speaking of strengthening the narrative, this entire novel made me hungry for food and clothes more than any in the past.  Ahdieh manages to put in so many lush details without it bogging down the story and she painted a vivid picture of what life could have been like in this world.   I also *may* have stalked the internet to find a representation of what some of the clothing looked like in my mind, but only found one that was close.

Let’s really get down to business now…the love story.  The whole trope of good girl meets bad boy is kind of turned on its head in The Wrath and the Dawn, because while the kingdom believes Khalid to be a vicious killer with no remorse, Shazi really starts to get to know him during her stay at the palace.  Not only does Khalid prove to be secretive and a bit manipulative, but he is also gentle and desires love.  What I really love about the relationship and respect that builds between Shazi and Khalid is the fact that they drive each other absolutely nuts. It is funny, endearing, and heart-wrenching all at the same time.

Thank goodness there is a second installment to Shazi and Khalid’s story because I just didn’t get enough.

I will leave you with a quote and a song, oh, and the final Bard total too.

“You honestly expect me to breathe in a world without air?” From TW&TD

*queues up song*

 

5 Bards to Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn.

fivebards

 

 

 

Be sure to come back Monday, May 25 for my interview with Renee!

 

Top Ten Tuesday: March 31

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 Books You Recently Added to your To-Be-Read List

 

1. The Winner’s Curse & The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski
I woefully admit that I am just now adding these novels to my TBR list.  Why now? Well, to be honest I never really looked into the synopsis and now I am regretting not trying to get my hands on these books earlier!

2. The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick
I never read the first book, My Life Next Door, but I suppose I’ll add that to my TBR now too!  This is a companion novel, so I don’t think I’d necessarily have to read the first one, but after reading both of the synopses I really think I’ve been missing out.

3. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
This is an obvious add to my list because I absolutely adored Fangirl and I can’t wait to read more of the fanfiction that was interspersed throughout that novel.

4. The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury
THAT COVER. I know, I totally added it originally because the cover is absolutely gorgeous but the narrative sounds pretty amazing too. This is definitely going to be one of the books I pick up first.

5. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman
New science fiction!

6. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
Super excited about this adaptation, and it has actually been on my radar for a while but for some reason I never actually put it on my TBR shelf on Goodreads!  I think this book is going to be even better because it will help with the increase in diversity among YA titles.

7. Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan
Adored Ryan’s zombie series, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, so of course I want to get my hands on this new series!

8. Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett
There is a commune/cult involved in this story. That’s all you need to know.

9. The Devil You Know by Trish Doller
Roadtrip triller? Count me in.

10. Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby
I’m definitely trying to read more Contemporary fiction, especially since there has been a big shift towards realistic fiction in the past year.  I really like the idea of this novel, it sounds a bit complex, especially with the aspect of a donor heart being involved.

What other books should I add to my TBR list?!

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