Book Review: A Million Junes by Emily Henry

Please welcome the newest member of Team Midsummer: Liz! Liz met Lyv way back at a To Write Love On Her Arms conference and they stayed in touch.  Then, as Jess and Lyv became friends, Jess and Liz “virtually” met via Tumblr, and finally met in person at YallFest 2016.  Give a big welcome to her and help us celebrate her first official review:

About Liz:

 

Liz is a History major with a double minor in archaeology and statistics, who is currently on a hiatus from going to school. Her first love is history but her second love is reading. She didn’t get into reading until she was 21 and she found comfort and courage in the characters. The series that really started her love of books was Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas. Romance novels are her guilty pleasure but her real love is YA books. Some of her favorite books are Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, A World Lit Only By Fire by William Manchester and of course literally anything Sarah J Maas writes.

 

 

In their hometown of Five Fingers, Michigan, the O’Donnells and the Angerts have mythic legacies. But for all the tall tales they weave, both founding families are tight-lipped about what caused the century-old rift between them, except to say it began with a cherry tree.

Eighteen-year-old Jack “June” O’Donnell doesn’t need a better reason than that. She’s an O’Donnell to her core, just like her late father was, and O’Donnells stay away from Angerts. Period.

But when Saul Angert, the son of June’s father’s mortal enemy, returns to town after three mysterious years away, June can’t seem to avoid him. Soon the unthinkable happens: She finds she doesn’t exactly hate the gruff, sarcastic boy she was born to loathe.

Saul’s arrival sparks a chain reaction, and as the magic, ghosts, and coywolves of Five Fingers conspire to reveal the truth about the dark moment that started the feud, June must question everything she knows about her family and the father she adored. And she must decide whether it’s finally time for her—and all of the O’Donnells before her—to let go.

 

I feel like it should be known i have never been a big fan of Romeo & Juliet. Their relationship is unrealistic.  I typically try to avoid books that have the Romeo & Juliet storyline, but I received an ARC so I decided to give it a try anyway.  I am so glad I gave it a try!

A Million Junes follows June(her real name is Jack but everyone calls her June) and Saul and their desire to be together but mainly needing to know why their families hate each other. Which leads them to learning why and how their families are cursed. Finding out what the curse is, is a whirlwind adventure.  Although it might not keep you on the edge of your seat, it does keep you interested.

When I first found out Saul was 21 I was worried this would be a book about a man much older than the main character because June is still in high school. For me, I automatically get worried when a book mentions age differences specifically if one of those people are in high school.  If the characters are not consenting adults or at least both in high school, I will put a book down and never pick it up again.  But it turns out June is 18. The fact that the main characters are two consenting adults is wonderful (compared to Juliet being 13 and Romeo being an age that is never disclosed, but we can assume is older than Juliet).  

When I first started this book I expected everyone to die (how could I not?! The description said it was like “Romeo & Juliet.”).

SPOILER ALERT:
I was happy when nobody ended up dying but enough does happen where for most of the end you expect one of the characters to end up dead.  The more information you get about the curse the more you assume someone is going to die. There is simply no avoiding it. A Million Junes didn’t fall into the YA cliche of “and they lived happily ever after.”  There is still room for these characters to grow but you don’t feel like you are being left with a cliffhanger.  If the author wants to write a sequel she could, but I think where it ended is a good place.

My favorite quote from A Million Junes was :

“‘June, Moments are like cherries.  They’re meant to be relished. Shared – not hoarded.  You can clutch one terrible moment or experience all the rest.  Your life is slipping past in brilliant little bits…’”

I am someone who spends a lot of time thinking more about the bad memories than the good. This quote made me realize I am missing out on so many good memories by holding on to the bad ones. There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting the bad memories go and living in the now and enjoying your life as much as possible. I feel like part of the reason I enjoyed reading about June so much was because of the journey she went on and the growth she experienced.

This book was a happy surprise for me.  I am so pleased I picked it up and gave it a chance.

3.5 Bards!

You can pre-order A Million Junes now!

 

Author Spotlight: Kelly Jensen

Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World is the Young Adult feminist anthology I didn’t know I needed as a teen, but am glad I got to read as an adult. As the last stop for her book tour, editor Kelly Jensen was at BookPeople in Austin, and I was lucky enough to sit down with her before the event.

Midsummer Reads: Hi
Kelly Jensen: Hi
MR: Thanks for agreeing to do this
KJ: Of course
MR: So, let’s just jump right in, when did you first get the idea to do this anthology?
KJ: So, I’d been doing a blog series on stacked for a few years about girls and reading, and why it is we talk about boys and reading but never the opposite. I had for a number of years invited different people in the book world (authors, editors, agents) to write about girls and reading in different aspects in YA fiction and I found I really loved curating these essays and putting together these series, so I wanted to do something similar but do it in a format that teenagers could pick up. Because a teenager is probably not going to read a blog, some will, who are super into it, they will. But I want that kid who is walking around the library looking for something to read. That sort of inspired the idea of doing an anthology and I’d always been fascinated by the conversations that go on online about feminism and it just sort of felt like a good fit to marry the two.

MR: What made it really start coming together, this book in particular? Was there a catalyst?
KJ: I didn’t think that I would be able to do it, in part, because I didn’t have an agent. So, I had no idea how to go about pitching an anthology with literally, like nothing. Nothing to show, except for my own writing. I actually tweeted about it, and my now editor reached out to me and said, “we should talk.” So, we talked and she brought in another editor from Algonquin, we all had a really great conversation, we were on the same page about what we wanted this to look like, both in terms of content and also visually.
MR: Visually, it looks great, it’s really cool.
KJ: They did a great job, they killed it. It was at that point that Elise said, “well, write me a proposal” so I wrote a proposal and then I waited and then I had a contract. And after that I had so many questions through the whole process because I didn’t have an agent, so I couldn’t ask contract questions. They had suggested then, that I find an agent. Apparently, you can do that, after you’ve sold the book

MR: What is the editing process like for something like this?
KJ: I was surprised. I edited the pieces as they came into me and each person had a totally different style and different thing that they needed in terms of editing. It was really neat to see people who wanted to have my input, or bounce ideas off me, the whole way through and then the people that turned in a draft that was pretty much perfect the first time and trying to provide feedback to both of them in a way that is substantial. I really liked seeing how people – their processes are so different. You know, when you’re working with 40 different people and you have 40 different processes, it’s really – it makes you feel better about your own process. When I turned in my manuscript to my editors, there really wasn’t a whole lot in terms of what they had to edit, it was mostly making sure we fit within a page. We had something like 9 or 10 pages over what they can print, so we just had to go and find the places that could be shortened or cut.

MR: So how did you go about getting the authors and their stories? Were there some that you knew you absolutely wanted?
KJ: So, I made two lists. One list was writers who I know had talked about feminism or had some interest in feminism that would at least open an email. And then there’s this dream list of people who weren’t necessarily in the book world but who would have a really interesting perspective. Because from the start we had talked about doing this anthology as making sure it wasn’t just YA writers, so any reader could pick it up and be like, oh this isn’t just in one world, this impact everybody. So, I make this dream list of people I’d like to have in there. I thought to myself well, Wendy Davis really – was a lot of fun to work with. She’s so smart and articulate. When she responded, I didn’t actually expect that to happen, so that was awesome. Some of the pieces are reprint so I just found stuff I liked and then I went through the process of getting the rights to print them. That was nice in terms of rounding out topics and issues and voices, a little of everything. And then as pieces started to come together, I could see where there were holes or places that could use a little bit more or another perspective. It was nice to have this massive list of people, to find someone else. The contributors also suggested other people and that was really helpful to give a broad picture. I got to work with some people who I hadn’t heard of before and that was fun.

MR: One of the stories I really connected with was “Girl Lessons” by Sarah McCarry and I remember reading it, sitting outside on my lunch break just reading and I started crying because I connected so much with this story. Were there any that you really connected with like that?
KJ: Hers is so good. Hers was one that as soon as I read it, I got that feeling as well. The one that really got me, and I was sort of surprised – reading as an editor is totally different than reading as a reader, in terms of, yes, you get the same impact of what a story is trying to tell, but you’re trying make that story have that real “pow” for the reader. So, it wasn’t until I was reading pass pages, I was reading everything out loud, and this time as a reader instead of an editor. I got halfway through the book when Jessica Luthor’s piece comes up. Hers is about her relationship with her husband, she’d been with him for a long time, and sort of how different they are in the relationship as individuals and the relationship together has changed over the course of their time together. I just started crying my eyes out, this is such a nice piece and I related to a lot of what she said in it. I thought it was a beautiful piece about what relationships are like and that’s the type of conversation you don’t have when you’re younger and it’s nice for her to be like, it’s work. This doesn’t happen magically, it takes work and it takes compromise and sometimes terrible things happen and you get through it if you work together.
MR: I remember hers, and I remember at the end she says, this is my relationship, it’s not going to be the same for everyone, I thought that was a really great addition to that piece.
KJ: Yeah

MR: One of the other things that really struck me was me was the conversation with Courtney Summers and Laurie Halse Anderson, specifically how people call stories like theirs “rape stories.” Could you speak a little bit about why when men write women getting raped for the sake of their stories and why those aren’t called “rape stories?”
KJ: You know, it seems to me that whenever there’s a girl at the center of a story and it’s written by a woman, it’s a book that is for girls and women and it’s very geared towards that specific readership and it gets marketed that way and we don’t see the same thing when men write about women and girls. We don’t see the same thing when men write these epic fantasies and do very similar things. Culturally we see it as a women’s issue and we don’t see the broader impact. It’s an issue of frustration. There is this idea that we already have a rape book, we don’t need another one. And yet, you get 12 fantasies in a row written by men with rape scenes that are just there with no purpose other than to develop the male character and devalue the female character. And that’s an issue. Culturally, outside of reading, that’s a thing that we are really complacent in. [insert really long tangent about Game of Thrones and how dudes should just stop writing]

MR: Speaking of Courtney Summers, though, her other piece was about unlikeable girls. What are some of your favorite unlikeable girls in media?
KJ: I like Theo, in Brandy Colbert’s Pointe, she’s just this really complex character and not particularly likeable, and she’s working through so much internal [stuff] that it sometimes manifests in not likeable ways. But that’s also reality. I regularly say that I’m not likeable person, and most of the time I’m not and that’s fine.
MR: You don’t have to be
KJ: Exactly, I think that’s just how you survive in the world. There are ways to be competent and respectful and pleasant but-
MR: You don’t always have to be nice
KJ: Right, like we’re complex, we’re not one-dimensional people. In music, I don’t know if you know Marina and the Diamonds?
MR: Yess!
KJ: She’s super, at least in the persona that she gives, not likeable but yet I love her and I know so many other women love her. I think because she represents this idea of like, here’s what you think women are, and yet this is not reality.

MR: So, what is next for you?
KJ: I am working on another anthology, it’s another YA anthology on mental health. I’ve got 20 contributors so far. The pieces that they have been submitting are out of this world good. It’s hard, it’s such a different topic than feminism. As much as they are personal stories in feminism, it’s a little bit different –
MR: Mental health stuff – you have to be in the right headspace to go through that kind of stuff.
KJ: Right, and I can only read one at a time and I need so much space between them. Because it’s so much about – how do you tell someone, “can you talk about this terrible time a little bit more?”
MR: Like, “I need you to push a little deeper”
KJ: Yeah, it’s like they’re probably already at that limit. And I also don’t want myself to be so impacted that I can’t work now. It has been interesting in terms of editing since these are people that we are having an open conversation about mental health and we can say, “listen, things aren’t good right now and it’s going to take me a little extra time.” And it’s nice to be able to know that that’s the reason and be okay with it and know that it will get done without pushing.
MR: That sounds great, I’m excited for that. Thank you so much for this!
KJ: Yeah, you’re welcome, this was fun.

Book Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

First things first: THIS BOOK WAS AMAZING. I loved this book so much that I ended up dedicating an entire BookTube video to making Strange the Dreamer themed cupcakes while I talked a bit about what I liked so much about the novel.

Check it out below and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more fun videos!

Now, let’s get to the meat of the review.

As I mentioned in the review, I fell in love with Lazlo himself within the first few chapters of this book. How pure and wonderful is my tall crooked-nosed son with his love for reading, learning, and dreaming (see what I did there?)? Lazlo may not have any idea about his heritage, but unlike some book characters, this doesn’t weigh him down with questions of “who am I,” “what is my purpose in life,” etc.  I think his acceptance of that, or even the fact that he doesn’t consider it to be a problem in his life, is what makes him such a humble and caring character that helps those who need it without expecting anything in return.

Speaking of those people who probably should given him something in return, I was extremely irritated by the golden godson and all of his nonsense.  I found myself eye-rolling through a bunch of his scenes, which is exactly what I think Taylor intended, but still. I’d kick him in the shin if I could.  At least he does have intelligence, although we all know that he wouldn’t be able to do anything without help from the best crooked-nose librarian there is (this isn’t spoilery…well, kind of).

I’ve read some reviews where people found the pacing a bit slow at the beginning, but I didn’t find this a problem at all.  I really loved the development of Lazlo as a character, and while I do think it would have been fun to see more of the journey from their home to Weep, I know this wasn’t the point of the novel.  However, the action does pick up significantly after the arrival of Lazlo and the other characters to the mythical Weep, so even if you are struggling to get to that point, push through it! I promise it’s worth it.

Since I was so fond of Lazlo and his character development, I must say that the only one of the Godspawn that I truly felt connected to, and I’m sure this is because Sarai was the other point of view in the novel, was Sarai.  She is such a complex character with an odd gift, to say the least, but it allows her to grow and have empathy for humans in a way the others don’t.  This becomes a major plot point as well.  But the others kind of felt almost like unnecessary background noise (all except Minya, of course), but I anticipate they will play a much larger part in the second book.

I loved this book and I cannot wait to pick it back up again and read carefully for clues about the twist at the end.

5 Bards!

 

ARC Giveaway: The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

 

 

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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: June 27, 2017

Lada Dracul has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself. After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.

What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won . . . and souls will be lost.

 

 

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: June 13, 2017

In a land ruled and shaped by violent magical storms, power lies with those who control them.

Aurora Pavan comes from one of the oldest Stormling families in existence. Long ago, the ungifted pledged fealty and service to her family in exchange for safe haven, and a kingdom was carved out from the wildlands and sustained by magic capable of repelling the world’s deadliest foes. As the sole heir of Pavan, Aurora’s been groomed to be the perfect queen. She’s intelligent and brave and honorable. But she’s yet to show any trace of the magic she’ll need to protect her people.

To keep her secret and save her crown, Aurora’s mother arranges for her to marry a dark and brooding Stormling prince from another kingdom. At first, the prince seems like the perfect solution to all her problems. He’ll guarantee her spot as the next queen and be the champion her people need to remain safe. But the more secrets Aurora uncovers about him, the more a future with him frightens her. When she dons a disguise and sneaks out of the palace one night to spy on him, she stumbles upon a black market dealing in the very thing she lacks—storm magic. And the people selling it? They’re not Stormlings. They’re storm hunters.

Legend says that her ancestors first gained their magic by facing a storm and stealing part of its essence. And when a handsome young storm hunter reveals he was born without magic, but possesses it now, Aurora realizes there’s a third option for her future besides ruin or marriage.

She might not have magic now, but she can steal it if she’s brave enough.

Challenge a tempest. Survive it. And you become its master.

 

 

Release Day Blitz & Giveaway

 

Happy Paperback Release day to the fabulous Richelle Mead’s The Glittering Court!

Big and sweeping, spanning from the refined palaces of Osfrid to the gold dust and untamed forests of Adoria, The Glittering Court tells the story of Adelaide, an Osfridian countess who poses as her servant to escape an arranged marriage and start a new life in Adoria, the New World. But to do that, she must join the Glittering Court.

Both a school and a business venture, the Glittering Court is designed to transform impoverished girls into upper-class ladies who appear destined for powerful and wealthy marriages in the New World. Adelaide naturally excels in her training, and even makes a few friends: the fiery former laundress Tamsin and the beautiful Sirminican refugee Mira. She manages to keep her true identity hidden from all but one: the intriguing Cedric Thorn, son of the wealthy proprietor of the Glittering Court.

When Adelaide discovers that Cedric is hiding a dangerous secret of his own, together they hatch a scheme to make the best of Adelaide’s deception. Complications soon arise—first as they cross the treacherous seas from Osfrid to Adoria, and then when Adelaide catches the attention of a powerful governor.

But no complication will prove quite as daunting as the potent attraction simmering between Adelaide and Cedric. An attraction that, if acted on, would scandalize the Glittering Court and make them both outcasts in wild, vastly uncharted lands…

To celebrate the release of this novel, PenguinTeen is hosting a giveaway, and you could win 1 of 10 copies of The Glittering Court!

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Enter for a chance to win one (1) of ten (10) copies of The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead (ARV: $10.99 each).

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Enter between 12:00 AM Eastern Time on March 28, 2017 and 12:00 AM on April 5, 2017.  Open to residents of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia who are 13 and older. Winners will be selected at random on or about April 7, 2017. Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received. Void where prohibited or restricted by law.

 

Not familiar with Richelle Mead? Well, just look at her fabulousness!

RICHELLE MEAD is the #1 New York TimesUSA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of the Vampire Academy series and its spin-off series, Bloodlines. Originally from Michigan, she now lives in Seattle, Washington.

 

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.

 

 

Book Review: Nemesis by Brendan Reichs

It’s been happening since Min was eight. Every two years, on her birthday, a strange man finds her and murders her in cold blood. But hours later, she wakes up in a clearing just outside her tiny Idaho hometown—alone, unhurt, and with all evidence of the horrifying crime erased.

Across the valley, Noah just wants to be like everyone else. But he’s not. Nightmares of murder and death plague him, though he does his best to hide the signs. But when the world around him begins to spiral toward panic and destruction, Noah discovers that people have been lying to him his whole life. Everything changes in an eye blink.

For the planet has a bigger problem. The Anvil, an enormous asteroid threatening all life on Earth, leaves little room for two troubled teens. Yet on her sixteenth birthday, as she cowers in her bedroom, hoping not to die for the fifth time, Min has had enough. She vows to discover what is happening in Fire Lake and uncovers a lifetime of lies: a vast conspiracy involving the sixty-four students of her sophomore class, one that may be even more sinister than the murders.

Release Date: March 21, 2017

Holy hell, I don’t even know where to start.

There is SO MUCH HAPPENING in this book.  Let’s see, if you came here looking for a book about a serial killer, you found it.  If you came here looking for a post-apocalyptic book, you found it.  If you were looking for a government conspiracy novel, you found it. I went into this book woefully unprepared for the story I got, but in a good way.  I love it when a book takes me by surprise and keeps me on my toes.  Honestly, I could have read this book in one sitting if it wasn’t for the pesky thing called work that gets in my way most days.

The novel is separated into parts, but the most interesting part isn’t necessarily the rotating narration between Min and Noah, but the different structure that their narration takes individually. Both are being treated by a psychiatrist for their condition (not even sure if that is an appropriate way to describe being murdered on your birthday, but I’ll go with it for now), but Min’s story is filled with italicized flashbacks to her traumatic experiences, while Noah’s includes a transcript from his sessions with their psychologist.  Personally, I really liked the addition of the transcripts because it gave a really eye catching change to the novel.  But the whole structure was well done.

I can understand why this book was compared to Lord of the Flies, but only in the sense that it really showcases the different ways humans can act during times of distress.  Although I will say that Tack was by far the best secondary character in this book and I can tell you exactly why: one of my best guy friends in high school was totally the same.  Always mouthing off when it wasn’t necessary, but in a witty and sardonic way that begged attention.  He was a very good comedic relief in a lot of ways for this book, as it’s pretty heavy and his humor is welcome levity.
Freaking never-see-it-coming twist at the end, Batman!

Seriously.

You will not see this coming. I’m still coming to terms with it.  I think readers will be pleasantly surprised that they were duped the whole time, I certainly was, especially if they read a lot of books, this twist was never something I’d considered or seen before.

I don’t even know how to talk about it without giving any of it away, so I’m just going to say I had the chance to ask Reichs about it during our interview (which is below), but it was off the record because SPOILERS.

There are still a lot of questions to be answered and waiting the next year for the sequel will be almost unbearable because I NEED TO KNOW.

Overall, I’m giving Brendan Reich 4 Bards! Look for my coverage of his Launch event with Renée Ahdieh and our interview, coming up in a few minutes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blog Tour: A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi


The Author: 

Roshani Chokshi is a fabulous human.  (Okay I added that part of this bio)

Roshani Chokshi is the New York Times bestselling author of THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Shimmer, and Book Smugglers. Her short story, “The Star Maiden,” was longlisted for the British Fantasy Science Award.

The Book: 

Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. Unsatisfied with becoming a mere puppet king, Vikram offers Gauri a chance to win back her kingdom in exchange for her battle prowess. Together, they’ll have to set aside their differences and team up to win the Tournament of Wishes – a competition held in a mythical city where the Lord of Wealth promises a wish to the victor.

Reaching the tournament is just the beginning. Once they arrive, danger takes on new shapes: poisonous courtesans and mischievous story birds, a feast of fears and twisted fairy revels. Every which way they turn new trials will test their wit and strength. But what Gauri and Vikram will soon discover is that there’s nothing more dangerous than what they most desire.

Release Date: March 28, 2017 

As much as I loved the lush and floral narrative descriptions in The Star-Touched Queen, I’d have to say that I find A Crown of Wishes to be my favorite of the two.  Not only has Chokshi one-upped herself, but she has created two snarky characters that leaped off the page and into my heart. Seriously, the banter in this book is spot on.  I’ve always wanted to be around people who could give me a verbal sparring match much like Vikram and Gauri have.  Plus, who doesn’t love a slow burn romance where the two characters start off with a rocky relationship and end up having feelings for one another? Seriously, that is one of my favorite book tropes and it will never cease to make me happy.

I’d love to pick Chokshi’s brain about all the glorious settings and where she got the idea for the Tournament of Wishes, well, if I’m being honest, the whole story here.  It’s delightfully complex and it unfolds in such an organic way that it keeps the reader on their toes.  Chokshi also does an excellent job of tying Guari’s story to her sister Maya’s without it being too heavy handed.  We are reminded of Maya frequently and how Guari’s sense of self-preservation and determination comes from her relationship with her “lost” sister.  Guari is a fierce female bad ass.  In a culture where women resided in harams and were regarded largely as property or things to be bartered, it is so awesome that Guari has carved her own lot in life and has grown to be a warrior who loves her country fiercely, she grows so much as a character throughout the novel that I’d have to say she’s my absolute favorite aspect of this story.

Be prepared to have a new book boyfriend, everyone, because Vikram is dreamy, witty, a bit of a hopeless romantic, and loves his kingdom as much as Guari loves Bharata. He has a tragic past but has persevered to become a strong person in his own right. Also, his father has a soft spot for injured and damaged animals, which I think is adorable and such a wonderful detail.

I could continue to gush, but let me leave you with some of my favorite quotes:

“A story could break its bones, grow wings, soar out of reach and dive out of sight in the time it took just to draw breath.  It meant we were’t walking a cut path. We carved it into existence with every step.”

“Fear was a key that fit every person’s hollow spaces – those things that kept us cold at night and that place where we retreated when no one was looking – and all it could do was unlock what was already there.”

“You could carry a story inside you and hold it up to the light when you needed it the most. You could peer through it, like a fram, and see how it changed your view when you looked out onto the world.”

4.5 Bards to Roshani Chokshi’s sophomore novel, A Crown of Wishes.

 

 

 

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