Picture drawn by Maggie Stiefvater, 2009. Header made by S.F. Robertson, 2010.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Truth Commission by Susan Juby

The Truth Commission by Susan Juby
"Open secrets are the heart of gossip -- the obvious things that no one is brave or tactless enough to ask. Except for Normandy Pale and her friends. They are juniors at a high school for artistsl, and have no fear. They are the Truth Commission. Then, one of their truth targets says to Normandy: “If you want to know about the truth, you might want to look a little closer to home.”- summary from Amazon

Susan Juby's books are always a delight, and this one is no different. I love the idea of narrative nonfiction and Juby's created a fantastic character in Normandy and story in her life and situation. It's such a sharp, witty and poignant book, and the footnotes and illustrations included in the book really enhance the story; the footnotes in particular provide a lot of the humor, as footnotes tend to do (at least in the books I read). It's a quiet, slowly building book until the reveal at the end and the epilogue provides some good closure but keeps things realistic. Not everything is going to turn out neat and rosy.

Overall, another winning novel from Juby and I strongly urge you all to go out and buy this fantastic book! She's such a wonderful, interesting and different author, and I always love reading a new book from her.

Side note: Even though no one commented, in case anyone cares, my lie from last week was that I like roller coasters. I do not. I get nauseous on them.

FTC: Received hardcover from publisher. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Friday, April 24, 2015

When by Victoria Laurie

When by Victoria Laurie
"Maddie Fynn is a shy high school junior, cursed with an eerie intuitive ability: she sees a series of unique digits hovering above the foreheads of each person she encounters. Her earliest memories are marked by these numbers, but it takes her father's premature death for Maddie and her family to realize that these mysterious digits are actually deathdates, and just like birthdays, everyone has one.

Forced by her alcoholic mother to use her ability to make extra money, Maddie identifies the quickly approaching deathdate of one client's young son, but because her ability only allows her to see the when and not the how, she's unable to offer any more insight. When the boy goes missing on that exact date, law enforcement turns to Maddie.

Soon, Maddie is entangled in a homicide investigation, and more young people disappear and are later found murdered. A suspect for the investigation, a target for the murderer, and attracting the attentions of a mysterious young admirer who may be connected to it all, Maddie's whole existence is about to be turned upside down. Can she right things before it's too late?"- summary from Amazon

Laurie's debut YA (she's written numerous adult books) is a rollercoaster ride, slowly building up and up as the pages go on until you're rocketing through the last 100 pages to see how it will all end. It's a crazy, suspenseful, mysterious story with lots of twists and turns. Maddie is a complex character and I felt bad for her home life and everything she's had to deal with both before the book takes place and during the book.

The romance is a little bit love at first sight, at least from the guy's POV. Maddie's only seen him from afar and been obsessed with him, but it didn't really bother me. I think because I kind of hope for the same thing in my own life. I know a few guys that I think are attractive but I rarely talk to them and just wish they would notice me one day. It's a fantasy scenario, but one I'm all for. It's nice to see it at least happen in books. And as for the ending, it's pretty darn sweet, especially considering how crazy and suspenseful the book is.

Overall, it's a quick, fun read and I'm eager to see more from Laurie in the YA world.

FTC: Received e-galley from Netgalley. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Solitaire by Alice Oseman

Solitaire by Alice Oseman
"My name is Tori Spring. I like to sleep and I like to blog. Last year—before all that stuff with Charlie and before I had to face the harsh realities of exams and university applications and the fact that one day I really will have to start talking to people—I had friends. Things were very different, I guess, but that's all over now.

Now there's Solitaire. And Michael Holden. I don't know what Solitaire is trying to do, and I don't care about Michael Holden. I really don't."- summary from Amazon

This was a really interesting book. While there is a central mystery to the book, the majority of it is fairly quiet. It was a nice change of pace from all the action-packed fantasy and paranormal books I'd been reading lately. Tori is a fascinating character and the reader really gets to know her throughout the book. As a narrator, she's very closed off in the beginning, but as Solitaire takes over the school and Michael Holden takes her out of her comfort zone, she really starts to come out of her shell. The ending is extremely crazy and is fairly action-packed for a contemporary. It's something that the book was slowly building toward and keeping the reader captivated and intrigued. I also did enjoy the character of Charlie, her gay brother, who's different from most of the gay characters you seem to see in YA and his story was very interesting.

Oseman has written an original debut featuring some realistically written teen characters, and I am excited to see what she has in store for us next.

FTC: Received ARC from publisher. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profits go toward funding contests.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Blog Tour- The Truth Commission by Susan Juby

The Truth Commission by Susan Juby
"Open secrets are the heart of gossip -- the obvious things that no one is brave or tactless enough to ask. Except for Normandy Pale and her friends. They are juniors at a high school for artistsl, and have no fear. They are the Truth Commission. Then, one of their truth targets says to Normandy: “If you want to know about the truth, you might want to look a little closer to home.” This dryly funny, knife-sharp novel, written as "narrative nonfiction" by Normandy herself, features footnotes and illustrations."- summary from Amazon

As part of the Truth Commission blog tour, each participant is doing the Two Truths and a Lie game! Leave your guesses in the comments below and I'll reveal my Lie later this week when I post my review of The Truth Commission!

1) I have been at a signing where I met Sarah Dessen and stood in line with David Levithan and Melissa Walker.

2) I do not like bacon.

3) I love rollercoasters.

Good luck guessing!

And now, here's an interview with Susan:
1) How did you come up with the idea for The Truth Commission? Were you ever involved in a Truth Commission yourself?

I was working on another novel, and was brought up short when I realized that I was using big chunks of the personal story of someone close to me. I abandoned that book and began thinking about who owns true stories, and what that means for artists and writers and their friends and family members. That led naturally to The Truth Commission. I have not been involved in a formal truth commission or even an informal one. I do love to speculate about what may be going on behind the scenes in peoples’ lives. I like to say it’s because I’m a writer, but it’s also because I’m nosy. That said, I don’t want anyone poking into my business!

2) Two books are releasing this year from you- this and the sequel to Home to Woefield. Can you tell us about this other book?

Republic of Dirt is a follow-up to Home to Woefield as it’s known in the U.S. and The Woefield Poultry Collective as it’s known in Canada.

Republic takes place a couple of months after the first book ends. Our intrepid farmer, Prudence, an overly idealistic Brooklyn girl who has inherited a derelict plot of land named Woefield Farm, feels like she finally has things on track. Then she’s felled by a mysterious health condition.

Her motley crew of farm hands consisting of Earl, an elderly, reclusive bluegrass legend; Seth, an agoraphobic heavy-metal blogger in early recovery from alcoholism; and Sara, an 11-year-old girl with a flock of elite show poultry, struggle to keep things together without her.

Efforts are complicated by a renegade mule, attempts to turn a hideously ugly child’s playhouse into a high yield roadside farm stand, and an electrical station’s worth of crossed wires.

The book is told in four, first person voices and is basically about what happens when passions collide with pride and what it takes to save each other, our small part of the planet, and ourselves. I had a lot of fun writing the further adventures of Woefield Farm and its incompetent but endearing inhabitants.

3) What is your favorite Jelly Belly jelly bean flavor(s)? Or if you don't like those, do you have a favorite snack to have while writing, or as a reward for writing?

Excellent question! I’m not a Jelly Belly person. My vice is sour jujubes. And raspberry chocolate sticks. And Barbra’s Jalapeno Cheese Puffs. I should really cut back on my vices.

4) What are you currently reading, or are about to start? Any 2015 books you're excited about reading?

2015 is shaping up to be a terrific year for books. Books I’ve read and adored recently include The World Without Us by Robin Stevenson, Best Friends Through Eternity by Sylvia McNicoll, Mosquitoland by David Arnold and The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma. I’m excited to get my hands on All the Rage by Courtney Summers. And I’m extremely thrilled to be going on tour in May with Susin Nielsen, whose new book, We Are All Made of Molecules, is astonishingly touching and charming.

5) You teach creative writing at two different universities and also give workshops. What do you love about teaching, and is there a piece of advice you love to give to writers?

I now just teach at one school: Vancouver Island University. I’ve loved teaching since the first time I tried it when I was in grad school. I’m still surprised and quite thrilled to find myself a writer. Writing our stories is empowering. It’s also tough. Teaching writing involves conveying what I know about craft and giving writers the permission to go for it. Writing classes also help writers get connected. This can be a lonely business. We need all the community we can get. When a new writer finds her or his voice, it’s like magic.

My advice is to a) do whatever it takes to get the words down and b) push past your comfort zone. Don’t be polite in your creative writing! Surprise yourself and others.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life by P.J. Hoover

Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life by P.J. Hoover
"You'd think it would be great being an Egyptian demigod, but if King Tut has to sit through eighth grade one more time, he'll mummify himself.

Granted the gift of immortality by the gods--or is it a curse?--Tut has been stuck in middle school for ages. Even worse, evil General Horemheb, the man who killed Tut's father and whom Tut imprisoned in a tomb for three thousand years, is out and after him. The general is in league with the Cult of Set, a bunch of guys who worship one of the scariest gods of the Egyptian pantheon--Set, the god of Chaos.

The General and the Cult of Set have plans for Tut… and if Tut doesn't find a way to keep out of their clutches, he'll never make it to the afterworld alive."- summary from Amazon

I've really enjoyed Hoover's previous books and was excited to see a new middle-grade from her, going back to her ancient history roots. That made it even better because I am a huge fan of Egyptian history and mythology. Hoover weaves humor, mystery and action so well together and it makes for a very compelling read. Young boys would definitely enjoy this book and I hope that there will be more of Tut in the future!

FTC: Received e-galley from Netgalley. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profits go toward funding contests.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows

The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows
"When Princess Wilhelmina was a child, the Indigo Kingdom invaded her homeland. Ten years later, Wil and the other noble children who escaped are ready to fight back and reclaim Wil's throne. To do so, Wil and her best friend, Melanie, infiltrate the Indigo Kingdom palace with hopes of gathering information that will help them succeed.

But Wil has a secret—one that could change everything. Although magic has been illegal for a century, she knows her ability could help her save her kingdom. But magic creates wraith, and the deadly stuff is moving closer and destroying the land. And if the vigilante Black Knife catches her using magic, she may disappear like all the others. . . ."- summary from Amazon

I absolutely loved Meadows' Incarnate trilogy and was excited to start a new series from her. This is the first book in a duology (with the sequel out next year) and it is simply fantastic. The world building in this book is done so well and it's easy to get a sense of how this world operates. Wil was an amazing main character- empathetic, witty, strong-willed, and strong in body. Tobiah's character was interesting too as Wil gets to know him in court, but the one who I really enjoyed was James (and not just because he shares my name), his right-hand man. James is loyal, smart, and very hilarious, which provided for some light moments throughout the book. Wil's relationship with the Osprey leader Patrick is handled very well and slowly unravels throughout the rest of the book, becoming more and more unstable.

I will warn you all though that the ending may make you want to throw the book across the room, only because of the huge cliffhanger at the end. I am so eager to get my hands on the sequel and find out what happens next!!

Overall, another winner from Meadows and I highly recommend it, even with the crazy cliffhanger. Don't worry, there's a support group.

FTC: Received ARC from publisher. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Monday, April 13, 2015

We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist

We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist
"Josh Sundquist only ever had one girlfriend.
For twenty-three hours.
In eighth grade.

Why was Josh still single? To find out, he tracked down the girls he had tried to date and asked them straight up: What went wrong?

The results of Josh's semiscientific, wholly hilarious investigation are captured here. From a disastrous Putt-Putt date involving a backward prosthetic foot, to his introduction to CFD (Close Fast Dancing), to a misguided "grand gesture" at a Miss America pageant, this story is about looking for love -- or at least a girlfriend -- in all the wrong places."- summary from Amazon

I'm really liking this new trend of YA non-fiction (another example is Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler, which is also amazing and also published by Little Brown) and so I was excited to read this book. Sundquist has a breezy, compelling style of writing that makes the book a quick and easy read. There's some interesting tales in here from his romantic past (or lack thereof) as he investigates the previous women in his life and why the feelings never really turned into romance. The results run the gamut of being surprising, weird, and somewhat vague.

Overall, this was a really interesting experiment-turned-book and it's definitely worth a read.

FTC: Received e-galley from Netgalley. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Love and Other Theories by Alexis Bass

Love and Other Theories by Alexis Bass
"Aubrey and her best friends made a pact to play by the guys' rules when it comes to dating. They're hoping the rules will keep them from experiencing high school heartbreak—they don't realize that these rules could just as easily keep them from opening their hearts and minds. And when new boy Nathan Diggs moves to town, Aubrey starts to think that some rules are meant to be broken."- summary from Amazon

I really enjoyed this book. It was such a refreshing take on a contemporary book. There is a romance in it but it's just handled so realistically and so differently from a lot of other YA. I loved Aubrey and her friends' pact, though (and this was probably done on purpose) I would get annoyed sometimes with how they all dealt with things and they seemed condescending too when they saw other girls that weren't as "enlightened" as they were. But part of that mentality is a crucial part of Aubrey's emotional arc in the book.

Nathan and Aubrey's blossoming friendship-turned-relationship is an interesting journey and Bass takes her time with it, letting them grow closer and closer until it's inevitable that they wind up together. Then, she writes about the ensuing relationship, rather than ending it on that happy note, which has its ups and downs. It's a fantastically written portrait of a high school relationship and was very compelling to read.

Overall, Bass' debut is an interesting and engrossing look at relationships in high school, and I'm so excited to see what she releases next!

FTC: Received ARC from publisher. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen

Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen
"When Cynthia Rothschild's best friend, Annie, falls head over heels for the new high-school librarian, Cyn can totally see why; he's really young and very good-looking. But after meeting Mr Gabriel, Cyn realizes something isn't quite right. Maybe it's the creepy look in the librarian's eyes, or the weird feeling Cyn gets whenever she's around him. Before long Cyn realizes that Mr Gabriel is, in fact ...a demon. Now, in addition to saving the school production of Sweeney Todd from technical disaster and trying not to make a fool of herself with her own hopeless crush, Cyn has to save her best friend from the clutches of the evil librarian, who also seems to be slowly sucking the life force out of the entire student body!"- summary from Amazon

This was such a fun and witty book; it reminded me a bit of Team Human by Sarah Rees Brennan and Justine Larbalestier. I wish there was more humorous paranormal YA. Knudsen did a wonderful job writing some humor into a normally dark subject, though there was still plenty of dark and creepy things going on.

FTC: Received ARC from publisher. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli
"Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he's pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he's never met."- summary from Amazon

I could write pages upon pages about how awesome and adorable this book is but I will try not to make this too long. Albertalli has written such a wonderful coming-out and coming-of-age tale. Simon's voice is pitch perfect and felt like such a realistic depiction of gay teens today. While GLBT people are becoming more accepted and it can be easier to come out nowadays, it is still a difficult process to have to come out to your friends and family. You may think you know them well enough, but sometimes you don't and it's hard to fathom that kind of rejection so you hide part of your basic self from others. Simon is dealing with that problem and there are little things that are said or done that affect how he perceives people and how he thinks they'll handle this sort of announcement.

Keeping him happy is the relationship that's slowly blossoming between him and Blue, another gay boy at his school. They keep in touch through emails sent from accounts used just for that purpose. I could honestly read a whole book just composed of their emails because they are hilarious, touching, insightful, and playful. It is such a perfect way to show how close they are getting and how willing (or not willing) they are to break their self-imposed silence.

Simon's friends are also written very well and they are brought to life through Albertalli's breezy yet thoughtful way of writing. The writing itself is light when it needs to be and heavy when it needs to be, just like real life. The various friendships written in this novel are so realistically done that they all feel like real people and people I would like to spend time with.

Overall, an amazingly stunning debut and I urge you all to read it and become fans for life like I am. Get this book immediately when it comes out tomorrow.

FTC: Received ARC from publisher. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Sweet Unrest by Lisa Maxwell + Interview

Sweet Unrest by Lisa Maxwell
"For as long as she can remember, Lucy Aimes has been plagued by a dark, recurring dream of drowning. But when her family moves to an old plantation outside New Orleans, she starts having intense new dreams, vivid scenes of a bygone era filled with people she shouldn't know but does. Searching for answers to her haunting visions, Lucy reluctantly descends into the city's mystical culture.

What she finds is Alex, a charming but mysterious boy who behaves as if they've known each other forever. Lucy shouldn't be so drawn to him . . . but she is. As she tries to solve the mystery surrounding Alex, a centuries-old vendetta unspools around her, resulting in a vicious murder. Now trapped in a dangerous crossfire, Lucy must act fast to save her future—and everyone she loves."- summary from Amazon

Maxwell's debut is a scary but fun book. The mystery surrounding the plantation and Alex makes for a compelling, page-turning read and Maxwell knows when to give enough information but leave some just out of reach. I am a big fan of books that involve voodoo elements because I'm just such a huge fan of various forms of magic, so this was right up my alley. The book is set at a good, slow pace, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat wanting to find out more about what's going on. The attraction between Lucy and Alex makes the book captivating as well, and Maxwell treads the line between romantic and creepy very well when it comes to that part of the story.

Overall, a fantastically written debut and I'm eager to read more from Maxwell, which includes a companion book out this year, which she talks about in the interview below!

and here's an interview with Lisa:
1) How did you get the idea for Sweet Unrest?

The idea for SWEET UNREST started with one of my wedding pictures. There’s a weird smudge in one of them, and the photographer (only partially jokingly) said, "oh, that’s a ghost. We see those all the time.” So that was the beginning of Lucy’s character and the opening lines of the book. From there, I had this idea to write about Zombies, but the more I researched *real* Zombies, the more interested I got in Voodoo. And when I discovered that the first African American Daguerreotype photographer lived in New Orleans… things started coming together.

2) You have a second book coming out in 2016 from Simon Pulse called Heartless Things. Can you tell us about it? Are you working on anything else?

Actually, my second book is a 2015 release with Flux that is a companion novel/sequel to SWEET UNREST. It’s called THE GATHERING DEEP and tells the continuing story from another character’s POV.

Then HEARTLESS (which will be retitled eventually) is in 2016 and another book to be decided from Simon Pulse in 2017. I also have a Middle Grade that’s about to go out on submission called Xavier T. Fletcher, Ornithologist, and the Keeper of the Rend. It’s about birds and boys and goats and monsters and bees and I love it. :O)

3) What do you love most about teaching English? Is there anything you don't like about it?

I love getting to talk to bright students about books and writing—and I get paid for it. There are certain stories and poems that I can teach over and over again and never get tired of them. And I just got to propose and develop a course in YA Literature, so I’ll actually get to teach what I write in 2015 or 2016. There’s plenty I don’t like—starting with the grading. But the hardest thing for me to deal with as a professor is to see students who could really go far not care or not try or not be interested in or believe in themselves enough to put in the time and effort to get ahead. That’s the most frustrating thing—so much potential, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Because, ultimately, learning is internal and personal. No one can make you do it.

4) You blog as part of the Fall Fourteeners. How have they helped you along as you deal with your first published book?

The Fall Fourteeners have been such a lifeline! They’ve been my best cheerleaders and we all have bounced ideas off of each other about publicity and marketing and just surviving this whole crazy launch experience.

5) What book(s) are you currently reading, or are about to start? Any 2015 titles you're excited for?

I’m currently on a binge reading spree, desperately cramming in more words before I get my next round of edits. Today’s book is EVERY DAY by David Levithan, but I have a pile lined up behind that. I’m really excited about the second book in The Winner’s Curse series and also for the follow up to Snow Like Ashes. And I can’t wait for Rachael Allen’s The Revenge Playbook.

6) What is your favorite Jelly Belly jelly bean flavor(s)? Or if you don't like those, do you have a favorite snack to have while writing or as a reward for writing?

Favorite flavors are a mix of toasted marshmallow, strawberry something, and coconut.

FTC: Received finished paperback from publisher. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst

The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst
"It was only meant to be a brief detour. But then Lauren finds herself trapped in a town called Lost on the edge of a desert, filled with things abandoned, broken and thrown away. And when she tries to escape, impassible dust storms and something unexplainable lead her back to Lost again and again. The residents she meets there tell her she's going to have to figure out just what she's missing—and what she's running from—before she can leave. So now Lauren's on a new search for a purpose and a destiny. And maybe, just maybe, she'll be found…. "- summary from Amazon

I love Durst's books as they're all such interesting concepts and she creates each world so well. The Lost is a thrilling book encased in a character study of Lauren and the other residents of Lost. Each person there is on a quest for a purpose and they need to look deep within before they can figure out what that is. Helping Lauren along on this journey are Claire, a cute, deadly six year old and Peter aka the Finder (who brings the people to Lost) after Lauren has been run out of town by the locals. Both characters are fun and mysterious and I enjoyed reading about their time together as they navigate Lost to stay away from the hostile locals. Lauren is a character many will relate to, as she feels lost after what happened recently to her mother and wonders just what exactly she is doing with her life. She's a strong character for sure, but also vulnerable and scared (both emotionally and physically- the townspeople are after her, after all).

Overall, Durst has written a fantastically compelling start to a trilogy and I cannot wait to read more. Book 2 is already out, with Book 3 out later this year.

FTC: Received e-galley from Netgalley. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.