Thursday, October 30, 2014

Interview with SJ Kincaid, author of the Insignia trilogy and US/UK giveaway of Catalyst!

Welcome back, everyone! So excited to get to host this terrific interview with SJ Kincaid, the author of the Insignia trilogy!

If you read my last post, you know how much I enjoyed this trilogy. I loved getting some of my burning questions answered by her, and hope that you guys all go out and buy it now. It's worth it!

Goodreads description of Insignia:
"Insignia expertly combines humor with a disarming and highly realistic view of the future. The characters are real, funny, and memorable. You won't be able to put this book down."—Veronica Roth, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Divergent and Insurgent

The earth is in the middle of WWIII in Insignia, the first entry in S. J. Kincaid's fast-paced sci-fi adventure trilogy perfect for fans of Ender's Game.

The planet's natural resources are almost gone, and war is being fought to control the assets of the solar system. The enemy is winning. The salvation may be Tom Raines. Tom doesn't seem like a hero. He's a short fourteen-year-old with bad skin. But he has the virtual-reality gaming skills that make him a phenom behind the controls of the battle drones.

As a new member of the Intrasolar Forces, Tom's life completely changes. Suddenly, he's someone important. He has new opportunities, friends, and a shot at having a girlfriend. But there's a price to pay. . . 

As a kid, S. J. Kincaid wanted to be an astronaut, but she decided to become a full-time writer after spending a year studying in Edinburgh and living next to a haunted graveyard. However, after writing many novels and having had no success in finding a publisher for any of them, S. J. decided she would write one more, then give up for good. That last book turned out to be INSIGNIA, and she hasn't looked back since. Follow S. J. Kincaid at or on Twitter: @SJKincaidBooks. On Facebook: sjkincaidbooks.

1. People have compared your books to a host of other well known books including Harry Potter, Ender’s Game, and Ready Player One. Did any of these books inspire you before you wrote your trilogy? Do you agree with the comparisons? How did you try to move beyond it (by the way, I think you totally succeeded, especially in the last two books)?

            Harry Potter and Ender’s Game are amazing, so I’m flattered by the comparisons. I’ve also heard great things about Ready Player One. If I were to pinpoint my biggest influences before the trilogy, I’d say: 1) Star Trek (this was my childhood), 2) Starship Troopers the movie (campy military sci-fi movie/political parody), 3) Scrubs the TV show (the mixture of tone between hilarity and moments of real seriousness), 4) Chuck the TV show (computer in the brain), and 5) Catch-22 (the absurd tone set in a military type environment).
            I really do think everything has been done before, and every single book, movie, TV show will draw upon familiar elements. The real secret is to organize things in a way that makes sense to you and create a world that you feel passionate about and invested in. I really had fun building the world of INSIGNIA and I miss it now that the series is done.

2. I absolutely love your world building. Did you do research for it? How did you go about creating it?
            Thank you! It took a lot of work building the world, and it’s one reason I already miss the series. I miss the world.
            I was in nursing school when I wrote it, so that put me temporarily in a mode where I could understand a lot more pathophysiology, etc. than I do now. That really helped me build the science of neural processors. I based a lot of the computer stuff on my own (limited) understanding of my own PC. As for the setting, the Pentagonal Spire, I went to a boarding school so drew upon that. I wanted there to be some equivalent to dormitories, and there are a few basic places you need with every live-in school. I also knew I didn’t want them to be full-blown military because that would require far more research and leave more grounds for inaccuracy, so I just had them be wards of the military, not members of it. The thing that required the most research was the technology. I read a lot of articles about likely near-future technology. I didn’t want anything too outlandish. I did want to stick as close to reality as possible.
            As for the political systems, etc. I really just exaggerated a lot of what’s already happening. The USA did actually form this alliance with India under George W Bush, and China and Russia have been moving towards countering US influence by strengthening their own relations. That part was probably the easiest of the world-building.

3. My favorite part of your books are the characters. Did any of your characters surprise you? If so, which one and why?
            Elliot Ramirez. I originally planned for him to be a rival of Tom’s, and even set it up like he was going to be the King Arthur to Tom’s Mordred, but I grew to like Elliot and began to regard him as a sort of mentor figure to Tom instead. He’s very much Tom’s opposite in many ways, and Tom has a lot he could learn from him.

4. Tom goes through a lot of growth over the span of the three books. There were several moments, particularly in book one and two where I wasn’t sure if I liked him, but because of your skill at storytelling and world building, I knew I was sticking around until the end. Was it difficult to write Tom and give him storylines and personal characteristics that you knew might rub people the wrong way? Can you tell us a little about risk taking when writing these books (because I think you take lots of risks, which totally pays off)?
            LOL, yes, he does go through a lot! Tom’s defining characteristic is his sheer stubbornness. He’s led a very insecure, unstable life and he’s been in a disadvantaged position for most of it, so he’s developed this uncompromising, unbending need to maintain his own sense of dignity. It’s a matter of pride for him, not ‘letting the bastards get him down’, but approaching the world with this attitude unwittingly creates enemies where he doesn’t even need to have them. One goal I always had with Tom was this: he will always be the primary cause of his own troubles. It makes Tom incredibly fun to write because there is always going to be conflict or turmoil of some sort once he is involved in a situation. If any other character was the center of INSIGNIA, the entire story probably wouldn’t have happened-- because no one else would’ve made his decisions.
            Having said that, he’s very much of a love-him-or-hate-him character. He polarizes both in the book and out of it. I’m okay with that, because people who don’t necessarily care for Tom generally seem to identify with Wyatt, Vik, Blackburn or Medusa. That’s one of the huge advantages of writing  story with prominent secondary characters-- it gives you more shots at winning a reader’s interest.
            Because Tom had a very prominent flaws (pride, stubbornness, insensitivity), I had both his strengths and weaknesses available to explore, and many of the risks in the series sprang from the idea of doing that. His stubbornness was in one way a very real strength, so of course, that begged the question in my mind about just what it would take to overcome that strength-- or could it be overcome? As soon as I have those questions, that’s when I want to take risks in the story.

5. Which character are you most like and why?
            Vik, but my humor is more teasing, less needling.

6. What were your favorite and least favorite parts about writing a trilogy?
            My favorite was evolving the characters over time, writing things into the third book that closed threads from the first book, (hopefully) surprising readers who might’ve expected something else, and just really digging in and getting invested in a narrative. My least favorite? Ugh, writing book two! That was a nightmare. Necessary, but a nightmare.

7. Who would be your dream cast for the trilogy?
            I have images of the kids, and don’t really know young Hollywood enough to match their faces to anyone. For several of the adults, I definitely have Hollywood actor mental images. Blackburn was inspired by John C McGinley’s Doctor Cox on Scrubs, physically and the way he spoke. Dalton, I always pictured as Rob Lowe. As for Vengerov, my mental image was Daniel Craig meets Vladimir Putin.

8. If you could spend one day in your world, what would you do and why?
            I’d sneak onto a spaceship and go into space. I really would love to go to space one day. I refuse to get my eyes lasered in case space tourism ever takes off. (Lasik surgery can create small perforations in the retina that can rupture in space, apparently!)

9. Can you give a few words of advice to aspiring writers?
            Read a lot, write a lot. Hear the word ‘no’ until it doesn’t bother you anymore. And never stop trying.

10. What are you working on next? Can you give us a teaser?
            It’s a little early to say! I have a sci-fi that is only a bit younger than INSIGNIA I’m hoping will go somewhere, and a tentative YA I’m working on. Nothing substantial yet. I’m in grad school for creative writing, so that’s my primary focus at the moment.

And now, enter to win the third book in the trilogy, CATALYST! I'm also chipping in a swag pack, to make this giveaway international! :-)

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Review of the Insignia Trilogy by SJ Kincaid and Giveaway (US, UK)

Hey, gang! I know it's been really way too long since I've posted. But my life has been a roller coaster for the past several months in many wonderful but very stressful ways. My newborn baby girl, Olivia, has been keeping me up at nights, and my research has been keeping me busy nonstop during the days. But it's been rare that I've fallen so hard for a book, and I did, for the last of a promising trilogy. So that's why I'm appearing briefly to give this trilogy its well deserved kudos. That said, I'm getting ahead of myself.

I read Insignia the day it came out, after SJ Kincaid came for a signing in St. Louis.  I had never heard of the book before, but there were some favorable comparisons to Ender's Game, so I figured I should give it a try.

Insignia (Insignia, #1)
Insignia is about a 14 year old boy named Tom who has nothing going for him and keeps his gambling addict father and himself clothed and housed through gaming. The government hears of him and soon he is whisked to the Pentagonal Spire where he is implanted with a neural device that allows him to enhance his knowledge with downloadable content; he effectively becomes a soldier in the military who want to use his talents for the current world war. Soon, he is pitted against the deadly but fascinating Medusa in a battle to end all battles.

The first time I read this book, I felt like the author basically transplanted the Hogwarts trio into Ender's Game. I could match up plot lines and characters from each book to the ones in Insignia. At the same time, it was still entertaining to read (since I obviously liked both of the aforementioned books). And the last 25% (with one exception) made it all worth reading because it finally focused on my favorite character of all, Medusa, and it veered away from the previous formulas a bit more. The characters are lovable and funny. Since I liked Hermione the best from Harry Potter, it's not surprising that I enjoyed Wyatt, her counterpart, probably the second most after Medusa. The protagonist, Tom, is very likeable but is definitely flawed and adolescent-- Kincaid knows how to write 14 year old boy perspectives! Blackburn, the Snape equivalent, is appropriately creepy. And Yuri, the Russian, was really fun-- and possibly the most original of the cast.

Because of the world building and the intriguing cast that seemed to come into their own by the last part of the book, I knew I'd eventually finish the trilogy. I gave this book four out of five stars.

When I heard Catalyst, the final book was coming out this year, I knew I needed to catch up. I immediately went to my local library and borrowed Vortex, the second in the series. Middle books are hard because most series stagnate in the middle, just piddling away time until the last book. That was certainly not the case for Vortex.

Vortex (Insignia, #2)Vortex by SJ Kincaid takes place after Tom has come out victorious in ways that I wasn't happy with (at least how internally he reacts to his own decisions, which was not at all), but I realize this was very deliberate by Kincaid. We get reintroduced to the Scooby gang. We also learn more about Tom's relationship with his father, which is difficult and complex at best. At first, I was worried we'd get more of the same, but it's clear in this book that everything changes. Tom's downward spiral continues in this book, where he pretty much ostracizes everyone that could make him successful and famous. While no one could doubt he is talented and intelligent, he also comes off as bratty and ungrateful and too proud. The Tom in this book reminds me of 5th book Harry Potter. But each of the characters diverges from their Harry Potter comparisons, and this book with a few twists and some great character development becomes so much more.

Everything is so much more polished in this book. I love the lingo that Kincaid uses-- I felt like I was truly in this world. Great world building, and the pacing was terrific. Kincaid takes a huge risk in alienating her readers towards Tom. But even though I wanted to shake Tom at times, I kind of got where he was at, and I was willing to follow him through his adventure to see what would happen. There were a few major twists in this book that while I was suspicious they would happen, I was okay with sensing them before they happened because it took the plot in a direction that seemed the only right way to go. I can't reveal my favorite character because I think it would be somewhat of a spoiler-- but let's just say I had my suspicions that a certain character that Tom thought of in a one dimensional way was much much more than that. And how happy I was to be proven right. Not to mention Medusa-- Tom and Medusa's relationship gets more and more complex, and at this time, I was with Tom enough in this book to get where he took things. He's so much a clueless boy in some ways, which I loved, because I thought his fumbling ways were well done, and while the end was rather heartbreaking, I felt like it was the right ending. I felt this book took the trilogy in its own direction, and really impressed me with how SJ Kincaid grew as a writer since Insignia. I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars.

I was thankful I had CATALYST in my hands so I could start reading it right away. Catalyst takes place right after the events of VORTEX. All of his relationships are in jeopardy, and he pretty much put a sign on his head for Vengerov to come kill him. Things take a dark turn, which was another risky move by Kincaid, but once again, she totally pulls it off as what happens to Tom is so important for his development as a character as well as how the rest of the story plays out. I don't want to say much more, but there were several twists that completely surprised me (and were deployed perfectly at the right time), and from the first few pages, the story doesn't lose its lightning pace until the very end.
Catalyst (Insignia, #3)
I was so unbelievably blown away with this book. And I don't impress easily. The world building as usual is incredible, which is totally hard to do in a sci fi novel, and the character arcs and development finally finish in this installment. Everything is resolved one way or another, and I think it's in a very satisfactory and perfect way. While it is the darkest of the three books, we've been heading this way for a long time, and it's the only way the story could go. I love how Kincaid barrels ahead, willing to take risks, and then executes them in a way that knocked my socks off. I went from thinking Kincaid was a talented writer with a lot of potential to now completely convinced she can do anything she sets her mind to. She's arrived.

Overall, one of the best if not BEST ending to a trilogy I've ever read, and you'll want to read all three of these books back to back. I knew after reading this book I needed to have the entire set on my shelf. 

And NOW... enter to win a copy of CATALYST!!! SJ Kincaid has been so generous to offer up two copies of Catalyst for 2 lucky winners in either the US or UK! It's not often we get UK giveaways, so everyone in the UK who is a YA lover should get on this giveaway! Make sure to turn in tomorrow for the awesome interview with SJ and for more entries into the giveaway!

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Interview with Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith, authors of STRANGER, YA post-apocalyptic thriller

Stranger (The Change, #1)Welcome back, everyone! Just a quick update before I get to this wonderful interview. This will probably be my last post before the Fierce Reads event in October. I'm glad I got to get in one big set of posts before I deliver, because these authors are amazing and deserve every bit of promotion they get. I hope you'll love STRANGER as much as I did! Without further ado...

Goodreads Book Description:
Many generations ago, a mysterious cataclysm struck the world. Governments collapsed and people scattered, to rebuild where they could. A mutation, "the Change,” arose, granting some people unique powers. Though the area once called Los Angeles retains its cultural diversity, its technological marvels have faded into legend. "Las Anclas" now resembles a Wild West frontier town… where the Sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can warp time to heal his patients, and the distant ruins of an ancient city bristle with deadly crystalline trees that take their jewel-like colors from the clothes of the people they killed.

Teenage prospector Ross Juarez’s best find ever – an ancient book he doesn’t know how to read – nearly costs him his life when a bounty hunter is set on him to kill him and steal the book. Ross barely makes it to Las Anclas, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble.

Stranger stands on its own, but there will be three more books in the series: Hostage, Rebel, and Traitor.

About Sherwood Smith: Sherwood Smith began her publishing career in 1986, writing mostly for young adults and children. Sherwood Smith studied in Austria for a year, earning a masters in history. She worked many jobs, from bar tender to the film industry, then turned to teaching for twenty years, working with children from second grade to high school.  She specialized in literature, history, and drama.  To date she’s published over forty books, nominated for several awards, including the Nebula, the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and an Anne Lindbergh Honor Book. 

Sherwood blogs at LiveJournal ( and Book View Café  ( She has a Facebook account but only visits it two or three times a year, and does not do Twitter.

About Rachel Manija Brown: Rachel Manija Brown is the author of Stranger, a post-apocalyptic YA novel co-written with Sherwood Smith, the collection A Cup of Smoke, and the memoir All the Fishes Come Home to Roost: An American Misfit in India. She wrote the graphic novels The Nine-Lives and Spy Goddess for Tokyopop. She has also written television, short stories, plays, video games, and poetry.

In her other identity, she is a trauma/PTSD therapist.

Rachel blogs at LiveJournal ( She rarely visits Facebook or Twitter.

Author Duo Interview
1. It's not often that I get an author duo on my blog. Can you tell us about how you guys met, figured out you wanted to write together, and a little about the process of co-writing a book?

Sherwood and Rachel: We first met online, back when there were only one or two social media venues, so pretty much all the science fiction and fantasy world was interacting with each other.

Rachel was working in Hollywood, and had been at the Jim Henson Company for a number of years, so the company contacted her with an interesting offer. They wanted her to create a TV series in partnership with a children’s book author who met the following criteria: the writer had to live in or near L.A., had to be well respected in the field, and had to be someone Rachel thought she could work with, but couldn’t be so hugely successful and famous that the Jim Henson Company couldn’t afford them.

Rachel immediately thought of Sherwood, and e-mailed her to ask if she would be interested. Unbeknownst to Rachel, Sherwood had also worked in Hollywood. So they met for the first time and started creating a TV series. The series didn’t sell, but the Jim Henson executives loved it, and gave them a standing offer to come in and pitch anything any time. Sherwood and Rachel found that they enjoyed working together, and it was a very good offer, so they created a new series: The Change. That series didn’t sell either, so they turned it into a novel, taking advantage of all the things you can do in a novel that you can’t afford to do—or are not allowed to do—on TV.

Sherwood: Our process is completely different than the processes of any of my other collaborations.

Rachel: The way we work is unusual in the book world, but more common in television, where writers will sit together in a room and create first the story of a script in discussion, then write it by speaking the dialogue. Sherwood and I sit down and discuss the plot of the entire story, taking notes.

Before we write a chapter, we discuss what will happen in more detail. Then we sit side by side at a computer and write the chapter, usually Sherwood typing but either of us providing text. The result is a book where any given sentence was probably written by both of us together. When we have a first draft, we pass it back and forth for rewrites and polishes and additions.

2. You have a whopping 5 POVs in your book, and all of these characters are really interesting. Do you each have a favorite or one you love to write? Do each of you write each character or do each of you write certain characters?

Sherwood and Rachel: We had to laugh at that “whopping 5 POVs.” This is a common reaction to our book, but the idea that a “normal” book would only have one or two POVs is a very recent one. Up until the mid-twentieth century, POVs were usually some form of omniscient, which meant that the narrative voice could slide in and out of everybody’s mind as needed for the story. Lord of the Rings is written in omniscient. For two sentences, we get the POV of a fox watching the hobbits head toward Bree.

We chose not to write this book in omni POV, in favor of third person limited. But we felt that this was a story about community, not about the more modern-standard lone individual. To convey that, we needed multiple points of view.

Sherwood: As for characters, I don’t have a favorite to write, but for some reason I get a real kick out of reading Mia’s POV after we’ve done the chapter. Her cluelessness reminds me so much of myself, though I was also clueless about science as a teen!

Rachel: I don’t have a favorite to write overall, but my favorite person to write dialogue for is Mia. I love her jittery stream of consciousness way of speaking.

3. I love how you write about all relationships, including LGBT relationships and even a threesome as mainstream in your book. What made you guys decide to do this, and do you expect (or have you already received) backlash?

Sherwood and Rachel: To dispose of the backlash first, we did receive objections for writing a major sympathetic gay character when searching for an agent. However, that is such a long story that we don’t want to recap it here. Here’s the gist of it:

We have gay/lesbian/bisexual teenagers in our books because we know a lot of them in real life. Why shouldn’t they get to read about heroes like themselves?

The reason for the Mia/Ross/Jennie relationship was that we were tired of predictable love triangles in YA novels. In many of them, it would have made more sense for the characters to simply discuss the situation and work out a solution that made emotional sense, rather than lying and cheating and angsting for 300 pages. We felt that Mia and Jennie were so close that they would have talked about their feelings, rather than ending their friendship over their attraction to some guy. The resolution they come up with was one that we felt made sense for the characters.

Also, in real life, people’s relationships don’t necessarily fit into neat little boxes of one heterosexual woman plus one heterosexual man at a time, and neither of us felt that the implication that they should is emotionally honest.

4. Name some of your favorite authors/books.

Sherwood: I have so many favorites that it would take too long to list them all! Here are a few.

Books that influenced me as a kid: Enid Blyton’s “Adventure” series, where I finally found girls who got to adventure as well as boys. Mara, Daughter of the Nile, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw sparked a love of history and other cultures. Lord of the Rings, which validated my love of writing fantasy at a time when fantasy was disapproved of.

Shifting to modern times, there are so many wonderful writers these days! I’ll mention some books I loved that don’t have publicity pushes from big publishers: Pen Pal, by Francesca Forrest, which is kind of YA and kind of not, about a pen friendship between a girl and a woman, both from cultures under stress. It’s such a wonderful book. Then, for sheer fun, Australian writer Andrea K. Höst’s series beginning with Stray, a high school girl who suddenly finds herself in another world. She has to cope, though she assumes she is perfectly ordinary . . . but somehow the change of world changes her. Delightful, exciting, and romantic!

Rachel: I have too many favorites to list, so I’ll just recommend some books that you might not already know about.

The Rifter, by Ginn Hale, is an intricate and epic portal fantasy that’s full of surprises— one of the most engrossing and well-constructed fantasies I’ve read in years. The beginning is a little weak (and also darker than the book is overall), but it picks up quickly and keeps getting better and better. On a completely different note, Prater Violet, by Christopher Isherwood, is a novella about the relationship between an American screenwriter and a Jewish European director, who are thrown together on the eve of WWII to make a fluffy musical comedy. It packs a tremendous amount of comedy, atmosphere, and emotional weight into a very short space. (Spoiler: Nobody dies in the Holocaust.) I also second Sherwood’s recommendation for Pen Pal. It’s a unique, atmospheric, moving novel.

5. Rachel, this book is completely different from your first book, and Sherwood, while this is closer to what you've already written, it's also different. Can you guys talk about branching out and why you decided to write a YA book?

Sherwood: I don’t really decide what I’m going to write. Being an intensely visual person, I always begin with the image. Then I try to figure out whose story it is, and why they are telling it. The category (fantasy? Non-fantasy? YA? Middle grade? For all readers?) comes last.

Rachel: I’ve written in a whole lot of genres, so this didn’t feel like branching out to me. I’m always branching out.

6. Which Hogwarts house would you be in and why?

Rachel: When I lived in India, I briefly attended a military school that had a house system similar to the Hogwarts houses. The houses weren’t based on characteristics, but simply divided the students into four groups named after major Indian rivers. It was intended to foster friendly competition among the students, not unhealthy rivalry, and so every year the students switched houses. So to me, the house system brings back fond memories of being passionately attached to my house of the year.

On that note, I think I would be in Gryffindor. I think of the Hogwarts house characteristics not as exclusionary—Hermione is obviously intelligent enough to be in Ravenclaw—but is tapping into the most basic and essential facet of the self. For me, courage is more of an essential characteristic than intelligence, loyalty, or sneakiness.

Sherwood: When I was a teacher, I loved the students’ enthusiasm for the Harry Potter books, and of course I read each as it came out. But I was reading as a post-fifty-something Baby Boomer, who was a product of overcrowded schools and the late fifties-and early sixties hardline emphasis on conformity. So while my students compared the houses and imagined themselves in this one or that one, I nodded and smiled, but I secretly thought that if I’d read the books as a kid, I would have been leading a revolution against the house system altogether!

7. Can you give a few words of advice to aspiring writers?

Sherwood: Read, read, read.  Read as widely as you can, about everything.  Observe real people doing real things, and try not to get ideas on behavior from TV and movies because the actors are following a script. They know what’s coming next, which in real life we don’t, and they are moving according to direction. A writer needs to try to understand the world before she can reflect it—and maybe even change it.

Rachel: 1. Don’t worry about breaking the rules. There are no rules. Write what you want to read. 2. Don’t worry about making the first draft perfect. Just get the story down, even if it’s terrible. You can fix it later. Trying to get every bit perfect or even good the first time is a recipe for never finishing anything.

8. Can you let us know a little of what we have in store next for the characters in Stranger in the sequel? Do you plan for this to be a duology, trilogy, or longer?

Sherwood and Rachel:  It’s a four book series. Ross, Mia, and Jennie have POVs in all four books, but the other POVs rotate, with a new POV character in each book.

The sequel to Stranger is Hostage. Ross is kidnapped and dragged to Gold Point, King Voske’s city. Voske’s teenage daughter Kerry is the new POV character. While his friends in Las Anclas desperately try to rescue him, Ross is forced to engage in a battle of wills with the king himself. And he’s not the only hostage . . .

In book three, Rebel, Ross’s past comes back to haunt him, while Las Anclas battles mysterious fires. The new POV character is someone you first met in Stranger, but probably not someone you would expect to get a POV. And that’s just one of many surprises.

Book four is Voske Strikes Back—er, no, it’s actually Traitor. Everybody you’ve been wondering about returns, all with important parts to play in a battle for Las Anclas’s very survival. The new POV character in this book is someone whose perspective you may have been waiting for.

I don't know about you guys, but I'm dying to get my hands on the next book!

Don't forget to enter into this great giveaway to either win their book (US/Can) or a bunch of great swag that I got from many authors at the last event I went to (INT)!
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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Review of Stranger by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith and US/CAN Giveaway!

Hey guys! I know I've been MIA for over a month, but things have been insane with my baby girl making an appearance very soon and trying to get everything done at work before I left. So blogging and reading unfortunately had to take a backseat this month. That said, behind the scenes, I've not completely stopped working on things for the blog! First, I just want to let you know that I'm going to have the immense privilege to be the Fierce Reads blogger for the St. Louis event in October, so tune in then for a chance to win books for 4 different authors and to see my interview with them! I'm really excited to be a part of the event.

But now let's get to business. A few months ago, I read a really wonderful book called Stranger by an author duo, Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith. My sister has been following Rachel's blog for a while and really enjoyed her writing, so she connected the two of us. I'm so glad she did because I really believe in the deluge of post apocalyptic YA novels, this duo brings something new to the genre. 

Stranger (The Change, #1)
Goodreads Book Description: Many generations ago, a mysterious cataclysm struck the world. Governments collapsed and people scattered, to rebuild where they could. A mutation, "the Change,” arose, granting some people unique powers. Though the area once called Los Angeles retains its cultural diversity, its technological marvels have faded into legend. "Las Anclas" now resembles a Wild West frontier town… where the Sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can warp time to heal his patients, and the distant ruins of an ancient city bristle with deadly crystalline trees that take their jewel-like colors from the clothes of the people they killed.

Teenage prospector Ross Juarez’s best find ever – an ancient book he doesn’t know how to read – nearly costs him his life when a bounty hunter is set on him to kill him and steal the book. Ross barely makes it to Las Anclas, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble.

Stranger stands on its own, but there will be three more books in the series: Hostage, Rebel, and Traitor.

My Rating: 4.5 couches out of 5

My Review: I was given this book by one of the authors after my sister recommended she send it to me in exchange for an honest review. I'm glad my sister knows my taste because I really enjoyed this book! I award it 4.5 stars.

Stranger by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith has FIVE POV's in the tale. Usually, this is a tactic that is totally lost on me because there's either not enough story for these characters (and this may play true a little bit here) or it's just not well done. But don't be deterred by the number of different points of view-- the reasons for them become clearer, and I think they'll play an even larger role in the future books. There are a few characters that stand out as main characters, however. Ross is one, who is a prospector in this dystopian/paranormal like YA novel. In the beginning, he is staggering through the desert getting chased by a bounty hunter and ends up in a town, Las Anclas, with a precious stolen artifact. He never intended on settling down, but he may end up calling this place home. We get introduced to many many different characters and the world in general as well as the political setup.

I really enjoyed this book, and it's really unlike a lot of books that I usually gravitate towards. It wasn't the most fast paced of books, but I definitely wanted to pick it up again the next day to see what was going to happen with the rest of the characters. Ross, Mia, and Jennie are all very likeable characters, and we see each of their viewpoints. There are other supporting characters that we see into the heads of, which I am not going to talk too much about because there are definite surprises in store. One of my favorites is one of the town's mean girls, and I have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot more of her in future books. There are multiple homosexual couples, and I love how this is dealt with as completely normal in this world, nice to see, and even one relationship that is M/F/F, and I'm fascinated to see where that's going to lead. I wonder what naysayers are going to say about this. The book is very clean, and I hope we won't see any outrageous outcry about how the relationships are portrayed in this book.

The only issues I had with this book is that the pacing is sometimes slow, but I was willing to take the ride, and sometimes, the multiple POV's did hinder my enjoyment of the book, only because it even further slowed down the pace sometimes. I'd be really interested in what one character was doing and thinking and then get stuck in the head of another not as important character. That said, I obviously greatly enjoyed it even despite my personal preferences.

Overall, I was impressed with this first installment co-written by these two writers. I definitely am highly anticipating the next book already, and I think this is a worthy read that will be snapped up by those who are looking for something a little different in the dystopian, post-apocalyptic genre with fascinating characters and a really interesting world setup.

The publisher is generously donating a hard copy of this book for you guys! Don't forget to tune in tomorrow to see an amazing interview with both of the authors! 
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