Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fool for Books Giveaway Blog Hop, Featuring Howard Shapiro, author of Stereotypical Freaks and INT giveaway!

Fool for Books Giveaway Hop

April 1st to 7th

No better way to spend April Fools Day!  

Join me in a giveaway hop! I am thrilled to introduce a talented writer, Howard Shapiro, and his very unusual book, The Stereotypical Freaks, which is a graphical novel.

The Stereotypical Freaks
Goodreads book description: Four disparate high school seniors come together to compete in their school's battle of the bands. Sharing a love for playing rock and roll, the members name the band "The Stereotypical Freaks" because they feel stereotyped by their classmates - smart kid, geek, star athlete and quiet weirdo… when in fact they know they are much more than those labels that have been placed on them.

When one member reveals life altering news, winning the competition takes on more of a meaning to each member. Scared and angry, upset and yet still with a lot of resolve they set out to win one for the good guys… will they?

Author Blurb: HOWARD SHAPIRO lives in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife and two sons. The Controller for the Pittsburgh-based Visual Effects firm, Animal Inc., he has also written four children’s books and The Stereotypical Freaks will be his debut Graphic Novel.  His 2008 book, Hockey Player for Life, has been the #1 downloaded children’s hockey e-book on Amazon’s Kindle chart since its arrival as an e-book in November of 2011.  His, Hockey Days book was the only book featured in the December 2007 Sporting News Annual Gift Guide as a Best Buy Gift for Children.  Through a corporate sponsorship program he set up (and maintains), since the 2010-11 season, both of his children’s hockey books have been given to NHL teams (over 2,500 copies to date) for use in their community and educational initiatives.  Since 2006 his annual charity raffle, which he matches dollar for dollar donated, has raised funds for several hockey-related charities including the Mario Lemieux Foundation, Hockey Fights Cancer and the Keith and Lisa Primeau Scholarship Fund.  For more information, please log on to howardshapiro(dot)net.

Author Interview
1. Your book is unusual in storyline and format. Can you tell us the story of how this book came together and why you decided to do a graphical novel?
 Back in April, 2009 I did an elementary school visit (I do about four school and public library visits each year) and when I was packing up the school librarian and I started talking about some of the books that the kids really enjoyed.  He told me how he couldn't order graphic novels fast enough, that regardless of the storyline or theme, the kids took them out constantly.  So, the little light bulb went off above my head!  To that point I had done three picture books and one middle grade novel and I was looking to do a story centered around a battle of the bands.  Plus, I was looking to try something new.  At that point I didn't know much about graphic novels other then I thought they were basically expanded comic books or these hyper violent books like "300" or "Watchmen."

I went to the main branch of our cities (Pittsburgh, PA) library system as I knew they had an extensive GN collection.   Once there, I was blown away by the depth and variety of art and the stories themselves.  I was very inspired at that point but I still did a lot of research and I didn't start writing until late-summer of 2009.   I completed the first draft in early-October in a quasi-script format and then set out to find an illustrator and letterer and almost three years later it was finally done and published!

2. Your characters are wonderful. Did you have a favorite? Did any of them end up surprising you?
Thank you!  I'd have to say my favorite character, by a very slim margin because all of them are like your own kids, is Tom.  In my previous books the main character has been Tom and so he's sort of grown up through my books and the reason for that is that he is me!  The fun part of creating characters is that you can have them do things that in your day to day life that you can't do or basically tell a story through things you have done.  They always say, write what you know and who and what do you know better then your own life experiences!  Plus, I can have him do what I should have done when I was growing up.  Hindsight in this case is tremendous!  So, in each of the books there is a lot of me in Tom and much like me, he tries his best but still can screw up a one car funeral!

The other main characters in the book, Mark, Dan and Jacoby are based on real people.  Mark is based on a childhood friend of mine who sort of dropped me as a friend when we got to junior high after we were the very best of friends all through pre-school through elementary school.  Dan is based on a kid I knew in junior high who was a good person, but who wore his heart on his sleeve to his detriment.  Jacoby is based on a real life kid named John Challis ( )  John was a very heroic kid who died at age eighteen from liver cancer.  He was a very special person and his fight against cancer was a huge inspiration for me... I wanted to write a fictional character that had his wiser-then-his year's knowledge and spirit.

I really wanted to write them as very NOT one note... but I wanted the reader to kind of think of them that way in the initial chapters but in later chapters, wham!, you see a different side of them that you may have not seen coming.  It goes along with the title, "The Stereotypical Freaks" in that we all assign labels to one another when in fact we all have different sides.  I guess I'd say Dan ended up surprising me because throughout the story, he is this kind of 'everything is very black and white in my world person and he has this really sweet conversation with Jacoby towards the end of the book where he comes to realize that the world in general, and specifically his own world, are not always black and white.

3. For our aspiring writers, where do you get your inspiration?
Excellent question and this is one of the things I talk about during my school visits.  My inspiration comes from everywhere, from songs a TV show or movie, as well as just everyday conversations I'll hear.  I tell the kids that if they want to write that they have to keep their eyes and ears open at all times and have a notebook, or in my case, post-its, available at all times!  I am constantly writing down names, ideas or bits of conversation I hear or have heard.  I can't stress that enough, inspiration can from anywhere at anytime!

4. Who has been your biggest cheerleader? 
I really had three very wonderful supporters, not really cheerleaders, but three guys in the graphic novel world who helped me immeasurably.  I listed them on the Acknowledgements page and mentioned that without them, the book would not have existed.  So, again, let me publicly thank Chris Warner, Troy Dye and Terry Nantier.  The thing that meant so much to me was that they took the time, when they didn't have to, to help me navigate the waters when doing a GN.  I would send them some artwork that I had done, I went through about four illustrators before I found Joe Pekar and each time Chris, Troy and Terry would give me their professional opinion on the work.  Their honesty, time and efforts helped me get to the point where I could put my team together and again, they were very gracious with their time in walking me through the process.  I hope one day to be able to help out an aspiring writer like they helped me!

5. What has been the best comment you've gotten from a fan?
One kind of stands out but I hate to choose just one because each and every comment means an incredible amount to me!  The story is so close to my heart that anytime, anyone has anything to say about it, good or bad, I appreciate the comments and thoughts.  It's truly a gift, an amazing gift, when someone tells me that the book touched them or that it brought out an emotional response because that was what I was going for in the writing of it.  I made one million percent sure that each and every day that Joe Pekar worked on the illustrations that each panel had to be imbued with emotion on the character's faces and in their body language.

Still, with all of that being said, I'd have to say that this bit from a reader on goodreads is the best comment I've received to date: "I really believe this is the best book I have read in 2012 and even though it is a graphic novel, I know it should be counted as one of the best books of 2012."

6. Tell us who your favorite author is and why. 
I'm a very big Neil Gaiman fan, I think his writing has so much depth and style... he's a huge influence on me.  His "Death: The High Cost Of Living" and a GN titled "The Big Khan" by a  guy named Neil Kleid were the two books that made me really, really, really want to write a graphic novel!

7. What do you have on the horizon? Any new books that we can be excited about? 
Yes, thank you!! I am writing a sequel to "The Stereotypical Freaks" that I hope to have out at this time next year.  It's going to have a hockey component which takes me back to my writing roots (two of my five books are hockey themed).  The writing is coming along great so far and I am trying to find a new artist and letterer to change things up a bit.

I was recently asked by the John Challis family to write a biography about  John's extraordinary life.  It is a great honor and privilege to do that!  I've not a done a straight biography before so it will be fun to do that and I'm hoping that it will be out by this Christmas!  

Enter to win some terrific prizes: 1 Grand Prize of signed book + T-shirt + bookmark

3 Runner up prizes: $15 Amazon gift card + signed bookmark

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Review: ARC of Spellbinding by Maya Gold

Spellbinding Goodreads Book Description: There's more than one way to be powerful . . .

It is during a routine school project that Abby Silva--sixteen and nearly friendless--makes a startling discovery: She is descended from women who were accused of witchcraft back in 1600s Salem. And when Abby visits nearby Salem, strange, inexplicable events start to unfold. Objects move when she wills them to. Candles burst into sudden flame. And an ancient spellbook somehow winds up in her possession.

Trying to harness her newfound power, Abby concocts a love potion to win over her longtime crush--and exact revenge upon his cruel, bullying girlfriend. But old magic is not to be trifled with. Soon, Abby is thrust headlong into a world of hexes, secrets, and danger. And then there's Rem Anders, the beautiful, mysterious Salem boy who seems to know more about Abby than he first lets on.

A reckoning is coming, and Abby will have to make sense of her history--and her heart--before she can face the powerful truth.

My Rating 2 out of 5 stars

My Review:  I was given this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Spellbinding by Maya Gold stars Abby, who is a nerdy brainiac who is in love with the school's most popular boy. She is tormented by the trio of mean girls who rule the school. When she is given a school project to look at her geneology, she realizes that she is descended from a "witch" from Salem. Then things start getting really weird and she realizes that she may have other talents than she realized.

At first, I was shocked by the low ratings. The first few pages are well written, clear, and enticing. But then after about the 5th page, I started to realize why. The thing is-- everything is so stereotypical. There is a nerdy girl who gets some powers. There are a bunch of mean girls who probably will get their comeuppance at some point. There is a cute boy who nerdy girl lusts after. There are some love potions. There are some really unimaginative witch references. The twists are completely predictable.

Abby herself is kind of a problem. I found myself not liking her very much, and not learning very much as the book went on. She ends up being proud of herself for reasons I don't really agree with. The boys and romance are lackluster, and there isn't really anything new that this book brings to the witch motif. Everything in it is a revamp of old teenybopper movies. We do get a lot of history lessons about the witches from Salem-- so I guess this may entice a young girl who has never learned anything about Salem at school and has never read or watched anything about witches.

Overall, a very disappointing read. Generic and uninspiring.

I would overlook this one. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Review of If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch and New International Giveaway!

If You Find Me
For my loyal blog fans, enter to win a signed copy of this book early!!! 

Goodreads Book Description: A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.

Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go… a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

My Review: I received this book from the Goodreads First Reads Program in exchange for an honest review.

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch is a haunting read that will stay with you long after it's done. The novel stars Carey, a teenaged girl who has been living in an abandoned camper in the woods for years with her younger sister, Jenessa, who she has taken care of, while her druggie mother has been in and out of town and eventually, missing, for the past two months. The two girls get discovered by social services and Carey's father, whom she hasn't seen for a decade, and what happens next is a revelation, both for her and her new adoptive family.

I don't want to give away too much about the plot, because it is so wonderful to discover all of the intricacies as you read yourself. The characters are deftly drawn, beautifully written, and poignant. Carey, the protagonist, carries the piece, which is vitally important to the success of this novel. She is very likeable and sympathetic as a character. Her younger sister, Jenessa, is the perfect combination of sweet and loveable, and mystery, since we know there is a reason why she hasn't talked for years. The supportive cast of characters is also wonderful, including Carey's father, Melissa, their new stepmother, Delly, the jealous new stepsister, and Pixie, an odd, whimsical new friend for Carey. The prose is gorgeous, and the description spot on. The plot races along at a perfect pace, and I was gripped from start to finish. As you can tell, I was greatly impressed by this novel.

If I had anything less than positive to say about this novel, it has to do with the boy in this piece-- his part seems a little too easy, too perfect. But that's about all I can say about it-- it obviously didn't change my opinion about the book.

Overall, a compelling, heartbreaking, and beautifully written first novel-- Murdoch is an extremely talented writer, and I will be watching for her future work.

Now enter to win this terrific book!
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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Hoppy Easter Eggstravaganza Giveaway Hop, Featuring Anna Silver, author of Otherborn

Hoppy Easter Eggstravaganza Giveaway Hop
March 29th to April 5th
Hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer & Read Now Sleep Later

I am very excited to introduce a very talented new writer, Anna Silver, to Ensconced in YA for an interview and giveaway!

Otherborn (Otherborn, #1)Goodreads Book Description: London and her teenage friends live in a reprocessed world.

Confined within Capital City’s concrete walls, London has done the impossible and the illegal. She’s created something New- a song. But her mentor, club owner Pauly, is not impressed. Since the historic Energy Crisis forced everyone behind walls generations ago, the Tycoons have ensured there is truly nothing new allowed under the sun. Pauly warns London to keep her song to herself, if she knows what’s good for her.

What he doesn’t know is that London is keeping an even bigger secret: she dreams. And she’s not alone. London’s band-mates and friends have begun dreaming as well, seeing themselves in “night pictures” as beings from another world. As Otherborn, they must piece together the story of their astral avatars, the Others, in order to save their world from a dreamless, hopeless future.

When Pauly is murdered and an Otherborn goes missing, London realizes someone is hunting them down. Escaping along the Outroads, they brave the deserted Houselands with only their dreams to guide them. Can they find their friend before the assassin finds them? Will being Otherborn save their lives, or destroy them?

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Author Blurb:

Anna Silver grew up with a passion for words, books, and storytelling. She began writing as a child and eventually landed at St. Edward’s University in Austin where she studied English Writing & Rhetoric. She has always nurtured a vivid imagination, a love for art and expression, and a need to lose herself in the mystical. Currently she resides in the greater Houston area with her family and pets where she continues to write, read, paint, and dream.

Author Interview
1. I love hearing stories about how authors start writing. When and how did you decide to write a book? Who or what inspired you?

I decided to be an author when I was about eight-years-old. And I started a number of novels when I was kid, in various spiral notebooks. But life sort of happened somewhere along the way and it wasn’t until I was nearing my thirties that I decided to get back into writing seriously. I wrote my first full novel when I was 28 or 29— a fantasy. Had a lot of good intentions about trying to publish it but just lost interest during the rewrite. A few years later, I caught the bug again and wrote another novel. That one I stuck with and began the equally arduous search into representation and publishing. Meanwhile, I decided to keep writing so the rejection wouldn’t eat me alive. OTHERBORN was my third novel and the first to get published.

2. I absolutely loved the world-building in this book. Can you tell us a little about how you came up with the idea for Otherborn?

OTHERBORN was born out of a couple of different influences. First, I’d read about the Otherkin subculture in a magazine and was instantly intrigued. To me, it just had novel written all over it. Did you know that there are people who truly believe they remember past-life experiences as non-human beings? I couldn’t stop imagining the fallout from that, how uncomfortable one would feel in their own skin if that were true— how conflicted and foreign.

The other was my personal research into dreaming. I’m fascinated by dreams and dream interpretation and the power dreams can hold in our waking lives. I read a book by a prolific author on the subject, Robert Moss, which talked about shamans from all over the world and all corners of history being able to meet up in their dreams and share information, help each other. Again, it just screamed, “Write me!”

I sort of crammed the ideas together and decided to contrast them with this dull, rote world to really amp up the conflict.

3. Characters are very important to me as a reader. Did you have a favorite character, and if so, why? Did any of them surprise you and make decisions you were not expecting?

My favorite character is Si’dah. I love writing her. She’s grace and wisdom and fantasy— pure joy for me as a writer. But I also love writing London, who is a perfect counterpart to Si’dah, because she’s all grit and impulse, raw emotion and barbed attitude. Together, they’re a lot of fun because there are so many ways they can play off each other and so many ways they can grow one another.

All of my characters surprise me. I’m a real pantser and even when I plot, my characters get in there and just wreak havoc on the best laid plans. I’ve learned to go with it.

4. I was fascinated by the underground community of Scrappers in this novel. Can you tell us a bit about how you came up with those ideas?

I’m kind of obsessed with junk, with one man’s trash being another man’s treasure. I’m not a hoarder or anything, but I like to look at things and imagine them with a purpose outside of the one they were created for. I love seeing things from totally different perspectives, like being able to see the beauty in something purely utilitarian. And when I came up with this idea of a world with nothing new, no creativity and no dreams, which are often the impetus behind history’s most creative acts, I thought it made sense that the culture would become obsessed with what was old. That our trash would sort of become the currency of the future, like recycling gone awry.

5. What is your favorite YA book of all time and your favorite YA read of this year?

Well, my favorite YA read of 2012 was BORN WICKED by Jessica Spotswood. I really can’t shut up about it. If you haven’t read it, do so immediately! It was just that good. It had all kinds of things I like: magic, witches, love triangles, peculiar alternative histories, and feminist conflict.

As far as my favorite YA read of all time? That’s tough. BORN WICKED would certainly be at the top of that list, but there are so many others too. We didn’t exactly have YA when I was growing up, or it wasn’t called that anyway. But I loved books like A WRINKLE IN TIME and THE LAST UNICORN. When my daughters got into reading, I delved into YA in order to stay abreast of what they were being exposed to. We loved books like the VAMPIRE ACADEMY series and THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH. I keep a Goodreads list going and a Pinterest board that show everything I’ve read or want to read, and I try to be good about leaving reviews.

6. If you could freeze a favorite moment in the entire process of writing this book, what would it be and why?

Probably the first chapter that’s written in Si’dah’s voice. I think it’s chapter nine. That whole chapter just flowed out of me and it’s still one of my favorites. After writing eight chapters full of the downtrodden, dreary world London and her friends live in, it was really nice to be somewhere as liberating and vivid as the Astral plane and a relief to write in this completely refreshing voice. London really matches her world, she’s such a product of it. She’s very angry inside and abrasive outside. She doesn’t want to show any weakness. But Si’dah is kind of like the personification of London’s potential. She’s honest about her emotions and she’s very real, very down-to-earth for a character that isn’t even from our world!

7. I think we all have YA authors that we adore and look up to. Who is that author for you and why?

Oh man, there are so many! Now, I’d have to say I’m really impressed with writers like Jessica Spotswood, Maggie Stiefvater, Jodi Meadows, and Veronica Roth. From my childhood, I still love and remember writers like Madeleine L’Engle and Judy Blume. And of course, I never grow tired of the classic authors, J.R.R. Tolkien, Philip Pullman, and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Those may not be considered technically YA though.

8. I am excited to continue this journey with London and her friends. Can you tell us a little bit about what's in store for them?

The working title for the second book in the OTHERBORN series is ASTRAL TIDE, though that may change. You can definitely look for London and the gang to start really learning more about what it means to be Otherborn in their world and how to harness some of the power they possess and put it to use in their fight against the Tycoons. Of course, they’ll also be learning about the consequences that go along with using that power.

Alliances begin to shift and new characters come into play, while the old ones find they are irrevocably changed by all that’s happened. New love sprouts where old ties wither and London is forced to face some challenging emotions for more than just one guy. The Astral becomes much more active in this book, and we get a peek into the rest of the characters who make up the Circle.

The Tycoons still have the upper hand in book two, and they have the Otherborn on the run, but they can only run for so long. Eventually, they’ll have to face what waits when the road runs out. Eventually, all their fates will catch up with them.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday: Antigoddess by Kendare Blake

Antigoddess (Antigoddess, #1)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating.

I was wondering what Kendare was up to after the Anna series was over! I guess now I know! I am so excited to get my hands on this book.

Goodreads Book Description: Old Gods never die…

Or so Athena thought. But then the feathers started sprouting beneath her skin, invading her lungs like a strange cancer, and Hermes showed up with a fever eating away his flesh. So much for living a quiet eternity in perpetual health.

Desperately seeking the cause of their slow, miserable deaths, Athena and Hermes travel the world, gathering allies and discovering enemies both new and old. Their search leads them to Cassandra—an ordinary girl who was once an extraordinary prophetess, protected and loved by a god.

These days, Cassandra doesn’t involve herself in the business of gods—in fact, she doesn’t even know they exist. But she could be the key in a war that is only just beginning.

Because Hera, the queen of the gods, has aligned herself with other of the ancient Olympians, who are killing off rivals in an attempt to prolong their own lives. But these anti-gods have become corrupted in their desperation to survive, horrific caricatures of their former glory. Athena will need every advantage she can get, because immortals don’t just flicker out.

Every one of them dies in their own way. Some choke on feathers. Others become monsters. All of them rage against their last breath.

The Goddess War is about to begin.

 Why I Am excited: How awesome does this book sound? With all the goriness that we loved from Anna, along with some intriguing characters and world building, wow!

Why I am Worried: I just hope that the references to the ancient Olympians amplify the book and not detract from it. I'm not too worried though, Kendare definitely has the chops to pull this off!

What are you waiting for? Also, check out my giveaways-- I have tons! :-)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Review of Queens are Wild by Jack Chaucer and INT Giveaway

Queens are Wild Goodreads Book Description: Margeaux Quigley has it all: the eyes of every guy in her senior class, a full scholarship to Stanford thanks to her soccer skills … and the seat as Commander in Chief of the United States in 2036?! Margeaux finds herself being dragged through a deadly chess game from 1984 to the future where her presidential self has been kidnapped by a tycoon who wants to rule the world. She must find a way to checkmate him.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My Review: I was given this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Queens are Wild by Jack Chaucer stars young 17 year old Margeaux, who gets stuck in detention one lovely Saturday afternoon. Suddenly, in a crazy turn of events, she and her classmates are sucked into time travel and a wacky sort of chess game. Her goal: to save the world from world domination. Will Margeaux be able to overcome all odds and defeat a Pirate King at his own game?

I have to admit it is very difficult to try to summarize this book into any sort of description without giving away some big plot details. I really enjoyed this book and as you can see, I read it in one sitting. I like to think of this novel as an R-rated Nancy Drew science fiction novel. Margeaux is a spunky female protagonist, and the plot twists are fun to unveil. The pacing is good, and I stayed interested the whole time.

My issues: there is always a paradox with time travel. If you go into the future and meet your older self, how does this work out? The way it ends does not convince me that it would. This is a big puzzle that I wish were explained better. Also, be warned that this is not really a young adult novel. I would recommend this book to 18 years and up for mature language and adult situations.

Overall, an entertaining first novel with a great protagonist--I'm sure Chaucer will only get better with each book.

Warning: For mature audiences over 18 ONLY!

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Fairy Tale Giveaway Hop, Featuring Marissa Meyer, author of Cinder and International Giveaway

This hop is in conjunction with the 3rd annual Fairy Tale Fortnight.  
Fairy Tale Giveaway Hop
Hosted by
March 26th to April 2nd

Cinder (Lunar Chronicles, #1)I am so incredibly excited to invite Marissa Meyer, the best selling author of Cinder, to my blog! As you recall, Lauren Oliver, author of the Delirium series, said in her interview with me that this was her favorite read of the year. In addition to that, all of you voted on a poll that this was my next favorite read... and it was!

Goodreads Book Description: Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Author Blurb: Marissa Meyer is the New York Times-bestselling author of the Lunar Chronicles. She's a fan of most things geeky (Sailor Moon, Firefly, any occasion that encourages costumes), and has been in love with fairy tales since she was a kid. She may or may not be a cyborg.

Author Interview

1. I love hearing stories about how people became authors. Can you tell us a little about your journey?
I’m one of those writers who grew up knowing this is what I wanted to do. I think since I figured out that you could potentially make money telling stories and working in your pajamas all day, I knew that was the job for me. So I spent a lot of time daydreaming and writing poems and plays and short stories when I was growing up, then I had a long, long stint as a fanfiction writer for Sailor Moon when I was a teenager. I tried my hand at a handful of novels when I was in high school and college, but none of them ever took off. It wasn’t until I had the idea for Cinder that I knew I absolutely had to try and finish it and get it published—and I’m so thrilled that it’s become my first novel!

2. You answered the question in your FAQ on your blog how you came up with the idea for Cinder when thinking about ideas for a writing contest. But then you say you did a huge brainstorming session after the initial idea came into your head. Can you tell us a little about what process you go through?
Usually I get a small spark of an idea—for The Lunar Chronicles, it was “combining fairy tales with science fiction”—and then I spend quite a lot of time mulling the idea over and letting it expand in my head until a story starts to develop. The idea might give way to a character, like it did with Cinder when I first envisioned Cinderella as a cyborg, or the idea might begin to evolve into a world, or I might start to come up with plot points and potential conflicts and then have to insert characters that fit them. It seems to be different for every project. But eventually I have enough pieces to the puzzle that I can start writing them down and sculpting them into a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Of course, that’s still only the beginning—though I’m an outline writer, my novels tend to go through multiple big revision rounds before they truly take shape.

3. I love the cover for this book. Can you tell us about how it was chosen and why you decided on a red shoe instead of a "glass slipper?"
Thank you, I love it too! I had very little say in the cover design, as it is with most authors, and I was surprised when my publisher first showed me the concept with the red shoe (especially as there are no red shoes in the book!). But they convinced me that it was a smart marketing tactic and the red would pop off of bookshelves, and they were absolutely right. On top of that, I now see that they envisioned each cover in the series having a red focus, which I think is brilliant. I can’t wait to see them altogether.
(On a separate note, my publisher for Catalan Spain used the same cover image, but changed the shoe to the more typical glass slipper. It can be seen here:

4. The setting for this novel is very unique-- futuristic China. What was hard about setting it there and what was the most fun about setting it there?
Definitely the most difficult, and nerve-wracking, part of this decision was not being able to travel there and do my research in-person. Though I visited China once when I was a teenager, I don’t know how helpful that experience was when it came to creating my own futuristic version of the country, and so I had to rely mostly on secondary resources for my research. I spent lots of time going through travel guides and looking up traditions and holidays and cultural symbols and what they stand for, trying to capture both the feel of old-world traditions and the very modern, high-tech society that much of China is today and no doubt will be when it becomes the Eastern Commonwealth. I do enjoy researching though, and I love reading about traditions, arts, and holidays that are different from our own.

5. You talk about how important beta readers are-- I totally agree with this, and actually beta read for a couple of St. Louis YA authors. Can you tell us what are the most important characteristics of a beta reader and an example of how they changed your book?
Ohmygosh, I really don’t know what I would do without my betas! Mine have made such a big impact on this series, both in how they’ve encouraged me over the years and how they challenge me to be a better writer. So many times I’ve thought that something was “good enough,” only to be told by one of my betas that they knew I could do better… and of course, they’re always right. They don’t let me take the easy way out and force me to really think about who the characters are, what is motivating them, and if my plot twists are as strong and daring as I can make them. I would say that a good beta reader is one part cheerleader (I live for the comments that say I’ve made them laugh out loud or swoon during a kiss or yell at the villain); one part editor (they always find inconsistencies and errors that I missed); and one part writing coach (their thoughtful critiques and feedback always help me take the story to a brand new level). A good beta reader also knows when to offer suggestions of their own and when to simply say “this isn’t working” and let the writer figure out the solution for themselves.

6. Lauren Oliver told me in an interview that Cinder was her favorite YA read of the year. It's time to pay it forward :-) What was your favorite YA year over the past year and why?
Wow, thanks Lauren!! I’m so flattered. Gosh, it’s so hard to choose a favorite… a lot of amazing books came out last year. But I’m going to have to go with Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. Everything from the writing to the world-building to the characters is completely captivating. The story—about a sickly mapmaker who discovers she alone might have a magic power strong enough to destroy the dark and dangerous Shadowfold that’s torn her country apart—has everything I love in a book: political intrigue, horrible villains, swoony romances… oh, I just love this series.

7. Tell us about your cats.
Ha! Well, we have three. The two girls, Calexandria Josephine and Blackland Rockwell III, were found as kittens a day apart from each other: one was under my brother’s house and one was under my father-in-law’s. The third, Stormus Enormous, came to us as a scrawny, dirty stray. He’s since plumped up quite nicely. He’s actually the third stray we’ve taken in over the years. I’m pretty sure there’s a big arrow over our house, visible only to felines, indicating that there’s Free Food Here.

8. Do you go anywhere or listen to music or do anything else to get inspiration?
Depending on my mood, I might take a nice long bubble bath, or I might go to the gym and run on the treadmill, or I might lay on living room floor and stare at the ceiling and wait for my imagination to start turning. I do have a playlist for each book that I’ll listen to when I’m driving, and after awhile I’ll find that certain songs become the theme songs for a certain character or chapter from the book, and then listening to them can pull up those same emotions when I need them. I don’t listen to music when I write though—I find it too distracting.

9. You write about terrific locations but mentioned on your blog that you either were there as a young child or have never explored the area. What is your dream getaway and why?
There are a gazillion places I’d like to visit someday, but mostly I would love, love, love to go to Germany—the home of the Grimm Brothers! I want to visit Castle Neuschwanstein, the ultimate “fairy tale castle.” And I also want to travel the “Fairy Tale Road,” which supposedly stops at the places where the Grimm brothers lived and worked, and also in certain towns that may have inspired different fairy tales, such as Bremen which has a sculpture of the Bremen Town Musicians. Plus, I just hear that Germany is really beautiful.

10. Tell us a little about what books you are working on now. Specifically, can you tell us a bit about what we can look forward to from your characters in Cinder and Scarlet?
I’m just about finished with Book 3: CRESS, which is my Rapunzel story. Instead of being stuck in a tower, Cress is stuck in a satellite orbiting Earth and being forced to work as a cyber-spy for Queen Levana. All our favorite characters from Cinder and Scarlet will be returning, and Kai fans will be happy to know that he has a much bigger role in this book than he did in Scarlet! The series will then wrap up with Book 4: WINTER, which is based on Snow White, in which our heroes must make their final stand against the evil queen.

Wow, what a terrific interview! Thanks so much to Marissa for agreeing to answer my questions, and please sign up to win her wonderful books!
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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Comic Con Saint Louis 2013

OK, so I'm a big dork, we all know it! But I had to just share my awesome experience at this year's Comic Con (first ever in Saint Louis!)!

I got to meet Tom Felton, the guy who plays Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies...
 But the little kid in front of me was terrified by him and wouldn't even shake his hand. Poor Tom was telling him in his cute English accent, "I'm not mean like that guy Draco in the movie, I promise!" The kid was not convinced.

And then he signed my Harry Potter book...

He was a super nice guy, and apparently has been in LA for the past 6 weeks so didn't have to fly here all the way from England.

And to make things even more awesome, I got a text when I got home that I won The Host by Stephenie Meyer movie T-shirt! My good author friend Fiona Paul was kind enough to pick it up for me!

I also saw from far away: James Marsters (Spike from Buffy fame), Henry Winkler, Juliet Landau who played Drusilla from Buffy, and Morena Baccarin who plays Inara in Firefly.

Have any of you guys gone to a Comic Con? What was your experience like?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Review of The Stereotypical Freaks, a YA contemporary graphic novel, by Howard Shapiro and new INT giveaway!

The Stereotypical Freaks

I'm really excited to introduce this next book, as it is a very unique novel. The Stereotypical Freaks is a graphical novel, and Howard Shapiro really makes it into a wonderful YA contemporary. I would say this exemplifies what a true YA book should be, no matter the style (although I really dug the graphics and thought it only enhanced the book).

Goodreads Book Description: Four disparate high school seniors come together to compete in their school's battle of the bands. Sharing a love for playing rock and roll, the members name the band "The Stereotypical Freaks" because they feel stereotyped by their classmates - smart kid, geek, star athlete and quiet weirdo… when in fact they know they are much more than those labels that have been placed on them.

When one member reveals life altering news, winning the competition takes on more of a meaning to each member. Scared and angry, upset and yet still with a lot of resolve they set out to win one for the good guys… will they?

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

My Review: I was asked by the author to read and review this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Stereotypical Freaks by Howard Shapiro is not my typical read-- it is a graphical novel about a group of four unlikely friends who get together to form a band and to compete in their school's Battle of the Bands competition. When one of them reveals a devastating secret, each of other boys react in a different way. Will they be able to come together and finish what they started and maybe learn something important about themselves and each other?

I loved this book-- and I don't usually read graphical novels. I was drawn in from the first few pages, and didn't stop until I finished the whole thing. I also don't usually cry when reading books, but I was choked up halfway through and was very moved by the story. The teens are well fleshed out and are both believable and likeable. The graphics were meaningful, beautiful, and appropriate. I felt at times I wasn't even reading a book, I was instead watching a good movie.

Overall, I was incredibly impressed with this book; lovers of YA should definitely give it a try. They won't be disappointed.

Tune in for a terrific interview by the author next week! Until then, sign up to enter this terrific giveaway! 

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Interview with Megan, the main character in Riley's Secret by Christina Smith and International Giveaway!

Riley's Secret (A Moon's Glow, #1)Boy, do I have a treat for you guys today! Please welcome Megan Banks, the main character from the Moon's Glow trilogy! She has taken time out of her very busy schedule to talk with us today.

Goodreads Book Description of Riley's Secret: Megan Banks feels like an imposter in her own life; she doesn’t belong with her friends or with her parents, who ignore her. After a fire she’s indirectly involved with, she finds herself with two hundred hours of community service. It’s the charity she volunteers at that finally makes her feel like she belongs. These people, with whom she has nothing in common, mean more to her than her rich, selfish friends.

But for some reason her supervisor, Nate Green, doesn’t want her there. He thinks she’s a self-centered rich girl who deserves to be in jail. After she’s threatened by the kids who started the fire, Nate and Megan form a strange friendship, built only for her protection. But the more she feels for him, the more he pushes her away.

As they become closer, Megan knows Nate is attracted to her as well, but she also believes that he is hiding something. But she could never guess what he really is. Before she realizes what is happening, she becomes involved in a world she didn't know existed.

In this strange new reality, can she finally find a place where she belongs?

Thanks so much for joining us at Ensconced in YA for an interview, Megan! Can you tell us a little bit about where you grew up and a bit about your family?
I grew up in Creekford in a very large mansion.  It’s in upstate New York.  My family isn’t what you’d call close. My mother’s idea of bonding is handing over overpriced designer clothes. I spend more time with one of my favorite people, Mona, who is my nanny/ cook and her husband who is my gardener.

Tell us about that hottie you've had your eye on, Nate. When did you realize you had a crush on him?
I think it started three years ago when he came up to me in the school cafeteria. He stared at me, and when I smiled at him, he took off. And then ignored me when I tried to talk to him a few days later. Every girl in my school has doodled his name on their notebooks at least once in the last three years. But sadly, no one has caught his eye yet.

What is your favorite restaurant? Song? Candy?
Restaurant-Luigi’s Pizza
Song is hard, I have so many, but I think my favorite right now is Stay by Rihanna, or We are young by Fun. I can’t decide which I like better.
Candy- Swedish Berries, or anything chocolate.

Every girl dreams of their wedding dress. Do you have an image in your mind of what it might look like?
Yes. Big and fluffy with tulle, and a sash along the waist. I saw it on Say Yes To The Dress.

I love that show-- it's so addicting! Who is your celebrity crush and why?
Paul Wesley from the Vampire Diaries, because his character reminds me of Nate. And he’s not hard to look at either.

I agree-- he is super hot... but I have to say, I think Nate is more attractive... in a platonic way! *ducks* Ummmm, so tell us about Riley House and why you love it there.
It feels like the family I never had, and when I help someone, it makes me feel good. I’ve never felt that way before. My parents may spend a lot of money giving to charities, but it’s all for show.
Just one more question... What's your favorite quote?
Anything Sue Sylvester from Glee says, but the only thing I can think of right now is "Who in God's name gives a hot wet steamy dump about student government!"

Thanks so much for joining us, Megan! We hope to have you back again sometime soon!

And now, please enter to win this terrific set of books or a gift card!
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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Kick Butt Characters Blog Hop, Featuring Kimberly Derting, author of The Pledge

2nd Annual Kick Butt Characters Hop
& I Am A Reader, Not A Writer
March 23rd - 28th

This hop features the best Kick-Butt Characters in Young Adult Books.
My choice is Charlaina (Charlie) from the Pledge! I'm so excited to introduce Kimberly Derting, the fabulous author of the Pledge and the Body Finder series.

The Pledge (The Pledge, #1) Goodreads Book Description: In the violent country of Ludania, the classes are strictly divided by the language they speak. The smallest transgression, like looking a member of a higher class in the eye while they are speaking their native tongue, results in immediate execution. Seventeen-year-old Charlaina has always been able to understand the languages of all classes, and she's spent her life trying to hide her secret. The only place she can really be free is the drug-fueled underground clubs where people go to shake off the oppressive rules of the world they live in. It's there that she meets a beautiful and mysterious boy named Max who speaks a language she's never heard before . . . and her secret is almost exposed.

Charlie is intensely attracted to Max, even though she can't be sure where his real loyalties lie. As the emergency drills give way to real crisis and the violence escalates, it becomes clear that Charlie is the key to something much bigger: her country's only chance for freedom from the terrible power of a deadly regime.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My Review: The Pledge Review  

Kimberly Derting is the author of the BODY FINDER series (HarperCollins) and THE PLEDGE trilogy (Simon & Schuster). She lives in the Seattle area, with her husband and three children, who often find the outrageous things they say either in the pages of her books or posted on Twitter or Facebook for the entire world to see.
You can visit her website at
Author Interview
1. Tell us a little about how you became inspired to create the world in The Pledge?

Unlike the idea for my other series, The Body Finder, which came to me all at once, the original idea for The Pledge came in pieces...more like a puzzle.  The first piece was just a simple question: “What would it be like if someone could understand all languages?” But I definitely wanted the story itself to be bigger than just that component.  I spent a lot of time—over a year—thinking about how Charlie’s ability would work, what kind of world she would live in, and developing the monarchies and her friends and family, before I’d ever written a single word. I talk more about how I got the idea here:

2. Which character in another YA book would your main character Charlie most likely be best friends with?

I think Charlie and Peeta (from THE HUNGER GAMES) would be friends. Peeta is funny and loyal, and knows how to bake a cake ;)

3. Who was your favorite character to write and why? Did any character surprise you?

I’m not sure any of them really surprised me, but asking me which character I most enjoy writing is practically like asking me to choose which of my kids I like best. I’m totally gonna do it, though (the favorite character, not the favorite kid!), because I did have one. It was definitely Angelina. She’s adorable and smart and may have a few secrets of her own.

4. For our aspiring writers, can you talk a little about why you write in trilogy form rather than stand alones and what you've found to be pros/cons about both forms?

I think a lot of the challenges are the same whether you’re writing a series or a trilogy, namely trying to keep each story fresh. And then secondly, keeping them fresh without completely abandoning the format that your readers have already fallen in love with. I don’t want my books to be “formulaic,” but at the same time, I want readers to feel like they’re hanging out with an old friend when they’re reading the next book in the series.  It’s like walking a tightrope, trying to find that balance that will keep readers coming back for more.

The biggest difference is that with a series, each book wraps up its main storyline so that there’s a conclusion to the (in the case of The Body Finder series) mystery. With a trilogy there’s an overall arc that spans all three books, and the ultimate conclusion isn’t reached until that final novel. But honestly, I love writing in both formats!

5. Tell us a little about what your future books are about, including the sequel to The Pledge, Essence, which has just come out!

In THE ESSENCE, the second book in The Pledge trilogy, Charlie has taken the throne of her country, Ludania, and is now in charge of trying to set things right. Unfortunately, the old queen is still around—her Essence is fused inside of Charlie. And as Charlie secretly struggles to keep the voice of the evil queen at bay, she is also being challenged by those who would like to see her dead.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Interview with Christina Smith, author of YA paranormal series and International Giveaway

Riley's Secret (A Moon's Glow, #1)Goodreads Book Description of Riley's Secret: Megan Banks feels like an imposter in her own life; she doesn’t belong with her friends or with her parents, who ignore her. After a fire she’s indirectly involved with, she finds herself with two hundred hours of community service. It’s the charity she volunteers at that finally makes her feel like she belongs. These people, with whom she has nothing in common, mean more to her than her rich, selfish friends.

But for some reason her supervisor, Nate Green, doesn’t want her there. He thinks she’s a self-centered rich girl who deserves to be in jail. After she’s threatened by the kids who started the fire, Nate and Megan form a strange friendship, built only for her protection. But the more she feels for him, the more he pushes her away.

As they become closer, Megan knows Nate is attracted to her as well, but she also believes that he is hiding something. But she could never guess what he really is. Before she realizes what is happening, she becomes involved in a world she didn't know existed.

In this strange new reality, can she finally find a place where she belongs?

Goodreads Book Description of Riley's Torment:
Riley's Torment, (A Moon's Glow Novel #2)Months after Megan and Nate's ordeal, they are finally happy and looking forward to the future. With Nate, Megan has found the family she always wanted, and after the night of their six month anniversary, they have something to celebrate. Their life together is solid and unbreakable—until an old enemy returns to wreak havoc on their lives.

When Megan and Lauren are caught in a fight between the rivals, they find themselves trapped with a pack of savage werewolves during a full moon. After their predicament, they will be forever changed. That is, if they make it out alive.

To save the girls, Nate and Joe must confront the past in order to save their future.

In the aftermath of the horrific ordeal, the life that Megan and Nate have created for themselves is torn apart. Will they find a way to take back their happiness or will they let it slip away?

Author Blurb: 
Christina Smith grew up in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Like her mother, she fell in love with books at a young age. She started reading her books and usually hid them behind her texts at school. Then she began to venture out herself, reading anything she could find. 

After getting married, she moved to a small rural town in the country. She lives there with her husband Brad, two kids Josh and Megan, and their dog Bailey. She didn’t realize she had the ability to write until a few years ago, but ever since then, she hasn't been able to stop.

Author Interview

1. Tell us about the first thing you ever wrote and how you progressed from that first piece of writing to the writer you are today.
As an adult, I wrote a children’s book called Megan’s Pond. It was about my daughter learning to skate. I don’t know why I started it; the words just came to me. Since I had never written anything before, and didn’t know I could, I was self-conscious about it. I didn’t write anything again until a year later.

Then I chose young adult because it was what I read, and was passionate about it. That book was Fated Dreams. And the first draft was horrible. It was one big block of sentences and no description. I took an online novel writing course from Winghill writing school, and it helped me a lot. And also experience. I learned from each book I wrote.

2. Why werewolves?
I read a few lines of a book on textnovel a few years ago. It was written in the first person, and the story was told by a killer. It got me thinking about how to create a character who is a killer and yet we feel sympathy for him. I was on my Affinity series at the time, and wanted to branch out more into fantasy, but I wanted to avoid Vampires, I thought they were overdone at the time. So that left Werewolves.

3. I absolutely love your characters-- they definitely have their own distinct and witty personalities. Can you tell us the character you had most fun writing and why?
I think Joe; He was a breath of fresh air after writing Nate and his Angst. And he had the best lines in the first book. But I had a hard time doing his Irish accent in the second book. I regretted making him Irish. It was a lot more work for me, since he was more of a central character. And Mona, I never intended for her to come off so sarcastic and fun, but that was how her character came out. I love when a character comes alive, almost on their own.

 4. If Megan could meet any character from a book, movie, or TV show, who do you think she would be best friends with? Worst enemies with? 
Best friend-Olive from Easy A. She was so funny, and I loved her family. Enemy, I can’t think of any one she’d be enemies with. I guess the popular crowd from the movie Mean Girls.

5. Can you tell us a little about your other books?
 My first Series, is called the Affinity Series. It has two books, the first is Fated Dreams, the second is Delusions. It’s about two twin brothers, Lucas and Logan told by their female love interests, Sarah and Lisa. They’re filled with romance, and mystery. My Adult novel is a romance contemporary called Finding Abigail. It focuses on a 27 yr old children’s writer named Abby Watson, and it shows how easy it is to fall for the wrong guy. It’s for people over eighteen.

6. What do you have on the horizon? In particular, can we look forward to seeing our friends Nate, Joe, Lauren, and Megan sometime soon?
Yes, as soon as Riley’s Torment is finished and published, I’ll be back on my laptop to write the third and final, Moon’s glow book. I have so many other ideas; I can’t see me doing a series with more than three books.

Thanks so much, Christina (and my name twin!) for joining us on Ensconced in YA! We are so eager to get our hands on all books in the series! Now enter to win a set of books from this great author!
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