Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Interview with Louise Gornall, author of Under Rose-Tainted Skies and US giveaway of her book

Dear Readers:
I am so excited to put up this special holiday interview post and giveaway of an amazing book that I have recently read, Under Rose-Tainted Skies by the terrific Louise Gornall! What better way to ring in the new year than with a slam dunk of a YA contemporary?

Goodreads Description: Norah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.

Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.

My Rating: 5 couches

My Review: Holy cow. Where do I even start. I can count on one hand the number of YA contemporaries that I've given 5 full stars, and this is one of them. YA contemporaries are not really my thing. I don't really love teen romances, it's a period of my life I'd honestly rather forget. But this book... even as a physician, I didn't have a lot of experience with agoraphobia, although I learned about it in medical school. To see a young person who was relatively normal, and then one day, suddenly had to deal with such a dramatic and debilitating condition (which is typical of this disorder), it was eye-opening and heartbreaking for me.

Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall is based on the author's true experience with grappling with this disorder. The book stars Norah, a teen who is now homeschooled because of her OCD and agoraphobia and overwhelming anxiety, and she lives an isolated life with her mother, who is one of the nicest, most perfect people I've ever read about. I kind of hope she isn't true to life because I feel completely inadequate as a mom compared to her. A new guy, Luke, moves in next door, and what happens next is a gift. A gift for Norah, a gift for the author I'm sure, and a gift for me, one of the lucky readers of this book.

This is a special book. Norah is a special character, who I will carry in my heart long after the book goes on the bookshelf. I wept, reading this book. Norah is such a wonderful character, so three dimensional and brave even though her agoraphobia would make most people give up. Everything we take for granted is so hard for her. She can't even open the door to go outside. Taking a step or getting in a car is beyond agony. She can't have normal friendships. How can she even imagine a relationship? And yet, there is Luke. Oh Luke, I haven't had a book crush in a long time. He's so tender with her, so sweet. He almost makes me believe that teen boys can think of more than just sex. All Norah needed was a window. And she gets that in Luke. Although this book is moving and heartbreaking and all that, there are wonderful, funny moments. Great lines by Norah both in her head and out loud. And you can't help but love her, and hope your darnedest she is going to make it.

I loved this book to pieces and tore through it in a day. It was a joy and privilege to read it and I can't wait for everyone else to get the chance to pour through its pages as well. Not only was it a wonderful read, it really educated me (and will educate others) about this tough condition, and hopefully be a ray of light for those who suffer from it. A phenomenal book and I'll be picking up all of her future ones.

Author Blurb: A junk food enthusiast, film nerd, and rumored pink Power Ranger, Louise Gornall writes about her own experiences to help encourage and facilitate conversations with other people also facing challenges with mental illness. She lives in England. Visit her website at, and follow her on Twitter at @Rock_andor_Roll.  

Author Interview:
1. You are so brave to write a story about your personal experiences and share a bit of yourself to inspire others. Can you tell us a little about this journey-- what was easy and what was hard? What ultimate message would you like your readers to get from the book?
Thank you so much. That's really nice of you to say. Real talk? Getting Rose out was really hard. Almost everything Norah goes through I've been through myself, and a lot of those things were a guarded secret. I was embarrassed by my "behaviours". So many of them seemed absurd or far-fetched, but they were, and still are, very real to me. The idea of having people see inside my mind was horrifying, and I would have quit after the first three chapters if I hadn't been surrounded by a support system, telling me it was okay to talk about my illnesses, telling me that it was brave, that this story was important. I hope if Rose teaches readers anything, it's that mental health is a long and lengthy battle, but you don't have to fight it by yourself. You're not alone. There is always going to be someone who understands what you're going through, or someone who wants to understand, and, more importantly, wants to support you.

2. I absolutely love both Norah and Luke. If they were to be sorted by the Sorting Hat in Hogwarts, which houses would they belong to (I have my guesses) and why? How about you?
Ooh! This is such a cool question. So, Luke would be Hufflepuff. That's an easy pick. He's patient and kind and very loyal. He's humble, too. The kind of guy that would look at you like you've lost your mind if you suggested he was in some way saintly for befriending Norah. He sees Norah, not her illness.

Now, Norah is a little trickier. At first I was like, Gryffindor, because I feel like she's brave and exhibits an extraordinary amount of courage just by getting out of bed in the morning. But then I was thinking that the ability to fight her demons comes from a place of self awareness, which is a byproduct of her wit and wisdom. So now I'm leaning toward Ravenclaw. Can we have a hybrid house just for her? We can call it Gryffinclaw!
3. I know parts of Norah come from you, but some do not. What is similar to you and which parts are different?
Norah is me at the peak of my illness. She talks like I did, acts like I did, dreams like I did. As of 2016, I'm a lot better than I was, but back then I was terrified of everything. I had a therapist just like Doctor Reeves, a sci-fi nut mum who changed jobs to work around me, a Luke who helped me see things a different way. Norah and I are twinsies. I think the only big difference in our lives is that ending -- you know the one. But even then, I went through something just as traumatic, but that didn't fit with YA so I had to improvise.

4. I love both the mother and Dr. Reeves in this novel, and it is so refreshing to see adults in YA that are so supportive and good role models for us parents out here. Can you tell us a bit more of how we can be supportive of someone like Norah with agoraphobia or general anxiety and what support services there are out there?
This is always a tough one to answer because I believe it depends very much on the individual. I've yet to see two cases of OCD/anxiety/agoraphobia that are the same.  I think the best you can do for a person who is suffering is just be there, with open ears and an open mind. Convincing someone to get help from a medical professional is important, but it can be hard work. It's not easy to spew your worst fears to a stranger, you know? It takes time, but it is possible with some gentle encouragement, and a ton of patience.

5. Luke is my new book crush. Can you tell us a bit about your journey to creating him, and who your book crush is?
Luke is based on my very own, real life Luke. I guess I can't really take credit for creating him. He was already written for me. In-real-life-Luke is a wonder. He blew into my world unexpectedly, and he was so kind and careful with my mind. I'm very lucky to have him, and I couldn't wait to share him with readers. He is my ultimate book crush.  

6. Can you tell us a bit about In Shadow Selfie, what you hope to accomplish and how can we be a part of the movement?
Yes! Thank you for asking. So, In Shadow Selfie is a hashtag I started on Twitter a couple of years ago. It's an awareness campaign, geared toward anyone who is battling mental health issues. I was looking for a way to increase visibility and expose this great community, to people who were feeling alone. With the help of my Twitter friends, we started taking pictures of our shadows and posting them to the #InShadowSelfie hashtag. It's been bittersweet to see everyone get involved, sharing photos, sharing stories. I get some of the most beautiful and heartbreaking messages off folks who needed to feel support, then saw one of our selfies and decided to get in touch.  

7. What is your writing process? Do you have a particular place? Time of day? Snacks? Laptop/desktop? Outlines? Freewrites? Beta readers?
My process is a little bizarre. I don't use a computer... I write on my phone. I warned you ;) See, I like to get in bed, when it's all quiet and dark, with a cup of tea, and just tap away. I only really use my computer to format a manuscript before I send it to my agent (and to watch Netflix).  

8. What are you working on next?
My next book is about a girl who is trying to come to terms with some scoliosis surgery, after it's changed her body, considerably. She's trying to get comfortable in her own skin again... enter: a bully, a boy, and the pressure to have sex in senior year.  

9. Anything else you'd like to tell my readers?
Happy Holidays! I hope you're all having a nice, peaceful, break. Sending lots of love and luck for 2017.

Thanks so much to Louise for this great interview! Now enter the giveaway sponsored by HMH Kids! 

Happy Holidays and here's to an amazing 2017!

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Monday, December 5, 2016

The Forever Friends Trilogy by Howard Shapiro and INT giveaway of all 3 books and $25 iTunes gift card!

Dear Fellow Readers:
I am so excited (and also a bit sad) to share with you a trilogy that I've worked on with Howard for the past several years that is finally completed with Hockey Karma, the final book. First, I was emailed by him in 2012 to review Stereotypical Freaks, which I loved, and then he asked me to be his editor for the next two books, The Hockey Saint and Hockey Karma. Previous to Howard, I had little experience with editing for graphical novels and it was such a fun process! I did a lot of background research and read some other graphical novels to get a basic idea. Then, for these two novels, I got to work with characters that I already knew and loved, and then in the final book, Hockey Karma, had the privilege of bringing back characters from the first book. Working with Howard was a creative and super fun process as he was very open to all sorts of ideas and allowed me a lot of freedom to buff up the story. Howard has done a stupendous job putting the story together and then integrating the art with the story. I am so proud of what he has accomplished and am glad to share these books with you now!

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?

0991255011.MAINThe Hockey Saint Goodreads Book description: Twenty-one year old Jeremiah Jacobson is the world's best hockey player, but he wasn't prepared for the frenzy and scrutiny that came with that title. Tom Leonard is an average college sophomore... just a guy trying to find his place in the world as he sorts through issues that are both very real and seemingly insurmountable.

Through a chance meeting, these two strike up an unlikely friendship. Their bond is tested when Tom discovers that his idol isn't as perfect up close as he seems from afar. With Jeremiah living a little too much in the moment and with his past catching up to him, will Tom be able to help him before it's too late?

karmaHockey Karma Goodreads Book description: The legendary Jeremiah “Jake” Jacobson, now thirty two, has been the world’s best hockey player over his fourteen year career because of his out of this world talent level and his smart play. But he can’t stay on top forever, and when he starts making mistakes on the ice, his career and family life start to crumble.

At the same time, Tom Leonard, his agent and best friend, is completely overwhelmed by a project that he and Jake were supposed to be working on together. A project that could have a huge impact on people throughout their city in need of a helping hand. As Jake sinks deeper into a funk over his lost status due to his deteriorating play and the emergence of teammate and rookie phenom Barclay Pedersen, Tom realizes he’s on his own. At the same time he rediscovers someone from his past who he never thought he’d see again. In that burgeoning relationship, Tom discovers the importance of taking chances and starts to believe in himself.

Can Jake break out of his downward spiral and Tom finally find the courage to step out of Jake’s shadow?

Author Blurb:
HOWARD SHAPIRO lives in Moon Township, 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 two graphic novels (part of the Forever Friends Trilogy.)
The Stereotypical Freaks was his debut Graphic Novel came out in November, 2012 and his most recent GN is The Hockey Saint which came out in October, 2014.  Both GN’s have won awards including (TSF) Best Graphic Novel of 2012 at the Indie Spirit Awards and (THS) IndieReader 2014 Best Graphic Novel.  The final part of the trilogy, Hockey Karma, will be released in Novemberber, 2016. 
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 or send an email to

1. It's been so fun working on this trilogy for you, and I'm sad that it's over! Can you tell us a little about the experience of completing the trilogy: the good, the bad, and the ugly?
It's been a lot of fun and even though it took seven years, it seems like the time has flown by!  There's so much more good then bad and/or ugly!  I'd say the number one thing that has been good (truly great, in fact) has been the collaborative nature of whole thing.  I've had such an amazing time working with the illustrators, letterers and most of all my fabulous and amazing editor!  To see how the books have started out and to see them finished and literally come to life, that has been an experience that I will cherish the rest of my life.  One other thing that I say to anyone who has been kind enough to read my books, is that I am incredibly appreciative of having the opportunity to share my books with them.  I started out doing self published books, I did four of them, and when you self publish you are your own marketing, sales and publicity person and so you send out hundred and hundreds of emails hoping someone will give you a chance and either review, publicize or buy your book.  You count every mention and every sale as this amazing thing and so even to this day, I'm so thankful to each and every person who reads any of my books.  I never, ever take that for granted and I never will.  As far as the bad, I'd say with the trilogy its been the long period of time it takes to complete the books.  That's a byproduct of doing a graphic novel because in a good week, the illustrator can get three pages done.  That's if everything goes the right way!  So, the process is a slow one but the end result is magical, for sure!  The ugly is easy, the business side of publishing.  There are parts of the business side that I love such as the marketing and publicity side but with the first book I went through, in order, a terrible literary agent who caused me an incredible amount of hardship, both mentally and financially.  A small publisher who ended up going out of business before the book was published and then another publisher who offered a contract but wanted total creative control which included changing the ending of the book.  I told them that if the ending is changed, I basically have to re-write the whole story and they were OK with that.  But it all worked out as it should because I'm with a great publisher now who has a great distributor and team behind the books!
2. There are several great characters throughout these novels, some that we just meet in the third. Are there any characters in particular that it's hard to say goodbye to? For me, it's definitely Tom, who we've seen grow up through three books and he's come so far. He will always have a special place in my heart. The other character is Jaelithe, as she was really fleshed out in this book and brought out the best in Tom. How about you?
Two characters in particular.  Tom and Jake but both for different reasons.  Tom has been, more or less, my doppelganger throughout the seven fictional books I've done.  It didn't start out that way but starting with my first book when the character was ten and on through all of the books, through Tom I've been able to express myself and my feelings and emotions.  Writing him has been an amazing amount of fun.  Jake has also been a lot of fun to write because he's such a flawed, yet goodhearted character.  I compare writing him to what an actor must feel like playing a bad guy, you always hear them say playing the bad guy is much better then playing the hero.  It's the same with writing a character like Jake who can't get out of his own way even though he's trying really hard to do that!
3. What characters if any ended up surprising you? For me, there were a couple of characters. Jaelithe was one-- I love how she is a single mom doing the best for her kid and putting him first, but also a rock star reporter! There is another skill up her sleeve, which I will not give away here. There is another character that also surprised me that also was a transplant from the first book-- didn't realize he would end up where he was! How about you?
 I'd have to say Tom.  In "Hockey Karma" he is thirty years old and as most thirty year olds do, he starts to see life differently.  He's single and he's wondering if he will ever meet the right girl and start a family, all things he wants to do.  But he also wants to make his mark on society and in the book he gets to a crossroad and he realizes what he has to sacrifice for ambition.  And so the question is, can he do it?
4. If Tom and Jake were sorted into Hogwarts houses, which ones would they be sorted into and why?
 Excellent, excellent question!!  In my humble opinion Tom would be sorted into Gryffindor because I think the hat would sense his bravery and leadership although it may be under the surface.  For Jake, I think the hat would choose Slytherin because of his ambition and desire to be the best at what he does.
Yes! I was right! I think Jaelithe would be Ravenclaw, because she is awfully clever.
5. If you could go anywhere in the world for a write-cation, to get inspiration for your next sets of books, where would it be and why?
 Actually it's not one specific place but the mode of transportation to get there.  I haven't been on a plane in almost twenty years so I end up travelling a lot in trains.  I really love taking the train even though the trips tend to be long.  But that works out for the best because I get so, so much writing done while I am on the train.  It's a combination of looking out the window and being inspired by the scenery and the lack of distractions, its the perfect mixture!!
6. Tell us why you decided to focus on hockey in this trilogy and secondly, why music plays such a large role in all three books.
 Hockey and music are two of my favorite things and I go back to the old adage about writing about things or subjects that you like.  Listen to music really inspires my writing which is why in large part I list the "Recommended Listening" songs at the beginning of each chapter.  I learned so much about life from playing hockey, it really taught me the value of hard work and dedication.  I wasn't a very good player so I couldn't rely on my skill, I learned I had to outwork the opposition or my own teammates if I wanted to be even the slightest bit successful.  And so I've brought that work ethic into everything I do.
7. Will we ever see Tom or Jake or any of the old cast again?
 Wow, I really hope so!!  At this time I have another idea in mind for a new trilogy but I've learned to never say never.  As much fun as it has been, I feel it's time to move on but I may find a way to work them into the new trilogy if everything falls into place.  Maybe not in the first book, but hopefully in the second!!
8. Tell us a bit about the drafting process, combining the writing with the drawings, etc.
 The process that works for me is that I like to get a good, solid synopsis in place and that can take a long time.  Once I have that I work off of that to come up with the first draft.  I write the GN's in a quasi-script form so that the illustrator has as much info as possible to help them draw the pages.  I like to have each page have five or six panels.  So, once the draft is done I send that to my amazing, incredible editor (cough cough) who comes back with her thoughts and ideas on what works and what doesn't.  I then start the editing process and rewrite after rewrite to get it honed down to a 130 or so page story.  It all works good for me because I envision each scene or page in my head, I've always written in a visual way so when things are going good, it tends to flow very well.
*blushes* Thank you, Howard! It was a privilege to work on this project with you!
9. What book should we expect to see next from you? Will you stick with the graphical novel form?
Most definitely I will now and forever be doing graphic novels!  I compare GN's to hockey in that I loved playing hockey and I love watching it.  I love reading GN's and I love writing them!  I have a pretty good idea (I think) for a trilogy that will take place over a person's lifetime, starting in her early 20's.  That's all I can say for now!!
10. Tell us a little bit about your upcoming TV sitcom.
Yes, I work for a company named Animal Inc. and we are a VFX studio and we have sitcom which is a mid season show premiering this late-winter/early-spring on ABC.  It's called "Downward Dog" and the premise is, and I will use the description from IMDB - "A lonely dog navigates the complexity of 21st Century relationships."  I should also mention that the dog talks to the camera, breaking the 4th wall style.  It's really unique and has a great cast so I hope everyone reading this will check it out when it premieres!!

11. Please tell my readers anything else you'd like to say!
Just thank you for reading this and please check out any of the books in the trilogy.  There is a connective thread through them but you don't have to read the first to know what is going on in the second and so on.  I wanted them to each be, more or less, stand alone books so that the reader didn't feel the need to buy all of them.  The hope is that you'll like one of them enough to try another and so on. 

So, that and an extra special thank you to Christina for giving me the chance to reach out to your readers and share some info about my books!  It means a lot and I truly appreciate it!!
So thrilled to get to promote Howard's books! They are terrific and he has generously offered up the entire trilogy in an INT giveaway and plus he's putting in a $25 iTunes gift card! Enter away!

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