Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Empress by SJ Kincaid and Why The Sequel Happened and US giveaway of Finished copy!

Dear All:
So excited to promote one of my favorite authors, SJ Kincaid, on the blog again! If you don't recall, she wrote the amazing Insignia trilogy that just got better with every book and recently came out last year with the sci-fi adventure The Diabolic, which has kept everyone talking! It was meant to be a standalone, which I thought was a travesty, but lo and behold, now the sequel, The Empress, has just hit the floors! Do you want to know how she ended up writing a sequel (which is now to become a trilogy?)? Keep reading to find out! By the way, The Empress totally blew my socks off. I know some people will be pissed, but man, SJ knows how to take things all the way, and I am so impressed with her.

The Empress (The Diabolic #2)Goodreads Book Description: It’s a new day in the Empire. Tyrus has ascended to the throne with Nemesis by his side and now they can find a new way forward—one where they don’t have to hide or scheme or kill. One where creatures like Nemesis will be given worth and recognition, where science and information can be shared with everyone and not just the elite.

But having power isn’t the same thing as keeping it, and change isn’t always welcome. The ruling class, the Grandiloquy, has held control over planets and systems for centuries—and they are plotting to stop this teenage Emperor and Nemesis, who is considered nothing more than a creature and certainly not worthy of being Empress.

Nemesis will protect Tyrus at any cost. He is the love of her life, and they are partners in this new beginning. But she cannot protect him by being the killing machine she once was. She will have to prove the humanity that she’s found inside herself to the whole Empire—or she and Tyrus may lose more than just the throne. But if proving her humanity means that she and Tyrus must do inhuman things, is the fight worth the cost of winning it?

My Rating: 5 couches

My Review: I remember after I read Diabolic, I really enjoyed it but just felt... incomplete. The world was so big and the upheaval that the whole Empire had gone through just seemed like there was so much more story to be told about Nemesis and Tyrus. I highly doubted it would be an easy road for them. I talked to SJ at the time, and she said she had no plans to write another, that it was meant to be a standalone. But lo and behold, to my shock and delight months later, she said was coming out with Empress. And boy, did she just gut me from start to finish. This is the book I wanted her to write, and there was very little sophomore slump. In fact, I would say this book surpasses Diabolic by a lot.

Tyrus and Nemesis are together and while it seemed like everything might be perfect after what they've gone through, nothing could be further from the truth. The whole universe seems to be balking at Tyrus' golden vision of bringing back science to the world, and people still do not see Nemesis as a human being. This is all I'm going to say about the plot. You have to discover it for yourself.

From start to finish, this is a rollercoaster ride where the action, politics, and character development doesn't stop. You can't even take a breath as a reader. And when you think things couldn't get any worse or more heartbreaking, think again. I don't think I've read a second book in the recent past as a good as this one. And that's hard to do. Usually I see second books as filler. This book seemed even more important and the stakes that much higher than the first. I'm not even sure that it can be completed in a third, but we'll see. After my heart and guts were on the floor at the end and I was gasping for breath, I just came to in amazement. I've always been a huge fan of Kincaid and think that her Insignia trilogy is largely underappreciated. But she has just improved and improved, and I'm just delighted for her. She has the guts to take things all the way, and I hope others now see what I've seen in her from the beginning.

You have to read this book the moment it comes out. You won't be disappointed and you'll be clamoring for the next one like I am.

Do you guys want a chance to see SJ in person? Of course you do! She gives the details below:
"I had this awesome and enormous pair of THE DIABOLIC wings made, so anyone who wants a selfie with them, come see me! These are my events:

October 30th: Iʼm having a launch at Keplerʼs in Menlo Park, CA with authors Krystal Sutherland and Tara Goedjen 

October 31st: Book release November 2nd: I have an event at Hicklebees in San Jose with Tara and Krystal.

November 4th, Iʼll be at the Colorado Teen BookCon with Scott Reinten, Veronica Rossi, Emily Suvada, Len Vlahos, and moderated by Scott Bergstrom.

November 6th: Iʼll be at Third Place Books in Seattle.

November 7th and 8th, Iʼll have two events with Tommy Wallach at Barnes and Noble and Chevalierʼs Books in Los Angeles

November 18th: Miami Book Fair"
Now, do you want to learn how this standalone became a trilogy?? Here we go!

SJ on how The Diabolic became a trilogy.
One movie I love watching is Ever After. Drew Barrymoreʼs Cinderella character of course gets her happily ever after at the end, when sheʼs standing there as Queen and you know everything will be awesome for her from then on.

Spoilers ahead for the Diabolic: The Diabolic has much that same ending. I wrote it intended the book to be a stand-alone, but if Iʼd set out to write a trilogy, that mightʼve been the end point of the trilogy: the mad heir to the throne and his Diabolic protector rising to power as Emperor and Empress. There The Diabolic ended with the implication: and they all lived happily ever after. Ultimately, the problem was, it never ends happily ever after there. One of the formative books I read growing up was Susan Kayʼs Legacy about Elizabeth Tudor, and the point where Elizabeth I is declared Queen of England? Pretty early in the book. And thatʼs not because all the happy stuff needed to be recounted for the rest of the narrative, itʼs because rising to power only ushered her into a new set of struggles, difficulties, and violent clashes. She survived the immediate threats to her life in her youth and within her own family, only to face European-wide threats and a war between the Catholic and Protestant faiths, between England and Spain, and between herself and her cousin, Mary Stuart, that basically spanned the rest of her life. Ending The Diabolic where I ended it gave me incentive to leave it there, mostly because continuing the story meant obliterating that implication of happily ever after, and also because I knew just how difficult it would be to grapple with the entirety of the struggles that would lie ahead for Nemesis and Tyrus. Just like the Tudor era, there is a great war between two rival ideologies and like Elizabeth herself, Nemesis and Tyrus as a pair are the symbols and representatives of one side of that conflict.

I avoided even thinking of continuing the story, though I knew how much more there would be, just because it seemed too hard. Unfortunately - or fortunately? - I had this one plot idea that hit me and
suddenly, desperately wanted to write it. Which meant ruining the happy ending. Which meant taking on something very difficult, both for me and for the characters.

But I do hope itʼs worth it for a reader! I have the third and final book still to write, so it still seems a bit daunting to me as an author, but I always know where something is going to end… So we will see how it pays off taking away the Ever After ending to give a reader the real one.

I definitely think it pays off!!! To celebrate the release of this book, I'm giving away one Finished Copy to one of you (US only)! Believe me, you want to get your hands on this amazing book!

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Cover Reveal for HIDDEN PIECES by Paula Stokes and INT giveaway of a signed ARC!

Dear All:
I am so excited to get the chance to show you the cover for Paula's next amazing book, HIDDEN PIECES! Without further ado, here it is!

Description of book:
Embry Woods has secrets. Small ones about her past. Bigger ones about her relationship with town hero Luke and her feelings for someone new. But the biggest secret she carries with her is about what happened that night at the Sea Cliff Inn. The fire. The homeless guy. Everyone thinks Embry is a hero, too, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Embry thinks she’ll have to take the secret to her grave, until she receives an anonymous note—someone else knows the truth. Next comes a series of threatening messages, asking Embry to make impossible choices, forcing her to put her loved ones at risk. Someone is playing a high stakes game where no one in Embry’s life is safe. And their last move...is murder.

Paula: Hidden Pieces started out as a book called Choose about a girl forced by a mysterious tormentor to make impossible choices. But like most of my books, during the writing and revision, the story evolved and enlarged into something that was more about the characters than the plot. This is a mystery intertwined with a little romance and a lot of family dynamics. Embry is a flawed character, but her flaws stem from her worldview, which has been shaped by her history and experiences. Like all of my main characters, she grows and changes throughout the book.

I only saw this cover last week, because the team at HarperTeen decided to change it from an earlier design. We'll probably be tweaking this a bit, but I really love this concept. The girl is great for Embry and the overall feel of the design is dark and creepy, which matches the feel of the book. A fire plays prominently in the plot, which is why the puzzle pieces are burned. I love the font of the title and author name, how it's eye-catching and reminiscent of the font of Liars, Inc. but still a little different. Christina has read an earlier draft of the book. C, what do you think? 

Me: I love the puzzle pieces on the cover and how it eliminates the face of the model. It gives the book the appropriate air of mystery but also intrigue, so I love how the designers put that together. I also like how the puzzle isn't quite perfect and seems to devolve into ash as you mentioned. Really well done. 
As for the book itself, I was one of the lucky readers to see a draft of this book. I was hooked from the first page. The characters were intriguing, particularly Embry herself, and I loved how she was flawed but at the same time likeable, which is a hard balance to maintain, but Paula pulled off perfectly. The book kept up the momentum while building character relationships that were meaningful and made you care about what happened to them, which is hard to find in a suspense novel, where most of them are just twist after twist with cardboard cut out characters. You won't find that here. And this book will definitely keep you guessing until the bitter end!  I was very satisfied with the ending and how it wrapped up. You guys will LOVE THIS BOOK!

Paula: Want to be one of the first people to read HIDDEN PIECES? Enter the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win a signed ARC, once copies are available. Contest is international. Good luck! And if you want to check out my earlier releases, head over to my Books page where you can read the first few chapters of any of my novels.

Me: Enter to win this amazing book! You won't be disappointed!
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Monday, October 16, 2017

Interview with Emily Suvada and a US giveaway of her book, This Mortal Coil

Dear All:
I am so thrilled to get the chance to promote this amazing new author, Emily, who wrote a book that completely floored me! This is definitely for anyone who loves science fiction/dystopian type novels.

This Mortal CoilGoodreads Book Description: Catarina Agatta is a hacker. She can cripple mainframes and crash through firewalls, but that’s not what makes her special. In Cat’s world, people are implanted with technology to recode their DNA, allowing them to change their bodies in any way they want. And Cat happens to be a gene-hacking genius.

That’s no surprise, since Cat’s father is Dr. Lachlan Agatta, a legendary geneticist who may be the last hope for defeating a plague that has brought humanity to the brink of extinction. But during the outbreak, Lachlan was kidnapped by a shadowy organization called Cartaxus, leaving Cat to survive the last two years on her own.

When a Cartaxus soldier, Cole, arrives with news that her father has been killed, Cat’s instincts tell her it’s just another Cartaxus lie. But Cole also brings a message: before Lachlan died, he managed to create a vaccine, and Cole needs Cat’s help to release it and save the human race.

Now Cat must decide who she can trust: The soldier with secrets of his own? The father who made her promise to hide from Cartaxus at all costs? In a world where nature itself can be rewritten, how much can she even trust herself?

My Rating: 5 couches

My Review: There are a very short handful of books that stand out to me this year, and this is one of them.

The setup is like a lot of dystopian YA thrillers-- a deadly virus takes over the world, rather zombie like virus, but the dying explode, making transmission even higher. Cat is the daughter of an esteemed scientist who is the world's only hope for making a vaccine, but he and his protege are taken away from Cat in the first few pages of the book by Cartaxus, a corporation that has nefarious plans to restrict the vaccine. Her father warns Cat to stay out of the hands of Cartaxus and never let them learn of her existence. She spend the next two years trying to stay alive before a Cartaxus soldier comes to the house looking for her, and her life changes forever.

This whole book was a rollercoaster ride and in the best way possible. I was on the edge of my seat because the pulse pounding moments just keep coming and coming and then twist after twist pummels me. I loved the integration of coding and genetic manipulation, which honestly when this happens in real life, that's likely the combination that will be the key. The science for YA is very good, probably the best I've seen, and while there are some hand wavey parts to it, overall it's impressive. The coding stuff is excellent, which makes sense since Suvada is a coder herself.

OK, I just had to get that out of the way because most science in these books makes me very angry, and Suvada did a great job so had to put that first. Probably the best part though, are the characters, and especially Cat, the protagonist really grounds the story. She is super likeable and the whole time I was holding my breath to see her get out of impossible situations. Cole is hot, and I love the gradual build up to whatever is going on between them. Cat's father, the scientist, even though he's not really present in the story, is one of the most interesting characters-- just learning about his past and what kind of person he is was really fascinating.

There have been some excellent science fiction in YA this year, and all three of my top picks (including Warcross and Nyxia), have all been science fiction, and I can't wait to see what Suvada does next (hopefully it's a sequel to This Mortal Coil!).

Blurb about Emily:
Emily Suvada was born and raised in Australia, where she went on to earn a degree in mathematics. She previously worked as a data scientist, and still spends hours writing algorithms to perform tasks which would only take her minutes to complete on her own. When not writing, she can be found hiking, cycling, and conducting chemistry experiments in her kitchen. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband.

Interview with Emily 
1. I just want to know a little more about you! I loved reading your bio, the fact that you majored in math and astrophysics, and are fascinated with genetic engineering and do coding in your "spare" time. Can you talk a bit more about your varied experiences and how it helped This Mortal Coil to be born?
Sure! My background is a little unusual for an author - like you said, I studied math and astrophysics, and I then went on to work as a data scientist for several years. I'm a giant nerd, and am constantly reading about cool science discoveries, and I write amateur code as a hobby. I love reading, and always intended to write one day, but nothing I wrote really sparkled. Before This Mortal Coil, I wrote a book about a girl who wasn't into science, because I thought that was what people wanted to read. Needless to say, it didn't work out :) It wasn't until I started letting my passions into my writing - filling it with all the cool things I love about science and technology - that it really clicked. This Mortal Coil is a love letter to all the things I'm obsessed with - genetics, coding, nanotechnology, explosions, kissing - and I finally found my voice while writing it.

2. I want to know about your experiences with STEM and how you think we can engage young women to be a part of this (something that is near and dear to my heart as a scientist with a young daughter).
It's so cool that you're a scientist! I feel like I should be interviewing you, not the other way around :) And yes, I think it's really important to encourage young women to engage with STEM. A big part of what needs to be done is breaking the mold - shattering the stereotype that STEM isn't a good field for women. Scientists like yourself are a huge part of that, setting wonderful examples, and us authors need to make sure we're not perpetuating stereotypes in our writing. I hope that readers look at my main character using her coding skills to be heroic and think that a) she's cool, and b) they could do that, too. The more role models in STEM that young women see - both in books and on TV, as well as in real life, the more empowered they'll feel to choose a challenging and exciting field like STEM.

3. Now onto your amazing book. Catarina is an amazing protagonist, brave, smart, and resilient. And I really enjoyed most of the characters in the book. Do your characters come from bits and pieces of people you know? Do they come first and then the story? Or vice versa?
My characters are definitely stitched together from people I know, altered through the lens of fiction. I'm very stubborn, like Catarina. At least my husband says I am :D And there's a lot of him in Cole. Those two, along with a couple of the other characters, came to me fully-formed and built the story around themselves, but the more minor characters sprung up from spaces within the plot. So it's a mix of characters driving the story, and vice-versa.

4. Tell us a bit about your experiences with world building, since there is quite a bit with this dystopian that has a zombie like virus. What was the hardest and easiest part about it?
Haha - the hardest part about world-building is paring it down! I absolutely love world-building and if I included everything I've developed about the world of This Mortal Coil, the book would be about three times longer than it is. Coming up with ideas for future technology is fairly easy, I find, but the challenge comes with imagining how people might interact with that technology, and how it might not work in the way we think it will. It's really the gritty details about tech that make a world feel believable. For example, imagine a story written twenty years ago that predicted smartphones - these shiny black oblongs that put the internet at our fingertips. That would have sounded cool, but it would sound so much cooler if the main character in the story had cracked their screen for the second time in a month, had tape over it, and kept uploading her photos to the wrong cloud account, so she didn't know where anything was. Those small, human details about our interaction with technology are the biggest challenge in world-building, but they're also the most powerful and rewarding when you come up with them. 

5. If your main characters could be sorted into Hogwarts houses, which houses would they be in and why? Also, what is your house and why?
Okay... *cracks knuckles*. I'm only going to give you the main two, because honestly this whole book and its characters are made of spoiler. Catarina is a Slytherin because she's analytical, practical, and not afraid to get her hands dirty to get the job done. She's not far away from Gryffindor, though. Cole is a Hufflepuff, which is tough for him, since he's a soldier and he's been forced into a very dangerous role in this world. As for me, I'm a Slytherin (as are most characters in the book). I'm very determined, and I tend to be analytical, goal-oriented, and ambitious. But I promise I'm not evil! (evil author laugh)

6. I love that there's a ton of science (and coding) in this book. Can you tell us how you did you research for this book? Did you turn to experts? Books? 
Beyond the experience I have from my studies and past jobs, like most writers, most of my research comes from long google sessions! I actually subscribe to some news digests about science and technology (like @futureseek), so I try to keep up-to-date with what's happening in those fields on a daily basis. 

7. We have to know. Is this the first book in a series/trilogy? If so, can you tell us in very vague terms what we have to look forward to?
This is a series! We'll be announcing more details on the coming books very soon. I'm working on Book 2 at the moment, and I can tell you that it opens just a few days after the end of This Mortal Coil. It's pretty action-heavy, maybe even more so than This Mortal Coil, and will provide answers to a lot of the questions left open by it. We're going to see more of the world and delve a little deeper into the genehacking subculture. And it wouldn't be a proper sequel without some big twists :)

8. Any final words to my readers?
Nothing other than I hope you love the book!

Don't forget to pre-order this fantastic book! You'll get lots of fun pre-order goodies from Emily. See this link on her blog for details!

And now what you have all been waiting for, being able to enter into this awesome giveaway to win a signed ARC of her book. Sorry, US only but there will be INT giveaways soon!
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Monday, September 18, 2017

St Louis Book Fest YA Panel: Spotlight with Nina LaCour, author of We Are Okay and US giveaway!

Dear Readers:
I am so lucky to get to introduce another author who is going to be at the St. Louis Book Fest YA Panel, the wonderful Nina LaCour!

Don't forget:  
Here are some details about the panel:
From 12pm-1:30pm at The McPherson (4715 McPherson Ave.) on September 23, we'll have Sherman Alexie (here for the 10th anniversary edition of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian), Nina LaCour (We Are Okay), and Zac Brewer (Madness) talking about their newest books, and also the role of today's most relevant teen issues in contemporary YA fiction. 

Goodreads Book Description:

We Are OkayYou go through life thinking there’s so much you need…

Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

Blurb about the author:

Nina LaCour is the author of the nationally bestselling We Are Okay, as well as Hold Still, The Disenchantments, Everything Leads to You, and You Know Me Well, which she co-wrote with David Levithan. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.

Interview with Nina LaCour 
1.  Marin is in a haze of grief for most of the book, trying to find her way out of it. I know you've had personal experiences with similar grief. What was it like to be able to write this book? Was it therapeutic in some ways? How has writing helped you as a person?
I always write from a place of my own struggles and questions. The events in my books rarely reflect my life, but the feelings behind them almost always do. We Are Okay emerged during a tumultuous time in my life. I had lost my beloved grandfather; one year later, on the anniversary of his death, I had my first child; less than a year after that, my parents separated and eventually divorced. It was a time of lessons about family--beautiful lessons and hard ones--and the wonder of love and family along with the grief over things falling apart were integral to my writing. It was absolutely therapeutic to write it. It helped me learn more about myself and to channel all of my messy feelings into a book that, hopefully, captures some of the complexities of familial relationships.

2. I loved your characters, and in particular loved Marin and Mabel, both who seemed very real to me. Do your characters generally come full-fledged or do they come after the idea of the story comes about? Do you ever notice similarities to people you know (or maybe you purposefully embody them with characteristics from people you know?)?
Thank you! Marin and Mabel hold special places in my heart. Neither of them is based on any specific person, but Ana, Mabel's mother, is taken by a lovely woman I used to work with when I taught high school. It had been a while since I'd worked with her but then she just kind of appeared on the page, and I had to check with the real Ana to make sure it was okay! (I got her blessing.) The tension and love between Marin and Mabel came to me first, and the ways in which they want to be good to each other but are held back by their deep wounds and different life circumstances. And then, from there, the different elements of their personalities emerged as I wrote.

3. Tell us a little about your writing process. Do you usually write a book straight in a few sittings then edit? Does it come gradually chapter by chapter? Is it character driven or plot driven? Do you snack? Listen to music? Have critique partners or beta readers? 
I have an absurd writing process that I would not wish on anyone. I write fragments, in no order, occurring at any point in the plot. These include single-sentence descriptions, a few lines of dialogue, an image, etc. I keep working on them and expand them and add more, until eventually I have something resembling a cryptic outline and the plot begins to form in my mind. At that point I put them in a rough order and determine what scenes need to be added. I then go through all the fragments of scenes in order to make them complete scenes, and fill in all the blanks. I wish I could write from beginning to end, but this is how I've always done it and I don't see it changing. I live in a very small house with my wife and daughter, so unless I have the place to myself, I tend to write at my local cafe. Ever since high school I've written listening to a song on repeat. The song changes, but I find that it helps me to tap into a feeling and get in a trance of sorts. Once I have something that is cohesive enough to share, the first people to see it are the members of my writing group, three wonderful women with whom I went to graduate school. They are invaluable to me. I know I can show them my messiest work and they will help me to find my way.

4. Can you give writing advice to my readers that you wish you had known starting out?
It took me until my senior year of high school to finish a short story and college to get in the habit of always finishing them. In graduate school, I wrote my first full novel which would become Hold Still. It took me a long time to learn that writing is work and often feels like work. The inspiration is only a small part of it. The rest of the process is often a slog. So my biggest piece of advice is to treat your writing like work and make yourself finish your projects (unless you know that the story is not worth telling, at which point, allow yourself to start something new). Also, finding a trusted person or a group of people to exchange work with is such a great way to motivate yourself to work your hardest and to teach yourself so much through reading the works in progress of others.

5. What are some of your all-time favorite books and why?
Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun. Jandy's writing is something otherworldly to me. It is spectacular. Raymond Carver's short stories have been the most influential works for me. I read them repeatedly when I was in high school and college and they helped me learn how to craft a story. Zora Neal Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God has taught me so much about flawed characters and the vibrancy of messy stories, plus her language is just so beautiful. Virginia Woolf and Edward P. Jones are two other favorites, whose insights into characters and the human condition offer limitless inspiration.

6. Can you tell us a little about what you are writing next?
I'm going to have to hold my cards close to my chest for this one! My next YA is still in its very early stages and I am afraid to say anything out loud about it.

7. Can you give my readers any words of wisdom about working through grief from loss of a loved one?
I am certainly not an expert, but I will offer this. Allow yourself a lot of time. Years and years, or maybe forever. It's okay to be happy and sad and angry all at once. Grief is not neat or linear. Remember to open yourself up to others, because grief is universal, and while we all suffer from it individually, we are never alone in our suffering. 

And now, you get the chance to win this wonderful book!

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