Ink by Amanda Sun

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Holy rats how did it get to be Friday?!

It’s been ages since I reviewed a book, but when NetGalley offered a YA by an author I met through Miss Snark’s First Victim, of course I had to snatch it up. Well, as much as one can “snatch up” an ebook. They’re not very, ya know, physically there. Still readable, though! And this one was. Very readable.

The set-up: After the death of her mother, Katie Greene goes to live with her aunt in Japan. She feels marginalized as a gaijin, or foreigner, because of her blond hair and clumsiness with the language and social norms. Much of that discomfort takes a back seat when she meets Tomohiro, the bad boy whose drawings are a little more than two-dimensional.

Main character’s goals: Throughout the first half of the book, Katie wants to get back to North America – a place where she knows the language and feels comfortable. Her more immediate goal, however, is figuring out Tomohiro and what causes his drawings to be so unique.

My reaction: I was insanely curious how the author would handle juggling the language. It’s an English book, but most of the dialogue happens in Japanese…but it’s in English. And it totally worked. Sun strategically placed Japanese phrases and exclamations so that I’d remember the speech was happening in Japanese…without having to read (or know) Japanese.

And hello! What a gorgey cover!

Of interest to writers: Setting. Setting setting setting. This relates to the dialogue in part – I was able to feel a part of things when I was included in the language, but even more engaging was the total immersion in another culture and place. Katie’s the perfect gateway character to the setting, because it’s new to her as well.

Bottom line: A unique & edgy paranormal with a sweet, believable romance. And blossoms raining down from cherry trees.

To visit Amanda Sun’s blog, click here.

SilverReminds me of: Silver by Talia Vance, for its unique take on an old mythology.


Silver by Talia Vance

Disclaimer: Yes, I am friends with the author. Guess what – it’s still an awesome book!

The set-up: Brianna has always been invisible and has a pretty compelling scientific theory as to why: bum pheromones. She tests this theory on her crush, Blake, who has been introduced to her at least six times and never remembers her.

Main character’s goals: At first, Brianna just wants to be seen. Then, as her heritage is slowly revealed to her, she wouldn’t mind going back to hiding. That wouldn’t make for a very good story, though – Brianna  is way too cool to sit back and let things go on without her. She – and Blake – are in the middle of a centuries-old feud, and when you toss in immortals with medieval weaponry, I’d say survival is her main goal.

My reaction: Sexy. This is the best kind of paranormal romance – a unique, killer concept mixed with the kind of love (and make-out sessions) that sweep you off your feet.

Also, the dialogue and the action just…flow. It’s fast-paced, and hilariously funny at times, and has tons of heart.

Of interest to writers: The tension! Silver‘s got it. Even my second time reading this book, it was still a page-turner. Also, study those one-liners – both the ones in dialogue, and in Brianna’s thoughts. Donald Maass advises writers to have their characters say things we wish we could say, and I totally wish I had Brianna’s wit. Great lines…I’m not sure if I can improve my own one-liners by studying Talia’s, but at least I smile while I’m studying.

And next time I need to write an action scene? I’m looking to this book for some good models.

Bottom line: Refreshing yet hot at the same time.

To visit Talia Vance’s website, click here.

Reminds me of: Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead. Spunky, powerful heroine and awesome action.


NiFtY Author Seven N. Blue – Reprise!

Today we have with us Seven N. Blue, author of young adult fantasy The Lunatics. I met Seven through the (now disbanded) Sacramento Writers Group when we were the lone young adult fantasy writers, hashing out our first drafts and craving feedback to improve our writing. See how far Seven has come with that manuscript!

BH: What inspired you to write The Lunatics?

SNB: In four words: Defiance and a Boy.

BH: What are some of the things readers like most about The Lunatics?
SNB: Besides Christian Lunatic you mean 🙂 I think the one thing that comes up over and over again (and I know this is cliche but it’s what I keep getting), “I could not put the book down until the very end!” I think it’s because it’s sort of episodic in nature…like Alice in Wonderland, but a bit more connected. It’s definitely a ride.

BH: Which of the characters is most like you?

SNB: I think there’s a lot of Josephine in me…but then again…I think there’s a little bit of Josephine in all of us…doll!

BH: What are the benefits you experienced with self-publishing? What were the disadvantages? 

SNB: Advantages: I get to call the shots on story, title, marketing…etc. The disadvantages…I get to call the shots on story, title, marketing…etc. Well, you get the picture! But all in all…I love being an Indie Author.

BH: Any forthcoming sequels for The Lunatics?

SNB: Yes! I recently came up with the whole outline for the sequel of The Lunatics…but don’t plan to dive into it until later this year – as I am in the midst of my next project.

BH: A new project? Can you give us any details?  

SNB: I am currently revising a completed first draft. It’s a young adult novel…but not fantasy…in fact…it’s as real as it gets. Sort of Girl Interrupted meets Crank…but you know…funnier 🙂

BH: What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve received as a writer?

SNB: Butt. In. Chair. (just sit down and write)!

BH: Thanks for coming back for a second visit, Seven!
To find out more about Seven and to get your very own paperback or digital copy of The Lunatics, visit Seven’s website here!

Prized by Caragh M. O’Brien

The set-up: Gaia has run away from the Enclave (the story of Book 1 in the series, Birthmarkedfor that review, click here) and now finds herself in another community, Sylum, which is just as twisted as the place she escaped. Twisted in different ways, of course, and plagued by mysterious reproductive problems. (Translation for “reproductive problems”: all kinds of juicy issues that are scintillating yet tastefully handled.)

Main character’s goals: At first, Gaia’s only goal is to care for her baby sister, but as she adjusts to the customs of Sylum, her goal warps into something that even she cannot recognize, and it takes a good (excuse me) verbal bitch-slap from an old favorite to get her back on track. I hope that isn’t too spoilery; I’m being purposefully abstract.

My reaction: Just as impressed with Prized as I was with Birthmarked. I even had to email the author right away to tell her how much I enjoyed it. The prose is beautiful, Gaia’s character arc (and dip and arc) is rewarding, and the pace is quick. It’s the kind of book I’d be proud to say I wrote. Am also relieved that it doesn’t bear similarities to what I have in mind for my own Book 2 (I had some “issues” with Birthmarked; you can read that review – link above –  if you’re curious).

Of interest to writers: Once again, we have an ending that begs for the next book, yet everything is resolved. Please, please please please! everybody follow the rule of wrapping up your story line even when writing a series. O’Brien’s done an excellent job of that with both books. I’m satisfied in a way that leaves me eager for the next installment. It’s a delicate balance, and one we should all strive for.

Second point of interest: Gaia’s antagonist, the Matrarc, was a fascinating character. She totally pissed me off, but even the bad things she did, I could understand, and I could even sympathize with her reasoning. That’s the mark of a good antagonist.

Bottom line: Very satisfying.

To visit Caragh O’Brien’s website, click here.

For my interview of Caragh, click here.

Reminds me of: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.


NiFtY Author Talia Vance

Today we have a special guest – debut author Talia Vance. Not only is she a prolific writer (two books coming out within the year, AND one more under contract!), but I also count her as a friend.

BH: Welcome, Talia! You have not one, but TWO books coming out between now and next spring. Can you tell us a little about them?

TV: SILVER is a dark romance based on Celtic mythology.  Brianna Paxton accidentally binds her soul to the one guy it might kill her to love. SPIES & PREJUDICE is about a teenage private investigator, Berry Fields, who sets out to discover the truth behind her mother’s death and ends up questioning everything she thinks she knows about love and the one boy she is determined to hate.

BH: What were some of the joys of writing Silver?

TV: I loved discovering the characters’ secrets as I wrote (and there were some big ones), I loved those moments when they said the exact right line of dialogue, and I especially loved that I finished a book.

BH: We all have favorite minor characters in our own books, those characters we wish could have more page time. Who’s your favorite minor character in Silver?

TV: I am going to cheat here, because there are two characters I wanted to give more time to:  Joe is the conscience of the story, a voice of reason among chaos.  His past is full of violence and loss, but he’s always so calm and stoic.  I know what’s made him the way he is, but I often wonder what it would take to make him break. Someday he may get his own book, just so I can find out.

Portia barely makes an appearance in SILVER, but she definitely has her own story.  In early drafts, she began to take over the second half of the book, and I had to cut out her entire story from the final version.  All that background wasn’t for nothing, however.  She gets quite a bit more page time in GOLD. [note for the audience – GOLD is Book 2.]

BH: Switching from fantasy to contemporary is something I’m doing now with my own work-in-progress. Were there any challenges involved with your switch, and how did you overcome them?

TV:  The biggest challenge was switching from Brianna’s voice, which is more introspective and emotional, to Berry’s voice, which is more brash and confident.  Both stories take place in contemporary Southern California, but their worlds and challenges are very different.  One thing that helped me make the switch was having a separate playlist of songs that fit the mood and tone of each book.  I listen to the playlist while I’m writing and revising, and it helps puts me in the “head” of the character and the story.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

TV: I work on a couch with a laptop.  This picture is a pretty accurate depiction of how I write, complete with the lapdog lying across my legs.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

TV:  I am a fan of James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure.  Plotting is something that I tend to do organically.  Which usually means I have to figure out the structure and plan the plot in revisions.  Plot and Structure is a great book for reminding me what a story should look like in its purest form.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

TV:  Put everything you have on the page.  Don’t save your best stuff for another book.  Put it in this one.  You’ll come up with new stuff later.  Make this book count.

BH: Talia, thanks so much for sharing about your books and writing! I can’t wait to hold the published copies of Silver and Spies & Prejudice in my hands!

For more on Talia, including some brilliant blog posts on writing, you can visit her at the YA Muses blog by clicking here.

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

The set-up: Aria comes from an enclosed city, protected from the Aether and harsh environments (and people) on the outside. Perry’s had to fight for survival his whole life.

Main characters’ goals: Aria’s goal is to find her mother (even if it means lying to her ally); Perry’s goal is to find his nephew. Their goals are pretty constant, although their methods change throughout the story as the two of them, ahem, get to know each other better.

My reaction: WOW. This is a whole new world, and, honestly, one I only want to encounter between the covers of Rossi’s books. It’s a scary place, filled with scary people – and the people in Aria’s home-pod are just as frightening as those inhabiting Perry’s world on the outside. Beyond the bad guys, though – some of the supporting cast are memorable wonderful people, and I can’t wait to read more about them! (Hellllooooo, Roar!)

Of interest to writers: Personally, I find alternating points of view difficult – not just to write, but to read. In Under the Never Sky, though, the alternating POV was really smooth. So why does it work so well here? Check out how Rossi has expertly differentiated between her characters – not only their personalities, but the differences in their diction, style, and tone.

(Third to) Bottom line: The concept alone will blow your mind. The concept coupled with great writing make this book a total winner.

Reminds me of: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

For more on Under the Never Sky and Veronica Rossi, you can visit her personal blog here, and her blog with the YA Muses here.

Last thing, I promise: While looking for a good image of the cover, I found some of the international covers on Veronica’s blog (click here to go there). Seriously cool. I think the Dutch cover may be my favorite. Which is yours?

Gilt by Katherine Longshore

First, disclaimer: Katherine and I are friends in real life. Second: even if I weren’t friends with her, I’d be reviewing this book anyway because it totally rocks. Like, stay-up-way-past-bedtime-reading rocks. And I’m not usually drawn to historical fiction.

The set-up: The year is 1539. Kitty Tylney and Catherine (Cat) Howard are best friends…or as close as best friends can be when one is kind of a jerk, like Cat.

Main character’s goals: At first, Kitty just wants to go to Court, and wear fine clothes and be somebody. But then her goals change, and I don’t want to risk spoilers, so I’ll just say maybe these new goals have to do with a dude, and maybe the new goals have to do with Cat’s marriage to the king, and maybe both. Or, you know, neither.

My reaction: The writing is so pretty! When the book comes out and I read it again (because I’ll have my own sparkly copy with its beautiful cover…probably signed by the author, hint, hint) I’m going to do a better job of savoring the beautiful prose. On the first read, savoring was nearly impossible because I just wanted to freaking find out what happened already. It was tense, and dangerous, and sexy, and just all around marvy. If I could write historical fiction (as in, stomach the research involved), I’d want this to be my book. As it is, Katherine enjoys research (see her interview here) so she gets to do it for me.

A second reaction: sometimes in historical fiction, I don’t feel entirely “there” in the setting. But in Gilt, I was there, and I was loving it.

Of interest to writers: When Katherine wrote this book, historical YA was not a big thing at all. In fact, many agents weren’t even interested in it. I keep coming back to the advice she gave in her interview: “Don’t second-guess whether or not your concept will sell.  If a story and character come to you, write them down.  That passion will come through in your writing…Passion sells.  And in the long run, writing what you love is the ultimate reward.”

Bottom line: Beautiful story, believable and compelling characters – it’s a total win. I’m just sorry you have to wait until the May 15th release date to read it!

Reminds me of: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (Gilt takes place a century later, but life-and-death court intrigue is still a focal point).

For more on Gilt and Katherine Longshore, you can visit her personal blog here, and her blog with the YA Muses here.