Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Author interview - Helen Scheuerer

If you've ever glanced sideways at my blog in passing, you probably know how much I love YA fantasy. Spoiler alert - it's a lot. I was lucky enough to recently receive an ARC of just such a book -  Heart of Mist - from author Helen Scheuerer a few weeks back, but had to wait until by final exam was done before I'd let myself started. Go sensible me! It's a good thing too, because the book would have distracted the hell out of me while I was trying to study. Seriously, it's so good! It's the kind of book where you can stop thinking about the characters even after you've put it down. It's got absolutely everything I love in a book; far away lands, women who kick ass, sisterhood, friendship, magic and mystery. I'd better stop now, because otherwise I'll end up posting an entire, gushing review here! The review itself will be going up at the end of August when the book is released, so make sure you pop back and check it out, because it's awesome (the book, not the review)!

In the meantime though, Helen was kind enough to agree to an author Q&A ahead of the book's release. I absolutely love doing author interviews because, as someone who can barely write a shopping list without getting distracted, the process of taking a story from an idea in your head to a book that's ready to be released into the wild fascinates me. Having read, and loved (did I already mention how much I loved this book?) Heart of Mist, I had lots of questions about Helen's writing process, inspiration and characters. So here we go!

The Book

In a realm where toxic mist sweeps the lands and magic is forbidden, all Bleak wants is a cure for her power. 

Still grieving the death of her guardian and dangerously self-medicating with alcohol, Bleak is snatched from her home by the Commander of the King’s Army, and summoned to the capital.

But the king isn’t the only one interested in Bleak’s powers. The leader of an infamous society of warriors, the Valia Kindred, lays claim to her as well, and Bleak finds herself in the middle of a much bigger battle than she anticipated.

Heart of Mist is the gripping first book in The Oremere Chronicles, a fantasy series of epic proportions.


The Interview

1) Tell us how Heart of Mist made the journey from imagination to print.

Sure! About a year and a half ago I was in the middle of some pretty intense edits for a literary fiction novel I’d been working on since forever… I was reading a lot of YA fantasy as an escape, and began to play with the idea of writing my own.

It became a reality when myself and two of my Writer’s Edit besties, Claire and Kyra, signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). We were all working on big projects and supported each other as the month progressed. I can’t tell you how incredible it was to have that kind of support while writing…

I wrote the first draft of Heart of Mist within about 6 weeks, and spent the next year revising and editing it…

2) Who would be the fantasy cast for the movie version of the book?

Ohhhhh this is such a hard question… Recently someone asked me this question about Bleak specifically, and I mentioned the likes of Dakota Fanning and Shailene Woodley, but the more I think of it the more I think Bleak would have to be a young, unknown actress…

For Commander Swinton, I always pictured him looking quite similar to Luke Evans…Who I may or may not have a slight crush on.

Mikayla interlude: A fine choice I think we can all agree!
As for the rest… I don’t want to put too many ideas in people’s heads. One of the things I love about reading is that there’s room for your own imagination!

3) Did you have any location inspiration for the lands in Heart of Mist?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have done some travelling over the last few years, and have seen some gorgeous landscapes. There are definitely elements taken from my trips to the UK that have found their way into Heart of Mist…

However, for the more imaginative settings I created Pinterest boards with inspiring images from all over the world. It was a matter of creating moodboards and themes throughout these, and then using them as springboards for writing the settings.

4) You've built a huge world with loads of characters! How do you keep everything organised when you're writing?

I never thought I’d say this but… spreadsheets! I have spreadsheets for character references, plots, subplots, setting references and research that needs to be done.

It’s honestly been so useful having everything in one place, and being able to search for things. I tend to feel overwhelmed at times, and having things organised in this way really helps me feel more in control.

5) Do you have a writing process, or any writing rituals?

At the moment, my writing process is such a mess because I’m just juggling too many things. But if you caught me on a good day…

I’m all about routine. I love writing every day if I can manage it. Particularly since I started writing fantasy, I’ve found that writing every day is really important for staying immersed in the world you’ve created.

Before a writing session, I like to write a mini plan in dot points including the events that will happen in the chapter I’m working on, and/or how a certain character should be feeling. This helps me focus and actually get the words on the page.

6) Have any you found elements of people or events from your life have made their way into the book?

Hmmm… It’s not something I’ve thought a lot about to be honest. Heart of Mist takes place in a world that is so different from our own, I haven’t stopped to draw parallels between its cast or events to myself and my world…

That being said, I imagine people who know me well will probably be able to spot some things I myself am not even aware of.

7) It's great - and pretty rare! - to see a realistic depiction of addiction/self-medication in a YA fantasy book. What made you decide to delve into this?

I’ve been talking a fair bit about this lately and I’ve realised it wasn’t something I consciously decided to explore. Bleak’s character developed and her addiction/self-medication with alcohol was a massive part of that. From there, I did make the decision to delve deeper because I think it’s important that we don’t gloss over these experiences in YA fiction. Addiction isn’t an issue that’s exclusive to adults, and often it’s something that starts in younger teen years, so I thought it vital to explore it as an issue my protagonist was facing.

8) There's a lot of girl power in this book! Did you set out to write this, or did it happen organically as the characters came together?

For the longest time I tried to fit a particular mold as a writer, which sadly meant I wasn’t writing what made me happy. I had a bit of a “light bulb” moment nearly two years ago where I realised I should be writing what I enjoyed reading, and what I enjoyed reading was girl power YA fantasy.

Heart of Mist was basically my way of giving myself permission to go crazy with strong female characters kicking ass. So while the characters came to me organically, it was definitely a deliberate choice - Heart of Mist was going to empower me, and hopefully my readers as well!

9) If you were an Ashai, what would your power be?

Wow, you’re really hitting me with the hard questions today! To be honest, I think the Ashai abilities explored in The Oremere Chronicles so far are all more of a burden than a blessing!!!

However, if I had to pick one - I’d be a mind whisperer (only if I had control over it though!).

10) What are your plans for this series? There'd better be more books coming!

Haha, yes! There are two more books planned for The Oremere Chronicles. Book II will be released next year, and Book III in 2019.

For keen readers though, I’ve already released two free prequel stories, which you can find here. I’ll be releasing prequels in between each book, to make sure everyone still gets their Oremere fix!

11) Sum up Heart of Mist in ten words or less.

Girl power. Magical. Dark. Gritty. Raw. Empowering. Adventure. Possibility. Danger.

Get the Prequels!

If, like me, you're the impatient sort and want to get into this series before the first book is released on 31 August, you can get two free prequels from Helen's website. Don't forget to head back over to check out my review of Heart of Mist, which I'll be posting on 25 August. Happy reading!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Stacking the Shelves #3

Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course e-books!

After neglecting both my bookshelf and my blog for the past few months, I'm back with brand new books! A combination of being ludicrously busy at work and needing to cram for final exams have meant the only things I've been reading for the last few weeks are analysis reports and textbooks. Rock and roll! Fortunately though, my exams are done and my assignments are in - now begins the nervous wait for my results in September - so I can get back to reading what I love.

Books bought
The Evaporation of Sofi Snow - Mary Weber

It's finally arrived! After the delivery date on Amazon being pushed back every time I raced home and was disappointed to find no bookmail, I resigned myself to a long wait to finally get my hands on a copy of this book. A check last week gave the estimated delivery date to be 1-2 months away. So imagine my surprise when I almost tripped over a parcel on Saturday morning, only to find this beauty inside! I absolutley adored Mary Weber's Storm Siren trilogy (you can read my five star rave reviews here, here and here), so anything and everything she writes, forever and always, is going straight to the top of my TBR.

Aurabel - Laura Dockrill 

A sort-of sequel to Lorali, this book sold me on two words; steampunk mermaids.

Books borrowed
A Darker Shade of Magic - V E Schwab
Nod - Adrian Barnes

I inevitably walk away from my book club each month with more than one book! Someone brings along four books for the rest of us to pick next month's read, but there's always more than one that I like the sound of. Nod, by Adrian Barnes, a dystopian story about 99% of the world suddenly losing the ability to sleep and the resulting collapse of civilisation was the official choice by 6 to 5, but I ended up borrowing the runner up, A Darker Shade of Magic, as well. The person choosing the books this week said it was the closest she's come to loving another series as much as Harry Potter. High praise indeed!

Books for review
Heart of Mist - Helen Scheuerer
Show Stopper - Hayley Barker

I received an ARC of Heart of Mist from Helen Scheuerer a few weeks back, but had to wait until by last exam was done before I'd let myself started. Go sensible me! It's a good thing too, because the book would have distracted the hell out of me while I was trying to study. Seriously, it's so good! It's the kind of book where you can stop thinking about the characters even after you've put it down. It's got absolutely everything I love in a book; far away lands, women who kick ass, sisterhood, friendship, magic and mystery. I'd better stop now, because otherwise I'll end up posting an entire, gushing review here! I'll be posting an author interview early next week and an actual, coherent review (promise!) in late August when the book is released, so if you stop by my blog be sure to check them out. 

I won an ARC of Showstopper from Scholastic to my surprise and arm-flailing excitement. Seriously, I've never won any bookish giveaways before. I have the worst luck with that sort of thing! I'm getting serious Caraval vibes from this one, so I can't wait to get started.

It's been a good week for books! What's been added to your bookshelves?

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Sunday Street Team - The Disappearances

Sunday Street Team is the brainchild of the very lovely Nori over at Read Write Love, shining the spotlight on new releases by new authors. For the July edition, I review the debut YA novel of Emily Bain Murphy - The Disappearances. Thanks to co-organisers Nori and Aditi for letting me be part of this tour! I absolutely loved this book - but I'll save the gushing for the review a bit further down. First up, here's a little more about the book, the author, and a chance to win one of three copies (if you're based in the US - sorry my fellow Brits and international readers!)

What if the ordinary things in life suddenly…disappeared?

Aila Quinn’s mother, Juliet, has always been a mystery: vibrant yet guarded, she keeps her secrets beyond Aila’s reach. When Juliet dies, Aila and her younger brother Miles are sent to live in Sterling, a rural town far from home--and the place where Juliet grew up.

Sterling is a place with mysteries of its own. A place where the experiences that weave life together--scents of flowers and food, reflections from mirrors and lakes, even the ability to dream--vanish every seven years.

No one knows what caused these “Disappearances,” or what will slip away next. But Sterling always suspected that Juliet Quinn was somehow responsible--and Aila must bear the brunt of their blame while she follows the chain of literary clues her mother left behind.

As the next Disappearance nears, Aila begins to unravel the dual mystery of why the Disappearances happen and who her mother truly was. One thing is clear: Sterling isn’t going to hold on to anyone's secrets for long before it starts giving them up.

Preorder links
Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Target

The Review

The Disappearances is an incredibly well-written and self-assured debut novel. The author's writing is wonderfully immersive; intriguing without being frustrating and serene without being boring. It's the perfect writing style for a slow-burn, character-focused mystery.

The book blurb is deceptive, and, in my opinion, sells the story short. The Disappearances themselves are not the story. The story is the effects of loss and grief of those left behind when something or someone suddenly disappears. What if you woke up one morning and someone or something that was an integral part of your life just ... wasn't there anymore? How do you cope, and what does it mean for the parts of you that remain? Part mystery, part contemprary YA, ultimately this is a story about life, love and loss, and the seemingly small shared experiences that connect us - the things that make us human.

After the death of her beloved mother, Aila and her troublemaker little brother Miles are sent away by their father when he's called to fight in WW2. The only person, it seems, who will take them, it their mother's childhood friend, Matilda, who takes the pair back to the mysterious town of Sterling where their mother grew up, and that is subject every seven years to a "Disppearance." Aila doesn't just have to battle her grief; she has to unravel the mysteries of Sterling and the Disappearances, all the while dealing with the hostility of the townspeople who resent her mother for escaping the cursed town, and deal with her emerging feelings for Matilda's son, Will.

At first, the Disappearances themselves seem a bit trivial, but they're all little things that make up life and human connection. First it's the sense of smell - the sense most closely linked to memory. Then it's reflections - the sense of physical self. Then it's the sight of the stars - the anchors of our place in the universe. Then goes music. Then the ability to hear the voice of the person you love. These losses are remedied - albeit temporarily - by magical enchantments, known as variants. At first, all of this is frustratingly vague. With first person pov, you're bound as a reader to what the character knows, whihc in this case isn't that much. This casually throwing around of "magic", for all intents and purposes, seemed a little contrived at first, but it became such an integral part of the world so quickly that, before I knew it, I had accepted it as easily as Aila. 

The mystery of Sterling (and its two sister towns also affected by the curse) gradually unravels to Aila, and the reader. The chapters are interspersed with interludes from a mystery man named Stefan, which shed more light (and raise more questions!) on the Disappearances, and build tension brilliantly. There's a real sense of impending danger from the character, and his intermitting presence injects creepy dread into the story. It's masterfully done, subtle and intriguing without feeling shoehorned in. In first person pov stories, the use of another character's pov every now and then can feel like "cheating" - like the author's written themselves into a corner and needs to convey information that their protagonist can't possibly know - but here, it works.

I didn't think a whole lot of Aila as a character as I was reading the book. It was only after I'd finished that I realised how good a job the author had done. Aila is sketched lightly enough that I as a reader could easily slip into her pov whenever I picked up the book, but shaded enough that I believed her emotions and motivations. She's sad without being self-pitying, determined without being callous, and resourceful witohut feeling the need to pat herself on the back every other page. Aila's relationship with her brother Miles was brilliantly written too. Sure, he's a pain in her ass, but both are struggling with grief in their own ways; they pull away from each other even as they're bound by something only the two of them can truly understand. The other supporting characters were a mixed bag, although I loved Aila's new besties; Beas (although I never got straight in my head how I should be pronouncing her name. Beas like peas? Bess?) and George. I could have done without the pretty blonde mean-girl, Eliza. I'm not a huge fan of girl on girl hate, and their animosity - played out over boys, of course - was a bit cliche. She was redeemed a bit towards the end, but the "mean girl comes good in the end" bit was the icing on the cliche cake. Will was a pretty good love interest, if a little bland. I was relieved their relationship came across as genuine - unbelievable instalove is another of my pet peeves (and woe betide any book that uses a magical bond to try and convince me its characters are in love!) - and touchingly sweet. The reveals of how they feel about each other was wonderfully done and tragically poignant, lending another layer of human misery to the effects of the Disappearances.

As Aila and her friends delve deeper into the mystery of the curse plaguing their town, they begin to dig into the works of Shakespeare, which seem to hold both an allusion to the Disappearances themselves and the key to creating the variant to combat it. I loved the references to the works Shakespeare - many overt and some discreet - even if the revelation about his role in the curse was a bit silly. With such a big set up, it's a bit of a stretch to believe that a stranger could just walk into town and solve a mystery it's finest minds had been working on for years, but, honestly, who would thiknk to check the works of Shakespeare for clues!? The twist in the tale and the key to the Disappearnaces is set up so well so early on, that it doesn't feel like the author has just waved a get out of jail free card around at the end. Everything is earned, and everything is believable.

The 1940s setting of the story was a bit wasted (it was only due to the occasional references to an onging war and the date that reminded me every now and then that this story wasn't set in the present day), and the pace was a bit too slow for me at times. The end was a bit of a letdown. It makes sense given the slow-burn story and gently flowing writing style that the climax wouldn't be explosive, but I was hoping for more drama anyway. The Disappearances misses out on the full five stars because the little nitpicks I had throughout the book, but it's a gripping, beautiful story by an incredibly talented author.


The Author

Emily Bain Murphy grew up in Indiana, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, and has also called California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts home.

She loves books, Japanese karaoke, exploring new cities, and anything with Nutella. Her debut YA fantasy, THE DISAPPEARANCES, will be published by HMH Books for Young Readers and Pushkin Press in July 2017.

Murphy is represented by Peter Knapp at Park Literary & Media. She currently lives in St. Louis with her family and is at work on her second novel.

Author links
Twitter | Instagram | Website

The Giveaway

The Prize: 3 Copies of The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy
Open to US residents only

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Friday, 30 June 2017

Royal Replicas

"Princess Amelia is dead... and one of you will replace her."

Seventeen-year-old Victoria Sandalwood has served the Duke and Duchess all her life. Over the years, she’s learned to make due with what she has and endure her surrogate father’s awful punishments. She dreams of escape, but never expected it to come in the form of a message from the Queen of Westeria.

Victoria learns that she’s the Queen’s daughter, the younger sister to Princess Amelia, and it’s time to come home and claim her birthright. When she arrives, she discovers she’s not the only one who received the royal message. Victoria must compete with six other girls to earn the affection of both the Queen and a princely suitor… and to replace the secretly deceased Princess Amelia. If she fails to win the crown, Victoria may just have to fight for her life…

DNF 43%

Confession time - I recieved a free e-copy of his book in exchange for an honest review. However, as you can see, this didn't influence my rating or feedback in any way, shape or form.

The story started out promisingly enough and had an interesting premise, however it suffered in my eyes from an lacklustre protagonist and a big dollop of misogyny. The idea of a poor, put-upon everygirl who turns out to be a long lost princess is fairly standard, so I loved the twist that this everygirl was one of seven, and she'd have to compete for her place. Unfortunately the book seems to go out of its way to bring to mind The Hunger Games; the salt-of-the-earth love interest named "Kale" (K's not all that far from G on a keyboard, right?), the wards of varying poverty and importance surrounding the all-powerful First Ward, the train journey to the power centre and the lavish parties worlds away from our heroine's rough upbringing. Some of the story elements felt a little unpolished too. Four kingdoms called Westeria, Easteria, Northeria and Southeria sounds like something from a first draft. Even the blurb, which states that Victoria is the sister of Princess Amelia is proven to be incorrect in the story - she's actually a clone. Not the same thing.

Victoria was too flat for me to connect with as a narrator. She barely reacted to huge, life-altering events and I never got a sense of how she was feeling. She accepts and never questions. The potentially interesting reveal that she is in fact one of seven clones of the secretly-dead Princess Amelia is squandered, because she - like the other clones - immediately and wholly concerns herself with getting into the prince's pants.

She doesn't worry for her future (presumably there can't be clones of a princess running around the realm, so are the six surplus ones executed when the princes makes his choice? We don't know, because none of the girls even think to ask the question), she doesn't fret over her humanity, or lack thereof, and she stomps around referring to herself as a princess within about five minutes of arriving at the castle. I don't want pages and pages of inner turmoil, but Victoria accepts every twist in the tale that's presented to her laughably easily without so much as a raised eyebrow.

Her "relationship" with Prince Byron was unbearably trite too. He seems to take an immediate shine to her after she stumbles ass-backwards and literally falls into his arms (bleurgh!) but there didn't seem to be much going for him other that the fact he was pretty. There's an incredibly uncomfortable scene when they first kiss where she outright states that she can't pull away or refuse him - and he knows it - because he's a prince. That is not cool. Later on, the author tries to ret-con this by having Victoria say that the prince was forceful, but didn't force her, but no, I'm sorry, I call bullshit on that. She literally said that she couldn't refuse him, and he knew it. Ergo, he forced her. Add to this the numerous scenes of Victoria's step-father/owner beating and abusing her with a thinly-veiled sexual angle and her sort-of-boyfriend-who-she-can't-remember Kale turning up uninvited to "rescue" her from the castle (because women are of course things that you can lay claim to) despite her having no desire to leave, this book's treatment of its main character - and women in general - was a little too skeevy for me.

Once Prince Byron is introduced, the seven clones, seven young women who've had their entire worlds turned upside-down and their very existence thrown into question, descend into the absolute worst cliche of girls fighting over a guy. They bitch, they back-bite, they throw each other under the bus, and for what? The chance to marry some guy they've never met before? And what happens if they don't want to marry him? Who the hell knows, because it never comes up. What happens to the clones who fail to win the prince's hand? Who knows that either, because they never ask. They just get down to the business of fighting amongst themselves, because that's what girls do right? I detest stories that pit women against each other over a man, and, when it became apparent that this was the entirety of the plot, I put the book down because I knew it wasn't going to get any better for me.


Thursday, 29 June 2017

The Sparks and The Flames Blog Tour

The Sparks (The Feud Trilogy #1)
Kyle Prue
Genre: YA Fantasy
Release Date: January 31st 2017
Cartwright Publishing


One teen assassin-in-training must unite three warring supernatural dynasties before death comes to them all…

Find out why USA Today calls The Sparks “a crackling read” that “builds a vivid world (both) otherworldly and relatable.”

Neil Vapros just wants to make his father proud. The sixteen-year-old aspires to serve his family as an assassin, but he nearly dies in the process. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Neil’s family, as well as two rival dynasties, have abandoned an ancient promise to protect their city. An unknown evil has begun hunting all three houses from the shadows…

As Neil’s relatives fall one-by-one, he attempts to unite the three supernatural families against a common enemy. But earning trust after years of assassination attempts could prove impossible. Neil’s fight may involve more than a bloodthirsty empire, as betrayal rears its ugly head… 

The Sparks is the first book in the award-winning Epic Feud trilogy of young adult fantasy novels. If you like captivating characters, inventive world building, and supernatural battles, then you’ll love Kyle Prue’s action-packed coming-of-age tale.

The Flames (The Feud Trilogy #2)
Release Date: April 22nd 2017


To survive incredible odds, one teen may have to trust both his former enemies and his fire-forged destiny…

Neil Vapros is one of the last free warriors of the great city of Altryon. He and his brother’s only chance of staying alive involves trusting an uneasy alliance with their former enemies. But in the world beyond his city’s walls, Neil’s life is much more dangerous than he ever imagined possible…

The Emperor has hired a ruthless madman and a vicious pack of assassins to hunt down the last supernatural survivors. As the allies attempt to hide from their enemies, the leader of a rebellion singles out Neil as the answer to a prophecy. Neil isn’t sure he believes he’s been “chosen,” but he knows one thing for sure: their only chance for survival lies in sticking together. While treachery and pain wait around every corner, Neil and his allies may win the day, but victory without casualties could prove impossible…

The Flames is the second book in the award-winning Epic Feud trilogy of young adult fantasy novels. If you like rich fantasy settings, imaginative supernatural abilities, and tough-as-nails characters, then you’ll love Kyle Prue’s electrifying adventure.

About the Author

Kyle Prue is an award winning author, actor and comedian. Kyle wrote The Sparks: Book One of the Feud Trilogy when he was just 16 years old. Kyle has spent the past year on a national book tour visiting over 80 middle and high schools and meeting over 60,000 students. Kyle is now a freshman at the University of Michigan, studying acting and creative writing. He still visits schools and is a keynote speaker for conferences.

Kyle is the founder of Sparking Literacy, a non-profit dedicated to lowering the high school dropout rate by inspiring teens to read, write and follow their dreams. An actor and comedian, Kyle trains at Second City Comedy Club in Chicago, where a number of SNL actors have gotten their start. Kyle currently lives with his family in Petoskey, Michigan.

The Sparks has won numerous national awards including Best Book and Best Fiction for Young Adults 2015. The Sparks was runner up for Best Young Adult Fiction at the Florida Book Festival and won Honorable Mentions at the New England Book Festival, Midwest Book Festival, Southern California Book Festival, the International London Book Festival and won a prestigious Indie Fab award. Kyle also won an International Moonbeam Award for Best Young Author.

Author Q&A

1.    What was your favorite part or chapter to write in The Sparks?

I really, really enjoyed writing the fight between Darius and Jennifer. It’s interesting when you write characters separately, then give them a chance to interact together. Jennifer is one of my favorite characters. Neil describes her as the model assassin so it was really fun to write her in that type of setting.

2.    How did you come up with the title?

The entire book is based on a family feud so that was the reason for the series name, Feud. But the individual titles are The Sparks, The Flames and The Ashes; these are symbolic of the Vapros family motto which is “Victory Lies Within the Ashes.” The Vapros turn a person to ash when they kill them. For them that is a macabre way of saying, “You have to bust a couple of heads to get what you want.” So the titles reveal that there is going to be a lot of bloodshed and a climax to this storyline, which we are building up to in the series.

3.    How did you pick the names of the families?

I based the family names on Latin root words: Taurlum is based on the Latin word for bull, Celerius is the Latin word for swift and Vapros is smoke.

4.    How did you get the idea for the three families?

In the first book, there are three main families and since I have a brother and a sister, I loosely based these families around the three of us—their mannerisms, their traits, resulting in a black-and-white version of us blended with a more honorable, respectable side and a more aggressive, audacious side. So the Taurlum are based off my brother, the Celerius off my sister and the Vapros off me, a little bit.

5.    What can you tell us about the challenges of getting a book published?

It is really difficult to get published as a first time author in the current environment. I went to a writing conference and signed up for “speed dating” with agents. That is how I got my agent. So I recommend any opportunity to meet face-to-face so you have a chance to sell yourself. Even with a great agent the publishing process is ridiculously slow. For The Sparks I decided to go with a small, independent publisher so that I could get it out before college applications. I don’t recommend young people jump into self-publishing unless they are willing to pay for professional editing and other services. There is a certain credibility that comes with being vetted and published so I would try that first.  

6.    Do you have advice for other high school students wanting to write a book?

Yes, write everyday. I started writing 500 words/day in middle school. Now I try and write 1,000 words/day. I think this discipline is important to developing your writing skills. It’s difficult when you're balancing a lot of different activities and homework, but writing should be a release from all that stress. Unplug for a bit and you might be surprised at the extra time that you have to write. Also read lots of different types of materials. Read different genres and authors. It will help you develop your own voice. 

7.    Tell us about the audio book of The Sparks?

Teachers have been begging for the audio book because it is a great tool for struggling readers. I was dragging my feet as I was planning to do the narration myself. Then my team recommended that we get auditions for the narrator. The auditions were fantastic. We have hired a great narrator, Jon Eric Preston, that I think readers are going to love. He reads in an English accent as the book takes place in a pseudo Victorian era and that is how I picture it in my head. But his voices are fantastic. I think fans of the series are going to love hearing the characters come to life. 

8.    Can you tell us a bit about the second book, The Flames?

The second book in the series focuses on the remaining family members (spoiler alert!) and their friends, as they begin to kindle the revolution. It’s a lot about personal growth for the characters, like Neil, Lilly and Darius. It is the book where we start to reach that giant conflict that the characters have been stepping toward in the storyline.

One of the big themes of the second book is about what happens when a person experiences a complete absence of hope. Things will always get better. My best friend from childhood committed suicide and I really want other teens to understand that whatever seems so overwhelming in your life today, won’t be what’s important to you down the road. When my characters experience this loss of hope that is when they gain their advanced powers. Something good can come out of something that in the moment seems so terrible.

9.    Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Thank you for sharing this journey with me. The series only gets better and more intense from here and I can’t wait to see what you guys think of it all.

Author Links:

Blog Tour Organized by:

Friday, 23 June 2017

The Rose and the Dagger

In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad is forced from the arms of her beloved husband, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once thought Khalid a monster—a merciless killer of wives, responsible for immeasurable heartache and pain—but as she unraveled his secrets, she found instead an extraordinary man and a love she could not deny. Still, a curse threatens to keep Shazi and Khalid apart forever.

Now she’s reunited with her family, who have found refuge in the desert, where a deadly force is gathering against Khalid—a force set on destroying his empire and commanded by Shazi’s spurned childhood sweetheart. Trapped between loyalties to those she loves, the only thing Shazi can do is act. Using the burgeoning magic within her as a guide, she strikes out on her own to end both this terrible curse and the brewing war once and for all. But to do it, she must evade enemies of her own to stay alive.

I adored The Wrath and the Dawn. Really adored it. It was the kind of sumptuous, romantic, mesmerising read that had me running late to meet my friends at the pub because I got so swept away with it. It was the kind of book that had me on travel website looking for trips to far-flung, exotic locations. I don't know why it took me so long to get around to reading The Rose and the Dagger. Maybe I was afraid I'd be disappointed. And, unfortunately, I was.

TRATD isn't a bad book by any stretch of the imagination, but the gulf in my enjoyment between this book and its predecessor was the biggest I've had since Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. As in, huge. The biggest issue I had with the story was that I found it so incredibly boring. Renee Ahdieh's writing is as lush and evocative as ever, her ability to paint vivid sights and sounds and smells in your mind as you read is truly incredible. What worked in the intimate, character-driven setting of TWATD just doesn't seem to work in an expanded world. The last book seemed to work when it was confined almost a handful of characters and barely ventured outside the walls of Khalid's castle, but the limitations of this style of storytelling are laid bare when the author tries to take the same characters that worked so well in that setting and throw them out into a wider world. They just seem to flounder and very little happened for huge chunks of the book. The plot barely goes anywhere until the final act, and when it finally kicks into gear, everything feels rushed and anticlimactic as a result.

After being "rescued"from Khalid by Tariq and his forces at the end of TWATD, Shazi spends much of this book sulking in the desert, living amongst the rebellion against her husband, Khalid, who see her as a traitor. Her father is catatonic after unleashing the storm which ruined Khalid's city and allowed her childhood love Tariq to steal her away. Tariq, it's worth pointing out, is heading up the rebellion against the much-hated king, giving Shazi a love interest on both sides of the impending war. Meanwhile, Khalid sulks around his castle, moping about his lost love and generally kicking his heels. Unfortunately, that's the crux of much of the story. While the first book was a contained, character-driven story set mostly in one place, TRATD sets up a much bigger story with more players and more world-building. But this, very different, story is told much the same way as the first, which turns what should be an exciting, fast-paced story of love, betrayal, jealousy, scheming, politics and war into a dull, lifeless tale about two people sulking about their lot.

The characters seem to have gone backwards. Shazi's behaviour has gone from making her seem like a capable badass to a sulking brat. She's selfish, whiny and treats people who are trying to help her like dirt. She lies to her sister, insults Tariq and only seems to make an effort with her father when there's some benefit in it for her (or, more likely, for Khalid by proxy). Poor Tariq deserves better! I'll give the author props for not going down the traditional love triangle route and making it clear from the outset where Shazi's allegiances lie, but that doesn't mean it's okay for Shazi to treat Tariq as appallingly as she does. Khalid doesn't fare much better either, skulking around his palace and moping like a spoiled child who's had his favourite toy taken away. Shazi and Khalid were entirely defined by their relationship with each other, and, for all the author's attempts to paint Shazi as a strong, independent woman, when the two guys were engaging in a dick-measuring contest over her, she just came across as being childish. Even when the book should be progressing into the wider story of an impending war, it's hampered by page after page of Shazi and Khalid waxing lyrical about how beautiful and wonderful and super-special the other is.

Oh, Tariq! You deserved so much more than being shackled to such a wet blanket! It's such a shame because Tariq's intentions are pretty honourable - and he's something of a calming influence amongst the more hot-headed rebels who are looking to overthrow Khalid. However, the story - and even the book blurb - making him out to be a spurned lover who's acting out of spite, when his actions are perfectly reasonable. Shazi may think Khalid is a saint, but as far as everyone else can see, he's a mass-murderer and a pretty shitty ruler, and they're totally within their rights to try and overthrow him. I would love to read a book from Tariq's point of view of this story without the author's doe-eyed obsession over Khalid that contaminates his pov chapters. Speaking of other characters, I absolutely loved Shazi's snarky handmaiden Despina in the first book and I was really hoping to see more of her. So I was disappointed that she barely turned up in this book, and, when she did, her friendship with Shazi was completely dumped on in favour of a twist that didn't feel like it had been set up at all. Despina switches allegiances back and forth so abruptly that it robs the plot of any tension and comes off as a cheap attempt at a twist. Luckily, Shazi's relationship with her sister fared slightly better, even if I wish they did talk about something other than guys for five minutes.

There were elements of the book that I loved, in the moments where the story broke free of the sappy love story that was hobbling it. Shazi gets to grips with her magic (even if the specifics of what she could do and why were a little too vague for me) and travels to a mysterious, far-flung city to train with the enigmatic Artan. Sure, his sole purpose seems to be to act as exposition to the world of magic, but the author manages to make him so much more. His dialogue crackles with energy, even when he's spouting reems of exposition. This character immediately became my new favourite person! He wasn't afraid to call Khalid out on his sanctimonious bullshit, or tell Shazi to grow up and stop sulking. I loved him! It was just a shame that these bits were so few and far between and that so much felt unexplored or just skimmed over. The curse that had been plaguing Khalid for years turned out to be a whole lot of nothing. Considering it's literally the point of the first book, it turns out to be pretty lame, and Khalid manages to free himself of it laughably easily. The magic in this world is left frustratingly fuzzy too - which was one of my niggling issues with TWATD. There's no explanation as to why Shazi has it and what exactly it is that she can do. As much as I loved her flying magic carpet, why the hell was she able to make it fly? Was it just that carpet, or could she fly other carpets? She throws fire around when she trains with Artan, but, aside from giving Khalid a reason to smoulder and sulk and get physically aggressive towards Artan to provide his macho credentials, it adds nothing to the story and is barely mentioned again. Has Shazi got any other elemental powers? Why does her sister not show any signs of having magic? Do other people in this world other than Shazi and her father possess magical abilities, or are they just super-special?

After very little happening for the vast majority of the book, the plot finally felt like it kicked into gear towards the end when it finally looked like we were going to get to see a showdown between the two opposing forces, with a little bit of magic thrown in. It was just such a shame that by the time we get to this stage there are barely a few chapters left. New villains are introduced ridiculously late in the story, and the big battle I was expecting ended up being a pretty damp squib that stopped before it really got started. The ending looked to be a redeemer, something that was going to subvert my expectations and pull off a gutsy ending rather than wrap everything up in a nice neat bow, but it was undone by a sappy epilogue so saccharine I think it gave me diabetes.

The Rose and the Dagger is an impeccably written book with I wanted to love it, I really did, but all the elements I loved the first time around - the slow-burn story, the character-driven plot and the contained, intense romance - seemed to hinder rather than help. Objectively, it's a good book and I'm sure some people for will love it for the exact reasons I didn't, but I found it to be a colossal let down.