Thursday, April 23, 2015

Behind the Pages #19: Lindsay Smith has a SEKRET

Lindsay  Smith
As her young adult historical fantasy series comes to an end (for now), I invited the awesome author Lindsay Smith to share a bit more with her readers and help us understand the concept behind her stories. Continue below for the interview and enter to win a copy of her riveting release, Sekret.

1. Tell us where you're from and when did you realize you wanted to become a writer?

I’m originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, though I moved to Washington, DC after college. I’ve always loved writing—always loved turning over story ideas in my head, and occasionally scribbling in class or on the bus as a way to keep myself entertained—but I didn’t start getting serious about it until I joined the working world and wanted to do something more with my free time than beaching on the couch.

156735202. What is it about the Russian Culture that inspired you so much to write the SEKRET series?

I started learning Russian pretty young, and the more I learned about the history—the cyclical triumphs and tragedies, the literary tradition, and so on—the more I fell in love with it.

3. Have you visited Russia? If so, any favorite spots?

I’ve been to Russia three times with exchange groups and a study abroad program—each time we were mainly based in Moscow and its suburbs, but I’ve also visited Saint Petersburg and a remote town in Siberia. I love Moscow in the evenings—strolling across Red Square or down New Arbat street. You can pass an ancient wooden Orthodox chapel, an elaborate Georgian-style mansion, and a stark Communist skyscraper in the same block!

4. How difficult was it creating these characters with psychic abilities and setting them in a time of political issues?

It was definitely a challenge! When I first started outlining Sekret, I assumed I pretty much knew the basics for the 1960s Cold War era, the historical period I’d chosen, then once I actually started putting the sentences down, I realized I didn’t know half as much as I thought. So I spent several weeks rereading old textbooks and hunting down new biographies and historiographies and so on. The psychic abilities, though, I got to play around with more—I had a lot of fun designing the different types of psychics, and finding ways to play them off of each other.

5. The sequel, SKANDAL, picks up on the fact that Yulia and Valya have escaped to Washington DC. What can fans expect from the second book, in regards to how the characters have developed, adjusting to a new life, as well as still having a battle to face?

Yulia and Valya quickly realize that for all its benefits and freedoms, America isn’t going to be a perfect solution to all their problems. And there’s still the lingering issue of Rostov—who has more power in the Soviet hierarchy than ever—and Yulia’s mother, who may be complicit now in Rostov’s plans. Yulia has a lot of hard truths to face about her own power and the people around her!

6. Are you officially closing the chapter on that duology, or will there be any other books aside from the novella?

Skandal wraps up Yulia’s storyline. I would like to revisit this universe someday, but if I were to do so, I’d explore it through the eyes of some of the other characters. Also, in addition to the prequel novella, Kursed, that came out earlier this year, I have a short story from Larissa’s POV in the Fierce Reads anthology Curses & Kisses this summer!

179731457. Can you share a bit about your upcoming novel, Dreamstrider? What is the concept behind the cover art and what inspired the story?

Dreamstrider is a high fantasy story about a girl who can use the dreamworld to manipulate people’s bodies in the real world, essentially hijacking them long enough to gather information while they sleep. She’s trying to prevent a war between her kingdom and the neighboring one, all while fending off the corrupt aristocrats and the ganglords who used to own her, and in case that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, she’s plagued by intense nightmares that seem to be coming to life!

I adore the cover art the Macmillan Kids team came up with for it! It really captures Livia’s tenacity and creativity in shaping the dreamworld. They managed to incorporate a ton of elements from the book’s dream sequences—the dragon skull and scales, the vivid flowers, the fox, and even the dagger all figure into Livia’s journey through dreams.

8. It seems you're going for the same genre as your previous releases, which is like a mashup of Sci-Fi and historical fantasy with political influences. Have you ever considered writing in other genres like contemporary? 

Dreamstrider is actually more of a second-world fantasy than a sci-fi, which has long been a genre I’ve wanted to write in! I have a few contemporary story ideas—mostly ultra-nerdy things involving video gamers and socially awkward kids—but I keep coming back to historicals and fantasies and mixes of the two.

9. What else do you enjoy doing outside of writing?

Well, aside from reading way too much… :) I love playing board games with friends, and other nerdy gaming pursuits—World of Warcraft, Dungeons and Dragons, and so on. My husband and I take our Sheltie for walks all over DC and the nearby parks.

10. Do you have any other future projects you could give us a sneak peek into?

I’m working on a YA that’s due out next fall. It’s still pretty rough, so I’m nervous to say too much, but it’s set in both modern and 19th-century Japan and has to do with revenge.

11. Thanks so much for taking the time, Lindsay. Please leave a message for aspiring writers.

It takes such a long time for the words on the page to match the story in your head—I don’t know if they ever match perfectly—but don’t let it keep you from putting the words down! Your stories are never wasted. You can always learn something from each word you write—you just have to write them down.

About the Author

Lindsay Smith's love of Russian culture has taken her to Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and a reindeer festival in the middle of Siberia. She lives in Washington, DC, where she writes on foreign affairs. SEKRET is her first novel.

Win a signed hardcover copy of SEKRET (US only)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Review: Volition by Lily Paradis

24307444Release date: February 6th 2015
Publisher: Empire Books
Purchase: Amazon | B&N

Synopsis via Goodreads:

You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach that stays with you, then tears you apart slowly at first, and all at once shreds every fiber of your being? 

It’s because you’re contradicting the universe. 

Everything lines up so perfectly that you couldn’t have imagined it to work out better, but then you have to go and do everything humanly possible to ruin it because you can’t stand to have it go right? 

That’s what I did. 

I did it because there’s a darkness that surrounds me, and I think I want it there. 

My name is Tate McKenna, and my soul is blacker than my heart.

*Purchased the Kindle Book

I fell in love with Lily's exceptional writing in her debut, Ignite, and that feeling is carried over in Volition. I'm finding it hard to put my emotions into words so I can properly explain my thoughts on the story, but trust me it's hard. I feel like no words will ever truly interpret the awesomeness of this book. 

For one thing, Tate is like no other female protagonist. Everything about her character is so different from all the girls I'd read about before. I mean, to say she's flawed is an understatement. This young woman gives new meaning to the word. She's definitely an interesting character that will drive you nuts and make you weep, and at the same time make you laugh. I liked her personality and how imperfect she was. I could connect and relate with her intensity, and at times wanted to slap her for her behavior and the way she reacted to certain things. But that's just it, Tate is the kind of character that grabs at your emotions and pulls you into the story. So in a sense, she's perfect because she got my attention and held it.

I liked the overall plot and how Lily gave us Tate in the past and present. I felt like I got to know the main character on a personal level because the author alternated between time, and that also helped shed some light on Tate's feelings for one guy in particular. It gave more of an understanding, in my opinion, and I wasn't upset with her for feeling that way about one while falling for another, even if it wasn't intended.

Speaking of falling, I liked Hayden's character. Aside from being swoon-worthy and charming in many areas, he was quite the understanding and patient one. I mean, not many guys could accept a woman who believed her soul would forever be connected to someone else and still want to be with that woman. It's just a lot to handle, and Tate is a lot to handle. But Hayden stuck by her and showed her that she doesn't have to be afraid of trusting him, love, and finally taking the risk of allowing herself to feel happiness. Their meeting was not random either and I liked how in the end the author showed that. My heart bubbled when I read that part.

There were other impactful characters in the story, from Tate's best friends Catherine and Colin, to her very witchy grandmother and that one person she just couldn't escape from, Jesse. While I don't want to get into those characters too much for fear I'll give away a lot, I can say that I liked their presence in the story and how valuable they were. They weren't the kind of characters that were just fillers. They mattered, and they helped the reader understand Tate better.

In conclusion, great story. Interesting concept and fantastic writing. I liked every side of Tate. I could easily sympathize with her and liked how raw her emotions were. The way she handled losing her parents, growing up defiant, and sticking to what she believed in--wonderfully done. The story felt so real, like I was living Tate's life. I just can't explain enough how much I enjoyed the book. Good job, Lily. I look forward to reading more of your work. 

Lily ParadisAbout the Author

Lily lives with her family and loves reading, running, and hiking. Although she's a Colorado native, New York City is her favorite place in the world and fosters her borderline unhealthy obsession with the Empire State Building and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ignite is her debut novel.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Review: Come Dancing (Jack and Julia #1) by Leslie Wells

22459712Release date: June 8th 2014
Publisher: Allium Press
Purchase: Amazon | B&N

Synopsis via Goodreads:
It’s 1981. Twenty-four-year-old Julia Nash has recently arrived in Manhattan, where she works as a publisher’s assistant. She dreams of becoming an editor with her own stable of bestselling authors—but it is hard to get promoted in the recession-clobbered book biz. 

Julia blows off steam by going dancing downtown with her best friend, Vicky. One night, a hot British guitarist invites them into his VIP section. Despite an entourage of models and groupies, Jack chooses Julia as his girl for the evening—and when Jack Kipling picks you, you go with it. The trouble is … he’s never met a girl like her before. And she resists being just one in a long line. 

Jack exposes her to new experiences, from exclusive nightclubs in SoHo to the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood; from mind-bending recording sessions to wild backstage parties. Yet Julia is afraid to fall for him. Past relationships have left her fragile; one more betrayal just might break her. 

As she fends off her grabby boss and tries to move up the corporate ladder, Julia’s torrid relationship with Jack takes her to heights she’s never known—and plunges her into depths she’s never imagined. 

With a fascinating inside look at publishing, this entertaining story of a bookish young woman’s adventures with a rock superstar is witty, moving, and toe-curlingly steamy.

*I was gifted the ebook by the author in exchange of an honest review.

I read Come Dancing a few weeks ago but wanted to let it soak in before writing a review. Let me just say, the story was quite enjoyable. Loved the 80s setting and how the main character worked in the publishing industry. I found her likable and her daily life to be quite interesting. Her relationship with Jack, a rock star, is one that doesn't happen often and seemed unlikely, but I'm happy they pulled through. Although, there were times I wanted to snap at them both.

Julia was trying to step up as an agent in her company, and not without facing problems with a sleazy boss. She already had a lot on her plate and then when Jack came along, more was added because she wasn't used to being apart of his lifestyle. I liked that she was hard to get and made him realize that just because he's a musician doesn't mean every woman will fall at his feet. Julia gave him quite the work, and the process of him trying to win her over was quite funny and sweet. 

However, there were times that Jack's unflattering musician ways would pop up and Julia would deliberate these things, but she never said anything. She'd started to develop strong feelings for him but still wouldn't speak out against certain things that would upset her. She'd often use his status as an excuse and say he didn't owe her any loyalty. Now, if this was some fling on her part and she wasn't as emotionally invested, I would understand what she was saying and ignore it. But no, she liked him. A lot. So I wish she had spoken out more in the beginning, then maybe when it all had built up towards the end, they wouldn't have ended up in that situation that caused a problem between them. Just saying. 

Still, the story was interesting from start to finish. I loved the writing and how vivid the descriptions were. I felt like I was tossed to the 80s with how Wells described the setting and how things as important today weren't back then, some not even released yet. That was a big plus in the story. I also liked Julia's best friend, Vicky, and how carefree she was. I feel like her role in the story was to keep Julia relaxed when she'd get too high-strong on something. 

Other aspects of the story included Julia's relationship with her mother and how something that happened in the past between her parents sort of made Julia distant. She'd blamed her mother for a lot of things, but I'm happy that they'd managed to resolve their issues and were able to move on. 

There were other things well constructed in the story, from the activities of rock stars--lavish parties, tours, women, and other unappealing stuff--to the workings of the publishing industry. But the strongest thing about Come Dancing was the blossoming relationship between Julia and Jack, and how deeply they felt for each other. I feel the characters and overall plot was greatly developed and I look forward to reading the sequel. Good job Leslie!

Leslie   WellsAbout the Author
Leslie Wells has edited forty-eight New York Times bestsellers in her over thirty-year career, including thirteen number one New York Times bestsellers. She has worked with numerous internationally known authors, musicians, actors, actresses, television and radio personalities, athletes, and coaches. She lives on Long Island, New York.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

CAN'T WAIT TO READ: Truthwitch (The Witchlands #1) by Susan Dennard

21414439Release date: January 5th 2016
Publisher: Tor
Pre-order: Amazon

Synopsis via Goodreads:
On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery,” a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well.
Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.

Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

Susan DennardAbout the Author
Susan Dennard has come a long way from small-town Georgia. With a masters degree in marine biology, she got to travel the world—six out of seven continents, to be exact (she’ll get to Asia one of these days!)—before she settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor.

She is the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series (from HarperTeen) as well as the forthcoming Witchlands Series (Tor, 2015). When not writing, she can be found hiking with her dogs, exploring tidal pools, or earning bruises at the dojo.

*Okay, first of all,  I absolutely adore Susan Dennard. Her writing is beyond spectacular. Her debut trilogy blew my mind away and I expect nothing less from this new series. Love the coverart and blurb, and the fact that it has a magical concept. 
One thing is guaranteed when it comes to Ms. Dennard, expect the unexpected and prepare to be intrigued. Can't wait to read Truthwitch!!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Review: The Truth About Us by Janet Gurtler

Release date: April 7th 2015
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Purchase: Amazon | B&N

Synopsis via Goodreads:
The truth is that Jess knows she screwed up.
She's made mistakes, betrayed her best friend, and now she's paying for it. Her dad is making her spend the whole summer volunteering at the local soup kitchen.

The truth is she wishes she was the care-free party-girl everyone thinks she is.
She pretends it's all fine. That her "perfect" family is fine. But it's not. And no one notices the lie...until she meets Flynn. He's the only one who really sees her. The only one who listens.

The truth is that Jess is falling apart – and no one seems to care.
But Flynn is the definition of "the wrong side of the tracks." When Jess's parents look at him they only see the differences-not how much they need each other. They don't get that the person who shouldn't fit in your world... might just be the one to make you feel like you belong.

*Publisher approved via Netgalley in exchange of an honest review.

The Truth About Us was quiet an interesting read. I could understand and relate to the main character, Jess, from start. Her family was the epitome of dysfunctional, and no one seemed to be addressing any issues. Of course she'd try to release her pent up problems in ways she shouldn't. In my opinion, she was releasing her pent up sorrow the best way she could, even if it wasn't really her, and she was only looking for a way to avoid what was happening in her home. 

I liked the message in this story; not everything is perfect because you have money and live in a nice house with fancy cars. Rich people have problems too. In Jess' case, she was often pre-judged based on where she lived and what she came from. No one really knew what was happening behind closed doors. It's for that main reason why I didn't warm up to Flynn at first. I get that he was in the opposite situation and was probably envious that she had so much, but his attitude when they first met was quite a turn off and made him seem like a jerk. 

Speaking of Flynn, I liked that he worked so hard for his mom and little brother, and the fact that he was diverse. But there were times I wished he'd try harder for his relationship with Jess. She seemed to be the only one fighting most of the time, while he'd give up because it was easier to. There's no excuse to give up on love. None. But honestly, I wasn't really convinced by their feelings for each other. The one aspect of the story that grabbed my attention and held it was the issues Jess was dealing with and I wanted to know what happened to her mom to make her shut away like that. The reason was disturbing. I felt the emotions of the family and sympathized with them. And I was glad that in the end, some things were addressed and they were working to move on from it.

Overall, I liked the writing and pacing of the story. It might have been a little slowish in the beginning, but I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about Jess. I even smiled when she reconnected with an old friend. But that thing with Flynn towards the end, my gosh. It is the only reason why I didn't give the story five stars because I hated what he did and his excuse just didn't work on me. Still, kudos to them, and I'm happy that Jess finally felt like she was enough and could be happy for once.

Janet Gurtler

About the Author
A Rita Award Finalist and Crystal Kite Award Finalist, Janet Gurtler's young adult books have been chosen for the JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD SELECTION and as BEST BOOKS FOR TEENS from the Canadian Children’s Book Center. Janet lives in Okotoks Alberta, Canada with her husband, son, and a chubby black Chihuahua named Bruce.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Guest Post & Giveaway: When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriquez

Welcome to IFB stop on Cindy Rodriquez' blog tour. I've already read and reviewed When Reason Breaks and I enjoyed the story. See my review hereCheck out Cindy's guest post below and enter to win a awesome prize!

Release date: February 10th 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Purchase: Amazon

Synopsis via Goodreads:
13 Reasons Why meets the poetry of Emily Dickinson in this gripping debut novel perfect for fans of Sara Zarr or Jennifer Brown.

A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.

In an emotionally taut novel with a richly diverse cast of characters, readers will relish in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and be completely swept up in the turmoil of two girls grappling with demons beyond their control.


Hi, Shane, and thank you so much for having me on your site! You asked me to elaborate on how I incorporated Emily Dickinson’s poetry into When Reason Breaks and how I tied the poems to the main characters’ emotions and/or the plot. Here goes… 

While there are lots of references to Emily Dickinson poems in the novel, including first lines used as chapter titles, only three poems are used in their entirety. 

The first is the poem that begins “I dwell in Possibility –,” and it’s used in Chapter 10 as a back to school activity by Ms. Diaz. I used this poem because I thought it fit the feelings that come with the first days of school. It’s a new year—a fresh start full of possibilities. In taking a closer look at the poem, the students see that Dickinson links “Possibility” with poetry. She lives in and through poetry, which leads Ms. Diaz to ask her students where they dwell and what helps them to understand the world. While Ms. Diaz leads her students through the analysis, Elizabeth notes Abby flirting with Tommy, and Emily notes an exchange between Kevin and Sarah. Ah, the possibilities, indeed. Three chapters later, this poem is referenced in the first anonymous letter left for Ms. Diaz, in which one of the girls begins to express her confusion with events in her life. She writes, “I have vehicles to help me navigate the world, but I can’t make sense of it.” The use of this poem helps to capture the contradictory meanings of the word “possibilities,” and how the girls feel. Having possibilities can leave us feeling optimistic—The possibilities are endless!—or it can leave us feeling confused, as we churn the possibilities over in our minds and not come to any resolutions. 

The next full poem is the one that begins “I was the slightest in the House –,” and it’s used in Chapter 19 when Emily and Elizabeth are matched for an assignment. They have to read and analyze the poem together and then respond to it in writing and visually. This poem works in this scene because, while analyzing the poem, Emily and Elizabeth discover that they both connect to the poem’s narrator. They both feel like the slightest in the house—insignificant even to those closest to them. They both feel like no one truly understands them. When Elizabeth suggests the poem’s narrator may be suicidal, the girls stare at each other for a few uncomfortable moments, silently connecting over their own questions about pain, life, and death. Later in this chapter, when Emily says to Elizabeth, “I see you,” she’s letting Elizabeth know that she understands how she feels because she feels the same way. Emily knows that Elizabeth is in pain and that she’s vulnerable under her badass exterior. 

This chapter is one of my favorites because while the girls are analyzing the poem, they’re also gaining a deeper understanding of themselves and each other. The poem also includes the idea of being afraid to speak, not being able to “live aloud,” which is exactly what both girls need to do if they want to begin the healing process and be understood—really seen and heard—by their friends and family. 

The final poem used fully is the one that begins “All but Death, can be Adjusted –” This poem is recited aloud by Ms. Diaz from memory in Chapter 39 as she faces her class for the first time after a student’s attempted suicide. She tells them that she cares about them as people, not just students, and she encourages anyone who is feeling hopeless to seek help. The poem states that anything can be repaired and made beautiful again, except for death. I chose this poem for this moment because I remembered a high school counselor saying that suicide was a permanent solution to temporary problems. Anything going wrong in our lives can be adjusted, can be repaired and made beautiful again, but severe depression doesn’t allow people to see that. The poem helps Ms. Diaz to make this point with her students. With the proper treatment and support, anything, no matter how insurmountable it may seem, can be reversed, handled differently, altered, or adjusted—except for death. 

Emily Dickinson wrote close to 2,000 poems in her lifetime, so choosing lines to lace into the novel wasn’t always easy. I flipped through my copy of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson so much while writing and revising the novel that I broke the spine! These three poems in particular, though, were easy choices because they perfectly complemented what was happening and how the characters were feeling in those chapters.

Cindy L.  Rodriguez
Author Bio:
Cindy L. Rodriguez is a former newspaper reporter turned public school teacher. She now teaches as a reading specialist at a Connecticut middle school but previously worked for the Hartford Courant and the Boston Globe. She and her young daughter live in Plainville, Connecticut. This is her debut novel.  

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