Book Review: Deadly Delicious by K.L. Kincy

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One spunky heroine. A dash of romance. A sprinkle of magic. And one horde of cake-craving zombies. Those are the winning ingredients to K.L. Kincy’s charming and delightful new middle grade novel, Deadly Delicious.

Deadly Delicious - ebook coverTwelve-year-old Josephine DeLune can’t take the heat this sweltering summer of 1955, and she was out of the kitchen long ago.

An awful cook, she ruins recipes left and right, and she certainly can’t compete with her family’s reputation for extraordinary food. Her daddy’s parents ran one of the best restaurants in all of Paris, but Josephine lives in Paris, Missouri. On her mama’s side, she’s up against a long tradition of sinfully delicious soul food. Rumor has it, her Creole ancestors cooked up some voodoo to make tasty even tastier. Josephine knows the secret ingredient: she comes from a long line of conjure witches with spellbinding culinary skills.

Disenchanted, Josephine works as a carhop at Carl and Earl’s Drive-In. Just plain old hamburgers, hot dogs, and curly fries, nothing magical about them. She’s got bigger fish to fry, though, when a grease fire erupts into a devilish creature who hisses her name with desire. Turns out he’s the Ravenous One, the granddaddy of all voodoo spirits, and he’s hungry for her soul. Josephine thinks he’s got the wrong girl—she’s no witch—but a gorgeous, dangerous night-skinned lady named Shaula sets her straight. Josephine is one of the most powerful witches alive, so overflowing with conjure that her out-of-control cooking simply catches fire.

Josephine would love to laugh this off, but Shaula warns her that she must learn to master her magic before the Ravenous One devours her soul. Spurred into action, Josephine breaks out her grandma’s old conjure cookbook and starts cooking. Nothing grand, just the usual recipes for undying friendship and revenge. But soon Josephine can’t escape the consequences of her conjure. When the people of Paris start turning into zombies with a strange fondness for cake, Josephine looks pretty responsible for their undead reawakening…

I was charmed right away by Kincy’s voice in Deadly Delicious – with a slow drawl inside my head as I read the narrative of young Josephine. I was transported to the South — hearing the cadence and rhythm of people’s speech, feeling the clammy heat, and soaking up the atmosphere. Every time I picked up this book to continue reading, I found myself happily whisked away to Josephine’s world.

The whimsical storyline is also equally enchanting, and it’s fun to see how Kincy has crafted this particular brand of magic — using recipes to conjure spells. A colorful cast of supporting characters add to the magic of Deadly Delicious, and really bring Josephine’s story to life.

At first, I wasn’t 100% sure the romance was necessary to the story — and it certainly takes a backseat to the main plot, and Josephine’s growth as a character. But the blossoms of first love, as Kincy has so lovingly captured them here, add a nice finishing touch — like the frosting to the cake that is the rest of the story. And while younger readers may not connect to this aspect of the story, there’s nothing that will stop them from enjoying Deadly Delicious on the whole.

Deadly Delicious is available now.

New YA Releases: July 22, 2014

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Here’s a look at some of today’s new YA releases:

endless-kate brianEndless by Kate Brian

An unthinkable betrayal threatens everyone Rory loves in the third installment of our dark, thrilling Shadowlands series from New York Times best-selling author Kate Brian.

Rory Miller didn’t just fall in love with Tristan Parrish. She fell in love with the idea of forever. He was the one who told her the truth about her existence in Juniper Landing: that her mortal life is over, and she will now spend eternity on the island, helping others in limbo move on.

But like Juniper Landing, a bright island with dark secrets, Tristan is too good to be true. The mysterious, heartbreakingly beautiful boy Rory thought she knew is responsible for unthinkable evil-sending good souls to the Shadowlands in order to get himself a second chance at life on Earth. He has already claimed Rory’s friend Aaron and her own father, but when SPOILER Tristan sends her sister, Darcy, to the Shadowlands, too, Rory decides to take matters into her own hands. She will do anything to save her family, even if it means going to hell and back.

welcome to the dark houseWelcome to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz

What’s your worst nightmare?

For Ivy Jensen, it’s the eyes of a killer that haunt her nights. For Parker Bradley, it’s bloodthirsty sea serpents that slither in his dreams.

And for seven essay contestants, it’s their worst nightmares that win them an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at director Justin Blake’s latest, confidential project. Ivy doesn’t even like scary movies, but she’s ready to face her real-world fears. Parker’s sympathetic words and perfect smile help keep her spirits up. . . at least for now.

Not everyone is so charming, though. Horror-film fanatic Garth Vader wants to stir up trouble. It’s bad enough he has to stay in the middle of nowhere with this group—the girl who locks herself in her room; the know-it-all roommate; “Mister Sensitive”; and the one who’s too cheery for her own good. Someone has to make things interesting.

Except, things are already a little weird. The hostess is a serial-killer look-alike, the dream-stealing Nightmare Elf is lurking about, and the seventh member of the group is missing.

By the time Ivy and Parker realize what’s really at stake, it’s too late to wake up and run.

marinaMarina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

In May 1980, fifteen-year-old Oscar Drai suddenly vanishes from his boarding school in the old quarter of Barcelona. For seven days and nights no one knows his whereabouts. . . .

His story begins in the heart of old Barcelona, when he meets Marina and her father Germán Blau, a portrait painter. Marina takes Oscar to a cemetery to watch a macabre ritual that occurs on the fourth Sunday of each month. At 10 a.m. precisely a coach pulled by black horses appears. From it descends a woman dressed in black, her face shrouded, wearing gloves, holding a single rose. She walks over to a gravestone that bears no name, only the mysterious emblem of a black butterfly with open wings.

When Oscar and Marina decide to follow her they begin a journey that will take them to the heights of a forgotten, post-war Barcelona, a world of aristocrats and actresses, inventors and tycoons; and a dark secret that lies waiting in the mysterious labyrinth beneath the city streets.

extractionExtraction by Stephanie Diaz

Clementine has spent her whole life preparing for her sixteenth birthday, when she’ll be tested for Extraction in the hopes of being sent from the planet Kiel’s toxic Surface to the much safer Core, where people live without fear or starvation. When she proves promising enough to be “Extracted,” she must leave without Logan, the boy she loves. Torn apart from her only sense of family, Clem promises to come back and save him from brutal Surface life.

What she finds initially in the Core is a utopia compared to the Surface—it’s free of hard labor, gun-wielding officials, and the moon’s lethal acid. But life is anything but safe, and Clementine learns that the planet’s leaders are planning to exterminate Surface dwellers—and that means Logan, too.

Trapped by the steel walls of the underground and the lies that keep her safe, Clementine must find a way to escape and rescue Logan and the rest of the planet. But the planet leaders don’t want her running—they want her subdued.

one past midnightOne Past Midnight by Jessica Shirvington

Above all else, though I try not to think about it, I know which life I prefer. And every night when I Cinderella myself from one life to the next a very small, but definite, piece of me dies. The hardest part is that nothing about my situation has ever changed. There is no loophole.

Until now, that is…

For as long as she can remember, Sabine has lived two lives. Every 24 hours she Shifts to her ′other′ life – a life where she is exactly the same, but absolutely everything else is different: different family, different friends, different social expectations. In one life she has a sister, in the other she does not. In one life she′s a straight-A student with the perfect boyfriend, in the other she′s considered a reckless delinquent. Nothing about her situation has ever changed, until the day when she discovers a glitch: the arm she breaks in one life is perfectly fine in the other.

With this new knowledge, Sabine begins a series of increasingly risky experiments which bring her dangerously close to the life she′s always wanted… But just what – and who – is she really risking?

just like the moviesJust Like the Movies by Kelly Fiore

Pretty and popular track star Marijke Monti is confident about almost everything – she’s got great friends, a great family, and she’s on her way to the State Track Championship. In fact, the only thing Marijke isn’t confident about is her relationship with Tommy Lawson.

Lily Spencer has spent her entire high school career preparing for the future – she’s participated in every extracurricular activity and volunteer committee she could. But, at home, she watches her mother go on date after date with dud-dudes, still searching for “the one.” Lily realizes that she’s about to graduate and still hasn’t even had a boyfriend.

While they live on each other’s periphery at school, Lily and Marijke never seemed to have much in common; but, after a coincidental meeting at the movie theater, Lily gets an idea – why can’t life be like a movie? Why can’t they set up their perfect romantic situations, just in time for their senior prom, using movie techniques?

Once the girls come up with the perfect plans, they commit themselves to being secret cohorts and, just like in the movies, drama ensues.

dissonanceDissonance by Erica O’Rourke

Delancy Sullivan has always known there’s more to reality than what people see. Every time someone makes a choice, a new, parallel world branches off from the existing one. Eating breakfast or skipping it, turning left instead of right, sneaking out instead of staying in bed ~ all of these choices create an alternate universe in which an echo self takes the road not travelled and makes the opposite decision. As a Walker, someone who can navigate between these worlds, Del’s job is to keep all of the dimensions in harmony.

Normally, Del can hear the dissonant frequency that each world emits as clear as a bell. But when a training session in an off-key world goes horribly wrong, she is forbidden from Walking by the Council. But Del’s not big on following the rules and she secretly starts to investigate these other worlds. Something strange is connecting them and it’s not just her random encounters with echo versions of the guy she likes, Simon Lane.

But Del’s decisions have unimaginable consequences and, as she begins to fall for the Echo Simons in each world, she draws closer to a truth that the Council of Walkers is trying to hide ~ a secret that threatens the fate of the entire multiverse.

strange and ever afterStrange and Ever After by Susan Dennard

In the conclusion to the trilogy that Publishers Weekly called “a roaring—and addictive—gothic world,” Eleanor Fitt must control her growing power, face her feelings for Daniel, and confront the evil necromancer Marcus…all before it’s too late.

He took her brother, he took her mother, and now, Marcus has taken her good friend Jie. With more determination than ever to bring this sinister man to justice, Eleanor heads to the hot desert streets of nineteenth-century Egypt in hopes of ending this nightmare. But in addition to her increasingly tense relationships with Daniel, Joseph, and her demon, Oliver, Eleanor must also deal with her former friend, Allison, who has curiously entangled herself in Eleanor’s mission.

With the rising dead chomping at her every move and Jie’s life hanging in the balance, Eleanor is convinced that her black magic will see her through to the bitter end. But there will be a price. Though she and the Spirit Hunters have weathered every battle thus far, there will be consequences to suffer this time—the effects of which will be irreversible. And when it’s over, only some will be able to live a strange and ever after.

Susan Dennard will leave readers breathless and forever changed in the concluding pages of this riveting ride.

fire wishThe Fire Wish by Amber Lough

A jinni. A princess. And the wish that changes everything. . . .

Najwa is a jinni, training to be a spy in the war against the humans. Zayele is a human on her way to marry a prince of Baghdad—which she’ll do anything to avoid. So she captures Najwa and makes a wish. With a rush of smoke and fire, they fall apart and re-form—as each other. A jinni and a human, trading lives. Both girls must play their parts among enemies who would kill them if the deception were ever discovered—enemies including the young men Najwa and Zayele are just discovering they might love.

uncagedUncaged by Michele Cook & John Sandford

Shay Remby arrives in Hollywood with $58 and a handmade knife, searching for her brother, Odin.

Odin’s a brilliant hacker but a bit of a loose cannon. He and a group of radical animal-rights activists hit a Singular Corp. research lab in Eugene, Oregon. The raid was a disaster, but Odin escaped with a set of highly encrypted flash drives and a post-surgical dog.

When Shay gets a frantic 3 a.m. phone call from Odin—talking about evidence of unspeakable experiments, and a ruthless corporation, and how he must hide—she’s concerned. When she gets a menacing visit from Singular’s security team, she knows: her brother’s a dead man walking.

What Singular doesn’t know—yet—is that 16-year-old Shay is every bit as ruthless as their security force, and she will burn Singular to the ground, if that’s what it takes to save her brother.

year of chasing dreamsThe Year of Chasing Dreams by Lurlene McDaniel

In the vein of Eat, Pray, Love, this YA novel intertwines a family saga with a grand love story and is the companion to The Year of Luminous Love and Wishes and Dreams. For fans of Sarah Dessen’s The Moon and More and Ann Brashares’s Forever in Blue.

Ciana Beauchamp hasn’t seen or heard from Jon Mercer in months. Until now. He’s back in Windemere to see her. Deep down Ciana is filled with joy and relief. She’s never stopped loving him. It’s proof of Jon’s love that he has returned, but what will their future be?

When tragedy strikes, almost no one in town is left unscathed. Tragedy has a way of bringing people together, but it can also tear them apart. Ciana can hardly face her choices, but she knows she must, and there are now people who she can turn to if only she is willing.

quarantine the burnoutsThe Burnouts by Lex Thomas

Lord of the Flies in a 21st-century high school setting.Welcome to Quarantine 3: The Burnouts , where readers of The Maze Runner, Gone, and Divergent go when they’re hungry for more dark, compelling survival stories.

When an explosion rocks David and Will’s suburban high school one morning, a deadly virus is unleashed on the school. After a year of quarantine, with no adults around, the students have created their own society. All of the social cliques have developed into gangs-The Nerds, The Geeks, The Freaks, The Sluts, The Skaters, The Burnouts, The Pretty Ones, and The Varsity-and each gang provides a service with which they can barter for provisions. Without a gang, it’s almost impossible to secure food, water, territory, or supplies. In the final installment in the Quarantine trilogy, the brothers are reunited on the Outside and it appears as if, for once everything is going right. But inside the school, Lucy is alone with no gang and no hope, until the Burnouts welcome her into their filthy arms.

homeroom diariesHomeroom Diaries by Lisa Papademetriou & James Patterson

 James Patterson introduces the best selling “illustrated fiction” format to teens! It’s “Middle School” for high schoolers!

In James Patterson’s first highly illustrated “diary fiction” story for teens, the mega-bestselling author’s most endearing and original teen heroine ever proves that everyone can use a helping hand once in a while.

Margaret “Cuckoo” Clarke recently had a brief stay in a mental institution following an emotional breakdown, but she’s turning over a new leaf with her “Operation Happiness”. She’s determined to beat down the bad vibes of the Haters, the Terror Teachers, and all of the trials and tribulations of high school by writing and drawing in her diary. And when life gets really tough, she works through her own moments of uncertainty through imaginary conversations with her favorite literary characters.

Cuckoo’s also got a nearly impossible mission: she, along with her misfit band of self-deprecating friends (who call themselves “the Freakshow”) decide to bridge the gap between warring cliques and “bring the Nations together”. Not everyone is so willing to join hands and get along, but Cuckoo never stops smiling… until one of her closest friends, pushed to desperation by a Hater prank, decides that enough is enough.

For the comments: Which of today’s new YA releases are you most excited about?

Introducing Deadly Delicious by K.L. Kincy

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Today, we’re kicking off a week-long feature for the fun middle grade fantasy, Deadly Delicious by K.L. Kincy. All week, we’ll share our thoughts on the book, a sneak peek, a Q&A with Karen, plus give you a chance to win your own copy! But for now,we’re starting today off with all the basics. Here’s what the book is about:

Deadly Delicious - ebook coverTwelve-year-old Josephine DeLune can’t take the heat this sweltering summer of 1955, and she was out of the kitchen long ago.

An awful cook, she ruins recipes left and right, and she certainly can’t compete with her family’s reputation for extraordinary food. Her daddy’s parents ran one of the best restaurants in all of Paris, but Josephine lives in Paris, Missouri. On her mama’s side, she’s up against a long tradition of sinfully delicious soul food. Rumor has it, her Creole ancestors cooked up some voodoo to make tasty even tastier. Josephine knows the secret ingredient: she comes from a long line of conjure witches with spellbinding culinary skills.

Disenchanted, Josephine works as a carhop at Carl and Earl’s Drive-In. Just plain old hamburgers, hot dogs, and curly fries, nothing magical about them. She’s got bigger fish to fry, though, when a grease fire erupts into a devilish creature who hisses her name with desire. Turns out he’s the Ravenous One, the granddaddy of all voodoo spirits, and he’s hungry for her soul. Josephine thinks he’s got the wrong girl—she’s no witch—but a gorgeous, dangerous night-skinned lady named Shaula sets her straight. Josephine is one of the most powerful witches alive, so overflowing with conjure that her out-of-control cooking simply catches fire.

Josephine would love to laugh this off, but Shaula warns her that she must learn to master her magic before the Ravenous One devours her soul. Spurred into action, Josephine breaks out her grandma’s old conjure cookbook and starts cooking. Nothing grand, just the usual recipes for undying friendship and revenge. But soon Josephine can’t escape the consequences of her conjure. When the people of Paris start turning into zombies with a strange fondness for cake, Josephine looks pretty responsible for their undead reawakening…

Karen - author photo2About the Author:

K. L. Kincy (Kirkland, Washington) loves zombies, though she hopes to meet only the cake-eating kind. Deadly Delicious is her first book for children. She has a BA in Linguistics and Literature from The Evergreen State College.
K. L. Kincy also writes for teens and adults as Karen Kincy.
Find her online at:

Brazen by Katherine Longshore: Classroom Ideas

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Brazen by Katherine Longshore is teeming with history — and that’s the focus of today’s post. Ideas for classroom discussion, essay topics, and project ideas inspired by Brazen:

henry viiiDiscussion & Essay Topics:

  • Discuss why you think the King really forbid his son and Mary Howard from consummating their marriage. Was it really paranoia? What would have been more political or strategic reasons?
  • Consider if Henry FitzRoy had survived; how do you think the future of the English monarchy might have been different (or the same)?
  • After Henry FitzRoy’s death, it was suggested multiple times that Mary be wed to Thomas Seymour. What would have been the social/political reasons for her family to encourage this match? Why do you think she refused so adamantly? (Mary never remarried.)
  • Discuss bravery as a theme in Brazen.Who do you think is really brave? What defines acts of bravery?
  • In Brazen,the author suggests that Mary and Henry FitzRoy were truly in love. Study the real lives of Mary and Henry FitzRoy, and discuss whether you think they may have actually had genuine feelings for each other. Why or why not? Support your argument with historical evidence.

Project Ideas:

  • brazenChart the travels of the King’s court between 1533 and 1536 (during which Brazen takes place). Show on a map when and where the King and his court traveled during those years. Study why the King’s court traveled.
  • Very little is known about Mary Howard, especially after the death of Henry FitzRoy and her departure from court. Imagine what her later years might have been like, after finally being granted some rights to her late husband’s lands and wealth. Write a short story from Mary’s perspective about her life as a widow, away from court.
  • The book that Mary, Margaret and Madge pass back and forth was inspired by the real-life Devonshire Manuscript. Create a replica of what you imagine this diary would look like — complete with their notes and scribbles.
  • Create a Tudor family tree, and explore the marriages and children that made up the extended royal family.

For the comments: Share your ideas for using Brazen in the classroom!

Best Ideas for a Literary Bridal Shower

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I was SO so lucky last November to have the most amazing literary-themed bridal shower. My bridesmaids (with the help of my mom) put together the most fabulous party featuring book-inspired decorations, food, and activities for my bridal shower.

Because it was SO much fun, and perfect for any book-loving bride, I wanted to share some of what they did — as we all as more inspiration from Pinterest — right here for all of you!

Book-ish Bridal Shower Decorations

The decorations started with a bridal “throne” — which my bridesmaids surrounded with stacks and stacks of books. The tissue-paper flowers over the window (below) were hand-crafted by my mom, and include tissue paper she printed with scans from old fairy tale books.

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My bridesmaids hit up thrift shops for old, falling-apart books and used them to craft some fabulous decorations. They used the old pages to make garlands to hang from the fireplace mantle, and glued together a runner for the table.

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Here are some other pretty book-ish decoration ideas we found on Pinterest:

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Book-Themed Party Foods

The menu for my bridal shower included:

  • Count of Monte Cristo Sandwiches
  • Harry Potter’s Chocolate Pretzel Wands
  • Oliver Twists (pretzels)
  • Great Eggspectations Deviled Eggs
  • Dr. Seuss Fruit Skewers (slices of strawberries & bananas)
  • Lemony Snicket’s Lemon Meringues

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My mom also hand-crafted these beautiful cupcake liners, that she had printed with our wedding illustration and scans from old fairy tale books.

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Here’s where she got her inspiration from:

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Literary-Inspired Bridal Shower Games

No bridal shower is complete without a few games. My bridesmaids had the perfect word-games for my book-themed shower, as well as some more traditional shower games. We played:

- Wedding Vow MadLibs

- Bridal Scattegories

- Guess What the Groom Said (in which I had to guess his responses to a set of questions, and the guests had to vote whether they thought I’d get the answer right or wrong.)

- Pin the “ring” on the hand:

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During all of the games, my Maid of Honor kept score (having assigned everyone a “District,” Hunger Games-style). The guest with the highest score (my mother-in-law) took home the grand prize, a copy of Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield, the book I was buying when my husband proposed.

More Ideas:

Another fun bridal shower game is “Literary Lovers Match-Up” — in which your guests must correctly pair up each literary couple.

Favors

For favors, my mom hand-crafted these beautiful bookmarks. The front includes our wedding illustration and scanned pages from a fairy tale book, and the back is made from glitter scrapbook paper.

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You can see more ideas that inspired my bridesmaids on my bridal shower Pinterest board.

Exclusive Q&A with Brazen Author Katherine Longshore – Part 3

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Today we bring you part 3 our exclusive three-part interview with Brazen author Katherine Longshore. If you missed it, check out part 1 here and part 2 here.

Katherine_Longshore_1589_CL_57_WFavorite decade?

The 1920s.

Must-have writing snack?

Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups.

Favorite Disney movie?

The Lion King

The beach or the mountains?

Both.

Song that can always get you dancing?

Love Shack by the B-52s

Name 5 things currently on your desk (or in your writing space).

Besides, my computer, I have:

  1.   Aphotograph of my parents (I like to think my dad is watching over me)
  2. A photo of the YA Muses
  3. My “Kings and Queens of England Family Tree” coffee cup
  4. A glass paperweight for my 3×5 cards
  5. And a pad of paper.

Thanks again for stopping by, Katherine!

Book Review: Dissonance by Erica O’Rourke

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Romance, intrigue and action combine in Dissonance by Erica O’Rourke, an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride through the multi-verse.

dissonanceDelancy Sullivan has always known there’s more to reality than what people see. Every time someone makes a choice, a new, parallel world branches off from the existing one. Eating breakfast or skipping it, turning left instead of right, sneaking out instead of staying in bed ~ all of these choices create an alternate universe in which an echo self takes the road not travelled and makes the opposite decision. As a Walker, someone who can navigate between these worlds, Del’s job is to keep all of the dimensions in harmony.

Normally, Del can hear the dissonant frequency that each world emits as clear as a bell. But when a training session in an off-key world goes horribly wrong, she is forbidden from Walking by the Council. But Del’s not big on following the rules and she secretly starts to investigate these other worlds. Something strange is connecting them and it’s not just her random encounters with echo versions of the guy she likes, Simon Lane.

But Del’s decisions have unimaginable consequences and, as she begins to fall for the Echo Simons in each world, she draws closer to a truth that the Council of Walkers is trying to hide ~ a secret that threatens the fate of the entire multiverse.

Dissonance completely swept me away, right from the start — and carried me anxiously through ever page, right up to the gut-wrenching cliff-hanger of an ending. (Because seriously, WHAT. THE. HELL. I need book 2 in this series STAT!!!!) I just couldn’t put this book down, and didn’t WANT to put it down even when I’d reached the conclusion.

Del is a delight for a narrator. She has her flaws, but as a teen she still has some growing to do. But her personality, spunk, and determination make her a charming character, and a wonderful tour guide through the world of Dissonance. Toss in her charming BFF Eliot, the multi-faceted Simon (and all his multi-verse counterparts), trouble-making grandpa, and a well-intentioned but oft-maligned older sister, and you have a winning cast.

There’s more than just world-hopping and romance, too. Del and her friends find themselves at the center of a mystery about what is really happening to the multi-verse, and the truth about the many worlds they visit could shatter their entire existence.

O’Rourke has established a fantastic universe and a charming cast of characters. Dissonance was a delight to read, and I am anxiously awaiting the next installment of this exhilarating new series.

Dissonance is in stores July 22nd.

Book Review: Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

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At the beginning, Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – already a cult favorite in the author’s native Spain — felt like something akin to a Neil Gaiman story. But as the story unfolded, Marina turned dark, sinister, and truly terrifying.

marinaIn May 1980, fifteen-year-old Oscar Drai suddenly vanishes from his barding school in Barcelona. For seven days and seven nights no one knows his whereabouts…

His story begins in an old quarter of the city, where he meets the strange Marina and her father, Germán Blau, a portrait painter. Marina takes Oscar to a cemetery to watch a macabre ritual that occurs on the last Sunday of each month. At exactly ten o’clock in the morning, a coach pulled by black horses appears. From it descends a woman, her face shrouded be a black velvet cloak. Holding a single rose, she walks to a gravestone that bears no name, only a mysterious emblem of a black butterfly with open wings.

When Oscar and Marina decide to follow her, they begin a journey that transports them to a forgotten, postwar Barcelona–a world of aristocrats and actresses, inventors and tycoons–and reveals a dark secret that lies waiting in the mysterious labyrinth beneath the city streets.

It’s been a long time since a book had me this on-edge. In fact, I often stayed up too-late reading Marina not necessarily because I had to know what happened next … but because what I’d just read was so horrifying, I couldn’t possibly have closed the book and gone to sleep. I had to read on to find some lightness between so much horror, just to be able to switch off the bedside lamp!

Zafon is already a master storyteller, and his skills shine through as the story of Marina unfolds. Because as the mystery behind the horror story unfolds … a quieter, much more human saga also plays out. One about sickness and mortality and loss and love. It’s this element that is really the heart of the story.

Marina is in stores July 22nd.

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming: Blog Tour Q&A + Giveaway

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Today, I am pleased to be hosting a stop on the official blog tour for The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming – an exciting new non-fiction book for teen readers.

family romanovYep, non-fiction. We don’t see a lot of YA non-fiction, so I’m really excited about this. Plus, a book about the Romanovs? You KNOW it’s gonna be good. Check out our Q&A with the author, then keep reading for your chance to win a copy of The Family Romanov!

Most YA readers tend to veer towards fiction. What about THE FAMILY ROMANOV will entice fiction readers?

It’s such a compelling, heartbreaking and, at times, downright weird story.  Imagine this: The Russian royal family is living a fairy-tale existence. The richest man on the planet, Tsar Nicholas II owns one-sixth of the world’s land, thirty palaces, five yachts, an endless collection of priceless painting and sculpture, two private trains, countless horses, carriage and cars, and vaults overflowing with precious jewels. The Romanovs have it all! But Nicholas is a man of limited political ability. He’s simply not suited to rule Russia. And a charismatic, self-proclaimed holy man named Rasputin spellbinds his wife, Alexandra. She believes Rasputin can save her hemophiliac son, Alexei, from bleeding to death. Desperate, she will do anything – anything — including handing over the reins of power to the evil monk.  Meanwhile, in the palace there also lives four, beautiful grand duchesses – Olga, Tatiana, Marie and Anastasia. But they are kept isolated from the world by their paranoid and overprotective parents. They don’t attend balls or banquets. They don’t have any friends their own age, or suitors, as they grow older. The have only each other. Living in this bubble stunts them emotionally. Even at age twenty, Olga giggles like a schoolgirl and blushes when she sees an onscreen kiss. With all this craziness going on inside the palace gates, no one is paying any attention to the dark clouds gathering outside them. Starving, war-weary Russians are tired of Nicholas and Alexandra’s inept rule. They revolt, and the Romanov’s fairy tale lives come crashing down, leading to ninety days in captivity, a horrific and bloody mass murder, hidden bodies and rumors of escaped princesses. Wow, if that’s not a great story, I don’t know what is!

Photo by Michael Lionstar

Photo by Michael Lionstar

The sort of research involved in a book like this seems so daunting to me. Where did you even begin your work?.

The research for this book followed four paths. The first, of course, was primary research.   After all, the heart of all research is the firsthand accounts and eyewitness testimonies of those who lived through an historical event. And so I read reminiscences written by the children’s’ tutors, and Alexandra’s ladies-in-waiting and Nicholas’ courtiers. I delved into the royal family’s letters and diaries and other personal papers. I read Yakov Yurovsky’s chilling account of the murders; statements from the guards; depositions from the priests and cleaning women who visited the Romanovs in their last hours. All of it was so personal, so intimate. If you think about it, it really is the height of nosiness… and probably the reason I love this sort of research so much. I get to be part detective, piecing together testimony from all that conflicting testimony, and part gossip, reporting on all the juicy details I uncover.

My second path? Secondary source material. There are hundreds of books about the Romanovs and the Russian Revolution (although very few for young readers). Dozens of scholars have made the rigorous examination of Russia’s past their life’s work. They’ve written insightful, enlightening histories. And I read dozens of them. For months every night I curled up with books with titles like The Russian Revolution of February 1917 or The Fall of the Romanovs. There’s no denying that my book stands on the shoulders of these works.

My third research path leads to experts – scholars, historians, and other writers. They are, I’ve learned, incredibly generous. All my nonfiction titles have been immeasurably improved by their time and effort. But perhaps no one was more helpful than Dr. Mark Steinberg, professor or Russian, East European and Eurasian studies at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. While doing research, I came to rely on Dr. Steinberg’s work – his accessible histories of Russia, his impeccable translations of documents recently released from the Russian archives, his re-examination of Nicholas’ leadership abilities, his new and brilliant scholarship on Lenin, his admiration for Maxim Gorky. Can you tell I am a fan? So as the first draft of the book neared completion I approached him tentatively. More than anything, I wanted him to read what I’d written. I wanted his opinion, his knowledge. I wrote him, explaining my purpose and my readership.   Then I crossed my fingers and hoped he’d answer. He did… enthusiastically.   Over the course of the next six months, he read my draft, made suggestions, pointed out errors, suggested more appropriate source material and forced me to look at the evidence in different ways. He sent along books and articles he believed would help in my work.   He re-read portions of the book I’d reworked based on his comments, and patiently answered what must have felt like a tireless stream of questions throughout the entire publication process. That’s generosity!

Last, but certainly not least, my fourth research path leads to travel. I believe it’s imperative to visit the places where the story happened. Landscapes speak and houses hold memories and secrets. This was especially true when writing The Family Romanov. In August 2012 I traveled to Russia where I followed in the Romanov’s footsteps, wandering the shady paths of Tsarskoe Selo and traipsing through the hallways of the Alexander Palace; visiting Rasputin’s apartment; exploring worker’s neighborhoods, Lenin’s headquarters and the dark, dank jail cells of the Peter and Paul Fortress.   Just walking the streets and feeling the air brings my biographical subjects closer.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned about the Romanovs and the uprising against them during your research?

Probably the most surprising and important discovery I made during my research for The Family Romanov came while visiting the Alexander Palace. In none of my sources had anyone mentioned how close the palace sat to the front gate. I’d assumed it was somewhere in the middle of the park, away from prying eyes. Not so. The tall, main gate with its golden, double headed eagle opens directly onto the palace’s circular driveway. Every day the family could look through its iron grillwork to the town of Tsarskoe Selo just on the other side. It gave me pause. The family was so close to it’s people. They were right there, just on the other side of the gate. The Romanovs could look out their windows and see them. They could hear their people’s voices from the palace balcony. They could smell their cooking. They really weren’t as physically removed from the people as sources led me to believe. It gave me pause. Why, I wondered, didn’t the Romanovs feel more attachment to their subjects? I mean, they were right there. The question led me down entirely new paths of thought.   And it eventually led to the book’s inclusion of first hand worker and peasant accounts under the title, “Beyond the Palace Gates.”

This is one of several nonfiction books you’ve written for teen readers. Any idea on what subjects you might be tackling next?

I’m tackling William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody next. Actually, I’m in the throes of writing it now. After that, who knows? I’m challenged and intrigued by the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. I recently read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s account of those terrible, terrible days when she waited for news of her son. And I’m filled with questions. For me, that’s the first sign that a new piece of nonfiction is brewing.

FLASH QUESTIONS:

Favorite decade?

The 80’s – I was a carefree, college student back then. Believe it or not, I even had purple hair!

Must-have writing snack?

Skinny Pop Popcorn – love that “no artificial anything.”

Favorite Disney movie?

It’s a toss up between The Ugly Dachshund (does anyone remember that one… Dean Jones!) and 101 Dalmatians. I’m a sucker for dog movies.

The beach or the mountains?

The beach along Lake Michigan’s southern rim. There’s nothing I love more than escaping to those endless, sandy shores for an afternoon. I pick up beach glass, hum in my head, and let the world fade away. Ahhh!

Song that can always get you dancing?

“What I Like About You” by the Romantics. Embarrassing, but I pogo to it. The 80’s again, you know?

Name 5 things currently on your desk (or in your writing space), and share a photo, if possible

  1. A gold bust of Nicholas II I purchased at the Alexander Palace.
  2. A shadow box of objects and fancies collected by my partner, Eric Rohmann and I, on our many travels. If you look closely you’ll see things like an iguana claw from Costa Rica, an antique glass bead from Venice, Italy, and an animal cracker from the National Zoo in Washington D.C.
  3. A crystal ball. So far it has not foretold my future.
  4. A Henry VIII eggcup for holding my paper clips. It also serves as a reminder to stick to the Skinny Pop.
  5. A two-headed rubber ducky – it’s just weird.

WIN A COPY OF THE FAMILY ROMANOV

Now here’s your chance to win! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form here and you’ll be entered to win a copy of The Family Romanov, courtesy of Random House.

U.S. or Canada only. Contest ends at midnight (PT) on Wednesday, July 23rd.

family romanovHere’s more about the book:

New from Candace Fleming, THE FAMILY ROMANOV: MURDER, REBELLION, AND THE FALL OF IMPERIAL RUSSIA (Schwartz & Wade / On sale July 8, 2014 / Ages 12 up) offers up non-fiction at its very best. From the acclaimed author of Amelia Lost and The Lincolns comes a probing look at Russia’s last tsar, his family, and their crumbling dynasty.

When Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, inherited the throne in 1894, he was unprepared. With their four daughters (including Anastasia) and only son, a hemophiliac, Nicholas and his reclusive wife, Alexandra, buried their heads in the sand, living a life of opulence as World War I raged outside their door and political unrest grew.

Deftly maneuvering between the lives of the Romanovs and the plight of Russia’s peasants—and their eventual uprising—Fleming offers up a fascinating portrait, complete with inserts featuring period photographs and compelling primary-source material that brings it all to life. Tragedy, melodrama, and I-can’t-believe-it moments make this a read that both kids and Romanov aficionados will devour. History doesn’t get more interesting than the story of the Romanovs.

For the comments: What intrigues you about the Romanov family?

Exclusive Q&A with Brazen Author Katherine Longshore – Part 2

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Today we bring you part 2 our exclusive three-part interview with Brazen author Katherine Longshore. If you missed it, check out part 1 here.

Katherine_Longshore_1589_CL_57_WFor anyone wanting to learn more about the Tudors, what resources would you recommend?

The library! Whatever part of the Tudor history interests you most, you should be able to find something to satisfy your craving. Want to know details on how life was lived and the workings of the court? Try Alison Weir’s Henry VIII: The King and His Court. Fascinated by the king and his relationships? David Starkey’s Six Wives is a great place to start. Love Anne Boleyn? Eric Ives wrote the definitive biography. Need to know more about the Howard family after reading BRAZEN? House of Treason by Robert Hutchinson tells the long, corrupt story.

brazenWhat was one of the most surprising things you learned while researching BRAZEN (or any of your novels)?

Because I had been reading about Henry and his court for about five years before I started Gilt (my first novel), it became difficult to find anything that surprised me. Once you spend five years in a place where a woman can be executed for treason in her 70s (Margaret of Salisbury) or a man can go from nothing to being the king’s most trusted advisor (Thomas Cromwell), all of the Tudor machinations and betrayals and trysts and servility become frighteningly commonplace. I suppose, though, on a more detailed and material level, I was (surprisingly) surprised to discover that the Tudors (and Henry in particular) were masters at re-gifting. Though the term originated with Seinfeld, the Tudors practiced regifting all the time—with no apparent chagrin.

Do you have other Tudor-era books planned? Who else would you love to write about?

None planned at the moment—I’m actually working on a contemporary novel right now. But I would love to write the story of a young Elizabeth, or Lady Jane Grey (any of the Grey sisters, actually!) or one of Elizabeth’s young maids in waiting when she was queen. Lettice Knollys (Elizabeth’s second cousin, who ended up marrying Robert Dudley) springs to mind.

Tune in for part 3 on Friday!