Monthly Archives: September 2015

Author’s Couch: Q&A with Leah Cypress!

I picked up DEATH SWORN by Leah Cypress as a recommendation from my librarian co-worker. She said, ‘You have to read this book! The main character is a total badass, and the relationship is awesome!’ Let me tell you, DEATH SWORN did not disappoint! I couldn’t put this book down. Cypress presented a character who really had to ‘fake it until she made it.’ Once I finished, I immediately picked up DEATH MARKED, and all I can really say is, I’m so sad there are only two books!

I reached out to Leah and asked for an interview–and guess what? She’s just as awesome as her books and agreed to answer my burning questions!

Q&A

DeathSworn HC CTell us what’s unique about DEATH SWORN?

Death Sworn is a murder mystery and fantasy combined, set entirely in an underground cavern that serves as a school of assassins. I can’t think of any parallels offhand. 😉

More seriously, though: I wanted to write a book about assassins that weren’t the usual fantasy assassins-with-hearts-of-gold characters. Not that I don’t love those books — I do! — but for this book, I drew inspiration more heavily from the actual, historical sect of the assassins that existed in the Middle East in medieval times, and what we know about how they functioned and what motivated them.

Sorin and IIeni don’t have a relationships typical of the YA genre in that they react to each other in a very realistic and rational manner. At times, this was frustrating and heartbreaking, but I also loved it. Can you give us insight into your view of Sorin and IIeni’s relationship? 

I’m glad to hear you say that, because my intent was to make it realistic! (does author happy dance)

In some ways, I think their relationship is somewhat unhealthy — Ileni enters it partly out of desperation and depression, in addition to attraction and admiration; and while Sorin grows immensely from knowing Ileni, she is also a threat to everything he has ever wanted. Combine that with their wildly incompatible worldviews, and their romance will always be a struggle. I can’t say much more without giving away aspects of Death Marked, though!

While reading DEATH SWORN, I thought about the difficulty of world building while staying in DeathMarked HC csuch an excluded location. Did you find this difficult as well? 

Writing a book set in a constricted location is a challenge, but it happens to be a challenge that I love. Plus, I have always been fascinated by caves, so the ability to research and describe the underground caverns was a large part of the fun of writing this book. I think I’ve watched every cave documentary in existence — and I also got to dig up my old travel notebooks for the descriptions I had written of caves I’ve explored.

Was DEATH SWORN originally planned as a duology? 

Believe it or not, I originally planned it as a stand-alone — I thought readers would be happy to imagine the rest of the story on their own! But every single person who read it told me, in no uncertain terms, that they demanded a sequel. The last of those people was my editor, and so a sequel was born.

Last question: If Sorin and IIeni lived in this world and had to have day jobs, what would they be? 

Ha, fun question! I suspect Sorin would be in the military — some sort of elite special forces unit, probably. And Ileni would put her ambition to use in a demanding field in which she could rise to the top *and* feel like she was doing something important in the world. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if she went into politics. Or, if she had any talent for it, she might do medicine or medical research.

Find the Books

DEATH SWORN on AMAZON

DEATH MARKED on AMAZON

 

About the Author

  Leah Cypess author photo 1

I wrote my first story in first grade. The narrator was an ice-cream cone in the process of being eaten. In fourth grade, I wrote my first book, about a girl who gets shipwrecked on a desert island with her faithful and heroic dog (a rip-off of both The Black Stallion and all the Lassie movies, very impressive).

After selling my first story (Temple of Stone) while in high school, I gave in to my mother’s importuning to be practical and majored in biology at  Brooklyn College. I then went to Columbia Law School and practiced law for almost two years at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, a large law firm in New York City. I kept writing and submitting in my spare time, and finally, a mere 15 years after my first short story acceptance, I sold my first novel to Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins).

I live in Silver Spring, Maryland (right outside of Washington, D.C.) with my husband and three children.

Follow Leah on FACEBOOK or TWITTER!

 

Advertisements

Nicole’s Review: MAGONIA

MagoniaTitle: MAGONIA

Author: Maria Dahvana Headley

Publisher: HarperCollins

Genre: YA Fantasy

Pages: 320

Synopsis: Aza Ray Boyle is drowning in thin air. Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia.

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—but as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war between Magonia and Earth is coming. In Aza’s hands lies fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

Review:

I was a little surprised by how much I liked this book. A race of birds? Songbirds that fly in and out of people’s lungs? Sky vessels and squallwhales? There’s plenty of quirkiness to go around, and while it might catch some readers off guard, I found it utterly charming and entrancing!

The worldbuilding was fresh and delightful. I mean, sky vessels?! Maybe it’s a holdover from Disney’s Peter Pan or my love for Goonies and, more recently, Stardust, but I’ve always been captivated by the idea of tall ships sailing the skies. And squallwhales?! I love the idea of giant cloud-wreathed leviathans breathing our weather into being with their songs. MAGONIA fueled my imagination in that rare way that calls to mind childhood wonder and daydreaming just for the joy of it.

Speaking of songs, music lovers will enjoy how Dahvana Headley positions the magic of her music in MAGONIA. It literally has the power to create and destroy. Though this isn’t a new concept in fantasy, her approach feels unique and strangely subtle, given its importance in the book’s climax.

Yet, as much as I loved the worldbuilding, my favorite aspect of MAGONIA was its characters—especially Aza and Jason. They are quirkily perfect for each other and, unlike the insta-love of many YA books these days, readers get to see their deep friendship and love grow throughout the book without being hit over the head with it. Their commitment to each other feels real and extremely strong.

That’s thanks in large part to the fact that they’re both individually strong characters and hilariously funny at times in a dead-pan, inside-joke way that made their voices distinctive and fun to read. They’re each smart, sarcastic and clever. I laughed out loud more than once!
One caveat though: You’ll know by the end of the first chapter if Aza’s voice works for you or not. She can come close to being overpowering or too stream of consciousness-y. I enjoyed it, but it won’t work for everyone.

The first third of the book is almost entirely about battling Aza’s illness on Earth and has an almost “Bridge to Terabithia” feel to it, which I found endearing. The second third introduces readers more deeply to Magonia, the world in the sky, and its inhabitants, and the third wraps up a nice break-in / sky-singing battle climax.

Each of these sections carried a slightly different tone and pacing, and it’s Aza’s and Jason’s voices that anchor the reader and keep drawing us in. The plot does veer a little thin about half-way through the book, or at least I kept expecting more from it, given various hints along the way. The climax itself is very satisfactory, though without the personal stakes of Aza and Jason, I think the external stakes (stealing plants – albeit really rare and cool plants!) would have fallen short for me.

For all the time Aza spends in Magonia, I wish we could know a few of the characters better—especially Dai, Aza’s crewmate and singing partner with a tragic background and mysterious allegiances, and Zal and Ley, captains who played a big role in Aza’s time on Earth and who still have major scores to settle. But, part of my reason for wanting more is that Dahvana Headley paints beautiful descriptions and mysteries that make you want to dive in and learn ALL the reasons.

I did really love Caru, the heartbird. He is everything majestic, free and loyal that you could possibly imagine about a bird of prey. I also had a soft spot for the batsail, who is at once noble and sad. These are great examples of how MAGONIA moves beyond a typical YA to touch deeper heartstrings, deeper lessons of life. I love, love, love books that do this well!

Another element that made me tear up was Dahvana Headley’s lovely and loving portrayal of family. The simple yet ever-strong ties between Aza and her Earth-bound family are frankly breathtaking in several places, and Jason’s family too is close-knit and wonderful.

So, MAGONIA, a bit of quirk, a dash of wonder, and a whole lot of fun!

Four stars.

4star

Find this book on Amazon.

Ashley’s Review: Illusions of Fate

IllusionsFate_cvrTitle: ILLUSIONS OF FATE

Author: Kiersten White

Publisher: Harper Teen

Genre: YA FANTASY

Pages: 288

Synopsis: Jessamin has been an outcast since she moved from her island home of Melei to the dreary country of Albion. Everything changes when she meets the gorgeous, enigmatic Finn, who introduces her to the secret world of Albion’s nobility. It’s a world that has everything Jessamin doesn’t—power, money, status . . . and magic. But Finn has secrets of his own, and the vicious Lord Downpike will do anything to possess them. Unless Jessamin, armed only with her wits, can stop him.

Review:

Illusions of Fate is enchanting. I loved it. I loved the magic (though it wasn’t intense), I loved the characters, I loved the love. I loved Sir Bird (I’ll explain).

Illusions of Fate centers around a girl, Jessamin, who is trying to get an education in the face of a lot of discrimination (a very admirable trait). She is from the island of Melei and has dark skin and hair. She doesn’t look anything at all like her Albion counterparts. Jassamin doesn’t have enough  money to pay for school, either, and works in the kitchen at a hotel nearby. She’s very smart and at the head of her classes, though no one pays much attention to her and everyone makes terrible comments.

From what I gather, Albion colonized Melei and all the Albions make terribly assumptions about Melenese people, culture and languages and all of the Melenese people are displaced, killed, stripped of their culture. Jessamin is actually the daughter of a Melenese woman and an Albion man, who happens to also be a professor at the school she attends.

One day, Jessamin meets Finn after she wonders down the wrong street. He saves her and the rest is history. Sort of.

I admired Jessamin because she found it really hard to fit in and yet tried really hard everyday. In the face of adversity, she persevered. She had goals. She wanted to learn as much as she could, then go back to her home and teach. She wasn’t really interested in getting married. I could relate to all of these things. I couldn’t relate to the math analogies though. Nope.

Finn is mysterious in many ways–almost to the point where he’s not completely grounded for me in this book. He’s also a magician and a political figurehead who really wants peace while others push for war. When he meets Jessamin, he’s almost instantly in love with her. Normally, this bugs me, but with Jessamin and Finn, it didn’t as much. I think it’s because the whole idea of this novel was FATE, and also because I liked the dialogue between Jessamin and Finn.

I also liked that while Jessamin didn’t have many friends, she could come to rely on Finn and Eleanor (someone she meets at a party). At first I was afraid that Eleanor wouldn’t be good–that she would betray Jessamin in some way, but that wasn’t Eleanor’s intent. I do wish I would have gotten to see more of how Eleanor schemed. It was hinted at a lot, and shown on a small scale, but we never really got to see how powerful Eleanor could be–and we won’t, apparently, because this is a standalone.

In White’s world, only the elite of society can do magic, which I found disheartening. I’m also not sure how the magic works all that well. I know that Finn stores magic in his cane to use for spells. There’s some physical stuff like powder that makes you speak the truth and some cards that Jessamin pulls from (always the same cards, LOVERS and FATE). Despite not knowing much about where magic is drawn from, everything felt so MAGICAL and I loved that. Like the way Finn and Jessamine escape from Lord Downpike. I just loved it. I also liked that healing magic wasn’t an instant fix. It took time.

Lastly, my favorite character was Sir Bird. He didn’t even speak, but I loved him! He was Jessamin’s savior more than once and comic relief.

Now, I will say, one thing that made me sad was that *spoiler* as things get more dangers, Jessamin leaves school.

I’m a huge advocate for education.

I know things are dangerous, but did she really have to leave? I know at the end she’s considering where she’ll go to school next, but this irritated me.

Overall, LOVED.  4 stars

 

4star

 

Friday Fandom: Galavant

Why We Love Galavant

If you missed out on season 1 of Galavant, never fear! It’s available on Amazon and Hulu, and ABC has promised a second season. Let me explain. No, there’s not time. Let me sum up. Galavant was a four-week “medieval musical comedy” put on by ABC. The phrase “medieval musical comedy” was enough to intrigue me and every episode delivered on the hilarity in a big way.

Joshua Sasse, Tim Omundson and Vinnie Jones are fantastic, as is the rest of the cast!

Here’s more on what makes it so great:

The trailer

I dare you not to hum along!

The songs

The combo of Alan Menken and Glenn Slater is pretty unbeatable. As my cousin likes to say, Alan Menken composed the soundtrack of our childhood (Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast), and Galavant’s tunes deliver in a similar way. They’re catchy, and fun, and definitely get stuck in your head!

The guest stars

John Stamos as a pansy jerk of a knight is hilarious! (See the joust scene below) Weird Al, Rutger Hauer and Ricky Gervais also turned in excellent guest spots and cameos, though I must say Hugh Bonneville’s “Lords of the Sea” ditty might be my favorite!

The tongue-in-cheek fantasy tropes

Like the old Monty Python classics, Galavant is able to make fun of itself and the larger fantasy/ fairytale genre, while never veering far from its love of those same tropes and stereotypes. The noble knight, the fair maiden, the evil king. Galavant turns them delightfully on their heads, but still speaks to the heart of what we all love about those tales.

The joust scene

In traditional medieval showdown style, Galavant and his knight nemesis (John Stamos) face each other in the joust…only they’ve both been either drugged or overtrained into a stupor.

So, there you have it. A little glimpse of why we love Gaaaa-laaaa-vaaaant!!

And, if you’re looking for even more comedic fantasy gold, look no further than the Harry Potter tribute episode of Psych. It had me snorting and crying in laughter about two minutes in.

Have you seen Galavant? Does Monty Python have a classic place in your collection? Are Shawn and Gus your go-to comedy duo?

Author’s Couch: Q&A with Kelley Lynn

I first met Kelley Lynn shortly after we discovered we were both WI authors and shortly before I read her FRACTION OF STONE debut. Since then, she’s hit her publishing stride with the rest of the Fraction series, as well as a number of successful titles in contemporary YA. We snagged a few moments of her time to talk about the Fraction series in particular!

-Nicole

Fraction of StoneSynopsis

Wind tunnels, torrential rains and earthquakes tear apart Casden. The cause of the world’s imbalance is unknown, but the mounting occurrences suggest there’s little time before life ceases to exist.

Rydan Gale and Akara Nazreth are the only humans with the ability to wield magic. The tattoo on their necks and the discovery of an ancient book explaining the importance of a blue stone, dictate they are the key to the world’s survival.

But the greatest obstacle for saving mankind isn’t the natural disasters, extreme betrayals and magic-fearing men hunting them.

It’s that Akara doesn’t believe the world is worth saving.

 

Q&A

  1. What’s the story behind the story? Tell us a little about where you got the idea for your book.

The Fraction Series started on a plane. Which isn’t that surprising since I travel a lot for my day job so I’m on planes all the time. It was NaNoWriMo 2011 and I was working on a different book (a contemporary boy POV about baseball. I have genre commitment issues.) Anyways…I was halfway through that book and wasn’t into it anymore, so I asked myself what I wanted to write. Akara, one of the two main characters in the Fraction Series, popped into my head. This broken, used, defeated girl who is one of two people in the whole world who has magic. The first draft of FRACTION OF STONE was finished ten days later.

BFF: Wow, 10 days?! I’m jealous! But, seriously, Akara is a fantastic character and your opening chapter sucks in readers in an instant!

  1. What’s your personal favorite part about the story? A character you loved writing, a scene that gives you shivers in all the best ways, etc.

I have a hard time picking “favorites” as a general life issue. Haha. But… let’s see. I really love Tristan. He’s one of the main secondary characters whose been holed up in a decrepit village all his life with no one but his grandmother. He’s covered in tattoos (because what else do you do if you’re by yourself?) and really funny. He manages to still be the optimist even the world is trying everything in its power to change that mindset.

  1. What do you hope readers take away from your story?

That even when the whole world is against you, all it takes is one person to make going through all that crap worth it.

BFF: What a great lesson and perspective! 

  1. Who/what are some of your favorite authors or books? Can you share how they’ve inspired you?

Ah! Favorites again! (Kidding, kidding). Well, I was influenced by Laini Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE when I wrote FRACTION OF STONE. I had just read it, and it has such beautiful prose, wonderful world building. I also love Harry Potter and The Wheel of Time Series and Sword of Truth.

BFF: Have you been looking at my bookshelf lately?! We seem to share the same title-love.

  1. What is most likely to draw you in to a book?

I have to be drawn in within the first two chapters. If I’m invested in the characters, want to know about them and their journey, I’m in.

  1. Tell us a little about your publishing journey.

I started writing in July of 2011. Since that time, I have finished around 13 manuscripts. FRACTION OF STONE was my first published work. By the end of 2015, all four books in the Fraction Series saga will have been released. I also have two novels through Bloomsbury Spark, ROAD TO SOMEWHERE (YA Contemp) and ONE WISH AWAY (YA Science Fiction).  And another YA Contemp will be released through Tulip Romance in November 2015.

  1. What’s next on your plate?

I have two series that are dying to be written (we’ll see which one is talking louder when it comes time). I’ve also got some work with my agent that we’re on submission with.

BFF: Lots of excellent things happening for you! Can’t wait to see your next projects. But, first, on to the fun stuff!

Favorite dragon: Saphira
Favorite Shakespeare: Hamlet (I memorized a monologue from it once)
Favorite fantasy food: Mist Mead (It’s the booze in the Fraction Series)

BFF: Props for naming your own booze creation! Have a Mist Mead on us. Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by the Author’s Couch!

Kelly LynnMore About Kelley

Eventually the day came when the voices in Kelley Lynn’s head were more insistent than her engineering professor’s. So instead of turning to her Thermodynamics book, Kelley brought up a blank page on her computer and wrote. Somewhere along the way, she became a Young Adult author.

Kelley’s enjoyed working with Bloomsbury Spark (ROAD TO SOMEWHERE and ONE WISH AWAY) and Tulip Romance (STAGE KISSED, Nov. 2015). As well as publishing work on her own. Feel free to hang out with Kelley at her Facebook Page or see what she’s tweeting about. (@KelleyLynn1) She loves to get feedback on her work through authorkelleylynn@gmail.com.

More About FRACTION OF STONE

 

Fandom Post: Plume Web Comic

This Fandom Post is short and sweet. Let me introduce you to the awesomeness that is the Plume Web Comic.

This Comic follows the life of Vesper Grey and her supernatural protector Corrick. Their relationships is hilarious and a little complicated. Did I mention it’s set in the West? And they’re mission is to uncover stolen artifacts? Of course, it isn’t that simple. There are plenty of bumps along the way.

What are you waiting for?! Read Plume NOW!