Top Books of 2013

I want to to wrap up 2013 by giving a shout-out to some of the absolutely fantastic books I've read this year. I'll start with a "top ten" (not actually ten exactly, but whatever. It's my blog and I can cheat on lists if I want to). This was REALLY hard, guys. Really hard. I'm not going to do it list-style because it's way too hard to actually rank them. Instead, I'll just divide them up by category and chat about them.

Historical Fiction: 

No surprise that the largest number of favourites from this year comes from this genre.

Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein.
What can I possibly say about these books that hasn't already been said? They're incredible historical fiction novels that bring forward some complex, beautiful stories and absolutely wonderful female friendships.
My review of Code Name Verity.

Tarnish by Katherine Longshore.
Katherine's take on Anne Boleyn is one of the most compelling and engrossing I've ever read. She truly brings her and Henry VIII's court to life, depicting the ups and downs and all the emotions that come with them.
My review.

Belladonna by Fiona Paul.
An excellent example of a book that doesn't suffer from second-book syndrome. Belladonna builds on both the story and the characters first introduced in Venom in just the way I want from a middle book in a trilogy while not being afraid to pull out a few surprises. It also provided an excellent set-up for the final book, Starling.
My review.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters.
Atmospheric, ghostly, twisted... my goodness. I can't say this was a book I thought I would love, just because ghosts and whatnot aren't always my thing. But Cat Winters has made a new fan in me after just one book because the way she handled the ghost subject plus the different historical elements she incorporated in so well made it a fascinating read.
My review.

The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni.
Another one I didn't expect to adore as much as I did, but Dianne Salerni's handling of the YA tropes instalove and love triangles was so different and interesting that, combined with the story and the historical setting, I was very pleasantly surprised.
My review.


Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis.
One of the books I was most excited about this year turned out to be a hit! Mindy McGinnis' debut story is smart, engrossing, and harsh but not without hope. The world she created and the relationships that form between her characters were so interesting to explore and I'm so glad I enjoyed this one as much as I did.
My review.


Cinder and Scarlet by Marissa Meyer.
Marissa Meyer has created a series that she is weaving together with such skill that only becomes more clear as it goes on. It has fun and loveable characters, an inventive story, and such a cool futuristic world. I get completely caught up in these books.
My reviews of Cinder and Scarlet.


Canary by Rachele Alpine.
Canary is a strong, heart-wrenching story about how harmful our society's negative rape culture really is for the individuals who have to deal with it directly. It is not a light story, but it is an important one and I thought Rachele Alpine handled it very well.
My review.

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West.
This, on the other hand, is a rather light, cute story and I absolutely adored this Pretty In Pink-esque romance. The MC is a little quirky and the love interest turns out to be pretty great, and overall this was just the kind of thing I look for in a cute romance novel.


There's only one book in this category (boo to not finding high fantasy to love this year) and though I don't know how I'd categorize it, Goodreads says fantasy, so that's what I'm going with.

The Archived by Victoria Schwab.
This novel is one of the most original and imaginative that I've read in a long time. It has a twist on the world unlike any I've seen before and I absolutely loved that. Not to mention that there are some truly wonderful characters whom I wish were real people because I really would love to be friends with Wes.

2014 Releases That Make the Cut:

I've read a few 2014 releases already and four of them were absolutely fantastic and definitely deserve spots on this list. So, in the order I read them:

Starling by Fiona Paul.
The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes.

Cress by Marissa Meyer.
Brazen by Katherine Longshore

All four are undoubtedly 5-star reads for me. Reviews will come to share why exactly. Until then, just trust me and maybe ring up a preorder or two.

Since I had a hard time choosing my favourites, just for reference I'm going to mention some of the other excellent books I read this year, in no particular order. Basically, if you're looking for recommendations, this is the rest of my list for this year:

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi.
17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma.
The Lives We Lost by Megan Crewe.
These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner.
Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn.
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan.
The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand.
Five Summers by Una LaMarche.
More Than This by Patrick Ness.
Pantomime by Laura Lam.
Born of Illusion by Teri Brown.
All the Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry.
Reread of Burned by Ellen Hopkins.

What were your favourite reads of 2014? Did we have any in common?


2014 Feature: Manor of Secrets and Brazen by Katherine Longshore

I am absolutely delighted today to close off my 2014 features with one of the authors I adore most. She's here to share a bit about not one but TWO books she has coming out in 2014. A warm welcome to the wonderful Katherine Longshore!

First, a bit about her 2014 books:
Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshore.

To be published: January 28, 2014
by: Point (Scholastic).

Goodreads Blurb:
The year is 1911. And at The Manor, nothing is as it seems . . .

Lady Charlotte Edmonds: Beautiful, wealthy, and sheltered, Charlotte feels suffocated by the strictures of upper-crust society. She longs to see the world beyond The Manor, to seek out high adventure. And most of all, romance. 

Janie Seward: Fiery, hardworking, and clever, Janie knows she can be more than just a kitchen maid. But she isn't sure she possesses the courage -- or the means -- to break free and follow her passions.

Both Charlotte and Janie are ready for change. As their paths overlap in the gilded hallways and dark corridors of The Manor, rules are broken and secrets are revealed. Secrets that will alter the course of their lives. . . forever.

Brazen by Katherine Longshore.

The Royal Circle #3.
To be published: June 12, 2014
by: Viking Juvenile.

Goodreads Blurb:
Mary Howard has always lived in the shadow of her powerful family. But when she’s married off to Henry Fitzroy, King Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, she rockets into the Tudor court’s inner circle. Mary and “Fitz” join a tight clique of rebels who test the boundaries of court’s strict rules with their games, dares, and flirtations. The more Mary gets to know Fitz, the harder she falls for him, but is forbidden from seeing him alone. The rules of court were made to be pushed…but pushing them too far means certain death. Is true love worth dying for?

Katherine is here today to share a little bit about how she managed writing these two detailed historical books at the same time without getting all mixed up. I personally am very impressed that she does it so well! There may be a few fun tidbits about both stories in her post and it'll certainly give you a great intro to both books. Without further ado, Katherine!

When I write a novel, I get deeply involved in it. I think about the characters while falling asleep and wake up with songs from my playlist in my mind. I get insights while driving and have to pull over and write them down. The last scene I wrote replays itself while I walk or shower or wash dishes, and I edit, reimagine or discard pieces as I go along.

This is why I always thought I’d never be able to work on two books at the same time.

And then I was offered the opportunity to write a “YA Downton Abbey” while I was still writing my third Tudor book. I jumped at the chance. You never know what you can do until you try, right? And fortunately, the differences between the two books helped me keep them separate, even when I had concurrent deadlines.

My first draft of BRAZEN was “pansted”—I wrote it by the seat of my pants, feeling my way through and letting the characters say and do whatever it was they were going to. It took me a year of writing it off and on (while revising TARNISH). The finished novel looks very different from that first collection of scenes.

I plotted MANOR OF SECRETS. I had a five-page, single-spaced synopsis. I had a beat sheet. I had a map of my story arc. Every day, I’d finish my writing time by jotting down notes on what happened next, and would spend the next day writing those scenes. I wrote the first draft in six weeks. The finished novel looks quite similar to that first draft.

BRAZEN is set in the sixteenth century in the court of Henry VIII. I’ve been reading about Henry for more than ten years, and writing about him and his court for four of those. I know this world very well, and can rattle off genealogies more easily than I can do that of my own family. When I need to research, it’s to discover specifics—who was where when, what kinds of gifts were given during the Christmas season of 1534, how long it took to travel from London to Windsor. Those kinds of things.

MANOR OF SECRETS is set in 1911. Before last year, everything I knew about that era came from Downton Abbey, E.M. Forster and my final project in a costume design class. I had a lot of catching up to do, and I read voraciously. History, literature, fashion, society. I read everything I could get my hands on that had “Downton” in the title, and then some. I rewatched the BBC reality program, “Manor House”. My favorite books were those recounting the stories of the girls who worked “downstairs” in country manor houses. Housemaids, scullery maids, kitchen maids. I was amazed at the brutal hours they put in, the acceptance of them, and the girls’ ability to remain optimistic in the face of it all.

The Tudor era was beautiful and dark and treacherous and luxurious. 1911 was a time when the future was visible on the horizon—equality and justice and the dissolution of Victorian etiquette—but people were still bound by the past.

All of my Tudor novels follow the actual histories of actual people. The fiction comes from my interpretations of characters and from the necessity of filling in the blanks when
historical accounts are lacking. While writing BRAZEN, I railed against the strictness of history, and against its bitterness. But ultimately, both made the story more powerful.

MANOR OF SECRETS is entirely fictional. The characters, the setting, the events. The details are historically accurate—the Coronation and the long drought of the summer of 1911, the fashions, the rumors of unions and strikes, the whisper of impending war. It was both liberating and terrifying to invent the rest.

Mary Howard narrates BRAZEN from the first person point of view. I have her tell her story in the present tense to give it immediacy and to allow the reader to spend time in someone else’s shoes, so to speak. If I were to tell her story with the benefit of hindsight, she would have had too many emotional responses to events while telling how they happened, so I felt I couldn’t write in past tense. Through the course of the book, Mary learns the magnitude of her friendships, the breadth of her love, and the depth of her grief, and gains independence in the process.

I wrote MANOR OF SECRETS alternating the points of view of the two main characters—Charlotte Edmonds, the duke’s daughter, and Janie Seward, the kitchen maid. This can be tricky in first person, so I switched to third—something I’ve never done before. And I discovered an amazing range of narrative and descriptive possibilities that I hadn’t encountered in first person. The distance from my characters took a little getting used to, however, but reading great third person novels (like Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi) helped me to gain insight as I tried to plumb the thoughts and feelings of my characters from outside their heads. Charlotte and Janie both learn that things are not always as they appear on the surface—friendships, families or flirtation.

On a more personal level, the difference between writing these books was both challenging and liberating. BRAZEN had to be drawn from a deep emotional well and every revision wrung me out but was also cathartic, like a marathon. I knew I’d done some hard work when I finished that book. MANOR OF SECRETS was intended to be light and accessible, which was great fun to write, but my editor had to put the reins on when I went overboard with literary references and social commentary, which are my natural inclination. Each revision was a lesson in efficient use of language, in making points and emotions concisely clear and in choosing which historical details made the biggest impact on the story. I came away from each revision feeling that good, clean, sweat, like you get from wind sprints.

Novels are like children—there are no favorites, but there are different things to love and appreciate about all of them. I love that BRAZEN makes me cry and that MANOR OF SECRETS makes me want to explore. Mary taught me about the complexity of love and Charlotte and Janie reminded me of the simplicity of friendship. These books will appeal to different readers for different reasons and will be read with a vast variety of reactions. But that’s part of the joy of being a novelist—incubating the story until it’s ready and then watching it fly. I look forward to hearing what you think.

Thank you, Katherine! That was so interesting to read and I absolutely love hearing about the process and how the books came to be the way they are from the authors themselves. Having these two be different in so many ways seems to really have helped them come together distinctly on their own despite having been written at the same time. I'm so looking forward to seeing all this come out in the novels!

Find Katherine:
Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads / Website / Blog / Pinterest

Pre-order Manor of Secrets:
Amazon / B&N / Chapters Indigo / The Book Depository

Pre-order Brazen:
Amazon / B&N / Chapters Indigo / The Book Depository


Most Anticipated Books of 2014: New Series

To continue with the little TBR builder I've been running, here are some more exciting books to look forward to. These are the 2014 books that start off new series (but non-debuts) that I'm most excited to get my hands on.

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski.
After the End by Amy Plum.
Death Sworn by Leah Cypess.

Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong.
Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott.
The Inventor's Secret by Andrea Cremer.

Avalon by Mindee Arnett.
The Young World by Chris Weitz.

The currently coverless:
The Goldscryer's Saga #1 by Rae Carson.
The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson.
Earth & Sky by Megan Crewe.
The Young Elites by Marie Lu.
Talon by Julie Kagawa.

Any of these books topping your lists for 2014? Any of them new to your TBRs? Did I miss any that I should definitely add to my TBR?


2014 Feature: Death Sworn by Leah Cypess

I'm very excited today to welcome Leah Cypess to the blog to share a bit about her new duology, which starts in March with DEATH SWORN!

First, a bit about the book:
Death Sworn by Leah Cypess.

Death Sworn #1.
To be published: March 4, 2014
by: Greenwillow.

Goodreads Blurb:
When Ileni lost her magic, she lost everything: her place in society, her purpose in life, and the man she had expected to spend her life with. So when the Elders sent her to be magic tutor to a secret sect of assassins, she went willingly, even though the last two tutors had died under mysterious circumstances.

But beneath the assassins’ caves, Ileni will discover a new place and a new purpose… and a new and dangerous love. She will struggle to keep her lost magic a secret while teaching it to her deadly students, and to find out what happened to the two tutors who preceded her. But what she discovers will change not only her future, but the future of her people, the assassins… and possibly the entire world.


Jess: Describe Ileni in 5 words.
Leah: Determined. Brave. Snarky. Mourning. Lost.

J: It sounds like Ileni is entering a possibly dangerous situation by
taking the tutoring position. What would you say is her biggest fear
going in?
L: Her biggest fear is that she will be murdered, just like the two
tutors who preceded her - and that she will die before she discovers
any answers, so her entire life will be worthless in the eyes of her

J: I'd say that's a pretty fair fear, considering. Say I wake up in the middle of the world that you've created. What do I experience when I first awaken?
L: First, darkness, and an odd heaviness in the air. Then, as you sit up,
stones set in the wall begin to glow faintly, just enough for you to
see that you are surrounded by black rock - above you, below you, and
all around you. You stand up and see that you are in a corridor,
utterly silent, stretching father downward into the rock.

Then, in all likelihood, someone grabs you from behind and demands to
know what you are doing trespassing in a secret cave of assassins. If
you're lucky, you might think of an answer that will keep you alive
for a few more seconds...

J: As absolutely terrifying as that sounds, I love it! I'd never survive but I'm excited to live in it through Ileni! If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from
another book, who would it be and why?
L: I would introduce Sorin to Gen from Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen's
Thief series. Because an expert assassin and an expert thief going up
against each other - what could be more fun? (I mean, as long as
you're reading about it, not caught in the middle of it.)

J: I know a few people who would be delighted to hear you say that! That's definitely a series on my must-read list. Do you listen to music while you write/edit? If so, can you share
one song you listened to a lot while working on this novel?
L: I don't listen to music while I write, but I do listen while I edit. I
was on a serious Taylor Swift / Kelly Clarkson/ the Corrs kick during
the editing phrase of Death Sworn; if I had to pick one song I
listened to the most, it was probably State of Grace by Taylor Swift.
(It has nothing to do with the book, at least I don't think so... I
just like it.)

J: What draws you to fantasy from a writing perspective?
L: The sense of wonder, and the ability to create entirely new worlds and
situations for your character to struggle with.

J: I love that about it as a reader, so that's so great that you love it as a writer! Can you share a favourite quote from DEATH SWORN?
L: Sorin’s eyes narrowed. Softly, he said, “Are you calling me a liar?”

His tone sent a new bolt of fear through her, and with it a sudden,
fatalistic recklessness. She might be about to die, but she didn’t
have to do it cowering. “You are a killer,” she reminded him. “You
might not know it, but to most people, that’s worse than being a liar.
Don’t expect me to trust you.”

J: Can you share a secret about DEATH SWORN?
L: I wrote 80% of it before I knew how it was going to end.

J: Oh wow, that sounds like some serious pantsing! Thank you, Leah! I'm so glad you stopped by to share!

About the author:
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 Brookline, Massachusetts (right outside of Boston) with my husband Aaron, a researcher and doctor at the Joslin Diabetes Center, and our three children.
Find Leah:
Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads / Website

Pre-order Death Sworn:
Amazon / B&N / Chapters Indigo / The Book Depository


Most Anticipated Books of 2014: Series Continuations

Some of the books that are hardest to wait for are the ones that follow up a book you adored this year. Especially when the author leaves you with a cliffhanger! These are the 2014 books from series I can't wait to continue or complete.

The Unbound by Victoria Schwab - The Archived #2.
Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd - The Madman's Daughter #2.
Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi - Shatter Me #3.

Shadowplay by Laura Lam - Pantomime #2.
The Worlds We Make by Megan Crewe - Fallen World #3.
Born of Deception by Teri Brown - Born of Illusion #2.
Rebel by Amy Tintera - Reboot #2.

The currently coverless:
Mortal Heart by R.L. LaFevers - Grave Mercy #3.
Take Me On by Katie McGarry - Pushing the Limits #4.
This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner - Starbound #2.
Maid of Deception by Jennifer McGowan - Maids of Honor #2.
Captive by Aimee Carter - The Blackcoat Rebellion #2.

Honourable Mentions:
(These books are 2014 series continuations that I've already read and loved)
Starling by Fiona Paul - Secrets of the Eternal Rose #3.
Cress by Marissa Meyer - Cinder #3.
Brazen by Katherine Longshore - The Royal Circle #3.

Any of these books topping your lists for 2014? Any of them new to your TBRs?


2014 Feature: Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott

Today I'm happy to have Victoria Scott with me on the blog. You may know Victoria as the author of the Dante Walker books (The Collector being the first), but today we're chatting about her new series, beginning with FIRE & FLOOD.

First, a bit about the book:
Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott.

Fire & Flood #1.
To be published: February 25, 2014.
by: Scholastic Press.

Goodreads Blurb:
A modern day thrill ride, where a teen girl and her animal companion must participate in a breathtaking race to save her brother's life—and her own. 

Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can't determine what's wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air. She's lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying—and she's helpless to change anything.

Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It's an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother's illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there's no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race.

The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can't trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place?

Here's Victoria with more info!

Jess: Twitter Pitch FIRE & FLOOD to me (140 characters or less).

Victoria: Teen girl enters a dangerous race across jungle, desert, mountain, sea with the help of a genetically-engineered animal to save her brother.

J: Sold! That's an excellent pitch, I must say. What do you admire most about your mc, Tella?

V: I admire Tella because even though she's a typical modern day teen, she shows bravery when it matters most. She wasn't born courageous, and it doesn't come naturally for her, but she shows strength anyway.

J: That is probably the most impressive courage, when it doesn't come easy to the character. I'm looking forward to meeting her. Which character (besides Tella) are you most excited for readers to meet?

V: Probably the hero, Guy Chambers. He's very different from Dante Walker. A quiet, confident man's man who knows how to tackle each leg of the race with ease.

J: He certainly sounds like someone I'll be able to enjoy, no problem! What would be the most challenging part of the Brimstone Bleed for you if you had to compete?

V: Probably the ocean. There's something terrifying about being in the middle of all that water.

J: Ah, I get where you're coming from. I would definitely need some kind of sturdy, trusted vessel under me to make it through that. Can you share a little bit more about the Pandoras?

V: Yes! I'll tell you that in the first draft, there was a panda bear Pandora that was visible through most of the story. My sister suggested I change it to something else. So I did. Can't wait to see what you guys think of AK-7 now. ;)

J: Can you share a secret about FIRE & FLOOD? 

V: I think I just did above. Whoops. Yes, there is a Pandora in FIRE & FLOOD called AK-7. I think that's the first time I've told anyone an official Pandora name.

J: Ooh, fun scoop! The idea of the Pandoras is so interesting to me; I can't wait to see what they're like. Thank you, Victoria, for coming and spreading secrets and excitement! 

About the author:

Victoria Scott writes teen fiction and is represented by Sarah Crowe. She’s the author of the Fire & Flood series published by Scholastic, and the Dante Walker trilogy published by Entangled Teen. Her books have been bought and translated in eight foreign markets including the UK, Germany, Turkey, Australia, China, Brazil, New Zealand, and The Netherlands. Victoria lives in Dallas with her husband and adores cotton candy. Visit her online at VictoriaScottYA.com.

Find Victoria:
Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads / Website / Instagram / Pinterest / YouTube

Pre-order Fire & Flood:
Amazon / B&N / Chapters Indigo / The Book Depository


2014 Feature: Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu

I'm excited today to welcome Corey Ann Haydu to the blog. I really enjoyed her debut, OCD LOVE STORY, but today she's here to chat about her 2014 release, LIFE BY COMMITTEE.

First, a bit about the book:
Life By Committee by Corey Ann Haydu.

To be published: May 13, 2014
by: Katherine Tegen Books.

Goodreads Blurb:
Some secrets are too good to keep. 

Tabitha might be the only girl in the history of the world who actually gets less popular when she gets hot. But her so-called friends say she’s changed, and they’ve dropped her flat. 

Now Tab has no one to tell about the best and worst thing that has ever happened to her: Joe, who spills his most intimate secrets to her in their nightly online chats. Joe, whose touch is so electric, it makes Tab wonder if she could survive an actual kiss. Joe, who has Tabitha brimming with the restless energy of falling in love. Joe, who is someone else’s boyfriend.

Just when Tab is afraid she’ll burst from keeping the secret of Joe inside, she finds Life by Committee. The rules of LBC are simple: tell a secret, receive an assignment. Complete the assignment to keep your secret safe.

Tab likes it that the assignments push her to her limits, empowering her to live boldly and go further than she’d ever go on her own.

But in the name of truth and bravery, how far is too far to go?

Sounds really intriguing, right? I knew when I heard about it that I needed to hear more! Here's Corey to share some extra info.

Jess: "Twitter Pitch" your novel to me (140 characters or less).

Corey: Out of loneliness, Tabitha joins Life By Committee, an online community where you tell a secret, receive an assignment, and complete your assignment to keep your secret safe.

J: Definitely intriguing! Which of the characters are you most excited for readers to meet?

C: Although I love my main character and narrator, Tabitha, I’m most excited for readers to meet her nemesis, the weirdly sexy, super spacey, totally fragile Sasha Cotton. I had a lot of fun writing her, and I don’t think people have read a lot of characters like her.

J: Interesting! I like the sound of her. She certainly sounds unique and it's always cool to come across characters that feel very new. What would you say is Tabitha's biggest fear in the beginning of the novel?

C: I think Tabitha’s biggest fear at the beginning of the book is being left behind. She’s already had a taste of what it’s like to be ditched by her best friends, and now she’s scared of being forgotten by her parents and rejected by the boy she likes. She’s also scared of how the world sees her. That fear is the same one, in some ways, I think. She’s scared that how the world sees her will mean she’ll lose everything.

J: Those are both very relatable fears. I can see people connecting with Tabitha over those. What is the first assignment you think you'd be given if you started participating in the Life by Committee forum?

C: Oh what a great question! Well I think by this point I definitely would have had to get a tattoo. I’m not sure what secret I could have told that would have led me there, but it’s something I’ve almost done a million times, and it seems like Life By Committee would pick up on that.

I can also say for certain LBC would have imploded a whole bunch of my relationships by now—romantic and platonic both. Maybe sometimes for good reason! Like Tabby, I have a history of getting involved with the wrong people—especially back when I was in high school.

J: I can totally see something like that messing with tons of relationships. Sounds like it could get pretty intense! A tattoo would be a great one, though. What has been the best part of the writing and publishing process for you so far?

C: Honestly it’s all an absolute dream come true. That said, I found out about the sale of Life By Committee right before I went to Paris with my boyfriend, so I’m not sure anything can top that moment. I got to have a whole week of cheese-eating and Notre Dame-viewing all the while knowing my second book had sold! It was pretty magical.

J: What a high to live on for a while! Book deal plus Paris with someone you love. Sounds amazing. What are some of the biggest ways LIFE BY COMMITTEE differs from your debut, OCD LOVE STORY?

C: The biggest difference is that OCD LOVE STORY doesn’t have a lot of external conflict, whereas LIFE BY COMMITTEE has both an internal struggle and a lot of external conflict and obstacles. Because LIFE BY COMMITTEE is a community I invented, a lot of my work in the writing of the novel was in making it seem real. For OCD LOVE STORY, I had research to help guide my writing of the novel, not everything was coming from my imagination. In some ways, I felt like writing LBC was a little like writing a fantasy novel. I had to work on world building when I was creating the online community, and that was a really exciting new challenge. I didn’t have to do the same kind of in depth research I did for my first novel, but I almost had to research my own creation, if that makes sense. I don’t know how fantasy writers do it all the time!

That said, I think readers who loved OCD LOVE STORY will also love LBC (I hope!!!). I think Tabitha and Bea would be friends, if they went to the same high school, and the books are both tense reads that are meant to really bring the reader fully into the world of the novel, even if, in both cases, that world is a little unfamiliar.

J: Can you share a favourite quote from LIFE BY COMMITTEE?

C: “Sometimes the pauses in between our words are so long I have to get out of the computer chair and pace the room, brimming with the restless energy of falling in love.”

J: Ooh, I love that! Can you share a secret about LIFE BY COMMITTEE?

C: I will say that one of the secrets that one of the members of LBC shares is a secret I had to keep at one time in my life. But I’m not sharing which one!

J: Still managing to be mysterious, even when sharing secrets. Thank you, Corey! I know I'm definitely looking forward to getting my hands on Tabitha's story!

Find Corey:
Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads / Website

Pre-order Life By Committee:
Amazon / B&N / The Book Depository


2014 Feature: The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

I think my next guest needs no introducing, especially if you follow my blog because I gave her debut, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, a 5-star review and basically haven't stopped talking about it since. However, the wonderful Cat Winters is here today to chat about her next book, THE CURE FOR DREAMING.

First, a bit about the book:
The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters.

To be published: Fall 2014
by: Amulet Books.

Goodreads Blurb:
At the turn of the 20th century, a seventeen-year-old is hypnotized into seeing people's true selves. Illustrated with late-Victorian images.

That's not much to go on, but it's enough for me! Cat gives a little longer one along with some info on the setting of the book. So without further ado, here's Cat!

The Scoop on THE CURE FOR DREAMING’s Setting

by Cat Winters

I’m so excited Jessica invited me here to divulge a few secrets about my 2014 release, THE CURE FOR DREAMING, a dark and magical tale involving hypnotism and the fight for women’s rights in 1900 America.

The unofficial teaser blurb:

In 1900 Portland, Oregon, seventeen-year-old Olivia Mead’s father hires Henri Reverie, a talented young stage hypnotist, to cure the girl of rebellious, unfeminine thoughts…but the cure doesn’t go quite as planned.

If you’ve read my debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, you’ll know I’m a writer who picks her historical time periods for highly specific reasons. There was nothing random about placing my first book during the World War I era and the height of the 1918 Spanish influenza. Even though THE CURE FOR DREAMING’s 1900 setting might seem more arbitrary without a war and a pandemic ruling the plot, I chose that particular moment in time because of four historical factors.

1. The golden age of stage hypnotism.

I’m fascinated by historical crazes, such as the 1800s/early-1900s Spiritualist movement, which I showcased in IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS. For my follow-up novel, I wanted to feature some sort of theatrical Victorian subject matter that would involve stages and glamour and mesmerizing characters. Erin Morgenstern’s THE NIGHT CIRCUS was a major book release during the time I was mulling over ideas, so I didn’t want to copy her novel and write about Victorian magicians. My brain veered instead to the subject of stage hypnotists, and I uncovered a treasure trove of inspirational historical material that turned into THE CURE FOR DREAMING. The first chapter will include a turn-of-the-twentieth-century photograph that especially sparked ideas for the plot: the image of a hypnotized young woman alone on a stage.

2. The failure of the second women’s suffrage referendum on Oregon’s ballot.

Once I decided upon Victorian hypnotism as the main topic, an idea struck me: let’s make the novel the story of a seventeen-year-old girl whose father attempts to use hypnotism to cure her of her growing interest in the women’s rights movement. I wanted to place the novel in Portland, Oregon, where I live, and when I investigated the history of the fight for women’s voting rights in the area, I found that in 1884, 1900, 1906, 1908, and 1910, Oregon men voted down measures that would have granted women suffrage in the state. It seemed essential to pick one of those years as my setting. I narrowed down the choice to 1900 for the following two reasons.

3. The 1899 publication of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA in the United States.

Back when TWILIGHT first gripped the world as a major literary phenomenon, I thought it would be fun to one day write a novel about Victorian teens who become obsessed with DRACULA when it’s a brand-new book. A novel about a girl who starts seeing the world differently when she’s hypnotized seemed the perfect moment to fish that old idea out of the files of my brain. My protagonist, Olivia, buys a copy of Stoker’s vampire tale as soon as it’s published in America in 1899, and she devours the book numerous times. The characters in the story continue to pervade her thoughts as she falls under the mysterious Henri Reverie’s hypnotism spell in the fall of 1900. One early reader called THE CURE FOR DREAMING “a vampire novel that’s not a vampire novel.” You’ll eventually see what that means… ;)

4. The wondrous turn of the century.

I’ve always been fascinated by this particular historical era, probably because as a kid I adored books and movies set in the early 1900s: Frances Hodgson Burnett’s THE SECRET GARDEN, MARY POPPINS, THE MUSIC MAN, etc. There was such a strong sense of a coming change in the world, and technology was advancing in marvelous leaps and bounds. I wanted Olivia to represent the emerging “Modern Woman,” whom many men feared would be the downfall of civilization. Therefore, THE CURE FOR DREAMING burgeoned into the tale of a girl struggling to find her place and her voice in a fantastical new century…and the talented young man who may or may not keep her stuck in a restrictive Victorian cage.

I’ll be divulging even more details about the book as we get closer to the Fall 2014 release date. Please keep an eye on my website, www.catwinters.com, for the cover reveal and official synopsis this spring.

Thank you, Cat! To say I'm excited for this one would be an understatement, but after hearing all that I am even more convinced that I'll love it!

About the author:
Cat Winters's critically acclaimed debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, is a 2014 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist and was named a SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL Best Book of 2013. Her second novel, THE CURE FOR DREAMING, is coming Fall 2014. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids. Visit her online at www.catwinters.com and www.blackbirdsnovel.com.

Find Cat:
Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads / Website / Blackbirds Website / Pinterest / Corsets, Cutlasses & Candlesticks


2014 Feature: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Today I'm so happy to have Robin Talley here on the blog to chat about her debut, LIES WE TELL OURSELVES. Though it doesn't have a cover yet, I'm still crazy excited for this one!

First, a bit about the book:
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley.

To be published: 2014
by: Harlequin Teen.

Official Synopsis:
In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.

I am absolutely looking forward to this one. What a compelling time in history to set a book in, especially for a historical lover in general. Here's Robin with a little more about the book:

Jess: Welcome, Robin! First off, what kind of research went into writing this story?

Robin: Lies We Tell Ourselves was a research nightmare ― I spent three months doing research before I ever wrote a word. For a long time I spent every Saturday in the library, searching through books and old newsprint articles and vintage yearbooks for everything I could find about school integration and teen life in 1959. I also watched a lot of video interviews and listened to oral histories from the people who lived through this era. Most helpful to me, though, were the memoirs written by the heroic former students who were on the front lines of the school integration battles. I couldn’t have written Lies We Tell Ourselves without the help of books like Carlotta Walls LaNier’s A Mighty Long Way and Andrew Heidelberg’s The Norfolk 17.

J: Oh wow, that sounds very intense! All that research will certainly pay off though because that always seems to make historical fiction books so much engrossing. If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?

R: What a great question! I’d love for Sarah in Lies We Tell Ourselves to meet Dana from Octavia Butler’s amazing time-travel novel Kindred. Sarah could learn a lot from someone like Dana, who has immense wisdom and strength, and who knows exactly how important it is to be true to yourself.

J: What has been your favourite part of the writing and publishing process so far?

R: Working with professional editorial guidance. I love making books better ― all writers do, right? ― and the publishing process has exemplified that. My editor at Harlequin Teen, T.S. Ferguson, has brilliant insights on what a book needs to make it really resonate with readers. And my agent, Jim McCarthy has made every book I’ve submitted so much better than it was when I first sent it to him through his amazing editorial notes. It’s so wonderful to be able to trust T.S. and Jim to want to work with me to make my books as good as they can possibly be.

J: I can imagine how amazing people like that can make the experience so much better. That's fantastic! Can you share a favourite quote from LIES WE TELL OURSELVES?

R: I like this one, because as awful as the 1950s generally were, there are some things about that era that are still giggle-worthy:

“After dinner Daddy gives me a dollar, the way he always does before dates ‘in case the young man needs gas money.’ I’ve told him a hundred times no decent boy would ever take money from a girl on a date, even if it meant hitchhiking to the theater.”

J: Can you share a secret about LIES WE TELL OURSELVES?

R: Sure: It was originally supposed to have a different main character! LWTO has two main characters, Sarah and Linda. In the first few drafts, the main characters were Sarah and another girl entirely. It’s a good thing Linda decided to take over the story, because she really added a lot of interesting elements ― but making that change meant rewriting the book from scratch multiple times. These crazy characters and their wily ways…

J: The characters that surprise the authors are usually the most interesting ones, I find. I'm so looking forward to meeting them. Thank you, Robin! Definitely a book to keep on your radar for next year!

About the author: 
Robin Talley grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, writing terrible teen poetry and riding a desegregation bus to the school across town. A Lambda Literary Fellow, Robin lives in Washington, D.C., with her fiancee, plus an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. When Robin's not writing, she’s often planning communications strategies at organizations fighting for equal rights and social justice. You can find her on the web at www.robintalley.com, or on Twitter: @robin_talley.

Find Robin:
Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads / Website / Tumblr


Most Anticipated Books of 2014: Standalones

To continue sharing which books I'm most excited for in 2014, these are the 2014 standalones I'm most excited to devour. There are a lot of contemporary here, which kind of surprised me because that's not usually my thing, but then again, this is the standalone round-up and contemps are often standalones. I think the series posts have significantly more genre fiction in them. Of course these aren't the ONLY standalones I'm looking forward to, but I had to stop somewhere!

Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshore.
Going Over by Beth Kephart.
To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han.

Panic by Lauren Oliver.
Free To Fall by Lauren Miller.
Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu.

Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.
Just Like the Movies by Kelly Fiore.

The currently coverless:
The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters.
Winterspell by Claire Legrand.
Mystique by Julie Berry.
Plus One by Elizabeth Fama.

Any of these books topping your lists for 2014? Any of them new to your TBRs? Did I miss any that you're crazy excited for?


2014 Feature: Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis

I'm very excited today to have R.C. Lewis on the blog! She has given me some info about her debut, STITCHING SNOW. It doesn't have a cover yet because it's not coming out until Fall, but it's still very easy to get excited once you hear what R.C. has to say!

First, a bit about the book:
Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis.

To be published: Fall 2014
by: Disney Hyperion.

Goodreads Blurb:
Princess Snow is missing.

Her home planet, once known for lush landscapes, is now filled with violence, fear, and corruption at the hands of King Matthias and his wife as they attempt to punish her captors. King Matthias will stop at nothing to get his beloved daughter back—but that’s assuming she wants to return at all.

Essie has grown used to being cold. Temperatures on the planet Thanda are always sub-zero, and she fills her days with coding and repairs for the seven loyal drones that run the local mines.

When a ship crash-lands near her home piloted by a mysterious young man named Dane, Essie agrees to help him repair his craft. But soon she realizes that Dane’s arrival was far from accidental, and she’s pulled into the heart of a war she’s risked everything to avoid.

In her enthralling debut, R. C. Lewis weaves the tale of a princess on the run from painful secrets—and a poisonous queen. With the galaxy’s future—and her own—in jeopardy, Essie must choose who to trust in a fiery fight for survival.

Sounds pretty incredible, right? I know I'm excited. To tell us more, here's R.C.:

Jess: "Twitter Pitch" your novel to me (140 characters or less).
R.C.: It's Snow White in space, if Snow were a cage-fighting tech-head with daddy issues.

J: Boom. Hooked right from the get-go. If you were to describe STITCHING SNOW as a mash-up of any two things, what would they be?
R.C.: Other than the above? Snow White meets "Firefly"? Maybe?

J: Which of the characters from STITCHING SNOW are you most excited for readers to meet?
R.C.: Dimwit! My critique partners are already planning a fan club for him.

J: Aw! Anyone with a fan club this early in the game is someone I'm definitely curious about. What is your favourite part of the world you've created?
R.C.: The drones (which this story has instead of dwarfs). Definitely.

J: That sounds fantastic!  I'm curious to see what their personalities are like, knowing Snow Whites dwarves and all. What drew you to set the story in space and on alternate planets?
R.C.: Sci-fi is my favorite genre, so it came kind of naturally when the idea occurred to me (see below).

J: Do you listen to music while you write/edit? If so, can you share one song you listened to a lot while working on this novel?
R.C.: I do sometimes. A line from a song actually inspired this story—"Blinding" by Florence + the Machine—so I listened to that one a lot. The juxtaposition of Snow White, stitching, and circuit-boards put this instant image in my mind of the classic story in a very tech-y environment.

J: Florence + the Machine is always a good choice. Can you share a favourite quote from STITCHING SNOW?
R.C.: "I’m no one’s wife and no one’s good time, and I’ve no intention of letting that change anytime soon." That sums up Essie pretty well.

J: I definitely like this girl! She sounds like someone who is proud of who she is and can stand up for that! Can you share a secret about STITCHING SNOW?
R.C.: I already told you the secret, but Essie stitched a patch to erase the data. ;)

J: Aha! We have a sneaky MC on our hands! I'm looking forward to seeing what other tricks she gets up to. Thank you, R.C.!

About the author:
R.C. Lewis teaches math to teenagers—sometimes in sign language, sometimes not—so whether she’s a science geek or a bookworm depends on when you look. That may explain why her characters don’t like to be pigeonholed. Coincidentally, R.C. enjoys reading about quantum physics and the identity issues of photons.

Find R.C.:
Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads / Blog / Website / Tumblr


2014 Feature: Sekret by Lindsay Smith

Today I'm excited to welcome Lindsay Smith to the blog! Lindsay's debut is one of the books I'm most looking forward to this year and she's here with some more suggestions to keep you full of historical goodness!

First, a bit about the book:
Sekret by Lindsay Smith.

Sekret #1.
To be published: April 1, 2014
by: Roaring Brook Press.

Goodreads Blurb:
From debut author Lindsay Smith comes an espionage thriller with a dash of both history and dystopia.

Yulia’s father always taught her that an empty mind is a safe mind. She has to hide her thoughts and control her emotions to survive in Communist Russia, especially because she seems to be able to read the minds of the people she touches. When she’s captured by the KGB and forced to work as a psychic spy with a mission to undermine the U.S. space program, she’s thrust into a world of suspicion, deceit, and horrifying power where she can trust no one. 

She certainly can’t trust Rostov, the cruel KGB operative running the psychic program. Or handsome Sergei who encourages her to cooperate with the KGB. Or brooding Valentin who tells her to rebel against them. And not the CIA, who have a psychic so powerful he can erase a person’s mind with his own thoughts. Yulia quickly learns she must rely on her own wits and power to survive in this world where no SEKRET can stay hidden for long.

Sounds so intriguing, right? I'm absolutely bursting to start reading it! In case you need a little push to read some historical fiction, though, here's Lindsay to talk you into giving the genre a try. That way you'll be all ready to go when her book comes out!

Beyond the Textbook: History in Young Adult Fiction

When I was in school, historical fiction was often something I regarded with crossed fingers, or at very least, rubber gloves and a suspicious squint. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with historical fiction; in fact, I was obsessed with Russian history and culture, and world history was one of my favorite classes. But I always felt there was something disingenuous about the historical novels our teachers pushed on us, like they thought we had to be tricked into learning things.

Fortunately, historical fiction in YA is undergoing a renaissance of its own. Whether a major historical event is the heart of the story or mere backdrop to a more intimate tale, historicals have taken a page from great fantasy stories, and rather than bog us down with lectures and quizzes, they toss us head-first into their wild and wonderful worlds and let us find our own way. I always know I’m reading an amazing historical novel when I have to stop myself from falling down the Wikipedia and Jstor rabbit holes for fear of spoilers!

Robin LaFevers’s His Fair Assassin series (Grave Mercy, et al) follows a (fictitious) order of assassin nuns through the very real trials and tribulations of 15th century Brittany. (Though really, isn’t “assassin nuns” all you need to hear?) LaFevers’s prose is spare and gorgeous, every line brilliant but never once incongruous with her well-researched world. Rather than lecture us drily on the whos and whats of the era, we live through Anne of Brittany’s reign in the heads of those sworn to protect her and their private struggles.

Revolution, by historical vet Jennifer Donnelly, mixes a frightening tale of betrayal and revenge in Revolutionary Paris with a modern girl’s search for meaning and acceptance following a family tragedy. Rather than taking us on a EuroDisney tour of the Reign of Terror, we watch the events of the revolution unfold on the periphery of a young girl’s life as she becomes a pawn in the proceedings. The modern setting for much of the story, as well, helps ground us in the aftershocks and relevance of things that happened centuries ago.

Now, surely I’m not the first person to tell you to read Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, but I’m going to yell at you to go do it RIGHT NOW, just in case. Wein plunges us skillfully into the terrifying and uncertain world of a World War II prisoner as she recounts how and why she came to be captured. Knowing where her tale leads and knowing how the War ultimately played out does nothing to diminish the terror and suspense that drips like kerosene from every page of Wein’s meticulously researched, vivid, engrossing saga. Knowing how emotionally devastating her books are, though, I’m ashamed to admit I still haven’t cracked open her newest, Rose Under Fire, though I bought it on Day One. It takes some mental preparations to read about Nazi medical experimentation and the Holocaust.

And if Elizabeth Wein’s not grueling enough for you, how about a true account of one boy’s life in the killing fields of Khmer Rouge-controlled Cambodia? Never Fall
Down reads like a novel, but tells the true story of survivor Arn Chorn-Pond’s childhood via veteran recounter Patricia McCormick and his difficulties adjusting to normal life once he did escape the regime. I wish more YA books would explore the rich but rarely-delved-into histories beyond the European setting.

And 2014 holds plenty of promise for historical novels yet to come! I’m especially looking forward to these two:

Prisoner of Night and Fog: A pampered girl in Nazi Germany must confront the reality of what’s transpiring around her.

Tsarina: Tsarevich Aleksandr’s betrothed fights to save Russia and the enchanted Faberge egg that protects it amidst the Bolshevik revolution. (I’ve already read this one, and it’s beautiful.)

Thank you, Lindsay! Definitely some excellent choices in there that I have loved (CNV is one of my absolute favourites!), and others I know I must get my hands on!

About the author:
Lindsay Smith's love of Russian history and culture has taken her to Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and a reindeer festival in Siberia. She lives in Washington, DC, where she writes on foreign affairs.

Find Lindsay:
Twitter / Goodreads / Website / Tumblr

Pre-order Sekret:
Amazon / B&N / Chapters Indigo / The Book Depository