Spring Fling Valentines Tour

Nikki from Fiction Freak put together this little tour celebrating four of the YA Valentines with books debuting this spring! These authors include Kristi Helvig (Burn Out), Bethany Crandell (Summer on the Short Bus), and Amy Rolland (Of Breakable Things). I am honoured to host the fourth author on the tour, the wonderful Anne Blankman, whose debut Prisoner of Night and Fog came out late April (and which I absolutely loved -- my review)!

I had the pleasure of getting to ask each of the wonderful authors on the tour one question:

Which of your characters did you enjoy writing the most and why?

Kristi Helvig: Aside from my main character, Tora, I loved writing the character of Markus, a sort-of-slimey opportunist with a good heart. In fact, he’s my hands-down favorite character in the sequel.

Amy Rolland: I enjoyed writing Jonas the most. Maybe because he is so totally flawed and selfish. Maybe because I understand him. We all want the best for ourselves, and we all chase after things we can’t have. He’s so mean, and it was fun to put myself inside of his head.

Anne Blankman:  I actually try not to have favorite characters. It's so easy to fall too much in love with your characters, to the point where you're tempted not to let them make mistakes or have to sacrifice something important. I want to write about characters who aren't perfect and have to struggle because that's what is most interesting to me. 

Bethany Crandell: Claire. It was very liberating to write such a simplistically honest character.

Since Anne is the author I'm hosting, I got to go a little more in depth for her stop on this fun tour, so she's here today to answer more questions. Welcome, Anne!

Jess: It's clear that you put a lot of research into this novel, especially into the people in Hitler's inner circle. What made you want to feature them so prominently in the story and how did you work to make them feel so true to life on paper?

Anne: I got the idea for PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG after I read Ronald Hayman's non-fiction book about Hitler's beloved half niece, Geli Raubal. Long after I'd finished it, I couldn't stop thinking about her. What must her life have been like, spending four years growing up within Hitler's inner circle? I was hooked. I knew I HAD to write a story about living among the Nazi elite--and if it would have been possible to break from it--but I needed the freedom of a fictional main character, so Gretchen Muller was born.

Then came the research. Months and months of research. I read everything I could get my hands on--memoirs, biographies, social histories, psychological profiles, you name it. I watched old Nazi propaganda films, like "Triumph of the Will," and read Hitler's autobiography, Mein Kampf.

J: Were there any elements of the book (scenes, characters, etc.) that you found especially difficult to write?

Writing Hitler's character was, hands down, the hardest part. I felt a huge responsibility to portray him as accurately as possible, not only because he was a real person, but out of respect for his millions of victims. It would have been easy to reduce him to a caricature--the ranting, red-faced, enraged dictator that we usually picture when we think of Hitler. The more I research I did, however, the more I realized that he was an incredibly complex person. There's no question that he was evil, but he was also charismatic and intelligent.

J: What drew you to making Eva Braun Gretchen's best friend? Will we see more of her in the next book?

A: Making Gretchen and Eva best friends felt like a natural decision to make. In 1931, they were both teenagers and they would have had a lot in common--they love books and movies, and they have career goals. Although Eva Braun is usually dismissed as an empty headed bimbo, she was actually quite clever and was fiercely loyal to her friends. In fact, I based Gretchen and Eva's friendship on Eva's relationship with her own real-life best friend, Herta Schneider.

Eva does appear in the sequel. I can't say more or I'll reveal some spoilers, but I can say this--Eva plays a small, but pivotal role. And she's undergone some major changes...

J: How did you come up with the idea to make Gretchen so drastically different from her brother?

A: Many readers might assume that Gretchen and Reinhard are meant to be reflections of Adolf Hitler and his own siblings. Although there are correlations between the Muller family dynamics and the Hitlers, that isn't the reason I originally decided to make my main character and her older brother so different from each other. My inspiration was personal.

I grew up a few blocks from the Unabomber's brother. My parents knew him and his wife slightly--my father even worked with her--and I've heard nothing but nice things about them. When the FBI arrested the Unabomber and it came out that our neighbor was his brother, we were in shock. For years afterward, I wondered how two men who'd grown up in the same family could turn out to be so completely different--and how big a role mental illness had played in Ted Kaczynski's murderous activities. When I started working on PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG, my childhood memories of my kindly neighbors came back to me, and I decided to use them as a starting point.

J: Did you read any fiction in preparation/research for writing PRISONER, or was it all non-fiction? If you did read some fiction works, which ones?

A: I deliberately didn't read any fiction at all. Part of me was afraid of being influenced by another writer's fictional portrayal of my characters. I stuck exclusively to non-fiction--some of the most helpful books I read were biographies of Hitler by Ian Kershaw, John Toland, Alan Bullock, and Joachim Fest. A series of interviews of high-ranking Nazis' children by the husband-and-son journalist team Stephen and Norbert Lebert was also illuminating.

Thank you, Anne, for stopping by and for your fantastic answers!

More about her book:
Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman.
Published April 22, 2014 by Balzer + Bray.

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her "uncle" Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf's, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler.

And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can't stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can't help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she's been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she's always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she's ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.

Spring Fling Tour Schedule:
May 12--Stacee @ Adventures of a Book Junkie: Bethany Crandell
May 13--Jessica @ Read My Breath Away:  Anne Blankman
May 14--Cheryl Rainfield @ Cheryl Rainfield: Kristi Helvig
May 15--Octavia @ Read. Sleep.Repeat.: Amy Rolland

Spring Fling Twitter Party Info from Nikki:
The twitter party will be held on May 15 with the hashtag #YASpringFling. 8:30 PM EST to 9:30 PM EST. There will be prizes donated by the spotlighted YA Valentines and the four Spring Formal authors will also be attending! We'll also be handing out virtual cookies, of course! 
We hope you'll attend and have some fun with us!


Review: The Art of Lainey + Blog Tour Kick Off

Welcome to my stop on the Art of Lainey blog tour!

About The Art of Lainey:
The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes
Published May 20, 2014
Published by HarperTeen.

Soccer star Lainey Mitchell is gearing up to spend an epic summer with her amazing boyfriend, Jason, when he suddenly breaks up with her—no reasons, no warning, and in public no less! Lainey is more than crushed, but with help from her friend Bianca, she resolves to do whatever it takes to get Jason back.

And that’s when the girls stumble across a copy of The Art of War. With just one glance, they're sure they can use the book to lure Jason back into Lainey’s arms. So Lainey channels her inner warlord, recruiting spies to gather intel and persuading her coworker Micah to pose as her new boyfriend to make Jason jealous. After a few "dates", it looks like her plan is going to work! But now her relationship with Micah is starting to feel like more than just a game.

What's a girl to do when what she wants is totally different from what she needs? How do you figure out the person you're meant to be with, if you're still figuring out the person you're meant to be?

Since this is the beginning of the Canadian blog tour for Lainey, I'm going to do this review a little differently. But don't worry, I'm still going to talk about the reasons I adored The Art of Lainey and the reasons you should definitely get yourself a copy.

Five Major Reasons Why You Should Read The Art of Lainey:

Lainey's Growth:

Not going to lie, Lainey starts out as... well, not the kind of girl you'd really be too keen to be friends with. And she doesn't have a good reason for it, either. She's a little overdramatic, pretty snobby, and very judgmental, but she has it very good in life. She kind of deserves a little knock upside the head because she comes across as a bit of a brat. However, she's not a terrible person and you do see some good qualities come through. Possibly the biggest element of this novel is the way Lainey grows both on her own and thanks to the people around her -- especially her fake boyfriend Micah. By opening up to new experiences and new people and by being surprised (and surprising herself), Lainey really changes a lot about her views and the way she treats people. While she retains some of the fun qualities that she had early on, her refined, more likeable and positive outlook and personality show her growing up and coming into a more mature but still fun person. I loved Lainey's growth arc because it felt very realistic. A lot of the flaws she has are quite typical of your average teenager and it's not like she changes overnight or into a totally different person. Over the course of the novel she just becomes a more mature version of herself, which was a great way for her to develop.


Oh, Micah. A little rough around the edges but a sweetheart deep down, Micah is the perfect person to push Lainey beyond her limits and make her see past her preconceived judgments. It's easy to immediately put him in a box based on his mohawk, tattoos, piercings and slight criminal past, but Stokes makes it so that Micah is not so "box-able". He isn't traditionally extraordinary... he doesn't have a fancy accent or an undeniable talent. He is an average guy struggling to deal with some difficult parts of his past. But he is also snarky, sweet (though don't point it out to him), and genuine. He loves what he loves and he's eager to bring Lainey into his world, especially if it makes her ever so slightly uncomfortable, but he's also a man of his word and therefore willing (if grudgingly) to try out what Lainey loves as well. Even his family only brings out more great qualities in him. His sister, Trinity, is a wonderful addition to the story on her own but also as she showed me where Micah's heart really is and what a caring person he is for the ones he loves. Micah is so much more than he first appears and ends up being an endearing character and a fantastic complement to Lainey.

The Romance in General:

As rocky as their start is, Lainey and Micah make for a great, if a little unconventional couple. Their banter is so entertaining and as they get to know each other they come to have some pretty undeniable chemistry. They both judge each other at the start and think they can classify one another in a stereotype. Once they share their passions, though, they both open up a lot more and begin to see that there is more to someone than what their favourite thing defines them as. Lainey is more than just a soccer playing jock and Micah is more than just a musically-oriented bad boy, despite how they come off at first. The way the two of them bring out different sides of each other and introduce one another to things they may never have tried otherwise makes for what is actually a very mature relationship and really fantastic potential. I could tell that the one thing these two would never be when together is bored, and that made it all the more fun for me to read about.


Hello awesome best friend! Bianca is Lainey's lovely Latina bff and their friendship is absolutely wonderful. I really loved the way the history of their friendship is established clearly and effortlessly. You can tell from the way Stokes writes their friendship that they truly have each others' backs and love each other with all their hearts. They support each other but aren't afraid to give a little tough love, which gives them great balance. They are each others' support system, which makes a big difference for Lainey as she deals with the entire Jason situation. Despite having different interests, they really care about each other. I also really loved that Bianca was made to be a character in her own right. Sure, in the story she is Lainey's best friend, but she is developed and given passions and insecurities so that she shines apart from Lainey as well. Bianca is not a throwaway friend for Lainey - not in the context of Lainey's life nor in the context of the book - which makes her such a wonderful addition to the story.

Plot Shenanigans:

The "fake" dates Lainey and Micah go on? The Art of War tactics Lainey and Bianca try to employ? The Jason drama? All of these make for a very entertaining novel. While the characters are certainly what shine here, a lot of them comes out through the various places they go and things they do. By alternating the driving force behind the dates between Lainey and Micah and by giving Bianca and even Jason some say in the plot as well, Stokes has really made for a novel that feels fresh in its execution, even if the overall story arc isn't totally unpredictable. I was certainly never bored by the crazy things Lainey got up to and that's what made this book such a fun ride and just the kind of thing I look for in a contemporary romance.

So should you read The Art of Lainey? Do you love anything of the things I mentioned above? Then yes, you absolutely should.

Now for a very fun guest post from Paula:

Lainey and Bianca’s First Date Tips

Take some fear out of first dates with these tips from my favorite fictional females! (With handy sports metaphors, for Reasons.)

Pre-game Warm-up:

Lainey: Plan your outfit and hairstyle beforehand and do a practice run getting ready. Maybe it seems like a waste of time, but my friend Kendall does some modeling and she says they sometimes do this at fancy fashion shows. If that epic dress you bought has a rip somewhere or those perfect shoes hurt so bad you can’t walk in them without limping, you’re going to want to know more than ten minutes before game time.

Bianca: Come up with two or three possible conversation starters, just in case things start to feel awkward. Don’t fill your brain with more than that, or you’ll just get confused. Think of something about a class you share in school or a movie that just came out. Don’t rehearse exactly what to say, because no one wants to sound like a programmed robot.

Lainey: Oh, and also think of an escape route, just in case. Maybe you’ve set a time limit on this date because of your curfew or other plans. Maybe a sibling or trusted friend is going to check in with you mid-date and suddenly “need” your help if things aren’t going well. This might sound sketchy to you, but it’s not like you’re planning for a bad date, you’re just covering the bases. And you’ll be less freaked out from the start if you know you’re not trapped with someone for hours and hours.

Bianca: But, don’t activate Operation Escape Route just because you’re feeling nervous. It takes time to get to know someone. I went on a first date not too long ago and it was a little awkward at first, but once we started talking we realized we had a ton in common. You wouldn’t want to pass up a good thing because you didn’t give it a fair try.

Lainey: Finally, set your limits beforehand. Are you okay with a goodnight kiss or are you going to wait a little longer (like oh, I don’t know, 250+ pages…) before you lock lips for the first time? You can always change your mind mid-date, but if you know at the start what you’re comfortable with, it’ll be easier to stick to your guns.

Game time:

Bianca: Pick at activity that gives you a chance to talk, but also keeps you doing stuff so that you don’t have to talk a lot if you’d rather not. Dinner is kind of a high-pressure way to go for a first date because it’s just the two of you staring at each other. A movie is better, because you’re both busy watching, and then afterward if you’re feeling it you can go grab coffee or food and talk about what you liked and didn’t like.

Lainey: Other things that would be cool are a sporting event, a concert, a play, an amusement park, or maybe something like hiking or paintballing! If you pick an activity that you would enjoy on your own or with friends, chances are you’ll enjoy it on your date.

Bianca: You hate hiking. And I’m fairly certain you would hate paintball too. It hurts.

Lainey: Whatever. It’s not all about me, Bianca! These people know what they like. You know what’s funny? You and I both did the dinner thing on our most recent first dates. We should probably take our own advice! Not that we’ll need it anytime soon since our guys are epic. Okay next, try not to check your phone every five seconds while you’re out. It’s kind of distracting…and rude. Maybe leave it in your purse or pocket and sneak away mid-date to the bathroom if you just can’t help yourself.

Bianca: Listen, don’t just plan what you’re going to say next while the other person is talking. Don’t be too quick to judge your date. He or she might not have our awesome dating tips and therefore might be really nervous. Don’t be too quick to judge yourself, either. There’s no need to appear perfect.

Lainey: Try to just be yourself, and have fun!

Post-game wrap-up:

Bianca: There’s nothing wrong with a little post-date analysis with a trusted friend, but don’t blab the minute details of your time together across the whole school. It’s no one’s business what you did or didn’t do.

Lainey: If you had a great time, it’s okay to call or text and say so. You don’t have to wait for the other person to initiate contact. You don’t have to wait three days or whatever the internet tells you in order to look cool. There’s nothing uncool about liking someone.

Bianca: But at the same time, don’t be a stalker. If you call or text two or three times and the other person doesn’t respond, maybe it’s not meant to turn into a relationship. That stings, but he’s not the right guy for you unless he thinks you’re the right girl for him. Or vice versa. You’re a varsity dater—a starter, at that, not a benchwarmer.

Lainey: If the first date leads to a second date to a third date and then maybe to trespassing on federal property, repeat all of the above until you’ve got so much game you no longer need our help. And if the romance fizzles out before the ref blows the whistle, no big deal. Look at yourself in the mirror (no, don’t fixate on that red spot that might be a zit) and remind yourself of why you’re awesome. Maybe it’s your welcoming smile, your quick wit, or your big heart. Or in my case, all three ;-)

Bianca: *cough* Or maybe it’s how you’re extra humble.

Lainey: Hey, no one is perfect. Right, reader-person? Keep that in mind if your date ends up less than fairytale-like. The real world can be a little trickier than the book world, but just as magical. Maybe there’s someone better—a tatted up, mohawked prep cook of your very own—just waiting for a shot at winning your heart.

Love it! These girls are so great. Thanks Paula!

Official bio:
Paula Stokes is half writer, half RN, and totally thrilled to be part of the world of YA literature. She grew up in St. Louis, Missouri where she graduated from Washington University and the Goldfarb School of Nursing. When she's not writing, she's kayaking, hiking, reading, or seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. Paula loves interacting with readers! Find her online at www.authorpaulastokes.com or on twitter as @pstokesbooks.

Or order a signed copy from Paula's favourite indie, Left Bank Books. More info here: http://www.authorpaulastokes.com/2014/04/win-win-win-get-signed-books-and-help.html

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Vacation Hiatus

Tomorrow, I leave for a vacation. I am crazy excited, because VACATION. I'm even going overseas! For most of May I'll be over in the UK enjoying all things British and Scottish.

(Hermione is excited for me)

So what does that mean for the blog? Well, aside from a couple of scheduled things (like the Art of Lainey blog tour and a special Spring Fling blog event stop), the blog is going to be on hiatus. I want to be able to completely enjoy everything about being overseas without worrying about keeping the blog up and posting content and all that jazz. I'll probably still be on Twitter sometimes, checking in on all the wonderful bookish happenings and my lovely bookish friends. But the blog itself will be quiet.

So I'll be back in June. Until then, have a great month! If you're going to BEA, have loads of fun! If you're not, find something awesome to do and enjoy the heck out of it! I'll see you when I'm back.