5 stars · graphic novel · young adult

Check, Please! Volume 2: my favorite graphic novel, ever

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Sticks & Scones

Check, Please! Volume 2
Volume 1

author : ngozi ukazu

pages : [paperback] 336

favorite character : bitty

summary :

Eric Bittle is heading into his junior year at Samwell University, and not only does he have new teammates―he has a brand new boyfriend! Bitty and Jack must navigate their new, secret, long-distance relationship, and decide how to reveal their relationship to friends and teammates. And on top of that, Bitty’s time at Samwell is quickly coming to an end…It’s two full hockey seasons packed with big wins and high stakes!

A collection of the second half of the mega-popular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: Sticks and Scones is the last in a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life.

review :

Check, Please! is something that makes me so happy that when I think about it I literally want to cry happy tears. This webcomic turned graphic novel heals my heart. It’s fun, funny, and incredibly endearing. The cast of characters is diverse, and even readers who know absolutely nothing about hockey (or sports in general) will love and cheer on these boys to victory. This second volume (which I realized upon opening would be the LAST) is an incredible conclusion.

Like volume one, Sticks & Scones follows Eric ‘Bitty’ Bittle’s college years. Volume one is freshman and sophomore years; volume two is junior and senior. It’s amazing how much Bitty has developed as a character between page one and the final chapters. I loved him from the start, but I was so proud of how far he’s come! With his confidence, his skills–on the ice, and in the oven. Check Please is constantly handling important, big issues, in this brightly-colored comic that also had me laughing too much to myself. The characters deal with anxiety, depression, coming out, and so much more. These boys go through so much–and it’s all relatable and well-written.

love that these books take place in college, because so few do. They’re going to help so many high school and college readers; I can see that already. Sometimes the best thing for a person struggling with issues that can feel so isolating is to find themselves in a story. Check, Please! shows how happiness can be found at the end of any seemingly impossible fight.

My heart is still glowing from this book. I can’t wait to read it over and over and over again. The artwork is stunning. The characters are real, flawed, and fantastic. The storyline is great, such a nice mix of humor and serious plot–I love all of the sideplots that appear throughout the story. I’d read absolutely anything by this author, because Check, Please is one of my favorite series of all time.

5/5 stars

 

 

graphic novel · paranormal · young adult

TAPROOT: a graphic novel that made me cry because it’s so cute, and also scary

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Taproot

author : keezy young

pages : [paperback] 127

favorite character : blue

summary :

Blue is having a hard time moving on. He’s in love with his best friend. He’s also dead. Luckily, Hamal can see ghosts, leaving Blue free to haunt him to his heart’s content. But something eerie is happening in town, leaving the local afterlife unsettled, and when Blue realizes Hamal’s strange ability may be putting him in danger, Blue has to find a way to protect him, even if it means… leaving him.

review :

Feeling the urge to read something incredibly cute and yet nearly guaranteed to give you nightmares or just weird dreams if you read it too late at night? Taproot is here for you.

Blue is a ghost with a best friend who’s alive. Hamal can see ghosts, including his best friend Blue, so people constantly think he’s talking to himself. Blue isn’t ready to move on. Hamal is trying to keep the flowers at his shop from wilting. But then things start getting . . . weird. Creepy weird, scary weird, grim-reaper-might-be-coming-after-us weird. The afterlife is unbalanced, and Blue needs to figure out a way to fix things or else his friend might end up hurt.

This book is so. Cute. I flew through it, so I know this is a graphic novel I’ll reread over and over again. I love the art style–whimsy mixed with realism mixed with the unsettling. I love how much Blue and Hamal care about each other and would do anything to keep each other safe. And, okay, I just really like ghost stories, and Taproot is like nothing else I’ve ever read before.

Of course, things really never go as planned when the living and the dead mix, so I liked how this book was unpredictable. Short, sweet, BITTERSWEET, incredibly satisfying. I just want to read more; I could have sat and happily read a few hundred more pages of this story. It’s not often that you find something like this that makes you feel good while also freaking you out just a little bit. This unique combination is what makes me love and recommend Taproot so much.

5/5 stars

 

interview · writer's chat

WRITERS CHAT! An interview with Katerina King

HELLO FRIENDS! Today I’m pleased to share an interview with Katerina King, current trilogy writer of witches!

Read below to hear more about her writing journey and where Katerina hopes to take her writing career!

katerina author photo

What is the first thing you remember writing?

I love characters, I love getting to know, developing them, treating them as if they are real people. For some readers, they keep reading depending on the plot or pacing or if the grammar is good or not. But for me as long as the characters were life like and I can relate or connect with them I can keep reading the book and that’s what I hope to convey in my works.

What is your favorite thing to write about?

Witches! Which I guess isn’t shocking considering my entire series and the next eight books after it all have to do with them. Its been an obsession since I was young.

Tell me one of your writing goals.

Finish book two of my trilogy by February of 2020.

Have any particular writers inspired you?

Rick Riordan, which if you don’t know who that is, he is the author of the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus books.

Tell us about a favorite character you’ve created.

My favorite character that has walked into my headspace is Elijah Hutton and he is the best friend of my main character Scarlette Petrova. He is my favorite because there is such a complex nature to him, he grew up in an overly religious family that he thought was really tight but when he came out of the closet at seventeen he quickly learned that blood wasn’t always as thick as water.

Do you have any writing advice to share with us?

Just keep writing and don’t give up!

What’s the last book you read?

The last book I read… geez. A Twisted Fate by K. A Grayson

Katerina King is a fiction author who spends most of her time in the world of witches. Her debut novel, Malediction, is the first installment of the Ritual of the Court trilogy, which also has a multitude of planned spin-off novels and has just been published via Amazon. The easiest way to connect with her is through her Twitter @_KingKaterina.

THANK YOU so much for joining us, Katerina! I’m excited to check out that trilogy.

WRITER’S CHAT is a weekly feature where writers from all stages of their journey come to speak to us about their craft, spreading positivity, advice, and amazing book recommendations. Join us every Saturday!

 

 

interview · writer's chat

WRITERS CHAT! An interview with Lynn Jung

HELLO FRIENDS! Today I’m pleased to share an interview with Lynn Jung–dino-enthusiast and creator of wonderful worlds.

Read below to hear more about her writing journey and what it takes to make yourself improve as a writer!

 

 

1. What is the first thing you remember writing?
I was a hardcore dinosaur kid growing up. Every other weekend, I would pester my parents to take me to the Museum of Natural History so I could gawk at the fossil displays. So in elemental school, I wrote a nine page short story about two kids time traveling to the Cretaceous Period and befriending some Triceratops, running from T-rex, all that jazz. Once I was done, I had my artist friend illustrate it, bound it up with ribbon and glue, and passed it around to the class to read and review. The boy I liked gave me an 8.5/10. It crushed me.
2. What is your favorite thing to write about?
Demons & child-eating monsters. Just kidding. (Maybe.) I enjoy writing complex, troubled heroes and crafting strange worlds and creatures. My true bread and butter, however, is anything that bends or mixes genres—horror fantasy is a current favorite!
3. Tell me one of your writing goals.
I’d love to see a television adaptation for one of my books someday. (Netflix, call me. Please.)
4. Have any particular writers inspired you?
Yes, many! Elizabeth Acevedo, Nnedi Okorafor, Neil Gaiman, Laini Taylor, Linda Sue Park, and Emily X.R. Pan, to name a few. All voicey, unique, and highly recommended.
5. Tell us about a favorite character you’ve created.
My favorite character tends to rotate depending on what project is occupying my attention, but I do have a strong bias toward the Big Bad of my longest-running project. He’s a bougie demon monarch with a bad attitude and a cosmopolitan lifestyle. He raises voice-mimicking crows to work as his spies and wears a lot of black, of course. And he’s pretty. Need I say more?
6. Do you have any writing advice to share with us?
Study story craft. Many aspects of writing are intuitive, but I find this is not one of them. Lots of otherwise excellent writers fall short because they don’t quite have the skills and knowledge required to lay out a solid, coherent story. So, pinpoint your weaknesses and study up! Reading books on craft and watching the film analysis side of Youtube has helped me level up as a writer in so many ways.
7. What’s the last book you read?
As I mentioned before, I’ve been digging into a lot of books on craft lately, and I’m almost finished with K.M Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs. It’s an excellent breakdown of why strong character arcs are so important and how to effectively weave them into your story’s conflict and theme.
In terms of fiction, I recently finished Rebecca Roanhorse’s Storm of Locusts, the sequel to her excellent Trail of Lightning. Roanhorse’s Sixth World series has both incredible worldbuilding and a scrappy cast of characters you can’t help but root for. (I’m in love with both Maggie AND Kai, and I’m not ashamed.) If “an indigenous Mad Max” sounds like something you’d enjoy, I highly recommend checking the series out!

Lynn Jung writes offbeat speculative fiction. She likes characters you’d want to be friends with and monsters you wouldn’t want to find under your bed. Currently, she is a veterinary assistant and bio major based in California. She spends her spare time volunteering at her local wildlife rehab center, where she wrangles cormorants and gets pounced on by baby crows. She is represented by Kerstin Wolf at D4EO Literary Agency.
Twitter: @sweater_giraffe
Instagram: @lynndjung

THANK YOU so much for joining us, Lynn! I can’t wait until we all get to read your work–I want to love/hate that demon monarch!

WRITER’S CHAT is a weekly feature where writers from all stages of their journey come to speak to us about their craft, spreading positivity, advice, and amazing book recommendations. Join us every Saturday!

 

interview · writer's chat

WRITERS CHAT!An interview with Kay Adams

HELLO FRIENDS! I have a special interview to share with you today. Kay is an aspiring writer, a self-identified space fairy, and Nancy Drew’s biggest fan..

Read below to hear more about her writing inspiration and why dystopian might just be the thing to write about today.

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1. What is the first thing you remember writing?

I was obsessed with Nancy Drew books when I was younger (those books inspired me to write), so most of my early works were amateur detective stories that never really had plot. When I got into roleplaying (via the Neopets forums; we were the Original “Be Your Character” players), my friend Josh (@creativelycliche) & I had a years-long sci-fi roleplay that inspired me to delve into the sci-fi genre, but I’ve planted my feet firmly in fantasy now.

2. What is your favorite thing to write about?

Anything with magic. My default genre of choice is Young Adult Fantasy, & I love writing about magic & other worlds & fairies, usually with a dash of religious angst, family drama, & queer characters. Bonus points if stars are involved in any way.

3. Tell me one of your writing goals.

Publish! My dream is to be traditionally published with either my current WIP or The Fallen Star, but I know I have a long way to go to get there. Lots of revising, reworking, rewriting, I’ve been in a writing drought for a few months (due to work & moving & unpacking & life in general), so it’s still a long road ahead.

4. Have any particular writers inspired you?

The foundation for my current writing is a solid mix of V.E. Schwab, Sarah J. Maas, & Leigh Bardugo. Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series started my love of Celtic mythology, & I’ll always be grateful to the Nancy Drew books for starting my love of writing.

5. Tell us about a favorite character you’ve created.

The MC of The Fallen Star will always hold a special place in my heart, since hers was the first novel I have ever finished. Nova is the (bi & black) magic-less heir to the Throne of Stars, the crown princess of the celestial fairies who rule all of Faery. Her mother, Queen Maeve, abandoned Nova in the mortal realm when she died, leaving Nova without magic & without family. When the monster who killed her mother returns to steal Nova’s throne, Nova is thrown back into a wild world of magic & fairies & traitors & allies, but through it all she tries to remain kind & hopeful. She isn’t going down without a fight, even when tragedy strikes again & it seems more people are fighting against her than with her. I love her & her story & I can’t wait to share it with the world one day.

6. Do you have any writing advice to share with us?

Read, read, read. Read widely, read diversely. Read in your genre, read outside your genre. Read books on the craft. See what your intended audience is saying about current books aimed at them. Don’t ignore sensitivity readers. Read as much as you can, & you’ll always be developing your skill.

7. What’s the last book you read?

The last book I read was Shadow Frost by Coco Ma, though I’m in the midst of reading Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House as of writing this.

ABOUT KAY:

I went to the University of Toronto to study Irish mythology for the sole purpose of incorporating it into my writing. (Should I have gone for something practical, like law or math? No, this was more fun.) Most of my writing so far has involved fairies, so I must have done the right thing. I’m still working on my first series (series title: Throne of Stars) about celestial fairies, religious angst, & dysfunctional families. A couple months ago, I commissioned artist Johannus Steger (@jm_steger) to create a cover for the series’ first novel, The Fallen Star, & now I’m sharing it with you, here, for the first time ever! Look at my star child!

kay book cover

What I’m Currently Working On: I like to pitch my current WIP as WICKED SAINTS meets RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. It’s about 17-year old Kenna, disabled & widowed after the tragic death of her fiance, who is enlisted by the Archivists to protect the world’s most deadliest object – a book cursed by the gods to kill anyone who comes into contact with it. The problem is: Kenna doesn’t believe in the gods. Or the book’s power. Or herself. Things go terribly awry when the book falls into the wrong hands, & Kenna must decide whose life is worth more – hers, or everyone else she has come to care for? It’s about finding a place to belong, something to believe in, something to love again.
Where You Can Find Me: Also this is my face, & you can find me @kaywritesya on Twitter & Instagram or kaxzbrekker on Tumblr, email me at kaywritesya@gmail.com, or browse through my novel aesthetics on my website throneofstars.wordpress.com.

THANK YOU so much for joining us, Kay! I can’t wait to check out those aesthetics!

WRITER’S CHAT is a weekly feature where writers from all stages of their journey come to speak to us about their craft, spreading positivity, advice, and amazing book recommendations. Join us every Saturday!

interview · writer's chat

WRITERS CHAT! An interview with Allie Macedo

HELLO FRIENDS! Today I’m pleased to share an interview with Allie–aspiring writer, fellow pantser, a romantic I hope won’t toy with my heart when we eventually get to see her writing!

Read below to hear more about where her writing journey began and how Jane Austen played a role in it.

Allie | Headshots

1. What is the first thing you remember writing?

When I was ten, I discovered my love for procedural television shows. As an outlet for my feelings and wanting to explore the characters that I became close to, I begun writing fanfiction and interacted with storylines through role playing blogs. Those platforms allowed me to build and listen to characters, learn how stories worked, and how to find my voice.

2. What is your favorite thing to write about?

My favorite thing to write is always the romance. I’m such a softy at heart. Give me breathless moments. Give me things that make your heart jump with anticipation and butterflies in your stomach. I love all things love.

3. Tell me one of your writing goals.

I think with all writers who pour their hearts into their craft, the goal of becoming published and having our books on readers’ shelves is always an outstanding goal. A closer achieving goal for me, as a writer, is to honor my characters and the story they are telling me to write.

4. Have any particular writers inspired you?

As a child, Jane Austen’s romances really inspired me. P&P was really the first lengthy chapter book I ever read, and I remember being very young and thinking that if I ever wrote a love story, I would want it to be timeless and classic.

Emily Dickinson inspired me to write without fear, to speak and live on the edge and to display the contents of my heart.

Most recently, Hafsah Faizal, author of We Hunt The Flame. She inspires me to be authentic to myself, show up fully, and write about what is in my heart, not what I think others want to read. She has taught me that the true measure of any story is about heart. That as a writer, you should always strive to create captivating characters who truly care for one another. It can be tough, but being resilient and sticking to how you tell your story will really allow it to shine through.

5. Tell us about a favorite character you’ve created.

Oh-what a tough question!
I’ll have to go with my character from last years’ NaNoWriMo project: As Above, So Below. She is not my MC, but I do love her dearly. Her name is Giala and she ended up becoming a badass who was willing to go through all the terrible things I threw her way and came out on the other side with grace and resilience.

6. Do you have any writing advice to share with us?

Always “do it afraid.” Do things with your writing that you never thought you would. Stretch your limits. Never feel like you’re reaching the end. Your words are powerful. They contain a magic that only you can conjure. So, keep writing, keep going, even when you’re ready to stop.

7. What’s the last book you read?

The last book I read was “The Beautiful” by Renee Aideh. I’ve always loved her writing and found it was the perfect book for Halloween! Vampires, New Orleans, and a secret society? All the things I love. I gave it 5 big stars!

Allie Macedo (Lanning) is an aspiring author from the great state of Iowa. To the outside world, she is a Customer Service Representative who also volunteers her time as Communications Director for her local LGBTQ+ Pride Organization.

Writing, reading, and talking about her obsessions has been a major role in her life from the very beginning. She has a passion for creating and meeting others through the things she loves. This has allowed her to experience much more of the world than she can being stuck in the fields of Iowa.

She’s currently working on her NaNoWriMo project that she planned at the last moment. Because she’s also a pantser, and once you meet her, you’ll get it.

THANK YOU so much for joining us, Allie! I can’t wait to see where your writing journey takes you.

WRITER’S CHAT is a weekly feature where writers from all stages of their journey come to speak to us about their craft, spreading positivity, advice, and amazing book recommendations. Join us every Saturday!

 

 

interview · writer's corner

WRITERS CHAT! An interview with Katarina Betterton

HELLO FRIENDS! I have a special interview to share with you today. Katti is an aspiring writer, a wonderful friend, and was a mouse, once upon a time.

Read below to hear more about her writing inspiration and why dystopian might just be the thing to write about today.

KATTI PIC

1. What is the first thing you remember writing?

I started a ton of short stories in elementary and middle school, but the first novel I remember writing was a fantasy-inspired MG novel reminiscent of THE CLIQUE series where a group of rich friends gets whisked away into a magical world during the biggest birthday party of the year.
2. What is your favorite thing to write about?
I love writing dystopian fiction. I think it’s so interesting  create worlds that are an exaggerated version of our own, based on how the world is making decisions right now. The human psyche is also so fascinating to me. There are so many parts of the human experience that you can delve into in a book and play with, especially writing first person.
3. Tell one of your writing goals.
I think my biggest (and most cliche) goal right now is getting published. I’m about to query my first novel and hope I can share my world and characters with more than just my very kind critique partners and very patient family members.
I have a few crazy goals that I’ll share, too. One is to get unsolicited fan art from a reader, and another is for someone to get a significant number from my book tattooed on themselves (I’ll also be getting it tattooed on myself some time soon).
4. Have any particular writers inspired you?
Jay Kristoff is my biggest inspiration. His novel LIFEL1K3 got me back into reading and motivates me to write intricate plots and relationships. The way he describes his worlds, creates characters, and structures the story to surprise you beyond anything you could guess at the very end is the goal to which I will always aspire. I AM OBSESSED JUST A TAD BUT I’M FINE. IT’S FINE.
5. Tell us your favorite character you’ve created.
As much as I love my current WIP’s leading lady (that I will unashamedly admit I’ve based a bit on myself), I love one of the antagonists I’ve written named Cyln (pronounced “Kill-n”). He’s someone you love to hate; you feel bad for him sometimes, but you also root for him to die. He’s been a great vehicle for me to show the dichotomy of good and evil, and how all of us have a choice between right and wrong, but circumstances sometimes force our hands to make decisions we don’t like.
6. Do you have any writing advice to give us?
I have two! One has been said by probably every writer ever, but I love to say it nonetheless. Write. Just write. Keep writing. Even if you’re not working on the same story every day; even if it’s just journaling or a stream of consciousness – keep writing. The world needs your words. My biggest regret in life is giving up on writing for five, nearly six years.
My second piece of advice is to make writing friends. Even if you read your work 100 times over, other eyes will catch mistakes yours don’t. The beauty of books is that everyone experiences a story differently when they read. Every writing friend I’ve made has not only helped me become a better writer, but made my story richer, fuller, and more diverse.
7. What’s the last book you read?
The last book I completed was ILLUMINAE by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. I’m currently reading GEMINA, AURORA RISING, and CARAVAL. I love them all so much that I can’t decide on which one to focus on, which is probably why I’m only 20 pages into each. Don’t tell my TBR that I’m reading three at a time, or they’ll all want a turn.

 

THANK YOU so much for joining us, Katti! Everyone wish her well with her writing journey. We’re here to cheer her on!

WRITER’S CHAT is a weekly feature where writers from all stages of their journey come to speak to us about their craft, spreading positivity, advice, and amazing book recommendations. Join us every Saturday!

4 stars · Fantasy · young adult

ACE OF SHADES: give me the sequel now

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Ace of Shades

The Shadow Game #1

author : amanda foody

pages : [hardcover] 411

memorable quote :

She was a pistol wrapped up in silk. She was a blade disguised as a girl.

favorite character : levi

summary :

Welcome to the City of Sin, where casino families reign, gangs infest the streets…and secrets hide in every shadow.

Enne Salta was raised as a proper young lady, and no lady would willingly visit New Reynes, the so-called City of Sin. But when her mother goes missing, Enne must leave her finishing school—and her reputation—behind to follow her mother’s trail to the city where no one survives uncorrupted.

Frightened and alone, Enne has only one lead: the name Levi Glaisyer. Unfortunately, Levi is not the gentleman she expected—he’s a street lord and a con man. Levi is also only one payment away from cleaning up a rapidly unraveling investment scam, so he doesn’t have time to investigate a woman leading a dangerous double life. Enne’s offer of compensation, however, could be the solution to all his problems.

Their search for clues leads them through glamorous casinos, illicit cabarets and into the clutches of a ruthless Mafia donna. As Enne unearths an impossible secret about her past, Levi’s enemies catch up to them, ensnaring him in a vicious execution game where the players always lose. To save him, Enne will need to surrender herself to the city…

And she’ll need to play.

review :

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO boy I wish I’d read this book ages ago when it first came on my radar (and especially when my gorgeous beautiful wonderful friend gifted it to me). ACE OF SHADES is so completely unique, and fun, and also terrifying, so basically you’ll love it.

The book is told in dual POV between Enne and Levi, who are both absolute messes and stress me out a lot even though I love them. Enne is new to the city, trying to find her mother and manage not to die in a place that tends to chew up any outsiders who wander in. Levi is a street lord struggling to support his gang and also trying not to die. They team up: Levi will help Enne find her mother, and Enne will pay him for the trouble. They just don’t expect the search to take so long, or for things between them to get so complicated.

I think what I loved most about ACE OF SHADES is that the characters feel so real. They’re imperfect, constantly making mistakes, pissing each other off, and doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. I never had any doubt about their motivations, and for me, I’m weak for character-driven novels. I like being able to get inside their heads and see their world from their perspective. ACE OF SHADES is interesting because at times when Enne and Levi have the same goal, they’ve grown up with such differing experiences that getting to see each POV was interesting. I liked comparing their thoughts, to their actions, to the dangerous consequences.

I also love a good setting. New Reynes is a city I kept picturing as Las Vegas except, I guess, a little dirtier and magical (?). Everyone in ACE OF SHADES has abilities/affinities that they’re very good at because of their bloodline, which I guess isn’t really magic but if you’re THAT good at something . . . It’s magic. And it just added another interesting layer to the puzzle that makes up this book.

It wasn’t complicated to follow the rules of this world, because the worldbuilding was done *chef’s kiss* beautifully. There was no info-dumping!!! I hate it so much when authors pause the action to overexplain every little piece about the world; I loved how we get to explore the intricacies of the city and their society through Enne and Levi. We see things as they show them to us. It’s perfect.

Honestly, if you’re looking for a unique book filled with interesting characters and an ending that will make you immediately want the sequel . . . here it is. Don’t make the same mistake I did and take so long to pick up ACE OF SHADES. No need to gamble with your own happiness . . . hehe. 🙂

4/5 stars

 

interview · promotion · young adult

Interview with Liz Kerin, author of THE PHANTOM FOREST

Hi friends!

Today I’m so excited to host Liz Kerin, debut author of The Phantom Forest (coming out July 16!). Look below for an interview with her–about writing, reading, and more!

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1. What did you find most difficult about writing your debut novel?
I worked on this book for 7 years, and every time I thought I was finished with it, I proved myself wrong! I was constantly adding to the mythology and trying to find new ways enrich the plot/connect the characters. Then, once I was satisfied with it and my editor got his hands on the MS, the 2nd most difficult thing was revising these crazy worldbuilding constructs I’d spent years developing. I was really afraid of pulling one thread and having it all unspool into spaghetti! But thankfully, every time I pulled a thread, I found a way to weave things back together. The edits on this book also took a lot longer than I thought they would. I challenged myself every step of the way and even though there was a lot of uphill marching and self-doubt, I know I emerged a much stronger writer and I now have the tools I need to write my 2nd book a lot faster!
2. Have you always been interested in writing YA?
I absolutely love writing YA, although I do also write for adults! I’m a screenwriter and a playwright as well, and my work in those mediums skews more adult. When it comes to YA, I enjoy darker themes and flawed characters. I like fresh new mythologies that represent bigger philosophical questions. When I was a teen reader, this was the stuff that interested me the most, so I often think about what I would have wanted to read when I was 14 or 15! I’m less interested in contemporaries, and in fantasy I don’t really vibe with fairy-tale retellings, princesses, or high-court medieval drama. If I was going to write a YA fantasy, I knew I’d want to write something a little weirder and off the beaten path.
3. Are there any writers who have influenced and inspired your writing?
Growing up, my two favorite books were The Giver and A Wrinkle in Time. I read them cover to cover dozens of times and own several editions of each! I even tried to write a musical based on The Giver when I was 12 (spoiler alert: it tanked). The world building Lois Lowry and Madeleine L’Engle were capable of just blew my mind. I feel like The Phantom Forest is a beautiful homage to both of my favorite books as a child: there’s a strange dystopia that poses big philosophical questions, and a darkly whimsical fantasy world where the impossible becomes possible. As an adult, I became an enormous Margaret Atwood fan. I started with The Handmaids Tale in college and voraciously read the rest of her works throughout my 20s. I love speculative fiction so much and I hope to explore that sub-genre in my own work over the coming years!
4. What is one recommendation you’d give to aspiring writers?
Don’t be afraid of change. Find a good critique partner and let them drag you across the coals early on. Remember that people aren’t giving you notes for their health (and if they are, that’s a little weird!). They genuinely want to help you make your story better. Even if it’s stressful, take a deep breath, hear them out, and consider every suggestion. On the flip side, you also don’t have to take every single note you’re ever given! Use the ones that suit your vision. Remember that when you try to write for everyone, you risk connecting with no one.
5. How would you describe the main character, Seycia, in three words?
Fierce, faithful, and flourishing.
6. If you could meet any fictional character, who would you pick and why?
I want to go to a fancy wine bar with Buffy Summers and complain about the burden of destiny and boys (both living and dead). And then when the fancy wine bar inevitably gets overrun by vampires, she’ll protect me (and I’ll totally help slay if she’ll let me).

7. What is the last book you read?
Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
Thank you so much for joining us on the blog, Liz!
MORE ABOUT THE PHANTOM FOREST:
Every tree in the sacred Forest of Laida houses a soul. Though each of those souls will return to the mortal world for many future lives, not all of them deserve to.

Seycia’s father told her this story as a child — a story of the most holy place in the Underworld, The Forest of Laida, where all souls go to rest before embarking on a new life. But Seycia’s father is dead now, and his killer has put a target on her back.

After being chosen for her village’s human sacrifice ritual, Seycia is transported to the Underworld and must join forces with Haben, the demon to whom she was sacrificed, to protect the family she left behind from beyond the grave. In this story of love, survival, and what it means to be human, Seycia and Haben discover that the Underworld is riddled with secrets that can only be unlocked through complete trust and devotion, not only to their mission, but also to one another.

Links to preorder: Amazon ; Barnes and Noble
5 stars · history · young adult

The War Outside by Monica Hesse : important historical fiction everyone needs to read

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The War Outside

author : monica hesse

pages : [hardcover] 336

favorite character : haruko

summary :

A novel of conviction, friendship, and betrayal.

It’s 1944, and World War II is raging across Europe and the Pacific. The war seemed far away from Margot in Iowa and Haruko in Colorado–until they were uprooted to dusty Texas, all because of the places their parents once called home: Germany and Japan.

Haruko and Margot meet at the high school in Crystal City, a “family internment camp” for those accused of colluding with the enemy. The teens discover that they are polar opposites in so many ways, except for one that seems to override all the others: the camp is changing them, day by day, and piece by piece. Haruko finds herself consumed by fear for her soldier brother and distrust of her father, who she knows is keeping something from her. And Margot is doing everything she can to keep her family whole as her mother’s health deteriorates and her rational, patriotic father becomes a man who distrusts America and fraternizes with Nazis.

With everything around them falling apart, Margot and Haruko find solace in their growing, secret friendship. But in a prison the government has deemed full of spies, can they trust anyone–even each other?

review :

I received a copy of this book from The Novl in exchange for my honest review.

Ya’ll, I love reading historical fiction, particularly if it’s set in the WWII era. I just think there are so many stories left to tell about that time period and, especially as time goes on, it’s particularly important to ensure everyone is educated on this history. After all, if we don’t learn from it, history is doomed to repeat itself, and the way the world is going today . . . Well, this book is particularly relevant.

The War Outside talks about an era of American history that is usually (purposefully) left untold. During WWII, civilian families from both Japan and Germany were taken to camps and left there throughout the duration of the war. They were regarded with suspicion, and some in the early stages of the war were given the option to go back to the countries they had emigrated from. In these cases, usually the children had been born in America and had little connection to Japan or Germany. The families who remained in America after the war after returned to find . . . nothing. That their homes had been seized or looted, that their belongings had been taken and sold off. If they hadn’t given anything to the neighbors for safekeeping–if those neighbors could be trusted–then these families were left stranded with only what they’d taken with them in the camps.

This book tells the story of two girls in one of the camps. One is German. One is Japanese. But, really, they’re both American. The book is told in a dual point of view so you can understand the full scope of what is happening. The racism. The hatred. The divisions that occur even between groups of people who are all being held in camps against their will. Through it all, Haruko and Margot form an unlikely friendship. As you come to understand why both have been brought there, and the difficult choices their families are made, you really come to care for these girls. But they’re good characters, in that they aren’t perfect. And their flaws make for some interesting pieces of the plot that will leave you wanting more.

The War Outside isn’t a very happy story, but it’s a good one, and it’s an important one. We need to see what it was like for these girls. We need to see where everything went wrong. The relationship between the two is hard and complex, and I think it will help readers to better understand, and empathize with, the situation. Everyone should read this book–everyone needs to know what happened, so it can never happen again.

5/5 stars