March 31, 2009

Book Review Policy

I felt it was past time I write up a policy, so here I go. If anyone thinks I'm forgetting something, tell me in the comments.

Genres I Review: YA (male- or female-oriented), fantasy (traditional/high, urban/low), SF (hard and soft), horror, literary fiction, chick lit, general fiction, some non-fiction

Genres I Can't Review: I review romance and erotica exclusively for The Good, The Bad and The Unread. If you want a book reviewed in those genres, you should contact the site owner according to site policy.

eBooks: I will review eBooks, but it takes me longer because I don't have an eReader and thus cannot carry the book around to read in my free time.

Self-published: I've reviewed self-published in the past, but I'm going to stop. I buy self-pubbed when I know the author's work, but I've been burned enough not to accept self-pubbed willy-nilly.

About my reviews: My reviews do not include the publisher's blurb, but I try to include necessary summary within the review's text. I provide links to the author's site and to the book's listing on Amazon (through the cover picture). The majority of my reviews are positive because I tend to put down books I don't enjoy, but I will be honest if something doesn't work for me.

I am in college. The speed in which I review depends on how busy I am and how interesting I find the book, among other things. I do work to review all requests.

Other services offered: I enjoy hosting giveaways, guest blogs, and interviews.

Please contact me with requests at inbedwithbooks AT yahoo DOT com.

Note, if you have my campus address (the one that says I live at "University"), this address with not be valid after mid-May 2009. At that point please contact me for my permanent address.

I will be in England most of July and August 2009. This will affect my reviewing.

Last Day to Enter Birthday Contest!

To enter, you must comment on the Blogiversary post as well as any post made on my birthday.

Winner will be announced tomorrow, and will receive:
FIREFLY LANE by Kristin Hannah
Jimmy Coates poster signed by author Joe Craig
Reader essentials like bookmarks, coffee, and tea
possibly another book and whatever I feel like tossing in

Author contests from March 18-31 will remain open until April 6.

Interview with 'Shane'

Jeri Smith-Ready is the author of the Aspect of Crow trilogy, REQUIEM FOR THE DEVIL, and the WVMP radio series. The first book, WICKED GAME, is out in in mass market today, for those who are cheap like me. (My review is here.) The second, BAD TO THE BONE, comes out May 16.

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Available online is the site for WVMP radio, with includes special info about the vampire DJs.

You'll also want to get THE WILD'S CALL, a prequel to her trilogy, available for free to those lucky few with Kindles.

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Guest Blogger Jeri Smith-Ready with 20 Questions for Shane McAllister

Hi, everyone, and happy birthday to Liviania! When I asked our lovely hostess for topic ideas, she suggested something about the month of March, or the number 20, since that’s the age she just turned.

I pondered, and pondered, and finally decided to interview the hero of my vampire novels Wicked Game and Bad to the Bone, Shane McAllister. For one thing, his birthday is March 1 (he was 41 this year, but funnily enough, still looks 27). Also, unbeknownst to him, his true “turning tale,” the story of how he became a vampire, was just posted to my website this past Sunday.

So I asked my friends on Twitter and Facebook to submit twenty questions they would ask their favorite obsessive-compulsive grunge vampire DJ. They came through with some great ideas, and I added two to the end:

1. Where did you grow up?

Born, raised, and died in Youngstown, Ohio. Proud Steelers fan.

2. When did you get interested in music?

In the womb? My family is hard-core Irish-American, so there was always a lot of music. My mom would sing constantly—she’d do happy songs while she cooked and then sad songs when she put me and my sister to bed.

But I was the only one of the four of us to actually pick up an instrument. And I mean literally pick up, because I stole my first guitar, from my uncle. He wasn’t using it. He didn’t even miss it for like two years.

3. Were you an outcast in school?

At home, yeah, but not at school. Then again, maybe I was, from the perspective of the perfect people. But it was a big school, so everyone could find their own niche. I hung out with the other art/music/drama weirdos. And sometimes with the stoners, because they had the best, um, albums.

When I was thirteen I got into a fight with some bigger guys (long private story), and even though they kicked my face in, I managed to take a couple down with me. So my dad got me boxing lessons (this was the inner city—no fancy-schmancy karate classes). After that, no one messed with me (or the person I was originally defending).

4. What is the appropriate way to style flannel?

The only appropriate way is not to style it at all. Just put it on, let it hang. Take it off, check your oil with it. Put it back on. Whatever.

5. How many drunks do you have to drink to get drunk?

Far more than will fit in this vampire’s belly. Sadly, it takes a lot extra of any drug to affect our bodies. We each drink a pot of coffee a day to help us wake up.

6. If you could spend the week in any rock star’s shoes, who would it be and why?

Tough question. I’m going to say Bono. He gets to fly around the world, meeting presidents and prime ministers, and having influence on important issues like poverty. I wouldn’t want to do that all the time, but for a week it would be majorly cool.

7. What made you go with Regina?

She made me feel alive at a time when I was close to dead. She was just, I don’t know. Magic.

8. Literary hero?

The guy from Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. I’d kill for his record collection. But not his luck with women.

9. Which fictional character would you like to be?

Wow, another hard question. Most fictional characters have really bad lives, or there wouldn’t be much of a story, right?

Except for James Bond. Bad stuff happens to him, but he never loses confidence, and everything turns out okay in the end. My James Bond wouldn’t wear a tuxedo, though. I did that enough when I was a wedding DJ. I vowed that the next time I wore a tux, it would be at my own wedding.

10. Do you play any instruments?

I play guitar—mostly acoustic but some electric, too. At the moment I’m trying to form a band so I can plug in more. I can also play bass, but I don’t know if that counts as a separate instrument. Drums are also a very satisfying outlet for frustration.

11. Does the toilet paper go OVER or UNDER? With the WVMP vamps being OCD, are there fights about this?

Regina says OVER, and she’s pretty much in charge. So, OVER it is.

12. If the TP question is moot, are there certain repeated fights where one vampire’s OCD trait clashes with another’s?

Ouch. Yeah. Regina actually wanted to arrange our communal record collection by catalog number instead of artist name. She was voted down five to one.

13. Boxers or briefs?

Please. Does any guy ever answer, ‘briefs,’ even if he really wears them?

14. Your own best feature?

My modesty. Next question?

15. Favorite concert you’ve been too... alive or undead.

Hardest question ever. So I’ll just say the first thing that came to mind: The Queen is Dead tour by The Smiths. It was the first concert I’d ever been to where the audience members weren’t trying to knock each other over. Everyone was just listening and loving it.

16. Favorite book from a genre you would not usually read from?

Probably I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert. I say, “probably” because I’m told it’s a “young adult” book. I didn’t know that was a separate genre. I’m really not clued into the book world, so for me, a book is either fiction or nonfiction and that’s it.

But anyway, I love that book. Even though I’m a guy, I could totally relate to Emily the main character. I remember what it was like to be young and bitter and so incredibly conscious of what everyone thought of me. And to always feel like I had to pretend to be cooler and tougher than I was.

[Ed. Read Stephanie's guest blog here.]

17. If you could have written any book which one would it be?

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. Except I’d have to be Scottish. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

18. What inspires you?

Music is the easy answer. But I’ll also add, at the risk of sounding outrageously sappy, that Ciara inspires me. She inspires me not to take life so seriously. She inspires me to stay in the present, which means thinking about the future, something I hadn’t done in a long time before I met her.

19. Do you listen to any new bands?

Oh yeah. Ciara’s helping me out on that front. I like Flogging Molly and The Killers a lot. The Black Angels have some heavy, trippy stuff I love when I’m in the right mood. Probably my favorite right now is Dead Confederate. They’re like Nirvana with a Southern rock edge.

20. Speaking of Nirvana, if you could tell your idol Kurt Cobain one thing, what would it be?

I don’t know. *long silence* Anything to make him laugh.

That’s twenty questions, right?

Yeah, we’re done.

Thank God. Tell Liviania I said, Happy Birthday, okay?

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Shane can be found on MySpace at and on Twitter at . His girlfriend Ciara Griffin, the books’ protagonist, is at at and .

Oh, and I’m at at, at and . I love to hear from people who actually exist (as opposed to people like Shane), so please drop by and say hi!


You can also talk to Jeri here - she said she'd be around today and Wednesday so people can ask questions of both her and Shane. I recommend asking something, since one lucky duck will win either a signed copy of WICKED GAME or BAD TO THE BONE ARC, winner's choice.

I think Shane should listen to some Dropkick Murphys.

March 30, 2009

kc dyer is Celebrating her Roots

kc dyer's new novel comes out this month, but it's preceded by four others: SEEDS OF TIME, SECRET OF LIGHT, SHADES OF RED, and MRS. ZEPHYR'S NOTEBOOK. The first three are a series about some time-travelling kids. (This means I must rec them to my neighbor who loves time-travel.)


Hey Gang,

When Liviania asked me to participate in her month-long blogging party, I agreed without a second thought. This is a month of celebration for me, so I'm really happy to have the chance to share it with you, too. My new book, A WALK THROUGH A WINDOW, was just born this month, and like any new baby, it has brought me a great deal of joy. WALK is my fifth novel for young people, and as with any new baby, it's my favourite -- at least until the next one comes along.

This book is all about beginnings. Everybody comes from somewhere, and many people don't end up in the place where they began. Life's like that, eh?

Now, I've given you at least two hints in the previous sentences as to where I made my own beginnings. Can you tell? I was born in Canada, and I still live here, although at some considerable distance from where I first showed up, and after having taken a pretty convoluted path. These days I live outside the beautiful city of Vancouver, British Columbia, and I'm pretty happy about that. I love the place I live, but I also love all the other places I have lived before. And I am particularly interested in the places where my family lived, long before I was even an inkling.

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My new book is all about a kid named Darby who is happy where she lives, and doesn't know or care too much about it, until she's forced to move away for the summer. And when she's unhappily esconced with her grandparents in a weird little one-lobster town, things start to happen. Things involving an old out-building with a stone window frame. Things that make her suddenly sit up and take notice -- for the first time -- not only where she came from, but where the other people she cares about came from, too. When she finds herself crawling on her hands and knees through 10,000 year-old snow, coming face to face with a polar bear, and riding the Atlantic waves on a coffin ship, Darby finds a lot more adventure than she ever expected in a sleepy little Maritime town.

Darby's adventures got me thinking. Where were YOU born? Do you still live near there? And what kind of adventures did YOUR family go through to get you where you are today?

If you'd like to share your ideas, leave your story in the comments. And I'm pretty sure Liviania will let me do a draw to give one of Darby's new books away.

If you'd like to read more about how Darby celebrated her new book, you can read her blog HERE. Or, if you'd like, you can read my blog here: And my website is here at look forward to meeting you -- and hearing YOUR adventures.

~kc dyer


Not only will I hold a draw, I'll hold one to give away two signed copies of A WALK THROUGH A WINDOW, one each to people who can follow rules.

Since this is my blog, I'll tell my story here instead of in the comments. I've never left the US, but Canada might be the first other country I visit. My sister now lives in N. Dakota, so when my mom and I drive up to see her we might as well drive the extra bit. This'll come before I leave for England.

I was born in a small suburb of Houston that is much larger now. My family moved to a suburb of Austin while I was still tiny, but moved back to that original 'burb before I entered elementary. I thought I would live there through high school, but my mother moved to be closer to her family after the divorce. Since then, my main residence has been in a Dallas/Fort Worth area suburb. I still visit my dad in Houston frequently. Plus, I go to college in Austin.

The odd thing about the college I chose is its the one my sister always wanted to go to. (She didn't.) I dreamed of Ivy Leagues and Rice until money slapped me in the face and laughed. But I'm really happy with the quality of my education.

So, there is one strip of Texas with which I'm really familiar. (Buy your klobasneki and kolaches at Hruska's in Ellinger, the Czech Stop in West, and Zamykal Gourmet Kolaches in Calvert.)

Fourth Week Summary

During this week the first half winners were announced. I'll try to send e-mails to the three people who haven't contacted me yet, but it'd be great if I didn't have to.

Other contests still open can be found in the Third Week Summary. There are more to come as both kc dyer and Jeri Smith-Ready are giving something away.

Last week's first guest was Susan Fine, a debut YA author and teacher. She says to check her blog in May for opportunities to win a copy of INITIATION.

The second guest was Ann Haywood Leal, the debut author of ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER - an ARC of which is up for grabs. Generally, we all envy that's she been to Ireland.

Next came Jonathan Bernstein, whose debut book is HOTTIE. Everyone with eyes hates the new cover. Bookstore buyers across the nation feel a deep shame.

Fourth, our first debut vampire novelist of the week: Melissa Francis, with BITE ME! Let's up her adorable ARC cover doesn't get changed.

After her came another YA debut novelist Cheryl Renee Herbsman. BREATHING looks like it's going to be romantic and lovely, and some people are going to get awesome promo bookmarks for it and other novels.

The week's penultimate guest was Fran Cannon Slayton, discussing her debut WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS as well as random trivia about herself. Those with a fondness for railroads should be excited about the signed ARC up for grabs.

Finally, the other debut vampire novelist, Jaye Wells. I've been looking forward to RED-HEADED STEPCHILD, so I'm glad at least one commenter will have the chance to read it. And if you don't know anything about Lilith, the interview might teach you something.

Check out previous summaries and the first winner's post for buttons you can use to link to the blogiversary/birthday celebration. It's almost at an end, but I've had a great time and hope you have too.

Here's the final reiteration of the rules:

Each author contest can be entered by commenting on his or her interview or guest blog. The comment must be relevant to the content of the post.

Bonus entries can be earned by:
+5 Making a graphic that I can include on the blogiversary/b-day posts and others can use to link to the contest (must say
-These five entries can be distributed about contests of your choice
+1 Link to the contest
+1 Follow my blog
+1 Buy one of the author's books (and send me proof)

The last contest post will go live on the 31, but the second half contests (starting March 18) can be entered until April 6. Winners will be announced April 7. You can only win once during this block, but you can still win something even if you won in the first half of the month.

My birthday contest is separate. I will give my prize (to be determined) to someone who comments on both my birthday and the blogiversary. No, I am not telling you which day is my birthday. (For those who know my b-day, like Bookluver_Carol and Reviewer X, I'll make you do something else if you want the prize.) No extra entries, though I might be bribable. In fact, anyone who's dumb rich enough to buy me a Kindle 2 wins instantly.

My contest prize includes FIREFLY LANE, an ARC of THE VAST FIELDS OF ORDINARY, some coffee and tea, some bookmarks, and a signed Joe Craig Jimmy Coates poster - with more to be added.

March 29, 2009

Interview with Jaye Wells

Meet Jaye Wells. I first became aware of her when she held a vampire-themed event on her blog last March. As she was utterly hilarious I kept coming back . . . and now her book, RED-HEADED STEPCHILD, will be out this Tuesday. I can hardly believe it. But yeah, I've loved her blog so long I pretty much squeed when she agreed to guest. (No really, all these great authors came to my little pond without me twisting their arms or anything.)


1. There are actually vampires in Texas. What do you do?

Are you kidding? No self-respecting vampire would live in Texas. But if they did, I'd probably befriend them and then write a tell-all.

2. You're an author, blogger, reluctant adult, and mother. But what else are you?

Jeez, isn't that enough? Just reading that makes me tired.

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3. Your first novel, RED-HEADED STEPCHILD, comes out this month on the 31st. What is it about? (No cheating and using the blurb.)

It's about a mixed blood assassin who has a to-do list that includes killing the leader of a rival vampire cult, getting rid of a mage stalker, dealing with a high strung demon sidekick and trying to stop a war between the vampires and the mages. All these tasks are accomplished with varying--and sometimes surprising--results.

4. Your vampires are different. How did you come up with them? Was research involved? (If so, spill, because I am a research junkie.)

I'm a total geek about research. Most of my world building resulted from research into mythology and folklore, and then combining or twisting what I found. But everything in the world goes back to Lilith, who according to ancient Jewish folklore was Adam's first wife in the Garden of Eden. According to legend, she left him when he wouldn't let her be on top during sex. She fascinates me, so I decided to start with her and build from there. In my world, she's the mother of all the dark races--vampires, mages, faeries and some demons. Everything just developed from there with me taking certain elements from both mythology and vamp lore to construct new rules and elements.

5. I love your blog because of your sense of humor. Were you born with it or did you get it through human sacrifice?

I sacrifice goats fornightly to my dark master. He's responsible for all my best jokes. True fact: Satan was the originator of the whoopie cushion.

6. At what age will you let your son read RED-HEADED STEPCHILD? Or will you just let him read it whenever he pulls it off the shelf?

Since he is my offspring, he'll probably be ready to read it in his early teens. He's already reading the Buffy comic books and he's only six. But by the time he's a teen, he'll think I'm lame, so he'll probably refuse to read it. After all, what teenaged boy wants to know his mother spends her days writing about faery porn?

7. When did you realize you wanted to be an author? Are you ever afraid of people's reactions when you tell them you write about vampires?

I've always enjoyed writing, but never really considered it a potential profession until I was thirty. I thought if you were meant to be an author you'd know it early on. Like the muse of writing would appear to you and you'd know it was your calling. So instead, I went into nonfiction. I worked for a few magazines as a writer, but eventually grew bored with reporting facts. So the year I turned thirty, I signed up for a fiction writing class at a community college. Keep in mind, I'd tried every other hobby under the sun and got bored very easily. I knew I'd found my "thing" when writing fiction became all I wanted to do with my time.

I used to worry what people would think. But that was more my own hangup. I felt that I didn't fit the mold of a "vampire writer" and I thought my friends would think I'm weird. But now I don't care. Getting a contract helped. But more than that, it's what I like to write about and ultimately that's what's most important.

8. What books were you reading when you were twenty years old?

Lots of Anne Rice. I remember specifically reading Mnemnoch the Devil around that age. That's a lot of people's least favorite of her vampire books, but I loved it.

9. What books are you reading now? Authors? Genres?

I read everything now. Of course, I read a lot of urban fantasy and paranormal--Christopher Moore, Mark Henry, Kim Harrison, J. R. Ward, Sherrilyn Kenyon, etc. But I also read mystery, mainstream and literary fiction, and tons of nonfiction.

10. What comes after RED-HEADED STEPCHILD?

Book two in the series is titled MAGE IN BLACK, and is scheduled for release January 2010. Book three is tentatively titles GREEN-EYED DEMON, but we don't have a release date for that one yet. I'll also have a story in the Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance, vol. 2 scheduled for this winter.


Go mythology buffs! I must admit, I first heard of Lilith reading Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series rather than doing serious myth study. But it's definitely a neat story.

And guess what? There's a copy of RED-HEADED STEPCHILD up for grabs. You know you want it . . . and you know you wanna follow the rules.

March 28, 2009

Interview with Fran Cannon Slayton

Fran Cannon Slayton is here today instead of KC Dyer, who you'll see on Fran's original day. Fran is the last guest who's a member of the Class of 2k9, unless I'm confused, which happens. Her novel WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS comes out June 11. Fran is musical, athletic, and gave me plenty of fodder to ask questions about! She can also be found at her el jay.


1. WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS is set in a1940s railroad town. What interested you in that time period? How did you research it?

My father grew up in the 1940’s in Rowlesburg, West Virginia – the setting of my novel -- and when I was a kid he used to tell me some amazing stories about growing up there. Like throwing cabbages at cars on Halloween. And getting dead bodies out of caskets at wakes. How could I not be interested?!

I did the best kind of research – the personal kind. First, I talked a lot with my dad about his stories and about my dad’s father, who was the foreman of the B&O Railroad during that time. My dad’s father, W.P. Cannon, died when my dad was 16 years old, so I never knew him – but I did learn a lot about him through my father’s stories. And I learned a lot about my father as well.

I also visited Rowlesburg a boatloads of times. Actually, I’ve always loved visiting Rowlesburg because it means getting to visit with my extended family. And I love the town itself – just being in the mountains and hearing the train horns echo down the river . . . well, maybe that’s why the song calls West Virginia “almost heaven.”

When I was researching the book, I went on a road trip with my dad and my cousin Roger (who used to work on the B&O Railroad), and we went to visit my Uncle Dick, who actually worked on the steam engines with my grandfather back in the 1940’s. (And yes, I named the Uncle Dick in the book after my own Uncle Dick, to honor him!) My Uncle Dick took us to the old M&K Junction and showed us the office that my grandfather used to work in, and described to me what happened in the pits where the men worked on the trains, and showed me the addition that was put on the shop when the diesels started to be serviced in Rowlesburg. It was a trip I’ll remember for the rest of my life. A great family bonding experience.

But honestly, much of the research I did was through osmosis, meaning that I just soaked it in over the years. I grew up hearing my father’s wonderful stories, and I’ve been visiting relatives in Rowlesburg and neighboring Kingwood since I was born. I’ve always seen in my father’s eyes how much he loves his hometown, and I grew to love it too. It’s part of what makes me who I am.

2. You grew up in Virginia, which gives you some familiarity with the setting. Why did you choose a railroad town specifically?

Although WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS is a work of fiction, there are some nuts of truth that inspired it. My father grew up during the time when the train engines were switching from steam to diesel. This change in technology changed Rowlesburg – and many other small railroad towns across America – completely. Whereas Rowlesburg was once a booming, bustling little town with a filling station, more than one grocery store, and even a movie theatre when the steam engines reigned, as the railroad lost steam – literally - so did the town. Jobs went away. People moved away. And things were never quite the same.

3. How does it feel, as a debut author, to receive cover blurbs from established authors?

It feels like Christmas, Easter and my birthday all rolled up into one. On a roller coaster!

4. You've worn a number of hats in your life. What was your favorite job? Why?

I love being a mom. And a writer. Being a mom is a tremendous challenge for me. Just when you think you’ve got things down pat, your child grows her way into something new and everything changes. And so must you. Motherhood is a constant lesson in letting go. I have grown more as a mother than in any other position I have ever had.

And being a writer is a dream come true. I get to pursue ideas and feelings and the motion of story; I get to try to make sense of the world and try to understand people better. It is a very psychological thing, trying to create characters. The whole process stirs and shakes my inner world, and I find that I keep having to feed myself – feed my soul, by learning more, questioning more, listening more – in order to be able to do it. It stretches me when I do it properly. It is quite a lovely experience.

5. Before you entered the professional world, you did a number of college activities. What was it like to compete in the Junior Olympics? What was your favorite sport?

Junior Olympics was a crazy experience. I had been fencing for less than six months and somehow managed to qualify by the seat of my pants. I flew to Minneapolis in February. I was 18 and it was the first time I’d traveled out of state completely alone. It was a jillion degrees below zero, and I got stranded standing outside without a taxi. My boyfriend (now husband) and I had recently cut all my hair off in an attempt to help me to mimic Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics as she appeared on the cover of their Touch album . . . but the haircut more or less looked like I’d just had surgery on my head instead. Anyway, I started crying as I was waiting for the taxi – I was so cold I was sure I was going to lose a digit or two on my hands – and a man who was trying to be helpful came up to me and said “it’ll be okay, son.” Rather than get into a fistfight about me being a girl, I just nodded and eventually a taxi came. The next day I got my tail end whooped. Twice. I didn’t even know what hit me. I think I tied for 64th in the country. Not bad, son!

My favorite sport to play is football. I love it, and was a pretty good player in the vacant lot games we used to play as kids. Much of my description in the Championship Game chapter of When the Whistle Blows comes from my own experiences on the field.

6. What were some of the difficulties of writing a male narrator?

I’m a tomboy at heart (gee, can you tell by my football answer?), so I did not find it difficult at all to write in a male voice. But there were some things I needed to watch out for along the way. First, I had to be very sure to stay in the head of a boy, and not drift over into my authorial voice. Choosing to write in first person made this easier than if I was writing in third person, I think. But it was important for me to get into “Jimmy mode” every time I sat down to write.

Second, the main character in the book, Jimmy Cannon, ages from twelve to eighteen during the course of the novel. I had to be careful to make his voice correspond with his age. In other words, the voice had to get older as Jimmy got older. This was tricky because the things a twelve year old boy worries about, cares about and notices are different than what an eighteen year old young man does. But Jimmy’s age increased by only one year each chapter, so the growth and change had to be gradual. But it still had to be real.

Third, Jimmy is a boy growing up in the 1940’s rather than today. So his voice could not be anachronistic. That is, I didn’t want him saying things like “cool” or “dude” because those weren’t words that were used in the 1940’s. And yet, I didn’t want him to sound like a fuddy-duddy either. Fortunately, since I’d spent a lot of time in the part of West Virginia where the book is set, I had a good ear for the phraseology of the region and much of Jimmy’s speech came naturally to me. Hearing an accent or a way of speaking is much like knowing the tune of a favorite song by heart – you can hear it in your head.

7. Do you plan to write more books?

Oh yes, I’ve got a lot of stories in me. I’m working on my next novel now – a fantasy about a girl who wants to be a pirate – and I have written several picture books that I hope will be published as well.

8. What did you expect least about the publishing world? What was the most pleasant surprise?

I don’t know that I had too many expectations going in. I think I was most surprised by what a wonderfully collaborative process editing can be. I was expecting it to be a “red pen” experience, like your English papers from seventh or eighth grade. But it was more a zen-like experience of “think of it this way,” or a beefing up here, a nudge in another direction there . . . my editor, Patricia Lee Gauch, was much more like a midwife of thought than a grammar teacher. She helped the story come out healthy, pink and alive.

9. What authors do you read? Admire?

I read mostly middle grade and young adult fiction. I find that middle grade books have a certain spark that may be described as hope or love of living that sometimes adult novels lack. I love finding that spark in a book. It is like magic to me.

I admire the writings of Madeleine L’Engle, William Armstrong and Mildred Taylor. I love Maya Angelou and enjoy the works of Anthony DeMello, Henry Nouwen, Thomas Merton and Jullian of Norwich.

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10. How would you describe WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS without using the blurb?

It’s about growing up in the middle of a family that is changing, a hometown that is changing, and a way of life that is changing. It’s about Halloween adventures, laughing on the train bridge with buddies, secret midnight discoveries and all the lifelong memories that go along with all of it.


I should mention that one of those blurbs is from Richard Peck, one of my favorite writers as a child. He said that "[w]ith wit and warmth Fran Cannon Slayton recounts a steam-driven coming of age story in the last of the real railroad days."

I live pretty much on railroad tracks, and my family feel in love with them. Do any of ya'll like railroads? If you do, you might want to win the signed ARC of WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS up for grabs. (For those of you who are new, here are the rules.

March 27, 2009

Friday Night Smackdown: Harry Potter vs. Twilight

Brent Hartinger edits The Torch Online, a fantasy in media resource. The articles I browsed through looked pretty cool.

This is a video full of highlights from a student debate about Harry Potter vs. Twilight.

Interview with Cheryl Renee Herbsman

Cheryl Renee Herbsman is a member of the Class of 2k9 and 2009 Debs. Her novel BREATHING will be out this April. You can find out more on her blog and MySpace. She's read SCRAMBLED EGGS AT MIDNIGHT, which makes me happy since I like that book and can't find anyone else who's heard of it. (And for those that like to cook, her Class of 2k9 page has a recipe for seven layer bars. I love those.)


1. BREATHING is your first novel. What about the road to publication did you least expect?

I think the most unexpected part was how long it all takes! It's a very lengthy process.

2. How did your personal experiences affect the novel? Do you have any experience with asthma?

My personal experiences affected the story in a number of ways. The most obvious is that I fell in love with an older boy when I was a teenager and our relationship was long distance at times. (I ended up marrying him. Our 20th wedding anniversary is coming up in June.)

My husband and daughter both have mild asthma, luckily not nearly as bad as Savannah's. But my husband is a pediatrician and has done some special work with asthma, so he was a great resource. Also, when I was in college I worked in Pediatric Play Therapy / Child Life at the hospital and worked with kids who suffered from asthma.

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3. I love the cover of BREATHING! It's very summery and romantic without being cliche. How did you react when you first saw it?

I just love the cover! The first time I saw it, there were some things that were different than they are now that bothered me. For example, instead of the sandy beach in the distance it was rocky cliffs, which made no sense since the story takes place on the Carolina coast. Once the little details that were off were fixed, I was totally in love!

4. For that matter, how did you react when you got the call that you were going to be a published author?

You know, it's funny, it wasn't one specific call. First, I got the call from the agent saying she wanted to represent me. That felt huge. I was literally jumping around and screaming (after I hung up, of course :D). She submitted the book about a week later and we got two offers. So I spoke with editors at both publishing houses and then got to decide which way I wanted to go. So, in the end, I was the one making the call. But the whole period of time from when the agent first contacted me until I chose a publisher was an incredibly exciting time.

5. You're a member of the 2009 Debs and The Class of 2k9. What do you like best about these groups? Which of your fellow debut authors' books are you most excited about?

I really love the camaraderie. It's so nice to be connected with other people who are going through this for the first time. There's so much to learn and it helps so much to share information. But it's also just amazing to have people to talk to who are experiencing similar things.

I'm excited about so many of these books, I can't imagine choosing. I've read a handful of them so far and well, you know, I'm just such a sucker for romantic stories. So I particularly loved 20 Boy Summer and Fairy Tale. But there are so many good ones!

7. In your bio, it says you have a Masters in psychology. What do you like best about your education? If you could study anything else, what would it be?

I think what I love best about my education is having a deeper understanding of why we all act the way we do, how much our families and our pasts affect us.

I kind of wish I'd studied literature more :)

8. What do you like to do besides write? What do you not like to do, but do anyway?

I love to spend time with my husband and kids, just hanging out, talking, laughing, watching movies, traveling. I also love the beach and walking in nature.

I seriously hate housework -- all kinds. But some stuff just has to get done, you know?

9. You're still launching your first novel, but any plans for a second?

I just finished the first draft of a new novel and am revising it now. Hopefully it will be off to my agent soon!

10. Finally: How would you convince people to read BREATHING without quoting from the blurb?

I like to say that it's a romantic YA about following your dreams. But here's a quote from my main character, Savannah, that I just put onto some bookmarks:

"I know it's only dreaming. But I reckon if you go on and act like something is real, sometimes it just believes you."


Like the bookmark quote? You could own one, because I'm giving away two packets of bookmarks away, which will include a BREATHING bookmark among others. Just follow the rules.

I envy that Cheryl's already read TWENTY BOY SUMMER and FAIRY TALE! (By the way, Cyn Balog is holding a contest to win FAIRY TALE.

March 26, 2009

Books Read in 2009 (Weeks Eleven and Twelve)

I feel unsatisfied right now. The Union gets free movies, so I went with friend to see Baz Luhrmann's AUSTRALIA. The distribution company forgot to send the last reel so the movie abruptly ends just as things get worse. I mean, I can figure out how it ends, but it was such a terrible place for it to stop.

Sorry I forgot to do this last week! I'm playing catch-up.

Week Eleven

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Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell (review copy, hardcover)

Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King (contest, signed)

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Tattoo by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (bought)

Geektastic ed. Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (contest, signed by HB, ARC)

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Cry Wolf (Alpha and Omega, Book One) by Patricia Briggs (borrowed)

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Hottie by Jonathan Bernstein (review copy)

Tangled Webs (Black Jewels Series) by Anne Bishop (bought, hardcover, reread)

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Blood Blade (Skinners, Book One) by Marcus Pelegrimas review copy, ARC)

Undying (Clare Point, Book Two) by V.K. Forrest (review copy, ARC)
Review available here.

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The Darkest Kiss (Lords of the Underworld, Book Two) by Gena Showalter (secondhand)

Week Twelve

Made to Be Broken (Nadia Stafford, Book Two) by Kelley Armstrong (bought)

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Alanna the First Adventure (Song of the Lioness, Book One) by Tamora Pierce (bought, reread)

In the Hands of the Goddess (Song of the Lioness, Book Two) by Tamora Pierce (bought, reread)

I think I read one more but I can't remember.

Isn't there a meme/challenge for reading debut YA authors? I think I should join it.

Interview with Melissa Francis

Melissa Francis is the author of BITE ME!, coming out this August. Mel is also a March baby - it's her big 4-0. (And I think 20 is a big deal. Eek.) So you'll definitely want to drop by her blog, where she's partying too. She can also be found on the Fictionistas' blog and her MySpace.


1. Your book, BITE ME!, will be released in fall 2009. How are you preparing for the launch?

I'm getting a new super-secret website ready for launch...and planning a huge prize give away...with big, fun prizes. We're also printing t-shirts, stickers, bookmarks and vampire bite tattoos. Lots of fun stuff which will all be revealed when the new super-secret website is unveiled. Stay tuned!

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2. The cover for BITE ME! has been released and looks lovely. How well do you think it fits the book?

Amazingly, it is almost EXACTLY like I had it pictured in my mind. I was so overwhelmingly happy when my editor sent me the cover. It really couldn't be more appropriate.

3. I see from your blogs you're on a quest for health. How do you stay motivated?

This is a new thing for me. I was an athlete in high school, but only did what was required to stay fit. Now that I'm *ahem* a bit older, I realize that I've done myself a world of hurt with all that yo-yo dieting crap. Everyone, including myself, wants the easy answer. But life isn't easy. It's not supposed to be. So last fall I just sucked it up and decided I needed a goal. I decided since 2009 was the year I turn 40, that this should also be the year that I get my butt off the couch. I decided to start training for a half marathon. And then a friend of mine and I started a blog about it. Telling people in the virtual world your goals keeps you very motivated. I don't want to let anyone down or fail. So I stick with it. Also, I'm really enjoying the exercising now--especially because I feel so good for the first time in years.

4. Okay, I'm in college. I'm obsessed with education and degrees right now. How has your education best benefited you? What do you use your English degree for?

I don't. Not really. I didn't get bitten by the education bug, I went to school because I was expected to. I made good grades for the same reason. I decided on an English degree because it came easily to me. I'm a writer, so naturally the storytelling points that I learned in literature and in creative writing come in handy, but overall, my degree is not what it could've been. I learned that way too late. I wish I would've appreciated my education a bit more. I wish now, I would've sucked the marrow from college. But I didn't. Live and learn.

5. What are some of your hobbies? What activities do you least like to do?

I love to make jewelry when I have time. It's another great way to express myself creatively. I do NOT like to clean house. At all. And very soon, I plan to pay someone to do that for me. :)

6. Who are some of your favorite authors? What book releases are you anticipating (beside your own)?

This is never an easy question for me! I grew up reading Judy Blume. I love her. For paranormal Gena Showalter, Kresley Cole, Colleen Gleason, Marley Gibson. For contemporary, Sophie Kinsella, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and my critique partners Maria Geraci and Louisa Edwards (their books are out this year!)

7. What genres do you read? How does what you like to read affect what you write?

Obviously, I'm all over the board! I love YA, paranormal, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE snarky first person contemps like Kinsella. I prefer to write in first person and when I read a good book, it always inspires me to write better. And when I read a bad book, it also inspires me to write better.

8. I noticed you're looking for a flamingo PEZ dispenser. My mom loves buying me PEZ dispensers; my favorite is shaped like a Walgreens semi. What are some of you favorite PEZ dispensers that actually exist?

I love the special edition Darth Vader dispenser. LOVE it. Oh...and Star Trek Pez. Sigh. I'm a nerd. I know.

9. Your birthday is in March too! Twenty years ago, did you expect your life to turn out the way it has? What were some of the best twists?
20 years ago I couldn't see into the next week, much less picture my life the way it is now. I was way to self-involved at 20 years old. LOL! The best twist was up and moving from my hometown to another state at the age of 30. That's when I started writing. It was completely unexpected and look at me now!

10. Finally, describe BITE ME! in three sentences of ten words each.

Um, I'm not really good at this kinda thing. LOL. BITE ME! is a little bit of snark, a little bit of sass and a whole lotta teenage (vampire) drama wrapped up in a pretty package. Here's the backcover blurb:

AJ Ashe isn't a typical seventeen-year-old vampire (as if there is such a thing as 'typical!') Her ex-boyfriend is now her stepbrother. Her two BFFs are in a huge fight and AJ's caught in the middle. She's totally framed for cheating on a Lit test. And now, apparently, the fate of humankind lies in her little undead hands. Like that's fair. What ever happened to the good old days when all a vampire girl had to worry about was the occasional zit and hiding her fetish for necks?


Does that not sound awesome? Or am I just partial to vampire books? Plus, Mel has good taste in books, which is a good sign. (If you're okay with graphic sex scenes, Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series is the bomb. And I just finished my first Gena Showalter and now want to run out and read more.)

March 25, 2009

First Half Winners!

Here are the winners!

Valorie and techyone won their choice of FRENEMIES or FAKETASTIC from Alexa Young.

MJ won the Lewis Fashion Week gift bag from Melissa Walker.

Jocelyn won VIDALIA IN PARIS from Sasha Watson.

Thao won an ARC of WHERE NINA LIES from Scholastic and Lynn Weingarten.

Pissenlit of The Great White North won a signed copy of I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE from Stephanie Kuehnert.

Diana Dang won a paperback copy of SHE'S SO MONEY from Cherry Cheva.

Nora won a set of THE ELITE and IN TOO DEEP from Jennifer Banash.

YA Book Realm won an ARC of DEATH BY DENIM and swag from Linda Gerber.

Lauren of Shooting Stars Mag won a signed ARC of NOTHING BUT GHOSTS from Beth Kephart.

Erika Lynn and bridget3420 each won a copy of BREATHERS from Random House and S.G. Browne.

Alyce won a picture frame from Wendy Toliver.

All winners were chosen by

Please send your addresses to me at inbedwithbooks AT yahoo DOT com. All winners are eligible to win (and encouraged to enter) second half contests.

*image by deltay.

Kitty Norville Series, Books 4-6

By Carrie Vaughn

She can also be found at her blog. All of these books are available now. I think releasing KITTY AND THE DEAD MAN'S HAND and KITTY RAISES HELL a month apart was an interesting choice and hope it pays off - there are a ton of series I would love to see released like this!

You can read the short story "Dr. Kitty Solves All Your Love Problems" online. It eventually became part of the first novel.

Reviewing these all at once you don't know how hard it is to avoid spoilers.

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Kitty and the Silver Bullet

Kitty's been away from home for awhile, but decides to return when she learns her mother might have cancer. But Kitty and the boyfriend are walking straight into trouble - both the vampires and werewolves are having some power issues. In her time away from the pack Kitty has come more into her own, and she doesn't want to interfere but she also doesn't want to get pushed around by any side.

Between her mother's and her own medical issues, this is a very emotional novel. It's also very satisfying, as it builds up to a confrontation that's been coming since KITTY AND THE MIDNIGHT HOUR. (This would also be the book where Alette makes her cameo.)

I'm also really fond of the romance, because I think Kitty and her man are good for each other. This events of the book help them define their relationship and what it means to them. It did happen somewhat suddenly, so they need that time. Their decisions about the relationship lead straight into the fifth book.

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Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand

Kitty and her boyfriend go to Las Vegas, both to do those things that stay in Vegas and those that don't, since they're legally binding. (Y'know, my sister got married in Vegas.) This also gives Kitty a chance to do a TV version of "The Midnight Hour" and plug her memoirs.

The vacation turns out to be unrelaxing as both of them manage to get into trouble. For Kitty, it's the very odd local therianthrope community. I do admit she annoyed me a little with her pursuit of the animal troupe despite a number of people warning her that they were dangerous.

While KITTY AND THE DEAD MAN'S HAND stands alone, with a satisfying climax, it is nice that KITTY RAISES HELL was released immediately after since they share a big bad. (Also, KITTY RAISES HELL depends on knowledge from KITTY AND THE DEAD MAN'S HAND, so it's good to read it while the details are still fresh.)

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Kitty Raises Hell

Kitty and the husband are back from Vegas, but somebody forgot the slogan quoted above. Not willing to forgive and forget, a firestarting force has been let loose on Kitty and the things she loves and protects. Her options are the master vampire of Denver, who doesn't know how to help, a newcomer vampire whose price might be too high, and a group of human paranormal investigators.

I liked the Paradox PI crew and felt Kitty was somewhat insensitive to the fact they were human and thus not well-suited to fighting supernatural beings, even if their knowledge could help track the thing down. I also liked that the magician Grant continued to be part of the story. One of the sad things about the Kitty series is side-characters often don't return, especially if they're from the books where she's on the road.

It's hard for me to judge each book individually, as I marathoned the books in a little over a week. To me, the first six books were a fast-paced, coherent whole about a woman learning to be tough and developing a healthy relationship with a pretty good catch. KITTY RAISES HELL drops some hints about what might come next, and I look forward to it. This is one series worth picking up.

I received my review copies from the Hatchette Book Group as part of a blog tour. The other participating blogs are:

Be sure to see what some of them have to say as well.

Interview with Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a screenwriter (Just My Luck, Max Keeble's Big Move) and the author of April release HOTTIE. Apparently, if you want to write you should be named Jonathan Bernstein because there's a bunch of them out there. But I did know which one I was interviewing . . . or did I?


1. HOTTIE changes POV, but one of the main narrators is the eponymous supergirl. What were some details in developing an authentic voice?

It's always a tricky situation when you've got a not-teenage not-female author writing in the voice of a teenage girl. You can usually sense when the writer is working out his own adolescent issues. It's hard to avoid stereotyping when your lead character is both the most popular girl in school AND a superhero who can burn down buildings with her fingertips, but I tried to keep her as sympathetic and flawed and real as possible.

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2. The ARC featured a cartoon girl, but the final is a photo. Do you know why the change was made? Which cover do you prefer?

I'm not going to lie, I ENORMOUSLY preferred the former cover. When I saw the replacement, I felt like someone had squeezed lemon juice in my eye. My understanding is that the big book chains were reluctant to order copies of the original version. As a debuting author, you want to be a team player but, at the same time EVERY YA blogger in the universe-- and this is a pretty uncritical community-- has heaped derision on it. My standard reply is that if you hate the cover, hopefully you'll be pleasantly surprised by the contents. But the phrase `don't judge a book by it's cover' exists because everybody judges book by their covers all the time!

3. Why a superhero novel? Do you read comics/graphic novels? Any favorites?

It was more of a reaction to the spate of terrible humorless female superhero movies that came out a few years ago: Catwoman, Elektra, Aeon Flux, plus the Birds of Prey TV series. I'm not a huge comic book geek but I'd definitely class myself as a fan of "Love & Rockets" and "Heartbreak Soup" by the Hernandez Brothers, Ai Yazawa's "Nana" manga and some of Adrian Tomine's stuff.

4. You're a screenwriter and journalist as well as an author. What are some differences among the mediums? Which is your favorite to work within?

Whichever one I'm currently doing, I wish I was doing the other one. If I get to a scene in a book that requires me to describe a character's house, I have to describe the house. If I'm writing a screenplay, all I have to do is write the word house. Which is very appealing to a lazy guy. However, a screenplay is more than likely only going to be read by a handful of people all of whom will have strong opinions on how to mangle it. A book is all you and will ultimately reach some kind of audience.

5. Several authors in this event live in LA. Any theories on why LA attracts YA novelists?

Some were born here. Some moved for the climate and the lifestyle. The other 95% came here to work in movies and TV. Then they made the move into fiction. YA is attractive because the market is so vast but it's also challenging because the audience is discerning.

6. When I googled you to write these questions, I discovered the other Jonathan Bernstein. How do you feel about another writer running around with your name?

There's more than just one. There's another screenwriter (he wrote the Jerry Springer movie `Ringmaster'), there's one that writes military books, one who authors books on public relations, specifically crisis management. If we get together and pool our resources, we could take over the world!

7. It must be asked: what superpower would you like to have and why?

You know how they say you only have one chance to make a first impression? What if you had more than one? What if it didn't matter that you cracked bad jokes or walked into the furniture or had pieces of broccoli stuck to your teeth because you could erase the horrible first impression you'd made and get a do over? That would be my power. Maybe I'd be called The Imp. Or just Imp.

8. HOTTIE features a mix of the popular and unpopular kids. Which group did you belong to in high school?

Like you have to ask. I wasn't horribly unpopular but you don't go grow up as the only Jew in a Scottish school without earning a few scars along the way.

9. What are some of your favorite books? Which authors do you think influenced your style?

"The Rachel Papers" by Martin Amis. "Good As Gold" by Joseph Heller. "We Need To Talk About Kevin" by Lionel Shriver. "The Crimson Petal And The White" by Michael Faber. In terms of my own influences, I'd say it was very clearly John Hughes and Joss Whedon.

10. You're clearly somewhat pop-culture obsessed. How would you describe your taste?

Like that of a demented, schizophrenic 12 year -old girl.. Favorite album: The Lexicon Of Love by ABC. Favorite Movies: The Apartment,The Breakfast Club. Favorite TV Shows: Chuck,Peep Show. Favorite Group: Girls Aloud.


I like his superhero name. Personally, I'd got for omnipotence. (It's cheating, I know.) Be sure to watch out for my review of HOTTIE, coming in April.

(Also, just look at the covers. Maybe the bookstore buyers were high, because what teen wouldn't pick up the cute cartoon over the girl wearing polyester?)

And be sure to return for the announcement of the first batch o' winners.

March 24, 2009

Kitty Norville Series, Books 1-3

By Carrie Vaughn

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Kitty and the Midnight Hour

One call that might've been a crank and late night DJ Kitty Norville ends up the hostess of the popular "The Midnight Hour." People call in with supernatural problems and she helps - without mentioning she's a werewolf herself. Kitty truly loves her job, and it helps her become more confident.

I though Kitty was a nice change of pace from the urban fantasy heroines I've been reading about. She's not the big bad, she's just a girl who would rather someone protect her. Being able to turn into a wolf helps sometimes, but other people has abilities as well and her wolf isn't equipped with dominant instincts.

I also liked Cormac, a human assassin of things that go bump in the night. Kitty talks him down from killing her and their relationship progresses from there. Even with my fondness for assassins, he's a good character. He's after the monsters but he's not a fanatic; he can use logic.

KITTY AND THE MIDNIGHT HOUR isn't perfect, but I picked up the second the instant I finished. It's very mainstream urban fantasy, but has a little different approach.

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Kitty Goes to Washington

The beasties may be out in the open in Kitty's world, but the law hasn't quite caught up. The Senate is holding hearings and Kitty is called upon as a witness. She's got her and Cormac's lawyer Ben on hand for counsel, but she may need even more help. The senator in charge of the committee is a "Christian" and determined to make the monsters look as bad as possible.

I love Alette, the Master Vampire of Washington, D.C. She's a nice mix of maternal and ruthless. So far she's only had a brief cameo in another book, and I miss her. (But it does make sense since the series doesn't take place in D.C.)

I'm not sure I like the romantic subplot in this one, upon reading the rest of the series. Kitty and Luis's sexual relationship is pretty casual and she just doesn't seem like the casual sex type in the other books. Her relationships always mean something.

However, I didn't mind it at the time. KITTY GOES TO WASHINGTON moves quickly, right into a bonus short story that's absolutely hilarious. Kitty's conversations with her "Midnight Hour" guests are always amusing.

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Kitty Takes a Holiday

After the events of KITTY GOES TO WASHINGTON, Kitty needs a break. Ostensibly, she's in nowhere Colorado to work on her memoirs. Of course, her idyll is interrupted or there wouldn't be a book. Someone's leaving dead rabbits at her door, and Cormac shows up with an injured Ben in tow.

I really liked this one because some of the sexual tension finally gets resolved. Plus, it features an urban fantasy character facing legal consequences. Jail happens, but urban fantasy characters always seem to escape it despite killing people left and right.

This book contains lots of crazy family relations, from Cormac and Ben's past to the one that created the villain. It's quite the contrast to Kitty's well-adjusted clan, who become a large part of KITTY AND THE SILVER BULLET.

Carrie Vaughn ties the A and B plot together well in this one. She manages to have stuff go on in Colorado or New Mexico without everything falling apart or too coincidentally connected.

Be sure to come back tomorrow, when I post reviews of the rest of the series currently available.

Also come back tomorrow for an interview with Jonathan Bernstein and the announcement of the first half winners.

So I Met a Boy Today . . .

. . . and he lent me a book.

CHASM CITY by Alastair Reynolds

Interview with Ann Haywood Leal

Ann Haywood Leal is another member of the Class of 2k9. Her book is ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER, which tells of a girl and her family, who are evicted after her father leaves. But she's still got her own dreams of being a poet to worry about. It looks like a great book by a fun author!


1. What's it like to be a debut author? What did you not expect about the publishing process?

It has been very exciting to be a debut author. Most everything I encounter along the publication path is a new adventure. The unexpected can be a little scary sometimes. I am lucky to have a wonderful agent and editor who are great about answering all of my questions along the way. Belonging to the Class of 2k9 debut authors has also been invaluable to me, because there are 22 of us going through many of the same things at virtually the same time.

2. ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER is the story of Harper and deals with her family's eviction. Was the humor in the story hard to write or did it come naturally? Somewhere in between the extremes?

I sprinkled some humor in the story because Harper is in such a tough situation. I felt as if the reader needed some relief in places. I was raised in a family with a non-stop sense of humor, so I guess you could say it comes naturally for me. Like Harper, I believe in looking for humor and hope in all situations.

3. Both Harper and her brother are named after writers. How did you decide which writers?

Harper is a name that means a lot to me; I admire the author of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD so much. It's my favorite book, so I decided to make it Harper's mama's favorite book. I have a friend who passed away a few years ago. She wanted to give something special to our local community before she died, so she started an organization to deliver home-cooked meals to people with AIDS. She named it A MOVABLE FEAST after her favorite author Ernest Hemingway. I used that name in my story as a sort of tribute to her.

Were they ever named anything different?

No. The names were there from the book's beginning.

How did you choose other characters' names?

I'm honestly not sure. I am always on the lookout for unusual names. I carry a notebook with me wherever I go; if I hear a good name, I jot it down. I probably shouldn't admit it, but I got part of a name for one of my characters in my work-in-progress from an obituary!

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4. What inspired the setting of the novel?

I have always been drawn to places that are worn and decrepit. They have such story potential. They make me wonder about all of the people who have lived there. I was out on a run one day and I happened upon a vacant lot. The house had been torn down and all that was left were broken-up pieces of concrete from the patio and a filthy swimming pool half-filled with rain water. I went back later with my camera and that swimming pool made its way into Harper's world.

5. On the about me of your website, you list things you collect. I can't resist collecting things either. How did you get into it? Why were certain objects the right thing for you to collect?

My husband is just the opposite of me as far as that is concerned, so I'm sure he'd love to bring in a Dumpster! One of the things I love most to collect are dishes from the 50s and 60s. Most were my mother's so they have a nice sentimental value for me. A few years after she died, my dad sold the house where I grew up. I found her dishes up in the attic. They gave me a nostalgic feeling and I started looking for more to fill in the collection. Books, of course are my other great love. I have a set of DICK AND JANE readers that are really fun. They are just like the ones my first grade teacher used. I also have some books that belonged to my grandmother and books that I saved from my childhood. I have some NANCY DREW books from the 1930s.

6. What is your favorite hobby?

I love running and Karate. I am training for my second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

How does it help you most?

Both help me reduce my everyday stress. They also make me stronger, physically, which I think increases my mental strength and confidence. Running helps me get my creativity flowing. I get some of my best ideas when I'm running. Sometimes if I'm stuck or have a plot problem when I'm writing, I'll go out for a run and things almost always seem to fall into place!

7. How removed is ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER from your first draft?

The story, as a whole. really didn't change that much, but my agent and my editor knew all of the right questions to ask that made it so much better in the final drafts.

Do you like to revise the existing manuscript or rewrite the story from paragraph one?

I really like to revise the existing manuscript. Rewriting the story from the first paragraph is way too overwhelming for me. Sometimes I take it a character at a time, to be sure that my characters are well enough developed. Other times, I take it chapter by chapter.

8. What authors do you look up to?

First would have to be Patricia Reilly Giff. She is a beautiful writer who is incredibly generous with her time and knowledge. She is constantly reaching out to new writers to share what she knows. I also admire Judy Blume. She was willing to take risks during a time when there weren't that many edgy books out there. In terms of legends, I would have to say I greatly admire Roald Dahl. I think he was one of the best storytellers ever. His ability to capture the best and the worst of humanity was phenomenal. And of course I have to say Harper Lee. People always talk about writing the great American novel. I think she definitely did that with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

How have the books you read influenced your life?

Wow. That's a tough question! I guess I could say that books have influenced my life ever since I can remember. I associate different books with every part of my life growing up and as an adult. Both my mom and dad read to me everyday. I think when you read a great book or experience a memorable character, they become a part of who you are. I started out with the silly characters of Dr. Suess when I was young, and I moved on to Nancy Drew and the amazing characters in FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER. Who didn't want to run away and sleep in a museum after reading that book? And who didn't wish for a candy factory after reading Roald Dahl? When I discovered the books of John Steinbeck in high school, I saw how a writer creates a really wonderful character. I think my writing and the books I chose to read changed for the better after reading his books.

9. I envy that you've been to Ireland. Why did you go?

Ireland was definitely one of the most memorable places I've ever been. It is so beautiful and life seems to be less rushed there. People have more time for each other. The first time I went with my family and with my cousins. My grandfather was from County Mayo and I had always wanted to see my Irish relatives who still lived there. It was an incredible experience to see what was left of my grandfather's stone house. My mom's cousin had a sheep farm just up the road. He made us feel so welcome. It was fun to hear him calling to his sheep dog in Gaelic. The area is very undeveloped and I loved the idea that I was probably seeing a lot of things in much the same way that my grandfather saw them.

What other places have you been?

I've lived in all four corners of the United States. I'm from the Seattle area, I now live in Connecticut, and I've also lived in Los Angeles and briefly in Florida.

10. Name one person without whom ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER would not have existed and why you chose to recognize him or her.

Okay, I'm going to cheat here and name four people! ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER would never have existed without my mom and dad. I started writing stories when I was about four or five. My parents always had time to read what I had written and they always made a big deal about them and encouraged me to keep going. My amazing agent at Writers House, Dan Lazar, took a chance on me and has an uncanny eye for detail. Reka Simonsen, my wonderful editor at Henry Holt, loved Harper from the beginning. She has a gentle way about her, but she asked all the right questions that made me dig deeper to bring out the best in the book.


Nancy Drew! I read so many of those, in so many of the lines; I even have some that were my mom's. And here's a book ya'll can own: an ARC of ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER (plus a study guide). The cover art is different from the final and very cute. (And you won't be able to buy this one until May 26th!)

Follow the rules! And remember today is the last day to enter the first half contests.

March 23, 2009

Interview with Susan Fine

Did I mention more 2k9ers were coming? Susan Fine's debut YA novel is coming in May from Flux. I don't know about ya'll, but everything I've read from Flux is pure gold. Susan's novel deals with a recent issue: social networking and how teens use it irresponsibly. You'll get an ominous feeling even before cracking the cover, what with it's picture of a tie hanging like a noose. Before writing Susan was an English teacher, and from Deborah's interview I know we all love English teachers. Keep reading to learn more about this one.


1. Your debut novel, INITIATION, involves the dark side of social networking. What social networking sites are you a member of? How did you research social networking sites and how teens use them?

I'm a member of Facebook. I pretty much did research for this book by using electronic databases to find as much info and as many articles as I could on the topic. I also still, in the most old fashioned of ways, clip every article that surfaces in my life in the newspaper or a magazine that is on any topic I am thinking about and writing about. In doing the research for INITIATION, I read a lot about social networking sites, how young people use them, and, of course, found articles that highlighted cases where things had gone wrong. I also talked with various people in schools about what's surfaced in their schools or in cases that they knew of. My research involved both social networking and cyberbullying. For my book, however, I came up with my own ideas for the scandal, and what also helped to determine the plot was researching schools, boys, and adolescence more generally. For example, I had read RAISING CAIN many years ago but went back to it and reread it along with REAL BOYS and numerous articles about boys, schools, education, etc. I'm currently reading QUEEN BEES and WANNABES, so I'm always reading about young adults, thinking about what happens in schools and for kids socially, and I also follow this kind of thing in such newspapers as THE NEW YORK TIMES and THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. I have a thick file of articles I've saved as well as another big file labeled BOOK IDEAS.

2. It's also set in an all boys' prep school, through the eyes of Mauricio LondoƱo. Did you find it difficult do write a male POV? In what ways is Mauricio similar to you?

I didn't find it hard to write from Mauricio's point of view, although I did reread all of the manuscript out loud to my husband, and sometimes he would say such things as "A ninth grade boy would never say that!" He was very helpful in pointing out what was working and what wasn't. Additionally, several trusted friends who either are or have been teachers read the manuscript and gave me feedback, and my agent and editor gave me tons of useful feedback, too.

I've thought a lot about this question of writing outside of one's own perspective, and it seems to be that it's simply essential to do that for any writer -- who would want a novel in which the only perspective provided was that of a 43-year-old white woman? Not that we're all the same but what could you do in a story if the only perspective you could present was your own? I have read and went back and reread a lot of books with young male characters including THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, LORD OF THE FLIES, A SEPARATE PEACE, and OLD SCHOOL by Tobias Wolff. I also reread PREP while I was working on the novel and read John Green's LOOKING FOR ALASKA, and I'm always trying to keep up with as much YA lit as I can.

I don't think that Mauricio is that similar to me, although I do remember those feelings of extraordinary awkwardness at being new in a group and just in general at school (although I spent a lot of energy trying to hide that discomfort, as he does, too). I have also shared the feelings he has of being in love with someone who didn't love me back. And, I've had moments of longing to be someone other than who I am, and he feels that a lot during that first year of navigating his new school. I think many human beings have had all of these feelings, though. He becomes very drawn to the wealthy lifestyle that some of his peers enjoy (although he also notes that some of them, despite such privilege, aren't that happy), and this kind of thing can be very seductive -- I'm sure many of us have had moments of thinking we might really like such a world!

3. You're a former English teacher. What language misuse annoys you the most? (Just between you and me . . . *wink*)

I try hard to be patient with how the English language gets battered all the time! I also used to ask my students to do the same, while simultaneously encouraging them to learn the rules and use them -- and the whole me/I challenge is a big one for lots of folks -- the good old me/I conundrum! I would encourage my students to move the pronoun right next to the preposition and then that problem would, most likely, be solved. They would never have thought "between I and you" was right!

What probably bothers me most is writers who think they need to break the rules constantly to sound like kids. I don't think that's very helpful for kids who are still developing as writers, readers, speakers, and thinkers, and I also think there are ways to sound like kids and not constantly say such things as, "Me and Susan are going..." Kids are smart, and they need and want smart books! I think that's why I've loved the John Green books so much (and so have tons of kids, right?) and also read recently and adored THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU BANKS. (I've got a blog entry on this book, and one Sherman Alexie's recent ya novel, on my website if you're interested.) Gosh, I sure hope INITIATION is smart after all this yammering on about kids' needing smart books. sigh.

4. When you taught English, were there any books you hated teaching? Loved?

There was nothing I hated teaching, and that could be because I worked in schools where the teachers had a lot of room to create and shape the curriculum. There are many, many books I loved teaching, but some that stand out include all of the books that Mauricio and his classmates read in INITIATION: MACBETH, CATCHER IN THE RYE, and THE GREAT GATSBY. I also loved teaching THE SOUND AND THE FURY. I loved teaching JANE EYRE. I have pretty much enjoyed every Shakespeare play I've ever taught. I loved teaching poetry, especially because we often pursued poems that weren't terribly long so there was plenty of room to consider every word used carefully and to ensure that all the students got the poem (although you will soon see in INITIATION that Mauricio struggles with the poetry his class reads) and started to appreciate the artistry in the language of such poets as Keats, Wordsworth, Dickinson, and Elizabeth Bishop (to hame just four poems whose poems I taught to my ninth graders).

5. What caused you to write INITIATION?

I think there were various books I read that made me want to write my own. And, in some ways that desire grew out of my hope that my novel might reveal some things that other books in a similar genre (e.g. the NYC prep school) haven't. For example, NYC private schools are often quite hard academically, and some of the books (and movies, tv shows) in that same setting never show the kids doing any school work. I tried to include the basic business of school -- although one could argue that what preoccupies students most in school are social relations. I was also drawn to looking at how digital tools are surfacing in schools while also wanting to show kids still finding important insights, big life lessons really, in a play like MACBETH. A friend and I have come up with the following idea re today's students and the digital era they (and we!) are living in: "Nothing is new, but everything is different." For example, cheating in school has always been around; however, technology has led to all sorts of new ways to cheat. I like the paradox in our idea, and I'm hoping that there are some things in INITIATION that seem timeless and also some things that could only happen now -- but perhaps that's more the medium than the message. Kids have always been mean to each other -- or perhaps it's more accurate to say people here -- however, now kids can harass each other in new ways using technology. When you read about this stuff, though, some folks try to act as thought all of this is new. I don't think that bullying was left on the schoolyard at the end of the day, as some have said about the past, yet it wasn't possible to post nasty stuff about others on the internet. But we did make crank phone calls, and certainly if you were being bullied at school, you went home and worried about it. That stuff has always been really painful. There are also lots of good things -- many, many of them -- that have come from technology, but I won't get into that here!

6. Any more books on the horizon?

Yes! I have a second manuscript in process for another YA novel, and I have several ideas for other books I want to pursue. I'm also working on an article right now on social networking.

Book Cover

7. Before INITIATION you wrote ZEN IN THE ART OF THE SAT with Matt Bardin. What do you think the most difficult part of the SAT is? Why?

I hesitate to generalize about what's hardest on the SAT because every kid experiences it differently. What's hard for one kid might not be so hard for another. Standardized testing can be very challenging for some very smart people, and some people are quite adept at it but not necessarily great students. I think our book tries hard to make kids confident about navigating the test and also has a lot of advice about how to grow and improve as a reader, writer, and thinker. We also talk a lot about focus and concentration and really do present Zen ideas -- some of these might be even more important now, four years after the book first came out, given how many things compete for our attention these days. I do like that the SAT now has what used to be part of the SAT II (or the achievement test when I took it many years ago) which is the grammar section. All the errors that kids need to identify are common ones in writing and speaking, so studying for that part of the test (and for others) will have benefits well beyond a high score.

8. What are some of your hobbies? What practical skills have you gleaned from your hobbies?

I look cooking, I love knitting, I don't like running, but I do it -- and once I'm out on a run, I remember that I do like the quiet unplugged thinking time that running provides. I also spend a lot of time with my family -- one husband (a product of a boys' school) and two little boys, ages 3 and 8. I'm around a lot of Lego and enthusiasm about Vikings and pirates.

9. If your book were a dessert, what would it be and why?

I love figurative language, but I am hard pressed to find a dessert metaphor for my book! There's one character in the book, Alexander Singleton, who is very funny and who is often eating -- perhaps for lack of a better answer for you I'll just use something from the book: little white powdered doughnuts, which early in the book Alexander tries to bring into English class (on the first day of school) and gets caught eating (along with a container of chocolate milk). The teacher takes them away and tosses them into the trash. That's one of my favorite scenes and captures well the crazy dichotomy of a place like St. Stephen's: one minute Alexander Singleton is making a pretty intelligent point about some lines from ROMEO AND JULIET they are reading in class and the next minute he's trying to eat this little doughnut when the teacher isn't looking.

Book Cover

10. I'm fond of this question, so my readers are probably tired of seeing it. Too bad. How would you describe INITIATION without using the blurb?

It's a coming of age story, set very much in the 21st century world, that reveals one boy's funny and painful experiences navigating his first year in a new school, where he often feels like an outsider for a variety of different reasons. He develops deep ambivalence about the school but ultimately has this heartfelt feeling, which remains with him even after graduation, that somehow this school matters and can make him matter. The book takes place over the course of his freshman year, but the beginning and ending of it -- the frame on the book -- are just after graduation. He comes back to St. Stephen's looking for something and while he's there he starts thinking about freshman year and then the story of that year begins...


Sound cool to ya'll too? And for those who have taken the SAT, what did you think the hardest part was? For those who need to take it, what are you worried about?

I ask because this is my blog and I want to tell my SAT story. I had to two choices of dates to take the SAT because I waited until my senior year and then needed the scores by a certain date in order to finish my National Merit application. Both of these dates were band contest days. I chose the first so that I'd have time to retake it if my score sucked.

I took it at UTA since the competition was at UTA. Lucky me, I got stuck in the slow room. As soon as I finished I rushed to my mom in the lobby (waiting with the rest of my uniform) and went to change. All the stalls were taken so I just changed in the main part and apologized to the mom standing there. She then drove me to the stadium, and I began to walk, hoping to find my band. (My director knew I was going to be late, so I arranged to have someone push around my keyboard, so at least I didn't need to worry about that.) So what do I hear but the loudspeaker: "[LIVI'S] HIGH SCHOOL, YOU MAY NOW TAKE THE FIELD." So yeah, I ran really quickly into the chute and made it to my vibes. Good thing I didn't have to march on like a wind.

I think I sounded pretty good for having no warm up.


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