Interview with Susan Vaught, Author of Freaks Like Us

 

Susan Vaught’s latest release, Freaks Like Us, recently hit store shelves.  Susan stopped by the virtual offices for a chat.  Check out what she has to say!

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Susan Vaught] Long hair, pacifist, likes chocolate, reads a lot, has parrot, too many dogs, three cats, loves writing, likes football, works in an asylum.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Can you tell us a little about Freaks Like Us?

[Susan Vaught] Freaks Like Us is a fast-paced mystery, with most of the story taking place in the 24 hours after Jason Milwaukee’s best friend and sort-of girlfriend disappears. To find her, Jason has to battle his mental illness, his self-doubt, and prejudice from other people involved in the search.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Susan Vaught] I have been wanting to write through the eyes and voice of a character with schizophrenia for many years, but it took me a long time to develop just the right personality so readers could relate to Jason. The other characters came more naturally, and they all contend with issues I have either faced in my own life/family, or treated in my years of practice as a psychologist. The mystery element of the story unfolded as the story moved along, surprising me at the end of the first chapter!

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What three words best describe Jason?

[Susan Vaught] Brave, Loving, Determined

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What three things will Jason leave the house without?

[Susan Vaught] Three things he wouldn’t leave the house without would be Sunshine’s locket, his house key, and Agent Mercer’s private telephone number. If it’s really supposed to be what he WOULD leave the house without, then the answer would be . . . just about everything else. Jason can get pretty distracted and forgetful. Lunch money, his phone, his homework—all of that might get accidentally abandoned on any given day.

[ED – oops, yes it was a typo.  Thank you for the wonderful answer Smile]

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  If Jason had a theme song, what would it be?

[Susan Vaught] Possibility, by Lykke Li. I think the haunting sound and the words/emotions have real meaning for him.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What is Jason’s most prized possession?

[Susan Vaught] Sunshine’s gold locket. It means more to him than anything other than Sunshine herself.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What are your greatest creative influences?

[Susan Vaught] Life, music, and other people’s brilliant art. Whenever I read a great book, hear a wonderful song, look at an amazing painting or sculpture, watch a good film, or encounter good art in any other format, it inspires me to make more of my own—not copy what I experienced or encountered, but try to come up with something brilliant, beautiful, and lasting, to pass on that gift of inspiration.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What three things do you need in order to write?

[Susan Vaught] A clean house or writing cabin, no distractions, and the exact right song. I absolutely cannot write without good music.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Susan Vaught] Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor. I reviewed it on my website. I love the originality of the writing, and the flesh-and-blood feel of the characters…even those that don’t exactly have flesh and blood.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Susan Vaught] John Christopher’s Tripod series. The first book in the series was The White Mountains. I remember falling deeply into that world, into the struggles of those characters. I believe it was the first set of books I read where kids were in real jeopardy, and made a difference.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Susan Vaught] When I’m not writing, I’m usually working. My day job is at an inpatient psychiatric hospital. I also help tend the many birds and animals on our farm. What I’d like to do—ha. Be at the beach!

[Manga Maniac Cafe]   How can readers connect with you?

[Susan Vaught] Through my website, at www.susanvaught.com . I enjoy hearing from my readers!

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Thank you!

You can purchase Freaks Like Us from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the widget below.

Review: Blood Moon by Alyxandra Harvey

Title: Blood Moon (The Drake Chronicles)

Author:  Alyxandra Harvey

Drake Chronicles #5

Digital – Blood Moon (The Drake Chronicles)

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

When the vampire tribes convene for the rare Blood Moon ceremonies, Solange’s fight with her feral nature, a mysterious stranger, family secrets and forbidden magic put all of the Drakes in danger.
The POVs are: Solange, Lucy and Nicholas.


Review:

I love the Drake Chronicles, and if you had told me a few years ago that I would be eating up a YA series about vampires, I would have wondered what you had been smoking.  The vampire craze never made sense to me, and I find other paranormal beings much more compelling.  Give me a good zombie story, with lots of screaming and running for your life, and I’m happy. Give me a vampire story where the vamps aren’t romantic leads but terrifying, ruthless killers, and I might have been interested.  But a story about a large brood of single, sexy vampire brothers (and one very confused sister), and I’m, like, yawn, so I have to thank Bloomsbury for sending the first book in this series to me, because they got me totally hooked.  Thanks, Bloomsbury!!

Blood Moon picks up right were the previous installment, Bleeding Hearts, left off.  Solange is losing her battle against her feral nature, and not even her BFF, Lucy, is safe in her presence.  Solange is so unstable that  her strong family doesn’t know what to do or how to control her.  She lashes out at everyone, and she falls under the sway of Constantine, a powerful vampire with hidden goals of his own.  When Nicholas goes missing, not even his sudden disappearance can mend Solange’s broken relationships long enough to find her brother.

I loved this installment, right up until the non-ending.  That is non-ending number two for the series, and it’s something that tries my patience.  While I am happy that there will be another book in the series, stopping this one almost in mid-sentence is disappointing.  Even when a book is part of a series, I still expect each installment to have a beginning and an ending.  I expect minor story arcs to get wrapped up, leaving the bigger plot thread for another day.  It’s hard to recommend a book to my friends that just slams into a brick wall and ends with a “Well, see ya next time!”  The momentum is lost by the time I pick up the next book in a series, and there’s an awkward period of adjustment as I struggle to remember who everyone is and what everything is about.  I would rather wait until all of the pieces are released before wading into the thick of things, and I usually advise my friends to wait until a series is complete.  Sorry, that’s just the way I roll.  I refuse to read another George R R Martin book until A Song Ice and Fire is finished, because I hate the years and years gaps between his books, and that is probably my favorite series.

Blood Moon examines the relationship between Lucy and Solange, returning to the series’ roots.  The action starts off with Lucy having to taser an ever more unstable Solange.  It seems that even being her best friend is no guarantee of her safety.   With  Kieran bleeding to death after a ravenous Solange can’t resist feasting on his rich, enticing blood, Lucy is desperate to get him the medical attention he needs, as well as keeping herself from becoming a vampire snack.  The constant push and pull between the girls was compelling; Solange doesn’t want to keep striking out at Lucy, but she just can’t help herself.  With Constantine there to encourage her drinking fresh from the vein blood, she is spiraling ever faster out of control.  Her hunger drives her, and she can’t quench it.  And, oh, yeah, she’s hearing a voice in her head, one that urges her to think of no one but herself and to hell with the consequences.

I wish that Nicholas and Lucy had more page time together, because they are my favorite couple.  Alas, he’s abducted, making  cuddle time impossible.  Lucy’s frantic efforts to find him are in vain, and I loved the scene on the school roof, which has her screaming out her fear, rage, and helplessness into the night air.  Poor Lucy!  I could feel her emotional pain, and I think I, too, would have felt so frustrated that I would have screamed uncontrollably until my eyes bled.  For a girl who is accustomed to taking charge, to acting to save her friends, her helplessness was agonizing.  For the first time in the series, she gives in to her fear.  There is nothing she can do to save Nicholas except wait for him to be found, and that does not agree with her heart, or her personality, one little bit.

I enjoyed this outing with the Drakes right up until the non-ending, and if I had known about it, I would have held off until January, when Blood Prophesy hits stores.   I am by nature impatient, so I hate these waits to see how all of the cliffhangers will play out.  I’d rather hold off until the final book is released, especially for a series that I love, instead of getting annoyed by these dreaded non-endings.  How do you feel about cliffhangers?  Love ‘em? Hate ‘em?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts about them.

Grade:   B- (minor deduction for the cliffhanger ending)

Review copy purchased from Amazon  (I also received a finished copy from Bloomsbury after I purchased a digital version from Amazon.  I will be giving this away soon, so check back if you’re interested!)

Cover Shot! Dance of Shadows by Yelena Black

Cover Shot! is a regular feature here at the Café. I love discovering new covers, and when I find them, I like to share. More than anything else, I am consumed with the mystery that each new discovery represents. There is an allure to a beautiful cover. Will the story contained under the pages live up to promise of the gorgeous cover art?

Bloomsbury revealed the cover for Dance of Shadows by Yelena Black yesterday.  I like the how the lack of background distractions draws your eye to the model and her weird, red, flower petal imploding costume.  At least, I think they are flower petals.  The book sounds interesting, so I’m curious about whether or not it will live up to my expectations, which are, admittedly, high.  Are you looking forward to Dance of Shadows?

In stores December 2012.

    

Curtains up on a deliciously dark new YA trilogy!

Vanessa Adler isn’t so sure she really belongs at the School of American Ballet. But dance runs in her family. It’s been a part of her life for as long as she can remember. Her grandmother and mother were prima ballerinas, and her older sister Margaret was, too. That is, until Margaret mysteriously disappeared from school three years ago. Vanessa is heir to the family’s gift and the only person who can fulfill her sister’s destiny. She has no choice.

But she never could have guessed how dangerous the school is. The infamous choreographer, Josef, isn’t just ruthless with his pupils, he guards a sinister secret, one in which the school’s dancers—prized for their beauty, grace, and discipline—become pawns in a world of dark, deadly demons.

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Waiting on Wednesday–Hysteria by Megan Miranda

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

I loved Fracture, so I am eagerly awaiting Megan Miranda’s next outing, Hysteria.  In stores February 2013

 

Mallory’s life is falling apart. Her boyfriend was stabbed. He bled to death in her kitchen. Mallory was the one who stabbed him. But she can’t remember what happened that night. She only remembers the fear . . .

 
When Mallory’s parents send her away to a boarding school, she thinks she can escape the gossip and the threats. But someone, or something, has followed her. There’s the hand that touches her shoulder when she’s drifting off to sleep. A voice whispering her name. And everyone knows what happened. So when a pupil is found dead, Mallory’s name is on their lips. Her past can be forgotten but it’s never gone. Can Mallory live with that?(

What are you waiting on?

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Interview with Laura Powell, Author of Burn Mark

Our special guest today is Laura Powell, the author of Burn Mark.  This new Bloomsbury release features one of my favorite romance tropes – forbidden love!  Let’s see what Laura has to say about her new book.

[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Laura Powell] I’m half-Welsh, half-American, and live in a London attic. I can read fortunes in tea leaves and Tarot cards, and like to bake cakes and binge-sleep in between books.

[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for Burn Mark?

[Laura Powell] It struck me that a witches’ coven is quite like the Mafia: they’re both secret criminal organizations, hunted by the law, a source of fear and loathing to many, but seen as quite cool and glamorous by some.

Since modern-day witches would make great gangsters, I thought there would need to be a specialist police force to protect people from black magic – the Inquisition. Once I’d got these two opposing forces, I decided that my heroine, Glory, should come from a famous crime coven, while my hero, Lucas, should belong to an equally famous family of inquisitors. When their worlds collide, sparks fly!

[Manga Maniac Café] What three words best describe Glory?

[Laura Powell] Stroppy, ambitious, brave

[Manga Maniac Café]  What are three things Lucas would never have in his pocket?

[Laura Powell] Any kind of discount voucher, a lock-picking set, lint

[Manga Maniac Café] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Laura Powell] The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood. She’s probably my favourite contemporary novelist. Now that I’ve finished that, I’m on to her post-apocalyptic thriller, The Year of the Flood.

[Manga Maniac Café] Thank you!

You can learn more about Laura by visiting her website.

Check out the trailer!

You can purchase Burn Mark from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the widget below.

Review: Dead Reckoning by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill

 

   Title: Dead Reckoning

   Author: Mercedes Lackey  & Rosemary Edghill

   Publisher: Bloomsbury

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Jett is a girl disguised as a boy, living as a gambler in the old West as she searches for her long-lost brother. Honoria Gibbons is a smart, self-sufficient young woman who also happens to be a fabulous inventor. Both young women travel the prairie alone – until they are brought together by a zombie invasion! As Jett and Honoria investigate, they soon learn that these zombies aren’t rising from the dead of their own accord … but who would want an undead army? And why? This gunslinging, hair-raising, zombie western mashup is perfect for fans of Cowboys vs. Aliens and Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.

Review:

I haven’t read anything by Mercedes Lackey in a long, long time, and I don’t think I have ever read Rosemary Edghill, and that’s something I would like to rectify, because I enjoyed Dead Reckoning. Though there are some pacing issues at the end, and few too many convenient coincidences, I found my time  with Jett, White Fox, and Gibbons well spent. These characters were easy to like.  I do wish White Fox had been given more depth and more page time.  I loved Gibbons, and thought that she could probably talk her way in to and back out of Fort Knox with a bucket full of gold bars.  She was never content to take anything at face value; she had this all-consuming need to understand the how and the why of everything.  I loved how this drove Jett nuts.  She was more than willing to accept what she saw with her own eyes, and didn’t need to overthink anything.  Gibbons had an annoying habit of getting on her last, frayed nerve, and there was nothing Jett could do once her new acquaintance got on a roll.

I feel that I am still a recent convert to zombie-dom.  I wouldn’t even consider reading a zombie book until after a few reviews of The Enemy and The Forest of Hands and Teeth prompted me to read outside of my comfort zone.  I’m so glad that I did, but I am still a bit squeamish when it comes to rotting corpses.  I can’t be too scared, or I start to feel anxious and worried and I am torn in agony over putting the book aside or mincing cautiously through the pages.  Dead Reckoning was downright creepy in a few parts, but the horror elements weren’t the focus of the story.  If you are looking for a gross out, zombie rampage, you won’t find it here.  Instead, you’ll find a western that’s more medical thriller than zombie apocalypse, with steampunk elements thrown in for good measure.

What made this book for me was the character interaction.  White Fox was the peacemaker between Gibbons and Jett, whose constant head-butting kept me turning the pages.  In the years just after the Civil War, Jett is desperately searching for her twin brother.  She doesn’t believe that he’s dead, and he’s the only family she has left after the devastating war.  Masquerading as a  boy, she pretends to be a gambler and gunslinger, thinking that she’ll encounter less trouble if everyone thinks she is a male.  Having witnessed the looting and destruction of her home by Northerners, she doesn’t have much trust for them.  Fleeing from certain death at the putrefying hands of a zombie army, Jett encounters White Fox and Gibbons – both Yankees and both to be viewed with suspicion.  When Gibbons, who is too clever by far, immediately sees through her disguise, Jett is even more wary of them.  Her continued safety depends on her ruse, and she doesn’t trust either of them to keep her secret.

Though they are very different, both Gibbons and Jett are strong, outspoken women.  Gibbons has gotten grief because of her “outlandish” ideas and demeanor, but she refuses to be something that she’s not.  She prizes science and thinks that if she only looks hard enough, she’ll find a rational reason for everything.  Even an apparent zombie horde.  She has no patience for simpering females, or their ridiculous clothing.  Jett, on the other hand, enjoyed wearing frilly gowns and attending parties.  She blames the war for changing her life so drastically, and she believes that after she locates her brother, she can go back to her idea of normal.  They couldn’t be more different, but they both share the courage and resourcefulness to try to stop the zombie army.  Neither of them has a personal stake in this fight, but they won’t ignore their moral obligation to save the countless lives that would be lost if they didn’t put a stop to it.  They made a great team, I would love to see them take on another fight in the future.  I feel that White Fox was seriously underutilized here, and would like another chance for him to prove his mettle.

Dead Reckoning is a fun read with zombies, a Western setting, and steampunk elements.  The pacing was a bit off near the end as the villain rambled on without end, gloating about his superior intellect and forthcoming victory. Despite that, this is a fast, popcorn read with a cast of diverse personalities that are thrown together and forced to stop a zombie army – even though one of their number doesn’t believe in zombies.    

Grade: B/B-

Available in Print and Digital

Review copy provided by publisher

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Interview with Melissa Walker, Author of Unbreak My Heart

Melissa Walker is the author of the enjoyable summer read Unbreak My Heart.  She also penned Small Town Sinners.   Recently, I asked Melissa a few questions about her latest book.  See what she has to say about Unbreak My Heart.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Melissa Walker] Author of teen books, magazine writer and editor, lover of iced-coffee, mix tapes, Friday Night Lights and Tarheel Basketball.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Unbreak My Heart?

[Melissa Walker] Sure! It’s the story of a girl named Clem who is spending the summer with her parents and little sister on the family sailboat. She starts out heartbroken because of an incident that happened last year, and she slowly works through her pain (with the help of the fam and a sweet guy she meets on the river).

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Melissa Walker] I broke up with a best friend once, and it was (and is) truly painful. I wanted a way to get at that feeling, and these characters came to me as I thought about that situation.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?

[Melissa Walker] The story alternates between past and present (the year that broke Clem’s heart and the summer that heals it), so getting that balance right was tough. I rearranged chapters a LOT, and that can get confusing!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Clem?

[Melissa Walker] Introspective, regretful, hopeful

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things James would never have in his pocket?

[Melissa Walker] Ha! Love this question. He would never have: a banana (too smelly), a hole (he’s very put together) or a cigarette (he’s too into fresh air).

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is Clem’s single most prized possession?

[Melissa Walker] Probably her iPod. She needs her life to have a soundtrack.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Melissa Walker] I do watch a lot of TV and movies, and I read a lot, but I think "real life" is my greatest influence. Walking around, I catch snatches of conversation, see people act a certain way, watch how someone moves. That inspires me to sit down with new characters the most.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Melissa Walker] Laptop, iced coffee, and at least two hours of uninterrupted time.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Melissa Walker] The Difference Between You an Me, by Madeleine George. Best kissing scenes ever.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Melissa Walker] It would likely be Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. I could not get enough of Fudge.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Melissa Walker] Read! Yoga. Park walks. Baby snuggles.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Melissa Walker] On melissacwalker.com, on twitter @melissacwalker, on facebook.com/melissawalkerauthor and on pinterest.com/melcwalker

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thanks!


You can order Unbreak My Heart and Small Town Sinners from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the links below

Review: Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker

 

 

Title: Unbreak My Heart

Author:  Melissa Walker

Publisher: Bloomsbury

ISBN: 978-1599905280

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Sophomore year broke Clementine Williams’ heart. She fell for her best friend’s boyfriend and long story short: he’s excused, but Clem is vilified and she heads into summer with zero social life.

Enter her parents’ plan to spend the summer on their sailboat. Normally the idea of being stuck on a tiny boat with her parents and little sister would make Clem break out in hives, but floating away sounds pretty good right now.

Then she meets James at one of their first stops along the river. He and his dad are sailing for the summer and he’s just the distraction Clem needs. Can he break down Clem’s walls and heal her broken heart?

Told in alternating chapters that chronicle the year that broke Clem’s heart and the summer that healed it, Unbreak My Heart is a wonderful dual love story that fans of Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Susane Colasanti will flock to.

,

Review:

I read and enjoyed, with a few reservations, Melissa Walker’s Small Town Sinners.  The religious framework occasionally frustrated me, but Lacey’s coming of age was compelling.  I was curious to read Unbreak My Heart, to see if I would have similar reservations with this story about a high school student who betrays her BFF.  I did not.  I was immediately engaged in this book, and couldn’t put it down. This is a great summer read with compelling characters and rapid-fire pacing.

The book begins with a very sad, very depressed Clem.  She has made herself a social outcast, and worse, she has betrayed her best friend.  A school year of forbidden attraction and inappropriate flirting has alienated her from all of her friends.  She thinks that the world has ended, as she suffers from soul-shaking sighs of regret and beats herself up over selling out Amanda.  She is the star of her own pity-party, and this is one party that seems as though it is never going to end.

To make matters worse, she is going to be stuck on her parents’ sailboat with her younger sister all summer long.  The thought is enough to send her over the deep end.  All Clem wants to do is mope around and relive every lapse of judgment she exhibited the entire school year.  She doesn’t like herself, and she now believes that she deserves to be a universally despised.  Poor Clem!

Thankfully, Clem has a run-in with James and a basket of bananas early in the book, a scene that actually had me laughing out loud.  For all of Clem’s angsty dramatics, her younger sister, Olive, and the always smiling James, lighten the tone of the story and kept Unbreak My Heart from being a total downer.  Clem is a whiny baby-face for the first few chapters, but she is so pathetic that I couldn’t find it in myself to dislike her.  She already disliked herself enough for the both of us.  Seriously.

As the story unfolds, alternating between her summer prison term on the sail boat and her unwise but understandable behavior during the previous school year, Clem begins to accept that she isn’t perfect, and that she isn’t the sole cause of her year of indiscretion.  After all of the events are revealed, I found it difficult to blame her for anything.  She is never the instigator, and she is constantly stressing about her feelings for Ethan.

I loved the setting of this story.  Clem’s family is sailing part of the Great Loop for the summer.  Clem is disconnected from the internet, and even her cell phone can’t pick up a reliable signal.  Instead, she is stuck interacting with her family and the people they meet along their journey.   When I was younger, my parents had a small cabin cruiser.  I went with them to Cedar Point one year, and had one of the best family bonding experiences ever.  I got to know my younger brother better, and I still snicker when I remember the night he sat up, yelled, “Let’s ride it one more time!” and rolled over, still fast asleep.  Despite running out of gas in extremely choppy waters, being stuck in Toledo due to inclement weather, and the occasional frayed nerves, that really is a trip I will remember for the rest of my life.  As Clem got to know her family better, I felt assured that she, too, was making memories that would last her a lifetime.

While Clem’s family was a little too perfect, her flaws more than made up for their lack of them.  James was just what Clem needed, too.  He is a walking ray of sunshine, always ready with a smile and a laugh.  Despite her vow to stay away from boys, Clem can’t help but be drawn to him.  I liked James, too.  He’s open, kind, and fun to be around.  I never suspected that he had dark troubles of his own, but once they were revealed, I liked him even more.

Unbreak My Heart is a fast, satisfying read.  It’s a perfect addition to your beach bag book collection.  While  Clem was occasionally irritating as she struggled to forgive herself for betraying her BFF, but I just couldn’t find it in myself to dislike her for being such a drama queen.  As her summer drifted by, she discovered insights about herself and her friends that helped her cope with the decisions she made that altered her relationships forever.  I liked the Clem at the end of the book, and enjoyed seeing her mature.  I think you will, too.

Grade: B

Available in Digital and Print

Review copy provided by publisher

 

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