Welcome to my Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway, hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and Book Hounds. This hop runs from December 21 to December 31 and you can win lots of new reads. There are over 200 blogs participating in this hop! Click here for a complete list of blogs participating in the hop.Read more
The pre-release madness for Entangled Publishing’s new Embrace imprint continues! Don’t forget to check out the post from earlier this morning so you can enter the giveaway!
Please welcome Kelley York to the virtual offices this morning!
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.
[Kelley York] Capable of wanting to read/write rainbows and unicorns one second, and death and destruction in the next. I like books to make me cry.Read more
Please give a warm welcome to Debbie Levy this morning. Debbie is visiting the virtual offices to celebrate the release of Imperfect Spiral.
[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.
[Debbie Levy] Mom, spouse, dog- and cat-friend. Reader, writer, nature-lover. Once upon a time: Newspaper editor. Lawyer. Don’t hold that against me.
[Manga Maniac Café] Can you tell us a little about Imperfect Spiral?
[Debbie Levy] In Imperfect Spiral, Danielle Snyder’s summer job babysitting five-year-old Humphrey Danker turns tragic when, as they walk home from the park, Humphrey runs into traffic to chase down his football. Immediately Danielle is caught up in the machinery of tragedy: police investigations, neighborhood squabbling, and, when the driver of the car that struck Humphrey turns out to be an undocumented immigrant—a politically charged immigration debate. Danielle’s thoughts are on Humphrey—her funny, fun, peculiar “Humpty” and the two months they spent together—but all around her, friends and strangers seem focused on everything and everyone else.
So the novel is about a tragedy, a community’s search for someone or something to blame, and Danielle’s growing realization that sometimes the most, and least, you can do is try to stop one bad thing from leading to another. And it’s equally the story of a deep connection between two slightly oddball souls—Danielle and Humphrey—that transcends age and, in some ways, even death.
[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?
[Debbie Levy] My process is not tidy or organized—although I, personally, am both of those things, really I am—so I could honestly answer this by saying:
But I can also try to impose structure on the disorder that characterizes the inception of most of my projects. So I can say that the origins of Imperfect Spiral were my musings about a character, a teenage girl who feels that she is terribly peculiar. She’s not actually terribly peculiar but she may be a little bit peculiar. In a good way, in my opinion, but not hers.
There’s more. I thought it would be helpful for my character—Danielle—to come to see herself reflected in the eyes of someone else, but not a love-interest someone else, so I came up with a little boy. A great little boy, who is also a little bit peculiar. Who thinks Danielle is absolutely the greatest. And who can make it clear to the reader how great she is. I named that boy Humphrey.
And then. . . . Well, then, Humphrey died. At my hands, obviously.
And this is where the idea-making process gets even more difficult to explain. Once my two main characters came into being, they took on lives of their own. Once I had Danielle and Humphrey in play, the situation presented itself: that of something terrible happening to Humphrey, and happening on Danielle’s watch, when she was babysitting him. This is what presented itself, sad as the idea was.
[Manga Maniac Café] What three words best describe Danielle?
[Debbie Levy] Work. In. Progress.
[Manga Maniac Café] Name one thing Danielle is never without.
[Debbie Levy] Her fare card for the Washington, D.C. area subway and bus system. Because you never know when you might want to go somewhere.
[Manga Maniac Café] What are your greatest creative influences?
[Debbie Levy] Books, woods, and water. Books, because they remind me that, hard as it is to write something that really touches people, it is possible. Woods and water, because walking in the woods, paddling in, or even just looking at, rivers and other bodies of water clears my head, helps me create, and also helps me deal when the creating is not going well.
[Manga Maniac Café] What three things do you need in order to write?
[Debbie Levy] An idea. And then two more.
[Manga Maniac Café] What was your biggest distraction while working on Imperfect Spiral?
[Debbie Levy] I was putting together presentations for my 2010 book, The Year of Goodbyes, which involved revisiting some very emotional territory. That book is about my mother’s last year as a child living in Nazi Germany in 1938, and what happened to her friends and family. I have a lot of photographs and other documentary material that I use to illustrate those presentations, and you know a picture is worth a thousand words (a cliché is a cliché because it’s true)—so this was all very intense.
[Manga Maniac Café] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?
[Debbie Levy] The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer. Before that, Stoner, by John Williams. It’s a quiet classic that I’d never heard of before this year, and I can’t piece together how I heard of it this year—but anyway, it is so intelligent, so clear, so non-gimmicky. Fiction for grown-ups. Before that, Wonder, by R.J. Palacio.
[Manga Maniac Café] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?
[Debbie Levy] Seriously, just one book?
Okay. All-of-a-Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor.
[Manga Maniac Café] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
[Debbie Levy] I love to kayak, enjoying birds and other wildlife and also fishing from the kayak. I know, not so enjoyable for the fish, but we are not a vegetarian family and I only take the fish that I’m going to fillet and cook. I also love to read. (Surprise!) And to swim.
[Manga Maniac Café] How can readers connect with you?
[Debbie Levy] Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send me a Tweet at @debbielevybooks. Friend or message me on Facebook.
Or skywrite me a message. I’m always looking up.
[Manga Maniac Café] Thank you!
About the book:
Title: Georgetown Academy Book 4
Author: Alyssa Embree Schwartz and Jessica Koosed Etting
May Contain Spoilers
Oh, my gosh, I don’t even know where to start with this one! I really like this series, and while I didn’t feel that Book Four was as strong a read as Book Three, it still kept me turning the pages at a frantic pace. Ellie and Taryn get some big, big news – Either of them could potentially be the Second Daughter of the good old U S of A! Yup, Ellie’s mom and Taryn’s dad are in the running to be the next VP of the US, after the current Vice President had to resign due to an illness. Nice! That means moving to bigger digs, and living life under even closer scrutiny. Yay! Sign me up! Not!
In additional to all of that competition to see who will be the next Vice President, Evan is finally living her dream. She and Hunter are an item, even though she is assailed with self-doubts. He is so far out of her social circle that it’s not even funny. She keeps wondering what he sees in her, and the stress of trying to live up to her expectations of what she thinks he thinks she should be like is exhausting. That sentence exhausted me, and I hope it made sense! Yes, here’s Evan of the humble background dating Hunter, he of the golden spoon in mouth. When Evan mistakes someone else’s jacket for hers, she opens the door to more grief than she ever expected. Who knew those innocent looking mints were anything but? And now she has a scoop that could change the outcome of the VP race, but she’s not going to spill the beans, because she’s so afraid nobody will believe a nobody like her! Oh!! Poor Evan! While the set up for this disaster was more than obvious, I still got caught up in Evan’s downfall. Just one mistake in this series and you. Are. Toast! Your social standing is GONE! At least until the next sap gets caught up in the next breaking headline.
Ellie’s got a lot of stress to deal with, too. Her mom is in a war with Gabe’s dad, not like that’s anything new, but with the stakes so high, her mom finally takes off the kid gloves. She verbally strikes out at Gabe’s mother, which he just does not appreciate. With the press sniffing around for a sensational story, Ellie has to be careful, too. She can’t let on that she and Gabe might be an item. Everything has be kept on the lowdown. Worse, their parents feuding is starting to needle into their relationship, confusing things even more. I like this pairing! It’s hard enough to be an couple when the whole world is watching your every move, but mix in your parents and their complete and utter dislike for each other? Ugh! That is one ugly time bomb waiting to explode! Will Gabe and Ellie be able to keep the love alive? Maybe we’ll find out in Book Five whether they have any chance at all of having a happy ever after. I don’t think I’m going to count on it. Sad face.
Taryn makes several major blunders here, and while I wanted to feel sorry for her, I could not. She throws one of her friends under the bus to keep her father’s chances of being the VP alive, and she starts thinking that she is just too cool for school. After her father hires Brinley’s dad to manage his PR campaign, Taryn finds herself on the receiving end of all kinds of advice she isn’t sure she needs. Brinley has been tasked to groom Taryn so that she always gives the best possible impression to the press, but Taryn chafes at being forced to act like someone she isn’t. With Brooks assuring her that she should just be herself, she makes a major misstep. It’s like she took her eyes off the pathway, tripped over her fuzzy boots, and face-planted. It’s so not good! I was disappointed that Taryn would treat a friend as poorly as she did, because of all of the girls, Taryn seemed the most level headed to me, but after suffering some major embarrassment, I didn’t want to see her meet any other disasters. Even if she deserved them and brought them on herself.
I have so much fun watching Brinley squirm! When she learns that Taryn’s dad has retained her father’s services, she is disdainful. At first. Until Brooks points out that another major loss for their father is going to have a direct reflection on how they are treated by the DC public. Ha! Then she’s like a chameleon. She is all about coaching Taryn on how not to embarrass her family and, as a direct result, reduce her father’s chance of being elected to Vice President. She is even forced to “fluff” Tayrn’s dress at a major party. Score! This horrible girl, who only thinks of herself, finally gets a taste of humble pie. Sadly, it wasn’t much of a taste, and I doubt that she has anything to take away from the experience, but it sure was fun while it lasted.
So! Did I enjoy GTA Book Four? You bet! This is such a fun read, with a varied cast of characters that I both love and HATE. Often at the same time! Everyone gets a kick in the face to keep them all honest, but they also achieve little victories to keep them, and me, coming back for more. Bring on Book 5!!
Review copy provided by publisher
Title: Black Helicopters
Author: Blythe Woolston
May Contain Spoilers
Wow – this is a powerful read, despite the short length, but I don’t know how I feel about it. I don’t know if this is a book that you can like. It’s certainly compelling, and I could not put it down, but ultimately, there are so many questions that were never answered to my satisfaction. I guess I hated that Valley was nothing more than a pawn, and even when she had the chance to leave her past behind her, she choose to hold steadfast to her father’s survivalist training and strike out at Those People. Whoever the heck Those People were! Argh!
Black Helicopters is told through Valley’s present day adventures and flashbacks to her childhood. Her mother was killed by black helicopters when she was in the garden picking beans, leaving her father to raise her and her brother, Bo. They live somewhere and somewhen in Montana. Valley and Bo are expected to keep themselves hidden from Those People while their father is away from the family’s rustic cabin, so they aren’t shot and killed like coyotes. They are trained in survival skills; drop Valley on the side of mountain with a knife, and she’ll get by without much else. They have caches of supplies hidden in case the government comes for them, and they have been taught how to hide and how to fight.
In the present day narrative, Valley is a suicide bomber. She is angry and tired of not being able to strike back at the people who have taken so much from her. She decides to make the ultimate statement and make the ultimate sacrifice to wake people up. The government, with their secrets and their black helicopters, are out to get everyone! Surrounded by like minded individuals, Valley and her brother have been training for something big like this for their whole lives. After seeking refuge with Wolf and his family, Valley is dismayed at the changes in Bo. He isn’t acting like her brother anymore, and she makes up her mind then, as he changes before her eyes, that she’s going to make people sit up and take notice. What I found depressing was that I don’t think Valley ever really knew Bo; he was allowed freedoms denied to her, as he worked with their father, going into the outside world while Valley was left at home in the den, keeping herself hidden and secret. Bo was able to see and do so many things, and the world outside of the den wasn’t such a mystery to him.
Parts of this book just bothered me. Valley is powerless virtually the entire book. Her own father only values her for the help she gives him during his acts of domestic terrorism. She and Bo have been thoroughly brainwashed, and she would never ever even dream of going against his orders. Her entire purpose is to be a good little soldier and follow her mission to the end. When Valley is molested by the man who is supposed to offer them a safe haven, she doesn’t tell Bo. She is forced to keep this terrible secret and endure this awful man’s abuse because she’s afraid he’ll kill her brother. Valley doesn’t have much power over her own life until she and Bo escape to Wolf’s; there, she makes the decision to don a vest and make the loudest, most violent statement possible.
Another problem that I had is that it is so hard to like or be sympathetic for Valley and her family. They see threats everywhere, and they must be constantly on guard. They believe that the deadly black helicopters are just a horizon away, that they will eventually come for them and kill them dead. Deadly conspiracies abound, and every one will end with their deaths. With her constant vigilance, it’s hard to get to know her, and that ever present wariness kept an emotional distance from Valley and the reader.
All of that out of the way, this is an impossible book to put down. I wanted to know what happened next, and I gobbled this book up. I’m just not sure how much I actually liked it. I certainly hated the ending, because it seemed so pointless to me. I guess I don’t agree that any cause is worth dying for, and I was angry that Valley thought that hers was. I just saw her as gullible and brainwashed, which made her come across as pathetic. She wasn’t heroic or brave; she was a puppet, and that made this book even more depressing. The adults who should have been teaching, mentoring, and inspiring her all failed her. They were so caught up by their own agenda, by their own need to cause civil chaos, that they didn’t leave any other path for Valley. My own mind set and world view is too firmly established to accept that any cause is worth the life of a teenager. So, I recommend this book, with the many reservations listed above.
Review copy provided by publisher
Title: The Lucy Variations
Author: Sara Zarr
May Contain Spoilers
I love books set in highly competitive settings, and musical competitions are a favorite. Lucy’s competitive days are over, though. At the start of The Lucy Variations, she’s been in retirement for eight months. Eight months since she quit, since she walked out of a concert hall in Prague. She has been lost to herself for all of this time; longer, actually, because she lost her love for music and for her piano well before then. Her journey to find herself is not without mistakes and heartbreak, but when she does find herself again, will she have the courage to stand up to her family and take herself back?
After destructing in Prague, Lucy is happy with her new, stress free life. That’s what she keeps telling herself, anyway. After her grandmother’s death, nothing mattered anymore; not her music, not her family, not her schoolwork. Walking off the stage in Prague was intended as a protest to her grandfather, a message that she didn’t appreciate how he had made the decision that she would be competing instead of with her dying grandmother. Betrayed, Lucy still hasn’t forgiven her family for lying to her, and she hasn’t forgiven herself for not standing up to her grandfather. When she walked off the stage, he took her protest to be permanent. He called her a quitter, and told her her career was over. Now, the attention is on her talented younger brother, also a gifted pianist. Now, without the pressure of competition and practice, Lucy can be a teenager. She can have crushes and make friends and be a normal kid. Only, truthfully, she will never be a normal kid because she misses being someone, though she can’t even admit that to herself.
Lucy is a compelling character. She’s confused and angry. She can’t get past that day in Prague, when she gave everything up, only she didn’t realize at the time that her actions would last forever. She never thought that her grandfather, a harsh taskmaster, would be so uncompromising, and that he would deny her the chance to apologize and get back on with her piano practice. Instead, he dumped her faster than a garbage truck emptying a load at the local landfill. Lucy has no one to stand up for her against her grandfather, and as the months go by, she is more and more resentful of how she has been judged and left wanting.
When her brother, Gus, needs a new piano instructor, Will and his beautiful wife enter their lives. Will is so alive and so passionate about music. He makes Lucy remember all of the things she loved about it. He makes her want to try new things and play just for herself. As she gets to know him better and work through her issues with her family, Lucy develops a monumental crush on Will. This is the part of the story that I liked the least. Lucy jumps from an inappropriate crush on her English teacher to a crush on Will, but none of the moral dilemmas were adequately explored. There are no consequences explored, no significant examination of how their friendship is hurting Will’s wife. I was very disappointed with this aspect of the story.
Overall, I did enjoy The Lucy Variations. It’s an engaging story about a girl longing to find herself again, and to reestablish her voice in her demanding, controlling family.
Review copy provided by publisher
Please welcome Lucy King to the virtual offices! Lucy is here to chat about her latest, One More Sleepless Night!
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.
[Lucy King] Voracious reader, erratic writer, ace procrastinator. Mother of two, sun-loving Hispanophile. Avid list-maker yet perplexingly inefficient.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about One More Sleepless Night?
[Lucy King] One More Sleepless Night is the story of Nicky Sinclair, a photojournalist who, following a nasty incident in the Middle East, is suffering from PTSD and burnout. On the recommendation of a friend she heads to Spain for some lovely peaceful R&R, only to discover that she has to share her retreat with Rafael Montero, a man who, being after solitude, peace and quiet and a break from women, does not feel inclined to babysit a house guest. Throw in a nightmare or two, scorching summer heat and a ferocious one-sided attraction, and things become far from restful!
[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?
[Lucy King] By the time the story’s finished, it’s generally undergone so many twists and turns that its origins fade into the mists of time and thousands of deleted words. That’s certainly the case for this story, although what I can remember is that I’d always wanted to set a story in south west Spain, where I live, and write about a dark brooding Spaniard (which had nothing to do with the desire to endlessly Google Antonio Banderas, absolutely nothing at all). A heroine with PTSD was just someone I think I thought sounded interesting.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Nicky?
[Lucy King] Ex-thrill-seeker. Burnt-out basket-case.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] If Rafael had a theme song, what would it be?
[Lucy King] That’s a tricky one as I’m hopeless with songs and who sang them. I did rack my brains, but couldn’t come up with anything. However if there’s a song out there about being a loner, believing you’re emotionally unreliable, and having a tendency to stick your head in the sand, then that would be it.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name one thing Nicky is never without.
[Lucy King] Her hi-spec digital camera.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things will you never find in Rafael’s bathroom?
[Lucy King] Moisturiser. Hair gel. Waxing strips.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is Nicky’s greatest regret?
[Lucy King] As she’s always lived life to the max Nicky doesn’t believe in regrets – or at least she didn’t before she became such a mess. Now, though, she regrets pretty much everything.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?
[Lucy King] The voices in my head…
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?
[Lucy King] A computer and a clear head. Coffee’s a bonus, as is my iPod which I find helps to block out the distracting sounds of every day life. In order to write like the wind though, all I need is a looming deadline.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?
[Lucy King] Recently I’ve read Rules of Civility by Amor Towles and The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers by Paul Torday and loved both, but the one that springs to mind and kept me up til dawn is Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson. Original and spine-tingling.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?
[Lucy King] I spent most of my childhood with my head in a book, devouring anything I could get my hands on. Enid Blyton was a favourite (The Enchanted Wood, Malory Towers, the Famous Five…) so it was probably one by her.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
[Lucy King] In my dreams I lie on the sofa reading and catching up on TV shows, or go out with friends and dance til dawn. In reality, however, toddlers don’t think much of people lying on the sofa relaxing and they don’t have much sympathy for the tiredness that staying up all night results in, so I generally find myself entertaining the children, cooking for the children and clearing up after the children, while studiously ignoring the piles of paperwork building up.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?
[Lucy King] I’m such a remiss blogger that I’ve kind of given up on that. However, I do Tweet from time to time (@lucy_king) and can be found wittering away on Facebook (www.facebook.com/lucykingbooks). Then there’s my website www.lucykingbooks.com and lastly, email email@example.com. I love hearing from readers, so please do get in touch.
Thank you for having me here!
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!
About the book:
About the author:
Lucy King spent her formative years lost in the world of romance novels when she really ought to have been paying attention to her teachers. Up against sparkling heroines, gorgeous heroes and the magic of falling in love, trigonometry and ablative absolutes didn’t stand a chance.
But as she couldn’t live in a dream world forever, she eventually acquired a degree in languages and an eclectic collection of jobs. A stroll to the River Thames one Saturday morning led her to her very own hero. The minute she laid eyes on the hunky rower getting out of a boat, clad only in Lycra and carrying a three metre oar as if it was a toothpick, she knew she’d met the man she was going to marry. Luckily the rower thought the same.
She’ll always be grateful to whatever it was that made her stop dithering and actually sit down to type Chapter One, because dreaming up her own sparkling heroines and gorgeous heroes is pretty much her idea of the perfect job.
Originally a Londoner, Lucy now lives in Spain, where she spends much of the time reading, failing to finish cryptic crosswords and trying to convince herself that lying on the beach really is the best way to work.
Title: Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong
Author: Faith Erin Hicks and Prudence Shen
May Contain Spoilers
I have to admit that I wasn’t too eager to dive into Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, and I don’t know why. I think that the synopsis just didn’t grab my imagination. A surprise day off due to power issues at work prompted me to pick this up, and I’m glad I did. This is such a fun read, with plenty of humor to keep the conflict between Charlie and Nate from getting too intense.
At the beginning of the book, when the cheerleaders were forcing Charlie to run for Student Body President, I just wanted him to tell them to go jump off a cliff. He gets caught up in an election campaign that he wants nothing to do with, and it is destroying his friendship with Nate. Nate only wants to win because he’s discovered that the Student Body gets to decide whether funding will be available for the cheerleaders’ new uniforms or his beloved robotics club. Charlie doesn’t care one way or the other, except that the cheerleaders freak him out. They are like ninja cheerleaders – they are scary and they get what they want, and what they want are those new uniforms! As Nate’s war on the cheerleaders, and Charlie, by association, heats up, Nate doesn’t hesitate to pull out all of the stops, and many of the stops are embarrassing to Charlie. The pony incident when he was little certainly didn’t need to be plastered all over the high school walls for everyone to see! I enjoyed Nate and Charlie’s friendship, and how they interacted with each other. Even when they were so pissed that they were driven to pummel each other, it was evident that they didn’t really want to ruin their friendship. They are so different that they complimented each other, and I thought they made a great team.
When it’s apparent that the election isn’t going to have the desired results, Nate figures out another way for both sides to get what they want. It requires working together, and the cheerleaders need mucho convincing. Through all of the negotiations, it’s obvious that Charlie has a lot more on his mind than robots or uniforms. He’s been having a hard time forgiving his mom for leaving him and his dad and moving to California. He’s resentful of his dad, too, for never being home. Charlie has a lot going on, and his way of dealing with his problems is to ignore them. He is passive aggressive to both parents, and even though he wants to give them a piece of his mind and make them understand where he’s coming from, he just can’t find the words. Instead, he hangs up on his mom a lot, and then avoids her calls. I found him a very likable and sympathetic character, and kept hoping he would find the strength and courage to let both of his parents know how badly they had let him down.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is a fun, humorous read about robots, scary cheerleads, and all of the important relationships in the lives of two unconventional friends. Friendship is work, especially when you don’t always have the same goals, and this book captured the ins and outs of working through adversity through the magic of spot on prose and expressive illustrations. Highly recommended.
Grade: B+ / A-
Review copy provided by publisher