An Interview with ‘Autofocus’ Author Lauren Gibaldi

Lauren Gibaldi (Image Credit: KV Photography)

Lauren Gibaldi (Image Credit: KV Photography)

I read Lauren Gibaldi’s debut novel, The Night We Said Yes, earlier this year and I couldn’t put it down. A YA novel about young love lost and found and it was exactly what I needed. Lauren’s next YA novel, Autofocus, comes out this summer and I can’t wait to pick it up.

lgibaldi_headshot_KV_Photography

Lauren Gibaldi (Image Credit: KV Photography)

Pulled from Goodreads, the brief synopsis sums it up without giving too much away:

It’s always been a loaded word for Maude. And when she is given a senior photography assignment—to create a portfolio that shows the meaning of family—she doesn’t quite know where to begin. But she knows one thing: without the story of her birth mother, who died when Maude was born, her project will be incomplete.

So Maude decides to visit her best friend, Treena, at college in Tallahassee, Florida, where Maude’s birth mother once lived. But when Maude arrives, she quickly discovers that Treena has changed. With a new boyfriend and a packed social calendar, Treena doesn’t seem to have time for Maude—or helping Maude in her search.

Enter Bennett, a cute guy who lives in Treena’s dorm. He understands Maude’s need to find her mother. And as Bennett helps Maude in her search, she starts to find that her mother’s past doesn’t have to define her own future.

Lauren was kind enough to answer a few questions about her new book, her life as an author, and what’s next:

 

What inspired you to start writing?

Lauren Gibaldi: I’ve kept a journal since I was in 4th grade, so I kind of always wrote. (Obviously it wasn’t very interesting back then; I mostly wrote about how annoying my younger brother was.) I’d write short stories as a kid, mostly putting myself in Grave Danger where I’d have to leave the haunted forest or something. They lasted for about two paragraphs. I stopped writing for fun, and more for school, and ended up majoring in English in college. I wrote articles for newspapers and magazines and eventually wanted to try fiction again. And quickly I learned, for me at least, that fiction is way more fun!

 

Tell us a little bit about your next book, Autofocus.

LG: When Maude is given a school photography assignment to capture what it means to be “family,” she decides to search for information on her deceased birth mother, whom she’s never known. She goes to Tallahassee, Florida, where she was born, and stays with her best friend Treena. While there, she learns more about her mom (and her best friend’s new social life) and wonders if who we are is determined at birth, or if we can change as we grow.

Autofocus by Lauren Gibaldi

Autofocus by Lauren Gibaldi

Do you write characters based on anyone you know?

LG: Nope, everyone is fictional, though there are bits and pieces of my real life I thrown in. For instance, I went to college in Tallahassee, so many of the landmarks are places I enjoyed. In my first book, The Night We Said Yes, the guys in the band The Pepperpots are fictional, but I stole the name from my friends’ high school band. It’s a little shout out to them. They came to my release party to celebrate, too!

 

Have any of them been based on you? Would you base a character on yourself?

LG: Nope, but I think there’s part of me in the characters. Ella in The Night We Said Yes is very much like me, but she’s not based on me. We have some similar perceptions on friendship; on standing out. In Autofocus, Maude and I are different, but I can still find pieces of myself in her.

 

Would you ever write a series?

LG: I don’t know about a series, but I’d be happy doing a related story. After The Night We Said Yes came out, I wrote Matt’s Story, a novella told from the main guy’s point of view. I loved re-visiting the characters in a new way. Honestly, if I could write an entire book about Jake, I would. That said, I wouldn’t want to do a sequel to TNWSY. Ella’s story is done there. So I’ll never say never! But right now I like doing stand-alone books.

 

Who is your favorite author? Or multiple if you can’t choose?

LG: Aside from being a writer, I’m a librarian, so this is a very hard question! Let’s go by categories. In picture books, I (and my daughter) love Mo Willems, Dan Santat, and Tammi Sauer. In middle grade, I adore Rebecca Stead (her newest book is fantastic), Lois Lowry (my childhood favorite!), and of course JK Rowling. In adult fiction, I enjoy Nick Hornby, Nicole Krauss, Lauren Groff, Curtis Sittenfeld, and J Courtney Sullivan. Also David Sedaris. In classics, F Scott Fitzgerald and Charlotte Bronte. And in YA, EVERYONE. I can’t choose favorites. They’re all fantastic. (My writer heroes are Sarah Dessen, Stephanie Perkins, and Stephen Chbosky.)

 

What was the last book you were really obsessed with and couldn’t put down?

LG: I have a toddler, so I don’t read much (sad!). I read The Rosie Project for my library’s book club, and really enjoyed it. And Outrun the Moon, a YA novel about the San Francisco earthquake and a girl left in the wake, is tremendously good.

 

Follow Lauren on Twitter and make sure to check out The Night We Said Yes and pick up Autofocus when it hits shelves June 14th.

Book Review: ‘The Last Star’ by Rick Yancey

LastStar_FT

You know that feeling of anticipation you get when the final book in a beloved series finally comes out? It’s that feeling where you’re partially super excited because you really want to know how it ends, but you’re also kind of anxious that it’s not going to meet your high expectations? So yeah, that’s where I was at when I picked up the final book in Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave series, The Last Star.

I loved The 5th Wave. It had a lot going for it – a unique spin on the oft-rehashed post-apocalyptic scenario, a strong female lead, a survival story, and aliens. The story felt immediate and engaging, making it one of my favorite reads of the year. When the sequel, The Infinite Sea, came out, I wasn’t disappointed, exactly…just cautious. I liked the book fine, but something about it just felt different. That x factor I loved about the first book was missing, replaced with a bit too much philosophy and metaphor for the likes of me. But perhaps it was a bridge book issue. Maybe I’d find that thing I was looking for in the final book, The Last Star.

Did I? Yes and no. A large portion of the book did feel a bit truer to the original vibe of the series than The Infinite Sea – a fast-paced survival story that just happens to include aliens. I was really interested to see how Yancey could possibly tie up this epic story. To his credit, he manages to both provide a satisfying conclusion without wrapping things up too neatly for a story of this magnitude.

laststarcover

I appreciated that Yancey had a clear plan for his story progression; there are some confusing bits here and there but for the most part The Last Star helped me make more sense of what was happening in The Infinite Sea, and everything seemed to tie together fairly well. I tend to prefer sci-fi stories that are at least somewhat reality-based, in that I can imagine them being within the realm of possibility and not complete fantasy. This series stays in that realm quite well for the first couple of books, but some of the events at the end, in particular, strayed a bit too far into the unbelievable for my taste. And on that note…

I kind of hated the ending. I understand why it ended the way it did, and I would even go so far as to say it makes more sense than any other ending. I think the problem I had was that I was expecting some sort of major revelation or twist. Throughout the series, there’s this sense of secrecy and conspiracy and I just kept waiting for something new to come to light that really changed my understanding of this story. It just didn’t happen, and that left me disappointed.

And, without getting too spoilery, there’s a super cliche and unnecessary story thread in The Last Star that feels like an afterthought throughout the entire book, until it gets forced down your throat at the end. It’s a common storytelling device; it’s symbolic, whatever…I was just hoping for something a little more original when the series had so much promise of being unique from the get go.

What’s really disappointing is that overall, The Last Star is a fantastic book. Aside from playing a little fast and loose with its core group of characters, the story is cohesive, suspenseful, and exciting. Leading up to the final section of the book, I was feeling pretty darn optimistic. Unfortunately there’s no way for me to talk about this book as a series ender without dwelling heavily on the actual ending, and sadly that piece was a major letdown for me. Still, I’m glad I read The Last Star and, had I not had several years’ worth of series ending expectations built up, it’s very likely my overall impression, ending included, would have been better.

I’d also like to mention how grateful I am for the existence of this series, because I do think it has opened the door for more YA sci-fi books to see the light of day, and encouraged interested authors to pursue the genre more. Oh, and I’m just one person – there are plenty of readers out there who absolutely loved The Last Star and thought the ending was perfect. So I say – take your chances. Regardless of your thoughts on the ending, it’s an exciting ride.

A Day in the Life of a Romance Writer by Author Lauren Smith

A Day in the Life of a Romance Writer by Author Lauren SmithEver wonder what a normal day is like for an author? I know I do. Usually my imagination conjures up one of two scenarios: They hole up in a cozy office drinking coffee and writing maniacally without stopping for human interaction or sustenance…or they spend half the day writing extremely productively, then get to hang out by the pool or snuggle with a dog the rest of the day.

Romance writer Lauren Smith, author of The League of RoguesThe Surrender and Her British Stepbrother series, volunteered to give TDQ a peek at the reality of being an author. But Lauren’s not just any author – she splits her time between writing and working part time as an attorney! Keep reading to get a peek at what a normal day looks like for Lauren as she balances her careers.


I used to be a part time writer, full-time attorney. Let me just say…I don’t know how I survived four years of that. Intense is the best way to describe it. I used to write my novels in the most random and occasionally awkward of places. Think of me perched over a desk in a lounge of a courthouse bathroom basement, or instead, acrobatically using one arm to guard my notebook as I scribbled away in the middle of a long docket waiting for the judge to call my case. Lauren Smith, undercover author and attorney extraordinaire.

Well, those days behind me. I’m now a full time writer, part-time attorney. It’s a bit of a switch-up but, technically speaking (or maybe just in my heart), I have been a full-time writer all this time. When you love something and you think about it about 97% of the day – what’s more full time than that? Now I just have more hours to actively work on what I love. So what does a day in the life of romance writer look like? Follow me…

5am: I’m up and wide awake, downing my first Diet Dr. Pepper and walking the dogs. I am a total animal person. My pet crew includes a chinchilla (Churro), a betta fish (Neptune), a long-haired prissy cat (Tiki) and two dogs: a black schnauzer named (Fritz) and a wheaten terrier (Evangeline, or Evie for short).

6am: Laundry. You know those shirts don’t fold themselves….nor do those pesky socks pair up on their own. For every author, there is a special get-up they prefer to wear on a day-to-day basis while working. Much to my fashionista mother’s dismay, my writing uniform is jeans, a comfy tee and my lucky white Converse sneakers. It’s all about the comfort. If you’re thinking about what you wear, you forget to write. No Dior gowns for this girl.

7am: Hit the gym for a long run and meditate on the future of the characters in my current work in progress. Once I start running, my mind goes into a trance; you forget how much you don’t want to be, and lose yourself in the story as it unfolds in your head. Let’s face it, I love to play God. Today I’m picturing six Regency era rogues grouped in the woods just outside a Scottish castle, discussing how one goes about laying siege to a castle in order to rescue a damsel (who doesn’t in fact need rescuing). You can expect some giggles from me while I run and plan this out.

8am: Shower and eye my pajama pants wistfully. I should put on “real clothes” before ten in the morning.

10am to Noon: Work on day job assignments. It’s fun to dive into my legal work for part of the day. It helps me balance my creative side by using my logical side for a few hours. But after that work is over, I’m rip-roaring and ready to go back to the characters.

Lunch: But first, lunch and some fresh air – which means another dog walk.

1pm to 4pm: This is it. Magic time. I peer deep into my well of inspiration and drag my muse out from the bottom by her hair and force her to work with me. Picture me with a stack of verb books, Scottish Country Houses, Character Trait books, and music! Music is pivotal. I’ve got my noise cancellation headphones and my playlist loaded with Florence + The Machine, Hans Zimmer and Sia. I need just the right songs to help me imagine how those six rogues will go about seizing a castle to rescue one of their lady loves. Sometimes I have a rough day where the words don’t want to come and it feels like the characters are just standing there waiting for me to push them in a genius direction. On days like those, I have to take a step back, go on an extra walk with the dogs, listen to more music and allow the pieces to fall together themselves. As Terry Brooks, a fav author of mine, says: “Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

4pm to 5pm: Share steamy scenes with a friend and giggle over her reactions. Then dive into my research materials to make some notes on less steamy but historically interesting topics like where men would go boxing during the regency, what sort of coach a bachelor would drive when escorting a lady to the park and what roads a rogue might use to whisk a lady away to Scotland to marry her without her family’s consent.

5pm: Stare at the stove in my house and wish it could magically make something delicious for dinner. I’m a passable cook, but I really hate it. I usually end up calling my mom and asking her what I can whip up in half an hour with minimal effort. Tonight it’s a homemade meatloaf recipe from the Molly section of my American Girl cookbook. Yes, I’ve had this cookbook for twenty years, and every recipe is fabulous.

6pm to 9pm: Turn on some TV. It feels so good to indulge in someone else’s fantasy world. But my laptop is still out so I can work on some much needed edits or check in with my friends and my readers on social media.

9pm to 10pm: I’m settling down in my bed and perusing my ever growing to-be-read pile which includes the latest Karen Robard’s book, The Meaning of Night, and The Mummy by Anne Rice.

10pm: Time for some shut-eye. The best nights end with dreams about scenes that will unfold tomorrow in my notebook. Tonight I’m imagining a super sexy blond-haired baron and how he’ll win over a fiery Scottish business woman. Man, I love being a writer!

 


Lauren Smith is a romance author, living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her series include The League of Rogues from Samhain Publishing, and The Surrender and Her British Stepbrother series from Grand Central Publishing. She has also written for Heroes & Heartbreakers and Bustle. For more (including cute animal photos), follow Lauren on Twitter @LSmithAuthor or laurensmithbooks.com.

3 Amazing Book Series with Unsatisfying Endings

(Image Credit: Scholastic)

(Image Credit: Scholastic)

As an English major, books are my everything. Becoming completely enthralled in a world and reading until the sun comes up is one of my biggest hobbies. But every now and then, a world and characters I have grown to love disappoint me in the end. As a writer I can sympathize. Endings are so hard. No ending will satisfy every single reader. But here are a few books that have massive dissatisfaction. Spoilers ahead, obviously.

hpdeathlyhallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

As a book lover, I can guarantee to if you go poll a bunch of readers and ask what novel ending disappointed them the most at least half will say the final Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows. I love Harry Potter, I really do. It shaped my entire childhood. I even have a Deathly Hallows tattoo! But I will always admit how much the epilogue sucked. Pairing every single living character up and having kids seems like such an easy way out. And don’t even get me started on the children’s awful names. I suppose with 7 books worth of death and destruction J.K. Rowling just wanted some happiness, but who really wants that? Happy endings  just seem cheesy and disatisfying.

allegiant

Allegiant

Allegiant is the final book of the Divergent trilogy. Throughout the whole series, we follow Tris and see her world of factions. It was a very interesting dynamic for a series and definitely caught my attention. I read the first two books in a matter of days, then I had to wait a year for the final book. And then Allegiant came out and Tris got away from the factions all together by leaving her city. The idea of pure and damaged genes are introduced when they go to the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, and it is all mostly uninteresting. Then at the end of the book, Tris dies, sacrificing herself to save her awful brother. Allegiant fast forwards two years and shows Chicago at peace and factionless. All in all, I was devastated that this strong female character ended up needlessly sacrificing herself. The movie comes out this month and is being split into two parts. Maybe the movie will do it better?

mockingjay

Mockingjay

I read The Hunger Games in high school and I was obsessed. I was absolutely enthralled in this post-apocalyptic chaotic society. After I read the first two novels, I had to wait a couple months for the final book to come out. During that time, I spent a lot of time on Tumblr and was introduced to the idea that Katniss was asexual and that’s why she was kind of indifferent to both Peeta and Gale when it came to anything more than friendship. Her kissing them was just a way to make them happy and stay in her life when she didn’t know what else to do. I absolutely loved this theory because it put a spin on the classic love triangle and also put the spotlight on a sexuality that doesn’t get talked about much. However, in the end, Katniss ends up having children with Peeta and I was very, very disappointed.

 

As I said before, endings are hard. I understand I’m not always going to enjoy the endings the author chooses to write. The fact I was disappointed with these three novels doesn’t mean I renounce them all together. I still reread the Harry Potter series every summer! Disappointment happens but it makes us realize that these very talented people wanted to share their creation and we should appreciate them for creating these worlds for us to get lost in.

What’s the Big Deal About…Jane Austen?

(Image Credit: kozirsky)

(Image Credit: kozirsky)

I only recently got bit with the Janeite bug. I know, I’m late to this party, but pass me a mug of mulled wine and I’ll explain here by the crackling fire just how I got here and why I think I’ll stay a while.

I have always liked watching Pride and Prejudice. Lizzy’s independent state of mind reminds me of my own, and while she eventually ends up with the love of her life—who just so happens to be insanely rich—it is her pursuit of what is right by her own standards while she stays true to her family’s needs for upward mobility in a society that seems stagnant that wins my heart.

It wasn’t until I took a Jane Austen class, though, that I realized how much I loved looking further into this world so tightly wound around social structures Austen masterfully both upheld and questioned. Reading her works as a 27-year-old woman helped me not only understand the world I live in, but also how we got here, and why it’s important to understand the rules by which I am expected to live in my own society.

For Example…

In Northanger Abbey, Catherine’s naïve and gullible personality, paired with Mrs. Allen’s relentless selfishness and materialistic outlook as well as Isabella’s blatant disregard of her friend, annoy me. Also, what is up with her mother’s goodbye? The whole mother-daughter relationship in Austen’s novels is a real problem, but Catherine’s farewell discussion with her mom is straight out of an etiquette lesson book.

It wasn’t until the second reading that I realized I was supposed to feel this way, and it was because of this feeling that I felt compelled to write about it—to join the conversation.

While living in a world that is continually shaped by the gravitas of pop culture, I began to understand the navigation and intelligent societal dancing in Austen’s works, more choreographed than any of the balls within them.

Catherine’s character (clearly a response to Austen’s society’s understanding of women’s response to their surroundings and the necessity to keep them from anything that might ruin them) is exemplary of female prevail, proving Isabella’s strategies for social mobility are no match for Catherine’s strength of character within in her own growth. Isabella’s dramatic behavior is repeatedly met with Catherine’s honest, “Nah, girl. I don’t know what you’re on about” style of response, and this clash of characterization of femininity in Austen’s novel shows that this whole female/lady thing is totally bogus and just a performance.

While Henry Tilney is by no means the perfect mate, repeatedly mocking her intelligence, I see his promotion of her use of critical thinking skills ignites Catherine’s pursuit of not only her love for Henry, but also an appreciation and acceptance of her individual thought process she has possessed throughout her life.

And then there is… 

Mansfield Park. What a shitshow. This novel is another reason that Austen both infuriates and excites me. I cannot stand any character here. I literally hate them all. BUT, is that not a sign of a good novel? When analyzing this text, I had to ask myself why I hated these characters.

The bottom line is this: Mrs. Norris is terrible and Fanny Price is my worst nightmare. She is just as manipulative and strategic as Mary Crawford, but Fanny’s mode of operation is more dangerous because she subscribes to the code of conduct that society condoned.

Mary is made the villain by challenging social norms—she is a sexualized villain. However, is she not looking for the same thing as Fanny? Is she not seeking a husband, but rather than the quietly, and might I add creepily, way that Fanny has mastered, Mary’s conduct lays open for conversation the rules by which she is governed in her society.

 

So what?

Before you walk home from this pub gathering, stumbling in my rambling speech, know that I am making three points here, and my first point is this: Jane Austen’s works were revolutionary because of the ways that she sheds light on women’s positioning in society—the rules they must navigate in order to obtain personal fulfillment. Her heroines are rewarded with marriage which creates a mask of conventionality, but how they reach their social salvation from eternal spinsterhood is a thinly veiled trope of female empowerment to navigate the society in which they live.

These characters are not only brilliant; they create their own happiness in unique and interesting ways. What’s more is the relationship between females and their cultivation of female bonding in order to manifest their own empowerment—oh, the drama! There’s nothing like some early 19th century gossip!

Their fight for independent thought and the autonomy to create a life of their own is what makes Austen’s heroines stand out and stick around in exciting and fun ways that Mr. Collins can’t latch onto.

 

Remakes and Reimaginings

So, you might ask, why does this matter? Why should I care about Jane Austen’s works when she is long gone and I can read someone’s works that I can actually see and feel having a conversation with my society? Well, because she is too. Believe it or not, Austen’s works are still alive and thriving. Bridget Jones’ Diary is coming out with another installment (I can’t wait!), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies just hit the silver screen, and there is a long history of remakes and reimaginings.

Literary critic Deidre Lynch calls explores Jane Austen’s “social machine” in her work, and it is this duplication of her society and consequently her works within new societies that makes Austen’s mark still relevant. She is reworked, remade, reimagined in new and exciting ways. Austenland is basically me when I went to England—though, I didn’t return home with a gorgeous British boyfriend, but that’s neither here nor there.

My second point is that Austen is and always will be remade for the current time because the issues she tackles and the characters she employs work to address social constraints and performativity within them—what binds us to the rules of convention and how our identities are shaped.

What is love? What is marriage? What is femininity? What is masculinity? Austen’s representations of these inquiries are vastly different from today’s, but the questions are still being addressed. If only love looked more like Colin Firth leaving a lake like the winner of a Darcy wet t-shirt contest.

 

Janeites Unite

While we don’t send pregnant women to the countryside out of humiliation, we live in a society that still slut-shames. Just recently Kim Kardashian was shamed for posting a naked picture online (her reply to the haters was pretty genius, BTW). I can’t believe we are still having this conversation. Who cares?! #FreeTheNipple

We don’t send women to their rooms if they are having an emotional episode like Marianne’s complete breakdown in Sense and Sensibility, but we do look down upon emotional over-sharing, often calling people crazy or hormonal for feeling feelings and crying over them.

We have shows like The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and Millionaire Matchmaker because “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife” (Austen, Pride and Prejudice). This notion of class, marriage, and mobility in society is still hounding us as we watch TV that, while incredibly addicting, perpetuates ideas Austen grappled with in her works.

Jane Austen might roll in her grave if I compare her works to today’s most famous celebs and issues, but that was the society in which she lived. Reimagining Austen’s works in my world, to make them relevant today, entails attacking the issues within them: female autonomy, identity creation, and self-fulfillment. These issues have not been remedied and are still being discussed daily.

We have reached my third point and why I love her works: the issues in her works, the ability to explore and create a self that is personal and not expected while accepting that there is a social structure within which we live, is still and always will be relevant so long as identity and its construction is an issue in society.

So, that’s my Janeite manifesto. I love her stuff and I think we should all read it and talk about it at our next pub gathering. Who’s in?

I want to know why you do or don’t like Jane Austen. Share with me in the comments below, but if you don’t like her, I’m just warning you, you’re wrong (I’m kidding, but not really).

Hey, before you leave the party, pass me another mug of mulled wine, would ya?

 

Book Review: ‘Map of Fates’ by Maggie Hall

Book Review: ‘Map of Fates’ by Maggie HallI’m a little late boarding the Conspiracy of Us train. The first book has been on my to-read list since before its release, but I finally got around to reading it once I received an ARC of book two in the series, Map of Fates. While I enjoyed The Conspiracy of Us, I was still pleasantly surprised at how much Map of Fates hooked me. If you haven’t read The Conspiracy of Us and don’t want it spoiled for you, you know the drill – back away slowly from this page!

There’s a pretty intricate plot in these books, but a brief summary of book one for those who need a memory jog: “Normal American Teenager” Avery West learns that she’s heir to an extremely powerful group of of families known as The Circle. Not only that, Avery happens to be “the girl with the purple eyes” that has long been prophesied as having a hugely important impact on the fate of The Circle, particularly when there is a union with Avery and “the One,” who we discovered in The Conspiracy of Us is Stellan, a “Keeper” (AKA “unusually young and attractive security”) for another family in The Circle and the one of Avery’s two Keeper accomplices that she’s not kinda-sorta in a relationship with. Awkward.

Oh and also, there’s this adversary group called The Order that kidnapped Avery’s mom and wants Avery’s help to find this very abstract, never clearly defined source of power that is apparently in Alexander the Great’s tomb or something. And Stellan being The One is a secret, so The Circle thinks The One could be any dude from one of its families, basically, so they’re all desperate for Avery to marry into their family. I mean…the story is fun but the details…don’t think too hard about them, mmmkay? Your head might start literally spinning. So much for a brief summary, eh?

Map of Fates catches up with Avery and her actual-sort-of-not-really-because-he-might-get-killed-for-it Keeper boyfriend Jack as they investigate clues left behind by their shared mentor in an attempt to trade info for Avery’s mom. This eventually leads to an agreement with Avery’s father, who starts parading Avery around to various countries with Circle families with eligible bachelor sons. Avery and Jack, along with some help from Stellan, use this as an opportunity to research potential clues in the countries they’re visiting. And so begins a whirlwind of visiting different countries, dressing up pretty to meet marriageable guys, and then sneaking out to comb museums and historical sites for clues.

There’s a decent amount of action and mystery in Map of Fates, and I appreciate the plot despite it being a bit…well, fanciful. But it’s executed well, so long as you aren’t expecting a straightforward thriller but are fine with some boy drama and pretty dresses being involved as well. I should probably address the dreaded love triangle. Yup, this series has one. But Hall handles it exceptionally well. She maintains the integrity of all three characters while shifting the story around them in a believable way, without straight manipulating you as a reader. It’s one of the best (or, as a love triangle skeptic might say, least-awful) love triangles I’ve ever read in YA, so there’s that.

Map of Fates takes the elements of Conspiracy of Us and amps them up a bit, and it becomes clear that Hall’s true talent lies more in the realm of contemporary YA than action and intrigue. Not that she can’t manage the action and intrigue, but the best parts of this story are the ones that focus on characters and relationships, not globetrotting action and high-power conspiracies. I dearly hope Hall has plans to write a straightforward contemporary at some point, because I have no doubt she’d excel at it.

This book is also a real page-turner, particularly once you hit the halfway point. There are twists and turns; some unexpected and some not so much, but all are engaging. Map of Fates also deftly avoids bridge book syndrome by seeing a major plot line through while setting up a new one for the final book in the series. Hall seems to have a knack for finding the balance in drawing out the things that need to be but not stretching out the things that don’t. (Perhaps Ms. Hall should be recruited to write for Pretty Little Liars; she could teach them a thing or two.) Hall is a frequent traveler, which I both love and hate – it’s great that her descriptions of Avery’s travels are authentic; that really shines through in her writing. I’m just bitter that I don’t have the kind of lifestyle where I can jet around the world constantly. 🙂

As much as I enjoyed The Conspiracy of Us, it wasn’t until finishing Map of Fates that I realized I am fully on board with this series and excited to see how it ends! If you need reprieve from the winter reading rut, I highly recommend this series to tide you over until spring’s exciting slate of new releases.

 

If you’re itching for more Map of Fates, be sure to check out the blog tour running through March 22nd – you can find the first top, as well as links to additional blog tour stops, at Fangirlish.

Our 10 Most-Anticipated YA Books of the Spring & Summer

Our 10 Most-Anticipated YA Books of the Spring & SummerMaybe I’m alone in this, but it seems like every year, right around January – March, I hit a book rut. There isn’t much new coming out that grabs my attention, and I end up attempting to decide what older books on my to-read list I feel like tackling. It has a tendency to leave me feeling like I’m reading “leftovers;” the stuff I was never super excited about but just mildly interested in, and it’s usually kind of depressing.

But good news, fellow book-lovers! March is here and there are all sorts of exciting new releases coming out this spring and summer to look forward to. Here’s a list of some of my most anticipated spring & summer YA book releases. Click through the titles to read more about each book on Goodreads, and get a peek at the current release date since some of these may be subject to change.

The Winner’s Kiss (The Winner’s Curse #3) by Marie Rutkoski | March 29, 2016

books_winnerskiss

This book series has been steadily building toward its third and final installment, which readers can finally dig into at the end of the month! Early reviews have been promising, and I’m excited to see how all the strategy and manipulation finally plays out for Kestrel and Arin.

 

When We Collided by Emery Lord | April 5

books_whenwecollided

I always enjoy Emery Lord’s contemporary fiction, which tends to lean into comedic territory. When We Collided sounds like it might be a bit heavier than Lord’s past work, but I’m intrigued by the mysterious blurb and am excited to see Lord branch out a bit with her writing style.

 

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4) by Maggie Stiefvater | April 26

books_ravenking

Another series finale, this is perhaps my most-anticipated book of the spring. Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series has not missed a beat since page one of the first book, and she has built such a lovely world full of unique characters and atmospheric writing. I can’t wait to see how this ends, and how on earth Stiefvater addresses the Gansey situation!

 

The Rose and the Dagger (The Wrath and the Dawn #2) by Renee Adieh | April 26

books_rosedagger

The Wrath and the Dawn was my annual winter book rut-breaker last year around this time, so of course I’m excited for the follow-up! Adieh set up such an interesting world that I’m excited to return to it. I’m a little worried about how magic is going to be handled in book 2 since it felt a little awkward in the first, but I’m optimistic that the magic plotline will smooth out now that the bones of the story have been set up.

 

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson | May 3

books_unexpectedeverything

Morgan Matson is one of those authors who can really do no wrong as far as I’m concerned, so I can’t wait to read her next book! It doesn’t even really matter what it’s about – Matson handles teenage characters, relationships, and quirks so wonderfully that the plot details are just icing on the cake. Plus the cover is full of cute dogs! They know how to win me over.

 

 

Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories by Stephanie Perkins (and many more) | May 17

books_summerdays

I have mixed feelings about these short story compilation books. On the one hand, it’s a nice way to get a nice little story from a favorite author without having to wait for them to write an entire book. On the other, I usually find myself wishing for a book more along the lines of Let It Snow, which features three short-ish stories instead of a dozen extremely short stories. It just gives me more time to settle in. However, that won’t stop me from devouring this immediately – I’m especially looking forward to reading the short story by Ms. Perkins herself. Give us a new full length book soon, Stephanie!

 

The Last Star (The Fifth Wave #3) by Rick Yancey | May 24

books_laststar

I promise this is the last final book from a series on this list! But c’mon…The Fifth Wave series is full of action and twists and tension and suspense and, well, ALIENS! What’s not to love? I’m intrigued to see how a world that was in such disarray at the end of book 2 finds resolution…or does it?

 

The Darkest Magic (Spirits & Thieves #2) by Morgan Rhodes | June 28

books_darkestmagic

Last year I read The Book of Spirits & Thieves with zero context of Falling Kingdoms, its companion series. The story still managed to hook me, and that’s with some of my biggest book red flags: a map and a list of characters in front, a heavy reliance on magic for plot momentum, and a relationship to a book series I’ve never read. I’ve since dabbled into Falling Kingdoms and have no doubt Rhodes will keep me hooked with this book!

 

P.S. I Like You by Kasie West | July 26

books_ps

Whether Kasie West is tackling sci-fi dystopia or contemporary romance, she does it with style. Her contemporary styles are usually light and adorable while still having depth and wit. P.S. I Like You sounds like it should fit right in, and with a mysterious secret admirer plot line, I fully expect to be hooked from the first sentence.

 

A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes #2) by Sabaa Tahir | August 30

books_torch

An Ember in the Ashes was one of my favorite books of 2015 – and probably my #1 favorite non-contemporary book of the year. The alternate universe spin on the Roman empire, the alternating perspectives between two amazing and conflicted characters, the unflinching ability to put those characters in the worst of situations without ever making the reader completely hopeless…it just all works, and the ambiguous ending makes me oh-so-glad another book is happening!

 

My most-anticipated books are part of series I enjoy or from my favorite authors, so I’m sure I missed lots of great ones that I just don’t know about! Let us know in the comments what YA books you’re most looking forward to this spring and summer!

Giveaway: ‘The Immortals’ by Jordanna Max Brodsky Goddess Prize Pack

Giveaway: ‘The Immortals’ by Jordanna Max Brodsky Goddess Prize PackEver wondered what it might be like if Greek Gods lived in the modern world, but they were no longer worshiped and limited in power? The Daily Quirk has partnered with Orbit Books to offer a giveaway of Jordanna Max Brodsky’s The Immortals, a book about exactly that – so if your answer to the question above was either “yes, of course!” or “no, but now I do!” then this is the giveaway for you!

(Image Credit: Orbit Books)

(Image Credit: Orbit Books)

Here’s more about The Immortals:

Manhattan has many secrets. Some are older than the city itself.

The city sleeps. Selene DiSilva walks her dog along the banks of the Hudson. She is alone—just the way she likes it. She doesn’t believe in friends, and she doesn’t speak to her family. Most of them are simply too dangerous.

In the predawn calm, Selene finds the body of a young woman washed ashore, gruesomely mutilated and wreathed in laurel. Her ancient rage returns. And so does the memory of a promise she made long ago—when her name was Artemis.

The Immortals will be available in stores February 16th, but you can check out an excerpt of the first chapter of The Immortals here, and enter the giveaway below to win the Goddess Prize Pack:

white book

One (1) winner receives:

  •         a copy of The Immortals
  •         and a branded “GODDESS” sweatshirt.

[ninja_forms id=15]

Giveaway open to US addresses only. Prizing and samples provided by Orbit Books.

Visit http://www.olympusbound.com/ to learn more about The Immortals and author Jordanna Max Brodsky. You can also follow Jordanna on Twitter @jordannabrodsky or visit her official website.

Life Lessons from ‘I Was Here’ Author Gayle Forman

Life Lessons from ‘I Was Here’ Author Gayle FormanGayle Forman has a knack for writing prose not only beautiful, but impactful. Regardless of what she’s saying, it always packs an emotional punch. In honor of the paperback release of Forman’s I Was Here, we’re participating in a giveaway of Forman’s entire paperback collection –  and I’m going to share one of my favorite quotes from a Forman novel.

Forman’s Just One Day tells the story of Allyson, a girl who spends a life-changing day with a near-stranger, Willem, during a trip abroad. The follow-up book, Just One Year, tells Willem’s story as he attempts to track down Allyson, without even knowing her real name. Throughout the course of the book Willem struggles with the line between leaving everything up to fate and making his own fate. Just when Willem is starting to give up hope, he gets this much-needed reality check:

“Nothing happens without intention, Willem. Nothing. This theory of yours – life is ruled by accidents – isn’t that just one huge excuse for passivity?”

I love this quote because it doesn’t discount the fact that strange, unexpected things can happen that change the course of your life, but realistically points out the necessity of trying when there is something you want. It’s easy for teenagers to romanticize the idea of fate and things happening for a reason. It’s a nice notion, until you end up with the short end of the stick and think that’s just the way it is. But it’s really not – through Willem, Forman shows the importance of making an effort. Things may not always go your way, but sometimes they will, and you never know if you don’t try.

Keep reading for a giveaway, and let us know your favorite Gayle Forman quotes or life lessons in the comments!


Giveaway

And now for the giveaway! Whether you’re a longtime Gayle Forman fan looking to complete your collection, or you’re just getting started, this giveaway will give you everything you need to catch up on all things Gayle Forman.

Five winners will receive paperback copies of:

  • I Was Here
  • Just One Day / Just One Year / Just One Night (Box Set)
  • If I Stay / Where She Went (Box Set)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Open to US addresses only. Prizing courtesy of Penguin Young Readers. Giveaway closes 2/15/16.


To learn more about Gayle Forman, visit her official website or follow her on twitter @gayleforman.

My Top 10 Most Anticipated Books of 2016

(Image Credit: olegkruglyak3)

(Image Credit: olegkruglyak3)

It’s a new year, and with that comes the opportunity to step out of our daily routine of work, Netflix, sleep, repeat. It’s time to slip a mental sweat into our lives to partner with our destined-for-failure gym resolutions. Here’s a list of the top 10 books I’m looking forward to reading this year and here’s hoping our reading workout lasts longer than our gym memberships!

1. Anna Kendrick’s book of essays

It was rumored all over the internet that the biggest gift 2016 is to offer is a book of essays from our favorite Tweeting babe, Anna Kendrick. I couldn’t find a title for the supposed work that is said to be published in fall of 2016, but if this is true, if life does take this brilliant turn for the better, then this year is already looking like it’s going to be great.

2. Originals: How Non-Conformists Change the World by Adam Grant

Essentially, this book gets to the root of human angst– this is an exploration of life and our placement in it. I chose this because it latches onto the idea that we can be original in trend-driven societies, and that being original sets us apart and guides us to success. It’s easy to follow the leader and disregard the circumstances surrounding us as we mutter, “that’s someone else’s problem,” but I’m excited to read Grant’s exploration of what being original means in today’s societies and how that relays into our relationships with others throughout the world.

Release date: Feb. 2, 2016

3. Shame and Wonder by David Searcy

This collection sounds like it will be very strange and really thought-provoking. Either way, I’m into it. I love reading personal insights into experience and having the ability to reach into their soul searching for later application in my own life. I’m looking forward to taking in some of Searcy’s writing while I figure out my own messy life (post-graduate program and post-twenties) at the same time.

Release date: January 5, 2016

4. The French Chef in America: Julia Child’s Second Act by Alex Prud’homme

I love all things Julia Child and cooking related. I am so excited for this book to come out because, while I might be the worst cook aside of my soups and stews, I like to imagine that I can make the same dishes and live my adult life with her advising my culinary journey in a time that Julia Child roamed the earth. While I have read about her, watched movies about her, and been subject to the hyper-sexualized and/or the odd replacements for her, she was the OG cook for me (aside from you, grams. Your enchilada recipe is still the best!) and I can’t wait to take a bite out of her history with this new book.

Release date: Oct. 4, 2016

5. Jefferson’s America: the President, the Purchase, and the Explorers Who Transformed a Nation by Julie M. Fenster

I love early American history, but I especially love the aspect of travel and exploration. People were rough and ready, strong and prepared to walk into the great unknown just to say it was ours—‘Murica! I am drawn to the political aspect of this because it’s about what was behind the American mentality for expansion, what drove our country to think this way and move westward. This gives us insight into who we were as a nation, where we wanted to go, and finally, gives us the knowledge to take stock in who and what we have become. Is Jefferson’s America our America? How so? How is it not? I don’t know, let’s find out!

Release date: May 10, 2016

6. The Mafia Hit Man’s Daughter by Linda Scarpa and Linda Rosencrance

Who is not obsessed by the mafia these days? Hollywood has glamorized it with Tony Montana and Don Vito Corleone as the poster children for our understanding of organized crime. But, Scarpa’s and Rosencrance’s are seeking to enlighten readers to the reality behind the Hollywood prototype. Curiosity has gotten the better of me with this one because I want to know about the dark underbelly of this society and what these people go through in the name of family. But, let’s face it, when I pick up my copy of this book, I probably won’t be able to stop myself from saying, “Say hello to my little friend.”

Release date: Jan. 22, 2016

7. Apostle: Travels among the Tombs of the Twelve by Tom Bissill

I have a soft spot for all things travel related, and as someone who attended Catholic school as a child, I was taught what happened over two millennia ago from a neatly comprised book. However, I want to know the truth. I want to know what these men did in order to acquire fame through their loyalty that has spanned that length of time—I’m asking for a friend… Bissill’s work explores the process the twelve apostles went through to get to our understanding of them today. It is rich in history and profound in our understanding of religion as an ongoing process, and I’m excited to find out how these men came to be who we think they are.

Release date: March 1, 2016

8. Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education by Mychal Denzel Smith

I think this will be an incredibly insightful and interesting read for everyone, regardless of race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation. I believe this read will enlighten folks to the complexities and inequalities of educational experience throughout the U.S. Obviously reading expands our mind, openingvour comprehension of the world to new experiences that, while not our own, shed light on how we contribute to it.

Release date: June 14, 2016

9. Zero K by Don DeLillo

After reading White Noise, I have becoming obsessed with DeLillo’s works. You can feel the action in his style—it’s beautiful, poetic, and often times scary because you become so entrenched in the novels. He deals with the complexities of human experience in immediately relatable ways that are timeless. It takes a true master of the craft to create that effect, so I can’t wait to dive into his newest novel.

Release date: May 10, 2016

10. The Obsession by Nora Roberts

I have to admit, I have never read a Nora Roberts novel, but 2016 marks the year I bite into one of these bad boys. I have heard of her work for so long, and as a New York Times bestselling author, you would think I would have taken the time to read something, but alas, I have no romance novels under my belt other than the Nicholas Sparks books I binge read in high school. This book interested me for other reasons, too—it sounds dark, intriguing, and complex as she deals with issues from her past in the present. I am a sucker for identity narratives that are trapped in some sense of timelessness angst. Here we go for round one, Nora!

Release date: April 12, 2016

My top 10 reading list is just a start because it’s always fun adding to my collection of books. I have way more than I will ever be able to read in one lifetime, but all the fun is in finding new books that you never would have thought to pick up before. Cheers to a new year, a new outlook, and new books that will keep us company and teach us things about life because it’s a tricky thing to go through alone.

Book Review and Giveaway: ‘Frozen Tides’ by Morgan Rhodes

(Image Credit: Penguin)

(Image Credit: Penguin)

Head’s up – there’s a giveaway for Frozen Tides at the end of this review. I think I avoided spoilers completely in my review, but if you’re uber cautious about it, you may want to jump to the bottom of the page for the giveaway!

Call me crazy, but I jumped into Frozen Tides having not read any of the previous Falling Kingdoms books (despite my best intentions). I had read A Book of Spirits & Thieves, which has some crossover universe stuff, but the story and characters are basically totally different. I thought maybe it would be hard for me to get into Frozen Tides without context, but to my surprise, it wasn’t even a little hard! I realize if you’re reading this, you’re probably more familiar with the series than I am, so I’ll avoid recapping and get to the point and hopefully this will make some sense!

The book is told from several alternating perspectives who readers familiar with the series probably already know – Cleo, Jonas, Magnus, Amara, and Lucia.. I did consult with the list of characters at the beginning of the book a few times when I first started reading, just to help me keep track of how the characters were related to each other, but it didn’t take me long to pick up. Context for the characters’ backstories was readily available within the narrative without being distracting. And story-wise, Frozen Tides totally stands on its own. It’s possible that there may have been more of an emotional punch at certain points of the story if I had three books’ worth of investment in the characters involved, but I didn’t feel like my experience with Frozen Tides was lacking.

Another surprising thing for me was how I wasn’t particularly put off by the magical piece of this story. I’m not a big fan of fantasy books, particularly when they involve magic (or magical creatures), but as it was presented in this book, I actually enjoyed it. Maybe it’s more of a layman’s take on fantasy and that’s why I enjoyed it, or maybe it’s just Rhodes’ writing style, but it totally worked for me. The story feels epic, with elements of danger and adventure and romance and fantastic world-building, so there’s a little something for whatever tickles your fancy.

I don’t want to spoil things, of course, but throughout the course of Frozen Tides, some characters find themselves making unlikely alliances (and betrayals!) and others reassess their plights. It was interesting – and quite enjoyable – for me to try to sort out who is supposed to be good and who is supposed to be bad at this unique time in the character development when many of the characters fall into a gray area. I particularly enjoyed Cleo & Magnus’s storyline and complex relationship, but all the perspectives were unique and engaging, and ultimately tied together in an important way. I also loved how the Amara character continually challenged my perceptions. Is she really a villain when her intentions are based in something good?

Related: It’s great that Rhodes gives these characters reasons for their actions, although by the end of the book I was like, “C’mon guys, enough with the avenging,” as it appears book 5 will feature more of that. At a certain point the vengeance starts to feel very juvenile, although I think that’s part of Rhodes’ point.

Even with juggling a pretty hefty pile of character perspectives, Rhodes managed to make me feel a connection to each narrator, even without having any context to them from previous books. I also get the feeling that she really knows where she is going with this story and is building each book carefully to reach that ending.

When it was all said and done, rather than being frustrated or overwhelmed by jumping into the middle of a series, I found myself truly enjoying Frozen Tides and bumping up all the Falling Kingdoms books on my to-read list. I hope other readers who are a bit hesitant about fantasy will consider giving this series a chance; you may also be pleasantly surprised!


And now the giveaway! Whether you’ve been waiting with bated breath for Frozen Tides to come out or are new to the series and had your interest piqued by my review, this is a great chance to get your hands on a copy of the book – just enter below.

frozentidescover

[ninja_form id=15]

Giveaway open to US addresses only. Prizing courtesy of Penguin Publishing.

5 Harry Potter Characters Whose Backstories We Want to Read

(Image Credit: Warner Bros)

(Image Credit: Warner Bros)

The last Harry Potter book came out in 2007 and the last movie in 2011, however, HP fans are still finding out new information about their favorite characters. Through both Twitter and Pottermore, J.K. Rowling has released a lot of background information about characters that we didn’t get to learn about from the books. For example, Professor McGonagall’s background story and heartbreak left readers wanting more from the author. Here are just a few HP characters we would love to know more about.

 

Bellatrix Lestrange

We know a lot about Bellatrix in that she belongs to the Black family, but wouldn’t readers like to know even more about her? We know she gets married to her husband Rodolphus, but we hardly see any interaction between the two like we do with her sister Narcissa and her husband. Did they get married strictly because of family duty rather than love for each other? We could also see how her obsession and devotion for Voldemort developed. So much more to learn about such a complicated character!

 

Peter Pettigrew

While we know quite a bit about Peter Pettigrew, his story is so interesting we could stand to learn a lot more about him. According to Professor McGonagall, Pettigrew stuck with people that had power and talent, like Harry’s dad and Voldemort. But what led him to be the way he is? Was he bullied before Hogwarts and relies on others to get him through life? How was he able to cope with being a family pet rat for 12 years?

 

George Weasley

In May of this year Rowling tweeted, “I’m really sorry about Fred.” After 6 books’ worth of amazing jokes and adventures with the twins, readers were inconsolable at the loss of Fred Weasley during the Battle of Hogwarts. We know that his brother George went on to continue their joke shop, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, get married to fellow Gryffindor Angelina Johnson, and have a son and a daughter. He named their son, their first born, after his late brother. While readers may not have a ton of questions about George, a short snippet about George dealing with the loss of his brother would be sure to spark a new wave of despair for HP fans to love and endure.

 

Pansy Parkinson

I know, I know, why would anyone want to know more about such a nasty girl? However, aren’t avid HP readers curious to know about anyone in the books? For example, we could learn more about her childhood and upbringing and maybe learn how she became the nasty mean girl we meet during her time at Hogwarts. Perhaps Rowling could spin a tale of heartbreak involving Pansy and Draco, as we know that the two don’t end up together. It would give the readers (and Hermione) a lot of satisfaction to know if Pansy had a difficult life after she left Hogwarts.

 

Teddy Lupin

It has been said that Lupin and Tonks’ son, Teddy, was a parallel of Harry himself. Both Harry’s and Teddy’s parents die because of Voldemort’s actions and both have godfathers with adventurous pasts. We find out through the article Rowling published about the Quidditch World Cup that Teddy and Victoire Weasley are involved in a relationship. How cute and exciting would it be to see their relationship develop as they experience Hogwarts and grow together?

 

All in all, Harry Potter has tons and tons of characters that may or may not pique the interest of a reader. This list is just a few of the characters we would like to know more about, whether they are heroes or villains. Harry Potter fans are always excited to receive even the tiniest bit of new information about the magical and exciting world Rowling created.

Giveaway: ‘The 5th Wave’ Movie Tie-In Prize Pack

Has anybody else been counting down the months until the release of the movie adaptation of Rick Yancey’s YA alien invasion novel, The 5th Wave? The book is seriously fantastic, and all signs point to the movie being fantastic as well. It seems like it’s been a long wait, but we’re finally in the home stretch. A full trailer for the movie debuted recently, and now you can pick up a movie tie-in edition of the book.

To celebrate both the release of the movie tie-in book and the upcoming release of the film, we’re featuring a giveaway of some seriously fantastic goodies.

2 winners will each receive:

  • 1 copy of The 5th Wave movie tie-in edition book
  • 1 paperback copy of the sequel, The Infinite Sea
  • 1 Fandango gift certificate for $25 (so you can lock down your 5th Wave movie tickets ASAP!)

You can enter the giveaway below, and don’t forget to preorder your copy of the final book in the series, The Last Star, which will be out May 24th, 2016. I know, I know, it’s a long time to wait to find out the fate of Cassie and her crew, but hey, at least you’ve got the movie to look forward to in the meantime!

 

5thwavemoviecover

a Rafflecopter giveaway
//widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Open to US addresses only. Giveaway closes 12/3/15.
Check out Rick Yancey on Twitter @RickYancey or at his official website.

An Interview with ‘Revolution of Ivy’ Author Amy Engel

EI 001

The Revolution of Ivy author Amy Engel is a TDQ favorite, and we were thrilled to have the chance to ask her a few questions about completing The Book of Ivy duet and what she has coming up next. The Revolution of Ivy is available now, so if you’re itching to find out what is on the other side of Westfall’s fence, be sure to pick up a copy…and keep reading for our interview with Amy! Continue reading