Book Review: Tempest, by Julie Cross

Tempest, by Julie Cross

Tempest, by Julie Cross

Nineteen-year-old Jackson Meyer’s life is pretty normal–for a time traveler.

Jackson goes to college, has a job, and has a girlfriend he’s crazy about. Time-travel is just this weird thing he can do, and it’s not even that useful–he can’t change the past or future. He’s only able to visit past moments for short periods before jumping back into the present. But that all changes when two armed men storm in on Jackson and his girlfriend Holly, and, in the altercation, Holly is shot in the chest. In his panic, Jackson jumps back in time, but this time isn’t like the others–he’s jumped all the way to 2007, and now he can’t get back to his present. Desperate to save future Holly, Jackson embarks on a quest to figure out just who exactly he is, and more importantly, how much he can do with his time travel abilities.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s definitely a quick read–the pacing is very fast and the story moves right along. Sometimes I wished the story would take a breather and slow down a little! Every page was packed with action, intrigue, mystery, and romance–sometimes a little too packed. There were times when I felt like this book could have benefited from just a little bit of simplification, and some moments of quiet interspersed with all the information and action. As Mozart once said, ‘The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” I think the same can be said for a story–sometimes the most important things happen in the lulls between action scenes.

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To Judge a Book

Have you ever wandered through a bookstore or library, your fingers trailing lightly along the spines of all the quiet books waiting to be read, only to pull one out, take a quick look at the cover, and shove it back onto the shelf without bothering to even read the inside flap? Making a snap judgment based solely on the series of images emblazoning the jacket? I know I have. Judging a book by its cover is a fairly trite idiom in the English language, but I think that as an idea it stands up well under examination, both literally and metaphorically.

Bet you wouldn't even watch the HBO adaptation of the girly one.

Bet you wouldn’t even watch the HBO adaptation
of the girly one.

A few months ago, author Maureen Johnson posed an interesting question to her readers and followers. After receiving numerous letters from male readers asking her to please change the covers of her books so that they wouldn’t feel embarrassed to read them in public, Ms. Johnson came to the conclusion that while men and women “can write books about the same subject matter, at the same level of quality, the woman is simply more likely to get the soft-sell cover with the warm glow and the feeling of smooth jazz blowing off of it.” To subvert this notion, she asked her Twitter followers to participate in an experiment called Coverflip–first, take a well-known book, then imagine the author of that book was of the opposite gender, and imagine what that cover might look like.

You can read about the full experiment here, and I recommend looking at the slideshow of the resulting images. I found them both hilarious and upsetting, for a variety of reasons. Maybe some other day I’ll rant about gender inequality, but today I think I’d like to talk about something even more basic: people judging people by the covers of the books they read.

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The Story Paradox

“Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.”   –Terry Pratchett

The first thing I usually do upon finishing a draft of one manuscript is to start thinking about what to write next. I have notebooks full of half-baked ideas and infant plot-lines, but the challenge when beginning a story–short- or long-form–is to judge whether or not it’s worth telling. And one thing I’ve come to terms with–as both a reader and a writer–is that not all stories are worth telling. And even if they are worth telling, they shouldn’t all be told the same way.

Why build a regular house when you could build this house? Habitat 67, Montreal, Canada

Why build a regular house when you could build this house?
Habitat 67, Montreal, Canada

I like to think of a story as a house. In the simplest sense, a house has four walls and a roof. Similarly, a story must meet some bare structural specification before it can even qualify as a story: some semblance of a plot, perhaps a character or two, maybe some dialogue. (James Joyce might argue that this is not the case, but let’s leave him out of it for now). But beyond those basics, a lot of variation is possible. How the story is created–what devices and structures are employed–that’s what makes the house a home, so to speak. Just as there are log cabins and chateaus and open-plan lofts, so there are a thousand and one ways a story may grow into something unique and compelling.

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This Is Crazy…Beta Maybe?

If y’all have been paying attention you’ll know that I’ve spent the last few months revising the heck out of the manuscript I completed this past spring. Now, the only step left before I can release this project out into the big, scary universe is to let people actually read it. So far I’ve let my mom and my husband read it, but that’s it. And they’re not exactly the most objective readers in the world when it comes to my work.

Not that kind of beta, silly.

Not that kind of beta, silly.

So, Uncle Lyra Wants You! Yes, You! Do you like words printed on paper? Do you like reading brand new manuscripts that haven’t yet seen the light of day? Are you a critical thinker and a careful reader? Are you bored with summer yet? Then you are the perfect candidate for being a beta reader!

Here’s a little bit of information about the novel in question:

Title: Blood King

Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy

Length: 106,000 words (that’s about the length of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, just to give you a comparison)

Synopsis: Dez Ashwood has only been King of the Blue Bloods for a few months when a spate of undead revenants threatens to upset the delicate balance between Life and Death. A stolen artifact, an ancient prophecy, and rogue necromancers owing fealty to a wraith bent on destroying the world; all are pieces of the puzzle that Dez must solve before time runs out. Will she be able to keep the streets of London safe from hordes of the undead? Or is it just her destiny to die trying?

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Q&A with Author Kourtney Heintz

Today, I’m interviewing author Kourtney Heintz about her new book The Six Train to Wisconsin, out now in print and e-book. Hope you enjoy this insight into another writer’s process and decisions, and make sure to leave a comment at the end to be entered to win Kourtney’s exciting new novel!

The lovely author in the flesh!

The lovely author in the flesh!

Q: First off, tell us about you! Who is Kourtney Heintz?

I’m a former Wall Street girl, who took advantage of the economic downturn to try a new career as an author. I’m a firm believer in living the life you want and doing whatever it takes to make your dreams a reality. Even moving into your parent’s living room.

Q: When did you first start writing, and what inspired you to continue?

I’ve been writing since I was a kid. Fan fiction mostly. My own takes on the Wizard of Oz series. It wasn’t until 2006 that I decided to seriously write my own novel. It was the end of the Harry Potter series that brought it all about. I was so sad to part ways with Hermione and Harry and I realized if I wrote my own books I could stay with the characters as long as I wanted.

Q: Your debut novel, The Six Train to Wisconsin, has just come out in print and ebook. Tell us about the book!

The Six Train to Wisconsin is a work of speculative fiction. It focuses on a married couple, Oliver and Kai. When Kai’s telepathy spirals out of control, her husband Oliver brings her to the quiet Wisconsin hometown he abandoned a decade ago, where he must confront the secrets of his past to save their future.

Q: Where did the idea for the novel come from? Did anything in particular inspire you?

I was recovering from disk replacement surgery and thinking about how bad off I had been. How much care I needed. And the people who had to care for me. I wanted to tell that story. Both sides of it–the caregiver and the care-needer. The husband and his telepathic wife were born in that moment.

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Review: Kill Me Softly, by Sarah Cross

Kill Me Softly, by Sarah Cross

Kill Me Softly, by Sarah Cross

Mirabelle’s past is shrouded in mystery, from the cause of her parents’ mysterious deaths to her guardians’ evasive half-truths about her birthplace, Beau Rivage. But as Mira’s sixteenth birthday approaches, she hatches a desperate plan to run away to Beau Rivage and discover the truth for herself. But Beau Rivage is more than Mira bargained for: a disturbing town where nothing is what it seems and every resident harbors dark, impossible secrets.

There’s casino manager Felix, whose alluring blue eyes and suave demeanor instantly draw Mira in, but why does Felix’s rude brother Blue seem so insistent that Mira stay far away from his family? Why is pale, dark-haired Viv so obsessed with apples and glass coffins? Why are birds and woodland animals strangely attracted to handsome, chivalrous Freddie? Is it possible that in Beau Rivage, fairy tales come true in the most twisted, grotesque way possible? And if Mira was born here, does that mean she is cursed to live out her own Grimm tale? Will she find a way to outwit fate before she loses her heart, or worse, her life?

I picked this book up at the library on a whim. To be honest, the cover gave me pause: the graphics seemed vaguely Twilight-esque, but I didn’t have anything else to read so I decided to give it a whirl. And let me tell you, I’m thrilled that I didn’t judge this book by its cover.

I surprised myself by loving this novel. From the first chapter, I was hooked. I actually stayed up half the night finishing the book, and I don’t regret it. (Not that I ever regret sleep lost over a good book, mind you). Kill Me Softly is a dark, clever, sexy story; a twisted fairy tale that embraces the grotesque aspects of Grimm tales and then goes deeper and darker. Cross asks her readers, What if fairy tale characters aren’t guaranteed their happy endings? Because in Beau Rivage, true love doesn’t always win and the only thing more dangerous than an evil fairy’s curse is trying to outrun your destiny.

Cross does a great job of creating a coherent mythology solidly rooted in both traditionally macabre Grimm folklore and modern Americana. In a genre already flooded by twisted fairy tales like ABC’s ‘Once Upon a Time,’ NBC’s ‘Grimm,’ and Alex Flinn’s Beastly, Kill Me Softly is fresh, original and compelling. Cross manages to make her world be both deadly and whimsical, sinister and hopeful; a place where a curse might end in true love and a blessing might spell tragedy. Either way, fate is inexorable.

The fairy tale characters in the novel are brilliantly irreverent. Each character balks the traditional assumptions of their archetype while remaining true to the overall ethos of the fairy tale. For instance, the character destined to play out the Snow White narrative jokes that she’s tempted to choke herself on an apple “just to get things rolling.” Freddie–“Prince Charming”– is kind and generous to the point of intolerability–the “princess” he is destined to wake from an enchanted slumber with true love’s kiss can’t stand being around him for longer than 5 minutes.

For anyone who enjoys a twisted fairytale with a healthy dose of snappy dialogue, steamy makeouts, and complicated characters, this book is a must-read. Mira’s quest for answers about her past sends her into a beautiful but deadly world of lies, intrigue, and maybe–just maybe–true love.

The Importance of Reading

“We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.”               — Philip Pullman

Marilyn Monroe, pretty and smart.

Marilyn Monroe, pretty and smart.

I was that kid. The kid who read all the time. The kid who brought a book with her wherever she went. The kid who had to be told to stop reading so much and go outside and play with my friends. I could be found reading under the table at family dinners. Reading on the way to school, reading during lunch, and reading on the way home. Reading under the sheets after my mom had told me–repeatedly–to turn the light off, I could finish the damn book tomorrow. Later, I was the girl who read all her summer reading in the first two weeks of summer break, and then spent the rest of summer at the library. I was the girl who threw silent hissy fits whenever she was assigned a book she didn’t like; not because it was a pain to read but because there was nothing–NOTHING–she hated more than disliking a book.

Long before the thought of being a writer ever crossed my mind, I was a reader.

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Look Away, Dixie Land

‘Tell about the South . . . What do they do there? How do they live there? Why do they?’     –William Faulkner, ‘Absalom, Absalom!’

Southern Live Oak.

Southern Live Oak.

Last week I wrote about how much my family moved around when I was a kid. But despite that, most of my formative childhood years were spent in Florida. And not the Florida you see in movies or TV; no white sand beaches here, and few palm trees to speak of. This is North Central Florida, where the humidity rarely drops below 90% and the live oaks stretch their great branches down to skim the ground. Sandwiched between the prairie and the swamp, my Florida is the land of sharp palmetto fronds, bayonet plants, and cypress knees. Of armadillos and gopher tortoises and red-headed buzzards. My Florida is the South, plain and simple.

I grew up in this Florida. I remember spending summer days knee deep in Hogtown Creek, hunting for sharks’ teeth and fossils, relics of Florida’s prehistoric past. I’ll never forget the sweet taste of fresh blueberries picked from the bush, still hot from the blazing Southern sun. Dancing in an afternoon downpour, building tiny dams out of pinecones and not caring that I was soaked to the bone. Diving into the aquamarine depths of a natural spring, the water as clear as glass and as cold as ice. Buying watermelons not from the supermarket, but from sunburned farmers on the side of the road selling them out of the back of battered and muddy pick-up trucks. Tubing down the Itchetucknee and kayaking on the Suwannee. Avoiding the cold, prehistoric gaze of six-foot alligators sunning themselves on the banks of Lake Alice.

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Whistle While You Work

Andrew Bird, man of many melodies.

Andrew Bird, man of many melodies.

A friend recently posted a fascinating article called “Untamed Melody,” written by musician and songwriter Andrew Bird about his writing process. In case you’re too lazy to read the article (really, though, read it!–it’s good!), I’ll sum it up for you: from an early age Mr. Bird has lived his life with melodies. Melodies with his cereal, on the way to school, while brushing his teeth. At any given time he has several melodies filed away in his brain, which he then takes out and tinkers with until he feels they are ready. He then marries words to melody by verbalizing nonsense until “something true” slips into the babble. He teases words from his subconscious mind to “settle into the grooves of the melody.”

I really enjoyed reading this article. It is always a pleasure for me to sneak a peak into another artist’s creative process; the insight I gain by examining someone else’s process often helps me to define my own process more precisely. There were many things about Andrew Bird’s process that resonated with me as a writer, the main difference being that where he goes through life with melodies in various stages of creation, I go through life with stories.

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Top 5 Badass YA Heroines

A lot of discussion has been flying around recently in both my writerly circles and the media about the lack of female role models in most of geek culture. There’s this great article by Tor railing against the classic female superhero pose–you know the one. Artist Michael Lee Lundford has created a series of drawings depicting female superheroes if they were fully clothed. Emmie Mears recently wrote a blog post  about the appalling number of female superheroes compared to male superheroes. Spoiler–it’s way lower than you think it is.

Katniss Everdeen, strong female role model.

Katniss Everdeen, strong female role model.

And it got me thinking about female role models in the genres I read and write; namely, young adult fiction. In the past five years, there have been a ton of really strong and powerful female characters dominating the YA genre, which is as it should be. Young women like Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior rise up to the challenges they face with tenacity and courage, sacrificing themselves for the things they believe in. They don’t need a man to protect them or marry them to feel complete. But Katniss and company are hardly the first strong women to leap from the pages of YA novels. So, I though I’d share my favorite fictional strong female role models from my childhood and teenaged years. They may not be superheroes, but they inspired me to be independent, forge my own destiny, and raise my voice against the world’s injustices.

1. Alanna of Trebond, from the Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce

Coincidentally, Alanna rescues the Prince fairly frequently.

Coincidentally, Alanna rescues the
Prince fairly frequently.

When her widowed father sends her to a convent to learn how to become a lady, Alanna decides to make her own plans. Disguising herself as a boy named Alan, Alanna travels to the Royal Palace in the city of Corus to become a knight, something no woman has done for hundreds of years. Although small of stature and weaker than the other boys in training, Alanna’s fierce character and stubbornness carries her through many trials and adventures, and she eventually learns that in addition to wielding a sword she also wields a kind of magic. She is incredibly loyal and steadfast when it comes to her friends, and a deadly opponent to her enemies. She is strong on the battlefield, clever with her magic, and tender with those she loves. Alanna is a warrior and a sorceress, but most of all she is a woman.

2. Hermione Granger, from the Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling

Wingardium Leviosaaa, bitches.

Wingardium Leviosaaa, bitches.

As a character, Hermione is incredibly complex. When we first meet her she is a nerdy bookworm with frizzy hair and buckteeth who is shunned by Harry and Ron until she proves to be of use to them. But over the course of the series Hermione blossoms into the kind of woman every young girl should strive to be; intelligent, competent, loyal, funny, self-assured. She is incredibly multi-faceted–she can be stubborn to the point of being obstinant, clever to the point of being a know-it-all, loving to the point of being mushy. But most importantly, Hermione stands up for the things she believes in and doesn’t let anyone tell her she can’t do what the wants. Also, the girl loves to read. I can get behind that any day of the week.

3. Meliara Astiar, from Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

Meliara, complete with a black eye.

Meliara, complete with a black eye.

Although Meliara (known as Mel to her friends and family) promises her dying father than she will save the kingdom of Remalna from tyrannical King Galdran Melindar, she has no experience in battle or intrigue. But that doesn’t stop her from launching a rebellion with nothing but a few poorly armed villagers and her own wits and determination. Although essentially illiterate at the beginning of the novel, Mel has a thirst for knowledge and seeks out any opportunity to better herself as a scholar. She is often self-conscious about the way other people view her, but rarely lets that stop her from doing the right thing or saying what she means. Mel describes herself as “quick to laugh, quick to act, and much too quick to judge,” but she is also kind, brave, and selfless.

4. Meg Murray, from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Funny, I don't remember a winged centaur in this book.

Funny, I don’t remember a winged centaur in this book.

Like Katniss Everdeen, Meg is a reluctant hero. She doesn’t particularly fancy running around trying to save the world or making a stand against evil, but when situations conspire to throw her into the middle of a dangerous adventure, she rises to the occasion. When Meg and her younger brother Charles Wallace follow their scientist father through a “tesseract,” or a wrinkle in time, they find themselves on the dark planet Camazotz where everyone is controlled by IT, a giant evil brain. In the end, only Meg’s great love for her family and her strong will can protect her brother and Camazotz from the wicked machinations of the disembodied brain who seeks both the destruction of individuality and the end of free will.

5. Princess Eilonwy, from the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander

Jeez, but her mom looks mean.

Jeez, but her mom looks mean.

Anyone who has read the Prydain Chronicles cannot help but love Eilonwy, the snarky, headstrong princess who accompanies Taran on his far-flung adventures. Eilonywy is descended from the Royal House of Llyr, a line of powerful enchantresses, but the princess has no interest in behaving as a “true lady” should. Rather, Princess Eilonwy is hot-tempered, stubborn, and sharp-tongued, and although she has no formal training in the usage of weapons she is a formidable opponent when it comes to battle, resorting to teeth and nails when she has no other weapons at her disposal. While she is often sarcastic and short-tempered, Eilonwy is also loyal and caring with regards to her friends and companions, and often uses her wits and determination to get them out of sticky situations.

Well, there you have it! It was actually a challenge for me to narrow down my favorite strong female role models from my childhood–they were more plentiful than I expected! While there is definitely a paucity of female superheroes in Hollywood, I think it’s great that there are so many strong young women dominating children’s literature and the young adult genre!

Do you have favorite strong female characters from your childhood or teenage years? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!