Review - Lifel1k3

Title: Lifel1k3
Author: Jay Kristoff
Publisher: Knopf
Series: Lifelike #1
Published: May 29, 2018
Source: bought
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On a floating junkyard beneath a radiation sky, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap.
Eve isn’t looking for secrets—she’s too busy looking over her shoulder. The robot gladiator she’s just spent six months building has been reduced to a smoking wreck, and the only thing keeping her Grandpa from the grave was the fistful of credits she just lost to the bookies. To top it off, she’s discovered she can destroy electronics with the power of her mind, and the puritanical Brotherhood are building a coffin her size. If she’s ever had a worse day, Eve can’t remember it.
But when Eve discovers the ruins of an android boy named Ezekiel in the scrap pile she calls home, her entire world comes crashing down. With her best friend Lemon Fresh and her robotic conscience, Cricket, in tow, she and Ezekiel will trek across deserts of irradiated glass, infiltrate towering megacities and scour the graveyard of humanity’s greatest folly to save the ones Eve loves, and learn the dark secrets of her past.
Even if those secrets were better off staying buried.

 Overall?
I ENJOYED IT

Despite having Kristoff's solo adult novels on my shelves since 2012 I had only ever read the Illuminae series that he co-wrote with Amiee Kaufman (which you totally need to read if you haven't), but when I heard he was writing a solo YA novel that was coming out this year I decided I would finally dive into a book written entirely by him.  I honestly wasn't too sure what to expect considering I'd only read his co-written YA work and his adult stories have been known to be somewhat hit and miss, but in the end, I was pleasantly surprised with what I got.

First things first I went into this book thinking that it fell more into the sci-fi genre, but having finished it, it feels like more of a dystopian novel with sci-fi elements.  There's nothing wrong with that and either way it was still good, but in case you were looking for something hard-core sci-fi like Illuminae just be prepared for something different.  That being said the sci-fi elements were really strong in some parts of the story, and what I consider a huge part of what makes a good sci-fi story, some kind of larger question about humanity/life/ect., was something I found very prominent in the book.  The setting though, completely dystopian, through and through.  It might sound a little weird, a dystopian world with a mostly sci-fi plot, but I thought it worked surprisingly well and really enjoyed it.

While the plot was fairly original and I enjoyed a lot of the questions brought up in the book I think my favorite thing about it has to be the side characters.  Now, I don't want to say that there was anything wrong with the main character and her love interest, they were fine, but I found myself hoping to see more of Lemon Fresh, and getting excited when we got to see things from her point of view.  If Kristoff wrote a book about Lemon Fresh I would read that in a heartbeat, doesn't even matter what was happening in it.  I'm really hoping we'll see more of her in book two because she's probably my favorite character.  Cricket probably came in second as far as favorites go, and even the Preacher was interesting enough that I'm also hoping we'll get more from him in book two as well.  No

There were a few things that I felt detracted from the book slightly, the main one being that you're just dumped into the world without much explanation.  When I was discussing the book with some bookseller friends of mine I noted that it felt very Maze Runner-esque in the sense that we're just dropped into a world that has it's own unique slang without explaining what any of it means.  Most of it can be figured out from the context and there were some explanations, but it still would have been nice if the explanations that were provided were given earlier.  I also pretty much saw all of the plot twists a mile away.  The last thing that bugged me was the fact that almost every aspect of plot could have been avoided if someone had just told the main character the truth.  Granted, this is probably true of SO MANY books out there I'm not entirely sure I can fault this book for doing it too, especially because the very last twist is something that probably SHOULD have been kept a secret for the main character's protection, whereas of all the other things didn't need to be kept secret at all and were obviously going to come out eventually so keeping them a secret was stupid to begin with.

As a whole, this was a really entertaining book and I can't wait to see where the next one goes.  The fairly unique concept, along with the fascinating world and delightful side characters combine to create a story that kept me flipping the pages until the very end.  It also hits the ground running and never lets up, which makes it an excellent choice for reluctant readers.  There's a lot to think about with this book, which is something I really loved, and there were some surprisingly deep quotes to go along with all of the deep thoughts I was having while reading.  Based on how I felt about this book I hope I'll have time to get to some of his previous titles, and I certainly can't wait to see what he comes up with next, both alone and with Amiee Kaufman, because he's one to watch.

ARC Review - The Hazel Wood

Title: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Series: The Hazel Wood #1
Published: January 30, 2018
Source: e-ARC for review
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Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”
Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Overall?
I ENJOYED IT

This book has been on my goodreads shelf for over a year now because from day one it sounded like it was going to be right up my alley.  Something about "pitch-dark fairy tales" just called to me, and let's be honest, that cover is gorgeous so I was pretty much guaranteed to read it if I had the time.  Thankfully I did, and I'm really glad.

The best thing about this book, hands down, was the writing.  Not everyone is gonna love it, but I'm a huge sucker for those lush, lyrical books that wrap around you and make you want to pull quotes from them to write on your walls or ink on your skin (or maybe that's just me).  Albert has definitely joined my ranks of Laini Taylor, Taherah Mafi, and Lauren Oliver with her writing skills and how they seem effortlessly beautiful.  This is a story about fairy tales, in fact, one could argue it is one itself, and it certainly lives up to it in the writing department.

Along with the writing, the other thing that I think really worked for this book was the story.  I don't want to give too much away so I'm gonna be a little vague here, but I very much enjoyed the path this story went down.  It had an Alice in Wonderland feel to it, story-wise, what with it being about a girl who ends up in a world that's not quite right, but the twists and turns that it included, along with the fact that the Alice in this story actually meant to find her Wonderland, managed to keep it fresh.  

There were a few things that kept me from really loving this book, though.  I was talking with a friend trying to pinpoint what it was exactly and I think I finally figured it out.  First I want to note that the pacing of the story was a little odd.  It took almost 150 pages to actually get to anything resembling Wonderlander (or in this case Hinterland), and then we only got about 100 pages inside of it.  That being said I think my main problem was the characters.  They were perfectly fine characters, but they seemed a little flat, and we really only got to know Alice, but even then we didn't really get to know her.  I also noticed that there were things, characters and situations, that were introduced and then never addressed again. 

Overall this was a magical debut that I definitely enjoyed.  It was exactly as advertised; a lush fairytale with bite that kept me entertained from start to finish.  While there were a few little bumps in the road for me this is still a book that I would recommend to people looking for a new fantasy to fill the wait for something else, and I'll certainly be checking out what Albert writes in the future.  I'm gonna be honest, I'm not really sure where book two in this series is going to go because despite what I mentioned about a handful of things that were introduced and never given a resolution the story really does seem to stand on its own as a finished arc.  I'll be curious to see where Albert ends up going with book two, and while I may or may not check that one out, depending on what it will be about, I'm pretty sure I'll check out the collection of stories that will be released the after that that's supposed to be the fictional book of stories this one revolves around.

ARC Review - Everless

Title: Everless
Author: Sara Holland
Publisher: HarperTeen
Series: Untitled #1
Published: January 2, 2018
Source: e-ARC for review
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In the kingdom of Sempera, time is currency—extracted from blood, bound to iron, and consumed to add time to one’s own lifespan. The rich aristocracy, like the Gerlings, tax the poor to the hilt, extending their own lives by centuries.
No one resents the Gerlings more than Jules Ember. A decade ago, she and her father were servants at Everless, the Gerlings’ palatial estate, until a fateful accident forced them to flee in the dead of night. When Jules discovers that her father is dying, she knows that she must return to Everless to earn more time for him before she loses him forever.
But going back to Everless brings more danger—and temptation—than Jules could have ever imagined. Soon she’s caught in a tangle of violent secrets and finds her heart torn between two people she thought she’d never see again. Her decisions have the power to change her fate—and the fate of time itself.

Overall?
I ENJOYED IT

When I first heard about this novel my interest was piqued enough to add it to my TBR shelf on goodreads but I have to admit I wasn't sure if I really had any intention of reading it anytime soon.  That changed when I saw that the author was coming to my city for an event, so I decided to download the e-ARC from Edelweiss and give it a go.  While it was, in fact, an interesting read I didn't end up loving it as much as everyone else seemed to.

First, lets talk about the things I really did like.  The premise was fantastic.  The only thing I could even think of that came anywhere near the basic idea for this book was the movie In Time, so as far as ideas go it's pretty darn unique.  It's not just the idea of paying for things with time, it's how they pay, extracting the time from blood and turning that into coins that then appear to be consumed.  Everything about the world was just fascinating and for a debut novelist, the entire thing was not only well thought out but well executed. 

Along with the premise and the worldbuilding, the other thing I liked was the female characters, particularly their relationship.  There's something called the Bechdel test, which basically asks if two female characters talk about something other than a man, and this book passes with flying colors.  In fact, I don't even think there's more than a page cumulatively between the main female characters where they discuss men.  The friendship that forms is great, and seeing something like that in YA makes me really happy, especially in a fantasy novel.

Like I said above there were some really great things about this book, but there were also some things about it I had some major problems with.  I mentioned above that there wasn't a ton of talk about the men in the book, and while that was great it kind of seemed like the love interest was just kind of stuck in there because all YA fantasies have a love interest. The main thing that really drove me up the wall though was the fact that the ENTIRE story would never have happened if someone had told the main character what the heck was actually going on.  You know what's not helpful?  Telling the main character to "leave now because it's dangerous" but then refusing to tell them what is dangerous.  Cryptic messages to scare people you care about into doing something when there appears to be no reason you can't tell them the truth make no sense.

Overall I'm not 100% sure how I feel about this book.  While there were pieces of it that I didn't care for the good seemed to outweigh the bad enough for me to want to keep reading, it just wasn't a home run.  It was by no means a bad book, and obviously there are a number of people who really enjoyed it (it just made the NYT list, too), so in the end my thoughts boil down to this; think about if the things I mentioned are a deal breaker, but either way if it's something you might be interested in read a couple of chapters and see what you think.  I'm not sure if I'll read the sequel or not, there was certainly potential there, so I guess I'll just have to wait and see.  Either way, I'll certainly be looking for Holland's next series because while this particular story might not have been a winner for me the next one very well could be and I'll be interested to see what she comes up with next.

2017 Fantasy Extravaganza - Susan Dennard

Today is the last interview this year, although I know technically it was supposed to be yesterday, I started school on Wednesday and didn't think I would have so much homework right off the bat.  I do hope you think the little wait was worth it because today I have another NYT bestseller whose books are also endorsed by the amazing Sarah J Maas.  I'm so pleased to end this feature with the lovely Susan Dennard, author of Truthwitch and Windwitch!

The Interview;


Once Upon A Teen Reader: You've created a world that has some "familiar" magic (wind, fire, etc.), but there are also an assortment of unusual magics (truthwitchery, threadwitchery, etc.).  Why did you decide to include the familiar magics, and where did the idea for the unusual ones come from?  Were there any ideas for types of magic that you threw out?


Susan Dennard: Actually, I started with the unusual magics. And I had a lot of them. Rather than having just “Waterwitch,” I had “Tidewitch” and “Icewitch” and even (yes, this is true) “Steamwitch.” And it was overwhelming and mildly absurd.

So one of the first things my editor asked me to do was simplify the magic—combine some witcheries, eliminate others, and add overarching elements within which each magic could be applied.

So now, while there are still Tidewitches and Icewitches, they are in the broader category of Waterwitches. And as you can see, that didn’t really simplify things at all, but only made it more complicated. ;) Whoops!


OUATR: There are so many great characters in this series, and we get to see through the eyes of so many of them.  Do you have a favorite (or least favorite) character to write?  What about one that's easiest (or hardest)?  Why do you think that is?


SD: I definitely don’t have a least favorite or a most favorite—I have to love them all in some way or I couldn’t authentically write from their POV. That said, some are easier to understand than others. Safi is very “this is good, this is bad, I fight for what I believe in” while characters like Vivia or Aeduan have many more shades of gray.

OUATR: You have some really impressive fight scenes in your books, how do you go about writing those?  Do you block them out, do you act them out, or something else entirely? 

SD: I definitely block them out. I’ve been doing martial arts since college (so…over a decade ;)), so I have a pretty strong sense of how fighting works, how our bodies move (or DON’T move, for those instances when you want to break something), and how to defend against common attacks. There are times I’ve had my sensei help me choreograph scenes, or whenever we learn a cool new move in class, I’ll file it away as one more thing to add to my book.

OUATR: It was recently announced that you're writing a prequel story, SIGHTWITCH, that will come out before BLOODWITCH, and even help set it up.  Can you tell us a little about that story, and how it came to be?

SD: As I talked about in depth in a recent newsletter, this was a project I tried to write in 2014…and failed at. For lots of reasons, I just couldn’t get the story to work or seem to find Ryber’s voice. Then, earlier this year, my publisher asked, “Hey, might you try that novella again?” And I thought I might as well give it a try—worst case scenario, it doesn’t work out and we move right on to Bloodwitch.

Surprise, surprise, when I sat down to work on this, the story just BURST forth! It wasn’t the format I expected (journal entries? world-related documents? Illustrations? Totally didn’t see that coming!), and there was a new POV in there that completely caught me by surprise. But oh wow, what a joy it was to write!

OUATR: The first series you wrote, the SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY trilogy, had fantasy elements in it but was set in the real world.  Why did you decide to go from a real place and time to a world of your own creation?  What were some of the challenges you faced in making that jump?

SD: I’ve always been a reader of high fantasy, so that specific genre has always been something I wanted to write one day. In some ways, it has been easier because I don’t have to research a real world with real history and try to fit story into that. I can build the world and plot hand-in-hand. But that, of course, also has its challenges—and I still have to do a lot of research to get things right.

The Book;

Title: Truthwitch
Author: Susan Dennard
Publisher: Tor Teen
Series: The Witchlands #1
Published: January 5, 2016
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In a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.
Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.
Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she's a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden - lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult's true powers are hidden even from herself.
In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls' heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.
Buy it from B&N | IndieBound | The Book Depository

The Author;

Susan Dennard has come a long way from small-town Georgia. Working in marine biology, she got to travel the world -- six out of seven continents (she'll get to Asia one of these days!) -- before she settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor. She is the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series, as well as the Witchlands series, which includes the New York Times bestselling Truthwitch and Windwitch. When not writing, she can be found hiking with her dogs, slaying darkspawn on her Xbox, or earning bruises at the dojo.




Find her on Her Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

The Giveaway;

I had the pleasure of meeting Susan when she went out on her Windwitch tour at the start of the year and I decided to squirrel away an extra signed copy of both Truthwitch AND Windwitch for just such an event.  For those of you in the US, you're welcome to enter to win both books, and for you International readers since Susan is a featured author her books are an option should you win, although they won't be signed.

US Giveaway


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International Giveaway


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2017 Fantasy Extravaganza - Alex R. Kahler

We're almost at the end of the fantasy feature, and today I'm happy to introduce the only male author I interviewed this time around (male authors in YA aren't as common as female ones, I've found).  His newest novel isn't out until November but it's already gotten some fantastic blurbs from a myriad of top-billed authors, and it features a queer main character!  Please help me in welcoming Alex R. Kahler, talking about the forthcoming Runebinder.

The Interview;

Once Upon A Teen Reader: This isn't usually a question I ask, but seeing as the book seems like it could be plucked straight from the headlines to some extent I'm curious where the idea for the book came from?

Alex Kahler: Honestly, it kind of scares me how apt the book is for the current climate. Especially because I came up with the idea almost a dozen years ago. In the beginning, the idea came from some lunch table conversations about not-so-evil necromancers and magical powers. The first few drafts were full-on high fantasy, with inns and horses and archaic English. Somewhere along the line, that switched over to urban fantasy. I think, as I got older, I got more interested in imagining the effects of magic on the real world, and what humans would do if given this amazing power, rather than creating an alternate reality. Now especially, the ideas of corruption and resistance (even when the future feels grim) are more poignant than ever.

OUATR: Magic, and the whole magic system really, is so vital to fantasy novels.  How did you go about creating yours, and were there any real-world influences?

AK: I've always been interested in the elemental systems in magic. Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Spirit. When I began writing, I was knee-deep in exploring neo-paganism and the like, and one aspect that truly resonated was the idea that we hold all of these base elements within us. Research on the chakras--energy centers within the body--then made me ask...if we could use this energy to manipulate the outer world, what would we do with it? How would it change us? And if we used too much, what would it do to our body? Thus, the Spheres of magic were born. And, with them, the Howls--creatures spawned from when the Spheres stop exuding magic, and begin consuming it.

OUATR: It's not unusual in fantasy novels for the world to be secretly falling apart, or on the brink of doing so, but this is the first book and the world is basically gone.  Why did you decide to start your series out like that, giving it more of an apocalyptic feel, instead of working your way towards it throughout a series?

AK: The honest answer? It just felt right. But as I explored the book through rewrites and edits, I realized that what interested me wasn't the destruction of civilization, but the fight to get it back. I wanted to level the playing field. And moreover, I felt that post-apocalypse showed more about the core of humanity. When we're stripped of everything around us, what makes us human? What makes us move forward?

OUATR: Seeing as civilization in your novel has pretty much ended and monsters roam around, I think it's safe to say that this is a dark fantasy novel.  What made you choose to include those dark elements, and was there ever a line for what you or your publisher considered "too dark" for YA?

AK: Oddly enough, I don't think there has ever been a moment where an editor said "this is too much". I've honestly pulled myself back a few times, because there's a lot of pain and anger that the protagonist feels, and when he unleashes it, things get...bloody. If anything, I'd say it's more broody than dark. As for why I chose to include the darker elements? Well, because they're there in the real world. Even though there's magic and monsters, the real darkness comes from normal human beings. Magic just amplifies it.

OUART: Speaking of the world, is it one of your own creation, or is it actually Earth as we know it, just after society has fallen?  If it's a world of your own creation, how did you go about shaping that, and was it based off of anywhere in particular?  If it's Earth what made you keep the setting "real" in the sense that it's at least recognizable in some aspects?

AK: It's definitely set in the real world. Most of this book takes place in the Midwest. Partly because I'm from there, and partly because there's something so...open and empty about it. It was an ambiance that lent itself to the overall mood of the story. That said, magic destroyed everything, so landscapes are largely unrecognizable--lakes flooded, cities toppled, roads turned to rubble. Civilization as we know it is over, but there are still traces humanity holds onto.

OUATR: Necromancers, those who can raise and/or control the dead aren't super common in YA but there are a few stories that do feature them.  Some of the other things in the story (Howls and the Kin for example) seem to be original.  Can you tell us a little about those original creatures and how you came up with them?

AK: It all ties in with the magic system. The Howls are what happens when humans are drained of a certain elemental magic (by necromancers). So it became a question of figuring out what the elements related to within the body, and what the body would crave if that was taken away. It also lent a certain mindset to the monsters, as many of the elements have emotional or intellectual ties. So you have sex-starved incubii craving human heat, sadistic bloodlings who want to inflict as much emotional damage they can while bleeding you dry...that sort of thing. It was fun, because the blueprints of those sorts of monsters have always existed, but the magic system gave me a new way to interpret them. It also means that all the monsters and villains are still resolutely human. There's no passing things off to an Ultimate Evil. As for the Kin, they're the original Howls--6 of the strongest, most sadistic monsters out there. And when the story begins, they have humanity under their thumbs.

OUATR: Your main character Tenn is gay and while that should be something that's run of the mill, especially in a fantasy world (I mean, if there is magic and monsters I'm not sure why a guy falling in love with a guy would be so outrageous).  Why do you think that's the case, and why was it so important for you to have Tenn be gay?  

AK: I still find it hilarious (read: depressing) that people can swallow monsters and magic and zombies and time travel and dragons, but the moment they're faced with the fact that SOME PEOPLE ARE QUEER they get all defensive or disbelieving. Like, why can't queer characters save the world? What makes THAT so unbelievable or hard to market? Initially, I wrote Tenn to be gay because I'm gay, and I wanted a fantasy novel where the capital-H Hero was like me. And this was, as I said, a dozen years ago--there were ZERO stories out there with queer protagonists. Or even side characters, unless they were going to die of AIDS or heartbreak. But as years went on, the desire to have a queer hero became more political. Everyone told me there wasn't a market. It would turn readers off.
I refuse to believe that, because that mindset basically says people like me aren't important enough to reach out to.
The world is filled with queer, POC, differently-abled, diverse, beautiful people. And we have been listening to cis-white-straight-(often male-bodied) stories our entire lives. It's way past time media saw us as valid humans with valid experiences, rather than outliers whose stories c=should be brushed under the rug. For me, every single story that features a "non-conventional" protagonist opens the door to other diverse voices by proving a market exists, and that reaching these often-overlooked readers is worth more than just the Bottom Line. Authors peddle stories. It's our job to make sure that all stories are heard, even when (especially when) that means opening the door for someone else to speak.

OUATR: You've published several other novels, although all of them seem to fall more under the paranormal and/or mythology genre as opposed to fantasy.  What is it that drew you to fantasy?

AK: I've always loved fantasy. Like, I was the kid with the unicorn sweater at age 8 (thanks Mom) who read Wheel of Time and watched Hocus Pocus and The Craft on repeat. Magic has always been an integral part of my worldview. I guess I've always wanted to believe there's something more than what we see.

OUATR:  What books would you suggest to people who are anxiously awaiting RUNEBINDER?

AK: Well, I've been eagerly awaiting a few sequels. Mostly ONE DARK THRONE by Kendare Blake and GODSGRAVE by Jay Kristoff. So I would highly recommend their prequels (THREE DARK CROWNS and NEVERNIGHT, respectively). I'm also in love with graphic novel THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE and currently devouring DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY by Amanda Foody.

The Book;

Title: Runebinder
Author: Alex R. Kahler
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Series: The Runebinder Chronicles #1
Published: November 14, 2017
Add it on Goodreads

Magic is risen.
When magic returned to the world, it could have saved humanity, but greed and thirst for power caused mankind's downfall instead. Now once-human monsters called Howls prowl abandoned streets, their hunger guided by corrupt necromancers and the all-powerful Kin. Only Hunters have the power to fight back in the unending war, using the same magic that ended civilization in the first place.
But they are losing.
Tenn is a Hunter, resigned to fight even though hope is nearly lost. When he is singled out by a seductive Kin named Tomás and the enigmatic Hunter Jarrett, Tenn realizes he's become a pawn in a bigger game. One that could turn the tides of war. But if his mutinous magic and wayward heart get in the way, his power might not be used in favor of mankind.
If Tenn fails to play his part, it could cost him his friends, his life…and the entire world.
Buy it from B&N | IndieBound | The Book Depository

The Author;

Alex is many things, but first and foremost, he's a Sagittarius. He's taught circus arts in Madrid, drummed with Norse shamans, studied writing in Scotland, and watched the Northern Lights from a hot tub in Iceland...and that's the abbreviated list. He writes fantasy for adults and teens, with special focus on LGBTQ+ characters and immersive mythologies.
Although a nomad at heart, he currently resides in LA.
Mainly because it's such a good travel hub.

Find him on His Website | Twitter

The Giveaway;

Alex has generously donated some swag, and perhaps even an ARC of Runebinder.  Unfortunately, this is just for the US, but I do want to remind international readers that since Alex's book is a featured title should you win you're welcome to pick it as your prize.

US Giveaway

International Giveaway

2017 Fantasy Extravaganza - Margaret Rogerson

Today's interview is with another debut author, only instead of starting a series with her first book, she's completed the story with just the one book so there's no year long wait to see what happens next!  With two stars and good reviews all around I'm really excited to have Margaret Rogerson here today, talking about her upcoming debut (it's out next Tuesday) An Enchantment of Ravens!

The Interview;

Once Upon A Teen Reader:  Fantasy is such a wide genre that encompasses so many different elements, what is it that drew you to writing about the fair folk/fae?


Margaret Rogerson: I’ve always loved fairy folklore, and in particular I love depictions of fair folk that delve into the more inhuman aspects of their nature. I was heavily inspired by Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, which made me want to write about fairies in a Regency era setting.



OUATR:  Art, and painting in general plays a huge part in the story. Are you an artist? Why did you decide to make that such an important element?



MR: I am an artist, though not a very good one compared to Isobel! My own background with portrait art did help shape the story; I felt art was something I could write about meaningfully and authentically. Then I felt that for the book to say something meaningful about art, Isobel’s portraits needed to have a significant impact on the storyline not just at the beginning of the book, but throughout the entire plot.



OUATR: Going off of that, I don't think I've read a novel where the fae are unable to create things. Where did that idea come from; was it an original one or was it based off of some specific lore, and if so what kind of research did you do for the book?



MR: The idea that the fair folk are unable to perform Craft was inspired by an obscure bit of Celtic folklore, in which bread can be used as protection against fairies. For example, if you’d like to keep your child from being stolen by fairies, or if you’re going to go near a barrow mound where fairies are known to dwell, you should put some bread on your threshold or hide it in your clothing. I’ve always been fascinated by that superstition. Supposedly bread has power over fairies because it’s baked on a human hearth, and the hearth represents domesticity and the taming of nature, whereas fairies are wild creatures who are repelled by those concepts.

My thought progression went something like this: Do fairies not have bread of their own? What if they can’t make any kind of food? What if it’s not just food they can’t make—what if they can’t do anything that requires the use of human tools or human creativity? Are they then forced to trade with humans in order to obtain material goods? If humanity itself is oppositional to fairies, it makes sense that the fair folk wouldn’t be able to do art, to make clothing… and that they might be deeply envious of mortals as a result. What I liked most about the idea was that it gave me unique fairy mythology to work with that was still deeply rooted in traditional folklore.
Ultimately I didn’t do any research involving fairies or folklore—I’d already spent a lot of time reading about those topics—but I did research how pigments were sold back in the Regency era and some other art-related subjects.


OUATR: There are some things that are seen quite a bit in fantasy novels (epic quests, forbidden romance, huge battles, etc.). As a writer, how do you go about taking something that's been done before and turn it into something fresh and new? Or do you not do anything to it, and just leave it as it is? Did you do any of that in this book?



MR: I hugely enjoy classic fantasy tropes like forbidden love, and I think that as long as they’re well-written and involve engaging characters, they don’t necessarily need to be original or ground-breaking to be a lot of fun. So I just tried to have a good time with all the tropes I included!



OUATR: AN ENCHANTMENT OF RAVENS is a standalone, which in the fantasy genre isn't nearly as common as a series. Why did you decide to write a standalone, and is there any chance that you'll return to the world/characters later?



MR: Interestingly, most debut YA fantasy novels are written as standalones “with series potential,” which means that while the author usually hopes the book will be picked up as a series, and in many cases even has a series planned out, that first book should ideally function as a standalone to increase its chances of being picked up by an agent or editor. So I wrote Enchantment with that in mind, and in the end, it just felt right to keep it as a standalone book. There are currently no plans for a sequel or companion novel, but I’d love to return to the setting one day.



OUATR: What books would you suggest to people who have finished AN ENCHANTMENT OF RAVENS? (or are waiting on it, depending on when the interview goes up).



MR: Great question! I would recommend UPROOTED by Naomi Novik, WINTERSONG by S. Jae-Jones, HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones, A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING by Jessica Cluess, and BEAUTY by Robin McKinley.



OUATR: What is it that drew you to writing fantasy, and is fantasy all that you write, or do you also write novels in other genres?



MR: I wish I had a sophisticated answer for this one, but I just really love fantasy! I love the sense of escapism and possibility, and I love writing about magic. I probably won’t ever write a novel in a different genre.


The Book;

Title: An Enchantment of Ravens
Author: Margaret Rogerson
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Series: n/a
Published: September 26, 2017
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Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized among them. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes – a weakness that could cost him his life.
Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love, violating the fair folks’ ruthless Good Law. There's only one way to save both their lives, Isobel must drink from the Green Well, whose water will transform her into a fair one—at the cost of her Craft, for immortality is as stagnant as it is timeless.
Isobel has a choice: she can sacrifice her art for a future, or arm herself with paint and canvas against the ancient power of the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.
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The Author;

Prior to writing her first book, Margaret Rogerson worked a variety of jobs ranging from canoe livery counter girl to graphic designer. She has a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology from Miami University. When not reading or writing she enjoys sketching, gaming, making pudding, and watching more documentaries than is socially acceptable (according to some).  Her books draw inspiration from old fairy tales, because she loves stories in which the beautiful and the unsettling are sometimes indistinguishable. She lives near Cincinnati, Ohio, and when she's not reading or writing she enjoys drawing, watching documentaries, making pudding, gaming, and exploring the outdoors in search of toads and mushrooms.

Find her on Her Website | Twitter | Tumblr

The Giveaway;

While I'm not specifically giving away a copy of Margaret's book one of the prizes is a featured book of the winner's choice, of which Margaret's is, so enter the giveaway if you're at all interested!

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2017 Fantasy Extravaganza - Kendare Blake

We're just over the halfway point and today I have the pleasure of interviewing an author I've known for years.  She just recently started writing fantasy novels, but she sure came into the genre with a bang, hitting the NYT bestseller's list shortly after her first fantasy novel dropped and today you can finally get the sequel to said book.  Please welcome the wonderfully dark Kendare Blake, here to talk about her Three Dark Crowns series and to celebrate the release of the sequel One Dark Throne!

The Interview;

Once Upon A Teen Reader: I don't usually ask this question but I happen to know you have a pretty interesting answer (on top of actually having an answer for this book).  Where did the idea for the series come from?

Kendare Blake: From a ball of bees. Like, a ball, made out of hundreds and hundreds of bees. It was stuck to a tree at a book event I was at, and everyone was terrified. But luckily there was a beekeeper, and she said we didn't need to worry because at the center of the ball was a queen, and they were only worried about protecting her, so as long as we didn't poke the ball, we'd be fine. I found that fascinating, and after much pestering, learned that queen bees will lay several queen eggs in their old hive before leaving, and the new queen babies will hatch out and kill each other. The one who survives takes over. On the drive home I couldn't stop thinking about that, and how I wanted to do it to people. And voila! Three Dark Crowns.

OUATR: There are the kinds of magic we see in the books; elemental, poison, and naturalist magic.  What other types of magic are there in the world, and what was it about these three that made you end up highlighting them?

KB: There are five gifts on the island. This generation has three of them: elemental, poisoner, and naturalist, but there are also queens born with the war gift (ability to guide weaponry and objects with their minds, battle and strategy. Horrid tempers) and the sight gift (varying degrees of prophecy, sometimes mind-reading or empathic. Unfortunately all sight gifted queens are drowned at birth after one went mad on the throne.) The people of the island may have these gifts as well, only usually not as strongly as the queens do. 
I don't know why I chose these three. It was so long ago now that it seems natural. 

OUATR: THREE DARK CROWNS was sold as a duology with ONE DARK THRONE as the conclusion, but it was later announced that there would be two more books in the series.  Assuming we don't have to wait for book four to see who ends up with the crown what can we expect from the forthcoming novels?

KB: The aftermath. The first two books tell the story of the Ascension. The next two books will tell the story of the Reign, and examine the fates of the characters from the first books.

OUATR: On Fennbirn it's the women that rule, and men (especially in the royal sense) are just there for whatever the queen may need.  Was the only reason behind that the fact that the idea for the story came from bees, which revolve around a queen, or was there more to it?

KB: Since the story came from bees, a matriarchy just made sense. There was never any internal debate about that. It just was. Females rule, females govern, females control the religion beneath a female deity. But it has been a lot of fun writing inside a matriarchal world.
OUATR: Despite having paranormal/mythological elements in your previous books this is the first time that you've created a world that's entirely your own.  What was that like, and how did you go about shaping the world?

KB:  It was kind of a pain in the butt really. And yet also freeing in some ways. Gone were the days I worried I was getting the geography or street maps right, you know? But now I had to know what the societal rules were, and abide by them. A scary thing when you don't know what route a story is going to take. The thought that I was painting myself into a corner occurred a few times, an will occur until I finish book four.

OUATR: Speaking of the world you've created, Fennbirn is really a magical island in the middle of what appears to be a pretty regular world.  Why did you decide to go in that direction, and why focus on just that small island?

KB:  Fennbirn not as small as you might think. It's actually slightly larger than say...Ireland. And I liked the idea of a shrouded island, hidden away, where women still ruled, so I could pull in boys from the outside and make their heads explode. Also, it owes a lot of the legendary isle of Avalon, from Arthurian lore.

OUATR: I'm pretty sure both of your previous series have body counts and seeing as this one is about three girls who have to battle to the death for the crown I assume this one will too.  What is it like killing off a character, and do you always know who is going to die at the start, or does it come as a surprise to you as well?

KB:  In the first draft of One Dark Throne fewer people died than do in the final draft. So yes, sometimes it's a surprise. And sometimes it's hard, because there are so many other things that character could do in future books, and they're such a great character who is fun to write...and that sucks. It's not like killing off someone at the end of the story, where you're saying goodbye to everyone. I could have spent two more books with this character and now they're gone! And the fun thing about this series is, I can say that about several of the people who die.

OUATR: What books would you suggest to people who have finished ONE DARK THRONE and are now waiting for book three?

KB:  A Song of Ice and Fire if they haven't started yet. Megan Whalen Turner's books. Jay Kristoff's. There is a lot of fantastic fantasy out there just waiting to be found. Read lots! Read ALL.

The Book;

Title: Three Dark Crowns
Author: Kendare Blake
Publisher: HarperTeen
Series: Three Dark Crowns #1
Published: September 20, 2016
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When kingdom come, there will be one.
In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.
But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.
The last queen standing gets the crown.
Buy it from B&N | IndieBound | The Book Depository

The Author;

 Kendare Blake is the author of several novels and short stories, most of which you can find information about via the links above. Her work is sort of dark, always violent, and features passages describing food from when she writes while hungry. She was born in July (for those of you doing book reports) in Seoul, South Korea, but doesn’t speak a lick of Korean, as she was packed off at a very early age to her adoptive parents in the United States. That might be just an excuse, though, as she is pretty bad at learning foreign languages. She enjoys the work of Milan Kundera, Caitlin R Kiernan, Bret Easton Ellis, Richard Linklater, and the late, great Michael Jackson, I mean, come on, he gave us Thriller.
She lives and writes in Kent, Washington, with her husband, their cat son Tyrion Cattister, red Doberman dog son Obi-Dog Kenobi, rottie mix dog daughter Agent Scully, and naked sphynx cat son Armpit McGee.
Find her on Her Website | Twitter | Instagram

The Giveaway;

I've been hoarding an extra signed copy of Three Dark Crowns that I got at Kendare's launch party last year and this Saturday I'm going to see her for the One Dark Throne launch party where I might just pick up an extra signed copy of that too. ;) Make sure to enter the giveaway below, and for you international readers Kendare's book is a featured book so if you can still get a copy if you want!

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