Author Archives: Sharon Wray

YA’LL Fest 2016: Where All the YA Fans and Authors Meet Up!

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Last week my daughter, my mother, and I held fast to one of our favorite traditions: Going to Charleston, SC for YA’LL Fest, the largest annual Young Adult Book Festival and book signing. With over forty authors and their publishers, publicists, and book store owners running the show, the event is geared to thousands of avid YA readers.

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with Sarah Dessen

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with Jay Asher

One of the things I love about this festival is that although you run from signing to session to signing, the authors have one goal in mind: to meet and spend time with their fans. The authors are accessible to their readers, showing up at ice cream parlors for chats about Harry Potter and sponsoring cupcake socials where the fans and authors play YA book trivia games. The authors even put on a variety show at the end of the festival where they sing (badly), dance (terribly), and read from their middle school journals (hilarious).

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with Kiera Cass

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The event is sponsored by the Blue Bicycle Bookstore in Charleston, SC and Epic Reads. And it takes place in various historic buildings throughout the city. We caught Jay Asher in a tiny brick courtyard that was so quaint it looked like a movie set, then we saw Kiera Cass at the library society in an antebellum mansion south of Broad street.

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with Leigh Bardugo

We dragged a rolling suitcase filled with books everywhere we went and that was in addition to our two backpacks. My mother and I took turns standing in long book signing lines so my daughter could stand in a third. Between texting and begging people to hold our spots, my daughter was able to get over thirty books signed. Not bad considering many authors limited how many books they’d sign. There were even publisher tents set up with famous authors, like David Leviathan, running carnival games and handing out ARCs and cookies.

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with Sabaa Tahir

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We spent time with authors such as Veronica Roth, Maggie Stiefvater, Kiera Cass, Victoria Aveyard, Sarah Dessen, Jay Asher, Eoin Colfer, Scott Westerfeld, Alexandra Bracken, Leigh Bardugo, Renee Ahdieh, Lauren Oliver, and many, many others. By the time we were on our way home, we had two suitcases and two backpacks filled with signed books, a dozen ARCs, and a “Library Card” bag covered with autographs.

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YA’LL Fest is a great experience, and it’s hard to tell who’s more excited to be there, the authors or the readers. So next November 10 & 11 we hope you’ll join us in Charleston, SC for YA’LL Fest 2017. It’s sure to be a blast!

Oatlands Plantation: A Halloween Tea & Haunted History

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Oatlands Plantation, Leesburg, VA

If you ever find yourself in Leesburg, VA, head south on Route 15. A few miles down the old Algonquin and Iroquois route, turn left into Oatlands Plantation. Oatlands Plantation was founded in 1798 on 3,408 acres. Once owned by the Carter and Eustis families, it’s now operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It’s also listed on the National Register for Historic Places. The mansion, which wasn’t completed until 1804, is one of the best examples of Federal estate architecture in the country.

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Statue in reflecting pool garden.

Now claiming 417 acres of farmland and gardens, it’s a refuge in one of the fastest growing counties in Virginia. Besides the mansion which can be toured daily, there’s a carriage house with a gift shop and a wonderful open area where they serve weekend teas. The estate also houses one of the country’s oldest, still-in-use greenhouses and a sunken, walled garden in the Colonial Revival style (including a bowling green, rose garden, kitchen and herb garden, reflecting pool, and numerous dependencies) that rivals anything in Charleston or Savannah.

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Carriage House with the gift shop and tea room.

There’s so much history that I won’t even try to put it into a blog post. But I will say that my favorite things about the property are the interpretive tours and weekend seasonal teas. The annual Witches Brew Tea and the nighttime Paranormal tours are two the things my daughter and niece look forward to every year in the fall.

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Parterre garden and late autumn hydrangeas.

This year, due to the stress of my book deadline (Dec 1) and my kids’ college application deadlines (Nov. 1), I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to make either of the these events. But this past Sunday, we put away our computers and books and headed west. One of the best decisions I’ve made in months.

So instead of boing you with more history, I’ve included a photographic tour of our weekend at Oatlands. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

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Oatlands Plantation, back of the house.

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Memorial garden.

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Kitchen garden and dependencies.

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Entrance to the sunken garden.

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Pump house.

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Reflecting pool.

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Reflecting pooi statue.

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Autumn touches.

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One of the original wells in the parterre garden.

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One of the many water features found in the sunken gardens.

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Front exterior of the mansion.

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Entrance to Oatlands Plantation.

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Late autumn herb garden.

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Fish pond.

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Mrs. Eustis’s tea garden.

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Bachelor’s cottage.

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Entrance to the kitchen garden.

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Entrance to sunken gardens.

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One of the many sets of staircases leading down to the rose gardens and reflecting pool.

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Witches Brew Tea at Oatlands Plantation.

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Last of the hydrangeas in the parterre garden.

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I hope you all had a wonderful Halloween with few tricks and lots of treats! And remember, if you’re ever in Northern, VA, try to make time for Oatlands. You’ll be so grateful you did!

Congratulations to the 2016 Golden Heart Romantic Suspense Finalists!

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Today is one of my favorite blog post days of the year. It’s the day the Kiss and Thrill authors introduce the 2016 Golden Heart Romantic Suspense finalists. And this year’s RS class includes two previous winners and a double finalist. All of the stories are different with as many twists and turns as a Daphne Du Maurier novel. And they all sound wonderful!

Because I know many of these women personally, the following list is in alphabetical order by author last name. 🙂

dianaDiana Belchase is celebrating her third Golden Heart nomination. The first book in her Born to Spy series, The Spy in the Mirrorwon the Golden Heart in 2011. Escape from the Harema sequel to The Spy in the Mirror, is a finalist in this year’s Romantic Suspense Category.

Sent on a cruise ship as bait for a ring of kidnappers, Trina Bianchi has been guaranteed the trackers in her clothing, and the team of operatives following her, will keep her safe. When the mission goes haywire, she ends up abducted for real— imprisoned in a Sultan’s harem along with seven other American women. 

Armed with nothing more deadly than a steak knife, Trina must rescue her fellow captives. But when she makes the ultimate sacrifice, only her boyfriend, billionaire Preston Grahame, can save her and help her bring a terrorist to his knees.

SW: What a great premise, Diana! Can you tell us more about how you came up with it?

DB: I love spy stories and am seriously addicted to James Bond. But something about male spies leaves me yearning for more. Why is Bond such a womanizer? What happened to his late wife? I wanted to write a story with an alpha female who has problems in life like we all do — best friends with breakups, dating quandaries, and family issues. She is also the character that lets me explore all the things in life I’m too scared to do — skydiving, climbing mountains, wearing slinky dresses and dancing with mysterious men. It’s been a hoot writing this story and I can’t wait to see my characters finally come to life when the book gets published.

Each of my books is based on a nugget or gem of fact. When I’m inspired by the news, stories immediately start spinning in my head. For Escape from the Harem, I was horrified by the worldwide incidence of female abduction. 136 women are sold into sexual slavery every hour! Add to this another news article about a young woman who went missing on a cruise ship, and a prince from Brunei who was keeping actresses and models hostage in his palace after inviting them for a holiday, and the wheels started spinning. While my books are not dark, the ability to draw from the truth, to inform, and to use what is real, sparks my imagination and hopefully makes my stories interesting.

 * * *

2015-10-17 CRW Glam Party -cropOur next finalist, Tracy Brody, won the Golden Hear in 2015 and this year she’s a double finalist in both the Romantic Suspense and Contemporary Romance categories.

THE SNIPER’S SECOND SHOT – Contemporary Romance:

Sergeant Mack Hanlon thought he could beat the odds, despite knowing that a Special Ops career and a stable, successful marriage don’t go together as well as peanut butter and jelly or even guns and ammunition. His wife left him and the Army life, but when Mack meets Black Hawk pilot Kristie Donovan, he believes he’s found a woman who can support him and his career choice. However, he soon finds he’s battling more than regulations prohibiting romantic relationship between the ranks.

After losing one husband in combat, Kristie’s sworn she’ll never fall for another man in his dangerous profession. Mack’s persistence and charm in pursuing her are accomplishing his mission to win Kristie’s heart until his ex-wife threatens to expose their relationship if Mack won’t let her move out of state with their girls. Kristie ends their forbidden romance to protect their careers and keep Mack from losing contact with his daughters. But, after insurgents bring down Kristie’s aircraft and take the crew hostage, Mack’s team rushes to rescue Kristie and her crew. If he can save her, he still has to find a way to give them both a second shot at love.

SW: Can you tell us more about how you researched this book? It sounds fascinating!

TB: This book was inspired by the CBS television show “The Unit” and originally planned as a single title. When an online friend asked if I was going to write a series, like Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series, I originally said no. But as I wrote the book, I fell in love with each of the guys on the team and began thinking of stories for them. I named my team, the Bad Karma team after the MP company of my friend (and awesome source for military info) Dale, who I met through a fan board for the show “The Unit.”

The first draft of this book was 142.250 words. Yes, it’s okay to laugh. It’s now at 94K with probably over 100K words cut with other deleted scenes through numerous rewrites. To have this book now be a Golden Heart finalist after all it’s been through is pretty special and I still love the characters and their happily-ever-after.

 SW: I’m glad I’m not the only one who writes long books.  Tracy’s second finaling book, In the Wrong Sightsfinaled in the Romantic Suspense category.

A patient’s deathbed confession landed nurse Cassidy O’Shea in witness protection. However, her unauthorized trip to Fort Bragg for her ex-stepfather’s funeral necessitates putting her under temporary protective custody after learning he’d actually been murdered. The Marshal Service turns to her late stepfather’s friends, the Army Bad Karma team, to keep her safe.

A dedicated soldier, AJ Rozanski is supposed to be protecting Cassidy, not falling for his former mentor’s stepdaughter. But her acceptance of his career choice is a refreshing change from his parent’s disapproval of his military service and his ex-fiancée’s inability to handle his erratic deployments.

Cassidy going back into Witness Protection puts an end to their hopes for something beyond a few days and romantic nights together—until an assassin locates her and she flees to AJ and the Bad Karma team. Can they give her back her life—and a future with AJ?

SW: I love this plot line. How does AJ’s story fit into the series?

TB: My hero, AJ, was not originally part of my Bad Karma Team. His story idea came to me while I was working on the second book in my series and bumped up in priority over several of the others on the team. I went back in and add him into scenes for the first two books in the series.

 * * *

headshotOur third finalist is Diane Holiday who finaled with her book Love in Hiding. 

Prima ballerina Sarah Baker needs to disappear. She flees cross-country to hide from an obsessive stalker and winds up working side-by-side at a horse ranch with a former Navy SEAL. On the run, with a fake identity, Sarah isn’t looking for love. All she longs for is a normal life and to dance again.

Bruce Thompson is a horse trainer who runs a therapy program for amputee vets. He has no interest in another relationship after the tragic death of his wife. That is, until Sarah shows up and jump-starts his guarded heart. But Sarah has secrets, and he intends to find out what threat might follow her to the farm. His protective claws come out as he is determined to keep her and his clients safe.

While Sarah and Bruce fight their sizzling attraction, an unknown threat lurks in the midst. This one, closer to home. Will they find love and uncover the deadly plots before it’s too late?

SW: I love Women in Jeopardy novels! Can you give us a hint as to where it takes place?

DH: An interesting fact is that I am an avid boater and love the beach. I drew on my experience of boating on the Chesapeake bay to describe some of the romantic scenes in the book.

* * *

Arianna James - Author PhotoArianna James is next with her book The Truth is in the Tango

 Simone Richman is a by-the-book CIA operative, but when her sister is facing jail time after being conned out of over a million dollars of her employer’s money, Simone’s family loyalty forces her into a rogue mission to track down the missing funds. A money trace leads her to the Buenos Aires-based company of Nate Beldin, a man suspected of conning the rich and powerful out of art, jewelry, and cold hard cash until he supposedly gave it all up to walk the straight and narrow. When Simone gets to Argentina, she finds the situation is far more sinister than a simple con job—with Nate at the center of it. And as she gets to know him, delving deeper into his past and present, one thing becomes painfully clear: she’ll have to choose between her love of the law and the love of her life.

SW: This story sounds like it could be a season of Homeland! And I love the tango aspect. Did you do a lot of research for that?

AJ: When I was writing the manuscript, it was so important to me that the tango scenes (of course my characters actually tango in the story!) were accurate that I watched hours and hours of videos – everything from professional ballroom tango to genuine Buenos Aires street tango to tango lessons. I even almost signed up for ballroom dance classes!

* * *

Novak_Melanie HeadshotOur next finalist is Melanie Novak with her book Ruby Red.

When a multi-million dollar ruby belonging to Marie Antoinette is stolen from Lamont Auction House, Addison Merritt’s career—and the survival of the boutique house—is on the line.  Addison teams up with sexy U.S. Marshal Michael Wright, but they are not the only ones looking for Rosette’s Ruby.

And others are willing to kill for it.

As the danger mounts and time runs out, Addison takes a bold gamble and risks everything—including her heart—to recover the ruby.

SW: I love books with historical mysteries woven in. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea?

MN: I first got the idea to write a novel about a female auctioneer after spending a few Saturdays on the western Pennsylvania estate auction circuit.  I was helping friends auction off the contents of some very old, very beautiful country homes and farms. I was fascinated by the things people would buy.  I saw a man in his fifties buy ten boxes of dirty naked baby dolls.  I saw women pay hundreds of dollars for antique salt and pepper shakers.  The auctioneers had the incredible ability to whip people into bidding wars over everything from gorgeous hand carved furniture to broken VCRs. This was a unique skill.  The ability to determine an item’s worth, the showmanship, the fast talking.  And what did it say, all those items being passed from one estate to another?

I thought for sure there was a book there.  But Ruby Red came out much different than I’d first imagined.  My heroine, Addison Merritt, auctions off historical artifacts, famous paintings, and one-of-a-kind jewels to the aristocrats of New York.  The book became about how she refused to let her career—or her life—go under when she discovers that the most valuable piece in her collection—a ruby once belonging to Marie Antoinette—is stolen.  It became a novel about bad guys and car chases instead of a quiet novel about what happens to our possessions after we’re gone.

But I still like to imagine Addison, long before the novel opens, cutting her teeth and learning her craft selling log splitters, snow shovels, and costume jewelry to those bidding in five and ten dollar increments rather than millions. And I’m still mad I couldn’t figure out a way to work those dirty naked baby dolls in.

***

Layla Reyne - Author PhotoFinally, I ‘d like to welcome Layla Reyne and her book Four Tragedies.

University professors are dying in Hanover, North Carolina, and their murders bear a striking resemblance to the deaths of Shakespeare’s wronged heroines. Police Chief Charlie Reddmann is on the case, which becomes complicated when her ex-fiancé, FBI Agent Hayes Keller, joins the investigation.

Hayes was forced to leave Charlie behind two decades ago when his parents threatened to expose a secret that would destroy her family. Since he’s been gone, Charlie’s done everything in her power to keep that secret buried and protect, at all costs, the son Hayes doesn’t know exists. But as the case Charlie and Hayes are investigating leads closer and closer to home, the tightrope they’re both now walking is stretched taut under the weight of their past and their secrets. If it snaps, the free fall will be deadly.

SW: What a fascinating premise! Can you tell us more?

LR: The fictional town of Hanover featured in Four Tragedies (and the planned series to follow) is a mashup of the coastal Carolina towns where I spent many summers growing up. If you’re familiar with Wilmington, Southport and Oak Island, you’ll definitely recognize some landmarks! Another fun fact… Four Tragedies is a story I started in college, and I’m still carrying around the same paperback, scribbled-on version of Shakespeare’s plays from my freshman year almost two decades ago.

Congratulations to the 2016 Golden Heart Romantic Suspense finalists!

Now it’s your turn? What is your favorite type of Romantic Suspense story?

2016 K&T Summer MG/YA Booklist!

I’m so excited about this summer’s K&T Middle Grade and Young Adult reading list! There are a ton of new releases and some favorites recommended by readers.

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Since there are so many new books on the list, below is just a small selection of what I’ve added.* But there are stories for every tween and teen. Zombies, proms, cute meets, friend and family drama, aliens, fairies, fairy tale retellings, and a lot more from popular, indie, and debut authors.

For the complete printable list in a downloadable Word document, please click here: Summer 2016-mg_ya-list

All of the books are available at Amazon, most at Barnes and Noble, and many at the public library.

Now for a sampling of the 2016 summer titles!

Young Adult Romance

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Young Adult Paranormal Romance

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Young Adult Romance Anthologies

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Young Adult Realistic Fiction

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Young Adult Science Fiction

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Young Adult Action/Adventure/Dystopian

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Young Adult Fantasy

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Young Adult Novellas

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Middle Grade Action/Adventure

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Middle Grade Non-Fiction

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Middle Grade Relationships

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Shares and Tweets are welcome!

I hope you all have a great summer of reading.IMG_5066

Now, I’d love to know if you have any books you’d like to add to the list!

Disclaimer: Some of these books are (or once were) controversial. Some older YAs have closed-door adult situations, and others (YA & MG) deal with harsh issues such as suicide, bullying, war, poverty, and loss of a parent. As a librarian, reader’s advisor, and mother, I’ve learned that tweens and teens tend to read within their comfort zone, both emotionally and reading-level wise. All of these books offer a chance for parents and kids to discuss which topics are appropriate now and which books are best left for another summer. But I hope you all find books that will give your family a summer of new adventures and imaginary friends.

*The books listed in this blog post and on the list are in no particular order, just grouped by general topic or subgenre.

All covers courtesy of Amazon. Feature photos courtesy of Sharon Wray.

2016 Mid-Winter MG/YA Reading List

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Did you know I have my own army?

Unlike most armies of the world, mine consists of a group of young people aged 8-17 who love to read. And over the past few years, they’ve been an invaluable asset in helping me build my reading lists for kids stuck in middle school and teens just trying to survive high school.

They are my reading army.

Every year, toward the end of the school year, my reading army helps me compile my Middle Grade/Young Adult summer reading list. But since I’m getting more and more requests for updates, I’ve decided to put out a second mid-year list.

So with the help of my army, here is the Mid-Winter 2016 MG/YA list. Perfect for those winter school breaks and unexpected snow days.

Below are a few highlights, but for the entire printable list, click here for the Mid-Winter 2016 MG/YA list.

This list is not all-inclusive. And two of these books will be released next month. But what makes this list special is that every book, except for two to be released in March, has been read by myself and at least two members of my army.

(So each book has been vetted for coolness!)

For the Middle Graders, here are a few newer releases.

First up, the newest Rick Riordan book: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard.

611CmvkLO4L._UY250_(Amazon Blurb): Magnus Chase has always been a troubled kid. Since his mother’s mysterious death, he’s lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, keeping one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.

One day, he’s tracked down by an uncle he barely knows-a man his mother claimed was dangerous. Uncle Randolph tells him an impossible secret: Magnus is the son of a Norse god.

The Viking myths are true. The gods of Asgard are preparing for war. Trolls, giants and worse monsters are stirring for doomsday. To prevent Ragnarok, Magnus must search the Nine Worlds for a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

When an attack by fire giants forces him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents, Magnus makes a fatal decision.

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die . . .

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The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford (author) and Kelly Murphy (illustrator)

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(Amazon Blurb): Jordan Stratford imagines an alternate 1826, where Ada Lovelace (the world’s first computer programmer) and Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) meet as girls and form a secret detective agency!
 
Lady Ada Byron, age eleven, is a genius. Isolated, awkward and a bit rude—but a genius. Mary Godwin, age fourteen, is a romantic. Adventurous, astute, and kind, Mary is to become Ada’s first true friend. And together, the girls conspire to form the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency—a secret constabulary for the apprehension of clever criminals. Their first case involves a stolen heirloom, a false confession, and an array of fishy suspects. But it’s no match for the deductive powers and bold hearts of Ada and Mary.

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From two of my favorite YA authors, here’s a wonderful new MG fantasy series: The Magisterium Series by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black.

51S6uSCqzwL._UY250_(Amazon Blurb): Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial.  Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail.

All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him.

So he tries his best to do his worst — and fails at failing.

Now the Magisterium awaits him. It’s a place that’s both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.

The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come . . .

And the second book in the series, The Copper Gauntlet.
(Amazon Blurb): 61Yj9ZEnPyL._UY250_ Callum Hunt’s summer break isn’t like other kids’. His closest companion is a Chaos-ridden wolf, Havoc. His father suspects him of being secretly evil. And, of course, most kids aren’t heading back to the magical world of the Magisterium in the fall.

It’s not easy for Call . . . and it gets even harder after he checks out his basement and discovers that his dad might be trying to destroy both him and Havoc.

Call escapes to the Magisterium — but things only intensify there. The Alkahest — a copper gauntlet capable of separating certain magicians from their magic — has been stolen. And in their search to discover the culprit, Call and his friends Aaron and Tamara awaken the attention of some very dangerous foes — and get closer to an even more dangerous truth.

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For the Young Adults, here are a few long-awaited titles. A series ender, a series beginner, and all things in between!

My daughter read Winter, this yearned-for book which ends the Lunar Chronicles series, in one day. Not too surprising for her except the book has 832 pages!

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(Amazon Blurb): Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend–the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters? Fans will not want to miss this thrilling conclusion to Marissa Meyer’s national bestselling Lunar Chronicles series.

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The movie based on the first book in this next series, The Fifth Wave, is in theaters now. And the third book in this thrilling Sci-Fi series comes out soon. In the meantime, dive into The Infinite Sea, the second book in the series. It’s not to be missed!

51cmGbmqclL._UY250_(Amazon Blurb): How do you rid the Earth of seven billion humans? Rid the humans of their humanity.

Surviving the first four waves was nearly impossible. Now Cassie Sullivan finds herself in a new world, a world in which the fundamental trust that binds us together is gone. As the 5th Wave rolls across the landscape, Cassie, Ben, and Ringer are forced to confront the Others’ ultimate goal: the extermination of the human race.

Cassie and her friends haven’t seen the depths to which the Others will sink, nor have the Others seen the heights to which humanity will rise, in the ultimate battle between life and death, hope and despair, love and hate.

 ~ * ~

The next book is the first in a new series from mega-author Alexandra Bracken. While her first series The Darkest Minds was dystopian (speculative fiction for you purists!), her newest release Passenger is all about time travel.

51NFZbK5TrL._UY250_(Amazon Blurb): In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles, but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.

Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods-a powerful family in the Colonies-and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, his passenger, can find. In order to protect her, Nick must ensure she brings it back to them-whether she wants to or not.
Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are playing, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home forever.

 ~ * ~

For fans of the Selection Series, Kiera Cass’s newest title (a revised version of her originally self-pubbed book), The Siren, will be a huge hit!

51VxIaxp+8L._UY250_ (Amazon Blurb): From Kiera Cass, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Selection series, comes a captivating stand-alone fantasy romance.

Kahlen is a Siren, bound to serve the Ocean by luring humans to watery graves with her voice, which is deadly to any human who hears it. Akinli is human—a kind, handsome boy who’s everything Kahlen ever dreamed of. Falling in love puts them both in danger . . . but Kahlen can’t bear to stay away. Will she risk everything to follow her heart?

The Siren was previously self-published; this brand-new edition has been completely rewritten and redesigned.

 ~ * ~

For fans of the Shadow Hunter series, here is the newest book in the series, Lady Midnight. (It won’t release until March 8, 2016. And although we haven’t read it yet, my army has fully endorsed it! Anything by Cassandra Clare is an auto-read!!)

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(Amazon Blurb): It’s been five years since the events of City of Heavenly Fire that brought the Shadowhunters to the brink of oblivion. Emma Carstairs is no longer a child in mourning, but a young woman bent on discovering what killed her parents and avenging her losses.

Together with her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, Emma must learn to trust her head and her heart as she investigates a demonic plot that stretches across Los Angeles, from the Sunset Strip to the enchanted sea that pounds the beaches of Santa Monica. If only her heart didn’t lead her in treacherous directions…

Making things even more complicated, Julian’s brother Mark—who was captured by the faeries five years ago—has been returned as a bargaining chip. The faeries are desperate to find out who is murdering their kind—and they need the Shadowhunters’ help to do it. But time works differently in faerie, so Mark has barely aged and doesn’t recognize his family. Can he ever truly return to them? Will the faeries really allow it?

 ~ * ~

Veronica Rossi wrote one of our favorite Sci-Fi/Dystopian series — the Under the Never Sky Trilogy. And Riders is her newest fantasy adventure release.

51whXQrEj2L._UY250_ (Amazon Blurb): For eighteen-year-old Gideon Blake, nothing but death can keep him from achieving his goal of becoming a U.S. Army Ranger. As it turns out, it does.

Recovering from the accident that most definitely killed him, Gideon finds himself with strange new powers and a bizarre cuff he can’t remove. His death has brought to life his real destiny. He has become War, one of the legendary four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Over the coming weeks, he and the other horsemen–Conquest, Famine, and Death–are brought together by a beautiful but frustratingly secretive girl to help save humanity from an ancient evil on the emergence.

They fail.

Now–bound, bloodied, and drugged–Gideon is interrogated by the authorities about his role in a battle that has become an international incident. If he stands any chance of saving his friends and the girl he’s fallen for–not to mention all of humankind–he needs to convince the skeptical government officials the world is in imminent danger.

But will anyone believe him?

 ~ * ~

51iLk-Vq53L._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_This February 2016 release by C.J. Redwine felt like it was on pre-order forever. Since the teens loved her Defiance series, they couldn’t wait for her newest book. The Shadow Queen is a dark, fantasy re-telling of Snow White, and it was well worth the wait!

(Amazon Blurb): Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic of his own—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman—and bring her Lorelai’s heart.

But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.

 ~ * ~

We ha71WosYU7Q8Lve waited AGES for The Raven King, the fourth book in the The Raven Cycle series. If you’re not familiar with this series, start at the beginning. You’ll be so glad you did!

Although we haven’t read this book yet (it comes out March 29, 2016), we’ve read the other three in the series and can recommend this book based on the quality and success for the first three.
(Amazon Blurb): All her life, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love’s death. She doesn’t believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem, but as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

~ * ~

And since the teens love novellas, here are a few from their favorite series that made the Mid-Winter 2016 MG/YA list:

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~ * ~

Do you have any titles you’d like to add to the Summer 2016 list? If so, we’d love to know!

All covers and blurbs courtesy of Amazon.

All photographs courtesy of Sharon Wray. Copyright 2016

 

Romantic Suspense: It’s Not Just a Grown-up Genre

This year has been another busy year of reading and writing. And like last year, my reading list was filled with all sorts of Young Adult books.

Similar to the Romance genre, the YA genre is broken down into smaller groups. The first division is by age of protagonist (not age of reader!): Upper Middle Grade (age 13-14) Lower YA (age 15-16), YA (age 17-18), and Upper YA (age 18-19).

These age divisions are averages and some books, especially series, will cross the age barrier as the protagonist grows up, like Harry Potter.

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My daughter at a booksigning with YA author Alexandra Bracken.

The next division is by type: sweet romance, summer romance, suspense/mystery, thriller, speculative (incl. dystopian and magical elements), paranormal romance, sci-fi, realistic fiction, historical, fairytale retellings, as well as a few others.

Since I have a son and a daughter, I read a ton of YA in all of the genres. So this year, just in time for Christmas, I’d like to share some of my favorite YA books that had some sort of suspense and/or mystery with an underlying love story.

51xCj8tr7cL._UY250_The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey

Amazon blurb: After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother–or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

SW: My kids and I read this book, and the sequel The Infinite Sea, in one weekend. And when we heard they were turning it into a movie to come out in 2016, we threw a party. This book won a ton of awards, too many to list, and they were all well deserved. A great science fiction/adventure with a compelling love story woven in so well that my son didn’t even mind it. This is a great book and series for the whole family. This book is YA Science Fiction with Romantic Elements.

The movie opens January 15, 2016 and here is the trailer!

51OkBYoIobL._UY250_I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Amazon blurb: When her best friend, Meg, commits suicide by drinking a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how did she miss the signs of Meg’s depression? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, and some secrets of his own. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.

SW: Anytime Gayle Forman writes a book, I cry. There. I’ve admitted it. Just like one of her previous books, Just One Day, I sobbed my way through the second half of this book. It’s heartbreaking and sad and wonderful. It’s an upper YA book, and there is an “adult encounter” between the heroine and hero, but it’s behind closed doors. Still, the adult situation and the topic of suicide was enough to make my daughter want to wait to read this book. (I usually read the Upper YA books first because I know what my kids like and don’t like at this age). But I have no doubt that once she reads it, it will change her forever. Gayle Forman is that kind of writer and I Was Here is that kind of book. This book is Upper YA Realistic Fiction.

51NQkyd6KeL._UY250_In the Afterlife by Alexandra Bracken

Amazon blurb: Ruby can’t look back. Fractured by an unbearable loss, she and the kids who survived the government’s attack on Los Angeles travel north to regroup. Only Ruby can keep their highly dangerous prisoner in check. But with Clancy Gray, there’s no guarantee you’re fully in control, and everything comes with a price.

When the Children’s League disbands, Ruby rises up as a leader and forms an unlikely allegiance with Liam’s brother, Cole, who has a volatile secret of his own. There are still thousands of other Psi kids suffering in government “rehabilitation camps” all over the country. Freeing them–revealing the governments unspeakable abuses in the process–is the mission Ruby has claimed since her own escape from Thurmond, the worst camp in the country.

But not everyone is supportive of the plan Ruby and Cole craft to free the camps. As tensions rise, competing ideals threaten the mission to uncover the cause of IAAN, the disease that killed most of America’s children and left Ruby and others with powers the government will kill to keep contained. With the fate of a generation in their hands, there is no room for error. One wrong move could be the spark that sets the world on fire.

SW: This is the third book in a blockbuster series that my family and I just loved. This book is non-stop action with the fulfillment of a poignant teenage love story between Ruby and Liam. But the love part is subtle enough not to bother the boys (so says my son who hates romance in his books).  One of the many things I liked about this book is that the parents eventually take control of the chaos and help the teenagers heal. There is one brief behind-closed-doors adult situation, but I don’t think my son even noticed! Beware: once you start this series, you’ll have to clear your schedule to read all three books in the shortest period of time possible. This book is YA Speculative Fiction (Dystopian).

Here is a book trailer for the series.

51aZJUIAE0L._UY250_Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Amazon blurb: With this stunning debut novel, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver emerged as one of today’s foremost authors of young adult fiction. Like Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why and Gayle Forman’s If I StayBefore I Fall raises thought-provoking questions about love, death, and how one person’s life can affect so many others.

For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—”Cupid Day”—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is…until she dies in a terrible accident that night.

However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she ever imagined.

SW: From the first page, I had mixed feelings about this book. I’d read other books by Lauren Oliver and loved them (Delerium Trilogy, Panic, Vanishing Girls), but her debut book was hard for me to get into because I really didn’t like the heroine. Then my daughter told me that I’m not supposed to like her but that by the end I’d be crying for her. And my daughter was so right!

This book was spectacular and has been optioned for a movie. It is a teenage take on Groundhog Day, but much more poignant and powerful. The book does deal with powerful themes of teenage death and redemption and was emotionally hard for me to get through at times, but Lauren Oliver’s prose is so lovely that it carried me when I wanted to hide under the covers. This book is hard to classify but I would say it’s YA Speculative Fiction (Magical Elements).

61mRESZpMwL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Midnight Sky by Suzanne and Melanie Brockmann

Amazon blurb: Destiny has chosen Skylar. Now it might destroy her.

Skylar is a girl with extraordinary power. A girl with a mission to use her Greater-Than gifts to stop the makers of Destiny from getting people hooked on their deadly drug. But Sky is still mastering her new abilities, and her first mission to destroy a Destiny lab leaves her best friend addicted to the drug. For a few days Cal will be able to walk again – until it kills him. Time is running out for Sky to save the world without sacrificing her friends, to become truly Greater-Than…

SW: This is the second book in the Night Sky series (my daughter and I recently interviewed Suzanne and Melanie Brockmann about the first book Night Sky), and I enjoyed it even more than the first. It’s another fast-paced, action-filled story with fabulous characters. The love story is lovely and moving and age appropriate (which I appreciate), but so are the relationships between all of the characters. In true Suzanne Brockmann fashion, you’ll end up loving the secondary characters as much as the primaries. The two books in this series would make a wonderful gift for any avid reader! This book is YA Paranormal Romance. 

51YlAW-EW8L._UY250_Forget Tomorrow by Pintip Dunn

Amazon blurb: Imagine a world where your destiny has already been decided…by your future self. 

It’s Callie’s seventeenth birthday and, like everyone else, she’s eagerly awaiting her vision — a memory sent back in time to sculpt each citizen into the person they’re meant to be. A world-class swimmer. A renowned scientist. Or in Callie’s case, a criminal.

In her vision, she sees herself murdering her gifted younger sister. Before she can process what it means, Callie is arrested and placed in prison. The only person who can help is her childhood crush, Logan, a boy she hasn’t spoken to in five years. Logan breaks her free, but can she trust him? He’s almost the same boy she remembers, but now he’s a whole lot hotter. And he’s got his own past to deal with. Callie’s falling for him, fast, but she soon learns he has secrets of his own. Secrets that mean they can never be together. Now, Callie’s on the run not only from the government, but also from her fate. If she wants any hope of a future with Logan, she must find a way to protect her sister from the biggest threat of all — herself.

SW: I loved science fiction as a teenager, and this reminded me of Philip K. Dick’s short story Minority Report, but much more updated and far more romantic. It’s a fabulous debut by a new YA author and well worth the time to savor. It’s a harrowing yet deeply emotional story that will keep you guessing until the very end. If you end up with an unexpected snow day, this is a perfect book to curl up with next to a fire with tea and leftover Christmas cookies. Because once you sit down to read it, you won’t get up until you finish. This book is YA Science Fiction Romance.

Here is an official book trailer:

61rQHN6ZwSL._UY250_Champion by Marie Lu

Amazon blurb: The explosive finale to Marie Lu’s New York Times bestselling LEGEND trilogy—perfect for fans of THE HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT!

He is a Legend. She is a Prodigy. Who will be Champion?

June and Day have sacrificed so much for the people of the Republic—and each other—and now their country is on the brink of a new existence. June is back in the good graces of the Republic, working within the government’s elite circles as Princeps Elect while Day has been assigned a high level military position. But neither could have predicted the circumstances that will reunite them once again. Just when a peace treaty is imminent, a plague outbreak causes panic in the Colonies, and war threatens the Republic’s border cities. This new strain of plague is deadlier than ever, and June is the only one who knows the key to her country’s defense. But saving the lives of thousands will mean asking the one she loves to give up everything he has. With heart-pounding action and suspense, Marie Lu’s bestselling trilogy draws to a stunning conclusion.

SW: Oh. My. Gosh!!!!! This book, the third in the trilogy, made we weep for days. Then my daughter read it, and she cried. Now her best friend is reading it, and she didn’t want to go to school because she was up all night crying. This book, along with the entire series, is a perfect blend of action, adventure, and love. I have to admit that my son hasn’t read this yet, but when he heard it might be made into a movie he moved the books to his TBR pile. I have no doubt he’ll love it too, but for other reasons. There is enough danger and excitement to keep any teenage boy interested. There is one closed-door adult situation scene toward the end of the book, but my kids never even mentioned it so I’m not sure they noticed.  This book is YA Speculative Fiction (Dystopian).

Here is the official book trailer:

51zS7370ldL._UY250_Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Amazon blurb: The third installment in the mesmerizing series from the irrepressible, #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Maggie Stiefvater.

Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs. The trick with found things, though, is how easily they can be lost.

Friends can betray. Mothers can disappear. Visions can mislead. Certainties can unravel.

SW: This is the third book in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Boys series (The Raven Cycle) and my daughter and I think it’s our favorite (and we loved the first two!). This book is a paranormal romance with so many twists and turns that you have to keep reading because you have no idea what’s going to happen next. It’s the story of Blue Sargent, a local young woman with psychic abilities, and her relationship with a group of wealthy boys from nearby Aglionby Academy.

Together, they are determined to prove that the ancient Welsh King Glendower, and his sleeping knights, are buried somewhere in Virginia’s Shenandoah mountains. And those who wake him will be granted a wish. To add to Blue’s problems is the prophecy that she is cursed to kill the only boy she will ever love. And of course the boy she’s crushing on is one of the Raven boys. Fabulous series for both girls and boys, but I should note that it’s written at a higher reading level. While the story is very YA, Maggie Stiefvater writing is complex enough that some younger readers may not be able to keep up. This book is YA Paranormal Romance. 

So what books have you read that you loved this year? I still have gifts to buy so I’d love to know!

All photographs courtesy of Sharon Wray. Copyright 2015. 

All book covers courtesy of Amazon.

Mothers & Daughters Rock the Night Sky: An Interview with Suzanne and Melanie Brockmann

UnknownToday I’d like to welcome Suzanne and Melanie Brockmann, along with Ellen Wray, for a K&T first: A mother/daughter interview with the NYT best-selling mother/daughter writing team!

How did this all happen? It started with my daughter’s love of YA novels which led to the buying and borrowing of many(!) books.

That led to my reading and falling in love with the YA genre too.

Then came the announcement that my all-time favorite romance author was writing a new YA paranormal romance series with her daughter.

Once I told Ellen (an aspiring author herself) about the series, she asked, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do a mother/daughter interview with the mother/daughter writing team?”

To which I replied, “Yes!” And because Suzanne is known within the writing community for her generosity, I reached out to her and she said “Yes!” as well.

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The Night Sky series debuted last October, followed by the prequel novella Dangerous Destiny. The second book in the series, Wild Sky, came out a few weeks ago. Upon Night Sky’s release, critics praised the novel for its witty dialog, strong female leads, realistically drawn characters, and a fabulous secondary cast  — not to mention a brilliant new YA world where kids with unusually strong powers must fight against those who would use them for nefarious purposes.

None of this praise comes as a surprise since these are the trademarks of Suzanne Brockmann’s adult romances. For her adult fans, this YA world is an extension of the world from Suz’s paranormal romance Born to Darkness. For younger fans, Melanie’s sharp insights into the minds of teenagers is as engaging as it is hilarious. The Night Sky series is a gripping, fast-paced adventure that Ellen and I have enjoyed experiencing together. And I’m so grateful to Suz and Melanie for sharing their YA world with us.

Now, on to the interview!

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They could be hunting you.
Hunted. Kidnapped. Bled. Someone is snatching girls and draining them for a secret that’s in their blood. A hormone that makes them stronger, faster, smarter. A hormone that the makers of a new drug called Destiny will murder to get their hands on. These girls could be anyone. They could be anywhere.

They could be you.

When Skylar discovers she’s a Greater-Than, a girl with terrifying power, her life will never be the same. The only way to stay alive is to join the fight against Destiny and become the ultimate weapon.

Sharon: Thank you both for spending the day with us! I loved the heroine Skylar, but I fell in love with her best friend Calvin. How did Calvin (who is in a wheelchair yet has a brief moment where he can walk and dance) feel about having to go back into his wheelchair?

Suz: Calvin is a very optimistic person, but he’s also a realist. He knows that his wheelchair is a part of his life. So even though I’m sure he felt a little twinge of disappointment when his stint out of the chair ended, he adjusted gracefully right back to the life he has known for years.

Mel: All I can say is for anyone interested in the relationship Calvin has with his wheelchair, wait until the sequel, Wild Sky.

Sharon: I am reading Wild Sky now and loving the Calvin moments! Were you influenced by any specific YA books?

Suz: Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books, starting with A Wizard of Earthsea, were among my very favorites growing up. And of course, like most of the world, I adore The Hunger Games trilogy!

Mel: I think I read A Wrinkle in Time between fifteen and twenty times. I loved it that much.

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Sharon: For your YA reading, do you prefer physical books or ebooks? Ellen much prefers books to her Kindle. She surrounds herself with her favorite books while she sleeps!

Suz: I’m an e-reading woman. I’m in love with the convenience. (And I have a very old school Kindle, which is almost like reading a book!)

Mel: Either works for me!

Sharon: We caught the Star Trek references, but didn’t read any Joss Whedon references. Did we miss them? (Ellen and I are huge Buffy fans, except she’s Team Angel and I’m Team Spike.)

Suz: Believe it or not, Mel is (whispering) not a Buffy fan. She’s resisted all of my urging and pleas to watch it. I think someday she will, and then her head will explode from the shiny, but until then . . .

DangerousDestiny_Cover1-e1408135458693Sharon: (Not a Buffy fan? Yikes!) In Night Sky, you used one of my all-time favorite quotes of yours, “Do the best you can at the moment”. That quote has gotten me through some difficult times. Can you tell us the story about that quote or why you feel so strongly about it?

Suz: There’s a book called “The Four Agreements,” by Don Miguel Ruiz, which is a wonderful outline of a philosophy that I try hard to embrace. One of the agreements is “Always do your best,” to which I added “in the moment.” Because, obviously, your personal best is going to depend quite a bit on what’s happening around you. For example, your personal best while running a 5K is gonna be seriously different if you have the flu versus being completely healthy, right?

This comes in very handy when, as an author, your career spans several decades and dozens of published books. I’ve learned a lot since my very first book, Future Perfect, came out in 1993—in fact, I’m a much, much better writer now. But at the time, that book was my personal best, and because of that, I remain very proud of it!

Sharon: I love that philosophy! Thank you for sharing it. So, whose idea was it to write a book together?

Mel: My mom sent me a cryptic text a few years ago, asking me to meet her at our local Barnes & Noble. I did, and she sprang the idea of the two of us writing a book together. She thought it would be a good idea for us to walk through the store and see what was out there in the YA market. But she wasn’t sure what I would think about the idea of co-writing one. In case it wasn’t obvious, I JUMPED at the idea. J

Sharon: Aren’t moms wonderful? Right Ellen? J

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Ellen tries hard not to roll her eyes, but fails. “My turn!”

Ellen: Why did you put in the song Anaconda by Nicki Minaj? I was really surprised to see it because there are parodies of it all over Instagram and school.

Mel: We tried to imagine what songs would still be around decades from now—and which of those very old songs Calvin would find the most amusing!

Suz: I’m pretty sure someone’s still gonna be singing those lyrics in 2115!

Ellen: I hope so! (grimaces) Do you have a writing playlist or a certain song you listened to while writing?

Suz: I’m a musician, so I have to write in silence. If music is on, my attention is completely taken by the melody and the words of the song, and I get nothing done!

Mel: I have lots of playlists for my other job (personal trainer) – especially for my long runs. But writing is something I need to do without music, too.

Ellen: How do you think strong heroines in YA literature, including Skylar, have influenced readers?

Mel: I know that when I was a young reader, I was inspired by strong female characters. I think that having that kind of role model made me as tough as I am. (The good kind of tough.) J

Suz: I hope hope hope that girls who read both Night Sky and the sequel, Wild Sky, will relate to Skylar and to Dana, too. In a society that so often sends a message that girls must attempt to look and act alike, Skylar realizes what Dana already knows: that being different – not being the same as everyone else – is a STRENGTH, not a weakness.

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Sharon and Ellen reading Night Sky by an October bonfire.

Ellen: Buffy (and Angel) are two of my favorite characters ever. Do you think the current group of strong YA heroines started with Buffy?

Suz: There were strong heroines in pop culture before Buffy, but I have to say that, in my opinion, Buffy is by far the most important female fictional character in the past 20 years. For a smallish, cute, blonde sixteen-year-old to have her strength, courage, and all around kick-ass attitude blasted through so many stereotypes that I think (and hope) that she’ll continue to inspire girls for decades to come.

Ellen: Can you explain the dual writing process? Did you each write certain chapters or was one person responsible for dialogue and the other responsible for description? How did you revise and still love each other?

Mel: We made up our process as we went along, but the general plan was this: Mom and I got together and worked through a detailed outline of the story.

Suz: I’ve been an outliner/planner from way back. So, just like with all of my other books, Mel and I sat and talked and took notes for hours and hours before we started to write. We talked extensively about Sky. As our main character, we really needed to know her, inside and out. Mel spent some time on her own, too, writing some of Sky’s backstory from Sky’s point of view. What that did was really hone Sky’s voice so that we both knew exactly what she sounded like.

Meanwhile, I took all of our random notes about the plot and conflict (we mapped out about three books’ worth!), and I organized them into a structured story outline. And then we sat down again and thought about the best way to introduce Sky and Calvin, and we extensively outlined chapter one.

Mel: At that point, I wrote a first draft, and Mom revised it. (We did it at the same time, though – I would send a chapter, and Mom would revise it as I wrote the next chapter. Then I’d read the revisions before moving on to the next one.)

Suz: Every time we came to the end of the segment we’d outlined extensively, we’d do more brainstorming and figure out the details of the next series of chapters.

Mel: Of course, sometimes we’d shift things around. Sometimes Mom would say, “skip this next scene because I’ll write it—I see it so clearly,” and then I’d revise that scene that she wrote. But one thing was ABSOLUTELY constant – we did not sit together and write in the same room at the same time. We tried that only once. Nope. J

Suz: Yeah, that was awkward! We had to revise a bit of dialogue, and so I turned on my computer and we both pulled our chairs up to it and . . .

Mel: Crickets chirped!

Suz: After just a few minutes, one of us said something, “Let’s not do it this way.”

Mel: And the other said, “Oh, thank God!”

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Two fans (Ellen and her cousin Emily) pretending to be Skylar and Dana from Night Sky by Suzanne and Melanie Brockmann.

Ellen: Wow. Are you familiar with fandoms and shipping? If so, what are your OTPs in the Night Sky world? What is Skylar and Milo’s ship name? Skylo? Milar?

Suz: I’ve bumped up against reader expectations in my romance novels, and while I am a fervent believer in OTPs upon winning (and earning!) an HEA, I like stories that give characters an opportunity to explore the romantic landscape in advance of that HEA.

Mel: I like your suggestion of Skylo! J

Ellen: Thanks! Can boys be Greater-Thans?

Mel: Yes, but many more females than males are G-Ts. You’ll learn more about that in the next book, Wild Sky!

Suz: We introduce one particularly fun new character in the sequel. (Can’t wait to hear what you think!)

Ellen: Will the backstory/worldbuilding be explained more in the next book? (my mom said this was explained more in your adult novel Born to Darkness, but I’m 16 and I’m not allowed to read that yet!)

Mel: Yes – Wild Sky goes into more detail about the world. But there’s always more to learn as Sky learns more! J

Ellen: Will Nicole (a character from Skylar’s past) make an appearance in the next book?

Mel: No, not in the next book, but you’ll find out more about Garrett in Wild Sky!

Suz: Yeah, one of the first rules of writing is “Torture your characters,” so we thought we’d do just that by forcing Sky and Cal to interact rather extensively with football-playing school bully Garrett!

Ellen: My friends and I love to note-card our favorite books. Do you have any suggestions for note-carding Night Sky? (favorite quotes or passages or one-liners?)

Suz: For me, it’s pretty much every one of Cal’s Would You Rather questions! (And there are more of those in Wild Sky!)

Mel: Ooh, I think that’s something that you should share with us! We’d love to hear your favorite lines!

Ellen: I’d love to share! Here are some of my favorite one-liners and quotes:

I lack both a phone and a give-a-d*mn. (p. 380)

And love was still coursing through the air like it had its own individual pulse, but something else was casting a spell that lingered as it blew through the lit candles and brushed against the red rose petals sprinkled across the bedsheets. It was desire. (p. 435)

And I know I complain a lot about my mom. But when it comes to taking care of little girls who’ve been kidnapped and nearly killed? She kinda rocks. (p. 481)

Would you rather . . . ? (Calvin’s question throughout the book!)

And he kissed me. And I’m not talking peck on the cheek, either. (p. 306)

I had so much crap on my mind that my brain actually hurt. (p. 194)

Because life was so dang dangerous now, unlike the incredibly safe and bucolic good old days of the twenty-teens, or whatever ancient but perfect decade Mom had grown up in. (p. 13)

I had a bad case of swamp butt, and my jean shorts were sticking to my backside uncomfortably. (p. 1)

Now Suzanne and Melanie would love to hear from you! Do you have a favorite YA book or character? Or a favorite book one-liner or quote? Or any question about what it’s like to work as a mother/daughter team?

Thank you so much, Suz and Mel, for spending the day with us and sharing your own creative stories. Ellen and I are reading Wild Sky and hope you’ll come back for another interview soon!

Unknown-1Suzanne Brockmann and her daughter, Melanie Brockmann, have been creative partners on and off for many years. Their first project was an impromptu musical duet, when then-six-month-old Melanie delighted Suz by matching her pitch and singing back to her. (Babies aren’t supposed to do that.) Since then, Mel has gone on to play clarinet and saxophone, to sing in a wedding band, and to run seven-minute miles. She is one of Sarasota, Florida’s most sought-after personal trainers. Suz has driven an ice-cream truck, directed an a cappella singing group, and can jog a twelve-minute mile if chased. She is the multi-award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of more than fifty books. Wild Sky is the mother-daughter team’s second literary collaboration and the sequel to Night Sky. Their next collaborative project is an indie movie called Russian Doll in which Mel will star, while Suz executive produces. Each strongly suspects that the other is a Greater-Than.

Suz and Mel love to hear from their fans and you can find them on various social media sites: FacebookSuz’s TwitterMel’s Twitter, Website

Night Sky and Wild Sky are available from the following retailers:

Book/ebook: Amazon/KindleBN/Nook, iBooks, IndieBound, BAM, Kobo

Audio: DownpourAudible, iTunes

All photographs courtesy of Suzanne Brockmann and Sharon Wray.

How Story Structure Saved the Princess, the Knight, and the Lamb

Years ago, I came up with this presentation for a local writing group and blog. Since then, I’ve had tons of requests to share it again. So I’m posting it here for all of my K&T friends.

I love writing, but I hate plotting. I’m much more comfortable having no idea what’s going to happen, writing out of order, then putting all the pieces together like a puzzle. Of course this means tons of revisions and time. So, to increase my productivity, I’ve read every craft book ever written and taken online plotting classes. And while I’d still rather wing the writing, one of my favorite devices is Anne Lamott’s story structure mnemonic.

From A to E, it’s short and easy to remember. For those of you who don’t know it, I’ll give a short re-cap.

Action (which includes the inciting incident), Background (backstory, which is now woven throughout the story), Conflict (goals, motivations, and hindrances), Development (protagonist’s journey) and End–parts 1 & 2 (crisis and resolution). Since I’m also a strong visual learner, I’ve come up with a visual representation of Ms. Lamott’s device, with an added prologue (because I love prologues, especially in stories where the heroine is a four-year old with a vivid imagination).

And this is how Ms. Lamott’s Story Structure saved the Princess, the Knight, and the Lamb.

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Once upon a time, there was a Princess who wanted to play “Save the Lamb from the Evil Witch.” Except she didn’t have anyone to play with. So, with a smile and a cookie, she asked her twin brother, the Knight, “Will you play with me?”

He responded with a mouth filled with chocolate chips, “Will there be fighting?”

“Yes,” she said. “With swords.”

He smiled. “I’m in!”

ACTION

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“We have to hurry,” the Princess said. “We must save the Lamb from the Evil Witch who lives on the other side of the dark mountain. But first we need to find the unicorn.”

“Do we kill the unicorn?” the Knight asked.

“No. We feed the unicorn some magic acorns. Then she will tell us how to defeat the witch.”

“Okay!” The Knight grabbed his sword. “Let’s go.”

CONFLICT

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Once the Princess and the Knight got to the magic forest, the Knight said, “It’s dark and scary. Let’s feed the unicorn and get out of here.”

“First we have to find the fairies who will give us the magic acorns.”

He raised his sword high. “Let’s do it.”

“We can’t just ask the fairies for the acorns.”

“Why not? And when do I use my sword?”

The Princess sighed. “The fairies will have three riddles for us to answer, then we have to attend the magical fairy feast where they will try to poison us. But we can get an antidote for the poison from a talking rabbit who will betray us, but then become our mentor and guide and be redeemed.”

DEVELOPMENT

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“I don’t understand,” the Knight said. “How come there’s so much talking? Where’s the action? When do I get to fight something?”

“After we get away from the fairies and the rabbit and find the unicorn, you’ll have to slay the dragon.”

“Whoa!” he said with a huge grin. “There’s a dragon?”

“Yes,” she said. “But don’t touch his gold. It’s enchanted.”

“Just as long as I can use my sword. Now let’s go find those fairies, slay the dragon, feed the unicorn, and save the lamb from the evil queen!”

END/CRISIS

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“I’m done.” The Knight leaned against the barn door. “There was no dragon, no fighting, and I have a headache from all this backstory.”

The Princess started to cry. “I thought you wanted to play with me?”

“I wanted to use my sword. Not talk for three hours.”

The Princess stomped her foot. “But you promised!”

“Whatever.” The Knight shrugged and walked away. “I’m leaving to find the Good Queen. Maybe she has more cookies.”

 END/RESOLUTION

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The Princess and the Knight just couldn’t agree on how to proceed. Should he go play with Legos and find more cookies? Could she fight the fairies, dragon, and evil witch on her own?

Seeing no end to the conflict, the Good Queen (mommy) showed up with homemade brownies and lemonade (deus ex machina) and said, “I slayed the dragon, sent the fairies out to the garden, fed the unicorn, put the lamb down for a nap, and the evil witch is doing laundry. So all is well!”

“Long live the Good Queen!” yelled the Princess and the Knight.

So the Princess and the Knight ate brownies, took baths, and read books. Then they went to bed and ended their day with a Happily Ever After.

Now I’d love to know–do you plan your stories or do the wait-and-see? And if you plot everything out first, do you have a favorite structure? Since I’m fascinated by writers who know where their stories are going, I’d love to hear how you do it!

All photos courtesy of Sharon Wray.

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