Category Archives: Sharon Wray

Congratulations to KaT’s own 2016 GOLDEN HEART Finalist, DIANA BELCHASE!

  • popping champagne corkThe Kiss and Thrill ladies would like to congratulate one of our own, the fabulous DIANA BELCHASE for being a finalist in the prestigious 2016 Romance Writers of America Golden Heart awards!

Her manuscript, ESCAPE FROM THE HAREM, is a finalist in the Romantic Suspense category.

The Golden Heart is to unpublished authors what the Academy Awards are to actors and actresses. It’s an incredible honor that thousands of authors aspire to. But only a handful ever become finalists, and even fewer actually win. Diana has done both! She has won the Golden Heart before, and we’ll be rooting her on this year to win it again! But win or not, just being a finalist puts her at the top of the pack, the cream of the crop, a writer who stands out from others as being extremely talented with a very bright future ahead of her.

CONGRATULATIONS DIANA!

We all love you very much and are so proud of you.

Here is the announcement about the finalists, excerpted from the Romance Writers of America website.

Romance Writers of America (RWA), the trade association for aspiring and published romance fiction authors, announces the finalists for the 2016 Golden Heart® Awards. The Golden Heart recognizes excellence in unpublished romance manuscripts.

The 2016 winners will be announced at a black-tie awards ceremony at the 2016 RWA Annual Conference.

DIANA BELCHASEDiana at Viennese Ball 2-2012

Diana is a truly kind, intelligent, wonderful person and we are all so happy for her. Below is a list of just some of her writing accomplishments, in addition to this year’s Golden Heart final!

Daphne Du Maurier Nominee 2015 (By the Skin of Her Teeth)
Daphne Du Maurier Nominee 2015 (His Brother’s Child)
Daphne Du Maurier Nominee 2015 (At Midnight)
Golden Heart Winner 2011 (Spy in the Mirror)
Golden Heart Finalist 2012 (Spy in the Harem)
Silver Quill Winner 2011 (Spy in the Mirror)
Wisconsin Fab Five Winner 2011 (Spy in the Mirror)
Jack Reid Award 2010 (The Spy Next Door)
NEORWA Cleveland Rocks 2nd Place 2009 (The Spy Next Door)

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(Above three pictures courtesy of Sharon Wray. From top down, left to right – 2012 Golden Heart Finalist class; Diana with Lena Diaz at an RWA conference; Diana, Rachel Grant, and Sharon Wray at an RWA conference)

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(2011 Golden Heart Finalists, left to right: Rachel Grant, Diana Belchase, Gwen Hernandez, Sharon Wray, Sarah Andre)

And now for some words from some of Diana’s fellow KaTs!

“Congratulations, Diana! No matter what happens at the awards ceremony, you’re already a winner. I’ll be cheering for you.” – Gwen Hernandez

“Dear Diana,

You’ve worked so hard to reach this highest-of-writer pinnacles. The nomination is a testament to your patience and perseverance. You’ve faced down more hardships than any other friend I know, so take a moment to just sit with this awesome accomplishment. Enjoy San Diego! My most heartfelt congratulations.” – Sarah Andre

 

“Diana is such a hard worker but she’s also extremely talented and generous. So it’s wonderful to see her get the recognition she deserves. Congratulations, Diana!” – Manda Collins

 

“One of my fondest memories was spending the day with Diana on the Kiss of Death tour of the LAPD Academy. She lovingly forced me out of my shy shell and I had the absolute best time and made a friend for life. Diana is one of the smartest, kindest, most interesting people I know. And she’s one hell of a writer. Congratulations on your latest achievement, Diana!” – Lena Diaz

 

“Diana is one of the most generous women I know. Besides being a wonderful writer, she’s a true and trusted friend who will always answer the phone to help you with your problems (both plot-wise and personal). Her advice (again both with plots and personal problems) is always honest and straightforward. She has a way of knowing what needs to be said even if it’s not necessarily what one wants to hear. But because she’s so diplomatic and kind, you know her comments come from the heart. Her only intent is to help make your writing shine and offer a sounding board when life becomes overwhelming. Meeting Diana is one of the reasons I so value the Golden Heart contest. Without that opportunity, I never would’ve met Diana or any of my Golden Sisters. Sisters who, like Diana, have changed my life for the better. Congratulations, Diana! I am so very proud of you!” – Sharon Wray

Congratulations Diana! One reason I’m so happy for you is that I know you are always happy for others (including me). When others succeed, you are the first in line with a big grin and an atta girl! When others face disappointment or a setback (including me), you are there with a big hug, a sympathetic ear, and advice on how to move on to the next goal. I’ll never forget the way you helped me prep for my panel at Thrillerfest when I was a bundle of nerves, or all the fun we had at the FBI writers day, or introduced me to all your friends when I knew no one. In short, Diana, you are true blue and I’m so happy you are my friend. I can’t wait to hug you at RWA. I’ll be the one cheering loudly and embarrassing you in front of your peeps. Congratulations!” – Carey Baldwin

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 . . .

 ~ * ~

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.

 ~ * ~

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

PROLOGUEMVC-008S

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.

Meet the 2015 Golden Heart RS Finalists!

Many romance writers are busily packing bulging suitcases for next week’s Romance Writers of America national conference in New York City. So what better time to get you psyched for the RWA Awards Night, next Saturday, July 25th. WHY? Because this year RWA is streaming the event LIVE (click the word that night to be linked immediately, or go to http://www.RWA.org!) Now you too can be a part of that magical night of glitz, glam and stunning ball gowns! And one of these remarkable writers will walk up to the podium (in front of 2,500 fellow writers) and accept the coveted 2015 Golden Heart for Romantic Suspense! Let’s meet these lucky women:

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BRYNN KELLY

DECEPTION ISLAND (to be published in mid-2016 by HQN Books!)

In DECEPTION ISLAND, a rogue French Foreign Legion officer and
a Californian conwoman become unlikely allies in a deadly battle
against 21st century pirates and slave traders, in the steamy jungles and azure waters of an Indian Ocean paradise.

As their lives are plunged into danger, their damaged hearts and minds reluctantly begin to open to the possibility of finding love in the most unexpected of places. When loyalties are tested and damning secrets revealed, will their fragile trust in each other be enough to pull them through?

FIRST LINE: Time to get this over with.

Extra detail: I didn’t realize the French Foreign Legion still existed
until a couple of years ago, when I came across a Vanity Fair article about modern-day Legionnaires. What a fascinating concept for a novel—what would prompt a man to walk away from his life, and even his identity and native language, to risk his neck for another country? Thus my hero in Deception Island, Capitaine Rafe Angelito, was born.  

 

                                                                                                                      JESSICA DARAGOJessica Darago - Author Photo

SCANDAL

Renée Norton isn’t sure how she wound up here, in the empty attic of a Bloomsbury town home with a disassembled cell phone in one coat pocket, an SD card full of homemade porn in the other, and her dead best friend’s blood all over her hands, but she knows she has to act fast, before she winds up dead herself.

Cut off from the police and the American embassy by her suddenly violent diplomat ex-boyfriend’s quick maneuvering, she’s left with only one ally, an ex-MI6 agent who calls himself William Gillette. Clever, charming, and—Renée suspects—more than a bit off his rocker, Gillette was not only smart enough to track her down, he’s also discovered her most closely guarded secret: that “Renée Norton” is just another role she’s been playing. And though the last thing Renée wants is to place her trust in another man, she may not have a choice: If her enemies catch up with her, it’s not just her secrets on the line, but the lives of millions.

FIRST LINE:

The mirror showed Renée everything: It covered half of Vilém’s bedroom wall and caught the whole rest of the room in its gaze, from the gaping maw of the walk-in closet to the drapes that shut out the wet, dark London morning and even—especially—Renée herself, sprawled naked and sated on the rumpled bed.

Extra Detail: Every writer should have a Jimbo—though at times, his intervention feels as much like a curse as a blessing. One day—May 2, 2010, to be precise—he simply asked me if anyone had ever written a story about the murder of Sherlock Holmes. I said I didn’t know.

A half hour later, I had a plot; a new setting and context; I had new identities and arcs for the characters representing Watson, Mycroft, Morstan, Lestrade, and Moriarity. I had a way to resurrect my Holmes from the dead—because Sherlock Holmes always comes back from the dead. Because I am, down to my core, a romance novelist, I knew this book would really be about Holmes and the woman. And it would be the most important story I know how to tell: How to go on loving each other when the whole world tries to stop us.

So this is not a book about the murder of Sherlock Holmes…but it almost was. And if those kinds of ideas excite you, I recommend talking to Jimbo.

 

Arlene%20McFarlane%20picARLENE MCFARLANE

MURDER, CURLERS AND CREAM

Valentine Beaumont is in for a hair-raising shock when her spoiled client, socialite Portia Reynolds, is strangled right under her nose. Unfortunately, a dead customer in the beauty industry is not exactly a drawing card, and Valentine feels obligated to find the killer. She learns Portia had more kinks than curls in her personal life and, as she untangles the mystery, she finds out just how nasty Portia was. With Guccis on her feet, a bag of tools-of-the-trade over her shoulder, a hard-nosed cop on her back, and a kooky cast of characters in her midst, will Valentine survive her own investigation?

FIRST LINE“You wound a perm rod around a man’s what?” Detective Michael Romero stood in the middle of the Mediterranean-styled salon, hand on his gun hip, stunning blue eyes piercing me with a look that said now he’d heard everything.
Extra Detail: I combined my experience in the beauty industry with my love of rom/com mysteries, and the Murder, Curlers series was born.

 

                                                                                                                TRACY POOLEIMAG0130%20-%20Copy%20(2)

 A SHOT WORTH TAKING

After stopping terrorists from detonating a dirty bomb, Special Ops soldier Tony Vincenti and FBI linguist Angela Hoffman intend for their next joint mission to involve under-the-covers work, only someone wants to cash in on a contract on Angela’s life. With little evidence to support their suspicions of who is trying to kill her, Tony must convince Angela to violate her own ethics to expose the would-be assassin before they can get a shot at a future together.

FIRST LINEThe fun factor of camping out with eight of even his closest friends only lasted the first month or two, max, of a deployment.

Extra Detail: This is the second MS in my Bad Karma Spec Ops series. When I wrote the first book, I didn’t originally plan a series until a friend asked if I was going to do a series around the team like Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series. At first I said no due to other book ideas brewing in my head, but I changed my mind and fell in love with the rest of the team. This story was adapted from a spec movie script I’d written previously. The (current) first line was actually inspired by an Army helicopter pilot I supported.

 

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SHARON WRAY

HOPE CRAVES AN EXECUTION

When Sarah Monroe, a strong-willed historian, travels to a rural Savannah sea island to solve the last unbreakable Revolutionary War cipher, she draws the attention of a ruthless arms dealer. Now her life, and the secret hidden within the cipher, is at the mercy of ex-Green Beret Major Nate Walker. Nate, a man who suffers from seizures, memory loss, and regret, will do anything to save his men and take down the arms dealer even if it means betraying the woman he loves.

FIRST LINE:  Sara Munro adjusted the hood of her field jacket and frowned at the hand-written sign nailed to the ancient oak: Trespassers will be shot. Then prosecuted. No kidding.

Extra Detail: Once I was a Latin student studying ciphers used during the reign of Elizabeth I. (I’d been reading too many Jean Plaidy novels!) Years later, I found an assignment I’d done – a Latin-based substitution cipher based on a Puritan poem by Anne Bradstreet that had been popular during the 18th Century. And suddenly a tortured ex-Greeen Beret, Nate Walker, popped into my head and told me the woman he loved was a historian who studied General Washington’s ciphers and there was one she couldn’t solve. They needed to figure out what the cipher protected before an arms dealer unleashed a weapon last used during the Revolutionary War. Nate’s desperate appeal led me down a writing rabbit hole that ended with this story and led me to my series.

 

SHARON WRAY sharon wray

EVERY UNWORTHY THING

When Madeleine Ashton, a Charleston, SC couturier and socialite, is targeted by an arms dealer in search of a 17th Century secret hidden in tunnels under her city, her last hope to save her family is Alex Mitchell: ex-con, ex-Army Ranger, and the baddest boy she’s ever met. Alex, besides being forsaken by his family and damned by the price on his head, has a secret — he used to work for the arms dealer. And when he’s given the opportunity to do so again, he must choose between a life of unlimited money and power or the prim, proper woman who has stolen his heart.

FIRST LINE:  Alex Mitchell hated waiting.

Extra Detail: When I was sixteen, my future mother-in-law took me on a tour of Charleston, SC. The tour guide told stories of the pirates who plagued Charleston during the 17th and 18th centuries. These ruthless men blackmailed the populace, used secret tunnels to hide their treasure, then ran underground smuggling operations during the Revolutionary War. Years later, I met Alex Mitchell, an ex-Army Ranger just released from prison, who told me the “pirates” were back in Charleston. The woman he loved needed my help to stop a weapons smuggling race between a brutal arms dealer and Alex’s own brother. Hence the next rabbit hole that led to the third book in my Black Ops Brotherhood series. 

Locked, Loaded, & Lying with Debut Author Sarah Andre

Sarah Andre

Sarah Andre and I have been close friends (some would call us twins) and Golden Heart sisters for a long time, and it’s a friendship I treasure. So I am not exaggerating when I say I am so excited and proud to introduce Sarah and her debut romantic suspense novel Locked, Loaded, & Lying.

And check out Brenda Novak’s cover quote! “An impressive debut! This book has everything readers crave: believable, enduring  characters, an intriguing conflict, and plenty of heart. Don’t miss Locked, Loaded, & Lying.”

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Click Cover to Buy

L3 (as I always think of it) is a blockbuster story intertwined with a beautiful romance and a fast-paced plot. And I can’t wait for you all to read it so we can talk about her hunky hero Lock Roane. (The heroine Jordan is lovely too, but Lock is hot, hot, hot!)

But since we have to wait to dish about Lock (another blog post), here is the trailer and blurb:


He might be innocent. Or he might be very, very guilty…

Olympic skier Lock Roane was on top of the world: smashing Alpine records, collecting medals, and basking in both the love of a nation and his beautiful heiress girlfriend. It all comes crashing down after Lock discovers his girlfriend had an affair—then awakens from a drunken bender covered in her blood. Given his history of violent blackouts, it’s not a big leap for him to believe he did kill her.

On the eve of his murder trial he saves the life of a car accident victim, not knowing she’s his biggest media nemesis. And when Jordan Sinclair regains consciousness, she’ll lie through her teeth to keep it that way.

Jordan is out of options and out of time…

To satisfy her blackmailer, she needs the inside scoop (and its tabloid cash reward) on Lock Roane. An attraction to the arrogant athlete was not part of the plan. Neither is trying to find out what really happened that night.

Now Jordan risks everything—including her life—to help Lock. But the more they discover clues pointing to someone else with a motive, the more Lock is also unraveling all the lies Jordan’s fed him. Her betrayal leaves him with two option: take his chances at his murder trial or forgive the woman who mesmerized him from the moment he saved her life.

Photo of sensual kissing young couple

SW: There are no words that express how much I love this story and how happy I am for you. But I’d love to know — What kind of research did you do for this story?

SA: The BARE minimum! Hate it. All I want is to write my story the way it unfolds in my head and not stop to authenticate details. But boy, did I learn a valuable lesson when Brenda Novak generously gave me editorial feedback. She asked if a tertiary character would be able to get a Sports Illustrated magazine in prison. It had never occurred to me to check! They have libraries, prisoners get mail…I was kind of annoyed she would want me to research such a minor detail. Well, this story had been through 5 FULL rewrites by then (5 plots, 5 different killers, 5 different ways the victim died…) and the guy in the Tutweiler Penitentiary had always gotten that magazine. Grumbling under my breath, I looked up Tutweiler Penitentiary in AL (which I’d randomly chosen 7 years ago by Google maps: ‘prisons in AL.’) I was SHOCKED to find out…it’s a women’s prison. Consider me spanked. Lesson learned.

SW: I am still laughing. I think that is the best answer I’ve ever had to an interview question! Do you prefer to write from the male POV or female POV?

SA: Easy answer! Male. I’m quite obsessed with what makes that gender tick. What pushes their buttons? What causes them heartache? Because on the outside they are way too stoic. Give me a real-life, emotionally stressed-out guy and all I see is a poker face? OMG, my imagination runs WILD. 🙂

All my stories, even the first one collecting dust bunnies under my bed, have been hero-based. They are larger than life: smokin’ looks, success, money, babes…and each figuratively gets ‘the rug pulled out from under him’ in the first chapter. They need the ordinary-heroine’s intelligence and talent to help them back on their feet. A guy like that needing someone? It’s a simmering pot of emotional conflict from the start.

SW: Are your story ideas first drawn from characters or from plot?

SA: Gosh, after writing for 10 years you’d think I’d know the answer! Plot, I guess. I’ll think: ‘what if this were to happen…’ and then I choose the two most ill-suited couple to go on that adventure, stick them on the same page and watch the sparks fly.

Olympics

SW: What is your greatest strength as a storyteller?

SA: The feedback I’ve received from readers is that I zip the story forward through authentic sounding dialogue. Personally, I think my greatest strength is the friction and/or camaraderie between the hero and his ‘sidekick’ –in this case Lock’s brother, Leo.

SW: I have to agree! What was your favorite scene in this book to write?

SA: The car accident and rescue. Wrote it in one sitting during one of those days where storytelling comes like a gift from God. The words just fell onto the page, the scene unfolded with all the perfect action words and stark emotion. During all the rewrites I have barely revised it, and that’s saying something.

SW: What was the most difficult scene in this book to write?

SA: In ALL my novels I leave the sex scene until the bitter end! I’ll insert a placeholder ‘SEX SCENE HERE’ and move on. It takes all of my skill as a writer to describe the act, the emotions, have it end up original, erotic and realistic, and yet still complicate their problems further. I bow to erotica authors! Back in my dust-bunny book all I had to do was think, ‘you know, my mom is going to read this’ and I was done for the night! Packed it in right in the middle of a sentence. 😉

SW: Can you give us one interesting fact about Locked, Loaded, & Lying?

SA: I got my hero’s entire character from one glimpse of champion surfer, Bruce Irons on the cover of Outside Magazine back in April 2006. I was in a WF checkout line and saw his expression. Stupefied me…there was Lock’s personality! That’s exactly how he’d glare at the paparazzi lens. Arrogant, sexy, double-dog-dare stare with not-so-subtle impatience- like they were keeping him from the sport he loves. Still gives me shivers!

SW: Now Sarah has a question of you:

Who is your favorite Olympic athlete or favorite Olympic sport?

One lucky commenter will win a $25 e-gift certificate to Amazon!

Sarah, thanks so much for sharing your debut with us. I know this is just the beginning of a prolific and successful career!

LockedAndLoadedFinal coverWhen Sarah Andre isn’t writing fast-paced romantic suspense, she loves to connect with readers at: www.SarahAndre.com, www.facebook.com/SarahAndreWriter, and @SarahRSWriter

Photos courtesy of Sarah Andre.

Kiss and Thrill’s 2015 Summer Middle Grade/Young Adult Reading List

Ellen Reading

The last few years, our very own Rachel Grant has put together Kiss and Thrill’s annual MG/YA summer reading list. But since she’s in the midst of another book release (Covert Evidence), I offered to do the list this year. As a librarian and former reader’s advisor (for all reading levels), I was happy to compile it. It helps that I am surrounded by children who read within these ranges. Besides my fifteen-year old boy/girl twins, I have seven nieces and nephews between 8-18 who offered recommendations.

This year’s list is divided between Young Adult and Middle Grade, then subdivided by genres including YA romance, Paranormal, Action/Adventure, Sci Fi, Fantasy, Classics, etc. I also marked with an asterix those books that have been made into a movie or are currently in movie production. There are books on this list for every tween and teen reader, even the most picky.

Below is just a small sample of this year’s complete list. Since the 2015 list wouldn’t fit on the blog, here are two links:  K&T 2015 MG/YA List word (downloadable) file and a K&T 2015 MG/YA List PDF file.

So pour some lemonade, throw down a blanket in the sun, and let’s start reading!

Here are my daughter’s recommendations (for both the books and the series they are part of) in no particular order:

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Embrace by Jessica Shirvington

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Harry Potter by JK Rowling

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Destroy Me by Tahereh Mafi

 

 

 

 

 

The Heir by Keira Cass

The Heir by Kiera Cass

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Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

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The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Here are my son’s recommendations (for both the books and the series they are part of) in no particular order:

 

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Instinct by Sherrilyn Kenyon

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The Loners by Lex  Thomas

Lockdown by Alexander G. Smith

Lockdown by Alexander G. Smith

Cherub by Robert Muchamore

Cherub by Robert Muchamore

The Hunted by Charlie Higson

The Hunted by Charlie Higson

Isolation by Dan Wells

Isolation by Dan Wells

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are my Middle Grade recommendations (for both the books and the series they are part of) in no particular order:

Wish You Were Eyre by Heather Vogel Frederick

Wish You Were Eyre by Heather Vogel Frederick

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Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

Graceful by Wendy Maas

Graceful by Wendy Maas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata

Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata

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The Shadow Children Series by Margaret Peterson Haddix

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The Boy Who Could Fly by James Norcliffe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If a book you’re looking for is not on this list, please check the 2014 and 2013 lists. I tried not to duplicate titles, but if a series from earlier years had another book added this year, including e-novellas, I added it to this year’s list. Also, there are some annual faves that I duplicated because my kids want to reread them. (The entire Harry Potter Series is always a summer reading re-do!)

Joe and Donut

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.

 

Now I need your help. This list is not complete. Are there books that you’ve read and would like to see added to the 2015 list? If you add them in the comments, I’ll update the list and repost it. Thanks!

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