Friday, December 30, 2011

Interview with Tammy Blackwell

Today we’re going to do something a little different, in what I hope will be the first of many such occasions. So I give to you the first ever Wading Through Electronic Ink author interview with our special guest, Tammy Blackwell!

Most of you will know Tammy as the author who wrote Destiny Binds, which I know you all immediately purchased based on my rave review. If you didn’t, you can do so now and still have a little bit of time before the sequel, Time Mends, is released. But don’t worry fans who followed my advice and already read the book because Time Mends should be out any day now. And if you’re dying for a sneak peek, Tammy has some teasers up on her website, along with the absolutely fantastic cover art.

But you don’t want to listen to me babble on (Well, maybe you do. After all, you are reading a blog that features me rambling on almost exclusively.) You want to hear from the brilliant mind behind the Timber Wolves trilogy. And so, without further ado, I give you Tammy Blackwell!

Where did you get the idea for the Timber Wolves trilogy?

Who knows where thoughts come from? They just appear. (Triple bonus points to anyone who gets the reference!)

Okay, honest answer...

You know how some writers say their characters talk to them? Well, I’m not that crazy. Instead I have random scenes and bits of dialogue come to me during the 90-99% of the day when my mind is wandering. See, much more sane than having characters speak to you, don’t you think?

Anyway, Destiny Binds started with a scene and a line of dialogue. The scene was a cold, wet human girl tucked in a warm bed after staying up all night to try to protect a werewolf. The werewolf in question is cuddled around her, keeping her warm, while his grouchy brother makes breakfast in the other room. The line of dialogue was, “I said you were my destiny, not that I’m yours. I’ve never fooled myself into believing I could keep you.” From there, Scout and Alex were born.

What made you decide to write a young adult novel?

There is something unique and engrossing about the teenage experience. I love how it’s that time in a person’s life when everything is still fresh and new, and emotions are like this crazy, uncontrollable thing clawing at your insides. I love the awkwardness and cluelessness of it. And, if we’re being perfectly honest here, I don’t really feel like I’ve progressed far beyond that point, which is probably why I’ve always loved YA books.

I wrote this book in particular because I was having trouble finding the teens I work with in the YA books I was reading. Where were the smart, geeky kids living in the rural South? It seemed like all the cool kids lived in New York and the small town kids were more stereotypes, always loving horses or working on a farm. I wanted to write an enjoyable book about the kind of teens I knew existed.

Who are your favorite authors to read? What authors do you feel have most influenced you work?

Ahhhh! There are too many!

Teen voice wise, I love John Green (of course), Maureen Johnson, and Stephanie Perkins. For world building I’m a huge fan of Cassandra Clare and Kelley Armstrong, the Queen of Urban Fantasy World Building. And for really good books about werewolves and shifters, I have to go with adult writers Patricia Briggs and Ilona Andrews. And, of course, Harper Lee has to be mentioned. (Hello, Scout!)

What aspects of your books are based on your own life experiences?

Like Scout, I once broke my butt.

What do you do when you are not writing about the adventures of teen shifters?

I am a Young Adult Services Coordinator (that’s a YA Librarian who hasn’t finished her MLIS) for a library system in Kentucky. Between that, writing, reading, and hanging out with my 15 month old niece, I don’t really have time for much else, expect for the occasional night’s sleep.

What made you decide to self-publish Destiny Binds?

I briefly tried to go the traditional publishing route, but after some initial promising interest, I realized that wasn’t going to pan out because of the over-stuffed YA supernatural market. Which was okay by me, since I wasn’t sure I wanted that much responsibility anyway. But I went ahead and self-pubbed because I had written it for my library kids and wanted them to be able to own a book written for them. I honestly didn’t expect much of anyone else to read it.

Do you think the increasing ease with which authors can self-publish their e-books is going to change how people view books and the publishing industry?

I think the book/publishing world is changing rapidly and none of us are really sure where it’s going or what will happen once we get there. I do think (hope) the image of self-published authors will change and gain some validity, but it’s going to be difficult to get the world as a whole to change their way of thinking about what constitutes a “real” book.

What advice would you give to authors looking to self-publish their own work?

Revise until your eyes bleed, and then revise some more. It always pains me to pick up a self-published book that has lots of promise but doesn’t fully deliver because of a lack of editing and proofreading. The world will wait for you to take an extra month or two to get it right. I promise if you put in the extra effort, it will show.

(BTW, I’m now quite certain there are a bakoozle of typos and errors in my answers simply because I’ve made a big deal out of proofing everything you write.)

If you could have a super power, what would it be and why?

Time manipulation. It is the ultimate power. With it, you’re unstoppable! Someone trying to shoot you? Freeze time and move out of the way! Need to get across time in a flash? Stop the clock and get there before the bad guy can take his next breath! And with time manipulation you’ll always have 24 usable hours in every day to get stuff accomplished, whether it’s writing a novel or defeating evil.

What one question do you wish that I had asked you but did not? (Question and answer please)

What fictional world would you want to live in?

Excellent question, Elizabeth! *cheeky grin*

I know most people would say Harry Potter’s world here, but since I choose to believe J.K. Rowling wrote nonfiction accounts of British history, I’m going to go with something else. I’m tempted to pick a steampunk world, but most of my favorites aren’t really places someone would willingly live. (Way too many zombies and nanobots and society rules for me.) I need magic, but I also need happiness, pretty dresses, and Prince Charming. And there is only one place where you can find all that... Disneyland! *imagines self in a reverse Enchanted-type plot* *is very happy*

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Beautiful Demons by Sarra Cannon

Title: Beautiful Demons
Series: Peachville High Demons
Author: Sarra Cannon
Length: 2327 Kindle Units
Rating: 4.5 stars

The Plot

Strange things have happened around Harper for as long as she can remember. When she gets upset, objects fly around the room. This unusual occurrence has gotten her kicked out of more foster homes than she can count, and her case worker says that this is her last chance. If she can’t make it work at Shadowford Home, then she will have to go to a juvenile detention center.

Harper doesn’t know quite what to make of the small town of Peachville. But even she can tell that the town’s obsession with high school athletics, especially cheerleading, is well above the norm. But as she learns more about the town and the powers possessed by those in it, she realizes that finding out the truth behind Peachville’s secrets might mean finding out about her own strange powers as well.

The Good

When I tell you that this is a book about demon cheerleaders, you know that means it can either go one of two ways – really bad or really good. Fortunately, Beautiful Demons is the latter. I got really caught up in the story and was on the edge of my seat wondering whether Harper would get to be on the cheerleading squad. We don’t get all of the mythology explained in the first book, but what we do get is unique and enticing and definitely makes a reader want more.

I really love the way the chapters are titled in this novel. There are many short chapters, and each of them is titled after a partial quote from the text. This allows the reader to sort-of predict what will happen in each chapter, but often the words are used in an unexpected way.

The Bad

Memory and first person narrative can be a tricky thing. I once had someone tell me that describing something, only to have the narrator forget it, is not allowed. But I think that most of us can recall at least a time or two where we have seen this device used, though we may have wished to forbid it. For plot-relevant reasons, Harper forgets some of what happens to her in the first half of the book. The series of events that causes this to occur is somewhat confusing. I couldn’t tell whether she was sick or dreaming or hallucinating or some combination of all three. I had to go back and reread that section a couple of times. And then I was confused about what she did and did not remember, though I did eventually figure it out.

The Romance

Shortly after Harper moves to Peachville, she finds herself drawn to two boys: rebellious Jackson, who she is warned away from, and Drake, who “only dates cheerleaders.” Harper’s feelings toward them mirror her attitude toward the town as a whole. Going by her own instincts, she is attracted to Jackson, but these instincts have led her to reside at a home for troubled girls. Drake, on the other hand, is the right kind of boyfriend for a girl with the life she wants to have as a popular girl on the cheerleading team.

Seriously, though, Jackson Hunt is totally swoon-worthy, in spite of sometimes also being inexplicably shirtless.

Will I read more?

I am totally addicted to this series. I read the first four books straight through and can’t wait til Rival Demons comes out in January.  As I was looking back over the book to write this review, there were parts that I wanted to read again, which prompted me to reread parts of the later books as well. This is definitely a series that I will be going back to reread when I want something great that just makes me smile.

The main reason that I don’t give the series five stars is to do with the length. I have said that five stars means that I would pay full bookstore price for the books, but I really can’t justify doing that for a book this short. But I have absolutely no qualms about paying self-published price for it. In fact, I fully recommend it!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sophie's Secret by Tara West

Title: Sophie’s Secret
Series: Whispers
Author: Tara West
Length: 2700 Kindle Units
Rating: 2 stars

The Plot

Sophie is starting her freshman year as a new person. She spent a year at a private school, where she lost a lot of weight, and she’s ready for all her old classmates to see her in a new light. Her life is slightly complicated by the fact that she can read minds, but she also has the support of her best friends, AJ and Krysta, who also have psychic powers.

Unfortunately, Sophie’s year isn’t going quite as smoothly as she would like. The school bully won’t stop picking on her, and she has to take photography lessons from the class slut. Her pregnant older sister and her deadbeat boyfriend have moved back home and stolen her room. Her crush Jacob is turning out not to be as nice as she thought. And on top of it all, her powers seem to be growing…

The Good

The most interesting thing about Sophie’s Secret was Sophie’s ability to read minds, although the gift ends up being tangential to the plot. The set-up creates a kind of irony in which Sophie has the ability to know things about people that others have no way to know, but at the same time she remains unaware of things that should be obvious to her. Despite her gift, she is unable to determine that Jacob is a jerk, Frankie really likes her, and her math teacher is horribly depressed.

I also have to give credit overall that there were very few grammatical and punctuation errors in the book. What problems there were with the book were not related to the technical errors that I see all too frequently.

The Bad

A quick google search about YA books will give a plethora of articles on how the genre has been changing in the last decade or so. The genre has been going more exciting, with teenagers taking on epic responsibilities in their search for identity. The last three books I reviewed, for example, featured a girl expected to broker peace between two warring factions, a girl with powers over time like no one has seen before, and a girl who has been gifted by the gods to save humanity from vampires. And we as readers look forward to watching these girls triumph over incredible odds. Well, so long as they end up with the right boys at the end.

Sophie’s Secret feels more as if it belongs to the old school of YA novels, where the characters face the ordinary problems that plague every teen searching for identity – family problems, difficult schoolwork, bullies. Twenty years ago this may have worked as a story, but current readers expect greater danger and higher stakes.

The Romance

Sophie’s romantic dilemmas felt more as if they belonged in a middle grade novel, rather than a young adult novel. Instead of dealing with more confusing sexual dynamics, she was just hoping that a boy would take her to the dance and give her a first kiss. This is partially explained by the fact that Sophie is 14 years old, whereas the modal age of YA heroines is 16 or 17.

The primary romantic conflict stems from Sophie’s crush on Jacob, which appears to be based on his looks alone, as it becomes increasingly apparent that she does not know anything about his personality. Nonetheless, she seems to have decided that her crush imbues him with a winning personality that he magically maintains in spite of all evidence to the contrary. As Jacob repeatedly asks her to cheat for him and spreads rumors about other students, a logical person would say, “Oh, I guess that he’s cute but a jerk. Crush abated. Problem solved.” But for Sophie this becomes a major internal conflict, one that I can’t find myself being all that sympathetic to.

Will I read more?

The next books in the series appear to be about Sophie’s friends AJ and Krysta, each of whom have a supernatural power, seeing the future and speaking to the dead, respectively. There were a few places in the Sophie’s Secret where we got information about her friends’ powers, the most notable of which was when we discovered that their powers are all increasing. If I were to find out that this was happening because there were a world-eating monster on its way to destroy the earth, and only the powers of Sophie and her friends can save us all, then I might be motivated to pick up the next in the series. But if the books continue to be about ordinary high school problems with some incidental psychic powers stuck in, I’ll probably skip them.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dirty Blood by Heather Hildebrand

Title: Dirty Blood
Series: Dirty Blood
Author: Heather Hildenbrand
Length: 7696 Kindle units
Rating: 5 stars

The Plot

Tara was not having the best night of her life. She had just broken up with her boyfriend and was forced to walk home. But things get eminently worse when she runs into a woman who turns into a wolf and attacks her. Fortunately, for some definition of the word “fortunately,” Tara is able to kill her assailant and escape relatively unscathed.

Then Tara meets Wes, who tells her that the attack was not as random as it seemed. Tara was born to a race of Hunters whose only goal is to track down and kill Werewolves. Wes and his friends are trying to broker peace between the two races, and they would like nothing better than for Tara to help them further that goal. But Tara is about to find out that seeking peace may be more dangerous than any war.

The Good

As is probably apparent from my five star rating, I very much enjoyed Dirty Blood. Tara is a likable character with enough flaws to make her seem real. She comes off a bit petulant at times, but I imagine that I would be whiny too if I was suddenly cast in the role of warrior-peacekeeper by a bunch of people who refused to tell me anything. There is also a strong supporting cast made of friends, enemies and all those in between, most of whom had sufficient quirks to make them interesting.

I always like a mythology with a well-developed backstory, and the werewolves and hunters have a long history of mutual animosity. This is complicated by the addition of a third side, the Cause, who ultimately wants the two races to live in harmony, though they acknowledge that their goal will take some violence. The Cause has its own tragic history, but events seem poised for our heroine to step in and return goodness to the world, after some hardship, of course.

The Bad

As I was considering where to rank Dirty Blood, I realized that one of my conceptions for a five star novel was “Would I recommend it to my friend who doesn’t like YA novels all that much?”  I thought about it and decided that this was not a fair standard. After all, I have read dozens of published YA novels that I have loved that I know he would not enjoy. So the bad thing that I have to say about Dirty Blood is that it is not so good that anyone would like it. But I highly recommend it to a reader who enjoys YA paranormal romance.

I am also going to take this opportunity to briefly rant about formatting e-books to be navigable. I am not sure how it is done, but some books have tables of contents and chapters that you can flip through with the arrow button. I greatly prefer books where I can do these things to ones like Dirty Blood where I can do neither. Having to flip through a book page by page feels very constraining for the not-entirely-linear reader, especially as I’m trying to remind myself of things as I write a review.

The Romance

When we first meet Wes, Tara notes that his eyes and hair are the same shade of brown, which makes him sound particularly attractive. And before too long we know that they are destined, or at least foretold, to be together.

Nonetheless, I am a little hesitant about Tara and Wes’s relationship. I feel like she is doing all the pushing, that she always calls him or insists that they be together when he is being hesitant. He tries to explain this as “Oh, I really like you, but I hate the idea of being forced by fate to be with you. Also, I don’t want you to get hurt.” Eventually, this sounds like excuses for what I start to think he really means, which is “I’m just not that into you.”

Will I read more?

I already have. I downloaded the second book almost as soon as I finished the first one. If anything, I like it even better than the second one. Tara goes off to a supernaturally-themed boarding school, and that’s always one of my favorite settings. Now I’m eagerly awaiting book 3!