ARC Review of The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold

Disclaimer: I won an ARC through BookishFirst in exchange for a review.

“In the beginning, there was nothing.

Then the world.

Then people, but no art.

Then people made art.

Then people died.

Now there is art, but no people.”

Years after a deadly Fly Flu pandemic*, the Earth as it was is no more. Whole cities of people are gone. There are small pockets of community banding together to make do in a world reshaped by the Fly Flu. 

But now something has happened.18-year-old Nico’s mother has died of a mysterious illness, and now her father is exhibiting the same early symptoms. On Nico’s 18th birthday, her father gives her a task. She must leave for Manchester. On the eighth day, her father will ring the bell on their house’s bell tower a couple hours after sunset to attempt to open some sort of portal that may be the solution to the latent Fly Flu now infecting those who survived. 

David Arnold began his writing career with Mosquitoland, an odyssey of a sort about Mim trying to find her way back to her mother on a bus trip that doesn’t go as planned. He followed that up with Kids of Appetite, where those who do not fit into society forge their own. Next was The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik which asked the question: what do you do when your life no longer makes any sense?

While The Electric Kingdom is a departure from Arnold’s previous contemporaries, Arnold builds upon the themes of epic journeys, found families, and how to keep on living when your life as it was no longer makes sense. It is a perfect evolution for Arnold as he masterfully weaves together a carefully constructed world with brilliant words. 

The Electric Kingdom is about the journey, about the questions, and about making peace when answers do not come. It is about asking “how can I fight this darkness?” and finding that answer. 

Arnold takes you on a journey in The Electric Kingdom, and it is not one that I will soon forget. 

The Electric Kingdom releases on February 9. 

Preorder here

Add to Goodreads here

*The Fly Flu pandemic is not at all like covid-19. The Fly Flu (which is actually bees) was caused when an attempt to genetically modify honeybees went wrong. The Flies killed off billions of people before the flu struck. Very, very different from Covid-19

Thoughts about Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass

This isn’t a review so much as it is an essay response to the fantastic book Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass. 

In June 1977, Dade County, Florida voters voted to repeal the county’s gay rights ordinance after a successful smear campaign by anti-gay activist Anita Bryant. Bryant then took her group, called Save Our Children, to other communities to repeal gay rights laws and to pass oppressive legislation against LGBTQ+ rights. 

In June 1977, Harvey Milk announced his campaign for Board Supervisor in San Francisco. That night, he gave the first version of his Hope speech. He said, “And the young gay people in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias and the Richmond, Minnesotas who are coming out and hear Anita Bryant on television and her story. The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right” (Milk, 1977).

And that’s what Surrender Your Sons is all about. Hope. 

After Connor’s boyfriend pressures him into coming out to his very religious mom, a cold war begins between him and his mom. She confiscates his phone and restricts access to any Internet source. He’s allowed to continue his Meals on Wheels job until his client Ricky Hannigan dies. 

And then his mom gives him back his phone. He immediately senses something is wrong and texts his boyfriend that he thinks she’s going to kick him out. His boyfriend doesn’t answer. And that night, Connor is kidnapped from his bed (with his mom’s permission) and taken to a religious conversion therapy camp on an island off the coast of Costa Rica. 

But Connor is ready to fight like hell. And in doing so, he discovers a decades-old mystery that might be the one to finally take down the camp. 

Although a novel that involves conversion therapy, especially one at a camp that is running off the grid and uses physical punishment and isolation practices, seems like it would be a dark novel, I found it full of light despite the dark moments—or perhaps because of the dark moments. 

Why? Because there’s hope. 

Through Surrender Your Sons, Sass writes a compelling thriller that infuses hope onto every single page. No doubt the circumstances these characters are in are bleak. But it’s so filled with hope. 

We don’t live in a post-homophobic United States. Although some LGBTQ+ persons find immediate acceptance, this is not the reality for everyone. And even with immediate acceptance, there’s still the reality that homophobia exists and sneaks up in unexpected ways at times. Once again, “Save Our Children” trends on Facebook and Twitter. Under the guise of human trafficking and pedophilia, many using the hashtag equate LGBTQ+ individuals to pedophiles in attempts to strip away hard-fought for rights and in attempts to sow hatred against LGBTQ+ individuals. In 2018, 1 in 5 hate crimes reported in the U.S. were related to anti-LGBTQ+ crimes. As of writing, 20 states ban conversion therapy. 30 states still allow it. And in those 20 states that ban it, there are some with religious exemptions; as long as someone isn’t acting as a psychologist, this is allowed in some states such as Utah which has a conversion therapy ban. And as Sass points out, conversion therapy does NOT have to be a formal practice to still be considered conversion therapy.  And it can still be just as psychologically damaging, even when a person does it to themselves.

But yet there’s hope. 

People carve out places where they are accepted and loved for who they are. They experience found families. That doesn’t mean the pain goes away, but there’s still joy. 

And that’s what Surrender Your Sons is all about. Sass says in the author note that the book is not about queer pain; it’s about what queers do with pain. 

It’s about fighting back against those who hate who you are. 

It’s about finding reasons to keep going when those who are supposed to love and fully accept you reject you and harm you instead. 

It’s about finding those who love you for who you are. 

It’s about finally loving yourself for who you are after you were made to hate yourself.

It’s about hope.

References

https://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/milkhopespeech.html 

https://www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/conversion_therapy 

https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/nearly-1-5-hate-crimes-motivated-anti-lgbtq-bias-fbi-n1080891 

Resources

https://www.thetrevorproject.org/ 

http://bornperfect.org/ 

https://www.crisistextline.org/

Book/Author Links: 

Add to Goodreads

Buy 

Follow Adam Sass on Twitter

Adam Sass Website

ARC Review of Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Pepper’s family is behind Big League Burger which has quickly launched into popularity across the U.S. and is spreading internationally.

Jack’s family runs Girl Cheesing, a small deli with only one location.

While both go to the same school, their worlds unexpectedly collide when Big League Burger launches new grilled cheese sandwiches, one of which is clearly a blatant rip off of the Girl Cheesing Grandma’s grilled cheese special. Not one to take it sitting down, Jack uses the deli’s Twitter account and fires off a tweet reply which unexpectedly goes viral. And quickly, Pepper’s mom instructs her to fire back because while Big League Burger has a social media manager, Pepper really is the brains behind it.

And so the feud begins.

But there’s another problem. Pepper and Jack may be crushing on each other without actually knowing the other is behind it on an anonymous app that Jack built while simultaneously engaging in a Twitter war that neither knows they’re behind.

Tweet Cute was a refreshingly fun read. While dealing with some hard-hitting topics (struggling family business, tense family dynamics), this read remains a fun read throughout.

This is told in alternating perspectives, and I thoroughly enjoyed both perspectives.

Tweet Cute releases January 21.

ARC Review of I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through the author/publisher’s early reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

We begin an interview room in a police station where Anna Cicconi confesses to the murder of Zoe Spanos. How we got to that point is the question.

Freshly graduated from high school, Anna gets a job as a nanny for a family who live in the Hamptons. She needs a clean break from her former reality in which she would get blackout drunk or high on various drugs, and what better way than to be put in a position where she is responsible for another human life besides her own.

As she arrives to the small village of Herron Mills, she receives many strange looks, and she eventually finds out that she bears a striking resemblance to Zoe Spanos who disappeared between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

For a reason that she cannot explain, she feels like she knows Zoe even though her friends convince her that Anna and Zoe have never met. But Anna knows things about Zoe that aren’t public information, and how else can she know these things?

Anna decides to investigate Zoe’s disappearance, getting close to Zoe’s (former?) boyfriend. And in the end (or in this case the beginning of the book), she decides that she knows Zoe so well because she killed Zoe.

But not everyone is buying it. After all, how can you kill someone that you never even met?

Told in “then” and “now” segments, I Killed Zoe Spanos is a twisting psychological thriller that will elevate your heart rate and leave you second-guessing everything down to the last page.

In I Killed Zoe Spanos, Kit Frick is able to carefully weave together her best book yet.

I Killed Zoe Spanos releases on June 2, 2020.

Add to Goodreads

Pre-order

ARC Review of Scammed by Kristen Simmons

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Further disclaimer: This review will continue some spoilers for the first book (The Deceivers) but no spoilers for Scammed.

Brynn Hilder had her life turned upside down when she was taken into Vale Hall, a boarding school for con artists. For the first time in her life, her skills that she learned in Devon Park, a poor neighborhood, had great value. She made friends that became almost like family, and she became really close with Caleb, a fellow student.

But things become a bit complicated in Scammed as Grayson, a person she used previously to find out who killed the sister of the Vale Hall director, has found safe harbor at Vale Hall until the director can gather enough dirt to put Grayson’s father, a U.S. Senator.

As Brynn goes undercover to find out about the disappearance of an intern who worked for Grayson’s father, she finds her found-family thrown into turmoil and finds that things are not as they seem.

Scammed is a thrilling sequel to The Deceivers. It’s an amazing read, and I absolutely loved it. The whole series is one that is a fantastic read. The end of book 2 sets up for an amazing concept for book 3.

Add Scammed to Goodreads

Pre-order Scammed

DRC Review of Camp by L. C. Rosen

Disclaimer: I received a DRC from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

For the last few summers, Randy has come to Camp Outland, a camp for queer teens. He was free to be himself more fully, even being the lead in the musical there last summer. But this year, Randy is gone, and Del is here instead. Del doesn’t wear nail polish. Dell doesn’t do musical. Del does sports instead. Del wears different clothes.

Why? So Randy aka Del can attract Hudson, a guy who is only into “straight-acting” guys. He has a plan. He will get Hudson to fall in love with Del and reveal himself as Randy, hoping that Hudson has fallen in love him enough that he won’t have any problems being himself around Hudson.

At first, Del’s plans goes better than he expects. Turns out, Hudson was so oblivious to Randy in the past that Del is able to fully pass himself off as a new camper. Hudson takes advantage, eschewing his former reputation as a playboy at the camp, to quickly begin a romance with Del.

But as the summer unravels, pieces of the past find ways to pierce into the relationship, and Del finds himself wondering, is a relationship worth it if he has to change who he is to be in it?

Camp is an important look at toxic masculinity as well as some of the issues that are very real in the queer community, from problems with those that won’t accept you outside of the community to problems with those that won’t accept you from inside the community. It is a very worthwhile read.

Camp releases May 26, 2020.

Add to Goodreads

Preorder

Author Interview with Jodie Lynn Zdrok

Today, I have the honor of interviewing Jodie Lynn Zdrok, author of Spectacle and the upcoming sequel Sensational. You can read my review of Spectacle here.

First, here’s a bit about Jodie:

Jodie Lynn Zdrok holds two MAs in European History (Providence College, Brown University) and an MBA (Clark University). In addition to being an author, she’s a marketing professional, a freelancer, and an unapologetic Boston sports fan. She enjoys traveling, being a foodie, doing sprint triathlons, and enabling cats. She is represented by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

And here’s a bit about Spectacle: 

Paris, 1887.

Sixteen-year-old Nathalie Baudin writes the daily morgue column for Le Petit Journal. Her job is to summarize each day’s new arrivals, a task she finds both fascinating and routine.

That is, until the day she has a vision of the newest body, a young woman, being murdered…from the perspective of the murderer himself.

When the body of another woman is retrieved from the Seine hours later, Nathalie realizes there is a killer haunting the streets of Paris—and her strange new ability may make her the only one who can discover his identity. Her search for answers sends her down a long, twisty road involving her mentally ill aunt, a brilliant but deluded scientist, and eventually into the chilling depths of the Parisian Catacombs.

Nathalie must follow the clues in her visions to discover the truth about who is murdering the young women of Paris—before she becomes a target herself.

And now for the interview!

Your debut novel Spectacle is set in 1887 France. What did your research process look like?

So much research in a historical! My academic background is in history, so I had a good foundation of general knowledge about late 19th-century Europe. My research included graduate school materials, books, articles, and newspaper accounts (e.g., the Pranzini element in the book is based on actual events, and I looked up a newspaper article to get a feel for the scene at what ends up being one of the final sequences in the book). Photography wasn’t too big at the time, and some things that I wish I could have had photos of (e.g., the morgue at that time, the Catacombs at that time) either don’t exist or aren’t readily available. 

Beyond researching cultural details, both the big picture ones and everyday life ones (how people lived, what a building was called in 1887 Paris, etc.), I spent a lot of time examining the language I used. As much as possible, I tried to use words in both the narrative and in dialogue that existed in 1887 (you’d be surprised how many things we rely on now weren’t in use at that time, even small things like “ok” and “fine”). I checked etymology a lot and mostly avoided the use of idioms. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but over the course of 97K words, being mindful of that adds another layer of complexity. 

Spectacle is one of very few books that I’ve read where the main character has a pet (and the pet lives!). Why was it important to you that Nathalie had a cat?

Stanley is near and dear to my heart! Originally, Nathalie did not have a cat. Real life inspired his presence: My beloved white cat, Stasiu Kitty, died while I was doing revisions for my agent. I was heartbroken, as you can imagine. So I decided to give Stasiu Kitty literary life as Stanley (Stasiu is Polish for Stanley). It is a bit unconventional, but Stanley has become quite a character in his own right! Many readers have a soft spot for him, and I think that’s because lots of people know the feeling of having a cat or dog on the bed, following you, gently “interrupting” conversations, all the things that pets do. I also think we get to see a different side of Nathalie’s home life through Stanley. He adds a little something fun and homey to the dynamic with Nathalie and her parents. (Although I probably don’t give enough credit to the amount of shedding a white cat does.)

Spectacle is genre-blended with historical, mystery, and fantasy elements. What was the biggest challenge of writing a story like this?

The challenge with writing a genre-blending (and bending) novel was making it all work seamlessly, so that all three elements integrated organically. When I first conceived of it, Spectacle was a historical mystery. It didn’t have enough bite, somehow, and I felt as if something was missing. Even though it was inspired by the Jack the Ripper case, that style of mystery alone didn’t have the right feel for me. I wrote the first draft with magic in it, but it wasn’t until revising and really digging deep into the “origin story” of the fantasy element that everything clicked. 

Another challenge, unrelated to the writing but to the novel itself, is that genre blends aren’t for everyone. People who want a straight-up historical, mystery, or fantasy may not find it to be their cup of tea, precisely because it’s a little of each. So it can be a difficult book to describe. I’ve found, however, that people who truly enjoy it thoroughly embrace the genre-blending. 

What has been your favorite types of scenes to write?

Over the course of many drafts, I discovered that I most enjoy writing the “creepy” scenes and the character moment ones. Scenes in Spectacle that were among my favorite to write: the Catacombs scene, the hypnotism scene, a few of the intense conversation scenes, and all the Aunt Brigitte scenes. Those were also the scenes that needed the least revision throughout the process, so I feel like I “got them right” early on, more or less. 

I also experienced that affinity for creepy scenes and intense character scenes again while writing the sequel, Sensational. That’s what, in part, informed my direction for my option novel (a boarding school ghost story/mystery set in 1920s Rhode Island). I tapped into the kind of scenes and writing that I found most enjoyable and satisfying (and ideally readers agree!). 

What has been the happiest moment of your debut year?

Seeing the pride of my boyfriend, parents and brothers. It’s been wonderful to celebrate with family, friends, readers, social media pals, and fellow writers. My innermost circle, those who’ve known me the longest, witnessed my journey and my life, and understand everything that went into achieving this goal…having them participate so completely and genuinely in my joy has been a highlight of my life. I’m grateful for that.

You have a non-writing day job. How do you make the time to write, and how do you find balance?

I’m not sure that I do find balance, to be honest. It’s very difficult to give up lunch hours, come home from a day in the office and find the drive to be creative, and forego weekend activities in order to write. When I’m on deadline, I do what I need to do, and I’m fortunate to have a lot of discipline and motivation under pressure. When I’m not on deadline, it’s less overwhelming, but it’s still a challenge and there’s some guilt if I go too long without writing. 

Burnout is real, no doubt about it, and it’s unavoidable for me at times when everything but work and writing go out the window—thankfully those are relatively short stints over the course of a year. I put a lot of effort into restorative well-being immediately after a deadline or big push, and I always schedule a massage, getaway, dinner out, spa day…something. 

On a day-to-day, steady-state level where I simply need to write and chip away, I reset through exercise. That run, bike, swim, or fitness class is my hour to take a breather, think through plots points and what I’ll be writing that day or week, and be offline for a while. And let’s be honest, I have a sweet tooth. So the working out helps offset that, too. 😊 


Thank you so much to Jodie for her time!

You can check out the relevant links below!

Add Spectacle on Goodreads

Add Sensational on Goodreads

Buy Jodie Lynn Zdrok’s books

Follow Jodie on Twitter

Author Interview with Shaun David Hutchinson

Today, I am totally freaking out over the fact that I got to interview Shaun David Hutchinson.

First a little bit about Shaun:

Shaun is a major geek and all about nerdy shenanigans. He is the author of many queer books for young adults. Find out more information at shaundavidhutchinson.com. He currently lives in Seattle and watches way too much Doctor Who.

And here’s a little bit about his most recent fiction work, The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried:

A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up.

Dino doesn’t mind spending time with the dead. His parents own a funeral home, and death is literally the family business. He’s just not used to them talking back. Until Dino’s ex-best friend July dies suddenly—and then comes back to life. Except not exactly. Somehow July is not quite alive, and not quite dead.

As Dino and July attempt to figure out what’s happening, they must also confront why and how their friendship ended so badly, and what they have left to understand about themselves, each other, and all those grand mysteries of life.

And now for the interview!

In the past, you have referenced The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley as being your relaunch/rebrand as an author. Can you speak more about this?

Sometimes 2008 doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, but when I wrote and sold my first novel, The Deathday Letter, the YA landscape was so very different than it is now.  I honestly wasn’t sure that anyone would be willing to take a chance on me if I wrote books with queer narrators or focused on the things I cared about, like mental health.  I have a special place in my heart for my first two books, but they also aren’t totally representative of me.  They’re more representative of who I believed readers wanted me to be.

The irony is that neither Deathday or FML did particularly well, and they certainly weren’t reviewed positively.  It wasn’t until I had nothing to lose that I wrote The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley.  With Five Stages, I wrote a book that I believed was one-hundred percent representative of who I wanted to be as a writer, and I figured that if publishing rejected it that it was a sign I wasn’t meant to be writing.  It was kind of a fatalistic attitude because we all know that one book doesn’t decide a writer’s future, but I found an agent who believed in Drew’s story, an editor who believed, and readers who were hungry for more stories about people like Drew.

In that way, The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley really was a bit of a rebirth for me as an author.  I had put myself out there, fully embracing my weirdness and queerness and honesty about mental health, and readers had welcomed me into their lives.  The Deathday Letter and FML will always be part of my history, but I sort of think of them as the books I wrote before I found the courage be myself.

In addition to your full length novels, you have been an editor to some unique anthologies (Violent Ends and Feral Youth) which tell an entire story through multiple short stories by different authors. What were the challenges and rewards of undertaking such an ambitious project (twice!)? 

I loved working on those anthologies, but they definitely were challenging.  The major challenge was wrangling all of the stories together and drawing the connections between them.  Violent Ends was more difficult than Feral Youth, but I was extremely fortunate that the authors in both anthologies were so passionate and supportive about what I was trying to do.  They often worked together to create those connections and to build the shared world the stories existed in. I guess in that respect, the challenges were the same as the rewards.  Because while it may have been a tough job to build that shared world, getting to stand back and see how it all came together remains one of the most gratifying experiences of my career.

Several of your recent works dealt with the end of the world in some way while your upcoming 2020 work The State of Us seems to be a departure from that thematic element. What drove this decision?

I remember being a teen and feeling how everything kind of felt like the end of the world, which is probably why I’m so drawn to it as a plot device.  It’s such a great way to explore problems that might otherwise feel mundane to readers.  But you can only end the world so many times before you begin to bore readers. At the same time, the last couple of years have exposed the hateful underbelly that exists in our world.  It was always there, but much of that nastiness was confined to the shadows. And now, unfortunately, it’s felt emboldened to step into the light.  With the world as dark as it is, I began gravitating toward stories that feel a little lighter.  Stories that envision the world I want to live in rather than the world we actually live in.

That said, explorations of sexuality and mental health will always be important to me.  In The State of Us, Dean is struggling to find his place in the queer world as he explores being demisexual, and both boys struggle with how to square their feelings for each other with the differences that divide them.  I’m just approaching those topics from a different angle these days.  One that lets a little more light in.

You transitioned from writing while maintaining another job to full-time writing. How has your writing process changed since this transition happened?

Oddly enough, my process hasn’t changed much.  When I had a day job, I did the majority of my writing in the morning before work.  I still do that.  And I still generally get up between five and six in the morning to do it.  The major difference is that I just do more of it.  I’m able to work longer.  Instead of finishing and then going to work in an office, I finish my morning writing and then go to a coffee shop to do more writing.

The biggest change has honestly been in my approach to future projects.  When I had a day job I was able to spend a couple of months working on a project that might go nowhere because I knew if it didn’t sell, I still had a paycheck coming in.  Writing full time means that I don’t always have that luxury.  If I’m going to commit my time to a project, I have to at least believe there is a good probability that I’m going to be able to make money off of it or I could find myself unable to pay my bills. It’s forced me to be a little more pragmatic about the projects I take on.

But I do make sure to set aside time for those weird passion projects because you never know what’s going to come out of them.  The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley began as a passion project.  As have other books, including one I recently sold that I can’t talk about yet but that I think my readers are really going to enjoy.

Brave Face is an absolutely stunning memoir that deals with a lot of tougher topics, including some very intense mental health challenges. What made you decide to relive these moments and write about them?

Thank you.  That really means a lot.  Even now, months after it came out, I still worry whether I should have published it. But I think that kind of fear is probably pretty natural when putting something so personal out into the world.

The idea actually came about because I was nearing the 20th anniversary of surviving my suicide attempt.  A lot of me goes into my books, but I wondered if it might be helpful for teens to have an account of that time—what I went through with coming out and depression—to both help them see that they aren’t alone and to help those who might not have experience with coming out or mental illness gain some understanding of what others might be going through.  I emailed my editor at Simon Pulse about the idea, and the more we talked about it, the more I thought I might have something worth saying.

The idea of writing a memoir was terrifying, and the only way I got through it was by telling myself that if only one person read it, and it helped them, then that was enough. That would make it worth it. The response has been overwhelming to say the least.

On Twitter, you post about baking a lot. How and why did this hobby come about?

Sorry!  I have a tendency to jump from one obsession to another.  Sometimes those obsessions stick around and become full-blown hobbies. Sometimes they turn into a career. I started baking last winter when my mom came to visit. It was my first winter in Seattle, and it was a cold, wet one.  My mom didn’t want to spent much time outside, so we spent a lot of time at my brother’s apartment where he was watching The Great British Baking Show.  I’d heard about it before, but I’d never sat down to watch an episode.  That show hooked me and reeled me in with its big heart and joyfulness, and I remain a fan of the show despite three-quarters of the original hosts leaving.

After my mom went back home, I found myself spending more time inside due to the weather, and I was looking for something to do. Inspired by The Great British Baking Show, I decided to give baking a try.  My mom baked quite frequently when I was growing up, but it was never something I thought I’d enjoy.  Much to my surprise, I instantly fell in love with it.  I think, for me, baking is a creative outlet that’s stress-free.  I enjoy the process of baking immensely because it helps calm my hyper-active and over-imaginative mind while also keeping me physically moving.  Plus, the end results make people smile.  Show up to a gathering with even the ugliest cake, and people will still smile.  Right now, baking is an oasis for me in this messy, messed up world.

Finally, what are some books that need to be on our radar? (This can be already released books and/or upcoming releases.)

Definitely The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper and How To Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters.  I’m about to get started on Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass, and the first page has already got me hooked.  Ryan La Sala’s Reverie is out soon, and I’m dying to get my hands on it.  Camryn Garret’s Full Disclosure and Saundra Mitchell’s All the Things We Do in the Dark are both out October 29th, and they’re at the very top of my reading list.  I also had the opportunity to hear Ryan Douglass read from his horror/thriller Jake in the Box, and he was amazing. I can’t wait to read the whole book.

There are always so many more books that I want to read than I have time for—the curse of every reader!—but we’re lucky that there are so many outstanding and diverse books out there now with more headed our way.


Thank you so much to Shaun for his time!

And always, here’s some links for you to check out:

Shaun David Hutchinson Links
Check Out Shaun on Goodreads
Make Shaun supremely rich and buy his books/enhance your own life too
Follow Shaun on Twitter

The Books Shaun Mentioned
Add The Gravity of Us to Goodreads / check out my interview with the author
Add How to Be Remy Cameron to Goodreads
Add Surrender Your Sons to Goodreads / check out my interview with the author
Add Reverie to Goodreads / check out my interview with the author
Add Full Disclosure to Goodreads
Add All The Things We Do in the Dark to Goodreads
Add Jake in the Box to Goodreads

Author Interview with Ronni Davis

Today, I have the honor of doing an interview with Ronni Davis, author of When the Stars Lead to You, which releases on November 12, 2019.

I’ve seen Ronni attend the same book events as me for the last couple years, and it’s so awesome that I’m about to get to read her own book soon!

First here’s a bit about Ronni:

Ronni Davis grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where she tried her best to fit in—and failed miserably. After graduating from The Ohio State University with a BA in Psychology, she worked in insurance, taught yoga, and became a cat mom.

Now she lives in Chicago with her husband Adam and her son Aidan. By day she copy edits everything from TV commercials to billboards, and by night she writes contemporary teen novels about brown girls falling in love. When she’s not writing, you can catch her playing the Sims, eating too much candy, or planning her next trip to Disney World.

Her debut novel, WHEN THE STARS LEAD TO YOU, will be released by Little Brown Books for Young Readers in November 2019.

You follow her on TwitterTumblrGoodreads, and Instagram.

You can find random, fun facts here.

And here’s a bit about her book:

Eighteen-year-old Devon longs for two things.

The stars.
And the boy she fell in love with one unforgettable summer.

When Ashton broke Devon’s heart at the end of the most romantic and magical summer of her life, she thought she’d never heal. But over the course of the following year, Devon slowly managed to put the pieces back together for the sake of her dream to become an astrophysicist.

Now it’s senior year, and she’s determined to enjoy every moment as she prepares for a future of studying the galaxies. That is, until Ashton shows up on the first day of school. Suddenly, he’s everywhere, their chemistry is undeniable, and he wants her back. Can Devon forgive Ashton and open her heart again? Or are they doomed to repeat history?

From debut author Ronni Davis comes a stunning and thought-provoking novel about passion, heartbreak, and the power of first love.

And now for the interview!

Can you talk a little bit about your road to publishing? 

Of course! My road to publishing was long and filled with all the feelings! I first started to pursue in 2005, with a book I wrote called Only Yours. I managed to get an agent with that book but he and I both knew it would be a hard sell. It incorporated a girl who was religious and kind of cold, but it was not a religious book. The book did not sell. Then my life kind of blew up. I needed to focus on making money and surviving rather than writing, so I did that. For years, I thought I wouldn’t pursue publication again. I trained to be a yoga teacher. I worked in advertising. I wrote a bit in my spare time, but it never went anywhere. Then I tried acting. I learned it wasn’t for me, but the great thing about acting is that it’s like I’m inside a story. It was very inspiring! So I started writing again—the book which would eventually become When the Stars Lead to You. I still didn’t plan to pursue publication until something special happened in 2014: We Need Diverse Books. Suddenly, I had a reason to write seriously again, and I had the characters in my head that would fit, plus the life experience to make it feel authentic. I knew I could help fill that gap, if I could get myself together!

I wrote this love story with a biracial/black main character, a boy who has mental illness, and how their lives collide. I wrote and rewrote and revised and edited and cried and tried and tried over and over. Then my agent, Caitie, got the book immediately. I knew she was the right person to represent Devon’s story. Once I signed with her, we did another couple rounds of revisions before sending the book on sub. I’d been down this road before, but this time, it felt Bigger. Maybe because I knew more of what went down during the acquisitions process. I ended up withdrawing from the writing world for a few months because it was doing my head in. The constant stream of good news on twitter was pounding my self-esteem into the ground, and I stopped believing in my story! Although, I didn’t pull it off sub, so I guess I still believed a little bit. 

I spent my days playing the Sims, because I still needed to be creative without the pressures of writing. It helped a lot. And the day I got the call, I was ecstatic and in disbelief. Now, it’s getting closer to the time my book is in stores, and I don’t even know what to think. But this is what I know: It feels like home.

When the Stars Lead to You has a main character who is interested in STEM. Why was this important to you to include? 

I wanted to get out of MY comfort zone. It would’ve been easy for my character to be a writer, or maybe even an artist. I knew that STEM would challenge me, but I’ve always been interested in and intimidated by the cosmos. Devon being into astrophysics seemed like the perfect intersection of creativity, science, and dreaming.

The book also deals a bit with mental health. What drove this decision? 

I have a mental illness myself, and seeing more people become vocal about it online has helped me a lot. When I was in college dealing with this, I had no idea what was going on with me. My friends often told me to suck it up. I felt guilty for not being OK. I wanted to dig deeper to see why someone would respond that way, and I also wanted to show that this boy, who seems so perfect on the outside, has his struggles as well.

What does your writing schedule look like? 

Once I figure it out, I’ll let you know! But seriously, it’s me having a million tabs open in my browser, trying to stay off twitter and Instagram (and Facebook and Pinterest when I get really desperate), eating too much candy, and then busting out 1500 words or so once I finally get focused! It’s hard for me to get started, but once I’m in the zone, I can crank out some decent work. I might delete it all the next day, but I do get it done.

You live in Chicago which has a fair number of YA writers living there or in the suburbs. Do you ever get together for writing/publishing support? If so, is this a valuable experience? 

We don’t get together as often as I’d like. We’re spread all over the city, we all have busy lives, and it’s hard to nail down times to get together. But when we do get together, it’s very special. It’s great to talk to authors face-to-face instead of through a screen, eat good food, support each other, celebrate our wins, and vent about our frustrations.

What do you hope your book does for readers in the first year of its existence? 

I want black and biracial girls to see themselves being deeply loved, loving deeply, and having permission to love themselves. Because I honestly still struggle with that today. In addition, I want people with depression to know that they also deserve to be loved in every way, that there are resources, and that there is help. I don’t ever want people to feel lost in terms of representation, or in getting help. Not like I did.


Thank you so much to Ronni for her time!

As always, here’s some links for you to check out:

Add When the Stars Lead to You on Goodreads

Pre-order When the Stars Lead to You from Anderson’s where Ronni is holding her launch

Follow Ronni on Twitter

Author Interview with Caleb Roehrig

I have the honor of interviewing Caleb Roehrig for the blog today! It’s been a dream to interview Caleb, and I’m so thrilled I get to do this.

Here’s a bit about Caleb:

Caleb Roehrig is a writer and television producer originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Having also lived in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Helsinki, Finland, he has a chronic case of wanderlust, and can recommend the best sights to see on a shoestring budget in over thirty countries. A former actor, Roehrig has experience on both sides of the camera, with a résumé that includes appearances on film and TV—as well as seven years in the stranger-than-fiction salt mines of reality television. In the name of earning a paycheck, he has: hung around a frozen cornfield in his underwear, partied with an actual rock-star, chatted with a scandal-plagued politician, and been menaced by a disgruntled ostrich.

And a bit about his latest book:

Teenage socialite Margo Manning leads a dangerous double life.

By day, she dodges the paparazzi while soaking up California sunshine. By night, however, she dodges security cameras and armed guards, pulling off high-stakes cat burglaries with a team of flamboyant young men. In and out of disguise, she’s in all the headlines.

But then Margo’s personal life takes a sudden, dark turn, and a job to end all jobs lands her crew in deadly peril. Overnight, everything she’s ever counted on is put at risk. Backs against the wall, the resourceful thieves must draw on their special skills to survive. But can one rebel heiress and four kickboxing drag queens withstand the slings and arrows of truly outrageous fortune? Or will a mounting sea of troubles end them — for good?

And now for the interview!

Since your debut came out in 2016, you’ve had a busy career with two additional published books, two forthcoming, and three short stories coming. What do your writing days/nights look like to accomplish all that? 

OOF. Ugh. This has actually always been a bit of a moving target, but…lately it’s been moving in a bad direction, haha. When I wrote my debut, I was living in Europe without a work visa, and my schedule was eight hours of writing a day: 3 pm-7 pm, break, 10 pm-2 am. Three moves and several spirals later, my schedule while writing THE FELL OF DARK and A WEREWOLF IN RIVERDALE (simultaneously) often had me up until 5 am. (Not something I want to maintain!) (I am happy to report that over the past two months, my bedtime has moved back to 2 am!)

Your first two books are told in first person while Death Prefers Blondes is told in third person. What drove those specific decisions?

This is such a good question! I cut my teeth on first-person detective fiction—Sue Grafton, Raymond Chandler, Sara Paretsky—and I really love the opportunity it affords to dig into the main character’s innermost thoughts and feelings. However, when I was plotting DEATH PREFERS BLONDES, and I knew it was going to be an ensemble narrative, (and one with plenty of switching back and forth, even within the same scenes and sequences,) I had to consider what would be the cleanest and most elegant way of effecting those transitions. Ultimately, I decided that a third-person limited perspective would be best.

Your books are set in many locations. Last Seen Leaving in Ann Arbor, Michigan, White Rabbit in Vermont, Death Prefers Blondes primarily in Los Angeles, and the forthcoming The Fell of Dark in the Chicago suburbs. What drives your decision for book settings?

Environment is an absolutely crucial factor for me when I’m plotting a story, and to date I’ve chosen settings that are all personally meaningful. Ann Arbor is my hometown, I got married in Vermont, I lived in Los Angeles for ten years, and I lived in Chicago for one year before that (and now live there again!) In many ways, it’s a chicken-vs-egg situation: I choose the location because its vibe fits the atmosphere I want for the story, but the story can change as it develops because the environment of the location requires it.

Writing can be immensely stressful. What ways have you found to relieve some of that stress? 

I always give the most disappointing answer to this question, but here it is: running. I want to be clear that this is what works for me, because I know it isn’t possible or enjoyable for everyone—but it might be the only thing that truly works for me. I burn off anxious energy, I build up endorphins, I give myself a full hour to do nothing but mentally focus on the story I’m trying to tell while my body is otherwise engaged. Anyway, I guess that’s my answer and I’m sticking to it!

What has been your most rewarding part about being an author? 

Typically, I’ve always answered this question with a glib remark about how I can show up late for work with a martini in both hands and still not get in trouble, but the truth of the matter is, I’ve never felt luckier in my life. I get to tell stories, and I get to see people engage with them; I get paid to let my imagination run wild—and my fantasies were always as alive to me as the real world anyway. Plus, at least in my books, I can control the chaos spilling into everyone’s lives, and I get to decide when and how it ends.

I often fall into the trap of looking ahead at upcoming releases that I miss so many fantastic books already out there. What already released books would you say are absolute must-reads (any genre)? 

To shout out a few titles just off the top of my head, for YA: NOTEWORTHY by Riley Redgate; ALL OF THIS IS TRUE by Lygia Day Peñaflor; UNDEAD GIRL GANG by Lily Anderson; THE DARKEST CORNERS by Kara Thomas; KEEP THIS TO YOURSELF by Tom Ryan; The Engelsfors Trilogy (THE CIRCLE, FIRE, THE KEY) by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren; for adult fic: LOCK EVERY DOOR by Riley Sager; THE LIE by CL Taylor; THE DARE by Megan Abbott; GARNETHILL by Denise Mina; and the VI Warshawski series by Sara Paretsky.

As an author, you sometimes have an opportunity to read early versions of upcoming releases. Besides your books, what upcoming releases should we add to our TBRs? 

REVERIE by Ryan La Sala; SURRENDER YOUR SONS by Adam Sass; THE GRAVITY OF US by Phil Stamper; HOW TO BE REMY CAMERON by Julian Winters; SCAMMED by Kristen Simmons; THE LIARS OF MARIPOSA ISLAND by Jennifer Mathieu; DARK AND DEEPEST RED by Anna-Marie McLemore; and DARLING by K. Ancrum!


Thank you so much to Caleb for his time!

Links for Caleb Roehrig 

Add Caleb Roehrig’s books to Goodreads
Make Caleb Roehrig Rich
Follow Caleb on Twitter

Links for all of Caleb Roehrig’s recommendations

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate
All of This is True by Lygia Day Peñaflor
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas
Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan
The Engelsfors Trilogy by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren
Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
The Lie by CL Taylor
The Dare by Megan Abbott
Garnethill by Denise Mina
The VI Warshawski series by Sara Paretsky
Reverie by Ryan La Sala
Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass
The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper
How to Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters
Scammed by Kristen Simmons
The Liars of Mariposa Island by Jennifer Mathieu 
Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore
Darling by K. Ancrum