Wednesday, March 14, 2018

12 STEPS TO NORMAL by Farrah Penn

I met Farrah Penn at last year's YALLWEST, and when I found out that her book 12 STEPS TO NORMAL confronted the necessary issue of addiction, I knew I had to feature it. It debuted yesterday, and I'm sure it will appeal to a lot of readers.

Kira's Twelve Steps To A Normal Life

1. Accept Grams is gone.
2. Learn to forgive Dad.
3. Steal back ex-boyfriend from best friend...

And somewhere between 1 and 12, realize that when your parent's an alcoholic, there's no such thing as "normal."

When Kira's father enters rehab, she's forced to leave everything behind--her home, her best friends, her boyfriend...everything she loves. Now her father's sober (again) and Kira is returning home, determined to get her life back to normal...exactly as it was before she was sent away.

But is that what Kira really wants?

In addition to being an author, you work for Buzzfeed. What do you love most about both jobs and why?

One of the best things about working at BuzzFeed is the people. I love going into an office where I'm surrounded by talented, funny, creative, and collaborative co-workers. Working there also allows me to be creative with content in a way that's different from writing a novel because I'm writing up fun pieces about pop-culture or books that are immediately published, or working on a video that takes me a few weeks to edit and put out in the world, and both provide that feeling of instant gratification. Books take a *little* bit longer to get out in the world, and I love having the quiet alone time in my own head to work on a story. Both equally feed my extroverted and introverted sides!

Ah, an ambi-vert! Me too. 12 STEPS TO NORMAL not only talks about addition, but how it affects everyone surrounding the user(s). What do you hope readers can gain from this book when they're finished?

Alcohol addiction and substance abuse have a social shame surrounding it, which sometimes makes it hard to talk about. Growing up, I told very few people there was someone in my family struggling because on one hand, I didn't quite know how to talk about it, and on the other hand, I personally felt like it was shameful to admit. It was also heartbreaking losing friendships when family friends did find out and would therefore decide to distance themselves. So I hope this book provides readers with a little bit of empathy. I also hope it can act as encouragement to start a conversation or seek out help if they're going through something similar to what Kira is facing.

It's definitely a book a lot of people need. And I love your website. What led to its current iteration?

Thank you! I'm not a web designer by any means, but after scouring Pinterest I had an idea of the layout I wanted. My good friend Jon Moreaux was able to create it for me, and Omar Padilla built it out in a way that was manageable for me to update!

Checking Pinterest for web design sounds like a great idea. What are some of your current projects?

I'm not going to reveal too much, but I've been working on another YA contemporary that centers around sisters and — I hope — contains a lot of female empowerment.

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

This post can also be viewed here

Wednesday, March 7, 2018


I met Randy Ribay at an author event, and as soon as he mentioned his new book, AFTER THE SHOT DROPS, I knew I had to spread word about it. This book would be a great selection for both public and school libraries. Have a look:

Bunny and Nasir have been best friends forever, but when Bunny accepts an athletic scholarship across town, Nasir feels betrayed. While Bunny tries to fit in with his new, privileged peers, Nasir spends more time with his cousin, Wallace, who is being evicted. Nasir can't help but wonder why the neighborhood is falling over itself to help Bunny when Wallace is in trouble.

When Wallace makes a bet against Bunny, Nasir is faced with an impossible decision—maybe a dangerous one.

In addition to writing books, you also teach high school English. In what ways, if any, do you find balance between your day job and your author life?

I write almost every weekday early in the morning before I go to school. Though I spend a lot of time throughout the day thinking about whichever story is my current project, I generally don't write again until the next morning (unless I need to meet a deadline!). So for me, it's a pretty easy delineation. Though, I often use what I learn about writing to improve my teaching. For example, the way I give feedback for my students' writing is meant to mimic the way I receive feedback from my editor.

I know what you mean--I give the same kinds of tips to the students I work with at UC Davis. Regarding AFTER THE SHOT DROPS, I'm intrigued by the ethical dilemmas that Nasir faces. What about Nasir's journey did you find most rewarding to write about?

I always enjoy writing my characters' emotional journeys because I get to experience it with them. In most cases, I like my characters to change in some meaningful way from beginning to end, and I usually start out the first draft knowing Point A and Point B. However, I don't know how the character gets from one place to the other, and I see part of the challenge of writing is figuring out how they shift in a believable way. Without getting too spoiler-y, Nasir starts out the story feeling hurt and betrayed, left behind by Bunny's decision to switch schools. By the end of the story, I (hope) readers see how he gains some empathy for Bunny's situation.

I'll bet they will! AFTER THE SHOT DROPS is also told from alternating perspectives. What was the most challenging aspect of writing in this kind of format?

I can't remember where I heard it from, but someone once said that if you're writing a book with multiple POVs, then your aim should be that the reader can read the first few sentences of any section and know who the POV is without looking at the chapter/section heading. Of course, the challenging part is figuring out how to differentiate them enough in a way that doesn't feel gimmicky or superficial (e.g. This POV talks like a robot and this one like a cowboy!). For me, that meant delving into each characters' emotional core as well as intentionally using patterns in syntax or vocabulary.

Sounds like great advice to help with character development. What are some of your current projects?

Currently, I have a YA contemporary manuscript on submission. I also have a YA dark fantasy that's been sitting on the back burner in need of revisions for quite a while. I also have a secret project I'm working on for fun!

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

This post can also be viewed here

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


I first met Misa Sugiura at an author event, and I've really enjoyed the conversations we've had. Her book, IT'S NOT LIKE IT'S A SECRET explores what it means to tell the truth, and how doing so can turn out in ways we don't expect.

Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like that fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself—the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.

When Sana and her family move to California she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for some honesty, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. There are just a few problems: Sana’s new friends don’t trust Jamie’s crowd; Jamie’s friends clearly don’t want her around anyway; and a sweet guy named Caleb seems to have more-than-friendly feelings for her. Meanwhile, her dad’s affair is becoming too obvious to ignore anymore.

Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, telling the truth is easy… what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.

According to your website, your ancestors include a poet, a priestess, a samurai, and a stowaway. If you could choose one of these people to write about, which one would it be and why?

Oh, wow, I love this question! I would definitely choose the priestess. I know almost nothing about her--she's just this shadowy, nameless figure from a shrine on the eastern coast of Japan. To be totally honest, she was probably a "miko" or shrine maiden, rather than a priestess. Her son—my great-grandfather—was adopted by my "legitimate" family and became something of a legend in the family for his supposedly psychic powers. I often wonder about her—why she became a shrine maiden, what her life was like there, the circumstances around her pregnancy and her son's birth, what happened after she gave up her baby.

She sounds like a very interesting woman! IT'S NOT LIKE IT'S A SECRET explores what happens after we tell the truth. Which parts of Sana's story were the most interesting to grapple with?

For me, the issues around our most shameful/embarrassing thoughts about race and ethnicity were the toughest to write about. I wanted to be completely honest about how people can see each other despite their best intentions, which meant venturing into some potentially very hurtful territory. It also meant that readers might interpret characters' opinions and portrayals to be rooted in my own opinions, or they might just be hurt or offended by those same portrayals and opinions. I also had to confront a lot of my own narrow views of people--I thought because I liked certain characters, I was writing positive portrayals and flipping old stereotypes on their heads. Thanks to my sensitivity readers, I realized that even though I had tried to offer more than the stereotypes, those stereotypes still overpowered the characters' individuality in my early drafts. I hope my revisions added depth and texture.

I loved writing about micro-aggressions, whether it be for race and ethnicity, or sexuality, or gender. All of the characters have to face them and figure out how to react to them, and all of the characters are guilty of perpetrating them. Navigating those micro-aggressions can be tough, because it often feels like a judgment call—how much can I be offended if the person meant no offense? Is it the emotional energy I will have to spend to call them out? If I let it slide, am I just giving permission for it to happen? If I say or do something and accidentally offend someone, does that make me a racist/sexist/homophobe? I loved writing about that tension and exploring how people interact when those questions are in the air.

And they are definitely questions we all grapple with. Is there something you wished you'd known before your book debuted last year? If so, what would it be and why? 

On a purely practical level, I wish I'd known to look for conferences and conventions where I might be able to appear on a panel or for an interview, and put together proposals and pitches both individually and with other authors. I didn't realize how many opportunities there were, or how early you had to apply. It's often nine months or more in advance! I wish I had known that I could have asked my publicity department for ideas, or to pitch me to some of the bigger conferences.

Conferences are excellent, for both writers and readers. What are some of your current projects?

I've got a second novel with my editor at HarperTeen. It's undergoing some pretty major revisions, so I can't say much about it right now. And ideas for a third novel are percolating. :-)

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

This post can also be viewed here

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

THE FINAL SIX by Alexandra Monir

I saw THE FINAL SIX featured as a pre-order offer on Facebook, and the book cover nearly knocked me over. It comes out March 6, 2018.

When Leo, an Italian championship swimmer, and Naomi, a science genius from California, are two of the twenty-four teens drafted into the International Space Training Camp, their lives are forever altered. After erratic climate change has made Earth a dangerous place to live, the fate of the population rests on the shoulders of the final six who will be scouting a new planet. Intense training, global scrutiny, and cutthroat opponents are only a few of the hurdles the contestants must endure in this competition.

For Leo, the prospect of traveling to Europa—Jupiter’s moon—to help resettle humankind is just the sense of purpose he’s been yearning for since losing his entire family in the flooding of Rome. Naomi, after learning of a similar space mission that mysteriously failed, suspects the ISTC isn’t being up front with them about what’s at risk.

As the race to the final six advances, the tests get more challenging—even deadly. With pressure mounting, Naomi finds an unexpected friend in Leo, and the two grow closer with each mind-boggling experience they encounter. But it’s only when the finalists become fewer and their destinies grow nearer that the two can fathom the full weight of everything at stake: the world, the stars, and their lives.

In addition to being an author, you are also a recording artist and composer. Which came first, music or writing (or both)? In what ways, if any, do they overlap in your creative process?

I've actually been doing both for as long as I can remember! My favorite activities from as early as age two were singing and reading books, and then I started performing in school plays and writing stories from elementary school on. When I started writing pop songs in high school, that changed my direction for awhile--I became a full-time recording artist and went on the road opening for bigger acts like O-Town and Aaron Carter at ages 17-18. But moving to LA for my music career brought me closer to the world of storytelling too, and in between recording sessions and performances, I was writing and pitching ideas for film/TV. Everything came together when I sold my debut novel, Timeless, since my lead characters were songwriters- and I wrote and recorded their songs for the book!

Fabulous! THE FINAL SIX's protagonists have to grapple with how to make choices without knowing the full truth. In what ways, if any, did Leo and Naomi surprise you as you wrote them?

Good question! I didn't expect that Naomi would feel so close to me. She's a science genius, which I am most definitely not, and she's also a lot more fearless than I am! But the fact that we share the same Iranian-American heritage caused me to identify with her in many ways, and I started weaving more of myself into her character. I think Naomi has a lot to do with why The Final Six is the book of my heart!

I'll bet a lot of readers out there will identify with her too! In your other series, Timeless, you explore the consequences of time travel. What about this series was the most fun to write and why?

I absolutely loved writing all the time-travel scenes, where my main character got to step into the New York City of the past. It was definitely wish-fulfillment for me!

I'll bet! What are some of your current projects?

I'm writing the sequel to The Final Six, plus developing some other projects that I'm excited to share as soon as I can talk about them! :)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


As soon as I saw NICE TRY, JANE SINNER, I knew I had to feature it. It's a great selection for high schoolers and college students alike.

The only thing 17-year-old Jane Sinner hates more than failure is pity. After a personal crisis and her subsequent expulsion from high school, she’s going nowhere fast. Jane’s well-meaning parents push her to attend a high school completion program at the nearby Elbow River Community College, and she agrees, on one condition: she gets to move out.

Jane tackles her housing problem by signing up for House of Orange, a student-run reality show that is basically Big Brother, but for Elbow River Students. Living away from home, the chance to win a car (used, but whatever), and a campus full of people who don't know what she did in high school… what more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that understands why she’d rather turn to Freud than Jesus to make sense of her life, but she'll settle for fifteen minutes in the proverbial spotlight.

As House of Orange grows from a low-budget web series to a local TV show with fans and shoddy T-shirts, Jane finally has the chance to let her cynical, competitive nature thrive. She'll use her growing fan base, and whatever Intro to Psychology can teach her, to prove to the world—or at least viewers of substandard TV—that she has what it takes to win.

In an article in USA today, you mentioned that a lot of college students read YA, and I love how NICE TRY, JANE SINNER contains content that both high schoolers and college students can appreciate. I work with college students who always think they don't have time to read for pleasure. Along with recommending NICE TRY, JANE SINNER, I'm interested in letting them know that books like yours are ones they should make time for. What suggestions, if any, might you have for these students?    

I know how tough it can be to read for pleasure in college, but finding time for the things you love makes such a difference- it’s what kept me sane. Generally, I turned to fantasy in my free time, because I didn’t see myself in contemporary YA. Thankfully, there are more college YA books out today for students to turn to! FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell is one of the most well-known. THE BIG F by Maggie Ann Martin is also a delight- it hits the sweet spot between high school and college. POST-HIGH SCHOOL REALITY QUEST by Meg Eden seems bizarre and nerdy and wonderfully retro. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the hilarious AMERICAN PANDA by Gloria Chao (available Feb. 6, 2018), and FAT GIRL ON A PLANE by Kelly deVos (June 5, 2018) sounds incredible.

I've heard great things about all those books, especially FAT GIRL ON A PLANE. And, I love how Jane's story deals with what happens when life throws its inevitable curve balls. What do you hope readers can gain from her story? 

Jane goes through so much, from mental illness to expulsion from high school to losing her faith to disagreeing with her family over some pretty big issues to fame and televised humiliation. I’d like to think there’s something there for everyone, but for me, the most important aspect of Jane’s story is that past mistakes don’t have to define a person. Anyone can have a second (or third, or fourth) chance.

That's definitely reassuring! What is one thing you've learned from failure, and in what ways, if any, did it change you?

I used to be one of those annoying kids in school who could write an essay the night before and still get an A. It turns out that writing a book is substantially harder than anything school threw at me. Publishing doesn’t reward the underprepared. Every author experiences failure. For me, the hard part was getting rejection after rejection from potential agents for two years. I’d like to think I’ve learned humility and patience from the whole publishing experience, and it’s absolutely made me a better, more deliberate writer. Now, the thought of turning in a project the day after I finish the first draft fuels my nightmares.

Ha! Still, it's nice to know that persistence not only pays off, but it generates growth. What are some of your current projects?

I’m working on another YA novel- a multi-POV fantasy inspired by saga-age Iceland! Think blood feuds, volcanoes, witchcraft, and dark humour.

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

This post can also be viewed here.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

SHADOW WEAVER by MarcyKate Connolly

When MarcyKate Connolly's new middle grade book, SHADOW WEAVER, popped up in my social media feed, I completely fell in love with the cover and premise. The book debuted January 2, and it looks amazing:

The shadows that surround us aren’t always as they seem…

Emmeline has grown up with a gift. Since the time she was a baby she has been able to control shadows. And her only friend and companion is her own shadow, Dar.

Disaster strikes when a noble family visits their home and offers to take Emmeline away and cure her of magic. Desperate not to lose her shadows, she turns to Dar who proposes a deal: Dar will change the noble’s mind, if Emmeline will help her become flesh as she once was. Emmeline agrees but the next morning the man in charge is in a coma and all that the witness saw was a long shadow with no one nearby to cast it. Scared to face punishment, Emmeline and Dar run away.

With the noble’s guards on her trail, Emmeline’s only hope of clearing her name is to escape capture and perform the ritual that will set Dar free. But Emmeline’s not sure she can trust Dar anymore, and it’s hard to keep secrets from someone who can never leave your side.

MarcyKate Connolly – SHADOW WEAVER Interview

According to your website, you like weird things, and enjoy writing about them. What is the one of the weirdest ideas you've had for a novel?
The weirdest idea I’ve had thus far has got to be my first published novel, MONSTROUS. The main character has wings, a tail, cat’s eyes and claws who is brought back to life by her father to save the girls of the neighboring village from the wizard who killed her. It was so fun to write the book from her unique perspective as an outsider!

Outsiders are my favorite characters. And I love how SHADOW WEAVER deals with the consequences of secrets. What about secrets do you think can be most difficult to deal with?
The keeping of them, definitely. Especially the bad ones. Those are the ones that eat you up from the inside. They want out, and they always seem to find away whether you want them to or not. Emmeline in SHADOW WEAVER certainly figures that out the hard way!

I'll bet she does! SHADOW WEAVER has a great cover. What do you like most about it?
Can I say everything? No? All right, everything about it is gorgeous, but I particularly love how perfectly the artist captured the scene from the book. At first glance it looks like Dar (the shadow) is chasing Emmeline, but if you look closer at Emmeline’s face you can see her expression is more thoughtful than scared. It’s a perfect fit for the scene, and precisely right for those two characters at that time in the story.

I also like the upside-down A in the title--it seems to indicate that shadows can be conversely related to our true selves. What are some of your current projects?

Right now, I’m working on the sequel to SHADOW WEAVER (title TBD) and unrelated middle grade fantasy novel that I co-authored with Dan Haring (a crazy talented artist and writer!) called THE STAR SHEPHERD. It will be out in Fall 2019. It takes place in a world where the light from the stars is the only thing that keeps the world safe from dark creatures. A boy, his dog, and the town baker’s daughter must race to rescue the stars and find his father, the local Star Shepherd, before too many stars fall from the sky. It will also contain many fantastic illustrations – I’m really excited about both upcoming books!

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

This post can also be viewed here.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Release feature: THE QUEEN'S RISING by Rebecca Ross

Happy release day to THE QUEEN'S RISING, by Rebecca Ross! I featured this book here, and I can't wait to read it.

When her seventeenth summer solstice arrives, Brienna desires only two things: to master her passion and to be chosen by a patron.

Growing up in the southern Kingdom of Valenia at the renowned Magnalia House should have prepared her for such a life. While some are born with an innate talent for one of the five passions—art, music, dramatics, wit, and knowledge—Brienna struggled to find hers until she belatedly chose to study knowledge. However, despite all her preparations, Brienna’s greatest fear comes true—the solstice does not go according to plan and she is left without a patron.

Months later, her life takes an unexpected turn when a disgraced lord offers her patronage. Suspicious of his intent, and with no other choices, she accepts. But there is much more to his story, and Brienna soon discovers that he has sought her out for his own vengeful gain. For there is a dangerous plot being planned to overthrow the king of Maevana—the archrival kingdom of Valenia—and restore the rightful queen, and her magic, to the northern throne. And others are involved—some closer to Brienna than she realizes.

With war brewing between the two lands, Brienna must choose whose side she will remain loyal to—passion or blood. Because a queen is destined to rise and lead the battle to reclaim the crown. The ultimate decision Brienna must determine is: Who will be that queen?