Author Interview: Danielle L. Jensen

stolen songbird tour banner

As part of my stop on the tour for STOLEN SONGBIRD by Danielle L. Jensen, I have an interview with the author. I’ve also posted my review of STOLEN SONGBIRD, which includes pictures, so make sure to check that out.

Thanks, Danielle, for answering my questions!

author interview with danielle l. jensen

Interview with Danielle L. Jensen:

Where did the idea for STOLEN SONGBIRD come from? And why trolls? :D

The setting came first, the trolls came second. I had a dream about a city that had been buried by rubble, and it sort of stuck in my brain. The trolls came into being when I started thinking about what sort of creatures would inhabit such a place. I called them trolls and ended up using a bit of troll mythology because I wanted to name them something people would already have negative associations with.

I read in a guest post that you love villains as protagonists. Which made me cheer, because I like that too! Are there any villains in favorite books that you’d love to see as protagonists?

Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes. I LOVE all things Sherlock Holmes. I watch both Elementary and Sherlock, I adore the recent film versions, and I’ve read most of the original literature. If I could have a superpower, it would be to possess extreme powers of deduction. In my opinion, Moriarty is exactly like Sherlock, but he/she (Natalie Dormer for the win!) uses his/her powers for evil. If I came across a television show/movie/book told from Moriarty’s point of view, I’d be all over it like nobody’s business. Especially if it stared Natalie Dormer.

Is there anything you really liked in STOLEN SONGBIRD that didn’t make the final book?

Once upon a time, STOLEN SONGBIRD had a prologue that I reluctantly had to give up. It was from Tristan’s POV, and it was the scene in which his aunt had the foretelling about how the curse would be broken. It was so awesome, but prologues are a bit of an anathema in YA, so it didn’t get to stay.

When you aren’t pounding away crazily at the keyboard, what do you do? Other than think of ways to torture Cécile and Tristan?

I think about ways to torture the other characters that everyone loves so much ;-)

I do have another job that pays my bills, so I spend lots of time at that. There are certain television programs I enjoy like Sherlock, Game of Thrones, Modern Family, and Big Bang Theory. I spend quite a bit of time with my family and friends, which often involves the consumption of food and cocktails. In the summer, I like hiking in the mountains, and in the winter… Well, I am a decent snowboarder and skier, but I hate the cold. This is problematic given I live in Canada.

What was the push that made you try writing a book? How did you stick with it?

Back when I was working in finance, a friend and co-worker of mine suggested we try writing a romance novel. I’d always been a big reader, so I thought maybe it would be fun. My first few attempts were TERRIBLE and unfinished, but once I switched over to writing fantasy, it got better. Once I switched to YA, I got even better. STOLEN SONGBIRD was the fourth novel I fully completed and edited, and the third I queried. I stuck with it mostly because I found I really enjoyed writing, and I wanted to pursue a career doing something I loved.

What are some of your recent favorite books? Do you have any “comfort books” or all time favorites that you turn to when you need a pick-me-up?

I recently read The Cuckoo’s Calling, which, as I’m sure you all know, is the novel JK Rowling wrote under a pen name. I actually enjoyed it as much as I did the Harry Potter books. As far as YA goes, I’ve recently read and loved The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater and Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson. My to-read stack is massive, and mostly consists of 2014 YA debuts. I rarely reread books anymore. No time!

Any question you’ve wanted to answer in an interview, but you haven’t been asked yet… ?

Yup. Who is #1 on your YA Book Boyfriend List. Answer: Will Herondale from The Infernal Devices. When it comes to love triangles, I’m always on the bad boy’s team!

About the book:

Author Interview: Danielle L. JensenStolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen
Series: The Malediction Trilogy #1
Published by Strange Chemistry on April 1, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 436
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
5 Stars
For those who have loved Seraphina and Graceling comes another truly fabulous fantasy...

For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the ruins of Forsaken Mountain. Time enough for their dark and nefarious magic to fade from human memory and into myth. But a prophesy has been spoken of a union with the power to set the trolls free, and when Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she learns there is far more to the myth of the trolls than she could have imagined.

Cécile has only one thing on her mind after she is brought to Trollus: escape. Only the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time, wait for the perfect opportunity.

But something unexpected happens while she’s waiting – she begins to fall for the enigmatic troll prince to whom she has been bonded and married. She begins to make friends. And she begins to see that she may be the only hope for the half-bloods – part troll, part human creatures who are slaves to the full-blooded trolls. There is a rebellion brewing. And her prince, Tristan, the future king, is its secret leader.

As Cécile becomes involved in the intricate political games of Trollus, she becomes more than a farmer’s daughter. She becomes a princess, the hope of a people, and a witch with magic powerful enough to change Trollus forever.

About the author:

author danielle l. jensenDanielle was born and raised in Calgary, Canada. At the insistence of the left side of her brain, she graduated in 2003 from the University of Calgary with a bachelor’s degree in finance. But the right side of her brain has ever been mutinous; and in 2010, it sent her back to school to complete an entirely impractical English literature degree at Mount Royal University and to pursue publication. Much to her satisfaction, the right side shows no sign of relinquishing its domination.
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– leeanna

Book Review: Stolen Songbird (The Malediction Trilogy #1) by Danielle L. Jensen

Book Review: Stolen Songbird (The Malediction Trilogy #1) by Danielle L. JensenStolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen
Series: The Malediction Trilogy #1
Published by Strange Chemistry on April 1, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 436
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
5 Stars
For those who have loved Seraphina and Graceling comes another truly fabulous fantasy...

For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the ruins of Forsaken Mountain. Time enough for their dark and nefarious magic to fade from human memory and into myth. But a prophesy has been spoken of a union with the power to set the trolls free, and when Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she learns there is far more to the myth of the trolls than she could have imagined.

Cécile has only one thing on her mind after she is brought to Trollus: escape. Only the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time, wait for the perfect opportunity.

But something unexpected happens while she’s waiting – she begins to fall for the enigmatic troll prince to whom she has been bonded and married. She begins to make friends. And she begins to see that she may be the only hope for the half-bloods – part troll, part human creatures who are slaves to the full-blooded trolls. There is a rebellion brewing. And her prince, Tristan, the future king, is its secret leader.

As Cécile becomes involved in the intricate political games of Trollus, she becomes more than a farmer’s daughter. She becomes a princess, the hope of a people, and a witch with magic powerful enough to change Trollus forever.

stolen songbird tour banner

The second I finished reading STOLEN SONGBIRD, I emailed Strange Chemistry and begged them to let me be on the tour for the book. I might have jumped around when they said yes. :D So today I’m super happy to share my review of the book, and an interview with author Danielle L. Jensen.

I wrote a super long review, so there’s a cookie for you if you make it through!

Book Review:

STOLEN SONGBIRD had me at trolls. Yes, there are TROLLS in this book. I’ve been waiting forever for a troll book, and STOLEN SONGBIRD was more than worth the wait. This is a book I savored, and I didn’t want to turn the last page because I didn’t want it to end!

Based on my years of World of Warcraft and other fantasy games/books/art/etc., I sort of expected the trolls to look like this:

troll for stolen songbird book review

But Danielle L. Jensen’s trolls look a bit more like this:

troll for stolen songbird book review

The trolls of the court, anyway. They’re inbred, creepy, and powerful beyond belief. The magic of the royal family keeps the city and its inhabitants from being crushed to death. Cursed by a witch five hundred years ago, Trollus is a city buried and forgotten beneath the world.

Cécile is a gifted singer, about to start her career when she is kidnapped and taken to Trollus. Before she knows it, she’s bonded to the troll prince Tristan; their bonding is supposed to undo the curse keeping the trolls caged away from the rest of the world. Plunged into a life she doesn’t want, Cécile doesn’t spend a lot of time crying. She doesn’t give up her hope of escape, but she bides her time, learning what she can of the trolls and their lives.

That’s how she becomes invested in the plight of the half-bloods. In Trollus, if you aren’t a full-blooded troll, you’re less than nothing. Half-bloods are property, bought and sold as slaves to the powerful, or sent to short lives in the mines.

And let’s not forget Cécile’s new husband, Tristan. Their relationship gets off to a rather rocky start, as neither want to be married, and trolls hate humans. There’s lot of fighting, but because they are bonded, they can sense each other’s feelings, and Cécile is surprised by a lot of what she senses from Tristan. For example, when their bonding fails to end the curse, Tristan is actually relieved, instead of upset.

Their relationship is one I really liked. I’m critical on relationships in YA books, because all too often they are based on insta-lust. Not so with these two. Tristan is horrible to Cécile in public, keeping up his cover of hating humans, but in private, he does nice things for her, like making a flashlight so she can see in Trollus. Over time, they develop real feelings for each other, aided by their bond.

The majority of STOLEN SONGBIRD is from Cécile’s POV, although there are a couple of chapters from Tristan’s perspective. I really loved both of their characters. Cécile and Tristan are complex, well-developed, and real. They both make mistakes, but learn from those mistakes. They both grow over the book, especially Cécile, as she learns more about Trollus and its politics. The few chapters from Tristan’s POV expanded his character and motivations; I liked his voice just as much as Cécile’s.

Aside from Cécile and Tristan, the other characters in the book are also awesome. Everyone, from villains to servants, has their own motivation and desire for wanting Cécile to fail or succeed at breaking the curse. The villains in STOLEN SONGBIRD are delightfully evil, and will stop at nothing to keep Tristan’s plans from succeeding. I love when villains have no apologies for being bad guys. I also want to mention Victor and Victoria, twin trolls who become Cécile’s friends. They constantly compete with each other to see who is the best, in everything from fishing to spear throwing. They provided some much needed humor, and also showed Cécile that not all trolls are bad.

The worldbuilding in STOLEN SONGBIRD is also super interesting. Trollus seems somewhat inspired by the French court, as the royalty and nobles reminded me of the decadence of Marie-Antoinette’s reign. So did their attitudes of being better than everyone, especially half-bloods. The politics of Trollus are extremely complex — nothing is what it seems at first glance, and that was great for me. It’s never fun when it’s easy to predict how a book will play out within the first couple of chapters. STOLEN SONGBIRD continually surprised me. I had NO idea what was going to happen, and that ending! Oh stones and sky, that ending. It’s going to be a long wait for the next book in the trilogy, because I have absolutely got to know what happens next to Cécile and Tristan and everyone else.

It’s really hard to pick what I liked most about the book, since I loved practically every single part of it! STOLEN SONGBIRD is one of those rare books where I was happy with every element as it was. Usually I critique something, or want something done differently… but I can’t think of anything I’d want changed in this book. So I’m going to take the easy route and say I liked EVERYTHING.

STOLEN SONGBIRD is a book that will stay with me for a long time. It’s a wonderful mix of smooth writing, nasty and nice trolls, complicated politics, intrigue, and even some well-done romance. It’s categorized as young adult, but I think it’d be a good crossover book for adults looking for a new fantasy series.

About the author:

author danielle l. jensenDanielle was born and raised in Calgary, Canada. At the insistence of the left side of her brain, she graduated in 2003 from the University of Calgary with a bachelor’s degree in finance. But the right side of her brain has ever been mutinous; and in 2010, it sent her back to school to complete an entirely impractical English literature degree at Mount Royal University and to pursue publication. Much to her satisfaction, the right side shows no sign of relinquishing its domination.
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– leeanna

Book Review: Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Super Villain by Richard Roberts

Book Review: Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Super Villain by Richard RobertsPlease Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Super Villain by Richard Roberts
Published by Curiosity Quills Press on February 15, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Super Hero, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
4 Stars
Penelope Akk wants to be a superhero. She's got superhero parents. She's got the ultimate mad science power, filling her life with crazy gadgets even she doesn't understand. She has two super powered best friends. In middle school, the line between good and evil looks clear.

In real life, nothing is that clear. All it takes is one hero's sidekick picking a fight, and Penny and her friends are labeled supervillains. In the process, Penny learns a hard lesson about villainy: She's good at it.

Criminal masterminds, heroes in power armor, bottles of dragon blood, alien war drones, shape shifters and ghosts, no matter what the super powered world throws at her, Penny and her friends come out on top. They have to. If she can keep winning, maybe she can clear her name before her mom and dad find out.

Book Review:

Penny Akk can’t wait for her superpower to show up. With a super genius for a father and a mother who can make villains cry with logic, Penny knows she’s going to be a superhero. She’s just too impatient to wait for her power to come on its own, so she helps it along…

…and ends up becoming a supervillain. Not on purpose — Penny’s always dreamed of being a hero. But once she and her friends Claire and Ray are accidentally labeled supervillains, they decide to go with it. They can always change sides later, when the opportunity comes up, so why shouldn’t they have some fun first?

“Fun” is the perfect word to describe PLEASE DON’T TELL MY PARENTS I’M A SUPER VILLAIN. Reading the book was like taking a romp through my fantasy of being a bad guy and being good at it. I had a really good time reading it, and enjoyed pretty much everything about it.

There’s a lot of good stuff, including:

♥The solid friendship between Penny, Claire, and Ray. Penny follows her friends into trouble, and sometimes they follow her. As the mad scientist, she’s their leader, but she doesn’t hold it over them.

♥The relationship between Penny and her parents. Penny’s dad is a tad absentminded, but what else would you expect from a genius inventor? As retired superheroes, Penny’s parents are fully supportive of Penny getting her power, and they’re present but away just enough for Penny to have plenty of adventures.

♥The creativity/hilarity. I think only a kid supervillain would think of creating a weapon out of candy. And only her sidekick would wear bear pajamas as part of her costume.

♥Penny’s smart. I love a smart girl who’s into science and math, one who likes being a mad scientist. She fesses up when she makes mistakes, but is also a thirteen-year-old who keeps some secrets from her parents. I also liked The Machine, Penny’s first invention. For a mechanical gadget, it sure was cute.

My only complaint with the book is that it is long. By the end of it, I felt as though I had read an entire trilogy instead of just one book. Now, that’s good in a way, because I got lots of detail about Penny’s power, her inventions, the other superheroes/supervillains, and everything did wrap up neatly. But I was wondering when the book would end. The chapters were long, which might have contributed to my feeling of the book being long.

Otherwise, though, it’s FUN! In the laughter of Penny herself: AH HA HA HA HA!

Giveaway:

There’s a Goodreads giveaway: Check it out!

And while you’re at it, make sure you check out the other stops on the publisher’s tour for PLEASE DON’T TELL MY PARENTS I’M A SUPER VILLAIN.

About the author:

author richard robertsRichard Roberts has fit into only one category in his entire life, and that is ‘writer’, but as a writer he’d throw himself out of his own books for being a cliche.

He’s had the classic wandering employment history – degree in entomology, worked in health care, been an administrator and labored for years in the front lines of fast food. He’s had the appropriate really weird jobs, like breeding tarantulas and translating English to English for Japanese television. He wears all black, all the time, is manic-depressive, and has a creepy laugh.

He’s also followed the classic writer’s path, the pink slips, the anthology submissions, the desperate scrounging to learn how an ever-changing system works. He’s been writing from childhood, and had the appropriate horrible relationships that damaged his self-confidence for years. Then out of nowhere Curiosity Quills Press demanded he give them his books, and here he is.

As for what he writes, Richard loves children and the gothic aesthetic. Most everything he writes will involve one or the other, and occasionally both. His fantasy is heavily influenced by folk tales, fairy tales, and mythology, and he likes to make the old new again. In particular, he loves to pull his readers into strange characters with strange lives, and his heroes are rarely heroic.
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Buy links: Amazon | B&N

– leeanna

Blog Tour: The Polaris Uprising (Polaris #1) by Jennifer Ibarra

the polaris uprising

Today on the tour for THE POLARIS UPRISING by Jennifer Ibarra, I have a short excerpt and a tour-wide giveaway.

The tour is hosted by Xpresso Book Tours and you can check out all the other stops here.

the polaris uprising by jennifer ibarraInfo:
Title: The Polaris Uprising
Author: Jennifer Ibarra
Release Date: October 30, 2013
Publisher: Tiwala Books
Series? Polaris #1
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian, Science Fiction
Page Count: 328

Summary:

In less than seven years, eighteen-year-old Ryla Jensen will succeed her father as the president of Neress, a nation where all citizens are cared for from the moment they’re born. Fed, sheltered, even educated—every need of theirs is met.

The only price they pay is their free will.

Groomed since childhood to take on a role she’s not even sure she wants, Ryla’s only escape from the pressures of duty is her sister, Alanna. But when her eyes are opened to the oppressive regime her father built, she begins to question everything she’s set to inherit—and finds herself at odds with her sister’s blind allegiance to their father.

Torn between loyalty to her family and the fight for freedom, Ryla must decide just how far she’s willing to go to make a stand and risk losing the person she loves most in the world: Alanna. (summary from goodreads)

Excerpt:

Quin shook his head. “They’ll take care of you, you’ll see. That’s what’s supposed to happen. They’re supposed to take care of you. Just like they take care of everyone…”

“If they can’t fix me, I won’t be able to–”

“They’ll fix you,” Quin said. Wil was only nineteen. He has his whole life ahead of him. Surely the government would never let someone be cut down in his prime? They were the ones who had chosen this path for his son. They would have contingencies in place. Quin had to trust them now. They knew best. “A country like this, with all of the medical advancements we’ve got… They have to fix you.”

Quin watched as Wil’s Adam’s apple slid up and down his throat. Tears traced lines through the grime in his face.

“What am I going to do?” he said, his voice thick from the sedatives. “If I can’t work in the factory anymore, what’s going to happen to me?”

“Nothing’s going to happen to you, because they’ll make you all better.” Quin forced his voice to remain steady. Wil needed him to be strong now. He couldn’t let his son see his own fear. “No citizen shall be left behind, remember? We do what they tell us to do–we obey the rules–and they take care of us. That’s the deal, isn’t it?”

(from the prologue)

Giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*giveaway is tour-wide

About the author:

author jennifer ibarraJennifer Ibarra grew up on a steady diet of books, Star Wars, and other fantastic feats of the imagination. Her debut novel, The Polaris Uprising, is the first book in a trilogy and mixes dystopia with family drama, romance, and political intrigue.

She lives in Silicon Valley, where she does marketing for a tech company and spends her time running, cooking, baking, and keeping up with celebrity gossip.
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THE POLARIS UPRISING buy links: Amazon | B&N

– leeanna

Book Review: The Boleyn Bride by Brandy Purdy

Book Review: The Boleyn Bride by Brandy PurdyThe Boleyn Bride by Brandy Purdy
Published by Kensington on February 25, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 272
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
2 Stars
From carefree young woman to disillusioned bride, the dazzling lady who would become mother and grandmother to two of history's most infamous queens, has a fascinating story all her own. . .

At sixteen, Elizabeth Howard envisions a glorious life for herself as lady-in-waiting to the future queen, Catherine of Aragon. But when she is forced to marry Thomas Boleyn, a wealthy commoner, Elizabeth is left to stagnate in the countryside while her detested husband pursues his ambitions. There, she raises golden girl Mary, moody George, and ugly duckling Anne—while staving off boredom with a string of admirers. Until Henry VIII takes the throne. . .

When Thomas finally brings his highborn wife to London, Elizabeth indulges in lavish diversions and dalliances—and catches the lusty king's eye. But those who enjoy Henry's fickle favor must also guard against his wrath. For while her husband's machinations bring Elizabeth and her children to the pinnacle of power, the distance to the scaffold is but a short one—and the Boleyn family's fortune may be turning. . .

Book Review:

I was drawn to THE BOLEYN BRIDE because while I have read many Tudor books, both fiction and non-fiction, I haven’t read anything about Elizabeth Boleyn, mother to Mary, George, and Anne. So I went into this book hoping to learn about her, as well as gain an understand of who Elizabeth was.

Purdy’s version of Elizabeth is not a sympathetic one. Elizabeth could aptly be described as a mean girl — she’s gorgeous, the daughter of one of the most powerful men in the land, and thinks everyone is beneath her. She expects her father will make her a good marriage, to someone with power, money, and looks. So imagine her shock when she’s married off to a merchant and expected to be his broodmare. She flies into a rage, breaking her maid’s nose.

Elizabeth never gets over her anger at being married to Thomas Boleyn. Granted, Purdy’s view of him is not so nice either, and so I did feel sympathy for Elizabeth being forced to marry him and be used for nothing more than bearing his children. I also didn’t mind that Elizabeth wasn’t a nice woman — she had numerous affairs and barely cared about her children until they were older and “interesting.” It was refreshing to see an outspoken woman who did what she wanted, using her position and husband’s absences to please herself.

My big problem with THE BOLEYN BRIDE was the author’s style. I felt like I was a spectator, as Elizabeth recounted events as if she were writing a memoir. Also, when sentences are twenty plus words long, my eyes tend to glaze over. A few longer sentences are fine, but there were so many of them in this book. I ended up feeling that the book was double the length it actually was. Lastly … whenever Elizabeth described her long-time lover, Remi Jouet, she called him “doughy,” like newly baked bread. Um, that doesn’t equate as sexy in my head.

THE BOLEYN BRIDE didn’t work for me because of the author’s writing style, and because after finishing, I don’t feel like I really know Elizabeth at all. Once Anne comes into the picture, and Henry starts chasing after her, the book switches to their story, with a little input from Elizabeth on how she felt about her daughter marrying the king and then Anne’s downfall. Basically, a standard Tudor historical fiction book.

Socialize with the author:

Brandy Purdy:
Website

– leeanna

Book Review: Branded (Sinners #1) by Abi Ketner & Missy Kalicicki

Book Review: Branded (Sinners #1) by Abi Ketner & Missy KalicickiBranded by Abi Ketner, Missy Kalicicki
Series: Sinners #1
Published by Self-Published on June 28, 2013
Genres: Dystopian, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 252
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
1 Stars
Fifty years ago the Commander came into power and murdered all who opposed him. In his warped mind, the seven deadly sins were the downfall of society. He created the Hole where sinners are branded according to their sins and might survive a few years. At best.

Now LUST wraps around my neck like blue fingers strangling me. I’ve been accused of a crime I didn’t commit and now the Hole is my new home.

Darkness. Death. Violence. Pain.

Now every day is a fight for survival. But I won’t die. I won’t let them win.

The Hole can’t keep me. The Hole can’t break me.

I am more than my brand. I’m a fighter.

My name is Lexi Hamilton, and this is my story.

Book Review:

BRANDED has an interesting premise, but poor execution. I was excited to start it, but once I got a few chapters into the book, I had to make myself keep reading. I was hoping the book would pick up near the end, but overall, it just didn’t work for me.

In Lexi’s world, people can be accused of one of the seven deadly sins. Just the accusation is enough — there are no trials or chances to proclaim your innocence. Then you’re branded with the color of your sin (blue in Lexi’s case, for lust), and sent to the Hole. Once in the Hole, your life is basically over: you’re stuck there, in a dirty, stinking, guarded town, and forced to work until you’re too old to be useful.

Cole is assigned to guard Lexi and escort her to and from the hospital where she’ll work. Relationships between guards and sinners are strictly forbidden, and in her first days in the Hole, Lexi sees a sinner and guard punished and executed for committing that crime.

But of course, Lexi and Cole fall in love, and that’s the big problem I had with BRANDED. I just did not believe in their relationship. It happened way too fast, and the authors told me they in love instead of showing me. Okay, I have to admit that I can see Lexi coming to care for Cole, because he goes out of his way to protect and keep her alive. But I do not see WHY Cole risked his life for her when he barely knew her. I learned almost nothing about Cole, other than that he’s a pushover when it comes to Lexi. For a guard, he was pretty wimpy.

The middle of BRANDED was boring. There were literally paragraphs like this: “Monday. Paint my room. Miss Cole. Tuesday: Train. Miss Cole.” Things like that should have been replaced by scenes of training or painting, etc. The end is packed with action, but again, I just couldn’t believe it. There’s a big reveal about who the villain is, and I cannot believe Lexi didn’t know who he was. Or that anyone else didn’t know who he was.

Lastly, although the world the authors created was interesting to me, I had so many unanswered questions. Why did Lexi get special treatment (Cole as a guard)? How are the denizens of the Hole getting access to weapons and bombs? Why is there even a hospital if it’s obvious no one cares what happens to the sinners? Etc.

Zeus, Cole’s dog, was the one bright point for me. He was probably the character I liked the most, because he was consistent. He didn’t undergo a massive change from one page to the next, like Lexi and Cole’s “relationship.”

About the authors:

branded authorsAbi and Missy met in the summer of 1999 at college orientation and have been best friends ever since. After college, they added jobs, husbands and kids to their lives, but they still found time for their friendship. Instead of hanging out on weekends, they went to dinner once a month and reviewed books. What started out as an enjoyable hobby has now become an incredible adventure.
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– leeanna

Author Interview: Rachel Neumeier

Today I have a twofer: an interview with the author of BLACK DOG by Rachel Neumeier and a book review of BLACK DOG. Be sure to check out both posts!

Interview with Rachel Neumeier:

Where did the idea for BLACK DOG come from? You have a different spin on werewolves.

I really enjoy a lot of the werewolves that appear in current paranormals and urban fantasies, but obviously modern werewolves — and vampires and so on — have drifted far from the historical conception of monsters, becoming basically different styles of sexy, attractive, superpowered people. Which is fine! But I thought it would be interesting to step away from that tendency and make my monsters more monstrous. Historically, vampires were supposed to be demon-possessed corpses. Adding different kinds of demonic influence to my world was a way of shifting the tropes sharply back toward the darker, more horrific end of the spectrum.

Is BLACK DOG a standalone? Or can we expect more books set in this interesting world?

I just turned the sequel in to my publisher! If all goes well, I would expect there to be at least a third book, as well. Plus I am working on some shorter fiction set in the same world.

In the Acknowledgements, I read that BLACK DOG was originally an adult novel. What made you decide to change it to a Young Adult book?

The decision was first a tactical one — I wrote BLACK DOG because I wanted to, not because I had a contract for a paranormal. There are a whole lot more publishers looking for YA fantasy than adult fantasy, so it made sense to slant the book that way.

Second, Sarah Prineas convinced me that the story was actually better suited to the YA market anyway. Once I decided she was right, of course it was worth the trouble to revise the story in that direction.

Vampires are mentioned in the backstory for BLACK DOG, and there’s a term that came up, “blood kin.” What are they? You don’t have to answer if that spoils anything for the future :)

Oh, good question — you’re the first to ask about this! I actually didn’t know what the blood kin were until I wrote the second book. Now I do know!

I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler, so here goes: you know how someone who is bitten by a black dog does not become a black dog, right? Instead, they pick up a kind of demonic corruption and become a “moon-bound shifter”, more like a movie werewolf, unable to control their demonic shadows when the moon is full. In the same way, a vampire can — or could, before they all got killed off in the war — turn a normal person into one of the blood kin. Think “slaves of the vampire, ghouls who eat people” and you’ll be in the right ballpark.

In the world of BLACK DOG, you really do not want to be bitten by a monster!

Can you explain a little more about Natividad being Pure?

I have the genetics all worked out! But I doubt anyone would want all that explained. It’s actually genetics with a supernatural twist, anyway. The Pure have black dog bloodlines but have been magically born clean of any demonic taint. Their creation was the work of a St Walpurga, a real historical saint, and there are definite implications that their creation may have been due to an actual miracle and not “just” magic.

I created the Pure partly just to add an extra complication into the world and also because I thought my black dogs could use a boost when it comes to controlling their demonic shadows. I had no idea what a pivotal role Natividad would play in the plot until I wrote the book, though.

I saw on your website that you show Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Did you use any of them or their behavior as influence for how the black dogs acted?

Actually, no. I really enjoy werewolves that act like real wolves, but mine don’t act like any natural animal — they act more like real monsters. My Cavaliers helped me out with this book mainly by keeping me from turning into a hermit while writing it. They always keep me busy!

What are some of your recent favorite books? Any “comfort books” that you turn to when you need a pick me up?

I only just finished JINX and JINX’S MAGIC by Sage Blackwood — excellent books which I definitely recommend, with strong characterization and great writing.

Comfort books for me include Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife series, Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, and Sharon Shinn’s Troubled Waters. Those are some I definitely reach for if I’m home with the flu!

About the book:

Author Interview: Rachel NeumeierBlack Dog by Rachel Neumeier
Series: Black Dog #1
Published by Strange Chemistry on February 6, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 448
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
3 Stars
Natividad is Pure, one of the rare girls born able to wield magic. Pure magic can protect humans against the supernatural evils they only half-acknowledge – the blood kin or the black dogs. In rare cases – like for Natividad’s father and older brother – Pure magic can help black dogs find the strength to control their dark powers.

But before Natividad’s mother can finish teaching her magic their enemies find them. Their entire village in the remote hills of Mexico is slaughtered by black dogs. Their parents die protecting them. Natividad and her brothers must flee across a strange country to the only possible shelter: the infamous black dogs of Dimilioc, who have sworn to protect the Pure.

In the snowy forests of Vermont they are discovered by Ezekiel Korte, despite his youth the strongest black dog at Dimilioc and the appointed pack executioner. Intrigued by Natividad he takes them to Dimilioc instead of killing them.

Now they must pass the tests of the Dimilioc Master. Alejandro must prove he can learn loyalty and control even without his sister’s Pure magic. Natividad’s twin Miguel must prove that an ordinary human can be more than a burden to be protected. And even at Dimilioc a Pure girl like Natividad cannot remain unclaimed to cause fighting and distraction. If she is to stay she must choose a black dog mate.

But, first, they must all survive the looming battle.

About the author:

Rachel Neumeier started writing fiction to relax when she was a graduate student and needed a hobby unrelated to her research. Prior to selling her first fantasy novel, she had published only a few articles in venues such as The American Journal of Botany. However, finding that her interests did not lie in research, Rachel left academia and began to let her hobbies take over her life instead.

She now raises and shows dogs, gardens, cooks, and occasionally finds time to read. She works part-time for a tutoring program, though she tutors far more students in Math and Chemistry than in English Composition.
Website
Twitter


I really want to thank Rachel for answering my last minute questions. Thanks Rachel, you were awesome!

– leeanna

Book Review: Black Dog (Black Dog #1) by Rachel Neumeier

Book Review: Black Dog (Black Dog #1) by Rachel NeumeierBlack Dog by Rachel Neumeier
Series: Black Dog #1
Published by Strange Chemistry on February 6, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 448
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
3 Stars
Natividad is Pure, one of the rare girls born able to wield magic. Pure magic can protect humans against the supernatural evils they only half-acknowledge – the blood kin or the black dogs. In rare cases – like for Natividad’s father and older brother – Pure magic can help black dogs find the strength to control their dark powers.

But before Natividad’s mother can finish teaching her magic their enemies find them. Their entire village in the remote hills of Mexico is slaughtered by black dogs. Their parents die protecting them. Natividad and her brothers must flee across a strange country to the only possible shelter: the infamous black dogs of Dimilioc, who have sworn to protect the Pure.

In the snowy forests of Vermont they are discovered by Ezekiel Korte, despite his youth the strongest black dog at Dimilioc and the appointed pack executioner. Intrigued by Natividad he takes them to Dimilioc instead of killing them.

Now they must pass the tests of the Dimilioc Master. Alejandro must prove he can learn loyalty and control even without his sister’s Pure magic. Natividad’s twin Miguel must prove that an ordinary human can be more than a burden to be protected. And even at Dimilioc a Pure girl like Natividad cannot remain unclaimed to cause fighting and distraction. If she is to stay she must choose a black dog mate.

But, first, they must all survive the looming battle.

Today I have a twofer: a review of BLACK DOG by Rachel Neumeier and an interview with the author. Be sure to check out both posts, because I asked Rachel some questions about the book, including where the idea for BLACK DOG came from!

Book Review:

BLACK DOG is a werewolf book, albeit a very different type of werewolf book from the usual sort. Rachel Neumeier’s black dogs are more like hellhounds, the dog side constantly fighting the human side for control. Black dogs transform at will, whenever they need to fight, prove their dominance, or when emotions get too high. It takes great strength of will to control the black dog shadow. There also are the traditional werewolves that follow the call of the moon, but they aren’t as powerful as black dogs.

Told from the alternating perspectives of Alejandro, a black dog, and his sister, Natividad, a Pure, BLACK DOG is a book that unfolds slowly. Alejandro, Natividad, and her twin, Miguel, are Mexican, and it was great to see some diversity in a YA book. There are some Spanish words and phrases sprinkled throughout the book; most have context translations or are easy to figure out.

The siblings are on the run from a dangerous black dog, Vonhausel, who killed their parents and wants to kill them. Their only hope is the Dimilioc pack, the last remaining civilized group of black dogs. But with only Natividad being worth anything to the pack, Alejandro must prove his control of his black dog, and Miguel, a human, must also show he’s useful. When Vonhausel shows up and tries to wage war, the siblings must help Dimilioc, each in their own way, because the alternative is death. Or something worse than death, in some cases.

Some readers might be bothered by Natividad being fifteen and expected to mate with one of the black dogs. Natividad is Pure, able to wield magic that can calm the ferocity of the black dogs’ shadows. Usually I would have an issue with that sort of alpha behavior, but I thought the Master of the pack handled it very well — he said no one could touch Natividad until she turned sixteen, and she would have her choice. Natividad didn’t have an issue with it, either. So all the possible mates were respectful, and wanted to protect her. There’s not really any romance in BLACK DOG — Natividad’s future relationship is a side topic. I just wanted to mention it.

Like I said above, BLACK DOG is a slow book. It’s over 400 pages, and I do think it could have been shorter and tighter. There were a lot of phrases repeated in dialogue, over and over, such as “I think” or “you know,” and they did pull me out of the narrative. I’m picky about things like that, though.

In the author’s world, black dogs are known to the public, thanks to the disappearance of vampires and their mindclouding magic of anything supernatural. The vampires and their war with the black dogs happened before the book, and so is offstage, but does have some influence on the events of BLACK DOG. I had some questions that I would have liked answered, but they didn’t really affect my understanding of what was going on.

Aside from that, once I got into the book, I did enjoy piecing the story together and learning about the siblings’ pasts, Vonhausel, and Dimilioc. I really liked the pack dynamics, and watching the black dogs control their shadows. It was also interesting to see regular humans interact with the pack. Natividad’s interactions were the best of all, because she wasn’t afraid of any black dog, knowing they wouldn’t hurt her. So it was fun and different to see a fifteen-year-old be taken seriously, her opinion valued, by the much older pack master.

The end of BLACK DOG does neatly tie up the main story line. I’ll admit, when I got to what I thought was the end, I was like, “No! That’s it?!” But it wasn’t! It’s hard to say anything about the ending, because I don’t want to spoil it, but the real ending was good. Very insightful. And there will be a sequel to BLACK DOG, so the other things I wanted to see, such as who Natividad will choose, and what will happen to Dimilioc, will most likely be addressed in that.

About the author:

Rachel Neumeier started writing fiction to relax when she was a graduate student and needed a hobby unrelated to her research. Prior to selling her first fantasy novel, she had published only a few articles in venues such as The American Journal of Botany. However, finding that her interests did not lie in research, Rachel left academia and began to let her hobbies take over her life instead.

She now raises and shows dogs, gardens, cooks, and occasionally finds time to read. She works part-time for a tutoring program, though she tutors far more students in Math and Chemistry than in English Composition.
Website
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes

Book Review: Queen of Hearts by Colleen OakesQueen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes
Series: Queen of Hearts #1
Published by BookSparks on February 14, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Retelling, Young Adult
Pages: 205
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
4 Stars
Not every fairytale has a happy ending.
This is the story of a princess who became a villain.

***

A Father’s Betrayal. A Kingdom with a Black Secret. A Princess Slowly Unraveling.

As Princess of Wonderland Palace and the future Queen of Hearts, Dinah’s days are an endless monotony of tea, tarts, and a stream of vicious humiliations at the hands of her father, the King of Hearts. The only highlight of her days is visiting Wardley, her childhood best friend, the future Knave of Hearts — and the love of her life.

When an enchanting stranger arrives at the Palace, Dinah watches as everything she’s ever wanted threatens to crumble. As her coronation date approaches, a series of suspicious and bloody events suggests that something sinister stirs in the whimsical halls of Wonderland. It’s up to Dinah to unravel the mysteries that lurk both inside and under the Palace before she loses her own head to a clever and faceless foe.

Part epic fantasy, part twisted fairy tale, this dazzling saga will have readers shivering as Dinahs furious nature sweeps Wonderland up in the maelstrom of her wrath.

Familiar characters such as Cheshire, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter make their appearance, enchanting readers with this new, dark take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Book Review:

QUEEN OF HEARTS is … well, a fantastical journey into Wonderland. It’s whimsical, dark, and more than a little crazy. But what else would you expect from the future Queen of Hearts?

Dinah is stubborn, feisty, and prone to fits of anger. She knows she’ll be queen of Wonderland one day, and she can’t wait for that day, to kick her father off the throne. Beheadings? She can watch them without batting an eye. But if someone’s cruel to her brother, Charles the Mad Hatter, she’ll get them back.

Some of Dinah’s attitude can be attributed to her difficult relationship with her father. Dysfunctional doesn’t begin to describe it. The King of Hearts hates his daughter — his heir. So when he introduces an illegitimate daughter to the court, and tells Dinah to accept Vittiore as her new sister, it’s just one more way of showing his dislike for Dinah.

Whatever. When Dinah’s Queen, she’ll put Vittiore and her father in their places. But will she be Queen?

QUEEN OF HEARTS is a delightfully quirky book. At first the amount of detail on Wonderland is almost overwhelming, but you get used to it quickly. And as a reader who loves to dive into new worlds, I really appreciated all the touches, little and big, that the author put into Wonderland. The snow is pink. Tarts are a favored delicacy. The palace is an architectural wonder, surrounded by an iron wall made of hearts. There’s so much creativity in this book. I will say that if you’re having trouble getting into the book, give it about 30 or 40 pages, and then it really gets going.

At 205 pages, QUEEN OF HEARTS is a short but packed read. Dinah grows quite a bit; by the end, she’s not the same spoiled princess she was in the beginning. I think I liked Dinah so much was because her reactions were real to me. When presented with a new sister and told to love her, Dinah’s like, “I hate her. I’m never talking to her,” and she doesn’t. And though she’s a princess, she’s still nervous (but also kind of confident) when interacting with her crush.

Aside from Dinah, there are lots of other interesting characters, including the Mad Hatter, Cheshire, and even the King of Hearts himself. They’re sympathetic and creepy by turn. The ending sped by, and I really want to get my hands on volume two, so I can find out what happens to Dinah and another of my favorite characters, Morte the Hornhoov. I also can’t wait to see Dinah say, “Off with their heads!” and mean it.

I’m not super familiar with ALICE IN WONDERLAND, so I probably missed a couple of connections, but there’s plenty here that even the casual reader will recognize from Lewis Carroll’s classic. I love books that are about villains, and I can’t wait to see what else will happen to Dinah to turn her into the Queen of Hearts. Alice isn’t in this book, but I’d rather have Dinah. The villains are always so much more interesting!

Lastly, check out that cover! It’s perfect for this book. There are so many nice touches, from the silhouette of the queen in the title to the heart card to the princess overlooking Wonderland.

Let’s talk about it:

I have a chance to interview the author of QUEEN OF HEARTS. Do you have any questions for her?

Socialize with the author:

Colleen Oakes:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy by Elizabeth Kiem

Book Review: Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy by Elizabeth KiemDancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy by Elizabeth Kiem
Published by Soho Teen on August 13, 2013
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 288
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
2 Stars
Marina is born of privilege. Her mother, Sveta, is the Soviet Union's prima ballerina: an international star handpicked by the regime. But Sveta is afflicted with a mysterious second sight and becomes obsessed with exposing a horrific state secret. Then she disappears.

Fearing for their lives, Marina and her father defect to Brooklyn. Marina struggles to reestablish herself as a dancer at Juilliard. But her enigmatic partner, Sergei, makes concentration almost impossible, as does the fact that Marina shares her mother's “gift,” and has a vision of her father’s murder at the hands of the Russian crooks and con artists she thought they'd left behind.

Now Marina must navigate the web of intrigue surrounding her mother's disappearance, her ability, and exactly whom she can—and can't—trust.

Book Review:

DANCER, DAUGHTER, TRAITOR, SPY is a book I was excited about. There aren’t many YA books that have non-American main characters, so to have a book about a Russian girl, and a ballerina at that — well, it seemed like a winning combo for me.

The book starts out with Marina in the Soviet Union, at a ballet class. Her mother, a famous dancer herself, is about to leave on a cultural trip to the United States. But when Marina returns home, she learns that her mother is missing … and has been taken by the regime. Her mother knew secrets about an incident the Soviet government wants to keep quiet, secrets she learned from visions. With their own lives in danger, Marina and her father flee to America. But once there, Marina has her own vision of her father’s death.

Unfortunately, DANCER, DAUGHTER, TRAITOR, SPY was a book that fell flat for me. I had a hard time getting into it, and I actually set it down for about two weeks and wasn’t compelled to finish it. And when I did, I was just like, “Oh, that’s it. Hmm.”

I think DANCER, DAUGHTER, TRAITOR, SPY didn’t work for me because I spent a lot of the book feeling confused. I never quite understood the visions Marina and her mother had, nor the whole spy bit that took up the middle to end of the book. Supposedly, once in America, Marina’s father has some secrets he’s still hiding, and he’s convinced Marina’s new dancer partner is from the KGB and is after them. I don’t know. A lot of the spy/intrigue stuff went over my head, because I didn’t understand what was going on.

I don’t know a lot about the Cold War, or the atmosphere Marina and her family would have dealt with. I wish the author had gone into more detail on the Soviet Union, which might have helped me understand the paranoia Marina’s father had, his fear that the KGB would try to get them even in NYC.

Socialize with the author:

Elizabeth Kiem:
Website

– leeanna