From that time on, the world was hers for the reading....

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Five Guests: Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus

To celebrate the paperback release of Dedication (March 2 / Atria Books), fab authors Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus agreed to participate in a little Friday Five fun. The topic? Music, of course!

Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what does your writing playlist include?

Emma: While I'm fine with ambient noise (street traffic, dishwasher, dog snoring) I have discovered that I really can't listen to music while I write because my scene work is so easily impacted by the mood of a song and/or I find myself daydreaming whole other tangent scenes. I actually often use music to gear up to write, either by picturing the heroine while I listen to a song and seeing what she does or watching music videos on YouTube to channel the mood. We are currently working on a YA novel called Over You and I have been tuning in frequently to Pink, Beyonce and Rihanna. Dirty secret: video-watching doubles as my number one online procrastination habit, which has proved hard to kick when it looks so similar to ‘gearing up’.

Nicki: I mix up my music based on what I have to write. I love soundtracks because they have instrumental pieces that have strong emotional weight. Two of my favorites are The Lover by Gabrial Yared and The Door in the Floor by Marcelo Zarvos. And you can't go wrong with Cinema Paradiso. For YA writing I'll go back to the songs I loved at that age, like The Cranberrys’ Linger, or the songs, like Avril Lavigne's I'm With You or Beyonce’s If I Were a Boy, that I WISH had been around!

In Dedication, Kate Hollis is the inspiration for many of her ex-boyfriend Jake Sharpe's hit songs. Have you ever heard a song on the radio and wished it had been written about you? What song and why?

Emma: It must be the authors in us, but more than imagining ourselves as the subjects, we hear songs on the radio that we wish we'd written or feel like we could have written. Now this is ridiculous because song writing is its own medium and talent from fiction. In our novels we strive for a voice that feels immediate and intimately relatable that makes our reader feel her most entertaining friend is telling her a great tale. People often tell us that reading our stories makes them feel like they can write them too. So maybe the fact that some great songs make us feel like we could have written them is our way of paying the compliment forward to the songwriters. He or she has so ‘nailed’ a particular experience that we feel like it came right out of our own brains.

Nicki: I agree with all of the above, but I've gotta say Maroon Five’s She Will Be Loved--I mean, come on! Who doesn't want to be made to feel beautiful?? And who is lucky (or not so lucky) Jane???

If you could date a rockstar, which chart-topping singer would you choose?

John Mayer. Just kidding! OMG, can you imagine? That guy should have ‘warning’ tattooed on his forehead (and a few other places). Honestly, after writing Dedication and diving into what it would ‘really be like’ to be with the kind of guy who can make it in such a cut throat business, we're not sure we'd want to put ourselves through ‘dating’ one. However, if we had to spend a few hours on a moonlit beach with one . . . Brandon Flowers of the Killers, Maxwell, Justin Timberlake--um, does it have to be just one?

What's your favorite song lyric?

Nicki: Oh my God, it so depends on my mood and the year! And so many lyrics read a little flat on the page, but blow your mind when sung with intensity. But I will say one of the all-time classics is Simon and Garfunkel's, "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you." It’s SO evocative. No mater where I am when I hear it it always gets me in the gut. Why Joe DiMaggio? Who knows? But it works. Every time.

Emma: I agree, narrowing it down is torture! I'm a total Stephen Sondheim junkie--the man can articulate an emotional paradox and set it to music like nobody else. But on the pop front, let’s see . . . when I was growing up I was always moved by the Indigo Girls song, Closer to Fine’s lyric "The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine. Yeah!" I heard that as a fancy way of saying, "Don't think so hard!" which, from two artists who clearly thought a LOT, felt like real permission to relax. It was my senior page yearbook quote and no matter what I was worrying through, whenever they sang that "Yeah!" I always felt my heart lift. Currently, The Killers, song Human is having the same affect on me. "Pay my respects to grace and virtue, send my condolences to good, give my regards to soul and romance, they always did the best they could. And so long to devotion, you taught me everything I know. Wave goodbye, wish me well. You've gotta let me go." Every time I hear it I feel like it’s a suggestion to give yourself permission to let go and be brave, which I guess is the "Relax!" of one’s thirties.

What are your top five all-time favorite songs?

Nicki: All right I have WAY too many favorites, I HAVE to narrow this down. Here are my Top 5, I Can Do Anything, Bring it, F*ck The Man Songs (great for the gym):

Let The River Run by Carly Simon
Man In Motion by John Parr
Defying Gravity by Stephen Schwartz
Better Days by Googoo Dolls
Uprising by Muse

Emma: Amen to Nicki's list and here are five of my old-dependables under the same criteria:

So What by Pink
Jesus Walks by Kanye West
Get Me Bodied by Beyonce
Let’s Get Loud by Jennifer Lopez
Golden by Jill Scott

Thanks so much for your time, Emma and Nicki!

Be sure to check back Monday for my review of Dedication, which features a new cover voted on by readers.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Susane Colasanti: Something Like Fate

I was so excited to receive an advance reader's copy of Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti (May 4 / Penguin)! Usually I have to wait months for my local library to get her books.

What if your soul mate is. . .your best friend’s boyfriend?

Lani and Erin are bonded for life. One thing that connects them is their fascination of fate. Lani wonders how much of our lives has already been decided and how much we can actually influence. Since the Unknown can unexpectedly change our lives forever, how much can we really control?

From the minute Lani meets Jason, she can't deny the intense connection they share. It feels like she's known him forever. She's not sure if he feels it, too. But it doesn't matter. Because Jason is Erin's boyfriend. Lani is determined to ignore her feelings for Jason, no matter how powerful they are, rather than risk hurting her best friend.

What if the person who is your destiny is the one person you can't have?

I have very high expectations when it comes to Susane Colasanti books. She's one of my favorite YA authors because she creates real, easy to relate to characters that could easily be me or any of my high school friends. There's a familiarity in her storytelling that's comforting.

Something Like Fate had all of those elements, but it was also a departure from previous novels in the fact that it featured a main character who incensed me. I found Lani to be flighty with her obsession with fate and horoscopes. She was also a lousy friend to both Erin and Blake. I'm of the opinion that your best friend's boyfriend is off limits, that you should never share another friend's secret (not even with your boyfriend), and that you need to take responsibility for your own life and not chalk your actions up to the fates.

Erin was a bit one-dimensional, but a lot of people are. I understood her wrath, but felt her reaction was a bit over the top. I hope that her mean girl behavior and cyberbully actions will open up a dialogue about how to handle this type of behavior and let young girls know that it's not the right way to solve problems.

In the absence of strong female characters, I fell in love with Blake. He provided a genuine, comical, and real tone to the story. I'd love to read an entire book devoted to his personal and family struggles.

The ending was a bit abrupt, but I'm glad I didn't give up on the book. I hated a fictional character and got really worked up over what was happening, which I realized was not the result of a bad book but the work of a good writer. As always, I look forward to reading what Susane Colasanti comes up with next.

For more information, visit Susane Colasanti at:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Jen Nadol: The Mark

I first heard about The Mark by Jen Nadol at the 10_ers community and knew I had to read it. I was pleasantly surprised that my library was able to get it so quickly!

Cassandra Renfield has always seen the mark--a glow around certain people reminiscent of candlelight. But the one time she mentioned it, it was dismissed as a trick of the light. Until the day she watches a man awash in the mark die. After searching her memories, Cassie realizes she can see a person’s imminent death. Not how or where, only when: today.

Armed with a vague understanding of the light, Cassie begins to explore her "gift," seeking those marked for death and probing the line between decision and destiny. Though she’s careful to hide her secret--even from her new philosophy-obsessed boyfriend--with each impending death comes the temptation to test fate. But so many questions remain. How does the mark work? Why is she the only one who sees it? And finally, the most important of all: If you know today is someone’s last, should you tell them?

I really enjoyed this book.

Cassie is a very sympathetic character who I liked and genuinely felt bad for. It was heartbreaking to watch her struggle with the knowledge that people, including loved ones, were going to die and the helplessness she felt as she wondered if she should let them know about her "gift" by informing them that they were about to die. Coupled with discussions from Cassie's philosophy class, the story was an intriguing look at destiny and free will.

In addition, the supernatural element and the exploration of Cassie's family history added a great deal of suspense that made the book impossible to put down.

You know you're reading a really well-written YA novel when it doesn't feel like a YA novel. Instead, it feels like a story that anyone of any age can relate to. And that's what Jen Nadol achieved with The Mark.

According to Jen's website, a sequel, tentatively titled Vision, will be published in 2011. I can't wait!

For more information, visit Jen Nadol at:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lauren Oliver: Before I Fall

I was thrilled to be a part of Barnes & Noble's First Look for Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (March 2 / HarperCollins). I finished reading it two weeks ago and cannot stop thinking about the story and characters.

What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all: the world’s most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High, from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12 should be just another day in her charmed life.

Instead, it turns out to be her last.

Fortunately, she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death--and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.

I have never hated fictional characters as much as I hated Samantha and her best friends Lindsay, Elody, and Ally. They are self-absorbed, superficial, and ruthless. Every waking thought is about fashion, parties, and hot boys. They are popular, and being popular means staying away from people who could cause their social stock to plummet. For Samantha, this means her childhood friend Kent and the school's "freak" Juliet are off limits and often the targets of cruel jokes and gossip. As she's forced to live February 12th over and over again, Samantha sees people for who they really are and slowly starts to realize that there's more to life than social status.

Though Before I Fall has a definite "Groundhog Day" vibe, this isn't a comedy. The story is very raw, fraught with emotion, and sometimes very sweet. Watching Samantha relive her last day and evolve--making changes in her routine, connecting with people outside of her clique, discovering who she really is, thinking about what she could have been, and righting wrongs--was a frustrating and beautiful journey. By the end, I thought she was very brave and kind. It amazed me how I could go from absolutely hating someone to loving them.

Lauren Oliver skillfully created an insightful story and compelling characters that I'll never forget.

For more information, visit Lauren Oliver at:

Anna Jarzab: All Unquiet Things

I love a good murder mystery, which is why All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab caught my attention.

Carly: She was sweet. Smart. Self-destructive. She knew the secrets of Brighton Day School's most privileged students. Secrets that got her killed.

Neily: Dumped by Carly for a notorious bad boy, Neily didn't answer the phone call she made before she died. If he had, maybe he could have helped her. Now he can't get the image of her lifeless body out of his mind.

Audrey: She's the reason Carly got tangled up with Brighton's fast crowd in the first place, and now she regrets it--especially since she's convinced the police have put the wrong person in jail. Audrey thinks the murderer is someone at Brighton, and she wants Neily to help her find out who it is.

As reluctant allies Neily and Audrey dig into their shared past with Carly, her involvement with Brighton's dark goings-on comes to light. But figuring out how Carly and her killer fit into the twisted drama will force Audrey and Neily to face hard truths about themselves and the girl they couldn't...

All Unquiet Things isn't just a murder mystery; it is an exploration of the complications of love and friendship as well as the emotional ramifications of lies, betrayal, and loss.

The narration alternates between the perspectives of Neily and Audrey, but not so often that the reader doesn't get to know each character. I felt like I was given enough time to really get into their heads and understand their lives.

Out of the two narrators, I liked Neily the best. Though sarcastic and self-deprecating, he was genuine in his love for Carly and his quest to find her killer. Audrey seemed like a typical popular girl, striving to be liked and accepted regardless of the consequences.

I understood Neily's hesitation when it came to Audrey, but I'm glad they decided to work together. Their cautious partnership created a fascinating dynamic that helped propel the story forward as their very different worlds collided to introduce the reader to the sordid lives of private school cliques.

Each chapter was a slow and tense build to an action-packed, unpredictable conclusion. I left the story feeling justice was served and that the characters were finally at peace. It was a stellar debut for Anna Jarzab, and I highly recommend it.

For more information, visit the author at:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cover Art: Mockingjay

On Our Minds @ Scholastic revealed the cover art for Mockingjay, the final book in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy.

What do you think? Is it August 24th yet?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Yvonne Prinz: The Vinyl Princess

I requested a copy of The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz from my local library the minute it was released. They finally contacted me to let me know I could pick it up last week!

Summer is here, and 16-year-old Allie, a self-professed music geek, is exactly where she wants to be: working full-time at Berkeley’s ultra-cool Bob and Bob Records. There, Allie can spend her days bantering with the street people, talking the talk with the staff, shepherding the uncool bridge-and-tunnel shoppers, all the while blissfully surrounded by music, music, music. It’s the perfect setup for her to develop her secret identity as The Vinyl Princess, author of both a brand-new zine and blog. From the safety of her favorite place on earth, Allie is poised to have it all: love, music and blogging.

Her mother, though, is actually the one getting the dates, and business at Allie’s beloved record store is becoming dangerously slow--not to mention that there have been a string of robberies in the neighbourhood. At least her blog seems to be gaining interest, one vinyl junkie at a time....

Reading The Vinyl Princess brought back a lot of memories. My Dad was a DJ with an impressive vinyl collection. Music was our world. I remember traveling to record conventions at local civic centers and hotels, pouring through vinyl old and new. Dad and I also made many trips to Main Street Records in Northampton, MA to look for vinyl to add to our collection. I remember walking down the tiny stairway to the basement area to find the latest imports.

When I graduated from college, it was no surprise that I gravitated toward a career in music. Up until last year, I happily marketed music; working for major record labels and eclectic marketing companies. I've watched the industry slowly fall apart due to illegal downloading. I lost my job due to budget cuts brought on by illegal downloading.

Needless to say, I felt a personal connection to the story and characters. Allie and I would have a lot to talk about.

If you're a music lover, this book is a must-read. Allie's blogs and commentary on music are not only entertaining, but incredibly informative. I actually made note of some songs I'd like to track down--I'm willing to bet my Dad owns the vinyl.

If you'd just like to read a good story filled with colorful characters, friendship, and love, this book is a must-read.

In short, I loved The Vinyl Princess!

For more information, visit The Vinyl Princess at:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Rhonda Stapleton: Stupid Cupid

I was so excited when I received an email from the library letting me know the copy of Stupid Cupid by Rhonda Stapleton I requested had arrived! After a couple months of reading Rhonda's Tweets, I knew the book would be fun and couldn't wait to read it.

Felicity's no ordinary teen matchmaker...she's a cupid!

Felicity Walker believes in true love. That's why she applies for a gig at the matchmaking company Cupid's Hollow. But when Felicity gets the job, she learns that she isn't just a matchmaker...she's a cupid! (There's more than one of them, you know.)

Armed with a hot pink, tricked-out PDA infused with the latest in cupid magic (love arrows shot through email), Felicity works to meet her quota of successful matches. But when she bends the rules of cupidity by matching her best friend Maya with three different boys at once, disaster strikes. Felicity needs to come up with a plan to set it all right, pronto, before she gets fired...and before Maya ends up with her heart split in three.

Modern day cupids? What a fun idea! And this book was entertaining from beginning to end.

Felicity is a lovable character with a great sense of humor and a good heart. I laughed out loud more than once at the shenanigans she got herself into as she made matches at her high school and at home!

Her friends Andy and Maya were great, too. After reading so many books where teenage girls revolve their entire existence around boys, it was refreshing to see girls with distinct personalities and interests. They were just like the friends I had in high school.

In fact, I wish the characters were real so we could hang out.

I can't wait to see what happens next in Flirting With Disaster (March 9) and Pucker Up (May 18)! I hope Felicity gets to be on the receiving end of one of cupid's love arrows.

If you're looking for a light, amusing book to read this Valentine's Day, you should definitely check out Stupid Cupid!

For more information, visit Rhonda at:
Twitter (@rhondastapleton)
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