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Teen & Young Adult, Mystery & Thriller Author Sara Larson

Guest Post by Sara Larson, author of Defy Series

Sara Larson shares insight on how the strength and courage of her favorite literary heroines inspired the development of the main character in her Defy series, Alexa Hollen.  

A lot of readers have written to tell me how much they love Alexa’s strength and courage in Defy and Ignite—and that spurred the idea to write about some of my favorite literary heroines. Bear in mind that there are definitely many more amazing heroines out there that I love, but here are some of my favorites.

One of my all-time favorite heroines of all time is Jane Eyre. She’s so quietly courageous. Her life was very hard, but she just made the best of it, no matter what got thrown at her. I also loved the dynamic between her and Mr. Rochester. I’ve had some readers tell me they thought the relationship between Alexa and Prince Damian in DEFY reminded them of theirs (but in a fantasy setting, of course)—which wasn’t on purpose, but I am highly flattered by the compliment!

Another favorite from the books I loved growing up is Beauty from BEAUTY by Robin McKinley. I always felt an affinity with Beauty, in all the retellings I’ve read and watched. I felt unattractive when I was growing up, and I was a voracious reader. I was so inspired by Beauty’s ability to see past the exterior and love someone for what was inside of them—for their heart and soul. And again, you might see unintentional echoes of that theme in the DEFY series, especially with what happens to Alexa at the end of DEFY and how that influences (or doesn’t) those around her for the rest of the series.

Another favorite is Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series. Talk about a strong character! I love that Hermione is so smart and resourceful. Let’s be honest, without her, both Harry and Ron would have been toast many, many times. I adore a character that can use her brains and courage to be strong. Hermione made being a “nerd” cool—nerds can save the day, and often do in real life and fantasy.

Some more recent favorites include Karou from DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE. Her story is heartbreaking but powerful. She is witty, smart, strong, and achingly broken, but still manages to keep going and going and going. How do you keep living when you keep losing all the people you love—whether to death or for other reasons? Karou will teach you how. There is a lot of loss and heartbreak in the DEFY series as well, and I only hope readers will think my characters can prove to be as resilient as Karou and those who fight alongside her for peace and freedom and happiness.

Finally, another recent favorite is Lilac LaRoux from THESE BROKEN STARS. You might think she’s just a spoiled, rich princess as the daughter of the richest man in the galaxy, but you’d be wrong. There’s much more to her than that, right from the start, but when the Icarus crashes and she is stranded on a deserted planet with the only other survivor, Tarver Merendsen, you find out just how deep her strength runs. She never gives up, no matter how bad things get (and trust me, in this book, they get pretty bad). I love this book and just how brave Lilac proves to be.

So those are some of my favorite heroines from books I’ve loved throughout my life. Perhaps someday, Alexa will make someone else’s list. Wouldn’t that be something?

Dogs, Pianos, and Names that Make You Smile

Authors Augusta Scattergood and Sarah Weeks discuss their new books and how they come up with names for their characters.

Sarah: Hey, Augusta Scattergood. You don’t mind if I call you by your full name, do you? It’s such a wonderful name! It makes me smile just to say it. Speaking of names, how did you choose the names for the characters in your new book The Way to Stay in Destiny?

Augusta: Names are so important, aren’t they? But I don't always get them right the first time. Occasionally I give a character a place-holder name until he tells me what to call him. Theo was Shelton for a while! But Theo’s name is such a part of him—the mystery of why he was named for Thelonious Monk and that now he’s “just plain Theo.” Miss Sister was actually named for a dance teacher in my hometown. Speaking of names that make you smile, I can just hear Honey being read aloud to kids. Teeny and Melody jump off the pages. And Bee-Bee Churchill. Great names, great characters.

Sarah: Thanks! Melody’s mother was a musician, so I chose a musical name for her. Even the dog in Honey is named after a famous composer. I was a singer-songwriter for many years before I became an author, so I have a deep love of music. I really enjoyed reading about Theo’s musical talent. I could hear that piano playing inside my head. Our new books have a number of things in common—pianos, bratty neighbors, dogs, and dance lessons—did I leave anything out?

Augusta: Let’s see, both of our books are set in small towns where kids have the freedom to get themselves in and out of escapades. Although I’ve lived in a lot of places, my heart is in the kind of place I grew up, a small southern town.

Sarah: I didn’t grow up in a small town, but I spend my summers in a little town in the Catskill Mountains. My dog loves to swim in our pond there. I wonder if Mo and Ginger would get along.

Augusta: My childhood was filled with animals. Rabbits, fish, parakeets, dogs, and cats. And those were the ones we had for pets. But I’m really a dog person. My book’s dog, Ginger Rogers, didn’t get quite the billing as your dog Mo. I love Mo’s voice and his sweet personality, but Ginger is the old and crotchety type. She did take a shine to Uncle Raymond, who’s a bit crotchety himself actually.

Sarah: You know what makes me crotchety? Doing research! I prefer to make things up. The things I am most interested in writing about are kids and animals, and of course things that make me laugh or cry—or better yet, laugh and then cry. 

Augusta: Since I write historical fiction, I’d better love the research part. Hey, I’m a librarian, what can I say? For my first novel, Glory Be, I did a ton of research about Freedom Summer. While writing The Way to Stay in Destiny, I spent a lot of time fact-checking dates, prices, and baseball records. 

Sarah: I love baseball—especially Little League games! Before we sign off I just want to mention that in addition to Honey, I have a new picture book out called Glamourpuss. It’s about a narcissistic cat who thinks so highly of herself that instead of saying meow, she shortens it to just “Me!” David Small illustrated—lucky me! Nice chatting with you, Augusta Scattergood.

Augusta: You too, Sarah Weeks!

Authors Dav Pilkey and Dan Santat Talk About "Ricky Ricotta"


Kindle Most Wanted | Masters Series with Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben, New York Times bestselling author of The Stranger, shares how he became an author and why he continues to write.



Guest Post by Jennifer Jaynes, Author of "Ugly Young Thing"

UglyYoungThing._V308679694_[1]Jennifer Jaynes, USA Today bestselling author of Ugly Your Thing, discusses why we're so captivated by today's anti-hero.


They send adrenaline coursing through our veins, tempt us to stay up way past our bedtime to consume just one more episode…one more chapter. We Google, Facebook, and live-tweet, ad nauseum, their latest escapades. We cheer them on as they charge ahead, doing whatever it takes to reach their goals.

Today they’re more popular than ever, leading some to call this the era of the anti-hero.

What Exactly Is An Anti-Hero?

While a more traditional hero is mostly morally sound, possessing primarily good qualities or personality traits, the anti-hero has more bad then good. In other words, he is flawed. Sometimes to the extreme.

Not bound by strict moral codes, anti-heroes destroy stereotypes, blurring the lines of right and wrong, often acting in ways that we find shocking, even repelling, to reach their end.

Anti-heroes come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life.  Anti-Heroes are everywhere from screen to books, some favorites include:

Walter White. The “everyman” schoolteacher of AMC’s Breaking Bad. Walter is a dying man who wants desperately to ensure his family is provided for once he’s dead. To accomplish this, he cooks methamphetamine for public consumption.

Dexter Morgan. The lead character of Showtime’s Dexter series. Dexter is a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department who moonlights as a serial killer, slaying other murderers to help rid the world of evil.

Nancy Botwin. The lead character of HBO’s Weeds. Nancy is a recently widowed mother who sells marijuana to support her children.

Batman. The beloved DC Comics superhero and alter ego of Bruce Wayne. Batman often stoops to ruthless acts of violence in the name of fighting corruption in Gotham City.

Other great examples include Harry Bosch (Michael Connelly’s crime novels), Jack Reacher (Lee Child’s thrillers) and Jack Bauer (FOX Television series, 24).

While noble of purpose and intent, these characters take morally ambiguous actions born from the philosophical perspective that "the end justifies the means."

Why Are We So Drawn to Anti-Heroes?

So what’s so captivating about the good family man gone bad, the killer who justifies his murderous ways, the superhero who resorts to acts of unspeakable violence in the name of fighting corruption? After all, these characters are incredibly imperfect and make bad decisions, yet we want them to win.

The answer is simple: They’re relatable.

These very same imperfections and bad decisions make our anti-heroes feel real to us. The fact that they are not always strong and courageous, that they’re often physically weak, frightened, insecure, rebellious, and that they sometimes make terrible choices intrigues us. They are rife with human frailty, and we find that endearing.

We also identify with the anti-hero’s moral motivations. After all, like Batman’s Gotham, our world is filled with irredeemable corruption. Whether we live in downtown Los Angeles or rural Texas, we flip on the local evening news and tales of murder and mayhem instantly fill our screen—along with reports of unconscionable dealings involving our country’s major corporations, as well as our own political and religious leaders.

What’s more, much like Dexter Morgan, we see the killers, the thieves, and other bad guys continually slipping through the often ineffective nets of justice. And much like Walter White, many “nice guys” find themselves falling victim to circumstance, trapped in a system that seems to reward the bad and punish the good.

We love that our anti-heroes have the courage to say what we are afraid to say, to take action where we are frozen with fear. They are what we cannot be and they do what we won’t do.

They allow us to escape for a few hours, living and escaping vicariously through them. Then, when the episode or chapter ends, we happily switch off our television or Kindle, rise from the couch, and return to our safe, comfortable lives with our morality firmly intact.

We need not fear any physical, emotional, spiritual, or legal repercussions because we were simply consuming fiction, a very powerful, deliciously satisfying form of escapism—and we were just along for the thrill of the ride.

Behind the Scenes: Simon Wood & Audiobooks

Simon Wood, best-selling author of The One That Got Away, discuses why he loves Audiobooks - and shares his favorites.



Robert Dugoni, Reviews "The Night Crew" by Brian Haig

TheNightCrewRobert Dugoni, author of My Sister's Grave, reviews Brian Haig's new thriller The Night Crew, available now.

Duty. Honor. Country. The words are chiseled on the walls surrounding the hallowed grounds of the West Point Military Academy and engraved on the rings and the hearts of every one of its graduates, including author Brian Haig. In The Night Crew, Haig’s protagonist, Lieutenant Colonel Sean Drummond – son of a West Point graduate, former Special Forces, current JAG lawyer and recalcitrant smart-ass, encounters the most challenging moral and ethical dilemmas of his career – having to choose between those words, and what they stand for.  

With the memories of a his last case, a court martial in Korea and the bullet that nearly killed him all too fresh, Drummond is pulled back into another “legal and emotional tar pit and public relations tinderbox.” He is assigned to defend one of the Al-Basari prison guards charged with the sexual degradation of Iraqi prisoners and the murder of one of the notorious prison’s highest ranking inmates. Drummond is, understandably, unwilling to take the assignment. For one, it means working again with Katherine Carlson, his nemesis since their days at Georgetown Law and co-counsel in the Korean court martial. But Carlson has already anticipated Drummond’s reluctance and unilaterally had him reassigned from his new position with the CIA to her defense team. Carlson and Drummond mix as well as gasoline and fire. In fact, they are so profoundly different - they might just be perfect together.  It gets worse. Drummond’s client is either a dim-witted pigeon the Government is offering up to be a sacrificial lamb, or a depraved and skilled liar who might just be guilty of murder. Key witnesses in the chain of command are either conveniently disappearing or washing their hands and memories of Al-Basari, Katherine reveals long held feelings for Drummond and, just to add more kindling to the fire, someone is killing the lawyers assigned to defend the prison guard defendants and Drummond and Carlson are next on the hit list.

The Night Crew is, first and foremost a thriller.  The turns are hair-raising and the twists are edge of the seat thrilling that kept me up late reading.  The dynamics of Drummond’s and Carlson’s relationship is at times maddening and at times heart breaking. Drummond is ever cynical, irreverent, combative and dogged, and his quips are laugh out loud funny. The novel asks poignant and contemporary questions – how far should a country go to win a war? How many legal foundations upon which the American judicial system is built should be sacrificed to potentially save soldiers’ lives? When, if ever, should human dignity be ignored?    

But beyond all that, as with every Brian Haig thriller, the plot is much deeper than the reader is led to believe, and much more personal for Sean Drummond. As he tries to do a job he didn’t ask for and doesn’t want, Drummond not only risks his life but his own moral and ethical code. Can he fulfill his duty as a lawyer to his client and his duty as a soldier to his country? Can he protect his personal honor and still hold dear to his love of his country? Should he hold onto Katherine because he loves her, or let her go for the same reason? It is this personal struggle that engrosses the reader, and draws us into West Point’s storied history as well as the black mark that was Al-Basari.  I closed the book with as many questions as Haig skillfully left to haunt Sean Drummond, and hoping that I’m never forced to make the same difficult choices.

Guest Post by Marc Cameron, Author of "Day Zero"

DayZeroMarc Cameron, author of the Jericho Quinn Thrillers, discusses the plot line and locations of the newest book in the series, Day Zero.

I want a sense of urgency in every scene I write: a frantic motorcycle chase, a fight against overwhelming odds, a friend in peril, a nation under the gun, or a ticking bomb on an aircraft.  Over nearly thirty years hunting violent criminals, my partners and I felt that urgency countless times—to capture our fugitive before he hurt someone else.

Day Zero opens with the venerable Emiko Miyagi, Quinn’s teacher and friend, in Pakistan, surrounded by men who want to kill her as she searches for the man who can link the President of the United States to a terrorist cell.  Jericho Quinn is in a remote Eskimo village in Alaska, healing from his last fight in Japan. He’s still a fugitive, framed for murder by the corrupt administration that will stop at nothing to rid itself of any political opposition. No one associated with Quinn is safe and he realizes the only way to protect his seven-year-old daughter is to get her out of the country on a massive Airbus A-380 bound for Russia.  Planning to take care of two problems at once, the administration dispatches a group of Hui Chinese terrorists to detonate a bomb on board the aircraft—hoping to blow Quinn and six hundred others out of the sky, while pushing the United States into war. Following Quinn is his ex-wife, Ronnie Garcia, Deputy U.S. Marshal Gus Bowen, and of course, Gunny Jacques Thibodaux.

Day Zero takes readers from Pakistan, to a remote villages in Alaska (where I’ve spent many wonderful weeks with my Yup’ik friends), to Byzantine the hallways of Washington, D.C. (where I’ve spent many not so wonderful weeks), to secret prisons run by corrupt men, and from 37,000 feet to the frigid waters of the Bering Sea.

I’ve seen my share of evil men and violent conflict, and I hope these experiences inform my novels. A reader once told me she read my books through splayed fingers, afraid of what she might find on the next page. Frankly, that’s what I’m going for. If I’ve done my job correctly, each of Jericho’s adventures is a ticking clock or a countdown toward a final explosive ending…in Day Zero, I mean that literally.

L.J. Sellers: My Series in 15 Seconds


L.J. Sellers, best-selling author of the Detective Jackson series, shares an overview of her series in a 15 second video.



Guest Post by Phil Hogan, Author of "A Pleasure and a Calling"

81nutQaYmPL._SL1500_[1]A Pleasure and a Calling author Phil Hogan discusses the inspiration for his character, Mr Heming, and some of his favorite writers.

Q: What inspired you to create the character of Mr Heming?

A: The idea for Heming sprang from a story I’d heard of a couple who had some small item stolen from their house while it was up for sale. The thief was a trusted employee of the estate agent – an ex-policeman, who it turned out was in the habit of collecting ‘souvenirs’ from the properties he was showing to prospective buyers. It got me wondering what kind of a person might do this. It took a while to shake off the complication of his being a cop, and opt for the more direct solution of an estate agent who has a key to all the houses he had sold, allowing him to snoop at will – a man joyously in his element.

Q: Was it difficult to get inside the mind of a man like Heming?

A: It seemed imperative to write this novel in the first person – a single, and singular point of view. Once I’d found Heming’s voice – optimistic, enthusiastic, wheedling at times, unintentionally at odds with his reader –  it was possible to have fun at his expense while also revealing his darker side. But it was a balancing act. Heming is almost religiously devoted in his ‘mission’ to keep the life of his beloved town wholesome and functional, seeing no irony in the means he employs to pursue it, or any conflict between his passions and the right of others to privacy. So I had to be on his side throughout – believing, persuasive, unjudging. His language, I felt, needed to be at once banal and rhetoric, with elements of estate-agent-speak rubbing against high-flown accounts of his turbulent emotions.

Q: How is writing a novel different from your day job writing for a newspaper?

A: I make hard work of both, no matter how much practice I get. I’m a laughably slow writer, which is why I could never be a news reporter or sports journalist (as opposed to a TV critic). I’m probably not alone in finding writing fulfilling only after the act. But the two sorts of writing are sufficiently different to make the transition from one to the other a kind of escape. It’s like switching from the rowing machine to the treadmill, though I say that as a complete stranger to gyms. I prefer a slow half-hour walk  (if I may stray even further from the question).

Q: Who are some of your favorite writers?

A: They are mostly of the American realist sort – John Updike, Philip Roth, James Salter. I’ve read everything by Richard Ford. More recently I’ve enjoyed Lorrie Moore and Ben Lerner. I don’t read enough genre (if that’s the right word) fiction, though the other week I did pick up James M Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, which I really liked. Non-fiction-wise I’m a big fan of Tim Parks  and Geoff Dyer, both Brits.

Q: What book is next on your to-read shelf?

A: The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton. Its pink cover shouted at me from a well-known bookselling website the other week. I’m quite looking forward to it.