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Guest Post: Jessie Humphries, Author of the Ruby Rose Series

Ruby_roseJessie Humphries, author of the Ruby Rose series, shares her picks for the most memorable books of 2014.

As precocious little girls—whenever my sister and I were feeling especially cantankerous—we would tease each other with “You’re such a cow face.” You see, somewhere along the way, someone told us that there are two shapes of faces: a roundish cow face or a longish horse face. We decided we’d rather have the latter, probably since My Little Pony toys were all the jazz.

Later on, we learned that it’s okay to have a long or round or whatever shape face we happened to have at the time (depending upon freshman-fifteens, breakups, babies, etcetera). Actually we learned that this information was a bunch of horse sh*! (or cow sh*! depending on your view), but it’s managed to stay with me all these years just the same.

Well, it turns out that 2014 is the Chinese Year of the Horse…and my birth year is also Year of the Horse…and I’m writing this post just after a trip to Chinatown in San Francisco where I bought a Year of the Horse calendar…so I’ve claimed 2014 as my year. (You see my line of thinking is a lot like Lombard St.—the windiest street in San Fran and the world.)

And you know what? So far, so good. Not only has 2014 turned out to be the year I debuted as an author, but it’s also a year full of amazing reads. Here are some of them:

Gilded by Christina Farley The stunning first book in the contemporary fantasy series. (Book two, Silvern, which also released in 2014, is equally beautiful.) This series has it all. Gorgeous cover: check. Fascinating mythology: check. Main character that knows how to fight: check. Rich Korean culture: check. Hot boys/hotter immortals: check.

Remake by Ilima Todd A dystopian book unlike any you’ve ever read. In a society where children are raised androgynously, they are forced to choose once they’re seventeen years old. This book is controversial, emotional, provoking, and powerful—all things I happen to love.

The Eighth Guardian by Meredith McCardle A time travel novel to blow your mind. It’s like a history lesson wrapped in bacon, dipped in chocolate, and deep-fried in sweet donut batter. (The bacon being the sizzling storyline, the chocolate being the rich historical detail, and the deep-fried batter being the twists and turns that make your blood pressure skyrocket…and then leave you wanting more.)

Elevated by Elana Johnson A contemporary novel set in an elevator and written in verse. I acknowledge that the idea of an entire book being written in poetry is scary. Scary-boring or scary-intellectual. Maybe even scary-bad. This book defies all those concerns you may have had.

Push Girl by Jessica Love and Chelsie Hill An inspiring and real contemporary novel about how life can change in an instant, based on the life of Chelsie Hill, one of the stars of the Sundance Channel’s unscripted series "Push Girls." 

Gates of Thread and Stone by Lori M. Lee A fantasy full of magic, mythology, and intrigue. This is the kind of story that begs to be made into an HBO series. I’d love to see some director take on the challenge of visually creating the world Miss Lee built with words alone.

Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker A supernatural story set in the swamps of the Deep South. The atmosphere in this book is so pervasive that I can feel the sticky atmosphere lingering in my soul as I type these words. We got gators, we got strange happenins, and we got secrets. Eerie and beautiful, this gothic fairytale story will haunt you long after you read the last page. Excuse me while I go round myself up some moonshine or mead and read it again.

Richard Farr's Recommended Reading

Fire_seekersThe Fire Seekers author shares some science fiction and fantasy favorites.

New worlds! Quirky people! Above all, unsettling ideas! The stories I love best are the ones that ask big questions—the ones that leave me feeling as if someone just stomped in, wearing heavy boots, and rearranged the furniture inside my head.

If you like that feeling too, try Arthur C. Clarke’s sci-fi classics 2001: A Space Odyssey and Childhood's End. Old-fashioned? In fact, 2001 brilliantly confronts us with—and refuses to solve—a terrifying enigma that’s only now about to become real. When we first produce a machine like HAL, which seems to have beliefs and desires all of its own... will it have them? Or just seem to have them? And how will we know? (Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is another classic on similar themes that also, like 2001, became the basis of a great movie.)

My big fantasy recommendation (new, quirky, and unsettling all at once) is always the first big fantasy novel I read, aged 15 or so. While my friends were falling in love with Tolkein, I preferred reading Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy. It's not an easy book; the language is dense and odd. And maybe calling it fantasy is odd, too: there’s no magic, not a single orc or talking tree, no wizards or demons. Just "ordinary" human beings (about half of them insane) in a castle. But that castle is a world so rich and colorful (yet so bleak, and weird, and weirdly familiar) that it’s like seeing our world from the viewpoint of a Martian. And it’s hard not to like a book in which the homicidal cook is named Swelter, the mad medic is Dr. Prunesquallor, and you also get one of literature’s great creeps, the ruthless, stop-at-nothing anti-hero, Steerpike.

I always admire good SFF books that —like these— beg to be read by teens and young adults even though they’re not “supposed” to be “YA.” (A pet peeve of mine—in any genre—is the phrase “age appropriate.” I think you should read every good book you can read.) To see what I mean, get your hands on these three: James Gurney’s fantasy adventure picture book Dinotopia (yay: there are many more books in the series). David Almond’s so-called "middle grader," Skellig, which everyone from 10 to 110 should read. And finally, a grown-up, gritty detective novel that’s really something else entirely, China Miéville’s The City & the City (Hint: Beszel and Ul Qoma are such different places. But they’re in the same place.). Is this sci-fi? I’m not sure and I don’t care—it’s brilliant. 

Miéville is serious stuff, but I also like my SFF seriously funny. Read anything, anything by Sir Terry Pratchett, but especially The Wee Free Men—preferably aloud, in a bad Glaswegian accent. Also Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, and Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy. Oh, yes, and Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books. A 12-year-old criminal mastermind searching for Irish fairy gold… only, the fairies have unreliable atomic-powered wing-backpacks, and one of them smokes vile-smelling cigars and says “D’Arvit!” all the time—a word the author helpfully explains as a fairy swear-word “too rude to translate.” Hilarious.

I have to finish by recommending Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, my favorite SFF book by any living author. And especially book two, The Subtle Knife, not just because it's great writing that makes you think about Big Stuff (stomp, clomp: sounds of furniture being rearranged), but because it's such a great metaphor. A magic knife? With which you can cut a gap in this universe? And step through into a different universe? Oh, right... that's what a story is.

Julie Kagawa's Recommended Teen Reads

TalonThe author of The Iron Fey and Blood of Eden series and most recently Talon shares the books she's been most excited about in 2014.

The life of an author is a busy one. Some may envision writers having tons of free time to relax and kick back with a good book, but truthfully, the only book I'm reading these days is my own as I'm typing it on the computer. I have very little time to sit down and read, but that doesn't mean I don't get excited about books. Here are the books that I tell myself I'm going to read if I ever get a moment...

Breaking the Rules by Katie McGarry Okay, I lied. I have read this one, but it technically isn't even out yet. (One of the perks of being friends with the author and living in the same town.) Breaking the Rules is the continuation of Echo and Noah's story from Pushing the Limits. I love these two characters, and their story is even more wonderful and heartbreaking in Breaking the Rules.

Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid Let's Get Lost is a road-trip story that sounds like a lot of fun. It’s the perfect book for traveling this holiday season; I think I'll take it with me on the long drive up to the in-laws’ place.

Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor If I could just have an uninterrupted afternoon, this is the book I would grab first. I've been dying to finish Karou and Akiva's story ever since Days of Blood & Starlight. They're the couple that makes me sigh and melt into a swooning puddle of goo. With the huge amount of obstacles they face, it'll be hard for them to get their happy ending, but I'm crossing my fingers for them.

White Hot Kiss and Stone Cold Touch by Jennifer L. Armentrout Confession: I have not yet read any of Jennifer's books. I know, it's shameful. I intend to remedy that soon, and when that day comes, I'll start with this series. I mean, no-brainer, it features gargoyles and demons—mortal enemies—and a girl who is both!

The Fall by Bethany Griffin I love Poe and creepy ghost tales, and The Fall of the House of Usher was a story that haunted me as a kid. I can't wait to see this story told from Madeline Usher's point of view.

Lisa Mantchev: "It Started with a Pocket Watch"

TickerLisa Mantchev discusses how a random discovery and a love of steampunk inspired Ticker, her new novel.

It started with a pocket watch: an actual, physical pocket watch that I found on eBay in 2008 while looking for brass bits. At the time, I was writing and editing theater books. All my excess nervous energy I channeled into a new costuming aesthetic that was popping up at the science fiction and fantasy conventions I attended.

Bustle skirts? Corsets? Goggles and gadgets? Count me in.

But when I discovered that particular pocket watch on eBay—a watch that contained a compass and sundial instead of a traditional timepiece—my writer-brain took over.

Who would have owned such a thing?

Where would he or she have traveled with it?

And, of course, what kind of cake did they have when they got there?

This was my chance to wallow in the words of Jules Verne, to reboard the Nautilus and venture once more Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. To punch dates into H.G. Wells’s Time Machine. To reacquaint myself with Tik-Tok from the Land of Oz books. To take tea with Stoker and Shelley, then throw myself headlong into worlds lit by gas lamps and populated by the lords and ladies, spies and saboteurs which now feature prominently in young adult work by authors such as Gail Carriger (the Parasol Protectorate series and Finishing School series,) Kady Cross (the Steampunk Chronicles) and Tiffany Trent (the Unnaturalists novels).

And because steampunk is as much a rich and varied maker-movement as it is a literary genre, I was similarly inspired by the music of Professor Elemental, Abney Park, Steam Powered Giraffe, and Emilie Autumn. I admired the technological artwork of artisans like Richard Nagy (Datamancer) and the vibrant, glorious couture produced by Kato. I reveled in movies like Hellboy II: The Golden Army, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Hayao Miyazaki's anime Howl’s Moving Castle. I rejoiced over the brilliance of comics like Girl Genius.

Because that is the beauty of steampunk: it is a creative garden that defies definition and cannot be contained by convention. It will continue to break through the fences, burgeoning into exotic jungles through which we must crash, wearing pith helmets, and carrying our pocket watches… which secretly contain sundials and compasses, so that we might (eventually) find our way home.

Ticker is a Kindle First Pick during the month of November. The book is free for Prime members and $1.99 for non-Prime members.

Romantic Ruminations from Amy Engel, "The Book of Ivy" Author

BookofivyAmy Engel discussess the backstory--and complicated relationship--of the two main characters in The Book of Ivy, out on November 11.

True love is friendship set on fire.

It took me a long time to figure out what romantic love actually is, how it really works. As a teenager, I wasn’t exactly knocking over boys with my charm. I was quiet, introverted, self-conscious. I had a series of crushes that never really panned out. Later, in college, I gained confidence and dated a string of not-quite-right guys, was even hopelessly, stupidly in lust with a few of them. But there was always something off.

I have very clear memories of dates where I felt like I was standing outside my body, coaching myself on how to act, when to laugh, what to ask next. The entire process was exhausting and disappointing. I wondered if it would always be so difficult. And then I met the man who would one day become my husband.

 I was 26 years old and working as an attorney. I met Brian his first day at the firm when we shared an elevator. I remember the moment distinctly, down to the exact outfit I was wearing and the smile he gave me when we shook hands, which is weird because at the time I thought Oh, he’s handsome, but that was about it. I was focused on my career, and definitely not looking to date someone I worked with. And then a few weeks later, on a Friday afternoon, we were the only two people sitting in the office library and we started to talk. We talked. And talked. To be honest, I don’t really remember about what (although Brian swears I asked him his political affiliation within the first thirty minutes).

By the end of that afternoon, I was ridiculously smitten. I had butterflies in my stomach to such a degree that I walked back to my office feeling vaguely nauseous (in a good way). But beyond the attraction, I genuinely, down-to-my-core, really liked this man. And I realized that’s what had been missing with all the guys before. Desire is important; it’s vital. But so is friendship, the ability to be yourself, in all your weird, honest, raw glory. Love needs both to survive.

So when I set out to write The Book of Ivy, I knew that I wanted the romance between Ivy and Bishop to involve more than lust and desire. It had to involve true friendship as well. And that type of relationship actually worked perfectly with the plot of the book. Ivy is forced to marry Bishop, a boy she doesn’t know. But she is not simply his wife; she has been coached to gain his trust, gather his family’s secrets, and then kill him in order to restore her own family to power. If all Ivy feels for Bishop is attraction, she can work around that--ignore it, smother it, even act on it--and still attain her goal. The problem lies in the fact that gradually, and almost against her will, Ivy begins to like Bishop. She likes the way he listens to her. She likes his calmness, his patience, his view of the world. And that is the one thing she absolutely cannot do. Liking Bishop is more dangerous to Ivy than anything else, because how can she kill a boy she likes, one who she is slowly coming to love?

Rysa Walker, "Time's Edge" Author, on Her Time Travel Favorites

TimesedgeRysa Walker, author of Timebound and the new follow-up Time’s Edge, discusses her passion for time travel novels and recommends a few of her favorites.

When I read, I want to experience things I've never seen, could never see, and might not want to see even if I could. Science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, horror—those are the books that jump off the shelves and into my hands. Contemporary slice-of-life need not apply.

Time travel covers multiple bases for me which is why I'm drawn to the genre as an author.  Writing Timebound and Time's Edge, the first and second book in the CHRONOS Files series, gave me a chance to combine a splash of historical fiction with a healthy dollop of sci-fi and roll it all together. 

Sadly, I've had to avoid time travel stories since I began writing the CHRONOS Files, simply because I don't want tesseracts, time-turners, or DeLoreans sneaking into my scenes. But here are a few pre-Timebound favorites that grabbed my imagination and landed on my re-read and recommend list:

Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson My very first time travel book, I checked this out from the library in my early teens. No one else got a crack at it for months because I selfishly hoarded it. I later learned it was reissued as Somewhere in Time in 1980 and won a World Fantasy Award in 1976. All I knew back then was it made me cry buckets. 

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer didn't interest me. I grew up in the Deep South, and they were too much like kids I knew. Still, their presence on mandatory reading lists led me to this snarky bit of social commentary in a time travel wrapper. And this book pointed me toward Letters from the Earth. Those two alone earned Twain a spot on my list of favorite writers.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle A trip through the tesseract is Time Travel 101 for many kids but I didn't stumble upon this series until my late teens. I wish I had found it sooner as it might have helped me weather the conformity of high school.  

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling Hogwarts and time travel?? Yes, please.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver Most readers know Lauren Oliver for her Delirium series. I liked those books but I absolutely loved this earlier standalone that reminded me a bit of the movie Groundhog Day. You can't help but pull for Samantha as she struggles again and again to finally get a critical day right.

Guest Post: Alexandra Bracken, Author of “In the Afterlight”

AfterlightAlexandra Bracken discusses the importance of music in the Darkest Minds series. The final book in the trilogy, In The Afterlight, is out on October 28.

I’ll be the first to admit that the Darkest Minds series is made up of unlikely parts.

It was the product of circumstance, really. I had just moved to New York City after graduating from college and was unprepared for how rough of an adjustment it would be. That’s a polite way of saying that I hated it. My first job left me silently crying in a bathroom stall at least twice a week, I was horribly homesick, and I was subsisting on ramen noodles six days out of seven. If you’re thinking to yourself, Wow, this girl didn’t have an ounce of emotional grit…you are exactly right.

As a survival tactic, I coped by escaping into writing a story I filled to the brim with things I love: sci-fi, road trips, old minivans, teenagers with super powers, the state of Virginia, Waffle House, impossible romance, a “found family” of friends, and classic rock.

Would it surprise you to find out that, of everything element in the series, I get asked the most about the classic rock?

Throughout the books, you’ll find references to songs and bands from the 1960s and 1970s serving as a soundtrack to different scenes, starting with the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” We move through some fine Led Zeppelin selections, the Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” and Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” Some are mentioned by names, some are merely snippets of lyrics, but all were chosen for a reason.

There are number of layers to this. The first was that it was a world-building choice. The series is set in an America in which 98% of the under-eighteen population has died… meaning there just aren’t these young bands to create new music. The economy is shot, so even there’s a business around to produce and package the music, the customer pool is incredibly shallow. And, truthfully, in hard times I think we tend to turn to the comforting, the familiar, to feel something is stable.

More importantly, though, the majority of the songs referenced were written in direct response to times of political, social, and economic strife. They’re protests, accusations, and calls to action, many of which have lost some of their teeth forty years removed from the events on which they’re commenting. A younger generation reading the book might not know the back story that ties them to the Vietnam War, for example, but they’ve become classic because they are universal, and the struggles they depict are ongoing. They even apply to a fictional version of America that’s been ravaged by tragedy, poverty, and fear.

Then, there are the personal reasons: my own parents raised me on a steady diet of the good stuff. We debated bands on long car rides and were woken up by my dad blasting the Moody Blues’ greatest hits every weekend. There’s a feeling I’m always trying to capture, the one that comes when your favorite song is suddenly on the radio and you crank it up. The sunlight is streaming in through the windshield and you’re singing and singing and singing along. One character proudly declares the Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man” is “the music of [his] soul,” not because it describes his life, but because he’s chasing the feelin--that all-consuming, lifting feeling that comes with hearing it.

And, as much as the book is about teens with dangerous superpowers, let’s face it: the Darkest Minds series is also one epic cross-country road trip, and no ride is complete without a good set of tunes.

Lois Duncan: Why I Write Horror

Twisted_WindowIn anticipation of Halloween, Lois Duncan revisits the inspirations behind her horror thrillers including The Twisted Window, Gallows Hill, and more.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t plan to be a writer. I started submitting stories to magazines when I was 10, painstakingly pecking them out on my mother’s manual typewriter, and at age 13 I actually started selling them. When I was 20, I wrote my first full-length book, a sweet romance titled Debutante Hill. It was by necessity a young adult novel, because what did I know to write about other than teenage issues that reflected my protected childhood? That book was published and won a national award, and without any conscious intention for it to happen, I found myself a “niche writer,” known for her gentle love stories.

However, the time soon came when I found that restriction boring. I had outgrown my niche, but I didn’t know how to get out of it. I began to take cautious risks, like placing my characters in dangerous situations and then extracting them safely with a platonic kiss at the end. My publisher was not happy with my changing what was then considered the “established formula” for my youth books. So I found another publisher, one who would let me write mysteries as long as they weren’t “edgy.”

But I wanted to be edgy. I kept pushing beyond my limits, with scarier situations and more sophisticated plotting. So again I had to change publishers. But now I was having fun and kept on pushing, and suddenly—overnight, it seemed, although it had been many years coming—I found myself being described as “Lois Duncan, the Matriarch of Young Adult Horror and the Macabre.”

Here was I, gentle, grocery-shopping, laundry-running, mother-of-five, revealed to the world as a woman with a terrifying dark side! My husband and children were stunned, but I was delighted. Writing was now not only my career and my passion; it was a game. With every new novel I tried experimenting with something different. In Killing Mr. Griffin, my protagonist was a teenage psychopath. With I Know What You Did Last Summer, I used a double-identity twist, (which worked well in the book but was omitted from the movie). The theme of Stranger With My Face was astral projection; Gallows Hill was based upon reincarnation; and Down a Dark Hall, (soon to be a major motion picture), was a ghost story.

But probably the most challenging story I ever tackled was The Twisted Window. This was an experiment with viewpoint, inspired by the fact that witnesses to a crime will appear in court and convincingly describe very different recollections. It occurred to me that the same is true of readers. They are totally influenced by the statements of the viewpoint character. But what if there were two viewpoint characters, and each saw the same thing and interpreted it differently? Would it be possible to keep spinning the reader’s responses to events in the story to coincide with opposing beliefs of each viewpoint character? It would be like gazing at the same scene through a twisted window so that things appeared one way and then abruptly appeared otherwise.

That is the reason The Twisted Window has been classified as a “horror book.” There’s no violence, no gore, no multi-fanged vampire. In fact, there’s not even a villain. The horror is the fact that readers have to keep switching their beliefs from chapter to chapter.         

Such crazy-making can be the greatest horror of all.

Gena Showalter's Recommended Halloween Reading

ZombieheartsGena Showalter introduces her latest book, The Queen of Zombie Hearts, and shares what's on her Halloween reading list.

I didn’t have Halloween in mind when I started writing Alice in Zombieland or its sequel Through the Zombie Glass—I was actually inspired by Lewis Carroll’s classics Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass—but my publisher and I agreed that October would be the perfect month to launch each new title, and I’m beyond thrilled to complete the trilogy this month with the release of The Queen of Zombie Hearts. My zombie-slaying heroine, Ali Bell, and her crew of slayers are ready to get you into the “spirit” of the season (hint, new twist on zombies, hint). I hope you enjoy falling down the zombie hole with Ali, her sometimes Cheshire-like best friend, Kat Parker, and my own secret, favorite crush, Cole Holland, who at times might just seem a little bit mad. 

The Arcana Chronicles by Kresley Cole—Poison Princess and Endless Knight: Apocalypse now, baby! The end of the world has come, and the teenage embodiments of the Arcana cards must fight to the death…because only one can survive. 

They All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire: Murder and mayhem: All the girls at Vienna High dream of getting on “the list,” where the hottest girls in the school are named. But this year, if you’re on the list…your life ends.

See Me by Wendy Higgins: A fantastical world of leprechauns, fae, and human magic. A modern day teenage girl must come to grips with an arranged marriage to a handsome Irish boy, but as things start to go her way, she’ll realize some things aren’t what they appear to be.

Ghost House by Alexandra Adornetto: I haven’t had a chance to read this book yet. But what embodies Halloween better than an eerie, romantic tale with touches of horror featuring a girl haunted by ghosts and a 157-year-old tragedy involving an intriguing young man who is long dead?

The White Rabbit Chronicles by me: If I don’t like my own books, I shouldn’t be writing. Alice in Zombieland, Through the Zombie Glass, and The Queen of Zombie Hearts tell the story of Alice “Ali” Bell, who learns through a terrible tragedy that the invisible monsters her father always raged about are real—and she was born to slay them.  

Sneak Peek: "The Accidental Highwayman"

Ben Tripp makes his YA debut with The Accidental Highwayman, a whimsical fantasy set in eighteenth-century England. After a series of random events unfold, Christopher “Kit” Bristol, embarks on a quest to save a fairy princess from an arranged marriage to King George III of England--only to encounter a series of fantastical obstacles (think goblins, princesses, and a magical map) along the way. The book, out on October 14, is filled with Tripp's illustrations, several of which he has shared here.


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