Underrated YA: Historical Fiction Edition

I've probably talked about this before but in response to this crazypants Buzzfeed list, today I'm going to tell you about some actual underrated YA (in my humble opinion, anyway) that you should probably go get your hands on ASAP. This follows along the lines of Twitter's response to the same article which took place under #quietYA.

Note: Since I'm being all adamant about the fact that I want to shed light on truly underrated books here, I've put some rules in place for myself. 1, Nothing that's been on the NYT Bestseller list (because guys, that's not underrated). 2, Nothing that currently has a fancy (major) "Award Winner/Nominee" medal on its cover (like for the Morris Debut Award - sorry, In the Shadow of Blackbirds and Charm & Strange! I still love you!) because that can definitely help with exposure. 3. Nothing that I've seen talked about constantly on social media/blogs within my slice of the book world because I figure you're all exposed to similar chatter and then those books aren't really underrated to you anymore, are they?

I started writing this and realized that I had so many recs there was no way I could have fit all the books I wanted to rec into one post. So I decided to turn this into a mini-series type deal, hence the second part of the title. This is just the first post and will cover historical fiction. I'm also going to have installments for "genre novels" and for contemporary fiction.

With all that said, here are my historical fiction picks!

GiltTarnish, and Brazen by Katherine Longshore
These three Tudor YA stories centred around real figures in King Henry VIII's court are moving and authentic and only get better as they go on. I really enjoyed Gilt, I absolutely loved Tarnish, and I actually wept during Brazen. They take seemingly almost untouchable people and turn them into sympathetic and understandable characters that are so easy to relate to.
(My review of Tarnish here)

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller
This one is basically a giant feminist romp through the early 20th century with art and romance and suffragettes (oh my)! How you could not want to let this book into your life is completely beyond me. Honestly, just take me at my word on this one.
(My review here)

Sekret and Skandal by Lindsay Smith
Soviet Russian psychic spies. Seriously, what more do you need? The settings are excellently grounded so that the interesting characters and all their psychic spy ways (and related adventures and mishaps) can send your mind reeling without it all being too much. Really great stories and both with exciting conclusions!
(My review of Sekret here; Skandal upcoming)

Maid of Secrets and Maid of Deception by Jennifer McGowan
This historical series set in the court of queen Elizabeth I focuses on a special group of her ladies recruited as spies for the queen herself. The first two books focus on pickpocket extraordinaire Meg and beautiful charmer Beatrice respectively and they're both such fantastic and unique narrators. McGowan really has a great grasp on both the objective view of her setting and of each girl's personality and position and she crafts these stories so well to reflect it all.
(My review of Maid of Secrets here)

The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni
This book has one of the most unique takes on the love triangle trope and on the idea of instalove that I've ever read. Put that into a historical period that hasn't been featured all that much in YA and this slower-paced, character based mystery is a real treat.
(My review here)

Born of Illusion by Teri Brown
A magician who can do real magic is the daughter of a famous illusionist in 1920s New York. You're in already, right? This one explores the strained mother-daughter relationship so well, something that doesn't seem to get a ton of attention in YA. It also has a fun mystery plot to keep you hooked!
(My review here)

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats
If you're looking for a seriously authentic feeling historical fiction novel, look no further. This one takes you right out of the present day and plunges you into late 1200s Wales with absolutely no holding back. The language, the setting, the details that make it come alive - they're all here. It also has two really interesting, complex, often unsympathetic and even frustrating female characters narrating, which was something quite different.

Unspeakable by Caroline Pignat
If you're fascinated by the story of the Titanic, you should give this book about the so-called "Canadian Titanic disaster" a try. At its heart is a slow romance between Ellie and Jim as Ellie recounts her story to a journalist who holds the last thing Ellie can find of Jim's after he goes missing when the ship sinks - his journal. You really get a sense of what it must have been like living and almost dying on that ship, and you can't help but root for the romance and hope against all hope that they'll find each other again.

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher
This is an older one (2008), so I can see why a lot of people haven't read it or heard of it and aren't really talking about it. However, I wish they would. This was one of the first books I reviewed here on this little blog (so I'm not going to link to it... yikes) and I still remember it fondly as a story that placed me firmly in the time period (1940s in the USA) and immersed me fully in the main character's life and struggles and joy. Also, I described Ruby (the mc) as a "strong, outspoken, independent spitfire of a female lead," so that's a pretty great sign as well! 

As a bonus: an upcoming book that I truly hope doesn't slip under the radar:

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
I'm going to (try to) review this one in full soon but honestly, this is one of the most beautiful books I've read in a while. It became an instant new favourite and I sincerely hope that everyone gives it a chance.

What are your favourite underrate YA historical novels? Are any of these ones on your TBR?


Blog Tour Interview + Giveaway: Skandal by Lindsay Smith

I'm extremely excited to welcome Lindsay Smith to the blog today. You may remember when she was here last year chatting a bit about her debut, SEKRET. Well, now she's coming back around as part of the blog tour for its follow-up, SKANDAL and she has come armed with some excellent answers to my questions!

First, here's a bit about the book:

Skandal by Lindsay Smith.

Published: April 7, 2015.
Published by: Roaring Brook Press.

Goodreads Blurb:
The dramatic sequel to Sekret, this psychic Cold War espionage thriller follows Yulia to Washington, DC, where she fights to discover the truth about her family without losing control of her mind.

My mind is mine alone.

Life in Washington, D.C., is not the safe haven Yulia hoped for when she risked everything to flee communist Russia. Her father is reckless and aloof, and Valentin is distant and haunted by his past. Her mother is being targeted by the CIA and the US government is suspicious of Yulia's allegiance. And when super-psychics start turning up in the US capitol, it seems that even Rostov is still a threat. Ultimately, Yulia must keep control of her own mind to save the people she loves and avoid an international Skandal.

And now for an interview with Lindsay!

Jess: Welcome, Lindsay! Thanks for joining me today. To start you off with something easy, can you give five words to describe SKANDAL?

Lindsay: That’s the easy one?! Hmm…
Psychic American grass questionably greener.
Psychic Cold War: Hotter, Louder
Beatniks, Bolsheviks, and Weaponized Telepathy

J: Haha those are good! The second one almost sounds like a parody movie title for an action sequel. I love it! And a book titled Beatniks, Bolsheviks, and Weaponized Telepathy, I would probably be all over.
You introduce a few interesting new characters in SKANDAL. Which new addition are you most excited for readers to meet and why?

L: I’m really excited for readers to meet Staff Sergeant Winnifred Davis, Yulia’s English tutor. Winnie’s a talented Air Force linguist and a no-nonsense teacher who isn’t shy about introducing Yulia to both the good and bad in her new home country. She’s one of the highest-ranking enlisted women and African Americans in the Armed Forces, and she’s also not a psychic, so she sits in that uncomfortable in-between ground of having already accomplished a great deal of things but also feeling like she’s never been able to prove herself enough to her detractors.

I also love Donna Willoughby, one of Yulia’s fellow teammates, a sunny California girl with a mean streak and tendency toward exaggeration. Donna’s not an easy girl to like, but I think she embodies a lot of authentic teen emotions, wavering between an easy confidence and a desperate need for acceptance. She definitely has some growing pains to contend with in SKANDAL.

J: I adored meeting both of these ladies, but especially Winnie. Yulia is certainly lucky to have her.
SKANDAL brings with it a lot of growth for main character Yulia. Without giving too much away, what do you think she would say is her greatest personal step forward since the end of SEKRET? What would she consider the biggest personal challenge she faces in SKANDAL?

L: I think the greatest lesson Yulia has to learn in SKANDAL is that there is no perfect solution. Leaving Russia hasn’t magically solved her every problem, and she can never go home again—her father isn’t the man she remembers, and after what happened to Valentin at the end of SEKRET, he can no longer be her rock. Yulia’s very hard-headed, so learning to be flexible proves to be a major challenge for her in SKANDAL.

J: In SKANDAL we move from the Soviet Union to Washington, DC. How did you get into the mindset of approaching 1960s American culture as a Soviet who has just arrived in the US? Was that hard for you to create or capture?

L: While I could only imagine the specifics of Yulia’s circumstances, I think we’ve all experienced the aftermath of a difficult choice that thrusts us into a new setting—like choosing to attend a different school than our childhood friends, or changing jobs, or moving to a new city. I wanted Yulia to struggle with that decision and doubt herself, as I think that’s only natural; even leaving behind as awful of circumstances as she had, there was still some bittersweetness in leaving Russia for her, and the grass wasn’t always 100% greener.

Beyond that, I tried to present her life in 1960s America as a counterpoint to what we saw in 1960s Russia in SEKRET. The cold, gray winters gave way to garish, sticky springtime; the hunched-over workers and shifty eyes yielded to loud, overly friendly people in bright-colored clothing. She traded the culture of extreme secrecy, stability, and unquestioning loyalty to the Communist Party to an oversharing, sarcastic, and restless American populace at the crossroads of a cultural shift.

J: Was the research for SKANDAL tougher than for SEKRET, or was it easier because you already had a base to draw from? Did you come across anything especially strange or interesting during your research?

L: I found it much easier, with a few notable exceptions—I’d never done much research before into the origins of the Vietnam War or the Civil Rights movement, both of which figure into the backdrop of SKANDAL but had been absent in SEKRET. Also, ever since I’d decided to write SKANDAL, I’d been super stoked to visit the Washington, D. C. Historical Society, only to find that their building was under renovations the entire time I was drafting and revising. I was still able to dig up tons of cool old photos at the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian, however, and went drinking with a DC native and her dad and got him to tell me more than I ever wanted to know about the District in the 1960s!

As far as strange things turned up in researching—I don’t think anything will top the rumors of hapless CIA office workers finding LSD in their morning coffee, courtesy the Science division researchers.

J: I often hear authors say that sequels are especially tough to write. Did you find that with SKANDAL? Was there any part of the process that was particularly difficult this time around?

L: I think part of the scary part of writing a sequel is that, for many authors, it’s the first book they’ve had to write under contract, which is a whole new and terrifying experience unto itself. I also thought that the middle of my deadline would be a great time to change day jobs and buy a house, because I like doing everything on Hard Mode. SKANDAL was not without its challenges—I had to force myself to read early reviews for SEKRET, against my better instincts, so I could focus on the elements readers really loved and ditch the ones they didn’t. But a lot of the tough work of worldbuilding was already done for me, which relieved the considerable mental load that’s usually present when writing in a new universe. I knew these characters and how their world operated. I just had to make it better, different, and more. Easy, right? ;)

J: Finally, I have to ask: I know that your next release is this fall's DREAMSTRIDER (which sounds incredible), but do you see more historical fiction in your future?

L: Fantasy and historical fiction are my two favorite genres, so I suspect everything I do will have elements of one or both! I love DREAMSTRIDER—it is high fantasy, through and through—but I’m pleased that I was able to make it into a standalone, which gives me flexibility for exploring new worlds and settings in future books.

I don’t have a title or teaser blurb for you yet, but my Fall ’16 release does take place in both contemporary and Edo-period Japan (circa 1860). And I always have more ideas for Russian books, too!

J: Whoa, does that ever sound fantastic. I can't wait to hear more about that! And the fact that you think you'll always have fantasy and/or historical elements in your work... you're a writer after my own heart. Thanks so much for answering all my questions!  

Make sure you check back soon for my review of SKANDAL and while you're here, check out Lindsay's links, follow the rest of the blog tour to see what else Lindsay had to say about SKANDAL, and enter the giveaway!

Lindsay's Info

Full Blog Tour Schedule
April 8-Icey Books
April 9-Exlibris Kate
April 12-Fly Leaf Review
April 15-The Bookrat

The kind folks at Macmillan have graciously offered up a copy of SKANDAL to one lucky US/Canada resident. Just enter via the Rafflecopter below. Good luck!

Some Rules (aka the not so fun but important part):
~ This giveaway is open to residents of US and Canada only (void where prohibited).
~ No P.O. boxes.
~ Must be 13 or older to enter.
~ Winner will be chosen randomly and contacted. The winner has 48 hours to respond, otherwise they forfeit their prize and I will choose another winner, who must abide by the same rules.
~ Macmillan will be shipping the prize, thus you must be comfortable with providing me your address to pass along to the publicist at Macmillan.
~ Macmillan and I are not responsible for lost or damaged packages.
No cheating! In this case, I have the right to disqualify entries as I see fit.
~ By entering the giveaway, you are agreeing to these rules.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Anne Blankman's Famous Historical Detectives + Giveaway

Today I'm thrilled to welcome Anne Blankman back to the blog. She's here in honour of her upcoming sequel to the fabulous PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG and she's going to share some of her favourite detectives through history.

First, here's a bit about the much-anticipated sequel:

Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman.

Published: April 21, 2015.
Published by: Balzer + Bray.

Goodreads Synopsis:
The girl known as Gretchen Whitestone has a secret: She used to be part of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle. More than a year after she made an enemy of her old family friend and fled Munich, she lives with a kindly English family, posing as an ordinary German immigrant, and is preparing to graduate from high school. Her love, Daniel Cohen, is a reporter in town. For the first time in her life, Gretchen is content.

But then, Daniel gets a telegram that sends him back to Germany, and Gretchen’s world turns upside-down. And when she receives word that Daniel is wanted for murder, she has to face the danger she thought she’d escaped-and return to her homeland.

Gretchen must do everything she can to avoid capture and recognition, even though saving Daniel will mean consorting with her former friends, the Nazi elite. And as they work to clear Daniel’s name, Gretchen and Daniel discover a deadly conspiracy stretching from the slums of Berlin to the Reichstag itself. Can they dig up the explosive truth and get out in time-or will Hitler discover them first?

And now, welcome, Anne!

Anne’s Top 5 Detectives throughout History

I couldn’t dig too far back in time to find my choices—detectives are a fairly modern concept. As recently as the 1700s, London was policed by night watchmen, and the idea of a large, controlled police force was still in the future. Even today, thanks to new forensic discoveries and breakthroughs in the field of psychology, police work continues to evolve, and today I’m excited to present my top five favorites for real-life visionary detectives—people who strove to find the most advanced techniques for putting criminals away. One of them even shows up in my forthcoming book, Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke, the sequel to last year’s Prisoner of Night and Fog!

Without further ado, here they are, in reverse order:

5. Robert Peel. Okay, technically Sir Peel wasn’t a detective, but as Britain’s Home Secretary he began organizing the London police force in 1829 and worked on establishing a penal system that rehabilitated criminals, rather than simply punishing them. Under his watch, prisons were reformed, and death penalties for minor offenses were abolished. This is definitely a lawman who was ahead of his time.

4. Kate Warne. The first female detective in U.S. history was born around
1830. After being widowed, she decided to go into police work to support herself, and joined the legendary Pinkerton private detective agency. She worked on a number of important cases, which included espionage and embezzlement, and managed the Pinkerton D.C. office during the Civil War. Now that was a trailblazer I wouldn’t mind following.

3. Alphonse Bertillon. The next time you hear about a case being
solved through fingerprint evidence, you can thank this Frenchman. The police officer discovered that if you took 14 measurements of any human body—including height, foot, hand, nose and ear size, and so forth—the odds were 286 million to one that any two people would share the same results. This identification system based on human measurements paved the way for fingerprinting. Bertillon also invented the mug shot, and no doubt earned the hatred of hundreds of criminals.

2. Theodore Roosevelt. Yup, you read that right. The 26th Americancouldn’t do?
President was also the New York City Police Commissioner in the 1890s. His sweeping reforms cleaned up what was then considered the most corrupt police force in the country. Roosevelt implemented regular inspections of firearms and appointed police recruits based solely on their physical and mental abilities, not their political affiliations. He also had telephones installed in police stations. Seriously, was there anything this rancher/Assistant Secretary of the Navy/New York Governor/U.S. Vice President/and U.S. President

1. Ernst Gennat. One of the most famous detectives in German history, Gennat served as the chief superintendent of the Berlin police force’s homicide division. This cool-headed man had a brilliant, nimble mind and investigated some of the most notorious crimes in 1920s Germany. He created the world’s first “crime car,” which was akin to a mobile crime lab and contained the tools he needed to inspect crime scenes on the spot. The next time you use the phrase “serial murderer,” you can thank Gennat—he originated the term in a 1931 paper he wrote on Peter Kürten, the so-called Vampire of Düsseldorf. In all, Gennat solved 298 murders. And in an era when your career often depended on your involvement with the Nazi Party, Gennat managed to advance through the ranks without ever joining the Nazis. Definitely a towering genius who has my respect and admiration.

Thanks so much for having me, Jess!

Thank you, Anne! I always love finding new historical fun facts and you had so many in here I don't even know what I want to read more about first! Needless to say, I am very excited to "meet" one of them (Gennat, I'm guessing) in Conspiracy

Preorder Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke:
Amazon US // Amazon Canada // Barnes & Noble // Chapters Indigo // Indiebound // The Book Depository

Anne has very kindly offered up an ARC of CONSPIRACY OF BLOOD AND SMOKE to one lucky US/Canada resident. Just enter via the Rafflecopter below. Good luck!

Some Rules (aka the not so fun but important part):
~ This giveaway is open to residents of US and Canada only (void where prohibited).
~ No P.O. boxes.
~ Must be 13 or older to enter.
~ Winner will be chosen randomly and contacted. The winner has 48 hours to respond, otherwise they forfeit their prize and I will choose another winner, who must abide by the same rules.
~ Anne will be shipping the prize, thus you must be comfortable with providing me your address to pass along to her.
~ Anne and I are not responsible for lost or damaged packages.
No cheating! In this case, I have the right to disqualify entries as I see fit.
~ By entering the giveaway, you are agreeing to these rules.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Blog Tour Review: All the Rage by Courtney Summers

All the Rage by Courtney Summers.

Published: April 14, 2015,
Published by: St. Martin's Griffin.
Source: Requested an ARC from the Canadian distributor. Thank you, Raincoast!

Goodreads Synopsis:
The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear.

With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women after an act of sexual violence, forcing us to ask ourselves: In a culture that refuses to protect its young girls, how can they survive?

My Review:

Just a heads up: this review is going to be a little bit different by nature of the kind of book this is and the kind of reaction I had to it.

If I could only say one thing about All the Rage, it would be this: this book is so important. I wish I could make every boy read it so that they could get a glimpse of what girls go through. And I wish I could make every girl read it so that they could see why it's so vitally important to care for other girls and to treat them well. Maybe if everyone read this book, people would see why we need to support one another. Maybe people wouldn't be so needlessly cruel to one another. Maybe people would stop and listen to each other a little more - what they need, why they're hurting. Maybe then we'd all feel a little more comfortable opening up to one another. And maybe, just maybe, teen girls would get the care and the voices they deserve.

All the Rage is not a comfortable book. Romy Grey is not a comfortable girl, and you spend the whole book with her, trying to understand all the pain and all the rage (how fitting) that she feels forced to keep inside. Courtney Summers captures this so well that you almost physically react to being in her head. Romy is not a "likeable" female character but who needs likeable anyway? Romy is real. Romy is complicated. Romy is just trying move past the terrible things she has experienced. I commend Courtney Summers on the incredibly complex and deep character that Romy Grey is and on exploring all her layers and dark corners the way she does.

I think one of the major ways in which you can tell when an author has done a great job is when that author makes you really feel something. And I certainly felt lots of things while I was reading All the Rage. It's frustrating, sitting like a bystander to all of Romy's pain and wishing she would just open up to someone. But it also makes you understand completely why she and so many real girls don't open up because what's even more frustrating is sitting there screaming at the people around her to just listen. Listen to what Romy has to say. Stop being so dismissive, so uncaring, so inconsiderate, so outright hateful.

Courtney Summers captures rape and rape culture in this novel; plain and simple in all its stripped-down ugliness. You see how it completely tears a girl apart and the ways in which she tries so hard to cope. You see how it manifests itself in communities right through to the end of the book and it's infuriatingly accurate in the ways in which real communities talk about things like rape and rape culture. There was a moment at the end where a conversation made me want to throw down the book and tear something to shreds because I have heard that exact sentiment before in cases of the rape of a teenage girl and it just makes me want to scream "but what about her!?"

What. About. The. Girls.

Please, please read this book. And then give it to everyone you know so that they can read it, too. And maybe one day enough people will stand up for the girls.

Pre-order here: Amazon Canada // Amazon US // Barnes & Noble // Chapters Indigo // Indiebound // The Book Depository

If you pre-order and you live in the US or Canada, make sure you take part in Courtney's pre-order promotion and get one of her backlist titles free! Enter your pre-order info here.

Make sure you follow the rest of the blog tour!


Mystery Twitter Theater

Guys. Something seriously twisted is going on. 

Somebody took out beloved blogger Ensconced in Lit yesterday. Like, took out took out. Yeah. And they found her body on Twitter. Crazy, right? This whole competitive blogger thing must really be getting out of hand.

But you know what's even crazier? They think I did it!!! Me! That's nuts! I think they're accusing me because it looks like a major Liars, Inc. prize pack was stolen and they know that I'm a big fangirl of Liars and Paula Stokes... but come on. There's no way it could have been me!

Actually... that's exactly it. There really is no way it could have been me. I totally have an alibi! I mean, no, I don't have anyone super legit who can vouch for me or anything, but I can account for all my time! I got off class at 4 EST and took the bus home, like I always do. There's probably a camera or something that saw me, right? Aren't there cameras everywhere these days? I don't know. Okay, so then I got home by 5 EST, which is 4 CST, which is when their window on Christina's death opens. I was already home! So I ate some food, and then I didn't leave my house again. I was at home watching Netflix all night. ALL. NIGHT. I'm sure I watched until at least 10 CST and then I crashed because I have class so early on Fridays. There. It's all true. There must be someone who can check my browser history or streaming log or something. Because I was just at home, chilling on Netflix. Also, do I seem like the kind of person who would just... do someone in like that? I think you know me better than that.

So I need your help. Will you help prove my innocence? Head over to Paula Stokes's blog for all the information about the crime. If you can figure out who the real killer is and how they did the deed, you'll clear my name and Paula is going to award YOU the super-epic LIARS, INC. prize pack, which includes a hand-painted tote, a signed book, a deluxe swag pack, and additional mystery prizes. Come to think of it, I might just have to do a little investigating myself. After all, that prize pack is kind of to die for.

Or should I say to kill for...

#LoyalLiar out.


Interview with Maya Rock, Author of Scripted

Today I'm excited to have Maya Rock joining me on the blog to chat a bit about her recent release, Scripted.

About the book:
Scripted by Maya Rock.

Published: February 5, 2015.
Published by: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers.

Goodreads Synopsis:
Reality TV has a dark future in this thought-provoking thriller

To the people suffering on the war-torn mainland, Bliss Island seems like an idyllic place. And it is: except for the fact that the island is a set, and the islanders’ lives are a performance. They’re the stars of a hit TV show, Blissful Days — Characters are adored by mainland viewers, yet in constant danger of being cut if their ratings dip too low. And no one really knows what happens to cut Characters.

Nettie Starling knows she’s been given the chance of a lifetime when a producer offers suggestions to help her improve her mediocre ratings—especially when those suggestions involve making a move on the boy she’s been in love with for years. But she'll soon have to decide how far she's willing to go to keep the cameras fixed on her. . . especially when she learns what could happen to her if she doesn't.

Jessica: Welcome, Maya! First, can you describe SCRIPTED in 5 words or less?
Maya: Sidekick tries to be a star.

J: What would you say is your main character Nettie's best quality? What is her worst? Would she agree with you on those?
M: Best: she pays close attention to what other people say.
Worst: she tries to avoid taking responsibility for her actions.
No, she would not agree. I think she’d say she was a loyal friend who cares about people (best). Her worst would be that she’s not assertive enough.

J: I think I'm a lot like Nettie thinks she is, so that'll be interesting for me to read! 
Which character (besides Nettie) are you most excited for readers to meet?
M: I know Nettie is the main character, but to me, Lia felt as much like the main character, so I’m excited for readers to meet her. Her motivations and actions were always clear to me, whereas Nettie’s were more opaque.

J: I'm looking forward to meeting her! 
What drew you to the extremes of reality TV as a subject?
M: I like watching it, and it seemed like a great metaphor for life.

J: It seems like Blissful Days, the reality TV show in SCRIPTED, serves as an important escape for the mainlanders watching it. Do you think that part of the North American obsession with reality TV comes from that idea of escape? Do you have any reality show guilty pleasures that provide that escape for you?
M: Yes; I think TV in general is an escape, but I think reality TV is a special kind of escape because the viewers often get to feel superior to the people they’re watching. And in fact the very act of watching these people (on TV) is exerting a tremendous control over their lives. But I also think there’s a wistfulness and envy that goes on with watching reality tv. And I think that reality can heighten some of these feelings of identification that happen. I don’t watch that much reality TV anymore, but lately I’ve been checking out Keeping up with the Kardashians, which I think is as scripted as Blissful Days is by the end of the book. Also, I find social media has some of the same guilty pleasure elements of reality tv. Everyone knows its crafted, but it provokes real emotions. I also think you can see how social media became more self-aware and crafted. It blows my mind how fussy they are about what pictures they’ll upload of themselves.

J: Do you think you would do well on a reality show? Any show in particular?
M: Definitely not a competitive reality show! I wither in the face of any competition. Oh, I guess I’m about to take that back—I did once apply for the Amazing Race, but it was only because I was going with my successfully competitive friend. I still wouldn’t mind doing that, because the tasks they do are so incredible. As far as the ones where you’re supposed to be scheming without having physical challenges . . . I don’t know. I just see myself in tears in all these situations.

J: I can only imagine how tough those are! I don't know if I could handle it either. 
Can you share a favourite line from the book?
M: When Scoop says “I derive no pleasure from derivatives.”

J: Thank you for joining me and answering all my questions, Maya!

Get out there and buy Scripted - I know I'm going to - and if you've read it, tell me what you thought about it. If you haven't, I'm curious about your thought on this concept. I love the idea of exploring reality TV in YA fiction (I know, I MUST read Something Real - I'm going to!) but what do you think about it?


Blog Tour Review: The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows

I'm very excited today to be part of the blog tour for Jodi Meadows' new fantasy (and the first in a new series), The Orphan Queen!

The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows.

To be published: March 10, 2015.
Published by: Katherine Tegen Books.

Source: I received an ARC from HarperCollins Canada for the tour. This does not affect my review of the book. Thanks, HCC!

Goodreads Synopsis:
Wilhelmina has a hundred identities.

She is a princess. When the Indigo Kingdom conquered her homeland, Wilhelmina and other orphaned children of nobility were taken to Skyvale, the Indigo Kingdom’s capital. Ten years later, they are the Ospreys, experts at stealth and theft. With them, Wilhelmina means to take back her throne.

She is a spy. Wil and her best friend, Melanie, infiltrate Skyvale Palace to study their foes. They assume the identities of nobles from a wraith-fallen kingdom, but enemies fill the palace, and Melanie’s behavior grows suspicious. With Osprey missions becoming increasingly dangerous and their leader more unstable, Wil can’t trust anyone.

She is a threat. Wraith is the toxic by-product of magic, and for a century using magic has been forbidden. Still the wraith pours across the continent, reshaping the land and animals into fresh horrors. Soon it will reach the Indigo Kingdom. Wilhelmina’s magic might be the key to stopping the wraith, but if the vigilante Black Knife discovers Wil’s magic, she will vanish like all the others

Jodi Meadows introduces a vivid new fantasy full of intrigue, romance, dangerous magic, and one girl’s battle to reclaim her place in the world.

My Review:

I'm definitely a fantasy fangirl but I always feel like I'm not reading enough of it, so when I heard about The Orphan Queen and found out that it combined fantasy with princesses and spies and magic and that the main character was all three, I knew I'd find a lot to like here. And like I did, absolutely. This is an exciting and mysterious fantasy that still manages to remain wholly satisfying... until the major cliffhanger of an ending! (Seriously, I think I need to have some words with Meadows about that ending. Something very important hangs in the balance and I won't know what happens until the next book!)

One of the best parts of The Orphan Queen for me was snappy and smart heroine Wil and, to a slightly lesser extent, the curious character that is Black Knife and their interactions. I was so glad to find Wil to be the kind of kick-butt but also headstrong heroine that I crave in fantasy. Not that fantasy always needs girls like that, but when someone like Wil comes along who can protect herself with both her fighting skills and with her strong will to do what's best for her and the people she cares about, I'm all about it. On the other side, though, I also appreciated that she had weaker moments to balance her out, which made her feel so much more real and genuine. I am undoubtedly #TeamWil for herself and maybe one day for her kingdom, too.

As for Black Knife and his storyline with Wil... I don't want to give too much away but I'll say this much: I was immediately drawn in by Black Knife and I actually thought I'd figured out who it was (with a little catch that I wasn't sure how Meadows would explain), so when I discovered where she took that character, I was both very excited and very intrigued regarding how that was all worked out in the background (I expect more info on this in the sequel!). From the start, though, watching Black Knife and Wil interact was such a great change from her interactions with her friend Melanie and with Patrick and the Ospreys, the last orphaned nobility left from her devastated kingdom. It was a refreshing change of pace and it brought out so much more in Wil that when they were together, it almost felt like an escape as much for me as for Wil herself.

I think my other favourite thing about the novel was the entire set-up of princess presumed dead becomes spy and infiltrates a rival kingdom's castle and court. Honestly, spy missions and court life are both like my kryptonite, so to combine them together and have a spy mission take place in a court by an imposter? I think I would have been happy no matter how that played out. I enjoyed so much of that storyline that I was actually kind of disappointed when Wil left the court, even though she did it for a V.I.A. (very important adventure). Thus, my only complaints about that whole section of the book was that I wanted the court intrigue to last longer and that I wish there had been a little more detail about the spying that went on. Other than that, Meadows delivered on the parts that I was looking forward to and also provided a punch of a unique adventure to follow it up as Wil learns more about the Wraith. While I still don't entirely understand everything that happened there and would have appreciated it to be a little more clear, I'm excited to get more detail about Wraith and everything that is coming along with it in the next installment.

All in all, Meadows has written an extremely enjoyable and quite uniquely executed fantasy that ticks some major boxes for me (fantastic heroine, spy shenanigans, castles and courts) and that gives magic a spin that I'm really looking to delving into more as the series continues. And as if that weren't enough reason for me to come back for the release of The Mirror King, the major cliffhanger would most certainly have done the trick all on its own. Jodi Meadows, I don't know how you identified so many of the things that make me a rabid reader, but brava.

Find the book: Amazon // Chapters/Indigo.

About Jodi:
Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy and the forthcoming ORPHAN QUEEN Duology (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen). Visit her at www.jodimeadows.com

Find Jodi:
Jodi's website - http://www.jodimeadows.com/