Friday, April 1, 2011

In Which I Rant About Press Releases...

Ah, the press release.

For reviewers, I'm sure you're all familiar with those fun little letters from the publisher that come with the review books, right? It's usually from the publicity department and they can include any or all of the following: a longer synopsis, praise for the book, author interviews, etc etc. Sometimes, they give me tiny little spoilers about the book that I didn't know before receiving them - and that just makes me want to read the book even more. Most of the time, I always learn something new about the book or the author... sometimes both. To be honest, I enjoy these letters.

Until yesterday.

What changed my mind? A particular little press release to a book that I was really looking forward to reading. I read it, and it compared this book to one of my favorite book series. I thought, "Great! That means I'm probably going to really like this book!" I was thrilled ... until I actually started reading the book.

I had to stop reading this book several times because the similarities to the book it was compared to was too much. The main girl acted like the one in the other book. The main guy could have been the clone to the main boy in this other book... even to the point that he was saying things almost identical to what the other guy said. I quoted these lines out to my husband and even he said it sounded like the other book. To put the icing on the cake, this book's characters made a reference to the characters in the other book.

I was flabbergasted, to say the least. The funny thing is that I liked this new book that I read. It was really good. However, it took me about double my usual time to read it because I had to stop several times to get over the comparisons and references. I wanted to enjoy it. And I did. But I don't think I enjoyed it as much as I would have if I wouldn't have had the thought of the other book so profoundly in my head.

So, that got me thinking... why would someone compare their client's book to a book that it is so eerily similar to, even referencing to? Would that not call for extra scrutiny and lower ratings?

Because I'm telling you guys right now... I'm having to actually hold off on my review of this book because I want to review it fairly - and I don't want to compare it to this other book at all. I think if I wouldn't have read the press release with this comparison, I wouldn't have noticed the similarities to the other book so much. Its influence wouldn't be so strong to me. But it was mentioned and now it's there, stuck front and center in my head.

Has anyone else ever experienced this? If so, how did you handle it?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Blog Tour Author Interview: Tom Kepler


Tom Kepler
Website | Facebook | Twitter

Tom Kepler's Books
Love Ya Like A Sister [Buy] [My Review]
Bare Ruined Choirs [More Info]
The Stone Dragon [Read]

What inspired you to become a writer?
The desire to write really kicked in when I was about 14-15 years old. A young woman student teacher took over my English class when I was in the 9th grade. I thought she was beautiful and intelligent and . . . well, you get the idea. She had us write in journals every day--anything we wanted to write, just between student and teacher. Totally private. I started writing all these love poems. The ability to write out strong emotion--not a story or an event, just emotion--was a powerful experience. So there I was, sitting in class, a teenager who was gaga over the teacher and handing in these torrid, emotional out-pourings . . . And she was classy enough to let me write. She didn't laugh at me or tell me to stop being silly and get a life. She let me write. The result was that I experienced a truth--writing is a powerful inner and personal experience--something much more than just words on the page to share with others. It was good teaching. Being a creator is heady stuff, and I have been writing ever since.

Do you have a favorite scene from the book you can share with us?
A fun scene to write--you'll have to tell me how fun it is to read!--is the scene where the main male character, Randy, is sitting on the toilet and talking to his ex-girlfriend on the cellphone.

Randy answered the phone as he sat down on the toilet.
“Oh, hi, Randy, this is Susie.”
“Yeah, I recognize your voice.”
“Sure. It’s good to hear yours. What ya doing?”
“Oh, just sitting around.”
“I thought maybe we should talk.”
“You mean shoot the shit?”
“No reason to be crude.”
“You’re right. You just caught me at an awkward time for baring my soul.”

The scene represents one of the ideas that I developed in the novel. Sometimes we assume we know what's going on with the other person, but we really have no idea. Even when we talk to someone face to face, we have to be careful that our assumptions aren't presumptuous. In this case, this part of the novel is just a funny extreme of that idea. Along with this idea is the another of how important it is--especially for teenagers--to tell friends about what happened, whatever it is that happened. So in the novel, sometimes readers will learn about events by having one character tell another about an event. I did this rather than just narrating the event. I even have one instance where a character is telling another character about having discussed something with a third character. This rings true for me--high school years are very social years.

Are any of the characters more close to you than others?
Randy, the main male character in the novel, was always close to me, especially in the first draft of the novel. There are experiences in the book that are like my teen experiences, and also experiences of my son--like his mother passing away. The experiences in the novel, though, are not autobiographical; rather, they are renderings of emotion--events and characters made up but emotions remembered, adapted, and expanded.

Then, in later drafts of the novel, I came more and more to appreciate and respect the female main characters. They are essential to the novel because their strengths provide Randy with motivation and inspiration. They grow and evolve, and their changing changes Randy. The two sisters in the novel are different, yet I grew to respect both for their fundamental goodness and acceptance of their own qualities. Gwen is brave and independent and really living on an emotional precipice for much of the book. Most of the characters are having growing pains--legitimate and worthy of compassion--but Gwen is struggling for survival, and in order to survive, has to keep much of her struggle private.

What would you say is one item you absolutely need in order to write?
Hmmmm . . . I don't really need any one thing, other than the obvious like a brain or oxygen. Something to write with and on certainly helps. Let me try to go beyond the obvious, though.

Having some order in my outer life helps me be more focused on my inner life. My first wife was very sick for eight years before she passed away (my son was ages 8-16 years during that time), and I wrote very little. I wrote parts of this novel, sometimes with months and probably even years between the writing sessions. Earlier in my life, when I was about 22, my idea was to get a very straightforward job--it was working in an organic apple juice cannery in a town called Paradise, actually--and just going to work every day and then coming home and writing. Carrying in my pocket a pencil and notebook. Having a job with no demands, just float through the job and then do the real stuff--writing.

It didn't work out like that, but the challenges and responsibilities of my life have given me more depth, I think. I don't regret my life as a person or as a writer. However, a little more time would be good . . .

What is one thing on your bucket list?
I had to do some research on this on to see what a "bucket list" is. It seems to be a list of things to do with our lives before the bucket get kicked over--and then we wake up dead.

Since I'm writing this as a novelist, I'm going to relate this question to my writing. As a school teacher, I get to write during summer vacations, weekends, and a little during the work week; however, a school teacher is never really away from the job. There's curriculum and lesson plans and enrichment and . . . I would really like to experience just being a writer, and not being a full-time teacher who also writes. I would like to have an idea, have a plan, and have the time to devote myself to that vision from start to finish without having to also earn money for the mortgage payment. I realize that something always comes up, and I realize that creative people make the time to create. I believe that and have experienced that. I'd just like the train to slow down so that when I jump off (or on!) I don't get so skinned up. Right now I am reading through the manuscript (D7) of my fantasy novel, The Stone Dragon. I have also written draft 1 of its sequel, Dragons of Blood and Stone. I have about four more novels of this series in my head. It would be great to be able to devote myself full-time to writing.

By way of a conclusion: if I had the choice of waking up dead or not, I'd much rather be dead and awake than dead and dead asleep. There's always something good to say about living a spiritual life.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Blog Tour Character Interview: Bruce from Leverage

Today I have the distinct honor of interviewing Bruce from Joshua C. Cohen's debut novel, Leverage. Be sure to check out my review of Leverage here.

Welcome, Bruce! Lets start with something a little simple, shall we? Describe yourself for us in 5 words.

Aw, that's easy. I'm super ...

Could you tell us about Oregrove High?

"Yeah, sure. It's, like, a mega-high school and there are seriously not enough Asian or brown people walking its hallways so, like, some days I get the feeling I'm this alien in a sea of white faces and they're all staring at me. I don't have anything against white people--my best friends are all white (some of them are painfully white to the point they have almost a sickly bluish tint to Danny in mid-winter when all tan has left his skin) but, like, it would be nice to not feel like a freak of nature for being the only Vietnamese dude in a school of 3500 students. Other than that, I can't really complain. I mean, I think Oregrove is pretty much the same as every other mega-high school that worships football to the point that it allows its captains to get away with assault and cheers them on.

Aside from the rings, do you have anything else that you're passionate about?

Hmmm...let's see do I phrase this delicately ...GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS!!! Are you kidding me?!?! I'm an 18-year old dude!!! Gymnastics is just something I do to try and keep my mind off them. I mean, don't get me wrong. I love kicking butt on the rings and learning new tricks. But, pretty much, I started doing that to impress the ladies. My main problem is I'm short so I pretty much have to date other girl gymnasts. But I love volleyball players. If any girl out there is reading this and you are, like, an Amazon-tall volleyball player and you're into short Vietnamese dudes that cherishes walks on a sunset beach, candle lit dinners, puppies, poetry and opera, then call me.

How would you describe your relationship with Danny?

Danny is my boy! He's small now and he's still OCDing out about it but eventually he'll grow up. I've seen Danny's dad and he's over 6 feet tall so Danny just needs to be patient. Danny's got a good heart but he's scared of his own shadow. Still, after all he went through this season--after all we both went through this last season--I know that, when push comes to shove, Danny's got my back. He's loyal. And he works his butt off in the gym. If he tells you that he joined the gymnastics team for any other reason than to impress girls, though, don't believe him. He's lying.

What was your first reaction when you heard the news about Ronnie?

Are you kidding?! It was awful! I couldn't believe it was happening. I mean, Ronnie was totally normal--shy and quiet--but not the kind of guy that does that. It didn't make any sense. It still doesn't. I'll never understand it completely.

If you had to describe Kurt in 3 words, what would they be?

1) Freakin' HUGE!
2) Freakin' STRONG!
3) Freakin' TOUGH!

After everything that's happened, do you feel as though you've changed?

Yes. A lot. In ways that even I still don't understand. I'm thinking of majoring in psychology at the University when I attend next year to help figure it all out. I definitely think I'll have some PTSD going on for awhile.

One lucky winner will receive a SIGNED copy of Leverage! To enter, all you have to do is comment on this post and be sure to leave some way to contact you (preferably e-mail address). Unfortunately, this is for US Only. Sorry guys!

Contest ends Friday, April 8, 2011 at midnight EST. Good luck!

This post is part of Teen Book Scene's blog tour for Leverage. For more information on the tour, click here. Link

The Ice Princess, by Camilla Läckberg

The Ice Princess
Camilla Läckberg

Publisher: Free Press
Release Date:
March 29, 2011 (1st: 2002)
Patrik Hedstrom (#1)
Mystery, Thriller
Paperback, 400
4/5 (Avg 3/5)
The American debut of internationally bestselling Swedish writer Camilla Lackberg’s haunting first novel. Returning to her hometown of Fjallbacka after the funeral of her parents, writer Erica Falck finds a community on the brink of tragedy. The death of her childhood friend, Alex, is just the beginning. Her wrists slashed, her body frozen in an ice-cold bath, it seems that she has taken her own life.

Erica conceives a book about the beautiful but remote Alex, one that will answer questions about their own shared past. While her interest grows into an obsession, local detective Patrik Hedstrom is following his own suspicions about the case. But it is only when they start working together that the truth begins to emerge about a small town with a deeply disturbing past.

I don't get to read mysteries and thrillers much anymore. When I do, I hold them to a standard a little higher than I set most books. I think that it's safe to say The Ice Princess lived up to that obligation.

This was an enjoyable read. It held everything that a good mystery should. There was a lot of plot, a good deal of suspense and just the right amount of background to help the story move along, as well as setting up information for the next book. Not only was the story well-written, but the characters really popped for me. They had dimension, complete with their own personalities that set them apart from others in the book. The main character was great. You really felt as though you were right there with Erica the entire time.

From the crime to the mystery, almost everything in this book was good. The only place I felt that it fell short was when things really started falling into place - it almost felt a little stale at moments. Stale or not, it wasn't enough to make me not finish the book. This was definitely a nice read to sit down to on a dreary day.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Leverage, by Joshua C. Cohen

Joshua C. Cohen

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release Date:
February 17, 2011
Young Adult
Hardcover, 426
4/5 (Avg 4/5)
The football field is a battlefield.

There’s an extraordinary price for victory at Oregrove High. It is paid on—and off—the football field. And it claims its victims without mercy—including the most innocent bystanders.

When a violent, steroid-infused, ever-escalating prank war has devastating consequences, an unlikely friendship between a talented but emotionally damaged fullback and a promising gymnast might hold the key to a school’s salvation.

Told in alternating voices and with unapologetic truth, Leverage illuminates the fierce loyalty, flawed justice, and hard-won optimism of two young athletes.

To describe this book in a word: intense.

When I started this book I expected some mild bullying and some vague descriptions of a few small pranks played that could maybe include some black eyes, but more of an emphasis on the steroids and kids trying to figure out how to stop them. Boy, was I wrong! What I thought of violent school pranks was nothing like what was described in this book. I've never been too squeamish when it came to books, but reading what some of these kids went through really had me on edge. The tragic result of one prank literally had me in tears, the others having me squirm uncomfortably in my chair.

The story is told in alternating perspectives, a star football player with a horrible past and a talented gymnast with a snarky attitude. Kurt, the football player, really stole my heart from the very beginning. He was a strong character with a bad start in life, but that bad start made him into a good character with more redeeming qualities than most would have coming from the same upbringing. Danny, the gymnast, started out as a fun-loving character with a quirky mouth and not a care in the world except for his gymnastics. As the story unfolds, both of these characters go through exponential changes both good and bad. Poor Danny took the worst of it, as you read the book you literally watch his carefree attitude all but vanish. Though they both go through horrific events, I consider both Kurt and Danny heroes for what they endured and the chances they took to make things right.

A character that I wish would have had more appearances in the book was Tina. She just kind of showed up every now and then, but her actions in the book proved she was one of the good guys. I loved how she helped out when she could, never backing off when things got tough. The three main football players in this book were horrific. There was nothing redeeming about any of them and I found myself screaming at them through most of the book - which I guess means that the author did a great job at making good bad guys.

The pranks and said "bad guy" football players were both a little hard for me to swallow in the sense that they both seemed a little over the top. However, the writing and emotion was built up so well in this book that I got over that fairly quickly. Some scenes were so graphic that I sometimes had to take a break for a calming breath before I could read on. Cohen leaves nothing to the imagination.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It's real and it's raw, heartbreaking and intense - yet at the end, it's uplifting and triumphant. Leverage will open up your eyes to things that you may have never seen before... and you might never want to see again. It won't be a story for everyone, though I think everyone should give it a chance. It's a great book, though probably not for the faint at heart. Even though it's labeled as Young Adult, I'd definitely recommend it to a more mature YA audience as it contains scenes of violence and rape, as well as strong language.

Find Joshua C. Cohen Online
Website | Facebook | Goodreads

Purchase Leverage
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

I'm hosting a giveaway for a signed copy of Leverage that's open from now until Friday, April 8, 2011. Be sure to comment on my character interview with Bruce to be entered. To be directed to the post, click here!
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