Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Interview: Vanessa Barneveld + This Is Your Afterlife

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming author Vanessa Barneveld to the blog to answer a few questions about This Is Your Afterlife, her debut novel releasing today from Bloomsbury Spark. A couple months back I was given the amazing opportunity to design Vanessa's cover, and I'm so thrilled to share a small part of her release day with her. I hope you all enjoy the interview and add This Is Your Afterlife to your lists!

While being haunted isn't an ideal situation, being haunted by a longtime crush is a best-case ghostly scenario. If you found yourself in Keira's shoes, dealing with the sudden appearance of a ghost in your life, what fictional character or real-life celebrity would make your haunting a much more pleasant experience?

Patrick Swayze – he could sing, act, ride horses, and he seemed like a top guy. If he could teach me to dance, that’d be some kind of wonderful. I’m hopeless at following choreography, though. Think Baby at the beginning of Dirty Dancing but ten times worse. I’ve no doubt he’d merengue away from me at the first opportunity!

Keira desperately wants to find out who's responsible for Jimmy's murder. How skilled a sleuth would you say you are?

I grew up devouring Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie books, so I like to think I have a good grasp of the best techniques and questions to ask in order to find out whodunit. And I love trying to guess the villains in Law & Order episodes. In reality, I’d be more like the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, unwittingly destroying evidence and contaminating crime scenes.

Do you think you'd be of any help to her?

I’m not sure I’d be much help at all when it comes to ghost wrangling or interrogating suspects. For one thing, the idea of ghosts does freak me out. I’ve had a few experiences with what I think were ghosts. Unlike Jimmy, they weren’t the greatest of conversationalists. :-) What I could do for Keira is be her confidante and help her through the turmoil that comes with being suddenly psychic. She’s a loner, and while she’s perfectly fine with hanging out by herself, everyone needs a friend they can count on.

You obviously knew both what was going to happen to Jimmy as well as who helped him into an early grave ahead of time, so how difficult was it to place clues for your characters and readers that were neither too obvious nor too obscure?

It’s tricky to get that balance right. Plotting out the story before you start writing helps. Mind you, I’m not a natural-born plotter, so I find this process especially difficult! You need a red herring or two so readers don’t figure it out too quickly. At the same time, it’s useful to drop a tidbit here and there so when the truth is revealed, it’s not something that’s come out of left field. Agatha Christie excelled at the “tidbit drop” – some clues may be submerged in a throwaway conversation, but they’re there.

Given the loss of Jimmy, Keira could probably use some time away from everything to grieve. If she could escape to the world of any other piece of fiction, what world would she choose?

I would like to say Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but that’s a sore point with Keira because she’s regrettably allergic to chocolate. The Wizard of Oz might be more her style. Its “no place like home” motif would certainly inspire her. She has to help Jimmy find his home in the afterlife.

Let's say Keira, Dan and Jimmy are all accompanying you on a promotional tour for This Is Your Afterlife. Which one of them would have the most fun answering reader questions?

Jimmy, hands down! As the captain of the football team, he’s used to being on show. Death is bewildering to him. He isn’t used to being invisible. So he’d take any opportunity to be seen and heard...and flirt. He’s shameless. :-)

If a book was written about your road to publication, what would the title of that book be and how would the first or last line read?

Patience is a Virtue: A Case Study.

Vanessa had spent seventeen years fruitlessly working toward a book deal, but when her cats got “published” in a calendar, she knew it was time to step things up a notch!

Even though Keira can talk to Jimmy in death, what's one thing she wishes she had told him in life?

Jimmy was a like a demigod at school. Strong, confident, celebrated. People were naturally drawn to him. He had an entourage around him all the time – teammates, his girlfriend, girls who wanted to be his girlfriend. But something he never told anyone was that he hated being alone. Keira could have helped him overcome that. The two of them could’ve been great friends in life if they had the chance.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions Vanessa!

• • • • • • • • • • • 


When the one boy you crushed on in life can't seem to stay away in death, it's hard to be a normal teen when you're a teen paranormal.

Sixteen-year-old Keira Nolan has finally got what she wanted—the captain of the football team in her bedroom. Problem is he’s not in the flesh. He’s a ghost and she’s the only one who can see him.

Keira's determined to do anything to find Jimmy's killer. Even it if means teaming up with his prickly-yet-dangerously-attractive brother, Dan, also Keira's ex-best-friend. Keira finds that her childish crush is fading, but her feelings for Dan are just starting to heat up, and as the story of Jimmy’s murder unfolds, anyone could be a suspect.

This thrilling debut from Vanessa Barneveld crosses over from our world to the next, and brings a whole delightful new meaning to "teen spirit".

• • • • • • • • • • •


I live on the east coast of Australia with my musician husband and two photogenic cats. My Young Adult books are represented by Beth Miller of Writers House literary agency. Three of those works have received nominations in the prestigious Golden Heart® Award in 2009, 2010 and 2014. On most days you will find me chocolate addled and trying to convince my cats to sit somewhere other than on my keyboard. The best thing about being an author is the free rein to make up tall stories, as well as short ones.

Speaking of short stories, one of mine was published in HarperCollins Australia’s e-book anthology, URL LOVE. I was inspired to write THE TWEETEST THING after my boss took me to a Duran Duran concert in 2012.

I’m excited about the release of my debut novel, THIS IS YOUR AFTERLIFE, on October 21, 2014. The cats? They’re not all that impressed – they’ve already appeared in the AWKWARD FAMILY PET PHOTOS book and the 2012 I Can Has Cheezburger desk calendar.

Be sure to check the blog page regularly for more news about my books, my cats and my baking disasters.
Find Vanessa:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Review: Snow Like Ashes

Snow Like Ashes #1
Sara Raasch
Young Adult/Fantasy
432 pages
Balzer + Bray
Available Now
Source: ARC from publisher for review

THE STORY (from Goodreads)
A heartbroken girl. A fierce warrior. A hero in the making.

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again.

So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, and serving her kingdom just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics – and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.

Snow Like Ashes is as unique as the frozen flakes that haunt the memories of every citizen of the defeated Kingdom of Winter, beautifully rejecting anything remotely formulaic and instead giving us a world of power and cruelty inhabited by people who shine vibrantly even in the shadow of tyranny. Ms. Raasch doesn't waste valuable page time explaining the parameters of Meira's fantasy world or its political and military history, rather she immediately introduces us to young Meira, a gorgeously determined underdog amidst a larger group of underdogs who seek to retake what was brutally stolen from them years before. The connection to Meira therefore forms swiftly and easily, swept up as we are in her quest to prove herself to both the leader of their ragtag group as well as her best friend and longtime crush, Mather. From this emotional foundation Ms. Raasch builds the aforementioned history of Primoria and its kingdoms, first ensuring our hearts are beating in time with Meira's before fully engaging our minds as she skillfully weaves a dark past in and through the shimmering promise of a better future.

Meira is a heroine who easily sets a new standard against which all future female characters will be measured, her fervent desire to be an asset to those around her–to be someone who makes a difference on a scale small or large–inspiring enough that we simply can do nothing but pour every ounce of faith we have into her. Not only is she dedicated to all things Winter and fiercely protective of a kingdom of which she has very little memory, but she also refuses to stay silent and accepting when she disagrees with the actions or orders of those around her. Many times willfull characters can come across as whiny and petulant in their objections, allowing heightened emotion to reduce the effectiveness of their argument, but Meira argues her points with passion backed by logic and reason, forcing the other person to see the validity of her words through the anger or hurt that colors them. She proves again and again that she has a spine of steel, but accompanying that backbone is an impressive self-awareness and ability to recognize her strengths as well as admit to her weaknesses.

Though some readers may feel this story has a love triangle simply because there are two young men in Meira's life, the romance is anything but so simply labeled, and Meira impresses at every turn with her ability to navigate what could easily become emotionally treacherous waters. Though both Mather and Theron express an interest in Meira, their feelings are far more complicated than merely admitting interest, each of them bound to circumstances beyond their control that have a profound effect on the dynamic between the three of them. As the story continues, however, we begin to see how one young man shuts his eyes to the person Meira truly is while the other opens his wide and sees her inside and out. It needs to be mentioned too that the romance, while a notable and intrinsic aspect of this story, is hugely secondary to the journey Meira herself undergoes, her path toward freeing her kingdom from the shackles of a seemingly impenetrable darkness leading to the discovery of who she wants to be as a woman, a friend, a soldier, and a proud Winterian.

Overall, Snow Like Ashes is a stunning debut from Ms. Raasch, characters leaping from the pages and wrapping themselves around our hearts so tightly we have little choice but to give them the full weight of our hope, love and attention. We're thankfully left with one epic battle behind us and no cliffhanger in sight, but on the distant horizon a familiar shadow can be seen, inviting us to count the days until we return to Meira and join the effort to rebuild Winter once again.

Rating: 5/5

Find Sara:

This book was sent to me by the publisher free of charge for the purpose of a review
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Interview: Sara Raasch + Snow Like Ashes

I'm ridiculously excited today to have author Sara Raasch stopping by the blog to answer a few questions about her YA fantasy debut, Snow Like Ashes. I've fangirled over this book in a previous post, so it should come as no surprise when I say this book blew me away (my full review will go up Monday). It had everything I look for in a fantasy novel, or any novel for that matter, and I simply cannot wait to see how Meira's story unfolds in future books. Welcome to Supernatural Snark Sara!

Try as she might, Meira is not overly skilled with a sword and it’s certainly not her weapon of choice. If you were training alongside Meira with Mather and Sir, what weapon do you think you’d have the best luck wielding?

I actually would choose a sword. Part of the reason I made Meira more apt at long-range weapons was because I myself SUCK at such things and I wanted to live vicariously through her. I tried archery in high school and was atrociously awful at it—even when I try to throw something in the trash, I miss unless I deliberately set it in.

Mather is exceptionally good at wiping his face clean of expression so Meira can’t get even the barest hint of what he’s thinking. If we were granted a few moments in his head, what are some of the words we’d find swirling around in there when he looks at Meira?

A few moments in Mather’s head? Hmm…

Most of the time, he’s kind of stricken by her. She reacts to situations in ways he would never dream of, so when she does something, he just sort of stands there in this dazed mix of awe and confusion. She constantly surprises him, which is one of the many reasons he’s so attached to her.

Political and military alliances in the world of Primoria are often formed through marriage. If you were the daughter of a ruling family and learned you were to be married for the betterment of your kingdom, what character from YA fiction would you most wish for your betrothed to be like?


Hm. Well, I just finished reading Sabaa Tahir’s AN EMBER IN THE ASHES, and Elias. ELIAS. He is perfect. If my betrothed was at all similar to Elias, well… 

What’s one quirk or habit Meira has that those closest to you reading her story might recognize as one she shares with you?

As my family was reading SLA, they kept saying Meira sounds so like me. Her snark, her voice—which was sort of intentional, sort of a happy accident!

The best villains for me are those like Angra who have the ability to inspire both hatred and sympathy; small moments of vulnerability carefully woven into their seemingly all-powerful darkness. Who is your all-time favorite villain from any piece of fiction?

Ignifex from CRUEL BEAUTY. I don’t really know if he’d be classified as 100% villain, though—and that makes me love him! Is he good? Is he bad? Is he trustworthy? Whatever he is, he’s amazing. Refer to the gif in question #3.

If Meira had the chance to ask you a single question about how you wrote her story or what the future holds for her and her people, what do you think she would most want to know?

No matter what happens to Meira or those she loves, her primary goal is to make Winter safe. So I think she would always ask some form of “Will Winter be okay?”

And then after my response, her reaction would invariably be something like: 

When the Kingdom of Winter fell, aside the tragic loss of life, the loss of Winter’s history and culture was the cruelest blow dealt. Though Meira doesn’t have many memories of Winter itself, after her experiences in Snow Like Ashes she knows its people well. If she were to begin a new written recording of all that is the Kingdom of Winter, how would the first line read?



“This war has taken much from us. Lives, land, friends, homes—memories. Whole generations will grow up not knowing what Winter’s chill feels like, or the joy of awakening to a fresh blanket of snow, or the taste of Winterian delicacies. While we cannot bring back the lost lives or childhoods, we can ensure that from this day forward, we all have the memories we deserve.

And someday, our kingdom will reach a point where we won’t need to draw culture from handwritten texts. It will be a part of our lives, ingrained into us.

For now, though, this record will be our home.”

• • • • • • • • • • •


Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now the Winterians' only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter's magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter's defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians' general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend and future king, Mather—she would do anything to help Winter rise to power again.

So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore their magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she's scaling towers and fighting enemy soldiers just as she's always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn't go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics—and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.

Sara Raasch's debut fantasy is a lightning-fast tale of loyalty, love, and finding one's destiny.

• • • • • • • • • • • • 


Sara Raasch has known she was destined for bookish things since the age of five, when her friends had a lemonade stand and she tagged along to sell her hand-drawn picture books too. Not much has changed since then — her friends still cock concerned eyebrows when she attempts to draw things and her enthusiasm for the written word still drives her to extreme measures. Her debut YA fantasy, SNOW LIKE ASHES, the first in a trilogy, comes out October 14, 2014 from Balzer + Bray. It does not feature her hand-drawn pictures. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mini Reviews: Night's Honor + The Accidental Abduction

Novels of the Elder Races #7
Thea Harrison
Adult Paranormal Romance
282 pages
Berkley Romance
Available Now
Source: Finished copy from publisher for review

THE STORY (from Goodreads)
On the run from her former employer, Tess knows that she’s vulnerable on her own amongst the Elder Races. That’s why she decides to audition to become the human attendant of a powerful Vampyre of the Nightkind demesne. But while her position affords her the safety she seeks, her protector turns out to be more than she bargained for.

The right-hand man of the Nightkind King, Xavier del Torro is both terrifying and alluring. While his true nature frightens Tess, she can’t ignore the appeal of his innate sense of integrity and self-restraint. Thrown into Xavier’s world, Tess must quickly learn to navigate the dangers—both to her life and to her heart. But the biggest threat comes from her own past….

Initially the two protagonists of Night’s Honor seem like they might not live up to the couples of previous books simply due to the fact that neither individual is a member of Dragos’s inner circle; our desire to read the stories of all those closest to him resulting in little patience for time with others. What we learn in chapter one, however, is that our doubt in the appeal of Xavier and Tess simply cannot hold up in the face of the beautifully slow burn that brings down their walls and allows trust, affection and true intimacy to flood through.

Tess is the type of heroine we wish for every time we crack the spine of a romance book, completely aware of her shortcomings and honest about her feelings even when standing in front of those who could easily do her harm. Though she fears Xavier for nearly the entire first half of the book, she doesn’t allow that fear to blind her to Xavier’s positive attributes, instead keeping a wary distance from him but fully acknowledging when his words or actions go a long way toward disproving her previous assessment. Xavier, for his part, is amazingly patient with Tess despite the fact that her trust issues affect him more than he’d like, and he gives her all the time and space she needs to come to her own conclusions about the man and Vampyre he truly is.

It takes majority of the book for Xavier to prove himself to Tess and for Tess to open herself up to what her eyes and heart see rather than what her mind stubbornly clings to, but that only serves to create the most delicious type of tension between them, and the reward when they finally come together is worth every minute of the time it takes to get there.

Rating: 4/5

Find Thea:

Darcie Wilde
Adult Historical Romance 
336 pages
Berkley Romance
Available Now
Source: Finished copy from publisher for review
THE STORY (from Goodreads)
Harold Rayburn is about to be taken for the ride of his life…

After having his proposal rejected by a beautiful but flighty woman, Harry vows he is done with unpredictable and impetuous women for good. Until beautiful and fierce Leannah Wakefield barrels into his life, inadvertently kidnapping him while on a wild carriage ride and leaving him all too eager to get back in the saddle…

Leannah would sacrifice everything to protect her family. So upon hearing of her sister’s intended elopement, she races across London to stop the ill-advised ceremony before it can happen. However, when her mad journey picks her up an unlikely stowaway, one who ignites her desire beyond all reason, she’s the one who ends up hastily wedding a handsome and secretive stranger.

But as Leannah and Harry immediately encounter opposition, jealousy, and suspicion of their hurried nuptials, they begin to doubt that their unquenchable passion can truly lead to a happy marriage—especially when both the bride and groom have devastating secrets to hide…

The Accidental Abduction is a fairly straightforward historical romance, the rigid societal structure of the time period creating a number of obstacles for our lead couple to overcome, but despite not creating anything new or groundbreaking within the genre, it's still a sweet and sexy way to spend a couple hours. While the story gets off to a quick start with Leannah practically running Harry down in the street, the pacing of the first half still manages to be a bit slow, endless speculation from both Harry and Leannah about how the other feels, tastes or sounds in intimate moments making us wish for less imagining and more action. That's not to say them actually jumping into bed together would have been the more desirable course–especially given the fact they get there quickly enough–but the time they both spend musing in the first half keeps us from diving into their story with enthusiasm.

Once Leannah and Harry marry however, the story starts to take a more emotional turn, the two of them endlessly compatible in bed but yet so hesitant and unsure out of it. They both have secrets they're keeping from one another, and though that would normally be a source of frustration, they each work hard to be as honest as possible while sorting through the displeasure of their respective families. They don't want to believe all they hear and learn about one another from outside sources, but even as distant observers we can recognize the insidious nature of doubt and how easily it slips into the tiniest of cracks in one's armor, spreading quickly until it becomes all-consuming. Overall, despite a somewhat rocky start with too much time spent on Leannah and Harry's internal musings, The Accidental Abduction ends on a high note with trust broken and then oh-so perfectly restored.

Rating: 3.5/5
Find Darcie:

These books were sent to me by the publisher free of charge for the purpose of a review
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wednesday Flourish: Antebellum Awakening

Hey Everyone!

Usually the word "flourish" accompanies a Friday post wherein I share one of my recent cover designs, but my timing for these reveals has been a bit all over the place lately, so instead of consistent Friday Flourish posts, they're going to be more along the lines of Whenever-I'm-Allowed-To-Reveal-Them Flourish posts ;-)

The design process for Antebellum Awakening was a little different from other projects in that I came into this series on book two, meaning there was already a design aesthetic in place for the series as a whole. Author Katie Cross had worked with another designer for the first book and obviously wanted subsequent books to match in a way that would give the series a cohesive feel, so there were a number of pre-existing elements to the design I needed to be sure were incorporated for consistency. Katie was really fantastic about giving me creative freedom within the series aesthetic though, and it was a hugely fun challenge to set this book apart from its predecessor while at the same time ensuring the two went together as a unit.

For any aspiring authors out there, Katie has written a great post on the self-publishing process, including designing a book cover, so you can check that out here. I hope you all like the final design for Antebellum Awakening as much as Katie and I do!


The Network Series, Book 2

Still reeling in the wake of her mother’s death, sixteen-year-old Bianca Monroe is forced to move to Chatham Castle. Not even the sudden appearance of ancient dragons in haunted Letum Wood nor her two best friends can distract her from the strength of her deep, dark rage.

Her grief puts her magical powers into chaos, endangering any witch around her. She has six months left to destroy the curse that will kill her and fulfill her contract with the most cunning enemy of all: her former teacher Miss Mabel.

Bianca must make a choice: learn to control her restless powers, or let the powers control her.
Antebellum Awakening is the second book in the thrilling new fantasy collection The Network Series. It’s a haunting tale about tragedy, loss, and the power of moving on.

You can find more of my cover design work at Seedlings Design Studio!

Waiting on Wednesday (+Giveaway!): Caged In Winter

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking The Spine and is a fun way to see what books other bloggers just can't wait to get their hands on!

Brighton Walsh
Contemporary New Adult
Releases November 4th from Berkley

In this emotional and sexy New Adult debut from Brighton Walsh, the only thing more frightening than commitment is hope…

Aspiring chef Cade Maxwell is immediately, viscerally attracted to Winter Jacobson. But it’s not her mouthwatering curves he’s drawn to—it’s the strange emptiness in her eyes. When Cade saves her from a drunken customer with grabby hands, he’s shocked at her response…

Winter doesn’t need Cade’s help. After a lifetime of getting by on her own, she’s happy to rely on herself. She’s exactly seventy-six days away from graduating college, and if she can hold it together that long, she’ll finally be able to rise above the crappy hand she was dealt.

But now, every time she turns around, Cade is there, ready to push her, smile at her, distract her from her plans. Winter knows she can’t afford to open up—especially to a man she’s terrified to actually want…

Confession: I cannot cook to save my life. Okay. That's probably an exaggeration. I probably COULD cook if I wanted to, but I so dislike it (it causes me stress!) that I avoid it at all costs. It comes as little surprise then that a favorite trait in a book boyfriend is someone who's good in the kitchen. Well hello there, chef Cade! I also thoroughly enjoy reading about strong, self-sufficient women who have to learn to lean on other people every now and then, so this book seems like an all-around winner to me.

As a special add-on to my Waiting on Wednesday feature, I have an excerpt to share with you!

“Okay, now add the flour, but—” It’s too late, a puff of white exploding in Winter’s face before I can get the words out or reach to flip the switch. “You need to turn the mixer to low.”
She spins around, her cheeks covered in random white spots, some of the flour dusting her hair. “You couldn’t say that before, ‘Now add the flour’?” Her voice is low, her eyes narrowed, and I take a step back.
“Well, yeah, I guess I could’ve, but I just sort of figured you’d know enough not to add loose flour to a wildly spinning mixer.”
“Oh, you figured I’d know enough for that, huh? Even after I told you I’ve never made cookies before? Even then?”
She’s advancing on me now, and I shouldn’t be retreating like a scared animal. I have more than a foot on her, a hundred-plus pounds, but she looks pissed. And that glint in her eye tells me she’s up to something. I glance down at her hand, seeing a measuring cup half filled with flour, and I realize what she’s going to do a split-second before she does, but not soon enough to dodge it.
A cloud of white powder hits me straight in the face, and I cough as I inhale some. Wiping away the dust from my eyes, I say, “I can’t believe you did that.”
“Oh, well, I just figured you’d know enough to duck.” She shrugs and offers me a saccharine smile.
“I don’t think you want to start this with me, baby.”
“In case you missed the flour in your face a second ago, I already started it, baby.”
I stare her down, then reach over, grabbing the bowl of melted chocolate—my mom’s secret ingredient in her cookies—and dip my fingers into it. Winter narrows her eyes at me and takes a step back. “Don’t you dare.”


• • • • • • • • • • • 


Brighton Walsh spent nearly a decade as a professional photographer before deciding to take her storytelling in a different direction and reconnect with writing. She lives in the Midwest with her husband and two children.

• • • • • • • • • • •


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