Interview with Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of the Lost Cities & Exile


Today Shannon Messenger, author of two series (one MG, one YA) visits The Hiding Spot to chat about the most recent release in her MG series, Exile. Keep reading to learn more about Shannon, including the MG authors that inspire her writing, her favorite happy word (which gives a sunny description to something not-so-sunny), and her personal non-spot hiding spot.

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Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write? 


It’s funny, because the answer to both questions is the same: Keefe scenes! On the one hand he’s an incredibly easy character to write dialogue for. I could write page after page after page without needing to pause. But that’s also extremely problematic, because he’s a side character and rarely the focus of a scene. So I have to constantly go back and chop so I can actually advance the plot.

Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication? 


Oh titles… why can’t we be friends? Don’t get me wrong—I love my titles. But they were NOT easily come by. Keeper of the Lost Cities took us six months and hundreds of rejected titles to come up with. And  was Exile the same—which is especially crazy considering it’s only one little word. All I can say is: titles are haaaaard. And thank goodness for patient marketing departments who slog through my horrible lists of suggestions.

What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general? 


Hm, that’s hard, because I can’t really say there’s any ONE book or author who influences me. I think I’m more of an amalgam. For middle grade, I love the way Rick Riordan uses humor to temper the brutal things he puts his characters through. I love the worlds Brandon Mull creates, how they’re both so incredibly fantastical and yet feel so plausible and real. I love the whimsical feel of Roald Dahl. I could go on and on, but I think that gives you an idea.

What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a writer/published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing? 


I had two kinds of jobs: the steady, I-need-a-paycheck jobs, which involved exciting things like answering phones and making copies and filing. And I had the chasing-the-wrong-dream jobs when I was trying to work my way into Hollywood. I hated both—for different reasons of course. But they were also what pushed me to stay up late writing, and not give up during the long road toward publication.

If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why? 


Kerfuffle! It’s such a fun word to say. Plus I love that it has such a sunny, happy feel despite describing something stressful and rather unpleasant.

My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality? 


This will probably sound weird but… pretty much anywhere. I’m a huge daydreamer—which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s great as a writer, because I’m always imagining new things. But it’s bad when I have to be a functioning human being, because I get called out a lot for tuning people out without meaning to, or staring into space.
Find out more about Shannon and her books here!
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Review: The Edge of Falling

Title: The Edge of Falling
Author: Rebecca Serles
Publisher: Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster
Pub Date: March 14, 2014
Genre: YA 
Rec. Age Level: 14+
More by author: When You Were Mine

 Picture Me Gone

   
Caggie lives every day haunted by her failure to save her little sister from drowning. Even though no one ever says it, Caggie knows that her parents blame her just as much as she blames herself. Everyone at school thinks she’s a hero after saving a classmate from plummeting to her death at the beginning of summer, but only Caggie – and the girl she saved – knows what really happened on the rooftop ledge. Caggie has formed a wall of secrets and lies to keep everyone at arm’s length, including her best friend, who keeps pushing her to move forward, and her ex-boyfriend, who can’t seem to understand that Caggie isn’t the girl she used to be anymore. Then new boy Astor enters Caggie’s life and he seems to understand the darkness that threatens to overwhelm her every day and, best of all, he doesn’t push her to talk about what happened or to move forward. But Astor has secrets of his own and his demons might be hungry enough to swallow both of them… dead or alive.

Last year I read and very much enjoyed Rebecca Serles’ debut novel, When You were Mine, but I must admit that it pales in comparison to The Edge of Falling. Caggie’s story of grief and guilt is remarkably powerful and painfully captivating. It begins slowly but builds with a steady intensity that leaves the reader completely invested in Caggie and her search for meaning and redemption in the aftermath of her sister’s death. 
  
Notable Quotes:

“If I could go back to that night in May, I’d do things very differently. I’d never end up on that rooftop with Kristen. I’d never save her. I wouldn’t have to.

But even stories with the biggest impact, perhaps particularly these, don’t have the power to be re-written. If if if if… would everything be different? It doesn’t matter though. What’s done is done.”

“I’m trying hard to remain composed. His face slackens, smooths out, and I can’t help but run my eyes over his cheeks, his ears, the freckle on his face. I think about how many times I’ve kissed that exact spot. When someone breaks up with you they should take their memories with them. It shouldn’t be possible to remember someone when they’re no longer there.”

“Sometimes this happens without warning. Like the magnitude of the past – of all that has happened – creeps into the space and inflates. One minute it’s this little thing – contained, pocket-size – the next minute it’s a creature. With legs and arms and scales. That’s how grief works. It’s there even when you forget about it. It doesn’t disappear, but just morphs, changes form.”

Review: The Vow by Jessica Martinez


No one has ever believed that Mo and Annie are just friends. How can a guy and a girl really be best friends?

Then the summer before senior year, Mo’s father loses his job, and by extension his work visa. Instantly, life for Annie and Mo crumbles. Although Mo has lived in America for most of his life, he’ll be forced to move to Jordan. The prospect of leaving his home is devastating, and returning to a world where he no longer belongs terrifies him.

Desperate to save him, Annie proposes they tell a colossal lie—that they are in love. Mo agrees because marrying Annie is the only way he can stay. Annie just wants to keep her best friend, but what happens when it becomes a choice between saving Mo and her own chance at real love?

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The Vow is Jessica Martinez’s third young adult novel, following her debut, Virtuosity, and her sophomore offering, The Space Between Us. If you’ve never read one of Martinez’s novels, what are you waiting for?? Like her first two books, The Vow is impossible to put down and incredibly intense.

 Annie and Mo have been best friends since Annie came to Mo’s rescue in elementary school after an unfortunate pants wetting incident. Ever since, the two have been inseparable. Mo is sarcastic and super focused on his future. Annie is the good daughter, careful to never upset her parents, who keep her close after the violent loss of Annie’s older sister years before. When Mo’s father loses his job, the entire family faces deportation back to Jordan. Despite the fact that Mo has grown up in the US and considers himself American, he will be forced to return to Jordan as well. Annie can’t imagine life without Mo and Mo can’t imagine leaving Annie, not to mention everything he’s worked so hard for in the US, so they devise a desperate plan: marriage. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their solution isn’t as simple as they first assume. Marriage is never simple, especially when it’s done secretly and in less than legal circumstances. The fallout of their actions affect Mo and Annie’s lives in ways they hadn’t expected and may not be ready to handle.

 This book deals with so many different important themes, from platonic relationships to romantic relationships and marriage, familial love and interaction, sibling bonds, racism, prejudice, bullying, loyalty, betrayal, lies, and hard truths. It might sound impossible to make all of these big, complicated things fit together, but Martinez does so in a beautifully complex way. Every issue feels right, nothing is forced, and nothing feels overlooked or unresolved. To me, that would have been a complete disservice to any of the issues within the novel – to have one of these big issues made to seem small next to another issue – but Martinez gracefully sidestepped this potential problem and artfully wove the various themes together to form a story both endearing and compelling. 

While I’ll never say that Annie or Mo is perfect, I really loved them together. Their imperfections make them the perfect friends. One of the shining achievements of The Vow was the fact that Annie and Mo are not romantically involved. While they do love one another, it is the love born of friendship and understanding rather than crushes and romance. I really feel like this kind of friendship and love is rare to find in literature and, often, in real life… especially between a guys and girls. 

I was deeply affected by the prejudice and judgement Annie and Mo must endure from the people they encounter in their small southern town. I’m from a small town and I am all too familiar with the racism and prejudice that can fester in these slow parts of the country. Annie doesn’t really seem to understand… or maybe she just doesn’t want to understand… what Mo’s going through. She defends her parents when they make completely horrible and uncalled for comments about Mo and his family… and I cringed every single time. At the same time, Mo’s family makes some off color assumptions about Annie that caused me to tense. Throughout everything, the judgement and comments, the stares and whispers, Annie and Mo stick together. They may not always do the right thing, but they persevere and try to communicate and understand what the other is going through. To me, this attempt to understand and communicate despite the mistakes and misunderstandings are paramount to overcoming prejudice and judgement within the novel and in real life. Annie and Mo, despite their shortcomings, set a fantastic example.

Obviously, there’s a lot more I could say about The Vow. This book tackles so many different things that it’s impossible to read it and not find something within its pages to connect with, which makes it an emotional and engrossing read. I highly, highly recommend this novel to contemporary fiction readers, regardless of age.

Giveaway: Two Lies and a Spy by Kat Carlton

I have a copy of Kat Carlton’s Two Lies and a Spy for two winners at The Hiding Spot, courtesy of Simon & Schuster! Read on to find out more about the novel, the author, and to enter to win!


About the book:

Kari plunges into the world of espionage on a mission to save her parents while trying to impress the guy she’s been in love with forever.

When sixteen-year-old Kari’s dad sends her an unexpected text, she and her brother immediately go into hiding. Because when your parents are superspies and your dad declares a Code Black, it can only mean something bad. Very bad.

Kari soon discovers that her parents have been disavowed and declared traitors, and she’s determined to clear their names. Breaking into the Agency seems like a reasonable plan, especially with the help of a team that includes her longtime crush, Luke, as well as her two best friends—an expert hacker with attitude and a master martial artist—and Luke’s popular, vindictive twin sister. Oh, and a new guy, who’s as cute as he is complicated…

About the author:

Kat Carlton is the alias for a private citizen working in the interests of truth, justice and the American Way. She’d reveal her true identity, but then she’d have to kill too many people…so Kat is content, like most covert operatives, to take names and kick ass from behind the scenes. 




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Giveaway: Precious Blood by Tonya Hurley

I have a copy of Tonya Hurley’s Precious Blood (and a bookmark!) for two winners at The Hiding Spot, courtesy of Simon & Schuster! Read on to find out more about the novel, the author, and to enter to win!


About the book:

What if martyrs and saints lived among us? And what if you were told you were one of them?

Agnes, Cecilia, and Lucy are three lost girls—each with their own personal demons. These girls meet one night when they all end up in the same hospital…and each wake up with a token from a boy they’ve only just met. Sebastian is gorgeous, mysterious, and has a plan for all of them. As each girl gets wrapped up in finding out just who Sebastian is, they each discover their own strengths, and realize the only way to save themselves is to save each other.

The story begins in Precious Blood and continues in Passionaries, available 1/7/14.

Check out the book trailer:


About the author:

Photo courtesy of Kevin Mazur

Tonya Hurley is the New York Times best-selling author of the highly acclaimed ghostgirl book series; creator, writer and producer of animated and live action hit television series; writer and director of independent films; writer and director of commercials for Playstation, Gameboy and Warner Home Video; and creator of groundbreaking videogames. Her new young adult trilogy, The Blessed, begins with Precious Blood.

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Review: Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans


In this gripping exploration of a futuristic afterlife, a teen discovers that death is just the beginning.

Since her untimely death the day before her eighteenth birthday, Felicia Ward has been trapped in Level 2, a stark white afterlife located between our world and the next. Along with her fellow drones, Felicia passes the endless hours reliving memories of her time on Earth and mourning what she’s lost-family, friends, and Neil, the boy she loved.

Then a girl in a neighboring chamber is found dead, and nobody but Felicia recalls that she existed in the first place. When Julian-a dangerously charming guy Felicia knew in life-comes to offer Felicia a way out, Felicia learns the truth: If she joins the rebellion to overthrow the Morati, the angel guardians of Level 2, she can be with Neil again.

Suspended between Heaven and Earth, Felicia finds herself at the center of an age-old struggle between good and evil. As memories from her life come back to haunt her, and as the Morati hunt her down, Felicia will discover it’s not just her own redemption at stake… but the salvation of all mankind.

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My feelings about Lenore Appelhans’ Level 2 are divided… although I felt like this first book in The Memory Chronicles was interesting (enough so that I’ll be reading the second book), I also felt that the pace was sometimes too slow or that nothing much was actually happening.

Level 2 focuses on Felicia, who is, as far as she knows, dead and resides in hive-like structure populated by countless more drones (as these dead call themselves) who rarely interact, instead spending their days reliving their memories and the memories of the other drones. The memories are accessed via a pod and are categorized with tags, comparable to the shelf tagging system on GoodReads. In the hives, memories are both the currency and the product. Felicia and her fellow drones have no idea how they’ve come to be in this place after their deaths, nor do they know what their purpose is… and no one seems all that driven to find any answers.

All this changes, however, when Julian, a boy from Felicia’s life, shows up in her hive. It’s clear to the reader that Felicia and Julian’s past is complicated – and perhaps not all that positive – but Felicia leaves with him after he promises to reunite her with her boyfriend, Neil, who she misses terribly and thinks of constantly. While the readers know very little about Julian, they are well aware of how Felicia feels for Neil, as her favorite and most accessed memories all feature Neil.

I really liked how Appelhans used the memories and tagging system to give the reader more information about Felicia. I felt this was a really creative execution of “show not tell” and allowed the author to give character history and detail while simultaneously explaining the world of Level 2

One of the only reasons that I didn’t love, love Level 2 was the pacing. As I read, I sometimes felt like there was detail where it wasn’t necessary. I could be remembering incorrectly, but I really felt that there were too many scenes of Julian and Felicia running and fleeing and describing the many hives they passed. There were times when I thought to myself: when is something going to happen?? 

Other than the pacing, I found Level 2 really interesting. I’m especially curious about Julian, who Felicia appears to think so little of, but I can’t help but wonder about. Appelhans did a great job of giving just enough information about characters and events that the reader is left curious and hungry for more detail, so I’m hoping the second book answers some of my questions!

Simon & Schuster BFYR, January 2013, Hardcover, ISBN:9781442441859, 281 pgs.

Review: Chantress by Amy Butler Greenfield

Lucy’s Chantress magic will make her the most powerful—and most hunted—girl in England. 

“Sing, and the darkness will find you.” This warning has haunted fifteen-year-old Lucy ever since she was eight and shipwrecked on a lonely island. Lucy’s guardian, Norrie, has lots of rules, but the most important is that Lucy must never sing. Not ever. Now it is 1667, Lucy is fifteen, and on All Hallows’ Eve, Lucy hears a tantalizing melody on the wind. She can’t help but sing—and she is swept into darkness. 

When she awakes in England, Lucy hears powerful men discussing Chantresses—women who can sing magic into the world. They are hunting her, but she escapes and finds sanctuary with the Invisible College, an organization plotting to overthrow the nefarious Lord Protector. The only person powerful enough to bring about his downfall is a Chantress. And Lucy is the last one in England. 

Lucy struggles to master the song-spells and harness her power, but the Lord Protector is moving quickly. And her feelings for Nat, an Invisible College apprentice and scientist who deeply distrusts her magic, only add to her confusion… 

Time is running out, and the fate of England hangs in the balance in this entrancing novel that is atmospheric and lyrical, dangerous and romantic.

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I’m always searching for engaging YA fantasy novels to love, so I was absolutely thrilled to find Amy Butler Greenfield’s Chantress. Set in 1660s England, the novel follows Lucy, a girl that had been, until recently, marooned on a lonely island, alone except for her guardian Norrie. When Lucy disobeys Norrie’s strict rule of no singing, her entire world changes as she discovers who she truly is and the responsibilities that sit squarely on her shoulders… and her shoulders alone.

The magic in Chantress is accessed through song and singing. At one time, there were many chantresses, but, we soon discover Lucy is the only one left after the rest were hunted and killed, scapegoats for crimes they did not commit. Lucy, who has lived on the island for as long as she can remember, knows nothing of Chantresses, so this first novel focuses heavily on Lucy’s training and education, as she’s the only person that has the power to overthrow the Lord Protector who terrorizes England with his evil Shadowgrims.

Though the plot of Chantress was relatively slow, I didn’t find myself bored by the pacing. As a fan of adult epic fantasy, I appreciate world building, which I think Greenfield accomplished artfully. Additionally, I found this first installment to be primarily character driven and I adored the characters. Lucy may be the main character, but I enjoyed the prominence of the secondary characters. Seeing as Lucy has so much to learn and, therefore, cannot be the source of very much of the reader’s information, the secondary characters are very important to the reader’s understanding of the novel’s setting and practices.

I have to admit, the Shadowgrims and the villain weren’t very scary, but this wasn’t an issue for me. Lucy spends much of the novel training and interacting with various characters, but she’s yet to make any big moves against the Lord Protector. I fully expect the next book to deal much more closely with the dangers and villainous actions of the Lord Protector.

One of my favorite relationships in Chantress was Lucy’s friendship, and budding romance, with Nat. Nat is a scientist and very bookish and is, at first, quite distrustful of Lucy and her magic. This relationship is not easy for either of the characters, but, as a reader, I loved the tension between Lucy and Nat. I definitely am excited to see what happens between these two characters in future installments. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this first book in the Chantress trilogy. It didn’t feature very much action, but, since I was invested in the characters, I wasn’t bothered. I’ll be reading the next two books in the trilogy and am excited to see what Greenfield offers next.

Margaret K. McElderry Books, May 2013, Hardcover, ISBN: 9781442457034, 336 pgs.