28 August 2011

Author Interview: Victoria Schwab Talks Near Witch and Narwhals!

As many of you already know, I’ve been obsessed with The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab for a very, very long time. And now it is HERE, and I am so happy, I keep hugging my copy and dancing. I hope you are all reading YOUR copies right now.

Before The Near Witch was among us, when I was still a quivering mass of excitement while I waited for its release, I asked Victoria to stop by for an interview, and she was sweet enough to oblige!

Laura: Victoria, thank you very much for agreeing to this interview! I know you're terribly busy and very stressed with touring and edits, so it means a lot that you'd take time out of your schedule to do this. I am head over heels for The Near Witch, and I know I could talk all day about my love for it. What would you like readers to know about The Near Witch?

Victoria: The Near Witch is not really paranormal romance, but it's not really high fantasy either. It's a fairy tale, and fairy tales exist in this odd, wonderful gray space between genres. It's a tale of witches and ghosts, of trust and fear and magic and strangers. I hope people pick up not knowing what to expect. Too clearly these days by the time we've lifted a book from the shelf, we think we know what we're in for. I don't want people to know. I just want them to read. Maybe for a little while, the world goes away.

Laura: What has been your favorite author experience to date, and what part of being a newly-published author are you looking forward to the most?  

Victoria: Oh man, I'm not sure I can pick. It's been so surreal, having authors I respect, and whose work I love, treat me as an equal, chat with me, welcome me into their world. I hope I never get used to it. I will say that I'm a huge Laini Taylor fan, and the first time she spoke to me on Twitter, I might have done a dance in my kitchen.

Laura: I consider myself a student of cover art, which is a nice way to say that I spend a lot of time staring at covers and analyzing them. A lot of time. How well do you feel The Near Witch's cover expresses the story?

Victoria: My favorite part about The Near Witch's cover is actually its lightness. It's by no means a light story, but it's whimsical, even in its dark moments. It's an odd cover, especially for paranormal/fantasy, which tends toward dark palettes, but I love it for that. The Near Witch is different, and the cover is different. There are these faint gloss filigrees you can only see when you get close, and I love that, too. It's meant to draw you in. A little unassuming, perhaps, but up close, layered. I like the think the book is like that, too. Plus, the moorscape on the back makes my heart happy.

Laura: In The Near Witch, the setting is a vibrant and active part of the story. Was Near or the moor inspired by a real place you’ve visited?

Victoria: I've spent a bit of time in England (the north of which is most often associated with moors) but Near was a mix of things. The isolated, airy feeling inherent in fairy tales, the rolling, tall-grass hills that make land like sea, the weedy, unkempt wild and the old stone and wood, stacked-together structures. I wanted the tangled feel of it all.

Laura: Which character came first, Lexi, or the Near Witch, and did one inspire the other?

Victoria: Lexi came first of the two, but Near and Cole preceded both. The first things I knew of the book were the town and the stranger, but I heard them described in Lexi's voice. The Witch came last :)

Laura: projects are you working on now? This is an obvious ploy to trick you into telling us more about your mystery project, Vagabond Puppies.

Victoria: Haha, it will take more than that to get me to spill about Vagabond Puppies. But I'm just about to start edits on my next contracted book, The Archived. The only way we've been able to describe it so far (the mash-up is constantly twisting and changing) is Buffy meets The Shining meets If I Stay. Believe me when I say I CANNOT WAIT to share more. As for Vagabond Puppies... my lips are sealed.

Laura: Do you have a favorite drink or snack for when you’re writing?

Victoria: TEA. Tea and some form of baked good, preferably a cookie, to go with it :)

Laura: Who are some of your favorite authors? And can you tell us which books you think nobody should miss?

Victoria: It is a long, and ever-growing list, but always at the top are Neil Gaiman, Laini Taylor, Suzanne Collins, Patrick Rothfuss...

Laura: You have a whole army of narwhals...what is their mission? Should we be afraid?

Victoria: YES. BE VERY AFRAID. My narwhals wander out into the world and whisper witchy things ;)

Laura: The Zombie Apocalypse has begun: What is your strategy for survival?

Victoria: Eat as much sugar as humanly possible. I've heard zombies prefer salty over sweet.

Laura: That is very good advice... *opens bag of cookies*

You can pick up this brilliant book at Barnes and Noble or Amazon. OR, PREFERABLY, from your favorite indie bookstore! Really, you should order this book last week because it is just that great. I can't stop giving it out at the library.

Thank you again for stopping by, Victoria!

19 August 2011

Let's Add This to the Curriculum

Tankborn by Karen Sandler (October 1, 2011, Lee & Low Books)
Review by Kenzie Helene

It is rare that I come across a book that I would love to teach. I'm not headed out to be a teacher, or to make lesson plans of any sort, but there have been a few times that I've come across a book so perfectly written that it is made to be in a classroom. A book that has lessons that need to be taught with a plot that can capture the heart of a high school student set against reading. Tankborn is one of these novels.


Kayla is a GEN, a Genetically Engineered Non-human. Loka, Kayla’s planet, is run on an archaic caste system, one where GENs are the lowest tier. In her fifteenth year, Kayla  is given an assignment that she is told will make her happiest in life because of the skill set she was engineered with. Kayla is sent to take care of Zul Manel, an old trueborn, but before she can go, a series of codes is downloaded into her annexed brain and upsets the course of her future.


Tankborn brings up the biggest question in history (and literature): what does it mean to be human? Is being human having the traits that we consider to own as ours? Is it being able to think past biology, to make decisions based on reasoning deeper than the need to breed and pass on genes? Or is it DNA and DNA only? By providing the best medical care that we can, are we somehow taking away what makes a person human? Tankborn questions all these  theories and how far we should go in genetic engineering if we wish to remain on top.

Beyond the idea of humanity itself, Tankborn delves into the controversial subject of religion.
Trueborns and lowborns have kept the one thing that unites Islam, Christianity, and Judaism by believing in a Lord Creator. Kayla and other GENs, however, believe in a different religion, one ruled by the Infinite. Tankborn makes readers question the origin of religion and rediscover why they believe in their faith, or why they do not.

Author Karen Sandler has come a long way with this plot, starting Tankborn off as a play and eventually adapting it to the brilliant novel it has become. Tankborn’s plot is enrapturing. The first fifty pages go a bit slow, but all of it is needed to show the reader the language style and lifestyle that is on Loka. By the end of the book, you’ll be thinking in terms of GENs and trueborns more than proletariat and bourgeoisie.

Her characters are built so solidly that you could reach out and bop them on the head when they make bad decisions. Sandler spent quality time with these characters, learning about them and talking to them enough that it feels like she’s writing about her best friends more than make-believe people. Each character’s motivations and confusion is documented within the pages, revealing the inner turmoil they go through. Devak’s, Zul Manel’s great grandson’s, mental war between enjoying Kayla’s company and having been taught that GENs are lesser is fully understood by anyone who has ever been confronted with a new idea. Mishall’s, Kayla’s best friend’s, bewilderness about the sketchy people she works for makes the reader squirm with sympathy. Kayla’s self esteem issues about her looks is something any teen can relate to. All these intimate problems make reading Tankborn feel more like a memoir than fiction. When a book is loved, the writing is so much better and well thought-out. Tankborn was obviously loved to pieces.

Whether you read every day or once a year, Tankborn is a book that you need to run out and get.** And if you love it, make sure to share it with a friend.

** On October 1st, of course!

12 August 2011

A Candor Would Say This Book is Awesome!

Divergent by Veronica Roth (May 3, 2011, Katherine Tegen Books)
Review by Kendra Zartmann

I never heard any pre-release news for Divergent by Veronica Roth. It was only because an awesome bookstore owner clued me in that I even picked up the book. She asked me to trust her, that Roth's writing style was spectacular and that she would be a big name by this time next year. I am so glad that she told me about this book and that I trusted her judgment*. I'm usually disappointed from books that are compared to big series, like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, but Divergent definitely rose to the challenge. This book was utterly marvelous.


Divergent takes place in a world that is meant to be black and white and where shades of gray are not tolerated. There are five groups: Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite, and Amity. Upon reaching adulthood, people are put through a test to see which group they belong to and are allowed to pick which one they'll spend the rest of their life in. Beatris was born an Abnegation, but quickly discovers she doesn't fit into any group fully and is told to hide the fact that she tested as a Divergent.

Upon choosing her house, Tris meets Four. Four and Tris immediately connect, but it isn’t until later that Tris figures out how they’re so similar. The answer leads her into the middle of a battle she never thought would happen.


The main character, Tris, is likable and realistic with her flaws and natural conflicting emotions. Roth focuses on the idea of being true to your own personality versus family loyalty in this novel, a problem that many teens have to go through. While Tris' mother is accepting of her change in house, Tris' father feels deep betrayal and refuses to talk to either of his children. Roth shows both possible outcomes of defying your parents' wishes in a realistic way, making the novel relate to teens who have experienced either situation.

Roth shows two characters who are divergents, rather than a whole group of them. While this does give readers the notion that no matter what they are going through, they aren't alone, it also has the issue of having to hide it among a large group that wouldn't understand. With a lack of more divergents in the book, it gives the punch of man versus society that some dystopian books are missing.

The plot develops with every chapter, never letting the reader put it down until every page has been read. I would sincerely recommend not picking up this book until you had a few hours to dedicate to reading the entire thing through because you would skip a class just to find out what would happen next. Roth's writing refuses to let you out of the grasp and makes you become Tris, a young girl who has to drag up courage out of no where and become a hero.

Divergent jumped from a book I had never heard about to one that would put into my top ten favorite books within a few hours. Just one read and you'll be craving to pick the book up again. But be warned, it's the first in the series, and the wait for the next one might just kill me, since it likely won’t be out until May 2012.

* Always listen to your librarians and booksellers. They know what books are awesome and give great recommendations.