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Author interview & June book reviews

Check out my interview with YA fantasy author Lynette Bacon-Nguyen and my June book reviews of YA historical fiction The Vanishing by David Michael Slater (5/5 stars), YA contemporary fiction Speech and Debacles by Heather DiAngelis (4.5/5 stars), women's fiction Miranda Writes by Gail Ward Olmsted (4/5 stars), and adult contemporary fiction Hanging Stars on Big Willow Creek by Sarah Hill (3.5/5 stars).


Author Interview

Bio:

Lynette Bacon-Nguyen is a fantasy writer living in Georgia. She loves creating new worlds, examining different story elements, and creating characters a bit different than your average fantasy heroes. She loves all forms of media, kayaking, rock climbing and tabletop roleplay with her friends.


Book:

Adventurer's Overture

A YA Adventure Fantasy.

Pondril is a majestic city full of adventuring opportunities. At age 15, Amber arrives at Pondril, eager to start her official adventuring career at the Adventurer's Hall. Many things stand in her way, from vicious cats to prejudiced fellow adventurers.

But something evil is stirring- something that threatens everyone. People go about their business, happy and content, unaware of the danger lurking beneath their feet, something coming out of the water.

After saving the life of Arabella, a girl training to be a priestess of Aoiria, the two girls will join forces to save the people of Pondril.

Shambling, splashing, snaring.

Haunting, horror, howling.

Cursing, crawling, creeping.

The Restless Dead have awoken!

The saga begins in Adventurer's Overture.



Interview:

Why did you want to write this book?

I had a character I created, and I wanted to build a world for them is how it started. I created a character for a long form in a nondefined lore world and I made up a bunch of lore for them. I really love this particular character I made because of the way she struggles. The main character of this series is a character who doesn't fit in the world she moves through but she persists anyway.


What is the biggest theme of your book?

Don't assume is one theme, but the other theme is to reach out. My novel deals with a few problems that are much bigger than individuals that require a lot of help to deal with and it goes through the consequences of both embracing the help of others and trying to take up too much on your own. The power of friendship might be a common trope, but it's not just about friendship. It's about bonds, relationships, and being able to form them even when you don't necessarily fit.


What was your biggest struggle in writing the book?

Making myself do everything in order. So there is a very large temptation in writing to just write ALL the fun things right away just to get you going, but there's an innate flaw in that. If you write ALL the fun stuff first, all you're left with is the stuff you have to dredge through. Plus writing things in chronological order allowed me to build continuity throughout the story because you can plan out your story all you want, but stories change as you write them. Some of my favorite scenes aren't scenes I would have just written first cause they were fun, they were scenes I created in the midst of more boring transitional actions because logically they could happen instead of just being alluded to. Also, I wrote exactly one scene out of sequence with the rest of the novel, and I had to rewrite it when I got to it because the lead-up to it, had changed. So it was just more work. Even if it's somewhat painful and makes things more tedious it's better to do things in order because it allows you to account for any changes.


What is the best advice you can give to a new author?

Horse before the carriage, you need a manuscript before you do anything else. That's the hardest part for me because I wanted to tell everyone about my story, post blog posts, talk on forums, and drop it into conversations. But all that talk is meaningless until I had a finished manuscript. You can do other things in the meantime, set up an author presence by making a website, creating social media, and consulting the writing community about editors and book covers, but the journey doesn't really begin until you have that first draft. It's the first and hardest step, but once it's done, you can actually start walking down to do publishing.



Book reviews

5-stars:


The Vanishing by David Michael Slater

The premise:

YA historical fiction. WWII and the holocaust.


To save her best friend from the horrors of Nazi Germany, an invisible girl must embark on an utterly unforgettable journey of redemption and revenge. The Vanishing is fierce and loving, devastating and compelling, a breathtaking blend of history, fiction, and magical realism.


My review:

5/5 stars.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.


Wow, what an incredible book. As someone who went through a phase of solely reading WWII-related books, I feel confident in saying this is one of the best I’ve read. I usually don’t like fantastic elements in realistic fiction (like an invisible girl), but not only does it work here, I can’t imagine the story any other way.


This is obviously not a light read. The topics are handled with care and aptly convey the atrocities of the time period. That being said, it is also inspiring and heartfelt and captivating with strong characters and immersive writing. I don’t often get lost in a book anymore, but I did here. Kudos to the author on an incredibly important, well-written work.




4.5-stars:

Speech and Debacles by Heather DiAngelis

The premise:

YA Contemporary. Mental Health and Endometreosis.


Drama class is nothing like Taryn Platt’s favorite TV show—no one has broken out into song yet, and there isn’t nearly as much kissing. But the seventeen-year-old is surprised to find one thing going the way she’d hoped. It turns out she’s not half bad at acting. When her Drama teacher recruits her for the school’s powerhouse Speech and Debate team, she can’t believe her luck. Even better when she finds out the guy catching her eye, Riker, is one of the team’s strongest competitors—and hopefully he got the hint she likes boys as well as girls. But when painful, amped-up cramps invade her pelvis, performing on demand and getting close to Riker become increasingly less feasible.


Up until junior year, Riker Lucas had one life goal—break into the world of voice acting to perform videogame voiceovers. Then one look from the green-eyed new girl from Speech brings on a second goal—getting himself over the hurdle of actually talking to her. The task proves impossible when a nagging inner voice constantly reminds him how worthless he is, how he doesn’t stand a chance.


Taryn’s pain worsens, keeping her out of commission at the most inopportune moments, and Riker’s oppressive self-denigrating thoughts steal his interest from his favorite activities. As Riker and Taryn float closer together and then farther apart, they both must work to find solutions for coping—or they’ll miss out on each other as well as their performance goals.


My review:

4.5/5 stars

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.


As someone who mostly reads books about mental health and is a clinical psychology student, I think this was an incredibly successful representation of depression, anxiety, and dealing with chronic pain. For depression, I appreciated the inclusion of passive indifference leading to missed days of school, etc. It is also the first book with endo rep, something I wish there was more of when I was younger. The other characters' comments about period pain being normal were dishearteningly realistic. Even better, the bisexuality representation that does a great job of being an aspect of Taryn's personality, without it being the main conflict or her only defining trait.


Other important themes this book does well include parental neglect and the resulting parentification of teens, success independent of one's love interest (i.e. not having one person "save" the other, or causing the other's character growth alone), and navigating crushes in high school.


My issues with the book were mainly those I would attribute to editing - the timeline jumped around a bit, with some chapters starting a few scenes before the chapter before, others jumping way ahead, etc. This pulled me out of the suspended reality of the book, and left me frustrated at times. Some of the writing/phrasing was a bit awkward as well.


All-in-all, this is a wonderful book with great chronic illness/mental illness representation by a talented author.



4-stars:

Miranda Writes by Gail Ward Olmsted

The premise:

Women's fiction.


A disgraced attorney seeking redemption. A single mother desperate to regain custody of her son. Two women willing to risk it all to put a sexual predator behind bars.


Former Assistant District Attorney Miranda Quinn is on the brink of a career comeback when she gets a phone call. It’s a witness who disappeared three years earlier, resulting in a violent criminal going free. Miranda got fired as a result, but the witness has re-surfaced with a shocking story to tell; one that implicates Miranda and her ex, defense attorney Adam Baxter. And now, there’s a new victim.


Miranda’s legal advice blog-turned-podcast Miranda Writes is about to become a daytime TV show, but the negative press could destroy her credibility. Will the network stand behind her?


When it comes to the law, Miranda has all the answers, but the questions are getting harder and the stakes are getting higher. The dangerous web of lies and cover-ups she exposes leaves her questioning just how much she is willing to risk. She has the right to remain silent, but needs to speak up… doesn’t she?


Miranda Writes is a story of how far we’ll go to protect those we love and the power of second chances.


My review:

4/5 stars.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.


Miranda Writes is a clever, well-plotted, and character-driven book that expertly weaves together the worlds of law, women's fiction, and entertainment (i.e., blogging, podcasting, and TV). There was a good amount of tension, both with the high stakes and the gradual unfolding of what happened. I love the clever title and the cover as well. Overall, I think this is a great book.


In case you can't tell from the description, there are a few tough topics covered in this book, particularly r*pe/sexual assault (off-screen, but recounted at trial) and calorie counting/diet culture.


Why I gave it 4 stars instead of 5: the fatphobia and diet culture representation. Part of Randi's characterization is her concern with her weight, calories, and "healthy eating". While this is unfortunately a common mindset for those who identify as female, including these things without addressing it as problematic perpetuates these ideas. I would have loved to see 1. content warnings, since this could be triggering for those recovering from an eating disorder and 2. a character arc where Randi has a more healthy relationship with food at the end (perhaps prompted by her dad's sandwiches?) rather than dichotomizing foods as "bad" or "good".



3.5-stars:

Hanging Stars on Big Willow Creek by Sarah Hill

The premise:

Adult contemporary fiction.


Rylie Johnson is living her dream as a best-selling author in New York with her husband, Spencer and their imaginative little boy, Alex. As she prepares for the release of her newest book and upcoming book tour, her world is turned upside down when she receives a phone call from home. She must return to Idaho, the place she left twenty years ago and help care for the woman who raised her. Rylie comes face to face with the past she worked so hard to forget and learns things aren’t always as they seem.




My review:

3.5/5 stars.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review. Overall, this was a delightful story of the different types of love, family, and finding happiness. The tension was high, characterization strong, and the premise intriguing (i.e., how do you compare the passion of young love with the security of mature love). I really liked the before/after, particularly because I needed to keep reading to know what happened between her and Maysen. While I didn't know how there could be a satisfactory ending given the different plot threads, Hill managed to find it, which was impressive. What I would have liked different: some of the language around (off-screen) intimacy like "gave herself to him" and "the love she felt was stronger than her willpower" felt like sex shaming (of her as a woman, not of him as a man, of course). Phrasing like "Indian-legged" is outdated and racist. Some of Rylie's actions were questionable at the end, and the moral that was being communicated about them felt unclear - I had a lot more trouble rooting for her after that. And finally, while I really liked how much Rylie loves her family, I kept questioning the extent to which she is distraught at being away from her son and husband for a few days. All-in-all, I think this is a good light/clean contemporary fiction book with strengths in plotting, tension, and characterization.



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