Awake at Dawn by C.C. Hunter

10800916There’s a reason why C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls series is on the best-selling lists. Her main character is living every teenage girl’s fantasy. Tall, blond and gorgeous, she’s the prettiest – and most mysterious – girl at Camp Shadow Falls. Two of the camp’s hottest boys are chasing after her – plus she’s got the coolest best friends a girl could ever ask for.  Oh – and did I mention that a side-effect of her hidden super-powers is growing an extra cup-size over night? So not fair…the only things that sprouted on my teenage body overnight were pimples.

If you’re not familiar with the Shadow Falls series, here’s the scoop: Kylie is a camper at Shadow Falls, a place where teenage fairies, vamps, werewolves, shapeshifters and witches can learn how to hone their supernatural powers. They can do some really cool stuff like reading each other’s brain waves, shifting into four-legged beasts, and communing with ghosts..

Unlike her fellow campers, Kylie’s supernatural identity is a total mystery. Desperate for answers, she hires a PI to look into her ancestral past. And as her powers begin to develop, she comes up with more questions than answers. What kind of preternatural species can talk to dead people, run at warp speed, and grow taller and more boobalicious overnight? No one – not even the camp counselors – seems to know.

In this second installment, Kylie is plagued by a new ghost who insists that someone she loves is on the cusp of death. It would be helpful if the blood-drenched spirit could give her more details. But like everything else, Kylie must figure it out on her own. And if that’s not enough, she’s facing some serious boy drama. Lucas, a gorgeous werewolf with smoldering blue eyes, inexplicably skipped town with the world’s bitchiest she-wolf. She wants more than anything to write him off completely, but his love letters and dream-scaping invasions keep her hanging on.

Wouldn't Jared Padalecki make a great Derek?!?

Wouldn’t Jared Padalecki make a great Derek?!?

And then there’s Derek. Don’t let the half-fairy status fool you; this guy is no sissy with sparkly wings. He’s big, buff and completely smitten with Kylie. I have to say that the shower scene is one of the hottest romantic moments I’ve encountered in paranormal teen lit. With his brown shaggy hair, chiseled features and barrel chest, I kept picturing a half-naked, dripping wet Jared Padelecki. Supernatural fans, you know who I’m talking about! Kylie must have some crazy superpowers to walk away from…shall I say…a very promising opportunity.

Considering the formula of YA paranormal love triangles, I’m willing to bet she’s going to end up with the mysterious bad boy, but oh how I wish she could just be with Derek. He’s sweet, romantic and oh-so-very perfect! If the author really wants to give her readers a plot twist, she should make Kylie choose the nice guy in the end.

Aside from the love triangle, Kylie is also helping her friends deal with some serious problems. Miranda is crying into her pillow every night over a bad breakup. Della fears the death angels will make her atone for the sins of her past. And Sara, Kylie’s mortal BFF back home, is no longer returning her phone calls. Aye yay yay – teenage life is tough!

The plot thickens when the prophetic ghost gets more and more demanding. Soon someone Kylie loves will die – and she only has a short window of time to stop it from happening. And if that’s not enough, she’s also being stalked by a rogue vampire who is out killing mortals on the streets.

There’s a lot going on in this book, but the author does a fine job weaving the plot threads into a cohesive story. With every chapter she hits me with a cliffhanger, leaving me with no other option but to tear through the pages to get some answers. Warning: if you have weekend plans or chores to tackle, DO NOT read this book. I took this thing with me on the plane, and it was torture having to put it away when I had to make a connecting flight! All in all, this is one of the best paranormal series out there. If you’re looking for a good character-driven novel filled with plot twists, romance and mystery, give Shadow Falls a try!

Tricks, Treats and a Roundup of Halloween Nostalgia

Here’s a photo of me looking particularly fiendish in my Freddy Krueger getup

Now that we’re in the thick of the Halloween season, it’s time to dust off those old books that gave me nightmares back when vampires were scary and werewolves were blood-thirsty fiends. Let’s face it, the YA “horror” genre ain’t what it used to be. Sure, glittery vampires and lovelorn ghosts are amusing, but do they give us goosebumps? Eh, not so much. So this year, I’m revisiting some old titles that set those little hairs on the back of my neck on edge when I was a mere sprig of a girl. Here’s a sampling of some of my most favorite Halloweenie reads from the days of yore.

Trick or Treat by Richie Tankersley Cusick

Here’s an oldie but goodie. Back in seventh grade, I clearly remember reading this thing from cover to cover – in between classes, on the school bus, in detention, and under the sheets with a nightlight.  That was the year when I realized that I didn’t have to deal with reality. Thanks to this author, I hit the pause button on junior high life and immersed myself in an alternate world of spooks, haunted houses and dreamy ghost boys. Like all her other novels, Richie Tankersley Cusick uses her tried-and-true formula: Girl moves into a haunted house under tragic circumstances. Girl crushes on cute, mysterious boy. Girl discovers dark secrets about her new home. Girl and boy team up  to conquer evil. Throw in a spooky backyard cemetery and a demonic stalker, and you’ve got yourself a fun little Gothic ghost tale for a dark and stormy night!

Beware by R.L. Stine

How could I leave out R.L. Stine – the great master of YA macabre? I remember that fateful day at the mall bookstore when I begged my dad to buy me this book. Considering my dad’s a total sucker, it didn’t take too much to get him to relent. Oh how I miss those days when I’d spend an afternoon at the mall with my dad eating corndogs and buying books. Come to think of it, whatever happened to mall book stores? Don’t mallrats read anymore? But I digress…this is a fun little compilation of R.L. Stine’s favorite short stories by an impressive assortment of literary greats – from Bram Stoker to Shel Silverstein to Ray Bradbury. My favorite, of course, is Ray Bradbury’s “The Black Ferris,” a spine-tingling story about an evil carnival that “came to town like an October wind, like a dark bat flying over a cold lake, bones rattling in the night, mourning, sighing, whispering up the tents in the dark rain…”

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

Remember that kid at the slumber party who insisted on telling scary stories and playing Bloody Mary? I was that girl. Yep, I was to blame for that ubiquitous sissy who cried for her mommy in the middle of the night. I was responsible for the “Mad Molly” nightmares that kept all the girls shivering in their bunks at summer camp. All of those morbid stories were spawned by Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Even to this day, I will not show up at a campsite without this trusty collection of dark and spooky tales. Some are silly and downright hokey, but a few stories still chill me to the bone. The story about “Harold,” a demonic scarecrow with a thirst for human blood, always gives me the creeps! But what scares me the most about this book are the morbid illustrations. It’s hard to believe those images of bloody hands and impaled scarecrows would cut it in the children’s section. But hey, I’m not going to complain! I turned out perfectly normal…right?

The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith

Forget the WB show and its complicated plotlines. Seriously guys, after the third season I was so done with the tangled web of ancient legacies, vampire/werewolf hybrids and traitorous vampire hunters. Miss one episode and you’re totally lost. If it wasn’t for the eye candy, I doubt I would have made it past the second season. But don’t fret, you can still get all the enjoyment out of the Vampire Diaries without the whiney younger brother and convoluted subplots by reading L.J. Smith’s trilogy. If you’re looking for an action-packed vampire love triangle with intricate plot threads, you should pick up something more contemporary. But if you’re in the mood for a good old-fashioned vampire love story with lots of teeny angst, give this series a shot.

Review: Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate, No. 1)

I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of sci-fi, dystopian fantasy or anything involving star-crossed fairies. When I first read the dustcover of Soulless, I was immediately turned off by the whole steampunk thing. But it was on sale for $5, so why not give it a try?  And wouldn’t you know, I was immediately sucked into Alexia Trabotti’s world of vampires, werewolves, dirigibles and mad scientists!

Although fanged and furry creatures of the night coexist with humans in this odd realm of Victorian London, many people (scientists especially) are weary of their supernatural powers. That’s why Alexia must keep her soullessness under wraps. Known as a “preternatural,” she has the unique ability to rid a supernatural being of its powers with just one touch. It’s bad enough she’s a spinster with an unsightly Mediterranean complexion, let alone a lack of human essence! Plus her wisecracking comments are typically frowned upon in polite London society.

The story begins when Alexia accidentally kills a rogue vampire with her trusty brass parasol at the Queen’s ball. When Lord Maccon, a gorgeous Scottish alpha werewolf, is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate, he comes up with more questions than answers. What’s behind the random vampire attacks? Why are vampires disappearing from their hives? All signs point to Alexia, but Lord Maccon is convinced of her innocence and soon grows a fondness for her ballsy attitude and curvaceous physique.

There are many things I love about this book – whip-smart dialogue, screwball comedy,  smoking-hot make out sessions, to name a few. But I really got a kick out of the secondary characters, especially Alexia’s best friend, Ivy, who has a huge collection of hideous hats. Alexia’s zingers about her friend’s ridiculous fashion statements had me laughing out loud! I also love, love, love her vampire sidekick Lord Akeldama. He’s your token gay best friend with impeccable fashion taste and snarky one-liners. The intoxicatingly witty love-hate banter between Alexia and Lord Maccon is also very entertaining. Gail Carriger has clearly mastered the art of dialogue and character development. I can’t wait to delve into the next book to see what’s in store for Alexia and Lord Maccon as their relationship develops!

So my fellow readers, the moral of this story is to try out a new genre! Who knows, you might be missing out on a real treat. After reading the Hunger Games in one sitting, I’m kicking myself for never dabbling into the realm of dystopian fantasy. That review is coming soon!

My Book Boyfriend (3): Aiden Wallace from A Werewolf in Manhattan

Yay it’s hump day – and you know what that means! It’s time to shine the spotlight on my literary hottie of the week! For this week’s My Book Boyfriend, I bring you Aiden Wallace, the scrumdillyumptious male lead in Vicki Lewis Thompson’s cute little paranormal romance A Werewolf in Manhattan. What’s My Book Boyfriend, you ask? Well it’s a weekly meme created by Missie over at the Unread Reader that allows giggly book bloggers such as myself to match their literary crushes with a hot celebrities.

While reading this book, I couldn’t help but picture Victor Webster, the guy who played Vic Donovan in the Lifetime Movie adaptation of Killer Hair. Confession – I picture this ridiculously good looking man in pretty much every romance involving a tall, dark and handsome bad boy.

The gist: Emma Gavin writes about werewolves, but that doesn’t mean she believes in them-not until a pack of real-life New York weres decide to investigate the striking accuracy of her “fiction.” When Aiden Wallace, son and heir of the pack leader, tries to sniff out Emma’s potential informant, he discovers something even more dangerous – an undeniable attraction to her.

Description: Tall, dark and mysterious with broad shoulders that fill out his custom-made suit without the benefit of padding. He has the chiseled jawline of a shaving commercial model, a strong nose and a high forehead. Thick hair the color of chocolate and eyes the shade of warm caramel.

My collection of swoon-worthy quotes:

“Wanting her was dangerous. She was not of his kind, and if she learned what he was, she could put the pack at risk. Yet desire waylaid him each time he caught her scent.”

“When confronted with the powerful aphrodisiac that was Emma’s essence, he struggled to remember his own name. The more he allowed himself to succumb to that heady feeling, the more complicated the problem became.”

“He gave thanks that he had command of a man’s body, as well as the form of a wolf. Without a man’s body, he wouldn’t be able to savor this prelude, this dance of mouths that taunted them both with what was to come.”

“I’ve fought it with every breath in my body, Emma, but I can’t fight it anymore. I love you . And because I do, I must give you the choice to walk away. I want what’s best for you.”

Under Attack by Hannah Jayne

The dramatic cover, with a leather-clad huntress wielding a smoking gun in one hand and a Taser gun in the other, might suggest this book is about a kick-ass demon warrior on a quest to evicerate the forces of evil.  But don’t be fooled – this book is not what it  appears to be! And for me, that’s a good thing because I’m much more into fun and frothy urban fantasies involving quirky crime-solving sleuths and preternatural hotties. So if you, like me, enjoy characters like Sookie Stackhouse or Stephanie Plum, you’ll really get a kick out of Sophie Lawson, the leading lady in Hanna Jayne’s Underworld Detection Agency series.  

As a human immune to magic, Sophie is somewhat of an anomaly at the Underworld Detection Agency, a beurocratic office that helps paranormal beings blend into San Francisco society.  As the executive assistant to the agency’s director, she uses her magical force shield to her advantage while dealing with disgruntled trolls, vamps, weres and pixies. But after a brush with evil at – where else – Starbucks, she realizes her resistance to magic is no match for Satan’s Spawn.

On a quest to retrieve the Vessel of Souls, a mysterious artifact filled with the souls of the recently departed, Satan’s minion (in the form of Elle Woods) plans to tip the balance and control both worlds. And when she discovers Sophie is the key to finding  the divine vessel, all hell breaks loose – literally!

To save the world from Satan’s wrath – and to avoid dying a slow, painful death – Sophie teams up with her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Alex, and her vampire best friend to find the vessel before it lands in the wrong hands. As they piece together clues, they unearth some dangerous secrets about Sophie’s family. And the closer they get to the vessel, the more they learn about her unusual ability.

As if being stalked and tortured by the devil incarnate isn’t bad enough – Sophie gets the boot from the Underworld Detection Agency after a new micro-managey director takes over. With no other prospects, she ends up working at a re-sale pants shop called People’s Pants. I don’t know what’s worse, having to save the world from an impending apocalypse or working at a store filled with polyester pants and embroidered capris. Ick!

Things really get complicated when Sophie discovers Alex, a fallen angel,  may have an agenda of his own. Should she trust him to use the vessel for good? Or is he just using her in order to restore his fallen wings? You’ll have to read to find out! But you’ll have to wait until it’s released on November 1.

Needless to say, I’m a big fan of Hanna Jayne’s new series. Sophie’s sassy first-person narrative is as charming as it is hilarious. She keeps the quips coming without overdoing it.  While the tone is generally light, there is an undercurrent of danger.  If you’re a fan of Molly Harper, Richelle Mead, or Charlaine Harris, you’ll love this new series. My advice: Get it, read it, share it!

A Q&A with Cynthia Leitich Smith

If you’re a fan of gothic fantasy and paranormal romance, you should sink your teeth into Cynthia Leitich Smith’s newest book Blessed, a young adult thriller filled with brooding shapeshifters and night crawlers set in Austin.  The third installment in a gothic triology, the story revolves around Quincy Morris, an orphaned teenager who’s struggling to keep her parent’s vampire-themed restaurant afloat while saving Central Texas from a legion of rogue vampires. While fighting off blood-sucking fiends, Quincy must keep her new thirst for blood at bay, salvage her soul and clear her best bud and soul mate –a hot-blooded werewolf cross-breed – of murder charges.  Wow – and I thought my high school days were hellish!

Adding a unique spin on the ever-evolving vampire genre, she  gives readers exactly what they want: fast-paced thrill rides filled with vampire lore, preternatural bad boys and steamy romance.  If you haven’t read the first two books in the series, Tantalize or Eternal, you’re in for a treat!   

I had the pleasure of meeting Cynthia at (be still my heart!) a vampire book launch party, and she graciously agreed to chat with me about blood-suckers, her love for dark fantasy and what’s up next!

Welcome Cynthia! Tell us about yourself. When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?  

Thank you! I first began reading and writing from a very young age. I recall that my first “performed” writing was a short story I wrote in second grade about catching crawdads. It was read over an intercom system at my Kansas City, Missouri area elementary school.

By sixth grade, I had a column, “Dear Gabby” in Mr. Rideout’s class newsletter.

In junior high and high school, I served as editor of my school newspapers.

I went on to major in news/editorial and public relations at the White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas, taking several fiction-writing classes as electives.

I continued onto The University of Michigan Law School (with the idea that I’d eventually become a media law professor in a journalism school or first amendment professor in a law school) and continued pursuing journalism through internships at small town and suburban papers as well as The Detroit Legal News and The Dallas Morning News.

The fiction bug bit me hard after graduation while I was clerking for the Department of Health and Human Services in Chicago. I became a full-time writer at age 27.

I couldn’t think of a better city for a vampire-themed restaurant than Austin! How did you come up with this concept?  

Thanks! I’d always been a fan of spooky stories and gravitated heavily toward the horror shelves in the bookstores. Though I began writing realistic fiction, I longed to explore Gothic fantasy from early on. 

It struck me that Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) was perhaps the quintessential horror novel (or one of them anyway) and, being a big classics geek, drew on that for inspiration.

 More personally, I’d worked as a waitress in my teens—first at a Mexican chain restaurant and then at an athletic club (both in Overland Park, Kansas). It struck me that restaurants were such terrific stages for drama. They have thematic music, décor, menus, costuming. Sometimes people even burst into song. 

And sure, folks tend to think of vampires as more drinkers than diners, but I thought that might give my story some of the fresh blood I was looking for. 

Could you give me an example of how you incorporated Austin’s unique culture in your books? 

Tantalize and Blessed are heavily set in Austin. Eternal, only in the beginning of the story. 

That said, the series exudes Austin-ness. Sanguini’s, the vampire-themed restaurant in the book, is set on South Congress, which is an eclectic restaurant-dining-entertainment district. Heroes Quincie and Kieren live in the Bouldin Creek and Fairview neighborhoods respectively. Danger lurks along the hike-and-bike trail to either side of Lady Bird Lake.

Beyond that, there’s a strong sense of the community here. University profs and tie-dyed hippies, indie musicians and filmmakers, professional bikers and politicos and millionaires. 

It’s welcoming, sunny, optimistic, diverse in every sense of the word, and proudly itself. 

Austin isn’t trying to be another city. Austin is Austin and loves it. You feel that in the characters. 

Unlike other protagonists in popular vampire fiction, Quincie is strong-willed and unwilling to sacrifice her soul for love. How does she embody the characteristics of a tough Texan?

Quincie is smart enough to realize that her soul is who she is. If she gives herself up, there’s nothing left. Not her evolving patchwork family or the business she inherited from her mama or her amazing connection to Kieren. He loves her, the real her, not some monster walking around in body. She fights for herself because she has value intrinsically and to those who truly care about her.

As to how Quincie embodies Texas characteristics, I think she’s a particularly Austin flavor of Texan. She’s very open-minded and accepting and loyal to the folks in her life. She’s independent and ambitious and has one heck of a work ethic. I associate all that with Texas, though she’s also the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, who’ve built their business from scratch, and she values that too.

If your vampire books hit the big screen, which actors would play Quincie Morris and her lifelong best friend and love interest, Kieren?

Honestly, I couldn’t begin to say. At the moment, I’m completely enchanted with how Ming Doyle has brought them to life in her early sketches for the graphic novel, coming this fall.

What is your all-time favorite vampire movie/book? 

That’s a toughie. Other than Dracula, I’m going to go with “Lost Boys.” It’s very 1980s in all of the best possible ways—spooky, funny, and romantic. I’m all about that.  

What is the most important piece of advice you could give to an aspiring YA author? 

Write! Don’t play writer. Don’t just talk about writing and go to conferences and haul around that same manuscript for a decade. Show up to the page day after day after day and mean it. 

Can you give me a sneak peak into what you’re working on now? 

Next up is Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, which is told from the point of view of one of my favorite characters, the hybrid werewolf Kieren Morales.  It’ll be released in August by Candlewick Press. 

I also have an essay called “Isolation” coming out next fall in Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories, an anthology edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones from HarperCollins. 

Beyond that, I’m working on a fourth novel in the Tantalize series, which will be more of a sequel to events in Eternal. At the moment, it’s told in multiple point of view by three of the most popular characters in the series and set in both Austin and rural Vermont.

Take a look at Cynthia’s website to learn more about her books.

“Wolfsbane and Mistletoe” edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner

Once again Christmas has roared to a screeching halt. Time to pluck off the ornaments and rake up the mountainous rubble of shredded paper underneath the tree. Although we must say goodbye to the decorations, fat-riddled goodies and yes, even the falalala Lifetime movies, there’s no reason to stop reading Christmassy stories! If you, like me, need something to stave off those post-holiday blues, you should pick up “Wolfsbane and Mistletoe,” a holiday feast of 15 short stories filled with werewolves, shapeshifters, vampires and oodles of romance! I’d like to give you mini-reviews for all 15, but that could take all day and I have some after-Christmas shopping to do! Here’s a taste of three of my favorites. 

For the funny bone
“S.A.” by JA Konrath 

When Robert Westin Smith attends his first Shapeshifters Anonymous meeting, he discovers Santa has a dark side – close ties with Satan to be exact. The not-so-jolly old elf teamed up with none other than Lucifer himself to rid the world of therianathropes, a special breed of shapeshifters with an appetite for evildoers. With his “salvation army” of demonic bell-ringing elves, Santa leaves toys as consolation prizes for children after devouring their parents. Wow – and I thought Billy Bob Thornton was a bad Santa!  Things really get ridiculous when Santa and his band of minions swoop in on the goofy group of shifters to systematically wipe them off his naughty list. I’m not sure what’s funnier about this story, the were-tortoise shouting “man your battle stations” or a wannabe shapeshifter who likes to dance in a hypo costume. Either way, this twisted-beyond-belief holiday tale is sure to tickle your funny bone!

 For Sookie Stackhouse fans
“Gift Wrap” by Charlaine Harris

For many happy couples, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. But for Sookie Stackhouse, it’s downright depressing. Sad, single and alone on Christmas Eve, she can’t stop brooding over her string of fanged and furry ex-boyfriends. Like a gift from the paranormal gods – or perhaps a well-meaning relative – a wounded, naked were-man is left for dead in the winter-bare forest surrounding Sookie’s house. Never one to turn away from a stray were-man (who just so happens to be smoking hot), Sookie wraps him in a blanket and nurses him back to health – and boy does she have good bedside manner! If you aren’t up to date on the series, you may want to catch up before reading this little story because it contains some major spoilers.

 For the naughty list
“Christmas Past” by Keri Arthur

This Christmas isn’t so merry for Hannah. Rather than cozying up by the fire with a tall glass of eggnog, she must brave a snowstorm dressed in a skimpy elf costume – jingle bell shoes and all –to hunt down a vampire serial killer with a penchant for Christmas charity collectors. But the humiliating costume and the unrelenting snowstorm isn’t the worst of it. She’s forced to partner up with hunky Brodie James, werewolf expert and chief investigator for Para-Investigations Squad. Owner of a killer smile and smoldering eyes. And the man who broke her heart precisely one year ago. Frostbite and bloodthirsty vampires are the least of Hannah’s worries when Brodie attempts to lure her out of her elf costume and into his bed. Out of all the stories in this collection, this one’s the hottest! I recommend reading this with a hot toddy and a decadent slice of chocolate cake.