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!

Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore

In honor of Sunday – a day I reserve for reading and lollygagging – I bring you a short and sweet book review! 

From the publisher
: Amy Goodnight’s family is far from normal. She comes from a line of witches, but tries her best to stay far outside the family business. Her summer gig? Ranch-sitting for her aunt with her wacky but beautiful sister. Only the Goodnight Ranch is even less normal than it normally is. Bodies are being discovered, a ghost is on the prowl, and everywhere she turns, the hot neighbor cowboy is in her face.

Why I picked this book: Confession – I had absolutely no business buying another book because I have a stack of review copies to attend to. But how could I pass up a book titled “Texas Gothic”? I spent a good 20 agonizing minutes at BookPeople picking up the book, setting it down, picking it up again and then setting it down. My conscience was telling me to be practical and wait until after I read my stack of books…but the devil on my shoulder always wins.  Come to think of it, this is the exact process I go through in the ice cream aisle at HEB. Texas Gothic is the literary equivalent of a big calorie-laden tub of Blue Bell.

Why I loved it: OMG – where to begin? The hot cowboy next door, the foreboding “Mad Monk,” the Nancy Drew mystery, the hilariously quirky main character – everything about this book roped me in like a steer at a Texas rodeo! Plus it’s set in the Texas Hill Country, a deeply storied region steeped in ghostly legends and lore.  And if that’s not enough – the author (a fifth-generation Texan, I might add!) researched a forensic archeological dig project at my alma mater, Texas State. As a student, I was always interested in the body farm, so this was a real treat. I’ve also been very fascinated by the ghosts and legends of the Texas Hill Country, specifically the Devil’s Backbone. I consulted with Bert Wall, author of a series of books about the haunted hill country, and the Texas Ghost Hunters for a special Halloween story for my college newspaper. Read more about it here.

The romance: The chemistry between Amy and Ben McCullough, the rugged cowboy next door, really revved my engine. They have the whole love-hate thing going on – and it works! Imagine pairing up Nancy Drew with a young, hot Clint Eastwood and throwing some ghost-hunting and witchcraft in the mix. I’m not sure what was more fun, solving the mystery of the missing gold mine and the evil “Mad Monk” or watching Ben and Amy’s relationship develop.

Favorite scene: The author did a fine job using the eerie backdrop of the hill country’s lonely roads and rugged canyons to her advantage. I really got the creeps when Amy pulled over on the side of the road on a dark, moonless night to investigate a ghostly apparition. Lo and behold, she falls down a sinkhole and finds herself trapped in a dark cave caked with bat guano. The thought of being inside a dark cave with a dangerous ghost – and possibly some murderous gold-digging humans – on the loose, really gives me the heebie jeebies!

What I want more of: I’m hoping the author will write another novel about the Goodnight sisters, but with a focus on Phin, the absent-minded genius of the family. I got a big kick out of her nutty experiments and scientific theories. And unlike her self-conscious sister, she has no qualms about waving her “I’m a magical witch” flag around in public. The dynamic between the two sisters is quite hilarious.

Overall: This book is a surefire winner for fans of whodunits and the supernatural. It’s a welcome departure from high-fantasy YA thrillers filled with fairies, sprites, swoony vampires and Hogwarts rip-off academies. If you’re in the mood for a good paranormal-infused mystery with fun characters and hilarious dialogue, give this book a shot.

The Watcher in the Woods by Florence Engel Randall

There’s no denying that The Watcher in the Woods is one of the darkest, spookiest Disney movies ever made. The old, paled-faced Bette Davis shrouded in black, the isolated estate surrounded by dark woods, the clairvoyant little girl – everything about it gave me the willies back when I was a kid. Oh heck – who am I kidding? This movie still gives me nightmares! 

So when I stumbled upon the book at an obscure used bookstore, I couldn’t believe my luck. Who knew there was a literary version of this creepy cult classic? Considering the book is always better than the movie, I knew I was in for a treat. Boy was I mistaken. 

Let me break it down for you like this. Here are three reasons why I loved the movie and how the book failed to deliver.   

Spoiler Alert! Karen’s Otherworldly Disappearance:  In the movie, Karen’s disappearance was caused by a group of kids playing around with the occult. Aligned with a solar eclipse, the ritual opened a door to another dimension, causing poor Karen to be spirited away to the great beyond. Spooky stuff, my friends.  

In the book, however, it was all one big alien-conspiracy acid trip. This book was written back in the early 80s – the tail end of the “dazed and confused” era – so I’m wondering if the author was chasing the white rabbit while writing about alien stalkers. The philosophical ramblings also had me scratching my head at times.  

The Foreshadowing: The little hairs on the back of my neck still stand on end when I think about the funhouse scene where a blind-folded Karen appears in the mirror maze mouthing the word “help.” Or when the little bratty sister falls into a trance and writes the name “Karen” backwards on a dusty window. And who can forget the motorcross scene where a message from beyond saves Jan from getting reamed by a flying motorcycle?

These spooky elements are few and far between in the book. Aside from a couple broken mirrors and a psychedelic TV scene, the author didn’t really get too creative with foreshadowing.   

The Ending: WTF? That was the question running through my mind as I polished off the last couple pages. There’s a plot twist hidden in there somewhere, but I just didn’t get it. The movie did a fine job tying up the story with a neat little bow, but the book left me with more questions than answers. I think someone got sucked into a wormhole through space and time, but I’m not quite sure. Shit man, I don’t even know if the alien was good or evil! If you fully grasped the convoluted turn of events, please post a comment and fill me in!

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.

Short & Sweet Sundays: The Unseen Volume 1: It Begins/Rest In Peace

In honor of Sunday – a day I reserve for reading and lollygagging – I bring you a short and sweet book review! 

The Gist: (From the publisher) Out walking alone one rainy night, Lucy becomes convinced that someone – or something – is following her. Spooked, she ducks into a cemetery to try and lose her stalker. Panicking in the darkness, she slips and stumbles into an open grave – only to discover she is not alone in there. She manages to escape, but soon begins having terrifying visions and dreams – and she still can’t shake the feeling of an unseen presence, always watching, waiting… Who was the girl in the grave? And what did she do to Lucy?

What I liked: The deliciously spooky atmosphere. Filled with overgrown cemeteries, lurking shadows and sinister stalkers, this book really filled my pumpkin soul with the Halloween spirit! Next to Barbara Michaels, Richie Tankersley Cusick is my go-to author for a good old fashioned gothic ghost story.

Favorite character: The two dark and mysterious boys keep the sparks flying, but of all the characters, my favorite is Lucy’s unlikely sidekick, Dakota Montana. She’s weird, bookish and totally fascinated by all things paranormal. Hmm…come to think of it, she and I have a bit in common! A devout believer in ghostly forces, she’s the only one who can help Lucy ward off the evil forces. Plus her family owns an eclectic used book store/coffee house, so that really adds to her cool factor.

What I need more of: Answers! I need to know what the heck is stalking Lucy and tormenting her dreams at night. Is it a vampire or some sort of demonic incubus?  And what’s the backstory with the hot priest? Seems like there might be something sinister lurking under that good-boy facade. Guess I’ll have to get my hands on the next book to find out!

Gizzy gives this book two paws up!

Why I picked this one up: Richie Tankersley Cusick and I go way back…like to the mid-90s. I haven’t read one of her books since high school, so I figured it was time to revisit one of the authors who helped me escape my teenage angst. Without the Vampire Diaries (the books, not the WB series), R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through that craptastic chapter in my life. Come to think of it…that cute Luke Perry lookalike boy in fifth period English kind of helped.

This book is best pared with: A hot caramel apple cider and a Midnight Syndicate playlist.

Overall: This is the perfect curl-up-at-homer for a blustery night by the fire. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book from start to finish in one day, but the story just sucked me right in! Like chocolate, this book is addictive and it leaves me wanting more. Keep in mind this is young adult, so if you’re looking for a tight-plotted mystery, you may want to grab a Harlan Coben title instead. But if you’re in the mood for a Gothic ghost story loaded with campy atmosphere, give this author a try.

Five Things I Love About the Hunger Games

Let me start off by saying dystopian fantasies or other grim variations of doomsday fiction have absolutely no appeal to me whatsoever. So when all my friends and bookish cyber buddies pleaded with me to read the Hunger Games, I stubbornly held my ground.  There’s no way I could enjoy a dystopian action-adventure story set in the ruins of what used to be North America, right? Wrong! My curiosity finally got the best of me – and before I knew it I was sucked into Suzanne Collins’ mesmerizing world of warriors, gamemakers, mutations and tender teenage romance.

If you’re not privy to the premise of the Hunger Games (which I doubt if this post caught your eye), here’s the gist: Post-apocalyptic North America is divided into 12 districts ruled by a barbaric government located at the Capitol. Our fearless protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, lives on the seams of District 12, a wasteland of hunger, disease and death. To keep the districts from revolting against the system, the Capitol forces two random children from each district to fight to the death in the annual Hunger Games. When Katniss’ little sister is picked in the annual lottery to fight as a “tribute” in the games, she volunteers to take her place. Like lambs to the slaughter, the 24 tributes are dumped in a treacherous arena, where they must kill off all their competitors to win the crown. The winner gets a lifetime of luxury and celebrity. The action is filmed and broadcast to the entire world.

Now on to the hard part. How can I even attempt to review such an amazing rollercoaster ride of action, adventure, survival, courage and symbolism galore?  I think I’ll take the easy way out and break down my top five reasons for loving this book.

1. It’s brutal:  Even though this is classified as young adult, this book is just as violent as a Stephen King novel. I wasn’t expecting  graphic scenes like the teenage girl getting stung to death by an angry swarm of lethal hornets. The bloody battles between the desperate young warriors were strangely hypnotic. What’s really disturbing is that I kind of felt like one of the voyeuristic gamemakers as I enjoyed the action unfolding in the arena of death.

2. Boy drama:  This wouldn’t be a young adult novel without a love triangle, now would it? Don’t get me wrong, the lovey dovey stuff takes a backseat to the action and adventure. But there’s a hint of a budding romance between our fearless warrior and her best friend/hunting buddy, Gale. And then there’s Peeta, the strapping blond boy selected as the second tribute in District 12. Even though the end game is to be the last one standing, the pair team up and what unravels is a perplexing love story. I’m not sure what’s going to happen in the next book, but I’ll tell you right now I’m on Team Peeta!

3. The girl power: To say Katniss is bad-ass would be an understatement. As the sole provider for her baby sister and invalid mother, she illegally hunts wild game and scavenges the dingy streets of District 12 for scraps. She’s so awesome – she could put Robin Hood to shame with her excellent marksmanship. No matter what comes her way, she maintains a stoic demeanor and never reveals her soft underbelly. What I really love about this girl is that she’s the only one with any balls to challenge the Capitol. When they try to throw her a curveball, she shows them she’s not just another piece in their stupid game!

4. The villains: My god – how freaking awful are those Machiavellian gamemakers? There’s something very unsettling about this ruling class of evil overlords who live in luxury while the majority of their fellow citizens are feeding off of tree bark and boiled peppermint leaves.  Stripped of all humanity, these decadent bastards get their kicks by watching live-stream videos of starving children slitting each other’s throats. Wow…just wow.

5. The movie: I rarely ever say this, but the movie did a bang-up job bringing the book to life. The cinematography, the colors and costumes, the casting – all brilliant! I couldn’t imagine anyone other than the talented Jennifer Lawrence playing Catniss. She was fierce in Winter’s Bone and was just as intense in The Hunger Games. I also really liked Josh Hutcherson as Peeta. With his chiseled jaw and soulful eyes, he really hit the mark as the handsome and kindhearted “boy with the bread.” Plus I think he’s kind of a cutie patootie. As for Gale, I was hoping they’d cast someone a little less pretty. Overall it was really well done – not as good as the book – but very entertaining nonetheless.

OK Hunger Games fans, what do you think? Did the movie do the book justice? What do you love most about this trilogy?

Short & Sweet Sunday: The Hollow by Jessica Verday

In honor of Sunday – a day I reserve for reading and lollygagging – I bring you a short and sweet book review! For more of my “Short & Sweet” reviews, go here.  

The gist:  (From Goodreads) After the death of her best friend, Abbey feels abandoned and alone. She tries distracting herself by creating perfumes, but true distraction comes in the form of Caspian, the “total hottie” she meets in the Sleepy Hollow cemetery. Abbey quickly falls head over heels in love with Caspian, although she struggles with his mysterious and elusive demeanor. Just as things seem like they are back to normal, Abbey makes two discoveries: she finds Kristen’s secret diary that reveals she was hiding something from Abbey, and she learns Caspian’s true identity. On the verge of a breakdown, Abbey’s world slowly begins to unravel when she realizes Sleepy Hollow may hold more truth than legend.

Why I read it: I’m a HUGE fan of Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow, so any book or movie that touches on this Halloweenie masterpiece really sparks my interest. How could I resist a gothic mystery involving a creepy cemetery, an alluring ghost boy and the headless horseman?!? It’s like this book was tailor made just for me!

The perks: Despite its many flaws, this is a fun little Halloween read. The new spin on the legend of the headless horseman is entertaining…although Washington Irving is most likely rolling around in his grave. I liked the spooky atmospheric graveyard, where Abbey would spend her days reminiscing about the good times she had with her best friend. Apparently the two weirdos liked to hang out at Washignton Irving’s grave, where they would tell ghost stories about the Headless Horseman and giggle about boys.

The drawbacks: The love connection between Abbey and Caspian seemed forced. I can’t put my finger on it, but I just didn’t feel the heat radiating off of these two star-crossed lovers. They’re just so nice and sweet and polite …yawn. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but it felt like the author wasn’t really feeling it, but she had to fuse them together to appease her swoony teenage readers. While I’m at it, I should also add that the editor should have been more heavy-handed with the red pen. The story would have moved along at a much quicker pace if it wasn’t bogged down with superfluous details about Abbey’s day-to-day motions like mixing scents, organizing her uncle’s office or working on a science fair project. As for the mystery, Abbey’s obsession with Caspian eclipses her interest in her friend’s disappearance. If you’re looking for clues and red-herrings you won’t find them in this book.

This book is best pared with: A steaming mug of apple cider and a glowing jack-o-lantern. I know it’s crazy to be thinking of Halloween in April, but what can I say?  I’ll say it loud, I’m a Halloween freak and I’m proud!

Soundtrack pick: Paramore–Haunted

Overall: To quote Randy Jackson: It was just OK for me, dog. I’m not itching to jump right into the next book, but I’ll probably get around to it. The author really didn’t crack open the case of the missing best friend until the very last chapter, so I’m hoping she’ll get down to business in the next book. Plus I want to figure out what the heck is going on with Caspian’s inexplicable link to the Headless Horseman!

A Q&A with Ashley Hope Pérez, Author of “The Knife and the Butterfly”

Inspired by her teaching experience at Chávez High School in Houston,  Ashley Hope Pérez writes about disadvantaged teens struggling to meet their obligations at home and follow their dreams. However her newest book  The Knife and the Butterfly is about the students she didn’t get to teach, the ones who slipped through the cracks in the system or dropped out of school.

The protagonist, Salvadoran Martín “Azael” Arevalo is one of those fallen students. The story unfolds when Azael wakes up in a locked cell after a gang fight in a Houston park. Unable to piece together the events that landed him behind bars, yet again, he realizes that something is not right.

Things get really weird when he’s assigned to secretly observe another imprisoned teen named Alexis “Lexi” Allen. Despite their personality clash, the two troubled teens soon find themselves inexplicably linked in this gritty paranormal thrill ride.

This up-and-coming young adult author was kind enough to chat with Chick Lit Cafe about how she learned the inner workings of street gangs, the connection between teens and the paranormal, and how she surprised herself with a twist ending.

How did you come up with the title “The Knife and the Butterfly”?

Massive confession: the series of articles that initially inspired the novel—run by The Houston Chronicle back in 2006—was titled “The Butterfly and the Knife.” Luckily for me, there’s no copyright on titles! I switched the order of the knife and the butterfly in the title after an astute reader pointed out that male readers would be more likely to pick up a book with a title that begins with “knife” rather than “butterfly.”

The duality expressed in the title was a focusing one for me as I wrote. As I say in my author’s note for the novel, I wanted to show Azael and Lexi’s world as much more than a patchwork of crime and violence. In addition to the very real threat of their circumstances and the danger of poor choices, I tried to capture these two teens’ vulnerability and their potential for redemption.

What made you decide to dabble in the realm of paranormal fiction?

It wasn’t as simple as a decision, exactly. Yes, there is a “paranormal twist” to The Knife and the Butterfly, but much of the novel (say 90 percent) is occupied with the gritty world Lexi and Azael live in on the fringe of mainstream society in Houston. The paranormal was a bit of a surprise to me, too.

That is to say, I didn’t set out to incorporate paranormal elements in my novel; they became necessary for me to change the rules of my characters’ world just enough so that they could make different decisions… so they could have the second chances that are built into the system for many middle-class teens.

You mentioned that you even surprised yourself with the twist at the end. How did this come about?

The ending developed unexpectedly out of exploratory writing I was doing about Azael’s street art. This whole thread—Azael and his relationship to spray paint and the walls of his city—was a challenge for me. I am very much a rule follower, so it took me a lot of effort to rethink graffiti as “street art” and to come to understand what it meant to Azael to write right on the faces of the structures around him.

Anyway, I was writing about Azael’s thoughts as he was drawing, and then all of sudden I was writing the ending. And once it was there on the page—and I knew it was the ending—it was the only possibility that felt right to me. It went through plenty of revision and development, but the thrust of the final part of the book didn’t change. I embraced it with its paranormal baggage.

Why do you think young readers are so enthralled by the paranormal?  

You’d think I’d have an ironclad thesis after teaching a course on vampire literature for two semesters, but to be honest, I’m not sure. Within YA, I tend to shelve myself alongside contemporary realists, not fantasy writers. Still, if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say the paranormal provides novel ways of thinking through and dramatizing teen (and human) issues. In fact, one of my favorite student papers interpreted one vampire in literature as an eternal adolescent.

 How did you familiarize yourself with inner-city gangs? 

Because Crazy Crew is a “home-grown” Houston gang, details related to it came mostly from news coverage and other local sources. MS-13 (La Mara Salvatrucha), on the other hand, is an international gang that has been described by some as “the world’s most dangerous gang.” I did extensive reading about MS-13, including many first-person accounts, but I focused on the particulars of the gang’s activity in Houston, which are generally not quite as extreme as what you might see in the heart of Central America.

For both gangs, I needed to learn specifics: their hand signs, the “rules” of initiation and involvement, linguistic patterns and so on. I would never want to trivialize or glamorize gang involvement, but at the same time I think some media portrayals are a bit exaggerated and fail to capture the nuances of actual teens’ experiences. For example, readers will notice that—contrary to most Hollywood portrayals of gang violence—there’s not a single gun involved in the fight that opens The Knife and the Butterfly. This is pretty consistent with the two gangs portrayed. I’ve found that when I ground my writing in particulars, a lot of stereotypes fall away.

The story is primarily narrated from the point of view of Azael. How were you able to capture the language of a poor teenage gang member in Houston?

You found a very nice way to ask something that some teen readers, upon meeting me, put a lot more bluntly: “How did YOU write THIS?” They pick up immediately on the fact that I am not someone who, in conversation, would describe a package of Cheetos as “spicy-as-fuck” (Azael’s words). How, then, can such words come out of my pen?

A lot of it was shameless cribbing from what I heard kids in Houston say, both in the hallways of the high school where I used to teach and in the taquerías and hangouts of working-class neighborhoods. I spent a good amount of time in the areas where the novel is set (mainly the Montrose area and a run-down stretch of Bellfort). I also paid attention to the language used in the interviews I read and would sometimes mimic patterns of phrasing.

Now, in terms of emotional truth in Azael’s language, I chalk that up to a willingness to imagine experiences and ways of seeing that are unlike my own. I recently heard Lionel Shriver talk here in Paris, and she said that for her, writing from a male point of view is not the big leap; the big leap is getting inside another head, period, and discovering those individual particularities, the quirks of mind inside the many big things we have in common. I agree, and I think you could substitute “poor” and “gang member” for “male” and still find the notion to be true.

What message do you hope your readers will take away from this book?

I’d love readers to leave the pages of The Knife and the Butterfly with a sense that second chances aren’t doled out equally. And I hope that they will feel a bit more urgency about being a positive presence for those who, as far as they had thought before, don’t even deserve to be redeemed.

 What are you working on now?

I’m knee-deep in a very messy first draft of a historical novel set in 1930s East Texas, near where I grew up. There’s an explosion, an interracial romance, a pair of twins, and a significant shoe. That’s all I can say without transgressing certain foolish writerly superstitions.

Want to know more about this talented new author? Check out her debut novel What Can’t Wait. Read the Q&A here.

My Book Boyfriend (2): Nash Hudson from Soul Screamers

Some guys are cute, others are somewhat sexy, and a rare few (the hubster included of course) are what I like to call help-me-Jesus HOT! Nash Hudson, the male lead in Rachel Vincent’s Soul Screamers series, is at the highest echelon of hotness. That’s why I chose to spotlight him in this week’s My Book Boyfriend, a fun little weekly meme hosted by the Unread Reader.

Here’s the gist: Little Kaylee is a banshee. When she locks eyes with someone on the cusp of death, she totally flips and lets out a window-shattering wail. This can be rather embarrassing when trying to look cool in front of the dreamiest boy in school at an 18-and-up club. But as luck would have it, Nash (the resident high school hottie) is also a banshee – and he’s more than willing to help her cultivate her special powers. Being a teenage supernatural freak does have its perks! Why couldn’t I have been blessed with preternatural powers back in the day?

I know it’s totally silly, but I really like the new 90210 show, mainly so I can watch Matt Lanter (aka Liam Court) pretend to surf in his form-fitting wetsuit. That’s why I choose to envision him as Nash in the Soul Screamers books. Here’s the breakdown of Nash’s drool-worthy attributes:

-Tall, broad shouldered and barrel chested. Oh my!
-Carefully disheveled dirty-blond locks
-Stark green/hazel eyes that swirl during make-out sessions (It’s a banshee thing)
-Full, kissable lips and a sexy crooked smile
– Sensitive, passionate and protective (think Edward Cullen meets Malibu Ken)

Here’s a spattering of heart-palpitating quotes:

“…You should be thinking about me.” His fingers intertwined with mine in my lap, and he pulled away from my ear slowly, his lips skimming my cheek, deliciously soft in contrast to the sharp stubble. He dropped a trail of smal kisses along my jaw, and my heart beat harder with every single one. When he reached my chin, the kisses trailed up until his mouth met mine, gently sucking my lower lip between his. Teasing without making full contact. My chest rose and fell quickly, my breaths shallow, my pulse racing….”

“I don’t have you, and without you, it feels like what I do have doesn’t matter.” 

“I’m not supposed to feel the fire. I’m not supposed to want it. But I do. I want you, Kaylee like I’ve never wanted anything. Ever. I want the fire. I want the heat, and the light, and I want the burn.” 

For more details about My Book Boyfriend, visit the Unread Reader. Time for me to go watch some  90210 re-runs. Surf’s up!

Die for Me by Amy Plum

After losing her parents in a car wreck, Kate Mercier must leave her happy Brooklin home to live with her artsy grandparents in Paris. Drowning in the depths of despair, she immerses herself in books and Parisian art. Unlike her sister, who distracts herself with boyfriends and club-hopping, Kate spends her days at a local café re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird. Every day is the same…that is until she she meets Vincent.

Tall, dark and mysterious, he’s everything a brooding  teenage girl dreams of. Even though Kate refuses to let herself feel love for anyone ever again, she can’t help but give in to his advances. And just when the walls around her heart begin to crumble, she discovers that his world is surrounded by the one thing that scares her the most: death.

In this new spin on YA paranormal romance, this talented author offers up a supernatural being that I have yet to encounter: A revenant. Vincent and his band of pseudo-siblings are undead beings who are forced to sacrifice themselves over and over again to save the lives of innocent people.

With two star-crossed lovers – drawn to each other and miserable with despair when apart – it sounds like Amy is taking a page from  Stephanie Meyer’s playbook. However, our fearless leading lady isn’t too quick to sacrifice her humanity and put her family members in danger for a boy she just met.  But alas, unrequited love conquers all, and Kate decides to take the plunge.

I would also like to add that there are no weird subhuman babies with werewolf boyfriends involved, which is a big plus in my book. I may not win any popularity contests by saying this, but really Stephanie, what were you thinking when you came up with Renesme?

But I digress…if you are a fan of atmospheric paranormal love stories, check this one out. I’m interested to see what happens next when Vincent and his brethren face off with their evil counterparts, the Numa. Unlike the heroic revenants, the Numa’s goal is to wreak havoc on the City of Lights – and possibly the world over – by taking the lives of others.

Addendum: The Hollywood Game

Sometimes when I’m reading a good book, I like to play what I call the “Hollywood Game.” Like a literary casting agent, I handpick a celebrity who best fits the descriptions of the characters. 

While reading Die for Me, I couldn’t help but envision Ty Borden (the cute ranch hand in Heartland) playing the part of Vincent. With his shaggy mop of dark hair skimming over his forehead, chiseled features and dark eyelashes, this relatively unknown actor really fits the bill.



As for the leading lady, when I saw the book cover depicting a waiflike girl with long wavy hair, I instantly pictured Shanae Grimes (90210) playing the part of Kate Mercier. What do you think? Did I get it right, or am I way off the mark?