Sunday, September 29, 2013

BOOK CLUB INTERVIEW: Leanna Renee Hieber

One of our young adult book clubs read Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber. Ms. Hieber was kind enough to do an interview with us and explore the world and creation of Darker Still. For those of who haven't read/don't know about the book, it's fantastic. It's in diary format, with stellar writing, and is inspired by Gothic Literature. The book itself is set in the 19th Century with a protagonist who has Selective Mutism. But the story begins when a very peculiar painting arrives at the 10 year old Metropolitan Museum... 

I was obsessed.
It was as if he called to me, demanding I reach out and touch the brushstrokes of color swirled onto the canvas. It was the most exquisite portrait I'd ever seen--everything about Lord Denbury was unbelievable...utterly breathtaking and eerily lifelike.
There was a reason for that. Because despite what everyone said, Denbury never had committed suicide. He was alive. Trapped within his golden frame.

I've crossed over into his world within the painting, and I've seen what dreams haunt him. They haunt me too. He and I are inextricably linked--bound together to watch the darkness seeping through the gas-lit cobblestone streets of Manhattan. Unless I can free him soon, things will only get Darker Still.


Author, actress and playwright, Leanna grew up in rural Ohio, graduated with a BFA in Theatre, a focus in the Victorian Era and a scholarship to study in London. She adapted 19th Century literature for the stage and her one-act plays have been produced around the country. She is a 4 time Prism Award winner for excellence in Futuristic, Fantasy, or Paranormal Romance.

In our last book club meeting, a topic that came up was repetitiveness in YA-literature. We picked Darker Still because it was a little something different than the average supernatural/paranormal romance. Do you see the same repetitiveness the girls do? Do you try to steer clear of those plot lines? 

LRH: I do. And I get just as tired of the same trends. What I try to do, as there's no "new" story really, (Shakespeare pretty much wrote every basic plot-line one way or another, he stole from the classics before him) all of us are just trying to apply our unique voice to the same basic tropes and great tales of all time. But there shouldn't be just one common formula. (The prevalent love triangle for example. Darker Still is entirely devoid of it). I introduce characters that interest Natalie in the sequel but it never becomes a love triangle. Anything that appears 'overdone' should be avoided and instead I try to apply my unique spin to the classics instead. I pay homage to stories that have come before me, like The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dracula, the tales of Poe, but I do so inserting strong women into that picture and making sure their stories are heard.

The girls really like when authors drop clues throughout the book, but they aren't able to guess the mystery until the very end. Do you have a technique for dropping clues without making things too obvious, or does it just come naturally while writing the story through your protagonist's eyes? 

LRH: I try to be conscious of dropping hints but not to over-think it. I knew Natalie's nightmares would be the key to a lot of the plot so that was the thing I tried to always keep in mind, and that's been consistent even as I'm currently writing and serializing book 3 chapter by chapter on my site. We all know everything is leading to a big confrontation, it's the how we get there that for me is the most thrilling part to discover. Natalie is such a strong heroine that once I built and created her and knew her spirit and feisty nature, she really ran the show on her own and I just followed along writing it all down. :)

Was there anything special or opportune about picking this time period to write in for Darker Still? Or do you just like the late 1800's? 

LRH: I've been obsessed with the 1880s since I was a kid. I can't explain it other than I believe I had several past lives in the 19th century. Nothing else explains my obsessive draw to the era and the way I feel I can make sense of it for a modern audience. It's an era I studied extensively in school, college and in my years as a professional actress, the time period is my muse. It's a difficult time full of conflict and innovation, grit and grandeur, of science and spiritualism, of romance and horror, a time of great change and new ideas, of progress at the same time of oppressions. It's a bipolar age of extremes that is endlessly fascinating to me.

What was your favorite part about writing this book? 

LRH: I think coming up with Natalie's nightmares. Her last nightmare really scared me. When you can scare yourself and you're the one writing it you know you've got something. Also, I just love Natalie and her relationship to Mrs. Northe, and how that's just as important a relationship as the one she develops with Jonathon. It's not only about falling in love. Life is a lot more than that. I love that Natalie knows that and can bring that to light for the reader.

What was the most difficult part about writing this book? 

LRH: Writing Jonathon so that he's empowered and interesting because I've done him the disservice of being trapped in a painting, he doesn't have a lot of opportunity to prove himself. He gets to in the sequel, but in book one he's really the inversion of the 'damsel in distress', he's the 'knight in distress' as it were and its up to the damsel to save him. :) I love that aspect of the book but I did have to make sure that Jonathon takes an active part in helping solve the mystery and give him whatever action items I could as he's so limited by his situation.

Why did you decide to make Natalie mute? 

LRH: It came to me as a part of the conflict. I always wanted to write a haunted painting story where there was a world on the other side of a canvass, and so creating a place where my heroine could have access and gifts in a way she couldn't outside was important. I don't think enough stories, TV shows, movies, etc, feature people with any kind of disability often enough. Disabled persons of any kind deserve to be a part of popular culture just as much as anyone, unquestionably. The theme of "finding your voice" literally and metaphorically is so important to me and Natalie's Selective Mutism was a way to bring out that theme and explore the conflict of a young woman without a voice in an era that did not respect her voice even if she could use hers. Despite these doubled obstacles, her strength and determination conquers all.

What do you like most about Gothic Literature? 

LRH: I love the extremes and the sweeping, intense nature of it. Horror and beauty can share such intimate spaces, I feel such freedom to explore the darkest places because I know there's love and passion on the other side. There's a bit of reckless abandon you get in Gothic, and I love playing with that kind of delicious fire. I can't get enough of it. However what I wanted to do was infuse stronger women into the traditional Gothic trope, story and framework because a lot of the traditional Gothics feature women more as victims rather than the active heroes.

What kinds of things can we look forward to in the sequel, The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart? (That sounds so ominous!) 

LRH: It picks up exactly where DARKER STILL leaves off with the following excitements: Trains! Escapes! More dark magic! New exciting characters! More pretty dresses! More danger! Reanimation! Nightmares! Thrills! Kissing! Carriage rides! Seances! Epic battles of will! Crazy demon stuff! And for you Minnesotans, a trip to St. Paul! - Are you excited yet? ;)

Was there any fun deleted scene or aspect of the book that was cut during edits but you wish could have stayed? 

LRH: Not really in Darker Still, I ended up adding more than subtracting really. In the sequel I had to cut a few rhapsodic passages about historic St. Paul that I'd love to have kept but slowed down the plot. (But don't worry, my Minnesota friends, St. Paul is still a part of the book!)

Anything else you'd like to tell us? 

LRH: Yes! Firstly, thanks for reading, you folks are the reason I do what I do and I love you for it. Never stop reading, never stop dreaming. If you're writers too, never stop writing.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

INTERVIEW: Laura Bickle

Laura Bickle, author of The Hallowed Ones and The Outside, was kind enough to do this interview for The (YA) Bookcase. She's written both adult and young adult novels, and I have fallen in love with her thriller plots and excellent writing. Enjoy! 

Rachel: What gave you the idea to put your main character in an Amish community versus other religious affiliations?

Laura: I grew up not too far from a large Amish settlement - my parents would take me to visit on weekends when I was a little girl. I really admired the self-sufficiency of the Amish, how they remained separate from the modern world and kept very close to the earth for survival. When I was creating this series, I thought that they’d be uniquely-equipped to survive a large-scale disaster. The isolation became some interesting material to work with, as they know that something terrible has happened to the outside world in my story, but they don’t know what it is.

Rachel: Was there a purpose in having Alex so much older than Katie? Have you gotten any feedback from young adult readers that he’s too old, or that they like him being older because it’s different? (I personally love him as a character. I plan on studying anthropology in college, so he’s that much more awesome! Also, I love how Katie and him go back and forth with religion versus logic, because I think so many people struggle with that concept in today’s world.)

Laura: I haven’t heard from others about Alex’s age, though that was something that initially worried me. However, Katie is essentially an adult in her world – she’s actually old enough to be baptized in her church and to get married, so I felt her extra maturity would balance out the relationship.

I did want Katie and Alex to be very different, to approach life from very disparate philosophies. So the age issue just became another way to reflect that.

Rachel: Which are your favorite and least favorite kind of scenes to write?

Laura: My favorite scenes are fight scenes. Running! Weapons! Stabbing! Strategy! Escape! If I could write a whole book based on fight scenes, I’d be right on it.

My least favorite scenes involve sex. I would rather hide under a rock than write a sex scene, so I tend to leave that up to the reader’s imagination.

Rachel: Will this be a trilogy? If so, can you tell us anything about the third?

Laura: I was contracted for two books, so I think I said everything that I needed to say about Katie and her world in the two books. However, if a chance comes to do a third, I will definitely leap at it! I had a lot of fun looking at the world through her eyes.

Rachel: Of all the characters in the story, who is your favorite to write?

Laura: Definitely Katie. She’s so different from me, so much stronger and more serene. But I also love writing about the animals, about the horses and wolves and dogs.

Rachel: Did you have to do a lot of research for these novels because of all of the religion that’s mentioned?

Laura: Yes! There was a good deal of research involved. In addition to visiting the Amish settlement near where I live, I also did a good deal of reading…there are a lot of great books out there that look at the Plain way of life from a sociological perspective. National Geographic has also done a number of very good documentaries about the Amish.

I’m acutely conscious that I can’t know or understand everything about the Amish, never having lived in an Amish community. But I learned enough to develop an immense respect for the Amish way of life.

Rachel: Of all the things you put Katie through, which made you cringe the most? (me: snakes!)

Laura: Hee! I have heard a lot about the snakes from readers!

The most cringe-worthy thing for me to write, though, was when Katie had to put an end to one of her friends who was turning into a vampire. That was really difficult for her, and she struggled so much with the morality of that choice. It really changed her character and was one of the final pushes that sent her into adulthood in a more heroic role.

Rachel: How are your creatures different from other vampires/scary monsters in YA lit right now?

Laura: I loved writing Old World vampires who would burst into flame in sunlight and who have no ulterior designs upon humans beyond devouring them. Having some pure evil in a story was a blast to write.

Rachel: What is one thing no one on the Internet knows about you…yet?

Laura: Ohhh. Hmmm. One thing is that I’m on the quest to find the perfect Sunday brunch buffet in my hometown. There’s something about brunch that I just love…bacon, eggs, pancakes…omnom. And I’ve been dragging my poor husband along in a quest to find the most awesome breakfast around. We’ll probably have heart attacks at any moment.

Rachel: If you weren’t an author, what would you be? 

Laura: In the past, I’ve worked in libraries and in criminal justice. But if I had it to do all over again…I’d go back to school to be a veterinarian. I love animals, and it would be wonderful to have a chance to make a difference in the lives of pets and their owners.

Thanks so much, Ms. Bickle! Happy reading!
Rachel, age 18 

The Outside by Laura Bickle

After a plague of vampires was unleashed in the world, Katie was kicked out of the safe haven of her Amish community for her refusal to adhere to the new rules of survival. She enters an outside world of unspeakable violence with only her two friends and a horse by her side.
And yet through this darkness come the shining ones: luminescent men and women with the power to deflect vampires and survive the night. But can they be trusted, and are they even people at all?

In this sequel to The Hallowed Ones, it's up to one Amish girl to save her family, her community, and the boy she loves . . . but what will she be asked to sacrifice in return?

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
Number of Pages: 320
Type: Hardcover

Reviewed by Rachel, age 18

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Descendant by Lesley Livingston

The last thing Mason Starling remembers is the train crossing a bridge. An explosion . . . a blinding light . . . then darkness. Now she is alone, stranded in Asgard—the realm of Norse legend—and the only way for her to get home is to find the Spear of Odin, a powerful relic left behind by vanished gods.
The Fennry's Wolf knows all about Asgard. He was once trapped there. And he’ll do whatever it takes to find the girl who’s stolen his heart and bring her back—even if it means a treacherous descent into the Underworld. But time is running out, and Fenn knows something Mason doesn’t: If she takes up the Spear, she’ll set in motion a terrible prophecy. And she won’t just return to her world . . . she’ll destroy it.
In this pulse-pounding sequel to Starling, Lesley Livingston delivers another electrifying blend of nonstop action and undeniable romance that will leave readers breathless.

Publisher: HarperTeen
Number of Pages: 336
Type: Hardcover

Reviewed by Amanda, age 17

Starling by Lesley Livingston

Mason Starling is a champion fencer on the Gosforth Academy team, but she's never had to fight for her life. Not until the night a ferocious, otherworldly storm rips through Manhattan, trapping Mason and her teammates inside the school. Mason is besieged by nightmarish creatures more terrifying than the thunder and lightning as the raging tempest also brings a dangerous stranger into her life: a young man who remembers nothing but his name—the Fennrys Wolf. His arrival tears Mason's world apart, even as she feels an undeniable connection to him. Together, they seek to unravel the secrets of Fenn's identity as strange and supernatural forces gather around them. When they discover Mason's family—with its dark allegiance to ancient Norse gods—is at the heart of the mystery, Fennrys and Mason are suddenly faced with a terrifying future.
Set against the gritty, shadowed back-drop of New York City, this first novel in award-winning author Lesley Livingston's epic Starling Saga is an intoxicating blend of sweeping romance and pulse-pounding action.

Publisher: HarperTeen
Number of Pages: 341
Type: Hardcover

Reviewed by Amanda, age 17

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (1)

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga's Reviews where bloggers share books they've received and/or bought in the past week. 

I was very excited to come to work and see boxes of Scholastic, Harlequin, HarperTeen and Egmont galleys in the break room. These are the ones the youth board and I can't wait to get our hands on and read. 



  • Warrior by Ellen Oh (Connor) 
  • Death Sworn by Leah Cypess 
  • Side Effects May Very by Julia Murphy 
  • Evertrue by Brodi Ashton 
  • Perfect Lies by Kiersten White (Rachel) 
  • Frozen by Erin Bowman 
  • Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi (Amanda) 
  • Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens 
  • Elusion by Claudia Gabel, Cheryl Klam 
  • Ashes to Ashes by Melissa Walker
  • Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd (Rachel) 
  • Infinite by Jodi Meadows (Ellie) 
  • No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale
  • Uninvited by Sophie Jordan
  • Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor
  • Arcadia Falls by Kai Meyer
  • Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge (Ellie) 
  • House of Ivy and Sorrow by Natalie Whipple
  • Into the Dark (The Shadow Prince) by Bree Despain 
  • White Space by Isla Bick
  • Iron Traitor by Julie Kagawa 
  • Through the Zombie Glass by (Alex) 
Possible Future Giveaways: 
  • Iron Traitor by Julie Kagawa 
  • Elusion by Claudia Gabel, Cheryl Klam 
  • Evertrue by Brody Ashton
  • Side Effects May Vary by Julia Murphy
  • Death Sworn by Leah Cypess 
Any of these you're planning to read? What did you receive/buy this week?

Happy reading!
The (YA) Bookcase 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay

The most tragic love story in history . . . 
Juliet Capulet didn't take her own life. She was murdered by the person she trusted most, her new husband, Romeo Montague, a sacrifice made to ensure his own immortality. But what Romeo didn't anticipate was that Juliet would be granted eternity, as well, and would become an agent for the Ambassadors of Light. For 700 years, she's fought Romeo for the souls of true lovers, struggling to preserve romantic love and the lives of the innocent. Until the day she meets someone she's forbidden to love, and Romeo, oh Romeo, will do everything in his power to destroy that love.
Publisher: Ember
Number of Pages: 320
Type: Paperback

Reviewed by Ellie, age 17

Thursday, September 5, 2013

CANVAS TOUR: Canvas Bound by Laura M. Kolar

Today has been a long awaited day for me. I absolutely love this book and this author, who I've come to know over the last two years. This book is part mystery, part supernatural and lots romance. Laura, my critique partner, is one of the nicest writers I know and I'm so excited to finally be able to share her book, Canvas Bound, which I hope will captivate you just as Libby has done with her artwork. Without further ado, I'll turn this blog post over to the author who will share with you the elements of writing a kiss scene. (I KNOW.)

Sixteen-year-old Libby Tanner’s art comes to life. Her painted skies turn from day to night, leaves rustle on trees, and sometimes, a mystery boy appears.

While attending England’s Aldridge Art Academy, Libby meets charming Brent Henderson, a performing arts student who showers her with attention. But his rival, gorgeous Dean James, is the one who occupies her mind, even though he’s very much attached to his current girlfriend.

Libby soon learns there’s more to both Brent and Dean than she ever imagined. In order to save her future and the boy who’s captured her heart, she must unlock the secrets behind her art by entering the most dangerous place of all… the world within her paintings.

But once she steps into the canvas, she risks being trapped forever.

I live with my husband and daughter in a one-stop-light town in northern-lower Michigan. Though I didn’t discover my love of books until I turned thirty, as a self-declared hopeless romantic, I’ve spent the past few years reading and writing stories with mostly happy endings. When not at my day-job or with my family, you’ll find me sipping a cup of chai latte while sitting in my favorite rocking chair, hunched over my laptop writing or spending entirely too much time on Twitter. (Photograph by Ashley Smigelski)

Kissing Mechanics 101

Hey there! How are all of you? I, for one, am great, and I’m so happy to be here at The (YA) Bookcase. Don’t worry, I’m not going to be one of those writers who tells you to go out and follow your dreams, never quit, never give up and don’t listen to people who say you’ll never make it. (You should totally do all of that, but I’ll let some other visitor handle those subjects.) Nope, today we’re going to talk about kissing, hot, steamy, make-your-knees-weak kissing.

Writing a good kissing scene is hard. There are so many things you have to make sure happen at the exact right moment before, during and after the actual event. Let me break it down for you:

  • The lead up or anticipation of the kiss: This is probably my favorite part. (No worries, there is plenty of anticipation in CANVAS BOUND.) I’m a huge romantic so I’m drawn to that part of a story line. I keep reading to see when the characters will actually smooch and I love it when that moment hits you by surprise
  • The physical description of the kiss: This is a little tricky because you want the reader to know how the characters are positioned and whose hand is where and whose lips part first, but you don’t want it to read like an instruction manual.
  • The emotional reaction to the kiss: Here’s where the good stuff is. It’s the place where you get to describe how the main character is feeling. And if done right, your reader is right there with them.
  • The aftermath of the kiss: The tough part about this is that you can’t just leave it out there. Somebody has to have some sort of reaction to what just happened, good or bad. This reaction might not be immediate in the scene, but if you’ve built it up well enough and added just the right amount of physical and emotional descriptions, then it would be a big letdown if you never revisited the character’s reactions to such a momentous occasion.
Now that we know the basics, there are a few more details to work out. Things like, are you going to make it sweet and tender, or is it going to be more heated. Also, how far are you going to take this kiss? Yep, I know all your minds just went there. Though, sometimes just a kiss can be way more passionate than taking it to the next level.

Lastly, practice makes perfect. No, I did not just tell you to go out and start kissing people. But I am telling you to read some great kissing scenes. Reading how other authors describe it can often help when writing your own, and really, who doesn’t like to read a great kiss? Some of my favorites are: Pretty much all of them between Aria and Perry in UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi, the kiss at the frat party between Sydney and Adrian in THE INDIGO SPELL by Richelle Mead, and perhaps one of the best kisses of all time is the one between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler in GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret MitchellHe bent back her head across his arm and kissed her, softly at first, and then with a swift gradation of intensity that made her cling to him as the only solid thing in a dizzy swaying world. His insistent mouth was parting her shaking lips, sending wild tremors along her nerves, evoking from her sensations she had never known she was capable of feeling. And before a swimming giddiness spun her round and round, she knew that she was kissing him back.

If that doesn’t help in writing a great kissing scene, I don’t know what will. Well, except maybe a great kissing song. My favorite is Kiss Me by Ed Sheeran.

Thanks so much for visiting with me today and if you’d like to see what else I’m working on, you can find me on the web, Facebook or Twitter.

All the best, Laura


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Happy reading,

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Magician's Bird by Emily Fairlie

 In this sequel to The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck, Bud and Laurie solve another mystery at Tuckernuck Hall. This second hilarious installment is perfect for fans of From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Chasing Vermeer, The Westing Game, and the Mysterious Benedict Society books.
In The Magician's Bird, the mystery Bud and Laurie must solve is much more serious than a treasure hunt—their beloved school founder, Maria Tutweiler, has been accused of murdering Marchetti the Magician!
Can Bud and Laurie—with the help of enthusiastic Misti and evil but useful Calliope—prove Maria Tutweiler's innocence? Or will Tuckernuck Hall be closed down for good?
Emily Fairlie once again blends lists, notes, and classic prose to tell a story that sings with humor, suspense, and magic.

Publisher: HarperCollins
Number of Pages: 288
Type: Hardcover

Reviewed by Lily, age 13