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YA Wednesday Amazon Asks: Ann Brashares on Forbidden Love & What to Pack for Time Travel

HereAndNow250I wonder if Ann Brashares is tired of talking about the pants. I'm sure she'd never say so, and the Pants (as in Sisterhood of the Traveling) series is still much beloved by old and new readers alike. But still...I imagine it's like having concert-goers always requesting a band's early hits even when they are touring the new stuff.  And the new stuff, in this case, is pretty brilliant.

Like her other novels, The Here and Now is captivating and emotionally resonant. This time, travel takes her main character, Prenna, from the harsh world of 2098 to our present day, and while there are no special pants in this story, there is a New York Giants sweatshirt that plays a very important'll see.

How would you describe your book to someone who doesn’t know anything about it?

It’s the story of a girl, Prenna James, who immigrated to the New York area in the present day when she was twelve from the year 2098. By that time the earth is in pretty serious disarray, and everybody is looking for a way out—space stations, other planets. The only scheme that works is a colonization of the past. Prenna’s immigrant community is bound by rules designed to protect the flow of time, most critically: NO emotional or physical intimacy with anyone outside their community.

As the book begins, Prenna is seventeen and drawn into a friendship with Ethan Jarves, a “time native” who seems to know far more about her than he should. It’s a story about forbidden love, the strange perspective gained by seeing our present world from a dark future, and whether it’s right to knowingly mess with time in the hope of a better outcome. It’s also about mosquitoes.

If you could go back in time, what decade/era would you choose to visit?

I guess I’m drawn to hopeful, before-the-fall moments—like England just before the First World War or even this country in the late 1950s. Maybe I’d go back to the suburban Pennsylvania high school in 1957 where my mom was a cheerleader and my dad was a football player and everyone seemed confident in the idea of progress. 

If you could only take one thing from your life now on your time travel journey, what would it be?

By “thing” I’m guessing you don’t mean my husband, four children, and dog. So I guess it would have to be my iPhone. I would not expect to get service or anything, and the recharging might pose a problem, but it has many, many books and songs and pictures on it, and those are the main things I’d want with me.

What's your most memorable author moment?

Soon after my first book was published, I was going through an airport and I saw a girl reading my book. It took that concrete experience for me to get the idea that it was a real book and it existed in the real world to be read by real people. I guess I am very literal. 

Now that The Here and Now has been released, do you have plans for what’s next?

I am working on a new book, most likely YA. It’s in that fragile stage where if I try to talk about it, it might dissipate. I think it was Norman Mailer who said, “Don’t talk away your book.”


This has been floating around a bit, but if you haven't seen it yet Ann Brashares and Ana Gasteyer (of Saturday Night Live fame) made one of the funniest promo videos I've ever seen for a book.  It's all about the pants...


"The Book Thief": Amazon Asks Markus Zusak

BookThief200 MarkusZusak350The Book Thief is still one of my favorite books even though it's been years since I read it (and frankly, it's time for a re-read).  Last week the movie adaptation opened in a limited release and starting today it will be in theaters around the country.

We were able to get our hands on an exclusive trailer for the film that you can see below, and I also had the chance to ask author Markus Zusak a few questions about the movie and what he's reading these days:

Seira Wilson: It took a long time for The Book Thief to make it to the big screen--when you found out it was really happening were you excited? Nervous?

Markus Zusak: I’m often too wrapped up in the book I’m working on to be too excited or nervous about a lot of things. People sometimes think I’m being casual when often I feel like I’m actually showing at least a half-decent level of excitement or dread or anything in between…In this case, I think I’m more excited for the producers and the director. For me, it’s sort of nice, in that I’ve lived with this book for a decade now, in both the writing of it and everything that’s happened since. Maybe I’m a bit relieved that it’s someone else’s turn now, and I get to call out from the sidelines a little, to wish them luck and no regrets.

SW: Do you have a particular genre you like to read?   What 3 books could you not live without and why?

MZ: I tend to take Fiction as a category, even if it has a multitude of categories within it. I’ve always just loved the idea that you’re turning pages, believing something that isn’t real--but you believe it when you’re in it.

Three books I couldn’t live without are:

1. The Half-Brother by Lars Saabye Christensen - for its ambition and memorable characters.

2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – because there’s a gem on every page.

3. The Outsiders by S.E Hinton – because it made me want to be a writer.

SW: What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

MZ: I like to reread books, especially when I’m writing. I brought my old beat-up copy of The Old Man and the Sea on this trip through America, knowing I’ll pick up other books along the way. Waiting for me (and roasting in my car back home in Sydney) is the audio version of David Sedaris’s Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls.

SW: What was the best piece of advice you ever got?  From whom?

MZ: It’s from my dad, when I was very young, and I complained that I was placed sixth after a race I thought I’d won at Little Athletics one Saturday. He said, ‘I thought you won, too, but you made one big mistake – you didn’t win by enough. You have to win by so much that no-one can take it off you.’ It resonates now not in terms of winning or losing anything, but in the sense that I want to write so much like myself that no-one else could have possible written it. (I hope I’m making sense.)

SW: If you had to choose an alternate dream career (I’m making an assumption here, of course) what would it be?

MZ: I’d love to work in a secondhand bookstore, without any shadow of a doubt. Maybe I will one day…

SW: I’ve heard you are working on a new book--can you share anything about it?

MZ: It’s taking a very long time!  As for the story, it’s about a bridge builder named Clay, and I’m interested in what it takes to make one perfect thing.

Markus Zusak "The Book Thief" Movie Trailer from Amazon Books on Vimeo.

YA Wednesday: Team Levithan & Cremer


In the last few years we've seen great examples of two popular authors coming together in one novel and giving fans the best of their combined talents--Will Grayson, Will Grayson and The Future of Us are among my favorites, what are yours?  David Levithan (Every Day and the aforementioned Will Grayson, Will Grayson) and Andrea Cremer (Nightshade series) seemed like an unlikely pairing to me, that is, until I actually read Invisibility (one of our Best Teen Books of May) and watched the video below. 

Now it all makes sense.  Invisibility is the story of what happens when a boy who has been invisible to everyone (including himself) is seen for the first time by a girl who's tough exterior hides a multitude of secrets.  Don't be fooled by the familiar he-said, she-said style, this one is anything but cliché and the twists are surprising and exciting all the way to the end.  Here is an exclusive video of Cremer and Levithan goofing off (check out Cremer's great boots!), teasing each other, and talking about Invisibility:


YA Wednesday: Marie Lu and Jessica Khoury on Dystopian Fiction and Pet Peeves

One of the books I'm most looking forward to in the new year is Prodigy (available January 29, 2013), the second book in Marie Lu's knockout dystopian trilogy that started last year with Legend . A great "what to read next" for Hunger Games and Divergent fans, Lu is definitely one to watch with this next installment. 

Where Legend takes off in dystopian Los Angeles, Jessica Khoury's debut, Origin, looks at dystopian society from a "how did they get there" perspective set in the far reaches of the Amazon jungle.  Both novels are emotionally charged and sharply plotted with edge-of-your-seat danger and romance.   The authors recently got together to talk about their books, author influences, and pet peeves.  You can also check out the book trailers for Legend and Origin after the jump.


Q: Both of your books have some dystopian elements – do you think that your fiction could become reality?

JESSICA: Parts of Origin already are reality. The Amazon rainforest, for example, and the fact there are hidden tribes there. And Little Cam itself, and the philosophy of the scientists, are rooted in the eugenics movement of the early 1900s. So even though I doubt we will ever discover a flower that bestows immortality, the ideologies and methods of the scientists who created Pia could one day manifest in things like forced euthanasia, eugenics or forced sterilization of people who don’t fit the government’s “ideal” (this has actually happened in some countries!) These practices are natural consequences of relying too heavily on scientific objectivity without any kind of moral/emotional check. In dystopian society’s like Marie’s, or Ally Condie’s or Lois Lowry’s, we see worlds where this kind of thinking reigns over entire societies. In Origin, I look at the beginnings of a dystopia and explore the ideas that ultimately give rise to dystopian societies. So it’s kind of like a pre-dystopia in some ways.

MARIE: I actually think a lot of the dystopian elements in Legend have either already come to pass or are happening right now. The Trials were inspired partly by ancient Sparta’s law that infants considered too physically weak were thrown into a chasm. As Jessica mentioned with regards to Little Cam in Origin, the Trials in Legend were also inspired by the U.S.’s eugenics movement in the early 20th century, when people with ‘undesirable’ traits were sent off to insane asylums or sterilized. Totally a real-life dystopian situation, right? Modern-day North Korea, as well as China during the Cultural Revolution, also heavily influenced me. I was living in Beijing when I was five years old, and can still remember the Tiananmen Square protests. I ended up putting a very similar scene into Legend.

Q: Pia [Origin heroine] and June [Legend heroine] are forced to take on situations and behave with maturity beyond their years. But sometimes, they make us realize that they are still teens. Do you use any of your teen experiences or memories as you write?

JESSICA: Definitely! Not that I’m immortal, was raised in a lab, or have a pet jaguar—but I can totally relate to Pia’s journey of discovery. I grew up in a small town and though I wasn’t completely isolated from the world, I still had to go through the same feelings of “Oh, the world is much bigger than I’d thought!” And I also had a few shocks when I encountered people who thought very differently than me, and who shook my ideas of what is right and what is normal.

MARIE: Mine was memories of taking the SAT! Oh man, how I feared that test. At the time, I really did feel like the SAT had a life-or-death quality to it, that if I didn’t score well, I’d be doomed for all eternity. It totally helped me get in the mindset to write about the Trials in Legend. As for June in particular, her reverence for her older brother wasn’t based on my personal experiences (I’m an only child), but I did draw on the way I would admire people older than me, and aspire to become like them.

Q: Pia and June both experience central turning points where their previous views of the world are shaken. Have you had such an experience?

JESSICA: I’ve never had a stunning revelation such as Pia’s near the end of Origin, but I have experienced gradual growth and chance in my perspectives. Growing up in a small, Southern town, you don’t get a huge variety of worldviews, and as I’ve seen and done more outside my hometown, I’ve had to examine and revise some of my own views.

MARIE: In college, I definitely had a turning-point experience (although perhaps not to the same level as June!). When we’re young, we tend to be so accepting of everything around us, and when something suddenly comes along to tell us that either someone we loved can’t be trusted, or something we always believed in is actually false . . . it really defines us for the rest of our lives. If I went through as extreme of an experience as June, though, I’m sure I would’ve had a panic attack!

Q: What books have influenced you most in the writing of this book, or in your writing in general?

JESSICA: Origin is inspired by an array of books: Nation by Terry Pratchett, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, Lost Horizon by James Hilton. But my writing in general has been most influenced by Lloyd Alexander’s Westmark trilogy. It was at the age of thirteen, after I finished reading the third book, that—with tears still in my eyes—I knew I wanted nothing more than to write, and I began working that very day on my first novel.

MARIE: In general, I’d say Brian Jacques’s Mattimeo introduced me to the fantasy/sci-fi genres and forever solidified my love for it. I’m not sure if I’ll ever venture outside of writing fantasy/sci-fi! For Legend in particular, I was most influenced by Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow, as well as Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (albeit the movie version) and Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities.

Q: Do you have any writing pet peeves? (Someone reading over your shoulder, or you can’t think of a synonym for ‘mind-blowing’, etc?)

JESSICA: Okay, this is weird, but I can’t have long fingernails when I’m writing. I hate the clacking they make on the keys, and my fingers get clumsy with them. So I keep my nails really, really short all the time.

MARIE: I cannot write without some sort of instrumental music playing. It’s just too…silent!

Continue reading "YA Wednesday: Marie Lu and Jessica Khoury on Dystopian Fiction and Pet Peeves" »

YA Wednesday Exclusive: Tamora Pierce Reviews "Seraphina"

Our July spotlight pick for Best of the Month in Teens is Seraphina, Rachel Hartman's brilliant debut fantasy novel that takes place in a world of dragons and humans, narrated by a young woman who is both.  Even for readers who don't typically gravitate towards books with dragons, this is the book to make an exception for. Seraphina is detailed and complex without becoming dense or cumbersome--I absolutely loved it, and so have other readers in the office.  Seraphina has received starred reviews and praise from best-selling authors like Christopher Paolini and Tamora Pierce who wrote an exclusive guest review for the book that you can only find here (or here).  At the end of the post we've also got a short book trailer that's pretty awesome.  If you already love books with dragons, which one is your favorite so far?


Tamora Pierce is a best-selling author of fantasy books for teenagers. Her books, known for their teenaged girl warriors and wizards, have received critical acclaim and a strong fanbase. Her newest book, Mastiff, is the third book in The Legend of Beka Cooper series. 

In Seraphina's world, coldly intellectual dragons can take on the shapes--and feelings--of human beings. Sometimes this results in a surprise. Seraphina's father married a beautiful musician, and discovered too late that she was a dragon. She died, leaving him with a daughter who confuses him and his new wife and children.

Now the half-dragon Seraphina is the assistant to the cranky royal music master. She is in charge of Princess Glisselda's music lessons; she books performers for the 40-year celebration of the peace treaty between dragons and humans, and she rehearses the rowdy court musicians. She has to hide the scales on her arm and around her waist, and she can never let anyone find out that Orma, her music teacher, is actually a dragon.

When she plays the solo for the funeral of the realm's murdered prince, Seraphina is suddenly raised into entirely new, visible levels of peril. People she always avoided are noticing her. She has to attend social functions, where she is caught up in court politics, between those who support the treaty and those who want to destroy it. She runs afoul of conspirators who want to start the war again--one of them may be her own grandfather. She even discovers that Prince Lucian, who is betrothed to Princess Glisselda, is not only very sharp-eyed but also very agreeable to be around. He appreciates her insights on intrigue at court and in the city and uses her as an unofficial investigator into the ongoing unrest.

The plot thickens. A new religious order plots riots and revolution. Exiled knights return to report an unregulated dragon flying near where the old prince was murdered. The dragons are trying to send Orma for corrective surgery--they think he's gotten too human and they want to cut those parts out of his brain. Seraphina fears that if she tells the prince and the princess what she is, they'll hate her forever, but their work to preserve the treaty celebrations is bringing them closer together. And all of them are terrified that the dragons will decide that humans are not worth the trouble, and will destroy them at last.

I loved this book even more the second time I read it than I did the first. The characters are interesting and engaging, and I love the new look at dragons. For all that she's half-dragon, Seraphina is a very believable human being, caught between different loyalties and just trying to keep everyone she loves alive. But don't take my word for it--read it yourself!

--Tamora Pierce


YA Wednesday: "Shadow and Bone" Author Leigh Bardugo

June's spotlight pick for Best Teen Book of the Month was a no-brainer--we were unanimous about Shadow and Bone and the only argument was whether or not to also include it on the adult list. 

When an teenage orphan's hidden talents are revealed to everyone--including herself--she is suddenly whisked away to join the elite Grisha, the magically inclined people who live and work under the mysterious Darkling.  Not unlike Katniss and Gale, the connection between Alina and Mal, the orphan boy who has been her best friend since childhood, is sweet, innocent, and fraught with difficulty--their story as much as Alina's self-discovery, was part of what made Shadow and Bone impossible to put down. The writing is so cinematic that I can still picture favorite scenes throughout the book despite my having read it months ago, and I really wanted to be a part of the Grisha world.  The second book in this trilogy honestly cannot get here fast enough...

You can read more about Shadow and Bone from the author, Leigh Bardugo, in the Q&A with her editor, Noa Wheeler, below and check out a cool trailer for the book:

Noa Wheeler: I was really struck when I was reading Shadow and Bone by the beautiful setting. It’s not our world exactly but it feels very Russian. Can you tell me a little bit more about the setting and how it played into your writing?

Leigh Bardugo: I think a lot of people have come to expect the medieval European setting from fantasy, and I wanted to use a different cultural touchstone for my world. There's also this terrible tension between the beauty of Russian culture and the brutality of its history that just lends itself to high-drama narrative. The more I researched the more inspired I got.

NW: I truly believe that Shadow and Bone is a book for everyone. It’s fantasy but there’s plenty here for someone who’s not a regular fantasy reader to fall in love with. That makes it feel different to me from a lot of what’s out there. Do you agree? And if so, what do you think makes this book different?

LB: I hope you’re right! I tried really hard to make the book accessible to people who might not ordinarily pick up high fantasy. I’m a fantasy writer, so I love world building. I love maps. I love all that good stuff. But the story really began for me with the relationships between Alina and Mal and the Darkling. And I hope that comes through. Some people are put off by fantasy because they pick up a book and there are 10 terms and each one has 20 consonants and three apostrophes and you have no idea how to pronounce things and it kind of makes the book feel like work. So I tried to ease people into the world a bit more gently. That's also why I chose to tell the story from Alina's point of view. She’s very down to earth, very pragmatic, has a modern sensibility. I hope her perspective will make it easier for readers to enter Ravka.

NW: Another thing I think makes this book so different is that the magic is very accessible. For instance, I love the idea of the Small Science, of something that looks like magic being an enhancement of what’s actually around us all the time. Can you elaborate on that aspect of the story a little bit?

LB: I've just always been interested in the functionality of magic. I love Harry Potter and I always wondered what actually happens physically and structurally when you mutter a curse or wave a wand. I wanted to get into the nitty-gritty of how the magic worked. So the Small Science is really about manipulating matter at its most fundamental levels. It’s basically magical molecular chemistry.

NW: This is a little bit of a fangirl question, but if you could meet one of your characters who would it be and why?

LB: Well, my fangirl answer would be The Darkling. Because he’s gorgeous and mysterious and dangerous and all those fun things. But I would also love to meet Genya. She kind of serves as Alina’s guide into this magical world of the Grisha and the political maneuvering of the royal court. She’s a combination of a make-up artist, a plastic surgeon, and a sorceress—and on the surface she’s the classic fairy godmother, sassy best friend character, but there's a lot more to her than that. She’s been kicked around and looked down on a lot throughout her life, yet she’s always managed to keep her chin up and stay fabulous. I like that, and I think she’d be really fun to hang out with.

NW: What do you want readers to take away from this book?

LB: The message at the heart of the story is basically that the things that you fear most in yourself, the things that make you different, are also the things that give you power. And that embracing them can make you beautiful. So I would love it if people took that away from the book. I would also love it if people came away from it wanting to know what happens next for Alina and Mal! Things get really intense in the sequel, Siege and Storm. There are some new characters and what I hope will be some big surprises.

YA Wednesday: Guest Blogger Scott Speer

Scott Speer is a director already well known for his music videos and films, including this summer's Step Up Revolution (hitting theaters in July).  Speer is also the author of Immortal City, the first book in an action-packed new young adult series that brings together Guardian Angels (for those who can afford them), star-crossed romance, and a serial killer--check out the cool book trailer below.

For today's YA Wednesday feature, Scott Speer joins us as our guest blogger with a special Top 10 list you'll only see here.--Seira

 Hi all, this is Scott Speer, author of Immortal City and director of the upcoming Step Up Revolution.  Being a director as well as an author, I’m particularly interested in books that go on to become movies. Here are ten of my all-time favorites. 

Jaws: I’m a huge Steven Spielberg fan, and this is one of his earliest – and still best.  It’s also a great example of streamlining a subplot-heavy novel for the screen. 

Twilight: Catherine Hardwicke’s hip, well-cast, indie-film-in-sheep’s-clothing gave Stephenie Meyer’s novel the edginess it needed to explode into a worldwide phenomenon. 

Forrest Gump:  Robert Zemeckis is another all-time favorite of mine, and this has to be one of the all-time best adaptations

The Notebook: It’s rare to see a film so perfectly capture the essence of a book, but I think Nick Cassavetes did that here. 

The Color Purple: Yes, yes, I’m a huge Spielberg fan.  The Color Purple for me is a wonderful example of a film that ultimately is a different tone and vision than the book, but is just as valid. 

To Kill a Mockingbird: I saw this movie in freshman English and never forgot it.  Years later I revisited it and realized what a fantastic piece of storytelling it is.  Thanks Mr. Pachilio!

The Shawshank Redemption: Stephen King is my favorite author and this film has gone on to become one of the greatest examples of modern cinema.  I just love the characters. 

Gone with the Wind: I can’t resist old movies and this is one of my favorites.  Gorgeous photography and lush, old school storytelling.  They don’t make them like this anymore. 

The Shining: Is there a movie that better captures Stephen King’s mastery of slow-burning dread?  The Shining stands the test of time not only as great movie but a truly scary one.  One of Kubrick’s best. 

Jurassic Park: Jurassic Park?  Yes.  JP holds a very special place in my heart.  Like many directors who grew up in the 90s, I saw this at a  young age, and this was one of the key movies that inspired me to start making movies.  It’s a landmark film in every aspect, and it would not have been possible without the vision of Michael Crichton.  Authors and directors really do make a great team!

Book Trailer for Immortal City:

Book Trailers of the Month

The book trailer: an evolving art form. Among our ten Best Books of the Month for March we found six trailers, ranging from the outrageous (Vanishers) to the sincere (Birds of a Lesser Paradise). 

The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits

If you can figure out what's going on in this groovy, trippy trailer please let me know.


Half-Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan

Not a trailer, but a nice clip of author Esi Edugyan reading an excerpt from her prize-winning novel.


The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed

Strayed discusses what compelled her to walk the Pacific Crest Trail in the wake of her mother's death.

White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf, by Aaron Bobrow-Strain

Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories, by Megan Mayhew Bergman

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