September 24, 2013

He Says, She Says - Double Author Interview: Troy H. Gardner & Erin Callahan ("Mad World" Series)

I have not one, but two guests today! But before I introduce them to you, a little background is required. I was recently contacted by Erin Callahan, half of the writing duo behind the Mad World series, who (after perusing my blog and actually making a mental note of my reading preferences...something that very few authors seem to take the time for!) offered me the first two books in the series for review. I gladly accepted, and as you may have seen for yourself, they were reviewed respectively on September 8 and 15 (read my review of Wakefield | read my review of Tunnelville). While I was about to start on the second installment, I mentioned an interview opportunity to Erin, who enthusiastically accepted. I was debating if asking specific questions to her and her writing partner, Troy H. Gardner, when she mentioned they have two rather different approaches to writing - this being one reason why they make a good team. Erin's comment gave me the idea of a double interview with the same questions, which sounded like fun in this case. And fun it ended up being (but very insightful too)...you can judge for yourself :). 

Before we get to know Erin and Troy a little better, here's a spotlight on their ongoing debut series...

Title: Mad World
Authors: Erin Callahan & Troy H. Gardner
Genres: Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Contemporary
Year: 2012+
Age: 12+
Available on: Kindle (for now)
Wakefield (book 1 in the Mad World Series) on Amazon | on Goodreads
Tunnelville (book 2 in the Mad World Series) on Amazon | on Goodreads 

Blurb for Wakefield: Orphans Astrid Chalke and Max Fisher meet when they’re sent to live at Wakefield, a residential and educational facility for teens with psychiatric and behavioral problems.  Just as Astrid and Max develop a strong bond and begin to adjust to the constant chaos surrounding them, a charming and mysterious resident of Wakefield named Teddy claims he has unexplainable abilities. At first, Astrid and Max think Teddy is paranoid, but Max’s strange, recurring dreams and a series of unsettling events force them to reconsider Teddy’s claims. Are they a product of his supposedly disturbed mind or is the truth stranger than insanity? (Amazon excerpt)
Blurb for Tunnelville: Following their panicked escape from Wakefield, Astrid Chalke, Max Fisher and their friends find themselves adrift and on the run in western Massachusetts. After picking up a young thief with a complex philosophy, and dealing with the pains of prescription drug withdrawal, they make their way to Boston. The damaged teens settle in an underground tunnel community and encounter the fabulous Angie DeVille, who envelops them in her breathless and fast paced life. Dr. Lycen is tasked to hunt down the Wakefield escapees. But as Astrid and Max eke out a meager existence in their new home and do their best to stay off Dr. Lycen's radar, they learn that new and even more harrowing threats might be lurking just over the horizon. (Amazon excerpt)

Interview: In strictly alphabetical order - welcome to Offbeat YA Erin and Troy! I’m so glad to have you here. Also, it’s not every day one gets the opportunity of interviewing a collaborative duo of writers. I have a lot of questions (erm...probably too many...) and I do hope you won’t mind them…*ducks and crosses fingers* So, on with the first one...

Your bio says you met in high school. Were you already dreaming of becoming writers back then?

T: I wrote a lot when I was younger, but I wanted to be a director for quite some time. I knew I wanted to tell stories, but I didn’t know in what medium.
E: I didn’t start thinking about writing until I was in college. I reread a few of my favorite YA novels and thought, “Maybe someday I’ll write YA fiction.” But that was really just a pipe dream until one day when Troy and I were browsing in a bookstore together and he was like, “We should stop talking about writing and, instead, actually start writing.” We began planning the Mad World series on the car ride home.

What kind of books did you read as teens? Did any particular author influence your own writing?

T: I didn’t read much YA when I was a young adult, oddly enough, but Perks Of Being A Wallflower sticks out, and I got into Harry Potter when I was 17. I read a lot of Stephen King, Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter series, David Sedaris, and some of the Star Wars expanded universe.
E: I also read a lot Stephen King and I took Honors English, so I was forced to read a lot of classics, like Camus’s The Stranger and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, which I now appreciate. My favorite YA novel as a teen was The Goats by Brock Cole. I read it again a few years ago and it still blew me away. I also really loved Wise Child by Monica Furlong and The Cuckoo’s Child by Suzanne Freeman. They both delve deeply into the mundane in a way that really appealed to me.
[...]

September 23, 2013

Goodreads Review Policy Takes a Turn for the Worse

Source

It has been brought to my attention by this post on Guinevere and Libertad Tomas' blog that Goodreads has just changed its review policy. You can read the full announcement here. But the most controversial point is the one I'm going to quote below:

**Delete content focused on author behavior. We have had a policy of removing reviews that were created primarily to talk about author behavior from the community book page. Once removed, these reviews would remain on the member’s profile. Starting today, we will now delete these entirely from the site. We will also delete shelves and lists of books on Goodreads that are focused on author behavior. If you have questions about why a review was removed, send an email to support@goodreads.com. (And to answer the obvious question: of course, it’s appropriate to talk about an author within the context of a review as it relates to the book. If it’s an autobiography, then clearly you might end up talking about their lives. And often it’s relevant to understand an author’s background and how it influenced the story or the setting.)

And they go on like this:

Someone used the word censorship to describe this. This is not censorship - this is setting an appropriate tone for a community site. We encourage members to review and shelve books in a way that makes sense for them, but reviews and shelves that focus primarily on author behavior do not belong on Goodreads.  

Now, this is some statement o_O.

September 22, 2013

Mary E. Pearson: "The Fox Inheritance"

Title: The Fox Inheritance [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Jenna Fox Chronicles (2nd of 3 books, but there's also a short story - read it for free here - that is chronologically book 1.5 in the series, though it only came out after book 2)
Author: Mary E. Pearson [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Dystopian
Year: 2011
Age: 12+
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: Unique premise. A main character you can relate to. Feelings and action packed together. Creative futuristic speculations. An unforgettable not-human, more-than-human sidekick.
Cons: Some common tropes (evil scientist who would stop at nothing, unexpected ally with secrets of her own, underground network dealing in favours). Some awkward relationships.
Will appeal to: Those who think TAOJF lacked action. Those who need to know Locke and Kara's side of the story.

Blurb: Once there were three. Three friends who loved each other - Jenna, Locke, and Kara. And after a terrible accident destroyed their bodies, their three minds were kept alive, spinning in a digital netherworld. When Jenna disappeared, Locke and Kara had to go on without her. Two-hundred-and-sixty years later, they have been released at last. Given new, perfect bodies, Locke and Kara awaken to a world they know nothing about, where everyone they once knew and loved is long dead. Everyone except Jenna Fox. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: To me, TFI doesn't suffer from the typical sequel syndrome so many books seem to be affected of - you know, not being able to live up expectations/match the hype their predecessors generated. I honestly enjoyed it as much as the first installment of the series, though for different reasons. I give Pearson credit for this - it is, indeed, a different book. Not simply because it has a different narrator, and a male one at that. Not simply because it carries us 260 years in the future. Not simply because of the not overbearing, but still significant amount of action.
Locke and Kara shouldn't be alive, because of what happened at the end of TAOJF. And the shocking truth is...that book was meant to be a standalone. The reasons why Pearson decided to publish a sequel (more than three years after) are stated in this interview (point 2). And if you ask me, I think they're believable and honest.
While Jenna's story was almost a contemporary one (at least when it comes to its setting), Locke and Kara's can be labeled as post-apocalyptic, to a certain extent. It's not like the U.S. have collapsed, but they've been tore apart and reshaped. If you need a strong world-building/background, I'm warning you - this won't happen here. Still I wasn't bothered by the lack of it, because frankly, I was more interested in the kids' story and adventures - not to mention, in Locke's stream of consciousness. What I'm going to mention is not a spoiler (see blurb), so I can address this particular point: Locke, along with Kara, has been literally living in a box for the past 260 years. Their minds have been trapped in an endless void for more two centuries and a half. Pearson explores the nightmare and its aftermath with a masterful hand. Same goes for the relationship between Jenna, Kara and Locke. It can be loosely described as a love triangle, but it's both simpler and more complicated than that - and I found it believable from every one of the three perspectives. Also, I usually hate love triangles with a passion...so, if this one passed the test with flying colours, it is really saying something :). [...]

September 15, 2013

Erin Callahan & Troy H. Gardner: "Tunnelville"

Title:  Tunnelville [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Mad World (2st of 6 books)
Authors: Erin Callahan & Troy H. Gardner [Mad World site | Erin on Goodreads | Troy's site | Troy on Goodreads]
Genres: Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Year: 2013
Age: 12+
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Rather unusual and multifaceted. Characters make for some interesting dynamics. A few surprises on the way.
Cons: Some too convenient or unconvincing occurrences. A few careless decisions. Real action crammed in the end.
Will appeal to: Those who liked Wakefield but craved for more action...and magic.

Blurb: Following their panicked escape from Wakefield, Astrid Chalke, Max Fisher and their friends find themselves adrift and on the run in western Massachusetts. After picking up a young thief with a complex philosophy, and dealing with the pains of prescription drug withdrawal, they make their way to Boston. The damaged teens settle in an underground tunnel community and encounter the fabulous Angie DeVille, who envelops them in her breathless and fast paced life. Dr. Lycen is tasked to hunt down the Wakefield escapees. But as Astrid and Max eke out a meager existence in their new home and do their best to stay off Dr. Lycen's radar, they learn that new and even more harrowing threats might be lurking just over the horizon. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from the authors in exchange for an honest review. Here goes...
Upon closing my Tunnelville PDF after reading the whole book, I suddenly realized that a significant shift had occurred. While Wakefield still retained a lot of traits that could be identified as contemporary (the past lives, interactions and everyday problems of a bunch of kids living in a educational facility), with Tunnelville we step openly into urban-fantasy - or even magic - territory. Though Astrid, Max and the gang are now fighting for survival in a new town - while trying to avoid their pursuers - the real focus is the specialness of some of them and of a few people they meet. We do follow the escapees while struggling and conning and stealing and doing odd jobs, but mostly we are introduced to a world on the fringe of normal, not of society.
The story is again mainly splitted into alternate chapters by Astrid and Max, with the occasional interlude by Eugene (a detective hired by Astrid's aunt in order to find her) and a prologue and epilogue by Dr. Lycen. Eight of the Wakefield inmates have escaped together - leaving what I suspect was a favourite character of us all behind, because of a decision the kid in question had to make. Now we get to know a Wakefield runaway we only got a glimpse of before - Lawrence, a great addiction to the cast. Also, Colby, a new companion with a whole different background, joins the group on their escape, and we mainly see him through Astrid's eyes, because the two fell for each other - so we aren't sure if the kid in question can be trusted or not. I have to say that the marginality of this love story with regard to the plot was much appreciated, though you'll still be treated to some cute moments if you are into them.
The first chapters follow the eight escapees while they're heading to Boston, living hand to mouth and trying to stay off the radar. Though some relationships are still strong, some of them seem to deteriorate a bit under the stress. Besides the shifting dynamics, there is also some unexpected character development, with particular reference to Astrid, who is apparently coming a bit far from the girl we came to know and love in Wakefield - while Max is even more relatable and sweet. Still, Astrid has taken Ben - the only really sick kid in the gang - under her wing, administrating him medications and trying to keep him safe, which is a point in her favour. [...]

September 08, 2013

Erin Callahan & Troy H. Gardner: "Wakefield"

Title: Wakefield [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Mad World (1st of 6 books)
Authors: Erin Callahan & Troy H. Gardner [Mad World site | Erin on Goodreads | Troy's site | Troy on Goodreads]
Genres: Paranormal, Contemporary
Year: 2012
Age: 12+
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Relatable, interesting characters (for the most part). Strong blend of contemporary and paranormal elements. Well-fleshed out setting.
Cons: Slow, with most action concentrated in the last pages. Typical villain. A few chapters sound slightly awkward (see: Eduardo).
Will appeal to: Introspective readers. Male\female friendship supporters. People who are fed up with stereotypical heroes and heroines.

Blurb: Orphans Astrid Chalke and Max Fisher meet when they’re sent to live at Wakefield, a residential and educational facility for teens with psychiatric and behavioral problems. Just as Astrid and Max develop a strong bond and begin to adjust to the constant chaos surrounding them, a charming and mysterious resident of Wakefield named Teddy claims he has unexplainable abilities. At first, Astrid and Max think Teddy is paranoid, but Max’s strange, recurring dreams and a series of unsettling events force them to reconsider Teddy’s claims. Are they a product of his supposedly disturbed mind or is the truth stranger than insanity? (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from the authors in exchange for an honest review. Here goes...
You know, most paranormal novels are fairly predictable. Usually. a girl develops a certain kind of power (all of a sudden, but she may have had it for a while sometimes), then meets the new boy at school and feels inexplicably drawn to him (most of the times it's just your average hormonal surge, but still)...then they end up developing both a romantic and paranormal bond and set out to save the world - or part of it. Well...nothing of that happens here. Which is SO refreshing, if you ask yours truly. Also, on with common tropes. Heroines are usually wrapped in their most girlish self, but of course they have to be feisty as well. Heroes are required to be dark, sulky and misterious, and of course swoon-worthy material. Which, I'm happy to say, it's NOT the case here. In Astrid's words "I normally dreaded wearing skirts, or doing anything remotely girly. I always felt like I was playing dress up or wearing my femininity on my sleeve, and it made me ridiculously self-conscious." (p. 192). She's also a good judge of feminine stereotypes - and while she's strong and bold when required, she's not your usual epitome of spunkiness. Max likes her, but not in a romantic way: “You didn’t want to go [to the prom] with me, did you?” “Honestly, no. It would have been like going with my sister." (p. 193). He's quiet, sensitive, loyal - and thank goodness, nowhere in the novel it says he's a sex symbol or something. (On a side note, Astrid seems to develop a romantic attachment for someone else later, but it's NOT overplayed. Another thing that I found refreshing...).
As the blurb already informed you, Astrid and Max meet in a facility for messed-up kids. They're both orphans, but their personal histories are quite different, as is the way the staff at Wakefield (especially the in-house psychiatrist Dr. Lycen) interact with them. This is your first clue to figure out what's really going on under the Wakefield fa├žade. Other clues come in the form of Astrid and Max' fellows inmates - or better, some of them. I can't dwell on this aspect of the novel, in order to avoid spoilers; suffice to say, it is another peculiar trait of it. I also liked how the paranormal is dealt with here, because it appears to be linked to emotions and strenght of character, and enhanced by hard experiences - as opposed to be sort of a magic power one can unleash at the throw of a switch. On the other hand, it is maybe a little too convenient that all the paranormal energy comes into play at the same moment for everyone involved. But it's effective, of course. [...]