Blog Tour: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

I’m so excited to be part of the Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky blog tour! I had the incredible honour of interviewing the author, Kwame Mbalia. The moment I heard about this book, it was an instant add for me. Check out my interview below and then preorder or request TRISTAN STRONG at your local library. Every one of the books from the Rick Riordan Presents imprint have been standout so far; you won’t be disappointed.

imageTristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

Kwame Mbalia

Release Date: October 15, 2019

Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents

Buy: Amazon | Book Depository

Chapters/ | B&N |  Kobo


Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents Kwame Mbalia’s epic fantasy, a middle grade American Gods set in a richly-imagined world populated with African American folk heroes and West African gods.

Seventh grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Tristan is dreading the month he’s going to spend on his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, where he’s being sent to heal from the tragedy. But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie’s notebook. Tristan chases after it–is that a doll?–and a tug-of-war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature’s hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world.

Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American folk heroes John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price. Can Tristan save this world before he loses more of the things he loves?


Q: What inspired TRISTAN STRONG? What made you go ‘This is it. This is the story I’m writing now’?

A: Tristan Strong was written a few months after my father died, and my daughters were really struggling with this idea of grief. Along with that, I’ve always wanted to write a story retelling the folklore I grew up reading and listening to, so when the opportunity presented itself, I had to jump on it.

Q: Tristan is struggling with the grief of losing his best friend and the disappointment of losing his first fighting match. What do you hope readers will gain from the battles Tristan goes through – both internet and external?

A: Above all, I want to convey the idea that it is okay to grieve, to express grief, and that process can take anywhere from a month to forever. It’s natural. Tristan gradually learns what it means to lose something, whether it’s a match or a person you loved, and to continue through life.

Q: What has writing TRISTAN STRONG taught you? What’s your favourite part of the book?

  1. It’s my debut book so it taught me how to write, lmaoooo. A lesson I’m still learning and will continue to learn into the future. 
  2. My favorite part of the book is probably the ending scene when everyone’s on the page at the same time. I really got to put folktales and gods on the page. That makes me happy. 

Q: Your book is based on Western African gods and African-American legends. What kind of research did you do? Was there anything you wanted to include in the book but couldn’t?

A: Have you seen how large the book is? 496 pages. What didn’t I put in the book. No, but seriously, there are plenty more folktales and stories I couldn’t incorporate, but that’s what sequels are for, right? As for research, Zora Neale Hurston, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and other historians who collected folklore in their travels were of immense help.

Q: What were the challenges of creating a magical world with a modern setting?

A: Everything. Worldbuilding is hard, yo.

Q: If Tristan existed in our world, what would he be reading and watching right now?

A: He’d be reading everything from Read Riordan Presents… and watching replays of the Spence/Porter boxing match, YouTube compilations of old Vine clips, and Steven Universe. 


DSC_1811Kwame is a husband, father, writer, and pharmaceutical metrologist in that order.  His debut middle-grade novel, TRISTAN STRONG PUNCHES A HOLE IN THE SKY (October 15, 2019) is published by Rick Riordan Presents/Disney-Hyperion.  A Howard University graduate and a Midwesterner now in North Carolina, he enjoys impromptu dance sessions and Cheezits.






Be sure to check out the other blog tour stops as well as the host, Cake Literary.

Blog Tour: The Broken Ones by Danielle L. Jensen

thebrokenones_144dpi-676x1024The Broken Ones (prequel to Stolen Songbird, Hidden Huntress, and Warrior Witch)

Danielle L. Jensen 

Release Date: June 6, 2017

Publisher: Angry Robot

Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/ | B&N | Kobo


A prequel to the USA Today bestseller and Goodreads Choice finalist Stolen Songbird (The Malediction Trilogy).

Below Forsaken Mountain, a revolution stirs with the aim to overthrow the tyrant king of Trollus, and Marc is the right hand of its leader. It’s a secret more than one troll would kill to possess, which is why he must keep it from everyone, even the girl he loves.

Since a tragic accident revealed her affliction and ruined her sister’s chance at the throne, Pénélope is an anathema to her father, the Duke d’Angouleme. Deeming her life worthless, he gives her one chance to survive: find proof that the boy she loves is a leader in the sympathizer revolution.

Marc and Pénélope must navigate the complex politics of Trollus, where powers on all sides are intent on using them as pawns, forcing them to risk everything for a chance at a life together.

Except being together might be the greatest risk of all.

I’m so happy to be part of the blog tour for THE BROKEN ONES by Danielle L. Jensen. Today I’m posting an interview I got to do with the author. THE MALEDICTION TRILOGY is one of my favourite YA fantasy series, so I was thrilled to hear there’d be a prequel. If this series is new to you please check out STOLEN SONGBIRD, the first book. This gorgeous debut has trolls and magic and a city under a mountain. If you haven’t read STOLEN SONGBIRD, I recommend reading it before THE BROKEN ONES. Thank you to Danielle for joining me on the blog today.


Q: In THE BROKEN ONES, Marc and Pénélope find themselves right in the thick of the complex politics of Trollus, both holding dangerous secrets of their own. How did writing THE MALEDICTION TRILOGY, which became more complex with each book, prepare you for this story?

A: It taught me patience. I’d love to say that all the interconnections and depth of plot for the trilogy appeared fully formed in my brain, but that was really, really, not the case. While writing those three novels, I learned to dig deeper. To make sure actions had not just one believable motivation, but layers of them. To find the connections between characters and events, even if those connections didn’t make it onto the page. THE BROKEN ONES is technically the backstory for the trilogy, but calling it such makes it sound boring. I prefer to consider it the beginning of the story. There are countless ties to the trilogy, some big and some small, that I hope readers will pick up on, and building those in was part of what expanded THE BROKEN ONES into a full-length novel. This is just a silly, non-spoiler example, but did you ever wonder how Tristan managed to smuggle a piano into Trollus for Cécile? Well, he didn’t – it was already there… 🙂

Q: THE BROKEN ONES is told in the joint point of view of Marc and Pénélope, different from THE MALEDICTION TRILOGY, which were told in the POV’s of Cécile and Tristan. What was that like? Were you ever worried that Marc and Pénélope would sound too similar to Cécile and Tristan?

A: I didn’t worry about it, because the characters are so different. Pénélope is the quintessential quiet heroine. She’s soft-spoken, thoughtful, elegant, and about as far from my reckless and impulsive Cécile as you can get. Marc is a younger, slightly more naïve, version of the troll you got to know in the trilogy, and he also has a much quieter voice than Tristan. Tristan has a huge role in THE BROKEN ONES, so you’ll get PLENTY of his younger, smart-ass self to sate yourselves! I’m digressing here a bit, but as much as the cover copy makes it sound like THE BROKEN ONES is about Marc and Pénélope’s relationship, it’s actually just as much about Marc’s relationship with Tristan. They have their fair share of conflict, but they have an exceptionally close friendship that didn’t get the page-time it deserved within the trilogy.

Q: This is a prequel to your debut novel STOLEN SONGBIRD. What was it like writing something where the ending is already in print? Were you ever worried the plot would head in a different direction?

A: It was tough, for sure. I never felt like the plot was driving toward a different ending, but it was often challenging ensuring that how I got to that ending remained consistent with the details I provided within the trilogy. There were many times when I was banging my head against my desk, because what I wanted to write wouldn’t work within the parameters I’d inadvertently set for myself when drafting the other books. But that forced me to dig deeper and get creative, and I think the novel is better for it.

Q: This book was originally supposed to be a novella. Is it safe to say you really enjoyed writing it? What was your favourite part about returning to this world?

A: I LOVED writing it! Trollus was my favorite setting within the trilogy, and it felt so good to walking through its streets again.

Here’s the thing about it morphing from a 30k word novella to a 68k word novel: if it had remained a novella, all it would’ve contained would be a slightly elaborated-upon version of what readers already knew. And I wanted it to be so much more than that. Marc deserved more than that. Despite readers knowing the ending, I wanted the story to be exciting and unexpected and full of new plot that would leave readers wondering if they actually knew how things would turn out. As far as what my favorite thing about writing it was… I’d say the cameos, especially the appearance of Chris. His friendship with Tristan was one of my favorite things to write in the trilogy, and it was great to include their relationship’s origin story!

Q: If Marc and Pénélope lived in our world, what books would they be reading right now?

A: Haha, this made me laugh, because there is a scene in the novel where Pénélope confesses that she doesn’t spend much time reading – she prefers to spend it on her art. That said, she is a guild-trained artist, so I’d envision her with a book about art history or technique. Marc is deeply concerned about the state of Trollus, so if he lived in our world, I’d see him reading non-fiction about social or political issues. How different they are from Cécile and Tristan, who both like to read escapist fiction!


DaniellView More: L. Jensen was born and raised in Calgary, Canada. At the insistence of the left side of her brain, she graduated from the University of Calgary with a bachelor’s degree in finance. But the right side of her brain has ever been mutinous, and it sent her back to school to complete an entirely impractical English literature degree at Mount Royal University. Much to her satisfaction, the right side shows no sign of relinquishing its domination.

Danielle L. Jensen is the USA Today bestselling author of The Malediction Trilogy: Stolen SongbirdHidden Huntress, and Warrior Witch.

Follow Danielle L. Jensen on Amazon

My website:

Twitter: @dljensen_

Instagram: danielleljensen

Facebook: @authordanielleljensen


Interview with Courtney Summers | All the Rage

Today on the blog I’m sharing an interview I did with Courtney Summers, author of several  books, including ALL THE RAGE. All the Rage was one of my favourite novels of the year and I was thrilled when Courtney agreed to do an interview with me.

21853636All the Rage

Courtney Summers

Release Date: April 14, 2015

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/ | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear.

With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women after an act of sexual violence, forcing us to ask ourselves: In a culture that refuses to protect its young girls, how can they survive?


Q: The thing that stands out most about All the Rage is Romy’s voice. It’s brutally honest and Romy herself seems like an unlikable character (I of course loved her!). How did you develop her voice?

C.S: I’m so glad you loved her! Thank you. Romy’s voice was developed over the course of several drafts. I feel like a big part of developing a character’s voice is just standing back and letting it happen on the page. I try not to get in the way of it by worrying too much about how it will be received. My general rule of thumb for writing all my female characters, Romy included, is to not shy away from emotions and actions that might come across as unlikable to readers and to state them plainly, even if they’re uncomfortable or hard to read about.

Q: I want to discuss a quote from All the Rage that had a deep impact on me:

“So you never said if you’re having a boy or girl.”

“We won’t know until it’s born.” I hope it’s not a girl (61).

Roy is really surprised by this. Can you tell me what you were feeling when you wrote this? Like Romy, were you surprised to find yourself writing this?

C.S: Romy is (understandably) having a really hard time dealing with her rape–she’s not dealing with it. I wanted to show how deep that trauma and hurt runs, the impact it has. I also wanted to show that even Romy can be surprised by how pervasive her trauma is and how much it has and continues to take over her life. It’s an upsetting scene and it needed to be. I wanted to be sure Romy’s pain was being clearly expressed to the reader.

Q: It’s really important for Romy to be wearing red lipstick and nail polish, and for me I saw this as a sort of armor. What was the inspiration behind this?

C.S: Romy views it as armor too. I wanted her to have something that was in her control. Everyone in town thinks Romy’s a liar. They have no problem re-traumatizing her by bringing up her rape because they don’t believe it’s true. When they see her, they see The Girl Who Cried Rape. By wearing the bright red lipstick and nail polish, Romy is, in her own way, controlling what people see–if only for a moment. 

Q: Do you have any book recommendations for after finishing All the Rage?

C.S: If anyone hasn’t read Speak before they read All the Rage, they should definitely pick it up. Pointe by Brandy Colbert. Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook.

Q: Can you share with us any projects you’re working on?

C.S: I’m working on something new, but that’s all I’m willing to say about it right now. 🙂 

Q: Can you tell me about what you’ve been reading lately?

C.S: I have been working my way through the Supernatural tie-ins! I love the show and they’re a lot of fun.

About the Author:

courtney2014hiresCOURTNEY SUMMERS was born in Belleville, Ontario, Canada in 1986 and currently resides in a small town not far from there. When she was around 10 years old, her local theatre’s production of Man of La Mancha (directed by her father) sparked her dream of telling stories that would move people the same way Don Quixote’s had moved her. At age 14, and with her parents’ blessing, Courtney dropped out of high school to pursue her education independently. During this time, she explored various creative mediums in search of the one that would best serve the tales she wanted to tell. At age 18, she wrote her first novel and never looked back. Her first book, Cracked Up to Be, was published in 2008, when she was 22. To date, she has authored five novels and is best known for her unapologetic, difficult female protagonists. When Courtney is not writing, she enjoys playing video games, watching horror movies, Supernatural, and planning for the impending zombie apocalypse. In 2016, she was named one of Flare Magazine’s 60 under 30. Visit her website and on Twitter @courtney_s

Review + Interview: Rabbit Ears by Maggie de Vries

18053322Rabbit Ears

Maggie de Vries

4.5/5 stars

Release Date: March 18, 2014

Publisher: HarperCollins

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/ | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Kaya is adopted, multiracial, grieving the death of her father—and carrying a painful secret. Feeling ill at ease with her family and in her own skin, she runs away repeatedly, gradually disappearing into a life of addiction and sex work. Meanwhile, her sister, Beth, escapes her own troubles with food and a rediscovered talent for magic tricks. Though both girls struggle through darkness and pain, they eventually find their way to a moment of illumination and healing.

This powerful YA novel is rooted in the tragic life of the author’s sister, Sarah, a victim of serial killer Robert Pickton and the subject of Maggie de Vries’s Governor General’s Literary Award–nominated memoir for adults, Missing Sarah. Sarah’s tragic experiences inspired the character Kaya, as well as an adult sex worker she meets on the streets. Vancouver’s missing women form a chilling backdrop for the story.


I want to say thank you to Maggie for allowing me to interview her. Be sure to check out my review of Rabbit Ears; it’s a fantastic book that I highly recommend!

1. Although Kaya’s story is fiction, Rabbit Ears was inspired by Vancouver’s missing women and the tragic experiences of your sister, Sarah. Can you tell me why you chose fiction as your medium?

MD: I wanted to write a story about a girl who survived, when my sister did not. And after I learned that my sister was sexually abused when she was a child, I wanted to explore the silence around abuse. To do that, I needed to write Kaya’s experience from the inside, and to do that I needed to write fiction. I also didn’t want to subject my family to another book about them. Fiction provided me with the distance and the flexibility that I needed. In the end, fiction also allowed me to include my sister Sarah as someone who helped Kaya, and that was a joy for me.

2. Kaya refers to herself as “you” while Beth refers to herself as “I”. I found this had several implications for both Kaya and the reader. How did this develop? Did you always know you would tell Kaya’s story this way?

MD: I didn’t. I believe that I wrote both Kaya and Beth in third person at first. Then I took a short story writing workshop from Zsuzsi Gartner, and she encouraged all of us to try something different. I went home and tried second person, even though I know it’s frowned up. Immediately, it felt right. Because of what has happened to her, Kaya is at a bit of a distance from herself. “You” makes is easier for her to tell her story. Then, at the end, she is able to switch to “I.” I think “you” also may implicate the reader more than first or third person does, forcing them to place themselves in the place of the character.

3. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

MD: I always say, read, write and live. Sometimes writers forget about the living part, but if we aren’t living fully, and paying attention to our sensory and emotional experiences, observing our world closely, we won’t have the stuff to write from. I also believe that we find our voices by grounding ourselves in our own experiences and writing from there, even when we are writing about aliens or life on the other side of the world.

4. How did you feel when you found out Rabbit Ears had been nominated for a 2016 White Pine award?

MD: I was thrilled! I knew that it meant that many teens would read and talk about Rabbit Ears, and that made me very happy. Also, even though I grew up in Vancouver and I have lived in Vancouver for much of my adult life, I was born in Guelph, Ontario and my mother lives there now, so I have spent a lot of time there. I’m excited about coming to the ceremony on May 17 and spending some time in Ontario then.

5. Can you share with us any projects you’re working on?

MD: Right now, I’m working on revisions on A Voice for Change, which is a different project for me because I’m not the author. A Voice for Change is Rinelle Harper’s story and she and her mother are the authors. I’m the writer. Rinelle is a remarkable young woman, and it has been a great honour to work on this book with her and her family. I have learned a great deal. I’ve spent a lot of time in Winnipeg and I’ve traveled to their home community of Garden Hill in northern Manitoba. I believe that A Voice for Change will come out this fall.

I also have a picture book coming out next spring called Swimming with Seals. Like Rabbit Ears, it’s a true story in fictional form. My sister Sarah and her daughter Jeanie both love to swim, just like in Rabbit Ears, but they never got to swim together. In Swimming with Seals, they do.

6. What have you been reading lately? Anything you can recommend?

MD: Right now I’m reading The Hunter and the Wild Girl by Pauline Holdstock, which is a strange and beautiful, like a dark fairy tale. And I just finished Ru by Kim Thuy, which is one of the most poetic books I’ve read in a long while. Haunting. Also by my bed at the moment is The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks. I had never read anything by Oliver Sacks, and when he died last August, I was reminded that that was a terrible gap in my reading. What a fascinating man!


When I finished this book all I could think was wow. Just wow! Even though Kaya’s story is fiction, the author has weaved in true stories of Vancouver’s missing women and that builds up such an emotional response in the reader. The characters of Rabbit Ears have their own deep, dark painful secrets; the more you read, the closer you are to figuring out what those are. I couldn’t help asking myself is this the story of a survivor or someone who couldn’t get out. Rabbit Ears is an incredible book and the author brings alive some very important issues, including but not limited to: Vancouver’s missing women, drug addiction, sex work and teen runaways. This is a must-read, something that shows you can help break the silence and bring awareness. A discussion opener.

I couldn’t immediately get into the book. The format and writing style surprised me so it was hard to convince myself to continue reading. I’m so glad I did because once I got into it, I couldn’t stop. Later on, deep into the book, I started reflecting on the writing. Rabbit Ears is split into two POV’s: Kaya’s and her older sister, Beth’s. Within each chapter, there are a lot of page breaks; short entries like you’d find in a journal or diary. What’s really interesting (I didn’t immediately see the difference) is that Kaya’s POV is in second person while Beth’s is in third person. This means that instead of Kaya referring to herself as “I”, she uses “you”. This has a few implications. For the reader, it fits with the idea that by reading this, you provide a space for Kaya’s story. It could even mean that an Outsider is telling Kaya’s story because for some reason Kaya herself isn’t able to. This worried me about how the book would end, as I mentioned before. For Kaya herself, the “you” creates a wall – it’s easier to tell your story if you’re looking at yourself from far away. The entire format of the book is a perfect fit for the story.

I loved the different perspectives of Kaya and Beth. Kaya, Beth and their mother are grieving the loss of their father, who passes away from cancer before the book begins. This seems to set off the events happening in Rabbit Ears. Kaya is adopted and multiracial; with little to no friends in school, she is constantly dealing with bullying and racism. She ends up meeting Sarah, a sex worker and heroin addict, in Vancouver’s Eastside. Sarah saves her and tries to warn her of the dangers. She herself doesn’t believe she can get out, but Kaya has a home and a family. Sarah views Kaya as a survivor, someone who can be saved, someone who doesn’t belong in this world of sex trafficking and addiction. The fact that the author has written in her own sister, Sarah (who was a victim of serial killer Robert Pickton) as a character makes the novel all the more powerful and moving.

We don’t see Beth’s POV as much as Kaya’s, but we do see enough. I would say Beth takes up the tough love approach when it comes to how she and her mom deal with Kaya. Beth doesn’t understand why Kaya would do this – hurt their family and runaway from home. She thinks their mom is too lenient on Kaya. Beth is also embarrassed by what’s going on, not wanting her friends to find out. However, Beth is also worried for Kaya. After all, they are still sisters and I felt like throughout the novel, Beth really comes through. This bond of sisterhood is strong.

This book is shorter than my usual reads, but the length doesn’t diminish the plot. If you feel like this book will make you uncomfortable because you’ve never experienced what these characters go through, I recommend you read this. This book opens your eyes, it makes the unbelievable very real. Fortunately, I’ve never had to experience what Kaya and other characters go through. I know these things can and do happen to women, but reading this book actually opened my eyes. So if you’re reading this book or you’ve read it and think “how can this even be real”, stop and reflect. Kaya’s story is fiction, but her story is representative of so many victims. There is truth between the lines.

Review + Interview: The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston

16068956The Story of Owen

E.K. Johnston

4/5 stars

Release Date: March 1, 2014

Publisher: Carolrhoda Books

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/ | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Listen! For I sing of Owen Thorskard: valiant of heart, hopeless at algebra, last in a long line of legendary dragon slayers. Though he had few years and was not built for football, he stood between the town of Trondheim and creatures that threatened its survival. There have always been dragons. As far back as history is told, men and women have fought them, loyally defending their villages. Dragon slaying was a proud tradition. But dragons and humans have one thing in common: an insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. From the moment Henry Ford hired his first dragon slayer, no small town was safe. Dragon slayers flocked to cities, leaving more remote areas unprotected. Such was Trondheim’s fate until Owen Thorskard arrived. At sixteen, with dragons advancing and his grades plummeting, Owen faced impossible odds armed only with a sword, his legacy, and the classmate who agreed to be his bard. Listen! I am Siobhan McQuaid. I alone know the story of Owen, the story that changes everything. Listen!


I was lucky enough to interview Kate (E.K.) Johnston about books, publishing, writing and more! The Story of Owen is one of ten books nominated for the 2016 White Pine Award, you can check out the other books here. Thank you Kate for joining me on the blog!

1. I think what I’m dying to know most is what inspired you to write about dragon slayers in modern-day Toronto/GTA? Where did that idea come from?

E.J: Well, most importantly it wasn’t Toronto/the GTA. What I really wanted to do was write a book in small-town Southwestern Ontario, and look at community and fame and family in that kind of setting. The Thorskards are from Hamilton (except Hannah, who is from Ohio), but they put a lot of effort into becoming locals of Trondheim, and I wanted to write that. I had this vision of Lottie on the Burlington Skyway, but I knew that all the important things happened after they moved away.

Okay, all that is entirely true, but it sounds overly serious, so here’s another answer: I really wanted to light a barn full of miniature ponies on fire. Miniature ponies are the worst.

2. When it comes to the world building, how did you know what to/not to include? Is it challenging working with an alternate timeline?

E.J: This is where having a very smart editor is handy! Originally there was very little world-building actually in the book (all of the “story of” chapters were missing, except the first and last one), and then my editor said “So, can you put in some more world-building?” and I was all “How much do you want, because I can tell you literally everything, and I assume no one really wants to know that”. He told me what he wanted (thematically), and then I wrote it. It was awesome.

Working with an alternate timeline was actually super easy in this case because I was ADDING things to history (I imagine that taking things away or changing them is where the difficulty begins). I basically took whatever I wanted out of history, lit it on fire, and sent it back in. Also, there’s quite a bit of dragon-lore in existence already, so making it literal fact was fairly straightforward. When the Suez Canal Crisis chapter came together early on, I knew I had it.

3. Looking at all your books, are there any characters you’re really similar to? Is there any one character that’s really fun to write?

E.J: Oh, boy. There are a lot of characters I wish I was more like (my narrator in A Thousand Nights, Hannah in OWEN, Polly in Exit, Pursued By A Bear), but I think if there’s anyone, it’s Courtney from Prairie Fire. She did something her family’s not totally cool with, even though she’s very good at it, she’s an excellent friend, and she is always packed.

The most fun character to write is someone you haven’t met yet. I’m really enjoying writing from her perspective. However, the most fun character I can talk about in public is probably Porter, from Prairie Fire. He is a jerk in all the best ways.

4. Can you tell me about your writing process? When it comes to plot, world building, dialogue, which is the easiest or most enjoyable?

E.J: For me, the easiest part of writing is drafting, because plot, world-building, character, setting, and dialogue are usually pretty connected in my brain, and when I reach for something to put it into the draft, it materializes for me. Then I have to fix it, which is less fun, but I’ve had really great editors thus far, so it’s not too much of a trial.

I am a fast drafter, and can usually produce a complete manuscript in about a month. I think about it a lot before then, though, and take scratchy notes in various notebooks. Once it comes time to write, I write pretty solidly for a month, and then I take a nap. Then I revise. It’s not a schedule that works for everyone (and as I spend more time on promo, I’ll have to change my process a little), but so far I have done well with it.

5. I’m really excited for your upcoming novel EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind that? What was it about Shakespeare and The Winter’s Tale that stood out to you?

E.J: The Winter’s Tale has always been my second favourite Shakespeare play (after The Tempest). I love Paulina’s loyalty. When I was little, I used to imagine all the time Paulina and Hermione must have spent together while Hermione was in hiding. Their friendship is so wonderful.

Less wonderful is the tendency of male politicians to regulate female bodies. One such politician tried to re-open the abortion debate in 2012. He has since been ousted from his seat, but he was my MP, and I was furious. I wanted to write a book where a girl had an abortion, and wasn’t punished for it. To do that, she was going to need friends, like Paulina and Hermione, so that’s what brought me back to The Winter’s Tale.

Finally, Veronica Mars was a huge inspiration to me. Veronica has three really awesome girl-friends: Lily, Meg and Mac, but Lily and Meg both die. I wanted to write a story where Veronica got to keep all of her friends.

6. Do you have any writing or publishing advice to share with aspiring writers? Is there anything you wish you’d known going into the publishing world?

E.J: My writing advice is to ignore all writing advice. Well, ignore most writing advice. You can listen politely to it, find what works for you, and just keep going on your way. The first 100 pages of David Eddings’ The Rivan Codex were useful to me, but they might not be to you.

My publishing advice is:

7. The Forest of Reading program is a great way of introducing new authors. Are there any books you’ve recently read and would recommend?

E.J: I really loved reading Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (spies and pilots in WWII!), Diana Peterfreund’s Across A Star-Swept Sea (post-apocalyptic Scarlet Pimpernel!), R.J. Anderson’s A Pocket Full of Murder (MURDER!), Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper (magic, art, and Brooklyn), Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules (more goats that I was expecting, but in the good way), anything by Tessa Gratton (but the Gods of New Asgard specifically), and Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff.


The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston has a really interesting dynamic: dragons and dragon slayers in modern-day Ontario (Canada). I don’t think I originally read the summary quite right because I expected medieval times so it was fantastic being introduced to this alternate timeline. Johnston gets bonus points for setting her story in Ontario and somewhat near (give or take) to where I live. I found the main character, Siobhan very likeable and Johnston’s book has that feel-good ending to it.

The book for the most part takes place in a small town called Trondheim, and having grown up in a small town, it was really easy to imagine. I’d actually imagine Siobhan and Owen in my old high school, so Johnston’s book had that extra interactive element to it, at least for me. The first couple chapters mentioned Toronto, and how the city fit into the dragon slayer dynamic. I loved hearing about something I’m familiar with combined with dragons. My favourite part was reading about Lottie, Owen’s aunt, going to the top of the CN tower to watch for dragons. I also loved that the author didn’t info dump. Being an alternate timeline, the author mentions historical events and how they’ve been changed by dragons, but only when relevant to the plot.

I loved reading Siobhan’s commentary throughout the book. Her humour was one of the things I instantly liked about her, and I could also see her as a normal teenager – well, as normal as can be when there’s dragons involved. I connected with Siobhan a lot and felt we had very similar personalities. Sometimes I did drift off, but I think mainly because the voice is better suited for someone a couple years younger than me.

Owen was an intriguing character to get to know. His father and aunt are dragon slaying legacies and he has a lot of expectations from other people – will he become a dragon slayer, will he be good at it, etc. Moving to a small town and meeting Siobhan was exactly the thing he needed. I loved how the two grew together and it’s through each other they find things like friendship and confidence. I actually half-expected romance to happen between the two and was pleasantly surprised when that didn’t happen. I wouldn’t have minded if romance had happened, but it was a surprise. Owen and Siobhan have a really endearing friendship; the two come together to break each other out of their shells and discover new things about themselves and the people around them. This was that feel-good ending – I was completely satisfied with the ending.

The Story of Owen is about Siobhan, a music lover, becoming Owen’s bard and telling his story as a dragon slayer – as well as going on dragon slaying adventures and figuring out a few mysteries. This book is the complete version of Owen’s tale and I loved that Siobhan is honest to the reader, letting him/her know how she originally started Owen’s tale and what parts she left out. This book has it all: friendship and bonds to last a lifetime, humour and heart, and most importantly, dragons – if you’re a fantasy lover like me. Johnston is talented and I recommend you pick up this book and others. I’m currently reading A Thousand Nights and am impatiently waiting for her next book Exit, Pursued by a Bear to be released.

Blog Tour: Owl and the City of Angels + Interview

Owl and the City of Angels by Kristi Charish

Release Date: Ebook – October 5, 2015 | Trade Paperback – March 1, 2016

Publisher: Gallery Books (Simon and Schuster CA)

Purchase: Amazon | Book DepositoryChapters/ | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

The wild second adventure for unforgettable antiquities thief Owl—a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world—from the pen of rising urban fantasy star Kristi Charish. For fans of Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, Jennifer Estep, Jenn Bennett, and the like.

Alix Hiboux, better known as Owl, international antiquities thief for hire, is settling into her new contract job for Vegas mogul Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon with a penchant for ancient, supernatural artifacts. And now he has his sights set on some treasures of the mysterious Syrian City of the Dead that are sitting in a recluse’s private collection.

There’s just one wrinkle. To stop the resurrection of an undead army that could wreak havoc on Los Angeles, Owl must break into a heavily guarded archaeological sight in one of the most volatile regions in the world. A detour through Libya and a run-in with Somali pirates sends the clock ticking hastily toward total paranormal disaster.

Meanwhile, Alexander and the Paris vampires have stopped stalking Owl’s apartment, but they have by no means forgotten their death grudge against her. To top everything off, Owl finds out the hard way that there is nothing heavenly about the City of Angels…

Welcome to the next stop on the Owl and the City of Angels blog tour. To celebrate the March 1st paperback release, I did an interview with author Kristi Charish. This is the sequel to Owl and the Japanese Circus, which is absolutely amazing. You can read my review of Owl 2 here and be sure to check out the other blog tour stops!


1. In Owl and the City of Angels, Mr. Kurosawa tasks Alix with the job of recovering artifacts from the Syrian City of the Dead. How did you come across this site and what made you want to incorporate it into the novel?

K: Well, for Owl 2 I wanted to send Alix somewhere outside the box – and while putting the story together I settled on Los Angeles as one of the locations. Since I already had The City of Angels in there, I figured I should toss a City of the Dead in there as well- for balance. After searching I found the very cool Dar Musa, also known as The Monastery of Moses the Abyssinian. I thought the history going back to the stone age was so interesting that I had to use it.

2. Owl readers are introduced to a new character: Artemis Bast. Can you tell us a bit about him and the inspiration behind him?

K: Hmmm. Well, I don’t want to give too many spoilers away, especially for anyone who hasn’t read the first book, but Artemis is a rockstar living in LA who may just be known more for his antics than his music. He’s also necessary to get Owl into the private collection of a LA recluse so she can steal something for Mr. Kurosawa…Or that’s the plan anyway. Artemis is also related to one of the other characters in the series.
He was a riot to write. The inspiration came from the glam and debauchery that went with all the 80s bands.

3. When working on Owl and the City of Angels, did your writing process differ from writing Owl and the Japanese Circus? Did you worry about how much recap to include? (i.e. is it too much, too little).

K: It was a little different, but not so much concerning how much to recap- that was one of the easier parts as the great thing about writing a sequel is you have an editor there to tell you when you needed to fill in more background or pull back, so I didn’t obsess about it while writing.
The part that was different and definitely harder about writing City of Angels was in the nature of writing a sequel – I knew what story I wanted to tell but I had no idea whether people who read the first book would like the second. They’d already been introduced to Owl so in my mind, book two had to go somewhere new and that’s tricky to do.

4. Are you a plotter or pantser?

K: Pantser, all the way – But that doesn’t mean I don’t plan out the novel. I think that’s a major misunderstanding with pantsers is this idea that there is no plan. There is always plan- I’m absolutely in charge as the rodeo show happening on paper. I have a target (usually an ending I’ve decided on) and a couple of key scenes that have to happen. The ‘pants’ing part comes from filling in the blanks. I know where I’m going, I’ve got a couple of landmarks, I’m just not entirely sure how I’m going to get there.

5. What’s a day in the life of Kristi like? How much time will you spend on writing, book research, promotion, non-book things?

K: Ha! It’s an entertaining question right now as I’m currently working on two novels- Owl and the Electric Samurai and the second book in my Kincaid Strange series. The answer is that at the moment, everything I do is writing related 🙂 – or almost.
Most of my day is spent writing or reading. Typically, I work for a few hours on a manuscript in the morning after handling emails and any business related stuff, then around lunchtime I’ll take a break and usually read a bit over lunch, before getting back to a manuscript. When I find myself getting a block I give my brain a break and switch to another manuscript or project I have on the go. Late afternoon/early evening is yoga class to get some exercise, and then in the evenings I’ll often get reading in over dinner and before bed, and get any promotion/articles done.

The other thing I try to do a few days a week is head downtown to hit the local library and write (the VPL has great desks for working and lots of places to grab lunch) or go to a local coffee shop. It’s a nice break from working at my kitchen table at home.

6. Are there any books you’ve recently read and would recommend?

K: For urban fantasy lovers I highly recommend Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series. It’s a straight out urban fantasy mystery with a very cool character – Jane who is a Cherokee shapeshifter that hunts rogues vampires down for a living. The series starts off when business changes and the head vampire of New Orleans wants to hire Jane’s services.
The other book I’ve read recently and highly recommend is a sci-fi by Peter Clines (Ex Heroes and 14) called The Fold. It’s about a science team developing a door to anywhere by folding space and time. Of course things start to go wrong and Mike, a man with a pedantic memory is hired to investigate. The science was woven into the story deftly and it’s true sci-fi- a real what if about technology.

About the Author: 


Kristi is the author of OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS (Jan 13th, 2015, Simon and Schuster Canada/Pocket Books), an urban fantasy about a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world. She writes what she loves; adventure heavy stories featuring strong, savvy female protagonists, pop culture, and the occasional RPG fantasy game thrown in the mix. She’s also a co-host for the Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing Podcast.

The second installment in the Owl series, OWL AND THE CITY OF ANGELS, is scheduled for release Oct 5th 2015. Her second urban fantasy series, KINCAID STRANGE (Random House Canada), about a voodoo practitioner living in Seattle, is scheduled for release mid 2016.

Kristi is also a scientist with a BSc and MSc from Simon Fraser University in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and a PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. Her specialties are genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology, all of which she draws upon in her writing. She is represented by Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative Artists. Visit her website.

Review + Interview: The Art of Getting Stared At by Laura Langston

21857092The Art of Getting Stared At

Laura Langston

5/5 Stars

Release Date: September 9, 2015

Publisher: Penguin Canada

Purchase: Amazon | Book DepositoryChapters/ | B&NKobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

After a school video she produced goes viral, sixteen-year-old Sloane Kendrick is given a chance at a film school scholarship. She has less than two weeks to produce a second video, and she’s determined to do it. Unfortunately, she must work with Isaac Alexander, an irresponsible charmer with whom she shares an uneasy history.

On the heels of this opportunity comes a horrifying discovery: a bald spot on her head. No bigger than a quarter, the patch shouldn’t be there. Neither should the bald spots that follow. Horror gives way to devastation when Sloane is diagnosed with alopecia areata. The auto-immune disease has no cause, no cure, and no definitive outcome. The spots might grow over tomorrow or Sloane might become completely bald. No one knows.

Determined to produce her video, hide her condition, and resist Isaac’s easy charm, Sloane finds herself turning into the kind of person she has always mocked: someone obsessed with her looks. And just when she thinks things can’t get any worse, Sloane is forced to make the most difficult decision of her life.


I had the chance to interview Laura Langston about her book THE ART OF GETTING STARED AT, writing, and more! This novel is 1 of 10 nominated for the 2016 White Pine Award and I encourage you to check out the list here, there’s always a great selection. Thank you, Laura for joining me on the blog. Check it out below as well as my review of her fantastic book.

  1. In The Art of Getting Stared At, Sloane is diagnosed with alopecia areata. How did you come across this disease and what influenced you to include it in your novel?

LL: There’s quite a story to that. A number of years ago my daughter had a friend who didn’t spend much time on makeup or clothes. She cared about her appearance, but not to a large extent. I noticed this because before a school dance our house was the gathering place. We’d supply the pizza, and my daughter and her friends would spend hours doing their hair and makeup and figuring out what to wear. This particular girl would spend maybe twenty minutes getting ready. I was intrigued by that and by the dynamic I witnessed between her and the other girls. They were all good friends, but they thought she was weird and she thought they were shallow. Around the same time, I met a woman who had lost her hair to alopecia. She said she’d never truly appreciated her hair until it was gone. I began to wonder how it would be for my daughter’s friend if her appearance was significantly altered. What if she began to obsess about her looks? How would she feel if she’d always prided herself on ‘being a little bit better than the girls who spent so much time on their makeup?’ From there, the novel took shape.

  1. This is your first novel nominated for a White Pine award, but not the first to be nominated for a Forest of Reading award. Can you describe how you felt after learning the news?

LL: I was absolutely thrilled. It’s a real honor to be nominated, and to be on a list with so many other wonderful books!

  1. You used to be a journalist, how has this influenced your writing today? What’s your writing process like?

LL: In terms of influence, I’m extremely interested in current events (I tend to be something of a news junkie) and I’ll sometimes find story ideas and inspiration from what’s going on in the world. Because journalists work to deadlines and don’t wait for the muse to strike, I’m used to writing even if I don’t feel particularly inspired that day. Writing is my job so I show up at the desk every day and get on with it. My process is regular and rather boring: write every day, revise each manuscript as often as is needed. Repeat and repeat again.

  1. For a long time, Sloane hasn’t cared about the way she looks. In the novel, she starts battling the idea of being pretty versus being smart. Why did you feel it was important to include this type of conflict?

LL: I wanted Sloane to believe that there are more important things in life than the way you look. She comes to care about how she looks but I wanted her to start out somewhat indifferent because that would make her journey more interesting. I went with the idea that she favors intelligence over appearance because of the relationship she has with her mother. Her mother is a doctor who believes that. Sloane admires her mother and wants to emulate her. She doesn’t want to be like her stepmother who is a make-up artist. In the end, Sloane comes to understand there’s a place in the world for beauty as well as intelligence. It doesn’t have to be an ‘either/or’ thing.

  1. I found Sloane’s love for film authentic and believable. I could also relate that to my love for art and photography. Can you tell us about the ways you and Sloane are similar? Different?

LL: There’s always a trait in each character I develop that I need to be able to relate to otherwise I simply can’t get into their head. I don’t always share that trait but I need to understand it. In Sloane’s case, I can understand her passion for film because I’m passionate about books. I probably don’t put as much emphasis on appearance as some people do so in that sense I’m a little like Sloane but otherwise we are two different people!

  1. Sloane grows a lot as an individual and there’s a significant amount of character development throughout the novel. Was this a conscious decision? Was it important for the reader to understand this growth?

LL: It was very much a conscious decision on my part. When I write a novel, I’m always thinking about the character arc or the journey the character takes in terms of the story. Sometimes the journey is an actual physical trip or moving from place to place but in many books (and in most of mine) the journey is an internal one. Sloane grows and changes as she struggles to come to terms with alopecia. I tried to convey that to the reader in a way that they would understand and hopefully enjoy.

  1. Can you tell us about any recent books you’ve read and would recommend? Are there any books or authors you enjoy and have found through the Forest of Reading program?

LL: More than a decade ago, I discovered Don Aker and his novel ‘The First Stone’ through the Forest of Reading program and I’ve been a huge fan of his writing ever since. He’s a talented guy! There are so many amazing authors and stories in Canada that my reading pile is literally higher than my bed. I’ve been on a paranormal-meets-realism YA kick this year and I really enjoyed Sylvia McNicoll’s ‘Best Friends Through Eternity’ as well as Natasha Deen’s book ‘Guardian.’

  1. Can you share with us any projects you’re working on?

LL: I always have a number of projects on the go. I’m currently working on a short novel for the Orca Soundings line about a girl who discovers a terrible secret about a father she thought was dead. I’m also working on a longer YA novel called One Good Deed about a girl who saves the life of a homeless man and faces unexpected and life-changing consequences because of it.


I was immediately drawn into The Art of Getting Stared At by Laura Langston. The plot and character development are superb! I’m a huge fantasy/sci-fi reader, so on the rare occasion I do read contemporary it has to really stand out. I usually love contemporary reads selected for the Forest of Reading awards and I’m glad Langston’s novel lives up to that reputation. There’s a lot of conflict thrown Sloane’s way and her growth as an individual is outstanding.

Character development is huge in this novel and Langston makes sure to include various literary conflict. The protagonist, Sloane Kendrick is a very relatable character because she presents herself as a confident person while deep down inside battling with how people see her. She also battles with the idea of being pretty versus being smart. For years, she’s believed you can only be either or and lives with the decision of ‘smart’. Sloane’s mother believes you should be true with oneself while Sloane’s stepmother, Kim thinks Sloane should value looks. This leads to a lot of issues between the two, and Sloane has felt for the longest time Kim is trying to fix her. Sloane’s image of Kim is someone without substance, she only cares about being pretty and wearing make-up. The more I read, the more Sloane started to realize maybe there’s more to Kim than her pre-conceived image, and more importantly maybe Sloane can be pretty and smart. When I first started reading Kim’s portrayal as a vain individual, I was really hoping for character development like this. In my opinion, you can’t send an image like this to a reader and not further examine it. Langston is a genius at creating situations where the reader learns more about her characters, and where her characters learn more about each other.

Sloane is a huge film nerd and I found that aspect of her personality very believable. I love when Langston introduces these little details, like Sloane observing a scene and thinking it’d make a great film shot. I don’t know much about film or have a lot of interest in it, but I do love art and photography so I’m always thinking about how that scene would make a great photo, or I wish I had a camera because that lighting is perfect, etc. In the novel, Sloane is diagnosed with alopecia areata, a disease where the immune system attacks the hair follicles, causing hair loss and I found this combined with her passion for film a very compelling element. While Sloane prefers producing film versus starring in it, she still has to engage with multiple people. All of a sudden Sloane is struggling with being seen and how she’s seen.

Before the novel started, a film Sloane produced for a film class was uploaded onto Youtube and gained 600,000 views in under 24 hours. This catches the eye of Sloane’s top film school and she’s encouraged to apply for a scholarship. She has less than three weeks to create a second film and needs to work with Isaac Alexander, someone she doesn’t have the greatest relationship with. Both get to know each other and realize there’s more to the other person than previously thought. I did expect romance between the two, but it’s like that slow burn romance where both don’t realize they like each other until closer to the end. Isaac is more openly flirtatious and while Sloane gives off false confidence when he says things like “you’re beautiful”, inside she wonders how can anyone like her in that way. This conflict of Sloane versus self is huge here.

As Sloane is coming to terms with her disease, the support system she wants most, her mother is away volunteering in Sudan [doctor]. Trying to hold in her frustration with Kim generates a lot of emotion. Every time this secret, that Sloane is losing her hair, is made known to another person and another, I felt her anxiety and fear. When a book creates such a great emotional response in the reader that makes a contemporary read so impressive to me. I was totally and completely in Sloane’s head and even though I know this isn’t real, I was upset for Sloane and felt her uncertainty of what the future holds.

Langston is truly an exceptional writer and reading this book was like watching a film, the emotions of her characters is so well-done. I recommend this to both the contemporary and non-contemporary reader. The Art of Getting Stared At lives up to the reputation of the Forest of Reading program and most importantly, encourages me to continue participating in these programs [White Pine selection]. Langston ends her book with a lasting impression on the reader.

About the Author:


Laura Langston is a former journalist with the CBC. She lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest where she writes books for teens and kids.

Laura Langston’s articles have also appeared in dozens of magazines including Canadian Gardening, Canadian Living, Gardenmaking, MacLean’s, Skyword Inflight, Alive and many regional periodicals and newspapers.

Visit her website at

Follow her on Twitter @LauraLangston


Interview with Rajia Hassib | In the Language of Miracles

inthelanguageofmiraclesToday on the blog I’m sharing an interview I did with Rajia Hassib, author of In the Language of Miracles. I read and reviewed this book back in September and absolutely loved it! I definitely recommend it and you can read my detailed review here. Thank you Rajia for joining me today!

AZ: For the readers, can you share a bit about your debut novel?

RH: The novel is about the aftermath of a crime that the oldest son of an Egyptian-American family, the Al-Menshawys, commits. Set a year after the tragedy that leaves the son of the Al-Menshawys as well as the daughter of their next-door neighbors dead, the novel follows the lives of the family members as they negotiate their grief, guilt, and their place in a community that blames them for their son’s crime. In doing so, the novel tackles themes of identity, immigration, guilt by association, and religion, among other issues.

AZ: What was your inspiration behind the novel? Why did you feel the Al-Menshawy’s story needed to be told?

RH: The novel was a result of years of reflection on the cultural position of Muslims in the U.S. post 9/11. After Islam was used to justify such heinous terrorist attacks, I longed for Muslims to do something to rectify what I felt was a huge injustice done to my religion, but it was not until the Ground Zero Mosque controversy of 2010 that I realized how complex any attempt at redemption was. By then, I had become preoccupied with the idea of a public apology for something that one has not committed, so I decided to create a microcosm for that situation in the story of Al-Menshawys. I felt their story needed to be told because, on some level, it is the story of every American Muslim: how does it feel like when one’s own society starts viewing one with distrust and misgiving. As such, it was both a story that I longed to explore and that, in my opinion, was timely and much needed.

AZ: In your novel, you’ve split the POV’s between Samir, Nagla, and Khaled. Why did you choose not to do one or more with Ehsan, the grandmother or Khaled’s sister, Fatima? Did you feel they had already found their miracle?

RH: I love how you view Fatima and Ehsan as ones who have already “found their miracle.” In a sense, yes: both those characters were relatively static, and, as such, did not undergo enough character development or experience enough internal struggle for me to feel that they need their own points of view. Fatima had found her peace in religion and in her friend, and she was certainly under less stress than Khaled was just because of how gender expectations and stereotypes make him an easier target for people’s suspicion. As for Ehsan—who, by the way, was one of the characters I enjoyed writing the most and, as such, one who has, in fact, tempted me to give her a point of view of her own—I didn’t feel her character experienced enough in the tight five-day period of the novel to justify giving her a separate point of view. She would have had a wonderful voice, I think, but her voice was not needed to move the plot forward, nor would it have given any insight that her presence in the separate section of Khaled and his parents did not already provide. At the end of the day, I did not feel the novel would have benefited from more than three points of view.

AZ: I felt a sense of closure with the characters at the end, though different from what I think they were originally seeking. Do you think you’ll ever revisit these characters again? Has their story been told for now?

RH: I’m glad to know you felt a sense of closure! I loved the time I spent with these characters, and I will confess that Ehsan in particular is a character I would have loved to write more about, but I do believe their story has been told. As interesting as I believe they are as individuals, I think their particular struggles are so closely tied to the tragedy of the son’s crime that revisiting them would shift the focus away from that and, in the process, dilute the intensity of their situation. If we were to compress their story in a sound bite, they would be the family who had to deal with the aftermath of dead son’s crime, and they need to remain mainly that. Besides, there are so many more stories to tell, so why keep on going back to the same characters? I’d rather leave readers wanting more than feel that my characters have overstayed their welcome.

AZ: I loved reading the epigraphs in your novel. What was the idea behind this?

RH: The epigraphs did not find their way to the novel until the second or third revision. I remember working on separate chapters and thinking about sayings or quotes that would go well with them, particularly because, in dialogue, Egyptians do quite often use sayings to comment on the ongoing situation. In some parts of the novel, I would imagine Ehsan uttering those sayings, and as I thought of the English translation to some of them, I started to realize that the exact same sayings do exist in the English language, either as an identical version or, in some cases, as a version only slightly different. I thought the similarities were just as telling as the differences were. I particularly loved the juxtapositions the sayings offer between Arabic and English and, by extension, between the cultures that each language represents. So I started including them as chapter heading both to offer commentary on the chapters and to underscore the various themes the novel deals with.

AZ: You completed a BA in Architecture before getting a degree in English a decade later. What prompted this decision? Did an early draft or an idea for In the Language of Miracles exist around this time?

RH: I had always wanted to study English literature. In fact, I had decided on majoring in English at some point in high school. Once I had to choose my major, however, I went with architecture (which I also loved but which was always second to English) because it was the more practical field of study for someone living in Egypt and, to be honest, because my father talked me into it. I was eighteen and a very obedient daughter! In hindsight, I’m glad things happened the way they did, because missing out on studying English that first time was the main reason I was so determined to do it once I moved to the U.S. So I went back to school, earned a B.A. in English and then an M.A. in English with a creative writing emphasis, both from Marshall University. In the Language of Miracles first started as an idea for a short story during my last semester as an undergraduate student at Marshall, and I completed the first couple of drafts of the novel during my graduate studies. An earlier version of the novel was my creative thesis for the M.A. in English. So that particular novel did not exist before that, but the urge and need to write dates back to my childhood years. I distinctly remember walking up to my parents at some point during the summer between first and second grade and announcing that I would become a writer. It took me three decades to get there, but better late than never!

AZ: Can you tell us about your experience with publishing In the Language of Miracles? Any advice you’d like to share with aspiring writers?

RH: I can honestly say that I had an extremely positive experience with publishing In the Language of Miracles, but I would also have to say that I got very, very lucky. Through a series of events too elaborate to narrate here, I ended up being represented by Lynn Nesbit, a powerhouse of a literary agent who represents, among others, writers such as Ann Beattie, Joan Didion, and Jeffery Eugenides, and then the novel got picked up by Allison Lorentzen, a well-respected senior editor at Viking and the force behind a breathtakingly impressive list of books. I had never before given much thought to the publishing business—I was too busy learning how to write a novel to have time for that—but I now know that the publishing experience is quite emotional and personal, especially for a first time author. As such, I feel blessed to be working with an agent and an editor for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration, and, more importantly, with whom I’m quite comfortable. They are the reason I view my publishing experience in such positive light.

As for advice for aspiring writers, I only have this to offer: read a lot, write a lot, and treat your writing—and your future readers—with respect. Put in the time and effort required to make your draft as good as you can possibly make it. That way, if you get as lucky as I did and find your draft in the hands of the agent and editor of your dreams, the work will hopefully show and you will prove yourself professional enough to be worthy of their time and attention.

AZ: Can you tell us about any projects you’re working on?

RH: I’m currently working on a novel set partly in Egypt and partly in the U.S. The novel takes places in the aftermath of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, and it follows the lives of three different characters as their paths intertwine and finally merge. I hesitate to talk in detail about a work in progress, but I can share this: There is a marriage on the brink, the found diary of a long-dead mother, and a young man who yields the destructive power of one who has lost all hope. It is an intimate, complex, and passionate story, one that I’m enjoying writing very much and that I hope readers will enjoy, too.

About the Author:


I was born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt, before moving to the US at age twenty-three. A decade later, I returned to college to study English Writing and Literature and to pursue my life-long dream of becoming a writer. I hold a BA and an MA in English, both from Marshall University. After graduation, I worked briefly as a part-time Instructor of English at Marshall University, teaching an Introduction to Creative Writing class as well as a class on Postcolonial Literature. I live in Charleston, WV with my husband and two children. Visit her website.

Some additional, potentially interesting facts:

  • I hold a BA in Architecture from the University of Alexandria, Egypt.
  • While I was earning my BA in English from Marshall University, I lived 88 miles away from campus and commuted two to three times per week in order to finish the required coursework.
  • While I was earning my MA, I moved to Charleston, WV, and my commute got shortened to 55 miles.
  • I learned German before I learned English, and was, during my teenage years, more fluent in German than English. Not any more, though.
  • Speaking of German: I went to a school run by German nuns from Pre-K until I graduated high school. I give full credit to the nuns for instilling a compulsive sense of discipline in me, which, unfortunately, only extends to the professional aspects of my life. Everywhere else, chaos reigns.
  • I have half a shelf in my office dedicated to discarded versions of In the Language of Miracles, all of which I wrote while I was earning my MA and working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant. And yes, I’m so proud of this fact that it earned its own bullet point on this list.

Buy In the Language of Miracles: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/ | B&N | Kobo

Owl and the City of Angels: Review, Interview & Giveaway

For today’s stop on the OWL 2 blog tour, I’ll be sharing my review of Owl and the City of Angels and an interview I did with the author, Kristi Charish. There’s also a giveaway to win both books in The Adventures of Owl series, so be sure to check that out!

1435524220523Owl and the City of Angels

Kristi Charish | 4/5 Stars

Release Date:

Ebook – October 5, 2015 | Trade Paperback – March 1, 2016

Publisher: Gallery Books (Simon and Schuster CA)

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/ | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

The wild second adventure for unforgettable antiquities thief Owl—a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world—from the pen of rising urban fantasy star Kristi Charish. For fans of Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, Jennifer Estep, Jenn Bennett, and the like.

Alix Hiboux, better known as Owl, international antiquities thief for hire, is settling into her new contract job for Vegas mogul Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon with a penchant for ancient, supernatural artifacts. And now he has his sights set on some treasures of the mysterious Syrian City of the Dead that are sitting in a recluse’s private collection.

There’s just one wrinkle. To stop the resurrection of an undead army that could wreak havoc on Los Angeles, Owl must break into a heavily guarded archaeological sight in one of the most volatile regions in the world. A detour through Libya and a run-in with Somali pirates sends the clock ticking hastily toward total paranormal disaster.

Meanwhile, Alexander and the Paris vampires have stopped stalking Owl’s apartment, but they have by no means forgotten their death grudge against her. To top everything off, Owl finds out the hard way that there is nothing heavenly about the City of Angels…

  1. Alix Hiboux aka Owl is this strong, female protagonist who never fails to entertain me. I’ve actually never read a character quite like her! What inspiration lies behind your extraordinary MC?

KC: I love the old Indiana Jones movies and growing up. Over the years, I was always disappointed that in most of the action genre movies, there is a stereotype of an acceptable female protagonist. Unlike Indy, Han Solo, and Rick in The Mummy (another all time favourite) the women never really get to be as bad and selfish as them, partly because the traits that make them such fun are not considered acceptable traits in a woman. Women in film and TV- especially the protagonists are supposed to be likeable (or we’ve been conditioned to think of them that way), and by likeable I mean a woman who shows very specific traits- she can be tough, carry guns, but at the end of the day most of the characters we see are nurturing, empathetic, and often have a character arc that involves finding a suitable romantic partner.

Indy, Rick, and Han didn’t have to do that. In fact, they’re outright scoundrels. They’re not likeable people at all. Folks often say that Indy wasn’t a thief- Are you nuts? He was the worst kind of thief! Often the plots revolved around stealing artefacts from their rightful countries and indigenous populations to give to an American museum (though in some cases he is convinced to leave them as a plot arc- see Temple of Doom) If that’s not tomb raiding under an altruistic guise, I don’t know what is!

The thing is as an audience we accept them as characters because it’s considered acceptable for a man in a story to behave that way. We’ve only recently seen female protagonists breaching that role, to mixed acceptance by audiences. I want to see more females protagonists who aren’t being rescued by Indy- they are Indy.

Owl is also a huge blast to write because she’s a woman who has recently lost everything, despite playing by societal rules that women should be nice and follow the pack (in her case, following the rules in grad school), and in response has said ‘to hell’ with societal expectations. Why should she go out of her way to make herself likeable? It’s never gotten her anything before except scapegoated. For the very first time in her life is embracing her unabashed self and the fact that she doesn’t have to be nice, she can tell people to ‘Fuck off’. Granted, it often leads to some problems, and you’ll probably see Owl testing and finding her limits in future books, but she’s rejecting the idea that a woman needs to be ‘nice’ spectacularly.

So in short, Owl is inspired by wanting to write a female Indy who didn’t fit the ‘typical, likeable, female mould.’

  1. In Owl 2 we get to travel to incredible locations like Syria, Egypt and the City of Angels. What sort of research goes into this? Do you draw back from first-hand experience?

KC: I have six letters for you. Google. Travelling is one of my favourite things to do but oddly enough I haven’t been to any of the locations in the Owl series. Yet. I very much plan on going to Japan and Bali one day.

  1. Trouble always seems to find Owl, whether she goes looking for it or not. As the unseen goddess of your book world, does it entertain you, getting Owl into trouble?

KC: Hmmm. Does it entertain me to get Owl into trouble…yes, but it’s more along the lines that I like writing her reactions to situations that befall her more than anything, so it’s a two parter answer. The more trouble I put her in, the more fun I have writing her reactions.

  1. Did you find any differences when writing Owl 2, versus Owl 1 when you hadn’t yet entered the publishing world?

KC: Well, I had already entered the publishing world- I didn’t write book two until the series was picked up by my publisher, Simon and Schuster (Good advice for aspiring writers out there- don’t write book 2 until you manage to sell book 1). However, I did have to write Owl 2 and hand it in before book 1 came out, so in a lot of ways I was writing in a vacuum. There are advantages and disadvantages to that- On one hand reviews aren’t going to influence your choices, but on the other hand you have NO idea whether the choices you do make will appease fans of the first book.

  1. I see a lot of the time, aspiring writers are studying or have studied science and want to know about that switch from science to writing. How has science influenced your writing? How do you juggle a career in science with a career in writing?

KC: I think more than anything my science background has influenced the way I write. I’ve written before about the similarities between plotting a story or novel and designing and executing an experiment, and I still think it holds true. I think my years in research has given me an edge in plotting- like my experiments, I have most of the plot set out in my head before I sit down to write the book. In writing urban fantasy I think my science background also makes me more aware of fitting my fantastical elements into the modern world- a trickier task than a lot of people think because the masters of the genre- Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison, Faith Hunter, and Patricia Briggs – make it look easy and seamless.

As far as my science career goes? Haha- it’s actually on hold as I now have a schedule of ~3 books a year for the next couple years. Having said that, who knows what will happen with the series and my career in the future so I may very well be back in a lab one day. 

  1. You also have a second urban fantasy series, Kincaid Strange releasing from Random House Canada in May 2016. What’s it like having two different series by two different publishers at the same time?

KC: Short answer: it’s awesome! I love switching between series when I’m writing it means that when I get fed up with one character and plot, I can go off and work on the other one. There is certainly a lot of time juggling involved when writing two series but I think once you reach a certain level in writing and publishing you really do have to treat it as a career and not a hobby. I sit, set a timer, and write.

  1. I heard you’ve contracted two more OWL books: Owl and the Electric Samurai and Owl and the Tiger Thieves. Congratulations! Can you tell us about your experience with this? Did you query these two novels at the same time?

KC: I have! And Thanks! I did query both novels at the same time (meaning I had synopsis written out that my agent passed on to my editors), but that is incredibly common in a series like Owl. It helps my editors know that I know where the series is going for the next few books and that I have a plan (I do!).

  1. Now that we’re on the subject, what’s next for Owl? I’m dying to know about this “electric samurai”.

KC: Here is the tentative back cover blurb for The Electric Samurai;-)

The International Archaeology Association (IAA) is responsible for keeping all things supernatural under wraps. They’re also responsible for ruining the promising archaeology career of one Alix Hiboux. Needless to say she’s still a little sore on that.

In keeping with their goal to derail Owl’s life, the IAA has opened a bounty on World Quest, the online RPG that uses supernatural dig sites in game and is much, much more than it seems. Strong-armed into joining the hunt, Alix needs to find the notorious gaming duo before the rest of the bounty hunters pick up the trail, one of whom is already two steps ahead of her. And if you think for one second he isn’t a supernatural, Owl has a bridge to sell you.

Finding the gamers won’t be easy since every clue points to them hiding out in the legendary lost city of Shangri-La… well, that and the last time Owl and the game designers spoke the conversation didn’t exactly end on a great note…

Meanwhile, undercurrents of supernatural politics are running amok in Tokyo, dragging Owl, Rynn, and Nadya into a deadly game of wits with an opponent who calls himself the Electric Samurai. The cost of loosing? All out civil war between two powerful supernatural factions.

Not only does Owl need to save the World Quest designers from themselves she needs to stop the Electric Samurai from unleashing the supernatural in all its unabashed, violent glory onto the streets of Tokyo. And then there is the small matter of her online friend Carpe and a certain spell book…

AZ: I love that “Owl has a bridge to sell you” bit. I cannot wait to read this.


I first came across The Adventures of Owl in a Simon & Schuster CA Tumblr post of the cover [Owl 1]. I stopped scrolling for a moment and went, “interesting cover”. Later on, I came across it again on social media and decided I better check it out from the library. Months later when I finally got to read it (it took awhile to come in at my library), I felt like Owl and the Japanese Circus was written for me! I’m a huge The Mummy fan so it had everything I liked in an adventure novel – strong heroine, action-packed scenes and supernatural creatures. Side note: the naga is a new favourite of mine thanks to Charish.

I was extremely excited to receive an advance copy of Owl and the City of Angels and am happy to say it was just as entertaining as Owl 1. There’s something about the writing, maybe it’s the dialogue, that has me feeling like I could read it again and again, and never get bored. Most of the places Owl visits I’m unlikely to go, at least in the same context so I love that I can picture everything perfectly in my mind. The reader experiences an epic adventure through Owl.

In Owl 1 Charish showed the reader strong, compelling characters and it’s no different here. Most of the characters are consistent with how they were portrayed in Owl 1, but there’s still character development going on. Alix (Owl) and Rynn are together before the novel begins, but they’re still working out issues in their relationship. They used to date in the past, before Owl 1, but these same issues were some of the reasons they broke up. Alix doesn’t necessarily lie about what assignments she’s on for Mr. Kurosawa, but she doesn’t exactly tell the truth either – especially if she doesn’t follow the original plan. This is extremely frustrating for Rynn, and I think these trust issues stem from Alix’s days as an archaeology grad student. Then there’s Nadya, Alix’s best friend, who’s kind of like that voice of reason. I love this balance of a love interest and a best girlfriend – both characters are equally important to Alix. I can’t stand when there’s a female protagonist without one good female friend she can call on for advice etcetera.

The world-building is phenomenal! When it comes to the supernatural world, you can always expect Charish to create some sort of original twist. I think my favourite examples are the vampires. They use pheromones to attract their victims (and get them addicted) and smell like rotting lily of the valley. Alix has known a vampire named Alexander (and his Paris vamps) since she entered the supernatural world and not on pleasant terms. Alexander is always an amusing character and I love when Alix’s cat/sidekick Captain – a vampire-hunting cat breed – comes into the equation. Along with the action, there’s plenty of humour in Owl 2.

We see old characters from Owl and the Japanese Circus as well as meet new characters, which makes for a fascinating group. The moment I started reading Owl 2, I was waiting for an appearance from Alexander because like I said, he is hilarious! Captain plus Alexander equals a priceless moment! A new character Owl readers will love is Artemis Bast, introduced by Rynn to Alix to help with her new assignment – finding a treasure of the Syrian City of the Dead. He’s a very carefree, laid back character – in a way the opposite of Rynn. I love when Alix interacts with him because of the contrast of personalities.

I absolutely loved that Alix’s past, particularly her days as an archaeology grad student, were brought up and weaved into the plot. I always got the sense that although Alix had moved on from the past, she’d never had closure. She was always running from her past. Owl 2 gives Alix the opportunity to confront her past and move on without regret. Charish did a similar thing in Owl 1 re: Rynn, but here I felt like it happened on a bigger scale. Another intriguing thing about the plot, Charish doesn’t give her protagonist an easy way out. When the going gets tough, Alix fights back, no matter how human she is. The great thing about the plot, the reader see’s just how human Alix is and how easy it is to forget about important details.

There were a couple of things I disliked. I went into Owl 2 with really high expectations (loved Owl 1!) so when I didn’t immediately get into it, that was upsetting for me. When I did get into it, it was smooth sailing but I kept thinking about how easy it was to get into Owl 1. Furthermore, I loved the plot and thought it was original and engaging, but ultimately enjoyed the plot of Owl 1 slightly more.

All in all, Owl and the City of Angels is a compelling sequel and I can’t wait to read the next couple of books in the series! I recommend anyone with a craving for adventure to pick up this series, you won’t regret it. When you’re traveling to places like Egypt, Syria, and the City of Angels through Owl and thinking how can it get better? BAM! Charish surprises you with a plot twist or a very charming, vampire-hunting cat. P.S. Captain is my favourite character.

I received an eARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author: 


Kristi is the author of OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS (Jan 13th, 2015, Simon and Schuster Canada/Pocket Books), an urban fantasy about a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world. She writes what she loves; adventure heavy stories featuring strong, savvy female protagonists, pop culture, and the occasional RPG fantasy game thrown in the mix. She’s also a co-host for the Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing Podcast.

The second installment in the Owl series, OWL AND THE CITY OF ANGELS, is scheduled for release Oct 5th 2015. Her second urban fantasy series, KINCAID STRANGE (Random House Canada), about a voodoo practitioner living in Seattle, is scheduled for release mid 2016.

Kristi is also a scientist with a BSc and MSc from Simon Fraser University in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and a PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. Her specialties are genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology, all of which she draws upon in her writing. She is represented by Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative Artists. Visit her website.


Kristi has been kind enough to offer one copy each of Owl 1 and Owl 2 (physical or digital). This giveaway is US/Canada only and ends November 6, 2015 at midnight EST. Winner must respond within 48 hours of being contacted or a new winner will be chosen. Do not take entries for something you haven’t done, you will be disqualified. Good luck!

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