Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Chat With Jessica Leake, Author of BEYOND A DARKENED SHORE

I'm proud to present Jessica Leake here on my blog! She's releasing her new novel, Beyond a Darkened Shore, on April 10. Check it out for a hefty dose of warrior princesses, Vikings, fae, and so much more.

Today, we'll learn a little about her inspiration behind A Darkened Shore, her favorite books, and more. To learn more about her novel or background, click here or visit Jessica's website.

Once upon a time, Jessica Leake was a psychotherapist, but even though she loved her clients, she couldn’t stop writing. She wrote and wrote until she got her first book published, and then she wrote some more. In between all that writing she had four beautiful and hilarious children with her husband (best friend and man she’s known since high school; also hilarious), moved back to her adopted hometown of Greenville, SC, built a chicken coop, and got a bunch of chickens that poop breakfast every morning. She also has two dogs to keep the chickens in line. (The dogs made her write that last bit.)

Arcana and The Order of the Eternal Sun are available now, and Beyond a Darkened Shore, her YA debut from HarperTeen will be released in April 10, 2018.
(taken from Leake's
How did you come up with the premise for Beyond a Darkened Shore?

I’ve always loved anything to do with Ireland, and I knew I wanted to do something with Celtic mythology, so as I was researching periods of time in Irish history, I learned that there was a time when Vikings were both raiding the coasts of Ireland all the time and had even taken over one of their major ports (Dublin). I was like: Celtic mythology AND Norse mythology/Vikings?? Sign me up!

As a former psychotherapist, do you think having a deep understanding of human psychology influences your writing?

It certainly helps to be able to think about how each character would react to a situation psychologically. We all strive to bring our characters to life, and imagining that character sitting across from me as a client instead of a fictional creation can help me figure out what he/she would most likely be feeling or experiencing after the hell I just put them through.

How did you decide on the names of the characters and lands in this novel? 

I think names are really important, so I tried to choose names that would both be authentic to the time period but also hopefully familiar for most of us. Though Irish names can be tricky! Ciara is actually pronounced keer-ah­, for example, although I think most of us would think it would be kee-ar-ah. Names from mythology and location names are true to history—I chose to use Éirinn for Ireland because it’s the Gaelic spelling and would have been what they called it at the time. Also, I just wanted to give it that fantasy-feel.

Who is your favorite character from Beyond a Darkened Shore?

You’re going to make me choose?? Ciara and Leif are like a package deal in my mind now, so I’ll cheat and say both. Despite being enemies and from completely different cultures, they have so many similarities (which neither of them liked to admit). Both are fiercely protective of family, undefeated in battle, and rather fond of vengeance.

What's one thing you always have near you when you're writing?

Either water or tea, and probably some sort of snack (I definitely shouldn’t have the snack around, but I swear it helps me think!).

What is one underrated book you would like to recommend to everyone?

I recently read Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin, and I couldn’t put it down. The writing is almost lyrical at times, and the characters are extremely compelling. I highly recommend it.

Release Date: April 10, 2018

The ancient land of Éirinn is mired in war. Ciara, Princess of Mide, has never known a time when Éirinn’s kingdoms were not battling for power, or Northmen were not plundering their shores.

The people of Mide have thankfully always been safe because of Ciara’s unearthly ability to control her enemies’ minds and actions. But lately, a mysterious crow has been appearing to Ciara, whispering warnings of an even darker threat. Although her clansmen dismiss her visions as pagan nonsense, Ciara fears this coming evil will destroy not just Éirinn, but the entire world.

Then the crow leads Ciara to Leif, a young Northman leader. Leif should be Ciara’s enemy, but when Ciara discovers that he, too, shares her prophetic visions, she knows he’s something more. Leif is mounting an impressive army, and with Ciara’s strength in battle the two might have a chance to save their world.

With evil rising around them, they’ll do what it takes to defend the land they love…even if it means making the greatest sacrifice of all. (taken from

Friday, March 16, 2018

Review: A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Title: A Quiet Kind of Thunder 
Author: Sara Barnard 
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Publication Date: January 12, 2017 
Format: Hardcover 

Page Count: 320


Steffi doesn't talk, but she has so much to say.
Rhys can't hear, but he can listen.
Their love isn't a lightning strike, it's the rumbling roll of thunder.

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life - she's been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He's deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she's assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn't matter that Steffi doesn't talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she's falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

From the bestselling author of Beautiful Broken Things comes a love story about the times when a whisper is as good as a shout. (taken from

"I want the world, I think. Even if it scares me." 

Wowzers, this book doesn't hit the breaks at all when it comes to important subjects. Bam, bam, bam, one after another, they make their way to the forefront of this story. It's like Sara Barnard came up with a comprehensive list of all the important steps in life her characters would face, then addressed them in an incredibly tactful manner. Well-done, indeed.

Obviously, a large portion of this story is dedicated to Steffi and her anxiety/selective mutism. It's quite clear that Barnard did her time learning about these problems and portraying them carefully. Steffi is extremely realistic, and based on the reviews of others who have real-life experience with selective mutism and anxiety, it seems as though her character is an accurate representation of those mental struggles. It was very interesting to see what goes on inside her head at various points: when surrounded by people, during panic attacks, when she's comfortable. I believe that most teenagers, especially those who deal with social anxiety and panic disorders, could seriously benefit from reading about Steffi's journey.

As for the depiction of sign language and deaf culture, I can only assume that Barnard does an A+ job. I wasn't sure how I would feel about reading a book filled with such a different form of communication, but she found a wonderful way to do so without taking away from the story. She gracefully touches on Rhys worries as a deaf person, as well as the efforts of those around him to make his life easy and full of thoughtfulness.

But don't worry, Barnard doesn't stop after talking about disabilities and mental struggles: she goes on to talk about first love in a really valuable way. Steffi learns about compromise, sex, support, loyalty, communication, and consideration. I seriously wanted to stand on a chair and be like "YES. This is so good. So. Good." Her relationship with Rhys is such healthy example for, especially for teen readers, and although it might not be the steamiest, it's pretty dang amazing. I'll totally admit to squealing out loud at least once as I read about their heartfelt interactions.

Some other notes: thank you, Barnard, for showing realistic depictions of parents and friends, as well as grief. Although Steffi's relationship with Rhys is clearly a huge part of this story, her bonds with her best friend and her interactions with her parents are equally as highlighted. Another gold star for A Quiet Kind of Thunder. Plus, Steffi lost someone close to her a few years ago, and Barnard does a nice job of depicting what it's like to deal with grief at such a young age.

Alright, so I know the real question is coming: if I think this book has so many incredibly important themes and is so well-done, why didn't I award it five stars? Honestly, it just comes down to the plot speed for me. There were a few moments where I found myself wondering "where is this going?" or skimming over details that seemed irrelevant to the overarching storyline. I'm in no way downgrading the greatness of this book, but this was something that prevented me from falling totally head-over-heels.

So, in all, this book is excellent. It has unusual characters and topics, and its overall heart-warming qualities left me giddy after I finished it. I'd certainly recommend it to EVERYONE who has struggled with anxiety in the past, and even if you haven't ever known a deaf person or dealt with mental illness, I still think there's a lot you can learn from this impressive novel.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday: The Window

Waiting On Wednesday was created by Jill over at Breaking The Spine. It's a weekly post for you to share what upcoming books you can't wait for! Here's mine for the week.

Title: The Window
AuthorAmelia Brunskill
Release Date: April 3, 2018

Anna is everything her identical twin, Jess, is not. The same on the outside, yet so completely different inside—it’s hard to believe that the girls are even sisters, let alone twins. But they are. And they tell each other everything.

Or so Jess thought.

After Anna falls to her death while sneaking out her bedroom window, Jess’s life begins to unravel. Everyone says Anna’s death was a tragic accident, but to Jess, that doesn’t add up. Where was Anna going? Who was she meeting? And how long had Anna been lying to her?

And as Jess digs deeper, she learns that the answers she’s looking for may contain dark truths that no one else wants her to find. (taken from

Why I Need It: 

A novel that tackles a complicated sister relationship and a murder mystery? Yes yes yes. I'm ready for April!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: The Queen's Rising by Rebecca Ross

Title: The Queen's Rising 
Author: Rebecca Ross
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Format: Hardcover 

Page Count: 464


When her seventeenth summer solstice arrives, Brienna desires only two things: to master her passion and to be chosen by a patron.

Growing up in the southern Kingdom of Valenia at the renowned Magnalia House should have prepared her for such a life. While some are born with an innate talent for one of the five passions—art, music, dramatics, wit, and knowledge—Brienna struggled to find hers until she belatedly chose to study knowledge. However, despite all her preparations, Brienna’s greatest fear comes true—the solstice does not go according to plan and she is left without a patron.

Months later, her life takes an unexpected turn when a disgraced lord offers her patronage. Suspicious of his intent, and with no other choices, she accepts. But there is much more to his story, and Brienna soon discovers that he has sought her out for his own vengeful gain. For there is a dangerous plot being planned to overthrow the king of Maevana—the archrival kingdom of Valenia—and restore the rightful queen, and her magic, to the northern throne. And others are involved—some closer to Brienna than she realizes.

With war brewing between the two lands, Brienna must choose whose side she will remain loyal to—passion or blood. Because a queen is destined to rise and lead the battle to reclaim the crown. The ultimate decision Brienna must determine is: Who will be that queen? (taken from

"There is no passion without pain.

I have been so excited to get my hands on this book for months. Queens, fallen kingdoms, and secret uprisings are basically my aesthetic, so obviously I needed to devour this 2018 release ASAP.

Having just finished The Queen's Rising, I must admit that I have mixed feelings about this one. Parts of it I thoroughly enjoyed while others I was less impressed with. In cases like these, I always find it easy to break down my review into The Good and The Not-So-Good. Simplistic, maybe, but definitely an effective way to convey my thoughts.

The Good

1) Rebecca Ross' writing is downright poetic. Seriously, there were so many times I paused between pages to appreciate her lyrical, old-fashioned wording. Every scene, outfit, and character is meticulously described with carefully chosen phrases that roll off the page with ease. Yes, sometimes these descriptions got a little lengthy, but overall I enjoyed Ross' writing immensely.

2) Brienna is pretty great. She's not your cliche heroine who's good at everything, and I liked her down-to-earth personality. The other characters are equally interesting, and I loved the bond of sisterhood between Brienna and her fellow passions.

3) Mavena and Valenia: these places are very interesting. I can only assume that Mavena steals qualities from ancient Scotland and Valenia leans towards French culture, and I liked seeing fantasy weave its way between these two kingdoms. Plus, who doesn't love the idea of a kingdom ruled by a fierce warrior queen?

The Not-So-Good

1) Everything was a little too easy for Brienna. As soon as she encountered a problem, a solution would magically present itself without requiring much effort on her part. I rolled my eyes at several scenes where *gasp* a secret passageway randomly appeared or the stars miraculously aligned. Give me a little more complex problem-solving, please.

2) Personally, I would have liked to see this book move along a little faster. The first 160 pages are spent purely setting up Brienna's character, her background/education, and leading her towards her future. I think that could have been cut down by at least fifty pages or more. Thankfully, things pick up speed as the plot progresses, so I can't complain about the pacing of the second half.

Overall, I did enjoy this book, but some of its faults were too glaring for me to ignore. If Ross had sped things up and worked on crafting more intelligent solutions to conflicts, I think the story easily could have worked its way into five-star category. Still, I'd recommend this to someone in look of intriguing world-building and lovable characters.

There's definitely a healthy dose of girl power in this book, and I like it.