Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Middleworld Authors J & P Voelkel Stop by on their Blog Tour!



I want to welcome Jon and Pamela Voelkel, authors of Middleworld, to the Bibliophile Support Group! Thank you for stopping by on your blog tour!

Thanks for inviting us!

First off - for those who haven't yet heard about your book, how would you describe Middleworld?

It’s a fast-paced and funny adventure set in the jungles of the ancient Maya, but it’s also a tale of teenage angst and finding your place in the world. The main characters are Max Murphy, a 14-year old city kid from Boston, and Lola, a Maya girl of about the same age. Against a background of haunted temples, raging underground rivers, and the ever-present frisson of human sacrifice, Max and Lola must work together to solve a terrible mystery - and, quite possibly, save the world from the ancient Maya Lords of Death.

Now, I personally loved Middleworld (as anyone can see if they read my review here: http://bibliophilesupportgroup.blogspot.com/2010/06/middleworld.html)! Clearly I'm not alone - Al Roker picked Middleworld for his Book Club for Kids and you were invited onto the Today Show! What was that like?

We still can’t quite believe it, it feels like a dream now. Hair and make-up was fun, and there was a ton of food in the green room – but, of course, we were too nervous to eat anything. They don’t tell you the book club questions ahead of time, so we had to be ready for anything. When we got to the studio, they were still dismantling the set from the previous item. It all happens in a heartbeat...old set down, new set up, meet Al Roker (who exuded calm in all the chaos)... 5,4,3,2,1... you’re on! It went by in a flash, the fastest five minutes of our lives!

As a 22 (almost 23) year old, I still thoroughly enjoyed Middleworld and was swept up into its adventure and humor. Did you write it specifically for the middlegrade level, or did you have in mind enticing an older audience as well?

We are so glad to hear you say that, because we definitely had older readers in mind. We’ve always enjoyed reading with our kids at bedtime, and one of our motivations for writing the Jaguar Stones series was the difficulty of finding middlegrade books that are fun for parents AND children.

From what I've seen and read, you two seem to be quite the devoted researchers! I know that Jon grew up in a lot of these regions, but what was it like for you Pamela? Do you guys have a fun, crazy story you'd like to tell?

Well, the first thing you should know is that Jon declared he was never going back to the jungle. But I said I couldn’t write about something I’d never experienced, so our first research trip (to Belize) was my idea. I promised him we’d stay in nice hotels and it would be nothing like his childhood. But the funny thing was that he loved it! Instantly! He felt right at home and knew the names of a lot of the bugs and the trees and so on. Our youngest child was two at most, so I was worried she’d get eaten by jaguars, or something. But it turned out to be one of our best vacations ever. Since then, we’ve been back to Belize, and we’ve also made several trips to Mexico and Guatemala. There’s nothing like frogs croaking in the bathroom and howler monkeys roaring on the roof to promote family bonding! I’m always planning the next trip in my head. I would never have gone to these places if it wasn’t for the books. I’m scared of everything, heights, water, caves, snakes, you name it - but I have to be brave in front of the children, so I think it’s very character building. And there is nothing in the world like the feeling of walking into the plaza of some remote site and feeling like you are the first person alive today to discover it.

Did anything in particular inspire you to write Middleworld?

The setting and the idea of a city boy trying to survive in the jungle was inspired by Jon’s childhood. The character of Lola came out of a bedtime story he used to tell the children, called The Monkey Girl. She lived on a pyramid, her best friends were monkeys and every night she would outwit some different bad guys.

The descriptions of the jungle and culture are so vivid in the novel. How much of that would you say is an accurate, versus fictional, portrayal of Belize?

Of all the Maya countries, we based our fictional country of San Xavier on Belize because English is its official language, which simplifies everything. The descriptions of the landscape and wildlife are accurate, especially the cenotes and the underground rivers. The five pyramids of the Monkey River are each based on a different real-life Maya site, though not all in Belize. The Maya village where Lola grew up is probably more Guatemalan in character. Also, real-life Belize is an incredible melting-pot of cultures – Maya, Mestizo, Creole, Garifuna and Mennonite.

How is it writing as a pair? Who does what? Are there ever disagreements about characters or plot?

It’s actually a lot of fun to be working on these books together. It means that, instead of the characters only living in my head, they live in Jon’s head as well. That makes them seem real, almost like family members. We used to pass the manuscript back and forth between us, one draft at a time, but now Pamela does most of the writing and Jon does most of the illustrating. We still plot everything out together and I think the male/female balance of action/emotion works out well. But, yes, we argue constantly about what should happen next at any given time. The good thing is that the answer is always the same: it must be true to character and it must be unexpected.

Which character from Middleworld would you say you are most like? Jon? Pamela?

Jon chooses Max because they’re both city boys at heart and were horrified to find themselves living in the jungle. Like Max, Jon was very materialistic when he was younger and (he says) quite badly behaved. Max plays drums and Jon plays guitar, but they both dreamed of being rock stars.

Pamela has a hard time choosing, but eventually settles on Lady Coco. I identify with her maternal nature, although I hope I’m not as bossy. I used to work in advertising and while it’s not quite as sexist as ancient Maya society, I can understand many of Lady Coco’s frustrations. I’m also a party person and I like baking. But I want to make it very clear that I have never had problems with flatulence.

LOL! Moving on... Some of the later scenes in Middleworld were pretty creepy! Can we expect more of that in Book 2?

Absolutely! We think Book 2 is even faster and creepier and more exciting than Book 1! It hits the ground running and has even more twists and turns than the secret stairway down to King Pakal’s tomb in Palenque. But it also has lots of humor. That’s important because young readers tell us that the humor balances out the scary bits, and lets them catch their breath, and makes the book suitable for a wider range of ages.

I found Max's housekeeper and the seemingly prophetic videogame she bought him quite intriguing - will we be seeing a reappearance of her?

Our lips are sealed. But – yes.

Awesome! Can you give us any info on Book 2 of the Jaguar Stones trilogy? Such as its title and/or when it'll be coming out?

The second Jaguar Stones book is called The End of the World Club and it’s out on 28th December 2010. I can also tell you that it takes Max and Lola to Spain on the trail of the conquistadors, it has a wedding, a funeral, a fire - and the craziest concert in the history of rock n roll!

While we're eagerly waiting for the next Jaguar Stones novel - do you have any books you'd recommend to help keep our adventure-hungry minds occupied?

For real-life adventure, try The Lost City of Z by David Grann, or 1491 by Charles C. Mann, or The Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Diaz. We assume you’ve read everything by Rick Riordan, so maybe the The Hungry City Chronicles by Philip Reeve. And you could always revisit some classics like Heart of Darkness, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Moonfleet, and Treasure Island.

I'd like to say a big THANK YOU to you both for visiting the Bibliophile Support Group - I really enjoyed Middleworld and look forward to finding out what you have in store for Max and Lola next!!!

Yum bo’otik!

(That’s “thank you” in Yucatek Mayan.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Host

The Host is the adult (though it is quite appropriate for YA audiences, no worries) sci-fi novel by Stephenie Meyer that has received tons and tons of praise.

And let me just say - deservedly so!!!

First off - a little about The Host: Melanie Stryder is one of the few humans left on Earth that still retains her mind. There has been an invasion by an alien species called "souls" that take over the minds and bodies of the population of the planet. But when Melanie is captured and a soul, Wanderer, is inserted - she proves herself stronger than the average human and still occupies her mind - alongside Wanderer. Thing is, Wanderer might not be an "average" soul anymore than Melanie is the "average" human. Melanie's memories and human emotions seem to meld with Wanderer's until the soul cannot help but have many of the same desperate desires as Melanie - including Jared, the man Melanie loves. The man Wanderer now loves too.

This summary does little to really give the essence of how extraordinary The Host truly is. But I also don't want to give away any more plotlines than that (which is, pretty much, how much is given away in the jacketflap).

Now for my personal experience with The Host: It starts off with a startling, odd, question-raising prologue that successfully intrigued me. Before 25 pages flew by, I was already being pulled hypnotically, magnetically into the story - as Stephenie Meyer's writing does so well (I experienced this same feeling with the Twilight Saga).

The picture of a world no longer human is unsettling - the chilling suspense of survival (seen primarily through Melanie's memories) is riveting. Interaction between Melanie and Wanderer, inside the same mind, is electrifying in its utter bizarreness, yet somehow beautiful in its lyrical and poignant prose.

It isn't long before I actually feel sympathetic for Wanderer, and find myself liking this "alien" - while I also have admiration for Melanie's strength. It seems an impossible feat that only an author as skilled as Meyer can pull off.

The Host is a page-turner in the truest sense of the term. I was hardly aware of time passing by as I was reading it. I would literally open up the book, glance up at the clock, and see two hours had passed by and be completely flabbergasted. Always a good sign as a bibliophile - though this tends to cause an overdose and I tend to spend the hours of the day when I am unable to read rather fuzzy-headed as a result.

Without going on and on (which is easy to do when you love a book as much as I love this one), I have to point out a few more things. The characters are easy to identify with and care about - The Host is painfully heartbreaking, nail-bitingly scary (not in a horror movie sense, more on a human level), introspective, and always, ALWAYS surprising.

There are twists I did NOT see coming. Even the plots that are usually understandably and enjoyably predictable in other novels were astoundingly unpredictable. I found myself almost obsessed with these characters - Stephenie Meyer makes me so attached to these people/beings that it is frustratingly awesome and hand-clenchingly suspenseful. Yeah, The Host is so amazing that I have to make up words to describe how I felt reading it.

I can only heavily, heavily recommend this astonishing, elegant piece of literature to any reader who likes to soak up her book, let it seep in and experience it along with the characters. To those who loved Twilight, to those who didn't, to those who appreciate a powerful, perfect, inspiring, goosebump-inducing, excellent novel - you absolutely HAVE to read The Host.

And as an extra bonus, the new paperback version (which is the one I read) has a great bonus chapter that slides in smoothly with the original story and a great little interview with the fabulous Stephenie Meyer, as well as a playlist she associates with writing The Host.

I am desperately in need of a reread. The Host is, honestly, fantastic!

Check back on July 28th for a special Wednesday post, as Jon and Pamela Voelkel, authors of Middleworld, stop by on their blog tour to answer some questions!

Monday, July 19, 2010

ghostgirl: Lovesick


ghostgirl: Lovesick is third in the ghostgirl series by Tonya Hurley. To read my review of the first novel, ghostgirl: http://bibliophilesupportgroup.blogspot.com/2009/06/ghostgirl.html To read my review of the second novel: http://bibliophilesupportgroup.blogspot.com/2009/06/q-with-tonya-hurley.html To read my interview with author Tonya Hurley: http://bibliophilesupportgroup.blogspot.com/2009/06/q-with-tonya-hurley.html

So, of course, if you haven't read the previous novels in this YA series - DON'T READ THIS REVIEW.

Anyway - our ghostgirl cast of Charlotte, Scarlet, Damen, Petula, the Wendys, and the ex-students of Dead Ed are back and so is Tonya Hurley's unique, blunt, not-at-all-shy, clever writing voice that jumps out at you from the awesomely designed pages.

First off we meet up with a slightly older, slightly more sophisticated Scarlet on Valentine's Day. Then we catch up with Charlotte who has managed to start up a kinda-romance with a fellow dead guy, but her deceased buds Pam and Prue don't approve. Next, we see that Petula has also changed - it seems for the better... or is it? A big theme in ghostgirl: Lovesick is how people change and whether the changes are good or bad. I don't want to give away too much more except to say that a bunch more plot-related stuff happens and, well, read it and find out!

There is a quote on the back of ghostgirl: Lovesick that mentions the novel having a Tim Burton feel. That is spot on! Some readers may be put off initially by the almost-odd tone of the series, but once you accustom yourself to it you find that ghostgirl is an original, gothic, comedy satire. It's different from pretty much anything I've ever read. It is literally incomparable to me in style and voice.

Charlotte is a fantastic character because she has a real-life personality - one that has a lack of representation in literature, I feel. We've all felt invisible, which makes her very relatable. She's also super sweet (but not so much that you drown in sugar, either). Once you add this likability factor to the twist that she is dead - well, how can you go wrong? ;)

ghostgirl: Lovesick is both an excellent, biting exaggeration of high school cliques and "types", as well as a touching character study that delves into raw emotions and the less likable side to ourselves.

Though there were some scenes that happened off page that I was disappointed to not witness as a reader, and sometimes I was truly frustrated with how certain characters were acting - there always manages to be a poignancy and surprisingly bittersweet redemption in Tonya Hurley's writing.

Then there is the big shocker about two-thirds into the book that throws a huge curveball that manages to cause ghostgirl: Lovesick to be even more awesome and page-turning. A little supernatural suspense only adds extra spice to what is already a delicious dish of artfully peculiar YA.

The biggest thing to me about this novel is how I actually truly care about these characters. Even ones that seem unlikable have their unexpected moments of humanity. ghostgirl: Lovesick is funny, sharp, touching, sad, realistic, mysterious, romantic and absolutely crazy all at once!

Though the end was satisfying and felt, in a way, conclusive - I sure wouldn't mind yet another foray in ghostgirl's unique world! I'm hoping Tonya Hurley will be kind enough to whisk us there again! How 'bout you?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Perchance to Dream

Perchance to Dream is the new sequel to Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev, and is the second book in the Theatre Illuminata trilogy.

Okay, right off the bat I have to scream from the rooftops (or in this case, the blog screen), "I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!!!!"

Whew. Alright. Now that I've gotten that off my book addict chest, how about a little summary of the Perchance to Dream plot? But, WARNING! if you haven't read Eyes Like Stars - the synopsis will ruin awesome plot twists from Eyes Like Stars.

Now, Bertie and her hilarious fairy besties - Peaseblossom, Mustardseed, Cobweb, and Moth - and her ever-so-enigmatic-and-sexy kinda-boyfriend Ariel, are off in the real world for the very first time in their magical lives. Until now they've lived and flourished in the Theatre Iluminata, a place where every single play ever written is alive and every character penned is flesh and blood and ready for the stage - but a place where every one of them is trapped inside the Theatre in order to keep the magic alive and the Theatre afloat. Not that any of them seem to mind all that much. Except, ya know, Ariel.

Bertie has never been one of them, yet has grown up among them. However, Bertie has abilities that have become desperately needed by the Theatre Illuminata when Ariel tried to escape the confines of the Theatre and tore all the pages out of the Book in Eyes Like Stars - the object that stores all the magic of the place.

Confused yet? Well, forgive me if I am not explaining the basic plot very well. My mind and ability to summarize are befuddled by my adoration for the book! :)

Anyway, Bertie found out at the end of Eyes Like Stars that her mother is Ophelia (a shock that was extremely well-written!)- and left with the above-mentioned comrades (she managed to release Ariel and her fairy friends) - with a quest to rescue her other kinda-boyfriend: the hunky, handsome, swashbuckler Nate, who was taken prisoner by Sedna, the Sea Goddess. Also on her agenda is to find her father, a man her mother's fuzzy memory cannot recall, and bring him to the Theatre.

Okay - I seem unable to properly detail the concept of Perchance to Dream, but in a way it doesn't even matter. There is no way to truly justify the fantastical originality of this novel, nor its predecessor Eyes Like Stars.

If you like theatre, if you like fantasy, if you like hypnotic, shockingly different, amazingly magical novels - read this YA masterpiece: Perchance to Dream.

Both Perchance to Dream and Eyes Like Stars are inching ever closer to my top ten favorite books - which is saying something when I love hundreds of novels!!!

The characters are vivid and engaging. Our heroine is more than likable - she is strong, feisty, funny, and interesting. Her abilities are so different from anything I've ever read - and the adventures and experiences she goes through are both sympathetic and beyond entertaining to follow. Perchance to Dream managed to touch, entertain, surprise, and floor me - all in one reading. Not to mention the laugh-out-loud moments!

And the Theatre Illuminata trilogy has created the first love triange that actually has me not picking sides!!! I love both Nate and Ariel equally - something that has never happened if my personal reading experience.

Without giving anything more away, I implore you to check out Perchance to Dream and I can almost bet with a surety that you will be like me by the end: practically frothing at the mouth for the third and final novel!!!!!!!!!!!

Thank you, Lisa Mantchev!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Guest Blogger: Author Sean McCartney!!!


This week, bibliophiles, we have a special guest blogger - author Sean McCartney! He'd like to tell you about his new book!!! Without further ado, here's Sean:

First off I would like to thank Angie for allowing me to talk with all of you. This is my first blog so it is quite exciting for me.

My name is Sean McCartney and I’m currently on a blog tour to promote my new young adult action adventure novel entitled THE TREASURE HUNTERS CLUB: SECRETS OF THE MAGICAL MEDALLIONS. It’s being released on July 6th, 2010 from Mountainland Publishing.

The story is about Tommy Reed and his treasure hunting friends Shannon McDougal, Jackson Miller and Chris Henderson. One day Tommy receives a rather ordinary looking medallion from his very famous treasure-hunting uncle “Diamond” Jack Reed and finds himself the object of an evil treasure collector named Manuel de la Ernesto. Now Tommy and his friends must find the secret behind the medallion before Manuel can get to them and the medallion.

When I set out to write The Treasure Hunters Club: Secrets of the Magical Medallions I wanted to pull together all the things from books and movies that I liked. The mystery of the Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown, the adventure of Percy Jackson, a little magic from Harry Potter and the action and history of the movies Indiana Jones and national treasure.

Though this is the first book in the Treasure Hunters Club series, with your help to make it a success, the next books will follow. I have planned six treasure hunting books as they follow the club through the 8th grade and into high school. Of course, as they get older their treasure hunts get more dangerous and more exciting.

I have been asked why I created a series around treasure hunting. The truth is I believe treasure hunting is something everyone can do. You don’t need super powers just a desire to do research and find where to look. Also treasure hunting touches on the sidebars of history, the stuff not in the textbooks. That is usually the most interesting and provides a solid building block for the series.

My goal has always been to be published and have a series that kids can enjoy and have a lot of fun reading. I was lucky to find a publisher who believes in the series as much as I do. What I was surprised to find out was how much the publishing world has changed since I started this journey toward “being published.” The emergence of ebooks has shaken the publishing world like never before and I believe we have only scratched the surface of what this new technology can do to help promote reading.

In the meantime, I hope you take a moment to check out my website www.treasurehuntersclubbook.com and learn more about the series and read some short stories about the characters.

Thank you again for this opportunity and allowing me to be here and I hope you enjoy the book and the series.

Thanks,

Sean




Me again. That is, Angie, your resident Bibliophile Support Group leader. I don't know, the book sounds pretty fun to me! Whaddya think? I think we should all check it out.

So keep your eyes open for The Treasure Hunters Club: Secrets of the Magical Medallions, and I'll be back with a new review next Monday!