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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Q & A With Author Joe Sitzwohl


What are your ambitions for your writing? 
If Surrounding Saturdays is received well I hope administrators at Ohio State notice and adopt it as a summer reading recommendation for incoming students. That would be a dream come true.

What would your career look like in an ideal world?
Well right now writing is just a fun hobby for me, not a career. I’m starting a fulltime job in NYC soon that I’m excited about. But if I find time to hone my writing skills I’d love to publish more books.  I think going on a book tour and doing signings one day sounds like a super cool thing to do.

Which writers inspire you?
I feel like 9/10 readers and writers my age would all say JK Rowling, so I feel uber unoriginal saying her, but how could I not? She instilled in me a love for literature from a young age.

Did you make the drawings in your book yourself?
Yep, I’m obviously no Van Gough but I took a drawing class once and enjoy doodling so I scanned each drawing in.

How did you pick the quotes for each chapter?
I keep a big whiteboard in my room, right over my bed, which is always filled with inspirational quotes. So naturally I wanted to include them and pair their meanings with each anecdote.

What are you working on right now?
Right now I’m taking a break from writing and just focusing on promoting Surrounding Saturdays. I’m moving to NYC in June so I’m crazy busy preparing for that too. 

What inspired you to write this book?
For my Design minor I took a Typography class where we were assigned to craft a small book. Then I just ran with it, enjoying the whole process of sharing my stories and adding illustrations.

Who is your target audience?
I mainly hope soon-to-be undergrads read it and use it to feel better prepared for college, it’s the type of book a younger me would have appreciated.  Also, I think parents might appreciate getting a taste of what their kids are experiencing. And lastly, I wanted to paint a picture for international readers who are curious about the atmosphere at US universities.

What is your favorite genre(s) to read?
I love non-fiction. Biographies like River of Doubt and Where Men Win Glory really inspire me.

Why do you write/journal?
Main reason I journal is because I don’t trust my memory, I love being able to flip back and refresh on life lessons and experiences I’ve had.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
After completing my Design minor I’ve learned to use my creativity with a purpose.  I used to doodle and write haphazardly, but now I’m always thinking what could this be used for?

What is the hardest thing about writing?
Hardest thing is the iterative process. I could literally spend all day going over the same sentence and tweaking each word over and over. It’s tough to know when to accept what I have and just move on. 

What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
I’d have to say the iterative process of not knowing when to move on, having second opinions helps enormously though. 

What is the easiest thing about writing?
Titles.  I know many other writers write and then whatever they have molds an appropriate book or chapter title. But for me thinking up a catchy title first inspires me and sets my direction.

What book/s are you reading at present?
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel  Kahneman.

Tell us about your cover and how it came about.
I had designed the text with the doodles first, so then naturally when I started designing the cover I wanted to use them again.  I purposely put the doodle of the football stadium in the center, with the other things surrounding it as an interpretation of the title.

Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
Definitely. I spent some time studying all the popular covers on the iTunes bookstore and noticed not one cover in the top 100 sellers was simply black and white, so I made sure to add color.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

I love receiving letters via email, so they people can always reach me at jsitzwohl@gmail.com.  Also, feel free to connect on Linkedin or even follow me on Instagram @pixwohl.




Check out my review of Joe Sitzwohl's book Surrounding Saturdays.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Surrounding Saturdays: A College Journal | Joseph Sitzwohl

Surrounding Saturdays is a short journal-turned-memoir about the college experience of a student from The Ohio State University. It chronicles some of his experiences including his first week in college, his classes, study abroad trips, and standout life events. 

I am a graduate of The Ohio State University (OSU), so this book really resonated with me. I found myself nodding along to a lot of sections because it reflected some of my own experiences. I think other people who went to college might be able to reminisce about their own experiences while reading this. I know his target audience is high schoolers, and I can see how that would be accurate. I think it could be a small glimpse into what it means to go to college. Granted, every person has a slightly different college experience, but I thought Joe did a great job of highlighting the atmosphere of OSU. 

The book included a lot of quotes and doodles. It really made me feel like I was looking into Joe’s journal. I could also recognize a lot of the landmarks in his doodles. I think both of the quotes and doodles added to the personal connection this book aims to create. 

My only complaint is that I felt like my reading experiences were cut short. I understand that it is a short book, but I wanted so much more! I wish I could read so much more about his trips to Australia and Singapore. Those are journeys that most people wish to have, but never actually do. I know he only included meaningful experiences, but I also kind of wish he included the bad and the ugly too. I think that high schoolers would appreciate knowing what parts of college aren’t so great. 

Overall, this was a quick read (I read it all in one sitting) and was pretty good. I would recommend it for anyone trying to understand what college may be like (especially OSU) or anyone reflecting on their own college experiences. If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it here. After you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Check out my Q & A with Joseph here!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for free, but that did not alter my review in any way. 

 ****   4/5 Stars





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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Q & A With Author Mindee Arnett



What are your ambitions for your writing career? What would your career look like in an ideal world?
My goal is very modest – to make enough money on my writing to comfortably leave my day job. What that mostly means is getting to the place where the inflow of money from the writing is steady. For most writers, the inflow is very uneven. We will get large advance checks and then go months and months with nothing. That’s pretty scary for a worrywart like me. 
Which writers inspire you?
Maggie Stiefvater and Laini Taylor are two of my contemporaries that inspire me all the time. I think Tami Hoag is stellar. She does great dialogue and characters. I also adore Stephen King, JK Rowling, Douglas Adams, and my all-time favorite—Jennifer Roberson. She’s who inspired me to be a writer in the first place.
Give us an insight into how you create your main characters. 
My main characters usually have some aspect to them that is wish fulfillment for me. Be it that they have a magical ability like Dusty in The Nightmare Affair or they get to cruise around space in a spaceship like Jeth in Avalon. This is usually where I start. Making those characters unique, however, is a much longer process. I learn about them through both freewriting and drafting. 
How do you pick names for your characters?
I keep lists of names I’ve come across that I like, and I also rely on the Internet quite a bit, sites like babynames.com and also the “Popular Baby Names By Decade” page on the Social Security website. I especially visit this page when I’m working on something set in the modern world. I determine the decade of when my characters were born and then figure out common names. I don’t always use those common names, not for my main characters at least, but I try to keep the feel similar. 
What are you working on right now?
Currently, I’m working on a high fantasy that I like to think of Shadow and Bone meets Throne of Glass meet the pony express. 
What draws you to writing sci-fi and fantasy books?
My attraction to these stories is fundamental. I’m just hardwired for the fantastical. It’s what hold my interest and gets my imagination sparking. 
Are those also your favorite genres to read?

Definitely!

Which actors/actresses would you like to see playing the lead characters from "The Arkwell Academy" series?
For Dusty I would pick Molly Quinn. For Eli I would go with Matt Lanter.
How much research do you do before writing a book?
It varies by book. I don’t do a whole lot, mostly because I’m a learn-as-I-go-writer. This means that a lot of my research takes place while I’m drafting.
Why do you write?
This is like the sci-fi/fantasy question. I’m just hardwired for it. I see the world in stories. I’m interested in the meta-narrative of our lives and trying to bring that feeling to the page.
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?
When I’m drafting my minimum goal each day is 1,000 words. I usually average closer to 1500. I also have a weekly goal of 10,000 words. 
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
I do not outline or plot. I consider myself a pantser who likes to stop for direction. I have a basic idea of where I’m going when I start the story, but I follow my instincts as I go. However, I don’t just rush pell-mell. I make sure I understand why these events are happening. That understanding is almost always tied to character motivation. As long as I can identify and understand the decisions my characters are making that led to this plot event, then I’m good.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
I think the hardest thing is having the faith in yourself to keep going. Writing is very lonely, and there’s no one but yourself pushing you, and often your inner critic is going “This sucks! You’re awful! You’ll never be as good as so and so!” But you’ve got to learn to silence the critic and write your story anyway.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
My last book was The Nightmare Charade, the conclusion of the Arkwell Academy series. The hardest part about it was that I was behind deadline. By a lot. In the end I was writing 5,000 words a day and still went to bed each night feeling like I hadn’t done enough. That was rough. My newest WIP is going soooo much better.
What is the easiest thing about writing?
For me, the easiest is almost always the ending. I love endings. Getting started is so much harder. But endings are all about the payoff from months and months of work.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
I would say about 3 months is my average for a first draft. But revising and editing will take additional months. 
What book/s are you reading at present?
I’m currently reading Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch.
Tell us about your covers and how they came about.
When you’re traditionally published like I am, covers are completely controlled by the publisher. My editor usually asks me for ideas and some inspirations, but after that I sit back and wait to see what they come up with. I’ve been very fortunate—all my covers have been amazing.
Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
Very important. This is why the publisher controls the cover—it’s a marketing tool. A good cover is the first thing that will attract a reader. 
Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?
The best marketing you can do is write a good book, and then next, and the next… Since I’m traditionally published I don’t do a lot of marketing. I maintain an online presence as much I can. I hold giveaways when I can. And I attend book events when I can. That’s about it.
What do you do to get book reviews? 
No idea, honestly. The thing about reviews is that there are thousands of readers out there who write them. Just get your book into the hands of readers and the reviews will follow. 
What is your favorite quote?
“Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” –Joss Whedon
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
You can find me online at www.mindeearnett.com



Check out my review of Mindee's book The Nightmare Affair.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Rain Reign | Ann M. Martin

Rain Reign is about a little girl, Rose, with Asperger’s syndrome. She loves homonyms, which is why her dog is appropriately named Rain, which has two homonyms: Rein and Reign. Her mom is absent and her dad has a temper, so when her only friend, Rain, goes missing, Rose struggles to find a new routine and purpose. For a more complete summary, you can go here.

You may recognize the author’s name from somewhere, that’s because she was the author of the infamous Babysitter’s Club series. Rain Reign is vastly different from Martin’s original work. This novel is meant for children, but it is so deep, complex, and touching in every way. It has been highly talked about and is up for a lot of literature awards. When you have a book like this, it can be very polarizing. Some people will love it and some people will hate it. Personally, I loved every second of it. While, I could see why some parents may not want their young children to read this book (i.e. an angry/potentially abusive father), I am completely against censorship of books (which is a story for another day). 

Asperger’s and Autism seem to be gaining a lot of popularity in literature lately. I think it is because there is such a wide spectrum of behaviors and personalities that are associated with both, and people are yearning to understand them more. I don’t think that any one book can properly depict all people with Asperger’s, but I do think that this book did a phenomenal job of putting the readers into Rose’s head so we could understand her struggles. The voice was believable as a child’s voice, and Rose’s wording and thoughts clearly depicted when she was getting worked up or frustrated. Several times I almost teared up—which is rare for me while reading books. 

Since this book is meant for children, it was a quick read, but it was anything but simple. This would be the perfect book to read with children so you can talk about the events and emotions of the characters. I would recommend this for children second grade or higher, but I think that most adults would get a lot of enjoyment from this as well. If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it here. After you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think! 


 *****   5/5 Stars

Monday, April 13, 2015

Belong to Me | Marisa de los Santos

Belong to Me is a fictional story following three main characters: Cornelia, who just moved to town for her husband’s job; Dev, a thirteen-year-old who moved to town with his mom so he can attend a school for the gifted; and Piper, a snotty housewife who is dealing with her best friend’s cancer. For a more complete summary, you can go here.

I picked this book to read because I read de los Santos’s other book Love Walked In. I adored that book, so I figured that I would give this book a shot. I didn’t realize that it follows the same main character, Cornelia. It has some of the other characters too, as well as a lot of new characters. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a sequel though. You could read this book without reading Love Walked In. There was one big event that happened in Love Walked In—that Cornelia is married to her sister’s ex-husband—that was conveniently left out of this book. I thought it was weird that it was never even mentioned, especially because it was a main part of the last book. Between the two, I liked the story of Love Walked In much better. I would have preferred the whole story to be about Teo, Cornelia, and Clare, and not all the new characters, but I guess that would have taken a lot away from the story. 

Cornelia’s chapters are told in first-person, but the other two characters’ stories are told in third-person. I am not sure why the author did that, but I would have preferred all in either third-person or first, not a mixture. I honestly could have done without Dev and his mother’s story. I forgot about them most of the time. All the chapters were really long, so I felt like it was a long time before Dev was mentioned again. I understand his purpose in the story, but I didn’t find it as compelling as the other storylines. I also think that de los Santos put him in there because she really enjoys having adult-like children as main characters. 

I enjoyed the fact that de los Santos makes you love and appreciate characters that you initially hate. It teaches us a lesson about first impressions. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I would recommend it to any adult or teenager (probably more to females). If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it here. After you have read it, you can access discussion questions here. Then leave a comment and let me know what you think! 

****   4/5 Stars 

Sliding into Home | Kendra Wilkinson

Sliding into Home is a memoir about Kendra Wilkinson, ex-girlfriend of Hugh Hefner and star of the TV show “The Girls Next Door”. She details her troubled childhood and teenage years and her rise to fame via the Playboy mansion. For a more complete summary, you can go here.

I’ll be completely honest, I am embarrassed to even write a review about this book. Just like I am embarrassed to admit that I watch “The Bachelor”. Sometimes, you need to read or watch something a little trashy to feel better about your own life…I can’t believe I just admitted that. With that said, this book is exactly what you would expect. It’s entertaining and that’s about it. 

I appreciate how honest Kendra was in this book. She admitted a lot of things that most people would be too embarrassed or scared to ever admit. She talks about all the drugs she used (hint: it’s a lot), how she lost her virginity, her time in the psych ward, her cutting habit, and her experience in the Playboy mansion. Along with her honesty comes a lot of name-dropping. I’m actually really surprised that she didn’t get sued for using celebrities real names. I’m also really surprised that Hugh Hefner allowed her to put some things she said about him in that book. She did try to make it like him having a ton of girlfriends was a totally normal thing. I’m sorry, but I will never agree with that. 

As far as writing goes, this book was horrible. It took me a few chapters before I could get past the horrible grammar to actually enjoy the story, but I did enjoy it. I didn’t want to like it, but I’ll admit that I was curious about what really goes on at the Playboy mansion. Take this book for what you will. It was an enjoyable, quick read, but it was definitely not a moving piece of literature. If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it here. After you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think! 


 ***   3/5 Stars

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Orphan Train | Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train is a fictional book that tells the stories of two orphans: a ninety-one year old woman, Vivian, and a seventeen year old girl, Molly.  Though their lives may seem very different from the outside, they share very similar pasts. For a more complete summary, you can go here.

When I first started this book, I was more drawn to Molly’s story line than Vivian’s. Vivian’s story just started out slowly. As the book went on, Vivian’s story got more dynamic and interesting, and I actually really appreciated the parallels between their lives. However, it did get confusing at times and was hard to keep track of what happened in which person’s past. There were also a lot of names, so it was hard to keep track. I actually had to go back to look up some names from earlier in the book. 

My favorite part of this book was when Vivian realizes that each piece in her life is a stepping stone—good or bad. Without each of those events, she would have never ended up exactly where she is now. That is a theme that resonates with my own life. The hard, the good, the bad, the fun—each of those things in my life has been the path that has guided me to where I am now. It is a realistic, but positive way to reflect on your life. 

I usually don’t enjoy historical fiction, but I found this really interesting. It tied in a lot of important historical events into one book (i.e. the Great Depression and World War II). It was also fascinating to learn about the orphan trains, which was an actual occurrence. I wonder what the U.S. would be like if we still sent orphans all over the country via trains to find homes. 

I liked how everything comes full circle at the end, but the author made it seem like everyone on the orphan trains eventually lived a happy life, which is probably not accurate. I’m sure some of them never made it out of poverty or depression. On the other hand, I’m sure that not every foster parent was simply looking for an indentured servant, which is how the author made it seem. There realistically would have been a mix of great and horrible foster families, and everything in between. 

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a story about troubled pasts, or anyone looking for a historical fiction book. If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it here. After you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think! 

 ****   4/5 Stars 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Cinder | Marissa Meyer

Cinder is a futuristic, sci-fi version of Cinderella…except Cinder is a cyborg in China. She works as a mechanic to earn money for her evil guardian. When her sister contracts a deadly disease, Cinder tries to help the prince and his medical team find a cure. For a more complete summary, you can go here.

I think that this book would have more successful if it was more similar to Cinderella, or if it was disassociated with it completely. I think Cinder would have been successful as its own story, and that tying in Cinderella was an attempt to bring in more readers. The plot very, very loosely follows the original Cinderella story. You have an evil “step-mother” figure, a ball, a prince, and main character who is treated like a servant. It also takes place in New Beijing—which ties it back to its Chinese roots. That’s where the similarities end. There is no fairy godmother, no glass slipper (but there is a whole foot), there’s no animal helpers, no happy ending, and no beautiful transformation for the ball. However, there is an evil Queen from the moon trying to start a war with Earth. And there is a whole bunch of cyborgs, aliens, and android robots. 

I had a really hard time getting into this book in the beginning. I guess I just was expecting more fantasy and not as much science fiction. There was a lot of technology jargon and political affairs. Those types of stories usually don’t interest me. I did get drawn into the story as it went on and I am actually curious to read the next book in the series, Scarlet. There was a twist in the end, but I guessed it pretty early on, so that was kind of disappointing. I also feel like there wasn’t really an ending to this book, which is probably so that we want to read the next one. I’ll be honest, if this had a more solid ending, I probably wouldn’t really have a desire to read the next book. 

Also, for a book that takes place so far in the future, I didn’t think that there was much world building. I couldn’t really picture what anything looked like. Is it similar to modern day China? Is it more like America now? Does America even exist anymore? Is everything silver and shiny as in other futuristic stories? I’m hoping that some of those things will be clarified in the proceeding books. I also didn’t get any idea of what the characters looked like. Is Cinder actually Asian? What do the androids look like? There was too much left to my imagination. 

Overall, this book was enjoyable and easy to read. I would recommend it to people who love remade fairy tales and sci-fi books. If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it here. After you have read it let me know what you think! 


 ***   3/5 Stars