April 30, 2010

Retro Friday Review: And Both Were Young by Madeleine L'Engle

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time! I include roundups from participating bloggers in my post every week.
I think this may have been the last Madeleine L'Engle book I read (for the first time) as a teenager. And for some reason it holds a sort of distinction in my head because of that fact. I, like most other readers I know who love her books, got in on the whole thing with A Wrinkle in Time, moving on to the other Murry and O'Keefe family books and then the Austin family series and so on from there. I must have been somewhere around ten or so when I first read the Time series and by the time I got through all the others and worked my way around to her standalones I was a bit older. Although one of my very favorite things about her body of young adult work is that there are so many connections between them. And while And Both Were Young is probably one of the most standalone of them all, for the discerning reader there is a very lovely, very oblique reference to its main character in L'Engle's much later novel A Severed Wasp. Interestingly, I don't think I ever realized just how old this book is. Originally published in 1949, it was actually her first young adult novel. Incidentally, my copy features the cover on the left. I chose this book for today's edition of Retro Friday because the lovely new edition on the right was just released on Tuesday and, as it is one of my very favorite of L'Engle's books, I wanted to highlight it here while I convince my local bookshop to order a copy into the store. 


Phillipa Hunter, better known as Flip (oh, how much I love this), never wanted to leave her father and her Connecticut home to come to a Swiss boarding school. That was her father's new "friend" Eunice's bright idea. Since her mother passed away, Flip has grown even closer to her artist father and the idea of leaving him and attending a foreign school among a host of strange other girls terrifies her. But her father is bound for China to draw and Eunice is traveling with him instead of Flip. And so Flip tries to hide her trembling and put on a brave face for her father's sake. But boarding school is just as alien and difficult as she feared. Though the girls hail from all over the globe, Flip finds it hard to fit in. Long-limbed and lacking in coordination, she watches her fellow students from the sidelines and prays for the year to be up soon.  The one bright spot in the gloom is her art teacher Percy--a young woman who seems to understand Flip's solitude and need to filter her kaleidoscopic emotions through some sort of creative act. Then one day out exploring further than she ought to be above the school grounds, Flip runs into a young man named Paul. Paul lives with his father in a small cottage not far from the school. These two dispossessed young teenagers form a friendship and, in the process, find the kind of acceptance and understanding in each other that they've been searching for. 


Flip is the kind of foot-in-her-mouth, arms-and-legs-everywhere protagonist that I connected with instantly as a teen reader. I loved her for her haplessness and the way that she just kept on stumbling through her outer coating of awkward to a place where she could voice her thoughts and experiences so that someone else could see them and appreciate her for who she was. In my eyes, that made her admirable--that drive to keep going despite the many misconceptions and deliberate slights of those around her. That was what was so hard for me at that age, and I like to think I drew a little strength from watching her try and fail and try again and succeed. It helped that her interactions with Percy were so poignant, particularly in the wake of having lost her mother and being without her father. The other girls at the school were especially well done as well. At first you think they will be mere stereotypical characterizations, the way Flip almost expects them to be, but they each emerge from their initial roles to play an important part in Flip's development. And then there's Paul. Lovely Paul. He has long reminded me of Jeff Greene from A Solitary Blue and a kinder, less destructive Zachary Grey. Yes. You will fall in love with Paul just as much as Flip does. And the even more gratifying thing is that the story is not just about Flip's journey to self-discovery, but Paul's as well. It's not all the way he fills her needs, but how she fills his as he has an unusually dark past that he is rather successfully steadfastly refusing to deal with until Flip comes along. This is an eternally sweet and moving book. Like so many of L'Engle's books, I turn to this one when I want to be reminded that the world and the people in it can be beautiful despite the darkness. 


Linkage
Bookworm Burrow Review


Retro Friday Roundup
Bookworm Nation reviews Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn

April 29, 2010

This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas

Prior to being contacted by Farrar, Straus and Giroux about whether I might be interested in reviewing This Gorgeous Game, I had never heard of Donna Freitas or the novel itself. This is actually Ms. Freitas' second book for young adults after her debut The Possibilities of Sainthood. And I have to say I wasn't sure whether or not the book was for me after reading the basic synopsis available over at Macmillan's site. But then I scrolled down and read the lovely blurbs by Sara Zarr and Francisco Stork, as well as the always awesome Little Willow's review and I was sold. Thanks to those excellent encouragements, as well as one impressive and refreshingly heartfelt recommendation from my contact at Macmillan, I accepted a copy for review. And I am so very glad I did. Because this is a singularly  impressive book and one that deserves to be passed around and read and shared and talked about.

Seventeen-year-old Olivia Peters cannot believe her good luck. The results of the writing contest she entered months ago (and has been hoping and wishing and praying she'll win ever since) have come through and first place is hers. Father Mark D. Brendan--the famous novelist and professor and priest--has chosen her story. And not only will she receive a sizable scholarship, but Olivia herself will be able to attend Father Mark's summer writing seminar at her local university and benefit from her idol's one-on-one tutelage. Her mother, her sister, and her two best friends are so excited for her and it is with barely contained joy that she ventures onto campus to register for the course. Once there, she even contemplates attending HMU in the fall as the campus is so lovely and the crop of attractive young college boys so charming, particularly one Jamie Grant--a young philosophy major who's trying to get into Father Mark's seminar and seems interested in getting to know Olivia just as much as she'd like to get to know him. And then Olivia actually runs into Father Mark outside the registrar's office. And he congratulates her once more on winning, wants to meet her for a drink to discuss her story before the seminar begins. And, flattered, she accepts. And, quietly, it begins.

The opening passage (from my uncorrected galley):
I know I know I know I should be grateful, I should be grateful to have his attention. To have him take such an interest in me.

I should. I know I should.

I will. No, you are grateful, Olivia, I tell myself as if I am my self's imaginary friend, sitting across the table, giving advice. Start acting grateful then, she begs.

I have a gift. I have a gift from God, he says. So rare he hasn't seen it in all his many years. I'm the real thing, he says. I'm a once in a liftetime, he says. I'm special and it's his responsibility to take me under his wing, to make sure I don't waste my talent. It would be a sin not to help me, he says. It would be a sin for me not to take his offer of help.

But I swear to God . . . no . . . scratch that . . . I'll not be swearing to God . . . I swear to Who Knows What that his latest demand, this pile of typewritten pages he hands me with a face that says, Please, Olivia, oh please don't be difficult and just do this for me, is staring, no, it's glaring at me from the coffee table like a monster that might eat me. I feel like if I touch it I will go up in flames or the pages might bite.

Am I making too much of this? Isn't it just a matter of grabbing hold of the stack and moving it in front of my eyes so my eyes will begin to scan those black marks on the page which will magically arrange themselves into words that my brain will recognize and understand and voila, I'm finished before I know it.

Then, when he asks, because he will ask, I'll be able to answer truthfully, "Yes, I read it. I did," and he will smile and I'll be Good Olivia again.

I wish I'd never won that stupid prize which is what got me noticed by him . . . no . . . what got my writing noticed by him which is what led to the initial introduction which somehow turned into communications and invitations and coffees and attending office hours and going to High Profile Events together--his words--even before the summer started.

He means well. He does. After all, what else could he mean?
That's right. That's how it starts. Well, if you're anything like me, there's no turning back after that little throwing down of the gauntlet. You turn the page and the narrative immediately jumps back to the beginning of the summer, to the moment when Olivia discovers she's won the contest, which is where it really all starts. And from that moment on the reader serves as a silent witness to the slow, but relentless unraveling of a young woman's life, to what happens when the person she thought she could trust turns out to be the kind of person she's afraid to put a name to. I really admire the incredibly restrained and subtle way Donna Freitas approaches this potentially horrific subject matter. Instead of taking it quickly and provocatively to the bad place, she keeps Olivia's tale tightly reined in and, as a result, we are able to absorb and reflect on her experiences as they happen. Which is not to say that it's a slow read. Nothing could be further from the truth. I read it through from cover to cover in one sitting, unable to take my eyes away from the page, partly because I had to see how it all played out and partly because I didn't want to leave Olivia alone for even a moment. The whole thing stays almost exclusively in her head and I was very much with her, aching for her, hoping she would be able to find both clarity and a solution and somehow emerge from this hunching shadow that has overtaken her life. I loved This Gorgeous Game. I loved the quotes before each new section and the short, poignant chapter titles (particularly the exquisite "On Dark Nights of the Soul"). It is a haunted, urgent, dreamlike, yet very real story and one that will not be leaving my thoughts for the foreseeable future. This Gorgeous Game is due out May 25th.

A note on the cover: I love the title. Once you've read the book it takes on a whole other level of meaning. The cover image itself is decidedly chilling and, though I think it is perfect, it's still hard to look at.

Linkage
Bildungsroman Review
Good Golly Miss Holly Giveaway (Ends May 17th)
Stacked Review

April 27, 2010

Perfect Chemistry + Rules of Attraction Giveaway Winners!


And the winners are . . .

Samantha R for Perfect Chemistry 
and 
Nancy for Rules of Attraction!

Congratulations, you two! If you'll slip me a quick email with your mailing addresses I'll see that your books gets on their way soon. Thanks to Simone for participating in the interview and to Bloomsbury for providing the books and swag for giveaway. And thank you to everyone who entered and shared your favorite literary bad boy crushes. Samantha chose Bran from Juliet Marillier's Son of the Shadows--a personal favorite of mine, while Nancy chose Jack from Ellen Emerson White's Long May She Reign (followed closely by Zachary Grey from Madeleine L'Engle's Austin and Murray series)--also two of my all-time favorites! Other bad boys who made repeat appearances on the list included Roarke from J.D. Robb's In Death series, Patch from Hush, Hush, and Eric from Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series. 

April 26, 2010

Monday Morning Visits

It's Monday morning again. I hope your weekend was a good one and that you're not too tired and grouchy this morning. I'm in a good mood because in my most recent trolling I had the startlingly happy experience of coming across several reviews of books I regularly sing the praises of by a handful of bloggers I love. By the time I finished reading them, I had a grin of pure delight on my face and just had to share the links with you. Go read their lovely reviews and say hi. 


For the last little while, Kristen over at Fantasy Cafe has been the patient recipient of a little not-so-gentle nudging from Ana of The Book Smugglers and myself to read Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series. She read (and enjoyed) The Thief not long ago and yesterday's Leaning Pile of Books post revealed she recently devoured The Queen of Attolia as well. In her little teaser, she had the following to say:
I've already finished this one since I was unable to stop reading it today until I got to the end. The Thief was good, but this one was something special and now holds the spot of favorite book I've read so far this year.
That sound you just heard was me sighing blissfully. I <3 you, Kristen.


My friend and avid reader Chachic over at Chachic's Book Nook just posted her review of Sharon Shinn's Archangel. I had no idea she'd picked it up and I'm so happy to discover she liked it. Chachic has this to say:
I love that even though they’re meant for each other by the god’s mandate, they still have to work for it. It’s definitely not love at first sight and they keep rubbing each other the wrong way. Love-hate relationships for the win! ♥
What can I say but that I wholeheartedly agree. Any other good angel books to recommend? She's asking for your input.


Brenda over at Brenda Loves Books (I just love her header and the quote running along the bottom of it) has been working her way through one of my most beloved series--Tamora Pierce's Alanna books--the Song of the Lioness quartet. Yesterday she posted her review of the fourth and final book Lioness Rampant. She says:
I also just adore the characters in this series.  Alanna grew so much, and I admit, I cried at the ending.
You are not alone, Brenda. I've lost count of how many times I've read these books, but I cry at the ending every time. And, uh, at a few other key moments as well. I'm only human! I happen to know of a few other bloggers who are in the process of reading this series as well and it makes me incredibly excited to know it's still reaching new readers after all these years. 


Lastly, I wanted to point you to Nicole over at Linus' Blanket who recently hosted the Outside the Zone edition of the always excellent Bookworms Carnival. This particular edition focused on books outside your comfort zone and it's worth heading over to check out these bloggers' experiences with books they would not normally have picked up but ended up loving


That's it for me for now. Happy reading!

April 23, 2010

Retro Friday Review: Eva Underground by Dandi Daley Mackall

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time! I include roundups from participating bloggers in my post every week.
I first read Eva Underground back in January of 2007. It had been out about a year at that point and so it's certainly  not an older book, but it is very underrepresented in my opinion. I can no longer remember exactly where I heard about it and I'm pretty sure I picked it up based on the strength of the cover alone. Take a look at that baby. Just gorgeous. And an actual scene from the book--one of my very favorite things. The fact that it was YA historical fiction set during the late 1970s in Communist-occupied Poland certainly intrigued me. You don't get many of those, you know? I had never heard of Dandi Daley Mackall before, but my library happily had a copy on the shelves so I went and checked it out immediately. And I'm still surprised at how little I see this book mentioned around the blogosphere because it's really rather lovely and a thoughtful, well-researched coming-of-age tale as opposed to an flimsy excuse to hook the main character up with a Polish hottie and gallivant across the countryside amorously. Not that I wouldn't read that book! Don't get me wrong. But, in the end, I infinitely prefer a realistic and resonant tale such as this one.


The year is 1978. Eva Lott is feeling pretty good about life in general. Her senior year is shaping up to be pretty close to perfect and she's just made the varsity swim team. Then her English professor father has to go and ruin it all by announcing that the two of them are moving. To Poland. Effective immediately. It turns out he's decided to join the underground movement and Eva has no choice but to tag along. She spends the first portion of the story coming up with increasingly far-fetched ways she can sneak back to the States or convince her father she has no business being in Poland at all. Meanwhile, her father settles in to teach his young compatriots about journalism as they work to smuggle an illegal printing press into their home in order to spread their message opposing the rampant oppression of freedom of speech and the Polish people. When Eva finds herself rubbing shoulders with political activists no older than herself, things take on a slightly different slant. And when she gets to know Tomek--one of the rebels living in the crowded house her father takes her to, Eva's perspective begins to change on so many levels it is difficult for her to take it all in and her life in Chicago seems a very far away, very tame place indeed. 


Until I read this book, I knew next to nothing about the modern-day Communist occupation of Poland. Following Eva as she leaves her home and friends in Chicago to follow her father to Poland, sharing a tiny room with him in a house full of rebels, I found myself quickly caught up. Though she initially sounds and acts like the stereotypical clueless, privileged spoiled teenager, she becomes curious and sensitive to the culture and history of her new home once the importance of what is going on around her begins to sink in. Everything about this novel unfolds slowly. So slowly that you don't at first realize how involved you've become. But it's certainly a journey worth taking. Their initial border crossing is vividly tense and chilling. You feel, along with the entire group of rebels, the suffocation and knife edge intensity of the occupation. Eva learns that sometimes life takes you by the throat and hurls you bodily into the middle of a war zone. She learns there are things in that war zone worth fighting for, that her life can be bigger than it was, that the seed of a plum can hold the spirit of a nation. And the ending is worth every page that it takes to get there. I finished it both satisfied and moved. Eva Underground is a wonderful read about a harrowing and fascinating period in history.


Linkage
And Another Book Read Review
The Book Butterfly Review

Retro Friday Roundup
Chachic's Book Nook reviews The Sunbird by Elizabeth E. Wein

April 22, 2010

Required Reading: a Love/Hate Relationship

The other day Diana Peterfreund wrote a post asking after the books you loved and hated from high school English class. This stemmed from a post over on Robin Wasserman's blog, in which she discusses the same issue. I enjoyed reading them both (along with all the comments--seriously, you should definitely go read them) so much that I wanted to do a similar thing here and post the required reading I loved and hated in high school and ask for your comments and input. Like Diana, I had a killer high school English teacher. I actually had her for almost three years and so was fortunate enough to have a sort of idyllic experience reading all of these classics. The results were an increasing love for literature and only a short list of select books I hated. But those I hated with a fiery passion. The kind you can only feel as an enraged and entrapped high school student, I think. And that hatred stands to this day. My, I can be vindictive. Yep, Thomas Hardy, I'm lookin' at you. But that does seem to be the case with many others, though my husband falls in the less fortunate category of people who had every single required book ruined for them but one. Any guesses as to which one he loved despite all his teachers' best efforts? It's not one I had to read in high school, but I have read (and loved) it since.

So here's my list, for better or worse:


The Ones I Loved
All Quiet on the Western Front
The Great Gatsby
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
A Separate Peace
A Tale of Two Cities
All the Shakespeare we read
Jane Eyre
O Pioneers!
Alas, Babylon
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Odyssey
The Catcher in the Rye
Of Mice and Men
Fahrenheit 451
Frankenstein
Pride & Prejudice
Everything we read by Edgar Allan Poe


The Ones I Hated
Jude the Obscure
A Farewell to Arms
The Grapes of Wrath
The Scarlet Letter
Gulliver's Travels


Now, I kept this list to books I was required to read for high school. It would have several more entries (The Chosen, for instance) if I included junior high, and a whole ream more if I expanded it to include the college or (heaven forbid) grad school years. But it's a good list. A list I look at fondly and remember reading the first line of A Tale of Two Cities and the last line of The Great Gatsby and the smile of satisfaction I had on my face during both. Of course, I twitch a little while thinking of the hours I spent slogging through The Grapes of Wrath and Jude the Obscure--possibly the first book I ever actually threw against the wall in disgust. But I don't regret any of it, really. Because each book enriched me. Because of  each one of them, as John Donne so eloquently put it, I am involved in mankind.

What books make your lists? And have any switched teams since you read them in high school?

April 21, 2010

The Many Covers of Sunshine

So we bloggers as a whole spend a fair amount of time dissecting cover art and the pros and cons of US vs. UK covers, hard vs. paperback, originals vs. reissues. I get just as excited as the next girl about the latest and greatest--see my angel book cover post from a few weeks back. And most books go through a handful of different covers and styles over the course of their lives, some more attractive and more accurate than others. But how often does a book go through three, say four different covers and every single last one of them are made of win? Not that often, I'm afraid. Then yesterday I ran across the newest reissue of a book I have been in love with for almost seven years--Robin McKinley's Sunshine. This book has been just extremely lucky in the cover department, in my opinion.

Here are the first two U.S. covers (hardback on the left, trade paperback on the right):
I love them both. So much. They are perfect, they're both drawn from one of my absolutely favorite scenes in the book, and they evoke the exact feelings and emotions I have when I think of Sunshine herself and the events of the story.

And here are the UK covers:
Both also awesome in their Britishy, subdued yet slightly threatening way. And both feature allusions to some subtler themes in the book.

And now here's the upcoming YA paperback reissue from Speak, due out April 29th:
Completely different in tone, I love the blood dripping off the bottom of the N and the way it seeps through the curling vines below. I'm frankly delighted that they're marketing Sunshine to YA readers now. It's a book, as I've long said, that deserves a wider audience and I think many YA readers will love it. If you've never read it before, maybe this new edition coming out in just a few days will be the perfect time to try it out. And if the cover's not enough try reading Neil Gaiman's quote on reading the book for the first time:
I woke up too early, so started reading Robin McKinley's forthcoming novel Sunshine, in the bath. It's an astonishing piece of work. A gripping, funny, page-turning pretty much perfect work of magical literature that exists more or less at the unlikely crossroads of Chocolat, Interview With a Vampire, Misery and the tale of Beauty and the Beast. It's not quite SF, and it's not really horror, and only kind of a love story, and it's all three while still being solidly Fantastique. It also does that nice thing where the author assumes the readers are smart, and she treats us like we're smart, and we purr and get smarter and work harder for all that. It'll be nominated for awards, and win them; in the meantime I really hope it finds its audience, which is, potentially, huge.
So that's not three, not four, but five very attractive, very different covers for a single awesome book. I often find myself loving Robin McKinley covers, but I don't know if anyone's ever been this fortunate with that many covers for just one book and I just thought I'd share the love. I own the top two U.S. covers because (I tell myself) I've got to have a lender copy on hand. I would be delighted to own the two UK covers, but haven't ordered them yet because of pesky shipping costs. But I can already see myself in just over a week when this latest one releases, standing in the bookstore having a conversation with myself (and my bank account) and, for some reason, I have no trouble at all picturing me walking out with the book in hand.

Do you have any favorite single-title cover collections? Even if you haven't read or loved the book, which is your favorite Sunshine cover above? (I still love that original U.S. cover with the chandelier and the deep tingles it gave me back when all I knew of the book was it was Robin McKinley taking on vampires. But I really, really love the U.S. paperback as well because it's that scene.) And do you crave ownership of single-title cover collections or are you stronger than me and able to admire the pretties from afar? 

April 20, 2010

Tangled by Carolyn Mackler

It's been a couple of years since I picked up a Carolyn Mackler novel. I started with the wonderful Vegan Virgin Valentine and enjoyed it so much I followed it up with her Printz Honor-winning The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, which I also thought was an entertaining and thought-provoking read. And while Mara from Vegan Virgin Valentine is my favorite of her protagonists, I particularly enjoyed Virginia's journey to self-possession in The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, with her "Fat Girl Code of Conduct" and her refusal to starve herself to change who she is. When I heard about Tangled, I was interested in the story of four very different teenagers whose lives become entwined and how they are changed as a result. So when I encountered the opportunity to review the book here I jumped at the chance to return once more to an author I'd enjoyed so much in the past.

Jena is on the vacation from hell. Which is ironic as she's come to an island getaway literally called Paradise. But it's not the place that's the problem. It's the people. Her normally terminally average mother is suddenly going to daily spa appointments with her rich best friend and drinking exotic drinks out of pineapples. Meanwhile, Jena is forced to "hang out" with her mom's best friend's daughter Skye and try (and fail) not to compare herself to her to a fatal degree. Skye is Jena's opposite in every way. Where Jena is short and curvy, Skye is tall and lithe. Where Jena is talkative and nerdy, Skye is remote and a budding actress. The two have less than nothing to talk about and so Jena finds herself wandering around Paradise alone wishing she were at home. Then she meets Dakota. Charming and handsome and seemingly interested in shy Jena from Topeka, Dakota is everything she longs for and is sure she can never have. Their time spent together is akin to a dream come true for Jena, though she's never quite sure if he's for real or not and how far she'll have to go to keep him. Especially with Skye swanning around looking desolate and lonely and in need of a willing body to sweep her off her feet. And then there's Owen. Owen who runs a blog called Loser with a Laptop and who prefers to interact with people online rather than in person. That way he can be snarky and cool and never have to be embarrassed by his scrawny, nonathletic build and tendency to pull out his breathalyser when things get tense. These four teens are each more precariously balanced than they realize and whether or not they will recover from the events of the summer is the million dollar question.

I'm happy to say Carolyn Mackler does not disappoint with her fifth novel. I went in not sure I was really in the mood for an alternating viewpoint story about four teens who meet on an island in the middle of the Caribbean and drama ensues. But I should have remembered how strong and true to life Carolyn Mackler's characterizations are. Each of the four stories covers the space of one month and is told from one of the youth's perspectives, going from Jena to Dakota to Skye to Owen. It was a little jarring moving from Jena to Dakota, given the way I felt about him at the end of Jena's section. But the way the reader is just dropped smack dab into the unhappy mess that is his life effectively erases any disgruntlement at the switch within a few pages. And by the end of Dakota's section I just wanted it to go on, but I was all right making the move to Skye having had the surprising experience of getting to know Dakota. But Owen's--the final story--may be my favorite. His is painful in its way (as are the others) but it also skillfully pulls them all together and hints at what the future might hold for each without detouring from the very endearing, socially challenged blogger. I read this book in a single gulp the night before last and I closed it, smiled, and went to bed happy. But I've found myself thinking about it ever since and feeling rather proud of each of the protagonists for taking control of their lives and wondering how they're doing and hoping they're happy and healthy and well.


Linkage
The Book Cellar Review
The Book Vixen Review
Lavender Lines Review
Miss Shortskirt Review
Once Upon a Book Blog Review
Steph Su Reads Review

April 19, 2010

Interview with Simone Elkeles + Perfect Chemistry & Rules of Attraction Giveaway!

When my friend Trisha went wild over Perfect Chemistry around about a year and a half ago, it didn't take me long at all to track down a copy and immerse myself in the teen drama/love/angst fest that is that awesome book. I fell in all kinds of deep and gooey love with it and recommended it right and left to friends in need of the kind of sweet and addicting read that leaves you feeling like your craving was sated in the most satisfying of ways. When I found out Simone Elkeles was writing a sequel, I joined the rest of the PC fandom in a collective, "Squee!" Rules of Attraction was released almost a week ago (my review here) and, to celebrate the event, Simone was so good as to answer a few of my most burning questions.
First things first: Were you at all surprised by what a hit Perfect Chemistry was?

Honestly, no. I can’t begin to tell you how much I loved that book from page one, and knew Alex and Brittany’s story was something special. I don’t know if this is politically correct to say, but I actually parted with my previous literary agent because she didn’t want to go out and pitch Perfect Chemistry to editors…she wanted me to work on a different book and I couldn’t let that happen. Thankfully my current agent Kristin Nelson loved the story and sold it to my wonderful editor Emily Easton at Walker Books for Young Readers who also loved it!

Did you always plan to write a sequel? How did the opportunity to write Rules of Attraction come about?

Ever since I wrote Perfect Chemistry, I thought it would be amazing to write about all three Fuentes brothers. When I sold Perfect Chemistry, though, I wasn’t sure I’d get to write a trilogy or even a sequel. When my editor Emily Easton at Walker said that fans definitely wanted a sequel to Perfect Chemistry, I was so excited. I didn’t want to have Brittany and Alex be the main characters because their story was already written – I wanted to let Carlos and Luis have their own stories. 

 I love Kiara, with her determination to master her speech impediment and her relatively “normal” family life. How did her character develop over the course of writing the book?

I think we all have insecurities and want to overcome them. I love how Kiara is not afraid to be herself. She doesn’t succumb to peer pressure – she doesn’t care to have the most expensive or stylish clothes or drink/do drugs like some of the other kids at her school. I’m also a little sick of all teens having dysfunctional families and awful parents in young adult books. What about the normal, geeky but somehow cool parents who we all know and love? I loved writing Mr. and Mrs. Westford – they’re awesome parents who I would have loved to have. Actually my parents in real life were pretty cool (but please don’t tell my mom that or her she’ll go brag about it).

I love that Kiara challenges Carlos even though she’s a little afraid of him. I’m like Kiara in that way – I love challenging people and making them think I’m one step ahead of them. I would have totally pulled the cookie magnet prank in school if I’d thought of it back in high school. I did other stupid things as a teenager, though. And no, I’m not elaborating.
How do you go about naming your characters?

I get asked that question all the time. Listen, if you were obnoxious in high school your name is somehow connected to the rude girls in my books, ha ha. My friends laugh when I say to beware of pissing me off because you just might find yourself in one of my books (although Darlene was a great friend of mine in school and she’s the mean girl in Perfect Chemistry and Madison is the daughter of my best friend and the mean girl in Rules of Attraction). I’m a girl scout leader, so I use a lot of my girls’ names in my books. I use last names of people I know most of the time or I make them up. I will also go to baby name websites and find names that I like. Sometimes I even use names off of my fan mail. My fans have some very cool names!

If you know of someone who has been rude to you, email me their name and I might use it! (I’m kidding…sort of.) I’m going to make the rude bus scheduling lady in my school district a nose-picker in one of my books at some point – not her exact name but a combination of her name. It’s rude and immature, I know.  Does any other author do this? I’m curious…

I’m particularly fond of bad boys—the kind with a certain world-weary bleakness, but with a good heart lurking underneath the edgy exterior. You’ve produced a couple of my favorites. What were your inspirations (if any) for Alex and Carlos? And do you have any favorite bad boys yourself?

I love bad boys. They’re my weakness. Find me a hot and sexy bad boy and I melt. I think it’s my “female gene” that makes me want to fix those bad boys. If I can fix a bad boy, I can fix anything! (females are natural people-fixers, in my opinion) What were my inspirations for Alex or Carlos? They really are a mixture of a bunch of boys I know or did know throughout my life… I’m totally sarcastic and “get” guys like that. And just like behind a good man you’ll find a good woman, behind most bad boys you’ll find a good heart. (Not all bad boys are redeemable in real life, but I write fiction and my bad boys are ‘curable!’)

Is there a Rules of Attraction soundtrack? Do you regularly listen to music while writing and/or plotting?

I don’t listen to music while writing, but I do have a Rules of Attraction soundtrack that will be posted on www.perfectchemistrythebook.com probably this week! Go check it out. The soundtrack for Perfect Chemistry is already posted there.
I have to ask about the book trailers. They’re both so different, yet so awesome in their own ways. How did everything come together to make them both and what were the experiences like for you as the author?

For Perfect Chemistry I wanted to do something totally different and unique. I wanted the book trailer to stand out. Then I thought about the television show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I LOVED the rap that Will Smith did in the beginning. I thought it would be hilarious to do a parody rap video as the book trailer. I hired a director and we actually held auditions with actors to do the rap. It was super fun to help write the rap (the most inappropriate parts are mostly written by me, I’m sorry to say) and to be there for the taping. I LOVED doing it. Some fans hate the rap and some think it’s hilarious and have downloaded it to their iPods. It definitely got attention

For Rules of Attraction I wanted to do something totally different. I wanted my book trailer to look exactly like a real movie trailer – with actors acting out snippets of scenes from my book. I called Pete Jones, a friend and writer/director whose screenplay Hall Pass is currently being filmed with Owen Wilson and Bill Murray and being directed by the Farrelly Brothers. I told Pete I wanted him to direct a “movie trailer/book trailer” and he said he’d do it. Pete hooked me up with producer Pat Peach with Spotlight Films in California, who did an amazing job of auditioning actors and scouting locations (among other things – the guy seriously is amazing). Each audition was emailed to me, so I was a part of the audition process even though I live in Chicago. After hiring actor Giancarlo Vidrio to play the lead high school bad boy Carlos Fuentes (I knew my fans would LOVE him) and Catesby Bernstein to play the lead heroine Kiara Westford, I still needed to find “my Alex.” It was a cameo role for the hero to Perfect Chemistry and Carlos’s brother. I knew I couldn’t settle for anyone less than “perfect.” My fans are obsessed with my Latino hero Alejandro “Alex” Fuentes. They get tattoos with Alex’s name because they’re so obsessed. I knew I couldn’t let my fans down...I needed to give my readers an Alex Fuentes that fed the fantasy of who Alex is in the book.

As I was watching the auditions and the filming date grew closer, I told Pat Peach that nobody who’d auditioned filled the bill to play Alex. He said if I could have any actor in the world to play Alex, who would it be? That was easy – Alexander F. Rodriguez from Katy Perry’s Hot N Cold music video. Talk about perfection! Both Pete and Pat told me it was a long shot. I got Alexander’s email address and emailed him. To make a long story short, I told him I couldn’t imagine anyone else making my character Alex come alive for the book trailer.

To my complete and utter shock (yes, my jaw actually dropped) Alexander emailed me back and said it sounded like fun and he was on board for the cameo role. I flew out to California for the filming, and I felt like a teenager again seeing the heroes I created come to life. To see my characters exactly how I imagined them was surreal and wonderful and crazy and...and I got so emotional when it was over and Pete Jones called “that’s a wrap!” I started crying. Of course when Pete looked over at me and saw tears running down my cheeks, he laughed and said, “Stop it, Simone. There is no crying in Hollywood.” I couldn’t help it...it’s no accident I write romance novels!

Word is it’s going to be a trilogy! What do we have to look forward to next? And can you tell us if the next book will feature the third Fuentes brother—Luis?

The third Perfect Chemistry novel will definitely be about Luis Fuentes. He’s such a good guy who doesn’t live with the angst that his big brothers have always lived with. Luis is smart, funny, and has big dreams. When he falls for the wrong girl, Luis enters a dark world he’s never known to try and save her from herself.  Just when he thinks he’s got life all figured out, Luis learns some disturbing news about his family that destroys his positive outlook on life. Will that Fuentes bad boy streak come out with a vengeance and lure Luis to live on the edge like his new girlfriend and his own father? 

And just for fun, what’s the first word that comes to mind when I say:

Alex: smexy – a new term I learned from one of my fans!
Books: relaxing
Kiara: nature
Music: escape
Carlos: tough
Writing: my life
Brittany: patient
Work: deadlines
Sexy: Alexander F. Rodriguez (the guy who plays Alex in my book trailer for Rules of Attraction)
High School: friends
YA: library
Home: safety

Thanks so much, Simone!

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And now for the giveaway! Walker Books for Young Readers has generously offered up a copy of each book along with several brand new Perfect Chemistry bookmarks to two lucky winners. All you have to do is leave a comment here telling us which book you'd like to be entered for--Perfect Chemistry or Rules of Attraction--and who your favorite literary bad boy is. The giveaway will be open for one week and will end at midnight on Monday, April 26th. I'll announce the winner the next day. This giveaway is open to U.S. and Canada addresses only. As always, please be sure to leave me a way to contact you.