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Reader Spotlight

Blog name: (un)Conventional Book Views
Blog URL: https://unconventionalbookviews.com/
Your name: Lexxie Lin

A nice place to start is with your blogger origin story – how did (un)Conventional Bookviews get started?

I first discovered Goodreads in 2010, and after finding some friends there, I discovered the wonderful world of blogs and blogging. It still took me until June 2nd 2012 before I jumped into creating my own little space on the Internet where I could share my thoughts and feelings about the books I read. I had no idea what I was doing at first, and changed fairly quickly from a free blog to a self-hosted blog in order to make my space as personalized as possible.

Do you have a preferred approach to writing reviews for books? Has your style evolved over the years, particularly since becoming a blogger?

I think the way a book makes me feel is really important, and I always include something about the emotions a story brought me. I also include something about the point of view, tense, what kind of narrator and things like that. I guess that comes from having a degree in English. Nowadays, my reviews are shorter than the ones I wrote in the beginning, as I want the people who stop by my blog to be able to stay for a little while reading one review, and possibly clicking somewhere else to read another. Sometimes, I like to jot down some notes in a notebook before I actually type out my full review, and I like to have one or two sentences to try to catch people’s attention at the start.

You were a round table host at BloggerCon as part of BookExpo America in 2016. Could you talk a little bit about this experience?

BloggerCon was a lot of fun! I was able to meet many other bloggers, some I had interacted with online, and others that I hadn’t ‘met’ before that. I shared the round table hosting with Kate from Mundie Moms, and our topic was about organization and time when it comes to blogging, having a family and working as well. I found it to be an enriching experience to share my own tools for keeping my blog updated, and the rest of BookExpo was fun as well. Hosting  a round table was an honor, as I feel like my blog isn’t among one of the very big blogs.

Are there particular subgenres that you prefer or find more interesting at the moment? Are there any trends that you are excited to see come or go?

I still consider myself a genre omnivore, and I love that there are more and more subgenres in romance these days. One of my favorites – apart from urban fantasy and paranormal – is romantic suspense, as that brings me the best of two worlds. When there is suspense and a little mystery added to the romance it becomes even more delicious in my opinion.

Which upcoming Romance book(s) on NetGalley are you the most excited about reading and recommending to your followers? And are there any covers on NetGalley that you’re loving?

Archangel’s Viper by Nalini Singh is one of my most anticipated books for 2017, and I can’t wait to read it. There is also Worth the Wait by Lori Foster, which I have already read, and I loved it. Some of my favorite covers these days are those that have a lot of covers, and no people gracing them, like The Calculus of Change by Jessie Hilb, or Your One and Only by Adrianne Finlay.

 

 

 

Lightning Round!

Your blog in two sentences:

(un)Conventional Bookviews is all about the books, be it paperbacks, audiobooks or e-books. I also have two original weekly features where I use quotes from recent books: Thirsty Thursday and Hungry Hearts for food or drink quotes, and Safe & Sexy where I share a quote where the sexytimes are safe, but still hot.

Your favorite two publishers for Romance titles:

Harlequin and Avon.

The one book you wish was never-ending:

The Siren – or even better, the whole Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your go-to snack(s) to eat while reading:

I don’t really snack while reading, but my favorite snack these days is cherry tomatoes with hummus.

And to finish off our interview, if you could have coffee (…or something stiffer) with any author, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?

I would love to have drinks with William Shakespeare – there is just something about the way he invented new words to make a rhyme, or how in depth his plays were during his time, and which is still something I can relate to today.

Thanks so much, Lexxie, for spending time with us and answering our questions! 

Please make sure to check out the (un)Conventional Bookviews blog and more Romance on NetGalley!

Would you like to nominate someone to be featured in our Reader Spotlight series? Fill out this form!

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Signs It’s Time To Say “Boy, Bye”

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Heather Demetrios’ latest young adult novel explores one girl’s realization that her boyfriend’s behavior has turned from attentive to abusive. Demetrios was in a similar relationship herself and knows just how common the problem is. Here, she shares warning signs that can help readers to recognize abusive behavior.

Most of the female readers I talk to who’ve read my new book, Bad Romance, tell me that the topic hits really close to home. I’m not surprised: One in three teens is affected by dating violence. Almost every single woman I know has been touched in some way by the epidemic. After spending over two years in my own bad romance, I’m pretty good at recognizing the signs. If you go to the book’s website, you’ll find tons of resources, including a quiz that will help you see if you’re in a healthy relationship or not.

In Bad Romance, my main character, Grace, falls for a boy who is charming and sweet, manipulative and cruel. She doesn’t realize that he’s bad news right away, and once she does wizen up, she’s in too deep. Here are some of the things that she gets woke about by the end of the book:

Put-downs
This is one of the ways that abusers control their significant others. My boyfriend told me I wasn’t as “deep” as him, that I was a “wet blanket.” He knew just how to hit me where it hurt. Making critical comments about your personality, appearance, intelligence, or beliefs is a major sign of abusive relationships. It might seem harmless, but over time these comments can lead to suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and generally crap self-worth.

Controlling behavior
This was something it took me a long time to notice. At first I thought my boyfriend just really loved me and wanted to be with me. Eventually I began to see that it was about power. He would insist on being given priority over my friends, control the guys I could talk to, and say which schools I applied to. Control also often turns to obsession: My boyfriend would watch me sleep at night and insist on reading my diary. He wanted me to account for my schedule, wanted to know who I ate lunch with, and who drove me home after rehearsal.

Jealousy
This one is huge. It can be so hard to see jealousy for what it is because it almost seems romantic, right? He loves you so much that he can’t bear to see you even talking to another guy because he’s so afraid of losing you. It’s the whole Edward and Bella thing. My boyfriend made a rule that we weren’t allowed to hug someone of the opposite sex. He would spy on me at work to make sure I wasn’t flirting with other guys. He brought a baseball bat on campus so that he could beat the shit out of a boy who liked me (thankfully, I was able to convince him this was a bad idea). This jealousy started out small, but grew over time. A little bit of jealousy here and there is nothing to worry about, but if jealousy plays a big role in your relationship, this is for sure something to look at. You’ve gotta watch this sign like a hawk.

Threats
This is where it starts to get serious. “I’ll kill myself if you break up with me.” “I’ll kill you if you break up with me.” “I’m going to kick his ass if I see you talking to him again.” “I’ll break up with you if you don’t have sex/go out/do these drugs with me.” If any of this sounds remotely familiar, run like hell in the opposite direction. This isn’t love—it’s about power and that other person’s severe psychological problems.

Isolation
When I first started going out with my boyfriend, I had a huge group of friends and was very social. By the end, I’d dropped several friends, had major fights with my closest one (to the point that we weren’t speaking for months), pretty much left my church, and was ditching classes I loved because my boyfriend wanted to see more of me. I had never felt so alone in my life. It felt like no one could possibly understand what I was going through. When anyone tried to tell me I should break up with him, I built a wall between us—or my boyfriend did it for me. It was a very us-against-the-world mentality, and it was lonely and terrifying.

Manipulation
It’s hard to know when you’re being manipulated, and it usually takes a long time to get hip to how your partner is manipulating you. Usually this looks like making you feel bad if you want to do something with your friends or you want to do an activity that takes you away from your partner. Abusers might make you feel like you’re in the wrong when you confront them about something or convince you that you’re imagining things when they give you the cold shoulder or punish you in some way. This always looks like your boyfriend or girlfriend not taking personal responsibility for their own feelings and actions: They will make it seem like their reactions are normal, and that they’re only acting this way because you did X or said Y. Start paying attention, especially when you know they did something uncool, confront them, and then you wind up apologizing. This is a total mind game and it’s crazy-making.

These are just a few of the signs of an abusive relationship. If you even think you might be in a bad romance, please reach out to someone you trust. Tell them what’s going on. Don’t go through this alone. You need friends, a teacher, a sibling, or a cool aunt or parent to help you through. I promise that you will find the right person someday—someone who treats you with the love and respect you deserve.

Editor’s Note: If you or anyone you know needs help further identifying or escaping from an abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) or chat with them online.

Heather Demetrios is the author of several critically acclaimed novels including Something Real and I’ll Meet You There. She is a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award and has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she isn’t traipsing around the world or spending time in imaginary places, she lives with her husband in New York City. Originally from Los Angeles, she now calls the East Coast home.

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IndieNext

Indie Next List

August edition

The American Booksellers Association has announced the selections for the August Indie Next list, drawn from the recommendations of indie booksellers throughout the US. You can request many of these titles on NetGalley right now, and view more information on the ABA site

If you are a bookseller, you can nominate titles for the Indie Next list via NetGalley, and receive special access to new galleys via the Digital White Box program. Sign up today!

Additional Indie Next titles:

The Almost Sisters: A Novel, by Joshilyn Jackson
(William Morrow, 9780062105714)

The Half-Drowned King: A Novel, by Linnea Hartsuyker
(Harper, 9780062563699)

Sons and Soldiers: The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned With the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler, by Bruce Henderson
(William Morrow, 9780062419095)

The Talented Ribkins: A Novel, by Ladee Hubbard
(Melville House, 9781612196367)

Beast: A Novel, by Paul Kingsnorth
(Graywolf Press, 9781555977795)

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K.A. Tucker’s Favorite New Adult Romance

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

K.A. Tucker’s latest new adult romance is the perfect summer read (we named it one of the best of the season). It follows Catherine, a 24-year-old mom and waitress, who saves the life of Brett, a hockey star. Catherine doesn’t want any fame or attention, but she can’t help her attraction to Brett, who is determined to learn more about the woman who rescued him. To celebrate the book’s publication, Tucker shared five of her favorite new adult romances. Check these out once you’re done reading Until It Fades.

Five of my favorite contemporary romance books are stories written by ladies with strong, identifiable voices and the ability to weave stories that bring to life not only profound romances but multifaceted characters. Here they are in no particular order.

God-Shaped Hole is the destined-for-tragedy love story about two lost, artistic souls finding each other in LA, a city which they both abhor. Tiffanie DeBartolo has a personal way of writing. Her words flow fluidly and honestly, and her main characters feel real in all their peculiarity. This story gripped me from the very first pages.

This is a classic story about two people with tragic pasts finding each other and love, but with a twist: Archer cannot speak and is somewhat of a social pariah in his small town of Pelion, Maine. Mia Sheridan’s writing always enthralls me. She writes with emotion. Her stories are well-developed and beautiful, her prose is poetic, and the romance is jump-off-the-page sensual.

It Ends With Us tells the story of florist Lily, who meets and falls in love with charming and gorgeous neurosurgeon, Ryle. Their relationship seems picture-perfect… until it isn’t. I can’t say much more without giving too much away, but I will say that it puts readers into the shoes of a very real and difficult situation that many people struggle to make sense of.  It’s a sobering tale, but it’s delivered in Colleen Hoover’s signature style, laced with comfort and brimming with her inimitable humor.

This is a darker love story about the cunning Olivia Kaspen, who uses her ex-boyfriend’s amnesia as an opportunity to rekindle their romance, despite the fact that he has moved on. Olivia is not the most redeeming character and she does some despicable things, but you find yourself rooting for her all the same. I credit that to Tarryn Fisher’s writing; it evokes emotion and deep consideration for human nature. This is a book I read years ago, and yet I have never forgotten the visceral feeling I was left with at the end.

This novel tells the story of two characters—thirty-year-old tutor Anna Emerson and sixteen-year-old T.J. Callahan—who end up stranded on an uninhabited island for years after their plane crashes. Don’t let the age difference deter you from trying out this book. Tracey Garvis-Graves strings readers along at a painstakingly slow pace and in an honest way, allowing them to experience the growth between these two characters as they face the many challenges of their situation and, over time, as T.J. matures into a man.

K.A. Tucker writes captivating stories with an edge. Her books have been featured in national publications including USA TODAYThe Globe and MailSuspense Magazine, and Publishers Weekly. She currently resides in a quaint town outside Toronto with her husband and two beautiful girls.

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Lamp

Reader Spotlight

Blog name: She Treads Softly
Blog URL: http://www.shetreadssoftly.com/
Your name: Lori Lutes

A nice place to start is with your blogger origin story – how did She Treads Softly get started?

She Treads Softly originally started as a result of an online group for award-winning books that I began participating in at the end of 2006. The group book discussions were originally conducted through an email group until it was decided that it would be nice if our reviews/thoughts were also written down and shared on blogs. Some people left the group over this radical decision, but I decided to give blogging a try.

Your blog celebrated its 10th anniversary this year – congratulations! Can you talk a little bit about your preferred approach to writing reviews for books? Has your style evolved over the years?

My original reviews were simple, short thoughts about books interspersed with other non-book posts. After trying several different styles over the years, I am pleased with my current approach and have stuck with it for several years now. I like to open with a header providing the important information for a reader: title, author, publisher, publication date, number of pages and ISBN-13. I follow this with a short synopsis, hopefully spoiler-free, and then I give my thoughts on the book. I dearly love including quotes, and often remember (and quote) sentences and phrases from books, but since I am usually reviewing advanced reading copies now I have to forego them (unless I can’t help myself). Hopefully I provide some substantial, thoughtful insights that will help another reader decide if the book is a good fit for them. After flirting with giving stars at one time, I’m much happier with my current rating system: very highly recommended, highly recommended, recommended, so-so, not recommended.

Are there particular subgenres that you prefer or find more interesting at the moment? Are there any trends that you are excited to see come or go?

I’ll acknowledge that I am always ready for dystopian fiction and a good plague or virus book, fiction or nonfiction. I am ready to bid adieu to vampires; along with all blurbs saying: This is the new Gone Girl, or The Hunger Games, or The Girl on the Train. They are all great books but the comparison puts the new release at a disadvantage.

Do you have any advice for book bloggers who are just starting out?

What I’d suggest will probably be the polar opposite of what others recommend people do for a successful blog. For me, it’s about the book reviews and your thoughts.

For years I read and followed a large number of book blogs, but as more and more of them became concerned with posting something, anything, daily, I stopped reading them. I was reading them for their book reviews, but when the extraneous content overwhelmed the reviews, I stopped reading the blogs. I have a busy life and read books, not blogs, for pleasure. If you have a book blog, I read it for your book recommendations only.

So my advice would be for someone with a book blog to consistently blog their thoughts about the books they have read and keep the extra chatter to a minimum. It’s okay with me if you don’t post daily. If you are a book blog, keep to your brand; it’s all about the books.

Which upcoming Fiction book(s) on NetGalley are you the most excited about recommending?

The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker (9/5/17); Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (10/3/17); The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg (11/21/17) and the short stories in Bad Kansas by Becky Mandelbaum (9/15/17).

 

 

Lightning Round!

Your blog in two sentences:

At She Treads Softly I review all the books I read. I enjoy reading a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction.

Your favorite character in a book or series:

First, I can never just do one of anything and can be a rule breaker. This gets worse as I get older. My heart will always be tender for: Emilio Sandoz in Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow (1996); Elaine Risley in Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye (1988); and the Tull family in Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982).

Book you’d like to see made into a movie or tv show:

I recently read You’ll Never Know, Dear by Hallie Ephron and thought that it would actually make a good movie because it is a mystery that could be very creepy visually (a doll maker and a huge doll collection is involved in the story).

Your favorite two authors for Fiction titles:

Oh dear, another restriction that makes my head hurt. I love Margaret Atwood, Joshilyn Jackson, and, more recently, Fredrik Backman – but there are so many others that I adore and now have left out.

And to finish off our interview, what is the last book that made you smile?

I smiled during Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan and Theft by Finding: Diaries by David Sedaris. I flat out laughed aloud with tears in my eyes while reading Nuclear Family: A Tragicomic Novel in Letters by Susanna Fogel.

  

Thanks so much, Lori, for spending time with us and answering our questions! 

Please make sure to check out the She Treads Softly blog and more Fall Fiction on NetGalley!

Would you like to nominate someone to be featured in our Reader Spotlight series? Fill out this form!

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Jill Dawson on Her Fascination with Patricia Highsmith

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Jill Dawson is fascinated by Patricia Highsmith—though, let’s be honest, who isn’t? While the rest of us merely read Highsmith’s novels over and over, Dawson decided to do a bit more research into the life of this mysterious author. The things she learned helped to shape her new novel The Crime Writer. It’s a fictionalized tale that images Patricia Highsmith’s life while she was living in England in the 1960s. Nothing is what it appears to be in this quiet village, and Pat soon finds herself wrapped up in a psychological thriller that seems ripped from the pages of her own novels. Here, Dawson shares what she learned about Highsmith’s time living in England and how it helped to inspire The Crime Writer.

Many people—I was among them—are surprised to discover that novelist Patricia Highsmith lived in England. It’s incongruous somehow: a hard-drinking, smoking, independent Texan writer like Highsmith living in a village as small and inconsequential as Earl Soham in Suffolk. I discovered this from her biography. Having just finished reading The Talented Mr. Ripley, I was thrilled to discover that for three years in the 1960s she’d lived not very far from me.

Highsmith chose the village of Earl Soham—a rural area in the east of England—because it would be good for working “due to [its] extreme English quietude.” It was close to the home of her friend, the nature writer Ronald Blythe. But her real reason for wanting to be there was simple: Highsmith was in love, wildly and as never before, with a married woman. The cottage, she believed could be a secret love nest, the perfect distance from London, where she could invite her girlfriend to stay with her, away from prying eyes.

Of course I couldn’t wait to go there and see the cottage she’d lived in: Bridge Cottage. I found a book of Highsmith drawings where the interior of the cottage is lovingly sketched—(Highsmith was a talented artist, as was her mother). The cottage, roses curling round the door, little stream in the garden, is pretty much unchanged, though the current owners seem unaware of its famous former owner (they run it as a guest house these days). Highsmith bought it in 1964 for the sum of 3,500 UK pounds.

It was her habit to move somewhere inspirational, write for a while using where she was living as a setting, and move on. So she set her novel The Storyteller (published in England as A Suspension of Mercy) in Bridge Cottage, and it made sense for me to use it as a setting too for my novel, The Crime Writer. I couldn’t help thinking that Highsmith would not escape the various demons that pursued her and had fun dreaming up ways that the tropes of her fiction (stalkers, murderers and sexual obsessives) might follow her to the English setting.

Seeing the 17th-century Bridge Cottage and thinking of Highsmith living there, my mind teemed with stories. What would Highsmith make of such a typical English village? In her day there would have been two pubs (now just one); I went into The Victoria to check it out and immediately realized what a strong impression a woman, a stranger, made going into a pub on her own in such a small place. And this in 2015! What would it have been like for Highsmith to drink alone there in 1964? Her idea of being incognito was ridiculous: The locals would have been agog with the scandal and drama of having a famous writer in the village. Whether her sexuality was known is a moot point. Highsmith was highly private, and her only lesbian-themed novel, Carol, had been published under a pen name as The Price of Salt. Highsmith did not put her name on the cover until 1995.

The frustrations Highsmith clearly felt at her girlfriend’s refusal to leave her marriage caused her pain, but on the other hand loneliness, longing, and being in love were states that suited her. Highsmith wrote in her diary that without a lover “I cannot develop as a writer any farther, or sometimes, even exist.”

I contacted author Ronald Blythe. Now 95, he still lives in Suffolk, and agreed to talk to me about Highsmith. He told me that they had shared “grim sandwiches” in local pubs and he had showed her churches and architecture, and she had in return cooked him the occasional supper at Bridge Cottage. “She wasn’t at all a good hostess,” Blythe said. “It was obvious she wanted her life back to herself, to go back to her typewriter and work.”

Despite Highsmith’s famously difficult personality, Ronnie spoke affectionately of her and in a postcard he wrote that their friendship had been “tender and true.” I tried to be faithful to that, as I wandered around Earl Soham, always picturing Patricia Highsmith moseying around, doing the same: walking, taking notes, and making up stories.

Jill Dawson is the author of Trick of the Light, Magpie, Fred and Edie, which was short-listed for the Whitbread Novel Award and the Orange Prize, Wild Boy, Watch Me Disappear, which was long-listed for the Orange Prize, The Great Lover, and Lucky Bunny. She has edited six anthologies of short stories and poetry, and has written for numerous UK publications, including The Guardian, The Times, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar. She lives in Norfolk with her husband and two sons.

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Librarian's Choice

Librarians' Choice: top 10

Librarians’ Choice has announced the Top 10 titles for July 2017 that librarians across Australia love. You can request or wish for the featured titles below on NetGalley right now, and view more information on the Librarians’ Choice site.

If you are a librarian in Australia, you can nominate titles for the Librarians’ Choice list via NetGalley!

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NetGalley Author Interview: Gabe Hudson

Watch our author video interview, “15 minutes with… Gabe Hudson,” now! Here, we talk about his debut novel, Gork, The Teenage Dragon, staying in the science fiction genre and where the world of Gork is going next! You don’t want to miss this interview brought to you by NetGalley, Meryl Moss Media and BookTrib.com.

Gork, the Teenage Dragon

Request It!

Pub Date: July 11, 2017
Sci Fi & Fantasy, Teens & YA
Published by Knopf

See More of Their Titles

Gork isn’t like the other dragons at WarWings Military Academy. He has a gigantic heart, two-inch horns, and an occasional problem with fainting. His nickname is Weak Sauce and his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious—the lowest in his class. But he is determined not to let any of this hold him back as he embarks on the most important mission of his life: tonight, on the eve of his high school graduation, he must ask a female dragon to be his queen. If she says yes, they’ll go off to conquer a foreign planet together. If she says no, Gork becomes a slave.

Vying with Jocks, Nerds, Mutants, and Multi-Dimensioners to find his mate, Gork encounters an unforgettable cast of friends and foes, including Dr. Terrible, the mad scientist; Fribby, a robot dragon obsessed with death; and Metheldra, a healer specializing in acupuncture with swords. But finally it is Gork’s biggest perceived weakness, his huge heart, that will guide him through his epic quest and help him reach his ultimate destination: planet Earth.

A love story, a fantasy, and a coming-of-age story, Gork the Teenage Dragon is a wildly comic, beautifully imagined, and deeply heartfelt debut novel that shows us just how human a dragon can be.

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Marcus Sedgwick on Borders, Ageless Characters, and Saint Death

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Whether you’re new to Marcus Sedgwick or a longtime fan of his work, you’ve likely heard the buzz around his newest novel, Saint Death. It tells the story of Arturo, a young man living near the US-Mexico border. When an old friend shows up, begging for help after stealing from a violent gang, Arturo must decide if he’ll risk his own life to save his friend’s. All the while, the boys are watched by Saint Death. Here, Sedgwick chats with Bookish about his new novel, mortality, and choices.

Bookish: Can you take us through the research process for this book? Did you know much about Juárez before you decided to start writing about it?

Marcus Sedgwick: Although the book is set in Mexico, the idea behind it began when I saw firsthand migrants and refugees on the French coast, trying to get into the United Kingdom. A long series of reasons (which you can read in full here) made me realize that the story I wanted to tell would be better played out on the Mexico-US border. I knew a bit about Mexico; I knew very little about Juárez aside from where it was. So there was a lot of research for the book. I relied a lot on a friend of mine, a young Mexican academic and writer, who had first introduced me to the emerging folk saint: Santa Muerte. Obviously, I read a stack of books, not just about Mexico but countries to the south, and accounts of the US side of the border too. There were newspapers and magazine articles, not just about Juárez, but about things like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Santa Muerte, and so on.

It quickly became apparent, however, that some very basic facts were hard to come by–the reason being that the non-Mexican press doesn’t report from on the ground in a place like Juárez, and the Mexican press is unable to, because to do so will very often cost the journalist his or her life. Upsetting a narco-lord is a dangerous thing to do. Even to find out which cartel is currently “in charge” of Juárez was tricky–I found some answers by following a number of (anonymous) blogs by people living either side of the border. After about 18 months, I was finally able to make a trip to the city, and visit both Juárez and Anapra (the township just to the northwest of the city, where the book begins) in the care of two very different guides. Both were from the city: I spent some time with an oldish guy called Sergio and then, later, a younger man called Roberto. Each had a very different view of what was happening in Juárez; but it was Sergio’s testimony that I found closer to reality. I could go on, but this is getting long…

Bookish: Can you talk about your decision to write the novel in the Spanish style, using em dashes instead of quotation marks, and Spanish punctuation? As a writer, was it challenging to adapt to a new style?

MS: I wanted to signal to the English-speaking reader in a subtle(ish!) way that we’re in a Spanish-speaking world. Conversely, I didn’t want to italicize the words of Spanish that I include in the book, because this is Arturo and Faustino’s world, and Spanish is their language. But here’s the thing: All of fiction is artificial. People sometimes make the mistake (I think) of believing that realistic fiction is in some way actually real. What fiction has to do is tell the truth, but everything about a novel is actually a construct of some kind, especially dialogue. So in Saint Death I use a false construct of dialogue that is designed to suggest (paradoxically) both familiarity and otherness at the same time.

Bookish: The word “our” is used frequently in the prose, written to include the reader in this journey. It’s our town, our heartache, our fate. Why did you make that choice?

MS: Yes, you’re absolutely right, it’s a deliberate choice to include the reader in the world. One of the thoughts in the book is the belief that no matter how much we might be tempted to see the world as them and us, it’s just not true. Call it globalization or internationalism, the world we live in now is a connected one, and all our actions affect everyone, ultimately. This is why I chose the preface for the book, taken from a book by Charles Bowden: “This book is about other stories, that occur over there, across the river. The comfortable way to deal with these stories is to say they are about them. The way to understand these stories is to say they are about us.”

Bookish: In some ways, this book is about choices: What do we do at the crossroads, for ourselves or for others? It’s also about inevitability: “Don’t worry where you’re going; you will die where you have to.” What was the hardest thing about balancing these two elements?

MS: Yes, you’re right, both these things were in my mind as I wrote, but I like to balance opposites in my books, so it wasn’t too hard to do. One of the things that lies underneath lots of my books is trying to show that life is full of opposites–and that very often sanity lies in the position of balance, rather than extremes. As you say, there’s also the concept in the book of bridges–both literally (in terms of the border crossings) but also metaphorically– representing those moments when we move from one thing to another. The book features some thoughts of Carl Jung (hidden in the character of Carlos)–Jung saw the number five as symbolizing the bridge. Five is halfway from one to nine, after all, so I used the number five a lot in the book. Jung also wrote a lot about transformations, so there are many oppositional transformations depicted, most notably in the chapter called “Arturo’s Dream.”

Bookish: We never find out exactly how old Arturo is. He shows incredible maturity at points, but then we’re reminded through other characters that he is young, not a kid, not quite a man yet. Why did you choose to not disclose his age?

MS: I have always resisted the belief that we need to give a precise age to our characters. Obviously sometimes it’s necessary, but mostly I don’t think it is. I could write an essay about this deceptively simple question, but I’ll try to keep it short! For one thing, it’s not necessary to know exactly how old Arturo, Faustino, and Eva are; we know they’re young people, not little kids, on the way to being adults. There’s a concept called “masking” in the comic book world which argues that an illustrative style that shows characters’ faces more simply (and less “realistically”) enables the reader to project themselves into the shoes of those characters. In addition, I don’t think someone’s age is the most interesting thing about them, it’s enough to have a rough idea. In the same way, I rarely give much physical description of how my characters look–how someone looks is again (very often) the least interesting thing about them. What makes people people, and what makes characters become real, is seeing what they think, what they say, how they interact with others, and so on. In Arturo’s case, I often find young people in difficult situations show unbelievable maturity—because they have to—but then again, he is still just a kid, after all.

Bookish: Santa Muerte never speaks or takes corporeal form, but she is a character in this book—one that is awed, feared, and respected. Were there challenges to writing characters, like Arturo, who are constantly aware of their own mortality?

MS: There’s a long relationship with Death in Mexico, stretching way back to the form of worship of the Aztecs and so on. In the modern world, we have the Days of the Dead, the worship of Santa Muerte (small but rising rapidly) and the image of Catrina (depictions of a pretty, skull-faced lady). Some people argued that it’s because Mexican people are less afraid of Death, some that it’s because they’re more afraid of Death. Whatever the truth of that, it’s certainly the case that Mexico has a more open dialogue with Death than many other cultures. So I found it “fun” (because I like thinking about Death) to have my characters pondering mortality, which is a common enough thing in a violent world, as well as having Santa Muerte drifting in and out of the book, and their lives. By the way, if you want the best account of this subject, I recommend Death and the Idea of Mexico by Claudio Lomnitz.

Bookish: This novel tackles a number of complicated topics (everything from American-funded cartels to immigration to environmental change), but it never feels overstuffed. How did you go about weaving these together without overwhelming the story or the reader?

MS: It was important to me that the book was more than just a tragedy set on the border. I wanted the reader to have a sense at least of the context of events which is causing problems in these areas, because I want the reader to get the sense that we will be seeing many more such flashpoints around the world (and often close to home) unless we start to take a radically different view of how the world should be composed. In order to do that successfully in a traditional manner, I would have had to write a book that was five times as long, and which probably very few people would have read. Instead I used a sort of Greek chorus of small (less than one page) chapters, which are interspersed between the main chapters of the book: These offer a range of views about all sorts of things that have and are affecting the borderland.

Bookish: We see two figures being referred to as kings in this book: Jesus and Arturo. Is that because you see Arturo as a Christ-figure or more because Jesus represents the humanity in God?

MS: I had a long conversation with someone about this when the book first appeared in the UK. Her view was that the book could either be read as a condemnation of the idea of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, or, in fact, an endorsement of it. I agree with her view. I called Arturo the King because of the decisions he is faced with taking, but I cannot say more without giving away very large spoilers!

Bookish: Siggy says to Arturo at one point, “You are at the hardest point of all. You are not a kid. You are not a man. You are somewhere in the middle.” What do you think it is that makes life so difficult when you’re at that point?

MS: Being a teenager is a pretty intense experience for most people. For some it’s a breeze, yes, but for many more people it’s a crazy time in which your body changes, your mind changes, in which you almost literally become a new person. It’s also accompanied by lots of new thoughts and experiences: things like sex, thoughts about mortality maybe. This time of life is that bridge I was talking about earlier—it’s the bridge between childhood and adulthood. And the kind of adult we become is very dependent on how we survived our teenage years. I believe many adults neglect that fact, intentionally or otherwise, but if we are really to understand who we are as adults, we can do no better than see how we got there.

Bookish: The book explores one of the reasons for the refugee crisis, while also explaining that natural disasters (resulting from climate change) will cause more displacement in the future. What is a resource that you recommend for readers wanting to educate themselves about these problems, and get involved in finding solutions?

MS: I guess I’m not alone in feeling that the world is in an especially fine mess at the moment. It can feel hopeless and as a result, it can feel depressing. But I think that ironically it also means we are in a time when it might be possible to change things. If you look at how close the elections in the US and the UK last year were, how close the French election is turning out to be, a couple of percent either way can make all the difference. Even if you’re not old enough to vote yet, you can have conversations with people who are; engage them, debate with them. I think part of the reason we’ve come to this place is that too many people haven’t been engaged with politics (in the broadest sense of the word). Now, we’re seeing a rise in membership and grassroots funding of organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), to give just one example; an example that shows that people are realizing not only that we have to try and make a difference, but that we can, too. To do that, we have to educate ourselves: read quality newspapers and join organizations like Amnesty International, and so help them raise funds; or in the case of climate change, follow the work that NASA has been doing. There are lots of good sources for news about the climate and theirs is among the best.

Marcus Sedgwick was born and raised in Kent in South East England, but now lives in the French Alps. His books have won and been shortlisted for many awards; most notably, he has been shortlisted for Britain’s Carnegie Medal six times, has received two Printz Honors, for Revolver and Ghosts of Heaven, and in 2013 won the Printz Award for Midwinterblood.

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IndieNext

Indie Next List

Indies Introduce

Summer/Fall Indies Introduce Debut Picks of the Season

The American Booksellers Association has announced the selections for the Summer/Fall Indies Introduce Debut Picks of the Season list, drawn from the recommendations of indie booksellers throughout the US. You can request many of these titles on NetGalley right now, and view more information on the ABA site. 

If you are a bookseller, you can nominate titles for the monthly Indie Next list via NetGalley, and receive special access to new galleys via the Digital White Box program. Sign up today!

Additional Indies Introduce titles:

A Kind of Freedom, by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
(Counterpoint, 9781619029224)

The Glass Eye: A Memoir, by Jeannie Vanasco
(Tin House, 97819410407750)

The First Rule of Punk, by Celia C. Pérez
(Viking Books for Young Readers, 9780425290408)

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 9780316508889)

An Enchantment of Ravens, by Margaret Rogerson
(Margaret K. McElderry Books, 9781481497589)

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