Saturday, November 14, 2015

Blog Tour: HOW TO BE BRAVE by E. Katherine Kottaras (Q&A + Giveaway)

How To Be Brave
 by E. Katherine Kottaras

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication Date: November 3, 2015

An emotional contemporary YA novel about love, loss, and having the courage to chase the life you truly want.

Reeling from her mother's death, Georgia has a choice: become lost in her own pain, or enjoy life right now, while she still can. She decides to start really living for the first time and makes a list of fifteen ways to be brave - all the things she's wanted to do but never had the courage to try. As she begins doing the things she's always been afraid to do - including pursuing her secret crush, she discovers that life doesn't always go according to plan. Sometimes friendships fall apart and love breaks your heart. But once in a while, the right person shows up just when you need them most - and you learn that you're stronger and braver than you ever imagined.

1. HOW TO BE BRAVE addresses issues of positive body image. Was this something you set out to address or did it spring up organically? Is body image something you struggled with?

When I was growing up in the 1980s, I didn’t have access to the amazing body of work known as “YA literature” as it exists today. I was fairly obsessed with Sweet Valley High, but Elizabeth and Jessica were suburban twins (I’m an only child) with “perfect size-six figures,” and that was totally outside the realm of my experience.

Thankfully, I did have Judy Blume, who was bravely offering characters that worried and obsessed about their growing bodies. Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? and Blubber spoke to me about my awkward body and bullying and the need for kindness.

But for the most part, I didn’t belong in the books I read. I was the only child of a Greek father and Russian-Jewish mother who were both of peasant stock (farmers on both sides) and who owned a restaurant in downtown Chicago. I didn’t know anything about suburban high schools, about size six.

This last one was especially hard for me. When I was twelve, my pediatrician told me that I needed to lose twenty to thirty pounds, thus starting a lifelong battle with my weight. My ballet teacher told my mother I was too big too dance and she was wasting her money. I was constantly picked last in gym, alongside my BFF, who also struggled with her body. When I asked her recently what she remembered of our time as kids, she said:

“I remember our PE teachers who didn't help or guide but rather assisted with shaming by making the whole class wait for ‘free day’ until a pull-up was done (as though the situation was rooted in straight up defiance rather than inability) leading to a life-long dislike of physical activity.”

I remember those many days, feeling embarrassed and shamed by my teachers, which led to feeling more uncomfortable and awkward (as though my own self-shame wasn’t enough). By the time I was in high school, I absolutely hated my body.

I spent my twenties battling my weight. I yo-yo’d between diets and hunger and new workout trends and gyms. No matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried, I never was able to become a perfect size six – nothing even close to that – and my body retained its fullness, its roundness, its hardy, muscular, stocky, peasant stock shape. My short arms weren’t going to suddenly become lean and long. My thick thighs always remain thick. My belly likes being round, what can I say?

I fought it for so very long. And then, after giving birth to my daughter, I stopped fighting. I had to. I learned to love my body in a new way. It was life-giving. It was strong. It was mine.

So when I sat down to write my own book, I knew the character had to be several things: she had to be Greek, she had to live in Chicago, and she had to have immigrant parents who didn’t always understand her. I also knew that she would struggle with her body. BUT. I didn’t want losing weight to be central to her experience. I knew I didn’t want it to be a goal. For the longest time, it was for me. I didn’t want to do that to her.

HOW TO BE BRAVE is about a girl who has lived her life in fear and who sets out to try new things, despite her insecurities. Before her death, her mom commanded Georgia to live differently—to try everything at least once and to never be ruled by fear.

When Georgia is first creating her list, she asks her best friend, Liss:

"What about losing weight?"

And Liss responds: "You don't need to be brave to do that."

Georgia agrees, but of course, her insecurities don’t just disappear. They are always there. However, at the end Georgia finally realizes, “I’m not going to kill myself trying to achieve microscopic proportions. I’m still curvy me, and I always will be.”

Of course, there are many similarities between Georgia and me. Georgia also feels uncomfortable in her body that’s deemed “overweight” by society’s standards, and part of her storyline is that she finds confidence in her body, as it is – that losing weight does not equal being brave. This has been part of my storyline has well.

2. What's currently on your bucket list?

Here are a few things on my Do Everything Be Brave List:
  • Learn how to roller skate and/or ice skate without using the wall.
  • Ride my bike to yoga. (Bike lanes scare me!)
  • Hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon (and all the way back up, I guess...)
  • Visit every continent (I’ve only been to two.)
Here are a few brave things I've done:
  • Flown down the largest zip-line in the continental U.S. despite my fear of heights. (and gave my eight-year old permission to do so as well.)
  • Paddle-boarded during high-wind season in Hawaii.
  • Fallen in love and stayed there for more than twenty years.
  • Become a writer. I tell my students everyday: it's the scariest thing in the world.

3. How do you address body image issues with your daughter? Was that part of the drive to write this book?

Absolutely. We talk a lot about how the media often “sells” a certain body type. .” I’ve shown her Photoshopping videos like this one:

and we discuss, quite openly, how it’s unrealistic to try to change your body to meet the standards presented in magazines and on screens. I try to guide our conversation as a discussion, asking her questions about why she thinks the media represents women and girls in certain ways. We talk about how every body is beautiful, and that she is beautiful, just as she is.

4. What advice can you provide aspiring authors?

READ. A lot. Both in the genre/style you want to publish in and ABOUT writing – all aspects – the writing process, the publishing process, etc. There are hundreds of blog posts about the writing life, etc. and I read them obsessively to understand what I had to do to get published.

Also, WRITE a lot, of course. Just keep writing, no matter what, even if it’s a journal for yourself where you write a little bit everyday. And keep submitting – the rejections are difficult at first, but it gets easier.

Writing is hard and fun and frustrating and exhilirating. I can’t imagine not writing. And if you write, you understand this strange demand – it’s not a desire; it’s a necessity. Follow that call, whatever it is inside you that asks you to write - and keep writing, no matter what.

You are also a yoga instructor and practitioner. How has this influenced your writing? I am in my head, a lot. My yoga practice grounds me like nothing else. One definition of yoga is the linking of body and breath to focus the mind. I find that when I’m not doing my practice, I can’t focus and I become easily overwhelmed by my fears and my anxiety - and as a result, I can’t write. When I am doing my practice, I’m able to deal with those fears and those anxieties in a way that is healthy.

E. Katherine Kottaras is originally from Chicago, but now she writes and teaches in the Los Angeles area. She holds an M.A. in English from the University of California, Irvine and teaches writing and literature at Pasadena City College. She is at her happiest when she is either 1) at the playground with her husband and daughter and their wonderful community of friends, 2) breathing deeply in a full handstand, or 3) writing. She now lives in Los Angeles where she's hard at work on her next book.



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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Guest Post + Giveaway: How We Fall by Kate Brauning

Hello, readers! It's Kate here. I'm so happy to be here with Carmel and Kyla for my paperback release blog tour! I've got an international Goodreads giveaway and the first chapter you can read below, and then I'm talking about why I write (and read!) YA.

About the Book:

e Fall

Paperback, 304 pages
Published November 1st 2015 by Merit Press

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:                                                         
Ever since Jackie moved to her uncle's sleepy farming town, she's been flirting way too much--and with her own cousin, Marcus.

Her friendship with him has turned into something she can't control, and he's the reason Jackie lost track of her best friend, Ellie, who left one knows where. Now Ellie has been missing for months, and the police, fearing the worst, are searching for her body. Swamped with guilt and the knowledge that acting on her love for Marcus would tear their families apart, Jackie pushes her cousin away. The plan is to fall out of love, and, just as she hoped he would, Marcus falls for the new girl in town. But something isn't right about this stranger, and Jackie's suspicions about the new girl's secrets only drive the wedge deeper between Jackie and Marcus--and deepens Jackie's despair.

Then Marcus is forced to pay the price for someone else's lies as the mystery around Ellie's disappearance starts to become horribly clear. Jackie has to face terrible choices. Can she leave her first love behind, and can she go on living with the fact that she failed her best friend?

Read Chapter 1!

I’ve always had fun writing stories, and I
wrote a novel all through high school. I loved it, but it just never occurred
to me that I could write for a career. I kept on loving it, though, and in
college I decided that I loved it too much to not try. Writing YA in particularly
has really grabbed me. As an author and editor, I write, read, and edit YA books of all genres. I think the reason YA is so compelling compelling to me is that those years are a significant point of change for most of us.Teenagers are tackling adult issues for the first time—serious relationships,
jobs, shifting authority structures, new limits and opportunities—but they’re
doing it without the years of experience and often without the resources that adults may
have. It’s a vulnerable, heady, thrilling stage in someone’s life. Teens are
also adjusting to greater independence and more authority in their own lives,
but might still be dealing with limitations at odds with those things, like
curfews, not having a car, house rules, and the structures of school. YA
tackles that tension. 

The experiences we have in our young adult years are formative ones, and the mistakes and choices we make can follow us into adulthood. There’s great opportunity, uncertainty, and passion in those
years, and they leave a mark on us. I didn’t start reading YA until I reached
my twenties, and I wish I’d found it earlier—seeing so closely into the lives
of other teens who are wrestling with the same issues and struggles I was
would have been so helpful. I still find myself identifying with the characters in these stories, because people never stop struggling with change.
You don’t grow out of YA.

Since YA explores the lives of young adults, it
can cover a lot of territory. Being a teen for one person may be an entirely
different experience than being a teen is for someone else. However, dealing
with the changes and struggles that go along with being both a person and a
teenager is really what most YA explores. Independence. A changing identity. Choices that affect your future. Serious relationships. Friendships. Family. Sex. Jobs.
Those things are key to YA. And YA needs to be authentic and genuine about what it means to be that age, for that character, in that culture and situation,
because teens can identify pandering and preachy stories so easily, but also
because I think most great authors write to explore, as a way to be genuine and
interact authentically with the world. If I write a story that’s not authentic,
that doesn’t deal with real life and tough issues, I’m missing the whole point
of why I write.

A final reason I love YA is that there’s no reason not to. Teens aren’t a more simplistic or less demanding audience (I've rarely seen a more committed, involved audience), and their stories aren’t any simpler or less worthy. When I came to YA as an adult, what drew me in was the depth of these stories, and that’s what I’ve stayed for, too.

How We Fall is available through:

Author Bio:
Kate Brauning grew up in rural Missouri and fell in love with young adult books in college. She now works in publishing and pursues her lifelong dream of telling
stories she'd want to read. This is her first novel. Visit her online at or on Twitter at @KateBrauning.

 Thank you so much Kate for dropping by  and sharing the reasons 
And if you missed my review of How We Fall, you can view it here.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Review: Gabriel (The Styclar Saga #2) by Nikki Kelly

GABRIEL (The Styclar Saga #2)
Young Adult, Paranormal
Release Date:  October 27th 2015 by Feiwel & Friends
 photo addtogoodreadssmall_zpsa2a6cf28.png photo B6096376-6C81-4465-8935-CE890C777EB9-1855-000001A1E900B890_zps5affbed6.jpg
The handsome Angel from Lailah gets center stage in this continuation of Wattpad sensation Nikki Kelly’s romantic and action-packed series about mortals, vampires, and angels.

Gabriel is an Angel Descendant. He's also an ally to a generation of vampires who want to break away from the demon who controls them. His faith in the power of good over evil wavers, however, when he discovers that Lailah, the woman he considers his only true love, may be both angel and demon. Is their love enough to overcome the dark forces who are ready to go to war with Gabriel, the vampire Jonah, and the angel and vampire forces? And can Gabriel compete with Jonah, who is also in love with Lailah?

Once again, Nikki Kelly looks deeply into the heart and soul of good and evil to create a romantic, action-packed reading adventure.

(WARNING: There might be spoilers in this review but if you want to read the said spoilers, do it at your own risk and highlight the parts where I marked "spoiler". You've been warned!)

KYLA: I have been waiting for a year to read Gabriel and finally THE WAIT IS OVER. If you'd ask if the wait was worth it then I'd say yes, it definitely was. Because, duh, #TeamGabrielFTW.  

CARMEL: To be honest, I was hesitant to read Gabriel because I LOVE LAILAH (book 1) SOOO MUCH. As Kyla and I both started, the book was leading to our ship #TEAMGABRIEL. We were happy and giddy! 

KYLA: The beginning of Gabriel was pretty fun, there was action already which I love. Plus if you're on #TeamGabriel, you'll surely enjoy it. 

CARMEL: I have never been this dedicated and passionate to a pair. You have no idea how much I ship Gabriel and Lailah. For me, Nikki Kelly made the love triangle work.

KYLA: It was indeed a great YA paranormal romance novel, it did not disappoint me. I love everything about it except when Lailah (the MC) gets annoying. To clear some things, Lailah is not a horrible main character. She's just always jealous of something or someone.

CARMEL: I get where you are coming from, but it's part of Lailah's journey I guess. She's part dark and part light. There would be things that confuses her. It's all part of the story. I'm excited on where these things lead. Of course, we can't spoil the events! They would have to read Lailah and Gabriel. *whispers: read the books* 

KYLA:Well, because Lailah did something! She always does something that makes it all bad. And that's all I can say since I don't want to spoil it for you.

CARMEL: Such a tease! Whatever she decides to do whether bad or good, I don't care as long as Lailah chooses Gabriel! I won't ever give up on my OTP! I think this book is ultimately about choices. Will Lailah choose her dark side? Will the people around her support her decision or will it just divide them? This book is essential to the whole series and it should not be missed! 

KYLA: So yes, I loved Gabriel. WE BOTH LOVED IT!   It definitely had twists that blew my mind and broke my heart. YES. THIS BOOK BROKE MY HEART. I swear, after reading the book, I wanted to cry and punch someone. But I didn't do those things because I decided to focus on the brighter side of the book instead.

CARMEL: Definitely heartbreaking! Nikki, what did you do to my fragile heart?!  NOOOOOOOOO! I could not believe what I read! I was just there staring blankly. I could not react. How could you react to that?! *cries a river*

VERDICT:As usual, Nikki Kelly delivered the book amazingly. I need the third book now, Nikki! Gabriel is action-packed and fast-paced filled with twists that will blow your mind and break your heart at the same time. I definitely recommend this series to those YA paranormal romance aficionados out there! GO FORTH AND READ IT!

SPOILER: I don't if you'll cry (like I did) but here's a piece of advice to all team Gabriel out there, get your tissues ready.


Follow the Gabriel by Nikki Kelly Blog Tour and don't miss anything! Click on the banner to see the tour schedule.

About Nikki Kelly:

NIKKI KELLY was born and raised only minutes away from the chocolately scent of Cadbury World in Birmingham, England. Lailah was first launched to Wattpad, an online readers and writers community. Within six months, the novel had over one million reads. Lailah is Nikki’s debut novel, and the first book in The Styclar Saga. She lives in London with her husband and their dogs, Alfie (a pug) and Goose (a Chihuahua).

LAILAH is my debut novel, and first launched in serial form to wattpad, a readers & writers community. Within just 6months, LAILAH had over a million reads and thousands of comments and votes.

Since then, The Styclar Saga has gone on to pick up a traditional deal with Feiwel & Friends, and LAILAH, the first book in the series is due for release on October 7th 2014.
 These days I spend my time balancing my amazing job of writing fantasy fiction, with my other, very important role of Chocolate Connoisseur. I like to multitask and do the two together. It makes me happy.

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