BLOG TOUR: “Between the Blade and the Heart” by Amanda Hocking

Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking

SUMMARY

When the fate of the world is at stake
Loyalties will be tested

Game of Thrones meets Blade Runner in this commanding new YA fantasy inspired by Norse Mythology from New York Times bestselling author Amanda Hocking.

As one of Odin’s Valkyries, Malin’s greatest responsibility is to slay immortals and return them to the underworld. But when she unearths a secret that could unravel the balance of all she knows, Malin along with her best friend and her ex-girlfriend must decide where their loyalties lie. And if helping the blue-eyed boy Asher enact his revenge is worth the risk—to the world and her heart.

AUTHOR BIO

Amanda Hocking is the author of over twenty young adult novels, including the New York Times bestselling Trylle Trilogy and Kanin Chronicles. Her love of pop culture and all things paranormal influence her writing. She spends her time in Minnesota, taking care of her menagerie of pets and working on her next book.

Buy Links:

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Powells

Q&A with Amanda Hocking

Q: What or who was the inspiration behind Between the Blade and the Heart

A: I have already written several books inspired by Scandinavian folklore, and I was always fascinated by Valkyries. But because I had already done in Scandinavian fantasy, I wanted to come at this one from a different angle. I imagined the Valkyries helping to police a gritty, diverse, cyberpunk metropolis, in a world filled with not just Norse figures but from many mythologies.

Q: What are the life lessons that you want readers to glean from your book? 

A: That love is a strength, not a weakness.

Q: If you were given the chance to go on a date with one of your characters, who would you choose and what would you do together? 

A: Oona. She doesn’t swing that way, but since I’m married anyway, it would be a friendship date. I think it would be fun to go to an apothecary with her and have her show me around the magic. Or maybe just veg out and watch bad movies.

Q: Would the essence of your novel change if the main protagonist were male?

A: Yes, it would be changed dramatically. For one, Valkyries are women. But I also think the book explores the relationships between mothers and daughters, and friendships between young women.

Q: What is your definition of true love in YA literature? 

A: There has to be passion and desire – not necessarily anything physical, but so much of young love is about yearning. But I also think that true love is based on mutual respect and selflessness.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to be an author/start writing?

A: My biggest piece of advice is to just write. It’s so easy to get caught up in self-doubt or procrastination. There are lot of great books and blogs about the art of writing, but the most important thing is really to just do it. The best way to get better at writing is by doing it.

Q: What’s one book you would have no trouble rereading for the rest of your life?

A: It would be a toss-up between Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli and Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. I’ve read both of those books a dozen times already, at least, and I never get sick of them.

Q: How did you name your characters? Are they based on people you know in real life?

A: It’s a combination of names I like and taking inspiration from the world itself. With Between the Blade and the Heart, the names were inspired both by the mythology they come from – many Valkyries have Norse names like Malin, Teodora, and Freya, for example – and the futuristic setting of the book, so I wanted names that seemed a bit cooler and just slightly different than the ones we use now.

Q: Alright, Amanda, I know you’re a movie buff. What are some movies your characters would pick as their all-time favorites?

A: That’s a tough one. Malin – The Crow, Oona – Pan’s Labyrinth, Quinn – Wonder Woman, Asher – Inception, and Marlow – Twelve Monkeys.

Q: Which mythological character is most like you?

A: Demeter, because she’s pretty dramatic – she basically kills all the plants in the world when her daughter goes missing – but she’s also determined, and will stop at nothing to protect those she cares about.

Q: Who is your favorite character in this book and why?

A: Oona or Bowie. Oona because she’s so practical, supportive, and determined, and Bowie because he’s adorable.

Q: What is your favorite scene and why?

A: I don’t know if there is one particular scene that I loved more than the others, but I really enjoyed writing about the city that Malin lives in and all the creatures that inhabit it.

Q: What cities inspired the urban haven where the Valkyries live?

A: I was really obsessed with this idea of an overpopulated metropolis, and so I took a lot of inspiration from some of the biggest cities in the world, particularly Tokyo, Mexico City, Mumbai, and Manila. The city itself is actually a sort of futuristic, alternate reality of Chicago (one of my favorite cities in the world), and I wanted to incorporate that into it as well.

Q: What came first: The world, the mythology, or the characters?

A: I usually say the characters come first, and the world builds around it. But for this one, it really was the world that drew me into it. I knew I was writing about a young woman who was a Valkyrie, but that about all when I began building up the world and the mythology.

Q: I love that these characters are in college. What inspired this choice?

A: Because of the complex relationship Malin has with her mother, I knew I wanted some distance between them, so I thought to put her in college, living away from her mom, was a good way to do it. Plus, I thought it would be fun to explore the all the supernatural training that would be needed to do these specialized jobs that come up in a world where every mythological creature exists.

Q: What songs would you include if you were to make a soundtrack for the book?

A: This is my favorite question! I love creating soundtracks that I listen to while writing a book, and here are some of my favorite tracks from my Between the Blade and the Heart playlist: Annie Lennox – “I Put a Spell on You,” Daniel Johns – “Preach,” Halsey – “Trouble (stripped),” Meg Myers – “Sorry (EthniKids Remix),” and MYYRA – “Human Nature.”

Q: Was this book always planned as a series or did that develop afterward?

A: It was always planned as a duology. I don’t want to go into too much or risk spoiling the second book, but I had this idea that one book would be above, and the other below.

Q: Your novels and characters are so layered. How do you stay organized while plotting/writing? Do you outline, use post-it notes, make charts, or something else?

A: All of the above! This one was the most intensive as far as research and note taking goes, and I also had maps, glossaries, and extensive lists of various mythologies. I think I ended up with thirteen pages of just Places and Things. I do a lot of typed notes, but I also do handwritten scribbles (which can sometimes be confusing to me later on when I try to figure out what they mean. I once left myself a note that just said “What are jelly beans?”) For this one, I really did have to have lots of printouts on hand that I could look to when writing.

Q: You’ve said that pop culture and the paranormal both influence your writing. How do these things intersect for you? 

A: In a way, I think they’re both about how humans choose to interpret and define the world that surrounds us. So many mythologies come from humans trying to make sense of the seasons and the chaos of existence, and even though we’ve moved past a lot of the scientific questions, pop culture is still tackling our existence. Even when looking at shows made for kids, like Pixar, they handle a lot of difficult concepts, like what it means to love someone else, how to be a good friend, facing your fears, and overcoming loss. These are things that mythologies and stories have been going over for centuries.

Q: Did you choose the title first, or write the book then choose the title?

A: It depends on the book, but I will say with this one that it took a very, very long time to come up with a title. It was already written and edited, and we were still bouncing around different names.

Q: How many more books can we expect in “Between the Blade and the Heart” series?

A: One more! From the Earth to the Shadows will be out in April 2018.

Q: What scene from the book are you most proud of (because of how you handled the atmosphere, characters, dialogue, etc)?

A: I don’t want to say too much or risk spoiling it, but there’s a scene near the end of the book where a confrontation leaves Malin reeling. I wrote it in an almost present tense, stream-of-consciousness way because I thought that was the best way to capture the raw intensity of her emotions.

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Review: “Angel of Eventide” by Elle Powers

Angel of Eventide by Elle Powers

A review by Niraja.

An electronic version of this book was supplied to the reviewer by the author in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Seamus is an Angel of Death.  That is to say, he frees the souls of the dying when their time comes for them to move on to the eternal realm.  In his years of service to the dying, he has helped the elderly, folks in accidents, and children all move on.  He has performed his designed duties faithfully, trusting in the love and the story of his Da (Father). That is, until he is assigned to the drowning of a six-year-old redhead named Maren.  Instead of assisting in her death, he is overcome with emotion and saves her life.  Seamus must then decide: protect this girl and possibly become a fallen rogue, or go back and do what must be done to make things right?  But everything is not all that it seems in this eternal story of love, devotion, and acceptance.

I have yet to read any other book with a theme and story elements quite like this paranormal romance.  The book was unique to me not in its story of fallen angels or romance, nor in the theme of the divine love of God, but in the combination of the two ideas.  The story is written in the third person, which allows for us to experience the events, thoughts, and feelings from both Seamus (our Angel) and Maren (his redheaded lass).   I enjoyed being able to read each character’s perspective as this helps in understanding motives and relating to the characters.  At times the perspective would switch from one character to another and back again within the same paragraph.  This would cause me to become a bit confused and have to re-read the section. By the end of the story, I was used to it and appreciated how it could relate to the theme of a divine story that encompasses all of the world and God’s creations (angels and humanity). Seamus’s character was well defined in the story and we could see his growth, but Maren felt a little less solid to me even with the perspective switches.

Powers does a fantastic job of creating visual imagery with her words.  I was able to see scenes and visualize characters’ appearances strongly in my mind which added to the allure of the story.  There is a fair bit of angst and character growth and realization, especially with Seamus, that is common to this genre and that Ms. Powers does a great job of illustrating.  There were some conflicts that seemed to come to too simple of an end and some themes that I would have liked to see explored a bit more.  Some aspects of the ending were a bit confusing to me. However, it ends on a positive and joyful note that will be satisfying to folks who like their happy endings.  

Overall the book explores some interesting themes related to love, romance, death, and God’s eternal story and plan.  So if you like Christian romance and paranormal romance, this may be the book for you.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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Review: “Returning the Golden-Eyed Girl” by S.G. Meine

A review by Amanda.

A copy of this book was provided for free by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Amelia Pritchett, seventeen-year-old, has accidentally set off a chain of events that could have devastating consequences. She has accomplished something that no one has been able to do in thirty years. The floating city of Ixus, populated by some of the world’s wealthiest and well-connected citizens, has been silent since one of the worst pandemics swept the Earth’s surface three decades prior. There has been no communication and no sign of life on Ixus, despite the development of a vaccine and subsequent recovery from the disease. Those who attempted to travel there via shuttle have disappeared. Amelia’s friend and neighbor, Lars, is incredibly intelligent and gifted in engineering. He believes that he has found a way to take a shuttle to Ixus and find out what happened there. Amelia has promised to keep Lars secret, but something goes wrong. Amelia soon finds herself stranded on Ixus, all alone, and in more danger than she knows.

Novels with futuristic floating cities are not terribly uncommon, but this one stands out. The writing style flows easily and moves the story along quickly. Amelia is a teenage girl who isn’t afraid to speak her mind. With several brothers, she emphasizes on multiple occasions how capable she is of taking care of herself. For such a strong young woman, however, Amelia is placed in the role of damsel in distress a bit too often. There could be more depth to her character as well, but this was a good first introduction. The supporting characters have nuanced histories and well-rounded personalities. The villains of the story are not as complex and don’t appear to have any redeeming traits; it is made quite clear who the bad guys are and their motivations are transparent.

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Amelia is in need of rescuing on multiple occasions which is quite frustrating. It seems to be a common theme in many books, shows, and movies to build a woman up as strong and powerful and then break her down to be saved by someone else (usually a male). This book has good bones and is the first in a trilogy. Hopefully, we will see the characters grow and the author will allow Amelia to be the heroine that she should be. I look forward to the next book.

Content warning: attempted sexual assault, violence, gun violence

This is the debut novel from author S.G. Meine and was released in May 2017.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

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Review: “Agnes and the Hitman” by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

Review- “Agnes and the Hitman” by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

A review by Vanessa.

Cranky Agnes is a cooking columnist with an anger problem. She just wants to feed everyone she meets, write her next cookbook, and throw the wedding of the century for her goddaughter. If the men in her life would stop pissing her off, she wouldn’t have an anger problem. There is only one man she trusts, the old mobster Uncle Joey, and it’s him she turns to when a deranged dognapper shows up in her kitchen. But Uncle Joey knows why this sudden string of crazies is showing up at Agnes’s recently purchased (in need of major rehab) beautiful Southern home. So he calls the only man he can trust with Agnes’s safety: his nephew Shane, the government employed hitman.

Shane is too busy with a hit gone wrong to abandon work and rush to protect some little girl his uncle knows; but since it is the first and only time Joey has asked for help in 25 years Shane decides to honor his request. Imagine his surprise when Agnes turns out to be a cranky, comely, take-no-prisoners lady who cooks like a dream and knows how to defend herself: with her best heavy non-stick frying pan of course. Shane can tell something more is up than what Uncle Joey is willing to admit, and he is not going to leave until he can make sure that Agnes makes it through and gets everything she has earned. With an upcoming mob-wedding looming on the horizon, a ticked off rogue hitman on the loose, and the previous homeowner causing all kinds of problems, Agnes and Shane will have to work together to make it through.

As a follow up to my last review, I decided to review the follow-up collaborative novel by the Crusie/Mayer team; and as expected they did not disappoint. The excellent combination of situational humor, action, and searing romance wins again. Cranky Agnes is a totally lovable lady with a relatable dark anger simmering under the surface that makes her both multidimensional and captivating to read. She is both caring and unforgiving, with an attitude that brooks no argument but somehow still manages to inspire loyalty and support from the good people who care for her. Shane is a sturdy, reliably dependable contrast to Agnes. He is a steady, straightforward, problem fixer, which is a contrast in itself considering that Shane is a hitman.

It’s interesting to consider that he ended up in a violent lifestyle, even though his mobster uncle Joey sent him to military school to keep him away from the violent life of a killer. As per usual, the two leads are accompanied by a fascinating and varied supporting cast of characters. The old world Southern mafia is an amazing setting for the backstory, juxtaposed with Agnes’s modern world of cooking. The two blend well and make for a driving story arc that will keep the reader turning pages. The love interest between Agnes and Shane is incendiary, exploding at just the right moment and in the best way possible. Love it!

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Review: “Killman Creek” (Stillhouse Lake #2) by Rachel Caine

Killman Creek (Stillhouse Lake #2) by Rachel Caine

A review by Amanda.

I received a copy of this ebook from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

This review may contain spoilers for book one in the series, Stillhouse Lake.

Gwen Proctor, formerly Gina Royal, is on the run with her kids yet again. Her ex-husband, convicted serial killer Melvin Royal, has escaped from prison. He has help from Absalom, Gwen’s ally-turned-betrayer. Gwen has help this time as well, from someone she knows she can trust. Sam Cade, whose sister was Melvin’s final victim, is running with Gwen and the kids (fifteen-year-old Lanny and eleven-year-old Connor). Their partnership is beginning to blossom into something more, but at a glacially slow pace. Absalom continues to help Melvin track Gwen, calling to threaten and taunt her regularly, despite their vigilance with disposing of phones and staying off the grid. Eventually, Gwen decides that they need to go on the offensive and hunt Melvin before he finds them. She and Sam send the kids to stay with trustworthy friends, and the hunt is on.

Killman Creek is a creepy, thrilling page-turner that may need to be consumed in one sitting, if only to stave off nightmares. Told from various perspectives, readers get most of the story while certain characters are left in the dark. Even with that extra knowledge, the author manages to pull off surprising plot twists left and right. Gwen and Sam’s journey takes unexpected turns, including new information about Absalom and new doubts about Gwen/Gina’s innocence. Readers also get a peek into Lanny and Connor’s thoughts, which provides plenty of emotional depth.

This book will be released on December 12, 2017. I look forward to the rest of the series, especially if it keeps the intense pace of books one and two.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

We may receive a commission if you purchase through links in this post. Read our full disclosure here.

Review: “Final Girls” by Riley Sager

Final Girls by Riley Sager

A review by Amanda.

Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter and five friends rented a cabin in the woods for a birthday party getaway. Quincy is the only one who survived after a deranged killer savagely murders her friends. Surviving made her a “Final Girl”, so called by the media, as a reference to the horror movie trope where the only person to make it to the end alive is the lone female character. Lisa, who barely lived through a massacre at her sorority house; and Sam, who survived a brutal attack at the motel where she worked, are also Final Girls, grouped together despite having never met in person. Quincy has done her best to move past that horrific event. She runs a successful baking website, has a solid relationship with a lawyer boyfriend, and maintains regular contact with the officer who saved her life. A Xanax prescription keeps her anxiety at bay, and her mind has protected her further by firmly repressing her memories of the attack. Everything that she has worked for is turned upside down when she gets the call— Lisa, her Final Girl mentor of sorts, has been found dead in her bathtub in an apparent suicide. Sam shows up out of the blue, the press starts harassing Quincy again, some of her memories start to return, and things are not lining up. Is someone coming after the Final Girls? What are Quincy’s memories hiding?

Final Girls is a rollercoaster of misdirection and plot twists. Readers will question everything and everyone by the time the explosive finale is revealed. Quincy is a ball of anxiety in denial. Her reactions after the massacre seem expected for someone who has experienced trauma; she absolutely has PTSD. Her relationship with her mother is strained and Quincy is encouraged to pretend like everything is fine. Shoving those feelings away instead of dealing with them in a healthier manner may work for a short time but eventually will backfire – which is exactly what happens, in surprising ways. The story is told in alternating perspectives, going from present day and first person from Quincy’s point of view, to flashbacks to the events leading up to the cabin massacre, told in third person omniscient. This adds to the suspense, especially as readers start to wonder if there is a connection to the present day. Readers will not want to put this spooky book down, particularly if they are reading at night. It does drag a bit in the middle, but the mystery keeps going and unraveling until the very end.

There is some sexual content, graphic violence, and strong language.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars.

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Review: “Indexing (Indexing #1)” by Seanan McGuire

A review by Amanda.

Special Agent Henrietta Marchen, or Henry as she prefers, works for an agency that doesn’t officially exist, called ATI Management Bureau. Her job, and that of her team, is to prevent fairy tales from gaining a foothold in the real world. The fairy tale narrative is almost a living being, and all it wants is to bring those classic stories to life, with disastrous results. The narrative seeks people who fit the circumstances of certain fairy tales and then manipulates events to get the story to play out, only no one gets a happy ending. Dispatchers at the Bureau monitor events for signs of incursions. Henry’s team is responsible for verifying and averting whichever tale is playing out, using the valuable company Index as a resource. The team is made up of people who are aware of the narrative and what it can do, either because of a brush with it on the periphery or because they managed to avert or pause their own story.

This book is a page-turner, especially for fans of twisted fairy tales and urban fantasy. Fans of Seanan McGuire’s other works, such as the October Daye series, will recognize her quick wit and clever twists. Henry is stubborn, intelligent, and thinks outside the box. Having a personal connection to more than one narrative, she is willing to do whatever it takes to keep fairy tales out of the real world. The supporting characters are diverse people with very distinct personalities. Plotwise, the twists and turns are well thought out and unexpected. The story does continue past what was assumed to be a natural ending, and gets a bit convoluted. Hopefully that will clear up in future books. There are several character dynamics that will be exciting to explore, both romantically and otherwise. Indexing not only turns classic stories on their heads, but also skims the surface of fate vs free will, and if good and evil are really so black and white.

The first two books have been released in both paperback and ebook format.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

We may receive a commission if you purchase through links in this post. Read our full disclosure here.