Tag Archives for " young adult "

Feb 23

Author Interview: Alica McKenna-Johnson

By Melinda VanLone | Book Review , Interview

Instead of my normal 50/50 update, today I have something special: an interview! I’ve asked Alica McKenna-Johnson to join me in my little corner of the intrawebs to talk about her new book, Phoenix Child, which debuted on Amazon a few days ago. In case you haven’t read it: Sara’s dream is to find her family, but she doesn’t count on discovering magical creatures or catching on fire. On her fourteenth birthday a surprise inheritance changes her appearance, abilities, and identity. Welcomed into the family of the Phoenix, she is taught to use her new powers. Will Sara embrace being a Child of Fire, or will the evil that killed her parents destroy her as well?

First line: “Alien abduction? Extreme makeover? Witch’s spell?

Something had to explain the changes that had happened to me overnight. Even the doctor Melanie dragged me to had no idea what happened to me, but apparently I was in perfect health. I barely managed to stop myself from demanding to see his diploma. How was it possible to wake up looking completely different and be in perfect health? I looked down at the coppery tint which appeared this morning on my tanned skin. Stupid doctor.”

Imagine waking up looking completely different! This was enough to keep me reading, for sure. I’m curious about stuff like that. Maybe even a little jealous. Let’s face it, I’ve probably dreamed of having something out-of-this-world-magical happen to me. It’s why I like reading so much.

OK, enough stalling. It’s time to get to know the author!

First, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about Phoenix Child. You must be so excited! It looks like the cover is original artwork. How did the cover come to be?

The lovely Alica McKenna-Johnson, author of Phoenix Child

My hubby designed and painted the cover. He’s of course spent countless hours listening to me plot, vent, and re-revise my book so he had a clear image in his head.

What made you start writing stories down after so long in other careers? (30 years…that’s a long time to deny a passion.)

Honestly I had no idea I was creating stories. As long as I can remember I would day dream—while walking, doing chores, falling asleep, etc. It never affected my school work, so I’m not even sure anyone else ever knew I went around with stories fluttering through my head.

It wasn’t until my sister introduced me to fan fiction that I ever thought about writing anything down. Then one day a ‘what if’ popped into my head and just didn’t go away until I wrote it down, then another chapter, and another, and 83 chapters and over 2000 reviews later I was hooked on writing and started working on Phoenix Child.

What was your inspiration for this particular story?

I wish I could say it was some magical mystical moment, but really I think I was reading a story about Selkie, and how the men would go and seduce human women and then couldn’t come back for seven years. And I thought “I bet that’s a lie, I bet they can come and go as they please, they just say that so they don’t have to commit.” It got me wondering what if  (doesn’t every book start with a what if question) other magical creatures could turn into humans, and what if they had children with human women? Would the babies have powers? I just played with that for a long time until I came up with the premise for Phoenix Child: 4000 years ago the Phoenix King married a human woman, and Sarah is their most powerful descendant.

When you aren’t writing, what do you like to do? 

It seems like all I ever do is write, but when I get away and I’m not working I love to watch movies with my hubby and kids. Go for hikes. I have a friend I go to the gym with. And of course reading—especially if I’m alone in the house.

What’s your favorite movie? 

ACK!!! I could never pick just one! Sci-fi: The Fifth Element. Rom-Com: Love Actually. Horror: The Lost Boys. Muppet: Muppet Treasure Island. Bollywood: Om Shante Om. Anime: Spirited Away.  Those are what popped into my head first.

What’s your favorite book and why?

Are you trying to kill me?

No, of course not *looks away with shifty eyes*

A favorite book. There are so many! I love classics like Tom Sawyer; books from my Childhood like Island of the Blue Dolphins; ones that made me cry like Harry Potter (especially the last ones); ones that hurt my brain like Wicked. Anything by Janet Evanovich will have me cracking up in public. I love Sherrilyn Kenyon but I prefer to read those alone because it’s steamy stuff. The newest one I’m obsessed over is one that’s not out yet. My friend, Mary, is writing the most amazing story. I can answer questions about the previous chapter faster then she can—it’s a bit scary.

I love them because I can get lost in them. I fall into the books and into the characters. I know what they are going through and I go through it with them. That’s what I need from any book, to get sucked into a new world.

I will admit, because I have so many writer friends that I purposely picked authors I don’t know, so no one would get mad at me that I left them off my list.

Probably a wise choice. I don’t want to be responsible for starting any writer feuds! So, what book are you reading now?

I’m reading Treasure Island to the kids and The Stream: Discovery by Bill Jones JR, for me.

You say in your bio that you (or your characters) eat exotic foods. What’s the strangest food you’ve/they’ve ever eaten, and how did it taste?

Oh, I can’t get too strange because I’m a vegetarian, as are most of my characters, so no intestines or tongue. I have drunk wheat grass juice. Is that weird? It tasted like fresh cut grass smells. It’s supposed to be super good for you, but yuck! I love ethnic foods and my characters rarely eat the same thing twice in a book because there are so many wonderful things to try (or have them try.)

Here’s something fun: in the next book they are in Argentina and Peru. I couldn’t find an Argentinian restaurant, but I did find a Peruvian one and went to eat there. It was fun. They eat lots of potatoes and they have this fruit and corn drink called Chicha; very yummy.

What do you mean by “diverse characters”?

I love colorful, interesting people. And I try to make each character as unique and individual as I can. Honestly, I’m a pervy middle-aged woman, and  I adore looking at beautiful people of all nationalities. I tend to have characters from different ethnic backgrounds, frequently from the country themselves. In Phoenix Child, I have a first generation Korean boy, a boy from Zimbabwe, a woman from India, and characters of Mexican and African American and Native American decent.

I also have people with different religious backgrounds, and gay/lesbian characters. I’ll try different backgrounds or lifestyles as long as I feel like I can do enough research to create an honest, strong, realistic character.

Is there a specific message you hope readers will get from reading this story?

I want them to know being unique is beautiful, that they aren’t alone, that life sometimes really sucks, but if they hang in there and accept and fight for who they really are they will be all right. I want my readers to see themselves in my characters and feel inspired.

That’s a great message, and one that bears repeating as many times as it takes for it to sink in. So, what’s next?

I have finished book 2 (no title yet). It’s going through my critique group, then editing and revisions (sobs).  I’m working on an adult Paranormal Romance: Poltergeist meets Ghosts Adventurers with romance. And I’m plotting out the rest of the Phoenix Child series. So far it looks like 8, possibly 9, books. I better get to typing!

Sounds like it! Thank you so much for stopping by, Alica!

If you haven’t already downloaded Phoenix Child, click here. If you have, and you loved it, please let her know by leaving a review on Amazon. A sentence or two is all it takes to show you care and make an author’s day. It won’t hurt, I promise. 

For more information on Alica, or just to check up on her and see what she’s up to, please visit her website: http://alicamckennajohnson.wordpress.com/

Every author needs a little love!

Jan 04

Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns and The Code

By Melinda VanLone | Book Review , Movie Review

Ah, 2012! So young, so full of hope. I made a list of things I hope to accomplish. Goals. Resolutions. I was going to share them here, then realized as I read everyone else’s resolutions how mine fall far short, and I was already feeling like a failure. So, I did the one thing on my list I knew I could handle. I started my 50/50 challenge! Yes, I’ve already read one book and watched one movie in 2012!

To be perfectly honest, I had already started the book at the end of December, but I hadn’t finished it. The movie was brand new to me; I’d never even heard of it before. It’s a good start to a year-long challenge, I think. Of course I have to share my opinion, because otherwise there would be no proof that I read/watched a thing, right?

My first entries of the 50/50 challenge:

Book: The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson.

This isn’t the type of book I’d usually like. Sure, there’s magic, of a sort, which in general I love. Sure, there’s a female protagonist. And yes, she’s chubby and has a love for food with which I profess a personal kinship. But mostly this is about a war, and a coming of age (what else would you expect in a YA novel?). I generally avoid reading about war, no matter what form it takes. I’m not a big George R.R. Martin fan, in other words. Not to mention it’s in present tense which I usually hate. However, all that said…this story fascinated me beyond my ability to understand why. I liked the quite literal transformation of a young, fat, shy girl into a beautiful (still young) queen capable of leading a rag tag group of orphans and misfits. I love that the King, although he is an adult man, is weaker both physically and mentally than this young, chubby girl – yet he has a nice streak in there somewhere that keeps him from being completely despicable. And somehow the present tense, first person worked for me. I was hooked, experiencing the change in her world as she did. The climax had me letting the water in the shower run cold as I tried to read just one more word before putting the book down to get ready for work. To me, that’s a great read!

First lines: “Prayer candles flicker in my bedroom. The Scriptura Sancta lies discarded, pages crumpled, on my bed. Bruises mark my knees from kneeling on the tiles, and the Godstone in my navel throbs. I have been praying -no, begging-that King Alejandro de Vega, my future husband, will be ugly and old and fat. Today is the day of my wedding. It is also my sixteenth birthday.” Yes, I was hooked from the opening paragraphs. So many questions! Why does she want her husband to be old and ugly? Why is she getting married so young? What the heck is a Godstone, and why is it throbbing? Read on, my friends, read on!

1 star for great plot, if a bit typical; 1 star for awesome lead characters (chubby people do NOT get enough time in the spotlight I think); 1 star for captivating voice; 1 star for all around fun read. Subtract 1 star for not quite enough action; there were a few points when I thought “nothing is happening” which is never a good thing. However, they didn’t last long enough to stop me from reading or enjoying this. 4/5 stars!

Movie: The Code (Morgan Freeman, Antonio Banderas, Radha Mitchell) Oye, so much potential, so unrealized. Great actors, a potentially good idea, combined with horrible dialogue, bad plot, bad editing. This poor story clearly suffered dismemberment in the cutting room. The scenes felt out of order. Banderas agrees to go forward with the heist before the scene wherein he is given a reason, and convinced, to go forward. This was so blatant it made his entire character flat and unbelievable. The dialogue between Freeman and Banderas was rather stiff. They never felt like a team. However, the chemistry between Antonio and Radha is hot. Mind you, the dialogue is still weak but you won’t care, it’s that hot. There are also a couple of mighty fine Antonio butt shots, which alone could make a rental worth it, but don’t get it thinking you’ll find a good story. If you are a writer, check this one out as a great example of what not to do in logical plot development.

The biggest sin of all was one of omission. To me a great mystery/heist is one where the clues are in front of me the whole time but I don’t guess they are clues. In this movie, the clues are simply not there. They are pulled out of thin air at the end when they need to wrap up the plot. Bah. It’s no fun having bits thrown in at the end which weren’t even hinted at before. How am I supposed to play amateur detective? In the words of Sherlock, “Data, data, data. I cannot make bricks without clay!”

So yes, there’s the inevitable plot twist (actually two of them), but you could never have guessed them with the plot as it’s presented. To me, that’s cheating. So, 2 stars for the fine looking Antonio and a stellar performance by Radha Mitchell. Minus 2 for the lackluster plot and dialogue and overall cheat factor, and minus one for the title. The Code as a title makes no sense in relation to this movie. The original title, Thick as Thieves, was better. Made me wonder if the other movie versions are better, but I doubt I ever go find out.  2/5 stars.


Nov 02

Book Review: Farsighted, by Emlyn Chand

By Melinda VanLone | Book Review


As a reader, what matters to me is a good story. And this was a good story. I found it engrossing, and thoroughly enjoyed this look into young adult paranormal. I can’t remember ever reading a story told from the point of view of a blind 16 year old boy. I liked that perspective, especially because Alex doesn’t spend any time moping about the fact that he can’t see. It just simply is who he is.

First line: “Today is the last day of summer, but I’m not doing anything even remotely close to fun.” I’m not sure that’s the best possible way to kick off a story. Having the main character start out by saying he is bored makes me think the story is boring. This is anything but, so please read past that! Soon he grabs his cane and goes into the house and you will be immediately sucked into his world. I found myself watching him, marveling at how easily he gets around even though he can’t see.

Mechanics: Normally, I don’t care for stories told in present tense. It drives me crazy; it’s so hard to do well. However, in this case about 1/4 of the way through I forgot all about it. By the end of the book I no longer noticed the present tense. I had to go back and make sure the tense hadn’t changed, it suddenly felt so natural to me. So for those used to third person, give this a chance. Give it a few chapters, it will sit comfortably by the end I promise.

Each chapter begins with the picture of a rune stone and a short, descriptive phrase pertaining to that chapter (almost like reading a fortune cookie or a tarot card). I know there is some sort of point to them but honestly I found that they got in the way. I started skipping those because I don’t really like it when the chapter heading gives away what is going on in the chapter. I like to find out on my own, but that’s just me. I’m sure others will find that little device to be quite fun.

Voice: I thought this was a masterful job of showing us a small corner of the world through blind eyes. I found myself seeing everything the way Alex sees it. When I finished I had to think about it. Even though there wasn’t one word of what anything looked like, I can totally picture what the flower shop looks and smells like, the psychic shop, the school…the chem lab! THAT is a job well done. Some are mentioning there are slip ups, that there is description that Alex couldn’t possibly have known. I didn’t find any, and I was looking for it. I think people forget how acute other senses become when one is lost. Someone blind since birth would hear and smell things that others wouldn’t and that alone would tell him if someone is flipping a page in a book, or rifling through a desk drawer, etc. He doesn’t have to see it to know what is happening. I certainly didn’t run into anything that pulled me out of the story.

Characters: I like that different cultures were brought in. I found the main character Alex to be very well rounded. He stands up for himself; he’s not one to wallow. The two girls that become his friends were a good mix as well. I liked that their backgrounds were so different, and that they are obviously having teen angst but it’s shown in a way that didn’t shove it in my face like another glittery vampire novel I could mention.

Plot: There is a nice buildup of tension in this story. It starts out just everyday life, but somewhere around the middle of the story I could no longer put the book down. I couldn’t wait to see how it turned out. I won’t give any spoilers here though. I’ll just say there is an ever increasing drive toward the bad guy, and a twist at the end that I enjoyed. The pacing was good, the plot solid, and the ending satisfying.

For those looking for a fun dip into the psychic powers, or for a story told from a unique perspective of a blind boy, give this a try. Have your kids read this, it will spark all kinds of discussions. The bullying of someone different, the ability of disabilities, dealing with family issues including financial and marital, keeping secrets, all of it. With a little bit of mystery and paranormal thrown in. I liked it, even as an adult.

NOTE: I didn’t find any typos, for what that’s worth. There might be one or two in there but they sure don’t stand out. It’s formatted perfectly for the Kindle and was an easy read, start to finish.