ARC Review: Violet Grenade by Victoria Scott

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DOMINO: A girl with blue hair and a demon in her mind.

CAIN: A stone giant on the brink of exploding.

MADAM KARINA: A woman who demands obedience.

WILSON: The one who will destroy them all.

When Madam Karina discovers Domino in an alleyway, she offers her a position inside her home for entertainers in secluded West Texas. Left with few alternatives and an agenda of her own, Domino accepts. It isn’t long before she is fighting her way up the ranks to gain the madam’s approval. But after suffering weeks of bullying and unearthing the madam’s secrets, Domino decides to leave. It’ll be harder than she thinks, though, because the madam doesn’t like to lose inventory. But then, Madam Karina doesn’t know about the person living inside Domino’s mind. Madam Karina doesn’t know about Wilson.

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3.5/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Entangled.

+++Some scenes might be triggers for assault and/or violence

Violet Grenade is unexpected. It’s dark and twisted, sinister and honest and raw. There’s so much going on in here, so much pain and torment, so much that is unfair. 

THINGS I LIKED:

  • Domino believes she’s a monster. She has a past that will make your skin crawl and you’ll feel more than a little sick to your stomach when the truth comes out. There’s just enough to keep you on edge. Throughout the book, there are hints, little flashes of information that are gripping, blunt, and brutal. The need to know becomes a compulsion. I HAD TO KNOW. The scars on her arms, why Wilson manifested, the foreboding and constant allusions to an ugly and unforgivable past. Victoria Scott is an expert at building anticipation. It gets under your skin. 
  • A different portrayal of trafficking and extortion. Many times we think of trafficking as young girls or boys being abducted and forced into servitude/usually sexual in nature. What doesn’t get talked about enough is how people of specific walks of life are targeted and manipulated, they’re sold on an idea of a better life and before they know it, they can’t escape. Domino, like many of the other flowers, was homeless. She was vulnerable and a target. It’s not hard to persuade someone who rarely has a roof over their head or food to eat to go with someone at the prospect of safety, making money, a home, or even love. Madam Karina is the worst kind of villain because she’s real. She’s walking the streets right now. Her, and others like her, are predators. While Madam Karina has her own demons that make her the psychologically messed up person she is, she’s smart, she’s vindictive, and calculated. She makes these decisions, she knows what she’s doing, and that is inexcusable. 
  • The romance. Domino and Cain are beautifully broken but complete each other. They both had monstrous demons like guilt and fear that eat away at their souls, but inside, they’re good people who want nothing more than to be loved. Their romance is a slow-building realization. It’s imperfect and complicated. It’s right for them. 

THINGS I DISLIKED:

  • The pacing. This book felt a good hundred pages longer than it actually was because of how slow it read. It took time to really get into. The introduction to Domino and her life on the streets was intriguing, but kind of dull. The only things that save this section are the potential love interest with Dizzy and the hints at her past, that this horrible life is so much better than the one she escaped from. Then the shift happens. After Domino enters Madam Karina’s household, despite all of Domino’s plans, ambitions, and woes, it drags. Not much is going on. Each shift to the next flower level felt pretty much the same despite different dynamics and different girls. 
  • The lack of back story. Here’s the thing: the back story is there, sure. You get bare bones glimpses of what Domino’s life was like as a child and sure, it’s understandable because Wilson has blocked those memories from her so that she can live her life without constantly being haunted by the guilt and gore. That’s fine. When things are revealed about the seriously twisted and disgusting actions that Domino was coerced into doing, I mean, wow. MESSED UP. However, why her mother went off the handle, what her relationship was like with her mother that made the manipulation work so well, any moments with her father…it’s missing. There’s like this gaping black hole of stuff that the reader can fill in or guess about but it’s not enough to 100% embrace the emotions Domino felt towards her mother or even the anger. She blames herself, but what about her mother? What happened? There are so many unanswered questions. 

THINGS I’M TORN OVER:

  • How dissociative identity disorder was presented. Domino’s other identity-Wilson-is the result of PTSD and a coping mechanism for all of the horrific (truly, messed up scary stuff) she was forced to participate in as a child. Wilson is a protector, he’s loving and defensive, and flips out, goes off the handle and is way prone to violence. Domino is scared of him. She tries to keep him under lock and key because when he comes out, bad things happen and sometimes he takes total control. At the same time, Wilson is a friend. He’s been there for her, he never leaves like everyone else has in her life, and at the end, there’s a bittersweet moment that really makes you feel torn about Wilson. Ultimately for me, despite the insane and sadistic choices he makes, he’s a sort of savior for Domino that helps her realize that she is enough, that she can get through anything on her own. I wasn’t necessarily happy with this relationship between the two, but I didn’t hate it either. Wilson grows on you. And when he takes over, well, it’s definitely memorable and a little sickening. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Keep reading, 

Jordan

Guest Post: Three Tricks to Make Your Word Count by Zachary Paul Chopchinski #bowtieauthor

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Zachary is a bow tie wearing, formal vest rocking, pocket watch using, sarcastic monster of a writer. Currently residing in Orlando, Florida, he spends his days working, writing, and procrastinating.

Zach has multiple college degrees, in the fields of criminal justice and criminology…because he wanted to catch ALL the bad guys. Now, coupled with being an author of young adult fiction he spends his days yelling at people for breaking regulatory laws.

Zach is the author of the Gabrielle series, a young adult fantasy with a paranormal-historical-time traveling twist (try saying that five times fast).  

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By a show of hands, who else here thought that they would grab this whole “Be an author” thing by the keyboard and become its master? I can tell you that I have my hand up. I can also tell you that, I’m sure those of you who are human (robots, immortals, monsters, and other fictional beings need not apply) this thing is way harder than I thought it was.

Now, we all have our stories. We all have our very own inspirations, adventurous tales, and dreams when it comes to being a writer. Yet, I think in many respects, we all face some of the same hurdles that our cohorts face daily. I, for example, was not fortunate enough to be discovered by my first novel. Nope, this one’s going to make me work for it.

So, like many of you, I must also maintain a job to pay the bills. I mean who else in here needs electricity, internet, and copious amount of coffee to get the job done? I can tell you I sure as hell do! This is what brings me to here today to talk about one of my main obstacles, and I think that many of you also share this one: getting those damn words on the paper.

Word counts are a funny thing. They can scare us and drive us all at the same time. They are a great reflection of what we have accomplished, but at the same time they’re like looking at the bully that wants to fight you after school and you are in last period. I’m here to tell you, however, that you don’t have to be afraid. I also am here to tell you that there are some small tricks that I use to help get me through the numbers.

On a side note, ironically, writing all comes down to numbers. I think the reason many of us became authors was so that we didn’t have to “math” anymore…

Trick #1: Set that goal, girlfriend!

Yeah yeah yeah. I know, easier said than done, right? WRONG! Setting a decent, and obtainable goal is often the best and only way to be sure that you’re writing regularly. Writing regularly is a must, by the way, or you would be surprised how much something like this can be a perishable skill.

So, set a daily goal. It could be 500 words, it could be 5000 words, but the key is to set a goal and nail it. This is also why it is important to be honest with yourself and don’t try and pop a wheelie before you know how to ride the bike. If you’re busy, set a 1000-word goal. A general typist will take roughly an hour or so to accomplish this and with a goal, you can break this up throughout the day. This doesn’t have to be all at once.

Remember, the day is not complete until this goal is met. So be fair to yourself and your writing and give it the time its needs and keep into account what you can afford to give.

Trick #2: 500 is the warmup.

Dependent upon the size of the font and spacing, 500 words is roughly a page. This is about the break point for many writers. Often the will to create is lost on you, but just try to reach that 500-word marker. By this time, creativity will start to bloom and the words will flow more easily, trust me. Often, with writing, you must first find the flow and then the inspiration will follow as you engage your brain and challenge it to create. Reaching one page and pressing forward tends to allow your mind to wander in a determined direction and you will find yourself able to focus while letting loose.

Trick #3: If you want to get those gains on, get you a spotter.

Weightlifting jokes aside, often finding someone that you trust to check on your progress daily will help drive you to get those words down. You find yourself not wanting to let this person down, or if you have let them down, trying to make it up to them by hitting your goal. (NOTE: This also works if you are trying to prove them wrong and show them that you CAN do it! Just saying)

This trick can get…well…tricky. Remember to not get mad at your spotter. They are only trying to help you and they want you to be the best author that you can be. So… DON’T SHOOT THE DAMN MESSENGER!

Well, these are some of my tricks. I hope they can help you as much as they have helped me. I must be off now, as I have my own words to get down for today. By the way, this article is 817 words and I am totally counting that for today. Just saying.

CHECK OUT ZACH’S BOOKS

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What If You Woke Up in Someone Else’s Life?

Thirteen-year-old Gabrielle was given a mysterious bracelet for her birthday. She went to bed as a normal teen but woke up in another time, as another person.

When demons appear, Gabrielle’s dream adventure turns into a nightmare. But is a nightmare adventure better than just existing in your mundane life?

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Is An Extraordinary Experience Worth The Loss of Innocence?

In this gripping sequel, Gabrielle stumbles into revolutionary France with more questions than answers. Why did Alexandra chose her for this adventure? What did the mysterious old woman mean by “it’s all up to you”? And why was she seeing monsters no one else could see?

In search of these answers, Gabrielle finds herself in the middle of a much bigger battle than she could have ever imagined. Can a nineteen year old old take on the past and un-seen evil all on her own?

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Will Gabrielle’s power be enough to save her?

In this third installment, Gabrielle finds herself living in one of the darkest times in American history, running a safe house for the Underground Railroad.

Arawn’s done playing games. When he discovers Gabrielle’s weakness he will stop at nothing to take her down. Gabrielle is going to have to use every ounce of her new power if she’s going to survive.

Keep reading, 

Jordan

 

ARC Review: Bang by Barry Lyga

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One shot ruined his life. Another one could end it.

Sebastian Cody did something horrible, something no one—not even Sebastian himself—can forgive. At the age of four, he accidentally shot and killed his infant sister with his father’s gun.

Now, ten years later, Sebastian has lived with the guilt and horror for his entire life. With his best friend away for the summer, Sebastian has only a new friend—Aneesa—to distract him from his darkest thoughts. But even this relationship cannot blunt the pain of his past. Because Sebastian knows exactly how to rectify his childhood crime and sanctify his past.

It took a gun to get him into this.

Now he needs a gun to get out.

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3.5/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

+++Triggers for suicidal thoughts, gun violence, infant death

THINGS I LOVED:

  • The vocabulary. The English major in me was internally happy dancing for joy. Honestly, if I could get away with it, I would totally use this to teach SAT vocabulary. It’s awesome. And oddly enough, it works for the main character. He’s quirky and collects antiquated tech like no one’s business, so embracing elevated vocabulary suits his complex personality. 
  • The conflicted, debilitating slew of guilt, depression, and uncertainty weighs on Sebastian heavy enough to rival Atlas. The emotions are poignant, gut-wrenching, and you kind of just want to hug him and tell him it’s not his fault. It’s impossible to escape your past in a small town and to be blamed and ostracized for something you did as a toddler? It’s completely unfair, dangerous, and totally happens. Even if you break this story down to bare bones foundation, living with the catastrophe results of a mistake can be too much, too haunting, and crush you from the inside  out. Bang explores these heavy ideas in a way that’s relatable and so incredibly honest.
  • The mystery. Throughout the book, there is so much leading that you’re basically being tugged along on this train of thought. You know that Sebastian plans on doing something terrible, ending it all with a gun in a perfect circle of how his life metaphorically ended as a toddler. But there’s a twist. I did not see it coming. There’s just enough to keep you hanging on, desperate to know how it ends. 

THINGS I’M TORN OVER:

  • Aneesa. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED Aneesa and the fact that she calls people out on their stereotypes, is honest about her fears, and is 100% a proud Muslim young lady. I adored how vocal she was about misconceptions about Islam, how she called out the haters, and truly loved who she is as a person. That sort of confidence and openness is inspiring. In some ways, I did like that Aneesa, having her as a friend, was helping Sebastian deal with his suicidal thoughts; I didn’t like that she was the ONLY thing. Sebastian’s so-called male best friend was a fleeting character that had little to no presence and everything was on Aneesa-not that she knew Sebastian was suicidal. Aneesa isn’t really that interesting. Despite the fact that she’s nice and opinionated, she’s pretty bland, at least for me. There weren’t any particularly memorable lines or scenes that made me say, Aneesa is a character that will stick with me for a while.
  • The focus. This book is all over the place. While it does do a fairly good job of getting back to Sebastian’s thoughts when he’s going to bed at night and thinking about his life, the book turns into pizza after pizza for ages as he builds his YouTube channel and it felt like so much of that could be cut because it slowed the pacing and made me want to close the book.
  • Nowhere near enough confrontation with his parents. They don’t talk about it. They ignore everything and have for years. No wonder Sebastian is flooded with emotions that he doesn’t know how to express or positive ways to deal with his overwhelming sense of guilt and failure. The two big scenes that do happen were…explosive. I felt rage. So much rage.

Sorry for the hiatus everyone! I’ll be back and bringing you many more reviews in the future. My Goodreads challenge is abysmal right now 😦

Jordan

 

Guest Post: Operation Child Soldier by Jaci Wheeler

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I was trained from birth to be the best Agent possible. Growing up in a Military Training Academy for unwanted children has its perks. I might not have ever been to a dance but I am a sharp shooter, master at hand to hand combat and best hacker the Academy has ever seen. I trained my whole life to pass the final and become an Elite agent. The only problem? My entire life has been a lie. My father is a monster and I’ve been trained to kill monsters.

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I’ve had a few people ask how on earth I came up with the concept for Operation Child Soldier. I must admit, child assassins do sound a bit extreme but I had stumbled upon on article one day, I can’t even remember where to be honest, and it was talking about how more countries, especially Middle Eastern countries were starting to train women and children to become assassins. I had just watched a movie with my husband that focused on foster care and how horrible some of these homes are and how some kids rather live on the street than end up in foster care and somehow everything just clicked.

I love having strong female leads and Aria just started unfolding before my eyes. I didn’t even outline, I just grabbed my phone and started dictating the entire story to my notes. The idea that training women and children is actually happening and that these other countries are finding success really helped to unlock my imagination. My dream has always been to own an orphanage and to have a safe place for children to come. I guess you can say I merged the two together, and even though the Academy in this first book isn’t what my dream was…it just might end up that way, you will have to read book two to find out.

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Jaci Wheeler lives in the Central Valley of California with her husband and two precious kids.

Her love of literature began in Jr. High when she was introduced to Lowis Lowry’s books. Since then she has had a passion for writing Young Adult books, and creating strong female leads. When she’s not writing, she is advocating for Autism Awareness and involved in the deaf community.

Her favorite things to do are play with her children, craft with her friends, sleep while her husband watches movies and indulge in her favorite addictions: Coffee, candy and shoes.

Epic reading,

Jordan

 

ARC Review: Bad Blood by Demitria Lunetta

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A girl discovers a family secret and a past full of magic that could both save her and put her in mortal danger in this suspenseful novel that’s perfect for fans of Katie Alender and Natasha Preston.

All sixteen-year-old Heather MacNair wants is to feel normal, to shed the intense paranoia she’s worn all year like a scratchy sweater. After her compulsion to self-harm came to light, Heather was kept under her doctor’s watchful eye. Her family thinks she’s better—and there’s nothing she wants more than for that to be true. She still can’t believe she’s allowed to spend her summer vacation as she always does: at her aunt’s home in Scotland, where she has lots of happy memories. Far away from all her problems save one: she can’t stop carving the Celtic knot that haunts her dreams into her skin.

Good friends and boys with Scottish accents can cure almost anything…except nightmares. Heather can’t stop dreaming about two sisters from centuries ago, twins Prudence and Primrose, who somehow seem tied to her own life. Their presence lurks just beneath the surface of her consciousness, sending ripples through what should be a peaceful summer. The twins might hold the key to putting Heather’s soul at rest…or they could slice her future deeper than any knife.

review3/5 Stars

***I recieved this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Delacorte Press

+++Contains what may be considered triggers for graphic self-mutilation/cutting 

It’s taken me a while to write this review because I still tilt my head and squint at this book. It’s not at all what I expected. It feels like a bunch of ideas mashed up together and flattened to make a solid picture, but really it’s a Monet close up. Good grief, I’m rambling. Simply, a whole slew of story arcs and ideas are strewn together and they don’t quite fit. It feels messy and random. I honestly have no idea how it went from something so serious and heartbreaking like self-mutilation/harm to compulsive blood magic but alright. I’m perplexed. Not to say that this wasn’t an enjoyable read. It absolutely was. 

The book begins with Heather, who is recovering after being committed for cutting. She is granted permission to go on her annual summer trip to Scotland and the majority of the story takes place there. What I liked about Heather’s story and this book in general, was the descriptive and emotionally compelling exploration of what Heather feels when she gets the urge to cut. Her struggle to understand why she harms herself, her fear, her shame, and her desperation to hide it from even her closest friends. Getting into her head space was enlightening and helped to understand the many motivations and reasoning behind self-harm. 

What threw me for a loop was the dreams/visions. There’s this ghostly, haunting vibe which is pretty cool and carries throughout. But if you’re like me, you’ll spend the entire book trying to figure out what this has to do with anything. And then the witchcraft happens. I just…I feel like the author couldn’t decide on what she wanted this book to be. Or maybe this was the plan all along, it’s not as seamless as it could be, it’s jumbled and flips from one thing to another. Then throw romance in there. 

To say some scenes are jarring would be an understatement. Sometimes they’re downright insane. Like out of your mind, how could you ever think that was a good idea, crazy. You might feel the urge to scream at the book or avert your eyes. Plus, vague-booking here, but NO THAT IS NO WAY EVER FORGIVABLE. Not even remotely.

The romance is dreamy. In some ways, I feel like had this book been about Heather’s self-harm and the romance, or just one or the other, it would have been more engaging. Heather and Robby are playful and flirty. They’re discovering attraction when before they only saw each other as friends. It’s sweet and Robby makes the cutest little songs on the spot. He’s seriously adorable. And the kilt. 

Primrose and Prudence’s story, when you get to it, it awesome. It’s full of revenge, jealously, heartbreak, and the worst betrayals. I wish there had been more of that. 

Overall, this was an interesting read.

 If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this: 

Haunting reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: Missing by Kelley Armstrong

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The only thing Winter Crane likes about Reeve’s End is that soon she’ll leave it. Like her best friend did. Like her sister did. Like most of the teens born in town have done. There’s nothing for them there but abandoned mines and empty futures. They’re better off taking a chance elsewhere.

The only thing Winter will miss is the woods. Her only refuge. At least it was. Until the day she found Lennon left for dead, bleeding in a tree.

But now Lennon is gone too. And he has Winter questioning what she once thought was true. What if nobody left at all? What if they’re all missing?

review4/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Crown Books for Young Readers

+++Potential triggers for animal abuse/mutilation, abduction, violence, suicide, and physical abuse

Creepy, chilling, and all sorts of sinister, Missing is the kind of mystery that hits hard because of just how possible the situation is. 

This mystery is a challenge. There are so many clues that lead you in several directions. The reader, just like Winter, doesn’t know who to trust and what’s more, there are hints that suggest Winter is not psychologically sound or an entirely reliable narrator. I loved that the possibilities were endless and kept me guessing throughout, up until the very end. 

There are some seriously nightmare-inducing scenes. Some material may be triggering for readers, especially when it comes to animal abuse/mutilation. The adrenaline is high. Every snap of a twig, every laugh in the dark, every moment that makes you doubt, it’s a rush that will leave you breathless with anticipation. I could not put it down. 

In Reeve’s End the poverty is so profound that people can’t afford food and hunting is a necessary means of survival for some. The story begins with the main character setting traps, hunting for her dinner, resting in her personal shack in the woods. As the world building picked up, it was a huge revelation. Reeve’s End is one sketchy and messed up place. The cops are a joke. They arrest people on whim, they dismiss actual tips, and are full of prejudice that prevents them from doing real police work. And the sexism. Wow. There are several pointed comments about a woman’s position in society, victim blaming, and intelligence as something snobby and indecent. Sometimes the rage was pretty strong and the frustration that no one would listen to Winter and Jude, it’s enough to put anyone on edge. 

Winter and Jude. Steamy. Profound. Beautiful. The way they confide in each other. They see beneath the surface and fronts they put on for outsiders and they’re so cautious. Winter recognizes Jude has deep resentment, issues, and has put up a wall because she has the same feelings within herself. Their relationship isn’t angsty or particularly sexual like a lot of YA lately, it builds and grows and is rooted in understanding and compassion. 

While there were tidbits and clues throughout, I don’t think there were enough of them. The ending is so twisted that there’s really no way to see it coming and there wasn’t enough given to the reader to make a guess until a chapter or two before the reveal. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Keep reading, 

Jordan

Exclusive Interview with Victoria Scott on Violet Grenade

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Release Date: May 16, 2017

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DOMINO: A girl with blue hair and a demon in her mind.

CAIN: A stone giant on the brink of exploding.

MADAM KARINA: A woman who demands obedience.

WILSON: The one who will destroy them all.

When Madam Karina discovers Domino in an alleyway, she offers her a position inside her home for entertainers in secluded West Texas. Left with few alternatives and an agenda of her own, Domino accepts. It isn’t long before she is fighting her way up the ranks to gain the madam’s approval. But after suffering weeks of bullying and unearthing the madam’s secrets, Domino decides to leave. It’ll be harder than she thinks, though, because the madam doesn’t like to lose inventory. But then, Madam Karina doesn’t know about the person living inside Domino’s mind.

Madam Karina doesn’t know about Wilson.

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YABM: Violet Grenade is a little different than your other books, what inspired this story? 

Victoria: I kept thinking about girls who get attacked, and what it would look like if someone targeted a girl who was capable of killing a man. How glorious that scene would be to watch in a movie. This idea of a small girl with a deadly secret wouldn’t leave my mind until I put her on paper. 

YABM: How would you describe Violet Grenade to a reader in 3 or less sentences? 

Victoria: I’d simply say it’s a story about manipulation, revenge, damaged characters, and love found in unlikely places. Oh, and multiple personalities (Dissociative Identity Disorder).

YABM: What do you want the reader to take away from Violet Grenade?

Victoria: Always, always…entertainment. I never seek to achieve anything besides giving readers an escape from reality. What they find outside of that is unique to their own journey and experiences.

YABM: Give me a brief rundown of Madam Karina’s Home for Burgeoning Entertainers? What is it like?


Victoria: The girls who live there are sorted by silk flowers they wear on their dresses or blouses. It ranks them, and signifies how much of their earnings they actually keep. Those flowers keep the girls competitive. And of course it’s symbolic of losing a certain something. *wink*

YABM: Is there any romance brewing between characters?

Victoria: Oh, yes. Domino and Cain have chemistry, but mostly they share past wounds.

YABM: Which character would be most likely to survive a zombie apocalypse?

Victoria: Cain. Those zombies wouldn’t stand a chance.

YABM: How do you balance home, life, and writing (and your adorable little girl)?

Victoria: With great difficulty! Even as I finish this interview I’m thinking how I didn’t get enough time with my little girl tonight. Le sigh.

YABM: What would you tell aspiring writers? What’s your best advice for completing that draft?

Victoria: To just power through! Trust me, we all think our first drafts stink. If you do too, then you just might be a published author one day. Ha!

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Victoria Scott is the acclaimed author of eight books for young adults. Her most recent release, Titans, received two starred reviews, and Fire & Flood is a 2017 Spirit of Texas Reading Program book. Victoria’s novels are sold in fourteen different countries, and she loves receiving reader emails from across the world. You can find her online at VictoriaScott.com.

Check back closer to release date for my review. 

As always, happy reading!

Jordan