Friday, July 29, 2011

What's Fresh with Jennifer Echols's Love Story!


For Erin Blackwell, majoring in creative writing at the New York City college of her dreams is more than a chance to fulfill her ambitions—it’s her ticket away from the tragic memories that shadow her family’s racehorse farm in Kentucky. But when she refuses to major in business and take over the farm herself someday, her grandmother gives Erin’s college tuition and promised inheritance to their maddeningly handsome stable boy, Hunter Allen. Now Erin has to win an internship and work late nights at a local coffee shop to make her own dreams a reality. She should despise Hunter . . . so why does he sneak into her thoughts as the hero of her latest writing assignment?

Then, on the day she’s sharing that assignment with her class, Hunter walks in. He’s joining her class. And after he reads about himself in her story, her private fantasies about him must be painfully clear. She only hopes to persuade him not to reveal her secret to everyone else. But Hunter devises his own creative revenge, writing sexy stories that drive the whole class wild with curiosity and fill Erin’s heart with longing. Now she’s not just imagining what might have been. She’s writing a whole new ending for her romance with Hunter . . . except this story could come true.

The awesome Jennifer Echols is back with us to share about her latest novel, Love Story! Thanks for joining us Jennifer! Tell us about your book in ten words or less. Okay, go!

Jennifer: Erin writes about her crush and he reads the story!

Haha, thanks! Other than your main character, who's a favorite character of yours in your novel and why?

Jennifer: I love Erin’s best friend and roommate, Summer. Sometimes I like to create tension between the heroine and her best girlfriend, but this time I had fun writing this girl who is wholly supportive of Erin and has a pure, innocent spirit.

Tell us something fun about your new book. It can be a character detail, something that inspired the story, or a behind the scenes story from the writing process.

Jennifer: I lived in Kentucky for seven years, and while I never owned a racehorse, I knew a wealthy family that had! It would have been impossible for me to enjoy that beautiful landscape so long and not have it emerge in a novel sooner or later.

What is your favorite comment you’ve received from a fan?

Jennifer: I’ve gotten several messages lately from people who have been sick and were able to forget their lives for a while and get through treatment by reading. That always touches me, especially when they have read my book GOING TOO FAR, which has a heroine who has been very sick.

Thanks again, Jennifer! Best of luck! Let's close with what are you working on now?

Jennifer: I’m writing a new romantic comedy that will be published by Simon Pulse in December. Then I’m finishing a new romantic drama, SUCH A RUSH, which will be my hardcover debut in July 2012.

Jennifer Echols is the author of romantic dramas for MTV and romantic comedies for Pulse. She currently lives in Birmingham. Visit her on the web at

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

We All Scream For Ice Cream

Summer = ice cream to me! Whether it’s Baskin-Robbins, Ben & Jerry's, Cold Stone's and/or from the supermarket freezer, I am fan. In fact, last summer, some of you may remember, I posted a yummy recipe here for Mexican ice cream that was made with store-bought vanilla.

And while I’ve eaten that again this summer--and it’s just as good--these days, my mind has moved onto another kind of ice cream. Homemade.

When I was a kid, some family friends had the old-fashioned crank kind of ice cream maker. I remember they needed to use rock salt and that someone had to hand to crank continuously for hours. We'd take turns. Which was exhausting, but made the ultimate treat even sweeter!

These days, my family owns an electric ice cream maker, with the only real problem being that you have to put the bowl in the freezer overnight to get it to the right temperature--in other words, you need to plan it a day or so ahead of time.

So when I came upon a homemade ice cream recipe recently that could be made spontaneously, I thought, why not? And it turned out really, really well. In fact, those of who had been to In ‘N Out (a drive-thru burger place), thought it tasted like their chocolate shakes.

Here’s all you do. Beat together with a mixer:

• 2 cups heavy whipping cream
• 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
• 2/3 cup chocolate syrup
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

until soft peaks form. Then put it in a 9” square pan, cover with foil, put in the freezer for 4 hours. (But I will add that you’ll want to finish it in a day or so, because it will sort of harden with freezer burn if it sits too long.)

If you try it, please let us know how you liked it.

And in any case, help us all keep cool by telling us your favorite ice cream or flavor?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Finding the Time

Like most voracious readers, my “eyes are bigger than my stomach” when it comes to books. So many sound so good. I buy them, I download them, I borrow them--but with a limited amount of reading time, inevitably there are those that I never seem to get around to...

With that thought in mind, I decided to dedicate Summer 2011 to those books. And I can report not only great success, but that I’m having the time of my life.

First up, I started THE HUNGER GAMES, and loved it so much I read the whole trilogy.

Next I picked PROM DATES FROM HELL off my shelf, a collection of paranormal prom stories published a few years back, and discovered a new favorite writer, Michele Jaffe! So her book, BAD KITTY, is now in my pile to read soon, too.

And then in no particular order, I read Jessica Brody’s MY LIFE UNDECIDED, which we talked about here at YA Fresh, and I found cute and clever, a couple nonfiction books, and a few romances. Then I picked 13 REASONS WHY by Jay Asher--and can now officially jump on the band wagon about why it is such an important and popular book!

Here are some other YA novels I have stacked up and ready to read: ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins, OSTRICH EYE (the winner of the 2002 Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel) by Beth Cooley and TORN by Erica O’Rourke.

See why I’m having so much fun?

Have any of you made a concerted effort to catch up on books you’ve been meaning to read? And can you recommend any of your favorites I should add to my list?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What's Fresh with Melissa Walker's Small Town Sinners!

Lacey Anne Byer is a perennial good girl and lifelong member of the House of Enlightenment, the Evangelical church in her small town. With her driver's license in hand and the chance to try out for a lead role in Hell House, her church's annual haunted house of sin, Lacey's junior year is looking promising. But when a cute new stranger comes to town, something begins to stir inside her. Ty Davis doesn't know the sweet, shy Lacey Anne Byer everyone else does. With Ty, Lacey could reinvent herself. As her feelings for Ty make Lacey test her boundaries, events surrounding Hell House make her question her religion.

Melissa Walker has crafted the perfect balance of engrossing, thought-provoking topics and relatable, likable characters. Set against the backdrop of extreme religion, Small Town Sinners is foremost a universal story of first love and finding yourself, and it will stay with readers long after the last page.

Melissa has visited us many times before and we are always glad to have her back at YA Fresh! So Melissa, please tell us about your latest novel Small Town Sinners and what we can expect from your characters.

Melissa: Small Town Sinners, out July 19th from Bloomsbury, is the story of Lacey Anne Byers, a small town girl who is excited to star in Hell House, her church's annual haunted house of sin, until a childhood friend reappears and makes her question her faith. The story involves a very evangelical community dealing with the gray areas of life and "sin."

Sounds great! What's up next? Do you have another project in the works? If so, please tell us about it.

Melissa: My next book is called UNBREAK MY HEART--it's a love story, and it'll be out from Bloomsbury in summer 2012! I can't say more!

Good luck with Small Town Sinners, Melissa!! Would you like to close with a writing tip?

Melissa: Sure! So that I don't get bogged down in "perfecting" a first draft, I only allow myself to review the previous day's 1000 words before I start on the new stuff. So I can't go back any further than what I wrote yesterday; that way, I don't get stuck "fixing" things and I can move forward with the story. Works for me!

And Melissa was also reviewed in the New York Times!! So excited for her!! Check out the review here.

Melissa has worked as ELLEgirl Features Editor and Seventeen Prom Editor. She is the author of the Violet on the Runway series as well as Lovestruck Summer. Melissa manages I Heart Daily, an e-newsletter and blogs for ReaderGirlz, an online community for teens.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Our TORN Winner!

The winner of a copy of TORN by Erica O'Rourke (plus swag!) is


MD, please read Erica's comment at (or near) the end of yesterday's contest comments for contact information. She is going to mail it directly.

Thanks to all who entered, and to Erica for visiting with us and sharing about her cool debut novel!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The TORN Giveaway!

I am very excited to welcome Erica O'Rourke to YA Fresh, to talk about her writing and her debut novel, and to offer up a copy of the book (plus other TORN goodies) to one lucky commenter!

As a little backstory, a summer ago, while I was attending the Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando, Florida, I had the pleasure of meeting Erica, whose manuscript, TORN was a finalist for the YA Golden Heart award. Not only did Erica go on to win (and to deliver a delightful and poised speech) but she also sold the book...well, I'll let HER tell you that part!

Hello, Erica, thanks for visiting with us! Could you please tell us a little about your writing background and how you made your first sale?

Erica: I’ve always been a huge fan of young adult literature -- when I taught junior high and high school, I always had a classroom library of books available for my students to read. I tended to go for fantasy and science fiction, but I tried to stock a variety of genres. When I started writing seriously, it seemed like a natural fit.

My first sale was fairly atypical. I was lucky enough to be named a Golden Heart finalist, and one of the final round judges asked to see my full manuscript. A month later, she called and made an offer, and I quickly followed up with an agent who had my partial. She read the full over the weekend, offered representation, and handled everything from there. One year later (363 days, to be exact) Kensington published my first book as part of their new KTeen imprint. I’m still a little dazed, honestly.

Readers and writers often like to get a behind the scenes peek of an author's writing routine. It would be great if you could please share your typical writing day schedule.

Erica: It’s summer vacation right now, which has thrown a wrench into things. But my typical schedule involves sending my kids off to school, including the baby. (At almost-three, she’s not actually a baby anymore, but she will always be MY baby.) Once they’ve all been dropped off, I sit down with the first of many cups of coffee and check email and twitter and my favorite blogs. The internet is a hugely addictive timesuck for me, so I try to limit myself to half an hour. Then I turn on MacFreedom, which blocks my internet access, and get down to the day’s writing or revising. There’s a lot of pacing and talking to myself and reciting dialogue out loud. It’s much easier to do this when no one else is home, I’ve found.

At some point, I take a shower, grab something easy for lunch, and get back online to check email. I’ll also return phone calls and make a half-hearted attempt to clean the house or do laundry. I drink more coffee, panic that the kids will be home so soon, and try to eke out another page or two.

Once my kids are home, there’s no point in trying to get work done, so I do mom stuff until the oldest one is in bed. My husband and I will watch The Daily Show and try to have a bit of grownup conversation, and then I go back to work, usually until about 1 am. I read for a little bit, think of a brilliant line for my story, tell myself it’s so brilliant, I will definitely remember it in the morning, and fall asleep.

Please tell us about your novel, TORN, and what we can expect from your characters.

Erica: TORN is the first of a trilogy about Mo Fitzgerald, who wants to avenge her best friend’s murder. Mo’s family is rumored to be connected to the Chicago Mob, and that her friend’s death is related. But she discovers her friend was fated to fulfill a magical prophecy, and in order to get justice, she’ll have to take over her friend’s destiny, despite having no powers of her own. At the same time, she inadvertently becomes a pawn in a Mob war.

Both worlds are dangerous, and both have cute boys -- Luc is a mysterious Southerner who knows more about the magical world than he’s telling, and Colin is the bodyguard Mo’s uncle hires to keep her safe. And ultimately, Mo has to choose which life she wants -- the one she’s fated for or the one she’s always wanted.

What's up next? Do you have another project in the works? If so, please tell us about it.

Erica: I just turned in the edits on TORN’s sequel, TANGLED, and now I’m working on the last book of the trilogy, BOUND, which will be released sometime in the fall of next year. Mo continues her dealings with both the magical world and the Mob, and copes with the fallout of her actions in TORN. There’s this notion that the truth will set you free, but in Mo’s case, the truth has a tendency to complicate things.

Would you like to close with a writing tip?

Erica: Revise. Revise, revise, revise. I firmly believe the best books are the product of a critical eye and a willingness to dig deeper. And I also think how you go about revising is entirely a matter of personal preference -- there are many roads to Oz, after all.

I know a lot of immensely successful writers who write a scene and then revise it before moving to the next one, and by the time they type “The End,” they’ve got a polished manuscript. And I know a lot of immensely successful writers who lay down an entire draft, start to finish, and then go back and take another pass. Both styles work -- neither one is superior to the other.

The one type of immensely successful writer I’ve NEVER met is the one who says, “I never revise. My books are so good I don’t need to.” Maybe that’s just coincidence, but I kind of doubt it.

LOL, well said, Erica!

And now on to our readers. In order to be entered in our random giveaway of a copy of TORN (plus swag, including a link to hidden content on her website!), all you need to do is leave a comment below, telling us either WHY you want to read it...or your favorite place to read. Or both!

Thanks again to Erica for joining us!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Latest from Suzanne Young . . .

Hey YA Freshers! Just wanted to let you know about author Suzanne Young's latest release, A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL...

We all want to be remembered. Charlotte’s destiny is to be Forgotten…Charlotte's best friend thinks Charlotte might be psychic. Her boyfriend thinks she's cheating on him. But Charlotte knows what's really wrong: She is one of the Forgotten, a kind of angel on earth who feels the Need—a powerful, uncontrollable draw to help someone, usually a stranger.

But Charlotte never wanted this responsibility. What she wants is to help her best friend, whose life is spiraling out of control. She wants to lie in her boyfriend's arms forever. But as the Need grows stronger, it begins to take a dangerous toll on Charlotte. And who she was, is, and will become—her mark on this earth, her very existence—is in jeopardy of disappearing completely.

Charlotte will be forced to choose: Should she embrace her fate as a Forgotten, a fate that promises to rip her from the lives of those she loves forever? Or is she willing to fight against her destiny—no matter how dark the consequences?

Sounds so intriguing, right?? Check out the praise and book trailer below!!


"A clever and well-written fantasy. Whether Charlotte is an angel or a being less freighted by religious tradition is left up to the reader, but the dilemma of how we can make a lasting impression is a very human concern. Young offers an elegant solution that is well worth consideration."

— Booklist, starred review

“A gripping supernatural romance… An imaginative twist on the timeless battle between dark and light.”

— Kirkus Review

Suzanne Young currently lives in Portland, Oregon, where she uses the rainy weather as an excuse to stay inside and write obsessively. After earning her degree in creative writing, Suzanne spent several years teaching middle school language arts. Now she can be found at home chasing after her two children and poorly behaved dog and writing novels for teens. You can visit her online at or follow her on Twitter @suzanne_young.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Disneyland Cats!

Many of our readers know that I'm a cat lady. I have two at the moment, know most of the cats in my neighborhood, have taken responsibility for strays, and I'm the go-to lady for vacation cat sitting.

So all that said, when I recently heard a story about 400 stray cats living at Disneyland, I was astonished! I make my home in southern California, and have been to Disneyland countless times and never seen a cat there. So I set out to find out if it was true!

First I did an internet search, and was surprised to find the same basic information over and over. Although sources differ about exactly how and why the cats arrived, most agreed that for about 50 years, they have roamed the Magic Kingdom for rodent/mice control. Some say Disney does the care and feeding, and that they keep them into the back areas where they are rarely seen. Some day they are looked after by caring employees and roam freely.

Huh! And that's when I remembered that I have an expert, a key witness, right in my family! Until recently, my cousin, Megan, was a Disneyland employee. So I sent her a message ("Do cats at Disneyland really exist?") and she responded with a big YES. She added:

“When I worked at Disneyland there were always feral cats roaming around backstage. I once heard a story that someone started dropping off the cats at Disneyland and they multiplied. I also heard that they used to be a part of Circle D, the Disney animal farm backstage where they house all the animals for the park, and they got loose and they couldn't control them. Either way, there are many cats who have established Disneyland as their home.

In Fantasyland, there was one particular cat who called the Small World break room his home. We named him Tigger. He was an orange and white tabby cat who always just wanted to be loved and petted."

In fact, here she is, holding Tigger:

She went on to share that there was a black cat that made Storybook Land his home. “We all called him Figgero like the cat from Pinocchio. He would roam through Cinderella's castle and it was quite funny when we would walk through the castle while the boat was going by and all the guests would say, ‘Look at the giant cat in front of the castle.’"

So now I know--the rumors are true! Next time I go to Disneyland, I'm keeping my eyes open for cats.

And now tell us, did you already know about this? Have you seen cats at the Happiest Place on Earth? Or is this a big surprise for you, too?