Blog Tour, Review and Giveaway: The Uncrossing by Melissa Eastlake

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About the Book

Book cover for The Uncrossing by Melissa EastlakeLuke can uncross almost any curse—they unravel themselves for him like no one else. So working for the Kovrovs, one of the families controlling all the magic in New York, is exciting and dangerous, especially when he encounters the first curse he can’t break. And it involves Jeremy, the beloved, sheltered prince of the Kovrov family—the one boy he absolutely shouldn’t be falling for.

Jeremy’s been in love with cocky, talented Luke since they were kids. But from their first kiss, something’s missing. Jeremy’s family keeps generations of deadly secrets, forcing him to choose between love and loyalty. As Luke fights to break the curse, a magical, citywide war starts crackling, and it’s tied to Jeremy.

This might be the one curse Luke can’t uncross. If true love’s kiss fails, what’s left for him and Jeremy?

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Review

Four-star rating

It’s been 24 hours since I finished reading The Uncrossing, and I’m still starry-eyed over the wondrousness of this story. Usually it’s romance that makes or breaks a book for me, but in the case of Eastlake’s debut it was the world building and the tangled web of magic, secrets, curses, and complex family relationships that really swept me away.

The Uncrossing is set in an alternate-universe New York City where magic is an accepted part of everyday life. Protection spells, hex bags, magical herb farming, and the like are commonplace, and the most powerful families have carved out territories for themselves in a sort of sorcerous turf war. These families operate like magical mafias, exercising tremendous authority in their neighborhoods and vying with their rivals for control. The leaders specialize in different brands of magic and are celebrities in their own right, with the Zhangs running Manhattan, the Malcolms controlling New Jersey, and the Kovrovs holding court in Brooklyn and the boroughs.

“It was hard to name what the Kovrovs did – protection, cooperation, extortion – connecting magical suppliers and consumers across New York.”

Luke Melnyk, one of the book’s two protagonists, knows what it means to be under the thumb of such magical mafiosos. His family has been indebted to the Kovrovs for decades, and Luke himself is recruited at 17 to serve as the Kovrovs’ curse breaker. He goes into the job under strict instructions from his family to keep his head down and his mouth shut, but this directive becomes harder and harder to follow as he realizes there’s something not right with Jeremy, the Kovrovs’ cursed young protégé.

I want SO BADLY to gush about the brilliantly inventive curse at the center of Luke and Jeremy’s relationship, but I’d have to tiptoe around a minefield of spoilers in order to do so. Suffice it to say that the curse is a doozy, with fascinating repercussions both at a practical level and a relationship level. Complicating matters is a snarled mess of secrets, bindings, feuds, and blood magic, which Luke and Jeremy must attempt to unravel.

While I can’t talk about the plot itself, I can and will spend some time singing the praises of Melissa Eastlake’s character building. I was endlessly mesmerized by the Kovrovs, who are the definition of “morally gray.” While Jeremy loves them and sees them as protectors, Luke views them as self-serving monsters. It’s fascinating to see how adroitly Eastlake presents evidence in support of both of these views.

“Alexei’s bindings wove a web, and he, in the center, felt every twinge the way a spider feels her web catching flies. That was a bad metaphor, because it made it sound like an evil, stalking thing, and it wasn’t – it only meant that he knew what was happening, when his people were in trouble or pain. It took a lot out of him, too. His mind stretched in a hundred directions all the time, and the people he’d bound to him haunted his dreams. Alexei always said the Kovrovs worked hard for their people, and so they asked for very reasonable things in return: loyalty, compensation, occasional favors. He said the people they helped – he called it helping – were grateful.”

This is especially true when it comes to Jeremy’s interactions with Alexei and Sergei, the heads of the Kovrov family. Eastlake does a marvelous job of showing tenderness and affection side by side with gruffness and callousness, shouting matches and hurtful comments next to fond gestures and brotherly protectiveness. The relationship among the three main Kovrov men is a work of art, the family dynamic fantastically complicated and muddied by obligation and guilt and love.

“When you’re the Kovrovs’ people, they make it feel like a family. Except, you miss a payment? You make a mistake? You’ll find out real quick who their family is.”

There are so many other great elements of this book as well, too many to name; they include the painfully insightful explorations of identity, personal limitations, and what it means to call someone family. There are moments of wonderful humor, too, as shown in the quotes below:

“‘Hostage-taking is a valuable tool and a fine tradition.’ Alexei sat on the couch and turned on the TV. ‘I personally have been taken hostage three times. The night I spent as Linh Zhang’s prisoner remains one of my fondest memories.’”

“‘We have had adventures today. Apparently I am so evil that performing a routine cleansing on my place caused our witch doctor to swoon.’ He sounded terribly pleased with himself.”

If I had to list one complaint about The Uncrossing, it’s that I spent a decent chunk of the beginning of the book ranging from mildly to severely confused. I was completely lost at first and wasn’t able to figure out what the “rules” of the world were, nor could I immediately get a good handle on who/what the Kovrovs were and how I was supposed to view them. Everything eventually came together, but it took me a while to get a good “grip” on everything.

I also struggled with understanding the basic meaning of some of the sentences. For some reason the way certain passages were worded really confused me. I’m usually a fast reader, but I had to take my time with this novel to make sure I wasn’t misconstruing anything important. For example, Luke’s two best friends are both named Wesley, so he differentiates between them by jokingly referring to them as Straight Wesley and Short Wesley. Because this wasn’t explained until midway through the book, though, I initially assumed they were brothers with the last name Wesley, and “Short” and “Straight” were their (admittedly strange) first names. I realize that probably makes me sound incredibly stupid, but something about the way this book was presented left me really confused at times.

The ending threw me for a bit of a loop as well, and I can’t say that I fully understand what happened, why it happened, and what the significance was. (Anyone else who reads this book, please hit me up and let’s chat about it, okay? I want to hear your thoughts.) All the same, this book had me under its spell from beginning to end, and I will be eagerly awaiting more novels from Melissa Eastlake in the future.

About the Author

Author photo for Melissa Eastlake

Melissa Eastlake’s debut novel, The Uncrossing, is coming in 2017 from Entangled Teen. She lives in Athens, Georgia with her partner and their dog.

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Giveaway

Enter to win a prize pack plus a $20 Barnes & Noble gift card*! (*Note: While this prize is for U.S. winners only, a $30 Amazon gift card will be substituted for an international winner.)

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10 Fictional Relatives to Spend Thanksgiving With

10 Fictional Relatives to Spend Thanksgiving WithHappy Thanksgiving, everybody! For those of us living in the U.S., today’s the day we take time to reflect on the things we’re grateful for. This usually involves gathering together with our family members and gorging ourselves on turkey, stuffing, and green bean casserole until we came barely move.

In my experience, the pleasantness of Thanksgiving has a lot to do with how you get along with your family. Given the amount of time you’ll likely be spending with them around the dinner table, the holiday can either be a lot of fun, or a lot of trouble. I’m blessed with great relatives, including awesome in-laws, but I’ve heard stories of holidays where drama, awkwardness, and family feuds reign. If you’re one of those folks whose family feasts leave something to be desired, don’t despair! I’ve put together a list of superior new relatives you can spend Thanksgiving with, at least in the pages of a book.

The Parents

Book cover for What You Left Behind by Jessica VerdiMom: As far as parents go, Ryden’s mother in What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi is pretty fantastic. Ryden’s a teen dad who’s grieving for his late girlfriend and trying to raise a baby on his own, and his mom is the pillar of strength that keeps him together. She’s a strong woman who’s super loving and supportive, and even though she helps Ryden she also sets clear boundaries for what she will and won’t do so he learns to take responsibility for his own life. .

Book cover for Unspoken by Sarah Rees BrennanDad: Jon Glass, Kami’s dad in The Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Rees Brennan, is my favorite fictional father. Jon is just your regular guy, but he bravely steps up to protect his family and defend his town when needed. Not only is Jon courageous, he’s absolutely hilarious as well. He’s got a ton of humorously snappy one-liners, and his banter with Kami and her friends is funny enough to make me giggle-snort.

The Siblings

Book cover for How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten MillerBrother: I always thought it’d be neat to have a cool older brother to alternately tease and look after me. If I had to choose the ultimate big bro, it would be Flick from Kristen Miller’s novel How to Lead a Life of Crime. At heart he’s a good guy, one who’s willing to stick his neck out to help people, but he’s also a big, tough hard-ass who has no problem beating the crap out of people if they deserve it. I’m pretty sure he’d be a lot of fun as a sibling, with the added benefit of being able to scare the hell out of bullies or douchey exes if need be.

Book cover for Bloody Jack by L. A. MeyerSister: As my all-time favorite literary heroine, Jacky Faber, from L.A. Meyer’s Bloody Jack series, is my obvious pick for fictional sister. No one knows how to have a good time like Jacky – she’s adventurous and daring, always making friends and getting into trouble. I can imagine her deflecting potential familial tension by performing one of her song-and-dance routines (probably on top of the table) or telling tales of her exploits at sea .

The Grandparents

Book cover for The One Thing by Marci Lyn CurtisGrandpa: Gramps from The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis is a marvelously grouchy, cantankerous, but ultimately loving grandfather, and I think he’d make a great addition to any Thanksgiving dinner. Sure, he’d probably grumble about “kids today” and make comments under his breath about the new cranberry sauce recipe your mother experimented with this year, but you’d know that underneath all the grouchiness, he still loves his family very much.

Book cover for A Long Way From Chicago by Richard PeckGrandma: Grandma Dowdel, from A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck, is tough, gruff, and not afraid to play tricks on people in order to get her way or teach someone a lesson. She stretches the truth, wields a shotgun…and is ultimately a big softie, though she’d never admit it. She’s always doing her best to help people, even if it means employing stealth and bending the law to do so. She’s definitely someone I’d want by my side on Thanksgiving.

The Extended Family

Book cover for The Trolls by Polly HorvathAunt: As a kid I loved reading The Trolls by Polly Horvath, mostly due to the character of Aunt Sally. Eccentric, magnanimous, and sporting a magnificent beehive hairdo, there’s never a dull moment when Aunt Sally’s around. She has a way of making of making the ordinary extraordinary, and best of all, she tells the most exceptional stories.

Book cover for The Princess Bride by William GoldmanUncle: We’ve all got that one uncle who has a little too much to drink at family gatherings and starts reminiscing about his glory days. What better than for that uncle to be Inigo Montoya from William Goldman’s The Princess Bride? I feel like he’d be a blast, recounting stories from the good old days to his nieces and nephews for the millionth time (“And then I said to the six-fingered man, ‘Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!’”) and knocking over lamps in the family room while re-enacting one of his epic sword fights.

Book cover for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. RowlingCousins: What family dinner wouldn’t be improved with two pranksters like Fred and George Weasley, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, as your cousins? Think of all the hilarity they could cause, slipping Fainting Fancies into the turkey, setting off Wildfire Whiz-Bangs during dessert, or releasing magical creatures into the dining room. Sure, the rest of the family might get a little peeved by their antics, but at least you’d know your holidays would never be dull.

There you have it – my hand-picked list of relatives to share Thanksgiving with! Which literary relatives do you wish you could invite over for the holidays? Let me know in the comments!

Review: The Lonesome Young by Lucy Connors

The Lonesome Young Book Cover The Lonesome Young
Lucy Connors

Get swept away in the first book of the sensational romantic drama that is Romeo & Juliet meets Justified.

WHAT HAPPENS when the teenage heirs of two bitterly FEUDING FAMILIES can’t stay away from each other?

The Rhodales and the Whitfields have been sworn enemies for close on a hundred years, with a whole slew of adulterous affairs, financial backstabbing, and blackmailing that’s escalated the rivalry to its current state of tense ceasefire.

IT’S TIME TO LIGHT THE FUSE . . .

And now a meth lab explosion in rural Whitfield County is set to reignite the feud more viciously than ever before. Especially when the toxic fire that results throws together two unlikely spectators—proper good girl Victoria Whitfield, exiled from boarding school after her father’s real estate business melts down in disgrace, and town motorcycle rebel Mickey Rhodale, too late as always to thwart his older brothers’ dangerous drug deals.

Victoria and Mickey are about to find out the most passionate romances are the forbidden ones.

. . . ON A POWDER KEG FULL OF PENT-UP DESIRE, risk-taking daredevilry, and the desperate actions that erupt when a generation of teens inherits nothing but hate.

Review:

I find myself growing increasingly frustrated with instalove and other clichés in YA romance. It never used to be more than a mild annoyance to me, but lately I seem to be reaching the edge of my tolerance. There are only so many times I can read about someone feeling an immediate, unexplainable connection with some impossibly sexy stranger before I lose my cool.

Unfortunately for The Lonesome Young, it was the book that finally sent me over the edge. It’s got a lot of redeeming qualities, but I’ve been so inundated with YA tropes that I’ve reached my saturation point and couldn’t get past The Lonesome Young’s flaws.

Basic summary of this book? There are two families, the Rhodales and Whitfields, who’ve been at war for ages. They’ve got all kinds of beef with one another – romantically, financially, and otherwise. The feud, which has been at a tentative stand-off for a few years, is suddenly reignited when a new generation of Whitfields moves to town and shakes things up.

In this story there is Victoria Whitfield, the poor little rich girl who nobody understands. Then there’s Mickey Rhodale, the swaggering boy with a bad rep and secret heart of gold. Naturally, Mickey is dark and ripped and gorgeous. Naturally, Victoria is blond and curvy and gorgeous. Naturally, they immediately fall head over heels in love. Naturally, I wanted to hurl the book out the window.

“The powerful feeling of instant connection between us ran too deep to be pleasant, or even casual.”

Come on, guys. I understand instant attraction, but hitting it off with someone doesn’t mean you have to go straight to being fated lovers.

Another trope I’m beginning to loathe is the whole “sweet but spunky girl saves the damaged, undeserving guy with her angelic goodness.” Why are there so many tortured-soul boys in YA? And why can their demons only be exorcised by the power of a perky blond girl’s love?

“But where I was mad at the world, she was compassionate as she confronted the demons of a guy she’d been told to avoid and even fear.”

I’ve seen all of this before. It’s like Connors took a bunch of YA clichés and made an effort to check each one off the list. Guy calling the girl “princess”? Check. Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear? Check. Connors even went so far as to do the cheesy “admire the stars and say how beautiful they are while actually talking about the girl” bit. I’m not kidding. Here it is:

“‘Oh my gosh, that’s beautiful,’ I whispered.
‘Yeah. Beautiful.’ Mickey’s voice was husky and I turned my head and saw that he wasn’t looking at the scenery at all.
He was looking at me.”

The Lonesome Young is super melodramatic, too. In a way, some drama is justified – the mess the Rhodales and Whitfields get mired in over the course of the book is serious, life-or-death trouble. The stakes are high, and there’s no easy way out. This would actually be a strength of the book if Connors didn’t overdo it with hysterics. The events of the book speak for themselves; the characters don’t need to hammer the points home by wailing things like “This might explode into an inferno that could burn down the entire county.”

“Mickey Rhodale, for all of his dangerous, bad-boy exterior, had a hint of damaged vulnerability about him that I was pretty sure he didn’t let anybody else see, and he’s shown it to me.

Something inside me, in a very small voice, was saying, ‘Yes, of course. Finally. Here you are.’

And it scared me to death. But I had to face it head-on.”

It’s possible I’m being overly critical. Despite my raging, The Lonesome Young isn’t completely terrible. As I mentioned previously, there are several aspects I liked about this book. If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve been up to my eyeballs in instalove recently, I probably wouldn’t have been nearly so harsh in this review.

One noteworthy plus of The Lonesome Young is the complexity Connors weaves into the Whitfield and Rhodale families’ dynamics. Mickey and his half-brother Ethan share a complicated relationship, one that I was actually invested in. Mickey’s negative, dangerous experiences with Ethan in the present are countered by their more pleasant childhood memories. Like Mickey, you’re forced to wonder how the boy who used to play Three Musketeers and protect Mickey from harm came to be the person Ethan is during the events of the book.

Victoria’s family is believably flawed as well. There are moments when they’re vulnerable and human, and there are moments when they’re unreasonable and completely self-centered. They’re your classic terrible relatives without being caricatures.

Another thing I liked in The Lonesome Young is that Mickey’s not truly a bad boy. He does have some violence issues to work out, but for the most part his bad-boy reputation is an unfair one, caused by his association with his drug-dealing brothers. Mickey works hard, is honest with his parents, and stands his ground against his brothers’ negative influence. He tries to toe the line, and when he does get sucked into trouble it’s usually because his family gives him no choice in the matter. It was a relief not to have him be the typical tough guy with an attitude.

Because of these positives, I grugdingly awarded The Lonesome Young two whole stars. This is pretty generous, considering I was practically foaming at the mouth in rage for much of the book.

Review: Wolf by Alma Alexander

Wolf Book Cover Wolf
Alma Alexander

My name is Mal Marsh.

I was the oldest unTurned Were of my generation, waiting Turn after Turn for my own time... which never came. Until the day, driven by desperation and by the guilt I still carried concerning my sister Celia's tragic death, I decided it was time to stop waiting... and made a dangerous choice in the name of pride and fury.

Instead of remaining the Random Were that I was born... I enlisted the help of a friend, a creature beyond the strictly drawn boundaries of Were-kind, and chose to become a Lycan, a true wolf. I thought it would give me a chance to take my revenge on those I believed to be responsible for what had happened to my sister. Right until the moment I realized that things were much more complicated that I had ever believed possible... and that my choice might have far more repercussions than I had thought.

One thing was clear.

Everything I thought I knew about my family was wrong.

Review:

*Review may contain spoilers for Random, the first book in The Were Chronicles.*

Ten months. Ten. That’s how long I suffered in agony after finishing Random and its doozy of a cliffhanger ending. Ten slow, painful months to try to get over the shock, to daydream about the characters I was missing, and to speculate about what I could expect from the series’ next installment, Wolf.

Now that those ten (TEN!) months are finally over and the sequel has arrived, I can cheerfully report that Wolf is well worth the wait. It’s got everything I loved about Random – beautiful writing, fascinating characters, more information about the intriguing world of Were-kind – as well as an added bonus: it’s narrated by Mal, my favorite character from Random.

When I heard that Jazz Marsh’s moody, enigmatic older brother would be the point-of-view character in Wolf, I was giddy. In Random, Mal started out as a seemingly minor character, your stereotypical sullen, standoffish teenage boy. By the end, however, he surprised everyone – myself included – by Turning into a Werewolf and emerging as a major player in the Marsh family’s story as well as the story of Were-kind in general. My curiosity wasn’t just piqued, it was set aflame, and I couldn’t wait to see what lay in store for Mal in Wolf.

Wolf picks up the thread of Mal’s story and follows him to his new home among his fellow Werewolves, known as the Lycans. Whereas Random showed Were-kind interacting with non-shape-shifting humans in the world at large, Wolf is a microcosm, focusing solely on the inner workings of the Lycan community. The Lycan compound, with its strict hierarchies and jealously guarded secrets, is its own – exclusive – little world. The Werewolves have their own unique culture, prejudices, and standards, and woe to any who don’t abide by their rules.

In order for Mal to infiltrate their ranks and uncover the truth about Stay and its effects on Were like his sister, he must eschew his family, his upbringing, and everything he once knew. Becoming a member of the pack means forfeiting his choices and accepting all of the decisions the Alphas make for him. The pack chooses his college courses, his job, and even his mate. Yep, that’s right– even though he’s just 17, Mal is expected to marry a woman of the pack’s choosing and get to work producing little Lycan babies. Gotta start spreading that new, valuable DNA around, ya know?

I loved watching Mal come into his own over the course of this book, rolling with everything the Lycans throw at him, even the stuff wholly outside of his comfort zone. He grumbles, and struggles, and balks…and then he grits his teeth, puts his head down, and soldiers on, because it’s the only way for him to move forward. It was so rewarding to see this grouchy, self-pitying boy grow and mature and become someone I was so proud of.

Despite my fondness of Mal, or perhaps because of it, I was not a fan of Asia, the girl the Lycans choose to be Mal’s mate. Maybe it’s jealousy on my part, but Asia just seems too perfect: she’s gorgeous, wild, brilliantly intelligent, and always in control. I did initially enjoy the dynamic between her and Mal – their first interactions are fraught with understandable tension, what with both being strangers and being called to give up their dreams at the pack’s command. This tension soon gives way to affection, though, as the two quickly come to accept and even love one another. This transition from strangers to intimates happened too fast for me, and I would have liked the awkwardness and uncertainty to linger for a while longer, for the discovery of love to be gradual and even grudging.

My only other “complaint,” if you can call it that, is similar to one I had when reading Random. The diction and sentence structure, while lovely, don’t always match with the voices you’d expect the characters to have. Dialogue occasionally comes out sounding like philosophers engaging in a grand intellectual debate instead of two people carrying on a regular conversation, and even Mal’s internal monologues tend to read like dissertations at times. As I mentioned in my review of Random, though, Alma Alexander’s writing is so interesting and beautiful that it doesn’t really matter how lofty the tone is. For example, here’s a passage I found particularly insightful:

“My life was layered with these moments; if it could be dug into, like an archaeological site, there would be layers of ashes and waste left over from catastrophic volcanic disasters in between the fertile parts where something good or useful was happening.”

As Mal establishes himself within his new pack, he slowly begins to unravel the Lycans’ closely guarded secrets. The facts he discovers about Turning Houses and the Half-Souled make his skin crawl, and the more he uncovers – the closer he gets to finding out the truth about his sister – the greater the risk to himself and to his fledgling relationship with Asia. I enjoyed watching as the stakes were raised, plot twists popped up, and old friends and family from Random reappeared to lend Mal a helping hand.

If you enjoyed Random, I have no doubt you’ll be exceedingly pleased with Wolf. It’s a worthy progression of the series, and Mal is a protagonist you can root for, sympathize with, and even fall for. I’m so excited to see what’s next for Mal, his friends, and his family in The Were Chronicles’ final chapter and only hope the months fly by until book three is released!

A free ARC of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Wolf: Guest Post by Alma Alexander

If you’ve read Random, Alma Alexander’s novel about a family of shape-shifters and their numerous secrets, odds are you’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of the story’s sequel, Wolf. After the cliffhanger ending Alma tortured us with in Random, I couldn’t wait to get my greedy little paws on Wolf. Not only does it pick up following the shocking revelation of the first book, but it’s narrated by the character who intrigued me most in Random: Jazz Marsh’s mysterious older brother Mal.

A friend of mine recently confessed that she fell “a little bit in love” with Mal after meeting his character in the first book of The Were Chronicles, and I can’t say that I blame her. Mal is brooding and inscrutable, a curious amalgam of anger and guilt and wounded pride. He’s also one of the author’s all-time favorite characters, and she’s here today to share why.

About Wolf

WolfMy name is Mal Marsh.

Instead of remaining the Random Were that I was born…I enlisted the help of a friend, a creature beyond the strictly drawn boundaries of Were-kind, and chose to become a Lycan, a true wolf. I thought it would give me a chance to take my revenge on those I believed to be responsible for what had happened to my sister. Right until the moment I realized that things were much more complicated that I had ever believed possible… and that my choice might have far more repercussions than I had thought.

One thing was clear.

Everything I thought I knew about my family was wrong.

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Falling in Love

By Alma Alexander

When I first nutted out the storyline of The Were Chronicles in my head, I had, as usual, the most broad-strokes outline possible.

I don’t, as a rule, go in for detailed planning or outlining of my books, and I tend to find out what happens next in the same breathless fashion as my eventual readers do – they by reading and me by literally writing the next bit of the narrative. This can mean a very rollercoaster ride for the writer because there are often unexpected things that I never see coming until they flatten me. And boy howdy, did this happen with a vengeance when it came to this series.

These books evolved as a loose triad – not so much a trilogy as a triptych, a story arc seen and observed and most importantly reinterpreted by three different (VERY different!) POV characters.

Random, the first book in the series, showed up in the firm grip of young Jazz, who carried it with grace and humor and a sense of slow enlightenment. But for all that she was familiar territory, when it came to characters. I’m always writing books with strong female protagonists and the 15-year-old Jazz was (almost) a breeze. She was a known commodity, someone whose character I could simply sit down and pour out. She was funny and tragic and strong and beautiful and she was the rock on which I built my story.

But in “her” book, in Random, I also introduced her brother, Mal, the character who would become the POV character in book 2, Wolf. A 17-year-old boy who was tortured by things of a magnitude that would shatter a lesser being. He had to be so much, did Mal – he had to carry so much. And honestly, he was wholly strange in the sense that I had rarely – make that almost never before – written a full book from a male protagonist’s view of the world. He would be a challenge to portray accurately, sympathetically, and believably.

So I started writing his book, in his voice, and waited to see what would happen.

And what happened…was little short of miraculous.

I watched this little boy I had created from my own mind and heart and spirit. I watched him struggle to deal with the weight of the worlds I had laid on his narrow young shoulders, trying to come to terms with difficult things. I watched him *fail* to do that. I watched him turn into this utterly believable sulky, whiny, self-pitying teenage…BOY. A REAL boy. Someone whom I had no problem imagining stepping out of the pages of my book and existing in the real world. Many real people like him, I am almost certain of that, already do – or at least many like this difficult to like early character whom one reviewer has described as a “hostile witness.” That’s exactly what he is – he’s been shaped by forces which are titanic, by love and loss and a sense of inadequacy and self loathing for reasons he can do absolutely nothing about and by a shattering tragic guilt which overshadows his life to the point of threatening to permanently destroy him…until he finds a way to turn that guilt and that sense of personal failure into an ill-thought-out plan of personal revenge, in his own name and in the name of the beloved sister he has always believed himself responsible for the loss of.

And this is where his story really begins. Because at this point, I saw him struggle to deal with his demons, I saw him come face to staring face with one of them… and instead of falling or whining or sulking or doing anything at all that hearkened back to his earlier difficult teenage self, he stood up straight, looked everything in the eye, and TOOK IT ON. Against all odds, against any and all words of wisdom, against everything he knew – putting into jeopardy all of his plans – because he found something else, something bigger, something greater, something that demanded all of him…and he gave it. All.

Does that sound like I kind of fell in love with him at this point? You’d be right. I did. He was so strong, and yet so vulnerable, that everything in me rose to both applaud and protect him.

Perhaps it was that second impulse that breathed life into another character in this story.

I was the author. I was God. I was above and beyond this universe, and it seemed that all I could do for poor Mal was to keep piling grief on him. But inside the story lurked another difficult character, another rebel – Asia. Asia the half-Lycan, with her own dramas and burdens. A touch bitter, bowing down to pack loyalty and doing everything that the pack demanded of her…including being mated within the pack with the newcomer, the boy younger than she by a handful of years, the entity she half-disparagingly refers to as Wonderboy, and trying to make the best out of the situation…until everything crumbles around BOTH of them and she is forced to make an almost impossible choice: her pack, or her mate.

I could not help Mal, I could not save him, so I created this strong, savvy, fiercely intelligent, proud young she-wolf to run at his side. And no, she was not a Mary Sue. She was not, in any way, me. She was the character whom Mal needed to survive this story, and when he needed her she was there.

This is very much that thing which is known in the trade as a “coming of age” book – and both of these young people come of age within it. They are faced with difficult challenges that make them take adult decisions way before they are ready to do that – and they rise to the occasion. They are both adrift, lonely, alone, lost, trying to find a place to belong – but that’s the beginning of the book. By the end, they haven’t adapted themselves to the world – they forced the world into a new conformation which held a new and unexpected and wholly unique new place for them. They were also no longer alone. They weren’t standing back to back, forever looking in opposite directions. No, they were standing there, together, steady, hand in hand, staring the world and all of its demands down until it backs off.

It is not an easy place, and it’s likely to get harder. But it is theirs, and they are there together, and I think, with Asia at his side, that Mal can take anything on at this point. He’s still young but he’s a tempered sword, and he’s a deadly force to be reckoned with.

He is in so many ways a gift of a character – and yes, I fully realize that he can be difficult to like. That, I think, may be the point. He is flesh and blood – he is not a pretty picture painted to be admired by readers, he is there as a full equal to those readers, as real as they, someone they could wrench their eyes away from the book and easily recognize in someone standing right beside them in the “real” world in which they live. He is quite possibly the first male protagonist of mine who has carried the plotline of an entire novel on his own shoulders, and despite having had little practice at writing such characters…this one stepped out fully formed, and perfect. I am so ridiculously PROUD of him.

Mal is an unbelievably powerful character for all his being “difficult” – and by the end of the book, loving him, feeling this insane urge to run out and protect him against all the drama and mayhem that I myself unleashed upon him, it was the best I could do to give him someone like Asia, someone who lived in his world and who could love him and trust him and believe in him and work beside him as partner and as someone to love.

Mal will stay with me for a long time. For someone who never really existed outside the words on the page, he is instantly recognizable to me – I can close my eyes and he is with me, with those brooding eyes, that sardonic grin, that stubborn strength of character which brought him through everything, if not completely unscarred, then at least in one piece. I threw enough at him to break him and he would not break, he shouldered it all and stood tall under the burden and looked me in the eye and said, Damn you, I will survive this. Yes, I will, and all those whom I love, also. Do your worst. I will live. I will endure. I will not ever bend or break or stop being ME.

All I can do from here is smile, and nod, and whisper to Asia, Take good care of him. You won’t find his like again.

About the Author

Alma Alexander author photo

Alma Alexander’s life so far has prepared her very well for her chosen career. She was born in a country which no longer exists on the maps, has lived and worked in seven countries on four continents (and in cyberspace!), has climbed mountains, dived in coral reefs, flown small planes, swum with dolphins, touched 2000-year-old tiles in a gate out of Babylon. She is a novelist, anthologist and short story writer who currently shares her life between the Pacific Northwest of the USA (where she lives with her husband and two cats) and the wonderful fantasy worlds of her own imagination. You can find out more about Alma on her website, her Facebook page, or her blog.

Don’t forget to check back on Wednesday to read my review of Wolf!