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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Interview: Atia Abawi, author of The Secret Sky + a Giveaway!

Today I'm thrilled to welcome Atia Abawi, author of The Secret Sky, to the blog. If you're looking for diverse settings, cultures and characters in your YA reading, this is a great book for you! It's a story that's sad and heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful.

First, here's a little about the book and about Atia, and then we'll get to my questions.

The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi
Published by Philomel on September 2, 2014

Synopsis from Goodreads: Set in present-day Afghanistan, this is the story of two teenagers, one Pashtun and one Hazara, who must fight against their culture, their tradition, their families, and the Taliban to stay together. Told in three rotating perspectives—the two teens and another boy in the village who turns them in to the local Taliban—this novel depicts both the violent realities of living in Afghanistan, as well as the beauty of the land and the cultures there. And it shows that love can bloom in even the darkest of places.

About the author: Atia Abawi spent almost five years as a foreign correspondent in Kabul and based these characters and this story on people she met during her work there. Born to Afghan parents in West Germany and raised in the United States, Atia currently lives in Jerusalem with her husband, Conor Powell.  You can follow her on Twitter @AtiaAbawi.

Atia has made several YouTube videos on young love in Afghanistan, her personal connection to The Secret Sky, and the message of The Secret Sky.

Jen:  Hi Atia -- welcome to the blog! Thanks so much for agreeing to answer a few questions about your work and your book.

Atia: Thanks for having me!

Jen: You travel around the world as a foreign correspondent for NBC News. What prompted you to write a novel, and how did you find time to do that?

Atia:  It has always been a dream of mine to write a novel and when I had the chance I ran with it. I’ll admit it was difficult to transition from reporting news to using my imagination but it was an amazing experience.

Finding the time was not easy. I could not write while I was working, my brain could not handle a transition from news to novel. The book was written during vacation time. There were times my husband would make me sit at the hotel desk and type for two-hours before I could enjoy the time away from a war zone. 

Jen: You were raised in the United States by Afghan parents. What were some of your favorite books when you were a teenager?

Atia: As a pre-teen I loved R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series. And I still love the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling – admittedly that followed me through young adulthood. 

I also read pretty much anything that Oprah recommended in her book club ☺

Jen: In your introduction to The Secret Sky, you explain that you based Fatima and Sami’s village on a real place that you visited in 2005. Can you tell us a little about Ajristan and its residents?

Photo from Atia Abawi's Facebook
Atia: Ajristan is one of the most beautiful places I had ever laid my eyes on. The landscape is breathtaking but it was the people that really captured my heart. The kindness I witnessed there was like nothing I had experienced before. I was shocked at how open and honest they were in sharing their hopes, fears, and dreams to a complete stranger from a different world. They always insisted on feeding me when they barely had enough to feed their own families. 

Photo from

The kindness and love I witnessed from all made it so hard to say goodbye. I knew deep down, I would likely never see them again. I even cried when I was hugging the women goodbye. That’s when I noticed that my emotions caused even the men to turn their gaze – because my tears were apparently contagious. The same men who many in the world would judge by the appearance of their turbans and beards – were some of the softest and kindest ones I had met in all my travels. 

Another thing I cannot forget about Ajristan is the water from the shallow river and streams they have there. I touched on it in the book. It was this cold sweet water that really drove my taste buds to dance. It’s hard to explain how water can be delicious – but it was the most delicious water I have ever had in my entire life. 

Photo from
Jen: As a parent, I found Fatima’s mother to be such a sad and complicated character. Can you talk a little about writing her character, and about the challenges involved in being a woman in Afghanistan?

Atia: I wish I could say that it was hard writing her character but it was not. Mainly because in my time in Afghanistan as a journalist I witnessed far too many injustices – primarily directed at women and children, and often by family members. The country is still considered the most dangerous place to be a woman. A United Nations statistic says that 90% of women suffer some sort of domestic abuse – most women’s shelters will tell you that figure is too low. 

To be born female in Afghanistan today is to be dealt a very challenging card. The world really is against you there. It is a place where a woman can be raped and then killed by her family for the shame and dishonor it brings them. Honor killings are common practice and with some families the slightest offense is seen as dishonorable.

And it is not just men who are behind the abuse. Often times you will see women torturing women. I witnessed this myself and it was infuriating. In fact, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was little help during my time in Afghanistan. I heard story after story of women going there for help only to be beaten by female employees that worked there and told to go home to their families and stop complaining.  

Jen: The ending of The Secret Sky is fairly resolved, yet I saw a few people on Goodreads asking about a sequel. Will there be one, or are you working on anything else?

Atia: It is always a possibility ☺ I am not currently working on another book at the moment but I would love to in the near future. I am now living and working in Jerusalem and always looking at the complexities of life here.

Jen: Wow -- Jerusalem sounds like a fascinating setting for a future book! Thanks so much for stopping by!

Atia: Thank you!

Thanks to Atia's publisher, Philomel, I have a copy of the book to give away to a US resident. Enter below:

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hot Off the Presses! New YA Releasing October 21-27

Hot Off the Presses -- brand new YA releases!

Welcome to Hot Off the Presses!  

Tuesday is book release day, so every Tuesday I tell you about all the great new YA books you can buy in the week to come. If you're a reviewer, you can also link your blog or Goodreads reviews of any YA book publishing in the current month so we can all check them out!
Enter the October giveaway! This month's winner can pick any book up to $15 on either Amazon (for US winner) or The Book Depository (for international winner.) Enter by linking your reviews or commenting on other people's linked reviews. 

Hot Off the Presses aims to include every traditionally published YA. Please let me know about books I might have missed! Some titles may have different release dates outside the US.

Time's Edge Ticker Stone Cold Touch
Time's Edge (Chronos File #2) by Rysa Walker  (Skyscape)
Ticker by Lisa Mantchev (Skyscape)
Stone Cold Touch (Dark Elements #2) by Jennifer L. Armentrout (Scholastic)

Blue Lily, Lily Blue Ice Dragon pic name
Blue Lily, Lily Blue (Raven Cycle #3) by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic)
The Ice Dragon by George RR Martin (Tor)
Famous in Love by Rebecca Searle (Poppy)

Loop pic name Follow Me Through Darkness
Loop by Karen Atkins (St Martin's Griffin)
How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon (Henry Holt)
Follow Me Through Darkness by Danielle Ellison (Spencer Hill)

Beware the Wild By Way of Accident Sorcerer Heir
Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker (Harper)
By Way of Accident by Laura Miller 
Sorcerer's Heir by Cinda Williams Chima (Disney-Hyperion)

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Extra! Extra! Great Books and Computer Woes

Extra! Extra!

Extra! Extra! is my weekend post featuring brand new additions to my TBR pile as well as a summary of what's new on the blog.

This weekend I'm linking to Stacking the Shelves @ Tynga's Reviews and/or to Sunday Post hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. 


I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios (February 2015, Henry Holt)
A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray (November 2014, Harper)


EVERYONE can enter Hot Off the Presses  AND the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop!

US and Canada -- just covering ALL the bases: Halloween Thrills and Chills Giveaway!

And .. my computer problems. First my laptop battery died. I took it to the Apple Store to get it fixed,  and when they opened the computer up, it did something crazy to my trackpad. It's ALL messed up. Even when I use a mouse it's a little messed up. So back to the Genius Bar this weekend and I hope they can sort it out :(

I should be able to return comments on my iPad, so leave me one and tell me what's new with you!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Freebie Friday: Fall ARCs Grab Bag!

Happy Friday! 

Today's giveaway is for the winner's choice of fall ARCs. There's a New Adult, a historical/paranormal, a couple contemporaries...

Due to shipping costs, this is US only, but if you live outside the US, you can enter Hot Off the Presses  AND the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop!

US/Canada residents can enter the Halloween Thrills and Chills Giveaway here!

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mini-Reviews: Snow Like Ashes and Even in Paradise

 photo MiniReviews_zps77a64c62.jpg

Welcome to Mini-Reviews, in which I give you a quick opinion on a couple of new books. Today I'm featuring a YA fantasy and a book that I thought was a YA contemp, but is actually a retelling ... and both of them had plot twists that I guessed early on!

Snow Like Ashes
by Sara Raasch
Published on October 14
by Balzer + Bray

Source: eARC from the publisher

Synopsis from Goodreads: Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since. Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again. So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, and serving her kingdom just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics – and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.
My mini-take: I'm a big believer in trusting your instincts as a reader. If I'm not connecting with a book after four or five chapters, things rarely turn around for me. I'm also a picky fantasy reader who looks for a simultaneous complexity of world and characters with a simplicity of concept. 

Sadly, Snow Like Ashes wasn't for me. I love strong heroines, but Meira's constant going-to-prove-myself-whatever-it-takes attitude felt reckless rather than brave. I didn't really understand the season-themed story world. The book features a love triangle comprised of three fickle people, and had a plot twist that I saw coming. That was the main reason I kept reading -- I wanted to see if I was right.  (I was!) I can see from my Goodreads stream that some of my fellow bloggers and friends have liked this, so don't take my word for it -- if you're a big fan of fantasy, definitely read other reviews and/or give this one a try. And if you loved this, let me know why in comments!

Even in Paradise
by Chelsey Philpot
Published on October 14, 2014
by Harper Teen

Source: eARC from the publisher

Synopsis from Goodreads: When Julia Buchanan enrolls at St. Anne’s at the beginning of junior year, Charlotte Ryder already knows all about the former senator’s daughter. Most people do... or think they do. Charlotte certainly never expects she’ll be Julia’s friend. But almost immediately, she is drawn into the larger than-life-new girl’s world—a world of midnight rendezvous, dazzling parties, palatial vacation homes, and fizzy champagne cocktails. And then Charlotte meets, and begins falling for, Julia’s handsome older brother, Sebastian. But behind her self-assured smiles and toasts to the future, Charlotte soon realizes that Julia is still suffering from a tragedy. A tragedy that the Buchanan family has kept hidden … until now.
My mini-take: Even in Paradise felt like a book that I've read many times before.  I wrote that on Goodreads, and then another blogger messaged me and was like, "hey, Jen this is a retelling of Brideshead Revisited." Well ... okay, then.  I haven't read the book, seen the movie or the mini-series, but this still felt like a pretty familiar story:

Charlotte, a poor scholarship student at a fancy boarding school, befriends Julia, a rich, madcap girl from a super-connected Kennedy-esque family. When Julia was fourteen, she was the sole survivor of a car accident that killed her sister and her sister's boyfriend. The story's pace is pretty slow, and there's an obvious CHADDS (Constantly Hinted At Deep Dark Secret) that you have to wait for until the end.  I had a prediction about the CHADDS ... and ... I was right :)

I'm not generally a fan of "wait and wait and wait until the big reveal" plots, unless the reveal is truly surprising. And for me, this story didn't bring anything new or surprising to the whole "rich people behaving badly and then throwing money at all the problems they make" plot. But if you love stories like that -- or if you're a Brideshead fan -- you should definitely give this a try.

If you want to see the plot twist for each book, click on the spoiler button below:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Spooktacular Giveaway Hop -- INT!

Welcome to my stop on the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop! Don't be scared -- my giveaway is open internationally :)

If you are the winner chosen by Rafflecopter, you can choose ANY spooky, scary, creepy, or suspenseful book of your choice up to $17 from either Amazon (for US winner) or The Book Depository (for international winner.)

Here are some suggestions of scary books I've read this month -- but feel free to interpret "scary" however you like :)

pic name pic name pic name

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hot Off the Presses: New YA Releasing October 14-20

Hot Off the Presses -- brand new YA releases!

Welcome to Hot Off the Presses!  

Tuesday is book release day, so every Tuesday I tell you about all the great new YA books you can buy in the week to come. If you're a reviewer, you can also link your blog or Goodreads reviews of any YA book publishing in the current month so we can all check them out!
NEW October giveaway! This month's winner can pick any book up to $15 on either Amazon (for US winner) or The Book Depository (for international winner.) Enter by linking your reviews or commenting on other people's linked reviews. 

Hot Off the Presses aims to include every traditionally published YA. Please let me know about books I might have missed. Some titles may have different release dates outside the US.

Chasing Power Glory O'Brien's History of the Future The Cure for Dreaming Playing for the Commandant
Chasing Power by Susan Beth Durst (Bloomsbury)
Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King (Little, Brown)
The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters (Amulet)
Playing for the Commandant by Suzy Zail (Candlewick)

Fire Artist Trust Me I'm Lying Undivided
The Fire Artist by Daisy Whitney (Bloomsbury)
Trust Me, I'm Lying by Mary Elizabeth Summer (Delacorte)
Undivided (Unwind #4) by Neil Shusterman (Simon & Schuster)

Accidental Highwayman The Terminals Damaged
The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp (Tor Teen)
The Terminals by Royce Scott Buckingham (Thomas Dunne)
Damaged by Amy Reed (Simon Pulse)

My True Love Gave To Me They All Fall Down Mortal Gods
My True Love Gave To Me edited by Stephanie Perkins (St. Martins)
They All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire (Delacorte)
Mortal Gods (Goddess Wars #2) by Kendare Blake (Tor Teen)

Doubt Factory Stitching Snow Snow Like Ashes
The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)
Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis (Disney-Hyperion)
Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch (Balzer + Bray)

Oh Yeah Audrey Clariel Redeemed
Oh, Yeah Audrey! by Tucker Shaw (Amulet)
Clariel (Abhorsen #4) by Garth Nix (Harper)
Redeemed (House of Night #12) by P. C. Cast (St. Martins)

Remake Even in Paradise Very Bad Things Sublime
Remake by Ilima Todd (Shadow Mountain)
Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot (Harper)
Very Bad Things by Susan McBride (Delacorte)
Sublime by Christina Lauren (Simon & Schuster)

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