ALA Booklist Starred Review

Booklist starred reviewThe First Twenty has made the August 2015 print issue of Booklist, and I couldn’t be happier! It received a starred review from Michael Cart. Check out what he has to say!

In the wake of the Collapse, billions have died and society has fractured into small communities of survivors. Two such are called Settlers and Scavengers. Their natural antagonism heats up when the Scavengers kill Enrique, the leader of the Settlers. His daughter, Peyton, assumes his role and captures one of the Scavengers, a young woman named Nixie. The two quickly fall in love, a relationship that is forbidden given their circumstances. Subsequently hoping to establish radio communication with other surviving outposts, Peyton, Nixie, and a handful of others make a potentially perilous quest to the ruined city of Hartford. In the process, a closely guarded secret of Nixie’s is revealed, one that can change all of their lives. But will it be for better or worse? There is nothing terribly original about Lavoie’s somewhat tame dystopian novel, but the relationship between Peyton and Nixie is well realized and heartfelt, and there is enough action to hold readers’ attentions to the end.

— Michael Cart

#bookaday – Day 4: Least favorite book by favorite author

This is a hard one. I have books I don’t like, but when I like an author, I tend to like ALL of the things they write. It’s hard to say which one is the “least favorite,” especially if it’s a series, because that just seems…strange. So I’m sitting here trying to write this post, staring at my bookshelves and trying to ponder the answer to this one. And it’s hard.

I think I got it now. There was a romance series of eight books I read many years ago. The series deals with eight brothers, four sets of twins, and a prophecy surrounding them. I liked how each of the brothers was different and had different powers. I thought the women, for the most part, were really great for the men. I do remember being disappointed with the fourth book, The Song, by Jean Johnson. I just didn’t think the woman paired with that brother was right. I don’t know why. I didn’t care for her too much, though she was nice enough. I also was upset with what happened to him in regards to his voice, and I wasn’t satisfied with the resolution at all.

Maybe I should reread the series, though. It’s been awhile and I did truly enjoy the world building.

Plus it was the first ever romance book I read cover to cover without putting down. And the first romance series I actually finished. I ended up collecting all of the books as trade paperbacks because I liked them so much. And if that doesn’t say something, well…

Author Interview: Greg Herren!

Greg Herren is the prolific author of adult mysteries such as Bourbon Street Blues and Murder in the Irish Channel. Recently he has added young adult fiction to his repertorie of books, with his latest, Lake Thirteen, due to arrive in August. Greg makes his home in New Orleans, a place I desperately want to visit someday! When I mentioned conducting author interviews for this site, I was thrilled when Greg agreed to be interviewed. You see, I’ve been a fan of his for years. After reading this, if you aren’t already, hopefully you become one, too!



Many people will recognize the name Greg Herren and know about the adult mysteries you’ve written. When and why did you decide to jump into the young adult market as well?

GH: Ironically, I was writing young adult fiction before I started writing the mystery series. I wrote the first drafts of three young adult novels during the period 1991-1994. Those novels were (in order of writing) Sara, Sorceress, and Sleeping Angel. After I finished each, I just put them in a drawer and never did anything further with them. I started writing my first Chanse MacLeod mystery in 1996 (I worked primarily on short stories in the years between). A very dear friend started working as a y/a acquisitions editor for a major press in 2007, and she knew I had these manuscripts sitting in a drawer—a Big Six publisher had expressed some interest in 2005, but then Katrina happened and…well, nothing came of THAT because I dropped the ball—and she asked me to do a proposal for Sorceress. They didn’t take it, but a few years later she started her own small y/a press, and she wanted to publish it. Bold Strokes started doing y/a around the same time, so I sold Sara and Sleeping Angel to them! So, in a way, publishing y/a novels was like coming full circle for me. I really enjoy writing them, honestly. I have ideas for so many more…

Compared to your adult novels, how have your young adult novels been received? Do you find your longtime fans are reading them, and that new fans of the YA novels are also reading your older material?

GH: Honestly, I was absolutely terrified—I wasn’t sure if the y/a’s would find an audience, or what teens would think of them. My usual readers seem to be reading and enjoying them, and I think they’re finding a new teen audience as well. I was deeply humbled and honored when Sleeping Angel won a mainstream award—I certainly never saw that coming! I’ve gotten some emails from queer teens that found them and liked them, which is always really nice. I try to write books that I would have liked when I was a teen back in the Dark Ages. I don’t know if the teens are reading the two series—I’m not sure how I’d feel about a teen reading the Scotty books—there’s a lot of frank talk about drugs and sex in them, but on the other hand, at least Scotty is very open-minded about sex and sexuality, so they might be helpful that way.

Your next YA novel, Lake Thirteen comes out in August. Can you tell us a little more about it and what inspired you to write this story?

GH: Lake Thirteen is a ghost story set at a rural resort in the mountains of upstate New York. I do love ghost stories; always have, ever since I was a little kid. The resort is actually based on Garnet Hill Lodge, where the Bold Strokes Books author retreat was held several years ago. I just loved the idea that the lake was Thirteenth Lake, and the road up the mountain to the resort was Thirteenth Lake Road. One of the first nights we were there, we went ghost hunting in a cemetery on the mountain, and I had a very similar experience there to what my main character in Lake Thirteen does—although the rest of it is totally fiction. That experience in the cemetery inspired me, and I really loved the resort. It was so beautiful, and I really wanted to write about it, and the experience I had in the cemetery. I also had the best time there—it was my first time meeting a lot of my BSB colleagues in person; it was an amazing experience, and we’ve all stayed in touch. I’m bummed we haven’t had another retreat.

What would you like readers to take out of your books?

GH: First of all, I want anyone who reads one of my books to feel satisfied when they’ve finished reading. Secondly, I hope they want to read another one of mine! And third, I hope that any teen—gay or straight—comes away from one of my y/a’s with a sense that it’s okay to be different.

Now for the tough question! If you could choose one of your characters to be for a day, which one would it be and what would you do?

GH: Actually, I think it would be interesting to be Mouse from Timothy. That book was a lot of fun to write, and I really enjoyed writing from Mouse’s point of view.

I know this is the most unfair question to ask a reader or writer, but if you had to choose a favorite book, which one would it be and why? (Although a top five would be okay if you can’t choose just one!)

GH: It IS hard to choose just one, but I have to say, if cornered, Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier. Timothy is an homage to Rebecca, and I go back and reread it every couple of years or so. It’s just extraordinary, and despite practically knowing the book by heart, every time I read it I take something new away from it; it’s like the book changes somehow between readings. I recently wrote a lengthy essay about it for the Mystery Writers of America newsletter, talking about how the book truly defies categorization.

But I am going to give four more: Double Indemnity by James M. Cain; East of Eden by John Steinbeck; The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett; and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. If I ever got to teach a Modern American Lit class, those would be the five books the class would be reading. (Oh, I know du Maurier was British, but it was a number one bestseller in the US for two years.)

After Lake Thirteen, what comes next? Can you give us some hints as to new YA novels in the works?

GH: Right now, I am writing the sixth Scotty Bradley adventure, Baton Rouge Bingo, and after that I am writing some pseudonymous novels. But I do have another y/a under contract—Mermaid Inn, which I am really looking forward to writing. It’s my attempt to write a y/a noir—very hardboiled—and am very excited about it. It opens with an eighteen year old gay boy arriving at Mermaid Inn, on an inlet off Mobile Bay, to spend the summer working as a lifeguard…but he has an ulterior motive for taking the job. The previous summer, his boyfriend worked there—and disappeared without a trace.

I have ideas for so many more, but one I’ve been itching to write for a long time—I’ve outlined it, and written several chapters already—is a ghost story set in Alabama with ties to the Civil War called Ruins. I have several ideas for New Orleans y/a’s—a ghost story called Voices in an Empty Room, for example, and another whose working title is Maid of New Orleans, about a young girl who hears Joan of Arc’s voices. I also have an idea for a trilogy about a girl descended from a long line of ancient Egyptian priestesses, whose working title is Daughter of Bast—the girl turns sixteen and discovers she can transform into a cat. I haven’t gotten much further than that, really—I have so little free time as it is, but I have so many ideas! I have creative ADD, and when I start work on a new novel my creativity just rages out of control. I don’t know if I’ll ever have time to write all the books I want to!

Many thanks to Greg Herren for stopping by to chat! Make sure you check out his newest YA novel when it is released in August, and if you haven’t done so already, check out his previous novels as well! I’ve read and reviewed Sara and Timothy and loved them both! I know you will too.

Book Review: For Want of a Fiend by Barbara Ann Wright

Description from Bold Strokes Books:

Princess Katya Nar Umbriel’s uncle Roland rose from the grave, kidnapped her cousin, and stripped her of her greatest weapon—her Fiendish power. Without her Fiend, Katya doubts her ability to weather the storm her uncle is brewing. When she lacks what even the children in her family possess, can she even call herself an Umbriel?

In only a short time, Starbride has become the princess consort, a pyradisté, and a member of a secret order in charge of protecting the crown. Even steeped in responsibility, she’s still an outsider. While wading through court intrigue and resisting schemes to break her bond with Katya, Starbride must prepare for a covert war. Roland is waiting, watching, ready for any chink in their armor, and he doesn’t care who knows their secrets.

ARGH. The author did it to me again. I loved this book so much, I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it was without giving away too much.

My favorite characters returned, and they’re even MORE amazing in this book than they are in the first, if possible. If you want to read this book and didn’t read The Pyramid Waltz, stop and go back. Do NOT read this one without it, because you don’t want to miss out on the awesome, and you’ll be confused.

There are so many fun moments in this book tossed amidst the chaos and fighting. And they usually come in two short words. Examples? Stud Hugo. Naked parade. Those two phrases cracked me up so badly for quite some time.

Hugo is sweet in the first book, and he’s really starting to come into his own in this book. He might still be very young, but it’s clear he knows what he must do as a young lord.

Pennynail. PENNYNAIL! Between him and Hugo I kept swooning. I just loved them! And readers FINALLY get to see who Pennynail really is. If that’s not incentive enough to read this book, I don’t know what is!

Two new characters who are pretty badass and climbing the ranks of my favorites are Castelle and Ursula. Castelle is a former lover of Katya’s, but she’s loyal to the crown. For some reason when I picture her, I see a pirate, even though she’s not. She’s a Baroness! And Ursula is the Captain of the Watch for the city, and though she’s skeptical, she is smart and sticks with what she knows is right.

I cannot wait for the next book. There HAS to be because it leaves off on a terrible cliffhanger and I just want to throttle the author for that. But I know it’ll be well worth any way I must endure because Barbara Ann Wright’s books just keep getting better and better!

This book will be available May 2013. You can now preorder the book from Bold Strokes Books.

Blog Tour: Play Me, I’m Yours by Madison Parker

Play Me, I'm Yours Blog Tour - Madison Parker

Kissing Games

If you’ve read a number of young adult novels, you’ve likely encountered party scenes. Let’s face it—young people like to party. And no one likes to party alone, so even those who aren’t fond of parties often find themselves dragged along by their friends. Writing a party scene can be a lot of fun because it opens the door for all sorts of potential conflict:

  • Characters who normally wouldn’t hang out with each other may find themselves engaged in conversation.
  • Parties almost never have adult chaperones, so characters can get away with doing or saying things they wouldn’t be able to in other public settings, like school.
  • If there’s alcohol involved, characters may behave in highly unpredictable ways.

And if you’re a fan of angst, what better way to make two seemingly mismatched characters who’ve been denying their attraction for one another come together in the awkwardest possible way, than with a kissing game?

Madison's DareOne of the most popular party games (often used with smaller groups of people) is Truth or Dare. Truth or Dare has been around forever. Well, at least since the early 1700s, when it was called “Questions and Commands.” The photo on the left shows me sticking my foot in a toilet, a dare given to me by my friends at a slumber party. Do people still play Truth or Dare? Yes! In fact, check out this Truth or Dare phone app and take the game with you wherever you go. For a list of sample questions and dares, click here. Traditionally, both questions and dares frequently have sexual undertones. I’ve read many novels where teen characters play Truth or Dare. It’s a great way to force a character to reveal his hidden fears or desires and/or do things he would never otherwise do on his own. There’s also a version of the game called Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Kiss, Pash, or Torture:

Truth: You must answer a question truthfully
Dare: You must complete a dare
Double Dare: You and the person describing the dare must both complete the dare
Kiss: You must kiss someone or something in the room
Pash: Similar to kiss, but much steamier (tongue-kissing, groping, etc.)
Torture: Everyone in the room pounces on you and tickles you

Another popular party game is Spin the Bottle. There are many variations of the game, but it’s most interesting if players are not allowed to respin when the bottle lands on a same-sex partner. This video shows a game in full swing. In “Extreme” Spin the Bottle, each time the same pairing is chosen, the couple must kiss for an increasingly longer duration, and if the bottle lands on the person who spins, that person must remove an article of clothing.

And last but not least, there’s Seven Minutes in Heaven, where a chosen pair is locked in a closet for seven minutes, during which time they’re expected to make out. Have any of you ever played kissing games at parties? Let me know in the comments below! In Play Me, I’m Yours, Lucas finds himself at a party where the game is being played, and he’s terrified that he’ll be picked. Not only does he fear drawing attention to himself, but he’s never kissed a girl before, and he’s not sure he’d be able to go through with it. The excerpt below sets up the scene:


“Attention! Attention everyone! It’s time for our first party game.” Several whoops and hollers rose from the crowd as Brian Kim yelled, “Listen up! We’re playing Seven Minutes in Heaven. I’m sure you all know the rules. Ladies, if you want to play, put your name in the jar.”

One of the football players walked around handing slips of paper to all the girls. Lucas watched Trish draw little hearts and a butterfly around her name, kiss the slip of paper, and then drop it into the collection jar.

Donovan groaned. “This game sucks. Like I want to make out with some girl. At least with Spin the Bottle I’d have a decent chance of getting some man-on-man action.”

Trish laughed. “You could always put your name in the jar, D. But I doubt any of the guys here would have the balls to spend seven minutes in a closet with you.”

“Their balls should be so lucky,” he said.

Trish turned to Lucas. “What about you, Boo?”

“Yeah, Lucas,” Donovan said. “Are your balls brave enough to spend seven minutes in the closet with me?”

Everyone in the group turned to look at him. He gulped. He could feel the heat in his face, and knew he was turning red. “Um… I don’t know.”

Donovan snorted. “I’ll be back. Gotta drain the main vein.”

Trish wrinkled her nose in distaste, then dragged Lucas away from the group of kids they’d been talking to. She lowered her voice as she spoke. “I wish you-know-who were here. I would die and go to heaven for seven minutes alone with him.”

Zach Teagan? Lucas would too.

Brian Kim shouted to gain everyone’s attention. “Last call. Everyone have their name in the jar? I’m going first.” He retrieved the jar from somewhere in the crowd and pulled out a name. He waited until the noise died down before reading it aloud. “Lisa Scott!”

The crowd cheered, and Trish said, “Lucky bitch. Brian’s hot.”

Lucas silently agreed, remembering what Brian looked like in swim shorts.

As Lisa and Brian entered the closet, several kids crowded outside the door, trying to hear what was happening inside. Lucas heard laughter and teasing from the crowd but paid little attention to it. His mind raced. Would he be expected to play? He quickly scanned the room, looking at all the girls. Whose name might he draw? What if she refused to play with him? He’d be humiliated. What if she didn’t refuse and he had to go in the closet with her? God, that would be just as embarrassing. He’d never kissed a girl before. What if he was bad at it? Would she tell everyone? What if he went in and then chickened out?

“Trish?” He tugged on her shirt sleeve. “How do they decide which boys are gonna play?”

“The guy who comes out of the closet gets to pick the next guy. Then he chooses a girl’s name from the jar.”


“What’s the matter? Are you nervous? Maybe you’ll pick me,” she said, laughing.

Lucas’s eyes widened.

“Don’t worry, Boo. You don’t have to play. You can pass.”

He breathed a sigh of relief.

“If you decide to pick a name, though, you have to follow through with it. Them’s the rules.”

Lucas considered hiding in the bathroom to avoid being chosen, but he was afraid he’d run into Donovan, and he didn’t want to leave Trish standing by herself. He’d have to wait. He didn’t think Brian would choose him anyway. Brian had never given him trouble before.

“10! 9! 8! 7! 6! 5! 4! 3! 2! 1!”

The closet door flung open and out stumbled a disheveled Brian and Lisa. They both had smiles on their faces and were wobbly on their feet. Was that because they were drunk or because they were coming off an endorphin rush?

Brian waved his arms in an attempt to hush the crowd. “Okay, next up… my man, Alex!”

As Lucas and Trish looked on to see who Alex would choose, Donovan returned. “What did I miss?”

“Brian and Lisa,” Trish said, filling him in. “It’s Alex’s turn to pick.”

“And I have to watch? Oh fate, thou art a heartless bitch. If he picks you, I’m never speaking to you again.”

“I should be so lucky,” Trish said sarcastically.

Donovan licked his lips. “I bet I could make that boy come twice in seven minutes.”

Lucas drew a quick breath. No one would do that in the closet, would they?

Across the room, Alex reached in the jar and pulled out a name. He held it under his palm, laying it flat against his chest while he waited for the crowd to settle.

“Ladies! Ladies! Prepare yourselves.” He wiggled his eyebrows and plastered on a goofy smile. Then he looked at the name, and his face fell.

Lucas could tell he’d picked someone he didn’t like.

The murmurs grew louder as people looked around the room, speculating.

Alex scanned the crowd. “Lucas?”

Play Me, I'm Yours by Madison ParkerPlay Me, I’m Yours by Madison Parker
Published by Harmony Ink Press

Fairy Tate. Twinklefingers. Lucy Liu. Will the taunting ever end? Lucas Tate suffers ridicule because of his appearance and sensitive nature. When he’s not teased, he’s ignored, and he doesn’t know which is worse. His one comfort in life is his music; he feels unloved by everyone. What he wants more than anything is to find a friend.

Much to his dismay, both his mom and a schoolmate are determined to find him a boyfriend, despite the fact Lucas hasn’t come out to them. His mom chooses a football player who redefines the term “heartthrob,” while Trish pushes him toward the only openly gay boy at Providence High. But Lucas is harboring a crush on another boy, one who writes such romantic poetry to his girlfriend that hearing it melts Lucas into a puddle of goo. All three prospects seem so far out of his league. Lucas is sure he doesn’t stand a chance with any of them—until sharing his gift for music brings him the courage to let people into his heart.

Click here to read the first chapter.
Purchase Links

Visit Madison Parker’s Website at for bonus materials including character sketches, piano covers, music videos, and lyrics for songs referenced in the novel.

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Enter to WinTo celebrate the release of Play Me, I’m Yours, Madison Parker is hosting a giveaway. Enter to win your choice of a free copy of Play Me, I’m Yours or a $10 gift certificate from Rainbow eBooks by leaving a comment below along with your email address. For multiple chances to win, comment at each stop along the tour. Click here for the complete tour schedule. Winners will be chosen randomly on April 23.

Meeting Chance – coming October 14, 2013!!

It’s official! Bold Strokes Books has given me the release date for my next novel, Meeting Chance. Take a look at the lovely cover art! I really like the colors and the silhouette in the background.
Release Date: October 14, 2013
More information as it becomes available! (Including the official blurb once it’s posted!)

Book Review: Wonderland by David-Matthew Barnes

From Bold Strokes Books:

After her mother loses her battle to cancer, fifteen-year-old Destiny Moore moves from Chicago to Avalon Cove, a mysterious island in South Carolina. There, she starts a new life working part-time as a magician’s assistant and living with her eccentric uncle Fred and his hottie husband, Clark. Destiny is soon befriended by two outcasts, Tasha Gordon and Topher McGentry. She accepts their invitation to accompany them to a place called Wonderland, a former boarding house owned by the enigmatic Adrianna Marveaux. It’s there that Destiny meets and falls in love with Dominic, Tasha becomes enamored with Juliet, and Topher gives his heart to Pablo. When Destiny uncovers the reason she and her friends have really been brought to Wonderland, she’s faced with the most crucial choice of her life.

I have been waiting for this book since the author announced it would be coming out. I was intrigued by the concept and it did not disappoint. There are moments when there are Alice in Wonderland elements, however, it is not that at all. There is more romance and magic involved. Quite a few twists and turns as well.

The character I enjoyed the most was Topher. Not only is his name interesting, but I liked his character and how he begins to stand up for himself in the face of his bullies. I would have liked to have seen more of the story but from his point of view.

The only issue I had with the book was towards the end. I felt that it wrapped up so quickly! I wanted more! Adrianna tells Topher and Tasha what to expect, but I didn’t want that at all. I wanted to see, from their perspectives, what happens in order for them to save their soul mates. I wish it had been more difficult for Destiny, too. I felt that it was almost too easy for her at the end.

Aside from this, I did enjoy the novel. Perhaps a sequel with Topher in the lead roll?

This book will be release in February from Bold Strokes Books. You can purchase the book at Amazon or Bold Strokes Books.

Editing… and Twitter

As of a few minutes ago, I sent what I hope are my final edits to my amazing editor. There were changes that had to be made, but I feel like they make the book better. I hope she agrees and likes them! If not, back to editing soon!

This second round of editing was intense to me, because there were changes that had to be made, but it was great experience. Every comment my editor made was perfect and helped me take the book to a new level. I also learned what to look for when I’m working on editing my second book before sending it in for a submission. I already know what changes I need to make (even more than before!) to make it that much better.

In other news, I joined Twitter tonight. I’m a bit behind on that, but I figured why not! Heck, even my PARENTS are on it. So if you have it, you can follow me @WriterJenLavoie. Who knows what will pop up there! You can also track what I’m up to with the little Twitter feed on the right side of this screen.

Goodbye 2011, Hello 2012

I thought I would do a little reflection post on what 2011 was like for me, and what I hope 2012 will be. There are a lot of things both good and bad, and I’ll try not to focus on the bad. 🙂

(None of this is in order because all things are relative to the situation and that point in time.)

Goodbye 2011

  • Andy Squared was picked up for publication by Bold Strokes Books after multiple agent rejections.
  • I was in an amazing relationship for almost half a year, but after that time he decided I was not the one for him, even though I felt he was the one for me. It’s like that Adam Lambert song, “Sleepwalker.”
  • I started teaching seventh grade along with my eighth grade students. Fun times!
  • I picked up the new, fun hobby of letterboxing. It’s been a while since I’ve gone out, but hey! It’s colder.
  • I read 105 books!
  • I lost my job at Borders when they closed ): but I worked there for a wonderful 6 years.
  • I made some new friends, lost some old ones, but in the end I’d say it’s fairly balanced.

Hello 2012

  • Andy Squared will be published by Bold Strokes Books under their Soliloquy YA line!
  • I get to work with an amazing editor and talk to awesome authors.
  • I will be moving to a new school at the end of the year because my school is closing. Where I’ll be going, though, I have no idea.
  • I hope to move out of my parents house and find my own home, be it an apartment, condo, or house.
  • Did I mention Andy Squared will be published?

What are you looking forward to in 2012? What are you happy to say goodbye to from 2011? Let’s all stay safe, happy and healthy this new year! I’m starting it off cleaning out my old junk and organizing myself.


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! (almost)

Christmas has come and gone, but New Year’s still looms before us. Do I have plans? Just sleep. And I’ll be hitting up the Book Barn on New Year’s Day. What better way to spend the start of the New Year than with thousands of used books? I can think of nothing more I’d rather do.

This week I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work at a consignment shop. To be honest at first I thought I was losing my vacation, but it has been so fun! Not only do I get to poke through the store, but I get to help people find what they’re looking for and sell them wonderful, unique pieces. It’s an easy job, but, I must admit it’s hard not wanting to buy everything I see! Today I sold three pieces I wanted to buy for myself. ): Oh well… I did buy some gorgeous pins and a locket. Pictures later!

For Christmas I had a wonderful time with family. For the first time in my life I will NOT be lost on my first trip somewhere. My parents very thoughtfully bought me a GPS. I love it! I even use it when I don’t need it. And tonight my wonderful Bumblebee came home from the shop! He’s fixed! I get to drive him again, and that makes me VERY happy. Of course it cost a fortune to fix the damage from the tree, but I learned a valuable lesson: never park under a tree when it snows.

I’ve read a lot of books recently – most from the public library – and I will try to write some coherent reviews at some point in the near future. I need to better plan what I want to say. Everything on GoodReads just comes out like I rushed through, and that’s not what I want for my site.

So until next time! I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas or other holiday, and Happy New Year! Let’s all hope 2012 is a great year!