Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Unlocked

In the deluge of young adult paranormal about supernatural beings such as vampires and werewolves and more recently witches and angels, ghosts seem be a forgotten commodity. Transcendent, an anthology of eight stories by mostly new authors, helps fill in that gap. Included in its round-up are also stories which feature death, shape-shifters, and sirens.

Let’s start with one of the exceptions to ghost tales. My absolute favorite story is Seduction of a Siren by Lanie Woodland and Melanie Piper. Despite the abundance of middle grade fiction available about mythological creatures, one also doesn’t see all that many tales about sirens—temptresses who lures sailors with their voices to shipwreck on their island. This particular entry is a delicious blend of the romantic and the horrific. Seduction of a Siren opens with a kiss. Very quickly, Jason’s illusion of being seduced by a beautiful kisser are dashed by the introduction of “a grotesque and distorted monster, fit for nothing but a nightmare”. Or is that image also an illusion? Lanie Woodland is an established author with three novels in her repertoire. I look forward to checking them out!

As for the ghost tales, I enjoyed the sweet romance called The Pumpkin Thief. If you’re familiar with horror movies, you won’t find it new that the main female character feels nervous about walking alone to her friend’s party, because some guy had followed her home, whistling and making vulgar comments. You also won’t feel surprised to see Kira make her way to a quiet corner at her friend’s party, where she tires of seeing couples making out all around and so slips out for a walk.  Yet despite these familiar elements, Joseph does a nice job of creating a creepy atmosphere partly through his writing style and partly by throwing in a new element: When Kira goes to fetch a pumpkin that she’d carved for a contest, all that’s left is a blown out candle stub. As for the romance, it’s handled in such a humorous way that I forgave Joseph for not surprising me with its ending.

One of the darker ghost stories is Ryan’s Wish. Even before Ryan had become Irelan’s official boyfriend, he had been her everything. Two years earlier, he had ridden off on his dirt bike into the woods near her home and never returned. When the story opens, Irelan is celebrating her birthday, but also still chasing after every guy who looks or acts like Ryan. Then on her birthday, Irelan is surprised not only with a party but by the reappearance of Ryan. Problem is, Ryan is acting and looking odd.

I won’t tell reveal anything more, except to note that by this point in the anthology I’d started to tire of a few clichés in teen stories: loud parties, outcast loners, and hunky guys. Is there anyone besides me who didn’t attend keggers as a teen? Or is there anyone besides me who appreciated reading books about well-adjusted adolescents because they could show one how to live? And, on the flip side, what exactly is wrong with awkward first kisses, sweaty palms, pimply faces, and stammering dates?

Of the stories that I didn’t highlight but would recommend: Feather is about a Native American who tries to flee her heritage, Shadows of Promise is about unsolved murder, and Kiss of Death is about a stalker. Overall, not only does Transcendent offer plenty of quality alternatives to vampires and werewolves, but it also features promising authors whose future works would be worth checking out.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

The preface of Unlocked reads: “Each key will open a door, some leading to new worlds, others hiding secrets better left forgotten, and still holding dreams to be shared.” After reading this anthology, you’ll never think about your keys in the same way again!

In one of my surprise favorite stories, Assassin by Jaimey Grant, the main female character Sable wears a key around her neck as her only connection to her murdered parents. The story is about a trained killer, which doesn’t make for my typical fare. I should detest Sable who ironically hates it when a killing goes smoothly, because it’s “like thumbing one’s nose at the devil, taunting him to do his worst”. Yet I don’t. After all, she knows the “devil’s worst and has since made it her goal to never go through that again”. Does that mean I like Sable? Not really. Nor do I particularly like Etienne, who was hired to clean up any mistakes Sable made. This is one of those rare stories where I can appreciate who the killers are without loving or hating them. I know this goes against the norm, because then who or what do we root for? I don’t particularly want either of them to die, but I also know that this would be right. This is a tough balance for an author to pull off, but Jaimey Grant does it.

In the rest of the stories in Unlocked, the main characters were basically good but for the most part no less intriguing. For example, another story which I really liked featured a female robot. In Symbiote by Rita Webb, RW1211 risks breaking company rules by sneaking out at night to watch the stars. The tale takes on a darker tone, when the models in her department are deemed obsolete and so are slated for early retirement—that is, recycling followed by incineration. Because of how skillfully this science fiction story is crafted, it reminded me of how genre stories can subtly present messages about societal problems. Yes, fantasy and science fiction can awe readers with cool creatures and powers and effects. They also can indirectly make a point about our world, which ultimately gives them their substance.

Most of the stories in Unlocked also rely on an unexpected revelation. For surprise twists to work, an author needs to effectively build up suspense and then produce a satisfying end. Some of the authors whose works are featured were less successful than others. For example, I knew how Crop Circles by Wendy Swore would end. And when the ending came, it read even sillier than I anticipated. While I wasn’t as prepared for the ending in Where They Belong by Paige Ray, it was the most disappointing. At the start, Claire receives a nasty letter from her former friends. Then when her mom takes her for a drive, Claire finds a key that changes her life. Already, I have two problems. First, there is no reason for her friends to suddenly turn so vile. Second, how she finds the key is convoluted: “She jumped out of the car as they parked and stumbled over the sidewalk. Her mom had parked close to the cliff’s edge, and Clara rolled, about to fall over the cliffs edge.” As she braces herself, she finds the key. Ugh! My last problem is that Clara’s problems are too conveniently solved. Beyond these two examples, the surprise twists worked better. For example, Shoshanna by teen writer K.G. Borland starts out as a romance between an angel and an earthling, but ends up creeping me out. Borland is working on his first novel, which sounds like good news to me. I’m hoping to hear more about fallen angel Gabe!

Unlike Transcendent Tales, also published by Robot Playground, Unlocked isn’t being advertised as containing stories from one genre. Instead, the back cover describes this anthology as a varied collection of fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and fanciful tales of school. While this is all true, I still felt chilled by the time I read the last page. Indeed, the best compliment I can give to Unlocked is that now I feel happy for night lights.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

Normally, I spend a few hours researching the author whose book I’ll review. That becomes too ambitious of a project when I’m looking at eight authors, which is the number of contributors to Transcendent. (For anyone doing the math, I’d be looking at eight to twenty-four hours!) Instead, I compiled a set of standard questions for all the authors. Throughout the week, I’ll post responses from every author whom I could reach.

Evan Joseph wrote The Pumpkin Thief. When Kira goes to fetch a pumpkin that she’d carved for a contest, all that’s left is a blown out candle stub. The rest of the tale is a mix of horror, humor, and romance.

Allison: Why do you like to write?

Evan: It helps me do something productive with all the random ideas that float around in my head.

Allison: Besides writing, what do you most like to do?

Evan: I really love listening to music, especially a cappella. Lately I’ve started playing piano again, but at a pretty simple level.

Allison: Where is your favorite place to write?

Evan: I usually write at the computer in my room. When I’m writing I kind of get lost in what I’m doing, so where I write doesn’t seem that important. In my head, I’m in the story anyway.

Allison: What is your proudest achievement?

Evan: Finishing my degree. I wasn’t able to finish before, so I’ve been doing it part time by correspondence over the last several years. I just turned in my last assignment about a week ago. Yay!

Allison: What is your day job? How do you fit time into it to write?

Evan: I work as a welder and metal fabricator. I try to set aside a little time each day for writing.  I’ve found a set time every day works best.

Allison: What are your pet peeves?

Evan: Waiting at a red light when no one else is going. I don’t mind it so much as long as other cars can go, but when the green is for an empty lane, I don’t like that.

Allison: What are your biggest fears?

Evan: I tend to be a perfectionist and worry that the things I do and write will not be good enough. It makes free writing troublesome sometimes.

Allison: Why do you write for young people? What was your reason for writing a paranormal tale?

Evan:  I’m pretty new to writing but I’ve been helping my wife with her paranormal YA books and the genre kind of stuck.

Allison: What is one writing tip you’d like to pass onto others?

Evan: Be persistent, but not stubborn. By that I mean keep at it, and never give up, but be open to suggestions from others.

Allison: What is one thing about yourself you’d like to share?

Evan: My wife says I’m a sugar addict. I have a big-time sweet tooth, but I’m in complete control; I can stop whenever I want. Really.

Allison: Where else can we read your stories?

Evan: The Pumpkin Thief is my first published work. I’m working on some things now, but I’m pretty new to writing.

Heather wrote Shadows of a Promise. Dawn promises Lauren to visit 272 after she graduates to see the ghost of Miss Ravenscroft. Turns out, Dawn made more than one promise and there’s more than one ghost.

Allison: Why do you like to write?

Heather: To keep the voices in my head to a dull roar. I have so many ideas that float around they build on top of one another.  Writing them down seems to be easiest way to see what ideas work better on paper, and what should really just stay in my head. It’s also relaxing to zone out of the real world for a while and construct one that is entirely yours, where you can make anything happen.

Allison: Besides writing, what do you most like to do?

Heather: Read, volunteer at my kids schools, eat dark chocolate peanut M&Ms. Also, I don’t like this but I’ve done a lot of it lately…pack. We are in the process of moving from Maryland to Boston, MA.

Allison: Where is your favorite place to write?

Heather: Near a sunny window where I can stare outside when I hit a wall. Right now, I don’t have a specific room or place to write, but I’m hoping for an office so I will have more room to spread out notes and such.

Allison: What is your proudest achievement?

Heather: Besides having three healthy, happy, well adjusted children it would be having “Shadows of Promise” published. Also, winning 6th place in the state back in high school for Speedwriting/Shorthand in the FBLA.

Allison: What is your day job?

Heather: I teach 3-year-old preschool, where I hear so many funny stories and one-liners, I could write a book about it.

Allison: How do you fit time into it to write?

Heather: I used to write during my kids naptimes, now it’s when they are at school or later at night when everyone is asleep!

Allison: What would your second choice of a job be?

Heather: If I had the business savvy, own a bookstore, otherwise, I’d work in one (I had a summer job after college working in one in Ocean City, MD and I loved it).

Allison: What are your pet peeves?

Heather: People who throw cigarette butts out their car windows, gender specification in kids—for example—people who assume (like stores) that all girls like princesses and all boys like trucks so when you go to find a birthday card for one gender, and the child isn’t into one of those items, you realize you may have to make your own card for them or by a blank one. Rudeness and aggressive drivers are some others.

Allison: What are your biggest fears?

Heather: A child of mine dying. And tornados!

Allison: Why do you write for young people?

Heather: Because there is just so much material (good and bad) that you can use! Also, I remember so much from that time period, the angst, the fun times etc. that it’s not difficult to put myself in that mindset when writing.

Allison: What was your reason for writing a paranormal tale?

Heather: I was asked if I wanted to take part in writing for a Paranormal Anthology and I realized I had never written a paranormal story, so I tried! My favorite book growing up was Stranger With My Face by Lois Duncan so I thought about why I liked that book and tried to incorporate a bit of that thought into my story.

Allison: What is one writing tip you’d like to pass onto others?

Heather: Keep paper and pencil with you at all times to write down those ideas or dreams!

Allison: What is one thing about yourself you’d like to share?

Heather: I love to research family history and found that on my paternal grandmother’s side we are related to someone who came over on the Mayflower.

Allison: Where else can we read your stories?

Heather: Right now, the only published one is in Transcendent: Tales of the Paranormal but I’m working on editing a full length young adult novel in hopes of getting it out there for people to read! However, I do write Educational articles for “Woman Scope News Magazine” which is available online to everyone and on paper to people around the Baltimore, MD area.

Lana Woodland is the co-author of The Seduction of a Siren. Very quickly, Jason’s illusion of being seduced by a beautiful kisser are dashed by the introduction of “a grotesque and distorted monster, fit for nothing but a nightmare”. Or is that image also an illusion?

Allison: Why do you like to write?

Lana: Two reasons. First, I’ll be watching TV or a movie and an idea will form that I have to jot down. Writing it down gets it out of my head so I can think about other things. Second, I love to write happy endings

Allison: Besides writing, what do you most like to do?

Lana: I love reading, watching movies, hanging out with friends and family, playing board games and cuddling with my daughter.

Allison: Where is your favorite place to write?

Lana: I like to write at home in front of my computer.

Allison: What is your proudest achievement?

Lana: That is a hard question. I think I am most proud of . . . not giving up on my dream to be an author. Having a publisher want to publish my work made all of the months (alright years) worth it. I’m glad I didn’t give up.

Allison: What is your day job? How do you fit time into it to write?

Lana: I’m a stay at home mom but I also work as a photographer.

Allison: What are your pet peeves?

Lana: I hate waiting in line at a certain craft store near my house. They always have a long line and there is never more than one clerk working. On average the wait time in line is fifteen minutes.

Allison: What are your biggest fears?

Lana: I’m terrified of bees!!!

Allison: Why do you write for young people?

Lana: I think in a lot of ways your teenage years are magical. You are learning who you are and on the verge of adulthood. Those circumstances bring a lot of fantastic drama.

Allison: What was your reason for writing a paranormal tale?

Lana: I usually don’t start writing books with paranormal things in them. Somehow my original idea morphs into something supernatural.

Allison: What is one writing tip you’d like to pass onto others?

Lana: As cliché as it sounds: never give up!

Allison: What is one thing about yourself you’d like to share?

Lana: My favorite snack to eat while writing is Baby Ruth candy bars.

Allison: Where else can we read your stories?

Lana: You can read the first two books in the Yara Silva trilogy Intrinsical and Indelible, right now. They are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Thanks to an invite from Rita Webb, I’m participating in my first blog hop. The theme is celebration, which is perfect. I have lots to celebrate! My husband and I just finished the last of our paperwork for the adoption process. We’re also finally saving for a house. Last, I’m happy to be halfway finished my graduate course. What are you celebrating this month?


If you’re interested in participating in this blog hop, you can jump in at any time during the month. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Write a post about what you are celebrating this month.
  • List what you are giving away on March 31st.
  • Add your blog to the hop at Rita’s World
  • If you have a blog not through WordPress, you should also include the following linky script at the bottom of your post and put a front and end bracket:

(My apologies for the awkwardness of this instruction, but WordPress doesn’t actually allow the use of JavaScript code.)


Blog hops always involve prizes. I’m offering books.

  • For young readers, I’m offering a copy of: Secret Agent Jack Stalwart by Elizabeth Singer Hunt.
  • For middle school and young adult readers, I’m offering a copy of What’s Wrong with Me? by Daree Allen or Ghello Road by T.H. Waters.
  • For adults, I’m offering a copy of The Shepherd, The Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry or A Small Furry Prayer by Steven Kotler.

To win, comment on my review of Unlocked or Transcendent. Reviews will go live on March 17 to 18.

“Discover the secrets of a siren, fly with a hawk girl over the mountains of Montana, and flee supernatural party-crashers as the décor comes to
life in this magical journey through paranormal stories.

“Along the way, watch for ghosts in a haunted house, or ride through the moonlight with a stranger. Save a comatose boy who has lost his soul, and
don’t forget to bring your garlic and wolfsbane—you never know when the shadows will snag you.

“Transcendent includes eight stories of magic, love, death, and choice by some of the newest names in young adult fiction.”

A few months ago, I received the above blurb from Rita Webb along with a request to review Transcendent. And so this past weekend, I enjoyed taking a break from my usual practice of reviewing novels to relax with a collection of short stories. As added bonus, Webb also sent me a second anthology called Unlocked.  I’ll review both books this weekend.

A fun person to interview when it comes to anthologies is the editor. After all, this is the person who determines what stories are included in the final cut. To kick off this week of teasers, I’m interviewing one of the editors at Robot Playground: Rita Webb.

Allison: Why did you become an editor?

Rita: Every writer should be an editor. There comes a time when you have to turn off your writer’s eye and assess your work critically.

My first attempt to write a novel was a disaster, and when beta-readers shredded it, I had no clue how to fix the problems. Thus began my search to understand every aspect of writing.

Allison: Why did Robot Playground compile an anthology of stories for young people?

Rita: Short stories are a breath of fresh air for a writer. After slaving away on a novel, I enjoy having a fun project. Anthologies allow me to work with others—pulling resources and talent, making connections and friendships, and creating something together that we couldn’t do alone.

And why for young people? Despite being 37, I still think I’m a teenager. Maybe I just refuse to grow up. But mostly I just refuse to stop dreaming.

Allison: What was the reason for focusing on paranormal tales?

Rita: Paranormal seems to be rampaging through the book world. Everywhere I turn, I’m finding another story featuring a paranormal teen struggling to control their newfound powers right here in the real world. Suddenly, our dull world becomes a magical place.

But really, our world should be seen as a magical place. The only thing that limits us is our imagination.

Allison: How do you balance also being a writer?

Rita: The secret to balance is planning. I plot before I write, which reduces writing time, and I set careful goals for myself. Editing becomes just another phase in the process.

Allison: What is your favorite part about being a homeschooling mom?

Rita: Being centered in my family. Once upon a time, social structures were based on families. Now they are based on jobs, careers, schools, extra-curricular activities, and institutions. I hate the idea of institutionalizing my life.

Oh, and I love the dance classes! Last year, I realized my kids needed more practice, and so this year, I signed up for classes along with them. After all, I can’t help them practice if I don’t know what they are doing! But really, I just love dancing. I have visions of teaching ballet when I’m 60 years old.

Allison: What is your proudest achievement?

Rita: When my oldest daughter Makani started writing stories just because I write stories, I felt like every moment I spend living my dreams is worth it. I taught her how to plot a story and plan her characters, and she listens when I give writing advice.

She makes me proud when she lives her dreams. Nothing in the world could be more wonderful.

Allison: What are your pet peeves?

Rita: Politics. Seriously, before we can change the world or fix the leaders of our country, we need to change our selves. Someone once said that we get the president we deserve. When I consider the candidates out there, that’s a very sad statement.

Allison: What are your biggest fears?

Rita: Losing out on my children’s childhood because I’m working too hard to know how to play.

Allison: What is one writing tip you’d like to pass onto others?

Rita: Never forget to breathe. Writers must experience the abundance of life in order to pour their hearts into their stories. Long walks, gardening, hobbies, playing, dancing, reading good books…these aren’t options. If your soul dries up, you’ll have nothing left to give.

Allison: What is one other thing about yourself you’d like to share?

Rita: There are common themes in my writing: freedom, pursuing your dreams, living life to the fullest. If there is one thing, I want people to take from my writing is the desire to live an adventure.

Allison: Where else can we read your stories?

Rita: My debut novel Tears, a YA space fantasy, is available online: 17-year-old Lelea seeks to restore dragonkind to the world, but everyone believes she is insane. Dragons don’t exist, after all. Fleeing a military regime where she was raised, she gathers a group of fugitives to help her find the hidden scrolls that will lead her to a stash of dragon eggs.

“Symbiote” is a short story of mine in the YA anthology Unlocked: Ten ‘Key’ Tales about a cyborg slave girl who dreams of freedom. Closest thing I’ve ever written to an autobiography—a metaphorical one, of course. I’m not a cyborg or a slave, but I think I’d do a good job of playing one on TV.

Allison: What’s next from Robot Playground?

Rita: Oh, I am so full of plans and ideas and wish that time would stand still long enough for me to put them all down on paper! So let me focus on my plans for 2012.

Daughter of Goddess, a novella fairy tale, is in the last stages of editing and should be released in April. Inspired by the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche, this story is about a young priestess named Nephecia. When an oracle brings a message from the goddess Araphia, Nephecia must travel into a foreign country to marry a stranger.

My husband and I are also working on Songs, which is the sequel to Tears. I’ve finally convinced him to join me in my insane writing adventure. He’s the perfect complement to my style and balances out my weaknesses. He sees the bigger picture, plot and world building, while I see the details, the character voices and descriptions.

My short story “Symbiote” (first published in the anthology Unlocked: Ten ‘Key’ Tales) will become part of a longer work, perhaps a series. The novel is already 75% written and, with the help of my husband, should be finished late 2012.

I’m also planning a short story series around the character “Feather” from my story in Transcendent: Tales of the Paranormal. Writing short stories is a fun way to relieve stress and to remind myself why I love creating stories, worlds, and characters.

Two novels, a novella, and some short stories before the end of the year? Maybe that’s a bigger chunk than I can chew. But to quote Mr. Incredible, “I still have time.”

Thank you for taking the time to interview me!

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