Why I love Steampunk: A (sort of) Book List

Everyone has a favorite genre. Over the years, particularly since I started tracking books online and blogging, I’ve noticed that I gravitate toward fantasy more often than not. Lately I’ve been particularly fond of steampunk books—a genre that has happily been growing in popularity (and prevalence) among YA books lately.

The quickest way to explain steampunk is to imagine what would have happened if all of the technological advances of recent years had not happened. What if, instead, all of our biggest technological boons could be credited to the Victorian era? Instead of a world of electronics and microchips and plastic, we might very well have had the steam-powered, clockwork machines of brass or steel that are a signature of steampunk novels.

In addition to having some very neat machines, steampunk books tend to center around the Victorian era, or at least a re-imagined future that hearkens back to the nineteenth century, which means they also have some very cool clothes. There is something about the combination of witty dialog, snappy clothes, and outlandish technology that gets me every time.

If you want to dive into the magical world of gears and wonder that is steampunk, these books are great introductions:

Soulless by Gail Carriger: A social outcast for far more reasons than her spinsterhood, Alexia Tarabotti ends up in even worse social standing when vampires start disappearing and she is presumed responsible. The only thing to do is find out what’s actually happening in this blend of mystery, steampunk and the supernatural.

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare: Though not strictly steampunk, this one still has all of the action and automatons a fan could want. Combined with romance and drama, this prequel to Clare’s Immortal Instruments series is a winner.

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel: There is only one thing you need to know about this book: it is a zombie steampunk romance. It has all of the excitement, inventions and quirks you would expect such a book to have. It is also a very clever riff on some classic conventions of both zombie movies and steampunk novels.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld: In this alternate history the world is on the brink of the World War One as Darwinist nations equip their genetically engineered beasts and Clankers prepare their steam-powered walking machines for battle. At the center of the tensions are Alek, son of the assassinated Archduke of Clanker Austria-Hungary, and Deryn Sharp—a talented pilot stationed on a Darwinist airship and masquerading as a boy. By far one of the wittiest, most compelling books I’ve read.

Hot Historicals: A Book List

If you’ve ever felt like you were born too late just want to get swept away in a book about a different time, these historical books might be just the ticket for you.

  • Strings Attached by Judy Blundell: New York City in 1950 isn’t everything Kit Corrigan hoped for. Instead of finding success as an actress she is caught in a web of lies and danger when she accepts one small favor from the wrong person. This novel is a stunner with mystery and an atmospheric setting that brings 1950s New York to life. If noir films or hardboiled detectives are your passion you’ll also want to check out Blundell’s National Book Award winning debut What I Saw and How I Lied.
  • The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats: 1293. Cecily’s father ruins her life abruptly and irrevocably when he moves them to Caernarvon in occupied Wales. Gwenhwyfar is equally unhappy as servant to the brat. As tensions rise both Cecily and Gwenhwyfar will be caught up in the disastrous moment when the tension finally has to break and there will be justice for those who deserve it. The novel expertly brings medieval Wales to life from the period setting to the historically accurate name-calling.
  • Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly: When Andi’s school research leads her to a diary from the French Revolution she discovers the story of Alexandrine Paradis, a girl whose life was changed forever by a chance encounter with a doomed prince. These dual narratives tell the story of France’s bloody past as well as a story of redemption and hope. Donnelly’s writing is stellar in this powerhouse that covers everything from music theory to the political motivations at play during the French Revolution.
  • Vixen by Jillian Larkin: It’s 1923. Prohibition has driven drinking underground, women are cutting their hair and raising their hemlines, life is a party and everyone is ready to have some fun. For three young women in Chicago the world is full of possibilities if they’re ready to take a chance. This start to The Flappers trilogy has all of the drama and scandal you would expect from a book about the Roaring Twenties. If you want even more Jazz Age drama Anna Godbersen’s Bright Young Things starts another flapper trilogy that’s the bee’s knees.
  • Tamar by Mal Peet: In this novel of espionage, passion and betrayal Tamar tries to make sense of her grandfather’s death. And the secrets he left behind. Concurrently, the book tells her grandfather’s story as a part of the resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Holland in 1944. This evocative narrative is a definite page-turner filled with intrigue and twists.
  • The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff: Living in England in1850, Pell Ridley refuses to reconcile herself to the stifling life of a married woman. When Pell rides off on the morning of her wedding day, her one choice irrevocably alters both her own life and the lives of her family forever. Simultaneously bleak and hopeful, this book captures the upheaval caused by the Industrial Revolution as expertly as any Dickens novel.
  • Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell: A free verse retelling of “The Lady of Shalott” complete with a feminist interpretation of Elaine of Ascolat’s role in Arthurian Legend. The only problem with this book is that no other version of the story of King Arthur will compare after you read this one.
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick: The inspiration for the most nominated film at this year’s Academy Awards, this charming book tells the story of early film as well as the story of a boy trying to find his way in Paris in 1931. Filled with a compelling story and Selznick’s beautiful illustrations this is a must read for movie lovers everywhere.
  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys: In 1941 Lina and her family are deported from their Lithuanian home as part of Stalin’s cleansing of the Baltic region. As she makes the long journey with thousands like her, Lina struggles to survive. If she can hold onto who she is and her art, maybe she can make it through.
  • I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Lee Wilson: What if the story of Mulanwas about a Hun girl instead of a Chinese daughter? Labeled with bad luck when a horse crushes her foot as a child, Oyuna knows her future is tied to horses even if no one else believes it. When she follows a beautiful white horse into Kublai Khan’s army Oyuna might finally have a chance to change her luck.

Ready for more historical fiction? The Atlantic Wire has a A Literary Tour of Historical YA with lots of great titles broken down by time period (via @pwkidsbookshelf).

Grave Mercy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFeversBrittany, 1485: Ismae bears a deep red stain from her left shoulder to her right hip–a tangible reminder of the herbwitch’s poison that her mother used to try to expel Ismae from her womb. The poison didn’t work. Proof, according to the herbwitch, that Ismae was sired by the god of death himself.

Even without her wicked scar, Ismae’s parentage would be a burden to bear. Fearful of the wrath of Mortain everyone tolerates Ismae’s presence but little beyond that. Her life is not one of comfort or compassion. Not until a priest gives Ismae one small kindness that will forever change her life.

Taken from a brutal arranged marriage, Ismae is spirited across Brittany to the convent of St. Mortain–a sanctuary where women like Ismae, her sisters of Mortain, work to execute their god’s work throughout Brittany.

Staying at the convent will mean a new life. One where Ismae will be trained as an assassin to serve as a Handmaiden of Death. The decision, of course, is an easy one. After being the prey of others all her life, Ismae is more than ready to be the hunter.

The life she chooses and the training are simple. At first.

After Ismae completes her first assignment for the convent several complications arise. Thrown together with a man she cannot trust and little likes, Ismae finds herself at the center of Brittany’s tangled politics as the country’s young duchess struggles to hold onto her tenuous authority. The more Ismae learns about her country and her own heart, the less she understands about her teachings at the convent. Soon Ismae will have to decide if she can follow the will of her god while also following her own heart in Grave Mercy (2012) by Robin LaFevers.

Find it on Bookshop.

Grave Mercy is LaFevers’ first young adult novel. (She is the author of several middle grade novels including my beloved Nathaniel Fludd books as R. L. LaFevers.)

While the setting and language make for an immersive read, Grave Mercy takes a bit of time to get to the core plot not only starting years before the main story but also leading with tangentially related pieces of Ismae’s training at the convent and her assignments. Readers expecting immediate action might be disappointed though rest assured patience will pay off in the end.

Ismae, though sometimes frightening in her fierceness, is an engaging heroine as she makes her way through the labyrinths of both Breton politics and the inner workings of her own sisterhood. LaFevers handles the complicated matter of faith versus service well as Ismae works reconcile her own wants with her duties as a Handmaiden of Death. Although the latter part of the story drags as LaFevers works to resolve several plot threads, the tension is high enough to make up for it. Ismae’s personal journey remains compelling throughout.

Filled with intrigue, murder, and more than a few shady characters Grave Mercy is a definite page turner even if some shocking revelations are not so shocking when finally revealed. An excellent choice for fans of Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief books or an alternative/follow-up to Kristin Cashore’s novels. Grave Mercy is the first book in the His Fair Assassin trilogy but this book works just as nicely on its own.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhatena, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, The Agency by Y. S. Lee, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

“I hate you. It’s my dress and you can’t have it.”

I am working in a bookstore. A very famous person was signing books at said bookstore last week. A very polite and well-dressed father came in with his 4(ish) year old daughter in a cute dress sitting in a stroller to meet said very famous person.

Miss Print (MP) completes transaction with Very Polite and Well-Dressed Father (VPW-DF) and turns to Daughter in Cute Dress (DCD).

MP: That’s a very pretty dress you have on.

DCD: I hate you. It’s my dress. You can’t have it.

MP and VPW-DF: Stunned Silence

MP: Well . . . it looks very nice on you.

DCD: Turns head away in disgust.

VPW-DF apologizes profusely before wheeling stroller away.

So . . . that happened. I can only imagine what the daughter had to say to the very famous person.

The Selection: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Selection by Kiera CassAt seventeen years of age, America Singer already knows exactly what life she wants. She also knows, without doubt, that taking part in the Selection will do nothing to help her get that life. While every other girl in her province dreams of being chosen as one of the girls to compete for Prince Maxon’s affections and the chance to be Illea’s next princess, America is desperate to avoid the Selection altogether.

But with her mother desperate for America to have a chance at becoming a One instead of a lowly Five and her boyfriend insisting she will regret not entering on his account, America’s own wishes go overlooked. Worse, America’s hope of the Selection passing her by proves impossible when America is chosen as one of the lucky girls Prince Maxon will be courting while the entire country watches.

At the castle, it isn’t as easy for America to remember exactly what she wants. In her new surroundings she finds unexpected friends and a life she never dared to imagine. Circumstances beyond America’s control brought her to this point. Now, America will have to decide for herself whether or not she wants to stay in The Selection (2012) by Kiera Cass.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Selection is the first book in a trilogy. It is also already being adapted into a television series.

Cass brings together the unlikely elements of a dystopian setting and a Cinderella-like fairy tale story in this delightful story. America’s narration is frank and candid providing excellent details about Illea’s past and its rigid caste system as well as more personal details about her family and the Selection itself.

Superficially The Selection is a story with a love triangle and beautiful settings. However its artfully developed characters and a compelling world built with just enough details to pique interest and make way for lots of revelations later in the trilogy, The Selection becomes a novel with more depth.

Well-paced and immediately engrossing, The Selection has already gotten its fair share of buzz. With its clever world and appealing characters,The Selection is also a would-be fairy also with some definite staying power.*

*And a really neat cover that, for me, really captured America.

Possible Pairings: Crewel by Gennifer Albin, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, Wither by Lauren DeStefano, The Jewel by Amy Ewing, Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, Legend by Marie Lu, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf, The Bachelor

Exclusive Bonus Content: I felt a bit strange compiling the “possible pairings” for this one since it felt like I was just throwing every recent dystopian at it that I could think of and waiting to see what stuck. But, truly, I think the pairings work. This is a great read for anyone who loved how Catching Fire focused on what happens after a Tribute wins the Hunger Games. It’s as much a Cinderella story as Cinder. The caste system is very similar to Divergent’s factions. Hopefully you get my point. And it is definitely, strikingly appropriate for readers who want a read alike for Princess Academy but with older characters.

Born Wicked: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Born Wicked by Jessica SpotswoodCate Cahill and her sisters are witches. Unfortunately they don’t hide it as well as their mother did. Too educated and far too clever, the Cahill sisters are already known throughout town for being eccentric and reclusive. Cate doesn’t mind their poor reputations, though, not if it can keep her younger sisters Maura and Tess safe.

And all three of the Cahill sisters do need to be kept safe. If the Brotherhood finds out about their magic, the girls could be sent to a prison ship. Or an asylum. Or they could disappear altogether never to be heard from again.

Cate’s efforts to keep the family beneath the Brotherhood’s notice begin to unravel as her Intention Ceremony approaches. With six months to choose between marriage or a life of service to the Brotherhood, Cate finds herself thrust into the heart of town society where she has to contend with tea parties, securing a suitable proposal, and the completely unsuitable but fascinating Finn Belastra.

Cate promised her mother she would keep her sisters safe. But as Cate learns more about the nature of her family’s magic and the risks they all face, Cate wonders if she is up to the task. Being a woman in New England during the late 19th century is bad enough. Being a witch could prove deadly in Born Wicked (2012) by Jessica Spotswood.

Find it on Bookshop.

Born Wicked is Spotswood’s first novel. It is also the first book in the Cahill Witch Chronicles trilogy.

Set at the end of the 19th century, Spotswood creates an alternate history where witches are very real and women are seen as a threat. With historical details, some familiar and some not, Spotswood brings Cate’s New England to life with lushly described settings and brilliant characters that all but jump off the page.

Cate is a witty, realistic heroine torn between her own wants and her desire to protect her sisters at all costs. Cate’s siblings Maura and Tess have less page time but are equally individual and add another layer to the story. Finn Belastra, in addition to having a very cool surname, is an excellent foil for Cate throughout the story.

Born Wicked is a fast-paced, exciting read that will keep you guessing. The novel is well-plotted and keeps up the tension until the shocking conclusion. With so many delightful characters and so many unexpected turns, Born Wicked is a splendid start to a series that gives readers a lot to look forward to in book two.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, The Selection by Kiera Cass, The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink

You can also read my exclusive interview with Jessica Spotswood starting May 7, 2012!

The Wicked and the Just: A Review

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson CoatsCecily’s father ruins her life abruptly and irrevocably when he announces his plan to move them to Caernarvon in occupied Wales. The King needs good Englishmen to manage the newly-acquired Welsh lands and teach the primitive Welshman how to behave. Cecily wants none of it but at least she will finally be the lady of the house. Even if it is a house among barbarians.

Unfortunately for Cecily her initial misgivings about Wales are confirmed when she discovers the native Welsh speak something that barely sounds like a language as well as being impudent and rude. Though they are at least Christians–supposedly. In addition to being saddled with a surly Welsh servant girl she cannot dismiss, Cecily is also looked down upon by the local honesti who consider her little better than the Welsh peasants.

Gwenhwyfar is equally unhappy as servant to the brat. While she scrambles to find enough food for herself and her family, Gwenhwyfar watches Cecily leading the life that rightfully belongs to Gwenhwyfar and the other displaced Welshmen. The English took everything from Gwenhwyfar and her people. Now all she can do is watch and try not to starve.

As the English take and take, frustration grows among the Welsh. As tensions rise both Cecily and Gwenhwyfar will be caught up in the disastrous moment when the tension finally has to break and there will be justice for those who deserve it in The Wicked and the Just (2012) by J. Anderson Coats.

The Wicked and the Just is Coats’ first novel.

Set in the years of 1293 and 1294 Coats expertly* captures a volatile period in history for Wales.

While I enjoy a great many historical novels, I usually do not gravitate toward medieval period books. In addition to being a period I know little about, it is also not always an area of high interest. That said, there was something about The Wicked and the Just that made me want to read it.

Perhaps you already know why 1293 marks an important time for Wales in history. I did not. I have to say going in knowing nothing save that Welsh is unpronounceable when I try to read it made for a dramatic finish to The Wicked and the Just. An ending, I might add, that completely took me by surprise.

With segments told from both Cecily and Gwenhwyfar’s points of view, the book is well-rounded and examines the tensions within the Welsh town of Caernarvon from every angle. While that makes The Wicked and the Just an excellent look at the period, it does not make for many likable characters. Every character has redeeming qualities, but each one is also very nasty. There is justice for those who deserve it, but there is also name-calling, pettiness, and plain old cruelty along the way making for a mid-point where almost no character warrants much admiration.

Coats ends the book with a historical note explaining the politics of the period that Cecily and Gwenhwyfar either ignored or only alluded to during the actual story. While historical events are explained and relatively resolved, much is left up in the air for the characters. While the lack of closure makes sense given the content of the story, I must admit it does leave quite a few questions about what happens to Cecily and Gwenhwyfar as well as some other secondary characters.

Coats’ writing is clear and hauntingly evocative of the period in this story of many, many displaced people. As much as any book can, The Wicked and the Just brings medieval Wales to life.

*I’m not kidding when I say expertly. In addition to being a fellow Master of Library Science, Coats has a master’s degree in history.

Possible Pairings: Black Potatoes by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Graffiti Moon: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Graffiti Moon by Cath CrowleyLucy has been chasing Shadow for years. An elusive graffiti artist, he’s left his mark all across the city and all across Lucy’s life. She knows Shadow is someone she could fall for. Hard. She knows, finally, she is close to finding him.

At the end of Senior Year Lucy’s friends Jazz and Daisy want an adventure. Lucy doesn’t. She wants to find Shadow and tell him how she feels. She doesn’t want to spend the night with Ed–not after she has finally escaped the gossip and rumors surrounding their first and last disastrous date two years ago.

But when the adventure Jazz wants turns into what Lucy wants, she knows she has to go along. Even if Ed is the person who might finally bring her to Shadow.

Ed thought his life was finally coming together after he left school. Instead it’s all falling apart. No job. No girl. And definitely no prospects. Haunted by all of the places he isn’t going, Ed leaves his mark across the city walls as Shadow saying with pictures what no one seems to hear in his words. Doesn’t matter anyway. His best friend Leo is the perfect Poet to his Shadow.

Too bad Leo is better with words than with life choices. Instead of a night spent working on another wall, Ed is drawn into Leo’s horrible plan to hang out with girls from school before making yet another terrible decision that could get them both in big trouble.

The prospect of spending a night with the girl who broke his nose is bad enough. When Leo offers to help that girl find Shadow and Poet, he knows it’s going to be trouble. But he goes along anyway.

As Ed walks Lucy through Shadow’s art, the night that promised to be a disaster turns into something else. In a city filled with missed connections and opportunity, Ed and Lucy are right where they’re supposed to be in Graffiti Moon (2012) by Cath Crowley.

Find it on Bookshop.

Set over the course of one night, Crowley takes readers on a journey through Shadow’s art and also through each character’s background. At 257 pages, Graffiti Moon is a deceptively short book. Its length belies the broad range of things Crowley packs into this one marvelous novel.

Crowley uses a dual narrative structure to great effect here (as she did previously in A Little Wanting Song). Chapters alternate between Lucy and Ed’s narrations. Poets from Leo are also scattered throughout. With voices all their own, Lucy and Ed’s narratives sometimes overlap to show both of their interpretations of events and each other.

Filled with art, poetry, and humor Graffiti Moon is an evocative story filled with beautiful writing and characters that are achingly real. Immediately inspiring and refreshingly hopeful, Graffiti Moon is completely engrossing and a brilliant reminder that everyone has time to become exactly who they’re meant to be.

Possible Pairings: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, When It Happens by Susane Colasanti, Paper Towns by John Green, Before I Die by Jenny Downham, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things by Maya Prasad, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, Damaged by Amy Reed, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Exclusive Bonus Content: In addition to loving this book, I loved all of the art it mentions and I loved hunting it down to see what all of the characters were really talking about. If you don’t feel like doing that, you can find what I believe is a comprehensive list of all of the art mentioned below. Click “more” to see it in no particular order. Continue reading Graffiti Moon: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Author Interview: Jessica Martinez on Virtuosity

Jessica Martinez‘s debut novel Virtuosity came out last year. Her story is an example of what a novel about a niche talent should look like. Martinez’ story of Carmen’s competitive world of violin is gripping and utterly fascinating. Ms. Martinez is here to discuss her debut novel today.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Jessica Martinez (JM): I’ve always loved reading and writing.  I studied English at college, but never really saw myself writing a novel.  It just seemed too big and impossible.  But then I got the idea for Virtuosity and it just wouldn’t leave me alone.  I had to try, although, for much of the writing process I didn’t actually believe that it would be published.  I guess I hoped for that, but writing it was more for myself, just to see if I could do it.  My process was kind of crazy—I wrote a whole novel and then scrapped it and started over, and then midway started over again—so a LOT of rewriting and revising, but I ended up with something I love.

MP: What was the inspiration for Virtuosity?

JM: My experiences as a violinist and my feelings about music inspired a lot of this novel.  Also, having kids inspired me.  After my daughter was born I felt this huge surge of creativity and a need to accomplish something.  That’s when I started writing Virtuosity.

MP: According to the biography on your website you began playing the violin when you were three as well as being a symphony violinist and a violin teacher. Did you experiences as a violinist influence your writing process?

JM: I’ve been surprised how similar writing is to the playing the violin.  Books are made of sentences and words the same way that concertos are made of phrases and notes.  Both require a mixture of technique and artistry—you have to know the rules to be able to create beauty.  But I think the biggest carry-over from violin is the grueling work.  There’s just no substitution for the hours required to master an instrument, and there isn’t a quick and easy way to magically be a good writer.  It’s blood, sweat, and tears.

MP: One of the things I enjoyed about Virtuosity was the blend of story and technical violin details. As a violinist yourself, how did you decide what technical details to include? How did you make sure the story remained the focus of the novel and non-musicians (like me) wouldn’t get lost in Carmen’s world?

JM: That was really tricky for me.  I wanted the book to appeal to non-musicians just as much as musicians, but I wasn’t always sure which details were common knowledge.  I often asked my (non-musician) husband, “Before you knew me, did you know about….”  More than once, the answer was, “I have no clue what you’re talking about now.”  So those details were cut—the purpose of the book is not to educate people about classical music.  The music is the setting for the real story, more than anything else.

Also, I didn’t want musicians to read it and be annoyed that silly little things were being explained either, so I was always looking for ways to explain things or include details that didn’t weigh down the story or draw attention to themselves.

MP: Carmen has some pretty intense relationships with other characters in the story (obviously with Jeremy King but also with her own mother and her teacher Yuri. How did you go about channeling Carmen’s competitiveness and tension into the book?

JM: Virtuosity isn’t an autobiography, but those parts of the book are ones that come from my personal experience.  Channeling Carmen’s competitiveness and the tension she feels was a matter of writing about my own experiences performing.  And I have a good memory for all of that stuff!

MP: Carmen’s story features several Chicago landmarks (most notably the Chicago Symphony Center). How did you decide what real Chicago features to include in the story?

JM: There’s so much to fall in love with in Chicago!  I used to live about an hour away from the city.  I went in occasionally to hear the symphony, so I knew the Symphony Center and surrounding area quite well.  I also visited once while I was writing Virtuosity (tagged along with my husband on a business trip!) and spent several days taking in details and seeing the places I wanted to write about.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

JM: My next book, The Space Between Us, comes out in October.  It’s about two sisters and the lies they tell to protect each other and their family.  It’s a love story too.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

JM: Don’t get discouraged with the process.  There are times when writing feels wonderful and times when it’s absolute torture.  Learning to work through the torture without being too hard on yourself is the key.  Don’t give up!

Thanks again to Jessica Martinez for taking the time to answer my questions. If you want to hear Jessica playing the violin herself, be sure to visit her website where she has posted some recordings.

If you want to read more about Virtuosity check out my review!