Between The Lines: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Between The Lines is a sporadic feature on Pop! Goes The Reader in which authors and other industry professionals provide further insight into the writing and publishing process in the form of interviews, guest posts, etc. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy as we read between the lines.

Hi everyone! Today is a very special day on Pop! Goes The Reader as I’m thrilled to have been given an opportunity to speak with the phenomenally talented Nina LaCour as I host the latest stop on the blog tour for LaCour’s recent February 14, 2017 release, We Are Okay. In truth, I was only meant to ask Nina one question, but I was so inspired by her latest work I ended up asking three and she was gracious enough to answer them all for me. (Thanks, Nina!) As readers who also follow me on Twitter are already no doubt aware, I’ve spoken often about We Are Okay since reading it back in December 2016 and would now list it among my favourite books I’ve read in four years as a book blogger. Please read on to learn a little more about this sensitive, stunning, unforgettable novel and to enter to win one of five available copies!

About Nina LaCour

Nina LaCour is the author of the award-winning Hold Still and widely acclaimed The Disenchantments. Formerly a bookseller and high school English teacher, she now writes and parents full time. A San Francisco Bay Area native, Nina lives with her family in Richmond, California.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramGoodreads

Question 1.
One of the things that struck me most when I was reading We Are Okay was that, despite the difficult and momentous subject matter the book often explores (death, grief, mental illness, loneliness and disconnection), how the novel was ultimately a hopeful and optimistic story about the power of love, even in the wake of unimaginable trauma and tragedy. The novel embraces the notion and importance of found families and celebrates a love that transcends biology, geography, and many of the other obstacles that seem to stand between Marin and Mabel in the present day. If there was one thing YOU would like readers to take away from We Are Okay, what would it be?

Wow, thank you so much for this beautiful reading of the themes! I think one of the best parts of reading is how personal it is, and how what someone is going through or feeling or wrestling with when they encounter a book shapes what they take away from it. One of the main takeaways from the novel for me is the difficulty and the importance of relying and depending on others. Marin is very much alone in her grief, which is part of the human condition. We are alone in ourselves. But another thing that is true and amazing about being human is that we often rise to the challenges of helping others. It takes Marin the whole book to accept the kind of support that she needs and to know that she can rely on someone.

Question 2.
One aspect of We Are Okay that I sincerely enjoyed was the enchanting potter’s studio that Marin discovers when she first relocates to New York, and then visits again when Mabel comes to stay with her over the Christmas holidays. Marin’s original purchase from the studio, her beautiful, sturdy, cheerful yellow bowls, were like a ray of sunshine in an otherwise largely colorless existence and I found it interesting that she drew such comfort from an object that was, by its very nature, forged in fire (pottery having been created in a wood-burning stove). Can you speak a little about this element of the story? The setting was vivid and extremely well-rendered, as was the creation of the mysterious and gentle potter herself. Was this location inspired by a studio you’ve visited in your real life? What is the symbolism of the yellow bowls or the etched bells, that Marin eventually purchases as a gift for Mabel? Was the potter’s studio meant to hold some greater significance?

The simplest answer is that the things that I love or that interest me often sneak into my books. I really love a good piece of pottery and am lucky to live within driving distance of the Heath Ceramics studio where they make such gorgeous vases and dishes. The bowls are very much inspired by Heath bowls, and the bells are inspired by a local artist’s bells, one of which my family has in our house.

But once the pottery appeared in the story, it did take on more meaning for me. Much about Marin’s future is left unresolved in the novel, but there is the promise of the job at the pottery studio after the New Year. I like the idea of her continuing to heal from her trauma in that warm and artistically rich environment, with the potter as another caring person in Marin’s life.

Question 3.
We Are Okay follows the relationship between Marin and Mabel, a connection that seamlessly flows from friendship to romance and back again, and was one of the most beautiful, natural and touching I’ve encountered in fiction in recent memory. Was there anything in particular that inspired this aspect of the story? What are some of YOUR favorite LGBTQ+ novels? We Are Okay is certainly now one of mine!

Oh, I am so glad you feel this way! There was no specific inspiration for it, only a feeling of yearning and loss that came through almost palpably for me as I made my first notes about the girls alone in the dorm room together. I wanted to explore what love and loyalty would look like in a relationship that was being tested in so many ways, and I knew that at its core, their bond — regardless of the form it would take — was resilient and lasting.

Thank you! There are so many LGBTQ+ novels that I love and I could go on and on…so I will limit myself to three that I have loved for years now. Ash by Malinda Lo is a beautiful and romantic retelling of Cinderella. Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is a gentle and beautiful novel of self-discovery. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan is, quite simply, a masterpiece.

Title We Are Okay
Author Nina LaCour
Pages 240 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Romance,
Published February 14th, 2017 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

Don’t forget to visit all the wonderful stops along the We Are Okay blog tour for a variety of reviews, interviews, and much, much more!

Week One:
2/13 – Butter My Books
2/14 – Here’s To Happy Endings
2/15 – The Paige-Turner
2/16 – Read Sleep Fangirl
2/17 – Tales Of The Ravenous Reader

Week Two:
2/20 – Lost In Literature
2/21 – YA Wednesdays
2/22 – Pop! Goes The Reader – You are here – Hi!
2/23 – Good Books and Good Wine
2/24 – Bookworm Everlasting

Enter for a chance to win one (1) of five (5) copies of We Are Okay by Nina LaCour (ARV: $17.99 each).

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Enter between 12:00 AM Eastern Time on February 13, 2017 and 12:00 AM on February 27, 2017. Open to residents of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia who are 13 and older. Winners will be selected at random on or about February 29, 2017. Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received. Void where prohibited or restricted by law.

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Cover Reveal: Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George

Happy Monday, friends! Well, it’s a long weekend here in Canada and while I can think of few things that can further improve on an unexpected day off work to relax and (of course) read, being able to help a friend is certainly one of them. Today, I have the immense pleasure of hosting the exclusive cover reveal for debut author, McKelle George, and her forthcoming YA release, Speak Easy, Speak Love! Coming to a bookstore and library near you September 19th, 2017 from Greenwillow Books, Speak Easy, Speak Love is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing recommended for fans of Jenny Han, Stephanie Perkins, and Anna Godbersen. The cover of Speak Easy, Speak Love was illustrated by Chellie Carroll. Please read on to learn more about this clever, enchanting release, including the cover reveal and a personal note from the author about the novel’s origins and inspiration, as well as an exclusive interview between the author (George) and illustrator (Carroll) and an opportunity for one lucky reader to win an advance reader copy of Speak Easy, Speak Love.

Speak Easy, Speak Love is a loose retelling of Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing, but when I was a teen, I hated Shakespeare. Or rather, I didn’t understand Shakespeare after slogging through Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Julius Ceasar in high school, and so hated him as an excuse for not understanding him. Where I went to university, English majors were required to take a course either on Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer — and I had already decided I’d be studying Milton.

But then I got accepted into a study abroad program where students essentially started in Scotland and hiked their way down to London, stopping at all literature related sites along the way. Because some of those stops involved Stratford-Upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born and died, and also places like the Globe Theater, it was required to study Shakespeare before going on the study abroad.

Thankfully, I had a wonderful professor who emphasized the wide array of interpretation Shakespeare’s plays allow, and then I got to see those plays enacted in the UK. Half a block from the church where Shakespeare is buried, I was splattered with stage blood at a performance of Titus Andronicus. When I watched from my “peasant” position at the Globe, leaning my arms on the stage, Puck was playfully almost dropped into the audience by a teasing Oberon — and during The Tempest, Antonio wrung out his soaked codpiece after being “shipwrecked” right by my head, and smirked (like the villain he is!).

Basically, I fell in love.

I wrote the first draft of what became Speak Easy, Speak Love the month after I returned, and my love for Shakespeare is directly tied to my love for England, so I was completely delighted that the artist who drew my cover illustration, Chellie Carroll, is from the UK.

For me, not only is it a beautiful piece of art by itself, but it also wonderfully encapsulates my book. I love the emotion in the illustration. It feels like the two characters are maybe going to stab each other…or kiss each other, and it’s perfect for Beatrice and Benedick.

Chellie has graciously endured my fangirling over her work, and agreed to answer a few questions about her process and the illustration.

McKelle: Did the design team at Greenwillow give you a specific template to work with? Or did they give you a general summary of the book and let you do what you wanted?
Chellie: Initially, I was sent the concept layouts that had already been mocked up for ‘Speak Easy Speak Love’ using artwork that I had already produced, along with the manuscript and general outline of the plot and characters. As a brief it was great as it straight away set in my head the modern and strong feel that Greenwillow were looking for. For me, it was a dream brief as the 20s is my favourite era!

I’m also really interested in your process. Could you talk us through that a little bit, from concept to final product?
Once I had received the brief my first steps were, research, reading and sketching and, hopefully, come up with a few initial sketches that I could put forward, to see if I was on the right track.

For me, waiting for feedback on the initial sketches is always the most nerve racking, as hopefully your interpretation is the right one.

Luckily, it was! Once I received the initial feedback I went forward and put together a series of more comprehensive roughs, tweaking colours and trying different compositions until I had a set of roughs that were ready to present at the editorial meeting. After the editorial meeting there is usually one favoured composition and with the feedback this rough then goes through more tweaking until the colour and composition is agreed.

When the final was agreed I got to go away and start artworking. I love this bit, all the tweaking is done and I now get to bring the image to life!

In your opinion, how important is the artwork on a book cover, in terms of sales and marketing?
I’m no expert on sales and marketing, but I think that the book cover is an important part of the book. It’s the books first impression to any potential reader, and hopefully, the hook that will get a new reader to pick it up and start reading. There are a lot of books out there competing for attention so the cover not only has to grab the attention but has to be true to the feel of the story inside.

Did you do any previous concepts that the design team didn’t use? If so, how many, and is the one we ended up with the one you personally would have chosen?
There were quite a few concepts that didn’t make it but, in my opinion, the final image chosen was definitely the right one. I think you instinctively know early on in the process which is the front runner, the ‘one’.

What other projects are you working on as an artist? (Sorry, I’ve been stalking your website, blog, etc. I really love your art…)
I have recently been lucky enough to have been working on quite an eclectic mix of work, a lot of decorative line work for various adult colouring in books and illustrations for a pre-teen fantasy/adventure series, ‘Guardians Of The Wild’.

Although I have been illustrating for many years I’m pretty new to book publishing and I’m really enjoying it! I am currently putting together some new story book concept pieces as well as working on some personal art pieces for print.

About McKelle George

McKelle George is an editor, reader, writer of clumsy rebels, perpetual doodler, and associate librarian at the best library in the world. She mentors with Salt Lake Teen Writes and plays judge for the Poetry Out Loud teen competitions (but has no poetic talent herself). She currently lives in Salt Lake City with an enormous white german shepherd and way, way too many books.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreads

Title Speak Easy, Speak Love
Author McKelle George
Pages 368 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
To Be Published September 19th, 2017 by Greenwillow Books
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

Six teenagers’ lives intertwine during one thrilling summer full of romantic misunderstandings and dangerous deals in this sparkling retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

After she gets kicked out of boarding school, seventeen-year-old Beatrice goes to her uncle’s estate on Long Island. But Hey Nonny Nonny is more than just a rundown old mansion. Beatrice’s cousin, Hero, runs a struggling speakeasy out of the basement — one that might not survive the summer. Along with Prince, a poor young man determined to prove his worth; his brother John, a dark and dangerous agent of the local mob; Benedick, a handsome trust-fund kid trying to become a writer; and Maggie, a beautiful and talented singer; Beatrice and Hero throw all their efforts into planning a massive party to save the speakeasy. Despite all their worries, the summer is beautiful, love is in the air, and Beatrice and Benedick are caught up in a romantic battle of wits that their friends might be quietly orchestrating in the background.

Hilariously clever and utterly charming, McKelle George’s debut novel is full of intrigue and 1920s charm. For fans of Jenny Han, Stephanie Perkins, and Anna Godbersen.

As an extra, exciting bonus, McKelle has been kind enough to offer one lucky reader the opportunity to win an advance reader copy of Speak Easy, Speak Love as well as a copy of Pride and Prejudice: A Coloring Journal! This contest is open internationally and the prize will be distributed once ARCs become available. Please fill out the Rafflecopter form below to enter!

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Short & Sweet Reviews: How To Love

Short and Sweet Reviews is a regular feature on Pop! Goes The Reader in which I share short, one, two or three paragraph reviews of books I’ve recently read.

Title How To Love
Author Katie Cotugno
Published March 24th 2015 by Balzer + Bray
Pages 416 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Romance, Teen Pregnancy
Part of a Series? No
Source & Format Purchased, Paperback
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

Before: Reena Montero has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember. But he’s never noticed that Reena even exists…until one day, impossibly, he does. Reena and Sawyer fall in messy, complicated love. Then Sawyer disappears without a word, leaving a devastated — and pregnant — Reena behind.

After: Almost three years have passed, and there’s a new love in Reena’s life: her daughter. Reena’s gotten used to life without Sawyer, but just as suddenly as he disappeared, he turns up again. Reena wants nothing to do with him, though she’d be lying if she said his being back wasn’t stirring something in her. After everything that’s happened, can Reena really let herself love Sawyer LeGrande again?

Serena (Reena) Montero has always been ‘good’: The good daughter, the good friend, the good student and the good Catholic. With dreams of escaping her small Florida town, graduating high school one year early and attending Northwestern university, everything is going according to plan until a passionate, turbulent, intoxicating (and increasingly toxic) romance with her childhood crush, Sawyer LeGrande, ends with Reena becoming pregnant at the age of sixteen shortly before Sawyer leaves town, unaware of what has happened. When Sawyer returns, unexpected and unannounced two years later only to discover he is now a father, Reena and Sawyer must confront the unresolved pain of their past if they are ever to create hope for their future.

How To Love is unvarnished, unapologetic, uncompromising, courageous storytelling at its finest. Cotugno has no qualms about exploring and exposing the deeply flawed nature of her characters. In doing so the authors provides an intimate, intricate examination of Reena and Sawyer, both as individuals and also as a couple. A self-professed “Ice Queen” who has difficulty allowing herself to be vulnerable, Reena’s fear of intimacy is furthered worsened by Sawyer’s abandonment at a moment in her life when she needed him most of all. Despite this, however, Reena is nevertheless an intelligent, adaptable, ambitious, hard-working woman who selflessly puts her own dreams on hold to care for her daughter to the best of her ability. When Sawyer returns to town a changed and more mature man than the lost, unsure boy who left Reena two years earlier and expresses a desire to rekindle their relationship and help co-parent their daughter, however, Reena will once again see the scope and direction of her life change in a significant manner.

Lingering resentment, unspoken secrets, guilt, disillusionment and disapproval on the part of both of their families create a great deal of tension between Reena and Sawyer, but this conflict never feels gratuitous or inauthentic and makes the couple’s hard-fought and well-earned conclusion all the more satisfying. Cotugno’s exploration of Reena’s relationship with other, secondary characters is equally compelling. Each contribute to the story in a meaningful way and provide Reena with a source of unconditional love, support and perspective when she needs it most of all. Whether the author is examining Reena’s relationship with Soledad, her step-mother (a relationship made all the more special because of the relative rarity of positive portrayals of relationships of this nature) or Reena’s relationship with Shelby, her quirky best friend, How To Love emphasizes the beauty and power of found families. As the novel’s synopsis suggests, How To Love is told from Reena’s perspective during two alternating, interconnected periods in her life – “Before” and “After” – which documents both Reena and Sawyer’s history as a young couple in love and their subsequent reconciliation two years later. The manner in which the novel is written creates an irresistible momentum as the audience is compelled to keep reading to better connect the dots between past and present, with each tantalizing glimpse into their shared history leaving the reader ravenous for more.

How To Love is a tumultuous, poignant but ultimately hopeful, heartwarming story about forgiveness, redemption and second chances that reminds readers what it means to love and be loved in return.

The Writing’s On The Wall: Nevertheless, She Persisted

The Writing’s On The Wall is a regular feature on Pop! Goes The Reader in which I create desktop wallpapers inspired by some of my favourite novels, authors, and literary quotes.

1280×800 » 1440×900 » 1680×1050 » 1920×1200 » 2560×1400 » iPhone 5 » iPhone 6 » iPad

1280×800 » 1440×900 » 1680×1050 » 1920×1200 » 2560×1400 » iPhone 5 » iPhone 6 » iPad

I would like to say a big ‘thank you’ to Latino Type and Lauren Ashpole whose clipart and/or fonts I purchased, edited and used in the creation of this wallpaper!

Now it’s your turn! What would you like to see made into a desktop wallpaper next? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!

Between The Lines with Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

Between The Lines is a sporadic feature on Pop! Goes The Reader in which authors and other industry professionals provide further insight into the writing and publishing process in the form of interviews, guest posts, etc. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy as we read between the lines.

Happy Tuesday – and Happy Valentine’s Day – everyone! There are few things in life that bring me greater joy than seeing other people get (and share) good news so I couldn’t have been more thrilled when I was first approached about hosting today’s very special post. Today, it’s my pleasure to welcome the dynamic writing team of Kelly Zekas and Tarun Shanker to Pop! Goes The Reader. Not only does their forthcoming novel, These Ruthless Deeds (A sequel to their much-beloved These Vicious Masks), release exactly one month from today (You can pre-order a copy here!) but in honour of Valentine’s Day, Kelly and Tarun are also excited to share some BIG NEWS about a new relationship they’ve recently entered in to. Please read on to find out what it is and for an exclusive opportunity to enter to win an eARC of These Ruthless Deeds.

About Tarun Shanker

Tarun Shanker is a mild-mannered assistant by day and a milder-mannered writer by night currently based in Boston. His idea of paradise is a place where kung-fu movies are projected on clouds, David Bowie’s music fills the air, and chai tea flows freely from fountains.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterTumblrGoodreads

About Kelly Zekas

No one would call Kelly mild-mannered, but she is also an assistant by day. Her love of romance started with reading Harlequin historicals at the possibly too early age of 12. She graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts and The Stella Adler Studio with a BFA in Acting and a BS in Sociology. She likes to think these degrees are somewhat helpful to writing.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterGoodreads

There Was A Proposal, We All Said Yes, and It’s Exactly What You’re Thinking

Have you ever been Notting Hill‘d? It was a first for us. But when Agent Extraordinaire, Laura Zats of Red Sofa Literary, told us that she was just an agent, standing in front of two writers, asking them to be her clients…we were sold.

See, we have been a perfectly happy writing duo for a very, very long time. We started writing together in college and in the past nine or so years, we have gotten very used to working as a little pair. We found the amazing Swoon Reads team and published two books with them. We navigated contracts by doing research and asking a lot of questions. We joined the Sweet 16s debut group, met a bunch of amazing publishing/book people and learned a lot about the industry from others’ stories and experiences.

But after a while, two was not enough. Something was missing. Sometimes, you need a third person with great qualities you just don’t have. Sometimes you need to shake it up.

That’s right: Sometimes you need a love triangle.

We know. We know. You hate love triangles, it’s okay. We get it. I mean we don’t actually get it, because we love them, but we understand you feel differently. However, a good love triangle (in our opinion), is just as much about the MC’s growth as it is about the two love interests. A character is defined by all the decisions they make, whether it be her choice of friends, her choice of killing a villain, or her choice of romantic partner. She doesn’t just give in to the first person to give her sexy eyes. A triangle offers an alternate path and confronts the MC with unexpected questions to grapple with. All in order to learn more about herself, her own priorities, who she is going to become, and which path feels truest to her.

Now this isn’t a traditional love triangle (we aren’t choosing Laura over each other!), but it is about growth. For all of us, it’s about finding perspective, the right person to ask the questions we never thought to ask ourselves. It’s about creating a strong team. It’s about surrounding ourselves with the people who have qualities that complement what we already have. It’s about having a tie-breaker to side with one of us during our arguments.

And we could not be MORE excited to have found Laura (we *think* she’s excited too!). So because it’s Valentine’s Day – and because she already wooed us – Here are some things we love about her, in no particular order.

1. She loves Buffy.

2. This is her pinned tweet.

3. She reps Lily Anderson, who is one of the funniest writers we had the pleasure to get to know this year.

4. She is a fighter.

5. We’ve had ten more book ideas since reading through her rad #MWSL.

6. She makes us giggle every time we talk.

7. Did. We. Mention. She. Loves. Buffy.

We are so happy to have found a teammate in Laura. It makes us Swoon, actually. It makes us want to quote romcoms at you, but we won’t because we are nice like that. Instead, to celebrate, we will do a giveaway of a These Ruthless Deeds eARC!

As an extra, exciting bonus, Kelly and Tarun have been kind enough to offer one lucky reader the opportunity to win an eARC edition of These Ruthless Deeds! This contest is open internationally and the prize will be distributed once the contest has been concluded. Please fill out the Rafflecopter form below to enter!

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So Happy Valentine’s Day, all! May you be celebrating with your team today, whether it’s all one, two, three, four or fifty of you.

Title These Ruthless Deeds (These Vicious Masks #2)
Author Kelly Zekas and Tarun Shanker
Pages 320 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Historical Fiction, Fantasy
To Be Published March 14th, 2017 by Swoon Reads
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

England, 1883. Still recovering from a devastating loss, Evelyn is determined to use her powers to save other gifted people from those who would harm them. But when her rescue of a young telekinetic girl goes terribly wrong, Evelyn finds herself indebted to a secret society devoted to recruiting and protecting people like Evelyn and her friends.

As she follows the Society’s orders, healing the sick and embarking on perilous recruitment missions, Evelyn sees her problems disappear. Her reputation is repaired, her friends are provided for, and her parents are newly wealthy. She reunites with the dashing Mr. Kent and recovers the reclusive Mr. Braddock (who has much less to brood over now that the Society can help him to control his dangerous power). But Evelyn can’t help fearing the Society is more sinister than it appears…