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Author Interview with Joelle Charbonneau!

Joelle has performed in opera and musical theater productions across Chicagoland. She now teaches private voice lessons and is the author of the New York Times best selling THE TESTING trilogy (THE TESTING, INDEPENDENT STUDY and GRADUATION DAY) as well as two mystery series: The Rebecca Robbins mysteries (Minotaur Books) and the Glee Club mysteries (Berkley). Her YA books have appeared on the Indie Next List, on the YALSA Top 10 books for 2014 as well as the YALSA Quick Picks for reluctant readers. Paramount optioned THE TESTING as the project is currently in development.







It’s graduation day for sixteen-year-old Malencia Vale, and the entire Five Lakes Colony (the former Great Lakes) is celebrating. All Cia can think about—hope for—is whether she’ll be chosen for The Testing, a United Commonwealth program that selects the best and brightest new graduates to become possible leaders of the slowly revitalizing post-war civilization. When Cia is chosen, her father finally tells her about his own nightmarish half-memories of The Testing. Armed with his dire warnings (“Cia, trust no one”), she bravely heads off to Tosu City, far away from friends and family, perhaps forever. Danger, romance—and sheer terror—await.







  1. The United Commonwealth, the setting of THE TESTING, children are chosen as candidates to take tests which ultimately allow them to attend university and grant them brighter futures. What was your inspiration for this situation?
    THE TESTING concept came out of my work with my voice students.  For years, I’ve worked closely with my private voice students as they navigate the testing, application and audition process required to be accepted into college.  The pressure on our high school students is greater than ever before. The need to be better and brighter than the other applicants has never been more keenly felt.  Students are hyper aware that every answer they give could impact the quality of their future. Some of my students handle the pressure better than others and it is never easy to see a student falter.  The teacher and parent in me can’t help but be worried that the benchmark of success has risen too high and that soon it will be more than our youth can handle.  The writer couldn’t help but wonder how much worse the process could become and what tests a future world might want to institute in order to select the next generation of leaders.  And thus The Testing was born.
  2. How much research did you do while writing THE TESTING?
    A lot!  The seven stages of war that is the backstory for the fall of the world required a lot of research into WWI and WWII.  I wanted to use a real model for a global conflict to create my own.  I also had to do a ton of reading on the biological and chemical weapons that are in service now as well as those that are currently being developed and the effects those things might have alone and if they were somehow mixed together.  Oh - and there was also the matter of figuring out how many miles a person could bicycle on any given day on rough terrain and on smooth pavement.  It's amazing how much research you need to do when you create a main character that is smarter than you.
  3. THE TESTING is set in a dystopian society; what kind of social and political themes were you trying to get across the most?
    First and foremost, I was trying to tell a really fun story.  But as the story developed, I enjoyed exploring themes that delved into our current education system and the stress we have put on Testing at every level to determine a student's potential.  I truly believe that potential cannot be measured, but that kids start limiting their belief in themselves based on the outcome of tests early in their lives.  It was also interesting to play with the political side.  Our current political landscape seems to discourage any leader from admitting that something went wrong.  Admitting to a mistake is basically political suicide, and yet everyone makes mistakes.  Scientists will tell you that you often have to use trial and error to find the result you are looking for.  We don't allow that in our leaders.  We expect them to be perfect, which means they often put systems in place that they think are good ideas and when they realize they aren't they don't replace them with something else.  They just keep trying to make the bad idea better.  No Child Left Behind, which really pushed the current testing agenda in our schools, is a good example of that current political trend.  No one actually thinks it works, but the laws that govern the testing are still on the books because no one will admit they failed and repeal them.  Maybe someday the media and the rest of us will applaud someone that says they made a mistake instead of verbally flaying them.  If that happens, the system might have a chance to change for the better.
  4. Cia is a strong, independent female protagonist. Did you base her off of anyone you know?
    You know, I didn't base her off of any one person, but I do think she reflects some of the best traits I see in my female high school voice students.  Most of them are strong and smart and optimistic about the future.  They all have a strong desire to go out in the world and make a difference.  They are awesome and I couldn't be prouder of them, so I hope they see a piece of themselves in Cia.
  5. While you’re writing, are there any books you try to avoid? Do you read within the same genre you’re writing, or do you try to read the complete opposite?
    I read a wide range of genres, but I love mysteries and thrillers.  I often will read a mystery or a thriller that is completely in a different part of the genre than I'm writing in.  Also, I tend to do a lot of re-reading when I write.  A great book sucks you in and makes you want to stop everything in order to finish the story.  That is great for the reader in me, but really bad for my productivity as a writer.  Re-reading allows me to get my story fix, but because I know where the story is going I don't have that desperate need to keep turning the pages and I can put the book down and get to work.
  6. The film rights for THE TESTING have been acquired, who would you like to see cast?
    This is such a hard question because I think it really depends on the script and the vision the director has.  (This is the actress in me talking.)  However, I do think that Sigourney Weaver would make an excellent President Collindar.  I also would love to see Dennis Quaid as Dr. Barnes. (Maybe because I think he has the best smile ever and I'd love to get the opportunity to meet him.)  Emma Watson is my dream Stacia.  I automatically think smart girl when I see her.  Freddie Highmore strikes me as the Tomas type.  As for Cia - there have been lots of names thrown out there, but I'd love to see her as an unknown actress or someone who isn't as well known, yet.  I'd love for the audience to see her and not think of all the other roles she played but think of her as Cia.
  7. If you weren’t an author, what would your ideal career be?
    A superhero?  Um…I love teaching voice and acting, so I feel like I should say one of those.  But I think I'd love to go back to school for a law degree and then run for Congress.  Which seems insane, but I'd do it if I had more time!
  8. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
    I am a pantser who is jealous of all plotters.
  9. Coffee or tea?
    Tea.  (Unless the coffee has whipped cream on it.)
  10. Favorite show? Movie? Band?
    Orphan Black, The Fugitive (or Die Hard), and oh - this is hard!  Can I go with favorite singer?  Because I'm a total Billy Joel buff! 

Joelle will be at Books Inc. Opera Plaza on January 28th at 7pm where she'll sign books and answer any of your other questions!

And don't forget to enter our celebratory giveaway for a box of ARCs HERE!


Giveaway - Rachel Hartman is coming!

Yes! Rachel Hartman, author of the beautiful, fantastical SERAPHINA is coming to Books Inc. Palo Alto and we're celebrating with a giveaway!

The Deets:
* One lucky winner will receive a package of ARCs!
* Entries must be submitted through the Rafflecopter form.
* Must be 13 or older to enter.
* Prize will be shipped via UPS, PO Box addresses not accepted.
* We are not responsible for any lost, stolen, or damaged packages.


Review - All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Publication Date: January 6th, 2015
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary fiction/Romance

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister's recent death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it's unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the "natural wonders" of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It's only with Violet that Finch can be himself--a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who's not such a freak after all. And it's only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet's world grows, Finch's begins to shrink.

For a book about suicide, All the Bright Places begins with one of the most lighthearted interactions you can imagine. As Theodore Finch stands on the top of the bell tower, contemplating whether or not today will be the day he jumps, he looks over and notices a girl standing just a few feet away, presumably contemplating the same thing. “Come here often? Because this is kind of my spot and I don’t remember seeing you here before” he says to her. And with that I was hooked.

All the Bright Places is a love story, but not just any love story. It’s an unconventional, whirlwind of a romance about a boy who’s spent his entire life consumed with the idea of death and a girl whose life stopped the day her sister died. Ironically, Theodore – an expert on death and the many ways a person can achieve it – teaches Violet how important it is to truly live. Jennifer Niven has crafted a love story that’s less about the good days and more about the bad days. She paints an exceptional picture of what it’s like to love someone whose entire existence has been dulled by irrational anger, dark mood swings, and a pure disgust for oneself. She shows readers how important it is to let yourself be heard, and to stop hiding the pain that so many of us carry, covered up by a smile.

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey are two remarkable characters, haunted by their individual traumas and simply moving through life one foot at a time. I am in awe by the sheer beauty of this story and everything it stands for. The emotional rollercoaster that is All the Bright Places is not to be missed and will easily hold its place as one of the best books of 2015.
Anna from Books Inc. Palo Alto

Giveaway - Joelle Charbonneau is coming!

Yes! Joelle Charbonneau, author of the ridiculously awesome Testing trilogy is coming and to celebrate we're having a giveaway!
The Deets:
* One lucky winner will receive a package of ARCs!
* Entries must be submitted through the Rafflecopter form.
* Must be 13 or older to enter.
* Prize will be shipped via UPS, PO Box addresses not accepted.
* We are not responsible for any lost, stolen, or damaged packages.


Review - Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Publication Date: May 7th, 2013
Publisher: Square Fish
Genre: Fantasy/Action Adventure/Romance

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

With fur hats, swooshing capes, and epic snowscapes, Leigh Bardugo sweeps you away into a Russian-inspired fantasy world in this adventurous and romantic teen novel. The action builds quickly as orphan Alina and her childhood best friend Mal are torn apart for the first time in their lives when they must cross the Fold - a swath of land covered in darkness and prowled by vicious monsters. Inexplicably, Alina saves Mal from certain death by wielding a weapon she never knew she had, the power to control light. From that point on, Alina is caught up into the world of the Grisha - the elite, magically inclined protectors of the realm--and placed under the thumb of the broodingly powerful Darkling. Alina struggles to come to terms with her newfound power and her separation from Mal but also finds herself drawn to the mysterious Darkling. This book has so much going for it and would be a great recommendation for a wide range of teens, 12 and up. Can't wait to read the sequel!
Julie from Books Inc. Laurel Village

Review - Breakfast Served Anytime by Sarah Combs & The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal

Breakfast Served Anytime by Sarah Combs
Publication Date: April 8th, 20214
Publisher: Candlewick
Genre: contemporary fiction/realistic fiction

When Gloria sets out to spend the summer before her senior year at a camp for gifted and talented students, she doesn’t know quite what to expect. Fresh from the heartache of losing her grandmother and missing her best friend, Gloria resolves to make the best of her new circumstances. But some things are proving to be more challenging than she expected. Like the series of mysterious clues left by a certain Professor X before he even shows up to teach his class, Secrets of the Written Word. Or the very sweet, but very conservative, roommate whose coal-industry family champions mountaintop removal. Not to mention the obnoxious Mason, who dresses like the Mad Hatter and immediately gets on Gloria’s nerves — but somehow won’t escape her thoughts. Beautifully told by debut author Sarah Combs, this honest and touching story of growing up is imbued with the serene atmosphere of Kentucky’s natural landscape.

What an accomplished first novel! I think Combs really makes the best of the YA genre and the first person narrative. This book explores how young people specifically can deal with: political disagreements with friends, crushing on someone you hate, honestly questioning the integrity of an authority figure, losing your #1 role model, growing out of the future you once dreamed for yourself, and so much more. It is also a rare and wonderful shout-out to my home state of Kentucky. Endorsed 100%!
Liz from Books Inc. Berkeley


Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal
Publication Date: October 8th, 2013
Publisher: Candlewick
Genre: Fantasy

A young seamstress and a royal nursemaid find themselves at the center of an epic power struggle in this stunning young-adult debut.
On the eve of Princess Sophia's wedding, the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn prepares to fete the occasion with a sumptuous display of riches: brocade and satin and jewels, feasts of sugar fruit and sweet spiced wine. Yet beneath the veneer of celebration, a shiver of darkness creeps through the palace halls. A mysterious illness plagues the royal family, threatening the lives of the throne's heirs, and a courtier's wolfish hunger for the king's favors sets a devious plot in motion. Here in the palace at Skyggehavn, things are seldom as they seem -- and when a single errant prick of a needle sets off a series of events that will alter the course of history, the fates of seamstress Ava Bingen and mute nursemaid Midi Sorte become irrevocably intertwined with that of mad Queen Isabel. As they navigate a tangled web of palace intrigue, power-lust, and deception, Ava and Midi must carve out their own survival any way they can.

Gnarly is the word that comes to mind. This book combines the most horrific aspect of fairytales, the most disgusting bits of 16th century European royal court life, and the most disturbing details of being female to create something that is - in my opinion - spectacular. I would have devoured this book as a teenager, but there is some graphic violence. And yet... I love this book and consider it my favorite work of fiction I have read this year. And the ending is happy enough...
Liz from Books Inc. Berkeley


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