Violet by Design is Melissa Walker‘s second book about small-town-girl-turned-supermodel Violet Greenfield, and it’s just as great as Violet on the Runway. In this book, Violet has decided to return to the modeling business and she’s off to work the Sao Paolo runways. That’s right–Brazil! Violet is on her way to becoming an international star.

Of course, there was a reason she left it behind before. Modeling certainly has its ups and downs. Sure, she gets to travel to exotic places–but she also gets called “la gordita” (little fat girl) for not being afraid to gain five pounds and be normal-girl-skinny instead of anorexic-looking.  She’s in the tabloids, and anything she says can and will be used against her. Is the life of an international supermodel really worth leaving all of her friends and family at home behind to deal with so much pressure and superficiality?

On top of all of that, she’s got the typical teenage girl worries about her future, her romantic prospects, her friends, staying true to herself, and, like any recent high school graduate, balancing new with old. What’s a girl to do?

Yes, this is a book about modeling. But, as with Melissa Walker’s debut novel, it’s about so much more than that! It’s about life and friends and family and romance and knowing who you are and blindly feeling your way through an uncertain future the way we all do at some point.

As you can probably guess, I was pretty disgusted with the way already-super-skinny  Violet was always being pressured to lose five pounds, but that doesn’t detract from this book because Melissa Walker knows what she’s talking about when she writes about the fashion industry, and I do believe this is true-to-life. It’s not the book that horrifies me; it’s the truth of it, of the fashion industry, of that horrible negative body image that so many girls get from it. It’s relatively minor here–five pounds. But many girls are dozens or hundreds of pounds above the “ideal” weight in the fashion industry, and there’s nothing wrong with those girls. There is, however, something wrong with the fashion industry.

PSA over for the moment. Violet by Design  is an honest, funny, thoughtful, and intelligent book about one girl’s struggle to figure out who she is and stay true to herself despite the temptations to be someone else (like international superstardom and money and free stuff and exotic travel in this case, but there can be so many things that threaten us in that way).  I love Melissa Walker’s characters, and she is quite a talented writer. I can’t wait for the third book in the series, Violet in Private.

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Princess Mia is the ninth in Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series. I have to admit, I haven’t read them all. I’ve read all Meg’s other YA books, but after the first couple of Princess Diaries books (which I did enjoy), the titles and covers were too similar and I couldn’t keep track of them and remember which ones I’d read, so I kind of just gave up. I still don’t know which ones I’ve read. Maybe I have read them all. I don’t think I’ve read the one where Mia runs for class president, though. Hmm. I’m really not entirely sure. I know the basic timeline of events, though, and am familiar with the characters, and that’s all that’s really necessary to reading this book (although it would have helped to have read the eighth before–they are so connected that I went ahead and read it anyway after finishing this one!).

In Princess Mia, Mia is struggling with the loss of her boyfriend, Michael. (He didn’t die; she broke up with him over something kind of stupid and then he moved to Japan to make a robotic surgery thingy to save people). She might have been able to function through that, except that then she immediately lost her best friend, Lilly, because Lilly thought she kissed her recent ex-boyfriend, J.P. (which, Mia did, kind of, but only accidentally, and they’re just friends). Now, she doesn’t have either of the Moscovitzes, her boyfriend or her best friend, and that’s just too much for a girl to handle! Add that to the fact that she’s expected to give a speech to two thousand of the world’s most elite businesswomen, and, yeah, she’s a little stressed. What’s a princess to do?

I really enjoyed this book. I literally laughed out loud at some parts; Mia’s distinctive voice just makes everything so hilarious, even if she didn’t get into so many mishaps. It’s certainly not all light-hearted fun, though; Mia’s dealing with some serious sadness in this book. Meg Cabot shows herself in this book to be very good at creating great characters, and she really does, after nine books (plus those weird little half-books or whatever they’re called that come in between some of the main books) about them, know this cast of characters very well (and so does the reader).

I think I may very well go back and read the rest of the series in order; it really is that good. This book is highly recommended! It has restored my faith in Meg Cabot (a couple of her recent books were a little disappointing to me, but maybe just not my kind of books; they weren’t necessarily bad).

Robin Benway is the author of the fantastic Audrey, Wait!. I’m lucky enough to have gotten the chance to interview her, and here are her awesome answers! I hope you all enjoy it.

Can you tell me a little about your road to publication?

I had always wanted to be a writer, but I had been too afraid to actually attempt it. Finally, I hit a point where I just said, “You know what? I don’t care. I’m gonna do it.” I took a class at UCLA Extension (basically an adult ed program) in YA writing, and met Rachel Cohn. She read the first chapter of what was to become “Audrey”, loved it, and introduced me to my now-agent.

It took about 14 months between starting the book and selling it, only because I’m such a slow writer and it takes me a long time to figure out how the words fit on the page. The best way I can describe is that before I write, I put all the ideas and sentences together in my head, like a giant puzzle, and when I sit down to get the words on the page, I just describe the way the completed scene looks. Weird, I know! But it works for me.

Aside from Audrey, a great main character, there are lots of interesting, three-dimensional secondary characters in Audrey, Wait!. Who was your favorite character to write, who was the hardest, and which one do you most relate to?

I think Victoria was my favorite to write because she just does not care what anyone says or thinks about her. When you write a character like that, there’s no boundaries and she can do or say whatever she wants. Also, I based the best parts of Victoria on my best friend Adri, so it always made me think of Adri and smile whenever I wrote Victoria (a lot of Victoria and Jonah’s lines are stolen directly from my friend, just because she always makes me laugh.)

The hardest character was Sharon Eggleston by far. She’s a difficult brat, yes, but I also wanted to show how much sadness there was in her. Sometimes I see these girls that are so young and so mean at the same time, and I just think, “Wow, why are you so sad? What happened to you?” But on the other hand, Audrey’s character isn’t sympathetic to Sharon at all, so it was hard to write from Audrey’s perspective and still show the empathy I had for Sharon. I hope it worked!

I would say that aside from Audrey, I really related to James and understood where he was coming from. I think everyone feels like an awkward wallflower from time to time, and it’s difficult to admire someone from afar and be too scared to act on it, the way James does with Audrey.

Music is a big part of your novel! What are five songs that you’re really loving right now?

I LOVE these kinds of questions! I could talk about music all day!

1) “Sweet Black Angel,” Rolling Stones. I’ve been making a lot of mixes for friends lately, and this song is on all of them.

2) “Now That I Know,” Devendra Banhart. I was so intimidated by this music and by Devendra for a long time, but I recently bought “Cripple Crow” and I was surprised by how much I loved it. It’s very warm music, comforting, beautiful stuff.

3) “I’m Only Sleeping,” The Beatles. Lately I’ve been in the habit of getting up early in the morning and taking long walks around my neighborhood while listening to “Revolver”. Every time I hear the lyric, “Keeping an eye on the world going by my window,” I always want to do a little dancing pirouette because it makes me feel so happy. (I don’t do the pirouette, of course, but I really want to.)

4) “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” Led Zeppelin. I know very, very little about The Zep, but I love this song. My friend Kathleen knows all the words, and she’s the one who first played it for me. A great song to play when you’re driving in Hollywood.

5) “The Mending of the Gown,” Sunset Rubdown. This is my current driving-on-the-freeway-when-there’s-no-traffic song. It’s just infectious, I can’t get enough of it.


What are five of your all-time favorite songs?

Only 5?

1) “Boots of Spanish Leather,” Bob Dylan. I was late to the Bob Dylan party, but this song got me there.

2) “Plainsong,” The Cure. The way the song explodes into sound right at the beginning is one of my favorite musical moments. Such an awesome way to start an album.

3) “God Only Knows,” The Beach Boys. My #1 favorite song. I’m a sucker for harmonies and the way the chorus swirls around in the end is so perfect.

4) “You Turn Me On (I’m a Radio),” Joni Mitchell. “’Cause you don’t like weak women, you get bored so quick / And you don’t like strong women ‘cause they’re hip to your tricks…” How amazing is that lyric?! Joni’s the best.

5) “Untitled #1,” Sigur Ros. This song got me through a very difficult period in my life and I’ll always be grateful for it. If music can carry a person, then this song carried me.

Audrey is overwhelmed by her newfound celebrity status. Would you ever want to experience the level of fame that Audrey does?

GOOD LORD, NO. I think it’s so invasive and terrible and just no. No no no. To me, there’s nothing fun about having cameras in your face, having rumors spread about you, not being able to live your life without constant intrusion, etc. Scary stuff. “Audrey” definitely covers the humorous side of being so famous, but I think there’s an ugly side to it.

What inspired you to write Audrey, Wait!?

I was listening to music one morning and I heard a song that was so mean to the ex-girlfriend and all I could think was, “Wow, I bet that girl has an entirely different perspective on what went on in their relationship.” And right at that moment, the voice of Audrey popped into my head and was like, “Hi! Listen up!” And then Victoria and Jonah and James and Evan appeared and it snowballed from there. It took me completely by surprise and I’m so glad it did.

What are you writing now?

Eek! I’m working on a second YA novel that will hopefully be done in the next few months. I can’t say too much about it because I don’t want to jinx it, but I will say that it has 4 main characters, two boys and two girls, and I’m completely in love with all of them.

If your novel were to be made into a movie, who would like to see cast in the leading roles?

I have no idea! Honestly, whoever those people would be, I don’t think they’re actors or actresses yet. I think they’re just normal kids hanging out that have yet to be “discovered”. When I think about “Audrey, Wait!” as a movie, I’m more concerned about how the concert scenes would look! That always bugs me in movies, how fake concerts look and how un-fun they seem.

Audrey, Wait! is a young adult novel. Why did you decide to write for this particular audience? Do you or would you like to write for other audiences?

I chose YA because the voices came so easily to me and I loved translating a teenager’s opinion into words. Most of the teenagers I know are just the coolest, funniest, most interesting people, and I wanted to put those kids on the page. As for writing for other audiences, sure! Mostly I just love to write and if people want to read it, then that’s fantastic. That’s all I could hope for as an author. Who those people are, I don’t care. I just want whoever reads my stuff to enjoy it.

Audrey, Wait! is realistic fiction (well, kind of–not many people ever get famous because their ex-boyfriend writes at chart-topping song about their breakup!). Would you like to or do you write any other genres?

Unfortunately, I think I would be terrible at writing other genres! Right now, realistic fiction (good phrase, by the way) is my favorite and it’s what I enjoy doing, so I’ll stick with that for right now. If it changes, then yay! If not, that’s fine, too.

What are the best, the worst, and the most unexpected parts of being a soon-to-be published author?

Well, the best is just the satisfaction I get from loving what I do. The fact that I can get up every morning, go for a walk, get coffee, and then sit down and create a whole world of imaginary people just blows me away.

The worst is probably the pressure I feel to always write a really great scene, an amazing paragraph, a perfect sentence, etc. Sometimes I’ll start to psych myself out and that’s when I know it’s time to step away from the computer and get some fresh air or socialize with actual people. The best writing moments are when the words start coming and I have no idea where they’re coming from, so I try to just be patient if a scene’s not happening the way I want it to happen.

Unexpected? The way these characters have minds of their own! So many times Audrey or Victoria would say something and I’d be like, “What?! Where did THAT come from? You just changed the whole plot!” It taught me how to be more relaxed with my writing and just let the story unfold, rather than be uptight about each little plot point.

And now that “Audrey” will soon be out and people are reading it, I’ve been surprised by the way that they—especially girls—have responded to my book. Writing is such a solitary act that to have people suddenly appreciate what I’ve done is incredible, and I didn’t think their responses would move me as much as they have.

Is there anything else you wish I’d asked you, or anything you’d like to add?

These were fantastic questions, so nope! And thanks again for being so supportive of the book!

Thank you for doing this, Robin! And remember, everyone, to pick up a copy of Audrey, Wait! this April.

Robin Benway’s debut novel, Audrey, Wait!, completely blew me away! It’s about what happens to a teenage girl living a pretty typical life when her ex-boyfriend’s band suddenly shoots to worldwide fame, and his song about her–titled Audrey, Wait–is suddenly playing on radio stations around the world, and rising to the top of the charts. Suddenly, Audrey is famous. She definitely did not ask for fame; all she did was break up with her rather self-centered musician boyfriend. Now, however, she has to deal with the paparazzi and reporters who twist her words and her phone is ringing off the hook, and, well, she’s rather understandably overwhelmed.

Her best friend, Victoria, wants to take advantage of all this fame by getting free stuff and maybe getting Audrey a reality show, but all Audrey wants to do is go back to her normal life, to being able to go out in public without getting mobbed by screaming fans. Her fans–how is it that a girl who has never done anything fan-worthy can’t go out in the street anymore? And there are videos of her on the internet!

She’s also got a potential love interest in James, her co-worker at the Scooper Dooper. He’s kind of quiet and shy, but Victoria insists they’d be good together–that is, if he’ll actually talk to her about something other than work, and if they can handle the fact that if they go out, they’ll be all over the tabloids!

Audrey, Wait! is about sudden fame, yeah, but being about life in the spotlight isn’t really how I thought of this book. Mostly, it’s about a girl trying to hold onto her sanity in a crazy world! Despite her celebrity status, Audrey is a very relatable character, with a distinct, funny voice. This book was blurbed by Rachel Cohn, and her blurb–calling it “Awesomely funny, fresh, and true”–is right on! Also, Rachel Cohn fans will love this book.

Even the background characters are fantastic. Victoria and Jonah were so awesome and interesting and cool that I kind of wished there was a book about them, too! Three-dimensional background characters almost take over the story at times, but Audrey is too fantastic for that to happen. The writing, the characters, everything in this book is just perfect. I seriously can’t gush about it’s fabulousness enough! Nothing I say seems to really express how much I adore this book. Robin Benway is a brilliant writer. Audrey, Wait! is an unputdownable book about music, love, friendship, and life from an author to watch. It comes out in April, and when it does, I strongly suggest you get in your car, turn on your favorite music as loud as it can go, and get to your nearest bookstore as fast as you can!

In this second book in Mitali Perkins’ First Daughter series, Sameera “Sparrow” Righton, the smart, articulate adopted Pakistani daughter of a Republican presidential candidate whose blog helped her father win, is back. This time, though, instead of trying to help out with her father’s campaign, Sparrow is moving into the White House!

In White House Rules, Sameera is continuing to adjust to life in the spotlight. Even more than that, really; with the constant presence of the Secret Service, privacy is hard to come by when you’re living in the White House. Aside from the fact that she’s the President’s daughter and dealing with all that comes along with that territory, Sameera also has normal teenage girl stuff to deal with–like guys. She and Bobby were getting really close before, but now he’s mysteriously stopped calling.

White House Rules is a worthy sequel to the fun-yet-serious first book in the series, Extreme American Makeover. I felt like the characterizations also got better in this second novel, though Sameera is still a little too perfect to be real a lot of the time. Again, though, Mitali Perkins manages to deal with real, thought-provoking issues (like religious prejudices) in a really fun, quick read. Perkins is a good writer; the pacing and flow of her story are quite good. And it takes a talented author to have a book about romance, friendship, religion, politics, family, bigotry, and more, without any of it seeming odd or forced or out of place. I wasn’t quite blown away by White House Rules, but it was an engaging read, if not exactly unforgettable. I’ll look forward to book number three in this series, and, in the meantime, maybe look up some of Mitali Perkins’ backlist.