Erin Johnson grew up watching classic western movies with her father, which fueled her lifelong love of horseback riding. She's always dreamed of being a fierce-talking cowgirl, but writing about one seemed like the next best thing. She loves traveling, riding motorcycles and teaching, and lives in North Carolina. --Goodreads
I’m fascinated by history and wish I could transport myself back in time so I could meet the people who lived during different eras. Women in the Wild West had to be brave, strong, and resourceful, all qualities I admire. I wanted to write a heroine who embodied those qualities, and I hope I succeeded with Grace.

Most likely you’d find me in the Ndeh village because I’m drawn to their lifestyle and philosophy. I expect I’d be cooking, making clothes, and gathering herbs for medicine.

Interestingly enough, I was researching a nonfiction book on native peoples and was drawn to the Southwest. I spent time in Arizona, visiting some of the sites mentioned in HER COLD REVENGE. I took art lessons on a reservation and spent time in the desert. I had those experiences to draw on as I wrote, but I also contacted experts on many different topics and did a lot of research online as well as in libraries and historical societies (spending some time as librarian really helped me develop my research skills).

That’s a hard choice because I love them both. If I had to choose one, it would probably be Grace. My first choice for an activity would be galloping on horseback. I’ve always been a horse lover as far back as I can remember. I’d like to think I’d be as brave as Grace and capture criminals, but I’ve never put my bounty hunting skills to the test (except on the pages of the book).

One other character I’d like to spend time with is Emily. You meet her in HER COLD REVENGE. She’s a plucky little girl who idolizes Grace. She hurtles headlong into danger because she’s so determined to help Grace capture the Guiltless Gang. I love her loyalty and headstrong nature.

What an interesting question. I think she’d take a Ndeh name, Eagle Feather, to symbolize the justice she metes out. She wears those eagle feathers in her hatband, one for each gang member she’s determined to capture.

I already mentioned how partial I am to Emily. I’d love to see what she’s like when she reaches Grace’s age. I suspect she may end up being a sidekick for Grace.

Sequoyah would be fun to write. I’d have a harder time doing a series with her because in those days, the Ndeh were in hiding. It would be a creative challenge to stay true to the time period and give her the opportunity to have adventures. I’d enjoy spending more time exploring the Ndeh culture, though, so I may have to give this some thought.

I found the first chapter of GRACE AND THE GUILTLESS the most heart-wrenching part of the series to write. In HER COLD REVENGE, I struggle to keep Grace’s attraction to Joe from overpowering her goal of bringing her family’s killers to justice.

Everyone always says to read, read, read, and read some more. That’s important, but it’s equally important to write, write, write. Write anything – journals, lists, poetry, letters to the editor. Any time you’re putting words on paper, you’re practicing your craft. The more you write, the better you’ll get. I read once that it takes 10,000 hours to master a craft, so every time you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you’re logging in time.

One other thing I’d suggest is to challenge yourself to write a story every week from start to finish. That will give you practice on story arcs, characterization, and plotting. After a year, move on to writing novel chapters. By then, you’ll have learned to finish what you start. Developing that habit early in your writing life can prevent a drawer full of partially finished stories.

The next book will contain a Wild West show, a love triangle, and a good friend in danger. Joe and Grace’s relationship will be tested in many ways. That’s about all I can reveal right now.

I have many things on my bucket list. I have other novels I’m working on, of course, that I want to see published. But one of my top goals is to travel to every continent. Next on my list: Antarctica.

Thank you, Laurie J. Edwards (aka Erin Johnson), for visiting the blog today!

A love triangle and someone in danger-- I am so impatient to read the third book in the Wanted series! If you haven't started this series, you definitely need to check out Grace and the Guiltless (my review).  Her Cold Revenge, the sequel, releases August 1, 2015. 

Click here to check out Laurie J. Edwards' website.
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Grace and the Guiltless by Erin Johnson

Publisher: Switch Press
Publication Date: August 1, 2014
Pages: 272
Source: publisher in exchange for honest review
Buy It: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Grace Milton's peaceful life with her family on a horse ranch outside Tombstone, Arizona is shattered in one devastating night. Her family is brutally murdered by the notorious Guiltless Gang, leaving Grace the only survivor. Trekking into the wilderness on her stallion, Grace falls ill from the elements. A young man name Joe saves her life by taking her to an Apache camp where she learns about their way of life and begins to fall for Joe. When Grace encounters one of the Guiltless Gang, her strength will be tested. Can she survive as a bounty hunter, or will she fall into darkness again? This Western revenge epic will captivate teen readers with its ruthless spirit of suspense and adventure and a powerful central romance. --Goodreads
Welcome to the Wild West.  The beginning serves as a rather rude welcoming for readers when Grace’s whole family is murdered in cold blood.  Grace is left all alone.  She doesn’t know much about surviving in the wilderness or shooting a gun but she does know that she must seek revenge for her family.  She embarks on a journey to find the Guiltless Gang—the people who killed her family—and find the justice she deserves.

In truth, I have never read a western before Grace and the Guiltless.  Something about the setting, the horseback riding, the cowboys—it never really appealed to me.  However, it is always good to try new things and when I picked up Grace, it was a pleasant surprise.  The novel had all the ingredients for a perfect Western: the cowboys, the Indians, the guns, the horses, and even the ranch away from town.  However, Erin Johnson brought a non-stop rollercoaster ride that does not give readers time to breathe.  The show starts from page one, with Grace’s family being murdered, and the action doesn’t end until the last page.

Grace follows in the footsteps of books like The Hunger Games and Divergent with an incredibly strong female protagonist, taking both the figurative and literal reins of her own story.  Grace has guts and is driven on her journey by her family’s deaths.  Readers may find her want for revenge, and the mention of her journey, a bit overplayed in the novel.  The constant action keeps the plot moving and keeps readers from being too annoyed.  I do understand that Grace has lost her entire family; it is extremely natural to seek revenge.  Still, Johnson could have withheld the repeated mention of “my family’s dead, got to avenge them” and “can’t be happy, got to go and get revenge.”

Despite the repetition of the main goal of the novel, Grace is a never-ending adventure that everyone can enjoy.  From younger YA to adults, readers will not want to stop reading this fantastic thrill set in the Wild West

And what would a novel set in the Wild West be without romance? Yes, there is romance!  I wasn’t expecting it.  Erin Johnson cleverly draws her romance which leaves readers wanting more.  It is the sort of romance that gradually becomes more beautiful as more pages are turned.  It is both realistic and so natural. 

I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Her Cold Revenge, to find out what happens next.  There wasn’t as much as a cliffhanger as I would have hoped but, in this case, it was better to end the way it had been.  Johnson created some suspense, while still keeping within Grace’s character.

Erin Johnson’s Grace and the Guiltless is a continuous horse-back ride through the Wild West that will keep your heart pounding way past the last page.  

Grace and the Guiltless (8/1/14): 4 stars
Her Cold Revenge (8/1/15): 4 stars

Enshadowed by Kelly Creagh

Publisher: Atheneum
Publication Date: August 28, 2012
Pages: 429
Source: purchased
Buy It: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Varen Nethers is trapped in a perilous dreamworld—a treacherous and desolate realm where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life. Isobel Lanley, plagued by strange visions and haunted by the nightmares of Varen's creation, is the only one who can save him.
Isobel knows that her only hope lies within a Baltimore cemetery. There, in the early morning of Edgar Allan Poe's birthday, a mysterious stranger known as the "Poe Toaster" will make his annual homage at the legendary poet's grave.
Only the Poe Toaster holds the key to the way between worlds. But great dangers lie ahead for Isobel. An ancient evil, draped in veils of white, is watching, challenging her for Varen's affections. When Isobel finally finds Varen, he is no longer the quiet and brooding boy who once captivated her, but a dark force, powerful and malevolent.
Could Isobel's greatest love also be her greatest adversary? --Goodreads
In Nevermore, Isobel saves the world by closing the gate which separates a dreamscape that holds all your worst nightmares and the real world.  However, she accidentally traps boyfriend, Varen Nethers, on the other side—stuck in the dreamscape.  With Enshadowed, Isobel vows to do whatever she can to get Varen back, safe and sound to the real world.  Only there are several factors that could go wrong in that process.  Isobel could die, for one.  But that is a risk she is willing to take.

I don’t recommend reading this book in the dark—you may hurt your eyes; however, if you have a dim-lit room—go for it.  It is one of those books that you should totally set the mood for because even though I was reading in pure daylight, the book brought me to dark places.  Dark places as in, it reminded me of those scary short stories people read for Halloween.  In Enshadowed, Isobel was in her house, celebrating Christmas, but the plot was chilling enough that all I could think about was Halloween.

Kelly Creagh specializes in the art of cliffhangers.  The chapters are not too long for readers to lose focus and the cliffhangers make them continue without hesitation.  Looking back at the book as a whole, the plot is simple—with one goal.  However, while reading, it doesn’t seem that way.  Readers are enchanted by Isobel’s devotion and the lengths she goes to fulfill her goal: to save Varen.

This story, as part of a series, goes deeper than I first realized.  Creagh has cleverly woven a plot that goes at least six feet underEnshadowed is incredible.  I know when I wrote the Nevermore review, I mentioned the similarities of Inception.  Creagh creates a dreamscape, a location apart from the real world.  In Enshadowed, the author takes her location one step further.  She begins adding pieces of reality, mixing the two worlds seamlessly.  And I am not just talking about Nevermore’s reality and the dreamscape.  I am talking about our reality and Isobel’s reality and the dreamscape.  Creagh added elements which had readers question what was real.  (The Poe Toaster is real!  The picture, used in Enshadowed as what pushed Isobel to her goal, can also be found in LIFE magazine.) That particular question—asking what is reality—makes Isobel’s character extremely relatable because readers are questioning the same things she is. 

Despite loving the plot, the lack of male characters—or just the lack of Varen—bothered me.  I love strong female characters and Enshadowed certainly had them.  Both, Isobel and Gwen, were extremely independent and just plain awesome.  However, where Nevermore was the blossoming relationship of Isobel and Varen, Enshadowed was Isobel all alone, trying to get Varen back.  I would have loved if Creagh had shown some scenes of Varen in the dreamscape.  Still minor characters really shine in Creagh’s work.  Can we please get a spin-off of Bruce—I would even take a short story about him?  He only said a few words but those words depicted Bruce’s desire to have Varen home.  It was heart -warming and -wrenching at the same time. 

Enshadowed by Kelly Creagh is a fantastic sequel.  Creagh’s world continues to be as creepy as ever and I am sure in the third book, Oblivion, she will even step it up one more notch.

Nevermore (8/31/10): 5 stars --- my review
Enshadowed (8/28/12): 4 stars
Oblivion (7/28/15): TBA

I was thinking about cowboys the other day and realized that as much as the YA genre has the cutest boys from vampires to aliens, the genre is seriously lacking in the cowboys section.  Where are all those westerns?  Where are the tavern brawls, sexy cowboy hats, and first draw gun fights? YA readers are in luck with the newest novel from Erin Johnson, Her Cold Revenge.  It's a sequel to the lovely Grace and the Guiltless.

To get you in the mood I'm recommending some YA books and movies that will get you in the mood for this upcoming release.  (Of course, I will not be naming the Bad here.) What I could find in the western genre was too few and the following recommended books do not depict the Western genre but have some Western qualities to them.  These books are, rather, close enough to the genre that cowboy lovers will surely be able to find them as awesome as Erin Johnson's new book. (All book synopses are from Goodreads and movies are from IMDB.)

Her Cold Revenge by Erin Johnson (pub. August 1, 2015)
Grace Milton has only one goal: bring to justice the Guiltless Gang, the outlaws who slaughtered her family. That's why she had to abandoned Joe and the Apache -- she couldn't afford any distractions. Now she's making her living as one of the only female bounty hunter in the Wild West, despite the doubts and protests of others. But when Joe shows up in town, Grace is torn. Feelings she thought she had left behind at the Apache camp are rekindled, and the passion threatens to pull her away from her mission. But soon rumors surface that two members of the Guiltless Gang are nearby, planning a daring train robbery, and now Grace is faced with an impossible choice. Will she stay with Joe and forget her vendetta, or risk everything -- her love, her life -- to fulfill her all-consuming need for vengeance?
 The second book in the gripping Wanted series, this Western revenge epic is a must-read for teen readers who are fans of relentless action and suspense and heart-wrenching romance. --Goodreads

Holes by Louis Sachar --- Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnatses. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the boys build character by spending all day, every day digging holes exactly five feet wide and five feet deep. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. But there are an awful lot of holes.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness --- Prentisstown isn't like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee -- whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not -- stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden -- a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill --- It’s hot. The air reeks of burning fuel; the rivers and lakes seethe with sulfur. In the shadows, evil men plot terror and beasts hunt the innocent. Out on the barren crags of the terraformed planet, there is nowhere to hide. No one to heed a call for help.

True Grit by Charles Portis --- Charles Portis has long been acclaimed as one of America's foremost writers. True Grit, his most famous novel, was first published in 1968, and became the basis for the movie starring John Wayne. True Grit tells the story of Mattie Ross, who is just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shoots her father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robs him of his life, his horse, and $150 in cash. Mattie leaves home to avenge her father's blood. With the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshal, by her side, Mattie pursues the homicide into Indian Territory.

Blood Red Road by Moria Young --- Saba lives in Silverlake, a wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms where her family scavenge from landfills left by the long-gone Wrecker civilization. After four cloaked horsemen kidnap her beloved twin brother Lugh, she teams up with daredevil Jack and the Free Hawks, a girl gang of Revolutionaries.

Priest (dir. Scott Stewart) --- A priest disobeys church law to track down the vampires who kidnapped his niece. Complete with train and horse chase.

The Lone Ranger (dir. Gore Verbinski) --- Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice.

Cowboys and Aliens (dir. Jon Favreau) --- A spaceship arrives in Arizona, 1873, to take over the Earth, starting with the Wild West region. A posse of cowboys and natives are all that stand in their way.

Holes (dir. Andrew Davis) --- A wrongfully convicted boy is sent to a brutal desert detention camp where he joins the job of digging holes for some mysterious reason. And who could forget the winners of the best couple award:

While waiting for the release of Her Cold Revenge, read or watch one of these awesome books.  They will surely get you in the mood for the amazing horse back ride that is Erin Johnson's Wanted series!

Paper Towns by John Green

Publisher: Speak
Publication Date: 9/22/09
Pages: 305
Source: purchased
Buy It: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Who is the real Margo?
 Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life—dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows. After their all-nighter ends, and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues—and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew... --Goodreads
Margo Roth Spiegelman is the next door neighbor to Quentin Jacobson who has always been in love with her.  They used to hang out as children but as they got older, high school cliques brought them apart.  Still, Quentin pines after her.  When Margo, out-of-nowhere, shows up at his window one late night, she takes him on an adventure he will never forget—which includes taking blackmail pictures of a naked guy, seeing the world for what it is, and breaking into Sea World.  The day after, Quentin believes things to be changed between them but when Margo doesn’t show up to school, he realizes she is missing.  Left with clues that only Quentin understands, he must find the girl who showed him a glimpse of the world she knows.

I haven’t read a lot of John Green novels.  I know enough, however, to believe that something is lacking with Paper Towns.  With both, The Fault in Our Stars and The Abundance of Katherines, John Green’s ever-present poetic style of writing shines through.  As much as this does not take away from the story, Green’s writing style lacks the poetic flow in this novel.  Instead, his voice becomes much more Quentin, an immature senior in high school.  And when I say immature, I mean immature.  Paper Towns will have readers laughing but shaking their heads at the same time. 
Despite it lacking some John Green-ness, Paper Towns is one of those books readers will look back upon and recommend to others.

Even though the protagonist prides himself on being so immature with continuous inappropriate jokes, Paper Towns needs to be looked at differently.  It is not just about the main story, but what runs deeper than that.  John Green creates this title on a few speeches Margo announces to Quentin.  The philosophy behind paper towns and for Margo’s personality is genius.  The message which Green brings forth is something that a lot of people forget.  It is not about living a cookie-cutter life; it’s about doing what you want.  Think outside the box.  Do what your heart tells you to.  As seniors in high school, John Green chose the best sort of characters to tell his message from. 

With this, Paper Towns became about a girl trying to live outside the box.  This is extremely relatable.  If readers can’t relate to Margo, they certainly can relate to Quentin.  With the complete opposites that are Margo and Quentin, readers were able to witness a character pushed out of his shell, in which he realizes that there is more to life than his small little town.  John Green creates an original coming-of-age story like no other. 

Overall, Paper Towns may not be John Green’s best work but it is certainly a work that should not be overlooked.  Its movie, based on the book, is being released July 24 which I definitely look forward to.  Paper Towns takes readers on a wild ride across Orlando, Florida and New York and shows them a little piece of the world.