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Who watches the Watchers? (a guest post by Ashes author Ilsa J. Bick)

For the last two Saturdays, as part of The Sunnydale Project, I have shared with you some of my favorite Buffy read alikes.  Today, I share with you a guest blog post by an author of another amazing Buffy read alike, Ilsa J. Bick, author of both Ashes and ShadowsOne of the key characteristics of our girl Buffy is that she is a strong, independent, kick ass heroine.  And so is Alex, the main character in the Ashes trilogy.  Ashes is the story of “the changed” (the changed become zombie like in that they now eat human flesh, yummy) and Alex’s quest to survive in a new world.  The moment that the change occurs and Alex is spared marks a turning point for our heroine in much the same way that Buffy’s life is forever changed when she becomes The Chosen One, the slayer.  Like Buffy, Alex is reborn and must fight to hold back the darkness, both in the world and within herself.  You can read my review of Ashes (book 1) here and of Shadows (book 2) here.  Today, we’ll let author Ilsa J. Bick tell you why librarians, though probably not technically Watchers, rock!
The Changed will grow in numbers.  The Spared may not survive.
The Ashes trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick, published by EgmontUSA

True story: I’m on tour for ASHES, and I go to this school library in Michigan to talk to about two hundred kids.  They’re nice.  Most kids are.  So we’re talking, and they’re into it and so am I—when, all of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I see this big, hulking, football kid, call him Brandon, unfold from the depths of the couch where he’s been hiding.  (Really.  The kid was tucked up, head down, arms crossed, legs going in that please-God-get-me-out-of-here jiggle we all know because we’ve all done it.)  Now, Brandon is really huge, neck like a tree trunk, muscles large as cantaloupes, buzz cut.  The kind of boy a football coach would throw his grandmother under the bus to put on the team, know what I saying?  I’m not indulging in stereotypes, really, but given Brandon’s behavior, I know he’d rather have his tonsils taken out with a fork.  Except something snagged him, lured him out of hiding.

So Brandon makes this interesting circuit, walking the perimeter, scoping things out.  Counterclockwise.  (Yes, it’s the geek in me.)  Not quite making like a shark; more like a drone whose operator’s trying to decide if you’re worth the effort.  So I’m still talking, but I’m watching, see, keeping an eye on this kid, wondering what’s going on—when, from the very back, he shouts, “So, like, this book?  There’s survival stuff and an army guy and all that?  Like, and it’s not about vampires and boyfriends and in the future and crap?”   (He didn’t say “crap,” but this is a PG-13 blog.)

So, you know, I said that, no, my book was . . . blah, blah.  What I said really isn’t important.  Here’s what is: the minute Brandon said, “Dude, this is awesome,” and then marched up to sit in the front row.  (And, yes, you could see the heads turn and hear the buzz.)  Brandon even stayed after to talk until the librarian shooed him to his next class.

And here’s what else is important: when the librarian said, “Oh, this is marvelous. Brandon doesn’t read.  I’ve tried so hard to get him interested.  This is the first time I’ve seen him excited over a book.”  Thanked me for getting Brandon jazzed, and the way she said it?  Choked me up.

Now, was Brandon’s sudden interest a testament to my sparkling persona and great delivery style?  Only sort of; I’d like to think it’s the story because what this really speaks to is two-fold: a shared love for story, and a librarian’s commitment to her kids.  One almost never exists without the other because our librarians are often the ones who put the books we come to love in our hands in the first place.  That this woman knew this boy so well and tried so hard tells you, right off the bat, she cares not only about books but each kid.  She knows Brandon, and wants to share what she loves.

The best librarians are like that: people who turn an anonymous place into one where your name is known and you matter.  Where someone hands you a book and says, “I saw this and thought of you.”

Being nominated for a YALSA award is an honor and a thrill, all by itself.  Would I love for ASHES to make the Teen TopTen?  You bet.  But the nomination is also fabulous because it affirms what I truly believe.  What I write, I write out of great feeling and with care for my characters, my craft, the story.  That what I do is valued and becomes a gift?  What writer could fail to be honored?

Brandon . . . Dude, enjoy the read.

Ilsa J. Bick is a child psychiatrist, as well as a film scholar, surgeon wannabe, former Air Force major, and an award-winning author of dozens of short stories and novels, including the critically acclaimed Draw the Dark (Carolrhoda Lab, 2010); Drowning Instinct (Carolrhoda Lab, 2011); Ashes, the first book in her YA apocalyptic thriller trilogy (Egmont USA, 2011) and the just-released second volume, Shadows. Forthcoming is The Sin-Eater’s Confession (Carolrhoda Lab, 2013) and the last installment in the ASHES trilogy, Monsters (Egmont USA, 2013).  Ilsa lives with her family and other furry creatures near a Hebrew cemetery in rural Wisconsin.  One thing she loves about the neighbors: They’re very quiet and only come around for sugar once in a blue moon.
Visit her at www.ilsajbick.com.  Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @ilsajbick.
Slayer Scavenger Hunt

Did you notice some words written in red in this post? If not, go back and take a look. You’ll want to, I can reassure you. Why? Because we are having a Buffy themed scavenger hunt! How fun is that? To find out how to participate, read the details below. And I know you’ll want to participate because we are working on getting some GREAT prizes lined up for the winners!
  • Each week on our Slayer Saturday posts look for the words highlighted. There will be 3 sets of words each weekend, so make sure to visit all three blogs (Bookish Comforts, Patricia’s Particularity and Teen Librarian Toolbox).
  • Write down the words each week (Sept. 8 – Oct. 20), putting them in an order that makes sense. All together these words create a quote from Buffy.
  • During the last week a form will be made available on all three blogs where you can turn in the quote that you have pieced together.
  • On the last weekend of The Sunnydale Project, Oct. 27, the quote will be revealed! We will then draw a winner from those who have correctly completed the quote.
We really hope you have fun with this! We’re still finalizing the prize, but it’ll be worth participating for! An announcement will be made when all details have been finalized!

Book Review: Shadows by Ilsa J. Bick

Shadows is the high octane sequel to Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick.

Ashes Review

In Ashes, an EMP changed a large portion of the population, turning them into what can best be described as what we call zombies.  The Changed roam and eat the flesh of those that remain unchanged.  At the end of Ashes, our main character Alex found herself in a town called Rule hoping to find help for a fellow survivor named Tom; he was left injured as the two fled for their lives.  The town of Rule is populated by survivors that have organized themselves into a survival group that appears almost as a religious cult.  All is not what it seems in Rule.

Shadows picks off where Ashes left us, Alex is trying to escape Rule and finds herself in an enclave of zombies.  The zombies may be the least of her problems.

Shadows, book 2 in the Ashes trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick
Coming from EgmontUSA in September 2012
ISBN: 978-1-60684-176-1

Shadows is without a doubt a fast paced, action packed thrill ride.  There are several story lines happening throughout that shed light on the truth about Rule, the life of the Changed, and the lengths that every day people will go in order to survive.  This is a world where you never know who to trust and the unchanged sometimes turn out to be greater monsters than those who were changed.

As we follow several characters and their story lines, they eventually come together in a way that will blow your mind.  It was difficult at first to sort out all of the new characters – and there are a lot – but their paths all cross in a way that is satisfying and leaves you hanging on waiting for the third and final book in this trilogy. 

Bick is a psychiatrist and she definitely puts some interesting psychological twists into this tale.  There are a group of characters that will eerily remind readers of the Nazi doctors as they engage in some disturbing experiments regarding the nature of the changed.  And one of the biggest questions appears to be whether or not the changed are in fact done changing.

Although Shadows is indeed an exciting read, it can at times also be a challenging read.  There are many characters to keep track of and sometimes the characters make observations that they just leave dangling that come up a little bit later.  There was one scene I had to read multiple times to try and figure out what was happening.  And there is another scene where the relationships in Rule are sussed out that was also challenging since it had been such a while since I had read Ashes.  The Ashes trilogy is definitely a more sophisticated read and seems best suited to the older end of the ya audience.

The Ashes trilogy is a unique and complex look at a post apocalyptic world and it takes the zombie genre and tweaks it in all the right ways; each character is thrust into unthinkable situations and is forced to make difficult decisions in order to survive.  The characters also cover the spectrum; there are your truly evil characters, but there are also those that are basically good people forced to make unthinkable decisions in order to survive.  This is, after all, the post-apocalyptic world so how do the old rules apply in this new world?

The best part? Our female lead Alex still continues to be a strong female character but is not so awesome as to be unbelievable; she sometimes gives in to the temptation to take the easy or safer way out.  And for those of you that have read book one and may be wondering: I am totally on team Tom.  4 out of 5 stars and definitely recommended.  A great pairing with the Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry and This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers.

Check out this look at author Ilsa J. Bick at VonnaCarter.com