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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Book Review of Starr Valentine by Wende Dikec w/ an Author Interview!

Starr Valentine by Wende Dikec
Genre: Young Adult (Science Fiction/Fantasy Romance)
Date Published: March 10, 2016
Publisher: Inkspell Publishing

What happens when the beautiful swan becomes the ugly duckling? 

Starr Valentine has a perfect life in Middleton, Ohio. She was named captain of the cheer squad, her mother finally allowed her to get highlights, and the cutest boy in school asked her to homecoming. But everything comes crashing down when she finds out her parents are actually monarchs in exile from a mysterious planet called Vega. Starr doesn’t want to leave, but loves the idea of being a princess, and decides moving to an alien world might not be so bad. When she gets there, however, she discovers that something is terribly wrong.

Starr has always been the winner of the family, but now everyone is fawning over her chubby older sister, Astra. And everyone, even a handsome and annoying young duke named Julian, seems to hate her. That is when she realizes the awful truth. Astra is now the pretty one. Astra has all the friends. Astra gets all of the attention. And Starr Valentine, voted Miss Perfect, is now the ugly duckling. Her biggest fear is…will she be able to turn back into a swan, or is she doomed to be a loser forever?

Starr Valentine by Wende Dikec is a story with so much to offer its readers. I love, love, loved it! Starr is a character I really didn't like in the beginning, but she's not supposed to be very likeable. She's spoiled, vain, and superficial.. the stereotypical popular girl. Her sister, Astra, is the total opposite. Once they find out their real identities and are moved off to their new planet, things flip around a bit. Astra is now seen as the pretty one, and Starr isn't handling it well at all. The people of Vega have a different way of perceiving beauty, and I wish that was something we all possessed. The story really sent out some good messages for all of us, and it did it without being boring. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. To me, this was the ideal young adult book, with everything I love from humor to romance. Starr Valentine was an otherworldly coming of age story with well built characters who grew throughout the story as they learned more about love, friendship, and life. I was sad when it ended. I wasn't ready to leave their world just yet!

Starr Valentine by Wende Dikec was kindly provided to me by Bewitching Book Tours for review. The opinions are my own.

We all met in the captain’s lounge just after the transport ship had safely landed. My father wore some sort of military uniform, and he was completely dashing, as always.
“Girls, you both look lovely.”
I smiled up at him. “So do you, Daddy,” I said, and he patted my cheek.
My mom fluttered up to us in a cacophony of lime green lace and feathers. A large gold medallion was pinned to her breast and she had on the crown she’d worn for the nightly news. She reached for our hands, tears swimming in her eyes.
“I have something for you,” she said, her voice trembling. Captain Augustus stood behind her, looking just as handsome as my father. He held open a wooden box. Inside were two small, yet perfect, tiaras.
I gasped. “Diamonds.”
“These are not your true crowns,” my mother explained. “Those went missing during the confusion when we were trying to escape. These are just a substitute until we can find something better.”
I couldn’t imagine something better. The tiaras seemed perfect. I leaned over slightly so my mom could slip it onto my head, glad I’d decided to wear my hair up in a French twist. The tiara was beautiful. I admired myself for a few minutes in the mirror before looking at Astra. She and my mother stood side by side, their hair a riot of dark curls, their dresses positively painful to the eyes, and I sighed. I really hoped they didn’t humiliate themselves too much at the ceremony. They looked like clowns from a circus performance.
My father, of course, didn’t seem to notice. He bowed and kissed my mother’s hand gallantly before linking it through his arm and leading her out the door. I could tell it was a very emotional moment for both of them. They were returning to the home they loved after being exiled for so many years. Even I could feel my throat tightening up.
Astra walked up and took my arm. “Are you ready?” she asked, and I nodded. It was time to face the music, or the Vegonians, as the case may be.
We stepped out into a warm, sultry evening on Vega. Lights had been set up all around the landing bay, and we followed my parents to an elevated platform near the ship. People waited as far as the eye could see, and as soon as my parents stepped up to the podium, the crowd roared.
I stood arm in arm with Astra, taking in the moment. The city of Celesta glittered in the light of the fading sun, just beyond the crowd of people assembled before us. It sparkled like it was made of glass. I could see what must have been the royal palace on one side of the city on top of a small hill, and it made me think of Aladdin’s castle, all gilt and white marble. I decided I could definitely get used to living there.
As I stared at the people in front of me, I started to notice something odd. The women here were not at all what I’d expected. Supposedly the most beautiful women in the universe, they all looked a lot like my mother and sister, with short, oddly shaped bodies and large behinds. They also dressed just like my mother and sister, in a riot of colors and patterns.
A quick assessment told me that I was the only pretty girl around, other than Maya, and definitely the best dressed. Maya had been forced by her parents to wear some sort of Vegonian monstrosity made out of a hot pink iridescent fabric. Torture. I, on the other hand, felt like an elegant swan dumped into the middle of a bunch of plump, gaudy, peacocks.
I heaved a sigh of relief. I’d been a little teeny tiny bit worried when I’d heard about how beautiful Vegonian women were. It was good to realize those rumors had been pure exaggeration. No one in this crowd could hold a candle to me.
Another quick look around told me that there wasn’t a single bad looking guy here. I was completely devoted to Adrian, of course, but I couldn’t help but admire and appreciate male beauty when I saw it. The boys were all works of art. It was as if I’d been dropped into a huge candy shop full of the most delicious boys I’d ever seen, and knew I could have my pick. Of course I would never cheat on Adrian, but it felt like a candy shop here, nonetheless.
My joy proved short-lived. None of the boys even looked at me. At first I thought that several of them stared at me, which made me happy, but soon realized it wasn’t me they stared at. They had their eyes locked on Astra with the same sort of enraptured expressions boys usually reserved for me.
A cold wave of shock crawled over my entire body. Boys never looked at Astra like that, especially when I stood right next to her. Something was very wrong here.
I smoothed my hair, which was perfect and didn’t need smoothing. I stuck out my chest and turned my body so they could see my best angle, but none of them even noticed me. Astra had suddenly become the center of attention.
My mother gave a very lovely and heartfelt speech, which I barely paid attention to. The crowd roared and screamed her name, but I hardly even heard it. People waved and cheered with tears streaming down their faces, but I felt numb to everything.
When we were introduced to various dignitaries, everyone said “lovely,” and “a vision,” when they met Astra. When they saw me, they looked a bit confused and then mumbled something boring like “nice to meet you.” Something very strange was going on, and I had to figure it out.
I searched the crowd for Adrian, but he was nowhere to be seen. One sexy, appreciative look from him might have been enough to restore some semblance of balance and order to my universe. But he wasn’t around and I’d been cast adrift in a sea of beautiful boys to whom I was invisible.
“Art thou okay, Princess Starr?” asked Captain Augustus. “Thou art pale.”
I blinked as I digested his words. The Vegonians spoke English, but a weird form of archaic Elizabethan English mixed with modern slang. The only people who had spoken like that on the transport ship were the captain and the crew. All of the Vegonians who been on Earth for the last fifteen years spoke standard, modern English, although I’d heard a few “thou’s” and “thee’s” begin to slip into the language of the older passengers, including my own parents.
“I’m fine. Thank you.”
As the captain bowed and turned away, I realized I wasn’t fine at all. I stared around at the sea of happy, glowing, faces, including those of my parents and my sister, and understood that suddenly, and without any explanation, I had become the outsider.
“Thou art in hell, Starr Valentine,” I murmured to myself.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing for a long time, but I started writing full time a few years ago. It’s been an amazing experience, and I’m so lucky I’ve been able to devote myself whole-heartedly to my dream job.

What inspired you to write Starr Valentine?
I lived overseas for six years of my life, and during that time, I discovered something interesting. Beauty is something open to interpretation. In Japan the nape of a woman’s neck is considered to be erotic, which is why geishas allow the back of their kimonos to gape, revealing a tantalizing glimpse of skin. It’s the equivalent of a show of cleavage in western culture.

I realized that sometimes girls living in the States have a narrow and sometimes warped view about beauty. It can mean very different things in different cultures. In North Africa the ideal bride is one with a bottom “as big as the wedding table”. In China, small feet are prized. In many countries, women purposefully mutilate themselves in the name of beauty - rings designed to elongate necks in certain tribes, ritualistic scarification in others, breast implants right here at home. All painful and unnatural, and all done in the name of beauty. I wanted to write a story that encouraged girls to see their own worth and their own value, as well as their own beauty.

Which of your characters do you relate to most and why?
My main character Starr is beautiful and popular, but she’s also vain and shallow. She has what she thinks is a perfect life, until she finds out her parents are monarchs in exile from a faraway planet called Vega and they must return. When Starr arrives on Vega, she soon discovers the standard of beauty is different there and she isn’t beautiful anymore. She has to figure out who she is if she isn’t pretty. It’s not an easy journey for her.

I was nothing at all like Starr in high school. I was a total bookworm, the president of every club, and kind of a nerd. I’m still a nerd, and I’m proud of it now. I love sci-fi movies and collect teacups and couldn’t live a single day without my books. But I understand Starr on a certain level. Because I lived overseas, I understand what it’s like to be a stranger in a strange land. Sometimes it’s hard to navigate a completely new and different culture, and it’s very easy to make mistakes and feel like an outsider.

What is a secret about you that nobody else knows?
I have crushes on several dead presidents. My first, and biggest, crush is on Thomas Jefferson. He was the coolest guy, a fantastic writer, and he had a huge library. When the original Library of Congress was burned down by the British, he donated his own personal library to replace what was lost. He had more than 6,400 books at the time. That is a serious collection. The whole idea of that many books makes me “squee” like a major fangirl.  My other crush is on Teddy Roosevelt. There was just something a little wild and crazy and manly about him, and anyone who can get shot in the chest and still give a speech is a pretty tough dude.

If your real life was a fictional book, what would you, the main character, be like?
My story would be about a girl who grew up in a small town but dreamed of seeing the world. When she finally gets her chance, she travels to Japan where she meets and falls madly in love with a man from Turkey. They get married in Istanbul, in a gorgeous golden room overlooking the Bopshorus Strait at sunset, and lived happily ever after with their three sons and a puppy named Capone. The End.

What book have you read too many times to count?
I was addicted to the book “A Wrinkle In Time” by Madeleine L’Engle. Because of that book, I actually dreamed of becoming a physicist someday (until I discovered that physics is mostly math, and I hate math!). I loved Meg Murphy, the main character, because she was perfect in all her awkward geekiness. And Calvin O’Keefe was my first book boyfriend. Sigh. Just thinking about him gives me the warm fuzzies.

What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
If I could offer any advice to aspiring authors, I’d tell them to allow themselves the luxury of making mistakes. The first draft is supposed to be a mess. You can fix everything when you edit, but you can’t fix anything if you never get it done. I know so many writers who have amazing talent, but they listen to their inner critic too much and never complete a manuscript. Tell that voice in your head to shut up. It’s good to listen to advice from others, it’s great to learn from your peers, but you have to believe in yourself first and foremost if you want to be a success.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I learned to believe in myself, and I learned that nothing is impossible if you’re willing to work hard. There were many times I wondered if I could ever complete a book. Then I wondered if my books would ever be published. It’s so easy to give up, but it’s so worth it to keep going.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
It feels like I’m always writing, or blogging, or editing, but every time I have a spare moment, I love to pick up a book and read. I carry two things with me wherever I go, my kindle and my notebook. I also love teaching writing classes to children. They inspire me and it’s joyful to be around them. They are definitely kindred spirits. We understand each other.

Are any of the things in your books based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Although Starr Valentine is a sci-fi romance, it was based on a real life experience. Tennis season had just started for the boys’ team, and I was standing around, waiting for my son’s practice to end. I noticed a woman standing nearby with two girls by her side. I didn’t know her, but she caught my attention because she was remarkable. She had on brightly colored clothing in several contrasting patterns, a head full of curly hair divided into what looked like random ponytails, and a self-confidence that exuded itself in her booming voice and glowing, happy face.
She looked very different from the other mothers, in their yoga pants, designer t-shirts, and color-coordinated tennis shoes. Even the travel mugs they had clutched in their perfectly manicured fingers matched their outfits, but the other woman didn’t match. She also didn’t quite fit.
Next to her stood a young girl who looked just like her, the same colorful clothing, wild hair, and extremely curvy shape. She was smiling, just like her mother, the spring sunshine kissing her face as she lifted it to the sky. They both looked so happy, so completely at ease. And then I noticed the other member of their little trio, a girl shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot as she eased away from the other two. I could feel her embarrassment, a palpable thing, as if she wanted to physically separate herself from them. She had on a very plain navy blue skirt. A white t-shirt. Straight, brown hair. A pretty girl, she looked very…normal next to the other two.
And then I heard the whisper of a story start to swirl around inside my brain. What if I was looking at a family? What if a mother had two daughters, one who looked just like her and one who was very different? What if the “different” daughter was pretty, normal, and popular, and felt ashamed of her mother and her older sister?
That’s where Starr Valentine began, but that’s also where all good stories begin – with two words. Two powerful, wonderful words. What if?

Wende Dikec has spent her life traveling the world, and collecting stories wherever she visited. She writes in several romance genres, and her books are quirky, light, and fun. Fluent in several languages and married to a man from Istanbul, Wende is a trekkie, a book hoarder, master of the Nespresso machine, and mother of three boys. A puppy named Capone is the most recent addition to her family, and she blogs about him as a way of maintaining what little sanity she has left.

To learn more about Wende Dikec and her books, visit her website.You can also find her on Goodreads, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

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