GUEST POST and GIVEAWAY
by Wende Dikec
Starr Valentine by Wende Dikec is currently on tour with Bewitching Book Tours. The tour stops here today for a guest post by the author, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.
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?
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.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]
Praise for the Book
"There are so many reasons to love this book. It is very funny, unexpected, warm, fast paced, and has a bit of a twist on the alien theme while turning upside down the standards of beauty, sense of self, and acceptance. Add a bit of drama, intrigue, a touch of betrayal, and Starr Valentine is a great book to lose yourself in any day of the week! I loved getting to know the characters, the adventure of traveling to another planet, and seeing the differences in values between worlds through Starr's eyes. It is a compelling story with vivid and meaningful messages, peppered with humor and heart. More, please!" ~ A. Durnell
"Starr Valentine is a fun and original book. I loved the idea of a planet where beauty is defined in a different way. Starr is shallow, vain and not very kind. She only thinks about herself and doesn't care much about others. Speaking to Julian makes her think and she comes up with a plan to make her life better. She's resourceful and fierce. Secretly she has a big heart which always remained hidden because of her perfectly groomed exterior. It was great to slowly see her change, which doesn't always go smoothly though. Wendy Dikec writes her stories with a lovely sense of humor and Starr's actions often made me laugh." ~ Suze Lavender
"I truly recommend this book to any fairy tale adaptation fans that love a good mix of romance, action, deception, self-growth, a spark of comedy, space traveling, and a hell of an adventure." ~ Steph Destiny
"I thoroughly enjoyed this spunky book! I have to admit that at first, I completely hated Starr and her self-absorbed petty airhead attitude. The author does a spectacular job of exposing the mind of a bubblehead teenager. However, it was very interesting to enter the world of Vega and experience their different standards of beauty and culture. The complexity of the society was very intricate and appealing to me! It was very intriguing to slowly see Starr get a much needed attitude adjustment! With a complex, unique storyline, well written dialogue and a splash of romance, I had an absolute blast reading this book! I loved that it was kept light-hearted and spunky all throughout!" ~ Crystal Gomez
"What I like most about this book is the character growth we see in Starr. While she's learning about what's most important in life (spoiler: it's not outer beauty), we're with her every step of the way and learning, too. However, the book never seems preachy or heavy-handed. I also love the charming alternate universe, where Vegonians are responsible for so much of we love about Earth. It's a lovely little romantic tale with lessons larger that you expect. Starr's voice will stick with you and Dikec's writing style is - as always - clear, evocative, and relatable." ~ sessie
Guest Post by the Author
Reimagining Fairy Tales with a Modern Twist
We all know the story of the ugly duckling. In a family full of beautiful baby ducks, one just looks … wrong. The other ducks make fun of it, cruelly taunting it for being different, but in the end the ugly duckling has the last laugh – when it turns into a beautiful swan, as shown in this illustration by Vilhelm Pedersen.
But what if that story happened in reverse? What if the beautiful swan ended up as the ugly duckling? It would end up being a very different story, with a different moral. And, just to make it a bit more interesting, what if it happened in outer space?
Let me backtrack a bit. It all began on a warm, spring day as I waited for tennis practice to finish so I could drive my son home. As the mother of three boys, I spend a lot of time waiting, and, because I’m a writer, I often occupy myself by doing my favorite thing. People watching.
It didn’t take long for me to notice an odd looking woman near the courts. She had on brightly colored clothing in a crazy assortment of patterns. Her wildly curling hair had been pulled into not one, or two, but three completely random ponytails on her head. Her body was unusually curvy. Her voice was abnormally loud. And the strangest thing of all – she seemed so happy. She stood, surrounded by a bunch of people, chatting and laughing and having a good time.
Next to her stood a girl, and I had to assume it was her daughter. Dressed in the same way as her mother, she had the same shape and the same laugh. She also seemed to be having a wonderful time, but then I noticed something very strange. Another girl stood next to them, staring down at the ground with her arms folded across her chest. Her clothing was plain. Her hair was straight. She was slim and pretty and perfect, and she seemed out of place. When they all got into a car together and left, the whisper of a story began swirling around in my mind.
What if they were a family? What if the pretty daughter felt ashamed of her mother and her older sister? With this one encounter in the parking lot, Starr Valentine was born.
Starr Valentine began as a short story called "Pretty Is" that won third place in the Writers’ Journal annual sci-fi contest. That might have been the end of it, but I couldn’t get Starr out of my mind. Each character has a "voice", and Starr’s was too loud to be ignored. It demanded my attention. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed to make her story into a book.
So how does this all relate to "The Ugly Duckling"?
As my story begins, Starr is the swan. She’s beautiful, popular, the head cheerleader, and basically a very vain, selfish, and shallow person. Her mother and her older sister, Astra, are a lot like the mother and daughter I saw that day at the tennis courts. Their bodies are large and oddly shaped. They wear bright colors and do strange things with their dark, curly hair. Starr looks a lot like a Barbie doll. And she likes it that way.
Things change rather quickly for Starr, however, when she finds out her parents are monarchs in exile from a far away planet called Vega, and they must all return home. Being a princess is something Starr has always dreamed about. She thinks she deserves it, in fact, and is a bit obsessed with having a crown. She gets one on the transport ship, just before they land on their new world, and she decides that maybe this whole moving-to-another-planet-thing might not be too bad.
Things quickly fall apart, however, when they land on Vega and Starr realizes the terrible truth. The standard of beauty is different there and she isn’t pretty anymore. Instead, everyone is fussing over her dorky older sister and calling her the great beauty of the Valentine family. In an instant, Starr has gone from being the beautiful swan straight into ugly duckling territory, and she doesn’t like it at all.
To make matters even worse, all the guys on Vega are super hot, but none of them will even look at her. This is a big adjustment. She’s always been the center attention, and she misses it. It’s horrible to feel so invisible. Sadly, the only guy who notices her is a very stuck-up duke named Julian, and he thinks she’s an idiot.
Starr decides she has to find a way to return to Earth, so she can be pretty again, but it’s a lot more complicated than she expected. I won’t give any more away, but let me say that Starr has a long and arduous journey ahead of her, in more ways than one. The big question is, can she become a beautiful swan again, or is she doomed to remain an ugly duckling forever?
About the Author
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.
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