Picture drawn by Maggie Stiefvater, 2009. Header made by S.F. Robertson, 2010.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Speed of Life by J.M. Kelly + Interview

Speed of Life by J.M. Kelly
"Twins Crystal and Amber have the same goal: to be the first in their family to graduate high school and make something of their lives. When one gets pregnant during their junior year, they promise to raise the baby together. It’s not easy, but between their after-school jobs, they’re scraping by.

Crystal’s grades catch the attention of the new guidance counselor, who tells her about a college that offers a degree in automotive restoration, perfect for the car buff she is. When she secretly applies—and gets in—new opportunities threaten their once-certain plans, and Crystal must make a choice: follow her dreams or stay behind and honor the promise she made to her sister." - summary from Amazon

I really enjoyed this book by Kelly, and I was surprised at the twist toward the end of the book. I don't usually expect twists in my contemporaries. This offers a glimpse into the life of two small-town teen sisters who are raising a daughter together after one of them gets pregnant. They're part of a low-income family and doing their best to give the baby what she needs and working hard to a better life together. It's one of the most realistic books I've ever read- every character has flaws and there's tension between everyone (just as in most family and friend relationships), but there's also lots of love and sacrifice when it matters most. This was simply a fantastic novel, and if you like contemporary, go and get this now.

and now here's an interview with the author J.M. Kelly-
1) How did you get the idea for Speed of Life?

I generally collect observations that on their own couldn't carry an entire novel, but eventually I see how they can work together and a story starts forming in my head. With this book, I think it started on the bus when I lived in Portland. It seemed like there were so many young mothers with strollers trying to get on and off the bus with babies and toddlers and I would watch them and think, "Wow. If getting on the bus is this much of a struggle (physically, kids crying, trying to pay their fares without losing hold of a baby and three bags of groceries) then what must the rest of their lives be like?" And yet, there they were, getting on with daily life.

Also, I heard about the car restoration program in an interview with Jay Leno and immediately wished I'd done a program like that (even though I have no experience working on cars, I grew up in an old-car/mechanic family). I thought it would be a great way to mix up gender stereotypes in a YA novel.

The idea of writing about kids living in poverty came partly from being tired of reading YA about kids trying to get into college. I'd like to see someone work out the statistics for YA characters who get into Ivy League colleges, versus the real numbers because it seems like most of the characters in YA are applying to an Ivy League and getting in. Sure, some of them are getting scholarships, but in lots of books, paying for college doesn't even come up…it's a given the rich parents will foot the bill. Something like 35% of American high school graduates don't even go to college and I'm betting they'd read more books if they saw themselves in them. I think that while we're all throwing around the word "diversity" we should also consider what it means to include economic diversity in YA.

2) What are you currently working on? Can you tell us anything about it?

I'm trying my hand at an adult novel set in 1962-63 Vancouver, Canada. It's presenting all kinds of challenges I've never faced before, the least of which is I wasn't even alive then! I wouldn't call it a straight-up romance, but it's definitely a love story… I'm about halfway through the first draft. Right now, it's called IN HER LIGHT, which is a reference to photography as it plays a big part in the book. Luckily, my husband is a photographer, still working with film, and so he can answer many of questions. Also, sailing is important to the story, so I'm learning about that in addition to all the other research. Luckily, I live on an island full of people with sailboats.

3) Do you have any favorite snacks as a reward for writing, or as sustenance while writing?

Well, I eat all the time when I work. I remember Ann Landers (or Dear Abby?) saying that she made it a rule to never eat at her desk, but I'm just the opposite. I'm a very snack-oriented person, in fact, around here we have a made up word we use because snacks are so important…snackage. A typical snackage plate for me (which I have around 11am) includes: 5-6 crackers with goat brie (and roasted tomato if I'm lucky), a few more crackers with artichoke dip, sliced sweet pepper, carrots, dried apricots, a few cashews, a pickle (when I can get my favourites from the States), and a piece of dark chocolate. I usually drink tea with this snack, and then in the afternoon I have espresso with hot milk and a shortbread cookie. Sometimes I forget to eat lunch because I'm working, so snackage is extra important! I also love popcorn about 4pm.

4) What book(s) are you currently reading, or about to start? Any 2017 titles you're most looking forward to?

Almost every night of my marriage my husband and I go to bed at the same time, but last night I stayed up until 3:30am reading BELGRAVIA by Julian Fellows (Downton Abbey). It is a very long, very soap opera-y novel and not really my usual read, but so deliciously indulgent…just very dramatic and entirely predictable—book candy, really. However, I have recently read the best book I've read in years called A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW. It's literature (which honestly, I don't read a lot of because usually nothing happens), but it's hilarious and just such a fantastic example of how to structure a book where nothing much happens and make it completely fascinating. I loved it so much I am going to buy it and read it again (got it from the library) right away. As for 2017 YA, I'm really looking forward to Sara Zarr's new book, GEM & DIXIE. I always love her writing. And Joelle Charbonneau has a book coming out that looks very exciting called DIVIDING EDEN. I'm a huge Liane Moriarty fan (not so much of her most recent book) and might reread something older again soon. A writer can really learn from her.

5) Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Read. Read. Read. And then read some more. Oh, and be kind to yourself and enjoy the writing because publishing is a long, long road and you need to pace yourself for it!

FTC: Received ARC from publisher. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig

Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig
"Flynn's girlfriend, January, is missing. The cops are asking question he can't answer, and her friends are telling stories that don't add up. All eyes are on Flynn―as January's boyfriend, he must know something.

But Flynn has a secret of his own. And as he struggles to uncover the truth about January's disappearance, he must also face the truth about himself."- summary from Amazon

Roehrig's debut is a tightly written mystery thriller mixed with the traditional coming-out story. Flynn (which, firstly, is an awesome name) is a great main character having to struggle with the sudden loss of his girlfriend and simultaneously having to come to terms with the fact that he is gay. Roehrig expertly weaves the twists and turns of Flynn's investigation into what happened to January, finding out there was way more to her than he knew, with the more grounded reality of coming out to your parents and friends and dealing with their reactions while also navigating new romantic waters (in the form of January's former co-worker and sexy college boy Kaz).

It's a fast-paced novel and Roehrig knows how to keep the plot moving at a quick pace while leaving the reader in suspense at times, like ending a chapter on a cliffhanger and starting the next one with an old memory of Flynn's before getting back to the action. Overall, a fantastic read and I am eagerly looking forward to more from him.

FTC: Received ARC from publisher. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Boy is Back by Meg Cabot

The Boy Is Back by Meg Cabot
"Reed Stewart thought he’d left all his small town troubles—including a broken heart—behind when he ditched tiny Bloomville, Indiana, ten years ago to become rich and famous on the professional golf circuit. Then one tiny post on the Internet causes all of those troubles to return . . . with a vengeance.

Becky Flowers has worked hard to build her successful senior relocation business, but she’s worked even harder to forget Reed Stewart ever existed. She has absolutely no intention of seeing him when he returns—until his family hires her to save his parents.

Now Reed and Becky can’t avoid one another—or the memories of that one fateful night. And soon everything they thought they knew about themselves (and each other) has been turned upside down, and they—and the entire town of Bloomville—might never be the same, all because The Boy Is Back."- summary from Amazon

The Boy series is probably my favorite Meg Cabot series; I love the unique way the story is told and in this new installment, there's the usual text messages and emails, but there's also the Bloomville Herald articles and ads, Amazon reviews of random items that fit into the story, and even some picture messaging too! With this unique styling, I just flew through the book and really had a hard time putting it down and making the reading experience last as long as it did. Every time I had a free moment, I wanted to pick it up and keep reading!

This book is a little different from the previous three in the series, in that it doesn't take place at the New York Journal, but you do see two familiar faces in little bit parts of the book. All of the new characters though are so easy to fall in love with, especially the two main characters Reed and Becky, and feature the usual Cabot humor (and yes, I did laugh out loud many times while reading). There's a darker aspect of life given some page time in the book- hoarding and elder abuse- but it doesn't really bring down the book at all.

I highly recommend this latest installment in Cabot's Boy series and it's making me want to re-read the previous three again (for the millionth time)!

FTC: Received signed ARC from author. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
"David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he's gay. The school bully thinks he's a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth: David wants to be a girl.

On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal: to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in his class is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long, and soon everyone knows that Leo used to be a girl.

As David prepares to come out to his family and transition into life as a girl and Leo wrestles with figuring out how to deal with people who try to define him through his history, they find in each other the friendship and support they need to navigate life as transgender teens as well as the courage to decide for themselves what normal really means."- summary from Amazon

I absolutely adored this book. Williamson wrote very well from both Leo and David's perspective- Leo as someone who was already starting their transition, and David as someone still in the closet about his transgender identity. Their stories slowly started to merge as the book went on, but the amount of time they spend together was sweet to see as they both open up to each other. It was great to read about their friendship and being open about who they were with each other at least, and it's good for readers to see a character having already started living life as their true gender, and a character just starting to really come to terms with it and understanding it.

FTC: Received ARC from publisher. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye

The Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye
"Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love . . . or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear . . . the Crown’s Game is not one to lose."- summary from Amazon

This was a fantastic beginning to a new fantasy series- very interesting concept, and I loved the third person omniscient which propelled the story along nicely. Mostly it just went back and forth between Vika's and Nikolai's perspectives with the occasional other character. I enjoyed reading from both of their perspectives and learning their backstory, as well as Pasha's. With the way it ended, I'm interested to see where Skye will take the sequel.

FTC: Received ARC from publisher. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.