Archive | July, 2012

Purity – Jackson Pearce

18 Jul

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Released: April 24, 2012
Genre: YA contemp
Review copy from publisher

A novel about love, loss, and sex — but not necessarily in that order.

Before her mother died, Shelby promised three things: to listen to her father, to love as much as possible, and to live without restraint. Those Promises become harder to keep when Shelby’s father joins the planning committee for the Princess Ball, an annual dance that ends with a ceremonial vow to live pure lives — in other words, no “bad behavior,” no breaking the rules, and definitely no sex.

Torn between Promises One and Three, Shelby makes a decision — to exploit a loophole and lose her virginity before taking the vow. But somewhere between failed hookup attempts and helping her dad plan the ball, Shelby starts to understand what her mother really meant, what her father really needs, and who really has the right to her purity.

From Little, Brown and Company website

I don’t know why, but when I first read the blurb, I was expecting a fairly light, funny book. You know lots of jokes, tongue in cheek dialogue.  Yeah, not so much. What I got instead was a riveting story of dealing with loss, impossible promises, relationships in transition and growing into your own skin. In short, what I got was an amazing read.

I think my favorite part of Shelby’s story was her relationship with her father. While my teen years are far behind me, I remember the struggle between wanting to please my dad and the desire to be my own person. These two didn’t always mesh, and they definitely don’t for Shelby. I think that most readers will be able to sympathize with Shelby and her dad as they try to figure out their relationship as she grows up.

And then there’s Shelby’s relationship with her mother. Despite the fact that her mother has passed away, she’s a strong presence throughout the book.  After all, it’s Shelby’s promises to her that have guided Shelby’s life since her mother died.

Shelby’s attempts to lose her virginity are awkward and heartbreaking.  While the situation could have easily spiraled into the ridiculous, Pearce’s writing keeps things real. She also writes Shelby’s story in a way that it doesn’t enter over-dramatic or whiny territory.

I just loved the tone of this book and how it evoked so many feelings in me when I was reading it. I always find it hard to explain how and why a book made me feel a certain way. But I finished Purity, and felt content. And weepy. Always a good sign when I finished a book.

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The Last Song – Eva Wiseman

16 Jul

Publisher: Tundra Books
Released: April 10th, 2012
Genre: YA historical fiction
Review copy from publisher

Spain had been one of the world’s most tolerant societies for eight hundred years, but that way of life was wiped out by the Inquisition. Isabel’s family feels safe from the terrors, torture, and burnings. After all, her father is a respected physician in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Isabel was raised as a Catholic and doesn’t know that her family’s Jewish roots may be a death sentence. When her father is arrested by Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, she makes a desperate plan to save his life – and her own.

From Tundra Books website.

I admittedly don’t read a lot of historical fiction. I generally really enjoy it when I do, but it’s not a genre I gravitate to. But to me, The Last Song was almost hist-fict lite. I would have liked to have seen a lot more detail about the time period. I felt that the author brushed over some things that could have enriched the story more. Despite the nature of the plot and the time frame that the book takes place, it was a fairly happy novel and I’m not sure that tone did the writing or the characters justice.

It was an enjoyable book, don’t get me wrong. But I found that at times it almost bordered on fluffy. Like I said, I would have liked to have seen some more depth to the plot and the characters.

I think that die-hard fans of hist-fict may find The Last Song a bit light for them. But, I think this is an excellent book for those who want to get into the genre but don’t want to start with anything really long or really heavy in tone.

The Calling – Kelley Armstrong

5 Jul

Publisher: Random House Canada
Released: April 10th, 2012
Genre: YA paranormal
Review copy from publisher

Maya Delaney’s paw-print birthmark is the mark of what she truly is–a skin-walker. She can run faster, climb higher, and see better than nearly everyone else. Experiencing intense connections with the animals that roam the woods outside her home, Maya knows it’s only a matter of time before she’s able to Shift and become one of them. And she believes there may be others in her small town with surprising talents.

Now, Maya and her friends have been forced to flee from their homes during a forest fire they suspect was deliberately set. Then they’re kidnapped, and after a chilling helicopter crash, they find themselves in the Vancouver Island wilderness with nothing but their extraordinary abilities to help them get back home.

From Random House Canada website.

So, it’s no secret that I am a bit obsessed with Kelley Armstrong’s writing. She is, by far, my favorite young adult and adult author. But that doesn’t mean that I approach her books with rose-colored glasses, no. Just because I adore her and her writing doesn’t mean that I am going to fall head over heels in love with all her books. Cuz while I really, REALLY enjoyed The Calling, I wasn’t all crazy for it.

I’m not even sure it’s anything that I can put into words. There’s a lot of action in The Calling, and I think I was craving more character development and such. I also felt that some of the information doled out was chunky, almost like an information dump. But I loved the mystery of the story and also trying to figure out who was on whose side. The whole group dynamic of the teens fascinated me.

As always the writing was awesome (except for the aforementioned issue I had) and I was drawn into the story from the open line. Kelley just has a way of plopping the reader right into the middle of things. The book was face-paced and made for a quick read. So while I wasn’t all drooly over it, I really enjoyed it and can’t wait for the next book.

Dance, Gladys, Dance – Cassie Stocks

3 Jul

Publisher: NeWest Press
Released: March 22th, 2010
Genre: adult fiction, chick-lit
Review copy from publisher

27-year-old Frieda Zweig is at an impasse. Behind her is a string of failed relationships and half-forgotten ambitions of being a painter; in front of her lies the dreary task of finding a real job and figuring out what “normal” people do with their lives. Then, a classified ad in the local paper introduces Frieda to Gladys, an elderly woman who long ago gave up on her dreams of being a dancer.

The catch? Gladys is a ghost.

From NeWest Press website

Please don’t ask me what genre this book is. I know, I know, if you look up above I’ve got it down as “chick-lit” and the even more ambiguous and confusing term “adult fiction”.  But I really just put those there because I had to have something. I could also add comedy, mystery, ghost story…… Cuz Dance, Gladys, Dance is all of those things. And they all combined to make a wonderful, heartwarming, funny, sad, touching and realistic story.

Anyone who has chosen a different life path and struggles with that decision from time to time is going to be able to identify strongly with Frieda and what she’s going through. I think there are lots of us (especially women) who struggle to design a “normal” life, only to realize it really isn’t for them. And that’s a strong theme throughout the book. The fact that society tries so hard to tell us what we should be doing as adults, what’s normal and what’s acceptable. What it all comes down to is you have to do what makes you happy and what makes you comfortable in your own skin. Some people achieve this early in life while others take a bit longer to get there.

Frieda isn’t the only one struggling to find herself and really decide what she wants in life. There are a slew of characters, all at different ages and stages of their life, who aren’t quite sure if they’re doing it right.  I really enjoyed meeting these characters and watching them evolve. I also love that someone who, at first glance, seemed like a tertiary character, ended up being essential to the plot and Frieda’s story.

I wasn’t quite sure how the ghostie angle was going to work, but I loved it. While at times it offered a bit of comedic relief, Gladys tells her life story and in doing so helps Frieda.  The ghost angle could have been weird and over-the-top, but it wasn’t. It fit in perfectly with some of the other plot lines.

The writing was quick and snappy, particularly the dialogue. In fact, some of the dialogue reminded me of the dialogue in Gilmore Girls. If you know me, you know that’s pretty much the highest praise I can give.  The dialogue made me smile a lot and I could definitely picture it on the big screen.

I think anyone who enjoys a serious story with some humour in it and characters that turn out to be perfect in their imperfection will love Dance, Gladys, Dance. I know I did.

GIVEAWAY

I have one copy of Dance, Gladys, Dance to one lucky Canadian reader. All you have to do is comment below and tell me what you’re reading now. Contest will be over July 10th, 11:59 EST.

Guest post by Cassie Stocks: Nurturing Your Inner Accountant

2 Jul

I want to thank Cassie so much for talking about her editing process. I am still in the process of learning how I edit, so I am always looking to other writers to see how they manage the beast.

Most of my family is creative but my father is defiantly an accountant. When I’m editing, I unleash my latent accountant genes. Editing is a skill distinct from writing. All writers have to enter the editing process to turn a beautiful creative mess into something publishable.

When I’m in the creative process, I don’t let the editing hat anywhere near my head. I keep a document in my project folder titled Editing Notes. When I’m writing creatively and notice something that needs checking, I open the editing document, make a note, and go back to writing.

When a first draft is done, I do the happy writer’s chair dance for a minute, then take a deep breath – it’s time to go into editing mode. There are layers of editing; when doing one, I try not to worry about the others. The first is a substantive edit, checking for theme, continuity, the overall arc, and effectiveness of the story, then chapter, scene, paragraph, sentence, and word. Last comes proofreading for clarity and copy-editing for grammar and punctuation.

I start big and work my way down to the small. There’s no use spending hours polishing grammar and punctuation in a section I might end up cutting completely. After dealing with the entire story, I break up the editing chores into manageable pieces. I’d go mad at the thought of checking for commas for three hundred pages straight, but I can manage a few pages at a time.

When dealing with multiple characters, time frames, and story lines, my inner accountant/editor gets very happy and I use spreadsheets. I had a spreadsheet for the time frame, spacing, and organization of each of the story lines in Dance, Gladys, Dance (Frieda’s normal life issues, Ginny’s fork troubles, Gladys’ story from the 1900s, the flashbacks to Frieda’s past, and for each of the other characters). I also use spreadsheets for editing lists. I love to put a little checkmark in each box for a completed edit.

I think people with unfinished works often have gone into editing mode or into the lower levels of editing too soon. Editing the small (adding and removing commas) imparts a feeling of control over the beast but it’s easy to get addicted to that feeling of authority. At some point, you have to wrestle the alligator, complete the work, and deal with the larger issues of the narrative as a whole.

After the alligator has been subdued and the accountant has all the boxes pleasingly ticked, another set of eyes is essential. I let go of the misunderstood genius schtick (not that I’m very good at it anyway) and listen carefully to what my early readers tell me.

Thanks so much Cassie! Guys, pop back tomorrow for my review of Cassie’s wonderful book, Dance, Gladys, Dance and a giveaway for my fellow Canucks.