Monday, 15 September 2014

Blog Tour: The Death of Us by Alice Kuipers + Author Interview

Title: The Death of Us
Author: Alice Kuipers
Publication date: September 2, 2014
Genre(s): Young Adult (Contemporary)
Source: Publisher
Format: ARC
Pages: 240
A recovered friendship, a dark secret, and a love triangle with a deadly angle…

Callie is shocked when her friend Ivy reappears after an unexplained three-year absence, but the girls pick up where they left off, and suddenly Callie’s summer is full of parties, boys and fun. Beneath the surface, things aren't what they seem, however, and when a handsome boy with a dark past gets tangled up with Ivy, the girls’ history threatens to destroy their future.

The Death of Us by Alice Kuipers was a book that was a surprise from HCC Frenzy. I really had no idea about what it really was about, but my ARC copy was bright yellow and I like yellow so I picked it up not really knowing what it’s about. The Death of Us revolves around three main characters who happen to be tangled into each other in ways that is not so easy to describe. The three main protagonists, Callie, Ivy, and Kurt each have diverse and unique personalities and characteristics. Despite the book being told from the three point of views, I personally felt like this book revolved more about Callie and Ivy. As I said before, each of them had distinct personalities, so I’ll speak a bit about that. I really didn’t know what to feel about Callie. I wasn’t really able to connect to her, and she kind of fell flat for me as a character. As for Ivy, I personally found her annoying most of the time. She was sort of the typical controlling “best friend” who is sometimes maybe mistaken as selfish. I just wasn't able to relate to her. 
The Death of Us was certainly a book that was full of unexpected events. I truly found it interesting how Kuipers was able to create such a dynamic relationship between the three characters, and the complexity of it was surely interesting to read about as well. Since it is a short book, I can’t quite give much about the big without spoiling a bit to the readers. The Death of Us was a book more of finding friendship and the relationships between character and such. Overall, it was a really fast and enjoyable read in which I think a lot of contemporary fans will surely enjoy reading.

Bestselling, award winning author Alice Kuipers moved to Saskatoon from the UK in 2003. Her first novel, Life on the Refrigerator Door, was published in 28 countries. She has published three further award-winning YA novels internationally, most recently The Death of Us. Her first picture book Violet and Victor Write The Best Ever Bookworm Book will be published this December.                                                                    
Find her here:
In less that 140 characters (a tweet), how would you describe The Death of Us? In the quiet town of Edenville find secrets, lies, love, heartbreak, danger and death
What initially inspired you to write The Death of Us? I was inspired to write about Callie, Kurt and Ivy by the opening scene in the book - the idea of someone waiting at a party and then realizing the people he's waiting for aren't going to arrive. It came to me clearly and appeared on the page and then I had to figure out what it meant and how to get there. I also had the images of Callie eating a peach over her kitchen sink, and Ivy unpacking her clothes and those images made me want to write. I think a lot of the writing I do comes from compelling images in my mind. Those images wake me up at night. They nag and snaggle at my brain until the story just has to be written.
The Death of Us is told from three different POV's, is there a reason for doing that? I wanted to story to be nuanced and layered because I didn’t want it to be easy to blame one person. That felt too simplistic and the only way to doubt the other characters was to have sections of the story told from different perspectives. We all have a dark side (at least, I do!) and I wanted there to be times in the narrative when readers wondered which character was heading into their dark side. Each character is the hero of their own story and that means they don’t all see the events of The Death of Us the same way. I think YA readers are sophisticated, smart readers and I knew the complexity of the storytelling would be worth it for this particular narrative.
You once mentioned that the Death of Us was difficult for you to write, may I ask why? Having the points of view of three characters, and the shift in time at the start (from the end back to the beginning), and the rapid timeline, and all of the various secrets and lies felt like a lot to handle on the page. I had to do tons of drafts to make sure the book really did what I wanted it to, but then there were times when I wasn’t sure anymore what I wanted the book to do. In those moments, I had to just go with it and write. I doubted myself and the narrative, but, in the end, it came together. I hope! 

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Review: Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper - lacked the magic

Salt & Storm
Title: Salt & Storm
Author: Kendall Kulper
 HBG Canada
Publication date: September 23, 2014
Genre(s): Young Adult (Paranormal/Magic)
Source: Publisher
Format: ARC
Pages: 416
Sixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island's whalers safe at sea, but her mother has forced her into a magic-free world of proper manners and respectability. When Avery dreams she's to be murdered, she knows time is running out to unlock her magic and save herself.

Avery finds an unexpected ally in a tattooed harpoon boy named Tane--a sailor with magic of his own, who moves Avery in ways she never expected. Becoming a witch might stop her murder and save her island from ruin, but Avery discovers her magic requires a sacrifice she never prepared for.
I had high hopes for Salt & Storm. Avery, the main protagonist, believes her destiny is to become the next monro witch. However her estranged mother comes one day to where she lives with her grandmother and takes her away. Several years later, Avery is stuck with her mom and stepfather. Her mother put a binding spell on her that forbids her from looking and going to her grandmother. Avery also has another skill and that is interpreting dreams. One night, she has a dream that seals her very soon future with death. The first part of this book is Avery trying to break the spell, something she tries by seeking the help of Tane, mysterious tattooed sailor who knows a lot about magic. 
I personally felt the plot went nowhere. I expected actual magic involved but got nothing. It is four hundred pages that could have been written in two hundred pages. The romance is insta-love of course so I will not even bother mentioning it. However I need to point out that there’s a difference between insta-crush and insta-love. Insta-crush is something I’m totally for if it’s written right and doesn’t immediately jump to insta-love.. However insta-love from the get go is a big no for me. That is one sure thing that will definitely turn me off a book. 
I didn’t like the direction the author took with the plot and felt it really was a shame because so much could have been done with it. There is no way to redeem itself plot wise because this is a standalone. At some point I kept on reading just for the sake of reading. The whole book was her searching.. searching to break the spell, searching for her grandmother, searching for 100 other things. I’m just disappointed. If a book is being pitched as a witch/magic book.. it should contain that. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this book and I was overall disappointed in everything about it, from the plot, character development, to the romance. 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Review: Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley - a favorite contemporary!

Rites of Passage

Title: Rites of Passage 
Author: Joy N. Hensley 
 HarperCollins Canada
Publication date: September 9, 2014
Genre(s): Young Adult (Contemporary)
Source: Publisher
Format: ARC
Pages: 416
Sam McKenna’s never turned down a dare. And she's not going to start with the last one her brother gave her before he died.

So Sam joins the first-ever class of girls at the prestigious Denmark Military Academy. She’s expecting push-ups and long runs, rope climbing and mud-crawling. As a military brat, she can handle an obstacle course just as well as the boys. She's even expecting the hostility she gets from some of the cadets who don’t think girls belong there. What she’s not expecting is her fiery attraction to her drill sergeant. But dating is strictly forbidden and Sam won't risk her future, or the dare, on something so matter how much she wants him.

As Sam struggles to prove herself, she discovers that some of the boys don’t just want her gone—they will stop at nothing to drive her out. When their petty threats turn to brutal hazing, bleeding into every corner of her life, she realizes they are not acting alone. A decades-old secret society is alive and active… and determined to force her out.
At any cost.

Now time's running short. Sam must decide who she can trust...and choosing the wrong person could have deadly consequences.
It's really hard for me to write this review and i've been putting it off because I find it really really hard to express my thoughts on a book I loved so much. However it's 12:40am right now and enough is enough, this review is getting written and I hope it does Rites of Passage justice. 
Let me start off by writing that if you are a 90s kid and watched Disney, then you probably have seen the tv movie Cadet Kelly. This was one of my favorite movies because I was so fascinated by the military school and all the training and, yes I have to admit, all the cool clothes Hilary Duff wore. As soon as I found out Rites of Passage existed, I put it on my wish list and priority TBR. I'm mentioning this to let you know I had more than average expectations for it.. honestly? they were pretty high expectations. BUT, Rites of Passage didn't just meet them, but totally exceeded them all. Everything about this book was exciting, fast paced, and addicting. Everything was working for this book, starting with the unique setting and plot line. 
Sam is a military brat, what that means is that she grew up in a family of military people. In her case, her dad, and her two older brothers are in the military. However, one of her brothers is dead but before he passed away, he dared her to enroll at the DMA, short for the Denmark Military Academy. You see, the DMA finally *eye roll* opened up its doors to females. We are in the 21st century and women are still discriminated against. sheesh. Don't throw a party yet though because barely anyone is happy about this huge change at the prestigious military academy, because women are going to bring down your standards *snorts*. Anyways, Sam enrolls along with four other girls. The book opens up with her traveling in the car with her parents to the school. That chapter will hook you, I guarantee it. One of the welcome military upperclassmen tries to flirt with her before he knew who she was and he got burrrrrnt (her dad is very high up in the military). 
Sam's attitude was what made most of this book for me. She's kick butt, brave, strong, smart, and an all around awesome person. She obviously knew what she was getting into by signing up at the DMA and she never once complaint, even through monologues, about how hard or unfair she was getting treated. And she was.. getting treated unfairly even compared to the girls. Ever heard of people trying too hard to NOT show favoritism but end up discriminating instead? yea that happened to her. The hazing and harsh treatment of some upperclassmen gets so bad I would wince sometimes during some scenes. Still, I loved her comradeship and her "never give up" attitude. The secret society mystery is also very interesting and I was on my toes trying to figure out what their next move is against the girls and their tries at kicking them out. 
Lastly is the romance, and we hit the jackpot with this book! I've mentioned in earlier reviews how I've started to ignore the romances in YA books because many are cliches and made from the same typical mold? well, the romance in Rites of Passage breaks that mold *hallelujah*. I loved everything about the love interest, Drill, and ah, I had my own swoon moments thinking of him! Hensley never let the love interest become the typical YA savior. There was a sense of equality between him and Sam's relationship that I really appreciated. One thing I must mention is the ending. I know many people say it is too open ended to their liking since there isn't a sequel (as of yet, go buy the book!!), however I loved it. It gave me enough closure but at the same time, hinted at what is to come. The lives of people don't stop after the end of the book so it would seem weird that a corrupt secret society would get cleaned up and the people would get over their sexism. That hasn't even happened in the real world!  
If you want a unique setting with a kick butt protagonist, a mystery, a secret society, hazings, and witnessing military training life, then Rites of Passage is just the book for you. I am already itching for a reread but I'm going to wait until my beautiful finished copy is in my possession before reading it again (hint: it is worth buying even though I've already read it). 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Blog Tour: The Art of Getting Stared At by Laura Langston

The Art of Getting Stared At
Do you ever wish to go back in time and tell your younger self about self and body image? I feel that for me to wish that means I already know the answer and have come to terms with my self and body image.. which is not true. I think every single one of us, no matter how we look or how people say we look.. we always find some fault in us. Whether it is our hair is not straight enough, not curly enough, a shade or two away from the perfect hair color, we're too tall, too short, too overweight, too skinny, too pale, too dark, wrong face proportions… we just have to find something to put us down and make us fuss about it for all eternity. I'm like that. I've never and still am not happy with so many things related to my looks.. however over the years I've learnt that we can't all look like the hollywood supermodels.. heck even those supermodels suffer from self image.. with them being scrutinized all the time. I just wish I could tell my teenage self to accept who I am.. especially accept the things I can't change about myself, but the things I can? I should stop obsessing and try to do something. Eat healthier, exercise more, and try to set realistic goals for yourself. Don't listen to others, only you need to be happy about yourself, no one should matter. I think that's what I would tell myself. Stop listening to what everyone thinks the perfect image is and start listening to your inner self and what will make you happy. I feel that the struggle the main character is Laura Langston's book suffered from her sudden obsession with her self image after finding out she's losing all her hair. I was able to relate to her and I wish more people will pick up her book and truly understand and appreciate the message the book, and author, are trying to convey.

Title: The Art of Getting Stared At
Author: Laura Langston
 Penguin Canada
Publication date: September 9, 2014
Genre(s): Young Adult (Contemporary)
Source: Publisher
Format: ARC
Pages: 288
Sixteen-year-old Sloane is given the biggest opportunity of her life—a chance for a film school scholarship—but she only has less than two weeks to produce a video. She also has to work with Isaac Alexander, an irresponsible charmer with whom she shares an uneasy history.

Then comes a horrifying discovery: Sloane finds a bald spot on her head. The pink patch, no bigger than a quarter, shouldn’t be there. Neither should the bald spots that follow. Horror gives way to devastation when Sloane is diagnosed with alopecia areata. The autoimmune disease has no cause, no cure and no definitive outcome. The spots might grow over tomorrow or they might be there for life. She could become completely bald. No one knows.

Determined to produce her video and keep her condition secret, Sloane finds herself turning into the kind of person she has always mocked: someone obsessed with their looks. She’s also forced to confront a painful truth: she is as judgmental as anyone else … but she saves the harshest judgments for herself.
This is another young adult contemporary that tackles meaningful issues while at the same time keeping the themes that make contemporary YA novels so loved (at least by me). In this novel, Sloane is a junior in high school and loved making films. Her dream is to go to film school. The book opens up with Sloane getting the chance to film another video; the first having gone viral and captured the attention of a sponsor that wanted her to enter a competition for a film school scholarship. Sloane is so excited and takes the offer, the catch though is that she has to work with Isaac, who she’s always thought was cocky and apparently has bad history with. 
This is when the main complication of the novel is introduced… Sloane finds out bald round patches on her head and starts freaking out. It turns out she has a hair loss disease. Sloane has always taken pride in not caring about her appearance or what people think of her, especially since her stepmother cares too much about it (she’s a makeup artist). So now, it is full on freak out mode about her appearance and what would people think about her. I felt really sympathetic towards Sloane. It’s one thing to wear whatever you want by choice, it is another thing to lose all your hair with no choice. The internal struggle was so heartbreaking. This goes to show that every disease is heartbreaking and no one should undermine anyone’s struggles. I’ve seen many people always going to the “at least you don’t have cancer” statement. I don’t think people diagnosed with any ‘lesser’ disease take comfort in that. 
Sloane has a great best friend and even Isaac is a much-needed support system. I really enjoyed Sloane’s voice, even though she was stubborn and kept this secret for such a long time. I acknowledged her struggles and I especially loved her dynamic relationship with her stepmother. I assumed she would be the typical evil stepmom but I was completely wrong. This reminded me that the books I read would always be subjective for one person, the main protagonist. It reminded me that I shouldn’t rush and judge people without really knowing them and seeing the story from their eyes. Overall I really enjoyed The Art of Getting Stared At and I hope more books like it will keep on getting written.  
Laura Langston 
By the time she hit Grade Four, Laura Langston knew she wanted to be a writer. So did the teachers. It was the persistent daydreaming and invisible friends that tipped them off. Since Laura grew up knowing no writers – and consequently didn’t know how to be one – she became a journalist instead. The trouble is, journalists are expected to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

But making stuff up is way more fun. So eventually Laura traded one notebook for another and today she writes books for tweens, teens, children and sometimes adults. When she’s not writing, reading or walking her Shetland sheepdogs, Laura can be found spying on people in the grocery store or twisting herself into a pretzel in yoga class.

1. How did you come up with the idea of The Art of Getting Stared At? 
My ideas generally percolate for a long time before I start to write, and I tend to gather bits and pieces from all over the place, kind of like a bird slowly building a nest.  The Art of Getting Stared At was no different.  My daughter had a friend who didn’t spend a lot of time on makeup or clothes. That’s not to say she didn’t care what she looked like – she did – but she wasn’t overly concerned with her appearance. For instance, our house was the place to gather before a school dance. We’d provide the pizza and my daughter and her friends would gather and spend hours doing their hair and makeup, as well as ironing clothes, and figuring out what to wear. This particular girl would come and spend maybe twenty minutes putting on a little makeup, doing her hair, changing into something more ‘dance worthy.’ She’d spend the rest of the time either surfing the net or talking to us. She was much more concerned with what was going on in the world than making sure her lipstick was the right color. I was intrigued by that, and by some of the social dynamics I witnessed between her and the other girls.  While they were good friends, they thought she was a little bit weird and she thought they were a little bit shallow. Around the same time, I met someone who had lost her hair because of illness. She commented that she’d never truly appreciated her hair until it was gone. I began to wonder how it would be for my daughter’s friend if her appearance was significantly altered. What if she began to obsess about her appearance? How would she feel if she’d always prided herself on being ‘just a little bit better than that?’  From there, the story began to take shape.

2. Why do you write YA? 
I write for a variety of age groups – everything from picture books for really young children all the way to books for adults under my pseudonym Laura Tobias.  But most of my books to date are for teens. I didn’t have the easiest time as a teen – I was on my own from the age of about fourteen. I remember it as being a time of great change, great confusion, and lots of lows as well as highs (not those kinds of highs; I was the classic good girl; I was in charge of driving everybody!)  But as well as being a difficult stretch, there were bright spots. I loved school; it gave me a place to belong. I made friends I’ve kept to this day, I fell in love with the guy I eventually married, and I got to know myself and understand my place in the world. So I guess it’s only natural that I’d find myself gravitating to and using that same age and time frame for my characters.   

3. I know many girls, and guys, out there suffer from self-image, i won't lie and say I don't either, what is one advice you would give to them?
It’s hard to pick one piece of advice to address such a deep subject. If pressed, I’d say tend your inner landscape. By that I mean focus on a core value that’s meaningful and brings you joy. Core values represent our deepest beliefs, our highest priorities and those things that drive us. They’ll be different for everybody. Some might find their joy through nature, spirituality or organized religion. For others, it’s a creative outlet like art, music or sports.  Some people find their bliss through giving to others. When we focus on what brings us joy, there’s no time for comparing ourselves to others, which is a total self-esteem killer. It also makes us happier and connects us with a bigger purpose.  Ultimately it puts in perspective that externals like our height, weight, the shape of our nose, where we live or the car we drive are pretty insignificant in the greater scheme of things.

4. Who was your favorite character to write about and why?
Sloane. I always fall in love with my main characters and Sloane was no different. I wanted to write about a girl who has more important things on her mind than her appearance. That’s not to say she doesn’t care about how she looks – she does – but she doesn’t care to the same extent or even in the same way as most of her peers. That makes her a little out of step with the rest of the crowd. She’s also somewhat judgmental of girls who spend a large percentage of their time on clothes and makeup and appearance too. It was tricky writing about someone like that because judgmental people aren’t necessarily likable, and you need to make your main character likable or readers can’t relate. 

5. What's your next book? do you want to stay a little longer in the contemporary world? 
My next YA is tentatively titled One Good Deed and, yes, it’s another contemporary novel. It’s about a sixteen-year-old girl who prides herself on always doing the right thing. But when one good deed leads to a friend’s death, she’s forced to examine everything she believes about right and wrong. In the process, she faces a betrayal and terrible guilt but in the end grows stronger for it.   I also love anything with a paranormal element so I’m working on a series of YA novels about a girl who rescues souls trapped on the cusp – that place that exists between life and death.  That’s been fun!