Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

20560137An Ember in the Ashes

Sabaa Tahir

3.5/5 stars

Release Date: April 28, 2015

Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Review:

I rated it 3 stars on Goodreads, but my actual rating is 3.5 stars; the first half was a 3 for me, the last half a 4. It’s a good book – not the best – but still good. I do believe it’s overhyped. I really liked the writing, but it took me awhile to like the characters and world to the same degree. The first 75 pages were hard to read because I didn’t like Laia and things didn’t seem to get interesting until that point. I liked both perspectives Laia and Elias provided, but I still don’t 100% connect with Laia like I did Elias – I just find her character annoying and tedious. Every time Laia would beat herself up for being a coward, for not being like her mother, here’s me saying it’s okay to run away and be a coward – I’m sure her brother wanted her to be safe, not get locked up like him. So what if you’re a coward? Accept it, move on and work on freeing your brother, not dwelling on the past.

The romance between Elias and Laia as well as Laia and Keenan wasn’t really believable because they didn’t spend a lot of time together. There’s actually this love square? going on so Laia has two love interests and Elias has two. Helene and Elias made sense together because they’ve known each other for years, it’s the best-friends-fall-in-love trope that Tahir makes work. The same cannot be said for Laia’s love interests. The reader gets more time with the characters than they do with each other. That paints an illusion, so it seems like they’ve had enough time together, but I’m sure if you add it up it’s lower than expected. I predict in the sequel they’ll be spending more time together so that’s when I’d actually expect romance to happen.

I really liked the way the author made the past surrounding Laia’s parents and the Commandant so mysterious – I can usually predict things like this, but I’m still thinking through theories about them! The nervousness surrounding Cook was especially interesting. All those secrets is the main reason I’ll be reading the sequel – Tahir makes me want to know.

I really liked the trials – the third trial was especially hard to read, so I commend the author for being able to create such an impact. I could imagine these scenes so well and they were fantastic to read. I’m not as in love with the world as I’d like to be – I always need magic and fantastical elements, so only seeing a hint in the last half wasn’t enough for me. The world is dystopia and fantasy, which is an interesting mix, but I still need that extra bit of fantasy. World-building is a big thing for me, so I wish the author had shared a bit more of where the Martial Empire came from along with details of the 500-year old rule over the Scholars. The Tribes were also a bit confusing – are they bound by Martial rule, can they be made slaves like the scholars? The world-building is strong though so I’m excited to read more about that in the sequel.

Finally, something I feel really strongly about is how casually rape was mentioned. It felt like just a four-letter word, not something that has a deep impact on people. Yes, the author’s world is meant to be cruel and is inspired by the Roman Empire, but you still need to show that things like rape are more than a four-letter word. It’s said and insinuated too much, without the impact and discussion that should follow.

I’m planning to read the sequel, but it might take awhile for me to get to it. For those who have read it, I’d love to know your thoughts!

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Book Review: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

21524446A Thousand Nights

E.K. Johnston

4/5 stars

Release Date: October 6, 2015

Publisher: Disney Hyperion

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

Review:

A gorgeous, magical story! Johnston’s words are beautiful and powerful, and in that respect similar to her protagonist – her storytelling becomes her power. There were some lines that were so poetic, in that I could see so much in just one sentence.

Although confusing at first, I liked that the reader wasn’t privy to the majority of the characters’ names, except for Lo-Melkhiin and a couple secondary characters (though I think the reader was given their titles, not their actual names). It made me think of when legends and stories are passed down through generations, and told far and wide, the names change but the stories remain the same (just look up the similarities of Mesopotamian myths to biblical stories). Adding to that, this is a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, and while Johnston keeps the essence of the story the same, she brings to life her own characters.

The lack of names also creates a sense of mystery – this could be our world but it could also be some other fantasy world, one that only Johnston knows and can share all of its mysteries and secrets. The reader is given a small glimpse of this world – we know there’s something beyond the horizon, but the possibilities are limitless.

There’s not a lot of romance, but I didn’t mind that. The protagonist marries the king to save her sister – and she’s really a prisoner, trying to find some power to defeat the demon that is the king. Adding romance to that wouldn’t work and I couldn’t see that being published in the YA section.

One of my only dislikes was that sometimes I would drift off and get bored. At times the plot moved too slow for me and had me wondering if the author had enough room to wrap everything up. Although enjoyable, it wasn’t quite what I’d imagined.

The ending was really beautiful and completely satisfying! I’ve heard there’s a companion novel to this book and am looking forward to reading that. Johnston is a talented writer and so far I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve read by her.

The Tsar’s Guard Parade: Art Inspired by The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

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Hello and welcome to my stop on The Tsar’s Guard Parade! I’m so excited to be part of the blog tour for The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye. I’ve been highly anticipating this upcoming YA fantasy novel and I hope you are too! I mean, just look at that cover 😍

CrownsGame hc cTitle: THE CROWN’S GAME

Author: Evelyn Skye

Release Date: May 17th, 2016

Pages: 416

Publisher: Balzer+Bray

Formats: Hardcover, eBook

Find it: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks

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.

Along with books and reading, art is a big part of my life so I decided to create some art inspired by The Crown’s Game. I loving being inspired by books and seeing other people’s fanart because everyone’s interpretation of the book is different.

crownsgameart

Since I haven’t read the book, I decided to leave the main characters, Vika and Nikolai as silhouettes (mostly) – I have an idea of what they’re like from the synopsis, but their personalities and ambitions are for the most part a mystery. That of course makes me all the more interested in the book – I want to read and find out more about these characters. The background behind the two is slightly transparent because their destinies aren’t yet set in stone – there can only be one Imperial Enchanter, the reader needs to find out who. I’m a big fan of world-building when it comes to fantasy so that encompasses the majority of the work. I’m excited to read Skye’s book and find out more about her world. Thanks for reading my post and be sure to check out the other blog tour stops as well as the giveaway below.


About the Author: 
Evelyn Skye head shot high resEvelyn Skye was once offered a job by the C.I.A., she not-so-secretly wishes she was on “So You Think You Can Dance,” and if you challenge her to a pizza-eating contest, she guarantees she will win. When she isn’t writing, Evelyn can be found chasing her daughter on the playground or sitting on the couch, immersed in a good book and eating way too many cookies. THE CROWN’S GAME is her first novel. Evelyn can be found online at http://www.evelynskye.com and on Twitter @EvelynSkyeYA.

Website | Twitter |Facebook | Goodreads | Tumblr | Instagram

 

Giveaway:

One winner will win an ARC of The Crown’s Game, open internationally.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

View all the members of the Tsar’s Guard here!

 

Review + Interview: The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston

16068956The Story of Owen

E.K. Johnston

4/5 stars

Release Date: March 1, 2014

Publisher: Carolrhoda Books

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Listen! For I sing of Owen Thorskard: valiant of heart, hopeless at algebra, last in a long line of legendary dragon slayers. Though he had few years and was not built for football, he stood between the town of Trondheim and creatures that threatened its survival. There have always been dragons. As far back as history is told, men and women have fought them, loyally defending their villages. Dragon slaying was a proud tradition. But dragons and humans have one thing in common: an insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. From the moment Henry Ford hired his first dragon slayer, no small town was safe. Dragon slayers flocked to cities, leaving more remote areas unprotected. Such was Trondheim’s fate until Owen Thorskard arrived. At sixteen, with dragons advancing and his grades plummeting, Owen faced impossible odds armed only with a sword, his legacy, and the classmate who agreed to be his bard. Listen! I am Siobhan McQuaid. I alone know the story of Owen, the story that changes everything. Listen!

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I was lucky enough to interview Kate (E.K.) Johnston about books, publishing, writing and more! The Story of Owen is one of ten books nominated for the 2016 White Pine Award, you can check out the other books here. Thank you Kate for joining me on the blog!

1. I think what I’m dying to know most is what inspired you to write about dragon slayers in modern-day Toronto/GTA? Where did that idea come from?

E.J: Well, most importantly it wasn’t Toronto/the GTA. What I really wanted to do was write a book in small-town Southwestern Ontario, and look at community and fame and family in that kind of setting. The Thorskards are from Hamilton (except Hannah, who is from Ohio), but they put a lot of effort into becoming locals of Trondheim, and I wanted to write that. I had this vision of Lottie on the Burlington Skyway, but I knew that all the important things happened after they moved away.

Okay, all that is entirely true, but it sounds overly serious, so here’s another answer: I really wanted to light a barn full of miniature ponies on fire. Miniature ponies are the worst.

2. When it comes to the world building, how did you know what to/not to include? Is it challenging working with an alternate timeline?

E.J: This is where having a very smart editor is handy! Originally there was very little world-building actually in the book (all of the “story of” chapters were missing, except the first and last one), and then my editor said “So, can you put in some more world-building?” and I was all “How much do you want, because I can tell you literally everything, and I assume no one really wants to know that”. He told me what he wanted (thematically), and then I wrote it. It was awesome.

Working with an alternate timeline was actually super easy in this case because I was ADDING things to history (I imagine that taking things away or changing them is where the difficulty begins). I basically took whatever I wanted out of history, lit it on fire, and sent it back in. Also, there’s quite a bit of dragon-lore in existence already, so making it literal fact was fairly straightforward. When the Suez Canal Crisis chapter came together early on, I knew I had it.

3. Looking at all your books, are there any characters you’re really similar to? Is there any one character that’s really fun to write?

E.J: Oh, boy. There are a lot of characters I wish I was more like (my narrator in A Thousand Nights, Hannah in OWEN, Polly in Exit, Pursued By A Bear), but I think if there’s anyone, it’s Courtney from Prairie Fire. She did something her family’s not totally cool with, even though she’s very good at it, she’s an excellent friend, and she is always packed.

The most fun character to write is someone you haven’t met yet. I’m really enjoying writing from her perspective. However, the most fun character I can talk about in public is probably Porter, from Prairie Fire. He is a jerk in all the best ways.

4. Can you tell me about your writing process? When it comes to plot, world building, dialogue, which is the easiest or most enjoyable?

E.J: For me, the easiest part of writing is drafting, because plot, world-building, character, setting, and dialogue are usually pretty connected in my brain, and when I reach for something to put it into the draft, it materializes for me. Then I have to fix it, which is less fun, but I’ve had really great editors thus far, so it’s not too much of a trial.

I am a fast drafter, and can usually produce a complete manuscript in about a month. I think about it a lot before then, though, and take scratchy notes in various notebooks. Once it comes time to write, I write pretty solidly for a month, and then I take a nap. Then I revise. It’s not a schedule that works for everyone (and as I spend more time on promo, I’ll have to change my process a little), but so far I have done well with it.

5. I’m really excited for your upcoming novel EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind that? What was it about Shakespeare and The Winter’s Tale that stood out to you?

E.J: The Winter’s Tale has always been my second favourite Shakespeare play (after The Tempest). I love Paulina’s loyalty. When I was little, I used to imagine all the time Paulina and Hermione must have spent together while Hermione was in hiding. Their friendship is so wonderful.

Less wonderful is the tendency of male politicians to regulate female bodies. One such politician tried to re-open the abortion debate in 2012. He has since been ousted from his seat, but he was my MP, and I was furious. I wanted to write a book where a girl had an abortion, and wasn’t punished for it. To do that, she was going to need friends, like Paulina and Hermione, so that’s what brought me back to The Winter’s Tale.

Finally, Veronica Mars was a huge inspiration to me. Veronica has three really awesome girl-friends: Lily, Meg and Mac, but Lily and Meg both die. I wanted to write a story where Veronica got to keep all of her friends.

6. Do you have any writing or publishing advice to share with aspiring writers? Is there anything you wish you’d known going into the publishing world?

E.J: My writing advice is to ignore all writing advice. Well, ignore most writing advice. You can listen politely to it, find what works for you, and just keep going on your way. The first 100 pages of David Eddings’ The Rivan Codex were useful to me, but they might not be to you.

My publishing advice is:

7. The Forest of Reading program is a great way of introducing new authors. Are there any books you’ve recently read and would recommend?

E.J: I really loved reading Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (spies and pilots in WWII!), Diana Peterfreund’s Across A Star-Swept Sea (post-apocalyptic Scarlet Pimpernel!), R.J. Anderson’s A Pocket Full of Murder (MURDER!), Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper (magic, art, and Brooklyn), Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules (more goats that I was expecting, but in the good way), anything by Tessa Gratton (but the Gods of New Asgard specifically), and Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff.

review

The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston has a really interesting dynamic: dragons and dragon slayers in modern-day Ontario (Canada). I don’t think I originally read the summary quite right because I expected medieval times so it was fantastic being introduced to this alternate timeline. Johnston gets bonus points for setting her story in Ontario and somewhat near (give or take) to where I live. I found the main character, Siobhan very likeable and Johnston’s book has that feel-good ending to it.

The book for the most part takes place in a small town called Trondheim, and having grown up in a small town, it was really easy to imagine. I’d actually imagine Siobhan and Owen in my old high school, so Johnston’s book had that extra interactive element to it, at least for me. The first couple chapters mentioned Toronto, and how the city fit into the dragon slayer dynamic. I loved hearing about something I’m familiar with combined with dragons. My favourite part was reading about Lottie, Owen’s aunt, going to the top of the CN tower to watch for dragons. I also loved that the author didn’t info dump. Being an alternate timeline, the author mentions historical events and how they’ve been changed by dragons, but only when relevant to the plot.

I loved reading Siobhan’s commentary throughout the book. Her humour was one of the things I instantly liked about her, and I could also see her as a normal teenager – well, as normal as can be when there’s dragons involved. I connected with Siobhan a lot and felt we had very similar personalities. Sometimes I did drift off, but I think mainly because the voice is better suited for someone a couple years younger than me.

Owen was an intriguing character to get to know. His father and aunt are dragon slaying legacies and he has a lot of expectations from other people – will he become a dragon slayer, will he be good at it, etc. Moving to a small town and meeting Siobhan was exactly the thing he needed. I loved how the two grew together and it’s through each other they find things like friendship and confidence. I actually half-expected romance to happen between the two and was pleasantly surprised when that didn’t happen. I wouldn’t have minded if romance had happened, but it was a surprise. Owen and Siobhan have a really endearing friendship; the two come together to break each other out of their shells and discover new things about themselves and the people around them. This was that feel-good ending – I was completely satisfied with the ending.

The Story of Owen is about Siobhan, a music lover, becoming Owen’s bard and telling his story as a dragon slayer – as well as going on dragon slaying adventures and figuring out a few mysteries. This book is the complete version of Owen’s tale and I loved that Siobhan is honest to the reader, letting him/her know how she originally started Owen’s tale and what parts she left out. This book has it all: friendship and bonds to last a lifetime, humour and heart, and most importantly, dragons – if you’re a fantasy lover like me. Johnston is talented and I recommend you pick up this book and others. I’m currently reading A Thousand Nights and am impatiently waiting for her next book Exit, Pursued by a Bear to be released.

February Wrap-Up Post

IMG_9587Unfortunately I only got to read three books in February, but hopefully I’ll get to read more in March and get up-to-date with my Goodreads challenge. Here are the books I read.

Category Two: Books added to my TBR pile in 2015 – it’s so easy clicking that “Want to Read” button on Goodreads.

  • All The Rage by Courtney Summers
  • The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami
  • Vampire Knight Vol. 3 by Matsuri Hino

All The Rage is one of the best books I’ve read this year! I’m a huge fan of Summers and this book just blew me away. I recommend you read this because it’s really important and will leave a deep impact. I’ll be posting a detailed review later this month along with an interview I got to do with the author, so I’m very excited about that. 🙂

The Hero’s Walk was also another favourite and the second book I read on the Canada Reads Longlist. I felt the author created a beautiful story with characters that are real and flawed – I could imagine some of their personalities in myself and people I know. I was really satisfied with the ending, so anther great book to check out. Detailed review to come.

So how did everyone do last month reading-wise?

Blog Tour: Owl and the City of Angels + Interview

Owl and the City of Angels by Kristi Charish

Release Date: Ebook – October 5, 2015 | Trade Paperback – March 1, 2016

Publisher: Gallery Books (Simon and Schuster CA)

Purchase: Amazon | Book DepositoryChapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

The wild second adventure for unforgettable antiquities thief Owl—a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world—from the pen of rising urban fantasy star Kristi Charish. For fans of Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, Jennifer Estep, Jenn Bennett, and the like.

Alix Hiboux, better known as Owl, international antiquities thief for hire, is settling into her new contract job for Vegas mogul Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon with a penchant for ancient, supernatural artifacts. And now he has his sights set on some treasures of the mysterious Syrian City of the Dead that are sitting in a recluse’s private collection.

There’s just one wrinkle. To stop the resurrection of an undead army that could wreak havoc on Los Angeles, Owl must break into a heavily guarded archaeological sight in one of the most volatile regions in the world. A detour through Libya and a run-in with Somali pirates sends the clock ticking hastily toward total paranormal disaster.

Meanwhile, Alexander and the Paris vampires have stopped stalking Owl’s apartment, but they have by no means forgotten their death grudge against her. To top everything off, Owl finds out the hard way that there is nothing heavenly about the City of Angels…

Welcome to the next stop on the Owl and the City of Angels blog tour. To celebrate the March 1st paperback release, I did an interview with author Kristi Charish. This is the sequel to Owl and the Japanese Circus, which is absolutely amazing. You can read my review of Owl 2 here and be sure to check out the other blog tour stops!

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1. In Owl and the City of Angels, Mr. Kurosawa tasks Alix with the job of recovering artifacts from the Syrian City of the Dead. How did you come across this site and what made you want to incorporate it into the novel?

K: Well, for Owl 2 I wanted to send Alix somewhere outside the box – and while putting the story together I settled on Los Angeles as one of the locations. Since I already had The City of Angels in there, I figured I should toss a City of the Dead in there as well- for balance. After searching I found the very cool Dar Musa, also known as The Monastery of Moses the Abyssinian. I thought the history going back to the stone age was so interesting that I had to use it.

2. Owl readers are introduced to a new character: Artemis Bast. Can you tell us a bit about him and the inspiration behind him?

K: Hmmm. Well, I don’t want to give too many spoilers away, especially for anyone who hasn’t read the first book, but Artemis is a rockstar living in LA who may just be known more for his antics than his music. He’s also necessary to get Owl into the private collection of a LA recluse so she can steal something for Mr. Kurosawa…Or that’s the plan anyway. Artemis is also related to one of the other characters in the series.
He was a riot to write. The inspiration came from the glam and debauchery that went with all the 80s bands.

3. When working on Owl and the City of Angels, did your writing process differ from writing Owl and the Japanese Circus? Did you worry about how much recap to include? (i.e. is it too much, too little).

K: It was a little different, but not so much concerning how much to recap- that was one of the easier parts as the great thing about writing a sequel is you have an editor there to tell you when you needed to fill in more background or pull back, so I didn’t obsess about it while writing.
The part that was different and definitely harder about writing City of Angels was in the nature of writing a sequel – I knew what story I wanted to tell but I had no idea whether people who read the first book would like the second. They’d already been introduced to Owl so in my mind, book two had to go somewhere new and that’s tricky to do.

4. Are you a plotter or pantser?

K: Pantser, all the way – But that doesn’t mean I don’t plan out the novel. I think that’s a major misunderstanding with pantsers is this idea that there is no plan. There is always plan- I’m absolutely in charge as the rodeo show happening on paper. I have a target (usually an ending I’ve decided on) and a couple of key scenes that have to happen. The ‘pants’ing part comes from filling in the blanks. I know where I’m going, I’ve got a couple of landmarks, I’m just not entirely sure how I’m going to get there.

5. What’s a day in the life of Kristi like? How much time will you spend on writing, book research, promotion, non-book things?

K: Ha! It’s an entertaining question right now as I’m currently working on two novels- Owl and the Electric Samurai and the second book in my Kincaid Strange series. The answer is that at the moment, everything I do is writing related 🙂 – or almost.
Most of my day is spent writing or reading. Typically, I work for a few hours on a manuscript in the morning after handling emails and any business related stuff, then around lunchtime I’ll take a break and usually read a bit over lunch, before getting back to a manuscript. When I find myself getting a block I give my brain a break and switch to another manuscript or project I have on the go. Late afternoon/early evening is yoga class to get some exercise, and then in the evenings I’ll often get reading in over dinner and before bed, and get any promotion/articles done.

The other thing I try to do a few days a week is head downtown to hit the local library and write (the VPL has great desks for working and lots of places to grab lunch) or go to a local coffee shop. It’s a nice break from working at my kitchen table at home.

6. Are there any books you’ve recently read and would recommend?

K: For urban fantasy lovers I highly recommend Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series. It’s a straight out urban fantasy mystery with a very cool character – Jane who is a Cherokee shapeshifter that hunts rogues vampires down for a living. The series starts off when business changes and the head vampire of New Orleans wants to hire Jane’s services.
The other book I’ve read recently and highly recommend is a sci-fi by Peter Clines (Ex Heroes and 14) called The Fold. It’s about a science team developing a door to anywhere by folding space and time. Of course things start to go wrong and Mike, a man with a pedantic memory is hired to investigate. The science was woven into the story deftly and it’s true sci-fi- a real what if about technology.


About the Author: 

Kristi+FB+HS

Kristi is the author of OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS (Jan 13th, 2015, Simon and Schuster Canada/Pocket Books), an urban fantasy about a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world. She writes what she loves; adventure heavy stories featuring strong, savvy female protagonists, pop culture, and the occasional RPG fantasy game thrown in the mix. She’s also a co-host for the Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing Podcast.

The second installment in the Owl series, OWL AND THE CITY OF ANGELS, is scheduled for release Oct 5th 2015. Her second urban fantasy series, KINCAID STRANGE (Random House Canada), about a voodoo practitioner living in Seattle, is scheduled for release mid 2016.

Kristi is also a scientist with a BSc and MSc from Simon Fraser University in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and a PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. Her specialties are genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology, all of which she draws upon in her writing. She is represented by Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative Artists. Visit her website.

Review + Interview: The Art of Getting Stared At by Laura Langston

21857092The Art of Getting Stared At

Laura Langston

5/5 Stars

Release Date: September 9, 2015

Publisher: Penguin Canada

Purchase: Amazon | Book DepositoryChapters/Indigo.ca | B&NKobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

After a school video she produced goes viral, sixteen-year-old Sloane Kendrick is given a chance at a film school scholarship. She has less than two weeks to produce a second video, and she’s determined to do it. Unfortunately, she must work with Isaac Alexander, an irresponsible charmer with whom she shares an uneasy history.

On the heels of this opportunity comes a horrifying discovery: a bald spot on her head. No bigger than a quarter, the patch shouldn’t be there. Neither should the bald spots that follow. Horror gives way to devastation when Sloane is diagnosed with alopecia areata. The auto-immune disease has no cause, no cure, and no definitive outcome. The spots might grow over tomorrow or Sloane might become completely bald. No one knows.

Determined to produce her video, hide her condition, and resist Isaac’s easy charm, Sloane finds herself turning into the kind of person she has always mocked: someone obsessed with her looks. And just when she thinks things can’t get any worse, Sloane is forced to make the most difficult decision of her life.

interviewlogo

I had the chance to interview Laura Langston about her book THE ART OF GETTING STARED AT, writing, and more! This novel is 1 of 10 nominated for the 2016 White Pine Award and I encourage you to check out the list here, there’s always a great selection. Thank you, Laura for joining me on the blog. Check it out below as well as my review of her fantastic book.

  1. In The Art of Getting Stared At, Sloane is diagnosed with alopecia areata. How did you come across this disease and what influenced you to include it in your novel?

LL: There’s quite a story to that. A number of years ago my daughter had a friend who didn’t spend much time on makeup or clothes. She cared about her appearance, but not to a large extent. I noticed this because before a school dance our house was the gathering place. We’d supply the pizza, and my daughter and her friends would spend hours doing their hair and makeup and figuring out what to wear. This particular girl would spend maybe twenty minutes getting ready. I was intrigued by that and by the dynamic I witnessed between her and the other girls. They were all good friends, but they thought she was weird and she thought they were shallow. Around the same time, I met a woman who had lost her hair to alopecia. She said 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 looks? How would she feel if she’d always prided herself on ‘being a little bit better than the girls who spent so much time on their makeup?’ From there, the novel took shape.

  1. This is your first novel nominated for a White Pine award, but not the first to be nominated for a Forest of Reading award. Can you describe how you felt after learning the news?

LL: I was absolutely thrilled. It’s a real honor to be nominated, and to be on a list with so many other wonderful books!

  1. You used to be a journalist, how has this influenced your writing today? What’s your writing process like?

LL: In terms of influence, I’m extremely interested in current events (I tend to be something of a news junkie) and I’ll sometimes find story ideas and inspiration from what’s going on in the world. Because journalists work to deadlines and don’t wait for the muse to strike, I’m used to writing even if I don’t feel particularly inspired that day. Writing is my job so I show up at the desk every day and get on with it. My process is regular and rather boring: write every day, revise each manuscript as often as is needed. Repeat and repeat again.

  1. For a long time, Sloane hasn’t cared about the way she looks. In the novel, she starts battling the idea of being pretty versus being smart. Why did you feel it was important to include this type of conflict?

LL: I wanted Sloane to believe that there are more important things in life than the way you look. She comes to care about how she looks but I wanted her to start out somewhat indifferent because that would make her journey more interesting. I went with the idea that she favors intelligence over appearance because of the relationship she has with her mother. Her mother is a doctor who believes that. Sloane admires her mother and wants to emulate her. She doesn’t want to be like her stepmother who is a make-up artist. In the end, Sloane comes to understand there’s a place in the world for beauty as well as intelligence. It doesn’t have to be an ‘either/or’ thing.

  1. I found Sloane’s love for film authentic and believable. I could also relate that to my love for art and photography. Can you tell us about the ways you and Sloane are similar? Different?

LL: There’s always a trait in each character I develop that I need to be able to relate to otherwise I simply can’t get into their head. I don’t always share that trait but I need to understand it. In Sloane’s case, I can understand her passion for film because I’m passionate about books. I probably don’t put as much emphasis on appearance as some people do so in that sense I’m a little like Sloane but otherwise we are two different people!

  1. Sloane grows a lot as an individual and there’s a significant amount of character development throughout the novel. Was this a conscious decision? Was it important for the reader to understand this growth?

LL: It was very much a conscious decision on my part. When I write a novel, I’m always thinking about the character arc or the journey the character takes in terms of the story. Sometimes the journey is an actual physical trip or moving from place to place but in many books (and in most of mine) the journey is an internal one. Sloane grows and changes as she struggles to come to terms with alopecia. I tried to convey that to the reader in a way that they would understand and hopefully enjoy.

  1. Can you tell us about any recent books you’ve read and would recommend? Are there any books or authors you enjoy and have found through the Forest of Reading program?

LL: More than a decade ago, I discovered Don Aker and his novel ‘The First Stone’ through the Forest of Reading program and I’ve been a huge fan of his writing ever since. He’s a talented guy! There are so many amazing authors and stories in Canada that my reading pile is literally higher than my bed. I’ve been on a paranormal-meets-realism YA kick this year and I really enjoyed Sylvia McNicoll’s ‘Best Friends Through Eternity’ as well as Natasha Deen’s book ‘Guardian.’

  1. Can you share with us any projects you’re working on?

LL: I always have a number of projects on the go. I’m currently working on a short novel for the Orca Soundings line about a girl who discovers a terrible secret about a father she thought was dead. I’m also working on a longer YA novel called One Good Deed about a girl who saves the life of a homeless man and faces unexpected and life-changing consequences because of it.

review

I was immediately drawn into The Art of Getting Stared At by Laura Langston. The plot and character development are superb! I’m a huge fantasy/sci-fi reader, so on the rare occasion I do read contemporary it has to really stand out. I usually love contemporary reads selected for the Forest of Reading awards and I’m glad Langston’s novel lives up to that reputation. There’s a lot of conflict thrown Sloane’s way and her growth as an individual is outstanding.

Character development is huge in this novel and Langston makes sure to include various literary conflict. The protagonist, Sloane Kendrick is a very relatable character because she presents herself as a confident person while deep down inside battling with how people see her. She also battles with the idea of being pretty versus being smart. For years, she’s believed you can only be either or and lives with the decision of ‘smart’. Sloane’s mother believes you should be true with oneself while Sloane’s stepmother, Kim thinks Sloane should value looks. This leads to a lot of issues between the two, and Sloane has felt for the longest time Kim is trying to fix her. Sloane’s image of Kim is someone without substance, she only cares about being pretty and wearing make-up. The more I read, the more Sloane started to realize maybe there’s more to Kim than her pre-conceived image, and more importantly maybe Sloane can be pretty and smart. When I first started reading Kim’s portrayal as a vain individual, I was really hoping for character development like this. In my opinion, you can’t send an image like this to a reader and not further examine it. Langston is a genius at creating situations where the reader learns more about her characters, and where her characters learn more about each other.

Sloane is a huge film nerd and I found that aspect of her personality very believable. I love when Langston introduces these little details, like Sloane observing a scene and thinking it’d make a great film shot. I don’t know much about film or have a lot of interest in it, but I do love art and photography so I’m always thinking about how that scene would make a great photo, or I wish I had a camera because that lighting is perfect, etc. In the novel, Sloane is diagnosed with alopecia areata, a disease where the immune system attacks the hair follicles, causing hair loss and I found this combined with her passion for film a very compelling element. While Sloane prefers producing film versus starring in it, she still has to engage with multiple people. All of a sudden Sloane is struggling with being seen and how she’s seen.

Before the novel started, a film Sloane produced for a film class was uploaded onto Youtube and gained 600,000 views in under 24 hours. This catches the eye of Sloane’s top film school and she’s encouraged to apply for a scholarship. She has less than three weeks to create a second film and needs to work with Isaac Alexander, someone she doesn’t have the greatest relationship with. Both get to know each other and realize there’s more to the other person than previously thought. I did expect romance between the two, but it’s like that slow burn romance where both don’t realize they like each other until closer to the end. Isaac is more openly flirtatious and while Sloane gives off false confidence when he says things like “you’re beautiful”, inside she wonders how can anyone like her in that way. This conflict of Sloane versus self is huge here.

As Sloane is coming to terms with her disease, the support system she wants most, her mother is away volunteering in Sudan [doctor]. Trying to hold in her frustration with Kim generates a lot of emotion. Every time this secret, that Sloane is losing her hair, is made known to another person and another, I felt her anxiety and fear. When a book creates such a great emotional response in the reader that makes a contemporary read so impressive to me. I was totally and completely in Sloane’s head and even though I know this isn’t real, I was upset for Sloane and felt her uncertainty of what the future holds.

Langston is truly an exceptional writer and reading this book was like watching a film, the emotions of her characters is so well-done. I recommend this to both the contemporary and non-contemporary reader. The Art of Getting Stared At lives up to the reputation of the Forest of Reading program and most importantly, encourages me to continue participating in these programs [White Pine selection]. Langston ends her book with a lasting impression on the reader.


About the Author:

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Laura Langston is a former journalist with the CBC. She lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest where she writes books for teens and kids.

Laura Langston’s articles have also appeared in dozens of magazines including Canadian Gardening, Canadian Living, Gardenmaking, MacLean’s, Skyword Inflight, Alive and many regional periodicals and newspapers.

Visit her website at http://www.lauralangston.com

Follow her on Twitter @LauraLangston