Monday, June 25, 2012

An Interview with Allison Baggio - Summer Reading Series

Time for the next Summer Reading Series instalment! I'm thrilled to have ALLISON BAGGIO visiting us today. She's going to talk about the books she's passionate about. I'm going to tell you where you can find Allison's books! She is also an author.

KC: What book are you reading right now? And what are your thoughts on it so far?

ALLISON: I am usually reading a whole pile of books at once. I keep them at different places in my house and when I'm there I'll pick them up. Sometimes a book will really catch my attention and I will carry it around with me--then I know I've found something really special. So, I'll pick one for you--The Last Hiccup by fellow ECW author, Christopher Meades. It just happens to be on my nightstand so I usually read this one for a bit after I put the kids to bed. The book is about a young boy in 1930s Russia who comes down with a chronic case of hiccups and how this infliction changes his life. This is not the type of book I would usually pick up, however, Christopher has officially drawn me into his quirky little world. I am so impressed with the quality of writing in this book . . . one of the blurbs on the back says "Each sentence is a tiny masterpiece" and it is definitely true

KC: That sounds like a book I NEED to read! Thanks for the rec. As a writer, you most likely spend a lot of your time editing. Do you find it hard to turn off the internal editor when you are reading for pleasure? Do you ever find yourself being drawn out of story because you know there’s a better way to write the last sentence you just read? Or are you able to turn the writer/editor off when you are reading for pleasure?

ALLISON: Funny you should ask this. I just took a book on vacation with me. A pretty popular book. Well, okay, I'll just say it, Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I love a memoir that involves any sort of adventure so I knew I would love this story (and I did!), however, I found myself overwhelmed by the large number of unnecessary adverbs in the book. "Elegantly, hesitantly, unglamourously, awkwardly" -- I think she used everyone possible at least once, and sometimes many in the same sentence!

I often found myself reading out the heavily adverb-ed sentences to my husband in shock, and that really took me out of the story. Instantly. And unrelentingly. Usually I am able to shut this sort of internal editor off, but since I just finished the final edits on my next book, I was really stuck in that mindset. I think this problem is getting worse the more editing I do, and the more obsessive I get about my own writing. Undeniably.

KC: Great answer! (-: Top 5 Favourite Novels?

ALLISON: Oh gosh, let's see. Top of my mind:
KC: I was blown away the first time I read A Complicated Kindness. I think that book may have changed my reading habits. Do you have a favourite autobiography? If so, tell us about it.

ALLISON: How about Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. In it, he tells his life story of growing up in India and his experiences with meditation and yoga. I read most of this book on my honeymoon ten years ago and still intend to finish it. No, really! I will say that it probably influenced some parts of my first novel, Girl in Shades.

KC: I love that answer more than you’ll know. That book was a bible for me in the late 80s early 90s. I adore it! Any recommendations for books on writing?

ALLISON: I think Stephen King's On Writing is one of the best ones out there and I actually have had a recent desire to re-read it (I've just remembered one of the quotes from the book: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs” hmmmm). Also, writers should pick up Work Book: Memos & Dispatches on Writing by Steven Heighton--it is like no other writing book I've read and gives some very poignant insights into how to make sense of the writing life.

KC: Who were your favourite authors as a child? Your favourite books?

ALLISON: I was a big Judy Blume fan. All her books.

KC: Your favourite authors as an adult?

ALLISON: Miriam Toews, Barbara Gowdy, Brian Francis--all the other great Canadian authors I've connected with who are out there writing what they have to write and not giving up.

KC: Book covers seem to be getting a lot of buzz these days. In Twitterverse, there are Cover Reveals almost daily. I think it’s safe to say we’re in an age where it is more common practice to actually judge a book by its cover. Do you have any favourite covers? Do they have any pull on your decision to read a book?

ALLISON: I am quite fond of the covers they have given to my own books so far, and I think that is a good thing to feel because yes, people DO judge books by their outsides. I'm surprised at the number of times someone will post a just cover and someone will respond, "That looks really good. I want to read it." But it's true. People do feel more drawn to covers that appeal to them, so we shouldn't give up on designing great covers!

One interesting cover that comes to mind is the one for The Carnivore  by Mark Sinnett. I like that the story is about a hurricane and there are rain drops infused into the cover. Very neat.

Ohhh, and I did love the cover of Brian Francis's Natural Order

I am definitely more prone to pick up a book if I am attracted to the outside.

KC: I LOVE your book covers. I think they're both stunning(ly) beautiful! Do you have favourite genres/markets?

ALLISON: Usually adult literary fiction, and some more commercial stuff.

KC: Your 3 desert island books?

ALLISON: Have to go non-fiction for this (I don't re-read fiction books that much):
KC: As a writer, do you ever copy down favourite quotes and pin them up in your writing space for inspiration? If so, what are some of them?

ALLISON: YES! I do this all the time. Right now on my bulletin board I have "Pursue Excellence, Ignore Success". I think Deepak Choprah said it. I'm also always writing out, "Allow What is To Be" - Eckhart Tolle

KC: I was hoping for that reaction. I too get pretty passionate when I find a golden nugget in something I’m reading. (-: What’s the next title you plan on reading? What drew you to it?

ALLISON: The next book I am planning to read is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I definitely fit the mould of an introvert, and was drawn to this book because, well, I hope to get some more insight into myself (always up for that!).

KC: Is there ONE book that made you decide, ‘This is what I want to do…I want to write!’? Or were there many?

ALLISON: Hmmmm, trying to think back. My need to write bubbled up around grade five when I started to write short stories. I think it was more a need to tell stories, than one book that inspired me.

KC: If you could travel back in time and put your name under any novel title in existence, which one would you choose? Why?

ALLISON: Oh gosh, this is hard. Of course there are books I admire, but the idea of me having written them is a strange one. I just find that creative inspiration is such a personal thing, I can't imagine having written anything besides what I myself was inspired to write. I think I've answered The Time Traveller’s Wife to a similar question. So.... The Time Traveller’s Wife by Allison Baggio. (No, I just can't get my mind around that.)

KC: As a writer, who do you write for? Anyone/Anything in particular?

ALLISON: I guess I have to say, me. I write for the pure joy I feel while I am doing it, and the satisfaction I feel afterwards. I hope I can always write for me, because I think that the process of thinking about what people will think of what you write, has probably ruined many a good author.

KC: Okay, since you are published yourself…I’m going to be linking your books below for my readers. Besides these two titles, are there any other works in the hopper? Anything you’re working on that you want to talk about?

ALLISON: I am currently revising a new novel that I am very excited about. It takes place during and shortly after World War 1 and is a fictional story around an actual un-solved murder that happened in 1914. I haven't received any serious feedback on it yet, so I am still in that "new love" stage with it--which is a nice place to be for now.

KC: Sounds intriguing! I was going to say amazingly and incredibly intriguing…but those lys are just background noise. (-: Can’t wait to read it! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts today. I enjoyed your responses. We have a lot of suggestions here and you’ve reminded me of more than a couple of books that I’m passionate about. Maybe it’s time to revisit them. Thank you!

ALLISON: Thanks, Kevin!

You can learn more about Allison’s books and visit her online at any of the locations below:

Twitter: allibaggio

Friday, June 22, 2012

An Interview with Author Swati Avasthi


I am so thrilled to have Swati Avasthi as a guest on Try This Book today! I discovered Swati's novel Split last year, thanks to Twitter. Split quickly became a favourite of mine. And I love sharing my favourite books, with anybody who will listen.

I hope you enjoy my interview with Swati Avasthi, a writer I'm sure you'll be hearing a lot more about in the future!

KC: Jace Witherspoon is one of the most authentic characters I’ve come across in a long while. He’s a shell-shocked teen who knows what it’s like to live in an abusive home. Every action and reaction he had was authentic. Can you tell us a bit about the research you underwent to make Jace so incredibly real?

SA: Thanks for having me and for the kind words! I do two types of research: 1) getting to know the characters and 2) getting to know their situation.  Getting to know Jace was the best research I’ve done. I did “interviews” with him, wrote exercises to discover memories and exercises to discover his desires. I tried to keep everything in first person so I could get a feel for his voice. Once I even grocery shopped as him. Twinkies are tasty.

The other kind of research didn’t start out as research at all; it started out as my job. Long ago, in another life, I coordinated a domestic violence legal clinic. At the clinic, I listened to thousands of victims who needed orders of protection, thousands of incidents of abuse. I didn’t take any of their stories, but I understood the dynamic by the time I sat down to write SPLIT.

KC: I’m quite familiar with the first type of research you mention. The second type must have been simultaneously rewarding and difficult for you. Christian and Jace’s dynamic relationship—It really kind of takes the reader’s breath away. Family members in an abusive environment have an unspoken code of silence and shame. You played this so incredibly well between Christian and Jace. You did an amazing job of depicting the brother relationship and all it entails within an abusive situation. Can you tell us why you chose two boys—brothers—for your main characters?

SA: Domestic violence (DV) is typically framed as a women’s issue, but frankly, I think it’s a men’s issue, too. After all, men are a key component of the relationship. Whether he is a victim or a perpetrator, we make the guys who are in DV situations invisible—which silences victims and subtly gives a free pass to abusers. So I wanted to think about the effect that DV has on boys. And, since people respond so differently to abuse, I wanted to show the range in the boys’ responses. Contrast often makes for good fiction.

SPOILER ALERT We know that while most abusers are men, most men aren’t abusers. In my view, it’s those male allies who have the best chance to stop abuse, which was why it was critical to me that: 1) Jace had to change himself (no woman could do it for him) and 2) Christian had to be the one to give him some of the tools to change (running).

KC: Not to give away any Split spoilers, but I found it fascinating when Christian discovered the secret that Jace was harbouring about his girlfriend. Christian’s reaction was palpable. It was the one thing that could tumble the house of cards he built against the abusive past that he escaped. It must have been hard to write this aspect of Jace. Did you ever worry that the reader would turn against him?

SA:  Yes, I did. Early on, the second reader I showed a scrap of chapter one to told me she hated all the characters and wouldn’t keep reading.  I restructured the book and chapter one became chapter twelve, and a secret was born.  While it gave me the space I needed to let me connect the reader to the characters, it also gave me a tough problem: how was I going to do a reveal in first person present tense? I dove into books to find the solution modeled for me in INVISIBLE by Pete Hautman—a book worth reading.

SPOILER ALERT AGAIN: The cool thing that happened when I restructured the book (and I wish I could say I had structured the book this way because I ‘m soooo narratively brilliant) is that it’s structured like an incident of abuse. We get to know Jace as a sympathetic, charming guy first and then we see his dark-side, after we’ve invested 100 pages into his life. And then he’s so sorry, so remorseful. Do we forgive him or not?

KC: That was quite the stroke of luck (brilliance) that came from the restructuring. So true that the reader likes and is sympathetic of Jace. When readers come across a new favourite author, they tend to wonder what that author likes. What their favourites are. So, this part of the interview is a multiple question survey. What does Swati Avasthi feel passionate about? Can you tell us a few of your favourite things?

SA: I love traveling, how it frees you beyond your responsibilities, beyond yourself --how you pay attention to the earth, the water, the sky better. I love seeing different ways of living, thinking, being. I’m also a sucker, obviously, for books. As I write this, I realize these two things might be related. :-)

KC: Who are your favourite authors now? And who were your favourite children’s authors when you were growing up?


Now: Laurie Halse Anderson, Pete Hautman, MT Anderson, Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison, Emily Bronte.

Growing up: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Harper Lee, S.E. Hinton. I still love these authors.

KC: What are your favourite movies? Actors?

SA: Huh. Well. I don’t watch that many movies anymore (lack of time) and a lot of what I watch is animated (have kids). So a lot of them will be older . . .

Apollo 13; Meet the Robinsons; How to Train your Dragon; Totoro; Goodwill Hunting (shocker, I know!); Shakespeare in Love; Amelie; The Road Home; Moulin Rouge; Kinky Boots; Gross Pointe Blank; Once; I.Q.

Meryl Steep; Edward Norton; Robert Redford; Heath Ledger; Johnny Depp; Anne Hathaway; Natalie Portman; Gary Oldman; Matt Damon; Tim Robbins; Gwenyth Paltrow; Nicole Kidman; Renee Zellweger; Kate Winslet; Kathy Bates

KC: Do you have a favourite writing place? Is it in your home, or in the wild?

SA: The wild atmosphere of Starbucks, stalking the best comfie leather chairs and coffee. If I’m at home, I have too many distractions. I don’t have any games on my computer, so I pretty much stick myself where either I’m bored or I’m writing.

KC: Another Starbucks writing junkie! Which 3 books would you pack to take to a deserted island?

SA: To Kill a Mockingbird, Speak, and an unabridged Shakespeare.

KC: Pantser or Plotter? Do you like to outline your novels, or do you just write off the cuff? OR, do you do a bit of both?

SA: Bit of both. I know one big obstacle I’m going to throw in the path of my protagonist; one character epiphany, whether false or true; and my starting line. (I wrote “Now I have to start lying” Split’s opening, about three months before I wrote anything else-like a whisper of the voice to come.)  Other than that, I let the characters lead.

KC: I love your story about Split’s first line…almost as though you percolated on that line for those months. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? What is your first memory of actually sitting down and writing?

SA: I decided to be a writer when I was five and read Little House in the Big Woods. After all, I was like Laura. (I’m secretly a 19th century, white pioneer!)  She was a writer so obviously I was too. I started writing shortly after I read that. Sadly, my memory stinks—I remember fiction better—so I don’t remember sitting down and writing anything until I was 12, though my mom’s stack of embarrassing files say otherwise.

KC: Can you take the reader through the journey you walked with SPLIT, from concept to shelf?

SA: The concept started long before the book. One of my clients came in with her two kids and when I found out that they watched this brutal incident of abuse, I got mad at her, which surprised and embarrassed me; I knew better than to victim blame. But I felt protective of those two little kids. It bothered me for years – my response, my confusion, so I gave the problem to a character.

Author and professor Mary Logue said that if you write one page a day, you could have a novel in a year. I gave myself one year to write it and one year to revise it. And that helped tremendously.

The publication process was so unusually easy that I hesitate to talk about it –I found an agent in a month (the wonderful Rosemary Stimola) and she sold the book at auction three weeks later. My editor (the also wonderful Nancy Siscoe) had a few notes; I made the changes and voila! A book on the shelves.

But, at some point, you always pay the piper, she says, 4-years, 14-drafts, and novel no. 2 later. The second novel, now titled CHASING SHADOWS, was the payment. With interest.

KC: What a great story! Thanks so much for sharing it. I can see why Split was such a quick sell, both for an agent and a publisher. Congratulations! A writer’s dream journey to publication. (-: CHASING SHADOWS (once tentatively titled Bidden)! If your readers are anything like me, they must be dying for its release. Could you tell them what to expect with this book? What it’s about? When they will get it in their hands? Talk about Holly, Corey and Savitri, the cast of Chasing Shadows!

SA: This is the blurb I’ve been playing with:

Before: 18 year olds Corey, Holly, and Savitri turn Chicago concrete and asphalt in a Freerunner's jungle gym, ricocheting off walls, scaling buildings, and even leaping from rooftop to rooftop.  But acting like a superhero doesn't make you one.

After:  Holly and Savitri try to move on.  But sometimes -- when justice can't be found, and reality keeps sliding out of reach -- sometimes moving on isn't an option.  How do you hang on to what was? How do you hold on to a shadow? Part prose, part graphic novel, CHASING SHADOWS is about how far we stretch for our friends.

Fall, 2013!

KC: WOW! That sounds so incredible. Can’t wait for fall, 2013! For your fans who are also writers, do you have any tidbits of advice you would like to share?

SA: My advice to writers is always: Writing is no place for cowardice. Be bold; be brave; write every day you can.

KC: Excellent advice! Thank you. With Split, you built a big fan base. I find that most readers who discovered it are very passionate about it. They want to know there’s more where that came from. Do you have any other writing projects in the hopper…other than Chasing Shadows?

SA: I can neither confirm nor deny any new writing projects. :-) I’ve learned the hard way that my job at the early stages of any writing project is to protect whatever might be coming to light. And for me, even talking about it is revealing it to harsh elements. I remain silent.

KC: Now that is an intriguing answer. As a fan, I’m going to take it as confirmation that there is something in the hopper. Thank you so much for this opportunity! I’m always thrilled to share my favourite authors with others. I wish you the best of success with your future endeavours.

SA: The pleasure’s all mine. Thank you!

Now that you've become more familiar with Swati Avasthi, it is time to go out and get a copy of SPLIT. Online, you can purchase Split at Amazon...both in print and in ebook formats.

Swati Avasthi can be found online at her website, or on Twitter.

(My review of SPLIT)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Boy21 - Review

Title: Boy21
Author: Matthew Quick
Release Date: March 5, 2012
Format: Kindle
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Basketball has always been an escape for Finley. He lives in gray, broken Bellmont, a town ruled by the Irish Mob, drugs, violence, and racially charged rivalries. At home, he takes care of his disabled grandfather, and at school he’s called “White Rabbit”, the only white kid on the varsity basketball team. He’s always dreamed of getting out somehow with his girlfriend, Erin. But until then, when he puts on his number 21, everything seems to make sense.

Russ has just moved to the neighborhood. A former teen basketball phenom from a privileged home, his life has been turned upside down by tragedy. Cut off from everyone he knows, he now answers only to the name Boy21—his former jersey number—and has an unusual obsession with outer space.

As their final year of high school brings these two boys together, “Boy21” may turn out to be the answer they both need. (From GOODREADS)

Expectation: I didn't have a great deal of expectation for this book. I heard about it on Twitter...all good. It's been on my TBR pile for a while...thought I would finally get to it. 
Market/Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary


‘It’s like my mind is a fist and it’s always clinched tight, trying to keep the words in.’ ~ Finley McManus (a.k.a. White Rabbit), the narrator – Matthew Quick, Boy21

Such is the way Finley McManus lives his life. He’s not much of a talker. When you’re harbouring a secret that is bigger than yourself, it’s so much easier to take a backseat through life. The reader gets the sense that if Finley were to start talking, he would just keep going until everything is out. The reader also gets a sense, right from the beginning of Finley’s narration of this intriguing story, that there are a lot of secrets behind Finley’s silence…a whole boiling cauldron of secrets that could destroy the carefully constructed safety he silently hides behind.

Quick gives the reader just enough tidbits throughout Boy21, though, to drive their curiosity. There are whispers of the Irish Mob, of a less than admirable reason for Finley’s grandfather’s missing legs, of the fact that his mother is dead. We get just enough of the back-story to know a lot has happened to bring Finley to where he is in his life at the narration’s onset. We know the back-story is eventually going to explode into the present and reveal the huge dark secret that has affected Finley so deeply, a secret so terrible he is forbidden to speak of it even in front of his father and grandfather—two men who know its intimate details just as deeply as Finley himself knows.

This alone gives the reader enough of a reason to read on. Then we are introduced to Erin. Erin is the star of their school’s girl’s basketball team. She is also Finley’s best friend and girlfriend. Together, Finley and Erin plan to one day escape the mean dark streets of Bellmont—hopefully with basketball scholarships to their choice schools.

Enter Russ. Russ is new to Bellmont. He's one of the best high school basketball players in the country. But he is so devastated by the recent loss of his parents that he has escaped into an alternate reality where he is known as Boy21--a visitor from outer-space who is just putting in time while he awaits the arrival of his space travelling parents.

The basketball coach, Coach Wilkins, asks Finley to take Russ under his wing, shadow him while he adjusts to his new surroundings. This is where I had a slight problem. To be honest, I found it rather vague. I'm thinking the coach was perhaps attempting to help both boys by putting them together. I just felt that it was unrealistic that Finley was given the herculean task he was given. It seemed almost mean-spirited of the coach--and the rest of the school--to set Finley up like this. The boys had all the same classes...also implausible to me that a school would do something like this. Anyway, because of the great writing and the interest I had in discovering the remaining of the story, I tried to overlook this boggling detail.

These problems aside, Russ was a great character. I was immediately intrigued by him. His ability to live within his make-belief cosmos as Boy21 was near magical. The friendship that builds between Boy21 and Finley was wonderful. And all the while there is so much bubbling underneath...the promise of so many secrets to be revealed. My desire to see the two boys deal with their heavy burdens was palpable. And, in the end, Quick delivered.

The real tribulations begin with Erin. The event that changes things for her also makes Finley begin to wonder if there is not more to life than basketball. This, at the same time his position on the team is threatened by the existence of his new friend Boy21. I have to mention here, that Finley's character arc was one of my favourite things about this novel. It was a fabulous arc...very satisfying to see his growth over the course of the story. It made Finley one of my favourite characters of late.

There was so much going on in the last half of this book that I devoured it in under a day. And I believe you may do the same. Give it time. It's one of those books that seems quite good as you're reading it...but then kicks it up a notch and holds you right to the end. And it has an extremely satisfying ending. The last scene with Boy21 and Finley...I'll just say that it's absolutely remarkable. It will get you good!

Expectation: Apart from a couple issues I had...minor issues...this was a surprise. I well and truly enjoyed it. Great characters, a LOT at stake...quite the ride. Enjoy!

I'll be checking out Matthew Quick's other novels!

SIZE: 4 1/2

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Looking for Alaska - Review

Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Release Date: January 1, 2005
Format: Kindle
Publisher: Penguin Publishing


Before…Miles "Pudge" Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave "the Great Perhaps" even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

After…Nothing is ever the same. (From GOODREADS)

Expectation: Once one reads a John Green book, one cannot help but have high expectations for other John Green books. The man makes it very difficult for himself. Each time one reads one of his books, they'll think, 'well, he can't top this one'. 

Market/Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary


Alaska is a place. You can find it deeply embedded within the fisted heart of Miles ‘Pudge’ Halter. He who set out to discover the Great Perhaps found it burning brightly in the person of Alaska Young. Sometimes, though, you have to be careful what you ask for. The Great Perhaps is a fabulous journey…and a tumultuous burden.

Looking for Alaska is one of those books you cling to at the end. I know this doesn’t make sense, but the love I have for LFA makes me think of A Separate Peace…not the book itself, but the love I have for it. That’s how it goes sometimes, and for no definable reason…you equate books by the feelings you get when reading them, not by subject matter or similarities they share. Book love. It’s an odd thing. These two books will always be intertwined in my brain not because they’re in any way similar, but because the feelings I experienced while reading them were.

That being said, I absolutely adored Looking for Alaska.


~ 'She had the kind of eyes that predisposed you to supporting her every endeavor.'
~ 'The Great Perhaps was upon us, and we were invincible.'
~ 'We ran like we had golden shoes.'
~ 'We are as indestructible as we believe ourselves to be.'
~ ‘I wanted to be one of those people who have streaks to maintain, who scorch the ground with their intensity. But for now, at least I knew such people, and they needed me, just like comets need tails.’

When I say these are some of my favourite quotes, I may be downplaying it a bit…these are tattoo-able, especially the second quote. Green has such a way of working life mantras into his prose…he probably doesn’t even realize he’s doing it. He’s an absolute master at it!

Alaska Young kind of deserves the pedestal her friends and co-students almost unwittingly put her on. Alaska Young is awesome. Our narrator knows it, too. Pudge (Miles Halter) may have been late to the party, but he definitely arrived at just the right spot when he got there. He arrives at Culver Creek Boarding School a year after everybody else…but he gets to share a room with The Colonel, Alaska’s best friend and confidante. That puts Pudge right in the middle of the Great Perhaps that he craves so obsessively.

I loved Pudge’s uniquely quirky ability to memorize famous last words…and perhaps this is the personality trait that intrigued his new friends and quickly ingratiated him into their lives. Without it being said, I had the feeling that these new people in Pudge’s life—The Colonel, Alaska, Takumi, Lara—these were the in-crowd. And he effortlessly fell in with them.

Pudge becomes instantly enamoured with Alaska Young, a girl who is always referring to her off-campus boyfriend…always pointing out that she is not available. She is the risk-taking, free spirited girl who is comfortable with whoever she is on any given day…on the surface. She’s the girl that everybody wants a piece of—they sense her magic, she is the centre that the rest of the Culver Creek Boarding School orbits around.

But there are complications and secrets in the life of Alaska Young. Viewed through the eyes of our narrator, we begin to put the pieces of Alaska Young together. Pudge becomes one of the tails to her fiercely burning comet. He allows the story he is telling to be about her, not him.

John Green is a complete and utter MASTER. I can’t even get into what happens in this novel without plastering SPOILER ALERT all over everything, but I will say it is kind of broken down into a BEFORE and an AFTER. There is a great event that ricochets the dynamic circle of friends into a cyclone of emotion. There are a lot of hi-jinx and one-upping in the BEFORE, as everybody tries to outdo everybody else in the practical joke department. And there is a lot of introspection in the AFTER…a lot of questioning, soul-searching, etc.

Looking for Alaska is an amazing character study. Phenomenal characters you will love forever! This is definitely in my pile to be read yearly. Right there beside my beloved copy of A Separate Peace.

You’re gonna love this one! It’s my favourite John Green title.

Expectation: Out of the water!

SIZE: 5 (1/2) 

Monday, June 18, 2012

What a Boy Needs - Review

Title: What a Boy Needs
Author: Nyrae Dawn
Release Date: June, 2012
Format: ebook
Publisher: Self-Published - Amazon Digital Services


A companion novel to WHAT A BOY WANTS.

Jaden Sinclair knows he'll never amount to why would he deserve a girl like Priscilla Mendoza?

Since last summer, things have been screwed up between Jaden and Pris. He knows it's his fault, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting to go a few rounds with her new boyfriend. He also knows he’s the loser his dad calls him, but it doesn’t stop him from wanting her.

After getting a huge bomb dropped on him, Jaden lashes out and lands himself in jail. Everything in his chaotic life is turned upside down and to make it worse, his mom kicks him out in order to side with his dad. Yeah, he’s totally a prize for a girl like Pris.

Sebastian, Aspen, and Pris are all going places in their lives...and he knows he can't keep tagging along for the ride.

The group has one last chance for The Epic Adventure they've been looking for: a road trip to New York, where Jaden's friends will be going to college. Unfortunately, the more time Jaden hangs around Pris, the harder it is to keep the carefully constructed walls between them so she doesn't find out what a train wreck he really is.

When the trip ends, Jaden has to decide if he's ready to say goodbye to his friends, and the girl he loves. He knows what he needs, but will he be man enough to go for it?

Contains mature themes. Some sexual situations and language

Expectation: I had a high expectation for this novel. I had recently read the companion novel, What a Boy Wants. I loved it and expected no less from this novel.

Market/Genre: Young Adult/Romance, Contemporary

Favourite Quotes:

‘…everyone is moving on—going toward something, and I keep slipping farther behind.’ ~ Jaden Sinclair (Nyrae Dawn, What a Boy Needs)

‘I was never really happy here. I never felt like it was mine, but it almost feels as though I’m trying to get into a foreign country without my passport. I made it over the border, but I’m prepared to get kicked out at any moment.’ ~ Jaden Sinclair (Nyrae Dawn, What a Boy Needs)

I wasn’t quite sure that What a Boy Needs could top What a Boy Wants…or even come close to the likeability factor of Nyrae Dawn’s first book in this ‘series’. I went in to What a Boy Needs hoping for more of the same. Did Dawn deliver?
In spades! Not only did she give her readers more of the same 4 wonderful characters she introduced us to in What a Boy Wants, but she gave us a depth in these characters that was SO much richer than revealed to us in the first book. The first book was great…it was a fun read with a wonderful lead character. We all really dug Sebastian…went along for the ride he set out for us. So, when I say that Jaden really blew me away, I don’t really want to take away from Sebastian’s story in any way.
Jaden Sinclair is a complicated character. Where Sebastian gave us a bit of a thrill ride with his loveable hi-jinx, Jaden gives us an emotional ride. Jaden is broken. Part of his problem is trying to represent himself as present and intact. The reader realizes right away that trouble boils under Jaden’s carefully chosen façade. His parents are against him—one is bitter of his existence while the other is resentful of it. He sees his three closest friends—Sebastian, Aspen and Pris—on the verge of escaping their town, while he is simultaneously coming to the conclusion that the plan the four set out to achieve couldn’t possibly include him when the time comes to actually put it into action. Add the fact that he is falling in love with Pris, and you have a collision course of emotions that is bound to erupt and end badly.
In order to save himself, Jaden must trust those closest to him with the real Jaden Sinclair—the boy his best friends don’t even know about. The complicated boy who doesn’t feel loved in any way. The reader wants to push him to come clean. We have been with these four friends for a while now. We know Sebastian, Aspen and Pris will do right by him. It’s a bit frustrating for the reader that he just won’t take that plunge. But also understandable. He’s a hurting unit. Vulnerable and broken.
We can palpably feel Jaden’s pain when, at one point in his own frustration, he says to himself, ‘Say it, Jay. Open your mouth and talk to her!’
It was so easy to slip back into reading these characters. Dawn has stayed true to all of them, while at the same time giving her readers a deeper, more meaningful glimpse into each of them. Jaden makes for a superb narrator—just as fabulous as Sebastian, but in a much different way. The second quote above captures Jaden so perfectly: “I’m prepared to get kicked out at any moment”. This is Jaden in a nutshell…the true undisguised Jaden. Buckle yourself in for an emotional rollercoaster that still has the elements of fun that you loved in What a Boy Wants. When the foursome deal with the issues burdening Jaden, they grow up a little. They learn to appreciate each other more. And they take the readers along with them.
This is a must read. If you haven’t read What a Boy Wants yet, you have a real treat ahead of you when you read both novels side by side. See what everybody is talking about. Discover What a Boy Wants and What a Boy Needs. You’ll understand why the name Nyrae Dawn is generating such a buzz.

You'll keep reading What a Boy Wants to find out if Sebastian gets the girl. With What a Boy Needs, there is so much more at stake. Sure, you'll read it to find out if Jaden gets his girl...but you'll also read it to find out if he gets his life. Enjoy them both!
Expectation: This book rocked. I was nervous about it…knowing how much I liked the first book, I set a high expectation on this one. We all know what can happen with Part 2s. I was NOT disappointed! Another win for Nyrae Dawn.
Size: 5 (1/2)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Too Loud a Solitude and the Master Wordsmith Bohumil Hrabal

Too Loud a Solitude - It could be the title of Bohumil Hrabal's autobiography. But it's actually a wondrous novella he wrote. Hrabal wrote this masterpiece late in life, after surviving a lengthy illness. Too Loud a Solitude is, he claimed, the reason he survived. He couldn't die before writing it.

Synopsis: Hantá rescues books from the jaws of his compacting press and carries them home. (From GOODREADS)

Perhaps the synopsis from Goodreads is a good enough example of how underrated this novella is.

Bohumil Hrabal - There is much written about Hrabal. What I find the most fascinating is that he seemed quite enamoured with suicide. He wrote about it in his books and he wrote about it in letters to friends. Hrabal died falling out of a 5th story hospital window. Apparently, he was feeding pigeons on the windowsill. Also noted in his biography is that he actually lived in a 5th floor apartment. Suicides were mentioned in several of his novels---all done by characters leaping from 5th floor windows. Does life imitate art or does art imitate life? Was his death an art installation? This is the answer I'm going with. His final performance...unwritten, but just as powerful as his beautiful prose.

Many have called Hrabal the greatest writer of our time. I love his novels. My particular passion is for TOO LOUD A SOLITUDE, though. I re-read this novella once a year. It is chilling, the beauty he injected into this story of a man with a trash compactor. The story takes my breath away every single time I read it.


“My education has been so unwitting I can't quite tell which of my thoughts come from me and which from my books, but that's how I've stayed attuned to myself and the world around me for the past thirty-five years. Because when I read, I don't really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.”

“And so everything I see in this world, it all moves backward and forward at the same time, like a black-smith's bellows, like everything in my press, turning into its opposite at the command of the red and green buttons, and that's what makes the world go round.”

Some other Hrabal titles to look for: Closely Watched Trains, The Death of Mr. Baltisberger, Pirouettes on a Postage Stamp, In-House Weddings, Gaps.

Hrabal's Grave
Many make the pilgrimage to Hrabal's grave in Hradištko.


Size: 5 (1/2) - Although I didn't review the book, I give it a rating of 5 1/2. It's one of my very favourite books. At under 100's staggering what Hrabal fit within its beautiful pages!