Sunday, September 30, 2012

Spotlight/Interview with MG author Joanne Levy!

A few weeks ago I posted a review for the amazing middle grade title, SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE (I trust that you have since read and enjoyed it).

Today, I'd like to shine a little spotlight on the author of Small Medium at Large. Joanne Levy was kind enough to humour me and answer a few questions for my readers. Enjoy!

1. In relation to Small Medium at Large and writing the story...I'm just curious how the CAUSE came about for Lilah's new ability. Was there a struggle for you to discover a way to give Lilah her new ability to communicate with ghosts? Or is this something that came to you right away...the lightning idea?

I first wrote the book many years ago and I honestly can’t remember if I struggled with the how of Lilah getting her new ability. But I can tell you that when I first wrote it, the book was intended for an older, YA audience. So in the first scene, Lilah was at her mom’s wedding and had stolen away with her new step-brother and was about to kiss him when she gets hit by the lightning. I thought that was a really funny scene and set the stage for a lot of almost-but-not-really incest jokes for the rest of the book. Obviously, that all had to go when I aged the book down a bit. I hated having to cut some of my ‘for a more mature audience’ jokes that were in the book, but still managed to come up with lots of opportunities for humour throughout.

2. I really like what you did with Dolly. Bully stories very seldom turn out the way this one does. I know bullying is not the major theme of this story, but it does play an excellent role in it. I would just like to hear your thoughts on how this whole thread in the story came about. I found it so fascinating that Lilah was able to be compassionate towards a person who's go-to action was repeatedly to be mean to Lilah and her friends. Was it hard for you to construct this aspect of your story...the heroine reaching out and rescuing her bully? Was it liberating? Any thoughts you would like to share would be awesome. I think you did an amazing job with this's a lesson your target audience could really benefit from. And yet you pulled it off in the least preachy way I've ever seen.
Thank you! Bullying is so prevalent these days in so many forms and although I didn’t want to get into really deep issues with this light book, I did want to accurately portray what it’s like for kids of this age. I remember when I was in middle school, there were some girls who seemed to go out of their way to chip at my self-esteem and try to make me feel inferior. I had been very okay with who I was and truly never had self-esteem issues until other people pointed out my failings. One girl, in particular, was relentless in making me feel not cool. I distinctly remember a moment in sixth grade when she said, “I bet you don’t even like Rick James (sadly, it was the 80s)!” Truly, I didn’t even know who he was, but I went out and bought his album (which I hate to admit, I kind of liked, even though the lyrics probably weren’t appropriate for me at that age). And even though there was no physical threat, it was still very hurtful in a different way.
As for making Lilah compassionate towards her tormentor. Well, she does have a few thoughts about revenge, which is natural, but in the end, she does the right thing. And I kind of modeled her on Elle Woods from Legally Blonde. Her character faces discrimination and vitriol at every turn, but she is only ever positive and helpful, even to those who try to trip her up and ruin her. I loved that about her—in the end she is loved because she never lets anyone really change her from a good person, even though it would be very easy for her to retaliate. That’s what I wanted for Lilah.  I wanted her to be human and have thoughts about revenge, but in the end, do the right thing and show that you can be a good person and turn things around.


3. You appear to be very busy with events to promote your book Small Medium at Large. Do you want to share a bit about how that feels? Are you getting fan feedback at events from those who have already read the book? Tell us a bit about your experiences on the circuit. (-:
It feels exhausting! I’ve been doing a lot of local signings and also participate in local networking events, which, on top of the day job, has presented challenges as far as finding time for new writing and you know, sleeping. For a debut, it’s hard to drum up big crowds at events, but I have had some Twitter friends show up at my signings and that has been amazing! I made a commitment to myself very early on that I wanted to do whatever I could to help get the word out about my book; the long term goal is to write full-time, so any investment into this first book is a big stepping stone towards that. I’ve learned a lot and am getting more comfortable in my own skin when standing at a table in a bookstore (a tough, tough thing to do for an introvert) but it’s necessary to get out there and talk to people if I want to sell books to more than just my family.
One of the funniest things has been the running joke about helping people find the bathroom in bookstores. My husband and I were joking about it, but then at my last event, I actually did have to help 3 separate people find the bathroom. Hey, at least I’m useful in the down times. ;-)

4. What are you reading? Want to share some awesome reads you found over the summer?
I wish I had more reading time, but over the summer I read and adored Jennifer Nielsen’s THE FALSE PRINCE, (fellow Canadian) Jocelyn Shipley’s HOW TO TEND A GRAVE and Lynne Kelly’s CHAINED. I highly recommend all of these books. And I’m just about to get into Lisa McMann’s ISLAND OF SILENCE, the second book in THE UNWANTEDS series and am eager to start (also Canadian) Vikki VanSickle’s WORDS THAT START WITH B.

5. What are you writing now? Can your readers expect to see another book coming soon? If so, could you share a little bit about your next book--or the one you are working on now?
I have a lot of balls up in the air right now, but nothing concrete just yet. I’m hoping to continue Lilah’s adventures in a sequel to SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE and I’ve written another MG about a boy who gets lost in the woods when his family’s camping trip goes very wrong. Also, I’ve been tinkering with some other ideas, but with the first book coming out over the summer and all the marketing/events I’ve been doing, I haven’t been actively writing for a while. Things should calm down after November and then I plan to really hunker down and will hopefully have a clear idea of what I want to work on by then. Keep an eye on my website and Twitter @joannelevy as I’ll post any news there.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Joanne! I’m sure your readers will appreciate your thoughtful responses. So interesting to hear how Small Medium at Large began, now that we can see the finished version. And I’m sure those who read Small Medium will be thrilled to learn that Lilah’s adventures will continue. Lilah is a great character for middle grade kids to sink their teeth into—thoughtful, intelligent and humourous. We’ll be sure to keep our eye on your website and twitter feed! Thank you so much!


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Living Underground by RUTH E. WALKER - A Review

TITLE: Living Underground

AUTHOR: Ruth E. Walker

RELEASE DATE: September 2012


PUBLISHER: Seraphim Editions

PURCHASED: Not Purchased. From the Author in exchange for an honest review.


A Portrait of the Author as a Little Girl - There are a few places in all the world where a writer becomes giddy with word-love. This is Ms. Walker at home in the tiny nook labelled "Poetry" inside the world-famous bookstore, Shakespeare & Company. 


“Sheila Martin’s dismal childhood is irrevocably transformed when Sigmund Maier, the family’s enigmatic German tenant, introduces her to opera, music and much more. When he reappears in her ordered and successful adult life, Sigmund asks for her help with an immigration issue. Will she now discover the truth of why he vanished years ago?

Sheila soon discovers that “truth” has no clear definition and memories are nebulous as she is drawn into the turmoil and accusations surrounding his life before and during World War II. As she struggles with her own issues and family conflicts, she is forced to finally confront the secrets she has held for over 30 years.

Moving back and forth in time, this novel explores the ambiguity of human emotion – how our natures can embody both the ideals and delights of love alongside the most base and dispassionate sensibilities.” –Seraphim Editions

On Goodreads

EXPECTATIONS: I am friends with Ruth. I had high expectations for Living Underground, simply because I am familiar with the calibre of her work. I was a fan prior to reading her debut novel. Ms. Walker is also a poet and short story writer. It is HER fault my expectations for Living Underground were through the roof. Her exquisite writing has preceded her debut novel. (-:

MARKET/GENRE: I would say this is a literary work. I believe it to be cross-over in terms of both market and genre. Not sure if I would pigeon-hole it. Is EVERYONE a market?


(Trigger Warning: Living Underground contains a scene that could potentially trigger CSA survivors.)

Favourite Quotes:

'“There are people who think I am someone I am not. They have been looking for this man for a long time, and they think they have found him. But they are mistaken.”' ~ Sigmund Maier (Living Underground), Ruth E. Walker

'"If you want to see opera, true opera, you must hear it in Europe, go and see it there. Here, they imitate. In Germany they have echoes of all who went before. It is so much richer."' ~ Sigmund Maier (Living Underground), Ruth E. Walker

'Hilda washed her mother's body and dressed her in her second-best tea dress. Her best dress and Hilda's amber brooch were sold to pay for the coffin. Her mother's several pairs of shoes and gloves were bartered for grave diggers.' ~ Living Underground, Ruth E. Walker

'As she struggled with the tension of her guts, her shortness of breath, Sheila continued to stare at the kids on the bridge. Observed them cross over, a bunch of hyper teens, making those large, flung-arm whirls and dashes of kinetic energy, the shoulder-hits of camaraderie, the heads-back and crow calls of those who know they are watched.' ~ Living Underground, Ruth E. Walker

This is a beautiful book. I can't remember the last time a story had such a powerful impact on my day-to-day life. No matter what I was doing throughout my day, I had Sheila and Sigmund on my mind. I felt so emotional for those two weeks, like I was always one step away from tears. I actually had to give myself some time before I could get my thoughts down on paper. Only a handful of times in a reader's life do they come into contact with a book that causes such a rift in their sense of reality. Living Underground is one of those books for me. It left me breathless at every turn.

Sheila Martin's childhood is anything but wondrous. When a new tenant moves into her mother's basement apartment, Sheila is given the maid duties of keeping the apartment clean. Little by little, a communication is created between the tenant, Sigmund Maier, and Sheila. It begins when Sheila loses herself in her radio station one day, while going through her cleaning duties. Soon Sigmund is leaving music out for Sheila to discover and Sheila feels herself opening up to a whole new world she didn't even know existed.

Ms. Walker creates such a vivid picture of this unlikely couple and how they become connected--first as mentor and student, and then as more. The reader will delight in the way Walker seamlessly sews beautiful music into the exquisite and tightly woven fabric of this wondrous story. Sheila's eye-opening to the world of opera and classical music and the finer things she would never have otherwise been exposed to is soul-lifting. The reader is lifted with her, and almost grateful for Sigmund's presence in her young life. And such a proper, well-put-together gentleman is Sigmund...the real key to making this story sing was Walker's ability to make the reader believe in Sigmund Maier and his essential goodness.

Living Underground spans decades. The reader is taken along to Sigmund's childhood in Dresden, Germany, where an even stronger connection to this character is made. We see inside the world in which he grew up--a despicable grandfather, a mother who bends to her father's will and later finds an admirable strength and independence. From there, the reader steps into the adult life of Sheila. She is a wonderful and powerful woman. She is in the midst of building a music store empire (a product of Sigmund's influence on her earlier life), but her personal life seems to be in a state of chaos. Then the reader is taken into the dark world of suspicion and doubt. Could the man who gave the young Sheila a thread of hope when she needed it most...could he possibly be the same man as the monster being accused of heinous war crimes in Nazi Germany?

From the moment you pick up Living Underground, you will be enthralled. It burrows into your heart with a powerful and uncontrollable velocity...and it stays there not just until you reach the end of the story, but long long after you have reluctantly put it down. A book like this comes along every once in a blue moon. I guarantee you, once you get to the end you will want to embrace it. It's that kind of book. In my opinion, Ruth E. Walker has a well-deserved masterpiece on her hands.

EXPECTATION: I could NOT have expected what would happen to me as I read this book. To give you an example--At one point, my wife walked into our family room to find me in pieces. She was a bit skeptical as to how a book could hit somebody so powerfully. I read about 20 pages out loud to her. When I was finished, I looked over at her...and found her in pieces. I'm not exaggerating when I say this story got inside me. Even knowing Walker's ability to write beautiful prose and poetry--even knowing her mastery of the language and the subtlety of her pen--I was not expecting this. You can't expect a book like this one. You can love it, once you find it...but you can't expect it. GET THIS BOOK!

SIZE: 6 (I know this is like turning the amp up to 11, but I had to give it something I gave no other book on this site. I connected with these characters and this story too strongly to give it anything less.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Favourite YA of the Year? Maybe! UNDER THE MOON by Deborah Kerbel - REVIEW

TITLE: Under the Moon

AUTHOR: Deborah Kerbel

RELEASE DATE: January 2012


PUBLISHER: Cormorant Books




A girl who's lost her sleep...
A boy who's lost his dreams...
And twenty-six nights that change their lives.
Fifteen-year-old Lily MacArthur has trouble sleeping. In fact, she doesn't sleep at all--at least, not since the death of her aunt. As the days turn into weeks, Lily becomes convinced that death-by-exhaustion is around the corner and searches the moonlit nights for a way to save herself from the long, dark hours of solitude.

Can her new friend, Ben, help her find her sleep? Or do secrets from Ben's past mean that he also needs saving? (From GOODREADS)

EXPECTATIONS: High expectations. I was pleasantly surprised by Kerbel's Mackenzie Lost and Found. After reading it, I knew I had to read the rest of her stuff...both published and not-yet-published.

MARKET/GENRE: Young Adult/Contemporary (This is definitely a cross-over...would appeal to adults)


15-year-old Lily MacArthur is not sleeping. Ever since her eccentric romance novel writing Aunt Su passed away, she's been wide-eyed and counting the days left of her existence. Lily knows humans can only live so long without sleep (she's Googled it). While the clock of doom counts down her dwindling seconds, Lily makes the most of her time left on Earth.

Lily is such an adorable character. She's saucy and introverted and looking for wonder. Her Aunt Su is a pivotal character in her life--the polar opposite of Lily's rigid domineering mother. Su wore muumuus, smoked (and grew her own) pot in her segregated cabin in the woods. She was worldly and she had a shelf full of best-selling romance novels under her belt to prove it. Clearly, Aunt Su is who Lily strives to be. She wants to be nothing like her control-freak mother, whom she not so endearingly refers to as General MacArthur.

Lily’s sleepless nights lead her to wandering the streets of her small town. And this leads her directly to the all-night fry place's drive-thu window and the new boy in town. She is immediately drawn to the morose Ben Matthews, who has a mystery she’s willing to get to the bottom of. Kerbel did a great job with the emotional landscape of this Ben character. He brushes the line of inappropriateness so often, it leaves the reader waiting to like him, but ultimately cautious. With whatever it is he’s going through clearly weighing deeply on his soul, Ben tends towards meanness when speaking to Lily. Kerbel set this up PERFECTLY because the reader is—by the time Ben shows up—completely invested in Lily. We are protective of her, as much as we are excited for her.

So, we have an interesting storyline that pulls us along at a great pace. Lily’s aunt dies—Lily stops sleeping and knows that eventually this could kill her—Lily meets the new town hottie before anybody else gets a chance to—Lily’s mother is a control-freak with a daughter who seems on the cusp of rampant disorder. These are all intriguing storylines. Throw in the fact Aunt Su willed everything she owned to Lily, the fact that new social movement—a movement Lily is none to impressed with—attempts to bring Lily into its fold and the dark tale of loss spiraling out behind Ben that is about to put him in very real and immediate peril and you have a fantastic novel in Under the Moon!

Kerbel establishes a wonderful character in Lily…one the reader is compelled to love. And then she takes her (and the reader) on a wonderfully quirky adventure. I won’t say this novel is perfect—there are no perfect novels—but I will tell you I loved it. I couldn’t put it down. There are a couple coincidences in the story that are a bit timely…but they are EASILY forgivable. Lily is a character you will remember for a long time after reading her story. Which is what I think you should do right now—you’ll have to find out for yourself if things work out for her. After breaking the world record for staying awake longer than the last person who died of sleeplessness, there’s not a lot of options for Lily. Kerbel does a phenomenal job of making Lily’s future look bright while simultaneously keeping her perilously awake and in danger of dying. Enjoy the read!

EXPECTATION: We don't pick our favourite books...we just look for a good story and hope--with every book we pick up--that we have found one. To date, Under the Moon is my pick for favourite YA of 2012. Satisfied! 100% Awaiting the next Kerbel!

SIZE: 5 (1/2)

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson - Review (Rippermania is about to gitcha!)

Title: The Name of the Star (Shades of London, Book #1)

Author: Maureen Johnson

Release Date: September 29th, 2011

Format/Page Count: Kindle/372

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile

Purchased: Amazon


The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it's the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn't notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities. (From GOODREADS)

Expectation: To be honest, I didn't have any expectations with this one. It's another Twitter thing. I follow Maureen Johnson on Twitter. She's pretty entertaining. I just thought that it was time for me to read one of her books. This one appealed to me the most.

Market/Genre: Young Adult/Paranormal, Contemporary, Mystery (As usual, I'm classifying this as I see it. This is a total cross genre AND cross market book). I heard somewhere that it was also considered a romance. My opinion? NO.


I want to get the book-love out right away, because I feel like I might have been a bit snarky in the Expectation/Market/Genre sections. So, I ABSOLUTELY LOVED this book. As soon as I started reading it, I knew it was one of those rare books that both my wife & I would love. I wasn't even finished when I told her she had to check it out. She downloaded it and read it in a flash...and loved it as much as I did.

Favourite Quotes:

"Something about her suggested that her leisure activities included wrestling large woodland animals and banging bricks together."

"Sometimes you have to see the bathroom to know the hard reality of things."

"That prospect seemed unlikely after my display tonight, unless English people were really into people who could eject food from their throats at high velocity."

"The wind was kicking up a fury, spinning leaves and trash around us, and I remember thinking, This is it. I am walking into forever. It was almost funny. Life seemed downright accidental in its brevity, and death a punch line to a lousy joke."

"It's not that I am extremely brave--I think I just forgot myself for a minute. Maybe that's what bravery is. You forget you're in trouble when you see someone else in danger."

I adore this book and I am thrilled that it's book one in a series. My hat is off to Ms. Johnson for the unimaginable amount of research she must have had to do for this story. And none of the info was given to the reader as a dump...I never once felt like I was being force fed facts. The voice was perfect and the story never lagged. I was hooked from word one to the last and I would have no problem recommending this book to anyone, any age, any gender.

Rory, the narrator of this tale, is someone the reader can really love. And that's the trick of a great book...getting that emotional connection to the narrator created early on. Ms. Johnson accomplished this with a perfect narrator voice and an amazing sense of humour. Once that solid attachment is established, the author has the reader by the throat. A good writer is not afraid to take the reader to difficult and hair-raising places once that connection is made.

I just love this retelling of the Jack the Ripper story. The best historical retelling novel I've ever read. There's a great deal of the original 1888 Ripper story interwoven with the modern-day NEW Ripper story in which Rory finds herself firmly ensconced. What was really exciting--in a peculiar way--was the Rippermania created by the media and the people of London. It was done so perfectly that the reader could actually believe it 100%. In today's instant internet age, this mania would absolutely occur. The excitement almost overshadowed the blood. People were getting murdered and the public was showing up at 1888 Ripper murder scenes, ready to party and await the next throat-slashing. It was pretty epically real.

You may have noticed I didn't really tell you much about the book itself. I don't want to give anything away. I'll just sum it up really quickly for you. Rory goes to London to attend a boarding school--she almost chokes to death while being an awkward American (funny scene!)--Jack the Ripper appears to have come back from the grave and begins to recreate the deaths of his 1888 rampage in modern-day London--Rory gets caught up in the Ripper case, first as a result of having a little crush on one of the prefects of the school who is obsessed with the case and then as a result of the Ripper targeting her as a possible victim--as the only witness in the Ripper case, Rory gets noticed by an underground department of the London Police force. It is an exciting ride! If you pick it up, you won't want to put it down until you finish. Ms. Johnson will captivate you with this story...she will OWN you.

Enjoy! Here's where you can pick it up RIGHT NOW!

There's a reason Ms. Johnson is the Queen of Teen!

Expectation: Yeah. I loved it. I was shocked today to see a 1-star review of this book on Goodreads. Only a brainless yit would not find something to love in this book. me. Get it. Read it. Love it. My expectation for book two in this series is just ridiculous! I cannot wait. And neither can my wife. (-:

Size: 5