Monday, October 17, 2011

Review: Far From the War

Title: Far From the War
Author: Jeffery David Payne
Publisher: Roche Harbor Books
Pub Date: September 2011
Genre: Dystopia

Economic ruin and partisan rancor have pushed America to the brink of a new civil war. Esther is caught in the middle, serving as a page in the United States House of Representatives when rogue politicians and military leaders stage a modern day coup d'etat. When the coup turns violent, she abandons Washington, D.C. for home. She must learn to survive on her own as transportation and financial networks fail, as the war disrupts food and water supplies. The result is a cautionary tale about political extremism and the true cost of war. -- Goodreads
My Thoughts:
I've been reading a lot of books lately that have been out of my comfort zone; mostly romance and paranormal. So when I heard about Far From the War I decided it was time to get to what I love reading the most: dystopias, especially realistic dystopias.

I really loved the idea of a dystopia that takes place in the very near future because for me the possibility of these dystopic worlds becoming a reality is what really draws me. Far From the War takes place in a completely recognizable United States, which is what really kept me reading. The civil war that begins early on in the book seemed completely realistic and eerily possible in my lifetime. And from this base the way civil war was depicted and the characters' (both civilian and military) reactions to the war all felt real and worked to draw me into the story.

But I kept getting thrown out of the story by all the political and cultural references. The number of very time-specific references made me worried that in even five years teens would feel the novel is outdated even though it's supposed to be in the near future. But beyond the longevity of the novel, these references confused me a bit because I wasn't familiar with them so I couldn't figure out if they were supposed to reference a time period I should know (like the '80s) or if they were made up as future times (like the 2020's). I have this pet-peeve about cultural references, so maybe these parts wouldn't bother most other readers. Along the same lines as the references, there was a lot going on all the time. At some points this worked really well, especially in the opening section of the book and when the war first breaks out, but as the book progresses I felt like there was too much happening and I couldn't keep track of everything. Too many terrible things were happening to Ester and these tragedies started to lose their impact for me by the last few chapters.

Although there were a few things that bothered me about the novel, I really liked the concept of the novel and how it broke away from the usual set far in the future dystopias that are flooding YA right now. Plus I think this novel could be an excellent teaching tool for teens. The more current time period and actually watching a government and society fall apart could really make this novel resonate more with teens.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Review: Tris and Izzie

Title: Tris and Izzie
Author: Mette Ivie Harrison
Publisher: Egmont USA
Pub Date: October, 2011
Genre: Paranormal Romance

A modern retelling of the German fairytale "Tristan and Isolde", Tris and Izzie is about a young witch named Izzie who is dating Mark King, the captain of the basketball team and thinks her life is going swimmingly well. Until -- she makes a love potion for her best friend Brangane and then ends up taking it herself accidentally, and falling in love with Tristan, the new guy at school. -- Goodreads
My Thoughts:
I didn't really know anything about the Tristan and Isolde fairytale before reading Tris and Izzie; the story just sounded fun and possibly Shakespearean. I wanted something fun and light to end the summer with and this was a good choice for that.

Like I've said before I'm not a huge fan of romance and this is definitely a romance. I liked it, but I did get a bit annoyed by Izzie's relationships and her need to not be in love with Tris. That said I didn't really connect with Izzie at all, but I did like Brangane and Tris quite a bit and for some reason it really didn't matter all that much that I didn't like the main character, the other characters held up the story enough for me to enjoy it.

The mythology Harrison created was excellent and a different take on the paranormal genre: very different witches story that any I've read. Although, I must say the mythical creatures and special powers did get a little silly to me at a few points in the story -- it just seemed too little-kid-fairytale, but these moments were pretty rare.

If you're a romance and fariytale fan then you'll probably love this one, I liked but just got a bit bored with the romance.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review: Spellbound

Title: Spellbound
Author: Cara Lynn Shultz
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pub Date: July, 2011
Genre: Paranormal Romance

What's a girl to do when meeting The One means she's cursed to die a horrible death?
Life hasn't been easy on sixteen-year-old Emma Connor, so a new start in New York may be just the change she needs. But the posh Upper East Side prep school she has to attend? Not so much. Friendly faces are few and far between, except for one that she's irresistibly drawn to—Brendan Salinger, the guy with the rock-star good looks and the richest kid in school, who might just be her very own white knight.
But even when Brendan inexplicably turns cold, Emma can't stop staring. Ever since she laid eyes on him, strange things have been happening. Streetlamps go out wherever she walks, and Emma's been having the oddest dreams: visions of herself in past lives—visions that warn her to stay away from Brendan. Or else. -- Goodreads
My Thoughts:
I'm not really sure what drew me to this book; the summary confused me and cover is beautiful, but odd. Nonetheless, something drew me and I ended up liking the book more than I expected to.

I have nothing bad to say about Spellbound, it was well written, the characters were likable and interesting, and the plot and background story were great. The only reason I didn't love the book was that I'm not a huge fan of romance; I like most of the paranormal YA romance I read, but I just don't love it. But I think I liked this one more than most. Shultz writing style and voice were wonderful. Every element of the story came together in the end to create a beautiful and tragic love story.

I wasn't too sure how the whole "when meeting The One means she's cursed to die a horrible death" thing would pan out or what that even meant for the story, but I loved it. I don't want to say too much since it totally gives away the story, but this theme is crafted beautifully.

Emma was an excellent narrator; I liked her right away. Even though she's the main character in a crazy romance, she didn't seem over-the-top or fake like other female romance characters. Emma was a "real girl;" she struggles with her past, figuring out what's going on with Brendan, has trouble fitting in, and in the end becomes an even stronger character and girl than she already was.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: Misfit

Title: Misfit
Author: Jon Skovron
Publisher: Amulet
Pub Date: August 2011
Genre: Paranormal

Jael Thompson has never really fit in. She’s changed schools too many times to count. The only family she’s ever known is her father, a bitter ex-priest who never lets her date and insists she attend the strictest Catholic school in Seattle. And her mother—well, she was a five thousand year old demon. That doesn’t exactly help.
But on her sixteenth birthday, her father gives her a present that brings about some unexpected changes. Some of the changes, like strange and wonderful powers and the cute skater boy with a knack for science, are awesome. But others, like the homicidal demon seeking revenge on her family? Not so much.
Steeped in mythology, this is an epic tale of a heroine who balances old world with new, science with magic, and the terrifying depths of the underworld with the ordinary halls of high school. -- Goodreads
My Thoughts:
I'd heard a bit about Misfit from a few other bloggers before I can across the galley on NetGalley (if you don't know about NetGalley, check it out), but I haven't read much paranormal in the past few weeks and the whole demons and mythology aspect sounded really interesting.

Misfit wasn't what I was expecting and I'm having a difficult time deciding if I liked it or not. The story and the characters were interesting and exciting, but the writing style was really difficult for me. The point of view and tense changed throughout the novel, which confused me and drove me crazy. I probably would have stopped reading after about three chapters if I weren't so interested in the mythology setup in the novel.

So the story and mythology of the book, pretty awesome. The whole world of demons and myth came together really nicely and was clearly well researched. I was impressed by how well the religious stories and the myths came together and created a very complete history and background for the demon world. It wasn't like anything else I've read (although I haven't read very demon/religious/mythology centered books). There's a lot going on; many cultural and religious stories are mixed.

I liked the characters, but some of them were a bit over-the-top for me. I liked Jael for the most part; her character growth was excellent and I liked her relationship with boy. Jael's father and some of the other religious figure characters just didn't seem believable to me. They were too much; I don't know very many priests, but I can't picture these guys in a church in the real world.

If you can get passed the strange writing style, the story's pretty good.

I'm giving two ratings because the story was:

but the writing style was:

Friday, July 15, 2011

Review: Girl Wonder

Title: Girl Wonder
Author: Alexa Martin
Publisher: Disney/Hyperion
Pub Date: May 2011
Genre: Realistic Fiction

As if transferring senior year weren't hard enough, Charlotte Locke has been bumped to lower level classes at her new school. With no friends, a terrible math SAT score, and looming college application deadlines, the future is starting to seem like an oncoming train for which she has no ticket.

Then Amanda enters her orbit like a hot-pink meteor, offering Charlotte a ticket to something else: popularity. Amanda is fearless, beautiful, brilliant, and rich. As her new side kick, Charlotte is brought into the elite clique of the debate team—and closer to Neal, Amanda's equally brilliant friend and the most perfect boy Charlotte has ever seen.

But just when senior year is looking up, Charlotte’s life starts to crumble. The more things heat up between Charlotte and Neal, the more Neal wants to hide their relationship. Is he ashamed? Meanwhile, Amanda is starting to act strangely competitive, and she's keeping a secret Charlotte doesn't want to know.

Talented newcomer Alexa Martin delivers a poignant story of first love, jealousy and friendship, where the ups and downs of senior year have never been so complicated. What else can Charlotte do but throw her hands up and ride?
-- Goodreads
My Thoughts:
I've been trying to read more realistic contemporary fiction. I think I need a break from paranormal and dystopian novels. Girl Wonder was an excellent change from apocalyptic things I've been reading lately. 

I really liked Charlotte; she seemed totally real to me. Her struggle to fit in with her supper smart family is what really made her likable and really realistic. Charlotte's father's responses and reactions to Charlotte's academic choices and issues totally reminded me of some of friend's parents. Charlotte's need to fit in with Amanda and Neal and the downward spiral her life goes into because of this need may seem a bit over the top to some readers, but I thought it was pretty realistic. A lot of teens really struggle to fit in and go to extremes to do so. I had several friends in high school who went through very similar situations. Charlotte's not obsessed with popularity; she just wants to fit in somewhere and the super smart kids' clique is the sort of place her highly academic parents would (in her mind) like her to fit in. I also loved her little brother and his friend Milton. They're both super smart, but not in the same show-off-y way that Amanda and Neal are.

My only issue with the novel is the romance aspect. Charlotte's relationship with Neal wasn't all that interesting and (I thought) pretty predictable. He wants to hide her and doesn't really act all that interested in her, and she's just dying to fit in and have someone actually like her. It's so clear right from the beginning that this isn't going to work out. But even with my dislike of the romance between Charlotte and Neal, I still felt that Charlotte's struggle to fit in and her downward spiral were true-to-life and interesting.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Giveaway: Unrequired Summer Reading

Don't forget to enter the Unrequired Summer Reading Giveaway to win a copy of Putting Makeup on Dead People and a deck of YA theme playing cards. Contests ends Monday, July 11, so enter now!

For full details and to enter, go here.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review: Bumped

Title: Bumped (Bumped #1)
Author: Megan McCafferty
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Date: April 2011
Genre: Dystopia
When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents are forced to pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society.

Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and had never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Until now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend Zen, who is way too short for the job.

Harmony has spent her whole life in religious Goodside, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to bring Melody back to Goodside and convince her that “pregging” for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.

When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.
-- Goodreads
My Thoughts:
I'm a huge, huge fan of Megan McCafferty's Jessica Darling series, so I was trilled to hear she was working on a new series. Bumped is so different from McCafferty's first series, but still has her wonderful writing style and awesome characters.

I'll start with my few issues with the book. I found the beginning to be very confusing; the story just suddenly starts and there's a lot going on and the language is a bit strange. But after a couple chapters I'd figured out what was going on. I did go back a re-read the first few pages because the opening scene totally confused me. It didn't take long for me to get into the story, so a confusing beginning wasn't really that big of an issue. Beyond that my only other issue was with the language. It reminded me of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series; there's a lot of strange slang and technology that isn't explained. It didn't really bother me, but it was a little confusing. Spending time explaining what everything meant would have slowed things down and really taken you out of the story. So I guess the language wasn't really an issue, but it might be for some readers.

Ok, onto the good stuff. The story: how on earth did Megan come up with this?! The whole situation of the world and technology is just amazing and although not completely original, a nice unique spin on a dystopian topic that's been around for a while (infertility). Megan was able to take a topic that usually would equal a depressing tale of teen girls/women forced into marriages or pregnancies and turn it into a sometimes funny and light, meaningful story about teens and sex.

I liked both Melody and Harmony, but I didn't connect with them in the way I was hoping to. I felt so connected to Jessica in Megan's other series, and I guess I expected the same sort of connection with Bumped. I didn't dislike the characters, I just didn't fall in love with them. The story felt more story and plot driven, than character driven. Maybe in the next books I'll connect more to the twins as their characters' grow now that the world is created and established.

Although the book was not at all what I was expecting, I loved it and am excited to see where the series goes.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: Putting Makeup on Dead People

Title: Putting Makeup on Dead People
Author: Jen Violi
Publisher: Disney/Hyperion
Pub Date: May 2011
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
In the spring of her senior year, Donna Parisi finds new life in an unexpected place: a coffin.
Since her father’s death four years ago, Donna has gone through the motions of living: her friendships are empty, she’s clueless about what to do after high school graduation, and her grief keeps her isolated, cut off even from the one parent she has left. That is until she’s standing in front of the dead body of a classmate at Brighton Brothers’ Funeral Home. At that moment, Donna realizes what might just give her life purpose is comforting others in death. That maybe who she really wants to be is a mortician.
This discovery sets in motion a life Donna never imagined was possible. She befriends a charismatic new student, Liz, notices a boy, Charlie, and realizes that maybe he's been noticing her, too, and finds herself trying things she hadn’t dreamed of trying before. By taking risks, Donna comes into her own, diving into her mortuary studies with a passion and skill she didn’t know she had in her. And she finally understands that moving forward doesn’t mean forgetting someone you love.
Jen Violi’s heartfelt and funny debut novel is a story of transformation—how one girl learns to grieve and say goodbye, turn loss into a gift, and let herself be loving, applying lipstick to corpses, and finding life in the wake of death. -- Goodreads
My Thoughts:
The cover and title of this book really drew me in; I needed to know what it was all about. I was really hoping that the book would be awesome, but I hadn't heard much about it so I didn't have super high expectations. Putting Makeup on Dead People was amazing; I devoured it in two days.

I really connected with Donna. She's having a really hard time getting over her father's death and has basically stopped living her own life. Although I haven't experienced the death of parent, I still felt connected to her because her struggle is more with moving on after tragedy and being who you really want to be. She deals directly with her father's death, but that's not the only thing going on. She has to figure out what she wants to do after high school, how to deal with mother, and navigate through the world of dating. Donna is really lost at the beginning of the novel and slowly figures out how to move on and be who she was meant to be. This isn't an easy task and I felt the Violi created a very realistic coming-of-age story. Not everything works out perfectly for Donna and she has to make some difficult decisions, just like we all have to in our lives.

Beyond really connecting with Donna, I really liked her relationship with the Brighton Brothers who run the funeral home. They were wise, helpful mentors who steered Donna in the correct direction, but gave her freedom to figure things out in her own way. They were exactly what I'd want in a mentor.

The whole Parisi family dynamic also felt realistic to me. Donna struggles to create a meaningful relationship with her mother, feels alienated from her siblings, and fights against old family dynamics and discord. her family wasn't all good or all bad (or just missing like in many YA novels); they're a bit of both and just trying to live their lives and help Donna return to living her's.

The whole story is really wonderful, but the characters are what really made the story so good. 


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Giveaway: Unrequired Summer Reading

As promised in my IMM, I'm giving away a deck of cards and a book as part of Disney's Unrequired Summer Reading Promotion. The deck of cards is a completely usable deck with cover images of the books featured in the promotion: Girl Wonder, Mercy, Putting Makeup on Dead People, Queen of the Dead, From Bad to Cursed, Uncommon Criminals, Sharks & Boys, and The Near Witch. I really loved Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi so I am giving away a finished copy.

I'm not into complicated contests or extra entries, so this will be simple just follow the rules below, fill out the form, and ta-da you are entered. You don't have to be a follower, but it would be nice if you'd shared the contest on Twitter, Facebook, or whatever social network thingy you do (not required, but it be nice, thanks).

The rules:
  • Entrants must be 13 years of age or older 
  • The book and cards will be sent out by me at the end of the giveaway, so I need your address (don't worry I will delete all information as soon as the contest is over and not share it with anyone)
  • The winner will be notified via email
  • I am not responsible for items lost in the mail
  • US residents only please (sorry international readers)
The contest ends July 11.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Title: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ranson Riggs
Publisher: Quirk Books
Date: June 2011
Genre: Mystery, Horror, Paranormal
A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here—one of whom was his own grandfather—were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.
-- Goodreads
My Thoughts:

What really drew me to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was the inclusion of historical images. I don't really read a lot of horror (not really sure if this is horror, more like really good creepy paranormal), so I was a little nervous about reading this. But the story and world-building were wonderful and it wasn't difficult for me to jump right into the story.

The story was interesting, strange, and creepy right away, but I really got into the story once Jacob got to the island. The world of the small island, the home his grandfather grew up in, and the peculiar children is different from anything else I've read -- Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is unlike any other paranormal YA novel. The whole plot was unexpected and interesting, which I think is really saying something for paranormal right not.

I don't want to give too much of the story away (because the surprise, mystery, and build-up are just so good), but I will say that the children of Miss Peregrine's Home and their stories and peculiars are fascinating and make the story not so much a horror story, but a strange exciting mystery story.

The book is beautifully designed. The images are integrated nicely into the text and the whole thing just looks and feels like an old photo album. It's probably one of the best interior designs I've seen in a while.

I want there to be more; I don't think the book is part of a series and it stands alone just fine, but I really didn't want it to be over. I wasn't ready to Riggs' world behind yet.


Super awesome book trailer:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Review: Uncommon Criminals

Title: Uncommon Criminals  (Heist Society #2)
Author: Ally Carter
Publisher: Disney/Hyperion
Pub Date: June 2011
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Crime

Katarina Bishop has worn a lot of labels in her short life: Friend. Niece. Daughter. Thief. But for the last two months she’s simply been known as the girl who ran the crew that robbed the greatest museum in the world. That’s why Kat isn’t surprised when she’s asked to steal the infamous Cleopatra Emerald so it can be returned to its rightful owners.
There are only three problems. First, the gem hasn’t been seen in public in thirty years. Second, since the fall of the Egyptian empire and the suicide of Cleopatra, no one who holds the emerald keeps it for long — and in Kat’s world, history almost always repeats itself. But it’s the third problem that makes Kat’s crew the most nervous, and that is . . . the emerald is cursed.
Kat might be in way over her head, but she’s not going down without a fight. After all, she has her best friend — the gorgeous Hale — and the rest of her crew with her as they chase the Cleopatra around the globe, dodging curses and realizing that the same tricks and cons her family has used for centuries are useless this time.
Which means, this time, Katarina Bishop is making up her own rules. -- Goodreads
My Thoughts:
I assumed (wrongfully) that this sequel to Heist Society would be similar to the first, in that Kat and her teenage gang of thieves would be stealing the emerald and having a few issues along the way -- basically the same general plot line of the first book just with a different item. But Uncommon Criminals was completely different, and I think I liked it better than Heist Society.

Just as with the first book, I loved Kat and her friends, especially Hale and Nick. Their characters all continued to grow and be interesting. I especially enjoyed the Kat and Hale love interest angle (which is introduced in the first book, but is nicely expanded upon in the second book). Their possibly budding relationship felt very true to life to me; Kat is struggling to figure out who she is and what she wants and Hale is simply complicating that. She really struggles to figure out what she wants and if what she wants is Hale.

Beyond characters, I loved the plot twists. The whole book is full of little twists and changes, which really kept it exciting and different from the first installment. I loved that it wasn't just a heist story -- Kat does steal things and her gang comes up with crazy plots and schemes to get the emerald, but the core of the story is about Kat struggling with being a thief and what that means to her.

Don't know when the next installment will be released, but I'm looking forward to more adventures with Kat and her gang.


Review: Heist Society

Title: Heist Society (Heist Society #1)
Author: Ally Carter
Publisher: Disney/Hyperion
Pub Date: February 2010
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Crime

When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her to the case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own—scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving "the life" for a normal life proves harder than she'd expected. Soon, Kat's friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring her back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has good reason: a powerful mobster's art collection has been stolen, and he wants it returned. Only a master thief could have pulled this job, and Kat’s father isn’t just on the suspect list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat’s dad needs her help.
For Kat there is only one solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it’s a spectacularly impossible job? She’s got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family’s (very crooked) history—and, with any luck, steal her life back along the way. -- Goodreads
My Thoughts:
Ally Carter's books have been on my to-read list for a while, but I just hadn't gotten around to reading them for whatever reason, but I should've read them sooner. Heist Society was a fun, exciting light crime novel.

I really like Kat and her whole family of criminals; everyone's a thief, but you can still relate to them and picture them as regular people who just happen to steal precious art. The whole crime family dynamic was great -- it was fun high risk, not Godfather killing people scary high risk. Although Kat's father is in danger and she's dealing with an evil criminal, the book stay's light and fun (which was perfect for me). I generally don't read crime novels or watch thrillers because they're too much for me. I like my crime light and fun like Heist Society. Not to say that Heist Society didn't have edge-of-your-seat-page-turner moments, because it did and you worry about Kat being able to really pull off the heist.

The plot itself was a bit different from what I was expecting. I assumed the book would be about a girl who's part of an art-stealing-family who has to steal a few paintings to help her father, but there's a whole lot more than that going on. Kat and her teenage friends and family members are the ones trying to figure out how to get her father out of trouble. And Kat herself is struggling with her criminal past and trying to figure out if she even wants to be a part of the family.

Although the book has nothing to do with summer, it was the perfect summer reading opener for me. Exciting, light, and full of art (I studied art in undergrad). And lucky for me I had Uncommon Criminals sitting on my bookshelf, so I could jump right into Kat's next adventure.


Monday, June 20, 2011

In My Mailbox (7)

"In My Mailbox" is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren to showcase what books bloggers have received in their mailbox, from the library, or bought. If you want to participate check out her site here.

Books Mentioned: 
Misfit by Jon Skovron
Divergent by Veronica Roth 
XVI by Julia Karr 
Bumped by Megan McCafferty
Heist Society by Ally Carter 
Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter 
Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi
Girl Wonder by Alexa Martin

What did you get this week?

Interview: Nigel Hinton

YA Titles:

Walk the Wild Road Summary:

Leo took one step forward and then stopped. This was it-the road away from everything he knew. He could turn back. But then who would save his family from starvation? No, Leo was their last hope. He must go on...

The journey is not easy-he'll have to sleep on the streets, steal food, and even fight off greedy soldiers. Along the way, Leo discovers the kindness of strangers and the loyalty of friends. But he also learns there are some people you just can't trust, especially when you're on the wild road to America. -- Goodreads


Describe Walk the Wild Road in three words.

Here are three words which other people have used about the book - Moving. Epic. Gripping.  I can only hope they are true.

The Preface says that there's a legend in your family that your grandfather left home when he was young, but this isn't his story. Since the story came from this legend, what sort of research did you do for the book?

I read a lot about Poland’s history, notably God’s Playground by Norman Davies. As background for peasant life I read Stanislaw Reymont's four volume masterpiece, The Peasants. I researched my own family history, as far as possible, on the internet. I then went to Poland and found my grandfather’s tiny village and I traveled the 200 mile route that I imagined he took from there to the Baltic Sea.

You've written other historical fiction novels, what drew to write historical fiction?

The only other novel I have written which can be considered historical is Time Bomb, which is set in 1949 in the part of London where I grew up. In that book I wanted to record a world and a way of life which has totally disappeared during my lifetime and which allowed children the possibility of freedom and exposure to danger which is rarely found nowadays. As for Walk The Wild Road the starting point – my grandfather’s experience – obliged me to set it in 1870. I certainly loved having to imagine that ‘foreign place’ which is the Past.

What's your writing process (do you generally go through a lot of drafts and revisions, are you part of writing group, etc.)?

Yes, I do an enormous amount of re-writing which, as much as anything in my case, comes down to cutting and making more simple. I am looking for the most direct and shortest way of saying things. The stripped-down style of writers like John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway is what I’ve always wanted to emulate.

I work in that solitary state of being alone with my ideas and writing. I would not be very good in a writing group situation – I need to concentrate on my own vision. On the other hand, when I write screenplays I really enjoy the collaborative process and have written a number of scripts with another writer. In that particular case I think we bring out the best in each other.

How did you approach editors to get Walk the Wild Road published?

I gave the manuscript to my agent and she approached possible editors.

Were you an avid reader as a teen, and what were your favorite books?

I have been an avid reader at every stage of my life but my teen years, especially 15-19, were probably those when I read the least, being caught up with other pursuits: sports and girls. Nonetheless I still read regularly. I loved sci-fi books by people like John Wyndham, and popular blockbusters such as Gone With The Wind, Peyton Place, The Man In The Grey Flannel Suit. I was very much in love with America and American culture in my teens. And, of course, Steinbeck and Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald were ever-present favourites though those years.

What made you want to become a writer, and what drew you to YA in particular?

Much as I loved reading, it never occurred to me that I could write myself until, almost by accident, I wrote a story for a class of teens I was teaching. I read it to them and they loved it and encouraged me to try to get it published. It became my first book, Collision Course. I suppose that first experience led me to write more for the YA market, although I have also written for younger children and for adults. I am attracted to the tension which is implicit in the experience of adolescence – the often painful thrust of the child towards adulthood.

What are you reading now?

I have just finished the wonderful One Day by David Nicholls. Next, I think it’s time to revisit some of the Russian classics – Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. A lot of my friends, quite independently of each other, have recently gone back to War and Peace, so it might be that.

Thank you Nigel for stopping by and best wishes!

My review of Walk the Wild Road  here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review: Walk the Wild Road

Title: Walk the Wild Road
Author: Nigel Hinton
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Pub Date: January 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Leo took one step forward and then stopped. This was it-the road away from everything he knew. He could turn back. But then who would save his family from starvation? No, Leo was their last hope. He must go on...

The journey is not easy-he'll have to sleep on the streets, steal food, and even fight off greedy soldiers. Along the way, Leo discovers the kindness of strangers and the loyalty of friends. But he also learns there are some people you just can't trust, especially when you're on the wild road to America. -- Goodreads
My Thoughts:
Like I've said in several of my other recent historical fiction reviews, I don't know why I never just go out and pick up historical fiction. Someone always has to recommend the book to me or I have to read a bunch of good reviews before I read historical fiction. That really needs to change; Walk the Wild Road was a wonderful historical adventure story and I'd highly recommend it to middle reader/teen boys.

A historical adventure story sounds like it would be geared towards a younger boy audience, but Hinton doesn't shy away from the difficulties of life in the 1870s. The realities of war, political unrest, poverty, illness, and violence are presented in such a way that they feel true to the time period, but not inappropriate for younger readers. This isn't a fluffy boy adventure story -- it's a more adult adventure story. I feel that sometimes historical fiction writers gloss over some the realities of earlier time periods because they don't think teens will "get it" or that it's too violent or difficult for teens to handle. Teens need to really understand what people really went through and how difficult it was for many immigrants to make their way to America. Hinton had done a really wonderful job of showing life in the 1870s in Europe.

Beyond historical significance, I really liked Leo and almost all the major players in the novel. He was strong and determined to get to America and to help his family, but he isn't an unrealistic super-hero type character. Things doesn't always go well for Leo and he doesn't save the day. He gets through hardships because he has to. It was really refreshing to read a realism "boy" adventure book.

I think this book would be a great one for teachers to use when teaching European history. It really paints a picture of everyday life during the turmoil of the 1870s, while being entertaining and action filled.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Review: Divergent

Title: Divergent (Divergent #1)
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Date: May 2011
Genre: Dystopia

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.
-- Goodreads
My Thoughts:
I said a million times that I love dystopias, so of course I put Divergent on my to-read list, but I wasn't super excited about it. I don't know why; maybe I've been reading too many dystopias. Whatever the case, I wasn't dying to read it until I started hearing all sorts of really good things about it. And I'm so glad I listened to what some my fellow awesome bloggers were saying about Divergent.

Right from the very first page I was totally into the story (I read all 480 something pages in two sittings). Tris and her world are fascinating and you can't help but be sucked in. I loved the way Roth described the faction choosing ceremony and the initiation process. You can really picture the dystopian society and see Tris change and figure out who she really is.

Tris is an awesome female character; I really loved her and felt instantly connected to her. Her struggle and reactions to everyone around her seemed very realistic to me. Tris doesn't just fit in to her faction immediately and do well; she has to struggle and fight constantly to earn her place in her faction.

I don't think I can wait until next year for the next book. I need to know what happens next!


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Change in Review Policy

Please note that An Abundance of Books will no longer accept ebooks for review.

I apologize for any inconvenience this change may cause.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Review: Between Shades of Gray

Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Philomel Books
Pub Date: March 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously—and at great risk—documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.
-- Goodreads
My Thoughts:
I was incredibly excited to read Between Shades of Gray, and it was so much better than I hoped it would be. The subject matter is so difficult and depressing, but the book was so much more. I'm not even sure how to describe how much I liked the book and what a wonderful writer Ruta Sepetys is.

The main character Lina really made the story for me. Seeing everything through her eyes; through her struggles made the horrible things that happened to her and family more real and heartbreaking. She continues to find strength in her fellow Lithuanians and in her artwork. Although she is forced into a horrible life and struggles to remain hopeful, she doesn't lose what makes her her. Lina is strong, but she does lose hope briefly and struggles to remain who she is, which makes her so real. You can't help but relate to her and feel her anger, fear, sadness, and her strength.

The writing is wonderful and mixes Lina's current struggles with flashbacks to her previous life before the Soviet occupation. This mixture helps create a richer story of what was happening in Lithuanian in the 40s, but also keeps the story from being too much.

Everyone needs to read this story, not only because knowing this terrible history will help us insure that it doesn't happen again, but because it is a beautifully written story about hope.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Author Interview: Siobhan Nichols

YA Titles:

Darling Rebels Summary:

When Charlotte returns to her hometown of Asebrook from boarding school, she knows what she can expect from her days--lessons from tutors, criticism from her mother, and listening to the same gossip from the same people. But there seems to be something different in store for Charlotte when she meets Adam and Jack, the two boys who will change her forever. However, when Jack and Charlotte fall in love, they realize the fight that they are going to have to put up if they want to be together. During a time when money, society, and how one is viewed as everything, Charlotte stops at nothing to be with the boy that she knows she loves. Even so, Jack seems unwilling to sacrifice her future and happiness since he knows he has nothing to offer. The Darling Rebels tells the story of bravery and resilience in the face of insurmountable odds and how far one girl will go for love, even if it means leaving her seemingly perfect life behind. -- Goodreads


What's your writing process (do you generally go through a lot of drafts and revisions, are you part of writing group)?

I start with little snippets of scenes, which usually come to me while I'm lying in bed trying to go to sleep. So I'll jot down dialogue in my Moleskine and then flush it out later in the actual document. I do do a lot of revisions, but it's a sort of "clean as you go" thing. If I see something that needs fixing or if I suddenly get inspired to add on to it, I'll go and revise it. I read something by Zadie Smith, I believe, that said you should leave a fair amount of time in between writing and revising, and I really should start doing that because the perfectionism messes with my head. I am not part of an official writing group, but I have friends who read scenes or chapters and give me comments/critiques, and I do the same for them.

What made you want to become a writer?
There's a stereotype that all writers always knew that they wanted to write. I didn't. I always enjoyed writing, I was always good at English when I was in grade and high school. I wrote because I had ideas, but I never thought that they would amount to anything. When I started showing scenes from Darling Rebels to my friends and they kept asking for more, that's when it dawned on me that something I had been doing for myself could actually be shared with other people. Today, I want to be a writer, because it's the only thing that could be classified as work that I enjoy doing. Pursuing an artistic career and lifestyle is the only thing that interests me, now that I'm about to graduate from university.

Where did the idea for Darling Rebels come from? How did you start the novel?
I was on the bus home from school when I was a sophomore in high school, I believe. I was daydreaming and it's the first time I actually remember physically needing to write my idea down. I started the novel with the scene that popped into my head, which is midway through the story. I wrote a little more and it was like the characters were already developed in my head. Then I went back and started from the beginning. I write sporadically--beginnings and endings are very easy for me to write. It's the middle stuff that always poses a challenge.

What drew you to write a historical fiction novel?
It was just always that way in my head. The clothes, the scenery, and the mannerisms--it was just always not in modern day. I know that I didn't write the most historically accurate novel, but if the story was set in modern times, there would really be nothing rebellious about the characters' actions. And the rebellion is obviously the whole point of the story. 

A lot of YA authors today are really involved in the marketing of their books; they're on Facebook, Twitter, and have their own blogs. What sort of marketing for Darling Rebels have you been a part of?
I used to have an official Twitter, but I didn't really find that it was helping to market the book. I do have a well as an Amazon Author Central page. I'm planning on designing a Facebook fan page for the book, so that people can 'like' it.

Any really particularly memorable or difficult moments in the writing or publishing process you want to share?
Actually, once I figured out that I wanted it to be a book, it came very easily to me. I was really lucky that I didn't struggle through writing it. I still can't stop writing about those four teenagers; I have their whole lives planned out for them. The difficulty for me has only come recently, because as I've gone through university and grown as a writer, there are many things that I would like to change or embellish about the book. I want a bigger, more layered, and more historically accurate story. Like George Lucas always wants to rewrite Star Wars, I always want to rewrite Rebels. So I'm going through the difficult moments right now, where I have to learn to let go and write about something else for a change.

What one piece of advice would you give aspiring writer?
Never give up, no matter who tells you that you can't do it. Prove them wrong, because it feels fantastic. The best advice that I ever got was from Elizabeth Gilbert's website. She has a section called "On Writing" and I highly recommend it, because it puts everything about your dream into perspective for you.

Were you an avid reader as a teen, and what were your favorite books? 
Like I said before, English was my best subject in school (which is why I majored in it in university), so I did read a lot. My two favorite books ever are Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, and The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Harry Potter also changed my life. I have a picture of JK Rowling on my wall to inspire me to keep writing and to just always do the best work that I can.

What are you reading now?
I just finished The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, as well as City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare. I recently got into John Green's work and I'm always on the lookout for good historical fiction novels. I really wish Phillippa Gregory would write a book about Queen Victoria, because that's my favorite time period and queen. Oh, and I cannot wait for Sarah Dessen's new book, Whatever Happened to Goodbye? I'm really into memoirs and books that are about more than just love. I need to find some books about people who have just gotten out of university and how they manage it, because I graduate in three weeks and I'll need loads of help adjusting to the real world. 

Thank you Siobhan and best wishes!

Review: Darling Rebels

Title: Darling Rebels
Author: Siobhan Nichols
Publisher: Diversion Press
Pub Date: May, 2009
Genre: Historical Fiction

When Charlotte returns to her hometown of Asebrook from boarding school, she knows what she can expect from her days--lessons from tutors, criticism from her mother, and listening to the same gossip from the same people. But there seems to be something different in store for Charlotte when she meets Adam and Jack, the two boys who will change her forever. However, when Jack and Charlotte fall in love, they realize the fight that they are going to have to put up if they want to be together. During a time when money, society, and how one is viewed as everything, Charlotte stops at nothing to be with the boy that she knows she loves. Even so, Jack seems unwilling to sacrifice her future and happiness since he knows he has nothing to offer. The Darling Rebels tells the story of bravery and resilience in the face of insurmountable odds and how far one girl will go for love, even if it means leaving her seemingly perfect life behind. -- Goodreads
My Thoughts:

I must say I had a really hard time getting into this one. I think I would have liked it a lot more if it was set in the present day. Too much what was going on and the characters' dialog and actions just didn't feel "nineteen hundreds" to me. I liked the characters and the basic plot, just didn't feel like the time period choice fit. I like historical fiction, but it really has to feel historical to me, right down to the slang. I know not everyone feels that way, but it's one of my reading pet peeves.

That said, once I got into the novel I did like the characters and found it to be a fun read. I haven't read many romances recently (been on a dystopia kick lately), so it was really refreshing to read something with a love triangle that didn't also involve the world ending or society collapsing. And the love triangle in Darling Rebels was interesting not too over-the-top. It actually felt realistic, like three teenagers could find themselves in this sort of situation. 

Check back later today for an interview with Siobhan

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Interview: Jennifer Caloyeras

YA Titles:

Urban Falcon Summary:

Evan Falcon was all set to finish high school in Elbow Creek when his dad's job forced the family to move to Lincoln Heights, a booming metropolis. Now, his best friend won't even talk to him and he suspects that his mom is having an affair. Caught between who he used to be and the possibility of who he could become, Evan is thrown into a world of dating, out of control parents, and family drama. -- Goodreads


How did you get the Urban Falcon started? Where did the idea of the book come from?

When I finished my MA program in English literature I had a big void in my life. While working on my graduate thesis (focusing on gender and sexuality in Victorian literature) spending hours a day in front of my computer had become quite meditative. So when that project was completed, I stayed at the computer.

But what should I write?

Then Evan Falcon (the 16-year old male protagonist of my novel, Urban Falcon) came to me. He first showed up as a whisper -- a sort of nagging in my mind. As I stared at a blank screen I got to know Evan - his likes and dislikes -- and then I started creating a world around him. For me, a story always begins with a “what if….” statement. For Urban Falcon, the question became, “What if Evan Falcon is forced to move to a new home and discovers his mom is having an affair?” How would he react?

I was drawn to this idea because usually in young adult novels, the adults tend to act like…adults. They don’t make tons of mistakes. How would it feel for this boy on the verge of manhood to learn that his parents aren’t the superheroes he once thought they were? How would it feel for Evan to fall in love for the first time? How would it be for Evan to have to start over -- a country boy suddenly placed in a big city? How would he find his way?

And then, the writing began. The story took so many different turns before it found its direction. At one point, Evan had a little sister (she was later cut). In another version -- his mom was a doctor. Cut. I couldn’t tell you how many drafts I wrote, but I recycled lots and lots of paper. 

How long did it take you to write the novel?
I would say that from the initial inception of the idea to the completion of the novel took about two years. I think it would have been shorter had I not enrolled in a MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. In addition to working on the novel (which I was able to further develop in a children’s literature class I was taking) I had a lot of other course work and reading to complete, so my immediate goal was to get through each semester with my head on straight rather than finish the novel -- that was more of a long term goal.

How many revisions did you do?
Too many to count! I’m not a “start at the beginning and work my way forward” kind of reviser. Initially, it begins this way, but if I continue to start at the beginning, the first half of a novel can seem overworked, overwritten, over-revised. I like to work in small chunks. I always keep a few running lists next to me as I write. The first is a timeline of events. When working on a novel-length piece, this is especially helpful to make sure that things are taking place in the correct order and if a major edit happens early on, I use this list to see how this impacts the rest of the story. 
Another list I keep next to me while working is a list of research questions. Some of these questions for Urban Falcon included things like, “what does a periodontist do?” “What kind of camera would an aspiring photographer use?” “What kinds of snakes are kept as pets that might be on a semi-endangered list?” Because this world is fictitious, I had less research questions. The novel I am currently working on takes place in Santa Cruz, California, so I have a lot of questions related to that specific region. The female protagonist is obsessed with biology facts, so there’s been a lot of research there. And there also is a juvenile delinquent component, so my research involves the California juvenile court system. But no matter where the book takes place, I have a running list of questions. It’s so satisfying to cross of the list as I research. And truth be told, on days when I don’t feel like writing or editing, I make my way down the research list.

The third list I work with is a character list. I keep this handy for practical reasons like their names and descriptions but also I use it to trace character growth. How does a character change throughout the novel? What is their arc? I am much more aware of this now working on a second piece. 

Did you work with a developmental editor while revising and writing the novel?

I did not work with a developmental editor, but I suppose that since I completed this piece of work in graduate school, my peers and professor acted as developmental editor. Writing workshops were an integral part of the shaping of this story. Fellow students questioned parts of the story that weren’t working and sent my characters off in new directions. Now that I am out of school and I don’t have the safety net of peer editors or an acclaimed instructor / writer such as Glen Huser (recipient of the Governor General award for his children’s fiction -- which is the Canadian version of the Newbery). I have, instead, a select group of fellow writers whose honest opinions I trust.

How did you approach editors to get
Urban Falcon published?

I am a huge fan of Poets and Writers Magazine and I recommend getting a subscription as soon as possible! They have a wealth of information on publishing and writing and what’s happening right now in the world of writing. In any case, I began my search there. I felt like this book screamed to be published by a small press -- it just felt like a right fit. I was thrilled to find that my publisher, Diversion Press, was run by two academics, both college professors. Because I also write short fiction -- I am very well versed in sending out queries and stories to literary magazines. Which means I’m also very well versed in receiving rejections. You have to have thick skin to be in this business. You have to be able to tell yourself, “okay, that story is not right for that particular agent, editor, publisher” and then you have to believe it will be right for someone. So you press on.

Was there anything else about your writing process or publishing experience that was particular memorable or difficult?

When the publishers sent me the initial cover for the novel I admittedly wasn’t thrilled. It was a cityscape scene with a male and a female in a romantic embrace. It wasn’t the mood that embodied the book (for me), but I understand why it may have been appealing for a certain audience. I was really worried about alienating a male-teenage audience. Since the story has a male protagonist, I tried to think of teenage boys I knew who would want to carry a book around with a romantic scene on the front! I expressed my concern to my publishers who sent four or five more options, which were better, but still didn’t quite hit home. I’d imagine that the cover image is such a personal thing for a writer! I just wanted it to reflect the heart and soul of the story. My childhood friend, Lizabeth Zindel (author of three young adult novels including the wildly popular Girl of the Moment) said, “let’s do a free clip art search”. She explained that that is how most major publishing companies find their covers. We spent hours going back and forth typing in key words that I thought encompassed my novel. I have to credit her for finding the image that is now the cover of the novel. And I was so thankful that my publishers also supported the photo which is a teenage boy walking towards the city with a suitcase. The fact that he’s alone is so important as it symbolizes the solitude and alienation he feels throughout the story.

I do have a little remorse about starting my writing career in my late 20’s! I keep thinking about all the free time I had in my early twenties, before I had a job, before marriage, before kids! Now I write in small spurts. My youngest (age two) takes a two-hour nap every day, so I try and get some writing done then. But I can’t help but think back to an earlier time in my life when I had days free when I could have been writing! So time is my biggest hurdle now. But I’ve always worked well on a deadline. I began a second young adult novel in January of 2010 and I gave myself a deadline of December 2010 to complete a draft (which I did) and then a deadline of June 2011 for a completed draft ready to send out ... the finish line is approaching, but I find that I work much better on a deadline, even if self-imposed. You have to have a lot of discipline to be a writer, otherwise you end up spending far too much time staring at a blank screen while fiddling with a pile of paper clips, organizing highlighters and doodling on post-its (yes, I spend far too much time doing all of the above). On good days I’m able to quit procrastinating and start writing!

Thanks for stopping by Jennifer, and best wishes

Review: Urban Falcon

Title: Urban Falcon
Author: Jennifer Caloyeras
Publisher: Diversion Press
Pub Date: September, 2009
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Evan Falcon was all set to finish high school in Elbow Creek when his dad's job forced the family to move to Lincoln Heights, a booming metropolis. Now, his best friend won't even talk to him and he suspects that his mom is having an affair. Caught between who he used to be and the possibility of who he could become, Evan is thrown into a world of dating, out of control parents, and family drama. -- Goodreads
My Thoughts:

I've been trying to read more contemporary fiction. I loved contemporary, realistic fiction when I was a teen, but now as an adult I haven't been reading it as much. Urban Falcon was a good realistic fiction novel that wasn't too heavy on the "my life is depressing" feeling that a few too many realistic novels have.

I had a little trouble getting into the novel and relating to Evan, but after a few chapters the pace picked up and I began to connect with Evan. He struggles with things most teenagers do; there was nothing over-the-top, just a boy trying to deal with being a teenager and figure out who he is and what he wants. It was refreshing to read a realistic boy coming-of-age story. I've found several excellent girl coming-of-age stories, but not a lot for boys. There's always something missing, but not here.

Beyond Evan and the basic plot, I really liked each of the characters' development through the story. Even the more minor characters grow and change throughout the story. A few of the changes seemed a little unrealistic, but for the most part they felt true to the characters and to the way actual people grow and change.

I especially enjoyed the ending. Everything was tied up well enough for me to feel satisfied at the end, but Evan's life isn't all tied up and perfect. He's still trying to figure everything out and I really like books that end in a way that is true to life. Things don't suddenly all work perfectly in most people's lives.

Check back later today for a guest post/interview with Jennifer.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Author Interview: Robert Bresloff

YA/Middle Grade Titles:

Wanderland Summary:

When the army of the new emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Di had invaded neighboring Annam, Chen, a thirteen year old boy was saved by a mysterious old man as the invading Chinese destroyed his village and killed his family. The old man turned out to be, Master Waan, a Ship's Wizard in the service of the great Chinese admiral Zheng He.  Though Chen thought the old man odd, he knew that his only chance for survival-to accompany Master Waan to China. As the wizard's apprentice, Chen sailed with the fleet, a gigantic armada made up of great Chinese Treasure Ships in search of what Chen believed to be magical place referred to only as Wanderland. He soon learned that it was no coincidence Master Waan had appeared at the village just in time to save his life. It was Chen's destiny to find Wanderland. -- From Diversion Press

Buy Wanderland | Publisher's Site | Author Site | Facebook

The novel takes place during the 1400s in China during the Ming Dynasty: what drew you to this particular time period and this particular legend?

Actually, I read a short news story about Gavin Menzies’ book 1421 The Year China Discovered the World. I was very intrigued by the possibility of the Chinese discovering the Americas before Columbus. After reading the book, I decided to tell the story in terms that children could understand. I made the protagonist a young teen named Chen, whose life is saved by and taken under the wing of a master wizard. Together, they sail the seas in search of a mysterious place called Wanderland. I don’t actually write that they discover America, but I definitely give hints to where they travel.

What sort of research did you do for the book? Did you do extensive research for the book or was this a subject you were already familiar with?

To be honest, there really isn’t much material out there besides Menzies’  book, Louise Levathes’ book, When China Ruled The Seas, and J.A.G Roberts’ A Concise History of China in researching the Chinese armada of the 1400’s. I really wasn’t at all familiar with the subject, but the internet was extremely helpful in providing drawings and information on Chinese vessels of that period, as well as descriptions of the ships and ports they traveled to. I really know more about Chinese Junks then I ever would have thought any one would need to know, but it was necessary to describe as much detail as possible to make the reader familiar with the character’s surroundings. 

I really liked the short Prologue and Epilogues that take place in present day. What made you decide to add these elements, rather than just presenting a straight historical fiction novel?

I wanted the reader to feel that there are always new horizons to see, new frontiers to discover and that there is no limit to the imagination, so never give up. It could also make a very interesting sequel that focuses on the present day boy and his connections to Chen. Hmmm.

It's so important for historical fiction novels to feel true to their depicted time period, and Wanderland felt like a true glimpse into the Ming Dynasty: what tips do you have for writers in creating dialog and situations that fit with a completely different time period with different slang and societal norms? 

It takes enormous amounts of research, but the time is well worth it. There are many ways to bring realism to a story. In the case of Wanderland, I studied Confucius and Tao philosophy (every chapter starts with a Chinese proverb or philosophical thought that relates to the chapter). I even hired a Tai Chi instructor to experience the grace of the culture. Movies are a great resource, not so much Hollywood films, but historic films made in the country you’re writing about. The subtitles are tough but the mannerisms and costumes are truer to life. I literally immersed myself into Chinese culture for the year that I wrote the book. The best part was the food. I love Chinese food so that was easy.

What made you decide to include the magical elements? I really enjoyed them and felt it added to the story without making it feel like a "wizard novel."

As a historical novel Wanderland would probably stand without the wizardry, but I felt that with the magical element I could expand the character development to a higher level. Chen had to deal with his new situation and the other characters had to play off his being different. It also made the book more fun to write. I wanted a magical feel, but still be somewhat believable. Chen doesn’t fly on a broom or wave a magic wand, but he is still a wizard.

Were you an avid reader as a kid/teen, and what were your favorite books? 

I loved the classics, Verne, Dumas, H.G. Wells, Doyle and Stevenson. I couldn’t get enough. While my friends were reading Superman and Batman comics, I was reading The Three Musketeers, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Even when I did read comics, my favorites were Classics Illustrated. Some of my all time favorites were Treasure Island, Cyrano de Bergerac and The Three Musketeers. I still love swashbuckling tales and I tried to bring that to Wanderland.

What made you want to become a writer, and what drew you historical fiction for YA and Middle Grade readers?

I’m not really sure why writers write. I guess it’s just something inside. I started writing short mysteries in the 70’s but never got published. Then about 10 years ago I wrote something for a friend as a joke. It actually turned out pretty well so I tried my hand at a novel.

Actually, the YA, middle school thing happened by chance. The first book I wrote was The Fifth Codex, an Indiana Jones type adventure for adults. Since it was my first attempt at writing a novel, I decided to have it critiqued. I hired a well known professional editor in New York. She loved the writing but didn’t think the story merited an adult audience. She suggested that I rewrite the book with one of the characters as a teen ager. I know of writers who would refuse to change a single word, but not this guy. I actually loved the idea and rewrote the manuscript. Bingo, I was hooked. It was great; I could write about adventures that I would have loved to read as a kid. I really enjoy writing for kids because in some ways, I never really grew up.

What are you reading now?

Currently I’m reading a book titled Blue Gold by Clive Cussler. It’s a modern day swashbuckler so it’s right up my alley.

Thank you for joining me today Robert, and best wishes! 

Thank you for taking the time and your interest in Wanderland.