Book Review & Author Interview: The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

“First a memory: the hillside set ablaze….”

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Release Date: August 4, 2020

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Price: $15.05 (hardback)

Plot Summary:

Los Angeles, 1992

Ashley Bennett and her friends are living the charmed life. It’s the end of senior year and they’re spending more time at the beach than in the classroom. They can already feel the sunny days and endless possibilities of summer.

Everything changes one afternoon in April, when four LAPD officers are acquitted after beating a black man named Rodney King half to death. Suddenly, Ashley’s not just one of the girls. She’s one of the black kids.

As violent protests engulf LA and the city burns, Ashley tries to continue on as if life were normal. Even as her self-destructive sister gets dangerously involved in the riots. Even as the model black family façade her wealthy and prominent parents have built starts to crumble. Even as her best friends help spread a rumor that could completely derail the future of her classmate and fellow black kid, LaShawn Johnson.

With her world splintering around her, Ashley, along with the rest of LA, is left to question who is the us? And who is the them?

Grade: A-

Review:

The Black Kids is a timely read that spares no emotional punches. Ashley is a sassy, funny, rich girl who has always attended private school with her rich white friends. She doesn’t know exactly what reality less fortunate black people actually live through day in and day out. Sure, she sometimes has dealt with racism, if even subtle by her own friends, but she’s never had to live in dire circumstances like her own cousins. But when the Rodney King riots set the city of Los Angeles ablaze, Ashley can no longer ignore the flames of injustice. For the first time in her life, she has to confront her past, what it means to be a black girl, and figure out who her true friends are. I enjoyed this book because Ashley’s POV was no only blunt but hella funny. I like that Ashley’s character isn’t free of faults, she does some pretty questionable things within the course of the novel but ultimately she tries to make amends where she can and where it counts.

I don’t know if the author has intentions of writing a sequel, but I wouldn’t be against one. Especially if we were to get a book written in LaShawn’s POV (he’s a secondary character in the novel, a black kid who attends the rich kids’ private school because of his sports scholarship). Out of all the characters in the book, he was ultimately the star (much to Ashley’s dismay, since in the beginning of the novel she kinda resents the fact that he’s both smart and charismatic and is going to her dream college).

Pick up this book for timely issues and 90’s nostalgia, you won’t be disappointed.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Photo by: Elizabeth T. Nguyen

Short Q&A With Author:

I read that you started writing the novel The Black Kids five years ago. How does it feel that the subject matter of the book is now more timely than ever?

So it’s funny, I actually originally started thinking of the idea for The Black Kids as a thesis film when I was in grad school back in 2010, and ultimately decided against it. When I took a break from screenwriting in 2016, I decided to return to my first love of writing fiction and the short story version of The Black Kids just poured out of me. It felt more imperative than ever given the rise of Black Lives Matter and the fact that smartphones had made it such that we were seeing the effects of unequal policing first hand, literally in our hands and on our televisions. I had no idea that it would feel as timely as it does 2020, which is frustrating, but I also take comfort in the fact that now more than before, non-Black people seem to be trying to seek out and understand Black voices, and to actually be not just passive allies, but advocates for change in meaningful ways.

Female friendships are sometimes difficult. Ashley and Kimberly were childhood friends, but many times we outgrow out childhood friends. Do you think women are more likely to feel an obligated sense of loyalty towards a childhood friend despite not having anything in common with them anyone as they grow older?

I do think women are more likely to push to maintain friendships because women are more likely to have actively nurtured those friendships for years and years. Plus female friendships are so powerful when you’re younger, there’s an almost romantic fervor to them that’s only intensified by the fact that you’re experiencing all these major life changes together in such a relatively short time. When you write “best friends forever” in gel pens in a yearbook, or across each other’s arms in marker, you mean it, and many of us actively work to maintain that promise even when those friendships are toxic, or no longer serve us.

Music played a major role in the novel (or at least Ashley was always listening to songs in many scenes). Were you listening to any artist in particular when working on The Black Kids?

Almost all of the songs that made it into the book were songs that I was listening to as I was writing to transport myself back to the era. Also, randomly, I was listening to a lot of Frank Ocean, especially the songs “Super Rich Kids” and “Sweet Life” which I think are really evocative of the first few chapters before the riots begin. I was also listening to a lot of SZA and Lorde to get myself in the headspace of what it feels like to be a teenager/young woman. A lot of Hole and N.W.A. to capture Jo’s defiance in my head. Also, randomly a lot of Bowie, and Seu Jorge’s Bowie covers. In my head, they actually speak to Ashley’s feelings of not quite fitting in or feeling unmoored in some ways throughout the book. Each character definitely has their own soundscape.

Your novel sheds a light on racism, what lesson do you hope your young readers will take away from reading this novel?

I really view this novel first and foremost as a coming-of age-novel. It’s about Ashley making huge mistakes and learning from them how to be a good daughter, friend, sister, and person. I purposefully wrote her to be super flawed because I think that’s important for young readers and adults alike, especially, when it comes to issues around race. It’s ok if we don’t have all the answers immediately, if we do or say the wrong things, so long as we learn and grow from those mistakes and resolve to move through the world being better, more thoughtful, and more empathetic.

What books do you recommend to your readers if they’re wanting to support Black authors?

First and foremost, I would say that Black authors are authors, period. There are Black authors doing great work across genres, some of which engage with questions of race, some of which don’t. So to those of my readers who are non-Black, diversifying your reading really means just stepping outside your comfort zone within your particular genres of interest to make space for other voices. Don’t dismiss something as written by an author of color as something you won’t relate to. Most of us aren’t women in 19th century Britain in love with a brute with his mad wife in the attic. And yet, people don’t use that to dismiss Jane Eyre. Also, to paraphrase what my friend Nic said in an article – don’t only read books about Black people being oppressed, but also read about our joy.

All that said, Queenie by Candice Carty Williams is really great if you’re looking for something literary, but really funny. It also packs an unexpected emotional punch and delves into mental health issues. Luster has gotten a lot of deserved attention for putting a fresh spin on the struggling millennial in New York story. I really love Zone One by Colson Whitehead, and The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle. Zone One is a literary zombie apocalypse book and The Devil in Silver is slow burn literary horror that takes place in an insane asylum. Both are nerve-wracking. Lot by Bryan Washington is a beautiful collection of short stories by a queer young Black man from Texas. We Love You Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenridge, is a not easily characterized, but it’s a coming of age story involving a family and a chimp in an institution in Massachusetts, and explores scientific experimenting in the recent past as it relates to historical scientific experimenting on Black bodies. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson is an amazing non-fiction work about the Great Migration. The middle grade book The Only Black Girls in Town, I think actually shares a lot in common with my novel. And YA right now is an absolute treasure trove of Black voices across sexual orientation, religious and gender identities.

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Book Review & Author Interview: The Sun Under A Night Sky by Vontress Renae

SUN1

Exclusive collab with: VoyageLA(large inverted)

You are the sun and the center of your universe.

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Plot Summary:

In this collection of untitled thoughts, poetry, and affirmations; Vontress plants her powerful feminine energy and wisdom like a seed. Showing growth through struggle, and sharing stories of blooming into a flower. She shines her light like the sun into the darkest parts of her soul.

Grade: A-

Review:

The poems in this collection are often dark, but even in the darkest moments, there is a tiny light that glimmers with hope. And this is what makes this collection stand out from other poems that tackle similar topics like love and heartbreak. The message Renae seems to want to give with these poems is that happiness isn’t something you should search in someone else, or depend on someone else for your own happiness, but rather that happiness lies inside us all if we have self-love and that’s an essential and potent message to give. I recommend this book if you’re into poetry that explores life’s dark moments but that has an uplifting message in the end.

vontress

Short Q & A with the Author:

What has inspired your writing?

The inspiration for my writing comes from day to day life. I wonder what people think and put it on paper, my own stories and sometimes the stories of those around me.

When did you first start writing?

I have always written things for as long as I remember, but it was not until recently that I felt comfortable enough to share it with others.

What tips would you give a novice writer?

My advice would be to remove all distractions. There are times that I sign out of social media and take a bit of a hiatus in order to gather my thoughts and get them down clearly.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve been given?

The best advice I was given would be to do what makes me happy. I feel that my writing can take me all the places I want to go in this world I just have to trust myself and believe in what I’m saying on my pages.

What are you currently reading or looking forward to reading?

I am currently reading ” The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F” by Mark Manson. It has definitely been a page-turner and I plan to take a view of the tips that I have learned while reading.

RENAE ON THE WEB:
Website: https://vontressrortega.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/writtenbyvontress
Twitter: https://twitter.com/byvontress
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/writtenbyvontress/

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Book Review & Author Interview: The Sister Pact by Stacie Ramey

sisterpact

Who holds your secrets?

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Plot Summary:

Allie is devastated when her sister commits suicide-and it’s not just because she misses her. Allie feels betrayed. The two made a pact that they’d always be together, in life and in death, but Leah broke her promise and Allie needs to know why.
Her parents hover. Her friends try to support her. And Nick, sweet Nick, keeps calling and flirting. Their sympathy only intensifies her grief.
But the more she clings to Leah, the more secrets surface. Allie’s not sure which is more distressing: discovering the truth behind her sister’s death or facing her new reality without her.

Grade: A

Review:

Full disclosure: I was attracted to this book for all the wrong triggering reasons. A little backstory: Much like the protagonists Allie and Leah, as teenagers, my cousin Melody and I also had made a “pact” to bail out if life took a turn that we couldn’t handle. Flash forward to 2013, and Melody bails out in the worst way possible but also breaking the pact that had made where we would’ve made the decision together. Now, six years later, I am still trying to figure out what I could’ve done or said to make her not wish to want to go. In a way, in these six years, I’ve tried to experience all the things that I knew Melody wished to experience or travel to places she would’ve wanted to. In other words, I’ve tried to live for both of us.

My first book from Stacie Ramey was It’s My Life, and despite the protagonist having cerebral palsy, it wasn’t as dark or heavy as The Sister Pact. There was a stark contrast between the two novels. In It’s My Life, Jenna had to deal with a chronic illness, however, she had a loving family and friends. But in The Sister Pact, the protagonist Allie has to deal with a highly dysfunctional family and awful friends that betray her. What I’m trying to say is, this book was very, very dark.

Ramey doesn’t sugarcoat anything and instead depicts grief and depression in a very realistic way. At times, Allie’s pain is so palpable and visceral that you can almost feel it as your own. I found it to be a very powerful and moving novel. Which seeing that it was this author’s debut novel to boot, she really came into the writing scene with a serious bang.

And although the subject matter of the novel is extremely dark (suicide, depression, drug abuse) it isn’t dreary for the sake of being so. You understand why Allie makes the bad choices that she does. But ultimately, she finds the strength to want to live, even if her older sister Leah, whom she looked up to, isn’t there with her anymore. The end was uplifting and hopeful. And in a way, it made me feel a little hopeful about my own grief over my cousin’s death.

I recommend this for anyone who wants to read a novel that discusses serious topics and has some real feelings.

Short Q & A With the Author:

Jenna and Allie have dramatically different families. One is very loving and supportive while the other is highly dysfunctional. How do you think their families contributed to your protagonists’ personalities?

I think that’s the point, isn’t it? I mean, Allie has to overcome a lot of things. Her sister’s suicide. Her parents’ divorce. Her feeling that her world is unraveling. We understand that her family’s struggle has contributed to her issues, but we also see that she’s undergoing complicated grief which is a type of grief where Allie feels slightly complicit in her sister’s death in addition to everything else and she’s not coping well. But we don’t really blame her because it’s really too much for her and that’s what makes it so empowering to see her crawl out of it and find some hope.

As for Jenna, she has tons of support, but she’s stopped believing in herself. She’s given up on herself and haven’t we all done that at some point in our lives? Her family’s support is constant and wonderful, but it’s also something she’s trying to break away from in order to take the next steps in her life. All teens go through this. Jenna struggles with how to accomplish this in the wake of her disability. Some people have described her as self-pitying, but I don’t buy that. I believe that wish-fulfillment fantasy that she has of being a better version of herself is very typical and her response to the limitations of her body is very believable and deserves our witness, not our judgment. Just my opinion.

In both novels, the protagonists are academically smarter than the classes they decide to be in for themselves. Jenna decides to take easier classes because she is absent from school a lot due to her condition, while Allie decides to take lighter courses because she’s distraught over her sister’s suicide. Do you think this was a subconscious effort for both of them to control one aspect of their lives since they had no control any other way?

Yes. They each try to control their lives in any way possible. Teens have a ton of pressure on them these days (I mean they always have but now we expect them to be little adults from the time they can talk and make decisions).

For Allie, some of the adults in her life are trying to ease her burden, although interestingly enough, her parents do not share this viewpoint. They keep looking for reasons to believe Allie is ok and they look to her progression through typical milestones such as graduating on time and staying focused on getting into a high-pressure college as a means for evaluating her condition. I believe they should, instead, as her guidance counselor suggests, take time to heal, but when bad things happen, we tend to want to get back to business as soon as possible. It’s the wrong way, in my opinion.

As for Jenna, she is definitely trying to flex her decision-making muscles here. It’s not a good decision to go into lower classes, and she regrets it, but sometimes we have to allow ourselves to make bad choices in order to figure out what works and what doesn’t. She’s always fought as Daddy’s little warrior, but now she’s trying to work out who she is now and, more importantly, who she wants to be.

What was your inspiration behind both novels?

It’s My Life was actually the first book I ever wrote even though it was the fourth book I sold. I really wanted to tell the story of a girl who has a disability who gives up on herself and then has to work to find herself again. It was important to me that she has a fully supportive family, because I wanted her struggles to be with herself and how she sees herself. While I do not have cerebral palsy or a mobility disorder, I have struggled with invisible disabilities my entire life. I am the youngest of very capable older siblings and have many times felt lost in my life’s course, even while having my family’s support and love and, like Jenna, I’m still trying to figure out who I am supposed to be.

The Sister Pact was based on a few different things, some easy to discuss in this space, some harder. Mostly, I wanted to write the story of two groups of people who both had the same intent-save Allie-but were in complete opposition on how to do that. In this case, it’s kind of Allie vs her parents and even though both sets of people want Allie to heal, initially they don’t understand the other person’s intentions and methods so they work in conflict with each other. It was really an experiment and I’m glad it worked out that both groups could work together. I also wanted to show how mental health issues can look completely different from what we might expect in this case, Allie’s sister is super successful, all the while she’s battling consuming depression, as is Allie’s mother. I wanted to show how we try to act like everything’s ok when it’s all falling apart. Also, I wanted to show sisters who are so close they tell each other everything, except any of the important things.

Are you currently working on a new project?

I am currently writing a retelling of a Yiddush Fairy Tale. It’s a lot of fun.

*Thank you so much to the author for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart

scars

Before, I was a million things. Now I’m only one. The Burned Girl.

Release Date: October 1, 2019

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Publisher: Delacorte Press

Price: $16.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary

Ava Lee has lost everything there is to lose: Her parents. Her best friend. Her home. Even her face. She doesn’t need a mirror to know what she looks like–she can see her reflection in the eyes of everyone around her.

A year after the fire that destroyed her world, her aunt and uncle have decided she should go back to high school. Be “normal” again. Whatever that is. Ava knows better. There is no normal for someone like her. And forget making friends–no one wants to be seen with the Burned Girl, now or ever.

But when Ava meets a fellow survivor named Piper, she begins to feel like maybe she doesn’t have to face the nightmare alone. Sarcastic and blunt, Piper isn’t afraid to push Ava out of her comfort zone. Piper introduces Ava to Asad, a boy who loves theater just as much as she does, and slowly, Ava tries to create a life again. Yet Piper is fighting her own battle, and soon Ava must decide if she’s going to fade back into her scars . . . or let the people by her side help her fly.

Grade: A+

Review:

Ava’s story is both heartbreaking and uplifting. After becoming severely disfigured by a house fire, she not only has lost both of her parents and cousin but also her face. Or at least what her face used to be. For months, Ava fights for her life as she undergoes surgery after surgery but once she’s deemed healthy enough to leave the hospital, her aunt and uncle think it’s time to transition back into high school. But Ava doesn’t think she can survive high school with the face she has. That is until she meets Piper, a fellow survivor with a spitfire personality.

It’s rare when the characters in a book feel so real to me. But Ava and Piper were incredibly real, and the situations they found themselves in were also real for their circumstances. There were so many heartbreaking moments in the book, but it was also very hopeful. It wasn’t all about despair, as it easily could have been considering the topic. Instead, Ava realized that she could either wallow in misery her whole life and not live or decide to live again and find purpose in her new life with her new friends and support group.

I loved how each character was their own person, and that even the so-called “mean girls” of the school ultimately had a soul and reached a growth of their own by the end.

I suppose this was the sort of book that I wish it hadn’t ended because I still wanted to read more about Ava and Piper. It’s probably why after completing the book I took a break from the novel-reading and instead focused on reading poetry books instead. Because a part of me still wanted to hold on to Ava and her strong spirit. This book is a must-read for readers of any age, but especially teenagers so that they can learn how you can overcome the worst in life if you have the right people standing by you.

 

Short Q & A With The Author

Why did you select fire as the source of Ava’s disfigurement?

SCARS LIKE WINGS was actually inspired by Marius, a friend of mine, was burned and severely scarred by a house fire as a child in Romania. Now 20, Marius’ story has always inspired and intrigued me, not only because of the power of his tragedy but because he chooses every single day not to let it define him. He has had children run screaming from him. He has had bullies call him Freddy Krueger. I wanted to write a story that would go to these dark, lonely parts of tragedies like his, but also to the beautiful, hopeful parts. As Marius has told me, the only way he survived was because every time he wanted to give up, someone was there, helping him choose to live. I hope Ava’s story can show readers that we all have a choice after a life-changing event: We can choose to be alone, isolated and angry that our normal is gone, or we can let people in and find a new normal, together.

Reading Scars Like Wings it looks like you did a lot of research in burn victims when it comes to the healing process and medical work needed. Did you speak to professionals that help burn victims or did you solely rely on books about the topic?

Oh, definitely! As I wrote this book, I felt heavily the burden of presenting an accurate, respectful representation of the burn survivor community. I spent a lot of time speaking with survivors, reading their stories, talking to doctors about wound care and recovery, and generally immersing myself in the terrible/wonderful/inspirational/reality of being a burn survivor. Learning about the physical and emotional pain of burns was gut-wrenching at times, but I wanted to preset a story that went beyond stereotypes and pity to the reality of what it’s like to live with physical and emotional scars like Ava’s.

I know that Ava hates seeing herself as a survivor, but she is a very inspiring character. The reader can’t help but want to root for her the whole time. When did Ava’s story first come to you (as in inspiration)?

Well, like I mentioned, Marius originally sparked the idea for this story, but the character of Ava took shape slowly as I started researching and drafting. She has some qualities just like Marius, like her thumbs on her hands instead of fingers, and then pieces of other stories that survivors have shared with me. The more I thought about her and wrote about her, the more she became a fully-formed character with interests like Broadway musicals and a personality all her own. I’d love for readers to see Ava this way by the end of the book, as a smart, funny, talented teenager who just happens to also have scars.

As much as Ava is wonderful, Piper is a true scene-stealer. I feel like everyone needs a Piper in their life. Was Piper inspired by someone in particular?

Not really, but I knew from the beginning that Ava needed someone like Piper to draw her out of her shell and remind her that she has a lot of living and loving left to do. Piper’s loud, out-there attitude is a great counterbalance to Ava’s initial belief that her life is over after the fire. Like a lot of people, though, Piper’s bravado is hiding her own pain and struggles. And when she starts to push Ava away, too, we start to see how deep her pain runs. Both girls finally realize that they can have full, happy lives after their trauma, but they can’t ignore the pain, either.

So many YA novels lately are being made into movies or TV series, which actress would you like to see bring Ava to life?

Oh, wouldn’t that be amazing! If I’m being honest, I’d love to see the role of Ava go to a burn survivor. I think it would be so wonderful to see someone who has actually lived a similar storyline portray this recovery journey!

(Editor’s note: I LOVE Erin’s idea of a burn survivor being the one to portray Ava, although if I had to choose an actress, I think Joey King would tackle Ava’s journey well.)

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review & Author Interview: Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small

bright

Would you die for the Prize?

Release Date: May 21, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Price: $12.29 (hardcover)

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Plot Summary:

Best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders have trained since childhood at the Paris Opera Ballet School, where they’ve forged an inseparable bond through shared stories of family tragedies and a powerful love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves how far they would go for the ultimate prize: to be named the one girl who will join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic will make them shine, too? Would they risk death for it? Neither girl is sure.

But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. And as selection day draws near, the competition—for the Prize, for the Demigod—becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other.

Bright Burning Stars is a stunning, propulsive story about girls at their physical and emotional extremes, the gutting power of first love, and what it means to fight for your dreams.

Grade: A

Review:

For some reason I find books or films about ballet to be utterly fascinating and alluring. Maybe because I took ballet classes for a year as a kid (before realizing that I should give up cause there was no way I’d ever be a ballerina with my lack of grace). I’m so obsessed with ballet that I even made my protagonist in CUT HERE, Lena one. This is to confirm that I was absolutely excited when I was finally given the ARC for Bright Burning Stars (I had requested it months ago and had only been given it a few weeks prior to publication date).

Things I loved about this novel:

Friendships: The two protagonists, Marine and Kate have a very strong friendship. It actually is the core of the novel and despite the fact that they’re both aiming for “The Prize” aka becoming the exclusive etoile at the Opera National de Paris. “Rats” as the studying ballerinas are referred to in the novel, are so focused on the prize that they’d do anything to obtain it, and Kate is even willing to die for it. Slowly, bestfriends Marine and Kate begin to grow apart as things get more competitive and each wanting to snag the prize title for their own.

Relationships: I love how the author explores various types of relationships, such as showing one romantic relationship as gradually growing into something much more passionate than it initially was, and another romantic relationship that becomes tragically toxic fast.

Setting: Ever since I was little (maybe because I was obsessed with Marie Antoinette & Versailles) I’ve been in love with Paris. So, I’ll automatically favor any novel that takes place in the City of Lights. I was just a bit sad that we, the readers never get a chance to experience the city because we’re always stuck in the dance studios with the two protagonists.

Minor gripe: I wasn’t a fan of how abortion was handled in this book. Not because one of the protagonists decides to go over and beyond to terminate an unexpected pregnancy, but because of how simplistic it was written out to be. Sure, maybe drinking odd toxic herbal teas *can* induce an abortion, but I don’t like how easy it all was for the character. Since this is a YA and intended for teens, I don’t want teens thinking that if you’re pregnant that you can just forego a normal abortion AT A CLINIC and just drink herbal tea and wish everything will get taken care of, because in most cases that won’t work. Just putting that out there for the kids.

The Ending: There were only two ways the book could’ve ended and I assumed both possible endings. Ultimately, the author aimed for the safest one. Which is not to say that is was bad, but probably tragic loving me would’ve opted for the other much more unsettling ending. But seeing that it’s YA I can see why the novel would end on a much more hopeful note than not.

Overall, the novel had very lush and alluring elements to it and I was completely consumed by the story. If you love Paris, ballet, and strong friendships, then this book is for you.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Algonquin Young Readers for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Short Q & A With The Author:

I read that you were a ballet dancer. Did you study ballet in Paris, as the characters in Bright Burning Stars did or did you study it elsewhere?

When I was five-years-old, I began dancing in Paris with a famous teacher named Max Bozzoni who taught and danced at the Paris Opera. Then I danced with L’Académie Chaptal where the teachers also danced and taught at the Paris Opera. And in my teens, I danced with the Richmond Ballet Student Company and did a summer at Pacific Northwest Ballet on full scholarship.

Why did you decide to set the story in Paris? Is it because it’s where ballet first began or because Paris is the perfect setting for a book about passion (both for ballet and love)?

I chose Paris because I began my dance adventure there and because I grew up obsessed and in love with the Parisian rats who became principal dancers. I knew I wanted to render homage to them specifically.

Do you think that female friendships are very important to girls in their teenage years and that’s why it’s particularly devastating when they end?

I think female friendships are always important, but when you are a teen you experience love with a particular type of intensity. I feel like those friendships are almost always tattooed in your heart somehow, which do make them hard to reckon with when they unravel.

The ballet world can be very cutthroat and dealing with physical pain is an every day occurrence for a ballerina. Do you think that’s why it’s hard for dancers to relate to others who don’t dance or don’t have a similar passion as their own?

To me, the dance world is like a monastery. You give yourself over to that vocation physically and mentally. Dancers are artists, but also athletes. Imagine a painter who wrestles, or a cellist who plays basketball, or a sculptor who sprints. The complexity of fusing art and sport. Very few people, I believe, know the rigor of ballet and, yes, that keeps the dancers separate from others for sure.

What actresses can you see in the role of Kate & Marine if anyone ever decides to bring Bright Burning Stars on the big or TV screen?

If I had it my way I’d want to see real dancers portray my girls, like Ava Arbuckle and Audrey Freeman whom I follow on IG!

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Jason Allen: Book Blog Tour Spotlight & Author Interview

I’m very excited to be hosting a spotlight and author interview on The Inkblotters with Jason Allen for his blog tour. This is the first time that I am hosting a blog tour stop so I’m incredibly thrilled to share this new amazing literary novel with all of you!

theeastend

A tragic accident threatens to unravel two families in this gripping novel of suspense and culture clash set in the Hamptons.

Purchase the novel on Amazon!

Plot Summary:

Corey Halpern, a local high schooler with a troubled home life, is desperate to leave the Hamptons and start anew somewhere else. His last summer before college, he settles for the escapism he finds in sneaking into neighboring mansions.

One night just before Memorial Day weekend, he breaks into the wrong home at the wrong time: the Sheffield estate, where he and his mother, Gina, work. Under the cover of darkness, Leo Sheffield—a billionaire CEO, patriarch and the owner of the vast lakeside manor—arrives unexpectedly with a companion. After a shocking poolside accident, everything depends on Leo burying the truth before his family and friends arrive for the holiday weekend. Unfortunately for him, Corey saw what happened, as did other eyes in the shadows.

Secrecy, obsession, and desperation dictate each character’s path in this spectacular debut. In a race against time, each critical moment holds life in the balance as Corey, Gina and Leo approach a common breaking point. With an ending as explosive as the Memorial Day fireworks on the island, The East End welcomes a bright new voice in fiction.

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How would you describe your writing process? (Do you write at night? During the day? Alone or out in public at a cafe?)

On the best of days, I’m a marathon writer. I’m always most productive when I can devote an entire day to novel pages, ideally starting the moment I wake up, or right after the coffee is in the cup anyway, and then working until at least dinner time. I used to write very late at night, sometimes all night until the sun had risen and the birds reminded me I should finally sleep, but in the past few years, I’m more a morning writer overall. I also teach at a university and have a heavy teaching load, so some days I can only spend an hour or so working on my writing before grading papers or heading to campus. I’ve found that I can’t work on a novel in public. I have to be in total solitude and quiet, at least when working on a novel. For shorter pieces, especially essays or poems, I sometimes like the energy in a coffee shop or a diner because it can spark a new thread of strange associative thoughts or odd metaphors, but as far as the novels go, I need to be a hermit for large blocks of time in order to stay immersed in the prolonged dream of the fictional world.

What physical settings do you find most conducive to writing?  Where did you write the bulk of this novel?

I wrote a lot of the early draft of The East End while living in Upstate New York, mostly while on my old couch, looking out the window throughout a few full cycles of the seasons and many days while the snow was falling. I revised it while living in Atlanta and renting a first-floor apartment in an old decrepit house that had a porch. I usually brought my laptop outside to the couch that was on the porch. During the hottest, most humid, most mosquito-thick parts of the year in Atlanta, I worked way more at night when it was cooler and less buggy and quieter.

How did writing a novel compare to your previous experience writing poetry?

Writing poems is much more spontaneous for me than the novel writing process. The scale is also so dramatically different. A poem is a distillation of image and emotion, sort of like carving and polishing a figurine of a baby elephant from a palm-size piece of limestone, while writing a novel takes years of chiseling marble slabs, and then rearranging and questioning how all the animals in an acre of the African savannah should be positioned to tell their larger interconnected story. Most of the poems in my collection A Meditation on Fire connect to personal experience, the initial drafts written with a sense of urgency. The East End was a constant process of exploration until the characters felt so real to me that I truly cared about each of them.

What I love about writing poetry is that I can spend one day on a first draft and feel I have something that is at least close to finished. What I love about novel writing is that I can only plan so much, and at a certain point during the years it takes to reach the end, there is sure to be at least a hundred ah-ha moments, so many surprises, and overall it’s so satisfying to complete a work that took hundreds of days, sometimes thousands of hours, and to discover something about the characters’ journeys that makes me think more deeply about my own experience in this world. Whether it’s through the short form with poems or essays or short stories, or the long form with novels, I can’t consider a piece finished in any form until I feel the same sense of emptiness—and I mean that in a good way. Each medium allows me to empty my consciousness to a certain extent, to empty out the static of daily life that we all cope with in our own ways.

What inspired you to write THE EAST END?

Initially, I mainly wanted to illuminate the inner lives of the working class people of the Hamptons. I grew up there, and as a working class person in a seasonal resort area that attracts the wealthiest of the wealthy, as the Hamptons does, it’s impossible not to compare what “they” have versus what “we” have. I’d always been fascinated by just how extreme the disparity was between the multi-millionaire visitors and those of us who scraped by year after year, and that tension played out in so many ways each summer season. So I wanted to explore class, but also addiction, secrecy, obsession, and to do my best to write a complex story that highlights that tension among the disparate classes of people in the Hamptons. What I found over time, after delving into the depths of each character’s psyche, is that I truly believe that we are all more than the assumptions others might impose upon us.

What are some of the main themes in the book or some of the key takeaways?

The main themes are class (specifically class-divide), alcoholism and addiction, secrecy, obsession, loneliness and longing, and identity (including sexual orientation/ identification). The key takeaway, I hope, is that we should try our best not to judge any book by its cover. I had an easy time empathizing with the teenaged character, Corey, even as he starts breaking into houses, and also for his mother, Gina, even as she’s hitting bottom with alcohol and pills and is relatively absent from her two sons’ daily lives. I was surprised to find how much I cared about the billionaire character, Leo Sheffield, when in the past I could have easily written him off as just another greed-driven destroyer of the world, someone who deserves no empathy—but it was gratifying to care about them all, despite their flaws and bad decisions.

What are the commonalities you discovered between the elite and the middle-class characters?

Everyone suffers. Everyone loves. Everyone longs for something or someone. We’re all so flawed, all bumbling along through our lives; we’re all having a human experience, no matter our socioeconomic status. It just so happens that it will always be a bit harder for working class people in general—hardest of all for the poorest of the poor.

What was the hardest part about writing your debut book?

Maintaining relationships, maybe? It’s understandable that it might not be easy for most people to be in a relationship with someone who wants to spend days off from work in their pajama pants, shut away in a room for hours at a time. The work itself, I honestly love it—even when it feels like hard work. It’s incredible that after many years of writing, now I get to work on my next novels as others are reading The East End. I guess the hardest part is what happens after the writing is finished. I want everyone to like it… haha.

Your author bio says you grew up in the Hamptons and worked a variety of blue-collar jobs for wealthy estate owners.  How much did you draw from personal experience when writing this book?

I mined lots of lived experience for both the setting of the novel and the characters. My mother worked for a millionaire family at their summer estate in Southampton for more than a decade, and while the plot and characters are fictional, the setting is closely based on the estate where she worked (and where I worked with her for one summer). I also worked for the mega-rich in the Hamptons as a pool guy, a carpenter’s helper, lots of labor jobs in my teens and twenties.

What is your favorite genre to read?  Have any authors you’ve read influenced your work?

Literary fiction is definitely my favorite, but all of the best genre fiction always transcends its genre, so I love discovering an especially strange novel with magical realism elements, or one that introduces a dystopian world in a new and fascinating way (think the original Twilight Zone episodes, Rod Serling’s brilliant social commentary through sci-fi). Whatever the genre, the characters will always matter most to me, but also I find that I’m most grateful when an author obviously took the time to pull me through the story with relatively constant plot complications and tension—all the books I love, all the ones I just couldn’t down, have so much character complexity and tension throughout. I’m sure that every author I’ve read has influenced my work to varying degrees, and I’m always looking for that next book that will trick me into forgetting that I’m reading—the best novels always achieve this seemingly impossible magic trick.

What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read) list?

I’m currently reading an advanced reader copy of a debut novel called The Tenth Girl, by Sara Faring, which is a brilliant, funny, twisted gothic story that takes place in a haunted girls’ prep school in Argentina, and at the same time I’m in the midst of another advanced copy of a wonderful literary debut novel Goodnight Stranger, by Miciah Bay Gault. I’ve also just finished Winter Loon, by Susan Bernhard, and loved it for its rich characters and the author’s bravery to show the true struggles of working-class characters. Some other recent favorites include: The Boat Runner, by Devin Murphy (if you haven’t read that yet, buy it immediately—it’s amazing); Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh (so unique, both dark and funny in all the most interesting ways); and I just reread All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, which I can only describe as a masterpiece, a novel in my top two or three of all-time.

Do you have plans to write more novels in the future?

Yes, absolutely. I plan to finish my second novel this summer. It’s a story set mostly in Portland, Oregon, where I also lived for ten years. It takes place during the winter of 2008, during the start of the Great Recession and the Housing Crisis, also during an especially cold winter. The characters are all down-and-outers, with addiction and family and desperation as the central themes. I’m also looking forward to revising my first memoir manuscript, as well as my first feature-length screenplay, and in the next year or so I will begin fleshing out my third novel. I have the novel-writing bug and realize now that I always have. I’m not hoping for a cure, either.

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Book Review: The Fade by Demitria Lunetta

fade

The Others meets The Cellar in this scary ghost story thriller from the author of BAD BLOOD.

Release Date: December 11, 2018

Order On Amazon

Price: $12.32

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Plot Summary:

We don’t want to disappear.
We want to be found.

Something terrible happened in her basement. Haley can feel it.

Four girls went missing several years ago, and the police never solved the case. But Haley knows the missing girls were murdered. How else can she explain the hostile presence in her house?

The ghostly girls need something from her. And unless Haley can figure out what they want…she might be next.

Grade: A

Review:

Creepy haunted house in a small town? Check. Missing girls that are possibly dead and haunting said house? Check. Creepy little boy, that sees dead people? Check. Basically, this book has all the things that a good ghost story murder mystery should have. I liked that the book started right off the bat with creepy events, it wasn’t a slow burn. And I like that some of the minor characters were right on board with the belief of ghosts, cause sometimes it gets kinda taxing to have characters go back and forth about whether or not the existence of ghosts is possible.

The mystery of what happened to the missing girls is what had me hooked, to be honest. I really wanted to know what happened to the girls, how they were murdered, where, and why. I also wanted to know who had murdered them. That mystery was the most interesting aspect of the book. I also enjoyed that the book didn’t try to force romantic relationships, or rather they were more casual, rather than insta-love. There are some events that take you by surprise, so it isn’t one of those predictable books, instead it keeps you wanting to read because I really had no idea where it was going to take me. But it was a fun, yet creepy ride!

The writing flowed very well, and if you’re a fan of YA and ghost stories, then this book will be right up your alley.

Short Q & A With the Author:

Why do you think that books about missing girls are so popular?

I think that the mystery is what really gets people. WHAT HAPPENED?! Then when it’s a young person, when there’s an expectation of care, it’s even more important to figure out WHAT HAPPENED?!

What inspired you to write your current book?

I moved into a new house and was at the top of the basement stairs thinking, “This is such a murder basement.” And the idea for THE FADE was born!

The Fade isn’t only a thriller mystery but it has a paranormal twist to it with the ghosts. What makes ghost stories and haunted homes so frightening?

Ghost stories are terrifying because they’re all about the unknown. Unexplainable phenomenon is terrifying! When reading/watching ghost stories I always think about the point of when I would leave the haunted house. It’s usually pretty soon. I could get a new house. And new stuff. And a new husband. I’d be so gone at the first spine prickle of a ghost.

Your book kind of reminded me of The Sixth Sense in the way that Haley is tasked with trying to help the ghosts she encounters. What movies do you think influenced or inspired you with the writing of this book?

Yes! Haley’s name is inspired by Haley Joel Osment from the Sixth Sense! I loved the creepiness of that movie but also the revelation that the ghosts just want help.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the digital ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review!

ENTER FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A SIGNED ARC OF THE FADE BY CLICKING THIS LINK!
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Book Review: Hiding – Henry Turner

hiding

Review*

HIDING was a very unique, particular book about a teenage boy who has been figuratively hiding all his life, that he’s capable of going unnoticed in plain sight. The whole book takes place within a twenty hour-time frame and explores the various secrets one keeps, and how sometimes surface truths aren’t always the truth, but merely a cover-up to what is truly hiding beneath the surface. This novel will keep you guessing as you try to unravel the truth about why the protagonist’s girlfriend left him, and how the truth affected the whole relationship. A fast-paced YA that ultimately delivers an important message to teens, how precious life is and what it means to be true to yourself. Check this out if you’re into coming of age YA novels, with a protagonist reminiscent of Holden Caulfield.

About The Book:

 HIDING tells the story of a teen boy who excels at being unseen and who finds himself in the unlikely predicament of hiding in his ex-girlfriend’s house. There he uncovers carefully concealed truths—about her, her family, and himself—in a breakout mystery both unpredictable and perceptive. Trapped by the alarm in his ex-girlfriend’s house and his own indecision, he’s confronted by how little he knows about Laura and her family—her seemingly perfect life and the reasons she shut him out of it. As he explores the palatial home, he uncovers more than he bargained for. How long can he stay hidden? What will happen if he is found? What will he learn about Laura—and himself—in this house? And what is his true motive for being there?

Turner’s affinity for observant outsiders—and teens who share a desire to hide from nosy adults and judgmental peers—shines in a psychological thriller in which the slow burn of tension keeps readers turning pages to a sudden twist that changes everything.

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Short Q & A With The Author:

In your past novel, Ask The Dark and your current novel, Hiding, both books focus on how the protagonists came from lower class families. How important was that detail to the plot and how did it shape the characters and their actions?

In ASK THE DARK the protagonist was from the lower class, financially speaking, but really that’s not the case in HIDING. HIDING’s narrator is middle class, but living in a neighborhood where that category would have wide boundaries and a sliding scale because there’s a lot of variety and nuance to the whole socio-economic scheme of the area.  It was important that his lifestyle is in contrast to Laura’s – she’s rich and has had a lot of prestige experiences: she lives in a huge house, attends prep school, travels, and so forth, but he doesn’t. He has every reason to wonder why she is attracted to him and sees value in him, because, in at least external ways, they have very little in common. Hence part of his quest is to learn the reasons of her attraction, which ultimately have nothing to do with their socio-economic positions. Also important is how their lifestyles have influenced how they react to their problems and the development of their coping strategies – the differences of which lead the narrator to his most important discoveries.

Hiding reminded me of a true crime incident where a man in New Orleans hid in his ex’s attic for weeks without her knowledge. Was the novel inspired by true events?

Certain personalities in the story have real-life antecedents, but always in a composite. I used to cut school and hang out at a country club where the waiters would give me drinks – though I never put on the act the narrator does! The central situation was my invention, however, and not based on a true crime.

There was a stark contrast between the protagonist and his girlfriend Laura. Do you think that she was attracted to him because unlike her mother, he wasn’t expecting her to be perfect?

He doesn’t have expectations at all. He sees her in the moment, as she is. He looks past her accomplishments, her beauty, money, athletic success, and connects with what makes her real as a person, and not as a reflection of what she has or does, which, to his way of thinking, are really just obstacles getting in the way of their getting to truly know and love each other. A big part of the story has to do with his convincing her that it’s the innate aspects of herself that are most special about her, not things she has or does that are external to her, and that is losing the meaning she once placed in them.

The novel explores the idea of hiding in plain sight. Do you think that many people, especially teenagers find it easier to hide rather than to bring attention to themselves?

It depends on what they hide; or rather, what they hide behind. I think the narrator uses hiding, or at least his highly adaptable definition of hiding, to take control over how he feels he’s being overlooked and ignored in his neighborhood. Instead of saying, “They can’t see me,” he prefers to think, “I’m hiding from them,” which allows him to preserve his private sense of value and keep it a secret to himself, without the need for external approval or validation. The risk, however, is that at its most dangerous level, the narrator defines hiding in the sense of keeping important aspects of the self-buried, from others as well as from oneself. So the kind of hiding that the narrator discusses is very different from just staying out of sight. It can be that – simply staying concealed so you aren’t noticed – but more subtle and dangerous is using some external trait as one’s identity, as the representation of one’s value, behind which hides the secret self.

There was a feeling of dread throughout the whole novel up until the climax. Do you think that this was necessary for the protagonist’s journey?

In the end, when he realizes what is really happening to Laura and the imminent danger of it all, he feels dread, amped up by feelings of urgency and despair. But earlier, as he walks through the neighborhood, or even in the earlier scenes of him sneaking around inside Laura’s house, the sense is more of isolation and alienation – and there is a lot of humor in his way of looking at things. All throughout the story he talks about being unrecognized and in some instances actually rejected, which certainly can be dreadful, but this was necessary to show that he can maintain his sense of self-worth without external support, praise, validation, etc.  That’s really the essence of the book – the revelation that the narrator has developed a coping mechanism that lets him maintain his sense of personal value despite how he’s treated or believes he’s perceived by others.

About The Author:

Henry Turner grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, in Roland Park, where he attended public school. He was always interested in storytelling in one form or another, and as a teenager he started making films with his brother and neighborhood kids.

Henry wound up making five feature films, writing and shooting and cutting them. When his films won awards and attracted industry attention he moved to Los Angeles, after getting a call from a film production company that was looking for scripts. He stayed in L.A. and helped build a fledgling film festival that has since become well-established. He also freelanced in entertainment journalism, interviewing well-known filmmakers such as George Lucas, Brian Grazer, Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron, and many others. All along he was writing stories.

During a year spent in Greece he made a total commitment to writing fiction. Returning to Los Angeles, he met his future wife, who encouraged him to study fiction writing with a novelist he admired – John Rechy. Henry stayed in Rechy’s private writing group for a number of years and also studied privately with Hubert Selby. Since then he and his wife have had a son, Hugo, who is now twelve. Henry Turner is now writing a new novel.

Purchase the book on Amazon or Indiebound!

Check him out on Twitter!

Visit his author website!

*I received a free copy of the book for review purposes. 

By: Azzurra Nox

 

Book Review & Author Interview: This Darkness Mine – Mindy McGinnis

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Mindy McGinnis has been delivering badass (sometimes unlikeable) but definitely strong female protagonists since her early works. This Darkness Mine is no different from her previous novels in that regard. Sasha Stone is the epitome of perfection: first chair clarinet player, straight-A student, and also comes equipped with a “perfect” boyfriend who’s handsome, well-dressed, and doesn’t pressure her into sex. All of this slowly begins to erode once bad-boy Isaac Harver enters the scene. Soon, she begins to feel feelings towards him that she never did and recalling events she’s never taken part of. Or has she?

Some light begins to shed when we find out that Sasha had a twin that she ultimately ended up absorbing whilst in the womb (known as Shanna). Unlike Sasha, this twin despises control and perfection and begins to wreck havoc into her life once she starts to take over Sasha’s psyche. But is Shanna real or merely a figment of Sasha’s imagination?

The book flirts with the notion of unreliable narrator, much like Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan did with Natalie Portman’s character. Is what is happening real or is it all just a sign of Sasha’s ultimate madness?

McGinnis breathes life into the “dead twin” Shanna, allowing her to be the personification of Freud’s ID (meaning being a person who only lives for their own passions and don’t allow their brain to control their emotions). Sasha on the other hand is Freud’s EGO end of this yin-yang duo, the brain and captain of the ship. But what happens when the emotion-driven Shanna takes reins of the situation and how will that effect Sasha’s “perfect” world?

This book isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s dark. It’s gritty. It’s gory. (Yes, I L-O-V-E-D it!). And just when you think you know where it’s leading you, you’re completely blindsided by yet again another improvised detour that will leave you questioning your own sanity and judgment. McGinnis delivers a punch to the gut with her sharp writing and often ruthless character interactions.

So take the plunge, cause it’s one hell of a crazy ride.

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Short Q & A With the Author:

When I started reading This Darkness Mine I realized that the book was based off of the short story that appeared in Among The Shadows, entitled Phantom Heart. When did you decide to further explore Sasha’s world and what was it about this character that compelled you to do that?

Great question, thanks for noticing! Yes, DARKNESS is based on my short, “Phantom Heart.” Originally, I had no intention of taking this any further. Then my fellow editors for Among The Shadows – Demitria Lunetta and Kate Karyus Quinn – insisted that there was a whole novel there. I wasn’t sure, but I pitched the idea to my editor at Harper Collins, who was like – Yes! Write it!

Sasha Stone is the typical overachiever. Do you think that her mental illness derives from expecting perfection out of herself and the pressures that come along with that, or does she suffer from multiple personality disorder?

I worked in a public school for 15 years, and I always thought it was interesting how black and white rules and programs were. Drugs are bad. Sex is bad. Smoking is bad. Period. In some ways, we’re telling the kids that even curiosity about our “darker” inclinations are plain wrong, and need to be smothered, not investigated. Perfection is impossible, yet many strive for it. I wondered what would happen if you took an already strained teen, trying to be the “good” kid, and had her repulsed even by any interest in doing “bad” things. Would she be able to accept that such urges can be normal? Or is that so far outside of what we’ve taught her is “good” that she has to come up with an alternative explanation?

For many years I’ve been very fascinated with the creepy phenomenon of Fetus in Fetu, where a twin ends up absorbing the other twin in the womb, and in some cases doctors have later found the missing twin inside of the living twin, usually mistaken for a tumor later on in life. When did you become interested in this strange phenomenon?

It’s actually not a rare event, it’s something that usually goes completely unnoticed. I can’t remember the first time I ever heard of it, because it is pretty pervasive in pop culture, but I did have a student years and years ago who had absorbed his twin. It’s something I collected in my lint trap of a brain, and it became paired in my mind with the mirror therapy that they use for phantom limb syndrome, which is how “Phantom Heart” came about.

In the novel, Sasha is a clarinet player. Were you ever in band in high school and how did that help with writing the novel from a musician’s point of view?

You bet!!! Trombone since 4th grade!!! I tell everyone this is my band geek book. I also took piano lessons throughout most of my childhood, so music has always been a part of my life as both a consumer and a producer. This was a chance to work that into a book.

This novel was exceptionally dark. It explored the trials of mental illness as well as what it means to be a successful girl. Which actress could you see in the role of Sasha if this were to be made into a movie?

Oh, I have no idea. I don’t ever do any fan casting.

(Editor note: I asked that question because I could totally see Emma Roberts portraying stone-cold crazy bitch Sasha to perfection.)

I often use music to get into a certain mood depending what scenes I’m writing. Since your novel was about a girl who was obsessed with music, did you use music as a way to aid you in the writing of this book? And which music/artist/or song did you listen to when immersing yourself into Sasha’s world?

I actually don’t listen to music when I’m writing because while it can be helpful to get you into one mood, it can also end up controlling you mood so that when you need to flip to something else when you change scenes it can be hard. Instead I have a white noise app that I keep on while I’m writing. It’s a back ground noise that lets my creativity be in control, not someone else’s.

Get your copy of This Darkness Mine here today!

Visit the author’s site http://mindymcginnis.com

By: Azzurra Nox

Book Review: The Reminders – Val Emmich

the reminders

If the name Val Emmich sounds familiar to you, it’s because you may have recently seen him on HBO’s Mick Jagger’s and Martin Scorsese’s produced TV show Vinyl, about a record executive in the 1970’s. Or you may remember him from other popular TV shows such as Ugly Betty, 30 Rock, and Cashmere Mafia. Or you may have stumbled upon some of his songs whilst watching an episode of Teen Wolf.

More recently, you may find Val Emmich in the bookstore in the form of his debut novel, The Reminders.

The plot is pretty straight forward, it’s told in alternating voices (something that Jennifer Niven loves to do in her novels as well), between Gavin Winters, an actor of a semi-popular TV show that has recently lost the love of his life and Joan Lennon Sully, a precocious ten-year old girl with a fascinating but rare neurological condition that allows her to recall every single detail of her life since the age of four.

Gavin and Joan’s lives meet when Gavin goes to visit his old college friends in New Jersey, as a way to escape a scandal in Los Angeles and in the meantime try to forget his time with his partner Sydney since the memories are too painful for him to move on. Meanwhile, Joan struggles with the notion of being forgotten after her grandmother has difficulty remembering her because of Alzheimer’s disease and yet can still recall all the lyrics of her favourite songs, which prompt her to believe that in order to be remembered she must write an amazing song just like John Lennon (her hero and namesake). Once Joan learns that Gavin used to be a musician, she attempts to persuade her into helping her write a memorable song if she in return shares with him her memories of his late love. Together, they forge a very dynamic and amusing bond.

The novel’s strength is that is has us pondering the importance of memories. Is it a curse to forget or is it an even bigger curse to remember? Ultimately, the reader will come up with their own conclusions on that as the characters each demonstrate the pros and cons of both of those throughout the novel. If you’re a music lover (in particular a Beatles fan) you’re going to love all the tidbits about them strewn throughout the novel. I particularly enjoyed being able to see the world with child-like wonder as Joan and then seeing the world from the eyes of an emotionally broken character such as Gavin. One of the best moments in the novel is when the two of them end up on the Mindy Love Show (that for some reason reminds me very much of The Wendy Williams Show) and how that goes drastically different from how both characters thought it would go, but as a reader it was hilarious although you’re left sort of cringing for the two characters at the same time.

If you’re hoping to get immersed in a music-filled ode to memories and the power they hold, then The Reminders is right up your ally. It’s a fun, light, but also thought-provoking book about love, loss, and what is worth fighting for, that will leave you missing the characters once you’re done.

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Short Q & A with the Author:

Your book focuses on the importance of memory –what is one of your favourite childhood memories?

Joan in the book has an exceptional memory, but unfortunately my memory is terrible. I don’t have a specific favorite memory that sticks out in my mind but I remember moments when I was hanging out with friends and we’d laugh so hard that our stomachs would be in real pain. I haven’t had one of those painful laughs in ages and I miss it.

As an artist –the art of creation means that whatever you create will outlive you. Since you’ve dabbled in various mediums, which one do you think is the most representative of you?

At this point, if I stopped making art tomorrow, my music would be the thing that probably best encapsulates me as a person. Mainly because there’s so much of it and it spans more than half of my life, so you’d have a pretty comprehensive look at what I care about and how I’ve changed over time. But to get the truest sense of me as a person, I think you’d want to look at all my art together, in its various forms. It all tells a different part of my overall story.

The novel seems to be an ode to The Beatles, so it’s obvious to ask what is your favourite Beatles song?

I don’t have one and I’m suspicious of anyone who can choose just one. I can’t even pick my favorite album. What I love about them is their variety, the scope of their achievement. This relates to the previous question. The Beatles are a big, messy, evolving thing that becomes more complex and rewarding when taken as a whole. I’m sorry to dodge the question, but it’s the truth, I can’t choose. Nor can I choose a favorite member of the band. Contrary to what one may think from reading my book, it’s not necessarily John Lennon. I love all four of them and I love how they balanced each other out and formed a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts.

The whole time I was reading, The Reminders, I kept thinking about how Matt Bomer would be perfect for the role of Gavin Winters in a movie adaptation. Who would you think would best portray the character?

I think Matt Bomer would be great. I hadn’t thought of him. Well done. The novel has in fact been optioned for a film and when I flew to Los Angeles to meet the creative team they asked me this same question and I didn’t have an answer. They mentioned Ryan Gosling, probably just to get the conversation started. I thought that would be interesting. My wife would want it to be Gael Garcia Bernal just so she could meet him.

I think that anyone who’s read The Reminders, will agree that the real scene stealer is Joan, the little girl with the incredible memory. I really enjoyed reading her chapters and wonder if there may be a possible future for her in later books or not?

Anything is possible. I don’t have any plans for a followup right now but I’ve been getting this question a lot and I’m flattered that people would be interested in reading more. Maybe down the line. I’ve already started writing a new novel with different characters and so that’s my focus for the time being.

Get your copy of The Reminders today!

By: Azzurra Nox