Monday, April 28, 2014

Review: Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor

Maybe One Day
by Melissa Kantor
Release Date: February 18th, 2014
2014 HarperTeen
Hardcover Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062279200
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Zoe and her best friend, Olivia, have always had big plans for the future, none of which included Olivia getting sick. Still, Zoe is determined to put on a brave face and be positive for her friend.

Even when she isn't sure what to say.

Even when Olivia misses months of school.

Even when Zoe starts falling for Calvin, Olivia's crush.

The one thing that keeps Zoe moving forward is knowing that Olivia will beat this, and everything will go back to the way it was before. It has to. Because the alternative is too terrifying for her to even imagine.

My Thoughts
Maybe One Day is one of those books that I definitely had mixed feelings towards.  I really wanted to like it, really, really wanted to like it, but I just had to admit to myself that I had some serious issues with the plot and one of the main characters, and it was too much to ignore. 

When I first read the plot, I thought there would be a bit more ballet in it as I am a huge ballet fan, but I was to be seriously disappointed in this.  While I could actually live with this, as a teacher, I had a hard time with the way the girls were dismissed from the school and it nagged at me like a fly that just won't leave you alone.  I just couldn't imagine an institution like the New York Ballet Academy dismissing the girls in such a manner, together, without their parents, without a probationary period, especially having spent so many years training there.  And before I get flack from this, I do have a couple of friends who went to the National Ballet Academy in Toronto so I am a bit familiar with the process simply because I drilled them mercilessly about it.  So when I asked my friend about it, she laughed out loud and said it was unrealistic.  And that's how the book started, with that sitting in my mind.

I really enjoyed Olivia's character, simply because she was the least annoying of the bunch.  She was sweet and gentle, and took the time to really connect with ALL of her friends while she was sick, as well as her large, extended family.  She just seemed genuine to me, and I had a lot of sympathy for her situation.  Where I had a problem is in the speediness of her diagnosis and treatment.  Everyone has had an experience with cancer and probably has a lot of different stories to tell, but it just seems so unlikely that I had a hard time buying it.  I had a student diagnosed with leukemia a long time ago, and it definitely didn't occur in one day.  The amount of tests this student had to undergo during the diagnosis process was staggering, and took weeks to complete before a complete treatment plan was set in motion. Perhaps some hospitals are different?  But this was a Sick Children's Hospital too.  I also really liked her older brother Jake as he seemed very kind, asking how Zoe was doing every day and giving her special treatment, not that she really deserved it as she kind of wished he was the one dying and not Olivia.  Zoe and Olivia together were okay and I liked a lot of their scenes together; it was probably the most genuine parts of the book and the parts where Zoe actually seemed nice.

Zoe is the one with whom I had the most issues as I couldn't seem to connect with her character although I really tried.  I tried to be sympathetic and understanding, knowing she is just sixteen years old, and going through a really difficult time, losing both ballet and possibly her best friend.  However, that is really no excuse for treating people the way she did and I was ready to throw the book against the wall several times.  I am supposed to excuse the fact that she stereotypes everyone and treats people like crap?  Especially when they are being kind and considerate for her feelings?  It just kept lowering her on the rung of decency for me, and I almost didn't finish the book at one point. That would be the point when she suddenly decided she liked Calvin as he was her way of "escaping" the situation.  What?!?!  You're using this guy so you won't have to think about your problems?  Another step down the decency ladder for me.  And there was actually no connection between them for me as they didn't actually have a conversation about their relationship that I could see, they just seemed to make out all the time.  It was far more interesting when they were arguing and disagreeing as it seemed more realistic.  

Maybe One Day just didn't quite meet the mark for me and came rather close to be a DNF.  I managed to finish it and was glad I did as it was probably the best part of the book, rather bittersweet, but for the first time, Zoe was real and I saw a glimmer of someone I could possibly like.  I have a funny feeling many readers will probably like this one a lot more than I did, but I just couldn't connect with Zoe and thought she was selfish and spoiled, which ruined a lot of it for me.  Furthermore, while I enjoyed the scenes at the hospital with Olivia and her family (rather bittersweet), I had a hard time getting past some of the hospital routines and procedures that pushed that skeptic button inside me.  Growing up with a nurse for a mother who worked with cancer patients, I had a hard time buying into some of it.  I also found the writing to be stiff and contrived, and sometimes rushed, as if the author forgot to add something and absolutely had to add it at that moment (hence the romance, which was not needed and actually turned me off this novel). This author does have a lot of talent and the ability to draw a reader in, but I almost felt like she tried too hard.  Would I recommend this novel?  Yes, as I think a lot of people would enjoy it, just not me.  Would I read another book by this author?  Yes. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Guest Post: On Killing Characters by Jaleigh Johnson

by Jaleigh Johnson
Release Date: March 25, 2014
Ages 14 and Up
ISBN: 978-0-385-37615-0
Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers

In the scrap towns, a day’s pay depends on what you find in the Meteor Fields. Storms rain down objects from other lands, and ever since Piper’s father died, scavenging is the only way for her to survive. Until the day she strikes gold. Unconscious, lying in the fields amid the rubble, is a girl. She’s beautiful and well-dressed . . . and has a dragonfly tattooed on her wrist. The mark of the dragonfly means the girl is from the Dragonfly Territories. If Piper can get her back there, she might get a reward and be able to start a new life.
The 401 train is the safest way to get to the Dragonfly Territories, but Piper will have to sneak aboard, and convincing the girl to join her seems unlikely—until there’s a knock on Piper’s door and she learns that the girl is more valuable than she could ever have imagined. There are people who want her back, and they won’t stop until they have her. Piper wants a new life, but running for it isn’t how she thought she’d get there. And the race to the Dragonfly Territories looks like it might be impossible to finish alive.

With a cast of characters who stand up and walk off the page, THE MARK OF THE DRAGONFLY has an action-packed plot, a page-turning pace, and a vivid, unique setting that will charm girls and boys who want to escape into another world.

JALEIGH JOHNSON is a lifelong reader, gamer, and moviegoer. She loves nothing better than to escape into fictional worlds and take part in fantastic adventures. She lives and writes in the wilds of the Midwest, but you can visit her online at or on Twitter @JaleighJohnson.

On Killing Characters

“As soon as Character X is no longer useful in the story—BAM—I drop a piano on his head.”  --some author somewhere, probably

I’ve heard variations of this quote often over the years, and in some ways, I envy authors who know exactly when to kill off Character X by dropping a piano on his head or having him be eaten by rabid squirrels.  Character deaths, if done well, are an emotional gut punch and can change the course of the novel.  The stakes skyrocket.  Suddenly, the reader’s asking herself, jeez, if Character X got the axe, then who’s to say my favorite Character Y won’t be fed to the squirrel horde next. Now she’s turning pages and sweating bullets over Character Y’s fate. She’s invested.  That’s wonderful.

And yet…
Confession: as a writer, I’m not always sure when I should hoist the piano and let it fall.

Death, at least in my novels, is permanent.  Once I write that character off the page, he’s gone for good, and any stories he might have left to tell will die with him.  Maybe that’s why I haven’t killed many characters up to this point in my writing.  I always have that desire to tell more of their story.  They never stop having potential for growth and development, to find redemption or to go bad.  In fact, most of the characters I’ve killed in my stories were deaths that I planned from the beginning.  I knew their stories had a fixed endpoint. 

One exception to this happened in my second published novel Mistshore.  One of the characters, Sull, got into a fight late in the novel, a fight to the death, and I knew that there were legitimate story reasons to have Sull not survive that battle.  For one thing, he was fighting to protect his friends, and I knew his character well enough to know that he wouldn’t hesitate to give his life for them.  He was also clearly outmatched in the fight, so at the very least he was going to come away gravely injured.  The more I wrote, the more convinced I became that this was the logical end for poor old Sull.

And yet…
I just couldn’t do it.

Yeah, I know.  Maybe I’m a wimp.  But hear me out.  Part of my justification for saving Sull was that the hero of the story had already lost too much.  Losing one of her closest friends would send her over the edge, and that wasn’t where I wanted her to go.  When a character dies, it causes a ripple effect that touches all the characters surrounding him.  As a writer, I have to be mindful of that and weigh the consequences as I write.  I had to do that when I was writing The Mark of the Dragonfly too.  A certain character (I can’t say which one for spoilery reasons) died in an early draft of the novel, only to be brought back in a later draft because the ripple effects of the death were too great.  And I’ve never regretted that decision.

But there were other reasons I saved old Sull, if I’m honest. 

The thing is I get attached to my characters.  Authors do that.  True, it doesn’t stop me from making them suffer, have them make bad choices, embarrass themselves, or confront the squirrel horde in a death match.  Suffering is a necessary part of the story, of the characters’ journey and growth.  But sometimes they surprise me too, let me know that the stories they have left to tell are more important than a heroic end.  Sull’s story wasn’t finished; he had more to contribute—and I liked him!  So I snatched him from the jaws of death.
Okay, I maimed him a bit, but he’s fine.

So, yes, it’s hard for me to kill characters.  Doesn’t mean I won’t do it if the story truly calls for it.  But it’s never easy, and I think that in the end that’s a good thing.

Note:  No squirrels were harmed in the making of this post.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

Guest Post: Casting the Making of Nebraska Brown

by Louise Caiola
Release Date: February 2, 2014

The last thing eighteen-year-old Ann Leigh remembers is running from her boyfriend in a thick Nebraska cornfield. This morning she’s staring down a cool Italian sunrise, an entire continent from the life she once knew. The events of the eighteen months in between have inexplicably gone missing from her memory.

All at once she’s living with Tommy, an attractive, young foreigner asking for her continued love. Though he’s vaguely familiar, she recalls a boy named Shane in America who she reluctantly agreed to marry. Juggling a new world while her old one is still M.I.A is difficult enough without the terrifying movie scenes spinning a dizzy loop in her mind: glimpses of a devastating house fire, a romance gone wrong, an unplanned pregnancy, and a fractured family – each claiming to be part of who she once was – a girl and a past somehow discarded.

Ann Leigh must collect the pieces of herself to become whole again, but she doesn’t know who to trust especially when Tommy’s lies become too obvious to ignore. And above all, her heart aches to discover what became of the child she may or may not have given birth to.

The Making of Nebraska Brown tells the story of one girl’s coming apart from the inside and the great lengths she’ll go to reclaim herself and find her way home.

Buy this book:

Guest Post: Casting the Making of Nebraska Brown

I am NOT a frustrated screen-writer. I haven’t ever aspired to create a Hollywood script or a Broadway play. But I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a bit of movie-making going on behind the scenes when I write my novels. In fact, for the most part, when I’m plotting and pacing, my mind visits each scene as though it were part of some film or TV show. I try to imagine what I would want to “see” happen next if I were watching this story come to life before my eyes. Along with that, I also envision who I would like to see fill the role of the characters that I meet in my work.

It’s a fantasy. Come on. Everybody needs at least ONE, right?

The Making of Nebraska Brown – The Movie.

After they’ve revived me (because of course, I’ve fainted) I am asked who I might like to cast in the lead roles. My actors of choice. Well, gee, I’ve never even…oh, like hell. I have. You know and I know it. So here goes:

Ann Leigh – Shailene Woodley (I had her in mind long before Divergent so I ought to get first dibs.) Second Choice – Hailee Steinfeld.

Tommy – Joe Jonas. Period. End of discussion.

Shane – Jason Dolley. The perfect Shane.

Tessa –  Isabel Lucas

Renata – Emma Stone

Sissy – Saoirse Ronan

I would enjoy hearing who you guys think would play these roles! Lay it on me.
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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Review: The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier

The Lost Sisterhood
by Anne Fortier
Release Date: March 11th, 2014
2014 HarperCollins
Softcover Edition; 585 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-44341-246-9
Genre: Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

The Lost Sisterhood tells the story of Diana, a young and aspiring--but somewhat aimless--professor at Oxford. Her fascination with the history of the Amazons, the legendary warrior women of ancient Greece, is deeply connected with her own family's history; her grandmother in particular. When Diana is invited to consult on an archeological excavation, she quickly realizes that here, finally, may be the proof that the Amazons were real.

The Amazons' "true" story--and Diana's history--is threaded along with this modern day hunt. This historical back-story focuses on a group of women, and more specifically on two sisters, whose fight to survive takes us through ancient Athens and to Troy, where the novel reinvents our perspective on the famous Trojan War.

My Thoughts
The Lost Sisterhood is one of those books to which I was drawn simply because of the word Troy.  I was curious as to the path in which this author would take in her recounting of the events of the downfall of Troy and the people involved.  I am not a huge fan of The Iliad so I was interested to see the scholarship that would be employed in her story and her take on the events that occurred so many years ago.  While I had mixed feelings about the book itself, I definitely liked the take on the downfall of Troy.

The Lost Sisterhood follows two intertwining stories; that of Diana in the modern day, a woman who is searching for proof of the existence of the Amazons, and that of Myrina, a woman who lived in the Bronze Age, thrust into circumstances not of her own making and about to rewrite history.  Personally, I preferred Diana's story as it seemed more real and less contrived than Diana's story as I will explain.

Diana is a young, and hopeful, scholar at Oxford, trying to earn her place and niche, but is constantly mocked and ridiculed for her choice of thesis topic, the Amazons.  Approached by a secretive man who invites her to Amsterdam to look at some archaeological pieces that have recently been unearthed, Diana is amazed to realize that these pieces contain writing that she recognizes, writing that her grandmother had used to write in her secret journals when she was a child.  Curious, she heads to Amsterdam, only to end up halfway across the world in another location and working for a group of whom she has heard and is afraid.  

While Diana is a rather headstrong character, and I rather liked her, there were moments when I did want to shake her and tell her to open her eyes to what was really happening around her.  For a scholar, she was often naive and missed a lot of rather important clues as to what was happening.  She was brave and adventurous, but she did behave like a child at times, sulking when she didn't get her way, and acting quite immaturely around Nick and her best friend Rebecca.  It must have taken a lot of patience not to throw her overboard at times, as I wanted to.  And she was pretty trusting too, considering she was on a race to find an Amazon Hoard of treasure, often seeming shocked at how easily she was traced and found.  In this day and age?  And you are shocked that someone can find you when you use your credit cards and your passport to book a flight and check into a hotel?  Really? Has this woman never read anything but scholarly books during her lifetime?

Unfortunately, the book did require a bit of suspension of belief in order to buy into the plot.  I did enjoy the plot, thought it was fun, liked the globe-trotting, liked the historical lessons about the various cultures during the Bronze Age, liked the various characters that were met along the way (Dr. Ozlem and his house come to mind), and definitely enjoyed the descriptions of many of the settings (the Palace of Knossos - fun stuff).  However, the fact that Diana managed to decipher an ancient inscription in five days, even having her grandmother's diary to help her, would have been impossible, and even I was going, Really?  That was just too much, even for me.  Although I let it go, it did fester, like a wasp that keeps buzzing around and won't go away until either you kill it or swat it.  

Myrina's story was my favourite.  It was a sad story, as she journeyed from her homeland to the home of the Moon Goddess, hoping to cure her younger sister of her blindness, only to be attacked by raiding Greeks bent on destruction.  Following her story from her home to Knossos, to Mycenae, to Ephesus, to Troy, was a lot of fun, and I really liked how the author put her own twist on a classic tale.  To be honest, I kind of like this tale better than the one Homer wrote, but I have also mentioned that I am not a fan of Homer in the first place.  This tale was less fantastical, more realistic, and I liked the burgeoning romance between Myrina and Paris; it was clean and simple.  I wasn't as crazy about the romance between Nick and Diana, as I thought that one did not parallel this ancient one in any way as Nick was a liar and a cheat, and I didn't really enjoy his character a whole lot.  But Myrina's, I did enjoy.  Knowing what is going to happen makes it bittersweet.  I even liked Myrina's interaction with Hercules.  Fun stuff!!  I just find it interesting how the author was able to interject those little things in this novel that gave the people the power to make legends out of the Amazons.  It is so easy to twist little words, said in fear, and make legends out of people fighting for their lives.

The Lost Sisterhood was an interesting twist on Homer's tale of the downfall of Troy and I liked it very much.  I wasn't as crazy about the modern side of the story, as it seemed to fall into the coincidence stream far too much for my liking, and I wasn't crazy about the romance or about Nick.  I did enjoy the descriptions of the various settings and really felt like I was there, and I definitely liked the historical tales and stories the author shared with the reader, but that is my kind of thing.  I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a good adventure, and who is looking for a slightly different take on Homer's tale, but you really won't find anything too in-depth in this one.  Don't let the number of pages turn you off though, as I found it to be a quick read, and the author definitely has a way of writing that draws you into the story.  However, the plot didn't quite reach its potential and some of the characters did get a bit annoying, but if you're looking for a beach read, you might want to consider this one.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for New Day

My Favourite Things: A New Day

Today, folks, I would just like to let the pictures I found on the Internet speak for themselves.  Enjoy!!

Author: Unknown

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Marathons

My Favourite Things: M is for Marathons

One of the things I was addicted to, other than reading, was running.  Every day, I would run at least 5 kilometres, more along the lines of 10-15 with a good long run on Sunday mornings around 30 kilometres.  I tend to have this thing with obsessions and I don't ever do anything half-measure; once I take on a task, I do it full out, full steam ahead.  Reading is probably my longest addiction, running comes a close second.  There is nothing in the world, okay except for a couple of unmentionable things (this blog is family friendly after all) like it.  I can remember a few times, after a hard week at work, not being able to get in my run, my husband would meet me at the door with my running shoes in one hand and my shorts and t-shirt in the other hand, begging me to go for a long run and "get IT out of my system." 

And I'll be honest with you, there were days, many of them, when running was a chore and I spent the entire day either talking myself into going for a run, and then talking myself out of going for a run.  The conflict was never-ending, day after day.  I have spoken with a lot of other runners and they all have the same stories to tell.  Once I am out the door though, I could keep going and going and going.  And rain!!!! Bring it on!!!  I can remember being at work, watching the rain, longing to put on my runners and just go out the door.  There were a few close calls where I didn't actually use common sense, and ran into a few difficulties with thunderstorms and such, and had to bail in different stores and call my hubby to come pick me up, dripping and soaking wet.  And then I would get the lecture about safety and whatnot, but that didn't stop me, ever. Even now, it's raining, and I am longing to go out and run, but I can't.  Why not, you ask?

Several years ago I destroyed my knee in a skiing mishap, pretty much tearing every ligament
possible.  After ACL surgery and having scraped a lot of scar tissue out of there, the knee isn't doing too well, running wise at least.  Runners will understand the frustration of not being able to run as there is really no other sport that replaces the "high" that running gives runners and I have not been satisfied with any other sport.  While driving my son to an activity the other morning, I saw a bunch of runners running a 5k race and for the first time in a while, I wanted to be out there with them.  So perhaps I'll give it one more go this summer and see if I can get myself back in running shape and see if my knee will hold up to the strain of running.  I'll have to hit the treadmill first, then try outside, but perhaps one more chance will do it.  Wish me luck, everyone!!  Perhaps I'll run that marathon again one day!!