Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Review: Rose and Poe by Jack Todd

Rose and Poe is a retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest, from the point of view of Caliban and his mother.

Before I begin this review, I just want to say that I have never read the Tempest, or at least if I have I don’t remember reading it, so I can’t compare the adaptation or anything. For that, you’ll have to read it yourself (and The Tempest, I guess, if you aren't familiar with it). What I can do is tell you if it’s an enjoyable read, which it is.

The plot is fairly straightforward, about a sexual assault trial and trying to catch the actual perpetrator. It’s not a complex mystery case or anything like that, as the plot is mostly a backdrop for the characters and the setting, which are Todd’s strengths in this book. Rose and Poe are based on Caliban and his mother from The Tempest, and my guess is they are background characters in that play. Todd does an excellent job of bringing them to the forefront, developing their characters and making the reader empathize with them. I think Rose’s love and protection for her son are what make it easy to side with her and Poe. The alternating perspectives also provide a more rounded picture of the characters and the events that take place.

Todd's other strength is his setting; he has a way of perfectly describing the scene, which also has the effect of setting the tone for various events. His descriptions of the storm that takes place in the middle of the book are spine-chilling.

One of my favourite things about Rose and Poe, however, is the slight sprinkle of magic that Todd writes in the book, from a speedy delivery “sprite” called Airmail, to Poe’s giant qualities, to a walking staff that seems to hold more power than an ordinary staff should. The magic seems both everyday and slightly out of place to the characters in this book, which makes the setting all the more intriguing. All in all it was just a fun, suspenseful read and I encourage you to pick it up.

Rose and Poe on ECW Press
Rose and Poe on Amazon.ca
Rose and Poe on Amazon.com

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Interview With After The Fall Author KATE HART! + Giveaway

Kate Hart has been one of my favourite people on the Internet since before I discovered YA Highway, so I was very excited to finally read her book After the Fall, which came out last year. I was even more excited when I read it and discovered what an incredible book it was. Kate Hart writes complex teen dynamics so well and with such intelligence. After the Fall deals with two characters messing up, forgiveness, the blurry lines of friendship, and learning about consent and privilege. I am also a sucker for friendship and double POV books, so I definitely loved it.

I am very excited to have Kate on the blog today to answer some questions about her excellent debut! Kate has also offered to giveaway a signed copy of the paperback which comes out TODAY with the beautiful cover shown below, so fill out the form at the end of this post by the end of January 27 to enter! (US/Canada only.)

Here's the synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Raychel is sleeping with two boys: her overachieving best friend Matt…and his slacker brother, Andrew. Raychel sneaks into Matt’s bed after nightmares, but nothing ever happens. He doesn’t even seem to realize she’s a girl, except when he decides she needs rescuing. But Raychel doesn't want to be his girl anyway. She just needs his support as she deals with the classmate who assaulted her, the constant threat of her family’s eviction, and the dream of college slipping quickly out of reach. Matt tries to help, but he doesn’t really get it… and he’d never understand why she’s fallen into a secret relationship with his brother. The friendships are a precarious balance, and when tragedy strikes, everything falls apart. Raychel has to decide which pieces she can pick up – and which ones are worth putting back together.

One of the things that make or break a book for me are the characters, and I was really impressed with your incredibly complex and dynamic characters. Even the parents were interesting and present in the story, which I find is rare in YA. How did the dynamic between Matt and Raychel and their parents develop as you were writing?

Thank you for the compliment! Several things influenced that depiction. One, while I understand that it's easier to give YA characters agency if you get the parents out of the picture, it's just not a realistic depiction of most teens' lives, and it didn't make sense for this story. Two, as a mom myself, I'm hyper aware that parents are not stock cutouts. Realizing that your folks are individual people with their own pasts and preferences and flaws is a huge part of growing up, even well into one's adulthood, and for girls struggling to find their place in the world and within feminism, that ever-changing dynamic with one's mom or mother figure is an important part of growing up. Three, my own parents were present in my life, but beyond that, my friends' and boyfriends' parents played a big role in my teen years. Some were supportive and almost like friends themselves; some were judgmental and indifferent or even mean to me while they tried to steer their own kids' choices, and some were just straight up awful parents. 

So in early drafts, the dynamic was a little more "good mom vs bad mom," but as the story deepened, I realized it was important to portray Raychel's changing perception of the two moms, in order to support the overall "feminism is complicated" theme in the book. Both moms are doing their best, but both moms screw up, and ultimately, both moms reach the limits of what they can do for Raychel. She can't begin to steer her own life until she reaches that realization.

One of my favourite things are friendship stories, and After the Fall has a lot of interesting friendship dynamics in it, between Matt, Raychel, and their other friends. Was it important to you to focus on the friendships of these characters, and why?

In high school, I was very much that girl who considered herself "not like other girls." Most of my friends were boys, and I invested a lot of energy in trying to prove myself worth of their attention. It wasn't until adulthood that I accrued a solid group of awesome lady friends -- and once that happened, I realized I'd always had lots of girlfriends, but I'd put our relationships on a second tier. So while none of the characters in After the Fall are based on my high school crew, it was interesting for me to explore that particular dynamic and lead Raychel and Matt through the realization that many high school friendships are based more on circumstance than real relationships (but that some can turn out to be the real deal, too). 

After the Fall alternates perspectives between Matt and Raychel. Were there any challenges writing these two different perspectives?

For some reason, all of my projects come to me in multiple POVs. I think it's a side effect of studying history and realizing that there is no true objective perspective: every story has a million sides, and all of them can be correct in some way. Executing the different voices is challenging for me, though. I winged it for awhile on this book, but before I got into serious revisions, I made a list of vocal tics, favorite phrases, and that sort of thing for each character (for example, Matt's narration never uses dashes; Raychel says "y'all" while Matt looks down on southern accents).

Among many things, After the Fall deals with characters struggling with the issue of privilege. How did your own experiences with privilege influence your writing?

This is always a tough question, because while I technically grew up poor, I also rarely wanted for things. My family was upwardly mobile, and my dad's parents were financially secure enough to help us when necessary, so I hesitate to depict myself as someone who grew up in poverty. However, the truth is that it took us a long time to reach lower middle class, and money is an issue I've always worried about. I was lucky enough to get a full scholarship to college, but I was also very conscious of being the scholarship kid who had to actually study and work to stay there. As an adult, I own a small business, but we've scraped by to make it feasible. Meanwhile, economic and social status can play a huge role in assault -- not just in who's victimized, but in who can expect justice, much less afford it. I couldn't ignore that in the dynamics of my hometown, so there was no way I could ignore it in this story.

You’ve talked about your experience getting rejected by publishers, and feedback you received about how your protagonist was unrealistic, even though Raychel’s experiences were largely informed by your own experience with sexual assault. How do you hope your book has an impact on the YA or publishing community?

To be honest, I don't have any illusions about it making any grand changes to the overall narrative. But my hope is that the book will reach some readers who haven't seen themselves on the page -- that they will feel heard, and go forward feeling more confident that their stories matter, or at least knowing how to better support friends who've been victims.

Thanks Kate! After the Fall is a really incredible story, and I would like to think books like this will make an impact, whether that be on an individual scale or encouraging someone else to tell their story.  

One of the many cool items in Kate's Etsy shop!
As well as being an author, Kate also has a really cool Etsy store, The Badasserie, which is fiber arts and woodworking made with lumber reclaimed from projects by Kate's family business, Natural State Treehouses. The stuff she has there is really cool, so go check it out! 

And don't forget to enter below to win a signed copy of After the Fall, by commenting on or sharing this post! US/Canada only, closes midnight January 27, 2018, winner will be contacted through email.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Begin Again

You haven't written anything for two years. Well, aside from essays (and you've gotten quite good at those).

You remember a time when you were a girl who scribbled things with careless abandon. She was so happy, so unencumbered. The words poured from her pen, the tips of her fingers, like it didn't hurt her at all. Her identity was deep and rooted, known to herself and everyone else. Now it seems a foggy memory; the girl a distant stranger.

Other things occupy your time. School. Life. Friends. Books. The internet.

You don't spend time staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page on a screen, because you never get there. Instead, the blank pages are in your head, taunting you, reminding you of all you aren't and never were. You pretend to move on. Writing was a childish past time, nothing that could fulfill you later in life. Besides, everyone says writers write, which of course makes you nothing.

You think yourself in circles. You're just stuck; you're busy; you never really were serious about that writing thing; you're really, really, really busy. You'll get back to writing eventually, you tell yourself. You ignore the self-doubt and terror under the surface, that the blank page must stay blank because nothing you fill it with will ever be good enough. You'll never be good enough.

Maybe you'll never write again.

I wish you could see into the future, have the ability to turn around and look back at the whole picture. I wish you could see how you just need to grow up a little bit, to try something new, to learn to let go. I wish you could see the thousands of words you've put to a page, filling up that white space that so filled you with terror (and still does, to be honest, but you fight it). You're not the same scribble-happy little girl, but interpreting the world with words is something that will always be something you end up falling back into. I wish I could tell you that you'll find it again.

But you won't believe me.


I really, really wish I would have posted more about not being able to write anything during the time when I wasn't able to write anything, even just for those people who suffer long dry spells (including myself). Because I know it's easy with hindsight, when you are writing regularly, to look back and tell people it'll be fine, you'll get back into it eventually once you let go of your stupid perfectionism, learn a few tricks, and stop caring so much. And then suddenly you'll have almost two full-length books written! However, it's not so easy to see how you'll get out of a hole when you're in it.

But I'll say it anyway - you will find joy in writing again. It will probably be different this time; a different routine, on a different theme, more or different people cheering you on. But you will find it.

How do you get out of writing slumps? What advice would you give to someone trying to find joy in writing again?

Monday, January 8, 2018

3 Books I Read Because Other People Made Me

HA just kidding as if anyone could make me read books that I don't want to read (sorry, dad). But sometimes a nudge from a friend really helps to push me out of my comfort zone, or actually sit down and read a book I've been meaning to read for months. Here are a few books I've read recently based almost solely on the recommendations of others!

1. Waking in Time by Angie Stanton

Recommended by: I can't remember who recommended this to me... it may have been Lara? Someone on Twitter, anyway, when I asked for romance recs.

Well, whoever recommended it to me said it was cute, fun romance and they were so right. It was exactly what I needed after the crazy month that is November for university students. It was a simple, fluffy read, featuring romance and time travel and centred around a super sweet family story.  It was such a fun, relaxing read. ...Although I was trying to figure out the age logistics of someone from the 2010s dating someone from the 1920s. Like, is age just inconsequential when you hop from time to time? How does that work? (This is why I love time travel. So many questions. So many possibilities.)

2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Recommended by: A school friend of mine who is getting an English degree. She read Frankenstein for an essay she was writing for class, and said that Frankenstein reminded her of herself in some ways, which I thought was intriguing. I've also been meaning to read Frankenstein for forever, and this was just the push I needed to actually sit down and read it.

It was... a lot different than I expected. I didn't know much about it, aside from the usual cultural connotations of Frankenstein, and that it's considered the first sci-fi novel. It was much starker and sadder than I thought it would be, and a lot of it takes place more internally than the sci-fi I'm used to reading. It was still good though, just made me think. (And also weirded me out a lot...) I'm not sure if I'd recommend it, necessarily, but it was interesting.

3. Monday Mourning by Kathy Reichs

Recommended by: A friend of mine that I worked with this past summer, who reads almost exclusively thrillers, which I would not have guessed upon first meeting her. She said it was one of her favourites of the genre.

If you aren't aware by now, I don't really read thrillers at all. I read Melina Marchetta's Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil, but that's it (and it was so very familiar and similar to the rest of MM's work that it wasn't that strange). So reading Monday Mourning was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I gave my friend Jellicoe Road to read in return so I had to read it. It was really good! It's amazing how no matter the genre if there's good, self-aware and empathetic characters then I'm hooked. My favourite part of this book is how Reichs weaved in a message about the utter sadness of women being victims of violence into her mystery story. And it ended so, so well, despite being unexpectedly sad in places.

This recent experience with reading books outside of my comfort zone has made me want to read even more widely and outside of my reading comfort zone. What should I try reading (maybe a genre you haven't seen yet on the blog)? What books have you read solely because of others' recommendations?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Future (2017 Reading Goal Check In & 2018 Goals)

We've already got the review of all the books I read in 2017 post out of the way, so onto this year's reading goals! First, how did I do with 2017's reading goals?

1. Read 7 books by Indigenous authors, including at least 1 by an Indigenous author not from North America.

I actually read 9 books by Indigenous authors this year! All of them were Canadian books I believe, but I think that's pretty good. You can read a few of the reviews I did: Nobody Cries at Bingo by Dawn Dumont, A Two Spirit Journey by Ma-Nee Chacaby and From the Tundra to the Trenches by Eddy Weetaltuk, and Devil in Deerskins: My Life with Grey Owl. I intend to continue reading more Indigenous fiction each year, both because they really do help open my eyes to a world I am entirely unfamiliar with, and also because they are just fun. Other books I read that I didn't get around to reviewing were Dawn Dumont's Glass Beads, and a Indigenous sci-fi short story collection, Love Beyond Body, Space and Time, edited by Hope Nicholson.

2. Read more books written by non-American authors than American authors. I will do it this year!! Third time's a charm!!

I don't think I quite did it, I'm still over in American authored books by a few, but if I don't count my rereads of Queen's Thief or Maggie Stievfater's The Raven Cycle, then I definitely read more books written by non-American authors! I'm counting it.

3. Read 3 books that have been translated from another language.

Thanks to Women in Translation month, I surpassed this goal! I actually ended up reading 6 books that were translated. I think my favourite of these reads were Trafalgar by Angelica Gorodischer and Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada. That book is strange at first, but in the end so fascinating. Please pick it for your next book club read.

4. Have 40% of the books I read this year be diverse #ownvoices books.

I got 34% for this year, a little bit up from last year but still not quite as high as my goal. There was definitely more diversity in the settings of books I read, though, thanks to WITmonth.

5. Read 5 books with non-Western settings.

4! So close... to be honest I kind of forgot about this goal. I'll try for more next year!

6. Do a reading challenge on the blog! Which reading challenge? Who knows, not me!

I am sooo happy that I found Women in Translation Month, it fits so well with my goal for this blog and my reading habits. I am definitely going to participate next year, and hopefully read a bit more women in translation from other non-Western countries and languages.

Despite the fact that I ended the year with a months long reading slump (which always happens when I'm stressed about school; I really should see it coming by now), looking back I'm really proud of what I accomplished in my reading and on the blog.


I've thought about it (not very much), but I actually don't think I'm going to make any specific goals for this year (which I know is not how you make goals, but whatever). I know I want to keep doing the same, reading lots of CanLit, lots of diverse literature, and reading even more widely than I do currently, whether that be through characters, setting, language, or genre. And I still want to keep reviewing and promoting books that I think deserve more love.

I have thought a lot over the years about what I want my blog to be; whether I should post more consistently, or do more posts that would get me more traffic than I currently have. I always come back to, no, Alyssa, do want you want. This is your space. Some people get to say that and still have thousands of followers, but I guess what I want to say now is I'm thankful for the platform that I have, and that I've come to terms with making a small drop in a bucket over waves. And I've come to realize just how important that drop can be. And now I can say that I'm glad that it's been my commitment to, well, stick to my own commitments for what I want this blog to be.

So going into the new year, a lot of what I did this past year is going to stay the same, but it's also going to change, because that's what I do. Over the past few years this blog has become less of a writing blog, more of a reading and book review blog. Which is great, because I never thought I would consider myself to like or be good at writing reviews, and now I do. But I've recently got back into writing, and I want to start talking about that more too - including sharing more of my own writing and my thoughts behind that terrifying process. We'll see how that goes. 

Basically, I have a few plans in the works (and by "in the works" I mean "I've had passing thoughts about"), I may update all this to be more concrete later, and... thanks for reading. 

Here's to 2018.


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