Friday, February 24, 2012

THIEF EYES


Review of THIEF EYES by JANNI LEE SIMNER

Reading this story is a little like walking into a dark tunnel. I can’t see where it’s going. I can’t even see very far in front of me, but once I emerge from the other end my surroundings are illuminated again. Like Simner’s other works, this tale has a dreamy, surreal taste to it. Forget predicting what will happen next. Forget finding the meaning; you can grasp at vague morals, but, like any dream, there are many possible interpretations to the point that definitive conclusions are arbitrary.

For THIEF EYES, Simner pulls from Icelandic mythology. A year ago Haley’s mother disappeared when she and her parents visited Iceland. Now, against her father’s better judgment, he’s taking her back there and she’s determined to find her mother, or at least learn more about what happened to her. What she couldn’t have imagined is that magic and a curse handed down through generations are at the root of her pain.

In my reviews of Simner’s BONES OF FAERIE books, I mention her skill with complicated (and hence more realistic) relationships. In THIEF EYES, a love triangle emerges, perhaps an overdone staple of young adult fantasy these days. However, Simner tackles this issue with more compassion and insight than most young adult and adult books alike. First, she remains a storyteller not a preacher. Her writing allows us to forget about the author and only think about Haley. In some literary love triangles, it’s easy to pick out the author’s first choice and sometimes you can even sense didactic or judgmental vibes about having your cake and…well, you know. Second, I can imagine Haley with either boy. They’re both likable and different without being exaggerated opposites. I find myself frustrated by love triangles where one of the “suitors” is ruled out by death, an unforgivable action, or an ultimately incompatible trait. I much prefer the more complex situation, like Haley’s, where both are nice guys and she could be happy with either, so she has to make a choice herself rather than let fate resolve the question for her. Third, rather than utilizing the love triangle simply for dramatic spice, Simner mines Haley’s predicament for beautifully-posed themes about both young love and a question that many spend their lives pondering: is it possible to love more than one person?

I can’t wrap up this review without mentioning Simner’s mastery of vivid sensory imagery. She can describe the cold so that I fetch a blanket or portray a sound so that I look up. In particular, I adored the passages about Haley running. I run myself and could relate to this sense that you just want to go faster and faster and if you could you would never stop. Of course, your body heats up when you exercise, so a fantasy twist that Haley might actually run so fast and so far that she bursts into flames taps into the actual feeling of adrenaline being released into the body during a run. The only problem is that these passages were so powerful they made me want to put down the book and go running instead!

I found the right amount of closure in the ending. It’s a good stopping point, but Haley’s sixteen and her life is only just beginning. The end leaves room for the reader to imagine all the possible futures ahead of her and cross their fingers that she finds a happy one.

Friday, February 17, 2012

YVONNE COLLINS


Interview with Yvonne Collins

When I'm not writing books with Sandy, I can usually be found on a film set, where life is anything but dull. I've hung off the side of Toronto's CN tower, faced down a Grizzly bear, danced with Gregory Hines, and shared a beer with Ireland's Lord Guinness. And to think I almost became a cop.

What are you reading right now?

I've just started BEL CANTO by Ann Pachett, and (feeling guilty after all of my holiday spending), I’m also reading THE WEALTHY BARBER RETURNS by fellow Canadian, Dave Chilton.

What first sparked your interest in writing?

When my niece was a young teen, she kept asking me for advice about how to deal with friends, and boys, and the challenges of a blended family. I thought it would be great to get her a book that would offer some solutions, and was surprised to find there was nothing on the shelves that addressed her concerns in an easy-going and fun way. Sandy and I were roommates at the time, and we decided to rise to the challenge of filling that bookshelf void. The result was TOTALLY ME: THE TEENAGE GIRL’S SURVIVAL GUIDE and a long co-authorship!
 
What do you love the most about writing? The least?

I love it when a scene comes together so easily that it almost writes itself. That doesn’t happen often, enough, unfortunately. It can be very discouraging to spend long hours at the keyboard only to produce pages I wouldn't subject my worst enemy to, let alone my co-author!

Tell us a little about your writing process.

I like to plough through and write a scene completely, even if it's super rough, so that the overall action is locked in. Then I will go back (again and again), to improve the description and dialogue.

What are your passions?
 
Friends, family, visuals arts, exploring new cities, watching Coronation Street, and going for long walks with my dog and husband. I'd like to add working out to the list, but that's more of a necessity than a passion, since one of my other passions is eating! (Especially eating any treat that Sandy whips up!)

What inspires you?

Friends, co-workers, stories in the news, life experiences.

Why young adult?

I think because Sandy and I met as teenagers, we share a lot of memories from that time. We bonded over a similar sense of humor, and that humor got us through a lot of teenage drama and angst.

What is it like collaborating on a book?

It can be challenging sometimes, but since I have only ever written books with Sandy, I think the challenges that we face in collaborating are a lot less than some other authors might face. Over the years, we've developed a style that has to accommodate two people's ideas. If I had written books on my own first, I think collaborating would be far more difficult because I'd be such a control freak! But Sandy and I have learned together how to put egos and feelings aside, and appreciate what the other person can bring to the party.

One of my favorite aspects of LOVE INC is Zahra’s voice, especially impressive since the book has two authors. How do you create such a strong, unique voice? Is it more challenging to write a young adult voice than an adult one?

I remember when we first started writing TOTALLY ME, Sandy and I used to say that we could never write fiction. But then we started to write a few fictional scenarios for our non-fiction book, and they were so much fun to do, they gave us the courage we needed to tackle SPEECHLESS, our first novel. As I mentioned, we have always shared a sense of humor and I think in a way, we both have a similar “voice” in our own lives. So giving a single voice to our joint characters has come quite naturally to us. 

Writing a young adult voice is more fun than writing an adult voice, because I think we both enjoy the freedom that young people have to challenge ideas, or blurt out exactly what they are thinking, without the kind of filter that we all develop as adults. That said, we do constantly worry that the voice is current and “young” enough and often ask the young adults in our own lives to weigh in on certain topics and expressions.

Of all your published books, do you have a personal favorite?

Although that’s like asking me to choose my favorite child, I do have a soft spot for TRADE SECRETS, the sequel to LOVE INC. I really identified with the character of Kali and wanted her to have a chance to spread her wings in book two. I can’t deny there’s more than a little of teen-Yvonne in this girl who truly believes in the power of love and friendship. And Kali proves you can be fun and flirty, and still smart and loyal and ambitious.  

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Only that the hardest part of writing is actually sitting down to do it.  And if you get as far as finishing that first chapter, keep going, even if that chapter isn't as great as you want it to be. I know too many people that just keep chipping away at the first scene of their book/script and get so frustrated that it isn't perfect, they never finish their work. But if you keep moving ahead, you can always polish up the beginning when you've written the end. Besides, stories tend to take on a life of their own once you start writing, you may well find the beginning has to change anyway.

Friday, February 10, 2012

SANDY RIDEOUT

Interview with SANDY RIDEOUT

Sandy Rideout is the co-author of 11 books with Yvonne Collins.  She lives in Toronto and works by day in corporate communications.  Please visit Yvonne & Sandy at http://collinsrideout.com/

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor, and I absolutely love it.  Before that I read Maureen Thompson’s NAME OF THE STAR. I have been spending far more time reading since I got an e-reader, which surprised this paper-loving author!

What first sparked your interest in writing?

I was obsessed with L.M. Montgomery as a kid. I read every single book she wrote (plus all the journals and biographies). It was EMILY OF NEW MOON that made me want to write. The book literally fell apart from so many re-readings!

What do you love the most about writing? The least?

I love getting into a character’s head and trying to figure out what he or she might do in a situation, as opposed to what I would do. And I really enjoy capturing conflict in dialogue. 

The hard part, still, after 11 books, is conquering the fear of failure. Each time I start something new, I think, “I suck, I suck, I can’t do this.” And at first, it’s true. The first chapter inevitably reeks, but I’ve learned that if I can survive to the fifth, the foul odour clears.   

Of course, the other tough thing is juggling full-time work and other responsibilities with writing. You have to carve the time out somehow, and usually it comes out of the “entertainment” budget. So I am way behind on my favorite TV shows. But I am taking a lesson from my coauthor and putting a TV in the workout room.

Tell us a little about your writing process.

Writing as a team means we need to brainstorm ideas together and develop a solid outline to keep us on track. We don’t have the luxury of writing by the seat of our pants, as some authors do. However, even with an outline, there is room for surprises and we try hard to make each other laugh. I was recently describing what Yvonne did to our poor “Leigh” in the “The New and Improved Vivien Leigh Reid: Diva in Control,” and laughed out loud. 

What are your passions?

Aside from writing, naturally there’s reading, and reading about writing. For pure fun, I love cooking and baking, and subjecting people to my kitchen experiments. (No one has died yet!) 
 
What inspires you?

Gossip sites, scandals, fighting with my guy... Okay, seriously...I get a lot of ideas while working out or driving. Plus, I listen to people, and it leads me to stories that sometimes seem too strange to be true—but aren’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shot down one of Yvonne’s ideas, saying, “But that would never happen.” Then we hear that it has, even more outrageously than we speculated. 

Why young adult?

We met when we were 13 and 15, and that stage of life is still so vivid for us. We remember the constant feeling of excitement over possibilities—for romance, careers, everything—and love to recapture it. For me, there might also be a faint wish for a “do over.” I wasn’t a confident teen, and wish I’d dared to take more chances. Our characters do things Yvonne and I NEVER would have. For example, in LOVE, INC., when a guy mistreats our trio, they strike back! On the other hand, we’ve learned what stands the test of time—friendship, loyalty, humor—and we celebrate it in our books.

How was LOVE, INC born?

Yvonne and I were brainstorming at Starbucks, as usual. We got this idea for a story where friends who get played by a guy, not only get revenge, but start selling it as a service to other teens. We liked that these girls turned lemons into lemonade. And while some of their actions are pretty risky, their hearts are definitely in the right place, and friendship is at the core.

What is it like collaborating on a book?

Coauthoring is like shoving two strange cats into a sack and hoping that something good will emerge a few months later. It’s an exercise in compromise, respect, tact and discipline. But it’s so great to share the ups and downs of writing. And I still get excited when Yvonne sends new chapters. I’m always interested to see where she’s taken the story, and what words she’s put in our characters’ mouths.

One of my favorite aspects of LOVE INC is Zahra’s voice, especially impressive since the book has two authors. How do you create such a strong, unique voice? Is it more challenging to write a young adult voice than an adult one?

After writing 11 books together, non-fiction, adult fiction, and teen fiction, I have to admit that I’m not sure where our “voice” comes from. It seems like it was there from the start, and that’s probably a byproduct of being friends for so long. Our main characters are aspects of our own personalities, and humour is never far from the surface. Even with our new book, TORCH, which is a paranormal romance, we couldn’t shake the humour in the voice.

Of all your published books, do you have a personal favorite?

Well, my favorite book is always the most recent one, which means TORCH. We’ve wanted to try a paranormal romance for a long time and finally got a chance. After so many romantic-comedies, however, we wondered if it was possible to be funny in a book where people die. Oops...Did we give something away?

TORCH is about a girl named Phoenix who discovers she can create fire, although she can’t control her ability. She meets a hot guy who can transform into water, and they team up to tackle a string of arsons that’s threatening the idyllic town of Rosewood. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Writing is a tough road, no question. There is rejection at every turn.  To succeed, you have to develop a thick skin. Individually, we haven’t achieved that, but together, we’ve got a leathery hide. And of course, everything depends on discipline. Writing is work, like anything else, and it only happens if you apply fingers to keyboard. 

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?

We’re really excited to have an opportunity at this stage of our career to venture into e-publishing. It’s giving us a chance to write a variety of books. For example, we’re currently planning to write another novel for adults, after focussing on teens for many years. (Yvonne edits:  We are?  Sandy responds:  We are!  Let’s pretend to be grown-ups again.)

Friday, February 3, 2012

IF BOOKS COULD KILL


Review of IF BOOKS COULD KILL by KATE CARLISLE
(second in the BIBLIOPHILE MYSTERIES series)

If you liked HOMICIDE IN HARDCOVER, the second bibliophile mystery won’t disappoint. As with the first one, Brooklyn not only discovers another body but she winds up the prime suspect in a murder investigation. Confession: I tease people for investing more in the romance element of a story than the primary plotline, but through most of the first few pages of this book my mind was fixated on whether or not Derek Stone would reappear. Despite some steamy flirtations in the last book, nothing substantial happened between him and Brooklyn by the end and it seemed a valid possibility that nothing ever would. The author certainly provides Brooklyn with plenty of other options. However, I’m not revealing if he comes back; you’ll have to read the book and see for yourself.  

Still, you need to be able to let little details go in order to invest in this series. First of all, I struggle to accept that a woman working in bookbinding not only finds herself the center of so many murder investigations but that she’s almost always the one to find the body. It’s probably a matter of taste. I mostly read fantasy, so I readily accept premises involving dragons or mermaids and yet here I am nitpicking a murder mystery for too many murders. It’s easy for authors who make their protagonist work in law enforcement or a related field, but for those whose characters don’t have easy “access” to such situations the reader needs to meet the author halfway and put their skepticism on hold. Second, the first few chapters of the book are packed with Brooklyn coincidentally running into people she knows, one right after the other. At first I found this especially unlikely since IF BOOKS COULD KILL takes place in Scotland, but, after some reflection, I think this might not be so unexpected after all; Brooklyn goes to Edinburgh to attend a book fair and - surprise, surprise - most of the people she runs into are also attending said book fair. Sure, the timing still seems contrived, but it keeps the plot moving along. Last, almost every man Brooklyn knows or meets is described as one of the sexiest men on earth. One starts to wonder how many men can actually hold that title at one point and time.

As crazy as they might be, I do like Brooklyn’s family and her complex relationship with them as a unit and as individuals. I hope we’ll see more of her relatives in future books. Their appearance in Scotland might also seem improbable, but I was nonetheless glad to have them there. As much as they might embarrass Brooklyn, they’re the kind of supportive, loving parents anyone would be lucky to have…even if those same parents do have quite the knack for crashing romantic moments.

I also like the array of characters that Carlise creates. I expect many of them to pop up here and there in future books, hopefully not as victims! The one character that bugs me, though, is Minka. And I don’t mean that she bothers me simply because she’s written as an annoying character; she bothers me because she’s flat. The other characters all have varying levels of depth, but Minka is nothing but static annoying. Also, Brooklyn’s relationship with her seems juvenile, so their interactions usually end up lowering my opinion of Brooklyn almost as much as Minka. I’m crossing my fingers that we'll earn a little more insight into Minka’s catty behavior in future books.

Again, I couldn’t at all predict the murderer, despite more active attempts this time. I made a few different guesses and all of them veered widely off the mark. The ending of this one also satisfies, even though it lacks the bizarre, unexpected twist of HOMICIDE IN HARDCOVER. Like the first book, IF BOOKS COULD KILL wraps up the murder mystery neatly, but leaves some relationship loose ends (especially those of a romantic variety) open for further development in future books.