Review: Blaze of Winter by Elisabeth Barrett

 

Title:  Blaze of Winter

Author: Elisabeth Barrett

Publisher:  Random House

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Winter heats up in this hot new Star Harbor romance, as another sexy Grayson brother, a wickedly handsome writer, plots his happily ever after with a sweet stranger.

Frustrated with her job in Boston, social worker Avery Newbridge welcomes the opportunity to reassess her life when family asks her to help manage the Star Harbor Inn. Trying to figure out her future is overwhelming enough, but she doesn’t count on distraction in the form of one Theo Grayson, the gorgeous, green-eyed author who she knows is trouble from the moment he saunters into the inn.
Not only does he have a talent for writing swashbuckling adventures, but Theo also has a soft spot for big-hearted damsels in distress, especially a woman who’s great at helping everyone—except herself. Avery’s demons challenge him, but for desire this hot, he isn’t backing down. With every kiss and heated whisper Theo promises her his heart . . . if only Avery is willing to open up and accept it.


Review:

I have mixed feelings about Blaze of Fire, and most of them are because I have a love-hate relationship with Theo.  Of all the Grayson brothers, he somehow ended up my least favorite.  I don’t know why, exactly.  Maybe I don’t find bespectacled authors of historical yarns intriguing.  Maybe I’m jealous that he was able to live in a bed and breakfast indefinitely,  never having to worry about making his bed or cleaning the bathroom.  Or maybe it’s because I found him a bit too inconsistent.  For most of the book, he is sweet and mild-mannered, with infinite amounts of patience to support Avery during her moments of insecurity.  But like Clark Kent, once those glasses come off, he changes, but not always for the better.  He could be a smug jerk, and I didn’t feel quite so fond of him then.

I did enjoy the tempo and tone of this story.  Avery is emotionally bruised after finding one of her therapy patients dead from an overdose.  Upset with herself for not realizing that she was being lied to and not able to forgive herself for not being able to keep Mia from harming herself, Avery is hiding out in Star Harbor.  Helping run her aunt’s business while the older woman recovers from her battle with breast cancer, Avery is moving from one day to the next, trying to stay on the fringes of Star Harbor society.  It drives her nuts that everyone in the small community knows everyone else’s business, and she doesn’t like feeling like she’s under a microscope.  She just needs to be left alone so she can come to terms with her feelings of inadequacy, and figure out what to do with the rest of her life.

Theo is struggling, too, but his internal strife is based on his inability to write.  He’s under pressure to complete the next volume in his privateer adventure series, but he’s stuck.   He can’t write a word.  He has no inspiration, and he feels empty.  Leaving his meaningless life in San Francisco behind, he heads back to his childhood home to rediscover his writing roots.  Instead, he discovers Avery, and one glimpse of her vibrantly hued hair has him captivated.  He has discovered his muse, and he’s not going to let her out of his sight.

I liked Theo when he was gently wooing Avery, giving her the emotional support she needed so desperately, but backing away when she needed space.   He taught her how to have fun and take risks, while teaching himself how to open his heart at the same time.  His courtship methods were occasionally questionable, and I didn’t know whether to be amused or appalled as he basically stalked her to her favorite hangout in Boston.  That was a little creepy.  He also showed an epic lapse in judgment that almost destroys his relationship with Avery, and for such a smart guy, I was disappointed with his behavior.  Of course it’s all set up so the good folk of Star Harbor could meddle in his business, but for him to completely disregard everything he knew about Avery and to push back like he did didn’t make sense to me.

The drug runner plot thread had a bigger role in Blaze of Winter than in the previous book in the series, and I am assuming it will be played up even more in Val and Cole’s books.  They are my favorite characters, but they didn’t get much page time here, only serving as backup for Theo.  I was a little disappointed that they didn’t get to play a bigger part in the story, but that just gives me something to look forward to in the future when they get their own 200 pages.  Bring those on! 

Blaze of Winter is a quick read with a (mostly) sweet hero who occasionally displays a lack of common sense.  Avery is an emotionally wounded heroine who needs a lot of handholding to get through the train wreck in her past that has her questioning every decision she makes.  It was gratifying to see her finally set her fear aside and embrace the love Theo, and her own family, were desperate to give her. 

Grade:  B/B-

Review copy provided by publisher

Waiting on Wednesday–The Language Inside by Holly Thompson

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Holly Thompson’s Orchards was one of my favorite reads in 2011.  I loved the book, and it got me hooked on novels in free verse; previously, I wouldn’t touch them with a 10 foot pole.  Her latest release, The Language Inside, will be in stores 2013.  I can hardly wait!

 

 

A beautiful novel in verse that deals with post-tsunami Japan, Cambodian culture, and one girl’s search for identity and home.

Emma Karas was raised in Japan; it’s the country she calls home. But when her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, Emma’s family moves to a town outside Lowell, Massachusetts, to stay with her grandmother while her mom undergoes treatment.

Emma feels out of place in the United States, begins to have migraines, and longs to be back in Japan. At her grandmother’s urging, she volunteers in a long-term care center to help Zena, a patient with locked-in syndrome, write down her poems. There, Emma meets Samnang, another volunteer, who assists elderly Cambodian refugees. Weekly visits to the care center, Zena’s poems, dance, and noodle soup bring Emma and Samnang closer, until Emma must make a painful choice: stay in Massachusetts, or return early to Japan.

What are you waiting on?

Interview with Sabrina Darby, Author of The Short and Fascinating Tale of Angelina Whitcombe

Sabrina Darby is the author of The Short and Fascinating Tale of Angelina Whitcombe.  I enjoyed this quirky read, and was delighted when Sabrina agreed to answer some of my questions.  Check out what she has to say:

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Sabrina Darby] From my bio:  I’ve been reading romance since the age of seven and learned my best vocabulary (dulcet, diaphanous, and turgid) from them!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about The Short and Fascinating Tale of Angelina Whitcombe?

[Sabrina Darby] This story was so much fun to write because the premise is basically a mom hiring a mistress for her son.

The official blurb is:

Wanted:

A beautiful young woman—preferably one with no connections, who won’t ask too many questions—to spend two weeks in the North of England with an obstinate, aloof, and utterly handsome man.

Must love dogs, fixing up crumbling castles, and gorgeous and complicated war heroes who may or may not be hiding hearts of gold under their gruff exteriors.

Must not, under any circumstances, fall in love . . .

Simpering misses need not apply.

You can find an excerpt at http://www.scribd.com/doc/100422106/The-Short-and-Fascinating-Tale-of-Angelina-Whitcombe-by-Sabrina-Darby

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Sabrina Darby] This story actually started as a blog post on TheBallroomBlog.com, where I was playing with some of the common story elements in historical romance: wounded, war-scarred hero, meddling mother, castle, etc.  It grew into a series of posts and then into a novella.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Angelina?

[Sabrina Darby] Ambitious, Determined, Unconventional

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things John would never have in his pocket?

[Sabrina Darby] This is a hard one.  John’s definitely the sort of guy who might collect random things if he thought they could be put to good use. Of course, he’s also very neat, so there would be nothing in his pocket by the end of the day. I do think, by the time the story happens, he would likely never have a gun in his pocket.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If Angelina had a theme song, what would it be?

[Sabrina Darby] Just prior to meeting John, I’d say her theme song is the Dar Williams version of Comfortably Numb. 

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Sabrina Darby] Another good question, and hard to pick just a few since there is no doubt that I’m influenced by all of the amazing artists who have come before me. However, for now, I’d say Ani DiFranco, Carole Maso and Magritte.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Sabrina Darby] Something to write with, something to write on, and a latte. 

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Sabrina Darby] If we’re talking romance, then I’d have to say the last Sarah MacLean book that I read. 

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Sabrina Darby] I can’t remember because I’ve been reading voraciously for as long as I can remember. However, books like Harriet the Spy definitely contributed to my love for writing. 

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Sabrina Darby] In the past, I used to love ballroom dancing and karate. These days, I like going to museums (Los Angeles has some of the best!), traveling and spending time with my husband, family and friends.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Sabrina Darby] I love when I get to interact with readers! You can find me online at SabrinaDarby.com, twitter.com/SabrinaDarby, facebook.com/sabrinadarbyromance or at TheBallroomBlog.com.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

You can order The Short and Fascinating Tale of Angelina Whitcombe from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the widget below. Available in print and digital (digital is only .99!!)

Interview with Carmen Rodrigues, Author of 34 Pieces of You

Carmen Rodrigues is the author of 34 Pieces of You, an emotionally powerful read that focuses on the aftermath of a popular high school girl’s death.  I could not put this book down, and I was thrilled when Carmen agreed to answer a few of my questions.

[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for 34 Pieces of You?

[Carmen Rodrigues] 34 PIECES OF YOU actually started as a what if writing prompt. To create the prompt, I let my mind wander for an hour, thinking about all the different situations teens encounter. During that wandering, I remembered a few news stories I read in the late eighties/early nineties about teenagers who made and carried out suicide pacts. I wondered what would happen if two teenagers did make this pact but one of them survived. What kind of guilt would that teen have? Where would life go from there?

This led me to writing about a girl (Sarah) who wakes up in a hospital bed to learn that her best friend (Ellie) has died from an overdose, which she has survived. As I began to discover more about the characters that inhabited this world, I asked myself other questions:

Did Ellie commit suicide or was it an accident?

If suicide, did Sarah also attempt to kill herself?

Regardless of accidental or intentional overdoses, how did these girls get here? What were their communities and families like?

How do toxic friendships, particularly those that develop out of proximity like the relationship between Ellie and Sarah, affect the other kids on that block?

Answering these questions led to a complex story that spanned five years. Around fifty pages in, I realized that the story was inhibited by Sarah’s limited perspective. That’s when I began to write from two additional POVs–Sarah’s younger sister, Jessie, and Ellie’s older brother, Jake. Ellie’s pieces—as they are now–came much later.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Sarah?

[Carmen Rodrigues] Sarah is seventeen years old. She’s doing her best to navigate the broken world she inherited. The three words that describe her are young, confused, and disconnected.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things Jess would never have in her bedroom?

[Carmen Rodrigues] Jess is simple. She has a good heart–one that’s inclined to take care of others. In this novel, she loses the last of her childlike innocence. To me, that’s what makes her story so tragic. She would never have a hair straightener, cigarettes, or high heels in her bedroom. 

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If Jake had a theme song, what would it be?

[Carmen Rodrigues] Break on Through (To The Other Side) by The Doors. Jake loosely references this song in the novel. If you check out the lyrics, you’ll see that it accurately sums up many of his struggles. Here is the opening stanza:

You know the day destroys the night 
Night divides the day 
Tried to run 
Tried to hide 
Break on through to the other side 
Break on through to the other side 
Break on through to the other side, yeah

At the end of the novel, though, The Winner Is by Michael Danna and Devotchka conveys the silent hope that is present in Jake’s recovery.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Carmen Rodrigues] I’ve read a lot of wonderful young adult novels this year–Fingerprints of You by Kristen-Paige Madonia (gorgeously written); Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker (sweet and heartfelt); The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler (smart, funny, relevant)—but the last book to knock my socks off was The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. It’s a nonfiction book about authenticity, courage, and wholehearted living. The research is compelling. The writing is humorous and sincere. I’ll probably read this book once a year. I recommend it to everyone.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Carmen Rodrigues] The best place to find me is at my web site: www.carmenrodrigues.com.

From there, you can access my Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook profiles. Plus, you can read the first 36 pages of 34 PIECES OF YOU.  For a visual/interactive experience of 34 PIECES OF YOU, visit www.pinterest.com/34piecesofyou.

[Manga Maniac Café]  Thank you!

34 Pieces of You is available now.  You can purchase it from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the widget below. Available in print and digital.

Review: Beautiful Lies by Jessica Warman

 

Title: Beautiful Lies

Author: Jessica Warman

Publisher:  Walker

Beautiful Lies DIGITAL

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

Rachel and Alice are an extremely rare kind of identical twins-so identical that even their aunt and uncle, whom they’ve lived with since their parents passed away, can’t tell them apart. But the sisters are connected in a way that goes well beyond their surfaces: when one experiences pain, the other exhibits the exact same signs of distress. So when one twin mysteriously disappears, the other immediately knows something is wrong-especially when she starts experiencing serious physical traumas, despite the fact that nobody has touched her. As the search commences to find her sister, the twin left behind must rely on their intense bond to uncover the truth. But is there anyone around her she can trust, when everyone could be a suspect? And ultimately, can she even trust herself? Master storyteller Jessica Warman will keep readers guessing when everything they see-and everything they are told-suddenly becomes unreliable in this page-turning literary thriller.


Review:

Wow, this book left me reeling several times, as the painstakingly developed twists and turns began to unfold.  I don’t know how to review this without major spoilers, but I am going to try, so if I am vague, it’s so I don’t spoil any of the suspense.   I finished this yesterday, and I am still trying to decide how I feel about the book.  It was hard to put down, but because the author was keeping me on my toes and only revealing bits and pieces about Rachel and Alice, I didn’t feel that I ever got to know the twins.  I learned about their history, as life-changing events in their past were slowly picked apart, but I never felt that I got to know  them.  There was an emotional distance around them that I couldn’t breach.  I also hated the ending.  Hated it!  It is dark and brutal and unforgiving, and it made me uncomfortable and depressed.

Alice and Rachel are identical twins.  They also know when something happens to the other.  If one of them is injured, the other is as well.  They look so much alike that even their aunt and uncle can’t tell them apart.  Their parents were killed when they were young girls, and their mom’s sister and her husband stepped up and took them in.  There is a history of mental illness in the family, and because of her tenuous grip on reality, their aunt refused to allow their grandmother to have custody of them, even though the girls often spent time with their grandmother.  Due to their personality clashes, their mother and aunt hadn’t spoken to each other in years, and the girls hadn’t even met their new guardians.  After a rough adjustment, they settled into life in their new home, but they never felt  that they were part of their aunt and uncle’s family.

When one of the twins disappears, the other is frantic to find her sister.  One second, she felt her sister’s familiar presence, and the next, she was gone.  Like she had never existed.  The problem, Alice was a troublemaker, always finding herself on the bad side of a situation and forbidden to see her boyfriend because of his bad influence.  The adults in her life, including the police, are skeptical that Alice has been abducted, and they all think that she’s only run away.  She does this often, so nobody is in a hurry to try to find her.  They all expect her to come home in a day or so, because she always does.  Only this time, she doesn’t.

Beautiful Lies is an engrossing read, and it was very hard to step away from the suspense.  I almost turned down lunch at the Indian buffet so I could stay home and keep reading, and if you know me and how much I love food, you’ll understand what a big deal that thought was(my stomach did win out in the end).  I was always wondering what was real and what was a figment of the protagonist’s imagination.  Her grip on sanity was questionable, and it was difficult to tell whether she was seeing something that was really there, or whether she believed that something was there.  This back and forth between questioning her sanity and  taking everything at face value kept me turning the pages.  I had to know!  Was she nuts?  Had her sister really been abducted, or did she have something to do with her disappearance.  To add to the tangled web, both sisters kept secrets from the other, and some of those secrets were huge!  As each was unearthed, a very real and understandable sense of betrayal and hurt permeated the pages. 

I loved being off balance and not really knowing what was going on.  It is only the ending that keeps me feeling reserved about this book.  Though it is a fitting end, it is not easy to read, and it disturbed me.  I did not want the story to come to this end.  If you read the book, how did you feel about the conclusion?

Grade:  B/B-

Review copy provided by publisher

Interview with Jessica Warman, Author of Beautiful Lies

Jessica Warman is the author of Beautiful Lies, which just hit store shelves.  Jessica recently dropped by the virtual offices to chat about her new book and writing influences. Check out what she has to say.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Jessica Warman] Introvert w/ a wonderful life doing what I love. Born w/an itch for trouble. Mouth like a trucker. I grow on people. Crazy like a fox.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Beautiful Lies?

[Jessica Warman] Sure! The book is about a set of identical twins, Rachel and Alice, who have always had an incredibly powerful bond. When one of them goes missing, it is up to the remaining twin to figure out what happened, primarily by tapping into this bond. I’ve been told by more than a few readers that it’s a pretty scary book, which pleases me to no end.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Jessica Warman] My family has a strong history of what I’d suppose you’d call clairvoyance. A number of people on my mom’s side of the family have either worked as psychics or else claimed to be psychic. That being said, I’m extremely skeptical about these kinds of things, but it fascinates me nonetheless. My idea for the concept came from sorting through many of the family stories I’ve been hearing all my life, and then putting my own spin on it. Some of the characters mirror members of my own family pretty closely. As for the twins, my husband’s sisters are red-headed twins. They’re gorgeous and smart, and they also have an incredible bond – they were my inspiration for Alice and Rachel.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Rachel?

[Jessica Warman] She’s secretive, guarded, and kind.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things Alice would never have in her purse?

[Jessica Warman] The first one is definitely black licorice! Also, a picture of herself and her boyfriend together, and a to-do list.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Are you more like Alice or Rachel?

[Jessica Warman] I’m definitely more like Alice. I’ve always been pretty wild, especially when I was a teenager. But I’ve also mellowed quite a bit with age, to the point where I understand there’s a time and place for certain kinds of behavior. No matter what, though, I think the maniac in me will always be in there somewhere, waiting for an appropriate time to shine.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Jessica Warman] David Foster Wallace is my favorite writer of all time, hands down. His work – especially his nonfiction – is just the greatest stuff I’ve ever read. People talk about art “changing their life” all the time, but in this case it’s true: his writing has changed my life. It’s made me a better person. It has enriched my life in ways I never could have anticipated, and made me feel whole in ways nothing and nobody else has ever been able to do. He was a genius, and we should all support his legacy by reading his work.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Jessica Warman] 1) Complete silence. I mean no noise whatsoever, not even the sound of a kitten purring, or rain falling.

2) I have to be well-rested. I’m nonfunctional if I don’t get enough sleep.

3) I have one of those e-cigarettes, even though I haven’t smoked for years. The cartridges I use are just filled with water, so I’m only inhaling water vapor, but it gives me something to fidget with whenever I need to take a little break from typing.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Jessica Warman] “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,” by Benjamin Alire Saenz. This book… I was awestruck at the end. What he does with words is nothing short of sorcery. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful piece of art. If I ever see Mr. Saenz again, I’m going to hug him. Then I’m going to thank him for sharing this story with the world.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Jessica Warman] Probably “The Twits” by Roald Dahl, followed by everything else he’s ever published. The man was a magician. I recently gave my 7-year old daughter the boxed set of his complete works, and I’m having so much fun living vicariously through her as she experiences them for the first time. Even today, as an adult, reading any of his books makes me feel like I’m getting a big hug from the universe.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Jessica Warman] Well, I read a lot. I read everything I can get my hands on. And as boring as this sounds, I actually really enjoy cleaning my house. I love cleaning up big messes, because it provides such an immediate sense of accomplishment. If I hadn’t become a writer, I think I would have started a crime scene cleanup company.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Jessica Warman] The best way is through email. They can email me at jwarmanwrites@gmail.com, or jkwarman@hotmail.com, or they can send a message via my website, www.jessicawarman.com. They can also follow me on twitter (@jkwarman) or contact me through my Facebook page, which is just www.facebook.com/authorjessicawarman. Sometimes it takes me a long time to respond, but I truly do try to write back to as many people as possible.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

You can order Beautiful Lies from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the widgets below. Available in print and digital.

Review: Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti

 

Title: Keep Holding On

Author:  Susane Colasanti

Publisher: Viking

Keep Holding On – DIGITAL

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Noelle’s life is all about survival. Even her best friend doesn’t know how much she gets bullied, or the ways her mom neglects her. Noelle’s kept so much about her life a secret for so long that when her longtime crush Julian Porter starts paying attention to her, she’s terrified. Surely it’s safer to stay hidden than to risk the pain of a broken heart. But when the bullying of her classmate takes a dramatic turn, Noelle realizes it’s time to stand up for herself – and for the love that keeps her holding on.

Review:

This book brought back a lot of unpleasant memories, and I was going to put it down and return it back to the library unread.  I remember what it was like to be mercilessly picked on in school, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted a refresher course.  I became invested in Noelle’s unhappiness, though, and wondered what she would be able to do to change her circumstances.  In addition to having to deal with bullies at school, she also has a nightmare at home.  Her mother has been raising her alone, and she is resentful of Noelle.  She blames her daughter on her own discontent with her life and her dead end job.  She takes her frustrations out on Noelle, and doesn’t care for her.  There is never enough food in their cramped rental unit, and her mother’s indifferent eats away at her. 

With all of bullying and her mother’s neglect, Noelle feels that she is unlovable.  She finds herself in a relationship with a popular boy who is obviously taking advantage of her.  He has sworn her to secrecy about their clandestine encounters. They spend the entire time making out.  This wasn’t surprising, considering Noelle’s dysfunctional home life.  Conversation isn’t something that happens at her house, so why would she expect to actually talk to the boy she has convinced herself that she’s in love with?

When a cute classmate shows some interest in her, Noelle freaks out.  Yes, she likes Julian, and yes, she’s dreamed of getting together with him, but she won’t kid herself.  Noelle is one of the poorer kids attending her high school, and Julian is from another world.  His parents are wealthy, and she just won’t fit into his life.  Despite her messed up emotions, Noelle did begin to frustrate me here.  Matt was clearly using her, he refused to be seen with her in public, and yet she stubbornly refused to admit to herself that he was taking advantage of her.  Their “relationship” didn’t make her happy; it made her miserable that she had to keep it a secret from even her only friend, and yet she continued down a path that she knew was wrong.  Instead of giving Julian a chance, she turned him down, without even giving him a chance to prove himself to her.  I understood her fear of becoming emotionally involved with a guy she was afraid would break her heart, but I was still disappointed that she refused to even try to be his friend.

I found Noelle easy to relate to.  Her anger and unhappiness pulsed convincingly on every page.  Her tormenting classmates and her mother left her feeling helpless, without any sense of empowerment or self-confidence to help her cope.  To avoid becoming targets themselves, her former friends abandoned her.  She quickly got used to keeping her deepest, most genuine feelings repressed.  How do you continue, day after day, to go on, knowing that nothing is going to get any better?  For Noelle, salvation lies in the future, after she graduates and escapes from her small town.  I understood this, having once felt that way myself.  When you are that unhappy, it’s hard to contemplate that things will ever get better, unless there is a drastic change in your surroundings.  Noelle copes by counting down the days until she graduates, crossing them off on the calendar in her room.  She doesn’t think that her life will begin until after she’s finished with high school and the bullies who make her days nightmarish.  Everything seems so big and insurmountable when you are wrapped up in your own personal misery, and getting through every day is a challenge.  Susane Colasanti’s narration is painfully convincing, so it was not surprising to discover that she was the victim of bullying herself.

Keep Holding On managed to end on an up-beat note, as Noelle does find an inner strength and peace of mind to keep her moving forward.  I wasn’t as convinced by the ending as I was with the rest of the book,  but any other ending would have been a complete downer.  I am glad that Noelle was able to find the tenacity to face each day head on and begin living her life, instead of running away and hiding from it.

Grade:  B

Review copy obtained from my local library

Interview with Patricia Dunn, Author of Rebels By Accident

Patricia Dunn is the author of Rebels By Accident, a young adult coming of age tale that takes place in Egypt during the revolution that recently swept through the country.  Patricia dropped by the virtual offices to chat about her book.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Patricia Dunn] I am the tangential queen. When I tell a story I take you around the world to bring you right back to where we started only with some new discovery, hopefully.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Rebels by Accident?

[Patricia Dunn]  It’s the journey of an Egyptian-American teen who in our post 9-11 world is very disconnected from her culture, and how she finally figures out what it means to be Egyptian and American. It’s also a love story. Not just the girl meets boy story, but a story that also includes falling in love with a place and a people, and friends and family. And let’s not forget that it’s about Revolution on the outside and on the inside.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Patricia Dunn] It didn’t start off as a choice. I was in a writing class with Cassandra Medley, at Sarah Lawrence College, she’s an amazing teacher and playwright. Through a series of writing prompts, the voice of Mariam started to come through. Someone once said it was like I channeled her. And I must have, because I’d never have consciously written in the voice of a teenager. Teens are tough. But whenever I tried to go back to a more adult narrator Mariam kept fighting her way through and winning. When I finally accepted Mariam as my narrator, I let her tell her story, and there were many variations. After the recent Egyptian revolution, I knew that was part of her story and so with the help of a wonderful editor, and my then publisher Evelyn Fazio, and with the help of my best friend and agent, this version emerged. And like any story I write, revision, revision, and revision, and trial and error, lots of it. The more I worked on this book, the more I learned about my characters and the more the story revealed itself.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What kind of research did you conduct for this project?

[Patricia Dunn] I’ve been to Egypt many times, so I could visualize a lot of the places I was writing about. But to get the events and the feel for a lot of the scenes at Tahrir square, I spent hours looking at YouTube videos and reading posts on Facebook and Twitter, and asking everyone I knew who was there or who had family there at the time. I also had many readers looking over the book and helping with fact checking. When it came to some of the Arabic translations, I made sure that these were checked and rechecked. I really tried to make sure that the transliteration was true to the way things are said in Egypt as opposed to other Arabic speaking countries. For example, in Egypt a “th” sound is used in a lot of words whereas it’s not used in other Arabic speaking countries. Oh, and I also talked to as many teenagers as I could to get a sense of what felt believable. I was constantly reading sections to my son and asking, "Does this sound like something a teen would say?" Or would your friends do this? Or would they do that? Then there was all the research around social media. It was amazing to me how the youth in Egypt were not only using Facebook to share news about fashion or friends but they were using Facebook to organize, to change the world.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Mariam?

[Patricia Dunn] Loyal, funny, gutsy

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things Mariam would never have in her purse?

[Patricia Dunn] Mariam wouldn’t carry a purse, a backpack, but not a purse. Three things she’d never carry in her backpack are a romance novel (that’s Deanna, her best friend’s thing), a cell phone (her parents wouldn’t let her have one), and a red lipstick (Deanna wouldn’t approve of the color.)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is Mariam’s single most prized possession?

[Patricia Dunn] She doesn’t realize it until later in the book, but I would say it’s the dress that her grandmother gives her. The trim on the sleeve is not finished. Mariam likes it this way because as Sittu tells her, "It’s good to be reminded that nothing is perfect in this world, and still there is so much beauty in this imperfection." Or something like that.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Patricia Dunn] I have to say my son does a lot to inspire me. Encourage me. Also, to kick my butt when he thinks I’m slacking off.

And the women of my writing group; they are tremendous writers who have so much care and love for their craft and each other that I’m always so grateful for their being part of my life.

My students. I have the honor of teaching at the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. Most of my students have families, full time jobs, more obligations in a week than many have in a year, and yet they manage to write their five pages or more a week, and they come to class giving as much to the other students in the class as receiving. They are always an inspiration to me. How hard they work. How determined they are. No matter what, they keep writing. Sometimes watching them shames me because of the excuses I will use to not write, but more often, they inspire me.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Patricia Dunn] 1. My Writer’s Group, or what I call my “writer’s support group.” We meet every week to talk about our writing and our lives. We have each other’s backs and we keep each other going. Let’s face it, writing is hard work, and often there’s not a lot of payoff.

2. One song that I can play over and over again. When I’m starting a new project, it helps for me to find a song that matches the mood of the book, and often to the dismay of those around me, playing it over and over again keeps me in the right head and body space needed to get me writing forward.

3. Time. I think this is true for all writers. I don’t mean just hours. I mean the kind of focused time where there are no external or internal distractions. I’m not thinking about paying the cable bill or scrubbing the toilet while I’m writing. I’m there in the world my characters have helped me to create.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Patricia Dunn]  There have been so many. As someone who teaches a novel class and who is always working with other writers, a lot of what I read are works in progress, or works not yet published. The book not yet published that most knocked my socks, and boots, off was Jimin Han’s novel. It’s beautifully written and suspenseful. I couldn’t put it down.

The last published book to do that to me was the Kite Runner. The story was honest and compelling. The pacing was marvelous. I loved how it starts off slow, slow enough for us to really learn about the character and the world he grows up in. The pacing felt true to the way I remember experiencing childhood. Summer days that go on forever. Then the pacing speeds up and you can hardly breathe, or stop reading, until you get to the end.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Patricia Dunn]  Escape from Warsaw by Ian Serraillier. I remember pulling it off the shelf in third grade. Up until then, I had never heard about the Holocaust, or even much about World War II. This book was about how the war separates this family and what they do to survive and find each other. I don’t remember a lot of the details and, actually, I’d like to read it again. I will never forget how it made me feel. I was so caught up in the characters’ world that I worried for them even when I wasn’t reading the book, though I read every chance I had. I couldn’t stop reading. I had to find out what happened next. I even read when I could have been watching television. Now that says a lot about how engaged I was with the story and the writing.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Patricia Dunn] Travel. Having Netflix marathons with my son, like watching every episode of the Twilight Zone in three days. Acting like a local roadie for my boyfriend’s cover band. I never had any interest in being a roadie or a groupie when I was younger, but at 48 it’s fun to be a band’s number one fan, especially when the bass player is such a cutie. He doesn’t make a living at his music; that he does in other ways. He plays for the fun of it. And it’s so much fun watching him and the other guys play. I have to say watching others write isn’t quite as entertaining.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Patricia Dunn] Website Patriciadunnauthor.com

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/patricia.dunn.9066

and twitter @shewrites

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

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About the book:

A Troubled Teen Sent to Cairo Finds Revolution is Everywhere, Including in Ourselves

When my first party ends in jail, I think things can’t possibly get worse. But then my parents send me to my grandmother in Cairo, and I’m sure my life is over. My sittu is Darth Vader’s evil sister, and I’m sure the only sites I’ll get to see in Egypt are the rooms in her apartment.

Turns out she’s not so bad. We ride camels by the pyramids and ice skate at a mall.
As Sittu says, “Sometimes a moment can change your life.” But it can change the life of a country too. When a girl named Asmaa calls the people of Egypt to protest, I find myself in the middle of a revolution, running from tear gas and guns.

Oh yeah, and I meet the cutest guy I’ve ever seen. Fall in love for the first time. And have my first kiss.