Book Review: Starlight by Richard Wagamese

38636042*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Starlight

Author: Richard Wagamese

Publisher: McLelland & Stewart

Publication Date: August 14, 2018

ISBN: 9780771070846

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Frank Starlight has long settled into a quiet life working his remote farm, but his contemplative existence comes to an abrupt end with the arrival of Emmy, who has committed a desperate act so she and her child can escape a harrowing life of violence. Starlight takes in Emmy and her daughter to help them get back on their feet, and this accidental family eventually grows into a real one. But Emmy’s abusive ex isn’t content to just let her go. He wants revenge and is determined to hunt her down. Starlightwas unfinished at the time of Richard Wagamese’s death, yet every page radiates with his masterful storytelling, intense humanism, and insights that are as hard-earned as they are beautiful. With astonishing scenes set in the rugged backcountry of the B.C. Interior, and characters whose scars cut deep even as their journey toward healing and forgiveness lifts us, Starlight is a last gift to readers from a writer who believed in the power of stories to save us.


Starlight is one of the most vivid and breathtaking books that I’ve read this year. Sadly, Wagamese passed away before the completion of this novel, but the incompletion of this story makes it all the more beautiful and leaves it at it’s most intense and pivotal moment. The story ends at a tipping point, where two stories are at the cusp of colliding, leaving the reader with an intense cliffhanger. The publisher does fill in what Wagamese intended for the climax and resolution, however, I think this story is perfect just as it is. It’s open ended and leaves the reader to fill in their own ending, and there are so many different ways this could go.

This is a story of contrast and juxtaposition: good vs. evil, love vs. hate, light vs. dark. There are three perspectives presented. Frank Starlight is a force of beauty and calm. He is a simple man who is not one for words, but he feels the land and connects with the world around him in an otherworldly and healing way. Emmy is in a state of transition. She is fleeing violence and finds peace in Frank’s world. Her story is one of recovery and utter change from devastation to beauty. She finds her way in Franks world and begins to discover so much about herself that she’d never thought possible. In complete contrast is Emmy’s ex. He is a figure of all-consuming hatred. He is obsessive, abusive, and fixated on destruction. These dichotomies create this intense movement between two completely opposing figures. It’s shocking and when these two men are placed side by side, you notice the virtues and faults of each in a much more visceral way. It makes the beautiful moment all the more moving and the darker moments that much more devastating.

I don’t want to give too much away about this book. I enjoyed it so much and I hope you will too. Wagamese is one of the most descriptive writers that I’ve ever read. He uses unusual comparisons to paint a tangible picture of the world he’s created. His book almost like a photography in that I could imagine the setting and the characters so vividly and I understood them in such a real way that it was like looking at an image or watching a movie, rather than reading a book. Wagamese’s talent will be missed. I now look to his other books because I need more of his writing in my life.

If you read Starlight, let me know what you think!

 

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Blog Tour: Confessions of a Teenage Leper Author Q&A

37789805*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Confessions of a Teenage Leper

Author: Ashley Little

Publisher: Penguin Teen

Publication Date: September 25, 2018

ISBN: 978073526261

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Abby Furlowe has plans. Big plans. She’s hot, she’s popular, she’s a cheerleader and she’s going to break out of her small Texas town and make it big. But then she notices some spots on her skin. She writes them off as a rash, but things only get worse. By the time her seventeenth birthday rolls around, she’s tried every cream and medication the doctors have thrown at her, but nothing works. When she falls doing a routine cheerleading stunt and slips into a coma, her mystery illness goes into overdrive and finally gets diagnosed: Hansen’s Disease, aka leprosy. Abby is sent to a facility to recover and deal with this new reality. But it’s during this recovery that Abby has to learn to live with something even more difficult than Hansen’s Disease. She’s becoming aware of who she really was before and what her behavior was doing to others; now she’s on the other side of the fence looking in, and she doesn’t like what she sees. . .


I had a chance to ask Ashley Little a few questions. A huge THANK YOU to Ashley for taking the time to answer my questions and to give you, dear readers, a glance at her inspiration and her writing space. Check out our conversation, followed by a book review below.

Author Q&A

1. Featuring a character who struggles with Hansen’s disease is really unique. What inspired you to write a character with such a rare and unusual illness?

Kind of a long story, but while I was doing my undergraduate degree in creative writing, a prof assigned our class a historical fiction piece. So we had to find something in British Columbia’s history that interested us and then research it using three different sources (microfiche, interviews, encyclopedias, maps, etc. i.e. not the Internet) and then write a short story about it. I found out about a place called D’Arcy Island; a leper colony on a tiny island off the southern tip of Vancouver Island, not far from where I was going to university, in Victoria; it ran from 1891-1924. I did my research and wrote a short story from the perspectives of four men and one woman that had lived there. The idea had always stayed with me because it was so haunting, and the people sent there lived in really poor conditions and were basically sent there to die, not get better. So, about ten years later, I decided it was time to write a novel about D’Arcy Island; I went to the island and stayed three nights and visited the orchard they had kept and saw the foundations of the buildings that had housed them. I did about six months of research towards a historical fiction novel and sometime in the spring of 2015, June, I think, my friend sent me this article because he knew I was researching leprosy/HD, and it basically said that leprosy/HD is alive and well in the United States today in states like Texas, Florida, and Louisiana, because these states have high populations of armadillos and armadillos can transmit leprosy/Hansen’s Disease to humans and vice versa.

And that, just that one line about it still being a disease in these modern times — gave me the idea to do a young adult novel set in present day about a character who is very concerned with appearances and ends up contracting Hansen’s Disease. The whole novel shot into my mind like a single, focused, beam of light after reading that short article. And the next day, or maybe a few days later, Abby started talking to me and after that, there was no shutting her up.

2. What struggles did you encounter in the writing of this book?

I originally had a different storyline for Dean, one that did not end well for him… My editors at Penguin Randomhouse thought that it was detracting and distracting from the main storyline – Abby’s struggle with Hansen’s Disease – and so they wanted me to change it.

I was sort of attached to that storyline because it was really powerful emotionally (I thought) so I didn’t want to change it as much as they were suggesting. But I eventually came around to seeing that they were right, and that it would be stronger to focus on Abby’s journey without clouding it up with Dean’s. That’s why editors are so great – because they see what you can’t… but if you can just let go of your ego for a minute and trust their guidance – you end up with a better story for it.

3. Abby’s family looks like the perfect nuclear family from the outside, but there’s so much difficulty going on behind the scenes. Without giving too much away,why did you decide to bring in a secondary, but very intense conflict with Abby’s brother in addition to very difficult diagnosis?

Dean is the metaphorical ‘leper.’  He represents the teens who feel like outcasts and freaks (but not because of a disfiguring disease – just because that’s who they are).

4. Did your experience writing Confessions differ from that of your previous books? If so, can you tell me how it differed? If not, how was it the same?

I really liked the dynamic between Abby and Dean and I had a lot of fun writing their dialogue. I sometimes laughed out loud at the ridiculous things Dean would say or do and I hadn’t really had that experience before. Dean, although he’s a colossal jerk, was a joy to write.

5. What does your writing space look like?

It’s a desk in the corner of my 2 year old daughter’s bedroom. The desk is not actually a desk. It’s a small, old wooden dresser that’s been converted into a desk. I think we found it at the side of the road about 15 years ago. Then I work on a PC so it’s all set up ergonomically. On the wall behind my desk I stick HUGE pieces of paper (giant sticky notes) and keep my plotline, timeline, character charts, and notes on those. When I was working on this novel I had green sticky notes of scenes and ideas stuck all over the wall for about a month, I would re-arrange them daily as I tried to figure out the climax and the ending.

6. Do you have other novels or ideas in the works? Anything you’re particularly excited about?

Yes! Right now I’m working on a thriller for adults about a writer who has a stalker. It’s called Creep.


Review

This quick, but quirky novel shows the transformation of the selfish, mean girl, queen bee of the high school to a thoughtful and driven teen after a diagnosis of Hansen’s disease forces her to reevaluate her life. I enjoyed that Little chose to shed some light on a less well-known disease, especially in today’s society. Abby struggles to shake off her shallow mask that she’s hidden behind for so long in order to truly learn about herself and who she wants to be. Although I didn’t really love Abby as a person/character, I thought that her story was incredibly interesting and unique compared. Abby is a bit of an awful human being, but we do get to see her grow and improve as the story goes on. Her mind opens and so do the various doors of her life as she grows in her recovery. This story layers intense family drama in layers so that it’s not just Abby’s story that we get to see. We get to know her family and its troubles quite intimately through the story. These struggles strengthen the characters’ bonds with one another and lead to self-discovery, especially on Abby’s part. Confessions of a Teenage Leper is an interesting read for sure.

Book review: Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

17312156Title: Tempests and Slaughter

Author: Tamora Pierce

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: February 6, 2018

ISBN: 9780375847110

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
Arram Draper is a boy on the path to becoming one of the realm’s most powerful mages. The youngest student in his class at the Imperial University of Carthak, he has a Gift with unlimited potential for greatness–and for attracting danger. At his side are his two best friends: Varice, a clever girl with an often-overlooked talent, and Ozorne, the “leftover prince” with secret ambitions. Together, these three friends forge a bond that will one day shape kingdoms. And as Ozorne gets closer to the throne and Varice gets closer to Arram’s heart, Arram begins to realize that one day soon he will have to decide where his loyalties truly lie. 


I’ve loved Tamora Pierce’s writing for well over a decade now, so I was thrilled when this book was announced. Although it published earlier this year, I was only just able to get my hands on a copy and I’m so HAPPY! Arram Draper’s story will not disappoint Pierce fans one bit. Arram is a child prodigy in mage school. He’s significantly younger than the students at his level and his abilities with spells continue to exceed expectations. This story slots in early in the Tamora Pierce lexicon of stories, bringing us the history of a prevalent character in later series. It’s so refreshing to return to her fantastic world. Her stories are always coming of age stories of characters who’s mark upon her world is great, and Arram’s is no different. He takes everything in stride, learning more and more. He’s a big bookwork who’s a bit naive at times, but his heart is pure and is always in the right place. The friendships he forms are steadfast and lovely, although they are not without their bumps in the road as well.

My only hesitation with this particular story is the peculiar and seemingly incomplete sexual awakening that Arram undergoes as he comes of age. This whole story spans a significant number of years, so we get to follow him through puberty. This whole aspect of the story seemed a bit clumsy and out of place to me. It was the only part of the story where I felt pulled out of the world because it felt a tad clunky as it doesn’t really drive the plot forward. I love that the book moves to discuss puberty, but I don’t know if it was approached as well as it could have been. Pierce begins to introduce Arram’s self-discovery of his body as it goes through changes through maturity, however I couldn’t really see how this tied into the story as a whole, or why it was necessary to the plot for us to witness this particular moment of his young life when, at least in this book, it does not manifest into anything greater. Had it tied into the plot a bit more, then it would have been agood body-positive and learning moment.

Aside from this, the book was fantastic. Pierce is a master world builder. She’s been writing for years and her world remains steadfast and cohesive. It’s magical and immersive and always so enjoyable. She writes intricate characters in stories spanning years so we get to see them grow from childhood into adulthood. Readers can really grow to love the characters and to build an enormous mental picture of all aspects of this world. I cannot wait for book 2 of The Numair Chronicles to come out. Tempests and Slaughter seems to really be setting the stage for the following books in the series. There’s not a ton of action and a lot of the story is just getting to know the characters and setting up context, but I have a feeling we’ll really start to see things come to a head in subsequent books.

Young readers of fantasy everywhere, I encourage you to read any and all of Tamora Pierce’s book. I own nearly all of them (I’ve slacked slightly on the Beka Cooper series sadly). Pierce’s writing is beautiful and her world is all-consuming. It’s a great intro to fantasy and she’s got some kickass female characters in her other series. Would highly recommend.

Book Review: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

35424630*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

Author: Holly Ringland

Publisher: House of Anansi

Publication Date: March 19, 2018

ISBN: 9781460754337

Synopsis from Goodreads:
After her family suffers a tragedy when she is nine years old, Alice Hart is forced to leave her idyllic seaside home. She is taken in by her estranged grandmother, June, a flower farmer who raises Alice on the language of Australian native flowers, a way to say the things that are too hard to speak. But Alice also learns that there are secrets within secrets about her past. Under the watchful eye of June and The Flowers, women who run the farm, Alice grows up. But an unexpected betrayal sends her reeling, and she flees to the dramatically beautiful central Australian desert. Alice thinks she has found solace, until she falls in love with Dylan, a charismatic and ultimately dangerous man.


This novel was a vivid and beautiful story of a young woman looking to find herself. Set in the vast expanse of Australia, this story is so incredibly sensory and tactile. Flowers permeate and inform the story in a language all their own. Alice Harts life and the history of her family, as she learns the language of the flowers, she begins to understand herself and the deepest family secrets more and more. Her story is one of neglect and abuse. It’s shocking and gut-wrenching. This story will break your heart in so many ways, but in the end, it’s a story of family, abuse, recovery, forgiveness, self-discovery, and it is beautiful and moving.

The characters in this story are all so incredibly complex and intense. We see Alice throughout her life, so we know her best. She struggles with deep scars and has the greatest battles to fight as she learns to understand herself and who she is. I connected with her on so many levels as she blossomed from a child into a young woman. Alice has been who she’s been told to be for so long, taking the path that her grandmother, June, set out for her. Alice experiences incredible transformation in this story, but not without terrible bumps along the road. Alice is so pure at heart, but she is so open to being hurt. She must really learn to stand up for herself and to declare who she is to the world. June, also, is a woman with incredible depth. Her past is haunted by pain and it plagues her present. She cannot outrun the sadness and anger that she’s lived through and it weighs her down and traps her in an unbreakable vice. Even Alice’s presence in her life is not enough. June is so complicated and tortured. Her pain permeates through the house and affects her relationships drastically.

My absolute favourite thing about this book is that it’s also a very beautiful book to experience as you read. Flowers, as I mentioned before, thread throughout this whole story. This also includes a very visual experience. The Table of Context is outlined by a frame of hand-drawn flowers and each chapter opens with a drawing of a flower along with it’s name and definition. It’s so stunning. These flowers mirror Alice’s own flower dictionary and the story that she writes about her life. We get to experiences a little of her own creation throughout this story. The little details like this really bring the story to life.

I loved this book and I’d highly recommend it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Happy Reading!

Blog Tour: I Do Not Trust You by Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz

37638243.jpgTitle: I Do Not Trust You

Authors: Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Publication Date: September 11, 2018

ISBN: 9781250052308

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Memphis “M” Engle is stubborn to a fault, graced with an almost absurd knowledge of long lost languages and cultures, and a heck of an opponent in a fight. In short: she’s awesome. Ashwin Sood is a little too posh for her tastes, a member of an ancient cult (which she’s pretty sure counts for more than one strike against him), and has just informed Memphis that her father who she thought was dead isn’t and needs her help.  From the catacombs of Paris to lost temples in the sacred forests, together they crisscross the globe, searching for the pieces of the one thing that might save her father. But the closer they come to saving him—and the more they fall for one another—the closer they get to destroying the world.


Review:

I Do Not Trust You is a DaVinci Code-esque story with a mysterious race around the world to uncover hidden secrets of the god, Set. Not only is the protagonist, M’s father at risk of facing death, the entire world faces the wrath of the god, Set, if M and her companion, Ashwin, cannot protect Set’s hidden secrets from an evil cult. This story moves so quickly and is intense in it’s pace and in the characters struggle to outrun their opposition. M takes the reader around the world, fighting with incredible determination and wit, to save her father’s life. Their story is accompanied by a very unexpected budding romance between M and Ashwin that takes even them by surprise. This is a fast-paced adventure story that combines classic myths and religions, bringing them to life for today’s young readers.

Check out an excerpt below, generously provided by the publisher as part of the blog tour for I Do Not Trust You.

Excerpt

From Chapter 1:

“You should’ve seen Miss Memphis here get into it with Nick last period,” Brianna said, squeezing in between M and Inez at their usual spot in the cafeteria. “She shut him down with her crazy ancient cultures voodoo.”

“He’s an ass. He’s lucky he’s hot,” their friend Ayana commented, waving her spork in Nick’s direction.

M shrugged. “I wouldn’t try to debate him in Physics. I just know more about Rome than he does.”

“What about AP Chem? Would you debate him in that?” Inez asked in a fake-serious voice. “Would you debate him in German class?”

“She’d debate him in German, in German,” Brianna joked. “And if he tried to fight back, she’d switch to Greek.”

M threw a French fry at her. “I can’t help it. I grew up speaking different languages.”

“And learning about pharaohs. And becoming well versed in the history of the Etruscan people,” Ayana said, putting on a fake accent that was probably supposed to be British. “Oh, and setting broken bones in the bush.”

“That only happened once,” M muttered. Her friends laughed.

“Anyway, it was epic. Thanks,” Brianna said. “I can’t stand fighting with people, and Nick always goes after me.”

“He knows you hate it,” M pointed out. “That’s why he does it.”

“An ass, like I said.” Ayana shrugged.

“You think he’s coming to the party tonight?” Brianna asked.

“Probably. Everyone else is,” Inez replied. “Even Memphis.” M made a face. “Anything to get out of the house. Bob and Liza would expect me to play board games with them otherwise.” Her friends exchanged a glance. M winced. “No offense.”

“Oh, were you offending someone?” Nick piped up from behind her. “Good girl.”

Immediately Bri looked down, while Ayana rolled her eyes. Inez just smirked, glancing back and forth between M and Nick.

“I was not offending anyone. I only meant I don’t like parties,” M said. She didn’t bother to turn toward him. It didn’t matter; he inserted himself onto the bench next to her anyway. A little tingle ran up her spine as the scent of his co- logne hit her nostrils, spicy and warm.

“Mmm, they’re boring. Everyone talking about the prom or the senior trip or whatever. I’m over it,” Nick said.

Me too, thought M, wishing she didn’t agree with him. She loved her friends, but even they were all about high school. M just didn’t care. High school was nothing more than what she had to get through before she could leave. After the crash, after the shock of Bob and Liza becoming her guardians, she’d asked if she could go off to college early, either Boston University or the University of Sheffield in England. Both had the kind of archeology program she wanted and would’ve let her in with no questions. They knew her father. They knew high school was a waste of time for someone like her.

But her guardians said no. They said she needed stabil- ity and normalcy after losing her dad. Never mind that traveling the world and taking care of herself was normal for her. While she and Dad technically lived in Boston, she’d never spent more than a few months there during the school year. They traveled. Half the year spent on digs. She missed it.

“What’s with this thing, anyway? Is it to fight off bad guys?” Nick teased, finding an excuse to touch her. He reached for M’s collapsible bo staff, tucked in the inside pocket of her jacket like always. But before he touched it, be- fore his flirty smile registered in her mind, M had already grabbed his hand, twisted it back to the breaking point, and used the pain to push him off the cafeteria bench and onto the floor. With her other hand, she whipped out the stick and shoved it up against his throat.

M froze. Hes just hitting on you. Her friends were aghast, and everyone nearby watched, openmouthed. Nick’s eyes were wide with panic.

“Sorry.” M stood up, leaving Nick on the floor. “I’m really sorry.”

“Freak,” he muttered, climbing to his feet. He glanced around, noticing the barely concealed laughter from onlook- ers. “Jeez, I just wanted a fry,” he joked, as if he hadn’t been humiliated, then hurried out of the cafeteria.

“What. The. Hell?” Inez asked. “He was flirting with you and you beat him up!”

“I know.” M groaned, shoving her staff back into her pocket. “I didn’t mean to. It was just reflex.”

Her friends were silent. She’d freaked them out. Should she explain the years of self-defense and martial arts train-ing? That she and Dad ended up in some rough places? Her friends lived in a city, they understood danger. Sort of. In a nice, upscale Boston kind of way.

M sighed. There was no point in trying to explain. No- body understood her life.

“You kinda push all the guys away,” Brianna pointed out quietly. “Maybe not like that, but still . . .”

“I don’t do romance,” M replied. She was done with love, period. She’d loved her parents, and they were both gone. Love hurt too much. It was better to steer clear of it.

They all ate in silence for a minute.

“I mean, he is an ass,” Ayana said finally. And everybody laughed.

M: You up?

MIKE: It’s a 12 hr time difference. Of course I’m up.

M: Like you never sleep in on weekends.

MIKE: Fine, your text woke me.

M: I don’t think that glyph is a lotus. It’s bending the wrong way.

MIKE: It has to be a lotus. If it’s not, the whole phrase is wrong.

M: The rest of the phrase never sat well with Nefertum anyway.

MIKE: Your dad said it was a lotus.