Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Just Listen

Sarah Dessen gifts us with yet another beautiful novel, Just Listen.

Annabel’s life has always been in the shadow of her more buoyant and beautiful sisters, being not quite as outgoing and not quite as lovely. But she’s lived a life that many other teenage girls desire. She’s a local model, like her sisters before her. She’s best friends with the most popular girl in school. She goes to all the parties. And even if she pales in comparison to her older sister, she is pretty in her own right.

But that’s before the party.

After that, she’s friendless and invisible, except when she’s being harassed by her ex-best friend.

Her home life falls apart as well, his stunning sister in danger of succumbing to an eating disorder and her mother having a difficult time facing the truth.

Sitting alone at lunch, she can’t help but become more intrigued by the other loner in school: Owen. Especially since he doesn’t seem to care that he’s a loner. In fact, he doesn’t seem to care about anything but music – and his anger management lessons.

Once they strike up a conversation, Annabel’s loneliness begins to subside and she starts to realize a part of herself that she has never known or accepted before – her opinions. Always the peacemaker and the one to go with the flow, she’s never been truly herself with anyone. Until Owen.

But what happened at that party can’t help but follow her – and eventually she’ll have to stop hiding from it.

So, what did I think of it? Pretty much what I think of every book Sarah Dessen has written. I loved it.

Every Sarah Dessen book has such exquisite, stunningly poetic language without ever being patronizing. Her novels are honest, raw, and emotional – and Just Listen is no different. Though each of her books feature completely different characters in completely different situations, Sarah manages to always make them hypnotic in their narration, exceptionally sympathetic and inspiring.

Annabel is an extremely credible character; she is in no way over-the-top. Instead, she is realistically quiet, the one that fades into the background, the friend that gets less attention. Her relationships with her mother, her father, and her sisters are poetically drawn and presented – providing us with three-dimensional characters we can latch onto and follow without any prodding.

Just Listen is yet another triumph in storytelling from Sarah Dessen. And shows us why YA is one of the best genres, and the most underrated, in publishing today.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Q & A with Tonya Hurley!

The author of the awesome ghostgirl and coming soon sequel ghostgirl: homecoming was kind enough to answer some of my questions. If you still haven't read ghostgirl (get with it, you're missing out!), there may be mild spoilers. Here's how it went:

Okay, the biggest, most important question for all of us readers who LOVE ghostgirl: Do you plan on writing more books in the ghostgirl series? How many (assuming you aren't going to deny us this wish)?
· I'll write as many as my publisher allows! I have just finished the third book and I think I'm on a roll! I do love writing them and I’m so glad that there are people out there who love reading them.

If you are writing more books (please, please, please), will Maddy make another appearance (purposefully vague, since I don't want to give anything away in ghostgirl: homecoming)?
· You never know.

Were you ecstatic when you got your first copy of ghostgirl? The covers are truly amazing!
· Ecstatic. Speechless. I cried when my editor Nancy Conescu handed it to me. It far surpassed my wildest dreams. It was a perfect realization of what I had imagined and hoped it could be as a novel. I’m very proud of both ghostgirl and ghostgirl: homecoming.

And on this same note, how do you feel about e-books when they could potentially stifle such creative covers? (I personally can't imagine reading without a book in my hands.)
· I think there will always be an audience for traditional books just as there are for newspapers, vinyl albums, CDs, and lots of other physical entertainment products that are now available digitally. E-books just expand the potential audience, so I’m happy that both of my novels will be available in those formats as well. There is something magical about literally cracking a binding and opening a book for the first time. And turning a page. I don’t think you can replicate that feeling electronically. It's more of a sensory experience.

Did anything in particular inspire you to center a novel on a dead character? I found it so unique, I couldn't help but wonder.
· I was working with some very well known ‘tween stars on a TV series that I created for them and I began to think about the whole nation of fame and popularity and how people aspire to it with varying results. I just took that whole desire for popularity thing down to a high school level, which is where its roots are, and then killed off the main character so I could explore all the typical teenage issues in a very fantastical way. It's all about determination, in the end.

I noticed (and loved) how all your characters are played against type. The goth girl finds love with the popular jock and becomes best friends with the "invisible girl", etc. Did you purposely write your characters to show cliques can be defeated in individual cases, or is this just the way the characters came to you?
· I think life is full of surprises, so I tried to inject some of that into the characters and their relationships. It's too easy to "type" people. That's really Charlotte's biggest complaint. She isn't seen for who she is. I don't think any of us really are, especially in high school no matter what we project.

Do you have any favorite books you can recommend to your fans while we wait with bated breath for Charlotte's next step in the afterlife?
· I like to suggest that people reread a book they loved when they were younger. As you age, things take on a whole different meaning and it's pretty great to take a classic that meant so much to you and read it from a more mature, wiser perspective. Also, there is an audiobook of ghostgirl coming out in a few weeks at recordedbooks.com, and then a digital version at audible.com. It is narrated by Parker Posey with music by Vince Clarke! Thank you!

A third book? Finished already? Okay, everybody with me: whoosh. That was a sigh of relief, if you were wondering. :)

Remember to grab your copy of ghostgirl: homecoming on July 1st!!!

Monday, June 22, 2009

ghostgirl: homecoming

*SPOILER ALERT: If you have not yet read the fantastical ghostgirl, and don't want to know how the first one ends (and really, why would you want to ruin the awesome experience of reading the book?), please don't read the review for the sequel. If anything, trust me and just go and buy them both.*

Tonya Hurley's ghostgirl: homecoming has Charlotte Usher in the next level of the afterlife. Yet again, however, she finds it sorely lacking in pearly gates. But her newly matured understanding, which she gained by the end of ghostgirl, helps her deal with the fact that she and her classmates are now interns.

That's right. Interns. Interns at a call center. A call center that helps teens who need guidance.
Yeah, not exactly what she was expecting.

But, apparently, there are more levels to immortality than you'd guess. Plus, with her new roommate Maddy the only fellow deceased sticking around to talk to her, she can't help but wonder if maybe "graduating" wasn't all it seemed cracked up to be.

Meanwhile, among the living, Scarlet finds herself becoming more insecure than she's comfortable with since Damen's been at college and seemingly more and more distant. And he still hasn't said the three small words she wants to hear. But things get a lot worse for her and her sister Petula before many chapters fly by.

And they DO fly by. If you thought Charlotte found her happy ending at the end of ghostgirl, be happy it's not true, because this sequel is just as good, if not BETTER!!!

What does ghostgirl: homecoming bring to the table? A whole new level of the afterlife, complete with jobs and apartments (kinda prison issue) and creepy forests. There are more mysterious characters, the return of the characters we love, just as much humor, and every ounce of sweet-without-being-nauseous moments as the first novel.

And, again, I applaud whoever comes up with these awesome covers. Love it. Just as cool as the book itself. How often does that happen?
I don't want to give away too much, so I'll just say this: Go out and read the sequel on July 1st. By the end, you'll be hoping that there are a lot more volumes to come.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Tonya Hurley offers up a very unique YA novel in ghostgirl.

Charlotte has always been invisible and ignored throughout her life - so the first day of school is her opportunity to insert herself, however forcibly, into the popular crowd and into the heart of her dream guy, Damen.

Or so she hopes.

But just as things are looking her way (Damen is partnered up with Charlotte as lab partners and asks for her to tutor him), she dies.

By way of choking on a gummy bear.

And seeing her hopes and dreams disappear isn't even the worst of it. There aren't any pearly gates waiting for her. No, she still has to go to "school" and "graduate". There is an afterlife, and it includes "Dead Ed".

But as much as her fellow deceased school mates urge her to let go of her old life, Charlotte just isn't made that way. She made plans to get what she wanted this year, and death isn't a big enough barrier to keep her from making it happen.

Ghostgirl is one of those novels that is so insanely fun and different that you just can't put it down. The whole plot is completely cliche-free and the cast of characters are vivid in their personalities. The third person voice was strange to me at first, but before the third chapter was over, I was over any doubts and fully inserted into the story, turning pages quickly.

There's a certain grounded feel to the writing. Charlotte becomes increasingly sympathetic and three dimensional. You can't help but root for her.

I have to applaud Tonya for creating a whole new world to read and reread about. It was equal parts hilarious, poignant, romantic, ghostly, and just plain entertaining.

And the book itself is gorgeous, with a shape as unique as the story itself and details adorning it in a way that you almost never see on other hardcovers. Honestly, I love the cover so much, I wanted to mention it.

Anyway, this book is definitely worth picking up - I am personally thrilled that there's a sequel, ghostgirl: homecoming, coming out in July. Charlotte is definitely a character I'd follow for many books, discovering all the many layers of the afterlife.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Whole, Entire, Complete Truth

Caroline Rennie Pattison’s The Whole, Entire, Complete Truth is her first Sarah Martin mystery.

Sarah’s parents have moved her and her older brother, Ray, to Muskoka, which is much more “back-country” than crowded city. All of a sudden she has to ride her bike a long distance to see another house. And this move comes just in time for her first year of high school.

Parents. Don'tcha love ‘em?

So, she’s already not too happy with her police detective father - then she begins to become friendly with horse-loving neighbor, Mindi. But when she asks to accept Mindi’s invitation to meet up after school and introduce to her to her beloved horses at her mother’s boyfriend’s house, Mr. Braemarie, he insists that she can’t visit her there but that Mindi is just fine to spend time at their house. Even Sarah’s mom is confused.

To Sarah’s already dangerously curious nature, this refusal is extremely suspicious and she can’t help but be tempted to find out what exactly it is about Mr. Braemarie’s house that her dad doesn’t want her near.

And since she and Mindi are hitting it off so well and Sarah’s desperate for friends in her new desolate hometown, she starts visiting Mindi anyway and oh-so-innocently investigates Mr. Braemarie on the side.

And finds out that maybe her dad wasn’t being so irrational after all.

I enjoyed The Whole, Entire Complete Truth for its Nancy Drew-esque flavor – kind of safe, but always interesting. There were some twists that took the plot a bit farther than the 60s Nancy adventures, though. And it shone light on a surprisingly disturbing issue that is prominent in Canada (where the book takes place, and the author lives) that needs to have more notice.

I’d be interested in the next novel involving the pesky, inquisitive Sarah – but not clamoring for one. And for any readers that require, at the least, the slightest touch of romance, you won’t find that here.

But for those of you who don’t require a Logan for Veronica (if you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, go watch the canceled but great Veronica Mars), it is a quick read, written in an engaging first person voice. The characters are drawn with full-fledged personalities, and the sibling rivalry is definitely fun to read. Especially the chapter where Sarah allows her brother to write his own version of events to prove to her father that he isn’t as humble and great as everyone thinks.