Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Review of THE HAZEL WOOD by Melissa Albert

When I first met Melissa Albert at a conference, in line for a food truck, little did I know that her book, THE HAZEL WOOD, would be a fantasy story that would knock my world right open. (It's set to debut on January 30, and I just finished reading the ARC.) The book is so deliciously complex, that I'm sure many readers will want dig into it again and again.

From Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.


Review:

What makes this story especially fascinating is that doesn't begin with the protagonist--instead, it starts with an article about the Alice's mother Ella, and how the latter was "raised on fairy tales" by Alice's grandmother, Althea Prosperine, author of Tales from the Hinterland. This approach offers a different, more realistic angle of how fairy tales might actually affect real people in their various, fractured ways. Alice, in her own way, has led a very fractured life, never staying in one place for too long, and unable to make real connections with anyone else besides Ella. This is why it's so viscerally painful when Ella goes missing--Alice needs to find the one person she has a connection with. In the process, she gets mixed up with Ellery Finch, an admitted "fan boy" of Althea's; he even has his own copy of Tales from the Hinterland. Finch is Alice's key in finding a past that her mother is now engulfed in--a past that ultimately affects Alice's future. Overall, the characters are extremely well fleshed out, and the descriptions are palpable enough taste how bitter Alice's life is. And while the plot is a bit slow-going at first, it also unfolds in a realistic way, interspersed with a few of Hinterland's tales, a few of which are so gritty and terrifying that they edge more toward horror than fantasy. And the twist at the end, which I won't give away here, is so intriguing that I am determined to re-read the book again to see if there were any pieces I missed. This book seems to be getting a lot of buzz, and rightly so; not only is it pushing the envelope of fantasy writing, it's a story that grabs a reader from the beginning and doesn't let go. I can't wait to see the next in the series, as well as other stories Melissa Albert comes up with.


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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET by Donna Everhart

I've been a fan of Donna Everhart since I first saw her writing in Janet Reid's flash fiction contests. Since then, she's published two amazing books: THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE and THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET, the latter of which released only yesterday. Donna's books are great for anyone, especially those inclined toward Southern historical fiction.


For fourteen-year-old Wallis Ann Stamper and her family, life in the Appalachian Mountains is simple and satisfying, though not for the tenderhearted. While her older sister, Laci—a mute, musically gifted savant—is constantly watched over and protected, Wallis Ann is as practical and sturdy as her name. When the Tuckasegee River bursts its banks, forcing them to flee in the middle of the night, those qualities save her life. But though her family is eventually reunited, the tragedy opens Wallis Ann’s eyes to a world beyond the creek that’s borne their name for generations.

Carrying what’s left of their possessions, the Stampers begin another perilous journey from their ruined home to the hill country of South Carolina. Wallis Ann’s blossoming friendship with Clayton, a high diving performer for a traveling show, sparks a new opportunity, and the family joins as a singing group. But Clayton’s attention to Laci drives a wedge between the two sisters. As jealousy and betrayal threaten to accomplish what hardship never could—divide the family for good—Wallis Ann makes a decision that will transform them all in unforeseeable ways…

According to your website, you write "Gritty Southern Fiction with a Down-home Style." Which authors have most influenced you and why? 


Kaye Gibbons and the book ELLEN FOSTER

This was the first southern fiction book I’d ever read and the catalyst, the impetus for pursuing my writing with some sense of determination.  Published in 1987, I didn’t know about Kaye Gibbons or her books until the early 90s.  She seemed to come out of nowhere, and her character, Ellen Foster, showed me what “voice” meant.  This is Kaye Gibbons’ unique talent, through and through, with all of her work.


Robert Morgan and the book, GAP CREEK

Reading Robert Morgan is like reading poetry, and since I’m not a big poetry fan, it’s as close as I can get.  For me, this book was about the rhythm of sentences and the cadence of word choices.  It was a bonus it was such a great story to boot.


Dorothy Allison and the book, BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA

In my opinion, her writing, among others, launched the whole grit lit, rough south genre.  The book was like peeking in the window at some of my relatives.  I could relate to this story so much, and what I learned from Dorothy Allison was to write without fear.  Write about what we would prefer not to know, what makes us look the other way, what makes us uncomfortable.


Indeed. THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET is set in the Carolinas during the 1940s. What about this story landscape was the most fascinating to work with?   

 There is so much.  First of all, even to this day, there are pockets of people who live much like they did in the 40s.  They are likely hard to find (perhaps intentional), and they simply don’t care to change their way of living.  That’s just for interest, but using this part of my home state to write about gives me, as a writer, so much material.  You’ve got absolutely stunning, beautiful but very rugged and harsh terrain.  You’ve got weather that’s fickle.  You’ve got people set in their ways, hard-working, tenacious, and thrifty.  They sometimes don’t take kindly to outsiders.  In those days -  maybe even today – they call them “foreigners.”  I also love writing about times when it was simpler (or let’s be real – harder!), when there was no running water, no electricity, nothing but what a person could provide for themselves.  Then I like to imagine…what was that like?  If you’re used to it, as my characters were, it’s not such a big deal, but it makes for fascinating research, and then writing about how they did it hopefully makes for fascinating reading.


It certainly does! I like how you've featured a "First Sentence Friday" to preview your upcoming books on your blog. How did this come about, and what has been the most rewarding about it? 

 It’s sort of funny because I came up with it like I do my stories – something sparked the idea from what I read or saw at some point.  Either way, I was trying to think of ways to do something long term, and I wanted it to be engaging.  I had this sort of epiphany, what about first sentences?  What if I share them out?  I liked that idea but then I had to think about when/how often, and I thought “aha!”  Friday.  First sentence Fridays!  That makes it once a week – so it’s not too much, (i.e. daily).  It worked great because so far I’ve written two books that have twenty-eight chapters, meaning twenty-eight weeks of first sentences.  By then, I figure people have me and my book cover tattooed on their brains.


Close to it, anyway. :) What are some of your current projects?

I’ve finished my third book, called THE FORGIVING KIND.  I’m very, very excited about it.  My agent was thrilled with the story as was my editor.  It features a twelve year old girl named Sonny Creech, and her best friend Daniel Lassiter and is set in 1955 on a cotton farm, where after a tragic accident befalls the Creech family, they find themselves financially and emotionally caught up with a reclusive neighbor.  I’m currently working on the revisions and editing of it.  I’ve also started outlining and writing the first three chapters of my fourth book, no working title just yet.  Meanwhile, all I can do is think about how it needs to be as good as FORGIVING – or better if possible.  No pressure.  Not at all.   From here on out, I’ll be promoting THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET, starting January 9th with my book launch at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC and in between all the events planned, I’m head down, working to hit deadlines.

THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET

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THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE

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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Release feature: AS YOU WISH by Chelsea Sedoti

Happy release day to AS YOU WISH, by Chelsea Sedoti! I featured this book back in November, and I just bought myself a copy.

In the sandy Mojave Desert, Madison is a small town on the road between nothing and nowhere. But Eldon wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, because in Madison, everyone gets one wish—and that wish always comes true.

Some people wish for money, some people wish for love, but Eldon has seen how wishes have broken the people around him. And with the lives of his family and friends in chaos, he’s left with more questions than answers. Can he make their lives better? How can he be happy if the people around him aren’t? And what hope is there for any of them if happiness isn’t an achievable dream? Doubts build, leading Eldon to a more outlandish and scary thought: maybe you can’t wish for happiness…maybe, just maybe, you have to make it for yourself.





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