Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Blog Tour: The Merit Birds by Kelley Powell

Today I am happy to take part in the blog tour for The Merit Birds by Kelley Powell courtesy of Dundurn Press.

Here is a synopsis of The Merit Birds:
Eighteen-year-old Cam Scott is angry. He's angry about his absent dad, he's angry about being angry, and he's angry that he has had to give up his Ottawa basketball team to follow his mom to her new job in Vientiane, Laos. However, Cam's anger begins to melt under the Southeast Asian sun as he finds friendship with his neighbour, Somchai, and gradually falls in love with Nok, who teaches him about building merit, or karma, by doing good deeds, such as purchasing caged "merit birds." Tragedy strikes and Cam finds himself falsely accused of a crime. His freedom depends on a person he's never met. A person who knows that the only way to restore his merit is to confess. "The Merit Birds" blends action and suspense and humour in a far-off land where things seem so different, yet deep down are so much the same.

I would like to welcome Kelley to talk about how she flunked a creative writing class, and yet look at her now.

How I Flunked Creative Writing Class

This past year my debut novel, The Merit Birds, hit number 3 on the Amazon.ca bestseller list and one of my short stories was longlisted for the competitive CBC short story prize. You might be surprised to know that I received my lowest mark ever in my undergraduate creative writing class.

The class was set up as a giant workshop. Around thirty arts students sat in a huge circle, clutching coffees and staring at each other expectantly. Two or three students would be on the hook for the week, which meant they had to read out their work and then sit back while the rest of the class critiqued it. I was fine with my work being evaluated publicly, but having to review someone else’s heart and soul while twenty nine others looked on gave me the shivers. Couldn’t I give my critique in writing, or share it with the author one-on-one, or even in a small group? I stayed quiet most classes, learning a lot from other students’ writing and suggestions, but silently beating myself up for not participating fully. Since the course grade was mostly based on participation I barely passed.

It wasn’t until several years later, when I read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, that I began to realize that being quiet isn’t necessarily bad. Cain shows how introverted people are physiologically made to be quiet, and demonstrates how our North American society desperately needs to balance its “extrovert ideal” with the qualities of introverts. She even shows how the 2008 stock market crash was caused by an over reliance on extroverted qualities.  After reading Cain’s book I began to realize the irony of my low creative writing mark. On one hand I flunked because I was too quiet, but on the other hand being quiet allowed me to observe people and environments in a way I couldn’t have if I was talking frequently. People often ask me how I made the descriptions of Laos so evocative and real in The Merit Birds - it’s because of my quiet, consistent observation of people and sensory detail.

Of course extroverts can be excellent writers too, but judging by the writers I know, many of us are introverted souls who would rather be quietly creating. I’m grateful to know that my alma mater has since changed the grading scheme for its creative writing class.

To all of the aspiring authors out there I say let yourself be quiet, but let your inner defiance of a low mark - or of the idea that getting published is unattainable - be strident.

I am also happy to offer a giveaway (CANADIAN ONLY) of a copy of The Merit Birds from Dundurn Press. Just leave a comment below for Kelley. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Review: A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Pages: 519
Received: Received a copy from the publisher through Netgalley

Release Date: April 7, 2015
Buy From Chapters.ca / Buy From BookDepository.com

Goodreads Synopsis:

For nearly 300 years, the mysterious journal of Jacobite exile Mary Dundas has lain unread — its secrets safe from prying eyes. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas has been hired by a once-famous historian to crack the journal's cipher. But when she arrives in Paris, Sara finds herself besieged by complications from all sides: the journal's reclusive owner, her charming Parisian neighbor, and Mary, whose journal doesn't hold the secrets Sara expects.

It turns out that Mary Dundas wasn’t keeping a record of everyday life, but a first-hand account of her part in a dangerous intrigue. In the first wintry months of 1732, with a scandal gaining steam in London, driving many into bankruptcy and ruin, the man accused of being at its center is concealed among the Jacobites in Paris, with Mary posing as his sister to aid his disguise.

When their location is betrayed, they’re forced to put a desperate plan in action, heading south along the road to Rome, protected by the enigmatic Highlander Hugh MacPherson.

As Mary's tale grows more and more dire, Sara, too, must carefully choose which turning to take... to find the road that will lead her safely home.

My Review:

I honestly am not sure about my thoughts on this book and I have sat with it for so long. I was really excited because I have heard such amazing things about Susanna Kearsley as an author, and I can see why people love her, she truly knows how to weave a story together, but this book is one that I don't know what to say and how to talk about it. The historical aspect is what really drew me to this book, the idea that there is a story that intertwines two women in different times really spoke to me. But when I finished this book I don't know if I truly felt that it worked for me.

Through a lot of the novel I felt that it was just two different stories and the only way that they really connected was because Sara was translating Mary's journal, other than that I really could not find other connections between these two women. This was a very long book that at times I just could not keep up to what was happening and I was lost with the perspectives and what had happened the last time I was with this character. I feel that the way these two stories attempted to intertwine, didn't work for me as a reader and I couldn't keep myself interested throughout much of the book, I was distracted and lost a lot of the time.

I did really enjoy the story of Mary Dundas and how she is playing such a dangerous game that she never asked to get into. Mary's story is fraught with deceptions and romance at the same time and there is danger at every turn as she helps conceal a man accused of a huge scandal in London. I enjoyed the intrigue that Susanna Kearsley gave me in this story, but then when things would switch back to present time and Sara's story I just felt that the connection I had was missing with this second part.

This story will appeal to some people, and I do believe that a lot of it appealed to me, but it just took me too long to get through. I liked it at times but for the most part it was too confusing and all over the place for me to truly love.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Review: Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gortner

Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 384
Received: Received a copy from Harper Collins Canada in exchange for an honest review

Release Date: March 17, 2015
Buy From Chapters.ca / Buy From BookDepository.com

Goodreads Synopsis:

Born into rural poverty, Gabrielle Chanel and her siblings are sent to orphanage after their mother’s death. The sisters nurture Gabrielle’s exceptional sewing skills, a talent that will propel the willful young woman into a life far removed from the drudgery of her childhood.

Transforming herself into Coco—a seamstress and sometime torch singer—the petite brunette burns with ambition, an incandescence that draws a wealthy gentleman who will become the love of her life. She immerses herself in his world of money and luxury, discovering a freedom that sparks her creativity. But it is only when her lover takes her to Paris that Coco discovers her destiny.

Rejecting the frilly, corseted silhouette of the past, her sleek, minimalist styles reflect the youthful ease and confidence of the 1920s modern woman. As Coco’s reputation spreads, her couturier business explodes, taking her into rarefied society circles and bohemian salons. But her fame and fortune cannot save her from heartbreak as the years pass. And when Paris falls to the Nazis, Coco is forced to make choices that will haunt her.

An enthralling novel of an extraordinary woman who created the life she desired, Mademoiselle Chanel explores the inner world of a woman of staggering ambition whose strength, passion and artistic vision would become her trademark.

My Review:

This is exactly the type of book that I love, one that cover just shouts out to be picked up, and from there a story about Chanel and how it came to be such a big name is so high on my list with the historical significance. I can honestly say that I was hooked from the beginning, I went everywhere with this book and tried to get in a page whenever I could, just to learn that much more about the life of Coco Chanel.

C.W. Gortner truly brings Coco's life to readers in such a vivid way that I felt I was living these days with her and jumping through all the hoops, helping her get her feet on the ground. Right from the beginning you can tell that things for Gabrielle are not going to be easy, but she is such a fighter and I loved learning about her life. Coco attempts to grow with the times and she becomes more creative and works harder and harder to make a reputation for herself and truly be happy of her work. I absolutely loved her passion for her creations and that passion is what helps make them that much more popular, she knows how to conjure friendships with the right people to push her venture even further forward.

But even though Coco has these good fortunes coming her way, not everything in this story is sunshine and fairytales... Coco goes through many hardships and learns the consequences of choosing work over love sometimes. Even though Coco is a passionate person, sometimes it gets the best of her and she ends up truly hurt because she let certain people get away. There is a lot of romance in this book but it doesn't overtake what is truly important to Coco, and she grows along with the world.

What really added to this book was how C.W. Gortner added in major historical events and we get to see how these events affect Coco's business and how she fights through the tough times. I loved the historical aspects that bring readers deeper into Coco's life. Honestly, Gortner has truly delivered with this story about a woman who fought for what she wanted, and her passion, drive and true work ethic gave her the life she wished for in many ways. This is a powerful book that shows anything can be achieved if you truly work hard and have a passion, but also don't give up everything for one small thing... no matter what there will be some regrets in life, but you can't let them take over your life.

I truly recommend this book to any reader out there, this book has so much for everyone and I think it is worth the read!
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