Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Books I've Loved: The Summer that Melted Everything

The author of this book, Tiffany McDaniel, reached out to me and asked if I could do a review of her book.  I had just read of blurb of it early that week and thought it sounded amazing, so I jumped at the chance!  I was also lucky enough to get to an interview with Tiffany which you will find below.

But first up, the book.  Thanks to Netgalley for supplying an ARC.

This is one of those books I needed a few days to think about after reading before I could write a review.  I also have to wonder if my reaction to it may have be different if I'd read a paper copy instead of an e-book.  I tend to read paper books in bigger chunks than e-books and this may have been a book that needed to be read over a short period of time, rather than in snatches on public transport.

I was expecting this to be a YA book.  It isn't, and that's probably an important thing to know going in.

One day a man invites the devil to visit his small town in a public notice in the local newspaper. When the devil accepts, he’s a thirteen-year-old black boy named Sal, and as soon as he turns up in town, the temperature rises and any number of horrific events start taking place.

The big question the book asks is whether these horrific events are actually the fault of the ‘devil’ or of someone else.  The town is certainly quick to blame Sal because he's different, but can a scrawny kid really be responsible?

It’s gorgeously written. The descriptions of the town suffering under the intensity of a heat wave are so evocative I found myself wiping sweat from my brow even when reading it outdoors in the middle of winter. The character descriptions are equally beautiful and the people in the book just surge from the page as fully formed human beings.

That said, I never truly engaged with the characters and didn’t feel for or with them in any really meaningful way. It’s almost like the beauty of the language distanced me from the people and events playing out on the page.

That and the fact the story takes place over two time periods, one where an old man Fielding looks back at his life and one where Fielding is a child. I found it difficult to reconcile the older versions of Fielding with the child we’re with for the bulk of the book.

 I realize people change as they grow older, but there seemed to be nothing left of the child Fielding in any of the grown men we’re allowed access to through the old man’s memories.  And I didn't like who Fielding became,  It's like he gave up on life and decided just to drift through it rather than deciding what he wanted out of it and going for it.  The younger Fielding wasn't like that at all.  Maybe the devil took his ambition when he left….

The other thing about the time shift is that the devil arrives in Breathed in 1984.  The old man looking back is in his eighties, so around 60 - 70 years has passed since that summer, yet the world Fielding lives in now doesn't look or feel any different than the world we live in today.  His home is a trailer that doesn't appear to be any different to a trailer one would find in a trailer park today.  No historical events are referenced in the past, so it's difficult to remember that this story is being narrated from the future.

It’s a shame I didn’t engage more fully with this book because the themes and ideas are important ones and ones I usually feel very strongly about: racism, intolerance, homophobia, mental illness and more. But I would still recommend it because of the beauty of the language and the sensory descriptions. If I’d had a highlighter beside me, I can guarantee there would be passages underlined on almost every page.

If that isn't enough to convince you,  here's the blurb:

Fielding Bliss has never forgotten the summer of 1984: the year a heat wave scorched Breathed, Ohio. The year he became friends with the devil.

Sal seems to appear out of nowhere - a bruised and tattered thirteen-year-old boy claiming to be the devil himself answering an invitation. Fielding Bliss, the son of a local prosecutor, brings him home where he's welcomed into the Bliss family, assuming he's a runaway from a nearby farm town.

When word spreads that the devil has come to Breathed, not everyone is happy to welcome this self-proclaimed fallen angel. Murmurs follow him and tensions rise, along with the temperatures as an unbearable heat wave rolls into town right along with him. As strange accidents start to occur, riled by the feverish heat, some in the town start to believe that Sal is exactly who he claims to be. While the Bliss family wrestles with their own personal demons, a fanatic drives the town to the brink of a catastrophe that will change this sleepy Ohio backwater forever.

And if that still isn't enough to convince you, here's an interview I did with Tiffany McDaniel.

If you could swap places with one of your fictional characters for 24 hours, who would you choose to be? Why? And what would you do that day?

I’d say I’d choose to swap places with Sal.  He’s the thirteen-year-old boy in The Summer that Melted Everything who comes to answer the invitation inviting the devil to the town of Breathed, Ohio.  Sal is a mystery even to me, so I’d say for those twenty-four hours I’d be on a mission to follow his earth tracks on way to find where he comes from, if it is indeed hell or not.  And hopefully by the end of those twenty-four hours I would know his origins.  I would know his true name.    

In what way is your story unique compared to other books in this genre?  

I’d say one of the things that makes The Summer that Melted Everything stand out is the uniqueness of the story line.  A man decides to one day put an invitation in the newspaper inviting the devil to town.  And the invitation is indeed answered.  The genre is literary fiction, so what sets my literary fiction apart is that there’s the hook of who this boy is that answers the invitation. You want to find out everything that did indeed melt these people, that summer, and everything else. 

What part of the story was the most fun to write? The most challenging?  

I’d say one of the best parts to write was the dialogue of Sal, because I’m in essence writing the dialogue of the devil.  For me, writing isn’t the challenge but one of the things I had to pay careful attention to was balancing out Sal’s dialogue of when he was the “fallen angel” and of when he was a thirteen-year-old.  I had to find that balance that made him believable in both roles. 

Which of your characters is most like you?  

I’d say there’s a little bit of me in each of them.  Hopefully there is more of me in the heroes than there is in the villains. 

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and how would you use it? 

I remember a scene when I was a kid.  I don’t know if it was in a movie or something I read in a book, but I remember a boy being able to heal a bird after it had broken its wing.  I’ve always thought that would be a pretty great power to have.  To be able to heal and take away pain and suffering with just the touch of my hand.  And also flying.  I’d love to fly as well but no would really reap the joy from that superpower as much as I would. 

If you could reenact a scene from any book (not necessarily your own), what would it be? Who would you choose for your scene partner(s)?

One of my favorite passages in literature is in To Kill a Mockingbird.  The scene between Scout and Atticus when he’s telling her it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.  There are so many scenes from so many books, but this one is coming to mind now.  So I’d be Scout and my scene partner would be the original film Atticus.  Gregory Peck.  It’s a scene of warm comfort and beautifully articulated verse that has a lesson for us all. 

Tell us something we’d be surprised to learn about you.  

I wish I was with Howard Carter when he unearthed the tomb of Tutankhamen. 

What other interests do you have outside of writing?  

Reading.  Art in various mediums from watercolor to prisma pencils, charcoal and acrylic.  If it can be sculpted or painted, I’m all into it.  Gardening.  I love digging in the dirt.  I’m hoping one of these days I dig deep enough to find something as ancient as the dinosaurs.  I love the stars and space and reading about all the theories of what churns the skies.          

Do you have a nervous habit when writing?  A guilty pleasure when writing?  (example: chew a pen to death or have a stack of Hershey’s kisses while you write) 

There is one thing I do from time to time, but it’s just too weird to say. 

And finally, here's a book trailer for The Summer That Melted Everything.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Weekly goals 25-7-16

I'm still on a writing break, so I don't really have any goals this week except to make it to all the films I've bought tickets for in the film festival.

I've seen three so far, and enjoyed them all.  So that's a good start!

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things 22-7-16

This post is part of Lexa Cain's bloghop, Celebrate the Small Things. Head on over there to join up!

So what am I celebrating this week?

The film festival started last night!  17 days of watching the best films the world has to offer.  And I don't even have to serve customers this year, which makes it even better.  I can just go to the cinema and enjoy the films.  I have tickets to something almost every night, so I'll be tired by the end of it, but happy.

The school holidays end today.  It's such a struggle to find things for the kids to do every day when they're not at school.  Especially since they've decided they hate the school holiday program that's close to us and is affordable.  I'm already dreading the next holidays and having to do it all over again.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Books I've Loved: The Last One

I won this book in a Twitter competition and I knew nothing about it until it arrived.  So it was a pleasant surprise when I started reading and was instantly sucked into the book's world.

I don't watch a lot of reality TV, but I think you would have to have lived a long way from civilization not to know how this kind of show works, or not to have seen at least a few episodes of Survivor or another similar program.

From the very first page you know something is going to go horribly wrong and the contestants in this particular show are going to have to survive far more than challenges and depravation.  And that's what's so delightful about the book.

There are a number of characters introduced, but for the most part they aren't named.  Contestants are given nicknames by the producers based on how they perceive the people as characters in the show.  For the most part, these are the names used and they give us a quick snapshot of who these characters are which allows us to slide into their world easily.

Other sections of the book are narrated by one of the contestants (the one the producers call Zoo because she works with animals in her real life).  Through her first person narration, we see the other contestants as real people, not single word stereotypes, although mostly in memory because by the time we join Zoo, she's pretty far into a solo challenge.  Or so she thinks…

As things become more challenging and frightening, Zoo believes she's still in the game and the challenges are just getting tougher.  She sees cameras everywhere, despite the fact the camera-men and drones were so present in the early part of the show, and now they are invisible.  Her slow realization that maybe not everything is part of the game is a joy to read.

The only slightly confusing thing in the book is that Zoo calls the contestants by their real names and it sometimes takes a second or two to figure out which of the producers' nicknames these actual names might apply to.  But it isn't that hard to do…

Overall, I devoured this book in only a couple of days and have been recommending it.  The premise is fascinating, and the author tackles the subject deftly.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

Survival is the name of the game as the line blurs between reality TV and reality itself in Alexandra Oliva’s fast-paced novel of suspense.

She wanted an adventure. She never imagined it would go this far.

It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens—but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it man-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.

Alone and disoriented, Zoo is heavy with doubt regarding the life—and husband—she left behind, but she refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all her survival skills—and learn new ones as she goes.

But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways—and her ability to parse the charade will be either her triumph or her undoing.

Sophisticated and provocative, The Last One is a novel that forces us to confront the role that media plays in our perception of what is real: how readily we cast our judgments, how easily we are manipulated.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Weekly Goals 18-7-16 (sort of)

As I don't have any weekly goals this week (at least not any worth reporting on), let's do a long-overdue check in on the goals I set myself at the beginning of the year to see how I'm tracking thus far…

My original letter to myself is in standard text, my notes on how I'm tracking are in italics.

Yes, it's that time again... My annual letter to myself about what I hope to achieve in the year. Let's hope 2016 is the year I actually DO everything on the list.

Dear Me,

I feel a lot like 2015 was spent in a holding pattern. I did several revisions on old books and only managed to write one new one. I didn’t even manage to finish revising my 2014 NaNo novel!

So that’s my number one goal for 2016. To finish revising My Murder Year, get it critiqued and Beta’d and sent off to my agents. It’s definitely time for them to see something new from me.

Done!  And now it has been revised with notes from my agents, and sent back.  We shall see if they like the new version or not...

My second goal is to write a new book. I have an idea that’s been simmering for a while. I had planned to write it during NaNo 2015, but revisions came in at just the wrong time for me to be able to. So I’ll get that written. It’s another YA, but definitely for the older end of the spectrum.

Well, sort of…  I didn't write that simmering book - that's still hanging around in my brain, waiting for me to figure out the best way to tell it - but I did write just over 40K on a new book in May.  Not sure I'll do anything with those words at this stage, but they're there if I do fall in love with that idea again.

During the June 2015 NaNo Camp, I wrote a new book which I haven’t even glanced at since I wrote ‘the end’. In 2016 I will revise this book. I don’t have a title for it yet, so it’s currently called Sam and Amy after the two main characters, a trans-gender kid from a traditional Chinese family and a girl who considers herself the town slut. I’m kind of terrified about how bad it might be after not looking at it for so long, but I always am.

I've just revisited this one as part of a process to decide what to work on next.  And this is my next project.  So expect to hear more about Sam and Amy over the upcoming months.

And that’s it for writing goals for now. The rest are just hopes… I hope I get a book deal this year. I hope the new opportunity my agent thinks she may have found for An Unstill Life works out. I’ve been very frustrated by the fact it’s not available for sale since Musa closed, yet is available on all kinds of pirate sites. Especially since I get emails from readers all the time, wanting to know where to buy it.

Still nothing on this front.  And it's still showing up on more and more pirate sites.  I guess I should be flattered, right?  Especially when people give 5 star reviews to it on Goodreads.

On the work front, I’m feeling good about the new year. I learned so much last year, I actually feel like I know my job reasonably well, and can go into 2016 much more confidently that I went into 2015. There will be new challenges and new things to learn, of course, but I feel like I’m in a good starting place to take those new things on.

Things are ticking along nicely at work.  We have performance reviews coming up, so I guess I'll find out then how the bosses feel I'm doing.

As usual I will promise to try to be more active with my critique group. I’m going to try and schedule a night for doing this. It may mean one less writing night, but at least I won’t be consumed with guilt about not doing the number of critiques I know I should be doing.

Um…  I'm hopeless.  I just can't get myself to do the amount I know I should.  But then, this year everyone in the group is super busy with publishing etc, so I'm not alone in going weeks without reviewing.  Not that it's any real excuse.

And as usual, I will pledge to lose weight (which I won’t) and to go to the gym more often (which I will try to do).

Let's not even talk about this one…  

And that’s it from me… We’ll check in toward the middle of the year to see how I’m getting on.

X Me!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things 15-7-16

This post is part of Lexa Cain's bloghop, Celebrate the Small Things. Head on over there to join up!

So what am I celebrating this week?

The first week of the school holidays is almost finished and we've survived.  One more week to go…

I sent my agents a snapshot of the projects I have lurking in my hard-drive so they could help me decide what to work on next, and both agree that I should get to work on the book I drafted during Camp NaNo last year.  So I will be diving back into the messy world of Sam and Amy once the film festival finishes in a couple of weeks.

I'm heading up the coast tomorrow to spend the day with a friend who lives at the beach.  My older son is staying with her, so we will go and pick him up.  Hopefully the weather will be nice because I feel like a nice long walk on the beach, even if it is still cold.

What are you celebrating this week?