Review: Saints & Misfits by S.K. Ali

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 19.58.48When I stumbled upon S.K. Ali’s Saints and Misfits a few weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was such a delight to read that I wish there still more chapters to read. Saints and Misfits shares the story of Janna, a hijabi teen whose Indian father leads a secular life while her Egyptian mother continues to be a practicing Muslim. Janna is dealing with criticism from some of her Muslim friends for hanging out with non-Muslims, lack of understanding from some non-Muslim friends who don’t understand why she wears a hijabthe fear and frustration of being sexually assaulted by Farooq, the cousin of one of her closest friends and the sort of “perfect” boy that all parents adore. Farooq spends the better part of the novel stalking Janna and doing everything he can to make sure that he can have some influence over her. And then there is Janna’s crush on Jeremy, a non-Muslim boy at her school, her older brother moving back home and deciding to court Sarah–who’s just a little too perfect and has secrets of her own, Tats–one of Janna’s non-Muslim friends who is just a little boy-crazy and trying to play matchmaker between Janna and Jeremy, And Sausun, her badass niqab-wearing friend who is trying to change the way people think of niqab-wearing girls with her YouTube channel, Niqabi Ninjas.

I love how Ali makes sure that the reader understands that Janna’s situation isn’t very different from any other teenage girl: Janna is Every Girl, dealing with her own identity crisis, with wanting to fall in love, with worrying about if she is popular. And I loved how effortlessly this was conveyed to the reader. I also loved how Ali convey’s Janna’s struggles with her faith. This is handled so deftly, without ever veering into the heavy-handedness one often sees in stories that touch upon faith and any doubts related to it.

Another wonderful thing about Saints & Misfits is the characterization. Each character in the story is so well-portrayed and unique. You never have that foggy sensation of not knowing who is who. They all stand out. And I loved the portrayal of Janna’s relationship with Mr. Ram, whom she takes to the senior citizen center every week. Even when Janna sometimes took their friendship for granted, it was obvious that she cared about him and paid heed to the advice he gave her.

Would I recommend reading Saints & Misfits? You betcha! And not only would I recommend it–if I were still teaching, it would be required reading for my students *and* their parents. Definitely a 5-star read!

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Blog Tour: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse d’Abreau was destined for stardom—until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can’t sing. She can’t even speak.

Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend’s invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse’s home in the Caribbean isn’t: an ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry—except for one.

Christian Kane is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother, Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life.

When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove’s high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn’t the only thing making waves, though—swept up in Christian’s seductive tide and entranced by the Cove’s charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn’t what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who’s best known for breaking them…

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22840182-the-summer-of-chasing-mermaids
http://www.amazon.com/Summer-Chasing-Mermaids-Sarah-Ockler/dp/1481401270/http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-summer-of-chasing-mermaids-sarah-ockler/1120488443
http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781481401272
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00O66042I/ref=x_gr_w_glide_bb?ie=UTF8&tag=x_gr_w_glide_bb-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B00O66042I&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2
Title:The Summer of Chasing Mermaids
Author: Sarah Ockler
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Genre:
Publication Date: June 2015
About the Author:

Sarah Ockler is the bestselling author of six young adult novels: Twenty Boy Summer, Fixing Delilah, Bittersweet, The Book of Broken Hearts, #scandal, and The Summer of Chasing Mermaids. Her books have been translated into several languages and have received numerous accolades, including ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults, Girls’ Life Top 100 Must Reads, Indie Next List, Amazon Top Movers and Shakers, and nominations for YALSA Teens’ Top Ten and NPR’s Top 100 Teen Books. Her short work has appeared in the anthologies Dear Teen Me and Defy the Dark.

She’s a champion cupcake eater, tea drinker, tarot enthusiast, night person, and bookworm. When she’s not writing or reading at home in the Pacific northwest, Sarah enjoys hugging trees and road-tripping through the country with her husband, Alex. Fans can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and at sarahockler.com.

 

Blog Tour: Pig Park by Claudia Martinez

dbt presents pig park

 

18528311Pig Park
Claudia Guadalupe Martinez

ISBN: 978-1935955764
Publisher: Cinco Punto Press
Pages: 256
Genre: YA Contemporary

Plot Summary:
It’s crazy! Fifteen-year-old Masi Burciaga hauls bricks to help build a giant pyramid in her neighborhood park. Her neighborhood is becoming more of a ghost town each day since the lard company moved away. Even her school closed down. Her family’s bakery and the other surviving businesses may soon follow. As a last resort, the neighborhood grown-ups enlist all the remaining able-bodied boys and girls into this scheme in hopes of luring visitors. Maybe their neighbors will come back too. But something’s not right about the entrepreneur behind it all. And then there’s the new boy who came to help. The one with the softest of lips. Pig Park is a contemporary Faustian tale that forces us to look at the desperate lengths people will go to in the name of community–and maybe love.

Book Links
Amazon: Purchase Link
Barnes & Noble: Purchase Link
Goodreads: Connect on Goodreads!
Book Depository: Pick up internationally!

10 Random Thing about Pig Park

1.   I first set out to write a play about a mom and pop bakery fighting for survival, needless to say it went a different direction.

2.  The protagonist’s name was Tomasina until–much like an old fashioned skirt–I shortened it.

3.  Pig Park’s working title was MasaAmerica–a play on the Spanish word for dough (masa) and Meso-America.

4.  I imagined the delicious marranitos (ginger pigs) from Bowie Bakery in my hometown of El Paso every time I sat and wrote about the marranitos at Burciaga’s.

5.  The marranito on the book’s cover is not from Bowie Bakery, rather from Gussie’s across town.

6.   Skinny pigs, sugar-free ginger pigs, are a made up delicacy.

7.   There was no pyramid in the initial draft of the novel.

8.   The pyramid was inspired by a man who walked into the community organization I worked at looking for sponsors to build exactly that.

9.   The real life pyramid was going to be a wood frame topped by thousands of candles.

10. Although I might not want to admit this, I’m most like the mom character in the novel. Yep, I’m a totally a mom.

Author Information 

Claudia GM Author Photo (2)Biography

Claudia is the author of The Smell of Old Lady Perfume (Cinco Puntos, 2008) and Pig Park (Cinco Puntos, 2014). She grew up in sunny El Paso, Texas where she learned that letters form words from reading the subtitles of old westerns with her father. She now lives and writes in Chicago.

Author Links
Website: http://www.claudiaguadalupemartinez.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Claudia-Guadalupe-Martinez/107095645999600
Twitter: https://twitter.com/maquilagorilla
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1010472.Claudia_Guadalupe_Martinez

Getting to know Jeffrey Blount

ImageOn this cold, snowy day in Stockholm, when the streets are slick with ice and you just want to curl up with a good book, it seems fitting that you should meet the author of the beautifully-written Hating Heidi Foster, Jeffrey Blount. Jeffrey and I have a lot in common: we both have roots in historic Smithfield, Virginia; his grandmother and my grandmother were sisters; and we’re both writers. 

Jeffrey is an Emmy-winning director of Meet the Press, the Chris Matthews Show and other NBC programs. He’s also an award-winning scriptwriter for several documentaries. 

If you haven’t yet discovered Jeffrey’s young adult novel, Hating Heidi Foster, then get thee to your favorite bookstore (or Amazon) and buy it immediately. You won’t be disappointed. 

When did you first realize you wanted to write a novel?

Many, many years ago!  I can remember very well the moment I knew I wanted to write.  I was in a high school English Literature class and we were given the assignment of writing a descriptive paragraph.  I don’t remember why I made this particular choice, but I chose to write about a homeless man and his environment.  After reading my paragraph to the class, I noticed that everyone was silent.  The teacher smiled and nodded at me.  I had always loved reading and realized at that moment if I could emotionally touch very smart and very cynical teenagers with my own words, then maybe I could be a writer as well as a reader.  That day, I decided that I wanted to write short stories and novels.  In college, I wrote my way out of my freshman English class and  then met one on one with my professor for the rest of that year as she guided me through the process of writing my first real novel.  It was called Freshman Year.

ImageWhat inspired you to write Hating Heidi Foster? How did the story grow?

Hating Heidi Foster was inspired by the friendship between my daughter, Julia and her best friend, Emily.  They had been friends since early elementary school.  On weekend night, in the fall of their senior year of high school, Julia had a gathering of friends at our home.  At one point, she and Emily passed each other and I saw them speak and laugh briefly as they quickly crossed paths. But it was a special moment, shared in the way that only best friends could share it. I recognized an amazing connection. In a few months they would be graduating and probably not going to college together and maybe even studying a full country apart. And I wondered what would happen to this friendship once life got in the way.  Would they drift apart like so many old high school friends? It made me sad to think that this was a possibility. So, I decided to write them a story about the importance of friendship with the hope that in the years to come, just a glance at this book would remind them of the wonderful and powerful friendship they had.

The story grew out of the selection of a major event, which was the death of Mae’s father.  I wanted an event that would test the relationship of the best friends, but that would also highlight the depth of the connection between them. Their struggle, as painful as it is, brings to light how much they’ve meant to each other. If they didn’t care so much, couldn’t they easily let go and move on? Didn’t they need to find that out?  After finding the big event to hold the center of the story, I had to find a way to provide some closure for many characters in the book, but mainly the two girls. I used a device based on a favorite pastime of my daughter’s as she grew up. The rest of the story grew easily around those two events.  I had a story synopsis in mind, but not an outline and every time that I sat down to write, I allowed Mae to take the story in new directions.

Is Hating Heidi Foster your first novel?

No, it isn’t. The first was in 1991 and it was called Almost Snow White. It was an exploration of race relations in the 1940’s United States. One day I listened to my father and my grandmother, also named Julia, discuss African-American people who had passed as white. They wondered what would happen if those people were found out.  How would they survive? Could they come back home after turning their backs on the community that raised them? Almost Snow White follows Precious Sprately, a young Virginia woman, on such a journey of discovery.

Has your background in broadcast journalism influenced your writing style?

No, because I wouldn’t let it. The style of writing I learned in my college journalism school was extremely fact based, with little room for personal style or expression. I was able to do both.  At the same time I was writing for media, I was in creative writing classes.

I really like the immediacy of the first person narrative. Did you know from the very beginning that you would tell Mae and Heidi’s story in first person? 

Yes, because I wanted it to be a very, very intimate story.  For me, novels written in the first person allow the reader to go deeper into the personality of the main character.  I needed the readers to be totally invested in the character in order to feel her pain in the way I wanted them to. Creating an emotional attachment was critical to the story’s success.  Being inside Mae’s head and heart was the best way to achieve that.

How long did it take to complete the first draft of Hating Heidi Foster? How long did it take to reach the point when you were satisfied with your final draft? 

It took about six months. I had a deadline. The moment of inspiration occurred in the fall of their senior year and I had to have it ready to deliver as a graduation present by late May of the following spring. I was satisfied with my final draft about three years later after I decided to move forward with the book and after a very helpful editing process.

What’s a typical writing day like for you? Do you have a special place that you feel is most conducive to writing?

I write in the mornings and late at night. After taking my son to school and my wife leaves for work, I hit the office. Then after everyone is in bed, I hit the office. I can write anywhere really, but I love my office and I like to write mostly at night.

What books would you say are on your must-read list? What book are you currently reading?

The Round House by Louise Erdrich, The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, The Cove by Ron Rash and Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. I am currently reading The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge by Christine Nolfi.

Have you already begun working on your next novel? Could you tell us a little about your new project?

I have two ideas and I am in the process of deciding which one I’m more prepared to write.  Emotionally and intellectually. That’s all I’m really prepared to say right now.

What was the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? What was the best?  The worst piece of advice is in order to find success, you need to consider the market and write to it.  The best piece of advice was to write, first and foremost, for yourself.

Thanks to Jeffrey for taking the time for this interview. I look forward to reading your next novel and meeting the next time I am in the US so we can talk books and writing. 🙂 And for those of you who are curious–a review of Hating Heidi Foster will be online later this week! 

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! And now it’s time for me to get back to the revision process. 

Reminder: Giveaway ends on August 24

This book could be yours…

Just a little reminder that you only have 10 more days to win a copy of The Circle, the phenomenal YA paranormal novel that’s taken Sweden by storm.

All you have to do is tell me a story about your spookiest experience ever and you could be one of the lucky winners. I’ve already received a few good entries…and I can’t wait to read more! 🙂

Leave a comment here with your story or send it via email to kimtalksbooks@gmail.com.

The 2 spookiest stories win! And this is an international giveaway–so *everyone* can enter. So what are you waiting for? 🙂