Places No One Knows: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I start, because if I don’t, then everything just stays the same.”

“I thought he made me a different person altogether, but maybe I was always holding those pieces inside me, waiting for a chance to use them.”

Waverly Camdenmar doesn’t sleep. She runs instead going as fast and as far as her legs will allow until she can’t think and the only option is collapse. Then the sun comes up, she pastes on her best face, and pretends everything is normal. It’s easy to hide behind her academic achievements and the popularity her best friend Maribeth so covets.

Marshall Holt is too apathetic to pretend anything is normal in his life or even remotely okay. Neither has been true about his family or his life for quite some time. He doesn’t care because he’s busy trying to lose himself in the oblivion of drinking too much, smoking too much, and making too many bad decisions. It’s been working great so far except for the whole maybe not graduating thing.

Waverly and Marshall are used to watching each other from afar–a little wary and a little hungry–but never anything more. Not until Waverly’s attempt at deep relaxation dreams her into Marshall’s bedroom and everything changes.

Now when the sun comes up Waverly’s carefully ordered world is stifling instead of safe. After years of trying not to feel anything, Marshall is feeling far too much. Waverly and Marshall thought they knew exactly who they were and who they could be. Now neither of them is sure what that means in Places No One Knows (2016) by Brenna Yovanoff.

Find it on Bookshop.

Yovanoff’s latest standalone novel is a razor sharp blend of contemporary and magic realism alternating between Waverly and Marshall’s first person narration. This character driven novel focuses on the ways their two personalities clash and intersect throughout their strange encounters.

Waverly is analytical and pragmatic. She knows that she is the smartest person in the room and she doesn’t care if that makes her threatening. Her sometime friends describe Waverly as a sociopath or a robot and she feels like she should care about that but it also seems to require too much effort.

Marshall, by contrast, is hyper-sensitive and philosophical and impractical. He doesn’t want to care about the way his family is falling apart or the way everything else in his life is crumbling. But he does care. A lot. And it’s wrecking him.

At its core Places No One Knows is a story about how two people engage with each other and also the greater world. Yovanoff’s writing is flawless with deliberate structure and scathing commentary both as a whole and on a sentence-by-sentence level. This story subverts gender roles and societal norms all in the guise of a slightly unconventional love story.

Places No One Knows is an excellent novel filled with fascinating characters. Although Waverly and Marshall’s relationship is a centerpiece of the story both characters also have their own stories to tell and their own journeys to make, which sometimes mirror each other and sometimes diverge, as they struggle to make the active choice to save themselves.

Possible Pairings: Take Me With You by Tara Altebrando, The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhatena, The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany Schmidt, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Author Interview (Poetically Speaking): Brenna Yovanoff on “Drowning Variations”

poeticallyspeaking1Brenna Yovanoff author photoBrenna Yovanoff was raised in a barn, a tent, and a tepee, and was homeschooled until high school. She spent her formative years in Arkansas, in a town heavily populated by snakes, where sometimes they would drop turkeys out of the sky. When she was five, she moved to Colorado, where it snows on a regular basis but never snows turkeys. She is the author of a number of novels, including the NYT Bestseller THE REPLACEMENT. Her most recent book is PLACES NO ONE KNOWS, available everywhere May, 2016. Visit her online at www.brennayovanoff.com.

Today I’m talking with Brenna about “Drowning Variations” which appears in her latest anthology (written with Maggie Stiefvater and Tessa Gratton) The Anatomy of Curiosity as well as her writing process.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Brenna Yovanoff (BY): I’ve known I wanted to be a writer for a really long time. Even as a kid, I was always writing and illustrating stories, and starting novels but never actually finishing them. For me, the process of becoming a writer was a long, slow, but very steady one. I took pretty much every English class I could find, and spent a lot of time on the internet, learning about agents and publishing and query letters. Once I finally got to the point where I was reliably finishing stuff, I started sending out short stories to magazines, and queries to agents. The short stories were really important for me because any time one got accepted for publication, it made me feel like I was making progress even while novel-writing-revising-querying remained incredibly slow-going. I got an agent with my second finished novel, The Replacement, and that was the first book I sold!

MP: Since The Anatomy of Curiosity is a book about writing, it seems appropriate to ask about where you write. Do you work best alone? With a writing group? What is your ideal writing space and is it your current space?

BY: I am a coffee-shop writer, all the way! I love to work in places where I’m surrounded by activity, but not expected to actively participate or make conversation with anyone. I have a couple different coffee shops that are my absolute favorites, but I can basically work anyplace where it’s not too quiet, but where no one needs to talk to me.

MP: I loved reading about your writing process in “Drowning Variations” and seeing how the story you wanted to tell changed and morphed through various drafts until it reached its final stage. How do you know when you’re finished with an idea and done with revisions?

BY: There’s this great quote from Paul Valery that goes, “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” I’ve always loved that, because—as you can see from “Drowning Variations”—I often just have so much to say about a single idea, and so much that I want to do with it. At a certain point though, I usually have to set it down and back away for awhile. That doesn’t mean that I won’t return to it in some other form later on, but I have to wait until I start to have a new perspective on it. If I’m in that place where I would just be saying the same thing over and over if I kept working on something, I consider myself “done for now.”

MP: You write novellas, short stories, and novels. Do you ever write poetry? When you sit down to flesh out an idea do you know right away if it will be a novel or the start of a series or something else?

BY: I actually used to write quite a bit of poetry, and took a number of poetry classes when I was in school. Now though, I write fiction pretty exclusively, although some of the shorts I did when I was running a fiction blog with my critique partners definitely verged on poetry. I’ve never yet written a series, although I’d like to some day. Because I’m so idea-oriented in general, I usually feel like any idea I have could be a novel OR or a short story OR a poem—it’s all about approach.

MP: Do you have any go-to authors and poets that you find yourself returning to when you read in your free time? If you could recommend one book, poet, or poem to readers, what would they be?

BY: My number-one go-to would probably be Neil Gaiman. His work is so prolific and so varied, but he always sounds like himself, and I know that with him, things will always be at least a little dark, and more than a little whimsical.

MP: Can you share any details about your next project?

BY: My next book is coming out May 17th, and I’m SO excited for it! It’s called PLACES NO ONE KNOWS and is about a prickly, super-intense insomniac of a girl who begins dreaming herself into the waking life of one of the most ill-motivated boys in school, and how awkward and terrible and life-saving and intimate that is.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

BY: Read. A LOT. Read things you think you won’t like, or things that seem confusing or aren’t your style. One of the most valuable things for me has always been figuring out what’s working (or not) in books or stories that are completely different from my own approach and then thinking about why someone would choose to tell that particular story that particular way.

Thank you again to Brenna for this fantastic interview.

If you’d like to learn more about Brenna and her books, be sure to visit her website: http://brennayovanoff.com

You can also read my reviews of The Replacement and Paper Valentine here on the blog.

The Anatomy of Curiosity: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, Brenna YovanoffIn an old walk up in Brooklyn, a young woman is hired as a reader and companion for a strange older woman. What starts a job quickly turns into something much more important as Petra learns about context, ladylike behavior, and speaking her mind all while finding an unusual kind of friendship in “Ladylike” by Maggie Stiefvater.

In a faraway land a young soldier works to disarm magical bombs left behind by rebels. The hum of the desert lulls him and the mysterious magician on his team enchants him, but sometimes loving something is hard until you know the truth about yourself in “Desert Canticle” by Tessa Gratton.

In a town where water is scarce, drowning is a rarity. There are a lot of ways to tell the you about the boy she found drowned in a half inch of water, but there’s only one right story for Jane and the drowning place in “Drowning Variations” by Brenna Yovanoff.

The Anatomy of Curiosity (2015) is the second anthology from authors (and critique partners) Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stievfater and Brenna Yovanoff. In this followup to The Curiosities the focus is more squarely on the mechanics of writing and how ideas can become stories.

Find it on Bookshop.

For this collection each author wrote a new novella and details their writing process in a preface and margin comments. Between each story all three authors also discuss how they tackled finding critique partners, revision, and managing doubt.

Each author frames their margin comments and notes in the context of their focus when writing. Stiefvater discusses character (how she builds characters and conveys characterization through different aspects of the story), Gratton focuses on world-building (how worlds shape characters and how world-building choices shape the rest of the story), while Yovanoff talks about ideas (getting from the idea she has to the story she wants to tell with a particular project).

It’s worth noting that The Anatomy of Curiosity can be read, first and foremost, as a set of engaging fantasy novellas. As fans of these authors would expect, each novella is well-written and evocative in its own right. In reading the marginalia and supplemental materials, however, readers are treated to not only excellent fiction but also an insider’s view of the creative process from three incredibly talented writers.

The Anatomy of Curiosity is a must-read for aspiring authors and fantasy fans alike.

*An advance copy of this book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2015*

Paper Valentine: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Paper Valentine by Brenna YovanoffLudlow is in the midst of a heatwave that refuses to break. The thermometer is staying in the hundreds. Birds are dying. And Ludlow seems to be at a breaking point.

Hanna Wagner might be at a similar breaking point. Really, Hannah wants nothing more than to keep pretending she is the shiny, happy girl she used to be. She wants to go back to living the shiny, happy life everyone remembers her having.

But it’s hard to pretend to be perfect and untouchable when her best friend, Lillian, died six months ago and has been haunting her ever since. It’s even harder when all Hannah really wants to do is think about Finny Boone and his expansive shoulders and sudden but surprising moments of kindness.

All of that pretending to be normal becomes nearly impossible when a girl is found murdered and Lillian’s ghost insists that Hannah should find out more about the dead girl and the investigation.

Soon Hannah realizes that she and Lillian may know more about the so-called Valentine Killer than either girl realized. Drawn into complicated dealings with ghosts, killers, and the enigmatic Finny Boone, Hannah begins to understand that nothing about dying–or living–is as straightforward as she once thought in Paper Valentine (2013) by Brenna Yovanoff.

Equal parts mystery and ghost story, Paper Valentine is a gripping, unexpected read. Yovanoff expertly weaves the suspense and tension of a mystery into Hannah’s subtler story of grieving (and being haunted) and a summer that has the potential to change everything even before the murder.

Hannah is a vivid, lovable heroine. She is handy, artsy, fashionable, has a healthy home life and is generally fantastic. A proverbial lady-in-waiting without her queen, Hannah is adrift in a world she may not even like anymore. This novel is as much a story of her growth throughout the summer as it is a mystery or a ghost story.Populated with a vibrant ensemble cast and evocative settings, Paper Valentine is an excellent story of enduring friendship and suspense (and it has a beautiful cover to boot–this one is definitely the full package.)

Possible Pairings: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Damaged by Amy Reed, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

The Curiosities: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

What happens when three talented writers decide to write  short stories and pieces of flash fiction every week to hone their craft and share with each other? If those three authors are Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater, and Brenna Yovanoff you end up with a website called MerryFates.com and, a few years and novels later, you also get a short story collection featuring such oddities as a vampire kept in a box for luck, a small town re-visioning of the Arthurian legend, and school for children to dangerous to be in the real world–because they are demi-gods.

The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories (2012) by Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater, and Brenna Yovanoff is, as the title suggests, a collection of short stories. But it’s also a lot more than that. Starting with the email exchange that inspired the project, The Curiosities is also a guide through the creative process of three talented writers.

Find it on Bookshop.

Already filled with inspiring stories, The Curiosities takes things one step further with a tantalizing guide through each story. Each story is introduced by two of the three authors. Footnotes, commentary and informative sketches can also be found throughout as the women reflect on their own writing and growth as well as the strengths found in each others’ stories.

Aspiring authors might find the overall package would have been complemented by a fuller explanation of the inspiration for some stories, particularly when a prompt was involved. With notes printed in each author’s own hand, the matter of deciphering who is writing in the margins also takes some time.

The Curiosities is a clever, wry collection that takes standard anthology conventions and turns them upside down. Filled with stories to inspire and amaze, this one is sure to appeal to readers who are meeting the authors for the first time as much as it will to long-standing fans.

In fact, Nicole and I had so much fun reading the stories that we were inspired to start a similar project this month. Little Women Stories is already up and running. You can find stories from Nicole and myself there every month. (August’s stories are already posted and so is September’s prompt if you want a preview of what to expect next month.)

Possible Pairings: The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012

The Replacement: A Review

The Replacement by Brenna YovanoffMackie Doyle doesn’t remember any of the true, important parts. But his older sister Emma does. She remembers getting out of bed one night and looking into her brother’s crib only to find something else inside. It tried to bite her but still she stayed watching.

The thing watched back.

Sixteen years later, the thing would be called Mackie Doyle.

Sixteen years is a long time to live in a place that’s slowly killing you.

Allergic to iron and blood, unable to step on consecrated ground, Mackie should have died years ago when he was first traded for that human child in the small town of Gentry. He’s dying slowly right now.

No one wants to talk about the strange things that happen in Gentry. Not Mackie’s best friend Roswell, not his parents, not even Emma.

No one except Tate Stewart.

Tate wants answers about her sister’s death. After years of trying to be invisible, all Mackie wants is to be left alone to play his bass and forget his troubles. But Mackie is dying and if he’s willing to look at the ugly things that lurk beneath Gentry he might be able to find some answers about Tate’s sister and about his own place in Gentry in The Replacement (2010) by Brenna Yovanoff.

Atmospheric and sometimes horrible, The Replacement is a story about monsters and things that come out after dark. It is also a story of fierce affection where even monsters can find a place and, perhaps, earn redemption. Yovanoff’s writing is haunting and strangely enchanting. Mackie is an unlikely hero but one that will charm readers with his breezy style and honesty.

Everyone can tell you about how this book sets itself apart as a horror story. A lot of people will mention how cleverly Yovanoff interprets the changeling folklore in her debut novel. But what I really want to underscore is how much this story is about the power of love and friendship (even if the deliciously creepy cover with illustration by Jonathan Barkat and design by Natalie C. Sousa might suggest otherwise).

The Replacement is a fantastic fantasy that is sure to be going places. Definitely one to watch (and one of my favorites) from 2010.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, The War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, The Blue Girl by Charles De Lint, Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Glass Casket by Templeman McCormick, Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen (performed here by Celtic Thunder), “The Stolen Child” by the Waterboys (hear it here)