Breaker: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Breaker by Kat EllisNaomi doesn’t want to board at Killdeer Academy but she can’t stay with her grandparents now that her grandmother has so much to do taking care of Naomi’s grandfather as his Alzheimer’s progresses.

Kyle hopes to be able to remake himself at Killdeer Academy with a new last name and a determination to forget all about his serial killer father. His mother’s decision that Kyle should board is a surprise. But he’s dealt with worse.

Kyle expects to have a completely blank slate at the Academy. The only problem is that he recognizes Naomi immediately. She was the daughter of his father’s last victim. Kyle wants to stay away from Naomi but he isn’t sure how to ignore when she seems to actually want to be his friend–and maybe even more. When people start dying on campus both Naomi and Kyle will have to confront their pasts to stop the murders in Breaker (2016) by Kat Ellis.

Find it on Bookshop.

The book alternates first person narration between Kyle and Naomi which makes both protagonists well-rounded. While other characters factor into the story in crucial ways, they remain decidedly secondary to Kyle and Naomi and are consequently somewhat less developed. Excerpts from ephemera related to Kyle’s father further complicate the story.

In a departure from her debut mystery fantasy, Blackfin Sky, Ellis delivers a much darker story here. Kyle is haunted by his father’s legacy as a serial killer, terrified that the stigma will cling to him forever and the thought that he could have turned out like his father. Naomi saw her mother’s murder and has spent the intervening years doing her best to not think about her mother at all to avoid the pain of that traumatic loss.

Kyle and Naomi are a completely unlikely pair but their chemistry in Breaker, not to mention their draw to each other is undeniable in this fast-paced thriller that is sure to appeal to fans of the genre. Breaker is a creepy and atmospheric story filled with choice details that bring Killdeer Academy to life in all of its eerie and dilapidated glory.

Possible Pairings: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, With Malice by Eileen Cook, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, The Night She Disappeared by April Henry, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

You can also read my interview with Kat about Breaker!

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Author Interview #2: Kat Ellis on Breaker

Kat Ellis author photoI discovered Kat Ellis’ debut novel a couple of years through a series of serendipitous events. Blackfin Sky quickly became a favorite of mine and since then I’ve been looking forward to reading Kat’s next book. Happily, Breaker is finally here and coincidentally Kat is also here on the blog to talk a bit more about it.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for Breaker?

KE: It started with a documentary I was watching about serial killers on death row. The interviewer talked with the inmates, but also with their friends and family — and the relatives of the victims as well. It got me thinking about those who get caught in the crossfire when someone commits a violent crime, and how it ripples outward to affect more people than you ever read about in news articles. I thought it would be interesting to write a story about two teens growing up in the aftermath of a brutal murder — one connected to the victim, and the other to the killer; Breaker spiralled outward from that.

MP: This book alternates first person point of view between Naomi and Kyle throughout. Did you always know that you wanted the book to follow both characters? How did having two narrators influence your writing process?

KE: I always knew it would have two narrators, but Kyle’s voice came to me first. I knew he would be southern, and that the move to a private school in Killdeer, Pennsylvania, would be jarring for him even though he’s aching for a fresh start. Naomi took a little longer to figure out, but when I did, I knew she’d be resilient and feisty and funny — exactly the kind of person who would reach out to someone who seemed overwhelmed in their new school, and the chemistry and the connection between her and Kyle just grew from there.

Writing dual narratives is actually my go-to writing structure, although my debut, Blackfin Sky, had only one. For Breaker, having two perspectives let me explore both sides of the story, and really get to know both main characters.

MP: You live in North Wales. Breaker is set in Pennsylvania. Did you always know that this book would be set there? What kind of research was involved in bringing Killdeer to life?

KE: As I’m not exactly local, I had to do some pretty intensive research before I found the right spot to locate Killdeer. I needed somewhere with a real historic vibe, somewhere I could create the creepy, gothic school building, the isolated setting, the woodland crowding in on all sides. I also had to check on things like native trees and wildlife, and how the weather would change over the course of the novel (I had a sense that it would get colder and colder as the story progressed). Much Googling later, Killdeer sprang to life at the edge of Pennypack Park in Northeast Philadelphia.

MP: Working off the last question, did any real life locations inspire you while writing Breaker? Did any real locations inspire Killdeer Academy specifically?

KE: Well, since you ask…. There is actually a building near me that I used as a (very loose) basis for Killdeer Academy [see photo below]. It was a mental hospital until it closed in the 1980s, and the gothic architecture and fairly isolated setting was just perfect for Killdeer Academy. Getting to transplant bits of Wales into Pennsylvania is an author’s prerogative, right? ;-)

Picture - Q4MP: Killdeer Academy is an eerie and dilapidated boarding school filled with taxidermied animals that reside on shelves throughout the school. Animal you would least want around as a taxidermy statue?

KE: I’m actually really squeamish about real taxidermied animals! I’m a cat lover, so I’d have to say having a stuffed cat around the house would absolutely make my skin crawl.

MP: Breaker is a fast-paced thriller. There are murders, there’s suspense, there’s mystery. I was definitely reading as fast as I could to get to the finish. How did you lay out the pacing of this story? How did you decide when to reveal key details to the reader?

KE: Well, first of all, thank you! I am a linear writer, so I wrote a full dirty draft before paring it down to make the pacing as tight as possible. And my editor was amazing at pointing out where tension was lacking, or when what I thought was a subtle clue was actually just a glaringly obvious reveal. While I wanted readers to be able to figure out the who part of the mystery (I kind of think it’s cheating if an author makes it impossible to guess), I kept the why hidden until the climax so there is hopefully a ‘Whoa!’ moment, whether the reader guessed the Big Bad’s identity or not.

MP: A big part of this book is Naomi’s efforts to recreate photos from her grandfather’s damaged scrapbooks. And also walking on roofs. Can you talk about your own photography and your effort to recreate a scene from the book (seen here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BEyOBPwN6i4/)?

KE: I’m a visual person (you should see my spectacular colour-coded revision notes from high school) so having images to sit alongside a story feels natural for me. Sometimes I’ll take a photo and get writing inspiration from it, or sometimes the writing comes first, and I’ll try to find or create an image to go with it — like the rooftop scene. That photo was one I took during the book trailer shoot for Breaker (https://youtu.be/76LHXOP4mec) which was filmed by my friend Dawn Kurtagich, author of The Dead House. It was also a great excuse to send my younger brother and sister up onto a slate roof.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

KE: I can! My next book is coming out this September. It’s a sci-fi thriller called PURGE, set on a flooded Earth where the last survivors live in sealed, floating communities. Mason is 17, and already has a rap sheet too long to remember. So he isn’t exactly high on the list to be allowed into any community — which is how he ends up at Alteria, living among a cult-like group who purge negative behaviour through a mind-altering virtual reality programme. Mason knows he has to stay out of trouble, but that’s not easy when he falls for a girl who has a few bad habits of her own. When she’s caught with drugs and thrown into the programme, Mason risks everything to go in after her, not knowing if either of them will ever be the same.

Thanks so much for the great questions!

Thanks again to Kat for another fun interview.

You can see more about Kat and her books on her website.

You can also read my review of Breaker here on the blog.

Author Interview: Kat Ellis on Blackfin Sky

Kat Ellis author photoKat Ellis’ debut novel Blackfin Sky was an unexpected reading gem when I discovered it in 2014. It’s a book I’ve thought of often, and fondly, since reading it as I remember the evocative setting and the quirky characters. It’s also one I hope, you will consider picking up as well. I’m thrilled to have Kat here today to talk about her debut novel.

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

Kat Ellis (KE): I enjoyed writing all through school, but didn’t really think about becoming an author until I was in my mid-twenties. So, I decided – very much on a whim – to write a book.

Naturally, I put in zero research, sat glued to my laptop for three months with my hands hardening into lightning-claws, until I finally had the crappiest of crap drafts to show for it. At that point I realized I’d need to do a lot better than that if I wanted to snag the attention of a literary agent and publisher, so I started reading books about how to write a good novel, and researching the process of publishing.

MP: What was the inspiration for Blackfin Sky?

KE: The starting point of the story – that Skylar Rousseau has drowned and been buried for three months when she shows up at school as though nothing has happened – snaked its way into my brain of its own accord. I liked the idea, and was looking for a genre-shift (up to that point I’d been working mostly on sci-fi and fantasy stories) so I decided to run with it, and build a story around how Skylar could possibly have reappeared.

I then got horribly stuck. I had ideas about how it might have happened, and why she might not remember it, but nothing seemed like the right solution for the plot. I was stuck in this rut when I went on a family outing to the traveling circus which comes to my town every summer. It was there, sitting in the stands, that I figured out the rest of what happened to Skylar during those missing months.

MP: One of the best things in Blackfin Sky is that the town of Blackfin is so very evocative. Did you look to any real locations while creating this fictional town?

KE: I love taking photographs, and when I’m not writing, I’m usually out photographing the local landmarks and creepifying them for my Tumblr. There are a number of places I photographed when I was thinking of locations to fit the story, including a centuries-old cemetery, a Victorian pier, a ruined chapel in the woods… all over the North Wales landscape, basically. And one of my neighbors, whosegarden backs onto mine, has a shed with a rusting weathervane perched on top of it (it’s possible I might have spent a minute or two staring at it through my kitchen window).

MP: Do you–or did yo ever–live in a town like Blackfin? If not, would would want to?

KE: My town isn’t all that much like Blackfin, but I think a number of places I spent time while I was growing up definitely influenced me when I wrote it. In particular, when I was little I used to go and stay with my grandmother in a tiny village surrounded by hills, in her old stone house overlooking thevillage cemetery. I used to love playing there, and never understood why people thought cemeteries were creepy.

That said, even I think Blackfin is pretty weird, and I probably wouldn’t want to live there.

MP: Without getting into spoilers, we learn that Sky and some of the other residents in Blackfin have unique talents or abilities. If you could, what special talent or ability would you want to have?

KE: Literary osmosis! If I could somehow instantly upload books into my head, or download them from my brain onto the page, that would be absolutely amazing. I say this as I’m staring down the barrel ofa TBR pile that could tip over and bury me at any second, and more stories to write than I will ever have time to finish.

MP: Blackfin Sky includes quite a few revelations for Sky and her family over the course of the novel. How did you lay out the pacing of this story? How did you decide when to reveal key details to the reader?

KE: A few people have told me Blackfin Sky is like a giant jigsaw, with lots of tiny pieces that all lock together by the end. (I love this comparison, by the way.) Truthfully, I had to write it out in layers. First came the main plot arc, then I wove in a subplot thread, then another, and another… It got messy at times. That was where having fantastic critique partners, editors, and an agent came in veryhandy!

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

KE: I can! Breaker is my next book, and it will be released Spring 2016 from Running Press Teen.

Breaker is about Kyle, a serial killer’s son who enrolls in a new school after his father is executed, and finds himself drawn to a girl in his class – only to discover she is the daughter of his father’s last victim.

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

KE: Read as much as you possibly can. Books in the genre/area you want to write, books outside that genre/area, books and articles on writing craft, and about the publishing industry. Find other writers who will give you feedback on your work. Do the same for them. Practice writing until you hate words, then practice until you love them again.

Thanks again to Kat for a great interview.

You can see more about Kat and her books on her website.

You can also read my review of Blackfin Sky here on the blog.

Blackfin Sky: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You can’t be remarkable without being remarked upon.”

blackfinskyThree months ago, on the night of her sixteenth birthday, Skylar Rousseau fell from the pier and drowned in Blackfin.

But she also didn’t.

Three months later, Sky mysteriously returns to Blackfin with no memory of having died. Someone was pulled from the water. Someone was buried. No one, least of all Sky, is sure how that someone is not her.

No one knows exactly what happened to Sky and no one except Sean, her friend and long-time crush, wants to help her find answers. When impossibly real dreams begin to draw Sky to a strange circus in the woods, Sky knows the truth must be lurking there too.

Secrets are buried and waiting to be uncovered in the strange town of Blackin including truths about Sky and her past that could change everything in Blackfin Sky (2014) by Kat Ellis.

Find it on Bookshop.

Blackfin Sky is Ellis’ first novel.

Blackfin is a strange town where the weather vane follows people instead of the breeze and church bells chime every hour even though the town has no church. Strange things are always happening in Blackfin. But a girl has never died and returned. Even in Blackfin.

Blackfin Sky begins with this impossible premise and strings it along into a well-realized fantasy filled with marvelously quirky things and not a fair bit of wonder. Sky’s understanding of her place in Blackfin begins to expand and change after her death when she finally realizes she might be more than a fascinating outsider to Blackfin’s locals.

Ellis populates this novel with a myriad cast of well-realized characters including supportive parents for Sky and an admirable sidekick in Sean. Excellent pacing and an action-packed plot move this story from one revelation to the next as Sky begins to uncover long-hidden secrets and learn more about her mysterious death.

Blackfin Sky offers the perfect blend of mystery and the supernatural (with just a bit of humor and romance) to create a story that is as satisfying as it is entertaining. Readers can only hope that Ellis will return to Sky and Blackfin in future novels.

Possible Pairings: Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Eventide by Sarah Goodman, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamology by Lucy Keating, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

You can also read my interview with Kat Ellis about this book starting March 12.