Giveaway: Down in the Belly of the Whale

Hello everyone! Today I’m going to be discussing Down in the Belly of the Whale by Kelley Kay Bowles, who writes cozy mystery, young adult, and nonfiction.

This book is a YA contemporary that follows the perspective of Harper, a teenager facing the ubiquitous feeling of not fitting in. She has an inexplicable sense for other people’s ailments, but without any way to decipher her intuitions, there isn’t much she can do with it. Her feelings of helplessness are amplified when her best friend starts acting strange and her mom becomes increasingly worried about her health. Harper must learn how she fits into her own life and what her role is in terms of her family and friends. Keep reading for my review, an interview with Kelley Kay Bowles, and the giveaway itself!

Find it on Goodreads and Amazon.

Synopsis

Harper Southwood is a teenage girl who can sense when people will get sick—but so what? She can’t predict her best friend’s depression or her mother’s impending health crisis. Being helpful is all Harper ever wanted, but she feels helpless in the face of real adversity. Now, she’s got a chance to summon her courage and use her wits to fight for justice. Laugh and cry along with this cute, high-spirited teen in her astonishing journey of self-discovery, as she learns that compassion and internal strength are her real gifts, her true superpower.

Review

I would classify the writing style of this novel as middle-grade, but the content itself was quite mature. This caused a bit of dissonance for me because Harper is somewhat of a naive narrator, and she has some interactions with serious issues including child molestation/rape, chronic illness, homophobia, depression, and suicide. I’m still on the fence about having such a young character facing these sort of topics, especially because Harper seems to know very little about any of them, and she somehow maintains a semblance of innocence throughout it all. I realize that this is a good way to inform a younger audience about issues that they may face in their youth, and I applaud Bowles on her approach to writing about such topics. It was a good story to introduce these kinds of themes while still resolving with something of a “happy” ending, and it definitely presented the possibility of hope and joy even through some really tough situations. I think Harper, despite her simplistic viewpoint, is a wonderful role model for young adults who are just learning about some of the horrible things the world has to offer–through it all, she persists in making her own way when others can’t. She is an incredibly kind and giving soul, and it’s really inspiring to know that people like her are out there, ready to help her family and friends. I think that this may open the eyes of readers who have been afraid or unsure to reach out for help.

Also! This book had a hint of the supernatural (?) when it came to Harper’s “powers”. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book, and I’m excited to see Bowles expand on this type of genre in the future!

Interview

1. You seem to have written yourself into the book in the form of Isabelle. Were there other aspects of the novel that mirrored your own life and experiences?

Haha do you think that was too much of a Mary Sue? Isabelle was so much fun to write because she was diagnosed with MS—like me—and she writes murder mysteries—like me, but she’s EVER So much cooler than I am. That’s the nice thig abut fiction, picking and choosing from ‘non-fictional’ elements and then manipulating them however I want. Most all my characters have elements of me in then somewhere—even the evil ones. And characteristics of everyone I know and see show up in my characters (uh-oh, Lauren—better watch out! 😉)—I just pick little idiosyncracies here and there and use them to flesh out the characters.

2. Are there any books in particular that helped to guide/inspire the direction of Down in the Belly of the Whale?

Ugh. I don’t even know where to begin in answering this question. I read books all the time, am obsessed with books, and because I taught English for 20 years, and because my father owned a bookstore and I’m in a book club, this means I read and have read in many genres and eras too. It all inspires me! But it also means each book I write could take cues from . . . who knows? My favorite YA authors are Lois Duncan, C.S. Lewis and Madeline L’Engle, and they are all heavy on characterization, so I think I take cues from that and am always trying to concentrate on character. As far as the direction the story went . . . nope. Nothing specific, any story or life event or song or movie or myth can interest me and inspire me!

3. What audience is the novel targeted towards? Was there a particular group in your mind while writing it?

I think TO THIS DAY the target audience has been my publisher’s biggest annoyance. Is this a paranormal? Social issues? Suspense? Family? Is it even a YA or should it be more parents reading it to talk to their kids about it? Then I think about all the YA I still read, and I’m almost 50! And not just because I’m a YA writer or high school teacher—I have a gazillion friends who read all the Twilight and Harry Potter and Hunger Games, plus anything by John Green, and they aren’t either of those occupations! So, no. I write stories that I’d like to read, and I hope some other people would enjoy them too. That’s as far as I can go (again, to the chagrin of BOTH of my publishers, because they’d like me to just focus on one genre. Can’t. 😊 )

4. What was your thought process when approaching difficult and serious topics in the novel?

Hm. I guess I just tried to be real with the characters’ reactions to the events they were living or trying to understand how others were living. I researched the topics (I’m living one of them, but…) by talking to people who had actually experienced them, and then using that for characterization. One challenge I felt early on with this book was a review from a reader who had been a ‘cutter’ or maybe was still a cutter, I don’t know. Anyway, this reviewer thought I totally got it wrong, like, ‘I’m a cutter and that’s not how cutters feel.’ And I was angry for a minute, because Cora’s explanation of why she cuts is verbatim from a person I know who used to cut. Word for word. And then I felt sad for the reviewer, because I thought it must be very lonely to feel so isolated in your own problems, you don’t realize that lots of other people have the same problem, they just experience them in a different way. I do hope parents would talk to their kids about the issues raised in this book—my 13 year old is reading it right now, and we had a whole conversation about cutting, and when he’s finished we’ll talk about any questions or reactions he might have..

5. Harper’s best friend Cora must face some incredibly scarring trauma. What made you decide to write the novel from Harper’s perspective rather than Cora’s?

Jeez, Lauren! You do ask the hard-hitting questions,,, 😊 I’ve actually heard this as a negative from a few reviewers as well. They think it should be from Cora’s POV. But I guess I did it from Harper’s for a few reasons, one of which probably comes from my own life experience. Other than the MS diagnosis, I’ve lived this incredibly lucky life, and I’ve always been surrounded by people who love me and tell me they love me, on the reg. But I lost three friends to suicide when I was in the 7th grade, and then I’ve been in an occupation (teaching) or lifestyle (volunteering—4 years at a domestic/sexual abuse hotline, and on an MS Friends hotline since 2012) where my role is to be the helper, not the one suffering the trauma. I guess that bled over to this story. I want the focus to be the way people can get help or be helped or GIVE help, rather than the focus on the traumatic situation. I get that some readers may feel like they can relate to the situation better if their main character is the one experiencing it. But that’s not how I wanted to tell it.

6. Do you have any intention of turning this book into a series?

Nope, this is a standalone for sure. BUT… Pinewood and Pinewood High School is the setting for a trilogy I just started—way more paranormal hijinks are set for this trilogy (like…is Belly really even paranormal? Maybe she’s just an empath, and is THAT even paranormal or just really, really sensitive? That’s up to the reader.) But for this new trilogy, there is no question about the paranormal elements.

7. Do you have any summer reading recommendations?

I just finished Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and that was really good. Also Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove and anything by Lee Child, Harlan Coben or Stephen King. Any time, any day! As far as YA I’ve read recently, I loved Heartless by Marissa Meyer and Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige. I also just uploaded Turtles All the Way Down by Jon Green—I’ll let you know!

Giveaway!

There will be three total winners–two people will win e-book copies, and one person will win an audiobook copy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Advertisements

Reading shouldn’t be an obligation… (a discussion)

We all have that book (or…several books) that we’ve been wanting to read forever. Perhaps they’ve been sitting on our shelves for ages, or we’ve been meaning to borrow it from the library for a while now.

While TBRs are, of course, inevitable, lately I’ve been wondering if they’re contributing to this sort of obligation I’ve been developing towards reading. Reading has always been my greatest love, and my greatest escape, but recently it’s started to feel like a bit of a chore. I used to devour books, sometimes having to find a new one each day. Now, I find myself counting pages and growing impatient. There are many things that might be adding to this frustration: my reading goal, my desire to produce reviews at a consistent pace, my growing list of books I “need” to read…a lot of it stems from the pressure I put on myself to cycle through books. I’m beginning to wonder if this is affecting my reading, because now it seems like I read for quantity instead of enjoying a book to the fullest. Some of this might come from the label I’ve given myself: “reader”. As a reader, I must enjoy books, I must read a certain amount, then I must review them–or that part of my identity is false, it’s fabricated. I know this is not the case, but sometimes I can’t help feeling that way, especially since I’ve started blogging. I wanted this to be a cathartic experience, but sometimes it can be stressful because I feel that, to be a successful reader and book blogger, I can’t stop reading or posting–ever. 

Now I’ve realized: I need to give myself a little room to breathe. I’m not going to guilt myself over being 7 books behind on my Goodreads reading challenge. I’m not going to feel bad when it takes a couple weeks to read a book that would normally take me a couple days. It’s not healthy, and it’s not promoting this love that I’ve held for books my whole life. So, the books that have been sitting on my shelf can hold tight for a little bit, because I’ll get to them when I can. I want to crave reading like I used to, I want it to be a true release–not something I feel guilty about when I don’t feel like doing it.

41qhpu2riblWriting this down makes me realize that I have every right to focus on other aspects of my life and spend my free time doing other things. I think I’m going to relax my pace on my blog, and probably books as well. I won’t force myself to do it; I’m going to read when I feel the need and write when I feel the need. For anyone who’s read this far…I sincerely appreciate you tolerating my ramblings.
I’m going to start this new direction in my reading with something I recently picked up: Florence Welch’s Useless Magic. It’s a poetry book, which is a genre I’ve never really explored. It has a beautiful aesthetic with thick, creamy pages and gorgeous photographs. I’m going to take my time savoring it, and see if I can get a little of the reading bug to manifest itself meanwhile.

Happy reading,

signature

Discussion: Physical or E-Reader?

Hello everyone! I thought I’d break up the monotony of reviews I’ve been posting in favor of one of the most frequently debated topics of bookworms: do you prefer physical books, or eBooks? Like most people, I’d say there are pros and cons to both.

I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember, and until recently I was a staunch advocate of physical books. A project I was forced to do in my Language and Writing class forced me to take a look at both sides, and now I find myself (reluctantly) using my Kindle more often than usual. Here are my thoughts on the two formats.

screen-shot-2018-08-02-at-8-03-15-pm.png

Just some pretty physical books I’d like to share 🙂

Physical books: pros and cons. So, I think this one has a lot of pros. It’s all about sensation–the weight of a book in your hands, the smell of the freshly printed ink and creamy paper. While researching, I found that this haptic connection we have with physical books actually helps us form deeper connections because we remember plot and sequences better when we can feel the pages shift from one side of the book to the other, which absolutely fascinates me. The format of books in a culture is directly tied to how we perceive the events that take place in it. How cool is that? Plus, who doesn’t love collecting, or browsing at a bookstore? It’s one of my favorite feelings to place a new book on my shelf…though this leads to some of the cons of physical books. The main issue I have is sustainability. It’s pretty clear that books use a lot of paper, and mass consumerism means that many more books are printed than are actually needed. And then what? They sit on our shelves, collecting dust, until we decide that we don’t need them anymore. Then they get donated and passed on to libraries, where they’re discarded when they aren’t presentable anymore. Yes, I’m sure some end up in recycling–that’s great. But how many more end up taking space in a landfill? Of course, there’s also the convenience factor. While I don’t think this is a big deal (I have spacious purses), this is one of the main reasons people have for liking eBooks better. What do you guys thing of this?

eBooks: pros and cons. It is with great reluctance that I admit that eBooks are very convenient. Not only are they cheaper, but they’re easily accessible from almost anywhere–no shipping or printing necessary. I can buy a new release on the midnight it comes out, right from the comfort of my home. I can borrow and return digital library books with the touch of a button. I can read on the bus, on the subway, while standing in line. I see the benefits for publishers as well, especially with ARCs–it’s a practically free way to publicize new novels. Of course, there’s also the lack of environmental footprint. While there is energy used to create and read eBooks, it’s almost nonexistent compared to physical books. So, there must be a trade-off for this seemingly magical way to read. That brings me to this question: what are we sacrificing for convenience? Are there connections we can make with a physical book that are impossible to forge with an eBook? What do you guys think about this? For me, the answer is absolutely. There’s something about real books that an eBook can never capture, and I think it comes down to a sense of ownership. In a way, when we buy or borrow a book, we become the masters of that story. We are holding it in our hands–the way we read and perceive it belongs solely to us. Each book feels different, just as all of the stories they contain are different.

I think there needs to be a balance between the old souls inside of us and our more practical, modern selves. For me, I’d say that balance needs to start with buying books that I know I’ll like. I’ve found that, for the most part, I agree with the general population of Goodreads. If a book has more than four stars, I’ll probably enjoy it enough to buy a physical copy. If it has bad reviews but I still think I’ll like it, I borrow it from the library. Anything that doesn’t fall under those categories will be found on the Kindle store, Kobo, or Netgalley. (You guys just witnessed me make a promise to myself. Hopefully this will help my wallet and cut down on my TBR of books that I own).

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you agree with me? Which format do you prefer, and why? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Quick side note: Thank you all for 150 followers! I know this may not seem like a lot to some bloggers out there, but I think this is a pretty hefty milestone. Huge gratitude to those who have followed since the beginning as well as those who have recently decided to join me on my journey. I was thinking about maybe hosting a giveaway when I reach 200 or 300 followers, so stay tuned :). I’m so glad that I’ve become a more active blogger, because I love this bookish corner of the internet. Everyone is super friendly, responsive, and informative! I’ve learned so much from everyone’s thoughts, opinions, and comments, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings.

signature