Category Archives: Book Reviews

Write What You Know? Maybe not…

I’m often asked if I have a favourite author and the answer always changes depending on what books I’ve recently read. If asked today I’d say it was John Boyne. The three titles of his that I’ve read (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, My Brother’s Name is Jessica) are each completely different, yet so brilliant in their own way. He has a talent for creating humour out of desperately difficult circumstances but without making light of that situation. Continue reading

Drinkin’ Thinkin’

 

A Canadian Cyclist’s View Atop An American Barstool

I am so proud of my friend, Brian Mulligan, who followed through on his dream to publish a book chronicling his solo cycling adventures. It’s a beautiful book and a great read.

Brian is no ordinary guy. Although he is well-loved by a large circle of friends, he’s also a bit of a loner, and likes to cycle long distances alone which gives him extended stretches of time to ponder life.  At the end of the day he’ll find a bar in whatever small town he’s reached, grab a bite and a beer, and talk with the locals. They share their stories with him because he’s a good listener.

In his book, Drinkin’ Thinking‘ we meet a few of these characters while also reading about some of Brian’s many cycling adventures. In short, it’s a book you can gobble up in one sitting or stretch out  by reading one chapter (read: adventure) at at time.

Following is the Foreward that Brian asked me to write for the book. I was honoured to do so.

Shortly after I met Brian I approached him at a noisy social gathering. Debbie, his wife, had told me about his biking trips, how he was cycling from Canada to Mexico and from the Atlantic to the Pacific by riding for two weeks every year. The whole idea of it fascinated me and I wanted to know more. 

“What do you think about when you’re pedalling along those endless highways?” I asked as a way of jumping in. Continue reading

Faster Than Truth

Once again I’ve become the great auntie to a new book. Kim Denman, member of my beloved writing critique group has just launched her Y/A novel, Faster Than Truth.  As the great auntie I’m extremely attached to this story. I’ve watched it grow from infancy (Kim pondering the idea of a Y/A story about ‘fake news’) to suffering along with her through the growing pains (edits, revisions, seeking a publisher) and now I’m delighted to join in the celebration of its release. And what a story it is. Kim always creates loveable, complicated, and unique characters. Her stories are full of humour but always seek out deeper meaning, and she succeeded beautifully with this one. It is a timely story and the reader will struggle along with the protagonist as he tries to understand the nature of truth in journalism.

From the cover: Sixteen-year-old Declan dreams of becoming a professional reporter, an international correspondent who flies around the globe covering big stories. But Declan is still in high school, and as the editor of his school paper, he covers schools dances – not exactly “news”.

Declan gets his chance for a big scoop when another student shows him part of an email written by the principal that discusses an outrageous plot to track the students. Declan publishes the story without checking the source. The story goes viral. Unfortunately, it’s also wrong. Will Declan find a way to make it right?

It is funny, poignant, there’s a hint of romance, and the reader will be left thinking about ‘the news’, what is real, what is fake, and how to dig deeper to find the truth.

A most enjoyable, thoughtful story and I’m proud to have had the opportunity to follow along on its journey to published book.

 

 

Favourite books of 2018

It was a good reading year. I read 37 books for personal pleasure, research, or for one of my 3 bookclubs. I ‘assessed’ (which mostly means ‘read’) another 137 books as a committee member for the Governor General Literary Award for Young People’s Literature.

There were a lot of excellent books, but, looking back, the most memorable books of the year for me are these seven books for young people and one novel for adults.

Young People:

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster by Jonathan Auxier. This is a stand-out book for readers of all ages and the winner of this year’s Governor General’s Literary Award for Young People. Sweep is the story of a girl and her monster.  These two outcasts carve out a life together – saving one another in the process.  A multi-layered masterpiece.

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis. This story has huge heart, is funny and painful. Curtis is a master storyteller.

Ebb & Flow by Heather Smith. Told in free verse, this is a poignant story of healing for a troubled young boy and his eccentric Grandmother. Stunningly beautiful.

Dodger Boy by Sarah Ellis. This story of a Vancouver Quaker family in 1970 covers a vast number of themes from draft-dodging, coming of age, friendship and censorship. Ellis has a gentle hand and nothing comes across didactic or preachy. The conversations between the various characters are lovely and insightful. It’s a smart novel without being pretentious.

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen. This story also has huge heart. It explores homelessness in Vancouver. Mom and Felix live in a van. Things go from bad to worse because of Mom’s behaviour. The story is funny and poignant. The pacing and writing are excellent.

Louisianna’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo. DiCamillo is truly a master of the genre. As with her other books, in this one she puts her young protagonist in a very difficult situation but the story is told sensitively with a light hand and humour.

Miles to Go by Beryl Young. This tender story is compulsively readable. Set in the ’40’s two prairie girls have very different lives but they cling to their friendship despite the obstacles. I was moved to tears by the loss one of the girls endured. Heartwarming.

Adult:

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. Witty and wise, this is a big-hearted novel about a family with a transgender child. Sensitively written and often funny.

 

Fan Mail

Sometimes a book comes along and you simply need to reach out to the author and tell them what their story meant to you. I did that today.Gracefully Grayson

I’ve been doing a lot of research on transgender issues for a writing project I’m working on. I’ve read dozens of books – memoirs, novels, picture books, non-fiction. All of them have helped me better understand the transgender experience.

And then I read a review of Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky. I was surprised to find a novel for young people on this subject that I hadn’t yet stumbled across. It wasn’t in my library (they need to get a copy!) so I had to request an interlink loan. (The book was shipped to my library from another city.)

I gobbled up the story in one sitting. As I told the author in an email, the best word to describe this story is ‘tender’. And brave, just like the protagonist, who, baby step after baby step blossoms into the person she was meant to be.

In a way, this is the book I was hoping to write, but I couldn’t find my way, so I changed directions. I’m so glad Polonsky pulled it off, and so beautifully.

The book reviews that really matter

write-a-reviewWhen your hot-off-the-press book is released into the world there’s a trembly period of time when you obsess over how its audience is going to receive it. There’s a lot to be learned by reading the professional reviews but when someone from your targeted audience writes and tells you that your book touched them in some way… well, that’s all that really matters. After receiving the following review I knew that the time spent writing and editing this book was worth it. It was also a reminder to go back to my old practise of reviewing the books I love.

Oh Shelley Shelley Shelley!

I barely know what to say besides thank you for writing Dancing in the Rain. Wow.  I have JUST finished your book. I laughed, I shrieked, and I most definitely bawled my eyes out. You wrote such a beautiful, emotional, truthful, heart wrenchingly wonderful follow up (to Dancing Naked.) I could not have ask for anything more.
 
I will be honest, there were parts that were incredibly emotional for me to read. So much of my own life’s experiences could connect with this story. I found myself looking back over my own life and my adoption and how that got me to where I am. And who I am. So many of the questions Brenna had for Kia, I too once had about my own “other” life. I could honestly talk about this for hours. I am just so happy and thankful for this book. I think it has really hit a spot for me and I know I will hold it dear forever.
 

I just wanted to share my thoughts and feelings about your wonderful book with you. Thank you, Shelley.  (shared with permission)

And thank you, Christy Brain!

Thinking Like a Teenager

Gotcha! wpMy books are written for a teenage audience, so when teenagers review them I really pay attention to what they have to say. Did I get the ‘voice’ right? The following quote is from a recent teen review of my novel Gotcha! Phew! It seems I nailed it. I suspect that it was because I was living with three teens while I wrote the book that I was able to think like a teen, and not someone “decades older”, which, of course. I am. Now that my own teens are young adults, I may have to adopt a teen in order to stay current!

“I found the characters in the novel to be quite believable. In the past, I’ve read books aimed towards teenagers, where the characters personalities and actions were inconceivable. In those cases, it was obvious that the authors had not been teenagers for many, many decades. They are written such that it makes it seem as if the author is an outsider looking in. On the other hand, Shelley Hrdlitschka writes with such brilliant pose it’s as if she’s a teenager herself. She understands the highschool dynamic very well. She knows that friendships don’t last forever and that people whom you once had an alliance with, can turn their back on you in a heartbeat, both scenarios reflected in this novel.” Read the entire review here:  http://wajihas.wix.com/chasingdreams#!Gotcha-Thorough-Novel-Review/cmbz/556a56260cf298b2d3f31483