Book Reviews: Mechanicsville (YA) by Laurie Stewart

Fair warning, I don’t normally pick up YA, or books this dark and gritty. However, I was familiar with Laurie Stewart’s work, and having enjoyed her magical way of spinning a tale in the past I decided to take her up on the offer for review copies of her Mechanicsville series.

In the synopsis for book 1 Stewart tells us what her themes are: isolation, change, and loyalty. These play out with a trio of Ottawa teenagers who live in Mechanicsville, a low-income and dangerous area of the Nation’s capital. Ashleigh is the street-smart, tough-as-nails kid who leads the other troubled youth with her “bad ass” attitude, but really she longs for someone she can be safe and herself with. Samantha falls from privilege and has to cope with change, and Faraj embraces loyalty to his own detriment.

The book is very compelling and I found myself wanting to read all of it in one sitting. The unique first-person perspective resets each scene with the new narrators POV and allowed the reader to have compassion, or at least understanding and insight, into each character.

The situations the teens encounter are extremely heavy and several scenes were very disturbing. Stewart doesn’t pull her punches. She writes these scenes well and gives her audience the chance to have real and visceral reactions to terrible issues.

In book 1 the antagonists were more abstract, but a few villains materialize in book 2, preparing us for the final battles the protagonists are sure to face in book 3. We want them to overcome their demons and get on the “right track”, but Stewart doesn’t make any promises.

My biggest takeaways from these books were first, how nice it was to have such a diverse cast. Book 2 increases the cast size from 3 POVs to 5. I found myself really rooting for Ashleigh and wanting the story to return to her perspective the most. In the end, it was really her that had the most character development and story conclusion, happy or sad as it may have been.

After finishing book 1 I was glad I could start book 2 right away. It picks up where the last one left off, with the characters dealing with their new situations. I was glad to see the return of a surprise character, and the addition of a new teen, Willow. She has completely different challenges than the others, yet is a much-needed lighthearted addition to the ensemble cast.

Book 2 more or less leaves off in cliffhanger way, leaving many loose threads and a lingering feeling that with this set of teens, the tides could turn at any second.

I felt in this book (as in the first), Ashleigh had the most developed character arc. She not only has her own problems, but cares about her friends and other people who are suffering in the world. She’s struggling to balance between what she is expected to do and what she feels her duties are to others. I’m excited to read the next part of her story, and eagerly awaiting the announcement of a book 3 release date!

BOOK ONE: A Test of Loyalty, 200 pages published by Covid Moon Publishing August 30, 2015

BOOK TWO: Alone in the Night, 190 pages, published by Pronoun October 30, 2016

 

Poppies

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The red poppy is the Canadian national symbol of remembrance for the men and woman who gave their lives during military service around the world.

When I moved to Canada I learned about the poppy tradition as a military spouse. It always warms my heart to see others (outside of just the Military Community) showing their support for the troops and veterans while wearing the poppies. It’s something I deeply respect about the Canadian people.

Remembrance Day is November 11 (the 11th day of the 11th month) and on the 11th hour the country holds two minutes of silence to remember all who have fought for the country. This tradition holds roots from when armies stopped fighting in WWI in 1918 (Armistice Day).

However, Canadians wear poppies and recognize their veterans and troops for more than just the one day. Poppies pop up on jackets and shirts during the “Remembrance Day period”, from the last Friday in October until November 11, when the poppies are then left at gravesides, memorials and cenotaphs.

As an outsider, it’s hard to jump in and join a tradition, but wearing the poppy is something that anyone who wants to thank veterans and troops can do. There is really no right or wrong way to wear a poppy. As long as you want to honor veterans and troops, then wearing one is all that really matters. Just place it on the left-side of your jacket or shirt (closest to your heart).

There are different sizes and styles of poppies and none are wrong. This year, an estimated 20 million poppies will be distributed by the Royal Canadian Legion from the boxes left by cash registers at retail locations, or the tables manned by volunteers outside stores.

These small plastic flowers are held on your clothing by a straight pin, which could lead to either sticking yourself throughout the day or to losing the poppy. The Legions prefer for you to not alter the style of the poppy by subbing out the pin (although it is allowed), so consider using an earring back or getting a poppy keeper from the branch if you have issues with the pin.

The Legion poppies are given out for free, but donations are accepted. The donations go to the Poppy Fund, to help veterans and their families.

Back from cruising with Mickey


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It’s been a heck of a few weeks!

Hubby had been away for two months teaching, and the day after he got back we took the pets to camp (the pet kennel). They love it there, or at least the dogs do. Who can tell with cats? Then we hit the road to NYC for our 10 year anniversary cruise for 5 nights on the Disney Magic to the Canadian coast!

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The cruise was fantastic, and I wish it would have lasted many more days. I guess I also wished that we were traveling to warmer weather, but it all worked out for the best since Hurricane Matthew was heading in and cruises were changing their itineraries from the Bahamas to the Canadian coast anyway.

We got a lot of much-needed rest on the at-sea days. On the days when we were in port (Saint John, NB and Halifax, NS), we got up and walked around town, then went back for a late lunch and rested until the evening show at 6pm, and then dinner at 8pm, and then some after-diner activities (such as the lavenous Mike Super magic show). Oh, and probably the most “Disney magical” part of our trip was being seated for dinner every night with two other couples that proved to be great table mates. I never thought we’d end up with such like-minded people (sharing love for Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, etc) and even wrangled coloring sheets and crayons from our server for the last two nights!

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We went to the museum in Saint John, New Brunswick (not to be confused with Saint Johns Newfoundland). During our tour through the museum my writer brain started wondering about life for the wives of these sailors. Saint John was a major port for sailing, back when ships of wood were made and used to transport. The wives would accompany their husbands on the ships. To my delight, there was a book on this topic in the museum gift shop, and can’t wait to start reading!

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I felt a bit guilty for sleeping and resting so much on the cruise. But I forget that in the two months hubby was gone I wasn’t just doing double chores (caring for the house, myself, and 4 furbabies alone), but I also worked a full-time day job (with 45-60 min commute each way), wrote and submitted a novel to a big publisher, wrote and submitted regular 5k word ghostwritten fiction bi-weekly, wrote a short story for a Halloween anthology, and, oh yea, PUBLISHED THAT ANTHOLOGY. That means co-editing each of the other four stories, project managing between authors and the other editor, formatting the interior, working with the cover designer, getting the ISBN and bar code, submitting for publishing, working on marketing… etc… sigh… I guess THAT’s why I slept a lot on the cruise! (If you’re interested, it’s available here: Amazon.com | Kobo (Canada) | Amazon.ca)

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Last Monday was Canadian Thanksgiving. We skipped it, as we were basically still full from the cruise. We did lentil and bean soup instead, a light meal we needed. It was hard to get back into the swing of things last week, and I’m still struggling to get my word count up, but I need to since time waits for no one! We’re already working on the December novel!

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These faces were glad to be home!

Writing meetings

Only one week left of being the “only human” in the house. Also, only 5 workdays left until we get to CRUISE! Ahhh… I’m completely looking forward to 5 days of RELAXATION. Touring Halifax and Saint John, watching movies on deck, going to the shows, eating fantastic meals, and reading and writing. I wish it was for longer than 5 days, but I’ll take what I can get, and I plan to fully enjoy it!

Otherwise, last week was pretty great. I went to my first meeting as a member of Capital Crime Writers, and their guest presenter, Debra Komar, was SO interesting. She was a forensic anthropologist before she retired a few years ago and began writing. I’ll be taking her book on the cruise for sure!

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Besides enjoying listening to Debra, I also enjoyed being with other writers. Writing is isolating, and it’s hard to get out of your own head. Being around others who are supportive of each other and encouraging is super important. It’s something I love about the different conventions I get to go to (none so much as Dragon Con, which I have no idea when I’ll next get back to) – the cheering on of each other. I’ve been a long-time disciple of the thought that it’s so necessary to help each other out, because lifting others up means creating a quality industry. The more good writers there are, the more excited readers will be to keep reading.

I’ve been listening to some writing lectures, and the one today on plotting by Carolyn Banks talks about how ideas can haunt you. If the idea (one you create, or maybe on you hear on the news) is that good that it keeps in your memory then it may be good enough to develop into a story. That makes a lot of sense to me, as there are some things that just stick with you like a ghost in your mind. They’ll eventually go away if you avoid them long enough, but the word “haunted” to describe it is such a good one.

CanCon 2016 Storify Recap

This weekend I volunteered at Can Con (The Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature). I’d been to it the past few years and I LOVE it. It’s definitely one of the best Cons around. I guess since I’ve not been volunteering much lately (a full-time job and writing on the side steals all my time) I decided to offer myself on Saturday at the last-minute. They found a spot for me, guiding people between the Con Suite (Tavern) and the Guild Hall (where there were author readings). This post allowed me the chance to do my favorite thing – live tweet! As much as I wish I could have been to some of the panels, I’m super happy to have the chance to be a volunteer again. I think that’s really been missing from my life, and I’ll have to do better to incorporate it back in. I used to volunteer in Winnipeg for C4 Comic Con, and when we first moved here I volunteered for the Western Ottawa Community Resource Center (and, of course, roller derby).

As a follow-up to my live tweeting and overall support of the event, I’m doing another of my favorite things – a Storify recap!

 

Welcome Fall, 2016!

Jessica-Ripley-Author-PSL-06Fall has always been my favorite season. I love the leaves changing, and I love that crisp air that makes snuggling in sweaters so nice. I think part of it too is the excitement I always had for “back to school.” It was when we got new school supplies, new teachers and classmates, and a clean slate on the report card. I always went back to school with the best of intentions to make each year the best yet.

This feeling holds true to me now, even though I’m no longer on any kind of school schedule. I still go into Fall feeling like it’s time to get rid of bad habits that have crept in my life, and time to shake off that summer “free for all” mentality. I also feel like I’ll be very productive in the next few months, and I can let go of any disappointments or anything else that has been holding me back.

I realized a few years ago though, that without some extra self-care, I do really poorly in Autumn. I’ll start to feel sick, achey, and a bit more depressed and unmotivated than usual. I was physically opposite of what my mind and spirit felt like doing. Turns out, there is lots of research about the physical body preparing for the cold weather and being affected (just like the drying leaves on the trees) by the change. So there are a few things in particular I make a point to make time for, to ensure that I’m at my best to take advantage of the motivation that Fall affords me.

  1. Unplug one day a week.
  2. Take regular warm, quiet baths.
  3. Moisturize skin, lips, and cuticles.
  4. Drink tea with honey to prevent sore throats.
  5. Light candles to bring a little warmth into the home.
  6. Practice Yoga for stability in body and clarity of mind.
  7. Relax by drinking hot almond milk with nutmeg before bed.
  8. Eat warm comfort food (heavier, denser soups and stews).
  9. Enjoy leisurely 10 minute (minimum) quiet walks outdoors.
  10. Spend quality time with those you love (including fur babies!)
  11. Meet with friends (a great excuse for Pumpkin Spice Latte dates!)
  12. Take more rest time, including earlier bedtimes and naps on the weekend.
  13. Use scented soap, lotion, and candles that smell of sandalwood or lavender.

Jessica-Ripley-Author-Fall-06I also reward myself once a week (Friday) with a Pumpkin Spice Latte, because they are delicious and I deserve to treat myself 🙂

When I make sure to remember the self-care, Autumn goes back to being a great time for reflection and creation. I look forward to NaNoWriMo in November, and celebrating family over all of the holidays!

As August is Ending

Jessica-Ripley-Fur-Babies-2016-08It’s been 3 weeks “on our own” and we’re all surviving! That said, we do miss the male human and hope he gets to come home to visit for the long weekend. I’m still trying not to complain. Many Military families deal with further distances and longer separations. I mean, even we have in the past, and we’ve gone quite a few years with him gone for more than just a week or two. So we’re just hanging in there, being a good Military family (even though we are just a human and 4 fur babies).

Unlike the past two weeks, I made an effort to just go home and rest. This meant no jewelry classes, no going out to eat with friends, and getting to bed around 8pm when I was especially tired.

I spent the weekend doing a ton of yard work that I’d put off, and then cleaning most of the house top-to-bottom. Of course, the pets were all pretty weirded out by this. They’d been working hard to make all the blankets and rugs smell just how they liked them. I’m not sure if that’s actually true though, because they all get super happy when they have clean blankets and beds to roll on!

Reading-wise (and by reading, I mean listening to audiobooks on my commute) I binged 2 of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone books in a row, both E is for Evidence and F is for Fugitive. They are so good, and very addictive. I had to stop myself from getting a third one because I like to take a break between them to absorb the story, otherwise they start to blend together. Instead, I started my first J.D. Robb audiobook, Devoted in Death. After the first chapter I was hooked on the story, but I don’t think it was a great idea to switch to audiobooks after I’d already read a bunch in the series. I prefer the voices I’ve created for them in my head over the narrators. I’ll at least finish this one though. And then I might start on Tales of the Body Thief, my annual Anne Rice read (although this year will be the first listen).

We are getting close to launching the Halloween Anthology. We have the ISBN and barcodes, cover design, and basically all of the edits. Time to assemble it!

As for my writing, I’ve got an outline started for a new book, and I’m pretty excited to start drafting. Here’s hoping for a higher word count this week! Last week was a mere 500!

 

Pokemon Go and Ghostbusters

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This weekend started off great, since I got a free half-day from work due to a fire alarm and smoke smell in the building. It was nice to have time to unwind. I used this time to take a nice long walk with the hubby (who had taken the day off already) and the dogs. I used this walk as an opportunity to finally crack into Pokemon Go.

My initial feeling about the app is that I’d much rather just play Pokemon on my DS. At least that game has a linear storyline and the actual availability of all of the pokemon, plus I can train them up without catching and destroying all of their kin.

I also finished my current audiobook: One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. By the end of the book my heart was really out there for the Chief. It was hard to say goodbye to him when the book was over! As usual, I spoiled the ending for myself, because I don’t do well with anticipation and I always enjoy entertainment more if I know what I need to be ready for. I’m now looking forward to watching the movie sometime soon, and as much as I’m sure Jack Nicholson is great, I had imagined Mac as Matthew Mcconaughey through the whole thing, thanks to the narrator’s voice.

I also imagined Nurse Ratched as Imelda Staunton (a la Dolores Umbridge) sometimes.

This weekend we had a trip out with friends and saw both Star Trek Beyond and the new Ghostbusters movie. I found the Star Trek movie to have too many visual effects for me to enjoy it. It would have been a nice little Star Trek episode if not for all of the motion, spinning, and shakey cam. I had to close my eyes for many parts to not get motion sickness. I can’t even imagine how the 3D would be. Great if you are into that kind of thing, like the kid in front of us was (he was literally on the edge of his seat for the movie).

Ghostbusters was perfect. It was everything I’d hoped it would be and I am thrilled to see so many other women so happy with it. Toys are even selling to both girls AND boys, go figure! Now I hope that we can have MORE de-sexualixed kid-appropriate females kicking ass.

In between movies we at a brewery set a lure at its pokestop. It was fun to watch people congregate outside. What an interesting world Pokemon Go has created!

Ottawa Planner Meetup

This weekend I went to my first planner meetup!

I’ve been meaning to blog about my planner for a long time. I feel like I’ve had to retell this story over and over, the fact that I used a planner all throughout school, and once I had graduated University I never gave up the habit. I still bought a yearly planner when all the “back to school” stuff came out, until I fell into the “planner community” on YouTube. My first big planner purchase was my gorgeous purple Filofax A5 Organizer.

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I felt it was a nice jump into the “business world” and loved taking it to business meetings with me! Of course, with falling into the planner community comes things such as washi tape and decorative clips! Luckily, I already had a pen addiction, so that wasn’t anything new.

My A5 got a baby brother when I purchased a Filofax Personal Original in dark aqua, but both of them have been neglected for the past few years while I’ve been pretty happy with my Erin Condren Life Planner. I was a vertical planner to start, but I’ve now been loving my horizontal.

I know it is a bit silly, but I print Avery Labels for each week that have repeating tasks. For morning and night, that includes things as simple as “eat breakfast” or “play with cat”, but on a few days I have important work tasks that must get done every week. I like having daily reminders of my routine. It’s something that just works for my personal organization and productivity.

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And while I don’t go overboard with stickers very often, it is pretty nice to shop from local crafters like Esby Creative and Three Tiny Bows around to pretty up my otherwise boring weeks! Sunday’s meetup was a lot of fun because of the great company, but also because of the great conversation and sticker sharing! Where else can you squee over each other’s weekly chore lists? lol

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