Review: BLACKWOOD by Gwenda Bond


Okay, first off – I’m Canadian. I know precisely zilch about Roanoke Island or the Lost Colony. I did read a WikiPedia entry, though, and it got me thinking – a disappearance of more than a hundred people is a helluva thing back in the 1500’s, but it was a plausible thing. Anything could have “disappeared” the colonists, right? (Like maybe another Imperial power at the time … just sayin’) The only time I’d ever heard of the word “Croatoan” was when I played the online RPG City of Heroes.

Buuuuuut … the overnight disappearance of the same number in modern America? Well, that’s just something I HAVE to read. (Also see a movie. Dear movie producers – work a deal for the film rights to BLACKWOOD by Gwenda Bond. Trust me. Also, don’t hire Kristen Stewart to be Miranda because of what she did to Rob Pattinson.)

Truth be told, I didn’t carry any previous knowledge of the mystery as I started reading. This is a good thing because I didn’t want anything to cloud my take on how the author could make such a massive disappearance plausible in in the here and now.

BLACKWOOD by Gwenda Bond is a creepy little tale that starts off with a possible hallucination and introduces the reader to Miranda Blackwood – a teen who is basically a pariah in the community due to the superstitious nature of the residents. She’s the curse-bearer. Roanoke Island is cursed, you see. Because more than a hundred people just went missing in the 1500’s and more than a hundred just went missing last night.

Miranda’s drunken father included.

So Miranda can see things. It makes sense, therefore, to introduce a love interest who can hear things. Enter Phillips Rawlings – he’s the son of the Chief of Police and he’s been shipped off the island to reform school because of the voices in his head. He’d been mean to Miranda once upon a time. Naturally the two just have to fall for each other – such is teen romance. Gwenda Bond makes it work, though. Both characters are interesting and entirely believable. The plot carries the reader along at a fairly decent pace and what I really enjoyed about the book was how Gwenda painted a rich picture of Roanoke Island and it’s residents. There are colorful characters in this book. There’s surprises aplenty and at the heart of things is Miranda – a likeable protagonist from the wrong side of town. A girl who at the start of the book is more mother than daughter to her drunken dad. Yet she possesses a quiet dignity that she wears throughout the story and you can’t help but cheer her on as she and Phillips unravel the mystery.

Plot twists. Folklore. A hundreds year-old mystery with a modern twist. Blackwood is a solid read and a breath of fresh air for those of us who are dead dog tired of brooding vampire boyfriends and shape-shifting were-things.

 BLACKWOOD is published by Strange Chemistry Books and will be in bookstores all over the place on September 6, 2012.

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Review: SHIFT by Kim Curran

I told my editor Amanda Rutter at Strange Chemistry Books about a month ago that I’d do video reviews of my awesome publisher’s new titles. So here’s me reviewing SHIFT by Kim Curran.  (Won’t Kim be surprised when she crawls out of bed in the morning. 🙂 (There’s a seven hour time “shift” between Saskatoon and the UK. Good morning, Kim!!)

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I’m Polling People

I’m polling to see what people want to read and what they think might be the next big thing. So .. click away. Also, feel free to leave book recommendations in the comments section.


YA Needs More … free polls
I’d like to read more free polls
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What’s new & hot in Middle Grade and YA fiction?


I’m going to be on a few panels during next month’s WHEN WORDS COLLIDE in Calgary. The panel I’m looking forward to the most is “WHAT’S NEW & HOT IN MIDDLE GRADE & YA FICTION?” There’s a boatload of fantastic books out there and I’m privileged to be writing for Angry Robot’s new imprint STRANGE CHEMISTRY BOOKS which has some of the newest and truly hottest YA fiction going. No, I’m serious. Kim Curran’s SHIFT is brilliant and reads like a movie. Gwenda Bond’s BLACKWOOD is a new take on an old bit of folklore. My good friend A.E. Rought’s BROKEN is going to freaking BLOW YOUR MIND, it’s just that good. (I read it two months ago. It’s awesome and she’s having her cover reveal today. I’ve seen the cover. It too is awesome.)

Rather than comprise my own list, I’d love to hear from you! What have you read that’s new, mind bending and just plain freaking awesome in the way of middle grade and young adult? I’ll be using your recommendations to make a nice little list I’ll be using on the panel. I’ll even mention your name and why you say the book/s your are recommending rock!

So …. what’s new & hot in your books? Feel free to name your choices is the comments section below!



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A Sense of Wonder

This morning I received my agent’s notes on the second in my POLTERGEEKS series, STUDENT BODIES. Naturally it got me thinking about the quality of my writing. Agents do that, by the way. They get you thinking hard about how you can become not just a better writer but more importantly: how to become a better storyteller.

I’m relatively new at writing Young Adult fiction – I’d always assumed that teens would buy one of my books aimed at an adult audience and read it because it appealed to them. Certainly that’s what I was doing when I was a teen because YA hadn’t yet been invented. POLTERGEEKS is my first true kick at the can when it comes to writing YA and the intensive revisions process my agent had me undertake literally transformed the novel from a book about a butt kicking witch who goes out butt kicking evil for sixty thousand words to a story that needed an accurate reflection of what first love truly means to a young person – the challenge is that it has been set amid the ferocity of all hell breaking loose.

I think I’ve done that with POLTERGEEKS. I know there is an awe struck sense of wonder that someone actually loves you, though the frame of reference for what love is hasn’t yet been shaped. In Julie, there’s a massive sense of disbelief that anyone could be attracted to her and what my agent helped me do was to show how that disbelief manifested because when Julie learns that someone thinks she is beautiful, it hits her at about fifty miles an hour.

So she struggles with her feelings and yet is struck dumb by the knowledge that her best friend loves her with all his heart – and he’s been in love with her for a long time. He truly believes that he will always love her no matter what.

I couldn’t have presented the deeper meaning of first love without my agent showing me the way and the best advice she gave me was to print the who manuscript off and grab a highlighter to mark out all the romance in the book because it truly was lacking. I reached out to a local romance writer’s group in Saskatoon (they’re in the acknowledgements) and I reflected on how I felt at that age. How much I deeply wished for someone to like me – not as a friend – to be told “I like you as a friend” is the kiss of death to a teenager’s emotions in matters of the heart.

I’m no expert on writing romance and certainly not teen romance. But my agent taught me the basic need to present a sense of wonder in it all. And it really does have a sense of wonder, doesn’t it? Who cannot look back and remember that first kiss? For me it was the first time you got to hold a girl’s hand – in my case, she reached for my hand. I remember that now even though it was more than thirty years ago.

So no bad boy/good guy love triangles for me. I think that’s been done to death, lit on fire and scraped clean by better authors than me. It’s a major feature of Young Adult fiction these days and my heart tells me to write the romance without those complications. I think there’s a tremendous amount of value in trying to write about the simple fact that someone out there actually loves you with all their heart. For me at least, that’s what teen romance needs to be about in my books.

Happy Friday and thanks to my agent. Her name is  Jenny Savill and she’s helping be become a better storyteller. 🙂