Blog Tour: Book Review & Interview – Learning to Breathe by Janice Lynn Mather

Learning to Breathe on The Paper Trail Diary

Learning to Breathe by Janice Lynn Mather, out now

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Learning to Breathe! I’m excited to be a part of this as I treasure this precious novel. If you haven’t yet, check out my touring buddies posts on That Reading Wraith, Just a Lil’ Lost, Brains, Books, and Brawn, Rimpy Reads, and Padfoots Library!

Learning to breathe blog tour

In Learning to Breathe, sixteen-year-old Indy is trapped and trying to find any sense of freedom and identity she can. She thought being seen as the continuation of her mother’s reputation would have stopped once she was shipped off to her aunt and uncle in Nassau from a neighbouring island in the Caribbean, but it only got worse. The nickname “Doubles” followed her. Her cousin Gary only sees Indy’s body as his for the taking, and now Indy is pregnant. Indy tries to hide her growing belly as best she can, even when she has to duct tape bras together (and to her). She can’t confide in her family, she doesn’t have any friends except Churchy (a boy from her town who also moved to Nassau), and she’s too busy being scared of Gary to think about much else. It’s hard to run from someone who lives in the same home as you. One day in a rare act of rebelling against her environment, she jumps in the water, swims, and ends up down the island at a yoga retreat.

I kick my school shoes and socks off. At the edge of the dock, the sea bobs and laps, waiting. What I need is to not feel dirty. I need to be clean. I climb up onto one of the wooden posts, feet barely fitting on it. I teeter for a moment. Then I jump.

There is an instant, sailing through the air, when I am both moving and still. There’s no room for the rush of fears and doubts in my head. My breathing stops. I can hear the poundpound of my heart. No thinking, I can just be.

It’s at the yoga retreat where she will find her lifeline and people with compassion. Indy must find a way to take control of her fate, face down people’s perceptions, and letting the right people in after building up so many walls. And along the way she learns some yoga, which teaches her how to take a moment to herself.

Being in Indy’s world is heartbreaking, and you only want her to find the help and love she so desperately needs. She’s always been trying to live her life under the radar; she doesn’t want to be seen by anyone except her mother, grandmother, and friends. Janice Lynn Mather does an amazing job at putting you right there with Indy, right there with her fear. It’s uncomfortable, of course, but it will not deter you from reading. Indy is in an extremely tough place but she powers through it – her voice never comes across as dark as it could, because she is learning she has strength and has to believe things will get better in order to survive. I found it interesting how Indy doesn’t think about how there’s actually a baby growing inside of her (she’s at 5 months) – she just refers to her growing belly – because thinking about a baby acknowledges her trauma and who knows what else. There are so many times when she could just tell someone what happened, but of course to her, that’s terrifying, and admitting it means surrendering to embarrassment and failure.

I also admired how the yoga retreat played into the story – it’s different and a great scene for what Indy needed. It provided such a starkly different environment than everywhere else Indy goes, and it’s where she finds adults who care and connect with her. While Churchy and her cousin Smiley provide their own types of support for Indy whether they realize it or not, she still feels safer at the retreat. Any time she ends up there is a breath of relief.

The pacing of the book was perfect. I was hooked immediately and wasn’t unhooked until… well I still feel hooked. This is the kind of book you will want to hug. I loved it and think you will too. It’s gorgeously written. It’s sad but hopeful, this story of a girl who just wants a stable and safe home.

Now for my interview with Janice Lynn Mather – and I have to say, it’s great! This will give you an interesting sense of backstory to the life of the book.

How would you describe your connection to yoga?
Constant. I’ve done yoga in some form, to some degree, since the summer of 1999. I started doing yoga somewhat by accident, and at a time when it wasn’t especially stylish. I had no flowy bamboo clothes or even a yoga mat. I came across a programme on Cable TV called Yoga Zone. The episodes look incredibly cheesy now, but when I found them and started following along, it was at a really low point in my life. I was incredibly depressed, I felt out of control in so many ways, and it was one small thing that I did for myself, that helped me feel like I wasn’t actually going to spin off the face of the earth and drift into space. It was grounding, it was calming, it was healing, and I did it on the floor of the dining room in my childhood home, with my parents occasionally walking between me and the TV. I probably had on some ratty old shorts and a not too nice shirt, and I used this beat up old beach towel I’d had for as long as I can remember. There was absolutely nothing fashionable about it, and I couldn’t have been more thankful to find it.

Yoga came into my life in a few different ways in the years that followed. In the UK, my sisters were also into yoga, and I wound up with a yoga mat—which I still use. The mat has got to be well over a decade old.  It really isn’t pretty, and I couldn’t care less, I have so many memories of toting it around the world and spreading it out on decks and beaches and tiled hotel floors and on sandy balconies all over the place. At my first real job, working as a newspaper reporter at The Nassau Guardian in the Bahamas, there was this room tucked way in the back, where an absolutely wonderful woman, Mrs. Neeley, worked as the librarian. The library was this windowless, stuffy room with filing cabinets jammed with old newspaper clippings, and it was a great place to shirk work gossip and talk politics conduct research.  I don’t know how I ended up in the Y files, but I came across a bunch of fat folders marked Yoga Retreat and, to my surprise, I learned that Paradise Island—the most touristy place in all of Nassau, where many of the hotels, including Atlantis, are located—actually had housed a yoga retreat. These pictures were old—I think maybe the 70s—and black and white, and this separate, secret world that had existed under my nose my whole life was suddenly revealed. I looked it up in the phone book (because it was 2001, and that’s what we did), and found they were still open. So I went there to do a story on it.

There were no roads leading to the retreat, so the only way to get to that part of Paradise Island was by boat.  Early on a Sunday morning, I got on a tiny little dingy with about six other people, and landed on the island. I unrolled my yoga mat (the same one I mentioned above; it was still new and fresh at that time) and proceeded to follow along with a two-hour hardcore traditional yoga class. It was quite an experience. They actually do teacher training at this facility, and the style of class I took was quite regimented: a long meditation at the beginning, followed by breathing exercises, followed by 12 rounds of Sun Salutations, which is like a whole-body warm-up using a particular series of poses. Then we went into standing poses, and into balances—there were unsupported headstands all over the place, which I did not attempt myself. What was really special about the class was that we had it on a deck facing a totally private and empty beach, and then beyond that, nothing but the water.

Over the years, I’ve done yoga in a lot of places that are less glamorous than that. More recently, my yoga practice has tended to be either on my living room floor or in a sort of dank community centre room that always smells a little funny. I like my ritzy yoga studios too, as an occasional treat, but my connection with yoga is a very everyday, sanity-maintenance sort of practice. There have been times when I’ve done a specific, intentional yoga practice every single day, and times when it’s more spotty. But I think since starting yoga, I’ve incorporated some element of a practice—actual asanas or meditation or deep breathing or even just awareness of posture and mindset—into life every day. I love how I feel physically when I’m practicing asanas daily, but I also respect and value the other ways it’s influenced my outlook, my mindset, and my life.

What inspired you to write this story?
The prevalence of situations like Indy’s. Learning to Breathe is fictional, but what Indy’s dealing with is very much a reality for many girls.

If you could pick somewhere to go for a retreat, where would you go?
Unlike Indy, though I’m from the Bahamas, I’m from Nassau, very much the city. There are quiet spots in Nassau that I love, but to really retreat, I’d head to one of the Family Islands—just about anywhere else in the Bahamas. Going to a beach destination might sound like a stereotype of the Caribbean, but for me, a quiet place by the water and far from people and noise is soul-feeding. Sometimes I just want to be able to go and dip my body in the water, let out a long sigh, and lie down in the shade.

What are some books you’re loving right now?
What a delicious question.  I’ve had a chance to feast on a number of really delicious books recently. Over the past few months—Ibi Zoboi’s American Street was stunning. I definitely had a little bit of writer’s envy during the process. In terms of authors who are brand new to me, I recently read Stay With Me, by Ayobami Adebayo. I went on a bit of a book buying binge last fall, and I’m still working to catch up after all the mischief I got into there, but Stay With Me was a pure impulse buy; I saw it on display, I read the first paragraph, I had to take it home. And then, there are the fond favourites that you just come back to again and again. Right now, that’s Zenzele, by J. Nozipo Maraire. Parts of it are so beautiful. I have a thing about endings that are satisfying, and the first time I read this book, the ending was just like…a moment to lean back and close my eyes and just be. I love to come back to it for the story, and for where and how it ends.

Now with your first book coming out, can you tell us more about your path to publishing? Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
My path to publishing has been long, but worth the wait. I wrote the first draft of Learning to Breathe in a writing class in 2003/2004. It took me another four years to start sending it out to literary agents and editors in earnest. For a few years, I’d say I went in cycles of submitting it, getting rejected or receiving no response, going back to revise and refine it, setting it aside, then sending it out again.  

The real game changer came in 2015, when I took it out and polished it up for what felt like the millionth time. I submitted it in the spring to a competition held between UBC, HarperCollins Canada, and the Cooke Agency (now CookeMcDermid), then did what’s always best to do when you’ve submitted a piece of writing—I forgot about it and went on to work on another project.  

One day in mid September, I headed to work as usual, but I forgot my phone at home, which I never, ever do. Partway through the day an email popped into my inbox. It was from a lady by the name of Rachel Letofsky, letting me know that Learning to Breathe had been shortlisted for the HarperCollinsPublishersLtd/ UBC Prize for Best New Fiction. Rachel had tried to reach me by phone (by now I was kicking myself—what a day to leave my phone languishing at home) but she was so excited to share the news that she wanted to send me an email as well. I didn’t end up winning the prize that year, but being shortlisted opened all kinds of doors. A few weeks later, Rachel asked if I’d be interested in having her as my literary agent—I jumped at the chance—and about a year later, I was fortunate enough to have four amazing offers from four publishers interested in taking on Learning to Breathe.  

I signed on with Simon & Schuster, and the rest is a pretty fantastic combination of history and current events. I signed a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster, so I’m in the process of working on a second YA novel, which is expected to be released in 2020.

Advice for aspiring authors…be bold and share your story with the world. Even if it’s sat in your head, or collected dust in a drawer for a year, or five, or ten, it’s not too late. There’s a reason you were compelled to tell that story. You owe it to your characters, the source of your inspiration, and your future audience, to let your story stand in the light of day.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with an advanced reading copy for the review and the opportunity to interview Janice. 

Find Learning to Breathe on Goodreads, Amazon, Indigo, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, and AbeBooks.

This entry was posted in Books.

Book Review: Golden Hour by Chantel Guertin

golden hour via paper trail diary

Golden Hour by Chantel Guertin, out now

The long-awaited conclusion to Chantel Guertin’s Pippa Greene series is here! For fans of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series, this equally driven and talented, hyper-focused, total catch of a protagonist is learning her biggest lesson yet.

I’ve been talking a lot about how I want to read more YA novels about characters who are more focused on working on their life’s path, and Pippa Greene is definitely one of those characters. Pippa is a senior in high school who is obsessed with photography and knows with all her heart that she HAS to go to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. In fact that’s the only school she applied to. So when she finds out she’s waitlisted for her dream, she hits the spiral quickly.

Pippa has always thought that in order to get into university for something like photography, you have to dedicate your life to it. She lived and breathed photography, it runs in her blood (she takes after her late father). Being waitlisted guts her, and she makes one last desperate attempt to go to NYU and meet with the program head, and it’s not what she expected at all. He tells her that she sounds like every other applicant, and what they want to know is what sets her apart. What else does she like besides photography?

My insides squirmed when I read this part, because damn, I get it. I feel like the high school years push two messages at teens as they start to think about their futures: you either know what you love and you do all you can to be perfect at it or you join every club everywhere and spread yourself too thin with nothing that interesting to show for it. So Pippa’s reality is a slap on the face to her and I’m sure many readers. Where was this department head guy’s message about living-in-the-moment when she was at the Tisch summer camp? Where was it when she was applying? I was so frustrated for her. (But also, she applied to one school! *Dies of anxiety*) This same kind of mentality could be said for job interviews when you’re older (AKA does a publishing company really want to hear how much you’ve loved books since you were a child?) – how do we make ourselves consciously well-rounded? Ugh I’m exhausted thinking about all of this.

Pippa takes living-in-the-moment to mean putting down the camera and following friends in their escapades, and it works enough to show her some perspective. She has her teenage rebellious phase, basically. And of course, in that, she gains a new appreciation for her passion and enough separation to take a look at her goals.

My other big takeaway from these books is her ex-boyfriend Dylan. The distant musician heartthrob first love. I was so done with him in book #3, and I remembered really liking Ben, so I was feeling all catty reading about Dylan in this book. I felt like I was a friend watching Pippa make these choices in her life, and disagreeing with them, but not saying anything about it. Bah! I also felt like his storyline here was a little meh and unnecessary, and I wanted more of Pippa figuring things out without getting back together with her ex. That’s just me though.

The Pippa Greene books are short and sweet – now that the series is completed, they make a nice set that you could devour pretty quickly. For my reading experience right now, it’s been three years since book #3, so I had a hard time remembering what happened before this, and sometimes found myself looking back on the other books. I know I wouldn’t feel this if I read the books closer together, but it did hurt my reading experience in this case, as I didn’t have time to re-read the first three books before reading this one. But I think Chantel did a pretty good job with the reminders when Pippa would recall something that happened earlier. I do like Chantel’s writing a lot – it comes across so smoothly, and I’m hoping she continues to write YA! (Also, bonus points for being set somewhere near my hometown of Buffalo, NY, which I still think is hilarious.)

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The Paper Trail Diary turns FOUR with a giveaway!

paper trail diary fourth birthday

I am pretty pleased with myself that I’ve managed to keep this blog going for four years now, to be honest! And while this “birthday” is actually weeks late because I’m not the most perfect blog mom, I am still thrilled to celebrate. Especially because I’m so into this giveaway pack I’ve put together!

This year’s giveaway includes:

*A copy of one of my favourite 2018 reads, Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner

*A notebook

*A custom-made banner of your choice

*A pack of The Pillars of The Paper Trail Diary zines

*A stack of postcards

Because shipping costs suck, I do have to limit this to US & Canada only. Sorry international pals!

TO ENTER: Head over to THIS Instagram post and follow the instructions!

I will choose a winner on Sunday, May 27.

Book Review: Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner

chaotic good review via paper trail diary

Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner, out now

It’s been a while since I finished reading Chaotic Good and I still feel hungover. I wish I had more time with Cameron, Cooper, Why, and Lincoln. Chaotic Good will easily make it as one of my favourite books of 2018!

I loved Whitney’s first book You’re Welcome, Universe that came out last year so I was firm in my mind that I would read anything Whitney writes. When I found out her next book had to do with D&D, I laughed. D&D is in my life, but I don’t play, my partner does. And as much as I wish it was something I could share with him, it is not for me at all. I teased Jack about how he can’t get me to play but Whitney can get me to read about it, and he just lovingly said he’d read the book sometime. (He’s too good.) D&D isn’t a huge part of the book, but it does work as a crucial turning point in the plot, which worked well for me. :p

Chaotic Good is basically a nerdy She’s the Man (which then Jack said ‘which is basically Twelfth Night‘) and I am all here for it. Cameron has just moved to a new town after living in Portland, and finding herself friendless, she heads to a place that should be able to give her comfort: a comic book store. But it’s there where she runs into the pretentious and misogynistic employee Brody, who immediately questions her nerd status because she is transparent about her love of costumes, the fact that she hasn’t already read everything in all the universes, and that she has her own opinions. She’s still reeling from the continuous slew of trolling after she admitted at a Con that she didn’t know something about a character she was cosplaying, so Brody’s words sting. Unable to accept not being able to return to the only comic book store in town, Cameron lets her twin brother Cooper convince her to don his clothes and return as a guy, which of course completely convinces the guys at the store and lands her an invitation to their D&D game, and she accepts. Further complicating things, she develops a huge crush on the group’s adorable Dungeon Master, and she becomes distracted from preparing a portfolio of costume ideas that she plans to present to a university later in the summer.

Besides really admiring Whitney’s writing style, which just feels so effortless and careful (even though I know it’s hard work) I also love the characters she creates. I want to be friends with everyone (except Brody) and I want to help and protect them because they’re so precious. I admired Cameron for pushing herself and others, Cooper for his support as a brother and friend, Why (another comic book shop employee) for his sweetness and inclusivity, and Lincoln for his creativity and honesty.

Chaotic Good is a wonderful read that challenges nerd culture and shows the reader that you don’t have to know every single thing about something in order to love it. It shows a girl who knows what she wants and that she takes steps to follow her dreams, embrace her creativity, and kiss a cute boy in between. It still appeals to those who don’t know or like D&D. It has more than one delightful budding romance. Seriously, I could go on forever with words and mostly squee-type noises about how much I loved this book. So add it to your TBR, friends!

This entry was posted in Books.

Join the mail edition of the Book Lover Postcard Swap!

book lover postcard swap mail edition

In honour of April being National Letter Writing Month, Barb and I knew it was only fitting/obvious that our next Book Lover Postcard Swap theme be mail 😉

So sign up to be matched with someone – you’ll write each other postcards about books you’ve enjoyed that involve mail in some way! I have so many I could write about… 84 Charing Cross Road, The Lost Art of Letter Writing, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Societyetc etc etc. Even my first favourite letter writing book, The Jolly Pocket Postman!  I’m swooning just thinking about them! (If you have not read them, OMG READ THEM.)

So go on, follow the form!

Book Review: Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

tyler johnson was here via paper trail diary

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles, out now

“Who do you even call when the cops are the ones being the bad guys? Who do you even beg to protect you?”

I am so glad that Black Lives Matter-inspired books continue to be published and break grounds. Tyler Johnson Was Here is a worthy addition not just to the subject but to YA in general for the character of Marvin Johnson.

Marvin and his twin brother Tyler are used to going quiet when the cops bang on their door, but they are still terrified. They’re terrified when they see a cop threaten another black kid down the street. They’re terrified when a cop goes off on them for no reason in the convenience store. When Tyler goes missing after a party, and then a video goes viral of his death by police brutality, Marvin is thrown into chaos and 100% justified frustration.

The thing about Marvin is he cries. He cries A LOT, and he talks about crying. And I think that’s SO important to show in YA lit – a boy crying. In the beginning of the book, Marvin mentions how his father, who is in jail for a wrongly accused crime, told him ‘men don’t cry,’ but he still cries. And then he gets a letter from his dad, which says “Crying can free you, son. Crying can make you see past it, past the pain that hurts your growing heart. The best time to cry is, weird enough, at nighttime — when all the lights are out, and it’s dark, who no one is around to see.” He starts on a good point, but I don’t agree with his ending sentiment. And thankfully those are not words Marvin lives by. It’s obviously tragic that he cries so much because he’s living through hell, but it’s important to show his tears. In public. It’s real.

This book will break your heart. This is from the convenience store scene:

…in this very moment I’m starting to really hate myself, really feel sorry for myself, because I’ve been black for too long, because I’ve been such a menace to society because of this skin, because of the words that come to mind when some people see me.

Another thing to point out is that Tyler was falling into a gang. And, like one of my new fave TV shows On My Block, this book does a solid in pointing out that those who are in gangs are worth caring about, they’re more than the throw-away news story.

Is Tyler being a gang like a pass to not look for him? Just because he fell for the gang life doesn’t mean he’s not saveable, that he’s not worth risking everything for.

I’m glad I read Tyler Johnson Was Here. It made me uncomfortable, and it should’ve. If it doesn’t make you uncomfortable, you have some thinking to do. You’ll want to wrap Marvin and his mom in the hugest hug and wish that you could bring Tyler back for them. From the grand scape of the real issue to the zoomed-in grief, Tyler Johnson Was Here gives a delicate, strong, and important story. Plus, Jay Coles is a new voice in YA that’s worth investing in. I look forward to what else he’ll bring to literature.

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