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Angela Morrison, Taken by Storm, Sing Me to Sleep and a CONTEST

March 6, 2010

*Also Read Rivenheart’s Review*

Last month saw the release of Taken by Storm by Angela Morrison in paperback, and her second book, Sing Me To Sleep, was released TWO DAYS AGO (in the US) and sold out on the first day! And so! The Rock Pool, together with Angela Morrison, are delighted to offer you the chance to win TWO SIGNED COPIES OF ‘TAKEN BY STORM’, and an envelope of SIGNED BOOKMARKS to share with friends, for two runners-up. To enter, just answer the question at the end of this post!

Taken by Storm is the story of Leesie, a committed Mormon girl on the road to BYU, and Michael, a diver, who has just lost his parents and many friends to a tropical storm. Michael moves to Washington to live with his grandmother, and there, he and Leesie meet and the usual chemical reaction occurs – with a hitch. Leesie is a Mormon, and Michael is a godless heathen (no offence to godless heathens; I use this in jest and affection XD). This Will Not Work. Mormon version of Haram.

The story is told through a dual narrative: chat logs and poetry for Leesie, and dive logs for Michael. I think the format – though very modern and contemporary – has its limitations, and the author pushes it right to the edge, and sometimes goes over, particularly in the dive logs (which are essentially journals): there are passages that don’t read like a journal at all, which jars at my sense of the book’s internal validity. But I quite enjoy experimental fiction, and the style itself wins a lot of plus-points for that alone – I can imagine it must have been a challenge to write.

It suddenly clicked when I was 77 pages in that the story had a twin theme: grief and loss that is channelled through Michael, and the struggle to live by different values, through Leesie.

From the outset, Michael’s character got my back up – he was grieving, yes, but he was also an inconsiderate jerk who uses his loss as a lever on Leesie, who initially takes him on as a kind of project: and here, you watch her make the first mistake in her Road-to-Perdition thing, which is that she overestimates herself, and thinks she’s immune. She’s not.

Leesie is interesting, and on a kind of male-level, I can understand what is appealing about her. She’s legendary at school for being the ‘Ice Queen’: terribly cynical and wise to the ways of the world…but at the same time, despite that edge, she’s also blindingly sweet and innocent too, especially in the Dark Haram Arts (I approve, obv). That’s part of what makes you believe she’s real.

But back to Michael – he really was a jerk, and barely human. Right from the first page, I was uncomfortable with how he talks about girls like meat, in a very crude way. I don’t care if that is how some boys really are: it isn’t what girls need to see or read, or become desensitised to it just because it’s real. Although perhaps the point was that Michael’s character had to be set up to change, and he had to start off somewhat soulless: as I carried on reading, I understood that, but it didn’t make me like it any better.

An Amazon review says it is a ‘romance with heart – a tale of love, not lust’, but I’m not sure it drew the line, exactly – it would be more accurate to say it was a story of evolution, and of Michael confusing the two as the same thing, whereas I have this idea that Leesie’s chastity allows her to see the difference. Part of the climax is an unravelling of both characters: there’s a moment when everything falls into place, and suddenly he understands what Leesie has been trying to tell him all along. That same moment is a moment of everything-ness: that lucidity is what inverts and transforms him, gives him back his soul.

This definitely is not ‘preachy’, which I think is the graven fear of any person who picks up a book that makes any mention of religion. I think religion and faith are not well-explored in current YA, and the, er, pleasures of the flesh are. I felt this could have done with a lot less of that and hit just as hard – if not harder. What made this book very uncomfortable to read was the almost incessant physical blah. Unnecessary. I really think it detracted from the overall power of the story by bashing you in the face with it again and again. And again. It’s difficult to take teen love seriously when it’s only about action. Can you imagine how much more intense and powerful this would have been if the rule was ‘no touching’? (Muslim rule! Along with thou shalt not date, etc.)

That negative aside, the authenticity of the story is flawless and without cliché, and I’m thrilled to see a book that really tackles this angle with such depth. There were countless moments throughout the book where I had to stop either to chuckle madly or faceplant for being reminded of conversations I’ve had with people. Like this priceless moment when Michael goes to Leesie, ‘you pray?’ I also recognise Leesie’s struggle to explain her world to him, how she tries to unravel for him her experiences  of her inner, private world, and how unwieldy she finds the words she has to use.

This isn’t about exploring the boundaries as much as being forced to the very edge of them, and then some. I think it explores the truth that people often break their rules when they are with people who don’t have the same ones, but – following every law of averages – somewhere in between the part where they overstep and the part where they are eternally damned, something has to give…and I thought the ending was great, totally did not short-change you – it had the right amounts of everything.

Like Rivenheart, I felt my opinion of this book would be more on the atypical side, being a person of faith. I think to most people who will read this book, it will only be a good story – touching and moving and romantic – but it won’t be real, it won’t be a choice you might really have to make, or a struggle you have to live. And perhaps that is why, in the end, despite the things I wasn’t too comfortable with, I really was moved. (NO I DIDN’T CRY WHY WOULD I DO THAT? CAN’T YOU SEE HOW MACHO I AM?)

~~~~~~~

Sing Me To Sleep is the story of Beth – aka The Beast, scarred and way too tall, whose only escape from her unhappinesses is through singing with the Bliss all-girls’ choir – and Derek, the dangerous daredevil type-boy she meets in Switzerland, oh and throw into the mix her only/best friend, Scott, whose intentions she can’t figure out. Oh, and a fantasy fairytale makeover that transforms Beth to totally hot from totally not.

But Beth learns that changing the packaging doesn’t change what’s inside, nor is it so easy to change: she might look beautiful, but she still feels ugly, she still doesn’t trust people not to be out to humiliate her, and she definitely doesn’t trust Derek – a guy who she believes wouldn’t look at her twice in her Beastly days.

And music. It’s also about music and songs and flights of ethereal and finding your voice.

When I started reading this, I was a little irritated by it: there was this self-obsessed character who was so full of her rubbish self-image that she created herself a hell worse than anyone could create FOR her, and she drove me MAD, with her defeatism, passivity and pessimism. I would’ve liked to have smacked her and said, girl, get over it! SO WHAT?

Again, a twin-theme emerges here – Beth battling the psychological beast to win back her self-belief, and the mystery that is Derek. I’m pretty pleased with myself that I worked out the mystery (to the last detail!) very early on, and anticipated the ending, and so I spent nearly two-thirds of the book waiting for Beth to catch up. And! Everytime Derek is about to tell her, Beth interrupts him with a wisecrack, and after about the twentieth time, I’m ready to scream at her to be quiet and let the dude speak.

Although the story came together much better, I can’t say I really became attached to Beth. When she had this moment of thinking to herself, ‘omg I whine too much’, and I was all ‘omg yes you do!’ We’ve all been there – we’ve looked awful, we’ve tried to outgrow it, and we hide all evidence of ever having looked that way when we finally figure it out, and we learn how to leave it behind: Beth is doing this, but her whining is truly excruciating. The biggest drawback to her personality was that she didn’t really have the self-preserving sense of humour every misfit needs to survive. I would’ve liked Beth more if she laughed more, joked more, and could take herself less seriously. She would’ve liked herself more if she had.

I’m not a very musical person, but I liked that you didn’t need to be to feel its soul – and I especially like that when you finish the book, you can go straight to Angela Morrison’s website and listen to ‘Beth’s Song’. I liked that she explores the difficulty of finding words to put to your experience, especially for the deepest feelings, and you are allowed to experience that frustration along with Beth.

Again, major downside was the festival of flesh – I really don’t like graphic books, and a lot of the, er, desiring etc., was just too much. So ditto what I said for Taken By Storm.

There was one thing I really loved in this book: the portrayal of mother-daughter/son relationships. To me, Beth was most real in her relationship with her mother: she thinks and acts in a way that appreciates how much she owes her, and has a great sensitivity to her mother’s feelings. There’s evolution here, too, with a gradual revelation of her mother’s strength, climaxing in a scene both beautiful and intense.

Overall, while the book starts off pretty shakily, it gets itself together after about 50 pages. And despite my above digs, the fact that I read it in one sitting, skipped dinner, nearly attacked someone in Asda who tried to steal my book, and know it was 12.06 am when I finished should all tell you that I was entirely wrapped up in it and had to finish it before I was good for anything else. And after I read the Author’s Note at the end, I didn’t have to heart to feel negatively about it until later.

~~~~~~~

Okay so now CONTEST!

To enter, just answer this question in the comments (and remember to enter your email address!): If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?

To gain EXTRA ENTRIES:

+1 (each) if you post this link on Facebook or Twitter

+2 if you post it on your blog (post the link in your comment)

+3 if you subscribe to this blog by email! (box is in the bottom right-hand corner of this page)

This contest is open INTERNATIONALLY. Closing date: 28th March 2010.

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24 Comments leave one →
  1. March 6, 2010 1:29 pm

    Hi Khadija! Well you warned me your reviews would be critical. At least SING ME TO SLEEP kept you reading until midnight and evoked strong emotions. Too bad they were negative emotions!

    I sense a lot of the same ideas in your review and Rivenheart’s that I had about writing when I started. I know you are all writers and would like to offer a bit of advice from someone with a lot of experience, an MFA, a pile of rejections letters and a contract with Penguin behind it.

    First, perfect characters will get you nowhere. Perhaps you can use a perfect character in an inspirational book about excellence or something like that, but they just don’t work in fiction. Fictional characters must be flawed or they take your story nowhere. Readers tend to hate them. If your characters have nowhere to grow, you have no story. No journey. In my first drafts of STORM, Leesie was way to perfect. Readers found her annoying and could not relate. If you are writing about a character from a religious background markedly different from the readers, you must give them something to relate to. When I came to write SING ME TO SLEEP, I didn’t have the time to waste on ultra-perfect super-heroines. Beth came to me flawed and broken, and I followed her journey. If that journey annoys and doesn’t appeal to you, that’s fine. Every books isn’t for every reader.

    Next, when you put your characters in situations, you have to have to guts to follow through on the scene. As I followed Michael and Leesie through their story, it became apparent that I would have to write, what I call, “temptation” scenes. Those scenes had to be realistic and honest. I couldn’t pull back from the feelings of either character. The challenge for me, as a faithful LDS GRANDMOTHER, was to write that and not cross the line into explicit territory.

    Both TAKEN BY STORM and SING ME TO SLEEP are rated 12 and up. Fourteen and up ratings are given to books with R-type content. Most YA novels published by trade houses have at least one and usually several explicit sex scenes. For my culture and my audience, my novels are considered clean. North American teens are surrounded by so a culture dripping with sexual imagery and there is so much pressure on the girls. I had one mother a few nights ago who had read SING ME TO SLEEP with her daughter thank me for the opportunity that it gave her to have a frank discussion of intimacy with her.

    And last, you must be true to who your characters are. Michael is an American teenage male who got his moral code from his legendary father. He’s actually much more respectful than the average guy in a YA novel. Leesie is a Mormon girl–not a Muslim girl. Her rules are not “no touching.” Almost every Mormon girl finds herself at one point in her life in a relationship with a non-Mormon guy. Those readers deserve an honest take on their experience. And no one wants to read a white-washed account about ANYTHING much less a religious character.

    It’s not easy–what you are all attempting to do–write from your inner truth. But, Jane Yolen, in TAKE JOY, says it is a must for ALL writers. She says that without a writers inner truth, the story becomes “rags on a stick masquerading as story.” That gives you an advantage. But there are pitfalls, too.

    • March 6, 2010 10:47 pm

      Hi Angela!

      Don’t get me wrong, they were both well worth reading! The only real complaint I had was the, er, action, but not counting that, the other comments were just picking at quirks (some somewhat in jest). A day or two post-reading, the memory that remains with me is of two moving, very authentic stories. There were parts I loved, and was very moved by, (i.e. both endings, and scattered moments throughout) that I wanted to talk about but would’ve been spoilers.

      I take your point about perfect characters – I think what I was trying to express is that I want to LIKE characters: imperfections are natural and expected! I think perhaps the fact that both Michael and Beth were unlikeable for the greater part of their books, made me remember it more clearly at the end, rather than what they became. By the end, I understood that that evolution was the point. Please don’t think I hated Beth – I didn’t! I wanted her to behave differently, and I was her well-wisher – you know, the nutcase who screams instructions at characters wishing they could hear XD

      I actually related to Leesie a lot – you can imagine that being a Muslim in some ways separates you even more from other people – especially because our ‘rules’ can sometimes seem a lot more hardline, and it takes a lot more unravelling to help people see it the way I do. And that was so flawlessly presented. I didn’t mean to imply that Leesie should’ve behaved ‘Muslim-ly’, it was more of a speculative remark.

      I understand what you mean about having to follow through, but again, approaching this from a personal, Muslim perspective, there are things I can’t allow myself to make excuses for. My internal barometer was unhappy with the extent of the sensuality, and like Rivenheart, I feel like the exposure takes its toll on my moral stamina. I don’t deny the truth of the temptation, but I felt like it was over-saturated by that angle, at the expense of emotional credibility. Although by now, I’m not sure if that wasn’t the point! But I really do think that it suggested the strength of the relationship – the point – lay in their physical reactions to each other, not in something that transcended it, and so it overshadowed the emotional impact it should have made.

      > Those readers deserve an honest take on their experience. And no one wants to read a white-washed account about ANYTHING much less a religious character.

      And that is exactly what Storm did brilliantly well.

      (Random note: I split my reading time mainly between children’s books, YA and fantasy (and get regularly abused for it XD), so my impressions are drawn from the whole genre, not as an isolated YA-read – this is one of my pet genres, I’ve been reading it since I was 12!)

  2. March 6, 2010 9:14 pm

    If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?
    I wish I could write better.

    I can’t wait to read Sing Me To Sleep!

    xollinzolox@aim.com

  3. Kinsey permalink
    March 7, 2010 3:40 am

    If I could change one thing about myself, I would give myself the strength/ability to hold out for an apology instead of always making myself be the one to humble herself and beg for forgiveness when I did little or nothing wrong. Or I would get rid of my overwhelming tendency to procrastinate because I am tired of staying up all night writing 10-page papers overnight that I should have done weeks ago.

    sunmono12790(at)yahoo(dot)com

    • Kinsey permalink
      March 7, 2010 10:11 pm

      Since you added more ways to enter, I thought I’d do those as well. 🙂

      +1 (each) if you post this link on Facebook or Twitter– DONE for Facebook (don’t have Twitter)
      +3 if you subscribe to this blog by email! (box is in the bottom right-hand corner of this page)– DONE

  4. March 7, 2010 3:50 am

    If I could I would change the fact that I wear my emotions on my sleeve. Before I can wrangle control of them they are often already out there. But then again, maybe those emotions are what allow me to delve so deeply into the characters I write about in my stories.

    mtr@michellereynoso.com
    http://www.MichelleReynoso.com

  5. March 7, 2010 4:51 am

    I am a well flawed person. But one thing I would like to change about myself would certainly be my indolent attitude which leads me on to procrastinate until the last moment! It’s really irritating when you are yourself the cause and victim! 😦
    And physically,I would like to add on a few inches to my height! Seriously,I am the like the tiniest person in the class…but on second thoughts,that does make me stand out(not literally!!),right? 😉

    Thanks so much for hosting the giveaway! I would love to own and read Taken By Storm!
    frndz.debas@gmail.com

  6. March 8, 2010 3:26 am

    Extra Entries-
    +1-posted link on Facebook-http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/profile.php?v=feed&story_fbid=383645315791&id=100000126953872&ref=nf
    +1-Tweeted-http://twitter.com/Debasmitadhar/status/10151771804
    +3- Subscribed to this blog via email
    +2 Blogpost- http://bookaholicsoye.blogspot.com/2010/03/make-sure-to-stop-by-this-giveaway.html

    frndz.debas@gmail.com

  7. Anita Sartin permalink
    March 8, 2010 3:56 am

    If I could change one thing about myself it would be to be more assertive. I consistently back down even if I believe I have a better or more worthy idea for a project or lesson.

  8. March 11, 2010 9:16 pm

    I talk too much, I’m lazy, and I’m far too cynical. But by far the worst flaw is my clumsiness. The amount of times I’ve hurt someone or myself physically or verbally kills me on the inside sometimes. And although I might not be able to fix the falling over bit, I can at least try and learn the abilty of seeing others as they wish to be seen.

  9. Anonymous permalink
    March 14, 2010 10:37 pm

    If i could change one thing… my relationship with my mother (for the better ofcourse!)

  10. March 16, 2010 5:28 pm

    Hey all!! I thought you might like to know that “Beth’s Song” is now on iTUNES!!

    Here’s the link:
    http://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/beths-song/id361318915

  11. Rebecca permalink
    March 16, 2010 9:20 pm

    To be honest, I have a lot of flaws. But for some reason, I know in the core of my heart I would miss them if I changed them. So, I wouldn’t really change anything, except to maybe be a more risky person. 🙂

    +1 = twitter: http://twitter.com/riyaax3

    🙂

  12. Rebecca permalink
    March 16, 2010 9:21 pm

    oops!
    High five, Sarah, I didnt see that either!
    my email: th3angel_@live.ca

  13. March 18, 2010 3:27 am

    I would be less action oriented and live more in the moment. Be instead of do!

  14. March 21, 2010 8:09 pm

    If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why? There are a lot of things but perfect is boring lol so I’d just like to be more daring. I’m shy and think twice about silly stuff.

    +1 tweet: http://twitter.com/Entre_Libros/statuses/10835875878

    +3 subscribed to this blog by email!

    Thank you!
    entrelibros_blog at hotmail dot com

  15. March 26, 2010 4:06 pm

    If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?

    Right now I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m happy just being me. Of course when I was younger I was very different from now, and in that time I change a lot of things about me. I like to think now I’m a better person…but still being me.

    +1 tweet: http://twitter.com/magabygc/status/11096621121

  16. March 27, 2010 5:27 pm

    To enter, just answer this question in the comments (and remember to enter your email address!): If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?

    I would change my actions sometimes, i usually do wrong things or say what i can’t… I m so imprudent, I hate it! I wanna change that of me!

    +1 (each) if you post this link on Facebook or Twitter
    Tweet: http://twitter.com/Lizzyrm/status/11153746742

    +2 if you post it on your blog (post the link in your comment): in the sidebar :
    http://elreinodelsapo.blogspot.com/ in the left side !

    +3 if you subscribe to this blog by email! : suscribbed^^

    blogatlantico@gmail.com

  17. March 29, 2010 10:12 pm

    Hi everyone! Thanks for taking part in the contest! We’ll be picking the winners (the old-fashioned way involving paper and bowls) within the next two days, so expect an email fairly soon, as well as an announcement on the main page!

    Good luck!

Trackbacks

  1. The Rock Pool, and a Contest! « بِسْمِ اللّهِ الرَّحْمـَنِ الرَّحِيم
  2. A VERY LONG Conglomeration of Books, Females, and Angela Morrison «
  3. Contest Winners & What Alex Bell Learned «

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