Friday, September 19, 2014

BOOK BLITZ: The Force of Gravity by Kelly Stevenson

Book Review: The Force of Gravity by Kelly Stevenson

4.5 Stars
"I blast the stereo in a vain attempt to drown out my thoughts. I don’t want to be thinking about him and analyzing every detail of first period. It makes me feel like a young, foolish girl, and I’m embarrassed that I can’t control the way my body reacts every time his eyes meet mine." 
It’s highly doubtful that Kaley is blasting 38 Special’s "Teacher, Teacher" to free her mind of the man in question since she wasn’t even born when the movie Teachers premiered in 1984. But the lyrics fit her story to a tee (yes, you must play this song at least once after you read the book). If you are old enough to remember the movie, purge Nick Nolte out of your head as Mr. Slate is your new cool teacher…

Kaley Kennedy is an 18 year old high school senior living with her parents in Arizona. On the surface, Kaley’s life seems perfect. She’s been accepted to USC in the fall. She’s dating the boy every girl at school wants and she’s known him since she was thirteen. Her long time best friend is dating his best friend, and they are a close-knit foursome.

But fun times seem to be eluding Kaley lately, and she’s getting restless with her life. Her parents are fighting all the time and they are shattering her college dreams; her boyfriend is pressuring her for sex; and her best friend is often more wrapped up in her own boyfriend and partying.

So when Kaley over sleeps the first Monday after Spring Break she has no idea her world is about to spin on its axis when she walks into math class late. Before her is not her old, cranky precalculus teacher but a gorgeous specimen by the name of Mr. Slate or “Professor McHottie” as the girls are soon calling him.

Forearms that have Kaley distracted, a body that is “cut like an equilateral triangle” and dressed like an Armani model, 25 year old Mr. Slate is mature, sophisticated, confident, refined, chivalrous, and a bit of a neat freak. Kaley feels a pull the first time she lays eyes on him. And Mr. Slate also has a fascination with Kaley.   

Meanwhile, Tommy Bradford, Kaley’s baseball player high school boyfriend, is largely your typical teenage boy. He’s sweet at times, immature at times, and horny most of the time.
“Maybe I’ve been confusing my own feelings with lust. I’ve never really experience lust before—maybe I just convinced myself that my sexual desire were actual feelings for him. Maybe I didn’t know how to separate the two. I just need to focus. Tommy’s not only one of my best friends, but he and I make sense. Way more sense. We don’t have to hide; it isn’t’ complicated.”
Does Tommy truly care for Kaley or does he just want to get laid?  Will he still be so enamored of her after they have sex?  Are Tommy and Kaley too young to really know what love is?  Is Mr. Slate a fantasy escape for Kaley’s troubled life?

Told solely from Kaley’s point of view (aside from the epilogue), Tommy and Mr. Slate’s intentions and underling motivations are a bit of a mystery, and that’s part of the page turning appeal of this novel.

This is an engaging story about a teen who must deal with some real adult issues and negotiate her way through the feelings she has for the boys/men in her life.  Kaley is a pretty mature individual for her age and life experience, focused on her grades and feeling the need for more substance in her life beyond parties, friends, and sporting events. But as her life starts to spin out of her control, Kaley finds herself holding secrets and lying to those closest to her while confiding in the one person that’s taboo to get close to.

It starts out as a bit of a love triangle. I’ll admit to initially being torn over whether Kaley was missing out on the young, carefree love in front of her and Tommy just needed to mature, or whether Tommy was hopeless and Kaley really was ready for everything that came with being involved with Mr. Slate. But then some things go down (keeping this spoiler free) and I definitely knew who I was rooting for Kaley to end up with.

The mystery of Mr. Slate’s character is slowly shed as more glimpses into his life are shown and his full background story is told. While they have instant attraction, there isn’t an insta-love with Mr. Slate and Kaley as nothing happens over night and realistic time is accounted for without the story dragging.

I appreciated that the novel didn’t gloss over everything that was at stake with Mr. Slate getting involved with Kaley —both his career and the impositions on her being kept in “the closet.”  The story has sufficient plot twists, reveals, and drama as well as deals with issues of sex, cheating, and divorce without ever feeling angsty or over the top. The pace is good and it’s hard to put down once you start reading.  It is well developed and captures the late teen years well.

Will Derek rat out Kaley for flirting with the teacher?  What’s the story behind the other women in Mr. Slate’s life? Is Avery after Kaley’s man?  Will Principal Bentley find out about what’s going on? 

A second book in the The Force of Gravity series will follow.  There is no cliffhanger, per say, but the ground is laid for the next stage in Kaley’s life and relationships. For now, Kaley has what she wants.

♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪

So what music inspired The Force of Gravity? Well Kelly Stevenson was gracious enough to talk music with me and provide a playlist for the book. While 38 Special’s “Teacher, Teacher,” The Police’s “Don't Stand So Close to Me,” and Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” are a must for a soundtrack to The Force of Gravity, you’ll want to check out these songs too.

We’ll give you a hint where some of the songs tie in. Can you guess what scene is transpiring for the others?

♪♪♪ Kaley’s Playlist ♪♪♪

“Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” by Def Leopard

“Heart Attack” by Demi Lovato

“Every Single Night” by Fiona Apple

“Sharp Dressed Man” by ZZ Top (The introduction of Mr. Slate)

“I Hate Boys by Christina Aguilera” (Chapter 6)

“Love Bites” by Def Leppard (Chapter 7)

“Hot Knife” by Fiona Apple (Chapter 8)

“Compliment” by Collective Soul (Chapter 11)

“Elastic Love” by Christina Aguilera (Chapter 13)

“I Love It” by Icona Pop (Prom dance scene)
 “The Art of Letting Go” by Mariah Carey

“Say Something” by A Great Big World

“Never Should Have” by Ashanti

“Hush Hush” by Avril Lavinge

"One More Try" by Mariah Carey

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Author Interview: Five Questions with Author Kelly Stevenson 

Q1.  How did you get started writing? And what is your favorite thing about the writing and/or publishing process?

A. I think my writing journey began before I could even read or write. My older sister read to me constantly. We’d sit for hours, just engulfing one book after another. We also watched hundreds of movies, playing our favorites over and over. (Back when you could actually wear out the VHS tapes!) She’s the real reason I fell in love with stories. Once I was able to read and write, my love for storytelling continued to grow. Writing was always my strength in school, and I went on to write for my high school’s newspaper, as well as write and direct several school plays. I also have a strong acting background, which has played a huge role in my writing.

My favorite thing about the writing process is probably the first draft. It’s messy and sometimes ugly, but it’s when the story first unfolds and takes on a life of its own. It’s such a high. I become obsessive during this process, thinking only about the story and my characters. My overall energy increases, my appetite fades, and a character will often wake me up in the middle of the night and I have to reach for my phone to jot down notes. It’s a madness that I wouldn’t trade for the world, and I only get that experience with the first draft.

Q2. You really captured the essence of the end of high school years well—the concerns about friendships and relationships surviving after graduation, negotiating what’s real love and what’s just infatuation, decisions about losing your virginity. What do you feel are the benefits and challenges of writing in the New Adult genre?

A. Thank you! Capturing an authentic high school experience was important to me.

There are several benefits and challenges of writing in the New Adult genre. For one, it’s a new genre and it’s on fire right now! It’s great to be a part of that. I also enjoy having the freedom to write the stories I want to write. It wasn’t that long ago when there wasn’t a place for a story like this. There was a huge, empty space between children’s books and adult books. Now we have so many incredible stories because of this new genre, and it’s thrilling! One of the challenges is getting it mainstream. I think we’re getting there, but since so many bookstores and publishers are still fighting it, it can be a challenge at times to reach a broader audience. I’m hopeful, though. YA was once treated as an outcast, and look at it now! We’ll get there. Another challenge is breaking the stereotype that all NA is “smut” or erotica. I think as NA grows and becomes more mainstream, people will see the wide range of categories that are out there.

The unique aspect of writing TFOG specifically was that it’s on the young side of NA, but the mature side of YA. So it feels like the bridge between the two. I was worried it would be a challenge to target my audience, but so far it’s been beneficial. Kaley is eighteen and in high school, but she deals with mature issues that are relatable to the older crowd as well.

Q3. What was your inspiration for The Force of Gravity? Did you ever have a sexy, young math teacher like Mr. Slate?

A. I was inspired to write TFOG last summer when I was searching for a student/teacher romance novel. The common theme I found involved the couple either meeting, dating, or hooking up before they knew they were student and teacher. Don’t get me wrong, they were fabulous stories that I enjoyed, but I was thirsty for a different take on it. After searching for a few weeks, I became restless and decided to write the story I wanted to read. I wanted the male teacher to be a little older, and I wanted them to meet each other as student and teacher—I wanted my characters to have no excuses when it came to their decisions. I also wanted it to be set in high school.

I never had a sexy, young math teacher in high school, nor do I know anyone who has. But I did have one in college—and I was just as shocked as Kaley. He was good-looking, youthful, funny, and confident. I didn’t understand how he could be a math teacher. That’s where the similarity in the story ends, but I will say it did make me a believer in mathematical unicorns. ;-)

Q4. Kaley goes through a lot in the last few months of her senior year. What life lessons would you say she has learned and what has she taken away from her experience, both good and bad?

A. Yes, Kaley does go through a lot in the last few months of her senior year. She goes from living a pretty sheltered life to having every security ripped from underneath her. Her story isn’t finished, and she still has a lot to learn, but I would say one of the biggest life lessons she has learned so far is: Love is a risk. It’s something you can’t control. No matter how hard you try, you can’t force love, and you can’t choose who you fall in love with.

She also learns what most of us eventually learn—that parents are human. They make mistakes. They have their own stories, their own baggage. I think that’s the final veil that is lifted off a young person’s eyes—when parents fall from their pedestals. You can never go back to being a child after that.

Also, her friendships go from simplistic to complicated as she questions loyalties and trust throughout the book. However, Kaley isn’t always the victim, and is often the betrayer. And that’s something she has to eventually own. 

Q5. What can you tell us about the sequel to The Force of Gravity? Will Kaley and Elijah be the main focus or will it center on some of the supporting characters?  How many titles can we expect in this series?

A. I am always extremely tight-lipped about any writing projects I’m working on. If I don’t keep it private, it hinders my writing. But I will tell you this: Kaley will continue to stretch and grow in the next book as her most important relationships are tested to their limits. Also, Jace plays a bigger role.

Yes, Kaley and Elijah are the main focus in the sequel. You will see a slight shift in supporting characters, though. Kaley’s in a new environment and some of her closest friends are off to different colleges, so dynamics change.

Because I’m still in the early stages of writing, I haven’t decided on whether it will be two books or three. It depends on a certain storyline I’m working on. When I announce the release date for the sequel, I will also announce whether or not this is the last book in the series, or if there will be one more. If you want to stay informed, I will announce it on my website as well as Twitter and Facebook.

Thank you to Book-Bosomed Book Blog for the interview! Xo

Thank you Kelly for taking the time to talk with us and for delivering such a great story!

Kelly Stevenson is a professional writer from Phoenix, Arizona. She has a background in journalism, psychology, theater arts, and animal science. When Kelly is not writing, she enjoys reading, horseback riding, and spending time with her family.
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