Book Reviews

November, briefly

Being a writing buddy is exhausting!

Usually, November ushers in snow and cold weather and I start to get a case of the winter blahs. We have been especially lucky this month to have mild temperatures (for the most part), and I’m in much better spirits than I normally am at this time of the year. This November has been very productive and fun, and I owe a lot of that to the fact that I’m back in a solid writing groove.

This month, I have been…

Working on: Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I finished a (very sloppy) first draft of a YA contemporary thriller I have been conjuring up in my head for several months. I used this first draft to get to the heart of the story and show myself what it’s really about. As usual, my characters had different plans than I did, but for me as an author, those revelations are half the fun. Now that I have words on pages and know my characters better, I can work at refining the mess and getting the story to look on paper how it does in my head. Which is always the hardest part…

Reading: I finished two excellent Sweet Sixteen debuts: Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson, and The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander. The former is told entirely in texts, chats, and blog posts, and I loved its creativity and how totally real the characters felt. The latter, about a girl haunted by the drowning death of her twin brother who begins to challenge her fears through freediving, is beautiful and haunting and evocative. I also read Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou, whose writing is in a league of its own. Her autobiographies are many things, but inspiring tops the list. I ended the month with Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, a book I had been eager to read, and it didn’t disappoint. I loved the humor and heart, and how relationships were portrayed– family bonds, friendship, and romantic love.

Watching: After hearing so many great things about Westworld, I knew I had to start the season and give it a try. (My husband was surprised I suggested it since I’m not usually a huge fan of sci-fi.) We were both sucked in right away by the totally imaginative concept, plot twists galore, and fascinating, multi-dimensional characters. I’m glad I ventured outside of my TV comfort zone!

I love Christmas, so I’m looking forward to all that December brings… picking out a tree and decorating it, wrapping gifts, spending time with friends and family, and eating all the holiday food! Wishing you all the best in the last month of 2016!

Spotlight on Sixteens: Girls In The Moon

I was extremely lucky to read an advance copy of a seriously amazing late 2016 debut that releases next week. Girls In The Moon by Janet McNally gave me a serious book hangover, because its pages are rich and sumptuous and soaked in gorgeous language and depth.

Girls In The Moon is the story of Phoebe, the daughter of rock stars who were famous in the 90s with their band, Shelter. Phoebe lives with her mother, Meg, and hasn’t seen her father in over three years. In the heart of summer, she visits her older sister Luna in New York City, where Luna has recently dropped out of school to pursue her own musical career—a choice Meg isn’t too happy about. Phoebe wants to get the kind of answers from her family that nobody can provide, as Meg avoids talking about Shelter and Luna has seemingly convinced herself that she doesn’t need her father in her life. Phoebe’s story in the present is interlaced with flashbacks from Meg’s point of view in the early days when Shelter was being formed, and I loved the contrast—that as Phoebe surges forward in her quest for truth, Meg’s journey is going backwards, from marital breakup to the first seedlings of fame.

I cannot adequately describe how incredible the writing is in this book. Janet McNally is a poet as well as a writer, and this comes as no surprise—her use of words is thoughtful, visceral, lush, and utterly original. Her descriptions of things through Phoebe’s eyes are so unique and compelling that I wanted to highlight pretty much every line. Her sentences are infused with grace, hope, curiosity, sometimes sadness, always so much insight.

This is a book that deals with a lot of things. It’s about relationships—sisters, mother-daughter, father-daughter, friends, romantic love. It’s about regret and mistakes and choices. It’s about faith and taking chances and finding not only yourself, but different versions of yourself that you may not have yet stepped into. It’s the brassy collision of music and reality and fame and responsibility. And it’s completely captivating.

I’m so excited for everyone to discover Girls In The Moon. This is a book I’ll come back to when I need to feel inspired, because it has this magnetic energy. If there’s a formula to make words jump off a page, Janet McNally has fully mastered it.

Add Girls In The Moon to your Goodreads bookshelf.

Preorder your copy!

Learn more about Janet McNally and her writing.

October, briefly

It’s hard to believe that the end of October is here! Fall has definitely come to Ontario, and the warm days have been replaced by cool weather and plenty of beautiful changing leaves. I have officially swapped my shorts for jeans and my flip flops for boots, candy has been consumed, and my dog may have tried on a few different Halloween costumes. As much as I tend to despise what’s coming (ahem… winter), I’m trying to focus on all the things I have to look forward to in hopes that the cold weather will be more bearable!

Perfect October viewing!

Perfect October viewing!

This month, I have been…

Working on: It’s almost Halloween, so what better project to undertake than a thriller? I have apparently had darkness on the brain lately. I’m currently playing around with a couple different ideas, so we’ll see which one sticks! I’m planning to fully commit to something in November, but I have a feeling some outlining will be required, because the twisty nature of thrillers doesn’t always mesh so well with my pantsing style.

Reading: I was lucky enough to start the month with Fear the Drowning Deep by fellow Sweet Sixteener Sarah Glenn Marsh. I have known Sarah since our days in the query trenches, so getting to read her gorgeous debut was a really amazing feeling! Sarah’s writing is absolutely luminous, and this story– about monsters lurking in the deep off the Isle of Man and the girl determined to stop them from harming her village– is unique and unforgettable.

I’m currently reading City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg, which is incredibly captivating– it’s told from multiple perspectives and culminates around a blackout that happens in New York City in the summer of 1977. The writing is masterful and the characters feel so realistic. It’s the kind of book I want to take my time with, and it has been the perfect companion for chilly fall evenings.

Watching: My sister and I have an annual tradition of watching all of the Halloween episodes of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (we watched the show religiously when it was on TV), along with the classics– Hocus Pocus and Teen Wolf. It’s not Halloween otherwise!

I have some exciting plans coming up for November, so I have a feeling it will be a great month– and if the snow can hold off, that would be even better. (I’m of the mindset that the only good kind of snow is Jon Snow…)

Spotlight on Sixteens: Fear The Drowning Deep

I have known the talented Sarah Glenn Marsh since our days of being querying authors. We shared tales of the query trenches and dreams of becoming published authors, so it’s pretty awesome that we both have 2016 debuts! Sarah’s debut, Fear The Drowning Deep, is out tomorrow, so if you like stories filled with magic, love, and sea monsters (who doesn’t?), head to the bookstore as soon as you can!

What an incredibly unique, sumptuous, and vivid debut novel. Set in the Isle of Mann in 1913, Fear The Drowning Deep is the story of a girl named Bridey who is terrified of the ocean– for good reason. When she was a child, she watched the sea claim her granddad, and she has steered clear of it ever since. But when a dead girl washes up on shore, followed by a badly wounded but beautiful boy with no memory, Bridey realizes she can’t avoid what is lurking in the ocean depths–especially when more girls go missing. With the help of Morag, the town outcast (who many fear is a witch), Bridey devotes herself to learning about the monsters feeding on the town girls and protecting her family at all costs. She’s also falling in love- although Fynn, the boy she found on the beach, has his own secrets.

Sarah Glenn Marsh is a beautiful writer. Her use of language is poetic but fierce, lovely but cutting. Reading her prose transported to a part of the world I have never visited and a time I never lived, but the power of the words made me feel like I was immersed right in the thick of the action. That’s writing magic.

Fear The Drowning Deep is a lot of things. It’s a love story and a mystery, weaving folklore and feelings and family ties. It’s about monsters, and how fear itself is sometimes the most intimidating monster of all.

Add Fear The Drowning Deep to your reading list!

Preorder your own copy!

Find out more about Sarah Glenn Marsh and her writing here.

September, briefly

The beautiful view from the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto at the Word on the Street festival!

The beautiful view from the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto at the Word on the Street festival!

September has always been one of my favorite months. I love the changing leaves, the crispness in the air, and the electric sensation that anything can happen. Summer clung on a little longer this year (which I wasn’t complaining about… I would wear flip flops year round if I could), but now I feel like we’re firmly into fall. The month was capped off by a fantastic trip to Toronto for the Word on the Street festival, where I spoke on a panel and got to hang out with some awesome writer friends!

This month, I have been…

Working on: The first half of the month was challenging… I felt creatively blocked and my attention was scattered, leaving me a lot less productive than usual. But instead of forcing myself to work on something I wasn’t passionate about, I wrote some short stories, which motivated me to take chances and explore. I finally hit a groove with the new YA contemporary thriller that has been percolating in my mind for awhile now. I managed to get a decent amount of words down in the last couple weeks and am looking forward to more fast-drafting in October!

Reading: September has been a huge reading month for me! I started with Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, which my CP has been telling me to read for ages. I finally got a copy for my Kobo and understood exactly why it’s her favorite book. It’s deep and intense and so different from any YA book I have read. Next, I was lucky enough to read my agent-sis Samantha Joyce’s sophomore novel, Dealing in Deception, before its November release date! I literally could not put this one down… it has everything a reader could possibly want! Plot twists, humor, realistic relationships, drama, and healthy doses of romance. Next, I read the highly anticipated The Girls by Emma Cline, which deserves every bit of amazing praise it has received. The writing totally blew my mind and seriously inspired me. I followed up The Girls with another eagerly awaited 2016 debut, Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. I loved this one too… such a true-to-live glimpse of working in the restaurant industry with incredibly sensory writing that made me hungry for gourmet food more than once. I then read Not That Kind of Girl, the memoir by Lena Dunham, which I really enjoyed since I’m a huge fan of her TV show Girls. I finished the month with two excellent YA contemporaries, Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway and The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine.

(I guess it’s pretty obvious how I spend my time when I have writer’s block!)

Watching: I was totally sucked in by Empire, a show I have been meaning to start for awhile now. I’m a big fan of Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson (they have such great chemistry on screen together!), and I sped through the first season. I love the family dynamics and watching the lies, drama, and betrayal play out. Plus, the music is amazing!

I have a feeling October will be a really fantastic month. I’m looking forward to walks in the woods, crunching leaves underfoot, and lots of writing!

Spotlight on Sixteens: Girl In Pieces

To say that I had been eagerly anticipating this book would be a grand understatement. I heard it pitched as a modern-day Girl, Interrupted, and that was enough for me to know I had to read it immediately. A fear sometimes exists with books you crave that badly- the fear that they won’t live up to your expectations, but I didn’t even have that feeling with this one. I knew somewhere in my soul that I would connect with it and love it beyond words. And I did.

Girl In Pieces is the story of Charlie, a girl who has lived an incredibly painful life and experienced more sorrow in her seventeen years than most do in a lifetime. She’s haunted by many demons- her father, her best friend, her relationship with her abusive mother, her time spent on the streets. Charlie carries scars both emotional and physical- she’s a cutter, which is her way of dealing with the pain, and her skin bears the marks of her trauma. As she struggles to make a new life, Charlie has to learn to live in her own skin and make peace with herself, even as external influences threaten to bring her back to dark places.

This was a book that sucker-punched me in the first page, that grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let go. Kathleen Glasgow has such a totally original, immersive way with words. This is the kind of writing that feels fully, shockingly inventive. Charlie’s voice is raw and hurt and sad, so sad, but she can also be hopeful and funny and strong and dynamic. I love that she is an artist and uses her drawings to channel her energy, both positive and negative. The emotions she channels into her art are visceral. Every time she pulled out her sketchbook, or got excited about the prospect of creating art, I wanted to cheer for her and hug her and tell her how amazing she is. Because she is amazing. She is learning that she can be loved, despite being told girls like her, girls with scars, are unlovable. And she is learning about a different, very important kind of love- the love she has for herself.

The sentences in this book are haunting, lyrical, sparse, purposeful. While the words aren’t easy to digest, there is so much raw beauty in them, a tenderness pulsing under the surface, a hope brimming through even Charlie’s ugliest thoughts. Charlie is a survivor, and I don’t doubt that her story will change lives. As a reader, I will certainly never forget her.

A heartbreaking, beautiful debut that I will be recommending to everyone. Girl In Pieces is nothing short of a masterpiece. It will be available everywhere August 30!

Add Girl In Pieces to your Goodreads bookshelf.

Preorder your copy!

Check out Kathleen Glasgow’s website.

Spotlight on Sixteens: Unscripted Joss Byrd

Today’s Spotlight on Sixteens is all about Unscripted Joss Byrd, a book I adored that’s written by an author I adore just as much! Lygia Day Peñaflor’s debut is honest and authentic, and it hits shelves August 23rd!

I have a fascination with actors. The roles they play, their processes, their lives on and off screen. So when I first heard about Unscripted Joss Byrd, I was incredibly excited to start reading. A glimpse into the life of a young actress trying to leave her mark on Hollywood? Yes, please.

In Unscripted Joss Byrd, the titular character, Joss, is a twelve-year-old actress who has been praised for her movie roles thus far. But on the set of her most recent movie, The Locals, she struggles with script changes, jealousy, a director who is less than honest, difficult scenes, and her difficult mother. From the outside, Joss has it all. She has a promising career and she’s still cute enough to get “kid” roles. But being in Joss’s head is a different story. She grapples with playing a character based on a real person who doesn’t want her story being told, and feelings of inadequacy– that she’s not smart enough, not pretty enough, not enough. She desperately wants to do the right thing. But is what’s right for her right for everyone else– her mother, her director, her costars?

Joss’s voice is absolutely, stunningly real. She’s young and inexperienced, but also older than her years. She wants a movie career, but is terrified on a daily basis that she’s going to forget her lines. She’s afraid her career will end when she hits puberty. At times, she’s a mess of contradictions. She’s hopeful and confident and scared and insecure. My heart went out to her. I wanted to hug her and tell her everything was going to be okay. But that’s the point– there’s no guarantee everything will be okay, especially in the movie industry, when longevity only befalls the lucky ones. There’s luck and there’s hard work, and Joss is no stranger to either.

Unscripted Joss Byrd is deep. It’s an honest, unflinching look at the underbelly of Hollywood life from the eyes of a girl trying to make what she has last as long as she can, while simultaneously living in fear of what comes next. I love how Lygia Day Penaflor is unafraid of showing the gritty reality under the sparkling surface. This is a book that will make me think twice the next time I open a magazine and see the beautiful celebrities within. Because all that glitters really isn’t gold.

Add Unscripted Joss Byrd to your Goodreads bookshelf.

Preorder a copy!

Visit Lygia Day Peñaflor’s website to learn more about her.

Spotlight on Sixteens: Enter Title Here

I loved this book in a way that I haven’t loved many books, because the truth is, this book isn’t like many other books. Sometimes you hear people describe a great story as “something unlike anything I’ve ever read.” Well, in this case, Enter Title Here really is entirely unlike anything I’ve ever read.

And I loved it.

The main character, Reshma Kapoor, is a lot of things. She’s queen of the study machines at her ultra-competitive Silicon Valley high school, poised to be valedictorian, and has her sights set on Stanford. But it’s not enough to be smart and hardworking. To get in, she needs something big to set her apart. So when a literary agent reads an article Reshma wrote and reaches out to her, Reshma has her “hook”— how many high school seniors have an agent and a soon-to-be book deal? The only problem is, Reshma hasn’t considered writing a novel. Yet.

But really, it’s not a problem at all—not when she tells the agent she’s actually working on a YA novel, and then decides to start writing one based on her life. It can’t be that hard, right? But in an attempt to be a more relatable protagonist, she has to make an effort to do all the things she doesn’t have time for. Making friends, dating boys, going to parties. But every plot has twists, and Reshma’s story-within-a-story is about to get pretty knotted up.

If that concept alone wouldn’t have sold me (which it did), Reshma herself certainly would. It took about three sentences for me to be totally in awe of her. Anyone who can identify herself as an antagonist and be unapologetic about it is a character I’ll go anywhere with. Trust me when I say that Reshma is not a YA narrator you’ve seen before. She’s ruthless, cruel, manipulative, and relentless. She’s brilliant and driven and says what’s on her mind with no filter. She’s a girl who flips stereotypes over and stomps on them until they’re dead, then coolly walks away. She’s a bit Tracy Flick from Election, a bit Regina George from Mean Girls, and a bit of a young Claire Underwood from House of Cards.

Safe to say, I’m a lot obsessed with her.

Writing a novel from the perspective of an antihero is not an easy thing to pull off. Making readers care, page after page, about the often diabolical machinations within an extreme one-track mind is incredibly difficult. I have the utmost respect for any author who attempts to tackle this, much less execute it brilliantly. Rahul Kanakia is that author, and his talent is immeasurable.

Of course, Reshma would try to measure it anyway.

Fresh, bold, smart, and wickedly funny, Enter Title Here is a debut you don’t want to miss starring a narrator you will miss as soon as you turn the last page. It’s available everywhere on August 2!

Add Enter Title Here to Goodreads and preorder a copy.

Visit Rahul Kanakia’s website.

Spotlight on Sixteens: Gemini

I was gripped the instant I heard the premise for this book. As someone with a sister, I know how difficult it is to put words to the special bond siblings share when they’re incredibly close. I’m talking emotional closeness, mental closeness, the kind where you can practically read each other’s minds and show up to an event dressed the same by accident. But in Gemini, Sonya Mukherjee tackles all of this and so much more. Because the main characters in her book, Hailey and Clara, aren’t just sisters—they’re twins, and they’re conjoined at the base of their spinal columns.

Hailey and Clara are in their senior year of high school in tiny Bear Pass, where they don’t have to endure too many stares because everyone knows them. Their parents expect them to attend Sutter College nearby, the same school at which both parents teach, for more reasons than free tuition. The adjustment from high school to college will be hard enough for the girls to handle—the idea of going elsewhere is out of the question.

Or so everybody thinks. Even Hailey and Clara think this, at the beginning of the story. They have managed to live without much scrutiny or ridicule, and they have friends who care about them. But is that really the definition of living, or are they closing doors on opportunities because people think they can’t thrive outside of their small town?

Despite the fact that they’re conjoined, Hailey and Clara are wildly different. Hailey is an artist who dreams of learning at a real art school and traveling the world, savoring new experiences. Clara’s dreams are, in a way, even bigger—an astronomy buff, she knows just about everything about the stars and planets and doesn’t as much want to travel everywhere as travel somewhere the most distant and unattainable of all—outer space, where she could see what Earth looks like.

I found the dichotomy between the sisters to be so powerful, and the exploration of limitations here—both physical and emotional—is brilliant and insightful. Hailey and Clara have to figure out how much of what they’re not doing is because they can’t, and how much is because they haven’t yet found a way to make it happen. Are they limiting each other, or can they find a way to work together and forge a new path? At times, Hailey and Clara think of dreams as a dangerous thing, because they’ll only lead to inevitable disappointment. But dreams are also what ignites a whole realm of excitement and possibility within each girl. Dreams give strength, which comes in different sizes. Strength to ask a boy to the dance. Strength to consider other schools and other life experiences. Dancing. Kissing. Living in dorm rooms.

Clara wants to know what Earth looks like from another planet. She wants a new perspective. In this book, told in alternating POVs, we get two unique perspectives, and two new voices in Young Adult literature that are bound to imprint on readers.

Sonya Mukherjee’s writing is insanely beautiful and profound. She raises so many questions in such a sensitive, nuanced way. This is, unquestionably, a story that the world needs, and I’m so happy that it will be in the world as of July 26!

Add Gemini to Goodreads and preorder a copy!

Find out more about Sonya Mukherjee at her website.

Spotlight on Sixteens: How to Hang a Witch

Today’s spotlight is on a book getting a lot of buzz in the YA world. How to Hang a Witch will be on shelves everywhere July 26– perfect timing for a book you can spend a hot summer day with!

I was lucky enough to get a copy of this book at ALA Midwinter. I’d heard amazing things about it, and as a huge fan of all stories involving witches or witchcraft, it was definitely a debut that piqued my curiosity. Not only that, but Adriana Mather is a descendant of Cotton Mather of Salem witch trial infamy!

I was invested in Sam, the main character, from page one– she’s exactly my type of heroine. She’s snarky and smart and guarded, and her emotions feel very realistic as she grapples with being uprooted from New York to Salem, moving into a new home (that may or may not be haunted), starting at a new school (that may or may not be pretty much run by the descendants of the Salem witch trial witches), her relationship with her stepmother, and her father being in a coma. Oh, and let’s not forget meeting two new boys– both very cute, one alive, one not so much. And a curse hundreds of years old that just might be coming back with a vengeance.

Are you intrigued yet? Yup, I thought so. This book is the perfect fusion of so many elements. Mystery and romance and humor and snark and a pinch of supernatural. That’s not an easy balance to pull off, but Adriana Mather does it masterfully. I was furiously turning pages, waiting to find out every secret. Mather’s handle on suspense is brilliant. She manages to keep you guessing, trickling out little bits of information in ways that feel genuine and authentic. Her attention to detail is incredible.

A twisty, smart, funny debut that’s all about how history can repeat itself– and what needs to be done to break the cycle.

Add How to Hang a Witch to your Goodreads bookshelf and preorder it here.

Follow the multi-talented Adriana Mather on Twitter (she’s a gifted actress, too)!

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