On New Year’s Eve, I climbed on a very tall ladder, in a very warm Manhattan bookstore to grab a copy of AFTER I DO for a dear friend who needed a purple book and who I thought needed to hear this heartbreakingly honest story of healing and carving your own way. Did I mention I was wearing a heavy winter jacket in this warm bookstore and that I had to climb the very top step of this very tall ladder?
THIS is how much I adore the writing of Taylor Jenkins Reid. I read her first book (FOREVER, INTERRUPTED) when I left Austin after a visit with Magan. I was sad and I needed a book to make me feel better. FI didn’t promise to be cheery but it certainly welcomed me into its world and let me forget for a little while. These two books are the reason why I’m thrilled to be a part of the cover reveal for Taylor’s upcoming novel: MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE (Washington Square Books, 7/7/15). All I can say is this: I hope she plans to write a book every year for the rest of her life because, well, the need is strong.
Congrats to Taylor & I hope you’ll consider picking up her other two titles as you countdown to summer for this one. – Estelle
What it’s all about | At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college, but on the heels of a disastrous breakup, she has finally returned to her hometown of Los Angeles. To celebrate her first night back, her best friend, Gabby, takes Hannah out to a bar—where she meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.
It’s just past midnight when Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. Ethan quickly offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay.
What happens if she leaves with Gabby?
What happens if she leaves with Ethan?
In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into surprisingly different stories with far-reaching consequences for Hannah and the people around her, raising questions like: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?
Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him.
Publication Date: July 7, 2015 ♦ Find it on Goodreads + Amazon + B&N
About the Author | Taylor Jenkins Reid is an author and essayist from Acton, Massachusetts. She is the author of Forever, Interrupted and After I Do. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alex, and her dog, Rabbit. You can follow her on Twitter @TJenkinsReid.
FOREVER, INTERRUPTED | AFTER I DO
Since You’ve Been Gone by Mary Jennifer Payne
Publication Date: February 17, 2015
Publisher: Dundurn Group
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: missing parent, London, abusive parent
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)
Summary: Edie and her mom Sydney flee to London to get away from her abusive father; the day after her mom’s first night shift at her new job, she doesn’t ever return home. Edie decides she can’t go to the authorities because she doesn’t trust them (since her dad was a cop). She goes in search of Sydney with a guy from her school, Jermaine.
• • •
Since You’ve Been Gone had the potential to be a really great “whodunnit” thriller if it had kept me on the edge of my seat. Unfortunately, timing and unnecessary sexuality prevented me from staying hooked.
Edie and her mom, Sydney, pack up their lives within a few hours to flee Canada and take cover in London. For years they’ve been hopping from location to location to hide from her father. They left him when his abuse was no longer just verbal. He’s in law enforcement so outrunning him is difficult, but it is even less likely that someone would believe this cop is capable of being so aggressive.
Edie’s life in London is less than ideal — their apartment isn’t as homey as it is shabby (minus the chic). Forget about making friends; somehow she pisses off the mean girls on her first of school. Worst of all is that after her mom’s first day at her sketchy new job, she never reappears. Edie doesn’t receive a phone call from her and knows something’s gone awry; somehow her dad has always been able to figure out where they’ve gone. Has he resurfaced again so soon?
With a trail of lies following her and a lot of fear she’ll be thrown into the foster care system, Edie knows she can’t go to the authorities. She has to start the search for her mom on her own. She makes an unlikely “friend”, Jermaine, who has a rumor mill of gossip outlining his juvenile record. Jermaine and Edie set out to find Sydney, but hit dead end after dead end.
Edie’s story is an interesting one; I’m always fascinated by how people will get out of unbelievable circumstances. How would Edie and Jeramine do this on their own as two young teenagers with no detective skills scrounging for clues in London? That was the catch for me, but Since You’ve Been Gone lost its footing when things came to a screeching halt with a surprise revelation. It seemed like things were wrapped up abruptly from that point on. Essentially she had too much to handle and no way out without this loophole.
Quite possibly more upsetting was the escalation of the romance between Edie and Jermaine. I’m just going to go out on a limb and say that not all books need a love story. It didn’t feel authentic here. These two really started out as enemies, two people who didn’t trust one another, when the story began. When less than 24 hours later, they find themselves in Jermaine’s house and Edie is contemplating having sex with Jermaine all while tangled up in this great search for her mother, things just didn’t feel convincing. Is it possible to consider losing your virginity with a boy you’ve just met that you didn’t even trust at the beginning of the day all while wondering if you’re mother’s been kidnapped or murdered?
My answer would be no.
Since You’ve Been Gone had the potential to be a story I would have loved with more refinement and focus. I suggest you check out Liars, Inc. or Twisted Fate if you’re looking for a good “edge of your seat” book.
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Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer ( website | twitter )
Publication Date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: William Morrow
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: womanhood, friendship, empowerment, career, family
Format read: A brilliant gift. (Thank you!)
Summary: After a year off from dating and sorting through friendships to eliminate the bad, Anna throws her focus at her career and a new client that could finally set her apart from her colleagues. Armed with inspiration and a handful of complication, she finds herself at a romance novel convention — desperately trying to stay on top of her job and the added challenge of figuring out to do about a guy she uncharacteristically makes out with in an elevator.
Sometimes a book comes along at the perfect moment — when you are sad, when you are seeking a bit of strength, and when you are grappling to understand the changes going on around you. Girl Before a Mirror is that book. As someone who reads plenty, I’ll admit to saying this before but it’s funny — ever since I finished this particular title I find myself recommending it right and left. It’s so relevant to so many situations I’m hearing about and even — the world — where a major motion picture event is based on a self-published book about BDSM and people love standing on their high horse and judging what other people deem as entertainment.
Main character Anna is coming off a year of zero dating, she’s eliminating problematic friends from her life, and she’s taking control of her work situation. As an account executive, she seem the males at her job constantly patted on the back, and she determined to bring in a new account and make a splash. Without genuine support from her firm, she sets out with a rookie colleague (Sasha) to land a body wash account in a surprising place — a popular romance novel convention in Phoenix.
So how does this all connect?
Marketing is all about making two things click, and I don’t think Anna realizes just how great she is at this kind of thing. Taking a washed-up product (ha) and making it new? Sound familiar? This product, in ways, is a reflection of her — uninspired, unsettled, and a bit lost. She, too, is in need of refreshing and the first part of her answer comes in an unexpected form — Be the Heroine, Find Your Hero — the current “it” book urging woman to be the heroes of their own stories. Anna decides to use it as a launching pad for her new campaign — which is how she finds herself meeting the Elaine Stritch-like author, attending pirate booty themed parties, making out with a hot guy in an elevator, and hanging with the mysterious yet capable Sasha at a romance novel convention.
Like many, Anna judges the readers who fancy romance novels and even begrudges the writers who write them. She believes them to be nothing more than a guilty pleasure, and not something people would actually admit to being great stories. So much of what Anna has built herself to be is challenged on this trip. Why does she have to stick her nose up at everything? When did she become THAT person who stomps on those things that make other people happy? Who is she to deem one thing better than another?
In ways, this passion project forces Anna to find her compassion. It forces her to be her own advocate, even when her decisions put her in precarious situations. She must let loose and truly listen to get what she wants, to find some kind of happiness. In truth, she’s only in Phoenix for a few days but it’s such a catalyst for the rest of the story. Ya know, Palmer could have decided to end her book when the conference did, but she pushed Anna to her breaking point. She pushed her to learn more about herself and her limits.
Life is this messy monster, and Palmer speaks that truth in the two books of hers that I’ve read. So much that I found myself questioning my own decisions and wondering if I tried enough, did I think enough about the other person, or was I right to think it was time for me to bow out and try something new? From career decisions to falling in love to friend breakups and fade outs, Girl Before a Mirror spoke to so many of my vulnerabilities but it also urged me to be strong. In a world where women are constantly brought down because of their emotions or mistakes, it’s a revelation to come into contact with characters who are feeling powerless, floundering a little bit, but making the big step to ask themselves the big questions and make things right — no matter how long it takes, no matter how many heartbreaks it takes to get there. Not only this deep stuff, but I can’t forget about how important it is to embrace what you love and continuing to hold it dear even when others don’t understand. There’s a reason why we are gravitate to certain things, and, we shouldn’t have to answer to anyone but ourselves.
There are limitless discussions and feelings to be unearthed in Girl Before a Mirror, and I have a feeling its not quite done with me yet.
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Read our joint review of Liza Palmer’s NOWHERE BUT HOME
The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand [twitter • website]
Publication Date: February 10, 2015
Publisher: Harper Teen
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: suicide, loss of a brother, life after loss, counseling
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)
Summary: Lex’s brother committed suicide and she’s not entirely sure why. She wants answers she’ll never get; she wants more than his one-line-post-it-note on his bedroom mirror. Lex wants to go back to way things were before.
• • •
The Last Time We Say Goodbye is going to be really difficult for me to review well. I wish I could draw a diagram for you that showed all of the emotions and feelings I experienced while slowly (because it’s like the best, most delicious meal you’ve ever had: it must be savored) worked through Lex’s story.
Lex’s life is divided into befores and afters:
Before when she was happy.
After her brother committed suicide.
Before when she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life.
After when she’s lost touch with all of her best friends.
Before when she was sure she’d met her soul mate.
After when she broke things off with him because it’s just too much.
Lex’s mom is barely functioning; she goes to work, comes home, cries herself to sleep in Tyler’s room, rinses and repeats. When her mom swears she gets a whiff of his cologne, Lex blows her off. But then a few things start happening to Lex and she’s positive her therapist will prescribe her medication if she tells him she has seen Tyler’s ghost. Or that she’s noticed photographs have been removed from frames throughout the house. Surely this can’t be happening, right?
This was my first of Cynthia’s books and I have to say I’m just so incredibly in love with her storytelling. I’m an “issues” kind of girl when it comes to books so I’ve read a number of books that deal with a similar situation. But man, it felt like Cynthia really forced me into this world. Everything just felt so right with the pacing, the environment, the friendships, and Lex trying to figure out how to move forward. There’s an added element of Lex’s journal entries that her therapist forces her to write, and honestly, sometimes these kinds of things can feel jarring because they break up the story. It worked so, so well here. (Especially when everything really came full circle at the end. Cue the tears.)
The Last Time We Say Goodbye is heartbreaking and takes a good, long look at a family after the surprising loss of a son and brother. There are so many questions and so, so few answers. It’s less of an emphasis, however, on Tyler and the choice he made, and more about accepting his decision and how Lex and her mom move forward. Just in case you’re wondering if this is a ghost book, my answer would be no. It’s a very realistic adaptation of a grieving family with a very logical explanation for why these things are happening to Lex and her mom.
I caution you to prepare a continuous stretch of time for The Last Time We Say Goodbye. You won’t want to move an inch. And quite possibly, if you’re like me, you’ll be angry you haven’t read Cynthia’s work until now. Don’t worry — I’m off to correct this!
• • •
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Stephen Metcalfe may be new to the young adult scene but he brings with him a ton of experience from his work on various stage and screen plays. His first novel, His Tragic Life, hits bookstores on March 3, 2015 and brings readers an authentic male character who devotedly observes the world around him and, at the same time, reacts to it in some of the oddest ways too. I’ve seen this book compared to the likes of Catcher in the Rye, and even Perks of Being a Wallflower, but I’m confident fans of Jason Myers and even Robyn Schneider will enjoy this quirky novel. It’s full of moments that stabilize us but also the ones that pull us apart in unexpected, dark directions. It’s honest, and heavy on the oh-man-I-can’t-believe-that-happened side.
We’re happy to welcome Stephen into the young adult world today with a Q&A about Billy, The Tragic Age star, his writing inspiration, and more.
Billy is such an observer but, even so, his tendency to be this way is all about burying his true feelings over his sister’s death and all the changes in his family. How did you dive into writing about Billy? Did you know exactly how he would be dealing with all this tension in his life or did it develop as you were digging deeper into the story?
I started with a number of givens when I began writing Billy. I knew that he had, as he puts it, “a mind for useless information”. Billy is a sponge for knowledge – he “likes knowing things”. At the same time I knew that Billy’s fixation on knowing things was also an escape. He uses books, newspapers, the internet, television and movies as a means of not dealing with everyday life. He uses facts to hold feelings at a distance. I wanted Billy to have an air of what I call “innocent cynicism”. He’s trying so hard to pretend he doesn’t care about anything. The reality, of course, is that he cares far too much. I knew part of Billy’s character arc would be that as the story progresses, he finds the burden of “not caring” more and more difficult to carry. And yes, while the voice was consistent from the beginning, the character changed and developed as the story progressed.
There’s definitely something about the pacing of the book that feels like a classic literature tragedy. At some point, I was feeling so positive for Billy. Even if some of his actions were questionable, I was like “hooray he is finding his own happiness”… but well. You and I know how that all goes. Were there any particular books that inspired you (or helped you) in the writing of The Tragic Age?
I wanted very much to write a coming of age story along the lines of Salinger’s A Catcher in the Rye, John Knowles’ A Separate Peace and James Kirkwood’s Good Times, Bad Times. All three books have young protagonists who learn and grow through adversity.
It was really great to read a book that was incredibly sex-positive and just doing its thing. Was this a concern when you decided you were writing YA or did you just decide to go with what was natural?
Frankly, it never occurred to me I was writing YA. It was St. Martin’s Press that suggested that The Tragic Age would be best released as Young Adult and after discussing it and thinking about it, I agreed with them. Billy is a young adult. He is dealing with the challenges and uncertainties that have been the bane (and the wonder) of all of us when were young – friendship, sexuality, family, isolation, competition – the future.
What kind of books do you find yourself reading the most frequently?
I read a bit of everything. I have my stack of what I call “airplane reading” – this is the mostly mindless stuff you buy in airport books stores when you want to escape the tedium of plane travel. They don’t take a lot of work and are usually a quick and (hopefully) enjoyable read. The other stack is the stuff that needs and warrants focus, concentration and contemplation. I eat them in mostly small bites, the better to enjoy and analyze the flavors. When I find a writer I like, I eventually try to read everything he’s written. I read two newspapers every day and like Billy, if something intrigues me, I always want to learn more about it.
Thanks so much for taking the time, Stephen! Congrats on the book!
The Tragic Age by Stephen Metcalfe publishes on March 3, 2015 from St. Martin’s Press.
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My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: February 10, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: depressing, suicide pact, family problems, friendship
Format read: ARC from Alex @ Little Wing Book Reviews. (Thanks!)
Summary: After trolling a website called Smooth Passages, Aysel decides to answer Roman’s ad for a suicide partner. They meet and agree to a “deadline”, yet their new-found “friendship” has Aysel thinking in a way she hasn’t in a long, long time.
Aysel reminded me a little bit of Joey Potter — forced to deal with the aftermath of her father’s sins, the girl “wrong side of the tracks” who can’t go anywhere without whispers following her. Though in Aysel’s case, her father has murdered someone and she is now living with her mother, step-dad, and half-sister in a home where she feels incredibly unwelcome. Aysel is convinced her family and everyone who lives in her small Kentucky town thinks being a murderer is hereditary, and she’s dangerous too. Lonely, she spends her time at a job she doesn’t like, and visiting a website called Smooth Passages. She’s ready to make the ultimate leap and commit suicide.
Smooth Passages opens Aysel up to the idea of a “suicide partner” and upon reading an ad, she meets Roman and decides to commit to his date. It’s an odd relationship because even though they are planning to die together, they are still strangers. Strangers who are trying to trust each other in 24 days. As Aysel gets to know Roman, she can’t help but feel confused. His mom is thoughtful (even if she’s overbearing), he’s been in relationships, he has talents, and people actually want to talk to him. How can this guy want to end his life? The more she gets to know him, spend time with him, and understand his sadness, the more her dark cloud seems to be moving somewhere else. Could they possibly help each other and forget about their end date? Would Roman ever go for it?
My Black and Other Black Holes is a compelling debut. I honestly had no idea how it was all going to end, feeling so anxious as each chapter counted me down until the day. Like Aysel, I was rooting for both of them to take a different path and Warga did a noteworthy job of building up this wall of depression, and the lengths it takes to penetrate it. It is frustrating, scary, heartbreaking, and any reader wants to make life easier for these two, wants to believe that this friendship makes the difference. The writing was great (even if I wanted a bit more development especially when it came to Aysel’s “new” family), I loved the details that made up both of these characters, and, it must be said, I loved how it called itself out for being a little cheesy at times. Tough to read but well-worth the rocky ride.
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